Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,

This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 15

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 15: Gamekhsasekh
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: More angst, more pining, you know the usual...
Word Count: 3748 (86,340 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 14: Ramekhsasekh
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh

One week after the Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield is finally crowned as King Beneath the Mountain. The Arkenstone shines in pride of place above his throne while Bard and Thranduil offer their recognition and the dwarves of the Iron Hills swear allegiance to their rightful king. Even Dáin bows his head when Balin places a crown on Thorin's brow and a scepter in his hand.

The dwarf accepts their fealty and offers his own promise, the vow that every king must make and honor to the land he serves. Thorin means the words all the more for his past failures and when he sits down on his throne, he knows that he would give his life for every dwarrow here. Indeed, the king's eyes are suspiciously wet as he looks around his throne room and listens to the gathered peoples cheer. Then the King Under the Mountain holds up his hand for silence, waiting until his wish is granted before summoning the members of Thorin's company.

“My friends,” the dwarf king says when his companions stand before him, each word carried to the far corners of his hall. “You stood with me when no one else would answer and your bravery deserves the richest of rewards. Henceforth, you will be lords amongst the Sigin-tarâg, your pasts forgiven and your deeds honored by the bards. You will never know hunger as long as I have food to offer and you will always have a place here at my side. However, two of you have shown greater courage than even I could have expected. Step forth my sister-sons.”

Fíli and Kíli do as ordered, their hands clasped tightly and anticipation in their hearts.

“My people, my allies... I give you Kíli Dragonslayer and Fíli Azogsbane,” Thorin declares, the gathered dwarves, men, and even elves cheering loudly in response. “Tell me, my sister-sons, what boon do you ask in return for your great service? Anything that is in my power, I shall grant you now.”

The brothers trade a glance and then Fíli takes a step forward. If he has ever had a silver tongue, the dwarf prays that it will not fail him now.

“We did not fight at your side for riches, uncle, or even for the glory of our name. We fought for love of you and loyalty and I must speak of love right now,” the prince says, holding out his hands beseechingly. “There is only one boon that Kíli and I seek from the King Under the Mountain; we beg you to strike down the laws that govern amrâbulnâs and infidelity. Let our people marry where their hearts desire; let us follow Mahal's bonds in the manner of our choosing rather than the strictest law. Because I believe – we believe – that love comes in many forms and crosses many boundaries, and if we are to build a brighter future, this should be recognized.”

Fíli's words ripple through his audience, the entire hall falling silent by the time he finishes. The watching dwarves cannot believe that Thorin's heir has dared to challenge the law that binds amrâbulnâs and while the elves and men do not understand what he is asking, they can tell it's serious.

Because the dwarves are watching Fíli with a mix of pride, hope, and betrayal, the latter from those who think that the current way is right. No one dares to speak as they look to their king's answer, fear and no small amount of anticipation in their eyes.

Thorin too is surprised by Fíli's request. His sister-sons are amrâbulnâs and he always believed that they were happy with the hand that Mahal dealt. While the dwarf lord has seen the cloth around their ankles, he's never truly thought about what might be hidden underneath. He's never truly wondered if they carried false karrash.

Have my sister-sons been pining for some stranger all their lives, Thorin wonders. Have they secretly been miserable, putting aside their heartache to do their duty and see our people home?

The dwarf lord has no answers. He may be the King Under the Mountain but he does not feel qualified to judge his heir's request. Because Thorin has no karashumrâb of his own. He does not know the call of the ashânumahâl and so how can he say whether Fíli's boon is wrong?

I shall have to trust them, Thorin decides, staring down at his sister-sons' hopeful faces. I know that Fíli and Kíli truly love each other and I know they love our people; they would not ask for something that would break the Sigin-tarâg. Honestly, if amrâbulnâs cannot hurt each other willingly then why do we need a law to keep them faithful? Why shouldn't a pair who are unable to bear children find a third to join them? Why should long-married spouses have to separate when one receives their marking late? What difference can it make when so few dwarves choose to marry anyway?

Indeed, on further thought, Fíli and Kíli's request could help Thorin's plans as well. He is a king now, his rightful place reclaimed, and some might object to his courtship of a hobbit. Some might think that Bilbo is beneath him or that he should marry a dwarrowdam who might give him children but if Thorin phrases his decree correctly, he can kill such challenges before they ever come to light.

“I must admit, I was expecting something far more tangible,” Thorin says with a smile for his sister-sons. “But you have earned my favor fairly and I shall grant the boon you seek. As the King of the Sigin-tarâg and the Lord of Seven Kingdoms, rightfully crowned beneath the mountain and the shining Arkenstone, I decree that all dwarves may love and marry as they wish from this moment on. The law will no longer count any love as criminal, whether binding one or many, whether marked by Mahal or marked by none at all. Dwarves and other races, kings and commoners: from now on all of Durin's Folk may seek their hearts' desires without consequence as long as all parties involved are willing and of the age to consent.

“So I decree and so it is done.”

A simple phrase but one that strikes the gathered dwarves like lightning and Balin signals the court scribes to copy Thorin's edict down. These scrolls will be sent to every dwarven kingdom on soaring raven's wing, telling all of Mahal's twice-marked children that they are finally free.

Here in the throne room, the mood is turning fast toward jubilation. Although some of the traditionalists are grumbling angrily, there is far more joy than fury in their people's eyes. For better or worse, Thorin has changed their society forever and Nori is the first to speak his mind.

“Fucking finally,” the dwarf says before taking two steps forward and grabbing Dwalin by the coat. He pulls the warrior into a heated kiss as Dori and Ori smile widely and most of their companions look on in surprise. Perhaps the youngest dwarf should have been jealous of his brother, particularly when Dori starts to mutter about weddings underneath his breath. But all Ori feels is honest joy as the lingering ache in his husband’s heart finally disappears.

Nori isn't the only one taking action, ripples of movement spreading through Dáin's warriors as dwarves the law had kept apart now reach out instead. Many, many dwarves since multiple ashânumahâl and other oddities were apparently far more common amongst Mahal’s children than anyone had guessed. Even Dáin quietly thanks Thorin, the dwarf lord's cousin revealing a band of runes around his wrist that no one had known about.

“I love my wife,” Dáin explains when Thorin looks at him in question. “I married her because I love her and it did not seem right to set her aside just because Mahal decided to bond me to another more than halfway through my life. But now that you have changed the law, I can seek out my amrâbulnas. I can marry the loves of my heart and of my spirit if they will both agree.”

Thorin has no response to that. He never would have guessed that Dáin was bonded and he certainly never thought that Nori and Dwalin were interested in each other. The dwarf lord always believed that Dwalin barely tolerated his husband's older brother but now it seems that he was wrong.

Indeed, judging by the commotion in his throne room, Fíli and Kíli were right to ask for clemency. Nearly a quarter of Dáin's surviving warriors have paired off in twos and threes while another quarter have declared their intentions to seek out new amrâbulnâs when they are home again. Azsâlul'abad's reclamation will truly be a cause for celebration amongst the dwarf lord's people and he takes this as a good omen for the future of his crown.

However, as pleased as Thorin is to see his kindred happy, it is his hobbit with whom he truly wants to speak right now. He wants to explain that he changed the law to help secure their future, hoping to bend the odds in his favor as much as possible before his burglar decides.

But when Thorin looks around the throne room, he doesn't see the hobbit. Bilbo must have slipped away during the commotion that followed his proclamation, not realizing that his proper place is still at the dwarf king's side.

So Thorin regains his people's attention with a sharp rap on the stone before bringing his coronation ceremony to a close. He thanks his allies for their support and offers them his hospitality, inviting dwarves, elves, and men together to partake in a feast. For a ruler cannot have a proper coronation without food to offer and Thorin's people managed to whip up something suitable with Mirkwood's help. The dwarf lord's guests will feast on Smaug the Terrible among other offerings, his flanks seasoned and roasted to perfection so that Azsâlul'abad does not dishonor her new king.

Once his guests are on their way to the grand feast hall, Thorin goes in search of Bilbo. The dwarf finds his hobbit in one of the throne room's many side passages and he's about to draw Bilbo's attention when someone else speaks first.

“Bilbo! There you are!” Fíli calls as he and his brother enter the tunnel from the opposite direction. Instinctively, Thorin steps back into a shadowed alcove, though the dwarf lord isn't entirely sure why he doesn't step into the light instead; he's not in the habit of spying on his kindred without dragon sickness to breed paranoia in his mind.

And yet...

Fíli and Kíli are smiling at Bilbo, looking at the hobbit with expressions that Thorin has only seen them give each other, and the dwarf lord feels a sudden chill run down his spine. Perhaps there was more to his sister-sons' request than he'd believed.

So Thorin stays hidden when he might still have spoken, watching as his hobbit greets the princes with a smile of his own.

“You caused quite a stir out there,” Bilbo says, waving one hand toward the throne room. “I have to admit, I'm a little fuzzy on the details. I thought Aulë only bonded dwarves in pairs – like you and Kíli – so the laws against infidelity protected you from outside interference rather than some need to stray. But it's hardly my place to question your traditions and everyone seems happy so I guess you must have done something good today.”

“I'm glad you think so. And the situation was actually far more complicated,” Fíli tells him. “The law only allowed couples who have wrist marks to marry but the ashânumahâl has never been that straightforward. Many dwarves are pulled in multiple directions – like Dwalin with Nori and Ori – but were forced to choose only one beloved or risk death by choosing all. Dwarvish law allows no leeway for interpretation and our lords must enforce all edicts no matter what the cost.”

“Oh, I didn't know that,” their burglar replies. “That doesn't seem very fair.”

“It wasn't. That's why our people are so happy. But dwarvish law can only be changed by a true dwarven king so no one could do anything until Thorin had been crowned.”

“And you're wrong, you know. It is your place to question,” Kíli adds softly. “You are as affected by this change as any dwarrow born.”

“What do you mean?” Bilbo asks, looking at the archer quizzically. “Your uncle isn't bonded to anyone. I made sure of that.”

“He isn't. But you are,” Fíli replies and Thorin feels his stomach drop. “We couldn't tell you before now; we couldn't risk the consequences if uncle wouldn't change the law. Not when you would have faced execution at our side. However, we can tell you now. Kíli and I can finally say that we have never been a pair. We are a trinity, Bilbo, and you're our missing piece. The one we searched for for so long.”

“What? But... but that's impossible,” Bilbo stammers. “I'm a hobbit! We don't have grand destinies. Honestly, I'd never even heard of the Valar bonding people until you came along.”

Fíli's claim is preposterous. Bilbo is no one special and hobbits fall in love like normal folk, with romance, heartbreak, and negotiation instead of Valar signs. Yavanna does not meddle in her children's futures and yet Bilbo cannot dismiss the prince's words outright.

Because he had felt a connection during their flight from Smaug when Fíli touched his hand and there had been flickers of something even earlier than that. He had been drawn to the princes from the beginning – if he's being honest, he'd thought them quite attractive until he forced himself to stop – and when the hobbit was younger, he always had a feeling that his real life was waiting somewhere beyond the Shire's bounds.

“Seriously. I can't be your bonded. I don't have a mark,” Bilbo protests, not entirely sure if the words are true or not. There is his birthmark – his strange half-forgotten birthmark could be a symbol of some grand destiny together or it could mean nothing – and either way the hobbit doesn't know what he should do. Bilbo does love Thorin, he is certain of it, but the burglar also cares about the dwarf lord's sister-sons as well.

“You may not carry our names but both of us bear yours,” Kíli tells their hobbit. “We have carried your name since the day that you were born.”

The archer slips off his boot and lifts his trousers, showing Bilbo the words that he's kept hidden for five decades. Bilbo Baggins, his ankle reads in shining script and the burglar has no response to that. He can only stare at his name in shock.

“We aren't lying, Bilbo,” Fíli says, showing his own mark to the hobbit. “We would not lie to you. It killed us to stay silent when we found you and only the danger to your life kept us strong. But now that threat is gone. We can court you without fear and that is all we ask. Please, Bilbo, let us court you. We know that you have feelings for our uncle but you have made no promises and he hasn't been treating you the way a lover should.”

“It's not his fault,” Bilbo replies a bit defensively, snapped out of his stupor by the slight to Thorin's name. “He was sick and I told him that I'd give him another chance.”

“You what?!” Kíli starts and Thorin can't help but wince at the outrage in his voice. If his sister-sons are truly Bilbo's amrâbulnâs then he can understand the archer's fury – indeed, the dwarf lord can barely imagine what it cost for him to keep their loyalty.

“We are not asking you to break your word. We are only asking you to give us the same chance you're giving Thorin,” Fíli says, quieting his brother with a firm hand on his arm. “Let us prove our adoration before you make your final choice. All we want is a fair chance to show you just how happy we could be.”

The hobbit doesn't answer. He can't answer because he doesn't know what he should say. Bilbo doesn’t want to hurt the princes, he truly doesn't, but he's hardly going to throw himself into their arms and say that it's okay. Even if Thorin wasn't in the picture, destiny is not how hobbits do things and Bilbo cannot trust the Valar's choice that easily.

“You don't have to decide right now,” Fíli says eventually, the swirling confusion flickering through their bond pushing him to speak. Although the princes had been hoping for a more positive reaction, this must seem rather sudden from Bilbo's point of view. “We just wanted to tell you the truth now that we finally can. So take as long as you need, Bilbo; we've waited fifty years for this and we can wait a little longer. But we truly hope that you decide to give our bond a chance.”

“I'll think on it,” Bilbo promises before fleeing from the princes, too worked up to notice Thorin as he passes by.

Perhaps the dwarf king should have followed, but he's feeling rather distraught himself at the thought of losing Bilbo. Thorin cannot hope to compete with Fíli and Kíli without the law to stop them – his sister-sons are young and handsome, loyal, sweet, and enthusiastic, and that's without the ashânumahâl to sway his hobbit's mind. The dwarf lord should probably save himself the humiliation of rejection and bow out immediately.

Except... Bilbo had not reacted to the princes' declaration with the happiness that Thorin might have expected. And the dwarf lord cannot doubt that his hobbit truly loves him whatever the karrash that Fíli and Kíli bear.

Bilbo loves him and if Thorin's decree means that the princes can finally speak their intentions, changing the law also means that amrâbulnâs no longer have to follow where the Valar lead. Their burglar does not have to marry Fíli and Kíli just because Mahal joined their spirits; he can choose to make up his own mind instead.

So Thorin tells himself that his sister-sons don't truly need the hobbit, ignoring the naked longing on their faces as they look after Bilbo now. For once the dwarf lord is going to be selfish. This time he's going to do something for himself rather than his people; surely he has earned the chance for happiness after all he's sacrificed. Surely he deserves to love and be loved in return and he won't give up his burglar for anyone.

With that thought, the dwarf lord spins on his heel and heads to the feast, each step matching the determination in his heart. He has a courtship to plan and a hobbit to woo; even Fíli and Kíli can't stand in his way now.

The princes themselves are thinking something similar while the object of their affections simply wonders how his life turned so bizarre. Bilbo cannot deal with this. Repairing his relationship with Thorin would have been difficult enough without Fíli and Kíli suddenly professing their devotion and to think that three royal dwarves could love him is just ridiculous.

He is no lord, no prince or king or consort; he's just Bilbo Baggins. He's just a hobbit who fell in love and wanted to see his darling smile. He faced Smaug for Thorin – he stole and fought and almost died for Thorin – and it shouldn't matter that Fíli and Kíli make the world seem brighter. Bilbo shouldn't listen to the thread of longing in his heart.

He cannot trust that longing. If Aulë bound their souls together – and he cannot truly doubt the princes' claim – Bilbo isn't sure whose desire he is feeling. Perhaps such longing is Aulë's way of nudging his children in the right direction and this care is truly his. Or perhaps Bilbo is only feeling an echo of Fíli and Kíli's adoration, the strength of their emotions swaying his in turn. The burglar can't be sure and he refuses to plan his future on the Vala's meddling.

Besides, it would be dishonorable to run off with the princes. The hobbit promised Thorin that he would have until the spring and no Baggins would break his word without a dire cause.

In truth, Bilbo should refuse Fíli and Kíli's courtship until he concludes his business with their uncle. Only then will the burglar know if he's free to consider other lovers or if this shred of feeling must not be acted on.

That's what the hobbit should do and that's what he intends to tell the princes when he finds them before breakfast the next morning. But when he sees the hopeful expressions on Fíli and Kíli's face, Bilbo can't bring himself to snuff out the joy within their eyes.

“All right, you may have a chance,” the burglar says, the words spilling out almost involuntarily. “Both you and Thorin may court me through the winter and when spring arrives, I will tell you who I choose.”

“We can live with that,” Fíli replies and he truly means it. After years of silence, both princes are content to be moving forward and neither thinks that Thorin is a real threat to their future happiness. Not after what the dwarf lord tried to do. Bilbo is simply too honorable to go back on his promise and this is not a bad thing; indeed, the hobbit's loyalty only makes Fíli and Kíli adore him all the more.

The dwarves can wait. They will court their amrâbulnas as he deserves and there is no doubt in their minds that Bilbo will choose them when the waiting's done.

In contrast, the hobbit is just happy that he's bought himself some breathing room. Fíli, Kíli, and Thorin will all have their chance to court him and by the time springs arrives, Bilbo will hopefully have decided what to do. The burglar must make a choice one way or the other and he honestly isn't sure if he's dreading or anticipating the long winter months to come.

Chapter 16: Ges-sasekh

Tags: canon!au, fi/bi/ki, fic, long and winding road*, post-series, the hobbit, thilbo
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