There were two facts about Kili which Fili could live his whole life and be positively certain of: Kili was slight for a dwarf. He had a slight chest, slight shoulders and slight waist; his nose was narrow, his cheekbones defined. Where he did not grow out, he grew up. He may not have been as tall as Thorin or Dwalin, two mountainous dwarves in their own right, but he still looked inches above the average dwarf, and he was still growing.
The second was that Kili was one of the most resilient dwarves that had ever lived.
It was no great secret that Kili was the object of much teasing in the Blue Mountains. Dwarves and Dwarflings were born with eyes and sense to spot out a single flaw in precious metals and stones alike and they wasted no breath turning the same ability onto their own ilk.
Years of harsh words, condescension and the occasional strike tempered Kili into someone armored with a sharp smile and a snarl of a laugh. The dwarves had fashioned a knife of him, then appeared surprised when it cut them.
Fili remembered the first time Kili lashed out at the dwarves that had spent years taunting him. Kili had come home with a broken nose, a swollen lip and a gleeful glint in his eyes. What Fili had found out in the following days was what Kili had endured, he had given out thrice as much. Dwarves of Fili’s age limped and spat blood for an age and Fili felt an odd swell of pride in his chest.
Kili was of Durin and Durin blood was fashioned with a bitter ore and tempered with the sizzling embers of a quiet rage.
Like a rabid dog, others came to try to put Kili down. Fili was there for every moment, every step and every dance between Kili and their assailants. Every hit he took, his brother shone brighter; Kili spat blood and barked with rancorous laughter. “Come and get me, you sons of whores,” Kili would hiss with his arms up in challenge. He would cant his head to the side and mock them as Fili took them with the blunt of his blade to the side of their heads.
Fili loved his brother in those moments, and all moments after. He loved his biting tone and he loved how Kili would never back down. He’d bite back squalls of pain and swallow his complaints. Kili took every inch of pain they gave him and turned it into strength.
It didn’t take long for this behavior to move beyond backstreet scraps and courtyard training taken too far. There were only so many scraps Kili could win before realizing he could never satisfy what it was he needed. Instead, he started pulling his brother aside conspiratorially, passing hushed whispers between them. “All in the name of fun,” He’d conclude each time with too much malice to be truthful.
The very first prank Fili and Kili had sent a thundering avalanche of sheep and cattle down through the cobblestone streets of Ered Luin, whooping and hollering after them. The next involved the entire town missing their cutlery. The third the boys came up with a far too creative use for fifteen chickens and a ladder.
Fili would catch his brother’s face, mouth twisted open in bitter joy, doubled over and laugh, laugh, laughing as the villagers scrambled about in a panic. He wondered how anyone could not love him; how anyone could not love the sharp heart they had created?
Kili was but four and fifty when they were tossed from the gates of Ered Luin; not a word from their mother or uncle could sway the mob decision. Kili could go to the forges and villages of man for all they cared, as long as he was gone.
Trapped between the large stone walls and the open expanse of road and future, Fili packed their belongings and watched as a light went out in his brother’s eyes. Kili had been ridiculed, resented, he had been struck and bled and beaten. Kili had known pain and spiteful attention and loved them both in twisted defiance.
Never had Kili been sentenced to be alone; even in the moments Dis would exile Kili to his room for poor behavior, Fili was there beside him, swinging his legs carelessly over the side of the bed.
Kili looked for the first time like he had been suffering like he never really loved the pain. The concept of being alone frightened him to the very core; to be ridiculed and spited he could fight against, but to be tossed aside and to be forgotten, it ached in empty caverns of his heart Kili didn’t even know he could feel.
Taking Kili’s hand in his, Fili’s pulled his brother close. “Forget your fear, brother. I’m with you.” They set off from Ered Luin together, hand in hand.
They took the main pass through the mountains on foot while others passed them on ponies, pulling carts of food and wheats they would pilfer from. In their mornings, Fili squeezed Kili’s hand tightly to reassure him that he was there, and at the end of the night whether they stayed at inn or on bedrolls, Fili wrapped himself around his brother. He buried his face into Kili’s neck and held him close.
Kili skirted away with winter eyes, dark and hollow and cold, still reeling with the cost of what this path had cost him.
It took weeks to get even the semblance of light to spark back in his brother’s eyes. Weeks of soft touches and reassuring words hummed across his cheek or ears. Like a dying ember, Fili cradled and cared for it until it caught and spread. It was a careful, slow growing thing, but each morning Kili seemed brighter; he laughed louder and walked with a life renewed.
Fili’s heart ached whenever he saw the smile split his brother’s features; a good ache, a warm one.
Everything changed when they found their destination, with little gold they bought a bedroom above a forge. It took a couple days to settle in with tools and intention, but men were curious and soon began to frequent the little store.
Kili worked perilously long hours, drawn to the fires and the act of creation. When he presented the blade to their first customer, the man examined his closely. Fili could all but hear the nervous thudding of his brother’s heart.
“This is expertly crafted,” the man conceded, “But I would expect nothing else from a dwarf.”
The praise woke something in his brother; the winter that had been turning to spring in his eyes surged and bloomed into summer all warmth and excitement. It was hard earned and well deserved, and quite possibly the first praise Kili had ever received from someone who was not immediate kin.
That night, as the sun dropped behind the shadows of the mountains they had left, Kili climbed into the shelter of his brother’s arms, draping his arms over Fili’s waist; that night it was Kili’s turn to hold him close and feel him near. “Thank you, brother.” He whispered in the dark, against his brother’s golden hair.
What he was being thanked for Fili couldn’t be certain, but he rolled to face his brother, their faces just a breath’s width apart. They spent the night like that, close and in each other’s space, holding on through the long, dark hours with their foreheads bowed together.
From that night forward, Fili watched as the sun bled and guttered out over the mountain horizons. Without fail, Kili came to him in the red twilight, and they cradled each other with hush words and soft touches, light snores and comfortable slumber between them.