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Stolen Heir

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Second marriages were nearly unheard of with Dwarves. In dwarvish society, the females are never forced into marriage and can choose not to marry if they can't wed the one they love. Marriage is for life.

Unless you are the daughter and granddaughter of kings. And unless you are in direct descent from Durin the Deathless. And of your two brothers, one died too young and the other could die at any time in battle. And that brother is also unwed.

Apparently this was too close to extinction for the family bloodline.

Dis refused to cry. Her hands were shaking so badly that she could read no further, but she was not crying. Her grandfather had fallen in battle. Her father's mind had broken and he was captured or dead. That was as far as she'd managed to read. But it was enough.

Thorin was now the defacto leader of their people. But her older brother knew nothing of her current location or circumstances.

Dis, the one time princess, sighed heavily. When she'd married Nehili she'd been terribly happy. Then he'd fallen in a horrible mining accident, leaving her with an infant son who was his father's mirror.

Now a rambunctious four year old, Fili fairly flew around the room chasing shadows like they were real enemies with a stick pretending to be a sword. Sadly, Dis watched the one joy in her life. He was going to be a warrior, just like his father, his uncles, his father and once even his grandfather. But that was a long way off. For today, Fili was a loving and sweet young dwarrow who would be wanting lunch soon.

And she? What was she?

A test. An offering from her father and grandfather. Not forced, no ...never that. But a grieving widow willing to do nearly anything for the love of her people.

Second marriages. Bah.

She'd been here four months now. Her husband wasn't any happier than she. They were kind to one another. Polite. Both were trying, she had to admit. But this ...whatever this really was, wasn't working.

And now the only two dwarves who knew what she was doing and where she was ...were dead or missing.

Dis didn't even think about it. She bustled around the richly appointed rooms, taking nothing of his. In between feeding Fili a cold sandwhich and packing, she was ready to go in under two hours.

The most time she used was to pen the note she was leaving. The note read, "I'm sorry. I have taken nothing that didn't belong to me. You are not at fault. Please forgive me."

Not the most elegant way to end a relationship. The marriage wasn't over, of course. Divorce was a human concept, unheard of among any other race. But Dis knew neither of them would remarry or want to do so, and in this the point was moot.

Once away, Dis slipped into the nearest human settlement and arranged for passage back to Ered Luin. It wasn't until she and Fili were settled in the travelling caravan that she realized that her four year old son was wearing a bead braided into his hair. One given to him by her second husband. A kindness to a child that wasn't his.

Dis felt a moment of regret for someone who had ever been polite, and even kind in his way. But as her love was dead, so was his. Though he'd never had the chance to marry the one he'd loved before her untimely demise. Thus their fathers, and her grandfather, had arrived at suggesting a marriage between them instead. For heirs.

Pensive and sad, Dis could not bring herself to remove the bead from Fili's braid. And it wasn't until two months later that the dwarven princess realized that she hadn't left her second marriage as cleanly as she'd thought.

She had indeed taken something of his with her.

Dis sighed, resting her hands upon her still flat stomach. She was pregnant.

Worse? She had no intention of telling him.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis sat on the porch, snapping beans for supper, watching the sun inching closer to the mountains in preparation of setting. She smiled at the two young male dwarrows wrestling in the grass.

"Whose?" Thorin stood behind her chair, leaning casually against the wall next to the cabin's door.

The younger sister didn't have to guess what he meant by his question. He'd been asking the same one for nearly nine years now.

Kili ended up on the bottom of course. He was five years younger than Fili. But the brunette didn't seem to realize he'd been beaten. His dark eyes narrowed and he pushed out his lips in defiance, balling up his fist and striking his brother as hard as he could.

Fili reared back, frowning. "No cheating!" He held up his fingers and dug them into Kili's sides, making the younger brother screech with delight and anger at the same time.

Thorin sighed, having once again not received an answer. He frowned over at both of his nephews. "It's plain that they had different sires, even if I didn't already know you'd long been a widow before Kili was made."

"They are brothers." Dis insisted, calmly filling her bowl with fresh snapped beans. "That's all that needs to be known."

Thorin scowled. "They are both my heirs. Kili is a wonderful lad, but I have to know. Whose is he?"

Dis shook her head. "All you have to know is his heart. The lad adores you and would follow you anywhere."

The dark-haired dwarven prince snorted and shook his head. "He's reckless."

"He's eight." Dis countered. "Teach him better."

"He's too thin." Thorin sighed, squinting as the two brothers now chased each other around and around the cabin. "You need to feed him more."

Dis stifled a laugh, and shook her head. "He goes to bed stuffed as it is. Our people sometimes barely have enough, but you and Dwalin and even cousin Balin each sneak a bit extra to Kili. He's going to be as big as your friend Bombur one day soon."

Thorin chuckled. "Everyone likes him." He sighed, shaking his head. "Can't help it. He's just got that ...something."

Dis' hands hesitated, then she gave a bright smile. "That's our grandfather in him."

Thorin nodded absently, missing his sister's momentary lapse. "I don't remember Thror ever being that charming. No matter what stories the older dwarrows tell."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Mam? What's a bastard?"

Dinner effectively stopped. Thorin's eyes found those of his cousin Dwalin, who was visiting for the evening. The older dwarf shrugged, looking puzzled. Fili hadn't heard the word from him.

Dis looked at seventeen year old Fili and sighed. "Stop pulling at your mustache, it will grow unless you keep messing with it."

Fili grimaced, but put his hands back down on the table.

"Where did you hear that word?" Thorin asked, his tone deceptively mild.

Fili shrugged, looking down at his half-empty plate.

Dis looked over at Kili, who was acting like he wasn't paying attention. Her eyes narrowed on her youngest son, he was currently pushing his food around on his plate. Not eating. She looked up and caught Dwalin's eyes, then looked back down at Kili's plate.

Dwalin frowned sharply. "Kili?"

Instead of his usual chipper self, the twelve year old just stared at his potatoes and stabbed them with his knife a bit.

Thorin frowned, noticing where the other adults were looking. "Who said the word bastard?"

Kili's shoulders hunched.

Dis put her hand on her youngest's arm. "Answer your uncle." She told him as gently as possible.

Fili coughed and frowned. "The grocer called Kili a bastard. We don't know what it is, but he didn't make it sound like a good thing."

Thorin balled up his cloth napkin, tossing it on the table, his appetite gone. "I'll take care of him."

"You won't." Dis sent him a sharp glare before turning her attention back to young Kili. "Son? A bastard is a child born when the parents weren't married. That's all."

Kili frowned, trying to piece it together in his young mind.

"But neither you nor your brother are bastards." Dis continued.

Dwalin and Thorin shot each other incredulous looks, both suddenly not breathing. Were they finally going to hear just whom Kili's father was?

"I married twice." Dis continued, watching the hopeful look dawning in Kili's eyes. "Unusual, but I did it. I will swear on that by Durin's Axe and Blood if need be."

Thorin's eyes widened in shock. An oath like that was far from meaningless. He swallowed hard.

"It was arranged by my father and grandfather, but it didn't work out." Dis smiled gently. "But I am forever grateful, for this marriage gave me you."

Fili frowned. "Why didn't it work? Didn't he like me and Kili?"

Dis shook her head, looking between her two fine sons. "He gifted you with your first braid-bead. He was very kind to both of us. Though he never got a chance to meet Kili."

The younger dwarrow opened his mouth to ask further questions, when Thorin cleared his throat. "If you're not going to eat, go on out and get your chores done before bed." He gave both children a long look. "Go."

Kili and Fili both grabbed a last bite of dinner and scrambled out the door in a hurry.

Once the room was clear of young ears, Thorin leaned back in his chair. His dark eyes studied his younger sister. "Truth?"

"So I would swear." Dis commented firmly, not looking away from her brother.

Dwalin sat still, not saying anything, his mind racing for possible names. He finally shot a glance at Thorin and shrugged. He still didn't know who had fathered Kili.

Thorin's frown grew deeper. "It doesn't make sense. Any family would be proud to be invested into Durin's Line. Kili is my second heir, and ..." His words stopped as a wild thought occurred to him. "Kili's father isn't dead."

Dwalin's eyes flew to Dis' face, hissing with shock as he saw her wince as the truth was revealed.

"You're still married to him." Thorin's voice dropped low with shock.

Dis stood, gathering up the dishes from the table. She carried them into the kitchen and came back with a bone. The one-time elegant princess of Durin's Folk opened the back door to the cabin and tossed the bone out for the watchdog.

Thorin watched her come back and start to wipe down her end of the table. His mind was racing, and first and foremost was the realization that his sister really didn't want to discuss this.

Why?

Thorin grabbed her hand as she passed him. She yanked her arm out of his grasp. He let her go. "Dis?"

The dwarrowdam sighed, but didn't answer.

Dwalin cleared his throat uncomfortably. Cousins he might be, but this conversation was for closer family than that. "I can go."

Dis shook her head. "He must never know."

Dwalin's eyebrows drew together in concern. "Know what?"

Thorin was quicker to the goal. He closed his eyes in shock and consternation. "Does he even know he has a child?"

Dwalin swallowed wrong, coughing roughly so that he could catch his breath.

Dis smiled sadly at her older brother. "It's well known among all our kind. I have two sons. Both your heirs. Of course he knows." She told him. And that well could be true, for all she knew. Somehow though, deep inside, she doubted it.

He would have come if he'd known.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"See there? Nothing bad. We both had fathers and neither of us is a bastard." Fili poked his dejected looking younger sibling in the side, using the newly discovered word.

Kili sighed, putting his head down. "We both heard."

"We don't know what we heard." Fili protested. "Hanging around by the open window doesn't mean we heard everything."

The dark-haired brother looked up, his eyes misty with hurt.

Fili moaned, moving closer to put his arm around his younger brother. "It's okay."

Kili shook his head, struggling not to cry. Only babies cried. He was twelve, young for a dwarf, but not a baby. "Thorin said he was still alive."

Fili frowned, shaking his head. "No. He was guessing. That's all."

"If my father is still alive, and mam is still married to him." Kili's shoulders hunched. "Then he left because he didn't want me. I wasn't good enough."

"Us." Fili grimaced. "I was around then. You heard mam. Your da gave me my first braid-bead." He reached behind one ear and pulled out a small braid capped by a pretty silver bead with a symbol on it. "I don't remember him." He added, sounding sad.

Kili felt a tear loosen from his left eye and trace it's way down his cheek. "Damn it."

Fili sat up, having heard enough. "Stop. Mam loves us. Thorin is training us. We're both HIS heirs. No other dwarrow in the world is better than Uncle Thorin."

The younger dwarrow looked up, hope blooming quickly in his face. "That's right!"

Fili slapped his thigh hard enough to sting. "We are the Folk of Durin. We can trace our line back to the First Age. Never forget that!"

"I won't!" Kili jumped up, his usual cheer rising back up a notch.

Fili grinned, hiding the anger he felt behind his smile. He promised himself, if he ever met the bastard that was Kili's father, he'd kick him in the balls. How dare he leave their mam? How dare he leave Kili, like he was nothing!

The blond youth put his hand on the silver bead in his hair, inwardly swearing an oath that he would wear it until the day he could beat the crap out of the dwarf who'd made his mother and brother so sad.

Chapter Text

Dis and Thorin heard the laughter first, then the stomping of boots to clear the snow encrusted on them. She smiled and cut two generous portions of the fresh nut bread she'd brought to Thorin for his lunch.

"Company." Thorin murmured, then took another large bite of his stew.

"Were you expecting them today?" Dis asked her brother.

Thorin, his mouth full, shook his head and shrugged. He didn't know why her sons would be visiting the town today, much less the smithy where he labored.

The voices outside were a comforting blend of hunting talk and laughter. The two weren't alone, but she didn't get alarmed, the other voice was a comfortable bass with the gruff accent of Erebor. Another exile then.

Dis wrapped her hands with with towels to pull her stew pot off the flames. She made a face at it's aromatic perfection, remembering how in the first few years of their exile from Erebor, she'd burned enough food to FILL their former home. Cooking was a skill she'd had to acquire, it had not come natural to her. She refilled Thorin's bowl for him and he grunted in thanks.

The smithy was open aired, but enclosed on this end of the building. And despite the cold, snowy conditions, quite warm from the smithy fires. Still, a chilled blast of air came in along with Dis' two sons. She grinned, they looked like the snowmen that the human children sometimes crafted.

"Nut bread!" Kili's brilliant grin was revealed first as he dragged off the thick scarf around his face. He shook his head vigorously. Long, wavy dark hair twined around his face and back again, sending pieces of snow and melting ice flinging across the area.

"Don't act like the hound!" Dis frowned sharply and threw her towel into her youngest son's face. "And just where is your hat?"

Abashed, Kili shrugged as Fili pulled off his own scarf. "Lost it tracking a bull and some cows." The dark-haired youth ran the towel through his snow dampened hair.

Thorin frowned mid-chew, his eyebrows going up. Dis asked the obvious question. "Since when do you hunt bulls and not game?"

"Since farmer Denish had snow collapse his fences." Fili grinned widely. "He hired several of us to repair the damage. And he hired Kili to track his missing stock. The bull was the last one."

Dis shifted uncomfortably and Thorin shot a frown at his younger sister. She was always unhappy when her lads had to mix with humans. If she had her way, they'd never leave the cabin or its environs. "Pay well?" He grunted finally.

Fili pulled out a pouch and tossed it to his uncle, who weighed it in his hand with a pleased expression. Like most dwarves, he could just about know how much was inside from the weight of the coins, down to the last copper bit. "Nice."

Dis couldn't help her frown. "It doesn't put meat on the table when you hunt things other than game."

Thorin ignored her, knowing she didn't mind the extra money as much as she was overprotective. "Which chores are yet to be done at home, then?"

Kili grinned and pointed over his shoulder at Fili as he moved in next to his mother.

"Answer your uncle, son."

"But there's nut bread!" Kili's dark eyes were pleading. "And it's not like we've been lazy."

Dis laughed, never able to resist those melting dark eyes, handed him the thick bread. Kili tossed the first slice to his brother, who caught it easily. He then started stuffing the second slice into his mouth with eagerness.

"Look who we found on our way over here." Fili grinned, then shrugged at his uncle. "We set the firewood right enough, delivered about half before farmer Denish hired us."

"Half." Thorin snorted, shaking his head. "You'll need to finish the other half after you eat or there will be some cold dwarrow toes tonight."

Fili nodded and Kili grinned, his mouth full of delicious nut bread.

"Some of those toes might even be mine." The dwarf the lads had met on the way over stepped into the warmth of the smithy. Dark eyes peered at the group from above the scarf encrusted with snow and ice. The thick beard coming out from beneath the scarf showed hints of red underneath the wintery mix.

"Cousin Gloin!" Dis smiled with genuine warmth. "Almost a stranger to me now. I haven't seen you at the cabin in near on three months!"

Gloin grinned at her as he unwrapped his scarf, revealing the lower half of his face. "The last time I came over you had me mopping. Mopping! Axes I can handle, but not mops."

Fifteen year old Kili laughed, remembered the brief warm spell they'd had and the mixture of mud and slushy ice that Gloin had tracked in all over their mam's clean floor.

"I'll take an axe to you lot if you don't start cleaning up after yourselves a bit more." She lightly smacked Kili's ear, making the lad shift away slightly. "That goes for you too."

"I have some news."

Gloin's words gave Thorin pause and his hand hesitated as he reached for the last slice of nut bread before his nephews could steal it. But to the dwarven prince's eyes, his cousin didn't look upset or worried. Nothing urgent. He grunted and picked up his bread, continuing with lunch. Instead, he nodded at Fili. "Farmer Denish lives closer to the cabin than he does the town. Why are you lads out here? Did you need me?"

Fili looked down at his feet. Thorin looked over at Kili, and was surprised to see the youngster's face shining beet red.

"Kili?" Thorin prodded sternly.

Looking nothing short of harassed, the fifteen year old shot his mother a look of near panic.

Dis' mothering instincts kicked in quickly. "Something for your uncle but not your mam?"

Fili wiped the toe of his heavy boot against the back of his other boot. He didn't raise his blond head.

"If you don't ask, you won't learn. I won't guess and I've got work waiting for me and so do you two." Thorin had no patience for nonsense.

Fili twisted his mouth and spoke up, unable to look at his mam. "While I was working on the fence, Hafer said something about his sister."

Dis closed her eyes in consternation. She knew what was coming. "Let me guess, she's in seclusion?"

Thorin and Gloin both chuckled, shaking their heads. So that was it. Poor Dis.

Kili looked up, unsure. "Fili said that they said that she was in prison." He looked absolutely miserable at the thought.

Gloin's chuckle turned into an outright laugh, and even their uncle smiled a bit.

Dis sighed. "That's a less elegant way of saying the same thing."

"She's pregnant." Thorin decided to cut to the meat of the matter. "She's not going to be allowed around non-family, or humans, until she delivers safely. You know we protect our own."

Both sets of young eyes rounded with surprise. Fili grinned sheepishly. "What does it mean when they said that her husband finally woke up proper?"

Laughter stilled and Gloin coughed, looking away.

Thorin eyed his sister and grinned. "Ask your mam."

Dis sneered at her older brother. "Ask your uncle."

Gloin groaned and ran a hand over his beard. "Fili is how old now, twenty? He should be knowing this."

Kili stiffened, outrage on his young face. He did not want to be left out of the knowing.

Dis reached out and pushed her youngest on the shoulder with a soft laugh. "What one knows, so does the other. And Kili is too young."

"Am not!" The fifteen year old protested hotly.

"Oh by Nain's bearded ass." Thorin cursed and pointed at Kili's chin. "When you have more than a dusting of hair, we'll talk."

Fili, with a good two inches of full blond beard growth, grinned proudly.

"Language!" Dis' voice turned sharp as she glared at her older sibling. She sighed, wiping her hands on her leather trousers as she stood. "Thorin, tell them proper. Don't use coarse language and don't embellish."

"I have work." Thorin complained, not wanting to deal with this now. "Tomorrow. I'll speak to them tomorrow about ...this."

Kili's face fell into disappointment, nearly a pout.

"Tell ya what lads. I won't be telling you what you're not ready for." Gloin's voice held hints of something fun. Both Kili and Fili looked up hopefully. "But I'm headed over to the east woods. I hear there's a caravan with some beautiful horses passing through."

"Horses?" Fili's face froze for a second, then he grimaced.

"Elvish horses." Gloin promised. "Ridden by real elves. Flapping silk banners, pretty colors and golden armor. Real sight it is, so I'm told. Got word they're heading this way."

A large clatter of sound had the males all turning. Dis had dropped the empty stew pot. Kili's eyes narrowed as he stooped to help her pick it up. He looked concerned as he saw her hands were shaking. "Did you hurt yourself, mam?"

Dis shook her head, looking up with as bright a smile as she could manage. "So. We're to have elvish visitors to town, then?"

Gloin shook his head. "Naw. They were visiting kin, trading, or whatever prissy things elves do. Picking flowers, whatever."

"Picking flowers? It's dead winter." Fili laughed at the thought.

"With elves, maybe it's ice flowers. Who knows?" Gloin muttered. "But they're heading west and passing us by. The lads could come with me if'n you allow."

Dis' breath caught painfully, but she was saved from answering.

"Elves are useless and worthless." Thorin grunted. "These two would be better use finishing up the firewood deliveries."

Relieved beyond measure, Dis smiled. "And then perhaps you could explain a few salient facts to your nephews and take them along with you tonight to Tenol's naming day."

"Naming day?" Thorin coughed on his last bite of the nut bread. He turned his dark eyed gaze on his two nephews. "Are you sure they're ready for that?"

The last few years had wrought a lot of changes. Fifteen year old Kili was now taller than the twenty year old Fili, but only barely. Though Thorin was pretty sure the young dwarrow wasn't done growing just yet. Fili was still the broader of the two, especially through the chest.

In fact, Thorin mused, Kili looked a mite unfinished to him. There was heft to the lad's shoulders and a good deal of strength, but he doubted that he'd catch up to Fili in this area at least. And Fili had a beard. A short one, a bit patchy but filling in quickly, reaching a good two inches below his chin.

Kili, on the other hand ... Thorin frowned. Stubble was finally thickening on his face, but it stubbornly refused to fill out in length.

"Please?" Kili and Fili called in unison, pulling a reluctant smile from their uncle. A naming day ceremony? They'd never been allowed before.

"Thorin was just telling me the other night he thought you two were about ready." Dis continued, throwing Thorin to the wind.

"Really?" Kili perked up immediately. Fili's eyes got wide. They'd never been considered old enough to attend with Thorin before.

Thorin's eyes narrowed thoughtfully on his sister. He had asked her last week about taking Fili along to the naming ceremony for Tenol's son. She'd said no then, but now she was pushing off both lads on him for the night? Even her baby, Kili. He sighed at the though of taking the reckless youngster along.

"Fili might be ready." He allowed.

Kili's dark eyes filled with sudden fear that he might be left out of the fun. "Pleeeease?"

Dis shrugged, as if it were nothing. "They'll be with you, they'll be fine. And they both promise to behave."

"PROMISE!" Kili fairly bounced to his feet, his face eager and beseeching.

Thorin took a deep, audible breath. He was confused by his sister's abrupt change of heart on the matter. Still and all, it shouldn't be too bad of an evening. "Hmph. Fine."

Kili and Fili shared a victorious look. Seeing elves from afar was nothing compared to going to a dwarven naming ceremony!

Nervously Dis gathered up the empty dishes from the lunch she'd brought to the smithy for her brother. "Make sure they behave themselves. And be sure to explain the ways of reproduction without adding to their vocubulary any words that will get their ears boxed."

Thorin's head snapped up, glaring at his younger sibling. "I didn't agree to that."

"You did actually." Gloin pointed out most helpfully.

"No ale!" Dis pointed at both of her young sons, swinging her finger back and forth between the two.

Thorin soberly grimaced and sniffed as if smelling something foul. He turned to both of his young heirs. "Chores first, or we don't go at all. One of you messes up, you both stay home. I'll be home before dinner ...to talk." He snarled out the last word. "And your mam owes me."

"Yes uncle!" Both lads promised, looking far, far too happy. The two boys ran out of the smithy without further thought.

"Put on your scarves. Kili! Get your old hat from the dresser before delivering any more firewood today!"

Kili ran back into the area, grabbed his scarf with a wink. He then leaned in close to his mam and pressed a big, smacking kiss to her cheek. "Thank you for making uncle take me too."

Thorin scowled. "No one makes me do anything, child."

Kili gave a cocky grin and raced back out of the smithy, heading toward the home cabin.

Dis watched him go with a painful heart. Fifteen years. For fifteen years she'd hoarded his life, keeping him for herself. For Fili. Even for Thorin. Sometimes her brother would get so sad, and only Kili could tease him out of it.

She wanted fifteen more years. And then fifteen after that, and again and again. Dis knew she was being selfish. But she couldn't bring herself to write a letter. She didn't fool herself into thinking she'd do it one day. She knew enough to know that she should feel guilty about this. Yet she didn't.

She knew she never would.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili listened to his younger sibling singing while he bathed. He himself had already had a bath, the blessing of being the older of the two.

Thorin's 'talk' had been brief, to the point, and disappointingly bereft of details. Fili grinned. How shocked had their uncle been when Fili and Kili both confessed they knew what sex was. After all, they lived above ground. Lived around livestock and farmers. How could they not know?

And yet some of it had been new. Like how female dwarves were born different than males. Not the obvious physical difference, but the need for closeness difference. Stone. It all came down to having been a race initially created from stone.

Male dwarves had certain body parts. Fili grinned as he remembered how Kili had blushed when their uncle had said the word 'penis'. Well, that part of dwarrows while physically was made of flesh ...it reacted like stone. Asleep. Some dwarrows had bodies that remained asleep forever, content to focus on their craft alone and ignore making a family.

But when a dwarrow fell in love, his body 'woke up'. Reacted.

Kili hadn't been the only son of Dis who'd been blushing when Thorin had started describing what their bodies would actually do when it was no longer 'asleep'.

"Does it poke out when you see Ainir?" Kili called out from his bath.

Fili grinned at his mirrored reflection. "No. You?"

"No." Kili yelled back.

The two had been doing this for over an hour, naming off every female they knew. It seemed neither of them had an 'awake' body part. Not yet.

Thorin had rolled his eyes and called them both idiots when they'd started. He said it would be decades, if ever, they would have to face this issue. Fili frowned as he thought of his uncle. Thorin wasn't married, had never been married. But at least he wasn't upset by that fact. Thorin said you couldn't miss what you'd never experienced.

The male anatomy for a dwarrow was basically, stone. Unresponsive. Unless in love.

"Tissec?" Kili called out to him.

Fili's mouth fell open with shock. "She's older than uncle!"

The splashing stopped. Kili's voice turned horrified. "What if you do fall in love with an older dwarrowdam? Will it still poke out like uncle said?"

Fili shuddered at the thought. "No!" He lied. Maybe he lied.

Kili's voice turned hopeful. "Really? You're sure?"

"I'm sure!" The older brother squared his shoulders, staring at himself in the mirror. He wasn't really sure. But he could be mostly sure, for Kili's sake anyway. "Now shut up and get ready, if we keep uncle waiting he'll leave without us!"

The splashing of bath water resumed with a vengeance.

Chuckling, the blond looked in the cracked mirror in their shared room. He could still remember their mother's consternation when a 'wrestling' match turned into a near brawl and caused the damage. There wasn't enough money for extras. So they made do with the cracked mirror.

He'd heard a human girl once say that a broken mirror was seven years of bad luck. Nonsense. They'd broken this mirror over seven years ago with no ill consequences. The worst things that had ever happened to their family had taken place before he or his brother were even born. Dragon.

Sobering, Fili's smile faded as he stared at his face. He got his eyes from his mother, but the rest she said was all from his father. Tonight was the naming ceremony for a brand new baby dwarrow. He couldn't wait! Food, dancing, singing, and a taste of ale no matter what mam said. But first, the ceremony, with all the males naming their ... their ...fathers.

Fili's eyes moved to the part of the mirror reflecting the door to the brother's bedroom. Across the hall was the bathroom, with dwarven plumbing. A bathroom. And his baby brother. Happily splashing away.

Shit. Shit and damn. Shit, damn and shit again. Fili bared his teeth in a snarl. He could name his father. Kili could not. And the dark-haired younger dwarf probably hadn't even thought about that yet.

Bad enough that Kili got teased for not having much of a beard, or being too tall, and slender, and almost delicate looking for a dwarf. It helped that his chest was hairy, even if his chin wasn't. Still and all, it was going to be a proper humiliation for poor Kili tonight.

Fili's snarl turned vocal, a rumbling growl. His attention turned back to his mirrored reflection. There was NO way he was going to let that happen, not to Kili.

But how to deal with it?

Every male dwarrow would name himself and his line, meaning his father. It was tradition, especially for the heirs of noble blooded families ...like ...oh.

Fili grinned and got to work.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"You're bundled up tighter than a human." Thorin chuckled, watching Fili as they arrived at the dwarven meeting place. A large building on the outskirts of the human township. Very basic. Walls, plumbing, insulation, and ...well, dwarven basic varied from human basic. It was a quite comfortable space, but not luxurious.

Kili eyed his brother carefully. Fili had been ready to go before he'd started dressing. Even had his scarf wrapped around the lower portions of his face. "You getting a cold?"

Fili shook his head, pulling off his thick gloves first.

"Well, what do you expect? Tenol's a new groom, he got right to work the moment his body started waking up." Two dwarrows passed right by them as they spoke.

The comment had Thorin pausing, he shot a glance at Kili's face. The fifteen year old was blushing. He'd heard. "Ignore talk like that."

Kili mushed his lips together almost primly and shook his head quickly. Then he grinned. "You stopped before you could tell us HOW a male 'wakes up'."

Fili laughed, tugging off his cloak and shaking it off before hanging it up with the other cloaks. "Mam did tell us to talk to you, that you would explain it." He teased.

"I did explain." Thorin grumped, even if he had skipped over a few details. "And the rest you don't need to know yet."

Kili frowned for a moment, but couldn't hold the expression. He was too excited to be here. He was fairly bouncing up and down on his toes.

Thorin took all of their cloaks and tossed them toward a dwarrow who was hanging them all up on a triple row of stout pegs. He then looked over at where the kegs of ale were. "One drink, Fili. And your mam never need know."

The blond grinned outrageously wide. Kili's eyes grew huge and hopeful. Thorin sighed. "A sip. And I mean that. Just a taste."

Kili nodded vigorously as Fili pulled off his scarf. "I'll make sure he behaves." The older sibling said.

Laughing, Thorin turned to Fili in order to respond, and stopped suddenly. Staring at his first heir.

Fili grinned at him.

Kili looked up when he realized Thorin wasn't laughing anymore. He too glanced over at Fili, and then started staring. Wonder filled his dark eyes and suddenly he was laughing.

Fili's beard was gone. Trimmed down to a replica of Thorin's own shorter style. The only evidence that his beard had been longer was with the sides of his mustache, which now supported several beads.

Thorin tried to say something, stopped, then coughed. He pointed at Fili with a hard look. "Make sure your mother knows that I did not put you up to that. Fool." He narrowed his eyes on his heir. "And be damned sure that she doesn't smell ale on you tomorrow."

Fili gave his uncle a wide grin in acknowledgement, then he grabbed Kili's hand and made for one of the side tables. He watched as Thorin went over to join a group of dwarven elders. Once sure that the family patriarch was not watching, he snagged an ale, then another.

Kili sat down and stared as Fili downed half the first mug. The younger boy's mouth dropping open with shock. "Why?"

Fili grinned and winked "For you."

"Me?" Kili's voice squeaked a bit, then he grinned as Fili pushed the second mug over in front of him. "Really?"

"You may need it tonight." The blond sighed, then his smile faded into a more somber expressin. "Listen Kili, tonight. Follow my lead. No matter what, just do what I do."

"Why?" Kili took a cautious sip of ale, then made a delighted face. His next sip was more of a gulp. "This is really good."

Fili nodded.

"Lads joining us for the night?" Kili slid his mug an inch closer to his brother, making it look like it had been Fili's drink. They looked up into the face of a neighbor, one who was a tanner by trade.

"Sir." Fili and Kili both nodded.

The tanner eyed them both, then looked sadly at Kili. The dwarrow started to say something, stopped, and finally patted the fifteen year old on the shoulder. "Never mind. You'll be fine."

Puzzled, Kili nodded at the older male. He gave his brother a look of 'what am I missing here?'

Fili gave a weak smile of support.

The tanner's smile brightened, and he put a mug down in front of Kili. The dark-haired youth's eyes grew wide. The tanner put his finger over his mouth. "Just one won't hurt. Don't tell your mam."

Kili shook his head to show he would be complicit in keeping the secret from his mother. "Thank you!"

Fili watched the older male leave with a slightly shocked expression.

Kili drank his ale with a grin, feeling it warm him all the way down to his stomach.

Fili filched the mug from him and drained the remaining portion.

"Hey!" The younger brother straightened up in clear affront.

"I shared mine with you." The blond pointed out reasonably.

Kili grumbled, but settled back into his seat.

"You two look fine, fine!" A friend of Thorin's stepped by next, his work boots still gleaming wet from being outside. "About time we saw you at these things, Fili." He looked down at Kili and hesitated. "Your first time out for this kind of thing, yes?"

Kili nodded, wondering why the dwarf looked almost sad.

The dwarrow hestitated again, then smiled encouragingly. "Don't let it get you down." He put his mug down in front of Kili. "This will help, ya. But don't tell your uncle." He shivered. "Or your mam, right?"

"Right." Kili said with less enthusiasm. Something was going on, he just wasn't sure yet. After the dwarrow had moved on to another group, he looked balefully at his older brother. "He liked me yesterday."

"He likes you today." Fili grimaced, reaching over to snag the new mug of ale.

Kili beat him to it, wrapping both hands firmly around the full mug. "What?"

"Tonight might be a bit rough. Just ..." Fili sighed heavily. "Trust me."

The younger brother nodded immediately. He trusted Fili completely, he always had. Suddenly, he leg go of the mug his brother was still trying to take from him. Immediately the ale sloshed over the sides and covered Fili's hand.

"Kili!" The older brother snarled, wiping his wet hand on his tunic.

Taking advantage, Kili picked up the mug and drained it nearly half-way before his brother could stop him.

Fili grimaced and shook his head, taking the mug out of Kili's hands as the dark-haired young dwarf tried to stop coughing and sputtering. "Slow down."

"There you two are!"

Fili lost track of how many friends and distant relations stopped by their little table. Not all of them left ale for Kili, 'just because'. But more than a few.

By the time they'd been there an hour, Kili's head was on the table and Fili was leaning against it rather heavily himself. He'd drank as much as he could, to keep Kili's greedy little hands off of it.

"Why is everyone feeling sorry for me all of a sudden?" Kili's voice was low and Fili had to lean in to hear the question.

"Listen up, Kili. I need you to ..."

Fili didn't get to finish, as the stomping of boots signalled the start of the evening. The blond groaned and reached out blindly, taking a handful of his brother's dark wavy hair.

"Ow!" Kili protested as his brother pulled him upright.

"Shut up and make sure you pay attention to me and what I say, got it?"

Kili only managed to look confused even as he nodded.

Unfortunately, the confusion didn't last long. Around the room, each male dwarf stood one at a time. They didn't have time enough for a full recitation of bloodlines. This was a party! So each male named himself, a title if they had one, and the name of their father.

Kili's ale-fogged mind about shorted out. Soon it would be their turn. To stand. To name their ...fathers. "Shit!" Panicked, he pinned his eyes on Fili.

The blond nodded to him slowly.

Kili slowly began to calm down. It was okay. It was going to be okay. Fili had a plan.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Bofur knocked his mug of ale against Thorin's as he joined the small group of dwarves talking local politics. He wasn't related to the dwarvish prince, but they'd been friends a long time.

"Saw your nephew's beard." Bofur pointed out the obvious. "Takes after you." He didn't mention leaving a mug of ale for the two dwarrows, especially the one who was technically too young for it.

Thorin made a twisty kind of half-smile. "His mam will skin him alive when she sees."

"For that, or for giving young Kili ale?" Bofur pointed out, making a vague gesture over to where the two lads were seated. Again he didn't mention that he too had given the lad something to drink.

Perturbed, Thorin spun, his eyes narrowing on them. "Damn it." He tried to count the empty mugs on the table.

"Later." Bofur murmured. "They've started the naming."

Thorin glared at the two young dwarrows, only to sigh unhappily. They were ignoring him completely. Probably on purpose. They would both pay for that later. He had a whole list of odious chores with their names on it now.

Balin sidled up beside Thorin. "What are they going to do?"

Thorin grunted. He shot an evil look at his most trusted advisor. "All the dirtiest and grossest tasks I can find. Heavy lifting too."

Startled, Balin stared for a moment, "No ...I meant about ..."

"Too late now." Bofur pointed at the two heirs to Durin's Line. "They're going to have to name themselves."

Thorin shrugged, taking a long draught from his own mug of ale.

Balin sighed as Bofur frowned. "Who will Kili name as his father?"

Thorin froze, his mug caught mid-way coming down from his mouth. Uncomfortably he swallowed, coughing a bit as he did so. "I ...I didn't think of that." Why? Why hadn't he thought of that?

"Nothing to do about it." Bofur ducked his head and looked away. "It's their turn."

All of them stared as Fili stood up, his bearing straight and proud, showing off his new beard style. He grinned and looked out over the crowd. "I am Fili. I am the first son of Dis, and sister-son to Thorin known as Oakenshield. I am his first heir."

Murmurs and shock ran through the crowd. He'd not named his father, but had instead named his mother. His mother! The group looked on uneasily. Traditions were sacred to the dwarves, and this was bending them!

Kili stood next, looking so tall, and while broader than most humans, he appeared slender for a dwarf. "I am Kili. I am the second son of Dis, and sister-son to Thorin, known as Oakenshield. I am his second heir."

"Do you deny your fathers?" A bold voice barked out over the gathering.

Fili stood back up. "No. Never. But traditions state that higher bloodlines take precedence. Whose is higher than Durin's Line? Anyone?"

More murmers, more shifting of weight. A few grunts of both approval and disagreement. A father was always named, true tradition. But what the blond haired heir of Thorin's had spoken was also true. And Dis' bloodlines were far higher than her first husband. As for the second ...who knew? But chances were, she outranked them.

"Clever, clever lads." Balin nodded sagely. "Kili couldn't have done it on his own. It would have been clear he was hiding something. For Fili to do it first gives him credit."

Thorin sighed, his tension fading. "I hadn't thought. I didn't remember." He winced, thinking of the sheer embarrassment this might have caused Kili. And the entire family.

"Because you're Durin's Line, you can get away with this." Bofur said thoughtfully, and with some pride. "Fili has a good head on his shoulders."

"That head'll be knocking in the morning." Balin winced. "He's got another ale."

Thorin thought about it, then shrugged. "He deserves it, especially tonight. He deliberately shaped his beard like mine, then attached himself to me rather than his father. All so Kili could do the same with pride instead of shame." He raised his mug.

Thorin leaped onto the table next to him, standing before the gathered dwarrows. Silence filled the large room. The prince in exile lifted his mug high. "To my heirs."

"To your heirs!" Those around him drank deeply and with pleasure.

Thorin wasn't done. "To our ancestors!" He made a motion to Bofur, who handed him a fresh mug, which he drained.

"To our ancestors!" The yelling grew louder as every voice joined in.

Thorin looked at Balin, who unhesitatingly handed him up a third mug. "To our home under the mountain. To EREBOR!"

"TO EREBOR!"

Balin grinned, looking around the room and the flowing support for Thorin and his two heirs. It was a perfect moment.

Except for one thing.

"Dis is going to kill us all." Balin whispered, shaking his head as he watched Kili's head fall back onto the table. The same table that Fili slid down under, still grinning like a fool.

Chapter Text

A/N: The big reveal is here. And I'm nervous! I really hope that you enjoy.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis looked at all three faces in exasperation and not a little anger. She tightened her lips, blatently upset as she stood in the doorway. "Do you know what time it is?"

Thorin frowned sharply as snow blew in around the cold, wet and tired trio of males. "I know it's a damned sight colder out here than it is in there. Let us in, Dis."

The dwarrowdam showed him her teeth in a rumbling growl, but stepped aside while holding open the door. Mortified, she watched as Fili and Thorin dragged Kili in with them, her baby's arms around their necks. His head hung down, his dark hair wet and streaked with snow.

Thorin stared at the wall is if he didn't have a care or concern in the world. On the other hand, young Fili flinched as his mother walked up beside him. He couldn't meet her gaze as she came close to inspect his new beard style and mustache beads.

But his heartrate really picked up when Dis moved to stand right in front of Kili. Fifteen year old drunken Kili. Dis bent down to look into her youngest's face. His nose and cheeks were red, and she knew it wasn't from the cold. "Where is his hat and scarf?" She asked very nicely.

Thorin's eyes closed. He hadn't thought to retrieve them for the trip home. The lad was at least wearing his gloves and thick cloak.

She looked right at Fili, and the young blond stood his ground. Barely. This was his mother after all. "Can you get both of yourselves upstairs to your room without breaking your foolish necks?"

Honestly, Fili wasn't sure. He hesitated.

Without a word, Thorin turned and headed for the stairs. Towing Kili, and by extension Fili as well. It was slow going, but they made the journey without injury or fall.

Thorin didn't tuck them in. He felt he'd done his duty when he all but tossed Kili onto his narrow bed and pulled his cloak and boots off. He turned and found Fili laying crossways of his bed, his head hanging over the other side.

With a grunt, Thorin pulled off his older nephew's boots and swung his feet until the lad was lying on his bed in the proper direction at least.

"Night. That was fun."

Thorin stopped at the door, a disconcerted look crossing his face. He turned and looked over at his younger nephew. The lad's eyes were closed, but a smile played along his mouth. "It was, wasn't it? Night lads."

Fili's mumble was near unintelligible.

Thorin headed downstairs, unmindful of the heavy tread of his boots on the floorboards. His nephews would soon be passed out or so deep asleep a ground tremor wouldn't rouse them.

Dis was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. Thorin didn't even pause as he walked right by her, heading to the shelving where his sister kept her linen. Taking a towel, Thorin opened the back door of the cabin and broke off a large icicle from the roof overhang.

"What have you got to say for yourself?" Dis demanded.

Thorin broke the icicle into pieces and wrapped the towel around them. He marched by her into the sitting room and sank into his favorite chair. He put the ice pack on his temple.

"I said, what ..."

Thorin interrupted her deliberately. "Don't talk to me. I have no desire to hear your voice." His voice sounded cold, almost cruel.

Dis reared back, crossing her arms in temper. "How dare you ..."

"How dare YOU!" Thorin snapped back.

The dwarrowdam circled around his chair to look at him, her face clouded with worry as well as anger.

The dark-haired prince pointed an accusatory finger at his younger sibling. "A naming ceremony. You basically pawned your children off on me with a naming ceremony."

"Where they weren't supposed to drink!" She screeched in outrage.

"WHERE THEY NEEDED TO KNOW THE NAMES OF THEIR FATHERS!" Roared Thorin.

Hissing in shock, Dis recoiled, a hand moving to cover her mouth. Her eyes wide with instant distress.

"So. You didn't think of that." Thorin's temper cooled a bit. "Neither did I."

Dis began pacing, her mind whirling with the implications. "How badly is he hurting? Did you take care of it? Is that why you let him drink? Honestly, brother mine, he's a baby!"

Thorin shrugged, rubbing the ice pack against the side of his head. "I didn't have to do much of anything. Fili took care of his brother."

"Fili?" Dis stopped, her surprise evident in her stare.

"Fili." The dwarven prince asserted. "First of all, he shaved his beard to mimic mine." He pinned his sister with a quick look. "And no, I didn't make him do that."

"It'll grow back out." Dis waved her hand as if telling him to get on with the story.

Thorin smirked at her. "No, I don't think he'll let it grow back out. Not after he went to so much trouble to align himself to me, in both outward appearances and naming a line through you, and me."

Dis drew back, utterly shocked. "He didn't name Nehili?" The very thought made her heart ache as if breaking.

"He is Fili. First son of Dis. Sister-son of Thorin and he named himself my heir."

Dis sank to the floor beside the fireplace, looing into the flames as if seeking something in their chaotic movements.

Thorin wasn't done yet, though. "Kili copied him, like I'm sure his brother told him to. It was a sight and a sound to behold."

She gave her brother a watery, weak kind of smile. "And then you let them drink themselves into a stupor."

"Whose son is he, Dis?" Thorin asked wearily. "What is Kili's line?"

He watched his younger sister, the only immediate family member he had left to him, as a tear rolled down one cheek. "I can't." She whispered forlornly, her hands pulling her thick robe even tighter around her. Whether her chill was inward or outward, he couldn't tell.

Thorin growled, then paused. "Fine. Don't answer that question. Instead, tell me something else." He put his free hand on the arm of his chair, the fingers drumming a quick rhythm.

Dis stiffened, waiting to hear what he was going to ask.

"Did he hurt you?" Thorin's dark eyes seemed piercing as he willed her to answer.

Dis sucked in a shallow breath, then exhaled as she spoke, her voice a near whisper. "No."

Thorin grunted, a bit ashamed that it had taken him fifteen years to even ask that question. "Is there a reason, any reason ...I mean, did he give you cause to ... Damn it all! Did he act shamefully?"

Giving her cause to leave him, she knew that was the real question. Truthfully she answered, "no."

"Why did you marry him?" Thorin tried that one next.

Dis watched her brother carefully. "Because Frerin was dead and you were getting ready to fight for Moiria. Because grandfather asked me to." Others too, but she didn't want to go into those particular details.

"If I had died at Moiria." Along with their grandfather, he didn't say that part aloud. "That would have left just you and Fili." Thorin sighed, he'd already worked that part out for himself. Obviously their grandfather had wanted more heirs, in case anything should happen.

Dis moaned, remembering that harsh time in her life. Death after death. Loss after loss.

"He loved you." Thorin sounded as weary as he felt. "He had to have loved you or his body wouldn't have 'woken up' to sire a child."

Dis' eyebrows rose at that piece of speculation. Maybe it had been a mistake to have Thorin speak on reproduction with her sons. Dwarrow reproduction.

"He wasn't uncaring." She lied without lying. Her second husband hadn't loved her, he'd been lost in his own grief. But he had never been unkind or harsh with her.

Thorin groaned, leaning his head back in his chair, he shivered slightly. Dis got up without speaking and stoked the banked fire back to life. The dark-haired princed watched his sister as she moved back into the kitchen, where he could hear her moving around. A few minutes later she was back with a strong mug of good dwarven black tea.

"Kili deserves to know the name of his father." Thorin said, his temper having cooled.

Dis pressed her lips together stubbornly. She looked away and then back at her brother. "He belongs to you. He is your second heir. It is more than enough."

Thorin grunted, thinking of his charming rascal of a nephew and his laughter that could make a whole room full of grumpy dwarves smile. "Mine?" It was a question.

Dis nodded firmly.

Thorin's face turned solemn. "Then he trains to be an archer, starting tomorrow."

Dis stood up abruptly, anguish in her eyes. "I've explained already my objections!"

The dark-haired prince gave her a lengthy look. "And I held back because of them. Kili isn't strong enough to be a master with the axe, and while more than decent with blades he is truly a wonder with his bow. Since you say he's mine now, then I decide on his training. He is great with a bow."

"For hunting!" Dis nearly wailed in denial. "Not as a main weapon to master."

Thorin sighed and pointed a commanding finger at his younger sister. "He named himself my heir. You agreed that he is mine. And as that is the case, he will start training formally tomorrow."

"It's not a proper weapon for a dwarf." Dis bit her tongue and turned away, lest her brother could read her expression.

Thorin waffled his hand back and forth and made a concilatory noise in his throat. "He's more than passing fair with the weapon, with the eye of a hawk." He smiled gently. "Fili is my lion, and Kili will be my bird of prey. My hawk. My right and my left hand."

Dis caught her breath painfully, still not turning to look at him. "You're dreaming of Erebor."

"Thinking, not dreaming. Planning, plotting, making strategies. Never a dream." Thorin's voice hardened. "But not now, not yet."

"You'll take my children on a fool's quest."

"It's their home too, even if they've never seen it yet." Thorin bit out the words harshly. "I thought you wanted this."

Dis nodded, finally turning to look at him. "I do. I just worry."

Thorin yawned heavily and sipped his tea, letting it warm him up. "Sister? Is there any shame in Kili's blood?"

"No." She didn't even hesitate.

Thorin nodded carefully. "Then as of tonight I am taking charge of the lad's training, both of them." Not that he hadn't been already teaching them, but more along what his sister would allow. Not anymore. "Blades for Fili. The bow for Kili. Secondary weapon training. Strategy. Strengthening."

Dis fought back her instinctive objection, because she was unable to tell her brother why she truly worried about Kili's primary weapon.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis smiled as she stirred the big stew pot hanging over the fire in the kitchen hearth. She sniffed, deciding the mixture needed a touch more of pepper. Only she was out of pepper.

The back door of the cabin opened with a screeching sound and the dwarrowdam winced. "Fili! I have asked you to mend that hinge!"

Kili grinned and stepped in behind his mam, towering over her by a good foot. He kissed the top of her head on the dark coiled braids only starting to hint at silver. "Wrong son!"

"Kili!" Dis spun and grabbed her youngest in a tight hug. "Oh, I wasn't expecting you for another few days!"

The cheeky dwarrow laughed and wrapped his arms around her, tightening his hug until she squeaked in protest.

"I thought I heard the sounds of rampaging beasts stampting through here. Kili!"

Fili swept into the cabin's kitchen with a wide grin and the two brothers reuinited happily, hugging and slapping each other on the back hard enough to drop a full grown stag.

Dis smiled happily. She hadn't liked not having them around. Fili had been escorting a group of humans to the next town as a paid guard. Kili had been on an extended hunting trip in the mountains.

Their mother eyed her sons with deep love, cataloguing every line, every motion, every expression. Fili, now filled out to a proper fine dwarrow, was at his peak at 82 years. Kili was the taller by far, yet more slender than his brother. Still, the years looked good on him and at 76 he was considered a full adult by dwarvish standards. "You're both still my babies."

Both brothers turned and grinned at their mother, laughing at her tender expression, but at the same time loving it as well.

"I've been back a day already, what happened to you?" Fili punched his younger sibling in the arm.

Kili never dropped his smile. "Was busy."

"Problems?" Fili's eyes sharpened with concern.

The younger brother's smile only grew. "Two stags, eight and ten points each. They took a while to butcher and clean. And to haul back."

"Nice!" Fili beamed proudly. "Could have used you on this last trip. Not used to not having you with me."

Dis sniffed, having been the reason Kili hadn't accompanied his older brother on this job. She had asked him to stay back this time, to 'help' her out.

"Oh?" Kili moved and leaned around his mother to sniff at her stew in appreciation.

"Saw some elves in the town." Fili shrugged. Which wasn't unusual for the area he'd been travelling in. "They were carrying these great long bows and looked so damned proud."

Kili sneered at the thought. "Uncle Thorin would have choked on his own tongue."

Fili slapped his brother's cheek playfully. "Wanted you to have been there, to challenge them. See how they stack up to a real dwarven archer."

Dis deliberately turned her back, stirring the stew slowly, and unnecessarily.

Kili blushed happily and held up his hands in surrender. "More likely you just wanted to see me humiliated. They're ancient, they've had a LOT more practice with their bows than I have."

The blond dwarf leaned in, the beads braided into his hair catching the glow from the hearth. "I wanted to see you wipe their noses in their false superiority!"

The darker haired dwarf shook his head and laughed, shrugging. "Wasn't there. You know mam said she needed me here. And I did bring in more than a fair amount of game while you were out having fun."

Fili groaned and shook his head, his blond braids keeping his lengthy hair out of his face. "Fun? It was boring."

Dis smiled fondly at her two fine sons, filling generous bowls of the plain stew for them. "Out of pepper, I'm sorry."

Kili shrugged, digging his spoon into his meal with true enthusiasm. "I've got plenty of furs to trade, mam. I'll pick you up some pepper tomorrow."

"Thank you." Dis nodded at her youngest.

Fili grinned, his mouth full of stew as he cocked his head toward the sitting room. "Letter from Uncle arrived today."

"News?" Kili mumbled, his mouth so full that Dis scowled at him and he dropped his head, abashed. Picking up his napkin as an afterthought.

The blond shrugged. "Haven't opened it yet, waiting for tonight."

Dis' hand, reaching to smooth back Kili's hair, hesitated. "I pray good news." She murmured. Thorin had gone west after hearing rumors of their missing father possibly wandering the area.

Sobering at the reminder of Thorin's mission, both dwarrows let their smiles slip away. They eyed each other over the dinner table, hoping that the letter from their uncle wouldn't be telling them bad news.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis stared out the cabin's window, unseeing in the darkness outside. Her heart was pounding with fear, hope, and something akin to panic.

Thorin's letter was clutched in her numb fingers.

"Where is Bree?" Fili poured over a map, scowling in concentration. "I can't find it."

Kili moved his brother's hand and stabbed at a point on the map. "Here!"

Excitement bubbled beneath the surface with both the young males. Their Uncle Thorin needed them! They were being called!"

Dis bit down on her tongue. It would do her no good to protest. And she couldn't claim that either lad had to stay home, not this time. She could hear the excitement and need in their rumbling voices. They wanted to go. They NEEDED to go.

And both were adults. Dis' mouth twisted with regret and worry. At least one was definately an adult. The other? Considering Kili's father, she wasn't exactly sure. Seventy-six, with a birthday less than a month away. For the first time she wondered what the lad's father would say sending him off on a quest like this. By dwarrow standards, he was old enough.

"Gimli will be pissing mad about this for years!" Kili crowed, thumping the table with glee. Their cousin was considered to young for this quest.

Dis' eyes closed in consternation. She'd rather Fili and Kili stayed home. But that wasn't the way of children. They grew. They made their way in the world.

And these two were Thorin's heirs. The Line of Durin. Durin's Folk. They really didn't have a choice, not if they cared for their people.

Fili rubbed his hands together with glee. "And this wizard? What's he like?"

Kili laughed and shrugged. "Who knows? But a wizard is bound to be good luck!"

Dis had nearly had a small heart attack when she'd read the part about a wizard, until she realized it wasn't the same person. This Gandalf wizard was named 'the grey'. The one that had officiated at her second marriage had worn a different color. White.

Still. Didn't wizards all know each other? She didn't know. Wizards were a mystery to her, and to most others as well.

"We are supposed to meet up in one of these five locations, where Thorin will leave word on where we will all gather." Kili sounded so enthusiastic that it made a mother's heart ache.

Fili clapped his hands together. "Uncle Thorin sent out loads of letters. How many do you think will answer his call?"

Kili shrugged. "This is a quest for Erebor. All of them!" Fili seemed to think the number would be less than that.

"When do you leave?" Her voice sounded raspy as she spoke her first words in over an hour.

Fili came up behind her and gave her shoulders a huge squeeze. "Not for a week at least. There are preparations to make."

"Don't worry, mam." Kili called out from the table holding the maps. "I won't forget to bring you that pepper, I'll make sure to pick it up in town while we're getting supplies. In fact, make me a list of what you'll need, it may be a while before we return."

A tear welled in the dwarrowdam's eye, but she refused to let it fall. "Thank you, my son."

As if being out of pepper was her greatest concern.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili nudged Fili, nodding his head at the spectacular view.

The blond nodded, his own eyes wide with wonder. Rivendell. The grand arches, the white stones, the seemingly tame waterfalls, all of it hard to catch in a single glance.

Off behind them, they could hear their uncle arguing with Gandalf.

Fili leaned over and whispered to his younger brother. "Mam will not be happy when she hears about this part."

Kili snickered in agreement. Their mother had never wanted to go anywhere near where elves might be visiting. This visit to one of their major residences? Beyond comprehension. "We won't tell her." He whispered back.

Fili nodded sagely, winking at the darker haired dwarf. "She never needs to know."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

One by one the dwarven company of Thorin Oakenshield passed by their host's seneschal, or whatever his rank might be. Lindir.

Maybe Lindir. Fili frowns. With the weird lilt in the voices of the elves when they say their words, he wasn't quite sure. "Yes?" He asks, as the elf in quesion turns to stare at him in curiousity.

Kili stops, watching his brother's interaction with the tall elf who towered over them all. Even Dwalin and Kili himself.

"Your braids." Lindir commented in his silky, metered voice. "Do they have meaning?"

Kili and Fili shared a glance. Elves could be curious? Wow. The blond nodded. "They have meaning."

Lindir walked around the blond haired dwarf, who tensed and tried to keep him sight as he was circled.

All of the dwarves tensed up, unsure of what to make of this male elf who moved quieter than a mouse and showed few expressions on his face. Not a wrinkle in sight, not even from the sun. "Will you share that meaning?"

Fili looked at Thorin, who frowned. The young dwarf shrugged. "It's not something we share easily." He side-stepped the issue, hoping the elf would pick up on his cue. Don't ask things we can't tell you, because you're not one of us.

Lindir, or maybe-Lindir, nodded slowly. He stopped behind Fili, who fought the urge to pull out a bladed weapon. "Do the beads have meaning?"

"Some of them." Dwalin stepped in to answer, relieving Fili.

"Indeed." Lindir nodded. "Thank you."

"At your ...ahem, well. You're welcome." Fili amended at the last moment. If he offered service to an Elf, what might that mean? He shot a puzzled look at Thorin, but his uncle looked no less enlightened than he felt.

The tall elf didn't move his head, but his eyes slid smoothly across the group of dwarves, studying their features. "Might I inquire as to your names?"

Thorin frowned sharply, but could think of no good reason to insult their hosts before Gandalf had gotten a chance to find out if Lord Elrond could or would help them read their map. Thrain's map. He nodded.

Bofur stepped up. "I'm Bofur. My brother Bombur, and over there is my cousin, Bifur." He pointed at each in turn.

"Dwalin." The bald and tattoo bearing dwarf grumbled out his name reluctantly. "My brother, Balin."

Lindir and the white-haired Balin gave each other small nods of acknowledgement.

Dori spoke up next, naming himself Ori and Nori as brothers as he shuffeled his feet, uncomfortable with being chummy with such persons as elves.

"Oin is my brother, and I'm Gloin." The bushy bearded dwarf went next, his voice a deep rumble of dissatisfaction and distrust.

"Fili ..."

"And Kili ..."

The two brothers bowed in unison.

Lindir looked at the two in question, looking from the bright eyed and bright haired dwarf over to the dark-eyed and dark haired dwarf. "Brothers as well?" He guessed.

Fili grinned. "He's the baby."

Kili made a face. "Only by five years."

The dwarven prince cleared his throat. "They are my nephews and heirs. I am Thorin Oakenshield. But then, you knew that." He nodded over at the smallest member of their company. "That's our Hobbit."

"The Hobbit has a name." Grumbled the personage in question. "Bilbo Baggins, of the Shire. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance."

"And I yours."

Lindir's voice sounded cautiously pleased to Kili. But then with elves, no one could be quite sure of their true feelings. He wondered, did elves ever feel anything deeply?

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Lord Elrond was contemplating. It involved no movement beyond the workings of his sharp mind. Thorin Oakenshield. With dwarven warriors. Leading them ...where? He didn't like the places that his mind was taking him.

Yet they had Mithrandir. And a halfling. What did that mean?

Thorin's voice came back to him, stating that his grandfather had never mentioned Elrond to him. Surely that was an untruth? Or was it? Had King Thror shared his plans with his grandson?

Would a grandfather do that? Or would he keep the counsel close? A question, a question. And did it even matter anymore?

Yes. It mattered. For if Thorin wasn't true, then what was the purpose of the lie? And if Thorin was speaking true, did that have a meaning as well?

A small sound came to him, the scuff of a soft slipper on the stones near the entrance to this private terrace. "Lindir?"

"My Lord Elrond." The seneschal bowed with deep respect, having waited at the curved archway until his presence was noted and summoned forth.

The stately and graceful leader of Rivendell nodded at the other elf. "Our guests are all settling in?"

Lindir's mouth tightened very slightly in some consternation. "Perhaps too well." He allowed. "The terraces given over to them may never be the same again. They request ale, but our supplies of that beverage are limited. They do seem fine with wine though."

Lord Elrond smiled slightly.

But Lindir didn't move away. He hesitated for a moment, catching his leader's attention. "There was something else?" The question was asked gently.

Lindir seemed uncertain. "The young blond dwarf?"

Lord Elrond thoughts moved to the dwarrow mentioned. He nodded, not having paid close attention. "Problem?"

"Small bead in his braids. It has a sigil on it." Lindir seemed puzzled.

"From wence?" Lord Elrond asked, his attention reluctantly pulled from more important matters.

"Rivendell, my lord."

His attention turned more towards his seneschal at that answer. "Indeed." He drew out the word and then lost himself in consideration. Finally he asked, "the sigil?"

"Just a horse, my lord. No request for safety, surety or passage. A token though." His mouth turned slightly downward for but a second before smoothing back out.

"Elrohir?" If Lord Elrond was startled by this connection, he hid it behind a mask of smooth politeness. "But he has no love or market with dwarves."

Lindir bowed, making no comment. "I don't know that it matters, but the dwarf in question is the nephew and perhaps heir of Thorin, their leader."

"Their king-in-exile." Elrond corrected gently, surprised by this bit of information. "Never mind. I know who gave the bead to the dwarf. A matter of many years ago, I do believe he was no more than a child at the time."

Lindir bowed again, backing away with respect and leaving his own leader to his thoughts.

Elrond filed away this small piece of information, having solved the minor mystery of the bead. He could remember the day that his son Elrohir had pulled the simple token from his own lengthy hair. Not for himself, no. But for Elladan.

Did the young dwarf know the significance oh his token? That he might request aid or succor from the elves and be reasonably sure of his reception? Most likely not, Elrond mused quietly.

Did Mithrandir?

Elrond thought that one over, and decided probably not as well. The events of long ago had been secretive at best. And he knew Saruman wasn't fond of oversharing information.

The idea that seemed so outlandish now, had seemed so plausible then. Elrond's son Elladan had lost his only love to an orcish raid in the mountains as she travelled. King Thror's granddaughter had lost her husband in one of the many battles the dwarves had faced since their exile.

The dwarven king needed another heir, in case Thorin fell or his grandson didn't live beyond childhood. He was facing the end of his direct bloodline.

Elrond had been desperate for a way to keep Elladan from fading. For not only would he lose his son, but he feared for the boy's twin brother. The two were so close. If Elladan faded, what was to keep Elrohir from following?

He wasn't proud of pressuring his son into marriage with a dwarven princess, but hoped that a child born from the union would help to anchor his son to this world.

The idea may have seemed less than sane, but when Saruman had approached him, he could only see the light of the Eldar fading from his son's eyes. Saruman had made it sound so very reasonable, and a chance to unite all three major races. Human and Elven through the father, and a direct blood connection to Durin the Deathless on the side of the mother. He'd agreed.

No child had come, of course. And the dwarven princess had fled after her grandfather's death. But perhaps the effort of trying to stay within the world had worked, for Elladan, while deeply grieving for many years ...had not faded.

Something had held him here, and for that, Elrond was beyond grateful. Even if his son had lost much of his humor, and would sometimes stare off into the mountains with such sadness.

So even without a child, the marriage seemed to have worked. Even if it hadn't lasted. Not that it mattered to Elladan, he would never love again. Once in a lifetime, that was the Elvish truth.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Lindir moved around the kitchens, directing the staff on what to do and serve for their guests. Busy in mind and body.

It never occurred to him to think that he hadn't mentioned to Lord Elrond that Thorin's heir had a younger sibling.

Chapter Text

Dori seemed apprehensive as he and the other dwarves listened to Gandalf's plan. "But it's plain rude to leave without acknowledging our host, or thanking them."

"Better to be rude than to be stopped." Nori replied, nodding at the tall wizard in their midst.

Thorin looked at his people, pinning each one individually with a gaze before moving on to the next dwarf. Finally his gaze settled on their dimunitive burglar. Bilbo looked uneasy. "I agree with Gandalf, this will be the best way. We have to be at the Lonely Mountain before the end of Durin's Day. We can not afford to be delayed."

Ori made a reluctant sound and Balin frowned over at him. "Sneaking out seems so ...so ..."

"Sneaky?" Kili piped up, grinning like a loon. He held a handful of grapes, popping them one at a time into the air in order to catch it with his mouth.

Dwalin spoke up, his voice dry. "Kili's ready to leave since none of the elf-maidens will flirt back with him." The next grape that the young prince tossed into the air, the tattooed dwarf caught in his fist.

Thorin's eyebrows rose at that and Kili lost his grin, shaking his head. "No, no." The young dwarf prince tried to look innocent even as he shot an uncertain glance at Dwalin.

"Your mam would have your head, and then mine." Thorin muttered darkly.

Gandalf stepped forward, looking earnest. "You won't be sneaking out of Rivendell. It's not possible by any road. You will just pack up and leave, without word."

"Walk right out?" Dwalin scoffed. "And they'll just let us?"

Thorin nodded, his gaze fierce as he laid out the plan. Again. "If we tried to sneak out, we'd fail. But if we simply leave, as if we have every right, and the guards haven't been told to stop us ... then we're out."

"And the guards won't have been told to stop us?" Ori asked, still uncertain.

"Lord Elrond will be with Gandalf, discussing ...things." Thorin let out a sharp breath as he rubbed the back of his neck. "The grand Elf Lord won't suspect, or expect, us to leave without word."

Fili looked over at Gandalf, his expression suspicious. "I thought this Lord Elrond is a friend of yours?"

"He is." Gandalf allowed. "Oh, he is. And I sincerely hope he will remain such. But I feel that he is going to try and talk me out of our quest." The tall wizard smiled almost benignly. "I happen to think this quest is very important and should not be halted."

Dori scratched his neck as he thought it all over.

Thorin stood, growling in the way he had that drew attention. "This is not up for debate. Gandalf is heading out shortly, to meet with Lord Elrond. As soon as they are meeting, we are leaving." He made a smooth hand gesture on the last word, a sweeping move that drew every eye.

"But what about Gandalf?" Balin asked the obvious. "He won't be with us."

"Which is why none of them will expect us to leave." Thorin said with a hint of a smile.

"Oh! Because we wouldn't dare leave our wizard behind!" Kili grinned happily at his conclusion.

Gandalf sighed a bit. "Exactly so, although I'm not your wizard, youngster."

Kili threw a last grape high in the air, catching it in his mouth as he laughed.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Lindir apologized to Lord Elrond, he had not thought to close the paths out of Rivendell. He did not blush, but he was a bit put off about having to deliver this news not only to his own leader, but other august company.

The White Council was silent, outwardly. Galadriel was peering at Gandalf the Grey, an indulgent half-smile gracing her beautiful face. While Saruman the White was staring with a blank expression at the morgul blade that he'd just denied could belong to the Witch-King.

Elrond turned to look at Gandalf, who managed to look both abashed and yet strangely pleased with himself. "They go to their deaths."

"Perhaps not." Gandalf rejoined. "It is dangerous, I will admit."

Saruman snorted in his high-handed manner. "Dangerous you call it? Suicide. That dragon will awaken and be angry. Those dwarves won't be enough to slake the dragon's temper. And then the dragon will be unleashed, then what will you have wrought?"

"Do not underestimate the dwarves." Gandalf replied evenly.

"You overestimate them." Saruman was unconvinced.

The Grey Wizard sighed patiently, always respectful to the leader of their order. "If you fear for them, help would be appreciated I'm sure."

Elrond's mouth twisted and he shook his head. "Glorfindel would test his strength against a dragon."

Galadriel tilted her head toward the elf who had married her daughter, Celebrian. "My dear Lord Elrond, Glorfindel would test his strength against stone itself if the opportunity arose."

Lindir continued to hesitate by the archway, but refrained from interrupting his leaders or their guests.

Saruman made a vague motion dismissively at the elven seneschal. "The dwarves should be stopped. Their mission is one of fools."

"Should they be stopped?" Gandalf asked in his humblest tone. "That dragon is a menace that could be turned into a weapon against us."

"By an enemy already long vanguished." Dismissed Saruman the White, his voice ringing with authority and surety.

Galadriel turned and looked outwardly, as if enjoying the view. She was not.

"Do you see anything, my Lady Galadriel?" Lord Elrond asked softly.

"No." The Lady of Light's voice was ethereal, her tone almost wistful. "There will be death, there will be life, but whose I can not say." Her voice trailed off, as if there was more but she was not ready to speak further.

Saruman stood, his posture fairly regal as he gave Gandalf a disapproving look. "Why waste your time on fools?"

"Perhaps I am a fool as well." Gandalf answered mildly.

"Perhaps you are." Saruman acknowledged.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Bofur had first watch, which was good. Because Kili was still feeling a bit shaken. It was one thing to be brave for yourself, it was another entirely to fear you'd lost your brother.

Fili laid out his blankets, using his pack to cushion his head. Kili moved next to him, doing the same. They laid there for several long minutes, back to back in their cold camp because Thorin had ordered no fires.

"I'm fine." Fili finally muttered.

Kili nodded, even though he knew his older brother couldn't see him. He hadn't smiled since he'd watched Fili trapped with several others of their company, stuck on a ledge that wasn't a true ledge but part of a great stone giant.

Fili, feeling the tension in his younger sibling, sighed and rolled over. He eyed the back of Kili's hair. "You need a wash."

Kili gritted his teeth.

"When you were flirting with the elf maids?" Fili leaned in and whispered next to his baby brother's ear. "Did it poke out?"

The long familiar joke had a snort of laughter escape Kili's mouth despite his best efforts.

"It did, didn't it?" Fili pushed against his shoulders. "I'm going to tell mam."

Kili snorted and tried to swallow his laughter, his shoulders shaking with effort. "No! No it didn't."

Fili reached out and briskly rubbed his sibling's shoulder before rolling back on his other side. "Get some sleep."

Nodding, Kili felt better. Fili was always there for him. And the ache he'd felt in the center of his chest when for those brief moments he'd wondered if his brother had fallen began to slowly recede. "I won't rest well until we're in Erebor."

Fili grinned up at the cavern ceiling. "Erebor."

The other dwarves around them added their voice to the quiet pledge. Except Bombur. He was already snoring.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Lord Elrond felt ...unsettled. He watched as young Estel pointed out various plants in the garden to his tutors.

"The lad grows tall." Galadriel moved silently for one in long robes, almost the embodiment of light that she was sometimes proclaimed.

The indulgent foster father looked at his charge, all of around ten years old. "He does indeed."

"Arwen is a delight to the senses." Galadriel offered the sentiment with a soft smile of her own. "I sorrow that I felt it necessary to leave her in Lorien for this visit." Speaking of her beautiful granddaughter, and Elrond's only daughter.

Elrond nodded, knowing that Galdriel had not intended to stay as she had for the past several days. What had been meant to be a short meeting of the White Council had turned into something else entirely.

"Mithrandir is away." Galadriel said, a question and not a question. She already knew the answer.

"Saruman left but an hour after." Lord Elrond said, and then he paused. "Do you believe the old enemy has found a way to return?"

Quiet fell on the duo as they watched young Estel try and explain the differences in two types of flowers, and why they were important. Elrond knew his question had been heard, and he knew better than to succumb to impatience.

"I have no answer for that." Galadriel said quiety some time later. "Possible, probable, fear and hope. They cloud me."

Surprised, Elrond turned and gave the mother of his wife a long glance. It wasn't often that Galadriel confessed to feeling confused on a matter.

"There is a shadow. A veil." The Lady of Lorien continued. "Death comes, but then death always comes."

Elrond nodded, his features carefully schooled. "Perhaps since you have stayed already, you could wait but a day or two more. Elrohir and Elladan have sent word, they will be here soon."

The clouds passed as Galadriel smiled with true warmth. "How are my daughter's sons?"

"Elrohir is strong and well." Elrond said quietly. "Elladan remains quiet, but he is still with us."

Galadriel nodded slightly, her eyes moving around the lovely garden. "I would greet them before I leave."

Elrond bowed his head to her, pleased.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili maneuvered so that he was next to his brother as they stood before the Goblin King, listening to his awful singing and self-praising.

Kili stood tall, his eyes seeking out possible weapons and escape routes. Beside him, Fili was doing the same.

The Goblin King looked over them all with undisguised greed. His eyes fell on Kili and he twisted his head as if in thought. "This one is almost to pretty to be a dwarf."

Kili's fists clenched at the insult. Fili's hand on his shoulder made him settle down. Abide. Wait for opportunity.

Like a wizard.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"My Lady Galadriel!" Elrohir's usually stoic expression broke apart as he gifted his grandmother with a genuine smile. "It makes my heart sing to see you so well."

The Lady of Lorien squeezed the tall elf's hand and in Elven she offered a more traditional greeting. "A star shines on the moment of our meeting."

Elladan stepped forward, taking Galadriel's other hand. His head bowed simply and if he didn't smile, there was real warmth shining from his gray eyes. "Ever is thy sight a joy."

"I wish it were a joy, truly." Galadriel calmly looked at Elrond as she held Elladan's hand. "Your hand is cold my child."

"My soul is chilled." He murmured. "But it warms upon seeing you once again."

Once again Galdriel shared a common glance with Lord Elrond, their worry over their mutual love for the tall young elf prince binding them ever together.

Elrond tried to throw off his concerns, offering a meal to his sons after their long journey back from the northern reaches.

Elrohir settled himself on the balcony railing, comfortable as he felt the breeze tease him while sipping his very fine wine. "A dear vintage for our return?"

Lord Elrond gave a real smile of indulgence. "Our kitchens are stretched, recovering from recent visitors."

"Oh?" Elladan asked simply.

Surprised to have his son take an interest, Elrond nodded carefully. "Dwarfs."

Elladan stilled and then shrugged lightly.

The elven father looked over at Elrohir, who gave a mere twitch of his mouth. Lord Elrond decided to push slightly. "Indeed. Thorin Oakenshield and his company, off to reclaim Erebor for his people and face a dragon."

Elrohir's eyes widened very slightly. "A ...noble quest."

"A foolhardy one." Elladan sipped his wine, little appreciating the fine vintage. "How large a company."

"Thirteen." Elrond said dryly. "With a halfling."

"Do not forget the wizard." Galadriel pointed out with some humor.

"Mustn't forget Mithrandir." The head of Rivendell bowed in acquiesence.

Elrohir gave a derisive sound and finished off his wine. "They go to seek their graves then, with so few."

Elrond paused, his eyes seeking out his quieter son. "Thorin, son of Thrain said that his grandfather never mentioned me to him. Could that be correct?"

Elladan looked up, and then considered the question for a long moment as Lindir moved into the family gathering and gestured for servants to place food trays out on a low table.

"Possible." Elladan allowed. "From what I recall, he was not a part of the past. King Thror seemed quite serious about keeping things secret, even from his own advisors. He might not have shared this with Thorin."

"That was my take on it as well." Elrond nodded. "It is unfortunate that Thorin had his heir with him though. His nephew. Lad still had the bead you gifted him in his hair."

At this Elladan frowned. Which might have seemed bad, but it was a signal to those who knew him. They were more worried about when he didn't react, a smile or a frown, at least those were signs of being in this world. "Fili? He would be what, 82 or so by now?"

Lindir bowed as the servants finished laying out the fine meal. He started to leave.

Elrond held up one hand and his seneschal paused. "You saw more of the dwarven company than did I." The elven lord stated quietly. "Thorin's heir, his name was Fili?"

"Indeed. A strong looking young dwarf, blond with a neatly trimmed beard." Lindir said quietly. "And a bead braided into his hair of Rivendell."

Elladan let out a long breath and sighed. "He'd be an adult by now. When I knew him he was a bright lad of four. Into everything."

Elrohir smiled as he waved off an offer of a second glass of wine. "I remember him."

Elrond suddenly chuckled. All eyes turned to him and he shook his head slightly. "All the dwarves left without word, slipping away lest we try and stop them."

"Leaving?" Elladan gave a wry twist of his mouth. "Yes, that sounds about right for the little I know personally of dwarves."

Elrohir frowned, remembering the brief message the dwarven princess had left for his brother when fleeing back to her people.

"I am sorry that Fili will be on this journey, for I have my doubts about their success." Elladan spoke more words at that moment than he had since he'd arrived back in Rivendell. "He was a sweet child."

All the elves fell silent for a moment, for their kind was known for loving all things fair and beautiful. And children. Children were not that common amoung their kind, especially for a race as long lived as the Elves. What children they had, they cherished.

Elrond finally broke the silence. "Erebor is their home. For seeking that, I can not hold them at blame. Though I would wish it otherwise."

A few nods of understanding as Lindir waited by the archway. "Is there else, my Lord Elrond?"

"No, many thanks Lindir." The Elf Lord smiled.

Lindir bowed, but before he left he spoke quietly. "I am sorry that the dwarves slipped away. I did not post guards on them."

"I did not ask you to do so." Lord Elrond responded with a great deal of respect for his companion who had served as his right hand for many a century. "The fault is mine."

Elrohir snorted almost inelegantly. "The fault lies with Thorin Oakenshield and his pride. Hoping to win back a moutain from a dragon with so few. Dooming his heir as well."

"Both heirs." Lindir said with regret.

Elrond frowned slightly. "As far as I know, Thorin had one heir." He looked at Elladan and then at Elrohir.

"A nephew, son of his sister. Dis." Elladan said his wife's name for the first time in decades. "Fili."

Lindir considered the words, running through his memory of the dwarves. "And Kili. A darker lad in coloring, but brighter in spirit. He was something of a flirt with our ladies while he was with us."

Galadriel didn't move, but her voice held a hint of ...something. "Brighter in spirit?" That was definitely a question.

Lindir frowned, not having meant to interrupt a family gathering. "It seemed so to me, my Lady."

Elrohir frowned, then shook his head. "Fili had no older sibling, of that I am sure."

"No. A younger brother." The elven seneschal gave not a frown, but a soft downturn of his lips. "I believe by five years, if I recall the conversation correctly."

This gave everyone pause. Lindir had an excellent memory for what was said, whom was whom, and a thousand other small details.

Elladan looked up at his father with a true emotion on his face for the first time since his love had perished in the mountains. Anxiety mixed with fear, anger ...and a touch of hope. "It can not be."

"It might not be." Elrohir's mind was racing. "I call Estel my brother, but he is not by birth." Mentioning their father's foster son, the missing king of Gondor who was nothing but a child at the moment. One protected by the Elves of Rivendell.

Elladan's face fell slightly as he nodded. "Truth."

Galadriel's voice seemed unhurried, and unaffected. "Lindir? I recall you have some artistic abilities?"

The seneschal blushed prettily and bowed to the Lady of Light. "Very small abilities, my Lady."

"I need a drawing, as detailed but as quickly as possible." Elrond's voice wasn't unaffected.

Lindir did not wait to be dismisssed, he turned immediately to carry through on the request.

"Father, they couldn't ...they wouldn't." Elrohir didn't want to say aloud what each was already privately considering.

"Lindir said the lad had a brighter spirit." Elladan spoke as if to himself. "No. They wouldn't bring this Kili here, if he were other than what they purport."

Elrohir turned and grabbed the railing on the balcony, his knuckles showing the white of effort. "Thorin brought him. And if Thorin didn't know about ...you ...then ...perhaps?"

Elrond didn't bother speculating, he turned to the mother of his deceased wife. The Lady of Light. "What can you see?"

Galadriel waved one hand in a graceful movement that for all her elegance still meant for him to shut up. Elrond waited, but his usually legendary patience was more than a little thin at the moment.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili and Kili looked relieved to see their halfling friend, sighing happily. "How did you get out of the goblin caves?" They asked more or less as one.

They didn't really get a satisfactory answer, not with Thorin stepping in.

Still in all, it was a good ending to another great adventure. Only, they weren't even half way there yet.

Trolls. Elves. Stone Giants. Goblins. What next?

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elrond and his twin sons were still out on the terrace. Galadriel was lost within herself, staring out at the vista of Rivendell, and yet not seeing it at all.

The twins were arguing over small details, trying to see if they had a flaw in their logic. They were having little luck.

If not so on edge over this question himself, Lord Elrond would have been more than pleased to see young Elladan so engaged. And yet ...wasn't that the point?

If Elladan had a son out there, a living off-spring. Even if he didn't know about it, could it have kept him from fading? Most likely ... not. Celebrian had faded after her twin sons had rescued her from Orcish imprisonment. Unable to carry on in this world and leaving him with three children and a saddened heart.

On the other hand, Elrond had always believed that it had been his children which had anchored him to this world after his wife faded. Or so he'd always thought. That and his mixed blood. Humans didn't fade of a broken heart, like the elves.

Lindir had mentioned 'a brighter spirit'. Did that mean in personality, or had he been sensing a spark of the Eldar within the male child? With the outer looking dwarven, no one had bothered to look inward.

As if thinking of his seneschal summoned him, Lindir moved quickly back onto the terrace. He had a roll of parchement. But there was no place to put it.

Impatient Elrohir swept the table clear of plates and food and glasses. Shattering several on the stone flags around them. Elrond frowned but did not reprimand his more impulsive son.

Lindir unrolled the parchment, spreading it out over the table. It wasn't one sketch, it was several.

Kili, smiling. Kili looking around in awe. Kili winking at someone. And the last one, Kili with his head thrown back in laughter.

Elladan blinked, tracing each line with his gray eyes. "His eyes are darker and shaped differently. I ...don't ..."

Galadriel drifted over to look down at the sketches, the males all made space for her immediately. "He looks like my kin, only with darker coloring. The eye shape is both my father's and also my daughter's."

"His coloring would be from his mother." Elrohir sounded uncertain.

Galadriel reached out and traced the lines on the paper, a finger following the sketch of Kili as he laughed. "The Golden House of Finarfin now has a darker rose within it's halls."

Elrond took in a deep breath, his eyes searching as he stared at the Lady of Light. "You are sure?''

She inclined her head. "I looked into his future. It is veiled from me, just as is my own and my immediate kin."

"Thorin and his other heir?" Elrohir begged the question.

"Blood. Death. Pain."

Elladan stood, no longer a mere shadow grieving. Now he was a thing of anger and purpose. His gray eyes flashed as he looked at his twin. No words were exchanged between them.

None were needed.

"We ride." Elrohir's jaw tightened with resolution, spinning his heel yelling for the servants, his voice echoing off the gentle halls of the elves. "WE RIDE!"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

Elrohir came from his suite, his armor in place and his weapons in hand. His stoic face set in lines of steely resolve. Immediately he was joined by his brother, also ready.

Despite being so well armored and armed, neither made much of a noise as they fair glided through the wide and arching hallways. They drew many a startled eye, as any number of elves had gathered after hearing Elrohir's shouting to make ready their war mounts.

The twin sons of Lord Elrond drew to a halt in the main courtyard of Rivendell, near the glittering fountains making merry music as the water splashed the stones in a mockery of their mood.

Lindir stood there with several other elves, each holding the reins of large and spirited horses. Their mounts were specially trained and already packed for swift travel.

But there were more than two such horses.

Elladan looked at the number of horses, his eyebrows rising.

Glorfindel, the golden warrior, ancient and proud walked right between the twins completely unmindful of their startlement. "I have heard we have a stolen treasure to retrieve."

"You hear much." Elrohir stated dryly, but with a pleased smile. "We have not asked for assistance."

"Against a dragon? Tsk." Glorfindel's long golden hair caught the breeze as he gave a fierce grin. "I'd like to see you stop me from accompanying you my princes."

"We take no such titles." Elladan's frown was sharp. "But we will take your sword without argument. If you ride as a friend and not as someone we command."

Glorfindel's eyebrows rose in surprise, and pleasure. He had not heard more than a few words at a time from Elladan in many a year. "Welcome back, my friend." He shot a hopeful look at the other twin.

Elrohir couldn't help the gleam in his own eyes as he too watched his brother. He hoped beyond reason that they could find and rescue this lad Kili, and that he was indeed the nephew he was hoping for.

"There are more horses." Elladan said sharply. "But we have no time to spare. We leave. We wait for none."

"Not even I?" Lord Elrond strode up, his fine robes replaced by his armor. Not the resplendent showy armor, but his fighting set. No less impressive or awe inspiring, but less jewels. He pulled on his riding gloves as his purposeful stride brought him to his large bay stallion.

"Father." Elrohir started to speak.

"I have failed. I took no more than a passing interest in our guests other than Mithrandir and Thorin Oakenshield himself. If I had, would this journey even be necessary?" Lord Elrond looked at neither of his sons as he mounted his steed. "I will not fail again."

Hinnin drew abreast the twins, and then past them, fairly leaping upon his horse. He adjusted the great sword at his side, then glanced at Lord Elrond. Beside him two more mounted, Caduras and Lutheron both childhood friends of the twins.

Elladan gave a grim smile and a terse warning. "Dragon."

"Son." Caduras grunted, raising his great shaped horn and blowing a loud blast. "We heard."

Elladan sent a long stare at Lindir, who met his gaze without shame. "My only regret is that I not ride with you." Said the Rivendell seneschal, a wonderfully talented elf, but not a great warrior.

Elrohir leapt upon his own steed, a beast of limited patience who few could control other than he himself. This son of Elrond had no equal when it came to equine skill.

Nuluin hurried forth, adding another pack to his mount. Flashing a nervous grin before mounting competently enough, but with less grace than the others.

Lord Elrond looked askance at the healer. "This will not be a pleasure ride."

Nuluin grunted, his usual grouchy self. "And it will be no pleasure to let down the Lady." He frowned and flicked a piece of lint off his armor, which Elrond knew that the other elf hadn't worn in at least three centuries.

"Lady Galadriel sent you?" Elladan at last mounted his own horse with a smooth motion, then taking his long bow from the elf holding the reins for him.

"The Lady rides with you." Galadriel spoke, startling more than a few. It seems that her horse moved as quietly as she did herself at times. She moved up to sit next to Lord Elrond who was staring at her with deep consternation.

The beauteous Lady of Lorien had changed from her fine gowns to travel clothing, breeches covered by a split tunic long enough to reach near her knees. Her golden hair shimmered as she moved as one with her steed.

Alarmed, Elrohir frowned, unable to stop himself. "Mother of our mother, we ask humbly that you rethink this course." Elladan nodded his agreement.

All of the great elven warriors looked uneasily at each other.

Galadriel smiled. It wasn't a kind smile. She nudged her horse forward, in the lead. She raised one hand in the air, as if ready to take command and lead the group forward. The great Elven ring of power, Nenya, was usually invisible upon her hand. Unless she wished it. Suddenly it was if a star graced her finger, making all the males draw back a bit. "If you think you have the strength to stop me, you have forgotten who I am."

This startled a smile out of Lord Elrond as he sent his horse after hers without comment. The twins followed next, side by side.

Glorfindel yelled forward. "Just promise to leave the fighting to us, please my Lady?"

Her voice trailed back to them, strong and sure. "No."

Caduras grunted beside the celebrated warrior. "I'd wager on you against a dragon."

Hinnin nodded. "But not against the Lady of Lorien."

Elves didn't usually pout. At that moment, Glorfindel came close.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili closed his eyes and groaned while Kili laughed, looking every which way.

The large eagle which bore the two brothers upon its back rode the wind currents, almost without effort. Gliding for a lengthy seeming time, before beating its muscular wings.

The contraction and relaxation of those muscles made Fili and Kili lurch. A curse and a whimper from his older sibling had Kili grinning. "This is fun!"

Fili cracked open one eye and immediately felt dizzy. With great dismay he saw that his brother had put his arms out, feeling the air as it whipped past them. Risking much, he let go of his death grip on the feathers of the eagle's back with one hand and grabbed Kili's arm, pulling it back. "Don't be an idiot!"

"We're flying!" Kili's laugh, usually contagious, left his older brother unmoved.

"Can you see if Thorin is alive?" Fili groaned.

Sobering, Kili leaned over to look, making the blond dwarf clutch frantically at him lest he lose his balance. "Don't do that!"

"I ...I can't tell." Kili admitted, much of his enthusiasm fading. "I can't tell if he's moving or not.

Fili looked over at Gandalf atop another eagle, looking majestic and completely unafraid. "THORIN?" He yelled, pointing.

The wizard didn't seem to hear him.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"The way is blocked." Elrohir's temper had his voice turning harsh. "Stone giants have been through here recently." He yanked on the reins of his horse as the largest steed fought to turn away from the large boulders.

Elladan cursed in elvish, his gray eyes flashing.

Lord Elrond inwardly seethed as he considered the options. "There is another path." He pointed north. "It will take two hours to get there."

Glorfindel frowned, breaking the perfection of his elfish features as he rode forward, heading north. "It is good there is a way, but we will lose their tracks."

Elrond glanced at Elladan's tense features, giving him a reassuring nod. "But we don't need to follow their tracks. We know their destination."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili kicked the ground with his large dwarvish boots, not even trying to hide his grin. "Give me ground under my feet, not feathers under my ass."

Kili snickered. "It was fun though."

Several dwarves turned and stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. Dwalin took a partially playful swing at his head. "Daft you are, lad."

Thorin, who had not been awake during the trip, shrugged. "We're getting closer." He pointed at the Lonely Mountain in the distance with a certain amount of reverence. "Forward is home."

"The Kingdom Under the Mountain." Dori nodded, more than happy to get his feet on the ground again. "Not OVER the mountain." He grumbled, peering into the sky to watch the giant eagles fly away. "Not that I'm not grateful, mind ye."

Kili laughed loudly. "We're alive! We flew on the backs of giant eagles! We're close to the Lonely Mountain! What's so daft?"

"You are." Grumped Gloin, hiding his hands in his tunic, until they stopped shaking. He thought nothing of dangling over a mountain side or climbing down into a deep mine. He was even on his way to face a huge fire-breathing dragon. But riding a wild creature in the sky? No.

Ori smiled tentatively. "The breeze felt good."

Balin shuddered at the thought. His hands were still cramped from hanging on.

Gandalf took his great staff and pointed at a direction, setting off. One by one the dwarves followed.

Fili pushed his younger brother in front of him, still shaking his head at Kili's youthful enthusiasm. "Don't worry, once we get to Erebor, we don't have to go outside the mines unless we want to."

In front of his brother, Kili's smile faded. He looked around the mountains, trees and finally at the sky. Suddenly he was not quite as at ease. "What if I want to?"

Fili laughed and pushed his brother forward a bit. "Don't worry, we'll let you out to hunt if you want. But we're dwarves! Don't you remember uncle's stories of the grand life underground?

Kili's smile returned as he nodded. He had adored the stories of Erebor growing up. It was their dream, and his. Good mood restored, the dark-haired prince's pace picked up. He couldn't wait to get to their destination.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"These mountain passes are not safe." Nuluin the Healer looked around the area, uneasy. His fingers tightened upon his reins.

Elladan's voice came out sharper than he'd intended. "Nothing on this journey is safe."

"Indeed." Elrohir agreed, watching his twin carefully. His brother's tension seemed to be rising. He nudged his horse forward until they were riding next to each other. "Brother?"

Elladan pressed his lips together, not speaking.

But no one could ever know you as well as your twin. Your mirror. Elrohir waited patiently.

"What if he's not as we think?" Elladan asked, doubt creeping into his voice. "What if he is not mine?"

Elrohir nodded, as if considering the thought. After a moment he nodded toward the front of the column of elves. "I dare you to tell the Lady Galadriel that she is wrong."

The elven warrior, broader of shoulder than most elves due to his partially human heritage, gave his twin a reproachful look.

Smiling, Elrohir shrugged. "Kili. That's not an elven name. We will have to find something more appropriate once we meet this son of yours."

Startled, Elladan shot his brother a quick look from his gray eyes. His fingers twitched upon the reins ever so slightly. The large roan stallion rolled his eyes, but never broke stride. "Son." The elf warrior tested the word upon his tongue.

Elrohir nodded. "Nephew."

Behind them Glorfindel shouted. "Prince." Making both twins shake their heads.

Nuluin made a motion for silence, looking around the area. "Goblins haunt these passes."

Hinnan gave a half-sneer. "We will destroy any that get in our way."

Glorfindel gave a huge mock sigh. "No. We have the Lady of Light with us. Nenya will keep us protected."

Reminded of the Ring of Power, Nuluin sent a nervous look up the column where the Lady rode. Her beautiful golden hair shot through with the pure silver of starlight, shining like a living thing.

"I just hope it doesn't drive off the dragon before I get a chance to fight it." The ancient hero proclaimed.

Ahead of them, Lord Elrond sighed as they heard Glorfindel's words. "He could have gone to live in the Mirkwood with Thranduil." He murmured to the Lady riding beside him.

Galadriel's mouth tilted upwards with a quirk of a smile. "You should be nicer to Thranduil."

"His pride is always touchy." Elrond spoke evenly, his tone giving away nothing of his feelings.

"His? Glorfindel or Thranduil?" Galadriel seemed amused.

Elrond gave her a half-smile. "A halfling recently told me that it was not wise to seek the council of Elves. For the answer will be both yes, and no."

Golden eyebrows rose with true humor. "Halfling height may not be full measure, but their wisdom seems to be." She nodded, allowing the statement to stand.

Elrohir rode up behind the two, pointing at a large outcropping. "We make good time."

Elrond nodded. "Let us hope it will be good enough."

His son shook his head. "The dwarves left on foot. We are riding. We will find their trail, and if not we will meet them before they reach their destination."

"Do not rely on false hope." Elrond admonished his son gently. "They have Mithrandir. I have no doubt they are further along than we know."

Elrohir shrugged. "Even with a wizard, they still have to traverse the countryside same as we." He gave a soft laugh. "It's not like dwarves can fly."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin looked around the dimly lit area, the smell of stray and stock animals heavy in the air. Everything here was large scale. Not Human large, bigger than that. And not Elven, not with the heavy and functional lines. The Elves were too fond of beauty for anything so prosaic. He wondered at their 'host' that Gandalf had hinted of.

The dwarves were all settling in, exhausted. Thorin himself could feel the fatigue welling up inside him. He just couldn't afford to show it.

A dwarf passed next to him and Thorin put out his arm, turning his head to see his younger nephew. "Kili? You are unharmed?"

The dark-haired prince gave his uncle a wide grin. "Nothing but scratches from tree bark."

Thorin rolled his eyes as Fili walked up to join them. "Ignore this fool. He thought riding the eagles was grand fun."

"You are unhurt as well?" Thorin asked, his gaze measuring on his two heirs.

Fili shrugged with easy movements and shook his head. "We're fine uncle. We were worried about you." That was a mild rebuke for jumping out of the tree to attack the orcs on his own.

Kili shot a glance over at the others. "Bilbo surprised us."

Thorin snorted with a gentle chuckle. "Surprised all of us." He admitted. From his position leaning against a strong post, the king in exile straightened. He put a heavy hand on each of his nephew's shoulders. "Despite the hopes, this quest will not get easier from here."

Both brothers sobered, nodding their understanding.

"I can't be uncle and king at the moment. I have to choose until we have retaken Erebor."

Fili straightened, his posture upright and sure. "King."

Kili echoed his brother with much feeling. "King."

"Good." Thorin grinned, patting each on the shoulder before stepping back. "Get some sleep. We haven't had much of a chance to talk, and I wanted to tell you both something."

Both brothers nodded.

"Nephews or not? The next time I tell you to watch the ponies, watch the damned ponies!" Thorin grinned and turned, heading off to speak with Gandalf.

Kili shook his head. "We don't have the ponies anymore." He deadpanned deliberately, pretending to miss the point.

Fili rolled his eyes and shoved his younger brother in the side.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"How?" Glorfindel asked, sliding from his over-tired horse gratefully.

Elrohir was already unloading his own steed, ready to transfer the gear over to the fresh mount waiting for them. "We ride with the Lady of Lorien. Don't ask what can not be answered with ease."

Elladan gave a grim smile, swinging his leg up and over his mount to drop with supreme grace to the ground. He wasted no time as he too began to unleash his gear and supplies.

An Elven warrior of Lorien held the reins of a fresh mount. Elrohir murmured his thanks as he moved his saddle over.

Off on the other side, Elrond glanced at Galadriel with gentle reproach. "Lorien is too far, they couldn't have come so far to meet us so quickly."

Galadriel gave a slight nod with her head, to show she understood. "They were in the north woods. There are shadows about."

Elrond blinked twice in reaction. "Does this have to do with Mithrandir's idea that the foe of days past has returned?"

"The wizard is not the only one who worries." The Lady of Light said with more casualness than she felt. She looked up, catching Lord Elrond's eyes. "Do you not feel the shadows growing closer?"

"What I feel is not yet given shape." Elrond allowed. "But I do not yet know the name of what is causing these feelings of unease."

Galadriel smiled gently. "It is good that they were here."

Elrond inclined his head graciously. "Fresh mounts will be of great assist." He paused and almost hesitantly made a suggestion. "You could turn south from here." Toward Lorien.

Galadriel gave a small chuckle. "You who was my daughter's spouse. Do you as yet not know which parent she took after the most?"

"Celebrian was a gentle, kind, wise woman without peer." Elrond couldn't help the sadness her name brought him, and the fond memories.

"Indeed." Galadriel moved into the saddle with ease, showing no sore muscles and no hesitation. "She was her father's daughter. Do not forget that when you are dealing with me."

Lord Elrond couldn't help the quiet laugh that escaped him, as his wife's mother gave him an amused and fond look. "You are gentle and kind."

Galadriel turned and looked in the direction of the Lonely Mountain. It was not yet in sight. "I am that only when I rule. And right now, I am not a queen, a lady, or a leader."

Elrond looked up at her on her mount, curious. "What are you?"

The golden haired elf looked down at him, all the strength of her personality giving weight to her gaze, making Elrond lose his breath for a moment. "I am determined. This child of Elladan's, he is of my line. He will not be lost." She urged her horse forward, leaving the others to catch up.

 

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"Does it poke out for her?"

Kili's eyes went wide and his face suddenly felt hot. Well, hotter. He was pretty sure he still had a fever anyway. "Don't." He hissed at his older brother, his eyes moving over to where the red headed she elf was standing just outside the door. She was staring off at the sky.

Probably at the stars.

The same stars that she had been telling him tales of, as she wiped his brow and held his hand. The pain was far less intense now, more like that of a normal wound. But he hadn't stopped her as he'd laid there listening to the tale of Elenlote, a bright piece of star longing to touch the rich soil. It was a sad tale, where the star could no longer shine surrounded by the soil, but that the nourishing ground had so loved the star that a flower grew that rivaled the sun for brightness. Nonsense really. But he'd loved to hear the rise and fall of her words with that odd accent of hers.

Tauriel. Beautiful and glowing herself. Kili was also pretty damned sure she'd saved his life. He couldn't figure out why though. She'd been one of their captors back in the Mirkwood. Only she wasn't glowing now, more like frowning. A lot.

"Well does it?" Fili looked down at his younger brother's lap, making Kili shift uncomfortably.

"No!" He protested. And it was true. His body wasn't undergoing some strange arcane change around the pretty elf. It was also true that he felt almost disappointed about his lack of physical response. He liked her. He'd liked talking to her, though he would have liked it better if he hadn't been behind bars in Thranduil's cells for part of that time, and sore wounded for the other part.

"You keep staring at her." Fili pointed out almost hesitantly, reluctant to bring up his brother's nearly incoherent declarations of only last evening. Did Kili remember?

The dark-haired young dwarf frowned over at Tauriel. "Something's wrong."

Fili straightened up, alarmed. "Your leg?"

Kili shook his head, utterly irritated. "Look at her. She knows something's wrong."

Tauriel turned to stare at the two brothers. "There's light in the sky over Erebor."

The blond frowned. "Dawn?" He guessed.

Bofur sat up from where he'd been pretending to sleep, pushing his hat up so they could see his eyes. "Dawn isn't going to be for another hour at least."

Tauriel looked at Fili and Kili, her expression grim. "They woke the dragon."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elrond woke, silently moving to his feet. The elves had taken few rest breaks on this long journey, but some were unavoidable no matter Elladan's objections each time.

Their horses were nearly spent, and there would be no more fresh mounts to find this far from friendly places. They themselves needed little sleep, but they did require some.

He found Galadriel standing at the edge of camp. Elrond walked over to her, unmindful of the rough ground, it was a small matter. Stopping next to the Lady, he waited for her to acknowledge his presence. If she were 'seeing' it would be beyond mere rudeness to interrupt, and the knowing could be lost.

"The dragon ..." The Lady's voice was usually lovely, but now there was a lyrical quality that told him she was indeed lost in the throes of vision. "flys."

Elrond held his breath, waiting.

"Anger rages, pride trembles, vengeance will be borne on the wings of flame and destruction." Galadriel didn't blink, she stood watching into the darkness, separate from her sight and yet part of it as well. "Hate. So much hate. Fear is for the lesser. Death is for all."

The elf who was actually sitting watch turned his head slightly. Hinnin looked back at their sleeping companions, and then over at Elrond. The Lord of Rivendell gave a quick nod of his head.

Immediately Hinnin moved through camp and woke each one. No sound was made as he did so. The elves, already on alert, woke silently and aware. They rose one at a time, moving to their horses. The steeds hadn't had enough rest, but it would have to suffice.

Glorfindel gave a soulful look at Lord Elrond, a question in his eyes.

The grandfather turned away. He didn't have an answer to give. Were they too late already? Was Kili already dead?

The were riding out in less than ten minutes.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"I'm satisfied that you're healed, but you make too much of it." Thorin sounded cold, but then, he had much on his mind.

Kili bit his tongue. Bitter words caught before they could be uttered. He breathed deeply, trying to organize his brain in order to make his uncle understand. "I don't mean that the Elves deserve anything, clearly they can make no claims on Erebor."

Thorin grunted, his attention elsewhere.

"But in recognition of saving my life it could prove worthy to at least listen to what they have to say." Inwardly he was shaking, putting himself forward like this. Usually he was in tandem with Thorin's will and it felt odd arguing like this. "It might prove more beneficial to be at least on speaking terms with our neighbors."

The King Under the Mountain looked up in amazement, then he grinned. But his face was without humor and his grin seemed more feral than anything else. "Saved your life? An arrow to the thigh? Yes, you were weakened but hardly so near death. The young make heavy what should be lightly done."

Kili looked down, not wanting his uncle to see his eyes at the unfairness of his charge. "It was a bit worse than that." Was all he managed.

"So Fili and Oin maintain." Thorin waved one hand in dismissal, then stopped. He pinned his younger heir with a hard look. "Did you not think that I saved your life? Leaving you behind? Could you have outrun the dragon through the halls of Erebor with your wounded leg?"

"No." Kili acknowledged, definitely not raising his head now. He didn't want Thorin to see the hurt he knew would be there for any to see. "But I would have welcomed the chance to try."

Some of the hurt must have leaked out, as Thorin paused. Kili could 'feel' his uncle's stare upon him. "Lad. I know your loyalty as I know your heart. But I had to think of the mission over family. And it worked, we're here. Erebor. Home."

Not my home. And it had been his mission too. Kili bit his tongue harder. He'd been raised on stories of Erebor, but it had never been his home. Raised to think he had a place at his uncle's side. "Yes, sire."

Thorin turned away, his arms behind his back in a regal stance. "I will not entertain one word from the Elves, nor the Men. Did they ever help us? When we were homeless? When we were hungry? When we needed aid, where were they?"

Kil knew better, but his tongue sometimes had a mind of its own. "The men are not the same ones as back then, several generations have come and gone. And they fought, and slew the dragon."

"And so deserve WHAT?" Roared Thorin. "They protected their sinking Lake Town, and they managed to win. Let them rebuild, let them taste the hunger that we dwarves tasted for so long. But they will not get one jot of help from us! We give what we have been given. Equal measure!"

Kili's face was white as he looked up, eyes wide.

Thorin moved in close, shouting into his nephew's face. "You are too soft! Sidelined from our quest by a single wound, why I've fought with worse wounds against mightier enemies. You want to be kind to the Elves and Men? Write them a poem of thanks, and then burn it! That's all gratitude is good for! Soft is weak. Soft is useless. Soft will not make you a dwarf worthy of being called by Durin's line."

Unable to speak, Kili gave a rough bow and when his uncle made a gesture for him to leave, he swiftly made his escape despite his still healing limp.

Thorin wheeled around, settling himself on his grandfather's former throne. His temper still burning, he snarled. Glancing over at Balin and Dwalin he gave them the full weight of his stare. "Do you question my response to the Elvin King? Do you think me too hard on the lad?"

Balin gave a smooth bow of his head. "I would not question your decision. But perhaps we could at least listen to what they have to say before we cut off ties?"

It was the same arguement that Kili had just made, but it didn't come from a dwarf with no discernable beard this time. Thorin eyed his counselor and sighed. "Perhaps." But he didn't sound convinced. Instead he looked at Dwalin.

The warrior stood with his arms crossed, his face giving away no expression. "I have no love of Elves and don't care how or when you tell them to get out of our lands."

Thorin smiled and let his eyes drift away, moving his gaze over the immense pile of gold the dragon had amassed.

Dwalin though, wasn't done. "And yes. You were too hard on the lad." He'd spoken with Bofur, and knew exactly how close to death young Kili had come. And the debt the dwarves owed to a certain red-haired elven lass, whom the dwarves were pretty sure had acted without orders. Not only that, he knew that Thorin had been so informed as well.

But Thorin was no longer listening, all he could hear was the call of his gold.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elrohir rode quickly up to the waiting Elves as they watched the columns of humans heading the other direction. "They are from the town of Dale."

Lord Elrond frowned, uncertain. "Dale was destroyed."

"They are rebuilding, now that the dragon is dead." He let that bit of news sink in.

Glorfindel actually groaned with true disappointment, his eyes closing with something akin to pain.

Hinnin slid a disparaging look at the ancient hero. "That dragon has been asleep beneath the mountain for over a century, it's not like you were out here demanding a duel."

The others ignored the two bickering back and forth about the suitability of fighting a dragon.

Elrohir looked back and forth between his father and his mother's mother. He then turned to the overly anxious Elladan. "As far as they know the dwarf king and his heirs are entirely intact."

Soft sighs of relief moved through the group and Elladan's gray eyes looked skyward for a brief moment.

"They slew the dragon after all?" Nuluin the Healer asked in amazement.

Elrohir seemed bemused, cocking his head to one side in wonder. "No. A human archer, name of Bard."

Glorfindel's eyes widened and he caught his breath while Hinnin laughed at the mighty hero's expense.

The Lady of Lorien made no move, but something about her caused the group to fall silent and look in her direction. "Why do the Men leave Dale then? Why this course away from their reclaimed home?"

Elrohir took a deep breath, and gave a weak smile at his father. "King Thranduil and the army of Men march against Erebor, wanting recompense for hurts received from the dragon's wrath."

"King indeed." Galadriel's voice was without inflection, but all the elves could feel her disdain for the pride in claiming such a title.

"Ride against Erebor?" Elladan questioned, his gaze sharpening.

Elrohir nodded as her turned to the Lady of Light. "The dragon is dead. Does this change the vision you have seen for Thorin and his nephew?"

"Fili." Elladan provided the name with a curious emphasis for one who hadn't seen the lad for almost eighty years.

Galadriel looked off to the Lonely Mountain looming so closely. She stilled and shook her head. "Blood. Death. Pain. The vision remains unchanged."

"So the danger was not the dragon." Elrond spoke thoughtfully, looking over his shoulder at the departing humans. "We can not be waiting, speculation brings us no closer to our goal."

The twins shot each other hard looks and without another word kicked their steeds forward in a surge, leaving the other elves to follow.

Kili was alive, yet still in danger.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin looked out over the collected armies of both Men and the Mirkwood Elves. He'd already made his speech to each of his dwarves, and with any luck their kin from the Iron Hills would be arriving before long, led by his cousin Dain.

He turned and stared at his most trusted friends and followers. Not one blinked in the face of such an army amassed against them.

Thorin stepped forward, putting his hands on Fili and Kili's shoulders. He looked proudly from one to the other. "I know that I have been hard on you both. The burden of our blood has never weighed more heavily than it does now. We are Durin's Folk. This is our home. We have battled the entirety of Middle Earth to reach this far, we can not fail."

Fili drew up with pride. Kili's chest expanded, his earlier doubts and concerns erased. This was Thorin. His King. His Uncle. And in every way that counted, his father.

Come what may, neither he nor his brother would leave Thorin's side until victory or death.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

The sounds of battle reached them before they crested the hill allowing them to look down at the scene before them. Metal on metal clashing as screams of pain and terror blended together in a terrible cacophony.

Lord Elrond looked with a worried heart upon the melee, his breath catching within his lungs as they ceased to work properly. Beside him Elladan stared with shocked eyes.

"This is not the battle we were told of." Elladan's voice held deep concern. His father ached to reassure him, but did not have any words that would not be a lie.

Instead of Elves and Humans facing off against Erebor's Dwarves, there were Wargs and Goblins swarming the area. Large packs of fanged beasts were tearing through flanks and ripping through rapidly forming lines of soldiers. Confusion was everywhere with knots of elves, dwarves and humans fighting not to get cut off from each other and overrun.

Giant eagles wheeled in the sky, swooping down to tear apart battle formations and occasionally drop a warg or a goblin from a great height.

Elladan's gray eyes searched, but could not find that which he sought. "I can not see him. I can not see him!"

Lord Elrond's heart sank at the despair he heard in his son's voice. This would have been much easier if the dwarves were on one side instead of this pandemonium.

"There is Mithrandir." Lutheron and Caduras both pointed at roughly the same time. But where the tall wizard was fighting, he was closer to the humans than to any group of discernable dwarves.

"Look! He's trying to get over ...THERE!" Elrohir pointed grimly at a small rise of craggy rocks. Atop was a dwarf with long dark hair beneath his armored helm. The armor was a product of days gone by, beautiful and made of the most precious ores to be found. Armor for a king.

There were three with him. Two armored dwarves and a slight red-haired elf, spinning and fighting too fast for them to get a good look.

Before any of them could react, the group was near overwhelmed on the far side of their outcropping. A rushing attack by the three dwarves pushed back the assault but left their flank outnumbered. They were effectively trapped. Cut off.

Dwarves, Elves, and Men were trying to reach them but there were too many standing against them. And it was clear they didn't have long.

Even as Elladan and Elrohir urged their mounts forward, dark arrows pierced one of the three, forcing him down onto one knee. Who it was, none could see beneath the armor's helm. The other armored figure rushed forward to offer aid, only to be knocked away by the swing of a war hammer into a throng of goblins and wargs. He disappeared from sight.

Elladan roared and took his own bow as his mount surged forward, shooting his way through the goblins, riding them down without mercy or concern. By his side rode Elrohir, matching his pace perfectly, his sword flashing in the sunlight and already dripping with goblin blood.

Ranging out to the sides just behind the twins, Glorfindel and the rest of the elven warriors cleaved their way through the fighting masses. Forming a wedge for Elrond and the Lady.

Galadriel rode between the warriors, lifting her hand gracefully before her. Power simply radiated off of her, pulsing like starlight brought to life. Wave after wave flowed over the fighting crowds as that power sifted through until it found what it sought. Dwarven blood.

The Lady did not wish for any to fall, but her goal was ruthless. The protection of her Ring would swell over the Elves and Men, but first ...it found the Dwarves.

Without reason that they knew of, the dwarves suddenly found themselves protected. Blades slid away or broke instead of drawing their blood. Fangs shattered upon the touch of their flesh, rather than tearing into them.

This strange new thing spread from dwarf to dwarf, causing the goblins to become confused. The fighting slowed, giving the Men and Elves a chance to breathe and regroup. It was then that a few goblins realized they could hurt no one, and still be slain themselves. Panic set in among the horde.

And still that power searched, unable to distinguish one of their blood from another. Thus it was that all the dwarves found themselves under the protection of the great Elven Ring of Power.

Elrond stirred uneasily beside her. This was a blatant use of Nenya, more than he'd seen Galadriel ever use in a single hour, ever. The ring was powerful, but at what cost? The Lady of Light was almost without equal, but was her strength alone enough to keep this up?

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili had lost his breath and his vision. Sweat and blood covered his face as he tore off his helm, desperate to see. But looking up into the face of the ugliest goblin he'd yet seen, tumors growing off the side of his face, the young dwarf decided seeing might not be the better option.

He barely had time to raise his sword in a weak blocking move as the rough goblin weapon whistled down to crush his skull. Something shattered, sending out sharp pieces in every direction. Expecting pain, Kili felt nothing. Blinking rapidly he tried to clear his vision.

Ugly was still standing over him, but now staring at the remains of his weapon. Unbelieving, the young dwarf realized that it wasn't his head that had shattered, but his opponents weapon.

A hand came down for him. Slim, creamy skin, and reaching for him. He took it without question. Tauriel pulled him upright and Kili ignored the swimming of his vision and the pain in his chest as she tugged him back up the rocky knoll.

Kili paled as he saw Fili down and wounded, arrows decorating his beautiful armor. The blond looked at him and then rolled his eyes toward their Uncle Thorin. The king was swinging his sword and yelling at the mobs of goblins still trying to get to him, seemingly uninjured.

Thorin screamed in the faces of the goblins, cutting them down as they tried without success to stab him back. A wave of goblins fell over the King Under the Mountain, making Kili rush forward despite his own injuries.

"Wait." Tauriel commanded, then stepped back as Thorin began to throw off the goblins one and two at a time. "They can not touch us."

"I think I'm seeing double." Fili moaned, pulling his younger sibling's attention back to him. The blond had managed to pull himself up to sitting somehow, staring off at the retreating and desperate goblin hordes.

Kili spun too quickly, looking in the direction his brother indicated. Wincing as his vision didn't stop spinning when he did. His hand reached out automatically, trying to find something solid. He found a goblin at his side trying to bite him. So he let his sword find that goblin's side.

When Kili next looked up, his hair fell in his eyes. He'd obviously torn off the clip holding back his hair when he'd removed his helm. Swearing, he pushed the dark waves out of his way, and stared.

Double? More like twins, mirror images of each other. Each on the back of a large horse, one with a bow and the other with a sword. Each motion was an economy of grace and power, bringing down foes left and right without fail. Behind these two great warriors were several Elven warriors, shining with lethal brightness as their weapons cleaved goblin and warg flesh down to the bone and marrow. Nothing touched them. Nothing could.

Kili felt rather than saw his uncle move up beside him. "Friends of yours?" The young heir asked, awed.

Thorin shook his head, unable to speak. The son of Thrain was having a difficult time, for during the battle he'd come to terms with several salient facts. The first being that he was not going to live another day. The second being that he'd been a fool. This army of wargs and goblins would have overrun him and Erebor, even with Dain's army swelling their ranks.

This kind of ferocious attack would have annihilated them, should have annihilated them. If not for the concentrated efforts of combining their forces with both Men and Elves.

The help he'd tried to turn away turned out to be the only things helping his dwarves to survive.

"Kili, I'm sorry."

Startled, the young dwarven heir turned away from the elves making their way over to them. He stared at his uncle in wonder.

Thorin cleared his throat, uncomfortable. But he knew, he knew. If not for some magic of the elves protecting them, he would have lost everything in life that mattered. And it wasn't a mountain. Or a treasure. "You and your brother are all that I could ever ask for."

"Uncle..."

Thorin leaned in close. "I have never been prouder of you both."

Kili swallowed hard and nodded, looking over at where Tauriel was helping Fili with the help of Oin who'd been able to reach them at last.

Beside him, Thorin shifted his weight and Kili turned back. The elves had arrived.

Thorin stared at the group for a long moment then bowed his head to the tall elf approaching them. "My Lord Elrond, little did I think to see you out this way."

But the Elven leader of Rivendell doesn't respond. Kili shifted his own weight, blinking his still blurry vision and wondering why it felt like everyone was staring right at him.

Slowly the elves parted as if in unspoken unision. How did they manage to do that? Kili wondered, trying to take a deep breath, but it was hurting too much. He'd have to get Oin to check him out after the healer saw to Fili's injuries.

Thinking of his brother had Kili sneaking a glance behind him, relieved to see Fili arguing with the healer and Tauriel. Behind them he was even happier to see Gandalf gain the knoll, and approaching their group.

"My dear Elrond, good it is that you are here. I have fell news." Gandalf spoke, his voice more weary than Kili had ever heard before.

He blinked several times, trying to focus better. Where was Gandalf's hat? Why was he so battered? Yes they'd been in a battle, but he never thought he'd see the wizard in this kind of condition.

Yet the Rivendell leader still made no comment. Surprised, Kili turned back to look at the elves and lost his breath entirely.

"Elenlote." He whispered, his brain supplying the name from the Elven legend that Tauriel had told him back in Lake Town. The piece of living starlight fallen to Middle Earth.

The lady moving up beside Elrond was grace personified. She was all gold with flashes of silver that weren't real silver, and in Kili's exhausted state really seemed like living starlight. She glowed. Not like Tauriel had done when she'd healed him, but so much more than that. Whomever this was, she radiated light and strength.

Kili leaned toward her without thought, as if drawn forward. Only Thorin's hand on his chest kept him from stepping forward.

The Dwarven King scowled. He didn't like the way all the elves were staring at his younger nephew.

"Elrond?" Gandalf sounded puzzled. "My lady?"

None of the elves looked toward either Thorin or the wizard.

Kili's feelings turned to deep unease. Unreasonably he began to think they wanted something from him. Him. Not Thorin or Gandalf. He shot his uncle a glance and saw that Thorin's jaw was clenched.

"Kili, lad ...go to her." Gandalf's voice was quiet, cautious.

"No!" Thorin snapped, his voice commanding. "Stay where you are, Kili."

The wizard shook his head, looking odd without his great hat. "I don't know what this is about, but they will not harm him. And your very lives today are because she willed it."

Thorin ground his teeth together, but didn't drop his hand.

"You nearly condemned your entire line to the Halls of the Fallen today, do not be any more a fool Thorin Oakenshield!" Gandalf snapped. "The Lady of the Light is not your enemy, do not make her so."

Hesitantly Thorin's hand dropped and Kili stared up at his uncle's profile until his king gave the slightest of nods.

Kili stared at the elves. They were staring back at him. Something in their gazes, something warm and yet needy. He still didn't move forward.

The golden lady held out one hand to him. Without motion or expression, he was absolutely sure she was beckoning him forth somehow.

Reluctantly Kili looked at her and could feel only love, warmth and kindness. And it frightened him on a very basic level. He didn't trust. He glanced wildly behind him, finding Fili's wide eyes on him looking pale. His brother shook his head at him, obviously uneasy as well.

He next looked at Tauriel, who seemed as confused as he felt. Still the elf made a shooing move at him, as if telling him not to hesitate further.

Kili looked back at the lady. "What do you want of me?" He took two steps toward her against his better judgement.

"Gandalf?" Thorin's hand clenched on the handle of his sword.

"Be still." The wizard cautioned. "I do not know what is happening, but I trust these elves with my life."

"It's not your life I'm worried about." Thorin growled, his eyes on his nephew.

"Kili!" The older brother called, beyond nervous and wondering what the beautiful elf wanted with his sibling.

Kili stopped in front of the beautiful elf, unsure. Slowly, gracefully, she raised her hands and he flinched slightly. She smiled and reached in, pushing his hair from his face. Staring into her eyes, he calmed. It was if she could see deeply within him to his very core. All his nerves calmed and he marvelled at the sense of peace.

Then the lady frowned slightly, and it was if the sun became clouded. The day was no less pretty, but the brightness had dimmed. "You are injured child."

Kili had been ignoring the burning in his chest and the blurriness of his vision. But with her words the pain returned with a vengeance. His knees nearly buckled.

Thorin rushed forward to catch him, only to draw up short as a golden haired warrior stepped directly into his path. Armed.

One of the twins reached Kili first, lifting him in his arms with ease. Kili batted at the hands, embarrassed. "Put me down." He wheezed, his lungs seizing with an aching pain.

"Where?" The Elf pointing a sword at him asked, startling Thorin. Oh. He wanted to know where to take the injured Kili. The Dwarven King pointed at Erebor.

Without awaiting permission, the elves moved swiftly off the field of battle toward the dwarven home.

Thorin stared after them with wide and worried eyes. He turned to Gandalf. "You have strange friends."

The wizard too was feeling off kilter. He had news to share with both Galadriel and Elrond, but they had shut themselves off from him. Why? And why the focus on young Kili? "Yes. But never forget, that includes you too Thorin Oakenshield."

"King Thorin."

Gandalf paused, then followed after the elves back to Erebor. "Indeed."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili was barely awake as the elves stripped him of his armor and clothing. Nudity was not a taboo among the dwarves, but he couldn't help but feel over exposed with only elves looking down on him. He pulled a sheet up over himself, which only seemed to amuse them. Especially the golden haired lady.

"Where's Fili?" He asked anxiously, his earlier sense of calm having fled on the trip back to Erebor. Embarrassed at being caried like some child in front of the Dwarven warriors.

Lord Elrond moved around to look deeply into Kili's face, a soft look of wonder gracing his features. The young dwarf realized that the mighty elf lord was careful not to get in the way of their healer.

"Father?"

Father? Kili watched the two twins who kept hanging over him. These two were Lord Elrond's sons?

Lord Elrond sat down on the edge of the bed, looking no where but at Kili's face. "You may have a difficult time with this, but you will never be alone."

Difficult time? "How badly am I hurt?" Kili asked worriedly, his dark eyes widening.

The healer shook his head. "Not terrible. Concussion, bruising, cracked ribs and some bleeding on the inside but it is stopped and is healing."

Kili's face paled. Bleeding never sounded good. But the healer didn't seem worried. "My brother? Fili? He is healing too? Where is he?"

The healer looked at Elrond, who gave a short nod. "I will see to your brother." The elf said, standing. "Rest."

Relieved, Kili nodded his agreement. But when the healer left he realized that he was alone with Lord Elrond, his sons, and the living embodiment of starlight. He gave her a sideways glance from the corner of his dark eyes.

She smiled at him, catching him looking at her.

Kili felt caught, his face flushing. "Are you Elenlote?"

Identical smiles bloomed on the faces of Lord Elrond and his sons. Kili blinked. Elves could smile? Oh, he'd known Tauriel could, but he'd never thought he'd see such an expression on other elves.

"I am Galadriel. I am mother to the mother of your father."

Kili heard, but didn't listen, being distracted by all the staring and wierdness going on today. "What?"

But the lady didn't repeat herself. Instead she put her hand on his hand and started to sing. In Elvish. A haunting melody of grace and beauty. Lord Elrond and his sons joined in, adding harmony as well a deeper voice and counterpoint.

Kili looked around at the group, wondering if this was part of the healing process. Elves were odd.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"They won't let me in there!" Oin complained, looking at Kili's bedroom door and the elven guards standing there. Naked blades in their hands.

The door finally opened and a single elf exited the bedroom. Everyone stiffened as the elf came straight to Fili. "I am Nuluin, the healer. Your brother has sent me to tend you."

Oin stiffened. "That's my job."

"His brother asks, I obey." Nuluin proved stubborn, leaning in to look at the arrow wounds that Oin was currently working on. Luckily the shafts hadn't penetrated too far into the flesh due to the excellent dwarven armor. Painfully debilitating, but not mortal.

"Why would an elf, any elf, obey Kili?" Thorin asked, confused beyond measure.

Gandalf started to shrug and then stiffened as he heard a song start in the room behin him. He turned to stare at the closed door in wonder.

The elven guards saw him, and crossed their exposed blades in front of the door. It was clear no one was getting in there. Not even the wizard, a long-time Elf-Friend.

"Glorfindel? What is this song?" Gandalf asked with meek casualness that was a thin veneer over his curiousity and need to know.

The golden haired warrior gifted Mithrandir with a chiding look, obviously not answering the question.

Balin stirred from where he stood next to his king. "Glorfindel? That is an ancient name."

Dwalin turned to stare at his brother as if to tell him not to get distracted.

But Balin was trying to make a connection and perhaps gain some answers. "Were you named for the great warrior? The Elf Lord of Gondolin?"

The two elves guarding Kili's bedroom door smiled very slightly.

The golden warrior looked up and gave a very simple answer. "No."

"He is the Elf Lord of Gondolin." King Thranduil walked into the area, his nose high in the air, but obviously overhearing part of the conversation. He frowned sharply as he heard the song being sung behind Kili's door.

"But ...but that Glorfindel died and was buried." Balin protested, turning to stare at the golden warrior before them.

Gandalf though had caught Thranduil's surprise as he'd heard the song the House of Elrond was currently singing together. "I do not know this song. Is it one of healing?"

Thranduil snorted in disdain. "It is Noldor."

Gandalf drew back thoughtfully. The Lady Galadriel was of the Noldor, he knew. "The language I recognized as Quenya, but it feels ...ritualized."

Glorfindel sighed heavily, standing to move in front of the two guards blocking entrance to Kili's room. He looked balefully at King Thranduil, clearly not trusting the woodland elf from telling secrets.

"It is a song of welcoming." Thranduil did not disappoint. "For a newborn." He peered at the door in question. "And completely out of place in these ... halls." His last word dripped with disdain.

Gandalf seemed shocked. "For a newborn?"

Thorin shook his head and laughed. "What? That makes no sense at all. They have my nephew in there, not some swaddled babe."

The Gray Wizard looked shocked to the marrow, his mind clearly racing and trying to puzzle out the day's events and how they fit together.

Fili chuckled. "All of this over a young dwarf that you threw in your prisoner cells." He turned a chilly eye on King Thranduil even as the medics poked and prodded him while they wrapped him in bandages.

Glorfindel and the other elven guards straightened, all humor lost. They glared holes at ... King Thranduil.

"What?" The arrogant woodlands monarch asked with a wave of his slender hand.

The great golden warrior drew his sword and stood before the bedroom door, clearly ready to fight any who dared to cross his path.

Thorin eyed him dubiously.

Gandalf sighed. "Balin. This is Glorfindel. He was not named for a great hero. He is truly THAT Glorfindel. Who fell and was re-embodied in Halls of Awakening. Chief of the House of the Golden Flower and slayer of the Balrog."

Balin and Dwalin traded looks of astonishment.

"Do not cross him if you please." Gandalf nodded as if to himself. "By the way, that is his own sword. He had to dig up his own grave to retrieve it."

Thorin's eyes nearly bulged on that one.

"Better yet, don't talk to him. Or look at him." Gandalf sighed and glanced at the tall golden haired elf. "And don't tell him a joke, his laugh is completely annoying."

Now Glorfindel sighed heavily and shot a less than amused glance at the wizard. But the tension in the elves did lessen slightly.

Thorin cleared his throat, calling attention to himself. "Wizard? What is this song and why is it being sung here and now?"

Gandalf looked weary as he took a seat next to Fili and ran a nervous hand over his beard. "I do not know this song, but I have heard of it before. This must be the song a family will sing to welcome a newborn into their midst. A calling of kin. An awakening."

Nuluin nodded, not looking away from his wide-eyed patient. Fili shook his head, his blond braids halfway undone from the battle already.

"Why would they sing that to Kili?" The older brother asked.

Gandalf turned to Thorin, carefully choosing his words. "I never thought to ask. It never occurred to me. Fili and Kili are so obviously brothers. But they don't share the same parents, do they?"

Fili flushed, embarrassed. "That is not to be discussed."

Gandalf sighed. "Oh dear."

Thorin clenched his teeth. "They are my heirs. They are MY bloodline."

Glorfindel smiled widely and Thorin blinked, reminded strongly of a snarling warg.

The gray wizard closed his eyes wearily. "No wonder they rode so hard to get here. In fact, if not for the eagles they may have beaten us to Erebor."

"Gandalf?" Fili asked, clearly worried, wincing as his sitting forward pulled on his wounds.

"My dear Thorin." Gandalf spoke carefully, asking the burning question. "Who is Kili's father?"

Unfortunately, Thorin didn't have an answer. "Why?"

The wizard eyed the elven guards with wary fatigue. "Because I think today's battles are not yet over."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"That is not possible, is it?" King Dain of the Iron Hills looked confused, and even a bit disconcerted.

"Physically possible or actually possible?" Thorin snarled, pacing in his throne room with a select gathering of dwarves.

Dain sighed unhappily. "Difference?" He asked.

Balin was watching, but when Thorin didn't answer, he stepped into the breach. "Unlikely to occur, but not physically impossible. Lord Elrond himself is known as the Half-Elven. He's got the blood of Men in his veins. Numenor."

Several of the dwarves nodded, but the majority looked shocked. Learning of Elvish history wasn't high on their educational priorities it seemed. Dain shook his head in wonder. "So, your nephew Kili has the blood that started the Dunedain, the bloodlines of the Lady of Lorien as well as Rivendell, AND Durin's Line?"

Balin had already thought of this, but Dwalin had not yet gotten there. The dwarf warrior rubbed both hands over his bearded face. "Oh by Nain's bearded ass." He bemoaned. "They aren't leaving without the lad."

"They can't have him." Thorin snapped, his temper running high. "And we don't know it's true."

Dain and Balin shared an incredulous look, dismayed. The King's cousin shrugged. "Send for Dis. She'll have the truth of it."

"I know my sister!" Thorin roared. "She would never have wed an elf! An ELF!" He spun on his closest advisor, pointing a stout finger at him. "You! You were advising Thror, what do you know of this matter?"

Balin winced and shook his head. "Before that assualt on Moria, all we discussed were battle strategies. The King ...he had something he was working on though, something he did not share with me. Thrain knew, but he didn't share. And a strange visitor."

"Elves?" Gandalf spoke up for the first time, having been content to listen at first.

Balin's white beard shook with his head as he denied the obvious. "Not elves. A wizard."

All eyes turned to Ganadalf who took his hand off his pipe to raise it before him, palm out. "Not I." He smiled benignly as fragrant smoke escaped his lips.

Thorin sent the tall wizard a suspicious look, frowning as Balin rushed to explain it had been a different wizard. Wearing white.

"Saruman." Gandalf drew back in surprise, and some relief. "The head of our order and a very wise wizard indeed. I did not know he had any hand in Dwarven dealings."

Dain gave a grim look at his cousin. "So add the head wizard in Middle Earth to this mix? This isn't looking good for us."

Dwalin looked on, angry because he felt out of his depth. "Wait. If Kili is part elf, where have they been all this time? If this Saruman is such a great wizard, how come no one came to take Kili until now?"

"They. Can. Not. Take. My. Heir." Thorin avowed, his eyes steely and his jaw clenched. "ELVES!" He said it like it was a curse.

"It'll mean war." Dwalin said, his voice deep and resigned.

Gandalf nodded, his face somber. "One you can not win."

Thorin spun, clearly in a rage. "You do not know the resolve of the Dwarves of Erebor! Do not doubt the strength of our hearts. We are as stone and as resolute as the mountain itself!"

"And you do not know the full strength of the Lady of Lorien!" Gandalf bit out the words heavily, power eminating off of him for a long moment before retreating.

Balin coughed apologetically and looked at Gandalf, almost pleading. "Even with you on our side?"

"Even with me on your side." The wizard's voice sounded sad as he spoke. "And I don't know that I'm on your side. There are more important issues to be discussed this day."

"Not to me!" Thorin roared so loudly his voice near broke and he started coughing, turning away to stare at the bare walls. In his grandfather's day there had been sumptuous tapestries, but those were all now ratty and beyond repair. Balin had supervised their removal before the Mirkwood Elves had arrived with their accursed demands. New ones were not high on his agenda.

Dain looked around, uneasy but self assured. He sighed. "You need to send for Dis." Balin and Dwalin both nodded in agreement.

Thorin said nothing.

Fili came running in to the throne room, his face flushed and looking near panicked. His shirt hung loosly over the bandages wrapped around his broad chest. "You need to stop them!"

Thorin growled. "What do you think we're doing in here? Discussing mining schedules and the repairs to the bellows?"

"No!" Fili looked stressed out. "They're asking if Kili has a horse here and what here is belonging to him. It is like they're planning on packing his things up!"

Thorin's eyes narrowed dangerously, his fingers closing on the hilt of his sword, Orcrist which had at last been returned to him. By another damned Elf! He snarled. "There are too many elves in this world!"

Gandalf winced. "Do you forget that power that swept over the battlefield only today? Even that sword will shatter before it tastes an elf's flesh today."

Scowling, Thorin rushed out the door of his throne room back to the hallway outside Kili's bedroom, the others following in his furious wake.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

The song the elves were singing was long and in a language he did not know. Pretty though.

Kili watched the group with what he hoped would pass as politeness and not boredom. It didn't help that he was fighting a yawn. He knew enough to know that would be considered rude.

But he was feeling sleepy. And warm. His headache was fading a bit and his vision seemed better. A sudden yawn near cracked his jaw and he was helpless to prevent it. Damn. He slid his eyes over to the elves one by one, but all simply gave him smiles of encouragement and kept singing.

Strange beings, Elves. But not unpleasant really. Except for Thranduil. Kili frowned slightly.

As if in response one of the twins reached for his hand, almost like a gesture of comfort. Kili couldn't think of a reason to pull back, and he was feeling a bit lethargic anyway. He didn't squeeze the hand back though. This wasn't Tauriel. Kili smiled pleasantly at the thought of the pretty red-headed she-elf.

The golden haired female sitting on his bed shifted a tiny bit, and Kili blinked open his eyes, turning his head to peer at her. She was smiling more brightly than before, almost as if amused.

Kili gave her an odd look.

A picture of Tauriel formed in his mind, one where she was smiling at him while they were talking in Lake Town. Before the dragon and after the healing. That had been some of the his best moments in recent memory.

The golden elf lady looked even more amused now. Kili's eyes widened as sleepiness faded. Could she read his mind? He turned to the three male elves, alarmed, but their expressions seemed the same. He blew out a relieved breath. The dark-haired prince decided he was being overly imaginative.

Looking around, Kili wondered where his brother was right now. Was Fili alright? What about those arrow wounds? Were they like the ones he'd suffered, where they had been poisoned somehow? It was at that moment, in a quiet moment that Kili realized it was fully quiet in the room. The singing had ended. And they were all staring at him. Still.

Clearing his throat, Kili nodded. "That was ...nice."

"A song of Welcoming." Elrond said in a measured voice, even and soothing. His words made it seem like there was something he was missing, something that he wasn't understanding.

"Welcoming?" Kili laughed a bit stiffly. "You're the guests, but we dwarves don't have any formal welcoming songs. Lots of songs. We love to sing too you know. I can play the fiddle."

One of the twins offered him a half-smile. "Not that kind of Welcoming."

Kili nodded, feeling very unsure. "Oh."

"It also Awakens you." The lady spoke this time, pulling his dark eyes toward her. She really was beautiful. "Thank you." She said.

Kili's eyes went wide as his mouth dropped open. "Can you read my mind?" His voice rose alarmingly, a blush covering his cheeks. "I mean, well ...not that you aren't beautiful. Your hair is very ...shiny. Wavy. Pretty." He felt like a damnable fool, wincing.

"Do you not think it holds the same wave as yours, only the coloring and length are different." The lady kept smiling at him.

Kili blinked, his headache pushing back at him. Now that the singing was over he wasn't feeling quite as well as he had. But gamely he reached behind his ear and pulled forth a lock of his own hair. He squinted at the dark lock he was holding, it did wave a bit . "Maybe. But mine needs a wash."

The lady laughed brightly, then quieted. "Do you know who I am?" When he shook his head mutely, she said something thta sounded almost musical. "Utinu en tinu' utinu."

Oh great, more Elvish. Kili returned her smile, with an apologetic look. "I don't understand your language." He admitted with an almost cheeky grin. "Pretty though."

"It means you are the son of my daughter's son." The lady said, then held her breath. Watching him. "You may have gotten the waves in your hair from me. Certainly not from them." She waved gracefully at the three males on the other side of his bed.

There had been a ringing in his ears since the blow to his head earlier, yet nothing bad. But now he shook his head as if trying to clear his hearing. Maybe his concussion was worse. "Huh?"

Elrond knelt down next to Kili's bed. "I would spare you this, but there is no easy way to explain. This is the Lady of Lorien. Galadriel."

Kili's eyes widened as he recalled the stories his uncle had told them of the Elf Witch of the Wood. "Uhm?" He couldn't help his sudden sense of alarm. Stories told to frighten young dwarflings flooded through his mind.

"Her daughter was my wife. These are my sons, and her grandchildren in the common tongue." Elrond continued, his manner gentle as he tried to explain.

The young prince's alarm only grew despite the Elf Lord's efforts. He wanted to shout at them to shut up now. He shook his head, wincing at the sudden recurrence of pain. A premonition hung over him like a sudden pall. "No." He whispered.

"This is Elrohir." Elrond looked over at one of his sons, and then turned to the other. "And Elladan. He is your father." He tried to say as gently as possible.

"No. No, no, no." Kili was repeating himself, unaware. His eyes were round with distress as the tall elf bowed his head to him, but never dropping his gray-eyed gaze from Kili's face.

"Be at peace child." The Elf Witch reached for him and Kili rolled in the opposite direction without thought, becoming tangled in his sheet and knocking Elrond back.

"Young Kili ..." Elrond stood, looking on him with pity.

Pity? He didn't want pity! Kili scrambled back in panic and anger. "Why would you say something like that? I'm not an elf!"

The Lady of Lorien sighed, no longer smiling. She seemed ...sorry? "The light of the Eldar is wakening within you now."

"WELL TAKE IT OUT!" Kili shouted at her, horrified beyond measure.

Elrond would have laughed at that if the moment hadn't been so rife with distress. "You can not change your blood. None of this is your fault and I sorrow for your pain, child. Your father only now has learned of your existance."

Father. Father. Father. The word echoed over and over in his aching brain, his blood pressure rising alarmingly. In fact, it was the only word to penetrate and worm it's insidious way into his brain. Kili stood, unsteady on his feet.

Elladan bent over and gathered the sheet that Kili had lost in his mad scramble. He held it out to his naked son. "Do not fear us. Please, son. We are family."

Kili's eyes slid back and forth over the group and then he snarled, his hand swiping out to grab the sheet and wrap it around his nakedness. He couldn't bring himself to thank him. Him. Father. His stomach clenched tightly and he was afraid that he was about to throw up. "Where were you?" The question slipped past his lips without thought. Embarrassed to seem so needy, he violently shook his head. "No. No. It's a lie! You're lying!"

"Your mother did not tell me that she carried life within her when she left." Elladan said carefully, not wanting to upset the young male any more than he already was. Yet unable to give anything but the truth. "I would have been with you if I'd but known."

Kili moaned, holding the sheet in a white knuckled grasp around his waist. His dark eyes wild and unable to fully focus at the moment. His spare hand reached behind him for the door.

Elrohir stepped forward, but a motion from his father had him stopping. "Come and sit, we will explain." He said quietly, his heart bleeding for the powerful emotions swamping his young nephew.

"FILI!" The young prince hit the back of his head against his door, shouting at the top of his lungs.

"KILI!" Immediatly came the yelled response from somewhere out in the hallway.

"Please, just listen. We're not here to harm you." Elladan stepped closer and Kili's stomach rolled, his face going alarmingly pale.

"He's going to faint." Elrohir sounded worried, which was wrong. An elf had no business being worried about him.

Unble to think or see straight, Kili opened his door behind his back. Unfortunately he was also listing off balance and fell through the opened door at the feet of two Elven guards. They reached for him and he screamed.

Part of him knew he was out of control, but he couldn't stop reacting. When the Elven guards continued to reach out to help him, he vaguely realized they looked worried, not mean. But he batted at their hands anyway.

Father. Father. Father. The word pounded into his head with every beat of his heart, the pain of his concussion weighing in on him and the wound in his soul bleeding deeply. Long forgotten grief burst into life as all his feelings of abandonment whirled through his already confused, and still concussed, mind.

"KILI!" The young blond dwarf who was his brother rushed forward. The elven guards looked confused, looking back at Elrond as he just outside the doorway. The Elf Lord of Rivendell gave a silent signal to step back.

Fili dropped down to his younger sibling, wrapping his arms protectively around Kili.

"What have you done to him?" Shouted Thorin, moving forward but stopped by Glorfindel stepping in his way. It seemed the elves would only allow Fili to approach.

The dark-haired prince was in obvious trouble, gasping for breath, clasping at his cracked ribs and unable to focus his eyes. Fili let out a wordless wail of distress.

Galadriel stepped forward and through the door to kneel before Kili, moving too quickly for him to recoil. She put her hand on his bare chest, over his heart. "Rest." She whispered to him, without moving her lips. Without speaking at all.

Kili whimpered as his pain receded, then his eyes closed as everything else started to recede as well. His head fell back on his older brother's shoulder as he heard Fili's panicked shout. Darkness ate at the edges of his vision, closing in on him as he slid into a deep, deep sleep.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"What did you do to my nephew?" Screamed Thorin, for about the fourth time.

The group had moved from the hallway outside Kili's bedroom, leaving the young dark-haired prince with his brother and the healers, Oin and Nuluin. The elven guards remained at the door though.

"He sleeps." Lord Elrond voice lacked no confidence, or an innate sense of authority. "Kili was feeling overwhelmed and is concussed."

Thorin roared and stood staring at the table for a long moment, then lifted his dark eyes upon the Elf Lord. "That doesn't answer my question. WHAT did you do to him to make him sleep? Elf magic?" He spit out the words in disgust, and more than a hint of fear.

Galadriel stirred, putting all the dwarves on edge as they refocused on her. The Lady of Lorien seemed unconcerned as she spoke, her voice smooth and no less confident than her daughter's husband. "It is a form of protection. He needed rest."

Seated on one side of the room, King Thranduil of Mirkwood sat and simply watched. Appearing vastly amused.

"If he's concussed, he shouldn't be allowed to sleep without being tended." Balin piped up, unable to keep the worried look off his face.

"He is being tended." Galadriel said quietly. "And he will wake soon. It is a small magic of which you speak."

Gandalf sighed. "This is a sticky matter, for both sides. The dwarves fear that you are here to take Kili away from them."

Elrond inclined his head, suddenly looking arrogant. "He is our kin."

"You don't know that!" Thorin gritted his teeth. "Not for certain."

"Yes, we do. We have sung awake the Eldar in his soul. The response was clear." Elladan's voice held no warmth as he glared at his son's dwarven uncle. "It should have been done at birth." The accusation was crystal clear.

Thorin's own towering rage boiled over and he slammed his hand down on the long table in the meeting room. "He is a dwarf!"

"He is not only a dwarf." Elrond rejoined with equal measure. "And he has been denied half of his very soul."

Gandalf sighed. "I have news that ..."

Elrond turned to his long-time friend, his temper nearer the breaking point than he cared to admit. "I will not be placated on this matter. These dwarves have stolen kin. Son of my son. It is beyond reason, beyond forgiveness! They put a child in danger! You will not turn me from my wrath!"

Elladan stood. "We leave in the morning." His quiet anger no less potent than his father's.

The dwarves all roared in immediate protest.

Thorin put his hand on Orcrist's hilt. "No! He is my nephew! My HEIR!"

"HE IS MY SON!" Elladan roared back, louder than Thorin thought possible. The dwarves fell silent for a moment in the wake of the the warrior's shout. "We leave in the morning." He lowered his voice again, but showing no less determination.

"This plan may need to be rethought." Gandalf stood, his voice saddened.

Elrond made a cutting gesture with his hand. "Friend or not, Mithrandir. We will not be deterred. Nothing you can say will change our minds on this matter."

"Sauron has returned and has revealed himself." Gandalf's voice curiously lacked inflection.

Elrond fell silent, stunned. Quietly, Galadriel's head turned to stare at the wizard and for the first time since their arrival, she touched his mind with hers. He shared his memories of the Necromancer and Dol Guldur.

King Thranduil stood up, staring at the Gray Wizard in consternation. His early amusement vanishing in the utterance of that particular name. He turned to look at the Lady of Lorien. Galadriel nodded, closing her eyes in deep sorrow.

Elrond's eyebrows snapped together in immediate concern. "Does he have the One ring?"

"Not yet." Gandalf said quietly. "That is a small comfort."

"More than small." Elrond sighed quietly. "I ...am sorry my friend. My temper has led me to put aside what I know of you. This family matter has ...unnerved me."

"We must take council." The wizard looked at each of the Elven leaders, and then to Thorin. "All of us."

Elrond, Lord of Rivendell nodded, his temper currently banked. "Yes. But this is all the more reason that I want young Kili away from here."

The sound of Thorin's teeth grinding could be heard by the entire room. "No."

Elrond waved one hand wearily. "Sauron's appearance means that the goblin and warg attack on Erebor wasn't happenstance. It was deliberate. This place is not safe. Nor is the Mirkwood."

Thanduil's weight shifted slightly, but he did not argue.

"All the more reason for old hates to be put aside in the face of mutual need." Elrond spoke matter-of-factly, almost sternly. "Today's battle showed that neither the Mirkwood Elves nor the Dwarves of Erebor can survive the coming conflict without each other."

Thorin and Thranduil shared an uneasy meeting of the eyes. Both were in complete agreement. Elrond was annoying. And maybe right ...which was still annoying.

Movement at the door to the meeting hall had eyes turning in that direction. Fili and Kili stood there quietly. The young dark-haired prince of two or more major houses blinked, staring back at the assembled group.

Kili looked pale, but in control. And dressed. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his trousers, nervous. His dark eyes slid over the collected Elves present, settling on none of them. Instead he looked at his uncle Thorin. "I'm not going."

Elladan drew up to his full height.

Kili continued to refuse to look in his direction, although he was almost hyper aware of the elf's every movement.

Elrond sighed. "It's not that simple, child. Your place is with your father. And you have much to learn of the other parts of your heritage."

"I'm not a child, and I've made my decision." Kili sounded obstinate. "I am a Dwarf, of Erebor."

Thorin's teeth gleamed white as he suddenly smiled grimly, nodding his complete agreement. And pride.

Gandalf sighed unhappily, he'd been thinking about this for the two hours that Kili had been sleeping. "I'm afraid, by all laws, you are still a child."

Thorin shook his head quickly. "My nephew is an adult by dwarven standards. And by human as well. If this is all true, and this elf is his ...sire, then accounting for age by at least the largest portions of his blood ... he is of his majority and free to make his own decisions."

The Gray Wizard shook his head. "You claim dwarven ways? Fine. By Dwarven law in the rare case of custody dispute, the father's line takes precedent unless the female's blood is higher ranked. Dis is the daughter of King Thrain. Elladan is the son of Lord Elrond, all things equal they rank the same. Elrond rules, the title he uses is not relevant. Not only that, but apparently Dis has made critical errors in basically stealing the son from the father. His bloodline would go first then."

Thorin stirred, suddenly unsure. Gandalf sounded so ...sure.

"So the father's line is given. That means the prevailing rule is elvish, and by those laws? Kili is still underage." Gandalf concluded with a look of sympathy over at the youth he was discussing.

"I'm seventy-seven!" The youth in question protested immediately.

"Seventy-Eight." Elladan corrected mildly.

Kili shook his head, frowning. "You're wrong! Seventy-seven, I should know my own birthday!"

Galadriel made a small sigh. "Child. Elves count years from the date of conception, not birth. To us, you are a year older than by your own reckoning."

Kili looked at Fili, who shrugged. He hadn't known that either. The older brother looked over at Elladan, standing tall and proud in his righteous anger. And to think he'd vowed on a small bead to beat the crap out of the male for abandoning Kili. "How long before my brother reaches majority among the elves?"

"At least a century from the moment he was conceived." Elrohir answered for his brother. "Until then, Kili is a minor."

A hundred years? "No." He didn't shout or panic this time, managing to keep a closer rein on his emotions. "I'm not leaving with you. And forcing me to go will be a mistake of the highest order."

Elladan shook his head. "I will not have you in danger. You will return with us to Lorien or Rivendell. Those are your only two choices."

Kili's jaw clenched, as did his fists.

Fili recognized the signs that his younger brother was willing to fight unto death for a point. This point. Against his own father.

The blond older brother didn't want Kili to go anywhere. Ever. But looking at the Elves, it broke his heart. If his sibling couldn't see it, he could. They weren't leaving here without him. While Thorin was ready to go to war to keep him.

Deeply disturbed, Fili's mind raced. And it came back to one very small thing.

"I will not leave here." Kili shook his head.

"Child ..."

"I'm an adult!" The dark-haired prince bit the words out with venom.

"I want something." Fili spoke up loudly, drawing attention his way. But it wasn't until he'd caught Elladan's regard that he continued. "What does this get me?"

Elladan immediately recognized the glint of silver from the small bead held between Fili's thumb and forefinger. He shot a glance behind him at his brother. Elrohir nodded. He saw it too.

Galadriel eyed the small token with it's horse sigil. "It grants you the right to ask for aid or succor." She shot Thranduil a less than kind look. "And it should have kept you from elven prison cells at the very least."

Thranduil wouldn't meet the Lady's eyes, but appeared no less haughty.

Elrond stared over at Fili for a lengthy moment, then nodded. "You may not ask to keep your brother from us."

Fili nodded carefully, speaking with great thought. "I want time."

Elladan's mouth thinned, pain flashing in his gray eyes. "Seventy-eight years is not enough time?"

Fili shook his head. "I didn't know. Thorin didn't know. And we all know that Kili had no clue either."

The elves paused and watched, allowing Fili to continue. "I ask for time. Time for Kili to heal. Time for our mam to come and explain things. Time for you to get to know each other."

Kili turned and stared at his older sibling, grateful and yet feeling betrayed at the same time. "I'm not going." He insisted.

Fili gripped his younger brother's arm, turning him to face his father again. Kili's eyes refused to make contact with the tall elf warrior. "Time. Please."

"Do not beg!" Thorin's temper clearly leaked into his tone.

Elrond looked at his sons, measuring the need to get Kili to safety, and to also allow the youngster a chance to feel less threatened. "Time. Yes. I can not stay, not with Sauron on the move. I will return to Rivendell. But my sons can ...remain, for a time perhaps."

"I am staying for a bit at least." Galadriel said softly, but still Kili flinched slightly. "Not long can I be away from Lorien with the Old Enemy on the move, but I have dealings here."

Thranduil looked up, startled to find Galadriel's gaze now fully upon him. The two elves stared at each other silently. It only took a few moments, but the Mirkwood ruler was the one to catch his breath, and the one to look away first in an almost flinching move.

Thorin was amazed to see that when the Elven King reached again for his wine, there could have been a fine tremor in his elegant fingers. Maybe. He glanced over at the Lady of Light, she appeared completely at ease. What had just happened?

"I sent Dain to summon my sister, Dis." Thorin sighed heavily, resigned to having Elven guests. And at a loss on how to procede from here.

Elladan stepped forward and Kili winced, although he did not back away. "A few requirements. Break them and we take my son back to Rivendell without luggage and without goodbyes."

Thorin looked up, taking a careful listen, lest the elves try something sneaky. Kili took a deep breath, then coughed roughly as his cracked ribs protested sharply.

When the dark-haired prince looked up, it was to find his ...father ...watching him with deep concern. Kili flushed, his eyes sliding to the floor.

Elladan nodded slowly. He was still looking diretly at Kili who in turn deliberately ignored the male but could feel the stare almost like an actual weight. "Kili can not leave Erebor without escort, Elven."

"Dwarven and Elven." Thorin amended.

"Fine." Elladan continued. "Kili also has to agree to learn about this new side to himself. A fair chance to get to know each other."

Fili poked his younger brother, who growled, but then reluctantly nodded. The elves all nodded, not happy, but their anger better controlled.

Kili looked over at Thorin, his eyes almost pleading. The King Under the Mountain gave a short grunt. Time. Okay. They had time to try and figure a way out of this.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dinner was a strained affair. A nightmare of seating. Balin couldn't make up his mind about the various ranks and who should be seated higher up the table.

Thorin was easy. Head of the table for the King Under the Mountain. This was Erebor, and his rightful place. Dain too was easy, for that king had left with a mixed contingent of dwarven and even a pair of elven warriors to see to bringing Dis here safely.

Fili was rightfully at Thorin's side. Kili should have been at the other. But there was Lord Elrond and the Lady of Lorien. Whose title and rank was greater? Or should that spot go to Thranduil? Since Mirkwood was their immediate neighbor? And what about Gandalf?

Finally Thorin had gritted his teeth and thrown Balin's heavily revised seating plan into the fire, snarling. "We eat family style. Sit where you will." He spoke with not a little bitterness stressing the word 'family'.

It was interesting to watch, actually. Balin decided. King Thranduil sat next to King Thorin, but the white haired dwarf wasn't sure if that was merely because it put him further from the Lady Galadriel, who chose the other end of the table to sit.

When Kili entered, it was clear where he WANTED to sit. He even took a few steps toward Fili when a certain golden warrior claimed the spot next to Erebor's heir.

Fili glared at Glorfindel, who slid into the seat next to him with ease. The elven hero reached for the rolls, putting two on his plate without preamble. He winked at the blond heir, showing his move to have been deliberate.

Blocked, Kili looked at Thorin's other side, but that was where King Thranduil was seated. At least the Mirkwood prince was no where to be seen. Legolas was one touchy and arrogant elf to Kili's way of thinking.

Elladan rose halfway from his seat and Kili moved to the table to avoid being summoned. He wasn't ready, not at all. He moved to take the spot next to King Thranduil.

"Come, let me introduce you properly."

Without hesitation, Gandalf basically headed off the younger dwarf and led him over to Lord Elrond and his family. Kili's face paled as Elrohir stood and held out a chair for him.

"I'm not a babe." Kili muttered, sliding into the seat with ill grace ignoring the fact that his petulant attitude did make him seem really young. He was pretty sure that given the day's circumstances, he was allowed a bit of leeway.

"Indeed not." Elrond agreed cautiously. "But very young for one of our race." He glanced fondly at his twin sons. "Elrohir and your father ..."

Kili flinched a bit at the word 'father'.

"...were born in the year 130 of the Third Age."

Kili blinked, sucked in a harsh breath, and then looked up and stared. It was currently the year 2941. He suddenly felt more than a bit dizzy.

Next to these elves, his seventy-seven or seventy-eight years seemed as nothing.

'Not nothing. Never nothing.'

The words echoed in his mind, and sounded very female and yet when he looked up, the Lady of Lorien was eating. Not speaking. Had he imagined it?

Not even pretending that he wasn't listening in, Fili leaned toward the other end of the table. "Will Kili live that long?" He asked anxiously.

"That is unknown." Lord Elrond said slowly, glancing at the elven medic. "I myself and my sons were all given a choice of mortality or an elven life. My own twin brother chose mortality and began the line of the Dunedain."

Balin sighed heavily. It was one thing to read history. It was another to meet history.

Kili's wide eyes flew to his brother. Would he outlive him by so much? If he was presented with a choice, he knew he'd chose to live as a Dwarf.

'Be calm. That choice is not yet before you, and may as yet not even be offered. Your blood is very mixed.'

The words shouldn't have been a comfort, but they were. Kili's breathing evened out and he shot a glance over at the Lady Galadriel. She still hadn't spoken aloud. But she did catch his eye. This time he knew she was speaking directly into his mind.

'Your love for your brother, and his for you does not change with the number of years either of you live.'

Kili nodded slightly, calming enough to spoon a tiny bit of potatoes on his plate.

Elrohir passed him the spinach and Kili turned and put the bowl back in the middle of the table without taking any.

But any words on the lack of a green vegetable was headed off when several servants moved around the table pouring wines and ales.

As the pitcher of ale approached, Elladan's hand moved to cover the top of Kili's mug. Suddenly the dark-haired prince straightened. Underage? He leaned over at shot Thorin a wild look of distress.

Thorin winced. He was already plotting and planning any way to keep Kili at Erebor. Fighting to allow the lad to drink ale was a small battle, and one he'd willingly concede in order to appear cooperative. He shook his head at his nephew, telling him not to argue the point.

Elrond frowned at his son. "Kili has most likely been drinking ale since he was fifty."

"Thirty." Kili mumbled.

"Fifteen." Thorin sighed.

Kili sighed unhappily, feeling very put upon.

Elladan shrugged. "And he can again, perhaps even next week. For now he is still concussed."

"Ah." Elrond nodded quietly.

Kili brightened considerably.

"But no more than a drink with dinner perhaps." Elladan continued. "He is still growing."

Kili's consternation at having his ale consumption reigned in unfairly, shifted upon the utterance of one word. "Growing?" His voice nearly squeaked.

Thorin paused, his food half-way to his mouth. His eyebrows rose with surprise. "Growing?"

Elladan waved a hand at the healer. Nuluin carefully chewed his own food and swallowed without hurry, unmindful of the stare of every person at the table. "He would have grown at least another inch on his own. Yet now that the the Light of the Eldar is stirring within him ..."

Kili winced, rubbing his chest at the very thought.

"I sense within him the potential of three to five more inches of height. Short by our standards, but healthy."

Fili gaped at his younger brother. Almost half a foot taller?

Kili's mind reeled.

But the healer wasn't finished. "He'll grow in strength as well as size, perhaps even broaden a bit through the chest."

Dwalin shook his head. "A dwarf gains his full strength by the age of thirty. He keeps it for his lifetime. Unchanged."

"Kili is not fully dwarven." Nuluin said with a bit of arrogance. "Elves gain their minds very young, but do not reach maturity until they approach a hundred years old."

Thorin actually managed a weak chuckle. "There may be hope for you to learn how to use the heavy war axes then. Instead of that bow of yours."

Elladan's gray eyes sparked with interest. "You shoot a bow?"

Kili didn't want to talk about any shared traits. He ignored his father and looked to the healer. "Will my beard grow fuller?" It was the most important question on his mind at the moment.

Galadriel chuckled, but Kili's eyes never left Nuluin.

The healer shrugged. "Not a full beard more than likely, but it should fill out some. Perhaps enough to style as your brother does his own. Though without the length." He made a motion along side his mouth to show he was referring to Fili's mustache.

Kili laughed. All the pain and uncertainty faded into the background for only a moment, but in that small piece of time ...Kili laughed. Bright and unhindered.

The dwarves were long used to Kili and his light-hearted nature. But the tension of the coming battle and it's aftermath had cast them all into a deep pall. It wasn't until they heard his usual full-throated mirth that they realized that something essential had been missing.

The elves had never seen nor heard Kili laugh at all. It was no small surprise to them to see him lose himself in the moment so completely. Head thrown back, grin spread across his features in such a way that they realized this was common for him. Part of him. Lindir's sketch back in Rivendell did little justice on the true infectious nature of Kili's personality when he ...laughed.

Galadriel looked at the newest addition to her bloodline. The name arrived on the tip of her tongue with a sweetness like honey. "Kuilaith."

Elladan seemed pleased and Elrohir smiled. Lord Elrond nodded with affirmation.

At the other end of the table, Glorfindel grinned with approval. "Kuilaith!" He raised his wine in a salute.

Fili looked around at the other dwarves, no one seemed to understand what was going on. He glanced at Gandalf. "What's that word?"

The Gray Wizard smiled and shrugged. "It's not a word. It's a name. Kili's elven name now."

Thorin frowned at the thought of re-naming his heir. "He has a name!"

Gandalf shrugged. "I am called Mithrandir by the Elves, and I have several other names as well. I am still me."

"Kuilaith." Fili tried the name out, frowning at the unusual sound. "What does it mean?"

Glorfindel grinned at his dinner companion. "It is a ...bringing together of two words in a new manner." The warrior shrugged lightly. "It does not have a direct meaning, but it is an idea."

"An idea?" Thorin asked weakly.

"A melding." Glorfindel looked at Gandalf to help explain. "I don't know how to change it into common tongue."

The wizard nodded and thought about it closely for a moment. "It's like trying to describe color to one who has never been able to see. Let's see. Kuilaith. It ...well, very broadly it would mean a living embodiment of joy or laughter. It describes a feeling, not a thing." Gandalf frowned. "That's not it completely, it's more of a description of how others are made to feel by your very existence."

"Joy." Thorin sounded disgusted. "He is a dwarven warrior, proven and strong. He deserves a name of strength."

Gandalf had no answer to offer the dwaven king, not one that Thorin would appreciate or fully understand. To the elves, a person who brought out strong emotions in other elves, was a name of strength indeed.

Chapter Text

For the past two days Kili had effectively managed not to run into his newly discovered relatives except at dinner. Erebor was a large kingdom after all.

He should have known that his luck would run out sooner rather than later.

Kili, Fili and Ori met in a dusty hallway far from the clean-up work crews that they'd all been working with. Young Ori pulled out some spicy sausage rolls that the kitchens had laid out for everyone. "Still hot." He murmured.

Kili and Fili nodded their thanks as they broke the breakfast rolls and shared them. "Anyone about?" The blond dwarven heir asked. No need to specify they meant the Elvish visitors.

Ori nodded. "That one, the warrior with the long blond hair. He saw me." The youngest of the dwarves gave an involuntary shudder. "He didn't say anything though."

Kili nodded, his mouth full of food. "Glorfindel. I talked with him a bit after dinner last night."

Ori's eyes widened at such a bold move. The younger dwarven warriors were all agog over the presence of the mighty Elf hero. Truth? It wasn't only the younger warriors who were curious, Balin and Dwalin especially seemed intrigued.

The dark-eyed young prince grinned, crumbs spilling as he chewed. It was Fili who answered the unspoken question. "My idea. If the elves start making noise about Kili avoiding them, we can just let them know he was asking Glorfindel for some traditional Elven greetings and words."

Kili swallowed, wishing he had something to wash his breakfast down with. "I tried reading one of the books in the library, but it kept putting me to sleep."

"Oh! The libraries here are magnificent!" Ori almost cooed, having nearly fainted when he'd first caught sight of such largesse. "And the dragon didn't touch them!"

"Because it was full of books, not treasure." Fili said dryly.

"And so you do not feel that knowledge is a treasure beyond mere gold and precious stones?"

That hadn't been Ori's voice. All three males went still with shock, turning as one to stare at the vastly amused Lady of Lorien. Fili blushed very slightly, Kili went pale, and Ori stared in wonder.

She didn't immediately say anything else, just smiled at them all gently. Ori pointed at the Lady's bare feet and long hems. None of the dust or accumulated grime seemed to touch her.

Fili and Ori suddenly both straightened, their eyes widening a bit. It only took a moment, but the two dwarves said something courteous and hurried off. Fili giving a last apologetic look at his younger sibling as he moved down the wide hallway.

"Your brother is protective." Galadriel said, her voice lyrically beautiful. "Kuilaith."

"Kili." The young prince sounded surly, even to his own ears.

"Perhaps to the others. But I mean you no harm calling you by another name."

It suddenly dawned on him that he was alone with the Witch of Lorien. One who'd dropped him into deep sleep with but a touch of her hand just the other day. He eyed her suspiciously.

"There are stories of Dwarves so greedy they would steal the tears and the smiles from hapless elflings in their sleep." Galadriel didn't move toward him, but continued to smile. "Stories are sometimes meant to teach, and sometimes meant to entertain and frighten."

Startled, Kili looked down at his heavy boots, ashamed of his thoughts. "Sorry." He mumbled. He looked up and swept into a formal bow. "Auta miqula orqu."

Galadriel's beautiful eyes widened and her laughter was heartbreakingly lovely and very real.

Kili's face flushed, although he managed an embarrassed smile. "Glorfindel said my pronounciation wasn't too bad." He defended himself.

The Lady's laughter slid into high amusement and delight. "He's right. You have a good ear, inyo."

"Inyo?"

"Grandchild." Galadriel gave a slight nod of her head. "When you next see our dear Glorfindel, tell him thus. Antolle ulua sulrim."

Kili practiced the words several times before they were both satisfied. "What does it mean?"

The Lady of Lorien smiled winningly. "It thanks him for his kind words. A traditional response to the greeting that he shared with you."

The dark-eyed young prince eyed the most beautiful, and most dangerous, person he'd ever met. "What now?"

Neither pretended that he meant at this very moment, but instead were speaking of his future.

"No matter what you say on ages, I'm an adult and I can't go back to being a child."

"Oh Kuilaith." Galadriel gave him a soft look full of sympathy and sorrow. "It shadows the heart that the family knew not that you were one with us from the beginning."

Kili nodded around the sudden lump in his throat. Anger welling up in him, diffused and aimless. He couldn't be angry at his mam, she loved him. And he couldn't be angry at his elvish father, he'd been innocent. Leaving him without a target and simply ...Angry.

"You are still in pain." The Lady of Light gave him a chiding look.

"Not so much." Kili protested weakly. "Ribs ache and I'm sore, but my vision is back to normal."

Galadriel wasn't fooled. "Your head hurts again, from lack of sleep most likely. And your heart bleeds with anger, grief and pain."

Sore embarrassed, Kili sighed. He didn't even quetion how she'd known he wasn't able to get any sleep. Every time he laid down, his mind simply wouldn't stop. "Don't put me back to sleep like a baby again."

The beautiful she-elf nodded carefully. "If you want to learn how to keep such things from happening, you need training."

Kili closed his eyes, pretty much guessing what would come next. "From Elladan."

"Your father." She agreed.

The dark-haired prince of two realms nodded, his shoulders slumping a bit.

"But first I would seek out the father of your father." Galadriel's hand rose in a smooth gesture that reminded Kili of a bird's wing, all grace and power. "And if you don't want to be thought of as a wayward child, perhaps hiding would not be your best course."

As a rebuke it was mild, but Kili still felt the sting. "Thank you." He frowned, uncomfortable. "I don't know what word to call you."

"Properly, I am the mother of your father's mother."

This pulled a dry chuckle from the young prince. "Seems a bit long. What is Elvish for great grandmother?"

Galadriel paused and then shook her head very slightly. "It does not translate."

Kili stirred, a bold look crossing his features, almost cheeky. "I can call you Gabil'amadel."

The Lady of Light blinked twice quickly, taken by some surprise. "Khuzdul?"

"It means great mother of all mothers." Kili tried to look sweet and innocent, the effect called into question by the mischief dancing within the depths of his dark eyes.

Galdariel actually nodded slowly. "I remember Khuzdul. But why call me such?"

"You call me Kuilaith. It seems only fair." Kili shrugged lightly. "You use your language, I'll use mine."

"Indeed." The Lady thought it over for a long moment and then gave a hint of a smile. "Your quick wit does you justice, inyo."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"I leave on the morrow. Mithrandir and the halfling travel with me as far as Imladris before going onward to the Shire." Lord Elrond walked beside his son, Elladan. He glanced up at the ornately carved walls and pillars of the main hall, nodding at all the work being done. "They are diligent in their duties."

Elladan nodded and the two tall elves stopped, watching as several dwarves passed them by with a thick rolled up rug with huge rips in it, faces hidden by the large roll of fabric. Pieces of the once glorious designs hanging down forlornly. "Damage from dragon claws no doubt."

Elrond nodded soberly, his eyes missing little as he watched the small work groups each bustling in ordered chaos. There was a rhythm to the dwarves efforts that surprised him somehow. "You realize that we have not been allowed into the throne room itself?"

"So we won't see the accumulated treasure? Yes." His son nodded, unhurried, then frowned. "You also realize that Kuilaith was in that last group with the rug? Hiding his face from us?"

Elrond pursed his lips and shrugged. "He is supposed to be resting." The Elf Lord then turned and looked at the father of his grandchild. "I would continue to call him Kili though, at least when addressing him. Your son seems to have a great deal of stubborn pride."

"That would be the dwarvish side of him." Elladan nodded.

Hesitating, Lord Elrond gave a fond chuckle. "Of that I am not so sure. I remember a certain elf lad who snuck out while recovering from a shoulder muscle injury to climb trees with his twin brother. I do believe he ended up falling."

Startled into a chuckle, Elladan could only shake his head. "Your memory is long, father."

"And my pride is taking a hit as well." Elrond continued, taking a deep breath. "It seems that out of all the knowledge of the Elves and our great age, it took a dwarf to be wise."

Elrohir shot his father a mild look of question.

"To ask for time." Elrond glanced over at the pillar, catching sight of his son's son as Kuilaith approached them. Without the heavy rug he'd been toting but a moment before. "At least he's not hiding."

"From you." Elladan's voice definitely held a bitter tone.

His father nodded, touching his son's shoulder in encouragement. "Perhaps you need time as well. This anger you hold is a barrier between the two of you. I've been watching him these past few days, the dwarves treat him like an adult because to them that is what he is. With us seeing him as a child, we may have been blind."

The dark-haired young prince approached the duo cautiously, his eyes wary. "Vedui' noldo atar." He nodded to Elrond first.

A surprised smile teased Elf Lord's face. "Andatar. That would be a better way to name me. But I appreciate you calling me wise. Thank you, Kili." He said, careful to use the lad's dwarvish name.

Kili nodded solemnly, peeking at Elladan from the corner of his eyes. "I'm trying."

Elladan made a slight sound and shook his head. "Looking at books on Elvish to learn a few words is not the same as talking to actual ... Elves."

The eyes of Kili's father's father narrowed. "It was a good effort."

"I talked to an elf." The prince said defensively. "Two."

Surprised, Elladan's eyebrows rose in query. "What did you learn?"

Kili shuffled his feet a bit then shrugged and bowed his head in formalized greeting. "Auta miqula orqu."

Both of the elves looked startled, Elrond even had to look away to keep his composure.

Dark eyes watched them speculatively. "It's not really a traditional morning greeting is it?"

Elladan shook his head, his gray eyes alit with humor and his lips pressed close to surpress a groan.

"Someone told you that it was?" Lord Elrond asked almost meekly. "Let me guess, King Thranduil?"

Startled, Kili looked up at the two Elf Lords. "Why would I speak to him? No. Glorfindel taught me."

Elladan actually bit his lip, staring at the far wall with great concentration to keep from smiling.

"I guessed it wasn't right." Kili admitted, scratching the back of his head.

"I thank you for your ...greeting." Lord Elrond said, his mood considerably lighter now.

Kili's mouth twitched and he looked around as if guilty over something. "I didn't guess right away." He admitted a bit sheepishly.

Elladan snorted lightly. "Something happened?"

The dark-haired young male shrugged and gave a brief sigh. "I ran into Lady Galadriel this morn."

Elrond's eyes watered a bit and he couldn't help the small escape of laughter as his son Elladan turned away in order to keep his own composure.

"She wouldn't tell me what it meant." Kili admitted.

"Oh yes, well ...did she say anything about it?" Elrond managed not to break down into complete laughter.

"She thanked me. Asked where I learned the greeting and then taught me something to tell Glorfindel when I saw him next." Kili answered, a smile playing on his own lips. "She wouldn't tell me what that meant either."

"Oh?" Elladan finally turned back to look upon his son, his expression more than a little amused.

"Antolle ulua sulrim." Kili recited carefully, then watched as his father and grandfather struggled not to dissolve into laughter. "What is it that I'm saying?"

Elrond coughed and nodded, his face a bit red as he explained. "This morning, you told the Lady of Light ..." He sighed with deep humor. "To go kiss an orc."

Kili's laugh was instantaneous and embarrassed, as well as completely delighted at the same time. "And the second phrase?"

Elladan waved a hand at his son, shakin his head. "No. Just tell Glorfindel what Lady Galadriel taught you. It'll be better that way."

Watching the elves, Kili was surprised that they were smiling, much less laughing. They usually seemed so serious. Feeling a bit traitorous to be enjoying himself, the young prince frowned.

A few of the dwarves working around them sent the elves some rather dour glances. They weren't terribly popular here in Erebor, not when it became known that they were here to take one of Durin's Line.

Sensing the shift in mood, Elrond sobered a bit. But he didn't want to let go of the first tentative step in building a relationship with his son's child. "Did you seek us out for a reason?" His tone suggested he'd give just about anything.

Kili's face flushed a bit and he debated on not asking, but in the end he felt he had to know. "Galadriel said you might teach me how to ...well, not fall asleep."

Elladan shot his father a questioning look, but Lord Elrond was nodding thoughtfully. "You mean such as when the Lady calmed your mind?"

"She did a bit more than calm it." Kili's mouth twisted, his eyes downcast. "I was out for two hours."

Making you feel even more like a child. Elrond mused, nodding his understanding. "I can start your training, indeed. But it is not a quick process. You will have to continue once I have departed for Imladris. Continuing to practice, with ...Elladan." He amended at the last moment, in place of 'your father.'

He'd guessed as much. Kili nodded to show he understood.

"Mental training can be tiresome." Elladan spoke as casually as he could manage. "Perhaps when you are done this afternoon you and your brother will join me and Elrohir for a ride?"

Kili agreed without really thinking about it, deciding that spending time with the Elves was far better than being cooped up inside.

Lord Elrond smiled reaching out to put a hand on his grandson's shoulder, relieved when the lad allowed the touch. A small thing, but a beginning.

One that ended as King Thorin hurried into the main hall. Kili stepped back and bowed to his uncle. The King Under the Mountain frowned over at the elves, but only greeted them briefly. Instead he was there to speak to the leader of the work crews about important repairs.

"May I help, uncle?" Kili asked, heedless that he'd already committed his time that morning. Feeling guilty that he wasn't doing more.

King Thorin glanced at the closed off expressions of the two elves, and then at his youngest heir. Uncomfortable with leaving Kili with his ...relatives, and yet wanting to appear fair, Thorin reluctantly shook his head. "Rest. I already sent Fili to take a break as well. You are both still healing."

Disappointed, Kili nodded.

A middle-aged dwarf bustled up to the king, bowed and asked him something in a low voice. Thorin growled. "That is a relic of Durin IV. No, you can't 'just shift' it to clean it. King Thrain the Old brought it here when he founded Erebor. You'll need a full crew. It's not replaceable!"

Lord Elrond nodded. "A good dwarf, Durin IV."

King Thorin nodded absently. Kili though looked up, surprised. "You've heard of him?"

"Met him." Lord Elrond gave a small smile at his suddenly awed grandchild.

All the dwarves around them fell quiet. Even King Thorin.

"You ...met ... King Durin IV?" Balin stepped forward out of the group, his eyes alight.

"Fought with him on the plains of Dagorlad."

Someone moaned. Lord Elrond sensed he was still not trusted, and still an object of ire, but now he also had aroused the curiousity of the dwarves.

"What was he like?" Kili asked in a hoarse whisper. There was little that dwarves liked more than a good tale of battle, especially about one of their own. "History calls it the last great alliance of Men and Elves. But we were there."

The Elf Lord caught a wry glance from his son, who knew that Elrond wasn't overly fond of relating stories of bloodshed and death. And yet. The Lord of Rivendell looked down into the eager and wide-eyed gaze of a certain mixed-blood grandchild and could not resist.

"The dwarves were indeed there." Elrond nodded, his voice warming. "And I recall Durin IV as being quite the warrior, proud and strong. Of all the kings entering that battle, he was one of the few who survived."

Grins and backslaps moved around the room as the dwarves turned to hover around Lord Elrond eagerly.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan caught sight of his brother and hurried forward. "Fancy a ride today?"

Elrohir looked up from where he was speaking with Mithrandir and the halfling he'd met earlier, Bilbo Baggins.

"Always." Elrohir smiled easily, his heart eager to see the change in his twin. Ever since Bainnid had been killed, it was if the light within his soul had withered to a mere spark. He'd healed, to a degree, fighting and training with the Men of the North, the Rangers. Living to battle the orcs that had stolen his love. Yet since learning of his son's existance, it was as if his brother were slowly returning.

"You, me, Fili and Kuilaith." Elladan seemed pleased, and more than a little nervous.

Mithrandir smiled and Bilbo, well the halfling was confused. The wizard leaned in toward him. "Kuilaith is Kili."

His expression clearing, Bilbo smiled most sweetly, almost looking like a child despite his being comfortably middle-aged for a hobbit. "Just don't ask them to watch the ponies."

The Gray Wizard laughed at that. Sensing a story, Elrohir smiled, but Mithrandir just waved off the question. "Ask the lads."

"Father may want to join us." Elrohir mentioned.

Elladan shook his head. "He's surrounded by dwarves, young Kili included, regalling them with battle tales of Dagorlad and Durin IV and the One Ring."

"Ring?" Bilbo piped up, his attention caught.

Smiling, Elrohir nodded in understanding. "But he agreed to go riding with us?"

"What ring?" The halfling asked, patting his vest pocket in a habit that he'd picked up recently.

"Yes." Elladan told his twin brother. "But I need to find Fili and make sure he can come. I think it will help Kuilaith to feel more comfortable."

Bilbo was ready to ask about the ring again, but a mental tangent interrupted his line of thought. "Why do you call him Kili one moment, and Kuilaith the next?"

Elladan pushed his straight dark hair behind his ears and sighed. "Because my child is not yet comfortable with the thought of being other than Kili."

"It is good to move slower." The wizard mused. "Swooping in here ready to carry off a missing child? Kili is hardly that, in his own eyes much less that of his dwarven kin."

"So you have said." Elladan's mouth twisted with regret. "Perhaps we were too quick, but my anger over this goes deep."

"I thought Elves were always calm and measured?" Bilbo asked quietly.

Elrohir chuckled lightly. "Father's father was half-elven, and in turn his father was of Men, Tuor was his name. But Tuor's wife was Idril, a Noldor elf and princess. The Lady Galadriel is also of the Noldor."

Bilbo shook his head, this meaning little to him.

Mithrandir chuckled. "Elladan and Elrohir have noble Noldor blood from both sides of their lineage."

The halfling nodded as if this information was clear, then paused and shook his head. "No, I still don't understand."

Elrohir leaned casually against the long table. "The Noldor were called the 'Deep Elves' for their love of knowledge and words. They were also known for being great warriors."

Gandalf smiled rather fondly at the twins. "It was said that the Noldor were the proudest of the elves. And that they required 'room to quarrel in'."

Elladan bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Despite our rather mixed heritage, we have strong blood ties to the Noldor. On both sides. Which means ...we have to work on holding our temper sometimes."

Bilbo whistled softly and gave a shy smile. "I'll admit that I've not quite met the Lady Galadriel, though she seems lovely." He didn't admit that something about the glowing elven female put him in a cautious frame of mind. Almost as if something in him wanted to stay far away from her beauty. His hand went once more to pat his vest pocket, and the hidden treasure within.

Elrohir gave a wry smile. "Our mother's mother is lovely, no doubt can be held. But she does have a temper as well, although she hides it better than most."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

King Thranduil sighed unhappily, waiting in the main hall with Glorfindel. "Has the dratted messenger gotten lost? How long does it take to inform the Lady that I have acted upon her ... request?" He ignored the dwarf standing next to him.

Dwalin looked up at the ...guests, his face gloomy.

If Glorfindel secretly thought that Galadriel hadn't 'requested' anything so much as stated what she wanted and then waited for it to be done ...he didn't say so aloud.

"At last." King Thranduil drew up to his full height and gave a welcoming smile as the Lady of Light walked toward him.

"It is done?" Galadriel asked with an arched brow, her eyes not warming nor as welcoming as he would have liked. Apparently she was still not happy that he had thrown the son of her daughter's son into a prison cell.

"Why you would request such a thing is beyond me, but it has been arranged." Thranduil bowed his head very slightly.

The area around them grew chill.

Thranduil's head dipped a bit lower. He didn't react, struggling with his innate ability to adjust to temperature conditions.

"Good." The Lady moved away, gliding swiftly and gracefully.

"Damn." Glorfindel breathed out, his word causing a puff of visible breath from the cold.

The two elves looked around at the few dwarves in the area. They were watching the two tall interlopers curiously. They certainly weren't feeling the cold.

Dwalin seemed confused, wondering why the elves looked so odd.

Glorfindel and Thranduil looked at each other for a long moment. Then the King of Mirkwood sighed. "I know she's angry at me for imprisoning the dwarves. But what about you?"

"No idea." Glorfindel shook his head, willing the warmth back into his arms.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan spotted his quarry without much hunting.

Fili looked up at the tall elf hovering over him with a weather eye. "Which damned twin are you?"

"The damned one wed to your mother." Came the dry and not terribly happy response.

The blond winced, but didn't move. "You're not my father. I don't have to spend time with you."

Elladan looked down at the less than hospitable young dwarf and reached over to grab a chair, pulling it over so that he could sit and look at Fili.

"I don't know where my brother is." Fili said coolly, deliberately turning his gaze away.

"I do." Elladan responded. "Listening to my father's battle stories."

A look of consternation crossed the blond's expression, and then melted back into a rather flat affect.

"I want to talk to you."

Instantly suspicious, Fili frowned sharply.

"I'm not here to hurt your brother." Elladan said quietly. "He's my son."

This made Fili wince and take a deep breath. It was obvious that he was still struggling to assimilate this new side of his younger brother.

"It was smart, calling in your braid bead like you did."

Fili gave a sharp single nod of his head, refusing to be cajoled out of his dislike. "Actually, I once made a vow on that bead to beat your ass into the ground for leaving Kili behind."

Surprised, Elladan's eyes widened a bit. "Still feel that way?"

The blond dwarven heir shrugged. "Now I want to destroy you for coming to steal him." He admitted with more than a little bite in his tone.

"Honest." The elven father nodded sagely. "My own anger at being kept from ...Kili, is great."

Fili caught the moment that Elladan deliberately didn't use the new elven name for his brother.

"And I find that I'm angry that I didn't get a chance to see you grow as well."

Fili's face contorted with abject anger, rejecting the comment out of hand. "You have no right!"

"I accepted your mother as my wife. I formally accepted you as my son, acting as your second-father. I believe the Nute'adad by your reckoning."

Shocked, Fili glared at him and Elladan had to remind himself that this was no child, but a full grown adult dwarf. "Khulum, gelek emnu caragu rukhs!"

"I didn't come after you because your mother left with you. I did not feel that I had a right to claim you in that way. Not from her. I did not know she carried your brother as well."

Fili snarled. "You are a fool. And stupid for talking with me. I will not aid your cause!"

Elladan sighed, unsure how to explain. "I was ...dying on the inside. My love had been killed. Your mother was in a very dark place as well, with the death of your father. We ...abided. Fell in line with what our families wanted of us, but both of us were hurting."

Fili swallowed hard, not remembering that part of his life much at all. "I don't want to know this."

"We didn't live in Ered Luin nor in Imladris. Your mother was highly uncomfortable around too many elves. We chose a residence on elven land, but closer to human settlements than Imladris."

"Rivendell?" Fili couldn't help the question.

Elladan nodded. "Yes, Imladris is Rivendell."

"Why did she leave you?" Fili asked, unable to keep his tongue still. "What did you do to her?"

The elf father sighed and shrugged. "I can not say. She was unhappy, I know that. Grieving. Then the news came that her grandfather was dead and her father missing. When she left for Ered Luin I knew she would not return."

"You let her go." There was anger, hurt and even a hint of betrayal in the young dwarf's voice.

"I did not want to force her to stay." Countered Elladan. "There's a difference."

"You sound almost calm." Fili pointed out ruthlessly. "For someone claiming to be so angry ..."

Elladan shook his head. "I'm over two millenia old. I've had some practice hiding my feelings. Trust me, my anger still rages. I have missed seventy-eight years of your brother's life. And the entirety of your own childhood."

"You don't remember me." Fili accused flatly.

Elladan snorted. "You? You were the one to steal my best riding boots and fill them with pond water, to give the tadpoles a place to grow."

Choking suddenly, Fili shook his head. "Did not!"

"So I swear!" Elladan smiled as he recalled the event. "You practiced braiding on Elrohir's hair, you don't remember that?"

The blond dwarf shook his head slowly. "No. Not your hair?"

"No." The elf chuckled wryly. "I knew what you'd been eating before you wanted to learn how to braid." He paused, then shrugged. "Jam toast. You had very sticky fingers."

Fili managed not to smile or laugh, but his huge rage was moving into a simmer.

"Elrohir grumbled for a week."

"But you let us go." Fili's mood sobered, and Elladan lost his own smile.

"I was a fool." The dark-haired elf admitted. "And Elrohir blacked my eye for it too."

"You two fight?" The dwarf asked, shocked to the core.

Elladan chuckled ruefully. "Rarely now, more when we were younger. You don't fight with Kili?"

"Some." Admitted the blond with great reluctance. "Not a lot. I had to look out for him."

"Because he was smaller and younger?" Elladan guessed.

Fili shrugged. "Tall, but not wider or stronger. Didn't know he wasn't full dwarf, of course. And he's ...there's something about him. You can't help but love Kili."

Kuilaith. The name suited him well. Elladan smiled, no small amount of regret behind his expression. "No. You can't help it."

Fili looked at the tall elf for a long moment. "I can't promise not to hate you. And I will not help you take Kili away."

"Just come riding with us this afternoon." Elladan asked, his gray eyes careful...

The blond dwarf shook his head. "So that Kili will come and be more comfortable? Around you? No."

"So that you can make sure he doesn't have a good time." Elladan countered smoothly. "Make sure he doesn't relax."

Fili growled, muttering.

"What does khulum, gelek emnu caragu rukhs mean?"

"Elf, you smell like orc dung." Fili told him with ill humor.

Elladan smiled. "You and your brother both seem to have a gift with words."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"You're cheating!" Fili accused, looking up at Elladan as they both walked into the courtyard.

Elladan's lips thinned, staring hard at the stranger talking to his son. An elf. A pretty red-haired elf who had his son laughing and completely at ease. "Who is she?"

Fili looked back and forth between the two. "You didn't send for Tauriel?"

"I don't know her." Elladan said, a chill in his voice.

Feeling a bit better, Fili grunted. "You were hoping to spend time with Kili on this ride, get to know him better. But here he is enjoying someone else's company. That's got to burn."

The tall elf turned away, looking off toward the stables. Only brightening as his twin brother came over leading two extra mounts.

Fili looked and counted the horses. Tall, gorgeous, prancing, majestic animals of superlative bloodlines. Each spirited and ... big. Five. Five such animals. "Where are the ponies?"

Elrohir laughed, handing the reins to a gray stallion to Fili just as Kili and Tauriel walked up to join them. "Ponies? That reminds me. Bilbo told me to ask you two about the ponies."

Fili and Kili both stiffened, pointing at each other. "It was his fault." They both said, at the same time.

Elladan snorted, shaking his head, some of his good mood returning. "I definitely sense a story here."

Kili looked up at the horses. And up. Really high up. "Seriously, where are our ponies?"

Elrohir looked shocked, stooping down to pick up a protesting Kili and putting him in the saddle. "Let me just adjust the stirrups."

Kili's eyes were huge. "Uhm?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Glorfindel stepped up next to Lady Galadriel as they stood on the ornamental parapet overlooking the courtyard. He smiled. "Fili and Kili look ...nervous."

Galadriel smiled.

"Do I have you to thank for having Kili tell me that 'much wind pours from my mouth'?" The golden haired warrior asked.

Amused eyes glanced at the slender elf warrior. "It was kinder than what you had him say to me."

Glorfindel winced slightly. "That was meant for Elladan. To break the tension." He leaned over the balustrade for a better look below. "Who's the red-haired elf maid?"

Galadriel laughed lightly. "Someone I invited. From Mirkwood."

"You know her?" The golden warrior asked, his voice dubious.

"We have not yet met." Galadriel admitted. "But I've seen her before." She didn't say that this had been in her great grandchild's thoughts.

"Could work." Glorfindel nodded, pursing his lips. "Might not."

"I have sent for reinforcements as well." The Lady of Light said quietly. And then refused to elaborate further.

Chapter Text

"And who, exactly, is Tauriel?" Thorin's calm voice did not mask his aggravation and barely leashed temper. He dismissed the dwarven messenger who had interrupted the meeting and closed the door once more.

Legolas, sitting next to his father at the large conference table, started to answer. A swift hand movement from his father across from him, had the blond elven prince staying silent.

Bain cleared his throat, looking eager as only a youngster could. He knew this answer. "She's the elf-lady who fought off the orcs at our house in Lake Town. The one who treated Kili's leg wound, saved his life."

Bard did not admonish his son and heir for speaking up, although he'd only brought the youth to listen and learn.

The once grand conference room of Erebor had seen better days. But the tenancy of a dragon had made a caricature of the once proud glory of this gathering place. It had been scoured clean, but the table's inlays and silver filigrees seemed dulled by tarnish and even chipped in places.

Bard wasn't sure if the missing parts of the giant table had been made by dragon fangs, or dragon claws.

Thorin's cold-eyed gaze turned to King Thranduil. "One of yours, I believe. And don't mark me as ungrateful for her assistance in binding my nephew's wounds. But she was hardly instrumental in saving the lad's life."

Legolas fairly twitched in his seat, unable to remain silent despite his father's unspoken admonition. "It was a morgal-shaft that struck him! If not for Tauriel's intervention, he would not have lived past midnight!"

Balin coughed and felt the need to add something. "She's the red-haired she-elf who fought to protect you and both young princes. During the battle." He did not have to explain which battle.

Thorin fell silent, drawing in a deep breath which was returned as a sigh. "Her." He looked over at Thranduil, who did not meet his eye. "The one Kili was going on and on about."

The group, who had been discussing mutually beneficial trade, repairs, and defence all fell silent.

"Why is she here?" Thorin asked quietly.

Thranduil didn't make any excuses, he simply pursed his lips very lightly. "The Lady of Lorien made a request."

The King Under the Mountain nodded, putting things together in his mind.

"I think he likes her." Bain spoke up, only quieting as Bard finally put a hand on his son's forearm.

Thorin's lips twisted a bit and then he scowled. "Someone to show Kili that elves aren't all like this one." He waved a hand vaguely in Thranduil's direction.

The Elven King, if he took offense, showed no change in his haughty expression.

Balin shook his head. Time. Fili had bargained for time. But the dwarves didn't have the time to spare. Sauron was loose upon the land. Orcs, goblins, trolls, and even the Men from the East were making movements and gathering strength. The Men of Dale, the Elves of Mirkwood, and the Dwarves of Erebor were having to band together in unheralded alliances.

Erebor's dwarves were not at full strength. The mountain kingdom had been the domain of a dragon for too long. Everything was in need of repair. Food was scarce, and their numbers low.

Dain was bringing back dwarves from Ered Luin, and leaving some of his warriors here for the time being. But as a race, the dwarves had been exiles for a very long time. Not an army. Which is what they needed.

"Too much work for even basic security." Thorin muttered, running a rough hand over his face. "Not enough time."

King Thranduil absently picked up his wine glass, sniffing at the excellent vintage with pleasure. It seemed that Smaug the Mighty and Terrible had left Erebor's wine cellars alone. It hadn't held the kind of treasure the dragon coveted. "Perhaps young Kili needs to be exposed to the softer side of Dwarven life."

Thorin sent the elven ruler a speculative glance. "Meaning?"

"Surely, despite the fantastical rumors that flow around Middle Earth, there really are ...females of your own race?" Legolas stepped in, eager to offer a possibility where Tauriel could be replaced in a certain dwarf's affections. He'd been shocked to learn of Kili's parentage, and also upset by the news.

Balin's eyebrows rose as he shared a quick look with his king. "Aye. Aye there are."

"But none will be sent here until it is safe." Thorin scowled deeply, his hands moving to rest clasped behind his back.

Bard had nothing against Tauriel, or her being here. He had liked young Kili well enough, but his priorities were on Dale and the need to repair and reclaim that city. "What do you need?"

Thorin's eyebrows furrowed as he turned to look at the human archer, the slayer of Smaug.

"To make Erebor safe for the return of your womenfolk. What do you need of us?" Bard asked, his countenance open as he spread his hands. "From you we need materials as well as cash to repair what we can."

Balin sucked in a breath, holding it as he watched for Thorin's reaction. His king had fallen to the fever of gold and madness prior to the Battle of Five Armies. He'd recovered after coming so close to losing everything. But would it stand?

Thorin closed his eyes for a long moment, and the group fell into silence. Finally, the King Under the Mountain grunted. Then he spoke. "We can not mine yet. The shafts have to be inspected, I will not waste lives needlessly."

Bard and Thanduil shared a look. It was a measured and reasonable statement, but ...

But Thorin wasn't done. "However, there were stocks of raw materials in storage." He admitted slowly. "Not precious ores, but iron and steel."

Bard's expression lightened as he listened. "Even with raw materials, we do not have the facility to make enough armor and weapons in a short time." They only had three blacksmiths trained well enough.

"We do." Thorin's head bowed slightly and his expression turned grim. "What we lack are the basics. Wood, which we can gather but it takes hands away from needier things. Fabrics. Healing supplies. Defensive numbers, again with persons we can not spare." He sighed. "Food."

Thranduil nodded at the frank assessment, surprised that Thorin sounded almost reasonable. "I have food stock to ...share. Fabrics, healing materials."

"Wood we can help with. Food, we can supply some." Bard grimaced. "But numbers, numbers we have. If I can but get them properly armed."

"Properly armed?" Thorin scoffed, his mood rising a bit as he glanced at the bowman. "Like the weapons you first offered me and mine?"

Taking his cue from the dwarven king, Bard gave a light chuckle. "More like the ones you attempted to liberate." He admitted.

Thorin turned to Thranduil, he sighed deeply, and with no small amount of regret. "And do I dare ask what you would have of Erebor?"

The Elven King shrugged lightly, his eyes never leaving the rim of his wine glass.

"I know what you are after." Thorin admitted, leaning forward a bit. "I will tell you, we have not yet located the box containing those particular stones."

Thranduil's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Thorin held up a hand. "However, I am seeking them. When I was younger, I was not a part of withholding them from your kind. Still, I would not simply give them away in trade."

The eyes of the Elven King rose at those words. Not so much because of the words themselves, but at the tone in which they were offered. Reassuring. Open. Grudgingly honest. And while perhaps not respectful, not unrespectful either.

"We will share our raw materials, even our labor in the armory. We search for your treasures. Will you ...join with us?"

Thranduil watched and weighed Thorin's face and eyes, as if measuring his worth and his honesty. Finally, the High Elf nodded regally. "If you would allow some of your fine vintage to travel to the Mirkwood as well, on the return trip we will fill your pantries to overflowing and stock your healing halls."

Balin made a motion with his hand and Thorin held his palm outstretched, quieting his counselor. "For a crate of this wine, will you allow your healer to share some lore with ours?"

Thranduil's eyebrows rose and he sipped his wine with great appreciation. "For a crate? I will allow them to train your healers for an entire season."

Thorin sat back in his chair, cautiously pleased. Erebor was on the way to restoration. He thought of his once proud home, and his mind automatically went to it's future. His heirs. The king sighed. "How much wine would it take to get you to send Tauriel, lovely and brilliant as she may be, back to Mirkwood?"

Legolas scowled, for that was his wish as well.

King Thranduil actually sighed and shook his head slightly. "She is no longer a captain among my guards. The Lady of Lorien has requested her service and I ...granted this request."

No one there was under any misgivings that this request had been other than an outright demand.

"Tauriel has no say in the matter?" Bard asked, just to be sure.

"She agreed. Willingly." Legolas' voice was devoid of bitterness, but also empty of every other emotion as well. "It is an honor to be asked to serve the Lady of Light."

Thorin grunted. He'd thought so.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan sent a furtive gander over at the duo. He couldn't seem to help himself.

"Leave them be." Elrohir lifted his own gaze over at his young nephew and the Silvan elf. "They get along well."

"Too well." The anxious father looked over at them again, then turned back to his amused twin brother. "You seem too happy."

Elrohir gave an elegant shrug of his shoulders and settled back, leaning against a large shade tree. "These dwarves, they aren't much for horses."

Fili groaned, lying back in the leaves and staring up at the sky. "These dwarves have ears you know."

"Didn't think you were talking to us." Elrohir commented wryly.

"Too busy hanging on for dear life." Admitted the blond dwarf laconically.

Elladan snorted a bit at that. "Ponies more your style, I presume?"

"All we had." Fili said, his clipped tone showing he was getting irate on the subject. "I hurt right now."

Elrohir shook his head slightly. "I saw stables at Erebor. Extensive."

Fili sighed, apparently he wasn't going to be allowed to suffer in peace. "Thorin and mam ..." He paused, having not meant to bring Dis into the conversation. Quickly he got to his point, "speak of Altai horses."

Elrohir nodded thoughtfully, ignoring the mention of the lad's mother. "Mountain breed, smaller builds than the ones we brought with us. Hardy. Definitely not ponies though." He winced thinking of the fire damage he'd seen down in the Erebor stables.

"Uncle has already sent out inquiries for breeding stock." Fili admitted, closing his eyes and letting the late afternoon breeze waft over him. A rock was under one shoulder and he shifted, the groan escaping him without thought. He ached. "Can we walk back?"

"She's petting his hair." Elladan's comment pulled a smile from the young dwarf. "Does that mean anything?"

Fili grinned at the discomfort in the elf's well being. The last he'd seen Tauriel was leaning against a tree, Kili laying down next to her. Not touching except for her hand in his dark tresses. "Is she braiding his hair?"

"No." Came the grumpy reply.

"Then they're not about to make you a grand-sire." Fili said with a big smile. Elrohir laughed at that. "Did you really blacken your brother's eye?"

The two elf twins looked at each other, and then down at Fili, who still had his eyes closed. "Which time?" One of them asked.

It must of been Elrohir who asked, because Elladan answered. "I told him about how you'd been angry when I didn't chase after him and Dis."

"Ah." A very male chuckle. "Aye, I did."

"Why?"

"Because I didn't want my brother to fade." The voice didn't sound so light-hearted this time. Instead, the tone was nearly flat. Detached.

Ignoring his aches, Fili sat up, turning to look at the twin leaning back agains the tree. "Fade?"

Elladan looked back over at his son and the Silvan elf, wondering just who she was and why she was really there. Leaving Elrohir to explain about elves, heartbreak, and fading.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili smiled up at Tauriel, basking in the carefree moment. Away from all the turmoil. Away from ...well, crap. He wasn't away from the elves. "You're an elf."

"Observant dwarf you are." She said, clearly amused as she ran her fingers through his hair.

"It's just ...you don't feel like an elf."

Tauriel's green eyes widened slightly and her freckles moved as her nose wrinkled a bit. He watched her face, mesmerized.

"And what does an elf feel like, then?" The she-elf asked archly.

"Honestly?" Kili sighed. "Fear."

Surprised, Tauriel looked down on him, her face reflecting uncertainty.

"Not physical fear, like before a battle. You can build yourself up to face an army of goblins and wargs." Kili said slowly, his eyes a bit unfocused as he stared up into the canopy of leaves and bits of sky above them. "Fear of letting people down. Of owing what I can't pay."

She knew he wasn't speaking of financial payments, but emotional ones. "Do you know why I'm here?" She asked instead.

Kili grinned and turned his head so he could get a good long look at her beautiful face. "I can guess."

"The Lady didn't tell me. But I would assume so that you had a friendly face among the elves that you already trust."

"I trust you?" He made it a soft question.

Tauriel gave him a soft look in return. "I can only hope so."

"Are you going to try and talk me into going with my newly discovered relatives?" He pressed.

She shook her head, making her long red hair move around her shoulders alluringly. "No. I want you to do what you want to do."

He reached over his head and captured her hand in his own, bringing it from his hair to his lips. Slowly, lest she pull away, he pressed a sweet kiss to the back of her hand. "See, an elf on my side."

"Who else is on your side?" She asked, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach.

"Fili." Was the immediate response. And that was it.

"That's a short list." She didn't ask the obvious question, such as about his uncle or long list of cousins. And he didn't offer any further explanations.

Kili turned his attention back to the sky above him, although he kept her hand in his own. A short list? Once upon a time that list would have been far longer. Mam, uncle, dwalin, balin, and on and on.

But mam had kept secrets. Big assed secrets. Huge secrets. Leaving him on his own to think horrible things about his father that just weren't so. Not that she'd ever lied. But there was so much left out.

Uncle. Uncle loved him, he was sure. But Kili also knew that Thorin was only ever on Thorin's side. Complicated dwarf, the king. He was on Kili's side for now. But if what he wanted and what his uncle wanted ever differed ...the young dwarf's mouth tilted downward. It wouldn't be Kili's side winning.

The elves. Oh, he decided, he might as well just lump them all in one great big pile. Great-grandma with witch, grandfather the war hero, father and uncle the great warriors training the Rangers and legendary heroes that don't know enough to stay buried once dead. They were on their own side. His wishes be damned. Sure, they had a valid point. And he'd be pissed off too if his son had been basically stolen. But that son wasn't an infant anymore and he had wishes of his own.

His hand tightend on the soft skin of one of those wishes. "You should have callouses." He mentioned, rubbing his thumb over her palm. "Are my hands too rough?"

"No." She laughed lightly, and his mood lifted.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Saruman sat in his tower. Thinking. That was not unusual.

But after years of work behind the scenes, things had finally come to a head. Sauron was loose and the others of the White Council knew of it now. His long fingernails tapped lightly on the arm of his seat of power and position.

"Gandalf, Gandalf." The White Wizard's voice was highly disdainful, even if no one was around to hear.

Sauron had ...advised ...Saruman of the outcome of the battle for Erebor. But he would have to wait to be informed by more conventional means before reacting openly.

Erebor lost to them wasn't so bad. But the Line of Durin continued. Saruman's lips twisted into a sneer, and then smoothed out completely. Not that they were a problem. No. But what he, and Sauron, had hoped to avoid was any alliance between the Elves, Men and Dwarves.

Such an alliance had once proved too costly to Sauron. He was not eager to face such again. No. That alliance needed to be broken.

Seventy-eight years ago there had been a plan in place to drive an unforgivable wedge between the elves and dwarves. Saruman had thought that plan fruitless. But Sauron now has told him otherwise.

A child. That silly plan had actually worked. A melding of several of the most powerful bloodlines in Middle Earth. "He has to go."

Saruman stood and fairly glided over to his desk, pulling out fine tipped quills as he penned his missive quickly.

Sauron was tied up, seeking his One Ring, chasing rumors. And he was demanding more from Saruman now that he was out in the open. So be it.

"So what if there is a child?" Saruman melted wax on the back of his letter, sealing it with his crest, and a bit of magic as well. "When children die, families are often torn apart at the seams. And the seams between Elves and Dwarves are very fragile in the first place."

He grunted in satisfaction. What had not been won with brute force, could be won by stealth.

And when the Child of Blood died? All their precious alliances would turn against one another.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"You are unsettled."

Elrond nodded, then turned eyes far too cautious upon her. "Elladan is unsure of Tauriel."

Galadriel shook her head very, very slightly. "Elladan is unsure. His soul is warming, but he has long dwelled in the shadows of his own grief."

"You think he fears for Kuilaith what he himself has been through?" Lord Elrond posited, thinking of his son's great love, Bainnid, lost forever in death.

"Elladan's heart fears to love fully again. But with Kuilaith, he has no chance to hold back. His heart can find no purchase, no barrier against this child of his." Galadriel smiled gently, thinking of the child in question. Her dark-eyed great-grandchild who could bring forth joy in even the most stalwart hearts.

The Lord of Rivendell gave a soft laugh, shaking his head. "My son is returning to us. It is slow. And the sweeter emotions are harder to reconnect with than the darker ones. Anger and fear come first. Longing. Despair. But it is better than that nothingness, that void where he used to dwell."

"We are here for him as well as his child." The Lady bowed her head in acknowledgement. "You take your leave on the morrow?"

"I do." Elrond took a deep breath. "Can you see anything?" He did not mean this question for himself, but for his grandson. And the Lady knew that all too well.

"All is veiled." Galadriel's eyes closed, as if it pained her to admit this. "I too have no barriers to Kuilaith. His presence draws my heart as well. I would wish him happy, but that is not a magic that exists."

The elf-lord sighed. "Like my own child, his journey will also take time. I would like to take him back to Rivendell. But ...the more I am here, the less anger clouds my judgement."

"He loves his dwarven kin." The Lady gave a sad smile. "And they him. But ...he his not wholly dwarf. And I sense he has at times been apart from them in his thinking."

"Not apart from his brother." Elrond commented dryly. "Those two ..."

"Indeed." Galadriel agreed. "I too have sensed this bond. And I have no little admiration for young Fili and his use of his request to gain time."

"Kuilaith will outlive his brother. By how long is unknown, but the healer thinks he might live as long as four times the ordinary life-span of a dwarf."

The Lady considered this and then shook her head. "My thought is possibly as long as five times. I do not think he will be offered a choice of an Eldar life."

Elrond's heart broke at the thought of losing Kili, even if that might not happen for 1,000 to 1,250 years. "Would he have been offered that choice if he'd been Awakened as an infant?" His voice sounded suddenly hoarse, even to his own ears.

Galadriel turned her gaze on him, her eyes saddened. "No. I think his blood is too mixed. He was born mortal, and that will not change."

Elrond nodded, a bit relieved that the chance at immortality had not been wrenched from his grandson through the actions of his mother. He cleared his throat, wanting to change the subject. "Tauriel?"

Galadriel's smile lit up her features. "Delightful child. Young. Arwen will be good for her, lighten her up. And she for Arwen, grounding her better."

"You can't make them be friends." Elrond admonished his wife's mother. "Any more than you can wish a person happiness."

The Lady of Light gave a small breathy sound which might have been agreement.

"She is young." Elrond continued. "And Kuilaith even younger. Too young to think of romance."

Galadriel's eyes sparkled a bit at that. "Not according him, he thinks of himself as adult. And perhaps nothing romantic will come about. But she is a friend to him. Saved his life."

Elrond's eyebrows shot up.

"She was the one who addressed the morgal wound in his thigh. Without her, you never would have met your grandchild." Galadriel confided.

Nuluin had told him about the healed wound, a fearsome thing. Elrond tilted his head to the side and sighed. "Then I owe this Tauriel more than can be repaid."

"She didn't do it for payment." Galadriel's voice turned airy and light. "She did it against Thranduil's knowledge or wish. She did this deed for a young and handsome dwarven prince who had no ties to anyone Elven. No payment was sought or asked for."

"And no payment would be welcome?" He guessed with a short laugh. "I understand."

"She is Silvan."

Lord Elrond looked over at his wife's mother, surprised. "This bothers you?"

"It bothers Thranduil, when his son would look in that direction." Galadriel gave away nothing of what she was thinking.

"But does it bother you, Lady?" Elrond persisted.

The Lady of Light smiled brightly. "I would only wish him happy if it were mine to give."

"Be his wish High, Sindar, Silvan, Dwarf or even Human?"

Galadriel shook her head, her smile never dimming. "Only happy."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"What's the matter?" Kili yawned, stretching, which only pulled on his still healing ribs. He winced.

Fili shook his head. His mind still reeling from this afternoon, and what he'd learned.

"Uncle Thorin is wanting to see us before he retires." Kili reminded his brother, who looked rather distant. "Did something happen today?"

The blond prince shook his head again. "Am fine. Thorin is meeting with the captains from the Iron Hills, it runs long."

Kili nodded, then grinned. "Bilbo baked the most delicious apple tarts for dessert." He winked. "And I know where he hid a few to make them last a few days."

Fili grinned, and his brother went off to retrieve the promised treat. His grin dimming as he watched Kili move through the room. It was going to come out. The elves weren't hiding the truth. And Dis was on her way.

How was Kili to react?

Fili groaned, rubbing his hands against his face. The marriage between Elladan and Dis had been to get another dwarven heir yes. But also to keep the elf from fading. Dying. And when Dis had left, taking Fili with her, she had to know that Elladan's grip on this world was still fragile.

"Damn it." Fili gritted his teeth, more tired than he cared to admit.

He and Kili had talked almost the entire night the day of the goblin battle. His younger brother had been resolute that he harbored no real anger at their mother, who loved them both so much.

But the more Fili learned, the angrier HE was getting.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan, Elrohir and Glorfindel were seated together and sharing a glass of wine. Elrohir was telling about their day, and how relaxed young Kili was in the presence of a beautiful elf-maid.

"It doesn't have to be Tauriel." Elladan protested.

Glorfindel pursed his lips, then shook his head. "She's not the first elf-maid the lad has seen. Yet he appears particularly taken with this one."

"Ignore my brother. He's jealous that his son wants to spend more time chatting with a beauty, than getting to know a father he's unsure he even wants."

"He kissed her hand." Elladan grumbled.

Glorfindel put his glass down, looking suddenly serious. "Watch out. Take your eyes off the lad for too long and he'll end up marrying her without even knowing that's what he's doing."

Elladan made a disparaging noise and a rather rude gesture for an elf of his bloodlines.

It was Elrohir who looked stunned, his eyes wide, as he choked on his wine. Glorfindel slapped him on the back, all to be helpful. "I but jest."

Elrohir coughed and sputtered, then took a deep breath and looked steadily at the other two. "What do either of you know about dwarven sexual practices or wedding stuff?"

Glorfindel waved a hand in the air and shrugged, to show he knew nothing. Elladan shook his head.

"Oh come on." The golden-haired warrior teased. "You married a dwarven princess, you have to know."

Elladan blushed a bit. "There was a ceremony. Saruman spoke, and Dis' grandfather said a few words in Khuzdul. Frankly, it was the wedding night that made it a marriage for me. You know our customs."

Sexual relations equalled marriage to the elves. A sharing of the bodies was intimate, and meant that the hearts were forever linked as well. No ceremony was necessary.

Elrohir hated to bring it up. "What if Kili is married by elvish customs, and doesn't even know it? He was thought of as an adult among the dwarves after all."

Elladan's face blanked. Glorfindel near choked on his own wine, his eyes wide and shocked. All three cursed roundly at rose swiftly, moving as one through the halls of Erebor.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili and Fili were leaving Thorin's private study with both Balin and Dwalin. All were laughing and talking, and if Fili was a bit quieter than usual, he didn't appear upset over anything obvious.

All four fell silent as three tall elves turned the corner and almost slid to a halt in front of them.

"Lads?" Balin asked, ignoring the irony of him calling them that only because they looked younger than he did. Not because they actually were younger by any stretch. "Something wrong?"

"We need to speak with Kuilaith." Glorfindel said, his eyes still a bit wide. He coughed. "I mean Kili, of course."

Dwalin looked back and forth between the three elven warriors, his expression cautious. "You look like you've seen ghosts this night."

"Just a question has arisen." Elrohir stammered a bit.

Surprised, Kili looked at Fili, who shrugged.

Thorin threw open his door, looking irate. "By Nain's bearded ass, what goes on out here? The hour grows late and you all have full days tomorrow."

Kili pointed at the three elves. His father, his uncle, and then there was the elf-warrior of old.

"Well?" Thorin barked, clearly impatient.

"Um." Elrohir looked at Glorfindel. The golden-haired slayer of the balrog turned red in the cheeks. So he turned to Elladan. "He's your son, you ask."

Elladan looked uncertain, glancing up and down the hallway. "Perhaps in private?"

"What do you lot need to know?" Thorin roared.

"If he's a virgin." Elladan rushed the words out quickly.

Everyone stilled, Balin's mouth even dropped open in shock.

Thorin stared at them for a long moment and perhaps realized they were utterly serious. He stepped aside and made a sweeping gesture. "Perhaps private would be better."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"So." Thorin steepled his fingers together, trying to gather the remnants of his dignity together. "Elven marriage is based on the act of sexual congress?"

Fili snickered and Kili kicked at him, which the blond dodged easily.

"If he has had sex with a person, according to Elvish law. He's married." Elladan looked apologetic. "I'm only sorry that we didn't think to ask earlier."

"What if he's had sex with more than one woman?" Dwalin asked, completely serious.

All three elves paled alarmingly. Fili's snicker turned into an outright laugh.

Thorin stared at his eldest nephew long enough for the blond to get it under control. He looked over at the stunned younger son of his sister. "Has your body woken up?"

Kili shook his head emphatically.

Thorin thumped his desk with the flat of his hand, relieved to end this conversation. "There you go. Unmarried." He started to stand and escort all of these fools out of his office.

"Have you kissed anyone?" Elrohir asked quietly.

Thorin sat back down with a huge sigh, his left eye starting to twitch. "My sister-son's body is not awake. He can not have married anyone by your traditions."

"But he could have made promises, all unknowing." Elrohir said just as quietly. "Kissing and preludes to sexual acts are shared only with those you love and are promising to wed."

Silence. Balin dared not look at Dwalin or he might start laughing at the bright red cheeks on the youngest heir of the king. Fili was back to snickering, drawing angry looks from his sibling.

Thorin sighed and rolled his aching shoulders. "Kili? You been kissing anyone?"

"Define kiss." He said weakly.

Shocked, Thorin stared at his nephew and shook his head. "Mouth to mouth."

"No." Kili's voice was low and his shoulders hunching a bit. Thorin glared at him in accusation. "I kissed Barla on the cheek once and she ...turned toward me by mistake. Does that mean anything?" He sounded absolutely terrified of the answer.

At the mention of their distant, and much older cousin, Fili slid out of his chair while laughing. Balin had to look away, lest he join the lad. Even Thorin's lips twitched. Of the dwarves, only Dwalin remained stoic.

"Romantically?" Elladan asked.

Kili's entire face lit up red as he shook his head.

"Familially." Thorin sighed. "She's distantly related."

Fili threw his arm over his eyes, still on the floor. "He kissed Tauriel's hand today." This time Kili's boot connected with his brother's thigh. "Ouch, damn it!"

"Allowable." Elladan sat back in his chair, relieved.

Kili began to breathe again.

Elrohir looked at the dwarves quietly. "You use the phrase 'woken up' ...what does that mean?"

Kili's face flamed again and he sunk down lower in his chair, wishing the ground would open up beneath him.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

Thorin stared at the elves who just happened to be relatives of his nephew by a bizarre plot of his grandfather's. They stared back at him, not with an eagerness to learn about dwarves, but with an almost apologetic air.

Balin coughed. "That is ...rather a personal question to a dwarf."

Elladan nodded, trying to show that he knew that the elves were treading in on areas most considered private. "My son." It was a statement, but also an explanation for asking such a question in the first place.

Kili winced. Being the son in question. As well as it being his private life they were invading. Rudely invading, in his opinion. "Is this really necessary?"

"My son." Elladan's voice firmed. "Is at least half-dwarven. But not wholly. For his best interest alone, and to keep cultural miscommunication to a minimum, I regret that I feel we must ask these questions."

"No." The word was a harsh whisper, but everyone heard, and did fall still. Kili looked up, eyes clearly miserable. He opened his mouth, but seemed to be having trouble finding something to say. Finally he groaned. "I don't want to have this conversation. Not now. Not with everyone." He waved at the room.

Elladan looked around the room as well, considering. "Glorfindel?"

The golden-haired warrior nodded, bowing a bit to a surprised Kili and headed for the door.

Thorin smirked, but he gave a grave nod. "Fili? Get out. Dwalin?" Balin too started to rise, but the king shook his head at his advisor and friend.

Kili turned and stared at his uncle on the elvish side of things. Elrohir's eyebrows rose, but he demurred, rising. "I as well."

With the room clearing, Kili found he was able to breathe a bit easier. Until Thorin stood. The King Under the Mountain pointed at Balin and smiled winningly. "You're the one who's been married before."

The white-haired dwarf looked up in surprise and chagrin. Fili stopped at the door, turning to stare. "What? When?"

Kili looked just as shocked as his older brother.

Thorin went to the door of his private study, pushing his eldest nephew out into the hallway forceabley. "Before Smaug." His voice devoid of emotion

Fili's blue eyes clouded at the implication, the door closing on his pained expression as Kili watched.

"I didn't know." The young prince whispered to someone he'd known his entire life.

Balin nodded his head in a stately manner. "I know, laddie. I know."

Elladan did not miss the implication either. He said something lilting and yet somehow incredibly somber in Elvish.

Balin paused, his eyes saddened. "I only caught part of that, my Sindarin is out of practice."

"The light has lost it's brilliance, the stars have dimmed, the clouds cover the sun and the salt of my tears doomed the soil so nothing more will grow." Elladan's voice echoed the pain his words outlined. "It is an old saying."

"A true one." Balin sighed heavily.

Kili shrank into his chair. The elders in the room, both Dwarf and Elf had lost the loves of their hearts. He was nothing more than a child embarrassed at a topic of conversation. Damn.

Balin gave a wistful smile. "Husosorg."

"Bainnid." Elladan said the name as if a knife were twisting in his heart. Even after at least seventy years.

Hearing the two names, Kili felt his eyes prickle and he rubbed them wearily. He wondered at the two lost loves, and what they'd been like. Suddenly he didn't feel quite like the adult he'd been proclaiming himself to be.

"There is a dwarvish saying." Balin gave a weighted sigh. "It roughly translates into the heart of hearts is now a garden of stone."

Kili's dark eyes shot wide with shock to hear this ultra-traditionalist speak of their secret language to a non-dwarf, even in a round-about way.

"Shut your mouth, dwarfling." Balin gave a sad smile. "I did not give away anything secret. And I doubt that this elf does not know that we dwarves indeed have our own language."

"My father is more the scholar, but I do know of the existance of Khuzdul." Elladan gave a short, respectful bow of his head. "I even heard some from King Thror."

Now Balin's mouth dropped open for a moment before he regained his equilibrium. "The wedding." He nodded.

Kili looked away, swallowing with some difficulty. The wedding. Of his mam. To Elladan. He didn't want to think of their marriage. It made all of this seem all too real. "My life is a punch play."

Balin snorted, while Elladan only looked confused. The older dwarf explained. "Puppet plays for dwarflings. Lot of fighting and punching, the hero always gets banged up quite a bit."

"What is a puppet?" The elf asked, still confused.

"Toy being controlled with strings to tell a story." The white-haired dwarf said with a half-smile.

Elladan nodded, his eyes lighting up with understanding. "We have another name for such a thing."

Balin nodded, unsurprised. "Now then. Waking up. Hmfph. When a male dwarrow is born it is into a body of flesh and blood, not the stone of the first Seven Fathers."

"Durin the Deathless." Elladan gave a brief smile. "I learned this prior to ...well, marrying."

"From King Thror?" Balin asked, curious beyond belief. Still appalled that the king had pulled off such a feat without any of his closest advisors being aware.

"Nay." The elf lord frowned. "I believe it was from Saruman. The White Wizard."

Kili made a choking sound. "Wizards can't even turn off the rain." He said it like he was personally affronted by this lack.

Balin snorted in amusement. "Best to hear dwarf history from a dwarf. So. Flesh and blood we are, but the sexual part of our nature remains cold as the stone from which we originated. Unless we meet and love one who is to be our other half."

Elladan blinked, unsure. "That means what?"

"Nothing pokes out unless we're in love." Kili sighed, closing his eyes and letting his head drop back.

Balin frowned sharply. "Lad, that is a completely crass way of describing a wonderous part of our beings. Who taught you that way?"

"Thorin."

The white-haired dwarf dropped his chin and shook his head in sorrow. "Travesty. Simply a travesty, and him our King."

Elladan looked back and forth between the two, trying to put it all together in his head. "Your bodies don't become hardened unless in love?"

"No." Balin spread his hands as if that explained all. "When a dwarrow 'wakes up' it means his body is reacting to one he loves. Reacting in a way that will create a new generation. Many of our kind never marry, never produce children. For them their craft is all that fills their hearts and they are very happy for it."

The elf lord pushed his hair behind his ears, now looking more confused. "So how did Dis and I?" He pointed at Kili, raising an eyebrow.

Balin smiled sadly. "Dwarrowdams are different than the dwarrows themselves. No need for waking them up, they are fertile. Though some choose not to marry and focus on craftwork as well. It is told that this is because all the Seven Fathers were dwarrow, the females were crafted after the Awakening. Less time being made of stone you see."

Elladan didn't look like he understood everything, but he did manage to get the pertinent parts. "So Kuilaith, excus me ...Kili. Kili's body won't physically be attracted to anyone unless he's in love with them?"

Balin shook his head. Kili stared at the rock face of the ceiling. It was elaborately carved and inlaid with actual mithral and gemstones. His mind was so numb right now that it barely registered. "Thorin said that when a dwarrow 'woke up' then IT would poke out and point him to who he was meant to be with."

A disgusted groan from the elder dwarf drew a sigh from young Kili.

"Has your body ever stirred in such a manner?" Elladan asked his son. For Tauriel, he wanted to ask, but couldn't.

Kili's face heated up again. "Already asked and answered." He muttered.

"No, then." The elf lord seemed curiously satisfied by that answer.

Balin stroked his beard, his mind racing. "The time for a dwarrow's awakening starts anywhere from age 50 to 70 years, or that's when it could possibly start. Older dwarrow have been known to wake up as late as 200 years, although that's rather a late time and is a rare occurrence. Sexual maturity for elves would be?"

"At least a century." Elladan answered without embarrassment. "Perhaps at 90, but certainly no sooner."

Kili groaned. "Sure, hang another sign on me saying that I'm still a child."

Balin chuckled. "Hardly. What I'm getting at is that since Kili will no doubt live a longer life than most dwarrow, his body may just not be mature enough yet to 'wake up'. Even if he has met one that he could love."

Elladan stilled, not wanting his son to yet ask how lengthy a time he might live. Having Kili learn that he will long outlive his loved ones was not a discussion he wanted to have before he was more sure of a few things. His son was already hurting far too much.

Kili's head popped up and he gave a tentative smile. "So, I could have met my love and just because things haven't poked out ... she could still be my love?"

"Crude. But yes." Balin sighed. "Let us start over from the beginning."

"Why?" Kili asked with a moan.

"Because Thorin has a lot to answer for." Balin muttered sourly.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Why does a mixed blood mongrel still sit so close to the throne of Erebor? He should be removed from the line of succession." Muttered an angry looking dwarrow with a blade scar across his craggy features. The scar crossed over his cheek and forehead, but spared his eye. Barely.

His companion frowned sharply, uncomfortable. Both had arrived with Dain Ironfoot, from the Iron Hills. Both were chafing at being directed around by those few who had come to be known as the Company. "Don't let any of King Thorin's pets hear you speak like that." He took a long pull off his mug of ale.

"Dain should rule." Sneered the first dwarrow, the scarred one. "He's a war hero, just like the Oakenshield. And not tainted by the madness of his line. And to find out, the king's sister spread herself for an elf of all ungainly creatures." He made a disgusted sound.

Some of the other dwarrow, drinking companions but not friends, moved away. A few others stayed where they were.

Silently, Brinarg watched. Not taking part, but making note of who was ripe to be approached for such a delicate endeavor. He hid his sly smile behind his ale tankard. He had his message. The bounty on King Thorin's head was gone, wasted. There was a new target now, and the possible rewards were that much higher.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin looked up as the unlikely trio entered the informal dining hall. The elf looked thoughtful while Kili appeared pale. Balin was fuming. The king grinned while he watched.

Balin fairly marched over to his king as he sat with Dwalin and Fili. "Had to start over from the beginning." He complained, reaching for his own brother's ale.

Dwalin handed him the tankard without qualm, his lips twitching. "Why?" He asked in his usual gruff voice.

"Because Thorin, mighty king that he is, mucked it all up." Balin sneered as he downed his ale.

Fili laughed, right before Thorin cuffed him next to his ear. "Right. Well. Fun's over." The King Under the Mountain ignored his advisor's comment. "Work. Fili. I expect you at the armory bright and sharp. We have to sort out what we have, what we need and what we can send to Mirkwood or Dale. Repairs, everything. Names of the dwarves on work detail for you has already been posted."

Fili nodded solemnly, his chest expanding a bit to be so trusted.

"Kili!" Thorin called his younger nephew over to him. "After your ...after Lord Elrond and the others take their leave tomorrow I want you to test what warriors we have for archery skills. We are going to need to mount the walls with defense. I don't trust that any of the bows from before are still viable, check them. You are our best bowyer. Let me know what you need."

The dark-haired princed smiled grimly, pleased but still feeling off.

As if sensing his nephew's mood. Thorin wrapped his large hand around the back of Kili's neck, pulling him in close. The uncle and king leaned in and put his forehead against the younger dwarrow's. With his free hand, he reached for Fili.

Elladan's breathing held for a moment, watching as without words, the three dwarves stood there. The King resting his forehead against one, and then the other. The two younger dwarrow relaxing, tension melting away. He didn't know if this was culturally significant, or merely a family thing. Either way, his heart was quite literally aching.

Anger and pain reared their ugly damned heads as Elrohir walked up behind him. His twin brother put his hand on his shoulder in a silent sign of support. Elladan forced himself to relax, trying to let the jealousy go. Wishing with all he had that he'd not missed the last seventy-eight years of his child's life.

o.o.o.o.o

*One Week Later*

o.o.o.o.o

"It's only been a week." Elrohir offered with a sigh, watching his twin toss aside an arrow he'd been trying to fletch.

"Over a week." Corrected his twin brother.

Elrohir snorted softly. "A Northman's week then. We've been too long in training the Rangers. I start to count time as they do."

Elladan nodded to show he was listening.

"Now Caduras and Lutheron go to take our place in the North. Letting us remain here." Elrohir continued. "Where it has still been only a week. You can't expect great changes so soon."

Elladan stretched his fingers and rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the tension there. Fletching was tedious work, but needed to be done properly. This mood he was in wasn't conducive and his task was suffering. "In that week he's said fourteen words to me. Each of them consisting of 'good morning' and that is it. He's said more to Lady Galadriel than to me."

"Truth." Elrohir allowed, a sad smile tilting his lips upward. "But they weren't particularly nice words." He reminded his brother, recalling how Kuilaith had seemed almost bitter when he'd demanded an answer on why Tauriel had been forced from Mirkwood. "I thought Glorfindel was going to burst a blood vessel trying not to laugh."

Lady Galadriel had only smiled at him. It had been Tauriel herself who'd set Kuilaith straight, that she'd been offered a choice and she'd taken it. No force had been involved. Her choice.

"Where is Glorfindel?" Elladan asked. "I could stand to blow off some energy with a small skirmish."

Elrohir shrugged one elegantly muscled shoulder, so different from the more bulky dwarves living in Erebor. "Last I saw he was talking with Dwalin about the proper balancing of axes."

"Glorfindel seems to be having no problems getting along with the dwarves." Elladan's voice held a note of betrayal despite his best efforts.

His twin laughed at that and nodded. "Well, neither of us slew a balrog nor did we rob our own tomb for a sword." Elrohir glanced up, movement catching his eye. "The young scribe, Ori I believe, actually was brave enough to ask him if his body was still in the tomb when he opened it."

Elladan looked up at his brother's face, attention caught. "Did Glorfindel give an answer?" This had been a burning question among the elves for centuries.

"No." Elrohir answered quietly, looking down at his brother. "The mighty hero still refuses to speak of it. Be ready, your son approaches."

It took Elladan a second to switch from the topic of Glorfindel's past. He did manage not to look startled as Kili stopped in front of him. Barely.

Dressed in typical dwarvish manner, it was difficult to see his more elvish features. A more slender frame, a nose not quite long enough, and features a bit too delicate looking for dwarvish beauty. Yet the lad looked so right to his father's eyes, even in the heavy leathers sporting dwarvish designs and runes.

"Good morning." Kili greeted him, caution in his voice. As usual.

Elrohir fought off a smile even as Elladan returned the greeting. But for once, the young prince didn't move off immediately. The silence between them was an awkward one.

The outcome of the quiet stand-off was a foregone conclusion. No one could really outwait an elf, least of all a young dwarf with something on his mind. Kili cleared his throat, then pointed at the arrows his father had been fletching that morning. "Those fletchings. They're not straight."

Elladan nodded, hearing no disparagement but rather the question behind the words. "Helical set." He reached for one of the arrows, holding it up to his son to get a better look. "It grasps the shaft at an angle to introduce torque."

Kili grunted, his dark eyes narrowing in contemplation. "Why?"

Elladan could hear real curiousity in the youngster's voice, but also a hint of something else. Or maybe the father in him just wanted there to be something else in his son coming to him. Instead of dwelling on it he answered the question. "Increased range and control." Elladan said quietly, then made what was perhaps the most important offer in his long life. "Want to try shooting some?"

The question was mild, but both twin elf lords held their breath as they waited for a response.

Kili looked off into the distance, but saw nothing as his mind worked over the baited question. No one pretended it wasn't an offer to spend time together, father and son.

Instinctively Elladan knew not to push, but waited. Finally, after several long moments, Kili gave a jerky kind of nod.

Elrohir smiled rather weakly with relief. "You could have gone to Tauriel."

Elladan stiffened, shooting his brother an incredulous look. But Kili relaxed a little and pulled a face. "Don't want to look bad in front of her." He said candidly.

Sensing an unsure and fragile peace offering, Elladan nodded carefully. "I've seen you shooting this week. You won't look bad."

Kili tensed up a bit, clearly still uncomfortable. "For a dwarf."

Elladan's eyebrows rose. "You've not missed a target yet." And yes, he'd been watching. Of course he'd been watching.

The dark-haired young male sighed, clearly chewing over something important to him. He shot a glance first at his father, and then his elvish uncle. "Dwarves stand still and shoot. Plant our feet and bang one out after another."

Elladan didn't pretend not to understand. "Elves move constantly. It makes us a harder target to catch."

"Effective." Kili nodded, still not meeting his father's eyes. "From what I've seen." He sounded almost resentful, even to his own ears. The young prince coughed and tried again. "I basically trained myself, hunting mostly. Guard work on trading caravans."

"Before you came to Rivendell," Elrohir asked quietly, "had you seen any elves before?" He deliberately used the common language title, rather than the elvish name.

Kili shook his head, knowing better than to explain how his mother had never seemed keen on that particular idea. And now he knew why.

"We can train you in our ways, but it will not be comfortable to you." Elladan offered cautiously, feeling his way through the emotional turmoil he could sense below the surface.

"Because I'm too dwarvish to move like you?" Kili's stubborn jaw jutted outward and his dark-eyes narrowed pugnatiously.

Elladan shook his head very slowly. "Because you'd have to spend a lot of time with us. Elves. And I'm not sure I want to train you."

Kili's mouth went dry, his eyes widening with hurt.

"Because to train you, I might lose any chance of forging a better relationship with you." Elladan continued. "I want us to be ...more. Father and son. I want to be there for you. To train you properly in the way you've asked, I couldn't be gentle or even kind. You may not like me now, but if we do this you might never do so."

Shockingly, Kili laughed, his tension completely dispersing. He shook his head. "I was trained by Thorin and Mister Dwalin. Gentle and kind aren't dwarvish words."

Elladan looked at his twin brother, weighing his options. Finally he gave a nod and pointed at his son. "Lose the boots."

Kili looked down at his best footwear, good heavy dwarvish style boots. "Huh?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin grunted in satisfaction as Balin finished his report on the caravan arriving from Lord Bard of Dale. "Food runs heavily to fish, but preserved well for the coming winter."

Balin made a few notations on his lists. "Flour. Salt. Yeast. All good. Cheese isn't dwarvish, but it'll do for this winter. As you know, the fish is plentiful. But it will be a lean winter. Goodly supply of wood though, with promises of more to come."

"The signals came in, the Elven King has pack animals being escorted this way." Thorin couldn't hold back a bitter sneer, thinking about Thranduil. But food was food, and his people needed to be fed over the winter. "Hunting parties are under utilized, but we can't risk much with goblins still running wild out there. And Mordor looking our way."

Balin looked up at his king. "They have no need to look at us."

"We're vulnerable. Yes, we have Erebor back. But we are not the stronghold we will need to be with that Enemy out there." Thorin waved a hand swiftly, ending up pointing at his long-time friend and advisor. "The message Gandalf intercepted, the one with a bounty on my head? Was written in Black Speech."

The elder dwarf hissed at the thought. "You think?" He gestured silently toward the east.

Thorin shrugged and nodded.

"Your door is open."

Both dwarves turned and stared at the imposing figure of the Lady of Light, outlined by the glow of torches on either side of the door. The wide open door.

"It's rude to listen in." Thorin snapped, irate.

"Far ruder to steal kin." The Lady rejoined.

The King Under the Mountain stood more still than any statue, finally he growled. "Are we really going to have that conversation now? Dain and the others aren't even probably half-way to Ered Luin yet."

Lady Galadriel looked at him, almost in sorrow. "Not my original intent, I assure you."

Thorin had trouble meeting her eyes. She looked so young, and her eyes showed so great a depth that appeared as if beyond ages. "Your intent then?"

"To offer aid." The Lady of the Wood, one who was also thought of as a witch by the dwarves, smiled. "More of an accomplishment of aid rather than an offer. Food and other staples are on their way from Lothlorien."

"We didn't ask for that help." Snapped an infuriated Dwarven King, his temper rising close to the top.

The Lady calmly looked at him with her starry eyes and gave a small smile. "You would accept from Thranduil what you will not accept from me?"

Balin made a distressed noise in the back of his throat and Thorin made a hand gesture for patience. He himself tried to rein in his own mounting anger. "I buy the Elven King's assistance. I am afraid of what price you might ask for yours."

"Ah." Galadriel made no move, nor did her expression change. But the pressure of her gaze lessened somehow. "No. I do not seek the release of my kin, my daughter's son's son. You do not hold him by force, and the bonds of love that you have with him would not be for sale at any price."

Thorin stilled, sensing a trap within her words. But try as he might, he wasn't sure what she was trying to pull. "He is easy to love."

Now the Lady of Lorien did move as she bowed her head in acquiescence, her hand moving as gracefully as a feather falling to the ground. "Indeed, that is so."

The King Under the Mountain couldn't help but admire her beauty, for he was a Dwarf and like his kind he appreciated finer things. Ruthlessly he steeled his heart to her. "Why send us aid? We who you think ..."

"Stole our blood?" Galadriel finished for him, choosing words deliberately intended to offend. "Your sister has much to answer for."

"Without her, there would be no Kili." Thorin threw that out there, not thinking through his words.

Startled, Galadriel's eyes widened slightly and she appeared to be pondering what he'd said most carefully. "I will ...consider that." She said quietly. "But in the meantime, while Kuilaith dwells in Erebor, so will Elves. Not always the same ones, but elves no matter."

"Stuck with you, are we?" Thorin's voice dripped with disdain.

"Me? Not always. I must return to my woods in these dark times. But Elladan and Elrohir definitely. Nuluin has stayed on as has Tauriel, though they will most likely travel with me back to Lothlorien when the time is ripe." Galadriel answered far more politely than the king's question warranted. "More will come."

"Glorfindel?" Balin asked almost breathlessly. He had so many questions about that particular elf. Even Dwalin grumbled about that elf less than he did the others.

Galadriel smiled brighter this time. "With the hero, who can say but he himself? That one seems to like Erebor and her inhabitants."

"You take Tauriel with you in the hopes that Kili will follow like a love-struck puppy?" The dark-haired king asked coldly.

The Lady blinked slowly, then shook her head very slightly. "They are too young. Tauriel wishes to travel, to see more of this world than the Mirkwood. I am only too happy to assist one as bright as she, and repay a kindness done to my family even unknowning as she was at the time." She paused and smiled. "It does Kuilaith good to know that there is one Elf he likes at least. But she is not a carrot to be dangled before a cart horse."

Thorin nearly choked as he listened. "So you send foods and supplies, because you ...want to ...what?" He asked leadingly.

"We are not your guests." The Lady's voice was no less musical, but it was if the tone had hardened to a more militaristic air.

"No." Thorin agreed. "Not guests."

Galadriel tilted her head slightly. "But hopefully not enemies. With blood-kin in common."

The King caught his breath, his eyes bulging somewhat. No matter what this witch of an elf said, they were not family.

The Lady continued, ignoring the king's reactions. "It would be wrong for us to drain your resources as you try to build up this stronghold. And an enemy of Mordor is always able to count on Lothlorien for succor."

"We have kin in common, and shared enemies. Is that enough to make us allies?" Thorin couldn't keep the incredulity from his tone.

"This is no small enemy." Galadriel commented dryly.

Thorin whistled under his breath, but nodded albeit with great reluctance. Mordor. Sauron. "Not a small enemy at all." He agreed sullenly.

The Lady then smiled brighter than before. "And no small blood relation. Kuilaith is ..." She seemed to struggle to find the right words.

Thorin frowned at this beautiful and ancient being. "He is indeed. But a shared bridge through my nephew does not make us related to one another."

"No." Galadriel agreed far too readily, Thorin was almost insulted.

"You agreed to the marriage between Elladan and Dis." The king threw the words at her almost rudely, making Balin's eyes widen in wary concern.

The Lady of Lorien frowned slightly. "Actually, I did not. That was accomplished with Saruman the White, King Thror and Lord Elrond. I was not for the match, though I was also not against." Galadriel seemed uneasy for the first time. "I was not approached. My knowledge of their arrangement came after."

"So, no celebrating a wedding for you." Thorin sighed. "Either of us. King Thror sought no opinion from me and did not even tell me after."

"Celebration." Galadriel seemed to be testing the word on her tongue. "A celebration should be held. For stances made, ground gained, and blood shared." The Lady seemed surprised by her own words. Then her eyes shone with satisfaction. "Yes. A celebration of some sort."

"We're holding a Durin's Day dinner next week. Late. But we were busy facing down a dragon on the actual start of the new year." The older, white-bearded dwarf smiled. "Nothing grand, but an observance and something of a celebration."

Thorin turned and stared at his advisor, appalled. Had Balin just invited the damned elves to a dwarven holiday? "I'm sure the Lady and her kin don't celebrate Durin's Day."

"I did not have more than a passing knowledge of Durin the Deathless, our paths were not the same ones. However, I did meet several of his later lives. The Second Durin was polite enough, but the Third crafted the most marvelous poetry."

Balin sputtered, almost visibly reeling. "The Fourth was a great warrior." He said, his voice weak.

Galadriel gave a small smile to the elderly advisor. "Actually, all the Durins were great warriors in their own ways. Axes being the preferred weapon, except for the Fifth. He did so enjoy the use of a war hammer."

Thorin nearly fainted at the thought, his heart speeding up with shock. He stared at the She-Elf, unable to comprehend this female and how she might actually be Kili's great-grandmother of all things.

"Dwarves and I have a long history, including my husband and I being escorted safely through Khazad-dum on our way to Lothlorien." Galadriel pursed her lips in a becoming smile. "I must not forget that in my anger over Kuilaith. Perhaps a celebration of Durin's Day would be the correct thing after all. I accept. It would be both an honor and a pleasure."

"Splendid!" Balin grinned widely. "It's a feast, some singing and dancing. Presents. But nothing big, simple gifts to wish loved ones a blessed new year."

Thorin's stare turned into a baleful glare of consternation. His advisor ignored him.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili winced, staring balefully up at the sky. Again. Panting, he rubbed his still healing ribs as he rose up, resting back on his elbows.

Elrohir smiled calmly and pointed at the single piece of firewood on the ground. Again.

Growling, and wishing they weren't in an open courtyard with everyone looking on. Kili grabbed the piece of wood, about as round as his hand was wide, and set it on it's end. Quickly he stepped up onto it. He winced. "Damned splinters."

"You need better boots." His elvish uncle said evenly.

"Have boots. Good boots." Kili grumbled. "And I still don't know why they're not on my feet!"

Elladan spoke up, watching from one side. "Not better boots. Just different." He amended his brother's statement. "Lighter. Dwarven boots are great for mines most likely. But for the kind of agility you're seeking, they are a deterrent."

There was only room for one foot on the piece of wood that was his perch. Kili struggled to keep his balance, and while he was staying up for the most part, he was sure he looked a right idiot. Two arms and one leg flailing in the air in order to stay aloft. The toes on his balancing leg curled under, as if seeking purchase, but finding none.

"So, this is how you train elflings?" Kili nearly lost his balance as he realized that Fili had joined the group of dwarven onlookers. His chest tightened, feeling the fool.

"No." Elladan answered, his gray eyes missing nothing.

Kili's face turned grim at the perceived insult.

Elrohir's words dispelled that. "This is how we train Rangers."

Fili's mouth drooped a bit, before he grunted and nodded. Kili straightened up and he fought to stay balanced.

"Rangers." The blond older brother said the word with quite a bit of respect. Even out here they'd heard of that secretive, yet well respected group.

"Kili is a bit old to train as an elfling. And he's not one. His build is too bulky." His father said.

"Bulky? Bet it's the first time he's ever heard that said!" Bofur gave his distinctive laugh, only falling quiet as Fili turned to glare at the toy maker. "Right, sorry lads. Continue."

Fili turned back to his brother, standing on a piece of wood better suited for building a fire than anything else. Clad only in his trousers and loose shirt, his leathers and boots off to the side. Sweat made the dark cloth of his shirt cling to his chest and back. "Came out to let you know. Durin's Day celebration dinner in a week."

"I know." Kili bit his lip as his unsteady perch leaned to the left and he adjusted his balance.

Elrohir suddenly tossed a rock at him and Kili caught it, moving without thought. The lad grinned in triumph, right up until the second and third rock came his way. He caught one, the other pelted him in the chest. "Damn it!"

"Dodge." Elladan told his son without inflection in his voice.

"What?" Kili didn't have time to wait for an answer as two more rocks came at him. He dodged them both, but then lost his balance, leaving him staring up at the sky. Again. The word that next left his lips had his father scowling and his uncle and brother laughing. "I hate you all."

Fili came over and offered his brother a hand up. Kili took the help with gratitude. "Cold ground for bare feet."

"I can manage." Kili grumbled. "Didn't bring bedroom slippers with me on the quest."

The blond crown prince of Erebor laughed at his younger brother and then looked around at the two elf lords. His smile dimmed a bit, but he didn't lose it entirely. "Invitation to Durin's Day dinner is extended to our elvish ...guests." He didn't call them family.

Elladan straightened up, his attention snagged. "Is that like a naming day celebration?"

"No. Rather it's a celebration to start a new year." Fili corrected. "Dinner, drinking, dancing and singing. Nothing much, the larder isn't exactly overflowing."

"Presents." Kili grinned, his good mood never staying down for long. "Small presents, nothing like a birthday or Yule."

Elrohir nodded with a grin of rememberance. "So, nothing like a new leather knapsack big enough to hide a dwarfling in, then?"

Elladan chuckled, shaking his head as he too remembered that story.

Kili, reaching for the piece of firewood again, stalled. "Huh?"

Fili froze on the spot. His blue eyes widened. That story sounded familiar, something his mam used to tell him.

Elrohir pointed at the blond. "What was it, fell asleep in your father's new pack and made your parents crazy looking for you for two hours?"

Kili's head whipped around, his dark eyes laughing gleefully at his older sibling. "What? Really? You did?"

"So I've been told." His blue eyes narrowed on the twin elf lords. "But how did you ...?"

Elrohir gave an easy shrug. "There is no one more proud of their heritage and their father than say ...a four year old dwarfling."

Bofur and Kili both laughed as they sensed a good story.

Elladan shook his head. "Let's see. Nehili was strong enough to carry two cows at one time, one for each shoulder."

"Beard long enough to get caught in his belt buckle, with enough beads to make a raven blush with envy." Elrohir added as he mimed the beard in question.

Elladan's look turned fond, making Fili distinctly uncomfortable. "I couldn't read a story like Nehili. Couldn't cook like him."

"I was particularly fond of how you got your smell wrong, brother." Elrohir smirked, pointing at his twin. "Fili followed you around for over a week complaining that you had to be bathing wrong."

Bofur laughed out loud, needing to catch his balance on Kili's shoulder.

Fili stared, unsure and feeling more off-balance than if he'd been the one standing on firewood. "You make me sound like a brat."

Elladan shook his head. "You were proud of your father, and missing him. That was understood. And it was sweet of you to offer to glue a beard on my face so I wouldn't be an embarrassment to you during the Nute'adad ceremony."

Kili was still laughing, his face alight with joy. Bofur though, he sobered a bit, his eyes searching out the crown prince. Fili didn't appear shocked to find out the elf was his 'second-father'. The title of Nute'adad wasn't just an honorary thing. The toy maker wondered if Thorin knew about this.

"When you turned seventy, reaching your majority, I wouldn't wonder that you'd take all night reciting your history." Elrohir seemed amused. "What with all the stories you had on your father plus all the Line of Durin tales?"

Fili grunted, not really answering. Kili looked at his brother and perhaps realized that the blond wasn't as amused by all this as he was. "Fili?"

Not bothering to answer, and unclear on how he would answer if questioned. Fili bent over and scooped up a couple of rocks. "Let's see if you learned anything today. Dodge these!"

Kili whooped and twisted, the first two rocks missing him as he moved swiftly. His dark eyes fairly danced with glee as he caught the third rock in his hand and whipped it right back at his elder brother.

Fili caught the rock himself and tossed it to Bofur, who knew a cue when he got one.

"Head's up laddie!" The toy maker chucked the rock back at Kili who managed to dodge it, but got hit in the knee by one thrown by Fili at the same time.

"Foul!" Kili cried out, gritting his teeth as he spun to dodge two more rocks coming his way. Behind him, Elladan caught one down near his ankle before it hit the ground. In turn he tossed it at Kili's back, scoring a hit. "More fouls!"

Elrohir held up his hands, smiling. "Orcs, goblins and other beasties all smell foul. And fight even fouler. I'd say you're well and truly wounded now."

From the side a rock about three times the size, and with more velocity than any other yet thrown, came hurtling right at his head. The back of his head.

"Down!" Barked Fili, spotting the dangerous projectile.

Without question, without hesitation, Kili dropped flat on his belly. But the missile of a rock never reached him. Elrohir stepped forward, catching the thrown projectile with his bare hand.

Hard eyes all turned toward a disgruntled looking shorter dwarf with close set beady eyes and a long nose. A mealy brown and tan beard reached to his chin with several braids. Iron Hills dwarf. "What? Thought that was the game." He spoke out, as if daring anyone to disagree with him. Arms crossed and in a defensive stance.

"Gagnar." Sighed one of the other watching dwarves, obviously embarrassed by his companion's actions.

Brinarg wandered away, leaving the dwarves and their pet elves talking and arguing with each other. He didn't want to get involved. But he'd made a mental note, of course. Who was upset with old Gagnar for attacking the young elfish abomination, and who looked rather pleased. There were a few names there to check out. Yes indeed.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Later that night, Fili was having trouble falling asleep. Staring up at the intricate carvings and inlay above his bed, he wondered which former prince or princess of Erebor had used this room? He'd have to ask Balin.

It was beyond odd to have a bedroom bigger than half their entire cabin back in Ered Luin.

A dragon had stolen his heritage from him and his family. Forced them to live near the line of poverty. Fili snorted, sometimes they'd been beyond that line of poverty. He could remember nights of bellies only half full, and having to do without on many a day. Yet it had been a good life. Or so he'd thought.

But the biggest treasures stolen from him and his brother, it wasn't Smaug taking the blame.

Nehili. It had been a very long time since Fili had thought about his father. A good dwarf of humble bloodlines, but fiercely loved by his wife and son. When had he stopped telling stories about his da? Well, that was easy enough. When it had become apparent to him that poor Kili had no father, and no stories to tell.

Mam had not only kept Kili from his father, she had cut him off from any sense of belonging. Fili had stepped in and made both of Dis' sons heirs of Durin. Thorin's. Upon reaching their respective majorities, both brothers had sung songs and praise ...of Thorin, Thrain, and Thror. Their uncle the only father they had. Not one tale had been told by the young blond about his true father, not that night or any other.

But Fili knew the tales about Nehili. His da. And he'd ignored them. For love of Kili. Something he would never, ever regret. For his whole life though, Fili had hated the thought of Kili's da. Alive somewhere, ignoring his son.

Only that wasn't the truth.

The crown prince of Erebor stared holes into his ceiling. The deep well of his anger boring into the bedrock of his heart.

Mam had stolen more than one father, and from more than one son.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Sigan escorted the travel weary group into his home, gleefully ignoring the mud stained iron boots of the already legendary leader of the Iron Hills. "Calbrinia! Wine for the lords!"

"We won't be staying." Dain Ironfoot glowered. "On our way to Ered Luin."

Sigan the Dwarf eyed the hero of Azanulbizar, bowing deeply. Then turning to the elf by his side, his welcoming bow much shallower this time. Dwarf and Elf travelling together with a large escort of dwarrow warriors. How odd were these times in which they lived?

Hinnin ignored Sigan and his prissy looking braids. "I thought he said that he had message birds?" He asked in the common tongue.

"I have messages already written out. Just no birds available in Erebor, and none in Dale trained to go to Ered Luin." Dain eyed their host. "We only stop here to water and rest the mounts, gather further supplies. Do you have the birds you promised?"

"Of course!" Sigan nodded, eager to please. "I've sent for young Brerin, he tends the winged ones."

"You are going to warn her?" Hinnin asked quietly.

Dain nodded, not bothering to lie.

On the long trek out, the two had become rather unlikely friends. Mostly due to a mutual dislike of a certain green leafy vegetable and the appreciation of a well aged stout. They'd had long conversations on the use of oak wood with fermentation processes.

It helped that neither discussed Elven or Dwarvish history, Thranduil's actions, or the marriage of an elf lord to the daughter of a dwarven prince. It made for a better journey that way.

"Wine, da?" The dwarf-maid entered the room, looking less like a daughter and more like a warrior born. Beautiful and powerful all at the same time.

Sigan fairly preened as both males eyed his daughter, taking in her lithe form and muscled body. Long, rich chestnut hair was braided almost severely, exposing the elegant line of her cheeks and throat. No beard, but soft curly sideburns enhanced the sleek lines of her face.

Dain smiled grimly. "News is thus. Erebor is Dwarven once more. We ride to Ered Luin to reach there before winter truly sets in. In the spring there will be caravans of those returning to their former homes. Before that, however, we will be pushing back to Erebor hopefully before the full snows fall."

"Travel in winter is never easy in the mountains." Calbrinia spoke quite seriously. "If you wait too long, the passes will be closed."

Sigan shushed his daughter with a fussy wave of his hand. Dain fought back a frown. There was entirely too much lace decorating this dwarf. Interesting that his daughter wore nothing but sparring leathers. Well used ones. He eyed her carefully. She appeared young, most likely under a century, but an adult at least.

"When we come back through we will make room for any wishing to travel to Erebor before the general population starts out in the spring." Dain offered, thinking that this fine and lovely female might make a crown prince turn his head.

Hinnin turned and gave the Iron Hills dwarf a lingering look of question.

"Oh, that Thorin. He sent out all sorts of calls for arms. I sent what help I could." Sigan murmured, his eyes not quite meeting Dain's.

The warrior bit back a sigh. Knowing this type. They were all supportive, AFTER the battle had been won.

"King Thorin's advisor would not accept me for the quest." Calbrinia spoke almost harshly. "As I am unmarried."

Sigan looked shocked, staring at his daughter as if she'd grown a second head. "You didn't tell me you'd offered to actually go with him?"

Dain grinned beneath his beard. Yes. This one might be worth introducing to Fili and perhaps even Kili, even if the elves might think him too young. The royal line needed fleshing out with good and fine dwarflings. "We hope to be in Ered Luin before the end of the month. We will waste no time in returning."

Calbrinia nodded. "There are others here who will wait for spring and better travel conditions. But there might be a few ..."

"As long as they are capable of swift travel and won't complain of travel rations. They will be welcome." Dain bowed, his authority inherent to him and not a product of lace and velvets.

Sigan bobbed his head almost nervously, wanting to pull his daughter away and chide her for even thinking about travelling in the winter. The very idea was ludicrous.

Young Brerin did indeed turn out to be a youthful dwarf, barely fifty if he was a day. But the lad knew his birds, and the messages were off within less than a quarter hour.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"While you're in there, wash out your clothes. It's past time." Fili stood on the banks of the mouth of the Celduin river, laughing at his younger brother.

Kili made a face at the blond dwarf. "Why are my feet always bare for these training days?" He snarled, standing in the cold mountain water, this time fighting currents to stay balanced. His father and uncle would launch pine cones at him from odd directions, which he would have to strike down with what looked like the thinnest of wooden staves.

"Take your feet off that rock and you fail." Elrohir warned sternly as the young prince windmilled his arms after a strike that nearly unbalanced him.

Fili laughed and pointed at Kili's sour expression, up until Elladan grabbed the back of his tunic and hauled the elder brother to his feet. "Join him or leave him be."

"Well now, can't not laugh." The blond sang out cheerfully and reached down to haul off his bulky dwarven boots.

Kili made a rude noise, and then growled as a pine cone came whistling toward his left side. He turned and knocked it away, even managing to keep his balance. "Don't you have duties oh crown prince of Erebor?"

"Delegated." Whistled Fili. "I love the word delegated."

"Balin is going to weep about the day he taught you that word." Laughed Kili as he ducked, spun, and managed to put the tip of his heavy stave on the pine cone almost out of his reach. "That one counts!" He groused.

Once free of his heavy leathers and boots, Fili whipped off his soft woolen shirt as well. "It's new." He explained as Elrohir watched him and held out his hand for one of the wooden staves.

The elf lord easily tossed the stave to the dwarven prince, who grunted, but caught it easily. It was heavier than it looked. Fili bounced the stave in his hands, realizing the wood was encasing a weighted metal core. "Nice."

Elladan watched his second-son join his blood-son in the river current. His gray eyes missing no detail. "Ever should it have been thus." He murmured. "I was a fool to let her leave without following."

Elrohir heard, but did not respond. Saying 'I told you so' in Elvish was a serious insult. Instead he called out to the blond dwarf. "You might be here a while, we were planning an all day session."

Kili groaned, but gamely hit the two pine cones his father sent spinning his way. One on either side of him. The first he struck with ease, the second he had to spin and only barely managed to reach. Though he ended up on one foot, his toes curling into the rough rock on which he was standing fighting for his balance. A third pine cone sailed right by his head as he was unable to adjust. "DAMN IT!"

"Sure it is alright having you both out here all day?" Elrohir sent a cone spinning at Kili, even as he spoke to the elder dwarf brother.

Fili grinned and found a rock for himself, testing to make sure it wouldn't shift under his weight. He shivered in the cold water. "Nay. Actually, Dwalin seemed eager to be rid of me today."

Kili knocked away the cone rather easily, but it careened off to the side, hitting Fili on the back of the thigh. "Score!" He yelped happily.

Fili gritted his teeth, grinning. "Oh. It's on now."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

The stones echoed and the halls of Erebor resounded, first with the rythmic strikes of hammers and other tools, even boots. The sound could have been work related, only it clearly wasn't. The sounds were all in pace with each other. A beat. Like drums. Like a heartbeat.

The rhythm was solemn, sober, mourning. The dwarves lined up through the halls, an honor guard for the procession.

The King Under the Mountain stood upon a dias in his armor, his hands clasped behind his back in a regal stance. Dwalin on one side, Balin on the other.

The first voice to utter a note was King Thorin himself. The song was deep, rumbling, and culled the darkest sadness from the heart itself. The words, ancient, harsh, and unknown to any but their blood. Unlike any song they'd sang while on their quest, this one was in Khuzdul.

Of all their guests, only Galadriel and Glorfindel were unaccounted for. And after much debate, it was decided that these two would hold their counsel. Balin had even argued that the Lady of the Wood had known several of the Durin's throughout the many years, and had even been escorted through Khazad-dum. Which she'd named properly, in Khuzdul.

Most of Dain's warriors were also sent out on errands, patrolling borders and hunting. The ones remaining were of an older generation, seasoned and battle hardened, as well as known to the Erebor dwarves. Some had even had kin that had started here.

The first body carried through on the stretcher was covered. Not a skeleton like many, but the mummified remains of a dwarf who had perished, trapped by a dragon. There was a pause as the litter carriers marched to the beat of the Mourning Song. A name was called. "Khivetin, son of Setin."

Thorin watched, dry eyed but deeply moved. He nodded, and the litter continued past the king. It would be the first body of far too many. And most would not have a name or identity to find. Very few could still be named.

Deep inside Erebor, Galadriel heard the song deep into her bones. Eternally youthful and beautiful, the Elf Queen closed her eyes in sadness. Suddenly she could feel the press of years that would never show upon her body. The reality of death was ever a poison to one who is immortal. She thought of the undying lands and wondered if she would ever see them again.

Glorfindel sat in the empty room and listened. He did not understand Khuzdul. But he did understand death and mourning. Only too well. His hand was not as steady as usual as he reached for his wine glass.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Arnica." Nuluin pointed out, pleased.

"Looks like a daisy." Gagnar scratched his chin absently, peering with one eye closed. He sounded irate and bored.

The elven healer sighed and shook his head. "In appearance, mayhap." He held up the many petalled yellow flower. "But it is not. This is arnica. It soothes burns and aids in the healing of wounds. Mostly in creams and ointments, it should not be used internally except by a healer."

"Why not?" A second dwarf demanded, this one younger and looking less angry than Gagnar.

"Could cause an irregular heartbeat." Tauriel said, though not looking in the direction of the group she was supposed to be guarding. Her keen eyes were on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. Alert.

Gagnar shot a dark glance at the tall she-elf. "Don't know why we're out here helping elves collect plants and all."

"Because these plants are not for us, but for stocking Erebor's healing halls." Nuluin sneered, his attention on the daisy-like flower as he bent a stem and sniffed. "Good, good."

Tauriel didn't react to the evil look of Gagnar, but that wasn't to say she was unaware of his disregard and anger. "There were a lot of assignments today taking many away from Erebor."

The younger dwarf nodded. "Our captain said that it was to remove the bodies remaining after the dragon took the mountain. For proper songs and disposal. It is too private a sight for those who didn't know or cherish those that are gone."

Nuluin paused, shocked. His unlined face appearing younger than his actual age. "They hadn't removed the bodies right away?"

Gagnar was the one to sneer this time. "They weren't fresh bodies, now were they? No. Time was taken to identify who they could. Places were dug right proper for them in preparation."

Tauriel thought about this and then finally nodded. "A matter of respect."

Several younger dwarves heard her and nodded, liking that she understood. Gagnar growled at them. Angered that there were elves anywhere near Erebor, or any dwarven residence. Worse yet, there was a mixed blood bastard in line for the throne. How angry was the Maker about that abomination?

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

It was nearing the hours of twilight when the deed was finally finished and the last song sung.

Weary beyond telling, in body, mind and soul, the trio of dwarves headed to get something to drink. Thorin stopped in the doorway, staring.

Glorfindel sat redolent of elegant years long past. Every line of his body was relaxed and graceful. Only his eyes seemed shielded, and terribly sad. There were more than a few empty wine bottles on the table before him.

Dwalin snorted. "Those songs weren't for you to hear." It was almost an accusation.

Thorin walked over and picked up a half-empty bottle of wine. Glorfindel didn't move, not even to look up at the dwarf standing beside him. His voice was harsh, gruff. "Do you know our language?"

"No." The elf-warrior's word was soft, almost a sigh.

Balin eyed the elegant pose, and knew it to be a sham. He knew his history better than the other dwarves. "You've faced a dragon before yourself."

Glorfindel's head dropped slightly in acknowledgement. One finger tracing the rim of his wine glass absently.

Thorin's hand paused as he filled a fresh glass of wine for himself. He shot a glance at his white-haired advisor, and then then to the sitting elf.

Dwalin eyed the golden haired hero, his arms crossed. What he knew of the warrior flitted through his mind at a rapid pace. Finally he settled on a simple, and yet deep question. "Do you know every name fallen at Gondolin?"

Again, a short nod of the head, and eyes that seemed unfocused.

"So. You understand our hearts today." Thorin sighed and lifted his wine in a brief salute.

"A sorrow that steals the heart, salts the ground, and brings no warmth." Glorfindel absently translated. "An old saying, that only scratches the surface layer of what you faced today. The list of names will live with you all the days of your life."

Silence fell over the small group as they considered that. Balin's heart hurt to realize that for the elf, those names would live on for a very long time, and had already.

Suddenly, Dwalin looked up, his eyes sharpening. He stared at the tall elf who was currently more or less slouching. "I know why you tell no one if your grave held your body when you opened it."

Balin waved a hand at his brother to shut up. "Don't."

Glorfindel struggled, but managed to focus his eyes on the tattooed dwarf. "No. Do tell."

Dwalin appeared grim. "Because you did not open it to get your sword."

"It's a fine sword." The elf spoke silkily.

Thorin watched without expression, not wanting to interrupt.

"I'm sure it's a great weapon." Dwalin acknowledge. "But it wasn't your purpose."

Glorfindel weighed the moment in his mind, and then tilted his head slightly. Maginificent golden hair slid to one side as he carefully eyed the dwarves. "Be cautious. I am not sober. I might actually tell you, and my memories are dark beyond reckoning."

"Leave him to his thoughts." Balin sighed unhappily. "We all have sorrows."

Dwalin pointed at the elf warrior. "He has seen what we have seen. The fall of our families, our home, our people. Of all that walk Middle-Earth, this elf alone has lived through it."

"Ah, but I didn't live." Glorfindel waved a graceful hand even as he laughed a bit discordantly. "You survived. I did not. Where there is a grave there is usually a death don't you know." He didn't mention the balrog specifically, nor the fact that he'd slain it even as it carried the elf along with him into death.

Thorin cleared his throat and eyed those in the room for a long moment. "Durin the Deathless. Returned to us six times already, and one more to come. We are no strangers to those returning."

Badly startled, Glorfindel's eyes rounded a moment and then he gave a true laugh. "I knew that, but I ...no, I never truly considered that. Yes. The elves, they do not know what to make of my re-embodiment."

Balin shrugged. "Nor we, really. Durin is born anew each time, though with memories of his former lives."

The golden-haired warrior smiled gently. "The Valar gifted me with a return."

Dwalin sucked in a shocked breath, his eyes widening. "You awoke in your own grave. You didn't rob it, it is where you returned."

Glorfindel gave a true laugh and shook his head. "No. No, oh no. I arrived back in Middle-Earth on a ship. Nothing so dark and gray as my tomb." He paused, taking a sip of wine. "And I'm glad for it. The grave was lovely with beautiful flowers, but that would have been quite disturbing to have returned to the world at that place."

"Why did you seek out your grave?" Dwalin asked.

The former head of the House of the Golden Flower, looked up at the ceiling. He was quiet so long, that the dwarves thought he would not answer. But finally, the elf brought his head down and stared at Dwalin. "I speak not of your songs or your language, you speak not of my words."

"I so swear." Dwalin intoned solemnly. Thorin and Balin echoing the dwarven warrior.

"I had to see."

Thorin waited for more, but the explanation was over. Glorfindel shrugged, repeating himself. "I had to see."

"Not your grave." Balin guessed unhappily. "But what remained of Gondolin."

"No." Dwalin corrected with a heavy sigh. "What remained of the people."

"Nothing was left." Glorfindel wasn't looking at any of the dwarves anymore. "A few pieces of jewelry. Nothing precious of course, the city had been stripped down to wilderness. Belt buckles, buttons, nothing more. Some I knew, most I could only vaguely recall. It had been several thousand years between my death and my return."

"Opening your tomb?" Thorin asked quietly.

Glorfindel grinned, but it wasn't a happy look. Hints of madness entered the tall elf's gaze. "To reassure myself that it had all really happened. That I was who I thought I was." The madness passed and the elf touched the hilt of his sword. "And it is a very fine weapon."

No other question was asked. But Glorfindel answered one anyway. "If a body is buried it takes perhaps twenty years for a skeleton to return to dust. But if a tomb is well constructed, it could last for several thousand years."

Balin coughed and looked utterly saddened. "How well was your tomb constructed?"

"Luckily, poorly and in haste." Glorfindel looked over at the white-haired dwarf. "But full of small momentos. Keepsakes given to me in death by those who survived."

Dwalin didn't have to ask if the elf still had those keepsakes, he already knew the answer. "Do they help?"

"Most days." Glorfindel nodded, draining the rest of his wine glass. "Not today, not with songs echoing through the mountain. But on most days, they do help indeed."

Each keepsake he'd found, each small death gift had come from someone who had survived because he had not.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis read through the message several times, her hands shaking.

"Well?"

Three dwarven elders stared at her, their eyes sharp. Hope and heartbreak hung in the balance as they waited for her to answer. They'd brought the message to her unopened, a testimony to their honor in light of how anxious their entire community was to hear any news of Thorin's Company.

"Thorin is King Under the Mountain. Erebor is once again our home." Dis handed the message over to the elders, both elated and heartbroken. "No major injuries."

The elder scanned the written missive eagerly. "No details, it is a small message as it comes on the wings of birds. Dain. Dain Ironfoot sent this, and he is on his way here."

Relieved murmurs from the other elders. "He begs Lady Dis to be ready to travel immediately, in order to return to Erebor before the winter closes the mountain passes completely."

One elder nodded, the other frowned. "Spring would be a safer time to travel. Give us time to prepare and bring more of our people."

"No. We will still travel home in the Spring. This is for the Lady Dis to be ready to return quickly with Dain escorting her." The other elder answered, reading over the message once more.

"Why does he mention the help of the elves? In such a short note, why waste words on that? We need details! Is the dragon gone or slain? Who fought? Who is injured? How stands the kingdom?" The elder snarled and pulled on his long silver beard anxiously. "Dain! We need more information!"

"He is arriving soon." Another elder said soothingly. "We can question him then." He blinked happily over at Dis. "Your brother has succeeded! Your sons honor their ...oh, well, they honor Durin's Line!"

Father. Your sons honor their father. An old phrase, ancient really. And stumbled over in light of current circumstances. The dwarven elders had never been happy that Dis had not named Kili's father. Thorin had always stood between them and she, however.

Until now.

Elves. At Erebor. She knew why Dain had included that information in his letter. And why she had to be ready to travel at speed.

Kili. Had they recognized something within him? Was Elladan on his way to Erebor even now? Dis moaned, catching her balance on the table.

The elders rushed to her, concerned. Helping her sit and making her tea, which she couldn't drink, not now.

"Ah!" The most upright and caustic of the elders smiled. "We need to raise our mugs to King Thorin, son of Thrain. And to Fili, son of Nehili. And to Kili." He stopped there. He always stopped there rather than face Thorin or Dwalin's wrath.

The other two elders shook their heads at him. "Not the time nor the place, not when we need to be celebrating.

"Son of Elladan." Dis whispered, for the first time ever. Her shoulders straightening. "Excuse me. I have travel preparations to make."

She left the three elders staring after her in various stages of shock. The oldest of their group pointed after her, turning to look at his companions. "What name was that?"

"I did not recognize the name." The second elder put his finger in his ear, twirling it a bit to clear out the wax. "Alladen? Eleden? Isn't there a Eldun over in Sparrowden, about two leagues west? Miner?"

"He's barely ninety." Protested the first elder with a look of disgust. "Far too young."

The third elder, at 230, still had excellent hearing. He'd heard the name, but did not recognize it or the bloodline. What kind of name was Elladan for a dwarf anyway? "Why now?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"I thought you would have gotten enough of me for the day." Elladan didn't look behind him to know who was there.

Kili made a face, stepping up beside his father on the empty battlement. They were high up on the walls looking over the valley below. Guards were posted on the lower battlements, as these were not repaired as yet.

"No railings."

"Worried for my safety?" Elladan was seated on the bare stone, looking up at the stars. It was a very clear night. Gorgeous really.

Feeling unsure, Kili looked at the line of his father's back. He'd searched for Elladan after dinner, but couldn't find him. It had been the Lady of Light, who'd pointed him out here.

Kili moved in, uncertain of his welcome. It was easier to deal with this particular elf during the day with others around him. Not one on one. He sat down gingerly next to the elf who'd sired him, biting back a groan.

Elladan's teeth flashed with a quick smile. "It's okay to be sore."

"I'm fine." Denied Kili, not wanting to appear weak, not before his father. Father. He sighed.

Elladan let him be, thankfully. Allowing the silence of the night and the ambient sounds of a kingdom below them fill the space. It was a bit nice actually. Thorin would have pressed him to come to the point by now.

Only Thorin didn't know what Kili needed answered. "I was looking for you." He broke the quiet.

"You have a question. One that you want to ask away from your brother, your uncle, or even my brother."

Kili grimaced. As a guess it was dead on target. "Do you ever miss?" He grumbled.

"Yes." The word was dripping with bitter regret.

Kili stilled, ruing his choice of words. "Sorry." He paused, looking out over the night. "Uhm. So. If Galadriel is my father's mother's mother? Where is my father's mother? Did she stay in Rivendell?" It wasn't what he'd sought out his father to ask, but he wasn't ready to get to the point yet.

Elladan shook his head gently. "Captured by orcs many years before you were born."

Stiffening, Kili's dark eyes widened in instant distress. "Damn it. I'm sorry. I didn't know she was dead."

The tall elf turned and looked at him, his gray eyes cast into shadows by the battlements. "She's not dead." Elladan's voice was saddened but thoughtful. "My brother and I rescued her, but the pain of what she'd been through was too much to bear. She sailed to the Undying Lands."

"That's code for dead. I meant, I thought. Isn't that just another way of saying dead?" Kili asked with halting words, on very unsure ground.

Elladan's lips twitched. "No. She lives. The Undying Lands is the realm of the Ainur and the Elves. The Valar and the Maiar."

"Right. Not dead." Kili fell silent again, his mind racing. Finally he gave a rough sigh. "No. I still don't undertand."

"She lives. Perhaps you should start there. Celebrian. Very sweet, kind and beautiful. She will love you."

"I can meet her?" The dark-haired prince asked, uneasy with that idea. Would she be like a real person or a ghost?

Elladan hesitated. "I don't know." Now he too sounded unsure. "That is a deep question with an unknown answer."

"Because I'm mortal." Kili guessed.

Reluctantly, Elladan nodded. "Yes." He confirmed.

The youngster looked up at the stars. "Someone mentioned a choice. Choosing to be counted as a dwarf or an elf?"

"I wish I didn't have to answer." The elf lord bit his bottom lip.

"I don't get a choice, do I?" Kili nodded. "Talked this over with Balin and Oin a lot. We figure I'm a lot closer to dwarf, being half. And you're not full elf."

Elladan closed his eyes, looking pained. Kili stilled, not having wanted to offer insult. "We're not wrong, are we?"

The elf who'd sired him shook his head slightly. "No. You're not wrong. And quite mortal."

"It's no bad thing to be a dwarf." Kili said with forced cheer. "I grew up thinking I was one, and it turns out I really am."

"I just found you. I'm not prepared to lose you." Elladan's voice cracked with grief, alarming his son.

Kili turned to the tall elf, his dark-eyes wide. "Hey! I'm young yet, as EVERYONE keeps reminding me." Plenty of time. Except, his father was old, for a dwarf anyway. And would live a long time after Kili was gone.

His mother, his love, his son. Elladan had clearly suffered so much loss. Kili's heart ached for the tall elf sitting beside him. Even if he really wasn't sure how to react to suddenly having a father, he didn't want him to suffer. Tentatively he put his hand on his father's shoulder.

It seemed to be a signal, because Elladan's arm wrapped around his son's shoulders and pulled him in tight against his body.

"Erm." Kili blinked. This was more touching than he'd been prepared for. Yet dwarves were a touchy race. They hugged, they held, they liked closeness. Only this wasn't a dwarf. Kili felt awkward and pulled back slightly. His father still had his arm around him, but there was space between them now.

"I'm sorry for the road ahead of you, it won't be easy."

Kili blinked, his dark eyes studying his father. He'd been trying to comfort Elladan, but it seemed the elf thought he was the one in need. "Long road?" Suddenly his breath caught. "Wait. You said mortal, you said we guessed rightly. I'm a dwarf. Right? Mortal, you can't take that back!"

Elladan pulled his son back into his body, wrapping both arms around him now. "Mortal yes, but you're a bit more than a dwarf."

Kili's hand fisted in his father's robes. "How much more?" He asked suspiciously. "You're talking about ...living longer, yes?"

"Yes."

Fear welled up in the youngster's heart. Inwardly he pictured all the members of his family and all of his friends. Fili most especially. "How much longer?" Now he wasn't trying to pull away. Now he was suddenly chilled and grateful for the touch.

"They're not completely sure." Elladan's voice sounded apologetic. "But no less than a thousand years, perhaps as many as two or three more centuries after that."

"I feel dizzy." Kili muttered, his stomach turning over queasily. "You promised mortal."

"That is mortal." Elladan answered, tightening his arms around his now shaking son.

"No! No it's not. Maybe to you, but not to me!" Kili pushed back suddenly, wanting to be let go. He pulled free and stood, walking over to the edge of the battlements. The ones with no rails.

Elladan watched him carefully.

Kili turned his back on the night vista, staring wide-eyed at his sire. "Fili will only live around 250 years."

The elf lord nodded, sympathy in his gaze.

"I'm going to lose him." Kili sounded shattered even to his own ears.

"I'm going to lose you." Elladan's pain echoed Kili's own.

Kili turned and stared out at the open air, smelling the wind. "No rain for at least a week." He said inanely. "What about if I have children?"

"Depends on whom you wed."

Turning back toward Elladan, Kili stared at him. "If I marry a dwarrowdam?"

"Your children will be clearly mortal, although living a very long time for a dwarf. Not as long as you will though." Elladan gave him a questioning look. "Is there a dwarrowdam in the picture?"

Kili snorted in derision. "Dwarrowdams think me ugly."

Elladan stared at him and shook his head. "Maybe you aren't the epitome of beauty for a dwarf, but you are more than a fine example of a dwarrow. Any dwarrow-maid would be lucky."

The dark-haired prince gave a half-tilted smile. "I actually came out here to ask you about gift ideas for Tauriel."

"Definitely not a dwarrow-maiden." Elladan said dryly.

"To an elf, how do I look?" Kili asked cautiously.

His father studied him and sighed. "Not beautiful, but not bad either. Shorter. Scruffy in regards to the beard. Broad shoulders aren't a deterrent though."

"So ugly in both races." Kili rolled his eyes. "I'm blaming you for this." He actually managed a small smile, even if he wasn't really feeling it.

Surprised at the humor, Elladan's eyebrows rose. "If it helps, among human women you'd never be left alone."

Stunned, Kili stared. "What?"

Elladan's lips twitched and he reached out, snagging Kili by the shoulder and pulling him away from the edge of the battlement. He looked gravely down into his son's face. "Go anywhere near human females, and you will find no rest, but plenty of beds to sleep in."

Huh? Kili mulled that over, and then blushed beet red. "You didn't just say that!"

"Why? Because elves don't make off-color jokes?"

Mouth open, Kili nodded, stunned. "Exactly!"

"To the human's you're very attractive." Elladan sighed heavily. "In fact, I forbid you to go anywhere near humans."

"Body of stone, remember?" Kili sputtered.

Elladan pressed his chin down on Kili's dark hair, bending slightly to reach. "They'll see trying to 'wake you up' as a challenge."

Kili closed his eyes, having a lot to come to terms with.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili was having the strangest dream, that he was being watched through the walls of his room back in Ered Luin. With a start, he woke. Blinking blearily as he stared at the dwarf sitting in a chair, watching him.

"Kili?" Why was his brother in his room, fully dressed and looking so tense?

"Go back to sleep."

"What is it, little brother?"

Kili made a face. Fili watched him. He patted the bed next to him and his younger brother crawled onto the sheets and sprawled down beside him, still wearing his boots. "Bad dream?" Fili asked.

"Bad answers." Kili said vaguely.

"Your father didn't tell you what to give to Tauriel for Durin's Day?"

Startled, Kili laughed. "We sort of skipped over that part." He threw his arm over his eyes. "Did you know that I'm considered pretty handsome to human females?"

"Yes."

Kili's arm moved and he stared at his sibling. "Huh?"

Fili made a noise in the back of his throat. "Lake Town. You were the center of attention. Petting, cooing, the whole works."

Kili shook his head. "Because I was wounded!"

"Blind idiot." Fili said affectionately. "They pampered you."

"It wasn't because I was wounded?" The dark-haired brother asked, eyes wide.

"Wounded didn't hurt." The blond allowed.

Kili's eyes lost their glow. "I'm going to outlive you." The words tore at his heart, but his brother didn't react as he thought.

"You always were." Fili responded solemnly. "Now it's just been extended by a bit."

"More than a bit." Kili sounded despondant. "Mayhap a thousand years more than a bit." He turned and stared at his brother. "You knew?"

"Guessed." Fili's blue eyes watched him sadly and he held open his arms. Kili slid into the brotherly embrace, like he'd done since being a dwarfling.

When the younger dwarf began to cry for the first time since he'd been very small, neither said a word. Fili just held him tighter and ignored the dirty boots ruining the nice sheets.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

Kili woke feeling groggy and with a bad headache. He groaned and nearly gagged. His mouth felt dry and nasty.

"Slug-a-bed." Groused an amused older brother from somewhere on the other side of the room.

Looking up reluctantly, Kili could only see a portion of his brother grinning at him and looking far too alert. His own dark hair was blocking his view. Feeling too foggy to move his hair out of the way, he blew on a few strands. It didn't help.

Fili frowned. "Are you alright? You look flushed."

Grimacing, Kili managed to move to sitting at the edge of the bed. He ached. "I feel like a slag heap." He said, referring to waste material from mining.

His older brother's frown sharpened and he walked over, pushing Kili's mop of unruly hair out of his eyes. Fili put his hand on the back of his brother's neck. "Fever."

"Not sick." Denied Kili, irritated. "I just ...didn't sleep well." He grimaced down at his boots and leathers. "Slept in my gear too."

"You haven't cried since you were six." Fili said softly.

"Haven't been crying." Kili shot his brother a betrayed look, his chin sticking out stubbornly.

Fili rolled his eyes, though still managing to look worried. Then suddenly, without obvious cause, he laughed.

Kili's dark eyes widened as he looked around, but couldn't see what his brother could be finding so amusing. "Huh?"

The blond prince grinned and shrugged. "When you were six ...you didn't cry because Haffa said you looked like an elf with your first bow. Remember?"

Kili stared at his older brother, appalled.

Fili's blue eyes twinkled and he rocked back and forth on his heels.

"Not funny." Kili grumbled, then closed his eyes and thought about the little dwarf-maid he'd been so mad at when he was six. His lips twitched. "Kinda funny."

"Said you looked like an elf." Fili spread his arms out and grinned like a loon. "I wanted to hit her and you wouldn't let me, and you were hiding your face so I wouldn't see you cry."

Kili laughed, then groaned and put his head in his hands. "That hurts."

"An elf! I wonder what she'll say when she finds out the truth? We need to tell Thorin she's a far-seer and bring her to Erebor." Fili was still smiling. "You could court her."

"She said you looked like a bloodhound with your lopsided braids and long nose." Kili reminded his older sibling.

"Bah. What does Haffa know?" Fili waved a hand in dismissal, changing his opinion on her in a heartbeat. "Half-wit. Obviously demented."

"She married one of the Steelbraids."

Fili nodded sagely, pretending to change his mind back. "That settles it. She's brilliant, marrying rich. Need to make her a counselor."

"The Steelbraid middle brother." Kili pointed out, referring to the scrawniest of the three siblings. And one who'd mocked Fili back when they'd all been young dwarflings.

"Half-wit." Fili pronounced with finality, and a mocking grin. "Like I said. She's an idiot. Definitely."

"Haffa Half-wit." Kili tasted the words. "I like the sound of that."

Fili rubbed his chin and sighed. "Great. Now if she does come to Erebor I'm going to be thinking that in the back of my head every time I see her. Damn it, Kili!"

"You started it." The younger brother pointed out and rubbed his knees as if they pained him.

Fili watched his sibling uneasily. Elves were resistant to disease, everyone knew that. And dwarves were extremly hardy and rarely ever ill, especially once past childhood. He put his hand on Kili's neck again, and his brother knocked his hand away in irritation.

"Be right back." Fili said quickly.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin looked between the two dwarrow, then down at his schedule. Two names were not on his list. He shot a look at his counselor.

Balin cleared his throat. "I fit them in."

The king sighed heavily. "It's already going to be a busy day. Trading caravans are due into Dale any day. Supplies need to be handled and patrols need to be made. Not to mention this thrice cursed celebration and needing to find gifts for ELVES!" He glared at Balin as if this was his advisor's personal fault.

Balin cleared his throat again.

Thorin's eye twitched and he turned to a smug looking Nori and a genially smiling Bofur. Despite their expressions, they both felt a bit nervous about speaking with him. Never a good sign. "What? What is it?" Neither dwarrow spoke up fast enough for the king's liking. "Well? Speak or get out."

Bofur coughed as if uncertain. "Think of hobbits. Our Bilbo got along well enough with elves. Think of something the hobbit might like as a gift and you'll be halfway there. Like those holed rags of his."

"Doilies." Nori pointed out, nodding. "Lace thingies."

"Lace." The word dripped with disdain. Thorin rubbed his eyes and looked back at the two members of his company. Two dwarves that had followed him on a foolhardy and more than likely suicidal quest to free Erebor from a dragon. "Friends. Please. Why did you come here to see me? Is there a problem?"

"Yes." Nori said grimly.

"Maybe." Bofur sounded apologetic.

"Get on with it lads." Balin pointed at Nori first.

"There's talk." The sharp-eyed dwarrow said quietly. "There's always talk, but the talk is getting pointed. Speaking on Dis. Dain. Your lads. And who should be ruler."

Thorin's mind, having wandered to his next set of meetings, sharpened and he forgot about other matters as he stared at Nori. A disappointed look crossed his face. "We knew that might happen." He admitted reluctantly. "Once the shock of who Kili's father wore off."

Balin nodded. He and Thorin had talked long about it actually. Neither was inclined to do anything at the moment, not until Dis arrived at least. The white-haired advisor pointed at Nori again.

"Pardon, but in the lower of the low levels, there's even some talk that Dain should be the crown prince. If not outright king. What with him having the army and all." Nori sounded grim.

Crown prince? "Fili is my direct heir." Thorin's look narrowed in anger, but he nodded at the dwarrow to continue. "How wide-spread is this talk?"

"Narrow of narrows." Nori admitted. "The dregs and malcontents. Most are simply celebrating that Erebor is Dwarven again. But dwarrow aren't dwarrow without the occasional grumble and rumble."

"Rumbles have a way of growing if left unchecked." Bofur pointed out, and then fell quiet at a sharp glance from the dwarf beside him.

"You ever had sharp ears and eyes, Nori." King Thorin said with a nod of his head. "And a sharper mind controlling them both."

The dwarrow in question bowed his head simply.

Thorin pointed at Nori. "Can you get a list of who is saying ..."

The tri-braided and coiffed dwarf presented a sheet of parchment with a small flourish of his stubby, and yet quick fingered hand.

The King Under the Mountain raised one eyebrow and then chuckled. "Of course."

Balin took the parchment, scanning the names. "Short list."

"Unpopular too." Nori pointed out. "For now. And it might come to exactly nothing if not for ..." He pointed to Bofur, who blushed.

Thorin looked to the toy maker in surprise. "You've heard something?" Usually the hatted dwarrow was the one speaking, not listening overmuch to gossip.

"Oh aye." Bofur swallowed hard and then straightened his shoulders. "And I'm not the only one to hear. Ain't no secret, though it's not widely known and all. But said aloud with no care about who was around. And some of them around may be on that there list. And if they're not on the list, they should be."

"Bofur." Balin chided, seeing the thinning patience of their monarch.

"Right." The toy maker sighed. "Elladan. He went through the Nute'adad ceremony when Fili was younger. For Fili of course."

Thorin's mind shorted out for a second or three. Then he blinked, his eyes going dry. He turned over this information in his mind several which ways. "Fili is still my nephew, his having a 'second-father' does not change the fact that he is my heir. The heir of heirs, the crown prince of Erebor."

"The nute'adad made him Elladan's son. Legally." Nori pointed out.

Thorin growled low in his throat, frowning menacingly. "Fili is an adult. A fully Dwarven adult. Free to be named my heir."

Nori nodded. "True enough, truth completely. But the talkers, they could confuse the matter. Use it. Especially since you named Fili your heir when he was underage, without his father's permission."

"That elf is NOT his father!" Yelled Thorin, making all three of the other dwarrow wince unhappily.

Balin snapped his teeth together sharply. "We get Elladan to state that Fili is Thorin's heir. Simple."

"No." Thorin snapped out the word like a weapon. "No. No. Again no. Kili is another matter. If what is claimed is true, the elf had no clue that Kili even existed. Fine. But he KNEW Fili existed. And he abandoned him."

"Dis left with the boy ..."

"And the elf did not follow!" Shouted Thorin. "So no. Nute'adad or not, Fili is mine by right of court and blood." He snarled. "And Kili is mine as well, no matter what!"

Balin sighed. "Saying that doesn't make it so. And we can't deny that Kili is ...part ...theirs."

"Watch me!" Thorin roared, his temper soaring higher than logic at the moment.

"My king, wishing the past away has never worked and it won't work now. Kili has Elven blood." Balin held up placating hands to forestall his liege's temper. "The healers, both elven and dwarven were summoned to see Kili this morning."

Thorin's eyes widened with instant worry and concern. He put his hand on the hilt of his weapon, then dropped his grip. It was an old dwarvish saying that blades couldn't solve every problem, just the best problems.

"Lad is fine, just fine." Balin seemed embarrassed and he cocked his head to the side a bit. "I don't understand fully, but basically the song they sung him that first day? It awakened some kind of internal light, I still don't know what they meant by that. But, well, he's having to adjust and all."

"They poisoned him?" Bofur looked as horrified as Thorin felt.

The white-haired advisor shook his head. "No. He's well and hale, but achy. Mayhap this is linked to what they said about him growing, then again ...well, I just don't know."

Thorin groaned, remember what the elven healer had said about Kili gaining a few more inches in height. Dwarflings usually gained their full height and strength at thirty, although not yet mature.

"Maybe his beard will get longer." Bofur speculated with a hopeful look.

Thorin's mouth twisted and he sighed. "Sure. Become more elvish in order to look more dwarvish. We ...can't count on that." His voice trailed off, thinking about his sister's youngest child. "In the mountains, when I got dark, Kili could always bring me out of myself."

The other three dwarrow in the room held their silence. They knew. The quest they'd all shared had been a tight-knit group who'd learned each other well.

"Kili's a bright lad." Bofur said more quietly than he normally talked. "The very heart of us really. He and his brother both."

Thorin's mouth tightened grimly, he turned and stared at Nori until that dwarf straightened and stared back. "My father spoke of King Thror's internal hearing system."

Balin nodded slowly, a small smile playing along his lips. "Spies."

Nori frowned, his sharp mind racing ahead. "Some likely lads could manage something like that, but there are few I'd trust. They be Dain's people."

"I trust you."

The king's words had Nori's head snapping up in surprise. "Me?"

Thorin studied the unrepentant thief carefully. "We are kin."

"Distantly, and maybe not with full honor." Nori referred to being descended from a less than legitimate regal lineage. Hardly a thing discussed openly, not with dwarven sensibilities.

"I called, you answered."

"You called Dori!" The tri-braids of his beard shook a bit as he spoke up.

Thorin shook his head. "I called, and you came. Who else can I really trust? Those who sent us on a fool's errand in order to justify following me? Those who demanded a thrice-damned stone in order to prove that I was worth following? No. I know who has my back."

Nori and Bofur straightened with pride under their king's regard.

"Listen for me. Be my ears. Take no action at this time. You'll have the backing of my treasury and ..."

"Begging pardon, your majesty." Nori stepped forward, bravely interrupting. "But if I'm to do this right, I don't need your treasury. Not much anyway."

Thorin's eyebrows winged upwards, his blue eyes piercing as he looked at his new spy master. "Sources need paying I would think."

"Some." Nori nodded. "But having access to the larder or the ale stores would be better and less obvious. Some coinage, but nothing huge."

Balin shot a look at Thorin, who appeared thoughtful. "You're right, of course you're right. Too much money floating around and they'll know you belong to me."

"And I can't be seen as belonging to you." Nori shook his head, obviously several steps ahead already. "You're going to have to distance me from the throne."

Stunned, Thorin shook his head. "You are of my Company."

Balin looked saddened, but he seemed to understand. "Are you sure of that, Nori?"

The tri-braided thief nodded solemnly. "I'm thinking that I set up a brew house, a tavern. Make noises about being owed more than you've given. No great fight needs to be made, just a few grumbles."

"And I keep my distance." Thorin frowned sharply. "I don't like this."

"Not completely distant." Nori explained. "But no warm words. Anything more would be too much."

Thorin seemed torn on the idea, even if he had made the initial suggestion. "I'd be betraying you."

"That's exactly what you won't be doing, even if no one will know." Nori said with steel in his voice. "You are my king. Fili is your heir. Kili is as well. Dain is a good dwarf and a good warrior, but he didn't come out here until the dragon was already faced and gone."

Thorin stepped toward Nori, putting his hand on the other dwarf's shoulder. He leaned in, and the honorable thief met him halfway. They rested their foreheads together and shared the air between them. "I leave what you tell Dori and Ori to you." The king said quietly.

Nori nodded, grateful.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel watched Kili move away from her, a bit stunned. He'd pretended not to see her. Unsure and a bit hurt, she wasn't sure quite how to react.

Another elf moved up next to her, a quick glance confirming Elladan. Kili's father. Tauriel cast her green eyes downward, embarrassed to be caught looking longingly in the wrong direction. Had Kili ignored her because of his father?

Elladan was watching Kili too though.

Tauriel didn't fidget, that wasn't who she was. She was Silvan, yes. Lower blooded than Elladan. But she was not ashamed of who and what she was. As a former captain in King Thranduil's guard, she knew her worth.

Unfortunately, the High Elves knew where they weighed her worth as well.

Tauriel blinked and started to turn away without offering words. She had not been spoken to, therefore she shouldn't break the silence.

"Do not take it to heart."

The red-haired she-elf paused, surprised. Elladan's voice seemed neutral, but not unkind. Almost hesitant.

"My lord?" Tauriel caught her breath. Oh. She should have expected this. King Thranduil had warned her not to allow Legolas' eyes turn in her direction once. Even when she had not sought such attention. Now Elladan, son of Lord Elrond, was going to ask the same of her. Only ...this time ...it would hurt more. Since her attention had already been caught by a certain dark-haired dwarf prince who'd turned out to be more than anyone had ever thought.

"He is embarrassed. The Light of the Eldar is awakening within him, spreading through him. He is unsure and does not want to appear weak before you."

Tauriel's green eyes widened, and she glanced over toward where Fili and Kili both were mounting horses with Elrohir. "I am owed no explanations." She said as mildly as she could.

"No?" Elladan chuckled, his gray eyes showing no disdain. "What are you gifting to him for Durin's Day?"

Shocked, the red-head stared at Kili's father. "I ...did not think a gift from me would be appreciated." She didn't mention that she had indeed been making a gift anyway.

Now Elladan frowned. "From Kili? No." He closed his eyes and nodded in understanding. "From me. Let me see if I can set your mind at ease. He's already asked me what he thinks would be a good gift for you."

Tauriel couldn't help the slight flush to her cheeks. But she dared not hope. She'd sensed that Elladan wasn't especially pleased about her closeness with Kili.

"And your thoughts?"

"Truthfully? That you're both too young." Elladan said consideringly. "That Kuilaith has had some tremendous blows of late and is still trying to deal with them."

Tauriel nodded, it wasn't condemnation at least. Or orders to turn away.

"My mother's mother enjoys your company." Elladan continued. "Perhaps in time things might continue along nicely. I only ask that you be patient with us. My son as he learns and adjusts to the other side of his heritage. Me as I learn to share."

"Of course." Tauriel said simply, dropping her eyes to keep the joy from shining forth. Not forbidden, not lesser. And not pushed upon Kili either, used to draw him closer. The Lady had reassured her of that, but here was another.

"Are you sure you wish to travel with the Lady to Lorien? It is my understanding you wish to see more of this world. Lothlorien is beautiful beyond compare. But it is woodlands, like the Mirkwood." Elladan gave her a measured look. "You are not confined to one course of action."

Tauriel paused, her mind whirling with possibilities. Was the lord being accepting, or trying to find a kind way to be rid of her presence?

Elladan smiled at her. "So very young." His eyes traced the lines of her face. "And quite lovely. I have not yet thanked you for saving Kuilaith's life in Lake Town."

"There is no need." Tauriel dropped her gaze again, only to find Elladan lifting up her chin gently.

"There is every need." The elf lord responded. "I know you had no idea who he was, or that he was my son. That makes your bravery and kindness that much more exceptional."

"Disobeying orders and reckless." She said, wanting to be clear.

"Young." He countered. "And still brave. Now, come. Help a new father out. I need gifts. For Dwarves." His gray eyes widened comically. "Tell me what you know of Thorin's Company."

"They don't like being locked up." The she-elf replied blandly.

Elladan gave her a caustic look and a heartfelt sigh.

Tauriel couldn't help her answering smile. Elladan wasn't anything like she'd expected. "Nothing green."

The elf lord looked startled, glancing around at the rich colors around them. "The hue?"

"The food." She laughed brightly.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis looked around her cabin with sad eyes. Her work roughened hands reached out and caressed the stair newel posts. Fili had carved these for her when he'd been in his early forties.

Kili had gotten a good laugh at the wooden beasts sticking their tongues out at anyone going up the stairs. Thorin had only grunted when he'd seen them.

She wandered over to the book shelves that Kili and Fili had built for her. Her boys weren't ones for sitting still long enough to really enjoy reading. But Thorin had made sure they learned. Or at least he'd made sure they'd minded Balin as he did the actual teaching. She smiled fondly at the memories.

"Lady Dis?" A hesitant voice, soft.

"Just Dis." The dwarrowdam put down Kili's fiddle bow, worn down from overuse. "I'm just Dis around here."

"Not with Erebor reclaimed." The voice sounded insistant. "My lady."

"Grinis." Dis turned and looked at her neighbor. "I don't deserve such a title."

"Don't be a silly-sort. Of course you do." Her long-time neighbor gave a rough approximation of a curtsy. Dis smiled, it had been so long since she'd practiced court manners. She wasn't sure she could cursy with any more grace herself. "Is it true?"

Too true. Dis smiled and nodded. "Erebor is Dwarven again."

"Yes, no. I mean, is it true that Dain is coming to bring you to Erebor before Spring arrives?" The younger dwarrowdam couldn't keep her hazel eyes from sparkling with hope.

Startled, Dis shook her head. "I'll be travelling in winter, through the mountains. Not a pleasure, I'm more than sure."

"Of course, of course." Grinis smiled reassuringly. "I just wondered if my son could travel with you. He's eager to see the Lonely Mountain."

"Serg?" Dis said, surprised. Where had Serg's eagerness been when Thorin had sent out the call to come to aid in his quest? Where had he been when her own two children had gone off to possibly die with their king and uncle? "Perhaps. Speak with Dain when he arrives."

Grinis smiled hopefully. "I was wondering if you might put in a word for him?"

"No."

Grinis' smile disappeared. "He's a good lad."

"Then he can stand on his own two feet and face Dain like a solid dwarrow and make his own case. Skirts aren't for hiding behind." Dis tried not to sound cold.

"It's all well for you." Grinis sighed. "You were raised ready to sacrifice your blood and kin for the good of all. Regal and everything."

Dis wanted to scream that she'd been barely a child when fleeing Erebor. She simply had vague recollections of the mountain kingdom. There wasn't a time she couldn't remember living a hardscrabble life trying to make ends meet and fill bellies, not just her own family's either. "Serg will be more than welcome to travel if he so desires. But he's of age and can ask for himself."

Grinis disappeared with a sniff to show her unhappiness. Dis sighed, her soul chilled. She didn't bother to explain that Dain might not be well influenced by her words.

He knew. The elves were at Erebor and they all knew her secrets. Soon all would.

Dis plucked at her skirt and frowned. She would need to raid her sons closets, or maybe Thorin's. She needed travel clothes. Thick, serviceable leathers.

"Skirts aren't for hiding behind." Dis repeated to herself, lifting her chin high. She'd put off this moment for over seven decades. That was about to change.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"So why isn't Elladan with us?" Kili asked, looking doubtfully at the river Celduin's mouth. They were on a barely serviceable raft and while it was fairly calm water, there was a swift undercurrent. "Do you know dwarves aren't the best swimmers?"

Elrohir raised an eyebrow.

Fili grinned. "Dense bones. We sink a lot."

"And it has nothing to do with the ton of gear, leather, and metals you carry about every day?" The elf warrior chuckled. "And Elladan had some things to do at Erebor. Our mother's mother wanted a word with him."

Fili shifted over and looked down into the water. "Can't see bottom."

His brother's movements made the raft shift and Kili's eyes widened in alarm, though he managed not to make a fool of himself by grabbing onto things.

Elrohir smiled gamely. "You two were in this river yesterday."

"Not this far out." Kili grumbled. "Does Elladan know you're bringing us out here?"

"Yes." The elf lord sighed. "And maybe one day you'll call him your father?"

Embarrassed, Kili shrugged. "Mam isn't here yet."

"Do you really have any doubts?" Elrohir asked quietly. "The light of the Eldar expands within you already, Kuilaith."

Kili winced uncertainly, rubbing his chest. "No one said it would make me feel bad."

Elrohir frowned in sympathy, taking a deep breath. "This is usually done in infancy. And babies react differently than you are. But the healers say you're fine."

Fili sat back up a bit quickly, making the raft shift. He grinned as Kili paled. "Afraid?"

"Never." He then looked at his elvish uncle. "So. What training do you have for us today?"

"Meditation." Elrohir gave a gentle nod of his head. "Since you're not feeling your best. We'll start with breathing."

Fili grinned widely. "Hate to tell you, but we both mastered breathing a long time ago."

Elrohir shook his head. "This is different."

"Stupid." Kili muttered.

"Will help you keep the Lady Galadriel from putting you to sleep with a touch of her mind." Elrohir paused. "Or at least make it a challenge for her."

Kili brightened at the thought. Lord Elrond hadn't had a chance to start before he'd left to return to Rivendell.

"You'll learn to 'hear' the trees, the water, the very nature of all around us. Learn their names, and learn what they have to share." Elrohir settled into a cross legged position, closing his eyes. "Now. Take a deep breath in ..."

Nothing happened.

Elrohir opened his eyes to find both dwarves staring at him with incredulity. Clear blue eyes and laughing dark eyes.

Fili pointed to a tree on the bank. "Maple."

Kili pointed to a taller one. "Giant oak."

"Black oak. Which is different." Fili pointed to the opposite bank.

Dark eyes glanced at the river mouth they were currently floating on. "That's water." He said in a mockingly helpful manner.

"How many birds in those trees? When will the first snow arrive? How deep was the last snow? How high does this river mouth typically rise? What kind of fish swim near the top? Or the bottom? How healthy are the trees here?"

Fili's mouth dropped open and Kili shook his head.

Elrohir smiled. "Breathe. First, we breathe."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Thrice damn them goblins." The Orc chieftan growled.

"They don't like to travel in the light." The second orc glanced fretfully up at the sun, not wanting to admit he wasn't thrilled with the idea himself. "Darkness be a better cover."

The chieftan made a fist of his hand out of frustration. "Wasted we are, on a mission to watch and learn."

A third orc, laying on the ground overlooking the next area put a fist out to the side.

The chieftan frowned. "What?"

"I'm learning that dwarves float."

The orc chieftan hurried over, dropping low so he wouldn't be spotted. He looked out over the river mouth. The raft was easily spotted. Two dwarves and what looked like the ugly stretched out form of an ... "Elf."

The second orc looked uncertain as his chieftain's horrific face split into a magnificent and malicious grin. "We was told not to engage?"

The chieftan nodded, reaching for his quiver. "Just a bit of fun. Few quick shots and we be gone."

The second in command winced and waved in the general direction of the small cave where their goblin escorts were holed up for the day. "And them?"

"Goblins." Spat the chieftan. "Let them take the blame if found."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili snorted, more than half-way asleep. His breathing free and easy with the occasional mumble.

Kili sat on the raft, feeling every drift and eddy of the current below as he tried to concentrate.

"Let the trees speak to you, let the leafs tell you what they know of the seasons."

"That they want to fall because it's winter coming?" Kili groused, then batted at a leaf that the wind threw in his face. "See what I mean?"

Elrohir sighed. "Breathe. Clear your mind of distractions. Listen to the air, the wind."

Kili tried. He really, really tried. He cleared his thoughts and concentrated on the energy within him. His uncle called it the Light of the Eldar. He was calling it his intruder. Kili sighed, and let even that thought go.

Birdsong. Rustling of leaves. Wind blowing. The sound of wind was diffent going over water than it was when travelling over stone. He let that thought wander. Leaves. Maple leaves and Oak leaves, could he tell a difference. No. And there was this annoying whistle, getting louder.

A familiar whistle. Fast paced, splitting the air. Kili knew that sound. He'd heard it every single day of his life since he'd first picked up a bow.

Without a questioning thought, he knew where this arrow was heading. He could hear it on the wind. More whistles were coming.

Elrohir was so concentrating on teaching Kili and making sure that Fili didn't fall into the water while asleep that he didn't catch the signs.

"No!" Kili roared suddenly, leaping into action and tackling his uncle without warning.

Elrohir rolled under the impact, his legs knocking into Fili who awoke with a sputter and flailing arms.

Three arrows decorated the raft right where Elrohir had been seated. One of them covered with pitch and lit with fire.

Without hesitation, Elrohir kept the momentum of his roll and took Kili right along with him into the waters of the Celduin. Fili followed them three seconds later.

Wistles on the wind alerted Elrohir this time, as Kili had lost his concentration and was now focused on not swallowing the entire river.

"Down!" Elrohir ordered, dropping down and pulling a protesting Kili with him.

The stronger undercurrents grabbed at them, pushing the trio downstream while submerged.

A flash of red in the water had Elrohir looking around, but the river was whipping his long hair in his face too much. He couldn't tell who was hurt, or how badly.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"Oin, Oin, tell me something GOOD." Thorin groused, feeling on edge with his bubbling temper lurking just below the line of his control.

The older dwarf sighed, pulling down his hearing trumpet and eying his king and long-time friend. "All my news is good. The pointy-eared king made good on his promises. So far. The healing supplies are plentiful, they sent us two healers. Food supplies are being stocked as we speak."

Thorin growled, and despite not having his hearing trumpet raised, Oin seemed to be able to understand that particular sound.

"Laddie. I've examined Kili more'n once. But I can find nothing to refute the elves claim on him. He is more slender of frame than his own brother, taller, more ...er, delicate facial features."

"None of that makes him a damnable Elf!" Thorin groused unhappily, then waved off the comment as Oin reached for his hearing trumpet. "Nevermind. What about this fever he has?"

Oin nodded and made an exaggerated frown. "The Elven healer, not the two new ones, but the one from Rivendell." He waited for Thorin to nod. "Nuluin. Strange names these elvish-fellas have. Anyway. He claims Kili is elvish. Says the fever is not harmful, but a symptom of this Light that all elves have within them."

Thorin stroked his beard absently, looking at the wall of the chamber, thinking hard. "Could it be the fires of the Maker instead?"

Oin shrugged helplessly. Most Dwarves ran to a higher temperature than Men or Elves. In their culture it was known as the Internal Forge, a left-over of their making by The Smith, Mahal. "Perhaps?" He sounded apologetic and unconvincing. "But we dwarves don't usually have spikes in our temperatures without cause. It's a steady heat we have."

"Of course that's what it is. The Internal Forge." Thorin muttered to himself. "Not some damnable elvish lantern sputtering in the wind."

Oin frowned, tapping his hearing trumpet. "Did not catch that last bit."

Thorin scowled, but raised his voice, his deep tones almost a growl. "Kili is a Dwarf."

The elder dwarf sighed heavily. "All of the lad's symptoms could be ascribed to ...growth."

Wild blue eyes pinned the dwarven healer and Thorin had to swallow heavily to keep sharp words out of his mouth. Words that he had no business speaking to a friend who had supported him when few others had.

Oin shook his head. "Dain will be arriving in Ered Luin soon."

Thorin nodded, still unable to unclench his jaw enough to speak. Finally he made a face and sighed. "What if the news is not what I want to hear?"

"It doesn't change that Kili is your nephew." Oin said quietly.

The King Under the Mountain closed his eyes, wildly hoping that all of this was one huge mistake. But part of him was already grieving. "I can't lose him." He coughed quickly. "We can't lose him. Fili needs him by his side."

Oin nodded, but silently thinking Thorin needed both of his nephews by HIS side.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili's blue eyes were wide beneath the water, his lungs aching and with a sharp ache in his calf. He was pretty sure that he'd scraped it badly on something as he went into the water. Or something had scraped him. Like an arrow.

The blond crown prince pushed aside the memory of the accursed arrow that had struck Kili back in their wild escape from Thranduil's prisons. The dark one that had nearly killed his younger sibling. A Morgul shaft the she-elf had named it.

He wouldn't think about that, not now. Bile rose in his throat and ruthlessly he pushed aside any considerations not immediately of consequence.

The undercurrents of the Celduin river mouth were pretty swift, but he knew if they went too far down river, it was only going to get worse. This area was calm in comparison to what was to come if they didn't free themselves from the waters soon.

Turning his head every which way, he couldn't seem to locate either Kili nor Elrohir. Mindlessly he threw out his hands, and his left one got lucky.

Leather.

His fingers grabbed, wrapping around the straps of what he hoped was Kili's coat. Fili pulled with all his strength.

The leather stretched slightly, but didn't give. But since Fili was basically floating in water, the strength of his pulling instead propelled him toward what he was holding.

Suddenly he could see dark tangles of hair. The back of Kili's head. Long even darker hair floated around him. Elrohir.

Kili's arms were flailing. Fili grinned in spite of their predicament. Flailing was good. Flailing meant alive and alert. The blond tugged on the leather belt and Kili's head whipped around, bumping painfully into Fili's chin. Dark eyes met blue eyes.

Relief.

Fili pointed up. Well, he hoped it was up. And kicked, ignoring Elrohir's negative head shake. He couldn't help it. His lungs had no more air.

Blond hair broke the surface of the Celduin with a gasp, a moment later, so did two darker haired persons.

"Dive!" The elf warrior demanded, then followed his word with action. Quick intake of air and then Elrohir was diving back down, still holding on to a protesting Kili.

Preparing to sink back down into the relative safety of the water, Fili filled his lungs. And then an arrow pierced one of them.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel ignored the stares she was getting as she pumped the mechanism that had the whetting wheel spinning. She had blades to sharpen.

A polite cough to her left drew her green eyes. She smiled. "Ori."

The youngest of Thorin's Company smiled back at her almost shyly, pleased that she recalled his name. He pointed at a leather strap on the mechanics of the contraption she was making use of. "That's loose, it'll spin better if you allow me ..."

Tauriel stopped her foot movements, and leaned back. "It's not like the ones we have. Clever contraption though."

Ori reached in and tweaked something, then waved at her to try again. First pump of her foot and her eyebrows raised. "That is better, my thanks."

Tauriel was prepared to get back to work, but the young dwarf didn't move away. She waited, and then tilted her head slightly, her red hair sliding silkily with her movement. "Ori?"

"Do you like pictures or knitted items?" He asked nervously.

The she-elf smiled at him in encouragement. "Yes to both." Then paused. "For me, and most elves. Pictures better than knits. Lace is a treat. Poetry is always welcome. Candied fruits. But then knitted things are welcome in the deep of winter."

"Buttons?" Ori asked gently. "Belts, decorated clasps?"

"Yes." Tauriel smiled. "I'm not hard to please."

Blushing, the dwarf toed the ground at his feet. "But you saved Kili's life. More than once. And the king's."

"Because I wanted to." Tauriel said cautiously, but still smiling. "They are fine dwarves." She paused, remembering too late that Kili wasn't fully dwarrow. "I did not mean ..."

Ori's smile was quick, as was the shake of his head. "I know." He then took a deep breath, sending her a questioning look. "Our king hasn't been completely nice to you."

"My king was less than welcoming, or nice, to you." Tauriel skipped over the part where Thranduil was no longer technically her liege.

"If you had to choose a gift ..." Ori's voice trailed off suggestively.

The red-haired elf smiled and shook her head. "Any gift given from someone who is a friend is more than enough."

"Friend?" Ori looked a bit startled, and pleased.

Tauriel shrugged, her cheeks slightly pink. "I would so hope. You were kind enough to show me around Erebor when I first got here, to keep me from being completely lost." Then the red-head smiled widely. "That is if you're asking these questions for yourself, and not for a cowardly young prince who is trying to be sneaky."

Shock. Laughter. Bemused acknowledgement. "Should I tell him that you called him cowardly?" Ori asked, wrinkling his nose adorably.

"You should indeed." Tauriel nodded firmly. "Or better yet, send him to me when he returns and I'll tell him as well."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elrohir's eyes rounded with acute distress. Arrows peppered the area over them. And Fili was struggling to dive, uncoordinated and obviously injured.

The elf lord reached out and snagged one of the arrows that dared to come too close. Wood. Elrohir felt relief go through him. By the feel, it was local wood. New arrows. Not made in Mordor. His hand tightened and the wooden shaft snapped.

If their attackers had Morgal shafts, they wouldn't be wasted on shots that weren't far more sure. They wouldn't use them to needlessy pierce the water, wasting such weaponry.

Elrohir didn't hesitate, he swam up and captured the back of Fili's coat, dragging him down to the relative and murky safety of the Celduin.

Kili struggled free of his uncle's grip and grabbed Fili around the chest, encountering the arrow in his brother's chest. His mouth opened in a scream, and he choked on the water.

Elrohir felt the movement of the water change, quicken. He frowned, they were further downstream than he'd considered. Visibility was limited, but the shift in the pattern of the current told it's own story.

Kuilaith was struggling harder now, choking and Fili's movements appeared weaker. Elrohir calculated quickly. It seemed that the arrows had been shot from a higher trajectory. The short bluffs on the far side of the river mouth. A few more minutes drifting with the current and they should be out of range.

Should be.

His young nephew was swinging his arm now, his other wrapped around his brother. Clearly Kuilaith knew it to be safer to stay underwater, but that was no longer an option. He needed to breathe.

Elrohir turned his body and dragged Kuilaith up toward the water surface. Fili came with them, as his brother wasn't about to let go of the blond dwarf.

They broke the water surface, with the elf's back facing the direction their attackers had shot from.

Kili was spitting out water and dragging in air desperately, but his mind clearly registered that his elvish uncle was putting his own body between the two brothers and any possible attack.

Elrohir heard the struggled breathing coming from young Fili, and was grateful for it, no matter how it pained him.

"Move." Kili grabbed Elrohir's robe. "Don't." His voice was weak, and barely discernable over the increasing sounds of water movement.

So focused on protecting the two youngsters, Elrohir almost missed the meaning of the increased churning of the waters. No arrows arrived, but new dangers presented and he motioned for Kili to head toward the river bank.

He moved forward as well, away from the fallen trunk of a massive oak from the other side of the river. The branches snaked out as if a weathered skeletal hand was reaching for the trio. Elrohir moved with Kili when his long, long elven hair snarled in the branches behind him, yanking him back.

Kili watched with wide, disbelieving eyes as Elrohir disappeared right in front of him, back into the unforgiving rushing waters of the Celduin.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dwalin frowned at the dwarven guards. "That hauberk is a disgrace!" He yanked the offending piece of armament off the top of the crated pile.

Dain's warriors shifted their weight, shooting glances at each other and basically ignoring Dwalin's towering presence. "It's just for the shipment to Dale." One finally said, yawning.

Dwalin picked up the metal linked shirt meant to protect the chest. His stubby fingers poked through in three places. "What's this supposed to protect you from? An irate granny with a fry pan or blunt chopping block?"

A greasy-bearded dwarrow sneered. "It's meant for the Men."

"You mean our current allies?" Dwalin snapped furiously. "What's your name?"

"Gagnar, son of Agnarr." The dwarrow looked down the impressive length of his hooked nose. "Iron Hills." As if that meant that Dwalin had no say in anything he was doing.

A younger dwarrow, straight and shiny in his armor, moved up to the group. "What goes here?"

The dwarrow who'd been packing the crates all straightened. "Captain, sir!"

Dwalin looked over at the newcomer. He silently held up the shoddy hauberk and wiggled his fingers through the holes. The captain's eyes widened, then hardened.

"Gagnar? You and your men were on guard duty today. What are you doing lugging around crates of armor you were supposed to send down to be melted ...yesterday?"

Dwalin straightened up. "Said they was sending it to Dale."

The Captain from Dain's army shook his head. "Sent those deliveries on this morning." He sighed. "Stealing is unworthy."

Gagnar laughed nervously. "It's poor workmanship, old and broken. We wasn't stealing nothing important."

Dwalin turned over the entire crate. The top layer was exactly as described, but underneath were much better quality armor. He sighed. "Best to stop those shipments to Dale. I think that the rest of the junk is in the bottom of those crates instead. Hate for those shipments to reach our allies, let them think we Dwarves are without honor." He snarled the words heatedly.

The Captain nodded grimly, pointing at his aide to get things moving. He turned to Dwalin with an apology and a grimace. "Those dwarrow were assigned to be guards today."

And not at their posts. Dwalin nodded with a sharp frown. "Where?"

"Not where, but who."

Dwalin's eyes closed and he sighed. "The princes?"

The captain grimaced. "That elf said they were going back to that river mouth today."

"That area was swept and cleared." Dwalin noted. "And the lads have the elf with them too." Still, something worried him. He looked over at the captain who was turning away. "Wait. Who cleared that area?"

The captain looked over at his aide, who flipped through some papers. The assistant paled. Dwalin sighed and made a sour guess. "Gagnar, son of Agnarr?"

The assistant nodded, looking haggard.

Gagnar turned his head aside and spit, he looked back at Dwalin impertinently. "They be fine. Got an elf and a mongrel with them, don't they?"

Unfortunately Gagnar's nose would not improve for being broken so harshly, and Dwalin's temper did not improve even with the crunching of the dwarrow's nasal cartilage.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili didn't know what to do. Fili was injured and struggling to breathe. His uncle was underwater, trapped and caught by his own hair.

"Get him." Fili coughed, wincing and obviously in pain.

"No." Whimpered Kili, tightening his grip around his brother's chest. But his eyes didn't leave the area where Elrohir had disappeared. "He's strong, he'll get loose." He said with more wishful thinking than hope.

Fili pried at Kili's fingers, loosening his grip. "Go. I'll hold here." The crown prince moved toward the rocks along the side of the river bed.

With deep misgivings Kili looked over at the ridge where the shooting had all started. What if their enemies were coming even as he hesitated.

Brother. Uncle. One he treasured beyond all else. The other he'd just met and wasn't even sure about, not really.

"Go." Fili's voice was a demand.

Kili turned and deposited the blond among the rocks with a stern look that told him clearly what was in his heart. "Don't die, idiot."

Fili grunted as Kili moved toward the fallen oak with determination.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dwalin and Thorin both stared down at the broken crates holding the stolen armor. The King Under the Mountain blew out a frustrated breath. "The shipment to Dale?"

"Delayed." Dwalin sounded no less irate. "But found in time to keep the delivery of bad goods from the Men."

Thorin nodded slowly. "The dwarrows responsible?"

"Punishment work details. Scrubbing Erebor from top to bottom. On their knees." Dwalin smiled grimly, thinking of Gagnar with his now bruised eyes and throbbing nose. "It's a large mountain."

"Indeed." Thorin agreed. "The princes?"

"Have that Elven uncle with them." Dwalin said with a frown.

Thorin's frown was deeper than his long-time friend's. "I'm their only uncle." He snapped.

Dwalin's mouth clicked shut with a snap and he gave a terse nod. His king wavered back and forth on the subject of the elves being any kin to Kili. He could understand why too. If strangers suddenly descended upon him claiming Balin, he'd have difficulty as well. "I can go out there with a few dwarrow."

Thorin shook off the offer. "You're needed here. Send two you trust."

Dwalin's eyes flashed. These were Dain's warriors, not his own. He didn't know them well enough yet. A flash of red caught his eye and he smiled grimly. "I can send Ori and Tauriel. They're over there."

If Thorin's posture got any straighter he'd snap in two. He glared at Dwalin, who didn't back down. "She's an elf. Are you saying that you trust her?"

"She saved Kili's life." Dwalin pointed out. "More than once. Your own as well. And Ori accounted himself well at the Battle."

Thorin grimaced, clearly unhappy. He looked up at the sky and then back at the entrance to Erebor. "No. Me and you. I need see what the lads are up to. I need to ...breathe."

Dwalin nodded in understanding.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Underwater, Elrohir's hand trailed down his long hair to find the snarl, his fingers felt the tangles. Hopeless. Without qualm, he pulled free his dagger and followed the length of his hair down to the snarl, swiftly cutting the dead branch free from the limb and leaving his hair intact. Even as he did so he mentally laughed at himself for elven vanity. He'd see if he could free the wood from his hair without damage later.

He turned to follow the dwarves, when suddenly Kuilaith was right in front of him with wide eyes, dark and frightened.

Elrohir nodded and turned the lad pointing back the way they'd come. Kili looked relieved as the two headed back toward Fili. His head broke the surface of the river, and then stared.

Fili wasn't there.

Dark eyes flew over the area, and a glimpse of muddied blond hair had him moving quickly. His brother had slipped from the big boulder and was clinging to two smaller ones, the currents stronger and Fili weaker than he'd realized. "Brother!"

Elrohir tried to tell Kili to head to the shore and that he'd retrieve the young dwarrow. But Kili was beyond reason, his dark eyes glued to his older brother, willing strength to him. Panicked sounds came from deep in his throat as the dark-haired prince struggled through the heavier currents of the Celduin in his thick leathers and sodden clothing. Elrohir slipped past him and to Fili before the younger siblling could manage to get half-way there.

The tall elf was having his own troubles with the heavy current. He was strong, very strong, but he was lighter of weight than either of the two dwarves with their heavier bone density. The giant fallen oak that had earlier ensnared his hair was redirecting current around and under it, causing problematic fluctuations in the water pattern.

Gritting his teeth, Elrohir reached Fili and wrapped his arms around the young dwarf prince just as Kili finally reached them.

Kili was on the shore side and Elrohir passed Fili toward him. The dark-haired young lordling smiled grimly as he accepted his brother's weight. The three then inched their way along the protective rocks toward the shore. But although the large boulders and rocks did protect them from being pulled even further downstream, the heavy current was doing it's level best to dash them against those same rocks.

Being taller meant the Elrohir was the first to have his feet find purchase while Kili was swimming hard and carrying much weight. The dark haired youth was struggling onward, doggedly determined even as the river fought him for every inch gained. Using his feet, weighted down as he was with the large dwarven style boots, while his arms were wrapped closely around his brother's upper chest.

With his feet finding the river bottom, Elrohir moved forward to help more when Kili's head dipped nearly below the surface. The youth persevered and resurfaced quickly, but the currents dragged Fili, swinging his body dangerously closer to the rough boulders.

The elf warrior grunted and surged forward, inserting himself between Fili and the rocks, ready to catch or cushion him. Kili eyed his uncle gratefully, though it turned out to be unnecessary as the mixed-blood prince managed to regain control. Elrohir nodded gravely when, under the surging water, one of the rocks he was pushing off from shifted unexpectedly.

Elrohir spun, trying to find his balance and managed to keep his head from hitting the large pale gray stone with its sharp craggy edges. He turned enough to spare himself a concussion at the very least, only to have his left shoulder take the brunt of the blow. Sudden pain made him gasp as things internal, shifted queasily.

Small bright lights of pain and a realization that something was wrong hit him, making Elrohir gag for a moment before he straightened. Standing once more in the water, the tall elf saw Kili's wide and worried eyes on him. He smiled at his nephew grimly, ignoring his pain as he herded them all toward the shore.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dwalin looked over at Thorin. "You can lose the scowl now."

The monarch gave a short bark of laughter. "That bad, am I?"

"Yes." The large dwarven warrior wasn't much for white-washing the truth. "We won, my friend. Impossible quest. Impossible odds. Against trolls, goblins, elvish prisons, orcs, dragons, elves and men, and then goblins and wargs."

Thorin shook his head although managing a half-smile. "Don't forget the stone giants of legend."

"Oh no, mustn't forget them." Dwalin whistled tunelessly.

"And madness." Thorin's smile all but disappeared, his pride still stinging at how close he'd come to throwing away everything important for mere gold. Becoming all but blind to anything other than treasure, like his grandfather.

Dwalin grunted uncomfortably. "Not mad."

"Close. Too close." Thorin sighed heavily.

"Gone?" Asked the large warrior.

Thorin shrugged. "I have to stay focused on what's most important. Family. Friends. Kingdom. People."

Dwalin nodded, his bald and tattooed head reflecting the rays of the sun. "Family."

The King sucked his upper lip against his teeth for a second and then forced himself to relax. "They have to be wrong." About Kili. He didn't have to say that part aloud, it was a given.

Dwalin stayed quiet for nearly a mile, and then cleared his throat as they rode along. "And if he is partly of their bloodline?"

Thorin growled. "No."

"But if he is?"

The dark-haired king shook his head. "You say you trust that red headed elf. I say none of them have honor, or truth."

Dwalin fell silent again, knowing an impossible to win argument when he heard one. "If you guard your heart with mithral, no one will ever touch your heart again." It was an old saying, older than the kingdom of Erebor even.

Thorin frowned, and then his eyebrows narrowed. He looked toward their destination. "Do you hear that?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili didn't stop once he reached the shore, as much as he wanted to collapse, he did not dare. Instead he half dragged and half lugged his stumbling brother up into the tree line with his uncle behind him. "An ...anything?" He had little breath left.

Elrohir was scanning the area carefully. "No. Our attackers appear to be on the other side of the river. Shooting at targets of convenience maybe?"

"Maybe." Kili sounded doubtful as he lowered his older brother to the ground carefully.

Fili groaned, coughing and in obvious pain. He looked pale, with pain lines radiating from his eyes and mouth, unhidden by his beard.

Elrohir moved swiftly to the blond, inspecting the wound with a sinking dread. Blood seeping around the shaft of the arrow, which had broken off in their adventures in the water. Grimly, he saw what he'd hoped he would not.

"Have to get that out." Kili panted, reaching for his knife. Elrohir reached over and stopped his hand, shaking his head. "What?"

Small red bubbles surrounding the wound. "Lung is compromised."

Kili's already pale face went ashen white and he suddenly felt faint. Angrily he pushed aside his terror as best he could and leaned in, seeing what the elf had already noted. Quickly he pulled his knife anyway, reaching for his leather outer coat.

"This instead." Elrohir winced with pain as he tugged off his own outer robe. "The fabric will breath better than your leathers."

Kili watched his uncle, knowing he was right and taking the fine coat and cutting it into strips. He looked up and bit his lip, his dark eyes worried. "Your shoulder."

"Dislocated. I know. Nothing mortal I can assure you." Elrohir's face set into grim lines, clearly willing himself to ignore the pain. "We need to get Fili to the healers, fast."

Kili wrapped his brother's chest, with Fili struggling to sit up and help. Tightening the fabric on three sides of the wound, but not the fourth. As he drew the fabric taut, the harsh sounds of Fili's struggles to breathe eased a little. But only a little. Blue eyes looked up at Elrohir, the young fighter unhappy to be so weak. "I can move."

The elf shook his head. "It's too far to walk, not in this condition."

They all knew where their horses had been tied up. Back where they'd been attacked along the shore near the tree line.

Kili nodded grimly. He held up his dagger. "I'll get the mounts."

Elrohir shook his head and stood. "I'll go."

"I'm the only one uninjured." Kili growled, ignoring his fatigue. Pushing his wet hair out of his eyes. "I can do this."

"I know you can." The tall elf shook his head. "But I know those horses better than you." Elrohir pointed out calmly. "Been working with them since we arrived. They'll follow me without leading them."

Kili gritted his teeth, unwilling to give in. "You're hurt."

Elrohir wished he had his sword on him, but it was back with his horse. "We are without our redoubtable dwarven guards today. We're on our own."

"Guards?" Fili coughed, mouthing the word more than speaking it.

"Don't try and tell me you two didn't know." Elrohir snorted with dark amusement and drew two fine and matching daggers. "We have never left Erebor without watchers. But I did not sense them today."

Fili grimaced and closed his eyes, drawing a sharp protest from his younger brother. Opening his eyes again he tried to smile at Kili, but guessed from the worried expression on his sibling's face that his smile was less than reassuring. He'd known about the guards, but hadn't thought much about it really. Until now. By Durin's Axe and Blood, where were they?

Elrohir started to hand one of his matching blades to Kili. "You may need more than one."

Kili and Fili both grinned evilly. The younger sibling reached into his brother's boot and drew a wicked looking blade. Fili's fingers only fumbled a little, digging into his sodden furs to pull out a larger hilted dagger. Kili then reached to the opposite boot, pulling forth an intricately etched but slender blade of lethal sharpness. Elrohir gave a rough laugh as Fili pulled out yet another from his other side.

Elrohir turned to go, but Kili stood quickly. "Let me bind your shoulder." His young nephew moved toward him.

Elrohir shook his head and turned away before his nephew could offer further protest.

Kili hissed in frustration, but when Fili started coughing painfully, he became fully distracted, returning to his brother. Worry lines marring his youthful face.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elrohir ran swiftly through the wooded cover along the bank of the Celduin. His gray eyes scanning the area carefully, using every sense he had at his disposal. Something he should have been doing while training his nephew. Nephews really.

Appalled at his lapse, the elven warrior berated himself on letting today unfold as it had. No, he couldn't have known that the area was no longer secure as it had been proclaimed by Erebor guards. No, he could not have foreseen that their dwarven guards would not be around today. But that did not excuse the fact that young Kuilaith had more than possibly saved his life. He might have sensed the danger before it was too late, but his nephew had reacted first. Unacceptable.

Grimly, Elrohir separated his mind from his pain. He could hurt later. Not now.

It wasn't terribly long before the tall elf was slowing, recognizing the area. And hearing the horrible reality.

High pitched squeals, grunts and panicked sounds let him know that the horses were injured. The elf lord jumped into the trees, the leaves barely stirred as he moved. Sure-footed, Elrohir raced through the branches, spinning and leaping quickly but with great care. Even with one arm useless, he was a thing of grace.

The elf lord slowed as he neared the area where the horses had been left tied up. Arrows decorated the ground. One horse was already dead, bled out. Elrohir frowned unhappily. The second horse was wounded, scared and in pain. The third was frightened and straining to break loose, but looked unharmed.

He hated ignoring the plight of a wounded animal, and leaving another in danger. Especially horses. But there was something else. He was not alone.

Silently he used the tree limbs to circle the area, until he was looking down on two dwaves that he recognized. Elrohir grimaced, weighing his options. He gave a soft tri-toned whistle. Immediately both dwarves looked up. They didn't see him, shadowed as he was among the trees.

Elrohir whistled again, both pairs of eyes homed in on him this time. The elf nodded, then dropped soundlessly down behind the dwarven king and his right hand dwarrow.

Thorin's eyes widened as he took in the elf's distressed condition, with tangled hair, torn and still damp clothing. Dwalin stared at the elf's grossly distended shoulder, and saw the dangling arm. He knew a dislocation injury when he saw one.

Thorin's eyebrows shot up as he looked around, worried. He even searched the tree limbs above, as if his nephews might be stashed there. Elrohir shook his head and pointed down river, holding up two fingers and nodding.

Dwalin's jaw lost some of it's horrid tension and he nodded in return. Until Elrohir put a hand up at the level of Fili's head, then poked himself in the chest, grimacing.

Thorin didn't miss the message, his crown prince was injured. Elrohir turned and pointed across the river and then over at the horses still in distress.

Dwalin frowned. Arrows. Ambush.

Thorin looked back at the struggling animals. Elrohir threw out a dagger and put one injured animal out of it's misery. Shocked, the king turned and glared at the elf. The end of the squealing panic of the horse was a relief, but it would also alert any enemies of where they might be.

Elrohir then took his second dagger and threw it expertly. It severed the reins of the uninjured animal. A soft tri-tone whistle had the animal trotting directly to the elf.

With one good arm, Elrohir caught the mane and bounded onto the back of the mount with unrivaled grace. He looked down at the two dwarves, who moved swiftly through the underbrush toward where they'd left their own horses.

It took several minutes to reach their mounts, but the dwarves climbed onto the saddled ponies quickly. Though without the grace of the much older elven warrior.

Quickly the trio moved on their way to retrieve the two princes of Erebor.

Thorin looked back toward the river. His voice was little more than a whisper. "That horse could have been treated. Only one arrow in the hind quarter. You didn't have to slay it as you did. He was only panicked."

Elrohir shook his head solemnly. "That horse was already dead. Morgal shaft. Panic yes, poison and pain were overwhelming. If the lads weren't injured we could maybe find the herbs necessary to treat. But doubtful. He would have been dead in another hour, and in terrible agony. It was a mercy to end it."

Thorin scoffed. "Morgul shaft? Such as one that Kili took? He lasted over a day with such a wound."

Elrohir seemed surprised at the king's attitude. "Morgal shafts were created in Mordor. Filled with evil and poisons. Kuilaith lasted so long only as a testimony to his strength in fighting the pain. The horse could not have done so."

Dwalin shot Thorin an unreadable look.

The king looked ahead and urged his mount forward, following the elf to his nephews. But his mind was spinning. He could not release his ears of the echo of that horse's squeals and panic. Was that what Kili had been fighting back in Lake Town? That writhing, horrible, painful death creeping upon him?

This is what he'd told the lad was a mere flesh wound?

Thorin swallowed hard and urged his mount faster.

Chapter Text

The elf and two dwarven warriors moved quickly through the area, back toward where Elrohir had left the two princes of Erebor.

Dwalin looked at the back of the tall elf, and then over at his friend and king. Both were tense beyond measure. "How badly is Fili injured?"

There was a heavy silence for a very long moment, and Dwalin wasn't sure if he was being ignored. But finally Elrohir answered as if reluctant. "Lung is punctured, how badly I am as yet unsure. He was awake and aware when I went to get a mount."

Thorin, already tense, straightened even further. His dark eyes should have burned holes through the elf lord's back. "Morgal wound?" Like the horse that Elrohir had just granted final mercy?

"No." This response was at least quick. "By creation, it is a normal shaft and unpoisoned."

Dwalin's teeth unclenched slightly and he flexed his jaw, wondering if he'd cracked anything so worried had he been for that answer. Thorin didn't look much better, though some color did return to his pale face.

Both dwarves were mindful of the scene of panicked pain and creeping death they'd just witnessed but a moment ago. A bad reminder for one dwarrow, for the other a revelation. Thorin shot Dwalin a pleading look.

Dwalin couldn't reassure him. In this, his king had been so very wrong. "Bofur and Oin both told you. Fili told you."

Hearing the censure in the voice of his long-time friend, Thorin's stomach rolled. Grimly he gave a brief nod. "I was blind."

Elrohir didn't look back behind him, leading the group onward. But he did question. "Blind?"

Thorin's usually piercing blue-eyed gaze closed briefly as if in pain. "I dismissed Kili's wound from the Morgal shaft as a smaller thing. I didn't want to be beholden to an elf for saving his life." The dwarrow's voice was drowning in guilt. "It was a betrayal."

Comfort came from the least likely place. The elf's voice was gentler than it had been before. "I heard the story of Lake Town. You could not have known of the arrow's effects."

Thorin's guilt would not allow him to accept even the kind words. "I have denied, many times, that I owed anything to ...her."

"Tauriel." Dwalin supplied the name obstinately, unwilling to let it go even for Thorin's sake.

"Indeed." The Dwarven King swallowed his bitterness as best he could.

Elrohir ducked under a tree branch in his way. One that the dwarves rode right under without a problem. "As for betrayal." The elf continued, notes of his own guilt in his modulated voice. "I knew we were not being followed by our usual dwarven guards today. I ...was happy for it. And now this."

Thorin coughed and gave a heartfelt sigh. "The area was supposed to be clear and safe. And the failure of the guards is not on you."

Dwalin growled. "There's enough guilt here to drown us all. Let's just get on with this rescue. Is Fili hurt any worse than the arrow?"

"Not that I could tell, but I was in a hurry to retrieve the horse in order to return the princes back to Erebor for healing." Elrohir's voice sounded subdued. "Kuilaith is uninjured, but wasn't feeling well in the first place. Nearly drowning I'm sure will not help."

Despite their moment of accord just a moment ago, Thorin's jaw clenched at the sound of Kili's elvish name, and a reminder that his nephew had some foreign light within him.

Sensing the problem, Dwalin asked the first question that came to his mind in order to distract. "Does Fili have an elvish name?"

Thorin's blue eyes widened with shock and disappointment, shooting his friend a fulminating look. His temper clearly ready to explode.

A chuckle actually defused the situation a bit as the Elf shook his head. Letting the dwarves see the tangled mess and twisted branches still caught in Elrohir's long hair. "Dis would not allow such. Very formidable when in a temper, your sister."

Unsure, and very uneasy, Thorin eyed the back of Elrohir's head. He did NOT like the familiarity the elf had with describing Dis. It leant credence to the tale of Kili's existence. On the other hand, "That is true." He admitted with caution. "She does indeed."

Dwalin nodded, he knew the dwarven princess as well. "Why?"

Elrohir shrugged with his good shoulder, and the dwarves could see him tensing up with pain. Though the elf ignored his injury quite capably. "Our father agreed not to gift Fili with an Elvish name after Dis refused. She felt that the name the lad was given by his deceased father should not be dishonored. Although we reassured her that an Elvish name would not replace his birth name, she would hear nothing on the subject. We respected her wishes."

Thorin and Dwalin both had questions after that, but the King Under the Mountain was quicker. "Your father, as in Lord Elrond? Why would he be the one to offer a name, and not Elladan?"

Elrohir turned his head, shooting a look back at the dwarvish king for a moment. A deep sigh escaped him as he turned back to move through the thick underbrush. "Elladan was ...not with us for long stretches. His grief was consuming him. That was the reason for the marriage in the first place, to anchor him to this world. Fili was a charming child though, it was too hard for even Elladan to refuse that bright spirit."

Thorin shifted in his seat, uncomfortable in the tale as it sounded ...real. Too real.

Dwalin cleared his throat. "You didn't gift Fili with an elven name, but were quick to so name Kili as Kuilaith."

Elrohir's voice sharpened just enough to be noticeable. "Kili wasn't given a name by the first husband of Dis. We did Nehili no dishonor to give Elladan's son a new name. Fili's name was the reflection of Nehili, his true father. Kili ...wasn't given a name by his father at all. He wasn't given the chance."

Now extremely uncomfortable, Thorin scowled. His aching need to deny the elves any claim upon his nephew was crumbling. Every word Elrohir was speaking rang with the pure tone of truth and conviction.

Dwalin nodded slowly, absorbing the information. "So. No elvish name for Fili? Not even one of affection?"

Elrohir sighed as he made a small sound of remorse. "Not a name. But ... we did call him Aierstalder, my brother and I. It would anger Dis some of the time, but mostly she allowed it as it was a word of affection and not a proper name."

Thorin looked stunned, absolutely stunned. For a moment he became unfocused, lost in his own memories. When he finally shook himself free, he realized the conversation had continued without him.

The elf was chuckling slightly, but fondly. "Fili was forever jumping out of odd places and whacking Elladan and I with a long stick he called his sword. Dis offered to make us padding for our knees." They could hear the smile that they could not see on the elf's face. "He wanted to be a grand warrior like his uncles."

It was clear that Elrohir was speaking of dwarvish family, and not himself. "Frerin and Thorin both, from what I remember."

"Aye." Dwalin mused, falling into silence.

Thorin seemed lost in his own thoughts, and the group moved as quickly as their stealth would allow in order to reach the two princes.

Little did either Elrohir nor Dwalin know, that of all things, a simple nickname would shatter all of Thorin's hopes and denials.

Aierstalder. He knew that term. Stomach acid rose up within him, clawing up his throat to burn in his chest. In sharp and vivid detail he could see a very young Kili playing 'hide me, find me' with his brother. Thorin himself had been home early on a rare slow day at the smithy, enjoying watching his nephews play.

Fili had been searching for Kili, who had somehow managed to climb the bookshelves despite being so small and was laying in wait. Thorin could clearly remember how pleased and surprised he'd been at the younger sibling's cleverness and fearlessness of heights. When Kili had dropped down onto his brother from above, the resulting cacophony had drawn Dis in from the kitchen.

Fili, once being over getting caught out by his brother, seemed rather proud. He had ruffled the lad's hair and called him a word that Thorin had never heard before. "Aierstalder."

A small thing, and hardly something to become so solidly lodged in his memory. What made it so memorable? Dis flying into an absolute fury over that one word.

Thorin knew his sister to have a formidable temper, but never with her children. With them she was the personifcation of patience and understanding. But not that evening.

He could still recall how shocked and stunned he'd felt as Dis had come close to actually swatting Fili on the backside, scolding him outrageously. In the end, Thorin had intervened and sent the two crying dwarflings off to their rooms in tears and without dinner so he could speak with Dis.

Thorin had of course asked his sister about her fit of temper, and she'd been so apologetic. And frightened. He'd thought it was because he'd seen her lose her patience. But now he knew it was over the strange word. The one she'd claimed had been a bad word the lads had overhead in town and was NEVER to be repeated.

Afterwards she'd calmed, recalling the two repentant dwarflings down for their meal and extra helpings of dessert and cuddles. The whole incident had left Thorin shaken, not that anything horrible had happened, but that Dis had lost such control. He'd never seen it before, and had never seen it since.

"Aierstalder." Thorin said the foreign word, a bitter taste in his mouth. "I missed what you said. What does it mean?"

Elrohir replied softly. "It's elvish. The words just mean a valiant, short one."

Thorin groaned, his thoughts racing. Oh my sister, what have you wrought? He could no longer deny, even to himself, that Elladan was Kili's father. But. He gritted his teeth. That didn't mean that he had to lose his nephew to them.

It didn't mean that at all.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Impossible as it might seem, as fast as Dain and his company raced toward Ered Luin. Word of their coming travelled even faster. Messenger birds flew back and forth between large and small communities.

Dwarrow of every age and every social class flocked to them, asking questions, demanding to know if Erebor was theirs once more.

Hinnin couldn't hide his surprise beneath the veneer of Elvish indifference. How shocked the older elf had seemed, seeing the pure joy and hearing the keening wails of victory. Dain had asked him about his surprise, and in turn had been shocked to find that a lot of elves thought that dwarves didn't have deep emotions. Being beings carved from stone and all.

Hinnin described the only dwarves he'd ever seen in his long, long centuries of living. All had been expressionless, almost dour. Grumpy and without humor.

Dain had laughed and clapped the elf on the shoulder. Explaining how privately the dwarrow held themselves from outsiders. Especially the favored first awakened Elves. He then described how the dwarves saw elves as prissy, proud, uptight, and snobbish.

Hinnin had reluctantly allowed that some of that could be truth. While Dain had, with equal reluctance, admitted that the popular thought of greedy dwarves wasn't without just cause.

"They all seem so eager to brave the mountain passes, even in winter." Hinnin said, riding along beside Dain, looking behind them at the small town they'd just passed.

"We can't take them all, not this trip." Dain chuckled. "We'll have to be selective. Warriors. Crafters. Those with skills in dire need in Erebor. In the spring the general population will be far more welcome and needed.

"In which of those catagories falls this Calbrinia?"

Dain nearly choked at the dry humor of the elf and turned wide eyes on his riding companion. He thought about the handsome and forthright dwarf-maiden he'd promised to bring back to Erebor. He could easily picture her tightly braided rich chestnut hair and curly sideburns, as well as the elegant line of her throat.

"Master crafter?" Hinnin asked innocently. Too innocently.

"Warrior." Dain offered an answer, after a harsh coughing spell. "Our dwarrowdams can be fine warriors and fighters."

"Ah." The elf gave a slow nod of his head. "So. Not because a certain half-dwarven prince might find her attractive?"

Dain actually laughed outright at that, slapping his thigh. "More for a certain blond full-blood prince." He admitted.

Hinnin actually looked interested as he rested his hands on his thighs, his well trained horse giving no problems. "Do dwarven elders choose wives for their young?"

"No." Dain laughed even harder, shaking his head. "The young couple decides, although families can and do speak their minds on such matters. But only those in love, who have found their other half, do marry. Most dwarrow never get the chance, and are focused only on their life pursuits and crafts."

"You?" The elf asked quietly.

Dain shook his head. "Not I. No. Thorin either. Which is why it will be a good idea to bring some beautiful young ladies to Erebor. The crown prince needs to widen his horizons." He cocked his head at the tall elf. "What about you?"

"I have been married for nearly 900 years now." Hinnin admitted. "She is a musician of some note."

Dain scoffed, then laughed uproariously. "Of note? Music? Please tell me the pun was intentional."

Hinnin cracked a wry smile and shrugged. "I've been telling that pun for several centuries. You are the first to find it actually funny. I thank you."

Dain bowed his head regally. "Dwarves love to laugh."

The elf watched the Iron Hills leader speculatively. "Who knew?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili's usually bright eyes looked cloudy with pain, his hands kept moving toward the arrow in his chest. Patiently Kili yet again blocked his brother's hands. "Stop. Don't bother it."

The blond dwarf grimaced and shifted his position painfully, drawing concerned sounds from his younger sibling. "I'm fine." He tried to say, but ended up in an extremely painful coughing spasm. The violent coughs were ineffectual, as the lung wasn't whole anymore. Whistling sounds escaped from his chest cavity.

Kili groaned and held his brother tighter. Sounds heading toward them had his head snapping up, watching the area around them. "Someone's coming."

Fili's hand scrambled at his side. Knowing his brother extremely well, Kili put one of the finely crafted daggers in the blond's hand. He then picked up his own blade.

"Hide." Fili stared at his younger brother, lending the force of his will to his one word command.

Kili gritted his teeth and shook his head.

Fili wanted to shout at him for being a fool. It would be better to leave him, wounded as he was, and wait in hiding. Then if it was an enemy, attack.

"If it's our attackers, they might be on you too fast for me to react in time. No."

Fili lost his frown and nodded. Okay, so his idiot of a younger brother had understood what he meant. But was unwilling.

A tri-tone whistle had them relaxing a bit, though Kili scowled. "He keeps promising to teach me how to whistle like that. But no, he just wants to teach me how to breathe."

"Breathing ..." Fili jerked as his chest muscles spasmed. "Would be good right about now." He ended weakly.

Elrohir moved into sight, and right behind him ... "Thorin! Dwalin!" Kili nearly collapsed with relief.

Thorin was off his horse first, running to his nephews as Dwalin and Elrohir circled the area with weapons at the ready. He dropped to his knees next to Fili, reaching to check the wound.

Kili's hand stopped him. Thorin grasped his younger nephew's hand tightly. "We need to get him back to Erebor."

"Any other injuries?" Thorin demanded to know.

"Nothing major that I can tell." Kili admitted worriedly.

Thorin scooped Fili up in his arms, fairly pushing Kili away as the youth protested what he knew was essential. Fili groaned, his blue eyes closing as he paled alarmingly. The pain had to be horrible.

"Dwalin!"

The tattooed dwarf moved forward, bending down to take Fili's weight as he nearly dead-lifted the young dwarrow into the saddle before him in an impressive demonstration of pure strength. Dwalin wrapped his arms tightly around the crown prince, who was now only semi-conscious and nearly gasping.

"Kili! With me." Thorin climbed into his saddle.

"My horse can carry two with better ease." Elrohir said smoothly.

Thorin growled. Acknowledging that he wasn't Kili's only uncle was hard enough. "You're injured." He snapped and held out his arm to the dark-haired prince.

Kili moved to mount behind Thorin, but his uncle maneuvered him to the front. He didn't have a chance to question the position before Thorin and kicked the horse into a run.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"We're lucky the snows are holding off." Dain licked his lips, tasting the mountain air around them.

Hinnin nodded slowly, then asked a question that had been pressing on him for quite some time. "Dis. Do you know her?"

Dain stiffened. For all their chats on this journey, and even their strangely burgeoning friendship, the subject of Dis had been quietly off limits. He looked up and over at the elf, who was staring straight ahead. "She is my second-cousin." He admitted calmly.

Hinnin contemplated that for a moment, obviously not wanting to ask further.

"I did not know who fathered Kili. Nor did Thorin, on this I do swear by Durin's Axe and Blood." Offered without prompting. "How sure are the elves that he is as you say?"

Hinnin sighed. "Once we knew what to look for, it was obvious. Your Kili does carry the Light of the Eldar within him. It was not awakened, almost hidden. Not obvious at a casual glance."

Dain did not doubt the news, he had no reason to do so. "A way to bring our races closer together." He mocked slightly. "More like an even surer way to destroy any such alliance."

Intrigued, Hinnin turned to look at his riding companion. "Oh?"

Dain stroked his rather full beard. "A child of such bloodlines? How could a wizard so wise as Saruman is rumored to be miss that Elves and Dwarves would never share gracefully?" He sighed unhappily. "Greedy the dwarves might be seen with treasure, but even more so with our families."

The elf's eyes widened slightly and then he nodded slowly. "You have a clever mind, Lord Dain."

The leader from the Iron Hills sighed deeply. "What was meant to draw our races tighter together, may end up ...poorly."

"The Dwarves would fight to keep him." Hinnin didn't offer this as a question, but rather a statement.

"And once discovered, the Elves won't simply give him up." Dain countered, his voice even.

Hinnin's mind raced as he looked around at the scenery around them, smelling the air and knowing that they were lucky it wasn't already snowing. "We will have to work even harder to avoid the breaking of any alliance that might have once been forged."

Dain grunted in agreement. "Luckily, dwarves don't shy from hard work or labor."

"And the elves, in our uptight pride, don't like being manipulated." Hinnin added quietly.

The Iron Hills leader took a deep breath. "Do you think these events were deliberate?" He asked pointedly.

"Saruman the Wise leads the White Council. He would not be easy to so mislead." The elf warrior shook his head. "To answer, I think not. Yet I do not put it past Sauron to use what is at hand for his own purposes."

Dain stewed on that thought for almost an hour as they continued riding across the landscape. "What do you see?" He asked curiously.

Hinnin started, then considered the question. "Trees are preparing for dormancy. Slowing." He looked at Dain's startled face. "Why? What do you see?"

"Minerals. Nothing precious out here on the surface. But possible deposits of copper or the like. Lot of waste materials out here. Pretty enough, but useless."

The elf stared at the dwarf before turning back to stare at the barren rocks and scrub plants. "Not great for grazing."

"Copper ore only contains a little bit of copper within, the rest is without value." Dain grunted. "Still. There's a beauty out here."

Hinnin scanned the area, seeing the starkness of the landscape. "Not enough trees."

"Not enough minerals." The dwarf commented.

Hinnin kept looking around and shrugged. "Pretty enough. In a rugged ruthless way. The rocks here are ancient."

"Mountains. Even those without ore, hold our hearts." The dwarf acknowledged. "I would not like to have Sauron step one foot on this mountain, poisoning it with his foulness."

The elf's mouth tightened. "Nor I." His mind went back to Erebor, wondering how things were going between the two races.

Dain's mouth tightened. "My second-cousin. Dis. She was only ten years old when Smaug desolated Erebor and our people."

"So young." A shocked Hinnin turned to stare at his companion, horrified at a child seeing that destruction. "A baby."

"By the standards of either race." Dain nodded sadly. "And even in happy times we dwarves cling strongly to family ties. These years of exile have not been happy times."

Hinnin took a long time examining the dwarf's words most carefully. It was nearly another hour before either spoke again. "I need to send messages back to the Mountain."

Dain didn't smile, but he was relieved. "I as well."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Hyarya."

From behind Kili's back, Thorin growled over at the elf. "Common please."

"Sorry. Left." Elrohir blinked several times, slightly embarrassed that he'd slipped into elvish.

"He's in pain." Kili whispered.

Thorin grunted, watching the elven rider. That left shoulder was hard to look at, even covered by his tunic. The joint was clearly not resting where it should be, and it was stomach churning to see the dangling arm. But Elrohir's face didn't look like he was in pain. The elf was clearly holding it all back. It was disconcerting to watch.

The king wanted to ask Dwalin how Fili was faring, but the group was moving too quickly. "Can you see your brother?"

"I think he passed out about three miles ago." Kili answered, worry clear in a voice that was too husky. Thorin wondered how much of the Celduin his nephew had swallowed.

His arms tightened around Kili.

The dark-haired prince pressed back against him reassuringly.

"There is nothing in or outside of Erebor that means more to my heart than you and your brother."

Kili started, bumping the back of his head against Thorin's chin. His eyes wide. "Watch where we're going, idiot!" The king admonished.

Settling down, Kili nodded. That last bit had sounded more like the Uncle Thorin he knew. "We should be in sight of the outer patrol guards ..."

A horn blew.

"About now." Kili finished with a grunt of relief and satisfaction.

After that, things turned into a surrealistic blur of activity. Shouts of greeting for the king, alarmed yelling as those around them realized things weren't right. More horns blew.

Dwalin didn't stop at all, pushing forward toward Erebor with a true sense of urgency. Thorin drew up, along with Elrohir, as the king barked out orders for the soldiers and warriors.

Armor glinted in the sun as dwarrows sped into action. A swirl of robes as long golden hair raced toward them. A flood of elvish flew as Glorfindel and Elrohir met. The ancient warrior's eyes flashed with anger as he slid out of his more decorative robe, leaving him in his more utilitarian tunic and breeches. His ever present sword with him, of course.

Dwalin didn't stop with the rest of them, pushing up to the very doors and on into Erebor. The hooves of the horse making a markedly different sound on the fine marble. He was yelling for a stretcher, and the healers.

Two unknown elves raced up to them and Dwalin balked, until Oin came rushing up behind them. The elder dwarf waved at the warrior to relinquish his hold on Fili to the elves. It registered then, these must be the healers Thranduil had sent. Relieved, Dwalin watched as they took control and slid the crown prince off the horse and onto the stretcher with barely a jostle.

As soon as they had every answer he had to give them on Fili's condition, he turned and kicked the horse forward and back outside.

Thorin looked up as Dwalin moved up next to him, the king's eyebrows rose. "With the healers." The dwarven master warrior acknowledged.

Glorfindel returned, leading a huge mount, snorting and obviously ready to ride. He leaped into the saddle as if elves could fly. His chin stuck out as he looked to the dwavish king, as if daring Thorin to deny his right to ride with them.

Thorin nodded gratefully and Glorfindel tilted his head in a slight bow of thanks. The king then took the reins, sliding them to one hand in order to allow Kili to dismount.

"I'll get a mount."

"You'll get inside and let the healers check you out." Thorin denied the young prince with a voice perhaps a bit too harsh due to his worry.

"I can handle myself!" Came the pugnacious response so typical of his younger nephew.

Thorin couldn't help his fond look, even if he did not smile. "You've already proven that, time and again. But you near swallowed an entire river and your brother needs you."

A look of anguish came and went from Kili's expressive eyes, but his determination did not dim. Thorin sighed and leaned in, putting his mouth next to the prince's ear. "I need you here. If something were to happen, your brother would take the crown. Then you. All three of us never need to be gone from Erebor ever again at the same time."

Kili wanted to protest that Fili was here, but considering his brother's condition he knew that to be an invalid argument. He grunted and slid from the horse.

Thorin looked away from Kili's still almost pleading look, right into the eyes of Elrohir. The tall elf gave him a nod of approval. Which only served to make the king irate. He growled and pointed at the elf. "You need a healer too."

Elrohir clearly wanted to argue, but in light of Kuilaith watching him, knew he could not. If the elf got to go even while injured, the prince would renew his own argument to be included.

A jangle of weaponry and the 'thud, thud, thud' of dwarven boots announced the arrival of Gloin and Bifur. The red-bearded merchant yelling loudly for mounts as he checked the harness holding his axes at the ready. He looked up at Thorin. "Bofur's too deep in the mines to ride out with us in time. Bombur is overseeing the replacement of the bellows on the forgest."

"Perhaps you could use another hand or two?"

Thorin whipped his head around, his intense blue eyes taking in the sight of Tauriel on her horse and ready to go. The king wasn't surprised at that as much as the sight of Ori right beside her, already mounted.

"Where is my brother?" Elrohir asked, looking up at Glorfindel.

The ancient warrior started to shake his head, then stopped and looked up. "There."

Elladan came running up toward them, his face going ashen pale as he caught sight of his twin. "Brother?"

"Go." Elrohir shook his head grimly.

To the others it might appear as if Elrohir was showing no signs of pain. But to his twin, the opposite was true. Elladan could read every move of his brother's body and expression, he knew his twin was in pain.

Ignoring his own injury, Elrohir handed the reins to his twin. "Fili is injured, badly. Kuilaith looks to be fine. I am fine."

Elladan gave a reluctant nod as Thorin turned his mount and started to lead the group away. He gained the saddle in one smooth motion. "I leave them to you."

The elf lord winced. "I have already allowed them to be hurt."

Elladan shook his head, his parting words finding his twin as he moved to follow Thorin. "You brought them back alive."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Should we not know something by now?" Elrohir asked, and despite his calm expression no one could mistake that he was indeed agitated.

Nori shared a glance with Bofur, to make sure that the hatted dwarf noticed the elf was balling up the cloth of his shirt in a fist. Bofur nodded. He'd seen. The elf wasn't currently wearing the shirt, being bandaged rather overzealously by Oin once the redoubtable dwarven healer had reduced the dislocated shoulder back into it's proper position. White bandages fairly swathed Elrohir and anchored his left arm to his chest. The vivid bruising didn't show as it was completely covered.

The outer door slammed open and everyone in the room turned to stare as Kili stalked in, followed closely by an irate looking Oin.

"Clothes laddie!"

Kili frowned sharply, wearing the long woolen undergarments favored by dwarves in cold mountain winters. "Dori went to get me something to wear, but he's taking too damned long!"

Nori's eyebrows rose as he watched the young prince, now inspected and scrubbed clean within an inch of his life. Not one particle of muddy river residue was to be seen. "Your hair is still wet." He pointed out helpfully.

"Any word?" When he got no responses, the young prince scowled rather alarmingly. "They should know something by now!" Kili groused, starting to pace in front of the door which lead deeper into the domain of the healers.

"Let me go get you a shirt or a blanket." Bofur offered quietly.

"I said Dori is fetching me something to wear!" Snapped Kili, his dark eyes flashing.

Bofur slid a wry look over at the youth. "I was talking to Elrohir." His thick dwarvish accent lending an exotic air to the elvish name.

"I am not chilled." Elrohir seemed surprised but a bit pleased by the offer. "But I thank you."

"I'm cold looking at you." Bofur sighed and then waved at Kili. "And you."

Kili made a face but didn't respond otherwise.

"You need pants." Bofur said dryly.

"I'm covered." Kili looked down at himself and dismissed the thought, staring instead at the closed door. "I'm sure Dori will be in soon."

"I'll check on the progress." Oin grumbled, going through the door into the back area.

For those watching him, a stubborn look in his dark eyes and a firming chin were the only warning. Kili stalked right up to the door and slipped inside.

Alarmed, Elrohir and Bofur both stood. From her place next to a window, the Lady Galadriel turned away from the view outside to stare as well.

The door opened again and a white as a sheet young prince was pushed forceably back outside by a very angry looking Oin. The door slammed shut behind him, making Kili jump slightly. His eyes were saucer wide and his color was returning. Only it was the wrong color.

Green.

Kili rushed for a basin before gagging. Since he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, not much beyond bile and acid made the return trip.

Bofur grimaced even as the door opened once more, revealing Oin who peeked out. The elder dwarf glared again at Kili and grunted, disappearing back inside the healing ward and closing the door firmly behind him.

"That bad?" Bofur handed Kili a cloth as the young wiped his face wearily.

"They ...he ..." Kili shuddered. "Blood."

"Nuluin is in there, he is one of the best healers still in Middle Earth." The Lady of Light sounded reassuring.

Bofur scratched his head, regardless of his thick head covering hat. "Lad. You're a hunter. And a warrior. You've seen far worse I'm sure."

Kili swallowed hard, his eyes still wide with shock. "His hands were ...inside. It's not the same. This is Fili." He gagged again, but managed not to require the basin this time.

Elrohir nodded grimly. "The damage was inside, to the lung."

"Was he glowing?" Bofur asked cautiously, remembering when Tauriel had healed the arrow damage back in Lake Town.

Kili nodded slowly, wincing.

"That's a good sign." Bofur said, hoping it was the truth. "Tauriel glowed when she healed you. Pretty thing."

"The healer calls upon the Light of the Eldar." Galadriel remarked, aiming for reassuring.

Kili's head snapped up. That was what the elves called the thing within him. "You said that light was in me now, right?" When the Lady nodded, he asked the next obvious question. "Can I glow?"

Surprised into a quick smile, Elrohir shook his head. "Maybe one day. With a lot of training."

"Training? Like breathing?" Kili turned to stare at the closed door again. He sighed. "It's taking too long."

"It takes as long as it takes." Elrohir tried to infuse his own voice with confidence. But he hadn't liked the look of the elder prince when they'd arrived at Erebor.

Kili looked around the room, his eyes settling on the Lady of Lorien. "Can't you do anything?" It was a plea.

The Lady Galadriel held out one elegant hand to the son of her daughter's child.

Hesitant, Kili approached her. She didn't drop her hand. The young mixed-blood prince fought not to sigh as he put his hand in hers. She drew him closer, looking out the window.

Uncomfortable in his ugly, plain woolens and without his heavy boots Kili stood there, still. Feeling like an awkward child next to the elegant and graceful female his race considered a witch.

Her hand went to his hair, smoothing it back from his face as he looked out the window and she looked down at him. Her touch was gentle, kind even. He still didn't feel comfortable. She may be family, maybe, but it wasn't as if he knew her. Not really. It took all he had not to flinch away.

"I have no power over life and death. I am not even a healer." Galadriel said so quietly that Kili had to strain to hear. There was a note in her voice, a sadness that he had not expected. "Too many are gone from me."

Kili felt the lump in his throat as he looked up at her face. His voice fell to a mere whisper. "If I go with you, could you do anything?" He made the offer freely, and with his whole heart. For Fili, he'd do just about anything.

Galadriel looked down into his face, her eyes sad and yet strangely loving. "I would not ask that trade of you. I assure you, I hold nothing back that would benefit young Fili. Nuluin is one of the best healers the elves still have in Middle Earth."

Kili nodded, feeling off-center. He believed her. But he'd hoped that she could do something. Anything.

I am here for you. I will always be there for you. But right now you have to be strong for him.

Kili glanced up wildly, his dark hair flopping into his eyes. "It's really eerie when you do that." He admitted to her.

Dori walked in a moment later, carrying a neatly folded pile of clothing. Balin was following right behind him.

"Where did you go to get these?" Kili groused, moving toward them to snatch a dark shirt off the top of the pile. "Gondor?"

The elder crafter and current guild master smiled benignly. "I had to search for something clean. Your room is strewn about with piles of stuff."

Elrohir seemed puzzled by this announcement. "Someone searched his room?"

Bofur chuckled. "Naw. That's just Kili."

Balin ducked his head to hide his own smile.

The healer's door opened and Nuluin moved into the room. Instantly all attention was drawn to him. The elven healer gave a weary smile. "The lung has been repaired and so far is holding well. Provided that we can avoid infection, the young dwarrow will heal soundly."

Sighs of relief, laughter and even a cheer or two filled the room. Elrohir took his first deep breath in what felt like ages. His eyes moved to Galardriel, whose own gaze seemed alight with pleasure.

Knees shaky, Kili sank into the nearest empty seat. His eyes closed with relief. He waited for the general questions to be answered by the healer before looking up. "When can I see my brother?"

Nuluin gave him a chiding look. "You've already seen more than enough."

Kili had the grace to smile apologetically.

The healer relented and nodded. "As soon as he is cleaned up and the wounds finished dressing." He pointed at the shirt that Kili was holding. "You have some dressing to do as well."

Embarrassed, the young dwarf prince drew on his shirt, but otherwise didn't move. He was too happy.

Bofur, grinning like a loon, pointed over at Elrohir. "Maybe now you can fix him up."

The healer frowned, "I thought ..." He looked at the wrapped shoulder in question.

"Naw." Bofur chuckled freely. "His poor hair."

Now Nori laughed outright while even the more polite Dori smiled.

Elrohir gave a soft snort of laughter himself, pulling the trailing edge of his hair out from behind his back. The ends still snarled by tree branches.

Nuluin sighed and shook his head. "Fools." He commented, with no sting in his voice. "Cut the wood to avoid cutting your hair?" He guessed.

Elrohir gave an eloquent shrug without even a hint of apology for his vanity.

Dori gave the elf warrior a sympathetic look. "Hair is important to dwarves as well."

"Apparently my nephew can't even be bothered to fully dry his." The elf pointed out.

Kili grimaced, pushing his long hair behind his ears. It was true, his hair was still damp from where Oin had scrubbed him, checking for any bruises or bumps that might have exacerbated the concussion he'd recieved during the last battle.

"Kili, well, his hair doesn't hold braids well." Dori admitted. Balin nodded in agreement.

Attention snagged, Elrohir looked up to catch his nephew's sudden blush. "No?"

Bofur sighed a bit. "No. Falls out or gets too messy. A dwarf's hair is usually thicker, more wiry. Not coarse really, but Kili's hair now. It's finer."

Galadriel and Elrohir shared a bemused glance. The elf lord drew his own hair forward, letting it sift through his fingers like fine silk.

"See. Me and the lads have been thinking. What if Kili's hair is more like the texture of elves, but wavy like our'n?" Bofur shrugged.

Galadriel sighed gently. Her hair was wavy, but she refrained from commenting on the obvious.

"Possible." Nuluin spoke up. "But not necessarily the reason." He looked at Kili. "May I?" He gestured toward the lad's hair.

The dwarves all stilled for a moment. The elves definitely noticed.

"This is taboo?" Nuluin asked, unsure of the moment.

Nori gave a weak smile. "Not taboo necessarily. But ...very ..."

"Familiar." Dori finished the sentence for his brother. "Intimate."

Galadriel tilted her head a bit. "I touched his hair earlier. No one protested."

"Well, now ...but you be his kin. Yes?" Nori pointed out with a slight wince. He knew Thorin would have his head if he heard any of the dwarves say such a thing. But personally, he just thought his king was in deep denial of the obvious.

"Oin isn't." Elrohir pointed out, not to be difficult but to dig out the reasoning. "He touched Kuilaith's hair to clean it."

Balin gave a small smile, explaining. "Actually, he is. Cousin to King Thorin and all."

Elrohir held up the ends of his hair. "So I could ask Kuilaith to help me with this, but not Dori or Nori?"

The dwarves all smiled, pleased the elf was a quick study. "Aye, but I wouldn't ask Kili. He pulls too hard."

"I do not!" Prostested the youth in question, looking hurt.

"Gets in a hurry, makes a mess of braids. Lopsided they be." Bofur gave a fake whisper.

Kili scowled, clearly unhappy with the turn of the conversation. "New subject. When can I learn how to glow?"

"Grow?" Oin frowned. "Not something you can control, laddie."

Kili gestured for the healer to use his hearing trumpet. Once Oin did, he yelled and made the healer jump. "GLOW!"

Nuluin frowned. "You want to be a healer? You nearly fainted already in there."

Bofur chortled, slapping his thigh heartily.

"No, no. But Elrohir said he'd teach me how to glow after I learn how to breathe." Kili piped up.

The elf in question looked startled and Galadriel's hand went to her mouth to cover her sudden smile. "That is not exactly what I said." Elrohir protested a bit.

Oin sighed. "Now laddie, you're half dwarf and not but a fraction elf. Glowing isn't really dwarven if you get my meaning."

"Fifty percent dwarven." Nuluin said, nodding in agreement. "And thirty-nine percent elven." He pointed at Kili encouragingly. "We might be able to teach you some simple healing techniques, for the field."

Kili brightened considerably.

Balin added it up in his head. "So. Eleven percent is human?"

Nuluin shook his head. "No. Human would be approximately nine and a half percent. Very close."

Dori looked confused. "That leaves another one and a half percent."

"Maiar." Nuluin said off hand.

Stunned and in shock, the dwarves all stared at the healer.

Nuluin looked around and saw that he was the center of attention. "Lord Elrond is ..."

Galadriel drew up sharply with a hiss, seeing the trap before them before anyone else could. But it was no use.

"Descended from Luthien, the daughter of Melian the Maia." Nuluin finished proudly. He appeared puzzled as he caught the arrested look of the Lady of Light.

"So." Dori sighed heavily, looking stunned and not very happy either. "Not just any Maia. But one of Doriath."

Suddenly silence fell over the entire room.

Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien, sighed heavily. "Perhaps we can agree that none in this room were responsible, or should be held such."

Bofur looked away, his gaze troubled.

Balin bravely asked the question. "Lady? Were you ever at Doriath?"

The beautiful eyes of Lady Galadriel turned sad, but she answered the question truthfully. "It was in that fair city that I met and married my husband, Celeborn. King Thingol was ...a friend."

Kili looked confused, clearly in the dark. Doriath. A dwarven massacre. But what did that have to do with him having Maia blood? Especially so little of it.

Dori sighed at him. "Did you pay no heed to your lessons from Balin?"

Balin himself looked distressed, but not surprised.

"Perhaps we should take lessons from young Kili instead." Elrohir stood. "This is a healer's ward. Healing is the business here. And before us we have a child uniting both sides of a once great rift. Perhaps it is right that we hold to our memories of lost ones, but let the hatred and distrust go as we become kindred instead."

Balin sighed heavily and looked at the two elves in the room. "This is going to annoy King Thorin excessively."

"Oh?" Galadriel drew up proudly, her eyes flashing.

Balin gave the smallest of smiles. "With just four days before our Durin's Day celebration, we're going to have to seriously reconsider some of our gifts. Being kindred and all now."

Galadriel relaxed a bit, then shook her head. "And he won't be even more annoyed that we have come to a non-formal acccord without his presence?"

"Oh aye. He will." Balin nodded, resigned. "But once he gets over that, then we STILL have to deal with the presents."

Several dwarves laughed and the elves were at least not frowning as a messenger arrived. King Thorin and his group had returned, successful. They were heading up now.

Kili smiled, very relieved when the messenger announced no further injuries. Nothing major.

Elrohir looked at his nephew and sighed. "Kuilaith?"

The youth looked up, still smiling.

"Pants."

Kili shrugged. "It's only uncle." He pointed out, plucking at his long woolens. "I'm wearing a shirt." The dark-eyed prince teased. He was covered decently enough to his mind.

Elrohir's smile turned slightly mischievous. "The whole group might come and check on Fili." He pointed out the obvious.

The dark-haired youngster shrugged again.

"Tauriel." Bofur supplied the name helpfully.

Kili's face fell and he scrambled to dress as quickly as possible, ignoring the laughter around him.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

Thorin wondered what kind of sight the group would appear. Even a month ago it would have been an incongruous grouping at best. In fact, he himself was still feeling more than a little outlandish in such company.

Dwarves and Elves. Riding together toward a fight. Had such happened since the fighting on the plains of Dagorlad? "The last minor alliance." He muttered.

Beside him Elladan looked over at him, startled.

Thorin raised an eyebrow at the elf warrior, astonished that he'd been overhead over the heavy sounds of their horses and ponies. Elven hearing was eerie. An odd memory or two flashed in his head, comments made in private asides that Kili always seemed to hear and find amusing. Now he knew why.

Holding Elladan's gray-eyed gaze for a meaningful moment, Thorin then looked around at their party. Glorfindel, an ancient elven warrior who'd already died once and re-embodied, who fairly exuded deadly grace as he rode with single-minded determination. Dwalin, Gloin and Bifur. Dwarven warriors, strong and powerful and bristling with the pride of their race as well as a multitude of weaponry. Ori. Dear young Ori, whom even a horrific battle against goblins and wargs couldn't age or tarnish. As yet unbowed, unbroken, and with an unwavering loyal heart.

Then there was Elladan, a warrior and a worried father. Father. Thorin waited for the choking sensation that usually accompanied that word and thought ever since the elves had arrived in Erebor. Surprisingly, it felt muffled this time. Lesser.

Lastly, his eyes went where they'd been reluctant to fall. Tauriel. She of the red-hair, valient heart, lethal blades and bow, as well as unparalleled beauty, at least to the eyes of his younger nephew. Even if she did lack a beard. Thorin grunted. Come to think of it, so did Kili.

Elladan's eyes narrowed on Thorin's sudden smile. "What?" He asked, though the dwarf couldn't hear his voice he could read that word from the lip movement.

"Tauriel and Kili. Perhaps better suited than I once thought. No beard between the two of them." Thorin grimaced.

Elladan's lips jerked in quick amusement, then he shook his head. "Too young." He mouthed.

Thorin nodded. "Agreed." How strange. He and the elf-father, on the same side of things.

The elf raised his voice to be heard. "Perhaps not such a minor alliance after all!"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Sealyn Heavyaxe gave an excited sigh and grinned at her friend, Calbrinia. "Erebor?"

"Erebor." The battle-maiden gave an answering grin. "Dain Ironfoot, Lord of the Iron Hills himself came through here heralding the news!"

A heartfelt sigh was accompanied by a pat on her chest, right over her heart. "My father is excited beyond all reckoning." Sealyn admitted, her hazel eyes alight with anticipation. "When will the Ironfoot be back through to take everyone back to Erebor?"

The question made the beautiful Calbrinia's grin all but disappear. "Well. That's the crux of the matter, now isn't it?"

Sealyn, a lovely dwarrow-maiden just past eighty years, sobered. She pushed her inky dark hair out of her eyes, the short ruff of her well trimmed and crystal-studded beard gleaming. "You have THAT look. The 'I'm planning something' look that spells trouble."

She looked over at the third female in the room, the rather plain looking Brunere from the Grimbasher clan who had the prettiest violet-blue eyes around. Plain in looks she might be, she was known to be intelligent and kind. It didn't hurt that her father was a well respected mining engineer who was known to have 'the touch' in finding rare ores.

As single dwarrow-maidens, none had been lacking in suitors. Childhood companions and friendly rivals each of them. Even though not one of them had decided they were 'in love' yet. The three represented 3/4ths of the available un-married female population for the dwarves in nearly fifty miles. Needless to say, while capable and practical they knew their worth. Not spoiled, but definitely self-confident and self-aware.

"No." Calbrinia denied with a small smirk. "Just. We have new choices."

Brunere waved a hand at the warrior-maiden. "How?" She asked, now curious.

Calbrinia held up three fingers, counting off her points as she made them. "We can head to Erebor in the spring. Spring brings better travel conditions. We'd be able to pack and plan with time to spare, good protection."

Sealyn nodded in acknowledgement. "Choice one." Her voice leading off to invite her friend to continue.

"Or. We can quickly be ready to leave and go back with Dain Ironfoot. He has a band of several warriors and we'll be among the first single females in Erebor." Calbrinia added.

"A single King. Two single princes. And nearly five-hundred dwarrows to meet and choose from." Brunere smiled close lipped. "Choice two sounds good to me. Better odds for meeting someone we could fall in love with, be our other half. I know my father has been making noises about just 'choosing someone', but I am not getting married without love."

Calbrinia took a deep breath. Here it was. She smiled encouragingly at her friendly rivals. "Or ... choice three. You two could gather a band of guards, take Erelinde and several important loads of supplies and crafters, and head to Erebor at all speed. Now. Really be the first potential dwarrowdams to enter the Lonely Mountain in a century."

Silence and stunned looks. Brunere's mouth was even hanging open a bit.

Sealyn finally gave a weak shrug of her shoulders, clear hazel eyes showing her confusion. "We two? Not you?"

"With Erelinde?" Brunere finished for them both. "Are you crazy? Or do you think we are?"

Erelinde. At only seventy-six she was the youngest of the maidens, and by every measure and by any race of Middle Earth, the loveliest. Inside and out.

Six years ago the Stormrune daughter and only child had become of age and all male attention had swung hopefully in her direction for a while. And her rather shy statement that she wasn't looking to marry hadn't deterred many, until she'd proven her point and ignored all potential suitors.

Calbrinia made a face of consterantion and held up her hands to call for quiet. "Hear me out."

The two other dwarven females sighed uneasily, but nodded for her to continue.

The warrior-maiden took a deep breath. "Take Erelinde with you to Erebor. What can it hurt? Truly." She pointed a finger at Sealyn to shut up before she could interrupt. "Erelinde is a crafter, well on her way to a mastery at an unheard of age. She has no interest in mating, marrying, or anything but her craft."

"Doesn't stop the interest in her." Muttered Brunere. "I really, really want to dislike her. But she's too sweet for words."

Sealyn nodded thoughtfully. "I know."

"So take her to Erebor. The quicker she turns away all suitors, the better for you two. She'll be the instant magnet, you'll be the recipients. And better? If she does fall in love and marry, then that's only ONE dwarrow gone out of how many there? Either way, if she chooses craft or marriage there will be plenty of eligible dwarrow to meet." Calbrinia spread her hands as if presenting an award. "A king, two princes, and five hundred of our race's fiercest warriors."

"So." Sealyn shot an incredulous look at Brunere. "Even if Erelinde actually looks up from her craft work long enough to find a mate, our chances of finding lasting and true love does increase." Considering the suitors they currently already knew, and were not in love with, the idea was tempting.

Unlike Erelinde, these three dwarrow-maidens wanted to fall in love and marry. But given that their race only married for love, and only married once, they were bound to be careful in the choosing.

Sealyn sighed and ran a hand over her smooth dark braids. "What about you? Where will you be?"

"Travelling with the Ironfoot." Calbrinia answered very truthfully. "Here's the heart of the matter. I don't want a king, two princes, or five hundred warriors." She smiled nervously at her friends.

Brunere sat up, suddenly interested. "You have met your other half?" She asked cautiously eager, speculation sparking in her gaze. "Truly?"

Calbrinia blushed a bit and shrugged. "He says he wants to introduce me to the crown prince. I just have to make him realize that no ...he doesn't either. I have to get him to see me, for himself."

"The Ironfoot?" Sealyn sounded awed as she made the connection. "He's ..." She eyed her friend's military inspired clothing that she used to practice her blade work. "Older than you."

Calbrinia smiled and gave a happy smile as she thought of the Iron Hills warrior. "Experienced, responsible, trustworthy, proven leader ..."

"Handsome?" Brunere asked eagerly.

"In my eyes, there is none better." Calbrinia smiled, knowing the three friends sometimes found different males attractive for differing reasons. While Dain Ironfoot wasn't classicaly handsome, he was a warrior bred, and that appealed mightily to her. "He's very strong."

Sealyn stood, giving her friend an encouraging look. "Well then ... perhaps ... are you sure? They'll be younger dwarrow warriors in Erebor." She pointed out.

"I don't want them." The maiden-warrior grinned. "I can't help that my heart leaps when he speaks, or even looks in my direction."

Brunere looked awed. "You're in love?!"

"I'm not in love." Calbrinia hitched up one corner of her mouth becomingly. "But I feel there's good potential there for falling in love. Very good. Not that I mind the thought of meeting more dwarrow, even a prince or two."

"But?" Brunere encouraged.

"But ...I have a feeling." Calbrinia shrugged helplessly, not sure she could explain it better than that. "My mother said she got a feeling when she met da."

Sealyn sighed happily. "I want a feeling like that." She said more than half-jealously.

Brunere nodded and then shook her head. "But really? Do we have to take Erelinde with us?"

Sealyn beat Calbrinia in answering that question. "Yes. Because our friend wants Erelinde safely in Erebor snagging the attention of a king, two princes, and several hundred dwarrow warriors. And definitely NOT meeting the Ironfoot."

Brunere's mouth fell open and she giggled. "Oh dear, I hadn't thought of that!"

Calbrinia had the grace to apologize a bit sheepishly. "I don't think she's his type of female. But ..."

"No chances!" Brunere stood up next to her friends. "Okay. First, we need to convince our parents we need to travel to Erebor at all speed. This week!"

Sealyn rolled her eyes and grinned. "Not hard, they're dying to get us to choose husbands. And our father's are delighted about the news from Erebor."

Brunere grinned and winked at her friends. "The hard part? The only hard part?"

Calbrinia took a deep breath and nodded. "Convincing Erelinde to put down her bobbins and crafting work long enough to travel to Erebor."

Brunere's excitement dimmed. "She won't want to go."

Sealyn grinned suddenly. "No. No. It's fine. Trust me. It's not Erelinde we have to convince!"

"Yes it is." Brunere looked confused. "She's of her majority, free to make her own decisions."

Sealyn shook her head and smiled. "Trust me."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Which way?" The question was asked, but non-verbally and only the dwarves recognized the hand sign that Gloin sent his king.

Thorin frowned sharply, just ahead was the area where his nephew's horses had perished. It made him more than a little uneasy to think about, especially the one mount which had been struck by the Morgal shaft. His ears still felt like they could hear the echoes of panic and pain.

Shying away from painful thoughts of his treatment of Kili, the king turned to Glorfindel. "Did Elrohir tell you from which direction the arrows flew?"

The golden-haired warrior of old nodded, his expression grimly set. "Small bluff on the other shore of the river mouth."

Dwalin made a circle with his fingers. More of the sign language peculiar to the dwarves, and accompanying part of Khuzdul. At the same time Elladan looked to Thorin. "Circle around?"

Glorfindel looked back and forth between the tattooed, muscular warrior and the lithe elven lord. "We agree then." He turned without further word, following some unseen trial that the dwarves couldn't see nor sense.

Ori turned to Tauriel, his eyes showing his confusion. "How does he know the way?"

The red-head kicked her mount forward. "The trees tell us the way."

Ori looked at Dwalin, who shrugged. Ori then looked at Gloin. "Did she mean that literally? Like with a voice?" The ginger-bearded dwarf shrugged too.

Thorin passed Ori and cocked his head in the direction of the departing elves. "The trees are telling me to get your ass moving. Come on."

Bifur grunted in agreement, his eyes moving steadily about the area.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fergard Stormrune stared at the three dwarf-maidens in his house. He scratched his dust covered tunic, a small cloud of fine stone turned to waste product puffed into the air. He hadn't even had time to remove his boots.

He was standing on his porch, looking at the three pretty females through the window wondering if there was time to escape before they noticed him.

No.

One spied him and smiled brightly, pointing and clearly saying something to the other two. Fergard groaned. He was dirty and tired and feeling guilty. He thought about turning tail, but his ancestors would have burst out of the Halls of Waiting and beaten him to a pulp for running from such as these.

Fergard snorted. His ancestors didn't know them like he did. He ran a tired hand through his black beard only starting to show streaks of gray. Not that he was old, but that he was a single father. To one much as they.

Erelinde. Despite his successes as a miner, she was his only true treasure. One making him old before his time.

His front door burst open and the three maids surrounded him, smiling terribly sweetly. Fergard was instantly suspicious. "What?" He asked them gruffly.

Calbrinia smiled at him charmingly. "Such a warm welcome."

Fergard sighed uneasily, wondering what they were up to.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

There was no direct access to the bluff below them without going at least an hour more out of the way.

Bifur pointed out the cliff face, and shook his head. His unintelligible words coming too fast to catch. Dwalin and Gloin both nodded.

"The horses won't make it, but we can climb down." Tauriel looked over the edge, calculating.

"Wrong kind of rock." Grunted Thorin. "We'd break our fool necks trying." The cliff face only looked like solid rock, most likely it would crumble at the first touch.

Gloin and Dwalin unslung their great axes as the elves watched.

"We don't have time to build a ladder." Elladan shook his head. "Perhaps rope? We elves are lighter and can scale that cliff."

In the time it took to make that suggestion, both Gloin and Dwalin had each struck a tree as round as Bombur. Three strikes between them. Without consulting each other, the tree fell in a precise manner.

Glorfindel's eyebrows shot up as the duo, now adding Bifur, lifted the newly cut end of the tree and pushed it straight off the edge. The tree's leaves scattered as they'd been preparing to fall for winter anyway. The top of the tree came to rest down on the floor of the bluff, while the top was leaning against the cliff face. A rustic bridge of sorts.

Elladan blinked and seemed surprised. "Very precise." He complimented.

"Ori, Tauriel, stay with the horses." Thorin commanded.

The red-head Silvan elf's green eyes widened but didn't ask for an explanation about why the command. Or why the Dwarven ruler thought he could give her an order in the first place.

She eyed the dwarven king as he turned away from her, all regal and sure of stride. There was some resemblence to his nephews. Fili seemed to have the arrogance and confidence. While Kili had that sense of grace and surety of movement. And the glower. Tauriel smiled at the thought. For a dwarf more used to laughter, when his face set into that angry look he was more than a match for his uncle.

An image of Kili, hurt and dying in Lake Town, rose up in her memory unbidden. Tauriel turned away, busying herself with the horses. But the memory would not desert her. She could see him in her mind, asking a very important question that she had yet to answer. She wasn't even sure if he remembered what he'd asked her, being so feverish and all. And she was afraid to ask him.

Thorin barked out a few more orders and Tauriel turned her green eyes back on him. Not the tallest. Not the strongest. Yet somehow he was definitely the one in charge. Hmmm. Dwarves. Even with the discovery that Kili was part Elven, it did not negate the fact that if she continued to have a friendship with him ...she would have to deal with dwarves. And Thorin was not only the king, but Kili's uncle.

Friendship. The red-head took charge of the horses and ponies as Ori made quick work of securing them as she brought them over. Was it only friendship she felt for the dark-eyed prince? Only time would tell. He definitely intrigued her, called to something deep within her. Given time together, she instinctively knew, they would become more. Maybe. The red-head frowned, scanning the area, calling herself a fool to get so lost in thought out here.

"Do a better job with the horses than my nephews did." Thorin pointed at the two of them before taking his turn walking down the fallen tree trunk to the bluff below.

Tauriel huffed. "The horses were shot with arrows from ambush, nothing Fili or Kili could have done to prevent ..."

Ori chuckled. "Not those horses. The ponies on our trek out here to the Mountain. I'll tell you later."

The she-elf looked over at the young dwarf and smiled. She and many other elves had been raised to think that Dwarves were all greedy, dishonorable, and rather dumb. All the same. Since they arrived in Mirkwood, her knowledge and beliefs had all crumbled.

Suddenly, she paused. "Ori? What do dwarves generally think of when it comes to elves. What characteristics come to mind?"

Ori's full face blush told it's own tale, even when he closed his mouth and shook his head, refusing to answer.

Tauriel nodded carefully. "My thoughts on dwarves have been proven completely wrongful."

The young dwarf sighed and shrugged, his color still high. "You're nothing like I was told." He peeked at her and decided to go bold. "Do you find you like dwarves?" A brief hesitation, and then he went even further. "Do you like Kili?"

The she-elf nodded and then smiled, knowing she was clouding the waters. "I like several of the dwarves now. You included."

Ori's blush returned in full force. He knew that she was aware of what his question truly had been, just as he knew she'd avoided answering. Still. She hadn't said no.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Are you sure'n this is a good idea?" The leader of the Grimbasher clan sighed heavily. "Going to Erebor is fine and all. Brilliant. Can't wait. Only ...I want to wait. Let a group of us gather first, with the Ironfoot leading us."

Fergard shook his head. "We have supplies. Coal, charcoal, copper, and many other minor ores. Critical supplies to get the mines in Erebor up and running again. That mountain doesn't hold coal or copper, but it's going to need them."

Sigan sighed heavily. "Giving away good trade."

"No." Fergard spoke up, his voice a bit harsh. "Not giving away. Building up OUR home. Payment perhaps for not signing on with Thorin's Company. King Thorin, King Under the Mountain."

Those words rang through the small group of miners and traders, dwarves all. Pride swelled many a chest as hope filled every eye. But caution still reigned. "We can still wait for the Ironfoot."

"Why?" Another miner spoke up, young and eager. "The Ironfoot is grand and all, but he didn't face down the dragon by all reports. It is us that didn't sign on with the king, and if we want a place in Erebor it is only right that we bring something to the table."

"Skills, goods, ore, supplies ...strong hands and hearts." The Grimbasher nodded thoughtfully. "I thought Thorin on a suicide mission, thought him crazed for taking his heirs with him. I ...was wrong."

Strong words coming from a dwarf.

"I did not go because of my child. I can not name myself wrong for that, but I do feel that there is something I owe the King." Fergard spoke up next.

Several of the dwarves nodded. They knew about Erelinde.

"She still caught up in her work?" One miner asked hesitantly, and obviously hoping that she might have changed her mind about courting.

Fergard nodded and recieved several sympathetic and disappointed looks. "I could not leave her here alone, unattended, adult though she be. But I looked to protect my daughter then, and I look to protect her now. Take her to Erebor. Ensconce her with the other crafters, she'll be well protected there."

No one mentioned how Fergard had lost his wife and infant son to bandit raids that had swept the area years ago.

"I didn't go to Erebor when Thorin called in order to protect her. It is for the same reason that I say we should go now." Fergard looked at the others. "We could wait for the Ironfoot, yes. But we have more to offer than most. Take our trades, our skills, our hands, and our goods. They'll be needed and welcome."

"Making us welcome?" One of the younger dwarves asked, unsure.

"Yes." Fergard nodded without hesitation. Or at least, without hesitation that could be seen.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

The trampled grasses, even autumn-wilted and scrubby, told their tale clearly to those able to read the signs. The orcs were gone already. Looking over the area, Glorfindel placed the leaving of their enemies at well over two hours ago.

"Five orcs." Elladan stated grimly, running his hand whisper light over the tips of the sparse grasses rising to ankle height on the tall elf.

Thorin grimaced, the grasses coming up higher on him. Ruthlessly he kept a watchful eye on the area, though not able to read it as well as the elf, he could see the direction the orcs had taken.

"We can catch them." Glorfindel eyed the area, making the offer deliberately in Elvish.

Elladan frowned sharply. The golden-haired elf lord was entirely right. Riding hard and fast, on well trained horses instead of ponies, the elves could catch up to the orcs. But the dwarves, unused to riding at such speeds, and not the best riders in the first place, could not. Three elves. Five orcs. No contest, they would win. If the orcs weren't riding into reinforcements, and if there were not any traps set, or warg patrols, or ...many other possible complications. Gently he shook his head and answered in the Common tongue. "No."

Much as he hated letting them go, it wasn't smart to split up like that. Not with so many unknowns. Besides. There was still a fight to be had here, considering what the grasses of the bluff were telling him.

Glorfindel bowed his head in compliance, and perhaps looking pleased? Elladan put that thought away for later.

Thorin eyed the elves, trying not to look suspicious.

Elladan shook his head at him and stood up straight. "Five left, but seventeen arrived. There are no bodies, so ..."

Bifur pointed, speaking words that no one understood clearly. They followed the line of his finger and saw the shadow of the small cave.

Dwalin grunted. "Twelve orcs in a cave. They'll know we're out here. Blade or rock?"

Thorin looked up at the crumbling cliff face. "Collapsing this rock pile on the entrance won't be a sure death. We don't know whether the cavern tunnels or not. And with this kind of rock, digging out won't be impossible."

"Blades then." Gloin expertly twirled his hand axes, their weights perfectly balanced. "Good then."

Elladan stepped forward, drawing to a stop when Thorin held up a hand. "Smoke them out. I don't want ours going in. This rock face is unstable."

Ours. Glorfindel's eyebrows rose at the term, wondering at Thorin including the elves in his statement. "This grass is really dry." He commented.

Bifur was already hacking pieces of the fallen tree they'd used as a bridge. The wood was green, so it would smoke all the better. While Gloin mowed down some of the tall grass with his axes, grumbling how his blades craved bloodier fare than kindling.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fergard sighed, returning home very late. Very late indeed. Tired, but satisfied. That satisfaction grew as he entered the kitchen, smelling something good cooking.

Erelinde stood framed in the light of the cooking hearth. Her white blonde hair curling becomingly around her sweet face. Her braids, while probably neat this morning, had slid clear of the restraining pins and hung down her back. It should have given his child a disheveled look, but it only managed to add to her charming appearance.

Sky blue eyes turned toward him guiltily. Erelinde straightened up and gave him a warm smile. "I forgot to make dinner 'adad. Again. I'm so sorry!"

"Did you finish your piece?" Fergard asked, already knowing the answer. His daughter wouldn't have remembered to eat, or to cook, unless she'd finished the craftwork.

Blushing pinkly, Erelinde nodded at him.

"Well on your way to gaining Mastery." He sighed, proud and yet saddened at the same time.

"Oh no, I'm too young for that." The pretty young maiden looked truly surprised. She never seemed to realize how good her work was considered.

Fergard slid through the kitchen, finding bowls for the stew she was making. "Daughter? Don't start a new piece."

"Oh 'adad, I won't until tomorrow. I promise I'll sleep tonight." Erelinde smiled at him fondly. "I mean it."

How many times had the single parent heard that phrase? Fergard gave her a rueful smile. And she meant her words. Every time. Even when an idea struck her in the middle of the night and she started crafting with little to no rest.

"We start packing tomorrow. We're leaving by the end of the week." He said gruffly, setting the bowls on the table as his daughter poured the ale for supper.

"Trading business?" Erelinde fought the yawn, but lost as her jaw fairly creaked with weariness.

A worried looked crossed her father's face as he watched her serve up their dinner.

Dwarves prided themselves in their crafts, their skills, their accomplishments. Becoming a Master was a matter of great and grand celebration and pride within a family. And many dwarves, male and female alike could lose themselves in their crafts so completely that they had no interest in marrying or making a family. A common enough occurance for their race.

But once in a while there was a True-Master. A level above. When the dwarf became so consumed by their creative processes that they did not eat, sleep, or function without assistance. It was his harshest worry that his beloved child was turning into one of these.

Still, she wasn't at that point yet. And Fergard truly hoped that she would never become so blinded by her work that she stopped seeing the world around her, or those in it. Including him.

Once, long ago, in Erebor alone there had been seven such True-Masters right before the dragon came. None had survived Smaug's attack. Most weren't truly sure if those seven had even noticed the attack right up until death took them straight to the Halls of Waiting. A fate he'd keep from his only child in any way that he could.

"Father?"

Shaken out of his morbid thoughts, Fergard gave her as big a smile as he could manage. "No, not for trade. Erebor."

Startled, Erelinde merely blinked her blue eyes, it took her a moment before she frowned.

"I told you, news has come. The dragon is dead." He swallowed his fears, trying to be patient. Marry or not. Have dwarflings or not. Become a Master, but don't leave the world behind.

"Oh!" Erelinde suddenly gave him a self depreciating smile. "I remember you telling me." Her father sighed with relief. "I just ... why would we go there now? Winter is coming."

"Yes, yes." Fergard took an easy breath. She'd remembered the conversation, and to cook dinner. Late. But she had recalled. "But we are to take to the King Under the Mountain supplies that will be much needed this winter. And I can not leave you behind."

Erelinde tilted her head slightly, looking like an adorably curious little kitten as she gave him a shy smile. "You want me to meet more dwarrow." She guessed.

Not a hint of deceit or hidden agendas with this child. Fergard held up his hands. "Feed me, daughter. And I will admit the truth."

Laughing, Erelinde handed him a spoon and pulled out a loaf of crusty bread. She frowned at it. "When did I bake last?"

Fergard coughed and shook his head. "I made that yesterday."

"Oh 'adad." She frowned sadly. "I take poor care of you."

The mining engineer smiled sadly, not negating her mistaken belief that it was she taking care of him and not the other way around. "I am needed in the mines at Erebor, to get them up and running. They need supplies. And there are large crafting halls within the mountain." He said deliberately.

"Crafting halls?" His lovely child's head popped up in sudden interest.

"Small and large looms. Huge ones. Spinning wheels of all sizes and shapes. Some for threads, some for yarns, and some ...for silver and gold threads." He sent her a speculative look. As he'd designed, her eyes were shining as she thought about the possibilities. "Imagine what you could make in Erebor."

And how safe she'd be in a mountain, surrounded by dwarves, and not out above ground where raiding parties seemed to grow bolder every year.

Fergard mentally started organizing the trip in his mind.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Their only injury was a singed sleeve from a stray spark. Glorfindel poked a the injured silk with a true frown.

As for the twelve goblins? The torches of dry grass and green wood had filled the cavern with thick smoke, forcing their foes out into the sunlight. Even goblins had to breathe air.

They died for that need.

Thorin frowned down at the party of dead goblins. "Burn them." He ordered unhappily, wondering at their business so close to Erebor. "Spies."

Elladan nodded thoughtfully. "You are correct. They spy on us, on you. I think their attack today was happenstance. A target of convenience."

Thorin grunted, gesturing for Dwalin. "Double the patrols. Vary the rotation. No more mistakes like today."

The bald and tattooed warrior bowed his proud head to his king. "Do we ride after the orcs that left the area?"

Reluctantly, Thorin declined. "No. We need a sweep of this area first. Ensure no further encroachment toward Erebor." He didn't mention that he wanted to get back and check on Fili's condition.

Elladan started to move away, but Thorin stepped into his path. Sapphire blue eyes bored into the elf's gray-eyed gaze. "You could have caught up with the orcs on your horses."

The elf did not deny it. "We do not know if the area is clear, of if the orcs had reinforcements."

Thorin nodded, agreeing with that assessment. The king wanted to say thank you for the the support today, even if it hadn't been needed. But those words to an elf were impossible to say. Much less to THIS particular elf. Instread, the dwarf grunted and moved out of the way.

Elladan pondered over the strange expression lurking in the blue depths of Thorin's watchful looks. What the dwarf was thinking, he could not read.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Calbrinia flopped back onto her bed, exhausted. And excited.

Fergard would be leading a group to Erebor. Taking three of the only four unmarried female dwarvews with him. Leaving only she.

For Dain. The Ironfoot. She grnned up at the ceiling. "He's mine." She whispered, hoping with all her heart that her wish would come true.

Calbrinia was a fighter, a dwarven warrior and good with a multitude of weapons. Strong of arm and spirit. Yet, when she'd walked into her father's study and seen THE Ironfoot? She'd felt as weak as a lamb.

A lamb. The dwarf-maid smiled. "Are you a wolf, my Lord Ironfoot?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Miles away, Dain Ironfoot sneezed.

Hinnin the elf warrior, looked up at his companion sitting across from him, the camp fire between the two.

Dain twitched his nose, catching the elf's look. He shrugged. "Dust in the air. I promise I'm not ill."

The elf nodded slowly then tilted his head slightly to the left. "A single sneeze means someone is thinking about you."

"Elvish nonsense." Dain shook his head. "A sneeze means to 'dig here' for a good lode filled with fine ores."

Hinnin smiled slightly. "I thought you said the ground here was colorless?" A dwarven euphemism for waste rock without ore.

Dain Ironfoot grimaced. "Perhaps, but that doesn't mean someone is thinking about me just because some particle of dust decided to strike my nose."

Undeterred, the elf shrugged. "But it could."

Dain sighed and shook his head over the superstitiousness of elves.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"This is a healing hall, not a conference room." Thanduil's healer looked from person to person. None moved. Few even blinked. They looked at the healer, and then resumed speaking as if nothing had been said.

The elf healer from Mirkwood, not used to being so ignored, looked lost. He turned and watched the eldest of the healers, the one who'd been here since the Battle for the mountian.

Nuluin, the healer who'd arrived with the Rivendell contingent, had little advice to offer. Gently he murmured for the other healers not to push the matter. He then gave the smallest of smiles as he turned and tweaked the sheet up over the slumbering Fili. Deftly he checked the young dwarrow's pulse, frowning. It was a bit fast.

Or was it? Did he have such a baseline? It was a bad oversight. He eyed Kuilaith sitting quietly beside his older brother's bed, holding his limp hand between both of his. No. That one had mixed blood, it would not be a valid comparison.

Turning, the healer eyed the other dwarves in the room. King Thorin looked like a thunderstorm about to break, and was discussing matters of defense. No. The large bald headed and tattooed dwarf? No. He was leaning against the wall, muscular arms crossed and with his eyes closed, listening.

"What do you need?" Tauriel asked, having watched the healer closely.

Nuluin spoke quietly, so as not to interrupt. "I am unsure of dwarven physiology. I need to see if Fili's heart is beating too fast, but I need something to compare my results with. I need to check the pulse of another similar dwarf."

Apparently he hadn't spoken low enough. Several sets of eyes turned toward him.

Typically, Kili was the first to volunteer. "He's my brother."

"No." Balin shook his head before the healer could refuse the lad. "You are not ...well, let me do it."

Not fully Dwarven. Kili's mouth tightened in denial and anger, but he sank back into his seat with resignation.

Thorin firmed his mouth, then grunted. "No. It should be someone closer to Fili's age. Ori?"

The young dwarf stepped up, eager to be of assistance. Nuluin drew him aside thankfully and made quick work of what was needed. When he looked up, all eyes were still on him. The Rivendell healer bowed slightly. "Dwarven hearts beat strongly, and faster than what I might be used to finding. It is a goodly sign for young Fili. Not a bad one."

Subtle signs of relaxing within the room.

Thranduil's healer looked around again, seeming a bit flustered. "There are too many people in the room. The patient needs rest." He paused, and sighed. No one had yet moved. "Typically only family would be allowed to visit."

Glorfindel spoke up from where he was lounging in a seat, the picture of relaxed ease and almost laziness. "Now that's just discrimination. And would only rid you of myself and Tauriel. Hardly the room clearing maneuver you were hoping for."

Thranduil's healer looked shocked, glancing around the rather over full room. "All of you are family?"

Glorfindel yawned with the redolent grace that spoke of his long years. "Elladan is Fili's second-father."

"The Nute'adad." Balin said, caution in his tone, watching to see if this lit the fuse to Thorin's already simmering temper.

But the King Under the Mountain didn't explode precisely. His face did redden alarmingly, but when he spoke, his voice was at least controlled. "If you accepted Fili as your son in a binding ceremony, why did you allow my sister to leave with him?" It was not quite an accusation, but it came close.

Elladan looked down at the still sleeping Fili and frowned sharply. It hurt his heart to see someone so vital and alive looking so gray of face. Finally he looked up at Thorin. His face more open than usual, raw in the face of the day's emotional turmoil. "When Dis left me and our home, there was a note. She apologized for things not working out. Stated it was not my fault. Then she said most specifically, that she was leaving ...with nothing of mine. Nothing that belonged to me."

Without collusion, all eyes automatically turned to Fili. Except for Thorin, who was the only one watching the elven father and saw the pain written there in his face. Uncomfortable, Thorin grunted and turned away.

Kili felt his brother's hand tighten slightly in his, but when he looked, Fili's eyes were still shut. Someone groaned in the room, but he didn't look to find out who. "Brother?" He called roughly, getting no response.

"Was I to chase down a female to make her stay married to me against her will? Take a four year old proud dwarrow from his mother?" Elladan shrugged helplessly. "I thought, at the time, the I was right in letting them go. It was also self-serving. I will admit that having recently lost someone I loved with all my heart, that while Fili was a joy ...I was also far too aware of his mortality. I didn't have enough heart left in me to lose yet another. By letting them go, it wasn't the same as watching them age and pass on. It was the act of a coward."

Kili looked up, stricken by the notes of grief in his father's voice. Part of him wanted to scream that he was mortal too! For the first time since learning of his parentage, he wondered how it felt from the other side of things. Elladan turned and Kili caught sight of his gray eyes. Suddenly, he froze.

Elladan knew that his son and second-son were both mortal. And it was fair to killing him. Kili swallowed hard, achingly feeling selfish for being so happy that he was mortal after all.

"Fili isn't at fault. Nor am I." Kili whispered, his dark eyes wide with stress. "We're not trying to hurt anyone." His voice held the edges of panic.

Thorin and Elladan shared a quick look of alarm. The king cleared his thoat. But it was a loud sigh from Bofur that cleared the subject away, turning the moment from more dangerous ground. "Well, then. If only family is allowed in here it means that me'n Bifur would need to leave as well. Bombur too, except he's down in the kitchens making a restorative soup for Kili and Elladan. From being dunked in the river like that."

The elf lord currently wrapped in bandages looked a little startled to be included in the dwarf's generousity. Although glad for the turn in subject matter. "That sounds comforting. And warm."

Thorin made a small move, and yet all attention swung to the king. "I need all here for this discussion." He sighed, looking over at Nuluin. "Quiet would be better for healing?"

The healer bowed his head.

The King Under the Mountain stood. He looked around the group. Elladan looked as reluctant to leave Fili as he himself felt. Thorin sighed. It wasn't doing his temper any good to feel sorry for the elf lord. What kind of decision would he have made in such a situation?

Thorin grunted. Probably the wrong one. He himself had made plenty of those recently. "There's enough guilt to drown the entire mountain. In the meantime, we have discussions to continue in order to protect everyone. I need all." He paused, then considered the group carefully. "Lady?"

The Lady of Light looked toward the dwarvish king. He had no authority to order her about. "Would you join us?"

Galadriel nodded her head gracefully, moving to join the king.

Thorin looked at the rest of the gathering. Kili was in no shape to attend, and prying him from his brother's side would take more effort than he was willing to expend. His eyes fell on the elf sitting beside the sick bed and sighed. Without examining his motives too closely, Thorin sighed. "Elrohir and Kili can stay here."

The elves stilled, knowing this was a big moment for the dwarven king. Expectations were for Kili to want to stay with his brother, have a chance to calm himself. Allowing Elrohir to stay with the young siblings was surprisingly refreshing.

Elladan nodded his head slowly. "Thank you." He knew a gift when it was offered.

Movement to the side showed that the Lady of Lorien was looking pleased, and the look she was giving to Thorin was one of relief. Embarrassed, Thorin denied he'd done anything out of the ordinary. "They both have been through much today, and need healing. Besides. Bombur will be difficult to tolerate if his restorative soup goes unheeded."

"Of course." Elladan allowed the comment to pass unchallenged. He looked at his twin. "I will be back later to aid you with your hair."

Without missing a beat, Elrohir shook his head. "I was going to ask Kili to help with my hair."

The dwarves, in the process of rising and with some already halfway to the door, stilled. A few shared looks. Elrohir waited, seeing who would protest.

Kili looked absolutely stunned and hunched his shoulders a bit.

Thorin forced his jaw to unclench. Give an elf an inch and he steals an heir. His blue-eyed gaze fell on his younger nephew. Kili's dark melting eyes looked at him, clearly unsure. Thorin stopped the denial on his lips. Kili shouldn't have to look so torn. "He pulls overmuch when in a hurry, but I'm sure he'll do a fine job."

The other dwarves were suddenly in motion again, moving toward the exit with heads ducked. No one meeting anyone else's eyes as they each struggled with the implications of such an intimate act so full of meaning.

Glorfindel seemed the only one unaffected. That ancient warrior grinned. "If you end up having to hack the branches loose, never mind. I'll do the same to your father so they can stay twins." With that he strode right out of the door, golden head held high and with his nose in the air. Only the humor shining from his bright eyes gave him away.

Balin gave a snort of laughter, quickly followed by Bofur and Dwalin. Elladan sighed dramatically loud for effect. Even Thorin's frown lightened a little bit.

Ori actually looked a bit concerned. "He wouldn't actually do that, would he?"

Elladan and Elrohir shared a quick look and a secretive smile. "Oh. He would. He really would." The twins took turns in saying.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan. Maybe. Or something close to sounding like that. The dwarven elders around Ered Luin were mentally running through the lists upon lists of ancestors they each had memorized.

The lore keepers shrugged. No, they didn't know who the elders were asking about.

Donnel, Dinerr, Edigarrin, Elsok, Allawin. Name after name was asked and rejected. Someone had even had the cheek to go ask Elder Algeran if it could have been him, despite the fact that Algeran had a wife and three sons of his own all older than Dis herself.

The elders conferred and agreed, they'd heard the name wrong. Or Dis was leading them on. Something. Elladan simply didn't even sound dwarven in the first place.

Ered Luin was in a tizzy. Dwarves were packing up. Men who'd looked down on the dwarves were upset about losing business, workers and goods. Everything was in motion. Emotions were running high and nothing seemed to stand still.

Except Dis.

Dis, daughter of Thrain, packed slowly. Organizing everything. She was leaving nothing behind that mattered. And she was taking her time. No one observing her could see her heart breaking, nor could they begin to guess at why.

Plates and dishes stayed behind. Books were sold or packed. Thorin's things, even unknown little forged gizmos that she had no idea what purpose they had, got packed. Her son's rooms were empty. Nothing remained.

Nehili's fiddle was what was wrapped with the most care. The one she'd always meant to gift to Fili when the time was right.

Ahriline knocked on the door, watching as Dis stood touching the carefully packed box. She cleared her throat gently.

Dis looked up, blinking tiredly. "They're here?"

"Nay." Ahriline smiled gently, her dark blond hair neatly but simply braided. Her husband Gloin was the far more vain of the two of them. "But if they don't arrive soon I'm afraid that Gimli will start suffering some stress related illness."

"An eager and brave lad." Dis commented with true fondness. "Is he still angry over not being allowed to go on the quest?"

"Yes." The dwarrowdam said, then smiled with a chuckle.

Dis answered her smile for smile, though hers lacked in brightness.

Ahriline sobered. "My husband is your cousin, not I."

Startled, Dis lost her smile. "You have something unpleasant to share?" She guessed.

"There is talk amoung the dwarrow-kind. Asking about a name." Her look was pointed. "I won't ask. I just want you to know."

Dis' smile returned a bit. "I understand, and you are family if not by birth. Then by our sharing raising our sons together. No one can understand but a mother when their loved ones fling themselves into danger without thought or regard."

Ahriline shivered, but nodded. "We are dwarves. It is how we were made."

"Bravely doing what needs to be done no matter the cost." Dis frowned. "The name is Elladan."

The other dwarrowdam's fingers tightened on her cloak. "Kili's father?" She shook her head, taking a step back. "I will say nothing."

"Not even to ask the line?" Dis teased with a sorrowful laugh. "You'd be the only one not to ask."

Hesitantly Ahriline paused, then shook her head again. Carefully she licked her lips. "Do you need assistance?"

Surprised, Dis thought the question over. "Probably." She allowed. "But I don't know that any could do any help. Some decisions can not be remade."

"We all live with regrets." The mother of Gimli replied as gently as possible.

Dis looked up, her blue eyes clear and steady. "I have no regrets. None. To regret anything would be a wrong to my son. Kili has been nothing but a joy to his mother's heart. My sons are my life's blood."

Ahriline smiled wanly. "Now there's the Dis I know. Come. Is there anything left to pack?"

"Very little." Admitted Dis. Then she looked sideways at the other dwarrowdam. "I won't ask you not to think less of me when the truth comes out."

"Perhaps it won't come out."

Dis snorted. "I'm afraid it's too late for that. Dain's message was a direct warning."

Ahriline snorted. "Dain's message has been read over a thousand times since it's arrival. There was no warning!"

"Kili's father is either in Erebor or is on his way." Dis reached for a dust rag to wipe down furniture already spotless.

The other dwarrowdam stared at her, worried. "This Elladan is a warrior of Dain's?"

Dis actually laughed at the suggestion, although without humor to lighten her voice.

No. Not a warrior of the Iron Hills then. Ahriline shook her head, trying to puzzle it out. But Dain's note mentioned nothing else, except for the strange inclusion that the elves of Rivendell had helped in the fighting and were waiting for the reunion of the ...royal ...family. Ahriline straightened up, her mouth agape in shock. A warning? She turned and stared at Dis in disbelief. Elladan wasn't a dwarven name. But it could be, elven.

Dis smiled sadly at her long-time friend. "You should have seen my face when Thror requested this of me."

Ahriline's mouth snapped shut audibly, her eyes still wide. "I feel faint."

"Yes, that was a reaction I had too." Dis commented dryly.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Brinarg wound his way through the confusing hallways of Erebor. The markings were different than those used in the Iron Hills. But then, that wasn't his home either.

The sound of cursing rather than industry let him know he was on the right track. Finally he found the work detail, making it look like he'd stumbled upon them by accident.

Gagnar looked up, hate in his dull eyes as he worked at scrubbing the evidence of Smaug off the walls and floors. Cleaning a mountain. The pride-bound warrior cursed even more.

The guard yawned, ignoring the vitriolic diatribe. "Move on."

Brinarg tried to look disinterested. "Shit job this one." He commented idly, drawing a sharp look from Gagnar and his companions.

"Yeah? Wait until Dain gets back. King Thorin can't do too much to punish the followers of Lord Dain's. But when our leader returns? Watch out. He won't be pleased with these dwarrow, that's for damned sure. In the meantime? Dain gave permission for King Thorin to set up work details among his dwarrow. So guess who gets the shit jobs?" The guard poked at Gagnar, who growled in protest.

"Shameful way to treat fine dwarrow." Brinarg nodded, moving along. Deliberately feeding the hatred in Gagnar's soul. Trying to forge a useful tool.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili sat at Elrohir's back, not sure how he really felt. This tall elf with startling long dark hair, was related to him. Another uncle. The young dwarf had always felt that he had a rather large extended family. But intimately there was only Fili, Thorin, himself and Mam. Inclusion of new persons was a difficult transition for him.

"Don't be afraid." The elf lord spoke with quiet ease. "It's only hair."

Hair that seemed to mean just as much to the elves as it did to the dwarves. The young mixed-blood princling was startled into a light snort. "Says the elf who cut the tree branches rather than his own hair."

Elrohir started to shrug, then stopped due to the pain. Kili noticed and winced, realizing that the elf had gotten hurt protecting he and his brother from harm.

His uncle finally turned his head to glance at him from the corner of one gray eye. "I'd like to not have these in my hair before going to sleep."

Nodding, Kili swallowed with some difficulty while raising his hands to the long fall of dark hair. The first touch was a revelation. "Soft."

Elrohir made a non-verbal sound. Kili picked up a knot of hair and one of the larger branch fragments. His fingers may be more stubby than that of the elves, but he was used to working with hair. At least his brother's. Who was the only one who didn't complain that Kili pulled too hard.

Taking his time, Kili worked the branch and flinched at the feel of the knotted hair. He bent the wood, finding it to be long dead, though not dry really. Oh. The river water. Smiling, he took out his knife blade.

Elrohir shifted in his seat uncertainly.

"Do not worry. This isn't for your hair. Uncle." Kili tested the word, finding it strange on his tongue despite using it multiple times a day for all of his life. Just not to this male.

Elrohir stilled, trusting.

Kili grinned and moved the hair aside as much as possible and began trimming the wood free and sliding the knots off the branches. Elrohir saw the growing pile of woodchips, with very few strands of his hair. He gave a small sigh of approval.

Soon all that was left was long, long dark hair and some tragic looking tangles. "These snarls are bad." Kili commented with a narrowed look.

Elrohir leaned forward and took a bottle that Nuluin had brought him earlier, along with his comb. "Work this into the knots. It will help. Nephew."

Startled, Kili nearly dropped the bottle of a thick pinkish liquid. Nephew? His mouth went dry and he nervously licked his lips. Personally, he wasn't sure which was more disconcerting. Being called 'nephew' or 'Kuilaith'?

"Am I rushing you?" Elrohir asked, sensing the tension in the young dwarf's muscles.

"A bit." Kili admitted with some regret. "Better than being sung to when concussed and almost whisked away the same day." His mouth stopped and he nearly groaned. He hadn't actually meant to say that last part out loud.

But Elrohir didn't seem to take offense. The tall elf warrior nodded. "That wasn't very well done of us. Though I don't know of any way in which to make such revelations which would have been deemed 'right'."

Kili paused, unsure of how to respond. Finally he upturned the bottle of goo on the tangles in Elrohir's hair. "This smells like the woods." He complained, but worked it into the knots with care. "How long before you comb it out?"

"The passing of half of an hour at least." Elrohir turned, looking at his young nephew carefully. Watching every nuance of his expressions as they flew across his rather open countenance. "Our hearts have no barrier to you, Kuilaith."

Kili stared at the gray eyes of the elf before him, then dropped his gaze. "Elves always put things so strangely."

"We think the same of Dwarves." Elrohir retaliated without heat. The two sat silently for a moment. "What would you know of us? Ask."

Kili sat up and grinned, his moods never could stay down for long. "Elves are so ...what's the word? Enigmatic?"

Eyebrows rose and the elf smiled rather gently. "A goodly word for us, I would not dispute that claim. Yet this observation comes from a race who keeps the very existence of their private language a secret."

A wide grin and an outright laugh had Kili's expression clearing. "Yes, you might be right." He fell still for a long moment, then shrugged and sat back. "What are elflings like?"

One eyebrow rose and the elf's gaze turned to surprise at the question. "Few."

"No. I mean, what do they do? How is life for them?" Kili sighed, "I'm not asking right."

Elrohir shook his head slightly. "You're asking fine. But we have few elflings anymore. They are rare and precious to us. Children to elves are a treasure beyond anything found in this world."

Kili dropped his dark-eyed gaze guiltily. "I just meant what kind of games do they play? But ...I ...hear the tone of your voice and it makes me feel bad."

"That is not my intent." Elrohir said quickly.

Kili nodded, trying to absorb everything. "Is that why you tried to whisk me away that first day you were here? Because children are so rare and precious?"

Elrohir made a strangled sound and then nodded slightly. "In part. It was also a deep anger at the dwarves for taking something from us, that the something was a child only made it worse."

"I'm not a possession." The young prince sighed, rejecting the very idea.

"Indeed not." Agreed his father's brother, sympathy tinting his voice. "And the longer that I am here, the more that I can see you are loved. I just ask that you allow yourself to explore the other parts of your ancestry."

"You mean the Maia?" Teased Kili, trying to lighten the mood.

A sharp bark of laughter showed Elrohir's surprise and amusement. "So. Elfling games. It's been a long time since I've been one. But let's see. Sneak was always a favorite game with my brother and I. Estel seems to enjoy it."

"Estel?"

Elrohir nodded. "Our foster brother, he is Numenorean and only ten years of age. He resides in Rivendell."

Kili laughed. "So, I have a foster-uncle who is 60 years younger than I am. Any other relatives?"

"Several." Elrohir nodded, then paused as he saw the way Kili's eyes rounded. "But they are not as close as I as your uncle, or Arwen."

Kili sighed and rolled his shoulders. "Did I miss a conversation somewhere? Who is this Arwen fellow?"

Now Elrohir looked stunned, and then he gave a short chuckle. "Your aunt. Younger sister of myself and your father. She is living in Lothlorien with our mother's mother."

"There's TWO of them?" If this aunt was anything like the Lady Galadriel, Kili was glad she wasn't here. "I don't think I could deal with two of them!" He whispered, not really joking at all, despite his uncle's laughter and reassurance that Arwen was not a copy of the Lady of Light.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili's dreams were terrible, and it didn't help him that he knew he was dreaming. Water closed around him, suffocating him, although strangely he could breathe the fluid just fine. But it hurt. In his nightmare, the young dwarf could feel the river water going down his throat, pressing outwards on the walls of his chest and lungs with rising internal pressure.

The water wasn't dark either. It had flowed within him, becoming steeped with the Light of the Eldar and now the pressure only increased. Kili knew himself to be dreaming, but it felt so damned real! As if the rising tide of water and light were threatening to burst him open like a fruit gone over-ripe.

He awoke, his mind still feeling clouded. It even took him a moment to realize that he had indeed awoken and wasn't still caught up in his nightmare. Sweat clung to him, sticking his hair to his face and neck while his head pounded.

Groggy, the young prince swallowed and realized that his mouth was dry. Funny. Dream about drowning and wake up thirsty. "That's just wrong." He muttered, then started coughing harshly. What was up with his voice, it was as if it had lowered two registers since he'd gone to bed.

Not his bed. Kili looked up, suddenly focusing. He pushed his sweat dampened hair away from his face and saw two blue eyes blinking at him in the dim lighting of the healer's hall. "Fili?"

The blond gave a terribly weak smile, and Kili's face melted into a relieved grin. He glanced around, noting that they were alone except for a sliver of light coming from a room next door. Must be where the healer was. Fili started to reach for him, then closed his eyes and groaned.

Kili reached forward and patted his brother's arm. "I'll get the healer."

The dark-haired prince fairly raced to the door and opened it, hanging half-way in and half-way out. "He's awake. My brother. Well, not like you didn't know who he is. He's hurting though."

This wasn't Nuluin, but one of the healer's that Thranduil had sent along with the supplies from the Mirkwood. Eyes cold and clear like a mountain stream eyed him with clear distaste. The healer sighed, putting down his book in which he was scribing something. A spate of elvish left his lips as he swept past Kili into the main hall.

Kili blinked, his headache pushing in on him. He was lousy with Elvish. But then, he'd not been putting any effort into it. But he knew those words. Most dwarves did. Since they were basically nothing more than a racial slur.

Without hesitation, the sweaty and unkempt young prince stood up to his full height and raised his voice. "Not you. I want Nuluin to tend Prince Fili of Erebor."

The healer, half-way to the bed, stopped. He turned his cold eyes back to the youngster. "Nuluin is one of the greatest healers in Elven-kind. And sleeping. He does not need to attend for such a matter as this." He moved to reach toward Fili.

Kili reached over and took the healer's book, throwing it with aching accuracy at the elf's head.

The healer looked stunned, reaching for his head and staring at the book which had just struck him.

"I said. Not you. Nuluin."

"Then let your brother suffer." The elf threw up his hands, walking away from the sick bed.

"Nuluin! ATTEND!" Kili shouted hoarsely. Which might not have awoken the elvish healer, as the prince did not know where the Rivendell elf was sleeping. But a dwarvish guard did rush into the room, wild eyed, sword drawn. Kili pointed at him with utter authority. "I want Nuluin."

"Who do you think you are?" Hissed the tall Mirkwood elf.

Kili glared at him, wishing he was wearing more than his winter woolens under coarse pants and a loose shirt. It was a look that hardly appeared regal. "I am Kili, heir of Thorin, King Under the Mountain. Prince of Erebor. I am Kuilaith. Son of Elladan, son of Elrond, and the what-ever of Lady Galadriel. So sit down, shut up and stay the fuck away from my brother!"

"You? A prince? Of nothing!" The Mirkwood elf fairly spat out the words. "A mongrel, a waste, a blemish upon Arda. You belong to neither race and are nothing but a mistake! No elf will look on you with favor. No dwarf will follow you. A prince you say? Lead your people! Only, you have none."

Kili was saved from answering, though he flushed angrily, as the door opened and Nuluin entered grumbling under his breath.

The Mirkwood healer was quick to speak. In fluid Elvish. He gestured toward Fili and then dismissively toward Kili.

Nuluin sighed and blinked his eyes, yawning. He turned to Kili and held out a hand to stop the flow of Elvish. "You won't let the healer do his job?"

Elladan rushed into the room, looking only slightly mussed as he pulled a rich silken robe on over a simple linen tunic and sleep pants. He was barefoot. Kili noticed, as if that mattered. "Has something happened to Fili?"

Kili shook his head, then swallowed hard to keep his stomach in place. He pushed back against his headache and bitterly repeated the accursed Elvish words and inflections perfectly.

Elladan hissed and Nuluin went pale in the face. The Mirkwood healer just sat there, stunned.

"Do you know what it means?" Kili asked with a false sweetness. "For while I have a lot to learn about Elvish, I know those particular words. I will not fucking have that warg-whelp of an elf near my brother."

The Mirkwood healer pressed his lips together, lessening the perfection of his smooth skin. He opened his mouth, only to still as Elladan turned angry eyes upon him. "Leave us."

The elf healer looked cross and ready to argue. Kili waited for Elladan to say something, do something, show SOMETHING in order to stand up for him. But all the elf who claimed to be his father did was speak a few words in Elvish and turn away.

Kili's mouth thinned. Where was the outrage? For all the elf's professions of wanting to be in his son's life, where was that now?

"Nuluin?" Elladan called out.

But the Rivendell healer was leaving the mess behind him to Elladan, he was already at the side of the ailing crown prince.

Kili, his anger spiralling higher, turned frozen and hard eyes on his father who looked a bit stunned. Elladan opened his mouth to say something to him. Coldly, Kili turned away, focusing on watching Nuluin tend to Fili.

"Kuilaith?"

Dark eyes narrowed and despite himself he shot his father an evil look. Pain ebbed and flowed and throbbed within his skull. He looked at the door as the Mirkwood elf left, seeing only the contemptuous look on the healer's face. "Do not call me that." His voice was as cold as his soul felt right now.

"Kili?" Elladan tried again, his voice gentle and yet alarmed.

"No. No. You can't call me that either." Reckless and not feeling in control, Kili looked around the room and suddenly felt like he was back in his nightmare, drowning. His lungs hurt, he could almost feel the fluid gurgling within him, strangling him. "I can't breathe."

"Prince? Let me assist you."

Kili spun, blinking as the world didn't stop when he did. He forced his eyes to focus on Nuluin. "Don't look at me, tend my brother."

"Fili is fine. He just needed something for pain. He's already sleeping. No sign of anything amiss." Nuluin spoke very quietly, his eyes kind and worried. "You are sounding hoarse."

"I'm fine. I ..." Kili turned and saw that Elladan had taken a few steps toward him. "Stop! No! I need ...I can't ...get away from me!"

"Son?"

"NO!" The young prince yelped, then winced at the pain clouding him. "You gave up that right." His eyes narrowed, looking glassy. "If you try to put me to sleep I will kill you."

The threat didn't do much beyond make Elladan slow down. "You're not feeling well. You're flushed. You probably are fevered."

"So? I'm a mistake. Your mistake." Kili said belligerently, waving a hand at them as if to make them go away. "No, no. I just ...I need to breathe."

With that the young prince turned and fled through the office of the healer and out the back entrance to the large balcony overlooking the outside world.

Nuluin started to follow. Elladan watched sadly and stopped him. "No."

"He doesn't mean it. He's ill. We need to bring him back." The healer protested. "It's a bad night out there with the storm."

Elladan shook his head. "The storm isn't only outside. He's in a high fever and very upset. We're elves, if we go out there right now he will fight us. I'd rather he calm down."

"Where are you going?" The healer asked as the elvish father moved toward the guard at the door.

"For reinforcements." Elladan said shortly. He looked down at the dwarven guard who looked ill at ease. "I need your assistance. I need to see the King."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin stood on the balcony, light from the office behind him lighting the area. But a dwarf's sight in the darkness was not as limited as the Elves or the Men. Even the bright light behind him did not mar his night vision, it was all part of his race's heritage.

Kili stood at the railing, hands clenching the stonework and his knuckles showing white. Water streamed down his dark hair, making it longer and pulling the waves out straight. Almost elven in appearance, Thorin saw.

"Go away."

Thorin grunted roughly. "That didn't work when you were a dwarfling, it's not going to work now."

"Thorin?" The voice was smaller this time, making the king's heart ache.

"Who else was that elf who calls himself your father going to turn to in the middle of the miserable night to get your sorry arse back inside where you can be tended?" Thorin said with a hint of amusement, trying to hide his concern.

Kili coughed and his uncle frowned at the raspy sound. It took far too long before the loud hacking sounds ceased. Thorin frowned as he saw his nephew hunch his shoulders forward protectively. "He could have just forced me back inside."

"I think you threatened him with bodily harm." Thorin pointed out. Still a bit shocked to be awoken in the middle of the night. He'd held onto his temper through Elladan's explanation though. Wondering what it had cost the elf to turn to him for assistance.

Kili snorted in derision. "If he wanted me inside, I'd be inside."

Thorin's eyes narrowed on his nephew's back. "He came to me."

This answer made the young prince turn in surprise, staring.

The king sighed, holding out his arms like he had a million times before. Kili couldn't deny him. He walked right into his uncle's embrace without a qualm. "He came to me in order to get you inside without a fight."

Kili burrowed into Thorin's arms. "Did he ..."

"He told me all that happened." Thorin assured him. "It's being dealt with."

The young prince shook his head. "He didn't stand up for us. Me and Fili." He frowned. "Me or Fili? Nevermind. He just sent the idiot out of the room."

Thorin grimaced, but couldn't lie, not about this. "Elladan sent the fool healer to the Lady Galadriel for judgement. That one holds his life in her hands."

Kili's head jerked up, shocked, large and fevered dark eyes searching his uncle's face.

The king sighed. "I'm not even sure that is a euphamism. I would not want to be wearing his shoes this night. If anything, Elladan might have been a little harsh."

"Uncle Thorin?" Kili sighed. "I called Elrohir uncle today." He confessed shame-faced.

Thorin grunted and then smiled sadly. "You've never only had just one uncle."

"But I didn't know about Elrohir."

"Wasn't speaking of Elrohir." Thorin said gently, putting his hand on the back of Kili's neck beneath his hair. "Frerin." He frowned, the lad's fever was spiking extremely high, despite the cold rain drenching them both.

Kili balked as Thorin started to pull him back inside. "I can't breathe in there."

"You can't breath because your lungs are filling with fluid." Thorin groused, pulling his nephew in one step and a time.

"Did you know I have an aunt?" Kili asked in a small voice. "When am I going to run out of relatives?"

Thorin managed to get them under the overhang. They weren't inside yet, but at least the rain was no longer drenching them.

"Uncle? What am I?" Kili sounded so lost. Thorin looked up into the room behind him, seeing Elladan watching them. He knew the elf had heard everything the two had said outside. "I'm not an elf or a dwarf. I'm nothing."

Uncomfortable, Thorin's arms tightened around the young lad whom he'd helped raise. "You're sick." He said dryly, leading Kili over to Nuluin.

The healer pushed Kili's dripping hair out of his face and looked into his eyes. The prince rewarded him with a giant hacking cough. The healer didn't even flinch.

"I'm neither. Nothing."

"You're everything." Elladan shook his head, his voice cautious. "You're the best of both races."

Thorin sighed unhappily as the healer told them to get Kili stripped down while he started making some healing draughts. "Elf. You make it hard to keep hating you. But I will keep endeavouring."

Kili's laugh turned into an awful cough, leaving his chest and throat hurting. "Ow."

The king sat his nephew down on a low stool while Elladan pulled off his sodden shirt. Thorin was handed a towel by the healer and took it to Kili's back and chest while Elladan took the other towel to his son's hair.

"Healer? Make those healing droughts awful tasting." Thorin grumbled.

Kili groaned. "Why?"

"Payback for getting me up at this forsaken hour."

"That was Elladan." The young princling pointed out.

Thorin smiled. "So it was. Good. I can keep hating him."

"No, don't do that." Kili sighed, swaying in his seat, nearly out of it. "He's my da." He looked up at Elladan. "Would the Lady really take that healer's life?"

"I leave that in her hands. I was too angry to deal with the likes of him."

Thorin eyed the tall elf. "So you've never said anything similar?"

"I'll admit to mine, if you tell me every slur you've leveled at Elves." Elladan rejoined.

The two males eyed each other, and both backed away by tacit and unspoken agreement.

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"Why can't I see my brother?" Fili's voice sounded weak, unsupported. He frowned at the sound even while he started to rub his chest, only to have the tall elf catch his arm and gently stop him.

Nuluin shook his head gently. "He has pneumonia, or very nearly. In a few days you may see him if things go well."

The blond fought not to yawn as he eyed the elven healer, instead turning his blue eyes to his uncle. Thorin was looking relieved, relaxed. This in turn let Fili know that his younger brother wasn't in any immediate danger. "Kili?"

"Is sleeping." Thorin pulled a fierce frown as he sighed dramatically. "Which isn't fair since I'm the one who didn't get to sleep through the morning, unlike the two of you."

Fili laughed, then stopped as his lungs began to protest the rather forceful movement. "Ow, ow, ow." He coughed weakly, sliding down in the bed.

"Sitting up is better for your breathing." Nuluin frowned and held out a spoon with a wickedly looking green syrup. Fili eyed it with all the wary skepticism of a murky cave deep within goblin territory. The healer pushed it toward's the crown prince's mouth. "This will help repress the cough reflex, which will in turn help keep you from unneccessary pain."

With ill grace, Fili opened his mouth and accepted the medicine. Surprisingly it didn't taste that bad. "Minty." He managed a smile until he heard a hacking cough from across the hallway. Fili's expression turned into an unhappy frown. "The syrup doesn't seem to work for Kili."

"He can't have any." Nuluin twitched his mouth and explained before the blond dwarf could protest. "Your lung needs to heal and not be under undue stress. No coughing. Kuilaith has a lot of fluid and phlegm within his lungs, it needs to come out. He needs to cough to expell it all. We're trying to thin those fluids and bring them out of him."

Fili frowned, but he understood well enough. He just didn't have to like it. "I thought he was part Elf. Wouldn't he be free of disease?"

Nuluin was surprised into a laugh, and then he reached out and pushed Fili's lank hair out of his face, helping him settle into a more upright posture. "Elves are highly resistant to disease, yes. But not free of all disease. Pneumonia likely set in because his body was going through internal changes, suppressing his ability to fight things off. Added to that was a traumatic event and not being able to breathe while underwater, sucking in far too much river water. He's young and healthy, he will recover quickly."

Relieved, Fili gave in to the next yawn that threatened. Thorin nodded to him. "Rest. Go ahead. Another nephew able to sleep while the poor king must go without. Leaving me with important meetings without support ...or rest." His grin giving lie to his words. "Pathetic."

"Kili will be going crazed without visitors." Fili leaned his head against the pillow propped behind his head and the wall, pulling the blanket up to his chin.

Thorin snorted. "He's never alone, I can assure you. Nor is he being ignored. Bombur is fairly dancing from foot to foot waiting for either of you to get hungry so he can make more soup."

Fili's eyes widened. "So why can't I see him if everyone else can?"

"Because you were stupid enough to get shot by an orc." Thorin reprimanded him with dry humor. "I'd make Kili the elder over you if he hadn't been stupid enough to try and swallow the entire river. So I guess you're stuck being the crown prince still."

Fili stared at him, then winced as he made a face. "Trying NOT to laugh hurts almost as bad as laughing."

Nuluin cleared his throat, waiting until the blond's head turned toward him. "Pneumonia such as Kuilaith has is not very dangerous to those who are healthy and have uninjured lungs. Your lung has been compromised, and for you catching pneumonia right now would be far worse. Possibly mortally so."

"Oh." Fili's arm went across his chest wound protectively.

"Pneumonia along with your injured lung would not be a good thing." The healer understated the matter, but his solemn voice emphasized his seriousness. "No sneaking over there, no peeking in, no nothing until you are cleared by me. Swear on it."

Fili licked his lips nervously, looking both guilty and innocent all at the same time. He hadn't done any sneaking around yet. But he had thought about it.

Thorin barked out a laugh. "It sounds like you know my nephews well."

Nuluin shook his head. "Elladan and Elrohir were just as bad if not worse than these two. I had to learn, though it was a long time ago since they were elflings together. Don't let their manners now fool you, they were absolute terrors back then." He said with fond remembrance.

"Is that why you're here in Erebor? For love of the twins?" Thorin asked the tall elven healer, his curiosity overcoming his natural tendency to sit back and glower at the elves.

Nuluin looked up, his eyes blank for a long moment as if he wasn't sure he wanted to answer. Finally he gave the smallest shake of his head. "I had told no one, but I was beginning to dream of the sea."

Thorin's gaze turned quizzical.

"Thinking of leaving Middle Earth behind me forever." The Rivendell healer bowed his head. "Then the Lady of Lothlorien swept into the healing halls of Rivendell, seeking someone to bring along with the riders for ... Erebor." Nuluin paused as if about to say something else, then substituted the name of the dwarven kingdom.

Thorin didn't call him on the near slip. Knowing that the missing line would have been something about reclaiming a stolen child. "She demanded you come along?" He nodded, sure that it would be difficult to refuse the Lady Galadriel.

"Not really." Nuluin closed his eyes, as if recalling the events within his mind. "She looked around, and then her eyes sought mine and mine alone. She asked me nicely to come, and I did."

Fili stirred, his mind racing as he thought about the tale. "Is she a great friend of yours?"

Nuluin's mouth twitched. "In several thousand years, we had spoken perhaps five times." He chuckled at the look on the faces of the two dwarves. "We knew of each other well enough, but were not particular friends. Though her daughter and I did share a love of harp music."

"Do you still dream of the sea?" Thorin asked the question gruffly, though not unkindly. He might not like elves, but the healer's straight forward ways could not hide the gentleness with which he'd treated both of the Erebor princes.

The tall elf healer seemed to think that over, then smiled as he shook his head. "No. Instead of the sound of waves crashing on the shore, I dream instead of the wind through fields of herbs and hear the drip of water upon stone. It is not an unpleasant sound."

"Different than what you're used to." Thorin commented, unsure of this conversation. Did dreams have meaning and portent among the elves? Did he even really want to know if they did?

Nuluin nodded his head, his long middling dark hair swinging forward with his movement.

Another round of coughing from the direction of the room were Kili was being treated pulled all attention that way. The healer looked at the king. "Any luck in locating the dry mustard?"

Thorin's mouth thinned and he looked pained as he shook his head. "There's little to be found in the way of spices in Erebor. Most don't stay fresh for a hundred and seventy one years."

Nuluin nodded thoughtfully, wishing he had use of the fully stocked dispensary he'd left behind in Rivendell.

Thorin grumbled as he moved to get up and head back downstairs. "Find one treasure, and then have to send scouts out to locate something as simple as dried mustard. What good is gold if there are no supplies to find?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

The Mirkwood healer, a tall elf with long sun-streaked brown hair, stood proudly in the center of the room. His robes were perfect, his posture straight enough to be made of metal. His mouth was thinned with temper and his eyes were fixed on an empty spot along the wall.

He ignored the others in the room with utter disdain, completely composed and looking bored.

A door opened and someone new entered the room. The look of boredom disappeared as the healer tensed until recognizing the newcomer with a sigh of relief. "My king."

Thranduil weighed the presence of those around him carefully, making no acknowledgement of the elf from his kingdom. The tall monarch was no less haughty here in the halls of Erebor than he'd ever been within Mirkwood. "What is this about? I come to speak with King Thorin on important business, but before I can I am informed there is a ... problem?"

Elrohir stared at the Mirkwood king, clad in a fine yet plain robe over an embroidered tunic more suited for travelling than receiving visitors. He said nothing, ignoring a small plate of bread, cheese and grapes on the table in front of him.

Seated across from Elrond's son, Glorfindel raised a bottle in invitation.

Thranduil's lips sneered and he looked down his nose at the ancient warrior. "Even for one who loves the taste of fine spirits, it is far too early."

"Sparkling cider." Glorfindel poured with no little relish. "I've never had such before. No fermentation."

"Cider contains alcohol." The Elven King's voice dripped with arrogance.

The ancient slayer of the balrog simply shrugged off the tone, as if it ...and the speaker ...were of no real consequence. "I have been educated that hard cider is alcoholic, but that this is sparkling cider. No alcohol."

"Juice." Thranduil shook his head dismissively and waved one beringed hand lazily.

"Sparkling." The golden haired warrior leaned in with a softly amused smile. "The dwarves have a definite way with crafting, even with beverages. They've put bubbles in the juice. It's highly refreshing."

The Mirkwood healer frowned, then smoothed out his expression. He was being deliberately ignored and he knew it. He had been standing here for hours already. But he'd be damned if he asked if he could rest.

The door opened abruptly and without fanfare. The King Under the Mountain strolled inside like he owned the mountain. Thranduil frowned, he supposed Thorin actually did rather own the mountain. "You called for me?" His tone showed he didn't care for the message he'd been sent basically summoning him to Erebor.

Thorin waved a hand at Dwalin, who opened a small wooden casket. The clear and glowing stones effectively shut the Elven King's mouth and widened his eyes most comically. "I told you we would eventually find them.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Brinarg sat back in the tavern, watching the comings and goings with deceptively lazy eyes. Casual observers wouldn't be able to tell, but his attention was almost completely upon the owner of the newly refurbished establishment.

Dale was a city under construction and repair. The tavern was no exception. Shabby and bare bones, it did at least have a fine store of ale and barely decent food. The tavern owner though, he was still a mystery.

A king's dwarrow. Nori. Part of Thorin's famous 'Company'. And yet, no longer in Erebor. Setting up out here in the newly reclaimed Dale. Why?

"What's for the supper then?" One dwarrow asked, eyes following the human server instead of focusing on the dwarf behind the bar.

"Beef with a mustard rub." Nori coughed and slammed his hand down on the dwarrow's fingers as that one had reached out to fondle the lass serving the drinks. "Hands off the humans. We don't cross breed here."

"I heard the young prince has eyes for an elf." Sneered an elderly dwarrow already deep into his cups. He burped rather loudly to the cheers of his fellows. "Then again, the young prince being part elf that's not so much cross breeding."

"Too crossed already." Murmured someone in the group.

Nori frowned, wiping down a glass with a steady hand. "No, no. I may have my problems with getting my portion of the treasure out of a king. But the prince is a good lad."

Brinarg stirred, cutting his eyes toward his companion for an early pint of ale. Gagnar did not disappoint. Gruffly, the whining arse of a dwarrow pointed at Nori. "If the prince is such a good lad, then why are you using mustard on your beef instead of sending it on to the mountain? Heard the king's errand runners are looking high and low for that spice."

"Oh?" Nori grinned cheekily. "Then buy a bit of beef and take it up to the prince then. Cuz he's young and healthy, he'll recover. My belly though? That needs to be full up tonight. Else the king can pony up my share of the treasure. Be glad to give him all the mustard in Arda for that."

General laughter around the sparse tavern customers. It was too early for a goodly crowd.

Brinarg sat back, watching. Considering.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

The Lady of Lothlorien strode into the room not as if she owned the mountain, but as if the mountain was a mere backdrop built just for her. Royal confidence was a part of her, not as a mantle that one might put on for grand occasions.

Thranduil's hand pressed down slightly on the lid of the box sitting in front of him. He smiled. The price had been high, but the glowing stones of Starlight now were his at last.

Thorin eyed the golden haired female with caution, trying to hide the glee over the high price he'd gotten out of the Elven king.

The two monarchs were pleased, each thinking they'd gotten the better end of the bargain. When Galadriel entered the room, their happiness dimmed. Suddenly all eyes turned to her, and to the poor elven healer still standing in the middle of the room.

Finally, King Thranduil sighed. "My healer is the problem that was mentioned to me?" Might as well get the unpleasantness over with.

"He insulted my nephew." Elrohir complained coolly. "Egregiously."

Thranduil nodded, though inwardly he wanted to shrug off the moment as of no real consequence. "Set up a champion."

The Mirkwood healer stiffened. A fight to the first draw of blood. He against the dwarf mixed-blood? Perfect. A smile started to grow on his lips.

"Kuilaith is ill."

"We can wait until he is deemed recovered." Thranduial said, generously in his opinion.

"He is also underage by our counting. We will not wait for him to get older for two decades." Elrohir, his voice like silk. "Kuilaith is within his rights to have a stand-in chosen for him."

Thorin stirred, not sure what exactly was happening. It sounded like there would be a fight. This was the tradition of the elves? So be it.

"Tradition precludes family." Thranduil's voice was no less smooth than that of Kili's uncle.

Elrohir smiled grimly. "Tauriel would be happy to step in if asked, I am quite sure."

The healer's pleasure faded. He knew Tauriel. She was merely Silvan, true. But a warrior of great skill. He did not want to face her on this challenge. "She would not fight for a dwarf." The very thought was ridiculous, even if she had been friendly with the dwarves of late.

Thorin and Dwalin stiffened, instantly angered. The tattooed warrior stepped forward deliberately.

Elrohir frowned and shook his head at the duo. "It can't be a family member, and I believe that he is a cousin?" He said, pointing the the the fierce looking warrior beside the king.

Dwalin and Thorin shared a look. "Bofur, Bombur or Bifer?"

Elrohir shifted in his seat, his mouth tightening as the movement pulled on his sorely bruised shoulder only recently repaired. "I would place any wager that Tauriel would be only too happy to assist you in this matter."

Thranduil's eyes slitted a bit at those words, but he didn't contradict them. Tauriel, his ward that he had taken into his household, would most likely indeed side with the dwarves on this matter. Distasteful business, even if his healer was certainly in the wrong.

"No elf will take up in an insult bout against another elf on the behalf of dwarves." The Mirkwood healer was back to sounding haughty.

"I would."

The quietly spoken words stopped them all, as each eye turned to a certain tall elf standing now. The golden haired elf carefully put down his cup, the long fingers of his hand the very picture of elegance and grace as it moved to the hilt of his sword. A blade that had tasted the blood of dragons and demons. Glorfindel smiled most winsomely at them all, but his voice was resolute. "I claim that right."

Even Thranduial paled while the poor healer looked suddenly ready to faint.

Thorin frowned. "We have warriors here who ..."

Glorfindel blinked lazily. "Surely you would not deny an elderly and decrepit elf this one small sop to his pride?"

Dwalin nearly choked at the thought of anyone calling the elven warrior elderly or decrepit.

Thranduil stirred. This was going too far. "For love of the family you would do this?"

Glorfindel's smile spread across his face and he stepped forward. "I do love the family. And am growing in appreciation of the extended family."

Thorin started, had the elf's eyes cut in his and Dwalin's direction for a second? Surely not.

"But I will state that my heart has few barriers left to young Kuilaith and his brother."

Thorin frowned. What did that phrase mean? He looked to Dwalin, whose jaw was clenched, though the warrior looked no more enlightened than he did.

Galadriel gave a small smile of true amusement, cutting through the tension in the room. "As entertaining as such a bout would be, it is of no use here. A champion is not called for."

Thorin frowned. Was the elf witch about to let the healer slide off the hook? "Why not?" He interrupted rudely, crossing his arms with a rising temper.

"I claim this one to be derelict in his duties, putting kin at risk and causing damage." The Lady continued, her voice smooth for all the devestation suddenly on the face of the healer.

Thorin and Dwalin both frowned, unsure what that all meant. They shared a look, but by tacit agreement stayed their questions for now.

The elves all sucked in a deep breath, shocked.

Thranduil was the first to recover, though he looked a little less sure of himself now. "How so?" His fingers twitched reflexively and he pressed the palm of his hand down on the box before him to still the tell-tale nerves.

Galadriel's eyes turned to the Elven king even while pointing at the healer . "Recite the events." Her voice was still even, still musical and smooth, and utterly without pity.

The Mirkwood elf licked his lips nervously. An insult resulting in a fight to first drawn blood was one thing. Dereliction of duty with harm caused? Inconceivable. "I was scribing the events of the night into my healer's journal when the ..." He sneered nervously, but gaining confidence. He had NOT been derelict. "prince fairly threw open the door to the office without knocking and ..."

Thranduil held up one hand and the healer stopped his talking. The Elven ruler balefully stared at the unlucky elf for a moment, then sighed. "Who was on duty?"

"I was, sire." The healer drew up as tall has possible. "I would have attended the injured dwarf but his brother stopped me, calling for Nuluin instead. I was working."

Glorfindel's hand caressed the hilt of his sword as the warrior still stood before the healer, not backing away. "If you were on duty, why were you scribing in the other room?"

This made the healer stop and swallow hard as he realized where this was going. "The light was better in the office." He protested. "I didn't want to light a lantern in the healing room, the dwarven princes were sleeping."

Thranduil's eyes closed as if in pain. "You left two sleeping charges alone? Where they removed from all danger by that point?"

"I was doing my duty! Scribing the events, it is part of my duties!" The healer protested.

Elrohir's voice was cold as winter ice. "Fili's lung was pierced and repaired mere hours before. With an announcement that unless he succumbed to infection, he would recover?"

The healer nodded, nervously looking around him and realizing that he might be in more trouble than he'd originally thought.

The music of Galadriel's voice was tinged with something dark, somber and full of sorrow. "Would pneumonia count as an infection?"

This time the healer didn't answer, he just blinked.

Elrohir growled while Glorfindel cocked his head to the side as he spoke up. "Wasn't Kuilaith given leave to recover in the bed next to his brother? While he was watched for symptoms of distress or illness?"

"Watched?" Elrohir's growl continued. "Ignored."

The healer held out his hands beseechingly. "I did not know the young prince was ill!"

"What are the signs and symptoms of a high fever? A set of lungs filling with fluids? How was his breathing? His temperature? His sweating through his clothing?" Glorfindel's smile turned predatory as he eyed the healer who squeaked and backed away three steps before managing to come back to himself.

Thorin watched with wide eyes, knowing he was almost feeling sorry for the healer. But not quite. He was enjoying this more than was seemly.

The Lady of Light held up one hand and everyone stilled, falling silent. She gave the Mirkwood elf a lingering look. "You missed the symptoms because you were busy in the other room. You allowed Kuilaith to stay near his brother Fili, even with the danger to the crown prince for catching the same illness as his sibling. You left a highly probably source of infection near to a recovering patient."

"THEN when you were called, you insulted them." Elrohir sighed heavily.

"Dereliction." Glorfindel's voice rang through the stone chamber.

"Dereliction." Pronounced Elrohir in a quieter voice that still reeked of anger.

Glorfindel's mouth tightened with anger. "But I wanted to fight him." It was close to a whine. Though his eyes showed he was pleased with the turn of events even if he was protesting slightly.

Galadriel did not speak, instead she looked at Thranduil. The Elven king ran one hand over the box of jewels and then looked at Thorin. He sneered, but bowed his head. "I will not deny the truth spoken from my healer's own words. Dereliction."

The Mirkwood healer suddenly on his feet. He managed to catch his balance before falling, though he noted that no one moved to help steady him. Certainly not the ancient golden hero who was standing but a few steps away.

"Are you sure I can't blood him first?" Glorfindel sighed.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili stared at the bowl of soup with all the apparent appetite of someone looking upon a pile of warg dung. Steaming.

Ori sighed looking hapless as he shifted his weight back and forth on his feet. "I can get them to add more potatoes perhaps?" He said, nearly wringing his hands. "I'm not as good at this as Bombur. Salt? Pepper? We don't have a lot of choices right now."

Elladan, sitting next to his son's bed, laughed gently. "I'm sure the soup is delicious. But the lad has had three cups of water, four of juice, and two bowls of soup since he awoke."

"You forgot the tea." Tauriel's eyes sparkled with humor, drawing an evil look from the patient she was visiting. "Dori brought a pot of lovely tea."

"Which you refused to drink for me." Kili's arms crossed his chest, his mood beyond grouchy.

The red-haired she-elf smiled. "He brought the tea for you. It was very kind of him."

"Everyone is trying to drown me all over again!" Kili made a face, drawing amused glances from those around him.

Ori giggled at that, then straightened his expression as Kili scowled at him. "Nori likes to call Dori a mother hen."

"Not to his face." Kili's mood shifted a bit and he grinned evilly. "Not since that one time."

Ori laughed outright and shook his head happily. "Nori still complains that his tooth is loosened and he's lucky to still have it attached to his jaw."

A knock on the door had Elladan looking up. The guards outside wouldn't just let strangers up on these healing halls, so he knew it to be someone known. "Come."

The door opened and Ori went on full alert, his posture suddenly poker straight. Tauriel and Elladan both stood while Kili pulled his blanket up over his sleep shirt and nearly to his eyes. He didn't have his woolens anymore, they'd gotten soaked last night.

Lady Galadriel smiled at them all, an edge to the upturn of her lips. Her beauty was not lessened, nor did her face show any temper, but something unseen about her had everyone on edge and uneasy.

No one spoke as she fair glided across the floor. Kili watched with eyes wide as saucers. He could see her feet move over the floorboards, but he could not shake the feeling that she was floating and not really part of this world.

The dark-eyed prince of two races looked up and up into her face as she moved to stand over the sick bed. He just hoped he didn't start coughing in her face. "I'm sick." Kili said inanely, wincing at sounding so stupid and young. What he really wanted to say was 'go away'.

The Golden Witch of Lothlorien then sat on the edge of his bed and Kili stopped breathing all together. His dark eyes turned pleadingly on his father, who nodded at him reassuringly. No! He didn't want reassuring, he wanted the female elf off of his bed. "Are you going to put me to sleep again?" He asked, clearly alarmed and feeling antsy.

She shook her head. He eyed her and sighed. She glowed. He felt like crap, and she was glowing at him! It wasn't fair. Kili started to ask her something, anything, when his breath caught and the hoarse rasp in his throat turned into a full fledged coughing spasm that lasted for several long minutes. Burning with embarrassment, Kili wanted to do nothing more than curl up into a ball and hide.

A soothing touch to the side of his face made his lungs calm and slow, leaving him enveloped within her presence. He was left looking up into her face, unable to turn away. His chest was still heaving a bit, struggling with catching a solid breath, but at least he was no longer in the throes of coughing.

Lady Galadriel leaned in toward him and Kili's eyes fluttered closed as he felt her lips cool upon his heated forehead. The touch of her hand traveled from his cheek down to just under his chin. There was something soft in her hand, something that tickled.

The soothing music of the elvish language washed over him, though he could not latch onto any singular word. Kili reflexively leaned toward her as she pulled back from him until something fell into his lap.

Kili blinked his eyes open as the Lady of Lorien stood and moved back toward Elladan. She turned and looked at the dark eyed child of her line, her smile far more genuine now. Her lovely eyes slid down to his lap and Kili followed the movement, looking down to see what she'd dropped.

A long tail of hair braided and tied together with a fine circle of rich velvet. Dark hair. Very long. Some streaks from the sun in the locks. There was at least six inches there. Kili's eyes widened with shock as he looked up at Galadriel. His mouth fell open, but no sound passed his lips.

"A parting gift from one who has left to return to his home."

The airy lilt of her voice confused him for a moment as he tried to make sense of her words. Horrified, Kili shook his head, his own dark hair loose around his face. "Is he alive?"

Bubbling laughter met his words and she smiled, nodding. "His life would not have been asked for, merely his pride."

Kili touched the velvet ribbon, there was something hard beneath its smooth texture. Rubbing it through the velvet he realized it was a hair clasp. An elven one. "Seems a bit ...extreme." The young dwarf didn't know how to feel at the moment. "He was rude, but ..."

Galadriel heard the hurt in his voice, and tilted her head to the side slightly. Her eyes conveyed comfort and acceptance but also steely determination. "That one was derelict of his assigned duties besides being deliberately rude. He put you and your brother in danger."

Kili swallowed, then nearly choked as he felt his throat spasm while he tried unsuccessfully to hold back another coughing bout. He failed. The coughing fairly shook his entire body as his lungs tried to rid him of the offending fluids building up inside.

Elladan moved to the other side of his bed, settling down next to his son. When the coughing eased, Kili felt as weak as a newborn and leaned gratefully against his father. Elladan accepted the weight of his nearly full grown child gratefully, almost like a gift.

"Should I fetch Nuluin?" Tauriel offered.

Elladan rubbed his son's back in a circular pattern, trying to offer comfort. "He stepped across the hall to help change Fili's dressing. He'll be back in but a moment."

"I want to see Fili." Kili whispered, his voice a mere rasp. He knew he shouldn't visit his brother lest he infect him. But that didn't stop the need to put his eyes on him, to make sure his older sibling was doing well.

Ori looked torn as well, unsure how to help. Suddenly he brightened. "I have an idea." He grabbed Tauriel's hand and the she-elf looked startled. Dwarves did not have the sense of personal space that elves did, and apparently less decorum as well. "I need your help."

Kili looked up, hopeful and distressed all at the same time. "What?"

"Durin's Day gift early." Ori winked, grinning like a loon. Then he laughed. "Or late, since we're having the celebration after the actual holidy."

Given a choice, Tauriel would have preferred to stay with Kili. But with Galadriel now there, the red-head was feeling a little less than elegant next to the Lady who basically personified grace, beauty and power. And Ori was tugging on her.

Laughing Tauriel waved at Kili as she allowed herself to be pulled out of the room and down the stairs.

Kili did not look happy to see her leave, frowning deeply. Then he suddenly slumped his shoulders. "Durin's Day. My gifts aren't ready yet!"

Elladan tightened his arm around the prince. "It is the day after tomorrow. I do not think you will be well enough to attend. I am sorry."

"I know." Kili nodded, pausing to swallow and hoping that he wasn't about to start coughing again. Cautiously he continued. "But I still want to give the gifts I've started."

"I will assist, if you will allow." The offer was made cautiously, as if the speaker wasn't sure how his words would be received.

Kili rested against the support his father offered. His father. Letting his dark eyes close, the young prince of Erebor couldn't fathom how this could have come to pass. "I never thought that ...I mean, I used to wonder who you were."

Elladan wisely didn't speak, his gray eyes peeking up at his mother's mother as she watched the duo softly.

"In your wildest dreams I am sure you did not picture your father as he is. Nor his family." The Lady of Lorien offered with some humor threading through her voice.

Kili snorted, then laughed, and then fell into a coughing spasm.

Galadriel sighed. "I am sorrowed that you do not feel well, that my words cause you pain."

Kili waved at her since he couldn't speak yet, his gestures seemed to mean that he didn't hold her at fault.

The door flew open and Nuluin rushed inside, his usually calm face actually looking happy. He drew up to a halt as he caught sight of the Lady of Light. Then he bowed and gifted her with a smile. Without a word he hurried to put down a large bowl of steaming water he was carrying using thick towels to insulate his hands.

Dori bustled in right behind him.

Kili, having opened his eyes at the intrusion, stared. "More tea?" He knew better, but couldn't guess what had Dori grinning and holding up a large packet.

"Mustard." The craft master laughed.

"You found some." Elladan looked relieved.

Dori's smile dipped and then he shrugged as he looked around the room. "It was found and smuggled in for us."

"Smuggled?" Elladan's relief turned startlement. "Why would it need to be smuggled?"

"Because the one who located it does not want to be seen being helpful to us." Dori took a deep breath, as if needing it to steady himself. "We had to stage an elaborate scene where I visited, saw the mustard and basically commandeered it."

Elladan didn't look like the explanation cleared up anything for him. Kili grinned. His agile mind catching up. Nori. "He's properly outraged I assume?"

Dori sighed and nodded, then smiled. "Making all sorts of noises about needing to be reimbursed and how dare the crown ruin his dinner plans."

Nuluin began mixing the mustard plaster as Dori unrolled some thick strips of fleece.

Elladan tugged on Kili's shirt, helping to pull it off over his head. The prince resisted, looking at the Lady Galadriel. "She's family." Elladan pointed out.

"She's still a she!" Kili protested sharply, embarrassed.

Galadriel smiled at him. "Be at ease. I will let them help you to breathe better."

Relieved, Kili nodded, then realized he was still holding onto the tail of hair she'd given him. He lifted it in his hand. "Uhm, thank you?"

"My heart has no barrier to you." The Lady said before parting.

Kili stared after her. "That phrase ..." He wanted to ask, but his lungs chose that moment to protest and seize up in painful coughing.

Elladan's mouth tightened and he finished pulling off his son's shirt while Nuluin dipped the clean fleece into the mustard mixture, getting ready to plaster it to Kili's chest.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Balin was feeling frazzled as he carried rolls of parchments toward the king's desk. Now that the king had a kingdom again, the REAL work was just beginning.

He was coming from deeper in the mines with lists of critically needed supplies, repairs, jobs that needed skilled hands, and everything else that mattered in getting Erebor running again.

As the white-bearded counselor hurried toward the stairs, he caught a glimmer of something golden in the air.

Pausing, Balin turned and nodded. Glorfindel was out on the ramparts overlooking the plains before Erebor. He would have passed the elf by, but his brother Dwalin had told him of the events earlier.

Balin stepped out onto the ramparts, looking out. "I wanted to offer my thanks for being willing to act as a champion to young Prince Kili." He offered, then smiled. "Although, I'm not sure what that means."

Glorfindel nodded, still looking out onto the plains. "An old tradition. Tell me, do you have your gifts ready for Durin's Day?"

Balin, surprised to have the subject changed, sputtered then nodded.

"You might want to add two more." The ancient hero turned amused yet wary eyes onto the dwarven king's counselor. "We're about to have guests."

Balin turned startled eyes out onto the plains before the kingdom, squinting, but making out nothing. "Oh?"

Glorfindel smiled grimly. "The Lady Galadriel sent for supplies, and reinforcements from Lothlorien. Kuilaith's aunt Arwen to be more precise. To be brought here by Haldir."

"Reinforcements?" The dwarf asked, unsure.

The elven warrior smiled. "Arwen is charming, sweet, intelligent, and a force of nature. No one can resist her really, and she will be delighted to meet both Kuilaith and Fili."

Balin nodded as understanding filled him. Reinforcements. Like Tauriel. Elves that would show Kili that being part elf wasn't all bad. Yet the counselor was well trained in nuance and diplomacy. "You don't seem entirely happy?"

Glorfindel snorted. "Perceptive, Master Dwarf. Haldir is not leading the Lady Arwen. Those are the banners of Lord Celeborn."

Balin's breath caught and he shook his head. "I have heard that name."

"Lady Galadriel's husband." The golden haired warrior nodded. "And one who has a huge mistrust of dwarves."

"Doriath?" Balin guessed.

Glorfindel bowed his head in agreement. "The Lady Galadriel was friends with King Thingol." He paused and took a deep breath. "Lord Celeborn was kin to him."

Balin made a distressed noise and then nodded. "The elven king killed by Firebeard Dwarves. Will it make any difference that we are not Firebeards? We are of the Longbeards."

Glorfindel shrugged lightly. "I hope so." He thought of the tentative bonds being formed with the Elven twins and young Kuilaith. Even with the crown prince and king. "I hope so." He echoed himself.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"I owe you an apology."

Kili blinked and looked up at his uncle, beyond stunned. Unprepared and feeling a bit lost, he tried to make a joke out of it. "Am I dying after all?"

Thorin gave a resigned huff and shook his head very slightly. "Things have been going fast since we arrived in Erebor. We haven't had a chance to even breathe."

"The elves are trying to teach me how to breathe." Kili said, desperate to head off this conversation.

Thorin glowered darkly. "Don't. Just don't."

Kili nodded, biting his tongue.

"When we finally arrived at Erebor ..." Thorin paused painfully long, his eyes with a far-away look.

"Technically, we didn't arrive in Erebor. Together." Kili pointed out in an almost-whisper.

Thorin's blue eyes snapped back to his nephew's face, his expression surprised. "What?"

"Well. If you're going to apologize for leaving me behind. Might as well get it right." Kili looked down at the plate in his lap. He grimaced, feeling no appetite. He put the plate down on the bedside table.

Thorin seemed to be having trouble finding his words. His eyebrows rose and then he coughed before shaking his head. Finally, the king gave a rough laugh that held no humor. "I was apologizing for thinking your arrow wound to be lesser, rather than something far more painful and serious."

Kili blinked, then gave a cheeky half-grin. "Oops."

Thorin sighed rather heavily and ran a rough hand through his thick hair. "I apologize."

Unsteady and on unstable emotional ground, Kili shrugged. As hurt as he'd been at the time, it wasn't really in him to hold a grudge. Especially against his taciturn uncle. And yet. The dark-eyed prince peeked up at Thorin through his thick lashes. "Are you better now?"

The King Under the Mountain grimaced and rolled his shoulders, trying to let go of some of his tension. Better? "I sold Thranduil those stupid gems of his, paid in actual gold and ore to Men and Elves for needed items. And have refrained from killing anyone claiming to be related to you." Thorin gave a wry grin. "Maybe I am a little better."

Kili flashed a bright grin, only slightly ruined as he then fell into a coughing spasm that drew a frown from his uncle. The prince waved a hand at Thorin to hold him back and let him know that he was okay. Finally his lungs allowed him to catch his breath. Weakly he smiled, pushing his limp hair behind his ears.

Thorin grimaced and shook his head. "I haven't had a chance to really speak with you."

Kili's eyes widened comically. "If you're going to apologize for anything else, I really am going to think I'm dying."

Laughing, Thorin reached out and shoved Kili's blanket covered knee. "Fool." He said fondly. Looking around, the king sighed. "We're alone."

It was an unspoken question about where his nephew's elven relatives were. Kili didn't make him ask. "Elladan." He paused, then added quietly, "my da, he is getting my Durin's Day gifts from my room so I can work on them."

Thorin tried very hard not to frown at Kili calling the elf his father, but didn't succeed very well. His hand rose to rub his beard and chin, trying to hide his reaction.

Kili bit his bottom lip, much as he had when he'd been a much younger dwarfling. Yet, he didn't say anything else. Wasn't sure what to say, actually.

Thorin took a deep breath and pinned his nephew with a questioning look. "How do you feel?"

"Strangled." Kili responded quickly. "Like I can't breathe."

Thorin pursed his lips and shook his head. "No. I mean about the revelation about your father."

"Strangled. Like I can't breathe." Kili responded yet again. "I'm not talking about the pneumonia."

"Oh." Thorin gave a jerky nod to show he understood. "Well, you always knew you HAD a father."

Kili grunted, rolling his eyes. "When I was little, I had hoped that it was you."

Thorin choked and sputtered on that one as Kili flushed slightly and hurried to explain. "Hey, I was seven! I didn't really think about you and Mam being brother and sister!"

Struggling to catch his breath and caught between choking and laughing, Thorin held up his hand and wiped moisture from the inner corners of his eyes. "Oh lad."

Kili grinned and laughingly admitted. "I went through all your friends and our neighbors. Wondering who. Then wondering what I'd done that he didn't want me."

"Oh lad." This time Thorin spoke the words with sympathy. "I knew it had to hurt you, but you didn't say anything."

Looking down at his lap, Kili plucked at his blanket. "How could I? Fili would pounce on me any time I started feeling sorry for myself. Tell me it was unworthy to worry about nonsense. That I was of Durin's line and heir to the great Thorin himself."

"Great Thorin?" The king's eyebrows rose with bemusement. "You two are the bane of my existance. And the only things that keep this heart of stone still beating."

Kili kept his face down, hiding his expression. But Thorin knew his younger nephew well. Too well. He sensed the mood change immediately and sighed. "I chose the Mountain over you and your brother."

"You wanted him to go with you." Kili couldn't stop those words for anything in the world. Hating the sound of whining in his own voice.

Thorin closed his eyes, his nephew's hurt piercing his own heart now. "I've apologized." He reached out and touched Kili's cheek, drawing the lad's face up so that their eyes could meet. "I was wrong."

"No. You weren't. I wouldn't have been any use and would have died."

Thorin nodded sagely. "It was still a betrayal. And if it comes down to it again? Faced with the same decision? I choose you and Fili over all else."

Kili looked confused, then flushed as he jerked back, his eyes wide. When would they ever be faced with ... "No! Don't." He begged. "Don't set yourself up against my other relatives."

"You said you felt like you couldn't breathe. That you were strangling." Thorin frowned sharply. "I can have your ...the elves kept from you for a while."

Startled into a shocked look, Kili shook his head. "Don't start that kind of battle. Not over me."

Thorin nodded, resolute. Letting Kili see his worth shining in his uncle's gaze. "I'd go to war for you."

Kili sat there, completely stunned. He shook his head finally. "Now who's the fool?" He sighed and slumped back against the headboard of the bed. "Of all the people in Arda that I imagined as my father ..."

Thorin blinked and scowled as if smelling something terrible. "A damned elf."

Suddenly Kili laughed and flicked his ears. "At least these aren't pointed. Should be grateful for small blessings at least."

Rough laughter broke apart Thorin's scowl. "Aye, at least your ears look Dwarven." He then shook his head. "Could have been worse, I suppose. Your father could have been a hobbit. Can you imagine how hairy your feet would have been if we'd combined dwarf with hobbit?"

Kili's laughter filled the room, and then a coughing spasm hit hard and Thorin winced. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to send you off like that."

Kili shook his head, unable to catch his breath as his whole body shook with the hacking coughs. Still, it didn't escape him that he'd never heard his uncle apologize in over seven decades. And today? He'd gotten three in one afternoon.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Brinarg smiled at his drinking companions, the epitome of a happy dwarf.

If Nori noticed the sharpness of the gaze that travelled over the customers of his tavern, he did not say. If Nori noticed the speculative looks sent his way more than a few times, he in no way tipped his hand. Brinarg finished off his ale, slamming the empty mug down on his table with a bit too much enthusiasm.

The tavernkeeper finally glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow as if asking if a refill was required.

Brinarg shook his head, thinning his lips even while smiling. As if just another happy and less than sober dwarf. He put his money on the table and climbed to his feet, a bit wobbly but hardly unsteady. Deliberately looking harmless and normal.

Nori gave him a friendly nod, which Brinarg returned.

"Night!" Brinarg waved one friendly hand to all and sundry as he made his way to the tavern door. His mind was still going round and round about Nori.

The tri-bearded dwarf was arguing with the crown over payment of treasure following the freeing of Erebor. Point for. Yet Nori defended the young mixed-blood prince as 'a good lad'. Point against. On the other hand, he quarrelled with his own brother about supplies. Point for. And yet ...and yet ...

Brinarg's gait steadied the farther he moved from Nori's tavern until he was walking normally.

Which was a mistake.

Unfortunately for Brinarg, while his loyalty was for sale, he wasn't a master at deception. Not like one who'd spent his whole life looking for opportunities and chances, as well as information. It never occurred to him that with Nori back at the tavern, he was still being watched.

A young human male, not a lad and not nearly a full grown man, walked past the dwarf. Making note of the dwarf's steadiness, direction, expression, and a thousand other small details. All which would be relayed to Nori for a small coin and a large ale or two.

Brinarg might not be sure of Nori's loyalty to the crown. But Nori was pretty sure of Brinarg's loyalties being less than savory. But to whom did the dwarf report?

As any good spy knew. A question answered led to twenty more being asked.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin left for royal 'business' just as Elladan returned with Kili's works-in-progress. "As instructed, only the items on the work bench. And I didn't look inside the chest next to your bed."

Kili grinned widely, his whole face lit up.

"Although how can find anything within that mess is not something I can contemplate."

Kili's grin faded and he groaned as he slumped a bit. "I know where everything is in that room." He avowed.

An eyebrow arched over an amused gray eye. "Even the lone sock I saw peeking out from under your bed?"

Kili's grin returned with full force and he shrugged as he moved out of bed. He caught his father looking at his feet. The socks didn't match. Kili shrugged, wiggling his toes as he looked around. "Not much working space."

"I can have a table or desk brought in." The elf lord offered.

Kili nodded and moved the barely touched plate of cheese, bread and grapes over to his unmade bed that he'd just vacated. He gestured for Elladan to put the items down on the nightstand.

The elven father eyed the plate sitting lopsided on the sheets askance. One lone grape rolled off the dish and onto the bed itself. "I begin to see how that sock got under your bed." He commented rather dryly.

"That sock is probably not alone under my bed." Kili looked up, followed his father's gaze, and smiled. He picked up the grape and ate it with a shrug. "Are elflings more ...meticulous about clean rooms?"

Elladan cocked his head to the side and shrugged. "Not many elflings, you are perhaps the youngest in Middle Earth at the moment. Although I am unsure of the Silvan elves."

The dark-haired prince of two realms choked on his grape, swallowing quickly and then wincing. When he didn't go into another coughing spasm, his shoulders relaxed. "There hasn't been another elf baby born in the past seventy seven years?"

"Seventy eight." Elladan corrected with a wry smile. "And I am not completely certain of that."

Kili waved off the comment, staring at his father. He didn't want an argument on how old he was, or which birthday he had coming up next. So what if the elves counted his age from conception rather than birth? "But there have been elves that died in that time?"

A brief nod and then a shake of the head. "A few, though far more journied for the Undying Lands."

Dark-eyes rounded. "But ...that means that ..."

"Our race is diminishing upon Middle Earth? Yes." Elladan bowed his head simply.

Kili's mind boggled at the thought, and he had too many questions to even voice one. He couldn't seem to get his thoughts ordered.

"But that time will not come for several thousand years." Elladan said soothingly. "We are a long-aged race."

Nodding, Kili pointed at the bundle his father still carried. He deliberately pushed away the unsettling thoughts of the future and settled on the here, the now, the work in front of him.

The elf helped his half-dwarven son unpack the pieces still in need of work. "This is clever work." Elladan held up the embossed leather belt as his gray eyes moved over the intricate design.

Kili couldn't help but smile a little at the compliment. "That one is for Balin. See the design? It's his father's crest." He pointed out perhaps a bit too eagerly. He couldn't help but still feel like he was off balance. Thorin had apologized. He was standing next to an elf who was nearly three thousand years old, and his father. Elves were going to leave Middle Earth. And he was partly one of them. "Do I have to leave too?"

Elladan heard the quiet question, but didn't make the connection. He peered at his son, who was studiously not looking at him. Being sure to tread carefully, he shook his head. "Your brother asked for time. You have that request filled. Kuilaith, you won't have to leave Erebor anytime soon."

Kili's mouth tightened. That hadn't been the crux of his question. But he didn't llike the answer he'd recieved either. "I don't have to go anywhere that I don't want to go."

Hearing the stubborn set of Kuilaith's voice, the elf lord backed off of the topic as if it were hot. "No one is saying otherwise." He said in a way that he hoped was reassuring.

"You were ready to throw me over the back of a horse and carry me off after that damned battle." Kili pointed out rather roughly.

Elladan looked down on his son and thought that perhaps it would be better if he didn't tower over the youth. The dark-haired elf pulled a straight-backed chair closer to the nightstand and took a seat. He didn't want to be seen as dictating instead of approachable. "Kuilaith. Things have changed quite a bit since we first arrived in Erebor. Yes. We, including myself, made mistakes. Our anger was high."

"Because I'm the only elfling in Middle Earth?"

Elladan's smile turned wistful. "Technically, not an elfling."

Kili drew up, clearly affronted by the comment. "Not enough elven blood in my veins?"

Before the prince could say anything else, the elf lord shook his head. "I only meant that you're too old to be considered an elfling. Even though not at your majority yet, definitely not a child anymore."

Dark eyes measured him, considering the explanation with ill grace. Then, in an effort to change the subject, Kili handed his father a carved wooden whistle. "Can you stain that while I work on these gloves for Bifur?"

Elladan, grateful to move off of more explosive subjects, nodded. "I can perhaps manage that." He offered a small smile. "Who is this for? More family designs on the side?"

Kili shifted his weight, not returning the smile, but not rejecting the conversation either. "Gloin." He paused, as if wanting to say more, but choosing instead to remain quiet.

Saddened that they couldn't be more comfortable around each other yet, Elladan nodded. "Lineage is very important for both dwarves and elves." The elven father spoke quietly, his gray eyes serious. "And I hate to introduce sore topics, but I have some news about your particular family tree."

The dark-haired prince hesitated, sensing the caution in his father's voice. "As long as you're not going to tell me that I'm related to Sauron."

Elladan hesitated.

Kili's eyes went round as saucer plates, the whites huge as his jaw dropped.

"I do not believe so." The elf lord commented, clearly thinking back a long way. "The Deceiver was once one of the Ainur spirits, and took part in the Ainulindale, what we call The Great Song."

The dark-haired, and very young prince, nodded. He knew of the Music of the Aiunur and the creation of Arda. Kili wanted to ask some questions, but his throat was suddenly too dry.

Sensing the questions, Elladan smiled sadly at his son. "The Maia were created, not born. As far as is known Sauron has no wife, no children. So no. Although you have some Maia blood running within you, it comes not from Sauron. Although, before he aligned with The Dark Lord, Morgoth he was known as Mairon."

This startled Kili visibly, he jerked in response and shook his head.

Elladan raised his eyebrows at his son. "Yes. That Mairon, who was friend to Aule the Smith and learned much of crafting and forging."

"Did Sauron, or Mairon back then, did he ..." Kili swallowed heavily, feeling unsteady. "Did he help create the Dwarven race?"

The elf lord hadn't been prepared for that question, and it showed. His eyes widened and he shook his head quickly. "No. Oh no. Mairon was aligned with Aule at that time, and learned from him. Before he turned to darkness. But The Smith alone created his children, the Dwarves. And he submitted them to Iluvatar's will, which is why you are part of Arda today. It was Iluvatar who gave the spirit of life to the seven dwarven fathers, and bid them to wake."

"After the Elves." Kili's voice held a touch of bitterness, a feeling of being lesser.

Elladan nodded slowly, not sure what to say next. "So. How dark do you want this whistle stained?"

Kili stared at his father, who was in turn looking only at the wooden whistle in his long-fingered hands. Dissatisfied and feeling out of sorts, he let the conversation go. Dwarves were not lesser, not in his mind. Fili was not lesser.

Elladan suddenly looked up. "We got distracted. I almost forgot to tell you my news."

"Bad news?" Kili grumbled, reaching for a small boring tool.

"No." Elladan shrugged, but still seemed somewhat tense. "It is just, that there are going to be several more elves here shortly. King Thranduil is leaving some warriors to help with border patrols after that attack on you and your brother. One will even function as a temporary healer until a permanent replacement arrives for the one ...who just left."

Kili grinned suddenly, his black mood lifting just a bit. "Part of him left. Part of him is still here. I mean here, here. Not sure what to do with the braid. Am I supposed to mount it on my wall?" He teased.

Elladan winced a little at that mental image. "Perhaps that might be a bit much."

"Uncle Thorin would like the idea." Laughed Kili, his grin undimmed.

"True enough." Elladan sounded resigned and then he shook his head. "What I am meaning to tell you is that my younger sister will be here later this evening. The banners have been spotted coming this way."

Kili blinked, unsure. "The one who lives with Galadriel in Lothlorien? Arwen?"

The elf lord nodded at the thought of his younger sibling. "She's lovely, you'll enjoy her."

"That's not all you have to tell me, is it?" Kili asked quietly, guessing.

Elladan gave him a sympathetic look. "Lady Galadriel's husband is escorting her. I'm afraid that he has little patience for dwarves. I just would ask that you don't take his attitude to heart, let him warm up to you."

Kili stared at him, clearly shocked.

Elladan frowned as his child made no comment, nor did he move. Peering at the young prince, the elf lord verbally prodded him. "Son?"

The dark-eyed youth caught his breath, hesistated, then looked at Elladan with no small amount of incredulousness. "She's married?"

Truly surprised by the question, Elladan gave a true laugh. "Well, of course. Where did you think my mother came from? Thin air?"

Kili shook his head, holding up one finger for a moment, gathering his scattered thoughts. He then sighed and shook his head again. "Someone ... actually married her? Is still married to her?"

"Of all the fantastical histories we've discussed so far, THIS is what you find to be unbelievable?" Elladan watched his son's awe with fresh eyes, smiling. "Yes. The Lady Galadriel is married. Is that such an impossible thought?"

"He has to be really brave." Kili speculuated, bemused. "Or foolish."

The elf lord put down the leather belt he was holding, laughing. "My mother's father is reknowned for his wisdom, actually. And the Lady is not that scary."

Kili gave him a wide-eyed look to show that he did not necessarily agree with that statement. "And that's WITH her liking me."

"Are you sure that she likes you?" Elladan teased lightly.

Kili grinned and nodded. "I'm still alive." He pointed out. "And she ... she told me that her heart had no barriers to me."

"Nor does my heart." Elladan's voice gentled, unsure how this declaration would be recieved. "Do not worry if you don't yet feel the same way. Give us a chance."

The young prince of two races sighed and looked helplessly at his father. "What does that mean? That you two love me?"

"That's part of it." The tall elf hedged. "It's complicated."

"Of course it's complicated, it's Elven!" Kili huffed and looked cross for a moment. "Why do elves have to make simple things so twisty? Besides. You can't love me, you barely know me."

"We do love you, and the more we get to know you the more we come to love you."

Kili backed away, waving his hands in front of him as he shook his head. "You love the idea of me. A son. But you don't KNOW me. Part dwarven, remember? Lesser being?"

"Not lesser. Never." Elladan avowed and then backed off, realizing he was rushing his emotionally skittish child. "We can come back to this."

"No. I want to know what that phrase means. Barriers to the heart?" Kili pushed forward recklessly. "How is that complicated?"

The elf lord sighed, searching for the words to explain in the Common tongue. "It ...remember what I said about Elves leaving Middle Earth?"

Kili's wide eyes had the elven father chuckling lightly. "You said your mother sailed to the Undying Lands. You did not say that she'd left Middle Earth!"

"I see." Elladan put down the wood stain without opening it, looking at his son. "My mother, and many others over the passing of years, have sailed West to the Undying Lands. It does not mean that they are dead"

"That makes no sense!" Kili watched his father's face as the elf closed one eye and twisted his mouth. "Alright. Fine." He huffed, blowing his hair out of his face in frustration. "Sailing west. West is still a direction and that is NOT leaving Middle Earth. The Undying Lands. Isn't that an island? Still part of Middle Earth though. Right?" He watched his father's face and sighed. "Okay fine. That's complicated too."

Elladan nodded. "The Undying Lands are not a part of Middle Earth. Not exactly."

"But you can get there from here." Kili pointed at the ground.

"Only if allowed." Elladan smiled a bit ruefully, amused by his child's confusion. "And you have to sail from a port."

Kili kept pointing at the ground. "If I stand in Middle Earth. Walk west." He stepped in that direction. "I'm still in Middle Earth."

Elladan shook his head. "The Undying Lands can be reached from Middle Earth, but only if you are allowed."

Kili whined slightly and dropped his head back, staring up at the ceiling in supplication. "I hate elves."

"Dwarves have the Halls of Waiting." The youth's father pointed out helpfully.

The princling grinned and brought his gaze back to his father, looking a bit smug. "Sorry. That's the Afterlife. Middle Earth is the Life part of that. Living. Dead. No in-between stage with a land that holds the Undying that live on unnaturally."

"It's not unnatural." Elladan sounded almost amused by his son, shrugging as Kili made another face and a rude noise this time. It was better than anger or hurt. "We'll leave this part of our culture for later. For right now, accept that my mother is living in the Undying Lands."

"Alive in the West. Not dead. On an island that isn't an island, in Middle Earth that isn't part of Middle Earth at all." Kili rolled his shoulders impatiently as he held up both hands, palms up. "I really hate elves."

"You're part elven." His father closed one eye and pointed at him.

Kili chose to ignore that comment, and that reality, at least for the time being. "So she can come back? Your mother?" The young prince couldn't quite wrap his head around the concepts being offered.

"No. Glorfindel is the only elf to have died an actual death to be re-embodied and returned to Middle Earth. And he was dead. My mother, she was alive when she sailed away and she remains alive. The Undying Lands. It's not just a name."

Kili stared, unsure. "If she's alive, why can't she come back? If you can sail there, surely you can sail back?"

"No." Elladan shook his head very sadly. "Once an elf sails West, there is no return."

"Glorfindel." Kili pointed out the major inconsistency.

"Is an oddity." The elf lord smiled with true fondness. "In more ways than one."

Kili moved his jaw back and forth and let out a big sigh. "Twisty and complicated, like elves." He then gave a small startled movement and looked over at his father. "Wait. How did we get on this subject? What does it have to do with barriers within the heart? Are these things even connected?"

"Very much so." Elladan responded almost proudly as he smiled at his son. "Elves live a very, very long time unless they are killed."

Kili nodded, that much he already knew.

"Well." The elf continued. "The world around us is mortal. Humans, dwarves, everyone. And elves can still die in battle or in tragedies. But we're not geared to face death. Each passing of someone or something we find dear to us is a huge blow to our hearts."

The half-dwarven princling listened carefully.

"We often seem cold or uncaring to other races, but mostly as we guard our hearts fiercely. For with too many blows, our hearts grow weary of living and we start to dream of the sea. Sailing West. It can happen with loss, or simply over the passage of time."

"So." Kili tried to think it through, finding it difficult as living an immortal live was beyond anything in his experience. "You put up barriers around yourselves so that you don't get so depressed you simply give up and go away."

It was Elladan's turn to stare, slowly he nodded. "That ...is ... maybe a ...little bit right."

Kili frowned sharply. "So. When an elf tells you that they have no barrier in their heart toward you ...then when that person dies, it takes a piece of their heart with them? Bringing them closer to sailing away forever?"

"Or fading away into death from grief." Elladan continued sadly, "Roughly though, you are right. I'd put it more eloquently perhaps. When someone passes over to the afterlife, then the elf left behind is saddened terribly. But when that someone is a person who holds no barriers against your heart, then yes. A piece of you disappears with them."

"And it's worse when someone dies, rather than sailing West. Because if they die, you won't see them again when you take sail." Kili guessed, squinted up at his father as he bit his lower lip. "What exactly is fading?"

"No." Elladan held up his hands. "You should not just hear the bad parts. Having no barriers to your heart means that you are held close to that elf. That you are precious to them. It is a wonderful and treasured sharing between family, friends ...or spouses. It is a beautiful thing."

Kili wasn't deterred. His dark eyes fair burned with the need to have his questions answered. "Fading."

Elladan sighed unhappily, but decided not to evade the question this time. He was trying to get closer to his son for one thing. And the lad deserved to know about what it was like to be an elf. It was part of his bloodline too. "True fading is when an elf becomes so ancient that they become gray and nearly transparent until they simply cease. But that is rare as most choose instead to travel West."

"But you can fade from grief." Kili asked, knowing this was what was explained to him about the reasons his parents had married in the first place. To keep Elladan from fading after the loss of the elf maiden he'd loved. "Rather than sail away, they are so sad that they fade away unto death."

Elladan nodded somberly, acknowledging the comment. "But let us turn to happier topics. Fading is not going to be a problem for you. And today, we need to worry more about getting your gifts ready."

Kili forced a smile and turned to the work before him. Only the gifts for his father and his father's twin were still in his room. He peeked over at Elladan, his smile fading as he saw the elf inspecting the wooden whistle he was about to stain.

Fading from grief. That's what his elvish relatives had been worried about when they'd pressured Elladan into marrying Dis. Obviously when his father's lost lady love had been killed by orcs, she had held no barriers to the elf lord's heart. And with her death, part of his soul had been torn asunder.

Kili's fingers fairly trembled, and he formed fists to regain control. Elladan had not followed after Dis and Fili back then, some because of Dis' words. But some because he was afraid to give any of his remaining heart to mortals. Because he didn't have enough within him to lose anyone more, lest he fade from grief.

Only. Now the elf had a son. Him. And Kili himself was mortal.

The young dwarven prince now licked his lips nervously and he turned his back on his father, trying to hide the aching pain growing within him.

Forgotten was his earlier dissatisfaction with the elf lord who'd sired him. Pushed aside where his feelings of being lesser, or an oddity. Gone. All he could think about right now was the future. His father's future.

A son was not a gift to Elladan. Not a mortal half-dwarven one anyway. It was death.

He, Kili, was a death sentence to his father.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"By the sea and stars, it is good for these eyes to behold you again." Glorfindel smiled widely at the young elf-maid with true fondness. "My Lady Arwen, you grow more lovely every time we meet."

"I'm afraid I don't recall meeting you before." The dark-haired beauty's eyes sparkled and the smile she couldn't hide gave lie to her words.

Glorfindel's hands went to his chest, covering his heart. "You wound me beyond measure, Lady."

"Making me more dangerous than a dragon and a balrog combined I suppose?" Arwen said tartly.

The golden haired warrior laughed, wagging his finger at the she-elf he used to toss into the air as an elfling. "So. You DO remember me?"

"Vaguely." She allowed, then grinned brightly, putting her hand on his forearm while he nodded his head to her. Leaning forward she whispered. "How goes it here?"

Glorfindel's face blanked and then he made a so-so sign with his hand. "Better than when we first arrived, to be sure." Then the golden haired elf straightened as he noted the approach of the stately Lord of Lothlorien. He bowed far more formally, his hand over his heart. "The stars dimmed until we could meet again."

Lord Celeborn eyed the ancient hero with cautious amusement. "Your speech is as flowery as your former house." He said in an oblique reference to Glorfindel's title so long ago.

The one-time head of the House of the Golden Flower pulled a mild face of rebuke. "Your wit is not as bright as your wisdom, that is an old, old line my one time friend."

"One time?" Celeborn's eyebrows rose, waiting.

"We can once more be friends when you come up with new lines." Glorfindel sighed, as if unhappy. "Or you dye your hair golden and join my house."

"You are now the only member of your house. Which makes it not much of a house." The silver-haired Lord of Lorien finally smiled. "I have not missed you."

"Nor I you, my Lord." Glorfindel clapped the silver-haired warrior on the shoulder with no little familiarity. "It has been too long."

Celeborn looked around the hall, his face a mask of disinterest.

Glorfindel looked where the elf lord was looking, as if seeing it all with fresh eyes. "It is amazing how fast they have been repairing the place. Dragons make for a terrible mess." He frowned at his own words. He'd meant them as a joke, but now he was recalling Gondolin in ruins. "At least Erebor has been reclaimed." He said in almost a whisper.

Lord Celeborn paused and nodded, showing his respect for those long gone and the one who still grieved them. "It is far from the same."

Remembering the Songs of the Dead sung by the dwarves, Glorfindel sighed. "I'm not so sure." He smiled weakly then, trying to throw off the old memories. "The wine is better than decent, and there is a sparkling cider that you HAVE to try."

"Have I?"

"Bubbles." Glorfindel's smile turned real and he gestured toward the inner halls of Erebor. "You won't believe it. Bubbles make all the difference."

"Are you two ancient warriors done yet? I have a nephew to meet!" Arwen interrupted, sensing the time was right. Or she was over-eager. Either way, she was ready to move along.

Lord Celeborn of Lorien stilled, taking a deep cleansing breath.

Glorfindel waited. Arwen didn't. The she-elf boldy linked her arm around that of her grand-father's arm. "You promised." She pointedly reminded him.

Celeborn nodded his silver head toward Glorfindel. "He wears his weapon indoors. That is not a good sign."

The golden-haired warrior laughed and shook his head, his good humor restored. "No, no. I wear my sword because the dwarves love it. At first I wore it for proection, of course. Now because the dwarrow warriors are always eager to see her and hear tales older than their kingdom."

Startled, Arwen looked up. "Her?"

"Her." Glorfindel's smile turned sneaky. "Of all the deadly things walking upon Arda, the most dangerous are female."

Celeborn and Arwen both stared at the warrior of old. He grinned wider at the two newcomers. Celeborn turned his eyes on his grand-daughter and she leaned forward. "The balrog you fought was female?"

"Couldn't tell. But I'll always think of her as a bitch. She did kill me after all." Glorfindel winked and walked away.

Arwen wasn't sure if she should believe him or not. She looked up at the placid face of her grand-father. Celeborn sighed. "I think he made that up on the spot. Just for you."

"But you're not sure?"

"I'm may know many things, but the workings of Glorfindel's mind are beyond me." The Lord of Lorien sighed and moved to follow toward the main hall of Erebor.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"You are bending my words like green wood." Elladan said irritably, upset over the turn in conversation. When had the two of them taken the wrong turn?

"They're your words." Kili snapped, slamming down the leather tooling stamp harder than necessary. Using such force made his lungs protest and he coughed a few times, but not going into a full spasm. "You said them. I heard them. Now this is me, ignoring them."

The elven father watched with frustrated eyes and sighed. "You should rest." He suggested gently.

"You should mind your own." Kili grumbled, rubbing his fingers over the leather pouch he was decorating as a gift. He frowned. It still didn't feel right. "I disagree with you and suddenly I'm a weak child who needs to be put to bed. Shoddy way to win an argument."

Elladan put down the small wooden whistle he was staining. "All I said was that you carved a nice instrument here and it would make a great gift for a female. I meant it as a compliment!"

Kili peered at the leatherwork in his hands and made a grunt in reply.

"What's wrong with that?" Elladan prodded angrily.

The dark-haired youth rolled his eyes, reaching for a different tool. "Only two females here to give a gift to in the first place. Both elves. When I told you what I'd made for a certain someone, you started wagging your tongue about how old I am and what a more 'appropriate' gift might be."

Elladan looked up at the ceiling, as if hoping to find his patience up there waiting for him. It wasn't. "You are young."

"For an elf." Kili's voice fairly dripped with venom.

The elf lord took a deep breath and shook his head. "You are part elven. Like it or not, you are."

"Oh, I don't like it. I can assure you." The youth snarled, his dark-eyed gaze hot. "You don't even like what I made for the Lady."

Elladan gritted his teeth, trying to rein in his temper. "I did not say that I didn't like it."

"Only that it too is not 'right'." Kili snarled. "Well, they're my gifts! Would you prefer that I switch them? Give Tauriel the ..."

"No!" The elf lord nearly yelled the word. "I didn't mean ..."

Kili drew back, his anger rising higher. "Don't try and take it back. I can tell what you really think."

Elladan held up the whistle and calmed his voice. "This is well crafted and has a beautiful tone. You made it and it's wonderful. Why can't you give it to Tauriel?"

"I made her something else. That whistle is for Gloin. The design etched on it has meaning for him. Not for her. If we're lucky we'll get to hear him play it. He's good with a whistle." Kili's voice was in a husky, snarled tone. "I made it with him in mind."

"The other two whistles?" Elladan asked quietly.

Kili shook his head. "For other dwarrow." His dark eyes narrowed on his father. "Just admit it. You don't want me courting Tauriel."

Elladan threw up his hands in surrender. "I give up. Give her what you want. But jewelry is counted as a courting gift, one that is not the beginning of interest but closer to the making of promises. And you admit that you don't even know what she really thinks of the two of you possibly courting."

"So? What if I want to find out what she thinks?" Kili's chin thrust foward stubbornly. "Or is it that you don't think I'm good enough for her? Being dwarven?"

"Part dwarven." Elladan couldn't stop the words if he'd tried. "Your mother's part."

The prince's dark head straightened and he glared at the elf. "There it is. You don't like me being dwarven. You hate my mother and you hate me, but you're stuck with me!" He knew he was being unfair as he spoke, but Kili couldn't seem to reel himself back in. Today's earlier conversation had left him feeling raw and exposed, hurt. His temper was far too close to the surface right now.

"I don't hate you!"

Dark eyes narrowed dangerously. "But you do hate my Mam?"

Elladan didn't think, he reacted. "Maybe! Yes, maybe I do! She stole you from me. Never even told me that you existed. It's hard to think about what she did and not be angry."

"I'm not angry with her." The words fell between them like a leaf made of metal. Kili glared at his father, implying something dark and ugly. That he wasn't sorry that he'd missed seventy-seven years with the tall elf lord. "Maybe she saved me from a boring life of harp music, trickling fountains and poetry that never says anything! Maybe she left because she felt you were too controlling!"

"I never tried to control your mother!" Elladan looked shocked at the accusation, his own temper close to exploding despite the legendary control of the elves.

"Why not? You're trying to control me!" Kili shouted, his voice breaking and he fell into a full coughing spasm that lasted for several long and painful minutes.

"Kuilaith ..."

It was the wrong name at the wrong time. "GET OUT!" Kili managed to scream, then succumbed to more painful, hacking coughs.

Elladan reached for him, but Kili jerked his arm out of reach and turned away deliberately. Leaving his father to stare at his shaking back, listening to the harsh sounds of his child trying to regain his breathing.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

No spoken word passed between them that Thorin could see. Elves were just wierd.

The king watched the duo from his throne. Not that he was sitting there dressed in his finest leathers waiting for them. This just happened to be what was closest to hand when he'd dressed. And if they were his best leathers, meaning ones not covered in grime and having the fewest mended seams, there was no special reason to be dressed up today. Not for elven visitors certainly. And he wasn't waiting for them. He just happened to be in the throne room when they arrived, that was all.

Okay fine. Lying to yourself was never a good idea. Lord Celeborn had arrived. And unlike the last time elves had ridden up to Erebor to visit, he wasn't covered in the muck and grime of battle. It was just too bad he couldn't find a way to justify wearing the splendid armor made of mithril and gold. It might seem a tad ...aggressive.

Thorin kept his face expressionless as he watched the two greet each other. Inwardly he grimaced though. Lothlorien wasn't a day journey from Erebor. So how could the elves look so free of travel grime and dust? Did elven magic keep grit out of their boots and off of their robes?

For the first time in his life Thorin could appreciate why Thror always dressed up so fussily before receiving visitors. Especially Elven ones. Only, the current King Under the Mountain didn't have the hefty wardrobe that his grandfather had once owned. And there was too much repair work to be done to Erebor to bother with making a wardrobe suitable for his title.

The new King Under the Mountain looked only marginally better dressed than his meanest dwarrow miners. For now.

Oh, he certainly could of bedecked himself with an array of precious metals and stones. Gems so valuable that jaws would have dropped. But Thorin couldn't escape the memories of Thror in the clutches of madness, nor himself either. So he opted to go the other direction. Simple, tasteful jewelry and functional leathers. He did not need to tempt fate, or gold-crazed illness again.

Lord Celeborn had entered, and his eyes had not gone to the obvious place of power. But to a golden haired witch in a lovely gown that skimmed her body to great advantage. Not skin tight, no, nothing so obvious. Just flattering in the extreme.

Husband and wife. Thorin stifled a sigh, wondering how long the two had been married. Surely longer than he, his father, and grandfather had lived. Wouldn't you get tired of another person after such a long time? His breath huffed out lightly. He would gladly leave immortality to the elves. Cold hearted beasts.

Except for Kili, of course.

Thorin shifted in his seat, uncomfortable. Alright. So some elves weren't quite cold hearted. Just look at the twin elf lords, Elladan and Elrohir. Glorfindel was different as well. Even Nuluin had depths that were unexpected. At least Thorin knew he could still detest Thranduil with impunity, even if that particular elven monarch was one he was going to have to deal with a lot.

A murmur of voices drew the king's attention, and that of everyone else. Elladan swept into the throne room, his gray eyes fairly snapping with temper. He stopped and nodded toward his relatives, then shot Thorin a hard look.

The king stiffened. He'd left the elf with Kili, and they'd looked reasonably comfortable together. "Something is wrong with your son?"

"No." Elladan smiled grimly, lifting one eyebrow haughtily. "But it seems your nephew is in a temper."

"He was fine when I took my leave." Needled Thorin.

Elladan drew up, looking ready to explode.

"Son of my daughter?"

The elf lord stilled, then closed his eyes, obviously regaining his composure bit by small bit. He turned and smiled, though the effort took something from him. "My Lord Celeborn. I greet thee with fondness and true joy, it has been over long since the light of the stars has shown me your presence."

"Sweet words and an ill temper." Came the cool and reserved reply. The silver-haired elf blinked slowly, running his eyes up and down the form of his grandchild.

"Elladan?"

At this, the elf lord's tension decreased and he sighed. "Sister. It is good these eyes to see you." He said far more simply, holding out his hand to his younger sibling.

Arwen took his hand gratefully, but looked worried. "Our brother?"

Glorfindel bowed his head slightly as he spoke. "Elrohir will be down apace. He was injured, but moves slowly."

Celeborn's face remained still, almost stoic. But his eyes slid to meet the gaze of his wife. Subtly his shoulders relaxed as if he received some message of support from that quarter.

Arwen though took in a shocked breath, and Elladan quickly reassured her as to Elrohir's injury and that he was healing. He then outlined the injury to Erebor's crown prince, and also to his son.

"So we can't meet them tonight?" Arwen seemed terribly disappointed.

Elladan shrugged and shook his head. "Perhaps tonight is not the best night for that. Fili was asleep when I last looked in on him, and Kuilaith ..." He grimaced.

Balin cracked a smile. "Lad as a huge temper, proud and all. But he rarely holds onto his temper for long. Nary a grudge out of that one. Fili on the other hand is slower to anger, but that anger can burn far longer and far brighter."

Thorin shot an ill look at his counselor. Balin raised his eyebrows in innocence.

Celeborn looked up at the throne, and Erebor's king. He looked back around him with care. His perusal far from casual. By his side, Galadriel said not a word.

"Greetings to Lord Celeborn of Lothlorien." King Under the Mountain Thorin tried his damnedest not to sound as if strangling on a lemon. "Erebor welcomes you and yours." There. That was as flowery as he was willing to go.

Celeborn paused before nodding his head. A pause just long enough to call into question his desire to be there, but not long enough to give actual offense. Thorin bit back a growl, ruthlessly trying to keep a strong rein on his own temper.

"Your welcome is appreciated." Celeborn said with silky smoothness. "Although from what I understand, under duress?"

Elladan shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Please." He said in a near whisper.

Thorin sneered, but quickly pulled his face back into a dour look he'd seen on his grandfather's face far too many times. "Your understanding is without parallel." He responded, meeting the challenge but trying not to slide into open verbal sparring.

Lord Celeborn actually opened his mouth, then stopped.

Thorin blinked and then suddenly realized that Galadriel's hand was upon her husband's arm. Only. He hadn't seen her move. And he'd been watching carefully. The dwarven king sighed. "Perhaps in light of Kili not feeling well, we should sit for dinner. Leave introductions until tomorrow."

Celeborn looked at his wife's eyes, as if somehow communing with her. Finally he tilted his head, letting his silver hair gleam in the torch light. "Perhaps that would be wise."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"You mistake my meaning." Lord Celeborn's dinner plate sat in front of him at the table, barely touched.

King Thorin arched a questioning eyebrow, looking achingly superior. "Inaction is as telling as action."

"Or could refer to contemplation, decision making, and weighing the consequences most carefully." The silver-haired woodland lord said quietly, yet with the full arrogance of his race.

Thorin drew back, acting a bit shocked as he deliberately widened his piercing blue eyes. "Really? It took the Dwarves less than a minute to realize that a dragon was a menace that needed to be dealt with. Not over a hundred and seventy years to ...think it over first."

Celeborn put down his eating utensils, his grayish-blue eyes snapping with indignation. "We were not the ones attacked. Truly, in Lothlorien, we did not hear about the dreadful business until it was all over and ..."

"And I'm sure you grieved." Thorin stabbed the roasted pork tenderloin with his fork with perhaps a touch too much force, emphasizing his point as he rudely interrupted.

Arwen meticulously cut her own meat, and glanced up through her long dark lashes at her grand-mother. Galadriel caught her look, and gave a small smile of encouragement. Both elven ladies ignored the sniping argument between the two male rulers.

The beautiful she-elf looked back down at her plate and contemplated a perfectly baked ...something. The delicate aroma of nutmeg was delicious though. Yet, she didn't know what was in the dish. Looking beside her, Arwen leaned over toward the white bearded dwarf beside her. "Good Master Dwarf?"

Balin flushed. He couldn't help it. There was just something about the Lady Arwen. Yes, perhaps Galadriel was a bit more beautiful, but the Lady of Light was like a living star, unapproachable even when seemed welcoming. Her presence a near tangible thing. Arwen was different. Beautiful beyond measure, but a gentler and far more accessible presence. "My lady?" He cleared his throat, not liking sounding like a dwarfling with a crush. "May I help you?"

"I am unsure of what this dish might be."

From the other side of her, an amused chuckle beat Balin's response. Bofur leaned forward most helpfully. "It's a salad. A proper salad at that. Nothing green."

Balin closed his eyes in consternation and embarrassment. "She knows that! She's asking what components might be involved in the making of the dish!"

Arwen's dark eyes twinkled with merriment as she nodded in agreement with the white-bearded dwarf.

"Ah!" Bofur smiled most happily. "Turnips with butternut squash and fish. I know it sounds an odd combination, but Bombur is a deft hand with a good turnip."

Arwen didn't even hesitate, nor did she take a small bite, but boldly speared several pieces for tasting. Balin watched her, and when the she-elf's face lit up, so did his own. "Delicious! Does this Bombur love turnips so much then?"

From her other side, Bofur laughed and snorted with a mockingly sad shake of his head. "My brother detests turnips. So he finds as many ways as to make them palatable as possible."

Arwen smiled prettily, but shrugged. "Why does he not just avoid eating them then?"

Both Bofur and Balin laughed at that thought, but it was Balin who spoke first. "Oh my dear. Bombur? Pass up on something edible? Never. He'll go to great lengths to find a way to make it better tasting, however."

Bofur nodded enthusiastically, the flaps on his rather odd looking hat echoing his movements.

Arwen forked up some more of the mixture and ate it happily. "Well, since we are the beneficiaries then I will certainly not complain." He is certainly a fine chef.

"Oh." Bofur's face turned solemn, though his eyes still sparked with good humor. "Bombur is no chef. Not a craft master for food. He's a clear, good hand with the workings of the forges though. That's his specialty."

"Not a chef?" The beauteous elf stilled, surprised. "Truly not? But this is so very good."

Balin and Bofur shared a preening sort of proud look between them, both blushing slightly. "We'll be sure to pass along your compliments."

"Please do. And if this is the type of food he serves as a non-chef, I hesitate to ask what beautiful works his forges must create." Arwen supplied, her words quite sincere.

Bofur's blush intensified and Balin felt nearly giddy as they urged her to try a bit more of the tenderloin, but to save room for the pumpkin cheese bites.

Unfortunately, their words were interrupted as Thorin's voice became raised. All three turned to look back at the impending storm of Elven and Dwarven relationships.

"Honor is built on actions, not a large vocabulary." Thorin ground out the words roughly.

"And if you have possession of neither?" Came the silkily bland rejoinder from the silver-haired elf.

Thorin ignored the sting of the comment and grinned, but there was nothing friendly or humorous in the facial expression. "Then you take over a hundred and seventy years to try and come up with something intelligent to say. Or something that might sound like intelligence but is really there to obfuscate."

Lord Celeborn drew back as if scenting something foul, the very picture of Elvish disdain.

Thorin leaned forward. "Obfuscate means to becloud, as in during communication." He told the taller elf with great mocking 'help'.

"Communication." Harrumphed Elladan who had not spoken a word throughout the entire dinner thus far. "Not a Dwarven forte."

Elrohir frowned at his twin brother, clearly worried. "Sons who are nearly of age often have arguments with their parents."

Elladan looked up, widening his eyes helplessly. "I'm not even really sure what the argument was about! There was no cause!"

"Do dwarves need a cause to argue?" Celeborn inserted the question deliberately, though not looking in Thorin's direction.

The Dwarven king smiled grimly. "Yes. We need a cause and a reason, but I don't expect elves to understand …at least not for nearly two centuries when the elven scholars finally 'discover' the actual reason. And when they do, they'll write a book on it and then we poor dwarves will finally know WHY we were arguing two centuries before. Helpful thing, scholars."

"Only if dwarves actually read the book." Celeborn picked up his wine with lazy grace, sipping delicately.

Arwen frowned over at the Lord of Lothlorien as he looked down his nose quite literally at the King Under the Mountain. And then winced as Thorin sneered most impressively in obvious derision. "Oh dear."

Galadriel smiled at them all. "Never mind them dear. Elves or Dwarves it seems they are the same. The males all feel the need to measure …." Balin paled as he listened. "Their egos."

Bofur laughed loudly as Balin now reddened full in the face.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

If empty and lost were emotions, Kili figured he was feeling them. Pacing his room had quickly gotten old. His dark eyes avoided the night table and the accursed gifts he'd been working on, but it didn't help. He knew what was there.

With a stout curse, Kili picked up the items he'd been working on for Tauriel and Galadriel. Feeling sick to his stomach he dropped them in the empty waste bin. He then peered more closely at the gifts he was currently working on for his Dwarven friends. Maybe he needed to throw out the gifts for the other Elves too. Family. What a laugh.

Family. The young prince groaned, looking up at the ceiling. When had family been a word that went from comfort and love to guilt, grief and pain?

All his life he'd yearned to know who is father was. Now that he did? He wished he didn't. No. Damn it. But he did wish that it wasn't Elladan. Kili frowned, rubbing his forehead. Well, maybe Elladan was alright some of the time. But why did he have to be an elf?

"What in the name of Mahal were these people thinking?" Kili said through clenched teeth. "Sure. Marry an Elf to a Dwarf. Expect it to work. Idiots. The only way this works is if you want to start a war and kill off a few important members of both races. Durin's Line. Elrond's family. That's the only possible result!"

Suddenly, Kili stopped in the middle of the room. Stunned. Repeating his words to himself over and over again. For the life of him, he couldn't see any other probable outcome.

But. But, but, but. Kili's mind raced, his eyes vacant as he stared at the wall lost in his thoughts. Saruman the White. Wise. Elrond. Wise. Thror. Kili's mouth twisted, well the dwarven king had been known for wisdom earlier in his reign at least.

Sauron ... The Deceiver. Manipulator. Hiding behind the scenes since his defeat so long ago. Hadn't he tricked the elven-smiths into forging rings of power? Frowning, Kili couldn't recall what Balin had tried to teach him and his brother about this subject.

Impulsively Kili threw on his leathers, not bothering to fasten all the clips and clasps. He glanced around for his boots, but didn't see them immediately. It didn't stop him. He pushed open his door and marched across the hallway in his thick and mismatched socks. The door to Fili's room was closed. Without thought, Kili walked right in.

A male elf that Kili only vaguely recognized as one of the healers looked up, his eyes going wide at the sight of the dwarf prince. "You're not supposed to be in here."

"Last elf who got snarly with me lost his hair." Kili threw out the words in irritation, sticking out his chin stubbornly.

The elven healer paused, and then stepped in his way coolly. "No. He was shamed because he didn't do his job. My job is to heal both you and your brother. Prince Fili is highly susceptible to infection." The elf leveled a determined look onto Kili. "You are a walking body full of infection right now."

"I'm fine." Kili dropped his gaze, but didn't back away as he muttered. "Fever's down."

The healer looked at the dark-eyed prince's color and shook his head. "Down, but hardly gone. And every time you cough you spread possible infection to those who are weakened right now."

Kili's determination fled and his face went ashen white. Every time he coughed? Which was practically all the time. He backed up, even though his eyes slid behind the healer to his brother. The need to speak with Fili was a near tangible thing.

Fili's blue eyes watched him, his hand raised, almost as if reaching for him. Kili swallowed hard, wanting to run to his side. "But ..."

The healer's voice gentled. "You're healing quickly, it shouldn't be long before you can visit him. And Prince Fili is doing well."

"I want to see him." Fili called out, his voice pained and hoarse even as his hand fell back down to the mattress.

Kili's heart broke and melted all over the place at the weak volume of his usually strong brother. His knees shook and his lungs caught. Suddenly he felt the need to cough. Panicked, Kili turned and fled out the door and into the hallway before his body began to shake and cough wretchedly.

Dimly, as his lungs finally settled, Kili felt the gentle hand of the healer on his back and arm. Helping to steady him. He looked up and met the cool hazel eyes of the elf, and found cautious sympathy. "You don't hate me?"

Surprise. The healer cocked his head slightly and then gave a rueful smile. "You are not to blame for the actions, words or thoughts of others. You did not cause Trenien's loss of pride. He did."

"Trenien." Kili repeated, realizing this must be the name of the healer whose braid was back in his room.

"You should lay down, rest. Recover. All the sooner will you be able to visit with your sibling."

Kili shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and then back again. Clearly he was weighing heavy thoughts within his mind. Finally he shrugged. "Can I stand at the door and ask him a question?"

The healer hesitated, then made an offer. "What if I relay your question to the prince, and return the answer to you?"

Kili thought that over distastefully, but figured it was a fair enough offer. And the information he wanted wasn't secret. He nodded quickly, holding up three fingers. "I need to know who created the rings of power." He put down one finger. "And how did Sauron trick the elves into making them and why."

The healer looked at the last finger Kili still had held up. "You have another question to add?"

The dark-eyed prince looked down at his remaining digit in a small hiccup of memory, then grinned. "That last one was really two questions. How and Why." Kili put his hand down and fairly bounced on his toes, the well-warmed healing halls not bothering his feet even without his fur lined boots on.

The healer stared at Kili in wonder.

The young heir nodded his head at Fili's room. "You said you would."

The healer sighed. "I was thinking more in the lines of questions with simple answers. Like yes, no and perhaps."

Kili's smile dimmed slightly, but he managed a shrug. "You still said you would. Offered. I didn't ask it of you."

"You did not, indeed." The healer shook his head. "Your brother is an expert in this area?"

Shocked, Kili's eyes widened as he offered a giggle. "Hardly. But he generally pays more attention when we were learning our subjects than I did."

"I see." The healer sighed and returned a weaker shadow of a smile. "Then perhaps I should offer that the Rings of Power were crafted by the elvin-smiths of Eregion, with Celebrimbor as their leader."

Kili's eyebrows furrowed and he looked confused for a second or two.

The healer shook his head. "That was back in the Second Age. But if you want to know more, perhaps the Lady of Light would be your best source. Since she wears one of the Elvish Rings of Power. Nenya." Kili was still staring. The healer looked unsure, and added an explanation. "Nenya is the Ring of Adamant. It deals with protection." When Kili still did not respond, the elf held up his hands in surrender. "Best to seek answers from the Lady herself."

"I heard that Celebrimbor was deemed wise." The dark-eyed prince finally found his voice, even if it was a hesitantly offered statement that could also pose as a question.

The healer bowed his head. "Indeed."

"So how did Sauron deceive him so? Into making the rings, I mean?" Kili asked, burning up with the need to know.

The healer frowned and shook his head. "Too lengthy a lesson for a drafty hallway and I need to change the dressings on your brother's wounds."

Disappointed, Kili's face wiped clear of expression.

The healer grimaced and shrugged. "I can come and share what information I know following dinner. Or perhaps there are some history books in Erebor?"

Kili's face brightened once more. "Library! There's a library that the damned dragon didn't torch."

The healer smiled and waved at Kili's feet. "Perhaps a quiet and brief visit to Erebor's library would be the very thing to relieve you of your lassitude. Gather your boots and make a foray below stairs to retrieve something to read. It might help you feel a bit better to be thusly occupied."

Kili grinned and took off down the hallway, almost loping in his hurry. The elf stared after the prince's retreating back with no little consternation. "I meant AFTER you put on your boots."

"Is my brother alright?"

The healer turned around and looked back into Fili's room, finding the blond's piercingly blue eyes staring right at him. "Aye, he is. But moving too fast to bother even putting on his boots before going to the library."

Fili chuckled weakly, grimacing as his hand went to his chest as aches rocketed through him as if a reminder that he shouldn't do that. "It wouldn't be the first time he was in such a hurry that he forgot to …wait … Library?"

"He has some questions on Middle Earth history."

Fili's eyes widened even further at that nonsensical explanation. "Library? History? Kili? Really? Of his own accord?"

The healer smiled ruefully. "The prince did mention that you usually paid more attention to your lessons than he did."

Stiffly, Fili nodded, even as his mind raced. "Library." He muttered the word to himself, puzzled.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"And where were you two? Missing dinner and obviously up to schemes and other plots."

Tauriel and Ori both turned to look at the speaker, but with vastly different responses. The young dwarf shrugged, unabashed. The red-haired she-elf had a rather blank expression.

Until they saw who was standing next to Glorfindel.

The former captain of the Mirkwood elves dropped her head into a deep bow of apology, while Ori simply stared.

Arwen smiled at them, unsure. They'd left Thorin and Celeborn who were now coldly ignoring each other between subtle insults and some rather fine orange melomel. Galadriel was sitting between them, silent and unperturbed. "That looks interesting." She pointed at the boards that each was holding.

Tauriel's head lifted. She had indicated the High Elf was of a greater rank, but she wasn't one to linger in abasement. Silven elves were no less proud than their kin. She lifted the game board and tilted her head marginally toward Ori. "A gift for the two princes. One for each, so they can play each other."

Arwen's eyes lit up with delight. "Oh! So someone could tell each of them how the other moved?"

Ori blushed and nodded, finding his tongue. "It's a rather simple game, but with loads of variations. You see, you start with only six pieces each. But you have the potential for adding twenty-four more. But you can only add a piece when you reach a midstem. Unless your opponent has occupied the opposite midstem space on the board. Each piece has different rules for movement, of course, so you have to be very careful."

Glorfindel nodded and pointed at the darkened circles on the board. "Those are the midstem spaces?"

Ori nodded with enthusiasm, holding up his work for better inspection. "Only if you have more pieces on the board at the time, otherwise they are lowstem spaces. And if you're on one of them when it changes over, your opponent gets an extra move."

Glorfindel blinked and nodded, although a bit slow. "Does this game have a name?"

Ori nodded eagerly, his mouth opening and then he froze, his eyes wide. He closed his mouth, shot a glance at Tauriel and blushed.

The red-head smiled at him. "The name is in Khuzdul?"

Ori firmed his lips and shrugged helplessly. Dwarves didn't speak their language in front of outsiders.

Arwen understood the dilemma immediately and nodded. "We won't press you, but does the name translate into Common?"

Ori took a deep breath, looking toward the ceiling, finally he grimaced. "Roughly it could be called 'Cloudyhead' I suppose."

Glorfindel nodded and gave a rueful half-smile. "Fitting. I feel 'cloudy-headed just trying to listen to the rules."

Ori smiled hesitantly at each of the elves. "You don't play games?" He asked.

The ancient golden-haired warrior shrugged. "Chess." He admitted.

"Oh!" Ori grinned. "That's good then. It's a good beginning. We start playing chess as dwarflings before moving on to ….er, Cloudyhead."

Glorfindel blinked, taken aback by chess being called 'a good start'. "Perhaps I shall accompany you to visit the princes, and perhaps begin to learn this …game."

Arwen fairly vibrated with excitement. "I as well! Oh please! I really want to meet my nephew."

"Nephews." Glorfindel corrected. "Elladan apparently officially adopted young Fili when he was four."

Ori looked intensely startled and Arwen asked him if anything was wrong. The young dwarf shook his head and denied any problem. "It's just, still so difficult to absorb sometimes. Kili being Kuilaith, having new relatives."

"It is rather a significant change in family dynamics." Glorfindel said, twisting his mouth humorously. "But I don't know if today will be the best day for you to meet either nephew. Fili is healing, and Kuilaith is apparently in a foul mood according to your brother."

Arwen smiled very brightly.

Tauriel blinked, a bit confused. "Kili argued with his father?"

Glorfindel pulled a sharp frown and nodded. "Elladan was highly agitated throughout dinner. He turned and winked at the Lady Arwen, not able to keep the frown on his face well.

Tauriel and Ori shared a look as well, both at a loss. "You …seem ….almost happy about that." The she-elf could not help but point out.

Arwen took pity upon them both. "My brother has been cold for decades now. Living and breathing, but bothered by nothing. Stuck. To see him animated, even in confusion and agitation is …." She smiled, trying to search for just the right word.

"Grand." Glorfindel offered for her. "It's grand."

Arwen nodded and shrugged lightly. "Although I would love to see him happy again."

Ori smiled shyly at the pretty new she-elf. "I hope it works as well, my Lady. Kili is a good sort. All this ill-temper, it's just not him normally."

"With a name like Kuilaith, that stands to reason." Arwen linked her arm with Ori's, making him straighten up to his full height. Not that it did him much good, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He seemed to sense that he was being watched though. Ori looked around and stilled as he saw the implacable face of Dwalin, watching. Unamused. "Come, lead on good Master Dwarf."

Dwalin, from his place standing next to the hallway leading back to the dining room, just stared. Ori, not sure what to do, smiled wanly and led the elves up the stairs toward the healing halls.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili looked up at the huge bookshelves gracing the overly large room with an overwhelming sense of being in trouble. The bookshelves were tiered, with walkways, ladders and stairs. All easily accessible. But there were so many books! He whimpered and ran a hand through his loose hair. "Where to start?"

For lack of a plan Kili held up his lantern and grunted to see the clever pulley system of lights hanging over head. Unlit. Unused in nearly two centuries. For all he knew one touch would send the whole contraption down on his poor head. "Not a good idea." He muttered to himself, spying an open arched doorway.

Peeking inside he nearly cried. More books and shelves. But in here the lighting system had indeed crashed to the floor. Though from the thick dust on top of it, that had been done in antiquity. Several more archways connected the rooms and Kili was getting depressed just suspecting there would be even more books.

"No wonder Ori was going on and on about the library." The dark-haired prince sighed despondently. And with the mines and indeed the entire kingdom in need of repair, this piece of it was not high on the priorities list.

Kili looked around and around, completely at a loss as to where to start. He walked randomly over to the nearest books shelves, perusing the titles. Only they were covered with a thick grimy dust and he couldn't read them. What had Ori said about the library? Starting to clean it in his spare time.

"Okay." Kili wandered back to the first room. "Right." He saw a cleared off table and several rags. Signs of industry and stacks of dust-free books. The young prince picked up two of them, scanning the titles. Treatises from Durin VI. Books on engineering and mining techniques. Water treatment. Plumbing. Disease prevention. Kili snorted, flipping through that one and seeing it had to do with the importance of keeping a clean water supply. He frowned. Nothing on history, especially Elvish.

"Damn it!"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Arwen couldn't hide her disappointment as she sat next to the bed, running her hand over the covers.

Tauriel sat the game board on a small table that Glorfindel had fetched for them, dragging it close to Fili's bed. Ori fussed and set up the small polished stones of differing colors onto the board.

Fili ignored them all, quietly breathing in his sleep. The healer apologized, telling them that the young blond had been in some pain and the medication had put him out for a while.

Making their leave, they headed across the hall, knocking on Kili's door. Glorfindel's eyebrow raised at the lack of response. "Ignoring us."

"Or thinks it's someone he doesn't want to see." Ori piped up.

"Asleep perhaps." Tauriel commented, her hand moving to the door handle. She looked inside, and then opened the door wider. "Or not here."

Arwen leaned forward, peering over Tauriel's shoulder. "Where is he?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan toyed with his drink, not tasting it.

Elrohir sat beside his twin, silently supporting his sibling. He looked up as Dwalin walked into the room again. The tattooed warrior's eyes lingered on Elladan for a long moment, but he made no comment.

The area was basically quiet now. Celeborn and Thorin were arguing the merits of melomel versus metheglin, but not loudly.

Dwalin's left eye twitched as he listened to the two for a moment, then looked back at the twin elven warriors. "They do know that they are arguing about two different styles of mead?"

Elrohir nodded. "Apples and oranges."

Dwallin sighed. "An old dwarven saying, that arguing apples over oranges is moot as it all comes down to personal taste."

Elladan's lips tilted upwards slightly. "We have a similar saying. But what my brother means is that they are arguing over mead made with apples, against mead made with oranges. Apples and oranges. Literally."

A surprised grunt from Dwalin had both brothers sighing in agreement.

Balin walked in but a moment later, smiling benignly at them all. "Have any of you seen Kili?"

Elladan blinked and looked up, frowning. "Not since before dinner."

"The necessity?" Elrohir guessed, speaking of the lavatory. Erebor's plumbing was old and in need of repair. But still functional, a testimony to dwarven ingenuity and craftsmanship.

Balin shook his head. "The other medic from Mirkwood said that Kili was heading to the library for a book. But that was a while ago and the lad hasn't returned."

"Perhaps he just needed some time and space to calm down." Galadriel turned toward them with her comment, sliding a glance over at her daughter's sons.

Elladan winced at the memory of his earlier argument. "I wasn't trying to rile him. I complimented a gift he was working on. Made a suggestion, that's all."

Dwalin frowned. "Ori and the two elven lasses went up to visit the lads only a few moments ago."

Lord Celeborn moved slightly, annoyed that he had not realized that Arwen had left the room.

"They're the ones who asked me if I knew where Kili had gotten to." Balin shrugged. "And the medic said that the lad was asking questions on history." He paused, eyes on the elven twins. "Your history."

Elladan looked startled. "Our?" He turned a skeptical glance over at his sibling.

Elrohir shook his head, rejecting the thought. "Not ours personally, I'm sure." He turned and looked at his grandparents. "Perhaps theirs."

"Elvish history." Balin clarified with a look of quick apology, quickly moving on and ignoring Thorin's dark scowl. "I looked into the main library room but didn't see him. He didn't answer when I called either."

Celeborn glanced over at the dwarven ruler. "Is he in the habit of running off?" His tone hinted at his disapproval.

"No." Thorin barked, affronted for his nephew's sake.

Dwalin made a disagreeing sound, pulling the ire of his liege lord. He shrugged at Thorin. "Kili has at times gone out hunting to calm his temper when in need, alone and without notifying anyone. But he has enough sense not to go out at night, with orcs, wargs and goblins out there. While sick."

Balin nodded. "Aye, the lad may be some reckless, but not like that."

Celeborn frowned. "Reckless?" He picked out the word with impeccable skill.

Thorin frowned. "Young, impetuous. Eager to prove himself. Not stupid." He deliberately pushed away the memory of his youngest nephew running straight toward the three large trolls before Thorin himself could give the signal to attack. He wasn't about to admit that in front of the elves. Especially the silver-haired one sitting across the table from him.

Balin held out his hands. "I think the lad is in the library. The books Ori and I stacked are all in disarray and dust has been disturbed. But the Library of Erebor isn't in just one room. There are sections. Only, I can't remember exactly where the books are on Elvish history.

Celeborn seemed surprised to hear of the extensive nature of the kingdom's library collection. "It's that large?"

"Large enough." Thorin admitted dryly. "But ignored and in disrepair. At least Smaug didn't flame it."

The tall silver-haired elf stood. "I don't mind searching the library. It should be …interesting."

Balin hesitated. Then smiled wanly, trying to dissuade the elf lord. "The library is in serious disrepair and not high on the list of our priorities. Extremely dusty and the lighting system isn't functional."

"Knowledge is low on your priorities?" Celeborn asked, clearly surprised.

"Basic plumbing, safety of the walls and floors, stairs, kitchens, foods, healing halls and the basic necessities first. The lives of my people are the highest priority. Books? Important, but not before I make sure I make sure no one falls ill because the plumbing isn't functioning properly. Plus? Without the mines checked out, they can't be worked. Without the ores we can't repair what will be needed."

Thorin sounded tired all of a sudden, no longer taking pleasure in needling Celeborn.

Hearing the change, and the words. The tall elf lord bowed deeply toward Thorin. "You are entirely correct in this assessment, and I am sorrowed to hear my own words. My apologies."

Thorin managed a nod before he could think about it. "What do you need, Balin?"

The white-haired advisor pointed at Dwalin. "Lanterns and someone who knows the library. It's been too long, I no longer recall which section held the books on Elvish history."

"Well, I don't remember." Dwalin protested, even as he moved toward his brother. "Lanterns I can fetch."

Thorin stood, shaking his head. "It doesn't matter which section is needed. Kili has never lived at Erebor. He won't be familiar with the library either."

"We should be able to follow the trail in the dust, if it's as heavy as you say." Celeborn stated his thought out loud.

Balin eyed the pristine robes of the Lord of Lothlorien, his own thoughts plain on his face.

Galadriel smiled. "We live in the woods, we have no fear of getting dirty."

Thorin sighed. "Using elven magic to keep clean is cheating."

Celeborn actually laughed and the dwarves all turned to stare at him. "It's not magic. But I remember when these two," he pointed at Elladan and Elrohir. "Said something similar to their own father."

Elrohir cracked a smile, but Elladan was moving toward the door. "What if he's not in the library anymore?"

"Then that will be one place less to look." Thorin commented as the group moved out of the dining room.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Lad! Lad? You up there? Where have you been?"

Kili startled awake, his back against the bookshelf while he was seated on the floor of the third floor walkway. Still sleepy, he reached to rub his eyes but stopped just in time as he remembered how grimy his hands were. Grimacing he blinked several times and stood, peering down at the circles of light below him. "Uncle Thorin?"

"Your lantern is low on fuel." Dwalin pointed and Kili looked, sure enough his light source was a bit on the weak side at the moment.

"Fell asleep." He yawned, proving his point. "Sorry."

"Missed your dinner."

"Not hungry."

"Late for your next mustard plaster." Balin pointed up at him.

Kili grimaced. "I'm going to smell like mustard for a month as it is. It's in my pores. I'll have to shave my chest just to get rid of the stench." He looked down, counting noses and lanterns. With a frown he realized it wasn't just his dwarven family waiting for him down there.

"Get your fool self down here." Thorin demanded crossly.

Kili frowned, looking around himself. He'd pulled several books out, but none were on the subject he was looking for. Still, he figured he was getting closer. These were written in Elvish at least. Grabbing a couple of the bigger tomes, he theorized that the thicker books would be more likely to be histories.

Thorin's frown turned into a fully fledged scowl as Kili fairly flew down the rather steep stairs from the upper bookshelves. "Don't break your fool neck." He growled. "Slow down."

The dark-haired prince, covered in grime and dirt, slid down the last few stair steps. Windmilling his arms, he dropped two of the books but at least caught his balance.

"Child! Where are your boots? You could really have hurt yourself." Elladan looked as cross as Thorin did, drawing looks from all of the other elves present.

"Am fine." Kili mumbled, embarrassed. He looked around. Great. Everyone. Plus a few. He peered at the tall silver-haired elf suspiciously. "You the great-grand-da that I'm supposed to be patient with?"

Tauriel closed her eyes as if in pain at hearing such a casual form of address to the High Elf Lord.

But for some reason, this only served to amuse Lord Celeborn. "I am indeed he."

"Don't look old, but you sound it." Muttered Kili darkly, then glancing at the dark haired beauty standing next to Tauriel. "Aunt?"

Arwen grinned so wide that Kili was surprised it didn't hurt as she reached out and grabbed his hand, fairly pulling him into her. The young princling made a strangled sound of amazement, but submitted rather than face the indignity of fighting back.

"Sister!" Elladan sounded shocked, although watching with what he could only identify as true jealousy. "Don't scare him off!"

"Nonsense." Arwen smiled, patting Kili on the back as she loosened her hold but didn't let him go. "I've been watching the dwarves and they touch each other constantly, it seems important to them. Not like our rules on personal space."

Celeborn shook his head, then stopped as Balin chuckled. "Lass has the right of it. Though we don't usually go around grabbing each other like that."

Ori held up one finger. "Actually, we do when closely related. Dori and Nori do it to me all the time."

Dwalin sighed. "She is his father-sister. Not unheard of at all, though I might have waited until you'd actually said hello to the lad first, lass."

Arwen gave him one last squeeze, nearly a cuddle and let him go. Kili stared at her as if she were some wild new creature he'd just discovered, ready to run if she made a move toward him again. She smiled at him mischievously, "hello."

"Hello." He echoed back automatically. Then Kili slid his gaze cautiously over to the Lady of Light. "You two really are related."

Elrohir smiled at the rather guarded tone of his nephew's voice. "How so?" He asked, even as he stooped down to pick up one of the dropped books.

"She put me to sleep without asking when I first met her." Kili pressed his lips together. "Actually she sang to me before introducing herself."

Celeborn looked at his wife, and she looked back. Whatever they said to each other, it went unspoken to the group around them. But the silver-haired elven leader nodded in acknowledgement.

Elrohir frowned at the book title and handed it over to his twin brother with a telling look. Elladan's expression didn't change as he read the spine, then flipped open the rather thick tome.

"Come. You need to get back to your room. Some dwarves went to a lot of trouble to find that dried mustard just for you." Thorin clapped Kili on the shoulder, then frowned at the grime now covering his hand. "You need a wash now."

Elladan held up the tome he was holding. "Some light reading?"

Kili's shoulders slumped and he shrugged. "I can barely string two sentences together in Sindarin."

"What were you looking for?" Elrohir asked curiously.

Kili flushed and shook his head, his dark eyes studiously avoiding catching anyone's gaze. "History."

"This is a copy of the history of dwarves and their awakening?" The elvish father asked without actually asking.

"Really?" Kili frowned, shaking his head. "No." But he did not elaborate. He pointed at the book. "It's in strange runes and I couldn't really read it."

"Cirth, actually. Runic language of the elves."

Celeborn's eyes grew intrigued as he reached for the tome. Flipping through it, he seemed to almost hum with interest. "I had a copy of this once. Not sure where it went."

Thorin drew up, anger spiking instantly. "We did not steal it!"

The silver-haired elf immediately shook his head. "No, no. This is a different binding altogether. I did not intend to imply otherwise. And it's inscribed. A gift from Oropher to one of your kings."

Elladan visibly startled. "Oropher? He was no friend to the dwarves."

Celeborn sighed and closed the book almost sadly. "No. And I'm sure that this 'gift' was meant as a warning. It's a pointed and yet veiled reference to a great dwarven loss. Not well done of Oropher."

Kili looked lost and Tauriel leaned in toward him. "King Thranduil's father." The young prince's face lightened in understanding.

"If this history is not what you were after, perhaps we could help you find what you needed?" Celeborn put the book down on one of the nearby tables, disturbing the thick dust time had put there.

Kili considered it, but wasn't ready to share his thoughts just yet and shook his head. Maybe if everyone wasn't standing around staring at him.

"I would be more than happy to help you look for anything you're interested in learning." Elladan offered quietly, clearly unsure of the reception his offer would receive.

But Kili's temper, although a tangible thing earlier, had run its course. He was still not in a good place as far as his father was concerned, but the rage had lessened considerably. "Maybe." He finally answered, if a bit reluctantly. "But I give the gifts I want to give." He avowed, disregarding the fact that he'd already thrown two of them away. He could still get them back.

Elladan weighed his options and realized he had none. To fight this fight again would only hurt his cause. "Of course."

"What's wrong with Kili's gifts?" Dwalin grumbled, glaring at the elvish father.

"Nothing. Beautiful work. But there are cultural differences between our races. What means something to one, means something else to the other." Elladan shrugged helplessly.

Kili's lips pressed together mulishly. "Put it like that, and you make me look an idiot."

Elladan's gray eyes closed, desperately holding onto his temper.

Arwen whistled suddenly, the sound echoing off the stone walls of the library. "Argue later. And no one is trying to make anyone look bad. Both sides of this new family are going to have to adjust to differences."

Elrohir smiled and shook his head. "She grew up when I wasn't looking, didn't she?" He looked toward his mother's mother.

Galadriel smiled. "No. She's always been as smart as she is beautiful. It is you who has grown up enough to realize it. Finally."

Elrohir groaned and everyone laughed, even the dwarves.

"Come." Thorin picked up his lantern to lead the way out of this section of the mountain's library. He paused, getting something of a shock as he looked up at a barely visible portrait. He held up his light, straining to see the painting beneath the hundred and seventy year accumulation of dust, dirt and grime.

Everyone else stopped, looking where the king has his gaze. Celeborn grunted lightly. "King Thror? At least I think so."

"Yes." Thorin admitted, swallowing hard.

"How can you tell?" Elladan turned his head back and forth, trying to get a better angle.

"Memory." Thorin sighed, his voice gravelly with remorse. "I can recall when it was painted and freshly hung. I'd …forgotten."

A sudden bark of a cough from Kili spoiled the solemnity of the moment, and Thorin turned with instant concern.

The dark-haired prince waved at his uncle as if to assure him that he was fine, but the coughing turned into a full hacking spasm of his lungs.

Arwen looked concerned, obviously wanting to help. "We need to get him back upstairs."

Kili shook his head, holding one hand to his mouth and the other wrapping across his aching chest. Without his boots, his socks slid on the carpet which was covered in dust. Kili didn't fall hard, really. Just plopped down onto his rear end to draw his knees up to his chest, trying to catch his breath.

But the dust was thick and already disturbed. Clouds of the awful stuff wafted up and surrounded his face. The spasm intensified and the sound of Kili trying to breathe worsened horribly. His face was mottled and red, and beneath it his wide eyes started to take on a panicked aspect.

Dwalin and Elrohir bumped into each other in an effort to reach Kili first. But it was Elladan that scooped him up like a child. He looked to Thorin who immediately took off at a run for the main entrance to the library.

Elrohir yelled from behind them. "Steam! Is there a fire in the healing hall that can get some good steam going?"

Dwalin grunted. "Not quick enough. Herbs!"

Kili was close to passing out, straining to breathe and with spots floating in front of his eyes.

Thorin turned his head toward one of his oldest and dearest friends, his strong right arm. "Get the herbs, we're going to the pools!"

Dwalin grunted and took off at a sprint, Elrohir right on his heels.

Elladan followed Thorin without question or qualm, turning one way and then the next. He wasn't even keeping track, only listening to the harsh sound of no air getting where it so desperately needed to go. Soon he was lost, but it didn't matter. He trusted the dwarven king with his son's life.

Down they travelled, taking turn after turn swiftly until finally Thorin threw open one side of a huge set of double doors.

Rich mineral water steamed in naturally and hand-carved pools. Elladan didn't hesitate and didn't even bother with the stone steps, leaping into the hot water.

Hot water surrounded Kili, with steam rising up all around him as Elladan sank into the mineral rich bath so that his son was covered but for his face.

Slowly, painfully and achingly slowly, Kili felt the deep spasms of his chest start to ease. Small amounts of air crept through and the ringing in his ears finally lessened enough that he could hear a little. And what he heard was his father.

"In. Out. Come one. Breathe. Relax, let it come. Let the air flow in, and out. Easy. Easy Kuilaith. Please, please, breathe."

Kili rolled his eyes up toward Elladan, and something there in his dark eyes had the elf start to ease up. The young male hadn't even realized how hard his father was holding onto him until the grip released. Elladan's hand moved up to Kili's hair, pushing it back from his face. "Hold on a second. I want to get all the dust off of you."

Kili nodded as Elladan sank down into the water for a brief moment and came right back up. Dark hair streaming with heated water flowing behind him.

"How is he?" Thorin asked in his deep voice and Kili's head swung in that direction. He still couldn't speak, that would have been far to great an effort. Instead he reached for the dwarf and Thorin grabbed his hand gratefully.

Dwalin and Elrohir came running in followed quickly by the healer Kili had spoken with earlier. Again there was no hesitation as the healer pushed through the water, not even bothering to remove his boots. He held a glass filled with bits of green and brown.

Kili grimaced and didn't want the drink. Swallowing meant an interruption of breathing, and he was suddenly far too enamored of breathing. He shook his head.

Thorin yelled into his ear in a full roar. "KILI!"

A flash of red off to the side, had dark eyes focusing on a certain she-elf watching most anxiously. Oh no. He could not look any more of a fool than he already did. Kili motioned for the glass.

It took everything he had to swallow it all down without gagging. His tongue flicked in and out, as if trying to scrape the vile taste away.

The healer smiled wanly. "If you wanted something to taste good, I would need a bit more time in making it."

Kili groaned, and everyone started to relax. Groaning was good. Groaning meant air was in the lungs at least.

"He's getting his color back." Arwen said with a relieved smile.

Kili felt like a right fool and an idiot, being held like a baby in front of important new visitors. And Tauriel. Okay, especially her. He pushed against his father, wanting to stand on his own.

Elladan proved reluctant. The elvish father looked up at Thorin. "What are the rules about holding someone, hugging, that sort of thing?"

Thorin's eyebrows shot up nearly to his hairline. Gruffly he measured the amount of panic he'd seen on the elf's face earlier and made an emotional decision. "Older male relatives? Especially a father? Has every right to eliminate personal space whenever he feels there is a need. It's expected really."

Kili didn't even have time to react as he was suddenly rolled even closer to Elladan's chest, his protests ignored. The elf's arms wrapped around him strongly, protectively. Completely embarrassed, Kili moaned and thumped his father on the arm weakly.

"Just breathe, son." Elladan whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of Kili's head.

Celeborn watched. He was still unsure of this new addition to his family. But when he looked around the crowded bathing pools, he realized he had a lot to learn. Dwarves and Elves together in their concern over a mixed-blood prince of both realms.

Inconceivable.

Yet there he was. Protesting against being held like a 'baby' while King Thorin was joking with Elladan who looked more alive than Celeborn had seen in far too many decades.

Galadriel's hand nudged his and he accepted her without question. The two watched as Tauriel and Arwen removed their boots and walked into the steaming pools to join the males.

Celeborn squeezed his wife's hand. "Life just got interesting again."

Chapter Text

Elladan was the first. Fili yawned heavily at the elven visitor. His was also the longest stay. Several others poked their heads in to check up on him, or pulled up a seat for a longer visit. And when Thorin had come in all regal and darkly stern looking, the tall elf did not become intimidated in the slightest.

Finally, details that only a king could make decisions on had pulled Thorin from Fili's bedside. There had been a small crack in a support beam and a nervous bevy of engineers pulling Bofur away. But it wasn't until Elrohir had arrived to inform Elladan that their mother's father wanted to see his face that the tall elf had risen.

For a moment, Fili was alone. He took immediate advantage.

Woolen covered arse up in the air, bent over, was when the door opened again. Fili closed his eyes. Sure he was going to hear it from some well-meaning friend or family. "I was tired of being stuck in bed!" He barked, wincing at the pain in his chest at the very act of bending over in the first place.

"Well." Came an amused response. A feminine one. "This is not how I supposed meeting you would begin. All and all though, the view isn't that bad."

Leather trousers still at his knees, Fili straightened and whipped around almost dizzyingly fast. He didn't know that voice. When he caught sight of the absolutely gorgeous dark-haired elf lass, his jaw unhinged enough to drop open slightly. "Who?"

"I think you forgot a step or two." Her eyes sparkled merrily at him as she tried hard, and unsuccessfully, to keep from grinning at his expense.

Fili looked down and blushed, grabbing the waistband of his trousers and yanking them up to his waist. "It's polite to knock in dwarvish society."

The beautiful elf-maid raised one hand quite gracefully, forming a loose fist and knocked on the door three times lightly. "Better?"

"Who are you?" Fili sounded grouchy, even to his own hearing.

"Your Aunt Arwen." Came the pert response along with some uptilting of her rather full lips. "I am the younger sister of both Elladan and Elrohir."

"Both, certainly. Since they're twins." Fili nitpicked sourly. "Hard to be otherwise."

One arching eyebrow rose at his comment. "I think I will stay and visit with you."

Fili sighed and started lacing up his trousers as if he were alone. "Suit yourself. But I'm no fit company. And just because you're related to Elladan does not make you my aunt."

"Kuilaith is in an even fouler mood. Of the two, you are the much better bet at the moment as far as company is concerned." Arwen teased him. "And I am blood-aunt to your brother. Which makes us partly family in the emotional sense, if not by blood. But my brother went through a quite tedious ceremony to become your second-father, which makes us family in every legality."

Fili knotted the ties on his trousers a bit too roughly, but they held and didn't snap. Sighing, he reached for a loose fitting shirt. "How do you know it was a tedious ceremony? Or are you commenting on the tedium of taking on a young dwarrow? For in the end, that didn't actually come to pass."

Arwen's smile slipped for the first time as she stepped toward his sick bed. And him. "I only meant that Elladan had to learn some seriously throat-growly words and get them perfect. Elrohir wrote to me all about it. Said you were less than helpful, giggling and stealing boots and such. Completely adorable."

Fili's blush returned to barely color his cheeks beneath his beard. Beard. One hand rose up and winced as he felt of the shape of his mustache and beard. He was looking far from tidy, he was more than sure. Unsure how to respond, the blond prince shrugged. "I don't remember you."

Arwen nodded and pulled up a chair next to a game table. Well, a small table currently holding a game board, Fili noted. "We never met. Your mother was not keen on having too many elves around her. Elrohir felt she was a bit overwhelmed and advised waiting."

"Waited a long time." Came the dryly humored and yet cautious response.

"Too long." Arwen acknowledged, but did not bring up Dis' actions of stealing away two sons. Instead she waved her hand over the game pieces. "Ori made this for you. And one for your brother. If you want to play him, you can both set it up and people can go back and forth to tell you how the other one moved."

Fili stared down at Oshthir Rakur game pieces, finally he shrugged. "Kili was always rubbish at this. He loses focus about half-way through and wants to run outside to go hunting or climbing. Uncle Thorin is a good opponent, ruthless though." He paused and then hesitantly asked what was on his mind. "Why is Kili in a foul mood?"

Arwen blinked up at him, then shrugged. "Embarrassed maybe? Had a terrible coughing fit last night because of the dust in the library. Everyone got that under control, but it was frightening hearing him struggle to breathe."

Fili paled and had to sit down.

Arwen saw his face and rushed to reassure him. "He's fine! I promise your brother is doing well. He had another mustard plaster last night, and this morning one from heated onions. It's doing the job, but he doesn't like the smell."

The blond relaxed suddenly, letting his eyes drift closed as he nodded. "He's never been over fond of too many onions in his food."

Arwen looked down at the polished stone game pieces curiously. "Will you teach me?" She asked sweetly, for all the world appearing genuinely eager to learn the dwarvish game.

"My brother is truly doing well?" Fili pressed.

The beautiful elf-lass flashed him a sassy grin. "Complaining. He's complaining about the smell, the food, the confinement, about being hugged 'too long', about too many visitors all asking the same questions, and …about not being able to visit you."

Fili grunted, relieved beyond measure. "Yes. Good. All's well then." He sighed. "Well, Aunt Arwen …let's begin. You start with six pieces lined up like this …."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Without knock or ceremony, the door opened half-way and someone quickly slipped inside. The door wasn't slammed, but instead was pushed closed as silently as possible. The newcomer leaned heavily against the now closed door.

"You're not supposed to be in here."

Kili whipped around and smiled ingratiatingly at Nuluin, still leaning against the door he'd just come in through.

The healer straightened as everyone turned to stare at the dark-haired prince. His slate colored eyes then slid over to Fili, sitting up on the side of his bed. The young blond prince looked amused. "He's hiding."

"Am not!" Came the immediate protest from Kili.

Nuluin sighed lightly and agreed. "Hiding."

"I have had nine stop by this morning just to check on me! NINE!" Kili pleaded his case, his liquid-eyed gaze making him look irresistible.

"Don't exaggerate." Fili grinned, sharing his laughter with the elf sitting across the small table from him. Arwen looked hesitant, her hand hovering over the Oshthir Rakur game board.

Kili started counting them off on his fingers. "Elladan, Elrohir, Uncle, Ori, Bofur, Balin, Glorfindel, and Dori!"

Arwen's expressive eyes lit up with suppressed mirth. "That's only eight. But I went to visit him earlier too. So I suppose he could just be leaving me off the list of pests to be polite."

Kili stared at her, clearly uncomfortable and not wanting to answer.

Fili grinned and pointed at the game piece that Arwen was holding. "You can't move than one yet."

The beautiful elf-maid suddenly looked cross. "Why not? I have my piece on the midstem space!"

The blond smiled and shrugged. "Okay. You can move it. But it's not a good idea."

Arwen looked mulish and moved the piece in spite of the advice.

Fili immediately slid another of his pieces over and captured hers. "I win."

The sound she made was less than elegant as she stared at the board in distress. "Cloudy-head makes no sense!"

Kili blinked, suddenly confused. "Cloudy-head?"

Fili nodded. "I've had just as many visitors as you have had. Bonus for getting a new aunt who wants to learn how to play Cloudy-head." He peered over at his younger brother. "Which is the translation from Khuzdul." He said rather pointedly.

Oshthir Rakur. Cloudy-head. Kili pursed his lips. "I would have translated it more like 'Making the Temple Cloud Into a Haze'. He tapped the side of his head, right beside his eye, for emphasis.

Fili winked at Arwen as he shared with her. "Which explains why Ori is better at translating things than Kili. Cloudy-head is simpler."

"Not accurate." The younger brother shrugged, looking grumpy.

"I like it." Arwen stated firmly, then gave a rather sheepish smile. "If I could understand it."

Fili seemed to bask in the warmth of her personality and Kili rolled his eyes. "Watch out for her." He warned. "She hugs."

"I like hugs." Fili grinned mischievously. "Why are you in such a sour mood? Tonight is our Durin's Day celebration. You have a new aunt. You get even get gifts."

Kili's face twisted into a glower as sour as that which his brother had accused him.

Nuluin shook his head at the younger of the two brothers. "You don't have a fever this morning, it's true. But I know you did not sleep well and coughed overmuch last night. You should be resting."

"Then keep the visitors at bay!" Whined Kili. A knock on the door across the hallway from them had him shrinking a bit, hunching his shoulders protectively. "I don't want to see anyone!"

"Little help for …..it?" Nuluin's last word trailed off as Kili quickly strode across the room and into the healer's office. He sighed and looked up at the ceiling as if searching for patience. "He went out on the balcony again."

"Not yet. But it's a grand idea." Kili peeked his head back around the door with a cheeky grin. "At least it's not storming this time."

The door to the room opened as Kili disappeared again. Nuluin froze in place as the silver-haired elf entered gracefully. "My Lord Celeborn." He said stiffly, offering a respectful bow of his head.

"I was seeking Kuilaith. Have you knowledge of his whereabouts?" The elf-lord spoke with quiet dignity, returning a shallow nod in greeting.

Fili blinked, looking back and forth between the Rivendell healer and the new silver-haired dwarf standing in his doorway. "I don't know you."

Arwen smiled sweetly. "This is Lord Celeborn of Lothlorien." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "He is the father of my mother and his bark is worse than his bite."

Fili looked startled in the extreme. "He bites?"

Arwen giggled as Celeborn stilled. "It's a saying."

"I know you said it, but …who does he bite?" The blond asked with morbid curiosity. "Wait. If he's your grand-father, that makes him Kili's great-grand-da?"

"You are Fili, the crown prince?" Lord Celeborn asked smoothly.

The blond dwarrow stared at the tall elf, as if measuring him up, and finding him lacking. "You look younger than I do."

Celeborn straightened, but did not respond.

Nuluin stepped forward. "Young Kuilaith …"

"Doesn't want visitors right now." Fili interrupted harshly, narrowing his eyes dangerously. He thought he might like Arwen, as she seemed genuinely sweet and interesting. This tall elf? A different matter.

The healer hesitated, then opened his mouth, only to have Fili speak up yet again. Only the prince wasn't addressing either of the males.

"Set the board up again. I'll show you some of the ways you can move the pieces." Fili waved a friendly hand at Arwen. When she gave him a wide eyed look of surprise, he frowned. "Was I rude to him? Is he going to bite now?"

The elf-maid struggled not to smile, her eyes fairly dancing with suppressed humor. Numbly, she shook her head. "It's just an old saying."

Affronted, but dignity still intact, Celeborn stared at the healer. "Kuilaith does not want visitors, this is true?"

To this Nuluin could be quite sure. "He said so plainly, my Lord. The lad did not rest well last night for the coughing, despite the chest plasters and he has already entertained at least nine visitors and it is not even close to noon yet."

Celeborn nodded thoughtfully, ignoring Fili's smirking presence completely. "Let him rest then. I will see him tonight at the celebration."

Nuluin nodded gratefully and watched as the elf lord opened the door, startling the rotund figure getting ready to knock on the door to Kili's temporary quarters. "Master Bombur." The healer greeted the red-haired dwarrow. "The youngster needs rest and has asked not to be disturbed."

Bombur bobbed his head up and down, wide eyed but silent. He turned his eyes up onto the much taller elf before him and grunted with what could have passed for a quick nod of the head.

Lord Celeborn watched the dwarrow disappear down the hall toward the main stairway. "Kuilaith appears to be most popular."

Nuluin made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat. "He can be an extremely pleasant and captivating spirit."

Celeborn's lips pressed together lightly, but his eyes reflected humor rather than temper. "When not ill or pressed overmuch by well-meaning visitors?"

The healer nodded his head in agreement.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

She was waiting for them.

The weather had aided their travels. Early snows were not unknown in the area, but it seemed Arda was holding off for their benefit.

Dain, Hinnin, and the other dwarves had made excellent time taking the East-West road after a brief resupply in Rivendell. In the Shire Bilbo had proven a most excellent host and had seemed genuinely sorrowed that they did not stay but the night.

No attacks, no stone giants, nothing but some seriously suspicious looks from Shirefolk farmers to hinder them. With swift mounts, good weather, and no problems on the road. They were arriving in Ered Luin seriously ahead of even their best estimations.

As they approached Ered Luin, the pockets of dwarven inhabitants grew. Hinnin remarked that dwarves were addicted to mountains of any kind. Dain had replied that it was better than trees, stone lasted longer. Hinnin had then pointed out that trees lived and breathed. Dain hadn't stopped laughing for five minutes at the thought of trees breathing.

But their light-hearted teasing slowed, and then ceased as they grew closer to a singular cabin within the environs of Ered Luin, which was not a small area to begin with.

Here their progress began to slow again, as everyone wanted them to stop and share the stories of Erebor and her reclamation. Dain had grimly told them the bare bones and had pressed onward. Their good fortune would not last forever and the snows would come. Later rather than sooner he hoped.

When at last they arrived, Dain's eyes were hard as forged steel and his expression locked onto neutral. As dour and implacable as any dwarf that Hinnin had ever seen. If he hadn't just spent the journey getting to know the real dwarf beneath the surface, he would have thought him emotionless.

As for the lady Dis, Hinnin hadn't been terribly sure what to anticipate. Shorter, aye. Perhaps with the look of her brother, King Thorin. Well, yes and no. She had the dark and wavy hair, pulled back in intricate braids but without the gray that was beginning to creep in on Thorin. Her features were softer, the nose not as long, and the shape of her mouth was different than her brother. The beard though, surprised him.

Hinnin leaned over toward Dain, his eyes wide as they dismounted. "Dwarven women have beards?"

"Aye. It's a mark of great beauty and a sign that the sons will be strong and mighty." Dain sounded proud.

The tall elf shook his head. "Calbrinia has …" He mimicked the placement of the dwarrow-lass' curly sideburns. "But no …" He rubbed his smooth chin.

Dain inclined his head, sending a side-long glance up at the much taller elf warrior at his side. "Truthfully? It may be a generational thing. Close beards versus longer beards? It's like fashion, ever changing. On our females. Not for the males, of course."

"Oh. Of couse." Hinnin nodded, still bemused as he eyed Dain's own rather full beard with several smaller braids, but no flashy decorations.

"Beads, clasps, silver or gold, bone, ivory, there was even a fad for wooden beads several years ago. Beauty is where you find it, elf. So you'll find different ways of styling hair in the different generations of dwarrowdams." Dain nodded toward the Lady Dis. "Shall we?"

Dis' posture was already poker stiff, but there seemed to be an aura of increasing tension creeping up upon her as the duo approached.

Several elderly dwarrow stood nearby, all smiles and congratulatory shouts. Dain held up a hand to hold them off. The elders didn't seem to like that much, but didn't argue. Mostly.

Ignoring the grumbles and questioning looks, especially the ones sent toward Hinnin walking next to him, Dain approached the cabin. As for the elf, he was walking much slower, almost awkwardly, due to the discrepancy in leg length between the two males of differing races. But doing so allowed the two to reach the Lady Dis together.

Dain bowed his head. Hinnin's eyes flashed with something unspoken, as he studied her for a long moment before he too nodded in greeting. Though it was not a bow.

"Cousin." Dain said in a gravelly voice, his expression once more closed off.

"Lady Dis." Hinnin offered next.

For her part, the dwarrowdam offered them a rather stilted curtsy of welcome. "I'm ready to travel."

Surprised, Hinnin looked behind her to the well-built but not overly large cabin. "Already?" He'd expected ….something else. Not this stoic acceptance that she was to leave with them. No questions, no temper, nothing.

Dain wasn't surprised. Dis was the epitome of dwarven royalty, even though she'd had far less training in protocol then either he or Thorin. Hysterics weren't done.

The Lady Dis waved at the dwarven elders impatiently. "Answer their questions before they implode upon themselves."

Hinnin watched Dain twist his mouth sourly, but the Iron Hills leader did indeed turn to offer greetings to the elders. Leaving the elf standing alone. With the dwarrowdam that had basically run off and stolen his friend's only child.

But travelling had offered time for tempers to cool. Getting to know Dain and a few of his dwarrow had shone a new light on dwarves. The heat of the moment had passed. Anger still dwelled high within him, but wasn't as close to boiling over as it had been when the elves had first arrived at Erebor.

"I would know who you are."

Startled, Hinnin gave the dwarrowdam a cautious look and then realized that he had yet to introduce himself. It went against the grain to apologize to someone you perceived as having done those you care for a great wrong. Still. He tightened his lips. "I am slow this day." It was as close to an apology as he could force his lips to utter. "I am named Hinnin."

A long pause stretched out between the two. Awkward and rife with unspoken questions and words of recrimination. Finally, she gave a terse nod of her head. "I am the Lady Dis. Sister to King Thorin of Erebor. But then, I suspect you were more than aware of that much already."

"Sister? Yes. Cousin to Lord Dain of the Iron Hills as well." Hinnin agreed. "Daughter to Thrain, and daughter to son of King Thror."

Dis watched him hollowly.

His voice dropped to barely a whisper. "Wife to Elladan, son of Lord Elrond of Rivendell."

Dis' eyes slid to the chattering elders all clamoring to get Dain's attention. She seemed relieved when none turned in their direction.

"It is no longer a secret." Hinnin told her, his voice at a normal volume once again.

"I thought as much." Dis acknowledged reluctantly. "My sons?"

"Injured in the battle, but not grievously." He allowed her the moment to close her eyes and breathe from sheer relief. "But they would have died without our arrival upon the field of battle."

Dis pinned him with a sharp look. "Conjecture?"

"Knowledge." Hinnin was resolute on the matter. "One pierced with arrows, one knocked into a crowd of goblins and wargs, and your brother beneath a pile of enemies. Your line would have ended there."

A moan escaped her despite her best efforts and she swayed. Hinnin offered her a hand automatically and without thought. She waved him off. His lips tightened. "Because I am elven?"

Surprised, Dis gave him a chiding look. "Because I am a dwarf, and we don't take help or assistance graciously. Stubborn race we are."

Mollified somewhat, Hinnin nodded.

"My …." Dis nearly choked on the word. "…husband?"

The elven warrior studied her face carefully, gleaning what he could of her mood and character. "Uninjured." He said, deliberately not giving her the answer she needed.

She pinned him with a disapproving look. "That is beneath you."

"You don't know me well enough to judge that." Hinnin replied. "My friend, Elladan …" His eyes turned colder. "…was at Erebor when we left."

With Kili. His son. The words did not get spoken, but they were there.

For a moment, Dis' stoic mask slipped and Hinnin could see utter loss and despair in her eyes before she managed to shutter her emotions.

"You are not kin?"

It took a moment for the elf to understand the question, then he shook his head. "No kin to Elrond's line. Friend." He paused, then decided she needed to know the rest. "Of those who have blood ties, the ones travelling with us were Elladan, Elrohir, Lord Elrond and the Lady of Light, Galadriel."

This time Dis had to take his arm to keep from stumbling.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili was staring out over the vista on the balcony, enjoying the breeze when he sensed the arrival of the elven healer. "It's nice out here."

Nuluin sniffed, but made no comment. Scraping noises had Kili turning around. His face lit up as he saw the elf down a low, reclining couch.

"Really?" Kili grinned happily, beaming with pleasure.

Taken aback, Nuluin smiled at the youth. It was truly remarkable how well Kili's elvish name suited him. A living embodiment of that which instilled joy in others. That aspect of his being had seemed dampened of late. Which was a true pity. "Really. The weather is not turned too cold yet."

Kili flopped down onto the couch with great pleasure, dragging in a deep lungful of fresh air. Mistake. He doubled over in a coughing spasm almost immediately as his lungs protested.

Nuluin had disappeared back inside his office, but came hurrying out again at the sound of Kili's coughing. He dropped the thick cushions and puffy blanket on the couch and put his hand on Kili's forehead.

"No. I'm fine." The dark-eyed youth insisted, catching his rather painful breath. "Breathed too deeply."

The healer nodded and helped wrap Kili up and settle him on the thick cushions. "But if it starts to turn cold, you need to return inside."

"Understood." Kili grinned, pale but still happy.

"And when the sun moves over to shine on the other side? It's time to come back inside. It'll turn too chill in the shade, I'm afraid." The healer continued sternly.

The half-dwarrow princling nodded in compliance. He looked back toward the healer's office. "My brother?"

Nuluin's expression turned regretful and he shook his head. "Not yet. Soon perhaps."

Kili felt the bitter bite of disappointment, but had rather expected it. And he certainly didn't want Fili to have to fight off pneumonia AND heal his punctured lung at the same time. He shuddered at the thought.

"Cold?"

Kili shook his head and pulled the thick blanket up to his chin. "Am fine."

"Let me know if you need anything." The healer got ready to head back inside.

"Just privacy." Kili's smile dimmed a bit. "I …I just need to think."

Nuluin nodded and took his leave.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Arwen studied the board most diligently, her brows furrowed in thought. Fili thought this should make her look less beautiful, but it didn't. Still, try as he might, he could only see a vague resemblance to his younger sibling. He wondered if she had children. Cautiously he cleared his throat. "Are you married?"

At the blurted out question, the she-elf stilled, one hand poised over a game piece. "No. Are you?"

Fili grinned and shook his head. He pointed at the board. "You can only move three spaces over with that."

Arwen frowned, then nodded thoughtfully. "Because you control the midstem." She then smiled brightly and put her piece down with care. "Or did."

Fili blinked his blue eyes and then looked down at the board. He frowned. "You catch on quickly." He muttered.

"Speaking of marriage and courtship." Arwen drawled out her words a bit, sending Fili a side-long glance. "Tauriel?"

The blond snorted heavily and gave a half-smile. "Should have known little brother was part elf, moment he started flirting with the elf-maids." He moved a piece and added another to the board.

Arwen sat up, alarmed. Her eyes travelled over the board, and then her shoulders slumped. "How?"

Fili pointed to the piece that allowed him the extra token.

"But!" The she-elf protested. "You wouldn't let me do that the last game!"

Fili moved his finger over and pointed at the empty spot which changed the rule. "You took over the midstem, so …."

Arwen narrowed her gaze on him, and set her lips mulishly as she began to study the board again. "Kuilaith ignored her last night. Turned his head from her every chance he got."

Surprised, Fili looked up at his new aunt. "Doesn't sound right. Usually he watches her every move."

"When Tauriel wasn't looking, he'd stare." Arwen picked up a piece, frowned and put it back down again. "You're winning."

Fili smiled at her. "I've been playing this since I was a dwarfling. Mister Balin and Uncle Thorin insisted. Good for teaching strategy."

"But I'm getting better?" Arwen asked, finally picking up the same piece she'd just put down and making her move.

Fili frowned and eyed her carefully, judging her temperament. Finally he made a small move, capturing her piece and removed it to the penalty area. Leaving her wide open.

Arwen smiled weakly and sighed. "Oh dear."

The blond gave her a sympathetic look. "You lose more graciously than Kili does."

"Maybe I should start on him, instead of you." Arwen gave him a winning smile as she reset the board.

Fili snarked and shook his head. "Kili. He only loses because he doesn't like to play. Hates to drag out a game and loses focus. Sometimes makes reckless gambits that sometimes win and sometimes not. But when he's serious? Determined? He doesn't lose then."

"Oh." Arwen sat up, filing that bit of information away. "I would have thought with a name like Kuilaith that he would enjoy games."

The blond nodded as he made the opening move on the board. "He does. Loves games. Outdoors. Athletic. Moving. Or quick and fun. Thorin used Cloudy-head …" He grinned over the Common translation of the Khuzdul name. "As a teaching tool. That didn't make it fun in Kili's eyes. Doing something fun because you're being taught isn't the same."

Arwen's mouth twisted. "Like visiting elven families with unattached elf sons. Fun. Unless everyone is staring at you, wanting you to 'choose'."

Fili's head snapped up and he grimaced. "Like Legolas? Be glad you haven't been foisted off on him."

Truly surprised, Arwen shook her head. "Oh, a match between us was hinted at. But that was several hundred years ago. We've both made it perfectly clear we're just good friends."

Shocked to the core. Fili stared. "Several hundred …yes, well. I keep forgetting you're not the age you appear."

"Besides." Arwen continued, her attention still on the game board. "Legolas, I do believe, actually has his eye on someone. Unfortunately it is a Silvan elf-maid that his father would never approve of for marriage."

Attention caught, Fili remembered the teamwork between Legolas and Tauriel in the skirmish against the orcs, the spiders, and then again at the major Battle of Five Armies. Dryly, he spoke. "A Silvan elf who was once a captain in his father's guard?"

Arwen looked up, surprised. Then her eyes rounded and her mouth dropped open. "Tauriel?" Casting her memory back, she shrugged. "Perhaps. He did say it was someone he considered a good friend as well."

Fili waggled his eyebrows at her and gave a rather sheepish grin.

Arwen took a deep breath and shook her head. "Oh dear." She then turned her attention back on the blond dwarrow. "So. As the crown prince, I'm sure they dangle all sorts of female dwarves at you."

"Dwarrowdams." Fili corrected, then pointed at the board. "It's your move."

Arwen nodded, taking her time to quietly study the board. Finally, she picked up one of the left side pieces. Carefully she moved it two spaces over. But did not rush to occupy the midstem space.

Fili nodded in approval. "Good." Then he took the midstem.

The she-elf's eyes flashed with irritation. Then she grinned and moved in another piece to increase her presence on that side of the board. "So, do you have a certain dwarrowdam you're interested in?"

Fili shook his head. "Have met only three, other than my mam and my cousin's mother." He picked up another piece and slid it over to protect the midstem space. "One was a twit and insulted Kili. The other two weren't interested."

"Insulted Kuilaith?" This did not sit well with the elf-maid, despite that she hadn't known of her nephew's existence at the time.

Fili slid in a sly grin. "Told him he looked Elvish."

Arwen stared at him, as if unsure if this was a joke or not.

"Terribly insulting to a young dwarrow, of course." Fili pointed out. "So she wasn't someone I was really interested in getting closer with. And the other two weren't terribly interested in me."

Arwen looked shocked. "Why not?" She sounded highly offended on his behalf, straightening up haughtily.

Fili grinned at her, amused beyond reckoning. "Because I was Thorin's heir. And Thorin was the crazy king-in-exile without a throne struggling to make money from a forge in a human town. With Thorin spouting off about forming a quest to hunt down a dragon? Hmmm. I wasn't the best prospect."

"They didn't respect him?" The she-elf asked as she made her move on the board.

"They loved him. Still love him." Fili countered, trying to find a way to explain dwarven thought processes. "It's like Cloudy-head. Hazy. Thorin had their love and their respect. But they weren't going to rush in and try and take the mountain without weighing the consequences most carefully." He captured the second midstem space easily, and put her on the defensive. "Dwarves are brave beyond reckoning, resolute as stone, but we do bleed. And while we can withstand much heat from our forges, pure dragonfire is a bit different."

He didn't try to explain the reverence with which Durin's Line was held. He also didn't try to explain the sheer destruction of the battle of Azanulbizar and how it had affected the Dwarven mind-set. Too many deaths, too many empty hearths. The death of King Thror, the uncertainty of Thrain's mind or whereabouts. And a young new ruler that while considered brave, was untested in actual ruling.

A knock on the door had them both looking up. "Have you seen Kuilaith?"

Arwen smiled at her brother, Kili's father. "Elladan!"

Fili stilled, keeping his eyes from moving over toward the healer's office. And the balcony beyond it. Arwen had been his helpmate in deterring visitors from reaching Kili for several hours now. They'd already sent three on the merry little way. But this was her brother come calling this time. "Not recently."

"Sister?"

Fili felt his shoulders tense up.

Arwen shrugged lightly and shook her head, appearing so open. "I saw him earlier this morn." She allowed. "But I've been in here for a while now."

Fili didn't dare give into the wide grin his face was threatening him with. But his tension did ease.

After Elladan took his leave, the dwarf and the elf eyed each other carefully. Then they both smiled. Arwen tilted her head to the side and teased him. "Maybe this time you'll let me win? Young nephew."

"Then how would you learn?" Fili teased right back. "Old Aunt."

Arwen squeaked in protest, throwing a game piece at his head which Fili caught easily even while laughing.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Why is the elf with you, good Lord Dain?"

The leader from the Iron Hills blew out a quick breath through his nose. "I have answered that question for at least four others. Perhaps you should all get together and compare notes."

"Or you should answer the question fully." One of the elder's snapped, narrowing his beady little eyes on the warrior. "Yes, I understand that the elves of Rivendell aided Thorin in freeing Erebor. But why is that elf HERE? Now? And why Rivendell rather than the wood elves of the Mirkwood?"

The other elders nodded, their attitudes a mixture of relief, overblown joy, and utter suspicion.

Hinnin, most likely sensing their regard, turned and raised a wine glass in their direction. Each elder, to the last dwarrow, sniffed in disdain.

Dis walked up and put a fresh plate of breads and cheeses upon the table. "He's here for he is a friend of my husband."

Dain stilled, his eyes going to Dis in an almost pleading manner. The two cousins had not had a chance to speak privately as yet. He did not know her as well as he did Thorin, but that did not mean that he wasn't fond. "Don't."

"Nehili?" One of the youngest of the elder council shook his head. "What does a minor miner for Ered Luin know of an elf hireling from Rivendell?"

Dain's brows furrowed with temper. "Don't belittle him. He is …" What? A friend? The dwarrow warrior only hesitated for a second. "I name him friend as well."

Hinnin, his hearing atrociously good, paused while drinking his wine. It was a small pause, but Dain noted it. He also saw the lifting of the eyebrow, and a nod of the head.

The leader of the elders, Uskadil Forkedbeard, watched all of this with still sharp eyes and a still sharp mind. He looked at Dis, putting his wine down, sucking on a tooth that had always been a bit longer than the other due to a well placed punch back when he'd been a dwarfling. "Not Nehili." He guessed.

The other elders fell silent as they watched Dis duck her head and keep her gaze from the elder. She took a deep breath, then lifted her chin. "I am married twice. By the wishes of my king, and grandfather."

Dain started to speak, but the elder held up his hand for silence. "You speak of your second son's father." It wasn't a question. "And the elf is a friend of his?" That was a question.

Grumbles met those words, which only escalated as Dis nodded.

All eyes turned to Hinnin. The tall elf walked over to the table. He wasn't sure how to handle this. Obviously Lady Dis had never told her community of her second husband, or his race. He began to appreciate how deeply she'd kept hidden her son's origins. Was it for him to tell them? "I will not speak on this. It is not my place."

Dain breathed again, gratitude in his look as he glanced at the elven warrior.

It was Dis who shook her head. "No. I will be travelling to Erebor to face my children, my family …and my ….husband." The word felt foreign to her and it showed. "I will not leave nothing but gossip raging like a forest fire behind me here in Ered Luin."

"Lady Dis." Hinnin hedged his words, trying to tread lightly. "My presence here was not to make your life harder."

"No?" Dis sniffed, clearly upset but also clearly determined. "Why are you here? To assure that I arrive safely? Or to make sure that I arrive at all, either on my own two feet or dragged back by my braids?"

The elf winced as Dain pressed his lips together unhappily. "Cousin. It is a …situation. What Erebor now faces is unprecedented."

"And where were all you brave souls, dwarrow and elvish, when King Thror was bidding me in my grief to marry a second time?" Dis' voice rose alarmingly. She turned to stare at each of the elders in turn. "Who would have argued against my grandfather when he demanded that my blood continue? That one son wasn't enough? That I had a DUTY to my kin, my family, and to the throne of Erebor?"

No one spoke, all just stared.

Dis glared at them, gathering her dignity about her like a cloak. "I did as I was bid." Her eyes fell lastly upon the silent elf, watching her. His expression had not changed. "For what happened after, I owe no explanation to you."

Dain winced. Hinnin didn't move, didn't react.

"Lady Dis?" Uskadil asked without ever forming the actual words.

"I will explain myself once and once only. In Erebor. Before my brother the king, my sons, and my husband. Do not ask me again." Dis took a deep steadying breath, then stared point blank at the leader of the elder council. "My youngest is named Kili. Son of Elladan. Son of Lord Elrond of Rivendell. Son of Tuor."

Hinnin stirred, not being able to resist correcting the mistake. "Earendil." He offered the name quietly, almost gently as he watched the dwarrowdam.

"Son of Earendil. Son of Tuor." Dis finished without acknowledging the slip in the lineage.

Several of the elders blinked, the others simply stared. "My son carries the blood of Durin's Folk from the direct blood line as well as that of Lord Elrond." Dis continued. "And tomorrow I go to face those I must. But for tonight and all nights hereafter, know that I will never bow my head in shame."

With that said, Dis swept majestically out of the room, the moment only somewhat lessened by the sounds of her running up the stairs and slamming her door.

Uskadil sighed, as all of the other elders waited for his reaction. He looked to Dain.

The Lord of the Iron Hills nodded wearily. "King Thror …."

The elder held up a still calloused hand, the joints swollen in with age. "I think I can understand King Thror's reasoning. Why the elves would agree, I have no clue and will not hazard a guess. But why did Dis never say? Why hide the lad's background? It would have been tough for her, but no less difficult than the questioning she did face."

Hinnin put his hands on the table and looked toward Dain. The dwarrow nodded. The elf shook his head slightly. "The Lady Dis? Left her husband, walked away from the marriage."

"What did he do?" Came a horrified looking elder with barely any pepper in his black and white beard.

Hinnin pressed his lips together and shrugged. "He says she was still grieving her dwarven husband and was unhappy."

Arguments and grumbles rose until Uskadil once more called for silence. He stared at the lone elf in their midst. "At that time, if my memory holds true, Nehili had not been long buried. What you have said may be bald truth." His voice showed that he was withholding judgment on that matter. "The Lady Dis should not have to explain her reasons though. That goes too far."

Dain sighed and cut right to the heart of the matter. "Dis left and did not tell her husband she was carrying his child. He did not know."

Suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed again, from deep suspicion to abject shock.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Another knock on the door had Fili and Arwen looking up.

"Dwarf." Fili guessed. "Assertive knocking."

"Elf." Arwen countered. "Assertiveness is not only counted among the dwarves."

"I've gotten the last three right." Fili pointed out, then groaned as Tauriel walked into the healing hall.

"But not this one." Arwen stretched, rolling her neck. "You have saved me!"

Tauriel paused, unsure of what was going on, but the two seemed to be getting along so she didn't question too deeply. "Kili's lunch tray isn't in his room, but then again, neither is he."

Fili and Arwen shared a look. Each and every visitor they'd sent packing. They came to an unspoken agreement. "Balcony." Fili said, while Arwen simply pointed.

Tauriel moved toward the healer's office and out onto the attached balcony.

Arwen's smile dimmed. "Was that the right thing to do? He was avoiding her last night."

Fili snorted, having zero misgivings on the matter. "Let them talk it out without anyone interrupting them."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel would have thought that someone had simply left a reclining couch on the balcony, piled high with fluffy looking pillows. Except the idea was ridiculous and she had no trouble identifying the thick dark hair on top of the jewel-toned pillow.

She walked around to stare at him. Kili was wrapped up snugly and lying comfortably in the nest he'd seemed to have created for himself. His eyes were closed and he appeared utterly relaxed.

Except. Green eyes fixated in on his fingers, noting the tension. "You're awake." She said, a small note of hurt in her voice.

Kili winced inwardly, but forced himself not to show an outward reaction. He did crack open one eye, then close it again.

"If you have changed your mind how you feel about me, there is no need for elaborate games." The elf said stiffly.

This time he couldn't stop the grimace as he shook his head, reacting before thinking it through. Then he sighed. "I'm not good for you."

"Who said I'd have you?" She countered, her color rising with temper.

"Good. If you won't have me then this is a moot conversation." Kili faked a yawn and closed his eyes.

Tauriel stared at him, sensing something was off. "What changed?" She finally bit out the words.

"Me." Kili could have stabbed himself for answering, but it was too late.

Graceful, arching eyebrows rose over her wide-eyed look. "You find out your father is a High Elf and suddenly I'm not good enough?"

The hint of pain in her voice was enough to send him right over the proverbial edge. Kili jumped up, nearly tripping on the edges of his puffy blanket that the healer had provided him with. "Don't! Don't put thoughts or words on me that I didn't utter nor have I ever believed!"

The red-head stared at him, reading his sincerity clearly. But it also left her completely confused. "What changed?" She asked more gently.

"Me." Kili closed his eyes as if in pain. "I'm mortal."

"Technically, that didn't change." She pointed out with some asperity.

Kili growled and sat back down on the couch, but not laying down this time. "You're not mortal."

She watched him, but he wouldn't raise his face to her, staring at his heavy boots as if they were suddenly the most fascinating thing around.

Tauriel looked out over the view, gathering her thoughts. "I was immortal and you weren't when we first met."

Kili nodded quickly. "But I didn't realize what that meant!" He protested. "I didn't know that elves only marry once and can actually die from a broken heart."

Understanding started to filter in and she smiled.

He stood again, suddenly angry with her. "Don't! Don't smile like that! It does things to me and you can't do that! Don't you dare tell me that your heart holds no barriers to me!"

Tauriel smiled and moved closer to him, backing him up until he was forced to sit back down again. She took the seat next to him. "Presumptuous much?"

"You did leave the Mirkwood." He pointed out, unsure how to feel at the moment. Angry with her, and yet so happy that she wasn't angry at him. But he wanted her to walk away, right? "Go away."

She ignored his muttering. "I left the Mirkwood because I now have a chance to see more of this world. Maybe even catch a glimpse of a fire moon or something else new and wonderful."

Not for him. Kili pondered that fact, feeling a bit hollow inside. "Just because it gives me more of chance to see you again, pure coincidence." The elf dared to tease him, bumping his shoulder with hers.

Kili stared down at his hands. "Tauriel? I'm still mortal."

"Kili? I know." The red-head shouldn't sound so amused. "You were even more mortal when we first met because neither of us knew who your father was at that time."

"Then you know why it's not a good idea. You and me."

"For my own good?" Tauriel studied her dwarven prince's profile, then boldly leaned in closer. "I'm older than you. I make my own decisions."

"Is there a way to put back up a barrier? In the heart, I mean?" Kili asked quietly.

The she-elf smiled almost sadly. "No. They're not physical barriers. And Silvan elves don't deal with things like that. We have no barriers, we share our hearts more easily than the High Elves. We are bolder, closer to the wild and to nature."

"I made you a piece of jewelry."

The words, and the reality of what he was saying, took her completely by surprise.

Kili continued, ignoring the fact that she hadn't responded. "Elladan says that's a far too personal gift. That elves see jewelry different than dwarves, at least in gift giving."

Tauriel's mouth shut with an almost audible click and then she nodded, her heart rate racing a bit. "It is a significant gift to give or receive among the elves. But …I think I can accept it in the manner in which it was given instead. What does it mean to the dwarves to give jewelry?"

Kili looked up, turning his head to sneak a peek at her enthralling green eyes. "When it's hand-crafted, it means that I think highly of you." He grinned suddenly. "It is hand-crafted, by the way."

"I think highly of you too."

They sat there, together and yet apart, enjoying the long moment of silence. Kili suddenly grinned. "I've been out here most of the day. Haven't come up with a single clue what to give Arwen."

Tauriel laughed, her mood vastly improved. "She's not expecting anything, she told me so. The Lady Arwen knows she arrived late and no one really knew she was coming."

Kili nodded gratefully. Then sighed. "I transcribed the story you told me of Elenlote. For Lady Galadriel. In Elvish I might add. Pretty parchment, nice frame. Handwritten to show that I'm trying to learn. But Elladan says that isn't a good idea for a gift either."

The red-haired elf smiled, a quick uptilting of her lips. "It's considered a poem rather than a story."

"It doesn't rhyme." Protested the dark-haired prince.

Tauriel shrugged helplessly. "It does in Sindarin."

"But not in Common." Kili guessed, and the red-head nodded.

"You couldn't tell it rhymed when you were writing it out in Sindarin?" She asked curiously.

Kili shrugged. "It's still a mystery to me. Words simply should not be that hard to learn!"

"It is also a romantic poem. One generally recited to someone to show that you have begun an interest in them. Not a high romantic gesture, but a beginning one."

At that, Kili frowned. "Why didn't Elladan just tell me that? Instead he wanted me to change it, calling it not appropriate."

Tauriel waited. Silently. Just waited. A good quarter of an hour passed in companionable silence when suddenly Kili about jumped out of his seat. His head whipped around and his wide dark eyes pinned her. "YOU told ME that story!"

"Poem." She teased.

Kili was not about to be thrown off track though. "You were the one who told it to me!"

"Took you a while." The she-elf gave him a lazy smile. "But you got there."

Kili grinned a bit sloppily at her, then shook his head.

"You'd asked me a question, but had been fevered. I wanted to let you know that your interest was not unnoticed. Or unwelcome."

Kili's grin only grew in intensity. Very slowly he raised his arm and slid it around her, giving her all the time and room in the world to avoid his touch. She didn't.

As if of one piece, the two reclined back on the couch and Kili pulled the puffy blanket up over the two of them. They weren't of the same height, but laying down like this, it didn't matter.

Her head nestled in the crook of his arm and shoulder. He smiled as her breath ruffled the loose fall of his hair. His arm tightened slightly around her. Her palm rested on top of his chest, unable to feel him beneath the leathers, but both knew her touch was there.

His smile slowly disappeared and his hand tightened on her. "Elenlote. The poem says that their love could not last, that they were too different. The ground and the star."

"Shut up and hold me."

Kili's grin returned as he did just as she asked.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"I can't find your brother."

Fili looked up at his uncle, blinking as he yawned heavily without covering his mouth. "Morning?"

Thorin grunted and shook his head. "Evening." He corrected. "We decided to let Kili come over here and let the two of you join us to open the Durin's Day gifts before the feast downstairs."

Sleepy blue eyes lit up and Fili pushed himself up in his bed, settling against the headboard. "Yes!"

"Are you sure you're feeling up to this?" Thorin asked, eying his nephew's still rather pale face carefully.

Fili yawned again, unable to help himself. Yet he was nodding the whole time. "Sorry. I spent most of the day teaching Arwen to play Oshthir Rakur."

Instant disapproval as Thorin's face fell into a sharp-edged frown. "You found this a wise course of action?" His tone showing that while he may no longer hate all elves, that didn't mean he was willing to give them his friendship.

"I found it less than boring." Fili said dryly, heavily understating how much he'd enjoyed the time spent with his 'aunt'. "And I like her." He added, just to be perverse.

Thorin's eyes rounded and his face started to redden and Fili waved his hands at his uncle as he realized how that might have sounded. "No. Not like that."

The dwarven king drew his head back slightly, giving his nephew a measuring look. "No?"

"No." Fili said firmly. "She's sweet and smart and funny. But I'm not waking up for her. Nothing pokes out. Don't worry."

Thorin's mouth twisted and he looked uncomfortable with the topic, which was better than looking like he was about to explode with temper. "Don't be crude, your Mam would box your ears until they rang."

Fili went far too still at the mention of his mother. It took Thorin a moment to notice that something in his nephew's mood had changed. Hardened into something brittle. He looked puzzled and started to ask when they were both interrupted by a knock on the door.

Two guards, one with a dark brown beard and dozens of small braids, poked their heads into the room. "Pardon, your majesty. Is this where you wanted the table for the presents?"

Thorin grunted and pointed to a side wall. "Over there will work." He didn't add please or thank you because that wasn't the dwarven way. The younger dwarrow sometimes added these words, but mostly because they'd been living above ground too long. Too much influence from the culture of Men. Among themselves, they preferred to be more direct. It wasn't a lack of manners, it was a different set of manners.

When he turned back to his nephew he forgot all about his question as the blond was now grinning up at him with anticipation. "Presents?"

The hopeful word startled Thorin into a small chuckle. "Still not but a dwarfling, are you?"

The blond prince pushed aside his earlier uncomfortable thoughts and instead poked out his bottom lip while widening his blue eyes. The effect was only slightly lessened by the mirth shining up through those eyes though.

Thorin's chuckle grew into a bark of a laugh as he shook his dark mane balefully. "Kili does it better." He pointed out. "Speaking of which, I can't find your brother."

Fili paused. He'd fallen asleep an hour or two after the midday meal. Was Kili still outside? Was Tauriel? He glanced at the time piece hanging on the wall. Early evening, sun probably close to setting but still light out there. He looked at Thorin, who was staring suspiciously at him.

"You know where he is." It was a straight forward statement, not quite an accusation but close. Thorin sighed. "Everyone has been looking for him."

"He wasn't lost." Fili shrugged, trying to look innocent. But his uncle was right, Kili did that look so much better than he could.

"Fili?"

The blond grinned and pulled up the sheet to his chin. "I'm still injured." He teased, trying to stem the tide of his uncle's formidable temper.

Thorin wasn't amused and his glare clearly stated that, but he wasn't furrowing his brow yet so Fili figured he was still on the good side.

A knock on the already open door had them both looking around. Elladan stood there, dressed elegantly in an elvish style robe with intricate embroidery.

Fili's eyebrows shot up and he gave a half-smile at the elf warrior. "Just something old and worn that you brought with you on a journey to face a dragon, an army of child-stealing dwarves or whatever you thought might be out here?"

Thorin smirked at the elf's expense.

Elladan didn't seem perturbed as he slid one hand down the richly appointed robe. "My brother and I had just arrived back in Rivendell, we had not yet unpacked from our travels when we discovered …well …" He paused, not wanting to needle touchy dwarven feelings into anger right before a celebration. "When we discovered that we were going to be coming to Erebor, we threw some extra supplies into our bags, but did not bother to unpack what we already had."

"Training Rangers calls for strange garb." Thorin said with a disingenuous air of innocent support.

Now Fili smirked and Elladan blinked slowly, then smiled in self depreciating humor that the blond found to be admirable. "Even Northmen have nice dinners on occasion." Was all the elf would admit to, however.

"So. You're here looking for Kili too." Thorin turned and pinned Fili with a stare that clearly showed that his original purpose had not been veered from entirely.

Elladan sighed and shook his head. "He hides himself from me, I believe. No. I came to check in with Fili and see how he fares."

A bit surprised the crown prince's smile faded, though not turning into a frown. "I'm tired all the time, chest hurts but not too badly. Fine. Achy."

Walking in from his office, Nuluin heard the last comment and nodded. "To be expected, Prince Fili."

Now even more surprised, Fili turned to stare at the healer as he came toward him. "You've been calling me by my name all day." He pointed out in a reasonable tone of voice.

"Your uncle, the king, is present. It would be disrespectful to his name and title to show you familiarity unless we were in private without leave." Nuluin said smoothly.

Thorin and Fili shared a perplexed look. Finally the King Under the Mountain cleared his throat and rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. "Your words may be in common, but their meaning is clearly Elvish and thus unintelligible."

Nuluin looked up, his expression clearly showing he'd not been trying to be obtuse. "Protocol."

Elladan nodded and tried to explain. "Even though I am friendly with King Thranduil's son I would only call him Legolas to his face with his unspoken agreement on such a familiarity. But if in front of his father, then I would refer to him as Prince Legolas to keep from intimating that my friendship with the prince would in any way encroach upon King Thranduil's welcome."

"I think this is what Arwen must have felt like when I was trying to explain the rules of Cloudy-head to her." Muttered the blond dwarf. He raised his voice and looked at the two elves in turn. "Elvish rules in their petty but pretty courts don't count for much here. My name is Fili. Use it."

Thorin bared his teeth and slowly crinkled his eyes as if his words actually were causing him pain. "Don't make me say that I agree with the elves, Fili."

The blond dwarf blinked, unsure even as Elladan and Nuluin nodded in understanding with Thorin.

"They may call you by name, since you gave them permission." The king continued. "And I don't give a damn if they even do it in front of me. Just save those pretty manners when in front of representatives from the Seven Families."

Fili grimaced this time as he realized why this might be important. He was no longer a beggar at the table of the less blooded, but not homeless, dwarven nobles. His title now matched his address. Grouchy, he added on another thought. "Or other elves."

Thorin's face darkened as he clenched his jaw for a moment. "Does there have to be other elves?" He complained. "Don't we have enough already?"

Taking that for a rhetorical question, Nuluin gestured toward the prince's shirt. "I need to change your dressing before the celebration begins. Fili."

The blond recovered his mood quickly, pleased at the drop of his title. He nodded at the healer and pulled off his loose shirt with barely a grimace of pain, though not moving with his usual feline grace.

Thorin rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen the knots he could feel in his muscles. "Get rid of a dragon, only to have elves take up residence." He muttered, still on the sore topic.

"And find yourself related to one." Elladan added with no little dry humor.

A surprised chuckle escaped the dwarven king in spite of himself and he barely nodded his head in acknowledgement. "You drink more wine than the dragon did."

"But less than the dwarves who drained the wine and ale reserves of Rivendell." Elladan snorted lightly. "Or so my father conveyed."

Thorin actually managed a pained smile, shaking his head. "Imagine my surprise to find that elves eat meat. Since as Rivendell guests we were served only green growing things."

Elladan's eyebrows shot up and a less than elegant snort of laughter flew from between his lips. "Oh dear. My father did that? He must have really been irritated."

Thorin felt some of his tension ease in spite of himself. "It is possible that I and my company might have been a bit on the gruff side."

Fili laughed, then arched his back as an expression of pain flew across his features. "Ow."

Nuluin frowned, though not unhappily, but rather in a puzzled way. "Your wound looks a week healed, not a day or two." He made thinking noises in the back of his throat, prodding here and there at Fili's chest. "Very quick healing processes you dwarves possess."

Thorin nodded, pleased to hear that bit of good news at least. Elladan too looked happy. Until the two shot glances at each other, noting the pleasure both seemed to be sharing. Then their smiles disappeared awkwardly, but at least did not delve into anger.

Nuluin made some more approving nods and started to rewrap Fili's chest wound over a crisply herbal smelling ointment. "Remarkable how healthy and recuperative your race seems to be." He looked up at Thorin in a questioning manner. "From what I gather from Master Oin, the Dwarves don't get ill often at all. Most healing is on injury or illness related to either a wound or a trauma such as Kuilaith's pneumonia following that ambush."

"True." Thorin allowed, but didn't expound on his answer, wondering what the elf was looking to ask him about.

Nuluin nodded thoughtfully, then looked around the area and shrugged. "So why such a big healing hall within Erebor?"

Ah. The dwarven king grunted, understanding basic curiosity. And it wasn't culturally sensitive information at least. "Mining injuries mostly. Training injuries and battle wounds." He turned his attention fully back to his nephew.

"And of course childbirth." Nuluin murmured, seemingly content with the answer.

"Nay, that would be in the Ozinafkhur, not here." Thorin said dismissively, completely disregarding his use of the Khuzdul term as he looked intently at his heir. "Where is your younger brother?"

Fili's smile turned tentative as he gave a fake groan and let his features fall into a wince instead. "That really hurts." He complained.

Nuluin looked bemused, knowing he was no longer prodding sensitive areas around the chest wound. He knew an evasion when he heard it. He turned toward Thorin helpfully. "I believe that young Kuilaith is still outside on the balcony, where he's been getting some much needed rest. I only break his confidence because it will be dark soon and he will need to return inside for the Durin's Day celebration tonight."

Fili slid his gaze over to the healer, looking at him from the corners of his bright blue eyes. Rest? Oh, the healer had been gone earlier when Tauriel had come through the room. Nuluin obviously didn't realize that Kili wasn't outside alone. He hunched his shoulders a bit in amusement.

"Balcony?" Elladan looked startled, then resigned. He gave a balefully look at a not-ashamed-at-all Fili. "I suppose he's been out there for quite some time?" He left unspoken the accusation that Kili had been outside even when Elladan himself had been looking for him earlier.

The blond prince didn't respond beyond a small shrug, instead sliding his gaze onto Thorin as the dwarven king turned and headed out onto the balcony. The tall elf was only a few steps behind him.

Fili looked up at Nuluin with almost ill grace. "Had to tattle, didn't you?"

The healer appeared genuinely surprised. "Your brother shouldn't be alone out there, especially not with winter coming very soon. It can get chilly outside at night. It was fine while the sun was bright."

"We dwarves are heat and cold resistant to such mild changes as these." Fili snarked a bit, then gave a rather cheeky looking grin. "And who said that my brother was alone?"

Nuluin's eyes widened as he straightened up, obviously taken by further surprise. Speculatively he studied the blond dwarf and running through available names and the look of chagrin on Fili's face, the healer made a correct guess on who was out on the balcony with Kuilaith. The elder healer even had the grace to drop his gaze and apologize.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fergard Stormrune scanned the horizon worriedly. Beside him the leader of the Grimbasher clan mirrored him, his once-too-often broken nose twitching as if testing the air.

"If this were a mine, I'd be sending in a songbird." Brorgic Grimbasher said in his usual gravel-rough voice, referencing how certain animals were more sensitive to the dangers inherent to their profession.

Fergard nodded with a grim outlook. "Looks fine, smells fine, all is well."

"All up until the odorless gasses swamp your lungs and kills your brains." The Grimbasher turned to look back at their group of immigrants to Erebor, and their supply wagons. "We're too good a target."

Fergard sighed heavily, kicking the ground with his heavy miner's boots, steel reinforced for protection. "Good place for an ambush ahead."

Brorgic's own sigh echoed that of his long-time neighbor and friend. He glanced back at those waiting for their decision, including his own daughter. "It would be different if were just us out here." He said quietly.

Not surprised, Fergard nodded. "Not too late to turn back, wait for the Ironfoot to come through as escort."

"We're not exactly unarmed." The Grimbasher clan leader gave a smile that echoed his name, grim. "And we did send messengers on ahead."

"We did." Fergard agreed. "If they got through."

Brorgic gave a sudden grin, exposing his straight teeth that had not ever been broken, unlike his off-center nose. "If we're being targeted, they won't find us so easy to overrun. Mines breed them tough. And our numbers aren't exactly low."

"True enough." Fergard gritted his teeth, thinking of all those that had elected to travel to Erebor with them. "Another reason to go ahead. Going around adds time to our journey, time that could leave us even more exposed. And it depletes the travel supplies, which make us forage which only adds to our exposure." The Stormrune father rolled his shoulders in resolution. "I really don't sense anything out there. Only …it IS a good place for an ambush."

"Aye."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Elladan came to a halt behind Thorin, who was blocking the doorway. After a long moment, when the dwarven king did not either speak nor move, the tall elf cleared his throat. "Problem?" He queried.

Thorin's head turned and he sent a resigned and not very happy look back at the elf lord. He did move however, walking out onto the balcony, allowing Elladan to follow.

The elven father stilled as he saw the reason for Thorin's consternation.

Lengthy red hair mingled with thick dark hair, where a certain elf-maid's head was resting in the crook of Kili's shoulder. The young prince's right hand fingers were casually lifting up some of those long red tresses and letting it sift through to fall gently back down to her side before he reached down and caught another handful to repeat the gesture. Tauriel's visible hand was resting on Kili's chest, tracing indistinguishable outlines on his leather tunic. The rest of the duo was hidden beneath warm, puffy blankets as they reclined on the jewel-toned pillows.

Kili was stretched full length on the couch which was dwarven sized. Tauriel clearly had to pull her legs up and bend her knees a bit in order to fit. And those long legs beneath the covering blankets, looked as if they were snuggled up closely against a certain dark-haired prince, entwined. A suggestive pose, even if it was obvious that all clothing was in the proper position for propriety.

"Uncle." Kili greeted sotto voce, and then fell silent.

Elladan tried to bury the hurt of the non-greeting behind a bland affect, perfected over a few thousand years. Especially as Thorin seemed pleased with his nephew's snub.

With obvious reluctance, Tauriel sat up, though the she-elf had to smilingly disentangle Kili's hand from her hair. "That's mine." She teased.

"I was just borrowing." Kili teased back, disinclined to relinquish petting her red tresses. Or letting her go.

Thorin shifted his weight, put out with his nephew's completely unsubtle flirting. With an elf. Even if she wasn't ….terrible. His lips thinned as he pressed them together, to keep from uttering something unproductive.

"Tauriel?" Elladan's voice was calm, even. "Would you be so kind as to give us a few moments?"

The she-elf's hesitation was brief, but present. Her liquid green eyes turned to Kili's gaze with silent apology before she nodded her head.

The dark-haired prince sat up and watched Tauriel as she left the balcony to the males. Father, uncle and son. Finally, Kili looked up at the elf whose blood ran through his veins. "Personally, I'd rather you left."

Thorin made a small sound and grimaced lightly. "She is prettier on the eyes than he is, though not by much." It wasn't a compliment, but a verbal jab at the elf in his fine robe.

Elladan shook his head and opened his mouth, only to be interrupted by his son. "No. I'd rather you left." Emphasis on the last word, accompanied by an intent stare from very serious dark eyes.

The elf lord straightened, meeting his son's stare head on. "Inside?" He queried, but knew that whatever Kili said, it wasn't going to be what he'd have liked to hear. "Downstairs?" A longer pause as the young prince remained silent. "Or Rivendell?" He added softly.

"Rivendell would be a decent start." Came the bitter tone. "Go there."

"Without you." Elladan guessed.

Kili stood, a brittle and yet mocking smile touching his mobile face. "Without a doubt."

Thorin stayed still, watching, listening. Part of him wanted to rejoice in Kili's rejection of his elvish father. But part of him knew …something was wrong. He knew his nephew, and his moods. Something very deep was bothering the youth. This harsh, deliberate cruelty wasn't a part of Kili's being, not usually. His nephew was acting very out of character. Yet he couldn't bring himself to interfere, not on behalf of the elf lord.

"Here you all are." Elrohir had no problems interfering it seemed, walking out to join them all despite the thick emotional aura.

Thorin's blue eyes slid to the balcony entrance, somehow unsurprised to see the other twin was being accompanied by the silver-haired leader of Lothlorien. He didn't bother to greet either of them.

Kili groaned and rolled his neck and shoulders as if tense. "Good. You can all hear this loud and clear. Go home."

The twins shared a quick glance while Lord Celeborn simply looked on without expression or word, yet his manner no less haughty than before. The cheerful, pretty colors of the elven robes seemingly out of place out here.

"Kuilaith. Son." Elladan was clearly trying to marshal his thoughts and words together in a manner not to set off Kili's already broiling temper. "I offer my heartfelt apologies to you if my comments on the gifts you made …"

"Go. Away." Kili interrupted with the supreme rudeness of youth, glowering darkly at his father.

Thorin wondered idly if it were possible for Celeborn's nose to angle up any higher in the air. From his height he could clearly see that either elves didn't have nose hair, or it was too fine to be visible. He was only grateful that the male's wife wasn't present. As if thinking of Galadriel might summon her somehow, Thorin glanced around quickly but the elf witch was not present.

"Son." Elladan apparently was just as stubborn as ….Thorin's mouth twisted wryly …as stubborn as Kili himself could be. Why that thought amused him, he could not say. "Give me a chance. My intentions were never to harm you or …"

"A chance for what?" Kili snapped out the words. "What do you want from me?"

Elladan's gray eyes never left his child's face. "To get to know you." He said quite simply.

"Why?" Demanded the youth. "Because we share blood?"

Silver hair tilted as Celeborn's head moved slightly, observing yet not speaking.

"Just because you are the cause of my birth, does not mean that we have to share the same air." Kili said, not quite in the heat of temper, but rather in the harsh coldness of dismissal.

Elrohir seemed nervous, the fingers on his injured side twitching somewhat. Elladan simply stood there, taking the full force of the dark-haired prince's verbal jabs. "Is there not anything you would need nor want from a father?"

"I had a father. Not possible for anyone to do better." Kili gestured toward Thorin without looking at him. The king shifted his weight, both proud and disturbed by the words as he knew he'd not been the best of parents by either race's standards. Being a king to an exiled people and trying to hold together far-flung communities of touchy dwarves had left him little enough time to devote to his nephews no matter how much he cared for them.

"Maybe it is I who needs a son." Elladan said quietly.

"NO!" Kili exploded forward in fury, taking everyone by complete stunned surprise. The earlier coldness of the young prince's mood instantly changing over to the volcanic heat of pure temper. "That is the LAST thing you need! I am the very last thing that you need!" He shouted, eyes blazing.

Elrohir watched with wide eyes, unsure of the emotional currents swirling thickly around them all. "I have never seen my brother so alive in decades. You are good for him." He offered cautiously, not raising his voice.

"I'M GOING TO DAMNED WELL KILL HIM!" The words seemed ripped from the core of the young dwarf's soul.

At last, Celeborn's nose came down as he leveled a solemn-eyed gaze at the child of his line. "Was that a threat?"

Kili turned and glared at the elder elf lord. "One already accomplished." He said, deep bitterness and self-loathing dripping from his words as he blinked, moisture at the corners of his eyes. "I've already killed him." The heat of anger fled, leaving behind something close to despair as he sank back down to sit on the edge of the reclining couch.

Thorin drew up, confused. His eyes met that of Celeborn's first. Neither had an answer, only questions. They both turned to look at the twins, who seemed no more enlightened than they.

Kili groaned at the ignorance around him. "All your vast ages, wisdom and knowledge and you don't see the simple truth? I'm fucking mortal! I'm going to die! Now or in a thousand years, I'm gone. And when I go, I take him with me!" He waved at Elladan with a soured expression. "Stupid Elves with your damned heart barriers."

Celeborn blinked rapidly, but showed no other expression. Thorin still wasn't clued in, however.

The twins seemed to have figured it out though. Elladan smiled sadly. "No. My heart has no barrier to you. But that won't kill me, son."

Kili's eyebrows arched high over his dark eyes. "No? Pardon my feeble grasp of history. But didn't your family marry you off to keep you from fading from grief? So what if you now have someone else to care about? That someone is a mortal dwarf!"

Thorin started to understand a little, but wasn't sure how to react.

"Yes. When you pass from this world, you will take parts of our hearts." Elrohir tried to speak up next. "But we have each other, our father and sister, our mother's parents and other family, even our close friends. It won't mean our deaths."

"Maybe not for you." Kili nearly spit out the words like venom. "But didn't your brother have those exact same friends and family around when his love died? Didn't he have you?"

Neither twin had an answer for that.

"If all those friends and family weren't enough to keep my da from fading back then, what makes you think it will keep him in this world after I'm gone?" Kili stopped, breathing hard, but thankfully not coughing. He turned and faced Elladan, looking up at his father's face with a fierce intensity. "How many pieces of your heart do you have left to spare?"

Elladan stared at his only child, his features still, but his gray eyes clearly showing the whirlwind of emotions within him.

"Don't love me." Kili's voice was nearly a plea. "Go home."

The tall elf lord came to some drastic realizations right then, right there. Truth smacked him in the face and he shared it out loud, his gray eyes never leaving the gaze of his son. "Since Bainnid passed I've not had a home, or a life. Until I learned of your existence."

Kili moaned, unable to help himself as he dropped his head. Shaggy dark waves fell about the sides of his face, hiding his expression. "Don't. I'm reckless, and a lot of trouble. Mortal. I get distracted sometimes. Didn't pay attention in my studies like I should. Thorin had to yell at me a lot."

Thorin closed his eyes in amused despair, a sad smile ghosted over his lips.

"Apparently he did a good job." This voice was smooth, pleasant and cool as silk.

Kili's head snapped up to stare at the Lord of Lothlorien. "You're supposed to hate me."

Celeborn blinked slowly, leaving no wrinkles despite his great age. His expression was still guarded though. "I was not aware that was my assigned role. Perhaps you should endeavor harder to distance yourself from the elvish side of your blood. It is possible you were too distracted by the beautiful Tauriel to turn my regard to hate."

Thorin shifted. It sounded like a joke. But when he looked over at the tall elf lord, he simply couldn't tell.

"You did mention that you had a propensity to become distracted, did you not?"

Thorin sighed heavily and slapped the side of his leg loudly as he shook his head. "Elvish humor. It's as fun as elvish music and food." His tone left no doubt of his low opinion on any of it.

"Hey!" Kili protested weakly, his raging temper suddenly dispersed and leaving him exhausted. "I'm part elf."

Thorin's left eye twitched and he grinned. "Which explains why I had to yell at you while you grew up. A lot."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Brinarg kept his face blank, his eyes friendly. On the inside, however, he was raging mad.

Wait.

That had been the latest order he'd received. It wasn't the brevity of the message that he railed against, for he understood clearly what was required of him. Wait for an opportunity, then apply the second part of his orders.

The physical part. The part in a small pouch that looked and smelled innocent enough, but was a poison so virulent that those affected would die a hideous and painful death.

Wait.

Brinarg wasn't sure what he was waiting for, but he gritted his teeth all the same. He'd sent on messages to his master, but apparently his intelligence was going to be ignored. Again.

Fili and Kili, the puling princes were injured. Brinarg fought not to curse out loud. While the deaths of either of the two would have been welcome, a failed attempt only put Erebor on guard. It brought a careful scrutiny that he and his mission did not need.

So. What was he waiting for? Brinarg helped in the scurry and bustle of readying the main hall for the Durin's Day celebration feast. He wanted to add the poison to the food this night. It would be perfect, and unexpected.

Only he had orders. To wait.

The stubborn streak within most dwarves fought with his allegiance. But in the end, it was fear that ruled. Breaking with the master's plan would bring him nothing but grief, even if he did manage to succeed. So he'd wait.

For now.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili's face flamed with embarrassment as he followed the others back into the healing hall room. Seemed as if nearly everyone was there. Had they heard?

Fili's bland expression showed clearly that they had indeed heard some of what had gone on between father and son. Yet thankfully no one seemed prepared to make mention of it. Kili started to relax.

"So. You fear for the life of your father?"

Kili's eyes closed and his head drooped, there was no escape. "Lady." He muttered.

Galadriel hadn't been immediately visible to him, standing over near a window on the far wall. Of course she'd heard. And would mention the argument.

"Your method is clumsy, but your heart appears to lead you, child."

"Leave him be." Elladan stepped in for his son, much to Kili's relief. He put his hand gently on the young brunet's shoulder. The elf seemed to be holding his breath, but when the prince didn't shrug off the touch, the contact firmed a bit.

Fili clapped his hands together to garner attention his way, then rubbed them eagerly. "Food? Presents?" He grinned. "Presents!"

Bofur and his cousin Bifur both laughed as they rummaged carefully through a large box the two had brought up to the room with them.

Balin shook his head, moving over to stand next to his king. "I would suggest that we have an informal exchange of gifts up here. But eat downstairs without the lads."

"Ah." Fili protested. "Why?"

Kili though felt nothing but relief. He wanted everyone out of the way so he could mull over the confrontation with his father. The elves seemed to think that once he'd aired his concerns, it was all over. But the reasons he was worried were still valid.

"You chew over the same thoughts, leaving you in turmoil." Galadriel's bright eyes were still trained on Kili.

The brunet refused to look in her direction, but it didn't help much. He could almost feel the intangible weight of her regard.

Elladan's hand pressed more firmly on Kili's shoulder, offering comfort and understanding. "I would rather have my life with you in it, than live forever without having known you. Come son, let us have our celebration and gifts."

Kili felt his stomach churn at the thought of food right now. "You can say that, you weren't the one specifically born into order to kill …well, you."

Galadriel didn't move, but suddenly her attention increased tri-fold. Celeborn turned from his quiet conversation with Glorfindel and he stared at the child of his daughter's son.

Thorin and Balin both raised their eyebrows almost impossibly high.

Elrohir shook his head. "Yes. You are mortal, and that will be a huge blow to our family once you pass away. May that be not for a very lengthy period of time. But you aren't killing anyone." He hoped. Actually his true hope was that Kuilaith would marry and have children, who would in turn help ease the burden of his death for the much longer lived elves.

But Kili shook his head, still not looking up. "Look. I know this probably sounds self-important, and far-fetched. Call it stupid, I don't care. But I was thinking … Elves and Dwarves have never gotten along, not well. Distrustful. So why would anyone think it a good idea to merge the bloodlines? Sauron is back, right? And he's known as The Deceiver? Why wouldn't he try and trick everyone into this marriage in order to destroy any alliance between our races? And if it happens to kill off one of Elrond's sons, what would he care?"

Kili waited for the denouncement of his words. The mocking, the tearing apart, the …silence?

Looking up, the dark-eyed, dark-haired prince found himself the subject of every eye in the room. A mixture of consternation, shock, surprise, disbelief, and utter sorrow stared back at him.

Fili frowned, unsure. "Put a lot of importance on yourself there, brother." He said weakly, his mind racing for something to say to comfort his younger sibling.

Dwalin opened his mouth, his gaze shuttered. Finally he grunted. "Durin's Line and the bloodlines of …." He paused. "Who does take precedence in the elvish scheme of things?"

"Myself. Galadriel. Thingol. Luthien. Tuor. Melian. Elrond. There are many." Celeborn's voice held steady without inflection. "Take your choice."

"High Elf blood." Balin translated for his brother. "And if you think Dwarves are greedy with mere things, you should see how closely we hold our families."

"Bloodlines are important among our kind as well." Celeborn admitted smoothly. "And perhaps greed isn't the right word in this instance, for either race."

Thorin's voice sounded hoarse as he spoke up next. "Sauron was defeated the last time in a great alliance. Elves, Men, and Dwarves. Could The Deceiver have tried to influence a destruction of any duplication of such an alliance? Drive a permanent wedge between us to separate the resistance against him?"

Kili grinned widely suddenly, a laugh even escaping him.

Fili's blue eyes widened. "Why do you look happy about this?"

"No one is saying it's a stupid thought." The brunet sounded relieved to have his fears go un-mocked.

"Stupid? No." Celeborn sounded thoughtful. "I'm not saying what you are thinking of is right. But the idea is far from stupid. Whether or not Sauron influenced events from behind the scenes, I have no doubt he would use the marriage of my daughter's son to his own advantage."

Galadriel nodded most carefully. "The White Council would have had to meet simply to discuss Sauron's return. This only adds to our discourse. But it is disturbing to contemplate."

"But not Kili's fault!" Ori piped up, overly anxious.

"No indeed." Elladan started to wrap his arm around his son, disappointed when the young male stepped away from the light embrace. Though the elf was relieved to see an embarrassed smile on his grown child's face rather than anger or dislike.

"So now what?" Kili asked, looking nervously around the room at large.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"You don't like it?" Fili asked, looking disappointed.

Elrohir held up the fine dagger. It was of simple lines, but elegant in its weight and balance. The craftsmanship was brilliant. "I do like it." He said, his voice a bit tight.

The dwarves glanced at one another, clearly at a loss with the underwhelmed reaction.

Ori leaned forward helpfully, elbow on the table. "Fili made that. He may not be formally apprenticed, but he does fine work."

"Yes, of course it is. Beautiful work indeed." Elrohir still seemed almost distant since he'd opened the gift from his dwarvish nephew. Before he'd unwrapped the present he'd been quite light-hearted.

Thorin glared at the elf lord, his hand on his own gift from Fili. A fine comb carved from the bone of one of the wargs killed in the last battle. A battle trophy with intricate carvings depicting the royal crest of Erebor.

Glorfindel stirred, uncertain, throwing an odd look at Fili and then at Thorin himself. "Elladan and Kili have been butting heads about differing gift meanings. It occurs to me that Dwarves might not have the same customs about the giving of blades."

Fili's blue eyes snapped up toward the golden-haired elf. "There's a custom?"

Elrohir himself seemed to relax a bit as he nodded. "I apologize, I did not consider that the ways might be different."

Balin spread his hands out, pleased. "It's not that you don't care for the blade, then?"

"What is the meaning behind the giving of such a thing?" Celeborn leaned forward, his facial expressions giving nothing away of his feelings on the matter.

Bofur leaned forward, pointing at the dagger. "Different blades have different meanings. And buying one is different from forging one."

Balin agreed. "No one really had enough time to do much forging, not with the repairs needed here in Erebor taking priority. But I do believe that Fili has given you a blade from his own collection, one that he forged himself and has worn for several years. That is considered a personal gift between family."

"Such a gift means that the lad is extending his arm to you if ever you are in need. That you can count on him." Dwalin said rather coolly, arms crossed.

Fili flushed lightly, a bit embarrassed. "Well. He did put himself between me and Kili while we were in that damned river. Deliberately placed himself so as to protect us."

Thorin had known that, having heard it from Kili already, nodded in reluctant approval. As much as he wanted to discount the elves, he could not deny that the gift was appropriate.

Elrohir suddenly smiled, holding the dagger with practiced ease.

Ori scratched his chin, confused. "What does the giving of a dagger mean to elves?"

Elladan chuckled, shaking his head. "That you want to sever the relationship between the giver and receiver."

"Oh!" Fili's blue eyes widened, deeply appalled. "But…"

Thorin coughed, interrupting. "I think from here on in, gifts between our two cultures should be received with the intent of the giver. If you're unsure. Ask."

"Indeed." Celeborn added in agreement, surprising the dwarven king immensely.

"My gift is looking better right now." Kili said with a cheeky grin and a laugh. "Smelling better too."

Elrohir smiled in return, picking up the hair conditioner his nephew had gifted him with. One that Kili had proudly proclaimed 'didn't smell like the woods'.

Glorfindel held up fine mug gifted to him by Bombur, his eyes tracking to neither the dwarves nor the elves as he spoke. "The reason the twins have a conditioner that smells like the woods, is so that the orcs and goblins won't smell them coming."

Kili's grin faded.

Glorfindel smiled then. "I can just picture the orc's confusion thinking they're tracking a dwarf by the spicy scent and find their death at the hands of an elf."

Dwalin laughed, drawing a scowl from Kili. Thorin even smiled at the thought of Elrohir smelling like his nephew.

"I like your gift, it was very thoughtful." Kili's elven uncle avowed. "And it will come in handy should my hair become entangled in a tree limb again."

More laughter, this time with even Kili being drawn in. "Go on and give your gift to Fili now." His hands petting the white fur from some northern animal that his uncle had presented to him.

Elrohir smiled and pulled out a small pouch, handing it to his blond dwarven nephew. "For you."

Fili grinned widely, his good humor more than restored as he took the pouch. "Small." He looked so young and excited that Elrohir couldn't help his own answering chuckle. It had shaken the elf warrior terribly to have seen Fili so hurt in that ambush at the river.

A set of silver beads with elvish sigils rolled out into Fili's hand, who's blue eyes went wide as saucers.

Kili took one look and nearly fell out of his chair, laughing. His wide grin gave way to a series of coughs that had others reaching for him, but he waved them off. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes as he finally succumbed to gravity and slid to the floor caught between coughing and laughter.

Elrohir looked confused at Fili's shocked expression and Kili's uncontrolled mirth. He glanced over at his twin brother, but Elladan shook his head slightly.

Thorin's mouth twitched. "Cultural misunderstandings? I'm sure you're not trying to court my nephew?"

Celeborn sighed and his lips actually twitched into a ghost of a smile. "Even I knew that one."

Elrohir shook his head, his long dark hair swinging with his movements. "I gave him his first bead when he was younger."

Bombur grinned madly as Bofur hooted out loud. "The important word there is 'young'."

"After a dwarrow hits around thirty the meaning of such beads changes." Balin explained, trying to be helpful.

Elrohir closed his gray eyes in resignation. "Is there not a way for an elder male uncle to give such a gift?"

Dwalin shook his head, then paused. His eyes brightened and he gave a grunt. "Maybe. Didn't Nain's father gift him with courting beads in order to spur him into finding a wife?"

"Which Nain?" Gloin asked, interest piqued.

"The second, if memory serves." Balin answered for his brother.

Elrohir pointed at Fili. "You're the crown prince of Erebor now, and you do need to find a nice dwarrowdam."

Thorin's hand slapped down on the arm of his chair for emphasis as he agreed. "Aye!"

Fili smiled sheepishly and poked at the beads with his finger, nodded. "We need dwarrowdams out here in Erebor first."

Arwen leaned forward, curious. "Are there none?"

"No." Elladan answered at the same time as Balin, who answered "Yes. There are. But they are warriors under Dain's command. Most married."

The young she-elf perked up attentively. "None that have caught your eye?"

Kili giggled, still on the floor. "It's not his eye that needs catching." He said suggestively, only to get swatted on the top of his head by his older brother.

"Watch your mouth." Fili hissed. Then the blond crown prince looked around the room. "What other gifts have we not given out yet?"

Ori raised his hand eagerly, grabbing a box he'd lugged up to the room and opening it. "Sorry. I didn't know what kinds of things elves are wanting. So …I made several of these." He started handing out the fine hand-made writing quills.

Lord Celeborn accepted his with a bit of surprise to be included, but took the time to graciously thank the young dwarven scribe. "This is of very high quality." He commented, making his wife smile at him.

Arwen waved hers in the air with a delighted look. "Why is mine dyed purple?"

Ori blushed prettily and ducked his head. "It seemed to suit you." Was all he could be teased into admitting. Thorin coughed and spared the young dwarf from any comments, even going so far as to gesture for Fili to swat Kili again when it looked like the young brunet was about to make a comment.

"I have another gift to give." The soft musical voice of Lady Galadriel never rose, but seemed to be heard clear as a bell regardless. Several eyes turned to her. Kili brightened from his pout immediately and he climbed back into his chair. Only to stare as the Lady handed a roll of parchment to Elladan and gestured for him to deliver it to Thorin.

The King Under the Mountain gave the golden haired female a long, cautious look but did accept the roll of parchment. He untied the velvet ribbon and rolled it out upon the table. Gasps from the dwarves around him had several craning their necks to see.

Thorin stared down at the features, feeling off kilter as memories beset him. "My father."

"I sorrow if my gift brings you pain. But I have seen for myself the state of most of the portraits remaining in Erebor. Smaug did not treat them kindly." Galadriel spoke sympathetically. "My skill in art is less than a master and it is but a color sketch."

Balin whistled, looking at Thrain drawn in happier times. Younger times. Not maddened by grief and despair. "Your skill is wonderful, Lady."

Dwarves didn't usually hold to the ways of Men and Elves. But even he knew that something was called for here. "I thank you. Your gift is priceless to me." He managed to say without choking up.

Suddenly he was glad for the wild impulse that had struck him earlier in the week. He gestured for Balin to hand him several banded scrolls of his own. "It seems we have been thinking along the same veins."

Thorin himself handed Galadriel, Elladan and Elrhohir each a parchment scroll. "I am no artist at all, but I did learn draftsmanship here in Erebor many years ago. I hope to have done the subjects justice."

Elladan opened his first, sucking in a breath at the shaded line drawing of a laughing and very young Kili and Fili each holding up a fish. The sketches seemed alive and nearly jumping off the page.

Uncomfortable with the raw emotion that briefly flowed out from the elf lord's face, Kili looked away. Fili grinned, pointing. "That fish is almost as big as you were, brother."

Dwalin grunted. "I was there that day. The fish was bigger. Knocked Kili into the river where he stubbornly refused to let go of the line and nearly drowned himself trying to keep his hold."

Fili guffawed and slapped an embarrassed Kili on the back. "That's two rivers you tried to swallow!"

The dark-haired prince groaned in response.

Elrohir eagerly unrolled his scroll next, finding a scene with Kili standing on Fili's shoulders trying to reach one of his arrows high on a tree trunk. He was startled into a chuckle with the picture of Kuilaith with one eye closed, his tongue caught between his teeth, and Fili's scrunched up face of great effort and strain. "Very nice!"

Kili looked at the picture and huffed. "That's misleading! That was actually Fili's shot!"

The blond swatted at his brother and Kili dodged this time, crossing his dark eyes at him.

Galadriel's hands moved with grace over the final parchment, unrolling it slowly. This one was a much younger duo. Kuilaith in the cradle, swaddled closely and asleep. The drawing drew attention to the soft fan of dark eyelashes on the baby's face. Fili was peering down at his new brother with a look that seemed a cross between one of loathing and curiosity. The Lady of Light smiled at the sweet image, nodding her head. "This is no small sketch, and no small ability. I thank you for the generosity of your heart, King Thorin."

"You look like you didn't like me." Protested the younger sibling to the older.

Fili grinned. "I still don't like you." He lied through his teeth.

Thorin rolled his eyes as the two started to tussle, having to be separated by an exasperated Dwalin and a laughing Bofur.

Galadriel watched all of this with an air of amused patience and indulgence. "I have another gift though."

Kili immediately sat up in his chair, drawing a chiding look from his uncle on the dwarven side of his blood.

"Master Dori?"

The gray haired craftsman looked up, more than a little shocked to be so singled out. Earlier he'd gifted everyone with hand woven book marks and tea cozies much to the elves delight and the dwarves resignation. "Me?"

"For you, and perhaps for Erebor." Galadriel had Arwen pull out a much larger roll of parchment which was carefully laid out on the table.

Dori stared with greedy eyes, tracing the complicated weaving pattern with utter adoration.

"Glorfindel noticed you bemoaning the loss of many of Ereborn's historical crests and tapestries." The Lady of Lorien smiled at the craft master. "I have drawn these from memory. Unfortunately they come not from Erebor, but from the time I travelled through Khazad-dum. I don't know if you will find these patterns useful …"

"Oh dear. Oh my dear. Oh, oh, oh!" Dori looked like he was about to weep. His thick, yet nimble fingers tracing first this line and then that line.

"My daughter's daughter is skilled in needlework, and helped translate my memories into a working pattern. Or that was the hope." The golden haired she-elf spoke gently.

Dori seemed lost in a daze. It was Ori who cleared his throat and bowed with respect to the Lady of Light in thanks. Balin shook out a handkerchief and nudged Dori with it, so that the weaver wouldn't get tear spots on the precious pattern.

Thorin was in a quandary. He hated elves. These elves had reason to hate him. But these 'simple' Durin's Day gifts were touching parts of his soul that he'd thought long since beyond reach.

"I have a gift." Glorfindel pulled out a leather pouch and tossed it to Bombur. "For one who has managed to surprise even one as old as I. Bubbles in my juice. Amazing."

General laughter met the elf's words as the dwarves nodded, all having heard the warrior expound on the qualities of sparkling cider ever since he'd discovered the drink.

Bombur grinned, opened the pouch and grinned at the sharp smell of expensive spices. He bobbed his head in pleasure, beaming at the elf happily. "This will be put to good use!" The rotund dwarf promised.

Fili grinned, rubbing his hands together. "Someone give Kili something before he starts pouting!"

Kili immediately protested, even though the comment seemed right on target.

Tauriel bit her bottom lip, but stood, holding out a package.

Kili stared at her, his protest dying on his lips. Nervously he smiled and thanked the red-head nicely. "Not a pony." He commented, then pulled out the beautifully tooled pair of boots. The young prince held them up for all to see the soft leather of the footwear.

Elladan and Elrohir smiled. Dwalin frowned. "Elvish style boots." The warrior remarked.

Fili peered at the leatherwork, then grinned widely. "Those aren't Elvish runes. Those are dwarven designs."

Immediately each of the dwarves crowded close. And it was true. The boots were made in the lighter elvish style, but the decoration and embellishments were clearly dwarven.

Tauriel blushed as several of the dwarves eyed her speculatively. "Ori helped me pick out the proper runes."

Balin cleared his throat. "Smart of you, lass. Very clever and a well thought out gift." He shoved Kili in the back. "What'd you get her?"

Now Kili blushed, but he gamely pulled out the pin he'd hand crafted and enameled for his she-elf. He blushed as much as she'd done and stood, walking over to her. "Remember. We're attaching the customs of the giver. So no matter what my da says, this is for you. Because I think very highly of you."

Everyone smiled.

Kili then went and grinned very widely and pinned it to her dress, near her heart. "And maybe one day it'll mean what my da is so afraid it might mean too."

Elladan's head dropped back as he groaned and stared helplessly at the ceiling as the dwarves all erupted into laughter and glee at his expense. Even his own twin brother.

Arwen went so far as to clap while smiling. She then turned to Fili with a spark in her bright eyes. "Now we need to find a dwarrowdam for you to gift those courting beads to!"

Fili hissed mockingly at her, not really upset at the idea but having fun pretending otherwise. It was actually kind of exciting to think that he might actually get a chance to meet more than one or two females of his race.

"Pay no attention to the young and stupid. By that I mean Tauriel and Kili. In that order." Thorin grumped, he then nodded at Dwalin.

The tattooed warrior nodded back and he pulled out an ornately carved wooden box. Not huge. But covered in designs from nature. Vines, flowers, trees and the like. It was darkly stained and with a shimmering luster of well tended wood. He carefully put the box down in front of Glorfindel.

The golden haired warrior of old, looked up with a stunned look. This was no mere trinket, but a masterwork of dwarven craft and design.

Thorin coughed politely and nodded at the elvish warrior. "To hold keepsakes."

Glorfindel's eyes moved from the dwarvish king, to the tattooed warrior and his diplomatic brother. All three nodded lightly. Touched beyond words, the re-embodied elf put his hand on the box and bowed his head in deep respect and gratitude.

The four of them had shared grief, sorrow, and a bone-deep knowledge of pain too powerful to talk of with others who didn't share in the losses they'd suffered. This gift was an acknowledgement of that shared memory, and those they'd each lost.

The others in the room did not seem to understand the undercurrents, only murmuring about the fine work that had gone into crafting the box. Galadriel's eyes moved between them and she turned to look at her confused husband.

It wasn't until Glorfindel had pulled a jeweled ring off of his finger, that Celeborn had caught his breath. But the elf didn't place the ring in the newly gifted box. He handed it to King Thorin.

"The House of the Golden Flower is no more. There is only I." The hero of old said slowly. "But the strength and heart of my house is yours in the time of need." He pledged.

Thorin wasn't sure exactly what was being promised, but he knew enough to be completely bowled over by the offer. From what it sounded like, Erebor had a new friend.

He suddenly laughed, drawing surprised looks from all around him. "I finally make friends with an elf. Is it a neighbor? No. One of the relatives of my nephew? No. I get the bubble-loving, tomb-robbing, jokester fond of making trouble." Thorin smiled at the elf warrior.

"May your feet be of stone, your head clear, your heart proud, and your arm as of iron. May the paths you walk be lined with riches. May the Maker craft your family. May I always call you my friend."

At the Common words of the old Khuzdul saying, Glorfindel stood and bowed with utter grace and dignity.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"I wasn't expecting gifts!" Arwen smiled generously, as she opened yet another thimble, this one from Bifur.

"You gave us gifts, lass." Balin pointed out with a grandfatherly smile for the pretty elf-maid, despite the fact that she was actually much older than he. The white-bearded dwarf held up the scented pouch embroidered with an elvish rune meant for his sock drawer. In fact, each of the dwarves now had one. She'd explained that the rune stood for 'prosperity', not just with monies but with life and family. The dwarves had been pleased.

Arwen's nose scrunched up prettily. "I didn't have time to make much, I wish I could have done more."

Bofur laughed and shook his head. "Nay lass, we all only had to come up with an extra gift or two. You had a whole slew of dwarves to come up with something for. Not the same at all!"

Kili grinned, seeing the other three thimbles already lined up before her. "I think someone must have mentioned that you liked needle work." He glanced over at Elrohir who did not have the grace to deny it. The older elf sibling simply gloated a bit, his gray eyes happy.

"I love them!" The dark-haired elf maid gushed generously. "It is beyond kind to be thinking of gifting me with anything when I only just met you all!"

Bombur beamed back at her while Gloin nodded his approval, both having given the pretty elf lass thimbles, one of polished bronze and the other of engraved steel. The last thimble had been a gift from Thorin and was of silver.

Gloin eyed the newest thimble in Arwen's fine boned fingers and grunted softly. "Looks a might plain coming from you, Bifur."

The rather fierce looking dwarf with the silvering beard and still dark hair said something unintelligible and flashed a few symbols of Iglishmêk. Then he leaned back, whistled and put his hands behind his hands looking prideful.

Gloin looked shocked. "Really?"

Bifur nodded his head and brought one hand forward and waved it at the pretty elf maid, before leaning back once more.

Thorin was now intrigued as well. "We've only been back in Erebor a short while, you've already …." He asked eagerly.

Bifur nodded once again and twitched his eyes toward Arwen, who was watching in open curiosity.

The Dwarven King switched his keen eyed interest over to the elf and her newest thimble. "Put it on." He paused, realizing perhaps that he wasn't her ruler. "Please, try on his gift."

Arwen looked bemused, but slipped the thimble on over her finger and then made a delighted grin as a merry little tune chimed up from out of nowhere, sounding like the sweetest of songbirds. "Oh!"

Celeborn leaned forward, eying the small gift in the hands of his daughter's daughter. "Dwarf magic, I will admit it has been an age since I have seen any that has been newly crafted, and not passed down from older generations. Some things make their way down to us from the Iron Hills, but not much."

Bofur leaned in, nudging his mostly silent cousin on the shoulder. "When we haven't been inspecting the mine shafts we've been tinkering in the elder craft rooms. The ways aren't difficult, but the knowledge of how was scattered with our people. Some things we'd known, but there is so much more with the texts we've been lucky to uncover so far."

"We have lost many of our masters and apprentices as the dwarves became separated. Much of our old ways are now changed." Thorin nodded thoughtfully at Bifur. "I hadn't realized you had gotten so far as to actually make anything."

Bifur sat back up and mimed the smallness of the thimble with a shake of his head and a few hand gestures in the silent hand-language of the dwarves.

"True, true." Bofur nodded thoughtfully. "Thimbles are small, but I still think you did a great job."

"I love it!" Arwen's smile hadn't dimmed one iota, her delight clear and nearly tangible. "Thank you!"

Dori sighed and handed over a small package to the elf-maid. "I'm afraid my gift holds no magic."

Arwen carefully put down her newest treasure, to accept the gift from the white-braided dwarf. "I'm sure it will be lovely."

"At least it's not another thimble." Dori smiled back at her looking like the kindly old grandfather that he wasn't. Her actual ancestor, Celeborn, was watching with a youthful face and unlined skin. To the dwarves this all seemed a bit unnatural. But then, they were elves.

Arwen chuckled and opened her package, revealing a set of hand carved wooden bobbins painted in cheerful colors. "Perfect!" She declared, looking as if she meant it. "I need these!"

Dori blushed almost bashfully, suddenly looking about as old as his younger brother Ori. "Fine needle work takes more than a good thimble."

Gloin and Bombur sent the weaving master arch looks, which he ignored as he watched Arwen inspect his gifts.

Fili grimaced even while still smiling himself. "My gift also doesn't hold magic."

"Hey!" Kili straightened up suddenly.

"Sorry. OUR gift. This is from both of us." Fili amended graciously.

Elladan leaned in closer, wanting to know what his children had come up with as a gift for their aunt. As Arwen opened the small pouch and poured out the contents, he blinked, unsure. "But …"

Arwen looked down at her gift from both of her nephews, more than a little confused. "I thought beads were a courting gift?"

The blond prince's grin never dimmed, his blue eyes sparking with mischief.

The elves all looked confused, glancing around at the dwarves, who all just managed to look a bit smug and very amused.

Ori stepped in to translate, as it were. "Those aren't courting beads. See? Those beads are not for hair, but to string on a necklace. See the bored hole? Too small for a beard or a braid."

Celeborn stirred, pinning the blond princling with a sharp eyed gaze. "And yet we've also discussed the significance of giving of jewelry to elves."

It was Kili's turn to grin, turning his eyes onto the object of his affection. The red-haired elf currently wearing the pin he'd hand crafted for her. Almost reluctantly he let the elves in on the truth. "My brother and I aren't giving her jewelry. Not exactly. The beads are unstrung. They are PIECES of what WILL become jewelry, but it's not the same as giving jewelry."

"Because she has to have it made into jewelry herself, or do it on her own?" Elrohir asked, a rueful smile now wisping over his features.

Arwen's smile bloomed with delighted laughter as she poured the small beads from the palm of one hand to the other, not spilling even one. "You both think you're so clever!"

Fili leaned back with an arrogant ease, a smirk on his expressive lips while Kili laughed happily, looking far more at ease than he had since the battle with the wargs and goblins. And of course the arrival and revelation of his elvish blood family.

Elladan watched Kuilaith, trying not to be overly obvious. Seeing the young prince like this, laughing and having fun showed clearly how guarded and reserved the youth was when in his father's presence. As happy as it made him to see Kuilaith so light-hearted, he couldn't help the sadness that crept upon his soul like a shadow. What he wanted more than anything was for his son to be like that with him.

'Time'.

The word was multi-faceted within his mind, having come from several different sources. But not spoken aloud. Elladan shielded his thoughts more carefully. His brother and sister as well as Lady Galadriel pulled away.

Surprisingly it was Lord Celeborn who hesitated, and sent a further thought to the child of his daughter. 'Relationships do not bloom in the light of a single day, nor month, but built moment by shared moment.'

Elladan cast a sideways glance at the Lord of Lorien from the corner of his gray eyes. 'My son is not sure that he needs nor wants a father'.

Celeborn did not answer right away, leaving the younger elf to watch as Gloin gleefully played a few notes on the wooden whistle that Kuilaith had crafted for him. Elladan was even able to smile with the others as they listened.

'None of us know the needs in our hearts as well as we are aware of the wants. Sometimes the needs and the wants are not the same. You are hurting. Your child is hurting. Perhaps you should stop trying to be a father and simply learn to know him. What is torn within each of you needs mending, and maybe you can heal together.'

'You approve of him?' Elladan asked cautiously.

Another lengthy pause, then an answer of sorts. 'No. I don't. But I do not entirely disapprove of him. He has shown he is more than I'd anticipated, however.'

Elladan gave a huff of a breath and smiled at his twin, who had looked up in his direction, raising an eyebrow in inquiry. The elven father shook his head very slightly and turned to watch the merriment as the dwarves teased Bombur about the size of his new belt that Bofur had crafted for him.

"There wasn't a cow hide big enough, was there?" Teased Fili, even as the young blond winked at Bombur. "What did you do, skin a giant?"

Kili was laughing so hard he was coughing, while Dwalin pounded on his back 'helpfully'. Making the brunet protest with gestures, as he had no breath for words.

Thorin smiled at seeing his Company relaxing and enjoying themselves so. It was odd, with elves present and all. But everyone seemed in good spirits. Even the silver-haired leader of Lothlorien, while not appearing celebratory, was at least looking relaxed a bit. "Come. Let us get these gifts given. There's a feast and a hall full of hungry dwarves that will soon be arriving and we need to be down there.

Kili straightened up, shooting a glance at an unrepentant Dwalin. Then the young prince went over to the pile of presents he'd brought over from his own room. He picked up a nicely carved and stained wooden frame. He hesitated a moment, then walked over to the Lady Galadriel and her husband. The young prince twisted his mouth and then made the decision to bow his head slightly at the silver-haired Celeborn.

Surprised, the elf lord returned the gesture slowly.

Kili then grinned so wide it wasn't a wonder it didn't split his face. "I made this for her." He tilted his head at the gently smiling Lady. "Elladan, er …my …father, well he says it's not really the thing to give. But I didn't know that at the time I made it."

Celeborn's eyebrows rose in question.

"So I thought I'd let you judge it, whether or not I can give it to her. You being the one to marry her and all." Kili finished.

Unbidden, Elladan's mind flashed back to the image of Kuilaith's stunned face when he'd found out that Galadriel even had a husband. And how the elf must be really brave or really foolish. The picture in his head was so strong he shared it without meaning to.

Elrohir choked trying not to laugh. Arwen ducked her head immediately, playing with the gifts she'd already received.

Celeborn showed no reaction at all beyond a mere widening of his eyes as he accepted the proffered frame.

Galadriel's eyes lit up with amusement as she watched the newest member of her bloodline shift his weight on his feet rather nervously.

The silver-haired lord read the poem of Elenlote, speaking out the Sindarin in a musical intonation that showed Kili that yes …it did rhyme after all.

The dwarves all watched, not holding their breath, but still waiting to see the elf lord's reaction. They weren't sure why the poem might not be appropriate, but they hoped that Kili's gift might be deemed alright.

Celeborn finally came to the end of the poem, running his finger around the edge of the frame most carefully. "You made this yourself?"

Kili nodded, not able to read the elf lord's expression.

"Scribed this yourself?"

Kili nodded again, his stomach starting to get that butterfly feeling. Had he messed the poem up that badly?

Elrohir however, could read the expression on Celeborn's face. It wasn't anger or anything else negative. He smiled gently. "When Kuilaith was concussed and first saw our Galadriel, he mistook her for Elenlote."

Celeborn's eyes lit up and an actual smile played briefly over the elegant curve of his mouth. "Indeed?"

Kili scowled suddenly, feeling young and foolish as he shot a disparaging look behind him at his elvish uncle.

"I did almost the same, when I first saw her so long ago." Celeborn admitted with a fond look toward his wife of more than a few thousand years. "It is good to be reminded of the days when all was new. Love grows deep, but the fresh bloom of first sight is but once."

The dark-haired prince of two realms hesitated, his scowl disappearing as he realized that it might be alright.

"You may gift this to her, and I find it not inappropriate at all." Lord Celeborn handed the frame back to Kili with an even deeper bow of his head. He then actually smiled. "And I will refrain from asking you from whence you heard the poem of Elenlote."

From her seat next to the Lady Arwen, Tauriel's face went so red her freckles all but disappeared.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"Cousin?"

Dis looked up, then around. She was standing in what had been her son's room, now bare, with everything packed, sold, or gifted away. Dain was alone. Her shoulders relaxed, aching a bit from how tightly she'd been holding herself together. "Where is everyone?"

Dain gave her a long look, stroking his beard in an unconscious gesture of nerves. "All gone home. Or setting up camp."

"Camp?" Dis asked.

"Too many of us to stay in your cabin." Dain pointed out, he paused for a moment before continuing. "The elders left in order to meet elsewhere for now."

"To talk about me in privacy, I suppose." Came the more than bitter response.

The leader of the Iron Hills shrugged helplessly. "Probably." He admitted. "Though to be honest, they've been talking about you ever since you announced you were having a second child."

Dis chuckled roughly, no humor in her at the moment. "How angry are they?" She didn't specify the 'they' she was asking about.

Dain licked his lips, noting that he needed something on his skin to keep them from chapping further. He was hardly vain, but he was practical enough to know that skin wasn't meant to crack. "I assume you mean those at Erebor and not the elders. Your dwarrow went through Rivendell it seems, on their journey. It wasn't till they left that the Elves realized just who Kili was and that he was kin to them."

Dis nodded to show she was attending his words, but she turned away to stare at a bare wall. She frowned at the marks that showed where Fili had used to hang his weapon belts and straps.

Watching her sadly, Dain continued. "They rushed after them. Him. Got to Erebor right in time to save our skins."

"So they claim." The dwarrowdam said dismissively.

"So I know to be true." Dain countered quickly, his voice firm and solid on this topic at least. "I was there. If the elves hadn't come, I would be crowned King Under the Mountain."

"Are you grateful or sorry?" Dis asked, her tongue loose in her head as she felt on the edge of her control.

Dain snorted, looking disgusted. "Don't be daft, cousin. I would never stand against Thorin and you well know it."

Dis bowed her head in apology. "Yes. That was unworthy of me."

The Iron Hills dwarrow gave her a telling look, but nodded to show he accepted her apology. He couldn't even imagine the stress she was laboring under right now. And it would only get worse when they arrived at Erebor. "The elves were ready to take Kili away with them that first night. Only they didn't because Fili stalled for time."

"Ever my brave lad, my golden lion. So protective and smart."

"And Kili?"

Dis smiled and shook her head. "Mothers have no favorites. You should know that. You need to have your own heir, Dain."

The Iron Hills leader snorted again, this time in resignation. "My advisors nag me on that subject, I don't need it from you too."

Dis looked up at her cousin then. "Fili is my first born, son of the love of my life. Proud, strong, brave and true. He is all that a dwarrow should be."

Dain didn't interrupt, he just nodded his agreement and waited for her to continue.

"Kili is no less for being the younger. I held no love for his father, but I regret nothing. There was not but joy in raising both my sons. He too is proud, strong, brave and true. His blood may not be pure, but he is dwarrow down to his bones."

Feeling his heart ache for his cousin, Dain sighed. "Dis. Taking a child from his father without telling him …."

The dwarrowdam looked up, her eyes fierce and piercing. "Could you have shared? Could you have sent your child off to live with strangers, elves? Even if only for a year here or there?"

Dain growled and ran a rough hand through his hair, grimacing at the grime of the journey. He needed a good wash as well as a good meal. "I have no answers for you. I have no words of comfort."

"I ask for none." Dis said, straightening her spine and staring at him proudly. "I chose my path and I will not leave it now that rocks grow to block my way."

"Rocks don't grow." Grumbled the entirely literally minded dwarrow on a deep sigh. "How? How did this happen?"

A startled laugh on the verge of an emotional break-down escaped the dwarrowdam. Her eyes were too bright, too wide, and her voice a little too hoarse as she turned to stare at him. "You want the technical details? Who was on top? What body part went where?"

Dain's eyes closed in exasperation as he shook his head forcefully. "Stop! I don't need that visually in my head!"

"Why? Because you're not attracted to elves?" Dis hissed at him. "Well, neither am I."

Dain swallowed hard, unable to meet her eyes anymore. "You did what you were asked, and it was wrong of the king for asking."

Dis watched him, seeing his discomfort and embarrassment. She took a deep breath and tried to blow out her anger, frustration and yes …fear. "King Thror was desperate. We'd lost Frerin. Father's mind was slipping even then, though he was trying to hold on for all our sakes. Thorin was so damned young and brave. But he was the last of us."

"Except for Fili."

Dis nodded. "Thror was nearly lost to us as well, in his fever to reclaim Erebor. He saw the taking of Khazad-dum as a step in that direction as we all know. But. In the quiet moments, when he was with us in mind as well as body, he enjoyed Fili. Adored him really. And I think it killed a part of the king when Nehili died, even though he'd been against my marriage at first." She felt a tear slip free from whatever kept moisture within the eyes, and she did not bother to wipe it away as it tracked down her cheek. "Thror wanted more children in the bloodline. The loss of Frerin was a devastating blow."

"For us all." Dain said, echoing her sorrow with his own. "He left us too soon."

Dis sighed and turned to face her cousin head-on. "I did what I thought was best, because my grandfather and father needed me. I left the marriage later, well, those reasons are mine. But they do not include any foul behavior on the part of my husband."

Dain nodded slowly, much relieved to hear that Elladan had treated her fairly at least. Had not mistreated her at least. "Kili?"

"Is mine."

Dain dropped his head heavily, hearing her words like stones in his heart. She would brook no argument on this point, he could tell. "Lad is part theirs."

"They knew where I was." Dis' nose went up into the air.

Stroking his beard again, Dain shook his head. "It doesn't sound like it was love for either of you. You left your husband knowing he would not follow. Not telling him of his own child, his only child, was not well done."

"Perhaps not." Dis said slowly. "But I regret only having been found out. My children are not pieces on a game board. They are mine. I gave birth to them. Both of them. Elladan? Didn't want me. Do you know how many times in the four months we were together that we mated?"

"I don't want to know!" Dain was quick to shout.

"I had to do everything!" Dis was unable to stop herself or her words. "Do you think that elf saw me, when we were lying together? His body worked. Barely. Males are males. They respond. But it wasn't …"

Dain stepped forward almost angrily, interrupting her tirade. "I don't care! I don't care if you were only together once or every night! The result is the same. You were with child and you LEFT! Kili is over seventy years old. In all that time you did nothing to let your husband know. You say that the elves knew where you were? Well, you knew good and well where they were too!"

Dis glared at him. Dain glared right back.

The dwarrow ruler from the Iron Hills stared at his cousin, still a beautiful dwarrowdam and regal in her stance. "I have no place in this argument. This is between you and your husband. Yes, it must have been tough on you, I understand. The dwarves will stand with you because …well, you're you and you're us. But know that many will NOT understand how you could have kept the son from the father." It was a given in their culture, something so basic it might as well be physically a part of them. Bloodlines were everything. Fatherhood was precious to them all, it was the basis for their greetings, their celebrations, their very beings.

"You don't know."

Dain nodded at her, his eyes fierce. "No. I don't. I do know you were hurt by it all." He paused for a moment before continuing, no give in his resolve. "You have hurt him deeply as well."

"I don't care." Dis said, though it made her shaky on the inside as she recalled the quiet, grieving stillness that had been her husband.

Dain nodded grimly. "Do you care that you've also hurt your son?"

Dis' stone heart cracked a bit right then and she gasped, a second tear following the track laid forth by its predecessor.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"This is very fine work indeed." Nuluin hummed, pleased with the herb press crafted for him. "Though I hesitate to accept. I would not want to take it with me back to Rivendell when it will be needed here." His eyes gleamed warmly with admiration, tracing the decorative inlaid silver work on the cover depicting wild roses.

Balin flushed, pleased with the compliments and shaking his head already. "Nay, nay. I'm making several for our healing hall from the description that you gave me. However, that one is for you. For the wonderful work you've done in protecting our own." He waved a hand at Fili and Kili who were sitting with Tauriel and Arwen while comparing the fine wine goblets that Thorin had gifted to each of his nephews. Goblets fit for a king.

"Nain." Kili said in an almost whisper, pointing at the name rune for Tauriel's benefit. Smiling up at her happily. "A great king of old."

Fili shook his head at the duo. "Nain II." He corrected. "These aren't aged enough to be from the first Nain's rule."

"The rune says clearly, Nain!" Kili growled, sticking out his chin as he pointed at the engraving in question while shooting his brother an ill look. Embarrassed to be called out in front of the red-headed she-elf.

Fili rolled his blue eyes. "Of course it says Nain! They were BOTH named Nain!"

Thorin sighed and shook his head at Dwalin, who chuckled. "Kili!" Barked the king.

The dark-haired prince turned around, glaring until he saw Thorin's face. He lost the temper quickly as he grinned and tossed the goblet in the air, catching it easily. "Yes, uncle?"

"Your brother is right. They're from the reign of the second King Nain." Thorin ignored the disappointment on Kili's face, and the victorious look on that of his heir.

"You're an idiot." Fili poked his younger sibling's shoulder, the move both showing the brothers competitive nature and affection. Kili growled, but didn't retaliate, not wanting to seem childish to the she-elf sitting beside him.

"But it is poor form for Fili to gloat, so you should get the next present." Thorin continued.

Fili's grin faded while Kili's grew widely. "Now who's the idiot?"

"Both of you." Dwalin commented dryly.

"Perhaps I should give the two my gifts." Elladan spoke up. "The time is growing later and Kuilaith has been coughing more as he grows tired." He then turned to give a pointed look at the blond dwarf. "Fili practically has dark circles under his eyes as well."

Fili and Kili both shot each other a look, because basically, all joking and teasing aside. They didn't know what to make of the elf who was father to one and adoptive father to the other. Kili was torn, wanting to like Elladan and the same time wanting nothing to do with him. Confusion was all he had to hold onto right now.

Fili felt indecisive as well, basically hating the elf for having a claim on his sibling and yet feeling sorry for him at the same time. Mixed in with that was a deep seated feeling that somehow he hadn't been deemed good enough as a second-son. That had he been, perhaps Elladan would have come after them after mam left.

This had made things especially difficult for both brothers when trying to decide what to gift to Elladan and his twin brother. In the end, Fili had made a fine leather travel pouch, 'for things', with a matching one for Elrohir. The only difference had been in the intricate leather embossing, a finely fletched arrow for one and a horse for the other.

Kili had mixed up a hair conditioner for Elrohir, one that didn't smell like the woodsy scent the elves normally used. For his father, he had reluctantly carved out some extremely well crafted fishing lures. Elladan had exclaimed nicely over the gifts from both brothers, but they knew the gifts would not be considered highly personal.

"We don't need anything." Kili said nervously, then winced as he realized how his words might be taken. "I don't mean that we don't want anything." He looked toward the ceiling, embarrassed. "Only that you didn't have to …"

"They're not embarrassing gifts." Elladan promised.

"Not like announcing your virginity in the hallway outside uncle's office." Fili whispered.

Kili's eyes flew open wide as he suddenly felt like someone had dunked him in ice. Tauriel and Arwen's presence did not help. With true shock, anger and complete humiliation his sharp elbow found Fili's side in automatic brotherly retaliation.

"Lad!" Oin bellowed, appalled as the younger sibling came entirely too close to hitting Fili's healing wound as the blond doubled over in pain.

Kili's dark eyes were wide with distress, catching onto Fili's arm in support and self-disgust. "Damn it, I'm sorry!"

"This is getting out of hand." Dwalin growled, running a hand over his face. "Both of you settle down, shut up, and hold out your hands."

"And say thank you when he's done handing out your presents." Balin added in his authoritative grandfatherly manner.

Fili grimaced as he straightened, closing one eye as he took a breath and held it for a second. Then he shook his blond head and frowned. "Not children."

"Then don't act like dwarflings." Thorin snapped at the duo.

"It was my fault." Kili spoke up quickly, misery in his dark eyes.

"I goaded him." Fili said resolutely, obviously not wanting to shift the blame entirely onto his younger brother.

Thorin sighed and pointed at them both. "And I don't care."

All of this Lord Celeborn watched with an impassive air and Kili felt fairly certain he was NOT making a good impression on the family patriarch.

Trying not to laugh at the shredded pride of the two young and yet basically adult males, Elladan pressed his lips together and quietly handed Fili a package.

"Thank you." Offered the blond prince, refusing to glance at Balin even as he offered the words. With what dignity he could muster he opened his present, a small travel tinder box. He slid it open with his crafter's fingers, tracing the flint and steel set contained within. He spoke quietly, without a change in his expression. "This will come in handy."

It was as impersonal a gift as the one he'd made for Elladan. Yet somehow the blond dwarf had hoped for something else. Inwardly he pushed the thought away. He didn't need anything from the tall elf. The male wasn't even his real father after all.

Elladan actually smiled and nodded at the young dwarf. "It will never fail to spark. Not in wind, rain or snow. Not even underwater."

Fili stilled, his fingers still on the flint set. Wonder started to bloom within him as he held his breath. Bofur and several of the other dwarves sat up, suddenly intrigued. "Bespelled?" The hatted dwarf asked speculatively.

The elf lord nodded. "It's from the High Elves of the First Age. We no longer have the songs of power to craft such. It belonged to my mother's father, then it was mine, and now it is yours."

Fili's stunned blue eyes stared at Elladan, then shot quickly over at Lord Celeborn as if to weigh if that worthy would object to the passing of such a thing to such a one as he. They weren't even blood.

Lord Celeborn's left eyebrow rose a fraction, but he otherwise showed no reaction. If the High Elf had known in advance of the gift, it did not show on his face.

Thorin, as stunned as his nephews, sought out Dwalin's gaze. But the dwarven warrior didn't look any less surprised then he himself did. It was a tremendous gift. A family heirloom. The dwarven king shifted in his seat, wanting to protest the gift strongly but having no way to do so that didn't sound petty and stupid.

Fili had no such reserve. "I cannot accept this." He pushed the tinder box with the flint and steel within back toward the tall elf lord."

Elrohir smiled fondly. "Yes, you can. It is a gift." Then the two twins nodded together in concert. "I want you to have it."

The blue eyes of the crown prince appeared guarded even as he shot a nervous glance at Lord Celeborn, who had not moved even slightly. Still, Fili swallowed and shook his head. When Elladan refused to take the box with the gift back, the prince put it down on the table and stood. He looked meaningfully at Thorin for a moment, then turned and left the room.

Celeborn stirred, only stopping when Galadriel's hand settled on his forearm. Elladan looked saddened, and started to move to follow the dwarven prince.

"No, me." Elrohir stood quickly, reassuring his brother. "See to Kuilaith's gift."

"Hope this one goes better." Muttered Gloin darkly, drawing a look of ire from Dwalin, while Oin just looked confused having heard very little of the last few minutes.

"What's going on?" Oin asked loudly, but no one seemed willing to share an answer.

Elladan handed his twin brother the tinder box set, while Kili looked like a storm cloud about to burst. The young dark-haired prince half stood, ready to run after his older sibling.

Elrohir put his hand on Kili's shoulder, stopping him. "Let me. Please. Stay here. You have a gift to receive."

Kili's head was shaking and he was ready to fight off his elven uncle's touch.

"I'll join you." Thorin's harsh grumble of a voice brooked no disagreement. He pinned his youngest nephew with a hard eyed look. "Stay."

"But …" Kili's knees fairly buckled beneath him, making him sit back down with more force than necessary. His eyes were wide with distress and the need to go to Fili.

Elrohir's hand patted Kuilaith in comfort, ending with a small squeeze on his shoulder. "It will be fine."

Kili watched his uncles, both dwarven and elven, leave the room. It was only the clearing of Elladan's throat that had him focusing back in on the fact that everyone in the room was literally staring at him.

The dark-haired princeling blushed lightly and sighed in resignation. "Well?"

Elladan smiled ruefully at the rather grouchy sounding word from his son. "Look this way."

Kili looked up, feeling uneasy still.

The tall elf lord studied his child's face for a moment, an almost sad smile on his face. Elladan then looked toward Glorfindel, and the ancient elf warrior handed him something slim, rounded and golden.

Celeborn did shift a bit, but did not seem upset. Galadriel gave the smallest of nods with a soft smile.

"What is it?" Kili asked, confused, and frankly with his attention still divided as he wondered what was going on with Fili and how soon he could get out of this room to find out.

Elladan hesitated as he reached for Kili's face, raising his eyebrows. He stood there, watching.

The young princeling watched him right back, until he suddenly realized that his father was waiting for permission. Kili filled his cheeks roundly with air and blew out a breath of frustration even as he nodded.

Elladan reached down and pushed Kili's hair back from his face as he placed a golden circlet onto the half-dwarven youth.

Glorfindel smiled and lifted a cup in salute while Arwen literally cheered happily, grinning widely.

Unsure, Kili's hand rose to touch the diadem on his head, surprised to find the gold was warm rather than cool to his fingers.

Oin shoved his brother in the side. "I thought you said there were rules about gifting jewelry to elves?"

Gloin pursed his lips, nodding. "But Kili's a dwarf."

"Kuilaith is partially elf." Bofur pointed out, playing the argumentative side, waving his hand back and forth in a half-and-half gesture.

Kili's expression fell into a scowl as he narrowed his eyes on his father. "You were the one who threw a fit about me giving out a piece of jewelry, and you're giving me this?"

Bombur snorted, as if the difference were obvious to anyone with half a brain. Bofur grinned. "I'm sure that this diadem has a meaning far different than the rose pin you gave Tauriel."

"It's not a rose!" Kili protested, then could have bit his tongue as Bofur's expression sharpened with curiosity.

The hatted dwarf peered over at the red-haired elf lass in question, who seemed to have no trouble with the sudden scrutiny, Kili wondered if that was a learned trait or something purely elvish. And if so, why didn't he have it? "It's not a rose." He repeated, his chin up and proud.

Dwalin grumped and shrugged. "I thought it a poorly done rose." He admitted.

Appalled, Kili glared at the dwarven warrior. "It's not a rose!" It was becoming a litany. "And it's NOT poorly done!"

"It's meant to be the flower of Elenlote, is it not?" Galadriel's voice smoothed over the ruffled feathers of Kuilaith's temper.

Celeborn now looked a trifle confused. "I too assumed it was a rose of some sort. As for Elenlote, the poem says the flower would be made of starlight, not …red." He pointed out.

Kili twisted his mouth to the side, mumbling. Bofur grabbed Oin's hearing horn from his startled hand and put it to his own ear, leaning forward with an eager expression. "What was that, laddie?"

"That's prince laddie." Balin pointed out with some amusement.

Kili sighed and griped. "It's the Elenlote flower …under the light of a Fire Moon."

Bofur blinked and ignored Oin's punch to the chest as the healer tried to get his hearing horn back. Absently he shoved the older dwarf back slightly. Gloin immediately retaliated with a kick to the shins. Bofur winced and handed the horn back to its owner, though his eyes didn't leave Kili. "Then what are the brown twisty vines around it?"

Arwen's laugh trilled through the room. "The poem of Elenlote is only one side of the story, there is also her fascination with and love for the earth."

Bofur scratched his head, reaching under his hat in a less than couth manner to do so. "Earth? Fire Moon? I don't get it. It makes no sense."

Arwen continued smiling rather happily as she looked at the increased color in Tauriel's face. "I think it makes perfect sense, to one person at least. And she's the only one who matters, in this case at least."

Bofur looked back and forth questioningly between Tauriel and Kili, both of whom did not meet his eyes. Suddenly the dwarf laughed in delight and slapped his hand loudly on the table. "Well done then! Well done!"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili growled low and menacing, not bothering to turn around. "I don't want to talk to you."

Standing next to the tall elf warrior, Thorin eyed the straight and proud posture of his nephew. Taking a moment to admire how fine a dwarf Fili had turned into, the dwarven king spoke up. "Does that include me?"

Fili's head turned, his braids and blond hair framing his face like a lion. Blue eyes glanced back, wincing as he saw that he was being followed by not one, but by two uncles. He didn't answer right away. When he did speak, he sounded tired. Resigned. "I did not give you or your brother a gift equal to what he tried to give me."

"Such wasn't expected, nor required." Elrohir answered cautiously, trying to get a sense of the blond's mood.

"You misunderstand." Fili shot him a guarded look. "It was deliberate."

Thorin grunted.

"I don't want to …See, I forgot." The crown prince sighed, taking a deep breath. Neither uncle spoke up, so Fili continued. "You put yourself between danger and me and Kili."

Elrohir's face was blank, watchful in that way that elves all seemed to have. "I had already put you in danger by having you both out there without guards. I could not allow further injury to either you or Kuilaith."

"Kili." The response was immediate, and final, at least in the eyes of a certain blond prince. "His name is Kili and he is my brother."

If Elrohir was startled by the bedrock firmness in Fili's voice, he didn't show it at all.

"And that's what I forgot. In all the time I …or we, spent with you and your brother …you putting yourself in danger to protect us …and having fun with your sister over a board game …I forgot the most basic of things." He turned to face both males. "I forgot that you're here to steal my brother. I am not on your side. I will not ever be on your side."

Elrohir cocked his head to the left, the long fall of his dark hair hanging down like a silken waterfall. "Do you think this gift is a bribe? For that is not so."

"Do you deny that the Lady Arwen is here to soothe us all, to make elves seem better?" There was definite accusation in the dwarf's voice.

"My sister is all that is kind, gentle and good." Elrohir answered slowly, carefully. "Why Lady Galadriel sent for her is basically obvious, as you no doubt guessed. But Arwen presents no false-face. She is as you have seen her, that is …if she puts a better image of elves in front of you it is because she is better than your thoughts on our race."

Thorin grunted. He wasn't sure that was the complete truth, but he'd seen nor sensed anything to contradict the elf's words thus far. "Fili. Nephew. I will not try to convince you of anything. If you want the elves to leave you alone, it shall be as you say."

Elrohir's gray eyes slanted side-ways without turning his head, as he shot a questioning look at the dwarf ruler beside him.

Fili shrugged, looking far younger than his age in his loose shirt and sleep trousers that he'd been wearing while recovering from his injuries. "I will not accept that gift."

"Then throw it in the midden heap." Elrohir said without any asperity in his voice, as if he really meant his words. "What has been given cannot be un-given. What you do with the gift beyond the giving is your choice."

"You and Elladan are only being friendly to me in order to get closer to Kili." The dwarvish prince said harshly.

"Then why didn't I let those arrows kill you?"

The words stunned both Thorin and Fili, who stared at the elf lord in confusion.

"If my plan was solely to gain a greater closeness with him, or to get him to want to leave Erebor ….I shouldn't have tried to keep you alive. You die and Kuilaith becomes inconsolable. Alone. Easy for myself and Elladan to manipulate in his grief."

Thorin nearly choked. "Hardly alone!" He protested.

Elrohir shook his head, pinning the dwarven king with his gray eyes. "You were the uncle who left Kuilaith behind, injured and dying. Walked away from him for a mountain of treasure. You cannot say that he did not feel abandoned."

The King Under the Mountain hissed in mounting rage.

"Or is that not how it really was? That no matter how your actions were perceived, your intent was good. Just like our gift tonight to Fili is not the bribe that he is mistaking it for?" Elrohir continued, deliberately deflating Thorin's outrage and leaving him gaping in astonishment. "My brother gave that tinder box to you, Fili. Because he wanted to do so. Nothing more."

"Oh?" Asked the still skeptical dwarven prince. "Just like he wanted me when I was four? It wasn't me that you and the elves of Rivendell rode across half of Middle Earth in order to face down a dragon and several armies in order to find and save." Fili sneered. "So forgive my thinking that it is too great a gift unless you are trying to get me on your side. To reassure Kili and get him to trust you all."

The door flew open and Kili himself stood outlined in the frame by the light in the hallway. His dark and worried gaze travelled over the group, only settling down when he spied Fili.

Thorin shook his head. "Didn't think you'd take this long to come after us." He said dryly. "Come here, lad." His eyes went immediately to the golden circlet on his youngest nephew's forehead and he frowned.

Fili sniffed and deliberately opened his arms in a silent call.

Thorin's words didn't even register in light of his brother's need. Kili went straight into his brother's embrace, being held close even though he was the taller of the two. The dwarven uncle frowned at this deliberate reminder of where Kili's loyalties were housed.

Fili turned slightly, unable to look at Elrohir over his sibling's shoulder. When he was angled enough to peer over at the tall elf, he nodded grimly. "You can't have him."

Elladan, who'd obviously walked in following Kuilaith, paused at the doorway. "He is my son."

Kili tensed at those words, which in turn drew a growl of protest from the elder brother.

"You are my second-son." Elladan continued, only to be interrupted almost immediately.

"No!" Fili barked rudely. "You and your father and all the other elves of Rivendell would have let me walk into my doom in the midst of dragon flame. You cannot claim parentage now."

Elladan started forward, only to stop as his twin brother raised a hand in a mute signal. The elvish uncle turned to give Fili a lengthy look. "The Lady Dis took you with her when she left. Told my brother in a note that she was taking nothing that belonged to him. It was a clear signal that she did not want us in your life."

"How do you know?" Snapped the blond.

"Because she told us." Elladan answered quietly.

"Every day." Elrohir confirmed. "Aierstalder, you have to understand. You were four. We could not in clear conscience ride into Ered Luin and demand custody of a fully blooded dwarven child with no shared blood between us. Your mother was very determined that you did not grow up with 'strange elvish ways' as she called it."

"What did you call him?" Kili let go of the death-grip he had on his older sibling, stepping slightly back but not so far that he had to break contact altogether.

Fili's blue eyes were round and huge. Thorin fought not to sigh or close his eyes. It seemed the dwarven crown prince remembered that nickname in some context at least.

"I know that word." Fili said slowly, unsure in what way he knew that word. When he remembered he let out a sudden hiss of shock and dismay, his eyes sliding immediately to Thorin.

The dwarven king responded to the mute appeal and walked over to both of his sister-sons, opening his arms to them. Despite the events at the end of their quest, there was no hesitation in the lads. Fili and Kili clung to Thorin like a life-line, burying their heads against either side of his chest.

Elladan stopped breathing for a moment, until his lungs reminded them that they had a job to do.

Elrohir fought to keep his roiling emotions, including absolute jealousy, from showing in either expression or gesture. His gray eyes sought out his twin and the two had a moment of shared hurt before starting to turn away. To leave the dwarves to their moment.

Fili, never lifting his blond head from the comfort of Thorin's hold, spoke up. He had to repeat himself to be heard. "I accept your gift."

Elladan stilled, unsure. His twin froze, it was his turn to hold his breath for a moment.

"I'm still not on your side." The crown prince looked up. "Just so you know."

Both elf lords nodded, grateful to have gained any ground with the young dwarf. Even if was only an inch that they gained, or less.

Thorin's arm tightened around both of his nephews before letting them go one at a time. "You are sure, Fili?"

"I remember the word Aierstalder." The blond prince said haltingly. "Maybe." His intense gaze seemed to bore a hole though Thorin as the king gave a most reluctant nod.

"I don't." Whined Kili, who reached up to scratch his forehead when something unfamiliar shifted up there. He frowned as his fingers encountered the golden diadem.

Thorin snorted as he eyed what his nephew was doing. "Does that have a meaning?" He wasn't sure if he wanted to know. But he absolutely needed to know. Was it a signal that Kili was the heir of more than one realm?

Elladan and Elrohir shared another one of those spooky elf twin moments, as if speaking to each other in their minds.

Thorin called them on it. "You two look like you can hold entire conversations mind to mind."

"Indeed." Elladan didn't even bother to deny it, nodding his head in acknowledgement. Thorin's eyes widened in shock. "As can most of the High Elves. And Mithrandir as well as the other wizards."

"I will NOT have you in my mind!" Thorin barked loudly, temper rising at an alarming rate.

Kili hunched his shoulders and reached up, dragging the golden circlet from his forehead with a deep scowl. "Does this let you read my mind?"

Elrohir couldn't help his sudden laugh, leaving Elladan to explain. "It is a form of silent speaking, nothing more. I can share words, or perhaps a mental image with my brother and several of my family or a close friend. Only when we are in sight of one another. I cannot read their thoughts, nor that of any of the dwarves."

"Galadriel can." Kili muttered darkly, taking a wild guess.

Elladan shrugged, for he himself wasn't sure as to the extent of the powers his mother's mother held within her. "I have wondered to that myself sometimes. But I think not to the extent that you worry over. The Lady of Lorien is hardly intrusive, but is highly intuitive."

"What does that mean?" Thorin asked, his temper barely held in check.

Elrohir spread his hands to show he was being open, that he was holding nothing back. "There are a lot of things that my brother and I got away with as elflings that we should not have, if thoughts could be read so easily."

"Arwen too?" Fili asked.

Elladan chuckled at the thought. "Hardly. Our sister is the perfect child. Sweet and obedient. The one to never cause our father a moments worry."

Fili shifted his weight, remembering his afternoon spent teaching Arwen a complicated board game. He was thinking that the elf lords were a bit misled when it came to their younger, and female, sibling. She had a devious mind for strategy and a quick wit. For now though, he decided not to argue the point as there was no reason to do so.

Kili was peering closely at his diadem, the gift from his elven father. "Is this a way to read my mind or control me?"

Elladan snorted in amusement. "Hardly. It was mine. Made for me by the smiths in Rivendell and sung into power by my own father, Lord Elrond."

Thorin's muscles nearly seized as his mind honed in on part of that explanation. "Sung into power?"

Elrohir shrugged. "Elf magic. Not the stuff of legend, of course. Merely a song of protection and …" Here the elf lord hesitated, his expression showing he wished he'd stopped speaking one word too late.

"And?" Thorin demanded.

"Love." Elladan finished for his twin. "Protection and love."

"Love cannot be bespelled." Fili argued, looking ready to fight if given half a chance, despite his injury.

"No." Elrohir nodded at the blond dwarf. "Love certainly cannot be created through magic. Or dispelled either." His expression was rueful. "Many a heartache would have been avoided in our long elvish history if that were not the case."

"And we would not be here." Elladan added dryly, making the dwarves stare. Then the trio realized that Luthien's own match might have been avoided if her family had been able to sway her mind in another direction.

"Oh." Fili and Kili both breathed out in concert.

Thorin was not deterred. "Protection and love. Explain."

Elladan seemed nervous, if such could be said of an elf who normally gave little away with his expressions. "The songs of power are not those of the First Age, but still …they were breathed and sung into the making of that diadem. The protection offered is a small thing, it will heat up somewhat when there might be unseen dangers."

Kili startled, nearly dropping the golden circlet. "It was warm when I put it on!" He said with wide-eyed trepidation.

Elrohir laughed lightly, even as he shook his head. "That was just the initial response to a new bearer. It recognizes the Light of the Eldar within you."

"So it wouldn't work on anyone not elven?" Thorin prodded.

"It wouldn't work on anyone not of our bloodline." Elladan clarified. "And my mother's mother aided me in singing Kuilaith's name into it so that it would recognize him." His lips drooped into a sad smile for a moment. "That was what we were doing on the day of the ambush, and why I wasn't with you at the river."

Kili turned the circlet over and over in his hands, feeling unsteady but pretty sure he didn't want to be wearing the foreign thing. "It's alive?"

"No." Thorin barked, yanking the diadem out of his nephew's hand as he inspected the gift. He nodded as if to himself. "It's cold to my touch."

Thorin looked at Fili, who took his unspoken cue and reached out to run a calloused finger over the gold piece. "Cold." The blond announced.

Kili grimaced as he jerked the diadem out of his relative's hand. He looked unhappily at the object, then up at his father. "Warm." He frowned, clearly upset. "Did you bespell it? Or me?"

"It." Elladan specified quickly.

"Protection and love." Thorin growled. "Explain the love part of this song of power. If love can neither be created nor destroyed by magic, what does it do?"

"Reminds." Elrohir said very quietly. "It reminds."

"Nothing active." Elladan was quick to offer reassurances. "It does not meddle with your thoughts or feelings. By its presence alone it reminds you that you are not alone in this world. The love part of the song is not actual magic, simply a reminder."

"That sounds too strange." Kili admitted.

Thorin suddenly snorted, some amusement sparking in his blue eyes. "You carry a dwarven rune stone from your mam to remind you that you are loved and have promised to return to her hearty and hale." He looked at Fili, but the blond shook his head.

"Mam made me promise, but didn't give me a token. Said I didn't need it to remind me not to be reckless like Kili did."

"Hey!" Protested the youngest person in the room.

Everyone in the room except for Kili suddenly smiled, just a bit. It was enough to dissipate a lot of the tension. Moods lightened, hurts were soothed, though not gone. A moment of shared lives and feelings.

"Put it on, nephew." Thorin directed, not even sure why he would want Kili to wear the gift. Only that he liked the thought of some sort of protection. Even if it was elvish in origin.

The dark-eyed prince's gaze widened in surprise.

"Or do I need to sing a song of power to remind you that you still are under my command?" Thorin's mood was teasing, even as he fake glowered at Kili to hammer in his point.

The young elven-dwarven prince grinned and put the circlet back on his head.

This time when everyone smiled, it was just a little easier.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry." Fili pressed his lips together tightly, as if contemplating something difficult. Finally he took a deep, steadying breath. "Your gift shames me. I was thinking uncharitable things, and …I'm sorry."

Kili looked down at his toes, wiggling them inside of his mismatched socks. His older brother stepping up and apologizing was making him feel worse. The golden diadem currently on his forehead felt warm and comforting against his skin. But he hardly deserved the gift. "I'm sorry too."

Thorin turned his head to look at the two elf lords to see how they were reacting. Elves usually wore blank expressions, giving little away. But the dwarven uncle thought he could see some sadness in the depths of Elladan's gray eyes.

"You two have nothing to apologize for." Said Kili's father.

"I was rude, and thoughtless." Fili bit out the words as if they tasted as bitter as they felt.

"I …" Kili winced. There was so much he needed to apologize for, but for most of it he was still confused. Perhaps he was taking out his frustration in the wrong way, but he couldn't help how he felt. Still, his behavior had been less than savory. His tongue unhinged and moved without consciously deciding what to say. "I didn't ask if you even liked fishing."

Elrohir had to fight not to laugh, turning his head to stare at the wall.

Elladan nodded. "I'm not a fanatic about fishing, but it is something I have enjoyed in the past." He said, thinking of the finely crafted and yet impersonal fishing lures his son had made for him. "Perhaps you like fishing and will join me?"

Kili's eyes went wide in sudden distress, but not because of being in Elladan's presence for an afternoon. Or not entirely.

Fili and Thorin threw wild looks at each other, and then had to fight even harder than Elrohir had in order not to laugh. Thorin even started coughing to cover himself.

"Not big on fishing?" Elrohir guessed, his voice deliberately light and non-judgmental.

Fili couldn't help himself as he finally gave in and started laughing. Which led to wrapping his arms around his still painful chest wound. "Ow!"

Thorin grinned. "Does fishing involve patience?" When both of the elven twins looked at him as if that answer was obvious, his grin widened further. "Then it doesn't involve Kili."

Elladan's lips curved upward, sensing a break in the anger and hurt. Wanting to move forward, but on unsure emotional ground, he ventured forth. "I'm sure that isn't the case. I have come to understand that my son is an extremely good hunter with his bow. That definitely involves patience."

Kili started to smile, only to settle back into confusion. It was nice to be defended, but did it have to be from the father he was determined to keep at a distance?

Elrohir seemed to sense the inner turmoil of the half-elven prince. "My brother's heart already has no barriers to you. Pushing him away will only accomplish nothing."

Thorin ignored the comment, going back to the topic of Kili's lack of patience. "My nephew has often informed me that tracking a beast through the woods is DOING something. As opposed to sitting still and waiting for a fish to decide if it is hungry."

"Ah." Elladan nodded, looking terribly elegant and graceful in his elvish robes. "Perhaps you would like to go fishing with me?" He said, looking in a new direction.

Fili startled heavily, finding himself the focus of the elf lord. "I'm not your son." The words slipped by him without his consent.

Elladan blinked nervously. "I am supposed to be your second-father. Something I have obviously not fulfilled well. Your earlier apology is not necessary for it is I who owe you so many more."

Elrohir seemed pleased with his brother's words, looking back and forth between his twin and the blond prince of Erebor. "We did not have a right to follow you. But we should have done so anyway."

Thorin shifted his weight, now uncomfortable. "That would not have gone over well." He admitted, thinking on what would have happened if two elves had shown up in Ered Luin demanding access to a four year old dwarfling. Ceremony or no.

"So we thought at the time." Elrohir bowed his head in regret.

"No." Elladan sighed, sadness weighing heavily in his gray eyed gaze. "My brother wanted to try, to either go after you or write or something. It was I that had difficulties. Fili. You were, are, mortal. After the loss of …Bainnid." He still stumbled over her name even nearly eight decades later. "Saruman was trying to offer me counsel, but I am afraid that I could not face getting too close to someone I knew I would lose to mortality."

Kili groaned.

Elladan's gaze sharpened and moved to his dark-eyed son. "I was wrong. I was being a coward, and did not realize the scope of my mistake." He paused and then told them the bare truth. "These last several decades I have been breathing, but not really living. In spite of the difficulties presented, I am nothing but grateful to find you both."

Fili and Kili made slight sounds of protest.

"I could have had you both in my life if not for my poor decisions, I only hope you will not count me too late."

Both princes felt the pull of emotional need, but hesitated as their eyes sought out Thorin. The entirety of their young lives, he had been their compass. The model. The ideal. Even with the revelation during and following the quest that Thorin was merely a dwarrow like everyone else it did not dim their regard for him.

The dwarven king stared back at them stoically, unsure of how to respond himself. Yet he himself was not immune to the depth of emotions swirling around this group. As much as he wanted to simply keep hating the elves, they were showing themselves to be far more than he'd ever anticipated. Finally Thorin stirred, as if coming to some sort of conclusion. "Fili likes fishing much better than Kili does."

Unspoken permission. He would not stand in the way.

Kili's head twirled quickly to his brother, who was looking stunned and unsure. Finally the blond nodded his head so slowly his mustache beads barely swayed. "I do enjoy a good afternoon fishing on occasion." He admitted cautiously.

"Thorin?" Elladan asked cautiously, making an effort to match the one he sensed the king had just gifted to him.

Thorin looked as startled as his nephews felt to realize he was being asked to go along on the fishing trip. His eyebrows rose nearly as high as his hairline. "Oh, ah. I usually …" He shook his head, stumbling over his reply.

"Have work to do." Fili and Kili said in unison, and a quick shared grin.

Elrohir smiled. "It seems Kuilaith is not the only one that has difficulty with patience."

Thorin blinked, almost got mad, and then suddenly laughed unexpectedly. "No. No he's not." The king admitted with more than a little humor.

"Fishing is not for me." Elrohir admitted. "I much prefer riding. But wouldn't mind hunting."

Kili stirred and found himself nodding, simply relieved that the tension seemed to be disappearing. "I like hunting. And Erebor needs to fill her larders for this winter, it will be a lean one." He said, even though everyone already knew that.

Thorin stirred, looking like a cloud suddenly covered the sunlight.

Elladan straightened, wondering if the king was about to protest the proposed outings after all.

Thorin noted the wariness in the elf and shook his head quickly. "No, no. It's fine. I just think more should go, for safety. I don't like the smell of that ambush. Or the fact that Sauron is active in Mordor once more." He did not mention the written offer of a bounty on his own head, the one written in Black Speech. "I will have no more injuries."

The elf twins understood the concern immediately. "I know Glorfindel adores fishing." Elrohir exaggerated, then as his twin brother grinned, he added. "Or he likes sitting along a river bank drinking and telling jokes without bait on his hook."

"Think we can slip a lure on the end of his hook while he's not looking?" Elladan teased, drawing a conspiring smile from a certain blond prince. "With any luck he'll get a large catch that will pull him into the water."

"Bombur fishes." Fili added, his blue eyes showing relief at the quick nod of the elves. "Nori."

"Not Nori." Thorin spoke quickly, shaking his head. "He's …occupied."

Kili grimaced. "I wondered where he was." But sensing his uncle's reluctance, did not ask.

"Balin doesn't mind fishing." Thorin continued, thinking hard. "Dwalin would be far more comfortable hunting."

"Gloin?" Elrohir suggested. "What does he prefer?"

All three male dwarrow chuckled fondly. "Making money." Fili allowed. "He's not much on things unless it makes him money or he has no other way to put food on his table."

"Tauriel."

All eyes turned to Kili who managed not to blush even as he made his own suggestion. Quietly he pushed out his chin in a sign of his innate stubbornness.

Elladan shrugged lightly. "Do I have a choice?"

Fili and Thorin gave matching grins as they both shook their heads. Though the king did shove Kili with a bit too much force as he grumbled. "An elf? Just because she doesn't know how ugly you are doesn't mean you should take advantage."

Kili's dark eyes flashed in annoyance, but as he realized that the laughter was in good nature and not directed at him, he relaxed. When he further realized that this meant Tauriel would be asked to join them on the hunting trip, he even laughed.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dis stifled a groan that had little to do with her sore rear end as the elf rode up beside her. His tall gelding was huge compared to her pony and they were at a disadvantage to converse."

"There are signs of bad weather coming our way." Hinnin said, pitching his voice to be heard without appearing like he was yelling at her.

Dis exaggerated her nod, to show that she'd heard and understood.

"You are doing well, lady?" The elf asked, sounding as if he were in a highly appointed sitting room of the wealthy rather than on a rough trail with a cold wind whipping through them.

Dis nodded once more, perversely thankful for the elf's presence on this journey. Dain was being polite, but reserved. Most of the dwarves wouldn't meet her eyes, though they weren't rude or mean. Simply, unsure.

Ahriline was being supportive, of course, and had been riding at Dis' side most of the time. But right now she'd fallen back a bit, as Gimli's pony had taken a dislike to the lad and had actually bitten him. So Ahriline had gone to intervene and apply an ointment to the broken skin.

Of all the other dwarves, only a few would even make eye contact or mumble a few words. Dain though had been making an effort at least. He was reserved around her, not bringing up any personal topics, but friendly enough. It helped ease the way with a few of his dwarrow from the Iron Hills. But no one seemed quite to know what to say to her. She was a mystery to them now. And it wasn't hard to guess why.

She'd married an elf. They couldn't wrap their minds around that salient fact. Worse? That she'd kept Kili from his father. That would have angered them right down to the very last dwarrow.

Except Elladan was an elf.

To the dwarves, it swayed their instinctual anger. They didn't know quite how to react. Even Gimli was avoiding her, much to his mother's disapproval. Then Gimli was a good lad, a strong lad. But he also idolized Thorin and anyone who knew anything about her brother, knew he detested elves.

Dis snuck a glance up at the elf on his tall horse, finding he was gazing down at her. He appeared puzzled. Dis dismissed him in her mind, looking forward instead and putting her gaze firmly on the mountains ahead.

Whatever was puzzling the elf, he was doomed to have to work it out for himself. She kicked her pony into picking up his sure-footed pace, not that the elf's mount couldn't do the same. It was a mute communication. She didn't want or need his presence.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"You told them what?" The white-haired dwarf blinked, appalled. "Fishing?

"You like fishing, Balin." Thorin said smoothly.

"I do?"

"You do." The king reinforced, sliding his intense gaze over to his closest advisor. "You like fish."

"Eating, not catching." Balin grumbled, turning his eyes back onto the milling dwarves filling the main hall of Erebor in readiness for the evening's feast. "And with the supplies from Lake Town, we have plenty of preserved fish for the winter. I was thinking of naming this winter 'The Season of the Fishes'. What with the supplies, and being stuffed into barrels full of fishies as well."

"I thought it was 'The Season We Claimed Erebor'?" Thorin needled his old friend.

"It might turn into 'The Season You Push Your Advisor Too Far'." Balin hissed, rocking back and forth on his heels just a bit in agitation. "Fishing?"

Thorin grunted. "Better you than me." He smiled and nodded over at Dain's second-in-command as that worthy directed the placing of the low benches that had been crafted for tonight's occasion. "You'll be with Elladan, Fili and Glorfindel. Oh, and make sure Bombur goes as well."

"Yes, well. Bombur LIKES fishing. Unlike others I could name." Murmured Balin.

On the other side of the king, Dwalin smirked. Thorin caught the expression out of the corner of his eye and he smiled predatorily. "I'm sending you hunting."

"Goblins?" Dwalin asked, his muscular arms crossed as he stood next to his king.

All three of them watched as Bofur and Bifur started putting out the explosive crackers on the tables, much to the delight of the dwarves setting up the hall. Jovially the two had to beat off several reaching hands and threaten each and every dwarrow with dire consequences should they explode the gift-bearing crackers before the feast began.

Thorin grunted as Bifur came close to spiking one overeager dwarrow with a fork. "Beasties."

Dwalin nodded, then frowned. "Beasties?"

"Food. Hunting. You. 'The Season Where Dwalin Goes Hunting.'" Thorin said dryly.

The warrior wasn't slow to catch on. He closed his eyes and nodded. "If Elladan and Fili are fishing. Then it will be Elrohir and Kili going hunting?"

Thorin nodded. "Tauriel as well."

"Excellent." Dwalin said the word as if it were soaked in vinegar.

Balin scratched his beard, pitching his voice to barely a whisper. "Are we to keep the lads from the elves then?"

"No." Thorin hesitated, then sighed. "Simply a precaution following the ambush on my heirs."

Balin stirred, and despite his earlier teasing, now he truly did seem uncomfortable. "That is something that will need to be discussed."

Thorin caught the hesitancy in his friend's voice. He turned and caught Balin's gaze. Interestingly, it was the older dwarf who dropped his eyes first. "The subject?"

"Heirs." Balin cleared his throat noisily for a moment, then sighed, still refusing to meet his king's eyes. "Is it still plural?"

Shocked, Thorin stared at his long-time friend and advisor. Then he whipped his head around to look at Dwalin. That fine warrior was suddenly acting the coward and looking away as well. He grunted harshly. He wanted to tell them of course Kili was still his second heir. But his tongue seemed suddenly tied into fishermen's knots. Finally he sighed heavily. "There is talk?"

"Aye." Dwalin didn't sound happy about it either, which helped somewhat.

"A discussion for another night." Thorin sounded aggrieved. "Not tonight."

"Not tonight." Balin agreed, slipping his hands behind his back.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fergard Stormrune felt sick in the pit of his stomach, even as his sword dispatched the goblin's head from his less than fortunate and ill-formed neck.

They were losing.

Blood dripped from a shallow but freely bleeding wound high on his forehead, trying to obscure his vision. He swiped at the thick fluid he'd rather keep inside his body with his sleeve. But the fabric was already sodden and couldn't absorb much more.

Leaving large smears over his craggy features, the move cleared his vision enough to see that there were more goblins swarming over the ridge right at them.

Beside him Brorgic Grimbasher was taking advantage of the brief lull to wrap a tight bandage over his rock-hard thigh. The thing was so tight it would cut off circulation.

Fergard's gaze met Brorgic's. He grunted. The Grimbasher knew the bandage was too tight and would cost him the leg if not tended better. But loosening it meant bleeding to death that much faster. And in the meantime, his great axe was still needed.

No word had to be shared between them. The ambush had not come from the direction that they'd anticipated. But it had come.

Both dwarrows glanced behind them, seeing the bloodied and wearied miners and crafters wielding their weapons and readying for the oncoming onslaught.

Fergard's eyes lit up with racial pride. "Naikhzidi!"

Grimbasher looked at him and then grinned ruthlessly in acknowledgment. "Indeed! We are all dwarves together! We shall enter the Halls as One!" He turned and raised his closed fist in a symbol of solidarity. "Naikhzidi!"

There was an immediate answering roar from their dwarrow, at least the ones still breathing with them.

Fergard thought of his lovely daughter, and the Grimbasher heiress and their other friend from the Heavyaxe family. "The lasses?"

"If our lines fail." Grimbasher said bravely. "Their way will be eased into the Halls."

It was an easy way to say that one of the last acts of the dwarrows protecting the non-fighters would be to make sure they did not end up spitted by goblin weapons. But dwarven ones.

"Our line will not fail." Brorgic avowed, tightening his grip on his axe.

Fergard swallowed, but grimly turned to face the next wave of goblins riding down upon them. He was not but a mining engineer, not a warrior. But to his eyes, their 'line' was like a creaking beam holding up too much weight in an unstable shaft. He was not expecting to see another ….

Both dwarrow looked up in shock as they heard the sounding of a horn, and that was quickly followed by more horns.

Goblins? Orcs? Or ….

"Those be Blacklock banners!" Brorgic crowed with a wild cheer.

Fergard squinted, his heart speeding up in utmost relief. "Who's that with them? That one is on no pony! Nor is he of a proper dwarven height!"

Brorgic Grimbasher wiped his sweaty and bloody hands on his tunic and grasped his war axe once more. "Right now, I don't care if it'n be an elf if they help against these accursed goblins!"

Fergard thought of his daughter, the only light left in his heart. Silently he agreed. But would the newcomers be able to stem the tide of goblins nearly upon them? Would they render aid at all?

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"What's going on with Nori?" Kili slipped up behind his brother, startling the blond.

Fili sighed heavily, then glanced down at his brother's stocking feet still in their mismatched, and now a bit dusty, socks. "Find out you have elf blood and you suddenly sneak better?"

Kili grinned, though he had to swallow hard when he heard his brother mention that he was part elf so cavalierly. "Nori?" He redirected the conversation away from turbulent emotional waters.

Fili frowned but nodded over to where the dwarrow with the tri-braided beard was arguing loudly with their Uncle Thorin. "He's protesting the slow payment of what is owed him."

The younger dwarrow's eyes narrowed and his lips tightened.

"Uncle is telling him that repairs to Erebor come first before distribution of payments. Nori is not impressed." Fili continued.

Kili thought about it, then shook his head.

"I agree, it's not …." Fili stopped and fell silent, looking around carefully. The two brothers were in an alcove, away from the group. Mostly because neither was supposed to be down there. His voice slipped into a whisper. "They're up to something."

Kili opened his mouth to ask if Thorin had confided in Fili, then his tongue stilled. He closed his mouth again. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know if their uncle was keeping the crown prince in on information, but not him. Weakly he shrugged. "You're supposed to be resting."

"So are you." Fili admonished self-righteously, giving his younger sibling an inquisitive look. "What's wrong?"

Kili shrugged as if it was nothing. "Thorin tell you what they're up to?"

Fili snorted derisively and shook his head, blond braids swinging for emphasis. "Hardly."

"The Witch give you a gift?" Kili asked after a while, pushing aside his misgivings for the moment.

The blond dwarf frowned, sensing that there was something beneath Kili's mood, but unsure what. "Don't call her that." He said, though not with a lot of conviction.

"We've always called her that." The dark-haired prince said, though his voice implied an apology even if the words didn't.

"That's before we knew she's your great-grandmam." Fili rejoined seriously.

Then he thought about his words and starting grinning. "Remember when you hid under the bed after Dwalin told you the story of how the Witch of Lorien would turn naughty dwarrows into birds?"

Kili grumped, but couldn't stop his reluctant shimmer of a smile. He pretended to wipe his mouth with his sleeve as he shook his head. "Never happened." He rebuffed. "And if I was under that bed, I wasn't there alone."

"I was protecting you." Fili swore solemnly, even though his blue eyes were shining with mirth.

Kili's grin answered that of his brother. "So, did the grand lady who is NOT a witch, maybe …did she gift you something before they all moved the party down here without us?"

Fili held out his left hand, turning it palm up before unclenching his fingers. A rough stone was sitting there, about the size of a dwarrow's smallest fingernail. It was gray and ordinary, no hint of ore or anything precious. It wasn't useful in any way.

"Ah." Kili held up another such stone between his thumb and forefinger. "Is yours supposed to glow if there are bad things about?"

The blond snorted, amused by his baby brother. "Bad things? I think the words she used were 'dangers to your self'."

"Bad things. Same difference." Kili shrugged, tossing his stone in the air and catching it neatly. "Think I'm going to have it set as a ring."

"Not a bad idea." Fili agreed. "Do you think it will glow as blue as Bilbo's sword?"

Startled, the dark-haired prince studied his rock with new interest. "That would be interesting."

Fili grinned, and then suddenly lost his grin. His blue eyes turned serious as he rounded on his younger sibling with a scowl.

"What?" Kili asked, his eyes widening in alarm and confusion. "What?"

"Promise." The blond dwarf sounded terribly serious. "Promise me that you will NOT seek out an orc or a goblin just to see if your damned stone turns a glowy blue!"

Shocked, Kili shook his head even as he promised. "I'm not quite that reckless." When his brother looked less than convinced, the younger sibling glared right back at him. "I'm not!"

"Good to hear."

Badly startled, both young dwarrow tried to hide that fact and act as if they'd not been caught completely by surprise. Fili nodded his head while Kili turned on his winningest smile.

Nori looked less than impressed.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel wasn't that used to being part of the celebrations, rather than a guard for them. Oh, of course she'd been a participant in many of her people's festivals over the centuries. But it wasn't the same.

After her parents had been killed in orcish raids nearly half a millennia ago, she'd been taken in by Thranduil himself.

King Thranduil. High Elf and ruler over …well, everything that mattered. So it had seemed to her as a young elfling barely past the century mark. The elvish king had been all that she would have aspired to be. Smart, contained, strong, wise, respected, and a leader.

It wasn't until much, much later that the image she'd had of him had begun to tarnish around the edges. When Thranduil had become smart but blinded, contained and yet cold, strong and unable to bend. Respected leader, yes. But someone who chose not to lead, but to turn a blind eye to the dangers around them as long as it did not encroach too far into the Mirkwood.

Such she had never said. Nor ever would. Tauriel knew that she owed King Thranduil for her very life. Her training. Her position. For her sovereign she'd have given her loyalty, her life and even her happiness. Or so she'd always thought.

So how did she end up here? Tauriel mused. No longer in the Mirkwood and no longer beholden to its king. Drinking ale with dwarves underneath a mountain, smiling at them and wishing she dared to actually laugh.

A presence moved up beside her and she stiffened. Shorter than she. Light reflecting off the smooth head. Dwalin. He didn't immediately speak and she didn't offer to break the silence. But when he didn't move away, she slid a look at him with a stiff nod.

"Things are about to explode." The tattooed warrior said unexpectedly, his voice gruff.

Alarmed, Tauriel's green eyes moved across the crowded hall, undimmed by the ale she'd consumed.

Dwalin grunted and gave his head a barely discernable shake. "Not tempers. Crackers."

Tauriel paused. Wondering if she'd misheard the word. "Crackers?" Was the meaning of the word different in Common? "Thin, crispy breads that crumble?"

"Exploding gifts." Dwalin corrected. "Elves have this?"

The red-head shook her head, the shimmer of her hair catching in the light within the hall. "I am not exploding my pin."

Taken aback, Dwalin actually offered a small grin that quickly disappeared. "Just don't be startled." He paused, considering his words. "And don't pull a weapon."

Suddenly a loud bang rent the air, accompanied by roars of approving laughter. Dwarves all over the crowded feast area took this as a cue and more bangs joined the first. Colored sparks and small showers of multihued papers corkscrewed through the air.

Tauriel watched with wide green eyes as all the elves present appeared completely nonplussed and unsure. Except for the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien. The she-elf stared at the duo and then came to the conclusion that they'd also been startled but were better at hiding that fact.

Watching the goings-on, she realized that the noise was coming from brightly wrapped tubes that two dwarrows would share with each other, each pulling on one end. But no one seemed harmed or upset. In fact everyone seemed to be laughing uproariously and greatly enjoying the pastime.

Ori ran up to her with a red and gold tube, holding it out to her with a shy but excited smile. "Have a pull!"

Tauriel wasn't sure of what to make of this obviously dwarven tradition of some kind. Yet she and Ori had become friendly and she hated to disappoint. Hesitantly, she tugged on one end of the tube with her long fingers, but the slick paper slid right through her grasp. Frowning, she took a better hold. Her eyes met those of young Ori and they both pulled.

A loud bang exploded between them, accompanied by a slightly acrid scent and a spray of colored bits and streamers as well as a wrapped ball.

Ori hooted with delight and scooped up the prize, bending as he offered it to her.

Tauriel eyed him with caution.

"Candy." The young scribe told her. "Bofur and Bifur made them as gifts for everyone, but not every cracker has a prize."

"Not one for sweets." Tauriel admitted, but then reconsidered at the instant dimming of excitement in Ori's gaze. "But I'll give it a try."

Dwalin and Ori both watched as the red-head unwrapped the hard piece of candy and popped it into her mouth. Three seconds later she grinned. "I taste mint!"

Ori grinned and nodded happily. Then he was slapped on the back by another dwarrow that Tauriel vaguely recognized as being one of Dain's warriors. That's when she realized that she'd been watched, and possibly judged. Looking around she noted several nods in her direction, though no one spoke outright to her. It was not an uncomfortable silence at least.

Dwalin grunted from beside her.

"Did I pass muster?" She asked around the candy still melting on her tongue pleasantly.

The tattooed warrior eyed her in surprise. "Lass, ye saved our Kili more than once. Even saved Thorin's hide during the battle. Accepted him as a dwarf long before knowing his bloodline. You don't even call him by that elvish name of his, but call him Kili cuz that's who he is. You really have no need to prove anything to these dwarves."

Tauriel nodded absently, unconsciously matching his stoic expression as they both looked out over the festivities. "Did I pass your muster?" She asked more pointedly.

Dwalin slid his eyes toward her, then grumbled. "Yer getting there." Was all he'd admit to, however.

"You warned me and not the other elves." Tauriel pointed out. "About the crackers."

The bald warrior glowered at the crowd in general, even as he nodded. "Kili is …attached to ….lad likes you well enough." He finally got the words out. "Can't have you looking unprepared in front of the other dwarrow."

Tauriel digested that information for a moment, drawing some unwelcome conclusions. "There are difficulties with Kili befriending me?" Her question was highly loaded with innuendo.

Dwalin shook his head at her. "Not here."

"Is there danger to him?" Was her immediate and focused response.

Startled at her conclusion, Dwalin stared at her more than a little surprised. "And that's the first place your mind goes? To his welfare? Lass … you're getting closer to passing muster." He said and then walked away before she could formulate a response.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fergard watched as the dwarven healer tended to the Grimbasher's thigh wound. His stomach turned over at the ugly and very deep slash, but he didn't dishonor his friend by turning away.

"He will be fine."

At the words, the mining engineer had to crane his head to look up into the face of the austere older male. At first he'd thought human, but there was an age on this newcomer that was older than any Man that Fergard had ever met. A sense of power and surety.

"Yer a wizard?" He asked without fanfare or even general politeness.

The older male drew back as if the words were a personal slight. "I am the wizard, head of our order."

Fergard nodded, not being well versed in the goings on of wizards and their ilk. "We owe you our lives. Arriving with the Blacklock dwarrow like you did."

"Yes. Yes you do." Saruman told him, his stance haughty as he kept his pristine white robes away from the battle grime the dwarves all seemed to wallow in.

The wizard watched, hiding his glee behind an aura of being concerned. Arriving in Erebor alone wouldn't be so bad. Arriving with the emissary of one of the Seven Families was even better.

Best though? Arriving with the Blacklock dwarrow clan after having saved a dwarven group from slaughter by goblins and orcs.

Erebor would welcome him with open arms. And that is exactly what Saruman needed. A blessedly welcome arrival without even a hint of suspicion.

It had been remarkably easy to prepare for an ambush of one of the first group of dwarves heading toward Erebor. And hardly the work of a true master such as himself to orchestrate a rescue from that very same ambush.

It made him look the hero of the hour.

Saruman smiled.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili rolled over, eyes gritty and aching. The sudden turn caused his chest to compress, which pushed at the fluids still crowding his air passages. Coughing exploded from him, making him sit up in order to catch his damned breath.

"Curse it." The dark-haired dwarrow pushed his lank hair away from his face. He didn't need a timepiece to know it was not even close to dawn. Kili and the rest of the Company members had an excellent sense of time and an inner clock honed by having to sit up to keep watch night after night.

His eyes hurt. His throat felt awful as his dinner didn't sit well and came up to revisit him. It was by supreme will alone that the young prince was able not to lose the contents of his stomach altogether.

He'd been dreaming. Nightmare.

Wouldn't it be horrid if he was having dreams of future events? That thought was enough to make him cough harder. Kili waited out the lung spasms, painful though they were. He looked over at the desk with the sleeping draught the new Mirkwood healer had left for him.

He'd even waved his new danger-warning rock that Galadriel had given him over the bottle. But it hadn't glowed. Still, he'd not swallowed the concoction. What if the medicine trapped him into sleep right when he was having another nightmare? Having the bad dream in the first place wasn't good, but being unable to wake from it? Infinitely worse. So no sleeping draught.

Kili flopped back down onto his bed, staring helplessly up at the ceiling. His mind would not seem to settle down.

So many questions. So many worries. So little sleep.

Kili groaned, throwing one arm over his eyes as he sighed unhappily. He needed sleep. He just didn't want to dream, not if it was like the nightmare he'd just woken from. And it was a good damned thing that his dreams weren't portents of the future.

"The Light of the Eldar is wakening within you now."

The clear memory of Galadriel's voice telling him that echoed through his mind. In quick order he began to recall all the times she'd spoken directly into his mind.

Panic made him sit straight up and suddenly making him feel chilled to the bone.

Had it simply been a nightmare? Had it really?

Kili blinked, throwing off his blanket and shivering as he ran from his room. Once in the hallway, he paused, undecided.

Fili? Thorin? They wouldn't know. Balin was probably the smartest dwarrow around and even he wouldn't know.

Galadriel. She was the one to say it in the first place. Three steps down the hallway, Kili slowed. She was married. To Lord Celeborn. Would they be sleeping in the same room? The same bed? Not something he wanted to consider.

Now Kili's stomach really rebelled as he shuddered. He didn't need to think about it but immediately changed directions. He could have knocked on their door and asked to speak just to her. But that didn't seem right.

Elrohir. Best bet. He definitely needed to speak to his uncle Elrohir.

Without much thought of the time or anything else. Kili stopped in front of the door he'd chosen and knocked sharply.

It took a moment, but a worried and bleary eyed Elladan opened his door.

Kili walked right past his father into the guest room and started pacing. He wasn't even really sure why he'd headed here and not to Elrohir's room like he'd planned. It had just happened.

"Kuilaith?" Elladan watched his agitated child in some alarm. "Has something happened?"

Kili shook his head as he stopped pacing. Guiltily he glanced at his father. "I thought High Elves don't sleep."

Elladan's eyebrows rose, but he seemed to realize that the trouble was something his son was worrying over and not an attack. He closed his door, leaning against it as he watched the dark-haired prince. "We can rest with our eyes open when in need, requiring very little sleep. But we can and do sleep just as the dwarves do." That was a guess really, he'd never considered the sleeping habits of dwarrows.

"I woke you." Kili grimaced, running a hand over his face in agitation. "I should go."

Elladan was already leaning on the door, so that was a good thing. He shook his head at his son. "What is bothering you?"

Kili groaned and sat down on the barely rumpled bed. "It'll sound stupid."

Elladan shook his head and waited.

"I had a nightmare about needing to be somewhere, but getting trapped and lost in a …." Kili looked down at his fingers.

"Mountain?" Elladan supplied.

"A tree." Kili groaned and flopped back on the bed. "It was a little sapling on the outside, but I was inside the tree and it was huge. I was lost and knew the way, but couldn't find it. Everywhere I would turn the wrong way. An there were these weird round windows like hobbit hole doors only they were red like blood and I couldn't find my way out."

Trees. Easy to see the connection to the elves. A feeling of being trapped. Confusion over being less than 100% dwarven. Elladan sighed. "A nightmare."

Kili's head popped up. "I …look the light thingy you sang to and woke it up …it's not going to make me have true dreams is it?"

Beyond surprised now, the elf lord actually smiled. "No. Very few have the far sight."

"It's said the Witch does."

"Witch?" Elladan protested.

Kili frowned and closed his eyes. "Sorry. There are all sorts of stories among dwarflings about elves. Especially the Lady of Lorien."

"Stories that inspire nightmares?" Elladan guessed, amused and appalled at the same time.

"Some stories say she can see the future. That's not so, is it?" The young partially-elven dwarrow asked in a hopeful tone of voice.

It was Elladan's turn to grimace, drawing alarm from Kili. Quickly the father moved to reassure the son. "Neither Elrohir nor myself have this gift. Arwen does not either. Personally I think you've had an overwhelming time with huge shocks and are sick with pneumonia. No wonder your dreams are strange right now. It doesn't mean you spy into the future."

Relieved, Kili dropped his head back onto the mattress. "Your brother said I need to learn to listen to the trees. Do they talk? Actual words and all?"

"Depends on the tree." Elladan answered with a chuckle. "Ents are rumored to talk real words, but they haven't been spotted for a very long time."

"Have you met one?" Kili asked quietly.

Elladan shook his head, but then began to tell a story of a friend of his father's who'd once had met a Tree Shepherd. But that had been several millennia ago. When he finished, he waited for a response, but only heard the sound of even breathing.

Kuilaith had fallen asleep.

Elladan straightened away from the door and padded over to his slumbering offspring. In his rest Kuilaith looked younger than his seven decades should allow. Dark lashes fanned out on the smooth upper cheeks. "Kuilaith? Kili?"

No response.

Elladan laughed to himself and pulled the youngster up in the bed, settling him more comfortably. He was about to pull the cover over the sleeping lad when he saw the mismatched and still dusty socks.

"Ah son." Elladan muttered and pulled them off with a wrinkled nose. Kuilaith's toes wriggled but the dwarrow didn't waken. The elf lord pulled out a pair of his own socks and tried to put them on the young male.

It was a tight fit.

The feet of elves seemed to be much narrower. In the end Elladan had to lift each foot and push and pull to get the socks onto Kuilaith. Which in turn, woke him.

Bleary and still partially asleep, Kili blinked and protested with a grunt.

"Go back to sleep." Elladan said gently as he finished tugging on the socks. "Rest son."

"Okay." Kili said, already sliding back into full slumber. The elf shook his head in wonder.

Elladan took a spare blanket and pillow, pulling up a thickly cushioned chair. It wasn't built for elves. The proportions were all wrong.

The elf lord pulled the cushions off the chair and made a pallet on the floor, laying down. It shouldn't have been comfortable, and in truth, it wasn't really.

But Elladan was nothing but happy.

His son had had a problem. And had sought him out. No, it wasn't anything major.

But it was a start.

To the sound of Kili's partially labored breathing due to the fluid in his lungs, Elladan drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Elladan slept very lightly, keeping an ear on the sound of Kuilaith's breathing. Before dawn the lad's lungs began wheeze more harshly with each exhalation of breath. Not enough to call Nuluin to attend, nor to wake the sleeping youth.

Still, the elf lord rose and thought over his possible reactions for a second before rolling up an extra blanket and sliding it behind Kuilaith's pillow. Lifting his head enough to bring an ease to the sound of his breathing. The dark-haired young male snuffled and moved his head around a bit, but settled quickly back into slumber.

There was little light in the room, mostly from the fire in the hearth that was pretty low at the moment. A chill of oncoming winter had long ago invaded the mountainous area as such seasons came early at this elevation. Elladan had not noticed any of the dwarves complaining of the temperature, and he himself was comfortable enough. But Kuilaith was still fighting illness.

Once the elf warrior had fed the hearth fire and built it back up to a merrily dancing flame to heat the room, he returned to the bedside.

Kuilaith.

Living embodiment of that which brings joy. The name suited this child who'd been the prize of a very odd and ill-conceived marriage. How could someone like this have come from one of the worst times in his life?

Gray eyes traced the lines that made up his son. Now that Kuilaith slept, he was able to fully stare in a way that would be entirely rude if the lad were awake.

Dark brunet hair. Thick but fine, and never wanting to stay within the binds of braid nor clasp. Features that were too delicate for dwarf and too unrefined for elf. A mixture. But not unpleasing. Elladan had spent enough time with Men that he knew his son would be considered most handsome among them. And looking upon things objectively, he could not disagree. Though Kuilaith would never be thought beautiful among the races of his blood, he was far from ugly. And the force and nature of his personality drew people to him like a lodestone.

Elves knew the truest beauty came only from within. In this regard, his son lacked nothing.

Although Kuilaith had not been trying to charm his father, or any of the elves for that matter, he could not hide who he was at his core. And how others saw and reacted to him.

How could the mixing of dwarvish and elvish blood have produced such a prize?

For the first time ever, Elladan recalled the moments of his brief marriage. Not through the lens of grief, nor the lens of anger such as after he'd learned of his son's existence. Objectively.

Dis. A handsome and strong dwarrowdam. A softer version of Thorin Oakenshield in looks, but not in personality. Not ill-favored. For a dwarf.

Elladan felt no physical pull toward her. Never had. And from the look in her eyes upon their meeting, neither had she felt drawn to him. There had been no spark of attraction, either one-sided or shared.

Truthfully, the elf lord frowned, he wasn't clear on a lot of that time period in his life. He'd ascribed the feelings to his deep depression and grief from Bainnid's loss. But that mental fog? Had it been more than grieving?

Kuilaith's fingers twitched upon his blanket, drawing the father's eyes. The lad's hands looked dwarfish. Shorter, stubbier fingers than any elf. Though not as thick as those of the other dwarves. Still, Elladan had seen him carve the most intricate runes into wood for the Durin's Day gifts.

Attention back on his son, Elladan pushed aside his musings on his marriage other than to marvel at what it had produced.

When he'd first learned that he might have a child out there, Elladan had been shocked, angry, and hopeful. He'd long ago accepted that there would be no life beyond himself. Not with Bainnid lost to him and his marriage to Dis a failure. But in that instant, in the dawning moment of realization, he had felt something within him shatter. Something hard, something brittle, and something utterly dark.

In that moment he simply knew. He wanted this. Long denied, a part of him roared out from the depths of his buried dreams and screamed silently within him. A child. His child. Need jangled his nerves and surged him forward, almost into a kind of madness. A race to recover that which was stolen.

Elladan blinked as he watched the rise and fall of Kuilaith's chest.

He'd been so wrong.

The elf smiled sadly. His behavior when they'd arrived in Erebor was unforgivable. Kuilaith wasn't Kuilaith, not then. He was Kili. He had a life and a family. And he, Elladan, had been prepared to rip his child away from all that he knew and cared about.

Last eve, Kuilaith had asked forgiveness for gifting him something impersonal in order to keep the elf at arm's length.

Elladan knew he had so much more to be forgiven for than his son did. So much to make up for. Not being there was first, well as much as he could put that blame on Dis, he should have gone after her.

No. What he needed forgiving for was the selfish desire to take Kili and force him to be Kuilaith. To leave behind all that was dwarfish. To take him away by force. What had the lad's nightmare been? Trapped within a tree and trying to get out. Elladan sorrowed at the thought of how much worse it would have been if they'd succeeded in taking Kuilaith away that first day.

Fili had stopped that.

Fili. Elladan sighed. Another festering wound to his pride. How could he have let Dis walk away with Fili so long ago?

Yes. The blond was entirely dwarven. But. Oh but what a fine young prince the lad had turned into. And none of it due to Elladan. Another loss, and a dear one as it turned out.

"Are you going to keep staring at me?"

Startled, gray eyes refocused on dark ones. Kuilaith had awoken. The elf smiled sadly. "I wallow in my guilt. Nothing more. It is early, go back to sleep."

Kuilaith yawned heavily, stretching as he did so. Blinking, the young prince nodded. "Go wallow in your own room."

Amused, the elf gave a small smile. "This is my room."

Kuilaith nodded, his eyes closing as he drifted back off to sleep. Elladan waited and was satisfied when several moments later, his son frowned. Still, he didn't waken enough to further comment. The frown eased away as a wave would wash away a drawing in the sand.

Elladan turned to watch the fire. He watched so long that the log he'd placed earlier cracked in two and become subsumed by the flames until there was little left. Dawn had arrived, he didn't need to see it to know that. He could feel it. Finally he turned back to where his thoughts had been the entire time.

Kuilaith.

A tap on the door had him looking up. Elrohir entered as was his wont first thing in the morning. The twin stopped two steps into the room, seeing his brother awake and yet the bed not empty.

Elrohir knew immediately who was lying in his brother's bed despite the shadows. He turned and looked at his twin, raising one elegantly arched brow in question.

Elladan shrugged, but not in a way that showed he was unsure, but in such a manner to indicate he wasn't willing to explain. For some reason the elf did not want to share Kuilaith's nightmare, even with his own twin.

Surprised, yet strangely pleased, Elrohir nodded and did not ask further. Accepting. "You are stronger." Was all he said.

Elladan considered the words, and the touch of his brother's mind. His twin was thinking proud and comforting thoughts at him, more a press of emotion than actual words. "I have been a burden."

"Never." Avowed Elrohir quickly.

Elladan shook his head. Ever since Bainnid had been torn from this world, he had been lost. His anchor had been his twin brother. But at what cost to Elrohir? "I'm sorry."

"You have done nothing to which you owe an apology to me." Protested Elrohir.

"Not yet." Elladan gave his twin a quick look. "I'm apologizing for what I will do."

His brother straightened, attention caught. Now both eyebrows rose high over his gray eyes. Eyes nearly identical to that of his brother.

Elladan slid his glance over toward the sleeping prince in his bed. "I will be staying. It may be selfish. But I find I am a selfish person."

Elrohir rejected those words. "We let mother sail West because she needed it. We let Arwen go to Lothlorien because she needed it. We train in the North because it has been needed." He paused to give his words weight. "Perhaps it is time for you to stay, because you need it."

"What do you need, brother mine?"

Elrohir smiled, relaxing a bit as he crossed his arms. "I have what I need." He said without explanation, not even a touch of his mind to clarify.

It forced Elladan to ask again. "What do you need?"

Elrohir smiled mysteriously and shrugged. His brother glanced at him, annoyed. But that was a joy to Elrohir. What did he need? Elladan living again. Separate from himself, having his own life. This mixed blood son had done what nothing else in the world could have. He'd brought healing. "Do you love?"

Gray eyes blinked, and then slid over to where Kuilaith still slept peacefully. "I do." The elven father said, then his voice firmed. "I do."

Elrohir nodded. At first it had been only the idea of a son. But this, this was the reality. "He won't be easy to love." He said caustically.

Elladan immediately frowned. "Yes, he will be." Then he chuckled lightly. "Understanding him? That will be the part that won't be as easy."

"I will stay through the winter at least." Elrohir commented, as if his words were casual. They weren't. "Perhaps longer, depending on Mordor."

Elladan stilled. His brother was willing to leave him here. He felt choked up all of a sudden. Relieved beyond measure. Now. Now if Elrohir stayed it was because it was what he himself wanted. Not because Elladan needed him.

"That would be good." Elladan said brightly, feeling freer than he'd had in nearly eighty years.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"I hate to be saying such, Mahal knows."

That didn't sound like truth, Tauriel mused. But then, eavesdropping was not very honorable of her. On the other hand, she was simply eating breakfast in the common hall. It appeared she had three choices. Eat. Leave. Tell them to shut up.

"I mean, Dain is of Durin's Folk too."

"Not direct line." Someone else spoke up.

"Prince Fili is full dwarf. And a fine dwarrow. Strong."

Tauriel sweetened the dwarvish black tea they seemed so fond of here, using the honey delivered by Dale in trade. Idly she concentrated on the mundane. Trying to tune out the idle talk. If they'd spoken in Khuzdul she'd have not understood. But it seemed the dwarrow were leery of speaking their private and secret language anywhere near the elves. Which was fine. Except when ….

"The crown prince is entirely too fond of his brother. He will not want to remove the mixed blood from the line of succession."

Tauriel's hand froze. The next moment, she glanced up, startled. Glorfindel slid onto the bench across the table from her. She relaxed fractionally. At least she wasn't alone in a room full of gossiping dwarrow anymore. Then again. He was a High Elf, and a hero of the highest order.

"Have you tried the juice?" The golden haired warrior asked casually.

The red-head smiled slightly. "It has bubbles, I've heard."

"Well yes, but no, that's not my meaning." Glorfindel shook his head, looking terribly serious. "I have it on good authority that dwarven black tea will put 'hair on your chest'. And I highly doubt you'd like that. Or that anyone else would either. Even a dwarrow."

The pretty Silven elf nearly choked, though she wasn't currently chewing anything. Had the High Elf made an innuendo? A joke? What? Was he alluding to Kili?

"Though it would be an interesting place to put courting beads." Glorfindel continued dryly, with no indication that he was having fun at her expense.

Still, it startled an actual laugh from her, which she quickly covered with her napkin.

"Not used to being teased?" The elf warrior asked with a raised brow.

Tauriel shook her head. "Captain of the Guard. Too easy to assign any who would dare to extra onerous duties." Though she didn't add that it wasn't like the High Elves living in the Mirkwood to tease in such a manner.

"Ah." Glorfindel nodded sagely. "Threats. Good deterrent."

They each fell silent as they started to make inroads on breakfast.

"I heard that she was helpful in translating elvish when that group from Mirkwood arrived.

"Don't." Glorfindel whispered the word to her when she started to turn. "Ignore them."

"She's a whore."

"Or I could gut them." The High Elf bit out the words, his eyes starting to flash with temper.

Tauriel wasn't sure how she dared, for Thranduil would have broken her fingers for such a thing, but she put her hand on Glorfindel's arm to stop him from rising.

"No. Seriously. She was helpful. Translated everything down to the smallest weight and correct coin. Nice too."

"She didn't translate everything. I speak Sindarin."

Glorfindel cocked his head to the side, giving her a hard look. It was hard enough to gain the trust of the dwarrow out here without misleading them a purpose.

"Those elves from Mirkwood? Were insulting her. Cold. Said she was muddying her blood out here with dwarves. Said some nasty things, all meant to draw insult. She didn't translate any of that, just kept it professional."

"Oh." The golden-haired elf warrior closed his eyes in sudden sympathy and chagrin. "I'm sorry."

"You did nothing." Was the Silvan response to the more socially elite.

Glorfindel's eyes popped back open and fairly pinned her with a disappointed look. "You are quick to forgive. That is not typically a Silvan way."

Uneasy, Tauriel let her gaze drop to her plate. Arguing with High Elves was never worth the trouble.

"In fact. You act more gracious than most elves I've known." The golden haired elf continued. "A product of Thranduil's court?"

"King Thranduil." She corrected without thought, a habit of over six centuries.

"Ah." Glorifindel leaned back, as if he'd gleaned something of the utmost importance. "Still demanding use of that title is he?"

Tauriel did look up at that, a bit defensive over her former ruler. He had his faults, but he had taken her in and treated her well enough. He'd been under no obligation to take a personal interest in her back then. "You were the Head of a House."

"Chief of a House. House of the Golden Flower." Glorfindel trailed a single finger around the rim of his cup as he gave an exaggerated wince. "Try not to hold it against me. Besides. I died." He gave her a pitiful look. "Is that not punishment enough?"

"Punishment?" Tauriel drew back her head, her green eyes wide upon the High Elf. He was still teasing her. She was not used to such, not in Thranduil's court.

Glorfindel waited, his smile growing as he made a hand gesture for her to continue.

The red-headed elf sighed and gave him what he appeared to want. A cue. "Punishment for what?"

"Being arrogant!" The golden-haired and quite ancient warrior nearly crowed. "I'm far more humble since my return."

Tauriel bit her lip and slid her eyes away for a moment, trying not to laugh again. "You are still arrogant."

"Not as much." Glofindel smiled gently at her. "Dying has a way of humbling a warrior. Trust me."

"She must have been promised an entire room full of treasure to move here and pretend an interest in the mixed blood."

Those words pierced through their banter, causing Tauriel to hiss and place her hand on her dagger. She rose and moved swiftly through the hall and stepped up easily onto first a bench, and then a table. She knocked over not a single dish as she wove her way down through the assorted cups and breakfast dishes. Her hem never even touched a single bowl of porridge or cup of tea.

Gagnar choked as she came to rest in front of him, kneeling down, the point of her dagger dangerously close to his left eye.

"Care to repeat those words, dwarf?"

Silence. No one in the hall moved. Some didn't even try to breathe.

"How do you know it was I who said anything?" Bluffed the long-nosed dwarf before her.

"I can tell from a mile away the exact tree from which a bird sings his song. Do not doubt that I know it was your filthy mouth doing the talking." Tauriel hissed, looking like the predator she was.

Gagnar sputtered, but then smiled slyly. "You have no proof."

"Swear." Tauriel smiled back at him, flashing her teeth dangerously. "Swear by Durin's Axe and Blood that you have said nothing about me in the last five minutes and I will apologize and walk away."

Durin's Axe and Blood. A most serious oath to the dwarrow. Gagnar was tempted to lie. But his companions would know it to be a lie, and then know him to be an oathbreaker. No. "So. You deny that you've been promised something wonderful in order to move to Erebor?"

"No." Tauriel paused, choosing her next words with great care. "I was promised a chance to serve the Lady Galadriel and travel to Lothlorien. For this my king released me and I have sworn to follow the Lady of Light. That is something wonderful and the only treasure I need."

A general stirring among the dwarves followed her words. A hum of questions and comments.

Gagnar looked around using only his eyes as he dared not move his head. He could feel the support sliding away from him. "You lie. And if you swear by Durin's Axe and Blood, even then I will never believe you."

"Of what do you accuse me?" Tauriel asked, her hand steady as it hovered over Gagnar's face. Her dagger never wavered, and if her hand was growing fatigued from remaining still so long, it did not show.

A ginger bearded younger dwarrow coughed, shuffling his feet. "Are you promised to the young prince?"

"No." Tauriel said smoothly.

"Did you know he was a prince?" Another voice, this time from behind her.

"When I met Kili, I was part of the group that took he and the others prisoner. They gave us no names nor titles. Thorin was known to King Thranduil, but not his nephews." The red-head answered truthfully. "But it was guessed that they were related, for they have a look about them."

"Durin's Folk." Several of the gathered dwarrow nodded. In fact, they were starting to sound a bit more at ease.

On the other hand, Gagnar was starting to sweat. "Get this whore away from me!"

Tauriel's blade slid closer to her target, her green eyes sharp and cold. Hisses came from all around her. Then the drawing of a blade. Glorfindel she guessed, but did not want to elevate this incident. She was about to tell the golden warrior to step down when another blade was drawn.

The red-haired Silvan elf stood, put her booted foot heavily on Gagnar's shoulder to pin him back and turned. Her green eyes widened.

Glorfindel was leaning against the table looking utterly bored. And amused.

The two drawn swords belonged to Balin and Dori, with both those august dwarrow looking decidedly angry. "Call her such again and you won't need to clean another hall in Erebor. But will be working to clean the Halls of the Waiting. Without your hands."

Tauriel eyed the two who had always been utterly kind and polite to her. Well, at least ever since she'd arrived in Erebor following the Battle.

"You would choose an elf over a dwarf?" Squawked Gagnar, looking appalled. Unfortunately, there was an angry murmur from the Iron Hills dwarrow.

Dori shook his gray-haired head, his tone ever cultured. "She saved the life of the King, the princes …"

"Several times over." Balin added.

"Oh indeed." Dori agreed politely with a small bow of his head. "Several times over. And she wasn't the one to try and steal from the trade shipments and jeopardize our dealings with our allies."

A general murmur and a few shuffled feet. What the Company dwarrow had said was true. And Gagnar wasn't even that popular.

"She's still an elf." Came a comment, though the voice sounded less than sure of himself.

"Very astute!" Balin called out sarcastically. "Wouldn't have known that if you hadn't pointed it out. Even when she helped throw us in the Elf King's prison cells."

"Escorted." Tauriel said with a sad smile. "I threw no one."

Balin bowed his head toward her. "Escorted under duress and protest, with you far better armed and being threatening."

The red-head bowed her head back at the venerable advisor. "True enough."

"Yet you accept her now?" A belligerent tone from someone wearing the patches of a lieutenant in Dain's command.

"Ker, is it? Son of Kernit, son of Hernit?" Balin asked, receiving a reluctant nod from the beefy dwarrow warrior. "Well, Ker. It so happens that in battle a weapon can be forged from any stone, from the precious down to that thrown away."

More stirring and mumbling from the crowd. Tauriel simply looked lost.

Balin smiled sadly. "Sorry lass, that be a dwarrow saying. It sounds much better in Khuzdul. It simply means that battle alliances are made through mutual need, and you never know from whence help will arrive."

"It also means you can't be choosy about that help." Ker said almost reluctantly. "Dain's father be the one who said it too."

Gagnar scowled, striking Tauriel's foot with his fist though he didn't dislodge her balance. He did draw her attention back to his ugly self, however. "They promised you something to get you here. An elf? You after the lad for the throne?"

Shocked, Tauriel withdrew her boot, eying the dwarrow most cautiously. "Do not be a fool. No elf can sit on a dwarven throne."

"How about a half-elf?" Came the sly response.

Even without Balin's sudden hiss of warning, Tauriel knew she'd said the wrong thing. "I only meant that I do not seek to rule over any dwarrow. As an elf I have no say in who rules Erebor, or any other dwarven kingdom."

"But you saved the prince's life." Someone whispered shakily.

Tauriel turned, seeing a young dwarrow probably barely of age. Her face softened. "I saved Kili's life because I didn't want him to die."

"Why?"

The red-head smiled and shook her head. "Not for promise of gold or treasure, I assure you. But because the world would be a darker place without him in it."

Shock. Shared looks. A few grunts of approval, and more than a few frowns.

Tauriel looked around in confusion. "What?"

Balin laughed. "Lass. You just quoted Durin IV, did you not know?"

The she-elf shrugged and shook her head. Ker reached up with a hand toward her. Tauriel considered him for a moment, weighing the cautious acceptance on his features. Even though she hardly needed assistance, she accepted his hand as she stepped down from the table.

"Thank you for not knocking over my tea. I'd just got it sweetened right." Ker gave her a small nod. "But these tables could use a good polishing after breakfast. And I know just the right one already on punishment detail to do the job."

It was an apology. One that Tauriel knew not to dismiss. She bowed low and gratefully to the Iron Hills lieutenant, drawing many an approving look. Not from everyone, but more than she'd thought.

Gagnar growled, but kept his mouth shut. Inwardly, his rage only grew.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Kili woke without disorientation. He knew exactly where he was. When you spent your entire life on the move in one form or another, you had to always know where you were when you woke. On the hunt, the road, with a caravan, on a quest, or even in an elven prison.

Not a prison. Not precisely. Kili frowned. He was in his father's room, having slept in his bed even.

The only disorienting thing was, he couldn't remember choosing to come here. It had somehow just happened. He'd meant to seek out Elrohir, not Elladan.

And from the small sounds in the room, his father was still here. The scent of bacon teased him and he groaned.

"Hurting?" His father's smooth voice.

"Hungry." Countered Kili, pushing his hair away from his face as he sat up on the bed. Looking down, he stopped. "These aren't my socks."

"No." Elladan agreed. "These match, and they're clean."

Kili grimaced at the mild rebuke and then chuckled. "They are yours." He guessed.

"They are." The elf pulled up a small table with a breakfast tray. It was piled high with bacon, smoked fish and something suspiciously green. "They can be your socks if you want them."

"Stop giving me gifts." Kili poked his fork at the green stuff encroaching on the delicious smelling bacon. "Is that spinach?"

"Kale." Elladan answered. "And what's wrong with gifts?"

"Who eats kale for breakfast?" The dark-haired youth picked up the bacon instead, stuffing it eagerly in his mouth. He chewed some, but wasn't done chewing before he started speaking again. "Gifts get me in trouble."

"Elves eat kale for breakfast. Bombur has been making it for us most generously." He handed his son a napkin. "And you should not eat with your mouth full."

"Yeah, Mam says that too."

Suddenly silence stretched out between the two. Kili dropped his gaze and concentrated on his food. He even stuck his fork into the kale and dared a bite.

Mam. Mother. Dis.

Forbidden topic by mutual and unspoken agreement.

"Bacon's good." Kili said inanely. Unsure of what else to say.

"How's the kale?" Elladan asked, his own voice a bit more subdued.

"Green." Said the younger male with a small grimace of distaste. "Could use some vinegar."

"Vinegar?" The elf lord considered the suggestion. "Different." He glanced at his son who was still focused on his food. "I'm afraid that there were several around when I asked for a tray to bring to you."

Kili looked up at that, then flashed a grin. "Afraid I'll ruin your reputation sleeping in here?"

Elladan chuckled, relieved that his son seemed unbothered by the news. "It doesn't bother you to be seen over here?"

"You're my da." Kili said offhandedly, then paused. He sat up straighter and stared at the elf. "You're my da. It would be more strange if I didn't seek you out from time to time."

"Stranger." Elladan corrected then made a face. He'd not meant to correct his son's grammar. "Dwarves are freer with personal space than the elves."

The dark-haired prince stilled, which the elf noticed immediately. "I do not mean that it is an unwelcome difference. I perhaps think elves could do with a more dwarvish sensibility on this issue."

Kili's shoulders relaxed a bit.

"We have a lot of cultural differences that may seem difficult to overcome." Elladan sighed.

"May seem difficult?" Scoffed his son.

"I love you."

Kili choked on his fish, eyes bulging and reaching quickly for his tea. When he finally cleared his throat and began breathing normally again, he eyed his father cautiously.

"Took you by surprise?"

Kili snorted, as if to say the words were a severe understatement.

"You already know my heart has no barriers to you." The elvish father pointed out rather patiently.

"Different to hear it said straight out like that." Kili mumbled.

"And you're not there yet." Elladan acknowledged.

The dark-haired prince stuck his finger in his ear, looking embarrassed. No. He did not yet love his father. That didn't sound right in his own mind, much less making it real by saying it out loud. "I don't hate you."

"Progress." Teased the elf.

But Kili shook his head. "Don't make light of it. I am not trying to be funny."

Elladan stilled for a moment, then nodded graciously. He started to open his mouth.

"And don't apologize." The son interrupted before the elf could begin to form his words.

Having been about to apologize, Elladan simply closed his mouth. "What would you have of me?"

Kili stared. First at his plate, then at his father. Finally he shrugged. "I don't know."

"Not really helpful." The elf pointed out a bit dryly.

Kili hunched his shoulders a bit and then made a face. "I don't know. I don't know! I've never had a father before."

"Thorin." Elladan said the name without inflection.

"No." The young half-dwarven prince said quietly. "Thorin was and is a terrific uncle. And he raised me. Us. True enough. But he wasn't our father. He was our king, our teacher, our guardian, our ideal. But dwarrow have a connection. Lineage is everything. We traced ours through Thorin, but he wasn't our father."

"You love him." It wasn't a question.

"Without limit." Kili replied, as if the answer were a given. Something made of rock and stone and immovable. Unconditional.

Elladan felt the pain of it right through to his marrow. Those words should have been about him. If he'd only been there. Self-loathing and regret he was already dealing with. As well as anger at Dis. "Do you think I can't love you?"

Dark eyes rolled in his direction.

The elf nodded carefully. "I love your humor and the joy you bring others. I love your laughter, especially when you are unaware that anyone is watching. I love the pride you take in your shooting. Your love for others, especially your brother. I love that you try to protect me, even if it was not the best way to go about it."

Here Kili growled, but not in real anger.

"I love that your room is a mess."

"You hate my room." The young prince protested.

"Kuilaith? I don't like your room, but seeing it like that makes me smile because it is so you."

"I'll never clean it again." Vowed Kili.

Elladan laughed outright, a rusty sound to his own ears. "That is NOT what I meant."

"So you're looking to change me." The prince dared to tease.

The elf's laughter faded, leaving a soft smile gracing his face. "I'm simply trying to keep the mold from growing in your room and turning the air to poison."

Kili laughed this time, bright and honest and with real cheer. His entire face lit up with mirth.

Elladan watched, pleased beyond measure. In his heart he knew that Kuilaith didn't love him yet. But it was alright. He didn't mention one other thing he loved about his son. He was no liar. Kuilaith would never say 'I love you' to anyone unless he meant it with his whole heart.

And one day, the elf hoped to hear those words from his son. And he was going to live a long, long time. He could afford to wait.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Fili tried hard to keep pain off of his face as he moved his arms through what the healer was calling 'range of motion'. It hurt, the muscles pulling at his chest wall as he ran through the motions indicated.

Nuluin seemed less than impressed with Fili's stoic lack of expression. "No."

"You don't even know what I was going to ask!" The blond protested sharply.

"Can you move back into your own bed? Can you take on light duties? Can you start weapon practice?"

"Can I take a damned bath?!" Fili raised his voice just a bit.

Nuluin eyed him carefully. "No."

The crown prince started to go red in the face, so the healer hurried to explain. "Water pressure."

"Huh?"

"Water pressure." Nuluin turned to look at the young prince. "When you've gone swimming in the past, do you ever get the urge to empty your bladder?"

Fili eyed the elf carefully, but gave a small nod.

"Water pressure pushing on your kidneys. Quite natural." The healer shrugged lightly. Water presses on things. Fills voids. Pushes."

"Like on wounds." Guessed Fili. "But taking a bath when injured can be good to clean out a wound."

"True enough." The elven healer allowed. "But this particular wound is to your lung. An organ that expands and contracts. It is not yet sound enough to have water pressure added."

Fili groaned. "But I stink! How about a shower if I can't sit in a tub or a spring."

"Shower?" Nuluin questioned.

Fili preened under the scrutiny. "Dwarven showers. Just the thing." He sighed. "If they have been repaired and still work."

Nuluin started to answer when Balin poked his head inside looking agitated. "Fili!"

The crown prince was up in a second, striding across the floor. "Balin?"

"Thorin is still tied up with Thranduil's patrols, not sure when he'll be back. We need you."

"What's wrong?" Fili asked grimly.

"Blacklock banners coming our way. Will be here before nightfall. Advance messengers says they've seen some battle and will need some assistance. They bring in immigrants as well."

"Notify Oin. Make sure we have everything for an unknown number of patients. Do we have an estimate of numbers? Sound and wounded?" Fili barked. "We need to make room."

"Aye. Aye." Balin scratched his head, but didn't run off.

Fili growled. "Wait. I want archers lining the inner hallways. Just in case. Keep an eye on new arrivals until we know if they match the banners they fly."

Balin looked up, shocked, then nodded thoughtfully. "Good idea, lad. I mean Prince Fili. I'll see to it."

The crown prince frowned. "You've already done most of that, haven't you?"

"Aye." The king's closest advisor said with a small grin.

"Then what did you need me for?"

Balin's grin widened. "Herild Blacklock has a daughter."

Fili looked startled. "Surely he wouldn't have brought her to Erebor without being assured of protection out here."

"He's spoken before with Thorin about a possible match."

The crown prince sniffed and shook his head. "I remember. But that match was with Thorin, not me. She's older than me by about twenty years."

"And considered a beauty." Balin nodded. "At least meet her. But …lad, er prince …take a bath first."

Nuluin stirred, drawing a frown from Fili. "Apparently bathing is out. Are the showers working?"

Balin looked startled. "Bathing is out?"

"Healing thing, just trust me." Fili spoke sourly. "Showers."

The king's advisor nodded, then shook his head. "Not sure, not sure. We need to find out. So you'll get cleaned up?"

Fili finally smiled, even if it wasn't a big one. "Only because I'm turning my own stomach with my stench. Not for a Blacklock who couldn't be bothered to meet me the last time we travelled that way."

Balin smiled sadly. "Lad. You're the Crown Prince of Erebor. No dwarrowdam will say you nay anymore. Your life has changed forever."

With that comment, several dwarrow came in with great big trunks.

Fili stared. "What's in there?"

"Clothing. Anything we could buy or scavenge. You need to look like a prince!"

"I've been a prince my entire life." Fili protested with a smirk. "Wearing velvet won't change a damned thing about me. Especially the way I look."

Balin smiled and winked. "Come. They'll be here before nightfall."

Fili pulled a face and then sighed, giving in with ill grace. "As long as Kili has to do it too."

Balin nodded, but didn't say anything. Kili was probably no longer acceptable to the highly traditional Blacklock family. Not once they learned of the lad's lineage. Still. It would be better to present both lads to their most advantageous. "Of course, of course!"

Fili threw open a trunk lid, pulling out a richly embroidered velvet. Unfortunately it had holes in it. "Moths."

"Next trunk!" Balin said, moving on.

Chapter Text

Fili's blue eyes were wide and mildly distressed as he tried to stand perfectly still. "Ow!"

"Don't move!" Dori commanded, swatting the blond dwarrow's thigh to emphasize his point.

Fili had to move his foot forward to keep his balance from the unexpected blow. "Dori! You forget your strength!"

"I said …don't …move."

All Fili could see when he glanced down was the top of the dwarrow's intricate gray braids. "I'm a crown prince." He snarled in his most arrogant voice.

"I have sharp pins. Near where you want no sharp objects, ever." Dori threatened, unafraid and apparently unaffected by the prince's words. He poked Fili's thigh with a finger near some far more tender areas in order to emphasize his point.

The blond's face paled as he settled down with a long-suffering sigh.

"How about this one?" Balin held up a yellow-green bilious looking satin. "No holes."

"That color makes my stomach hurt just looking at it." The prince hated the fact that he was sounding whiney. But this whole process of trying to make him palatable to high-blooded dwarrow females was galling. "Can't I just wear my best leathers? Shine them up or something?"

"No holes." Balin reiterated hopefully while waving the offending piece of fabric and ignoring the prince's suggestion.

The door to the healing room opened as Kili walked casually inside looking like he just rolled out of bed. Dark hair unkempt and with the appearance of seeming like he'd only managed to run a hand through his waves at best. He wasn't in his leathers, but sleep clothing that were beyond wrinkled.

"Where have you been?" Snapped Fili, eyes flashing.

"Nowhere!" Kili snapped right back out of habit, then seemed to realize that Elladan was right behind him. His voice took on an abashed air. "Er ..that is, with my da." He pointed at the elf over his shoulder.

Slightly mollified as well as a bit embarrassed, Fili ducked his head. "You need to get a bath." Still a bit irked that his brother could have a good soak and yet he couldn't because of his healing chest wound.

Kili eyed his older sibling questioningly. The blond was shirtless, his chest wasn't bare though, not with the pristine bandages wrapped tightly around his torso. A thicker pad showed a bit of bulk right over the wound that had so recently pierced his lung. It made Kili a bit nauseated just remembering the sight of his brother's blood bubbling out of the wound and the sound of his wheezing.

The memories of that hour where he'd been alone with his severely wounded brother were some of the worst of his life. Not even the Battle of the Five Armies really measured up, since they'd not been alone then. On that river bank, with just the two of them, and Fili struggling to breathe and even live? A nightmare. "You're alright to be up?" His voice shook slightly.

Surprised, and then seeing the way his younger brother's eyes slid over his injured chest, Fili grunted almost gently. "I'm fine. Except they won't let me soak. Bofur is checking the showers to see if they still work."

Kili looked up, confused. "I thought Bofur's first priority is to make sure the mine shafts are up to par for starting back operations. Get Erebor mining again."

Dori grinned around the mouthful of straight pins sticking out from between his lips. His words were a bit mumbled, but understandable. "Everyone's first priority is to marry off the crown prince. Let him start on making heirs."

Fili grinned and cocked an eyebrow up as Kili began to chuckle. Elladan even smiled and shook his head, though not in denial. "They're trying to make me into a silk and satin dwarrow." He mocked.

"This velvet is falling apart, it's going to have to be the silk." Balin held up the yellow-green material, not paying a bit of attention to anything but his own musings.

Dori looked askance at the white haired dwarrow. "Satin. That's a satin, and the wrong color."

"Thank you!" Fili blew out a relieved breath even as Balin frowned thoughtfully.

"It would look good on Kili though." Dori continued. "Set off his coloring better than it would Fili's."

"Hey! Don't waste your time trying to make me handsome." The dark haired prince said with a teasing grin just as Thorin strode into the room smelling of horse, sweat and the outdoors. "Morning."

Thorin looked around the activity with great curiosity. "I hear we're about to have visitors. Balin, did you arrange for the healing staff and all they need?"

"Indeed, my king. Actually, Fili ordered it all and it's being seen too."

Elladan stilled at those words, cautiously curious to see how Thorin reacted to anyone else issuing orders. Even his own crown prince. It was something that he knew Elrond would find alright, though he'd double check everything. He was also pretty sure that Thranduil would have thrown a mild fit at even the thought. And from what he'd heard of Thorin's actions before the Battle of the Five Armies, the dwarrow had not brooked any incursions upon his authority. Was that all in the past?

"Good. Good." Thorin didn't even tense up as he looked over at his direct heir. "Though we need to be careful about possible troublemakers."

Elladan's relief was almost tangible. A bit surprising though, was the fact that Balin and Dori shared a look that seemed equally as relieved though Fili himself did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary.

The crown prince of Erebor nodded. "I ordered archers overlooking the entrance areas to remain alert and ready. In case."

Thorin practically beamed with pride. "Well done."

Balin's smile was small, but quite genuine as he coughed to garner attention. "What do you think of this material?"

The king Under the Mountain shrugged, appearing clueless. "Why ask me such?" He made a face at the garish color. "I don't particularly care for it though."

"The Blacklocks might be looking for an alliance." Balin pointed out just as Fili's blue eyes widened and he jerked back with a hiss.

"Watch the pins!" The blond winced, glaring down at the unconcerned Dori.

Thorin and Kili both laughed, with the king shaking his head at the weaving craft master. "Don't kill his masculinity before he even meets any eligible dwarrowdams!" He then pointed at Kili. "And you stop laughing, your turn is next."

Kili held up his hands in surrender. "I don't need a bride, or heirs." The young prince kept laughing, but everyone else slowly ceased.

Suddenly awkward, Balin and Thorin shared a telling look. Fili stared straight ahead while Dori merely concentrated on what he was doing.

Elladan alone peered over at his son. "Kuilaith?" There was a wealth of questions in the one-word query.

Kili seemed to realize he'd spoken something that sounded not quite as he'd meant it. "Sorry, sorry. I just mean I don't need to be shined up and all pretty. I don't need to impress anyone."

That didn't seem to reassure any of them.

Balin cleared his throat awkwardly. "Laddie? You're the second heir of Erebor. You need a bride too." If his mind went to a memory of Tauriel holding a wickedly sharp blade close enough to a dwarrow's eye to part the lashes, he didn't mention it.

The door opened again, this time admitting a beefy dwarrow with a ginger beard. A lieutenant from the Iron Hills.

"Heir?" Kili's mirth finally slid away, like the tide pulling out from the shore. "I haven't been an heir since my father turned up to claim parentage. We all know that." He huffed slightly, then smiled. "That actually was easier to say than I thought it would be."

Thorin's teeth clenching together was audible within the room just as Dain's lieutenant held out a missive for the king. Both basically froze at Kili's words.

"You can't have someone not completely dwarven sitting on the throne of the greatest dwarrow kingdom in Middle Earth." Kili continued unabated. "It's just the way it is."

Ker remained frozen in position, studiously not seeming to pay heed to the prince's words. Especially as they weren't directed at him. He bowed his head and held out the message which Thorin finally took with ill grace.

"Ask him. He knows." Kili waved at the Iron Hills warrior.

Ker stiffened as taut as steel itself, he dropped his gaze. "I am not of Erebor. Do not ask me."

"You're dwarrow." Kili said almost gently, and with no little sadness. He turned his attention back to his uncle, and liege. "You know it's the truth, Thorin."

"Don't." Fili pulled away from Dori and grabbed his brother, pulling him to one side of the room. The others looked away, awkwardly able to hear and highly uncomfortable. "You're my heir and I will have no one gainsay that. Not for any damned reason. I'll fight anyone who says otherwise."

"I gainsay it." Kili tried to smile, but it came out as a weak grimace. He put his hand on his brother's shoulder and leaned in close. "I am your brother and your shield. I watched you struggling to breathe and as close to death as I ever care to see."

"Kili …"

"No." The dark-haired prince sighed deeply. "You've always looked after me. It's my turn. You are the crown prince. I am your brother. I might have once been your heir, but I'll tell you the plain truth. If you ever die before your time, then it's only because someone killed me first."

The brothers stared at each other in silence, and for the first time ever in their lives, Fili blinked first. "Brother …"

"It was different in Ered Luin. And on the quest. We were heirs of Thorin and who knew if we'd ever make it to Erebor, or survive the quest at all?" Kili's voice solidified as he put the weight of conviction in his voice. "Now we're here and it's different."

"No." Fili denied.

"You are the crown prince. That's all. Your job is to learn how to rule and to start a family, continue the Line of Durin. I too have a job. Protecting the throne. Thorin. You." Kili smiled almost sadly. "To tell the truth, I'm not giving up anything. I never wanted the damned crown. It was always to be Thorin's then yours. I serve at your side. Happily and with honor."

Thorin swallowed hard, his blue eyes dark with pride and sorrow all at the same time. Balin actually blinked rapidly to keep the moisture in his eyes from sliding down his face. Ker even nodded his head in acknowledgement. Suddenly Thorin realized his young nephew had saved him from a rather awkward political situation, removing himself from the line of succession. He hated it. As proud as he was, it infuriated him that it was necessary.

Fili leaned forward and Kili met him halfway, their foreheads meeting and resting together.

Elladan watched the duo uncertainly. He was proud of his son of course, both of them, but still sorrowed at the necessity. All because Kuilaith was his blood child. Elven blood. It had cost the lad more than the father had ever anticipated. He ached for both of them and what they were currently facing.

Fili, his eyes closed and his forehead still touching that of his younger sibling, suddenly grinned. "This doesn't let you out of getting all handsome for the dwarrowdams. You can serve at my side, and be my shield while still having your own family. Doesn't get you off the hook little brother."

The lightness of the laughter filling the room was almost a shock after the seriousness of the previous conversation. Kili pulled back with a grimace and a laugh of his own even as he shook his head. "Dori has his hands full making you up, leave me out of this." He seemed far too happy to have an excuse to be left out of the primping.

Elladan stirred, uncertain how his words would be perceived. "My sister Arwen is an excellent seamstress and would be more than happy to lend assistance in making both lads presentable."

Kili drew back, hissing with shock. "Traitor!" He stared wide-eyed at his father.

Thorin nearly choked on his laughter even as he nodded thankfully at the tall elf.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel skipped lunch. Not wanting to go back into the main dining hall. She ignored the whispers whipping through the area like a tornado. She didn't want to hear the recounting of her quarrel with that nasty dwarrow this morning. So when Ori grabbed her hand unexpectedly and pulled her into a side hallway that was little used, she shook her head at him. "I don't want to talk about it."

The younger dwarrow immediately looked sad beyond belief, actually running his hand sympathetically over the red-head's arm in a highly personal way that dwarves all seemed to have. "I'm so sorry!"

"Oh dear." Tauriel breathed out the words in a sigh. It seemed her little outburst earlier had upset her friend. Ori had been nothing but gracious to her since her arrival and it upset her to see him so concerned.

Ori bobbed his head, his expressive eyes instantly showing sympathy. "I should have known you'd already heard. What with the way rumors go around this mountain."

Heard? She'd been there. Tauriel shrugged. "It's of no concern. What's done is done."

"But it's NOT done!" Ori avowed as he drew up straight, looking insistent. "And it shouldn't be done!"

The red-head elf paused, confused.

"That pin looks lovely on you." The dwarrow spoke gently, his eyes lighting on the gift that Kili had made for her. "Lovely."

Tauriel's hand moved up to touch the crafted Elenlote flower. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh!" Ori's mouth moved into a perfect oval and then he closed his mouth and nodded firmly. "Of course. Of course you have nothing to worry about. No one can hold a candle to you."

"Why would anyone touch me with a candle?" This conversation was becoming more and more confusing. "Ori, do you have a point to make?"

The younger dwarrow stared at her, then chuckled and shook his head. "Sorry. Dwarven saying. The lowest of the low craft apprentice's first job is to hold the candle for their master for light. The saying 'no one can hold a candle to you' just means that you are the master, and no one is higher than you."

Tauriel stared at the hopeful young face of her friend and fought not to snarl. The explanation had been fine enough, but without intending to form a pun even in her own mind, it shed no light on this conversation. "The point?" She urged, her green eyes looking confused.

"You have to talk to Lady Arwen."

He said nothing further, just gave her a long look of hopefulness.

Tauriel's eyebrows rose. "About …what?" She didn't even bother to try to explain that she couldn't just go talk to a High Elf maiden without a reason. No matter how friendly the Lady Arwen had been to her since her arrival in Erebor, Tauriel was still not used to the easy way the elves from outside of Mirkwood acted.

"Lady Arwen is mumbling things about making Kili look like a piece of overcooked potato." Ori explained without explaining a damned thing.

Green eyes widened, but Tauriel's confusion only increased. It did not lessen one jot. "Potato?"

"King Thorin is ordering that Kili and Fili both get all prettied up for the arrival of the Blacklock delegation that will get here later this evening." Ori finally got some actually information into his words.

"So. Kili and Fili are to look nice for these newcomers. But Lady Arwen wants Kili to look like a root vegetable?"

"An overcooked one." Ori agreed, and the she-elf was concerned to see the young dwarrow actually start to wring his hands in a sign of nervousness.

"Why?" The red-headed elven lass asked as she shook her head just enough for the ends of her long hair to shimmy.

"To find brides." Ori whispered out this last piece reluctantly, grimacing the whole time.

Tauriel fell still, her muscles seizing into place much like they would have in the Mirkwood forests if something foul had been spotted creeping around. Intruding. Finally her lungs demanded she take a breath and she managed to do that without gasping, an accomplishment to her way of thinking. "Brides? As in plural?"

"Dwarrowdam brides."

A sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach made Tauriel suddenly grateful she had skipped her lunch today.

Suddenly, the polite lie she'd told herself about her reasons for leaving the Mirkwood vanished like so much fog beneath the rays of the sun. Yes. She wanted to travel and see more of the world.

With Kili.

It was amazing that she didn't sway on her feet, so fast were her thoughts moving within her head. Memories came and went. Arguing with Legolas and Thranduil separately and together. Whispers behind her back. Snide looks and comments. The relief when it had been put to her as a request to leave the Mirkwood and travel to Erebor to meet with the Lady Galadriel. Something she would not have considered prior to meeting ….Kili.

"No."

Ori's misery cracked into a grin. "You're not ready to give him up?"

Tauriel's lips firmed and her eyes flashed most dangerously. Her shoulders suddenly slumped. "Ori? I can't kill every pretty dwarrowdam that comes visiting Erebor."

"No, of course not!" Ori agreed emphatically. "Maybe you should just maim the first two or three to get your point across?"

Tauriel's mouth dropped open and the dwarrow actually grinned at her. "I but jest! No. You have to speak with the Lady Arwen!"

"Why? To help make Kili look bad?" Tauriel whispered hoarsely.

"Yes. No. I don't know? She sent me to get you." Ori shrugged helplessly.

Tauriel sighed, feeling the beginnings of a rare headache forming. "Why didn't you just tell me that in the first place?"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Nori had heard the news not even an hour after it had all started, even though he wasn't even technically in Erebor at the time.

The tavern keeper drummed his fingers on the bar in irritation. Damn that Thorin. It was too bad that he was already pretending to be angry with the dwarven king because now he couldn't go up there and kick some royal ass.

He'd spoken with both Kili and Fili the night of the Durin's Day celebration. But more importantly he'd had his ear to the ground and his finger on the pulse of the morale and rumors going around the mountain kingdom.

If that young laughing idiot of a prince wasn't in love with a certain elf lass, then love was nothing more than fool's gold. And the lad even turned out to be half-elven! It was meant to be!

Thoughts formed and chased down other thoughts in his mind. Some of his ideas fizzled only half-formed. Some died as he traced them down the line to their conclusions. Others were simply ridiculous. What to do, what to do?

Okay. Think Elven. Bah. Nori snorted in derision. He was no elf and didn't know how to do that. Think Tauriel. Elf. Left an elven kingdom for Erebor. Gossip had her half-way accepted by a lot of the Iron Hills dwarrow already. She seemed honest, fair, and honorable.

Ori adored her.

Nori snorted again and twitched his mouth.

Dori cautiously liked her. A little.

That went farther in Nori's estimation than Ori's thoughts, the youngest of his siblings always was a bit on the soft-hearted side of things. But Dori was no one's fool. For all his genteel ways, the oldest brother was no slouch in observations.

Lass was making an effort, but not making an over-effort. Not being heavy handed or pounding it into dwarven skulls that she would make a good choice as a dwarrowdam.

Dwarrowdam.

Suddenly Nori straightened up. He was going about this all wrong. Don't think like an elf. Think like a dwarrowdam. The females of their race were all powerful when it came to courtship. They initiated, accepted or refused, and they made the choices.

Had Tauriel chosen Kili? And if so, how would she show it? How should she …. "Paint me green and call me jade."

Nori grinned suddenly, going so far as to even start whistling a jaunty tune. Now. How to get what was needed? How to get it to the right person up in that mountain? Who was the right person?

"I once knew a feller with blue eyes like gold, Who made his fortune selling air that was cold. He hemmed and he hawed and he cut through the ice, Giving the Man water and calling it quite nice!"

Nori sang the old nonsense rhyme that had always made Ori giggle and growl about how it made no sense. He'd once tried to explain how to sell something to someone when the item never actually existed, but Ori had proved too literal minded and Dori had merely rolled his eyes in disgust.

But Nori. Oh yes. Nori knew how to present something you didn't want in such a way that it suddenly became the thing you couldn't live without.

Thorin wasn't going to know what hit him. Nori sobered a moment, then shrugged. Well, that is …IF Kili and Tauriel were the match he thought they might be.

Nori moved from behind his bar, flipping a clean rag to his head waitress. "I'm going out!"

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

"What are you trying to do to me?"

Thorin's eyes didn't open as he soaked in his tub, letting the heat of the water leech out the stresses of being a monarch. "Kili? Is that any way to speak to your king? One you just pledged before one and all that you would protect with your life this very morning?"

The dark-haired youth groaned loudly. From the sound of his boots, it was obvious that his nephew was pacing in the magnificently tiled bathroom large enough to host a small party of guests. "Do you so hate the thought of Tauriel?" His question was so plaintive that Thorin felt his breath hitch slightly.

Sapphire blue eyes finally blinked open, staring up at the ceiling as Thorin rested his head back on the padded surface rising out of the back of his tub. Once this had been his grandfather's tub. And an unexpected benefit of the crown.

It had been his goal and his dream for decades to come back to Erebor and reclaim the throne. But the reality of moving into the royal wing had been odd at best. His former rooms now belonged to Fili. While Kili occupied Frerin's old suites. It actually hurt a bit to see those two lively souls move into those too quiet rooms with their laughter and their energies.

He himself, as the new king, could have claimed Thror's rooms. But he found that he couldn't.

Memories of his grandfather descending into gold lust and dragon sickness assaulted him whenever he even thought about those rooms. As well as the memories of his own troubles with losing himself to those problems. Thorin had instead taken over Thrain's rooms, having far better memories there than anywhere else.

The bathroom though. Thror's bathroom held no memories, and nothing but pure dwarven luxury. "Get out. I'm taking a bath." Thorin sighed, sinking a bit deeper into the heated water. He closed his eyes once more, content and away from the hectic schedule that comes with trying to rebuild a kingdom. "I need a few moments to myself."

"Parading me in front of dwarrowdams like a piece of cattle up for auction. No thought to what I want or anything else."

Tiring quickly of this. Thorin scowled. "You have no thoughts."

Kili hissed in clear insult.

Thorin ignored his nephew's raging temper and continued as if explaining to a small child. "I am presenting you, as my heir because I haven't officially removed you, to the Blacklock clan. One of the oldest and most powerful dwarven families next to the Longbeards. I need you and your brother looking your parts. I cannot …no, Erebor can NOT appear weak or lesser in any way."

The younger dwarrow stopped pacing, letting his breathing calm. "This isn't about Tauriel, is it?" He asked, as if it had never occurred to him that he wasn't the center of the matter.

"Kili. Nephew. I simply need to present a united family front. Especially now with your bloodline revealed. THAT will not be remaining a secret, far too many already know. I need it shown that I value you no less for your blood and parentage. I need it shown that Erebor values and treasures you." Thorin closed his eyes once again. "Idiot." He said fondly. "Now get out."

"I really am an idiot." Kili whispered, feeling foolish all of a sudden. "But what about the dwarrowdams?"

Thorin rolled his shoulders and sighed in contentment despite the annoying interruption. "The dwarrowdams will look at you or not based on whatever they are looking for in their own hearts. You can choose to accept it if one wants to court you, or you can politely turn her away. Perhaps steer her to Fili, or even Ori."

"Dwalin needs a wife." Teased Kili bravely.

"He'd kill you." Thorin teased back, unalarmed.

"You need a wife."

"I would definitely kill you." Thorin joked, or actually maybe it wasn't a joke the more he thought about it. "Bite your tongue."

"Why don't you …why haven't you …." The question wouldn't quite form in the young prince's mouth.

It didn't matter, his uncle knew what was being asked. "I was too focused on regaining Erebor and holding our people together. And no one that I met ever called to my soul."

"Do you regret that?" Kili asked in a quiet voice.

Thorin actually laughed, but didn't look up. "No. Can't say that I do. Besides I have you and your brother as my heirs. There are no finer." He coughed humorously. "Most days. When you're not interrupting my bath and asking highly personal questions."

"I can't be your heir anymore." Kili couldn't just leave it there, he couldn't. His tone dripped with emotions mixed all together. Sorrow, bitterness, disappointment. Loss.

"I haven't removed you." Thorin reminded his nephew in a very careful tone of voice. "Very nice speech you gave earlier, but it lacks the weight of dwarven law. Me."

"I'm not full-blood dwarf." His tone fell strangely bland on those words as if Kili were trying hard to conceal his emotions on the matter.

Thorin sighed, deliberately not looking at his nephew. But he could picture that face in his mind. Those eyes, that hair that refused to be tamed. That spirit. "Kili. You are blood of my blood, son of my sister. I trained you. I held you as an infant. I patched up your first injuries. I yelled at you."

"A lot." Came the hoarse response.

"Yes, I yelled at you a lot." Thorin agreed with a small smile. "It was a huge blow to find out who, or rather what, your father is. But you are still you."

"But …Elves. Thorin. Elves."

"Don't 'Elves Thorin' me you little blighter." The king groused, finally raising his head and pinning his nephew with his steely gaze. "Tauriel is an elf. And no one misses how you look at her. I raised you better than to fall in love with an elf!"

Kili's face split into a sudden grin. "I don't have to court the dwarrowdams?"

"Just be nice to them." Thorin sighed heavily. "I can't choose who you fall in love with, or who you wake for." He paused suddenly. "Are you awake?"

Kili's grin dimmed, then brightened again. "Not yet. But sometimes I feel, I don't know, a prickle along my skin. Down there. When I think about her."

Nerves. Thorin grunted, not sure how he felt about this news. The nerves coming alive were the first sign of a dwarrow's awakening body. Nerves that began firing up could lead to some painful itching from what Thorin had been told. His eyebrows arched up. "Does it itch? Or is it painful?"

"No …no." Kili frowned, his eyes widening a bit. "Is it supposed to be?"

"Maybe you just need a bath." Thorin said dryly. "Perhaps you don't wash well enough, or your skin is drying out."

The younger dwarrow groaned and shook his head. "I don't want to talk about this with you."

"Itching is a sign." Thorin said slowly.

"Balin explained. Better than you did." The younger dwarrow teased, though his uncle ignored him. "Said it means that I should be careful, that I should steer clear of anyone making me feel like that unless I wanted the possibility of falling in love."

The king nodded thoughtfully. "You know that there is no nonsense of a One. One soul born to be your other half. That you have to meet and get to know one another and find out if love between you is possible or compatible. You may be part elf, but don't fall for that silly nonsense of seeing someone and knowing instantly that you will love them forever. Life doesn't go like that."

Kili nodded, then peeked up at his uncle's face as he decided not to argue the point. "I'm not running away from her."

"You two won't find it easy." Thorin warned. "And you could still find someone else to love, you could walk away from this relationship before you wake up proper."

Kili made a glowering face and shook his head emphatically.

The King Under the Mountain sighed with resignation. "When we have the portraits of the royal family made, we'll have to let the artist know to stock up on red."

Kili's laughter was immediate, and not a little bit relieved.

"Meet the dwarrowdams, nephew. Just meet them. It doesn't hurt you and it will prove to you whether or not your choice is what you want, and not just the first pretty face that came along and paid you any mind."

"Yes, uncle."

"Now go away. My water is getting cold."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Dori stared at Bofur as if he'd lost his mind, then looked back down at the objects in the hatted dwarve's hand. "Have you lost your sanity?"

"Nori sent these to me." Bofur whispered, still unsure how he felt about it all.

"Oh well. If Nori thinks it's a good idea." Dori said with utmost sarcasm, and then seeing someone start to open the door, he put his hand on Bofur's to help hide the questionable things.

Arwen swept into the room brandishing a long and elaborately embroidered elven robe in a rich purplish-blue that shimmered. "This should be the perfect color for Fili."

Dori stepped in front of Bofur, allowing the dark-haired dwarf to hide the items they'd been discussing. His appreciative eyes measured the robe, finding there was plenty of plain silk to craft a very fine shirt. "Quite the thing, but you shouldn't have to sacrifice one of your pretty things."

"It's not mine." Arwen winked. "It belongs to my mother's father."

Dori blinked, why couldn't elves just say grandfather? Then his mouth dropped open in consternation. The lady's grandfather was … "Lord Celeborn? He is offering us this?"

"He would if he knew about it." Assured the she-elf with a vivacious laugh that pulled an answering grin from both dwarrow until they realized what she meant.

"He doesn't exactly know you purloined his clothing?" Bofur asked in a husky whisper, as if the silver-haired elf was about to step out of the shadows and avenge the silken robe that Arwen was already measuring out.

Dori reached out and fingered the incredibly beautiful fabric, his face scrunched up as he eyed the seams. He'd seen Arwen's stitchery in her Durin's Day gifts. "You didn't make this." It wasn't really a guess, the hem was not even and there was a pulled stitch or two where the shoulder met the chest piece.

Arwen pressed her lips together, her eyes dancing merrily. "Lady Galadriel made this for him."

Dori dropped the soft silk as if it suddenly turned scorching hot. "Oh dear. Oh dear!" The always correct and well-mannered dwarf almost went into spasms at the enormity of what was being presented.

He was saved when the door opened again, letting Ker walk in with yet another small trunk. The Iron Hills lieutenant dropped it, sending up a cloud of dust much to Dori's protest. "Found this in the ….ladies quarters." He changed the Khuzdul word he'd been about to say to the Common tongue translation, sliding a glance at the she-elf currently ripping out seams.

Bofur ignored the dust and threw open the trunk. Moths immediately flew out, making Dori deflate even further. The fabrics inside would most liked be holed through by now. He turned to look with avarice at the lovely silk that Arwen was handling. She had the audacity winked at him. "You're turning me into a thief." He whimpered, disturbed that this she-elf was getting him to do something that a life-time spent with Nori could not.

Bofur scratched his chin and shook his head. "No. No, I believe she be the burglar and you be the accomplice after the fact as it were."

"Semantics." Sighed Dori as he accepted the first length of silk that Arwen handed him with great reluctance, but also with some greed. It really was wonderful material and it would complement Fili perfectly.

"Speaking of contraband materials …" Bofur let his voice trail off, his question of what to do with the items Nori had sent still utmost in his mind. He patted the trouser pocket where the small items were currently hidden from view.

Dori's lips thinned and he looked highly put upon as he shook his head.

Bofur coughed in the awkward silence that fell over the small group. "Where are the lads?" He finally asked.

"Kuilaith is taking a bath, while Nuluin is helping Fili in the shower." Arwen answered as she fingered the elaborate embroidery on the borders. "Some of this can be used for the cuffs."

Bofur scoffed. "Why does Fili need help?"

"To keep his wound dry." Arwen answered absently as Bofur and Dori both nodded in understanding. "And to redress it when he's finished."

"Now, no need to be getting our hopes up for these first visitors to Erebor. Lads might not find brides yet." Bofur smiled. "More will come visiting or to stay, just because these are the first won't mean they'll be the best."

Arwen frowned sharply, and Bofur's smile slipped in intensity. "Fili I understand. But why present Kuilaith? It's not fair." She'd already expressed her dissatisfaction with putting forth both young princes as it were.

Dori winced in sympathy and shot his fellow dwarrow a hard look. Bofur patted his pocket again. "Not fair to Tauriel? No promises there as of yet I believe. They haven't quite gotten that far." The hatted dwarf said cautiously.

Ker frowned and looked up, keenly interested in the she-elf's response.

Arwen shot them all a surprised look. "Well, it's not fair to her. But I meant for him! Kuilaith is still technically underage. To force him into a position to choose a person for the rest of your life? No, it's not fair." The other three dwarves all relaxed somewhat. "AND it really, really isn't fait to either he or Tauriel." She smiled a bit wanly. "Now that YOU brought her up." And Arwen had spoken with the pretty red-haired elf lass, but the warrior from the Mirkwood just didn't seem ready to open up on the subject. Leaving Arwen in a quandary.

The three dwarves flinched slightly. But didn't know what to say. So they said nothing. Silence filled the area as they each concentrated on what they were doing. But such a silence could only last for so long.

"So. What are dwarrowdams like?" Arwen asked, trying to fill the suddenly awkward silence and ignoring the undercurrents that she wasn't really sure about. "What is considered beautiful among dwarrows?"

Bofur, willing to be distracted to avoid making a decision, smiled at the she-elf. "A grand sense of humor."

"A lady-like sensibility." Dori added.

"A great figure." Ker said, poking through the trunk's contents to see if anything could be salvaged.

Arwen giggled and looked between the three dwarrow, amused beyond measure.

Bofur nodded thoughtfully. "A great figure couldn't hurt." He admitted.

Ker shook his head at the small trunk. "Some buttons and such are salvageable, but the fabrics are not." He declared. The Iron Hills lieutenant looked up, only to freeze as he realized that the beauteous elf lass was staring right at him. "Lady?"

"Are you married, good Master Dwarf?" Arwen asked gently.

"No." Ker denied.

"Maybe we should be making you a nice new shirt." The she-elf smiled at him.

A flush built up from his neck on up, matching his rather ginger beard. "Bofur's not married either." He quickly threw the Company member to the wargs as it were.

"Neither is Dori." Bofur avowed suddenly, actually pointing at his gray bearded and braided friend.

"Craft master!" The older dwarrow threw up his hands in surrender with a small laugh. "Not interested in marrying."

"New shirts all around then?" Arwen clucked her tongue. "What with all the warriors from the Iron Hills, and I'm assuming a lot of them are unmarried?" Receiving a reluctantly acknowledging nod of the head from Ker, she continued. "Then my mother's father may have to sacrifice the rest of his robes for the grand cause."

The three dwarrow shared a shocked and nervous look, the kind that clearly showed that they had no idea if the elven lass was teasing …or not.

"You just want to keep Kili for Tauriel." Bofur pointed out, but without judgment clouding his tone. "By throwing all of the eligible dwarrows at the dams as they arrive."

Arwen smiled, not denying the charge. "Why not? And why not Tauriel? She's funny, and gentle and with a great figure."

Bofur opened his mouth to deny all three charges when Dori suddenly stepped heavily on his foot. So what if he personally found Tauriel to be focused, driven and on the slender side with few curves? Okay, almost scrawny to his way of thinking. Still, he guessed that Tauriel was pretty enough in her own way.

"Why should they not fall in love?" The she-elf persisted.

"She's an elf." Ker pointed out the obvious, his tone almost apologetic.

"So is he. Partly." Arwen shrugged off the argument as inconsequential. "Kuilaith is Elven as well as Dwarvish."

Bofur stilled, putting his hand in his pocket and pulling out the handful of beads. Each carved and full of meaning. He looked over at Dori, who shrugged. So the hatted dwarf made a hand sign or two, showing he was going to consult someone.

Dori grimaced, but bobbed his head up and down a bit. "True. It's hard to think of the lad being part elven. We've known him as a dwarrow since, well …ever. Makes sense. But as you say, he's still young, and even younger by elven standards anyway." He appeared to be talking to Arwen, but his words were meant for Bofur. "Perhaps Kili is too young to think of finding a bride at all right now."

Bofur's hands tightened around the beads in his palm, indecision clearly shining from his eyes. He flashed a hand sign.

Dori flashed two back in quick succession.

Ker looked up and caught the last one, his own eyes quickening with curiosity and question. He signaled a 'what's going on' hand sign at the two Company dwarrow.

Dori shook his head, reluctant to share.

Bofur shrugged and nodded his head at the gray-bearded and braided dwarf to further distract the Lady Arwen, who was tediously pulling out tiny stitches to keep the silk fabric intact. He then gestured for Ker's hand.

Dori mouthed a very tart word that Nori would have enjoyed, but turned to speak with Arwen quickly.

Bofur took the hand of the Iron Hills lieutenant and poured the beads into his calloused palm. Ker hissed in surprise, his eyes going wide. Bofur shrugged helplessly. He used the dwarven sign for 'unsure'.

Ker glanced at the two other occupants of the room and then rolled his head in a 'damn you' gesture that wasn't technically a dwarven hand sign but was pretty clear nonetheless. He flashed two quick signs. 'Why me?'

Bofur grinned and shrugged. 'Lucky' was all he would offer in the silent, hidden language that accompanied Khuzdul. 'Decide'.

Ker mouthed a word as equally as tart as the one Dori had used. Then he added a few more for good measure.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin stood naked as the day he was born before his limited wardrobe. The door to his chambers crashed open without preamble or announcement. Which meant it was one of two persons. "NEPHEW!"

"Sir?"

Without turning around, Thorin grunted. Fili this time. "Shut the damned door, there's a draft!" He reached calmly for a pair of fine leather pants embellished with dwarven designs stitched intricately down the sides with gold and silver thread.

Fili swallowed hard, eying the proud and straight back of his uncle and king. Still in a high temper, he did as he was told. Then he opened the door back up again, because he was in that kind of mood.

Thorin did turn around now, his eyebrows going up. He could see the guards from the Iron Hills outside his door, while a few others walked by his private chambers. All averted their eyes, though nudity wasn't exactly a taboo among dwarves, it wasn't exactly casual either. "Nephew?"

"I thought you couldn't be both king and uncle." Fili said, crossing his arms. He actually forgot his injury until he jostled the freshly dressed wound. It was healing well according to Nuluin, but it still ached fiercely. But he fought not to show his pain, especially not now.

Thorin though could read the facial expressions of his sister-sons rather well. He caught the slight flinch around the eyes and his temper settled on simmer rather than boil. "Something bothering you?"

Fili had a whole argument worked out in his mind, complete with what Thorin would say and his own responses. "Kili shouldn't have to be paraded before foreign dwarrowdams."

"Agreed."

That exploded all of Fili's arguments and his mouth opened and closed in a bit of shocked surprise. "Agreed?"

"Neither of you should have to be. But you are my heirs. It comes with some good things, being princes. However, it comes with some unsavory things as well. You don't have the luxury of choosing a bride based solely upon love and being able to take your time doing it."

Fili stared at his uncle, and his anger deflated with some hard realities. He closed the door behind him, giving them privacy. "You never chose a bride."

"I didn't have a throne, I barely had a moment to myself. Not since Smaug first destroyed our home and our way of life." Thorin explained as he sat and pulled on his leather trousers. "I had nothing to offer a bride."

"You're the king. Direct descendent from Durin the Deathless." Fili answered, his conversation not going in any direction he'd anticipated.

"And some dwarrowdams would have accepted the blood in my veins as their only dower price. But I couldn't do that." Thorin sighed, then grinned. "Anyway, it's a convenient excuse. I didn't want to marry, and never met anyone to make me want to change my mind. Dain's the same."

"Leaving it to me and Kili." The blond sighed unhappily.

"I thought you wanted to get married, make dwarflings."

"I do!" Fili proclaimed, then shook his head in bemusement. "I really do. I want to fall in love and have a large family."

"Good! Grand! And don't think you have to choose the first pretty face that comes along." Thorin suddenly frowned. "And I'd caution against a marriage alliance with the Blacklocks. Sneaky clan that. Took in the fewest refugees from Erebor, and those they did accept where among the wealthiest if you catch my meaning."

The crown prince nodded grimly. "They're one of the reasons the rest of Middle Earth thinks dwarves are greedy?"

"One reason among many, but still. Not a great example of dwarven honor. A long history, tracing back to one of the original seven fathers of our people."

"But not Durin." Fili said proudly.

"Not Durin." Thorin agreed with equal pride. "But that's not why you're here and angry and showing off my naked ass to half the world."

Fili had the grace to drop his gaze, even if his grin was not much on the repentant side. "Kili."

"I've already talked with him." Thorin said calmly, moving back to his wardrobe to choose a shirt. He had neglected his royal closet for much more necessary things. Such as rebuilding his kingdom. "The last time I visited the Blacklock's they paraded their wealth in front of me as a goad."

"You have a whole amassed treasury to choose from in order to outshine them." Fili pointed out, then shook his head. "But it might not be wise to show them."

Interested, Thorin turned and gave his heir an expectant look.

"If the Blacklocks are as greedy as you've said." Fili spoke slowly, thoughtfully. "Parading out our worth, when they know we are ill defended could be asking for more trouble instead of less."

"Follow that thought." Thorin encouraged his heir with shining eyes. He'd always been rougher on Fili than he had Kili, but then, the blond was to be king after him. While his younger nephew had simply been someone to treasure and protect. It wasn't fair to either of them, but it was reality.

Fili knew a test when it was presented to him, but he didn't falter. Instead he straightened. He loved it when Thorin taught him like this and he didn't want to disappoint, his earlier anger melting away. "So, not a huge display of great wealth. But to present ourselves poorly would be un-dwarven and a blow to both our honor and pride."

Thorin nodded in encouragement, not interrupting.

"We should have Dain's lieutenants richly armored and standing with us. He is our cousin and blood. His might backs us up."

"Go on." The king smiled almost smugly to hear his heir's words.

"Conversely, you should be in finery instead of armor." Fili added.

Thorin frowned thoughtfully, his chin going up. "Explain that one."

Knowing his uncle wasn't sure he agreed, the blond nodded quickly. "To show that you have no fear of the Blacklocks. Or anyone else. You rode to Erebor with a thin company to face down a fire-breathing dragon and ended up facing a battle against goblins and such. You don't have to prove your toughness."

The king considered those words quite intently, then finally gave a grunt of approval. "Perhaps." He allowed.

"But your finery shouldn't be every bit of gold we have." Fili hurried forward. "Instead, a few pieces of excellent worth and craftsmanship. Pieces important historically to all dwarrow. To emphasize your connection to Durin. It's too bad we don't have access to Durin's Axe." He mused.

Thorin winced. That piece of history was lost somewhere beneath the deathtrap that was Moria at the moment. Inaccessible. "There are still some worthy pieces here that we can choose from." He said slowly.

"Me, by your side. I could be in armor or finery, your choice." Fili sounded far more enthusiastic.

But Thorin's attention got snagged and his blue eyes sharpened. "Kili too."

"You don't need Kili there." Fili said, his eagerness dimming slightly.

"I told you, I've already spoken with your brother. I'm not forcing him to marry a dwarrowdam. I just want him to have options. He's never been seen for his true worth as an heir of mine, especially when I had nothing tangible to leave him. But now there's this." He spread his hands wide, the impact of his words not diminished by his lack of a shirt. "Erebor. An alliance with Durin's line. With the royal family."

Fili winced.

"If after a while, he still wants to court this elf lass he's so taken with, so be it." Thorin finished, sounding a bit grouchy.

Fili though, looked up with hope. "Really?"

He looked so puppy-dog like in his demeanor, that Thorin was startled into a laugh. He pointed at his heir. "That's Kili's 'I want something' face, it doesn't look as good on you."

The blond prince chuckled, but grinned, knowing his uncle was right. No one did the melting eyes look better than did his younger brother. "So. You're alright with Tauriel?" He asked bluntly.

Thorin winced and ran a hand through his unbraided hair. "Alright? No. No, not really. An elf? Of everyone in Middle Earth? An elf who even took us prisoner?"

Fili laughed, for all the grump in his uncle's voice, it wasn't hatred or disgust. Which was a good start. As for Tauriel, he didn't see the attraction his brother had for her. Or any elf for that matter. But if she was Kili's choice, that was good enough for him. Especially since the she-elf seemed to look at his brother with the same longing.

As for tonight, the blond was just happy that Thorin and Kili weren't at odds on the matter. And it helped that elves didn't seem the jealous type.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel sharpened the last of her blades, wishing there were more. Not that she could use them. Not here, not like this. She sighed unhappily.

A polite cough from the doorway had her looking up in surprise.

Chapter Text

Tauriel calmly wiped her oiled and sharpened blade, sliding it smoothly into the hardened leather sheath that had been crafted especially for her. Her fingers hesitated on the etched runes that called upon the light of the sun and stars to strengthen the metal. It wasn't magic. It was friendship. Legolas had gifted her the sheath seven or eight years ago when her previous one had started to shred.

A gift between friends and comrades in arms. So she'd thought at the time. The red-head closed her eyes, unable to face her memory of the betrayal in Legolas' eyes when she chose a path leading her away from the Mirkwood.

But she could not deny the pull of a certain dark-haired, dark-eyed, laughing dwarf.

Tauriel opened her eyes and looked upon the dwarves standing in her doorway. The faces were bristling with beards and braids of all kinds. A veritable collection of beads, metals, carved bones and even some gemstones. All the eyes on her were quite serious, and no one was smiling.

"Yes?" The she-elf moved slowly, placing her sheathed blade down carefully in front of her. Her pale and elegant fingers were free and ready to draw several nearby weapons if such a need arose. It had only been this morning when she'd threatened one of their own.

For these were Iron Hills dwarves. None of Thorin's Company with whom she was far more familiar.

"A word?" One stocky and broad chested dwarf with a distinctly ginger beard asked. His tone was polite, almost hesitant. At least she recognized this dwarrow. Ker, if memory served.

Tauriel raised a single eyebrow in question. "Only one word?"

A slight twinge of a smile that might even have been in her imagination. "Perhaps more than just one." He admitted, his left hand nervously going to straighten his jerkin.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Bombur and Bifur walked through the hallway. The rotund ginger-haired dwarf was carrying a bottle as if it were a treasure, a very fragile one at that. The more gristled warrior trailed behind carrying several fluted glasses in his large hands.

Glorfindel and Lord Celeborn glanced in their direction, with the silver-haired one returning to their quiet discussion. However, the ancient warrior from Gondolin paused, his attention arrested. He gave a soft whistle.

Bombur looked over at him and nodded, giving a quick wink and a grin.

Glorfindel turned back to Lord Celeborn and smiled. "Perhaps we should move this conversation to another locale?"

If the leader of Lothlorien was surprised he did not reveal such with his face. He simply cocked his head slightly to one side. "Where?"

The golden-haired elf shrugged. "I don't know. But I'm following him." He pointed after the portly dwarf as Bombur headed up the stairs, with Bifur following behind.

Lord Celeborn sighed with much patience. "More of your bubbling cider?"

"You liked the bubbles when you tried the drink." The ancient warrior pointed out cheerfully as he turned to follow the dwarves upstairs.

The silver-haired elf shook his head. "Not as much as you. It's just juice."

"Then don't come." Glorfindel slid a glance at the other tall elf with a sly smile. He glided up with steps with a lethal seeming grace. "My friend Bombur will not lead me astray."

Lord Celeborn looked around the hall, then followed his friend with a slow reluctance. Winning over the trust of his daughter's son's child did not mean that he had to befriend every dwarf crossing his path. Elladan and Elrohir he could understand. Those two should make every effort. But Glorfindel? To what purpose was this supposed infatuation with all things dwarven?

The silver-haired leader of Lothlorien looked up the stairs and saw his friend pointing out the correct hallway to take before disappearing after the dwarves. Celeborn sighed unhappily.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Brinarg turned the well-crafted dagger over and over in his hands, grinning like a fool. The blade had been used and bore small jagged nicks, evidence of hitting bone or even rock during battle. "It's still sharp." He commented, rather pleased.

Gagnar watched the unholy light in the other dwarve's eyes with some discomfort. He shifted his weight to his other foot. "I'm supposed to be in the main dining hall." He paused and then shrugged. "Cleaning." He added, just to make his point that he was disobeying just being here.

Brinarg shot the Iron Hills dwarf a shuttered look of distaste. "Didn't bother to clean the blade though."

"Brought it to ya as I found it after the battle." Gagnar pointed at the fine blade whose original owner would have been appalled if he had seen it so mistreated. Dried fluids and hair stuck to the hilt. "Buried completely in the body of a warg, it was."

Neither dwarrow mentioned how the blade was clearly of elven design and make. Nor did either talk about how the blade should have been returned to the Mirkwood elves. They didn't know if the owner was even alive or dead. They didn't care.

"Worth a pretty copper bit." Gagnar made a face, still a bit upset from this morning.

"You're not thinking of charging me for it?" Brinarg asked archly, acting shocked at the very thought. "Your friend."

The beady-eyed Gagnar scoffed. "Where was my so-called friend when that bitch of an elf was about to pierce my eye?"

"Watching your back." Brinarg lied quietly. Not that he would have stepped in, or even said anything. "I knew you could handle one lone bitch-elf."

Gagnar shrugged, not wanting to seem lesser by admitting that he probably couldn't have won a fight with the red-head. "It ain't right that a prince of Erebor be interested in something as ugly as her. All stretched out thin and pale, skinny and …ugh. An elf!" He turned and spat into the corner.

Brinarg fought not to sneer at the other dwarrow. "He's no true prince of this realm." He said with quiet emphasis.

"Heard talk he was saying he won't stand in line for the throne." Gagnar mentioned with no little satisfaction.

Brinarg paused, then laughed. "And you believe that?"

Gagnar sniffed through his rather long nose and stroked his mealy looking beard. He coughed lightly. "It's what I heard." He sounded defensive.

"Oh I have no doubt about that." Brinarg said soothingly. "I meant that I can't credit the words though. He's either lying or someone else is. They can say whatever they like, but Thorin hasn't removed the lad from the line of succession now has he?"

"No." Gagnar admitted roughly, somewhat appeased. "And he's had time since those damnable elves arrived."

"Exactly." Brinarg's eyes narrowed speculatively and asked what to Gagnar seemed an odd question. "You get an opportunity to ever clean the kitchens?"

The other dwarrow snorted. "Opportunity? By Durin's great blood soaked axe I wouldn't call the punishment detail an opportunity!"

Brinarg waited as the beady-eyed dwarf listed his complaints against Thorin's Company and all the wrongs done to him. He bit his tongue to keep from telling Gagnar to shut up. Instead he took the time to glance around the area. They were in one of the mining supply rooms. It was between guard duties, when the different rotations were meeting and giving reports. Right after one group of guards finished their rounds and right before the next group began theirs.

Gagnar paused, his rather thin lips sneering. "Are you even listening?"

"No." Brinarg admitted coldly.

A hiss was his only answer, but the dark-haired dwarf didn't care. He didn't have much longer down here. "So. The answer is no, you don't have access to the kitchens?"

"I told you!" Gagnar was nearly spitting mad right now, glaring at his companion. "About the only place they haven't made me clean."

"Too bad. If they did I might have reconsidered what comes next." Brinarg smiled brightly, right before he shoved the elvish blade right into Gagnar's body. He thrust up underneath the ribcage and straight into the heart. An immediately lethal blow.

The dark-haired dwarf let the weight of the body carry itself to the ground, making sure to step clear of the blood starting to pool upon the floor. Brinarg laughed as he pulled out several strands of long red hair and sprinkled them about without regard.

As evidence went, it was rather weak. But then, he didn't need solid proof. Merely a trigger to an explosion. At this point he believed that strong suspicion would be just the thing he needed. And if one of Thorin's precious Company argued that the evidence wasn't enough, then that would merely add to the breeding of malcontents.

Wait.

His orders had been to wait. Brinarg sneered, soothing his inner nerves even as walked out of the supply room door. Seeing no one, he smiled and made for one of the side hallways.

For a race of beings that mined the earth with great patience, precision and meticulousness, dwarves weren't much for simple waiting. It was a racial hypocrisy, Brinarg guessed. If his benefactor was upset about this move and asked him why he hadn't waited, he'd simply explain.

The red-haired elf-bitch had presented a golden opportunity. An argument with Gagnar. Highly public. Knife at the ready. A nice elvish blade. Just like the one left in the beady-eyed dwarrow's body. She could argue all she wanted that she still had all her blades, the hint of suspicion was all that was needed.

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Tauriel looked around the training yard. Straw-filled dummies with targets on them made her smile. They were painted to look like orcs and goblins. She pointed at the small one on the end. "I don't think you made that one ugly enough."

At least three of the Iron Hills dwarrow actually chuckled, and few more nodded. The others still just watched her.

"Is that all you have to say?" One curious dwarf asked.

Tauriel blinked and looked over at the speaker. She couldn't tell his age, but he was not yet graying. Still, he was easy to pick out. She'd never seen a curlier beard. It was rather short as dwarven styles went, probably in an effort to keep the wild curls at bay. Unfortunately the effect was unsettling. He rather looked like he was sporting pubic hair. On his face.

Tauriel looked away and shrugged. "You haven't asked a single question. And the lot of you were the ones to ask me out here. It's your meeting."

"A cool one, are ye?" This dwarrow she could look at. He wasn't bad looking with his bright eyes and pretty golden brown braids and beard.

"I do not take your meaning." The red-head sighed and looked around her. Five dwarves. All from the Iron Hills, and if she wasn't mistaken. All lieutenants from Dain's command structure. "If you want an answer, ask a question."

"Are you looking to marry Prince Kili?"

Well. That was rather direct and straightforward. Tauriel's face slipped into a neutral expression of cool disinterest. "That question presumes much that has not yet come to pass."

Ker grimaced and shook his head. "If the subject of marriage came up between you and the prince, would you be thinking on the side of yes or no?"

"As it stands at the moment, and without any talk between us of marriage?" Tauriel thought the question over and then shook her head. "If that question were to arise, it would need to be coming from him."

"Yer being evasive." The handsome one spoke up, clearly irritated.

Ker shrugged. "We're being very forward." He sent an apologetic nod toward the she-elf. "Perhaps we should go no further."

The other three dwarves all nodded in reluctance.

Tauriel should have felt relieved that the conversation wasn't going to happen after all. And indeed, she did feel some relief. But there was also a sense of denying the truth to her evasion. "If he asked, I would not be adverse to the idea." She said quietly.

The dwarrow all stopped moving away from her. They all stared at her, then looked at each other. Finally the curly haired one gave a huff of a sound that could have meant anything really. "Because he's a prince?"

"Because I care for him."

Ker shifted his eyes to one side, and then back to her. "In what way?"

"A personal way." Tauriel said a bit shortly. She might be willing to be forthcoming, but this was private. "I began to care for him before knowing he was a prince."

"You've admitted that you knew he was related to Thorin even in the Elvish King's prison cells." This from a dark-haired dwarrow with obsidian beads decorating his beard.

"Related yes." Tauriel admitted. "But not how close or in what context. His title means little to me."

"His worth as a dwarrow outweighs his title?" This from the golden-haired dwarrow with a nod of approval.

Tauriel bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement of the statement.

"You must really be happy that he turned out to be part elvish." This from the curly-haired dwarf with a hint of a frown. As if the admission that Kili was less than fully dwarven was hard to make.

Tauriel considered not answering, or an outright evasion. But this meeting seemed ….important. How, she wasn't sure. Weighing the moment carefully, she chose her words precisely. "His High Elf blood does not help me become closer to Kili."

All five dwarrow stilled, staring at her, almost demanding more information.

The red-head tilted her lips upward, but it wasn't really a smile. "I am not of noble or High Elf blood. I am a Silvan elf."

Ker's eyes narrowed on her. "Kili's blood outranks you."

"On either side of his parentage." Tauriel admitted, holding her head up proudly.

"No matter." The curly haired dwarrow huffed. "You don't look like you feel lesser to anyone."

"I don't."

"If the kingdom were attacked, would you defend?" This from the curly haired one again.

The red-head nodded without hesitation.

"Against elves?" This sly question from the golden-brown haired one.

Tauriel paused, then grimaced. "What is the cause of the fight?"

"Inconsequential." Ker avowed. "The question stands."

The she-elf shook her head. "I …would protect Kili from any and all, no matter the cause."

Ker shook his head. "Not Fili nor King Thorin?" He pressed further.

Tauriel's lips thinned as her eyes flashed in irritation. "Without knowing the cause of the argument? What if one or either of them had slipped into dragon-sickness?"

Two dwarrow rather hissed. Whether or not the sound was aimed at her, the red-head didn't care to guess. Whatever the test was, she was failing. But her personal honor demanded no other answer.

Ker sighed, looking at the other dwarrow with him. They all stared back at him. The curly haired dwarf went first and nodded his head, as if reluctant. The golden haired one sighed deeply, then shrugged his assent. The other two nodded almost in unison.

Ker grimaced and pulled out a set of beads. He stared down at them almost sadly, shaking his head. "Never thought I'd see a day like this one."

A few chuckles greeted his words.

Tauriel knew a test when faced with one. But wasn't sure of the reactions she was seeing. Were the dwarves so happy that she'd failed? She coughed to get the dwarve's attention, then arched an eyebrow at them.

The curly haired dwarrow shrugged at her. "You're over proud, temperamental, a strong fighter …."

"Speak yer mind when it might be best to stay silent." The golden haired male smiled a bit.

"Brave to the point of madness." Ker added, then at her arch look grinned. "Saw you fighting to save the king and his heirs. You could have hung back and stayed in relative safety but rushed forward anyway."

Tauriel watched them all, unsure. "So. Nothing redeemable about me is there?"

Ker laughed for real, deep and guttural. Finally he settled long enough to point a finger at her. "To dwarves, all of that is to the good. Stupid elves to give you up. But we dwarrow don't turn away treasure when offered and you look right sparkly to us."

Tauriel's green eyes blinked, taken aback and feeling off balance mentally.

"She could look more sparkly." The curly haired dwarrow hinted broadly and pointed at the beads Ker was still holding.

"But …" Tauriel didn't have a chance to finish her sentence, which was good because she did not know what to say. Instead, one of the dwarrow dragged over a low bench and dusted off a place for her to sit.

Ker grinned at her as the curly haired dwarrow handed her a silver backed mirror. "Now. These braids, they are very, very important to get right."

"You're going to braid my hair?" The red-headed elf asked incredulously.

"No." The curly haired dwarrow answered with a wide smile. "It's important that you do the braiding. You're going to have to learn this braid and then put those in your hair. It has to be done personally, by you or if incapable, by your mam or a close female relative. Strictly a braid for dwarrowdams."

Tauriel nodded gamely, then frowned. "Then shouldn't a dwarrowdam teach me?"

Ker laughed as the curly haired dwarrow shook his head and groaned. "I AM a dwarrowdam, Miss Elf."

The red-head blinked as her mouth dropped open in shock as she silently replaced all the male terminology in her head to female. "My apologies." She whispered, embarrassed.

"Right. Accepted." The curly haired dwarrow …er, dwarrowdam winked and pulled out a few locks of her dark hair. "Watch my hands carefully now."

o.o.o.o.o

o.o.o.o.o

Thorin nodded at Fili as his crown prince tried on his new shirt in the shimmering blue silk. "Very fine!"

Arwen went so far as to clap happily, beaming with pride. "I said the color would suit him!"

Dori nodded happily, putting neat little stitches in what would be Kili's new shirt. He looked up as the door to the room opened.

Bombur grinned and headed toward Thorin with his wine bottle. Bifur came in close behind, putting down the fluted glasses.

King Thorin blinked and shook his head. "Save that for when our guests arrive."

Bombur shook his head back and forth, his eyes wide and almost pleading. "It's not a red wine." He rushed out his words just as Glorfindel and Lord Celeborn arrived.

"What have we?" The golden-haired warrior looked at the wine bottle, then shrugged. "I can't read the runes."

Thorin peered at the bottle and from its shape and color, he hazarded a guess. "From the Blacklock traders from before the Desolation?"

Bombur nodded most eagerly, beaming.

Thorin shrugged. "A goodly choice, I suppose. They made it, they'll enjoy it. But no need to open a bottle now."

Bombur shook his head sadly. "It's not supposed to age."

Lord Celeborn nodded, understanding immediately. "A white. He must want to make sure it hasn't turned in the time since …."

"We're calling that time period the Desolation now." Thorin sighed, waving at Bombur to open the wine.

Glorfindel watched with eager eyes. "I do not think I've tried this wine before."

"Bubbles." Bombur smiled rather shyly at the taller elf.

Lord Celeborn and the ancient dragon-slayer both froze for a moment, then both rather shook their heads.

"Bubbles." Insisted the rather round dwarrow.

"I enjoyed the bubbles in my cider." Glorfindel allowed. "But I'd rather keep them out of my wine."

Bombur made a slight face, then the oversized looking cork popped free with a loud popping noise that startled the elves. Wine didn't make that noise. The ginger-bearded dwarf grinned again. "Bubbles."

Glorfindel frowned.

Bombur gave him a hurt, almost pleading look.

The hero of old Gondolin sighed and after a hesitation, finally nodded and pointed toward one of the flutes.

Bombur poured out a glass and Glorfindel cautiously sipped.

Wonder spread across the elegant features of the elf, who actually closed his eyes and shivered in pleasure. "Oh, by all the music in Arda." He whispered.

Thorin laughed as he admitted, "that was one of my grandfather's favored drinks. He did not deem me worthy of sharing but on a few rare occasions."

Glorfindel sipped from his glass once more, smiling happily. "Fili? Prince Fili of Erebor? If the Blacklocks have a dwarrowdam even remotely near your age. Marry her. We need more of these bottles."

Thorin nearly choked on his laughter as Bombur handed him his own flute of the bubbly wine. He sipped it as well, then frowned. "I think I'd forgotten." He looked at Fili. "I take back what I said about not marrying into the Blacklocks."

The crown prince made a face at both elf and dwarf. "I am NOT getting married to keep you two in wine with bubbles!"

Lord Celeborn looked intrigued, and made a gesture for one of the glasses. When he tasted the liquid, a surprised look fell over his rather austere features. "How is it that in all my years, I have not heard of this wine? Does it have a name?"

"It is known as the 'umran alfatmagan." Thorin rolled the Khuzdul word out without hesitation. "It simply means the greatest cup of bubbly wine."

"The name lacks a certain poetry." Glorfindel savored the taste of his drink, smiling in a besotted fashion. "But the wine speaks for itself." He glanced over at his silver-haired friend. "Still not impressed with bubbles?"

Lord Celeborn huffed out an amused breath and sipped from his glass once more. "I take back any word I spoke against bubbles, my friend. And bow my head to the crafting ways of the dwarves."

Thorin nodded in acknowledgement.

Fili groused and looked back and forth between them all, he marched over and took a glass from Bifur. He threw the wine back and gulped it down, making Glorfindel wince as if injured in some manner. The blond shook his head. "It's wine."

"It's ambrosia." Glorfindel countered.

"I am not marrying anyone I meet tonight!" Fili vowed.

The ancient warrior finished his glass sadly, only brightening when Bombur offered a refill. "For a wine such as this? I might marry the Blacklock heiress myself."

Thorin choked at the very idea. Then shook his head. "She might have a beard."

Glorfindel shrugged happily.

Before anyone could poke too much fun at him, the door to the room opened again and a harried Balin stood there, looking pale as a ghost.

Thorin beckoned his advisor inside.

Balin looked at the elves in the room, from Lord Celeborn to Glorfindel and finally settling on the pretty Lady Arwen. He shook his head.

The king scowled at his long-time friend.

Balin shook his head again.

"What is it?" Thorin demanded, not wanting to let go of his good mood.

The white-bearded dwarf sighed most unhappily. "We have …a situation."

"SPEAK!" Thorin roared.

"A body of a dwarf in the supply rooms." Balin snapped. "Wearing an elvish dagger on his person."

Lord Celeborn's eyebrows winged up in shock.

"On his person?" Thorn leaned forward, looking stunned.

"In his person." Amended Balin apologetically. "Buried in his heart."

Thorin sighed, closing his eyes in sudden weariness. "Who?"

Balin wasn't sure if his king was asking if the assailant was known, or the victim. He answered both. "Gagnar, son of Agnarr out of the Iron Hills. The blade is elvish, there is long red hairs on the body, and he was seen being threatened by Miss Tauriel just this morning."

Lord Celeborn shifted his weight in silent protest while Glorfindel's face hardened, his earlier teasing disappearing beneath the serious words. "She would not." The golden-haired warrior began.

"No." Balin agreed. "She's been with the Iron Hills lieutenants for the past two hours. And the dwarf was seen less than an hour ago, alive and well."

Glorfindel relaxed slightly at this bit of news.

"An elvish blade?" Arwen sounded horrified.

Balin shook his head. "Seen it myself. Big problem. It had dried material on it. Warg fur."

Thorin's hard eyes sharpened with speculation. "A blade found after the battle and not returned?"

"The dagger is in no shape that I have ever seen an elf have on their being." Balin nodded generally in Lord Celeborn's direction.

The elf leader nodded back graciously, yet with caution. "A weapon of opportunity?" He posited, though his voice sounded doubtful.

Thorin grunted. "No dwarrow is unarmed."

"Nor any elf." Glorfindel allowed, his mind racing.

"And no real warrior would leave his blade behind, or keep one in such an ill state." Balin added smartly. "Unless someone wants us thinking the killer is elven."

Lord Celeborn nodded slowly, having come to the same conclusion.

The king's advisor and friend sighed. "The thrust was up under the ribs to the heart."

"Effective." Thorin mused.

Balin shook his head. "Wrong angle for someone as tall as an elf." He demonstrated the move in question.

Glorfindel paused, looking quite pleased with Balin's assessment. "I did not think of that."

Thorin grimaced. "I need Nori."

Balin immediately shook his head silently. "He's still angry with you." He offered the public cover for the tri-bearded tavern owner and spy. "But he says he wants to make the elf responsible pay for their crime."

Arwen gasped in shock. Fili shook his head at her in a reassuring manner, whispering something soothing.

"He's looking into the matter?" Thorin gleaned the most important fact from Balin's words.

"To blame an elf." Lord Celeborn said dryly.

Thorin shook his head. "He'll get to the bottom of things. No matter who he might find down there."

The elves looked less than pleased, but had little choice in the matter.

Chapter Text

Tauriel’s arms and fingers were aching by the time she finally accomplished braiding her hair to the satisfaction of the gathered dwarves.

It was a good thing they were gathered outside like this, in a weapons training courtyard. It turned out, they needed the room. The original five had swollen to perhaps three times that number, she was chagrined to note. All with ‘helpful’ hints, ribald comments, and criticism.

Also, there was an odd tension. A watchfulness that Tauriel couldn’t seem to read well. But every attempt she made and conversation had been gently redirected back to the task at hand. Braids. She couldn’t tell which dwarves were being helpful, misleading, disapproving, shocked, or just plain curious. There were too many.

“Does it look lopsided to you?” Asked one grumpy dwarrow with a beard shot through with gray and a complicated braid of his own hanging from the tip of his chin from a beautiful clasp.

“No. You look lopsided to me.” Ker chuckled, clapping the other dwarf on the shoulder to the general amusement of those gathered. The Iron Hills lieutenant seemed cautiously cheerful, though still reserved.

Tauriel, having spent the past several hours with the dwarves, felt emboldened to ask a personal question. Hoping she wasn’t stepping on any cultural toes. She nodded toward the chin braid. “Does that have meaning?”

The grumpy dwarrow’s eyebrows rose slightly and he gave a proud nod. “The braid? No. Not by itself. But the clasp has my family sigil on it, my da’s father had it made for him year’n ago. I chose this braid as it sets off the clasp so well.”

Another dwarf faked a choking cough and shook his head. “Braid does too have meaning.”

The original dwarf shrugged. “Yes. But not a deep personal one, not like the clasp. She was asking something else, look farther than the tip of your’n own nose.” He turned back to Tauriel with a sheepish smile. “It’s a warrior braid, simple clean and shows that I’ve been in a battle or two.”

The red-headed elf nodded carefully. The braid didn’t look simple and clean to her, but rather complicated. But perhaps to the dwarrow it was a simple braid, simply to show off his clasp. Her jewel-bright eyes traced the clasp in question. “Fine silver work.” She offered calmly, using the neutral tone of voice she’d often used with her king when she was unsure of his mood.

The grumpy dwarrow perhaps flushed slightly and lost some of his frown as he nodded to her in thanks for her words.

“Is it rude to ask if you have a son at home to which it will be passed?” Tauriel asked, pressing forward since the dwarf hadn’t appeared upset with her first question.

Now the formerly grumpy dwarrow fairly beamed. “No. He’s over there! First campaign and all. Fine turn out!” He pointed at a youthful looking dwarrow with a series of pink wounds, closed and healing, alongside his face. Warg claws no doubt. “He insisted on coming with his da for this battle.” His voice fairly dripped with pride as he thumped his leather-padded armor with his fist.

Tauriel smiled and nodded. Why had she ever thought dwarves were cold and calculating creatures capable only of greed? “My people have a very old saying which means that the sun always seems brighter when honor is brought to the family. It is one thing to accomplish something good, it is even better when your offspring do so.”

A surprised jumble of whispers met her words, spreading through the group of dwarrow. The no-longer grumpy dwarf bowed with a true smile. “We have a similar saying, but it translates roughly with singing stones and gleaming axes. I’m afraid it doesn’t have quite the same meaning in the Common tongue. But the significance seems about right.”

“Does her braid still seem lopsided?” Ker asked with a wink and a grin.

The formerly grumpy dwarf elbowed the lieutenant in the side with an admonition to hush up. Several laughs filled the area, hearty and free. “No.” He admitted gruffly.

More guards arrived, speaking with a trio of lieutenants, all with some rather odd hand gestures. Suddenly, Tauriel straightened as she thought of something. “Does Khuzdul only get spoken aloud?” She’d thought dwarrow unusually expressive with their hands when speaking, but could it actually be a part of their language?

Silence.

Ker coughed and shrugged, highly uncomfortable. Finally he grunted as he flexed his fingers rather nervously. “Unless you actually marry the lad, best not to be thinking about things like that.”

Tauriel quieted, stilling her questions before they could form on her tongue. Yes. “You have been very kind already.” She hoped. Holding up the mirror the she-elf studied her new braids and the beads there. Six beads, three different and three identical. “May I know what these braids say at least?”

The curly-haired dwarrowdam who’d introduced herself as Valake grinned widely at her, her teeth startling white surrounded by the blackness of her beard. “Prince Kili can explain.” She said cagily.

Tauriel glanced back at the mirror in wonder. The thin braids hanging down weren’t heavy, despite the addition of the beads. She then looked over at Valake’s own braids. “You don’t wear such.”

More smiling, this time accompanied by a light chuckle. “No. I am wed to my craft only. I am a warrior.” The dwarrowdam thumped her leather armored chest with no little satisfaction, her smile turning fierce.

“I am a fighter.” The she-elf offered, still a little confused about just what this afternoon was about and the meaning of all of this. Not that she didn’t appreciate the unprecedented approach of the Iron Hills dwarves. She just didn’t know why they were going to such lengths for her, and if it all wasn’t some elaborate joke. On her.

From her left, Ker stepped closer. His smile wasn’t mocking, which helped. “Most dwarves excel at their chosen professions.” He began. “Some though think of nothing but their craft, while others have families as well as their craft.”

Bright green eyes blinked at the dwarrow beside her as he tried to explain. But it was like trying to learn a foreign tongue. She understood the words, but didn’t think she was catching the fullness of the meaning behind them.

Ker seemed to sense her hesitation and clapped her familiarly on the shoulder, making the elf’s eyes widen slightly. Dwarven sensibilities on personal space was not the same as in her own racial culture. Tauriel submitted to the touch. To be with Kili, she mused to herself, she would need to learn much about dwarves and their ways.

Tauriel looked up again, and caught a hard glance from one of the warriors near the archway leading back inside. “Something’s wrong.”

Ker’s smile dimmed, and his hand on her shoulder tightened. “There’s been a new …issue.” He admitted slowly, reluctantly. His voice gave hint that this new issue might be something dire.

Startled, the red-head’s eyes grew grim with worry. “Kili?”

“Is fine.” Ker assured her hurriedly, his eyes widening a bit at her instant distress. “So is all of Thorin’s Company.”

“Someone’s NOT fine.” Came a gruff murmur somewhere to her left. Tauriel’s head whipped around, looking for the speaker.

Ker’s hand gripped her shoulder a bit tighter. “There was a death.” He admitted with obvious reluctance.

If it wasn’t one of the Company, that meant it was one of the Iron Hills dwarrow. The thought that it might be an elf never crossed her mind. Death and elves were not thoughts that belonged together. “You mention death, but no one who travelled with you was elderly and on the verge of such. The injured have all already passed or are recovering …” Her voice trailed off into a question.

“Gagnar, son of Agnarr.” Ker watched her face carefully.

Tauriel was an elf, her facial expression gave nothing away. Inwardly her mind searched for and could not find purchase.

“You do not know who that is?” Valake asked curiously, her own dark eyes watchful.

Slowly, the she-elf shook her head. “The name is …not unheard of to my ears, but the face to which it belongs escapes me.”

“The one you pointed a dagger at only this morn.” A rough voice called from the crowd.

Connection. Immediate placement of the foul-mouthed evil-eyed dwarf with the name of one she’d heard was on a punishment detail. Next connection. She’d threatened him. He was now dead.

Tauriel did not react. Outwardly. She shut down. Her eyes went blank, her facial expression froze into neutrality. Her muscles did not tense, but instead relaxed into preparation for the possible need to move at great speed. A warrior’s reaction.

Ker grunted. Like recognized like, even with racial differences. “It is known where you were at the time of his death.”

Processing. Tauriel blinked with deceptive laziness, then her green eyes slid over to the Iron Hills lieutenant. “It is sure that he was killed?”

“More than sure.” A new voice pierced through the awkward silence of an on-edge elf and many watching, evaluating dwarves. A ginger-headed dwarrow pushed through the crowd to look upon the seated elf. His eyes lit up with amusement and no little pride as he stared at her new braids, nodding as if all things were in the correct place.

Tauriel watched him carefully, though she hadn’t seen her friend’s brother in a while. “Nori.”

The named dwarf sketched a polite and respectful bow. This seemed to be a clear signal and most of the other gathered dwarves relaxed a bit. “Well met, lady elf and nashatal.”

A few indrawn breaths and shocked looks, some head shaking. But oddly enough, few grumbles. Tauriel kept her attention on Nori, even though she was almost hyperaware of all that was going on around her lest anyone attack. She carefully bowed her head just as he had, though she remained sitting. “Well met, master dwarf and …” Her voice trailed off. “I feel that I make a fool of myself, stumbling as if in a bog. I do not know the correct forms of greeting.”

“Your stumbling around has saved Thorin’s sister-son more than once, and more than likely the king himself. The Maker only knows what you’ll accomplish when set on a clear purpose.” Nori’s smiled turned wicked and teasing. “Though I can’t perhaps like having been thrown into prison cells, by you, but that was perhaps your king’s orders?”

He offered her an out. She refused the offer. “I would have done so without orders.” Tauriel cocked her head slightly to one side, feeling the soft pull of the newly added beads in her hair. Perhaps the weight was more emotional than physical, but she could feel it anyway. “I did not know any dwarves then, and what I did know was not to your benefit.”

Nori’s smile widened and his eyes fairly sparkled, as if she’d passed some test she’d been unaware of. “Ever honest.”

Some grumbles around them, but nothing with real heat or anger. Tauriel’s attentiveness did not relax but she did take in a relieved breath.

Ker coughed and shook his head to garner attention. He sent a small glare at Nori. “We already know her to be honest. And she was with us out here when the killing was accomplished.” He waved his hand at all those gathered in the training area.

Nori nodded, his eyes still on Tauriel. “The king is in the receiving hall. Will you accompany me?” He held out a hand to her.

Valake stirred, the dwarrowdam plucking absently at Tauriel’s sleeve.

Ker and Nori turned to look at her. The dwarrowdam shrugged. “The braids are alone and she is wearing plain clothing.”

Nori sighed, but nodded. “The braids are lonely. True enough. As for her dress, there is no time. For jewelry, I think it is more of a statement that she wears only the pin gifted to her by the prince.” He grimaced. “Those the king is to be receiving have already arrived. Some rode on ahead of the others.”

“More braids?” Tauriel guessed, a bit distressed as her hands went to cover her new beads. It had taken her all afternoon to learn how to put them in her hair!

Nori tutted his tongue and caught the elf-maid’s hand, giving her a tug. “No time, no time. Come.”

“But …” Tauriel found herself on her feet, following the shorter dwarf without much thought. “I haven’t thanked these fine dwarrow yet. Nor learned the significance of my new beads and braids.”

Nori laughed. “They know, and you can thank them properly after. As for the significance. You are now nashatal.

“I don’t know what it is this all means, what you want of me, or why I even allow this.” She tugged on her hand, but Nori did not release her.

Ker moved up behind her, obviously not wanting to be left behind. He grinned at her, ruining his usually dour expression. “Just stumble around in that bog a bit more. You’ll be fine.”

Tauriel stopped, turning mulish.

Nori grinned even as he was forced to stop when she did. “Kili is in the receiving hall too.” He taunted her lightly.

The red-head’s eyes lit with temper as she glared at the ginger-haired dwarves. They looked amused, damn them. “Kili is not a carrot to be used as bait to lead me where you want me without explanation.”

Nori winked at her. “Explanation? Kili is in the receiving halls and there are eligible and highly valued single dwarrowdams coming in to meet and charm him.”

Aching pain and a sharp indrawn breath was her only response. Her lips tightened with anger.

Valake caught up with the small group. “Don’t turn to stone simply to prove you can, lady elf. Those new braids will help you, not hinder. But only if they’re seen.”

Seen? Tauriel’s left eye twitched with temper and frustration. Plenty of dwarves had seen her braids, and her clumsy attempts to fashion them, all afternoon. So it must be that someone ELSE had to see them. Like her dark-eyed, dark-haired choice of her heart.

“Kili. Pretty and charming dwarrowdams.” Nori rebaited his hook. “Together.”

Tauriel sighed and started moving forward again. “I see what you are doing. Do not think you’ll be able to lead me around. I go on my own accord.”

“Of course.” Nori responded, his eyes deliberately not looking in her direction.

If she heard any gloating in his voice, it was perhaps in her imagination.

o.o.o.o.o
o.o.o.o.o

“You look handsome.” Thorin smiled proudly at his heir and crown prince. “Are you up to this?”

Dori frowned as he contemplated Fili, eying him speculatively. “The crown is nice, but shouldn’t there be more riches? He almost looks too plain.”

Thorin grunted, his eyes on the rich golden crown almost blending in with Fili’s hair, saved from being invisible with the insets of diamonds. The masculine and dwarvish runes decorating the fine metal declared him of royal blood, and heir to the throne. “We are a working mountain, not given to outlandish displays of wealth.” He said quite deliberately, wanting to present himself and his heir as not being in thrall to dragon sickness, and different from his grandfather’s days as ruler. Thorin shuddered at the dark memories of his initial return to Erebor. “You look pale.”

Fili dismissed his still healing lung wound with a wave of his hand. The hand on the opposite side of where he’d been skewered. Thorin’s right eyebrow lifted in question. “I’m fine.” Said the irritated blond dwarf as he turned his head in both directions, obviously trying to get used to the weight of the crown on his head.

Thorin looked to Nuluin, the healer. The tall elf shrugged. “The wound is closed and healing. He simply needs to keep from getting an infection and rebuild his endurance.” He shook his own head, bemused. “The restorative quickness of the dwarves is remarkable.”

“We are stone.” Thorin announced with no little pride, using a phrase common to all dwarrow.

“Stone that still aches.” Kili muttered, wincing as he watched his older brother draw too deep a breath and having to push back against the pain.

“I said I’m fine. I’ll rest after the greetings.” Fili promised as he gestured for the soft leather coat lined with rich fur that would complete the outfit. Dori handed it to him without a word, but with worried crinkles in the fine lines around his eyes.

“Well, this stone still needs his rest.” Teased Kili darkly, coming up behind his older brother fast as if to poke him in the side.

Fili flinched and blocked a move that never materialized. It was a feint. Finding the dark-eyed prince gloating over his victory of making him react, the blond scowled. “Like I said, you need to rest.”

Fili’s fist balled up.

Thorin coughed demandingly. All eyes turned to him. “No fighting. You’re both too pretty to mess up and our guests are arriving.” He didn’t mention that Fili was indeed still recovering from his wound, and that Kili himself wasn’t up to par from his bout with pneumonia. Appearing weakened was just not done in their society.

“Perhaps if young Prince Fili were to sit?” Lord Celeborn peered up at the raised dais. “If King Thorin sat, with the prince at his side?”

“Sitting would be seen as weakness.” Dwalin shook his head as he paced in front of the throne, throwing glances at the raised area as if trying to see it through a stranger’s eyes. “Didn’t you used to have a gold inlaid chair, Thorin? When you were younger and sitting in on meetings with King Thror and your father?”

Thorin shook his head. “Two broken legs and dragon teeth marks on the gold.”

Dwalin grunted unhappily.

“Or it could be presented as if the visitors had no importance.” Lord Celeborn shrugged. “You did not mention the Blacklocks with love in your voice.”

“When?” Thorin asked, frowning as he rubbed a speck of dirt off of one of the rings he’d chosen to wear today. It didn’t fit quite right, but there was no time to size the heirloom piece properly. That would have to come later. Thorin frowned down at the cut emerald that had once belonged to his grandfather’s grandfather. He’d worry about the fit of his rings later. Much later. There were too many repairs to be done in Erebor, especially with Mordor stirring alarmingly, to worry about such trivialities. “We don’t have time for this.” He muttered only to himself.

Lord Celeborn raised one eyebrow, but did not look as disdainful as he usually did in front of the current King Under the Mountain. “When? Every time.” He tilted his lips upwards very slightly. “Each time you have mentioned the Blacklock name, there has been little love or respect in your tone.”

Thorin snorted, looking askance at the silver-haired elf lord. “Thank you for the warning, I will have to watch myself. I may want to insult the Blacklocks, or I might not. But if I do, I’d rather it be deliberate and not offhand.”

“Wise.” Lord Celeborn bowed, or rather, simply dipped his head slightly.

The dwarven king stilled, but could not discern any mockery in the tall elf’s manner. Nervously he nodded back at him. “As for sitting, that would be too obvious. Besides, we won’t be standing long. It is my understanding that several ride on ahead of the main group. This initial greetings should not take over long. Both princes can be dismissed after that.”

Lord Celeborn did not push the idea forward again. It did not really matter to him if the king and his heir were standing or sitting. In point of fact, he wasn’t sure why he and the other elves were even in the receiving hall. Only that his wife had wished it so. She had a …feeling. And that was good enough for him. Over their many years together, Celeborn had learned to heed his wife’s odd hunches. Some turned out to be very small things. Though others did not.

As if thinking of his bride of light, Galadriel moved up beside him and he smiled at her. She was a vision to his eyes. “You are more beautiful to me upon every meeting.” He murmured.

The golden-haired Lady at his side turned up the warmth of her smile, just for him. The two shared a mutual moment of complete understanding without words before returning once more to the world around them.

The Lady Galadriel looked over the grouping of dwarves and elves, her eyes settling upon the resplendent king with light gleaming prettily in her gaze. “That is Durin’s Eye? I have not seen it in many a year.”

“Made up part of a dragon’s bed for far too long, now rectified.” Thorin frowned, even as he fingered the blood-red ruby set elaborately in a heavy necklace. In accordance with what he and Fili had spoken of, he was not dripping with the jewels and gold of Erebor. But his own crown was mithril, though the design deceptively simple. And his rings were engraved with the names of past kings. Around his neck was the famous stone that Galadriel had named. Perhaps it was a lot of jewelry to Elves and Men, but for Dwarves he was positively under-adorned.

Lorien’s Lady smiled at him, as if she could see his thoughts. The likelihood of which always made him feel uneasy in his own skin. He fought not to flinch or pull away from her. “You look every inch the king you were born to be.” Galadriel said quietly, nothing within the music of her voice but the purity of truth.

Thorin couldn’t help the frisson of pleasure her words brought him, though he did not need nor want her approval. So he merely nodded his head very a bit uneasily in her direction.

The Lady of Lorien next turned the warmth of her smile on the son of her daughter’s son. “Kuilaith.” She acknowledged him in his green silk and satin shirt over which he wore a fine leather vest stitched in silver and gold thread. “You look quite fine.”

Kili grinned widely, not hiding his pleasure in the compliment. Thorin and Fili were better at cloaking their emotions than he was. He ran a hand down the buttery soft leather of his vest.

Thorin glanced over at his younger sister-son, then did a double take. The archer was wearing the golden diadem that his elvish father had gifted to him. How had he missed that detail before? A sudden hard lump centered in his throat and the king coughed harshly.

Several looked to him in concern, but the king waved them off irritably. When he finally straightened, he had already decided to say nothing about the golden circlet adorning Kili’s head. For what could he say? Take off a generous gift meaning love and protection? “Where are the ruby and sapphire set clasps I sent for your hair?”

“Was coughing too much to put the braids in straight.” Kili sighed, though still smiling as he held up a hand cupping the clasps meant to show the world he was of the royal line.

Thorin and Galadriel both frowned instantly, noted the reaction of each other, and smoothed their expressions immediately. Both feeling odd to be in accord over something.

Fili snorted. “Excuses. He NEVER gets his braids in straight.”

Thorin chuffed out a rueful laugh, shaking his head. “So true.”

“I wouldn’t mind helping.” Elladan and his twin moved up behind Dwalin as they joined the others. Elrohir pulled the line of his richly embroidered robe straight with a twitch of his fingers.

The king shook his head, trying not to sound petty as he responded. “No. Kili’s braids today need to reflect bloodlines, heritage, and royal descent. Very specific.”

Elladan’s eyebrows shot up on the word ‘bloodlines’, but did not argue. Not now, not today. For receiving foreign dwarves it might not be a good thing to stress his son’s elvish blood.

Balin gestured for Kili to sit and held out a hand demandingly. The youth poured the jeweled clasps into the white-haired dwarf’s hand with relief as the older male began to section out hair for the traditional braids.

“Well then.” Elladan looked around cautiously. “I do not know if it would be a good thing, or a bad thing, for we elves to be present for this group’s arrival.”

“We stay.” Galadriel said quietly, while simultaneously Thorin grunted. “Stay.”

Both leaders again looked at each other before the dwarven king let his eyes slide away. He cleared his throat. “It would be good for the Blacklocks to see that Erebor has ….” What? Allies? Friends? Family? None of the words were quite right.

“Connections.” Galadriel supplied, to Thorin’s uneasy relief. The dwarven ruler sighed as he turned to look at the leaders from Lothlorien. The witchy female was brushing a small piece of lint from her husband’s fine pale blue robes with a frown. Her smile a bit muted as she traced the embroidered outline of stylized trees. “I thought you were going to wear the darker blue robes that I made for you?”

Lord Celeborn simply looked at her and Thorin did wonder briefly why he looked so cautious during this quite normal married-couple conversation. “I am much afraid that although I thought I had brought that clothing with me, I could not find it in my packs.”

Galadriel frowned quite slightly. Thorin started to turn away and spied Dori. Blushing hard and biting his lip. Fili turned his back toward the elvish couple. And ….was Lady Arwen looking up at the ceiling?

o.o.o.o.o
o.o.o.o.o

Balin mentally checked off items in his head as he peered anxiously around the receiving hall. All of the debris from either the dragon, or Thorin’s attempts to block off Erebor from invading armies had been removed. Then there was dust. Dust. The ever-present problem of dwarven city-mines. Still, the Lonely Mountain had not yet begun to mine again. The myriad of tunnels and mining pits were still being shored up and inspected.

In King Thror’s time there had been clever dwarven inventions to filter the air properly using charcoal. But those were badly in need of repair and while essential, lower on the priority list than getting the mines up and running again.

Balin sniffed the hair, cautiously pleased to scent only cleaning products. Everything gleamed. Still, he could see the gaps in the inlays of silver and gold that had yet to be repaired, though he had to squint to do so.

“Stop worrying.” Dwalin stopped his pacing in front of his brother, his bald head shining under the lights. His tattoos clearly evident and as vibrant today as they had been when first inked.

Balin straightened his spine proudly, looking up at his taller sibling. “Worrying is my job.”

Dwalin held out one arm and swept it around the area as if inviting his brother to look deeper. “Anyone who doesn’t realize we’re clearing out nearly 200 years of dragon shit from our home doesn’t deserve to be our guests.”

Balin snorted and waved one hand fussily at the warrior. “Language.”

“It’s called shit. What other word would you have me use?” Dwalin’s eyes widened as he teased his sibling. “Excrement? That’s too polite for what Smaug did to Erebor. It’s shit. He shit in here. And what he did to the walls, the furniture, the hangings, the fixtures, the inventions, the mines, and our people …it’s all damned shit.”

Balin blinked heavily and eyed the set tension in his brother’s jaw. It was a startling realization. “You’re more worried than I am.”

“The Blacklocks are not our friends.” Dwalin slid his eyes furtively over at the royal family. “Perhaps not the threat that a dragon, the elves, the goblins, the wargs and all that …but a threat no less.”

“Gloin has things well in hand.” Balin said carefully.

Dwalin’s eyebrows rose at the mention of the ginger merchant. “Gloin?” It was an invitation to explain.

Balin shook his head. “Not yet. Not unless necessary.”

The taller warrior grunted, then nodded carefully. He knew all too well that some plans needed to remain hidden until the time was right. He just didn’t have to like it. Dwalin jerked his chin lightly in the direction of the Iron Hills dwarrow lining the walls in their armored best. “A big show. You don’t think it will be enough to cow our brethren?”

Balin too ran his eyes appreciatively over the gathered warriors from Dain’s army. “Impressive. But the Blacklocks have ever been more subtle adversaries. Playing at being friends. We will see.”

Beside him, Dwalin stiffened, his attention caught. Balin turned to look at the dim hallway, but his angle was wrong and few dwarrow blocked his view. “Speaking of seeing.” The taller of the two brothers smiled grimly, then frowned. He sighed. “I still can’t decide if this is a good or a bad thing for the lad.”

Lad? Balin immediately knew who was being discussed. He just didn’t know the reason. Kili. “What now?”

Dwalin glanced behind him and saw his king gesturing for him at attend. He made a face even as he nodded solemnly. “I’m called. Go see what’s going on.”

Balin watched his brother move toward the dais and the royal trio, probably to talk about the Blacklock’s visit too. When he was sure that no one was watching him, he ducked out toward the hallway that Dwalin had indicated.

Somehow it was not shocking to find Nori smiling happily at him, standing next to the thinner and taller she-elf that had caught Kili’s heart and eye.

“What?” Balin stared at his fellow Company member. “I thought you were looking into Gagnar’s death?”

“Am.” Nori acknowledged with a bow of his head. “Can do more than one thing at a time.” He turned deliberately to stare up at Tauriel.

Balin’s eyes automatically followed Nori’s gaze and then he stopped breathing for a moment. “Nashatal?

There was that word again. Tauriel’s green eyes narrowed with speculation. “Explain.”

Balin startled heavily, his eyes going round. “You don’t even know?” He shot Nori an accusatory look.

The ginger-bearded dwarf shrugged. “It means you are wanting to be courted. By a certain dwarrow.”

Not trusting that answer wholly, Tauriel turned her eyes onto the white-haired royal advisor.

Balin winced, but nodded. “True enough.” He peered up at her again, shaking his head in wonder.

“Her braids are lonely though.” Nori pointed out suggestively.

“What?” Balin tensed up, looking at Tauriel’s other side, where she had no beads hanging near her face. “Well, that just means ….”

Nori coughed and shrugged, interrupting. “Can’t be expecting any dwarven beads or braids from her side of the family.”

Tauriel stiffened, finally cluing in on what was being discussed. “My family died before either of you were born, good dwarves.”

Balin’s heart nearly melted at the cautious tone of her voice, meant to conceal pain. It would have worked if he didn’t have that same tone in his voice whenever anyone asked him about his deceased wife. Dwarves had a reputation in Arda. Cold, greedy and without deep emotions. Only greedy was up for debate. Balin sighed, feeling sad and yet hopeful.

He reached for his own braids, only to stop as Nori shook his head. “What? Why not?” Balin protested.

Nori grinned. “You’re kin to the lad.”

Balin stilled, his fingers falling from his hair as he frowned sharply. “True enough.” He allowed. “You?”

Nori shook his head. “No. Tenuous connection, but I’m related by blood if not by title.” The ginger-haired dwarrow said with no bitterness in his voice. “Distantly related could still be called into question.”

Turning thoughtful, Balin looked behind him at the receiving hall, bright with lights and people chatting. “Bofur, Bombur, or Bifur?”

There was no discussion that it should be someone from Thorin’s Company.

Nori shrugged, but nodded gamely. “Or how about the elves?”

Tauriel looked back and forth between the two. “What is being decided? What is the question?”

Balin frowned sharply as he considered all the elves present, then shook his head firmly. “No. It has to be dwarrow. If you’re sure of this matter …”

“I am.” Nori avowed, then blinked as Tauriel stepped away from him. “She is too.”

“She is too …what?” Tauriel felt about ready to panic. Not from physical danger, but that she still wasn’t entirely sure what was expected of her. She wasn’t one to put herself forward, except in dangerous situations. Not emotional ones.

“Do you want Kili?” Balin asked very directly.

Tauriel stopped breathing, her eyes wide with distress. “That is …why does every dwarf keep asking me that today? What has changed that suddenly all decisions have to be made right now?”

Nori chuckled ruefully. “Several reasons. Layers of reasons. But here, focus on this. Do you want dwarrowdams dancing around Kili and trying to entice him?”

“No.” The word slipped out unedited from her mouth. The she-elf winced. “But I will not stand in his way if he is interested in meeting dwarrowdams.” The words tasted vile in her mouth, but she did mean them. Stoically she straightened her shoulders.

Balin’s eyes traced her expression and his smile turned tender. “Ah lass.”

Nori grinned. “Now. Dwarrowdams will be interested in Kili. That’s all there is to that. Even if he lets it be known he’s part-elf and that he is considering removing himself from the succession, he is STILL the king’s sister-son and the heir’s brother.”

“Remove himself ….” Tauriel’s eyes went wide with shock. “He never said ….”

“Focus.” Snapped Nori, with his voice and even with his fingers, right in front of her nose.

Startled, Tauriel flinched slightly. “I did not ask Kili to take any such measures. Not that I want him to rule.”

“We know, we know.” Balin waved off her concerns.

Nori looked up at her quite seriously. “Now. To winnow out the gold-digging dams, we’re letting it be known that Kili has an interest in courting you. That’s all. What needs to be decided, is which dwarf stands for you.”

“Stands for me?” Tauriel blinked. Nori’s explanation needed an explanation. Or at least some reference points. “I don’t know what that means.” She looked over at Balin, but the white-haired dwarf was standing at the mouth of the hallway gesturing someone over to them. “Who?”

Nori scratched his head absently as he took her question quite literally. “The only three not related to Kili by some blood, no matter how distant, are the brothers Bofur and Bombur. Neither are a bad choice, but on short notice neither has what we need. So my guess would be their cousin Bifur.”

Tauriel looked over at Balin again, her eyebrows rising as Balin walked back toward them. Bifur following closely behind. The she-elf eyed the rather raggedly coiffed dwarrow with the kind eyes. He smiled at her and made a gesture with his hands. She was immediately reminded of her guess that Khuzdul had a component that was gestural, rather than vocal.

Nori shook his head at the dwarf now joining them. “Bombur wears no beads and Bofur has been called back down into the mines. Work.”

Bifur nodded and pointed at Tauriel’s new braids with their pretty beads. He grinned happily and nodded in approval.

Balin seemed pleased and clapped the other male on the shoulder. “But her new braids are lonely.”

Bifur paused and gestured for Tauriel to turn her head. Not sure why, the red-head complied, though her green eyes stayed glued to the warrior. He frowned at the unbraided side of her face.

His fingers went to his rather unkempt hair, lifting the mass to find small braids in there. Braids with beads.

Tauriel looked between all three male dwarrow. “Just what are you all planning on doing to me?”

Nori winked at her. “Putting the dwarrowdams on notice. That’s all.”

o.o.o.o.o
o.o.o.o.o

“Where did Balin get to?” King Thorin looked around for his advisor, but didn’t see him.

Fili too glanced over the area. He shrugged as his younger brother brought out a thick roll of leather, unfurling it on the table. Metal gleamed prettily.

“More jewelry?” Lady Arwen asked, leaning closer to look.

Glorfindel chuckled and shook his head. “Something more prosaic, I believe.”

Kili didn’t smile, though mirth danced through the depths of his dark eyes. He handed each dagger carefully over to his golden-haired brother.

The elves watched as the crown prince began arming himself. A blade here, a dagger there. Lord Celeborn’s eyebrows rose in respect as each sharp instrument found a place with cleverly selected sheaths the thick leather coat he wore.

“Nice.” Glorfindel praised in approval. “Prepared for battle?”

Fili looked up a bit startled. “No. These are just my everyday blades.”

Kili nodded in agreement. “In battle? He fairly jangles.”

Galadriel turned her eyes on Fili and smiled in consideration. “Preparation is usually the key to all good outcomes.”

The crown prince grinned easily.

“And that shade of blue suits you admirably, it shimmers almost purple.” Galadriel continued softly. “I made my husband a robe from a similar material. Perhaps it is good he left it back in Lothlorien so that the two of you don’t match.”

Fili’s face pinked as he looked everywhere but back at the Lady of Light. Dori coughed and turned away a bit abruptly. Arwen suddenly found interest in her slippers.

Galadriel stilled, her attention caught. Why were they suddenly so nervous? The Lady turned her gaze back on the three of Durin’s Line.

Handsome. For dwarves. Well, to be hones