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Embers in the Wind

Title: Embers in the Wind
Fandoms: The Hobbit & xxxHolic
Pairing: None
Warnings: Angst.  So much angst.  With a tiny bit of crack.
Word Count: 4387
Disclaimer: If I owned the Hobbit, it would be ridiculous.
Summary: 5 People who Wouldn't Pay Yuuko's Price + 1 Who Would Have Given Everything He Had


Thorin finds the house after Azanulbizar. The dwarf is worn and weary then, his head bent down with sorrow as he picks his way across the corpse-strewn battlefield. There are so many dead and injured; so many lost, for what? Durin’s Folk still don’t have a home to call their own and Thorin doesn’t know how he’s going to protect them. He may not be a king without a kingdom, but he’s the only leader that his people have right now.

That’s when the dwarf lord sees it. The house is small but sturdy, bright and clean and out of place amidst his fallen dead. Every wall is carved in an unfamiliar style: too fanciful for men and dwarves, too sharp for elvish hands – and Thorin has never seen such fine glass windows in his life.

The dwarf thinks he must be dreaming. That’s the only explanation. Perhaps Azog’s final blow fell harder than he’d thought. Perhaps he’s truly dead and this building is his entrance to the afterlife.

Curiosity or fatalism, something draws him closer and the door swings open easily beneath his bloodstained hands. Thorin isn’t sure what he’s expecting but it’s not the crowded room before him – a thousand strange contraptions piled on the shelves – or the dark-haired woman who turns to look at him. She is tall and very slender, her skin as pale as mithril and her outfit quite bizarre, and though she’s clearly not an elf, there is still something ageless in her eyes.

“Hello, Thorin son of Thráin,” the woman says with a faint smile. “I have been expecting you.”

“You know me?” the dwarf attempts to answer, though it takes him several tries to clear the dust out of his throat. Even then his voice is hoarse from shouting and the woman’s face darkens with concern as she gestures him inside.

“Please sit down,” she tells him. “Sit down and have some tea.”

Thorin should refuse. He doesn’t know this woman. But when he opens his mouth to say farewell, he finds himself accepting her hospitality. Moments later, the dwarf is sitting on the woman’s divan, a tiny cup of fragrant tea cradled in his hands.

“That’s much better, isn’t it?” she asks as she settles in the chair across from him. “But you would not be here without a wish so tell me what you need.”

“Who are you?” the dwarf lord finally manages. “What is this place?”

“This is my home and I am Yuuko,” the woman answers easily. “I am a witch of the dimensions and I come when I am called. Tell me your wish and I will grant it if you agree to pay the cost.”

“The only thing I want is to protect my people,” Thorin tells her quietly, the battle of Azanulbizar still at the forefront of his thoughts. He’s not sure why he’s saying this – admitting his fears to this odd stranger – but perhaps it’s simply that this place does not feel real. “I want Durin’s Folk to have a home, one where my sister-sons can grow up without fear of cold or hunger. I think I would give up anything to know my kin were safe.”

“Then I can offer you a deal,” Yuuko replies. “I know a place where your clan could settle freely, where all your kin could prosper and your nephews would lead long and happy lives. I will tell you where and offer my protection in exchange for one small thing.”

“And what is that?” the dwarf lord asks suspiciously.

“Your birthright,” the woman answers. “Or more specifically, a promise. You would have to give your word to forget your fallen kingdom and never seek to reclaim the lands of Erebor. If you made the attempt, then our bargain would be broken. Hitsuzen can only bend so far.”

As soon as Yuuko mentions the Lonely Mountain, Thorin knows that he had lied. He would give up much to save his people, would give his life and gladly. But he cannot give up his father’s kingdom. Azsâlul'abad means everything; tradition, love, and duty are twined within his memories, built into the stonework that his people dearly loved. The dwarf lord could not face Durin’s Folk if he agreed to let the dragon keep what he had stolen. He would not be able to face his sister-sons.

“Thank you for the offer, but I cannot accept your bargain,” Thorin says as he sets his empty cup back down. “My people need the hope of Erebor.”

“Then that is your choice.”

Yuuko does not seem angry. She meets the dwarf’s refusal with grace and understanding and while he thinks he sees a touch of sorrow in her eyes, the woman does not try to stop him when he takes his feet again.

“May I offer some advice?” she calls just as Thorin reaches for the door. When he pauses and looks back, she tells him, “I’ve heard the mountains to the west are lovely around this time of year. You may have that free of charge.”

“Thank you for the tea and the suggestion,” the dwarf replies. When he steps across the threshold, the world shudders faintly all around him and then he finds himself standing on the battlefield, neither Yuuko nor her house anywhere to be seen. Indeed, the whole encounter is quickly fading from his memory like the wisps of a sweet dream.

Soon Thorin has forgotten about the house completely. He’s left only with the sour taste of a bad bargain and a faint sense of certainty. The dwarf is not sure where he heard the rumor, but he thinks that the Blue Mountains might suit his people’s needs.

---

Beorn wakes up next to Yuuko’s fireplace. The skin-changer has no memory of his arrival; his last clear thought is watching as Azog killed his daughter, the pain of his own injuries nothing compared to that last blow.

When Beorn looks down, there are still chains around his wrists, the ends torn and broken where he had ripped them from the wall. He must have fought his way free of the tunnels before collapsing but he can’t imagine who would have brought him here. Beorn doesn’t know where here is; other than the crackling fire, the sounds and smells around him are not familiar.

So the skin-changer yawns and stretches, marveling at the utter lack of pain. Although his kind heals quickly, injuries such as he had born should have taken days to mend. But the pain is gone now, leaving nothing to distract Beorn from the embers of his rage.

“Did you sleep well?”

He startles at the voice, bringing up his arms defensively. Beorn doesn’t know where the woman came from; he could have sworn the room was empty and this woman is not the sort who might be overlooked. She’s tall for a human, slim and strangely dressed, and there’s something otherworldly in her scent. She watches Beorn fearlessly as he stands to his full height, the skin-changer's head almost brushing the ceiling of the room.

“Who are you?” he asks. “Where am I?”

“I am Yuuko and you are in my home,” she tells him. “You passed out on my doorstep so I healed your injuries.”

“Thank you,” Beorn replies. The words seem inadequate for the service that she’s done him and yet, he’s not sure he’s truly grateful to be the only one alive. Because he remembers seeing his fellow skin-changers perish one by one; he remembers the tortures and the endless cruelty. Beorn remembers and he hates the orcs with every fiber of his being, the bear’s fury surging hot beneath his skin. He wants to tear into Azog and all his kindred, wants to hurt them as he was hurt with razor fangs and claws.

“You do have a wish then,” the woman says, watching Beorn calmly as his hands clench into fists. “I thought perhaps you might.”

“A wish? My only wish is vengeance for what those orcs have done,” he snarls, a rumbling growl rising from his throat. “I want to bathe the mountains in their blood.”

“And perhaps you shall,” she tells him. “But first you should eat. Some decisions are best made on a full stomach and I heard yours growling in your sleep.”

The abrupt change in topic throws Beorn off his stride. The skin-changer is suddenly reminded that he’s starving, truly starving, and he follows the woman willingly when she waves him toward a door. Inside he finds a feast laid out on her table – the dishes like none he’s ever seen but every scent divine. Beorn’s host waits patiently while he eats his fill, pulling out some sort of liquor and sipping on a glass. She empties two whole bottles before the skin-changer sits back in satisfaction, but she doesn’t seem intoxicated when at last she speaks again.

“Down to business then,” Yuuko says, dark eyes pinning him in place. “I can give you the retribution that you wish for. With my help, you would have the strength to destroy your enemies.”

Beorn almost says yes without asking for more details. He can almost taste the blood upon his tongue. But something in him balks; some shred of rationality slices through the rage.

“And what must I give you?” the skin-changer questions warily.

“That which lets you change your form,” the woman answers. “If you take my bargain, you would no longer be a skin-changer. You would only be the bear.”

“No!” Beorn roars in visceral denial, every fiber of his being rebelling at her words. And yet, when he stops to think about it, that doesn’t seem too harsh a bargain. He has nothing left to keep him on two legs instead of four. He has no home, no children, and if he must be alone, the bear does not feel that pain as sharply. At least the bear could kill his enemies.

But even then, Beorn knows he cannot do it.

“No,” he says again more quietly. “Azog and his kin tried to destroy my people. I will not finish the job for them, not even to claim vengeance for the wrongs that they have done. As long as I still breathe, there will be skin-changers. That will have to be enough.”

“You are wiser than I feared,” Yuuko replies with a sad smile. “And I wish you luck in your endeavors. I will not return here once you leave.”

“You have done enough,” Beorn tells her. He stands to his full height once more, the bear prowling restlessly underneath his skin. It has been too long since he changed his form and even without this woman’s bargain, tonight he will be hunting orcs again.

---

Lobelia has always known that she was meant for better things. Although her life is comfortable – her parents’ table never empty, her pockets never bare – she cannot see another’s riches without feeling jealousy. No one should have something that she doesn’t. No one has the right.

So Lobelia takes when she can and bullies where she can’t, making sure that everyone knows her place within the world. She belongs on top, she doesn’t doubt it. She should always have the nicest clothes and the most expensive playthings; she deserves them after all.

As the hobbitess grows older, her interests turn toward lads and dresses but her faith in her own dominance does not remotely change. Instead of fighting over toys, she fights over the best fabric and the most expensive jewelry. Instead of taking her peers’ lunches, she tries to steal the boys that they adore. Lobelia doesn’t truly want them – most lads her age are fools. But she wants to know that she could have them anyway.

Indeed, Lobelia has no intention of settling for second best. She will marry into one of the richest, oldest, and most well-respected families or she will marry none at all.

She thinks perhaps a Brewer; they make good money with their craft. Or the Tooks are good for power, though they’re known to be quite odd. Lobelia has an entire list of pros and cons, the Shire’s eligible bachelors ranked by looks and family and on that list the Baggins come somewhere down near last.

But then the hobbitess takes a different route to market on one cool autumn morning and as she rounds the corner, she gets her first glimpse of Bag End. The smial is built into a hilltop, its garden twice the size of Brewer’s and half a dozen real glass windows set into the earth. Bag End the door looks down upon its neighbors with an air of regal elegance and oh, Lobelia wants.

“That’s the nicest home in Hobbiton, you know,” she learns when she asks around. “One of the nicest in the Shire and it’s such a shame that poor old Bilbo is still a bachelor. A home like that deserves a proper family.”

That home deserves Lobelia and Bag End becomes the hobbitess’ singular obsession from this moment on.

She tries to court the owner first – or get him to court her – but Bilbo Baggins proves oblivious. He doesn’t seem interested in marriage or in Lobelia; he’s only interested in books and gardening.

On the bright side, he’ll probably die alone – he’d better – and so Lobelia turns her sights on his more distant relatives. Those prove much more willing to see her many virtues and the hobbitess is planning her whirlwind wedding to Lotho Sackville-Baggins when she stumbles into a house that she had never seen before. Lobelia had gone to Bree in order to buy fabric – only the finest satin would adorn her wedding day – but this building is clearly not the seamstress’ shop she thought.

Every shelf is adorned with the tackiest of knickknacks, the furniture is odd, and the woman in the center of the chaos is not dressed for company. She is wearing a robe and nothing else, her long limbs draped languidly across the sofa as she glances toward the door.

“So, you have a wish then?” the woman asks. She doesn’t sound particularly welcoming or even interested and Lobelia bristles at her tone.

“I shall show myself back out if that is how you treat your customers,” the hobbitess snarls, conveniently ignoring the fact that she entered by mistake. “I will not buy fabric here.”

“I do not sell fabric,” the human scoffs. “I deal in dreams and wishes, girl. So tell me what you want.

Lobelia does not mean to answer. But she finds herself admitting her heart’s desire anyway.

“I want Bag End,” she says.

“There’s always something,” the woman replies with a chill smile. “Although I admit that is a new one. Most people come to me for more important matters than the fulfillment of their greed. But a bargain is a bargain. Pay my price and you will have the home you seek.”

“You think I need your help?” Lobelia asks scornfully. “I do not require anything from you. I will have Bag End through my own efforts and I do not intend to pay you for the privilege.”

With that, the hobbitess storms out in a huff and she thinks no more of that strange woman. She has a wedding to plan and a hobbit hole to conquer. Bag End will be hers one way or another; Bilbo cannot live forever after all.

---

Thrór has been dreaming about dragons ever since his miners found the Arkenstone. He dreams of crimson dragons tearing through the Lonely Mountain, sweeping aside his guards with great clawed hands. He dreams of watching his kingdom burn and shatter and he wakes up reaching for a blade.

And yet, despite his nightmares, Thrór is certain that the King’s Jewel is a sign of his good fortune not a portent of destruction and he sets the gem into his throne to show he’s not afraid. The dwarf king wants everyone who enters his presence to look upon this symbol of his wealth and power, even the elf lord Thranduil forced to bow his head in recognition of the might of Erebor.

That submission is sweeter than any other. Thrór's dealings with the elves have long been fraught with chilly smiles and banked hostility, hidden insults on both sides accompanying each deal. Thranduil is the type to nitpick over every piece of silver while demanding sheer perfection and the dwarf has often wished to tell the elf king where he can shove his pretty sneers.

With the Arkenstone, Thrór has to courage to do exactly that and watching Thranduil eat his pride is well worth the nightmares. The dwarf would take much worse than that to see the lord of Mirkwood bow.

But the dreams still wear on him. Night after night he sees his city burning. Night after night, he sees his treasure stolen and he begins to watch his people with suspicion in his eyes. Perhaps the wyrm he dreams of is a warning sent by Mahal – perhaps Thrór needs to watch for treachery within.

Then one day the dwarf is sitting in his throne room when a tall human woman comes striding through the doors. No one announces her appearance; in fact, no one seems to see her as she stands before his throne.

“Greetings Lord of Erebor,” the woman says. “My name is Yuuko Ichihara and I know the dreams that haunt you. I know the dangers of red dragons and I would help you if I can.”

“Are you a witch then?” Thrór asks, raising one eyebrow. “Only a witch or a lunatic would claim to see the future and only a fool would believe the words or speak. But perhaps I shall oblige you in this nonsense. Tell me, what would be the price of your assistance in this matter? What must I give for you to dragon-proof my kingdom with your awesome magic now?

“The cost would not be high,” Yuuko answers calmly, ignoring or oblivious to the king’s sarcastic tone. “Merely that which holds cosmetic value: the shining Arkenstone. Give me the symbol of your pride and I will end your dreams of fire. Hitsuzen cannot be denied but what must come may be more gentle if we try.”

At this, Thrór bursts into mocking laughter. The king has guards and warriors – the best of seven kingdoms – but one frail human woman thinks that she can turn the tide? She thinks that she can face a dragon singlehanded and Thrór is almost tempted to allow it just to see this Yuuko fall. But he will not pay his greatest treasure for the chance. He will not give up the Arkenstone for peaceful dreams or martial power; he will not give up the gem for anything.

No, this bargain is a swindle. Yuuko is trying to cheat the King Under the Mountain and such trickery cannot stand. Prison is too good for someone who dares to steal his gemstone; Thrór will execute this woman for her crimes.

“Seize her!” he orders, leaping from his throne and shouting for his guards. “Do not let her escape!”

“You are a fool,” she tells him. “A greedy, misguided fool.”

Then Yuuko snaps her fingers and Thrór wakes up in his chambers. His blankets are snarled all around him and when he looks down, the Arkenstone is clenched in his left fist. Not just a dream then, but the dwarf stands by the choice he made. The King’s Jewel is his alone and no witch of dreams will steal it from him, no matter what the cost.

Two months later, Smaug attacks.

---

Thranduil is clutching his wife’s corpse when the woman finds him, kneeling in the bloodstained mud where his beloved fell. Silent tears stream down his face, lines of agony burning across his ruined skin. However, that pain is nothing compared to the grief that splits his heart in two and he doesn’t notice the woman’s presence until she sits down next to him.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” the stranger says but Thranduil only snarls.

“What do you know, human?” the elf lord sneers. “What do you know of living for eternity while those you love are gone?”

“I know more than you think, Lord of Mirkwood,” she answers quietly and the elf is shocked to silence by the eons in her eyes. “I cannot bring her back. That is beyond my power. But if you truly wish it, I can help to ease your pain.”

“How?” Thranduil asks, his voice cracking on the word.

“You are injured,” the woman tells him, raising her hand and pointing at the elf’s flame-ravaged face. “Such dragon scars will not mend naturally. However, I could heal them with my magic if you agreed to trade me all your loving memories. You would not forget your wife existed. But you would not remember why you grieve.”

The deal is tempting. He is in such agony, soul and heart and body, and the thought of being numb to sorrow is a seductive siren’s call.

But when the elf looks down at his wife’s body, he knows he cannot do it. Thranduil doesn’t stop for her sake. Her spirit has passed on and he knows that his beloved would never wish him misery. But the elf does not truly know how this bargain would affect him and he cannot risk the danger to his son. Legolas is too young to remember much about his mother and he deserves to learn about her as he grows. Thranduil needs the boy to know that she still loved him even though she’s gone.

“Thank you for the offer, but I am afraid I must decline,” the elf lord tells his visitor. He looks down one more time, stroking a few strands of hair from his beloved’s face, and when he looks back up, the woman has disappeared. There is only a faint impression in the mud to prove that she was here.

So Thranduil tries to put her offer from his mind as he returns to Mirkwood in a joyless victory. He gives his wife’s body to the forest as is their people’s custom and holds his child gently when the boy begins to sob. The elf lord does not join him. He has wept already and if allows himself to cry again, he does not know if he would stop.

Over the centuries that follow, Thranduil watches Legolas grow into the image of his mother and he doesn’t think he’s ever been more proud of anyone. His son is strong and brave and skillful, everything a prince should be, but the elf lord cannot seem to tell him just how deeply he is loved.

Indeed, Thranduil's wounds still haven't healed completely and wine is the only thing that holds the pain at bay. He drinks to forget the ache of his old burn scars. He drinks to forget the pain of grief and sorrow and in his deepest cups, the elf lord thinks he should have traded away his memories. He cannot bear to tell his son about his mother anyway.

---

“She told me this would end in tragedy,” Thorin says to Bilbo when the hobbit sinks down next to him. The dwarf lord chokes and coughs up blood, his burglar watching horrified. “She told me that my people could be safe and happy if I abandoned Erebor.”

“Who told you?” the hobbit asks. He looks around wildly, hoping that he’ll see someone – anyone – who can help the dwarf lord. Thorin is clearly badly injured but maybe... maybe an elven healer could seal that gaping wound. Thorin has made mistakes but Bilbo does not want to lose him. He does not want to watch a dear friend die.

“The witch… The witch of the dimensions,” the dwarf gasps out. “She offered me a bargain but I would not take it… I wanted to give my sister-sons a future, that’s what I told her. But all I’ve done is cost them both their lives.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Bilbo demands. Fíli and Kíli can’t be dead. They were always so full of life, so young and happy, and the thought of their cold bodies sends the hobbit spiraling. “You… You must be mistaken. Maybe they were injured, just like you are. Maybe… You’ve got to stay alive. I’ll go get help. We’ll find them. We’ll patch you up and everyone will be just right as rain.”

The hobbit starts to stand but Thorin grabs his hands. Although Bilbo could have pulled free – the dwarf lord's grip is shaky – he just doesn't have the heart.

“No, my friend,” the dwarf says quietly. “It's much too late for healers. I am sorry, truly, but I do not want to die alone. My only wish is that we might part in friendship. I hope you can forgive me for my actions earlier. If more people cared about love and family over the bright shine of treasure, this world would be a far more welcome place.”

“Of course, you’re forgiven,” Bilbo tells him, sinking back down to his knees. “And I’m sorry too. I’m sorry for everything.”

The burglar starts to weep as he sits there next to Thorin, holding his hand gently while he slowly breathes his last. Bilbo would have given anything to change the dwarf lord's fate. He would have stolen back the Arkenstone and traded it away. He would have made a bargain with a wizard or a dragon or even the witch that Thorin spoke of, begging them to take his life in his companion’s place.

But no one comes to join him. No one offers him a deal. Bilbo keeps his lonely vigil, only the shriek of wind and the distant sound of battle to keep him company.


End.