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and death shall have no dominion

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“Your council,” Itachi says, holding Udayl’s hand like a fucking child, “can suck every dick on Arda.”

 

Silevon chokes, echoed by various shocked exclamations by Frerin, Balin and Dain. “Itachi!” A small, outraged blush appears high on Silevon’s cheekbones. “Please, control yourself. Shock and effect is all well and good, but for Erú’s sake—”

 

“Oh, come off it,” he grumbles. “I realize you’re all upper-class prissy nobles here, and I’m trying to not, like, strain your delicate minds, but honestly. What a bunch of cu—”

 

“Not another word.” Silevon’s grey eyes flash with parental displeasure. “Not a word, Itachi, or I will—” He pauses, rifling through all his available threats. “I will tell Lady Darla!”

 

Itachi snorts. “Lady Darla? Honestly, my dear. Lady Darla wouldn’t blink an eye. She’d agree with me, even.”

 

“He will tell your Thorin,” Udayl says, smirking. “Who will be uncomfortable but will aim to hide it.”

 

“Okay, first of all, how dare you gang up on me. Second of all, if you make Thorin uncomfortable—” Wait. “Where is Thorin, by the by?”

 

“I left him with his sister and the Iron Lady. He was sleeping, when I left.”

 

“Good thinking. He’ll be safe there. Now, Frerin, to go back to your dick-sucking council—”

 

“Mercy, Itachi,” says Frerin. “My heart can’t take it. Let’s leave the solider-speak aside for now. I appreciate your point, you don’t need to make it so—vivid.”

 

“Yeah okay,” he concedes. “I can imagine the images can’t be pleasant. Goodness me, what a bunch of—‘

 

“Idiots,” snorts Dain. “Still, for all our sakes, let’s have this conversation in private. I for one am dying for some warm tea, after all this talking.”

 


 

 

Lady Darla doesn’t beat around the bush. “So, Itachi, how did your first council meeting go?”

 

Hmm. “Well enough,” he says, pouring everybody a second cup of tea. The Lady’s chambers are as comfortable as any in the Mountain at this time, which means they’re chilly, with at least three inexplicable currents of the draft that all manage to hit his spine at the same time. The air is saturated with an old house smell and Itachi kind of hates all of it. Honestly, he’d be best served if he moved all his Dwarves to the Clearing for a year or ten, until the Dwarves get the Mountain up and running. “I only threatened to murder them once, so, y’know. Go me.”

 

Balin snorts over his tea. “Was it once? Didn’t you threaten to entomb everyone in the mountain, apart those select few you liked?”

 

Yeah okay. He climbs to his perch, legs thrown over Udayl’s, within touching distance of Thorin’s sleeping figure. “Twice, then. Considering that a solid third of the council are self-centred philistines, I was a model of restraint. Silevon, back me up here.”

 

Silevon inclines his head, very image of upper-class breeding. “Itachi is correct, broadly speaking. There were two objectives ahead, and he met both. The first was to establish yourself as a third party with more than enough political and actual power to give your words weight. The second was to show you will not let yourself be bribed or threatened or cajoled by others, but you will listen to reason. Everything else is just—rhetoric.”

 

“Exactly.” Don’t lie. “Well, other than the ending. That wasn’t a shining moment.”

 

“Lady Marna took things too far,” says Balin. “Much too far. Her ambition outgrows her sense.”

 

“Fools.” Lady Darla shakes her head, fingers combing through Dain’s hair. “Damn fools. What say you, my King.”

 

Frerin sighs, sags into his seat, movements much too frail for a Dwarf not even into his majority. A bold of unease zig-zags down Itachi’s spine. He keeps forgetting, but damn. Frerin is not having the best time of it. “No titles, if you please. We’re alone. I can’t deal with titles anymore on this day.”

 

“Very well. My question stands—what do you think of the chaos Itachi spun?”

 

“It was exactly what we needed,” he says, tipping his head back to rest against the tall back of his chair. “And also much, much more. They expected Ozkif’uzghu, the mute prophet. They got a volatile, passionate warrior unafraid to make himself understood. It shook things up, to be certain, but how the dice will fall is anyone’s guess.”

 

Speaking of, perhaps this is an appropriate time to voice some rather disquieting concerns. “I don’t.” Think before you speak. He pauses, sorting through his words. “I don’t know if I am capable of being what you want.” Wait, is that true? Feels like it is. A bit too honest, even. “I am—the force of my anger today worries me. I don’t mind being a guard-dog, I am a guard-dog in every way that matters. I won’t be a rabid one, chained up and unleashed when convenient. That’s—I am too dangerous to play that game.”

 

Silevon stiffens, but nothing like Udayl. “Nobody would think to use you in that fashion,” his brother says. “Nobody would dare. Trust me when I say I would cut down all who would try to manipulate your passion for their own gain.”

 

“Where is this coming from,” asks the Lady, a note of caution in her voice. That’s right, he’s had a conversation along these lines with her already. She swore a vow then and she’s not the type to do such things easily. “Have we done something to make you doubt us?”

 

“No.” True. They did, unintentionally, unleash him upon the council, without taking the risks into account. They couldn’t have known, of course, but the effect was the same. Itachi’s control was stretched to the point of snapping, and it is unclear if he would have been able to hold himself back if Udayl hadn’t come. “I’m not accusing you of anything, nor am I saying I should not have gone. I’m talking about the future. You’ve felt how volatile I am. My bond with Udayl is new and precious, I am still unbalanced from battle, and I haven’t begun processing—everything that has happened.” Not enough, come on. “I am not what you would call stable. If someone pushes me too hard, I will snap and there aren’t many here who could survive that. Only the one, perhaps.”

 

Lady Darla watches him with careful eyes, but Dis is the one who answers. “You just need to calibrate,” she says, every word sharp and precise, nothing like the fiery young blade-wife she’d been, before. “If, say, a non-combatant threatened your Udayl, you’d not have taken them seriously. If a cloth merchant insulted him for his origin and species, you’d ignore him. Once you let yourself understand that the council members are as powerless to harm you as if they were sparrows, you will let such things go.”

 

“That’s—possible. Still, I would ask you to be careful where I may not know I ought to be. My temper is not—I’m even more dangerous now than I was when I was a mute, traumatized wreck.”

 

Udayl makes a noise reminiscent of a scoff that has undertaken a life-long revenge quest. It is to a regular scoff the same thing Udayl is to a regular sixty-year-old human. “Any who would think you harmless deserve what you would do to them,” he says. “It took me ten seconds to know your strength. The Dwarves should know by now.”

 

“Ah, yes,” says Frerin, voice lightening with humour, wry and cracking, but honest underneath the cynicism. “We certainly remember that particular battle. There are songs, I believe.”

 

Udayl re-settles his shoulders comfortably. “I have never fought a worthier foe. You should have seen Itachi tear my father into pieces, laughing and insane. The Great Sun as my witness, the biggest piece left of Jibran could have fit in a matchbox.”

 

Good grief.

 

“Yes, we’re all very impressed, dear,” says Silevon. “I’m sure your grand magic battle was suitably bloody. That said, I am an old Elf. Surely my millennia have earned me some reprieve from gruesome details?”

 

“Udayl is exaggerating,” Itachi says—lies like a liar. “In any case, surely there are more pressing things to discuss than age-old battles?”

 

“Age-old, he says,” grumbles Thorin, peering through shuttered eye-lids. “It’s not been a season, you twit.” Immediately, something like horror flashes over his face. Before he can do something stupid like stammer out an apology, Silevon’s laughter rings through the room. Man, these Elves. Painful Chakra aside, when they’re merry, there is no sight that can compare in this world or the next. And Itachi is very qualified to make such statements.

 

“Well-said, Master Oakenshield,” Silevon says, syllables round and clear. “Well-said.”

 

“Yes, yes, we’re all bratty children, oh wise elder,” says Itachi, winding his voice into a whine. “Thorin, dear, it’s good to see you awake. How are you feeling?”

 

“Well-rested and clear of mind.” He opens his eyes enough to send him an even look. “I don’t trust it at all.” 

 

Well, shit. What a comment to make, straight after waking.

 

“Get used to it,” he says, forcing himself to stay within the jovial range. “I am good for some things. Trust me, soon enough you will quite forget that you ever had a worry that wasn’t exclusively Itachi-shaped.”

 

Nobody quite seems to find his attempt at humour amusing. Not even Silevon. Not even Udayl.

 

“Right,” he says into the silence. “So that didn’t land as it should have. I was joking?” Nominally. “I’m good at other things as well.” That’s true at least.

 

“On that note,” says Lady Darla, every word focused and measured. “Why don’t we talk about where we go from here? Itachi, you said something about a food source?”

 

“Yes, food. So, back when I was an itty-bitty Dwarfling—” He ignores Udayl’s snort. “—Mother—Lady Yavanna—had blessed my garden. It has grown some, over the years, as you can imagine.”

 

“Is that why the Western Greenhouse is one-sixth the size it should be?” Frerin leans forward, eyes intent. “We measured the cursed place at least a dozen times.”

 

“Yes, that would be why.” Measured the greenhouse, bless. “The magic,” fuck but he hates that term, “grew with me, in a manner of speaking.”

 

“It is his home,” croaks Thorin. “His home, ‘Rin. His crafts and his tools and his most prized possessions.”

 

Uh. “Yeah, petal, that’s not how it works. My stuff is there, but you know I don’t value material possessions. Everything I care about is here or in the healing chambers. You’re welcome to everything in my camp.” Plus he looted most of the tools there, so. It’s not like they’re his.

 

“No matter,” says Lady Darla, pre-empting Thorin, Frerin, Balin and Dwalin’s protest. “Nobody will step foot in your home, Itachi, but the food is a pressing issue.”

 

Yeah Yeah, it is. You know what else is a pressing issue?

 

“Speaking of.” Oh, boy. “I have a pressing issue to bring to, uh, the King’s attention.”

 

Frerin slumps and drags a weary hand over his eyes. “Why not. Have at it.”

 

Itachi hums and closes his eyes briefly, arms stretching Udayl’s way. His brother exhales a content little noise of amusement but obliges and sweeps Itachi up into a cuddle, sitting down into the newly available spot. Itachi burrows into his warmth back to chest, wedges the top of his head underneath his jaw and settles.

 

“So you know how I thought Father’s children were all dead? Did you wonder about, you know, where all the—remains are?”

 

All the Dwarves freeze where they sat. Even Thorin, sleepy, muzzy Thorin, sits up, cracks of electric-blue visible through the thick curl of his eyelashes.

 

“We had assumed time took them.” Lady Darla is the first one to speak, unsurprisingly. She and Udayl are a match made in heaven.

 

“Yeah, no, not in this climate. Organic material, sure, that’s gone, but, you know, bones and, uh, metal and stone, all that was perfectly preserved. I couldn’t do anything about those in the Mines. But, uh. I saved the rest. Built a Crypt, kind of.”

 

“You—saved the remains?” Frerin leans forward in his chair, eyes as big as they can go. “By yourself? I don’t mean to doubt, Ozkif’uzghu, but that would have taken—”

 

“Years, yeah.” He sends him a small, subdued smile. Those years were strange, made even stranger with the shade of his death in the meantime. “But I’m not without my advantages, you know? Orcs never dared go past the Mines, and I had plenty of time. Decades. Never mind, point is, I took every, uh, every individual and stashed them in an improvised Crypt. Built a Shrine to defend it.”

 

“No,” breathes Silevon. “The Shrine to Aule?”

 

“Oh, I quite forgot—I took you to visit, haven’t I?” He turns to his Dwarves and hurries to explain, even though they’re much too shocked to process things quickly. “Not the Crypt. Nobody has seen the Crypt. I didn’t know—I don’t know your customs. My—Some people believed in fire-burials, some in returning to the Earth. I thought, if the Builders ever return, it would be better that they decide.”

 

“This is—” Frerin whips around and sends a speaking look to Balin and Dain. “We must tell everybody. The Ozkif’uzghu has saved the bones of our ancestors!”

 

Itachi flinches a little, curving into Udayl. That sounds—

 

“Do we have to say it was me?”

 

Frerin pauses for long enough to send an outraged look his way. “Itachi, you darling lunatic, who else could it be? Durin the Deathless? Either we say it was you, or we leave it to the people to assume it was you. Don’t be ridiculous. Okay, Lady Darla, we will need your help. We need to get some—Some food and drink. This needs to be as grand as we can make it. Balin—”

 

Itachi sighs, wrapping Udayl’s arms tighter around himself. He pitches his voice low, just barely audible to his brother. “Well, I guess it could have been worse.”

 

“Let them have this,” says Udayl, matching his volume. “One of the things I have observed in your Khazad is their honesty with expressing emotion. They are stressed and afraid and paranoid. It will do them good to have a justified reason to vent.”

 

“I just—” I don’t want to be in the centre of attention, any more. “It shouldn’t be me. It should be—Frerin or Thorin or Dis, not me that is in the centre of this. They already expect me to be their guardian angel.”

 

“Not true.” Udayl’s voice drops even further, chest almost rumbling behind him. “They worship you, but they expect nothing. That is as it should be.”

 

Man.

 

“Thorin, honey, is everything alright,” he says, after about thirty seconds of wallowing. “You seem a bit overwhelmed.”

 

Thorin blinks once, twice. “I am well, Itachi.” Lie. “I am just—Before we had even known you, you were saving us.”

 

Uh. Itachi very carefully doesn’t say the first three things that come to mind. “I am Father’s,” he says, which is a tried and true axiom that he always returns to when things get too complicated. “You are Father’s. You were always mine, conscious awareness or not.”

 

“So you intend on continuing as you started,” Thorin muses, eyes far-away. Itachi hate-hate-hates the distant, detached tone. “Just keep saving us over and over again, until the end of time.”

 

“Pretty much, yeah.” He pops his head up from behind Udayl’s massive arms and twists so he’s facing Thorin directly. “Do you think I should be—upset by this arrangement? My dear, I am nothing without you.”

 

Thorin loses a bit of the distance between him and the world, which is a win. The heavy tilt of scepticism is less appreciated. “You are Mahal’s Chosen.”

 

Itachi hums, amused. “I am not speaking in hyperbole, petal. Silevon can tell you all about the time he found me in the deep mines of Khazad-dum, mute, manic and insane. That is what I am when I don’t have my people.”

 

He can feel the air leave the room, even as Udayl rumbles a short laugh. He can always count on his brother to appreciate his sense of humour. “I think you should consider changing your comforting methods, Little Red.”

 

“Excuse you, I am very comforting.” He wiggles back into his brother-chair. “Also, very self-aware. There are things I can do and things that I can be. Being alone and unneeded is no one of them.”

 

“I can’t imagine such a world,” says Frerin, but both Dain and his Lady mother grow still and intent. They can recognize the difference between speculation and first-hand knowledge.

 

“That’s because you’re a precious darling,” he says, yanking his mind away from the shadows of his first life. “That should be celebrated and pampered and celebrated at all times.” There, that’s lightened the atmosphere. Even Thorin manages to crack a smile—even Dis, even though her’s is menacing around the edges. Frerin’s blush ties the whole thing together, and Itachi preens. Good work.

 

“So,” he continues, before the gloom seeps back in, “how do you want to play this? Can I source you something for the ceremony?”

 

“I—have no idea, actually,” says Frerin, blush slightly receding. “I don’t think we were ever in a situation like this.”

 

“We will consult the Speakers,” says the Lady. “There may not be a direct precedent, but they should be able to guide us in this.”

 

The Speakers? His uncomprehending look must register because she spars him a small smile. “They guide us in faith, speaking to Mahal.”

 

Itachi freezes. “You don’t say? When you say speak—”

 

The Lady’s smile widens even further, sensing blood in the water. “Prayers, ceremonies, rituals, things of that nature. Why do you ask?”

 

Oh boy. He sends a panicked look Silevon’s way. Behind him Udayl is politely keeping his chuckles behind his teeth, but it’s not fooling anybody. “Well, you see—”

 


 

“Oh come on,” he whines, some fifteen minutes later, once the pandemonium has somewhat lessened. “This can’t be that surprising. Thorin has seen one of my shrines, he’s heard me speak to Mother. My runes glow! So do Udayl’s! What did you think is happening, there?”

 

“We haven’t given much thought to the specifics,” says Lady Darla, voice sweet with glee. “A grave oversight on our part, I will freely admit. A direct line of communication with our Maker seemed a bit extreme even for you, little nightmare.”

 

“Well, you should have.” Mother’s mercy. “As I said, it’s nothing too spectacular.” He sneaks a small look Silevon’s way just in case. His elf is unpredictable when it comes to these things. Thankfully, he seems unbothered. If anything, he’s darkly amused. “I wouldn’t have brought it up, but you mentioned Speakers, and I thought it could be relevant.”

 

“Could be,” says Frerin weakly. “Yes, I dare say some might find it interesting. Quaint, even.”

 

He huffs and hides behind Udayl’s arms. “You don’t have to mention it if it’s going to be a big deal. It’s none of anybody’s business, how I speak to my parents, surely?”

 

“Oh, no,” says Dain. He’s never looked more like his mother, all mean smiles and sharp eyes. “Oh, no, we’re telling everybody. I am looking forward to this.” He pauses for a moment, and his smile widens. “Is that what you were talking about, Master Silevon? In the meeting? You mentioned Itachi could involve Aulë the Smith more directly?”

 

“Indeed. I have witnessed the practice in several forms. For everybody’s peace of mind, I would suggest conducting the ceremony at a shrine. Itachi can communicate with the Valar without an intermediary, but I would leave that for situations where you have a large population of Dwarves to instil with mortal terror.”

 

Itachi shrinks even further. Rude.

 

“I will schedule a meeting with the Speakers presently,” declares Dis. Itachi doesn’t abandon his ostrich strategy. “Do you need to prepare, Itachi?”

 

“I don’t need to prepare to talk to my parents,” he mutters. “Why do I need to be in the meeting for, anyways? I don’t know the prayers or the scripture.”

 

“Your choice of phrasing is drawing attention,” says Udayl under his breath. “I don’t much care, but your Dwarves might not be ready to know you are literally created by the Gods.”

 

Hmph. “So is everybody.