This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. He was experiencing a hallucination, an after-effect of the gold-sickness. That had to be it. There was no other rational explanation for what he was witnessing. It was true that he couldn’t recall ever experiencing a hallucination as part of the sickness, but they had probably just been more convincing. As its hold weakened, he could start to see through them. That sounded reasonable. He was not seeing this. He was still feverish and delusional, and in need of more sleep and inedible herbal pastes to keep the fever down.
Yet, he distinctly remembered being told that the healers could be dismissed, and he was well enough to manage on his own.
Or perhaps he was dead. Yes, that seemed more reasonable. Survival had been a dream created to ease his passing. He had gone on to the halls of Mahal, and was simply dreaming to pass eternity. Because even if he wasn’t dead, he certainly would be soon if Dís found out that her younger son was trying to shave his chest with one of Fíli’s many knives.
“What are you doing?” Thorin asked, a strange calm settling over him.
Kíli stood frozen, an utterly panicked expression on his face, the knife inches from his soapy chest. “It’s not what it looks like,” he insisted, the words coming out in an almost unintelligible rush.
“Oh?” He decided to let Kíli dig his own grave on this one.
“I certainly wasn’t trying to make myself look like a hairless elf-” Kíli cut himself off with a wince. “I mean, I heard if you shave it off, it comes in thicker and darker, so I thought I’d start with somewhere no one sees, and then if it works… move on to… my face…” Kíli felt like a young dwarfling again, caught being naughty by uncle, and he had never been very good at lying his way out of it. His heart was pounding, certain that today was the day he died a slow a painful death for the crime of being attracted to Elves. Or maybe for the crime of trying to make himself more attractive to said Elves. But the expression on Thorin’s face had surprised him, causing the words to come out slower.
Pity. That was what Thorin was feeling. Pity for his nephew, who despite being a prince, had to endure the thoughtless words of others. Who had to endure their scorn for a beardless descendant of Durin. Pity and anger, for those whose words would drive his beloved nephew to this point. The first part of Kíli’s explanation, suspicious as it was, was forgotten. Of course he would feel shame being caught in such a position. It was only natural. He could have embraced Kíli, were the lad not covered in soap and still holding a knife.
He embraced him anyway.
Kíli was lucky: he found his uncle’s weak point. It was the first and last time he managed to fool Thorin.
Much to Kíli’s consternation, the hair did grow back thicker and darker. Fíli said it was punishment from Mahal for lying to uncle. Or maybe for trying to remove what little body hair Mahal had been gracious enough to bestow. No, Kili thought. The look of pride on Thorin’s face when he admitted it had worked was the punishment.