Translation of Khuzdul: zyungel - love of love (greatest love), Ukrd - greatest heart.

Chapter 14 - Awake

Now (3021 T.A.)

Bilbo felt like waking from a long sleep, as if his eyelids had almost forgotten how to open. They felt heavier than they had any right to, but the hobbit persevered and forced them to move. It was weird...he remembered the mudslide, remembered tripping... Why was he lying on a bed? Not that he minded waking up next to the furnace that was Thorin, but... He could feel the dwarf stir and moved his hand from the broad chest it was resting on to Thorin's cheek. The skin was warm and soft under his fingers and the beard tickled his sensitive fingertips. How he had longed to reach out and touch...caress...during the first part of their journey all those years ago. And now nothing would part them again.

Thorin's eyelids fluttered open and he gazed down at Bilbo with such wonder in his eyes, such relief...as if he was waking from a nightmare. Calloused fingers were gently touching the hobbit's temple then, as if afraid to break the thinnest of glass. And Bilbo's hands found their way into the dwarf's hair, pulling him near, and Thorin closed the gap, sighing into the tender kiss as if it had been the longest of times since the last time they had kissed. Bilbo felt the ragged sobs before his mind fully processed the wetness against his cheeks. Why is he crying? Dear Valar, please not another nightmare. Why didn't he wake me? Bilbo broke the kiss and pushed himself up on his elbows...and that small movement made him feel more exhausted than he had thought possible. What was wrong with him?

Leaning in, he kissed Thorin's tears away and tried to smile encouragingly, but he knew he failed at both. The tears kept coming, and judging by the way the king's arms pulled him as close as possible... "zyungel...what is wrong? Please tell me, Thorin..." Why was his voice so raspy? It felt almost as if he hadn't used it for a while. And where did the bed and quilt come from? And the tent! Oh... "I... How long, Thorin? How long was I unconscious?" How long did he think he had lost you yet again? That thought made him feel cold, made his heart clench in his chest. The pain in those blue orbs nearly took his breath away. What else could he do but to caress Thorin's face, knowing full well that nothing he did now would be able to take the agony away...the agony the dwarf had felt for...however long Bilbo had been unconscious.

"It's been...two weeks and four days since I found you..." Oh no. "I...I thought you dead for a second, but then I felt you breathing, and it's been my lifeline ever since. As long as you were breathing, there was hope." Thorin lowered his gaze, "Though I was beginning to lose... Bilbo, I don't know how I survived those eighty years without you, I know that I couldn't...not now. Not after learning that I always had your love, your forgiveness...If I were to lose you now, it would be the end of me." Then his eyes met the hobbit's again, and suddenly there was a sparkle in them, and despite the tears that were still falling, a smile was on his lips. "But I won't...will never lose you. Not here. Or so Lord Elrond assured me. Whatever...whatever happens, we would always find our way back to the other."

Elrond was here? And more to the point, Thorin had been listening to the elf lord?! "I'm...sorry I put you through this, but... Maybe this was all part of the plan of whoever it is that brought us together again, brought us together in the first place. As it seemingly made you talk to Lord Elrond and acknowledge him as the friend he is and...it made you stop seeing him as the enemy." Thorin shrugged. "He showed me nothing but kindness, Thorin...and he knew, I'm sure he knew. Even before we did..."

"He did... I don't know how much he knew of the future, but he knew that I loved you. And that you felt the same." Thorin cleared his throat, his voice becoming stronger with every word he said, "I was a fool to ever think of love as a weakness, and of duty as more important. Had I listened to my heart...I would have made you mine before we ever reached Rivendell. I would have trusted you and believed in you when you voiced your concerns about...my obsession with the Arkenstone." The dwarf's hands closed around Bilbo's wrists, prying them away from his face. Sitting up, he pulled the hobbit close, "Always I put duty before family, before my own feelings. And instead of lending me strength, it weakened me. It made me susceptible to the gold-lust, it brought doom upon me. Gandalf was right. My pride was my downfall. And it would have been so easy to..."

"And yet your pride is part of the reason I fell in love with you, Thorin Oakenshield." He placed a kiss on Thorin's skin. "It is a part of you...as is your heart. You need both, my king. An iron fist and a compassionate touch. As long as your pride won't stop you from listening to others..." Thorin smiled ruefully. Was his mind going back to that day again, to the days that went before? "Don't dwell on the past, Thorin. You cannot hope to change it, think of the future...the future that we will be sharing. A future where you will hopefully be able to let go of past resentments and, judging by your words concerning Lord Elrond, you're already doing so..."

Thorin sighed, "I wish the Valar had found another way to drive home that point. A way that didn't involve you getting hurt..." And this time Bilbo knew that, yes, he was recalling the day on the battlements, but there was no pain in Thorin's eyes, but wistfulness. "I promise that I will listen, even if I you are completely ridiculous. I will listen. And once you are well enough, once your strength has returned, I will take you out on the walls and replace those memories if I may..." The hobbit nodded mutely, fighting the tears that now threatened to spill from his eyes. "And I will ask Balin to create a little herb garden for you on the balcony of the Royal Apartments. So you won't have to go wandering off again..." There was a dangerous gleam in the dwarf's eyes, heralding something that Bilbo would have to address and soon.

But right now, the hobbit didn't have the energy to argue and could only agree with Thorin about having to regain his strength. His stomach, it seemed, was wholeheartedly agreeing with that. "Oh dear..." Thorin chuckled as he released the hobbit and got out of the bed. "I don't think I've ever been so hungry in all my life. Not even in Mirkwood..." And those days had been miserable. "I was right after all. As soon as I join Thorin and Company on a little journey, I'll have to go without my seven meals a day. I just never thought I would have to go without any food whatsoever." He grinned at the dwarf before blushing when his stomach gave another rumble.

"I will go and see what I can get for you..." He opened the tent flaps and froze. "Oh Kli..." Weak as he was, the tone of Thorin's voice made Bilbo stumble to his feet, the quilt around his shoulders. And when he got to Thorin's side he saw... Kli sitting on the grass outside the tent, knees drawn up to his chest in an attempt to stay somewhat warm during the night. He was sleeping, but the hobbit could tell that it wasn't a restful sleep. "He...he blames himself for what happened, Bilbo. And we tried, I...I tried as best as I could, but I was so worried myself... He wouldn't listen, ukrd." What?! Why would Kli... "He thinks if he had packed more herbs for you, or if he had joined you that morning... He stayed behind with us, wouldn't leave your side, while Fli rode ahead to fetch help." Kli... "Please," Thorin's eyes were pleading, "try to speak to him... While I get something to eat and let in and Elrond know that you're finally awake." Pressing his lips to the hobbit's forehead, Thorin whispered, "Thank you for coming back to me. I love you, ukrd, I love you."

Those words alone were almost enough to reduce Bilbo to weeping. And Thorin's eyes... "I love you, Thorin Oakenshield. How could I not come back to you? When you hold my heart in your hands..." Smiling, the dwarf stepped away from Bilbo and, after squeezing the hobbit's hand, he turned and walked towards one of the other tents that stood clustered together in a small clearing. Bilbo sank to his knees next to Kli and, taking the quilt off his shoulders, wrapped it around the sleeping dwarf. Who started awake the moment Bilbo touched him. "Shhhh, dear one, it's alright. It's all alright again."

Startled brown eyes met his and Kli gasped. "B...Bilbo?" And then those eyes were brimming with tears and Bilbo wrapped his arms around the young dwarf as he was shaking with broken sobs. "I...I'm so sorry. So sorry, Bilbo... It's all my..."

"It's not your fault, Kli! Never your fault." But Kli only shook his head.

"It is... I should have...brought more herbs for you. I should have...gone to collect them for you. I should have...come with you. I failed you..." Bilbo's heart already felt as if it had been pierced, but it was the next thing Kli said that made Bilbo feel as if he were bleeding out. "I failed you just like I did Thorin... I wasn't strong enough to defend him. He still died... And if he hadn't, if he hadn't fallen, you could have been together...you could..." Had he always been plagued by this guilt, or had it been Bilbo's accident that brought it all to the fore?

"Kli! You gave your life for Thorin, your life! You didn't fail him, and you didn't fail me, either. It's not your fault that I didn't see the root sticking out of the mud and... It's not your fault." He held tightly onto the dwarf and wondered how he could make Kli see things for what they really were, how he could help him. "It's not your fault, Kli, it's not your fault..." he whispered over and over again. And it was like this that Fli and Thorin found them.

---

The smile on Thorin's face had told Fli exactly what had happened before his uncle and king could even open his mouth to speak. "He's awake?" A merely rhetorical question, the answer was there in the blue pools that sparkled with happiness. "By Aul, at last! How is he? Aside from terribly weak I would imagine?"

"He is still our burglar, and still very much a hobbit. Complaining that going on a journey with us dwarves was always going to leave him close to starvation..." Thorin's smile had turned wistful, a frown slowly replacing it altogether. "He is with Kli now. I hope..." Kli. His brother had been withdrawn when they had finally reached the slopes of the mountain and wouldn't leave Bilbo's side for more than a few moments here and there. He was guilt-ridden and no matter what Fli and Thorin, and even Frodo and Glorfindel said, Kli would just shake his head. "If anyone can bring your brother back to his senses, it's Bilbo. He seems to be very good at making us Longbeards see reason..."

"I hope so, Thorin, I really do. I'm just afraid there's more to this than Bilbo's accident." Kli had always been brilliant at masking his feelings, even from his own brother. So who knew what other fears and doubts were tormenting the usually so happy and cheerful dwarf. It wouldn't be long until he found out.

They were sitting outside the healing tent, Bilbo holding his brother tightly, the hobbit's eyes red and bloodshot. "He's asleep again, he's utterly exhausted." He kissed the top of Kli's head and sighed, "How could we not see? How did we not realise?" See what? Realise what? "He blames himself for your death, Thorin. He gave his life to defend you, and yet he blames himself." This was even worse than Fli had anticipated. And indeed, how could he have been so blind to his brother's plight? "He's so good at hiding everything, holding it all in and covering it with a smile and a laugh and some silliness. But all his guards...they must have simply evaporated when... I didn't know he cared so much about me."

"Bilbo! We all did. And we totally did not agree with Thorin's," he glared at his uncle, "treatment of you. But we weren't going to say anything, not until... When we escaped the goblins, and you weren't there, we all felt the loss keenly. But then you returned and saved Thorin's life... On the Carrock, if he had truly talked down on you then for saving his life, trust me, a lot of us would have spoken up. Loyalty to the king or not." And then Fli smiled, first at Thorin, then at Bilbo. "But instead our uncle surprised all of us, including himself I'd wager, and embraced you. And Kli and I knew... After that, you were part of the family. So you may not have been courting officially, but for us you were like...like a second uncle. And the thought of losing you is just as unimaginable as losing Thorin..."

Thorin had bent down to take hold of Kli and was now lifting him into his arms. To Fli it was as if time had been reversed and their uncle was carrying his baby brother to bed. "He needs to rest...he didn't sleep very much ever since... And he's in a worse state than I was yesterday when Elrond all but ordered me to sleep. Fli? Make sure Bilbo is back in the tent before in and Elrond arrive, and that he eats. And if you see that blond nuisance of an elf, ask him to find your brother's tent. He shouldn't be alone when he wakes." Fli nodded and helped Bilbo to his feet.

They had only taken a few steps when Bilbo's knees gave way and Fli had to wrap his arm around the hobbit's waist to hold him up. "I think I'm weaker than I guessed before. I...thank you, Fli."

Sitting down on the side of the bed, the young dwarf still didn't release the hobbit. "I...I was so very worried. And when you arrived and...you were still unconscious... Seeing you like that, it was killing Thorin. And my brother. I tried...tried to be strong for their sake but the truth is...I can't imagine life without you in it. Even if the thought is disturbing at times." Bilbo elbowed him in the ribs, but Fli could see the blush that reached the very tips of the hobbit's ears. "But Bilbo... Our elven friends have taught Kli and I something...love should always be celebrated. And while I still...cringe at the thought of you and Thorin, it still fills my heart with joy that you have found such happiness."

"On the ship...I...I thought I would find only one thing in Valinor. The sweet embrace of death. And I was alright with it. I was actually almost looking forward to sleeping without waking. In my dreams, the three of you were still alive, were happy and smiling. And Thorin..." Fli squeezed the hobbit's hand. He'd guessed that the time apart had been hard on Bilbo as well as Thorin, but to hear it from the hobbit...it tore at Fli's heart. "And then I saw you...well, I should really say 'and then you crushed me in that embrace of yours', but you know what I mean." The young dwarf nodded, grinning. "I thought I had lost my mind but was more than happy with that. "But to see Thorin... To know he'd been waiting for me all these long years, longed for me just like I did for him... I'd thought that what we shared on the journey was happiness, but it pales in comparison to what we have now."

Bilbo smiled up at him then, and the way the hobbit's grey eyes sparkled filled Fli's heart with the wish to know love like this as well. But more so to have Kli know this happiness. Kli... "It was so hard to not have you around anymore, especially for my brother. You had become like a second...well...father figure really. To both of us. And to have that taken away...it was bad for me, but for Kli... He never knew our father, you see. He died in a skirmish when our mother was carrying Kli and... He suffered such a great loss before he was even born, and then to lose you as well...I think something broke within him. But he kept it a secret, even from me. I wish...I wish I had known. To carry that with him, and the guilt he obviously feels over Thorin's death..."

"He's good at covering it up, his feelings I mean. A smile here, a silly comment there, and that's how people perceived him. I'm guilty of that as well, Fli." Bilbo sighed, "We have to help him, we have to show him that he's not a failure, that we love him. That he's worthy of being loved..."

"He's always been ridiculed by our own people. Behind his back, yes, but he still knew. If you asked him, if you got him to answer you honestly, you would find that he thinks he's ugly and undeserving. He believes he will be alone for the rest of his life and I so wish..." Running his fingers through his hair, Fli caught Bilbo's gaze, pleading with the hobbit. "We have to do something. I can't bear to see him like that; so forlorn..."

"I promise you we will. Between yourself, Thorin and I we will get through to him. And as my heart was mended, so shall we mend his. I give you my word, Fli. We will see it done."