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a bitter cold

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Thorin wakes up in a tent, the weak, winter sun unable to break through the heavy canvas. His body aches and burns, pain racketing through every part of his body. He tries to bite down his groan as he props himself up on his elbows, but he can't, even if he tears his lip bloody. He almost doesn't want to look at himself, but he does anyway. Much of him is swathed in white linen bandages, some lumpy, packed with poultices and some blood-stained.

His stomach turns. Quickly, he averts his eyes. There's a earthenware cup beside him, roughly made but filled with water. He's thirsty, wants to drink his fill and more, but he can't fathom a way of reaching it. The tent is plain, small and he's alone in here.

Slowly, the memories of the battle begins to bleed back into his consciousness. The sudden turn of it all, one moment poised for war with Thranduil and Laketown, the next realising there was something more dangerous than gold out there. The endless confusion of the battle, Azog's face, twisted with hate, the knowledge that he had to right this one wrong, he had to and—

His sister-sons. Fíli falling without a sound, Kíli's scream—

He forgets the pain. Did they live, still? Had their bodies been recovered, to be tended and buried with stone vaults of a place they barely knew? Perhaps they breathed still, healers fussing over them. He needs to know. Needs it so much he's up before he can think it through, staggering from the tent into the sun.

There is no one around that he knows to call. Elves, men – but no dwarves. None. Dwalin would not have left his side, not if it was within his power. And Bilbo, he cannot see Bilbo anywhere. He needs to make amends, he thinks, but first, his nephews.

He goes on, takes another step and barely manages to keep himself upright. Someone asks if he is all right, but he snarls and forces himself on. He needs to know, he has the right to know what his actions has wrought.

'Thorin!' He knows that voice, but it doesn't matter, not at all. He doesn't trust it, doesn't trust the man – the king – that owns it. 'Thorin! Thorin, stop, what are you doing?'

Bard.

Bard comes running up to him, a cut above his eyebrow drizzling blood down one side of his face and his thigh bandaged.

'Thorin,' Bard takes his arm, takes his weight. 'Stop. You are only doing yourself more damage.'

'What does it matter?' Thorin tries to rip his arm out of Bard's grip, but his vision spins and he falls, sprawled in the dirty soil.

Bard crouches down next to him, telling the others that it's fine, fine, that he can handle it. But Thorin isn't so sure. He doesn't know and Bard is certain to send him back to his tent, to wait for news.

'You should be lying down,' Bard says, quietly, 'The gold can wait – your kinsman, Lord Dáin, has already set guards upon Erebor's gate.'

'It doesn't matter,' Thorin says, trying to push himself up again, but his will has failed him for the first time, leaving him scrambling in the snow and he lets out a stream of curses that Bard looks momentarily impressed by.

'Then what does?' Bard says, 'If you need news of the battle, tell me. Your hobbit is with Gandalf, a little worse for wear, but well enough. The orcs are defeated, scattered - the Eagles came, as did Beorn, and that turned the tide in our favour.'

'My sister's sons,' Thorin croaks out, 'I saw one fell, heard the other scream. But I have not seen them since, I need to know what I have done to them.'

Bard's face flickers, something like pity in his eyes and Thorin wants to spit at him. Pity. What good is the pity of Men? What good is anyone's pity?

'I believe your company has survived intact,' Bard says, carefully, and Thorin's heart leaps – but believe, not know. There is no surety in his words. Bard frowns at him, adds, 'Tell me their names and I will get news.'

'Fíli and Kíli.'

Something in Bard's face clears. 'I did not know they are kin to you. They are with the healers, and if they know what's good for them, they are resting. Unlike you. Come on.'

Bard pulls him to his feet, has to pretty well carry him back to the tent he woke in.

'How badly are they injured—?'

'Worse than you,' Bard says, quietly, 'But they will live.'

Thorin nods, drives his teeth into his lip. 'Dís – their mother. She will never forgive me. They will never forgive me.'

For a long moment, Bard says nothing, helping Thorin up to drink from the cup. The water slides down his throat, cold, refreshing. 'They have good hearts, Thorin. I am sure they are anxious to find out how you are as well.'

'How do you know them?'

'Didn't they tell you?' Bard gets to his feet, picks up the cup, 'I took them in after you left. Apparently no one else would help them.' There's no blame in his voice, not one single speck of it, but Thorin hears it all the same. Bard looks around the tent, shakes his head. 'I'll get you some more water and will send a messenger to see if there's any further news of your company.'

At the door, he hesitates, looking back at Thorin. 'But only if you stay put, Thorin. You need rest.'

'You bring me news of my boys and I will lie here until the summer, if that's what you want.'

'I might just have to take you up on that offer.' Bard smiles at him, a fragile thing, and disappears out the door.