Author's Note: I am weak for Hanahaki Disease fics. I would literally die for one of these. So, I figured I might as well try my hand at one. We'll see how it goes :P Read, review, and enjoy!
Hobbits were, by tradition, rather suspicious and secretive folk. Bilbo had always personally believed that this secretive nature simply came from being so separated and isolated from the other races as they were in the Shire. Others believed it was a natural response to being such little people in such a big world. The particularly romantic among them believed that Hobbits hoarded their secrets due to some ancient betrayal and heartbreak during the Wandering Days.
Whatever the reason, very few people from any race knew anything about Hobbits. The Men of Bree knew some of the more harmless secrets. The Rangers knew even less. Gandalf probably knew more than any other, although no Hobbit could quite tell how many secrets he had divined over the course of his many visits to the Shire.
There was one secret that the Hobbits knew Gandalf knew as he had been asked to consult on it (to cure it) multiple times. Outside of him, though, this secret was the Hobbits' most highly guarded secret. They were afraid that others would take advantage of this secret, of the damage it could cause. They foolishly believed that if they didn't tell Outsiders, then they couldn't fall victim to the secret.
Bilbo would like to say that that reasoning was entirely false.
Merely keeping their secrets and holding to propriety wouldn't stop a foolish old Gentlehobbit from falling in love with a foolish exiled Dwarf-king. It wouldn't stop a silly romantic from believing he could be loved back. It wouldn't stop a heart from breaking. It wouldn't stop Hanahaki from developing.
Bilbo hadn't even realized it had developed at first. At the moment, all he'd been able to feel – over the fear, over the pain – was an overwhelming sense of heartbreak. He hadn't meant for this to happen. He hadn't wanted to hurt Thorin. He'd just wanted to make sure his stupid Dwarf wouldn't get them all killed. He had known that Thorin had changed – that's what stopped him from giving Thorin the Arkenstone in the first place – but he hadn't believed it was this bad.
He hadn't believed that the love of his life would try to kill him.
For a long, drawn-out second, all Bilbo could see was Thorin's shocking, intense gaze – the fury trapped in midnight sky eyes, the snarl stretching his lips, the shocked paleness and rage-red cheeks. All he could feel were Thorin's fingers digging tightly into the sensitive flesh of Bilbo's neck, squeezing and pressing and bruising. He was aware, vaguely, of his feet dangling over the edge of the gate, of the wind swirling around his calves, of the other members of the Company (some were staring in horror, some were shouting in surprise, some stared at him with the same stony silence that Thorin employed). None of them seemed to matter compared to his breaking heart.
The moment was broken, and time returned to its usual path when Gandalf's furious voice echoed over the field, "If you don't like my Burglar, then please, don't damage him. Return him to me." Bilbo panted in the sudden silence. Thorin moved his intense gaze to Gandalf and Bilbo felt like he could breathe again.
Below him (oh so very far below him), Gandalf started speaking again, normally this time instead of the amplified boom it had been, "You're not making a very splendid figure as King Under the Mountain, are you? Thorin, son of Thrain."
Wordlessly, Thorin deposited Bilbo back on the wall, still staring out at Gandalf. Bilbo stumbled as he was set down, shaking in his own skin, barely keeping himself from flinching at the soft touches against his arms and back as some of the others tried to usher him off the wall, away from Thorin. Bofur was the one who managed to get him all the way to the rope even as Thorin snarled down at the encroaching armies, "Never again will I have dealings with Wizards! Or Shire rats!"
Shakily, Bilbo dropped to the ground, rope falling from limp fingers. He was afraid to say that he just stood there, blank and numb, until Gandalf rushed over and bundled Bilbo into the folds of his robe. Gandalf moved him quickly through the field, past silent Elves and awkwardly shifting Men. Bilbo didn't even care that he was making a right spectacle of himself. The only thing he cared about was the person who had just tried to throw him to his death.
Bilbo felt his chest tighten at the thought, his breath catching. Gandalf set him down in a tent (who's tent was he in? When did they get there?) and passed a hot mug into Bilbo's hands. Bilbo took the mug to his lips and sipped lightly at the tea simply by rote. The tight feeling in his chest didn't go away.
"Oh Bilbo," Gandalf sighed, setting a careful hand into Bilbo's curls, "I never meant for this to happen."
Bilbo let out a slightly hysterical laugh, "Mother always said that expecting certain things to happen on an adventure was asking to be disappointed."
Gandalf chuckled fondly, sadness still lingering at the edges of his voice, "Belladonna always was a wise, remarkable woman."
Despite himself, Bilbo felt a smile tug at his unwilling lips, ready to add his own comment about Belladonna Baggins nee Took. The words never made it past his lips, though, instead being trapped in his throat by a cough that wracked his whole body. Gandalf was there in an instant, pulling the mug from Bilbo's fingers and rubbing one big hand up and down on Bilbo's back. As the coughing started to die down, Bilbo felt something moving up his throat, sitting gently on his tongue. Eyes wide, praying to Yavanna that he was wrong, Bilbo grabbed one of the handkerchiefs he'd grabbed from Laketown and spat into it. He felt his eyes widen in despair as he saw a delicate flower petal sitting among speckles of blood.
Behind him, Gandalf stood and stomped around the room, cursing this quest, cursing Dwarves, and especially cursing the King Under the Mountain. Bilbo reached out a shaking hand to pick up the flower petal. It was a windflower.
Windflower. Meaning sincerity, love, and abandonment.
Bilbo hadn't realized he'd drifted again until Gandalf's kind face moved into his field of vision. He blinked (there were tears pushing at the edges of his eyes that he wouldn't acknowledge) as Gandalf started speaking quietly, "I hate to leave you like this for any amount of time, but as soon as all of this is over, I will perform the surgery myself. You just need to hold on until then."
"I'm not having the surgery, Gandalf," Bilbo said, quite without his permission.
Gandalf raised big bushy eyebrows before lowering them in concern, "Bilbo, my dear. I cannot guarantee that Thorin Oakenshield will ever come out of his gold sickness. I cannot guarantee whether or not he will return your feelings regardless."
Bilbo blinked as tears threatened to overwhelm him, "That's quite alright. Even if he doesn't love me, I… I love him and that's enough. If he doesn't love me, then I don't much see the point of living anyways." Gandalf opened his mouth, obviously prepared to argue, but Bilbo put up a hand to stop him, "No, no. You know it's true, Gandalf. This Company is – was – is the family of my heart after all these months. If I were to return to the Shire – if I were allowed to return after all this dreadful adventure business, - I would be utterly miserable all alone in my big, empty smial. Don't try to convince me otherwise, my old friend. I am a Baggins with Took blood! You cannot out-stubborn me!"
Sighing, Gandalf took Bilbo's handkerchief and gently grabbed the windflower petal, lips pursing as he no doubt figured out its meanings, "I do not wish to lose you, Bilbo, but I will not force the surgery on you. I know well how damaging that can be. But please allow me to continue to at least try to convince you. And I know that the Hobbits already brought me into try to cure Hanahaki without the surgery and that I failed, but please allow me to try again. As many times as it takes."
Bilbo smiled sweetly at Gandalf and patted the wizard's cheek comfortingly, "Of course, my friend, of course. Anything you need."
Gandalf smiled sadly and grabbed Bilbo's small hand between his large ones. He leaned his big head down and pressed it against their hands. Sighing, Gandalf lifted his head up, "I am guessing from your reaction that this was the first petal?" Bilbo nodded, voice stolen by Gandalf's solemnity, "Then we still have a fair bit of time. For now, we must focus on this war and all these confoundingly foolish races. If only the world were made of Hobbits!"
Bilbo snorted, "Well, as we cannot turn all of these people into Hobbits anytime soon, we shall simply have to give them a Hobbit. Let us go and see what we can do to help, yes?"
Giving him those big, sad eyes again, Gandalf said gently, "You do not need to help, Bilbo. You have done so much for them already. You owe these people nothing and you are ill. All you need to do is stay here and rest."
Hands on his hips, Bilbo stood up and scowled at him, "My Dwarrows are still in that mountain, so gold sick they wouldn't notice the orcs if they were stabbed by one! And the Men were already inexcusably hurt by my failure to properly deal with Smaug. I cannot stand by and not help them. What sort of proper Gentlehobbit would I be if I didn't do as much as possible?"
Gandalf chuckled, standing up as well, "You must start giving those speeches in front of more people. I am already convinced of the marvel that is Hobbits. You need to convince the other races now. Give them your speeches!"
Bilbo scowled at him again, walking out of the tent flap, "I know when I am being laughed at and I do not appreciate being mocked, kind Wizard!" Gandalf's laughter followed him out of the tent and bolstered his spirit through that first day of grief.
It did not, however, continue to bolster his spirit through the battle. There was nothing that could bolster a spirit through a battle, especially the kind soul of a simple Hobbit.
The battle was only blood and screams and churning mud and fallen warriors and death.
Bilbo would admit that he was more reckless than he would have normally been. With the knowledge that he was dying anyways, he didn't put a lot of stock in his own life, instead doing anything to save the people around him.
It was through that recklessness that Bilbo stabbed Sting through Azog's neck. He felt guilty taking that eventual kill from Thorin, but if it meant that the Dwarf king survived, then it would be worth it. Thorin hated him already anyways.
Unfortunately, Bilbo's recklessness left him alive but gravely injured. He wished he'd died on the battlefield. He wished Prince Legolas hadn't found him, hadn't mused quietly on the eight or nine flower petals that had fallen from Bilbo's lips during the time he'd laid, exhausted and in pain, next to Azog's rotting corpse.
Legolas had been gentle and careful and caring enough that Bilbo had cried, quietly but endlessly, all through the battlefield and into the healing tent. He wished he'd died on the battlefield.
Legolas gave him a quick and temporary treatment, stopping the bleeding on Bilbo's side and shoddily locking his broken leg in place. Although he'd seemed loathe to leave Bilbo alone in the healing tent, still quietly crying, Legolas still gently wiped away Bilbo's tears and kissed his forehead, "Please calm and rest well, Master Hobbit. You have done a great deed today and shown much bravery. I will be back later, but for now I must go search for more living among the dead. Is there anything you need? Do you… do you want me to see if I can find one of your Dwarves to come and sit with you?"
Bilbo shook his head, "No! No, I don't want them to see me like this."
"Okay, Master Hobbit," Legolas soothed, "That is alright. Is there anyone you wish me to send in?"
Lips quivering with his grief, Bilbo shook his head slowly, trying to get control of himself back, "No, I suppose not. I imagine that Gandalf is in quite high demand. No, Prince Legolas. I thank you, but I will be fine here by myself, certainly."
Legolas narrowed his eyes at Bilbo, but did not argue, simply nodding to the Hobbit and rushing out of the tent to search for more of the living. Bilbo let his eyes slide closed as he considered his predicament. He had a nasty injury on his side and a shattered leg – it was unlikely that he would ever walk properly again. Even as he sat there, a petal worked its way out of his throat, leaving him heaving blood over the side of the cot. He knew, as all Hobbits learned during their fauntling years, that his body was attempting to normalize at the moment, trying to handle the disease that was already starting to kill him. He would stabilize a little bit and feel much better. But whatever would he do then? Even if he wanted to spend the rest of his days in the Shire (which he did not – as much as he would love to see his home again, he had no interest in being belittled for his decision of going on an adventure or used as an example of what happens to fools who follow strange Dwarrows out of their smials in the early morning), he was quite certain he would not make it in time. Ignoring even his injury that limited his movements, the Misty Mountains would be unpassable in the upcoming season.
It was a shame, really. Bilbo had been hoping to perhaps spend the rest of his days in Rivendell. As much as he would have hated to impose and as much as he thought slowly dying was a poor way to make up for hospitality, he felt as though Lord Elrond would not mind terribly.
Bilbo didn't know how long he drifted, but the next time he opened his eyes, there were three faces peering down at him and he had a petal lodged in his throat. Gandalf was the only one who realized what was happening and was there in a moment, turning Bilbo gently on his side as the Hobbit hacked up another blood speckled petal. Bilbo wanted to laugh at the gob smacked expressions on Legolas and Thranduil's faces but couldn't seem to push a laugh through his sore throat.
Thranduil quickly got control of his expression and raised one perfect eyebrow at Gandalf even as he (surprisingly) started treating Bilbo, "Explain."
Gandalf sighed, "Hobbits have a tragic disease that afflicts their people. It is called Hanahaki disease. When a Hobbit loves another being with all their heart, and the other does not love them back, it causes a physical reaction. Flowers start to grow in their lungs. There are several stages. The first week features intense depression and a good number of flower petals. Then the depression lifts a little and the petals decrease before slowly increasing again. It will get harder and harder to breath as the roots trap the lungs. Eventually, the afflicted will start to cough up full formed flowers until they… until the roots and flowers fill their lungs and they… pass."
Thranduil frowned as Bilbo stared listlessly up at him, "Is there not a way to cut the flowers out?"
Sighing again, Gandalf nodded and passed a hand over Bilbo's hair, "Yes. But the only way cutting the flowers out is useful is if the memories of the love and the emotion of love is removed. It is very rare for someone who has the surgery to ever love again. Bilbo has refused the surgery and I am inclined to listen. The chance for death from the surgery is quite high and a patient forced to have the surgery often never mentally recovers."
"And there is no other cure?" Legolas asked, horror dripping from his voice.
"Only one and it is not one I would bet on in this case either. If the afflicted confesses to their loved one and the loved one loves them back, then the flowers recede. If the afflicted is rejected, though, they will not often live longer than a few hours. Rejection very rapidly progresses the disease," Gandalf explained.
The two Elves shared looks before Legolas asked seriously, "I do not see how the risk would not be worth it. He has a certain death here. Who does he love?"
Thranduil's gaze darkened, "It is that Fool Under the Mountain, isn't it? His cursed gold-sickness would prevent him from truly being able to respond, correct?" Gandalf nodded gravely.
Legolas gently passed a hand over Bilbo's, looking down on him sadly, "And there is no other way? We cannot get him to fall in love with someone else? Get him to fall out of love with Thorin Oakenshield? The hero of the Battle of Five Armies does not deserve to die this way."
Gandalf shook his head, "Remember that the afflicted has to love this other person will all their heart to get the disease. They are not so easily swayed from their love. There is no other cure as of yet. I have researched it in the past but have never been able to divine a cure."
"That is a shame," Legolas said, face lined with exhaustion, still hauntingly ethereal despite the post-battle grunge. He shook his head and clenched his jaw, "I cannot believe that. Father, please, we must do something."
Thranduil sighed, "Greenwood Elves are not healers of the soul as I would guess this disease is. But if the least we can do for this brave Halfling is to provide a comfortable place for him to rest while Mithrandir searches for a cure, then that is what we will do."
Feeling quite done with being spoken about as if he weren't there, Bilbo protested, "I simply couldn't! I would hate to inconvenience you as such. It is not proper at all."
Thranduil raised a judgmental eyebrow at him, "And what would you do instead?"
Bilbo spluttered at him, unable to come up with a valid response. He finally settled on, "You could just leave me here."
"You would die," Thranduil mused emotionlessly. Bilbo's lips tightened and he pressed them closed, turning his head away.
"Bilbo Baggins!" Gandalf thundered, "I will not tolerate this defeatist attitude. You promised that you would allow me to do what I needed to attempt to cure you. You will go to Thranduil's palace and accept his hospitality. You will rest there as I treat you. We will keep you alive as long as we can. I am not giving up on you, my dear Bilbo, so, please do not give up on yourself."
Bilbo sighed and patted one of Gandalf's hands, "Alright, Gandalf. I will try."
"That is all I ask," Gandalf responded, eyes crinkling in the corners Thranduil watched on, apparently emotionlessly, but his son had wide-eyed concern written all over his face.
Trying to shake the attention from himself (and get some information he was desperate for), Bilbo asked carefully, "Are… are my Dwarrows alright?"
Gandalf smiled softly, "As alright as they can be after a battle like that. All thirteen are alive and are going to survive the battle but some are injured. Nothing that will cause them permanent harm, but there will be scars and a long recover period."
Bilbo licked his lips and asked cautiously, "And Thorin?" All three other men in the room scowled.
Gandalf eventually answered, "He is in a medical sleep, recovering from a deep chest wound. He will survive, simply injured. It will be a long recovery." Bilbo felt relief uncurl in his stomach at the news. He was smart enough to not say that out loud, though.
"Well," Thranduil said, scowl melted off his face as if it had never been there, "That is all I can do for you now. You can remain in this tent, healing, until we start bringing our people back to Greenwood. I will make sure that you go with the first groups. Until then, no Man, Dwarf, or Elf will be allowed in here without your permission. I promise that." Bilbo nodded to him in thanks, trying to hold back another cough in front of the Elven royalty. Thranduil nodded in return and swept out of the room.
Legolas and Gandalf fell into quiet conversation above him, only pausing briefly to help Bilbo as he coughed. Bilbo fell asleep to the quiet murmur of their voices.
Bilbo must have been more tired than he believed, for when he woke, he discovered that he was being transported back to Mirkwood – he was halfway there in fact.
When Bilbo made a disgruntled sort of noise at the sharp feeling of being jostled by a creature much larger than himself, he heard a tinkling sort of laugh from beside him. He blinked his head slowly to the side to see Legolas grinning unashamedly at him, bearing the good humor and brightness of Elven youth. With a slight blush, Bilbo righted himself, clearing his throat and digging his hands into coarse horsehair, "Why am I on a horse?"
Gandalf's deep laughter rumbled against Bilbo's back and he almost flinched with the surprise of it, "It was the fastest way to bring you back to Greenwood, I'm afraid. The safest, as well. While riding, I can have you safely upright if you felt the need to cough as you have several times on this journey."
Bilbo tried to twist round in his seat to face Gandalf but couldn't quite manage to do more than get an eyeful of Gandalf's grey robes. With a huff, Bilbo settled back to face the front, directing his question to the ones behind and beside him even as he faced forward, "How long as this journey been? Why, I don't even remember leaving!"
"I should hope not," Legolas said mischievously, "You were well and truly asleep, Master Hobbit. I know that my father gave you a small sleeping draught while you were sleeping to ensure that your rest was peaceful, but none of us expected you to sleep so long."
"It is just as well," Gandalf declared, "Rest is the best medicine for the moment. The less you acerbate your lungs, the better off you are."
Bilbo decided to ignore that comment for the moment since even the mention of his disease had flower petals creeping up his throat. Instead, he asked, "Was I given a normal strength sleeping draught? I know that since Hobbits are much smaller and softer than most races, we need much gentler medicines."
Legolas smiled reassuringly, "He did take that into account, Master Hobbit."
Bilbo rolled his eyes, "Please, Prince Legolas. We have ridden into war together and you now open your home to me for the foreseeable future. Please call me Bilbo."
"Only if you call me Legolas. You are right, we will be sharing a home for the future. I wish that you are comfortable in it," Legolas answered gravely.
Bilbo fought down a blush. Honestly. He wasn't some wilting maiden who needed plush beds and soft linens and food fed directly to him. He was a Hobbit. And Hobbits have faced this disease for many hundreds of years with dignity and pride. No one was treated lesser for their affliction. No one was treated as if they might break until they got to the stage of the disease where they really might break.
Still, after so long on the road and after the brusque behavior and fresh heartache from the Dwarrows, Bilbo could not deny that he found some comfort in the way Gandalf and Legolas treated him like he was something special, something to be cherished and taken care of. Something to protect. It was a nice feeling after months of running around, trying to manage Thorin's stupidity.
Bilbo grimaced as a cough tickled the back of his throat. That one was his own fault. He should know better than to sit there and reminisce about his love when he was trying to prolong his life. He grimaced further when he started actually coughing. Gandalf braced him, holding his midriff gently and angling him so the petal and small flecks of blood would fall gracefully to the side of the horse, left behind on the long, winding path they were taking.
Bilbo stared after it as they rode on, looking at it, trying to find meaning and purpose behind it. Was this really the life he lived? Bilbo Baggins, a once proper Gentlehobbit, was now halfway across Middle Earth, galivanting off to the Elven kingdom of Greenwood, dying slowly for the unrequited love of a Dwarven king. A smile curved up his lips; if only Lobelia Sackville-Baggins could see him now! She wouldn't know what to do with him at all.
His lips quickly turned back down when he thought further, though. What was he going to do about Bag End? The Sackville-Baggins were likely going to get the place when Bilbo died, but he wasn't entirely certain that he wanted them to live in his family homestead. He would have preferred it go to a different cousin. Perhaps he could give it to Drogo. Drogo was his favorite cousin. Well, perhaps he was tied with Falco. But Drogo was currently living in his house with Aunt Ruby, Uncle Fosco, and his two siblings, Dora and Dudo, and his betrothed, Primula. It was much too full a house and Bilbo knew that Drogo wanted to have children with Prim someday. It would be nice to give Bag End to them, to let the two of them fill up Bilbo's stuffy old home with the large family it was meant for.
Still, Bilbo would have liked to see Bag End one last time before he died. When he'd run out of Bag End, he'd been innocent and naïve and more than a little frazzled. A wild, wicked thing had taken hold of his mind that day and, well, he couldn't bring himself to hate it, but there were certainly things he wished he would have done differently. Oh, even if he got the chance to start all over, he'd still go on this blasted quest to help those blasted Dwarrows. He knew that with every inch of his body. But he would have said goodbye to the people he loved. He would have taken the time to will everything.
He would have made arrangements to get his body sent back home, to be laid to rest the proper Hobbit way. He wondered how the Elves would deal with his body. What did they do to lay their dead to rest? Bilbo supposed that it wasn't a very common thing, an Elf dying. There were plenty of dead Elves after the battle, though. Bilbo supposed he would get to see how Elves handled their dead after all.
Bilbo shook his head wildly, ignoring the bemused look Legolas sent him. It wouldn't do to think of such sad things. Gandalf was right. This sort of defeatist behavior wasn't like Bilbo at all. Why, his mother would be ashamed to know that he was thinking so negatively! He needed to enjoy the time he had left and believe that Gandalf would do his best to cure him.
In the end, that was all Bilbo could do.
It was two months into Bilbo's stay at Greenwood that he first heard mention of his Dwarrows. At that point, Bilbo had been mostly relegated to his quarters, only leaving the room twice a week to take dinner in Thranduil's guest dining room. Much to his embarrassment, Bilbo had been given a room in the royal quarters, one reserved for visiting dignitaries. When he'd protested, Thranduil had raised a judgmental eyebrow before walking into the room and setting down his medical instruments without another word. Bilbo had been forced to follow and meekly concede.
Of course, changes had been made to accommodate Bilbo. The bed, the bath, and the chairs were all designed for the tall, willowy bodies of Elves and had needed to be replaced with smaller (or, at least, shorter) versions that Bilbo could use. A stool had been added to allow him to reach the sink, the top drawers of the dresser, and the upper shelves of the bookcase.
The favorite part of his rooms, however, was the veranda that was attached. It was gorgeously decorated and gave him a peaceful place to smoke his Old Toby without bothering any of the Elves. Well, when he had his Old Toby. It was a local Hobbit blend and difficult to find. The Elves had found a small stash but Bilbo was savoring it, occasionally supplementing it with other kinds of smoking weed to make it last longer. Gandalf had told Bilbo that he was going to soon implement a 'no smoking' rule to help Bilbo's lungs last a little longer, so Bilbo intended to smoke the last bits of his Old Toby on his last day.
He was out on that veranda one day, a pipe clamped between his teeth and an elegantly written book on Elvish fables draped over his lap when Legolas stomped into the room, looking rather like a distressed cat.
Bilbo hid his smile behind the action of removing his pipe even as he asked sympathetically, "Are the talks not going well?" Each of the three 'good' races from the Battle of the Five Armies had given themselves a month and a half long grace period in order to rebuild (which was more important for the survivors of the remains of Laketown who wished to rebuild Dale, and the returning Dwarrows who took to setting Erebor to rights) and honor their dead. Once that was over, they had agreed to get together to talk and rehash agreements, debts, and treaties. Hopefully, something more concrete and longer lasting would be able to decrease the likelihood of the same mistakes being made. Hopefully.
The Men had arrived a week earlier, a clearly uncomfortable Bard leading them, his son and one of his daughters standing regally behind him. The three had visited Bilbo several times over their stay, often spending the night with Bilbo telling the children stories as Thranduil, Bard, Gandalf, and Legolas watched on amusedly. Bard and his children were not told the reason for Bilbo's stay in Mirkwood, but Bilbo knew that Bard at least had figured out that he was ill.
It wasn't terribly difficult to figure it out, honestly. The progression of the disease had left Bilbo with a consistently scratchy voice and a pale, sickly pallor. After bad nights, he would develop dark bags under his eyes that would take days to go away. He knew that whatever Gandalf was doing was prolonging his life, but there was still only a matter of time before Bilbo would fade completely and it showed.
Legolas's answer drew Bilbo out of his contemplations, "It's those Dwarves! They arrived all in a huff, scowls on their faces before we even started the talks. And they brought Tauriel with them even though Father banished her." There was a flash of pain over his expression at the thought before it cleared and he started ranting again, "I know that the only reason they brought her was because she can translate if we decide to speak Sindarin at the table. Not enough of Father's advisors know Quenya for us to use that to discuss. So, the Dwarves can sit and mutter in their secret language while we are forced to simply communicate in the Common Tongue."
Bilbo raised an eyebrow, even as his heartrate increased, "Oh the horror. You have to actually communicate with each other and not keep secrets as you try to iron out an alliance. However are you expected to build a proper working relationship with them if you can't whisper secrets to each other the entire treaty discussions?"
Legolas sent him a withering look, "Very funny, Bilbo. It is frustrating!"
"Is it more frustrating that they are preventing you from keeping secrets, or it is more frustrating that they are using Tauriel for that?" Bilbo asked drily.
It was amusing to watch Legolas immediately flush before he managed to control his expression. He eventually muttered, "I don't know. Probably Tauriel, honestly. I miss her." Before Bilbo could probe further, Legolas turned his attention fully onto Bilbo, "And how do you feel?"
Bilbo tilted his head to the side in consideration, "I am doing well. I am a little tired though. More than usual, I think."
Legolas sent him a concerned glance, but forged ahead without commenting, "You know what I mean. How do you feel about the Dwarves being here?"
Bilbo grimaced, "Ah." In truth, from the moment he heard that the King Under the Mountain would be sending delegates to the talks, he had tried to avoid thinking about it. He had simultaneously hoped that the delegates would be people he knew and hoped that none of his Dwarrows would be the ones sent to the talks. Clearing his throat, Bilbo ran a finger idly over the smooth page of his book, "Yes, well. I suppose I do not feel one way or the other. As long as I don't have to see them, then I don't have to feel one way or the other." He could see, out of the corner of his eye, Legolas opening his mouth, so he quickly spoke to cut him off, "And I don't want to know who came. I am not interested. It is not my business. I am quite content to stay here, in my room, without any Dwarrows to distract me from resting."
Legolas pursed his lips, but didn't directly comment, choosing instead to move onto other topics. Bilbo was suspicious but decided not to comment. For a long while, they talked about the fables Bilbo was reading about. They talked long enough that Bilbo had quite forgotten how suspicious he was of Legolas's easy capitulation.
That was his mistake.
Bilbo hadn't thought anything of the conspiratorial glances Legolas and Gandalf were sharing over his head while they helped him to Thranduil's dining hall that night. He was used to the two of them scheming about some thing or another – much to Thranduil's consternation. It always amused Bilbo to watch the two of them in action at the small dining table. It had, somehow, gotten worse with the addition Sigrid. Bain had carefully stayed away from their plans, making sure that he was never the target, but also not directly participating. Bilbo thought that he was the most intelligent of all of them.
So, due to that and due to Bilbo's tiredness that day, he hadn't thought a thing about the grins the two shared. Until he got to the dining room. And walked in. And saw Dwarrows sitting in the tall Elvish chairs.
Bilbo spluttered abruptly and roughly to a stop, twisting slightly to glare down the two menaces behind him. Thranduil was watching the scene unfold with an expression halfway between extreme boredom and vindictive pleasure. He was probably just pleased that it was someone else who was on the receiving end of their scheming for once. Bard was wincing pityingly. Bain and Tilda were sat on the side of the table where their backs were facing the door and were unable to see the disaster unfolding. Luckily, the same could be said of the Dwarrows sat noisily at the table.
Bilbo immediately started pulling back, trying to get away as quickly as possible. He could feel a blossom tickling the back of his throat and he'd be cursed if he threw up flowers right there at the dinner table. Legolas let go immediately, clearly afraid of hurting him, but Gandalf simply tightened his hold and knelt way, way down, looking somewhat like a toppling tree. He leaned close to Bilbo and whispered encouragingly, "It is alright, Bilbo. This is part of my prescription as your primary carer. Please, at least try. If you feel like you are going to cough and wish to leave, I will take you back to your rooms immediately and I will have someone bring dinner to your room. Please, my friend."
Taking his free hand and scrubbing over his face, Bilbo quietly said, "Fine. But only because I am tired, and I do not wish to fight with you."
Gandalf ran a gentle hand over the crown of Bilbo's head, "Thank you. It will all turn out fine, you'll see." Bilbo harrumphed skeptically but didn't say anything.
He allowed Gandalf and Legolas to lead him to his seat, one that was currently situated right between Gandalf and Bard. The table was slightly oval shaped with, currently, Thranduil at one 'head' and Bard at the other. Bard's two children and two Dwarf delegates sat on one side with Bilbo, Legolas, and Gandalf sitting on the other.
Bilbo could hear the Dwarrows turning in their seats as Legolas shut the door behind them, but Bilbo kept his gaze fixed to the floor. He knew it was cowardly and rude, but he had always been a cowardly, selfish Hobbit at heart.
He only looked up into the stilted silence once he had been settled in his seat and the food had been served. He immediately wished he hadn't.
Thorin had sent members of the Company to the talks. Bilbo had looked up and straight into the faces of Fíli and Balin. They were staring at him with expressions of complete shock, words washed away by the sight in front of them. Unnerved, Bilbo tucked his head back down to look at his food again.
Fíli was the first to find his tongue again, practically shouting, "We thought you went back to the Shire!"
Balin elbowed Fíli, hard and quick, speaking over Fíli's low moan of pain, "What the Prince meant to say was that we are quite glad to see you, Bilbo, and that we are sorry we had not visited earlier. Had we known that you were staying here, we would have certainly came sooner." Thranduil's expression soured, probably at the thought of the Dwarrows arriving any sooner than they did, but he remained silent, obviously content to let Bilbo live out his misery unaided.
Clearing his throat slightly (he wasn't sure if it was a flower petal or an emotion-created lump that was clogging his throat), Bilbo answered, "Ah, well, yes. Thranduil was kind enough to allow me to stay here for the time being. Orc and Goblin packs are still being hunted down, so the way back isn't quite safe and, well, it is already getting into Winter, isn't it? There is no way I would have made it back to the Shire through that sort of weather, not at all." He stopped talking and closed his mouth with a click when he realized he'd been rambling. Trying to regain control of himself, he looked up long enough to send the two a thin-lipped smile, "I hadn't thought to send you a message informing you of where I was staying. I had been sure that you would all be busy with the repairs in Erebor. How do those go, by the way? And do you bring any news of the Company? Gandalf told me that all were alive and expected to live when I left the battlefield, but I am quite afraid that I haven't heard anything since."
Fíli was staring at him, blonde brows lowered over his eyes. Balin sent the Prince a quick look before answering Bilbo, voice even and pleasant, "All goes well with the repairs and with the Company. Erebor is such a vast place with enough small tunnels and offshoots that the blasted dragon wasn't able to destroy all of it, so some areas only require a thorough cleaning. The worst problem we face is dealing with textiles and books. We Dwarrow are made for the rocks and for treasure, so we can handle and fix those easily. We find ourselves having greater difficulty replacing all of the old cloth – it did not withstand the test of time and mostly falls apart at the touch now. Along the same vein, we are having a hard time preserving the books. Some are already a lost cause."
Bilbo gasped, hand going to his chest at the thought, "Are all the books in such danger?" The thought was abhorrent to him. Books had been a large part of his life, even since he was young. He enjoyed reading them and writing them and learning from them. There was a lot to be gained from books and the thought of entire libraries full being lost to time hurt him somewhere deep in his chest.
Balin chuckled, deep and amused like he always used to when his brother did something especially amusing on the road, "I thought that might get you. Not all of them. Our most important texts have always been sealed away in rooms meant to protect them. And some books were made with thin sheets of rock instead of parchment. Not everything has been lost."
"Well, that is very good to hear. And, I suppose, you might have new additions to bring to the library as well. I know that Ori was working quite hard on his rendition of our quest," Bilbo said, smiling a little bit at the memory. Ori's tongue had always stuck out of the corner of his mouth when he was drawing, but never when he was writing. It had been endearing.
Quite suddenly and quite without his permission, Bilbo found himself unbearably homesick for his Dwarrows. He missed them. They had gotten closer to him than anyone other than his parents had. He'd lived literally piled up among them for months and months. They were the family of his heart and he was devastated to have to give them up.
It had been easy to distance himself from his grief here at Mirkwood. The Elves and Gandalf had specifically made it a point to distract him from anything even remotely Dwarf related. Now? This? Bilbo wasn't ready for it. He wasn't prepared to deal with these people. He wasn't ready to deal with Fíli who reminded Bilbo so very much of his beloved Thorin.
The petal that had been tickling the back of his throat all evening made a sudden and violent reappearance, shoving rapidly up his throat. Bilbo gagged on it for a moment before coughing. Thranduil sat up straighter, finally showing some reaction. Legolas peered worriedly around Gandalf's frame as the wizard gently rubbed Bilbo's back, trying to sooth down the cough. Bilbo shook his head slightly as he clamped his hands over his mouth to try to hold the petals in. Gandalf frowned before standing abruptly, sweeping Bilbo's small frame up into his arms.
Normally, Bilbo would protest and squirm about when he was treated like a child just because he was small. Now, though, it was all he could do to not choke to death on the petals gagging him. He was vaguely aware of Fíli shouting behind him, "Is he alright? What's wrong?"
And Thranduil answering tersely, "I must tend to him. Legolas, please proceed over the rest of the dinner."
The three of them barely made it around two corners before Bilbo was whacking Gandalf's arm, begging silently to be let down. Thankfully Gandalf acquiesced, quickly but gently settling Bilbo back on his feet.
He had barely gotten his feet underneath him when he crumpled to the ground, spitting blood and petals onto the ground at his feet. The first time he'd done that, he'd been mortified, especially when Thranduil told him to leave it, that someone else would clean it up. It had become a common enough occurrence over the last two months, however, that Bilbo no longer felt shame.
Since Bilbo had been holding the flowers in so long that night, he didn't think anything about the pain he felt and how long the fit went on for. It wasn't until he heard Gandalf gasp in dismay that Bilbo actually looked at his mess.
He was spitting out full flowers.
Bilbo took in a ragged breath, air rattling in and out of his lungs. No. No, no, no, no, no. He didn't want to die. He didn't want to leave! Of course, he'd still have some time. There was typically a week left once the flowers started coming out full bloom. With Gandalf hovering and trying as hard as he could to cure the disease, Bilbo might even last even longer. Possible up to two weeks, if he was lucky.
But… either way, this spelled the end. Bilbo's time had always been limited, but it just got cut all the way down. He was living day by day now, with everyone holding the possibility of being his last.
Bilbo started crying, then. Quiet, silent tears that gently rolled down his cheeks. He barely noticed when Gandalf started herding him gently back to his room, Thranduil staying behind temporarily to oversee clean-up. Bilbo mourned the life he could have lived. He mourned the love he could have had. He mourned the version of himself that had foolishly believed that Hanahaki would never touch him. He mourned for missed opportunities.
He cried himself to sleep that night.
Emotionally, Bilbo was better the next night around. He wasn't the greatest, of course, but he had gotten over the random crying bursts that had plagued him the night before and most of the morning. A deep-seated emotional ache had settled over his heart, but he was determined to enjoy his last couple of days.
Unfortunately, Gandalf had confined him to bed rest, demanding that any time he wished to leave, he would be escorted. Carried, even, if things got bad enough. Bilbo was given a constant watch, someone always in the room with him and another person stationed nearby in the hall to run and get help if something happened. It was a little bit demeaning, but Bilbo couldn't deny the need for it. He also couldn't deny the comfort of knowing that there would be someone with him when he died. When he'd still been living in Bag End, it had been a fear of his that he'd die alone in that big, big house.
But by the time the night came around and Bard and the children cautiously asked if they could continue their usual nightly routine, Bilbo was feeling a lot more emotionally stable. He smiled and gestured for them to come in, "Of course, please, come in, come in!"
Bain and Sigrid crept carefully closer to the bed as Bard leaned up against a wall near the door. Sigrid swallowed tightly and asked, "Are… are you sick?"
Bilbo's smile gentled and he reached out a pale hand to place across the one Sigrid had lying on the bed, "Yes, Sigrid. I am very sick. I didn't tell you earlier because I didn't want you to worry about it."
Bain bit his lip before asking hesitantly, "Are you going to die?"
"Bain!" Bard scolded, flicking his eyes worriedly up to Bilbo, "I am sorry, Bilbo. Normally he knows better."
"No, no, it's alright," Bilbo said, pausing to get some water for a throat that was already dry, "Honestly, it's fine. Bain, Sigrid… I am dying. I am sorry to tell you that, but it is true. Gandalf hopes to cure me, and I hope that he will, but for now, I am dying."
From his position against the wall, Bard's fingers curled into angry fists, "There is nothing? What disease is it? I doubt there is anything that a simple Man would know that an Elven lord and a Wizard do not, but if I can help, then I will."
Bilbo smiled sadly, "I am sorry, Bard. This disease is a purely Hobbit disease. There is no cure that Man or Elf or even Dwarf has designed for it because no one else has it."
Bard bowed his head, Adam's apple bobbing for a moment before he could speak again, "If I cannot help cure this, then I will do everything in my power to make sure that your final days are as comfortable as possible."
"Thank you, my friend," Bilbo said good-naturedly, knowing by now that it was pointless to argue. He patted the bed next to him invitingly, "Now, my throat is rather sore today, so I'm going to play a game with you that I used to play with the fauntlings back in the Shire, alright?" He waited until Sigrid and Bain had settled on the end of his bed and Bard had pulled up a chair at the edge before continuing, "Here's how it goes. We are going to tell a story together. I will start the story off by saying one single sentence. Then Bard will say the next sentence in the story. Then Bain, then Sigrid, then back to me. The story can end up any way you want it. We are telling it up together, alright?"
Sigrid's eyes lit up, "That sounds like so much fun!"
"It is a lot of fun," Bilbo said. He took another sip of water before starting the game off, "Once upon a time, there was a huge forest, so big that some said it ran right to the edge of the world." Bard hesitantly continued off the story, to the beaming smiles of his children. Then, they started going around the circle, weaving a longer and longer story as time went on. Occasionally, Bilbo would give the Elf on duty a chance to add a sentence which she did with slight bemusement, her lips curling up just the slightest bit at the corners.
At some point, Legolas came into the room to relieve the female Elf, whispering something to her before settling into the chair she vacated. He raised one blonde eyebrow at the strange storytelling before quickly asking if he could join in. Laughing, Bilbo easily added him to the circle, giving him the briefest overview of the game and what had happened up to that point in the story.
They were just wrapping up, the children yawning every so often and rubbing their eyes when they thought no one was looking, when there was a knock at the door. Bilbo cut off mid-sentence (to the dramatic groans of the children listening attentively) to look over at the door, "Perhaps that is Gandalf. He said that he would come to see me at some point tonight."
Legolas inclined his head in acknowledgment before gracefully rising to his feet and gliding silently across the floor to the door. Clearly expecting it to be Gandalf, he threw the door open, a smile on his lips. The smile died abruptly when the open door revealed Fíli and Balin standing there sheepishly. Childishly, Legolas immediately tried to slam the door in their faces.
Seeing that, Bilbo cried out, "Wait!" He owed them an explanation. Maybe not an explanation of the whole thing, but certainly something.
Legolas scowled, but yanked the door back open to allow the two Dwarrow inside. Bard grimaced at the rising tension in the room, standing and groaning as his back popped, "Come on, Sigrid, Bain. Let these three catch up. You two need to get to bed soon, anyways."
"But it was just getting good," Bain whined. Sigrid echoed him a moment later.
Bard rolled his eyes, picking them both up and setting them on the ground, herding them out the door ruthlessly, "Uh huh. Fascinating. Goodnight Bilbo. Goodnight Prince Legolas. Goodnight Prince Fíli, Master Balin."
When they were finally gone, Fíli and Balin approached the bed, faces drawn and a vaguely guilty cast to their expressions. Bilbo cleared his throat and turned to Legolas, "May we be alone for a moment?"
Legolas scowled deeper, "Absolutely not. You need supervision."
Bilbo rolled his eyes and cut him off, "Which these two can be. All they need to do is call out for whoever is stationed outside, and they'll get the help. I will be fine, Legolas, honestly."
Legolas stared at him for a moment longer, eyes bright but old in his young face. After that moment, he sighed, shoulders slumping, "I will be right outside. Call if you need anything."
"Of course," Bilbo answered easily. Legolas nodded to him and then left, letting the door fall softly shut behind him.
Fíli spoke before Bilbo could say anything, "You're sick!"
Bilbo raised his eyebrows incredulously, "Yes, thank you Fíli, I hadn't noticed."
Fíli clearly bristled, shoulders setting back and brows lowering, but Balin put a restraining hand on his shoulder and spoke to Bilbo, "He is just surprised, that's all. We had noticed that you looked a mite peaky during dinner last night, but we hadn't been expecting it to be this bad. Is there anything we can do?"
"I'm afraid not," Bilbo said sadly, looking down at where his fingers were twining in and out of each other, "This is not a sickness with a cure. Of course, Gandalf is looking to do the impossible and cure me regardless, but… I have one week. Maybe two if Gandalf can stretch it."
"What is it? How did you get it? Was… was it our fault?" Fíli asked hesitantly, youthful face bright and unsure. Bilbo hesitated just a fraction too long because Fíli's expression darkened even further and he sat heavily on Bard's abandoned chair. He put his face into his hands and mumbled through his fingers, "This is our fault. We did this. It was probably something during that blasted gold sickness, I bet. Curse that retched legacy! This was the real reason why you stayed with Thranduil? He is a… skilled healer. He was helping take care of you while Gandalf worked to cure you."
Bilbo's heart pounded at the mention of the gold sickness. He licked his lips before admitting, "Yes, that is the reason that Thranduil allowed me into his home. He has been a wonderful host. Very accommodating."
"Well, not for long. We're taking you back with us," Fíli announced, expression fierce, "You'll be much more comfortable in the mountain where the furniture is regular sized, and the food has meat. Plus, you'll have family and Mama always said that family was the best cure."
Something in Bilbo's chest seized at the words. He managed to croak out, "I was banished from the mountain."
Balin blinked in surprise, "Well, that hardly stands. Thorin was certainly not in the right state of mind when he made that decree. The moment he woke up from his injury, he demanded that your banishment be recalled. He called for a search for you, but the other members of the Company had already been looking. Some Man told us that he'd seen you traveling away with Gandalf, so we figured you had left to go home to the Shire before we had a chance to apologize."
Bilbo had to rapidly blink away tears at Balin's words. They had… looked for him? Somehow, Bilbo hadn't really imagined that they would care. Oh, he knew that some of them would be upset at least. Their expressions when Thorin almost threw him off the wall was enough to tell him that (not that anyone truly tried to stop him, not that anyone would have done anything if Thorin had simply let go and Bilbo started falling). He just hadn't thought that an insignificant little Hobbit like himself would even register to them in the wake of that awful battle.
Balin's expression fell slightly and he placed a careful, hesitant hand on Bilbo's, "My friend, did you not believe that you would be searched for?" Fíli's head shot up at Balin's question.
Bilbo winced. He hastened to explain, "I just – I simply didn't think that anyone would spare a thought for a silly old Hobbit after a battle like that. We were all very busy and stressed and there were a lot of Dwarrows to take care of. It was a tumultuous time for everyone." He finished decisively, nodding his head gravely along with his words.
"Gandalf said that one of the first things you asked after the battle was the state of the Company," Balin pointed out shrewdly, "Did you not think that we would do the same?"
Gaze narrowing, Bilbo grumbled, "Gandalf likes to meddle. But, well, I certainly knew you would do the same for the other Dwarrows! I was never implying otherwise!"
Fíli groaned, low and pained. He thunked his head against the bed, leaving it there but turning his head to be able to talk, "Bilbo, you matter to us. Just because you aren't a Dwarf doesn't mean that we don't care about you any less! Or, uh, something like that! You're a member of the Company, as much as any of us. More, even. You've done so, so much for us over the course of our journey. You were the only one who really, truly kept their head during the whole mess with the armies. And we heard that you were the one to slay Azog the Defiler! Bilbo, please do not doubt that you mean so much to us. You are not banished. You can come back to the mountain with us! I'm certain that leaf-brained tree-shagger in charge will be willing to postpone the talks long enough for us to bring you home!" There was a pointed cough outside the door as Legolas proved that Elves did, in fact, have good hearing. Fíli flushed slightly but didn't let it deter the brilliant smile he was aiming at Bilbo.
Bilbo's shoulders dropped and his lips fell, "Oh, Fíli, you do not know how much those words mean to me. And you do not know how much your offer excites me. But… I am much too far along, at the moment. I would not make it to Erebor, unfortunately."
Fíli's expression broke and the Dwarfish prince turned his head away to stop the other two from seeing the tears that were gathering in his eyes. Balin put a sympathetic hand on Fíli's shoulders, turning back to Bilbo with unhappiness lining every wrinkle on his face, "You truly would be unable to make it to Erebor?"
Bilbo nodded, adding miserably, "I am so sorry."
"It is not your fault," Balin said sagely, patting Bilbo's limp curls with his free hand. He sighed and added, "Well, we must simply make the most of what we have left, then. I do hope you don't mind if Fíli and I become constant fixtures in your room for the next few weeks."
Bilbo grinned, probably brighter than he had since he had contracted Hanahaki, "I would love nothing more."
Thorin startled when there was a sudden and abrupt knock against the door. Dwalin and Kíli both glanced up, disinterested. Sighing, Thorin went to answer the door. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw it was one of the children who had been assigned the task of carrying messages from the Ravens to the relevant people. Thorin hadn't been expecting any messages from anyone. Most of the regular messages had come earlier in the morning, at normal mailing hours. Who was sending him one so late at night?
Quickly, Thorin took the note from the boy, sending him off with an appreciative nod. He ambled back into the room, barely taking note of the seal before breaking it, unravelling the parchment. With a thump, Thorin threw himself in the chair next to Dwalin, peering at the words. It read:
Thorin, there has been a grave misunderstanding. We were all under the impression that Bilbo Baggins had returned to the Shire alongside Gandalf. We were wrong.
Thorin's heart nearly stopped in his chest at those words. Bilbo had not gone back to the Shire? Where was he then? Was he alright? Why had he not come back to Erebor? Surely Bilbo must have known that Thorin would take back the banishment, that Thorin would seek to undo every wrong thing he had done under the hold of the gold sickness. Thorin felt sick with the thought that Bilbo might have believed that Thorin truly meant the way he acted under the gold's allure. He continued reading, heart pounding even faster:
Bilbo Baggins has been ill since before the battle. He will not tell us the name of the disease, only that it is a Hobbit specific one and… and that it is deadly. He will not live longer than one to two weeks. Even now, he is confined to bed rest, looking pale as death and halfway to the halls of the dead. If you or any of the Company wish to make final peace with him, now would be the time to do it. I have spoke to Lord Thranduil and he is willing to allow the Company visitation here for Bilbo's last moments.
Balin, son of Fundin
For a long, quiet moment, Thorin didn't know how to react. Bilbo was… Bilbo was dying. He was living out his last moments, sick enough that he had to be confined to his bed. He had been ill (dying) while Thorin had languished around his kingdom, basking in the feeling of being King and simply trusting that Bilbo was where some Man had said he was.
How could Thorin have been such a fool? How could he have let this happen? Bilbo had been ill before the battle even began and, yet, even then the stupidly brave little Hobbit had been able to kill Azog the Defiler, a feat that Thorin alone could not manage. How could Thorin let his One, the other half of his soul, the man who had save Thorin more than he could ever repay, wither away in some Elven halls out in Mirkwood?
Thorin was despicable. Absolutely horrifying. He was the epitome of a fool. He had let the one man he had ever truly loved slip away. And now Bilbo was dying. In mere weeks, the light of Thorin's life would be gone. It had been painful believing that Bilbo was happily away in the Shire, living out a life without Thorin. It had been painful believing that Bilbo still thought himself banished and unloved. It had been painful not being able to confess the way Thorin had planned to once he had a mountain behind him and something to offer. But this? This was an entirely new kind of pain. It was something sharp and jagged and cruel digging into Thorin's heart with each word he read, each thought he thought.
Bilbo was dying.
He must have made some sort of noise because Dwalin and Kíli's heads both popped up and swivelled over to look at Thorin. He couldn't face them. He simply couldn't. Without shame, Thorin buried his face in his hands as tears started slowly rolling down his cheeks. He could feel Kíli staring at him in wide-eyed shock even as Dwalin grabbed the parchment off of Thorin's lap.
He knew when Dwalin had finished reading his brother's words because the larger Dwarf swore, long and loud. Thorin vaguely heard Kíli grabbing the offending paper, reading it and crying out in shock at the words.
Eventually, long after silence had fallen around the room again, Thorin lifted his head, uncaring of his likely red-rimmed eyes, "We must go to him. It is our responsibility to ensure that he is taken care of in his last days." Kíli made a small, choked noise, but didn't say anything. Thorin swallowed harshly. How was he supposed to deal with this? How was he supposed to handle this? That was his One out there, dying. That was the love of his life.
Thorin shook his head, angry at himself. No. He couldn't think like that. It was selfish. For the next couple weeks, Thorin would throw his everything into ensuring that these last two weeks were the best week that Bilbo ever had. Thorin stood, facing his kin, "I will make preparations tonight and tell the others. Prepare to leave in the morning!"
They had prepared. Every single one of them had prepared. But nothing could have prepared them for the sight that had awaited them in Bilbo's chambers.
When the Dwarrows had arrived at the Elf kingdom, Thranduil had been waiting there for them, expression grim but not quite as mocking as it usually was. He didn't look haughty. He just looked tired.
Gandalf had been standing next to him, expression just as drawn ad exhausted. He had pursed his lips at the sight of them, warning them quietly, "Bilbo is very unwell. He cannot go for long periods of time without coughing. Do not try to help him. There will be an Elf in the room that is qualified and will do what Bilbo needs. Please just try to be there while being out of the way."
Oín puffed up, visibly bristling at Gandalf's tone, "Now, listen here. I am a qualified healer!"
Gandalf cut him off before he could go any further, "And you have no experience in Hobbit diseases! No one but Hobbits do! I know more than the rest of the races of Middle Earth do combined! I have trained these Elves how to take care of Bilbo in this stage of the sickness and I will not waste my time training you too! If you wish to see Bilbo, then you will do as I say!" He was thundering by the end of it, voice roiling and writhing in the air around them the way it only seemed to do when he was truly angry. Thorin felt a not-so-small part of him cringe back at the voice and hated it.
Looking suitably chastised, Oín subsided with only a few more token grumbles. Thorin stepped forward, licking his lips nervously, "May we see him now?"
Thranduil frowned, but nodded, "Yes, he is awake currently. Come with me." With that, Thranduil turned and started stalking forward through the halls of his home. The Dwarrows scrambled to keep up with him. Thorin mused that it was probably the most cordial conversation they had ever had.
They twisted and turned their way through Thranduil's labyrinthine halls until they final found themselves in front of one small doorway, in what appeared to be the royal quarters of the kingdom. Thranduil nodded gently on the door before entering when a voice (Bilbo's voice! It was weak and scratchy, but unmistakeable) granted him access. Thranduil slipped inside, closing the door behind him. Thorin could hear quiet conversation for a few moments before the door swung open again and Thranduil left, nodding to them and leaving the door open.
Thorin and the others exchanged glances before hesitantly making their way into the room. Thorin walked in first, head held high, an apology on his lips. The words died before he could speak them, however, wilting at the sight of Bilbo's ill form on the bed.
He was thin and wan, paler than Thorin had ever imagined the sun-loving Hobbit could become. His curls were limp and dull against his forehead, laying roughly against white skin, further highlighting the black bags under his eyes. His hands shook as he moved to lay them so they were clasped over his stomach. Of course, Thorin could not deny that his One was beautiful even then, resplendent in any form, but… Thorin's heart broke at the sight of his love so hurt, so close to death. Thorin could do nothing but stare dumbly as the others came forward, gasping at the sight in front of them.
In the end, it was Balin who spoke first, not Thorin. He gave them all a tired smile before saying, "I am glad that you were able to make it in time. I had worried when you said you would make it in a week."
It was Kíli who spoke next, rushing over to stand next to his brother, laying a careful hand over Bilbo's frail arm, "Oh Bilbo! I am so sorry that it took so long for us to get here! I wish we had been here sooner! I wish we could have told you how much we love you and how much we wanted you back home at the mountain with us! I don't want you to go!"
Bilbo licked his lips three times before an Elf that Thorin hadn't noticed handed him a small cup of water with a straw. Bilbo smiled gratefully at the Elf – Prince Legolas if Thorin remembered correctly – before swallowing and croaking, "It is quite alright, Kíli. Just knowing that you all ended up alright and safe and happy is enough for me. Knowing that you still care for me is even better. I will die a happy Hobbit."
Something in Thorin broke at that last sentence. Whatever part of him had been holding on through his flight from Erebor, through his desperate time on the road, through his dangerous quest, through reclaiming his mountain finally gave up, breaking, tearing, shattering at the confirmation that this was it, that Bilbo Baggins, treasure of all treasures, Thorin's One, was going to die.
Voice croaking almost as bad as Bilbo's, Thorin demanded, "Leave us." His heart broke just a little bit further at the fear in Bilbo's eyes at Thorin's tone. The King Under the Mountain tried to gentle his tone before repeating softly, "Leave us. I wish to have my final words with him. The rest of you may speak to him afterwards."
The Company grumbled, but eventually started filling out the door, sending Bilbo worried looks as they went. In the end, it was only Bilbo, Thorin, and the Elf in the room. Thorin glared at Legolas, "Leave us, I said. I wish to speak to him alone."
Legolas stood, glaring down at Thorin, "No. I will not leave him alone, especially not with you. The last time the two of you interacted, you tried to kill Bilbo. Besides, you'll only make it worse if you try to deal with him alone."
Thorin bristled, partly at the insult, partly at the reminder, and partly at the way that Bilbo somehow paled even further, "I wasn't asking."
Legolas straightened further, puffing up in what was obviously going to be highly insulting. Luckily for all three of them, Gandalf walked in before Legolas could say anything more. He swept into the room, robes billowing out behind him, "Legolas, please, I can handle this. I am sure that Thorin would be more amendable to me being in the room because there does need to be someone else in the room, Thorin, son of Thráin."
Thorin's hands clenched as he tried desperately to think of something that would allow him to be alone for the confession he was planning on making, but there was nothing. Eventually, he grit out through clenched teeth, "Fine. That is acceptable." It would be awkward, but Thorin didn't want to jeopardize Bilbo's health. He watched as Gandalf briefly settled a big hand on Bilbo's forehead, leaning down to whisper something softly before kissing Bilbo on his forehead, the way a parent might do for a child. Then, he moved to sit in a Man-sized rocking chair off to the side, far enough away to give the illusion of privacy while still being close enough to help. Legolas left the room, glaring hotly at Thorin as he went.
Once the Elf prince had left, Thorin carefully started approaching the bed. He was nervous, terrified that he was going to confess and be rejected. He would deserve no less, of course. What had he done to deserve anything from this miraculous Hobbit before him?
Thorin dragged a chair closer to the bed, sitting gingerly in it to avoid towering over the Hobbit. For a long moment, the three of them sat in somewhat comfortable silence, simply existing in each other's presence. After a long moment, Thorin sighed, "This was not how I wanted to do this. I had intended, long ago, to do this properly. Truly, I was. But then there was that blasted gold sickness and – well. I suppose you don't want to hear much about that. Bilbo… Bilbo, I know I deserve nothing from you after everything you have given me but… I wanted to tell you before you… before, that I love you, Bilbo. You are my One."
If Thorin had been, foolishly, hoping for some sort of joy at his announcement, then he was sorely disappointed. He watched as Bilbo somehow became even more pale before he whispered, low and hurt, "You're joking. You are joking. Why would you joke about something like that? Or is it pity? I-,"
He never got to say more because he was cut off by a choking fit. Thorin lunged forward to help him, but Gandalf was already there, gently pushing Thorin to the side and helping Bilbo to lean over the opposite side of the bed. Thorin blanched when he heard Bilbo puking, the horrible feeling intensifying when he saw a small splash of blood jump onto the side of Gandalf's robes.
Bilbo was crying by the time Gandalf gently settled him back onto the bed, patting the limp curls encouragingly. Thorin didn't even get the chance to defend himself, to (somehow) prove that his love was not a joke, before Bilbo was ranting at him, cheeks reddening with anger, the slightest bit of blood caught on the corner of his lips, "How dare you, Thorin Oakenshield? King Under the Mountain? I – I have travelled all across Middle Earth for you! I was almost killed by wargs and goblins and creepy little Gollum creatures and – and orcs and all sorts of other things just for you! I fought in a huge battle for you! I killed Azog the Defiler for you! I – I left my home and my family and my comfortable life in my comfortable house in the beautiful Shire all for you! I am dying for you and you still mock me!"
Thorin lasered in on the last sentence. His eyes narrowed as he asked, "Dying for me? What do you mean?"
Bilbo's eyes grew wide with horror and he heaved himself to the side just in time to spit another mouthful over the edge of the bed, coughing and hacking and sounding generally miserable. Except… except this time, Bilbo hadn't quite turned enough. So, Thorin saw that it wasn't just blood that was coming out of Bilbo's mouth. It was flowers. Thorin realized after a second of horror that they were full-bodied flowers, petals and yellow stuff and leaves and everything else all attached.
When Bilbo finally managed to spit it all out, settling against the bedframe, clearly too tired to cry anymore, Thorin could only manage to gape in horror. Bilbo chuckled bitterly, "I suppose it had to come out sometime. I had been very careful to keep the number of people who know what disease I have down. It's – well, it's called Hanahaki, Thorin. It is a disease that only Hobbits have. We are… Dwarrow love fiercely and fully, only truly matching with their One, correct? Hobbits are not so determined. They fall in love often and fitfully. Sometimes, though, Hobbits can fall so deeply in love that it can become dangerous. If a Hobbit loves someone fully and completely, but they know the other person does not love them back, they become sick. First, they simply cough up blood and petals. Then the petals increase in number. Then flowers start to come out. Then flowers with petals and pollen and stems and leaves come out until, eventually, the flowers' vines which are slowly wrapping around and inside my lungs will fill the space and I will die."
Thorin licked his lips, lost for words. That was… that was horrible. Sure, the Call to find and be with your One was almost overwhelming sometimes. And, sure, rejection can be a very devastating thing. It had never killed before. And certainly not in this horrible gruesome way. He could not even imagine the pain that Bilbo had been in all this time. Thorin rubbed a hand roughly over his beard, "Then, then, who do you love? I will find them and make them love you! If they love you, then this will be fixed right? You will be fine?"
"Thorin," Bilbo said sadly, eyes filling with tears once more, "It's you."
Thorin actually rocked back a step, flabbergasted. He knew that Bilbo was his One, that Mahal had split their soul to create the two of them, that Bilbo was meant for him. He had not realized that Bilbo knew that. He hadn't realized that Bilbo had felt it enough to die from it. But… Thorin's eyebrows drew downwards, "I confessed! Bilbo, you are my One! This – this is it. You do not have to die! I love you, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End." Thorin let out a relieved huff of breath. He didn't have to lose Bilbo, not to this disease and not to another soul. They were going to be alright.
Except, Bilbo didn't look like he was getting better. Instead, he just looked tired. It wasn't until he whispered, "Please stop, Thorin. I don't know if it's pity or mocking, but it hurts to hear you lie like that." that Thorin understood. Bilbo didn't believe him. Had Thorin been so horrible under the control of the gold sickness? He didn't remember most of it, but the others had all been able to fill in most of each other's memories. Or was it how Thorin treated Bilbo at the start of the quest? What had Thorin done wrong? Where had he destroyed their relationship so thoroughly?
Gandalf's voice broke the shocked silence that had fallen. It was gravelly and deep and far more serious than Thorin had ever heard it, "Bilbo, you little fool. He is confessing to you. He is not lying to you."
There was a suspended moment. Thorin watched Bilbo with naked hope on his face. Bilbo glanced wildly between Thorin and Gandalf, panic and joy and fear and happiness warring for dominance over his expression. Quietly, carefully, Bilbo asked, "Really?"
Thorin moved forward, wrapping his rough, scarred hand around Bilbo's little soft one. He gently touched their foreheads together, whispering into their shared breath, "Really." Bilbo made a sound like a distressed keen and Thorin could not hold himself back any longer.
He kissed Bilbo, chaste at first but growing stronger and stronger. He kissed Bilbo like it was the last kiss he would ever get. He kissed Bilbo like he could suck the flowers right out of Bilbo's lungs and into him instead. He kissed Bilbo like Bilbo was the completion of his soul.
And Bilbo kissed back.
And slowly, every so slowly, both of them felt the vines retracting, felt the flowers shrinking into nothing, felt the disease melting out of Bilbo's body.
When they finally broke their kiss, they were both panting, staring deeply into each other's eyes. It took a few seconds, but, eventually, Bilbo's countenance was overtaken by an enormous smile, the size and brightness of it rivalling the sun. Thorin couldn't resist one last peck on the lips. Bilbo laughed at it, bright and carefree in a way that Thorin was ashamed to admit he hadn't seen in a long time. Bilbo softly reached out and put one hand against Thorin's cheek, "I'm cured, Thorin. I am cured. I can feel it leaving. It is practically gone. I will need to recover, physically, of course, but… I'm cured!" He let loose another burst of that delighted laughter.
Thorin could do nothing but fall into it, throwing his own head back and laughing, one hand clutched tightly around Bilbo's.
Sometimes love was scary and sometimes people could get hurt. But love is always worth it.
Bilbo didn't know why Hobbits had Hanahaki. He didn't fully understand why they worked so hard to keep it hidden (not that it was, much, anymore).
He knew that it hurt. He knew that the people around him were hurt by it almost as much as he was. He knew that communication was key.
He knew that a rock and a flower could coexist, could form a bond. He knew that they could share one soul – two sides of the same coin, two petals of the same flower.
Bilbo and Thorin would always be linked through their Bond, through the acknowledgement of their Ones. But they would also be linked forever together by the simple Windflower.
True, it was the flower that had almost killed Bilbo, but it was also the flower that saved his heart.
Author's Note: Not super sold on the ending, but it was also 8k words over the 5k I was planning on, so… yep. That's it! Let me know what you think!