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Thorin shrugs, his voice steady as he speaks to his nephew.
“He looks to be enjoying the evening well enough.”

“Uncle, can you not see?” Fili speaks to Thorin in a hissed, low voice from their position at the top of the stairs. The company is still mostly gathered into a game of cards before the roaring fire, while several sit in large armchairs smoking their pipes as the younger dwarves continue their laughter and exclamations. Kili has finally wound down and now sits with one leg pulled up in one of the armchairs next to Balin, smoking a long stemmed pipe, a fragile smile breaking from time to time as he watches the game.

“His eyes were closing by themselves when I spoke to him just now. But he won’t budge from that chair to come up to bed for a proper rest.”

“So?” Thorin casts his heavily browed eyes downward. “It is his choice to remain amongst his kin. He may do as he pleases.”

“So I know my brother.” 

“What are you saying, Fili?”

“Uncle,” Fili turns fully towards Thorin, his blue eyes wide, “Please only ask yourself what is it that would make Kili drink himself numb and then be afraid to go to his own bed in a house full of his own kin?”

Thorin looks down at his younger nephew whose eyes have closed again, the pipe slipping from his hand. Balin, whose crinkled eyes have kept watch over the young dwarf, grasps the pipe and carefully sets it aside as Kili’s head tilts slowly until it rests against the chair’s side rest meant for a much taller human, his lips parting slightly.

The only change in Thorin’s countenance is a slight flicker of an eyebrow, a slight tightening of jaw muscles.

Fili whispers, barely audible. “It is not how we see it, but how he felt it, Uncle.

Thorin looks darkly at Fili at this.

But Fili looks as though he might be about to rush back down the staircase to wrap his arms around his brother... and that will not do.

Thorin looks down at Kili’s sleeping form in the midst of his raucous brethren.

“Let it be, Fili. I will deal with it.”

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The sound of Ori laughing followed by Bofur, Bifur and Gloin joining in explosively rouses Kili from a deep slumber to a more shallow one. The disturbance comforts him, the warmth of his kin enjoying their time by the fire feels familiar and safe, and he returns to a deeper sleep again.

The events of the day still have him in turmoil, and his mind seeks the peace of sleep gratefully.

That morning he’d come downstairs early enough to avoid most of the others, quickly and quietly grabbed his bow and quiver, and headed out the door before anyone could stop him for so much as a cup of broth or crust of bread.

He’d made straight for the target range. He’d found it the first day there, on the outskirts of this town on a Lake, an ingenious setup. The targets were attached to a set of protruding rocks at the North end of the town, with a long wooden dock from which to fire across an expanse of water, and a system of ropes and small boats to allow the archers to retrieve their arrows after having fired them. It made it rather imperative that one not miss the target for any arrows shot long would be lost in the dark water permanently, but Kili never had that problem.

He’d taken rather a roundabout way of getting there. His thoughts whirled with questions that he did not feel he possessed enough experience to manage alone, but that he could not fathom discussing with any of the members of the company. His feet wandered along, his path meandering quite as much as his thoughts.

He’d been raised to fight, to defend, to serve. He understood these things and the behaviors that went with them. He’d always known he came second in his Uncles’ heart when it came to his brother. He was second in birth order, second in privileges, and honestly second in terms of maturity, he could admit that. Fili had always been the more responsible one, and had earned a more favorable eye from Thorin. This had never bothered him overly much. It might mean less attention from Thorin but that was not necessarily a bad thing, and it had meant less responsibility for Kili, which had suited him fine.

It had always been Kili and Fili, the two of them together in everything, partners in crime, in triumphs, in training, in shared private jokes about Bombur’s appetite and in attempts to get Dwalin to crack a smile...They both wanted nothing more than to be good dwarfs, to be considered strong, proud and brave by their elders, to never worry their mother (overly much) and to please their impossible Uncle. Kili loved his brother, and Fili loved him. He was certain of these things.

But this journey was changing everything.

They had begun to see each other differently on this journey. Obviously Thorin had begun to view his favorite differently as well. The fact that Kili had felt jealous told him at least that his own feelings for his brother must be real.

It had felt good, so good when Fili had touched him last night.

But when his Uncle had joined them, it had become confusing, unexpected, and now all seemed muddled and wrong. He had wanted their attention. But Kili was quite certain there was something wrong with the way in which this attention was paid to him. Was he right to think that? Was this how a second in line of birth was treated in this kind of...sharing?

But he was a warrior. He was due the respect due an accomplished warrior, was he not? So being a warrior, he should not be submissive, objectified, used as though he were nothing more than a--

Well, should he?

But Thorin was his King and sovereign as well as his Uncle. His word was law, as it had always been. Fili had said that. Fili had submitted…

But Fili had not been made to lie prone and be violently used as his Uncle watched, and smirked.

And then left alone on the cold floor as they went off together.

Was this how it was in other families?

He’d arrived at the target range, and sought relief in the familiarity of concentric circles beckoning to him across the water. Casting for something, anything that he knew for certain was true, he busied himself with his bow, positioning his feet, feeling the wind’s direction, breathing deeply and then nocking the arrow, pulling back, holding the air in his lungs, centering his eyes down the shaft, quieting his soul, releasing…

Bullseye.

smiling, nodding to himself, he nocked a second arrow, and this times words form inside his mind,

I am Kili Durin, son of Dis.

The arrow flies, a second bullseye.

3rd in line to the throne of Erebor.

third bullseye.

Brother to Fili.

fourth bullseye.

He continues that way, the steady, well-learned muscle memory ritual of his archery soothing him, centering him, reminding him of something that is his, something that makes him valuable to the company, something that earns him the right to call himself a warrior.

His quiver empty, he climbs happily into the little boat and pulls himself towards the target to pull his arrows from the straw filled bullseye, and then turns to pull his boat back to the dock--

His Uncle is standing there waiting for him.

He nearly drops his bow into the water, a shudder running through him and coming to rest in a sick knot in his stomach.

There is nowhere to go but towards Thorin. So he pulls the rope, nearing his uncle, trying to school his own features, trying not to notice the stern look of his uncles’ countenance.

It seems to take forever to pull the boat back to the dock though Kili’s muscles burn with the effort of hastening to Thorin as quickly as he can. He steps onto the dock and stands before his uncle, inclining slightly,

“Uncle.”

“Kili.”

The tension in the air between them is thicker than slag.

“You wandered off again this morning.”

Kili shuffles his feet. “I thought it would be good to get in-- perhaps, some practice… you will need-- I mean, I should be-- at my best--” he stammers, forcing himself to meet Thorin’s eye but finding that eye ominous and distinctly displeased.

“Indeed.” Thorin’s voice is low, dubious. “Let’s see then.” The old warrior crosses his arms across his great chest and looks expectantly at the target.

Kili forces his limp arms back into their previous motions, tries to find the quietness of mind he’d had before, but his breath falters and the first arrow goes long, splashing two feet from the target.

The low growl he hears behind him does his next shot no good at all, and this arrow, although it hits the target, only grazes the edge and dangles there at a pathetic angle before it, too, meets a watery end.

Kili stops, unwilling to waste any more arrows that are precious and take time to make.

He turns back to his uncle, his face blazing, chest heaving a little.

“Time well spent then.” says Thorin dryly. “Something troubling you, nephew?”

He wants to shake his head. He wants to be as light and insouciant as Bofur, as gruff and impervious as Dwalin, as lovable and indestructible as Fili...but in the end he can only be himself.

“You know well what troubles me, uncle.”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“Last night...last night was...wrong.”

“How so?”

“It was not...right.”

Thorin snorts. Kili cringes. “Delightful. I must remember to send my compliments to your language tutors.”

“Uncle!” This comes out higher pitched that Kili would have liked but he presses on. Thorin regards him with one side of his mouth curling.

“I am a warrior. I am khuhaj. I am a Durin.”

Thorin nods, sobering. “Aye. You are that.”

“I am due some respect. I should not be treated like, like a…”

Thorin’s brows descend so far down over his eyes that his irises nearly disappear.

“Say it.”

“I am a prince.” Kili’s voice whispers. “I am no whore.”

The hand that strikes his face and seizes a hunk of hair at the back of his head is iron hard and Kili gasps not because it hurts that much but because it is the end of the world.

Prince Kili, is it?” Thorin speaks softly, but to Kili’s ears the roar of his words could be heard all the way west to the Halls of Moria. “You are subject to your king, and that would be ME unless you have forgotten. I have indulged you far too much. You are spoiled. You will submit to your KING whenever he asks, or to your brother who outranks you whenever HE asks! You will submit, Kili!”

He doesn’t remember when his uncle left the dock. He had sunk to the wooden boards and comes to his full senses only later, finding his bow and quiver of arrows scattered in a mess around him.

Slowly and mechanically, Kili pulls off the silver rings from his fingers, reaches to the back of his head, pulls the clasp from his hair. Dark soft locks fall forward around his face as he tucks these objects into a deep pocket and buttons it firmly shut.

-------------------------------------------------------

Thorin’s greatest rages often occur at moments of his own greatest insecurities. No one really knows this. Not even Thorin himself.

The one who may come closest to understanding it is Balin, who is luckily the first one of the company to encounter Thorin after he has spent a good hour terrorizing the Laketown populace simply by walking through the streets scowling.

Balin speaks, observing. Thorin barks defensively. Balin shrugs and proceeds to reminisce obliquely, significantly, of Thorin’s youth, of another young pair of brothers, of a stern father who demanded, and who did not brook compromise, or weakness, and of the strange and different ways in which real strength is measured…

Thorin grows very silent, and very still.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

The hand that comes to rest on Kili’s shoulder nearly stops his heart.

“There now lad!” comes the rough but not unfriendly voice, “Didn’t mean to startle you. Were you going to shoot off this target then?”

It is Bard, Kili remembers, the serious one, the bowman with the young son from their first welcome dinner,

“Yes, yes, thank you, I was just...enjoying the sunshine.” Kili is amazed at how calm his own voice sounds. It is in fact the first fine weather day they have had since arriving, and they remark upon this lightly as they both stand and prepare themselves to shoot.

Kili’s body goes through the motions from decades of training to present himself as a respectable dwarf. It is as much a muscle memory as his archery stance. His mind is clouded and for awhile he is barely aware of his own actions as he speaks polite small talk with Bard and retrieves his arrows and gets to his feet, repositioning himself, feeling the wind and casting his eye to the target across the water.

But soon they are passing a pleasant hour of practice, Kili retrieving his success of the morning and coming to enjoy the company of this man who talks not at all, focuses intensely on his own shooting without judging or seeming concerned in the least with the young dwarf next to him, and demands nothing from Kili other than silence, which Kili is only too happy to give.

By the end of his 6th round Kili’s heart beats almost normally again, though a numbness still lives in his skin and a permanent knot still occupies his stomach. They pull their small boats back to the dock in unison, their quivers refilled.

“My daughters will have a nice tea ready by now,” observes the tall bowman pleasantly. He nods to Kili, “You have a fine eye and steady hand, master dwarf. You would be welcome in my home to join us if you would like.”

Master dwarf.

Kili hesitates. Had circumstances been different, he certainly would have begged off. Such a fraternization would be considered frivolous, perhaps even traitorous, and to go without knowing first if the company needed him, without his uncle’s permission, would be a gross infraction.

But circumstances being what they are, Kili considers. He does not want to return to the company. He will have to sometime, he knows, for he has no where else to go, but he is not certain he could bear it yet. He wonders idly if Thorin would even prefer if he delayed his return. Or indeed, even notice.

“At your service, master bowman, I would be honored.”

The house is small and predictably not far from the archery range. Bard’s daughters blush at him and stumble over themselves to serve him the best of their poor supply of hard biscuits (of which he cannot bring himself to eat more than one), and keep his mug filled with hot tea. Young Bain peppers him with questions about their journey, which Kili answers carefully excluding any important information that would betray the company’s goal. Bard sits silently and contentedly smoking his pipe. They are a simple family and a happy one. Kili is young for a dwarf, but in years he is far older than anyone who shares this tea with him. When Kili leaves he suddenly feels very old. Ancient even.

-----------------------------------------------------

The house bristles with sounds of Dwarves at their meal when Kili finally returns sometime after sunset. Noone marks him as he slips in the door, insinuating himself into his well rehearsed role as Bombur’s assistant next to Ori. The younger dwarf smiles genially at him and claps him heartily on the back, handing him a platter filled with mugs of ale which Kili takes numbly and distributes the drinks among his brethren as surreptitiously as he can.

Thorin sits at the head of the table and Kili sees him, but does not raise his head enough to meet his uncle’s eye. Whatever Thorin’s expression may be, Kili has not the heart to look. Fili is next to Bilbo further down the table. Kili looks briefly at him when he takes an ale from his tray, just enough to notice intensity and concern.

At this point, joining his dwarf kin in their typical evening activity of drinking too much ale seems like the most splendid idea Kili has ever had.

As soon as his duties are done Kili grabs an ale for himself and drinks it down in one go.

Bilbo slides over and Kili sits down. A bowl of stew with a hunk of bread appears before him which he picks over noncommittally, instead opting for more ale when the pitcher returns his way. The hobbit asks after Kili’s day with all of the gentle good manners of a smallish woodland creature. Answering him doesn’t bear considering, so Kili counters defensively by asking after Bilbo’s day. After his third ale, the hobbit’s accounting of visiting the fish monger and discussing the merits and flavors of local vs imported carp species begins to sound like the most fascinating story Kili has ever heard.

After the fourth ale, he is giggling loudly through a cross-table conversation with Bofur and Bifur about the possible merits of human lasses verses Dwarven ones, and laughing at Bofur’s merry accounting of a particularly buxome human lass they had seen that very day who had flirted with Bifur. She had been rather confused and finally affronted at the dwarf’s unique method of communicating in spite of Bofur’s strident attempts to reassure her and translate his brother’s candid Iglishmek which of course, to any non-dwarves could be rather misconstrued with its many forthright and aggressive hand gestures.

Having downed his fifth ale, Kili feels nothing but warm stupid affection for everyone around him and only the last remaining scrap of rational thought in his brain stops him from wrapping his arms around Bilbo and planting a wet kiss right on the tip of his soft hobbity ear.

Surely whatever had troubled him about his uncle’s and brother’s attentions to him cannot be so bad as he had thought. Surely he could allow them to have their way with him if it pleased them. It was not such a crisis. He needs no more than this, than the warm company of his brothers here in this Inn and on the road. Nothing can harm him. He is of stone and it shall bounce off and be forgotten in the maelstrom of these stories, songs and laughter. They are dwarves, they are for each other, and it is a small thing in comparison to this great quest, to reclaiming their home, isn’t it?

Fili’s presence by his side jolts him slightly. His vision tunnels around his brother’s face which is flushed with drink, too, he is happy to see, but which also radiates worry, which is tiresome.

“Kili, how many ales have you had?”

Kili tips his head at Fili, rolling his eyes. His mind is quite clear on what to answer and it confuses him a bit that his words do not come out as he intends. “Well f’you muuust know, thisus my secunt.”

Bilbo peers over Kili’s shoulder at Fili and shakes his head, mouthing the word “sixth!” quite clearly and drawing a hand in a cutting motion across his own throat. Kili follows his brother’s eyes back to Bilbo who smiles genially at him. Fili gently takes the mug of ale from Kili’s hand while the hobbit distracts him and passes it deftly to Bilbo who grasps it and leaves to replace its contents with something less spirited.

Kili turns back to Fili and hiccups.

“Kili, are you all right?” Fili’s hands caress his arm to the elbow and apply a soft squeeze to his leg just above the knee. The touch brings the memory of the previous night back to him and Kili’s breath catches pleasurably until his vision is caught by Thorin’s face at the end of their long table. His uncle is staring directly at him.

Kili’s eyes close and his head bows, suddenly feeling as heavy as lead. All is uncovered, all is undone. But he soon raises up again, smiling so broadly at Fili that his eyes are pulled nearly shut in his fully flushed face. Fili is suddenly sure that It is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, and the most tragic.

“M’fine...fine!” Kili assures him, “All is so ss-small…” he says this softly, his gaze looking past Fili at some point beyond, “Hey...Dedju know yew <hic!> outrank me?”

Truly worried now, Fili makes to pull his brother up, hopefully outside to help him clear his head, but Kili rouses first and smacks his brother’s back hard before calling across the table,

“Nori! Ori! up fer a ga <hic!>game?”

------------------------------------

The game begins raucously, Kili in the center, leading and organizing. Ori and Nori willingly join him on the floor in front of the fire, and Bofur and Bifur are soon dealt in too. Kili recklessly casts bets on the weakest of card hands, coins spilling from a pouch at his waist, laughing with his head thrown back in abandon each time he loses and one of his brethren draws the winnings, --all of the money he had brought on this journey-- away from him.

Nori is of course happy to oblige him. Bifur is oblivious. Bofur seems pleased to see Kili in a merry mood for the first time in weeks. The other older dwarves have gathered around the fire in the more comfortable arm chairs to watch and smoke their pipes. Only Ori seems aware that something is awry as he watches Kili with his eyes wide. Long experience with his own brothers has taught him a few skills, and he manages to squirrel away some of Nori’s winnings of Kili’s money into a separate pouch on his own belt. The others are far too drunk to notice.

Fili and Bilbo have taken up seats on a small couch in the corner opposite the fire, quietly smoking and observing.

“I have never seen your brother drink as much as he did tonight.” says Bilbo carefully. Fili nods.

There is a manic edge to Kili that only those who know him well would notice. His laughter is a little too loud, he smacks his kin a bit too often on their backs and his rejoinders are too bright and end in what might be construed as a tiny sob if one really listens to it.

And Fili is really listening to it.

Of course, the six large mugs of ale Kili drank at dinner without barely a bite of food could also explain it.

But Bilbo ‘s powers of observation are as sensitive as his own, bless the kind hearted burglar.

“Has something happened? Is there something wrong?”

Fili sighs. Yes, something is wrong.

“Aye, perhaps.”

They continue to watch the younger members of the company play until Kili’s money runs out. He good naturedly withdraws from the game, encouraging them to continue playing, settling into an armchair and drawing out his long stemmed pipe and busying himself with lighting it.

At length Fili pushes himself up, and goes to his brother, kneeling before him.

“Kee?”

Kili blinks slowly at him, realizing marginally that his brother is using a term of endearment he hasn’t used with him for weeks…

“Fee?” he answers in kind.

Fili strokes his arm. “You seem tired, come to bed?”

Kili’s head is tilted against the armchair’s side. One side of his mouth curls upwards at Fili, shining brown eyes wishful, but finally the younger dwarf’s gaze is caught by his Uncle’s silhouette looming from the landing at the top of the stairs. Fili traces his gaze there, seeing Thorin who sits in a great chair seeming to stare out at nothing, his thoughts unfathomable. Fili darts his eyes back to his little brother.

Kili’s face has darkened. He stares at Ori, Nori, Bofur and Bifur who are still gaming by the fire. It is noisy, crowded, chaotic. He is sleepy but the sound is oddly comforting. He will stay here.

He smiles into Fili’s pained expression, “M’fine here...you go on.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

Kili is dreaming of Bard’s warm firelit kitchen, deeply asleep in the great armchair of the company’s house, when Thorin speaks his name.

It wakens him as suddenly and as cruelly as the hornblow of an orc signaling a warg rider attack. More cruelly really, for at least in the case of an orc attack Kili would know exactly what to do.

But in the face of Thorin’s dark form standing over him, Kili is paralyzed.

The night has progressed past the point of moonlight, and the fire in the grate has died down to coals. A glance to the right and left tells him it is indeed so late that all of the other dwarves have gone up to bed. The one source of light from the coal fire is behind his uncle, thus Thorin’s expression lies in shadow while Kili feels the weak tendrils of light tease unfairly across his own features, revealing all. His heart is beating so hard inside his chest he fears Thorin can hear it. He might be right.

“I would have your respect, Kili,” His Uncle’s voice steps on his stomach with steel feet. “...but I would not have you fear me.”

His eyes stare widely at Thorin. Transparent. Fili is right. There is no hiding, even from himself. The protective effects of the alcohol have worn off. He is vulnerable and raw, and dreads what he thinks is coming, dreads being grabbed and forced, his heart sickens at the impossible choice between obedience and dignity.

So when he feels Thorin’s touch on his shoulder he flinches violently, then bows his head in shame at such a reaction, his head spinning with conflict, regretful at the feel of Thorin’s hand retreating and relieved at the same time.

Finally completely anguished and reasoning that things cannot get worse than they already are... Kili speaks, forcing every word out of his lungs in gulps and gasps.

“Thorin, if you and Fili desire each other, then have each other,” He hears his own voice trembling and he hates it, hates his own very nerves, hates his own hands that clench savagely at the fabric of his tunic in his lap, “...but please leave me out of it. I will not be jealous--” his head, still bowed down, shakes back and forth, perhaps to emphasize his words, perhaps in disbelief at his own boldness. “--if this is the lesson you intended for me that I have learnt it, Thorin, I will not sulk, I will not complain. But I cannot bear it, I cannot bear to be...to be touched without feeling. Perhaps there are other dwarfs stronger than me who could but I cannot--please Thorin…!”

He hears the scrape of a stool on the floor and feels the older dwarf let his weight sink down to it, hears a heavy sigh and cringes even more, his stomach twisting and his hands nearly ripping at the cloth they cling to, knowing not what to do but continue so he fumbles onwards, not daring to look up, dreading to allow his uncle any opening or hear the horrible loudness of disapproving silence.

“--I do not need Princely privileges, I do not even want them...I will relinquish my name, my place in line, distance myself if I have displeased you, I will leave the company altogether if you want--”

The pressure of Thorin’s large hands on either side of his head makes Kili jump and nearly cry out, but it is not the angered iron grip from earlier that day. It is not even the disciplined hold he recalls from his childhood, when he couldn’t sit still and his Uncle would seize him firmly until he did. There is deference in the touch, and Thorin’s fingers do not move but remain chastely still in the loose rivers of Kili’s hair. And then Kili feels his Uncle’s great head press against his own.

It is a sacred gesture, foreheads touching. So much meaning comes from Thorin’s choice of it at this moment that Kili’s entire body threatens to collapse from a thousand muscles relaxing at once. It takes him back to Ered Luin, to family dinners around Dis’ small table, to the worst thing in a day being the accidental breakage of a ceramic dish, the best thing the smile of pride on his Uncle’s face at some small success of his during battle training. It is a gesture of love, but it is the love between warriors sworn to each other, between dwarves in honor of each other.

They stay that way, and Thorin waits a long time before speaking. In fact if Kili didn’t know better he might wonder if perhaps his Uncle were actually unsure what to say to him.

“You are a Durin,” He says finally after clearing his throat, his voice oddly rough. “That can be both an honor and a burden as I have well come to know. But whatever the case, noone can take that from you, not even I.”

“And you are a Prince, but even if you were not, no dwarf should ever be made to suffer attentions he does not want. We shall do as you ask.”

Kili shudders a little at this. It’s not that I don’t want, it’s just that, that...not like that...

But Thorin carries on, his voice now very soft.

“Where is your hair clip, and your rings?”

Cringing again, Kili fumbles into the deep pocket where he had placed them and draws them out. Thorin grasps the clip first. At the touch of his uncle’s hands in his hair drawing the loose layers gently back into the clasp Kili finally comes apart. His head still bowed, he is quiet, but his shoulders heave and large tears splash down onto his wrists in his lap. He realizes only now that this is the touch he has craved, those great hands on him not rough or possessive or dominating but softly communicating something.  Not love, he knows he cannot expect that, not the reverence he had glimpsed in the touch Thorin had given to his brother on this journey. But just ...care, maybe. His body would have responded to that. Mahal, yes, he would have been happy just for that.

But he will never have even that now, he has ruined everything.

This touch is no more than an Uncle’s tending of a nephew, a foolish, childish, hungover nephew that Thorin has had to watch over and worry about, who wanders off without permission and makes himself more a liability than an asset to this journey that is so sacred and so vital to all of them.

Kili chokes back the tears, bites his lip so hard he can taste blood, grips the shirt linen in his lap so strongly that he actually rips a hole in it. Thorin, unphased, unhooks Kili’s fingers from their hold on his tunic and fits his silver rings back onto them, one by one.

Large fingers finally cup his chin and tip Kili’s head up, but he can’t look, can’t open his lids.

“Look at me Kili.”

His eyes finally open, shot with red, despairing, expectations low.

But Thorin’s enormous thumb caresses his temple.

“Do not think for a moment that you are not in my heart.”

The moment stands still as the planets suddenly stop their motions. Kili wants very much to ask Thorin to elaborate what he means by this astonishing statement, but just as he gathers his courage, Thorin clears his throat again.

“We will be leaving here in a few days. I will need you to be at your full strength, is that understood?”

Kili nods obediently, his throat still closed, all other sounds blocked out except for the cracking and popping of the coals in the fireplace.

“When you are presented with food, I want you to eat.”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“And unless you are assigned watch duties I want you to sleep properly, is that clear?”

“Yes, Uncle…”

Ooooh Mahal.

Something down in Kili’s gut has taken a distinct dislike to him.

“Kili?”

no, no, no, not now.

It is at this moment that Fili, who had been keeping careful and very stealthy watch over his uncle’s treatment of Kili, flies down the stairs, barely touching a step.

“Uncle, excuse me, I am sorry ...Kili?”

Kili looks up at him greenly.

Fili grabs his brother’s arm and slips it over his shoulder and half carries Kili to the front door. Thorin, finally catching on, has the presence of mind to open the door for them and Kili makes it outside just in time to heave the contents of his stomach into the Lake.

Thorin’s replacing of Kili’s hair clip had been most serendipitous. Fili smoothes the remaining loose tendrils of his brother’s hair back from his face anyway as Kili coughs out the last of the meager contents of his gut, then pushes himself around and leans against the railing. His throat burns like dragon fire, his legs shake like a newborn colts’ and he keeps his eyes closed for fear his sight will reveal the world spinning and send him heaving over the railing again.

He feels Fili’s hands supporting him, lightly caressing, the touch of a brother’s affection he supposes. Well, that is what he has asked for, isn’t it? So he must accept it. How could he expect more, really? How could he, drunken desperate mess that he is, expect to win the love of his beautiful perfect brother who is constantly having to rescue him? A dull ache settles into his heart.

They will give him what he has asked them for, and he doesn’t want it.

“Some warrior.” He finally says. If he had taken a moment to look properly at Fili’s expression, if there had been enough light from the small lamp hanging outside the door of their house, Kili might have been surprised at what lay in his brother’s eyes right then.

But a new voice surprises them both. “Ahh, don’t trouble yerself lad. If I had a farthing for every time I held yer Uncle’s great locks outta tha way while he emptied his guts to the ground i’d be a rich dwarf by now.” They look up to see Dwalin’s great figure framed in one of the second floor windows, arms folded, his tattoed head tilted towards them, eyes glittering with just a hint of merriment.

“At least I had locks to hold back.” Comes Thorin’s dry retort. Kili feels a cold pewter mug pushed into his hand by his uncle, who urges him to drink it, all of it. Kili obeys. The water is cool and soothes his throat, and there is a hint of herbs in it that he can’t identify.

“Made ‘im some brew, then?”

“Aye.”

The old dwarf looks down at the two young ones and dips his head, “y’ell be meeting me in the sparring ring with swords then, the both of yeh, come dawn?”

Fili’s clear voice carries up to Dwalin in the affirmative, and Kili nods vigorously, hoping this will suffice, as he is still finishing the brew his uncle has brought him and does not trust his voice yet.

“Good. Go get some sleep then. Thorin.” The older dwarves nod to each other and Thorin’s great presence goes away. Kili can actually feel it. The depth, honor and seriousness of him, receding. The absence of Thorin.

He vaguely remembers Fili leading him up to his bed, his boots coming off, laying down, falling asleep. He keeps his eyes closed. If his brother speaks to him he does not recall it, if his touches were gentle or apathetic, he cannot remember it.

Either way it is unbearable.

Chapter Text

The next morning comes too quickly. Kili’s eyes open with effort, dried out from the alcohol. Everything aches. Except his heart, which is oddly numb.

He forces himself up. Many things vie for attention in his mind but finally what wins out is that he needs water, and lots of it, if he is to acquit himself well in the sparring ring with Dwalin.

Because he wants to acquit himself well. He must. He has to know that he can do something right.

When he turns towards the bedroom door though he is surprised to see Fili asleep in the other small bed in their room. Odd. He would have thought…

No matter. He makes his way downstairs, finds the water barrel and ladle and drinks copiously, then splashes some on his face. He runs his wet hands through his sleep tangled hair, feels the clip on the back of his head, his hands slowing. He pulls it loose and is contemplating it silently when Dwalin’s voice startles him.

“Good. Yer up. See you there in a few minutes.”

Kili nods quickly in acquiescence, firmly replaces his hair clip, fills a cup with water for Fili and returns to their room.

Fili is sitting cross legged on his bed replaiting one of his braids when Kili returns. He gives Kili an odd look when he offers him the cup, thanking him softly. Kili nods, not lingering on Fili’s expression as he has no wish to talk about the humiliation of the night before. He feels grateful that his brother remains silent. In fact, he is almost unnerved by it since it is rather unusual.

Normally he would have expected Fili to poke fun at him ruthlessly after such a night’s performance. Kili cringes as he anticipates the ribbing he is certain to receive from the others of the company. Up until now he would have thought nothing of it. He has never taken himself very seriously and the fact that his older brethren do not take him seriously either and are used to prodding him for his youthful foibles and irreverent behavior never really bothered him before. He had always received it in the same good humor as they gave it.

But suddenly it bothers him. It bothers him very much. Somehow his role to this point of the irreverent young Prince, who is always good for a story, song, joke or a laugh...perhaps it is because of this very persona that it was so easy for his brother and uncle to assume they could take his body as superficially as he took his own existence.

Kili feels like a feathery insect under glass, like he is being held up close to the sun and is finding himself to consist of nothing more than gauze and brittle tinder wood.

Something has slid beneath his skin and is prodding him hard.

They pull into their leathers and armor in the great room downstairs. Each tough layer Kili buckles onto himself soothes him, even though the armor does limit motion to some extent. He is not just doning the physical protection he needs for sparring. He feels he is actually layering on a thicker skin. 

Everything from the leather layers to his double handed grip on his broadsword and arc of his swing into the pells set up in the sparring yard protects him, not only from nicks and cuts from blades but from curious eyes that might see through into the broken china that currently rattles around inside his heart each time he remembers the request Thorin granted to him the night before by the dying fire.

He hopes to Mahal that no one marks anything unusual in his expression each time his eyes take in the morning sun shining in Fili’s golden braids, lightening his clear blue eyes to an impossible sapphire.

Gods...he is being stupid. Fili’s heart doesn’t belong to him. It never did. Neither of them care for him in that way. They made that obvious enough the other night. Kili’s breath huffs out of him harshly and he redoubles the strength of his blows on the pell in front of him, until he feels a large hand on his shoulder.

“That’ll do lad. Let’s have you blow some of that fire out on me for a spell.”

Kili blinks, then nods, turning obediently towards Dwalin and readying himself. He senses Fili in his peripheral vision and actively ignores him, forcing his focus onto Dwalin and all the things his mentor had ever taught him about fighting.

He is stiff at first. Their first few paries almost tip him off balance. His arms and hands are warm but his footwork must catch up, and Dwalin tuts at him, reminding him no amount of blade swinging does any good if yer standing in the wrong place…


But it all comes back quickly and the two dwarves begin to fight in earnest. Kili finds his rhythm, and trains hard and seriously, earning a soft “aye” from Dwalin who holds nothing back in his own swordwork against the young prince. Kili suddenly feels great appreciation for the old dwarf. Dwalin’s nature has always been gruff and hard, brooking no nonsense in his training of Kili and his brother, and he never held back critical comments or even mild insults to them if they were screwing around.

But he never coddled them either.

And right now, that simple, equitable treatment is exactly what Kili wants.

They back off from each other after a particularly long bout of paried blows to catch their breath, and Kili is startled to hear clapping and cheering coming from the small stand of seats to his left. Bain and his two sisters sit there, along with a few other curious Laketown residents. Kili gives Bard’s children a small smile and nod, earning wide eyed giggles from the two girls. Balin, Ori and Bilbo are there as well, conversing with Fili who stands near them, sword in hand. Kili’s stomach jolts a bit, wondering if they are discussing him. Then he shakes it off. He mustn’t do that. He mustn’t get like that.

Dwalin speaks, “Kili, stand down but stay warm. Fili, on me.”

Dwalin and Fili spar for awhile. Kili tries to keep his observations objective, as he stands in the corner and rotates his sword arms one by one to stay limber. Fili is ambidextrous and uses two blades when fighting. This means that he wields more blade surface at a time than Kili does with his single sword, but it also means he has slightly less strength behind each blade, and that his centerline often goes unprotected. He watches with a critical eye as these nuances emerge in Fili’s spar with Dwalin, who has never had any weaknesses that Kili had ever been able to detect. In spite of everything, Fili acquits himself very well, and earns a similar bout of small applause from the crowd as they finish.

“Right,” says Dwalin, “On each other now.”

Kili’s stomach pangs again and he isn’t certain why. With a deep breath he takes a stand opposite his brother, and looks up to find Fili crouched in the same battle position he knows so well, his clear eyes regarding him intensely...and then Kili sees what he’d feared to see, why his guts had clenched...he sees worry there in the crease of Fili’s forehead.

Then Dwalin gives the signal and their blades clang together. And Kili can feel it. His brother’s blows are lacking their usual power and slant off his blade consistently.

Suddenly Kili is angry. Hot frustrated rage begins to boil inside him, anger that seems to come out of nowhere and fuels the force of his sword blows as he drives Fili easily backwards until he is almost against the wall. Kili steps back abruptly and glowers at his brother.

“Why are you holding back?” he hisses.

“I was not aware that I was.”

“Don’t hold back. Don’t you dare hold back!!

And with that Kili re engages ruthlessly and Fili meets him, fighting full force now as Kili’s blows come so hard and fast he risks real injury if he does not make use of all of his skills. The crowd of onlookers grows quiet, and Dwalin’s eyes narrow as he watches them, his great arms uncrossing from his chest and grasping his own sword hilt and shield. The princes fight with each other with a ferocity that begins to cause their skills to deteriorate. Their footwork and sword play grows erratic, their offensive work intense but their defensive positioning abysmal as their emotions take precedence over their focus. Kili is no longer even aware of anything but Fili, all else disappearing into a whiteness around his brothers’ moving, parying limbs and swords, and the infuriating wideness of his blue eyes that stare at him as though he’s never seen Kili before.

It drives him to a point where a war cry tears from his throat and he sweeps his sword savagely at Fili, hitting both of Fili’s blades so hard and so close to the hilt that Fili loses his grip on his left weapon and it flies from his hand, landing in the dirt a few feet away.

This has never occurred before. Kili had always been a strong sparring partner for his brother but he had never in his memory been able to disarm Fili.

Dwalin takes a step forward, but holds back at the last second when Fili abruptly drops to his knees before Kili and raises his remaining blade flattened and upwards in a gesture of submission, shouting breathlessly,

“DOROK, Khazash!!”

Kili steps back, eyes wide and staring at Fili. They are both panting. Khazash. Kili sees apology in Fili’s every sinew, the blond head is bent down slightly as the whole of his brother’s body inclines to him, and the sapphire eyes are as wide as his, communicating all. But Kili can still feel Fili’s hands and body shoving into him, the entitlement of that rough touch, the careless smile on his brother’s face as though he were engaged in something as lightly considered as the theft of a piece of fruit from the marketplace. Passion certainly drove that moment but there was a hollowness to it. He’s been dodging the memory, resisting it, but this close physical interaction with Fili brings it crashing back down into him and he knows for certain now that he suffered violation, and that he is not ready. He is not ready to forgive.

Dwalin looks back and forth between them intently. After a few moments, Kili calms enough to notice that the crowd is not applauding but staring at both of them, and when he looks at the stand he sees Thorin there, his brow low and his expression similar to Fili’s, as though he is seeing Kili for the first time.

Kili looks between Fili and his Uncle, slowly, deliberately. He finally locks eyes with Thorin and kneels firmly before Fili, chunking his sword down into the sand in front of his brother with all his strength, then looks at Fili and nods wordlessly, indicating that he accepts Fili’s surrender. But not your apology. The crowd finally re animates and begins to applaud nervously.

When he finally stands up and straightens, Kili looks to Dwalin, to his mentor, anxious, knowing his form was off and expecting to be berated. Dwalin doesn’t disappoint him.

“Damned sloppy, lads. Both of yeh. You know better than that.” He pulls Fili to his feet and pats him solidly on the back, repositioning him in front of Kili. “Emotions are a real thing on a battlefield,” He says more quietly. “They can help fuel your strength against an enemy, but let them get away from ya and you’ll leave yourself vulnerable. Let’s see that again, with some control.” He glares sharply at Kili, but Kili swears there is a glint of something else there, something like pride.

They fight again, both bringing their swords up into position reluctantly. This time their focus is better, their sparring becomes a dance for a time of their fluid blade strokes and counter strokes, their bodies stepping around each other and neither leaving any opening. But something has changed. Their fire is gone. There technique is good, but mechanical, their faces pale, eyes guarded and blank. They are tired, and Dwalin finally calls a stop because it becomes obvious that the two brothers will not cease their sparring unless ordered to.

This time the crowd applauds in a spattering of clapping and cheers. Kili is relieved to hear it, glad to sheath himself back into his warriors role, and hoping his childish display of anger in the sparring ring will be quickly forgotten. He does not see the stricken look on Fili’s face as he turns to pack up his weapons.

“Aye, better. That’s enough for today lads.”

-----------------------------------------------------

He does not stay, leaving as quickly as he can. Making his way back towards the docks, Kili is accosted first by Bain who bounces up beside him, bubbling over with questions that come so fast he clearly does not expect answers, and then more quietly by Ori who settles into a stride next to him opposite Bain. The dwarves find that they do not need to say very much to keep the boy entertained. After a little while of nodding and smiling at him, begging off politely at his invitation to tea with his family, and agreeing that it did indeed take a great deal of practice to become proficient at sword fighting, but that Bain should only practice such skills with his father’s permission and under adult supervision.

At length Bain is called by a small group of boys in the distance, a scraggly group, dressed in patched clothes and thin enough to be undernourished, but their cheeks are ruddy and their eyes bright with the cold and freedom of the morning. Bain bids Kili and Ori farewell and runs to join them eagerly and the group meshes their heads together, welcoming Bain and pumping him for information about the dwarf strangers. At length they seem to come to an unspoken agreement on a plan of action and run off together in the direction of the shipyard, galloping over and under shop stands, fishermen’s nets and other obstacles like a herd of gazelles.

Ori smiles after them ruefully, and is about to make a comment to Kili when he is stopped by the expression on his kinsman’s face. Kili follows the movement of the young humans until they disappear around a corner, his eyes crinkling and a shadow of memory seeming to pass over them before his face falls, his eyelids lower, and his mouth presses into a firm line.

Kili’s thoughts will make this journey so many times in the next few months that he will begin to feel as though a permanent groove settles into his mind connecting any happy memory of his past to the stark absolute of his present. Again and again he’ll see something that reminds him of the person he was not so long ago, of how easy it was to be a brother, a nephew, to just be Kili. But the bedrock has shifted beneath his feet and everything is shaking.

Ori nudges him with something that jingles against his arm. He looks down to see a small pouch of coins.

“What’s this?”

“Your money from last night.”

Kili stares at the pouch, and at Ori, whose large eyes regard him steadily.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get more, but Nori would have noticed if I had.”

“You shouldn’t have done that. I lost it because I got myself drunk. I don’t deserve to get it back.”

Ori smirks, “Nori doesn’t deserve to get it back either.” and he drops the pouch into Kili’s pocket and pats it.

----------------------------------------------

“What did you say to him?”

The question is direct, calmly asked. Fili does not look at Thorin when he asks it. They both look forward, walking through Laketown’s market side by side, paying little attention to anything but their own thoughts and each other.

Thorin takes a deep breath and exhales it.

“What do you mean?”

“Last night, when you spoke to him by the fire. What words were said?”

“That is between him and I.”

“Not if it involved me. Did it?”

Thorin waits a moment. “ It did.”

They walk in strained silence for a few more minutes.

“He asked that we leave him alone, Fili.”

Fili’s fists clench.

“And how did you answer him?”

“I told him we would do as he wished.”

They walk a little further, now entering an empty section of docks where there are no people, and the boat moorings and fishing lines wait for the long winter to be over.

“Did he say why he wanted this?”

Thorin comes to a stop by the edge of the water, looking straight out at the horizon. Kili’s words press at his mind as they have been since the young dwarf said them. It is not often that the old warrior king feels so loathe to speak. Engaging his voice now to Fili is like walking through stone.

“He said he could not bear to be touched without feeling.”

Fili makes a strangled sound in his throat. “And what did you say to that??”

But Thorin shakes his head. He will share no more.

Fili exploads. Thorin had no idea his nephew knew so many curse words. Fili’s face turns crimson and his arms and braids whip around as he rails at his uncle.
“...so now in his mind we think nothing of him at all! That there was nothing behind my touches but empty lust! He thinks we feel nothing for him, even worse than that, he thinks we just expected him to be at our service!”

Thorin finally grasps Fili by the shoulders.

“Calm yourself!”

Thorin has commanded armies. Led thousands of starving people through hundreds of miles of wilderness. Organized and oversaw the economic and social well being of Ered Luin once it was established. He has always had control, been obeyed, been followed without question. How can it be that he is losing control of his own nephews so fast and so completely?

He never intended this. Kili, his eyes hollow and his smile and laughter gone. Fili, angry and defiant, standing before him with his head tipped, eyes anguished, doubting him. Fili has never given him such a look before. His golden nephew’s unbreakable faith in him had always been one of Thorin’s greatest sources of strength, and the main reason he’d drawn Fili closer to him, and finally into his bed.

This moment feels like a cold blade in his heart.

Fili’s eyes close and he shakes his head. His voice sounds fragile when he speaks. “He wouldn’t speak to me all morning. He won’t even look at me. No wonder he was so angry when we sparred. We’ve broken his heart. We’ve broken his trust. What can he think of us? What can we be to him now?”

“You will be his brother, and I will be his uncle. There is still much in that.” He reaches up to touch Fili’s face--

--but Fili pulls back, trembling.

“...and I will be your nephew.” comes Fili’s voice in a hoarse whisper. “Certainly there is much in that, too.”

----------------------

Chapter Text

Six months later.

The delicate wooden bridge held in Kili’s fingers yields another tiny sliver as the fine blade grazes against its curved surface. He shifts his weight slightly, stretching his neck and back for a moment for some relief. He has been sitting in this position here by the fire in the great common room of Erebor for quite a long time. His left shoulder and right side pang slightly from the motion and Kili winces, then rolls his shoulders casually and brings the whittled piece down to compare it to the ancient broken bridge he is attempting to reproduce.

Almost there.

Ori sits near him with one of the ancient scrolls resting in his lap, a new piece of parchment laying across it. He has been painstakingly translating one of the old stories into common, his quill swirling slowly against the paper with perfect penmanship. He is even adding tiny, immaculately detailed illustrations to it. He notices Kili stretching and wincing but remains silent. He views Kili’s whittled bridge critically as Kili compares it to the other one, and nods.

“Looks good so far. Are you going to leave that bit of thickness at the bases?”

“Yes. I think the only reason the wood is thinner there in this ancient piece is because of rot. Hey,” Kili nudges Ori’s shoulder gently, careful not to jostle his quill hand. “Tell me the end of the story! You left me hanging.”

“Okay, okay don’t be so impatient. I’m not finished inking in the dragon yet.”

Kili smiles and resumes whittling. Many other dwarves sit near them in the large room with its three giant fireplaces roaring merrily, and its many great chairs and tables arranged for casual meetings, pipe smoking, and the sharing of news. It has been a long day of duties and council meetings, and Kili participated in all of them by Thorin and Fili’s side. He finds relief in this place where at least he does not have to stand straight, listen actively and govern every word he speaks. He never would have believed how exhausting affairs of state could be. He is more tired at the end of a day of political duties than after a full day of hunting wild boar, by Aule.

The old Kili would never have borne it. The old Kili, the one who lived in Ered Luin and ran wild in the forest and ditched his duties in favor of a swim in the river, a prank on a kinsman, a race to the top of the great fir tree with Fili...no. That Kili would be hiding in the forest right now, watching the sun set and humming an old tune before a campfire with a coney roasting over it.

But no one will see that Kili again. It cost too much to be him.

The rumor mill of the dwarves is nasty enough without giving them even further reason to cut him down over failing to support his King and heir, his Uncle and brother, as a good Prince should. He will not be viewed as a burden, as a liability, as a weak link in any chain. And if any whispers of that night abound, and Kili is certain that they do, he will not fuel the fire of that shame by giving anyone any indication that he is that easy, that weak, that inexperienced, or that he does not understand his position, his role, who he is supposed to be, what he is expected to do.

No.

So he does not wander off. Ever. And he does not drink ale at meals or even at feasts. And every morning he places the silver circlet placed on his head at the coronation ceremony months ago down over his forehead and dons his finery and goes to stand by his kin wherever he is needed.

He wears two thin braids by the sides of his face now which hold his dark hair neatly back and out of his eyes. He had checked with Balin carefully about this first, and the old dwarf had agreed that the position and size of them was correct and appropriate for his age and accomplishments. Ori had done the actual braiding and recited the proper prayers, and they had found the correct beads to fit onto the ends. The first time Thorin and Fili had seen them Kili had received looks of such surprise that he had frowned a bit at first, until they both had seemed to edit their reactions into an almost manic show of approval with much complimenting and nervous pats on his back.

And the meetings are endless. He listens to the debates over partitioning of the gold, over communications and agreements with humans and with elves, and he stands straight and ignores the soreness in his side, and actually catches himself speaking up sometimes with passion in spite of himself.

...No, let the Lakedown people attend the next feast. There is no harm in it, and it will accelerate the building of good relations between the tradesmen.

...Let Thranduil have his necklace. It’s obvious it is elven made and most likely belonged to his deceased wife, didn’t anyone notice the elf king’s eyes when he spoke of it?

...and why not give Bard their aid in rebuilding Dale? The humans are their connection to trade in the South, and that will be important to cultivate if any of them ever want to eat fish again.

He does not speak often, and only after listening long to the endless debates passing between Dain and Thorin and the other coucil members. When he does speak it startles even him, and he most often only speaks once, then backs down amazed at his own audacity, not daring to look at Thorin or Fili’s reaction. But he is doubly amazed when the meeting takes a turn due to his words...he stays quiet, standing straight and fisting his hands to hide his nervousness.

Following every meeting before retiring to less formal chambers Dain and his councilmen step forward to shake hands with Thorin and his heirs in a good natured show of agreement of the day’s discussions. Kili was mortified when on one of these occasions the Iron Hills leader clapped Kili on the shoulder and said jovially to Thorin, “You’ve got a live one here, cousin! Quite a free thinker! Keep us on our toes this one will!” Kili felt his face go crimson at that, and only peripherally felt Fili’s gentle hand at the small of his back. Ugh, Mahal. Just a freak show. He must do better than that.

So he goes quiet for the next few meetings. And then finds himself faced, cornered really, by Thorin who tilts his head at him and asks him why does he no longer speak? When Kili stammers something about matters surely being beyond his understanding and his rank being too low for him to be interfering--

And Thorin steps forward and takes his arm firmly, and shakes his head. Do not hide your ideas, Kili. Speak your mind. I would rather you spoke wrongly out loud, than that you hid something of value. And Thorin squeezes his arm and nods at him before leaving him, and Kili cannot tell if this was his King or his Uncle who spoke to him just then but he tries not to hold his ideas back after that.

He would have liked to talk more with Thorin, to ask him about Dain, about what he had been like when they were young, if he really means the things he says so often in jest, and whether his words concerning Kili were truly complimentary or not. But King Thorin is a busy dwarf, and not accessible even to his kin.

And Fili, heir to the throne of Erebor, is no more accessible than Thorin. Although it seems to Kili that he would like to be. He swears he keeps seeing something in Fili’s eyes that wants to reach for him, but that always pulls back just as Kili perceives it. And Kili has stifled his own wishes to reach for his brother so often now that the pain of it has influenced him to stop trying, stop hoping. It is easier to believe that whatever Kili is seeing in Fili’s eyes is his own imagination. Much easier.

They are kept so busy, both of them, that even had they wished to they cannot interact as they once did, even as siblings. They are constantly serving, often at different functions, and even when they serve together their attention is never allowed to focus on each other, but on others, on the matter at hand, on the ceremony before them, on their King, on their diplomatic guest, on Bard and his men, on Thranduil and his elves, on Gandalf and the White Council, on Dain and the Iron Hills dwarves, on the thousands of repairs that must be made to the halls and residences within Erebor before anything might return to normal, everyday life under the Mountain.

There has been no time to even to catch up on present matters, let alone the emotional and turmoil filled changes of the past year. He looks at Fili sometimes, wondering what he might be thinking, wondering if he misses how things were before The Journey, and The Dragon, and The Battle. He looks at Fili and only ever seems to see a bottomless sadness looking back at him, and he wonders if he himself looks just the same. And he wonders too, if it really is all his fault. If he just didn’t take things so seriously, allow himself to be so hurt, offended, if he could just breach this wide gap between them and tell Fili that it is all right, they can forget about that awful, upside- down mistake of a night, they can move on and grow the hell up and be proper brothers again, they really can, and they really should, shouldn’t they???

But the walls here are so high, and so encompassing. They each go to their own very grand but very lonely chambers at night. And his feelings about that night still oscillate. Sometimes in the light of the Battle and all its violence and losses, in the memory of how the three of them stood together and defended each other, and fought and protected each other against such a great evil hatred that was directed so personally at them, that confusing night in Laketown seems laughable, like nothing.

But sometimes in the darkness of his bedchamber, lying curled up on his good side staring at his dying fire with its glowing coals...it swells up inside him again and he shudders like a youngling, unable to sleep until he finally gets up and crosses the cold stone floor to his door…

...and latches it.

He doesn’t know if Thorin and Fili share each others’ beds or not. He has not been able to discern that anything passes between them other than the respect and deference that would be expected and appropriate between a King and his Heir. The expressions they turn towards him are equally appropriate to his position as second in line, as royal kin. They are respectful, courteous, encouraging...but sometimes too their words become too kind, too defferential, and their eyebrows raise at him, seeming to ask some unfathomable question, and he begins to feel like spun glass. It is at those times that as soon as he is certain his duties are completed he ducks away from them and heads here, to this large common room, with its laughing, relaxing, storytelling, pipesmoking dwarves where Ori often sits and does his scribe work in the afternoons.

Thorin and Fili rarely come here, and Kili understands that this is purposeful and he is grateful.

It is also a great solace to him that this room is exclusively for the men. Ever since their people from Ered Luin joined them, and the contingent from the Iron Hills arrived, dwarven lasses had abounded and indeed been most curious about both Fili and Kili. Fili has had no problem at all with this, which is another reason Kili doubts that Fili and Thorin still share a bed. The young heir commonly has two or sometimes even three lasses hooked onto his arm by the end of every feast. Strangely, Kili does not feel hurt by this. But Kili is less at ease with the female attention and seeks to avoid it when he can.

There is also the fact of his mother, Dis. Much as he missed her, much as it filled his heart with joy to see her again when she arrived a month ago from Ered Luin and he was held in her embrace after so long a separation, his gut clenches at the thought of her ever discovering what occurred on that night. Dis is no fool. Kili knows she has noticed the changes in him, but he hopes she attributes it to the effects of the Great Battle he experienced. ( This would not be untrue, in any case. The Battle was fearsome. It knocked them all off balance. ) Kili fills cowardly and guilty for sequestering himself in a males-only room when he knows his mother would love his company. He hopes she is being kept so busy as the King’s sister, caring for the large group of displaced dwarrowdams, that perhaps she does not miss him too much.

 

 

The wooden bridge in his hands is ready to be inserted back into his fiddle, but he takes out a cloth and some wood oil first to give it one more coat before re-stringing it. His discovery of this beautiful instrument (along with a collection of other wooden instruments in a closed room that miraculously escaped Smaug’s fire) had been a very well received event. Bofur and Gloin and many others who were musicians but had had to leave their instruments behind had been elated to find flutes and drums and all manner of stringed instruments in such good condition. Kili had long missed his fiddle from back home, and when he’d picked up this one Bofur had kidded him about exchanging one manner of bow for another.

After re-fitting the fiddle’s bow with new horsehair, oiling it up and tuning it and getting used to playing again, Kili had found great advantages to being a fiddle player.

When Kili performed music with the other dwarf musicians at a feast or at any social function, he did not have to talk to anyone. He was exempt from the political networking, the exhausting small talk, and frankly, the sexual politics going on in the halls of his people.

The dwarrowdams could watch him and applaud all they wanted, but they couldn’t really get near him and he didn’t have to do anything but smile and nod warmly at them.

He also did not have to do any singing, for which he was eternally grateful.

Or dancing, for which he was also grateful.

And it was also an ideal platform from which to observe his kin. He had not expected that to be so interesting. He has learned more from his perspective as violinist on a stage than he suspects he ever would have learned trapped in a conversation with Dain’s kin or one of Dis’ dwarrowdam friends.

During one of the slower dances, over the top of his fingerboard Kili sees enough to learn that Bombur, newly reunited with his wife, is a most attentive and tender husband.

He learns during one of the reels they perform that although elves are quite graceful dancers, dwarves have much better rhythm.

He also sees enough to become quite certain that dwarves can hold their liquor far more successfully than humans can.

He spends a deeply affecting few minutes standing behind Thorin and playing supportive, soulful notes with his fellow musicians as the King sings a long mournful ballad to the enraptured dwarves of Erebor, holding them, and Kili as well, completely under the spell of his deep voice. He locks eyes with Fili for a moment during the performance, whose face is flushed with ale and who is surrounded by lasses. But Kili has also noticed that Fili never looks at any of these women with the kind of emotion that he directs now toward the stage. Towards Thorin, surely. Certainly not towards him.

 

-----------------------

The fire in the grate behind them is getting low and Ori reaches for a log to add to it. Kili has finished resetting the bridge between the strings and oiled wood of his violin, and tightens each peg carefully to bring each string into its proper fifth interval. He bows the strings quietly, checking the double-stops, loosening and tightening as necessary until he is happy with the tuning.

“Going to give us a song, Kili?” calls Bofur from a chair near the center of the room. Kili looks up shyly and is met with a chorus of encouraging voices. Ori pats him and tells him go on, then…

Kili stands up good naturedly and fits the instrument under his chin bowing slightly as they cheer him. “Fast or slow?” he asks with eyebrows raised. They unanimously demand a fast tune, and Kili obliges with an easy jig. Bofur cannot resist and jumps to his feet pulling Bombur up with him, and as the room full of his kin clap perfectly in rhythm, the two dwarves engage in a merry dance conducted with lit pipes held fast between their teeth, eyes bright and feet flying and stomping.

The attention is fully on them, and that is fine. Just the way Kili likes it.

Chapter Text

Dain and his people from the Iron Hills have finally taken leave of Erebor. They take with them ponies laden with treasure that Dain and Thorin had agreed upon as the rightful due to Dain’s people. In addition to the gold and fine jewels in the chests, their warriors wear ancient weapons found in the treasure hoard, swords and axes with jewels set into the hilts, forged expertly of steel but with inlays of gold, silver and mithril. They wear armor and carry shields that are equally fine, and some of which have been newly forged in the fires of Erebor using the discarded scales of Smaug himself.

They take away another form of treasure as well in the form of young dwarves, lads and lasses of the Blue Mountain clans who found mates amongst dwarves of the Iron Hills clans, and who have elected to leave their families to find new lives under Dain’s rule. Erebor in turn gained some new young dwarves in its mountainous population for the same reason. Not all of them choose to stay for reasons of mating; some stay in Erebor to benefit from the opportunities it offers, inspired by its grandeur and its worldliness, by its position close to Dale and the Woodland Realm.

The Royal house of Durin holds much attraction for the dwarven race and is also a large reason attracting young dwarves from the Iron Hills and other lands as well. King Thorin has restored not just this great Mountain Kingdom but a faith in Dwarf Kings and in their leadership not simply being competent but inspiring, unbreakable and glorious. Even those more gnarled, old-school dwarves who scoff a bit at the fine aquiline nose and the songs sung solo by the great hearth fire during feasts have nothing to say when Thorin walks through his kingdom’s many halls and oversees his people, his steel blue eyes steady and unwavering, seeing every detail and never failing to lay just the right touch and say just the right thing to anyone in need, from his captain of the guard to the lowliest button maker.

And that is just what one would expect of a dwarf who survived the attack of Smaug, the one who pulled their people out and brought them safely to Ered Luin, and then returned to defeat the Beast and drive him out to reclaim their heritage when the fates said the time had come to do so. Surely Thorin has earned his throne and will prove to be one of the Great Ones, one of the Kings of whom legends and songs will originate with no embellishment needed at all, for any tall tales told concerning the deeds of Thorin Oakenshield who became the Great King Under the Mountain will actually be the truth.

And the two heirs, Fili and Kili cut fine figures by his side. And they are always there, by his side, as straight and rock solid as their Uncle, doing honor to the silver circlets they bear. Those who knew them from their years growing up in the Blue Mountains shake their heads in wonder for their knowledge of the Durin nephews looked far different from the stately serious young men they see now. The older dwarves whisper their memories of the rambunctious pair who tore through marketplaces and played merciless pranks on their kinsfolk and were not exactly princely in their youth.

Well. Thorin must have taken them well in hand, then, and good job, too. It would not have done for the heirs to such a majestic Kingdom to be lacking in reverence.

Or perhaps it is just that the events in this past year were life changing for the young Princes. Those members of the Company who were with Thorin have shared their tales. The Journey here was difficult, the Dragon deadly, the Gold bewitched and the Battle terrible. It is said that Fili and Kili fought most bravely alongside Thorin in the Battle, that when Azog had their party surrounded they had defended their Uncle even when it seemed all hope was gone, that thankfully the Eagles had arrived in time but that both sister sons had been wounded, one of them grievously (the dark one, they think) and that Thorin had carried the fallen nephew from the field himself and had even allowed an elf to perform healing magic on the boy when dwarf healing arts proved inadequate. Some dark Orcish poison covered Azog’s blade, it is said.

And surely any of those things could explain the changed young heirs, their pale seriousness, the depth of their brows, the subdued tilt of their heads and slope of their shoulders.

In the meantime, Erebor’s mines operate again, its forges are relit and the skill of crafting fine metal objects has been rediscovered. Prince Fili himself has begun to spend time there, taking up where he left off before the Journey of the Company. Fili had shown promise in Ered Luin in the finer art of forging and forming detailed implements. When royal duties don’t claim him, he goes down into the roots of the Mountain to work under the tutelage of Doiran, a master forger from the Iron Hills who remained behind when Dain’s people left. A proper dwarf, that Prince Fili, as skilled with a hammer and anvil as he is with axe and a double edged sword.

Prince Kili, too, shows promise of finally moving in a more dwarvish direction. Tall and almost elf-like, that one. He’d been called a strange lad back in Ered Luin, beardless, with his fiddle and his woodwork and his constant easy laughter. Many had wondered why Thorin had brought him on the Journey at all. But now when they see the dark haired Prince contributing his skills as a Master Archer on the training fields and view how deadly accurate he is their minds are changed. The boy never misses. He can skewer an apple thrown in the air at a thousand paces while riding a galloping pony. All of the high ranking families send their sons to train with him.

Whatever the cause it seems the line of Durin is strong once again. It is often spoken in reference to the Princes that metal becomes much tougher after it’s been through the fire once or twice.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“What the hell have you done to my sons??!”

It was inevitable. Thorin had been avoiding meeting with his sister for weeks, and indeed had had perfectly valid reasons to not be able to speak privately with her during the time since the caravans from the Blue Mountains had arrived. He had barely had a moment even to himself with a Kingdom in such disrepair and so many needing so much. But now with Dain gone and things settling down, Dis had cornered him in his chambers after dinner and would not be refused. Balin and Dwalin who had accompanied him there and were finishing up conversing the affairs of the day with him simply bowed and backed away slowly when they saw her coming.

He really did not want to have this conversation.

“What is your meaning Dis?”

Dis glares at him darkly, “Don’t use your diplomatic side stepping language with me, brother. You know exactly what I mean.”

“They have proven themselves again and again as worthy of their forefathers heritage.” (Dis exhales an impatient breath) “They suffered hardships on our journey here without complaint. They fought by my side in the battle to win this kingdom without thought to their own safety. I could not have defeated Azog without them. They saved my life. I am proud of them. I would think you would be, too.”

Dis says nothing. She watches her brother closely. She knows truth when she hears it.

Thorin continues. “And now they bear their princely duties with honor. They have been a great help to me, and to Erebor. Everyone has said so. They are doing fine. They are just fine.”

And she knows rubbish when she hears it.

“They are not ‘fine’, Thorin! All these things you describe are but the trappings of what is on their surface. Their manners are good, their robes are straight, they are punctual, they never speak until spoken to and hardly crack a smile without your permission and you think they are fine???!”

Thorin frowns at her. “This is a serious life, this life of rule, Dis, you know this!!! It is a heavy mantle to bear and they have taken it on, that is all. And they do not require my permission for anything!! I have not coerced them in any way!”

Dis narrows her eyes. Thorin bristles

“I have not!! Everything they have experienced in this past year has been of their own choosing, including” (and Thorin raises a jeweled finger for emphasis) “their decision to join the Company in the first place!”

“They are changed!!”

Of course they are changed!!!!” Thorin thunders these words at her.

“Did you expect to get them back just as they were after such experiences? They are no longer children, Dis, you knew that had to change! The tales that Bombur and Bofur are telling their dwarflings romanticize the harshness of the events that really happened. Fili and Kili came of age in the many months since you saw them as they were meant to. They have grown, they have learned and they are not the young men you knew.”

“That does not explain how such emptiness made its way into their eyes!”

Thorin exhales heavily.

More quietly, more calmly, but with no less conviction, Dis speaks.

“What happened?”

What happened. Why do Fili and Kili not only turn their eyes away from him but even from each other. Why is it he only ever sees the tops of their heads, eyelids and eyelashes when he looks at them. How can it be that he has everything he thought he’d ever wanted, a throne, a beautiful mountain kingdom of dwarves at peace with each other and the world, everyone looking to him with an impressed eye not only for his presence but for the presence of his two beloved sister sons who stand alive and well by his side (thank Mahal for that) and garner more words of approval from court, council and populace than he himself did when he stood as a Prince in their place....and he is more unhappy than he has ever been in his long life.

There are many adornments on the robes and leathers Thorin wears as King of Erebor. One of them is hooked to one side of his belt close to the scabbard that holds Orchrist. Noone would notice it amongst all the other jewels and metal finery attached there. It is a small brass key, dark with age, made with the molded metal figure of an ermine poised to pounce at the top of it. While the key metal portion is dark from corrosion, the ermine, its eyes set with tiny cut diamonds, shines brightly from Thorin constantly reaching for it and smoothing it with his fingers. He reaches for it now unconsciously and grasps the brass figure.

He will not answer Dis’ question. To be honest, he is not even certain he knows the answer.

Chapter Text

“Gotcha!” Thorin falls onto Frerin’s long body and they land together in the softness of Erebor’s forest floor, lush and thick with moss and spring flowers. Thorin drives his brother’s laughing mouth down into it, hands firm on his hips, nose buried in dark curls.

Frerin twists sinuously until his face twinkles up at him. “You got me!”

“You let me catch you.”

“I did not. Those magnificent legs of yours are fast.”

They pull out the rolled up piece of well-used leather from a pocket and peer at it together. The landmarks are close by. Their destination is just over the hill from them.

They’d found this hot spring a few months ago, and have claimed it as theirs. They have not even brought Dis here. Thorin is not certain why this is. He just doesn’t want to share this place. Frerin apparently must agree.

The warm water gives relief from all. Frerin’s head rests on his shoulder. Thorin’s arm curls around him and and fingers brush his ribs. The scent of violets mixes with the slightly metallic mists bubbling upwards and warm sunspots dance across their faces as the dying light filters through a canopy far above them.

No Dragons yet.
----------------------------------------------------------

“Come now!! Quickly!!!”

Thorin follows Frerin across the snow, his boots sinking and his lungs heaving as he scrabbles up the side of a hill, away from their camp and its thousands of cooking fires and very nearly empty cooking pots. His stomach growls. They have not really eaten in days.

“Shouldn’t we call some of the hunters?”

“No, better just you and I.”

They crawl on their stomachs to the top of an outcropping that looks onto a plateau blanketed in untouched snow that sparkles in the sun like diamonds Thorin spots movement to the right. The bit of the top crust of snow buckles upwards, trembling as much as the small rodent that owns the whiskered nose that pops up to sniff at the air.

Thorin huffs. “This is what you brought me all the way up---”

“SHHH! Look!”

A white-furred blurr of predatory determination slinks across the snow out of thin air and snatches up the rodent before it can duck back under cover. The animal stops, poised on its hind legs and still holding the tuft of brown prey in its mouth, turning jerkily back and forth, its glittering black eyes seeking out any threat.

Thorin slowly draws an arrow from its quiver and readies his bow.

“No!”

Thorin stares at Frerin.

“Our people are starving.”

“It is too beautiful to kill. I brought you here to see it. not hunt it.”

Thorin follows his brother’s eyes back to the creature. The ermine has relaxed and begun to eat. Its body is entirely, blazingly white except for its eyes and the blackened tip of its tail. The creature is sleek and moves more fluidly than any animal Thorin has ever seen. It looks up at them for a moment, seeming to sense they are there, and gives them a full view of its round head and pointed fox-like ears.

Frerin is enraptured.

Thorin is too, but not by the ermine.

--------------------------------------------------------------
Thorin does not think that ales brewed by men quite compare to dwarven ales. They are not as robust and they lack flavor. But he tries one more pint just to make certain.

Frerin has matched him mug for mug all evening. They have snuck away from their kin this summer night in Ered Luin for some relief, for a break from the heaviness of responsibility, and from the constant eyes of their king and father on them. Frerin cheers Thorin on as he is goaded into an arm wrestling match with an enormous river fisherman who claims to have never lost. Thorin ends this winning streak easily to much applause, but then watches with some consternation as a pretty lass he’d had his eye on all night leaves with the fisherman. Frerin dissolves into laughter.

It is good.

But the Inn is getting crowded and they have drunk all they want, so they tumble out into the street. Thorin feels more unsteady than he’d expected to be and has to reach out a hand to a nearby wall to keep from stumbling. Frerin gets there first and Thorin feels his brothers’ hands steady him, and he really feels this should be the other way round. But he finds he doesn’t mind it too much.

The night is warm and the streets of the town feel too close and too loud. They make for the outskirts, away from the crashings and brawlings of men and the screeches of bar maids and whores. The fields just outside town seem to glow in the light of a full moon.

Their arms are around each other because if they were not they would both fall down. They finally reach an empty section of road lined with old oak trees on one side, and they stumble gently against one of them.

Thorin sighs and leans his back against the sweet smelling bark. Someone presses against him, and he hears the rhythmic song of a thousand crickets, and there are warm hands cupping his face, and soft lips kiss him, and crickets sing, and a gentle tongue pushes into his mouth and explores slowly.

It is marvelous.

His hands roam over the body that holds him, pulling it closer and breathing into the deepening kiss, revelling in the almondy musk that he’s always known, that is Frerin’s scent.

And now a part of his mind tells him he shouldn’t, that it is not appropriate, not right, he should stop it.

 

And another part of his mind tells him that if this is going to happen it must not happen in full view of a public road, so he pulls Frerin into the forest and they weave their way in as far as they can manage until they find a deep place lined with moss and clover.

He pushes Frerin down and they undress each other quickly. And when they are finally skin to skin Thorin wraps his arms around Frerin and buries his nose in his neck and inhales great lungfulls of him.

“Did you like her?”

“Who?”

“‘Lass in the Inn?”

“The fisherman got her.”

“Dissapointed?”

“No.”

And he kisses him soundly, moaning as Frerin’s fingers encircle his cock.

Thorin proceeds with some urgency after that, and worries that Frerin probably wishes he would touch him more slowly and with more care. But Frerin shows no signs of disapproval, mewling and leaning into every fervently swiped, panted stroke, arching and gripping Thorin’s hair when he abruptly slips his mouth over Frerin’s hardened length. He goes all the way down and pulls up hard, then repeats this until he feels Frerin’s muscles tightening. Frerin whimpers when he stops, but then moans raggedly when Thorin spreads him and moves his mouth lower.

When Thorin finally pushes his aching cock into him neither of them can hear the forest sounds anymore. Thorin does go slowly now, feels Frerin’s hands caress his sides, his shoulders and chest, realizes they are breathing together, inhaling and exhaling at the same time. He watches Frerin’s head roll back and forth on the clover, his dark mane of hair spread wide, his eyes closed and lips parted. When Frerin reaches for his own cock Thorin helps him, caressing the tip as his brother fists the shaft. Frerin cries out and spills all over Thorin’s hand, and Thorin comes with his head thrown back, aware of nothing but the roiling pleasure in his belly and the slow lazy spin of the Earth.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Dis knows full well Thorin is not going to answer her question. But he does not have to.

When Thorin reaches to his side to grasp that key she knows so well it confirms her suspicion, and she finds her arms folding themselves across her chest which suddenly feels tight, and she feels her head bow forward--not in submission to Thorin, no, never that--but in thought, in consideration, and in sadness in the presence of her majestic brother who wields so much power over others, (who always did with or without a crown,) and who never had any concept of the effect of that power on those closest to him.

Thorin has no idea that Dis knows, that she has always known. About the key and the memory that connects to it.

It comes back to her so vividly now, here in this mountain where it all started, where she and her brothers were children. There had been a Journey then, too. And a Dragon. And a Battle.

The old grief surges behind her eyes. Thorin had suffered more than she had because the blame was his, and he knew it. An orc’s blade had cut Frerin down, but their brother’s heart was already broken before it stopped beating.

Thorin had obeyed an order he should have questioned. It hadn’t even been an order really. More of a non negotiable expectation. And Dwarf Princes do not question Kings.

She had suspected long before the journey started that something kindled between her sons. Not realized, yet, but the signs were there. A softness to their looks and touches she suspected even they were barely aware of, especially on Kili’s part. And she had feared for them, fought against them going on this journey. Not because any of their people would disapprove, but because of Thorin’s reaction. They had not spent that much time with their uncle before the journey, and in the close quarters of the Company, camping under starlight out in the open, bedroll to bedroll, Thorin would see all. And Dis knew. She just knew with all the history and the damage and the deep scars inside Thorin’s heart and the innate pigheaded stubbornness of his mind this was all a giant recipe for disaster.  If Thorin inflicted the same disapproval upon them that his own father had upon him...

Gods of her forefathers. 

Her boys did not deserve this. They were innocents in this. If they had fought so hard for this new kingdom then they ought to have the Erebor they were entitled to have.

But Thorin is not the blunt edged heartless hammer that Thrain and Thror were. Whatever has happened recently between her sons and her brother, she believes there is hope that he will do right by his nephews in time, and she will continue to nudge him, to keep dropping small pebbles into the still waters of his thoughts and causing the ripples to lap continuously at his conscience.

But if history is repeating itself then she must be vigilant. The parallels presenting themselves to her are too disturbing to ignore. She must watch Kili, especially. His spirit is so like Frerin’s.

She looks up from her thoughts and sees Thorin looking as pensive and tired as she feels. She nods stiffly.

“I bid you goodnight, Thorin. But this is not over.”

He nods back at her and she takes her leave.

Chapter Text

He comes to this place as often as his royal duties allow him. It is not often enough.

This spot on the mountain offers a beautiful view of the field on this west side of the Kingdom. The field he designated for the training of new archers. The training that Kili undertook as his own with a noble eagerness that makes Thorin’s heart swell.

This seems to be the only context in which Kili’s smile and laugh have re emerged and echoes freely against the rocky sides of the Mountain. The sound of that laugh rises above any other voices on the field whenever it emerges. It fills him with warm relief and stabs him like cold mithril all at once. Thorin stays back far enough so he will not be seen by his nephew, but close enough so he can hear that sound, and also see Kili interact with the young dwarves he is training.

He is not really surprised to find Fili there today, watching Kili secretly from the same place, just as reluctant to interrupt Kili as Thorin.

Fili starts when he sees Thorin, but then takes a deep breath as they exchange looks. The moment sits uneasily for them. The Heir of Erebor has done everything Thorin asked of him. Thorin knows that he has the approval and love of the people already, even as young as he is. He will be a great king. Thorin wants very much to tell him that. But a wall stands between them. A wall built in a single night, hastily, by hands fraught with pain, disillusionment, and no small degree of self loathing.

They had survived through Thorin’s gold sickness, and the Battle, and Kili’s recovery, and the rebuilding of Erebor and the welcoming of their people from the Blue mountains and their kin from the Iron Hills…They have been kept busy indeed, through coronations and feasts and ceremonies and forced to work closely together almost daily.

But they have barely spoken two words together as uncle and nephew, as Thorin and Fili.


He had thought he knew Fili so well, could predict anything this beautiful young man would say or do in any situation. He’d thought their bond was unbreakable. And he’d thought Fili would always need him as much as he needed Fili.

He had seen his nephews only fleetingly in Ered Luin, but it was Fili who tended to seek him out. He often came to the forges where Thorin worked, asking questions, watching with those piercing blue eyes that seem to have so much thought behind them. Thorin used to believe he knew what those thoughts were. That they mirrored his own. But now he is not sure. He is beginning to see that Fili is more skilled in the care of a person than in the care of a kingdom. That small things are more important to him than grand things. A different view of the world from his, but perhaps not such an unwise one.

Now Fili sits as still as granite, his arm resting on one knee that is propped up with his chin on his fist. He stares down onto the field as Kili’s distant form moves amongst the archers aiming at their targets. Fili’s face is slack, almost without expression. The only sign of muscle movement is the occasional tiniest narrowing of the eyes.

Kili is kneeling by one of the archers, young Gimli, son of Gloin from their company. He patiently repositions the boy’s feet as Gimli struggles with his bow. He is one of many boys whose parents are more interested in him become an archer than he is, and his frustration can be seen even from where Thorin sits. His head shakes and his shoulders hunch as Kili patiently wraps his fingers around the bowstring and talks him through pulling it back. Gimli lacks the longer tapered limbs and hands that Kili has, so the fine adjustments needed for the art may never be his. But this time when he pulls back as far as his short arms can allow and releases, the arrow hits the target firmly, just a bit off from center.

Gimli’s excitement is obvious and they can even hear his jubilant voice high upon their hill. Thorin wishes he could be down there, able to see the warm smile he is certain adorns Kili’s face and close enough to clap him on the shoulder and tell him...well.

He turns his attention to Fili. Master Doiran has had nothing but good things to say about his nephew’s work in the forges. 'Takes to it like a natural, listens to every word I say, he does, and the other apprentices look up to him and not just caus’ he’s the Heir. I leave them alone with him half the time I’m so sure he’ll keep them safe and doin’ good work.

Dear Mahal he wants so much to talk to him. To tell him. But the silence between them is deafening.

“I suppose you are still angry with me.” he finally says, sensing they must go back before they can go forward.

Fili does not move, his eyes still watch the archers. His lips purse slightly before he answers. “No more than I am with myself.”

Thorin wants to do something, say something, that will lift the clouds. But it is a mine field to him. Fili already made it clear he does not want Thorin’s touch, affectionately or otherwise. So...they have not. Thorin passes Fili’s closed chamber door every night and lays a hand quietly upon it and whispers Hurun ganat, men lananubukhs menu, touches his forehead to it, and walks on to his own rooms.

Perhaps other kings would have pressed their advantage and demanded submission, but Thorin never wanted his nephews that way. He would take no pleasure in any such conquest, regardless of what his people might think, regardless of his own unfortunate outburst at Kili that day on the docks. He’d been angry. He’d regretted it then and still regrets it now, those words he’d said. It is not what he’d wanted Kili to think at all. He visits Kili’s door most nights too, never knocking or making a sound, but laying his hands and head on it, whispering, gajut men.

But here, with Fili before him, if touch is out, words are even more impossible. What to say? That Fili has nothing to reproach himself for? That isn’t really true. That Thorin bears most of the blame? Arguing over blame would surely lead to trouble. Perhaps he should say that Kili is strong and will come out of this? or maybe... just…

“Time will heal him, Fili.”

Fili’s head snaps around and he glares at Thorin. “Yes, Uncle. This will all heal over. We will all heal and all will be well again.” He jumps to his feet.

Thorin’s eyes close. “Fili--”

“That is exactly the problem. It is what I fear most. You have spoken it.”

“Fili!”


But he has already gone back into the passage that leads back into the mountain.
---------------------------------------------------------

The sun paints the sky in molten oranges and reds between dashes of clouds. The famous hidden door where Thorin’s company gained entry into the Mountain to reclaim their home from Smaug is now famous for other reasons. It opens onto a rocky shelf that is perfect for sunset watching on fine evenings, and also possesses fine acoustic qualities for listening to music and song.

The thrush still comes there like clockwork every evening with a snail to crack against the rock wall, seemingly not concerned in the least with the growing number of dwarves who come here to share its space. It knocks its catch loudly on the rock and Kili obligingly adjusts his fiddle tune to match the bird’s rhythm, which is really quite good. In fact people have already taken to the particular tune he and Bofur have been falling into each time the knocking commences, and are calling it “When the Thrush Knocks”.

A pity Bilbo is no longer here. He was a much better lyricist than Bofur. Kili doesn’t feel particularly good with words and Ori is busy writing the Story of the Journey. All of Bofur’s attempts to rhyme verses with “knocks” simply don’t work and the one he gleefully liked best was dreadfully inappropriate and much as Kili wants to laugh about it with them the idea of such a lyric escaping into the populace with himself connected to it in any way makes his blood run cold for reasons he’d rather not divulge. Ori rescues him in the end, suggesting strongly to Bofur with lots of dramatic eye contact hidden from Kili that Perhaps it works best as an instrumental???

Those who come to listen seem happy enough with it. As an instrumental.

This place began as theirs. Kili, Ori and Bofur came here first simply to get some fresh air one night and to enjoy the new warm temperatures of Spring. It was a nice place to play and whittle and write, and a relief to escape the public eye, even the leisurely public. He is NOT wandering off, Kili tells himself. Every time they come here he has made a point of letting either Balin or Dwalin know exactly where he is going and to send someone to get him if his Uncle or brother need him for anything.

Then of course there is the fact that no one has designated this place as being for any one gender. Dis is happy to take advantage of that.

Dis had been appearing more and more in Kili’s vicinity. He’d been anxious about this at first. But Dis is not a typical mother. She is subtle, and clever, and gently insinuates herself into Kili’s daily existence without making him feel cornered. She’d begun taking up a bow and practicing at the archery range, conversing easily with young trainees and of great help to Kili as an unofficial assistant since her own skill was quite legend. She sits near him at dinner, stands close by during ceremonies and court receptions, and very often Kili finds himself walking around the halls of Erebor with her on his arm, not exactly certain how she got there.

She notices his Battle injuries still ache but does not fuss over him. She notices he doesn’t seek young female company and she does not meddle. She sees that he never spends any of his down time with Fili, and worries, and wants to speak, but waits. She speaks instead of good memories of the past, often succeeding in drawing him out, and listens, and laughs with him, and if his face becomes pained she changes the subject.

When she does find her way to their hidden door ledge she brings two of her very close friends and their daughters with her. She is not intending to matchmake. Simply to share a pleasant part of the kingdom with dwarrowdams who are deserving, and perhaps to show off her son a little. But the surprise for everyone is Ori’s response to one of the daughters.

Limul is small, bookish and shy. She acted as a scribe for many of the small businesses in her home in the Iron Hills. If Dis had been paying proper attention and had been in her right mind she would have seen how obvious a match it was. They are bonded almost from the first moment and as happy as Kili is for Ori and Limul, Dis is even happier because with Ori pried from Kili’s side, perhaps there will be room again for another.

Mahal forgive her for scheming. Is there a way she could coax Fili to join them here?

 

Some time passes and it is another golden evening on the ledge. Ori has been reading to them from his accounting of the Journey, Limul sitting by him drawing furiously on some parchment with a fine edged piece of charcoal. He is at the part where the company was captured by trolls. He is having trouble getting the story told because he is constantly being interrupted by either laughter or rather impertinent corrections to his plot. He is in the middle of retorting to Bofur that his memory of the events of the that night are quite clear thank you very much when a young forge apprentice comes bursting out of the hidden door entrance.

He is breathing hard and covered in soot. His eyes are wide and wild and seek through the little crowd until he finds Dis and Kili.

“There has been an accident, an accident down in the forge!”

Kili doesn’t remember standing up, or what happened to the violin and bow that were in his hands, but suddenly he is on his feet, and Dis is too, and her face is sheet white and he can’t breath because he knows what is coming.

“Who…?!”

“Prince Fili, sires, please come quickly!”

Chapter Text

“His injuries are not mortal, but he is in a great deal of pain.”

Kili exhales the larger part of the knot that had tied itself in the center of his chest, and senses Thorin and Dis near him doing the same.

“I have put a poultice on the burns and bandaged them, but he’s refusing the tea.”

“Why on earth would he do that?” says Dis, looking ready to take the steaming cup from Oin’s hands and march over to pour it down Fili’s throat herself.

“He says he won’t take any tea t’il he talks to Kili.” Oin says this nervously, in the stance of the messenger who hopes not to be blamed for his message.

There is a collective sigh amongst the three dwarves and Kili’s eyes close as he feels all their eyes on him.

“All right then.” He says softly and not daring to look at any of them, makes his way over to Fili’s bedside. He winces at the sight. His brother’s eyes are closed and his skin has a grayish tinge to it. He is covered in a sheen of sweat and shaking all over. Kili gently clasps his uninjured hand and speaks his name.

Fili opens his eyes and they crinkle at the edges as he sees Kili, one corner of his mouth curving upwards, his hand clutching Kili’s hand in return. Kili swallows. He’s never seen Fili like this, aside from the pain he knows his brother is in. He’s never seen Fili out of control, unhinged, scared…What is he scared of? How could Fili ever be afraid of anything?

 

“Fili, you’re in pain--“

“I’ll be fine.”

“No, you’re hurting. I can see it. Why won’t you drink Oin’s tea?”

But Fili is shaking his head, and leans forward, grasping at the muslin of Kili’s shirt, he speaks in a soft voice.

“Do you know, when we were little, I used to get up in the middle of the night and go into your room. I’d watch you sleep for a minute, make sure you were all right. Sometimes I’d put another blanket on you if you looked cold.”

Something in Kili’s stomach drops.

“I always thought it was mother doing that.”

Fili shook his head, his mouth breaking into a pained smile, “No, that was me.”

Fili continues, “A few nights ago I couldn’t sleep. So I got out of bed and came to your chambers, ...just to check on you.”

Kili swallows again.

“I just needed to see you for a moment” says Fili, “ I wasn’t going to wake you or bother you in any way. But when I reached for your door, it was latched.”

Oh Mahal.

Is that what this is about? Gods, did this accident happen because of something Kili did that has had Fili despairing, that made him less careful? Kili’s insides turn to ice and he doesn’t know what to say or do, how to fill the silence, how to heal wounds that go so much deeper than burns on skin.

But Fili takes the task upon himself. He looks at Kili full on, his blue eyes blazing and brimming with things unspoken that are about to tumble out beyond his ability to control them.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me, Kili. I was awful to you, and I had meant it to be so different and it all went so wrong.”

“Fili--”

“I know you wanted us to leave you alone but did that mean I am never again to hear you laugh at one of my dumb jokes?”

Kili’s heart clenches and he shakes his head, not knowing what else to do, holding his brother’s hand tightly and grabbing a soft cloth from a nearby table and pressing it to Fili’s forehead.

“I just wish...that we could...could we take another journey? just small steps, maybe, to make things easier, better, if only to get to a place where you would at least not feel that you needed to lock your doors against me?”

As he speaks Fili drags himself up to sitting position, his speech faltering as he grits his teeth from the added pain, and perhaps it is because of the state he is in that he forgets, and his hand reaches up to touch Kili’s hair, to take one of those new beaded braids between his forefinger and thumb that made his heart swell up with pride the day he first saw them, and then sink in sorrow when he realized how much he wished that he had been the one to do the braiding, find the beads, say the prayers.

But then he gasps, realizes what he is doing and draws his hand back quickly, and he feels Kili’s hand catch his and hesitate. Kili can’t bring it to his lips, or back to his hair. But he presses it to his chest over his heart and holds it there, and they both go still as stone, their foreheads falling together, eyes not just closed but squeezed shut.

Fili looks at him through tangles of blond hair.

“I want us to be brothers again.” Fili whispers.

Kili nods. Their hands are still locked together, and their fingers twine manically around each other. They stand at the edge of a precipice, hardly daring to breathe, unsure of the footing, afraid of misstepping.

A journey of small steps.

Kili looks into the blue eyes, deciding to just jump. “How about we start with some tea?”

Fili regards him anxiously. This is not what he wanted. He’d rather go mad from this pain than be sedated and wake up with all as it was before, a Princely heir in a gilded cage, ensnared by duties and protocol, and trying to abide by an agreement to withhold affections from his brother and never touch him again when that is all he wants to do every minute of every day.

“...and then I could stay here until you fall asleep. Just to make sure you’re all right.”

Fili’s face crumples. His eyes are brimming. He fights it. Dwarves do not succumb to emotions. The Heir of Durin cannot show such weakness. If anyone has any right to weep it’s Kili, he was the one who was hurt. But Kili overwhelms him.

“...you know, not to wake you or bother you in any way.”

“Kili…!” He wants to throw the word out between them again and see how it lands, just try one more time, force it out through the knot in his stomach, through the hot air in his mouth, sorry....please...sorry....

But he can’t get it out. The time isn’t right. He knows it isn’t. Kili’s eyes are still wary, and the hand that holds his is tugging backwards just enough for Fili to know this.

But the hand doesn’t let go either.

At this point Kili turns quickly and beckons to Oin who immediately crosses the room and gives Kili the tea. He steadies Fili’s head and holds the cup to his lips, encouraging him to drink, which Fili finally does, gulping between deep breaths.

“I’ll stay by you while you rest, and I’ll be here when you wake.” Kili says.

Oin’s tea takes effect fast. He takes the cloth again and dries the sweat from Fili’s face.

“Dohn needa do that.” Fili slurs, his lids closing.

“Shutup. Someone has to be here to throw another blanket on you if you get cold.”

Kili isn’t certain if the short little breaths Fili makes just before his eyes close completely are from laughing or crying. He is just relieved to see his brother’s face and body relax, finally free of pain, breathing deeply and evenly.

------------------------------------------------------

Oin keeps the fire in Fili’s chamber burning brightly. Every once in awhile Kili vaguely hears the old dwarf adding another log to it, the shifting of wood, the crackling of sparks rising. He rouses from his shallow sleep in the great armchair by Fili’s bed and checks his brother’s hands and face again, but Fili breathes easily. His skin is warm and dry. He needs no covering.

He sinks back into the chair. Dis has been into the chamber often to check on Fili. She touches Kili gently, too, each time before she leaves. Kili is glad that she leaves this vigil to him. He needs it to be his. He suspects she is also preventing others from entering as well. He is glad of that, too.

He had been the one in the sickbed not so long ago, after the Battle. He didn’t remember much of it, just pain that never seemed to relent, and disconnected images of people looking down at him, muttering and frowning with concern. He only learned later that he had been abed recovering for far longer than any of his kin who’d fought by his side. Mahal the shame of that. And to be healed by an elf! that he did remember. Lord Elrond it had been. Kili remembered the first touch of the ancient elf’s hands, the sound of his voice, the feeling of lightness in his core, like floating, and then it had felt exactly as though an axe blade of the coldest, darkest metal ever forged had been pulled out of his body. It hadn’t made sense to him at the time. He was certain when he’d fallen on the field there’d been no blade stuck in him. But whatever the elf had done, the relief had been so great, the burden lifted had felt so wonderful, that he’d wanted to reach out to Elrond, to tell him thank you--

--but he’d seen Thorin in the corner of the room, frowning, pacing...displeased.

So much for gaining glory on the battlefield.

But Fili had been there, too. And his face, his anxious blue eyes wide, mouth whispering his name, Kili remembers now this one image was as vivid and constant as the Northern star. Fili had been there for him. Of course he had. As always, as he had when they’d been children.

But Kili had not been there for Fili.

Ever since they'd reclaimed Erebor, he’d stood by him in ceremony and politics only. He’d avoided him in any other context. He’d been off whittling. And playing his fiddle. And laughing with Ori.

And his brother had been needing him, and he hadn’t been there. He feels like a damp rag that has been completely rung out. He’d been so self involved with his own troubles he hadn’t thought to consider…

The scuffle of a boot against the floorboards wakes him. He hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep again. He opens one eye and a tremor runs through him involuntarily as he sees Thorin’s great form bending over Fili.

More tremors travel relentlessly around a growing knot in his stomach as he watches his uncle’s large hand cup Fili’s head, cradling it as though it were a precious jewel, his lips pressing against the sleeping face, tilting his head and whispering softly into Fili’s ear words Kili can only guess. It is the King and his Heir. It is the Uncle and his favorite.

It is a lovers’ tender reunion.

And the wound Kili thought had healed over opens again. Aule, The longing, the hurt, the outrage, the loneliness, are all there, raw and open, as though no time had passed at all.

“Kili?”

He keeps his eyes shut.

“Kili, I know you are awake.”

“Uncle.” His voice is steady at least. That’s a relief.

But Thorin is kneeling in front of him. Kili’s feet itch and he squirms to raise himself to a proper position in his chair. His uncle, his King shouldn’t be kneeling. He wishes Thorin would stand above him and just give a simple order he could follow.

“I am glad you are here with him.”

Kili isn’t sure what to say to that, so he nods.

“You have not spoken much with him lately, have you?”

“No, I have not.” Kili has a wave of boldness and follows it. “Have you?”

Thorin’s brow wrinkles slightly. “Only a little.”

Their eyes are both drawn to the dying fire. Oin sits near it, fast asleep, snoring softly.

Thorin clears his throat. Here it comes. Kili shudders. He wishes, he wants so much for...for just…

“He needs you.”

No. Of course not. Thorin agrees with him, sees his failure as clearly as he does himself. He has been a poor excuse for a brother. He must do better. There. An order to follow, just as he’d wanted.

“You should spend more time with him. He would like that. And you would, too, yes?”

Kili nods again. His tongue feels too large in his mouth. There is a dangerous pressure between his temples. His breath catches at the hand that claps him on the shoulder, and then finally leaves his lungs in a large rush when he hears the chamber door finally close behind his Uncle.

-----------------------------------

Dis finds him soon afterwards and Kili releases his pain into her shoulder.

It takes him by surprise. All she’d done was take his hands and smile at him. She’d been doing that for weeks. Why does it unstring him now? How mortifying.

She does not tut, or shush. Her hands do not pat him or cradle him as though she were offering comfort to a child upset over a clandestine disappointment. But her arms pull him into her and he goes into the embrace as though to an oasis, because it feels so good to be fiercely held by someone who takes him for the adult dwarf he is and will never divulge this moment of weakness to anyone.

She doesn’t know what really happened. He knows she does not, because if Dis had even heard an inkling of Thorin's behavior towards Kili on a long ago night in Laketown, on the smooth floorboards of the bedroom of an old human Inn, there would have been an uproar such that the very rocks of the Mountain would have imploded.

 

Dis had seen Thorin leaving Fili’s chambers, and had proceeded in quickly after he’d left, knowing as a mother knows that she is needed. She does not ask Kili to tell her what Thorin said to him. She only hopes it is what she has been telling Thorin to say to her sons, one of them, both of them, either of them, for weeks, and that these tears seeping into her shoulder as Kili’s shoulders quietly shudder are those of relief.

Chapter Text

Whenever it rains or storms outside the halls and residences of the Lonely Mountain, those inside never hear it. One is more likely to hear the deeper stirrings of the mines below, where hundreds of dwarves now work once again days and sometimes nights to bring up precious metals and stones from the earth.

But to Kili it feels like it’s raining. Hard. With a full compliment of thunder and lightening beating against his senses.

With the Crown Prince bedridden, the second in line must step up to fill his duties. Kili stands directly next to Thorin now at all political and social functions.

It is not a position he prefers.

More attention comes to him, more expectations rest on his shoulders, eyes settle onto him more, and he cannot help worrying about the comparisons people must forcibly be drawing between himself and his brother. When there are questions or issues that arise that are more appropriate for a Crown Prince to answer, he must speak, where before he had only needed to speak if he wished to add an idea.

And he wonders, too, how much Fili had been shielding him from prying eyes and judgments, whether purposefully or simply by Fili being Fili. He misses him. Fili was a buffer between him and the stark bureaucracy and seriousness of the Court of Erebor. Between him and Balin, with his endless tasks for Kili, minor events to oversee, small claims to negotiate. Fili used to handle those duties of a Crown Prince but but now Kili must do them. And Fili stood between him and Thorin, too, and the intensity of his Uncle's presence and gaze. He realizes only now that whenever he had spoken before, it had always been followed by an encouraging look or touch from Fili. These gestures had been so small Kili had barely been aware of them. Now he feels their absence keenly.

And Thorin is the King. Thorin is his King. There is no one else who could occupy the throne of Erebor as he does, wear the robes and crown and rings, carry the roles of negotiator between races, caretaker of the different tribes, arbitrator of treasure distribution, delegator of duties, beloved ruler and King Under the Mountain. He carries it all upon his shoulders with ease. Kili is in awe.  When Thorin is addressed as “Your Grace”, Kili can see why.

He watches Thorin’s every move. The angle of his body as he leans forward and rests his chin on one fist when he is listening to someone’s case, the way his fingers curl around the armrests of his throne as he pushes himself up to stand, the cling of the richly woven fabric of royal blue against his broad chest as he paces back and forth which he does so often as his mind settles onto a solution or decision, and the deep timbre of his voice as he speaks. Listening is hard work with these distractions. And when Thorin turns to Kili for an opinion on a matter Kili feels like a dwarfling again. He always manages to produce something that is well received, which surprises him. And when Thorin turns to him with an approving smile and warm twinkle in his eye Kili is certain that he is just as stupidly affected as the dwarrowdams who sometimes enter Court with requests, and leave blushing and twittering over the great and noble attentions of King Thorin.

And a gale blows in Kili’s mind for all the same reasons. Because there was a night not so long ago when his experience of Thorin was not so Kingly. Not so noble. When the lightest of touches from those ringed fingers would have been most welcome, and was not given.

Not you. He still cannot understand why Thorin treated him that way that night, and he still cannot forget it.

And it confuses him very much that he still craves that touch.

And it doesn’t help that at the end of morning court sessions, Thorin has begun asking Kili to join him for a private lunch in his chambers. Technically it is not private. The King of Erebor is never alone, it seems. Interruptions occur in the form of lists for the King to review or contracts for him to approve, or questions about the next days’ schedule. But the atmosphere is relaxed. Thorin removes his crown and heavy over-robes and encourages Kili to do the same. Their fare is fine but simple and reminds Kili suspiciously of his favorite foods from before they left Ered Luin. Thorin is patient towards the dwarves coming to him with the needs of the Kingdom, but at some point during each meal the look in his eye hardens towards the many assistants with their various requests and the interruptions cease. And at this point Thorin reaches across and places his hand over Kili’s and grips him gently but firmly, always saying the same words.

“Are you well?”

The first time Thorin had done this Kili had started and nearly pulled his hand away. He'd stammered “I am well enough, Uncle, thank you.” in reply, and an uncomfortable silence had ensued, which Thorin finally filled with a question to Kili about how he liked the stew.  But over the next few days they relax more. Thorin seems only to want to speak with him about trivialities, about decisions recently made in Court, about concerns over construction and repairs being done in some areas of the mountain, about any new talent emerging on Kili’s Archery range.

Thorin asks about Gimli often. The son of Gloin does not show great talent for archery, and Gloin, Original Member of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, Liberator of the Mountain, Veteran of the Battle of the Five Armies and respected dwarf of Erebor is none too pleased. But Kili appreciates the boy for his great heart, and finds more in common with him than he does in other trainees with more potential. Gimli possesses a spirit for fun, adventure and mischief that amuses Kili. All too often during archery training, which is the only time Kili ever gets outside anymore, he finds himself gazing off into the distance wondering what it might be like to travel again. And more often than not, he sees Gimli doing the same.

When Kili tells stories about Gimli during his time with Thorin, it is the only time that his eyes come up and sparkle, that he puts down his spoon and talks with his hands, and that his back comes away from his chair. It is during one of these conversations that Thorin finally says Kili’s name in such a way that Kili falls silent and clutches back at his spoon.

Thorin waits before continuing, and when he finally does, his voice is softer than Kili ever remembers it.

“Do you remember that night in Laketown, when you fell asleep in that big chair by the fire, and I woke you very late, and you and I had a conversation?”

Kili’s mind very nearly shuts down at the word “Laketown”, but he forces himself to backtrack through the rest of Thorin’s sentence, finding the terms ‘chair’ and ‘fire’ and ‘conversation’, and NOT ‘bedroom’, ‘floor’ or ‘submission’. He has gotten very good at appearances, so the ball of ice shuddering inside him does not show, but he can’t hide how pale his face has become.

“Yes.” It comes out steady and strong. Good. Peripherally he sees Thorin tip his head to the side. Kili is staring at the wrought iron candelabra in the center of the table. It’s very fine work.

“Do you remember me saying that I wanted your respect, but I didn’t want you to fear me?”

Slowly Kili’s head turns to face Thorin, because this sounds like all of his senses will be required.

Thorin opens his mouth slightly, then closes it. Kili has never, ever seen him do that. When he finally speaks, Thorin seems to press every syllable through the air with great care as though he feared the words might be taken from the space between them before they could properly reach Kili’s ears.

“I meant it.”

---------------------------------------------------------

 

Kili neither wants to outshine nor underperform Fili. He holds himself evenly, keeps his eyes forward, and listens. It’s exhausting, listening. But he makes even more effort than he ever did before to really hear and remember everything because he knows Fili will want him to tell him every detail later when he goes to see him.

Because he does go to see him. Every afternoon. Thorin asked him to spend more time with Fili, so Kili does.

And he loves visiting his brother and bringing him news, and being needed by Fili, but at the same time it is almost worse than sharing Thorin’s meals. It is like having a wonderful meal set before him, and being told he may not eat. Not just today, but ever. That he must live with this hunger always, having what he wants most before him, close to him within a breaths reach, smiling at him, happy to see him and talk and even laugh with him, but never his. He always leaves Fili with a lump in his throat. 

It means he doesn’t spend much time in the great room whittling with Ori anymore, or out on the ledge playing music where the thrush knocks. But Ori has been so busy with Limul lately that he’s hardly ever available anyway. Ori and Limul became promised only a few days ago, and since then they’ve both been inundated with mating ceremony demands. Neither of them want a huge affair, but Thorin sees it as a way to reward the original members of the Company, and to remind the dwarves of Erebor of how this Mountain came to be theirs again. Ori feels uncomfortable about it all. His family line is not a great one, and he never felt that his contribution to the Company came to all that much. Kili chides him of course. He’s happy for them both and promises to stand up with Ori at the ceremony which is coming all too soon. But then it becomes more a burden than a pleasure when Balin comes to him and informs Kili that he has been assigned to manage the wedding day and feast.

Kili is horrified. He is already quite stressed enough with filling in for Fili, training the younglings on the archery field, and then in addition he was just recently tasked with organizing and leading the hunting parties into the woods for game to be salted and stored, to restock the food stores of Erebor for the winter to come. Surely his mother would be better suited to the task of organizing what amounts to a great party?

Fili claps him on the shoulder sympathetically. He is nearly healed and has been gradually returning to his court duties although not to the mines as yet.

“This is what happens when you do too good a job at your given duties, Kee,” he says “people just keep giving you more of them.”

Dis agrees to help him, but the task remains his. It will be good for him, she says, to learn the skills involved in dealing with coordinating the union of two families and handling their different needs and requests.

So in between Court duty and a meeting with a group of hunters Kili has selected for an impending expedition, he sits down with Ori, Limul, and representatives from both of their families to discuss the preliminary details of their day of Union.

Dori speaks first, saying that he hopes the planning of the day will be following in all the proper dwarf traditions.

Mav, Limul’s mother, bristles at this, saying that if Dori means that the burden of paying for the wedding and feast shall rest solely on the bride’s family, then she must insist that the size of the celebration and invitation list be limited to only family and close friends. This is what her daughter says she wants in any case.

Limul shifts uncomfortably.

Ori turns to Kili and points out that their first consideration should be the desire of their King, and wants to know what Thorin expects from the day.

Kili tells them that his Uncle requested that firstly the day should honor Ori and Limul, and secondarily also pay homage to the dwarves of the original Company and be a reminder of their good fortune in regaining the Mountain.

Nori then points out that this surely means all dwarves should be welcomed, and a heated argument nearly erupts until Dis calms everyone by announcing that since the King has placed a universal purpose on their wedding, she has been authorized to tell them that a portion of the Royal Treasury will be given to help Limul’s family pay for the day, and they are not to worry over the financial burden.

Mav nods deeply to Dis, who nods in return, and everything proceeds more smoothly until the issue of dowry comes up.

Kili watches as Limul and Ori’s faces become pinched and anxious as their families begin disagreeing once more.

“If I may,” Kili says, and all eyes turn to him. “The tradition of a dowry is really meant for brides or grooms who are unskilled and leaving their families to enter into their new spouse’ family as a possible burden. I know Ori and Limul well, now, and neither of them is unskilled, or would be likely to burden any family they enter. In fact as I understand it, they will be establishing a new home of their own.” Ori nods vigorously to Kili at this. “Right, so then I believe this is a case where we should break with tradition and dispense with a dowry completely. Let your gold go to pay for things that will make your day a joyous one, to the merchants of food and decoration.”

“Aye, and wine and ale especially!” This from Limul’s father Grath who had said absolutely nothing until that point.

The meeting continues for another two hours. Kili feels drained when they file out into the hall. His mother gives his hand a squeeze and nods at him. “Well done,” she whispers. Limul approaches him too as soon as everyone else has left, Ori standing behind her with his hands resting gently on her waist as she takes both of Kili’s hands in hers, her eyes full of gratitude.

“Thank you, Kili, for taking on such a heavy task for us. Ori could not have a finer friend than you.”

Kili bows to her as she continues, “And please do not worry about my mother’s expectations that you should be the one to find fabrics and designs for our party’s wedding clothes. I will take care of all of that. That will not be on your shoulders.”

Kili grins broadly at this and feels a great fondness for them both. But that only means the job will be more difficult because he dare not let these dearest friends down.

The meeting with the hunters is much easier, but a little stress is added when Gloin shows up with a reluctant Gimli in tow, insisting his son be included in the hunt. Kili cannot refuse Gloin in front of the others. He does not want to humiliate Gimli or create bad blood with Gloin, his fellow Journey companion. Gimli comes to him privately and apologizes, assuring Kili he won’t get in the way and that Kili won’t have to worry about him. Kili reassures him. He actually doesn’t mind the young dwarf coming along. Gimli’s strength and skill with blades will be most useful in the butchering anyway.

Dwalin is part of the meeting too, and stops to chat with Kili after the hunt details have been worked out.

“Heard ya did well with the lovely couples’ families.” Dwalin’s expression is respectful but there is always that hint of amusement in the old warrior’s eyes.

Kili sighs heavily and leans on a doorframe, rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand. He’s a ball of nerves. He’s been in meetings and negotiations all day long and his body craves relief.

“Do you have time to spar with me Dwalin?”

Dwalin nods easily. “Name your weapon and I’m there.”

Chapter Text

The clanging of his sword against Dwalin’s unties the tight knots in Kili’s body one by one as they circle each other on the sandy surface of the Royal sparring room. Both of them work hard enough to reap the benefits of a good physical workout, their shirt fronts showing large triangular patches of damp sweat, their breathing just a bit labored. But the work is not as hard as Kili remembers from his youth with Dwalin. He will not wake up sore tomorrow. Thank the Maker for that.

Kili realizes as they step around each other that he is not expecting Dwalin to be his instructor anymore, and Dwalin is not behaving as his superior or even as his elder. They are sparring partners. In fact Kili almost detects (and he can barely think this could be true) that Dwalin is serving him.

They break and take a moment to drink from the water barrel in the corner.

“So they’ve got you pretty busy.”

“Aye.”

“Planning a weddin’ feast, eh?”

Kili smiles tightly at him.

“Well if they ask ya to start arranging baby’s breath for ‘em you should tell ‘em to go pack sand.”

They laugh easily together, and return to the ring, falling back into a sparring rhythm that pleases them both. At the end of a long bout of strikes and paries, Kili catches Dwalin’s eyes and speaks seriously.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, Dwalin.”

“You’ll find yer way all right.”

“What if it’s a disaster?”

Dwalin’s eyes pierce him and his mouth crooks up on one side. “Pick yer battles. Figure out what yeh can and cannot do and delegate those jobs to others. Yer a bloody Prince of Erebor, Kili, yeh’ve earned the right to order other people around.”

Something large loosens inside Kili at these words and he nods.

“One more bout and that will do for me today. Thank you for your time, Dwalin.”

“Anytime, my Lord.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The hallway of the royal family wing of Erebor lies quiet before Fili as he makes his way to his own chamber after a very late night. He’d been helping Balin with some ancient family claims over portions of the treasure. Torches burn low in their iron wall settings, their light flickering over the colorful wall hangings depicting famous battles led by dwarves.

Fili is exhausted. The time of night is deep and well past any reasonable hour to achieve a real sleep before dawn. The hours of work were hard on him and he raises an arm to stretch at the sore and still healing burns down his left side. He would have begged off entirely but then Balin would have asked Kili to help him and his brother can bear no more work than he already does.

Fili slows as he passes Kili’s chamber door. He is certain Kili is inside, hopefully sleeping. Fili’s feet seem to make their own way closer to the door, and its handle, before Fili realizes his own heart’s wishes. He sighs, frowning down at Kili’s door handle. Gold plated iron. A simple lever design, a handle that will either turn or not turn depending on the wishes of the occupant inside the room.

His mind turns back to a few weeks ago when he’d pressed down on that lever and felt it catch, resisting him.

Rejecting him.

He can still feel the dull pain in his gut as he remembers it. He doesn’t blame Kili at all, but Mahal it hurts. He rests his fingertips softly against the smooth wooden door and lets his head fall against it, feeling the slight coolness of the surface against his heated temple. Honestly Fili’s dearest wish at this moment would be to share completely platonic sleep with his brother, to enter this room and crawl under the blankets next to Kili and curl up close to him, draping one arm over his chest so he can feel the rise and fall of his breathing, bury his nose in his brother’s hair, inhale Kili’s soft musk and close his eyes. Fili is certain he could reach a truly sublime state of slumber if he could do this, a sleep so deep just a few hours of it could take him wide eyed through a week of small claims cases.

But Kili isn’t ready for that. It would confuse him and he would flinch away from Fili and it would hurt as much as the locked door.

But Fili still thinks about how good it could be, all too often. How much he wants to run his hands up around Kili’s neck and under his hair, and massage his brother’s scalp with his fingers until the tension he constantly sees in the furrowed brows over those brown eyes goes away. How much he wants to smooth his thumbs over Kili’s jaw when it clenches.

How much he wants to tell Kili how fiercely proud of him he is.

Fili received much preferential treatment growing up. He always had the impression from others that he outshone Kili in all the important ways, that Thorin, at least, would have chosen him as his heir whether he’d been born first or not.

He is so ashamed of those thoughts, now.

He should have known that once Kili transferred that power of concentration he always applied to his archery to everything else, that he would become the dwarf he is becoming. One so well skilled and so respected that bearded heads both male and female turn suddenly and rooms go silent whenever Kili enters. And this occurs when Kili is alone, with no King leading him in. And the curious and wonderful thing to Fili is how oblivious Kili seems to be about it.

He hates to see his brother burdened. But he is in awe of how naturally Kili is bearing the tasks placed on his shoulders. Awed. Inspired. Enamored.

Because of course in Fili’s most private thoughts, those he rarely allows himself, he wants to press his lips against every inch of Kili’s skin. But Kili would certainly reject that. Fili isn’t even certain he, himself, is ready for it.

Because it would not be sex as Fili had come to understand it.

Fili first began to see this in the early hours of that morning, when he’d gently but firmly extricated himself from Thorin’s bed, respectfully disagreeing, No, Uncle, he is not all right. I’m going to go check on him.

And Kili’s eyes in the moonlight, the hurt there, the resentment, the outrage, and how he’d stopped him.  Fili had been puzzled by that.  Offering physical affection always worked with Thorin when anything was wrong between them.  Why wouldn't Kili want it?

Fili cringes, now, thinking of it.  Of course he understands now.  Kili had not pushed him away because he was afraid of him, or not ready, or too immature for physical love. On the contrary. Even though Kili might be less sexually experienced, his brother had been dipping his limbs in an ocean. Fili and Thorin were simply messing around in a pond.

Fili had been enjoying sharing Thorin’s bed, certainly. He’d felt cherished, valued and surely self vindicated by receiving sexual favors from one so powerful and inspiring. His dwarven instincts appreciated the status he got from it. And sex with Thorin was physically enthralling and satisfying. But it was also rather impersonal. His Uncle did not give tender kisses or cuddles. Thorin was not a dwarf who revealed very much of his inner self to anyone. Even to a lover. Fili always felt that something was missing in their pairing, that it was not a complete bond.

So when Thorin had shown interest in Kili, and suggested they include him in their trysts, Fili had been most willing because he sensed that Kili might supply that missing something that he could not quite identify.

But after that Fili barely recognizes himself.

He feels the responsibility for the shadow in Kili’s eyes since that night. He takes it fully, and carries that huge chunk of granite on his shoulders and feels the ache of it. But in a corner of his mind he remembers that his body had almost felt like it was not his own that night, as though something had channeled itself through Thorin and had taken control of him. It almost seemed that Thorin had been using him to punish Kili for something. It didn’t make sense, but that grain of an idea had been growing in Fili’s mind and it would not quiet itself.

But what follows from that is that Fili should have been able to resist. Kili could not possibly have deserved such anger, and Fili should have protected him from it. It wrenches Fili’s heart to think that he’d given in. He’d given in to his entrenched need to please Thorin, to keep his high status, to behave as carelessly in his lovemaking as any typical dwarf would with his table manners.

In any case, up until this point in his life that is the only way Fili had ever experienced sex. Thorin’s tutelage had professed no deeper purpose for it than a moment’s satisfaction, nothing more meaningful than perhaps a remedy for a long stressful day. Quick, thorough, flippant, sometimes rough and gamey, but never anything deeper.

Fili sighs heavily. Kili knows he is sorry. He is certain they have at least come that far. But he wonders, with his head pressed against the smooth wood and palms splayed above the door handle, will this path they are on lead back to where he wishes they could be?

His hand trembles and lowers to rest on the lever. He takes a deep breath, and applies downward pressure.

The lever moves down easily.

Fili’s breath catches in his throat and he has a to stifle a small cry of joy. Carefully he raises his hand back up and allows the lever to return to its original closed position. Fili’s breathing deepens and the lines of tension that had painted his features from this long day vanish into smoothness.

He gently pushes himself away from Kili’s door and moves down the hall towards his own door, smiling broadly, certain that he will at least be able to get some sleep once he reaches his bed this night.

Chapter Text

Limul’s hand curls around her father’s thick arm as they make their way together down the aisle towards where the King and his company stand at the head of the Hall of Kings. She holds her head high, trying to make up for her diminutive height, and prays her slippered feet won’t trip, and that she will be able to manage the long train that stretches preposterously out behind her during the trickier parts of the ceremony to come.

It is a long walk. She never would have believed that there would be enough dwarves in Erebor interested enough in her Union to Ori that their number would actually fill the Great Hall. But here they are, thousands of them, standing in rows in their finest clothing watching as the ceremony progresses. She knows that there is more going on here than just her marriage to Ori, that this is also a celebration of the liberation of Erebor, but still. She is the focus of more attention than she has ever received or indeed, wanted, and her insides flutter. She is not certain whether to be grateful for the thick white veil that covers her face, or irritated that it limits her vision and makes her maneuvering even more difficult.

She looks forward, straining through the gauze of the veil, seeking the gentle face she has come to know so well. There, he is there, she finally spots his bright eyes and gentle smile and the butterflies in her stomach settle. A pang of regret stabs at her as she realizes she can see his smile but Ori cannot see hers and she wants to leap forward and reassure him. Her stride lengthens and her pace quickens in rebellion to the stately march she is supposed to maintain and her father clears his throat and gives her arm a subtle tug, returning her to a properly reverent gate.

The ceremony itself is not long. But the first few minutes seem to last forever, as Ori and Limul are not permitted to touch each other until their full names, titles and accomplishments have been read, and until Limul has completed the Seven Turns around her husband to be. This is the part that had been giving her the most worries. In rehearsal she had not had a long train to deal with, and making seven laps around Ori (one turn in honor of each of the seven dwarf fathers of old) had not been a challenge. But now there are 15 pounds of silk behind her that she must gather and carry. Her dear father begins to gather it together with his great hands but he is old and arthritic and the progress is embarrassingly slow and inefficient until Fili gallantly steps in to help. The Prince folds it into a more easily managed bundle and sets it carefully into her arms, raising his eyebrows to her in question, which she answers with a nod. Now buried in swaths of cream colored silk, but with her feet now free to move, Limul whispers her thanks to them both, and turns to Ori who looks as though he might burst with tender emotion for her and who has all this time been barely held back by Kili, who stands next to him, beaming at them both.

Kili turns to Thorin, who nods, and dark haired Prince moves back and retrieves his violin, and begins to play.

Limul begins her turns around Ori. The notes flowing from Kili’s bow are the only sounds in the Great Hall, which echo with a simple but reverent Dwarven tune. One, two, three… the notes begin low, vibrating deeply off the high ceilings and stone pillars...her father used to sing her this song as a lullaby and she becomes lost in it… the key changes sweetly from minor to major and Limul remembers this is the part of the song where young lovers are reunited.

And then she realizes with horror that she has lost count of her turns…!

Her father catches her eye, and he blinks downward at his hands that hold up 6 fingers just for her.

And then it is done. She stands before Ori and drops the train. Someone arranges it for her but she does not pay attention. Ori has lifted her veil and taken her hands in his, and she can finally truly see him. Thorin is pronouncing their vows. They are to honor, protect, and enrich each other for as long as they live.

There is a thunderous explosion of music from the orchestra and cheers from the Dwarves in the Hall. The dwarves of the Company have moved to form a corridor of honor for them, their swords raised and touching in an arch, with King Thorin taking position at the head of the row with Orchrist drawn. Ori takes Limul’s hand and they make their way through this corridor and out of the Hall in a much less reverent and stately manner than Limul had entered it.

 

She gets a short break in the dwarrowdam chambers as she is allowed to change out of her ceremonial gown into a gown more suitable for feasting and dancing. The presence of her mother and a host of other women make the experience a little less restful than she would have liked, all of them fussing over her garments and appearance, and all in possession of opinions and thoughts about the Ceremony. Most twitter on pleasantly and harmlessly. Her mother is mostly complimentary, although she does tut a bit over Limul’s exuberance and falling out of step on her way down the aisle. Of course Mav would notice that. You really should be more chaste in such a situation, a proper dam does not show her intended such eagerness before she is wed, it is unseemly.

Limul has the most difficult time restraining her giggles at this statement.

Returning to the party (and by the time she returns to the feast chamber, it has indeed become a party) she is relieved to be with male company again. Her place by Ori’s side feels as comfortable and right as it did before the wedding. His hand in hers is warm, and he pulls her close to him immediately, and she’ll never remember the things they whisper to each other but for a little while the loud sounds of the party around them die away and their temples are pressed together, and all is well.

But Limul is not a bride who neglects her friends, and Ori is her match. After they have eaten, they circulate and allow themselves to be assailed by well wishers. They don’t manage to do much more than listen and allow their backs to be slapped and their hands to be pumped vigorously up and down. Finally it is to the Company, and to the King, and to the Princes that Ori and Limul truly wish to give their attention.

King Thorin takes both of her hands in his large confident ones and graces her with a blazing smile, pronouncing Ori to be the luckiest dwarf in Erebor. Limul curtsies breathlessly, blushing, and sees her mother off to one side beaming so much she seems to be glowing more brightly than her jewelry. Her father’s face crumples and huge tears slide down his ruddy cheeks into his beard and Limul immediately goes to him and spends the next twenty minutes tending him, which is as much of a pleasure for her as it is for him.

Dori takes her hand and brushes his lips formally over her knuckles, bowing to her and welcoming her to his kin circle with a rather drawn out speech that has Ori shuffling next to her. Nori is less inhibited and takes her up in his arms and spins her around as the entourage laughs simply saying how much he’d always wanted a little sister.

She knows them all so well already that they simply find themselves taking advantage of yet another time to become more deeply acquainted. And as usually occurs during such times, as commonly occured on the ledge of the hidden door in recent months, Limul finds herself silently observing and worrying about Kili.

Kili’s role of planning this day had forcibly resulted in Limul spending a great deal of time with the Prince in this past month. The demands upon him had been great, and she had made an effort to make certain that the tasks Kili took on for their wedding were never frivolous, and that he always had her nearby to confirm the things she did (and did not) want for her day.

Limul found herself amazed first by how much work and how many merchants and servants were required to put on a feast, even a simple one. She accompanies Kili through a string of meetings with hundreds of people who in turn were in charge of hundreds more. They become acquainted with a section of the population that is lower in station than their own, but no less essential to the workings of a kingdom. Kili admits to Limul that this is an education for him that he’ll not soon forget.

But secondly Limul is amazed at Kili’s skill in working with anyone, regardless of their status, occupation or temperament, in such a way that anything he asks of them is given and done. She suspects that it is not just Kili who is receiving an education. Wealthy merchants who enter into meetings scowling with their bearded mouths turned down leave their company calm and thoughtful. Head servants and laborers come to Prince Kili timidly, expecting the usual gruff curtness they have always received from royalty, and leave with a lightness in their step. Ori joined them on more than one occasion and observed the same things Limul did, but is not at all surprised.

Limul knows the closeness of the friendship between Kili and Ori. It is one of the reasons she fell in love with Ori, because of his rather undwarvish tendency to care so much about others. She also knows that somewhere along the way during the Journey her husband shared with the Prince, Kili was hurt. Ori never had to tell her this. It is obvious to her. She has wondered about the details of it, and wonders how much her tender hearted husband knows. She does not ask.

But to Limul it seems as though Kili is heart sick.

In fact, both of the Princes look as though they have given their hearts to someone who has not been very careful with them.

Limul sighs. She had avoided romance for many years for this very reason. The dwarven race is a callous one. What else could explain how anyone could wish to do such harm to such gentle and handsome princes?

Following these thoughts which she speaks to Ori as they sit out a dance during a quiet moment, she looks on with hope as Fili finds himself introduced by Balin to Lady Khel and her mother and father. Limul knows Khel, a former resident of her own town, and she tells Ori that Khel is a good hearted maid with a fine mind. Fili’s attentions to dwarrowdams have been frustratingly platonic. Perhaps with Khel it will go differently. But although Fili bows and agrees to a dance, his features look impassive. She turns to Ori to comment, and is surprised to see that Ori is frowning.

And Kili, although he seemed happy enough during the ceremony, has been looking more and more despondent as the evening progresses. He sits with them at Ori’s request, and it is a very good sign that he actually accepted a full glass of mead and participated fully in a toast led by a well soused Bofur (with Bifur grunting his approval beside him). But his eyes are dark and his smile sad in between what seem to be forced bursts of laughter at appropriate moments.

He tries to slip away from them, saying that the orchestra needs him and making to retrieve his fiddle. Limul nudges Ori but Ori is already on his feet.

“No, no, my friend. You will not go up and hide on the stage tonight.

“Ori--”

“The musicians can do without you.” Ori is nodding, Kili is shaking his head at the same time.

“Ori!”

Ori steps close to Kili and Limul cannot hear their words, but Ori has Kili firmly by the elbows and seems to speak in earnest. When he turns back to her Ori holds his hand out to Limul and entreats her quietly,

“Will you give Prince Kili this next dance, my love?”

There is a warm reception for them as they take the floor, and a space clears around them as the Prince dances a paired reel with the Bride. There is clapping and stomping, and the two are completely comfortable because their roles are clear, their reputations and status untainted and their affection for each other as nothing more (and nothing less) than great friends is assured between them and obvious to all.

Limul is breathless and laughing as she regains Ori’s side, and she is pleased to see so many of the young, single dwarrows and dwarrowdams looking with new eyes at Kili, having never seen him dance before and hopefully wondering how to procure a turn with him. The Prince’s smile reaches his eyes now as he sits down with them and accepts another glass of mead, raising it to Ori and Limul and nodding to them. Limul looks gratefully at Ori, who squeezes her shoulders and looks back across the table at Kili who is looking down at one of his rings, twisting it back and forth thoughtfully.

 ---------------------------------------------------------------------

It is late and the party is winding down but not quite over. Kili sits at one of the abandoned tables, enjoying a mug of coffee one of the servants brought for him.

Everyone else seems to have found warm company tonight but him.


Bombur, Bofur and Gloin are close to their wives as they take their leave of the Great Hall, Ori has his Limul, even young Gimli walked out earlier all starry eyed with a young lass on his arm. Dwalin offered a chaste elbow to Dis, and Kili suspects that is platonic, but he would not mind if it were more for them. He did not notice who Fili or Thorin left with. It pangs his heart when he pictures the look Lady Khel gave his brother earlier, and he does not know what kind of look was returned for Fili was facing away from him at the time.

It isn’t as though Kili hasn’t had offers. He refuses them because it never feels right, and he’s had no wish for it. But tonight Kili’s insides flutter, and his mind aches and his fingers keep closing around nothing and want for something to grasp.

Abruptly Kili’s musings are interrupted by a freshly filled mug of ale that slides into his line of vision. He looks up, tracing the enormous paw of hand that holds the mug up a well muscled arm and shoulder to a set of blue eyes twinkling at him intensely.

He is a young dwarf, just come of age. One of Dane’s clan that elected to stay in Erebor, judging by the flaming red hair and well groomed whiskers. A distant cousin, Kili thinks, he remembers being introduced earlier in the evening...what was his name…?

“Baruk, is it?”

Kili is rewarded with a broad, toothy grin. “Son of Barek, yes! You honor me, my Prince.”

Kili accepts the ale and nods for him to sit. Baruk scrapes up a chair and thunks himself down into it, raising his own mug to Kili’s.

“To the happy couple!” Kili smiles at that and they clank their mugs together with a force worthy of Mahal, both taking a long drought of their ales.

“So, what can I do for you Baruk son of Barek?”

Baruk shakes his great head, wiping foam from his generous mustache. “Nay, my Prince, it is I who am at your service. You sit alone here and I only thought you might like some company.”

Baruk appears to be a bit in awe of Kili, and asks him for details of the Battle, and the fight with Azog. Kili hesitates at first, but the young dwarf encourages him, touching his arm and nodding at him to please go on, he’d heard so many rumors and he’d like to know the truth. Baruk’s eyes go wide and he gasps at all the appropriate places in Kili’s story, and he pulls his chair slightly closer, and his touches move from Kili’s arm to his knee, and then to his chest. And Kili knows he’s being reeled in but he finds he doesn’t mind. Baruk listens to him and lets him talk, and it has been a long time since anyone really listened to him for a change.

Kili is not drunk, but the ale has loosened the rigidity of his thoughts and every sentence that leaves his lips seems to ring with truth inside his own head. Kili begins to relax and enjoy himself with this youth whose large gentle hands remind him of Thorin’s, and whose blue eyes sparkle like Fili’s.

And Baruk even gets a good laugh out of him when they speak of journeying through the Misty Mountains. The red headed youth’s experience of that passage differed from Kili’s considerably, but Baruk insists it was no less hellish with his father, brother and five younger cousins in tow and himself in charge of their care as the eldest.

And they are laughing, and then their faces come close, and Kili blinks when he realizes he is staring at Baruk’s mouth. And when the kiss happens Kili finds that although the thick beard and mustache around it are rather coarse, that mouth is soft, and the inside of it is warm and opens to him readily. They fumble for each other’s hands, and whisper of where they might go to continue this, and as Kili walks with his arm tightly entwined with the young dwarf the earth sways a tiny bit but he is pleased to be finding his steps quite competently. Baruk’s arm curls around his waist and he feels thick fingers stroking his hip and his whole body responds, and he hums softly into the touch.

And abruptly his back is thrust against vertical stone, and Baruk’s entire massive frame crushes into him. Kili is not averse to this surrender to sensations, but he is a little surprised at the fury of it. He also notices that they are barely a few yards from the great dining hall in an unshielded dark corner by a thick curtain of heavy red fabric, and a part of his mind rebels at the unseemliness of this. The large young dwarf’s hands drag up and down his sides with a hint of possessiveness, which also raises a distant red flag in Kili’s mind.

“Baruk...wait. There are more private rooms nearby.”

“Mmm, no. Want you now.” Kili moans involuntarily as the dwarf rocks his hips against him, rubbing against his hard length rather inexpertly but the Prince has gone so long without any kind of attention there that he cannot help reacting to Baruk’s impetuousness.

Unfortunately Kili’s vocalization only encourages the young dwarf and now the heavy muscular body is hard and desperate against him, the big hands pulling Kili’s clothes aside and gripping at his skin firmly enough to leave bruises as the bearded lips open and bite sloppily at Kili’s neck, panting loudly and ridiculously into his ear.

“I’ve been wanting to find out how it would be with a Prince.” Baruk’s voice speaks huskily, and Kili’s desire dissolves into irritation, partly with himself.

He’s been played. Baruk’s deference to him has disappeared. It is no longer “my Lord” but “you”, no longer “my Prince” but “a Prince.

“Had you been hoping for my brother, then?” Kili asks darkly.

“I did try to get his attention but he seems to prefer the lasses. I thought I might have a better chance with you.”

Kili’s stomach turns and he is so disgusted he growls out his words, “Baruk, stop, right now.” He presses his hands against the big brute’s broad chest and tries to push him away, but the dwarf’s body barely moves, and Baruk laughs softly and only seems to become more enthusiastic.

“Oh yes, Kili, show me some of those Orc fighting skills of yours.”

Kili knows what to do to stop the big youth, but he’d rather not do it unless he absolutely has to. And he’s fast reaching that point as Baruk pulls painfully at a hank of his hair, jerking his head to one side and slobbering into his ear, encircling Kili’s cock with his other hand and squeezing hard.

“Do you like it rough, Kili? I was hoping you did.”

Kili hisses dangerously, his hand closing around the dagger at his belt, his left knee ready to strike upwards, his neck muscles tensing to drive his forehead into the bridge of Baruk’s nose, “If you don’t stop things are going to get much more rough than you like, Baruk.”

And then suddenly Baruk gasps and his hands stop moving altogether. The reason becomes apparent as a throwing knife that Kili knows very well has appeared at his throat, and the voice behind it is soft but deadly serious.

“I believe Prince Kili asked you to stop. I believe you are going to respect his wishes.”

Baruk’s hands fall away and he backs up as Fili, one hand gripping his sleeve and one hand still holding the blade at his neck, pulls him firmly backwards before releasing him and pushing him away from himself and Kili in disgust. Baruk spreads his hands towards them both and sputters nervously.

“Ah, Prince Fili! I did not-- I mean-- I meant no harm to your brother-- all perfectly consensual, He led me here himself---”

“--But then asked you to stop.”

“Yes, yes, quite so. I just thought it was all part of the game, you know, just a little fun, surely…”

Baruk is staring at them. Kili does not like the look in his eye at all, and afterwards he will wonder what was it that Baruk saw in him or Fili that caused him to say his next words.

“Ooh…” The young dwarf looks back and forth between the Princes, “It’s like that, then is it?” Baruk smiles again and Kili wonders how he could have been drawn in by that grin that now so obviously contains nothing but greed.

“Well by Mahal! Why waste such a night? Why don’t we--”

If only one of the Princes’ fists had made contact with the young dwarf’s large head it is possible that the force would not have been enough to fell the brash brute, but with both Kili and Fili hitting him at once with the full force of their outrage, Baruk falls to the floor in a senseless heap at their feet.

Kili fumbles with his undone clothing, putting himself back together as he glares down at the one who disheveled him. And then all Fili’s attention turns to Kili, as Kili had expected, and hoped for...

...and dreaded...

“Are you well?”

Mahal.

...and it isn’t the least bit fair, but all of Kili’s frustrations come out at his brother.

“Why does everyone insist on continuously asking me that!!???” He anguishes loudly, “Yes! I am well! I am perfectly fine!!! I am doing everything you all want of me and expect of me... I am eating when presented with food, and sleeping unless it is my time to watch, and I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself and defending myself from anyone, be they giant orcs, or young red-headed morons!!!!!”

Suddenly he can’t seem to get enough air, and although his mind feels perfectly lucid he feels just a bit dizzy. When he looks at his brother he sees blue eyes again and he flinches for a moment, but this is Fili. Baruk still lies senseless on the ground some feet away. And he takes a second look at his brother, a deeper one, and sees brightness, concern, and something else that no other eyes contain, something that swirls around him and embraces him, something that reminds Kili of soft furs, and Dis’ lullabies, and firelight, and endless lessons with Balin, and running wild through Marketplaces.

“I’m fine, Fili.” He says more calmly “You didn’t have to rescue me.”

“I’m sure that’s true.“

“I was doing fine on my own. I’ve gotten out of worse scrapes by myself.”

“Forgive me. He looked insistent and you looked like you weren’t interested and that...made me angry.”

Kili’s head turns to look at Fili, who stands with his hands at his sides but trembles like a young stallion, looking as though the thinnest of threads hold him back.

“Angry?”

Kili feels something broil up inside him again, and he stumbles dizzily against a tapestry draped wall behind him, coming to rest with his back against it, feeling the wool fabric waft briefly away from the vertical stone, and trying hard to make it look like a planned move. He really has had a bit too much ale, but not so much that the real irony of Fili’s words are lost on him. He almost wishes he were blind stinking drunk, so his mind wouldn’t have noticed the irony of that word, so he might have instead been able to capitalize on the fact that Fili is standing here with him, and not off in a private room with Thorin, or Lady Khel, and to allow himself the luxury of thinking that maybe Fili’s protective behavior might just mean something more than brotherly love, that maybe he could allow a tiny flame of hope in his chest to kindle again for the first time in ages.

But the words must come out of him. It hurts too much. He can’t keep them in.

Is it possible,“ Kili speaks softly, his fingers clutching at the tapestry behind him, his eyes fixed on his brother, “that this anger comes from jealousy? That if someone is going to throw me down on a floor in a dark corner and dry fuck me you’d prefer it to be you?”

Mahal, the words sting on their way out of his throat as though they were made of acid. Fili will surely turn away from him forever now.

But Fili doesn’t shy away.

“I know I deserved that,” he says simply, nodding.

They are two young trees buffeted by invisible winds, swaying back and forth in the same direction but never quite reaching each other. Fili stands so close to him that Kili senses his body’s warmth, and hears every breath his brother takes. But Fili doesn’t touch him.

“Kili, I don’t want you mistreated by anyone, not by me, or any other dwarf regardless of his rank or titles. I came looking for you tonight because I noticed you were missing. I always notice when you are missing. The party was winding down and I could see dwarves pairing off with each other, and I would never have begrudged you such a pleasure if you had truly sought it and wanted it with someone. I hope you can believe that.”

They are both breathing deeply and shakily now. Fili doesn’t rehash the details of the incident, but skips to the point.

“Kili, tell me you weren’t glad to see me come round that corner. Tell me you’d rather have dealt with that idiot by yourself, and not had my help, and I’ll walk away from here right now and I promise I won’t bring any of this up again.”

The silence that ensues is long enough that Fili is just beginning to back away when Kili’s voice finally breaks through, so softly Fili can barely hear it.

“I was.”

“You were…?”

“Glad to see you.”

This next silence is much less ominous, and Fili’s warmth returns into Kili’s personal space, still hovering, not touching him, but steadily, stubbornly, there. Kili raises his head to meet his brother’s gaze and for one strange moment he imagines he is looking into a mirror. It has been a very long time since he’d experienced that feeling, not since they were children. Only a moment. But it’s comforting somehow.

It is at this moment that they both hear a loud snoring sound coming from the banquet hall nearby. Baruk still lies silently unconscious in the corner; the owner of this snore is further away. They both turn to it, and in silent agreement, move to investigate.

The deep carrying noise comes from the slumbering throat of an old dwarrowdam named Gem. She is, in fact, one of the lower ranked matriarchs in Dane’s clan, and a distant relative of Baruk’s, known for falling into her cups at large feasts and then sleeping it off in a public corner. The old soul has drunk herself into a stupor and is curled around a table leg, using part of a table cloth as a makeshift blanket. A placid smile graces her face.

The opportunity knocks loudly in both Princes’ minds.

“Kili…”

“Hmm?”

They slowly turn to look at each other, their eyes low, careful, checking. Fili’s face blossoms into a mask of joyous mischief. Kili’s heart catches at the raised eyebrows and sly smile. He knows very well that he is the only one who has ever seen this expression on his brother’s face.

“Do you think we should?”

“Absolutely.”

It takes them about 30 minutes, working together, to achieve the effect they desire. Looking down upon their work they can barely contain themselves. It is too bad, really, that they cannot borrow Limul’s skills to capture the moment on parchment.

The journey back to their chambers is like running through the narrow streets of the Ered Luin of their youth. They are time travelers, and the ancient walls seem to welcome the young Princes, their youth, their strength, their energy and mischief, their stifled giggling which finally erupts into helpless laughter echoes off the carved stone as they run through halls bathed in golden light.

Rumors will circulate thick and heavy over the next few days. To the credit of dwarfdom, the strongest of them concerns Prince Kili’s superb planning and management of the wedding day of Ori of the House of Ri and Limul daughter of Grath. And there are the usual undercurrents. Who danced with whom, who paired off with whom, who left with whom...Prince Fili and Lady Khel are spoken of much in this regard.

And then there are the truly interesting stories that are only spoken of in pubs and dark corners. The most intriguing one of these is the curious story of Lady Gem and her great great grand nephew Baruk. The matriarch in question is purported to have been found (as she usually is) in a deep drunken stupor wrapped around a table cloth in the great hall. But it is quite a new development that a very inebriated and very naked young Baruk is rumored to have been found firmly entangled around her this time, and that he was most difficult to detach from the old lady. Some say that this was due to a general sexual desperation that the young dwarrow is known for, others say that it was due to his well known tendency towards drink that dulled his abilities to be more selective in his affections, and still others whisper that the unfortunate youth was the victim of a prank, and had been found bound hand and foot to the same table leg the dwarrowdam was favoring in such a way as made it impossible for him to extricate himself once he awoke, and that the old lady had been not at all helpful and in fact had quite happily taken advantage of the situation.

The interest and pure glee that is inspired by the two main characters of this juicy rumor suffices for it t need go no further than that in most circles. But those older resident dwarves of Ered Luin recognize full well the marks of a Kili-Fili prank of old, and shake their heads, tutting through their beards with in-the-know self importance.

Aye. There goes the bloody Kingdom.

Chapter Text

Their mirth had carried them through the long passages to the Royal wing, but now they begin to slow down and the long hours of the day catch up to them.

“I’m tired,” breathes Kili as he leans against his door, looking up at Fili almost apologetically through wisps of dark hair that have escaped his braids.

And he is. Bone tired, as though he’d been laid on an anvil and hammered on over a period of days. Every part of him feels reshaped, right down to the thoughts rattling in the back of his mind that seem to concern everything from the signed wedding contracts he needs to deliver to Balin in the morning to the the shabby state of the archery targets on the training field that need to be replaced...how had such bureaucratic minutiae ever managed to get into his brain?

Fili reaches for his hands,“Come on, let’s get you to bed.”

He follows Fili without protesting and doesn’t react when his brother enters his chamber with him. He sits (falls really) onto his bed and sighs heavily. Peripherally he hears Fili stirring the fire in the chamber fireplace back to life and rolling a log onto it. He pulls the circlet from his forehead and places it carefully on the table by his bed, then pulls at the buttons on the heavily brocaded vest he has worn all night. Fili kneels before him, unlacing his boots and pulling them off, then reaches for the vest Kili is struggling to escape from and helps him draw it down his arms.

“Do you like her?” Kili asks abruptly because he can’t help himself.

Fili sits back on his knees and stares at Kili. “You mean Lady Khel?” It’s a relief, really, that Fili is not as frustratingly obtuse as Thorin. Kili didn’t have to specify who he asked about. Fili knows.

“Yes.” Kili lifts his eyes and meets Fili’s gaze directly. The blue eyes look tired, and Kili realizes only just now, deeply sad.

After a long moment Fili shrugs and answers Kili’s question with a question. “Did you like planning this day for Ori and Limul?”

Kili doesn’t answer, and feels his own head nod slightly. He's fairly certain this is Fili’s way of saying No, she was just a pleasant duty I had to tend to.

“You did a really good job, you know.” Fili adds, his blue eyes softening. And Kili’s anxious thought dissolves into a tingling warmth that slides down his back and relaxes his spine.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

He’s still kneeling in front of Kili, and tired as he is, Kili sees what’s coming when Fili reaches for the blanket to pull it back. Kili decides to head it off before it occurs, putting a hand on his brother’s arm.

“You should go to bed, Fee.”

“I only wanted--”

“I know. I don’t need tucking in.”

Fili sighs, backing away. “No, of course not.”

“I’m not a child.” Kili pushes himself off the bed and moves to the washbasin in the corner, cupping cold water in his hands and splashing it onto his face. He hears Fili shuffling to his feet behind him.

“No, indeed you are not. In fact I think you beat me to it, Kee. I think you grew up before I did.”

Kili abruptly turns back to his brother at this. Fili stands next to the bed looking down at the coverlet as his hand smooths at a wrinkle in the rich blue silk.

Kili searches his mind until bureaucracy combines with care.

“You’re reviewing our infantry tomorrow with Thorin, aren’t you?”

Fili looks up with forced brightness. “Aye. No rest for the wicked.”

They both smirk a bit, thinking of their recent handiwork.

“After you are done, do you have time to spar for a bit?”

Fili’s eyes widen and Kili worries for moment if he asks too much. The last time they had sparred…

But his brother recovers quickly. “Sure.” Fili maintains the same brightness as before, and breaks forward, clapping Kili on the shoulder in unmistakeable warrior-like, shield brother fashion. “Meet you after lunch?”

“Yeah.” They flash smiles at each other that feel genuine but fragile. Only minutes ago they had been running through the halls, laughing, unfettered, full of joy and mischief, like brothers should be. And Kili wants it back. Wants even more, really. He wants to wipe the slate clean, throw caution to the wind and push Fili up against a wall and kiss him senseless.

But there is far too much uncertainty in the air for that.

So they will continue side by side, shoulders sometimes brushing together, eyeing each other sideways, carefully, sparring when they can, smiling when they dare to, performing their duties, and retreating to their separate bedchambers each night imagining that the hope they each carry like fragile eggs in their arms grows stronger with time.

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Months pass.

It is late at night and Thorin sits silently smoking his pipe before his dying chamber fire. The smoke curls around his furrowed brows and he breathes in the rich scent of it once more before it is drawn up into the flu of his well vented fireplace. He has not slept well of late. He feels as though he is a great tree with an axe that someone has hacked into him, and that as time progresses his being slowly splits itself into two parts around the buried blade. It is not a violent thing. Just an inevitable tragedy occurring according to the timeline of the world.

Thorin the King feels pleased with the progress of his Mountain Kingdom. Healthy trade agreements now exist between Erebor and Dale, between Erebor and the dwarves of the Iron Hills, even between Erebor and the elves of the Woodland Realm. All races from all over the World have been drawn to the Mountain and the tales of its riches. Thorin’s own words have proven to be prophetic. Dale is no longer a forsaken town on a lake, but is fast reclaiming its place as the center of all trade in the North.

Even after surrendering large portions of treasure to the men of Dale, to his kinsmen of the Iron Hills, and most reluctantly to the Elves of the Realm, the Royal treasure room still glows with stacks of gold, coffers of beautifully cut jewels and stashes of expertly made armor and weapons. Even after surrendering even more treasure to the high ranking families within the kingdom who laid claim to it, there is still more than enough to last them into the next century and beyond. In any case, once the mines are re-opened the diligent dwarves of his kingdom have no trouble finding even more gold and jewels to replenish what was lost.

Shipments of things his people need but are not skilled at procuring enter the mountain daily. Fine silks, well cured leather hides, wood for building, vats of grains, fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish, casques of fine wines, and raw hops to fill Erebors’ own breweries.

Erebor has become self-sufficient, and as Autumn fast approaches they are well stocked for the Winter. Kili’s hunting parties have almost completely filled the meat store rooms with well salted game. Dis and the dwarrowdams bring their survival skills from Ered Luin and fill still more store rooms with pickled and dried vegetables and fruit.

His people flourish in the mountain not because of the gold he keeps but because of the gold he lets go, and he might not have had the wisdom or strength to do that had it not been for his nephews. They escaped the gold sickness to which he had succumbed. And they do not seem to carry within themselves the innate need to hoard that exists so strongly in the character of his people.

Or perhaps it is that they hoard a different type of treasure.

Thorin was born to lead, but he always knew that any good leader needs advisors. Balin fills this role expertly. But even Thorin himself can hardly believe how often, as he is faced with a problem needing his attention, a voice in his mind asks, what would Fili think? And even more often, what would Kili do?

They are his unofficial advisors. They cannot know how his eyes drink them in, watch the turn of their heads, follow the looks in their eyes, sometimes actually hope for them to interrupt. He could rule without them, but he is glad he does not have to.

So King Thorin thrives in his role as King Under the Mountain. His mind is constantly challenged and stimulated, and every decision he makes seems right, every reaction he sees in his people and in those visiting as well seems good. He could almost declare himself happy.

Almost.

Fili and Kili have gained such confidence in their bearing and in their dealings with politics and problems that it makes him think that if they had to, if something happened to him, Erebor’s stewardship would hardly feel it. And he is not sure of the cause of it, he is not certain if it is this newfound confidence, a new found sense of purpose (that they have gained wholly on their own), but the outcome that Thorin has noticed most, that has warmed his heart the most, is that they no longer flinch in his presence.

Perhaps this is a small thing that only Thorin has noticed. But it feels like a large stone has been lifted from his back each time he sees more evidence that at least a small part of their trust in him has somehow returned. In fact they seem comfortable around him now. Not that they particularly seek him out, or seem eager for private audiences, but their heads no longer bow when he looks at them and their eyes meet his without the pain he’d seen in them previously.

Kili shows this change most noticeably. He’d often seemed so fragile in their beginning months here in Erebor, looking as though he might sink down into the great court carpets any time attention fell upon him. And he’d gone positively pale that day Thorin had spoken to him over lunch. He seems stronger now, more sure of himself, offering his opinions and ideas fearlessly, unruffled whether they are heeded or not. Thorin has even seen the ghost of a smile grace his nephew’s lips as he catches him looking at him, even though the expression crumbles into something else before Thorin can quite be certain it was there at all.

But now whenever he asks Kili if he is well, the Prince meets his eye without fluttering and answers that yes, he is.

And Thorin understands that much of the reason for this is Fili. The two have become close again. It is not quite like it was before the Journey. They are not the young fox kits they were, thick as thieves, mirroring each other’s bright grins and plotting their next great exploits in whispers barely concealed between their twin bowed heads. The nature of their connection has changed, but Thorin suspects it may actually be stronger now than it was. Fili behaves as Crown Prince, and Kili is the support by his side. But in other less formal contexts one might think the elder brother serves the younger.

At no time was this more evident than the night of Ori and Limul’s wedding feast, concerning the events surrounding Fili and Kili’s supposed prank, for instance.

Thorin recalls now with a smile how Balin had come storming into his breakfast room a few days after the wedding, Dwalin pacing in calmly behind him. The old dwarf reported tensely what he had heard, also added that his attempt to introduce Prince Fili to Lady Khel and her high ranking family went blatantly unappreciated by the Crown Prince almost to the point of insult. Thorin really must consider, continues Balin at the full intensity of his advisory role, that at some point his nephews must take their positions as producers of heirs of their own more seriously and Balin does not like the way things are going and what is Thorin going to do about this???? 

Thorin had kept his countenance carefully serious but inside his mind a surprisingly nice breeze was blowing.

“Did the Lady’s family give you any indication that they felt offended, Balin?”

“No Sire, but--”

“I watched the interaction between the Lady Khel and Prince Fili very closely, and I did not see any sign that he was inattentive or that she was displeased with him. It is always possible that I misinterpreted things, however. Did either of you see something that I did not?”

Balin had sighed heavily and shaken his head, actually shuffling his feet, while Dwalin, standing behind his brother, hid his smile carefully and pulled his great arms behind his back.

“All right then. So the Prince and the Lady had an enjoyable evening but nothing of a more permanent nature developed between them, as evidenced by the fact that I have not seen them together since then. Would this be a safe assumption?”

The brothers had both nodded at this. The dynamic between them fascinates Thorin as he regards them. Balin, serious, nervous, servile, and concerned with every detail that comes to his eyes through the spectacles now permanently residing at the end of his long hooked nose. Dwalin remains the gruff and taciturn dwarf he always knew, but now he seems to have become his brother’s opposite extreme, his demeanor is patient, relaxed, and his eyes glitter with a broader view of the intrigues he witnesses within the House of Durin. Thorin does not miss the amused twist of Dwalin’s mouth as he finally speaks his opinion.

“So twas a fine attempt, Balin, but your arrow flew long. And it appears there was no harm done.” He’d patted his brother’s back solidly. “As to future heirs of Durin I think perhaps tis a bit early to be saddlin’ the Princes with any of that. They are barely come of age and have many years ahead of em to be worryin’ about sufferin’ through the whims and needs of a dam.” and his voice had gone into a bit of grumble here which sounded something like never saw the attraction myself…

Thorin again kept his face straight, but with some difficulty. “Indeed, I think they have enough to do in their current roles, and that they are doing well. Folk seem well pleased with the both of them, regardless of station.”

Balin had burst forth again, “But this prank, Thorin! Folk are also speaking of that and there are whispers that there will be a return of their irreverent behavior from when they lived in Ered Luin! This could certainly damage the monarchy--”

Dwalin’s eyes closed and his great tattooed head shook back and forth, a low soothing sound emanating from him. Thorin finally allowed himself to smile.

“Oh I seriously doubt that, Balin.” said Thorin “Fili and Kili are no longer the boys they were before our journey here, that is certain. And if they were indeed responsible for this incident involving the house of Barek, I suspect they had good reason for it.” he glanced at Dwalin, whose face had darkened slightly, confirming his suspicions. “In any case has Baruk’s family come to court or to either of you to lodge a complaint?”

They both shook their heads.

“Right. And have the Princes’ behavior or skill in their duties flagged at all since that night?”

They shook their heads again.

“Good. So let the rumor mill do its worst. Let the dwarves of Erebor know that my nephews are not to be messed with without consequences.”

Ah.

And somewhere deep inside Thorin a ripple of irony and shame had shuddered its way through him as the meaning of his own words came back to him. The axe blade inched its way deeper. He’d shut it away, quickly. But when he looked up into the faces of his most trusted advisors, his most valued friends, he saw knowledge in their eyes. No judgement, no change in their devotion to him, no lessening of their love for him. They do not know everything, but they know. And they would still die for him. But they would die for Fili and Kili, too. So they stand before him pretending to have heard nothing at all significant in Thorin’s words, their eyes showing quiet concern, both quite willing to offer advice on the matter if Thorin were to ask them for it.

But nothing in Aule’s greatest creations could induce Thorin to tell them of the real reason for his strained relationship with his nephews, let alone ask them for help in repairing it.

So Thorin had dismissed them amiably from his chambers that day, clapping them both on the shoulder as though all was well and successfully dealt with, as though no painful thoughts turned in his mind, as though his nephews’ perfect behavior towards him meant perfect trust existed between them, as though no cruel action of any kind had ever occurred between Thorin, Fili, and Kili.

But now, months later, Thorin sits by his chamber fireplace during a rare moment of demanded privacy, thinking.

Durin’s Day is upon them again. It is almost a year to the day...

...to the Night.

As he thinks of his sister-sons now, Thorin the King feels great pride, great love, and great relief.

But the inner Thorin, the one no one ever sees, the other great part of the hacked tree that is still clambering upwards for light, feels something else. Stubborn, childish and selfish things. The kinds of things that he’d always believed to be unbecoming, shameful things to allow purchase inside him. Things he has always shoved away deep and striven to ignore, and by consequence has never come to understand those sorts of things.

He stokes the fire back to life. Outside the mountain it is late summer and very warm, but inside the walls of Erebor it stays cool enough for fires to be desirable. The key with the silver ermine handle nestles in his hands as he watches the flames dance, considering the parallels emerging among pairs of brothers.

Dwalin and Balin have stretched themselves to compensate for each other. He realizes now that is exactly what Frerin had done for him, long ago. The more serious Thorin had become, the more irreverent and merry Frerin had become. The narrower Thorin’s vision had tunnelled, the more broad-minded Frerin had become. Their elders, and many traditionalists, had disapproved of his brother, had thought him soft, frivolous, lacking in proper dwarf skills, and recklessly unaware of issues that were important to people under Thror’s rule.

Thorin knew very well how wrong they all were.

All of the things that had made Thorin a good leader he owed to Frerin. His brother had taken on Thorin’s worries, his passions, his joys, his rages, and had gently lifted it all out of the way for him so that his mind could be clear and unfettered. He had stored all that distracting angst into Frerin and his brother had taken all of it. And Thorin had been the good son, the upstanding young Prince, the groomable one and thank-god-he’s-not-like-his -younger-brother-or the-kingdom-would-be-lost.

But then Frerin had died before Thorin could truly realize the gift he’d been given.

And more than the great sadness that consumed him, more than the broken heart that rattled inside him, Thorin had been angry. And well and truly alone, by his own doing.

He’d closed everything off that reminded him of Frerin, and lost himself to duties, honor, formality, and the burning drive to reclaim Erebor had been the only passion left in him.

Until his heart had been reawakened by soft golden tresses dusting across bright cerulean eyes that sparkled merrily at him.

At least they used to.

Clumsy, hamfisted, clotheaded. That’s what he’d been. Not to mention jealous, clueless, selfish, thoughtless, irresponsible, and cruel.

A deep ragged sigh escapes him. He can almost hear Frerin’s laughter in his mind, like clear water over rocks, smooth, chiding, but not unkind. Never unkind.

It’s time.

His hands reach for a loose stone at the corner of the fireplace, pulling it free and revealing a small enclosure containing a locked iron box. He draws it out and into his lap, inserting the ermine key into its lock and levering it open. It creaks open with difficulty. The contents inside have not seen the light of day since before Smaug invaded the mountain. Thorin’s breathing quickens as he pulls aside the tattered piece of grey velvet that is still folded over the contents, surprised it still feels plush and soft, though it’s color has faded significantly from the royal blue it used to be.

Inside the box lies treasure. Not gold or silver, nor rubies or sapphires, nor even coins or currency of any kind. Just the trappings of memory.

Colorful river stones. Frerin had always thought they looked better when they were wet, always disappointed after he brought them home and they dried and their colors faded, often asked Thorin if he’d go back to the river with him to re-soak them to see their colors again...Flight feathers from various birds, including thrushes, and one from one of the ravens. Obtaining that feather had been a tale fit for telling. Bits of black volcanic glass still in their raw state. Frerin thought most gems more beautiful before they were crafted than after. Carved wooden beads bearing the Durin signet, and some bearing simple images of different animals. A bracelet woven of thick fibers with runes in the design, spelling out secrets. Frerin had dared him to wear it hidden under his royal gold bracelet on the last Durin’s Day feast before the dragon came...A rolled up piece of worn leather that Thorin opens to reveal the charcoal drawn map still clear and still showing the locations of his favorite wild haunts where he and Frerin would go to hide from duties and tiresome formality. Thorin studies this for a long time. They could have found these places in their sleep, and he’d chided Frerin for making it, that they didn’t really need it. But his brother had insisted, having a love of maps, and a scribe-like need to record events.

Finally at the bottom of the box sits a carefully folded piece of parchment, and the King’s hands tremble as he takes it and opens it up with great care. The ink has faded a bit but the words, in his brother’s immaculate handwriting, were still clear. Frerin had written this message for him when he’d gone on his first hunt with Thrain. Dis and Frerin had been left behind, being too young. Frerin had given the message to him just before he’d left, bidding him not to read it until he had a moment to himself, and not to share it with anyone.  And he never had.

To Crown Prince Thorin,

There. Addressed by your title, as you always ask me to. But don’t give yourself too many airs; you are still just a big brother, to me.

A few words of advice for your first hunt.

Don’t stand upwind of your prey.

Knock your arrow on the right side of the shaft, not the left.

Wear your arm guard. You always come back from the archery range hiding your left arm and I know why you do, you stubborn fool.

Don’t sleep downwind of Thrain. You bloody know why.

You are the best Crown Prince Erebor has ever had. Do not let Adad lead you to think otherwise.

I’ll be here waiting when you return.

Yours,

Prince Frerin

(your brother)

 

He lets the tears fall, now, because they must. He lets the parallels form themselves in his mind, pushing his throat even more tightly closed and making the heat behind his eyes even hotter.

Thorin and Frerin. Fili and Kili. Thorin is not so old that he has forgotten what love feels like, and what it looks like. Dis had seen it in her boys, and although it had taken him longer, Thorin had seen it, too. He sees it now, the way he had felt it, here in these very halls long ago when a warmth constantly gathered in his chest whenever Frerin was near him, when the feeling between them burned all the more brightly for not having yet been acknowledged.

History repeats itself as it so often does.

Fili and Kili show all the signs. They take every chaste opportunity they can to touch each other, just as he and Frerin had. Their eyes rarely meet directly, unless one of them shows any sign of distress, and then full attention is given. Kili may not know it yet, but he has a lifelong protector, regardless of whatever efforts Balin may make to matchmake for either of them. He has Fili’s full attention, and his full heart. And Thorin has lost. He knew it ages ago, before Laketown, even before Beorn’s house.

He has lost. Again.

So a few days later, when a strong young hand grasps his arm on his way back to his chambers late at night, and he turns to see Kili’s eyes glittering brightly at him in the torchlight, Thorin is surprised, but not wholly unprepared.

“Uncle.”

“Kili.”

“Laketown.” Kili’s voice is steady and he keeps his request simple.

“I need to know why.”

Chapter Text

Kili knows what he is risking.

But it seems worth it for what he might gain.

He no longer feels isolated. Should Thorin forsake him for asking what he asks, there are people and places he can turn to. He has support now, and friendship, and even love, though it isn’t the kind of love he had pictured himself having by this point. Still, there is power in his corner.

Also, for a while now, there has been a stronger voice within himself as well that speaks calmly whenever things occur that worry him.

You can handle this. There has been much worse and you are still here.
Consider the options. Look for the truth.

Kili is reasonably certain that Thorin regrets his actions. He has felt this from his Uncle in a hundred little ways, looks, words and touches. He does not require a lavish apology. He has already heard one, loud and clear.  He has not acknowledged it, but he has heard it.

But he needs to understand. He needs to hear not only what Thorin will say but how he will speak it. It will show him, hopefully, who his uncle really is. He has agonized many hours over whether he has the right to seek such knowledge.

He finally came to the conclusion that right or no, he must ask.

The only thing that really scares him is losing his belief in Thorin, that if his Uncle reverts to that strange, dark person he was during their stay in the human town, something large in Kili will collapse. He has wanted to believe that as much as he himself has grown in this past year, so has his Uncle. That it is never too late to learn to be a better dwarf.

That is what he hopes to gain tonight.

But he trembles a bit as Thorin leads him into the common area of the Royal wing, a place they have hardly used as they have each retreated to their private chambers each night. The servants always keep the fire going in here, the cabinets well stocked with all manner of spirits and clean glasses, fresh pipeweed lining the side pockets of great armchairs and the cold stone floors are covered in thick carpets.

They sit by the fire and Thorin wordlessly pours a glass of whiskey for Kili, which he takes with a nod, but does not drink.

Thorin’s steel blue eyes regard him steadily, and for several minutes he is silent. Kili waits patiently, returning his gaze.

“You ask a just question, and I do not know if I will be able to answer it as you need me to, but I will try.”

Kili swallows, and nods again. He feels as though a very tight rope has just been loosened inside him and he struggles to stay composed. Half the battle has just been won simply by Thorin’s willingness to give an answer, and with more care in his tone than Kili had dared to hope for.

“The first thing that you should know is that I am sorry. I have wished a thousand times a thousand that I could take it back, live that night again, and live it differently.”

Kili had not noticed until that moment that a great clock stood in the Royal common room, and that its inner workings made a soft ticking sound that precisely aligns with his own heartbeat.

“You never did anything to deserve the treatment you received that night.”

Yes. That is the truth that had been floating in the fog of Kili’s mind for so long.

He finally takes a mouthful of whiskey and swallows it down before speaking again.

“But then, why…?”

“I was angry.”

“With me?”

“No, not with you.”

“And not with Fili?”

“No. I owe him an apology, too.”

Kili frowns, beginning to feel a frustration that seems ungrateful given the apology Thorin had just offered him that he’d barely expected. But this isn’t right, it just isn’t enough, he needs something more and he isn’t sure what it is...

“I’m afraid this is where it becomes difficult to explain.”

Thorin stands and approaches the fire, squatting down for a moment, turning the crystal facets of the whiskey glass in his hand.

Finally Thorin speaks, still looking into the fire.

“When Fili first came to you in the bedroom, what was his demeanor like, with you?”

Caught off guard, Kili tries to pull an answer together. “He was...direct. But he wasn’t unfeeling.”

Kili looks at Thorin full on. “He didn’t become cruel until you came in.”

Thorin nods and returns to sit in the great chair opposite Kili, looking his nephew directly in the eyes. “Aye.” Thorin breathes out, “He followed my lead, as a good heir will. And my lead was a poor one.”

Kili's heart begins to speed up, and words spill out of him before he can stop them.

“When I asked if you would touch me, you refused.”

“I remember.”

“When I needed...release...you ordered Fili to deny it to me.”

“I know.”

“And then you left me there on the floor,” Kili’s voice is finally shaking, “Like I was nothing.”

“You are not nothing, you never were. Not then or now."  Thorin's eyes shine fiercely out at Kili from beneath brows raised high on his forehead, the flames from the fire reflect in his irises, "Menu tessu. The blame falls to me for never properly appreciating that which was given to me.”

But Kili clenches his glass so tightly he fears it will shatter. “Thorin, Why?” This last word is ragged and drawn out from Kili’s throat.

There is silence as the room spins back to stillness and they regain some control of their breathing.

“I was selfish, and foolish to think I could be so favored by Mahal as to be granted more than one great love in my lifetime.”

“Great love…? Fili is your great love?”

Thorin sighs and bows his head. Again, Kili waits, sensing more is coming.

“What would you have done if Fili had died in the Battle a year ago?”

The question stuns Kili in its rawness, its unexpectedness. “...Uncle?”

Thorin turns to look piercingly at him. “How would you have reacted, Kili, if you had lost your brother?”

Kili stares back at him, wondering at the origin of this query, and then realizing that Thorin really expects an answer, he turns his attention inward. He pictures Fili dying in the bed of the infirmary instead of himself. He tries to imagine living without him, and finds his heart beginning to beat faster, and realizes he cannot close his mouth because if he does he won’t have enough air.

“It would have changed me, certainly,” He tries to answer as honestly as he can but finds words inadequate. “I am glad I never had to find out.”

Thorin nods, his eyes narrowing and turning back to the fire. His voice when he finally speaks is deathly soft. “But I did, you see.”

This time they both drink from their glasses.

“Uncle Frerin. He died in the Battle of Azanulbizar.” Kili recites this queitly, from hearthfire memories at his mother’s knee. “But I don’t understand what this has to do with--”

And finally, Kili understands. And something large in him does collapse.

You loved him.” Kili’s voice barely scrapes a whisper, as though the spirits of the dead might hear him if he dared speak any louder.

Thorin’s eyes close and the lines in his face vanish.

Kili feels his insides sink downward, and as he stares at Thorin with new eyes, he worries all his essences are about to drain out through his boots.

“As you said, it changed me.” And suddenly Thorin shifts in the great armchair, sitting up straighter as though a thought had just occurred to him.

His uncle stands up and gestures to Kili. “Come with me. There is something you should see.” Kili sets his glass down and rises to follow.

------------------------

He's been gripping the fabric of the armchair he sits in so hard the tips of his fingers are numb when he finally lets go.  He had not meant to eavesdrop.  He'd simply been relaxing in a chair further from the fire and looking up at the stars visible from one of the rare skylights that is here in the Royal common room when he'd heard Thorin and Kili enter and begin speaking.  

When they rise to leave he aches to follow them.  His drive to protect burns in his heart...but this is Kili's fight.

He slides back down, determined to wait, uttering a fervent prayer, followed by several oaths.

-----------------------

Thorin and Kili leave the Royal wing entirely, and walk for a while, down corridors that were not prioritized by the repair crews, where damage from Smaug’s occupation still shows in the form of collapsed walls and inch thick dust on the carpets and torn tapestries. There exist some disturbances in the dust, since there were bodies here that needed removal and honoring. But other than a few recent bootsteps the effect of walking back in time is visceral.

They finally enter a chamber whose great door lies half broken. Thorin leads him in, and Kili notices the decor and furnishings in the great chamber have a feminine tone.

“This was the dwarrowdam wing.” says Thorin, “You grandmother loved this room. One of her favorite duties as one of the great ladies of Erebor was commissioning and collecting fine art. Look, here.”

The main wall is covered with paintings, their heavy gold frames so close together they seem to jostle for position around the arch of a giant fireplace. Thorin brings his torch up to them, allowing them to see.

Kili’s childhood lessons with Balin come to life for him in his grandmother’s collection. In one large canvas Durin the Deathless finally emerges from the stone tomb where Aule had placed him, awakening to begin his long life during the First Age. In another the great metal smith Telchar of the ancient city of Nogrod forges a sword. Many of the works show dwarves crafting armor and weapons, many showing famous moments in dwarven history, including one showing dwarves deep in the mines of Khazad-dum excavating along a shimmering silver vein of mithril, and another showing a dwarf deep under the Lonely Mountain, holding a pick axe, and gazing in awe at the opening in the rock before him that shows the dizzying colors of the Arkenstone.

Thorin finally leads Kili to a corner of the room where the canvases appear smaller, and consist of portraits. They see King Thrain I who founded the Lonely Mountain kingdom, and Gror, Thror’s brother, and Dain’s grandfather, his red hair blazing, and another of King Thror himself. Finally, closer to the base of the floor so Kili doesn’t need to bend his head back to see them, there is a small cluster of paintings of the last Royal family to live in Erebor before Smaug invaded it. Thorin points out Thrain II and his wife, the great lady who birthed him and created this room piece by piece.

They notice that there are signs of disturbance here. Someone has carefully cleaned these paintings and dusted the floor, furniture and curtains near them. Probably Amad, thinks Kili. Dis had chosen other rooms for Ladies to gather, most likely because of repair issues, and availability of water. This room contains treasures but it looks badly damaged.

And then Thorin holds the torch up to one last canvas. Three young dwarves look out at them, dressed richly in Durin blue, each with a silver circlet gracing their heads. He recognizes his mother immediately, beautiful in the bloom of her youth. Her ebony hair ripples from her forehead and the narrow beard at her jawline has tiny round rubies braided into it. She is seated in front of her two brothers who stand on either side of her, their hands resting on the golden back of her ornately carved chair. Thorin’s younger frame differs from his current one, too. The image of young Prince Thorin is less broad in the chest, with jet black hair like his sisters’ that lacks gray, and a face that still displays heavy dark brows, but which also shows a lightness in his eyes that Kili has never seen in the Uncle he has known.

But the image of the third sibling, Prince Frerin, sends a shock wave through him.

“Mahal.” he whispers.

It has only been recently that Kili has actually been able to see his own likeness in a reflective mirror. They didn’t have one in Ered Luin, and he’d never been too concerned with his appearance anyway. Certainly none of them had done much personal grooming on the Journey. But here in Erebor, his position as a Prince had finally become official and that had changed everything. Serving before his people, standing in the throne room before Elves, Men and Wizards, all the regalia and trappings and the new braids in his hair had required him to use a mirror regularly, and this daily practice had given Kili a mental image of his own face that he’d never had before in his 78 years of life.

A mental image that now results in Kili having the exact experience of looking into a mirror.

Frerin. I look like Frerin.

His hair is slightly lighter, his beard a bit thinner, and his body more slight, but Kili recognizes his own eyes, nose and jawline. Kili has never seen his own face smiling, and it affects him deeply to see this image of Frerin, so like himself, with the hint of a smile tugging at his mouth.

Thorin speaks softly next to him, startling him. He had forgotten his uncle was there.

“For years I buried myself in duties, and whenever his image would come up in my mind I blocked it with anger.”

“Who were you angry with?”

Thorin clears his throat, the hand holding the torch trembles. He shakes his head. “Fate? Orcs? Thror for sending Frerin into a Battle I knew my brother wasn’t ready for? Frerin himself for refusing to listen to my advice to stay close to me during the Battle? Myself?”

Thorin paces a bit as he says this, his hands raising up and down, the light from the torch sending crazy shadows everywhere until he calms, and sets it into a wall fixture nearby. Thoughts weave through Kili’s mind into a truth that aches inside him, and he resists it, resists even accepting it himself let alone speak it aloud. But he has taken this road tonight and he must travel to the end of it.

“I remember you telling me never to doubt that I have a place in your heart.” Kili stares at a crag of chipped stone in the wall, flickering in the light. “But is that place really for me, or is it just because I look so much like-- like--”

But Kili never finishes his sentence. Thorin’s great hands grasp Kili’s shoulders and he pulls Kili to face him. “No, Kili do not ever think that. That isn’t why I brought you to see this.” Thorin grips Kili tightly, and Kili reflexively tightens his own hold on his Uncle, the tension traveling up into his shoulders and down his spine and quickening a corner of his mind that leads to the memory of the archery range at Lake-town, a memory that reminds him what his Uncle’s anger can feel like, and then connects to how isolated they are in this remote room full of ancient history. He can’t help a small shudder.

Thorin releases his hold abruptly, softening his touch, lowering his voice. “It’s true you resemble Frerin, both in looks and abilities. He was a fine archer, too.” he smiles fondly, “And he was fond of pranks. He had a tendency to get himself into trouble, and then laugh it off later as though it were nothing. It irritated Thrain no end. He never seemed to be intimidated no matter how stern they were with him.”

Kili’s heart has calmed and his curiosity is piqued. “These pranks, did the two of you do them together?”

Thorin shakes his head. “No. That was not who I was. But he knew how much it amused me. I think he did them just to get me laughing. I was a rather...serious Crown Prince.”

They look back at the painting. “He loved to laugh, and he seemed indestructible, like nothing could ever hurt him. But that was all illusion. In the end, he proved all too vulnerable.”

Thorin looks at Kili now, a trembling fondness in his eyes. “You look exactly like Frerin when you laugh. I am sure that affected how I saw you, these past years as I came to know you, and watched you mature into the Prince you are now...it has been like a miracle.” Thorin takes Kili’s hands, firmly, warmly in his before continuing. “But you are not Frerin, Kili. He had a beautiful heart and soul, as you do, but he was not the fighter you are, and I don’t just mean in battle.  He was not the thinker that you are. We have accused you of being reckless, but compared to my brother you are quite rational. Frerin constantly leaped before looking, never thinking of consequences. Perhaps if he’d lived longer, he might have matured past the tendency. And Frerin had courage, but it was raw and foolhardy. Yours is stronger, not just for facing down Azog, but for standing up to a court full of dwarves, and most of all for standing up to me.”

Kili knows the words his uncle shares with him now have never left his lips before this moment. He feels the honor of it, and absorbs the precious information, the fleshing out of the character of the uncle he never knew. But he still must make the final point.

“Uncle, regardless of the true target of your ire, I was the one your anger hit.”

They stand very still there with the painted visages of their ancestors gazing down at them, the two young princes and princess of Erebor looking out with their bright young faces at the now older Thorin, the Prince now a King, standing with the new Prince, the next generation, forever questioning the actions of those who came before.

Thorin closes his eyes and nods, placing one hand gently at the back of Kili’s head and tipping it forward so their foreheads touch.

“I hope you can forgive me for that someday.”

-------------------------------

They walk almost all the way back to the Royal Wing before Thorin speaks again.

“Do you love Fili?”

Again Kili is taken by surprise. His uncle certainly has a gift for changing the subject when it suits him. Why would his uncle ask him this? Were his private feelings so obvious?

“Do you?” Thorin presses.

Kili breathes all the trust he can into his lungs, seeks it from the corners of his memory. He has learned much about his uncle tonight, but sharing this with him...He pulls from the images that come to him starting with the shouted arguments he had overheard when Thorin had defended his decision to bring Kili on his Quest against the skepticism of the elders, from the dozens of times Thorin’s expression had been a mask of relief once he’d seen Kili had escaped danger once again, even if the expression had been fleeting, from the strong arms he’d felt around him when all had gone black on the battlefield next to Azog’s dead body, even from the innumerable times Thorin has asked him over the last months, Are you well?

“Yes, I love him.”

They have reached the fireplace they had left, their glasses still sit beside their chairs, half full of whiskey. Kili doesn’t know how late it is, but he feels drawn to sit back down, and Thorin follows suit.

“Do you believe that he loves you?”

Kili can’t remember how Thorin became the one asking the questions. He had a difficult enough time answering the last one. He finishes the whiskey in his glass, and thinking it might be what Dwalin would do, (or at least certainly what Bofur would do) he gets up brusquely and seizes the flask from the table next to the wall and pours himself a generous refill. He walks back to his chair and sits rather heavily, avoiding Thorin’s gaze, and takes a generous swallow, letting the liquid sear its way down his throat into his belly.

Finally his heart slows down to a reasonable rate, and he looks up at his uncle, who has been watching him all this time with an expression that meets Kili evenly, patiently, his head tilted as though Kili were a fine piece of art.

It makes him nervous. It always will, he thinks. But the butterflies he feels now under Thorin’s contemplation do not deepen into a feeling of dread as they so often used to. Instead they seem to tremble towards a strange anticipation, as though turning the page might not be so bad.

“I have no idea what he may feel about me.” He finally answers, because it is the truth. The two return their gazes to the fire, and for a long time there is silence.

Thorin finally nods, and looks back at him. “You need to find out.”

The King of Erebor sets his glass down and pulls himself out of his chair. “I’m going to bed.” He says this with a finality that makes it obvious he will not be saying anything further, a technique Kili recognizes as a defensive behavior from many a long day in court. But Thorin softens it with a touch to Kili’s shoulder before disappearing down the hallway. Kili remains for a while longer, his head spinning with new revelations, uncertain what he feels.

 

A silent shadow sits curled up in an armchair in the corner, a shadow with golden hair that falls over a face hidden in deep thought, arms folded, head bowed.

Chapter Text

Kili doesn’t stay long by the fire. His thoughts begin to swirl uncomfortably in his mind, and he pulls himself up and at first makes for the privacy of his room until he suddenly feels the need for fresh air, and heads for thrush’s ledge instead.

There is no one there and he relishes the peace. The air is cool with winter coming again. It is almost a year to the day that Thorin and the company stood here breathlessly trying to open a hidden door with a key that seemed to have no keyhole.

His conversation with Thorin tonight had been a good one. A bit jarring, perhaps, and he’s come away with more information than he’d expected. But he feels better, he feels he knows where he stands now with his Uncle. Thorin actually apologized to him, cleared the fog of his own self blame, and then shared intimate memories and feelings with him that Kili is certain he has never shared with anyone else.

He seats himself against the stone ledge wall, drawing up a knee and gazing up at the black night sky. He isn’t sure if the stars shimmer because of the cold air or because of the whiskey in his blood.

No, no, it is not Thorin who is unsettling him. It is something Thorin said, one of the last things he said before he’d gone to bed. After Kili had admitted that he loved Fili, but that he really had no idea how Fili felt about him…

You must find out.

The more he thinks of these words, of this challenge Thorin has tossed in front of him, the more his stomach flutters and his heart hammers inside him.

How on earth is he supposed to find out such a thing?

It had taken a great deal of courage to confront Thorin this night. He had risked much. But confronting Fili with such a question feels as though he would be risking far, far more. How would he say it, in any case?

Fili, I’ve been wondering...are you in love with me by any chance?

And when would he speak these words? During court? In passing in the small claims chamber with Balin? Over breakfast?

Kili begins chuckling to himself a bit maniacally and wonders if perhaps he could get Dwalin to deliver Fili a note down in metalworks.

His mind fights the idea with the same self defense mechanisms he has been using since the Journey started, and he’d first begun to notice how the sun seemed to live in Fili’s hair, and how much he wanted to see if he might catch light in his fingers if he could just touch it. And how his insides trembled with warmth whenever Fili looked at him or touched him, even casually.

He has no idea how Fili feels about him perhaps mostly because every time he looks at Fili he is too distracted by his own reactions to perceive anything in his brother that might indicate more than a brother’s simple care. His mind puts anything he does see down to his imagination because it is safer that way.

Safer to be uncertain of Fili’s love for him than to know for certain that there is none.

--------------------------------------------

Thorin’s boots thump to the floor and he sinks down onto his bed, planning to lie down and rest but not expecting to sleep.

He is rather astonished at himself. He had in no way intended to open himself up to Kili like that. Thror would never have shared such private matters with those younger; Thrain either.

The circular logic on which his mind travels every time he compares himself to his King, and his father, makes his stomach clench. He reaches to the small table by his bed where a small group of smooth stones sit, and grasps the largest one in his hand and wraps his fingers around it, feeling the coolness against his palm.

And then, a knock at his door.

“Come?”

He’s surprised. He would have thought Kili would not want to speak to him anymore tonight, that at the very least he would need some time to process what he’d told him and might not even want contact at all for a while until this whole thing could reach closure, if indeed it ever could.

But he’s even more surprised when the dwarf who pushes open his door has blond hair instead of brown, and a wide pair of blue eyes look at him.

“Thorin?” Fili steps inside, leaving the door ajar.

Thorin remembers so many times when the entrance of his nephew into his sleeping area had been pure joy to him. The eyes twinkled and the soft mouth smirked and he flowed towards Thorin like warm honey, sweet and giving and willing to do anything for him.

But Fili’s entrance now is nothing like that. His feet shuffle at the floor, his shoulders hunch and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. He looks small, uncertain, and he looks as though he needs something that he can’t define and has no idea how to ask for. He is so different from the Fili Thorin knew, even from the Crown Prince Thorin knows, that he may as well have turned into someone else entirely.

Perhaps they all have.

He still has one hand on the door and he is still looking at Thorin and they are frozen like this until comprehension dawns.

“You were listening.”

Fili’s face cracks into a smile. “‘Can’t leave you guys alone for a moment.”

“I’m glad,” says Thorin. “Everything that was said, I would have wanted you to hear.”

Fili’s smile fades. “He said I was cruel.”

Thorin’s chest clenches.

“We both were.”

“I was the one who hurt him.”

“Under my direction.”

“And in spite of all of that, he loves me.” Fili lets go of the door and his arms wrap themselves around himself, “Kili loves me, as Frerin loved you.”

The stone Frerin had found in a sunlit river over a hundred years ago pulses in his hand. Thorin swings his legs down off his bed and moves towards Fili with a firm step, but carefully. His nephew has been as difficult to approach in these past many months as a hunted hart. Fili’s hand still clutches the edge of the thick wooden door. Thorin covers it with his own, and pushes the door further open. They both let it go and stand together in the opening as it arcs back slowly against the inside wall.

Because Thorin wants to make sure Fili knows that what will pass between them now could be observed by anyone, family, friend or servant, without shame. That it shall not be an untoward thing in his Kingdom for the King to apologize to his Heir for leading him poorly, for the Uncle to cup his nephew’s golden head and press a soft kiss against the top of a braid, that if a tear falls from Fili’s eye it is caught by the stroke of a great thumb, and even if they do not remember the words spoken into Fili’s young ears they will remember the deep, settling timber of the voice that delivers them, and that when Thorin finally pulls Fili into his arms, when he finally gives what Fili had always needed from him (what Thorin had always withheld) it is the sort of embrace that closes all open ends, completes all circles, and weaves the separate branches in Thorin’s heart back together. Forgiveness surrounds them both like fresh air let into a long stagnant room.

“Thorin.”

“Yes?”

“Did you mean what you said…”

“About what?”

“About wanting to live that night again, and live it differently?”

Chapter Text

Gimli will never be an archer. He knows it-- has known it for months. Since the first day on the range, really.

But he keeps coming to training for a lot of reasons. He likes the challenge of the sport even though he struggles with it. The other young dwarves are encouraging and he enjoys their company, particularly of one young lass that he feels he might even have a chance with. So of course he can’t give up! Prince Kili never gives up on him, and he likes the Prince who is so patient and generous with his stories. And he loves being outside, in a place where he can see the distant horizon. That wonderful line where the sky meets the earth, where there are other lands, other kingdoms, maybe even adventures like the stories Kili tells them. It constantly draws his eyes, which is something that his parents do not understand about him.

But Prince Kili does.

Kili does not behave the way he had expected Durin Royalty to behave. He is not stern but rather jokes and laughs as he teaches them, and he treats the lowest born dwarves the same as those who are high born. His parents disparage Kili sometimes at home. “A good boy, but he’s lacking some solid dwarf virtues, and always so sad and delicate…”

Well, Gimli doesn’t see that. How could one of Azog’s slayers be considered delicate or anything less than the most valiant of dwarves?

He’s seen the sadness in his archery teacher, certainly. And he’d wondered about it. But lately Kili has seemed happier to him. He’s wondered about that, too. Perhaps it had to do with Kili’s brother, Prince Fili. Gimli is an only child, as so many dwarves are. He doesn’t know what it must feel like to have a sibling but he knows very well what it looks like when two people are having a row serious enough to stop them speaking. (It has happened to his parents often enough.) His father’s stories about Fili and Kili’s inseparability during the famous Journey simply does not match what he has seen of the siblings here in Erebor. Not that he pretends to know the Princes well, but still. It has been obvious to everyone that something has been off between the two until just recently, and that is a hell of a long grudge. But Gimli noticed a definite difference in Kili just after that business with that idiot Baruk and his grand-dam and the rumor that the Princes pranked them, which of course Gimli has no doubt at all is absolutely true and almost certainly deserved.

And since then the Prince’s pensive moments have appeared lighter, and when Gimli sees him looking out at the horizon Kili’s gaze is inward as though viewing some hoped for event in his mind.

Until today.

Prince Kili’s demeanor today worries Gimli. His face is pale and drawn as though he hadn’t slept well, and he paces back and forth with his brows seriously low over his eyes, frightening some of the younger dwarves who never see their teacher look so stern. Gimli can hear soft muttering coming from him as though he were arguing with himself.

Lady Dis arrives, thankfully, and begins tending to their training and correcting their postures. Gimli is most grateful. He loves Lady Dis. She, like Kili, is always kind to him and encourages him even when his arrows fly long. Kili relaxes a bit with her here, and the students get down to business again.

And then, for the first time Gimli can ever remember, Prince Fili arrives at the archery range.

Gimli and the other students are so involved in watching Dis model proper posture for them that he misses the arrival at first. But Gimli’s tendency to always turn and take in the distant backbone of the Iron Hills is what brings his eyes to notice what no one else does as Fili approaches his brother some feet away from the group.

Kili goes very still. Fili slows as he steps near Kili, nodding and speaking words Gimli cannot hear. Gimli had always been fascinated by Fili’s singular blue eyes and golden hair, so unusual for a dwarf. The Crown Prince’s eyes are actually sparkling as he speaks to Kili at length, whose own expression looks so amazed Fili might have been telling him Smaug had returned.

But they both show tension and uncertainty in their stances as they talk together, their voices too soft to be heard by anyone but them. Finally Fili steps in close and removes what looks like a folded parchment from his pocket, and presses it into Kili’s hand, closing his brother’s fingers around it as though it were a live bird that might fly away. Kili stares down at it, and Gimli sees the Crown Prince touch his forehead to Kili’s and pat him gently on the shoulder before he turns to leave.

A few minutes afterwards, Lady Dis goes to Prince Kili (who is still staring dumbfounded down at the letter in his hand) and Gimli does not need to hear her words to understand that she is shooing him away from the range until he is aware enough not to be a danger to students or to himself, and it is she who finishes their training that day.

------------------------------------------------

His heart in his mouth, Kili does not open the letter until he has reached the privacy of his room. Images of Fili’s bright, earnest face come into his mind as he sits down in the armchair by a table with an oil lamp, and opens the parchment with shaking fingers.

Dear Kili,

Please do not worry that I will expect any grand or immediate response to this letter from you. If you choose not to answer me, or simply to go on as we have been, I would not blame you, and I will never pressure you for anything.

But I feel that you may be ready to hear some things from me that you were not ready to hear before, and that I didn’t know how to say before in any case. It may even be possible, and this is my hope, that you may even need me to say some things that I haven’t yet. That would please me most, because it would mean this letter might bring you some happiness, and that is my dearest wish, even if nothing changes between us.

From the time of my first memories, I have loved you as my brother and I always knew I could count on you. I hope it was always the same for you. I felt that it was. At least until the night in Lake-town when I ruined everything.

I am so sorry, Kili. I want to make sure you have that in writing from me, in ink, dragged across this paper with my own hand.

It must have felt like all your foundations crumbling under you. You must have felt so betrayed, and that you could never count on me again, and it breaks my heart every time I think of it. I know I had been the one person you turned to for everything, and I took that from you. I didn’t realize that I had done that to you until later, and I’m horrified at my own thoughtlessness.

I hope that in these past many months things have become easier. It looks as though you have built new foundations for yourself, found new people to count on and trust, and I’ve been glad for you. You may not know this, but so many people have made a point to come to me and tell me how impressed they are with you. (I won’t give you names, your head would swell up too much.) You are not only respected and well liked, Kili. You are loved, and there are many in Erebor who would draw their swords and lay down their lives for you.

I include myself among them.

But now I come to my last point, which is maybe my most selfish one. You’ve read here in this letter that I love you as my brother, and I do, always. But it goes further than that. It took me time to realize it, and I don’t know exactly when it started, but I love you. It goes further and deeper for me than bonds between brothers, warriors or friends. The more Balin has pushed me to meet potential mates the more clearly I’ve come to see that none of them will ever touch my heart and mind the way you do.

You have my heart, Kili. You don’t have to take it, but you have it.

I will end this letter now. I hope it hasn’t upset you. You know where to find me if you need to, and it is all right if you don’t.

Yours,

Fili

Chapter Text

He’d wanted to find Fili right away. He held the letter so tightly in his fingers that he lost feeling in his fingertips, and read it so many times that the words began to run together, certain phrases repeating themselves in his mind over and over.

this letter might bring you some happiness

that is my dearest wish

I love you.

none of them will ever touch my heart and mind the way you do.

You have my heart, Kili.

I don’t know exactly when it started, but I love you

I don’t know exactly when it started...

I don’t know exactly when it started…

…?

He doesn’t know exactly when it started...?

Kili slides to the floor from his chair and his mind curls stubbornly around the words, wondering at the strange, trembling immobility in his limbs. He has in his hands what he had always most wished for, Fili’s declaration of affection for him. He’d finally seen it in Fili’s eyes, there on the archery field. Finally let himself look. He’d always thought he was imagining it before. But it was really there, shining through the same cerulean blue Kili remembered from a thousand memories, but not just from dwarven shield-brother pride, or from winning a sparring session, or from simple kinship. Fili’s gaze had been raw, breathless, with a manic edge of joy tempered by fear.

Fili had put himself forward first, as he always had, to save Kili having to do it.

Kili had struggled to see something, anything in his brother’s behavior for so long that would indicate feeling that mirrored his own. And now here it sits in his hands.

So why does he hesitate? What keeps him from running to find Fili right away, wrapping himself around him and burying his nose in his brother’s shoulder to stay there forever?

I don’t know exactly when it started...

He tucks the letter carefully into his shirt and rises to his feet, making his way out of his chamber into the torchlit corridors of Erebor.

--------------------------------

 

Ori walks through the palace wondering if he has enough energy to make it home or if he might just go crash on one of the soft chairs in the library tonight. He settles for detouring into the palace kitchens, following the scent of stew.

Kili is seated alone at one of the long wooden dining tables with a bowl of stew in front of him.

Kili’s smile blazes at him and Ori can’t believe he’s gone without seeing his friend for so long. They clap each other hard and embrace.

“What are you doing here so late? Why aren’t you at home with your beautiful wife?”

“Balin’s had me doing research, so I’ve been hidden up in the stacks. I usually leave a lot earlier but I got on a roll today. What are you up to? Late night snack?”

“Yeah.” Kili’s face is flushed, his eyes shine intensely, and his attention seems fragmented.
The bowl on the table looks untouched.

Ori raises an eyebrow.

“Something happen?”

Kili shakes his head, “No, no, everything’s fine.” He looks at Ori easily and smiles the same smile Ori has seen all year long, the one that gives the receiver so much warmth, so much care, and hides everything.

“You and Limul look happy, Ori. Are you?” says Kili, smoothly changing the subject.

Ori almost falls for it. He begins to gush a bit about his life with Limul, his Limul who loves books and ink and parchment as much as he does, who listens to him and likes him even as small and barely bearded as he is, loves him for himself, cares about all the same things he does in the same way, and keeps his home and bed warm and full for him to a point he never in a hundred lifetimes would have believed this life would have so graced him.

And then he realizes, with half his own stew gone, that Kili still hasn’t touched his and sits there regarding Ori with his head resting sideways on his fist, drinking in Ori’s story, still smiling that same steel-armored heartbreaking smile. Encouraging, distracting, diverting, self effacing...

Ori sits up straighter and looks pointedly at Kili. Eventually Kili drops the smile and finally huffs in defeat.

“So what’s happened?”

Kili drags a hand across his hair and shakes his head. “I don’t know where to start.”

Ori sets his own head down on his fist, smiling gently. “Take your time. Limul is visiting her parents.”

“I envy you, Ori.”

“I don’t have anything you can’t have, Kee.”

Kili shakes his head wistfully at him. “You have a good place to go to every night.”

“And you would, too, if you and Fili would stop pussyfooting around each other.”

Kili tips his head at Ori, his eyes narrowing a little, but he doesn’t really look surprised. They haven’t been as close lately, not like they were before Ori’s wedding.

But it was never any mystery to Ori where Kili’s heart lay.

Ori had born witness for as long as he could remember to the love between these brothers, before he even understood that there were different kinds of love, and not just the kind that existed because you were mates, or because you went to school and training together and played games together and hid from your chores together and faced bullies together.

Kili finally reaches into his shirt and draws out a folded parchment, its creases well worn as though opened and closed repeatedly, and smoothed by reverent fingers. He sets it down on the table in front of them.

Ori’s eyes widen. “A letter?” He says, “From Fili? But...this is--Kili is it good news?”

Kili’s eyes shine at him, but his brow is furrowed. He nods. “Yes, but…”

“But what?”

Kili’s thumb slides across the parchment exactly as Ori has seen him touch his violin. Finally he slides the letter into Ori’s hands.

“Oh, Kili, I can’t read this.”

The dark haired Prince’s mouth perses and a look of determination glitters out at Ori. “You can. You are the one person I would trust with this, Ori. You’ve known Fili and me all our lives. And you already know...I mean you can guess what it says anyway.”

“So why allow my intrusion?” But Ori starts answering his own query before it’s even out of his mouth.

Because Kili doesn’t have anyone else he could ask. Because his friend really needs help interpreting something Fili wrote, or maybe didn’t write. And who else could he ask? Because there must be content in this letter that made it impossible to share with anyone else, even Dis. So that meant--

“All right. If you’re sure you want me to?”

Kili nods, and sits back nervously, arms folded, as Ori begins to read.

He takes his time, absorbing the words, thinking on each line, connecting it to what he’s seen in the brothers and in their powerful Uncle in the past year. Peripherally he notices Kili’s dark eyes watching him from beneath a sheath of black hair that hides the thick eyebrows Ori knows sit deeply down his forehead.

He finishes, and keeps the letter open between them, smoothing it with its fingers as though it were a precious historical document.

“Wow.” Ori breathes.

Kili leans forward, his elbows rest on the table, his eyes blinking down at the letter. “Aye.”

Ori looks at him. “So he returns your love, as you always hoped he would.”

Kili’s eyes crinkle a bit and he nods.

“And.. he is sorry.”

Kili’s eyes narrow slightly again, but as before, he doesn’t really look surprised.

“You knew...?”

Ori nods slowly, speaking as softly as freshly pulled yarn.

“I knew.” He doesn’t say “we all did.” He suspects Kili already knows that. In any case, whatever the others think they know about that night, few of them have any idea of the harshness experienced by the youngest Durin at the hands of his own kin - or want to.

Kili nods, pulling at his hair again.

Ori aches for him.

“And something about what he writes here still bothers you?”

Kili gets a faraway look.

“Do you remember the ponyball games, Ori?”

Ori sits back and lets out a half laugh. “On the Northern hillside, just before sunset after chore time, with the older dwarfs finding creative ways to drive our heads into the sod?”

Kili chuckles. Ori shakes his head. “I usually just watched if you remember. I was never big or strong enough to hold up against those bruisers. I remember you got hammered by that game more than once.”

“So you were watching.”

“Aye, watched you get yourself trounced over and over, and was most happy to remain a spectator.” Kili laughs, throws his head back. It’s good to see him laughing. “You certainly showed your dwarven stubbornness by going back into play every time.”

“I never really did get the hang of it. But...do you remember how good Fili got?”

Yes, Ori does remember that. The young golden-haired dwarf was smaller than the other young dwarves who’d played the old game, called “ponyball” only due to the common practice of using the tail of a pony with which to fashion a dense, heavy ball the size of an adult dwarf’s head to use in the game. The game itself consisted of two teams with opposing goals and the simple object of advancing the ball towards the opposite side of the field using any means available. Fili’s small size might have been a disadvantage, but when combined with his strength and speed and sinewy ability to slip out of the grip of anyone who tried to grab for him, he proved a natural.

“Aye, I do! He could move around those brutes like water around rocks.”

“Which is why I kept blundering back in. I couldn’t let my brother show me up like that.” Kili’s look goes distant again. “That’s how it was at first anyway.”

He obviously needs encouragement.

“...And then?”

“I’m not sure if you were there that day, but I made a play I was actually rather proud of. I intercepted the ball and passed it to Dushu, and he caught it and took it down the field. But Ezun and Eraz were on the opposing team that day and they both turned on me and drove me into the ground even though I didn’t have the ball any more.”

Ori makes a sympathetic sound. Of course he’d been there, and he remembers that play very clearly, and the two young bullies who knocked Kili down for no good reason at all, even being derided by their own teammates for neglecting to help in defending their goalposts rather than tackle an opponent out of sheer spite.

Of course Ori remembered it. He’d watched the Durin brothers all their lives. They were his childhood playmates, his friends, his heroes, the ones he most tried to emulate and impress ever since he can remember. He had been observing, and listening, and drawing them, and writing about them in his journals for decades. He’d never tell Kili that. His personal thoughts about Kili and Fili were never anything but positive, caring, sometimes analytical, or concerned. But those thoughts belong to him.

But it seems so strange to him now, that he, Ori, finds himself happily married and in possession of home and love and identity, while both brothers are in turmoil. That Kili tells Ori he envies him. It saddens Ori. In his expansive knowledge of the dwarves of Erebor, there is no other dwarf who deserves happiness as much as Kili does.

Kili continues his account, but Ori already recalls what came next.

“I saw Fili off to the side, and I fully expected him to take off after Dushu to help make the score. But he didn’t. He came running over to me.” Kili’s eyes are wide and glazed as though he is living the memory. “I wasn’t hurt, but he took my arm and helped me to my feet, asked if I was all right. Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe it was my own wishful thinking.” He shakes his head, and turns to look at Ori. “There was something in his eyes and voice that was different. I didn’t want him to let go of me. It was so fast, and I nodded and assured him I was fine, and then we were running back into the game, and I never wanted to leave his side after that.” Kili smile is lopsided. “Wanted to have someone clobber me just so I could feel his touch again.”

Ori smiles back. “So… that’s when your feelings for him started.”

Kili nods.

“And you are wondering when his feelings for you began?”

Kili gives Ori a look that appears nervous.

“I am.”

“Because the timing matters?”

Kili looks down at his hands, picking idly at a knot in the wood surface of the table.

Ori begins to say things that he has been holding back in his own thoughts all year long, maybe even longer than that.

“Your Uncle rules well as King. I think everyone always knew he would. I remember being in awe of him when we were little. So majestic, and regal, and such a skilled leader even before he ever wore a crown. Whenever he looked at me or commanded anything of me I thought I would have moved the world to obey him. But...I never envied you and Fili being his nephews.”

Kili hums non-committedly, still staring at his hands.

“And he came between you and Fili, during the Journey, didn’t he?”

Kili shrugs. “He had every right. Fili and Thorin didn’t know how I felt. And they obviously desired each other.”

“You don’t think Fili knew how you felt?”

“He never behaved as if he did.”

“It certainly seemed to me that he was fully preoccupied with Thorin during that journey. But when I look back on it now I wonder about the real nature of their bond at that time.”

Kili looks up at Ori sharply. Ori looks at him, seeing once again the colossal change in his friend that only occurred in this past year. There are lines in his face and a serious depth in his eyes that are born of many trials and disillusionments. The young dwarf Ori had known, all easy smiles, soft lines, and innocence, is completely gone.

“I’ve learned something recently about what real love is. And I don’t think there are many dwarves who really find it. Not the kind that binds mates together, anyway. I think Thorin was a domineering sex partner to Fili, he wasn’t a lover. I’m not sure Fili was mature enough at the time to realize that. I actually almost hope he wasn’t. Because if he was, that must have felt demeaning, and with Thorin he wouldn’t have had any choices.”

Kili’s face grows pained, “Mahal, Ori. you don’t think--Thorin didn’t--”

Ori grasps Kili’s arm reassuringly. “No, Kili, I doubt Thorin did Fili harm, except that he probably kept things more superficial than Fili wanted. It always looked to me as though Thorin cared about Fili and cherished him, but more like a possession. I won’t defend what Fili did. I’ve been angry about it for a long time. But I don’t think he knew that what he did would hurt you as much as it did.”

Ori goes quiet for a moment. Then he speaks again, drawing from things he’s learned only recently.

“Making love with your One should make you feel like you could conquer the world. But you didn’t come out of that experience feeling that way did you?”

Kili seems to fold inward, shaking his head. Ori grasps his arm to keep him steady, to keep him from slipping too far back into that memory.

“You were a different dwarf after that night. It angered me, for so long, I didn’t know how to behave around your Uncle and your brother. I wondered if they knew what they had done; I even wondered if Thorin deserved the throne. But then the Battle happened, and the three of you joined together against Azog, and when you were hurt, Kili we all saw it. Thorin and Fili turned into mad people. None of us had ever seen them like that.”

Kili looks at Ori with wide eyes. He hadn’t heard this full story before, Ori thinks. No one had really told him what had occurred when he’d been poisoned by Azog’s Morgul blade, what had happened during all that time his mind had been subdued by pain and darkness. The Battle was so hard for any of them to talk or even think about, and Ori, like the others, had only wanted to forget. Even now, he does not like to remember the raw heat of it, the dark scent of orc blood, as black as pitch but mixed with the warm proud blood of his own kind. He hadn’t shied away from the violence of it, had plunged in and had refused, much to his own brothers’ chagrine, to let Kili drift away from him. Nori and Dori had stuck stubbornly to his side, so when Kili had been struck down they had been there, all three of them.

Ori had held the dark memories inside. Kili’s heart had been burdened enough by darkness, surely. But now Kili needs to hear it.

So Ori relives it for him.

“Thorin was badly wounded himself.  But he picked you up in his arms like a dwarrowdam picks up her fallen child. He wouldn't let anyone else touch you.  He carried you halfway to the gates of Erebor before the Eagles arrived and offered a faster ride. Fili was the only one Thorin allowed to walk with him and he walked right alongside him with one hand holding your head and the other pressed against your wound to keep you from bleeding out. Once they had you seen by the dwarven healers and nothing they did seemed to help you, it was Thorin who asked Gandalf to entreat the Elves for help. Balin actually objected, and both Thorin and Fili shouted him down with such vehemence I feared for Balin’s safety. And when Elrond finally came to tend you, neither of them ever left your side, not to sleep, not to eat, until you were declared stable.”

It still didn’t excuse them in my mind. I was actually glad you remained distant from them the way you did.” Ori stops then and looks at his friend, wondering if he is overstepping, if he is saying too much. But it feels good to finally give voice to his thoughts.

“Maybe none of this is even my place to say, Kili.”

But Kili, whose fascinated gaze has not wavered since Ori began speaking, shakes his head and nudges him. “No, no, please keep talking.”

Ori continues, carefully considering each word. “They follow you with their eyes, both of them. Fili especially. Did you know that?”

“No. No I didn’t.”

“They do. I wasn’t sure for a while what drove their staring. But then I noticed how sharply they regard anyone who so much as raises a voice to you. And whenever you laugh they turn towards you like dying plants turning to face the sun.”

Kili’s eyes are huge now, and he sits back into his chair, his arms folding over each other, regarding Ori still, but now not seeming to see him anymore.

Ori leans forward. “Kee, it comes down to this. Whether Fili simply loved you as a brother, or had already identified you as his One, either way, that night should never have happened.”

Ori’s voice drops to a whisper.

“All that really matters is whether or not you feel you can forgive him. Forgive both of them.”

Kili inhales a deep breath, and slowly lets it out.

“Do you think I should?”

“It’s not up to me.”

They sit silent for a time.

“What if I do, and I speak my feelings...and then...what if it happens again?

Ori slowly pulls Kili’s forehead against his own, holding Kili in a close embrace of friendship and kinship.

“Kili, Mahal strike me down if I am giving you bad advice by saying this. But I don’t think it will happen again. They have both seen what it did to you and all of their behavior seems to indicate they regret their actions.”

Ori takes the letter from the table and tucks it into Kili’s hand.

“I think they learned something profound about themselves and about you during this past year. I said before that I thought Thorin and Fili’s relationship before we arrived in Laketown was a superficial one. But if Fili felt like this, like he writes here,” Ori taps the letter for emphasis, “for you, at the time when we arrived in Laketown--that would have been terribly confusing. If he felt this strongly for you and wanted to express that, think of it, Kili. He’d only ever known one way to do that.”

Ori leans back to give Kili room, to restore him space to think and feel and process, and to regain his own full view of his Prince. He hopes to Mahal he will never have reason to regret his words, that Fili won’t give him cause to regret them. But he can’t help adding just a few more.

“Until you showed him, Kili. You let him know it could be more. You taught him. You taught them both.”

Kili looks down at the letter in his hand, then back up at Ori. He almost looks like a dwarfling again, like he did back in Ered Luin on one of those days he and Ori had been caught stealing pies from dwarrowdam Mira’s kitchen windowsill, that same wide-eyed, smooth-faced look of pure innocence has returned to him.

“I...taught them?

Chapter Text

The cares of the Kingdom fill Thorin’s mind at the end of this long day, but not so much that he fails to notice the crease newly appeared on his heir’s forehead. Fili wrings his hands, shrugs his shoulders, then shakes himself free as though temporarily vanquishing some internal battle. Then slowly the tension returns to him - his shoulders rise again and the muscles of his jaws clench.

 

Court issues had lasted well past mid-day today, and the afternoon had taken them down into the Mountain for a lengthy inspection of the mines. The Miner’s Guild includes a special caste of dwarves. These were solitary folk, the ones who worked deep under ground and performed the purest work of the children of Aule. They had a mystical quality to them. People whispered that these most stoic, densely muscular, and taciturn dwarves could hear the stone speak to them and sense where in the rock one mineral gave way to another, where a vein of iron might end, or where a pocket of geoidal gems might lay hidden. They rarely took mates, and almost never procreated. The broad shouldered master miner who had guided Thorin and Fili through the newly hewn tunnels had spoken few words, but his love and enthusiasm for his craft was obvious. His grey eyes sparkled beneath his thick eyebrows as his sausage thick fingers traced over jagged edges of stone still warm from his workers’ pick axes. He led them to a group of miners hunched reverently under an oil lamp near the floor of the tunnel shaft.

 

“There my Lord.” The dwarves parted for their King and Heir. There is a glint in the rock. It is so tiny it barely reflects the lamp light. But its silver tone jumps in the eyes of every miner who crouches there around it.

 

“The sacred silver?”

 

“Aye.”

 

His men seem certain of it being just the beginning of a larger vein. It is a good omen. Not just the tiny spot of mithril under his mountain, the first found in Erebor, but also the new sense of purpose in these miners. Exile had robbed them of their life’s vocation. They had wandered on the surface of Arda like confunded ghosts all these many years. It is good to see they are back in their element.

 

It is good. It feels like hope.

 

Now he and Fili walk down the torch-lit halls together on their way to the kitchens for a much needed late meal.

 

The yen Thorin had long felt for his nephew still glows inside him but it has been tempered, alloyed and bound by the deep roots of memory held by the mountain he has inherited and his fondness for its people and his need for their love in return. Even from those no longer here.

 

His memories of Thror and Thrain live heavily in his heart. Even before gold fever had claimed his grandfather, Thror had ruled as most in the line leading to him had ruled. Hard. Strict. A good Orc was a dead Orc. Elves were not to be trusted. Humans were inferior, but treated well as long as their trade benefitted Erebor. The dwarves of Erebor conducted their business and their crafts in one way, and only one way. Deviation was foolish and swiftly punished. And the dwarves of Erebor served their King and his lineage.

 

Not the other way around.

 

Frerin had been the first. The first dwarrow he had ever known to go beyond the rigidity, to see it backwards. It had gone deeper that just his playfully open disdain for ceremony and his sheer joy in disobedience. Whenever he and Frerin had walked through the residences and craft halls of Erebor, the demeanor of the people who gathered around them differed greatly between Thorin and his brother. For the Crown Prince, of course, they fell silent and bowed their heads. But to the side he caught glimpses of their hands reaching for Frerin, their faces shining and smiling, their voices accosting with him news of their work, their children, their kin.

 

“They love you.” Thorin had said once, after another such encounter.

 

Frerin had waved it away. “They love you, too, brother.”

 

“But they really love you.”

 

Frerin had shrugged. “It is mutual.”

 

His brother could find happiness in wet riverstones, and value in the lowliest of Thror’s subjects. It had all seemed frivolous to many. It had confounded Thorin a bit, too. He had followed the broad, general reverence modeled for him by his elders. But truly, Frerin’s rebellious view that a prince serves his people and not the other way around had been the thing that had made Thorin love him most.

 

As he walks beside Fili now, he tries for a moment to see this Crown Prince as his Grandfather would have seen him.

 

Thror’s disappointment snakes its way through Thorin’s mind. To see a Prince of Erebor fretting over a love letter. To his sibling, no less. To watch such energy spent upon the care of an obviously undisciplined heart. What wasted spirit, Thror would say. Strap the boy up. Remind him of his duties. The people need a King who shows them a proper example of strength. They won’t serve a King whose hung up on silly romantic notions. He must have a heart of stone who would rule well.

 

No, no, no. His own voice takes hold, and Thorin knows he will never care more for commerce and treasure than he will for the real happiness of the dwarves of Erebor. Sometime in the past months of struggle and guilt and repair he had begun to rule with his heart.

 

And the requirements of reaching such a goal as it has become known to him have begun to surprise him.

 

“He has given you no answer yet?” Thorin speaks into the silence.

 

Fili startles and stares at him, seeming to have forgotten his Uncle walked beside him.

 

“How did you know?”

 

“Dis told me you visited the archery range this morning. She said Kili was useless after you left. That a paper of some sort had been exchanged.”

 

Fili’s self control is admirable. It might well have fooled Thror. It does not fool Thorin.

 

“He hasn’t answered or sought me out, no. I told him he did not have to. I left everything in his hands.”

 

“A good place to leave it.”

 

They walk a little a further.

 

“When he does come to you, what do you think will happen?” says Thorin.

 

Fili sputters a bit. Thorin touches a hand to his elbow. Their recent experience with each other has involved the kind of reassuring touching that Thorin is only still learning to give, but he is seeing the benefits. Some of the barriers Fili had constructed against him have broken. Fili turns to him, calmer but still breathless.

 

“If he accepts me...Uncle...I know you wanted heirs. It would anger the Council. I--I will put Erebor first if---”

 

Thorin shakes his head.

 

“Have you been noticing anything odd about your mother’s behavior lately?”

 

“Uncle?”

 

“Perhaps in connection with Mr. Dwalin?”

 

Fili now looks as though his mind has been wiped totally clean.

 

“Dwalin and Amad??!!”

 

“Gandalf pointed it out to me during his last visit.”

 

Thorin can almost hear the wheels and cogs turning in Fili’s head as they walk a little further in silence.

 

“So I ask you again,” says Thorin, “What do you think will happen when Kili comes to speak to you?”

 

It comes out of Fili slowly. The words fill Thorin with a new kind of warmth with which he is unfamiliar. These are not words Fili would have shared with him before the Journey. He thinks, perhaps, they are not words Fili would have shared with anyone at all. He’s a private dwarf, his nephew. Deceptively so.

 

“I have hardly dared to hope that he could forgive me, let alone return my feelings.”

 

“Seventy years of being together as brothers must count for something.”

 

“Being Kili’s brother is a great thing to me. I thank Mahal for it every day. For him.”

 

“But is it enough?”

 

Fili stops walking and rests a hand lightly on the stone wall of the corridor.

 

“It may have to be.”

 

“You think he will refuse you?”

 

Fili’s eyes close and he swallows. “I wouldn’t blame him if he did.”

 

Thorin takes hold of Fili’s arm and pulls him gently forward so they are walking again.

 

“And if he accepts you? Returns your feelings, what then?”

 

Fili turns to look at Thorin, his eyes enormous. Thorin keeps pressing.

 

“When you are King of Erebor, would you be a better ruler if Kili was by your side as your consort?”

 

Fili’s head shakes back and forth, “But...with no possibility of heirs...even if Amad chooses Dwalin I could not ask that of them--”

 

“--Answer the question, Fili.”

 

Fili’s head stills, his fists unclench and his face catches the lamplight as the dream in his heart dares to make itself real in his mind. Thorin schools his features as he watches. The mantle of leadership, of nobility, has lived on his young nephew’s shoulders for many years. It was there long before Fili ever wore Princely robes. It lived in the air around him even when all his raiment was homespun and the young dwarves of Ered Luin quieted and turned their heads whenever Fili passed them in the dusty streets. It fills Thorin’s aged and battle weary spirit with warmth now, to watch the dwarf next in line to the throne struggle to place his own desire ahead of the demands of dwarven tradition. To see how difficult it is for Fili to be selfish even for a moment.

 

“I know I would be.”

 

“Of course you would.”

 

“Uncle--”

 

But at that point Kili and Ori come around the corner. Thorin sees their feet slowing, their stances changing as they transition from a private, deep conversation that is only theirs to an awareness that the subjects of their conversation are before them in the ancient torch-lit hallway.

 

Ori was always small, even amongst dwarves. Thorin had almost forbidden him to join the company, and had worried often about him on the road, a waifish, child-like being who seemed likely to be thrown down by a good breeze for all the bravado he expressed with his slingshot and his squeaky mouse voice.

 

So the strange impression that Ori’s presence is the largest one here surprises him.

 

“Good evening, your majesties,” says Ori.

 

“Good evening to you Ori, Kili.” They all bow to each other, Kili’s pallor blazing from him as he bends at the waist, revealing Ori’s hand steadfast on his lower back. Ori continues to smile confidently at them. “Are you coming from the kitchens?” inquires Thorin.

 

“Bombur was good enough to provide some stew for us. He has some remaining, I am certain,” Ori says. “I must be returning to my residence. Limul will be wondering where I am.”

 

Thorin does not miss Kili shooting him a sideways glance complete with raised eyebrow.

 

Amongst a chorus oh of courses and we wouldn’t dream of keeping yous, Ori takes leave of them, not without significant looks passing between him and Kili who suddenly looks as though he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Fili appears to be no better.

 

Thorin gazes at them and realizes he has become part of the background, part of the polished stone walls, the ornately woven tapestries that waft inwards and outwards as the kingdom breathes around them. They sway towards and away from each other, terrifyingly close to expressing a depth of feeling that dwarves have no gift to express.

 

Fili and Kili stand more afraid of each other’s words than they ever felt for any that Thorin might utter.

 

But that is all right.Thorin already has what he desires. He stands already united with his first love. He has lost, but he has won. He is their King and this mountain will surround and protect them and he can bask in the knowledge that they and all who will live here will have this life and this place because he led the fight for it. They will not wander in pain and loneliness as he had to do. They will not have to march on distant stolen, orc-infested kingdoms. Battles will be defensive for them, from a position of profound strength, from a mountainous kingdom of stone and a foundation of affection from ten thousand stubbornly loyal people of Aule. Ten thousand dwarves, plus one King.

 

Thorin begins to back down the hallway from which they came.

 

But Kili’s eyes flit towards him and his fingers reach for him, trembling in his direction.

 

“No, Thorin, please stay.”

 

Thorin stands still, breathing thickly, waiting. Fili’s eyes are wide, glancing between them, questioning to Kili, and more darkly entreating to Thorin.

 

He watches the increasing rise and fall of the Durin crest embroidered across Kili’s chest in royal blue, sees the flicker of concentration as his younger nephew pulls the right words together into a line that he can speak out loud for them both.

 

He looks back and forth between them and speaks.

 

“I asked you to leave me alone, and you did. “

 

The stillness around them thrums. The molten metal before it enters a sacred mold.

 

“But it wasn’t what I wanted. Not really.”

 

The torchlights flicker with a faint gust of air.  Shadows dance against the stone.  Thorin realizes he is holding his breath.

 

“I need you both. I love you both.” Kili’s voice is so soft that it crackles through the air like a tiny campfire in the most silent forest of ancient trees. “I know that I want you but I don’t know how to explain...All I know is that I don’t want that night again.”

 

Fili utters a strangled noise and seems barely able to rein himself in, and Thorin understands, as he feels every part of himself wanting to surge forward and gather Kili against him, to tell him no, you won’t ever go through that again.

 

But they both seem rooted to the ground. Kili floats untethered in front of them. He searches their faces, not frantically, but steadily. They have all carried such sadness inside them for so long. A life of affection without passion does not seem so bad anymore. Perhaps that is the way it will go.

 

But Kili must see something in Fili that Thorin misses from his position behind him. A small smile tugs at one side of Kili’s mouth and he reaches inside the cuff of his sleeve, pulling out a piece of parchment. Fili’s letter to him.

 

Fili's back trembles as Kili carefully tears a strip off the bottom of the parchment and tucks it into his brother’s hand closing Fili’s fingers around it. Then he backs away from both of them, stepping around Thorin and disappearing down the corridor away from the kitchens.

 

They watch him go. Thorin reaches forward to tap Fili’s closed fist and Fili opens it, uncurling the parchment and silently reading the words Kili had written there.

 

You have my heart, too.

 

Fili looks down the corridor where Kili has long disappeared.

 

“Thorin, I won’t let you harm him.”

 

There was a time when Thorin would have taken such a statement as pure impudence and punished Fili soundly for it. But tonight he just sighs deeply. He knows now that were he in Fili’s place and it was Frerin vanishing down the corridor, he would have spoken far worse words to Thrain.

 

Instead, Thorin is amazed at the hope he feels. Just a tiny glint, like the sacred silver found that morning, but it’s a start.

 

He looks at his nephew whose eyes are blazing a trail after his brother, and for the first time, instead of wondering what his father or grandfather might say, he thinks of his mother.

 

And smiles.

 

“Fili,” Fili looks towards Thorin, his blue eyes intense, “Please only ask yourself what is it that would make Kili stand alone before us here in an empty corridor far from any other kin or friend and confront us the way he did?”

 

Fili cocks an eyebrow.

 

Thorin looks back the way Kili went. “And I can assure you of one thing. Ori would not have left his side if he’d thought for a moment we were a threat to Kili. We would have already felt a stone from his slingshot if we had harmed a single cockle of his heart.”

 

Fili snorts at that and looks at him with unshielded amazement.

 

But Thorin is pleased to see his shoulders relax and one side of his mouth tug upwards. He looks almost like he used to look, with the old clear-eyed faith, as though a shadow has lifted from him.

 

“Of course I won’t harm him. Neither will you.” says Thorin, smacking his shoulder in true shield brother fashion. Fili’s tenuous expression erupts into sunshine. It is good. It’s all he wants.

 

“Let’s get some stew.”

Chapter Text

“Did you tell him? Did you tell him how much we…that he has nothing to...oh Mahal.”

Thorin is looking at Fili as only Thorin can.

“I never should have let you talk to him.”

The forest around them is still sparse from Smaug’s occupation of the area for so many years. But the earth and its life rebound, as they must. The trees surrounding them carry their few leaves proudly, in blazing yellows and oranges as befits late autumn on the North side of the Lonely Mountain. The large slab of rock on which they currently stand is a well known landmark along a proven hunting trail. Their two ponies, laden with hunting and fishing gear, stand blithely nearby.

Thorin had asked Kili to meet them here at sunrise. Only if he wished to, of course. Just a hunting outing for the three of them, away from the pressures and responsibilities of royal duties for a few days. He did not have to join them, but he was welcome to.

The sun has risen and achieved its complete circular form on the horizon. The clouds still hold the dawn colors. Pale hues of pink and orange streak across a midnight blue expanse as though the day were still making up its mind whether to start or not. Fili wishes it would hold off for just a few more minutes.

“Fili…”

“He won’t come. Oh gods, he won’t come. How could he ever want to be near us again?”

“Fili.”

“We’ve lost him.”

But he is suddenly there in the mist. They can’t see his face at first. Only the outline of his rich mane of hair, the broad figure of his shoulders that meet his waist cinched by a simple leather belt, the top of a quiver of arrows peeking over one shoulder, the elegant curve of his hand-carved bow looping up above his head. He steps down the hill, pivoting around a birch sapling he anchors with one hand, his face finally coming into view as his booted steps slow before them.

Fili stands up slowly, his eyes widening and his heart swelling in his chest almost beyond capacity for his ribs to contain.

“You know…” comes Kili’s voice, soft but confident. “If you intend to hunt the herd of mule deer that is gathered just past that ridge,” he nods to the North east, “Then we might want to adjust our current position, because right now we are directly upwind of them.”

------------------------------------------------------

Their meal of fresh cooked venison is eaten, the tins rinsed and returned to their packs, firewood piled by the campfire, and bedrolls laid out.

And Kili’s sense of himself falters for the first time in months.

Suddenly he does not know what he is doing here. For all their words leading to this point, he is not sure what to expect from Thorin and Fili. He can hear them moving around the camp behind him, murmuring over trivialities, repositioning logs in the fire.

He knows they love him. But his newfound self respect has been dearly won. He is afraid whatever choice he makes tonight, if there is even a choice offered, he will err somehow and lose everything he has gained. Whether to allow or not allow, whether to want or to suppress, to reach out or to hold back, to hold on, to stand firm...what should he do?

His stomach flutters nervously and his hands have gone cold. He moves to stand by the edge of the river, assuming a casual stance, one knee propped on a fallen tree by the water, his eyes taking in the last rays of the sunset shimmer over the waves. Perhaps the joke is on him and he is worried over nothing. Perhaps they intend nothing more than a platonic hunting trip, to simply reconnect and enjoy each other’s company.

That thought makes him even more nervous. Mahal, if that is true, what does that say about him?

He shakes himself, chiding himself for such thoughts, and begins to search in his pockets for his pipe and wrapper of pipeweed when he feels Fili’s arms wrap around him from behind.

His breath catches as his brother pulls him back against him and holds him close, his chin coming to rest on Kili’s shoulder. It has been so long, so long since he has felt any kind of open, affectionate touch from Fili that Kili’s head spins from this sudden pressure of his brother’s entire torso pressing against him muscle to muscle and pulse to pulse. It’s a feast, and his eyes close and he dares not move, fearing he may be dreaming it, that it is all a result of some great part of him that has wished for this and that his brother’s touch will vanish if he makes a wrong move. But Fili stays close and does not waiver, his hands finding Kili’s and then their fingers slot together, hooking on, interlacing, caressing. Fili does not speak, but he presses his face into Kili’s ear, and Kili can feel his brother’s breaths coming as rapidly and uncertainly as his own. At length, both of them begin to calm, relaxing against each other, breathing in the coming night as the stars begin to emerge.

Thorin comes to stand before them, his presence as large and serious as ever. But the firelight reflected in his eyes is more warm than regal. When his hands seek Kili’s cold fingers their large, smooth warmth wrap around them and hold him fast, but do not demand or push.

“There are no kings or princes here, Kili.” A surge of wind fills the trees above them and the sound of a thousand dried leaves fluttering against each other weaves above their heads as the trees creak gently back and forth for a few moments, then all is peace again.

“There is only the three of us, and we are equals.”

Kili closes his eyes, cutting off the sense of vision in favor of his other senses. He wants to feel his uncle and brother, their heat, the pressure of their touches, their sounds. And he needs them to hear him without being distracted by the look in their eyes, slant of their lips, flinch of their jaws.

And when he thinks he has finally gathered the information he needs from them, Kili speaks into the silence, because he knows that this is what they are waiting for him to do.

He whispers, “I have been walking through my days in Erebor as though I were in some trance. I would see the two of you all the time, during meals or feasts, during council meetings and ceremonies, but even when you were right next to me, it felt as if you were a thousand leagues away.”

They make soft sounds of agreement, and Kili sighs heavily, gathering steadiness back into his breath.

“Something in me is turning cold from want, from longing for some missing thing I can’t describe. I do not mean to complain that I am lonely. I have the honor of many friends and kinsmen. But it is not like this… this fire I feel now.”

He feels them pull him closer. His voice catches with nerves as he spills more, deciding to keep nothing from them.

“I am burning.”

His face is buried in Thorin’s shoulder now as he speaks his heart, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe, crossing into territory from which he knows there is no return. “I burn so much it hurts and I am afraid if I don’t reach for you now, whatever price I may pay, I will never feel this fire again.”

He hears and feels deep, half choked sounds coming from both of them, vibrating from deep in their chests through into his own core as they wrap around him even more tightly, nudging into him with their heads, clasping at him with hands that seek to reassure but also tremble for solace, their voices tumbling soft Khuzdul into his hair. Kili surprises himself that he feels no fear as they hold him so fast between them. They are not here to take anything from me he thinks, feeling certain that he is right, praying to Mahal that he is right, as he breathes into Thorin’s shoulder. He is glad of their embrace. He is not sure how he has been supporting his own weight by himself all these months. For surely if they were to let go their hold now, Kili would fall to the ground like an unstrung marionette.

And then Thorin’s hands cup his face, and soft lips press against his temple, his cheek, and then his own name is whispered into his mouth and Thorin is kissing him, and Kili is kissing him back as though they have done this thousands of times and it is nothing new, nothing new at all. Maybe this is true because even though Kili would never have believed in a thousand lifetimes that his Uncle would share anything so intimate with him, he had always dreamed in his heart that he would.

But that is about as far as his imagination had gone. Certainly after Laketown, he had not wished to carry it further.

The kiss ends and he opens his eyes and meets Thorin’s gaze, and sees fierce desire, and knows his own gaze matches his Uncle’s. He sees his own fingers twined in his Uncle’s thick locks and clutching at the back of his great head as though he had a right to such a controlling touch.  Even so.  Even with all this, Kili shudders again with the same old insecurity.

“How does this...work?” he whispers. Thorin’s face softens and he nods to Fili as they turn Kili around to face his brother.

Fili’s expression is bright and intense as he draws Kili’s forehead to meet his and holds him there, their eyes meeting and not closing but staring into each other’s depths, and Kili is struck by the contradiction.

He knows this dwarf who holds him, but so much has changed since the last time they touched that he thinks he should really introduce himself as though to a stranger, like at the first gathering in Erebor months ago, the Blue Mountain and Iron Hills younglings meeting for the first time.

Hi, I’m Kili, son of Vali. I’d been hoping to meet you…care to join the next reel?

But Fili raises an eyebrow, seeming to read his thoughts. He always could do that. And that is what tips Kili’s heart. More than anything, more than his ache for their touch, more than the emptiness he has longed to have filled, more than his desire for simple approval, Kili misses how thoroughly his brother knows him...and he wants to be opened up and read like a book, like a tome of epic stories, as only Fili could ever do.

And suddenly the touch of the hands that cup his jaw and trace his ear tips becomes electric and he has never wanted to be kissed so much in his life.

“It’s all right Kee, it’s only me.” Fili nuzzles their noses together. “And there are no wrong moves.”

And their mouths meet and eyes close as they press into each other, whimpering with the relief of it, delving deeply and nearly laughing with the joy of it each time they pull away to check on each other. Thorin’s warmth is still behind Kili, still nudging the back of his hair, great hands clasping at his waist, pinning him inside this wealth of attention.

“This night is for you. There is nothing you can ask of us that we will not give you, Kili. And there is no touch you will receive that will not have the force of a dwarf’s full heart behind it.”

He is not even certain who said this, but since he has been told he may ask for what he wants, he hears his own voice ask for Fili.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t feel the coarseness of the wool blanket against the bare skin of his back. Every nerve in his body and thought in his mind focuses on Kili propped on his arms and leaning over him, and on Thorin whose presence pulses behind his brother’s.

Kili really does burn. Fili can feel it under his fingertips that glide over the shivering skin of his brother’s arms that arc around his own as their legs slide slowly against each other.

You have my heart, too.

He can only hope that it’s true, that he can still earn the trust of this dwarf who has been by his side all of his life. He can’t understand how it could have crept up on him so slowly, how much he has come to rely on a daily glimpse of this mop of dark hair over bright hazel eyes. He reaches up to press his palm against Kili’s jawline and startles when Kili leans into the touch, drawing Fili’s thumb into his mouth.

Kili had every reason to turn his back on Fili forever. Most dwarves would have, he knows. Most dwarves. Not Kili.

He feels drunk, floating, untethered. Kili had asked for him. All is not forgiven, yet. He knows that. He knows now that your heart can belong to someone even though you might not fully trust them. But he will win this, he will earn this. So his own hands travel over the curves and planes of Kili’s body tremulously. He feels like a youngling bedding someone for the first time, like he’d forgotten how.

Or perhaps the truth is, he never knew.

Not like this. Not when something as simple as a loose braid being tucked gently behind his ear sends such shivers through his body and has him losing control of his own breathing. He never thought sex could go beyond the furs they happened in. But this will. This will take the first position in a line of memories that will stretch into their future lives, and he doesn’t want to get it wrong.

He isn’t alone in his hesitation. Kili’s hand has retraced the same path along Fili’s shoulder four times now as though he’s not sure where to go next. Braced by the chance to sooth his younger brother’s fears and hide his own at the same time, Fili grasps Kili’s hand and draws the pulse point to his mouth, applying warmth to the base of the palm, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of olive wood and fletched arrow feathers that lives in Kili’s skin. Kili lets out a soft breath and presses back into the touch.

But Kili’s hands are shaking. Something isn’t right.

Looking up at him Fili sees Thorin’s great mane of hair moving over Kili’s shoulder, his face in shadow, his hands hidden to Fili but obviously moving in pathways over Kili’s body. His brother arches and shivers, but the soft moans that keep starting in his throat stifle and stop before leaving his lips.

He’s been over this in his mind so many times. If there had been any sign that Thorin would threaten Kili’s autonomy or would coerce him in any way tonight he would never have agreed to this private hunting trip. But since the coronation Thorin’s behavior towards Kili has been changed. To all eyes Thorin is a King whose actions show pride in a favored Prince. This in itself departs profoundly from his treatment of Kili on the Journey, but to Fili it goes even deeper. There used to be a predatory edge to Thorin’s voice, touch, every move he made towards them both. But his eyes don’t spark possessively at them now. They simply shine. On the rare occasions that Fili has seen him touch Kili, it’s been like the stroke of a paintbrush across a beloved canvas. Fresh paint on an old memory. Thorin rediscovered his heart in Kili. Surely he wouldn’t risk losing that.

Still, “Protect” whispers loud and shrill through Fili’s head. By Mahal if Thorin has been playing them this whole time, if he does anything to harm Kili now... He travels back in time to when they were dwarflings, protect his younger sibling, protect him from harm, from wrong, from all that would be unjust, unfair, unwelcome.

But Kili is no dwarfling. His heart stops, in fact, at how magnificent his brother is. This dwarf who stood up to Dain Ironfoot, who brokered hundreds of meetings between the Royal Counsel and the most stubborn of dwarf families, who organized and led the hunting parties that filled the larders of Erebor with food enough for two winters, who almost single-handedly took down Azog the Defiler. Kili doesn’t need protecting. The long broad torso that leans over him expands and contracts as Kili breathes in the cool air of the night that closes in around them. His lips hang open and his wide eyes do not seem to see what is in front of them.

He crouches, Fili realizes, like a nocked arrow, tightly coiled, a tremble in his knees because his beautiful, amazing brother fears he might be about to be taken again.

Fili claims Kili’s eyes and slides his hands firmly upwards, contacting every tight muscle, smoothing over every tremble until his hands cup Kili’s face, tracing carefully over throbbing temples.

“Kili, just tell him.”

Eyebrows raise slightly. That is all the reaction he sees at first. Then slowly Kili begins to straighten, to rise to his knees, forcing Thorin to do the same behind him until they are upright together, Kili’s back to Thorin’s chest. Fili can see Thorin’s large hands resting at Kili’s hips, and watches his brother turn his head to speak.

He cannot hear what he says. Kili speaks at length, resting his own hands on top of Thorin’s.

Finally, in the moving shadows of the firelight, Fili sees Thorin smile. It is the tenderest expression he has ever seen grace his Uncle’s face. Kili smiles too, and his eyes close, and Fili watches the great arms encircle his sibling tightly. His throat constricts at the sight of them. He thinks of Frerin, and he wonders if the bond between Kili and Thorin will finally win out over Fili’s own bond with Kili. And wouldn’t that work out better for everyone anyway? Leaving Fili to find a proper female consort to give him heirs?

His lungs pull cold air into his spine as he finds himself gazing at them. Both with their dark hair falling over their muscled shoulders, the curve of their jaws, equally strong and stubborn but now united in a soft surrender so complete it has them swaying. Someone should paint them.

All at once the spell breaks and Kili returns down into Fili’s space. Whatever had been holding him back no longer hinders him. Fingers twine through his hair and he needs no guidance to turn his head so his mouth meets Kili’s full on. Fili moans at the new ferocity in Kili’s touch, the way his tongue delves into his mouth and his hips grind down into his. Warm dark locks fall into a curtain around him and Fili threads his fingers into it and holds it back so the light can play across his brothers tightly closed eyes.

“Fee, do you want this as much as I do?”

Fili huffs a half sob, “So much. So much.”

I have spent so much time hardly daring to believe you would want me at all.

He can’t get enough of him, can’t reach far enough, crane his head high enough, hook his legs tightly enough, pull close enough so that his brother, who has been distant and stoic as unmined silver, finally turns to warm flesh in his arms.

You’ve never given me anything less than total affection, full on from your whole heart.

Copious amounts of oil flow down his lower torso and he feels Kili’s hands guiding it towards good use. He needs no coaxing to spread his legs, throwing his head back and moaning with complete abandon as long fingers begin to stretch him open, laughing at Kili’s constant inquiring Is this all right? Are you all right? Nodding and clutching at Kili’s muscled shoulders, tugging at his neck, thumbing over his panting mouth as he works, not trusting himself to give a coherent answer.

I never realized how precious you were until I blundered and nearly lost you.

He senses Thorin there with them, close. The large pads of his fingers brush over their skin, stroking down the curve of Kili’s undulating spine, tracing over Fili’s forehead like a soothing nursemaid, his voice like a second presence in his mind.

“Look at him Fili. See him. Pull him all the way in and hold onto him with all you have, and never let him doubt that you will keep doing it.”

So he does. He pulls Kili in and listens to his pleasure cries, and gets lost in the heat of it, meets his brother’s frantic passion with all of his strength. Even as their bodies slam into each other like great hammers on an anvil Kili still checks on him anxiously, and Fili laughs and pulls him closer, shoves up into him even harder, catches his ear in his teeth and whispers to him

Menu tessu, my Kili, do not hold back.”

They go faster. Whenever his eyes happen to blink open he sees Kili’s are still closed, his lips mouthing silent, unintelligible words as his tongue licks at the air. Delicious heat curls in waves inside him as they rise and fall together, barely aware of their foreheads grinding together, of the bruises their fingers are leaving in each other’s skin. Fili is so close now that the slightest touch might tip him, and when he feels a gentle hand encircle his cock and stroke over the weeping slit at the top...

When he realizes it is Thorin’s touch, he comes undone.

“How are you, my golden one?”

Fili comes with his eyes wide open but unseeing. Kili follows, his back arching. There is a flurry in the trees high above them as hundreds of birds fly from their roosts, disturbed by the roared release cried out from the throats of the two dwarf princes.

Kili collapses on top of him, burying his nose in Fili’s neck. Fili leans into him, seeking to calm himself as well, threading fingers through Kili’s hair, tracing circles on his back.

He doesn’t realize Thorin has left their sides until he cools down enough to notice the large warmth that had been next to them is no longer there.

Chapter Text

Thorin sits a little ways from them, pulling the sweet smoke from his pipe in through his mouth and out through his nose. Kili’s face still burrows into Fili’s neck as his brother’s arms hold him, hands clutch at him, less frantically now than before but the fervor remains. They breathe more evenly now. Fili mouths gently at Kili’s ear. Perhaps he speaks. Thorin cannot hear them.

The fire crackles lower. Thorin eyes burn. From the smoke, of course.

The truth is that he loves watching them. Even that night, that terrible night when he had allowed his basest feelings to get the better of him, he had loved watching them. And not just for the pleasure that burned in his body but for something deeper that he’d barely been aware of at the time. All the anger had been blinding him then. The rage he’d carried for so long for everything he had lost, for all that the dragon had taken, all the responsibility he’d been forced to shoulder at far too young an age, all of this stood like a thick fog in the way of him seeing the gift of his two nephews. The new bloom of feeling between them. The memory it awakens in him. The way it soothes him now to see how tender they are with each other when they finally have the chance to show it.

The pipeweed he brought curls potently against the old familiar stab of jealousy, of mine, Frerin was mine, Fili is mine, that belonged to me, I had that, I lost that, how did I lose all that? But the herbs dull the pain and haze over the loss. Instead of Fili and Kili, Thorin allows the image to shimmer, and it becomes Thorin and Frerin there in the firelight basking in their afterglow,

So when Kili rises from his warm place in Fili’s arms and looks at him, and crawls over the moonlit ground towards him, Thorin sees Frerin coming to him as surely as he feels the firm ground beneath him.

“Thorin.”

Frerin. His beautiful Frerin. The carmel brown shine in the eyes and devastating confidence in the mouth, the divot in the shoulder muscles that bunch as he moves close, the single minded purpose in the hands that grasp fearlessly at Thorin’s hips and straddle him, pulling him up and setting his pipe aside, a voice in his ear, husky and low,

“Please?”

He sits up at that. His love hovers above him, high and proud as he always was. He can touch him, feel him here, tonight, even though he will never have him. But how wonderful to touch such pure shining strength even if only once more, even just once more.

Oil flows again, and somewhere in the haze of his mind Thorin knows Fili watches his every move from his position behind his brother. Two dwarven digits from two different dwarves tug and touch inside the young body straddling him, the headful of dark hair thrown back and then forward as he clutches at Thorin’s shoulders and shudders into his neck.

“All you,” Thorin whispers, “It’s all you.” he can’t bring himself to call him by name. He isn’t sure who this is. What is the identity of the warm body lowering itself down onto him? Who is surrounding the diamond hard core of him with such yielding, heartbreaking patience? Spirits seem to move around them, swaying together in the magical mists, bereft of titles or bloodlines, freed from the linear constraints of time.

He keeps mostly still, allowing his lover to take all the control, pressing upwards only subtly into the heat of past and present. They hold together so tightly with muscled arms and gripping fingers, voices hoarse with want but riding a nervous edge that fears going too far but pushes through anyway. He feels them pull closer and reaches for them, around his lover’s body to where Fili clings.

Fili. Fili whose arms curl warm and fierce around his brother, protective as a rottweiler in heat. It grounds Thorin and brings him back to here, to now. To Kili’s hands clutched in his hair and his body pressed so close to Thorin he can feel the young dwarf’s pounding heartbeat. So much warmth. He hasn’t felt this much heat next to own skin in such a long time. Fili’s voice strokes soft reassurances into Kili’s ear that are just loud enough for Thorin to discern, and the words he hears echo his own thoughts.

I am here, nadad. Take what you need. Reject what you don’t. We will still be here.

 

Kurdunuh.

Gimelul.

To Fili, all of this is an apology.

To Thorin, this is goodbye.

----------------------------------------------------

Fili’s breath blows puffs of mist into the space beneath the furs that he shares with his brother. The gray light of morning enters just enough to illuminate the pale angles of Kili’s face that still slumbers before him. The air brushing the tops of their heads is cold, but it’s warm further down where their limbs have tangled together. Sometime during the night Kili had hooked his hand around Fili’s hip and it still rests there. Kili breathes evenly, deeply, his face smooth, all the muscles in his body relaxed.

Birdsong echoes from high above them. Fili doesn’t want the moment to end but he can’t help reaching up with his hand to cup Kili’s face. Kili’s eyes blink open. Light contracts his pupils into tiny black circles and makes the irises Fili had always thought of as brown turn into a kaleidoscope of color. It’s like looking down through clear water onto a riverbed of deep browns, golds and flecks of emerald green. He passes his thumb over Kili’s eyebrow and swallows as Kili’s eyes crinkle warmly at their edges. There is no change in Kili’s muscle tension, no flinch when Fili strokes over his mouth. Kili’s forehead stays smooth as his smile turns into a slight smirk.

“You look lost.”

“Found, more like.”

“There’s some green in your eyes.”

“There’s some in yours, too.”

“How are you?” now Kili’s brow does furrow. “ I mean, last night, I was a bit-- how are you feeling?”

Fili’s whole face splits into a grin and he is certain that his head is about to explode from happiness.

“So the two thousand times I actually told you I was fine last night did not convince you?”

“Well it’s hours later now, and I’m checking again.”

“I am still fine. Thanks for checking.”

They discover in the next few moments how difficult it is to kiss someone when you are smiling and even harder when you are laughing. By the time they realize the third member of their hunting party is absent, the birds have stopped their morning song and the mists have lifted.

Thorin’s pack and bedroll are gone. The fire still burns low, so he can’t have left that long ago. They pull on their braies and shirts against the morning chill as they circle the small camp and stare into the forest around them, which seems larger than it had before.

It is Kili who finds it. Fili joins him instantly when he calls to him to come look. A ring of smooth river stones surrounds a rolled up piece of soft leather. They both frown at the same time, reaching to the backs of their heads and finally noticing the loose tendrils of hair that have been brushing against their faces. The explanation is there on top of the mysterious piece of leather.

Their own silver hair clips, taken carefully from their heads as they slept, sit side by side on top of it.

Chapter Text

They run across the land barely feeling the earth beneath their boots. Nothing chases them, nothing runs before them, and they don’t trouble themselves about the wind’s direction. They are not hunting and nothing hunts them. For the first time in their lives neither of them even gives a thought to duty or family or Princely obligations.

They are free. Just for today, Fili and Kili feel the sunlight, and the cool air, and the beating heart of the brother running beside them, laughing at the impossibility of this dream they are both convinced they will wake from at any moment.

A small symbol on the worn leather map Thorin had left them had attracted Fili’s attention. Small, in Durin blue, a solid half circle with vertical wavy lines rising from it.

Hell yes.

They slow to a pleasant walk as they near the unusual rocky outcrop that appears to be the landmark from the map marking their destination. The area surrounding them had once been populated with great oak trees. Smaug had burnt them down to the their tall black cores, but the nature of Arda is nothing if not resilient. Years had gone by since the dragon had taken any interest in further destruction of the Mountain’s environs, and pines had moved in here, spreading their needled branches across the sky, filling the air with their clean earthy scent.

Fili pulls the map out again and admires the fine work of it, the dye work necessary to make the water blue, the rocks steel grey, the roads and trails inky black, and details of the landmarks and precise orientation of the compass rose in one corner.

“Who knew Uncle had such drawing ability?”

Kili smiles and shakes his head. “Frerin drew that map. Not Thorin.”

“How can you be sure of that?”

Kili shrugs, his eyes going distant. “I just am.”

As they walk further, Fili watches Kili’s profile, noting how his brother’s eyes scan the horizon. It keeps washing over his mind over and over again like a reminder that his heart needs before it will believe. He no longer needs to hold himself back. Kili no longer flinches when he touches him. His brother’s well being requires his presence rather than his absence, now.

“You’ve picked your head up.”

“What?” Kili’s expression is bemused. “What do you mean? From where?”

“For months after we liberated Erebor, you walked around with your head down as though there were something terribly interesting on the floor.”

He’s making light of it, he knows. He probably shouldn’t. But the small shy smile that tugs at Kili’s mouth tells Fili his observation wasn’t taken ill. He moves to him and grips his shoulder anyway, looking into clear brown eyes. They’ve been doing this all morning. Talking. Touching. Checking.

“One would think that odd of me, to be hanging my head after having been part of such an achievement.”

“One would think.”

“Something must have been bothering me.”

“Something must.”

Kili shrugs. “I guess it isn’t anymore.”

“Well, that is good.”

The hot spring is just where Frerin drew it to be. It’s deep and clear and reachable by a craggy stairway hewn into the surrounding stone that is overgrown by bright green moss that squishes under their bare feet like a luxuriously thick carpet. The heat of the water as they lower themselves into it sears their dwarven skin in the best way.

Fili draws Kili back against him. Kili fits there perfectly, relaxing into him with a sigh and leaning his head back. He thinks he could die happy this way, his brother’s silky hair against his ear, his pliant body bare and tingling against his own in the warm water that bubbles over their shoulders. His hands play over the muscles of Kili’s stomach and hips, and Kili is humming and leaning into the touch when he abruptly floats upward.

“Here now, where are you going?”

“I’m not doing it, I’m just--it’s the water--” Kili kicks his legs, trying to sink again but then his head goes under and he comes up sputtering.

And then they are laughing. Kili tries to grab at the rock ledge underwater to pull himself back down and failing makes him laugh harder and this only adds to his buoyancy. Fili seems to have no trouble staying put and the discrepancy between them cannot go unanalyzed.

“You always were light as a feather.”

“And you’re dense as a stone, then?”

They laugh through it all until Fili finally grasps Kili and pulls him down to straddle him, his hands holding him there, their chests brushing together, their faces flushed and breathless. Kili’s fingers glide up under the mane of Fili’s tangled and wet hair and their heads both tip to allow their lips to press together in the warm steam.

“So does this mean I’m going to have to keep a firm hand on you so you don’t float away from me again?”

“Looks that way. You up for it?”

Fili felt up to a lot right then.

He lays Kili down on the soft thick moss by the edge of the steaming water and presses his body down onto his brother. Arms pull him close. The warmth of the air and mist makes it difficult to tell where his own skin ends and Kili’s begins. And that feels fine and right. He no longer feels separate from Kili, or driven to possess him or even protect him. He just loves him, and hopes that if pain ever flares in his brother’s eyes again, it won’t be Fili who put it there.

It’s different without Thorin. They need only please each other. They move slowly, without urgency. Their only audience consists of the life chirping and scuttling in the forest around them, and a magnificent stag that wanders past their grotto, munching green shoots and galloping off suddenly as the scent of dwarf reaches his flaring nostrils.

A scent of mineral salts from the spring hangs in the air and mixes with the salty taste of Kili’s skin as he presses his mouth against a smooth jawline, seeking further down his neck and burrowing into thick soft hair behind his ear as Kili arches and hums approvingly. He slips an arm under his brother and slides down to slip his mouth around him and works patiently until Kili shudders and roars a climax at the darkening sky.

They build a fire nearby and pull back into their clothes as the air grows cooler. Fili lies on his back with his head propped slightly by a roll of furs, while Kili sprawls on top of him, head turned to the side and pressed into Fili’s chest. Fili’s mouth and nose are buried in his brother’s dark hair. He hums lazily as he probes gently at the warm nape of Kili’s neck with his fingers. Kili moans softly and closes his eyes.

“Fili?”

“Hmm?”

“When we return to the mountain, will this… I mean, will things stay like this?”

“Do you want them to?”

“Yes.”

“So do I. So I think yes, things will stay like this.” Fili cups Kili’s head in his hands and gently pulls him up so they face each other.

“Do you think the people will accept us?”

“Thorin has. So they will have to as well.”

The firelight sends dancing shadows across Kili’s face. His brother’s eyes regard him steadily, one side of his mouth curling.

“So one day, I will be your consort?”

Fili’s smile threatens to crack his face in two.

“In name, perhaps. As far as I am concerned, we will both be kings.”

Chapter Text

Dis and Limul make their way together from the dwarrowdam chamber to the Main Royal Hall. The halls and rooms of Erebor have regained their splendor, especially here near the King’s chamber. Now almost two years after its reclamation, rug weavers and carpenters, painters and metal workers, candlesmiths and furniture craftsmen have restored color and light and creature comforts to the halls of Erebor to the point that perhaps even a hobbit might approve.

Limul finds relief in the thickness of the rich carpeting beneath her slippers. In her present condition the softness eases the pressure traveling up her spine as her and Ori’s child grows in her belly. She still has some months to go before she is due. The precious weight she carries fills her with constant wonder and joy that even brings tears to her eyes in the rare moments she has to herself. A child of Ori’s gentle spirit, she hopes.

But the rarity of pregnant dwarrowdams amongst her people also results in almost overwhelming attention that can be invasive and tiresome. As they make their way to the King’s chamber crowds of dwarves part way for her and Dis, which she appreciates, but she can feel their stares, hear the awed whispers as though she were some animal being led forward for sacrifice. If feels like that sometimes. As though she were no longer herself, Limul the talented scribe, beloved wife, and loyal friend to the Durins. Now she carries the future of Erebor, one of the precious few so blessed, an oddity, a rare portion of the one third part of the dwarf population that is female who has successfully conceived. She knows that the male dwarves she passes would throw down their lives to protect her should anything threaten her, not only because they are sworn to by tradition but because their drive to do so burns in their blood as fiercely as their intrinsic need to groom their facial hair.

The women, one would think, would behave more sensibly and understand Limul’s needs, but many of them behave worse than the men. Most of them have never born children and crowd her with curious questions and ask to touch her belly to feel the baby when it kicks. The few of them who are mothers crowd her even worse and do not even ask her permission to touch her. Entitled by their own experience, they tut over her if she looks pale, offer utterances of often conflicting advice, push her down into soft armchairs, shove drinks or bowls of food into her hands that combine their generations-old homebrews of fetus building, womb supporting roots, herbs, broths, raw eggs, bizarre vegetables, and body parts of animals Limul has never heard of anyone consuming before.

Limul understands the importance of her position and tries to accept the attention with grace. But her mother Mav is less patient. The conflict this sets up between Mav and the many dams seeking to intrude into her daughter’s personal space becomes the most stressful part of Limul’s pregnancy. Dwarrowdam arguments often exceed dwarrow arguments in their ferocity particularly in the case of any dam coming between a mother and her child. On one occasion, when Limul politely took a sip of a brew offered to her by a well-meaning woman, and immediately turned green and spent several minutes throwing up on the parquet floor of the dwarrowdam hall, Mav nearly ripped all the jewels out of the brewer’s finely braided beard. More than anything Limul hated to be the cause of conflict, so the situation amongst her fellow dwarrowdams became insupportable.

 

Luckily, Dis lays down the law. Paying homage to a young pregnant woman is perfectly acceptable but the King’s sister makes it clear to all the women of Erebor that they are to keep their hands off of Limul unless her clothing is on fire, and allow her diet and medical care to fall to Master Healer Oin and his guild, and not to themselves.

She continues to attend council meetings in her job as a scribe against Ori and Oin’s wishes. Limul insists it will be healthier for her and the baby if she proceeds with normal activities as long as possible, and more to herself she craves being of use and not being an object of procreational worship. Dis comes to her rescue once again, and offers to shepherd Limul to any meetings she as the King’s sister must attend, and takes responsibility for Limul’s well being while in her company.

But nothing is more therapeutic for Limul, nothing makes her child dance against the inner walls of her belly as much as the obvious happiness of the young Durin Princes. She can’t understand how she hadn’t noticed it before.

Ori had finally told her everything.

Her heart had broken for them as she’d listened to her husband’s sensitively told tale of the past year. She had a feeling he’d left some things out, softened the edges for her. There had been questions she had asked that Ori had not really answered. She had not pressed him. She had guessed that Fili and Kili had been hurt, somehow, on the long Journey here. She never would have suspected that the real cause lay in the strong feelings they had for each other, and in their Uncle’s disapproval of them. Of course, Limul knows very well that the rules of Royalty are harsh. Thorin must have discovered them, and then what devastating rebukes and condemnations must have followed! She grows cold inside thinking about it, and frowns at Ori, because she can’t get over the feeling while listening to his tale that it was somehow even worse than she can even imagine. She looks on Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain, with new eyes after that.

Kili and Fili’s affection for each other shines so brightly now for all to see that it shames Limul deeply that she could have missed something so obvious. And all this time, Fili, the primary heir, had been pushed into introductions with suitable dwarrowdams right under Kili’s nose, at every gathering, at every kins-meeting, at her own wedding! And how mortifying for poor Kili to have to plan the union of his best friend to herself when his very own dearest love was being matched off to another during that very same wedding feast!!

Perhaps it is her condition that makes her more susceptible to emotional outbursts than usual. Perhaps she would have wept anyway. But she does weep sitting in Ori’s arms by their cozy fire as she thinks of what their two best friends have been through these past months. Warm tears course down her face and she shudders silently as Ori holds her tightly and speaks soothing words. Do not fret Limul. They love you so dearly, you are like a sister to them. They hold nothing against us. They have won their happiness and that is all that matters.

She remembers Ori’s words now as Dis leads her into yet another meeting in the King’s Hall. This one holds more gravity than usual as it comprises the Royal Council of the Wood Elves, King Thranduil sitting in attendance with his son Legolas and the High Elf captains and advisors. They come to the castle often now, their bearing as serious as ever, but certainly easier than it had been two years ago.

Thranduil wears the Elven made necklace of iridescent white jewels that had come from a similar conference many months before. The negotiation for this item, that had lain for over a century inside the Lonely Mountain’s halls in the hoard of a dark hearted dragon, had been lengthy and tense. The Elven King and the Dwarven King had quarreled over its ownership and rightful place, neither able to fully communicate the real reasons for their intractability. Thranduil could not forget the memory of his queen and the foolishness of dwarves in hoarding gold that would attract the creatures the Wood Elf King most feared. Thorin could not forget how the Elves turned away from his people when they’d needed them most.

The resolution of this argument and its artifact’s final resting place upon the breast of the Wood Elf King is a symbol of new cooperation and solidarity between Elves and Dwarves. It took nudging from the younger generation of both races to bring the agreement to a close. Thorin had finally aceded the necklace in return for a promise of aid should the Erebor ever be threatened again. The trinket itself symbolizes far more than most dwarves or even elves comprehend. Thranduil does not wear it as a challenge or in defiance of Thorin. The people of the Mountain who love their King only need watch Thorin’s countenance to see that the rancor that existed once has gone. The two kings regard each other respectfully now, not with great warmth, but something more than tolerance yet less than deep esteem.

Only a few know how much of the responsibility for this diplomatic feat lies with the dark-haired Durin Prince’s opinion on the matter and on the King’s affection for the owner of that opinion.

Their meeting today concerns the further parsing of the treasure hoard that possesses obvious Elven craftsmanship in return for certain Woodland Realm commodities.

Limul’s appreciation at being included battles with the voice in her mind whispering that, in spite of the high profile of the people in this room, this has to be the most boring meeting she has ever attended.

A group of craft guild dwarves brings forth an item. They address each one separately, discuss its value, its usefulness and even its history. A group of Sylvan elves then bring forth quantities of Elven perishables to offer in return, placing amphores of wine, or bundles of spices, or sheathes of finely woven cloth in a neat pile next to the Elven item in question. Once agreement is reached they move on to the next item. Thranduil and Thorin actually wear spectacles as they follow the proceedings on great scrolls with the help of their respective historians, frowning, arguing, and finally nodding. Thorin finalizes each agreement by tapping an ornately designed stone with a jeweled hammer. Light applause, then on to the next.

The items include weapons, armor and jewelry, but also more clandestine things such as eating utensils, clothing, and even furniture. Limul knows the significance of the two kings’ willingness to meet and barter in this way. Particularly Thranduil, who had always argued that any Elven treasure in Smaug’s hoard should have been returned to him directly and without argument. Limul and Ori have come to the conclusion that the actual business of the exchange means less to the two aging Kings than the opportunity to bring the younger generation together and model respect.

Strained respect, but respect.

Limul would much rather watch the younger generation. Not just Fili and Kili, but Prince Legolas and some of the female Sylvan guards fascinate her. Legolas stands to the side, as tall and striking as his father, and seemingly tireless as this meeting goes on for hours. She knows that his captain, Tauriel, who stands near him still as a statue with her shimmering red hair braided to a precision that would make any dwarf envious, had been one of the elves who had helped defend the vulnerable laketown people during the Battle. Women warriors. Limul’s heart beats a bit faster at the idea. Becoming a warrior will never be her fate, but she wonders if more young dwarrowdams might consider the option after seeing the Wood Elves noble example.

There are 67 treasure items yet to address and the hour of the day is late.

Limul fights to concentrate and keep her eyelids from sliding shut. She must not miss any details. Her quill keeps its steady rhythm of recording each treasure and the specific perishables traded for it. She nearly sobs with relief when she hears the great doors open, and the smell of soup and bread.

The room relaxes around her and the low gruff rumble of hungry dwarves and elves relieved at the chance to break for a meal vibrates across the stone walls. Limul takes a deep breath and smiles at Dis, finally putting her quill down and allowing her eyes to stray where they always do, to Fili and Kili who sit close to Thorin.

Only Kili is not there. And Fili, when she catches his eye, gives her the most enigmatic smile she has ever seen from him. And--

Winks at her.

Before she can puzzle this out, Kili suddenly appears by her side with a tray of food.

“My ladies, it would be my pleasure to serve you.” He places steaming bowls of delicious smelling soup in front of her and Dis, followed by fresh bread and butter.

“Why Kili! This is not necessary, surely?” An army of servants moves about the other meeting attendees placing plates and filling goblets.

“It is today, mother.” He presses a quick kiss to Dis’ cheek and is gone before either of them can react. Dis looks after him with a look of dark suspicion, frowning down at the soup, and then back up at her sons who have regrouped next to Thorin.

Servants supply the other meeting members with food and the party happily sups until the remnants are cleared away, and the mind numbing proceedings begin again.

It’s subtle at first. They barely think anything of it when several of the dwarves and elves sitting around them shift in their seats and bring their hands to their mouths and chests. The recording dwarf who is reading the items from a great list stutters a moment, clearing his throat and shaking his head as though to clear it, before continuing on. Several deep coughs reverberate around the room. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But then instead of settling, the general feeling of malaise in the room seems to increase.

No amount of airborne dust or mold could explain the throat clearing and surreptitious coughing into closed hands that is occurring all around the great hall to dwarves and elves alike, both high and low born. Limul frowns her concern and looks again at Kili and Fili, whose heads are bowed and look serious as ever except for a slight tremor in Fili’s shoulders. Thorin seems perfectly calm but his gaze grows more puzzled as he notices the same strange behaviors throughout the room as she is seeing. Abruptly Thorin’s face ripples with surprise and he draws a hand over his own abdomen.

Thranduil has registered that something unusual is occurring and he draws himself up to his full height, but then he, too, seems to start in surprise and frowns downwards at himself.

Garrosh, a young paige standing close to Balin, is a favorite of Limul’s. His family are poor by dwarf standards but the boy has risen from his lowly condition through intense study and hard work as Ori’s apprentice. At this moment he is rapidly turning a rich scarlet color shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, his fist pressed against his mouth in stubborn resistance against some growing invisible force that seems to be attempting to present itself and mar his serious exterior image. Finally Garrosh loses the battle and an enormous belch explodes from the boy, echoing around the room and interrupting the proceedings.

Poor Garrosh is mortified as many dwarves and elves turn to stare at him. There is nervous laughter at his expense, but it is tempered by the general realization that the boy’s unfortunate condition is about to befall them all.

The younger ones seem affected first but soon the room blossoms with internal gaseous release. Great generous belches erupt from every corner. Dwarves take it with a more cavalier attitude than elves, but all are equally affected, and all look nervously to their respective kings.

Both leaders seem nonplussed. Thorin’s brow sits low over his eyes and his arms and torso hunch stoically in disapproval, his great fist clenched around the handle of the bejeweled stone hammer. Thranduil looks down his long elegant nose at the gastronomical distress befalling the gathering, the only clue to his thoughts coming in the form of a slightly raised eyebrow, and the tiniest lift of one side of his mouth.

Limul watches wide eyed as her husband Ori, seated at Balin’s elbow, emits such a long, loud belch that she can scarcely believe his small body could be large enough to produce it. He looks at her sheepishly, completely ignoring Balin who glares at him with open disdain. Dwalin grins devilishly however and takes advantage of his brother’s inattention to give Balin a mighty pat on the back, which to Balin’s horror causes an even larger belch to come from his own lips.

Dwalin’s great guffaws of laughter infect the entire room. Limul glances to Dis at her side, who has a hand clamped over her mouth and is regarding her brother and sons with intense interest, her shoulders shaking slightly, as the room becomes more and more disordered.

Finally, Fili stands up and moves to the center of the room. Kili follows, moving a bit more slowly, a hand over his mouth. Legolas comes forward too, leading a reluctant looking Tauriel by the hand. Both kings, Thorin and Thranduil, stare at their young heirs with a mixture of intense scrutiny and curious amusement. The room goes quiet.

Fili and Kili face Thorin with looks of mock gravity. The first heir whispers in conspiratorial fashion to his brother, a hand at his back. Kili shakes his head just slightly. And then, seeming to have come to an agreement, Limul watches as Fili’s hand does a countdown,

Three...two...one…

The two princes belch as one, long and operatic, eyes closed, chins raised, hands outstretched to their Uncle.

The room roars in applause, all the dwarves and many elves coming to their feet.

Legolas, not to be outdone, tugs at his kinswoman Tauriel who has reddened noticeably and is shaking her head. It is Kili who steps in and appears to convince her, touching his forehead to hers and speaking low. The room is anticipating, murmuring encouragement, speculating whether an Elf belch could possibly come close to a good Dwarven trumpeting.

Tauriel finally seems to acquiesce, and she and Legolas turn to their sovereign and allow their burps to pierce the air, their graceful arms raised, the timber of their voices slightly less rich but possibly more musical than Kili and Fili’s had been.

More roared response, from the Elven contingent this time.

The four young conspirators are smiling and clapping each other on the back, Kili lifting Tauriel into the air by her hips, Legolas embracing Fili as a true shield brother would.

Until the two Kings finally come to their feet, and at the scraping of their great chairs, the room falls silent.

Their heads tipped down, they eye each other from beneath dark brows. At length Thorin straightens and entreats Thranduil with a hand upraised.

After you.

Thranduil mirrors the motion, Oh no, after you.

Please, I insist.

Not at all, you go first.

You are our guest.

It is your Mountain.

Silence.

Together then?

The sound that fills the hall and echoes off the ancient stone is perhaps the oddest expression of solidarity ever expressed by two Ardan races. But solidarity it is, most clearly, as the two Kings finish their great belches at exactly the same moment, and their people erupt into appreciative cheers that far out-do even the most recent festival celebrations.

Limul finds herself laughing. She must. It is such a relief. The affair had been so tedious and the gathering so serious, the tensions between dwarves and elves still so high that perhaps none of them had realized it. Ori has come to her to make sure she is well and she nods at him as they laugh together with Dis, and watch as Fili and Kili approach Thorin.

They can see Fili speaking, eyes a bit wide, as their Uncle hears them with a serious mouth but sparkling eyes. They watch as Thorin shakes his head and his composure finally breaks, and he crushes his nephews into his arms with a great kingly smile as they melt into him.

Kili’s arm is tightly wrapped around his Uncle’ torso, and his face is just visible to Limul over Thorin’s shoulder.

She notices that his forehead is unfurrowed, and his eyes are most peacefully closed.

end