Fili sighs as he presses a hand against his protesting ribs. It has been nine days since the battle at the foot of the mountain and while he knows that cracked and bruised ribs take time to heal, he finds himself wishing it would happen faster. Being back inside the mountain for the last five days has helped. His bed is more comfortable than his cot in the healer's tent. He's still sharing with Kili due to all round shortages of mattresses, sheets and bed furs, but he's accustomed enough to sharing space with his brother that it hasn't become a problem. They'll have their own space soon enough and he has so much to discuss with Kili, so much to confess to, that he had hoped sharing a room and bed with him might make it easier. Kili still looks at him like he's a puzzle that cannot quite be solved. He owes it to his brother to explain his actions on Ravenhill. He probably owes it to Thorin too, but he still isn't sure what to say and there hasn't been any time.
Kili spends his days running backwards and forwards carrying reports and orders from Thorin, helping the work crews and joining patrols. Fili's ribs and foot prevent that. He spends his days with Thorin, helping Bombur and several others in the kitchen or helping the healers mix politices and wind bandages. Over half of Dain's troops were killed or injured during the battle and many are worse off than Fili is. Thorin included, who should have been paying more attention while Dwalin was carrying Fili down the mountain and instead got his leg mauled by a half dead warg because he was worrying too much about Fili and not the enemies around them.
His uncle is restricted to his bed, his leg heavily stitched, bandaged and checked twice a day by either Oin or Arja. She has been kept near the Company by sheer virtue of the fact that she had tended Fili, Thorin and Bifur as they came in because Oin was unable to get to them. She had impressed Thorin enough for him to allow it, though she is young. Often, however, it is the young healers who are sent out to the battlefield when the call comes, it's the best way for them to get experience after all. Besides, even a dwarf healer fresh out of their apprenticeship will already have more years of experience than any Man will ever gain.
"Are you done yet?" Kili asks as he slams their bedroom door open and strides in.
Even nine days later Fili is still having trouble reconciling this Kili, who has the makings of a fierce scar on the side of his face, with the one from before the battle that he spent decades with in Mahal's Halls. The one he had shared new jokes with and met ancestors beside. It turns out that surviving has changed Kili in tiny ways that Fili is still learning.
He bends to tie his boot and grunts when his ribs twinge again.
"Let me," Kili huffs, smacking his hands away to help him with a good-natured roll of his dark eyes. Fili hisses when Kili pulls the laces a little tight. The same tower that had attempted to brain him had also dropped a considerable amount of rubble into his foot and leg. He has been assured that neither are broken, though the bruising is truly spectacular, and he wouldn't be surprised if one of the small bones is cracked as his ribs have been. It certainly hurts enough when he puts his weight onto it.
"I would have managed," he grumbles in lieu of thanks.
"My beard would have come in by then," Kili replies with a smirk. "Mahal, could you imagine if we had died and I'd been stuck looking like this for eternity?" He waves his hand around his face as Fili let's out something that is both a laugh and a choked gasp. "What's wrong?" He tilts his head and the indistinct crown of gems about his head seems catch the light and twinkle as though in time with his thoughts.
“Nothing,” Fili lies, because he doesn’t have to imagine, he’s experienced it.
“No,” Kili sits next to him, his face carrying that uncharacteristically serious expression that has become a common sight since leaving Ered Luin. “It’s something. You’ve been different since the battle, nadad, since Ravenhill, even. We didn’t even get close enough to the tower to know that the orcs were still in there before you pulled us back, but you knew. How?” Fili looks away, he wants to say something, but this isn’t the time. “We’ve never had secrets before. You used to tell me everything. You’re distracted all the time, Fili, even Uncle has noticed, and you don’t talk to me anymore. What happened to you?”
“Can’t it wait until later?” He asks. “We’re late as it is.”
Kili’s face falls and Fili feels guilt punch him. He wants to tell Kili, but he’s reluctant as well. It will lead to other difficult conversations and Fili isn’t ready to broach the subject of Tauriel just yet, not when she is in Dale helping Bard and almost banned from the mountain while Thranduil is here negotiating a treaty with Balin since Thorin is unable to leave his rooms. Fili should be helping Balin with that, it’s his duty as crown prince after all, but he keeps putting that off as well, avoiding the elf king as much as Tauriel is. Kili doesn’t really mention her all that much either, whether because he fears his brother’s disapproval, which has never stopped him before, or has simply been too busy Fili doesn’t know and nor does he want to.
“I’ll tell you tonight, Kili,” he says. “I promise. It’s just that I need to talk to Uncle about these negotiations with Thranduil and Bard before I go and join Balin this afternoon. You know how Thorin’s been about it all.”
“And you want to see Arja,” Kili waggles his eyebrows. That, at least, isn’t a secret. Kili knows that his brother has fallen hard for his healer and given that Fili has never been one in the past to take such a powerful liking to anyone, he has not wasted the opportunity to tease his brother mercilessly. If Fili were not so relieved that Durin’s hare brained scheme had worked, he would resent the teasing more than he does.
“That too,” Fili agrees, because there is no point denying it when he has overheard Bilbo teasing her about loitering over Thorin’s bandages so that she can see him.
Arja didn’t deny it which means that she isn’t actively avoiding him, for all that they have hardly seen one another since they moved inside the mountain. Even the evening meal isn’t a guaranteed chance to see her and he has no idea how they are supposed to talk about trying to move forward together when they manage less than fifteen minutes a day in one another’s company. He ponders it as they make their way through the corridor to Thorin’s chambers, though it is only a short distance.
“This is the last time I’ll tell you, king or no!” He hears Arja say as they open the door to Thorin’s chambers. Bilbo stands beside it, parchment and pen in hand, bouncing on his toes with wide eyes as he watches. He shakes his head when it looks like Kili is going to speak.
“I cannot stay confined to this bed,” Thorin growls.
“You’ll be confined to it longer if you tear those stitches again!” She snaps. “That’s the third time I’ve come to change these bandages and found I’ve had to sew you back up again. Every time you tear them out you stop your leg from healing properly, you’d be up and about already if you didn’t keep doing it. Do you want to keep your leg or not?” Thorin glares. “You have two perfectly capable heirs, let them handle things while you recover.”
“Fili is still healing,” his uncle snarls.
“He’s in better shape than you,” Arja turns and doesn’t seem surprised to find that she has an audience. “I don’t care how you do it,” she says firmly, “keep him in this bed.”
“We’ll work it out,” Fili tells her. She huffs but her face softens, and she grabs a bowl and the bloodstained bandages before coming towards them.
“I know you will,” she smiles at him as he opens the door to let her pass.
“Oh, Thorin,” Bilbo sighs, going to the bed and fussing with the sheets, leaving ghostly trails of flowers on the floor and petals on the bed. Thorin and Kili, he already knows, don’t see them, and Bilbo had been just as perplexed when Fili had asked him how he was making flowers grow out of dead earth in the middle of winter the morning after Mahal’s visit.
Fili had tried to write off these strange visions as the result of his head injury, tried to ignore the shadowy crowns of gems around the head of nearly every dwarf he sees. Just as he still tries to ignore them and tries to pretend that he doesn’t see the flowers that trail after Bilbo in the same way they did after Yavanna the few times that he had met her in Mahal’s Halls. He has come to suspect, however, that this is one of the consequences that Mahal had spoken of and he isn’t sure what to do with it all. It seems somehow invasive to be able to see parts of a person’s soul like this.
“Arja’s right, Thorin,” Fili says when Bilbo’s fussing pauses for long enough to allow someone else to speak. “You need to allow Kili and I perform our duties as your heirs.”
Next to him Kili pulls a face and groans. He has always disliked the necessary stillness and attention that comes with politics. His mind is that of a hunter rather than a thinker like Balin. Politics will have to become Fili’s realm, however, and the sooner he begins the better, though he has as much of a dislike of it all as his brother. While his ribs and his foot restrict his ability to do much of the heavy work or take part in patrols there is nothing that they can do to prevent him from taking part in such necessary meetings and peace talks. Joining Balin while he talks with Thranduil and Bard will at least ease some of the pressure on Thorin and might make the elf king a little bit easier to deal with. Fili has spent enough time with his uncle of late to know what Erebor needs, now and in the future, and part of that involves not allowing Thorin’s infamously short temper and powerful dislike of elves, especially Thranduil, to cause problems. It’s probably for the best that he is restricted to his rooms for the time being.
“Do you think you can handle Thranduil?” Thorin asks. Fili pulls a face.
“I don’t think anyone can,” he says honestly. “But perhaps a challenge will do me good. Mahal knows it’s going to be a while before I can go back in the training ring. Verbal sparring will have to do.”
“Aye, and you’ll get plenty of that,” Thorin agrees. “Balin is to meet with him after the midday meal, go with him then. Take the morning to prepare, I am certain that Ori will be able to tell you all you need to know.” Fili’s ribs are still too sore for him to bow, so he dips his head in acknowledgement. “One last thing,” Thorin stops him. “The healer, Arja. I have heard rumours about the two of you.” Fili glances at Bilbo, knowing full well that all of the hobbit’s teases have been made out of earshot of Thorin. His friend mouths ‘Oin’ and Fili rolls his eyes, of course the half deaf old bugger would have been the one to notice. “She is your choice?”
“If she’ll have me,” Fili shifts, his foot making its displeasure at being used known. “We haven’t had a chance to really discuss it.” And perhaps this is why.
“She’s not what I would have chosen,” Thorin frowns. “Nor who I would recommend. She has no position or power in Dain’s courts, no connections to any lord and no true wealth of her own.”
“I have a fourteenth share of Smaug’s hoard, Uncle,” Fili grumbles, “I have no need for wealth. As for the rest, your choices and recommendations and her position don’t matter. I’ve seen the heart of her soul, Thorin. Mahal made us for each other and if he doesn’t object then no one else can either. If she refuses me,” Fili adds before Thorin can make any further objections, “then I will invite you to select me a suitably connected wife so that I might do my duty and father heirs. Perhaps, if we’re very lucky, we will even grow to like one another. But only if Arja rejects me herself and not because you have convinced her that she should.”
Thorin sends him a dark scowl and once that might have made Fili reconsider his position, might have made him take a step back and apologise for his presumption. Perhaps, he thinks, this is the real reason that Thorin and Amad never mentioned seeing the heart of the soul of your One, because they had no intention of allowing either Fili or Kili the opportunity to marry whoever that might turn out to be unless they were of suitable rank and able to provide heirs. He is not the same dwarf he was before the battle, barely tried and tested and too eager for Thorin’s approval. This Fili has spent decades in Mahal’s Halls and spent much of that time in the company of his Maker and the Seven Fathers, all intimidating in their own way but none so much as Durin and Mahal. Thorin could live forever, Fili thinks, and still not be half as intimidating as Durin.
“If there’s nothing else?” Fili asks, ignoring the way that Kili has an iron grip on his arm and the alarm in Bilbo’s eyes. “I should go and find Ori so that he has time to brief me completely.”
Thorin waves him away with a silent glare that might once have opened a pit in Fili’s stomach and made him fear he had lost his uncle’s regard. The strange thing about coming back to life, however, is that somehow Thorin’s approval at the expense of his own happiness doesn’t seem quite so important. It’s also a subject for another time.
The thing about Ori, Fili thinks as he quickly takes his leave before his own temper gets the better of him (rare as that is and far more likely to happen with Kili), is that he rarely forgets anything. Certainly, when placed among others who have less interest in books, he becomes an ill-fitting piece, but in a situation such as this he’s exactly what is needed. Broken arm notwithstanding. Besides, Fili discovers when he walks into the small room set aside as an office for Balin and Ori, the young scribe can write almost as well with his left hand as he can with his right.
“Fili!” Ori looks up from a book in surprise when he hears his friend enter. “Is everything alright? Does Thorin want me? Only we assumed he would be content with Bilbo.
By ‘we’, of course, Ori means he and Balin. The pair of them have been dealing with Bard and Thranduil as best they can without one of the direct line in the room to help. Dain has been focusing on directing those of his troops who are well enough in preparing Erebor as much as possible for the arrival of the caravans in spring, not that having Dain anywhere near Thranduil is necessarily a good idea anyway. He has been left to focus on the temporary accommodations, setting up barracks and the like in old halls that have been declared sound. There are years, possibly even decades, worth of repairs to do to ensure the mountain is safe again for all to live and work in. There is no telling what damage seventeen decades of occupation by a fire breathing lizard has done to the place.
“Nothing like that,” Fili assures his friend. “He just decided that it’s time I did my job and tried to help Balin find some sort of accommodation with Bard and Thranduil. He said you could tell me what’s happening.” Ori grins at him brightly and waves Fili into a chair as he pulls out his notes.
“I’ll sum it up for you for today,” he says, “but you’ll find it helpful to read these when you get time.”
Fili stares at the pile of parchment, this is a lot for only four days of talks.
“Reparations and access routes are the main points of contention,” Ori continues, apparently oblivious to Fili’s reaction. “Obviously there was the promise made in Lake Town by Thorin that wasn’t exactly carefully worded or put into writing. Then there’s the question of trading for the Arkenstone that Bilbo put on the table.” Fili had forgotten that they still hadn’t managed to get that back. “How to work out what of the hoard belonged to Dale is another matter. Thranduil is demanding the return of the starlight gems, and reparations for his aid against Azog. He also wants us to commit warriors of our own to fighting his spider infestation and is refusing to allow the caravans safe passage through Mirkwood.”
“That will add weeks to the journey unnecessarily,” Fili replies.
“He knows,” Ori says with a scowl. “I just don’t think he cares.”
Ori has a crown of gems about his brow too, stones for intelligence that are somehow more visible than any of the others Fili catches sight of during the day. It’s odd and takes more of an effort than he would like to pull his attention away from Ori’s head and back to the matter at hand. He may well have to become accustomed to this, he doubts that it will ever go away, and he cannot afford to spend the rest of his life distracted by the shiny jewels of other dwarves’ souls. He can only hope that it will stop at his own people and hobbits. He dreads to think what elves and Men might be like.
“Oh, caragu,” he mutters when Thranduil glides into the chamber set aside for the talks later that day. Balin stamps on his foot in warning and shoots him a glare. Fili ignores it, because naturally elves had to shine like the fucking sun.
In which Fili tries to give Balin a heart attack.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“I see Thorin is sending children to do his work now,” Thranduil drawls as Fili tries not to squint at the brilliant light that shines around him. If this is what looking at elves is going to be like he never wants to see another one for as long as he lives.
“The King is still recovering from his injuries,” Balin says, deliberately standing on Fili’s foot again. If he walks away from this without it ending up truly broken, or without belting Balin, he will be very much surprised. “As Crown Prince it was decided that Fili would be a suitable replacement.”
“Indeed?” Thranduil arches an eyebrow and looks him over. “At least it isn’t the other one.” He mutters as he takes his seat at the table. Fili is saved from finding a reply to that comment about Kili, and he is offended on his brother’s behalf, by the arrival of Bard.
The last couple of months have not been kind to the Man, who also glows but this is a mere candle next to the sun that is Thranduil. Bard looks like he has aged decades over the course of the weeks Fili has known him. Like Thorin the Man is facing the challenge of resettling his people and rebuilding their homes, whether that is in Dale or Lake Town is another matter entirely. Erebor needs Bard as a friend, even Thorin can acknowledge that, but the same cannot necessarily be said of Thranduil. He can make life difficult for everyone, certainly, but Fili wonders just how difficult he is being out of sheer stubbornness and how much of it is simply to see how deeply he can needle the sons of Durin before their negative reaction proves his assessments correct.
“Bard,” he greets the Man respectfully. As far as Fili is concerned Bard didn’t deserve any of the treatment he received from Thorin. Bard gave those of the Company who remained in Lake Town shelter when no one else would and Kili would have been dead by the time the elves had found them if not for that kindness. Bard killed Smaug where Thorin failed. Thranduil deserves, and will receive, very little of Fili’s respect, but he will ensure that Bard will get his due.
“It is good to see you up and about,” Bard offers his hand and Fili takes it gladly, “and looking much better than last I saw you. Your brother?”
“Fairing better than both Thorin and I,” Fili grins, “and busy with the work crews so that our people have somewhere safe to live while we rebuild.” Fili doesn’t think that is the only reason that Kili is keeping busy, or being kept busy, but he knows better than to say it outright (even without Balin boring holes into the back of his head).
“I had thought we would see more of him in Dale,” Bard comments and Fili feels Balin tense behind him as he notices Thranduil shift, his wine part way to his lips.
“And I am sure that when our duties permit you will see both of us there as often as we may,” Fili replies without any prompting from Balin. No doubt Oin is responsible for Balin and Thorin being aware of the warmth of feeling between Kili and Tauriel, unless they heard it from Bofur who probably thought it was a fine delirious joke and didn’t mean any harm by pointing it out.
“There are a number who would be pleased to see you,” Bard murmurs, “and one who would be pleased to see your brother in particular.”
Fili winces and understanding comes across Bard’s face, though it is tinged with anger. Whatever conclusions he has drawn are probably wrong, but it may also be for the best that he draws them.
“If we could socialise another time,” Thranduil cuts in. “Some of us have other places to be and homes to return to.” Fili and Bard share a glance but take their seats anyway. Frankly, Fili would like to get Thranduil and the remains of his army away from Erebor as soon as possible. Ideally before Thorin is able to leave his room and decides to take over the negotiations. The last thing they need is a war with the elves, even Thorin can admit to that. What follows is an afternoon of verbal sparring the likes of which Fili has never before experienced. If this is anything like the time that Thorin spent alone with the elf king after the Company was taken prisoner Fili can see why Thorin lost his temper.
“May I be blunt, Lord Thranduil?” Fili asks after a couple of hours of the same demands and rebuttals going backwards and forwards.
“I would expect nothing less,” the elf inclines his head and for only a moment Fili notices a shadow on his soul, a shadow over one side of his face.
“We are grateful for the aid you provided when the orcs attacked Erebor,” he begins, because they are since they wouldn’t be here without it. “However, I find myself curious to know why you came in the first place? Bard I understand. Promises were made to the occupants of Lake Town and their situation was dire. He came seeking that which was his due and owed to all of those with him. Something that, should we ever be allowed to reach it, we are prepared to honour.” Balin mutters a low warning and Ori nudges him lightly in the side, though it is enough to irritate his still healing ribs anyway. Fili wants answers, however, for his sake and because Durin had asked the question more than once. “You locked us up for the crimes of getting lost and being attacked by the spiders that infest your woods. What could we owe you for that? You still have our belongings, what meagre amount of them there were left.”
Bard is leaning back in his seat, his chin almost against his chest as he listens. There is a gleam in eyes as he listens that Fili thinks might well be of approval, and Thranduil waves a bored hand, likely urging Fili to come to the point.
“You said you came to aid the people of Lake Town,” Bard adds, “but even I could see that you brought an army with you far larger than you would have needed just to do that.”
“So you see,” Fili nods gratefully at Bard as Thranduil scowls at both of them, “we are not the only ones to question your true motives that day. Were you really just offering aid? Or were you hoping that Smaug had killed all of us and that you could take the mountain and the gold for yourself? Perhaps it would be better for all of us if we were to put aside your demands for the moment. I think it is time for honesty between the three of us, it would be much easier to be friends with our neighbours than to be at odds with them.”
“I can agree with that,” Bard nods. Thranduil looks less convinced, although he hasn’t stormed out yet.
“You do not understand dwarves as I do,” the elf king sneers. “They will woo you with pretty promises and then find a way to break every one of them in as honourable way as they can find. Trusting them to their word is a mistake, especially when Thorin has already shown the same weakness of mind and proclivity for madness as the rest of his line. What is to say that he will not fall again? Or that his heirs will not follow the same path?
“I suppose you will have to take my word,” Fili’s smile is brittle, no doubt several guards have heard the comment about Thorin’s madness, not that it had been kept as quiet as they had hoped, and it will add fuel to the rumours. He has his Maker's assurances that it will never happen, for Fili and Kili, at least, the danger of that is non-existent.
“And what is your word worth?” The elf demands.
“I have never yet broken it, and have no intention of it either,” Fili shrugs, and it's Mahal's word really in any case. “So it is probably worth more than yours, I would think.” He turns away before he can add another insult and leave them with an unsalvageable situation. “Bard, we understand your position and we are prepared to hand over an approximation of what might have belonged to Dale as soon as we are able to organise the treasury. Dragons, as you must understand, are appalling bookkeepers and it may take time.”
“I can agree to that,” Bard nods, “Providing I can see a rough figure and be given an amount to begin rebuilding in the meantime.”
Fili glances at Balin who nods. This is the one thing that Balin, Gloin and Thorin have been able to look through and agree upon and the one thing that they have been trying to get to for the last four days. If Fili can use it as a sign that they are prepared to be reasonable perhaps Thranduil can be persuaded to remove the spear up his arse.
Durin has been a truly terrible influence.
Balin hands the parchment with the rough figures over to Bard who reads it in silence. By the end his eyebrows have almost disappeared into his hairline and his hands are trembling slightly.
“So much,” he breathes. Fili actually thinks that the figure might be a little bit low, but he has no intention of saying so. He’s irritated Thranduil enough for one session and Balin is probably itching to give him a verbal lashing later for it.
“It’s our best estimate,” Balin replies, obviously eager to try and regain control of the situation, though Fili suspects that the meeting as Balin would have liked it to go is a lost cause.
“As you can see, Lord Thranduil,” Fili says to the elf who has moved so that he might look over the figures himself, “we are prepared to be reasonable. We can only be so, however, when we are met with reason.”
Thranduil graces him with a nod and things begin to go a little bit better after that. Fili withdraws when Balin stamps on his foot, which becomes less frequent as the afternoon draws on and Balin begins to trust Fili’s instincts. By the time afternoon has begun to turn into evening they have managed to get Thranduil to agree to escorting the caravans from Ered Luin through Mirkwood in exchange for the gems and necklace he has been demanding. It’s a start, and perhaps not the best one, but if the elf king wants to get anything more from them, they will need those dwarves in the mountain and the sooner the better. Fili is very much aware that his gamble could have made an enemy of Thranduil and so it comes as no surprise to find the elf watching him, though Fili couldn’t say if he is fascinated or annoyed, as they dance around terms and clauses and exchanges. It is exhausting and they haven’t actually achieved all that much, but they have at least moved forwards which will have to be enough for the time being.
“It is unusual to find a dwarf so young capable of reason,” Thranduil says as he prepares to depart, “and rarer still for it to be one of Durin’s blood. I think I may grow to enjoy our meetings, Prince Fili.” Fili barely manages to suppress his snort and the elf’s lips twist in a wry smile. “That is an interesting earring you wear,” he adds, the first to notice the dumortierite Durin had given him to wear on his return. “Be careful of such gifts from the Valar, they often come with an unusual price.”
“So I have found,” Fili replies, now able to see that the shadow over Thranduil’s cheek is no shadow at all but an injury so severe that it damaged even his soul. “Until tomorrow,” he bows his head and waits until Thranduil has left the room before flopping back into his chair and hissing as his ribs remind him that they are not entirely healed.
“I thought Thorin’s brand of diplomacy was going to drive me into an early grave,” Balin chides him even as Ori smirks behind the older dwarf. “Fortunately for the both of us, and the prevention of Thorin’s approaching apoplexy, it worked.”
“Believe me, you can’t possibly be more amazed about that than I am,” Fili presses his fingers to his eyes, more exhausted than he wants to admit and aware that his day isn’t over yet. He still owes Kili answers and he can’t possibly put it off any longer, not with Bard obviously hinting that Tauriel has been asking after him.
“It won’t work again,” Balin warns and Fili nods, he’s well aware of that, but he had to try something to move everything forwards and he’s just as glad it worked as Balin. It was a risk, and poorly thought out at that, but he didn’t manage to start a war so he has that going in his favour at least.
“You look done in, lad,” Balin adds kindly after a moment. “Why don’t you go to your chambers and I’ll send someone up with your dinner.”
Fili wants to disagree, the last thing he wants is for this to reach Thorin and his uncle to decide that he isn’t healed enough. Then he stands again and his ribs shriek after an afternoon of sitting stiffly in an uncomfortable chair and his foot is throbbing like a second heart from all of the abuse that Balin has put it through in his desperate attempts to get Fili to shut up. The dining halls are in the opposite direction to his chambers and further away as well. Ultimately all it takes is a raised eyebrow from Ori, who has been mostly silent all day, and a few steps for him to decide that Balin has the right of it.
“I would be extremely grateful, Balin,” he breathes and his old teacher smiles at him.
He remembers Balin always used to lecture him on learning to give a little, needing to bend just a little bit rather than clinging to his stubborn determination that he is right. He remembers Balin telling him to be a little less like Thorin and acknowledge that he has limits. Thorin is a good king and will do well by his people, but he is a king who came into his crown too young and tempered by a bloody and costly war. He is a king of a displaced people who had to build a new home and will now have to rebuild the old one. He cannot afford to have limits. Fili will be a different kind of king, a king who has known war and hardship but who will hopefully rule in peace. That sort of king needs to give a little and he can see the wisdom in retiring to his chambers rather than having to appear strong before the other occupants of the mountain.
The walk to his rooms is longer than he would like, rendered more so by the pain in his foot and he wonders if it’s too late to break Balin’s nose for it. He’s sure the old dwarf didn’t intend to cause him quite so much pain, and Fili’s stubborn determination to ignore him won’t have helped, but there is no grinding of bones so Balin has probably just annoyed the injury rather than worsened it and he’ll be apologetic about it as soon as he remembers. His rooms are in the royal wing, Dwalin wouldn’t hear of Thorin and his heirs being housed anywhere else in the mountain, and while they haven’t been left undamaged by Smaug’s occupation and decades of neglect they are still the most secure rooms in Erebor and in possession of the most complete and comfortable furniture. Most of the Company is housed here, sharing rooms, and it makes the place feel more homelike though it is still strange. The thing that had drawn Kili to the rooms that they share had been the pair of tall, comfortable chairs in front of the massive fireplace and Fili sinks into one gratefully, thankful for his brother’s forethought as he props his aching foot up on a nearby stool and tips his head back.
He debates taking a bath, though he has never before been one to waste hours soaking in hot water preferring to have a quick wash and scrub rather than waste time he could be spending helping his uncle and mother. Now it is a luxury he isn’t sure he will grow tired of easily. Even the carved bath in the connected chamber is larger than the one he shared with his family in Ered Luin and the shared baths here must be immense. The tubs here are filled using hot springs that run through the mountain, though he has no idea if they are natural hot springs or a result of the great forges that burn for as long as there are dwarves in the mountain. A limitless supply of water that he doesn’t have to heat and carry certainly makes bathing that much more enjoyable and he is sure that his aching body would appreciate it. Disrobing, however, seems too much of an effort at the moment. Unlacing his boots, in particular, seems a daunting prospect with the way his ribs are after his afternoon sat in one place. He settles for sitting in his comfortable chair, wishing for a tankard of ale, and closing his eyes for just a moment.
It got away from me again, so the Kili and Fili talk will have to be a third chapter, not so much due to the length, I'm sure no one would mind a 5k chapter really, it just didn't quite flow right. These chapters are literally me sitting at a keyboard and letting myself type. This is what falls out of my brain when I don't actually have a plan and I'm just letting the whole thing flow. My brain is an odd place, welcome.
He is roused by hands tugging at one of his boots and the smell of warm stew. His eyes open sluggishly as the stiffness in his neck reminds him that falling asleep in his chair is a bad idea under normal circumstances. His healing ribs are probably going to hate him when he tries to stand and he groans as he stares at the ceiling.
"Leave them, Kili," he mumbles as he tilts his head back down, his sleep filled mind not quite catching up with what his eyes are telling him. Namely that this it is not his brother removing his boots. That is something that he had thought Thorin had trained out of him, and it is a dangerous state to fall back into.
"Sorry to disappoint," a soft voice laughs as his foot slides free. "Your brother asked me to bring your food while he made a report to the king." He blinks, mind finally catching up with his eyes, and realises that it is Arja kneeling in front of him. Her lips are turned up in an amused smile and both of his boots are placed neatly beside her.
"My apologies," it comes out more gravelly than he would like, and he clears his throat as he shifts to sit up properly, doing so too quickly and seeing her frown when he doesn't quite manage to hide his wince.
"Nonsense," she waves him off. "I didn't intend to wake you."
"It's probably for the best that you did," he admits. "Sleeping in a chair is never a good idea at the best of times."
"You'll get no argument from me," she stands and stretches. "I've done it far more times of late than I would like to admit." She's wearing the dark clothes of healers, dark so that the blood won't show, as she has been since he met her, and he finds himself wondering what she would look like in red or blue. Even in green. "I should leave you to your dinner."
"Stay, please," Fili says before she can turn away, he actually rather suspects that Kili has arranged this and didn't have a report to make to Thorin at all. "We've barely seen one another since we came into the mountain. We have to start somewhere."
She glances at the open door, teeth catching her lower lip as she considers his request. Does she truly find the idea of courting a prince so terrifying, Fili wonders. Or has Thorin already managed to make his displeasure clear to her? It has also occurred to him that perhaps she deserves some of the same truths that Kili does. She's still curious about why Mahal would visit him, both of them, and she should know. It isn't the kind of secret to take into a courtship, it certainly isn't one that he should take into a marriage and it might decide her against him entirely, no matter what Mahal has intended for them. It is a risk he will take. He doesn't think that he could live the rest of his life without talking to someone about this.
"As long as you eat," she replies, settling into the other chair with an appreciative sigh.
"Tell me about your day while I eat?" He asks for lack of anything else to say.
She arches an eyebrow, the silver rings through it glittering in the lamp light but acquiesces and tells him about her day in the healing halls, such as they are at the moment. By this point there is little question about whether her patients will live, though a few have torn stitches and reopened wounds. Some of those injuries have become infected as a result and a dwarf lost an arm this morning because of it. Arja spent her afternoon in Dale helping the healers there. The Men have fewer healers than the dwarves, Dain having brought a fair number knowing that he would be expecting a fight, and though dwarves distrust Men in general they have offered aid nonetheless. It is not the injured of Dale that are in need, Men are not as hardy as dwarves and succumb to their injuries far more rapidly, it is the women and children. Winter has well and truly set in and they are struggling with the cold and lack of supplies.
Fili makes a note to speak with Thorin about finding a safe place for the women and children, at least, to spend the winter. The impending argument with his uncle is almost made worth it by the way Arja's face lights up when he mentions it to her. It isn't just the mountain that needs healing, after all, it is her relationship with those who should be her allies.
In return he tells her about his afternoon with Thranduil and the miniscule amount of progress that they had managed to make. Arja dislikes elves, as is typical for most dwarves. Even Durin isn't all that fond of them for all he once fostered a relationship with those who had once lived near Khazad-dum. At this point Fili is wondering if dwarves are simply born with their distrust firmly in place. He certainly doesn't remember learning it.
"I heard he was going to pull his army out when the second orc army was sighted," Arja says, "one of his captains pulled her weapon on him."
Fili has a sinking feeling he knows who that might have been. This thing with Kili and his elf is just becoming more and more of a mess and he doesn't have the first idea what to do about it. It would help if Kili would talk about it himself, but with all of Fili's secrets he probably doesn't want to. He files that away as a problem for another time and instead tells her about managing to get Thranduil to agree to escort the caravans through Mirkwood and thus shave a few weeks off the journey. Then he adds the backward compliment that Thranduil had given him, as well as the warning.
"I'd been intending on asking about that," Arja admits, when Fili mentions the earring. "Dumortierite seems like a strange choice for a prince, but every time I thought I might it seemed to slip from my mind."
"It's part of what I wanted to talk to you about," Fili replies, "you and Kili, both. He's asking for answers and it's something that you should know, in light of everything."
Fortunately, Kili joins them not long after, closing the door behind him with a click that sounds ominous to Fili's mind. Then his brother flops down onto the rug in front of the fire, stirring up a cloud of dust that leaves the three of them coughing as Fili kicks him with his good foot.
"That's nice," Kili grumbles, "I go to all the trouble of organising a chance for you two to make eyes at each other and this is the thanks I get."
"Kili," Fili hisses in warning and his brother rolls his eyes.
"How was your afternoon?" Kili asks, instead of answering. "Was Thranduil as terrible as Thorin insists?" It's probably a good thing that Kili isn't the one dealing with these talks, Fili isn't sure that he could take it as seriously as he should.
"Probably worse," Fili rolls his eyes, "and apparently he likes me." Kili pulls a face. "Honestly, I'm exhausted from dealing with him but-" he spreads his hands.
"He was asleep when I came in," Arja adds.
"And you managed to wake him up without getting a fist to the face?" Kill grins. "I'm impressed." Fili grumbles under his breath, not that Kili pays any attention to him. "Does that mean you're going to put off telling me what's going on again?" He asks.
"I considered it," Fili replies honestly, "but you aren't the only one I should be explaining things to and it's all connected." He reaches his hand up to the earring that he hasn't been able to remove since his return, and he has tried any number of times, because he would rather just forget everything that happened and everything that he knows.
A knock cuts him off before he can start talking and Arja gets up to answer the door before either he or Kili can do it. She returns with a jug of mead and three cups, obviously sent for by Kili before he came back, and pours a measure each before taking her seat again. It's an odd display of good manners by Kili, normally he would have slid into the chair the moment it was vacated, and Fili is oddly thankful for it. Both of his companions wait as he stares into the dark liquid, gathering his thoughts and trying to find the best way to begin.
"Nine days ago, I died at the top of the tower on Ravenhill," he begins and is immediately cut off by Kili's vehement denial. "Will you let me tell it, nadad?" He snaps. "It will all make sense if you just let me say it." Kili holds his hands up and Fili waits to see if Arja has anything to add. She looks at him with dark eyes that, while curious, don't yet hold fear or disgust as he is worried they will when he is done.
"Nine days ago," he begins again, "I died at the top of the tower on Ravenhill. I had been captured by Azog after ordering you to search the lower levels, Kili," he continues.
It pours out after that. The agonising moment of his death, the certain knowledge that he had broken his mother's heart and failed his uncle. Meeting Mahal while Durin the Deathless crushed the air out of him. Watching Kili trying to avenge him while grieving and careless and ultimately distracted by Tauriel and trying to keep her alive. He recounts Kili's death almost clinically, because if he speaks of it with any emotion at all he thinks he will break down and weep for it though it never happened. Kili's death is one of his recurring nightmares now that he is back, he sees it play out in his mind night after night and he hasn't been able to explain to his brother why his grief wakes them both so often.
He talks about Thorin's death, about how the only way his uncle could seem to defeat Azog was by giving up his own life. Although there is grief at knowing they all passed, Thorin's death doesn't haunt him as much. His uncle has lived much of his life, and a great deal of that in a battle or skirmish of one sort or another. Thorin's death by blade had seemed almost a foregone conclusion, no matter how terrifying the possibility of it had been during the quest for the mountain. Thorin hadn't known Kili was dead until that moment in Mahal's Halls and Fili had seen much of his guilt over the years that followed.
He tells them about Durin's demands to be sent back to fix things, his argument with their Maker and his decision to take things into his own hands, the exquisitely crafted dumortierite earring that he wears had been given to him only days after Durin had come up with his plan. He even shares a few stories about his time with Durin and the rest of the Seven Fathers that have nothing to do with coming back from the dead simply because they are fond memories. He explains about helping Durin carve the souls of future dwarf children and choosing the stones that would make up their hearts and minds. Actually, he talks about that for quite a while, remembering how fascinating it had been to select the stones that would make a shrewd merchant or a skilled warrior, a craftsman of the highest order or a politician. The hearts of gems and gold, and even sometimes mithril that would only ever be seen by the One made to walk with them.
Kili looks troubled at that and Fili reminds himself that Durin's words are for his brother alone and not something to discuss with Arja in the room. Instead he goes back the story, talks about Durin training him every day so that his skills couldn't grow rusty and Yavanna's eventual aid because Bilbo was suffering so much after losing the three of them (mostly Thorin, Fili admits a little wryly). He describes his confusion after finding himself once more upon Ravenhill and his desperate attempt to get it all right that succeeded in the end. Talks about Mahal's visit and Arja confirms the end of it for him to make it a little bit less unbelievable than it might seem to Kili.
"He seemed incredibly proud of you," Arja says, "if that makes you feel any better."
"It does," he laughs, "a little bit anyway." She's accepted his story better than he would have hoped, but then she met Mahal and knew He had to have a reason to be there. Kili doesn't seem quite so ready to accept it, not that Fili blames him at all.
"What about the consequences you were warned about?" Kili demands.
"I think I see souls," Fili confesses. "The parts of them that I'm permitted to see at least. I can see all the gems that make up your mind, Kili, Arja's, Uncle's, Oin's, even that really annoying general from the Iron Hills."
"Fulin," Kili supplies and Fili grins at him.
"Yours is the only heart I see though," he assures Arja. "Just as Mahal promised." Kili makes a gagging noise and Fili kicks him again.
"Do you see hobbit and elf souls too?" Kili asks curiously.
"Hobbits take after Yavanna, flowers everywhere," Fili shrugs, "and she grows them so that makes sense. Elves shine and Men glow a little bit. It probably has to do with being Sulladad's chosen." He sighs. "I suppose I sound completely insane."
"It is a little farfetched," Arja admits. "I don't think I would believe you if I hadn't met Mahal myself."
"I always knew you were a few hammers short," Kili smirks, "but it makes too much sense. Don't think I hadn't noticed that thing in your ear, or the fancy new sword tricks you were using. Don't tell Thorin, though, in fact you probably shouldn't tell anyone else at all. It wouldn't take much for them to decide you've lost your mind completely and I don't really want the throne."
"Do you think I do?" Fili grumbles. If the afternoon he has had is any indication his future is going to be full of headaches. He looks at Arja who is staring at her tightly clasped fingers. She has accepted his words as the truth, but he can tell that she needs more time.
"You need some time to think," he says, his voice soft and she stares at him. "I know it's a lot to take in."
"You seem to have managed," she replies.
"I had decades in Mahal's Halls to process dying," he shrugs, "I haven't really had a chance to think about the rest yet."
"I need to, you're right, I need to stop and think," she mutters. "I can't promise that I'll tell you my conclusions soon, but you will hear them." He can accept that, so he wishes her a good night and watches her leave with a heavy heart. He cannot help but wonder whether his need for honesty might have cost him a future with her after all.
"There's more, isn't there?" Kili asks, still able to read Fili even with the changes that dying have brought.
"Aye," Fili says after a pause, "and even after watching you for nine days I can't tell how you're going to react to them." He takes a breath and then launches into giving Kili the information about elves Durin had given him. His brother listens in silence, that troubled look back on his face as Fili explains about seeing the heart of your One and how that is something that he will never have with Tauriel purely because they have not been made in the same way. "You've hardly even mentioned her," Fili concludes, "I wasn't sure it still needed saying. Bard was asking after you, I get the impression it was on her behalf. You need to be sure, Kili. Mahal made us for the future of the mountain, and He may not have realised He said it aloud, but just before you died, He said that she wasn't what He had intended for you."
"What does that mean?" Kili demands.
"I have no idea," Fili replies quickly. "I wish I did. I promised Durin I would tell you and I have. I won't get involved again."
He leaves Kili sat in baffled silence, shedding his clothes quickly and as efficiently as he can so that he can take the bath he had been thinking about before his impromptu nap. He feels even more drained, if that's possible, but also relieved. The need to tell this truth has been eating at him and now that he has, he feels like he can start living the life he has been given a second chance at having no matter what it brings.
That's this one. We'll hear from Kili next. I had it pretty much written about two hours after I finished writing this one.