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Little Steps

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Fíli is abruptly woken by a loud wail.

He lets out an unhappy whine and rolls his head under his pillow; he'd been having such a nice dream, too, though all he remembers is a cold, clean darkness that doesn't smell of fish or horses, and the echo of deep voices singing. The pillow does little to block out the sounds coming from outside his room. He considers lying in the dark until it becomes quiet again, but he hears Mother moving about, and the prospect of food pulls him out of bed.

An ear-splitting "FE'E!" greets him when he pads into the kitchen. Mother smiles, visibly relieved, and Fíli feels guilty for wanting to stay in bed.

He climbs onto his usual chair and wordlessly holds out his arms; Kíli is promptly deposited into his lap. His baby brother seems to have grown ten extra limbs overnight, wriggling and bouncing and babbling about breakfast.

Which turns out to be porridge. Fíli makes a face. Mother chuckles, and adds extra berries and honey to Fíli's bowl when Kíli isn't looking. "There'll be bread for dinner, later," she tells him, "and maybe some ham tomorrow."

"Ham!" Kíli cheers. Fortunately for them all, Kíli isn't particularly picky about what he eats; the only thing he'll throw a tantrum over is if Fíli gets food that is different from his.

Fíli always makes his first spoonful a big one, to encourage Kíli to eat his own. Fíli makes heartfelt "mmm" noises as he chews, aware of his gap-toothed audience, though there's no pretense: the porridge is warming and the berries burst sweetly inside his mouth.

"I can take him now, Fíli." Mother takes a seat next to Fíli, Kíli's bowl in hand.

"'s fine," replies Fíli, "he can stay with me." He turns to look at Kíli; their faces are so close together that Fíli feels a bit cross-eyed. "As long as you sit still, all right?" Fíli knows that Kíli will just make a nuisance of himself on Mother's lap, twisting about and pulling at Mother's hair. By making it sound like staying with Fíli is a reward, for which good behavior is expected in exchange, Mother will only have to feed Kíli and not worry about keeping hold of him. Fíli has long since become used to getting food splattered all over his clothes.

"Still!" agrees Kíli.

Mother reaches over and strokes Fíli's hair back from his face. "You make a good big brother, Fíli."

Fíli hides his face in Kíli's curls, not wanting Mother to see how pleased he is by the praise.


Fíli flicks Kíli's ear. "That would be you, I think." He adjusts Kíli on his thighs, curling one arm tighter around him, and uses his free hand to spoon porridge into his own mouth.

In the end, Fíli only gets a few drops of porridge on his sleeve. It seems to him that Kíli is shooting up like a boisterous, gurgling weed, these days; soon, Fíli's baby brother will be able to feed himself and sit on his own chair.

Kíli, perhaps eager to discourage that sort of thinking, swallows his last mouthful of porridge and then wipes his face, saliva and porridge dribbles and all, off on Fíli's undefended neck.


Mother and Father work hard all day, so it's not unusual for Fíli - and now, Kíli - to be left to their own devices. Sometimes Fíli is allowed to go outside, if Mother or Father are home, but it's approaching winter right now and he knows Mother will insist on piling layer after layer of clothing on him. Besides, Kíli is too small to go with him yet, and he's lately reluctant to play where his baby brother can't.

In any case, their parents trust him to look after Kíli when they're not in the house, which is something Fíli holds no small amount of pride over.

He has a feeling that Mother has been gone for an unusually long time today, though. He remembers lunch: some kind of soup, hearty and salty-sweet, and he'd accidentally burned his tongue when he'd slurped without testing it first. Kíli had found his pained faces funny, chortling and poking chubby fingers into Fíli's cheek.

Now it's getting dark outside. Kíli's missed his afternoon snack time. Technically, it's Fíli's snack time too, but Fíli doesn't mind going without, whereas Kíli will start to get cranky soon. More and more of the carved wooden figures on the floor are getting bashed by the dragon in Kíli's vengeful fist.

Fíli hesitates, looking between his brother and the front door. Kíli looks occupied with their toys, and Fíli should still be able to see their play area in front of the hearth clearly from the door and the window.

It's their parents' most important rule: never lose sight of your brother.

He moves before he can think much harder on it. Heart thumping, he checks that the front door is locked. The house feels too big, all of a sudden. The window is higher than his face, but he's able to grab hold of the narrow sill and boost himself up on his elbows to get a good look outside.

No one. There's not one person on the street or across it. Fíli is fairly sure that, at this time of day, there are usually people walking by, on their way home, mostly Men but there'd be an occasional Dwarf. There's no house facing theirs directly; the few houses Fíli can see look empty, all the windows dark and motionless.


He startles, dropping back down with a heavy thump. Kíli is looking up at him with wide, uncertain eyes, clearly sensing Fíli's worry. Fíli takes a deep breath and forces himself to calm down. Musn't frighten Kíli. He picks his baby brother up and bounces him a little. Must protect Kíli.

"We've been playing out here all day, Kíli," he says. He's glad to find his voice sounding calmer than he feels. "Why don't we play in my room, for a change?"

Normally, Kíli would be elated to be allowed in Fíli's room. Fíli's rarely barred him from it, but Father made it a rule that Kíli has to ask to go in there, and since then Kíli's treated it like a special privilege. Now, however, Kíli just hides his face in Fíli's shoulder and nods.

The dragon is still in Kíli's hand, so Fíli blindly grabs a handful of smaller figures and takes them to his room. He's just put Kíli down on the floor when he realizes that it's getting too dark to see anything. There's a half-used candle on his bedside table. He'll need something to light it with, though. He looks at the door to his room, to the empty house beyond; he knows he wasn't born in this place, but Kíli was, and Fíli's explored every inch of the house. And yet, without their parents there, their home seems full of dangerous shadows.

"Kíli, I have to get something-" he begins, but the words are barely out when Kíli flings himself at Fíli's leg and shouts "Fe'e! No, Fe'e!" in obvious distress.

Fíli picks him up immediately. "You're right, I'm sorry," he murmurs soothingly, petting Kíli's hair. "I'm not leaving you, all right? Shouldn't have even thought of it. Look, see, we're going together."

The tinderbox is in its usual place in the kitchen. Fíli is not allowed to light fires on his own, yet, but he's watched Mother and Father do it many times. Fíli lets Kíli hold onto the flint, and walks them both briskly back to his room, nearly slamming the door behind him in his eagerness to block out the dark, empty house.

It takes Fíli a very long time to light the tinder. Kíli watches him for a short while, and then starts playing with his reduced collection of toys, voice quieter than usual. The encroaching dark keeps Fíli striking flint to steel, again and again, narrowly avoiding cutting his fingers several times. Finally, finally, an ember forms and holds, and he builds the flame until there's enough to light the candle with.

Hands and arms aching, he crawls into his bed, resting his back against the wall.. He closes his eyes. The bed dips and bounces; small hands pat at him, climbing up his arms and over his shoulders. Fíli opens his eyes to see his baby brother blinking worriedly at him.

A low rumble of hunger comes from his stomach. Fíli knows Kíli must be hungry, too, and half-expects a whining request for food; the thought of venturing out into the kitchen again fills him with dread. But Kíli only tucks himself against Fíli's side. Kíli knows something is wrong, Fíli realizes, and knows that Fíli will look after him.

Fíli has always known his duty, as the older brother; his parents have told him often enough. Yet it feels different, feels more, to see such unquestioning trust from Kíli himself.

Kíli clings to him when Fíli tries to rearrange them both; he eventually manages to get Kíli sitting on his lap, both his arms wrapped securely around Kíli's middle. He doesn't know how long they stay that way. Kíli eventually falls into an uneasy sleep, breathing gently on Fíli's neck.

Fíli must have dozed, too, because he's startled awake by the sound of the front door crashing open. He scrambles out of his bed. His arms still ache from working flint and steel, but he pulls Kíli tighter against his body. Unfortunately, his room has no window. He's considering hiding Kíli in his old toy chestbox when the door to his room swings open.

He squeezes himself into the far corner of the room. In his arms, Kíli is shaking like a leaf, strong tiny fingers digging hard into Fíli's skin. All Fíli can see at first is a large, hulking figure, almost too tall to be a Dwarf. He can hear the clink of metal: chain-mail, like the fine set Mother has, and weapons. There are voices outside, none of them familiar, though Fíli thinks he hears snatches of Khuzdul, which he is not yet old enough to learn.

The figure at the door takes a step into the room. It brings him further into the light; Fíli sees long dark hair peppered with white, braids similar to Mother's, a belt with familiar designs, and striking, clear blue eyes-

Fíli blinks. A memory stirs, from the grey time before Kíli was born. "Uncle Thorin?"



Thorin looks over his shoulder and barks something in Khuzdul. Fíli hears many booted feet stomping further away, the front door slamming. Thorin backs out of the room, and Fíli tentatively follows him. When he pokes his head out of his door, there's only one other Dwarf left in the house. The new Dwarf is just as tall as Thorin, with a thick black beard but no hair on his head; he makes Fíli think of a large, grumpy boulder.

The Dwarf considers Fíli with an intensity that makes Fíli want to duck back into his room, and then bows low. "Dwalin, son of Fundin, at your service."

Fíli reluctantly leaves the shield of his door and bows as best as he can whilst carrying his brother. "Fíli," he says, and then, for all the shyness on display, his burden gives him a pointed kick, so he adds, "and Kíli, sons of Dís, at yours."

It is not commonly done, Father had once explained, to name one's mother instead of one's father; it is only when the mother's lineage is very important for other people to know that it takes precedence. "Does this mean Ma is more important than other mothers?" Fíli had asked. Father had laughed and said, "Exactly so - though, of course, mothers are important in any case," which Fíli had assumed was a given fact.

Thorin emerges from Mother and Father's bedroom. Fíli's eyes widen when he sees that Thorin is holding Mother's favorite bow. "It is not safe for the two of you to remain here," Thorin says abruptly, peering out the windows. "You must come with me."

Without even looking to see Fíli's nod, Thorin turns to face the other Dwarf. "Dwalin, stay here, in case she comes looking for the boys."

"Aye," replies Mister Dwalin.

Fíli wants desperately to ask about Mother and Father, but Thorin is already sweeping out the front door. At least Mother must be all right, if Thorin thinks she'll come to the house. Fíli hurries after Thorin, not wanting to lose the one Dwarf he knows in the dark. He needn't have worried, though. The second he steps outside, he's in the midst of a crowd of Dwarves gathered there, two of whom are bearing torches. Thorin speaks quietly to a few of them, and three peel off the main group, but there are still enough Dwarves to completely surround Fíli when they start walking, Thorin in the lead.

There's nothing to see but night-darkness while they walk, yet Fíli can hear sounds in the distance. It's too far too distinguish any details. The Dwarves around him mutter darkly; all of them are holding swords or axes, and keep looking around as if they expect to be attacked at any moment.

They finally come to a house that Fíli has never seen before. Thorin ushers Fíli inside while barking more orders to the other Dwarves. A white-haired Dwarf hurries out of a different room to greet them.

"This is Balin," Thorin tells Fíli, clapping the old Dwarf's shoulder. "And we are in his home. Mind you do as he says."

Fíli can only nod wordlessly. Thorin marches back out. Mister Balin frowns after him, but when he turns to Fíli, his face is warm and smiling.

"Pleased to meet you, lads. Now, you'll be Fíli, the older, aye?"

Fíli nods again. Mister Balin sighs and leads them to a pair of large armchairs by the hearth. Fíli's arms are starting to tremble, but he looks to Mister Balin for assent before sitting on one of the chairs. He lets out a relieved breath when he can shift Kíli's weight onto his lap. He's never had to carry his little brother for so long before; his freed arms feel as if they're on fire, and the muscles spasm uncontrollably when he moves them.

He does his best to keep quiet, wishing nothing more than to be out of the way. Mister Balin hovers between the door, the front windows, and the other armchair. He occasionally goes into the kitchen - at least, that's what Fíli thinks lies in that direction. This house is smaller than theirs, but it seems to be arranged in the same way.

Something prods at Fíli's chest. He looks down and sees that Kíli has, inexplicably, kept hold of his toy dragon. Fíli gently strokes the dragon's neck - it'd been his favorite, too, until he'd given it to Kíli. It is proper Dwarf-make. Fíli knows because the one who'd carved it had come to the house and greeted Father like an old friend; though all Fíli can remember of the Dwarf is a warm voice and a funny hat.

The dispirited way Kíli is waving the toy around bothers Fíli, so Fíli gently turns the dragon in his brother's grip and sets it on a slow course for Kíli's face. "Watch out, brother," he says, pitching his voice to mock-alarm without raising it too much, "I think the mighty beast has a hankering for a taste of Dwarf!"

The toy-dragon's partially open jaws bump into Kíli's absurdly tiny nose. "Kíli eated," says Kíli sadly.

It's likely nothing more than the effects of a long day; and yet, Fíli finds himself wrapping overtired arms around his brother, his heart thumping like the storm of boots running around outside. The nameless fear grips his throat tight and makes every breath an effort.

Fortunately, a different problem arises to steal his attention; low grumbling noises come from the direction of their bellies, and Fíli doesn't even know which of them is responsible

"Mister Balin," he says. Finding the Dwarf standing quite close to the armchair, Fíli reaches out and tugs on a travel-worn tunic. "If it's not too much trouble, might you have something for Kíli to eat?"

The old Dwarf blinks down at him. "Of course, lad. Goodness, have you two not had your supper yet?"

Fíli shakes his head.

A look of consternation appears on Balin's face. "Thorin," he mutters, then sighs heavily. "Wait there, lad, I'll get you both something."

A shared plate of cold meats later, Thorin and Mister Dwalin have reappeared and been drawn into a quiet conversation with Mister Balin. There's still no word of Mother or Father. Kíli has relaxed some, but won't look at any of the grown-ups yet; Fíli has been trying to get him to respond to Mister Balin, at the very least, who Fíli now feels a great deal of warmth towards. There haven't been any tears, at least, and if Kíli's breath on his face smells very strongly of sausages, Fíli is quite prepared to put up with a lot of things now that he has a fully belly to do it on.

"The fighting seems to be over," Thorin is saying to Mister Balin, the two of them drifting back towards the hearth, "but the accounting of folk will take hours yet, never mind a full assessment of the wounded and the damages to the town. Perhaps the- what is the babe doing?" He frowns in Fíli and Kíli's direction.

"Kíli likes to rub his face on my whiskers," Fíli dutifully answers.

Ever since the first strands appeared on his chin, Kíli has taken to stroking them with his hands and, as now, his face. Mother had been worried that Kíli would accidentally pull them out. Fíli has never told her that Kíli had, indeed, yanked on them hard, just the once; Fíli had let out such a cry of pain that Kíli later gave over his dessert, unasked, and seemed afraid to touch Fíli's face for the rest of the day.

Thorin looks surprised to hear him speak. Fíli can't imagine why - it's not as if anybody else would have been able to respond to the question.

Mister Dwalin snorts, but Mister Balin elbows him in the side and smiles down at Fíli. "And such fine whiskers they are. You will have a mighty beard once you are grown. You're early for it, too - that is good luck."

Fíli nods. "Da says so, as well."

Thorin shakes his head and draws Mister Balin back into conversation. Fíli feels the tell-tale wetness of drool along his jaw and reaches up to wipe it with his sleeve. He knows that Kíli will fall asleep, soon, though the little one is fighting it. Fíli is growing increasingly drowsy, himself. He tries to follow the overlapping jumble of words from the older Dwarves, to keep himself awake, but his eyelids slide slowly down, and the stream of deep voices carry him off.



Mother is there when he wakes up. "Ma!" he cries, for a brief moment forgetting where he is and everything that has happened.

Luckily, Kíli is already in Mother's arms, face buried contentedly in her long hair.

"Where is Da?" asks Fíli, sitting up. A blanket slips down to his lap, though he doesn't remember it being there when he'd fallen asleep. He winces; his whole body is sore, especially his arms and his neck.

Mother glances over at the other armchair, which, Fíli only now notices, is being occupied by Thorin. Their uncle has gotten rid of his furs and armour; he doesn't look any less intimidating without them, though. "We're not sure where your father is," Mother eventually says, "There was... fighting, and a lot of the miners were trapped in the mines. It was hard to make sense of anything during the night; we had to wait for the dawn."

Mister Balin comes in, then, and Mother smiles at him. Fíli realizes that her hair is in disarray, a couple of braids unravelling; she looks the most tired he's ever seen her. "Thank you again for looking after them, Balin."

"It was not a hardship," says Mister Dwalin, "Fíli had things well in hand. I've never seen one so young care so well for a sibling. And Kíli was very well-behaved. Your sons do you credit."

Fíli beams at the praise. Mother's eyes glitter, though Fíli doesn't understand why she would want to cry. But no tears fall; instead, she leans over and cards a hand through Fíli's hair. "Thank you. I'm very proud of them."

Mother disappears into the kitchen and comes back with some bread and cheese, which she hands to Fíli. Fíli happily digs in. The bread is still a little warm and the cheese has a rich, smoky flavor.

"You should come with us," Thorin suddenly speaks up. "You know that Glóin and Bifur will find him, if anybody can."

"And what of the rest of our people?" demands Mother. "The dead and the injured? You, dear brother, are not the only one with the burden of blood, the right to life-given."

"And what of your sons?" Thorin nods at Kíli, who is cautiously peeking out at all the noise.

The expression on Mother's face is one Fíli has never seen before; it seems to be many things at once, determination and pride and a knowing sort of sadness. "They, too, are of the line of Durin."

Fíli doesn't understand why it matters, but his uncle appears to deflate; no more objections are voiced. Fíli is not surprised when Mother turns to him next.

"I'm going to need you boys to go with Thorin, all right?" says Mother. "He's my older brother, so I know that he'll take good care of you."

Fíli has his doubts, but Mother's tone is the one she uses when she has no patience for arguments.

"What about you?" he asks. He wants to clutch at her and beg her to stay, but he is aware of Thorin's watching eyes, and Kíli's presence reminding him that he has to be the older brother. He is strangely conscious, too, that directly objecting would feel too much like he's siding with Thorin against Mother.

"I have to stay and look for your father," Mother explains gently. "And to help everyone else who was hurt by the fighting. I'll be able to work faster if I know that you two are safe. Da and I will follow after you as soon as we can."

Fíli finds himself grabbing onto her belt, anyway. Bread crumbs scatter over her boots. But no words come to him, no clever reasoning to get her to stay with them. "Promise?" he whispers instead.

She leans down and kisses his forehead. "Promise." She straightens, blinking, and announces, "You must leave soon. I will pack your things."

Seeing that Fíli's hands are occupied, Mother plonks Kíli on Thorin's lap without any warning, to the visible startlement of both. Thorin and Kíli watch her stride off with such identical looks of bewilderment that Fíli has to hide a grin in the bread.

He hears a soft chuckling and looks up to see Mister Balin shaking his head. "Aye, they are kin, all right."

A confused-looking Kíli twists around to get a better look at their uncle. Fíli tenses, chewing quickly in case a rescue is called for. Uncle and nephew contemplate one another for a long moment.

Then Kíli asks, voice small but laced with his usual curiosity, "Ma Fe'e?"

"Yes, Kíli," answers Fíli, sticking his nose in because grown-ups don't always know what Kíli means, "Thorin and Mama are like me and you. Thorin is Mama's Fíli." He glances at Thorin at the last statement and sees the Dwarf nod in understanding.

Kíli accepts this with all the somberness that a toddler can muster. "Tho'in," he pronounces, trying out the new name.

"Close enough," says the Dwarf in question. He smiles at Kíli, tentative, and Fíli sees it - Mother's eyes, the curve of her lips. He wonders if it's the same with himself and Kíli, if other people look at them and can match pieces of the other. Something that they'll always have, which no one can take away; the thought warms him.

He finishes his food and accepts a cup of water from Mister Balin. When he next looks, Kíli is nestled against Thorin's chest, drowsing, their matching dark hair indistinguishable from each other's.

Thorin looks Fíli's way and appears surprised to see Fíli's eyes on him. Or maybe it's something on Fíli's face? For a moment, Thorin's expression twists into something strange, unreadable, his eyes turning distant; as if he's trying to see a far-off sight. But it's gone before Fíli can be sure. He has a suspicion that Thorin is uncomfortable around him, though he can't think of any reason why.

In any case, Thorin doesn't seem to realize that Kíli has started to drool into his beard. Thorin leans back, adjusts his hold to keep Kíli secure, big hands curled protectively over his little body.

Will Thorin help to protect Kíli? It appears so - and that is all Fíli cares about.

Perhaps his thoughts are clear on his face, because the next time Thorin meets his eyes, the older Dwarf gives him a single, thoughtful nod. It settles something deep in Fíli's heart; a moment of perfect understanding, one older brother to another.

"Fíli," says Thorin. The first time Thorin has called him by name, Fíli realizes.

Swallowing, Fíli climbs down from his armchair and pads over to Thorin's, ignoring the various aches and twinges from his body. Thorin rests a large hand on Fíli's shoulder once he's within reach. On Thorin's chest, Fíli spies one of Kíli's eyes blinking open.

"You know who I am," says Thorin.

Fíli nods, and dutifully recites, "Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror. Brother of my mother, and my liege-lord."

Thorin nods, approving. "Well done, and well met, young Fíli."