Fili isn’t quite sure which is more shocking: the fact that he is dead, that he is stood before his Maker or that Durin the Deathless currently has him in a rib shattering embrace. It is the kind of bone-crushing, joint grinding hug that he misses getting from his uncle and he feels grieved to think that it might be decades before he might ever experience another one.
“Watch, Fili,” Mahal commands with dark eyes that are full of sorrow and pride and that glitter above His magnificent, fiery beard.
It is torture to watch Kili die, grieving and careless for it and made more so by the appearance of Tauriel. If she is where Kili’s heart truly lies then Fili would have done all that he could to ease that future, though he would have disliked it and it would have brought pain to Thorin and their Amad. Not that it is important now, there is nothing that Fili can do, and it is too late for Kili as well. Durin doesn’t greet Kili, when Mahal summons him, quite so enthusiastically and that’s fine because Fili more than makes up for that. Kili is his brother, he died because Fili separated them and got himself killed. It had looked like a trap and felt like a trap and what had he been thinking when he walked into that tower to investigate. Amad taught him better. He clings to his brother with that thought. Their mother will not take this outcome well, it was exactly the outcome that she had most feared and that had nearly led to both of them being ordered to stay home.
Now he wishes he had been.
“Turn it back!” He hears Durin roar. “Reincarnate me and turn it back!” He’s too busy watching Thorin die, taking the future of their line with him, to really pay attention to the argument that starts between Mahal and the first of the Seven Fathers.
“I am sorry, my boys, I am so sorry,” Thorin breathes as he shimmers into existence. Then he has pulled them both to him and as nice as it would be to lose themselves to the comfort of their uncle’s embrace the argument between Mahal and Durin has heated up. Their forefather is being less than respectful towards their Maker and Fili fears it will not take much to push Him too far.
“You, lad, come with me,” Durin says as he strides over and grabs Fili’s arm. Thorin and Kili try to object, of course, but Durin levels them with the kind of dark glare that Thorin can only aspire to. “Thorin, I don’t have words to say to you right now. This was an entire cluster of fuck ups that I’m not sure I can look past just now. I mean, there have been some truly spectacular cock ups the last few months. You might want to take some time to think about them before we speak next. As for you, lad, an elf? Really?” While Fili can agree with the sentiments, both of them, he isn’t sure that now, when death is so fresh, is really the time to say it. He follows, more because Durin has his arm in the kind of grip that could shatter stone than out of any real wish to.
In all honesty, this isn’t quite what Fili thought Durin would be, not that he’s all that sure what he expected anyway. All the dry histories that Balin made him read as a child made Durin sound like a great orator, well spoken, the kind of king that Thorin tries to be and the example their mother uses of proper speech and behaviour. He isn’t quite sure what his mother would think if she heard his words to Thorin and Kili, but he suspects that Dis, daughter of Thrain, would wash Durin’s mouth out with soap as readily as she would that of any other dwarf.
“Come along,” Durin tugs on him as he stalks down a seemingly endless corridor lined with tightly clustered stone door. “You’ll have a workroom down here somewhere,” Durin informs him, “but we’re going to mine.”
“Why?” Fili asks warily. This is all too much, too much is happening for him to really get his head around it and maybe Durin is relying on that.
“Because I don’t intend for you to be here long enough to fucking use it,” Durin snaps as he drags Fili into a work room that is far larger than the narrow gaps between doors in the corridor would imply. These are Mahal’s Halls, Fili supposes that the laws of space and architecture don’t apply here.
“I don’t understand. I can’t go back.” Much as he may wish to.
Durin rolls his eyes.
“I’ve fucking done it, five times so far,” his forefather shrugs. “It’s a pain in the arse every bloody time, mind, but I don’t suppose Himself would get away with it if it weren’t.”
“I’m not you.”
If Balin were here, he would shake his head and groan at this statement of the obvious. He spent a great deal of Fili’s life trying to break him of that habit.
“We’re dead, boy,” Durin shakes his head, “but that doesn’t make us fucking idiots, does it?”
“That wasn’t what I-”
“I know what you meant,” Durin cuts him off. “You’ll have to stop that when you’re king, you know, lest everyone ends up thinking you’re a total wanker.” Fili winces. “That’s beside the point. The opinion of the living isn’t exactly important unless you’re actually among them. I know how to get you back there and if you do it right we all come out on top.
“Mahal said it was impossible.”
“For Him,” Durin sighs. “He’s interfered one too many times and Sulladad isn’t exactly happy with him. I’m under no such restrictions, he can’t stop us if he doesn’t know about it. It’ll be a waste of time, though, if you can’t tell me where you fucked it up.”
“Why is this my fault?” Fili demands. “I died.”
“Boohoo for you,” Durin sneers. “We’re all dead here. Our Maker gave you a decent brain, definitely a better one than that spoil heap belonging to Thorin, so use it, for fuck’s sake. Where. Did. You. Fuck. Up?”
“I went on the quest,” Fili mutters sullenly.
“Aye,” Durin says slowly and waves a hand. “But we won’t be getting away with sending you back that far. Concentrate on the battle, lad. What was your biggest cock up in the battle?”
“I died,” Fili snarks and Durin laughs.
“You did, I’ve managed that one more than once myself,” he rubs a hand over his chest. “Not my fondest memories, nor some of my finer moments, but we both know you fucked up well before that.”
“I know,” Fili flops down into a chair next to a work bench, eyes falling on a half-carved statue surrounded by scattered gems. The sooner he gets this over with the sooner he can find Kili and Thorin. “Kili and I split up,” he sighs, picking up a dark stone that glitters in the light.
“You cocked it up before that,” Durin rubs his forehead with a frustrated hand. “You went in the bastard tower, you pillock.”
“Uncle’s orders,” Fili replies, turning the jewel in his fingers.
“You don’t have to do everything he bloody says,” Durin sighs.
“He’s my king,” he mumbles back.
“He was, and he did a piss poor job of it at that,” Durin huffs. “It was obviously a trap and you don’t send dwarflings in to spring a trap. Not against something like Azog.”
“We’re of age,” Fili clenches his fist around the gem as his forefather shakes his head.
“Barely,” Durin grumbles. “What’re you playing with, anyway?” Fili opens his hand and Durin plucks the jewel from his palm. “Should have known. Just like your ma, you are. This is a black diamond, lad, one of the rarest stones and we don’t use them much, few too many draw backs if you ask me. They call to the fire opals, though, and Mahal gave you those in abundance.” He passes it back. “Keep it. I can’t use it now you’ve been playing with it, poor bairn would grow up with an eternal love for a prince she could never have, might never even meet if we don’t succeed. It would drive her mad.”
“I don’t understand,” Fili confesses.
“This is where we carve the souls, boy,” Durin says. “Mahal carved us from stone and the same is done for every new life. Me and the Seven Fathers, and Mahal, of course, carve the children and set stones and metals to guide them through their lives. You and your ma have fire opals in your hearts, it gives you an incredible capacity for love. Unfortunately that makes you vulnerable to those who take and give nothing back, and to your own insecurities about whether that love is returned regardless of whether it’s familial or friendly or romantic. You following me?” Fili nods, leaning forward with interest. “Now, Mahal tried to offset that by making sure you got a bit of aquamarine in your head, but it doesn’t always work. Who knows whether it will with you or not.”
“And the black diamonds?” Fili asks, almost hesitant to interrupt but too curious not to.
“Black diamonds are put into the hearts of those who will feel the most passionate and enduring love. We don’t use it often for that reason,” Durin mutters. “They don’t often survive the death of their One and that means that they have a nasty habit of sacrificing themselves so that their One can live. Your da was a black diamond and I’ll wager that, should we succeed, you’ll find that your One will have a black diamond in their heart as well.”
“I have no idea what that means,” Fili frowns as he pockets the diamond.
“You will, when the time comes,” Durin shrugs. “Now, back to the point,” he claps his hands and waves Fili away from the bench and the half-finished soul that rests on it. The younger shudders at the thought, though he cannot deny that it is a fascinating idea. “As we established, Thorin got scrap for brains. But you were also right, on the battlefield he was your king and your general and you were trained to follow his orders. However, you’ve been taught tactics. That tower was the perfect place for Azog to be relaying his orders, Thorin knew it, you knew it, and you don’t approach a strategically important location and find it abandoned to not assume it’s a trap.”
“We knew that,” Fili objects, “but what else could we do? We need to flush him out.”
“You don’t separate,” Durin hisses. “You stick together.”
“I’d already nearly lost him once. I couldn’t-”
“No,” Durin seems to calm a little at that. “No, I don’t suppose you could. Fire opals.” He sighs. “Go, find your brother and uncle. They’ll be in the Hall of Feasting by now. I’ll come fetch you when I’ve come up with some sort of plan for keeping you alive once I’ve sent you back.”
Fili obeys with alacrity, barely even taking a moment to acknowledge the fact that he has been dismissed as he darts out of the door and back into the corridor. It doesn’t seem so endless now, more like a landing with only a handful of doors to chose from. One has his name carved upon it, the runes as familiar as breathing, and it stands between those of Kili and his father. Somehow, the thought that he would see his father again had slipped his mind and he wonders if Kili has already done so. A door with Thorin’s name stands beside Durin’s, which is next to a very large door that is obviously the entrance to Mahal’s workshop. It is the archway that catches his attention, the rich sound of dwarf song flowing out from it in a way that draws his feet towards it. He should find his Maker, tell Mahal what Durin is planning, but all thoughts of that slip from his mind when he considers that Kili and Thorin and his father will be in that hall waiting for him.
Time, he later comes to realise, has little meaning in this place. He could not say if he has been in the Hall of Feasting for an hour or a year when Durin comes to drag him away again. His father waves him away, assuring him that in a century or two, unless the first Father is reincarnated sooner than that, Durin will have tired of whatever mischief he is causing and will leave Fili to his own devices. They have eternity after all. Fili isn’t sure how he feels about that, honestly, because Durin’s plans this time aren’t exactly mischief and could end very badly. Mostly for Fili.
The plan, it turns out, mostly seems to involve training Fili in new techniques until he feels like all of his limbs are going to fall off. Then drilling him on the exact number of orcs in the tower and their positions when he was captured. Not to mention a walk through of all of his mistakes at the time and it’s a strange thing to have your death analysed this way, as though it’s a practice bout that he should have won and failed to. While they talk Durin will carve souls, asking Fili’s input on the gems sometimes and dragging him along when he takes the souls to Mahal so that they might be passed into the world of the living. He seems disappointed every time they arrive there and find their Maker diligently working on a soul of his own.
“You are up to something,” Yavanna says from the door into Durin’s work room on what passes for an evening in this place. A time that falls towards the end of rising from a restorative sleep and retiring again when their bodies and minds, accustomed to the demands of mortality, demand that they rest once more. There is no set length to it, only the signals his body gives him. Durin has not long finished giving Fili a thorough thrashing in the training ring and they are currently arguing about whether this heart should be given bloodstone or Aventurine. Courage and strength, or the confidence that can cause as many problems as it solves.
“I don’t know what you mean, My Lady,” Durin replies politely, batting Fili’s hand away from the diamond to pick up a bloodstone.
“Yes, you do,” she closes the door behind her, grass following in her wake. “My husband insists that you are sulking, much as you are wont to do when you are told the time is coming for reincarnation.”
“Reincarnation is a complete ball ache,” Durin grumbles. “The first ten years are alright, for the most part I’m completely ignorant of my past lives. Then I’ll pick up a training axe and it all comes flooding back. All the things I know, all the things I used to be able to do and I lack the age and stature to do any of them.”
“Durin,” she smiles fondly at him. Fili has always heard that she dislikes the dwarves, fears what her husband’s children would do to all of hers and had begged to be given guardians of her own. There is no sign of that in the way she speaks to the first Father.
“What’s it to you?” Durin demands. “If I were up to something, that is.”
“Of course you are,” she shakes her head. “I want in.”
“Why?” Is the suspicious reply.
“Bilbo,” she says simply, turning endless eyes onto Fili. “What was between your uncle and my child?”
“I don’t know,” Fili shakes his head. “They grew close over the journey, but we all did. Is he alright?”
“He grieves, I know all mortal griefs pass with time, but his does not. He tries to hide it, but he feels the deaths of the sons of Durin deeply. And I think you two are planning to do something about that.” They exchange glances.
“If we were,” Durin hedges, “nothing can be done while your husband keeps to his workroom.”
“I understand,” she nods. “Finish your soul, I suspect by the time he is done, my husband’s workroom with quite unoccupied.” She drifts out as silently as she entered, and the two dwarves exchange looks.
“What just happened?” Fili asks.
“I’m not all that sure, lad,” Durin admits. “I think we were just handed the opening we need to do as we plan. Are you ready?”
“I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready,” Fili admits and Durin squeezes his shoulder.
“Good, lad,” he grins. “If we manage this, I dread to think what Sulladad will come up with as punishment. I’ll have to stand by our father, of course, couldn’t really give a shit about the great song anyway, we were never mentioned it. Probably get resurrected again, and probably end up with you as my father.”
“What?” Fili asks in alarm.
“Oh aye,” Durin grins. “Everyone else will tell you that it’s a great honour but I have it on good authority from four of my fathers that raising me is more nightmare than honour. Mahal knows it too. Even if we succeed, you’re fucked, lad, you know that.”
Fili huffs and nods, he knew there would be some sort of price.
“One more thing,” Durin adds, “something to tell your brother about that elf when the battle is over. Elves don’t have stones. He’s never going to look at her and see the ones make up her heart and understand them. Not like you will your One. If elves did have stones, they would all have a mix of black and white diamonds. Eternal, enduring love and overpowering strength of feeling. “
“Elves don’t feel anything,” Fili objects, even though he knows that isn’t true. He’s seen as much for himself.
“That’s not quite true,” Durin says seriously. “There’s no secret to the fact that I don’t particularly like the bastards, they’re good allies when you’re truly fucked but otherwise, they’re more trouble than they’re worth. My point is, what they do feel, they feel with the kind of intensity that puts us to shame. If an elf’s spouse dies, they will grieve forever, and it never fades. They’ve been known to sit down and just stop. Just die of grief all quiet in corner, fade away until there’s nothing more of them left. Bunch of dramatic pansies. You need to warn your brother that they can’t fuck for the sake of fucking, and he’s got too much ruby in him to not want to indulge in a little bed sport.” Fili shudders at the mental image, it wasn’t one he needed. “If he fucks her, he’s married her, regardless of whether trinkets or words have been exchanged. Tell him to be absolutely certain, no doubts, before he goes further with her. Put him off entirely if you can and tell him to discuss it with your ma. If she listens to the black opals in her heart properly, she’ll know how to handle this.” Fili hesitates. “You don’t need to understand. You just need to do it. You and your brother are special. You’re the first two that He used mithril in as mounts for your heart stones. You’re the first two He’s ever made that can’t be affected by the madness of gold. He made both of you for that mountain, for our people’s future. Don’t let your brother just go and throw it all away for some leggy red-head.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Fili promises uncertainly. He isn’t sure that there is anything he can say which will convince his brother that continuing with whatever is between him and Tauriel is a bad idea. He had meant to talk to Kili about it anyway, before everything else, but Thorin and the search for the Arkenstone had gotten in the way. Then they had both died and the point seemed to become moot. His brother never seems to be pining overly, which is something that Kili has always been pretty good at in honesty, so he had let the matter rest. Trust Durin to bring it all up again.
They don’t linger in the workshop long; the soul had nearly been finished when they were interrupted anyway and Durin doesn’t want to miss their window regardless of whether Fili is certain that this is a good idea or not. He’s settled here, and the work that they do is interesting. They can pursue their own interests for the most part, but there are a few who help Mahal and the Seven Fathers with the creation of the souls that are born into the world every day. If he were to stay Fili suspects that he would be among them. Durin has told him more than once that he has a knack for the choosing of stones. It would be fulfilling work for him, but even Fili can admit that the temptation to undo his mistakes is a powerful one and so he follows his forefather onto the landing and into the workshop of Mahal.
This is the quietest that Fili has seen it in all the times he has visited with Durin. No sound of hammer on steel or stone. No quiet humming of dwarven tunes or the deep murmurs of the other Fathers as they discuss the new souls they have brought to be named and born. They may shape them, but Mahal names every one before they are placed in the pool and none are permitted to watch that. Durin is the only one who knows how it works, and that is by virtue of being reborn five times. They pause only long enough for Durin to place the soul onto the workbench with a note about what they have placed within and their reasons. Surprisingly, their Maker hasn’t questioned Fili’s apparent apprenticeship in soul making, and Thorin and Kili have been almost beside themselves with pride given that Fili never seemed to settle into a true craft in life. With the riches that Erebor will bring, he thinks, he could probably find a great deal of satisfaction in jewellery.
“Concentrate on the battle, lad, before you were sent into the tower,” Durin has told Fili this any number of times, that he will need to concentrate on where and when he wants to go and the closer to the moment of his death the better, memories tend to blur a little after that and he could over or undershoot and either wake up a child or a corpse. The thought makes him shudder and he thinks as hard as he can of that moment as they were about the enter the lower corridor of the partially ruined structure.
Durin doesn’t give him any warning, just places a hand between Fili’s shoulder blades and shoves as hard as he can. As hard as Durin can turns out to be painfully so and distantly he hears the parting words “Don’t fuck it up this time,” as something thicker than water closes over his head. Panic grips him, especially when he feels a hand in his hair that pushes urgently down, then he stumbles to a halt in the freezing snow on the slopes of Erebor, with only just the presence of mind needed to grab the back of Kili’s coat as he slips past him.
“Wait,” he breathes, memories of the dead soul fighting with the reality of the living one. He scrunches his face up and twists his head a little as though to shake everything into place. Durin had said that the memories of the Halls don’t come into the world of the living easily and it takes him a moment longer than he would like to make sure that he remembers everything he will need to.
“This is a trap,” he says after a moment. “I won’t have us go in there to spring it. The two of us alone cannot defeat Azog.”
“We can find their numbers,” Kili replies, so obviously confused and concerned. He would like to reassure him, but how does one go about telling their sibling and closest friend that they have just returned from spending several decades dead?
“Let me worry about that, we need to go back to uncle.” Fili shakes his head, letting a few more of the memories settle in place as concentrates on the dumortierite that Durin had placed into a stud in his ear. Somethings seem to cross with them. “Let me do the talking.”
Kili nods, confused but accustomed to trusting Fili in all things. Fili has never given him reason not to trust his judgement and he has no intention of doing so now. There is no sign of the orcs near this entrance, no sign that they might have left the tower and had he thought about it the first time he would have turned back then. Now is not the time for his regrets. He has a second chance to get this right and he is going to use it. Thorin and Dwalin are surprised that they have returned so quickly, but Fili keeps his report concise, tells them that there is no sign the orcs have left the tower and that Azog and a dozen of his orcs are likely hiding in wait for them inside. Luckily, Bilbo picks this moment to stumble into sight, gasping and desperately trying to make Thorin understand that there is a second army about to make its way through this very spot.
Durin may have overestimated how easy this next part would be, Fili thinks as yet another goblin blade narrowly misses his arm. The techniques that Durin taught him are still in his mind, though not ingrained into his muscles, but he utilises those of them that he can to keep himself and his brother alive. Thorin has Dwalin at his back and so long as they are all together, they stand a chance of making it out of this.
Azog, the coward, doesn’t turn up until it looks like they are about to be overwhelmed by the goblins that surround them. He strides through them, occasionally belting one of his own creatures with his mace when it gets in his way and Fili feels something in him tremble. In another life this creature slaughtered him while his uncle looked on in horror. He will die, again, before he sees that expression on Thorin’s face once more. They could win this, Fili thinks, so long as he, Kili and Dwalin can keep Azog off balance enough for Thorin to make the killing blow. As much as Fili would like to cut the head from Azog’s body he really believes that Thorin should have that chance first. The problem of Azog’s son, who turns up not long after his father, is dealt with by Tauriel and her prince, and it reminds Fili that he needs to talk to Kili about her once this is over. Fortunately, for the minute, his brother is too focused on avoiding a goblin blade to notice her arrival and they carry on. It seems to take forever to thin the goblins around them while still trying to help Thorin and Dwalin and it is only a moment when Azog looks up with the arrival of the great eagles that allows Thorin to finish what he started all those years ago and remove the great white orc from the face of the world.
With the arrival of the eagles and the loss of their leader the goblins do exactly as Thorin had predicted they would. They break and flee. The fighting, at least where they are, is over and for just a moment Fili lets himself stop and breathe. His limbs feel like lead, but they tremble like grass in the breeze, and he can feel the fight draining out of him as a half dozen ignored injuries begin to make themselves known. He’ll probably have some impressive scars once all is said and done, though he is more concerned about the heavily bleeding gash on Kili’s face that runs from temple to chin on one side. That will get his brother an awful lot of attention once it is healed. His attention is so much on his brother that he doesn’t notice the rock that is knocked from the nearby tower until it collides with his skull and Kili yells. Blackness is a nice alternative from the shaking limbs and fire like pain of his other injuries.
When he wakes, his first though it not that his head hurts as though Mahal Himself were using it as an anvil. Nor is it to wonder whether the rest of the Company still live. These thoughts will come in time. His first thought is that Durin was right, there is a black diamond in his future. One that glistens over the breast of the healer who tends to him and is surrounded by amber and pink opal.
His second is that he hopes this is the only thing that Durin was right about.
Then he lets blackness claim him again. He can deal with the rest when his head doesn’t hurt so much.