Expect a blend of book- and movie-verse for this one; I plotted this out in its entirety before the third movie came out, so whatever shreds of story still cling to canon points, don't expect to see anything from BOFA.
If any of you have Twitters, I post regular writing/status/life updates on mine, so you can kept more abreast of when updates might be—I'm laoraa2!
Thank you so much for checking this out, guys—you've signed yourself up for quite a wild ride here (which I am more than excited to share with you :D), so I hope you enjoy it!
The last thing he remembers is desperation, terror, and pure, unadulterated rage before everything is gone, and he is alone in the vast emptiness of space.
He'd give anything for a second chance, a chance to get out and a chance to set things right.
Bilbo Baggins is old, now, and he knows he does not have much time left.
The others know this, too, but no one says it aloud. Gandalf has taken to sitting with him and Frodo, talking of times long past, of dwarves and mountains and dragons and immeasurable amounts of gold.
Bilbo thinks he might have lived these tales, once upon a time. His mind isn't what it used to be, though, and he finds it easier to simply listen to the old wizard's tales, feel the gentle rocking of the ship as they sail for the Undying Lands, and ignore the nagging longing at the back of his mind.
He doesn't know how long they sit there, how long Gandalf talks in that calming voice of his… But eventually, the words are beyond Bilbo's grasp, and he feels so horribly tired. Frodo shifts slightly, but Bilbo pays him no mind as he feels his head fall gently onto his nephew's shoulder. He sleeps, for the moment, for he is weary…and he dreams in startling clarity of dwarven kings and shining stones and long-mourned regret.
And then he dreams of nothing, and his soul slips away to the skies.
Thorin Oakenshield dies in blood and rage and what some might call glory.
(All he can think is that he has failed each and every person he has ever come to love.)
He was awake—delirious, but awake—when his nephews fell: Fíli, first, to Azog's mace, and Kíli not long after, to goblin spears—and in the tents, he does not have to ask Balin of their fates. Fíli had fallen mere feet from Thorin, his crushed chest and neck a bloody mess, his eyes vacant and staring—dead before his body hit the ground.
(Thorin will never forget those eyes, nor will he forget Kíli's anguished screams as he realized his brother was gone.)
His younger nephew, though talented in the art of war (far too young), left himself open to Azog's guard—his vision surely blurred by inconsolable tears, standing before Thorin's prone form and fighting like a berserker, protecting the only family he had left.
Thorin wanted to be sick when he heard the blades pierce his nephew's body, and then he was looking into Kíli's eyes: dark, usually so full of life, but now pained and fading far too quickly. Kíli tried to say something (maybe I'm sorry, I love you, but just as likely I hate you, is this what you wanted?), but Thorin could not understand the choked whispers making their way through the boy's tortured throat.
His youngest nephew died then, tear tracks staining his bloody face, his last words falling on deaf ears.
Thorin will never forgive himself for this, even if he is accepted into Mahal's kingdom and pardoned by his family for his sins. He deserves every spearhead embedded in his gut, every slash of poisoned sword and scimitar and arrow and everything, everything, is his fault. He is in the camps, now, and Bilbo Baggins—Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit he dragged along, treated horribly and nearly killed time and time again—is crying; he is kneeling beside Thorin's mutilated body with its rasping lungs and its sluggish heart, and he is mourning the passing of one he should never have deigned to call a friend.
Thorin does not—cannot—understand why he has been granted this much, why he has been allowed to die with his friends at his side…not when so many others (Fíli and Kíli, and he cannot hold back his tears any longer) died so, so alone. Óin and Gandalf and the elves have said there is nothing they can do, that it is only a matter of time before he succumbs to the wounds he has sustained. Thorin does not mind—cares only that he is hurting those left behind—because he knows he deserves nothing better and they deserve so much more.
He only wishes so many had not died before he saw how wrong he had been.
Bilbo Baggins is crying at his deathbed, is grasping Thorin's hand so tightly that his bloodied fingers are going numb, and Thorin knows there is nothing he can do to alleviate his friend's pain. He looks past the hobbit for a moment, sees Balin and Dwalin standing with stiff backs and tears in their eyes (bloodied and injured but alive), and knows he cannot possibly atone for anything he has done.
It's absolutely inexcusable and beyond words, beyond reparation, even if he had the time for such things.
But he does his best, and Bilbo cries, and his cousins can do absolutely nothing as their friend—their king—finally closes his eyes and breathes no more.
(He only wishes he had been stronger.)
(Maybe, then, things would have been different.)
But it's too late for any of that now.
Yggdrasil: the great ash tree that binds together heaven, earth, and hell
— BOOK ONE : HEAVEN —
He doesn't know how long the nothingness lasts. After all, even time is meaningless in such a Hell.
But then there is a chance, and he seizes it—an anchor, a miracle, a way out. He latches on and refuses to let go.
And finally—finally, after who knows how long—he is free, in the land he knows so well…but it is different than he last remembers. Different, but better, because the unthinkable—the impossible—has not come to pass. This is a land not yet ravaged by the greatest war of the age…and while it is strange, he does not think on it for long.
He has a second chance, and this time, he won't make the same mistakes.
Bilbo Baggins realizes something is wrong the moment he wakes up.
He remembers the warmth of Frodo's shoulder as he drifted off to sleep. He remembers Gandalf's solemn voice, speaking a language he did not understand—or perhaps the words were simply beyond his reach. He remembers a cool breeze on his face as they sailed for the Undying Lands.
He remembers death.
There had been nothing, and then there had been—something, a great unknown, and a great pull, and then…
He is in a bed, under a blanket, in a cozy house when he should not be alive at all. The smell is familiar—too familiar, though he hasn't been here in nearly two decades—and he knows where he is even before he opens his eyes, even before he admits it to himself.
Bag End is just as he remembers it—and yet it is ever so slightly different. There are fewer scrolls stacked upon his desk; there is no fire burning cheerfully in the hearth; there are fewer knick-knacks piled in the corners, a chest missing from the opposite wall—
This, he realizes with growing horror, is the Bag End of his younger years, the Bag End he inhabited before he ever traveled to Erebor.
He's standing and into the hallway before he even realizes he has moved, his nightclothes (when did he put these on he doesn't remember) swishing behind him in the too-silent house as he makes no effort at all to be quiet.
Frodo. Where is Frodo?
He remembers dozing on his nephew's shoulder, remembers—vaguely, for his mind had been sluggish and near-empty in those last hours—hearing the boy's tales of all his adventures across the land, remembers listening with pride as he learned that the boy he viewed as a son saved the world.
But it hadn't been as simple as that, had it? Because Frodo's eyes had been listless and empty, when he finally returned to Rivendell—the others, Glóin's son and Frodo's friends and the elf and the man and Gandalf the White—had been different than they once were, and Bilbo, even with his failing mind, had noticed it.
He was never told the whole story of the war—Elrond seemed disinclined to speak of it, and his sons were often gone to offer their aid in the south…but he gleaned enough from hushed conversations, from what Frodo was willing to tell him afterward and what Gandalf told him so long ago of the Ring…
It had been Sauron's, it had destroyed countless lives, and it had been entirely Bilbo's fault.
He tears through Bag End, searching desperately for his nephew—because what is his afterlife without the boy who meant the world to him for so long? But the house is silent as the grave, and he is the only one in it; and it is only when he pauses for breath in the washroom and looks up at his reflection, does he realize just how wrong this situation has become.
He is young again—young as he has not been in nearly a century—and his stomach is round like it was before he traversed half of Middle Earth—and he realizes, now, that he should not have been able to run through these halls as he has, that his mind is sharper and more focused than it's been in years—
He thinks he is lucky to be in the bathroom, because he is very quickly and very violently sick, throwing up a dinner he doesn't remember eating.
He is fifty again—he is young and untested and everything is wrong—
When he is finished he flushes the toilet shakily, washing his face with trembling hands and forcing himself not to look into the mirror. This is not happening. This cannot be happening. But it is—either that, or this is an incredibly vivid dream—and his mind is just reeling through the implications of all of this when there is a sharp knock at the door.
Rather numbly, Bilbo makes his way toward the front entrance, not bothering to try and make himself presentable—and when he opens it, his neighbor Hobson Gamgee greets him: "G'morning, Mister Bilbo! I—" But he cuts himself off, properly looking Bilbo up and down, and he's clearly worried as he says instead, "Are you well? You look as if you've seen a ghost!"
He's as good as, because Hobson died when Bilbo was barely into his nineties.
"Mister Bilbo?" Hobson's voice is rising in concern as Bilbo sways on his feet, his gaze transfixed on his old friend's face, but he doesn't respond. After all, what is he supposed to do, when he's somehow traveled eighty years into the past and is greeted by someone who he has thought dead for almost half a century?
He does the only thing a respectable hobbit could be expected to do in his situation: he collapses to the ground in a dead faint.
He wakes a small time later in his favorite armchair, where Hobson has evidently dragged him from the front hall—and Bilbo isn't sure that he's grateful for his friend's presence when his head still swims at the sight of him. "You gave me quite a fright!" Hobson says, jumping slightly and nearly dropping his plate of scones when he sees Bilbo moving sluggishly. "You shouldn't do such things, knocking your head like that—I'm sure it doesn't do much good for your mind—"
"This is going to be a very odd question, Hobson," Bilbo cuts him off, peering up at his friend, "but could you tell me the date and year?"
Hobson looks alarmed at such a question, but answers promptly—"It's the second of Astron, in the year 1341—do you think I should call a healer? If you're not sure what year it is—beggin' your pardon, Mister Bilbo, but that's not a thing you should be forgetting!"
"No, no, I remember now," Bilbo says quickly, his mind reeling from this new information—it's only a few weeks before Gandalf approached him about the quest to Erebor…a few weeks before he met some of the best friends he has ever had in his life. (Lives, he realizes.) "I must have been still half-asleep, but I remember now—there's no need to worry."
"As long as you're certain," Hobson says, though he looks utterly unconvinced as he continues, "I took out some scones for you to eat, seeing as it's near time for second breakfast—do you want me to stay and make sure you're all right, or—?"
"No, you can go home," Bilbo says quickly, accepting the scones gratefully, for truly, he is very hungry. "I promise I'll come get you if there's anything wrong."
"All right," he says, though he still looks very concerned as he heads for the front door. Bilbo follows after him a few seconds later, ensuring that he closes the door behind him and isn't dawdling on his porch—and when that's done, he lets out a shaky breath and slides down a wall until he is seated on the ground.
He's in the past. The Ring has not yet been found, Erebor has not yet been reclaimed—and Bilbo Baggins is still a perfectly respectable hobbit. The Bilbo his neighbors and relatives know would never dream of running off into the Wild with thirteen strangers and a wizard he only remembers vaguely from his childhood…
But he is not the Bilbo his family knows…not anymore. He's lived for more than a century, has seen the wide world beyond his doorstep, and knows there is so much more to his life than doilies and dishes and the comforts of his sheltered life in the Shire.
Thousands—millions—of lives are in his hands. The world has restored itself, but still he remembers how things once happened—and, he realizes now, he has the perfect opportunity to fix it.
Destroy the Ring. Defeat Sauron before he ever regains power.
Help the dwarves take back Erebor.
Save Thorin and Fíli and Kíli.
He moved on, eventually, from their deaths. Learned to control the grief, the longing and the relentless what-ifs… He could ignore them, after so many years. Of course he could. Hobbits are resilient, after all, and the deaths of three dwarves he knew for little more than half a year shouldn't…
But those three dwarves—and all the rest—were the closest thing to family, to home, he ever had, after his parents died, before Frodo entered his life. And even then, when he was old and grey, he still yearned for the adventure and peril and camaraderie he felt with that group where he was a decided outsider; they learned to accept him like nobody besides Frodo has in decades; he can't help but yearn for decades long past, where…
Even after eighty years, even in this terrifyingly young body, thoughts of his friends—living and dead (though he supposes, with another shuddering breath, that here, now, they're all still alive)—they still send pain arching through his heart, stuttering his lungs and burning his throat as he forces himself not to cry out from the pain. They were all so—so vibrant, and alive, and watching Thorin's life seep from his eyes, dripping from his lips and staining the makeshift cot—seeing Fíli and Kíli's mangled bodies as they lay, side by side, together even in death—
(Too young too soon how dare he not do more to save those precious lives—)
Fíli and Kíli were the soul of the Company, but Thorin was its heart—beating relentlessly toward their common, impossible goal. He was abrasive and bitter and angry, yes, but also passionate and all-too-deserving of the throne he ultimately died for…
But he realizes, like a rush of cold water, that something even more enormous is at stake here—for what good would it do to save their lives, if they will only die decades later at the hands of the darkest force Middle Earth has seen in millennia? He was the catalyst; he was the creature who recovered the Ring and hoarded it for decades, unknowing of its power. But now he is not so blind. To spare Frodo the torture that damned thing wrought, to end the War of the Ring before it even begins...
This, he knows, is his true purpose, and he will do anything to ensure he does not fail this second time.
He's clutching the scone so tightly between his shaking fingers that it is disintegrating, crumbs falling to the rug beneath him, but he pays it no mind as he stands up. He won't waste this opportunity; he won't let so many people die for his own weakness and greed. He will save Thorin and his kin—retrieve the Ring and destroy it before it can leech off of his life and his happiness and his sanity—he will make things right when he has so horribly disturbed them in the past.
That past is gone, now, and he will ensure it does not happen again.
Thorin is screaming.
He's not sure how or why (because he clearly—clearly—remembers dying, remembers the way he struggled to draw in breath through his damaged ribcage and around the spearheads in his gut that shifted every time he moved—) but he is screaming, and he is so suddenly overcome with all-consuming, irrational horror that he cannot help but continue.
Pain and gut-splitting agony and death and nothing and then something and then he was being pulled pulled pulled
He was dead and now he is not—or else this is a very strange afterlife, because even if his wounds seem to be healed he doesn't know where he is, doesn't know what is happening because he was dead, there is no question of that, but—
There is the sound of a door slamming open, and he shoots up (he's lying down, why is he lying down where is his sword), his eyes flying open and trying to take everything in even as his head spins and he is filled with the sudden need to be sick—
He only just has time to lean over the bed (why is he on a bed) before he is vomiting all over the stone floor.
Voices are overlapping, slamming into his mind, yelling questions and demanding answers but he can't understand any of it, can't pick apart their words to discern their meaning, and it is only when he has composed himself to sit up again, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, that he realizes who is speaking to him—and he is very nearly sick again.
Fíli, the hammer he lost in Mirkwood clutched tight in his grasp—and Kíli, his hunting knife held defensively in front of him as his gaze sweeps the room, checking for threats, trying to find out why his uncle is screaming—they're dead, he watched them die but here they are, whole and hale, their faces open and terrified as they rush toward him as soon as they're sure he won't stab them out of reflex. Fíli's weapon falls to the ground as he reaches Thorin first, grasping him by the shoulders and shaking him harshly, trying to bring him back to reality, but it only sends his mind reeling further.
Fíli's eyes were dead and wide and terrified and everything is his fault—
"Thorin! Look at me!" Fíli roars, his face inches from his uncle's, and something snaps, then, and Thorin finds himself letting out a sob into the terror thick in the room. Fíli nearly reels back with shock before he recovers, shaking Thorin again before calling over his shoulder, through the open doorway, "Ma! Ma, there's something wrong with Thorin—"
Dís' footsteps thunder through Thorin's ears even as he does not know why his sister would be here—why she would possibly be here when this must be the afterlife, for he is dead and Fíli is dead and Kíli is dead and Mahal he's going to be sick again—
He only just has enough time to shove Fíli out of the way before he empties his stomach onto the ground, and he wonders at its contents, because for these last weeks they have only had small rations of stale bread to eat, but the remnants of a hearty dinner he cannot recall are clear on the ground before him—
"Thorin!" That is undeniably his sister's voice, and he forces himself to look up in time to see her hurry through the doorway, a large kitchen knife clutched tight in her grasp and her face bloodless. "Thorin, what's wrong—"
He can only shake his head slowly, for he feels suddenly dizzy, but he does not wish to worry them further—even though he has no idea why they are worried for him in the first place. His nephews—they died for him, died for his idiocy and his rage and his greed, and they have every reason to hate him for it—but there is nothing but unmasked worry and fear on their faces as Fíli hovers at his side, and Kíli stands only a few feet away, his knuckles white around the knife still held tight in his grasp.
Why are they here, with him, when they deserve so much more? He does not understand…
"Thorin!" This time, it's accompanied with a harsh slap across his face, and he jolts back to the present, blinking up at his sister and doing his best to understand. She is not—she can't be dead, because there hasn't been an orc attack on Ered Luin in decades, so there is no way she could have—
"Should I go find Óin?" Kíli's voice is tense, and Thorin jerks as he realizes that this means Óin must have died in the battle as well—but no, he didn't, because he clearly remembers his cousin trying to save his mangled insides, clearly remembers his face falling in grief and despair as he realized that there was nothing to be done—
This makes absolutely no sense, even as Dís nods sharply at her younger son and he makes toward the door. But Thorin hears strangled words making their way out of his throat—"I'm fine. Stay. Please."
Dís sends him a sharp look, and Kíli hesitates before complying, moving instead to stand beside his brother, near enough for Thorin to touch them. He restrains himself from doing exactly that, for fear of shattering the illusion—surely, he will touch them only to find their skin icy cold, slick with blood, and he will look into their eyes to see only emptiness and betrayal and death—
"Are you going to tell us what happened?" Dís' voice isn't quite harsh, but it's demanding as she stands beside her sons with her arms folded across her chest, staring down at him intensely. "I have not heard you scream like that in years, brother."
He can't tell them—he can't—because the truth will shatter whatever wonderful illusion his mind has conjured up, with his family brought together one last time before he and his nephews are escorted to Mahal's halls—
Gods, Dís will be left all alone, and she's already lost too much in this lifetime—
He can't tell them, but he can't possibly lie…not when his own deceit and madness brought about their deaths in the first place—so he takes a shuddering breath, forcing himself to look Fíli and Kíli in the eyes as he says in a choked whisper, "I watched you die."
Dís inhales sharply, and Fíli's face contorts for a moment before he steps forward, reaching for Thorin's arm even as he fights the urge to flinch away. "We're fine, I swear it," Fíli says, smiling crookedly at his uncle. "We haven't even left Ered Luin yet—I know you doubt our abilities sometimes, but we're not so careless as to get ourselves killed in our own home. It was just a nightmare—we're perfectly all right."
Kíli steps forward as well, grasping Thorin's other shoulder, and he feels such love overwhelm him in this moment—his nephews' hands are warm and alive and he is close enough to hear their breathing, feel the air they exhale as it hits his skin, and he is so full of heart-wrenching relief that he stands abruptly, pulling the both of them into a bone-crushing hug with another sob. He feels both of them stiffen at the sudden contact, hears Dís make an astonished noise beside him, but he can't bring himself to care at the moment.
He's never been one for excessive physical contact, but he thinks he should be allowed this much, when somehow, he has been gifted such a wonderful chance to see his family. They are where they should be (a life in the Blue Mountains that is worth more than all the gold in Erebor), and this is clearly his chance to put his regrets to rest before he moves on.
Maybe this is his penance; maybe this is Mahal telling him that, however unworthy he is of it, he is forgiven of his transgressions. Whatever the reason, he will accept this moment at face value (his boys are here, and even if he did not show it enough in life, he loves them more than words can say), and with the knowledge that they do not hate him, he will pass willingly into his Maker's halls.
Eventually, he releases Fíli and Kíli, who look pleased—though not a bit surprised—by his show of affection. "Are you sure you're all right?" Kíli says, a small grin on his face as he lightly punches Thorin's arm. "Remember, Balin and Dwalin are coming over in a bit to discuss our journey to the Shire—you'll need to look at least reasonably presentable for them."
Thorin blinks at him for a moment, his mind blanking in confusion. Why would they be traveling to the Shire? Surely—as much as Bilbo has come to mean so much to them during the quest, and as many regrets as Thorin has regarding their hobbit—if they are truly passing into the afterlife, there would be no need…?
But the three of them are starting to look at him oddly, and he knows now is not the time to ask strange questions—so he only nods, smiling slightly, and moves toward his wardrobe to find a presentable outfit for the meeting.
He hears Fíli and Kíli hesitate before leaving his room, the elder easily lifting his hammer from where he left it on the ground—but Dís remains, and as Thorin turns, her eyes are curiously soft as she smiles at him.
"You know I trust you with their lives," she says, jerking her head slightly toward the door. "I would not have allowed them to join you if I did not. I know you would die before allowing any harm to come to them on this journey, no matter what haunts your dreams…you need not worry, brother."
Thorin can only stare at her for a moment—she's speaking so oddly, as if it's all in the future—but she does not seem to find this strange; she only smiles slightly, saying, "Breakfast should be ready soon, if you're hungry—and I'll draw some water for you, but you'll be the one to clean up that mess." She gestures toward the puddle of vomit next to his bed as she steps toward the door.
"Thank you, Dís," Thorin says suddenly, and he means it; her smile grows wider, but she only nods before leaving the room.
Thorin dresses in silence, trying to wrap his mind around it all—his room is exactly as he remembers it, his sword and axe and various knives held up on pegs on the wall; his bed (perpetually unmade, and more than once, that has gotten him in trouble with his sister) taking up much of the small room; a large desk in one corner, stacks of parchment covering its surface. On a whim, he makes his way toward it, because something is still not quite right about all of this. He doesn't feel dead—though he feels occasional twinges of phantom pain where the mortal wounds were dealt, the pain is nothing compared to the full agony he felt in the shadow of the mountain.
He truly was injured, then, but somehow he is alive again…
And when he glances properly over the papers scattered across his desk, picking one up, his mind stutters to a halt.
The one in his hand is clearly dated 1 April, T.A. 2941—more than half a year before he died. A week before he and the others left for the Shire, three weeks before they truly began their journey…
The pieces are falling together, now, and his fingers clench involuntarily around the parchment, terror and hope in equal parts flooding his mind. He remembers this paperwork, because it tallies the tentative expenses for the first leg of their journey, and Glóin had given him a proper earful when it wasn't prepared exactly how he wanted it—
This strange dream—reawakening—isn't a final farewell to his friends and family, he realizes—this is a second chance.
The parchment crumples under the force of his grip, but he pays it no mind as he throws it back onto his desk and sinks shakily onto his bed, hands in his hair. He hasn't died, or at least he hasn't died here, yet; his nephews have not thrown away their own lives for his; they have not yet left Ered Luin on this ill-fated quest…
Why has he been granted such a miracle? He, of all people, deserves no such thing, not after what he has done to each and every person he has ever considered to be important to him. Or perhaps that is why he's been chosen—he needs to atone for all his wrongs, needs to fix what he has broken so that his world is right again. He needs to reclaim Erebor, but keep his sanity…and ensure that his nephews do not fall as they did the time before.
His own life does not matter. He will willingly forfeit it if it means keeping his family safe.
And he will do anything—anything—to ensure that he does not make the same mistakes again.