"WHAT?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE'S GONE?!"
Dwalin looked up from his watery soup and squinted at the door. He could hear Dáin alternating between cursing something fierce, and interrogating the unfortunate bastard that had managed to piss him off. He felt a brief stab of surprise at the Dwarf's anger—Dáin kept his cool even when things went sour; like that time he and Thorin decided to steal King Thrór's favorite book, "The Stone Mason's Mistress," only to be caught by the king himself—but mostly he was curious over what ruffled him up so badly. Whatever it was, it had to be big.
To his joy, Dáin came stomping into the room with his face as red as Glóin's hair, and his braids messy and undone. He looked like a weasel that had been upturned in the middle of his nap. When his blue eyes landed on Dwalin, they narrowed into slits. He stomped over to the warrior and threw a wrinkled envelop into his face.
"Read this. Now," the Lord growled before turning back on his heel with a dramatic flourish of his cloak because he was secretly as dramatic as Thorin was in front of Bilbo.
"Wait, why? Who is this from?" he called as Dáin stalked off. "Dáin!"
"Just read it!" the other Dwarf roared back without stopping. "And I'm going to tell our stupid cousin that his dumbass intended has run off for Mordor!"
Dwalin dropped his bowl of soup. "WHAT?!"
"Master Balin? I have a letter here for you from Lord Dáin."
Balin nodded and held out his hand without looking away from the papers he was going through. "Thank you. Dismissed."
The attendant gave him a thickly bound letter before bowing and leaving. Balin tossed it onto his table and finished reading the reports he had before finally looking at the letter from Dáin. To his surprise, the handwriting on the envelope was not the familiar slashes he had been expecting. Curious, he picked up the letter, broke the seal, and then skimmed over the excessively curvy letters. What he read made his very heart stop in his chest.
"Oh no. Bilbo… what have we done?"
"From Uncle Dáin? About what?" Kíli wondered as he took a thick envelope from one of Dáin's personal guards.
"Wait, this is Bilbo's handwriting," Fíli realized as he scanned his own yellow envelope. "Why is he sending us letters?"
The guard shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. All I was told by Lord Dáin was to deliver these letters to you both."
Fíli exchanged a look with his brother before dismissing the unknown guard. Once the stranger was gone, he opened the letter and began to read. Five minutes later the letter was a crinkled mess on the floor as he lunged for his still-reading brother. Kíli squawked and caught him with one arm while the other splayed behind him in order to balance himself from falling off his chair.
"Fíli! What the hell?!" he yelled as pushed away the blond braids falling into his face. "What is wrong with you?!"
"You were supposed to die," Fíli rasped as he hugged his only brother tighter. "We both were. We were meant to die…"
He felt Kíli relax in his arms slightly but he didn't dare relinquish his hold. "Fee, what…?"
"Read your letter, Kíli," he bid as he buried his face in the messy dark locks, and tried his best not to imagine a world without his little brother at his side. "Just read it."
"Brother? What are you reading?" Glóin asked as he waltzed into the room that Óin had claimed as his own. His older brother stood before a table covered with his herbs, tools, and other healing nonsense that he knew all about, but never bothered to share with anyone. Óin had always got pissed at him for not knowing so he made it a point to act dumb just to annoy him.
The healer did not answer as he continued to read the letter in his hands. As he watched, his older brother's eyes began to grow wide before narrowing, and then finally settling on watery. He sniffed a few times but did not allow the tears to fall, and Glóin couldn't help but roll his eyes over that. Óin would rather kiss an Elf before he ever dared to cry in front of his little brother.
"Really, what are you reading?" he asked again as he walked closer to the other Dwarf. "Is it another letter from Dís? I know that you two have some sort of freakish bond where you both get a kick out of torturing Thorin with guilt and nasty medicine, but I really don't think now is the time to complain to her over his stubborn ass—"
"Glóin," Óin interrupted without raising his voice or looking away from his letter, "I think I just discovered how I'm going to die."
"Bofur? Is this real?" Bombur wondered as he looked up from his letter to stare at the Dwarf across from him. Bofur ignored him and kept reading the letter with eyes that were growing darker and darker with every second. He didn't blame his brother. His own stomach felt curled into knots, and he didn't know if he wanted to cry or scream over what he had just learned.
"Oh, what have we done?" he wondered out loud as he thought of their halfling friend who had sacrificed more than he thought possible for them. "We were so suspicious of him for so long; it must have hurt him so much to be so mistrusted! And Thorin! How could we ever let him or our princes die—"
"Bombur," Bofur interrupted as he finally looked up to his brother with his dark eyes. "I think Bilbo may have just bitten off more than he can chew."
"Are you fucking kidding me?!"
"Dori! Not in front of Ori!" Nori scolded with a mocking scowl as he covered Ori's ears.
Dori—to his great surprise—ignored him and simply kept walking back and forth as he read the letter in his hands. Ori held a similar letter in his hands, and was speeding through it with remarkable precision. On Ori's lap sat an unopened letter with Nori's own name scratched across. He squinted at the handwriting but could only vaguely recall it from somewhere.
"Nori, I think you need to read your letter," Ori said slowly as he held up the envelope with his name on it without looking away from the letter in his other hand. Nori shrugged and took the parchment and opened it with one of his daggers. He quickly skimmed over the letter inside, and then felt the floor fall out under his feet.
"Thorin? Are you all right?"
He ignored Balin and kept staring at the letter in his hands. Though he had read it countless times already, for some reason he found that he could not quite believe what he had just learned. Bilbo had journeyed back in time? To save them? To save Fíli and Kíli? To save Thorin? He had never heard of such a feat, of such an odd notion. But the more he thought about it, the more the pieces began to fall into place: Bilbo's easy demeanor when they first met; his protective actions; his fierce loyalty and affection for the Dwarves even when they didn't know him…
He glanced down to the last sentence written on the paper. In swirly script it said, 'I have loved you for eighty years and I will love you for eighty more.' Bilbo's lost love—the one he spoke so highly of and cried for and continued to love even when it was one-sided—had not been some unknown fool all along.
It was Thorin.
"Balin… I have made a grave mistake," he said quietly as he folded the letter and tucked it into his coat pocket.
His oldest friend nodded slowly. Balin looked like he had aged ten years just by reading Bilbo's letter. "I think we all have whether intentionally or not. Now the question is what do we do about it?"
The memory of Bilbo's voice speaking to him while he slept taunted him. It had been the only light in his nightmares of death and fear and madness. "Get the others. Now."
Balin blinked. "What? Why?"
Thorin bared his teeth in what he knew was a bloodthirsty smile. "Because we're going to Mordor."
Thorin's glare grew darker while the Dwarves around him began to tense and growl like a pack of dogs. Dáin was slightly tempted to throw a stick just to see what they would do. If they chased after it, then he wasn't holding back against the dog jokes any longer.
"I don't recall asking for your permission," Thorin rumbled as he attempted to look fierce and menacing. But Dáin still recalled when his cousin had shaved his eyebrows off because of a dare, so it was rather hard to take him seriously.
"Too bad because you need it before you can set off after your little Hobbit," he retorted as he crossed his arms over his chest, and leaned back against the wall behind him.
Dwalin snorted and gave him an ugly sneer. "Last I looked, this wasn't your mountain we were under."
"No, this is not my kingdom," he agreed easily mostly because he knew his composed mask pissed Dwalin off, "but I am the one with the army that you will need to storm Mordor to save your beloved."
At Thorin's side, Dwalin bristled along with a few others whose names he couldn't quite recall. He knew they started with a B and were related, but that was about all. They were common folk, after all, and he didn't make much effort in remembering the names of commoners. On the other side of Thorin though, Balin looked thoughtful as he rubbed his beard and stared up at something on the ceiling.
"He has a point. Our forces are mostly made up of soldiers from Dáin, Thranduil, and Bard. Without them, we have only the Company and perhaps Gandalf to help us face Mordor," Balin pointed out, ever the voice of reason. Sometimes it amazed Dáin how Dwalin could grow up with such a Dwarf as an older brother, and yet still fail to use his words properly.
Thorin's shoulders grew tenser and his already pale face grew whiter. Though obviously in great pain, his stubborn cousin had insisted on sitting up in his bed after summoning Dáin and his Company to his side to discuss the letters the Hobbit had left for them. He had not read them personally, but from what he had seen of the wizard, whatever the halfling had to say had thrown them all for a loop.
"Are you denying me aid?" his cousin asked quietly.
He rolled his eyes. "No, you fool, so stop glaring at me. I'll help you get your Hobbit back, but first you must rest and heal. You'll be no help if you die before reaching Mordor."
"Bilbo is out there alone with no protection," Thorin argued because he was a stubborn, stubborn bastard. "We cannot afford to linger knowing that!"
"Actually, he's not alone," a large and round Dwarf admitted, raising a hand and waving it in the air. "I heard from Gandalf that Bilbo took his pet, new mistress, and the scary Elf along with him."
Óin gave him a look that said he was seriously reconsidering his opinion of the Dwarf. "What part of that statement was supposed to reassure us that he's safe?"
"What do you mean he took his mistress?" Thorin spat as he turned his glare to the redhead. "Since when did he get a mistress?"
One of the other auburn haired Dwarves—the sneaky one that kept filching his guards' knives for fun—snorted loudly. "He means Bard."
Thorin's eyes went wide and his mouth twisted into an ugly snarl. "WHAT?! I WAS OUT FOR TWO DAYS AND YOU FOOLS LET HIM RUN OFF WITH THAT WORM?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ALL OF YOU?! YOU HAD ONE JOB! ONE!"
The Dwarves all winced as one and shifted as their king roared at them. Dáin rolled his eyes again and wondered not for the first time why he ever left his mountain. Perhaps it was time to get to know his mother's side of the family better…
"You are the one who banished Bilbo from the mountain," Balin reminded with a scowl as he rubbed his ear. "We had to send Dáin here just to convince him to visit us! How could we watch over him when he's not even allowed in the mountain?"
That stopped Thorin before his anger could erupt like a volcano. But Balin had always been good at nipping Thorin's temper in the bud before it could grow into something uncontrollable. He couldn't stop the anger—only Frerin had ever been able to calm his brother—but Balin could still slow it down until it cooled into a simmer in the back of Thorin's mind.
Dáin made a point of ignoring the cruel twist in his heart as he recalled Frerin. After a hundred years, he had gotten rather good at ignoring his heart. "Regardless of your opinion on his comrades, Master Baggins is not unprotected. Those three will be adequate enough protection until we catch up."
Thorin turned his blue—Frerin's—eyes to him. He could read the desperation in them as his cousin wordlessly begged him to understand. He didn't know why Thorin bothered. He knew Dáin wouldn't be swayed.
"Dáin, I cannot leave him out there. Not now, not when I know what he's sacrificed for me," his cousin said, his deep voice a rasp.
He shrugged, unmoved, and pushed himself off the wall with one foot. "And you won't. Get some rest, cousin, and I will see if I can muster us up a decent enough army from the elves."
As he walked out of the room, he smirked and called casually over his shoulder, "Oh, Thorin? Glad to see you have one of your beads back. I look forward to the wedding."
Behind him, the Dwarves erupted into chaos.