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On my way home (I remember)

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Dís has jewellery set with the green stone of Erebor.

Pieces of polished plain rock set in bronze, simple and cheap even for the exiles.

Simple, cheap, and valuable beyond measure.

Their last piece of home, for the longest time.

Dís doesn’t remember much of Erebor, in truth, only blurred images and flashes of moments she’s never been able to catch a hold of for long enough to have a proper look at them. But she does remember that she used to love accompanying people deep into the Mountain where the miners separated gems from the stone and prepared ore for refining. It was almost as good as being allowed into the actual mines (which she wasn’t) and she’d loved to play with the things she found in that enormous room. There were tiny nuggets of gold, pieces of rock heavily veined with copper or iron, mounds of discarded plain stone, and an uncut diamond or few that might’ve been pebbles to an untrained eye (which hers wasn’t, even so young.) More often than not her pockets were stuffed full of whatever caught her fancy, since the miners didn’t seem to mind their Princess picking things off the floor any more than her parents minded having a walking mineshaft for a daughter.

Right next to where the miners were working there was a little cave, shaped by water very long ago before the river settled to its current bed. That cave was her own private place. She used to hide herself there, for a laugh, and listen to people wondering loudly where under Earth had she disappeared to. Usually she hid from her brothers, less often from her parents, and once or twice even from her grandfather, even though he was the King and you weren’t really supposed to make him look for you. (Even though he didn’t seem to mind at all. Even though he just laughed, and when she finally allowed herself to be found, he slipped her a ruby bigger than her thumb and sweets she wasn’t supposed to have before dinner. But it was the Principle of the Thing, as she was told over and over again.) Back then, she had been sure no one could know where she was unless she took them by the hand and led them to her secret place, which she never did, because it was a secret.

Realistically, her family and every last miner must have known exactly where she was and kept an eye on her. She can’t remember when she realised that she wasn’t as hidden as she thought she was, but she can’t remember it mattering either. She remembers stifling giggles in her fists, the never-ending sound of chisels and hammers, the cave hugging her close.

She remembers feeling safe.

It’s all she can feel now, all she can remember, as she leads the company of a hundred odd dwarves to the battle-scarred gates of Erebor. A vanguard of masons and other workers and those, who had waited so long for this day that they’d refused to wait for another spring when they’d received the impossible news, early in winter.

Dís had lost her parents, her brother and her husband to the dragon-fire and battle and exile, but now...

Here they were at last.

Solemn and silent, they passed through the gates into their Mountain.

A voice bellowing her name didn’t as much shatter the reverence as transform it into a wild joy. Suddenly everyone was laughing through their tears and embracing whoever they could reach. Dwalin ran the last few steps and grabbed her into a bear-hug that might’ve crushed a lesser dwarf’s ribs.

He seemed to be at loss for words, not a very common occurrence despite his often stony façade.

It took Dís a while to regain her ability to speak, as well.

“I want to see them.”

If there was a blessing in the long road, it was that no one needed her supervision with unpacking and setting up a temporary place to sleep. Dís left the merchants and sergeants in charge and let Dwalin lead her deeper into the Mountain.

“Your boys are already up,” Dwalin filled her in. “They’re in the shafts with the miners, the Maker himself couldn’t have kept them still much longer. The word should get around that you’ve arrived soon enough though.”

“How are they?”

“Better off than it looked at first,” Dwalin grimaced. “Of course, at first they looked dead, so that isn’t saying much. A few handsome scars from very nasty wounds, and we had to take Fíli’s shield-arm, the bone was shattered. Did the job though, the shield and the lad.”

“And Thorin?”

“It’s damn miracle he’s alive. The bastards swarmed us over and got him to the thigh with a spear. Ran him clean through with a second one. Would’ve killed him with the third, if Kíli hadn’t put himself between him and the orc. I was twenty steps away when Thorin fell, and it felt like half the Middle-Earth. Your boys kept him alive, put themselves on the line where their shields weren’t enough. You’ve got lot to be proud of.”

“Thank you,” Dís said with all her heart. “For your part in seeing them through alive.”

“My part,” Dwalin spat. “My part was almost losing him, them, and being useless or too far away to do anything but watch.”

Dwalin’s voice grew more bitter with every word and when he fell silent, he refused to meet her eyes. Dís could tell that he wanted her to accuse him of not doing enough, the way he clearly blamed himself, but a battlefield was hardly a safe place and her family weren’t children. Of course Dwalin knew that, too.

"What aren't you telling me?"

“Look, Dís. About Thorin…”

“Yes?”

“How much do you remember about Thrór?”

As soon as the words sunk in, Dís felt very cold.

No.

Please no.

“Is he…?”

Dís didn’t know how to finish her question.

Is he all right?

Is he still him?

Have I lost another brother?

“He’s better,” Dwalin hurried to say. “I’m not going to lie, it was… It was bad, for a while. It was so bad, and I couldn’t- I don’t even know when it started. He was so happy, we all were, when we first entered the Mountain and then… It happened so fast, and with the armies at our gates… I couldn’t help him, I couldn’t reach him, and he’s still not-“

Dís reached out to squeeze Dwalin’s hand.

“He isn’t what?”

“He’s not talking to me.”

“Sulking?”

“I wish. He pretends to fall asleep whenever I try to talk to him.”

It wasn’t the least bit funny. Dís tried to fight the snort of laughter.

She failed.

Dwalin didn’t look amused.

“Don’t worry. I’ll talk to him.”

Dwalin filled her in on the details as they approached the infirmary where Thorin lay healing from his wounds.

Every step of the way, Dís felt her own heartbeat in her jewellery, felt the Mountain echo it everywhere around her. She had half-expected the stones in her earrings and necklace to lose their magic on the doorstep, to become nothing but plain rock again now that the Mountain was theirs once again, but no.

They would never be just anything, the pieces she’d carried out of their burning home in her pockets as a child.

She felt so safe.

Would I know?

It was a question her thoughts kept circling back to.

If the safety was a lie, if the Mountain’s embrace turned into a strangle or a current pulling her under, would she be able to tell?

If what had happened to Thorin happened to her, would she be able to tell?

Try as she might, she couldn’t come up with an answer.

*

Thorin was waking up slowly and with great difficulty. Blinking was a hardship.

Maker, but he hated how exhausted keeping up to date with his kingdom left him, even though other people did most of the actual work while he was still bedridden.

Surely recovering from wounds hadn’t used to take this long before?

“You should try drinking something, if you’re awake,” Dís said quietly.

Thorin felt a goblet against his lips and drank as much as she let him.

“Thanks,” he whispered hoarsely. Then his consciousness caught up with him. He forced his eyes open.

“Dís?”

His vision was blurred - his eyes caught the glint of firelight in her old earrings and not much else - but he'd have known her anywhere. She was really there, sitting by his bed and blinking back tears.

“You unbelievable bastard,” she managed before her voice broke and she dragged him into a hug, barely mindful of his injuries.

The room was spinning and swaying violently. Thorin breathed through his nose and tried to make the walls stay still. Dís' death-grip for a hug helped ground him a little, even though she was shaking and her tears wet his neck. Thorin felt like crying too, overwhelmed by gratitude and shame and guilt. After everything, he was hardly worth her crying over.

“I’m sorry,” he rasped. It wasn’t enough, but it was all he could think to say. “I’m so sorry.”

“What for?” she sniffled and pulled back, and he could see that she was smiling for some reason.

“I failed,” he confessed and forced himself to meet her eyes. “Our people needed me and I let them down.”

“The Mountain is reclaimed. The orc armies are defeated. My boys are alive. You are alive. How is that failure?”

She didn't understand.

He'd thought he'd have the strength to fight the- the-

But he hadn't.

Even now, he couldn't tell if the Mountain's calming presence was real or if he was beginning to fall again. He had no way of knowing if his eye had caught Dís' jewellery because they were familiar and fitting, or simply because they were shiny, or-

“Dwalin told me everything, you know.”

Thorin thought he couldn’t possibly have felt more ashamed of himself than he already did, but Dís’ words cut straight through him and hurt worse than orc-spears.

“Did Dwalin tell you that I threatened him?”

“Yes,” she said to his surprise. “He also told me that you fought it off. And that you’re treating him like a foreign diplomat whenever he tries to talk to you.”

“Dwalin said that?” Thorin smiled despite himself.

“Not his exact words,” Dís smiled back at him. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, I’ve known you all my life. You’re trying to keep from hurting him again, and for some reason you think that you pushing him away doesn’t hurt him.”

Thorin flinched.

“You don’t understand-“

"Would you turn your back, if the sickness took me? Or Fíli or Kíli?"

Thorin stared at her, mouth falling open from shock.

"Of course not-"

MUM!

Two nephew-shaped blurs burst into the room and barrelled straight into Dís. Thorin’s joy over watching the hug-tangle that was his family was almost enough to overcome the discomfort of their interrupted conversation. But even his happiness was laced with pain, knowing how close his sister had come to losing her children.

Thorin more felt that heard Dwalin enter the room.

“Why don’t you two go show your mother where the temporary dining hall is, I’m sure she’s hungry from the journey.”

Kíli opened his mouth, Fíli stomped on his foot and Dís exchanged a look with Dwalin before herding her sons out. Thorin was left in the room with Dwalin and a strong feeling that he was being conspired against. He allowed himself to slump back against his pillows.

“Before you start snoring,” Dwalin sat down on the chair Dís had just vacated. “We should talk.”

Thorin grimaced. Maybe he hadn’t been as subtle as he’d thought.

“I didn’t lose you to the orcs,” Dwalin said bluntly. “I’ll be damned if I lose you to your bloody stupid-noble self, either.”

“You’d have gotten over it,” Thorin whispered. “You still could.”

“I know. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to learn to live without you.”

Thorin had trouble responding to his raw sincerity. It was so rare that they had cause to speak so openly about their feelings. He’d have preferred Dwalin yelling or cursing at him.

“I wanted to hurt you,” he said finally, opting for blunt honesty as well. “I don’t remember much, it’s all a blur, but I remember that. As clear as I’ve ever remembered anything. It meant nothing that I’ve loved you over a century. I looked at you and I wanted to kill you. I can’t risk that ever happening again.”

In his nightmares he goes through with it every night. Dwalin’s blood runs hot over his hands as he twists the sword inside him, and he wakes retching with the taste of wild elation still on his tongue.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, Thorin, or that it won’t still be. I’ve never been so scared. For you, mind, not of you. And I can’t promise it won’t ever happen again. But…”

Dwalin took his hand and lifted it to his lips. He kissed his knuckles and then began to mouth along the sensitive skin of his wrist.

Thorin could’ve screamed with how much he wanted him never to stop.

“I'll leave, if you really want me to,” Dwalin breathed against his skin. "Do you, my King?"

A better dwarf would’ve found the strength to lie.

“No.”