Lizzie has put off the London visit for so long that when her cousin asks for the fifth time, it's impossible to say no. Besides, the company holidays are coming up and she's due a break.

Annabel would rather drag her to Topshop and Space NK, but Lizzie's determined to see the new exhibit at the Natural History Museum. The moment she enters Earth Hall, something drags her inexorably forward — past the gaggles of school children, past an elderly lady with a walker.

"Wait up!" calls Annabel, but Lizzie doesn't hear.

She gets her first fleeting glimpse of the stone in the glass of a display case, turned to a mirror by the glare of the overhead lights. Its opaline shimmer makes it seem nearly alive. Lizzie feels a flash of recognition deep inside. The stone was made for her. She just needs to touch it—

She brings her fist down as hard as she can.

Glass shatters. Alarms start blaring. Annabel screams.

Lizzie touches the stone with the tip of her finger. It feels warm and it gives a little beneath her touch, like flesh would.

A light ignites in the heart of the stone, blooming outward.

The stone becomes a sun. Its coruscating glare swallows Lizzie first, then expands to fill the entire room.

All is silent.

-tick-

Darkness.

There is a memory of warmth. If there were any air in this nothingness, Lizzie imagines that it would be humid and a little oppressive.

Time passes, separating one thought from the next. There is no way to measure it but by the frequency of her thoughts, which are turning in desperate circles, round and round.

After a while Lizzie remembers that her grandfather used to have a pocket watch. The grinding of its tiny gears used to cut time into reassuringly solid slices when she was little and a summer afternoon would stretch forever.

She pictures the watch with its chipped face, the painstakingly polished brass lid. She pictures summer with its smell of heated asphalt and exhaust. She pictures her grandparents' tiny garden, and the climbing roses that nearly swallow the windows, perfuming the whole house with its scent. The ticking in her mind grows louder. She clings to it as hard as she can.

Eventually, there is light.

-tick-

The first time Thorin touches the Arkenstone, it pulls him past its shimmering glow, past that coruscating brilliance into a strange twilight realm. And there he finds her.

He sees honey eyes, pale skin, and a wild tumble of dark curls. Her manner of dress is odd — a thin, fitted chemise with narrow straps and trousers that appear painted onto her shapely legs. Her feet are bare.

When she speaks there is no sound, only an odd, muted hum.

There is a flash of light and Thorin finds himself back in the throne room, staring at the Arkenstone's shifting glow. His grandfather smiles at him and nods.

Thorin asks Dwalin about the incident later, careful of his words, but his friend did not notice anything unusual. So Thorin makes no mention of the girl with eyes like old gold, or the muted female presence that still lingers in his bones.

Perhaps he is merely overworked.

-tick-

He is a ray of light in the dreary gloom of her prison.

The moment of connection is a shock after such a long time floating in a sea of nothingness. He is beautiful and vibrant in a rough, masculine way, for all that he looks stunned by the sight of her, and then wary.

He is gone before she can try to touch him, but a part of him remains with her. A part of his senses stays behind as well, a tenuous link to the outside world that Lizzie clings to with all of her might.

Through him, she learns how it feels to use a sword for so many hours that calluses no longer offer adequate protection. She learns that the heart of a mine feels like the inside of the Arkenstone — a place out of time.

She learns that a prince of dwarves belongs to his people before himself.

She learns that his name is Thorin, and the name becomes her prayer when the dark threatens to drown her.

-tick-

As the days pass, Thorin feels her more and more. She burrows under his skin and into his skull until there is no escape, not even in dreams. Everywhere he goes, she is right there with him, a fragile wraith that hovers maddeningly just at the edges of his vision.

As the years pass he can no longer remember how it felt to be alone in his own head. It doesn't matter that he cannot hear her; he can feel her in ways that transcend mere words.

She is so sad, though she makes an effort to be brave for him.

When Thorin must stand by, helpless as his grandfather Thrór grows more and more enamored of gold until he can barely sleep or eat, she comforts him.

-tick-

Lizzie used to dream of love. Of a man with nice manners who would share some of her interests and enjoy doing things together.

She would never have dared to dream of this melding of souls, the sweet agony of being so close to Thorin, without ever touching.

Perhaps that's the way it goes — this closeness wouldn't be possible if she still had a body to call her own.

And yet she can't help missing home, with its rain and its tea and the mundane worries she thought so important.

It never rains beneath the mountain.

-tick-

Despite their bond she is lonely, desperately so. Thorin finds himself trying to soothe her. Sometimes he sings to her — the low, deep lullabies his nurse used to sing to him and Frérin when they were little, about lost miners and the deep veins of diamond beneath the mountain.

She seems to become calmer when he sings. He wonders whether she can hear him, or whether she simply picks up on his mood. It is fine either way.

He loves the way their emotions ebb and flow, as if he were the moon and she the sea. He loves that he is the only one bound to her in that way. It is a burden and a gift. He is determined to be worthy of it.

-tick-

Lizzie is beginning to recognize patterns in the stone's enveloping presence. They feel like Thorin when he is asleep.

Maybe the stone is dreaming, too.

It displays a kind of benign sentience, changing its energy subtly to accommodate Lizzie when she feels particularly glum or frazzled. Sometimes, when Lizzie refuses to cheer up, it has the air of a cat whose gift of dead mice has been summarily refused — a mixture of exasperation and weary acceptance, as if Lizzie can't help how difficult she is being.

Heartened by the discovery, Lizzie resolves to find a way out. After all, she has someone to go to, and nothing but time.

-tick-

Thorin is out on a courtesy visit to Dale when it starts to rain.

The burst of happiness he feels is so intense, it wakes him up in the middle of the night. It takes him a while to understand the source and when he does, he spends the rest of the night sitting by the window, where he can listen to the hiss and gurgle of water rushing through the grilles of distant drains.

The following morning the rain is gone. He feels his companion slide back into the gray of her usual mood. Three days later Dale has been destroyed by dragon fire and Erebor is lost.

The Arkenstone remains under the mountain, but her presence comes with him. It is his only solace on a long, hard road. He feels her silent support, her love for him, like a caress in the small hours of the night.

Sometimes he dreams of her — dreams of kisses and embraces they will never share, of seeing her lovely eyes grow hazy with pleasure.

-tick-

Lizzie learns how it feels to lose your home and become the only hope of your people. She learns about the kind of hunger that makes your stomach constrict into a hard little ball; she learns how it feels to make frying pans and swords for people who can barely distinguish one from the other. She learns how it feels to swallow your pride again and again until you choke on it.

In the dark hours of the night, she learns how to hold Thorin without arms.

-tick-

The Blue Mountains are too far from Erebor. Sometimes Thorin loses her for weeks at a time.

Being alone in his own mind so often takes a toll on him. He cannot sleep and barely eats. He tells himself that the decision to leave in search of his father is in no way motivated by the aching hole in his gut.

When the wizard shows up with a map and the key to the mountain, Thorin knows the only possible answer is yes.

Even if it means his life.

-tick-

Hobbiton is an odd place, an island of plenty and peace in a world beset by the savagery of orcs. His meager company is snoring away the night on the hobbit's rugs.

Gandalf has taken his pipe outside. It's just as well; Thorin is feeling restless, like half of him is missing. These last few days she has retreated again, until he barely knows whether the muted hum at the back of his mind is just wishful thinking on his part.

Sprawled in an unfamiliar armchair, he watches as the hobbit throws a handful of leaves into the boiling water. A scent rises, like autumn and spices and something else, something tart and fresh. Thorin feels his mouth water.

"What is that?"

Bilbo looks up like a startled rabbit. Thorin can nearly hear the hobbit's heart beating out of his chest at the sudden and unwelcome interruption from his mysterious visitor.

Thorin motions towards the pot.

"Oh, this? Tea! It's just tea! I like to brew a cup before bed, it helps me sleep."

Thorin is familiar with tisanes, but he has never heard of them being drunk for pleasure.

"Leaves boiled in water, is it?"

The hobbit slips his thumbs beneath his suspenders and puffs out his meager chest. "Special leaves. Quite unlike what you're used to, I'd imagine. Would you like to try it?"

The denial is already on Thorin's lips as the craving surges up again. This time, he recognizes the source, and if he weren't already sitting, his knees would go weak with relief. She's been silent for so long, he thought her lost.

"Yes, please," he says. His voice sounds high, young.

Bilbo busies himself with the pot. He rummages through the cupboard and soon Thorin is presented with a dainty cup and saucer. Bilbo splashes some milk into the cup.

"It tastes better if you put the milk in first," he explains, then pours the tea. Thorin is rocked by an inexplicable surge of approval. He inhales deeply. The aroma is stronger now, complex and pleasing.

"Two sugars," Thorin finds himself saying, as if in a dream.

Again, Bilbo looks briefly puzzled, but he is a good host. He picks up a silver chalice and deposits two white cubes into Thorin's cup.

Sugar is hard and a beastly bother to break up, let alone into such neat little cubes. Thorin has a sudden mental image of Bilbo hacking away at a sugar loaf with a little saw. He'd use a knotted length of string to make sure the cuts are even.

He shakes his head. And this is who Gandalf wants to bring on a deadly quest?

He takes a sip of the tea.

Sunlight through red leaves, soft, damp earth... The images assault him in quick succession — a great clock tower, painstakingly manicured lawns, smooth, wide streets through which immeasurable multitudes of humans scurry like ants; the same streets seen from above at night, now a sea of multicolored lights.

She is happy. He has never known her to feel like this, so soft and bright. The thread of melancholy is still there, but muted.

"It is perfect," he says quietly.

"Well, thank you!" Bilbo looks pleased, then puzzled. "But... I thought you said you'd never had tea before?"

"I have not."

"Then how can you know if it's perfect or not?"

Thorin can feel her still, her mood a pleased hum right beneath his breastbone. She has never been so vivid before, so happy.

He leans his head against the backrest of the armchair and runs a finger idly along the rim of the cup.

"I know."

-tick-

Lizzie is afraid.

She knows that Thorin can hold his own in battle. He is formidable, but she remembers seeing the dragon though his eyes, and she feels a cold terror at the thought of him confronting that again.

And yet he is so determined to regain his birthright, by any means necessary. To regain her.

What should feel romantic and lovely is horrible and foolhardy instead. He has no army to speak of, and the experiences he gained during those hard years on the run make him mistrust even those who offer their help in friendship.

She is so close to finding a way out of the stone. If only he would wait.

-tick-

It has taken Lizzie over a hundred years to understand the stone. When she finally does, it is too late.

The Arkenstone is life. It was made to nourish life and preserve it. It is a cocoon, and Lizzie is ready to escape it. She gathers the stone's light to her—

But Thorin, so close to her and yet so far, is nearly spent. She feels his resolve, followed by a grim, weary acceptance.

She feels the sword pierce his chest.

Thorin gutters like a flame.

-tick-

Thorin is no more.

After countless years in his company Lizzie is reduced again to a formless thing with no senses to speak of, no way to perceive light or sound or touch.

And yet, she can feel him near.

She lies upon his breast, right where his heart should beat but doesn't. She feels it with her not-senses the way animals feel a shift in the weather — a change of pressure in the air, an absence.

It helps that his presence is etched into the very rock of Erebor; around her, the mountain is howling with the loss. That part of him that was so much like her, that beautiful, shifting light, is nearly gone.

It hurts her, a deep twisting ache. If she had a body, she would scream herself hoarse.

Thorin is not rigid in death but soft, as if in repose. Not yet decaying, merely waiting, perched on the precipice between life and death.

Oh, Thorin.

His nephews lie near. She feels them less strongly, growing from him like branches from a large tree, nearly withered.

She aches for their loss. They were so very brief.

There will be a new king. Not a true king, not like him.

Unless she brings him back.

-tick-

The Arkenstone is a vessel of life. It was made to heal and preserve. If stretched, its energy might just be enough for three, but perhaps not enough to save them and restore Lizzie's body to her at the same time.

If she does this, she might die.

It doesn't seem to matter.

-tick-

Thorin's headache is threatening to split his skull open.

There is a weight upon his chest, robbing him of breath.

He forces his leaden eyelids to open. Bleary-eyed, he squints down the length of his body. The first thing he sees is wealth of glossy dark hair. It breaks the dim light oddly, shimmering with purple highlights.

His hands meet soft, smooth skin. A slender bare arm. A supple waist, also bare, flowing into delightfully round buttocks...

He pushes himself up on an elbow.

Someone has laid him out on a plinth and placed a naked woman over him. He pushes himself up further and the woman shifts.

Her head falls back, revealing a face he remembers only from dreams.

Cheers rise from the surrounding stands. Thorin tears his gaze from her to see his cousin Dain with tears running down his withered face into his beard. Gandalf is blinking away his own.

Someone places a hand on Thorin's arm and he turns to see Bilbo with a smile that is threatening to split his kind face. Another hand slaps his back.

Dwalin.

Soon Thorin is nearly buried under the onslaught of well-wishers. He looks past the crush of bodies to see Fili rolling onto his side with a groan.

-tick-

"Is she still asleep?" Kili asks for the third time in as many hours.

"She has just restored your life," Gandalf grouses. "I'd rather think she deserves a little rest."

Thorin looks down at the girl in his arms. They have covered her nakedness with a blanket because he refused to let go of her. Despite the fact that he only had one short glimpse over a century ago, her face feels achingly familiar.

He barely notices Bilbo looking over his shoulder.

"Poor thing," Bilbo says. "She looks so young."

"Not younger than us, I don't think," Fili says quietly behind him.

The girl stirs, triggering a flood of sympathetic cooing.

Her eyes shoot open. The light of the Arkenstone blazes in them for a moment as she turns her head, taking in her frozen audience.

Then she gasps like a drowning person, going rigid in Thorin's arms. Thorin stiffens in sympathy, only to realize that he can feel none of the anxiety that shows so vividly in her expression. The echo of her in his mind has vanished without a trace.

The otherworldly iridescence dies out, leaving behind familiar golden eyes.

"Is this—" she croaks, then stops, as if surprised by the sound of her own voice. Which of course she must be, Thorin realizes. The assault on her senses must be hard to bear. Smell, touch, sound—

No wonder she looks overwhelmed.

She visibly steels herself, then clears her throat. "I did it? I'm out? Please tell me I'm not dreaming."

"You are free of the stone, yes," Thorin says.

Her vision must be adjusting to the gloom, because she turns to him, nearly smacking her hand into his jaw as she does so. He catches her hand before she can and clasps it to his chest.

"Thorin!" she exclaims. "You're alive. You're real."

He finds himself caressing her palm with his thumb. "I like to think so."

"If you will allow me the question," Gandalf interjects, "What is your connection to the Arkenstone?"

"I… I was inside it."

"What is your name?" Kili asks eagerly. "Do you remember how you came to be inside the stone?"

"Elizabeth. Lizzie." She frowns. "As to the stone... It was an accident. Wrong place, wrong time." She steals a glance at Thorin. "Or right place, right time. It's hard to say."

Kili shudders. "I can't imagine what it was like to be trapped like that."

"Like a very long drug trip," Lizzie tells him, snuggling closer to Thorin. "I'm still seeing double."

"Drug trip?"

"I assume she means the effect smoking certain weeds can produce," says Gandalf sagely. He would know.

Thorin ignores them all. He bends closer to Lizzie, who is trying to burrow further into him in order to get away from the questioning.

"Is there something you need? If there is anything I can do to make this easier, you need but say it."

Her voice is muffled. "I'd kill for a cup of tea," she says.

Thorin looks imploringly at Bilbo.

The hobbit brightens. "As it happens, I have some right here," he exclaims, producing a crumpled packet from one of his numerous pockets. "We'll have some water up and boiling in a minute, don't you worry! Bombur, where's the kettle? And I need milk. Does someone have any milk? And sugar?" He glances at Thorin. "Two sugars, if I remember correctly," he murmurs.

Thorin has never loved Bilbo more than in that moment.

-tick-

Lizzie sips her tea. The look of ecstasy that suffused her face at the first sip has not yet left her, and Thorin had to suppress the urge to throw everybody out once he saw it. Her soft eyes and pleasured sighs feel too intimate, too revealing. He understands; after lacking senses for so long, a sip of sweet tea must feel like the nectar of the gods on her tongue.

Bilbo clucks around her, feeding her small sips of tea from an earthenware cup, reassuringly immune to her charms.

Gandalf looks pensive. Daín is looking at her as if he has witnessed the resurrection of Durin himself. Thorin relaxes.

Lizzie. It is a relief to put a name to the face that has haunted him so.

Thorin feels hollow without the echo of her inside him, but the reality of her in his arms carries its own comfort. Besides, she is now free. He cannot imagine what her prison has been like. A long fever dream, if he understands her correctly. He wonders what his place is in her long hallucination.

Despite the warmth of the tea, she shivers. As he realizes how chilled her skin must be he tucks the rough camp blanket more firmly around her shoulders and pulls her tighter against his body heat, careful of her balance. She is frighteningly limp, and as much as she tries to help, it is clear she still has little command over her limbs.

He makes their excuses once she has finished her tea and hoists her clear into his arms, ignoring her mumbled protests. Dwalin falls into step beside him.

Lizzie might not like being carried, but it is clear his closeness is an anchor to her. She slides her arms around his neck.

"Thorin," she murmurs against his throat. "I never thought I would get to say your name out loud. Thorin."

He holds her closer.

"There's a lot I want to ask you." Her voice is endearingly sleepy. "I would. If I could, you know… talk. My tongue is all tangled up."

"You should rest first. I have questions of my own, but there is plenty of time for that later."

"I don't want to sleep. I'm afraid I'll wake up and this will turn out to be a dream after all."

He drops a kiss into her hair as he walks, a gesture as impulsive as it is immediately regretted. This is neither the time nor the place for such things.

"It will not. I promise you."

"Okay."

There is a long pause.

"… are you sure?"

"I am absolutely certain," he tells her gravely. "Sleep."

"Okay," she sighs, and this time he feels her go slack with the heaviness of sleep.

"Poor girl," says Dwalin. "I suppose ye'll want to take care of her."

"Yes." Dwalin wants to take care of her too; it's clear in every line of his body. She's brought the king and his nephews back from the dead. In Dwalin's eyes, she can do no wrong.

"I'll try ta keep Balin and Dain out of yer hair, but I don't think it's gonna be easy."

"I appreciate the effort."

"I know."

And that is that. They understand each other well, Thorin thinks.

-tick-

The honey scent of Lizzie's skin is driving Thorin to distraction. The sight of all that bare flesh against his austere garments is torment enough; it is worse to know that he should not be thinking these kinds of thoughts about someone so vulnerable and in his care.

He can't help it.

He could never help himself when it came to her.

A room has been hurriedly appointed for them. Thorin takes a seat in an oak armchair, arranges Lizzie more comfortably in his lap, and settles down to wait.

-tick-

Gravity is a bitch, is Lizzie's first thought upon waking.

She is used to being weightless. And while she has missed touching and being touched, she does not remember it feeling quite as… abrasive. The borrowed blanket is like sandpaper against her bare skin.

None of it matters, though. She is in Thorin's arms, and for a while they simply bask in each other's presence as he gives her time to adjust. They learned to be comfortable with each other's silences long ago.

"Can you stand?" Thorin asks eventually.

"Of course," she says, because what else can she say? Her voice sounds slurred to her own ears.

Thorin places her on her feet. Amazingly, her knees don't buckle. She keeps her legs rigid as boards as he steps away. If she doesn't move, she will be fine. Probably.

She feels herself sway a little, but that can't be helped. The back of the chair provides a nice support to grab onto. She places her hand there as nonchalantly as she can and looks around her.

The chamber they are in looks like it belongs in a medieval brothel. The décor manages to be both garish and dreary, which is quite a feat. Everything is red and hunter green and puce, either decorated in tight little patterns or laden with gold thread. Gems glitter on the walls. It does not suit Thorin at all.

Worse, the dark tones play havoc with her depth perception. It had not been apparent as Thorin held her, but now she is not at all sure she can walk a straight line, if she can walk at all. The world inside the stone had been all about floating. Perspective was largely optional, shapes prism-like and distorted. She wonders if she will ever learn to move in the real world again.

Thorin.

She is overly aware of his presence at her back. It infuses her skin with a feverish tingle, an itch that she cannot afford to scratch. The reality of having her body back is overwhelming and yet she can think of nothing beyond the scent of his skin, and how it might feel if he were to kiss her.

He makes his way past her to a low table where he discards some of his weapons. They are all beautifully ornate and she tries not to think that these are the weapons he was supposed to be buried with.

She did it. She saved him, and herself.

"What now?" She tries to look like she does not have very definite ideas about what she'd like him to do.

"You should eat, and rest a little more. Food will be brought shortly."

At the mention of food, her stomach growls in sheer Pavlovian reaction. She is sure the flush that spreads across her cheeks is as bright as her stomach was loud.

"I must leave you for a short while," Thorin tells her, ignoring both the sound and her fire hydrant blush. "It appears I am king, and as such I must reassure my subjects that I am, indeed, alive. I will return soon. Please, make yourself comfortable."

It might have been her imagination, but he sounds terse and awfully eager to leave her company. It is hard to be sure, without the direct link into his mind. His face is remarkably opaque, or maybe she has just unlearned reading facial expressions.

That must be it. She's probably just imagining things. After all, his explanation was perfectly reasonable. She is the unreasonable one. It hurts anyway.

Lizzie stares down at her hand, in a white-knuckled grip on the back of the chair, and knows without a shadow of a doubt that she does not have enough balance to sit on the chair, much less take the five necessary steps to the bed.

Just like that, she feels the tears well up.

"G'ahead," she mutters thickly, turning her face away – stupid pride.

"Lizzie?"

Thorin was nearly at the door. Now she hears him return. Please go away, she thinks.

It is already too late.

"Lizzie? What is the matter?"

She has done all she can to hide her crumpling face from him. He is a male, though. Of course he has to ignore her, and bend down until he can see it anyway under the fall of her tangled hair, and touch her cheek to find it wet...

"I can't move!" she whispers. "I'll fall on my face and bleed on your carpet."

"That is all?" he says, exasperated, and picks her up.

She wants to smack him. She would, if she weren't afraid of taking his eye out by accident. She wants to hug him, too. He smells too good, exactly like she imagined he would.

He lays her on the bed and presses a lingering kiss to her forehead. Then he covers her with a soft fur blanket, discarding the hated woolen one.

"I'll return as quickly as I can," he says, and leaves.

Lizzie wishes he had thought to provide her with some clothes.

-tick-

The food, brought by a dwarf who watches her in awe and bows all the way out of the room, proves a godsend in more ways than one. The simple bread is an explosion of taste on her tongue; the thin broth smells like heaven and tastes the same. Lizzie cannot stomach more than a few bites but she feels a lot less lightheaded after the meal.

If a piece of bread tastes like this, how will Thorin taste?

But that will have to wait. The corporeality is still a bit unsettling, to say the least. She is unpracticed at interpreting the signs of her awakening body – apart from the longing for Thorin, which has hit her like a hammer. If she remembers anything, though, it might be time to begin a tentative search for the lavatory.

A hopeful attempt at rising from her nest makes her aware that walking is not an option. Oh well. Crawling on her knees was good enough to go places as a toddler. Rather quickly, too, if her mother's tales are to be believed. She can do it. She's not proud.

-tick-

She can't do it. Using the loo has taxed all her resources, and now she is swaying like a drunk in front of the washing basin, wondering how she will manage to wash her hands without pitching the whole contraption over.

She wets her hands and picks up the soap. It slips from her hand just as she has managed to work it into a lather. She makes a grab for it instinctively and loses her balance. Her flailing arm hits the edge of the basin, shoving it from its perch. It slams into her hip and lands with a loud clatter, spilling its contents all over the floor. Lizzie slams to her knees beside it, crying out in pain.

-tick-

Thorin is returning when he hears the scream.

His blood freezes in his veins.

He storms the chamber, blanching when he sees no trace of Lizzie. But then he hears the sobs emerging from the water closet and rushes in to find her kneeling on the cold floor in a puddle of water. The basin for washing lies overturned next to her. She is sobbing, shaking as if she were close to breaking.

Thorin grabs a towel and picks her up, embracing her tightly.

"Sshhh, halwê, don't cry. It will be better soon, I promise."

He pats her skin dry lovingly, then wraps a fresh blanket around her. He really needs to find her some clothing. For all the current similarities, she is not a babe, to be carried around in blankets all day long.

She clutches at him and wails louder. Her cries remind him of a newborn babe, thrust from the womb into the cold, bright world. No wonder she's cross. He would be, too.

"I've changed my mind," he whispers into her hair. "Cry all you want. Scream the walls down if that is your wish. I will not stop you."

Slowly, she quiets. "I— I'd rather not," she says eventually, hiccupping. "It would be a stupid way to die."

Thorin uses his thumbs to wipe away the tears clinging to her long lashes. "It would," he agrees.

"I'm sorry I'm behaving like this."

"Never apologize to me, love. You are so brave."

"Not as brave as you. When you fought Azog… Oh, Thorin."

"You are braver than all of us combined, my love. I do not know of anybody else who could have endured being locked inside the stone for so long without going mad."

"That's not true."

He chuckles. "Why are you so determined to contradict me?"

She looked up at him through her lashes. "Maybe because I can? A hundred years and I couldn't get a word in edgewise."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. You were remarkably able to communicate your disapproval even without words."

She giggles.

-tick-

Days pass.

For the first time, something takes precedence over Thorin's duties.

The lines of Lizzie's face have been etched into his memory ever since their first encounter. But the woman he remembers was a statue, frozen in a moment of bewilderment. Lizzie is so much more than that.

She has a sly wit that only emerges when she feels secure. She is impulsive but strives to restrain herself from rash actions.

Her left cheek dimples when she smiles. Thorin finds himself wanting to flick his tongue against the small dent.

Dwarrowdams walk like they are on a warpath. When Lizzie walks her hips sway gently, as if obeying the rhythm of a song only she can hear.

-tick-

Their first kiss happens on a Wednesday.

Lizzie's new quarters open directly onto a secluded terrace. When Thorin comes to visit it is raining, so of course she is outside, uncaring that she might catch a cold.

The rain bathes her upturned face. It plasters her hair to her skull and her clothes to her body as she spins slowly under the onslaught, eyes closed and lips parted as if in prayer.

Thorin forgets the annoyance he felt just seconds before.

He forgets his own name.

Lizzie opens her eyes and looks at him. And then she looks again, a slanting golden gaze from beneath her lashes, shy and inviting at the same time.

And then she bites her lip, and Thorin is lost.

Closing the distance between them, he takes her wet face between his hands and slowly nuzzles his nose against hers.

She sighs.

He touches his mouth to her parted lips. The pillowy swell of her lower lip yields to the slight pressure. He plucks at it gently with his teeth, tilting her head for better access, then runs his tongue along the delicious bow of her upper lip to the corner of her mouth.

She tastes warm and fresh. Her arms slide up his chest and close around his neck in a fervent embrace. She presses her slim body eagerly against his as he explores her mouth.

The kiss grows bold, heated.

Around them, the rain keeps falling in a steady patter. They drink it feverishly from each other's lips while her hands roam his body, searching for purchase against the sudden onslaught of desire.

It takes but a moment to lift her into his arms and carry her inside.

-tick-

Lizzie still dislikes fabric against her skin, but her sheets are silk, and Thorin's hands on her are the best thing she has ever felt. His beard brushes her collarbone as he scatters kisses over her neck and chest. It feels soft as fur.

One touch leads seamlessly into the next, like pearls on a string.

They explore each other. It's dreamy at first, then increasingly breathless. Each touch, each strangled sound they draw from one another is a fresh delight.

Their mouths clash again and again. His tongue tangles with hers. He tastes like sin and feels like lighting in her arms, and this, this is what a body is for, this is why a hundred years of waiting suddenly feel like a small price to pay.

Just this.

Thorin braces himself on his arms above her, and she watches with helpless hunger as the muscles in his chest and arms flex with the strain.

His hips settle over hers. She feels a piercing heat. Her skin flashes with intermittent sparks.

His head falls forward. His hair, now black as a raven's wing, falls around her like a curtain.

She lifts a hand to touch his face. His cheek is hot beneath her palm. His eyes, narrowed with the effort of keeping himself in check, spark with blue light.

She looks up at him, lost, and for a brief moment it is as if their bond has returned. Lizzie feels his clawing need warring with his restraint, and smiles tremulously up at him.

Thorin bends his head and kisses her dimple.

She opens beneath him like a flower.

It is time.

-tick-

The wedding is a mere formality.

The Arkenstone sacrificed itself to revive the line of Durin. And in the bargain, it has given Erebor a queen. If anyone doubted Thorin's right to rule, those doubts are laid to rest the moment the queen places her hands in his.

Beneath her lashes, an opaline web of light flickers and dances.

The king smiles and slips the ring onto her finger.