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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 14

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 14: Ramekhsasekh
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count canon injuries and more pining
Word Count: 8574 (82,592 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'                           Chapter 6: Ges                 Chapter 11: Ze'sasekh
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded             Chapter 12: Nu'sasekh
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon              Chapter 13: Gemsasekh
Chapter 4: Ramekh                   Chapter 9: Tager
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh


If Bilbo never sees another battle, that will be too soon. He's been sticking close to Gandalf ever since Thorin exiled him from Erebor, sick at heart with worry and with fear. The hobbit is afraid for his friends and afraid for his honor; he's afraid for his own life and what Thorin might try to do to his kinsfolk if Dáin wins. Because Bilbo was certain that the dwarf lord loved him and Thorin tried to kill him anyway.

The dwarf may be sick, his mind wracked with dragon sickness and his senses lost to greed, but that doesn't stop the hurt that Bilbo's feeling. That doesn't stop the sense of betrayal or the fear and even if both of them survive this, the hobbit isn't sure whether they'll have a future after this. He still loves Thorin but he doesn't know if he'll ever be able to trust the dwarf again.

The hobbit almost hates Thorin in this moment and he definitely hates both Dáin and Thranduil for their damned stubbornness. He was trying to stop this. He sacrificed all he had – Thorin's love, the princes' friendship, any chance he had of staying with the dwarves in Erebor – and for what? So the Lord of the Iron Hills and the King of Mirkwood could spit insults at each other and then spill the blood of their own people in order to salve their wounded pride. Everything that happens now is just a waste of lives.

Indeed, Bilbo is actually relieved when an army of orcs pours onto the battlefield. Sure Azog's forces have them outnumbered three-to-one and the hobbit is probably going to be slaughtered where he stands, but at least the elves and dwarves stop trying to bash each other's heads now that they have a common enemy.

Only the dwarves upon the ramparts and Bard’s Lakemen do not move to join the battle against Azog. Bilbo is certain that his companions want to – Fíli and Kíli would never wish to sit a struggle out – but he doesn't expect them to defy their king. Dwarves value loyalty before all else and the hobbit can’t blame them for it despite what Thorin has become.

He doesn’t blame the Lakemen either. Bard’s people are not fighters, not really, and their horror is obvious as the field runs red with blood. Bilbo doesn't feel much better; he stands by Gandalf and feels sick to his stomach, wishing nothing more than to have this bloodshed done.

But then Azog signals his forces and part of the pale orc's army splits off toward Dale. The Lakemen left their women and children in that ruined city when they marched on the Lonely Mountain and the threat to their kin overcomes their fear.

“All of you! Fall back to Dale!” Bard shouts, raising his sword and leading the Lakemen toward the city. Gandalf and Bilbo follow, largely for lack of other options in the hobbit’s case. He doesn’t want to be left alone in the midst of a battlefield and if he must fight, then helping the Lakemen defend their families seems a good place to make a stand. Home and hearth is the sort of prize that Bilbo can understand.

So the burglar grips Sting tightly as the Lakemen dash over the causeway, their small group reaching the city just as Azog's forces smash through Dale's outer wall. The city does not fall easily but the Defiler came prepared for a siege and even the finest stonework weathers over time.

Soon the orcs are pouring into Dale en masse, their harsh shouts ringing through the streets. Bard's people do their best but they're both outnumbered and outmatched and they are slowly driven back. Bilbo and Gandalf join a score of Lakemen trying to defend the market, Sting shining brightly in the hobbit's hands. Not even the black ichor of orcish blood can hide the dagger's glow as the hobbit does his best to back up Gandalf. The wizard is using his own sword and his staff to lethal effect, but even he needs someone to watch his back.

Despite their best efforts, the Lakemen lose the market and then the blacksmith's quarter, orcs pouring into the city from half a dozen breaches in the wall. Bilbo can hear Bard shouting over the chaos as he strikes and dodges frantically. The man is calling for all women and children to hide in the great hall, their brothers and husbands ready to die in their defense. This gallant sacrifice can do little except delay the carnage but the Lakemen will not give up without a fight.

There is a strength to Bard's people that Bilbo quite admires; a grit of practicality that's almost hobbitish. These men will do what's necessary whether or not it's pleasant and if the burglar has to die, he's proud to die right here. Of course, he would rather be with Thorin or with Fíli and Kíli, laughing around a campfire as they cuddle up for warmth. But Bilbo burned those bridges when he stole the Arkenstone and he can't regret that action even though it led him here.

However, just as Azog's forces are preparing their last charge, a horn suddenly sounds from Erebor. The sonorous note rolls over the battlefield and leaves silence in its wake, elves, dwarves, men, and monsters stopping in their tracks.

All eyes turn toward the Lonely Mountain and the dwarven warriors who have been driven back against the gate. There are a few elves scattered here and there amongst them but most of Thranduil's warriors followed the elf king into Dale some time ago. The survivors are ranged amongst the Lakemen, defending those cobbled streets as best they can.

Although Bilbo can't see much detail at this distance, he sees the mountain's front gate shatter and a ripple pass through the dwarven line. The hobbit's heart swells near to bursting when Thorin and his companions charge into battle, the dwarves of the Iron Hills falling in behind their king.

Bilbo can't help but hope that his beloved has finally shaken off his dragon sickness. Perhaps Thorin has finally gained his right mind again.

“The dwarves! They're rallying!” the hobbit shouts to his allies and the Lakemen take courage from the words. Bard and the others raise their swords and start to push back their enemies, reckless desperation giving them a second wind. Indeed, the orcs are taken by surprise; they thought their foes defeated, their spirits broken and their bodies soon to follow beneath the monsters' wicked blades.

A strange exhilaration fills Bilbo's heart as he joins the charge, orc after orc tasting the sharp edge of his sword. The creatures fall one after another and the burglar begins to think that they may win this after all. He may actually survive this battle and have a chance to reunite with Thorin and his kin.

Bilbo glances over the ramparts, searching for a glimpse of his beloved in the chaos on the plain. At first the hobbit cannot pick out the dwarf lord amongst the writhing mass of bodies, but then one thread of movement stands out from the rest. Thorin is carving his way through Azog's forces upon a mountain goat while Kíli, Fíli, and several of the others follow in a chariot. Bilbo would recognize the princes and his beloved anywhere, though he can't quite place the rest. His former companions are too far away for him to see their faces now.

“He's taking his best warriors,” Gandalf says, coming up beside the burglar.

“To do what?” Bilbo asks a little desperately. Thorin cannot be fleeing the battle – his nephews would not bear it – but the hobbit cannot imagine where the dwarf is going now.

“To cut the head from the snake,” the wizard tells him. “He's going up to Raven Hill.”

Gandalf points to the frozen hill that looks over the plain and Bilbo's fears are eased by what he sees. Azog the Defiler is standing on that hilltop and so Thorin is not fleeing; the dwarf lord means to save them all. Even Bilbo knows that killing the pale orc is the surest way to end this battle and Thorin's allies need only survive until that monster falls.

However, the Lakemen have barely secured the market when Legolas and Tauriel suddenly come tearing through the streets on horseback. The elves skid to a halt in front of Gandalf, leaping down from their mount while wizard stares in shock.

“Legolas? Legolas Greenleaf? What are you doing here?”

“We came to warn you! There is a second army!” the elf prince tells him. “Bolg leads a force of Gundabad orcs and they are almost upon us! We must fall back to Erebor!”

“Gundabad?!” Gandalf gasps. Although the word means nothing to Bilbo, anything that makes the wizard turn that color cannot be good news and the hobbit watches Gandalf worriedly as he mutters to himself. “This was their plan all along. Azog engages our warriors and then Bolg sweeps in from the north with reinforcements once our forces are worn down. We thought it was a battle but it's a war of attrition and we can't hope to win it now.”

“North? Which way is north exactly?” Bilbo asks and his heart leaps into his throat when Gandalf points at Raven Hill. “What?! But Thorin is up there and Fíli and Kíli; they're all up there!”

“We must warn them,” Gandalf says before dashing off through the streets of Dale with Bilbo, Legolas, and Tauriel on his heels. The wizard searches the city until he finds Thranduil near the marketplace.

“Thranduil!” he shouts to draw the elf’s attention. “You must gather your warriors and send them to Raven Hill! There is an army of Gundabad orcs marching on the Lonely Mountain and we must warn Thorin! Warn him and then take refuge inside of Erebor until more help arrives.”

Thranduil does not answer him at first; he just turns and looks at the wizard blankly. The elf king is standing amongst his dead, his sword covered in blood and his face made old by grief.

“Father, we must go. We cannot allow the orcs to win,” Legolas says, adding his voice to Gandalf’s. But Thranduil just shakes his head.

“No.”

“What?!”

“No. Too many elves have died to protect that mountain,” the elf king tells his son. “I am done. This fight is not ours and we are returning to the forest. Thorin can deal with the orcs of Gundabad himself.”

“You cannot do that!” Gandalf exclaims. “What about your allies?”

“My allies?” Thranduil scoffs. “These dwarves are not my allies. Dáin has killed almost as many elves as Azog in his day and Thorin has never been a friend of mine. The Lakemen, yes. Bard offered me an alliance and his people are welcome to take refuge within Mirkwood until the fight is done. Though I doubt that many men survive.”

With that, the elf king spins on his heel and stalks off, shouting for his warriors to regroup. Legolas and Tauriel run after him and Bilbo can hear them arguing, trying to convince Thranduil to change his mind. But even if they succeed, the hobbit’s companions don’t have that kind of time.

“If he won’t help, then I’ll go,” Bilbo says to Gandalf. “I’ll warn Thorin and the others while you go to Dáin.”

“Don't be ridiculous. You'll never make it,”

“Why not?” the hobbit asks a little sharply; the wizard’s blatant disbelief is enough to make him scowl.

“They'll see you coming and they'll kill you,” Gandalf protests and seriously, where was that concern two months ago? Bilbo is only here because the wizard decided that he was supposed to be a burglar; if he’s sneaky enough to face a dragon, he can cross a battlefield.

“No, they won’t. They won’t see me,” Bilbo says. No one can see the hobbit when he puts on his magic ring and even orcs can’t kill what they can’t find.

“It's out of the question. I won't allow it.”

“I'm not asking you to allow it, Gandalf,” the burglar says with a sigh. “I don’t need your permission to help my friends and I am going to Raven Hill. You can do what you like.”

Bilbo ducks into the next alley while the wizard is still gaping at him. He pulls his ring from his pocket and then slips it on his finger, his gut twisting when the world goes grey again. Every time the hobbit does this, the sense of wrongness – of loss – only increases, but Bilbo puts his misgivings out of his mind for now. Fíli, Kíli, and Thorin are counting on their burglar to give them warning and he can’t afford to fail.

The hobbit runs through the streets of Dale, dodging around his allies and enemies alike. Both elves and orcs glow strangely in his otherworldly vision, the latter with darkness and the former with bright light. Indeed, they are twisted mirrors of each other and Bilbo is glad when he finally reaches open ground.

The burglar sprints across the battlefield to Raven Hill, the stone stairs up to the hilltop slick beneath his feet. But his pace never falters and his ring seems to fight off the exhaustion that should be on his heels.

Somehow Bilbo knows exactly where he’s going; the hobbit can almost see Fíli and Kíli pulling him forward, the brightness of their spirits acting as his guiding star. He cannot truly sense them – not as he thought he could in Erebor, not as some deeper feeling says he should – but he knows that he can find them. Bilbo could find the princes anywhere but he runs into their uncle first.

Thorin and Dwalin are standing back-to-back against half a dozen goblins, the pile of corpses around the dwarves testifying to the battle they have fought. The pair defeats their last few enemies as Bilbo dashes closer and the hobbit has just removed his ring when a point of fire suddenly ignites in his right shoulder. For a second, Bilbo thinks that he's been stabbed but when he turns around, no one is behind him and he is not bleeding when he looks. Indeed, there is a strange echo to the pain, like there was when he thought about Kíli's injury, and while the hobbit isn't sure what's going on, he knows this can’t be good.

“Thorin!” the burglar shouts as he shoves his ring back in his pocket.

“Bilbo?! What are you doing here?”

The dwarf lord reaches out for Bilbo and then pauses, his face twisting with remorse. “Oh my love, I am so sorry for what I tried to do.”

Bilbo has longed to hear those words ever since the dwarf lord turned against him, dragon sickness twisting admiration into burning avarice, and perhaps there will be hope for their future after all. But this isn't the time to have that conversation so the burglar just waves off Thorin's apology.

“It's all right; it doesn't matter,” Bilbo says before he pauses. “Actually, it does matter; it matters quite a lot and we will be talking about this later, I promise you. But there's an army of Gundabad orcs marching on the Lonely Mountain and we are standing in their way.”

“What?!” Thorin asks, the penitent lover replaced by the warrior king again. “Azog tricked us! We have spent our strength against his army and now Bolg sweeps down from the north to kill us all. This is a trap!”

Almost on cue, a rumbling noise begins in the far tower, a drumming that echoes across the stony tor and makes the dwarf lord's face go pale.

“Fíli and Kíli! Call them back!” Thorin tells Dwalin and Bilbo feels a flash of panic when he realizes what the dwarf lord's order means. His princes are alone with their uncle's greatest enemy.

My princes? Bilbo doesn't know where that thought came from. Kíli and Fíli belong only to each other and he knows that. But before he can do more than wonder what the hell he's thinking, movement at the top of the watch tower makes his blood run cold.

Because Azog has just walked into view and he's dragging Fíli, the hobbit's shoulder throbbing with every step the pale orc takes. The dwarf is struggling against Azog's grip but he's too weak to break free and when he sees Thorin, Dwalin and Bilbo watching, his heart stutters painfully.

“Run!” Fíli shouts down to the trio. If he is going to die here, he doesn't want his kin to see it. The prince doesn't want Bilbo to watch as Azog kills him; the hobbit will feel his death already and he doesn't need that memory. Indeed, Fíli is almost glad that their bond is weaker than it should be. His brother's panic already flutters like a trapped bird inside his chest and given the choice, he would spare both of amrâbulnâs this agony.

Fíli knows that his death will probably destroy Kíli; even if the archer survives the shock, he's bound to get himself killed in a grief-mad frenzy afterward. The older prince isn't the only one that Azog plans to slaughter and this thought sends Fíli scrabbling for a blade again. The orcs stripped him clean when he was captured but perhaps they'd missed one in their haste to bring him here.

So the prince checks each sheath with searching fingers – back, wrist, waist, and arm – but each comes up empty and he cannot reach the rest with his right arm still hanging useless at his side. However, it seems that the Valar are watching over their child after all. Because the pale orc decides to gloat; Azog lifts his captive high over the edge of the tower, nothing but empty air beneath his feet.

It's a long, long drop, but Fíli doesn't care. For when the dwarf twists in Azog's grip, his searching hand meets steel. The orcs missed his second boot dagger, the tiny blade a wedding gift from Kíli, and while it is not a large weapon, the knife is razor sharp.

Indeed, the edge cuts Azog deeply when Fíli slashes at his hand and the Defiler releases his captive as he rears back in shock. The prince lands hard on the stone, his momentum nearly taking him over the edge of the tower before he manages to stop. There are at least ten orcs between Fíli and the stairs, not to mention Azog, but the dwarf is preparing to give it his best effort when he hears his brother shout.

“Jump, Fíli!” Kíli yells from somewhere far below him and as always, he obeys.

The prince throws himself backwards off the ledge just as Azog lunges forward, the pale orc missing Fíli's arm by a hair's breadth. They're so close, close enough that he can see the hate burning in the pale orc's yellow eyes, and the dwarf doesn't even think before letting his last weapon fly.

The dagger leaves his hand and goes exactly where he sent it, appearing as if by magic in the Defiler's right eye. Azog lets out a hoarse bellow, his roar echoing off the stone while his orcs watch in shock. The last thing Fíli sees before he falls out of sight is the pale orc stumbling toward him with blood streaming down his face. It shouldn't be a killing blow but at least the prince has left his own mark on his family's greatest enemy.

Of course, Fíli is still falling and the wind rushes past his ears as he tumbles through the air. The ground is coming fast and the dwarf has no way to slow his descent, the tower walls too far away to reach. He can only trust that Kíli will be there to catch him when he hits the ground again.

He does trust his brother even though there is as much worry as reassurance flowing through their bond right now. Because his amrâbulnas has never let him down when it truly mattered and indeed, Fíli feels the warmth of his brother's arms close around him before the momentum of his fall slams them both into the ground.

If they'd been men instead of dwarves, the impact probably would have killed them but Mahal's children are made of stouter stuff. While both of them will be seriously bruised tomorrow, Fíli doesn't think the damage will be permanent. Not that he can feel anything other than the fire in his shoulder since hitting the ground at speed did not help his injury. So the dwarf lets himself rest in Kíli's arms for a moment, taking strength from his brother's clear relief.

“I've got you; I've got you,” Kíli is murmuring into the older prince's hair, his voice shaking audibly. “You're all right. I've got yo- Shit!”

Fíli bites back a cry of pain as his brother suddenly rolls them to the side and something slams into the stone where they had lain. It's Azog the Defiler, his mouth wide open in a snarl and his pale skin stained with blood.

“Holy fuck!” Kíli whispers, the curse summing up the situation nicely. Fíli doesn't know whether it was his dagger or the fall that killed the pale orc, but the Defiler is as dead as dead can be.

“We need to move,” Fíli says after a long pause. “Azog's orcs are bound to try to avenge their leader soon and I'm in no shape to fight. But I saw Thorin from the tower. He was on the other side of the lake with Bilbo and Dwalin and they're probably on their way to find us now.”

“Bilbo? When did he...?” Kíli starts to ask before shaking his head. “You know what, never mind, that's not important now. Let's go find our uncle and our hobbit; if they saw you fall off the tower then they're probably worried sick. Seriously, Fí, never do that again.”

“You know it wasn't intentional. But I promise that I'll try,” the prince tells his brother. “Of course, speaking of promises... didn't you say that you were going to get Thorin? I thought I told you to run.”

“And I told you that I was coming back in five minutes,” Kíli retorts. “I was hardly going to leave you there once I felt your injury and you're lucky that I stopped. Someone had to catch your heavy ass before you hit the ground.”

The archer gives his amrâbulnas a quick flash of grin before finally struggling to his feet. He holds out a hand to help Fíli stand but the older prince nearly crumples to the stone when his left knee refuses to support his weight. He must have banged it on the ground when he landed and while he doesn't think the bone is broken, moving with any speed will be difficult.

So Fíli doesn't protest when Kíli steps in to take his weight, one strong arm wrapping around his brother's waist. The archer doesn't like to see his amrâbulnas so sorely wounded and his only thought now is to reach his uncle's side before any more orcs attack.

However, Kíli pauses by Azog’s body when Fíli asks him to, the older prince leaning down to remove his dagger from the pale orc’s eye. The Defiler is truly dead this time, his body torn and broken and his spirit fled back to whatever fell place spawned a monster such as this. He will not trouble the sons of Durin any longer and Fíli rips the necklace of fangs from Azog's neck before straightening again.

The prince will show this prize to Thorin when they are reunited, a trophy to prove his kill. Then the dwarves continue toward the frozen lake, Kíli keeping one wary eye behind them as his brother limps along.

Meanwhile, Thorin is making his own way across the lake, his heart worried sick about his sister-sons. He'd started running as soon as Fíli fell but despite his worry, the dwarf is proud as well. Thorin had seen his sister-son strike Azog and he knows that whatever his fate, Fíli did not go down easily.

The dwarf lord's heir has done his family proud, far prouder than Thorin has in the last few days, and if anyone deserves the Valar's grace, it's him. Now that his mind is clear, Fíli and Kíli are as dear to the dwarf lord as any sons could be and he does not dare to hope that both of them survived. Thorin just runs toward the tower as fast as the icy lake allows, caution sacrificed for speed

“Kíli! Fíli!” Thorin shouts, Dwalin and Bilbo adding their own voices to his cry. “Answer me, my sister-sons. Where are you?”

Every second without an answer makes his heart beat faster and he nearly faints with relief when he finally hears a reply.

“Uncle!” The shout comes from deeper in the ruins. “Uncle, over here!”

Thorin rounds a crumbling wall and sees his sister-sons limping toward him, Kíli clearly holding most of his brother's weight. However, while Fíli is bruised and bloody, his right sleeve dripping scarlet on the stone, he is alive and that is the only thing his uncle cares about right now.

“Thorin. Uncle. I am pleased to tell you that your enemy is dead,” Fíli says, holding out a necklace of fangs in his left hand.

But the dwarf lord ignores the offering even as part of his mind registers the words with wonder and surprise. He just steps forward and wraps his arms around Fíli and Kíli's shoulders, holding them tight and whispering, “My sister-sons, I am so very glad that you're all right.”

Thorin cannot believe that he was willing to sacrifice their lives for treasure only a few hours past. Fíli and Kíli are worth more than all the gold in Azsâlul'abad; worth more than the Arkenstone as well. That jewel is the proof of Thorin's kingship but his sister-sons are his future and he wants nothing more than to see both dwarrows thrive.

Fíli and Kíli return their uncle's hug as fiercely, the three dwarves huddling together until Dwalin mutters, “Aw hell, laddies,” and throws his arms around them all.

The warrior pulls Bilbo with him, the hobbit tucking himself between Thorin and Fíli with a quiet, “I am happy you're alive. But there is another army coming and we should probably all run.”

This is a sentiment with which his companions can agree wholeheartedly. Azog's death will not turn aside his reinforcements and indeed, the dwarves' embrace is shortly interrupted when a pack of orcs scale the northern wall.

“Guard your brother,” Thorin orders Kíli as he and Dwalin move to engage their enemies. He's pleased to see that Bilbo stays by the princes without prompting; the hobbit is brave but he is no warrior and the dwarf lord does not wish to test the Valar's mercy by risking one he loves.

Of course, Thorin shortly discovers that Bilbo has no intention of standing on the sidelines like some helpless damsel. The burglar picks up a chunk of stone, throwing it past Thorin's ear to knock an orc straight off its feet. Indeed, both Fíli and Bilbo make good use of the rubble that surrounds them, Fíli's left-handed throws not as accurate as the hobbit's but quite brutal when they hit.

Meanwhile, Kíli is keeping one eye on the battle while he patches up his brother's wounds as best he can. The older prince still won't be moving quickly but at least he won't pass out from blood loss and the tight knot of pain in the archer's chest has eased.

Once he's finished with his bandages, Kíli joins the hobbit in chucking stones and rocks at their enemies, cursing his empty the whole time. But between the five of them, the first wave of orcs falls quickly and the prince dares to think that they might win this battle yet.

“Look out!”

Fíli's shout comes a hair too late as Bolg leaps down from one of the tower's upper levels and tackles Thorin onto the frozen lake. The dwarf lord lands hard and the impact makes him drop his sword, forcing him to dodge frantically when the orc raises his weapon high.

“Uncle!” Kíli screams, grabbing the mace from a nearby corpse and chucking it right at Bolg's head. His aim is good despite the awkward weight and the weapon knocks the orc off balance so that Thorin can grab his sword again. But when Kíli looks around for another missile, there’s simply nothing left to throw. Not in his reach anyway, leaving the prince torn between going to help his uncle and standing by his amrâbulnâs to keep them both from harm.

So Kíli hesitates until Fíli grabs his arm.

“Go! We are not defenseless and Dwalin will be finished with those orcs soon enough,” the blond dwarf says.

When his brother still wavers, Fíli continues, “And I promise to scream really loudly if we need your help.”

“All right, it's a deal,” the younger prince agrees with a faint chuckle. He knocks his forehead into Fíli's and nearly does the same to Bilbo before he remembers that he doesn't have the right. Instead, Kíli simply pats the hobbit on his shoulder before pulling out his sword.

By now Thorin has reached his feet once more, he and Bolg trading strikes in the center of the lake. Neither has been able to gain the advantage and the archer fully intends to tip the balance toward his side.

However, before Kíli can reach his uncle, another wave of orcs pours onto the ice and the prince finds himself rather occupied. He can't allow these orcs to help Bolg against Thorin but the frozen ground makes the battle difficult. Every time the archer dodges, his feet threaten to slip out from underneath him and he's already lost part of his sleeve to one near miss.

Although the orcs aren't faring any better, they have the advantage of numbers and Kíli isn't killing them fast enough. Not when two more orcs appear for every one left bleeding on the ice and the prince's arm is beginning to shake with weariness.

Thorin is managing little better when Kíli dares a glance over his shoulder, both Erebor’s king and his nemesis bleeding from half a dozen wounds. A stab of concern makes the archer falter for a moment, that brief hesitation nearly costing him his life. The prince barely manages to throw himself to the ground when he catches a burst of movement in the corner of his eye.

The mace whistles over his head harmlessly but another orc is upon Kíli before he can regain his feet, a cruel sword slamming hard into his blade. Although he tries, the dwarf doesn't have the strength to shove the monster off him, the orc's weapon sliding toward his throat inch by inch.

Kíli can't help a burst of panic when he realizes that he might truly die here and while his brother answers, he knows that Fíli will never reach his side in time. However, just before the archer's strength fails completely, the orc suddenly stumbles back with an arrow in his chest. Kíli takes advantage of the opening, scrambling to his feet and looking around wildly for another enemy.

Orcs are dropping all around them and when the archer traces the arrows' path, he sees an elf standing on a tower near the edge of Raven Hill. Although Kíli isn't certain at this distance, he thinks the elf is Legolas. The archer can't imagine what Thranduil's son is doing here; Kíli last saw him riding off with Tauriel and indeed, when the dwarf looks around, he sees the elfine on another tower top.

These two seem to be making a habit of rescuing the line of Durin and whatever the reason for it, Kíli is glad to have the help. Indeed, with his new allies raining death down from above, the dwarf soon clears the ice of enemies. Only Bolg remains, the orc wounded but refusing to fall and the archer knows that they're running out of time.

The princes and their companions need to kill Bolg and escape Raven Hill before it's overrun, gathering the surviving dwarves, elves, and Lakemen before regrouping inside the protection of the Lonely Mountain's walls. A protracted siege is their only chance of survival and while the orcs would be difficult to outrun considering Fíli's injuries, Kíli will carry his brother if he must.

Live or die together, that is the promise of amrâbulnâs and the princes have already broken that oath far too often on this quest.

However, just as Kíli lunges toward Bolg, the dwarf hears a piercing cry and he looks up to see a flock of eagles soaring overhead. The birds are coming from the west and the archer thinks he can see that strange brown wizard and Beorn riding on their backs as the eagles fly to meet their enemies.

The skin-changer stares down at the sea of orcs with a hungry smile, the bear shifting restlessly underneath his skin. He did not lie when he told Thorin Oakenshield that he hated orcs far more than dwarves; Beorn despises orcs far more than anything. Azog the Defiler had taken him and chained him and made him watch as his kin were skinned and slaughtered and the coming battle fills the skin-changer with anticipation now.

It is time for the orcs of Moria to feel his people's vengeance and Beorn throws himself from his eagle's back with a roar. He shifts while still midair, the bear landing in the midst of the orcish army and laying about with teeth and claws.

There is no strategy to his attacks. There's simply a litany of prey, bleed, eat, death, prey, but the skin-changer does not need strategy to decimate his foes. All the bear needs is size and strength and fury, Beorn roaring out a challenge that echoes all the way to Erebor.

At the sound, Bolg breaks away from Thorin and runs to the edge of the cliff. The orc lets out a furious bellow when he sees the damage that the eagles and the skin-changer are doing to his army, what should have been his greatest triumph turning to a bitter rout instead. His sudden shift in fortune leaves him reeling and Thorin takes advantage of his enemy's despair.

The dwarf lord rushes forward while Bolg is still focused on the eagles. He raises his sword and leaps high into the air, bringing down the blade with a shout. The blow splits the orc's skull almost in twain, the monster taking two wild swings and then collapsing on the ice.

Bolg is dead, the bloodline of Azog ended. But Kíli only cares about his uncle, the prince's heart leaping into his mouth when Thorin drops to one knee with a groan. Bolg's last swing caught the dwarf lord in the shoulder and his face is tight with pain when his sister-son rushes to his side. However, Thorin is quick to reassure Kíli that the injury is not serious, pushing himself back to his feet with a wince.

The pair is soon joined by Dwalin, Bilbo, Fíli, Tauriel, and Legolas, the elves having helped the dwarves chase the last few orcs off Raven Hill. Indeed, wherever Thorin looks, his foes have been routed, the few surviving orcs fleeing toward the north. It will be many years before those foul creatures can trouble the free peoples of Middle Earth again, their courage shattered with the deaths of Azog and his kin.

Indeed, this day will long be remembered as the day that the Sigin-tarâg won back the Lonely Mountain. The day that Azsâlul'abad began her rise to glory once again.

But first the dwarves and their allies must bury the dead and heal the wounded and Thorin knows that this victory did not come without great cost. Yet his sister-sons did not pay for his kingdom with their lives and for that, the dwarf lord is sincerely grateful. He sends the Valar his thanks and then repeats them when they return to the plain and discover that Dáin and his companions live as well.

Thorin's cousin has already gathered his surviving warriors together, most of the dwarves separating friend from foe amongst the fallen while those trained as healers do their work. There are several healers amongst the dwarves, but it is Óin whom Thorin calls over to treat Fíli's wounds. The dwarf lord trusts his heir only to his kin; Óin will see that the elder prince has no more than scars to show for the battle they have fought.

Kíli stays with his brother, unwilling to leave his amrâbulnas when death came so close to claiming both their lives. Indeed, his uncle cannot blame him so he claps his sister-son on the shoulder and promises to return as soon as possible before he leaves them in Óin's capable hands.

Bilbo and Dwalin fall into step behind Thorin as he makes his way to Dale to speak with Bard and Thranduil. The dwarf lord is not looking forward to this conversation but now that the lust for gold no longer clouds his mind, Thorin recognizes that they will need to work together to restore what has been lost. A difficult proposition to be sure and one that will be made that much harder by the dwarf lord's recent actions, though Thorin does not believe that he was completely in the wrong.

However, even if his allies do not deserve the gold he promised, it is time to put the hatreds of the past behind him and there are more important things in life than his grandfather's treasure hoard. The dwarf lord has Fíli and Kíli, home and hearth and a place for the Sigin-tarâg to prosper, and perhaps even Bilbo, his hobbit still with him even though Thorin wronged him greatly atop the Lonely Mountain's gates.

The dwarf lord truly regrets his actions on the ramparts and he can only hope that Bilbo will give him a chance to make things right. Because his feelings have not changed; if anything his heart has grown more certain and he sincerely believes that Bilbo would be a fine consort for a king.

The hobbit's presence helps Thorin keep his temper during the negotiations with his allies, reminding him that a share of Thrór's treasure is a small price to pay for peace. The gold within Azsâlul'abad may be the birthright of his people but their lives are more important and it will take more than a couple greedy kings to empty out that hoard.

So the dwarf agrees to uphold the bargain that Bard offered: the return of the Arkenstone in exchange for the gold that Thorin promised Laketown. He will aid the men of Dale until their city is rebuilt and Thranduil will do the same for the Sigin-tarâg if they return the gems of Lasgalen.

Thorin has no use for jewelry and this gift will help to ease the rift that exists between their peoples, the rift the dwarf lord helped to cause. Indeed, Dáin and Thranduil will probably never see each other with anything but hatred; they’ve spilled too much blood for that. But the elf king has softened slightly at his son’s insistence; while he does not like the dwarves, he will not cause another war.

Better for their kingdoms to prosper together, the past ignored if not forgiven and the corpse of Smaug the Terrible shared out evenly. Thorin has agreed to trade Smaug’s forearm for the dragon’s head and he plans to mount the monster’s horns on his throne as a reminder of what awaits those dwarves who dig too deep.

Perhaps Kíli will make a decent leader after all, the dwarf lord thinks. His younger sister-son may be impulsive but Bard seems to respect him and Thorin is now able to recognize that Kíli made his offer honestly. The archer only wanted to help and his gift did more for Azsâlul'abad than Thorin has so far.

The negotiations go far more smoothly than they might have without the dragon’s corpse to offer and when the bargaining is finally finished, the King Under the Mountain offers his hand to the Kings of Dale and Mirkwood. The rulers seal their new alliance with a handshake and they part as comrades if not friends.

However, it is not the opinion of his allies that matters most to Thorin; it is the opinion of the hobbit standing at his side. Bilbo gives him a proud smile on their way out of Dale and this gives the dwarf lord the courage to touch him on the arm.

“May we speak?” he asks, waving Dwalin onward so that he and Bilbo are alone.

“Now? Is this really the best time?”

“I fear this may be the only time that I have in the near future and I would know where we stand,” Thorin tells him honestly.

“All right then,” Bilbo agrees after a moment. “But only if you let the healers look at you when we're finished. You may not be dying but there's no need for you to walk about in pain. Suffering needlessly doesn't prove your toughness to anyone.”

“As you wish,” the dwarf lord replies, his heart warmed by the hobbit's blunt concern. This is one of the reasons that he wants Bilbo with him; the burglar has never let the difference in their status stop him from speaking the truth when necessary and Thorin needs more frankness in his life.

“I am truly sorry, Bilbo. I have never regretted anything as much as I regret my words and deed upon the gates,” the dwarf lord says. “So please, will you tell me... is there any chance for us? Do you think you can ever forgive me for my actions? I will happily spend the rest of our lives proving my true feelings if I must.”

“It's not a matter of forgiveness,” the hobbit replies. “I still love you, Thorin, and I know that you would never have tried to hurt me if you had not been ill. But you tried to kill me even if those actions born from dragon sickness. You tried to kill me twice and I don't know if I can trust that you will not try again. I don't know if I can stay here, never knowing if the gold beneath the mountain will steal your heart from me.”

In all honesty, Thorin hears, “I still love you,” and stops listening, the dwarf nearly overwhelmed by the force of his relief. If Bilbo loves him then they can fix this and he reaches out to take his hobbit by the hands.

“Let me try, my love,” Thorin pleads. “Winter is upon us and you will not wish to travel once these lands are covered deep with ice and snow. Give me until spring to show you that we can still be happy and if I fail, we will part in friendship. You will always be welcome in my kingdom; that is my promise and my vow.”

This is an easy promise for the dwarf to make since he is certain that he'll be able to win his burglar's trust again. After all, Thorin did it once already under far worse circumstances and now he has an actual home to offer. He can show the hobbit the life that he deserves if his beloved will only let him try.

The dwarf lord waits anxiously as Bilbo considers his proposal and when the burglar finally nods, Thorin wants to sweep him into his arms and crow with happiness. But the dwarf knows that he must earn back that right so he simply leans down and kisses his hobbit on the cheek.

“Thank you,” Thorin murmurs before straightening again. “Now, I believe I promised to seek the healers for my injuries.”

Thorin sit patiently while Óin pokes and prods him, the hobbit's grateful smile well worth the inconvenience, and he must admit that his shoulder feels better once it's bandaged properly. Then the dwarf lord leaves Bilbo with Fíli and Kíli as he seeks out his cousin, needing to speak with Dáin and work out a strategy for the coming days. There is much to be done; Thorin cannot be crowned until all the dead are buried but Dáin's warrior brought only the supplies that they could carry and all of Azsâlul'abad's allies must be fed.

Soon the dwarf lord is buried under a mountain of logistics and just as he expected, he and Bilbo have little time to speak. Thorin only sees Bilbo when he ducks into the healer's tent to check on his heir – Kíli and the hobbit conscripted into changing bandages and cleaning wounds since they will not leave Fíli's side.

These encounters consist of little more than a smile and a nod as Bilbo and the dwarf lord pass each other by and Thorin will be sorely relieved when the chaos finally dies. His life will never be his own entirely but once the aftermath of the battle has been dealt with, he should be able to carve out some time for Bilbo here and there.

Although, in truth, the hobbit is grateful for the chance to process everything that's happened before he and Thorin have too much time alone. Bilbo needs a chance to work through his emotions, the chance to feel angry and betrayed and frightened so that he can move on.

Thankfully, there is plenty of work to keep the burglar busy. Just keeping Fíli entertained is a full time job. The elder prince has been ordered on bed rest until his knee heals enough to walk and he's honestly one of the worst patients that Bilbo has ever seen. Fíli has always seemed like the most sensible member of his family but when he's bored, the prince becomes far more like his younger brother after all.

The dwarf keeps trying to sneak out and help his uncle until Kíli and Bilbo start trading shift to watch him all day long. Perhaps the hobbit should be annoyed by Fíli's stubbornness but he enjoys spending time with both of the princes and indeed, he feels far more settled when the brothers are nearby.

The strange burst of elation that he felt in Erebor has become a softer hum of contentment, one that Bilbo does not notice consciously. If he's suddenly more aware of the crooked tilt to Kíli's smile or the warmth of Fíli's arm around his shoulders as he helps the prince to walk, the hobbit can explain that well enough. He nearly lost both the princes after all. Not only to the battle but to his theft of the Arkenstone and Bilbo is truly grateful that they let him explain. Indeed, he's been reminded of how much he cares about Fíli and Kíli and he considers them some of the best friends he's ever had.

Bilbo will miss both dwarves dearly if he decides to return to the Shire, the barest thought of leaving making his heart twinge painfully. But the hobbit would not be leaving for good if he and Thorin are able to rebuild the trust between them and he does not want to think on the alternative.

Instead, the burglar cajoles Kíli and Fíli into telling him about their parts of the battle and while the princes don't want to brag at first, Bilbo is persistent. Soon Fíli's capture is being reenacted with sticks and bandages, the dwarf's amrâbulnâs gasping over every injury.

Then, of course, Kíli has to take his turn, speaking of Smaug's death in far more detail than he had before. He tells them about the wind-lance and Tauriel's assistance, which leads him to mention seeing Thranduil's son on Raven Hill. Fíli and Bilbo were too busy killing orcs to watch Thorin's duel with Bolg and so Kíli is forced to reenact that fight as well, his eyes bright when he recounts his uncle's bravery.

Bolg, Azog, Smaug – the Sons of Durin have more than proved their courage – and Bilbo isn't the only one hanging on the princes' every word. Indeed, the other wounded in Óin's tent are just as bored as Fíli and the trio's stories gather quite an audience. The fact that Kíli and Fíli see nothing strange about their actions only makes the princes' deeds seem more impressive and as each warrior is discharged, word of their bravery spreads.

Not that Fíli or Kíli realizes the furor they've been causing. The brothers can't see anything but Bilbo when he smiles at them and although the hobbit won't admit it, he feels much the same. However, even they must notice when one of Dáin's warriors greets the younger prince as “Dragonslayer” and Fíli is followed by whispers of “Azogsbane” when he's allowed to go outside.

“Are they really calling me that?” the prince asks when the rest of Thorin's company comes to visit. Although Fíli had wanted to earn glory, his fight with Azog hadn't exactly been a triumph and only blind luck caused the Defiler to stumble to his doom.

“Just accept it, Azogsbane,” Nori tells him with a grin. “You and your brother are legends now. The dwarves of the Iron Hills adore you, and even if it comes with a silly nickname, you shouldn't waste the goodwill that your deeds have bought.”

“No, we don't intend to,” Fíli replies, glancing over at his amrâbulnâs. Kíli and Bilbo are deep in a discussion about the right way to tie off a roll of bandages and all he wants to do is pull them both into his arms. Even if the prince doesn't feel as though he deserves a title, he will not give up the future that such a name might buy him, and Kíli at least had earned his epithet.

Indeed, the princes' quest seems to be working out perfectly. With such great deeds behind them, Thorin should have no reason to refuse his sister-sons' request. Once he is crowned the true King Beneath the Mountain, those who fought beside him will have the boon they seek.

The Sigin-tarâg shall change forever and then Fíli and Kíli will finally be able to court their burglar. The princes will be able to complete their trinity without fear of execution or guilt about their uncle's broken heart; Thorin may have loved their hobbit, but that relationship was finished the moment that he laid his hand on Bilbo. Even if their uncle was sick at the time, their burglar can't possibly agree to stay with him after that. Not when Fíli and Kíli want nothing more than to adore him for the remainder of his days.


Chapter 15: Gamekhsasekh