Most of Kili’s earliest memories are of his brother. Sure, he remembers being held by their mother and Uncle Thorin’s gruff affection, but the most vivid, the most treasured memories of his childhood involve Fili. It’s not a surprise of course. Sometimes Kili feels like his whole life has been spent on his brother’s shining orbit, trailing him like a raven circling the sun.
A good amount of the memories involve parties, Fili and him either trying to sneak into one or out of it, depending on the occasion. Kili remembers crawling under tables, pressed tightly together, elbows and knees knocking as they stuffed themselves with stolen cakes. He remembers running across a campsite, following his brother whose golden hair streamed after him, brighter than the flames from the fire pit. He remembers Fili saying ‘come on, I got you’, his hand steady and strong as he’d hoisted Kili onto a tree where they’d hid from Dis and Thorin, breathless with mischief and daring.
They are good memories and his childhood experiences have certainly had a role in cementing Kili’s love of parties, even beyond the innate dwarfish fondness for food, drink and revelry. Kili enjoys all of those as much as the next dwarf, but he loves watching Fili relax, perhaps even dance if he gets tipsy enough, loves seeing the way he tosses his head back when he laughs, the strong column of his throat momentarily bared, loves hearing how he says Kili’s name at the end of the night, low and a little rough with affection.
Given that, it is no surprise that when they reach their tweens and then full bloom of youth, their sneaking out of parties gains a different flavour. They find new pleasures to share, pressed together in dark corners, mead sticky mouths sliding over skin, bolder with each pass. Far beyond the lights of the camp they lie on the grass, entwined under the stars, brave and beautiful to each other’s eyes, like gods of the old. And Fili’s hands are still steady and sure, one trailing down the trembling muscles of Kili’s stomach, the other cupping the back of his neck, drawing their foreheads together as he says: ‘I got you’ in a voice that leaves no doubt about the truth of it.
It is not some disapproving adult that catches them, but adulthood; duty and honour and Durin’s line leading them across the world and into battle. The fight, they bleed, they survive. And Kili still loves his brother, more than anything, more than he thinks he should as if Fili is his very own version of the gold sickness, burning in his veins.
In Erebor, there are plenty of parties; rowdy celebrations of unlikely victory, solemn memorials for the dead, excuses for getting drunk, and stately affairs for dignitaries who start arriving in a steady stream of smooth tongues and hidden agendas. They attend all of them, some by choice, some for duty, but opportunities for sneaking around, for using the party as a cover to tuck themselves out of sight, disappear.
Now, they are the centre of the attention; crown princes sitting on either of side of Thorin, every shift and expression witnessed by hundreds of guests, friend and foe alike. Kili understands the necessity of it, the responsibility that comes with the privilege his birth right bestows, but it doesn’t stop him from disliking it. The reasons have less to do with his own discomfort than the weight he knows rests on his brother’s shoulders, heavier for Fili who is first in line to the throne.
Fili no longer runs, carefree and wanton. His steps are measured and even as he walks amongst the crowds, his hair laying thick and still over his back like a cloak. When he laughs, it is subdued and not as deep, the difference inaudible to anyone else perhaps but Kili hears it – hears it and aches, thinks up another prank to cheer him up and then considers the likelihood of Fili going along with it, not much liking the odds. Now it seems Fili’s hands are everywhere but on his brother. He’s clasping arms with visitors, gesturing at the builders’ plans for restoring the old mines, finger following the neat lines with a kind of focus that makes Kili sick with longing and jealousy. He watches his brother on the practice grounds, shooting an arrow after arrow while Fili moves like a weapon, a sword in each hand. Kili breathes and shoots, tries not to think about the way autumn sun glints of the metal of Fili’s armour and the sweat slick slope of his back, tries not to think about tasting the indecent curve of his bicep or to remember what it felt like to trail his fingers over the golden fuzz covering his brother’s skin.
There are plenty of dark corners in Erebor, tunnels twisting to reveal shielded alcoves and forgotten dead-ends. It is into one of these that Kili pushes his brother after months of watching. It’s an unplanned impulse born out of an evening spent at a party with only friends and family, a rare chance to see Fili relax in a way he hasn’t for a long time.
“What…?” his brother says, just tipsy enough to be taken by surprise.
“Shhh,” Kili hushes him, suppressing giggles. He’s feeling giddy and daring, pressing Fili into the rough stone wall, well out of sight by any passersby, should one wonder along the back corridors of the royal residences.
“Kili…?” Fili starts, low and questioning. He doesn’t get far because Kili fits himself close, leaning into his brother’s warmth, against the hard lines of his body he’s missed so much.
“Hey,” he says, breathing the word into the damp hollow of Fili’s throat, luxuriating in the soft scratch of his beard. He remembers this, how to set his teeth against the taut skin of Fili’s neck with just enough pressure to draw a moan, how to tug and pull at his shirt to get at the heat under it, how to…
“Stop. Kili, Kili… Stop.” Fili shoves him away, gentle but firm as he holds Kili at arm’s length.
Kili sighs. “It’s not…” He licks his lips, encouraged by the way Fili’s eyes drop to follow the movement, and starts again. “I know it’s not like before. I know there are… other things to consider now.” Things like ensuring the continuation of the Durin line. Kili isn’t a fool, he knows each of them are looking at an arranged match in a not too distant future. “But I wanted to… I still want to.” He brushes fingers over his brother’s mouth, over the thin, bruised-looking skin under his eyes. “You work so hard,” Kili whispers. “I miss you.”
For a moment Fili looks like he’s going to relent; his frown softens, gaze growing dark as the grip on Kili’s tunic turns more possessive than warding. It doesn’t last. With a quick twist of their positions Fili slips away from Kili’s hands, stepping back until they are no longer touching.
“I can’t,” he says, and there are worlds of regret in those two words, but no hesitation. “I’m sorry.”
Kili swallows around the bitterness that sits like a stone on his chest. “Why,” he asks, sounding small to his own ears, small and young. He doesn’t understand. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to understand.
“Because we could have this,” Fili answers, gesturing between them. His eyes are sad, and worse than that; resigned, “but we can’t keep it.” He doesn’t say it, but the underlying message is clear: ‘I could have you,’ Fili means, ‘but I can’t keep you.’
Without another word he walks away, leaving Kili alone in the dark. He stands there for a long time, trying to breathe around the disappointment. The pain of it is like an axe wound and he brings hands to his stomach, pressing down on instinct like he’s trying to hold together gaping flesh.
Eventually, the hurt recedes enough for other emotions to start seeping in. There’s a bright flash of anger and then, on the heels of it, determination. Because his brother is wrong, and an idiot, thinking what he does.
After all, Kili is going nowhere.