Bilbo stood in Erebor’s Hall of Records contemplating the walls of tomes that still needed tidying. He and Thorin had only just begun what seemed like a tremendous task – restoring order to that repository of the history and important affairs of the greatest Dwarf kingdom of Middle-Earth. As his eyes ran over rune-engraved spines of books, his fingers played absently with the ring in his pocket. They always went there when Thorin wasn’t with him, or when there was no other distraction.

Thorin was mostly recovered from his battle injuries. He was up and about but not yet strong enough to take back full reign. At least that was Balin’s firm opinion, which he had been sure to enforce against the expected grunts of protest from his king. Thorin had eventually agreed to find something less exerting to do, while still ruling from a distance through Balin. His first thought had gone to the Hall of Records, which needed as much attention as the rest of Erebor, and which would have also provided Bilbo with an activity that he might have enjoyed. They had decided that Bilbo would be in charge of that, and Thorin would show him the ropes until he built up enough strength to resume his true duties.

And there he was now, entering through the great door of the library.

“Good morning,” said Bilbo, smiling up at Thorin, who had come at his side. The dwarf looked sombre and merely returned a silent, pained grimace. “Are you all right? Does something hurt again?” asked Bilbo, losing his bright mood.

“No, I had a bad dream,” answered Thorin, bloodshot gaze wavering between the hobbit and the floor.

“Oh, if you want to tell me about it, you can,” offered Bilbo. Thorin hesitated, staring down. “It always helps me feel better after a nightmare if I talk to someone about it.”

Thorin looked up, still reluctant to speak. Bilbo was used by now to seeing him unsettled. He knew that persistence in showing willingness to help worked, so he stared back. “I dreamed of my family sickness,” began Thorin. Bilbo’s hand immediately abandoned the ring and came out of his special pocket. “There was fire again,” continued Thorin, glancing away from the hobbit and fixing his eyes on something invisible not two feet above the floor, “but not from the dragon. The gold was alight, lashing flames at me, burning my flesh. You called to me to get away. I laughed at you. You drew closer and I grabbed you by the throat and held you in the fire. You thrashed your limbs about. My hand was too tight around your neck and you could not scream. I gripped harder and you lost your breath. The sound of your crushing bones was in my ears. It pleased me, much like the searing of my own flesh.”

Murder and flames were alive in Thorin’s eyes as he recounted his dream just as it had been, with no attempt to cover its horror. His tone was dark, but clear, bearing down on each word as if he had wanted to print all of them into stone. And such terrible words they were. The image of his maddened face, his mouth spouting insults and his eyes threatening with death, rekindled in Bilbo’s mind, vivid and terrifying, making him take a few steps back without realising it.

Thorin smirked at him bitterly and lowered his gaze again, his shoulders pulling heavily downwards, strands of hair hiding most of his profile from view. He gathered his closed hand to his chest as if wanting to dull a throbbing wound. He was still burning on the inside, but in wakefulness it obviously hurt.

Bilbo could not say anything for a while, but he also could not stand there and watch Thorin agonising over something that was not even entirely real. And he himself did not find it utterly impossible to understand what is was like to be drawn to something against sense and reason. His own attraction to the ring that he had taken from Gollum was unwelcome enough, and yet hard, very hard to resist.

“Thorin,” he said, retracing his steps, and trying to keep his voice from shaking, “it was only a dream. And, and all of that, your sickness, that is in the past now.”

The dwarf raised his head, appearing surprised to hear Bilbo’s voice so near. “I fear it is also in the future,” he said, straightening a little and turning to face Bilbo. “I went yesterday with Balin to see the treasure. It has to be sorted and put away properly.”

“Yes, of course.”

“That is why this dream came to me. I had not seen the gold since… before the battle. I am still under its spell, Bilbo, and I can still fall, like my grandfather. We would be in ruin again. I cannot let that happen.” His voice was lighter, although he was describing dire things again.

“I, I don’t think that will happen,” reassured Bilbo.

Thorin seemed not to have heard. He had somewhere to go with his speech. And indeed, he swooped down on the hobbit, kneeling in front of him and pulling him into a tight embrace. “I did not think that anything could halt this madness once it took hold,” he said, resting his head on Bilbo’s shoulder. “But you can. Stay, Bilbo, and keep me sane.”

With a sigh, Bilbo put his own arms around Thorin. “Yes, I will stay, of course I’ll stay,” he said, leaning his right temple against the back of Thorin’s head.

The dwarf withdrew and glanced hopeful at Bilbo, who placed both hands on the sides of his face. “I’ll stay,” he repeated, closely. “You will not fall. You will make a great and generous king. You will bring fortune to your people again, and glory, not ruin.” Thorin finally allowed a little smile to brighten his expression, and Bilbo kissed him. “You want to get up now? It’s not fit for a king to be on his knees,” he scolded afterwards.

Thorin nodded and rose from the ground.

“There, that’s much better,” said Bilbo and began arranging the crumpled folds of his layered clothing.

“Thank you,” said Thorin, catching the hobbit’s flapping hands into his.

Bilbo looked up at him. The fire was gone from his eyes, and there was only relieved gratitude. Clearly, he was not expressing thanks for the smoothing of his garments. “I care so much for you, Thorin,” responded Bilbo, not really knowing what else he could say.

“As do I for you,” said Thorin, his forehead tilting slightly downwards as it always did when he wanted to be convincing.

“Shall we go back to our books then? Well, your books.”

Thorin’s smile widened. “Our books. Yes, we should do that.”

He let go of the hobbit’s hands and they both walked towards their working desk, where a pile of dusty volumes was waiting from the previous day.

“Since you mentioned the treasure,” started Bilbo as they both sat down. “Could I possibly have one of these grey blue beads that you have in your hair?” he asked, pointing at the round hollow bead holding Thorin’s left braid together. “I really do like them.”

“You can have this one,” said Thorin and reached to remove the jewel from his hair.

“Oh no, I can’t take that one. What about your braid?”

“I have others. And I am not going anywhere today where it might matter,” said Thorin, glancing at Bilbo from under his eyebrows. With the bead finally off, his braid came apart a little at its end. He held it in the palm of his hand and offered it to the hobbit.

“Thank you,” said Bilbo, collecting his gift and giving a peck to the dwarf’s cheek.

“Perhaps you can put it in your own hair when it grows longer,” suggested Thorin.

“I would like that very much,” grinned Bilbo happily and tucked the bead in the free pocket of his vest.

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