His lungs cave in, breath forced down his throat, and Thorin wakes up. His heart is pounding and he can hear murmuring all around him, but all he’s focused on is the humming in his ears.
“Erebor,” he croaks out, and someone strokes his hand. He wrenches his eyes open, and even in his unfocused gaze he sees the arched ceiling and breathes in clean stone and knows he is home.He gasps another lungful, and coughs, “sister-sons.” There is rustling and it’s too hard to keep his eyes open so he closes them, chest heaving. His hands are moved and then his fingers are clutching curls, and he opens his eyes to see a golden-framed face on his left and a dark-haired face to his right, and he shakes with gratitude. “Sister,” he whispers and he hears a snort as a hand heavy with rings cups his cheek. He inhales sharply, listening to the humming in his ears, and gasps, “Burglar.”
Silence descends, thick and heavy like the river that almost drowned him, and he gathers breath to growl, “burglar,” but nothing comes. He sees no hand, feels no touch, and the pounding of his heart speeds up. His hands have been emptied, and he clenches his fingers tightly. “Burglar,” he almost shouts, twisting his head to look wildly. The hand at his cheek becomes oppressive, moving to his chest to keep him down, but where is his burglar? The space has grown noisy without Thorin being aware of it, and a sour-smelling cloth presses down on his mouth. He breathes in again to yell this time, but the sour smell stings at his throat and white spots appear on the corner of his vision. He coughs, limbs growing heavy, and before the darkness takes him he whispers a final time, “Bilbo.”
When Thorin wakes again, it is with a pounding headache and a clearer mind. He groans and opens his eyes, determined to understand his situation. He is lying on a small bed in what appears to be one of the healing rooms, cleaned from the Mountain’s time under Smaug’s control. Balin has fallen asleep in a chair on his right. On the far wall, Fili and Kili are tangled up together in another small bed, Dis asleep on a cot next to them. There’s a table in the center of the room storing all the material things needed to ease a dwarf out of mountainsleep. From his vantage point in bed, Thorin can see Kili’s bow, Fili’s childhood fiddle, and the Arkenstone.
Thorin feels a strange twist of emotion at the Arkenstone, and so favors looking away from it to reach out and touch Balin’s shoulder. The old dwarf rouses slowly, then jumps in his seat as he opens his eyes. “Thorin?”
“Good morning, Balin,” Thorin whispers, throat still dry.
Balin grins, reaching to grasp Thorin’s hand at his shoulder. “Welcome back, Thorin. Welcome back.”
Thorin squeezes Balin’s hand. He remembers Balin’s voice now, from among the chaos of his first awakening from mountainsleep. He remembers, too, what had set him into a panic. “Where—?”
“Ah, yes, you were quite upset. The Arkenstone’s right here.” Balin points toward the table in the center. “Do you see? It has been returned to you. No one has burgled it.”
Thorin struggles to lift onto his elbow, looking Balin in the face. “No. Where is Bilbo?”
Balin blinks, shifting backwards. “Laddie, it’s—it’s been a year. Bilbo has returned home, to the Shire.” He looks at Thorin, then says more gently, “I did not realize you counted the hobbit among your treasures.”
Thorin lets go of Balin’s hand and rubs at his face, trying to ignore the jagged hole that has opened up inside him. Bilbo Baggins, gone back to the Shire.
Thorin opens his eyes. Kili is sitting up in bed, Fili stirring next to him. Thorin meets his eyes and Kili grins. “Uncle!” He shouts. He climbs off the bed, dragging Fili with him and waking Dis in the process. Thorin laughs, and continues to laugh even when it leads to coughs. Kili and Fili stop short just by the side of the bed.
“Good morning, Uncle,” Fili says, almost shyly, and in that moment he looks quite young. Thorin cannot remember a time when he afforded himself the luxury of treating his nephews like they were young. He reaches up to grab their hands, which Kili takes as permission to crawl into bed beside him. Fili follows suit, and somehow Thorin has an armful of sister-sons when he was so close to losing everything, and he buries his nose in Fili’s hair, grateful.
Dis strides over to the bed. She walks as gracefully as ever, but the braids in her beard are frayed and there are dark circles under her eyes. Balin offers her his chair, and she takes it, reaching out a hand to Thorin’s forehead. “Idiot,” she says softly, stroking the hair away from his face. “And yet, so much less an idiot than I feared.”
Thorin sleeps again, body still exhausted from healing itself. When he wakes up, the Company visits him in groups of two or three. They have all been integral in their own ways to the rebuilding of Erebor, and they share stories of the strange treasures found hidden in the mines or games of politics with men and elves. Gloin’s wife and child are due to arrive soon with other dwarves from Ered Luin, and Thorin finds his friend’s excitement infectious.
Eventually, he and Dis are left alone in the healing room, Thorin sitting up in bed and Dis seated on the chair next to him. Thorin expects her to tell him of the trials of ruling Erebor, but instead she looks him in the eye and says, “The others have been telling me quite the stories about your hobbit.”
Thorin winces. “He is not my hobbit.”
“No?” Dis raises an eyebrow, somehow managing to look as severe as their grandfather and as mischievous as Fili. “Forgive me then, I must have misunderstood how mountainsleep works. I thought it relied on a dwarf’s inherent possessiveness, using the things he holds most dear to tether him to the living world while he heals. Is that not true?”
Thorin says nothing.
“I also thought that, upon the first awakening, a dwarf cannot be calm until he can hold his riches close and be assured all are safe.”
Thorin again says nothing.
“So tell me brother,” she says, fixing him to the spot with a stare all her own, “which one of us is wrong? Do I misunderstand one of the most revered and ancient practices of our race, or are you being a moron?”
Thorin opens his mouth and closes it again. Dis looks smug. “I...Master Baggins is not a dwarf.”
“I had gathered that, thank you.”
Thorin glares at her. “As he was not a dwarf, he did not share the others’...emotional attachment to the quest. To—to me.” He clears his throat. “Balin and Dwalin would follow me anywhere, and at times that scares me. The twelve put all their hopes of a free and prosperous homeland in me, and as that hope blinded me it also blinded them.
“But Bilbo—Master Baggins—he was not one of us. He did not care a whit for the line of Durin or battles that took place before he was born. He did not temper his words or hesitate to speak. I had to earn his respect, as he did mine. Eventually I came to value his counsel above all others’.”
Dis looks at him for a long time. “Bullshit,” she says finally. Thorin stares at her in shock. “‘His counsel.’ Did you leave your personality behind when packing for your quest? When have you ever appreciated your counselors? The stuffy nobility of the old Erebor, you abandoned me with them in Ered Luin.” Thorin opens his mouth to speak, but she cuts him off. “Hush. Balin is no more your advisor than I am. He is something far worse, and I would bet my life this hobbit is too. No, Thorin Oakenshield, you have plenty of counselors. But friends? You have far fewer of those.”
Thorin stares at her in wonder. “My dear sister,” he says, “whyever did you refuse to come on our journey?”
Dis grins. “My dear brother, whoever would have ruled the Blue Mountains in your stead?” She flicks his ear. “Speaking of which, I have once again been picking up your slack, King Under the Mountain. Shall we begin?”
Thorin would like to say the months pass quickly. He would be lying. Waking up from mountainsleep is excruciating. Mountainsleep takes a dwarf from the brink of death and pieces them together enough to survive. The dwarf must take it from there. For the first week, Thorin hardly moves from the bed, unable to walk on his own. His stomach learns how to digest food again, which is a lingering, fickle process that often leaves him retching after a particularly rich meal. The months pass slowly, dragging on his every awkwardness the way cloth will catch on mail. Oin gives him tonics to smooth the nausea and Dwalin trains him to wake up his muscles, and after seven months Thorin is able to walk, assisted by a cane.
Thorin is well enough now to conduct official business, but today’s meetings have run over time. He feels too nauseated to eat lunch, and by the time counsel adjourns Thorin feels weak. He hobbles back to his room, feeling the blow of each step more than he should. He keeps his head high, though, because Fili and Dis are walking with him to their shared rooms. When Thorin had first woken up there was talk of renovating the king’s suites, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He had elected instead to move in with Fili, Kili, and Dis. There is ample room for all of them, and he will not live in luxury until his people do as well. They have four rooms connected to a common sitting room, where they take breakfast and informal dinners.
When they reach the hall that leads to their rooms Fili hangs back. "I will continue on to the training fields," he says with an eager grin. "Nori has promised to help me build up my sword arm." He kisses Dis on the cheek and pats Thorin's shoulder as he strides away, humming.
If Thorin were to hold a sword, his arm would fall off at the shoulder. He turns stiffly down the hall, not waiting for his sister. He pulls open the door to their common room, surprising Kili who is lying on the floor, reading a book. Thorin grunts a hello and keeps moving to his rooms, slamming the door shut behind him.
Safe now where no one can see him, he falls into a chair with a hiss. He stretches out his legs, massaging his knees. It seems as if his whole body aches, protesting the simple act of moving and living. There is a water pitcher on the table next to him and he reaches for it, but his arm spasms and he knocks it instead, sending it flying off the table and crashing to the ground. His shame only intensifies when Dis and Kili burst into the room.
“Uncle, are you alright?”
“Was it really necessary to throw the water pitcher?”
“I didn’t throw it!” Thorin snarls. “It just happened.”
Kili steps forward. “I’ll get it—”
“You will do no such thing! I can take care of myself.”
“Thorin!” Dis snaps. “There is nothing wrong with knocking over a pitcher. There is much wrong, however, with antagonizing your nephew.”
That draws Thorin up short. He puts his head in his hands. “Fili can spend the day sparring. I, meanwhile, cannot pour myself a glass of water.”
“And whose fault is that?”
Thorin looks up. “What can you possibly mean?”
“My patience is fraying, dear brother.” She sits herself on Thorin’s bed, facing him. “Kili, I'm sure your uncle would love to take you up on your generous offer of cleaning.” Kili nods and begins moving to the closet. “Fili is able to help regain his sword arm because he only spent five months in mountainsleep. You spent a year.”
“And how is that my fault?”
“Fili awoke three weeks after I arrived. He cares about exactly three things, and all of us are in this room right now."
Kili pauses, broom in hand. Dis gives him a little smile and continues. "Fili will probably always have that limp, but he is whole and at peace, so yes, he is able to relearn how to use a sword.
"You, on the other hand, refuse to even acknowledge that one of your treasures is missing."
"He is not mine," Thorin says sternly. "Nor is he missing. He is where he is meant to be, and I will not take him from there."
"And so you spent an age in mountainsleep, and so you cannot spar with Fili and Nori."
"I will not force him from his home."
"Who said anything about forcing?" Dis lightly scratches her beard. "Has it occurred to you, dear brother, that this Master Baggins might come willingly, that he might want to help you?"
"Of course it has!" Thorin grits his teeth. "He would come because I needed it, the same way he snuck around Mirkwood for a month to free us and hid the Arkenstone to save me from my own greed. What am I to say, my dear sister? 'Dear Mr. Baggins, please take on another burden on my behalf. I ask you to give up your life a second time and resign yourself to living locked up in a mountain so that I mightconvalesce more peacefully.”
Dis looks at him. Thorin would call her stare pitying if he felt his sister capable of such an emotion. Thorin realizes that Kili is also staring at him, the pitcher and its mess forgotten. “Have you even written him, Uncle?" Kili asks in a small voice.
Thorin sighs. "Please, both of you, allow me a modicum of self-preservation when it comes to Mister Baggins." And with that, Thorin puts his head in his hands and doesn’t move it until he hears his family leave.
On the first Durin’s Day after Thorin awakes, he spends the day in solemn remembrance of the tragedy his own greed wrought on the people of Laketown, now residing in Dale. It occurs to Thorin that he has skipped the worst of the destruction, first because the gold sickness blinded him to others’ sufferings and then because he slept through the initial reconstruction.
A few weeks after Durin’s Day, Thorin makes room in his schedule to sit down to a dinner with the Company and their families. He spends most of it in silence, content to smile and watch his friends drink and recount much embellished stories of their exploits. Dis is seated next to him, and in a move Thorin knows is perfectly designed to tease him, she asks for stories of Bilbo. Bilbo stories are, naturally, the best of their adventures, and the Company fall over themselves to be the one to share them.
“—And then,” Bofur shouts, wiping his eye, “he says we have to turn back, because he’s forgotten his handkerchief!” Everyone erupts into laughter.
“I can just imagine it,” Gloin cuts in, “Bilbo arrives home and there’s his handkerchief, lying on his armchair!”
Kili shakes his head, swallowing his food. “No, no, that’s the best part. His cousin stole his handkerchiefs when she thought he wasn’t coming back! He had to buy new ones!”
Kili’s outburst is met with laughter, but Thorin and a few others stare at him. “Kili,” Balin says, glancing at Thorin, “how do you know that?”
Kili gulps visibly. “I...write him letters sometimes. After Uncle said...well, I thought Bilbo would like to hear from one of us.”
Thorin opens his mouth, then closes it. “What do you discuss in your letters?”
Kili looks at his plate, shrugging. “He talks about his neighbors and how annoying they are. I tell him about Tauriel a lot. He says he’s no good at love things, but his advice is actually quite helpful.”
Thorin feels lost in the weight of this new information. “I...Forgive me.” He stands up. “I just remembered a few matters I need to take care of.” He leaves the room, far too quickly to be mannerly, he knows, but his mind is swirling and he needs to be alone. Walking is far easier than it was months ago, which is apparently when Kili started writing Bilbo letters, talking of love and whatever else his fancy took to. Thorin enters his rooms and sinks onto his bed. He sits with his head in his hands and imagines Bilbo sitting at his desk in the Shire, writing letters about his neighbors. Thorin imagines Bilbo with that little smile on his face, the one he has when he’s amused but doesn’t want anyone to know it. A warm tear escapes from his eye, and he wipes it quickly with a hand.
Thorin’s door slams open and Dis begins yelling even before she gets in the room. “Jealous of your nephew? Is that the new low we’re sinking to today?” Thorin looks up and Dis stops, her hand frozen in the air. “Oh, hell. You’re crying.”
Thorin snorts but doesn’t deny it. Dis moves to sit next to him on the bed. “I want him here,” Thorin says after a moment. “I want him here all the time, in this room, at that dinner, in our damned council meetings. I want him woven into my life in such a way that there would be no hope of separating us. I want too much, and so I say nothing.” Thorin pauses, working his throat. “The brightest part of my life has always been your boys. I could not love them more if they were my own. And now I hear that Kili confides in him, and that he in turn listens and offers advice. Bilbo left more than a year ago and yet he continues to surprise me.” Thorin smiles, open and aching. “I feel many things, Dis, but jealousy is not one of them.”
Dis reaches up a hand and cards her fingers through his hair. “I almost rather you were jealous,” she says, pulling on his curls, “for jealousy is far more easier to fix than heartache.”
“Do not fix me,” he says, leaning into her hand. “I fear I will not survive the attempt.”
She snorts and continues running her hand through his hair. Thorin closes his eyes, taking comfort in the closeness.
Thorin is to be crowned. He has fought it every day since he awoke, feeling a grand ceremony is exactly the opposite of what a king who once suffered from gold sickness deserves. It had been Fili who finally made him see reason, saying softly, "It is not about you, Uncle. It is about all of these people who have uprooted their lives for the umpteenth time on the promise of a King. They need to see that King."
And so the conversation has shifted to the details of the coronation. Thorin does not want the Arkenstone anywhere near him. He sees its beguiling sparkle and is instantly transported back to that dark day on the wall. He can feel the cool wind biting at his cheeks as he lifts Bilbo over the edge. The memory makes him sick. Thorin would like nothing more than to smash the Arkenstone into a thousand pieces.
The debate is broken when Dwalin opens the chamber door. “Forgive me for intruding,” he says with a grin, “but I thought you’d like to know. Githlia, the jeweler from Ered Luin, just had her baby. It’s a girl, a healthy baby girl.”
Thorin smiles broadly and lets Balin pat him on the back. A baby in Erebor. Can there be better proof of life returning to the mountain than this? Thorin thinks back to Fili’s words. The celebrations should be about the people. “I want to smash the Arkenstone in a thousand pieces,” Thorin announces. The cheers around him stop. His advisors look scandalized, but Fili leans forward with a smile upon his face, and so Thorin addresses his next words to his sister-son. “I want to smash the Arkenstone into a thousand pieces and fashion each piece into a polished token. Every baby born in Erebor will receive a chip of the Arkenstone, as a symbol of their right to belong.”
Aelfgar, a crusty old dwarf Thorin has long wished to strangle, clears his throat. “In order for such a scheme to work, the pieces would be so small as to be rendered practically worthless.”
Thorin grins. “Exactly.”
“You should invite your hobbit to the coronation.”
Thorin sighs and puts down his quill. “He is not my hobbit.”
“And he never will be at this rate.”
Thorin twists in his chair to look at Dis standing in the doorway to his study. “We’ve talked about this, Dis, please,” he says, aware that he sounds like a whining child.
“No, we’ve talked about him coming to live here. What exactly in a coronation invitation implies that the guest should stay forever?” She smirks. “His visit will have a precise start date and end date. He can stay for the winter. You won’t be dragging him away from his flowers then, and I daresay our fireplaces are as good as any in the Shire.”
“If he weren’t your One, would you even be hesitating right now?” She smirks, and Thorin knows he’s been caught. He doesn’t even want to fight her, thinking already of all he wants to show Bilbo, of hearing Bilbo laugh again…
By the time Thorin comes back to himself, Dis has slipped away.
Damn that woman.
Dear Master Baggins,
They are crowning me a second time, as the original attempt proved less than desirable. As past experience has shown, my coronations are much more successful when you and your unfailing common sense are in attendance.
The Arkenstone will not be used in the ceremony. Bombur’s mince pies will be.
The nice thing about spring is that Thorin gets to be outside when Dwalin kicks his ass in training. Thorin is dripping in sweat when Dwalin lowers his sword and says, “That’s enough for today.”
Thorin shakes his head, breathing heavily. “I can keep going.”
“Aye, you can,” Dwalin agrees easily, “but you won’t today. You push yourself too hard and you won’t be able to sit up tomorrow.”
“But I need to get better.”
“No. You need to run a kingdom.” Dwalin stares at him fiercely. “Let’s make one thing clear, Thorin Oakenshield, the fact that there’s a kingdom at all is because of you. You are the only person in this entire mountain who thinks you need to lift a sword to lead us. Now I’m happy to help you gain your strength back, but not if it means tomorrow you won’t be able to walk around and do what needs to be done. Kinging comes first, this nonsense second.”
Thorin cedes to him with a nod. “When did you get so wise, Dwalin?”
“Must have stolen it from you, the way you’re acting so daft.”
Thorin laughs, and they walk into the mountain, leaning against each other..
The raven delivers Bilbo’s response during family lunch. Thorin would have sworn that Dis bribed that raven to show up during the worst moment possible, if he believed ravens able to be bribed. “What’s that, Uncle?” Kili asks.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Thorin replies and opens the letter.
My cousin has determined that the best way to win my house from me is to annoy me into an early grave. She now visits me every Wednesday at eleven without fail, eating my food and boiling my blood. Your invitation has saved a life, because should I be forced through much more of this torture one of us would not survive, and I do not fancy myself dead or imprisoned for murder.
I will be there, Thorin.
Thorin reads it three times before glancing up. His sister and her sons are looking at him expectantly. He clears his throat and reaches for his water. “Master Baggins will be joining us for the coronation after all,” he says idly, taking a sip.
Kili’s grin is positively feral, and Dis’s is not much better. Yet, curiously, it is Fili who speaks. “I am glad to hear Bilbo has changed his mind.” He mirrors Thorin, drinking his water casually.
Thorin narrows his eyes. “Explain.”
Fili looks from Kili to Dis, eyes wide with faked innocence. “Oh, did you not know? He received a formal invitation as soon as the coronation date was finalized. Kili also urged him to attend. He declined both.”
Thorin glances down at the letter again. “Perhaps circumstances in the Shire have changed.”
His kin must be feeling particularly magnanimous, for Fili just murmurs, “perhaps,” and the three of them leave Thorin in peace for the rest of the meal.
Thorin hates Dwalin with every short, winded breath he manages to take. Dwalin had insisted on teaching “your tired, regal ass how to sweat again,” and set Thorin to running laps around the training field, pausing occasionally to force him to do pushups or some other indignity. Thorin had lost his shirt about an hour ago, too soaked in sweat to be useful. They are pushing into the second hour, and as Thorin rounds a corner and Dwalin’s smug face come into view, he staggers to a stop. “Please, I beg of you. No more.” He bends over and heaves, sweat dripping. “I will give you whatever you desire. Show mercy.”
A giggle is quickly stifled behind him, and with a jolt Thorin realizes they are not alone. Thorin turns quickly to chastise whichever nephew dared disturb them and freezes. Bilbo is standing on the edge of the field, accompanied by Fili, Kili, Dis, and Tauriel of all people. Bilbo looks healthy, his cheeks fuller than when Thorin last saw him. His clothes are clean and bright, and Thorin might mistake him for the stuffy hobbit he first met in Bag End if it weren’t for the relaxed set of his shoulders and the blade strapped to his hip.
Beside him Dwalin shifts his stance, and Thorin realizes he’s staring. “Bilbo!” Thorin says loudly, then clears his throat. “Bilbo,” he says again more calmly, taking a step forward, “how great it is to see you at last.” Thorin runs a hand through his sweaty hair to tame it, suddenly conscious of how disheveled he is, without even a shirt on.
Bilbo smiles easily. “And you, Thorin. I can’t tell you how relieved it makes me to see you so...hale.”
Kili makes a strangled sort of noise that is cut off sharply.
Thorin returns Bilbo’s smile, hoping his internal panic does not show through. “We had not expected you for another fortnight. Your arrival is a very welcome surprise, believe me, but—why are you here?”
“Ah yes,” Tauriel cuts in with a grin, “that is my fault, I’m afraid. I ran into Bilbo and the caravan he was travelling with and stole him away for a visit in Eryn Galen.”
Thorin tramps down on the jealousy that rises up at the thought of Thranduil seeing Bilbo before him. Bilbo’svisit to Mirkwood will give Thorin two extra weeks with him. He nods to Tauriel and turns to Bilbo. “Have you been settled in, shown to your rooms? Do you need anything?”
“No, no, your sister took care of everything, thank you.”
There is a stilted silence, and Thorin wishes fervently that he was prepared for this. He is underdressed and smells of a sewer, and as much as he would like to embrace Bilbo, he does not think it will be appreciated. Dis rescues him, clapping her hands and saying, ''It is almost time for dinner, brother, and I will uninvite you to our meal if you do not wash." With that, she ushers Bilbo and the rest away.
Thorin stares at their backs until they are out of sight, sighs heavily, then turns heavily to Dwalin. "Would you mind terribly running me through with that sword over there?”
“Absolutely not, sorry,” Dwalin says cheerfully. “That would not help me get out of dinner with your sister.” He claps Thorin on the shoulder. “Come on, Thorin, let’s get cleaned up.”
Thorin spends a long time bathing, scrubbing everywhere twice and washing his hair carefully. He pretends he doesn’t remember how often he’d imagined meeting Bilbo again, but in all of his concocted scenarios they were alone. He doesn’t know how familiar to be with Bilbo around other people. Thorin is well aware that the last time they spoke he was on his deathbed, and the time before that he had tried to kill Bilbo.
It is certainly a lot of baggage to bring to a crowded dinner.
Luckily for him, most of the Company, along with Dis and Tauriel, are already assembled in the royal dining hall by the time he arrives. He silently thanks Dis for her intimidating coordination skills as he slinks into a chair between her and Bilbo. Bilbo flashes him a quick smile and turns back to Gloin, who is in the middle of a story about Gimli as a child. Thorin leans back in his chair and settles into his usual pattern of listening quietly to the conversation. Gloin’s story concludes and everyone laughs, no one harder than Kili.
“Wait, wait,” Bilbo says, looking at Kili with a grin on his face. “What are you, ten years older than Gimli?”
“Fifteen,” Kili says stiffly.
“Which is nothing to a dwarf. So where do you get off, laughing like he’s a baby?” The Company roars with laughter and Kili turns red. “No, I’m serious. Tell me stories of Kili as a baby.”
“You’ve heard them all,” Kili whines.
“I haven’t,” Tauriel says next to him, sending the Company into hysterics again.
Bilbo turns to Thorin. “Tell me one,” he commands.
Dis leans forward to save Thorin from answering, but Thorin lays a hand on her arm. “When Kili was seventeen,” Thorin says, “ he wanted to marry an elf.” Kili turns red and shoots a glance at Tauriel. “You must understand that Kili had never met an elf before. He had heard that dwarves did not like elves very much—”
“And I wonder from whom he heard that, don’t you?” Dis cuts in with a twinkle in her eye.
“—And he became very angry—”
“Again, at whom, but I guess we’ll never know.”
“—and he came to the idea that the best way to seek revenge would be to marry an elf. He concocted a very elaborate plan, but the first step was, of course, to find an elf to marry. He needed someone to take him to Lindon so he could begin courting. He snuck out when he was supposed to be in lessons and found a caravan of men en route to Bree. He undid all of his braids, stuck a bunch of leaves into his hair, and strode onto the road in front of them. He declared himself—oh, what was it?”
“Findaharis, son of Marael,” Dis supplies. Tauriel winces theatrically.
“Yes, that’s it, Findaharis. Now the Men knew better, as Kili was about three sizes too small to be an elf, but they had this tiny creature on their hands now and they felt responsible for him. The leader of the caravan promised Kili that she would escort him to the Grey Havens and the two of them rode off on her horse. In reality, she had planned to take Kili back to the nearest Dwarves she could find and exchange him for a good story. They were delayed, however, by one tiny flaw in Kili’s plan.
“Kili had not learned yet which plants were safe and which were not. In making his elven crown, he had accidentally chosen leaves from poison ivy. As they were riding, Kili’s head rubbed against her shoulder, and very soon the both of them were itching and scratching far too violently to ride anywhere. Which is why I eventually found Kili not with a caravan nor on the road but instead by a stream, having his scalp scrubbed viciously by an old, screaming woman.”
Everyone laughs, even Kili, and Bilbo sends him a small smile. Thorin has become addicted to that smile, or perhaps he always craved it without knowing. Thorin keeps seeking out that smile, and finds himself speaking more and more. The mead is flowing and the conversation lively, and before Thorin knows a hand is shaking him awake.
“All this talk of Kili being young, and yet you fall asleep at the table like a baby.” Thorin blinks up and Dis is staring down at him, her expression wicked. “It’s time for you to go to bed, dear brother.”
The party breaks up after that, everyone shuffling home. Kili, Fili, and Tauriel leave together, and Thorin is too tired to worry about what they will get up to. Dis and Thorin walk Bilbo to his rooms and they bid him a quiet goodnight. When they reach their own rooms, Thorin can tell Dis would like to talk to him, but he waves her off and goes to bed, quickly falling into a dreamless sleep.
Thorin is the second person to breakfast the next morning. Dis is sitting at the table, chewing on a piece of toast and reading a book. “You owe me, brother,” she says without looking up.
“Good morning. What could I possibly owe you for?” He sits next to her and begins loading his plate.
“I am meeting with Aelfgar this morning to discuss lodging for Dain’s people during the coronation.”
Thorin blinks up in surprise. “I thought I was meeting with Aelfgar.”
“You were. You aren’t anymore. Which is why you owe me.” She looks up from her reading and stares at him mockingly. “Surely you could find something better to do with your morning?”
At that moment the door to their common room opens and Bilbo walks in, looking far too chipper for someone who had spent the past few months travelling. "Good morning," he says brightly.
“Good morning," Thorin returns, while Dis beckons Bilbo to sit and eat. "Did you sleep well?"
"Excellently," Bilbo says and accepts a plate of eggs from Dis. “The transformation in these three years, Thorin, is really quite remarkable."
"I'm afraid I can't take credit for most of it, but I would be happy to give you a tour before my afternoon appointments."
"l would love that, thank you." Bilbo smiles at him and takes yet another roll that Dis has offered.
They fall quiet at the sound of Fili opening his door. He stumbles out of his room, barefoot and hair sticking up all over. Without a word he opens Kili's bedroom door and steps through, slamming it behind him.
The three at the table stare at each other in silence for a moment before they hear a thump and Kili's door opens once more. Fili drags out a moaning Kili and deposits him in the chain next to Bilbo, then sits down himself. "We're awake," Fili pronounces, then pushes his head into his hands.
“Are you sure about that?" Bilbo asks.
"Awake," Kili moans, his eyes still closed. "No yelling."
Bilbo looks at Thorin. "Did I yell?"
Fili lifts his head. "Mother yells. When we're not awake."
"But we're awake," Kili adds. "So no yelling."
Dis smiles deeply in satisfaction. “More sausage, Bilbo?"
After Dis is done plying Bilbo with food, Thorin leads him through the halls of Erebor. It is the first time they have been alone, if you count being in public alone, and Thorin can barely hold back the urge to ask every intimate question on the tip of his tongue. He refrains and instead says, “How was your journey here?”
“More comfortable than my last. Our ponies weren’t eaten halfway through. We didn’t meet any stone-giants. That was nice.” Bilbo smiles. “Company wasn’t as good, though.”
Thorin is quietly pleased by that statement. They pass a group of Dwarves in the corridor who give Bilbo long, considering looks. Bilbo says softly, “Do they always stare at you like that?”
“They are not staring at me.” When Bilbo looks at him, Thorin shakes his head. “I was a blacksmith-king in Ered Luin. I was nothing special to stare at then. There was a little interest when I began venturing out of my rooms after the mountainsleep, but that was two years ago. Since then I have taken great pains to erase any kind of barrier between me and my people. I believe indifference to my presence has become a sort of status for residents here. Only visitors and recent arrivals stare.”
Bilbo shakes his head. “Why would they stare at me then? I’m no more special than you.”
“Bilbo,” Thorin says incredulously, “you are the favorite of a group of famous Dwarves who love nothing more than to drink and tell loud stories. Everyone in this mountain knows your exploits. Ask any random dwarf about the barrel story, and they will tell you it in full detail, I promise you.”
Bilbo blushes faintly, but his next words are said seriously. “They won’t always stare, will they?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s nothing, only...my reputation always precedes me in the Shire. It is tiring, to be known as ‘eccentric’ before I even walk into a shop.”
Thorin pauses, thinking it over. “You will never blend in, as the only hobbit here. But the dwarves who moved back to Erebor are a much more flexible people than I would have thought possible, given our natures. There’s not much that they won’t get used to, after a while.”
Bilbo smiles. “Dis seems determined to make me welcome through food,” he says, changing the subject.
“She’s trying to discover what the limits of a hobbit stomach are.”
Bilbo laughs brightly. “I feel I understand Fili and Kili better, now that I have met their mother. She and I have been talking quite a lot.”
Thorin smiles a little. “Do not believe everything Dis tells you.”
“She likes making trouble, then?”
“Yes,” Thorin answers immediately, then reconsiders. “She wears her humor like armor. Our mother died when Dis was very young. She was only twenty-eight, not considered an adult yet. There was a lot of pressure on her to grow up into a certain kind of woman, stiff but submissive at the same time. Her sharp tongue was her form of rebellion. Her behavior was impeccable, but Father’s advisors quickly learned never to ask her to do something she did not want to do.”
“She sounds quite formidable.”
“I often think she is stronger than me.” Thorin shakes his head. “I’ve asked her several times about how she endured the months when we were in mountainsleep. She only ever responds with a joke about how I snored. I held her in my arms when she was born, Bilbo, but even to me she will not show weakness.”
“A family trait, then.”
They continue walking, talking of many things. Thorin does not worry much about where they wander, letting whim and Bilbo’s curiosity take them down one street or another. They linger in places Bilbo remembers as dusty or in ruins, and talk of the reconstruction. They are discussing the repairs in Dale when a messenger comes hurrying up the steps to them, skirts billowing in her haste. “Your Majesty! Her Highness the Princess requests your presence in the royal chambers.”
Thorin glances at Bilbo then turns back to the young woman. “My sister knows I have no appointments in the morning.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” says the messenger, reddening under her beard. “Only it is past midday, and Her Highness said…”
“She said, ‘Please tell His Majesty to look at a watch next time I do him a favor.’” She casts her eyes downward.
Thorin can see Bilbo is stifling a grin beside him. “What is your name, Messenger?”
“Flairan, Your Majesty.”
“Miss Flairan, you have done well in conveying the Princess’s message. Would you do me the great favor of escorting Master Baggins wherever he may wish to go?” Thorin turns to Bilbo. “Ori should be in the library if you wish to visit him.”
Bilbo nods. “I should like that very much. Flairan, if you’ll lead the way?”
Thorin watches the two of them walk off, Bilbo drawing the girl into a chat. He turns and strides in the other direction. Now that it had been brought to their attention, Thorin’s legs are complaining at their long walk, and will surely feel stiff throughout the afternoon. But while he and Bilbo talked, Thorin had not felt a thing.
Thorin’s time is increasingly infringed upon by coronation preparations. When he’s not mediating fights between advisors about what moving his right hand might mean versus his left, he’s entertaining visiting dignitaries from all over Middle Earth. Bilbo has been surprisingly valuable to state dinners, attending when he doesn’t have an invitation elsewhere. He’s attentive in his quiet way, and quick to pull someone into conversation if they look neglected. Dis has been the opposite of valuable. She is an attentive and lively conversation partner for serious topics, but the minute talk turns to nonsense she is quick to insult the offender.
The advisors have devised a role for the thirteen, Bilbo included, to be officially titled King’s Company during the rehearsal. Dis is forced to observe the rehearsal, and Thorin blames her for giving tacit permission for the rest to fool around until Aelfgar leaves in a huff.
Thorin sighs and hangs his head. “Why did I agree to this?”
Bilbo pats his back soothingly. “We’ll get it right on the day, don’t you worry.”
Bifur blows a raspberry.
So involved is the processing of preparing to be crowned that it doesn’t hit Thorin until he’s getting ready for bed the night before. The coronation is tomorrow.
The thought makes it impossible to sleep. After a few hours of staring at his ceiling, he rises and dresses in a simple shirt and trousers. He will go to the throne room and wait until sunrise. He can pretend that a vigil is tradition.
When he arrives he finds Dis already there, swinging her legs over the edge of the bridge facing the throne. He sits beside her without a word and lets the minutes pass by.
"I thought I had no memories of Erebor," she says finally. "But when l arrived in this hall I thought,'of course,' and I could see Grandfather here, as clear as it were yesterday."
"I have been King a long time, but I knew Grandfather would never see me as such until I sat upon that throne."
Dis shakes her head, "Why do we form our lives around the possible opinions of a dead madman? Why can't we leave him in the past where he belongs?"
Thorin snorts and stares out at the throne.
"Why are thrones so wide? What about a King's job makes your ass grow so large you need a seat like that?"
“In that case I think you would be a better King than me,” he laughs, turning to look at her. He expects a biting response in return, but instead she is staring at the throne, her eyes open and sad.
“I am so relieved to not be King that I might weep,” she says, all mirth gone from her voice. “Ered Luin has a steward, a good one, and almost no one lives there now anyways. Tomorrow you will be crowned King Under the Mountain for the third and final time. No one will call me King ever again, and I am happy.”
Thorin doesn’t understand. “You’ve been a fair and just ruler, Dis, whenever you had to in my stead—”
“In your stead.” Dis gives a bitter laugh. “In your stead, dear brother, I would never have taken Erebor. If I were King I would have forbidden your journey and kept you and my sons under lock and key until you turned three hundred. I have lost everyone I have loved except for you three. You lived that life also, but while it made you dream of grand schemes it made me yearn for small ones. I will do whatever is necessary to protect you from harm. That attitude works well for a caretaker, sitting on the throne for a few years. But a King needs dreams. If I were King, none of Durin’s folk would have died before their second century, but what kind of life would they have led? A life without hope, without dignity?" She turns towards Thorin and fixes him with a stare full of sincerity. “You kept our heart alive, Thorin Oakenshield, when we were the shame of Middle Earth. You are more than just a ruler. You are King Under the Mountain, and I am at your service.”
"Without you," Thorin says,voice hoarse, "l would be no King."
She smiles tightly at him. They scoot nearer, pressing their sides together as if they were children. They stay seated like that until dawn breaks and it is time to return home and dress for the ceremony.
On the second Durin's Day after awaking from mountainsleep, Thorin is crowned King Under The Mountain. He says his vows in as solemn a voice he can, and he watches as his words transform from nonsense to a promise through the eyes of his people. Fili was right; this ceremony is not about Thorin but the promise for his people's lives he represents.
And Bilbo was right that the Company would get the ceremony right. Thorin watches with pride as each of the thirteen repeats the devised oath, "I will protect my Mountain and my King." On Bilbo's turn Thorin fully expects to hear the oath in Weston as practiced, but the hobbit instead swears in perfect Khuzdul. Bofur looks smug, and Thorin cannot deny his own proud feelings.
Afterwards the streets of Erebor are filled with people, eating and dancing. The royal family, the Company, and the dignitaries are seated on a overlooking dais. When the music starts, Dis hauls Thorin out of his chair and down to the festivities, twirling him in the middle of the street. “You’re not watching this time, dear brother,” she says, her voice full of laughter.
Thorin dances three dances with Dis before faking exhaustion. He sits next to Bard as Dis selects Dwalin as her next victim. Fili grabs Bilbo, and the pair soon have a huge area to themselves as the other dancers scramble to get out of the way of the dwarf with a limp and the hobbit who doesn’t know the steps. Kili persuades Tauriel to dance with him, and when Thorin catches Thandruil’s eye the Elf nods at him solemnly.
Thorin was mistaken when he said that he could not enjoy a coronation. If he wipes at his eye a few times during the night, no one says anything.
Aelfgar will make Thorin late for his lunch with Bilbo and then Thorin will have to kill him. It is lamentable but necessary. The old dwarf continues droning on about respectability and tradition until Thorin interrupts coldly. “Has anything changed since last you spoke with me on this subject?”
Aelfgar blinks. “Well, yes. You were crowned.”
Thorin resists the urge to roll his eyes. “I was King before the ceremony. Has anything substantial changed?”
“No, but every day that passes is a wasted opportunity—”
“Then I must bid you good day, Master Aelfgar, for I have other matters I must attend to today.” Thorin storms out of the room, leaving the Aelgar with his mouth open.
When Thorin enters their sitting room, Dis, Bilbo, and the boys are all assembled around the table. “We almost started without you,” Dis says.
“Aelfgar,” Thorin growls as an explanation and takes his seat. His family groans in understanding.
“Your grandfather’s old advisor?” Bilbo asks, and Thorin nods. “What did he want to talk to you about?”
“Ooo, let’s guess!” Kili cries.
“The time you spend in the forge?” asks Fili.
“Nori winking at him in the hall?”
“Vague comments on living up to Thror’s image?”
“Marriage,” Dis says decisively, and the boys quiet, knowing she has struck gold. “What were the arguments this time?”
“That I am the first King in nine generations to be crowned without a consort, the people need tradition, and so on.”
“You are to be married?” Bilbo asks quietly, sending Thorin’s heart pumping.
“Not to anyone of Aelfgar’s choosing,” he says, keeping his tone light.
“Whom would Aelfgar choose?”
“Dain, ideally. I would sooner fight a second dragon.”
The boys laugh, but Bilbo still remains serious. “I had not thought that your marriage would need to be strategic. Must it be arranged?”
Thorin chooses his next words carefully. “While I think a perfect partner would, of course, be an asset to Erebor, I think I’ve given enough of my life to my kingdom to request the small favor that when I do marry, I marry for love.”
“Very well said,” Dis says after a moment. “Bilbo, your influence is working miracles in my brother, for I think this is the first time I have heard him speak so diplomatically.”
“I speak diplomatically many times, Dis, whenever anyone asks me what is wrong with my dear sister.”
The conversation drifts on merrily. Thorin sneaks glances at Bilbo from time to time, hoping he heard in Dis’s words that he would be, absolutely, an asset to Erebor.
The air has turned mild again, and so Thorin is not surprised to find Bilbo on a ledge outside the mountain, overlooking the blackened, charred forest that had yet to heal. Thorin cannot welcome the warming earth as others can, for the return of spring also means the eventual return of Bilbo to the Shire. For the past few months Thorin has had Bilbo among Erebor’s walls, his presence lighting every corner. Now that he has lived with it, he does not know if he can relearn to live without it.
But Bilbo does not leave today, so Thorin sits beside him on the ledge and turns to face outward. They sit in silence for a few moments before Bilbo says quietly, “Kili talked to me about mountainsleep.”
Thorin turns to look at Bilbo. “Did he answer your questions well?” He asks carefully.
“All but one. I wondered why it took you so long to wake up, when Kili only needed six months. He said I needed to ask you that question.”
Thorin knows now that this conversation will have no escape, but if he treads lightly, maybe the worst can be avoided. “The care of a dwarf under mountainsleep unfortunately involves quite a bit of guesswork. I’m sure Kili has told you how treasures aid the recovery of a dwarf.” Bilbo nods. “It was not as though I could state my preferences. I...cared a great deal about something and no one realized. I do not blame them for not knowing. I healed more slowly because I was not fully at peace.”
“Kili said you still need your treasures after you wake. When you woke up, you fixed it, right? You were able to explain what you needed.”
Thorin pauses, surprised by the question. “I didn’t want to,” he forces out. “I refused to disturb anyone just to walk a little sooner.”
Bilbo snorts. “Well that’s stupid! You put yourself through unnecessary pain and prolonged your suffering. Why? So you didn’t have to say ‘please’? Would it have killed you to ask?’
“It’s complicated. It’s not like i was missing a trinket someone had on hand.”
“What could possibly have been complicated about it? Did you lose it on the journey here? Did it belong to someone else? It was for a damn good cause, Thorin, you could have just asked for it.”
"I couldn't have. It wouldn't have been right."
"What was it?"
“It was you,” Thorin says, the words fleeing his mouth without his control. “The treasures we seek during mountainsleep aren’t just things, I’m sure Kili told you that. When I first awoke, I begged for five—Erebor, Fili and Kili, Dis, and you.”
Thorin pauses to breathe and finds he cannot continue. His whole attention is focused on Bilbo. The hobbit is staring at him, eyes wide with something akin to hurt in them.
“You never told me,” Bilbo whispers, an angry glint to his words.
“I couldn’t,” Thorin says with a rush of desperation. “It would have been unfair to ask.”
“But not writing to me, not telling me the truth, that was fair?” Bilbo shakes his head. “I don’t understand how you could say that you...you needed me so badly it hurt you to walk, and yet you never even talked to me.”
“What you wanted more than anything was peace, in your Shire. I was giving you that peace.”
“It was not yours to give!” Bilbo straightens and looks Thorin in the eye. "Instead you took from me, took my choice and... and a friendship I had long thought lost."
Thorin is aghast. He had tried to shield Bilbo from the pain that choosing between Thorin and the Shire would cause. Instead he caused Bilbo suffering. "I am sorry, Bilbo."
Bilbo stares at him for a moment before nodding. "What do you want, Thorin?" he says, voice considering.
Thorin blinks. “In what way?"
"In every way. Concerning Erebor, the mountainsleep, and me. What do you want?"
Thorin pauses. "l want you to be happy."
"For the love of everything, Thorin, stop it and tell me. Ignore that voice in your head that tells you that you can't have nice things and just say what you want for once in your life.”
Thorin looks away and stares out at the burnt trees. He smiles sadly. “I feel lighter on my feet when you are near me. I laugh more often and stomach others’ foolishness better. I do not know if it is the magic or simply you, but I would not part with you for all the treasures in the dragon’s hoard.”
He hears a soft exhale beside him. “Then I will stay.”
Thorin turns sharply to look at Bilbo. “You do not have to,” he says desperately.
Bilbo is smiling. “I know.”
“I can live without you. I’ve proven it.”
Bilbo nods, eyebrows lifted. “Yes.”
“But the Shire. That was what you wanted.”
Bilbo pokes him in the chest. “What I wanted, Thorin Oakenshield, was a home, and there was more than one way to give me one.”
Thorin stares at him. “I love you,” he says wildly, out of excuses and protections against this thing. If it is going to break him, then let it break him completely.
Bilbo places a hand on Thorin’s face, laughing. “And I love you,” he says, making Thorin’s clumsy heart weightless, “so can we stop fighting about it?”
Thorin covers Bilbo’s hand with his own. “Never,” he vows, and leans in to press his lips to Bilbo’s. He means to keep the touch light, but Bilbo tugs him closer and he closes his eyes and lets go. Thorin carved out a place for his people in the Blue Mountains, led a quest to defeat a dragon, nearly died at the hand of an orc. But it wasn’t until this moment, feeling Bilbo’s warm smile underneath his, that he understands that he’s finally come home.
They walk into the common room and Dis falls out of her chair with the force of her laughter. “Kili!” She bellows. “Find me Balin! He owes me coin!”
Kili and Fili both burst out of their rooms, heads turning wildly. Fili looks down at his mother and swears. He ducks back into his room and returns with a pouch of money that he throws at Kili’s head.
Bilbo dissolves into laughter beside Thorin, muffling his giggles into Thorin’s shoulder. Thorin begins to laugh too, happiness bubbling in his chest. This strange feeling of contentment is not anything a dragon would steal, but in this room full of laughter Thorin has never felt richer.