Chapter 1: Decisions
Unless otherwise noted, all beta reading will be done by madammadhatter. She's the best and I love her.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fíli dropped a pile of weapons on the kitchen table with a clatter and smiled proudly, surveying his collection. It was a beautiful and handy assortment—his twin swords were his pride and joy, of course, but he also had plenty of knives and throwing axes to stash around his person. The only thing that could make them better would be if he had more. And, of course, if they were shinier. He set down his bottle of oil and rag and picked up a dagger, inspecting it for blemishes.
It was then that his mother came into the room.
“Fíli, what on earth are you doing?” she exclaimed.
“I just sharpened all of these—I’ve got to clean them,” Fíli said. “I’m going to be away with Uncle, remember? I need these.”
“You need all of these?” said Dís incredulously. “Need I remind you that you only have two hands? You have two swords, four throwing axes, one, two, three, four…” She counted silently. “Ten knives? Fíli, where do you even put all of these?”
“I have places for them,” Fíli said defensively, picking up his rag and shaking it out.
“No, no, no,” said Dís, snatching the rag out of his hand. Fíli looked up at her and scowled. “Not on the kitchen table. You can take them to your room and clean them there.”
“Why?” Fíli said, shooting her a challenging glare.
“You’re not putting your dirty weapons all over my table right before dinner,” said Dís, returning his glare with one of her own.
“I’m cleaning them.”
“Are they clean yet?”
“Right, then,” said Dís, gesturing at the pile and then pointing down the hall. “In your room, then.”
Fíli sighed dramatically and started gathering his myriad axes and knives back into his arms, and once he had a hold on all of them, Dís threw his rag and oil on top.
“I don’t even know why you need that many weapons,” she said.
“I like having this many weapons,” Fíli grumbled. He trudged down the hall to his room and dropped the pile on his bed, plopping down on the small corner that was not occupied by sharp objects. Then he picked up one of his throwing axes and studied it, checking the blade for imperfections. It was fine, of course, but he always liked to make sure. He set to work with his oil and his rag, happily inspecting each and admiring his own handiwork. He had made most of these himself, though some—including his swords—had been crafted by his father. Though Fíli’s own work was good, his father’s was far superior, and he treasured them greatly, taking even more care to make them perfect than with his own, if that were possible.
He had gotten about halfway through his collection when he felt eyes upon him. He looked up to see Kíli standing in the doorway, looking especially forlorn. Fíli rolled his eyes.
“Are you still moping?” he said, turning his attention back to the knife in his hands.
“It’s not fair,” Kíli said. “Why do you get to go and I don’t?”
“Because I am of age and you are not,” Fíli said, rubbing a spot off his blade meticulously. “When you turn fifty, Thorin will invite you on his expeditions, as well.”
“But I don’t understand,” Kíli said, stepping in and settling himself on the other non-pointy corner of the bed. Fíli huffed at the intrusion, but Kíli paid him no mind. “He’s let me help with other things, like escorting merchants or going to market to sell wares…”
“This is different, Kíli,” said Fíli, setting down his polished knife and looking at his brother. “We are going to be gone for weeks, inspecting the caves of Tumunzahar for structural integrity, making sure they haven’t been overtaken by orcs…”
“I could help with that,” Kíli said crossly.
Fíli chuckled and picked up another blade. “I’m sure you could, but you’re still not invited. Adults only.”
“Please, Fíli, you’re only five years older than me,” said Kíli, indignant.
“Which makes me an adult, and you—well, not quite.”
Fíli could feel the heat of Kíli’s glare without even looking. He kept his gaze firmly on the weapon in his hands, and after a few moments, Kíli huffed and left the room. Fíli grinned to himself. The only way to win against Kíli was not to give him any ground at all, and Fíli had been adamantly refusing to offer any sympathy. While he would not mind having Kíli’s company—in fact, he was sure that he would miss his brother the whole time—Thorin had said that the reason Fíli was invited was because he was of age now, ready to help with bigger projects, and ready to learn more about leadership as well. Not that he would be leading anyone on his first trip out, but Thorin said it would be good for him to see how he kept everything in order. And truth be told, Fíli was excited to spend an extended time with his uncle. It wouldn’t necessarily be alone time, but it would be time devoted to him as heir. He did not feel like sharing.
It took a while to finish cleaning all his blades, but Fíli did not mind, and he was not interrupted. Finally he deemed them all perfect, and he carefully laid them all out on his bed neatly, admiring how beautifully they shone.
Just then, there was a knock at the door.
Fíli looked up with a furrowed brow—his door wasn’t even closed—to see his uncle standing there, wearing an expression of great exasperation. Fíli dropped his shoulders and sighed.
“He got to you, didn’t he?” he said.
Thorin grinned ruefully.
“May I come in?” he said.
“Of course,” said Fíli, waving him in. Thorin walked over to the bed and looked at the array of weapons there, nodding in approval.
“They look excellent,” he said. “Good work, lad.”
Fíli’s heart swelled with pride. It was one thing to admire his own work, but Thorin had impossibly high standards. If he approved, he had certainly done a good job. He grinned and straightened one of the daggers so it sat perfectly in line with the others.
“Your brother has been relentless,” Thorin said. “He has been begging for weeks to be included on this expedition.”
“I know,” Fíli said. “I’ve heard him.”
“He cornered me again just now,” said Thorin, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “That boy and his faces…”
“You mean his big, shiny brown eyes,” Fíli retorted, casting a sidelong glance at his uncle. Thorin chuckled and shook his head.
“’Tis how your father charmed your mother, I’m sure,” he said. “Her and everyone else.”
“What did you say to him?” Fíli asked.
Thorin sighed. “I told him that if he came, he was answerable for his own actions,” he said. “No one would be watching him to make sure he didn’t get into trouble. He is to be responsible and keep his damned recklessness in check.”
“That’s a tall order,” said Fíli.
“But I also told him that it was up to you,” Thorin continued, turning to Fíli and looking at him evenly. “I told you that I was inviting you because you were of age—that you, as an adult, had the right to join us on our larger expeditions. Kíli is not yet of age… it did not seem fair to me to allow him to come without consulting you first.”
Fíli blinked, surprised. Never had Thorin consulted him before making a decision about anything. Was this what it was like to be an adult? If it was, he definitely liked it—but he did not know what to do with it.
“Well, er,” Fíli stammered, “I’m… I don’t know. I mean, I will think about it, I suppose.”
“Will you let me know tomorrow?” asked Thorin. “He will need to know in time to prepare, should you decide that he can come.”
“A-all right,” said Fíli. Thorin smiled warmly and rested his hands on his nephew’s shoulders.
“Do not feel that you have to say yes, lad,” he said. “But if you do, I will abide by your decision.”
Fíli nodded wordlessly and smiled, and the corners of Thorin’s eyes crinkled. He nodded and let go, stepping back towards the door.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
“Aye,” said Fíli. “Tomorrow.”
Thorin left the room, and Fíli stood where he was, staring after his uncle in shock. Had this really just happened? Thorin depended upon his word before making a decision? Fíli could barely wrap his head around it. He pressed his lips together, but it did not stop the smile from growing on his face. His heart was glowing with pride.
After fifty years, he finally felt like an adult.
Fíli had almost fallen asleep when suddenly he heard his bedroom door open. He opened his eyes, but it was too dark to see; he furrowed his brow and lit the lamp on his nightstand. Kíli stood at the foot of his bed, his expression set as sad as it had ever been. Fíli groaned.
“Go back to bed, Kíli,” he said.
“Fíli, please, you have to say yes!” Kíli said in response. He sat on the bed, and Fíli looked up at the ceiling, ignoring his brother’s shining eyes.
“I don’t have to do any such thing,” he said.
“You’re going to leave me here all by myself?” said Kíli, taking on a pitiful tone. “Leave me with the children?”
“Those children include some of your best friends,” Fíli retorted.
“You’re my best friend,” said Kíli.
“So you’re not friends anymore with Gimli and Ori and Flán and Tasli and Tamli and—”
“Stop that,” Kíli interrupted. “This isn’t about them.”
“It’s not about you, either,” said Fíli, keeping his gaze fixed upward. He was not looking at his brother’s sad face. “This is my decision, and right now, I’m feeling a mite annoyed. Not sure I’ll want you around…”
“Fine, I’m leaving,” Kíli grumbled, and Fíli’s mattress shifted as his brother rose. “But seriously, Fíli. Uncle already told me that I’ll have to be responsible for myself—I won’t be a burden to you or to anyone else. Everyone is always saying I need to grow up, anyway. Maybe if I spend some time with adults instead of people younger than me, that will happen quicker.”
Fíli sighed. “Good night, Kíli.”
Kíli left the room without another word, and Fíli leaned over and put out his lamp again. But Kíli’s words echoed in his head as he closed his eyes to sleep. It was true that Kíli was often scolded for being juvenile; perhaps if he did come, he would learn a thing or two about how to act properly—both as an adult and as a prince. But was he really determined to mature, or was he only saying such things to sway his brother’s opinion and get his own way?
Probably both, he thought. Kíli could be extremely persuasive when he wanted to be, but he did have a good point. He could use some mature influence, especially as he was nearing his own coming-of-age in just five years. He knew his brother hated being called immature, and this was a chance for him to prove his worth. As much as Fíli would like his uncle to himself, he cared about his brother, and this would be good for him.
It was decided. He would tell Thorin in the morning that Kíli could come. He just hoped that it was the right decision.
Thorin sought out Fíli the next morning at breakfast. Fíli spied him peering into the kitchen from the hall; he nodded, knowing his uncle was seeing if he had made a decision, and rose from his seat as Thorin disappeared.
“Fíli, remember what I said last night,” Kíli said, looking up at his brother with soulful eyes. “Please.”
“Eat your breakfast, little brother,” Fíli replied as he left the room. If Kíli said anything else, he did not hear it; he was already out of the room.
He found his uncle in his customary spot in front of the fireplace in the parlor, lighting his pipe. He sat down in the chair opposite and waited as Thorin puffed out some smoke. Then the old dwarf settled his gaze upon his elder nephew.
“What is your decision, then?” he said.
Fíli licked his lips. It still felt strange that his uncle would ask his opinion. “I think Kíli should be allowed to go.”
Thorin raised his eyebrows and lowered his pipe. “Are you sure?”
“As sure as I’ll ever be,” Fíli replied. “Kíli could do with the adult company, don’t you think? He even said it himself last night.”
“That is true,” Thorin mused, putting his pipe back in his mouth and puffing thoughtfully. “It should be good for him. But it does not bother you that he would come, though he is not of age, when you had to wait?”
Fíli shrugged. “Kíli and I do everything together anyways.”
“That is my concern. Do you not want some time to yourself?”
Fíli thought on this for a few moments and then shrugged again. “You said he has to be responsible for himself,” he said. “If I want to be away, I can get away—there will be plenty of Dwarves there. But I honestly think he will benefit from coming with us.”
Thorin studied Fíli’s face, blowing out tobacco smoke, and then nodded seriously. Then he looked towards the entrance.
“You can come in now, Kíli,” he called.
Kíli rounded the corner immediately, looking adequately sheepish for having been caught spying, though he could not contain his brilliant grin. He bowed his head respectfully to his uncle and pressed his lips together. Then he looked to his brother.
“Thank you, Fíli,” he said. “I won’t let you down—and I promise I won’t be a bother. I swear.”
“You’d better not be, or I’ll get you sent home early,” Fíli said, chuckling. But when Kíli’s eyes widened in hurt, he stopped. “I’m only kidding, Kee. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Oh,” Kíli said, nodding.
“Well, Kíli, it looks like you have some preparing to do,” Thorin said. “Better get started, lad.”
“Yes, sir,” Kíli said, a grin spreading across his face once again. “Thank you, sir. I will be ready by tomorrow morning.” He dashed out of the room with a little skip, and Fíli let out an amused huff.
“Regretting your decision yet?” Thorin said.
“No,” Fíli said. “And I hope I don’t have to.”
Flán, Tasli, and Tamli belong to my beautiful friend Nalbal. If you'd like to see them, hop on over to the supremely well-written and fantastic The Mark of Gideon, where you get to see them in action.
Okay, here's the deal with this fic. I have an idea and I'm gonna run with it, much in the same way I did with Race Against Time. It's just gonna grow out of itself. When I wrote Illusions, I had an outline; when I wrote The Ghost of Erebor, I had a list of events that needed to happen. With Race Against Time, I simply started and it went where it went, and I think that worked best. So I'm doing it again.
However, this means that sometimes (SOMETIMES) I may not know what I'm going to do next. That's where YOU come in. If there's something you think would be great/something you think needs to be addressed, bring it up in a review! I'll happily consider your ideas. (Not yet, though. We haven't reached the actual catalytic event for the story.)
Speaking of Race Against Time, paper copies are now available! Click here for details.
Chapter 2: Reckless
True to his word, Kíli was ready the next day for departure. His weapons were sharpened and cleaned, his clothes were packed, and he had enough energy bundled inside him to get them all the way to Erebor and back. Fíli could tell he was trying to look calm and mature, but his acting was poor; every time Fíli looked at him, he was fidgeting in some way, whether it be bouncing on his heels, tapping his foot, or adjusting and re-adjusting his clothes. Finally Fíli chuckled and rested a hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“If you started running now, you could probably beat us to Tumunzahar,” he whispered.
“Shut up,” Kíli said, though he grinned. “It isn’t a crime to be excited.”
“Well, you seem to have enough excitement for all of us,” said Fíli, grinning. “And a bit left over.”
“No problem,” Fíli said placidly. “It’s just amusing to watch, that’s all.”
Kíli frowned and stilled himself, looking nervously at the group of elder Dwarves that surrounded them.
“I don’t want to be laughed at,” he said quietly. “I want them to think I belong. That I am an adult, too.”
“Well, keep working at it,” Fíli said, smiling calmly. “Maybe try to stop… bouncing… so much.”
Kíli nodded seriously, his eyes now trained on Thorin; Fíli followed his gaze. Their uncle was lifting his hands for quiet, and the group of Dwarves all turned their attention to their leader.
“Is everyone here?” he called out, surveying the group. There was a decent number of them there—about a hundred altogether. They all nodded or spoke out in the affirmative, and Thorin nodded in approval, his eyes lingering on Fíli and Kíli. Fíli caught his brother shrinking a little under that gaze, and he nudged him with his elbow into standing up straight.
Within the hour they were heading out, Fíli and Kíli in a wagon with Thorin and Glóin at the head and the others following behind in a long line. Kíli stared out the back towards the mountain as it dwindled into the distance, and for a long time, he was silent.
After several hours, Thorin spoke.
“It takes about three days to reach Tumunzahar,” he said. “Once we arrive, we will spend the next two to three weeks examining the caves for safety. Kíli, are you paying attention?”
“Aye,” Kíli said, still staring towards home.
Thorin and Fíli exchanged glances, and Fíli shrugged.
“You are stay with at least one other Dwarf at all times,” Thorin continued. “We do not know if there are orcs in the mountains, and parts of the city were destroyed Ages ago and will be unstable.”
Kíli finally turned to look at Thorin, his brow furrowed. “I thought I was responsible for myself.”
“Aye, you are,” said Thorin, “but that does not mean you get to wander off on your own. On this expedition, no one does. It is not just you, lad. Even I will not be going off alone.”
“Oh,” Kíli said, relaxing. “All right, then.”
Thorin smiled affectionately, and Kíli smiled in return. Then he rose and moved to the front to converse with Glóin, leaving Fíli and Kíli alone in the back.
“Does he mean that?” Kíli said quietly to his brother. “No one will be alone?”
“He said it, so I would assume he means it,” Fíli replied. “He isn’t treating you like a child, Kíli. Stop worrying about it.”
“It’s just hard not to,” Kíli said. He sighed and looked away. “You know he didn’t want me to come.”
“If he didn’t want you to come at all, you wouldn’t be here,” said Fíli. “You are thinking too much about this.” He smiled wryly. “You of all people.”
Kíli grinned and punched Fíli in the shoulder, and they both laughed. Kíli seemed content after that, chatting quietly with his brother as Thorin and Glóin had their own conversation in the front. Fíli, though he would not have admitted it out loud, had been concerned at first, even though he had agreed to let Kíli come; he was afraid his brother would be wild and immature, as he was often wont to do. But now he could see that Kíli was dead set on belonging with the group, and his worry was starting to fade. Perhaps everything would be fine after all.
The Dwarves reached Tumunzahar without incident or delay and were soon unpacked and moving in to the vast main halls of the southern Dwarf-city of the Blue Mountains. Thorin had taken a crew on a previous journey already to make sure at least this part was safe, and for the next few weeks, it was to be their home. Fíli and Kíli claimed a place off by themselves, though not far from Thorin; Fíli wanted to be close in case he was needed for anything.
“This is exciting,” Kíli said, his previous energy once again surfacing. “Exploring these old caves… no one has been in here since the First Age, Fíli! Thousands of years ago, our ancestors lived here, before the sinking of Beleriand…”
“And most of Tumunzahar sank, too,” Fíli said sadly. “Along with most of Gabilgathol.”
“We live in Gabilgathol,” Kíli said pointedly. “Plenty of it survived.”
“Well, we’ll see how much of Tumunzahar survived,” Fíli said, peering out into the darkness beyond the torches of their company. “And it wasn’t really our ancestors who lived here… mostly Firebeards and Broadbeams…”
“Well, our kin anyway,” Kíli said, plopping on the ground and pulling an apple out of his bag. “We’re all Dwarves, after all.”
“Khazâd,” said Fíli, smiling. It felt good to speak Khuzdul here, a place built by their own kind long ago. Their language was safely guarded, and they rarely spoke it even at home due to common trade with Men, but here they could speak it freely.
“Khazâd,” Kíli repeated. He tossed Fíli an apple, and Fíli caught it and took a bite. “Well, whatever we find, I’m excited.”
“So am I,” said Fíli. He was excited about everything, really: exploring new places, learning from Thorin, even camping out for a few weeks. So many new experiences to learn from in such a short time… he was ready for all of them.
The first week and a half of exploring went by without any major problems. The halls of Tumunzahar were vast, but many places were structurally unsound; in fact, Balin was starting to worry that the entire place would be unfit for habitation, even though the main halls were still intact. They had not encountered any orcs, either, which Fíli was grateful for. As well-trained as he and Kíli were, he would rather not have to do any fighting if he did not have to.
Their work for the day was simple. Fíli and Kíli were part of a small group investigating a tunnel that led away from the most unstable part of Tumunzahar; besides themselves, the group consisted of Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Glóin, Óin, and Einar and Vígi, cousins from their father’s side. Fíli’s assignment was to stay close by Balin’s side, as the old Dwarf was the best at checking structural integrity among them, and Thorin had given Balin leadership of the small group. Kíli was to stay with Einar and Vígi, keeping an eye on the rear in case of orcs, though they did not believe there were any in this area. Still, Kíli had sharp eyes and ears, and he would be able to detect an ambush before some of the others.
Fíli had already learned much in the past week about Tumunzahar. It was foreign and yet familiar; the Broadbeams had built large parts of Gabilgathol as well as Tumunzahar, but there was Firebeard influence in the architecture here, as well. Where the Broadbeams favored wide passageways with low ceilings, occasionally a narrow, winding path opened in the rock, sometimes looking more like a natural crevice than a path. However, when followed, these narrow passages led to beautiful halls of carven stone, evidence that the Firebeards had dwelt here before the Broadbeams thought to come south at all.
These passages, however, were not as strongly built in many areas, and Balin had taught Fíli how to check them before walking through them. He was still learning, but he had already developed an eye for seeing cracks and weak points, and Balin was quite proud, saying that he was truly a Dwarven prince, given his natural ability to learn. Though Fíli had heard this many times growing up, it still made him glow with pride every time.
Kíli had seemed restless, however, especially that morning. This was their third day in this area, and though Kíli had attempted to be content with his lot, Fíli could tell that something was bothering him. He excused himself from Balin and hung back, waiting for Kíli to catch up.
“How are you doing, brother?” he said quietly, watching Einar and Vígi pass them by.
“I’m fine,” Kíli said.
Fíli said nothing, waiting. Kíli cast a sidelong glance at his brother, frowning.
“Well, it’s just that…” he said, but then he shook his head and looked down. “Oh, it’s nothing.”
“It doesn’t sound like nothing,” Fíli replied, raising an eyebrow.
“I thought there would be more going on,” said Kíli quickly. “I’m just standing in the back with old grouchy Einar, looking for orcs that aren’t there, and Vígi’s usually better company but I think he had an argument with someone yesterday because he’s been awfully quiet—”
“Your place is an important one,” Fíli interrupted. “You are responsible for keeping us safe in case of ambushes.”
Kíli huffed. “Ambushes that won’t happen.”
“It is always better to be safe than sorry, brother,” Fíli said calmly.
“Fíli, I want to show you something,” Balin called from the front.
Fíli looked towards Balin and then back to Kíli. He elbowed his brother gently and smiled. “Catch up with you later, all right?”
“Aye,” said Kíli gloomily, and Fíli offered him a cheerful grin before running back up to his place with Balin. The rest of the company halted as they held conference with Thorin.
“There you are, laddie,” Balin said. “Now, there are some wider passages ahead and some narrower ones branching off, as I am sure you have noticed.”
“Aye,” Fíli said. There were several narrower passages that he had just passed by—one of them had looked safe, but of the other two, one was already collapsed, and the other had made him nervous just being near it.
“Thorin and I think that we should let you decide,” Balin continued. “Would you like to explore the wider passages, or one of the narrow ones?”
“Well,” Fíli said, fighting to hide his proud grin, “the wider ones ahead would be easier for all of us to pass through. But one of the narrower ones looked promising… there may be a great hall on the other side, given what we have gone through already.”
“That was my thinking as well,” said Thorin.
“So what would you like to do?” Balin asked.
Fíli twisted his lips and thought. It was still awfully strange to be asked for an opinion.
“May I have a minute to think?” he said.
“Of course,” said Thorin, clapping him on the shoulder. “Let us know what you decide—we will wait here.”
“All right,” Fíli said. He stepped away from his elders and found a spot away from the others in the wide corridor; he leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, thinking hard.
The narrow way would be slower going, but there was a great possibility of a hall on the other side where they could make camp for the rest of the evening. Though there was no way to tell time exactly here in the mountains, Fíli could feel the passing of time by long experience in halls of stone; it had to be nearing evening, and by the time they reached the hall, it would certainly be time to make camp. That said, if he was wrong, they would be stuck in nearly a single file, which would be uncomfortable for everyone—not to mention dangerous. He bit his lip and looked down the corridor to his right.
That was when he saw Kíli.
Fíli sat up straight, his eyes widening, as he spied his brother rounding a corner into one of the narrow corridors—not the potentially safe one, but the one that he had been nervous even to walk by.
“Kíli!” he called, pushing himself up to his feet. “Kíli, get back here!”
Kíli did not respond; he simply disappeared around the corner. Panic seized Fíli, and he dashed past the group, nearly tripping over Dwalin’s ankle.
“Kíli, you can’t go down there!” he cried, ignoring Dwalin’s protest and rounding the corner into the narrow passageway. Kíli was already yards ahead, peering around by the light of his lantern.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Fíli hissed, stalking towards his brother. “You shouldn’t be down here!”
“Seems fine to me,” Kíli said nonchalantly. “I was bored and we were stopped. Don’t see the harm in it.”
“It is not fine,” Fíli said, running forward and grabbing Kíli’s hand. “You don’t even know what you are talking about. Come with me now.”
“I’m not a child,” Kíli protested as Fíli dragged him along, tugging against Fíli’s iron grip.
“Then don’t act like one,” Fíli shot back. “You know you aren’t supposed to be off on your own. Hurry up—I don’t like the look of this tunnel.”
“What’s so bad about this tunnel?”
Columns of dust fell around them, and Fíli’s heart dropped into his stomach. They had truly done it now.
“Run!” he shouted, pulling at Kíli’s hand. Another crack sounded above them, and then to the sides; then, a loud crash as the world came undone at the seams. There was a loud thud, and Kíli suddenly yanked his arm, causing a flash of pain through Fíli’s shoulder before he tripped and hit the ground. He curled himself into a ball and covered his face with his left arm—he could not move his right—as rocks and debris fell all around him.
After what felt like an eternity, the world became still, and Fíli lowered his arm and looked about. All around him was a cloud of dust. He coughed and squeezed his burning eyes shut, but the dust was pervasive. His throat burned; his right shoulder felt strangely loose, and pain radiated through his entire arm and side. He grunted and dropped onto his left side, drawing his limp arm to his chest with his one working hand. It was so silent… not like the quiet stillness of mountain halls that he was used to. No—this felt like…
Like a tomb.
“Kili!” he called, looking around wildly. The lantern he had been carrying had fallen over, but it still burned, giving enough light to the small space to see by. He caught a glimpse of his brother down near his feet. He wasn’t moving.
“Kili, are you all right?” he called, stretching his arm and grunting as pain shot through his neck. His brother did not respond. His face was hidden by the floor and his hair, and Fili could not see him well enough to see if he was breathing. An icy dart of panic ran through him, freezing his insides.
“Kili!” he cried.
Still no response. Fili attempted to sit up only to hit his head on a rock directly above him; he lay back down and fought back a terrified whimper. He had a foot, maybe a foot and a half, of space above his head; he was lucky that he wasn’t buried completely. That they weren’t buried completely. He pulled himself towards his brother as quickly as he could, though there was barely enough room for him to move. He managed it carefully and then dropped down and shook Kíli’s shoulder.
“Kíli, I need you to answer me,” he said loudly, but there was no answer. A visceral terror grew in his gut, and he almost gagged. This couldn’t happen. This couldn’t be happening.
“No, no, no no no,” Fíli moaned, shaking Kíli harder. “You can’t—you can’t do this to me—Kíli, please wake up. Please answer me.”
When Kíli still did not reply, Fíli let out a shout and rolled onto his back, tears building in his eyes as fear overwhelmed him.
“Help!” he cried out to the stone that buried them. “Uncle! Balin! Dwalin! Anyone—please, someone, help!”
Chapter 3: Trapped
"Kíli, Kíli, please wake up," Fíli begged, shaking Kíli's shoulder again. He pressed two fingers against Kíli's neck and waited; his brother's heart was beating, at least. He let out a heavy breath and closed his eyes. Then he opened them and pulled himself closer. His brother had been unconscious for far too long.
"Hey, come on, Kee," he said, his voice gentle now. He rested a hand on the back of Kíli's head and then recoiled; his brother's head was wet. He lifted his hand into the light, and suddenly he could not breathe. It was covered in blood.
"Kíli, wake up," he said, his voice high. "Kíli, please, you have to wake up, you have to… Kíli…"
Suddenly, Kíli stirred. Fíli let out a manic laugh and rested a hand on Kíli's arm; his brother lifted his head from the floor, only to lower it immediately with a moan.
"Hey, hey, it's me," Fíli said, taking Kíli's hand. "I'm here. Are you all right?"
"I don't… feel good," Kíli said slowly, his words slurring together. "M'head… it hurts… W-what happened?"
"The tunnel collapsed," Fíli said. "But help is on its way. I promise." He swallowed. He hoped that were true—he had no idea how much of the tunnel had collapsed, if it had damaged the integrity of the wider corridor. He couldn't think on that now. He wouldn't.
"It hurts," Kíli said tearfully, reaching up and touching the back of his head. His fingers tightened in his hair. "It's all wet… I think—I think… I'm b-bleeding, F-Fíli—"
"It's all right, Kee," said Fíli as calmly as he could, though his stomach was in knots. "Come here, if you can… are you pinned anywhere?"
Kíli whimpered. "N-no," he said. "I don't… think so…"
"All right, good," Fíli said, squeezing Kíli's hand. "Come over here… Slowly, now."
Silently, Kíli drew himself closer until his forehead rested against Fíli's chest. Fíli pulled his brother's dark hair away from his skin; red glistened on his neck, and his hair was slick with blood. He pressed his lips together and closed his eyes. Keep calm. He slid his good arm under Kíli's neck and hugged him tightly.
"It's not that bad," he said. "You'll be all right… just bleeding a bit."
"It h-hurts," Kíli mumbled. "I'm—mm, I'm tired, I want to… sleep…"
"Stay with me, Kee," Fíli said, peering around them for a way of escape. They were trapped in by stone on all sides; there was barely enough room to crawl, let alone dig their way out. He took several even breaths, fighting the panic rising in his chest. This couldn't be their end—buried alive in ancient halls of stone. This was no hero's death, worthy of a Prince of Durin. There was no glory or honor here. Just dust and cold, blue stone.
Idiot, Fíli thought suddenly, anger flashing through him like a sudden flame. If Kíli had just stayed with the group, like he was supposed to, this would not have happened. But no—now was not the time to be angry with his brother. Staying alive was the priority now. If they lived through this, there would be plenty of time to be angry later. He pressed his nose against the top of Kíli's head.
"I-is… anyone coming for us?" Kíli said slowly.
"Someone will find us soon," Fíli replied, praying that he was right. "Don't worry, Kíli. They know where we are. They're coming."
"I… wanna sleep," Kíli said into Fíli's chest. He moaned. "My head…"
"I know," said Fíli, trying to remember if it was all right for his brother to sleep. What was he supposed to do when someone had hit their head?
"Hey, Kíli, let's play a game," he said.
"I don't… w-want to play… a game," Kíli mumbled sleepily.
"It's just a question game," said Fíli. "I ask a question, and you answer it. All right?"
"That's not…" Kíli started, but then he whimpered and pressed his forehead against Fíli's chest. Fíli bit his lip, fighting to ignore the pain resonating from his right shoulder.
"First question," he said through gritted teeth. "What is your name?"
"I don't want to play," Kíli said tearfully.
"What is your name?" Fíli pressed.
"And what's my name?"
"Good." Fíli patted Kíli's arm reassuringly. "You're doing great. Now, what is the name of our city?"
"I d-don't… wanna play anymore," Kíli said. "My head hurts."
Fíli sighed. This wasn't working.
"All right, you rest, then," he said. "Help is on the way."
Kíli let out a shuddering breath and lay quietly, and soon his breathing slowed as he fell asleep. Fíli held onto him tightly and fought hard against his own fear and panic; tears built in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. This couldn't be how they died. It couldn't.
Fíli opened his eyes slowly to pure darkness. He furrowed his brow, confused; then, as pain surged through his shoulder, he remembered everything. He must have fallen asleep—though before, there had been light. The lantern must have gone out, and still no one had come. He swallowed.
"What is it, Kíli?" he said softly.
"Mm… M-my head hurts."
Fíli rubbed Kíli's back softly, the way their mother often did. "I know."
"W-what… happened?" said Kíli. "W-what's happening?"
"You don't remember?" Fíli said. A chill went down his back. Kíli simply moaned and shifted in the dark.
"The tunnel we were in collapsed," said Fíli. "But help is on the way."
"Who's c-coming… for us?"
"Everyone, I suppose," Fíli replied. If they're alive. "Thorin, Balin, Dwalin…"
"All right, just relax," Fíli said. "Try not to think about it." As if he could stop thinking about his shoulder.
Kíli mumbled something unintelligible and then was silent. Fíli gently touched the back of his brother's head to see if it was still bleeding; Kíli hissed and jerked, jarring Fíli's shoulder, and Fíli grunted and bit his lip, working his way through the sharp pain. His hand felt wet. So Kíli's head was still bleeding… he took a deep breath and tried not to think about how much blood his brother was losing. Head wounds always bled a lot, and from the feel of it, Kíli had taken a heavy blow.
He wished he had two working arms so he could help his brother, but he was stuck. He only had one working arm, and even if he could move both, there was not enough room or any light in here to properly care for the wound. They would both have to wait for help… if it was coming at all. He squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't think about that.
Forever. They had been trapped forever. At least, that was what it felt like.
"Hush, Kíli," Fíli said wearily. "I know. Your head hurts."
"The tunnel we were in collapsed, but help is on the way," Fíli said flatly. Kíli had asked this question at least five times now. Every time he awoke, he said the same thing, and a cold, painful fear had settled in Fíli's chest. He did not know how much blood Kíli had lost or how extensive the damage was—although judging by his brother's speech, he could make a guess. They had been here for hours; Fíli was sure it was past midnight. He could not help Kíli here, and he did not know how much time his brother had left.
"Who's… who's c-coming?"
"Lots of people. Uncle and Balin and Dwalin and Glóin…"
"W-will they… be here s-soon?"
"Aye, soon as they can."
Kíli moaned. "M'head…"
"…hurts, I know. Quiet, now. Everything is going to be all right."
"You… don't know that."
Fíli blinked in the darkness, surprised. This was the most awareness about their situation Kíli had displayed thus far. Maybe he would be all right.
"Well, I can hope," he said quietly.
It was the sound of rocks shifting that woke Fíli.
"Oh, no," Fíli whispered. Rocks shifting meant rocks falling. Immediately he rolled, throwing himself over Kíli. His shoulder throbbed violently in protest, but he ignored it—Kíli was the priority right now. The sudden movement caused Kíli's head to drop to the floor, and he started awake and cried out in pain.
"F-Fíli, why d-did you do that?" he wailed.
"Something is shifting," Fíli said, gritting his teeth against the growing pain in his shoulder. "I'm keeping you safe."
"My head, m-my head…"
"I'm sorry, Kee," Fíli said. Remorse coursed through him as his brother started to sniffle beneath him. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Kíli's only response was a sob, and Fíli grimaced. The stones were still moving, though, and so he was staying put. If only one of them made it out, it would be Kíli.
"Fee… get off…"
"Hush, Kíli, I'm trying to listen," he hissed. There was something odd about the way the stones were moving… it was almost a pattern, it seemed.
Fíli froze. A pattern. Digging. Someone was digging.
Relief swept over Fíli like a sudden madness, and he started to laugh hysterically. Kíli, however, did not share in his joy; he continued to cry, preoccupied with his own pain. But Fíli could not stop the laughter bubbling up inside him, his forehead pressed against his brother's shoulder. Someone was digging. They were going to be rescued. They would not be stuck forever in this little tiny space, rotting away; they would be out of here soon, and Kíli could get his head taken care of, and someone could look at his shoulder.
"Hey!" he called loudly, just in case anyone could hear him through the stone. "Hey, we're here! We're alive!"
"S-stop," Kíli wept beneath him.
Fíli stopped laughing and pressed his lips together, feeling a bit guilty. Of course loud noises would bother Kíli, given the colossal headache he most certainly had.
"Sorry, Kee," he whispered. "I might need to shout in a bit though, all right? They're coming for us. Can you hear them?"
Kíli only whimpered in response. Fíli stayed in place over his brother, fearful of sudden collapses as his kin moved the rocks that buried them.
Kíli had already fallen back asleep, it seemed. Fíli sighed and lay still, listening hard. He had no idea how much rubble stood between him and the rest of his kin, but if he could hear them working, it meant that help was coming. They just had to wait.
The sound of rocks moving was closer now. Much closer. Fíli lay over his brother still; in addition to his right shoulder's constant pain, his left arm had gone completely numb from leaning on it. He did not move; he supposed it was easier to ignore what he could not feel.
Kíli had been asleep for quite a while now. The original joy Fíli had felt had faded as time wore on into impatience. Every few minutes he checked his brother's breathing and pulse, and though he was no expert, it seemed to him that his brother's breathing grew shallower, his pulse weaker. They were running out of time.
A sudden loud crack behind Fíli made him jump. He turned his head to look and instantly regretted it as sharp pain coursed through his neck.
"Fíli! Kíli!" came a deep, familiar voice—Thorin's voice. "Can you hear me? Are you all right?"
Joy coursed through Fíli like a river at the sound of his uncle's voice. They were almost out of here—they were going to be rescued. He began to laugh again, a breathy, manic laugh that he could not stop.
"I'm here, Uncle!" he cried. "We're here. We're alive."
"Fíli!" Thorin called back. His voice cracked. "Fíli, oh thank goodness, you're alive… are you hurt?"
"Aye, I think my shoulder is dislocated," Fíli replied. He sobered as he remembered his brother. "But Kíli… I think he got hit by a rock…"
"We're digging as fast as we can, lad," said Thorin. "We'll have you out of there—I promise."
"Hurry, please," Fíli called back. He touched his forehead to Kíli's shoulder. His brother was still asleep; not even the shouting had woken him up.
The sound of moving rocks and shouted commands continued for a long time. As patient as Fíli tried to be, his shoulder was in enough pain to bring him nearly to the point of tears—yet he refused to budge from his position over his brother. He trusted his kin, but this was no stable structure.
Then, suddenly, a light shone against the rock that surrounded them. Fíli squinted; it seemed to him brighter than the sun. He lifted his head, wincing. Thorin looked back at him with wide, panicked eyes.
"Durin's beard," Thorin said quietly, looking over his nephews. He locked eyes with Fíli. "Come on out, lad. We can't move any more rocks without bringing them down on you. You'll need to crawl out."
Fear surged suddenly in Fíli's gut.
"No," he said. "No, I'm not leaving Kíli in here alone."
Thorin licked his lips and spoke gently. "Fíli, we cannot get him out until you are out of the way. You need to come out first."
"I won't leave him here," Fíli said, tightening his grip on his unconscious brother. "I won't."
"Do you want him to receive the care he needs?" Thorin replied sharply. "He cannot get that until you come out."
"How do you know it won't collapse with him inside?" said Fíli. "I can't leave him, I can't, I won't do it—"
"Fíli, please," Thorin begged. "I need you to do what I am telling you. We will get Kíli out. That is a promise. Please trust me, lad."
Fíli pressed his nose into Kíli's hair. It smelled metallic. His heart pounded and his ears buzzed.
"Every moment you delay is a moment longer your brother goes without care," said Thorin.
Fíli frowned deeply. He could not bear the thought of being responsible for that. He let out a shuddering breath and kissed his brother's brow; then, he dropped to his side and pulled himself forward carefully with his one good arm. Thorin moved out of the way as he crawled out into the light, and then suddenly hands were on him, pulling him up and away. Fíli felt dizzy—it was too bright, too loud. There were too many people. Someone touched his right shoulder, and he let out a shout as it erupted in pain.
"Oi, put me down!" he cried. "I have to—I have to make sure he gets out—"
"Thorin's already got him, laddie," said Dwalin from somewhere. "He's pulling him out now."
"Let me see," Fíli demanded, struggling against whoever held him and gritting his teeth against the pain. Then he was on his feet, and he stumbled, but strong hands held him up. He watched on desperately as Thorin slowly inched out of the rubble, dragging Kíli out with him. The moment his brother was free of the rock, Óin and Glóin closed in.
"Is he hurt anywhere besides his head?" Thorin said, standing up and turning to Fíli.
"I—I don't think so," Fíli said. He could not take his eyes off Kíli; his brother's tunic was dark and stiff down one side. "He only complained about his head hurting."
"Take him to the wider hall," Thorin said to Óin. The apothecary nodded, and he and Glóin lifted Kíli between them and disappeared around the corner. Then Thorin turned to Fíli.
"Can you walk, lad?" he asked, stepping over and placing a hand on his nephew's uninjured shoulder.
"Yes," Fíli replied. His legs worked just fine.
"Are you sure?" said Thorin. "There's no shame in it if you—"
"I can walk," Fíli said, straightening.
Thorin eyed him quickly and then nodded. "Follow me."
Fíli followed him away from the rubble and into the wide corridor, holding onto his right arm with his left; they walked a short ways, and Fíli could see Glóin and Óin bent over Kíli further ahead. He started that way, but Thorin stopped him.
"Sit," he said.
"Is in capable hands. And now we need to see about that shoulder."
"Fíli," Thorin said softly. Fíli looked up at his uncle. He was smiling. "Blimey, lad. You really don't ever think of yourself, do you?"
Fíli bit his lip and blinked rapidly, fighting to stem the tears that suddenly built in his eyes. Thorin took his arm and guided him to the floor; they sat together, and Dwalin knelt beside them. Fíli leaned back against the wall, and Dwalin carefully examined his shoulder as Thorin looked on.
"Aye, it's dislocated," Dwalin said. "But we can fix that. Lie down, laddie."
With Thorin's help, Fíli pulled away from the wall and lay on his back. He took a few deep breaths and looked up at the ceiling as Dwalin took hold of his right hand.
"Relax, laddie," said Dwalin. "It won't pop in if you're tense."
Fíli closed his eyes and let his body go limp, focusing on breathing in and out. Dwalin started to pull, and Fíli let out a strained grunt as fire spread through his shoulder. The pulling stopped.
"Relax," Dwalin said again.
"Well, forgive me for not being relaxed," Fíli snapped, but he did his best, and then Dwalin was pulling on his arm again. The pain was immense, and it took everything within him not to cry out; then, suddenly, something shifted, and he shouted in surprise and pain as his shoulder popped back into place. Relief washed through him as the looseness vanished, and then he grimaced, fighting against the sudden need to cry. Thorin pulled him up and hugged him gently, keeping away from his newly-fixed shoulder. They were silent for several moments as Fíli composed himself.
"Better?" Thorin said quietly in Fíli's ear.
"Aye," Fíli replied, bowing his head into his uncle's shoulder. "Much better."
"I thought I'd lost you," Thorin said. "I could not bear it."
Fíli said nothing in response; he took a few steadying breaths and then looked up at Thorin and Dwalin.
"You want to see your brother now?" Thorin asked.
"Please," Fíli said, already rising. Thorin helped him to his feet, and they made their way down the hall to where the other Dwarves had gathered around Kíli. They had laid him on his side, and Óin was running water through his hair. A river of thin red water flowed away from Kíli's head.
"Tell me what you know, laddie," Óin said to Fíli as he approached, though he kept his eyes on his work.
Fíli sat down cross-legged beside his brother, holding his right arm to his chest. "He kept saying that his head hurt," he said. "Over and over and over. Asked the same questions every time he awoke, too. And he spoke slowly and stuttered."
"Severe concussion," Óin muttered. "Not to mention blood loss, surely. From the looks of it, he was lying in his own blood for a while." Óin turned to look at Fíli. "As were you. Blimey, lad—you look like you hit your own head."
Fíli looked down at himself for the first time, and his stomach turned. His left side was dark red; he reached a hand into his hair, and flakes of dried blood dropped from his fingertips. He felt sick.
Kíli suddenly stirred and moaned, and Óin turned his attention back to his patient.
"Kíli!" he called. "Can you hear me?"
"M'head… hurts," Kíli mumbled. "A-am I… res—rescued?"
"Aye, laddie, you're free from the rubble now," Óin replied. "Can you look at me?"
Kíli kept his eyes closed and let out another moan, long and pitiful. Óin frowned.
"Kíli, open your eyes," Fíli called softly, brushing wet hair away from his brother's face. "Can you do that?"
Slowly, a slice of brown appeared beneath dark eyelashes. Kíli's eyes roved aimlessly, and then his eyelids fluttered shut.
"D-dark," he muttered. He grimaced and whimpered. "Owwww…"
"We're not moving any further tonight," Óin said.
"It's nearly morning anyway," muttered Balin.
"Everyone take this time to sleep," Thorin announced to the group. "You have all worked hard all night long, and it has not been in vain. Now get some rest."
A series of ayes followed Thorin's command, and the other Dwarves, save for Óin, Thorin, and Fíli, made for their bedrolls, though their eyes often drifted back to the two young princes. Thorin sat down, staring at his youngest nephew.
"Kíli," he called. "It's Uncle. Can you stay awake just for a little longer?"
Kíli whined petulantly, but he forced his eyes open, though they would not focus.
"That's it, lad," said Thorin. "Óin?"
"Tell me your name," Óin said.
"Who is your father?"
"Who is your father, Kíli?"
"And your mother?"
"Tell me where you live, Kíli."
"Gob… Gab… Gil… th-the B-Blue… Mountains."
Óin made a noise in the back of his throat and frowned, and Thorin and Fíli exchanged glances.
"All right, Kíli," Óin said, moving to Kíli's other side. Fíli moved out of his way, and Óin bent down and held up two fingers. "Look at me, lad. Can you tell me how many fingers I am holding up?"
Kíli furrowed his brow. "No," he said.
"Give it a try, laddie."
"I… c-can't." A look of alarm grew on Kíli's face as his eyes wandered.
"Do you see my hand, Kíli?" Óin said, waving close to Kíli's nose.
Kíli's eyes were wide now, and his breathing quickened.
"I… I c-can't," he said, his voice high and frightened. "I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?" said Thorin.
"I-I can't… see it," Kíli said shakily. "I can't see it. I… I c-can't see."
Chapter 4: Darkness
“I can’t see, I c-can’t see, I can’t… s-see,” Kíli repeated, his voice high and panicked. He pressed shaking hands against his eyes and moaned.
Fíli looked up at Thorin and Óin; they looked back at him, their eyes holding the same horror that he felt inside. He turned his gaze back to his brother and reached out, but Kíli recoiled violently when Fíli touched his arm.
“D-don’t touch me,” he said roughly. He attempted to push himself up. Before Óin could push him back down, he groaned and dropped back to the floor himself, clutching his head.
“I can’t see…”
“Kíli, you need to calm down,” said Óin, keeping his voice even. “You will only make yourself worse by panicking.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Kíli cried, ripping his hands away from his head. His sightless eyes roved, searching fruitlessly for the apothecary. “I just d-disc—discovered I c-can’t s-see, I-I’m b-blind, oh, Mahal—”
“Kíli, please,” said Thorin loudly over his nephew’s high, sharp breathing. “You must calm down.”
Kíli was not listening. “No, no, n-no, no no no,” he said in harsh whisper, curling into a ball. “No, I… I c-can’t l-live like this, no—”
Fíli’s gaze connected with Thorin’s. Fíli wished he could pull his little brother into his arms and hold him in an embrace, but he could not. Not with his shoulder. But Thorin could. His uncle nodded and gathered Kíli into his arms, but Kíli shouted out and struggled against his grip immediately.
“Don’t touch me!” he shouted. Fíli looked over to where the sleeping Dwarves were; some of them were fast asleep, but a few sat up, watching Kíli with sad eyes. Fíli caught Balin’s gaze, and Balin frowned deeply. He looked back to Kíli, who was pressing his hands against Thorin’s chest and arching his back. His feet pushed against the floor, but he was not moving anywhere. Thorin held him too tightly.
“He’s going to hurt himself,” Óin said. “Thorin, put him down.”
“He’ll hit his head struggling like this,” Thorin replied, holding Kíli close to his chest, despite his nephew’s protests. “How am I supposed to put him down?”
“Kíli, stop!” Fíli called. “Please, calm down!”
Kíli ignored them all, fighting harder to get out of Thorin’s grip. Then, suddenly, he stilled, and half a moment later, he gagged.
“Thorin,” said Óin urgently, and Thorin turned Kíli over just in time for him to vomit. Thorin held him off the floor as Óin held his hair back, and when Kíli was done, Thorin pulled him away from his sick, cradling him in his arms. Fíli sat staring wide-eyed at his brother, one hand pressed over his mouth, his heart pounding. Óin covered Kíli’s sick with a cloth and turned his attention to the young dwarf. Kíli wasn’t struggling anymore. Instead he lay still in Thorin’s arms, his searching eyes half-lidded and his body trembling, his breathing slow and deep. Tears streamed down his face.
“C-can’t… see,” he whimpered. Thorin rocked him gently.
“I know, lad,” he said, his voice breaking. “But please rest. You need to rest.”
Kíli grimaced, but he did not fight. He had already lost any energy he had, and now he lay limp, allowing Thorin to move him whatever way he chose to allow Óin to do his work.
“You can’t get worked up like that, lad,” Óin scolded as he applied some kind of salve to the back of Kíli’s head. Kíli hissed. “There are plenty of unpleasant things that come about with a concussion, especially one as severe as this.”
Fíli frowned, watching his kin handle Kíli like a ragdoll. He felt lucky that he had escaped with simply a dislocated shoulder, but he wished that he could take his brother’s pain and misery upon himself. Kíli did not deserve this. Not his cheerful, wild brother. He could never deserve something like this.
At least he didn’t throw up when we were stuck in the rubble, Fíli thought. A hint of a smile played at his lips, but he suppressed it. That was selfish.
Óin was wrapping clean linen around Kíli’s head now, as close to the wound as he could get through his long, dark hair. Then he checked the rest of Kíli’s body for breaks or cuts, treating one scrape on Kíli’s right palm.
“That’s all I can do for now,” said Óin. “He needs to sleep. Get him away from this vomit.”
Thorin nodded and lifted Kíli in his arms. Kíli let out a whimper of protest, but did not fight, and Thorin carried him over to where the mostly sleeping Dwarves lay. Fíli moved to get up, but Óin stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Let me look you over, lad, before you sleep,” he said.
“I’m fine,” Fíli said, looking towards his brother and uncle. Kíli must have fallen asleep in Thorin’s arms, given the way his uncle carried him.
“Best to be sure,” said Óin. “Let me see you.”
Fíli sighed and sat back down, allowing Óin to check him over. He winced when Óin checked the mobility of his arm and bit his lip to keep from making any sound. Óin eyed him carefully.
“Don’t use it for a few days at least,” he said, reaching into his sack and pulling out a wide cloth. He tested the length around Fíli’s neck and arm and then tied it. “And wear this when you are awake.”
“This looks very noble, then,” Fíli grumbled.
Óin looked at him sharply. “Better than having a bad shoulder the rest of your life.”
Fíli rolled his eyes, but he could not argue with that. Óin always knew best when it came to such things.
“Now go sleep,” Óin said, gesturing to where Kíli lay with Thorin at his side. “Your uncle will not leave him by himself, and he has been awake all night long, working to dig you out.”
Fíli nodded and started to rise, but then he sat down again.
“Will Kíli be all right?” he asked.
Óin frowned and did not answer right away. Fíli’s heart missed a beat.
“I don’t know, lad,” Óin said. “I cannot tell you.”
Fíli felt as if he could not breathe. He stared at Óin with wide eyes. “What are you saying?”
“Go sleep, Fíli,” Óin said. “Be with your brother.”
“While I can?” Fíli said, panic rising in his chest. Was that what Óin was saying? That Kíli was going to die? “Óin…”
“I didn’t say that,” Óin said.
“But that doesn’t mean you weren’t thinking it,” Fíli said, looking hard at his cousin. “Please. He is my brother. I deserve to know.”
A rare moment of raw grief passed over Óin’s countenance as he looked at the young prince. Fíli did not need any more confirmation. His heart dropped down into his stomach, and tears filled his eyes. He blinked them back quickly and looked past Óin to Kíli. He swallowed and nodded.
“I’ll make no promises, but I’ll not say you should despair, either,” Óin said finally. “Just be with him, Fíli.”
“Why did you not tell Thorin?” Fíli said faintly, looking at his uncle’s frame bent over his sleeping brother.
“He nearly lost himself when that tunnel collapsed,” Óin said. Fíli looked back to him and furrowed his brow. “Dwalin had to hold him back or he would have tried to dig you out all by himself. He thought you both might be dead then. Imagine if he knew it might have been in vain—or partly in vain.”
Fíli looked down and nodded, blinking again to stay the still-coming tears. He had thought the trouble was over when they had been rescued, but apparently it was just the beginning. He wished briefly that he could turn back time, but he dismissed the thought. He felt bad enough already without wishing he could change the past.
“Go to him, lad,” said Óin softly. “And mind you don’t tell Thorin. I’ll check on the two of you every couple of hours.”
“Aye,” Fíli whispered. He rose, leaving Óin to clean up, and walked over to where Thorin knelt beside Kíli. He settled down on his brother’s other side and looked down at him, frowning deeply.
“Óin says you should sleep,” he said to Thorin, keeping his gaze down. “I’ll… I’ll stay with Kíli.”
“Aye, that would be good,” said Thorin tiredly. He paused, but Fíli said nothing. “Fíli, are you all right?”
“It’s just been a long night,” Fíli replied. He could not look his uncle in the eye. “I just want to sleep.”
“All right, lad,” said Thorin. He gripped Fíli’s good shoulder briefly, but Fíli could not look up. “Get some sleep, then.”
Fíli pressed his lips together, fighting the wobbling of his chin, and nodded. If Thorin noticed, he did not say anything; instead, he rose and made for his own bedroll, and Fíli pulled his next to Kíli’s so that the two mats were touching. He took off his sling and lay down on his good side, and with some difficulty, he pulled his slumbering brother to his chest. He wrapped his arms around him, gritting his teeth at the movement, and then pressed his nose into Kíli’s hair, just as he had done when they were caught in the rubble.
“Please, Kíli, you cannot die,” he whispered. He kissed his brother’s dark hair. “You cannot. Please don’t die, brother. Please.”
Fíli did not sleep. He could not.
Óin came to them every couple of hours, as he had said he would, and woke Kíli to ask him questions and check on his head. Kíli mostly answered, although his words were still slow and he stuttered quite a bit. Sometimes he got stuck on a simple question and became frustrated and then would refuse to answer; though Óin and Fíli tried to coax more words out of him, he would remain stubbornly silent, scowling fiercely.
At least he was alive.
Eventually the other Dwarves awoke, including Thorin, who came to his nephews’ side immediately after rising. He raised his eyebrows at finding Fíli awake.
“Did you sleep?” he asked.
Fíli shook his head. He was tired, but he was not exhausted. It was likely early afternoon, and unlike the others, he had slept during the night, even if it had been intermittent and while buried under several feet of rock. He had gotten tired of lying down with no sleep some hours ago and now sat upright, his right arm in its sling, his left hand holding Kíli’s. His brother lay on his side, facing him.
“I’ll be all right, Uncle,” he said. “Kíli has slept fairly well.”
Thorin bent over and smoothed the hair away from Kíli’s face. The young Dwarf slept peacefully, as he had done most of the night. Fíli’s chest was tight with anxiety and fear, but he kept his concerns to himself. Kíli had not gotten worse in the night, and he would rather cling to hope than despair.
“We will start on our way back to the entry hall today,” he said, looking up at his elder nephew. “We cannot spare much more fresh water to clean his wounds, and he will need to be sent home.”
Fíli blinked and looked down at his little brother. He had not considered that. Of course, he had spent most of the night fearing for his brother’s life—the future had not weighed heavily on his mind.
“How will he get home?” he asked.
“Glóin has offered to take him home,” Thorin replied. “We just have to get to the gates, and then we can send them on their way.”
Fíli frowned. He knew Kíli would be in good hands with Glóin, but the thought of Kíli suffering through his newfound blindness without his big brother at his side made him nervous. Glóin was a good candidate for company as close kin, but the only one better at calming Kíli than Fíli himself was their mother. He feared for Glóin’s patience.
“Just the two of them?” he said.
“We cannot abandon the task at hand for an accident, even if it happened to my nephews,” Thorin said. “Kíli will be safe with Glóin, and safer with your mother.”
“But what about me?” Fíli asked, looking back up at Thorin. “With my shoulder…”
“Your shoulder will be all right,” Thorin replied. “If there is any physical labor to be done, the others can do it—there are still plenty of opportunities for you to learn here, Fíli.”
“Will be fine with Glóin.” Thorin smiled warmly. “I know you are worried for him, Fíli, but your place is here.”
Fíli licked his lips and thought back to Óin’s admission the night before. His uncle had no idea how close Kíli could be to death, and he could not tell him, either. He looked back down at his slumbering brother. A sudden wave of guilt crashed over him, and he winced.
“I never should have let him come,” he said quietly.
“Now, don’t think like that,” said Thorin sharply. Fíli looked up at him, and Thorin looked back gravely. “It was not solely your decision that brought him here—it was mine, as well. And even so, he knew what was required of him and willingly disobeyed.”
“Are you saying this was his fault?” Fíli said, narrowing his eyes.
Thorin sighed and looked down at Kíli.
“He was to be responsible for himself,” he said. “I do not wish to blame him, but this is indeed a consequence of his own actions.”
An intense desire to defend his little brother rose in Fíli, but he stopped himself before he spoke. His uncle was right. Fíli would sooner take the consequences upon himself, but he could not, and even if he could, Thorin would not let him. Kíli had promised to be responsible and to follow the rules, and he had not. He wondered if Kíli would ever forgive himself for that. If he survives the day. Fíli took a deep breath and blinked rapidly.
“Are you all right, lad?” said Thorin.
“I was just rescued from a tunnel collapse,” Fíli said quickly. “I’m just… just a bit shaken up still, is all.”
“Right,” Thorin said, nodding. “Of course. Well, sit here for a while and relax… I will send Óin to you.”
“I’m perfectly fine, Uncle,” Fíli protested.
“Still, he will check on you again,” Thorin replied. “And on Kíli. We will need to move him soon.”
With that, Thorin rose and left Fíli and Kíli in search of the apothecary. Fíli squeezed Kíli’s hand tightly and closed his eyes. Fear began to rise in him at the thought of Kíli dying, and he fought hard to keep his composure, breathing hard through his nose and pressing his lips together.
A sudden hand on his shoulder startled him. He jumped and opened his eyes to see Óin kneeling before him.
“Easy, lad,” he said.
Fíli looked at his cousin desperately. “But if he’s in danger of—”
“He is, but far less so now,” Óin interrupted, holding up a hand to quiet him. “He has not gotten worse, and the chances of him worsening will lessen over time.”
“But he could still…?”
“At this point, only if he hit his head again, I think,” said Óin. He smiled at Fíli. “But we will continue to keep an eye on him—he is not quite out of danger yet.” He turned his attention to Kíli, tapping him gently on the arm. “Kíli, lad, wake up.”
Kíli’s brow furrowed, and slowly, his eyelids fluttered open. He stared out at nothing, searching; then, suddenly, memory hit him, and he moaned.
“Can you remember what happened to you?” said Óin gently.
“T…Tunnel… collapse,” Kíli said gloomily. Fíli squeezed his hand, and Kíli squeezed back. “Got a… c-concussion. C-can’t see.”
“That’s right,” said Óin. He looked up at Fíli and nodded. “Good. Tell me your—”
“Kíli. Fíli. Th-Thorin. Dís. J-Jó… Jóli…”
“Well, his attitude is coming back,” said Fíli with a wry smile.
“And he even remembers the questions I’ve been asking,” Óin replied. “He’s getting better.”
“Oi, I’m r-right here,” Kíli said.
Fíli chuckled, feeling some of the weight of fear lifting off him. Kíli could survive this yet. Óin shifted to kneel next to Fíli and waved a hand before Kíli’s eyes, holding a lantern behind.
“Any vision returning?” he asked. “Can you see anything? Light, movement, color…”
“N-nothing,” Kíli answered. His lip began to quiver. “I s-see nothing…”
“All right,” Óin muttered, setting down the lantern and checking on the linen wrapped around Kíli’s head. “It may come back yet, Kíli. Do not despair.”
Kíli only heaved a shuddering sigh in response. Óin finished examining him, nodding to himself. Kíli pulled his hand out of Fíli’s and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I think we’ll be all right to move, if we are careful,” said Óin.
“Move where?” Kíli asked.
“We’re taking you back to the entrance,” said Fíli. “And then Glóin is taking you home.”
Kíli grimaced, but his eyes searched hopefully in the direction of Fíli’s voice. “And y-you’re coming with me?”
Fíli opened his mouth and then closed it again. Thorin had said he should stay, but he knew that his brother needed him, too. Kíli’s face grew nervous.
“Ah, Kíli, you are awake.”
Fíli looked up at Thorin as he approached, holding something in a cloth. He sat beside them and unwrapped his bundle, handing a piece of cram to Fíli. He took it and broke off a piece, staring at it for a moment. Cram was dense and not exactly delicious, but it was sustenance, at least. Suddenly he realized how hungry he was and shoved it into his mouth.
“Kíli, I brought some food,” Thorin said. “Can you sit up and eat?”
Kíli pressed his forearms to the floor and attempted to rise, but as soon as he lifted his head, he groaned and lowered himself back to the floor.
“I’m n-not that h-hungry anyway,” he said. “I don’t feel well…”
Thorin nodded and wrapped up the rest of the cram. He handed it to Óin and rose.
“Well, Óin has it for you if you feel hungry later,” he said. “We are almost ready to head out. We have made a litter to carry you in, Kíli, so you do not have to walk.”
Kíli made a face, but he did not argue—a true testament to how badly he must have felt. Even when Kíli had been very ill or injured in the past, he had always stubbornly refused help, insisting that he was fine. Of course, Kíli had always been able to see then. He couldn’t now.
Soon they were on their way back. They would all take turns carrying Kíli in the litter, four at a time, save for Fíli, who had only one working arm. The swaying of the litter had made Kíli feel nauseated at first, but then he had slipped into sleep again and all was quiet. Fíli walked up front with Thorin for now. They walked together in silence for a while.
“I heard what Kíli said to you,” said Thorin finally, keeping his voice low.
Fíli looked to his uncle. “About what?”
“He wants you to go home with him, does he not?” Thorin replied.
Fíli nodded. “Aye, he does. Expects it, I think.”
“I would that you stay with us, lad,” said Thorin. “Kíli will be in good hands, and you will only be apart from him for another couple weeks. Then you will be there to help him.”
“But Uncle, I don’t think good hands will be enough,” Fíli said. “Glóin is close to us, and Mum will take great care of him, I am sure, but—”
“You are here to learn leadership and responsibility, Fíli,” Thorin interrupted. “I know you had a trying ordeal last night. We all did, but none so much as you and Kíli. But you have escaped relatively unscathed, shoulder aside, and you could still learn. I think you should stay.”
Fíli bit his lip and looked straight ahead.
“Fíli, you belong here,” Thorin said.
Fíli considered this, feeling incredibly torn. He did feel a duty to stay and to learn, especially as this was his first expedition as a Dwarf of age and a prince besides. And furthermore, Thorin wanted him to stay, and Fíli’s loyalty to his uncle pushed him to stay and please him, to honor his wishes. But still, he knew that Kíli needed him. No one else had been with Kíli in that rubble, and no one at home would understand the guilt Kíli surely felt. Without his brother, he would be stranded, confused, unable to see, and likely to lash out at those who tried to help him. Was one expedition in the pursuit of his own interests worth all of that? No—his conscience would not allow it. He could not leave Kíli like that, not when his brother needed him so much.
“No,” he said slowly, already feeling the guilt creeping in at defying his uncle’s wishes. “No, I belong with my brother.”
Thorin stopped walking, and Fíli stopped as well, ducking his head a little. Thorin was looking at him with surprise in his eyes. He licked his lips.
“Well,” he said, “you are your own Dwarf now. If that is your decision, I will abide by it.”
Thorin started walking again, but Fíli merely stood in shock. He had expected more argument, not acceptance, when he had clearly decided against his uncle’s wishes. He blinked and then hastened to catch up to Thorin, and the two continued on in silence.
Chapter 5: Pressure
The journey back to the entrance hall was mostly quiet and solemn. Everyone except for Fíli took shifts in carrying Kíli, and Kíli spent most of his time either sleeping or brooding. Each time they stopped to rest, Kíli was asleep, but Fíli sat with him anyway in silence in case he woke up. Anyone else who had tried to speak with him had been met with flippant words or stony silence, and Fíli hoped that perhaps later he would open up to his big brother.
It was when they stopped for the night that Fíli and Kíli finally had a chance to speak. Fíli set up his bedroll right next to Kíli's and pulled off his sling. He lay down and faced his brother, who was curled up on his side, staring out gloomily.
"Are you feeling any better?" he said.
"My head s-still hurts," Kíli muttered. "A-and I still can't see."
"You're talking better, though," Fíli remarked. "How's your memory?"
"S-stop," said Kíli, frowning deeply. "You're not Óin."
"I am just asking how you are doing, brother."
"How do y-you think I'm doing?" Kíli snapped. "I'm terrible. S-satisfied?"
"Blimey, Kíli," Fíli said, furrowing his brow. "You don't need to be so—"
"So what?" Kíli shouted. "So upset? How am I s-supposed to feel, then? H-happy? Shall I j-just accept m-my fate, then? W-would you l-like me to be p-pleased about it?"
Fíli looked up nervously at Óin, who was looking at Kíli with concern. Calm him down, he signed. Fíli nodded and looked back to his brother.
"I'm sorry, Kíli," he said. "I didn't mean to make you upset."
Kíli merely huffed and bowed his head, crossing his arms over his chest. Fíli reached out slowly with his bad arm and touched his brother's elbow, but Kíli pushed him away. Fíli swallowed down a cry of pain and drew his arm back to himself, cradling it against his chest.
"Don't touch me," Kíli hissed.
With an angry glare at his brother, Fíli rolled onto his back, holding his shoulder, which now throbbed painfully. He should have known better, anyway. Kíli rarely accepted comfort, even though he always wanted it. He just tried too hard to be "tough," like his elders. What that meant to him, though, was different than the reality.
For a while there was silence between them. Fíli stared up at the ceiling, barely visible in the low light of the evening lanterns. Kíli lay beside him, his head in his hands, breathing in and out slowly. Every once in a while, his breath hitched, but Fíli pretended not to notice. His comfort would clearly not be welcome.
After a while, the Dwarves around them fell asleep. The corridor echoed with the sounds of snores, yet still Fíli remained awake. Even Kíli seemed to have drifted off. He was sure he had memorized the stone all around him, and though he had tried closing his eyes and just waiting, no slumber took him. Eventually he let out a quiet, frustrated sigh.
"A-are you still awake?"
Fíli jumped at the sound of Kíli's voice and turned to look at him. His brother's eyes were open, staring straight out at nothing.
"Aye," he whispered. "I can't sleep."
"N-neither can I," Kíli whispered back. "For once."
"Well, you did sleep all day," said Fíli.
Kíli let loose a small grin. "C-can't say I'm sad I missed a-all the w-walking."
Fíli chuckled. "Lazy lump."
Kíli's grin grew at first, and then it faded into a frown. His lip suddenly began to quiver.
"I-I'm s-sorry," he said, so quietly Fíli almost didn't hear it. "I sh-should have l-listened. I-I shouldn't have been in that t-tunnel…"
Fíli swallowed and searched for the right response as Kíli gasped tearfully, covering his face with his hands.
"Hey, now, don't get all worked up again," Fíli said, reaching out and taking Kíli's elbow—this time with his good arm. Kíli did not draw away. "You'll only make yourself feel worse."
"W-well, I d-deserve it, then," said Kíli. "N-no one will say it to me, b-but they're all thinking it, I-I know they are—"
"That I d-did this to m-myself," Kíli said, his voice wavering heavily.
Fíli licked his lips and looked at Kíli sadly. He could not deny that others had said it—he did not know how many, but Thorin had said it directly to him.
"Th-they've said it to you, h-haven't they?" Kíli said, lowering his hands.
Fíli sighed. "Kíli—"
"They have," Kíli said, a little too loudly. "I knew it…"
"Quiet, Kíli, you'll wake the others," Fíli hissed.
Kíli moaned and closed his eyes, and Fíli squeezed his brother's elbow gently. Kíli pulled away from his touch and curled into himself. Fíli stared at him.
"Leave me alone," Kíli whispered tearfully.
Fíli sighed and withdrew his hand. If this was how Kíli was going to be, they had a long, exhausting journey ahead.
The next day's journey was much the same as the first: Kíli mostly slept, though less than the day before, and the others moved along wordlessly. They were all eager to get back to the main hall, and they moved quicker than the day before. It would take less time to return than it had to get as far as they had gone, as they had no inspecting to do—only the task of returning their injured prince home.
Kíli was silent.
By evening they had reached the main hall. Most Dwarves were still out on assignment elsewhere, but a small number—about ten or fifteen—were there. As soon as they saw the team approaching with Kíli on a litter, they gathered around, all asking at once what had happened. Fíli hung back next to Kíli as Thorin held out his arms, keeping the crowd at bay. Kíli was curled up on the litter with his hands over his ears, distress clearly written on his face. Fíli looked up at Thorin.
"Everyone stay back," Thorin said in his best kingly tone. "There was an accident in the tunnels, and Fíli and Kíli were injured. They will both recover. But Kíli has a head injury, and I am sure that all this noise is bothering him. Keep your voices down."
Fíli glanced at Óin, but the apothecary was not looking at him at the moment; he was watching Kíli carefully. As the other Dwarves quieted down, Kíli slowly lowered his hands from his ears, his sightless eyes darting back and forth. Fíli resisted reaching out to comfort him with a touch. He had a feeling it would have the opposite effect.
The crowd dispersed, though eyes followed Fíli and Kíli as they went along, and they settled close to the entrance. The plan was to rest tonight and then Glóin would leave with Fíli and Kíli in the morning. Though Thorin had agreed to this, his gaze had been fixed on Fíli, and Fíli knew that his uncle still wanted him to stay. But he had made his decision, and he was sticking to it. Kíli needed him now, more than he needed a few days to learn leadership skills. He had a lifetime for such things.
But that did not stop his uncle from trying again. As they settled down, Thorin called Fíli to him, a little apart from the rest of the group. Fíli joined him obediently.
"Fíli, are you sure about this?" Thorin said. "I said I will abide by your decision, and I will, but if you have changed your mind—"
"Kíli needs me, Uncle," Fíli said. "You know that as well as I do. How could I leave him on his own?"
"He will not be on his own," Thorin said. "He will have Glóin, and he will have your mother, and in just a week or so, he will have you again."
"They will not understand as well as I do," Fíli argued. "They know him well, but they were not there with him. I was. And he wants me to go with him. How can I deny him that after what has happened?"
Thorin sighed and eyed his nephew seriously. Then he nodded.
"I can see that I will not be able to sway you," he said. "Very well. If that is what you wish."
"It is," Fíli said. "I am sorry, Uncle, but I am sure there will be other opportunities for me to learn in the future."
"I suppose you are right," said Thorin, rubbing his forehead wearily. "All right, lad—get some rest, then. You have a three-day journey ahead of you and a belligerent brother to deal with."
Fíli grinned ruefully. Belligerent was right. Thorin clapped him on his good shoulder, and Fíli turned to rejoin his brother, who was sitting up for once, leaning against a wall with his head bowed. Fíli sat beside him, and Kíli turned his head, listening.
"Who's that?" he said warily.
"It's just me," Fíli said.
Kíli bowed his head again. "Oh."
"You're sitting up," Fíli remarked. "Are you feeling any better?"
"Would you stop asking that?" Kíli snapped. "E-every time you talk to me, you ask me that."
"Sorry, then," Fíli muttered. "Forgive a brother for being concerned."
Kíli sighed and bowed his head lower. Fíli could see something was weighing on his mind, and he waited patiently. After a minute or so, Kíli lifted his head again.
"Y-you still there?" he said quietly.
"Aye," Fíli replied.
Kíli took a deep breath. "Thorin w-wants you to stay here," he said.
Fíli nodded and then a moment later remembered his brother could not see him. "Aye, he does," he said. "But—"
"Are you?" Kíli asked in a small voice.
"No, I'm coming with you," Fíli said. "He tried to persuade me, but I…" He paused, thinking of the least offensive way to say he thought his brother needed him. "I told him I'd rather be with you."
Kíli heaved a sigh of relief and closed his eyes. "Thank you."
Fíli smiled sadly and patted Kíli's knee, but Kíli remained still, frowning. Fíli looked him over, frowning.
Kíli furrowed his brow and his jaw shifted—a sure sign that he had something to say, but did not want to say it. Fíli waited.
"Nothing," Kíli said finally, opening his eyes. "It's nothing."
"All right," Fíli said, though he did not believe it. "Well, I'm going to get something to eat. Are you hungry?"
"Not really," Kíli muttered.
"When was the last time you ate?" Fíli asked.
"Stop trying t-to take care of me," Kíli said, an edge of anger in his voice.
"When was the last time you ate?" Fíli asked again, unperturbed. He could not remember seeing Kíli eat since they had been rescued.
Kíli scowled, but he answered. "B-before… everything," he admitted. "My stomach still doesn't feel right. I don't know i-if I could keep anything down…"
"Would you like to try?"
Kíli grimaced. "N-not really."
Fíli stood up. "All right, then," he said. "I'll be back."
Kíli did not respond, and Fíli wandered off to get food, resolving to get some for his brother just in case. The fact that Kíli had not eaten in two days concerned him, but he knew that his brother hated vomiting—not that anyone enjoyed it, but Kíli particularly hated it and would avoid food for quite a few days if it meant he would be safe from the experience. He had done it plenty of times in the past.
When he returned with a piece of cram in his mouth and another in his hand, Kíli's head was bowed even lower than before, and his hands rested limply at his sides. Fíli knelt down, ducking his head to get a glimpse of his brother's face, and then smiled fondly. Kíli had fallen asleep sitting up. Kíli often teased Fíli for being able to fall asleep anywhere, and had it been a better situation, he would return the favor for this. As it was, though, he simply sat down beside him and pulled Kíli's dark head against his shoulder. Kili shifted, but he did not wake, and Fíli smiled and wrapped his arm around his brother.
The day was cool and damp the next morning when Fíli, Kíli, and Glóin began their journey home. The distance to the wagons was not far, and Kíli had wanted to walk it, but he was still too dizzy, and what with his lack of sight, the terrain too unsteady. He had sulked all the way to the wagon, carried by the other Dwarves yet again in the litter, and his attitude had not improved much through the day.
Thorin had decided to send them in one of the larger wagons, as it was more comfortable, having two full beds inside and even a sitting area with a table, as well as wooden doors that closed and locked. Thorin had also sent them off with some extra blankets, which they had packed around Kíli like a fragile package as he lay in bed; Fíli had not been able to stop a single guffaw from escaping when he saw his brother bundled up, and Kíli had pointedly ignored him for quite a while after that. At least Glóin had been better company. Fíli sat with him for most of the day in the front of the wagon. Perhaps it was just Kíli's stony silence, but being in the back made him feel uncomfortable.
They made good time, and they stopped as the sun set behind the Blue Mountains. Fíli helped Kíli out of the wagon as Glóin cooked some food for the three of them; it was not much, just a small, unfortunate rabbit, but it was better than cram, at least. Kíli wrinkled his nose at the smell of food.
"N-no, I'm not h-hungry," he said. "I'll just… stay in the w-wagon."
"Oh, at least sit with us, brother," Fíli said, pulling Kíli along. "Don't isolate yourself."
"The s-smell is turning my stomach, F-Fíli," Kíli snapped. "Why don't you l-leave me alone?"
"All right, fine," Fíli muttered. He helped Kíli back into the wagon and sat with Glóin at the fire. Glóin passed him some meat, which Fíli accepted gratefully. It smelled delicious, and he eagerly bit into it.
"Kíli doesn't want to eat?" Glóin asked, his gaze shifting to the wagon.
Fíli shook his head as he chewed. "Says the smell turned his stomach."
Glóin nodded sympathetically. He knew as well as Fíli how much Kíli hated getting sick. "Poor lad."
Fíli stared into the flames, watching them flicker as the wood popped and crackled. It suddenly occurred to him with a pang that Kíli may never be able to see a flame again. He frowned and he took a deep breath.
Fíli did not look up.
"Do you think it will come back, Glóin?" he asked. "Kíli's sight?"
Glóin shrugged. "I am not my brother," he said. "I can only hope, lad. For his sake as well as ours."
"Aye," Fíli said, watching the shifting flames. "For all our sakes."
They sat in comfortable silence for the rest of the meal, and then they cleaned up and set up camp for the night. The three of them lay in the back of the wagon; Fíli and Kíli shared one bed while Glóin lay on the other alone. There was enough for them all to fit comfortably, but even though Fíli had enough space, he could not seem to fall asleep. There was a strange uncomfortable pressure settled in his chest that would not go away, no matter how much he tossed and turned.
"M-Mahal's beard, Fíli, stop moving," Kíli said finally, shifting further away from his brother. "You're k-keeping me up…"
"Language, lad," Glóin scolded.
There was some inarticulate grumbling from Kíli's side of the bed, and Fíli fought to lie still for his brother's sake. Kíli needed all the sleep he could get so his head could heal, Óin had said. But the pressure in his chest was becoming unbearable. He began to wonder nervously if there was actually something wrong with him, something that he had not noticed before… but no, Óin would have noticed, surely. He dismissed the thought. Maybe it was the rabbit. He tried to ignore it.
Eventually Fíli began to doze off, but each time he was almost asleep, he was suddenly fully awake again, that awful pressure building in his chest and spreading upwards. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He needed to sleep. He needed to sleep…
Suddenly he was awake again, but this time it was with a start. The pressure had turned into tightness in his throat, and wheezed once and coughed. He reached up frantically, touching nothing—the roof of the wagon was too high up—and fought to breathe normally. What was wrong with him? Air. He needed air. He sat up and sought through the darkness for the way out of the wagon, and finding the door quickly, burst out into the night. Glóin called his name, but he did not look back. Instead he took a few steps forward and then dropped to his knees in the damp grass, bowing his head and pulling up plant and dirt under his fingertips.
Finally, some relief, it seemed. He took a few experimental breaths in and out. The tightness was melting from his throat, but it was slow, and he stayed where he was. A hand touched his back, and he looked up to see Glóin looking down at him, frowning.
"I'm fine," Fíli said, sitting back on his heels. He rested a hand on his chest; his heart beat harshly under his palm, and his chest still felt tight. He grimaced and shifted his hand to his right shoulder, through which little bolts of pain were now shooting due to his crash in the grass.
"You don't seem fine," Glóin said. His hand remained on Fíli's back.
"I…" Fíli began, but then he paused, furrowing his brow. "I felt sick. Like I couldn't breathe. I just… needed some air."
"And now?" Glóin asked.
"I think I'll be all right, Glóin," Fíli said, attempting a smile. "You can go back. I'll join you shortly."
Glóin nodded and patted Fíli on the back. Then he stood and ambled back to the wagon, climbing inside. Fíli shifted so he was sitting on his bottom and looked up into the starlit sky. A few thin clouds floated past as a gentle wind blew. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, this time out of pleasure rather than a desperate need for air. It was a beautiful night. The pressure in his chest melted away.
He could not sleep out in the grass, even if he wanted to; Thorin would surely scold him for sleeping outdoors with no watch. After a while, he sighed and made his way back to the wagon, climbing in and reclaiming his place beside his brother.
"You all right?" Kíli whispered as Fíli lay down. "Y-you startled me."
"I'm fine now," Fíli whispered back. "Just a passing feeling. Go to sleep, brother."
Kíli did not respond; he merely shifted and then lay still. Fíli stared up into the darkness. He felt all right now—didn't he?
"I'm fine now," he whispered again, this time to himself. "I'm fine."
Chapter 6: Help
The next night was easier. The pressure in Fíli's chest was gone when he awoke in the morning, and throughout the day, he felt better; as he got himself into bed, the feeling returned, but he did not want a repeat of the night before. He focused on breathing in and out slowly until he drifted off to sleep. It was not the best night's sleep he had ever had—no night in a bed with Kíli ever was—but at least he had been fine.
It was their mother that Fíli worried about now. He tried not to dwell on what her reaction would be; it would be bad enough witnessing it in reality without imagining it many times beforehand. So instead he distracted himself with song and conversation—mostly with Glóin, as Kíli spent most of the day either sleeping or brooding. What little conversation Fíli did manage to get out of his brother was short and succinct, and then Kíli lapsed back into silence. Fíli had given up by midday.
By evening they had finally reached the entrance to their home in the mountains, and Glóin and Fíli helped Kíli out of the wagon. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he ripped himself out of their hands.
"I'm fine," Kíli said. "My legs still work, you know."
But your eyes do not. Fíli held his tongue. Saying such a thing would only further dishearten his brother, and they had a ways to go still. The royal wing was deep inside the mountain. Kíli stood still, wavering, and Fíli waited.
"Um," said Kíli quietly, "w-which way…?"
Fíli gently took Kíli's shoulder and turned him in the direction of the entrance, his heart aching. Kíli nodded, his face drawn, and started walking. The terrain was not smooth, however, and he stumbled almost immediately. Fíli caught him, and Kíli stood stock still, his head bowed, taking deep, even breaths. Glóin and Fíli exchanged glances.
"Kíli," Fíli said softly, "maybe you should—"
"Fine," Kíli interrupted. "Fine. Just… just get me home."
Fíli and Glóin led Kíli into the mountain and through the halls. There was a quiet, uncomfortable stillness about them—not just the quietness of the mountain, but the heavy silence that came when many words were left unsaid. Once they were inside, Kíli was able to find his own way without much help; Dwarves could easily navigate once they were underground, and he and Fíli had lived in these halls their entire lives. Still, Fíli stayed nearby just in case. Any Dwarf they encountered merely nodded and made way for the princes and Glóin, though some did stare at the bandages around Kíli's head. Fíli was glad Kíli could not see their stares—it would only have fouled his mood.
Finally they reached the royal wing, and Fíli went ahead, searching for his mother. As the only royal left in the halls, she was in charge while Thorin and the others were away, but it was already late. If nothing had kept her, she would be in the kitchen having her tea, as she did every night.
"Mum?" he called, peering into the kitchen. Just as he predicted, there she was, a mug of tea in her hands. She started at the sight of him, setting down her tea and rising.
"Fíli, what are you doing home?" she cried out, smiling warmly. She came forward and threw her arms around her son, and he smiled and hugged her back.
"Watch the shoulder," he said as her embrace tightened. She let go and stepped back, looking him over.
"Why?" she asked. "Are you all right? Why are you here? You're not supposed to be back for a week!"
"Any more questions you would like to list before I start answering them?" said Fíli with a mischievous grin.
"Oi, don't you sass me, boy," Dís retorted, elbowing him gently. "Tell me why you are back so early. Who else is with you?"
"Us," said Kíli.
Dís's gaze moved past Fíli to the doorway, where Glóin and Kíli had just walked in. At the sight of her youngest, the smile melted off her face. She pushed past Fíli and took Kíli's head in her hands, inspecting the bandage wrapped around it.
"Dear Mahal, Kíli, what happened?" she asked, her eyes wide. Kíli kept his head bowed and said nothing. She lifted his chin, searching his eyes, but he could not look back at her.
"Look at me, darling," she said.
The words seemed to hit Kíli as if she had physically struck him. He flinched hard and closed his eyes. Fíli wanted to speak, but he felt frozen in place, watching the faces of his kin.
"I can't," Kíli whispered.
Dís's brow furrowed. "What do you mean, you can't?"
Kíli's chin began to wobble, and he shook his head slightly. Dís let go of his chin, and he bowed his head; she looked to Fíli with a questioning look. He took a deep breath.
"He can't look at you because he can't see, Mum," Fíli said softly. "There was a cave-in at Tumunzahar, and Kíli and I were caught in it. A rock hit Kíli in the head and now he's… blind."
"Blind?" Dís breathed. Her entire body seemed to deflate as she turned back to Kíli, horror shining in her eyes. She reached up slowly with one hand and touched his cheek; he flinched and then let out a heavy, tearful gasp.
"Oh, my child," she whispered.
Suddenly, Kíli leaned forward, his head narrowly missing a collision with Dís's, and his forehead found his mother's shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her tightly and began to sob, his shoulders shaking violently. Fíli bowed his head and pressed his lips together. He knew his brother better than anyone, but he could not imagine how Kíli felt right now.
Fíli sat quietly in the parlor with Glóin, sipping the tea his mother had made for them before coaxing Kíli off to his bedroom to calm down and talk. Kíli was exhausted, of course, but he would never admit it, especially not in front of Fíli and Glóin. But Dís had managed to convince him to go rest, somehow avoiding the words tired or exhausted or sleep, and he had gone with her, albeit still somewhat begrudgingly. Now Fíli and Glóin waited; they both knew that she would have many questions for her as soon as she left Kíli.
Eventually Dís appeared, her face pensive and her eyes dark with sadness. She sat down beside Fíli on the couch and gently stroked her beard. Fíli waited for her to speak.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly—almost to herself, it seemed.
Fíli furrowed his brow. "What?"
"That's all he would say," she said, lifting her deep blue eyes to meet her son's. "That he was sorry—sorry he had wanted to go, that he had left me… but when I asked him what he meant, he would not reply. I have never seen him in such a state. What did he mean, Fíli?"
Fíli licked his lips and looked towards the entryway. "Is he asleep?" he asked. If there was any chance Kíli would overhear him, he did not want to speak of it.
"Aye," Dís replied. "He was exhausted."
"All right," Fíli said. "Well… the cave-in…" He paused and twisted his lips, thinking. "There was this tunnel, you see, and it looked dangerous, and—well, Uncle gave me the responsibility for deciding where to go next… and it took me a while to decide, I mean, I just wanted to make the best decision, and you know how Kíli gets when you make him wait."
Dís was staring at him in confusion. He could not bring himself to say what he was trying to say. He looked to Glóin for help.
"Kíli was in a place he was not supposed to be, and Fíli went to get him, and the tunnel collapsed with them inside," Glóin said simply.
Fíli cringed and glanced at his mother. Though she was trying to appear calm as she processed this information, he could see the tears shining in her eyes.
"A tunnel collapse," she said. "Well, I am glad you both made it out alive, at least." She looked down at her lap and sighed. "That makes sense, then. Why he kept saying he was sorry. He blames himself for what happened to him."
Fíli nodded, feeling regret course through him painfully. "I'm sorry, Mum," he said. "I should have been looking out for him—if I had just gotten to him sooner—"
"Don't think like that, lad," Glóin interrupted. "You know as well as I that Kíli was responsible for himself."
Fíli huffed. He did know that, but it did not stop the guilt he felt, no matter how hard he had tried to suppress it until now. He knew the role that both his parents had expected of him when Kíli was born. He was the elder brother—it didn't matter what Kíli was responsible for. Fíli was supposed to look out for him, to keep him safe and out of trouble. He had tried to do so, but he had failed, and now there was a chance that Kíli would never be the same.
"And you, Fíli?" Dís said, cutting through his thoughts. She took one of his hands in her own. "Are you all right? You were trapped, as well."
Fíli closed his eyes and grimaced. He would rather not remember how long he had been trapped under several feet of rock, not knowing if help would or could come, pain coursing through him, lying in a pool of his brother's blood… his chest felt tight. Dís squeezed his hand.
Fíli opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He smiled at his mother.
"Well, my shoulder is healing," he said. "It was dislocated. I got off easily, I would say."
"What about your breathing?" Glóin said.
Fíli raised an eyebrow, perplexed. "What about my breathing?"
"The other night, in the wagon," said Glóin. "You—"
"I was just fine," Fíli interrupted with a hasty glance at his mother. "It was just a passing thing—that is all. My breathing is fine."
"What happened?" asked Dís.
Fíli rolled his eyes and groaned. "I just felt ill for a little bit, that's all," he said quickly. "Momentarily short of breath. It was over quickly and I am fine."
"Was it because of the dust?" Dís pressed.
"I don't know," said Fíli, exasperated. "I don't think so. Óin didn't notice anything. It only happened once. I'm all right now."
Dís eyed him critically. "Well, we should keep an eye on it anyway," she said. "If you feel… off… in any way—"
"Blimey, this isn't about me!" Fíli argued. "We should be concerned with how to help Kíli right now."
Dís and Glóin exchanged glances, and Fíli let out a frustrated growl. Why were they so concerned about him? He didn't have a major concussion. He wasn't blind. He wanted to escape this conversation.
"I think I'll go to bed," he muttered, setting down his empty mug and rising. "I didn't sleep well last night, and I am tired."
"Are you all right?" Dís asked, looking him over.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Fíli snapped. "I just haven't slept in a decent bed in weeks, and Kíli kicks. Don't worry about me. Worry about Kíli."
"I think I have it within me to make sure both my sons are all right," said Dís. "Are you really going now?"
Suddenly, a wave of weariness swept over Fíli, and he yawned. Well, that was what he got for saying such things. He nodded.
"Aye, I'm going," he said. "But before I do—if Kíli wakes before me… Óin said he is to rest. You know how he is. He will never admit to feeling poorly. But I know his head still hurts and he gets dizzy occasionally. And he is in a terrible mood."
"Of course he is," said Dís. "He never should have had to suffer such a thing at all."
Fíli pressed his lips together and looked down at the ground. If he had not said yes, it never would have happened.
"We will be here for him, Fíli," said Dís. "None of us know how to react, him least of all. But we must try our best."
"Let's just hope our best is enough," said Fíli, looking at his mother woefully. He reached out with one hand, and she took it and squeezed it; with a wan smile, he turned and headed off to his room, leaving Glóin and Dís to speak together alone.
He stopped as he passed Kíli's door and hesitated. Part of him wanted to check on him, but the other part of him knew that if Kíli were awake and heard him come in, he would only be upset. He placed a hand on Kíli's door and sighed. After a few moments, he let his hand slide off the door, and he trudged on to his own chambers, missing the days in which he and Kíli had shared a room. He stumbled through the darkness and lit the lantern on his nightstand, and then he sat heavily on his bed.
It had been easier when he was with Thorin to keep from blaming himself, but now that he was home, his resolve was crumbling. There had been no real reason to say yes to Kíli. He was only forty-five years old, five years away from adulthood; he was still reckless and impatient, and Fíli never should have let him come. He rubbed his beard and closed his eyes as regret coursed through him painfully.
This is not your fault, he told himself, trying to cast the guilty thoughts away. He could not blame himself for this. Well, not completely. He shook his head. He needed to stop thinking like this. If he was going to be there for Kíli, he could not cripple himself with guilt. This was not about him.
He stretched his arm carefully, grimacing as pain flared through his shoulder. At least he could move it further than yesterday. It would take a while to fully heal, Óin had said, but day by day it improved, and soon, he would have his full range of motion back without any pain. Then there would be nothing keeping him from helping Kíli.
Well, as much as Kíli was willing to be helped.
Fíli lay down and pulled his covers over himself with one arm, and then he closed his eyes and breathed in and out slowly; there was no pressure or tightness in his chest tonight. So it had been temporary, as he had thought. He smiled and pressed his face into his pillow. Well, that was one less thing he had to worry about. At least for tonight, he could rest.
Fíli opened his eyes to the dim light filtering in from above and furrowed his brow. Where was he? Perplexed, he looked around, and soon enough he realized that he was in his own bedroom. Why was he in his bedroom? He was supposed to be in Tumunzahar—no, riding home—no, he got home last night. That's right. He blinked slowly and then closed his eyes, pressing his face deeper into his pillow. Mornings. They were never his best time. Not like Kíli, who practically sprang out of bed every day.
Kíli. Fíli opened his eyes again lifted his head. In his current disoriented state, he had no idea what time it was, but Kíli often woke before him. Given his head injury, he may have still been asleep, but just in case, it was probably better if Fíli got up and was ready to help Kíli if he needed it. He rubbed his eyes and then stretched, letting out a strained squeak when his shoulder protested. Then he dragged himself out of bed, leaving the covers in disarray behind him as he stumbled down the hall to the kitchen. His mother sat at the table, already dressed with a cup of coffee in hand; she smiled at him as he entered and rose from her seat.
"No, you don't have to get me anything," Fíli muttered, plopping himself down at the table. "I can get it myself."
"Nonsense," Dís replied, sliding a mug of hot coffee in front of him. He stared at it for a few moments; then, remembering that he was supposed to drink it, he picked it up and took a sip. It was good—much better than the sludge Dwalin seemed to think was passable as a drinkable beverage, let alone coffee. Of course, no one seemed to have thought to bring sugar with them, either, and Fíli's sweet tooth was a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps it had tasted fine to everyone else. He would never know.
"Thank you," Fíli said, already feeling more awake. "Is Kíli up?"
"Not yet," Dís replied, busy at the stove with some eggs and ham. "I think he was up during the night… unless I dreamt it, I heard a crash and some cursing, but by the time I left my room to check there was nobody to be seen."
"Well, it wasn't me, unless I was sleepwalking," said Fíli. "Maybe I should stay in his room for a while—just in case he needs me."
"You'll have to ask him that," Dís said, turning his way and frowning. "I doubt he will accept your help."
Fíli took another sip of his coffee. "Well, it's worth a try," he said.
"Well, don't ask him right away," said Dís. "You know how he is."
Fíli nodded as he drank more of his coffee. It really was good. He had forgotten that coffee could be good after a couple weeks with Dwalin, and now he was enjoying being reacquainted with its taste—or, if he were honest with himself, the taste of sugar. A few minutes later, Dís slid a plate of eggs and ham in front of him and set down a fork, knife, and a napkin. Fíli smiled up at her and started in on his breakfast, any protests forgotten.
"I have to go now," Dís said. "Take care of some things in the mountain. I should be back in a couple hours."
"What about Kíli?" Fíli said, his mouth full of ham.
"He should be resting," Dís replied. "Glóin told me that Óin said he should be taking it as easy as possible… try to make sure he rests. I know you can't do much if he decides to get up anyway, but do try, won't you?"
Fíli frowned. "I can't really make him do anything if he's determined. He might listen to you… do you have to go?"
"Aye, love, I do," said Dís. She kissed him on the forehead. "I'll be back as soon as I can be, all right?"
"All right," Fíli replied. He smiled and watched her leave, and then he dug into his food again. He finished quickly and then ambled down to the washroom to wash up and fix his braids; as he was working on the third one, he heard something from out in the hall.
Fíli looked out into the hall suspiciously. That had to be Kíli.
"Kíli?" he called.
"I'm fine," came Kíli's voice from the kitchen. Fíli sighed and craned his neck, attempting to see down the hall, but he could not see his brother.
"Kíli, you're supposed to be resting," Fíli said.
There was no response from the kitchen, save for some shuffling, and then there was another thump. Something crashed to the floor, and Fíli winced. He finished his last braid and then walked into the kitchen, where he caught sight of his brother fumbling with items on the counter.
"Kili, what are you doing?" he said.
Kíli turned his head in Fíli's direction, scowling. "I'm hungry," he growled. "I can't get up and get some food on my own?"
"You're supposed to be resting," Fíli repeated. "You know that. Óin said so… and if you need something, you can ask for help."
"I don't need help," Kíli said. His hand hit a bowl, and it crashed to the floor and shattered. Fíli cringed, and Kíli froze, his hands holding tightly to the counter. The only sound was Kíli's heavy breathing. Fíli swallowed. His chest felt tight.
"Kíli," he said gently. He felt as if he were attempting to calm a wild animal. "Please go rest."
For several moments, Kíli did not move. Then, suddenly, he let out a wild shout and clawed at the counter, swiping everything in his way onto the floor. Plates shattered and papers went flying; utensils hit the ground and bounced and rolled everywhere. Fíli started forward.
"Kíli, calm down!" he shouted over the din.
"Don't tell me to calm down!" Kíli shouted back. "You're not the one who can't see anymore! Can't do anything anymore! I can't even move around my own home! I-I'm lost in the dark and I c-can't do anything about it! Nobody can! S-so don't… tell me… t-to calm… down!"
At this last sentence, Kíli managed to grab hold of a chair, and he threw it forcefully to the ground. It clattered to the floor loudly, and it the wake of its noise there was nothing but Kíli's heaving breaths. He stood rigidly in the center of the kitchen, a mess surrounding him, his fists clenching and unclenching as his unfocused eyes stared out at nothing. Fíli stood, opening and closing his mouth wordlessly. He had nothing to say. There was nothing he could say.
Kíli began to bend, and he stepped backward; his back hit the counter, and he slid to the ground slowly with half-lidded eyes. Fíli picked his way quickly through the mess and knelt before his brother, who was breathing hard, his head in his hands. Hesitantly, he reached out, unsure how to proceed. When his hand touched Kíli's shoulder, his brother jerked away, and Fíli hastily pulled his hand back.
"Kee," he whispered. Kíli did not respond, and Fíli wavered, trying to think of something, anything, that could make this better. Kíli's head bowed lower. Fíli licked his lips.
"Mum made me breakfast this morning," he said finally.
"What do I care?" Kíli said hoarsely. He did not look up.
"Well," Fíli said, "I could have done it myself, I suppose. It might've been hard, what with my shoulder—"
"What about your shoulder?" Kíli interrupted, lifting his head slightly.
Fíli blinked. "It… it got dislocated when we got caught in the cave-in," he said. "You didn't know?"
Kíli frowned. "I didn't."
"Oh," said Fíli. That explained a few things. "Well, it did."
Kíli groaned and folded his arms over his knees, dropping his forehead against them. Fíli bit his lip; that had been the wrong thing to say. Now Kíli would blame himself for that, as well.
"The point is," he said hastily, "that she helped me, even though she didn't need to. I even asked her not to, but she was happy to do it. And we feel the same for you, Kíli. I am not saying you cannot do the things you could before, but it would be easier for you if you let us help."
Kíli let out a shuddering breath and did not lift his head; a few moments later, he sobbed quietly and pressed his face into his arms. Fíli cleared away the mess beside his brother and sat down next to him, and then hesitantly, he wrapped his arm around Kíli's shoulders. Kíli did not respond at all; he simply stayed where he was, weeping softly. Fíli made no move to change that. After a while, Kíli leaned ever so slightly against his brother, and Fíli responded by gently rubbing his thumb on Kíli's shoulder.
They did not move again for a long time. If this was what Kíli needed, Fíli would stay for as long as it took.
Chapter 7: Alone
Welcome back to Lost in the Dark! It's been over a year since I last posted, and I know this. (Actually, the day I started working on it again marked EXACTLY a year since I updated. Total coincidence.) Feel free to reread; there's some good stuff back there. Or, if you wish, just read on. I think there's enough recap to bring you back up to speed.
My lovely madammadhatter is at it again with the beta work here. She is the coolest and also the best.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fíli played his fiddle quietly, leaning back as the soft legato music filled the firelit room. His eyes were on his brother, who sat in an armchair nearby, his own fiddle in his lap, his bow dangling precariously from loose fingertips; Kíli had been asleep for a good while now, but still Fíli played, even though his shoulder greatly protested so much movement. He did not want to leave Kíli alone, but he did not want to sit in the silence either. He hoped his mother would be back soon… of course, she had said it would be a couple hours, and it had only been one, maybe one and a half. He slowed his playing and eventually stopped altogether, sighing.
At least Kíli was resting.
The silence was unbearable. Usually Fíli did not mind quiet—especially with a chatterer like Kíli for a brother—but now it was a reminder of the foul mood his brother had been in ever since the cave-in at Tumunzahar. He would have preferred endless chatter at this point, even to the point of exasperation, if only it meant that Kíli's spirit had not been so dimmed. But for now, he supposed, the silence was good; Kíli had never been very good at admitting he needed rest or care. Fíli watched the slow rise and fall of his brother's chest for a few minutes, and then his gaze wandered to the bandage wrapped around his head. He frowned. The wound on the surface was healing well, but it was what was inside that needed to heal the most.
Fíli couldn't think on that now. A long and difficult future stretched before all of them if Kíli's sight did not return—and Óin had never said that it would not. Of course, he could not know, but Fíli longed to cling to hope. If only Kíli could do the same, perhaps his mood would improve.
The sound of footsteps pulled Fíli from his thoughts, and he looked up at the doorway, searching for the culprit. A quiet exclamation met Fíli's ears from the kitchen, and he pressed his lips together, fighting a grin; he had not yet bothered to clean up the mess Kíli had made. A few moments later, Dís stepped into the room, her eyes first resting upon Kíli and then Fíli. She smiled gently in greeting, and Fíli nodded in return. Then she stepped over to where Kíli sat slumbering and carefully took the fiddle and bow from his hands, setting them down on the side table.
What on earth happened in the kitchen? she signed to Fíli.
Kíli happened, he signed back simply.
Dís frowned. Her gaze flickered down to her youngest, then back up to Fíli; then she nodded towards the other room. Obediently, Fíli set down his fiddle and bow on the couch and followed his mother into the kitchen. He swallowed as he beheld the disaster before him and looked up at Dís. She said nothing, only leaning against the kitchen counter and watching Fíli with questioning deep blue eyes.
"He was frustrated, I think," Fíli said quietly. "Well, I know. He was trying to get food on his own, and… he kept bumping into things, knocking things over. Accidentally. And then he just started throwing things to the floor."
Dís pursed her lips as many unspoken thoughts passed through her eyes. She sighed heavily.
"I thought as much," she said. "Well, let's clean it up, then."
Fíli nodded and assisted his mother in silence, and together they got the kitchen back into shape. There were a few bowls that were miraculously intact, and Fíli put them away while Dís swept up the broken pottery.
"I hope this doesn't become a regular thing," he muttered.
Dís stopped sweeping and looked up at him. "Which part?" she asked. "The breaking things, or trying to do everything on his own?"
Fíli twisted his lips. Kíli would never stop trying to do things on his own—not if there was even the smallest chance that he could.
"Breaking things," he said. "Acting like a child…"
"He isn't acting like a child," said Dís.
Fíli looked around him and then back at his mother, raising one eyebrow. She smiled.
"Well, not completely," she said. "Imagine losing something so valuable, so essential to everything you do…"
"And blaming yourself," Fíli finished. He looked down and sighed. He could not say that he would not want to destroy everything he could get his hands on if his own life changed so drastically. Suddenly he felt as if he understood Kíli a little more than before. This wasn't just typical moodiness.
This was grieving.
"Give him time, love," Dís said. "There's no one who knows how to handle this. And there's no knowing if his sight will come back, either. It could."
"I'm sure all of us would feel better if we could know that for sure," said Fíli.
Dís nodded sadly, looking off into the parlor.
"Aye," she said. "Aye, we would."
The two of them finished cleaning in silence. After Dís put all the broken pieces of plates and bowls into a basket to deal with later, she turned to look at Fíli, who was sitting in the newly righted chair, rubbing his sore shoulder. When she didn't stop staring, Fíli furrowed his brow.
"What?" he asked.
"I need to talk to you," she said.
Fíli tilted his head. "About what?"
Dís looked to the parlor and then back to Fíli. "Your room, please."
Confused, Fíli rose, feeling quite like he had gotten himself in trouble—though over what, he had no idea. When they reached his bedroom, Dís shut the door after them and then looked at Fíli.
"Sit, please," she said, gesturing to the bed.
Fíli sat down, eyeing his mother quizzically.
"Did I do something wrong?" he asked.
She smiled. "No, love," she said, "I just wanted to talk to you where Kíli wouldn't hear."
"Well, you're being awfully strange about it," Fíli replied. "What is it, Mum?"
"Glóin told me what happened," she said, watching his face carefully. "The whole story."
A bolt of anger and betrayal shot through Fíli, and his eyes widened. "It was—I was fine, I just—"
"Just bolted out of the wagon because you couldn't breathe?" Dís interrupted. "Collapsed to your knees in the grass?"
Fíli dropped his gaze and adjusted his sleeves. He could not defend himself against that.
"Fíli," Dís said, "are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine," Fíli insisted, his eyes flitting back up to his mother's face. "It only happened the once. It won't happen again."
"You cannot know that for sure," said Dís, crossing her arms.
"Why are you even worrying about me?" Fíli snapped. "It happened once. Kíli is the one you should worry about right now."
"Only once?" Dís shot back. "You are not lying to me?"
Fíli hesitated, and that was all his mother needed.
"Fíli, just because your brother is in a worse state than you does not mean that you should hide anything that is wrong," she said, her tone severe. "You are every bit as much of a son to me as Kíli, and I will not have you keeping your troubles to yourself because you think that they are not worth my time. I want you to promise me that is you feel anything off—"
"Mum, stop," Fíli said, shifting uncomfortably.
"Anything," Dís said, lifting her chin, "You will tell me."
Fíli dropped his shoulders and sighed. He just wanted to forget about it, but apparently his mother was not going to let it go. He wondered if he could stubbornly refuse to let it happen again—a bit difficult, he supposed, when he did not know what the cause had been.
"If anything is wrong," he said, "I will let you know."
"Good," said Dís. She eyed him for a moment, and then she sat down beside him and ran a hand through his hair while she kissed his temple. He smiled.
"You know I just want to make sure you are all right," she said softly.
"I know," Fíli replied, looking down at his lap. His mother rubbed his back in silence for a few moments.
"How long has your brother been asleep?"
Fíli shrugged and then winced and rested his hand on his shoulder. "I dunno, maybe half an hour…?"
Dís made a small, thoughtful noise. "Maybe I should move him to his room."
"Good luck if you wake him," Fíli replied, raising his eyebrows. Dís huffed and grinned, but then her brow knit together, and suddenly she looked as if she might cry. Fíli rested a hand on her knee.
"I'm sorry, Mum," he said. "I—"
"Don't start that again," she said, giving him a warning look. He looked away and tried not to roll his eyes. "And don't be playing that fiddle again. Your shoulder is still healing."
Fíli could not resist rolling his eyes this time. "Yes, mother," he said.
Dís planted another kiss in his hair and stood. "Remember what I said, Fíli," she said. "Don't hide things from me. You are every bit as deserving of care and concern as Kíli, no matter how badly off he is."
Fíli sighed and looked up at Dís. Who cared about a shoulder or some temporary shortness of breath when Kíli was blind? He nodded anyway; his mother would not let him get away with disagreeing. Well, what she didn't know couldn't hurt her.
She seemed to accept that for now and left the room. Fíli let out another sigh and leaned back, dropping himself onto the mattress. He stared up at the stone ceiling and tried not to think.
"Come on, Kíli," said Fíli, sitting down on his brother's bed. Kíli lay curled on his side away from Fíli, stroking the fur-covered pillow beside him. "Don't you think it would do you some good?"
"I don't want to talk to anyone," Kíli said adamantly.
"It's not just anyone," said Fíli, inching closer; Kíli scooted away. "It's your best friends. They'll know soon that we've returned, and I am sure they will want to see us."
"I don't want to talk to anyone," Kíli repeated. He shoved his face into the pillow. Fíli sighed and stared down at his brother. There was silence between them.
"Kíli," said Fíli softly, "you're going to have to see people eventually."
"I won't be seeing anyone," Kíli retorted harshly.
Fíli flinched. That had been a bad choice of words.
"Maybe not everyone?" he offered. "I won't invite Tasli and Tamli. And Gimli is loud. Maybe not him. Just Ori and Flán?"
"M-Mahal's beard, Fíli!" Kíli exclaimed, pulling his face out of his pillow and scowling. "Would you l-lay off it? I don't w-want anyone here!"
"All right," Fíli said quickly, wary of Kíli's sudden stuttering. "Never mind. I just thought maybe they could… cheer you up."
Kíli turned his head partially back into the pillow, his expression forlorn.
"Fíli," he said quietly after a few moments of silence, "I just… don't want anyone to see me like this."
Fíli licked his lips, torn between pity and frustration. He understood Kíli was upset, but…
"You can't stay hidden forever," he said.
"Would you just b-bloody leave me alone?" Kíli said harshly.
"Sorry," Fíli mumbled, rising from the bed. He headed for the door, feeling a deep pang of sadness in his heart. Before he left, he turned and looked back; Kíli's back rose and fell slowly, as if he were fighting back tears. He bit his lip. He had not meant to make his brother cry.
"Please don't invite them here," Kíli called as Fíli crossed the threshold. Fíli stopped and leaned back in.
"I won't, Kíli," he said. "I promise."
A shudder went through Kíli's back, and Fíli left the room, closing the door behind him. He rubbed his shoulder absentmindedly and made his way to the parlor; Dís was inside, sitting on the couch with a book. He ambled in and sat beside her.
"No luck?" she murmured, keeping her eyes on her book.
"None," he said.
Dís sighed and set her book down on her lap. She looked out towards the doorway.
"It was a good attempt," she said. Her fingers traced the edges of her book. "I suppose he needs more time."
"I don't know what to do," Fíli said, dropping his head back and sinking into the couch. "I know that I can't possibly know how he feels… but I've never seen him like this. I mean, he's never been…" He trailed off.
"Hm," was all that Dis said.
Fíli cast her a sidelong glance, annoyed. He had been hoping for some kind of advice.
"Is there anything I can do?" he pressed.
Dís smiled slightly, still staring out at the doorway.
"I don't always have the answer, Fíli," she said. She cast a glance in his direction. "You're an adult now. Use that clever brain of yours. You know him better than anyone."
Fíli slouched even further down with a sigh. He would rather have someone tell him what to do at the moment. Dís closed her book and patted his leg.
"Sometimes, even adults don't know what to do, Fíli," she said. "We just make it up as we go along and hope for the best."
"Uncle always knows what to do," Fíli muttered.
Dís chuckled quietly. "Your uncle pretends he always knows what to do."
Fíli frowned. What was being an adult good for if you still didn't know anything?
"What did he say to you?" asked Dís.
"That I should leave him alone," Fíli said bitterly. Feeling gleefully traitorous, he added, "And he used some rather indecent vocabulary to get his point across."
"Tattling on your brother?" said Dís, raising an eyebrow at her son. "Hardly charitable."
Fíli looked away from his mother's amused but critical eye and crossed his arms. "Well, he swore at me," he grumbled.
"I think you and your brother are old enough to know when to watch your own language," Dís said dismissively, re-opening her book and effectively ending the conversation. Fíli watched her for about half a minute, but she made no indication that she would acknowledge his gaze. He sighed and pulled himself off the couch.
He had thought that he could be more of a help to Kíli, but now he was beginning to regret his decision to leave Tumunzahar. Being cooped up at home with a belligerent brother was wearing on his nerves. Kíli did not even want his help or his comfort, it seemed, and Fíli was torn between compassion and agitation. Right now, agitation was winning out, and he needed a change of scene.
A blur of red hair and freckles crashed into Fíli unceremoniously before he could even utter a word, arms wrapping around him tightly and crushing him more than a little. He let out a pained grunt even as he laughed.
"Let go, let go, you idiot," he said, maneuvering an elbow into Flán's ribcage. His friend let him go and held him at arm's length, badly feigning a hurt expression.
"Well, gee, I love you too," Flán said, his freckled face breaking into a grin even as he spoke.
Fíli could not help but catch Flán's infectious smile, but he pushed the hand off his now-throbbing shoulder.
"Just watch my shoulder, is all I meant," he said. "I hurt it last week and it's still sore."
Flán's bright grin faded slightly, but did not disappear.
"Oh, well, you'd better come in," he said. "Mum just made some food if you'd like something to eat."
"That's for dinner, young man, and I am not done cooking yet," said Flán's mother, Brynna, rounding the corner and peering into the entryway. She smiled warmly at Fíli. "But you are welcome to join us, my lad. The table is a bit empty without my husband around." Suddenly she frowned. "Aren't you supposed to be with him and the others? Surely no one is back yet… we weren't expecting them for a week…?"
"No, Kíli and I came back early," Fíli said, rubbing his shoulder and avoiding her gaze. "There was an accident in the caves, and…" He trailed off and glanced up at Brynna, unsure how much information to divulge. She gave him the same astute stare his own mother often did, and then she released him and turned back around.
"Make yourself at home," she called as she retreated. "You know you are always welcome here."
"She's definitely going to make you tell her everything," Flán said quietly, sidling up to Fíli and gently pushing him further into his home. They scurried off to Flán's room, and Fíli flopped onto the bed, leaving his feet dangling off the side. Flán flopped onto the other side, his bright red hair flying into Fíli's mouth. Fíli spit it out and shot a fake glare at his friend.
"You should be honored to touch my beautiful hair," Flán said with a silly grin. "It's one of a kind."
"Tell that to your sister and your mother," Fíli retorted, swiping more of it away from his face.
"So what happened?" Flán asked, turning his head to look at Fíli. "My da won't be back for days… it must have been something bad, right? What kind of accident was there? Is everyone all right?"
Fíli stared up at the ceiling and bit his lip. He wondered how furious Kíli would be if he told Flán and his family everything. His mother had warned him before he left to consider his brother's feelings before saying anything, but what was he supposed to do? Lie?
So he told him the bare minimum—just that there had been a tunnel collapse, he had dislocated his shoulder, and Kíli had gotten a concussion. He left the rest for his friend to learn later; he was sure it would eventually come up, but perhaps he could spare the wrath of his brother by giving only a few details now and letting it come out when Kíli was ready.
Even with the little information Fíli had given him, Flán looked horrified. He lifted himself up on one arm, his brow knit with concern.
"How long were you trapped?" he asked in a hushed tone.
Fíli squirmed. "I don't know," he said. "Hours. It felt like a really, really long time." He licked his lips and took a deep breath, trying to set away from his mind the memory of the tiny, dark space, the pain, the sticky, warm wetness of his brother's blood seeping through his clothes. He closed his eyes and shook his head rapidly; his chest felt tight.
"Are you all right, Woolly Bear?" Flán asked gently.
"Let's talk about something else," Fíli replied, sitting up and turning to face Flán with his legs crossed. Lying down suddenly felt stifling. "Kíli's really tired and grouchy; I just wanted to get away from him for a while. Tell me about what's been going on in Ered Luin for the past couple of weeks."
Flán chatted on for a while, telling Fíli about the goings-on of the Blue Mountains; apparently, Tasli and Tamli had convinced Ori to help them with a quite delightful prank that Flán had designed, which had involved colored ink, some feathers, and a very decorative and disgruntled Dori. Fíli laughed heartily, thinking of the stuffy old Dwarf with a blue-and-green perfectly braided beard, complete with some rather colorful feathers scattered throughout.
"Perhaps it would cheer Kíli up if he could see it," Flán chortled. "I don't think the ink will come out for a while."
If he could see it. Fíli sobered immediately as those words hit him, and Flán looked up at him quizzically.
"Aye, I bet it would," he said, avoiding Flán's gaze.
"Fíli?" said Flán, worry rising in his tone.
Suddenly there was a voice at the door calling Flán's name that stole their attention. They both looked up to see Flán's older sister, Nála, standing there.
"Hullo, Nála," Fíli said, grateful for the distraction. "You look lovely today."
Nála grinned broadly, her eyes flickering down and then back up at him.
"Thank you, Fíli," she said. "I didn't realize you were here. Aren't you supposed to be in Tumunzahar with everyone else?"
"Long story, you missed it," Flán said, bounding off the bed. "Is dinner ready, then?"
"Aye," Nála replied, still looking at Fíli with a concerned expression. "Come on."
The three of them made their way to the dining room, where the table had been set for four. Fíli took his seat with the others, and they all began to dig in.
"So you said that you and Kíli both came back early," said Brynna, passing the meat to an eagerly waiting Flán. "Due to an accident? Kíli is not with you—is he all right?"
"Knocked his hard head with a rock," Flán said as Fíli opened his mouth to reply. "Fíli said he has a concussion."
"Durin's beard," said Brynna, her eyes widening. "Bad enough to be sent home? How hard did he hit it?"
Fíli repeated the short version of the story that he had told Flán to a captive audience. When he had finished, Brynna was staring at him with a furrowed brow.
"I can see why Kíli came back early, but why did you come?" she asked. "Surely you could still have been helpful, even with a dislocated shoulder. Such things happen often on these expeditions."
Fíli had the sense to shove some food in his mouth while Brynna was speaking to give himself some time to think. She stared at him relentlessly; he wondered if all mothers had the ability to force the truth out of people with just their eyes. He chanced a glance at Nála. Or maybe all women.
He chewed meticulously and swallowed slowly. Finally, he said, "Well, I didn't want to leave Kíli on his own…"
"But he has your mother, who I am sure is a better caretaker than yourself," said Brynna pointedly.
"I mean, I could have stayed—"
"Unless something happened to you that you're not telling us…"
"No, really, I'm fine—"
"Or if Kíli's worse than you're letting on…?"
Fíli looked to Flán, exasperated and at a loss, but Flán simply looked at him expectantly. He shifted his eyes up to the ceiling and ground his teeth together. Kíli was going to kill him.
"He can't see," he said, looking back to Brynna evenly. "He's blind. Óin doesn't know whether or not he will recover his sight."
Nála's hand flew up to her mouth, and Fíli heard a surprised sound from Flán beside him. Brynna's expression melted into horror and shock.
"Fíli, why didn't you tell me that?" said Flán. "Can I go see him?"
"No, no, not right now," said Fíli quickly. "He doesn't want to see anyone at the moment. He's…" He paused. Kíli would not want them to know that he blamed himself. "He's supposed to be resting, anyway. He has a very bad concussion."
"You're a good brother, staying with him through such a thing," said Nála.
"Well, he doesn't seem to be glad of my company at the moment," Fíli grumbled, stabbing at his food.
"Well, we all know he has a temper even on a good day," said Flán. "I can't imagine how he's feeling now."
Fíli simply nodded, pushing his food from one side of the plate to the other. They didn't even know the half of it.
"I think it shows some fine leadership ability, as well, choosing to stay with your brother," said Brynna, and Fíli looked up at her, perplexed.
"Thorin wanted me to stay," he said. "I mean, I wanted to be there for Kíli, but—he said there were still things I could learn, that I didn't have to leave." He sighed. "I think he was right. Kíli keeps telling me to leave him alone, anyway. I should have listened to my uncle."
"But Kíli doesn't actually want to be alone," said Nála. "I can't imagine that he would. He's just upset, is all. And understandably so."
Kíli's words came back to Fíli's mind then. And you're coming with me? He had been so afraid that Fíli would leave him by himself. Fíli frowned. How could he win against Kíli's fickle temper?
"And a good leader does what he feels is right in his heart," said Brynna. "Do you feel that what you did is wrong?"
Fíli wavered. "But Thorin wanted me to stay," he said again.
"But he gave you the choice of whether or not to do so," Brynna replied. "Thorin is a good Dwarf; he has done well by all our people, and I trust him. Perhaps he did wish for you to stay; perhaps he just wanted to see what your choice would be. But he let you choose. That means that even if you disagreed with him, he trusted your judgment." She smiled warmly. "And I think you judged rightly."
"But I didn't—"
"There's more than one way to be a leader, Fíli," said Brynna. "Thorin focuses on the big picture, on the group, and that is good. But you see the individual, and that is also good. There are more chances for you to learn to lead as Thorin does, but your brother needs you now. Do not feel guilty for doing what you felt was right."
Fíli smiled slightly, feeling a burden lift from his shoulders. "Thanks."
"Now, eat up," said Brynna. "I'll not be sending you back to your mother with an empty stomach."
"Yes, ma'am," Fíli said, digging in once again.
"And Fíli," said Brynna, "if there is anything we can do for you or your family, please let us know."
Fíli chewed and swallowed and then smiled sadly.
"Thank you," he said.
They finished their meal in relative silence; the feeling around the table was more subdued than before, and Fíli could feel Flán's eyes burning into him more than once. He knew that Flán had more questions, that he would want to see Kíli eventually, but that would have to wait. Kíli would already be upset with him, and he knew he should wait before he shared anything else.
His mind turned back to Brynna's words. There's more than one way to be a leader. Such a thought had never occurred to Fíli before; in his eyes, Thorin was a great leader, with all the answers, experienced in all matters and how to deal with them. But then again, why would Thorin give him the opportunity to disagree if there was only one way that was best? He furrowed his brow as he chewed. The world as he saw it in his head wavered at the edges, its solid state seemingly compromised. A world with more than one right answer was at once both exciting and daunting. He wondered how he would know how to choose when he became king one day.
That was a long way off. Fíli drew his mind's eye back to the present and to the food on his plate.
And once again, I've thrown Flán into a fic... and I must remind you all that this precious ginger ball of fun and delight was created by Nalbal, whose fics are wonderful and you should read them. I hope I did him justice; I just can't get enough of him. If you reread this and it looks different, Nalbal corrected my Flán...ness. Also, we came up with Flán and Nála's parents' names together (their father's name is Vagn), though their background stories also belong to Nalbal. I don't think she's ever written Brynna, so hopefully I didn't stray too far from the mark. *waves to Nalbal nervously*
Explanation for "Woolly Bear": Also Nalbal's invention. Google "yellow woolly bear" and you'll see what it's all about. :P
Nála, of course, is mine. If you read The Shadow of Suspicion, you know who she is. ;)
I will be working on this steadily from now on. I promise I won't put it on hiatus for a year again.
As always, please review!
Chapter 8: Despair
A/N: Oh, whoa. Hey there. It's been four months. I'd explain but we should all just accept that this is who I am as a person at this point.
Content/trigger warning for this chapter, if you need that sort of thing: Posted at the end, as it is spoilery, but I didn't want to catch people unawares if that's important to them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"You wish I'd died! That would be better for you, wouldn't it?"
"No, Kíli!" came Dís's voice from within. Fíli quickened his pace. "I—"
"You're ashamed! You're ashamed to h-have a son who's s-such an idiot, who w-would put h-his life in danger, a-and now you have t-to help me with everything—just what you w-wanted in life, I'm sure! J-just admit it, you're ashamed, i-it would have been better if I had l-lost more than just my sight, i-if I had—"
"Kíli!" Fíli cried, bursting into the room. He crossed it in long strides, casting a worried glance at Dís. He took hold of Kíli's shoulders, but his brother tried to shrug him off. Fíli held on tighter, gritting his teeth against the throbbing in his shoulder as Kíli fought against his grip.
"I'm useless to you!" he shouted. "To b-both of you! S-such a pity I'm still h-here, i-isn't it?"
"Kíli, stop it!" Fíli shouted, giving his brother a quick shake.
"Whoa," said Kíli softly, stumbling, and Fíli held him up with a quiet curse. That had been a bad idea. He looked back at Dís, who had not moved; she stood rigid and wide-eyed, a hand pressed over her mouth and tears running down her cheeks. He ground his teeth and turned back to Kíli.
"With me. Now," he said, pulling Kíli along.
"L-let me go," Kíli grumbled, but Fíli did not give him the opportunity to pull away. His brother was forced to follow as he nearly dragged him down the hall to his bedroom, and he sat him down on his bed. He pressed a finger into Kíli's chest.
"Don't move," he growled. "Don't move, don't talk, don't do anything, just… stay here."
Kíli balled his hands into fists and took a shaky breath, saying nothing. But when Fíli released him and took a step back, he stayed put. Fíli whirled around and went quickly back to the kitchen.
Dís was seated now, her head bowed into her hands; her shoulders shook with quiet sobs. For a few moments, Fíli hesitated; he had seen his mother cry before—far more than he would like—but that did not mean that he was comfortable with it. But he felt guilty leaving her there to cry alone. He made his way across the room and knelt down beside her, and after a moment, he gently touched her knee.
"Are you all right?" he asked softly. "I heard him shouting from all the way down the hall… I ran in as quickly as I could."
"I was just trying to help him," Dís said, lowering her hands. She looked at Fíli with red eyes. "He clearly wasn't sure where he was going—I just wanted to help, but he got so angry…"
Fíli pressed his lips together, looking up at her with a knit brow. She stared at him for a few moments, lips trembling, and then she reached out and touched one of his blond braids gingerly.
"You remind me so much of your father," she whispered. Her eyes seemed to withdraw from the present, and she gripped his hand tightly. "Maybe he would have known what to do."
Fíli had no reply for that. He waited, feeling uncomfortable, as his mother reflected upon some old memory. After a few moments, she seemed to realize where she was again, and her hold loosened.
"I'm sorry," she said, so quietly Fíli barely heard it. "Go make sure your brother is all right."
"Mum?" he said, watching her carefully.
"Please, Fíli, just make sure he's all right," she said, letting go of his hand and wiping the tears off her cheeks. "He shouldn't be so worked up—you know what Óin said."
Fíli nodded and stood, letting out a sigh. Dís did not look at him; she seemed lost again, and one hand rose to her throat, where a beautiful diamond hung set in a shining mithril chain. It had been a gift from Jóli, his father, a very long time ago; Fíli remembered the day he had given it to her. Kíli had still been a baby, and Fíli had still been quite small, himself. But he still remembered the look of wonder on her face when she had first seen it, and the smile she had worn for a long time after.
On an impulse, he leaned down and kissed the top of Dís's head, something he had seen his father do often. Then he turned and went quickly down the hall before she could say or do anything else, carefully avoiding her gaze.
Kíli was lying on his bed when Fíli walked in, curled up on his side with his hands over his head. Fíli stood and looked down at him wearily, crossing his arms. He waited a few moments, watching Kíli; his brother was motionless, save for the telltale rise and fall of his shoulders, betraying his attempt to appear unmoved.
"You made her cry, you know," Fíli said.
Kíli said nothing, but lowered his hands from his face. He stared out into nothing crossly.
"You can't treat her like that," Fíli continued. "It was uncalled for. And very disrespectful."
When Kíli still did not reply, Fíli sighed and dropped his hands. He wished Thorin were here; perhaps Kíli would feel compelled to give a response to him.
"Mum wanted me to make sure you were all right," he said. "So… are you all right?"
For a few moments, there was silence. Then: "Sod off, Fíli."
A fiery anger sparked and spread in Fíli's chest in an instant, and he clenched his fists at his side and stepped back before he did something violent.
"Blimey, Kíli, will you stop being such an insufferable ass?" he cried.
"And w-what would you like me to do?" Kíli shot back, lifting his head and glaring out. "S-since you c-clearly know how to deal w-with this, w-why don't you tell me? How sh-shall I please you?"
"That's not fair, Kíli," said Fíli. "You can't just—"
"D-don't talk to me about fair!" Kíli shouted, pounding a fist down on his mattress. "I don't want to hear about fair! I don't w-want to hear about it, I just want—" He stopped suddenly and dropped his head against the bed. Fíli started, afraid he had suddenly fainted, but then Kíli started pounding his fist into the mattress again. This time he did not stop. He let out a long scream, smashing his fist into the bed repeatedly, until finally his energy was spent and he lay curled in a ball, quietly sniffling into the blanket.
Fíli stood back, unsure what to do, unsure if Kíli even remembered he was still there.
"M-my head hurts, Fíli," Kíli whimpered.
Any anger that remained in Fíli's heart was quelled in an instant. Immediately he stepped forward and sat down on the bed, gathering Kíli into his arms and holding him tightly. For once, Kíli did not resist; instead, he leaned in, pressing his face into Fíli's shirt.
"It hurts, my head hurts," Kíli repeated tearfully.
"I know," said Fíli softly. "Just relax… you've been getting too worked up, nadadith—you know you're not supposed to do that."
Kíli nodded into Fíli's chest, making a strange noise that may or may not have been real words. Fíli stayed quiet, listening to Kíli's exhausted sobs and hiccups, grateful that the tantrum had passed.
"It's all my fault," Kíli moaned. "It's all my fault…"
"Hey, stop," said Fíli. "You've got to stop beating yourself up about it, Kee."
"I got you h-hurt too—"
"Just a little," Fíli said quickly, suddenly aware of his shoulder again. He adjusted his grip on his brother to accommodate. "I'm going to be all right."
"B-but I-I'm—I-I'm n-not."
"Relax," Fíli said. "You don't know that."
Kíli simply shuddered and whimpered. Fíli rubbed his back reassuringly, feeling him grow heavier in his arms. He was falling asleep, it seemed. Apparently that was the pattern: get up, cause a scene, then fall asleep to recoup energy for the next time. Twice in one day he had done this. Fíli hoped that twice was enough.
Several more minutes left Kíli breathing slow and congested in Fíli's arms, unaware of the world. Fíli held his slumbering brother for a few more minutes, not wanting to rush the first real contact and comfort Kíli had been willing to receive in days, asleep or no.
"Tired yourself out, finally, eh?" he eventually said, keeping his voice low. "I guess it's been a rough day."
He laid Kíli down on the bed, making sure he was lying comfortably, and then he stood and carefully stretched his right arm, grimacing. Then he dug around in the box at the foot of the bed until he found a spare blanket to drape over his brother. Kíli's nose was pink, and his mouth hung open loosely; Fíli smiled, thinking of how much he looked like he had as a child, stubble aside.
He felt at once as young as he had been then and as old as Durin the Deathless.
Fíli ran a hand through his hair and stared at his brother sadly. Kíli was upset, angry, and ashamed—Fíli doubted any of those feelings would fade quickly. But at least for a little while, he had let someone comfort him. That was a step.
Kíli finally emerged from his room the next day around lunchtime. Fíli and Dís were in the parlor, talking quietly and drinking tea, when he stumbled in, his hair wild and his eyes dark with confused tiredness. They exchanged wary looks and then looked up at Kíli.
"I heard you in here," said Kíli, his voice still thick with sleep. "Good morning."
"It's nearly afternoon, actually," said Dís, setting her mug down on the table beside her.
Kíli leaned against the doorframe and rubbed an eye with the palm of his hand. "Yeah, well," he said, "I was tired."
"I'm not surprised," Fíli murmured into his tea. He smiled as he sipped, watching Kíli run a hand through his hair and bow his head sheepishly.
"Uh, Mum?" he said, lifting his head again. "I've… got a headache. And I'm hungry. Can… can you help me? Please."
Fíli raised his eyebrows, surprised but pleased. Dís looked similarly impressed when he glanced her way.
"Of course, sparrow," she said, rising and making her way to him. "I'll make you something for your head."
"Tea?" Kíli asked hopefully as Dís took his hand. "I can smell it…"
"I don't think tea that will help your head will smell or taste as good," Dís replied, leading him away. "But we'll try."
Fíli watched them leave the room and then peered down at his mug, still half-full of tea. He lowered his nose into it and sniffed. It smelled good, but it was not that strong. The corners of his mouth pulled down slightly as he looked back up to where Kíli had disappeared with their mother.
"Hm," he said pensively.
He finished his tea and brought his and his mother's mugs into the kitchen, where Kíli sat at the table with his head in his hands while Dís put together some food. Fíli set the mugs down on the table, and Kíli lifted his head and turned it in the direction of the sound; Fíli smiled, and then realizing Kíli could not see it, he rested a hand on his brother's shoulder and squeezed. A flicker of a smile graced Kíli's face.
"Feeling better than yesterday, then?" Fíli asked, taking a seat at the table.
"A little," Kíli mumbled. "I had a horrible headache all day yesterday… s'not as bad today, I think."
Fíli and Dís exchanged glances. That might explain some things.
"So," Fíli said, adopting a light tone, "was it the headache that caused your mood, or the… mood… that caused the headache?"
Kíli's brow creased and his eyes flickered back and forth, as if he were striving to recall the memory. Fíli frowned, but Kíli's face cleared after a moment.
"Both, probably," he said. He lowered his head back into his hands. "Sorry."
"Sorry for…?" Fíli prompted. He looked up at his mother, who he spied doing something out of the corner of his eye; she was waving her hand and giving him a pointed glare that clearly said leave him alone. He suppressed a grin and looked back to Kíli.
"Sorry for being an insufferable ass," Kíli said testily.
"And for breaking Mum's dishes?" asked Fíli. Immediately a hand collided with the back of his head, and he ducked and protected himself from further blows, biting his tongue. But Kíli was frowning even deeper now, and he turned his head away from Fíli.
"Yeah," he said, his voice distant. "I'm… sorry for that, too."
Fíli took his hands off his head and lifted it, looking at Kíli curiously. He caught another smack from behind, and after a sharp glance at his mother, he patted his brother on the back.
"No matter," he said. "I'm just glad you're feeling a bit better. Step by step, nadadith."
Kíli merely sighed, folding his arms on the table and pressing his nose into them. A few moments later, Dís set down a plate of food and a mug before him, and he lifted his head curiously.
"Ham and toast?" he said. He wrinkled his nose. "That tea doesn't smell very good…"
"But it will help," said Dís. "So drink up."
"You could've put something else in it to better the taste," Kíli grumbled, pulling the plate closer to the edge of the table. He fumbled along the edges of the plate for a fork and then began poking around experimentally; finally, he stabbed a piece of ham and shoved it into his mouth.
"I'll add some green tea to it for you, then," said Dís, picking up the mug and bringing it back to the counter. "And some honey."
"Not too much," Kíli called with his mouth full. "I'm not Fíli."
Fíli grinned goodnaturedly at that. His own recently-finished tea had probably had about as much honey as it had water.
He sat in silence for a few minutes, watching Kíli push around food on his plate, eating slowly when he found a piece with his fork. He wondered if Kíli's stomach was still off; he had not seen him eat much since the incident, and he did seem a bit more gaunt. Frowning, he looked up at Dís, but she was busy fixing Kíli's tea.
"Kíli, you're sure you're feeling better?" he asked. "How's your stomach, your head…?"
"Lay off, Fíli," Kíli grumbled.
"I just haven't seen you eat much."
"You want to put the food on the fork for me, then?" Kíli snapped, dropping his ham-laden fork on the table. He glared out stone-faced.
Fíli straightened and inhaled slowly, looking from Kíli to the plate and back. Kíli's fingers fidgeted, as if he were trying to keep himself from making a fist. The world from Kíli's point of view suddenly stretched out before Fíli. Everything, everything was different for him, everything was harder, everything that had been easy and familiar before was now a challenge.
Abruptly, Fíli stood to his feet.
"Sorry," he breathed, pushing in his chair. He strode out of the room, ignoring his mother's questioning gaze.
He quickly reached his room and shut the door behind himself, and then he dropped onto his bed heavily and pressed his palms into the mattress, staring up at the stone ceiling.
Selfish. This isn't about you.
Fíli squeezed his eyes shut. He knew that. He knew that. But the weight of what had happened to his brother was too heavy, too overwhelming to process. He needed a moment. Kíli didn't need to know that Fíli was having a hard time with this.
He took a deep breath and flopped onto his back, wishing not for the first time that none of this had ever happened. He wished he could trade places with his brother—he would gladly lose whatever it cost to make his brother well and whole again. But he couldn't do that. And here he was, shutting himself in his room because he could not bear what had happened to his brother.
"Quit fussing," Kíli said, batting at Fíli's hands.
"Quit being stubborn," Fíli retorted, pushing away Kíli's hands in return. "I want to make sure the bandage is tight enough."
"Well, if your goal was to squeeze my brain out of my skull, you're doing great," Kíli grumbled. He shifted his seating on his mattress and crossed his legs.
Fíli frowned. "If it was too tight, you should have told me," he said, untying the clean cloth and adjusting it. Kíli let out an exasperated sigh. "I'm doing this to help you."
Kíli's shoulders dropped, and he folded his hands in his lap and let Fíli re-tie the bandage. "That's better," he said softly. "Thanks."
Fíli fiddled with the bandage a little more. "You're sure?"
Kíli sighed again. "I'm sure." Then he straightened. "Why is Flán here?"
"What?" Fíli replied, resting his hands on Kíli's shoulders. "He isn't."
"He's at the front door," said Kíli, turning his head towards his bedroom door. "Listen."
A moment later, sure enough, there was a knock at the front door. Fíli raised his eyebrows, impressed.
"How do you know it's Flán?" he asked.
"The footsteps," Kíli replied. "I… I can hear everything a lot more clearly now. I know it's him."
"Hm," said Fíli, looking from Kíli to the door. That was quite impressive. The thought that this ability would come in handy while fighting flashed through his mind, but then he remembered his brother's lack of sight. But maybe they could work around that. He started towards the hall.
"Fíli, no, wait," said Kíli suddenly, reaching out and swiping at the air. "I don't want visitors right now. I don't want him to see."
Fíli paused and shifted uncomfortably. "It's just Flán."
"Fíli, please," Kíli begged with a cracking voice. His eyes were shining. "Not right now."
Fíli stared at Kíli for a few moments, his heart aching. Something in Kíli's eyes was different—and not just the fact that they were unfocused. No, there was something else there, something that did not seem quite right, beyond the blindness and beyond the constant melancholy. He licked his lips and nodded.
"All right," he said. "I'll tell him not today."
Kíli relaxed, and Fíli left the room and headed to the front door. He opened it, and sure enough, it was Flán standing there, smiling.
"Hey, Woolly Bear," he said. "How is Kíli? I thought I'd come see him, since he can't really—"
Fíli's heart jumped, and he put a hand quickly over Flán's mouth. Flán started, but he stopped talking.
He doesn't know I told you, Fíli signed. And he can hear everything. He heard you coming before you knocked. Watch what you say.
Fíli uncovered Flán's mouth, which had formed into a small o. He nodded, peering into the royal chambers warily.
Can I see him? he signed.
Fíli shook his head. He doesn't want to see anyone right now. He's very embarrassed about everything.
Why? Flán signed, furrowing his brow.
Fíli frowned. That's for him to tell you eventually, he replied. I don't want to push him. He's had a bad temper.
Flán chuckled and rolled his eyes. He's always had a bad temper.
Fíli grinned halfheartedly. Flán knew Kíli well, but in this case, he really had no idea.
"I'll see you later?" Flán said.
"I guess," Fíli replied. Talking felt very loud. "I'll let you know."
"Tell Kíli I said hello," said Flán, taking a step back. "Bye, Fíli."
"Bye," Fíli said, watching Flán run back down the corridor. After he faded from view in the dim light of the mountain halls, Fíli closed the door and made his way back to Kíli's room. Kíli was still sitting cross-legged on his bed, now facing the door. He did not move as Fíli stepped in, keeping his head bowed.
"You told him," Kíli said quietly. There was no heat in his voice.
Fíli shifted his jaw and shuffled his feet, unsure how to answer. Kíli lifted his head.
"You told him, didn't you?" he said, more forcefully this time. "I heard what he said—he knows. When did you tell him?"
Fíli took a deep breath and then bit his lip. This somehow felt like getting in trouble with his mother or his uncle. Was there a point in denying it now? He watched Kíli's face, searching for a sign of anger; there had been far too much of that lately, and if he could avoid another tantrum… but Kíli seemed eerily calm, resigned, even. He felt a jolt of fear in his stomach.
"Y-yesterday," he said warily. "When I went to visit. They… they sort of forced it out of me, really. I didn't intend to…" He trailed off. He didn't want to blame Flán for his own choice.
Instead of reacting with anger, Kíli merely furrowed his brow. "When did you visit Flán's family?"
Fíli blinked. "Yesterday evening," he said. "Don't you remember? I came back and you were… well, yelling at Mum. Didn't you know I was gone?"
Kíli's eyes flickered back and forth for a few moments, unease written on his face. Then his expression hardened.
"Yes, of course," he said. "Of course I remember."
There was a pause. Fíli narrowed his eyes, studying Kíli intently. Something wasn't right…
"I didn't want them to know, Fíli," said Kíli. He bowed his head again. "I didn't want anyone to know. Why would you do that?"
"They're all going to find out eventually, Kee," Fíli replied. "You know that, don't you? You can't… hide away forever. Our folk out at Tumunzahar probably already have heard…"
Kíli squeezed his eyes shut and let out a strained whimper, pressing his palms against his forehead. Fíli started forward.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"No, Fíli, I'm not," Kíli said tersely.
"Is it your head?" Fíli ventured, taking another step towards the bed. "Does it hurt?"
"Of course it hurts," said Kíli through gritted teeth. "My head hurts, I can't see, I can't, I can't…" He bowed his head lower. "Everyone knows, and if they don't, they will soon, and then I'll forever be the useless prince, blinded by his own recklessness—a joke, a fool, I just want—" He stopped suddenly and shuddered.
A cold dread was creeping up Fíli's spine. This attitude was somehow more frightening than all Kíli's outbursts of anger.
"What do you want, Kíli?" he asked slowly.
Kíli did not answer; he simply shook his head slowly. Fíli stared. Kíli told him everything, so why was he being secretive now? What did he have to hide?
Suddenly, Kíli's words in Tumunzahar came to him, and he swallowed.
I can't live like this.
I did this to myself.
No, that couldn't be it—he wouldn't. It couldn't be that bad.
But then, his words from the evening before…
You wish I'd died.
It would have been better if I'd lost more than just my sight…
Such a pity I'm still here, isn't it?
Was that what he believed his family felt, or was that what he felt about himself?
"Kíli," Fíli whispered, horror nearly choking him. "Kíli, you can't."
Kíli did not move, did not even seem to breathe. Fíli was not sure there was any air left in the room. He could not seem to bring any in, himself.
Still there was no response. Kíli was still as a statue.
Panic and anger seized Fíli's heart in a moment, and he dove forward, ripping his brother's hands away from his face and gripping it in his own. Kíli started violently and tried to pull away, but Fíli forced his face upwards. His brown eyes were wide, darting to and fro, searching for something he could not find.
"You can't!" Fíli shouted, and Kíli flinched. "Do you hear me? That is not an option! It never was, and it never will be! Do you understand?"
Kíli's lip quivered, and he closed his eyes; reaching up, he grabbed Fíli's hands and tried to pull them off his face, but Fíli held fast.
"Mahal's beard, Kíli, you don't even know if this is permanent!" Fíli cried. "Why would you think you were better off—that's insane! What is wrong with you?"
"It's not about that!" said Kíli with a wavering voice. "Everyone w-will know, everyone will see, I'll be a l-laughingstock, a shame to our family, a stain upon our name! That will never go away, no m-matter what!"
"That is ridiculous, brother," said Fíli, gripping tighter to Kíli's face to resist the clawing fingers against his hands. "You need to stop this thinking—I won't see you like this. I can't see you like this. It's not the answer!"
"I n-never said I was going to!"
"You aren't acting like you won't!"
"Let me go!" Kíli shouted, finally managing to peel Fíli's hands off his face. He turned around and started to lie down, but Fíli grabbed the back of his shirt with a shaking hand and pulled him back up.
"Are you saying you would feel this way if you weren't blind?" he demanded, letting go of Kíli's shirt and taking hold of his shoulders instead.
Kíli opened his mouth and then closed it, wearing the same guilty look he had as a child when he got in trouble. Frustration boiled under Fíli's skin.
"Blimey, Kíli, have some hope!" he said, shaking Kíli's shoulders. "Don't think like this. Don't you dare think like this."
There was silence between them for a long minute. Fíli watched Kíli's face desperately, seeking some change, but all he saw was the same lost, hopeless look.
He shook Kíli's shoulders again. "Eh?" he said, speaking softer now. "A little hope. That's all I'm asking. Please, Kíli."
Finally, after another minute, there was some change: Kíli's chin wobbled, and then he burst into tears. With a sigh, Fíli knelt down on the bed and pulled his brother's head into his shoulder, and then he wrapped his shaking arms tightly around him. Kíli made no move of his own to come closer, but he did not push away.
Fíli's heart still pounded fiercely, and fear coursed through his veins like a river. How could his brother have gotten so low? How could he have so little hope for his own recovery? This wasn't over; of that much he was sure. But now he knew, though he did not know how deeply this feeling lay in his brother. Did he just wish that he could die out of embarrassment and shame, or was he ready to do something drastic to end his own life?
Fíli held on to Kíli even tighter than before. He was not going to let his brother out of his sight—not for an hour, a minute, not even a second. Not until he knew that this had passed.
I'll do my best to not be a jerk and post more regularly. I had a rough spot there with zero inspiration or motivation, but I think it's over now.
Please comment! I want to see your reactions, your feels, your everything! Commentttt!
Content/trigger warning: SUICIDE mention
Chapter 9: Return
Well, uh, hi. I'm back.
I have two excuses for my year-long hiatus. The first is that I got a new job about 10 months ago and I do not have free time there like I did at my old job. But I'm making like twice as much money and I have HEALTH INSURANCE and it's an awesome job so there's that. Hashtag adulting. The second excuse is that I had writer's block for like an entire year. But I broke it and I'm here now and I'm sorry for broken promises. Reread if you must! Carry on.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Thorin and the other Dwarves returned five days later, Fíli was more exhausted than he had ever felt in his life.
The past days had been torturous for both Fíli and Kíli. Fíli, driven by fear, refused to leave Kíli's side; Kíli, irritated with Fíli's hovering, tried to escape him constantly. Being sightless and loath to leave home, however, made avoiding Fíli impossible. So he ignored him, most of the time, unless he decided to shout at him instead. And yet Fíli would not be deterred. If Kíli was in such deep despair, Fíli would be there for him, no matter what his brother said. Someone had to watch over him.
The night made Fíli especially fearful; who knew what could happen then? Dark nights brought dark thoughts. He found himself sitting up, either outside Kíli's door—his brother would not let him come in—or in the kitchen, his heart troubled. He could not sleep; the pitch darkness in his room let fears run wild, and when he did try to sleep by his mother's command, his chest felt tight and uncomfortable. He would rather sit up and make sure his brother was all right.
A messenger came to report that caravans had been seen in the distance in the early evening, but it was several hours before any of the wagons reached the mountains. Fíli whiled away the time sitting in the parlor, cleaning each of his knives, as Kíli brooded in the chair by the fireplace. Dís entered the room and looked hard at Fíli.
"I already said no," he said without looking up.
"You should go, Fíli," Kíli muttered.
Fíli shot him a sharp look and returned to working on his blade. He wasn't going anywhere if Kíli was going to be alone.
"Fíli," said Dís, taking another step into the room, "Your uncle will expect you to be there. As will the rest of our people. You are their prince. Don't you feel it is your duty to greet them?"
"As I was supposed to be returning with them, I don't feel that I am bound to any such formality," he said. He set down one knife and began work on another. Kíli shifted in the corner of his vision.
"Oi, don't talk to me like that," said Dís.
Fíli sighed and set down his knife, and then he looked up at his mother. "Like what?"
"Like that," Dís said irritably. "Dismissive. Have you forgotten how to treat your elders with honor and respect?"
Fíli did not have an answer for that—at least, not a polite one. By Durin, he was tired. He picked up his knife again. Dís's gaze was burning into him, but he kept his focus on the weapon in his hands. Let her be angry; Kíli was more important right now than any obligation she made up. He was not leaving his brother alone in his current state of misery.
After a long silence, Dís said, "Fine. I will go—as is my duty—and I will tell Thorin that you refused to come."
"Fine," Fíli retorted.
With an exasperated sigh, Dís left the room. Fíli attempted to stifle a yawn unsuccessfully. His eyes burned. The outer door from their wing to the hall opened and closed.
"That was rude," Kíli said quietly.
"You're one to talk," said Fíli. "How many times have you shouted at both of us in the past week?"
"How much sleep have you gotten in the past week?" Kíli shot back. "You're doing this to yourself. I'm fine. I don't need you watching me at all hours of the day and night."
Fíli hissed as his hand slipped and he cut his finger.
"Mahal's balls," he whispered, putting his finger in his mouth.
"Mum would've slapped you for that."
"Shut up, Kíli," Fíli said over his bleeding finger. He pulled it away from his lips look at it; could be worse. Still, it would need to be bandaged. Setting down his knife, he put the wounded appendage back in his mouth and got up.
"I really would be fine if you went, Fíli," said Kíli as he started towards the door.
"I'm not leaving you," Fíli said, continuing on his way. "Not with what I know."
"Fíli," Kíli called, but he had already left the room. He searched the cabinet in the kitchen for bandages and set to work. A minute later, he heard Kíli come up behind him.
"Fíli, can we please just talk about this?" he said. "No one else is here. Let's actually talk about it."
Fíli did not answer right away, deciding to finish patching up his finger first. Then he turned around and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms. Kíli was frowning deeply, and though he could not look at Fíli, his eyes were pleading.
"It is my duty to make sure you are safe," Fíli said. "It always has been. I'm your brother, and it is what is expected of me."
"But you assume the worst!" Kíli argued. "I never said I would—"
"You never said you wouldn't."
"Fíli, please," Kíli pleaded, his voice cracking. "You have to understand that this isn't easy for me."
"That's why I try to be there for you as much as I can, and you push me away!" said Fíli.
"You never leave me alone, Fíli!" Kíli cried. "You haunt my steps! You watch me sleep, for Durin's sake! You're not being there for me; you're just being ridiculous!"
"I don't know what else to do!" said Fíli. "You said you'd be better off dead! What am I supposed to do—let you… let you…" Fíli trailed off, unable to say the words. His throat felt thick, and his head was starting to pound. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead.
He heard a shuddering breath from Kíli and looked up.
"Maybe I think I would be better off… that way," Kíli said softly. "But it's not like that. It's just not. I wouldn't—I couldn't—Fíli, it's different." He bowed his head. "It's different."
Fíli stared at him. "I don't know what that means, brother," he said.
Kíli looked pensive, and he was silent for a long moment. Then he shook his head slowly.
"Just leave me be," he said.
He turned around and headed back to the parlor, gently touching a few key points to guide his way. Fíli watched him plaintively and rubbed his forehead again; his headache was getting worse. He wanted to throw something. He wanted to sleep.
Thorin would be home soon, and Fíli was starting to regret his decision to stay. Not that he would have changed his mind—Kíli needed someone to keep an eye on him—but he knew his mother would ensure he received a scolding for shirking what she saw as his responsibility. Truth be told, he did feel that he should have been there, but he also remembered his words to his uncle in Tumunzahar. I belong with my brother. Even if his brother insisted he did not need his company.
With a sigh, he pushed himself away from the counter and inspected the handiwork on his finger. It would hold. He put away the bandages and slowly headed back to his knives in the parlor. Kíli was curled up in his chair, his head resting on the arm and his face drawn. His eyes flickered in the direction of Fíli's footsteps, but he did not move or speak; Fíli sat down and continued his work.
"Fíli? Kíli? We're back!"
Fíli looked up at the doorway and then back to Kíli, who had once again fallen asleep. He stood up and peered into the hall; voices and the sound of bags hitting the floor met his ears, and he followed them to their source. When Thorin spotted him, he smiled warmly.
"Fíli, it is good to see you," he said. As he looked him over, his brow furrowed. "You look terrible, lad. Are you all right?"
"Just tired, is all," Fíli said, casting his gaze downward. "I'm fine."
"The boy won't sleep, Thorin," said Dís, pulling the door closed behind her.
"Oi, I'm not a boy," Fíli muttered.
Dís ignored him. "I find him awake at all hours, sitting outside Kíli's door, or peeking in his room, or sitting up in the kitchen. He won't listen to me at all."
"And what is the cause of such great concern? Your mother says he is improving," said Thorin, casting a sharp eye over Fíli, who ducked his head sheepishly.
"He won't say," Dís answered for him, setting down one of Thorin's bags. "He'll only say he has to keep an eye on him."
"I can answer for myself," Fíli grumbled.
"Oh, and do you have something different to say to your uncle than what you've said to me?"
Fíli began to wish he had been asleep like Kíli.
"And how is your shoulder?" Thorin asked.
Fíli blinked. He had expected more of a reprimand. "Er, much better," he said. "Still a bit sore, but I can move it, mostly."
"Good," Thorin replied. "Good. Then would you mind helping your old uncle with these bags?"
"Of course," Fíli said, stepping up and taking one from Thorin's hands.
"Here, come with me to my room," said Thorin, picking up the other bags. Fíli followed obediently, and Dís stayed behind, sorting through some supplies. His uncle was silent until they reached his room.
"You can put it over there," he said, gesturing next to the bed.
"How did the rest of the expedition go?" Fíli asked, setting down his burden.
Thorin dropped his own bag. "Not very well," he said. "Many of the others were quite put off by what happened to you and Kíli, and we found an entire section of the halls underwater." Thorin rubbed his beard. "I think it would demand far too much work—and possibly some lives—to fix. No, it looks uninhabitable, I'm afraid."
Fíli sat down on Thorin's bed, a weight sinking in his stomach. They had had high hopes for Tumunzahar, and he and Kíli had contributed to the bad report for the halls. So much for his first expedition; now it was simply his first failure.
"I'm sorry we poisoned the mission," he said.
Thorin stopped digging through the bag he had just opened and smiled kindly at Fíli. "You didn't sink Beleriand, lad."
"You're in a very good mood for returning with poor news," said Fíli, looking up at Thorin suspiciously.
"I was worried for you and Kíli," Thorin said with a light shrug. "I am just glad to be home and know that you are both improving. It weighed heavily on my mind, with both of you gone."
"Kíli still can't see, though," said Fíli folding his hands between his knees. "And we don't know if he will…"
"Óin says he might," Thorin said. He sat down next to Fíli and rested a hand on his good shoulder. "Do not allow yourself to lose hope."
Fíli looked down at his hands. You should tell Kíli that.
"Now, as for you," Thorin continued, taking a more serious tone. Fíli looked at him nervously. "Your mother said you have been refusing to sleep, and that you have been short with her. Is this true?"
Fíli swallowed and looked away. So here was the reprimand.
"She is your mother, and she deserves honor, no matter how old you may be," said Thorin. "But she believes it is because you are simply tired. Fíli, I think you need to go rest."
Fíli looked up at Thorin, his eyes widening. He couldn't leave his brother alone now.
"Your mother and I are here for him," Thorin interrupted. "I do not like hearing that you are disrespecting your mother. Do as I say and get some rest, my boy."
"Blimey, lad, what has you so worried for your brother that you refuse to sleep?" Thorin asked incredulously.
Fíli immediately looked down to avoid giving any telltale signs. As worried as he was, and as much as Kíli denied what Fíli knew, he felt as if he had been trusted with a heavy secret—one that could not even be shared with his family. He had already betrayed Kíli's trust with Flán, days before, and now he was here; he was not prepared to see what would happen, should he betray Kíli again.
"He… I just need to be there for him, Uncle," Fíli said. "I've been with him this far. I can't abandon him now."
"You're not going anywhere," Thorin replied. "You just need to sleep. You should see yourself—you're pale as a ghost. Your mother told me you seemed sickly on the way up, but seeing you… You cannot do this, Fíli. Get some rest. Kíli will still be here in the morning."
Fíli squeezed his eyes shut. His throat felt tight. Would he?
"Look at me, Fíli."
Fíli looked at Thorin.
"Get some sleep," Thorin said, looking him square in the eye. "That is an order."
Fíli scowled and looked away. He was an adult, and it rankled him to be told to go to bed. Still, he didn't have it in him to disobey a direct order from Thorin. Yet his fear for Kíli lingered; his mind pulled in multiple directions, and he did not move.
"Go," Thorin commanded again. "I'll not have you worrying your mother."
After another moment's consideration, Fíli reluctantly rose to his feet. He paused and looked back at Thorin.
"You'll keep an eye on him?" he asked.
Thorin looked at him quizzically. "If it is necessary, aye," he said.
Fíli nodded and turned away. That would have to be good enough. He trudged to his room and changed his clothes, but his thoughts would not slow down; in his mind's eye, all he could see was waking up to a disaster, and he could have stopped it if he had only been vigilant, if he had not let down his guard.
He left his room.
Knowing full well that Kíli would hear him if he were awake, Fíli made his way to the kitchen as if he were only going for a drink of water. As he pumped water into his glass, he listened for any sounds from the parlor. He did not hear anything, so he made his way back, peeking in surreptitiously as he went by. Thorin was inside, kneeling down beside the chair where Kíli still slept. Fíli stopped.
"Kíli," said Thorin, resting a hand on his arm. Kíli stirred, and Fíli stood stock still, afraid to move for fear of being discovered.
"Kíli, it's me," Thorin said as Kíli slowly opened his eyes. "I'm back."
"Uncle?" said Kíli sleepily.
"Aye," said Thorin. Kíli started to lift his head, but Thorin said, "No, no, you don't have to get up."
"A'right," Kíli mumbled, laying his head back down on the arm of the chair.
"I wanted to say hello and see how you were faring," Thorin said. "Are you feeling much better?"
Kíli simply shrugged. He looked ready to fall back asleep at any moment.
"Anything coming back…?"
Kíli scowled. Thorin sighed and patted his shoulder.
"It may come back yet, lad," he said. "Do not lose heart."
"You smell bad," Kíli said in reply.
Thorin chuckled. "You'll have to forgive the smell; I've been traveling for days," he said. "Go ahead and rest. Your mum and I are here if you need anything."
"Tell Fíli to stop hovering," Kíli said. "He won't leave me alone."
Fíli took a step back, frowning. Of course Kíli would go up the chain of command.
"He's gone to bed already," said Thorin.
"No, he's standing just outside the door."
Damn his senses. Thorin turned and looked, his eyes flashing when he saw Fíli standing there, and Fíli slunk off before his uncle could say another word. So much for keeping an eye on Kíli. He was not going to get away with staying up any longer.
With a sinking heart, Fíli went to his room and crawled into bed; the moment his body hit the mattress, it seemed as if every ounce of exhaustion he had been holding back rushed at him at once, and he dropped his face into his pillow. The thought crossed his mind that he needed to turn out the lantern, but his pillow was so soft, his bed so warm, and he was so tired…
Fíli awoke to pure darkness.
It was silent in the mountain, and Fíli made a quiet, strained noise. Why did it seem more silent than it should have been? He attempted to lift his head, but he could not move.
Then he felt it.
It was far enough away at first, but he could feel it coming closer. The ceiling. The ceiling was falling, and now he could hear the cracking of the rock, remote and far away, like it was meeting him underwater. Fíli still could not move. A second noise escaped him, but the ceiling was coming closer still, and now the walls were closing in, too. He could feel the closeness of the air—it seemed thick, hard to breathe in, as if the shrinking room was compressing it until it was not breathable at all. He could not move.
Not again, he thought, struggling to bring in a breath. Please, not again. He couldn't breathe. He could not move. What was happening?
"Help," he managed to push out, but it was hoarse and quiet. The walls were coming in. "Help," he tried again, but it was as if his voice had been silenced. The air seemed a solid mass now, pressing him from all sides.
"Help!" he called. Please, someone, anyone. Not again. "Help! Please! Help!"
Light flooded Fíli's senses, and the walls and ceiling instantly snapped back to their proper place. A hand touched his shoulder, and he saw Thorin beside him. He could suddenly feel his body shaking, his heart pounding. He could move. He still couldn't breathe. A heavy weight sat on his chest. He covered his face with shaking hands. What was happening? What had just happened?
"It's all right, lad," said Thorin from somewhere above. "It was a dream. You're all right."
Fíli shook his head, wheezing. He was not all right. Something was still pushing on his chest, keeping him from breathing in. He clawed desperately at his throat with one hand.
"Fíli, can you hear me?"
He did his best to nod, and a strained whimper left him. Two hands grabbed hold of him, pulled him up so he was sitting, and held him there. He grabbed his throat with both hands.
"Can you tell me what is happening?"
He shook his head. He didn't know. He felt trapped…
"Fíli, you're panicking. Listen to my voice. You are all right. You are safe. You are at home, in your bed. Everything is all right."
Irritation niggled at Fíli's insides. Why was Thorin lying to him? Everything was not all right. He struggled to bring in another breath. What was sitting on his chest? Why couldn't he breathe? A hand pulled his fingers away from his throat, and he covered his eyes instead, trying to focus on air. A panicked hum left him.
"Can you look at me, Fíli?"
He shook his head.
"Did you dream you were trapped?"
A short cry escaped him. A dream. Of course. A dream. He had been dreaming. So why did he still feel like this?
"Fíli, I want you to breathe slowly. Five seconds in, five seconds out. Ready? One, two, three, four, five…"
Fíli did as he was told to the best of his ability. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. Again. Again. It was easier with Thorin counting. He could do this.
"Good, lad. Keep breathing. One, two, three… whoa, there."
A wave of lightheadedness had sent Fíli pitching forward. Thorin's hand made contact with his chest and held him up.
"Fíli, look at me."
A moment of strength made it possible. He dropped his hands and looked up, and his eyes met Thorin's. They were calm and gentle.
"All right?" Thorin asked.
"N-no," Fíli breathed. "No. What is happening?" He touched his throat again and breathed slowly and shakily.
"It's all right, lad," said Thorin. "It happens sometimes, after what you have been through. Is this the first time?"
Fíli's brow creased, and then the thought cleared. The cave-in. This was because of the cave-in. Thorin looked at him hard for a few moments, but he could not answer.
"Well, we can talk about that later," he said finally. "Dís, will you hand me that glass?"
Fíli blinked and looked up at his mother. He had not even noticed her in the room. She handed the glass on the bedside table to Thorin, who held it out for him to take.
"Have some water," he said. Dís sat down behind Fíli and started rubbing his back. It felt soothing. He took the glass with two shaking hands and took a sip, and then Thorin took it away.
"How do you feel now?" Thorin asked. "Better?"
"Still feels tight in my chest," Fíli replied. His voice sounded strained and hollow.
"Keep breathing. Just the way I showed you, now."
For a few minutes, the only sound was Fíli's shaking breaths. Thorin watched him, keeping a steadying hand on his shoulder, and Dís's hand never left his back. His pulse began to slow, though he could still feel himself trembling.
So this was what it had been before. The breathing problems, the tightness in his chest… all of it because of the cave-in. Had it truly damaged him so badly? The thought embarrassed him. A dwarf, afraid of small spaces? Even a wagon? Even in a dream? How would that work? How could anyone follow him? How could he stand proud as a prince before his people now?
Tears built in Fíli's eyes, and he drew up his knees and covered his face with his hands.
"Dís," he heard Thorin say, and then he felt movement; a few moments later, his mother's arms were around him, and he rested his head in the crook of her neck.
"I'll check on Kíli, poppet—you stay with him," Thorin said to Dís. "And Fíli… you have nothing to feel ashamed about. Take it from this old Dwarf. Nothing."
Fíli did not believe that. He heard Thorin's footsteps fade away.
I would like my brain for making this happen to me a few months ago, and to apologize to my roommate for scaring the crap out of her with my sleep yelling. At least I didn't have an anxiety attack about it, although I've definitely had one and not realized why until later on, as well. Hey, it's good for storytelling, right?
I have some ideas for the future, but please review! I want to thank each and every one of you who reviewed and encouraged me to continue, because every single time I got one, I sat down with my notebook and tried my best. Nothing came to me until the other day, but it was all of you who kept me going. You're the best and I love you all.
You can also keep in contact with me on Tumblr (I have it again; mistergandalf, as before, but I'm not on too much) and Twitter (italian_hobbit, and I'm on here all the time)!
Until next time!