The fields are cleared of bodies. The dead of the enemy are piled and burned. Pyres and tombs are built for the dead of their allies.
Dwalin entered the temporary quarters he shared with Bilbo. His bandages are being changed. He hissed at the healer's touch, wincing. The bandages are replaced and the healer left. "You'll have a fine scar," Dwalin announced. Bilbo chuckled.
"My relatives will faint at the sight of it."
"Let them," Dwalin said. "A fine warrior you'd make if Hobbits had the disposition for it."
"Sadly, most of us do not," Bilbo said, standing. He approached Dwalin and pushed himself up on his toes to kiss Dwalin. "Either way, it'll get the neighbor's to leave me alone for some time. That's a good thing. Trust me."
Dwalin hoisted him up into his arms. Bilbo rested his hands on Dwalin's shoulders. "If that's what they think of you running off for an adventure and returning with a flesh wound, what do you think they'll say to you returning with a Dwarf on your arm?"
"Oh, they'll keel over. But it'll be funny, at least."
"Funny to watch your relatives and neighbors fall to the ground from a heart attack?!"
Bilbo shrugged. "I've always been a little morbid."
"I'm well aware," Dwalin said. He sat on their bed, "And a good thing, too. Otherwise you'd be fainting left and right all over this journey. And we'd have been eaten by Trolls not a month in!"
"Well, I don't think I'll be fainting as often as I used to." Bilbo wrapped his arms around Dwalin's neck, grinning. "Besides, I'm sure I'm more morbid now than I was before."
Dwalin laughed. "I get the feeling you will be. Hopefully not too morbid."
"Of course not! Such things can and ought to be taken in moderation," Bilbo agreed. He kissed Dwalin again. They broke away at the knock. Bilbo jumped off Dwalin's lap to answer the door.
"Evening, Brothers," Balin said, clapping his hands behind his back. "Ready for the big day tomorrow?"
"Will it be all right?" Bilbo asked. "With our injuries still on the mend?"
"Thorin thinks it's better for it to be sooner than later. Way he goes about it, one would think he wants you gone."
Dwalin hummed. Bilbo looked at the floor. Thorin had lifted the banishment on Bilbo, but he still wanted them to leave as soon as possible. He had regained his wits and with it his heart sickness twice-fold. The knowledge of knowing Bilbo would not be his added to what he had done to him in his madness grieved Thorin strongly. He could not dare to look at Bilbo without shame. So, while he provided rooms, healers, and whatever else they wished, Thorin did all he could to hasten their return to the Shire.
"Is there something I don't know?" Balin asked, looking from Dwalin to Bilbo.
"Yes," Dwalin said. "And I'd rather you not know, Brother."
"It is ours to handle," Dwalin said. "And we have handled it as well as we could."
"But the banishment on Bilbo has lifted!" Balin said. "There is no reason for either of you to leave Erebor. Why not stay?"
"Thorin is not the only one who wishes we return to the Shire," Bilbo said. "We agreed ourselves to return."
Balin frowned. "I see. Is there no way I can convince you two otherwise?"
"No," Dwalin said. "It may well be time for me to hang up the sword anyway."
"Claims the battle hardened son of Fundin."
"You say the same, Balin."
"And even then, I grow restless in my old age."
Dwalin frowned. Bilbo looked from one to the other. "I urge you not to go that path, Balin. Let the lost lands remain so. They are fallen into ruin and not in a thousand years can they return to glory."
"And there we will stay at odds, dear little brother," Balin said. He smiled. "Dinner is served, if either of you are hungry."
Dwalin found Thorin standing out on the veranda, hands clasped behind his back. "You come here often?"
He turned around, staring at Dwalin somberly. "I should not. I keep replaying it in my mind, hoping it was a nightmare. A demon in the darkness." He swallowed. "But it was not and I do not think I can bear the truth."
Dwalin sighed. "Brooding over what has happened will not change anything."
"Then stop focusing on it, or Bilbo will kick you in the shins. I wouldn't put it past him to do it, King or not."
Thorin managed to smile. "It wouldn't hurt. Tickle maybe, but no threat."
"No, but do you wish to risk it? Personally, I don't."
Thorin leaned against a pillar, favoring his broken arm. "You are both welcome to return to Erebor when ever you like. You will always have a home here, Dwalin. Both you and Bilbo," Thorin said.
"Thank you. It means much, but we might not return for a long time yet," Dwalin clapped his shoulder. "You handed the conduction of the ceremony to Gandalf."
"I did," he said. "After all, have I any right to attend? Or to be there? I am in love with him. You know this. To be there alone would be torture enough. To conduct it…"
"You're right," Dwalin said. His gut clenched. "I am sorry." Dwalin turned to leave.
"I wish you eternal happiness, my friend," Thorin said, his voice breaking.
"Even though it is given half-heartedly?" Dwalin asked, frowning at him. Thorin did not reply. He refused to meet Dwalin's gaze. He hid his face in his hand, shoulders convulsing. Dwalin turned away to leave him to whatever peace and solace Thorin might find.
Bilbo pleaded for simplicity, and Dwalin was happy to oblige. Only the company, save Thorin, attended. Dis stood in Thorin's stead. Gandalf performed the wedding. The braids they wove were taken out and remade.
In the morning, they would begin the journey back West, a cart loaded with provisions prepared for them. Thorin watched them leave from the mountain, the royal family beside him. By nightfall, Erebor, though still near, was far behind them. Bilbo hummed under his breath that night while he smoked, writing something down.
"What are you thinking about?" Dwalin asked, smoking his pipe.
"Nothing in particular," he said, "just…what do you think of this: Roads go ever, ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever, ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known."*
Dwalin blinked. He was never much of a poet, always a warrior. "It's nice."
"Just nice?" Bilbo frowned.
Dwalin shrugged. "I was never one for poetry or songs."
"I'd never have guessed with your contribution to That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates."
"I'm sure you can come up with a new refrain for that to send to the lads. They'll like it."
"I hope so because whatever contribution I make to that song will have to do with the adventure: Troll snot, Goblin caves, Warg riders, Spiders, Dragons…you know. The usual."
Dwalin snorted. "Sure. The usual. If you can call anything we faced that."
Save for the fire, the night closed in around them, dark but diamond stars and a large full moon. Dwalin pulled Bilbo into his lap, burying his face in Bilbo's hair. "Goodnight, Bilbo."
"Goodnight, Love." Bilbo shifted in Dwalin's embrace falling into a peaceful sleep, never knowing that by next May, he and Dwalin would be chasing off thieving relatives.