Disclaimer: I do not own the Hobbit.
He had been trapped within the thralls of fevered dreams for what had seemed like an age before waking, first feeling the heat of the blankets on his skin as he moved his hand ever so slightly to the left. A muffled groan had somehow escaped his lips triggering a loud reaction beside him. Prying open his eyes, the tattooed dwarf squinted at his brother.
"You're awake," Balin exclaimed in relief tinged with another darker undertone. The white haired dwarf sank down beside his bedridden brother, one small hand covering the bald dwarf's own larger one.
Dwalin blinked sluggishly, trying to make sense of the world around him. There hand been a battle and…and…. His brain was too foggy to remember the details.
"What happened?" Dwalin rasped, a notable pause between the two words. He watched as his brother bit his lip, sucking in one side of his cheek before opening his mouth to answer.
"There was a battle and you were knocked out in it," the advisor finally said, his eyes avoiding those of the dwarf before him. The same dwarf regarded his Balin with a half raised eyebrow and a skeptical gaze.
"Surely there was more to it than that," Dwalin said, pulling his hand away from the grasp of his brother's. Raising his head slightly, the bald dwarf silently demanded a real answer.
"You were injured," Balin relented clearly in discomfort as he spoke, "But can we not speak about these things just yet. Now is a time to relish in the fact that you are still alive."
Dwalin closed his eyes, breathing out slowly before opening them again. He pulled his face into a false mask of reassurance as he stared back up at his brother. He was tired and a dull throbbing pain was beginning to make itself known, yet the bald dwarf managed a grim tweak of his lips.
"That I am," he finally said in reply, "And it shall stay that way if I can help it."
The look that Balin gave him chilled Dwalin to the bone. It was a look that said the older dwarf didn't know whether to trust his brother's own words. Then another thought struck the tattooed dwarf.
Why do I not feel pain?
Dwalin lifted his head high enough to cast eyes over his body which was laid out before him, but before he could discern what was wrong he felt his brother's hand rest on his shoulder.
"You should rest," came Balin's nervous words.
"How was I injured?" Dwalin asked, a frown beginning to form on his forehead. The hand on his shoulder was now noticeably forcing the dwarf back down against the bed.
"It is not a matter that should be discussed now, not when you have just woken."
"Answer me, brother. How was I injured?" Dwalin asked again, impatience colouring his tone. He was struggling greatly now, trying to see what his sibling did not want him to.
"I have said before, you should rest. You are no doubt weak after your ordeal with-"
"TELL ME HOW WAS I INJURED!" the younger of the two all but bellowed, thrashing his arms around as he tried to raise his head and shoulders off the bed.
From the corner of his eyes Dwalin could see several figures rushing into the tent where he was situated. The tattooed dwarf could not care less, however, as he fought against his own brother to find the answer to his own question.
"Why won't you let me look?" he growled managing to work one hand free of his brother and strike the older dwarf on the shoulder. Balin winced but did not let up and soon two more pairs of hands joined in restraining the tattooed dwarf.
Dwalin continued to struggle as a liquid was forced down his throat. He chocked and spluttered trying to spit it back out. A few moments later and his brother ended up with a face full of the same liquid mixed with saliva.
"Durin's beard, Dwalin! Open your mouth."
The bald dwarf ignored Balin's words, however, and pressed his lips firmly shut. A hand clamped down over his nose, squeezing hard to block off his air. Dwalin still refused to allow his mouth to open, but as stubborn as the tattooed dwarf was, he was eventually forced to draw in a breath of fresh air.
Those above him immediately seized the opportunity with both hands. The same liquid was forced down his throat again and this time the hand over his nose released to clamp over his mouth sealing the liquid in side. Dwalin had no choice but to swallow.
The dwarf's movements became more and more clumsy as his limbs became heavier. It was as he succumbed to the affects of the liquid when the dwarf realised what was wrong.
My legs. I can't feel my legs….
The next time Dwalin woke the world took a while to blur into view.
The tattooed dwarf felt drained, his arms and body completely limp against the bed on which he laid. Even his eyelids felt heavy and the dwarf had only just managed to pry them open. He felt exhausted, mentally as well as physically, a concern seeing as he did not remember half of what had happened to him. One thing that Dwalin did know, however, was the fact that he could neither move nor feel his legs.
No. No, no, no. This cannot be happening.
His brother's voice was like the type of balm a healer rubbed in wounds to stop infection, soothing, cleansing, putrid and unwanted. Balin had known about his predicament and the old dwarf had said nothing.
Why did he say nothing?
"Dwalin, can you hear me? Can you understand me?" Balin called. Dwalin, however, ignored him allowing his brother's words to fall upon deaf ears.
Why, of all who could have been chosen?
"Dwalin," Balin snapped, his voice suddenly sharp, "Brother, I know you can hear me so don't play dumb."
The tattooed dwarf's voice sounded so broken, so unlike him that from the corner of his eye Dwalin saw his brother take a step back.
"I was afraid of how you would react."
Dwalin held back a laugh, a lifeless chuckle that would shatter what fragile little of his mind he had left.
"Are they gone or…?"
It took a while for his brother to answer the question.
"You did not lose them," Balin finally said, "When we first found you, we didn't even know anything was wrong. Of course Oin suspected, I suspected…."
"What happened?" Dwalin asked, his voice little better than dead. Balin sniffed, seemingly trying to hold back tears.
"Your back took a blow. From a mace I think," the white bearded dwarf said, "It was broken when we found you…. Oin couldn't do anything, neither could any of the other healers including the elves."
The hope that rang in the one word was so faint it was almost non-existent.
Dwalin took this news in stride.
The bald dwarf leaned back against the bed he was on, staring up at the canvas roof above him. Small aches and pains were beginning to make themselves known, his initial shock and whatever draughts he had been given to alleviate them wearing off. Not that Dwalin cared for he could have been thrown into a great bonfire along with the rest of the orcish bodies and still his legs would have felt nothing but numbness. An unbidden tear sprang from one eye and ran down his face unchecked.
Mahal can take me now for I have nothing left to live for, the dwarf thought with a grim smile. Closing his eyes Dwalin did his best to shut out the world.
"Oin was the one who determined you would never…never walk again," Balin said, his voice filling the cold and unforgiving air, "The company's reactions were understandably adverse to this news."
"What of Thorin?" Dwalin asked, his eyes still closed. The tattooed dwarf dreaded the answer he knew his brother would give.
The word was completely flat, no hint of any emotion in Balin's voice.
"His nephews? Fili and Kili?" Dwalin asked, breathing out slowly.
This time Dwalin could hear the tremble in his brother's voice. Dwalin himself took a moment to recollect his widely scattered thoughts.
"Anyone else?" the tattooed dwarf asked. It did not take Balin long to answer.
"Only minor injuries, save for you," the older dwarf said, "The others are waiting to visit. Bofur and Bilbo seemed especially concerned."
"I do not want to see them," Dwalin said. He could almost hear his brother frowning.
"You cannot hide from the truth forever."
"I am not hiding from the truth," Dwalin stated bluntly, ignoring the chiding tone in his sibling's voice.
"Then what are you doing?" Balin asked, his voice anxious.
Dwalin just laid there, thinking. He could see why his brother was so worried. Death itself would be a mercy in face of what he now knew. To never be a warrior again, to never be able to stand again, this truth had wrenched his very heart, alive and beating, from his body and crushed into a pile of bloody pulp. He was broken and there was no fixing it, no coming back.
"Accepting it," the tattooed dwarf finally answered bluntly, "Now leave."
"I do not think that is such a good-" Balin began.
"Please," Dwalin said, cutting off his brother, "Leave. I want to be alone."
"Very well, I will be outside if you need me. You only need to call," his brother replied with reluctance. There was an undertone to the old dwarf's voice, one that warned Dwalin not to do anything stupid. Then the white haired dwarf was gone.
Alone and in the darkness of his shut eyes, Dwalin gave a short and inaudible laugh. The aches that he had been feeling before were becoming more prominent, but they were nothing compared to the pain he felt inside. Paralyzed, crippled, it was all the same thing. Not that it mattered if he had been able to walk in the first place for Thorin was dead and Dwalin had spent almost his entire life safeguarding the heir of Durin.
Thorin was dead and he was lame.
No, worse than lame. Crippled. For life. The rest of my miserable life.
This time Dwalin's laugh rang out around the tent surrounding him. Against all odds, against everything that fate had threw at him he had survived only to have fate pull out the mat from beneath his feet at the very last moment leaving him legless in what could almost be described as the most literal definition of the word. It was a sick twist to his life, a twist he was still reeling from.
"It all has to be a dream, a stupid dream brought on by fever," Dwalin muttered to himself, slowly lifting his hands to rub his face. Squeezing his eyes, he finally opened them coming face to face with Oin.
"Balin told me you were awake, though I was beginning to wonder," the healer said. Dwalin just stared at the grey bearded dwarf with half tired half annoyed eyes causing Oin to clamp his mouth shut tightly.
With an occasional glance at his patient, the healer poked and prodded the dwarf before him, reapplying bandages and a thick paste here and there where Dwalin's numerous cuts from his violent exchange of lows with orcs had yet to heal. As Oin moved down to work on the tattooed dwarf's legs, Dwalin closed his eyes for a second time since waking, holding them closed as he continued to deny what he had been told, what he himself knew to be true.
It's just a dream, a stupid, stupid dream.
It had been three days since waking, three days of perfect denial and sleep, three days of evading the truth of the entire matter. His best friend was dead, his friend's nephews were dead, and he himself was crippled in every sense of the word. Now, however, Balin was sitting at the foot of his bed, tapping his foot in an impatient manner.
"Enough brooding, Dwalin. It is unbecoming."
Why should I care about unbecoming?
The tattooed dwarf did not speak these words out loud.
"You should be grateful for the fact that you are still alive," Balin continued, his voice even more irritated than before.
Grateful for what? That I have outlived my friend? Or that I cannot no longer be of an use to anyone around me?
"You will not kill yourself on my watch."
This earned a fully confused stare from Dwalin.
"Kill myself?" he asked, several lines creasing his forehead.
"Yes, kill yourself," Balin snapped, standing as his eyes burned into his brother's skull, "It's what you're doing now. Refusing food, refusing medicine, Mahal you'd probably be refusing water if Oin hadn't been all but forcing it down your throat."
Why should you care?
Dwalin hadn't realised he had said this out loud.
"Why should I care?" Balin half shouted, raising his arms above his head in his fury, "Damn you Dwalin, I am your brother. Your brother! That's why I should care, and that's why you should care too! I will not watch you fade away merely because you are grieving over your incapability to walk. You will from now on accept whatever is offered to you or else you will answer to me."
"And if I don't want to?" Dwalin growled back, beginning to feel angry himself, "If I decide that walking was far more important to me than breathing the air?"
"Then you're a selfish bastard," his brother replied coldly. Dwalin was too far gone with rage to care.
"That makes you one too," the tattooed dwarf said with a sneer, "You have no idea what it is like to be able to do nothing yourself, to not be able to stand on your own two feet. I will never be able to hold an axe again let alone wield it in battle. I will never be able to protect anyone from harm again. In fact I will be the one needing the protection. I was born a warrior, Balin, raised one. It is in my blood and all I know and without my legs I am nothing."
"You still have your legs," Balin said after a moment of silence, his voice far softer than before.
"It's not the same. They don't work," Dwalin answered with a fake smile, trying his very best not to show the teary surface of his eyes, "I cannot walk, brother. I cannot walk and it is killing me."
Somehow, throughout the duration of his speech, the tattooed dwarf had found his way into his brother's arms. Dwalin could feel the warm splash of tears on the smooth skin of head, and he could equally feel the own warmth of his tears. What he could not feel, however, was the presence of his legs and it was as such he broke one hand away from the fabric of his brother's shirt and ran a hand over them, reassuring himself they were still there.
"His funeral is to be tomorrow," Balin said, his voice sounding strange and unusually thick in the otherwise silent air, "As are the funerals of Fili and Kili."
"Has been informed," Balin said after a while, his voice solemn and filled with a desolate grief, "But there is no way she will arrive in time and we cannot wait."
"How did it happen?" Dwalin asked, managing to string together a full sentence. Beside him Balin sighed, fingers worrying his snow white beard.
"In one of the later attacks," the older dwarf answered closing his eyes, "A spear took Thorin in the side. Fili and Kili were found only a few feet away from him after the battle had ended."
"Fili and Kili were," Balin said, knowing the end to the question his younger brother had asked, "Thorin passed several hours later. Spoke to the hobbit in that time, demanded to see you too."
"He knew," Balin said, "Didn't say anything though, just murmured a blessing under his breath."
Dwalin bit his lip to stop his jaw from working up and down. His eyes grew watery again, but there was nothing left to cry about. All his feelings of sorrow and despair and grief had been washed out leaving him empty with only a dull acceptance in place of his soul.
"I want to be there."
Balin did not question his brother's demand.
"You will be," was all he said as he pressed his forehead to Dwalin's.
Despite the hundreds of people who had turned up to farewell the last true heirs of Durin, the combined funeral was a silent affair.
Dwalin sat in a chair not far from the three tombs that stood before him. He had arrived early on, carried by Gloin and Bifur to the waiting seat and had since sat with his eyes affixed on the sight before him. He had no need to move neither his body nor his eyes. The only thing that mattered was what was before him.
The solemn sound of beating drums began to sound, echoing off the chamber of which the three tombs and Dwalin were situated. The sound of slow marching feet could be heard and it was not long before three platforms were carried down the single aisle running through the congregation, the three slumbering heirs of Durin upon them. Each was dressed in the finest blue, silver beads gracing their braided hair.
Dwalin did not shed a single tear during the entire ceremony.
As those who had attended began to dispatch, murmuring softly amongst themselves of the scale of the funeral and how Thorin and his two nephews had looked in all the finery, Dwalin sat in his chair still transfixed. It wasn't that he couldn't leave on his own, it was that he wanted to stay, to say his final goodbyes alone with no one watching his every move be they stranger, friend or of his own blood. Soon the chamber was empty and the crippled warrior got his wish.
"So we are alone," he said finally, speaking for the first time that day other than a few simple words to his brother. He was not surprised when Thorin did not answer.
Heaving a breath, Dwalin allowed his eyes to flit around at the room. The great smoking heads of the torches that had been snuffed out lined the walls and aisle, the glow of the simple lanterns overhead being the only source of light. The dark shimmer of crushed rock glittered off the tops of the now sealed tombs, signifying that the three within them had returned to be one with the mountain and its stone.
"Balin told you it was a fool's errand, that it could only end in disaster," Dwalin said, his voice empty of emotion, "Dis told you too, yet you refused to listen and I did too. I encouraged you of all things. Now look where we ended up. You got yourself killed and your nephews, Fili and Kili. You never should have brought them with you despite what they argued. And me, I'm practically dead myself. I'd be dead already if Balin wasn't so damn stubborn. I don't know how I'm going to get over not being able to walk."
Studying his hands in the half light, Dwalin twirled his thumbs before leaning to pinch the flesh of his right leg.
"I still can't believe I can't feel anything, through my legs I mean. I know they're there, I can see them there, yet I can't feel them. It's wrong, so damn wrong."
Rubbing his face, Dwalin leaned forward, bracing himself on his knees with his elbows.
"It was a stupid, reckless, foolish adventure, a dangerous adventure, a pointless adventure. It was a terrible adventure we never should have gone on, a rash one, a meaningless one."
Dwalin smiled in memory. A shinning drop made a trail down his cheek at the thought of him dancing with his axe in hand, two feet beneath him, Thorin and his two nephews by the bald dwarf's side. He drew in a breath and closed his eyes.
"It was one damn good adventure."