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Of Trust And Betrayal

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“Alfrid.”

He sighed, having realized he’d been caught, and by Bard no less. What was it with the honor-bound bargeman that made him constantly get under his skin? Couldn’t the man just let him go without having to remind his conscience that he wasn’t exactly the most honorable of men? That he should also be fighting alongside the men and women of Dale? Well, sorry, but in Alfrid’s books, he wasn’t foolish enough to risk his life for them, and he certainly wasn’t going back there, no matter what stunts Bard tried to pull on him, no way.

As if to prove his point, he took a step back from the taller man, and tried to muster a would-be impressive scowl, hoping it might just be enough for Bard to leave him alone so he could escape (preferably somewhere far away). He already knew he wouldn’t be in any position to fight him, and besides, the only weapons he had on his body were a bag full of bottles of liquor –the only things he’d managed to save from his Master’s downfall, and a sharp dagger (and Bard would probably be able to wield it better than himself, if he were honest). It wasn’t much, but for Alfrid, it was enough, it would guarantee him a few days walk at least.

“Try not to do anything foolish.”

His head perked up, eyebrows shooting upwards, not having expected this in the slightest. He’d been waiting for Bard to lecture him on morality and the importance of being a man of honor and keeping to his word, but… was he actually letting him go? Even after everything he’d put him through over the past years? It wasn’t that Alfrid felt any regret for being an especially big thorn in Bard’s side, but he’d have expected Girion’s descendant to at least take some kind of revenge, do something to make him pay for making his life Hell for the past several years, but… Nothing?

Alfrid grated his teeth, steeling himself against his conscience trying to explain to him why. Of course, he already knew, he knew that Bard wasn’t one to hold on to grudges, he knew the other man understood that such things were best left behind when one was at war, and it made Alfrid hate him all the more. How was it that Bard somehow always managed to rub it in his face what an honorable person he was, even without seeking to do so? Why was he always reminding him that what Alfrid was doing was wrong? Curse him! Curse him and his ancestor!

Shaking his head furiously, and convincing himself once more that this was the right thing to do, that this was the only chance he was ever going to get to make it out of this alive, Alfrid turned away, leaving the clash of swords and the screams of the dying behind him, where they could not touch him. As long as he steered clear, he would survive, and that was all that mattered to him right now, surviving. Winter was upon them, and with the little he’d managed to store away in his black coat, he wouldn’t last long if he did not find someplace to settle down in, if only for a while. Thinking about it a little more, if it meant living to see the next spring, Alfrid thought he might just be willing to offer his services to someone if they would ensure his survival, after all, he knew how to satisfy and obey quite well, given all the years the previous Master had kept him under his wing, so surely, his services could also be used elsewhere. Besides, if he had to relinquish a small amount of comfort for the sake of keeping himself alive, it wasn’t much to pay.

Nodding to himself as he conjured up all of the unsavory images, cringing at the mere idea of having to yet again be ordered around and accept it without saying much, Alfrid pushed his way though, not stopping to confirm whether the unfortunate civilian he’d just shoved out of his way was an elderly man or a young child. What did it matter? If the poor soul stayed here for much longer, it would end up dead, and if not by being killed by the orcs that were gradually surrounding them, then starvation was definitely going to eat at their bones sooner or later, for there was not much to live off around Dale, the days of it’s prosperity having ended some time ago. If he could, Alfrid would rather be long gone than have to face that.

As the freezing wind bit his face, he suddenly found himself glad to still be wearing the heavy black coat the Master had offered him. Sure, it had seen better days, and it was probably not the warmest, but he would rather still find himself in that than have to go around in his undershirt, which would, on top of making him sick, would make him easily pass for some random peasant, and Alfrid was certainly not seizing this new chance at life to end up a poor man having to rely on body strength to labor for the rest of his days. He was smart, cunning even, he could often try and use his skillful tongue to escape a sticky situation, and he would rather spend the rest of his life making the most of it rather than coming home bruised and exhausted after hours on end spent harvesting somebody else’s crops.


No, from now on, he would either be his own Master, or work for someone who would pay him handsomely, because, after all, one never got enough of money, really, and he could actually do with some of that right now. It was torture, in a way, knowing he was leaving the dwarven Mountain behind him, with all of it’s gold and jewels, (and had it not been for Thorin-bloody-Oakenshield, he probably could have been happily claiming some of those shiny artifacts right now), but he would have to be a fool to try and venture in there, for daring to approach the Mountain meant he would have to be willing to fray a passage for himself in the battlefield, where a swing of an axe or the stab of a sword could bring an end to his life much to prematurely. No, as much as he would have liked to find a way into Oakenshield’s Mountain, maybe even claim some of the treasures there for himself if nobody was watching, he still valued his own life above such trinkets, and was not willing to risk it for a couple of keepsakes, even if they would have made him the richest man of Dale.

Curse the stubbornness of dwarves! This was all their fault, none of this would have happened in the first place had Oakenshield kept to his word, Alfred seethed. He would have been the new Master, have kept Bard groveling at his feet while he would have been swimming in the piles of gold the dwarf lord had promised them, but Thorin’s stubbornness had brought war, and was now the reason why he was fleeing for his life, with nothing more than a bagful of strong bottles of liquor and maybe a sharp blade or two to ensure his survival. Ha! He could almost laugh at how miserable he must look, fleeing with not even what would be required to survive a few days. His only hope now would be to find a soul he could talk into letting him seek refuge in their place, where, if all went well, he just might be able to bribe them with his skillful tongue, at least that was one asset that hadn’t been taken away from him, and if it was the only thing he could rely on to get out of this mess, Alfrid knew already he wouldn’t hesitate twice to use it, no matter what might happen, once he made it our alive in the end of the day. Yes, Oakenshield may have taken everything from him from the moment he declared war, but he had not taken his tongue, one thing Alfrid knew he would very much like to keep in the near future.


As the initial pump of adrenaline soon fled him, Thorin found his arms aching under every blow he parried, the weapon becoming a little heavier as the minutes flew by, he knew there was only so much he could take of this, and his limits were soon going to be reached if he didn’t come up with a plan, and quickly.
After he’d lead the rest of his company out from their stronghold in the Mountain, joining the battle to fight side by side with the men, elves, and the dwarves from the Iron Hills, he’d gotten separated from the others, or at least he thought he did, for it was difficult to make out friend from foe in the turmoil that the battlefield had become, but he certainly wasn’t about to retreat back to the safety that Erebor had procured to him, not before this was over and he’d apologized to Bard (and maybe the Elven king, though that would probably depend on Thranduil’s civility towards him) for not honoring his word, for he had nobody else to blame but himself for turning the bowman’s reasonable request aside. He’d give Bard the gold he was due, and he’d probably find himself in a position in which he’d have to return Lord Thranduil’s gems to him, too, and besides, if it would get the witty elflord out of his life for good, it was a little price to pay, but first, they needed to all live to see the end of the day.

“Thorin!”

His name rung out, and were it not for the thick accent, Thorin would probably not have heard it, but as it was, the familiarity of the voice instantly allowed him to conjure up a face, and, lowering his sword for a moment, trying to make out where it had come from, Dain managed to break his way through. It was good to see his cousin again, red hair as flamboyant as ever and face unscathed for the most part, and before Thorin could even greet the other dwarf lord properly (well, as well as could be expected while a raging battle continued on around them), he found his smaller frame engulfed by the other, much larger one, when Dain brought a strong arm around his back, bringing him closer.

Aye, it was good to see his family again, even if it was only one cousin.

“There’s too many of these buggers, Thorin!” The poor warrior was exhausted, and if his slumped shoulders weren’t an indication, the labored breathing were a definite indicator to Thorin that something needed to be done, and soon, or they were going to find themselves overrun before the sun set that evening for sure, but what could he possibly do to change the tide of the battle here, surrounded by so many dirty armor? He wasn’t even sure how he was making out friend from foe anymore... Something had to be done, or they were going to meet their end much quicker than he’d like to. He already had a cut on his shoulder, from not paying enough attention to the threats in his back, and while it wasn’t crippling, he could feel it throb from time to time, and would indeed like have it seen to by Oin sooner rather than later, knowing for a fact that leaving something so trivial unattended to could quickly spiral down into a much bigger problem for him.

And he had more than enough to be dealing with at the moment.

“I hope you’ve got a plan!”

Thorin turned back to Dain, his cousin looking at him expectantly, as if he would just magically come up with an idea to lead them to victory with a snap of his fingers. But Thorin was no wizard (and, truth be told, he doubted that even Gandalf might be able to come up with a better idea right now), he had not really planned anything with his company before charging out of Erebor, the sole thought of aiding his kin being what had mainly preoccupied him, but now, he was able to see the reasoning behind the flamed-haired warrior’s words. If nothing was done, they were eventually going to be decimated, whether the dwarves from Iron Hills were accomplished warriors and the men of Lake-Town fought with everything they had made no difference, they were going to be overrun and either collapse from exhaustion or simply be killed off one after another, unless something was done.

He looked up, hoping some sign might appear out of thin air and help him, help him make the right decision, but nothing came, not a trail of smoke, not a spark, nothing, until his gaze fell upon a moving form atop Ravenhill. He hadn’t noticed it earlier, the device seemed so small, but now, as it moved, something akin to fabric wings waving up and down and the orcs around them seemingly instantly trying to push them back towards Dale with more vigor, it took a moment, but eventually, it clicked.

They were being lead from up there.

Their leader was up there.

Azog was up there.

And suddenly, it didn’t seem so hopeless anymore. Without any indications, the orc army would be at a loss of what to do, and if they managed to disorientate them, maybe it would be easier to bring them down. But to do so, he’d have to make it up there, he’d have to survive another encounter with Azog for it to work. He’d only narrowly escaped last time (and that had been mainly thanks’ to Bilbo’s timely intervention and Gandalf’s healing abilities), but if seeking out the Defiler was what might guarantee them victory, he’d have to be a fool to toss the opportunity away, the shivers of fear running down his spine at the thought of possibly facing the Pale Orc once more would have to be ignored.

“Aye, I think I do,” Looking around, he tried to make out Dwalin, knowing that were he to attempt this, he would rather have the accomplished warrior by his side. Sure enough, the younger son of Fundin was there, in the distance, fighting back-to-back with his brother, Balin, and to Thorin’s relief, neither seemed to have sported grave injuries yet. “Dwalin!”

The bald warrior instantly turned around, fighting his way over like the expert swords-master he was, acknowledging Dain with a nod as he got there. Up close, Thorin could see the nasty bruises forming on his best friend’s arms and the neat gash on his face still bleeding and mentally winced at what he was putting his company through, but the sooner he saw his plan through, the sooner they would all be able to see to their injuries and finally be able to rest.

“Dwalin, I need you to find Kili and Fili, bring them back here, now!”

With a nod and no questioning (truly, Dwalin was probably one of the most loyal dwarves Thorin had ever had the privilege of meeting in his life, and right now, it was a blessing), the younger fighter’s eyes followed the taller son of Fundin, as he once again threw himself into the frenzy around them, disappearing for what Thorin hoped would not be long.

Dain tried to get closer to him again, the few moments the new King under the Mountain had used to order his friend to search the battlefield for his family having been enough for a new wave of orcs to come between them. But still, he was of Durin’s line, and Durin’s line would not go down without a fight.

“Cousin!” Again, Thorin didn’t seem to have heard him, the clash of his own sword probably ringing in his ears painfully right now. “Thorin!”

He pushed off one of the offending orc that had dared latch itself onto his shoulder, severing it’s gruesome head with the sword in his other hand, pushing his way over to the raven-haired son of Thrain, half dreading to try and make out what he’d told his bald companion, for the spark that had lit in Thorin’s eye, while it should have given him hope, Dain almost feared that it would be associated with something reckless, and Mahal had he heard of the reckless deeds his cousin had sometimes had to do in order to get here (really, what dwarf would be foolish enough to seek refuge with a potentially life-threatening skin changer?). If he could prevent his future King of doing something he was likely to regret, now was the only chance he was going to have to speak his mind.

“What do you think you’re about to do?” He hollered, warning tone barely audible as he had to scream his question in order to be heard, the sound of steel against steel ringing in the background.

“Dain! I need a couple of those war beasts you brought with you!” Because Thorin was certainly not going to attempt to climb that mountain by himself. He’d caught a glimpse of the fine war rams Dain had brought along with his army from the Iron Hills, and on top of being notorious for their steady feet in high grounds, it would probably be a lot quicker for him if they borrowed a few of Dain’s steeds than attempt to climb all the way up the side of Ravenhilll with nothing more than their bare hands.

“My war ra-What?!” It wasn’t that Dain was unwilling to help his cousin, but what in Mahal’s name was he thinking?! He couldn’t just go trampling about on one of his beasts because he felt the sudden urge to do so, why would he be needing them anyway? “Why would you need-?”

“Now Dain! The sooner the better, trust me!” If he was to be the new King under the Mountain, he had to gain the trust of those who would be loyal to him, he couldn’t have Dain doubt his decision, not now. It was the only thing the younger dwarf had managed to come up with, and while some would probably call him crazy for attempting to do this, Thorin knew he would rather try and fail and have the knowledge that he’d at least done something rather than stay here and fight until he collapsed.

His regal tone seemed to have done the trick, as, immediately, Dain set about to find him what he’d asked for, calling out to some of his mounted soldiers to hand over their beasts to him, and, soon enough, Thorin found himself with four sturdy rams, and without listening to Dain’s attempts to keep him here with cries of you’re needed here! Or what will the dwarves think when they’ll notice that their King is gone? He anxiously tried keeping his own beast close to the three others, until Dwalin finally reemerged, Kili and Fili in tow. It was good to see his nephews mostly unharmed, safe for the scratch on Kili’s eyebrow and the bruise on Fili’s face, but those were only minor injuries, which Oin could surely see to once this was over.

I’m going to destroy that piece of filth!

It was high time Azog paid for what he had done to his family, as first he’d beheaded his own grandfather and then had quite probably been one of the reasons behind his father’s disappearance, and for the threat he still posed. As long as he lived, the Defiler would stop at nothing to get to firstly him and then to his cousin, sisters and two nephews, for Thorin knew Azog would stop at nothing to accomplish his goal to wipe out his entire family. If he killed him now, while he still had the chance, it would certainly be a warm lite shining on the house of Durin once again, after living in fear for so long. Besides, it was the least he could do to avenge his grandfather, Thror deserved to know that his murdered had finally met his end, even if his body was no longer alive and able to acknowledge it.

Not thinking twice now to evaluate the potential danger his plan might have, Thorin dug his heels into the animal’s sides, urging it to go as fast as it’s short legs could carry it, Dwalin, Kili and Fili close on his heels.

His heart thundered in his chest, each stride bringing him closer to the one person he needed to wipe out to ensure their victory, each stride had his hands clench more and more tightly around the reigns, and soon cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck at the knowledge that this time, there would be only one warrior to make it out alive, and it had to be him, no matte r how many gashed he earned, no matter how many bones he broke, he was the one who had to win, not for personal glory, but for the hopes of offering a new home to the dwarves of Erebor who’d suffered a long enough exile might get the chance of finally having their own home in a world that had constantly pushed them away, so that his family might finally at long last be able to settle down and live out their days as true heirs of Durin ought to.


Much to his displeasure, Bolg had seen himself forced to lead the second part of his father’s army, the one supposed to come in a corner the dwarves, men and elves via a route from the North. He didn’t like his position in the slightest, he didn’t like having to heed to Azog’s command, but he would do what was bid of him, as a son and future heir ought to do for their leader and father. If he was to prove his loyalty and capacity to lead to Azog for him to trust in his abilities, Bolg thought he might as well use this as an opportunity.

Striding through the slowly crumbling remains of one of the small villages just outside Dale, he watched with glee as the houses burnt, the screams of the dead and dying echoing in his ears. If his father could see him now, he would be proud. Not hesitating to order his soldiers around, he urged them to destroy as much as they could, knowing the less they left behind them, the more the men would struggle to survive, even if it was just losing something to protect them from the impeding cold, something they would learn to value in the coming days if they were to end up being besieged in their own town. Besides, the less they had, the more he and his army could guarantee themselves victory.

Beheading another human unfortunate enough to meet his path, he’d been about to make for the Ravenhill, where he knew his father to be waiting for him, when the sight of his warriors having surrounded a lone human caught his eye. Interested in how the unfortunate man would put up its last stand, he made to move closer, getting a chance to seize him up as he approached.
It was an average man, one like any other, black hair, bushy eyebrows like so many of those parasites seemed to have, darker facial hair, and the body one would expect when invading a town relying on merchants and traders, that was to say, he it didn’t look like it was very well trained in the art of combat, and if the fearful expression it’s eyes so clearly displayed was anything to go by, Bolg was pretty certain this human did not want to die. But that was the fun part, wasn’t it? Instilling terror into their weak bodies, pushing them and pushing them some more until all they begged for was for their life to be spared, for drawing another breath would mean prolonging their torture. Men were weak, after all.

He watched, as the man was backed into the wall of what was now an unfortunate civilian’s destroyed home, he watched as he was forced to his knees, he watched as he didn’t dare look any of the orcs surrounding him in the eye. Aye, this one wasn’t much of a man, for sure, and he turned away, a disinterested snort being the only response he could muster regarding the man’s impendent doom.

“W-Wait! P-Please don’t, I-I’l do anything you want!” The deep voice rung out, something almost familiar with it, and Bolg froze mid-step.

He didn’t know what it was, couldn’t pinpoint why exactly he ordered the orc about to slice the human’s head off to still his hand, but he did, the command barked crudely as he observed the man on his knees, taking in the dark hair, the beard and the pure expression of fear plastered across it’s face. He liked that expression.

“You, human.” He was pleased to see his now prisoner look up at him, like a slave would look up to its master, as he were finally a superior worthy of respect (maybe he could keep this human and train it as his own little pet?) “What’s your name?” If he was to spare him, he may as well remember the name of the only human vermin he was ever going to keep alive.

“A-Alfrid, sire.” Oh? And a sire to go with it? Bolg was definitely liking this one, maybe he could convince his father to keep it, for he would very much like to break someone into being his very own pet.

“Tell me, Alfrid, how far would you be willing to go to ensure your own life?” He asked smoothly, noticing how his men had tightened their grip around the shaking creature’s arms to prevent him from escaping.

“A-Anything, sire.” The deep voice shook again, a little hesitant but still taking the bait he was offering, recognizing this as a chance to keep his life. Maybe this human wasn’t so stupid as Bolg had thought their race after all, maybe this one could prove to be of some use to him.

Bolg looked back to the cliff side on the top of which he knew his father to be waiting for him, spotting the four figures detaching themselves from the main fight. The one leading was no doubt Oakenshield he would be willing to bet his remaining eye on it.

He looked back towards Alfrid, as he heard the sloshing of the bottles in his coat as one the orcs jerked his arms back a little harsher than would be needed, and did the same motion a few times, alterning between the cowering prisoner at his feet and the small party of dwarves his father would no doubt like to exterminate once and for all. Maybe Alfrid could be of some use to him, and besides, he could always kill him the moment he felt like it anyway.

He jerked his head to the side, ordering his men to move forwards, his own powerful hand grabbing the dark furs of his prisoner, “I’m very glad to hear that, my friend.” And he gave him a slight tug, the bottles inside the dark-haired man’s coat sloshing once again, making Alfrid hope that somehow, his idea of deeming them important to save them would somehow save his life.

Chapter Text

If he’d thought that Dale had been bitter cold when Bard had lead them there, Alfrid found himself re-evaluating his earlier statement when he, the half-blind orc and the rest of the party it had been leading finally reached the top of the mountain. Where down there, he’d had a minimum of shelter from the elements, up here, his smaller and more vulnerable shape was plagued with shivers not even a minute after he’d been made to dismount the beast that had brought them up here, and with nothing else to do, his limbs had started shaking, doing what they could too keep the circulation inside going, knowing they had to fuel some kind of inner heat for him not to die.

Not that Alfrid was planning on dying anytime soon, if he could help it.

Anxious, he looked around, again the hope that he just might be able to run away resurfacing, but a quick glance at his barren surroundings was enough to crush his hopes, the only thing that really stood out being the half dilapidated watchtower Bolg seemed to be heading to. If that was where he was going to spend the next weeks, Alfrid was suddenly glad he’d managed to fish out the warm coat he was wearing, knowing that while it might not look the most fetching on him, it would at least protect him from the cold. Head down, knowing he couldn’t afford to get on any of the orcs’ bad sides now, or he knew the chances of his life coming to a sudden and brutal end would at least double, he let himself be lead by one of the tall creatures into the crumbling shelter, half-glad to be in it when he realized the wind wasn’t biting at his face as much anymore. Maybe orcs could have some odd sense of compassion, he thought, maybe agreeing to work for them wouldn’t be so bad, would it? It certainly couldn’t be any worse than becoming one of Bard’s underlings anyway, nothing could be more humiliating than that!

“Come on, human, my Father doesn’t like being kept waiting.”

Father? Alfrid thought, was Bolg actually still a child then? Had he a parent even more terrifying than him? And as countless orc faces morphed in his mind’s eye as he was lead into the watchtower, barely registering the twisted maze of narrow corridors it’s inside was made of, Alfrid wished he could turn back on his heels and just run, as each second would make the face even more terrifying. But any escape plans were for naught, as the enclosed space he was now trying to weave through while holding his breath (for the remains of the tower definitely reeked of the putrid smell of what he could only guess was years of decay) for as long as he dared to be safe. He didn’t dare look up or face any of the orcs he could hear growl around him, already knowing what their leering expressions would look like, and he had no doubts they were all wishing he could be something along the lines of their dinner tonight. The thought made him clench his eyes shut, hoping, praying to whatever God might have mercy on him that Bolg would keep his word and would let him live. Alfrid was too young to see his life come to such an abrupt end, especially when he’d just only managed to escape the likes of Bard.

Although, after a while of picking out the shades of grey on the ground, Alfrid couldn’t help but dare to look up, just to see what the walls and space around him looked like, get familiar with what would probably be his shelter for the next while, if Bolg spared his life for that long. Although when he did, he almost wished he hadn’t, for the pack of orcs that were now much too close to him for comfort, and some even daring to approach him with a leering grin on their faces that could only suggest they were hoping he would be their next meal, made him wish he could somehow sink into the floor right there and then, and it was only as Bolg stepped in front of him, snarling something in his own tongue to those who dares get to close to his “property”, that saved Alfrid from being reduced to an orc feast barely an hour after having just managed to bargain for his life.

He inched closer to the half-blind orc, quick to catch on that as long as he remained by his side, or at least close to him, he would run less chances of being the next unsuspecting victim of the blood-thirsty creatures around him, and while he could not make out what he was saying, Bolg having switched to his own language to communicate with his men, Alfrid could only hope it was a warning for them not to approach him with the intention of eating him. Hadn’t Bolg said he would need him?

He tried to read what was being said, observing the distorted lips move and make their mouthes twist into bizarre forms, but despite his quick eye, Alfrid couldn’t for the life of him even attempt to make out what their conversation had been about, and so when Bolg turned back to him and, with a gruff gesture, ordered him to follow him again, Alfrid consented, knowing he would rather be alone with the maimed orc than in the company of his underlings.

Again, Bolg made him follow him through a nightmare of tunnels, and Alfrid thanked his stars he was no claustrophobe, knowing that if he had, he would have long since had a panic attack. Though while the tightness of the space they were moving in might not have bothered him as much as it might have another, the ominous darkness and the shadows cast onto the walls by the dim light of the torches didn’t make it any more pleasant for him, each step he took making his black double follow him on the wall, like a nightmare now stitched to him, bound to his body and soul until the orc decided he would release him. Alfrid just hoped he wouldn’t have come to wish for death before that happened.

Turning around one of the countless corners again, Alfrid noticed the pale blue light at the end of the tunnel, and while he might not have been in the mountainside for long, the fact that they were at last headed for some natural light eased his nerves a little. Being in the dark didn’t bother him, after all, Lake Town wasn’t the brightest of cities to live in, but he’d never had to navigate his way through such tight spaces in so low a light, and now, seeing a hint of the sun peering at him from the end of what looked to be an endless straight line, he just wanted to be out there already, though he would not dare run, for who knew what Bolg would do to him. The orc had seemed content in sparing his life, but Alfrid knew better than to expect him to have done it for any human. The fact that he was alive was only holding on to a very tight string, and one wrong move on his part would result in him being run through, pleadings and offers of his services would be damned this time around.

The light hitting his eyes, as both he and Bolg finally stepped outside, made him squeeze his eyes closed and bring a hand to shield them from the offending sun, the white snow below him only intensifying the pain in his eyes as he tried to open them again. Bolg, however, seemed not to mind, as, not inquiring about his obvious discomfort, he just tugged on his sleeve again, muttering something in his own language, as they climbed the few steps leading them to a higher area of the orc fortress.

There wasn’t much up there though, Alfrid noticed, only a few more creatures and some winged device he’d never seen before. And while it seemed odd to him (and ugly, he added to himself), he would not dare voice out his opinion, knowing when to keep his mouth shut. Instead, he followed the taller creature, climbing the steps behind him, careful not to trip on his coat (a most inconvenient thing to walk up stairs, he must admit), and stopped as he reached the top, not daring to approach Bolg or the huge orc he’d started talking to.

If he’d thought that Bolg had been one scary creature, this new fellow was ten time worse, Alfrid admitted, as he gulped audibly when he got a full sight of his new Master’s companion. Even larger than the other, this new orc was white, from head to toe, and as he caught his profile, the scars marring his face only made Alfrid shudder, not even daring to imagine what must have inflicted them. And the blade protruding from his arm was definitely the trigger of the sudden shivers that ran down his back, he most certainly did not want to be experiencing what level of pain it could inflict in the foreseeable future if possible, thank you very much.

Azog had been keeping watch for any sign of movement suggesting their hideout might have been compromised and had been directing his orders safely away from the battle since it’s beginning. After all, why risk his skin when he could send thousands of the orcs he had at his command to do the job for him?

Everything had been going according to plan, and he’d only been waiting for his son’s return for him to inform him that he’d managed to corner the humans in their small village and it would then only be a question of time before they slaughtered them all.

It was the sound of hurried shuffling behind him that drew his gaze away from the empty mountainside and had him turning to his new arrivals, instantly recognizing his offspring as the other, taller orc, finally walked into the center of the room.

“I take it you successfully cornered the little parasites then?” He inquired, his primary concern being whether their plan had succeeded or not, he knew Bolg could care for himself, he had no need to inquire after his son’s possible injuries, and if he indeed had sported any, well it was his own fault, Azog had not trained his son to be a weakling even humans or dwarf-scum could overcome.

“Aye, we slaughtered any in our path.” Was the growled response, electing a small grin of satisfaction form his chapped lips. Good, Bolg was proving himself to actually be able to make up for his failed attack in Mirkwood after all, it would seem.

Turning to face his son however, the half-blind orc was not what caught his attention, but rather, the small, black, creature hovering next to him. Squinting his eyes a little, examining it carefully, Azog dismissed it being an elf or a dwarf, as it was neither short enough nor had the fair features of the first race. A human then? Why would his son spare a human?

“I see you’ve found yourself a pet?” He smirked, not missing the flinch it sent coursing through the Man-scum’s body. Good, he ought to know he should be feared.

The two continued to talk, until the pale orc turned to him, studying him for a moment, saying something to Bolg before striding over to him, and Alfrid almost flinched as he looked up at what had become an enormous looming shadow over him.

“Aye, said he could give us some of the human-scum’s hideouts.”

“Is it true, you would be willing to assist us?” Azog drawled, circling around the human, and any confidence Alfrid had had when leaving Bard to his Fate evaporated, something in his interrogator draining him of any fighting spirit he might have had.

“Y-Yes.” He cringed at his voice’s obvious waver, sighing in relief though when the orc took no notice of it, instead keeping to his observation, as if he were sizing him up, seeing what he had to offer.

“You would be willing to turn against your own? Betray your race and it’s allies?” He pressed on, leaning forward, drinking in the obvious fear Alfrid was trying to conceal.

The poor man couldn’t find his words anymore, and so contented himself in simply nodding fervently, trying to show some kind of self-confidence. Afet all, Azog wasn’t going to get anything out of a weak ally, so why would he keep him alive if he displayed such a trait.

“I must say,” Azog addressed his son, as he drew himself to his full height again, “This one seems to be quite a good find.”

“Aye, I-“

But before Bolg could continue, one of the orcs Azog had posted outside came rushing back in, interrupting their conversation and drawing all eyes in the small enclosed space to it.

“He’s here,” It snarled, as it tried getting closer to the torch in order to get some of it’s heat, “The dwarf-scum’s finally come out of his hole.”

Azog didn’t wait for any other confirmation, pushing his informant aside and striding out, wanting to see it for himself. It took him a few moments because of the slowly thickening fog, but indeed he saw them, the four mountain rams, as they ascended higher and higher, until they reached the platform just below them. And while he had stationed a few of his numbers there, the dwarves were quick to be rid of them, making Azog grate his teeth at their incompetence.

The last one, however, caught his eye, and it only took him a second to link the dark hair to Oakenshield. So, the would-be dwarf lord had finally come out of hiding, had he? Well, he’d be sure to greet him then.

“You,” He said, turning back to Bolg, I want you and the others to cover this floor, be ready for them.” And without arguments, he was left with for only company an orc or two and the shaking human. Azog’s eye twinkled, knowing he was finally going to be able to finish what he’d started, as he watched Oakenshield send two of the dwarves he’d brought along with him towards the tower. Well, he’d be sure to meet them accordingly.

“As for you,” He said, turning to Alfrid, “Maybe I could find some use in you.” After all, Oakensheild was a dwarf of honor, was he not? Wouldn’t he come to the human’s rescue were he to threaten him?


As he decapitated the last goblin in sight, Thorin drew his war-ram to a halt, Dwalin, Kili and Fili doing the same behind him. Sharply, he looked around, half-expecting more of those vicious creatures to come at them from behind one of the many rocks around them, but after sending several furtive glances to his left and to his right, and still nothing appeared, Thorin deemed it safe enough to dismount, still keeping his beast’s reins in his hands however so it would not seize an opportunity to run away.

Something was wrong, he could feel it. If the Defiler was, indeed, still up here, he would have come for them by now, he would not have left them the chance to dismount safely. Carefully, he took a few steps forward, until he reached the limit of the platform they’d reached, a huge gap separating him from the ruined tower across him. Squinting his eyes, he tried to catch any sign of movement up there, any form of a manifestation of a sign of life, but he was met with nothing, only the eerie quietness of the place, the occasional gust of wind swiping through.

An odd feeling of dread settled in his stomach, and he dared take another step forward, this time reaching the limit of the peer supporting him, and leaned forward as far as he dared, flinging away the occasional flakes of snow that would hinder his sight and trying to make out any sounds beside that of his own breathing, almost hoping something would show up, knowing that anything was better than this odd, uneasy silence that seemed to reign over the place.

But there was nothing to be seen. Other than the remains of what had once been some kind of small fortress in front of him, there was no indication that this place had even been remotely touched by any sign of life at all. And he didn’t like it. Thorin wasn’t sure why, but he was almost wishing for a sudden orc to come at them, maybe even a whole bunch of them, anything was better than this… nothingness. Surely his eyes hadn’t mistaken him, had they? Why he barely had to look up slightly to see the distinct red flag posts he’d spotted earlier, they were still there! The orcs couldn’t have left that quickly could they?

It seemed, however, that they had, for after several more minutes of anxious waiting and still nothing over there had moved in the slightest, Thorin could only draw the conclusion that the Defiler must have left. There was no way Azog would be watching him right now and do nothing, if he were here, the Pale Orc would have come for him already.

“Where is he? This place looks absolutely empty.” Kili too, seemed to find the absence of their target unnerving, as he inched a little closer to Dwalin, both of them carefully scrutinizing the tower in the hopes of spotting something Thorin might have missed, but as still nothing showed itself, Thorin could feel his younger sister-son grow tense as both the want for something to actually come at them and the fear that they were maybe being observed battled each other for dominance. He would have reassured him had he known what to say, but seen as how he felt the exact same uneasiness as his younger sister-son, Thorin didn’t know what he could possibly say to calm Kili down. He certainly wasn’t about to lie to him and tell him everything would be all right, Kili was an adult, he was long past being coddled to such extent, even though Thorin knew he often remained a little more lenient with him. Now wasn’t a time for being lenient though, they had a task at hand.

“Do you think Azog might have fled?” Fili asked to his left, voicing out what they’d all been hoping for, but as soon as the small weight in his chest lifted at the thought, Thorin stomped down on his hopes, knowing he couldn’t let them influence his decisions right now.

“I don’t think so…” But once again looking towards the watchtower, and once again, nothing moving form over there had him faltering at his heir’s suggestion. Maybe there truly was nothing there? But then where could the Defiler have possibly gone to?

He looked back to how two sister-sons, knowing that if anyone could find something in there, it would be them. After all, weren’t they the youngest members of the company? Didn’t they still have the keenest eyesight among the lot of them? But he hesitated for a moment, the thought of sending them over there, where, should something go wrong, he would not be able to come to their rescue. He’d already nearly lost Kili when they’d escaped Mirkwood, and Fili had nearly drowned when the two brothers had dived in after Minty in the river. Those incidents had made him realize that nobody on this adventure was invincible, least of all them, and he would rather not let any harm come to them should he be able to prevent it. But if sending them into harm’s way might be what could help him bring down the mastermind behind the armies fighting down there, shouldn’t he be willing to risk it? Wouldn’t he have expected the same were Thranduil or Bard in his position right now, were they the ones who would have to send their loved ones into potential harm’s way in the hopes of ending the war?

Aye, Thorin thought grimly. Keeping Kili and Fili here, where they might be safe, would be selfish of him. They were fighters now, both of them, they’d been trained by he and Dwalin, and had learnt as much as they could, Thorin couldn’t always be there to make sure they were safe, he had to trust their ability to look out for themselves.

“Fili,” he turned to his eldest-sister son, only to falter again, only for a moment though.

Looking at them both, he could actually see for the first time how young they both were, and almost had him reconsidering. It was a battle between what he had to do and what he wanted to do. He knew he had to think of his company and the rest of the men, elves and dwarves down there, he knew that was why he’d come up here in the first place, and he knew sending Kili and Fili in there, where they could sneak around and use their keen eyesight and report back to him any movement, any information that could let them have a slight advantage, was what he had to do. It didn’t mean that he wanted to, though.

Catching a glimpse of Kili, who was behind his brother, Thorin could see him anxiously look from Fili, to him, and back to the watchtower across from them, and the fear painted on Kili’s features almost had him reconsider, hating himself for pushing his nephew into doing this form him, but he couldn’t. If he did, he would be giving Kili’s life more value than that of those fighting down below. Thorin did, of course, Uncle Thorin valued Kili above all those strangers, and would have kept him by his side if he felt it was the safest option, but Thorin couldn’t be an uncle right now. He’d come up here as a king, he’d given his word to Dain, from one king to another, that he would bring the orc-scum down, and being a king meant that he could not see to his family’s safety before that of his people. Whatever was out there to harm his sister-sons, he could not let his fear of it take over his concern for his people and what he could do to spare as many lives as possible.

“Take your brother, scout the towers.” And before Kili could go, he added to the two of them, “Keep low and out of sight, and if you see something, report back, do not engage.” That had been more for Kili, as he had to make his younger nephew understand that he valued their lives more than any information they could bring back, and knowing Kili’s tendency to go head first into things, he really hoped he’d understand that Thorin wanted him back alive more than he wanted him to uncover any trace of orcs at the risk of being caught.

“Do you understand?”

That last part, Thorin addressed to him, and although he had not said it, Fili understood the unvoiced command: keep Kili safe. Both of them knew his younger brother’s tendency to head straight first into action before thinking it through, and while neither he nor Thorin usually paid it any mind, this time, they could not allow Kili to let his impulse take the better of him, knowing that there might be a chance that his impulses would get him killed. And if Fili came back to Thorin with news of Kili’s death, his uncle would never forgive him. Whatever happened, no matter how close they might be to finding something, if it was remotely dangerous, Fili knew Thorin wanted him to keep his brother safe above finding out what said danger might be.

Fili nodded, and both uncle and nephew passed a silent agreement then that Fili would see to his brother’s safety as well as he could, and just slightly lightening the burden that had affected Thorin’s chest up ‘til now. He knew Fili could look out for himself, he was both old enough and usually thought things through before acting, and although he couldn’t help but worry a little all the same, knowing both would make their safety take priority over their mission eased his concern just slightly. They would be safe, Fili would see to it, he’d promised Thorin that.

“We have company.” Dwalin interrupted them, coming back from securing the rams around one of the posts and taking a moment to look out for any danger, knowing Thorin seemed to want to have a moment alone with his nephews, and he wouldn’t deny his king that. However, when he first picked up the rustling sounds and then the following distinct sound of screeching in the distance, he only had to look up to take in the swarm of goblins approaching them much faster than he would have liked. If Thorin wanted to send Kili and Fili safely to the watchtower, they would have to hold the creatures off long enough for his nephews to get at least a safe head start.

“They’re Goblin mercenaries, probably no more than fifty.” He eyes Thorin, hoping he understood what he was suggesting.

Thorin swallowed, knowing he didn’t really have a choice anymore, and, putting a hand on Kili’s shoulder, he gave him a slight push, hoping the tower would be a safer place than being around here, where a lonesome gobbling might seize the opportunity to harm him. “We’ll take care of them, go!”

He took a moment to watch his sister-sons retreating forms, once they’d finally disappeared behind one of the rocks, Thorin felt his chest tighten, and Thorin could only hope he’d made the right decision.


It was only when he saw firsthand the dead eyes, both young and old, looking up at him that Thranduil actually realized how much victims this war was making, how many of his own elves he’d sent to their death by ordering them to fight. This wasn’t why he’d come to Erebor, this wasn’t what he’d wanted when he’d looked to an agreement with Oakenshield, this wasn’t what his people deserved, least of all his guards, sworn to protect the population of the Woodland realm, not leave them defenseless while evil closed in around them, spreading through the spiders that would poison each three in Mirkwood. They were supposed to defend those who could not fight, they should not be here, far away from those that loved them who would now not even get the chance to say goodbye or bury them where they belonged.

And for what had they fought? What were they dying for now? They shouldn’t have had to fight for his desire to be given back the gems of Lasgalen, they shouldn’t have had to fight for matters that were of no immediate concern to them. Sure, they’d come to the men’s aid and had more than likely helped secure an escape for some of the woman and children, but as Thranduil looked into one dead face after another, thinking of how he would face the wives and children of those who would not come home, thinking of what he might be able to say to ease their grief somewhat, he couldn’t help but feel guilty for doing this to them, sending them out to fight with no second thought.

He was king, however, he would have to bear the consequences, which could be lighter were he to call back his men now. He did not wish to leave Bard and his people alone, nor did he want to look like a traitor abandoning his allies (though he had never sworn allegiance with the human, if he remembered well), but as King, his people’s safety came first, and the only way he could avoid any more slaughter was to call them back and retreat.

“Recall your company.” If he noticed the falter in his voice as he ordered Feren to gather what remained of the Silvian Elves, he did not dwell on it, still too shocked was he at what exactly this battle was costing him.

And when Gandalf tried to stop him, saying the dwarves needed his help, Thranduil would not listen. Did the wizard not care for his people at all then, should he be expected to send young elves, some having probably barely entered adulthood to their death when their mothers and sisters were waiting at home, each day praying for their safe return? No, Thranduil would not let one more of his army die this day, enough blood had been shed already.

The sight of so many dead made him sick, and only urged him to get out of here as fast as he could, knowing that staying here any longer would only add more of the elves he was supposed to care for to the ranks of the dead at his feet.

He hoped Legolas wasn’t among them. Losing his wife had created a wound in his heart that had never truly healed, and sometimes, late at night, when he would be safe from the prying eyes of the elves around his palace, Thranduil would sometimes shed his kingly mask and let the repressed grief express itself. It hurt, it hurt to still love her after all this time, and while he sometimes resented having loved his wife enough to be affected so much, he knew he would rather have loved and face such grief than never have known her.

However, should he learn of Legolas’ death this day, that his son and only direct family member left should have met his end upon the battlefield too, he didn’t know how long he would be able to hold it together before the pain of knowing he’d lost those he loved became too deep for him to bear. Thranduil knew he’d have no choice but to carry on, to continue ruling over Mirkwood and see to his people’s future, and even if his soul might never recover from it, any personal loss he suffered today would have to be put aside for the good of his people.

The mere thought of finding his son dead fueled hurt and anger inside, and without considering whether the orc coming at him was doing so of free will or threatened into killing him, Thranduil sliced it’s head clean off it’s shoulders before it could touch either him or the elves behind him. What kind of king would he be if he did show them he actually cared for their safety?

“You will go no further, nor shall you turn away. Not this time.”

The familiarity of the voice had him look up, only for him to find the last person he ever expected to stand in his way. Tauriel.

He didn’t know whether he should be shocked or hurt. That his own captain of the guard, one of the people he’d put the most trust in, would stand against him… Why? Why would she delay him in recalling his company when she ought to be leading it?

“Get out of my way.” Whatever seemed to have upset her, surely it could not be more urgent than seeing to their people’s safety. Besides, Tauriel ought to come with him, she was one of those he hoped could take charge of the remaining elves and hopefully see them home safely.

“The dwarves will be slaughtered!” Shouldn’t Thanduil at least help them in stad of retreating? Hadn’t he allied with the human man and joined forces with the Ironfoot when the orcs had showed up? Why would he leave now?

“And what of the elves?” Thranduil found it odd that she should think of their until-very-recently-ennemies before considering the fate of her fellow guardsmen. Did she care naught for them? Those lifeless bodies at her feet who were, but days before, her comrades?

But instead of reasoning her, his words seemed to have the opposite effect, Tauriel drawing her bow, aiming it straight in his face, a warning that should he move, she would not hesitate to shoot.
Thranduil didn’t move, couldn’t move. He wasn’t to sure what the most painful in this was, whether it was the fact that one of the elves he’d favored had turned as such on him or whether it was how easily she could dismiss her dead comrades around her, but Tauriel threatening him hurt him more than it might have intimidated him.

“So you think your life is worth more than theirs? That we elves should leave yet leave other races to die? There is no love in you.”

Tauriel (well, he hoped, at least) might not have meant to hurt him, but the fact was, she had. How dare she insinuate that he knew nothing of love, that the grief he still held on to since the passing of his wife was not proof that he still had feelings for her. She’d seen him in his most vulnerable moments, she knew of this, and yet, why was she doing this to him?

Hurt turned to anger, and before reconsidering his actions, Thranduil sliced her bow in half, Tauriel flinching and taking a step back in shock.

“I know more about love and it’s consequences then you think, Tauriel.” And the growl in his own voice almost scared him. Thranduil always liked to be in control, always clung to the stoic and placid face he would show to people, but this, this hurt, and the anger it brought out in him shocked him.

Tauriel dared not speak, however, as she could only look at the blade only inches away from her throat, maybe pray that Thranduil would grant her mercy.

“I don’t value my life above theirs. I do, however, value my people, or have you forgotten that I am king? And as such, I ought to see to the safety of my people first, it’s my duty. They have families too, wives and children waiting for them back home, and I would let them be reunited with those they love if I could.

They came here at my bidding, fought to aid the men and dwarves as well as stop the menace that threatens us all. And you, as captain of my guard, shouldn’t your duty be the same or have you forgotten who you swore to protect that day you took your guardianship’s oath?”

But still, Tauriel said nothing, Thranduil concluding that he must have deflated whatever principle she’d attacked him with. Good. He needed her here, he needed her as well as every elf he could find so he could bring them home.

“Remember, your first duty is to protect.” He added for good measure, before striding past her, but making sure to order Feren to keep a sharp eye on her. Maybe she deserved death for what she’d done, but Thanduil knew better than to condemn her now, when her skills could be used to maybe save the smallest of lives.


Thorin’s arms ached, as he brought up his sword yet again to parry one of the last oncoming goblins aiming for his shoulder, he didn’t know how much more he could take of this, all this fighting taking a toll on his body. He hadn’t felt it earlier, probably because of the adrenalin that had been coursing through his system, but now, as the cold seeped into his limbs and the first signs of tiredness made themselves known, the dwarf lord felt his sword gain weight each minute, the weapon almost too heavy now for him to lift up in time to stop a swipe from a crude blade from his side. It was only the knowledge that if he didn’t fight back, that he would die, that ad him holding on right now.

But even if he did fight back, it didn’t stop his body’s need for rest to take anything it could, even if it was only a second of his attention. And a second was all it took for the goblin on his left to use the moment to his advantage, swiping at Thorin’s unprotected side, his blade cutting through the material of his tunic and leaving a long, red gash in it’s wake.

Thorin doubled over, the pain that should not have been so bad feeling like a burning torch had just been dragged across his midsection, and it was only thanks to Dwalin’s sharp eye and his even quicker weaponry skill that he was saved from being beheaded by the offending goblin from behind him.

Breath coming out in short pants, he could only stare at the small white mist for a few moments as he tried to regain a proper control over his breathing, barely even noticing Dwalin crouching down beside him.

“You all right, laddie?” Raising an eyebrow at his third time asking the question and shaking the younger dwarf in the hopes that it would draw Thorin out of whatever trance he’d been in, Dwalin gently pried his friend’s hand away from his side, when he’d been clutching the wound, and took a look himself.

Unfortunately, Dwalin was no medical expert, and should they want a complete and precise diagnostic, they would probably be needing Oin right now, but their healer wasn’t there, and Dwalin could only make do with the limited medical knowledge he knew of.

Upon further inspection, the wound was thankfully not too deep but still seemed to be paining his friend, especially given it’s position, which was bound to hurt him any time Thorin moved from now on.
“It’s fine-“ Thorin tried pushing him away, eager to see if Kili and Fili had managed to return, and tried to get back to his feet, but one firm hand on his shoulder kept him in place, Dwalin’s stern gaze daring him to even attempt getting up again.

“You stay like this for now, the lads will surely be back soon.” But even Thorin caught onto the near imperceptible falter in his friend’s voice, knowing Dwalin was dealing with the same anxiety he was, not knowing how his sister-sons were doing.

“How long do you think they’ll be?” And he hated how his voice sounded, hated how it almost let a shard of vulnerability let itself be shown to the world, he who had worked so hard to crush that feeling so many years ago now. But Thorin was starting to have second thoughts on coming up here, firstly by how the place inexplicably made shivers run down his spine and secondly how eerie and quiet it had been since they’d gotten up here – well except for the unexpected goblins.

“Hopefully not long.”

Dwalin wanted to offer Thorin the answer he wanted, needed to hear, but years of weapon training and putting them to use on the battlefield had taught him that lying and giving false hopes to those who asked for it because they felt the need for reassurance had taught him that no good ever came out of doing so. If anything, it usually resulted in more grief, and so, he couldn’t bring himself to lie.
It didn’t mean he was willing to go down the route of pessimism either, knowing they both needed something good to cling onto right now, and while the company’s welfare was in the back of their minds, Kili and Fili were their priority, and surely, the brothers would be back any minute now, wouldn’t they?

Yes, Dwalin thought. Despite knowing it was a dangerous thing to do, to cling onto hopes that sometimes could not come true, as he tied some of the torn leather he’d managed to cut off from one of the dead orcs to his left around Thorin’s middle, Kili and Fili would come back, Fili had promised Thorin he would bring his brother back, hadn’t he?

Chapter Text

Carefully leading the way, Fili and Kili approached the watchtower, the elder making sure his brother stayed well behind him as they got there, knowing Thorin had entrusted him with his safety. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest, and were this not a direct command from his King, he probably would have been half-tempted to go back to his uncle, not liking the look of the imposing fortress in the slightest, but as it was, Fili knew they had no choice, really. Thorin had come up here to finish off Azog, which would spread confusion on the battlefield and was the solution they needed to take the upper hand. Backing out now was not an option, no matter how anxious they might be.

Sticking to anything that might offer them cover for as long as possible, Fili wished his movements to silence, sure that the sounds of his boots hitting the ice were so loud, even the goblin at the far end of the pack his uncle was fighting could hear him. When Thorin had brought him and his brother up here, he’d thought it was because they would fight together, that they would stand, as a family, the last heirs of Durin united to the last breath, he had not expected his uncle to entrust him with his brother’s safety while ordering him to scout the less than safe-looking watchtower. But he could not go against the orders given to him, no matter what he might think of it, Fili knew he could only make sure Kili made it out safely, or Thorin would have his head if he did not.

Of course, he wanted Kili safe as much as his uncle, after all, the younger was his brother, his world, ever since he’d come into his life when he’d been but five years old and Thorin and his Mother had made him understand how important Kili was to be to him. Fili had already failed to protect him once when they’d escaped from Mirkwood and Kili had only managed to recover from his injury thanks to Tauriel’s ministrations, he was not about to let his brother get close to such a fate again, no matter what protests he might come up with. Thorin had told him to keep him out of harm’s way, which was exactly what he intended to do.

He could feel Kili itching in his back, the younger dwarf was nervous, and wanted to make their scouting mission as quick as possible, but Fili couldn’t allow him to take haste over security. Thorin would rather have them back alive and unscathed if possible, rather than loose them to their reckless want to see his command through, and while Kili might not see how important he was to Thorin alive, Fili, being slightly more perceptive. Maybe Kili would be slightly annoyed with him being over-precautious, but if it would save his brother’s life, Fili thought he could deal with a few days of pouting from the younger.

The mist made it hard to see anything much, but to be quite honest, the eerie silence was what had the two younger dwarves on constant alert. They’d been expecting at least a lonesome scout to intercept them, make sure they would not manage their crossing, but as they still managed to keep inching forward, Kili and Fili weren’t too sure whether they ought to be relieved or concerned that they had not been spotted yet. In the end though, Kili thought it more as a relief. While the younger had his sword ready to fight and take on anything that might wish them harm, he wasn’t foolish enough to wish a confrontation when it could be avoided. A confrontation would mean they would be spotted, meant that they would inevitably be heard, and so their efforts of discretion would be for naught. And at the same time, Kili couldn’t help but still feel a faint want for something to jump at them. The silence around them was oppressing, and the mist obtruding his vision was definitely not helping things. Being among the youngest members of their company, he often prided himself with having a good eyesight, which had often been useful to them when they’d been in search of food for the night, but now, Kili didn’t think he could make out anything much safe for the outline of the imposing shadow of the fortress ahead of them. And it certainly didn’t look inviting.

Checking ahead, to make sure that nothing would leap at them, Fili signed for Kili to follow him, and after a moment in which they fully appreciated the safety of their small hiding place, the two carefully snuck out, keeping low like Thorin had instructed, scurrying over to the small rock formation ahead of them, where they knew they would be safer as well as loser to their target. The blond could feel his brother’s shuddering breaths as the two leaned back against their solid protection, the danger of what their uncle had asked them to do probably only now dawning on him. He wished he could offer him the words of comfort and support Kili needed, but now was not the time to coddle him and tell him everything would be all right, because even Fili couldn’t be sure he’d be able to see those words through, and he was loathe to lie to his little brother.

“Come on.” He signed quietly, cautiously relinquishing the moment of security to approach the steps leading to tower, which they had now reached the base of.

Having Kili with him, while it had brought him comfort at first, only made Fili feel more vulnerable, as he got his first glance at how big the tower exactly was, he and his brother looking rather insignificant as they looked up at it. He steadied Kili when his brother took a step towards entering, waiting for something to come out, knowing they would have a better chance at defeating it together and out here than in the confinement of the structure. He didn’t want to show Kili he was scared, Kili needed him to rely on, to look up to and to reassure him, but Fili would be a fool if he read the racing of his heart as excitement.

When they had both waited another few moments, and he could feel Kili start to bristle in impatience next to him, Fili motioned for him to be quiet, as they silently reached the few stairs separating them from goal. It was there now, the tower was right above of them, and it looked bigger than ever as they looked up at it, gulping in anticipation as they did. They didn’t want to go in there, they didn’t want to get remotely nearer to the suspicious looking building than they already were, but an order from Thorin could not be disobeyed, no matter their personal feelings on the matter, and after a moment to compose themselves, Kili took the first step up, looking around him as he climbed to the tower’s entrance to make sure they were not being watched. But still, there was nothing to be seen.

Quietly, the brothers peeked in, looking left and right for any sign of life as they did so, half-hoping that Thorin might have been wrong, that there was nothing here and that they could just go back immediately. The tunnel was quite dark, despite the few places in which a faint beam of light could seep in, which only made them more nervous, Kili inching slightly closer to his brother in case anything decided to jump them from behind.

“What do you suppose we do? There’s nothing here.” Kili whispered, hating how his voice seemed to echo impossibly loudly off the walls. Mahal help them if they were to be found by anything worse than an orc.

“We can try a little deeper, just to make sure.” Fili said quietly, knowing they couldn’t leave until they’d made sure that there truly was nothing out for them hiding in the tower. Thorin and Dwalin’s safety as well as their own relied on the accuracy of whatever information they relayed back to their uncle, and the more precise their scouting, the better whatever they would have to report would be.

The walls seemed to close in on them as the two ventured deeper, and it didn’t take long for either Kili or Fili to be overcome by the horrible feeling of being trapped within the restrained space in which they were allowed to move. They could barely fully extend an arm before it would touch the opposite wall, so fighting with a sword would definitely put them at a disadvantage. Fili cursed under his breath at not having thought of strapping many extra weapons to himself when Thorin had offered him his armor. Still, he would rather not worry Kili with his own troubles, not when he knew his brother was probably inwardly terrified of being cornered here, with nothing much to defend himself should harm come his way. Aye, whatever they found here, if it wished them harm, Thorin would not be able to save them, not this time, it was his job to make sure Kili made it out safely.

“Fili?” Kili’s hesitant question was almost a welcomed reprieve from his morose thoughts, and without turning to face him, Fili nodded for his brother to continue. “Do you really think there’s something here? Maybe Uncle was wrong?”

Fili hoped Thorin was wrong, that wherever the Defiler was, it was not here, which was much too close to them for comfort. He knew he probably sounded like a small dwarfling right then, but didn’t even the sturdiest of warriors falter at times? Wasn’t it normal for any mortal to fear it’s end lurking just around the corner? And lurking it was, for he could not recall for how long they had looked now, but it felt like much too long for him. Something was there, Fili was sure of it, he could feel his skin crawl as he backed into the wall, the hair on the back of his neck prickling and his breath ghosting out in front of him as he imagined countless shadows hiding from their view, just a few feet away from them, cornering them and when they realized neither he nor his brother would be able to escape, they would seize their chance and make them meet a quick and brutal end. The eyes burned into his back, Fili could feel them from everywhere, in front, behind, the sides, anywhere where the lone torches scattered around their area did not cast light upon, and it didn’t take much for him to imagine the rest of the body, a large orc with it’s sword at the ready, just waiting for the right moment to prance on his brother. Oh how he wanted out of this.

“Stay behind me.” If anything, Thorin wanted him to take care of his brother, which was exactly what he was going to do. Kili probably wouldn’t like it, might even see it as him not trusting in his abilities, but no way was Fili going to risk Kili loosing whatever cold-head he had right now by pushing him ahead, where, should he ever come across anything, he would immediately engage in a fight, when Thorin had expressively told them not to. It might go against what they’d been trained to do, but if Thorin would rather they hide than opt for an open confrontation, Fili wasn’t going to disobey him.

They were finally reaching the end of the narrow tunnel they’d engaged in, and Kili sighed in relief as he could actually make out a little more than just the decaying grey stone, a dim light finally allowing him to see a little better. The light continued on to his right, while to their left, he could only make out a dimly lit narrow staircase, which probably lead up to a higher level of the tower. Nothing else, well, nothing along the lines of the orcs he’d previously feared might have crawled around the place. Surely, if they had been hiding here, they would have cornered them already, right? Why would they leave them time to scout the tower if they could get their hands on them anyway?

His relief was short lived however, as no sooner had he thought them safe from harm, a sound echoed at the far end of the passageway, to his left. Both of them stopped dead for a split second, fearing they might have been seen after all, and Kili was the first to recover, knowing he couldn’t afford staying here, in the tight tunnel if he were to fight for his life. Gripping his sword tighter and taking a deep breath, he’d been about to head towards the noise when Fili’s hand on his chest stopped him in his movement.

“No! Stay here-“

“But Fili, the noise!” He protested, knowing the sooner they went after it, the less whatever had made that noise would get away from them. Thorin wanted them to find out what lurked here, and going after whatever was ahead of them was their chance to discover it. Didn’t his brother want to heed to their uncle’s command?

“Kili, you should stay here.” Fili insisted, knowing he would rather keep his brother where it was safe and where he was less likely to run into anything that might hurt him. Seeing Kili so close to death when he’d been shot during their escape from Mirkwood had scared him enough to know he did not wish to put Kili in a position in which he might end up in a similar state ever again. Besides, if Thorin ever learnt that he’d let his brother head into a dangerous situation without trying to stop him, he would have his head. “Search the lower levels.”

Kili wasn’t too sure what he ought to do. Should he stop Fili in his decision and argue to follow him? Should he protest like he had done when Thorin, mad with gold-lust, had refused to help Lord Dain on the battlefield? But then what if there were orcs on this level too? What if he followed his brother only for them to be both caught when they made their way down? How would they ever get back to Thorin then?

Biting his lip, he only had a split-second to make his choice, and eventually, what Fili had suggested won out. Separating would allow them to cover more surface in a shorter amount of time, and Mahal knew Kili did not want to spend any longer than was necessary here. If he could leave now, he most definitly would, but he knew he had to see Thorin’s order through first. Defeated, he nodded, and had been about to go when he felt Fili catch his arm.

“Remember, Thorin said to not engage.”

Kili could almost laugh at Fili’s last piece of advice to him: take care of yourself. No matter how he put it, those had probably been the words that his brother had spent most of his life repeating to him, and even now, when he could be telling him to keep a hand on his sword, Fili would rather see him avoid using it if he could.

“I’ll be fine.” Kili chuckled, his hand tightening around his weapon in order to give him a little more strength than he actually felt. “Don’t do anything stupid yourself, right?” He laughed lightly, before heading down his own path, knowing the quicker they took a look around, the quicker they would be out of here and back with Thorin and the others, where, despite being out in the open, Kili felt they would be much safer.

Fili remained where he was for a few more moments, until he could no longer make out Kili’s shape, half-tempted to go after him for a second but in the next, he chastised himself, knowing he could not go back on his decision and knew he ought to trust in his brother’s skills a little more than that. If Thorin had deemed Kili capable enough to bring him along, he also believed his nephew to be able to take care of himself, and Fili ought to have a little more faith in Kili’s skills too. Besides, their uncle had told them not to engage, so if Kili did feel trouble was ahead, surely he would just have to turn back on his heels and quietly find another way without alerting anybody, right? And Kili was stealthy, he could do it, surely.

A little more reassured, Fili headed for the small stairway, climbing the steps two at a time, cringing at the echo he seemed to be making, so much for being discreet. If he could have made his own choice, he knew he would rather be far away from here right now, probably in one of the abandoned libraries of Erebor or maybe even sharing a nice supper at Bilbo’s house, at least, he didn’t feel like he was being spied upon there, and those places didn’t make his skin crawl as if they harbored some nightmarish monster. The dark tunnels on the inferior level seemed so bright all of a sudden, when he compared them to where he stood now, the walls enclosing in around him and nearly choking him were he not able to squeeze himself forward. The stone rose only a few feet above his head, but it was of little comfort, Fili knowing he could only go forward and try to move in what little space he had.

Another step forward had the gravel at his feet grinding into the ground, and Fili stopped dead, cold sweat breaking on the back of his neck and inwardly cursing himself for his stupidity. There was no doubt about it, this time he would be found before he would even get the chance to report anything back to his uncle because of his inability to keep quiet like Thorin had told them to be. He waited, anxiously fearing a hand might grab him in the dark, as the sound he’d made seemed to echo throughout the tunnel formation for an eternity. The noise was soon joined with the wild thumping in his chest, which, Fili was certain of it too, could be heard from miles away. It was only a matter of moments now until he would feel clawed hands digging into his shoulders and a sharp blade enter his back, and Fili squeezed his eyes closed, not wanting to have to see it, the pain if imagining it being already too real for him. He could picture them, huge black hands on his shoulders, their grasp unyielding, pulling him back into a firm grip his small size would not allow him to escape from. The distinct putrid smell of orcs mingling with the decay of the insides of the tower had him feeling dizzy already, and the more he tried to force himself forward, the more he just wanted out.

Out, however, was not an option. He could only go forward, like Thorin had asked of him, he could not go back until he found something to report back to his uncle, knowing the king would certainly be very doubtful if he came back saying he’d found absolutely nothing suggesting where the Pale Orc might have gone to when Azog had been here only a short while ago. He must have left some trace of his passage behind him, Fili just had to find it.


In the end, Dwalin had forced him to sit down. Thorin had argued, saying it was nothing more than a scratch, and that he could still keep himself upright but Dwalin would hear nothing of it. Instead, the bald warrior had pried his hands away from his side and torn a small strip of his own tunic off to try and keep the blood flow to a minimum. Thorin wasn’t one to be squeamish around blood, he’d seen the ravages of the battlefield before, he’d seen the gruesome state war left individuals in, but one look at his bloodied side had him turning away hastily, trying to calm the churning in his stomach. Oin was definitely going to have to take a look at this as soon as possible.

“How is it?” He asked quietly, not really because he wanted an answer but rather to fill up the deadly silence, which made him more and more uneasy as the minutes passed by and to stop him from imagining anything bad happening to Kili and Fili. They would be fine, and the less he’d think about how soon they would return, the less he would be able to come up with countless images of them captured, killed or worse. Fili had promised him he’d bring his brother back, and that was what Fili would do.

“Can’t say, to be honest.” Dwalin said gruffly, pulling the piece of fabric tightly around his friend, wincing at the groan of protest it earned him. He didn’t want to lie, he knew downplaying an injury was never a good thing, and Thorin’s side was definitely not looking very good, but Dwalin couldn’t really say anymore about it. Oin was the only one who would be the most likely to be able to assert how bad it was, and if indeed, Thorin’s wound was more grave than he was letting on, Dwaln knew they couldn’t afford to stay here for much longer. “Oin will have to take a look, I think.”

Thorin sighed. He’d hoped it was only a scratch, but with the way Dwalin was going on, it was probably a bit more serious than he thought, and if Oin interfered, he could be guaranteed to be forbidden to get remotely close to any fighting for the next couple of days, which was an instruction Thorin knew he’d be very reluctant to follow.

“Dwalin, I’ll be fine-“

“But you’re going to see Oin, don’t argue with me.” Dwalin interrupted, knowing that if he didn’t get Thorin to literally promise him he would, his friend would leave the wound unattended to, and both of them knew what an unattended wound could turn into if not seen to quickly enough. Dwalin would rather spare Thorin that if possible, even if he had to be an annoying mother hen.

Defeated, Thorin leaned against the slightly elevated stone wall behind him, sighing in relief as the support it offered him took away some of the strain he’d been putting on the wound to stay upright. He could deal with Dwalin later, right now, they had more important things to do, and he turned back to the tower where he’d sent Kili and Fili, hoping to see some sign of them or anything else over there from where he was.

“Where is that orc filth?” He growled, anxiety turning into anger at still having no clue as to where the Pale Orc was hiding. His eyes hadn’t deceived him, Thorin knew there was sonly one orc with skin of that color, it couldn’t have been any other person he’d spotted earlier. And he knew Azog could not have fled either. But then why wasn’t he showing himself?

“Thorin!”

Dwalin and Thorin turned around at the new voice, only for… Bilbo? How had he gotten up here? The two immediately took a step towards their Hobbit friend, relieved to see that he had not sported any grave injury, or seemed to have hurt himself too badly beyond a few scrapes and bruises, some of which he must have inflicted upon the poor Hobbit himself when he’d held him against the ramparts, accusing his of theft during the whole Arkenstone fiasco. Oh how he would take those deeds back.

“Bilbo!” Thorin, however, was primarily relieved that his friend had made it safely back to them, even though he could not for the life of him begin to imagine how a little creature such as a Hobbit had managed to weave itself through battlefield and sword all the way up here with only his bare feet for means to climb up.

But more importantly, as soon as the Hobbit had caught his breath, Thorin noticed Bilbo’s features twist into an expression of nothing short but panic. But why in Mahal’s name would the little Hobbit be so distraught?

“You have to leave here, now! Azog has an other army attacking from the North, the watchtower will be completely surrounded. There’ll be no way out!” Stumbling towards the edge of the cliff, the Hobbit pointed towards the stone tower across the gap, and it took a few moments for Thorin actually realize what Bilbo was implying.

“We are so close.” Dwalin argued form his other side, “That orc scum is in there.” And without even waiting a moment longer, the bald warrior took a first step towards Azog’s hideout, Thorin only managing to catch him at the last second.

“No!”

It was only then that it dawned on him, that they could not go in there, that Azog had all but drawn them up here with his signals to draw them into the tower and finish them off one by one, where he would have the advantage thanks to the narrow space and imposing eight. And if what Bilbo had just said was true, the Pale Orc had not only looked to draw them up here but had also carefully planned out how to cut them off from any kind of help they might need.

Hand tightening around Dwalin’s shoulder as he realized what exactly the Pale Orc had planned, Thorin wished he’d seen it earlier. “That’s what he wants, he wants to draw us in.”

And it was only then that it completely hit him.

“This is a trap.”

And he’d sent Kili and Fili right into it.


If the next turn was to again go down another tight corridor, Fili knew he would be very close to losing it. Carefully checking both sides of the tunnel he’d joined, his heart almost leapt with joy as a small ray of sunlight filtered in through the end of the tunnel to his right. Surely he could take a chance and follow it, go out for a minute and escape the oppressive darkness for a moment, couldn’t he? Aye, if he stayed here a moment longer, he would lose it completely, and Fili knew he needed to get his wits about him if he was to successfully do what Thorin had asked of him. At least Kili was safe, which was a relief. He’d been about to take a first step to the right, to where he could see the light, when he thought he could hear a faint crunching sound in the distance. The blond stopped dead in his tracks, hoping this to just be his mind playing tricks on him, hearing things where there was nothing like it had been doing on him ever since he’d separated himself from Kili, and for a moment, Fili almost sighed in relief when nothing seemed to follow.

Almost.

When the red glow of a burning torch could be seen on the wall ahead of him, all but telling him at least one if not more orcs would find him if he didn’t get out of here, Fili felt his heart skip a beat. The sword in his hand was the only weapon he had, and the blond clutched it tighter as he took a step back, Thorin’s order to not engage unless absolutely necessary ringing in his ears. Thorin wanted him alive over whatever he might find, Thorin wanted him back, Thorin didn’t want him to engage, was the warning he kept repeating to himself until Fili reached the second opening to the small tunnel he was in.

And stopped dead in his tracks, his heart definitly having stopped beating for a second.

There were torches burning behind him too, and Fili was certain he could hear the footsteps approaching him getting louder and louder. He had to get out of here now. Losing any cool he might have had beforehand, Fili inched backwards as fast as he dared, hoping he might just be able to slip past the group of orcs and just get himself out of here, fetch Kili and go back to Thorin to tell him they needed to get out of here as fast as possible, but he was too late. Stopping dead in his tracks, he tried to keep to the wall as much as possible, desperately hoping the orcs would just pass him by without noticing him, but when a large hand closed itself around his shoulder, he knew he was done for. He could only fight like Thorin had taught him to.

He wasn’t about to make it easy for them, even if he was outnumbered.

However, while he’d been concentrated on trying to spot anything moving in the shadows ahead of him, Fili never thought that danger itself might enclose on him from behind, and he only realized his mistake too late, when a clawed hand closed over his mouth, instantly preventing him from calling out for any kind of help.

Whatever lessons Thorin had taught him about keeping his wits about him went out the window, as Fili knew that if he didn’t try to get out of this, he was a dead dwarf if ever there was one. He had to get out of here, find Kili and get back to Thorin and urge him to get away, the watchtower wasn’t abandoned after all. Trashing against the grip that only tightened, the elder son of Dis tried to pull free from the claws that had caught him around his wrist, he pulled back hoping his assailant might eventually let go, but when it only served to make the grip tighten, Fili winced, as the pressure that was being put on his limb was gradually becoming unbearable. Resorting then to the small dagger he knew he had in his belt, his right hand unsheathed it, and was about to strike the offending creature behind him when another orc seized his other wrist, squeezing until the bone snapped and he had no choice but to let go.

Had a hand not covered his mouth, FIli knew Kili would have heard him, and he could only thank his stars his cry had been muffled, and the burning pain that radiated up his arm had him double over, giving the orc behind him the opportunity it needed to send him crashing to his feet, Fili’s face scraping painfully against the floor as he fell. It took him a moment to recover, but he knew he had to, or he may as well sign his death right there and then. He tried reaching a hand out to retrieve his sword, knowing he would be better suited to defend himself with it than without, but when the half-blind orc leering at him caught his intention in the corner of his eye, it only took it half-a second to bring his food down on his back, preventing him from moving an inch, the weight on him too heavy to try and move it. Thorin, I’m sorry was all he could think of. Fili knew he would die in here, alone and outnumbered, for whatever physical blows he might be able to land, there was no use in convincing himself he would make it out alive, not when he stood alone against ten of those beasts. Instead of putting up a fight, knowing it would only goad the half blind orc on further, he bowed his head, knowing there was nothing more he could do but wait for the fatal blow to land. He closed his eyes, refusing to acknowledge the cruel and twisted smiles that would be painted across the vile faces of those towering above him, refusing to give in to his own fear that he wouldn’t make it out alive, refusing to face Death like anything less than a Son of Durin would.

But the blow never came.

Instead, Fili felt himself being hoisted up, and the glimmer of hope that he might be able to put up a fight shone for a moment, until the half-blind orc put a blade to his neck, a warning that should he even try to escape, he wouldn’t hesitate to bleed him like a pig. Fili knew Thorin wouldn’t want him to give in, but when giving in would ensure him a chance at finding an escape and possibly prolong his life a few moments longer, Fili wasn’t about to throw that chance away. He tried squirming, using his smaller size to maybe slip through his captor’s bigger grasp, but when the hand tightened painfully on his shoulder, Fili knew he could do nothing else than accept defeat, and hope that Kili had not encountered the same misfortune as himself. Whatever they would do to him, he could endure it as long as Kili stayed safe.


They had it, they finally had a means to stab Oakenshield right in the chest without delivering a single blow, and it was all thanks’ to him. Bolg knew his Father would be proud of him, and would no doubt use the kid to exact his revenge on the dwarf on the other side of the cliff.

Dragging the younger dwarf behind him, making sure to let him sport as many injuries as he could, the second-in-command urgently mad ehis way through the maze of tunnels only he could find his way in, until finally, he and his troup of orcs made it back to his Father, who had been hiding in the upper circular room of the tower, from which they’d been leading their armies.

Dejectedly, he threw his prisoner at his Father’s feet, mindful to keep a foot on his back to prevent his prey from any attempt of escape, and the vicious snarl painted on Azog’s face as he looked up sent a wave of pride coursing through his body, his Father silently praising him for his good work.

“Well, well, well, what have we here?” He drawled, and Bolg could feel the kid squirm beneath him, trying to recoil slightly as Azog knelt in front of him, tilting his head up with his blade to inspect who they’d caught. “A lost dwarf? Has Oakenshield not learnt what becomes of his family when they stray from him? Why don’t we remind him?” He added, pulling his arm back and readying the killing blow, the whelp squeezing his eyes shut as he caught on to his Father’s intentions.

It was right then that Bolg remembered the sniveling human he’d brought along with him, and, looking down at the miserable excuse of a family Oakenshield had sent them, he suddenly found a way Alfrid might be able to earn the mercy Bolg had given him, and the half-blind orc pulled the blond back to him, a possessive snarl warning his Father that he did not want him dead here.

“What are you doing? We should kill him!” Azog snarled, already trying to make a grab for their prisoner, with his functioning hand, but now that his idea was perfecting itself in his head, Bolg was even less inclined to hand Thorin’s family over to him, not before he’d had his say. After all, he was the one who had caught the kid, right? Shouldn’t he have a say in what was done to him?

“I have a better idea, trust me.” He growled, a sick smile drawing itself on his face at Alfrid’s new purpose, and if the panic he could read in the blue eyes of their prisoner was anything to go by, the kid was already scared for his life. Good, he’d learn to be scared of a lot more than that by the time they’d finished with him.

The dwarf-scum tried fighting again, Bolg glad to notice the whelp at least had some spirit in him, even though he knew he was bound to die in the next moments. But where was the fun in dying? Dying was quick, dying was the easy way out. Dying was mercy, and with a quick glance to his Father, who was expecting an explanation from him, and to Alfrid, who stood, trembling still, in the shadows just beyond where the flaming torch in the corner reached, Bolg’s idea slowly took form. Maybe his Father would be able to exact his revenge on Oakenshield in the end. After all, if his time as a second in command of his Father’s armies had taught him anything, it was that one didn’t always need to inflict pain upon their victims to break them. And the whelp in his grasp was the perfect opportunity for them to break what remained of Oakenshield’s family. All it needed was a slight nudge, and, well, maybe his act of mercy upon the slimy human might just have proven itself more than a little useful in the end.

Chapter Text

Kili’s breath ghosted in front of him as he carefully weaved his way through the narrow tunnel, sharp eyes looking left and right for anything that might suggest that orcs were indeed still here. The silence, while he’d appreciated it at the start, was now incredibly oppressing, and to be quite honest, Kili didn’t think he’d mind if something were to jump on him from behind, at this point, anything was better than worrying about the fact that nothing had shown itself yet.

Because that was where the whole problem lay: he hadn’t found anything.

It wasn’t that he was unhappy at the fact that nothing had come for him, he was probably more relieved than anything else to know he was still alive and in one piece, but somehow, it just felt so… wrong, as if Azog’s orcs were just waiting for him to think himself safe only to jump on him and prove him wrong. And Kili didn’t want to let his guard down if that was a very real possibility.

However, the fact that he’d been scouting well over fifteen minutes and had not come across anything had him worrying, and eventually, he found himself almost slipping into the mindset that maybe his earlier deduction was true, that there truly was nothing for him to find here. It was almost a relief, and it had his shoulders sagging immediately, the grip on his sword loosening itself ever so lightly, because while Kili could honestly say he was up for anything this quest would throw at him didn’t mean that he would physically be able to do it, his injury in Mirkwood had taught him that there was a fine line between what his mind though itself capable of achieving and the limits his body had, and right now, if he were to engage in a fight with a pack of fifteen orcs or so, he doubted quite strongly that he’d come out victorious, especially if he was to face them alone.

Still, he wished he could just go back to Thorin without having to take a look at the entire ground floor first though, because that just meant having to waste more time here, time he’d rather spend helping his uncle fight the pack of orcs that had been coming towards him before he’d sent him and Fili here. He hoped his uncle was all right. Sure, Dwalin was there with him, and Mister Dwalin was among the best warriors Kili had ever met in his life, but the two of them against that many orcs? Well, he could only hope neither had sported too grave an injury.

If they had, however, the least he could do was do the job his uncle had asked of him to the best of his abilities, which meant leaving no corner unchecked. If there was the slightest possibility that one of those foul creatures was hiding up here, his uncle would want to know about it, especially if it could give them a lead as to where Azog had fled to.

Kili hadn’t voiced it out loud, but he’d seen how unsettled Thorin had been when they had found no sign of the Pale Orc earlier, and he was inclined to say that he felt the same way. Surely the burly creature could not have just disappeared, and it was even more unsettling to think that Azog had not immediately come out for them. He had not seen much of the orc, and what he had seen had been more than enough, but Kili knew he could safely say that Azog would not pass up on an opportunity to get at his uncle, and the fact that their enemy had not shown himself had disturbed him ever since. Where in Mahal’s name was he if he hadn’t gone after Thorin the moment they’d arrived at Ravenhill?

Kili tried straining his hearing, using his skills to his advantage, desperate now to catch something. While he’d taken it as a good sign that nothing had jumped out at him from the shadows, he couldn’t help but reconsider his earlier statement, now wishing something would indeed show itself, at least it would be something he could report back to his uncle. Closing his eyes, trying to block out anything that might distract him, the young dwarf tried to single out anything he heard, be it the wind blowing outside, at the end of the tunnel he’d been scouting, the occasional drop of water that would fall from the ceiling or the sound if his own boots, as he would anxiously grind them into the ground.

There it was, or was it? Kili could swear he heard something akin to shuffling just above his head, as if some slimy creature was wriggling itself through the stone wall of the narrow passageway. Almost relieved to have found something, he closed his eyes, trying to block out any other sounds and focusing on what he could make out above him, trying to picture what he might see if he were up there. The footsteps were heavy, no doubt belonging to some bulky creature, and the metal sounding scraping he could hear, as if something were being dragged along, he could picture the creature pulling a heavy sword behind it. It was armed, dangerous, in any case, and Thorin had told him not to engage. And Kili wasn’t about to disobey his uncle, not after Fili had made it clear to him that this section of the tower was the one he needed to scout, not the upper level. Maybe Kili hadn’t found anything in his area, but at least, he knew something was there, something heavy, something that felt almost threatening, as he could now hear the thud of it’s strides across the ground it was standing on, and the younger dwarf couldn’t help the shivers that were sent coursing down his spine. He needed to get out before whatever the monster above him was caught him here, trapped like a scared animal with no way of escape.

But as he was about to leave, the noise he’d made out above him stopped, and Kili stilled, waiting for it to start again, almost scared that it had stopped because whatever was up there had realized that he was right beneath it. Something was up there, right? He hadn’t just imagined the beast crossing the room on the higher level, had he?

Trying as much as he could to still his breathing down to nil, the younger heir of Durin took a few steps back, until his back hit the rocky walls of the tunnel, a small support for him as he anxiously waited for something to happen. He didn’t like it, didn’t like not being able to know what was going on, how close he was to danger and if he had been found already. Sharply looking to his left, he could almost make out small red eyes glowing in the dark, observing him menacingly form the shadows and following him as he tried to avert his gaze. Had he been followed all along and not noticed it? No, surely he would have heard, wouldn’t he?

Blinking quickly, Kili sighed in relief when the red orbs disappeared, only a twisted image of his own imagination then. He took a moment to lean into the wall of the tunnel behind him, glad for the support it offered him when he realized how badly his legs were shaking. He wanted to chastise himself, knowing he ought not to be so afraid, trying to imagine what Thorin might say to him, but he couldn’t help it. This was entirely different from the tales of grand battles and the fearless heroes of old his uncle had told him about when he’d been but a young dwarfling. He wasn’t feeling like the dwarves heroes of old who weren’t afraid to meet their end, Kili didn’t know if he’d be able to overcome a swarm of orcs that might attack him from behind, Kili didn’t have that warm feeling in his heart at the thought that they were all fighting together for the greater good. In fact, he felt alone, trapped, and scared. What he wouldn’t give for Dwalin, Thorin or Fili to find him right now…

Taking a moment to recompose himself, knowing that, panicked as he was, he wasn’t going to be remotely efficient, Kili leaned against the wall, the white breath ghosting out in front of him a reflection of how badly he was scared. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to block out any panic that he could feel rising in his chest, knowing that letting it get the better of him would do him no good, and the younger dwarf sighed in relief when, eventually, his body stopped shaking.

It stopped shaking just as his ears picked up the shuffling right above his head, and Kili looked up. While the ceiling of the tunnel was all his eyes could truly see, he could picture them, the orcs, heading towards the opening right ahead of him, they were right there. Gulping in anticipation, Thorin’s younger nephew took a step to follow them, hoping he would not be heard over the scraping he could make out just over his head, knowing his uncle would be grateful to him were he to assess how many exactly of those foul beasts there was.

The cold air hitting his face was most welcomed, Kili realized, as he tentatively inched slightly outside his cover, at least it was until he heard the familiar growl of the orc that had almost killed his uncle just above him. Danger was much too close to him, and any issue would be blocked to him from now on, he was sure of it.

This had been a trap all along! He realized bitterly, not for the first time wishing Thorin could sweep in and make everything better, like he always did. But his uncle was over there, just a short distance away, he could make out the older dwarf, Dwalin… and was that Bilbo? Bless the Hobbit, he’d made it back to them in one piece after all! Kili sighed in relief, shoulder slumping slightly now that he knew his uncle would be all right, that he and Dwalin had overcome the swarm of orcs that had come their way. He had to get back to them, though, he had to find Fili and get out of here, for he was no certain that the watchtower was no safe place for them to be in.

However, the scraping sound above him could still be heard, and when the shuffling sound stopped right over his head and Kili swore he heard a whimper of a much too familiar voice, he could only look up, his heart leaping into his throat as he recognized the prisoner that Azog had dragged out with him.


Fili hadn’t dared look back up at the white orc after Azog had seized him up, not wanting to offer the other a chance to finish him off just yet. Looking around, he had tried to spot a small opening he might have been able to use as an exit, but any opportunity was quickly crushed when he foot on his back press harder, pushing him down so as to make sure he wouldn’t be able to attempt any escape. He had tried to make out what was being said, but what Balin had taught he and Kili on Orcish language had only been very basic, his Uncle not being able to bear the thought of his nephews learning the language of those who had robbed him of his family. Although he might not have been able to understand, Fili wasn’t foolish enough to imagine it was talk about sparing him, especially if the gleaming black orbs looking down at him were anything to go by.

He had given up on trying to squirm out from under the foot of the half-blind beast atop of him, and he knew better than to goad the Pale Orc on when the latter knelt down in front of him, vicious snarl twisting into a sick smile. Still, not wanting to give in and stubbornness being somewhat acquaintance to the line of Durin by now, he refused to look away, even if his brain was screaming at him to not offend his captor more than was necessary.

Azog was muttering something in his own language, which he did not understand, as his only functioning hand entangled itself in his hair, keeping him still. Fili wanted to pull himself away, the fetid smell of the other’s breath making him nauseous, but dared not, for angering his enemy would only result in him lashing out, and Fili didn’t want anything drawing Kili up here. His brother was safe, and it had to remain that way.

However, no sooner had Fili allowed himself to take a relieved breath did he feels the knots of anxiety twist in his stomach once again as Azog grabbed his collar from the back, dragging him behind him with little care as to whether Fili could keep up with him or not. He tried resisting the hand pulling him, tried digging his feet into the ground in a desperate attempt to not move anywhere, but he was forced to comply when one of the orcs dealt a swift blow to his head, unbalancing him as he was knocked forward, and he soon found himself unable to stop the white creature’s progress. Dizzy now, there was not much left for him to do but comply, and soon, the blond found himself stumbling after the taller creature, desperate to keep up with it’s quick pace for fear he might stumble again, and Fili thought he’d had quite enough bruises already, it was needless to offer the orcs an opportunity to give him more.

As they exited the tunnel and the bright light of the outside assaulted him, he could only squeeze his eyes shut, stumbling after the orcs that kept pulling him forward. His leg hurt, his arm hurt, everything hurt, and Fili just wanted it to stop. But Fate, cruel Fate, always had other plans.

The two of them stopped at the very edge of the opening, out looking the grounds below, and all of a sudden Fili felt himself being hoisted up, the ground beneath him no longer existing, and his heart skipped a beat, terrified that his life now balanced in the grip of the orc holding him from behind, and he wasn’t about to fool himself into believing for a second that Azog had any intention of letting him live.

However, looking back up once again, his breath caught in his throat as he recognized the three lone figures just across from them. Bilbo, Dwalin and Thorin were there, just there, almost n reaching distance, and yet, as he tried to lift an arm, the three of them were so incredibly far. It wasn’t fair, and Fili almost sobbed at the injustice that was being done to him, that he could actually see his one saving grace and be shown that that one hope wasn’t going to be able to save him. Why? Why hadn’t he been more careful?!

Azog was growling something at his uncle now, and whatever it was, he could see it had unsettled the elder dwarf, as Thorin flinched, Dwalin’s arm on his uncle the only thing holding him in place. Dwalin was holding him back, Thorin wasn’t going to save him, couldn’t save him. Invincible Uncle Thorin, the one person both he and Kili had always looked up to, the one person who’d stayed their constant hero, even now, was not going to be able to save him. And the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. Thorin might not be able to save me, but I can save him.

“Go!”

It was the least he could do, Fili conceded. Maybe he was going to die, after all, Thorin had told them all before leaving Bilbo’s home that Death was a very real possibility and that they all had to be ready to face it, but just because his life was forfeit didn’t mean that so should be the lived of Thorin, Dwalin and the others. If he was being spared a moment for last words, Fili would rather they would ensure those he cared about survived, retreated for now and lived to see another day.

“Run!”

Thorin hadn’t moved, he didn’t seem to be able to, and for a second, Fili selfishly found an odd sense of comfort knowing he wasn’t alone, that Thorin hadn’t fled, that he hadn’t given in to Dwalin’s slight tug on his arm. He didn’t want to die alone, he didn’t want to have to shut his eyes and say farewell to Kili’s grin and his uncle’s occasional smile for him. He had never thought it would end like this, used as bait to get to the last person he would wish harm upon, and yet it was happening, and nothing he could do was going to stop it. But Thorin hadn’t moved, Thorin wasn’t leaving him, and while it might have been a tiny gesture to anybody else, it meant a lot, given the fact that it was the only thing Thorin could do for him right now.

The blade he felt running through his side burned, mercilessly, and then he felt himself falling, falling, falling for what seemed almost like an eternity until he was forced to accept the reality of what had just happened when his back met the ground, hard, the pain blurring his already darkening vision. He wanted to move, lift an arm, extend a finger to his fallen sword perhaps, but whatever control he’d had over his body was gone, fleeing him like the light that was fading away from his vision. 

Fili managed to turn his head to the left slightly, the dark opening of the lower-level’s tunnel the only thing he could see. That and a flash of gold and brown hair turning away from him, already frantically searching for an exit.

Kili!

It took him a moment, but the hair, the armor, the dark eyes, it could only be Kili.

He tried calling out to him, tried to force his mouth to curve around the sound of his brother’s name, but he could feel his body going slack, and even when he tried to move his arm towards his brother’s foot, just to tell him I’m here! Kili please!  His intentions fell on blind eyes, as only a moment later, Kili had vanished. Kili was gone.

“Kili!”

Thorin. It could only be Thorin, and the anguish in his uncle’s voice made him hate his position all the more. He could hear them, he could hear everything, but could do nothing besides bleed out alone, up here. Kili was gone, Kili had run off, and Fili could only send a swift prayer to Mahal to keep his brother safe before his world turned black, Thorin’s cry for his brother echoing in his ears.


“Let me go Dwalin!”

But Dwalin didn’t, he wasn’t about to let Thorin go anywhere right now, not in the state he was in. He wasn’t thinking clearly, neither of them were, how could they hope to accomplish anything like this?

“Dwalin please! Let me go!” But Dwalin’s grip only tightened further. He knew what his friend was going through, he’d seen it already on the battlefield oh so many years ago, when the first cracks had shown themselves in his friend. Thorin had been inconsolable the day Frerin had died, it had taken him a long time to find himself again, time that was given to him to deal with the denial and the grief that accompanied the loss of a loved one. But they didn’t have that now, and Thorin’s want for revenge had to be stayed. Dwalin couldn’t let him up there when the younger dwarf would let his judgment be clouded by grief and revenge.

It was unfair. But then when was war ever fair? Dwalin thought grimly. War was just a slaughter machine, where the young died and the old lived, where families were torn apart and what remained was irrevocably damaged. The dead were turned into heroes and martyrs, were seen as people to aspire to when all they would tell you themselves would be that what they’d been through was nothing less than horror. Fili was dead, he wasn’t ever coming back and the sooner Thorin accepted it and didn’t let revenge for his sister-son cloud his judgment, the better.

Besides, Thorin was probably not going to manage to get very far with the wound in his side, so it was useless for him to even try and convince Dwalin that he was all right.

“Bilbo.”

The Hobbit took a moment to actually process that he’d been called, too shocked was he at what had happened to notice anything else going on. Dwalin’s voice, which so unlike what he’d been used to hearing, was what eventually roused him from whatever transe he’d been in, and without being asked twice, the little Hobbit scurried over to the larger warrior.

“Can you stay with him?” Dwalin asked urgently, eyes already darting back to the watchtower, “I need to fetch Kili before…” The rest went unsaid but it was obvious to the two what Dwalin was implying, and besides, looking down at the shocked state of his friend, Bilbo found himself hard-pressed to refuse.

“Aye, I’ll stay here, you bring Kili back, all right?”

 Dwalin nodded, glad he could count on their small Hobbit friend before darting off to the last place he’d seen Kili in, the small alcove beneath the platform Azog had been standing on.

Please Kili, please don’t do anything reckless…

Seeing Fili die was one thing, but if he were to bring back news of Kili’s death to Thorin too, the latter would fall apart, Dwalin wasn’t even giving it the shadow of a doubt. He’d failed one of his nephews, and the bald warrior would be hard pressed if he were to do the same for Thorin’s younger –only- nephew.

Up close, the tower looked a lot more menacing than when it was only half visible from where he’d been but a moment ago, although he still felt an uncomfortable chill race down his spine when he thought he could make out some form of moving shadows in the thick fog at the base of the tower. How was he ever going to find Kili here?

He’d decided against calling out for the lad, which would only in turn reveal his presence, and Dwalin would rather leave without any fight if it were possible, he’d seen more than his fair share of Death today, and even an orc he now found himself loathe to kill.

“Kili!” He called out, hoping the younger dwarf would hear him from wherever he was hiding, for he had not seen him exit from where he’d been standing only a few moments ago. Hopefully he hadn’t been foolish enough to actually engage the pack of orcs on the higher level when he knew there wasn’t a chance he’d get out of it with the upper hand.

“Kili!” Where was the lad?

He was loathe to enter the watchtower, knowing full well that once inside, he would be at a considerable disadvantage should he ever find himself needing to fight, but Kili was his priority, and the thought of any harm coming to the company’s young protégé outweighed any concern Dwalin may have had for himself. Tightening his grip around Grasper and Keeper, praying to Mahal he would not have to use them, Dwalin took a step towards the entrance, peering inside to make sure there weren’t any orcs on the lower level before venturing himself a little deeper, hoping he would find Kili sooner rather than later.

Keeping an ear strained for any orcs that might come his way, Dwalin hesitated for a moment before turning down the left tunnel, relying on his instincts to lead him to the one person he needed to find. It was difficult, making his way through the tight passageway, having to bend and twist his body in order to venture deeper, and he hoped he would not have to do so for much longer, because it was making him extremely uncomfortable, and Dwalin wondered how in Mahal’s name Kili was still holding it together at all in such an enclosed space. Whatever wits the young archer might have had, however, were sure not to last, if whet he and Thorin had seen earlier was true.

He’d been nearing a bend when he heard the sign that someone else was around the corner, and instinctively, the bald warrior’s grip tightened even more around the hilt of his axes, knuckles now beyond white with the pressure he was putting on them. He waited a moment, holding his breath and daring whatever was just outside of his vision to come closer to test how sharp his axes actually were. The other seemed to hesitate too, not too sure whether to move forward or not as Dwalin heard a pair of feet scratch along the ground at least several times, and he’d been about to give in first when the other decided to eventually round the corner, and Dwalin sighed in relief when he came face-to-face with Kili, instinctively lowering his weapon, not wanting to inadvertently hurt the lad.

“Dwalin?” Kili lowered his sword too, chest heaving still as he’d been running as fast as he could to get to the exit before it would be blocked to him. “He, they…” His whole body slumped then, now knowing he wasn’t alone anymore, and the loss of his brother hit him full force as he leaned into the taller warrior, burying his face into Dwalin’s tunic. “He’s gone, Dwalin. He’s-“

“Aye, I know.” What else could he say? Dwalin reflected, as he attempted to offer what he could to the younger-only one of Thorin’s nephews by bringing a hand up to rest it gently on top of his head. Dwalin had seen the ravages of war, he was familiar with what it cost and how quickly it tore people apart. Kili wasn’t, he hadn’t known how much it had hurt until he’d been forced to endure it himself. But unlike when he’d been younger and had had nobody other than Blain to turn to, Dwalin wasn’t about to leave the young archer alone, not when Thorin would want him back safe and sound, and would be the one who would be able to offer Kili what he needed.

“We need to get you back to your uncle, lad.”

Kili nodded mechanically, not really giving any feeling to his agreement, as he let himself be led away from the dark tower and the pain it had caused him. He didn’t want to leave his brother, he didn’t want to leave the Pale Orc there when, if he wanted to, he could get revenge but Dwalin bringing him close to him had made Kili realize how utterly exhausted his body was, and as his hand went numb, the sword it had previously held slipped from his grip and was sent to the floor. But Kili didn’t care that he was now more or less weaponless, he didn’t care that Dwalin was leading him to safety, he didn’t care that Thorin was waiting for him just a few feet away, he didn’t care about anything. Fili was dead, and he’d been unable to do anything to stop it.

It should hurt, he knew it ought to hurt, realizing that the one person who was always there for him wa snow gone, but Kili couldn’t feel anything, despite willing himself to. He tried to be angry, he tried to be sad, he tried to feel something, but the more he tried, the more he realized that he just couldn’t, he didn’t feel anything except an odd sense of emptiness, which grew with each step he took, bringing him further from the watchtower and the brother he was leaving behind. He couldn’t’ bring Fili with him, not now, when they had to get away from here, but as Dwalin picked up the pace, Kili thought he could hear him talking to him, promising him they would come back and pressing him to go on faster, but to be honest, Kili didn’t make much sense of it all. The world was a blur of grey and white, any sounds he could hear were fading into the distance until all he was able to make out was the rush of blood in his own ears.

One foot in front of the other, yes, just like that. Was that Dwalin talking to him or was it Kili just trying to get his body to move by himself? To be quite honest, Kili wasn’t too sure what was going on, much like when Tauriel had healed his wound back in Bard’s house, he knew she was there, he knew she was doing something to him, but apart form that, he couldn’t recall anything else that had happened. Fili was dead, a part of him felt like it was being torn apart, but Kili couldn’t make out anything else, aside the endless white color that was spread in front of his feet, an endless desert of nothing but that, white snow, and Kili felt lonely.

Yes, Dwalin was maybe with him, he thought, but it was something else entirely, something he hadn’t realized he’d had until it was gone. The vast chasm once filled by his brother was now nothing but that, a huge, empty whole, something that would never be mended, no matter how much effort he put into it or how much affection Thorin might show him from now on. That wound would be with him forever, and Kili stumbled at the realization.

“You all right?” Dwalin’s gruff voice brought him back to the present, far away from his own realizations and yet so close to seeing first hand what his family had become. They would make it back to Thorin, and his uncle would be there for him, but there wasn’t going to be his brother by his side, there wasn’t going to be a brother to remind him to be a little more cautious next time, there wasn’t going to be a brother who would insist on making sure he hadn’t sported any injury, there wasn’t going to be-

There wasn’t going to be Fili, Fili was gone.

And Thorin was all that remained, Kili saw for himself as they approached the two other figures that had been waiting for them, and Kili couldn’t help it when he fell into his uncle’s arms, making the most of the moment to hide form the world and all the hurt it was throwing him right now. Thorin would protect him, Thorin would make it all better, like he always did.

But then again, that had only been a childish image he’d clung to, and the realization that his uncle wasn’t the hero he’d painted him out to be only had him burying his head deeper in the other’s chest, seeking the comfort he desperately needed and which Thorin was unable to give him, the arms that wrapped around his back doing very little for comfort, even thought Kili appreciated the effort.

“I’m sorry Kili.”

He knew there was a lot more his uncle wanted to say but was unable to right now, and Kili wasn’t going to fault him, not when he opened his mouth to try and say something, anything, and was unable to make a sound pass his throat safe for a strangled sob.

Why then did he feel a small flicker of anger start burning deep inside of him? It made no sense. But neither so did losing the one person who had always been there for him, he reflected bitterly, as he pulled himself away from the embrace, looking back into Thorin’s red-rimmed eyes, much a mirror of his own.

No, nothing made much sense to him anymore.

Chapter Text

By the time they had made it back down, Thorin felt numb. He’d tried to coax Kili into staying by his side, but his nephew had stubbornly refused to be anywhere near him, and it had only been thanks’ to Dwalin’s help that the younger dwarf hadn’t spurred his ram into a gallop to leave them all behind and make it down by himself. He hadn’t heard what the bald warrior had said, but it seemed to have had it’s effect, as, rather reluctantly, Kili had agreed to stay next to him, as the two led the way down. Thorin ached to ride beside his sister-son, ached to give him the comfort he probably needed but refused to ask for, but any attempt he’d previously made to engage in any form of conversation with his nephew had resulted in the younger dwarf pushing him away even more, and Thorin wasn’t about to push Kili to the point that he would retreat from him completely. It was probably better that Dwalin ride next to him right now.

Besides, Thorin found himself reflecting that he probably didn’t deserve to be next to Kili anyway. If anything, ever since he’d left his nephews in Lake-Town, he’d only displayed what a poor uncle he was to them anyway, Kili’s anger towards him was more than justified.

It didn’t mean it didn’t pain him to see the young boy he’d always doted upon retreat from him so abruptly, because Kili’s glare when he’d pulled away from him after he’d (poorly) apologized for what had happened had hurt more than any physical blow he might have given him, and Thorin could only hope that his remaining sister-son would somehow find it in himself to eventually forgive him, even if he knew that what he had done was not deserving of any form of forgiveness.

However, what little hope he’d had that Kili putting distance between them was only because he was still in shock regarding what had happened to his brother and held nothing more was crushed when, once they’d finally made it back down the mountainside, his nephew had swiped the helping hand he’d offered him away, glowering at him from beneath his bangs. Thorin hadn’t even noticed his hand had stilled in the air where Kili had batted it away until Bilbo had shaken him a little, pointing to where Dwalin had taken Kili by the shoulder slightly ahead of them, the two trying to find a way back to the rest of the company through the debris and smoke of what could only be the last remains of ruins of Dale.

Instead of the triumphant return the four of them had imagined this would be, they entered the dilapidated city wiping the smoke from the destroyed market away from their faces, the grey fumes burning their eyes as they tried to find some sign of life among the debris at their feet. The dead littered the ground, dwarf, man and elf alike, and the smell of death hanging in the air made their stomachs churn, each one fearing for the safety of the rest of the Company.

Thorin felt guilty, now firsthand witnessing what his wrongdoing had brought upon the poorly defensible men, and doubling the regret he felt at turning Bard’s request for an alliance down. Who was he to frown upon a man seeking safety for his people, knowing what would happen to them were he not to manage, when Thorin had seen firsthand the same fate befall his own people not a hundred years prior? But where Smaug’s destruction of Erebor had caused the death of dwarven soldiers, the orcs that had managed to filter into the city had shown no mercy, as women and young children alike littered the ground, dead eyes staring up at the sky, never to see another day, their faces plastered with heir final expression of pure fear.

How could he fault Bard when the man had only wished to spare his people that?

He numbly dismounted the ram after Bilbo, Kili and Dwalin, and let the latter pull him along in search of the others when his legs refused to obey him. Time seemed to have stopped for a moment as each step brought with it a new victim lying there, forgotten by it’s comrades and left to rot or become some beast’s dinner. It was undignified, it was against customs to leave a deceased to rot, but Thorin knew well that war didn’t offer the time for luxuries such as mourning and burial, one had to move on and leave behind the dead if he dared hope to see the sun rise the next day. War was self-preservation, war was, in the end, looking out for no-one but yourself, making sure you lived to fight tomorrow instead of giving your dead comrades the honor they deserved. It was wrong, but war often made one forsake one’s morals, if they valued their life above their honor. Because that was war, wasn’t it, he thought bitterly, when you strip away the fantasy and imagery one often found in tales and legends, that’s what you were left with, the cold and brutal reality that war was nothing more and nothing less than survival, outliving your enemy. Thinking about it in such simple words only made Thorin regret what he’d forced so many into all the more, Mahal be dammed if he found out that any other member of his company were to have succumbed while he’d not been by their side.

It was quiet, too quiet, as they weaved their way through the dead corpses at their feet, anxiously awaiting for a form of life to appear. Orcs, men, elves and dwarves were spread across the ground, but they were either dead or very close to being so, there was no trace of any living soul within a mile. For a moment, Dwalin even dared to hope that the orcs had maybe chosen to retreat, let them have a short respite before attacking again, but soon crushed the little seed, knowing better than to hope for a favorable outcome for them.

“Where is everyone?” Bilbo quietly voiced out what they’d all been thinking, as his hand tightened around the reins of the rams they’d manage to keep about them for their descent. It felt wrong, breaking the silence that had been weighing upon them, the Hobbit knew it would probably be seen as rude to interrupt what grief they were all going through, but he could no longer take the intense silence that had befallen them all, he needed something to prove that they were all still alive, and speech was the only solution he’d been able to come up with.

Kili wanted to speak, to reassure Bilbo that no matter what had attacked the city, Bofur, Nori and the others would all have made it through and probably laugh Bilbo’s concern for them off once they found them, but it had shaken him hard, realizing they were not as invincible as he’d previously thought them to be. His brother’s death had shown him as much, rattling Kili to the core, reminding him that this was war, that any one of them could be the next to meet their end, and so, his prospective at finding the others was a lot grimmer than that of his Hobbit friend, even if, deep down, he hoped no nothing Oin couldn’t repair had befallen them.

He looked around, sharp eyes trying to decipher any trace of life but all he could see were corpses and men whose lives had been brought to an abrupt end when they ought to have had so much more to look forward too. He could see now, why Bard and Thranduil had been so reluctant to offer help to his Uncle in his quest, Kili had never thought such destruction was even possible, let alone that Thorin would have played a part in it, but his uncle had, even if he had never intended for such a tragedy to occur. How could he blame the reluctance of the Man and the Elven King to help them when doing so had been paid at such a high cost?

He’d never heard of these in the old tales of warriors and dwarven heroes his Uncle used to tell him and his brother around a fire, when they’d been younger. The dead, the children robbed of their lives and the defenseless women who knew not how to wield a blade or a shield to protect themselves were never mentioned in the stories relating the battles of old. Kili had only ever known the image of shining armor, heroes defending those they loved and that in which they believed, with traits such as courage, wisdom, strength, he’d never even entertained the idea that war was but a mindless slaughter where everyone was out for themselves, and seeing firsthand what it had caused made him take another step back from his uncle, now determined to put as much distance between hem as possible.

Kili knew it was wrong, somewhere, he knew his Uncle was not to blame for everything that had happened, but Kili needed someone on whom he could lay the fault for all of this, he needed to find a reason for all the death and destruction that had been brought upon the Lake-Towners, elves and dwarves from the Iron Hills, and while another day he might have taken the time to analyze the situation and lay blame where it was due, the first suspect and easiest target for him to fault right now was his Uncle, whom he was no ready to forgive anytime soon.

“I don’t know, lad, but hopefully, they’re all in one piece.” Dwalin’s voice rumbled to his left, an odd comfort in all of this, Kili found. The bald warrior (while he’d not always been deprived of hair) had been there for him and his family for as long as Kili could remember, he’d been the one to train him, Dwalin had been the one whose beam had almost beaten his uncle’s and mother’s the day Kili had decided his weapon of choice to be a bow, Dwalin had been the one he and his brother had enjoyed playing tricks on in the armory when they’d been younger, Dwalin had been the first one he’d run to when he’d get a scratch or a bruise on the training ground, and Dwalin had always been there for him, much like he was now, and Kili had no words to describe how much that little support meant to him.

Looking at him more carefully, Kili could see the older dwarf’s professionalism as he lead their small group, pale features drawn but no emotion seeping through, the mask he’d learnt to use in his younger years and now an integrant part of his body resurfacing. But while Kili had been unable to see past the emotions Dwalin bore to the world when he’d been younger, he could now spot the cracks in the mask, he could see the tiny crumbs of emotion that tried to make way to the surface, and knew without a doubt that it was just the tip of the iceberg, that behind what Dwalin was carefully choosing to show, the taller warrior was undoubtedly hurting just as much as he was, for he had also been close to his brother.

Not for the first time since they’d started their descent did Kili wish he was better with the art of using words, for he knew that although they would do no real comfort in the end, they were always a little help to those who were suffering, and the four of them were suffering right now. Bilbo was still in shock if the way he kept still atop his ram was anything to go by, Dwalin had a blank look in his face, and while he could not bear to face his uncle, Kili knew better than to think that Thorin was not as affected as he was at his brother’s death. But where Kili could muster compassion and understanding towards the first two, as they progressed in their descent, the more he tired to forgive his uncle, the more he could only find it in himself to lay more blame on the elder dwarf’s shoulders.

Fili was dead because he’d scouted the tower, the tower Thorin had sent them scouting, the tower Thorin had brought them up to because he had wanted to put an end to the Defiler. But there was more to it than that, Kili wasn’t dumb, he knew Thorin had sought out the Defiler alone because he’d also wanted revenge against the beast that had beheaded his grandfather, and he’d let his want for revenge overshadow any rational judgment he could have had concerning the situation. Ultimately, Thorin was the one he could blame for his brother’s death, it was as simple as that, and if his Mother had often told him that holding on to grudges was not what helped a grieving person to move on, Kili couldn’t bring himself to care right now. The fact was that Fili was dead and Thorin had been the one to send him straight into Death’s arms, it was Thorin’s fault in the end.

Feeling the little spark of anger that had appeared back up at Ravenhill start burning deep in his chest again, Kili could only squeeze his grip on his ram’s reigns tighter, nails digging into his palms painfully, even if he cared little about the hurt he was inflicting upon himself. In a way, it numbed his muscles, numbed him against reality, and slowly, the protection it offered him against the cruel real world around him was so tempting that the younger dwarf couldn’t resist hiding in its arms. Numbness and denial were a powerful shield, after all, and they were a shield he felt he both needed and was entitled to right now.

So lost was he in his own little world of peace and protection that when he was forced to face reality once again, the wind hitting his face seemed to purposefully bite his skin, reminding Kili how cruel reality was and how little it cared about the emotional state of the individuals it harbored. If it had remotely any compassion, it would have known that Kili was already hurting enough, that the cold and the wind were most unwelcome, even if they did distract him from the throbbing that had started in his hands.

Reality was something most unwelcomed by the four of them, to be honest, that was until they could make out the distinct shape of Nori’s haircut in the distance, the dwarven thief rushing up to meet them.

“Thank Mahal you’re back!” The middle Ri brother exclaimed breathlessly, as he bent over his knees trying to catch his breath. “We’d been worried about you, you wouldn’t imagine-!”

But as the thief looked back up, facing the either grim or blank faces of those he’d been so glad to meet, a cold lump settled deep in his chest at the bland look the four were giving him in return, who did not seem glad to share in his relief in the slightest. Because Nori, while he might not have appeared as such, did care about the company, he and Balin had made sure the rest of them find refuge in the inner city, where lay the Great Hall. As soon as the orcs had forced them to retreat to Dale, Bard had ordered the men to ushered the women and children to the larger facility, where they would be able to shelter as many souls as they could. He and the rest of the company had been pushed back to Dale and had offered Bard their help until they’d had no choice but to seek refuge in the built-up safehouse the Great Hall was now to become to them.

He could still remember how Ori had been more than a little reluctant to go in, arguing that his place was on the battlefield, fighting next to their kin of the Iron Hills and showing their support to the men of Dale, but Nori would hear none of it. He might not have been the most sentimental of dwarves, but he was not about to let his younger brother’s life be claimed by a spear or a sword when a retreat could spare it. Thankfully, Ori hadn’t put up too much of a fight, and it was a relief to be reunited with the rest of the company when the two had set about to search for them (and had found a very angry Dori in it’s midst). They’d argued then, whether they ought to go after Dwalin, Thorin and the others, and eventually, it had been decided that Nori would wait until sundown for their return, to guide them to their refuge were the King and his family to come down.

And so Nori had waited, anxiously trying to avoid fighting as much as he could, although looking out for an opportunity in which he could help when it arose all the same, after all, dwarves were not the type to forsake their allies.

It went without saying that relief washed over him when he spotted Dwalin and the three rams behind him. A relief that turned into concern when none of his companions returned his greeting with the same enthusiasm, it would seem.

“What happened?” He asked, as Kili’s ram was the first to halt in front of him, Nori taking the reigns as the young prince dismounted and brushed past him without even a word. Bilbo was the one to go after him, as the little Hobbit hopped of his beast and handed it over to Nori before rushing off after Thorin’s younger nephew.

Turning back to the other two, Nori waited for a response, only then noticing the absence of Kili’s brother, who did not seem to be among the returning quatuor at all, for he had certainly not seen the blond go after Kili. Instead, there was just Dwalin and Thorin, the bald warrior helping the latter dismount as Thror’s grandson found it hard to move about much with the wound on his chest.

“Get us to Oin, all right? We’ll talk then.” Dwalin ordered gruffly, taking Thorin’s arm around his neck and helping the other along, careful to keep Nori in sight as the thief lead the way.

Thorin however, could only sigh in relief when finally the door closed behind them, they were safe, for now, although Kili retreating to the adjacent room was definitely not missed by his sharp eyes as he and Dwalin passed the threshold, the rest of the company thankfully all accounted for but a little bewildered at what was going on. So were the men and elves that had taken refuge with them, and the childrens’ large innocent eyes peering up at him as his arrival had disrupted whatever had been going on made him realize to what extent exactly this war went to. It wasn’t just about dead elves and wounded men, it was also about a direct threat to the ones too young to defend themselves too, and the bitterness he tasted in his mouth left a sour taste in it’s wake, as his eyes swept over the countless young boys and girls clutching their mothers’ dresses, young people he wished he had the words with which he could apologize, but his throat felt raw when he opened it. Dwalin pulling him to one of the corners, thankfully a little away from the rest of the Lake-Towners, was almost a relief when it came.

Oin, of course, was ever the practical surgeon. He’d been quick and precise, asserting what was wrong and immediately doing what he could. It hadn’t been pleasant, and Thorin could still feel his chest throbbing where Oin had wrapped whatever paste he’d come up with around the wound there, but he was thankful none the less, as he leaned back against one of the large room’s walls, Bilbo and the rest of the company minus Kili surrounding him and asking questions right and left about what had happened. Thorin had tried to explain, had recalled everything from when Dain had met him on the battlefield until Bilbo’s arrival and the revelation that Ravenhill had been a trap all along, Dwalin having to take up the summary of the events from thereon, Thorin still unable to voice to what exactly had occurred, the pain still being too fresh.

Thank Mahal Bombur had interrupted them, offering him what Thorin could only describe as the most heavenly bowl of soup he’d have in a long long time. Not even realizing he’d wolfed the content of it down, he was fiercely embarrassed when his company’s cook pointed out the empty bowl in his hands and offered to fetch him a second one.

“No, thank you Bombur, one was more than enough, although it’s without a doubt the best food I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Mahal knows how long.”

“How are you doing? Whath happened?”Bofur asked, from his brother’s left, the usually jovial dwarf’s features drawn, his forehead wrapped in what Thorin could only guess was Oin’s best handiwork.

The rest of the company anxiously gathered around a little closer, all having noticed the absence of Kili’s brother but had chosen to ignore what possibility it entailed. And while they’d waited and hoped for Thorin’s sister-son’s return, as the day faded and the moon rose high in the sky, one by one, any possible scenarios they might have come up with vanished, leaving but the one harsh truth behind Fili’s absence. They were all adults, they weren’t about to coat reality in lies to make it easier to bear, and they weren’t about to force Thorin to re-live it all if he did not wish to, but they all felt compelled to know what exactly had happened for their leader’s plan to backfire on him so drastically. Thorin being wounded had been a possibility they’d all thought possible, one of their own actually dying… They might have come close to it several times along the quest, but it had never appeared as a very real possibility… Well until now.

“Ravenhill was a trap, had been all along.” Thorin said bitterly, eyes locking onto the glass of water Oin had put in his hands and encouraged him to drink. It wasn’t that the object fascinated him, but Durin’s heir knew he would not be able to bear the looks the company would give him, the loathing and the blame that he was sure to find in a few seconds, he could already see it, but in his mind’s eye, he could accept it, no matter how badly it hurt, but seeing it truly happen, no, he could not lose the company too, not after losing what remained of his family.

“We’re sorry we didn’t-“ Gloin tried quietly, taking a step towards him in an attempt at comfort, but Thorin put up his hand, stopping the banker before he could go any further.

The company might feel sorry for the outcome of Thorin’s decision, but they had not been there to stop him, they had not been there to prevent his nephew’s death, and apologizing for something they had no control over nor knew was going to happen was useless. There was no point in them feeling guilty over what had happened too, what was done was done, no amount of self-loathing and feeling sorry for one another would change that, and the quicker they got it over with, the quicker they would be able to move on. It was unfair, but Thorin knew better than to let oneself sink into grief when war continued raging on around them.

“I-It's all right, nobody could have known. It’s done, we can’t do anything about it, but we can fight tomorrow, and hope that Fili didn’t die for nothing.” He hadn’t even realized the tremor in his voice until he felt a lump tighten in his throat, and staying the stoic image of the dwarven king suddenly seemed so impossible to keep up.

Thorin wanted to be alone, he wished for peace where nobody would be able to see him fall apart, but couldn’t find it in himself to push the company away, not when they only wished to help. Looking back up from where he rested against the wall, he could at last take in the cuts on Dori’s face, the blood smeared on Bofur’s sleeve and the gash on Oin’s neck, and how each and every one of them looked a little worse for wear.

“I’m glad you all made it back, however.” And for Ori, he tried to muster a would-be smile, which probably looked more like a grimace, if only to let the youngest of their company know that his bravery had not gone unnoticed nor unappreciated. “You should all rest, while you can.” He encouraged them, before slowly sipping the glass of water Oin had given him.

Thorin tried to not notice how their gaze seemed to pierce into him and scrutinize the very deepest of is feelings, but as he looked up, eyes darting from Bofur to Nori and even to Gloin who was now in the corner of the room, they were all looking at him, no matter how discreetly, and while the room had fallen into silence once more, the weight of their gaze felt heavier by the second, getting eavier and heavier by the second until he could no longer bear it.

“I’m sorry-“ He choked out as he got to his feet, not waiting to listen to what Bofur had said as he rushed out the front door, leaning against the side of the house for support.

Thorin loathed weakness, it had been the one thing he’d forced himself to never show to the world since he’d had to take up his Father’s place after his disappearance, but he was only mortal, and even his will had it’s limits when his body had it’s own needs, and containing everything he felt inside was definitely not doing it any good, it was better to get out of the company’s sight before they witnessed him fall apart and truly realize what a worthless leader he was in the end of the day.

Balin had only managed to bring Kili back towards the others when they both stopped at the sight of the younger dwarf’s uncle brushing past elves and men as he frantically made his way to the doors.

“Do you want to go after him?” Balin asked gently, looking down on his once upon a time student. Kili felt the urge to go after his uncle, not wanting to leave him alone and not wanting to be alone himself, but he couldn’t bring himself to take a step in Thorin’s direction when he tried. He hadn’t seen his uncle’s expression, but Thorin never took off running, even less when there were countless people around, and so his uncle’s behavior had him worrying. But while Kili worried, he couldn’t help but feel a small amount of satisfaction at the thought that his uncle would be hurting as much as him. He’d just lost his brother after all, of course Kili was hurting, but part of the reason why it had happened was because of his uncle’s orders, if Thorin was finally feeling guilty because of what he had done, well good, Kili found himself thinking, it was all he deserved after all, and shaking his head at Balin, he continued on to rejoin the rest company, but not before taking a last glance at the doors of the Great Hall, which his uncle had let slam behind him as he’d fled.

Balin watched sadly as Kili steeled himself towards feeling anything for his uncle. He knew Kili’s anger was justified, that it was his way of dealing with his loss, but being around the Durin family for so long, he knew Kili’s rejection had hurt Thorin more than he let on, and that right now, the lad’s uncle was in need of someone. He was probably hoping Kili would come to him, would find it in himself to put aside his anger and grief to help him, help them both, move on, but Kili couldn’t deal with anyone else’s feelings than his own at the moment.

Discreetly, Balin caught his brother’s gaze, and he tilted his head towards the door, a silent question of who ought to go after Thorin. Both knew leaving their young King by himself would do him no good, and eventually, Dwalin rose up to go after him, Balin left to tend to the younger prince’s emotional wound. Healing Kili wasn’t going to be easy, the lad having never experienced loss, but he would at least try, besides, hadn’t Balin pledged to help Durin’s line in any way he could?


The sky had considerably darkened by the time Dwalin made it out of the Great Hall, the cold of the winter air seeping into his bones as soon as he set a foot out of their temporary refuge. He knew Thorin was alone, wherever he was, it was his way of dealing with this, like he’d closed off to the world for a long time after Frerin’s death, and even then, it had taken a lot for him and Balin to eventually get him out of his shell. He’d hoped Thorin wasn’t on the way to doing it again, because unlike back then, the dwarves needed him now, they couldn’t afford time for Thorin to cope with his loss when he would be needed again tomorrow to discuss what course of action to take with Bard (there was no avoiding it, they would have to meet up with him, and probably the Elven King too, by the looks of it, Dwalin thought grimly).

Eventually, he found his friend outside, against the destroyed remains of what had probably been a family home some time ago. The blank look on the other’s face and the way the younger dwarf unconsciously fingered the material of his sleeve told Dwalin all he needed to know, as he quietly made his way over to the other, stopping a few feet away all the same, just so he wouldn’t appear as if he were invading the other’s private sphere.

“You all right?” It definitely wasn’t the best way to start a conversation, especially only hours after they’d lost someone they cared about because it was obvious none of them were all right, but Dwalin had never been one for sugar-coating things and dressing reality up in fancy words, it was all pretty useless in the end anyway.

Thorin looked up at him from where he’d slid down against the wall, one hand on his chest in an attempt to stop the pain that kept coming at it wave after wave, but as he opened his mouth in an attempt to voice out how he felt, he could only choke on a sob, the pain of his injury nothing compared to the chips of his chest he could feel crumbling inside, each little piece sharp with jagged edges, deepening the wound that was already there. He tried to say something, knowing that hurt was usually better out than kept in to fester, but found himself unsure of whether he could do it or not. His throat hurt, he knew he was close to breaking, he knew he couldn’t keep up the imperturbable mask he kept on for the company anymore, that all the pent up emotions needed to be let out somehow, and the look on Dwalin’s face as he looked down on him was enough to let the barriers finally crumble, Thorin not even trying to cover up the sob he inadvertently let out.

Once he’d let the first crack appear, the rest of the broken shards he was made up of shattered to the floor, and the foreign feeling that was letting one’s emotions take hold of them overtook him as his shoulders shook uncontrollably, Thorin’s sight going blurry as the tears fell, unchecked, he wasn’t even trying to stop them anymore.

“I-I…” He tried giving words to what he wanted to express, but his mouth refused, leaving him at a loss, not even able to control his emotions anymore. Everything hurt all of a sudden, and he just wanted it to stop, wanted the pain to go away, wanted everything that had happened to be just a nightmare, wanted his body to finally give in to exhaustion, just… to feel nothing. Nothingness couldn’t possibly hurt as much as what he was currently going though. Steeling himself against the world, he curled in on himself, backing up against the wall as much as he could in the hopes that the pain would somehow ebb away eventually, not a care in the world were Dain or one of the Iron Hills dwarf see him like this, in a most un-kingly position.

Dwalin sighed sadly, before crouching down in front of his friend. He’d always had a few inches over the younger, often teasing him mercilessly about it when they had been younger, but right now, it only made him realize how small Thorin could sometimes look when bent down with the weight of grief and loss the extent of damage the day had taken on him was finally catching up with him, after all, his friend couldn’t run away from it forever. The only time Dwain could recall Thorin ever looking this broken had been when he’d learnt of his brother’s fall at the battle of Azanulbizar, when it had finally dawned on him that Frerin, little blond Frerin, was never coming home, that he was never going to see him again. Thorin had been near inconsolable that day, and it had taken a long time for him to move on.

However, back then, they’d had time to heal wounds and cope with the grief that accompanied the departure of a loved one, Thorin had had time to learn how to cope with his loss. Right now, however, there was none, Dwalin reflected. Tomorrow, the sun would rise and with it would come another day of fighting, another day, where if Thorin wanted to survive (no, Dwalin corrected himself, live), he had to deal with the fact that Fili was gone forever right now. It wasn’t fair, one should be allowed time to accept the death of someone they cared about (Mahal only knew how long it would have taken him to recover were he to have learnt of Balin’s fall today), but that was a thing war stole from the people forced to fight in it. She cared naught for the emotional outcome, she cared naught about the feelings of those who fought, she cared naught about the death she left in her wake and those left alive to grieve the lost. No, she didn’t care, and nothing Dwalin could do would change that. It wasn’t fair, but then, when was war ever fair to begin with?

He only hesitated a moment before inching a little closer, and the proximity they were now in was all that Thorin needed before the younger leaned in, resting his head on Dwalin’s shoulder. Truth be told, Durin’s heir couldn’t care less anymore if he looked more like a dwarfling running to its mother after a nightmare than the respected King under the Mountain. It was a rare opportunity, for him to be offered a little comfort, and for once, Thorin knew better than to be too stubborn to accept it, his stubbornness having caused him more grief on this journey than anything remotely good.

They stayed like that, Dwalin trying to think about something to say to alleviate Thorin’s loss but eventually settling on remaining silent, knowing that grand words and speeches generally did little to help people like him. No words or deeds ever made up for the loss of a loved one, Dwalin had seen as such when people had tried to offer gifts to the dwarven mothers that had lost their children after Smaug had destroyed their homeland, and the flowers and cakes that had been meant as a token of support had generally been left untouched, not because the dwarrowdams didn’t appreciate it, but rather because they had been unable to see the compassion and assistance in them. Instead of trying to come up with something, the bald warrior just tightened his grip on Thorin’s arm slightly, just a little reminder to the other that he was not alone, and held him until he felt the tremors subside somewhat, even if he could still hear the sobs the king tried to muffle into his shoulder.

Dwalin had never been one for words, often resorting to axes and swords to settle a matter than trying to find a diplomatic solution (to his brother’s regret), and this time was no different, although he tried to make use of what gentle touch years of hardship had not yet taken from him, knowing it was what Thorin needed right now. Besides, what could he say that Thorin didn’t know already?

Dwalin looked back down when he felt a weight on his shoulder, only to realize that Thorin had apparently cried himself to sleep. He couldn’t settle on whether the king’s sudden loss of consciousness was a relief or a curse though, he would have to wait until tomorrow to find out. It was cruel, but in a way, Dwalin hoped that Thorin would have dealth with Fili’s death by then, because he knew he and the rest of the company needed someone to look up to, someone they could still follow, they needed Thorin.

Carefully, the older warrior awkwardly gathered Thorin in his arms, knowing better than to leave his friend out here for the night, and made for the house in which they’d currently found refuge in. It was a lot darker, he noticed, as making out who was sleeping where and avoiding stepping on them in their slumber became rather difficult.

“Are you all right, brother?” Came a voice behind him, and Dwalin spun around (as well as he could, given the fact that he still had a bundle in his arms), to catch Balin leaning against the wall, Kili sleeping next to him.

“How was he?” The bald warrior inquired, settling Thorin down alongside Gloin, knowing Kili would probably rather be left alone than forced to wake up beside his uncle for the moment.

“I don’t know, to be honest.” Balin sighed. He’d tried talking to Kili, but the lad had either refused to listen to him or had kept cursing at his uncle before Oin had forced him tro drink some kind of tea, in which the old healer had unadversedly slipped in a sleeping sedative, knowing Kili needed his sleep above anything else right now. Balin hoped the young prince at least had a reprieve of the hurt he’d been through today. He knew the loss of his brother had got to have affected him, he could only hope that Kili would realize that turning Thorin away from him wasn’t the course of action to take before it as too late. Who knew how Thorin would deal with the loss of his second sister-son if ever Kili were to turn away from him for good? Balin, for one, was definitely not eager to find out.

Chapter Text

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Cold.

The first thing he became aware of was that his body felt cold, as Winter trapped him in her arms, holding him close and stopping any attempt he might have made to try and escape. He could feel it, how her long limbs closed in on him, how she bit into him mercilessly, as he tried to fight her off with what little strength he could muster, her cruel embrace having already begun to numb his limbs. He couldn’t move, couldn’t escape as he felt himself sink into her deadly arms, he couldn’t pull himself away, and soon, he felt himself drowning, drowning, drowning in a merciless void of gelidity with no-one to pull him out.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Dark.

Mustering what little strength he had, he opened his eyes, blue orbs staring at the vast cavernous ceiling above him. He couldn’t make out much, everything was a mix of black and grey, with no shape or form beyond the blurry edges he could sometimes make out. It was so very dark though, he noticed after a while of trying to decipher what exactly he thought he was seeing.

Eventually though, the feeling of something akin to rock beneath his back lead Fili to believe that this must be somewhere in Erebor, probably one of several personal chambers, but then why was the ground beneath his body so hard? Wasn’t he resting on a bed, probably on Oin’s orders?

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Confusion.

He couldn’t make out anything much though. Fili tried squinting his eyes, tried to find something in the vast emptiness above him that he would recognize, but it was only one rock next to another, nothing remotely familiar emanated from them. Granted, he had not been in Erebor long enough to get to know his Uncle’s kingdom, but wherever was he? And shouldn’t Thorin or Kili be here too? Surely they couldn’t be too far away, he hoped. It still felt odd though, and not something he took comfort in, realizing he had not awoken to the sight of his brother’s back, with whom he had spent the most of their quest sleeping beside. Waking up every morning to Kili’s back had been his one constant along their journey, something he’d taken comfort in, and the fact that he could not make out his brother made him uneasy.

“Kili?” He whispered, hoping his sibling might have only rolled away from him in his sleep somehow, and he waited. And waited. And waited. But when Fili eventually realized that silence was the only answer he would be graced with, that Kili was not here, he bit his lip. He didn’t like being separated from his brother, and nothing he could come up with could explain his brother’s disappearance.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Pain.

Something was digging into his back, and it certainly wasn’t comfortable, whatever it was. It felt rough, almost pointy, and Fili felt it hurt, as if the sharp thing was trying to lodge itself into him from behind. Squirming uncomfortably, he tried to move, hoping it would somehow dislodge whatever was trapped between him and the ground.

Of course, he wasn’t expecting of blinding white pain to shoot up his side as he did so, and he could only gasp in shock as the slight effort he’d made to heave himself up a little had him hitting the ground just as quickly, his hands attempting to reach the hurt in his side, hoping that applying pressure on it might numb it down for the moment. However, the pain shooting up his side was soon joined with anxiety, as after a few failed attempts, he realized that his hands were securely tied behind his back, and he could not tend to the injury in his side.

What in Mahal’s name happened? He couldn’t for the life of him understand why someone would tie his hands together. Being laid down, he could understand, Oin had probably been behind that order, but had the healer also asked for his arm mobility to be restrained too? Fili didn’t like it, but when another attempt at slipping his limbs out of the bondage resulted in yet another failure, he could only give up, fighting against his restraints was useless. Besides, surely Oin would come back soon and take them off, right? He’d probably only tied his hands together so he wouldn’t hurt himself more, right? (Although it did seem odd coming from the healer, Fili was positive he had never seen him restraining a patient like this anyway…).

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Lonely.

The drops falling on his forehead had him looking back up for a moment, before he tried to turn his neck, hoping to find Kili at his side. But he was met with disappointment, as the sole thing laying in front of him was the stone wall of whatever chamber he was in. He couldn’t remember any of the rooms in Erebor being this dark, but then he hadn’t had time to explore everything with Kili.

Kili.

Where was Kili? Why wasn’t he here?

“Kili?” He tried to rasp out, his dry throat not liking him for the effort he was putting it under.

His brother’s name echoed, as the sound rang against the wall above his head and lost itself in the darkness in front of him. Fili waited anxiously, knowing his brother couldn’t have gone far (surely Kili was nearby, wasn’t he?) and hoping he would answer, come running to him and laugh at what a pitiful sight he must be right now.

“Kili where are you?” He couldn’t see well, his sight was still blurry, but straining his ear, there was no sound, not even a hint that his brother (or anyone at all, for that matter) had heard him. Where was he? But more importantly, where was everybody else? He wished he could get up, but having tried that already, Fili knew better than to attempt it again, he was not in a hurry to experience the searing burn in his side anytime soon.

“Kili please, this isn’t funny anymore.” More desperate now, he tried to make his brother out among the shadows ahead of him, where he could make out the faint orange glow of what must be some kind of torch (Oin had probably left it burn after he’d finished looking him over earlier, when he’d been out cold, Fili mused), because there was no way his brother had left him, Kili had to be here, he was probably just hiding, playing one of his pranks, and while Fili couldn’t deny his brother his fun, he would rather he show himself sooner rather than later, Fili hated being alone.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

The sudden freeze in the middle of his forehead had him looking up, startled. Hanging over him was one of countless sharp-looking icicles, all dangling from the ceiling right above his head. They almost glowed, the faint light of the flame burning to his left lighting up their pale transparence, and right there it dangled, the cause behind why he’d been startled. He watched, with glazed eyes, as the next drop slid down the side of the frozen length, coming to a stop at the tip, the bead of water coming to a halt at the very end, stopping as if it were hesitating whether it ought to let go or not, before eventually letting go, detaching itself from the main icicle and getting bigger and bigger in it’s descent, before splashing onto his forehead, right between his eyes.

The unexpected cold was uncomfortable, and sent a shiver running down his spine, but what could he do? He’d tried moving already, only to have white hot pain shooting up his side. Fili knew he couldn’t move, he could only bear with the uncomfortable chill it sent reaching down his neck each time the water hit his head, each time in the same place, the drop methodically following the journey it’s predecessors had only a moment prior to it. He could feel it, first the shock, as the cold his skin, then the feeling of something wet sliding along the curve of his forehead and down behind his ear to lose itself in his hair.

After a while, it became oddly comforting, as Fili learnt to rely on the measure intervals between the drip, drip, drip to count how long he was spending here, to count how long it would take him to get better, to try and imagine how long it would take Oin to get back to him, and besides, it gave him something to do other than focus on the pain in his side, which he would rather forget right now.

But still, nobody was coming for him, not Oin, not Uncle, not Kili (was he with the elf maiden? Had he convinced Thorin to let her stay in Erebor after all?), and there wasn’t a sound to be heard from the company either.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Panic.

Realizing he was alone made him nervous. Fili didn’t like being alone, he never had. Kili had always been there for him, he’d always been the one he’d crawled into bed with at night when they were children, Kili had been the one he would whisper how scared he was of disappointing Uncle Thorin, Kili had been the one he’d joked with along the road, Kili had been with him in almost everything, and not having his brother by his side, not knowing where Kili was, whether he was all right or not, was almost worse than the hurt he felt in his side.

He’d seen firsthand how deadly Kili’s injury had been when he’d tried to look after his brother when Bard had been good enough to let them take refuge in his home, and that helplessness, that feeling of being able to do nothing to alleviate his brother’s pain had been one of the worst experiences in his life, but he’d taken comfort in hoping that at least, Kili had appreciated the fact that he was there for him when Thorin had had to leave them behind.

Trying to make out Gloin or Bofur in the shadows just beyond his reach, as soon as a flicker of light hit his friend’s shapes, they disintegrated, Fili realizing that what he thought he’d seen had only been a trick of his mind, and that he truly was by himself in here, wherever chamber here was. He didn’t want to be alone, anything but that, not in this unfamiliar, enclosed and damp chamber.

Again, he tried calling for Thorin and Kili, the tremor shaking in his own voice making him go red in embarrassment (what dwarf would call himself a proud son of Durin and yet be afraid of being left alone?), but Fili knew he couldn’t help it. He knew he would rather be around Kili and have to listen to him ramble on on how taken he was with the elf maid than be stuck in here, where he could neither move nor see anything beyond the flicker of the flame to his left.

“Kili? Uncle?” The hesitation in his voice was clear, even to himself, but he didn’t care. If Thorin or his brother came back, it would be enough he wouldn’t ask for anything more of them. Just the fact that someone would be there would be enough, Thorin didn’t have to say anything, Kili could even continue talking about his fascination for starlight if he wished, just once it made Fili aware that someone was there, it was alright, because the hammering of his heart in his own chest was definitely not alright.

“K-Kili? Uncle? Please, where are you?”

But still, his only company was the echo of his own plea, his voice was the only company Fili had, and as he looked back up to the dangling stalactite above his head, where another drop of water let go of the tip and splashed right between his eyes once again, the first little crack gave away.

His chest tightened, breath turning into pants as he tried to get up, but again, the searing pain in his side had him falling right back down, pinning him to the ground and forcing him once again to stare up at the dangling stalactite, another drop landing on his forehead, the freezing liquid slowly trailing down the side of his face and rolling down his neck, eventually losing itself somewhere in his hair.

Fili couldn’t stand it anymore, he wanted, no needed out, or he knew he would go mad. Why had Oin confined him in here? Was there something wrong with him? Had he been wounded somewhere else than in his side, and thus represented a danger of infection towards the rest of the company? He closed his eyes, knowing there would be little change in what he would be seeing (at least, he would have a reprieve of the static stalagmite, at least he couldn’t see the drop of water latching onto the tip, teasing him mercilessly, making him prepare for her to dig into his forehead and chose not to fall, have him breathe in relief and then chose to crumble the small reprieve he’d basked in), until he felt another frozen drop slide down the side of his face, and this time, Fili could swear he felt it digging into his skin.

Oh no, Mahal, please don’t tell me it’s… But he couldn’t lift his arm, the pain was still too hard to deal with, and Fili could only guess at what had happened, that his bones had finally given in and that whatever water now fell on his face, he would be unable to stop it going deeper and deeper, until it drilled through the very bones of his skull.

He didn’t want to die like this. This wasn’t what Thorin and Balin had told him about how heroes and wars. Those dwarves died pierced with spears, they died side by side with their brother in arms, they died after fighting bravely, they didn’t die cowering under droplets of water, they didn’t die alone, they didn’t die like cowards calling out for their family, for the first time, Fili found himself wishing that whatever had given him the wound in his side had been fatal instead of leaving him like this, to die because his skull would eventually be pierced by mere water.

He needed out, and fast, but to get out, he needed his brother, he needed Kili. But he didn’t know where Kili had run off to, he couldn’t remember, and the thought that maybe his brother had forgotten him had Fili realize just how far he might actually be from getting help. He was alone, completely, and utterly by himself, and the mere realization of the fact terrified him.

“Please, someone, anyone, please, please don’t leave me alone.”


Despite finding sleep eventually, when Thorin woke up the next day, he never thought his body had felt so exhausted. He blinked several times in an attempt chase sleep out of his eyes, realizing that Dwalin must have brought him in last night after all, for he could certainly not remember falling asleep in the corner of the Great Hall.

Looking up, he could make out several faces, and once his senses returned (albeit a little slowly), he thought he could point out Balin, Kili and Oin at least, several humans around the old healer too, probably asking for his help regarding the wounded that lay only a few feet away from them.

He didn’t have time to say anything to them though, as no sooner had his eyes crossed his nephew’s did Kili kneel down and tentatively crawl closer to him.

“I-I’m sorry for what I said yesterday uncle, I-I didn’t mean it. I-I was just…” Kili knew he wouldn’t be able to take back his words, they were said and the harm had been done, and he’d regretted what he’d said overnight, when Balin’s talk with him had made him realize that he must have hurt his uncle more than he had intended too. His brother’s death had hurt badly, true, and Kili would be lying if he were to say that he was over it, but looking back at Thorin, he realized that he wasn’t the only one hurting. Fili’s death had hurt Thorin too, he could see it now, and Kili knew better than to push his uncle away when he was the only family member he had left right now.

“It’s all right, Kili.” Thorin got the drift, and he wasn’t about to force Kili into a full apology in front of everyone when he knew that his nephew would probably wish to discuss this somewhere private. The fact that his sister-son had come back to him on his own accord (well, maybe with a little help, but Kili did seem to want to mend things with him) meant more to him than any apology he might come up with, Kili’s actions spoke for themselves, Thorin didn’t need a grand speech to go along with it. “I’m glad to have you back.” And he brought up his hand, letting it hover over Kili’s head a moment when he hesitated, before ruffling his nephew’s hair lightly, Kili smiling up at him from beneath his bangs. Oh Mahal he had missed this, just being family with his nephews, and Kili being willing to try and mend and make the most of what they had was more than enough for him, and probably more than he deserved, Thorin reflected after a while.

“Are you all right?” Kili asked, hesitantly after noticing his uncle trying to avoid straining his side. He hadn’t paid attention to it yesterday too engrossed was he in his own anger and grief, but now, after a night’s sleep had helped him deal with what had happened (even if he was not done mourning his brother yet), he could see his uncle needed him, he could see that him closing off to the company and whoever might be willing to lend him a helping hand wouldn’t be any use to anyone, and after failing his brother so badly, Kili wasn’t about to fail anyone else, not if he could help it.

“Considering the fact that I’m still alive, I’ll say yes.” For Thorin knew many others had not been as fortunate as him, and that a lot of men, elves and dwarves had been killed yesterday on the battlefield. The fact that he’d not only made it back down from the Mountain but had also lived through the night with the rest of the company accounted for, well, Thorin knew he could consider himself one lucky dwarf.

“Good, because Dain has called for a council meeting with Gandalf and Bard, and he has requested your presence, if you are fit to go.” Came Dwalin’s voice, as the warrior knelt in front of the pair, offering them what Thorin could only guess was some attempt at porridge. While it certainly didn’t look the most appetizing, the king wasn’t about to turn the food away, knowing better than to go hungry when he would probably need to have his wits about him around the human and his cousin, for Thorin knew he was generally more reasonable than Dain, and would rather not have his kin’s stubbornness cause more casualties than this war already was.

However, that still meant that one of the kings was absent, and Thorin couldn’t help but inquire about it.

“What of the elven king, does Thranduil not wish to join?” Surely, Thranduil would not pass up on an opportunity to put him down during a council meeting, would he?

He was met with silence, however, and looking at Dwalin more closely, he could almost tell that the warrior was uneasy, as if he were hiding something from him and was rather reluctant to let it spill. For Dwalin to keep something to himself, it had to be important however, and Thorin wasn’t about to let his friend keep the information for himself if it was of utmost importance.

“Dwalin?”

“Lord Thranduil has left, he called his army back yesterday and is retreating to Mirkwood as we speak.”

The news hit him like a ton of briks. Thranduil had left? Thranduil had abandoned them? Granted Thorin had never felt any form of friendship towards the woodland lord (and the feeling probably wasn’t mutual either), but didn’t Thrnaduil know that leaving was basically signing a death sentence to all those who were left in Dale? Did he care not for those he left behind?

“He said his first duty was to his people.” Dwalin tried to argue, hoping it would calm whatever inevitable fury his friend would soon be overcome with. He knew there was no love between Thorin and Thranduil, but where Thorin was prone to hold on to old grudges and let them fester and cloud his judgment, Dwalin had actually witnessed the host of elves leave, he had heard the elvenking’s argument for retreat, and while he wouldn’t deny that Thranduil’s departure was now leaving them at a loss, military speaking, he couldn’t entirely fault the elf lord for wishing to spare his people more fighting and Death.

“The gems were not worth the sacrifices he was making.” He added quietly.

Thorin still felt bitter, even with Dwalin’s argument. He understood, by Mahal, he’d seen enough of his people die to understand Thranduil’s wish to spare his own such a Fate, but it didn’t mean he accepted it though. Did the elf lord truly feel nothing knowing he was leaving thousands to die, or was he just that cold since the passing of his wife?

Thorin sighed, whatever Thranduil’s reasoning was, the elf was gone and nobody was about to bring him back anytime soon, they could only make do with who was left, and the sooner they caught up with Bard and Gandalf, the sooner they would be able to start finding a solution to defend the remains of the city, their main priority now was to make sure that as many civilians were protected and hope that they would eventually be able to outlast the orc armies with whatever soldiers they had left. Thorin still took pride in the fact that the Ironfoot had not fled too, their skills and strength tactics were bound to come in useful in the upcoming weeks, for this battle seemed to have turned into a siege overnight, and while Thorin hated the fact that they were now trapped within the city, he knew it was his job as King of the Dwarves to not fail his people. They would fight until their last breath if need be, but they would not let the city of Dale fall, not while he still lived.

Both he and Dwalin made their way through the women and children, wincing at the cries they heard as they went along, until they reached the opposite corner of the room, where Dain, Gandalf and Bard were already engaged in a conversation, no doubt about what battle strategy they ought to adopt now.

“We should try an attack, they won’t be expecting it. I’m sure my men have enough strength in them yet for another strike!” Dain was suggesting, eagerly pointing to a small place on the table the three of them had gathered around, the little pieces disposed on it a probable account of where they were and where their enemy was, a map of sorts.

“My men do not have the strength, I cannot send them out there knowing it would only cost them their lives. I cannot have them suffer more than they already have!” Bard countered, fist hitting the table in his anger. His people had suffered enough because of the dwarves, any opportunity for him to spare them a direct confrontation with the orcs, he would take from now on. He knew better than to continue to tear families apart when there was still a tiny chance for them to be able to be together. Was it that bad of him to wish a boy and his Father another night in each other’s company?

“Well what are you suggesting, that we cower here and wait for those beasts to slaughter us like helpless animals?!” Dain shot back, clearly irritated that his will to go out to battle once more had not gotten the favorable response he’d been hoping for. He was of Durin’s line, and Durin’s line did not cower away from a fight, they supported their allies and fought to the end, what this human was suggesting was wrong. Besides, how long could they hold off in here? True, Dale was surrounded by a solid wall, but it was only a matter of time before the orcs found a way to destroy it, Dain wasn’t going to underestimate those beast’s capability to devise the most elaborate of plans.

“Ah, cousin!” He exclaimed happily when the three of them noticed Thorin’s arrival. Surely his cousin would have a better chance at reasoning the human, after all, Thorin had spent time with him already, and even if it wasn’t much, his cousin probably knew how to get Bard to agree to his idea more easily than himself. “We were just discussing what we should do with Lord Bard and Master Gandalf, and, like I was saying, I think we should strike again, the orcs won’t be expecting it!” And to show his enthusiasm, Dain lifted a fist, well intent on showing where he dwelt on the matter. As far as he was concerned, Dain knew a well though-out strike could be a devastating blow to the enemy, if they could just time it right and organize it to the best of their ability, surely they could bring an end to the Defiler and his armies, and restore peace to the land quickly.

“As much as your idea and wish I could fully support you, doing so would be wrong of me.” Thorin regretted to have to turn Dain’s request down, but they just couldn’t risk it. It felt unfair to leave his kin at a loss like this, it went against every ounce of dwarven blood that flowed through his veins, but he knew he just couldn’t ask Bard and the exhausted dwarven troupes to strike again. They were too spent, they needed rest and healing above anything else or they would be ineffective. An attack from their part now would just be sending more meat to the slaughter, and Thorin knew they needed every able bodied man they could spear if they wanted to come out of the very-near siege victorious.

“You’re with him then?” Dain said in disbelief, for never had he though his own cousin would turn on him like that. Did Thorin not know that dwarves were meant to fight out on the battlefield, that it was in their blood to not cower in front of an enemy? Had the extended amount of time his cousin had spent in company of the Hafling softened him that much? “You’re saying we should hide here, behind these walls and cower like weaklings instead of fighting for our kingdom?”

Thorin had often admired Dain’s stubbornness, but right now, he wished his kin would understand why he simply couldn’t go forward with his idea. Had they been composed of more soldiers, more fully-trained soldiers, Thorin might have given it a chance, but looking at Bard and the rest of the disheveled men scattered across the room, he realized that no, these were no nights, they had no knowledge of how to wield a sword or how to use a spear, they had no training in battle, and sending them out would only get them killed, even if they put all the will in the world into bringing down as many orcs as they could, and Thorin just could not do that to Bard. Having survived such a horror before, where he could only watch as his people died around him, he could not bear to force the man into such a terrible experience.

 “I’m sorry Dain, but look at those men, they’re not soldiers, they don’t know how to wield a sword, how can you expect them to win? How could we, in good conscience, force them to fight something they know they won’t win?”

“Lord Bard is right,” Gandalf added, “Those who are dead, we can unfortunately do nothing more for, but those still lucky enough to be counted among the living, I think it is our duty to make sure it remains that way. Fight, Lord Dain, but instead of fighting for a homeland you wish to reclaim, for now, could you not fight for those who need you? Right now, the men and your armies are exhausted, they have found a refuge in here. Make it stronger, defend it, make sure they live to see another day, would that not be a better course of action to take right now? To defend rather than attack?”

Dain bit his lip, and Bard, Gandalf and Thorin all waited anxiously for his response, for they could not, in good conscience, decide what course of action to take and impose it on everybody (including the dwarves from the Iron Hills) without the other dwarf lord’s consent. Dain, of course, was stubborn (even more so than Thorin), he did not wish to retreat for to him it was as good as being dishonored, but put into perspective with the Grey Wizard’s argument, would it truly be that bad to stake his want for revenge on the Pale Orc and his army to tend to the warriors of his army?

Besides, he couldn’t really go against the council, it was a three-to-one vote here, there was no point in him disagreeing further. Sighing as he leant back against the wall, he put up his hands in surrender, “Fine, we’ll defend the Great Hall and the city, I’ll make sure that my men are aware of the change of plans.” He said, before nodding towards the others, dismissing himself.

Thorin sighed in relief, “Well, that could have been much worse.”

“If I may ask, why the change of plan? Only a day ago you were crying war out to everyone.” Bard asked, raising an eyebrow at him from where he stood on the other side of the table. He wasn’t passing judgment or anything of the sort, he was just genuinely curious about the dwarf’s sudden change.

Thorin looked back down in shame, how could he forget his past actions towards the men of Lake-Town? He had not meant for the gold to corrupt him so badly, and his quick change of sides must have come off as strange (maybe even suspicious) to Bard, but Thorin wanted him to know that he genuinely believed this was the right thing to do, that retreating today for a better chance tomorrow was what he believed was right.

“I never meant to start a war, and I know no apologies from my part will make up for your loss, but know that I deeply am sorry for the way I have acted, and I do wish to better myself by you and your people. Standing down now seems like the only thing we can do in the hopes of surviving as long as possible.”

Bard nodded in understanding, knowing better than to hold it against Thorin for turning him down when he could make an ally out of him. Hoping it would work, and that years of bitterness hadn’t hardened the potential ally that now stood in front of him, he extended a hand, an offer of truce between them.

“I’m glad to know we both seem to share the same goals, what say you to forming a potential alliance?”

Thorin stared at the open invitation the human was giving him, hesitating for a moment. Had his grandfather been at his side, Thròr would probably be urging him to refuse it right now, arguing that men were weak, and that dwarves needed no help from the likes of them. But his elder wasn’t here was he? This was his chance to take a first step in mending the relationship between Erebor and Dale, build something stronger than had had been there before Smaug destroyed everything, and Thorin knew he would be a fool to refuse it.

“Aye,” More confident now, he shook Bard’s hand with a new vigor, now that he had found a new purpose. Erebor restored might be a distant dream right now, but helping the men get through the coming weeks, that was something he could help with, and, quite frankly, Thorin knew he also owed Bard for the shelter he had offered them back in Lake-Town.

“To our new alliance.” And despite the heartache he was still dealing with, Thorin still found it in himself to smile back up at the human, hoping that this deal between them would bring along something good, a better future for both their races.

Chapter Text

Bolg had been watching the whelp from the shadows for a good while now, careful to stay hidden from the kid’s sight, as he did not wish to let the little twerp become aware of his presence. As he observed the cuts adorning their prisoner’s face, the small seed that had blossomed in his brain yesterday, when he’d stayed his father’s hand on the dwarf-scum, was finally starting to take shape, and oh how he liked what he was seeing. His claws itched in anticipation, wishing he were the one who could put his plan to execution, but frustrating as it was, Bolg knew it wouldn’t work, the only person who could see it though was Alfrid. He sighed, not for the first time regretting that neither he nor his father would get to touch the whelp if this was what they were going to do, and prayed that the human wouldn’t be stupid enough to foil his idea. All he had to do was talk him into doing what he wanted to see, which, thankfully, should not be too difficult given that Master Alfrid wasn’t about to argue with him (if he did, his dear companion would certainly not live to see another sunrise, the half-blind orc mused).

Heaving another frustrated sigh, he rose up, glowering at any one of his subordinates unfortunate enough to be in his path as he made for his Father, where he knew his invaluable asset was cowering away, Azog the only one standing between the human and the pack of orcs that would more than gladly tear him apart if he could serve as their next meal.

Time to have some fun, Bolg grinned, sharp fangs shining against the torch light, pushing Alfrid to retreat even more into the safety of his little alcove, hoping he would pass unnoticed.

“Where are those bottles you had with you yesterday?” He growled, as he approached the other two, knowing they were bound to need the human’s supplies if he wanted this to work, the little twerp wasn’t going to fall for it otherwise.

“W-What? B-Bottles?” Alfrid stuttered, trying to lean away from the other, who stood much too close to his face in Alfrid’s opinion, this was certainly not the safe distance he’d rather they had between them.

“The bag! The little satchel you had with you yesterday!” Bolg snarled. Were all humans that slow? Oh boy did he not look forward to try and explain to him what he expected of him. “Where are they, you’re going to need them.”

“O-Oh!” Alfrid stuttered, unbuttoning his coat and taking out the small bag he had stored away in his inside pocket, sighing inn relief when he saw that the glass containers had not been damaged to badly. “Here.” He offered, as he took one in his hand and was about to give it to his new Master, hoping he would appreciate the small token.

“Not for me, you fool.” Bolg rolled his eye, grabbing the trembling human by the arm and dragging him behind him, with little care whether he could keep up of not. Alfrid tried to keep up without stumbling along the uneven ground as much as he could, one hand still trapped in the iron grip of the half-blind orc had on him, the other trying to limit the damage done to the rest of the drinks he had in his satchel, as he would rather not see them go to waste before he might have a taste of them.

Alfrid prided himself in being a smart man, and as a smart man, he knew how to evaluate situations and the risks that were in them for him in a blink of an eye (it came with being a servant to the most important person in Lake-Town, after all), and one look at the glowering orcs standing vigil to his left and to his right was enough for him to give up on the idea that he might be able to make a run for it, the gleaming swords they had strapped to their sides were not blades Alfrid would like to test the sharpness of anytime soon if he could help it.

Stumbling behind the huge frame, Alfrid kept up as best as he could, knowing that were he to fall behind, the orcs on his tail would definitely not think twice before making him their meal for the day, and he knew he would rather avoid that ending if he could help it. Besides, hadn’t Bolg just said he could be of some use to him? Alfrid would rather attempt whatever he would ask of him if it would ensure him even the tiniest chance that he might live to see another day, it didn’t matter what it was, just as long as he lived, Alfrid knew it would be all right.

They came to a stop in front of the little alcove where Bolg had placed their prisoner after he’d retrieved his body from where it had fallen, and the orc ordered the others to stay away for a moment while he inspected the state of their guest.

The whelp had obviously tried to free himself, the red marks adorning his wrists were enough proof of that, even to his half-failing vision. Bolg grinned, they had a fighter then, how fun. The strong spirited ones were always the most rewarding to break, and once again, he grit his teeth in annoyance at the fact that he wasn’t going to be able to have his fun with him. Oh he wanted to, if only for it to be a way for him and his Father to get back at Oakenshield for what he had done to them, but on the other hand, if he wanted to see his grand idea through to the end, he could not lay a claw on the kid, let alone show himself to him either, and for a moment, Bolg hesitated which option he ought to take. Sure, if he woke the kid up now, he and his Father had more than enough time to devise something up to make their little princess scream, but he didn’t want that, and neither did Azog. The sole reason they’d kept the whelp alive in the first place was for them to get revenge on the oh-so-mighty King under the Mountain, and in order to do so, what Bolg had come up with did certainly not involve either he or his Father laying so much as a claw on the little bastard, after all, they would not do any long-term damage, and long-term damage was what Bolg wanted.

Oh he wanted to get his hands on the boy, he wanted to so badly, if only to repay Oakenshield for ruining his Father’s arm, but Azog had taught him long ago that sometimes, you could beat and whip someone as much as you wanted, and still, you would not get anything from them, which seemed to be the case of the scum lying at their feet, for Bolg could recall that he had not given in when he’d caught him in the tunnels and forced him to let go of his weapon, the kid had not begged for mercy. He’d had time to reflect over it while their prisoner had been out cold, and Bolg was ready to admit that coming up with something to get back at the dwarf King and break their prisoner had been quite tricky, but eventually the solution presented itself when he’d caught Alfrid sipping one of his precious bottles.

Dwarves were known to value honor above all else, and the line of Durin was no exception. The kid was in most part a stranger to him, but with the small piece of information his Father had shared with him, that their captive was none other than Thorin’s direct heir, it had been all the knowledge he’d needed for everything to click into place. As an heir himself, he knew the blond undoubtedly valued his place and more than likely wished to impress the one person he looked up to, and while dwarves were known to enjoy drinking until they lost their senses, he doubted quite strongly it would be a conduct Oakenshield would approve of, let alone his heir to the damned throne indulge in. Hell, the kid was probably a real lightweight in that case, which would mean that getting more than a little groggy would probably be easy, especially given the fact that the wound in his side had not been treated either, and that was sure to dull at least a part of his common sense.

Bolg grinned in satisfaction as the final piece of his plan fell into place before turning to Alfrid and pointing once again to the bag at his side.

“Here’s what I want you to do…” He started, looking the other in the eye to make sure he understood perfectly, and that, were he to inadvertently give himself away, there would be no second chance for him, the knife Bolg had at his side would be the last thing Alfrid ever saw.

Alfrid, ever quick to catch on to what was asked of him (a skill he often prided himself with, actually), nodded fervently, knowing he could not afford to disappoint his new Master, or he would pay for it with his life.

Coughing slightly, hoping his voice would be on par, Alfrid took a step forward, there was no turning back now.


Dry.

His throat was so dry it hurt to swallow, and it was just another addition to the pain that clouded his mind. Everything hurt, his head hurt, his neck was sore, his side was on fire, his arms ached from the strain that somehow kept them behind his back, and Fili just wanted everything to stop.

Opening his groggy eyes again, he tried to make out something familiar, something he could rely on to reassure himself that he was no completely alone in this unfamiliar place. The stone beneath his face still felt cold, foreign to him though, and his blurred vision couldn’t make much out besides what must have been a flaming torch somewhere to his left.

“Kili?” He rasped out, (oh what he wouldn’t give for one of Oin’s herbal medicines right now, anything that would just take away the irritating dryness in his throat), hoping it might get a response from his brother, whom he had not seen since… He couldn’t remember actually. Fili could recall hitting his head on something, and he’d obviously hurt his side but from what, he could not for the life of him recall right now, as his mind went blank when he had tried to think about how he might have acquired the wound.

The rocky ceiling above him was oppressing, he could almost feel it slowly push itself down onto him, crushing him where he was, unable to move, and not for the first time did Fili wish he were not alone, or at least have Oin with him, so the Company healer might tell him exactly what was going on and get him out of here, back to his brother and uncle, whom he hoped were all right.

“Kili? Uncle?” he tried again, hoping he’d managed to be slightly louder this time around, and that his family (or anyone, for that matter, he just didn’t want to be alone any longer) had heard him, but again, he was only met with silence. Or almost silence.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Panic flooded his veins as Fili was reminded what exactly had happened last time he’d opened his eyes, and once again, he tried untying his arms in order to see the damage done. There was bound to be a hole there, he was sure he could feel it, and Oin was going to have a terrible time fixing that up (if he even could, he thought grimly). It would probably scar eventually, but Fili took no pride in it, this wasn’t a battle wound, this was just an ugly proof of how he’d been unable to fight like his Uncle and Mister Dwalin had taught him, of how he’d cowered beneath a few drops of water. Who knew what names people were bound to call him now?

But it was scary, he couldn’t help it. He’d tried moving and not just once, but it simply hurt too much, he wasn’t ready to attempt it again before Oin came and asserted how bad his injury was, because by the feel of it, it certainly wasn’t something small. Or maybe Oin had come already and he’d just been unconscious? But then why did it still hurt so much when he moved? Surely the old healer would have given him something, wouldn’t he? And surely, he wouldn’t have left him by himself either, unless Fili had something contagious, and no wound he remembered acquiring had seemed likely to sport such an infection.

“Kili?” Kili at least, as his brother, ought to be here, and the fact that he was not was more than a little unsettling. Sure, Fili had seen his brother’s infatuation with the elven maid, but surely Thorin would not have allowed her here, inside the halls of their ancestors, and understandably. Erebor was a dwarven kingdom, no elf had their place in here, no matter what Kili might say in her defense.

His question was left unanswered, much like last time he’d tried calling out for his brother, and Fili concluded that wherever Kili was, it was not in the sick bay where he must be laying right now. Well, maybe Kili wasn’t there, but he could always try his uncle, surely Thorin wouldn’t have left him too, would he?

“U-Uncle?”

Had he had his wits about him, he might have noticed Bolg usher Alfrid forward, a last warning of what would happen to him were he to fail what they had planned out in the form of quickly dragging his claw across his neck, making Alfrid gulp in anticipation, but all Fili could hear was a shuffling sound next to him, as someone knelt down next to him, finally someone had come to save him from his solitary nightmare. It was too dark for him to make out whom exactly, but by the dark clothes he was wearing, it could only be one person. He tried calling out to them, unable to reach out with his hand, but again, his throat seemed bent on being rather uncooperative, and all he managed to elict was a small cough, as he tried to dislodge whatever was stuck inside.

It was a relief indeed when a bottle was pressed to his lips, and without thinking twice, Fili accepted the help that was given to him, taking in as much as he could of what could only be Oin’s medicine (what else could burn his throat and taste so odd at the same time?).

Alfrid however, could not believe his good fortune. He’d thought he was going to have to force-feed the little twerp and that this would have been a most unpleasant experience for them both, but the kid was taking the bottle of liquor he’d pulled out of his coat pocket… almost willingly? This might be a lot easier than he’d first thought then, now if he could just get him to finish the entre thing…

Not willing to let this golden opportunity slip, Alfrid pushed the little twerp on further, forcing the whole bottle down the kid’s throat, and even if he did choke on the end of it, Alfrid couldn’t care less, this was his one chance to survive, and he wasn’t about to throw it away. Coughing again, making sure he would get the voice as close to that of Oakenshield, he gave it a try:

“Fili?”

“Uncle? Uncle, where are you!”

The response was immediate, and Alfrid looked back to the half-blind orc, who had still been hiding in the shadows and had been about to take a step towards the two of them. He vehemently shook his head, this was too perfect for the orc to ruin. Bolg’s idea had seemed a little far-fetched at the start, but if getting the kid a little drunk and Alfrid adopting a temporary new voice was enough to be able to convince him that he was Thorin… Oh the possibilities were endless.

“Aye, it’s me. Are you all right Fili?” Maybe the kid wasn’t sober, but reeling him in and getting him to trust him was a chance Alfrid wasn’t going to throw away, after all betrayal was always something that left a bitter taste in one’s mouth, even more so when it came from someone they trusted, and if what Bolg had told him was right, that he was supposedly the whelp’s uncle, Alfrid knew he was going to be able to cause a lot of damage, which was all the better for him, in the end. As long as he made it out alive in the end of the day why should he care about the relationship between Thorin Oakenshield and his nephew?

“I-I think so…” Fli wasn’t too sure what he felt like, to be honest. His head was spinning, his back was hurting him, the wound on his side was still sore, but it didn’t really matter to him anymore, someone was finally here, uncle had finally come for him, and Fili couldn’t be more happy at the prospect that he was finally going to be able to get out of here. Thorin would help him up and they would go to see Kili and the others at last, oh how he had missed them.

Maybe his side was sore, and maybe he had hurt his head more than he’d initially thought when he’d his the ground (what else could explain his unfocused sight, after all?), but the fact that Thorin had come back for him was enough to bear with the pain in his side.

Shit! Alfrid though, what could he possibly do now? He couldn’t outright hit the kid, it was much too soon, and he didn’t want to risk his plan so soon after it had started working. Think Alfrid, think! What could possibly hurt the whelp without landing a physical blow? The kid trusted him so far, he was listening to him, and with him believing him to be Thorin, he could have him believe just about anything he wanted, and didn’t Thorin deserve him getting back at him for not honoring his word?

Yes Alfrid though, the would-be King under the Mountain had lied to them, he had not kept his word, why should he treat him or his family with respect when they were but a bunch of liars who had cost him his gold. Oh he would have his revenge all right, and the whelp in front of him was the perfect opportunity for him to seize it.

Not waiting to make sure the kid had enough wits about him to stand, he pulled him to his feet and turned to him, his two hands on his shoulders.

“Listen Fili, it’s not safe here, we need to get out.”

“Wha?” Weren’t they in Erebor? Fili wasn’t entirely sure, but Thorin sounded worried, anxious even, and the slight tremor he could feel in his uncle’s hand on his shoulder confirmed what Thorin was saying. Why, he didn’t even have a moment to react that already the older was pulling him along behind him, and he could do little else but try to follow and avoid tripping. “Uncle, w-where are we going?” If Fili hadn’t been so out of his mind, he might have realized that it didn’t even sound like him, but as it was, he could only follow his uncle as he first pulled him to his feet and then tried to pull him along.

He did not wish to hinder his uncle’s progress, getting out of here was obviously his priority right now, but as a shot of blinding white pain shot through his side when he took his first step forward, Fili couldn’t help but double over.

Alfrid was pulled to a sudden stop when the weight of the kid he’d been pulling brought him to a stop. What was it now? He rolled his eyes and tried to calm himself, knowing he couldn’t turn on the kid just yet, it was too soon.

“Are you all right?” He asked, trying to muster a would-be compassionate voice, which was quite a challenge, given the fact that Alfrid had never really had to care for another person than himself.

Fili nodded “I-I think so, my side hurts a little-“

Alfrid however, really wasn’t interested whether the kid was hurt or not, he’ wasn’t one for chit-chat and he certainly wasn’t going to try to think about how the real Thorin might react to one of his nephews getting hurt. The blond had barely managed to catch his breath that his uncle was pulling him by the arm once again. It hurt, the strain their run was putting on his injured side was definitely not helping it, nor were the quick gasps for breath that expanded the sore skin around the wound, but hindering Thorin meant delaying their escape, which Fili knew he would rather not compromise, he’d do anything to get out of here, even if it meant running with a wounded side.

How many twist and turns they took, Fili was already so dizzy he didn’t even think he could count them, his only constant was Thorin’s black coat, his hand around his own and the dark hair he could see in front of him: as long as he kept Thorin in his sights, he would be fine.

Alfrid wasn’t too sure where they were running to, for he hadn’t exactly planned out a route as he did not know the layout of the tunnels as well as Bolg or Azog, so he could only guess where to go. Down the left tunnel they went, Alfrid relentlessly pulling on Fili’s arm and trying to have him keep up with encouragements he that held no deeper meaning than have him believe he was following his uncle (for Alfrid certainly wasn’t here to comfort the kid, he was just here to save his own skin), and while the blond didn’t always respond, Alfrid felt him grip his hand tighter, and he could only smirk as he’d finally managed to get the whelp to completely trust him.

He hadn’t been completely into Bolg’s idea at the start (actually, Alfrid had been pretty sure it would fail), but now, turning his head slightly, he could still read complete and utter trust in the face of the kid, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the blond wasn’t a little dumb, even in the state he was in with him pulling on his injuries and all, Fili still believed him to be his uncle? Well, it seemed the whelp was willing to go far to be with his uncle it would seem (not that it bothered Alfrid, the more the kid would trust him, the easier his job would be, after all).

“P-Please, Uncle! We have to-“ Whatever had seemed to have unnerved his uncle, Fili didn’t like it. He could see him look left and right literally at each step they took, as if he feared something would leap out at them from the shadows. Had he gone mad again? Surely there was nobody in Erebor other than themselves, right? What would Thorin possibly have to fear?

Thorin turned sharply to the left, pulling on his injured wrist once again, and Fili found himself biting down on his lip in an effort not to cry out. While his uncle hadn’t meant to hurt him, well it hurt none the less, and the jolt of pain it sent running up his arm was definitely something he could do without right now, as the simple action of keeping up with the older dwarf was taxing enough by itself.

He tried not to focus on the hurt though, even if it was difficult to block out, but rather find relief in the fact that Thorin was finally helping him out of whatever hell-hole Oin had unknowingly confined him to. Fili couldn’t help but be grateful to his uncle for helping himself on his own accord, he could well have sent Gloin or Dori to help him rejoin them, but the fact that his uncle had come in person, had deemed this more important than any duty the crown required of him, Fili knew he would have to thank him once they made it back to the others (that was where they were heading, right?).

Everything passed in a blur. Fili could still feel his head spinning, and whatever medicine Thorin had given him was definitely not making things any better as the walls seemed to enclose on them one moment and yet seem huge the next. Hopefully he would be able to rejoin Kili and then sleep it all off, because by Mahal was he tired.

“This way!” Alfrid urged from in front, his grip never waning on the other’s wrist. To be quite honest, he had no clue as to where he was leading the kid, he just hoped he hadn’t gotten himself lost in the tunnels, that would certainly not bode well for him at all.

Fili stumbled behind, still trying to keep Thorin in his sight, or he knew he would never make it out of this maze of twists and turns (how his uncle managed to get lost in little villages but find his way around the lost Kingdom under the Mountain, he could not fathom). His arms hurt from the rope that still bound them together, and not for the first time did he wish that Thorin had taken the time to undo them (but then again, Thorin had said there was no time to spare, they needed to move, he’d surely undo them once they would join up with the others). His side hurt, he wished he could call out for a short respite, but he knew better than to ask his uncle, Thorin had made it clear that they had to make it out of here at all costs, and he wasn’t about to hinder his uncle over a wound that he’d said Oin would treat soon.

He could make out the blurry edges of his breath ghosting out in front of him, for the first time realizing how cold it was in Erebor (did the forges not reach each point of the Mountain yet?) and the shiver that crawled down his spine as he ran was most uncomfortable. It was nothing compared to the sudden burn in his side however.

They’d been rounding a corner when it happened, unexpected like the first time. Thorin had been about to pull him into the corridor leading to the right when the weave of pain hit him in full force, and the only thing Fili knew he could do to try and ease it a little was to double over. While one of his hands was still firmly grasped by his uncle, his second one flew up to his side, applying pressure where it hurt in order to try and stop the pain and numb it down to nothing. He knew Thorin wished for them to be quick, but the small respite in their frantic run was a relief he didn’t wish to put an end to himself.

“Are you all right?” This was why Alfrid hated kids, they always made a mountain out of nothing. He didn’t particularly want to be doing this, but then again, he didn’t particularly want to be dead either, and if he wanted to live, he could only put up with the brat for now. He wished he could just tell him already, see the hurt on his face and the hope he’d harbored that this was Thorin coming to save him shatter to pieces, but Alfrid knew he had to push it a little further still, at least until he could get him back to a place where he wouldn’t move. Right here, in the middle of the passageway, the kid would be an orc-meal in less than an hour if he were to abandon him, and were he to do that, Alfrid was also aware that it wouldn’t be long before he joined him.

He sighed, irritably, as the kid took a moment to catch his breath, before pulling on his wrist again, ignoring the cry of protest it earnt him as he was misfortunate enough (or maybe clever enough) to have picked the broken one.

By the time they’d rounded the third corner, Fili wasn’t even seeing straight anymore. The pain in his side was becoming unbearable and he was suddenly grateful that Thorin had his back to him so he could not see his eyes water. He could barely make out his uncle’s frame in front of him and was honestly following blindly by this point, the incessant pull on his arm the only link he had to his mother’s brother and a possible way to find the rest of the company again.

“Uncle!” He managed to choke out between two breaths, hoping it would be enough for Thorin to stop, just a moment. “Uncle, please stop!”

Alfrid didn’t turn back however, this was just a warning to the kid, and if he was smart, maybe he’d get the drift that this was not the Thorin he loved and looked up to that he thought he was seeing, but when he heard another cry along the lines of Uncle, please! Alfrid couldn’t help but slow down the pace a little. The whelp had begged, he owed him that at least, nobody had ever really begged to him before, and Alfrid had to admit that he quite liked the sound of it, actually. He’d get Fili to beg for a lot more than that if he could have his way with him. After all, was he not of the same family as Thorin Oakenshield? Was he not bound to turn out the same way too, a backstabbing liar who promised gold and riches only to turn his back on those he swore something to? If the kid were to succeed his uncle, Alfrid was going to make sure he taught him a lesson before handing him back to his kin, after all, Oakenshield deserved no less than the broken remains of his family for what he had done to them.

Realizing that they had finally made it back, Alfrid let his leg trail behind him slightly, and it only took a moment for the whelp to caught himself in it and be sent sprawling to the floor. Alfrid was on him in a matter of moments, taking hold of the bound wrists behind the kid’s back, the whelp’s cries of confusion going unheeded as he tried to find somewhere he could attack it, just to make sure the whelp wouldn’t run off on them.

When the initial dizziness he’d felt from the fall had quickly evaporated, Fili had felt a weight on his back, preventing him from moving an inch, and for a moment he panicked.

“Uncle?! Uncle what are you doing?!” Everything was dark, he couldn’t see Thorin, but he could feel him moving behind him, and he winced as his uncle tightened the rope around his arms once again. Why? Why was he doing this? Had Oin asked him to?

“Making sure you don’t leave, of course!” Alfrid snarled, as if it were obvious. He didn’t like the kid, no matter how useful he was going to be to them, and he certainly didn’t want to spend any more time than was necessary around him, just what was enough for him to believe that his uncle was truly here, with him and then leave him to whatever nightmares his own twisted mind would play on him (aye, the bottles contained some damn good liquor, but the amount he’d forced down the kid’s throat wasn’t going to allow the whelp to have his wits about him anytime soon, and Alfrid certainly didn’t want to have to hear the kid call out to his uncle and expect him to make everything better, Alfrid was certainly not going to do that).

Fili could feel Thorin starting to rise up again, and while his fuzzy mind might not have been able to piece everything that had happened together, one thing he was certain of was that if Thorin left, he would be alone. He didn’t want to be alone, not after what had happened last time. Thorin didn’t seem to be in his right state of mind either, and while his change in behavior had chilled him to the bone, he didn’t want him to leave.

In a last attempt to reason his Uncle, he tried to ease his way forward, ignoring the jolt of pain it sent down his side, if he could just try to reason Thorin, then he might… But already he could make out the black outlines of the his uncle’s figure turning away.

“No, no Uncle! Don’t leave me!”

But by the time his cry had echoed off the empty tunnel, Thorin was long gone, Thorin had left him and once again, Fili was alone.

What in Mahal’s name was up with his uncle? Why would he do this to him? And where was Kili and the others? Surely…. Surely Thorin hadn’t done this to them too, had he? But then again, Fili could remember how Thorin had tried to have him murder Bilbo, how unapologetic he’d been when he’d seized him and then gone for the little Hobbit himself. If he’d been capable of taking such drastic actions, maybe his uncle had not entirely recovered from whatever had plagued him down In the gold chambers.

And the mere thought that this was his uncle, this was the Thorin he’d grown up with and who had taught him almost everything he knew, and that he was utterly alone with his gold crazed uncle sent his heartbeat soaring. If he’d tied him down here this time, what could he possibly do the next.

Fili you idiot, this is Thorin we’re talking about! He tried scolding himself, desperate for this to have all been an image of his own mind but the feeling of his uncle’s hands on his arms, his voice in his ears, it was all too real. This was Thorin and he’d never thought he’d be so scared of being around him.

And yet, somewhere in his chest, he couldn’t help but want him back at the same time, being with Thorin meant he wasn’t alone-

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

Oh Mahal, please no, not again.

But while he had a mind and will of its own, the water slowly dripping from the grey mass right over his head did not, and soon, he could feel the all too familiar feeling of something digging into his head, as if were back for vengeance, to finish off what it had not manage to accomplish last time.

Anything but that, even gold-crazed Thorin couldn’t possibly be as unsettling, whatever he said wouldn’t hurt half as much as feeling something dig itself into his skull.

Uncle, please, don’t leave me alone, please come back.

Chapter Text

Two weeks. He’d been confined to the Great Hall for two weeks, and quite frankly, Kili didn’t know how much more of it he could endure. The first few days, he could deal with it, as the walls had offered his exhausted body the protection it needed in order to recover, but now, as he found himself pacing up and down, carefully avoiding Balin and Thorin (knowing it would upset them), he just couldn’t take it anymore. He understood his uncle’s desire to keep him here, to spare him the same fate as his brother, but Thorin had never asked him what he thought of it, and if he were honest, Kili had had enough of being cooped up indoors. He wanted to –no, needed to- go out, to fight, to feel like he was achieving some sense of purpose instead of cowering away and letting others die while he did nothing to help. Wasn’t that why Thorin had eventually re-emerged from the Mountain in the first place? To offer assistance the Men of the Lake and assist them in defending Dale and Erebor as newly-formed allies? Then why was he not allowed to contribute to it too? Because he was too young? Nonsense! If he were to young, Thorin would never have taken him on the Quest in the first place, and in Kili’s mind, he’d proven himself a more than capable dwarf over the course of their journey, Thorin’s fear for his safety, while he appreciated it, was becoming more of a handicap than something he was proud of, and the brunet was coming around to the conclusion that if his uncle wouldn’t let him out, then he had no other choice but to slip out by himself.

Which was now why he found himself near the small stack of weapons Bard and a few of his men had managed to salvage and carefully stash in the corner of the Great Hall. He’d been eyeing the swords and makeshift spears for a while now, and had eventually tentatively approached the load (still paying making sure that no member of the company might be keeping an eye on him, he didn’t want them to catch on to what he intended to do), assessing with his eyes what might be useful to him and what wasn’t.

Looking back once again, just to be sure nobody might catch him, Kili picked out one of the small daggers there, strapping it to his belt, and added to that a few dispatched arrows he found there, knowing a full quiver could always come in handy, especially given the fact that he would much rather have to wield his bow than have to risk a close encounter and be forced to resort to using his blade. Making sure everything was tightly secured so he wouldn’t run the risk of losing a means to defend himself (for Dwalin had always taught him of the dangers of finding oneself weaponless upon the battlefield), Kili carefully stuck to the wall as he crept as quietly as he could towards the door, praying to whatever good would hear him that nobody would notice him slipping away. He knew it wasn’t fair of him to leave without saying anything, but the younger prince just had to get out, Thorin couldn’t understand that despite all his good intentions behind forcing him to stay him to the Great Hall, it was causing more harm than good, and Kili wasn’t about to confront him now, knowing that if he did, any chances of him slipping outdoors would vanish. No, this was something he had to do by himself, and he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

Sighing in relief when he slipped past the door, Kili leaned against the wall outside slightly, the winter cold a sharp contrast to the warm fire he had been next to only a few minutes prior, but if he were honest, he didn’t really mind. It felt good, finally being able to breathe again, and after a minute or two savoring his new found freedom, Dis’ younger son took his first step forward, well intent on contributing to the fight in any way he could.

Or at least, it had been his intention until a voice called him out.

“And just where do you think you’re going to all by yourself, laddie?”

Kili stopped dead in his tracks, cursing himself for not looking out for anyone that might have followed him. Now he was going to be brought back by force, whether he wanted to or not, and he just knew he wouldn’t be able to take it. For a moment, he was of mind just to run off, ignore whoever was behind him in favor or seeing his want to fight through, but as he attempted to move another inch forward, the small tendrils of guilt were quick to make themselves known, and Kili sighed in exasperation as he eventually gave in, turning around and steeling himself against the lecture he was sure to get.

Whatever he’d been expecting, it certainly wasn’t Bofur’s lopsided grin, which Kili found confusing for a moment. Disappointment, he might have expected, anger at a push, but not… Whatever category Bofur’s expression fell in to, which seemed to be in between a mischievous grin and somewhat an understanding smile.

Shaking his head, Kili was already taking a steps backwards, eager to be able to run off once the opportunity presented itself. It wasn’t right, but just for this time, he wanted to do something he felt was right, and not something Thorin or another member of the company would deem him right to do.

“I’m just… Nothing really, Bofur.” The lie was hard to pass though his teeth, and the young archer was certain that if even he was unconvinced by how he sounded, the miner must be most unimpressed by his excuse.

Bofur, however, only raised an eyebrow, looking at him critically, and Kili bit his lip. He hated lying, and it was obvious the older dwarf wasn’t buying what he was saying, but if he let him in on his intentions, he was sure to be sent back to the Great Hall without even getting a chance to offer assistance to the Men of the Lake, and Kili just couldn’t stand doing nothing anymore, he’d spent more than enough time confined to the Great Hall for the past two weeks, and he wasn’t about to take another “Go back to the others” for an answer.

Eventually though, the miner’s unimpressed look got the better of him, and Kili gave in “All right, fine, I was going to slip out, not for long, I swear, but I just can’t take it anymore Bofur! I know Uncle is trying to keep me safe, but he hasn’t asked me what I think of it, and anytime I bring it up, he just doesn’t listen… I need to be out fighting, at least out here, I can make a difference!”

Bofur looked back to the Company, unsure of what he ought to do. He knew that, as a member recruited by Balin and Thorin, his loyalty ought to go firstly to his King, but looking back to Kili, he could understand where the young dwarf was coming from, and to be quite honest, three weeks cooped up in here with the constant worry that the orcs surrounding the town might eventually break their way through was starting to weigh him down. Maybe Dain and Bard’s men were doing what they could while he and the others recovered from their wounds (and Mahal knew Oin was having a hard time keeping their king from going out to fight, despite him constantly reminding the younger of his still-healing chest wound), but Bofur could feel the others grow weary and tired of being forced to recover when they just wished to help.

And Kili, while he really didn’t want to goad the lad on and make him feel like he was supporting his idea, Bofur understood where he was coming from, and was beginning to feel the same way. Maybe… Well, maybe f they were careful, if they slipped out really quickly just to give a hand here and there and then came straight back… Surely nothing bad would happen in such a short space of time, would it? And being the ever-optimistic dwarf that he was, Bofur’s hand inched towards the small knife he had strapped around his waist, nodding towards it so Kili might catch on.

While the prince was sometimes slow to assimilate a hint and the meaning behind it, this was not such an occasion, and the wolfish grin that spread across his face almost had Bofur reconsidering again, at least it did until Kili gave his shoulder a slight squeeze, thanking him with a gesture instead of words and making the miner realize that maybe this meant more to the younger dwarf than he’d initially thought.

Casting a last glance around, just to make sure that nobody was watching, he nodded for the younger to quickly head off, knowing that if they wanted to have a chance to slip away, they had to take it now, and after a small push, the two of them found themselves shuffling along as discreetly as they could, trying to find where the main fighting was taking place so they could lend a helping hand.

And while in his heart of hearts, if felt like the right thing to do, the only thought running through Bofur’s mind right then was that once he and Kili made it back to the Great Hall, Thorin was going to kill him…

Kili grinned, before ducking down and sneaking under one of the near-collapsing houses before heading out to the open again, checking left and right to make sure nothing was about to prance upon them and determining which way would be better to chose. Ashes and smoke could be seen in the distance, and with his keen eyesight, the young archer thought he could also make out the distant silhouette of some form of orcish contraption (which he was most certainly not interested in getting any closer to, especially when said device suddenly launched an enormous boulder towards them), Bofur had to physically pull him down with him I order to avoid getting hit by the debris the collision caused.

“Where exactly are we going?!” Kili hollered over the noise going on around them, knowing he had no choice if he wanted the miner to hear him.

Bofur looked around once again, just to make sure nothing might prance upon them once they would leave the security of the walls before heading out first, careful to keep Kili behind him, knowing that if anything, Thorin wanted his nephew back alive, and if possible, in one piece. Besides, Oin already had enough to be dealing with, an injured Kili was not something the toymaker particularly wanted to add to the old healer’s duty-list. Keeping his hand up in an attempt to stop any rash decision the younger dwarf might make until he’d deemed it safe enough to move out, Bofur scanned the area once, twice, thre times even, just to make sure, knowing he could not afford to take any risks. Thorin had taken on on Ravenhill, and they all knew how that had ended…

“There’s nothing there, Bofur.” Kili quietly asserted from his right, making him turn around. “We should head out now, while we still have the chance!” Already, the younger could feel adrenalin coursing through his veins, the grip he had on his sword tightening just that little bit more as anticipation gnawed away at him. This was the worst, Kili decided. It wasn’t the fighting, it wasn’t the healing, it wasn’t the broken bones, it was the waiting, that moment just before you headed out to meet your foe one on one, that moment when you could revel in the knowledge that you were safe but at the same time be aware that you were expected to throw it away only a second later. And Kili couldn’t stand it, he’d rather be out there fighting now than allowing himself to bask in the miserly comfort his hiding spot was providing to him, knowing that if they stayed too long, he might never be able to will his body to move to place itself in harm’s way.

Bofur looked back behind him once more, a part of him certain he would regret this, but in the end, he could not refuse Kili, and so, sighing, he pushed the younger dwarf on more, both of them heading towards the distant sound of metal clashing against metal, where they knew they were needed.

Being outside was almost a relief for Kili, and as he followed his fellow miner, the younger made the most of being able to move and breathe once again. Maybe he was going to fight, maybe he was going to have to kill in order to see another sunrise himself, but it was better than the frustrating nothingness he’d been doing for their cause locked up in the Great Hall.

Well, it wasn’t exactly nothingness, if he was honest. He’d initially stayed because Oin had insisted that he get his injury checked, and once that had been cleared, Thorin had kept an eye on him, made sure he did not attempt to go out, and while Kili knew he could sometimes talk his Uncle into letting him do what he wished, he knew his limits, and this time, the young archer knew better than to try and cross the boundary. I don’t have a choice was what he kept telling himself as he followed Bofur’s footsteps, carefully sidestepping the orc and human corpses littering the ground (and trying to let the sick feeling rising in his stomach overwhelm him), Thorin would have never let him go, and Kili just couldn’t stay behind a day longer, surely Uncle would understand, wouldn’t he? (Bofur had anyway, bless him.) He was suddenly jerked downwards when the older dwarf pulled on the sleeve of his tunic, crouching down next to the toy maker as the two his behind one of the many debris left behind after the sack of Dale, Bofur bringing a finger to his lips to urge him to keep as quiet as possible (not that Kili had any trouble with that, he’d been on more than one hunt, he knew how to keep silent when it was necessary).

After a tense few minutes of waiting, in which Kili was certain the beating of his own heart could be heard from miles away, Bofur signaled for them to move out once again, the elder taking the lead once again but careful to keep Thorin’s nephew in his sights, both heading towards the sound of steel against steel, where they knew their skills to be needed.

Indeed, it was absolute mayhem when Kili laid eyes on what the battle had become. People were screaming, swords were swinging left and right, and the mere turmoil of the battle was already making him dizzy, he was lucky Bofur pulled him along when he did, or he would probably have been left behind. He stumbled behind the older dwarf, trying to avoid the corpses littering the ground at his feet and turning his eyes away when the sight of young warriors (dwarves and men alike) made his insides churn, the mere thought that he could be very well become one of them soon pushing him on to keep Bofur as close to him as possible. Kili really did not want to die if he could help it, not when he had a homeland only at arm’s reach, not when he knew staying alive meant that he could still make a difference, not when he knew dying would destroy his uncle, for Kili knew his brother’s death had deeply unsettled Thorin (or more than he let on at least), and he did not wish to leave his Mother’s brother all alone in the world, knowing all too well what that empty feeling felt like, and more importantly, how much it hurt.

However, nothing could be done for the dead safe for honoring their memory and making sure they would not be forgotten. Fili wasn’t going to make a difference in this fight, Kili knew as such already, and in the middle of swords and spears, he could not let the pain of his brother’s absence cloud his judgment, for one second of him not paying attention was all it would take for the battlefield to claim his life, and so, shaking his head slightly, Kili closely followed Bofur as he knelt behind an overturned boulder, where several Men had already seemed to have sought out refuge –one of them suspiciously looked like Percy, the Gatekeeper who had let them into Lake Town upon their arrival.

Their sudden appearance seemed to have disrupted whatever small talk they’d been having, the two men to Percy’s right already looking down on them with an expression of barely concealed scorn making Kili almost bristle, he wasn’t here to fight them! However, before either party even got a chance to leap at the other’s throat, Bofur stepped between them, empty hands up in a sign of good faith.

“We’re not here to fight, we want to help you!”


“Help?” The taller stranger sneered, his doubt of their word clearly evident in the way he arched his eyebrow. “What help could he ask from the dwarves? Your king promised to repay us, yet he gave us nothing!”

Kili felt his fist tighten, knowing that despite how much he wanted to deny it, the man was right, his uncle had lied and nothing would ever erase that fact. The thing was though, that as much as his pride was hurt, he knew petty arguments between their races were best left at bay for now, at least until the current threat to the city walls was dealt with, and so, taking a deep breath in order to try and keep his rising anger at bay, he stuck his chin up, defiantly, never losing eye-contact with the other man as he glared up at him.

“Look, you’re losing here, you need all the help you can get and we could help you try and breach a hole in the orc’s formation if we were enough men. Do you want our assistance or not?”

The three men looked at each other while Bofur eyed him critically, Kili hoping he was not second-guessing his judgment. He was next in line to the throne now, he was out fighting, he was out here to make a difference, and this was Kili’s chance to prove that he indeed could bring something to the war, that he could work alongside the men and unite them against a common foe. He might not have paid much attention to politics and talk during the Quest, but his brother’s death had changed that, Fili’s death now meant that he was next in line to the throne of Erebor after his Uncle passed, and Kili knew it would be in everyone’s best interests if he started taking responsibilities seriously sooner rather than later, and their responsibility right now law with protecting the people of Lake-Town in any way they could, which meant he needed help if he wanted to take out a large contingency of orcs to allow a part of the citizens to flee.

“All right, we’ll stick with you two.” Percy eventually relented, knowing better than to turn a helping hand away when it was offered to him, especially in time of need (and, truth b told, he and the rest of the Lake-Towners couldn’t afford to refuse help right now). “What do you suggest we do?” He asked, crouching down slightly so he would be level—headed with the young dwarf.

“Well, if we want to survive, we need to be able to dig a way out of here, right?” Kili started, already looking around them in the hopes that a small passage might have hidden itself within the debris of the crumbled houses and burnt stalls.

“Which means that if we can make a breach in the orc lines, we might be able to send the women and children out at least, guarantee their safety.” Bofur followed, knowing that maybe finding a common interest with the humans (protecting as many as possible) would convince them to join them.

Kili winked at the toy-maker, realizing that Bofur had caught onto his plan (he was much smarter than a lot gave him credit for, that was certain), before turning back o the two men, who, while they’d definitely showed their reservations about the younger dwarf’s idea when he’d first said it, seemed to have gotten the thinking behind it. However, the three remained skeptical, if their shushed whispers and shaken heads were to be believed, and Kili, not being one to hang around when something needed to be done, decided that he ought to step in once again.

“Listen, we can’t stay here, if we do, then people will die. We have to try and find a way out, send word to whatever neighboring cities there might be around and call for help, and we won’t be able to do that as long as the orcs keep us trapped in here, we need to make a breach.” If Thorin could hear him, he’d probably throttled him right then and there… But he wasn’t, and Kili wasn’t about to back down when he could still make a change.

“All right.” Irolas, the oldest of the three men, conceded, coming to terms with the fact that they would have no choice but to try and push their way out if they wanted to survive. “What do you suggest we do?”

Bofur and Kili shared a grin, glad to have finally managed to rally someone to their sides, before the toy maker signed for the three men to follow them, the small group crouching down as low as they dared in order not to attract attention as they slowly made their way to the edge (or what could actually be described as such, as as the days went on, Dale was turning more and more into a pile of ash) of the city, and only once they had made it to the very last buildings did the four of them allow themselves to sigh in relief. They hadn’t been caught so far, and if their luck could hold out just a little longer, they would consider themselves lucky. Bofur brought a finger to his lips, ordering the four others to be quiet, as he peeked around their current not-so-safe hiding place, fingers crossed they might be able to sneak out and look for help, but as luck would have it, a group of armed orcs stood not ten feet away from them, no doubt posted there to ensure that nobody would make it out alive from the city.

If he and Kili wanted to offer a chance for the women and children to flee to somewhere safe, now was their chance, and they would have to seize it as fast as possible.

Turning back towards his four companions, and mindful to bring Kili down from where he’d been about to leap out from their hiding place, he tried to devise a strategy with them, or at least, plan something that would eventually give them access to the outside, knowing that if they could breach a small hole at least, they might be able to guarantee the safety of those who were not able to fight.

Of course, he’d never planned on the younger dwarf not taking heed to his words, and before he’d even been able to tell him of how they were going to approach ensuring a way out for the people of Dale, Kili was already charging head first towards their enemies, and calling him back did nothing.

Not wasting a moment, knowing that if he weren’t careful, Kili would run the high probability of injuring himself (or worse, but Bofur did not particularly want to thin down that route), he Percy, Irolas and their fellow guardsman abandoned the safely of their hiding place in order to give assistance to their comrade, and soon, the deafening familiar sound of steel clashing against steel rung painfully in Bofur’s ears, as the miner tried to push back as many creatures as he could while wondering Kili, why in Mahal’s name didn’t you just wait?

Kili had tried, he really had, he’d even managed to contain his rage-shaken limb for a while, but seeing the fetid orc faces up close, remembering that it had been one of their kind that had murdered his brother, it was just too difficult to keep it all bottled in. Somewhere, he knew, he knew it was better to stay undercover, hidden away where they could devise something up, but the sniggering smiles and bloody swords of the creatures just mere feet away, those who reveled in taking lives away for sport had enraged him too much for him to simply allow himself to do nothing.

As Kili leapt forward, he spared a though for Fili, for his Father, for Grandfather Thraìn and Great-Grandfather Thròr, both also having met their end at the hands of those senseless creatures, and despite Dwalin’s reminders to never let emotions dictate one’s body when fighting, giving into the pent-up anger was just so much easier, and when Kili struck the unexpecting beast, cleaving it’s head clean off it’s body, the satisfaction he felt coursing through his veins was definitely worth it.

Of course, his sated anger quickly faded after the head came to a stop, and it was only thanks’ to Percy’s sharp eye that the young archer was protected from an oncoming swipe from his right, a blow he had not paid attention too engrossed had he been piercing daggers into the dead orc’s face with his eyes. Nodding his thanks’ to the human, Kili soon fell back-to-back with Irolas, the duo working in tandem and (quite successfully, if Kili were honest) bringing down foe after foe. The human was good, the adrenalin-fuelled archer admitted, as he allowed himself to spare a glance just to see how exactly the other wielded his blade, and to his surprise, the human did prove himself quite skilled, definitely an asset to their army. Irolas’ strikes were quick, precise, and above all, deadly, and if his weapon did not hit it’s mark, then Kili would be quick done to slip in next to him, delivering a destabilizing blow a little lower to an orc, letting his friend deal the killing blow. It felt good working in tandem again, which Kili hadn’t really gotten the opportunity to do in a long while, and even if his partner wasn’t his brother and didn’t have the same reflexes as him, the basic instincts still remained the same, and feeling someone having his back was something Kili hadn’t realized he’d missed until he was experiencing it again. He’d make sure Irolas made it back alive, he didn’t want the young man’s family to go through the same grief he and Thorin were still dealing with, not when he was still so many years he should look forward to.

Another swing and a quick check to his right let Kili know that Bofur, Percy and the other stranger who had decided to accompany them were also holding their own, the miner surprising him with his resourcefulness. Seeing the kind-hearted and jolly dwarf’s features cloud over and twist into an ugly display of rage and anger was definitely not something Kili had ever experienced before, and if he were quite honest, it unsettled him. He knew many things could often turn a loved one into an unrecognizable minster (and he’d had the all too-recent experience of witnessing his Uncle’s terrifying madness when he’d fallen prey to the Gold Sickness), but to see that same frightening expression take over the merriest dwarf he’d ever seen was something he almost found more unsettling than the black blood spraying at his feet, and Kili averted his eyes as quick as possible, wanting to forget he’d seen such a horror. However, another horror entirely awaited him, as, no sooner had he twisted his neck an inch or two did a blood-thirsty looking orc swing it’s curved blade towards him, and Kili had to physically leap back in order to avoid being hit. Looking back up, he swallowed uneasily, now realizing that this was probably the closest he’d ever come to one of those beasts, and the tales of their terrifying nature did certainly not do them justice, as he found it impossible to suppress the shudder of fear that ran down his spine.

Kill or be killed.

They won’t show you any mercy, why should you show it to them?

They killed Fili.

They’ll kill everyone if we don’t stop them.

He didn’t have a choice, when he really thought about it, and with a war cry that even Thorin would have been proud of, he and Percy charged side-by-side, no longer paying attention to what might surround him once he could just bring that bastard down. His blade swing out before he’d even ordered his arm to move, and while the wave of pain that shook it as the two blades met sent ripples of pain up it’s length, Kili was determined not to give in. Thorin had said many a time that Durin’s folk did not flee from a fight, and he was not about to dishonor that word today. Blocking out anything else that might distract him, the archer focused on what was ahead of him, the giant creature looming over him and awaiting his blow, which Kili eagerly dealt to him, swinging for it’s stomach, hoping he might be able to unbalance it.

And indeed Kili struck, and he struck again, and again, fueled on by anger and his need for revenge he did not know (nor did he care), the only thought he had was that he was making a difference, and as long as his sole person could bring something to change the tide of the fight, it was enough. Maybe his arms did get sore after Mahal knew how many hours, maybe his knees had started to tremble a while ago, and maybe he was feeling the first hints of fatigue, but Kili wasn’t about to give up, not when they still had this one chance to help the citizens of Dale find a better and safer place if he could hold out just a little longer.

However, mind and body do not always mix, and not heeding to the former’s increasing demands for a short respite lead Kili to stumble. And the moment he was sent lurching forward, the moment he realized his mistake and the terror his unbalance sent coursing through his veins, he knew he’d gone too far. If he paid attention, in that semi-second where he was still unhurt, he could picture the blade falling down, he could hear the beast’s roar above him, he could feel his heart stop at the knowledge that he wasn’t going to make it back, he could feel his whole body freeze and do nothing more than wait for the final blow-

“Kili!”

Hard ground rose up to meet his face as Kili felt himself lose his balance as he was pushed aside, sent sprawling to the floor. The gravel and debris littering it grinded into his skin painfully, and for a moment, he could just stay there, dazed and in pain –oh Mahal, his head hurt so much, and just wondering what on Earth had happened until something pierced through the fogginess in his brain.

“o-ur!”

Grey gravel was the first to come back into focus, and that was soon accompanied by the smell of burning fires and smoke (something he’d sadly become familiar with over the past two weeks). His ears rung, and the sounds around him were muffled, as if Oin had stuffed them with cotton or some elvish plant the likes of which he’d seen in Mirkwood. Blinking several times, he tried to make out something –anything- familiar, but everything was a blur of shapes and colors, the occasional faint noise in the background barely making it to his ear.

“-ili! –ili –an- ou –ear –i?!”

Someone’s hands were on his arms, they were shaking him. And suddenly, everything seemed to come back: color, shapes and sizes, noise (oh so much noise!), and Kili looked up to see Irolas’ anxious face.

“Kili! Can you hear me?!”

Yes. Yes, he could hear him, but unsure if his voice would be heard over the deafening noise around them, Kili merely nodded. He watched, as Irolas pointed to Percy –Percy who now had blood covering the half of his face and whose arm was in tatters, Percy who was leaning over something, Percy who was picking up a limp body, a body which looked familiar…- Kili’s blood ran cold. No, oh Mahal, not again!

“Bofur!”

“Shh! Calm down Kili, we need to bring him back to the Great Hall, we can’t stay here. As long as he lives, he’ll be fine.” And, without waiting for the young dwarf to respond, the human pulled the young warrior to his feet, not asking for his consent as he pulled him along behind him as fast as he could. Their attempt to secure a passageway had failed, if they stayed any longer, they would be found (and God only knew what the orcs would do to them), they needed to head back to the Great Hall as soon as possible, if not for safety at least in order to give the older dwarf the healing he needed, for the wound in his side looked very nasty in his opinion.

The return from their expedition wasn’t half as heroic as Kili had thought it would be three hours earlier, as, trudging through debris and corpses, fending for his life and swing his blade gradually become black with orc blood had him a near shaking mess by the time they reached the Great Hall once more, and he couldn’t help the sob of relief that escaped him as he looked up to see the still-standing grand doors. Wrenching his hand from Percy’s grip, he flew up the steps two-by-two, pushing the doors open and barely taking a moment to breathe before searching for the one person he knew he needed above anyone else.

“Oin!!”

The shuffling coming to a halt behind him was enough for Kili to know that his three companions had made it back safe and sound, and the echo of the doors closing made him jump. They were well and truly trapped in here now, there was nothing more to be done than to try and defend their hideout for as long as they could, and the grim prospect of their situation had him slump his shoulders in defeat, finally letting his no longer adrenalin-fueled body begin to take the rest it needed.

He inched a little close to his injured comrade, knowing from experience that when one was sick or unwell, it was always made slightly better with the presence of a close friend of a loved-one by their side, and without realizing I, he’d taken a hold of the Bofur’s hand, Percy and Irolas hovering in the background, not too sure if they were welcomed to stay of if they ought to leave.

“He’ll be all right, won’t he?” Kili asked anxiously, as the old healer immediately set to work, and Kili had to turn away at the sight of needle and thread. He knew it was necessary, that it was the only way to close Bofur’s wound, but he would rather not have t witness the act, let alone have to watch Bofur’s face scrunch up in pain as Oin would methodically do his duty.

“’Should be all right.” Gloin’s brother muttered, picking through his supplies and expertly picking out what he needed before setting to work.

Kili watched (after all, what else could he do?), soon joined by several other members of the company, including Nori and Ori, the latter watching, doe-eyed and clinging to his brother, as Bofur was unable to suppress the occasional wince, bit determined to be there for their miner friend.

“Where is he?! Where’s Kili?!”

The voice sent shivers down his spine, as Kili recognized it immediately, but the tone of utter fear laced with his name as it was called out froze him to where he knelt. He knew that voice, he’d grown up with it, heard it daily, and yet this… This was terrifying, and he almost dared not look up as his Uncle came to a halt in front o them, face ashen and eyes frantically looking for the one member of his family he had left.

“What in Mahal’s name did you thing you were doing?!!” Kili had faced Thorin’s wrath on many occasions, he and Fili had often been subjected to it when their pranks had gone too far or he’d at least witnessed it on more than one occasion when his Uncle would find himself locked in an argument with a dwarf as stubborn as himself when in council back in Ered Luin. And while he’ was familiar with his Uncle’s rage-filled face, looking up, Kili was almost distraught to see no such hint of anger or resentment towards what he had done. I

nstead, Thorin was white, face ashen, almost grey (rivaling the few strands he and his brother had placed there in their youths), and his Uncle’s loss of composure unsettled him deeply. What was he supposed to say? Sorry? He wouldn’t mean it.

He was sorry for what had happened to Bofur, of course he was, for he had not meant for his friend to get injured on his behalf, but Kili was not sorry for trying to find a solution fto their problem, he was not sorry for not cowering away in the Great Hall, he was not sorry for taking up arms and fight like a true Son of Durin should.

However, when Thorin knelt in front of him, Kili got to see firsthand how badly the other dwarf’s frame was shaking (in anger or in fear he knew not which), and when a familiar hand reached out to take hold of his sleeve –still trembling badly-, a deep hole opened up inside of him, a hole that frightened him and made Kili realize what he’d almost lost today. A wrong move, that was all it had taken for Bofur to get hurt (on his behalf, he recalled), and another wrong move could have seen him separated from his uncle forever, a fact Thorin also seemed to be all too aware of it would seem, if the frantic blue eyes roaming over his body in search of any wound he might be concealing were anything to go by.

However, the fabric beneath his hands was real, and when Kili leaned in, the beating heart he could hear hammering against his Uncle’s ribcage was also real, and the strong arm bringing him even closer, wrapping him in an embrace he’d known throughout his whole childhood was real too, and Kili couldn’t help but let Thorin wash away the fear he’d been plagued with all day, let his Uncle chase away his demons once again, because as long as he his away in his Uncle’s arms, nothing could hurt him, Thorin had always promised him that.

“Please, don’t do something so reckless again.” And it was only then that he realized that his uncle, Thorin who had always been the picture of an unwavering leader and a deeply respected king, was shaking, trembling so hard he couldn’t even speak properly as his words were naught but a hoarse whisper, and the depth of emotion Kili could feel rolling off the older’s tongue had him swallow hardly, for the first time realizing how frantic he must have made Thorin by slipping away without saying anything. He wanted to say sorry, because he really hadn’t meant to cause his Mother’s brother such worry, but as heopened his mouth, the words remained stuck in his throat, unable to find sound, and Kili ended up hugging Thorin tighter. Thorin who was real, Thorin who was still there Thorin who he could have come so close to losing today, Thorin who was still alive.

And like Percy had said, no matter how badly he wanted to fight and make a difference, he could only do so if he was alive, which he’d come to realize was the one thing Thorin wanted for him right now.

Chapter Text

Alfrid had never really expected things to turn out like they had. It had been a little over three weeks now, since the White Orc had spared his life, and it had been two weeks since he’d started being versed in how to approach their “guest’s” inevitable breakdown. If he were honest with himself, with everything he’d heard about dwarves and their folk, the human had expected the kid to last a little longer, or at least, not to show the obvious signs that he was cracking so easily. For it was obvious that it was happening, and Alfrid had barely anything to do with it, the blond was destroying himself just fine.

He could hear him sometimes, calling out for either his midget brother or Oakenshield himself, apologizing to thin air for something he might have done wrong and begging for them to come back, to give him a second chance to make things right again, to not leave him alone, and each time he was greeted with the same deafening silence, the same cold indifference, and where on good days he might have been able to hold himself together, on bad ones… Well on bad ones Alfrid was offered the image of the complete opposite of what he’d thought a dwarf stood for: a shaking sobbing mess. Whatever self-respect the line of Durin prided itself with, this one certainly seemed to be well on his way to letting it escape from his flimsy grasp.

Obviously leaving the whelp by himself most of the time wasn’t doing him any good, but hey, if it was what would make him appreciate Thorin’s company all the more when he would come back to him, offer him sweet lies and twist his mind into believing someone had come for him only to disappoint him at the last minute and change that warm feeling of hope into ice-cold fear, Alfrid wasn’t about to change his approach, it had worked fine the first time after all, just a little longer, and the blond would be completely and utterly terrified of his sole father-figure, no matter how badly he wanted to trust him.

And in a way, it had worked. Sometimes, on days his bones ached or he simply did not have the mind to muster up a game for the two of them to play (if he were honest, generally he was the one doing most of the playing though), Alfrid would just sit beside him, always out of touching distance of course (but with a voice such as Thorin’s, the human didn’t expect to need to physically touch the child in order to hurt him), and would whisper lies and noxious words in his ear, blond head shaking vehemently in denial until the dwarf-child was forced to realize that there was no other person it could be than Thorin, that whatever hero his uncle might have once been to him, that was all gone, and in his place had been born an emotionless figure who neither cared for his well being nor for him, as a family member.

When he came to him now, the kid still had it in him to recognize Thorin’s step as he would approach, he would flinch away whenever Alfrid would bend down and pull out his short blade to mockingly trail his sharp knife down the length of his spine without ever actually digging it in, and he would look around blindly in a vain attempt to figure out where exactly he was talking to him from, but the black cloth that had been draped over the kid’s face had been there for so long now, the darkness must have become somewhat familiar, Alfrid had thought. The knife wasn’t always necessary, though, the human had realized, as the mere sound of his Uncle’s voice and the constant, ever tortuous, drip, drip, drip of the humid ceiling above them was sometimes enough to send the kid into hysterics, and whenever he did lose it, for a moment he would lose whatever fear “Thorin” was now associated with and beg him to help him, to get him out of here, to make it stop. Funny that, how he –Thorin- had not even lain a single scar on the blond and yet, their esteemed guest was already well on the way to losing it.

During his years of servitude, Alfrid had had more than a few encounters with the Master of Lake Town’s prisons, where old fools and disgusting beggars would sometimes end locked up for the rest of their lives, and where some were left to rot, other, more dangerous criminals, would sometimes be subjected to physical violence –though Alfrid never took part in it, for he did not really have the strength. However, they would all end up the same, a once strong leading man now a heap of trembling skin and bones begging for mercy. Looking down, the dark-haired lackey could very well see that while the kid hadn’t exactly reached that state yet, the hint of a raised collarbone and a thin wrist beneath his filthy tunic left Alfrid no doubt that he was well on the way to becoming nothing but a terrified starving mess. It wouldn’t be long now, only a few weeks maybe if he estimated correctly (if the little twerp even managed to survive that long, which Alfrid had to ensure happened, or it would be his head on a pike, which was an outcome he was most certainly not wishing would befall him) the black-haired-man could practically see that the fragile wavering line keeping the child sane was close to snapping, and a few more lies and deceitful deeds from what he would believe was Thorin’s hand would no doubt be enough to break him completely, and that whenever (if) his dwarf-lord uncle did eventually come to save him, there wouldn’t be enough left to make bringing him back to his brethren midget friends worthwhile.

Brown eyes trailing along the sewn line on the blue tunic’s side, once intricate designs now slowly beginning to fade away into nothingness, his lip turned in disgust at the shaking thing on the floor as Alfrid finally had a moment to look over the soul they had chosen to torment, and even if he did try to find it in himself to feel some remote form of altruism towards the blond, to see in him nothing but a child –a son, a nephew or a brother- he knew nothing of, the uncanny resemblance he bore to Thorin Oakenshield (oh the nose (*), the nose! Although slightly more curved, it was near a perfect match!) was enough for a wave of disgust to roll thorough his veins. Maybe this was not the lying dwarf king, but the two were family (although for how much longer the dwarf-lord would still believe that still remained to be seen, for an Uncle was never meant to stoop so low as to actively break down his sister-son, was he?) and was it not safe to assume that once Thorin was gone and this… brat would succeed him, that things would not go down exactly the same way? That he too, would turn out to be naught but a lying coward who would willingly abandon his allies to fend for themselves and offer no aid? In a way, as Alfrid saw it, he was only doing them all a favor, by removing the next in line to the throne.

However, seeing those proud features twist in fear as the kid flinched when more flecks of water reached his forehead and beg Thorin to just “please, please make it stop Uncle” was more than enough satisfaction for him. While the phrase had gotten unbearably redundant, as had “Uncle, why are you doing this?” or “What have I done?” each time, Alfrid would come up with lies, would distort reality into making Thorin appear like a betrayed victim and that this was nothing less than what the kid justly deserved: “You chose to abandon me in Lake Town, did you really think betrayal would go unpunished?” And the ever-so-famous “Because I can.” Truth be told, Alfrid had yet to come up with a real logical reasoning to offer to the whelp, but he figured it would eventually come around, and by then, it could be as far-fetched as the human wished, the boy would be too terrified of his own uncle to even remotely protest or detect in it a lie, because no matter how fearful of his Mother’s brother he might have become, Alfrid could still see the kid believed him. Another example of just how deep dwarven stubbornness ran, no doubt, and if it weren’t for who exactly lay shivering at his feet, the greasy-haired man might have actually been mildly impressed.

Another drop clung to the cave wall for as long as it dared, and Alfrid’s eyes followed its fall, as it went down, down, down and –plick! Onto a pasty forehead and trickled down into a messy mane of blonde hair. He didn’t miss the obvious tremor of their prisoner either, as the dwarf nearly moved half an inch backwards in a futile attempt to get away before the (now probably festering) wound in his side halted him in his escape. While he couldn’t see it due to the poor lighting (flaming torches were all well and good to keep warm, but Alfrid had to admit that they didn’t allow for much visibility, especially in here), he could undoubtedly imagine the state of the dwarf’s side. Back in Lake-Town, when he’d been but a humble servant, he had seen many a wound go unattended to because the poor had no means to procure themselves any cure, and the gruesome sights some could occasionally become were not something he was bound to forget anytime soon. He just had to hope that the laceration wasn’t fatal, or their prisoner’s stay would be coming to an end all too soon.

“Enjoying yourself?” He couldn’t help but snigger as he bent over, once again coughing slightly in order to get his voice on par, for it would do no good to him if he were to give his game away now. He had come too far to afford a careless mistake forfeit his life.

By now, Fili didn’t even know what was worse anymore: being alone or having to endure Thorin’s spiteful words and snide remarks. Most of what he would say, he’d already guessed as such while they’d been on their journey already –Did you really think you were fit to rule? Did you honestly believe I wouldn’t give you up if our Quest demanded it? Did you manage to fool yourself into believing you were invaluable to me? He’d learnt the answers to the three questions, and it was one and the same word that came back each time: no. It was easy, simple, and so very obvious Fili couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen the signs sooner (probably some foolish hope his Uncle might deign to offer him the same openly display of closeness he shared with Mister Baggins, Masters Balin and Dwalin or even Kili, the four of them were in a closed circle he could not possibly hope to reach, but somewhere, the blond had always comforted himself with the idea that Thorin had to care because he was family), and being forced to realize he was something his Uncle was so easily willing to give up, that he was nothing more than a trivial tool to him, still hurt sharply, pain so acute he could not yet decide whether he wished to hate his elder of feel sorry for the fact that the next King under the Mountain could not share a deep bond with his successor. Then again, with what Thorin had been revealing to him over the past few days, Fili realized he was more of a disappointment than anything else, that it was probably in Thorin’s best interest even to remove him from the line of succession entirely –were you so inane to think that I would ever wish to let you take up the ruling mantel after I’m gone? After you’ve been such a disappointment to me? And somewhere in between Thorin’s tirade and his pleas for him to just stop, for the voice that had once brought him such comfort and hope which now only made him feel fear and shame, to dull down to nothing, Fili realized that he was right, that he truly was no ruling material. And that he was probably right in destroying him as much as he could if it was what would guarantee the throne to his brother. Kili had always been a much more open individual, and the folk of Erebor would surely appreciate a ruler who would actually deign to openly show how much he cared for them than one –like himself- who would cower away in his chambers wondering if this decision had been right or wrong and never stepping foot into the light.

But if Thorin hated him so much, why was he Hell-bent on coming back to him so often? The sound of his sharp voice had had his eyes shot open-

-and sent a wave of panic rolling throughout his body. He couldn’t see anything, everything was shady, cold, dark and utter black.

What in Mahal’s name-?

Breathing picking and ever so quickly morphing into sharp and shallow intakes of air, Fili twisted his head around, desperate for this to be some form of trick, something his fuzzy mind had come up with, anything that didn’t result in him facing the fact that he was blind, that he couldn’t see anything but a vast expanse of blackness.

Granted, he hadn’t been able to see much last time he’d opened his eyes either, and the fuzziness he’d previously experienced still seemed well intent to stay for another while at least, but back then there had been at least some semblance of color (dull, mostly shades of a murky grey, but color). What could possibly have happened? Thorin had been trying to help him out, he’d been dragging him along whatever corridor it was they were running down and… And he’d tripped, he’d fallen down. He had undoubtedly hit his face. And now he couldn’t see a thing, he was alone in this vast new emptiness, and the sudden realization that he may never again see for himself that Kili, Bilbo, Thorin or anyone else might be by his side felt like a punch to the gut, effectively whisking out any small amount of air his panicked lungs had previously managed to take in. He’d lost his sight, and no poultices or herbal medicines Oin might come up with would ever restore his vision back to him.

Please, please tell me it’s just a nightmare! Please!

The distinct sound of shuffling to his left sharply cut through the rising panic he could feel in his chest, and had him turn his head swiftly, wincing as a sudden eruption of a burning crack in his neck.

“Who-? Who’s there?” The tremor in his voice was something Fili knew he would rather be able to do without, but right now, he was past caring for such trivialities. More than anything, he needed out, he needed to get back to Kili, he needed to apologize for abandoning him, he needed to understand what in Mahal’s name had gotten into his Uncle, and the quicker he crawled his way to Oin, the better it would be for all of them.

He hadn’t counted on said Uncle stopping him, however, and before he’d even managed to shift to his right, a strong hand wrapped around his shoulder, pinning him against the wall, and for a moment, where only heated breaths –grunts- were all he could make out, Fili felt a cold bead of sweat trail down ever-so-slowly down the length of his back as the dawning realization of who exactly had come back for him was, even though he had tried ever so badly to deny it. Please, don’t let it be him.

“Where did you think you were going?” The involuntary flinch Alfrid felt run down the arm he had in his grasp told him just how much fear his mere voice was inflicting, and, well-intent on not stopping there, he pushed the smaller body back into the wall, using everything he had to his advantage. “You weren’t hoping to run away, were you?”

Fili didn’t know whether he wanted to vent out his angry frustration at being proven wrong or sob in despair, for as soon as the deep voice reached his ears, he stilled for a moment before backing up as much as his injury would allow him until his body was pressed up against the wall of his room-prison.

“W-What do you want?” He asked after a moment of silence, unable to meet his Uncle’s gaze or fully muster up the contempt he wished to direct towards the older dwarf as his voice wavered just enough to let Thorin know he still had the upper hand. Curse you, Uncle!

“Is that any way to address your King, boy?” Alfrid snarled, leaning in slightly when the blond moved his head backwards in an attempt to escape the close proximity the human was forcing upon them, knowing it would only increase the younger’s unease. “And who says I want anything? Why couldn’t I just be an uncle wishing to spend some productive time with my beloved nephew?” He shrugged as if it were a completely normal thing for him to do, even if he had come with other intentions, obviously. Alfrid wasn’t about to spend time sharing conversation over a cup of tea and biscuits with the whelp, that would simply be a waste of his time, time he did not want to spare for the little midget.

Hand inching towards the coat of his pocket where the small knife he’d escaped with was securely kept, Alfrid kept the kid distracted while he ever so slowly slipped it out, balancing it in his hand and eyed the gleaming blade as he settled on what today’s session would be about –fear. Pure, utter and sweat-inducing fear.

Whatever courage Fili had gathered to vent out at his Uncle –tormentor- quickly shattered into broken little shards at his feet when the painful grating of a scraping sound much too close to his ears echoed in the vast expanse of his prison, and his body went into a still, not daring to breathe for fear the danger might come closer to him if he did.

“Ah, I get you heard it, did you?” Thorin’s voice drawled in his ear before the scraping sound resumed, each second bringing it nearer and nearer to his face, and the tiny inkling Fili had that his Uncle would never dare to actually outright kill him crumbled to dust when he swore he could feel the steel only a breath away from his cheek. Thorin was mad, he couldn’t possibly consider killing him!

“Y-You can’t!” He tried reasoning with him as he flinched away, deep down knowing it was futile but determined to at least try and reach whatever humanity Thorin had once posessed before the dwarf killed him –and to his surprise, the blade stopped a mere inch away from his ear before being lifted away.

Fili couldn’t see the small dagger, and could only assume that his Uncle had put it down when he no longer felt it lingering a hear away from his cheek and the moment of respite enabled him to take a breath of relief, but it was cut short when he stilled in alarm as his efforts at talking the King out of his game proved to be all for naught when the dagger was brought straight to his neck instead, the tip threatening to push in if he dared make the slightest move.

He can’t possibly mean it! It’s Thorin, he can’t-! Was the mantra viciously circling in his head, for Thorin’s actions went against everything the older dwarf had meant to him for the past eighty-two years, it wasn’t something Thorin could bring himself to do after having spent his whole life trying to protect what was left of his family, it just wasn’t possible! But as the tip pushed against his skin again, and when Fili began to feel the distinct feeling of something warm and wet trickle down his neck, it fully hit him just how seriously his Uncle was taking this, that Thorin meant to actually kill him. End him right here and right now.

Survival instincts kicking in, he jerked back as far as he could, head hitting against the prison wall behind him and attempted to shove Thorin away as far as he could with a poorly aimed swipe at the elder’s feet, or where he guessed they were anyway, for being robbed of his sight did certainly not give him any advantage over the taller male.

The response to his lashing out was immediate, in the form of a strong hand shoving him back against the wall and holding him there all the while the King hissed “You’re not going anywhere yet!” And the small knife he had at his side came up to just over his belt, pressing in just slightly, but it was all the threatening Fili needed to still his body. As much as he wanted out of here, he didn’t want Thorin to kill him, even if he couldn’t possibly understand why Thorin was doing all of this in the first place. It just didn’t make any sense, what had gotten into him?!

The cold bead of sweat that had previously slid down his neck was now making it’s way ever so slowly down his back as Fili felt the blade trail upwards again, coming to a halt at the base of his neck, just over his clavicle, and there it stayed, trailing left and right along the bone. He had scrunched his eyes shut against the pain, held his breath in knowing he did not want to give Thorin the satisfaction of hearing him cry out, and tried to brace himself for the burn that was bound to come anytime now, but the blade just hovered there, inches away from drawing blood but never penetrating the skin. What was he doing? Was he actually sparing him?

Daring to open an eye, even though it did not change anything much for he still saw no other color than black, Fili inched slightly to the left. “What are you waiting for? Just do it already!” He wasn’t usually one to goad people on, even less so when there was a blade mere inches away from his skin, but the blond thought he would rather get it over and done with than have to wait here for Mahal knew how long until Thorin decided he wanted to stick the weapon in him. “Just do it!!” Kill me already!

But the blade still did not go in, and to his utter shock, Fili actually felt it retracting. After daring to take a breath, he looked up, almost daring to hope maybe some form of common sense might have been knocked into his Uncle after all when he felt a hand push his shoulder back once more and the small knife he’d thought he was free of only moments before returned down to his side this time, pressing into the blue fabric of his tunic.

And it was as Alfrid trailed the blade upwards and down, “Now do you understand what I want?”, that it began to dawn on him what game exactly Thorin was playing at. Tremors of fear coursed though his body as the blade once again returned to its hovering torment, always ready to be pushed in just that little bit further to draw blood but kept at bay because of his Uncle’s twisted mind for now, and Fili’s head followed the weapon where he felt it in the hopes that he might be able to stop it the next time, even though he knew it was nothing but a fruitless pursuit.

The anticipation of the hit was almost worse than the stab itself, he thought, for as long as the blade did not pierce his skin, Fili had the leisure to imagine just how deeply it would penetrate and had an array or levels of pain to chose from, none being remotely a preferable outcome for him. Each time the small blade dipped in slightly, he could feel his muscles contract slightly, as if thinking this is it, this time he’ll do it, only Thorin didn’t, he never did, but Fili wasn’t about to take his so-called mercy as a respite, the blade was bound to go in eventually.

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Thorin said casually, as if he were just commenting about the whether outside, “how easy it is to wrench fear out of someone.” And he noticed the blond turned away from him, no doubt in a vain attempt to keep some form of control over his body when he had been taking control over his reactions and responses for the past while. But Alfrid could see it, the stubborn denial written across the features, the will to prove him wrong when he was anything but. He leaned back slightly, meticulously pressing the blade just that much deeper, just enough to draw a small trail of blood from the whelp’s neck but not enough to kill him.

“It would be so easy for me to kill you, you know.” Alfrid continued on with his monologue, knowing it was useless hoping to gain some form of a conversation out of the boy, he was definitely not being the cooperative type today, it would seem. He looked at the short blade, almost considering his words and if the act would be worth it for he’d had more than enough of being the kid’s body-guard and being his sole company for the past few weeks, while entertaining at the start, was starting to get on his nerves. Alfrid had never signed up for this when initially preparing his escape from Lake-Town, and while he was prepared to ensure his survival by any way possible, being assigned to torment a dwarf had initially been fun (or, interesting, at least) but he still had his own freedom to think of, and that did not include being stuck half way up a mountainside in the middle of Winter.

He would have liked to see his idea through, just off the kid right now, but the half-blind orc had ordered him not to, that the dwarf-scum was still of use to them if they could use him to lure Oakenshield up here eventually, and while the human could see the initial idea behind their tactic, being stuck with a terrified half-man (truly, far from the dwarfs one encountered in the tales of old and the gossip that would go about town) was slowly becoming more of a nuisance than anything else.

The blade pressed in again as Alfrid felt loathe to control the wave of anger in his body, and Fili knew that if Thorin didn’t stop, he’d slice his throat right open. Trying to reason with his Uncle had proven to be fruitless on more than one occasion, and it was obvious to him now that there was o longer any love lost between them, that whatever he’d told himself to believe that Thorin was lying to him was wrong, that he truly was but an expandable member of the Company, and that obviously, he had served his purpose and now his time had come. He only wished Kili might have been here to make his passing a little easier.

But passing however, did not seem to be Thorin’s end goal, for just as quickly as the blade had been pressing into his skin, it was gone again, and Fili gulped in whatever air he could gasp for, maybe he was being greedy but he was past caring, he was still alive. Thorin… Thorin had actually spared him? Maybe he still had need for him then? Fili hoped so, and if he dared allow himself to be slightly foolish, he also hoped his Uncle would accord him the small mercy of reuniting him with his brother.

Kili.

Not knowing what had become of him had been gnawing away at his insides ever since he’d woken up that first time to the infernal droplets of water, and Thorin still not having permitted him to join his younger sibling had made Fili’s worry for him double. He knew Kili had people looking out for him, including the elven maiden he seemed to have become so fond of, but that should have been his job. He was Kili’s protector, and not being there to oversee his little brother’s recovery, have his back in whatever fight they were bound to be brought into, not knowing how he fared… It was always there, in the corner of his mind, a snide reminder that in addition to having brought Thorin’s animosity upon himself, he knew nothing of what had happened to Kili, his little brother, the one dwarf who meant the world to him.

“But, quite frankly, you’re not worth the trouble.” The deep voice cut through his mind, forcing Fili back into the torment his reality had become, and it was only then that he realized that the blade was gone, that Thorin had, in the end, spared his life, and that before he could choke out a thank you, the older dwarf was gone, leaving him alone in the black void he’d been imprisoned in ever since his Uncle had deemed it better to render his life to a mere existence rather than something he found joy in living to the full.

Another drop hit his forehead and a tremor shook his body, and Fili found he almost wished Thorin had instead ended him right then. Death couldn’t possibly be worse than this nightmare.

Chapter Text

“Well, I think it’s healed as much as it can, given what little I have here.” Oin said drily, his finger tapping his chin as he once again inspected the wound on Thorin’s chest. He definitely wasn’t happy with how it looked, still red and not fully scarred over yet, but he knew the dwarven King wouldn’t take well to being told he was confined for yet another week in here, and the healer knew better than to test his temper. Besides, Thorin had long since entered adult-hood, thus meaning that it was pretty safe to say that he knew his limits and, more importantly, not to go beyond them. “However,” he added a little more tersely, making sure he’d caught the younger dwarf’s attention because this was an important order to him, “don’t go out there getting yourself banged up. I know you want those beasts gone by any means possible, trust me, I think we all do, but don’t do anything at the expense of your own health. Willingly putting yourself in harm’s way will not help us break through and send a call for help.”

Unsure of how to answer, Thorin merely nodded, a little deflated a little at finally not having to worry about being sidelined anymore.

He’d long since stopped counting the days he’d been stuck in the Great Hall, knowing that if he focused solely on that, he would go mad. Instead, he had sought Bard out, tried to amend his wrongdoings towards him by offering his own battle experience in devising different ways to ensure the protection of their refuge with whatever they had left. And it had become rather grim quite quickly when Dwalin informed him that the rations were dwindling fast, and that if they made no connection with the outer world, the women and children would likely die within the next two weeks. Thorin had seen enough death in his lifetime to let his stubbornness out rule the knowledge of the consequences that remaining

Trapped here would have for them. They needed help, and fast.

The problem was, Thranduil had left, and while the situation was dire, Thorin understood that the elven lord did not wish to partake in a prolonged warfare that might bring more death upon his people. He might not have been the friendliest to the Woodland beings, but he was not about to force them into a battle they did not wish to partake in.

As king however, the worry of finding allies had been weighing on his shoulders ever since they’d been pushed back to the Great Hall: while Dain and Bard were doing what they could, Thorin could no longer let foolish hope cloud his eyes, if they did not get assistance fast, they would be done for in less than a month, however, and with no allies so to speak of sending work for help seemed like nigh an impossible task, they well and truly were alone, and for the first time in a good numbers of years, Thorin came to regret his bitterness he’d held towards the outer world during his exile, where he’d spent days mourning what he’d lost instead of trying to rebuild it with what he had. Which meant that they now found themselves with a very short supply of allies, and word would not easily reach neighboring kingdoms.

Wincing slightly as he probed the scarred over wound, he was about to express slightly skeptical doubt at the fact that it probably wasn’t healed entirely and that he would rather wait until it was fully healed rather than push himself beyond his limits and risk having much worse happen to him, but when he caught a glimpse of Kili hovering in the back of the room he opted to go against it. Kili had been through enough worry, it was needless to add more onto his already burdened shoulders. However, Thorin did want to let him know he valued him (probably above anyone else right now), and with a have of his hand, he beckoned him over.

“Kili, can you lend me a shoulder to lean on, just to get back on my feet?” Bearing a weakness open to all was one thing Thorin had learnt to not be ashamed of these past few weeks: it happened to everybody, and given the right treatment and a little time, it usually got better in the end. Everyone got hurt once in a while, and it was no longer something for which he ought to feel ashamed for –the relief at that immense, as it meant that he’d still been able to sit in on their tactics to defend Dale and bear himself open and as vulnerable as the next mortal to the women and children unfortunate enough to be caught in all of this mess with them.

His younger (only) nephew nodded, quickly making his way over and offering him his arm to pull on so he could find his balance. It was sadly quite strange to regain the use of his feet, Thorin quickly found out, as the past while being overseen by Oin so as to ensure that he would not try to do any more damage to his body had prevented him from remotely moving anywhere. Kili’s hand in his felt strong, invigored, nothing like the lost and angry boy persona he’d seen him sometimes resort to when he would catch glimpses of him here and there, and the fact that he’d finally made peace with his brother’s death (or seemed to anyway, the emotions now obviously reigned in) had a swell of pride bloom in his chest. It wasn’t fair by all means, Kili should have more time to grieve (and Mahal only knew how much Dis would need once he’d reclaim their ancestral home and send word out to her), but given the circumstances, his nephew was doing extremely well.

The two hobbled over to the small table Bard, Dain and Gandalf seemed to be bent over, the three studying a map as the wizard’s hand kept trailing form one side to the other and the Lake-Towner would either nod in agreement or shake his head, the flamed-haired warrior surprisingly calm given his outspoken nature (perhaps Thorin’s words to him last time had dulled down the fires of war in his chest, and if that were the case, he was glad for his cousin’s choice to follow the course of reason rather than emotion, for Thorin knew all too well that deadly mistakes were the first consequences of a warrior letting himself be overruled by what he felt and not by what he thought).

“It’s no use, Gandalf, we’ve lost too many men, a breach would seal our fate. I can’t risk it.” Ever the pessimist, Bard didn’t seem to be of a mind that leading an offensive was the way to go, and judging by Gandalf’s slumped shoulders, Thorin could tell the old man had been trying to convince him of the opposite for a while.

“What do you suggest we do then?” Dain interjected, clearly still not very happy at having to deal with the human, but so long as there was no bloodshed drawn, the King under the Mountain to be still held on to a little bit of hope that the other dwarven warrior would show not antagonize the human to the point of drawing blades.

“We should send word for help.” He offered as he finally made it to the table, shouldering Dain slightly as he took a place to his right, looking down on the map the other three had been studying.

“Help?” Bard repeated, doubt not so subtly lacing his words as his raised eyebrow made Thorin aware of the other’s skepticism. Well, it was a long shot and by Mahal would it be risky, but there was little choice left to them if they were to hope to survive this battle. And Throin knew they would need all the allies they could get, it had been a lesson he’d bitterly learnt.

“Aye, I think we can all agree that staying here by ourselves is not an option, we’ll either run out of fighters and leave the women and children to fend for themselves or we’ll soon starve to death if our reserves run out. Whatever we decide, we cannot hope to survive by ourselves anymore.”

Bard had to give him that one. If he were honest, the Man had tried not to think about it, to postpone having to face the very real problem that would soon threaten the Great Hall if starvation ever hit them –the prospects of killing his fellow citizens or have to see them commit such atrocities to one another in the name of survival had definitely not been something he’d been looking forward to- but he had yet to get around to finding a solution to the problem. They couldn’t go out, an offensive would kill the last of their standing men for sure, but they couldn’t stay here either, and the impossible situation it left him in was one he loathed.

“You’ve thought of something, I take it?”

“I’ve thought of something, it may be a long shot but hear me out. The elves will not fight, they have their own to look out for, and as much as I might resent them for leaving us in our time of need, it is no use for us to dwell on it, we just need to look elsewhere.” Turning to the map, Thorin let his eyes roam over it for a moment before indicating a point to the far South of where they currently stood, past Mirkwood and the Brown Lands-

“Rohan?” Dain asked, skepticism evident in his voice. “You would send word to the Horse Lords for aid?”

“Given our situation, do you have any better idea?” Thorin bit back, beginning to understand how Balin must have felt on the many times he’d offered him council only for him to reject it. He was to be King, this was his decision, and if he didn’t step up his game, then no help no matter how small would ever come to them.

The glare he shot Dain immediately sent the other dwarf into silence, and, glad that he’d gained the upper hand this time, he turned to the Wizard.

“Gandalf, I know this is much to ask of you, especially with how unstable these lands are at the moment, but out of us all here, you would be the most suited to plead on our behalf to the King of Rohan for help. I can repay both your and their help in whatever payment you wish –gold, rubies, diamonds, name your price and once Erebor is in dwarven hands again, it is yours, of that I give you my word.” And if Bard raised a slightly disbelieving eyebrow at that, Thorin chose to ignore it.

Gandalf seemed to mull it over for a moment, and like for most wizards, his expression was unreadable, which made the tendrils of anxiety tighten in his chest once again. He knew it was a lot to ask for, especially given that were he to be physically engaged in a fight along the way, Gandalf would have very little means by which to fend for himself, but he needed his help, and apart from that last desperate attempt to reach out for help, Thorin didn’t really know what he could do to ensure that the dwarves and the citizens of Dale survived the approaching harsh Winter.

“We have little choice in the matter whatever we decide to do with what time we have left, it is best we spend it wisely, and gather whatever help we can. If Lord Dain could ensure me safe passage and there is a swift horse to be found around here, I swear on my honor to do my best and talk on your behalf.” He eventually conceded, already lifting his exhausted body up and heading to the back entrance of the Great Hall, the one leading to the small alleyway and the safest way out of the city.

“But we don’t have any means to get you-“ Bard began protesting, understanding (and grateful) that the Wizard wished to help, but with his probably less-than-battle-hardened body, he would last no longer than an hour out there.

“Unless you have forgotten, Mylord, I did not come back to Dale alone.” Gandalf said gently, referring to the black draught horse Radagast had kindly offered him after his rescue from the prisons of Dol Guldur. He would, of course, give him back the beast in due time, but right now, haste was of the upmost priority, and to get word to the horsemasters he would need to travel as fast as possible.

“Thorin.” Once atop the beast, Gandalf’s already impressive height seemed to double as towered above them, and Thorin had to psychically lean back so as to be able to speak to him, still doing his best to avoid straining his side, for it would be no use re-opening the wound now after it had already begun the healing process. “Whatever happens, this Hall needs to keep standing at my return, I trust you can do that?”

Aye, he could try. Thorin was rather grim at the prospects of his new responsibility as he watched the horse dash off in a cloud of dust and dirt, for the many wars and battles he’d survived had taught him that none of them were remotely similar to what one would find in the books of tales and legends, but the small hope that Gandalf might –would- do what was necessary to bring them the help they needed.

Bard seemed to have also just come around to the exact implications the weight now settled upon his shoulders as the Bowman’s crestfallen expression at the departure of the one person who might stand a chance at helping them here was gone, however, by the way he clenched his fists and kept his head held high, Thorin could still tell that the human was not ready to back off without putting up a fight first, which gave him a little hope that maybe together, they would manage to hold out until Gandalf’s return.


While agreeing to Bolg’s scheme had indeed ensured is survival, Alfrid soon found out that surviving and living weren’t quite the same thing.

He was used to luxuries, a warm fire, a hearty meal and a nice cozy bed to fall asleep in at night, and the half blind orc’s deal did, unfortunately, include none of those, and if he were to be truly honest, while he did take a certain sense of satisfaction and entertainment away from his every-day session with their prisoner, the conditions he was living in and the bitter cold were beginning to take their toll.

The initial thrill of their scheme, while it had invigorated him at the beginning and had certainly fueled his desire to cause as much harm as possible given the fact that it was probably going to be his only way to get back at Oakenshield for not upholding the end of the bargain he had struck with the Master of Lake Town, Alfrid now found himself almost wishing the order for him to kill the whelp and put him out of his misery would come to pass, as it would be sure to end the incessant pleas for him to stop or have to answer for the hundredth time that scream as much as you wish, Kili’s not coming for you. That one had been a hard one for the kid to swallow, as he’d incessantly argued (in that annoyingly stubborn way only children did) that Kili was his brother and that he would never leave him, that he would come for him eventually, but, like a lot of the faith he’d previously placed in his uncle, his belief in his other family member had eventually crumbled to dust too, and judging by the constant defeated slump in his shoulders or the way his head hung from where he sat –wasting away and begging for death- Alfrid thought it safe to assume that any fire he might have had was now well and truly gone.

The fun didn’t end there though, oh no.

After the dagger incident last time, Bolg had taken him aside, and, with a claw to his throat and sharp fangs mere millimeters away from his cheek, had warned him against any intentions of killing the kid given the fact that they still needed him alive if Thorin was to be brought up here eventually. Alfrid had huffed, clenched his fists in annoyance but had eventually complied, and so things had returned to like how they had started: Alfrid would sit next to him, offer him a familiar light touch and a seemingly innocent question, nursing the kid’s want for him to be the Thorin he knew before reverting back to the fear-inspiring monster he now armed with poisonous lies and vice-like grips that would have been sure to shatter bones had he been stronger.

It had taken him a while, but he’d grown to see how damaging his words were, how the pleas would cease now knowing the kid had no hopes of regaining the father figure he once loved, how the trembling would intensify each time his hand hovered over his body in fear of an outburst, how the tiny head shakes of denial, still persistent at times, were transformed into nods of acknowledgment and confirmation at his tirades of “you’re such a disappointment”, “by all means, you should be grateful for the fact that I’ve decided to keep you alive” or “you are no family of mine”. Maybe the defeated eyes hidden away behind the black cloth that had been put over them weeks ago might have been a bonus to look at, but Alfrid knew it was necessary for it to stay exactly where it was, removing it would make his words –the only thing Fili could make out- lose quite a bit of impact, and given that words were his primary source of harm, he was not about to give that up.

Alfrid was indeed quite proud of calling himself a good wordsmith, always the one to come up with a well-aimed retort or a subtle turn of phrase, but this, this was lacking the thrill he used to feel when he would put those skills to use back in Lake-Town, and the lack of entertainment he was getting out of all this was really starting to weigh on him.

Which was why, when he saw the kid flinch away from the corner of his eye as the ever meting icicle above him let another one of it’s frozen beads landed right on the middle of his forehead, he saw no harm in up stepping the game a little. After all, causing more fear and damage was what his purpose was, and who was Azog to say no if he decided to have a little fun in doing so?

Sighing deeply, Alfrid plumped down next to the blond, extending a hand to his shoulder and giving him a slight shake, knowing that for the next part, he would need him to be somewhat responsive if he wanted to get any satisfaction out of the use the bottle of liquor he’d brought along.

“Hey kid! Wake up!”

The tight squeeze on his sore shoulder was what sparked his return to consciousness, and when Fili awoke to darkness and Thorin’s voice, he almost wished to be able to do what his Uncle seemed reluctant to carry out, that he kill himself. He couldn’t put up with another round of whatever it was his Uncle wanted them to do –knives, false promises, threats, deafening scraping noises, he’d had it all, and wasn’t sure he’d be able to put up with much more for long before going mad.

“What do you want this time?” He didn’t even bother to hide the exhaustion from his voice, not anymore, Thorin was too perceptive, and he’d learnt that giving into him was far safer than the alternative.

Frankfully, his Uncle had been toying with him so much, giving him hope that he might bring Kili the next time he came then telling him his brother had died or had ran off with the elven maiden, talking about how Bard and Thranduil’s heads were mounted on spikes one minute then changing his story so as to make it that they had been devoured by starving orcs, that the company (including Bilbo) had all been sentenced to hang but then that he’d changed his mind and they were now slaving away in Erebor digging out all the gold they could find so he might be able to offer it to the Pale Orc as a means to appease him, that all in all, Fili didn’t know what to believe anymore. And not being able to believe Thorin hurt, badly.

Another one of those accursed drops chose that moment to let go of the grip it had been maintaining on the caver ceiling, landing just at the top of his head, and the freezing chill it sent coursing in his bones as Fili felt it ever so slowly making it’s way down eventually made him crack. He knew before he asked that it would be fruitless, that there was no way Thorin would acuiest to his measly request, but the water was becoming unbearable, just this small act of mercy would be more than enough to appease him for however long his Uncle decided to keep him here.

“Please, I know you don't want to, and I know it’s not my place to ask, but please make it stop. I can’t… Just… Please.” It came out in a whisper, his voice hoarse from the lack of use he’d put it to after admitting to himself that pleading to Thorin would get him nowhere, but this, this he couldn’t live with anymore. Even if it was to be a thirty second respite, Fili thought he would rather take it and make the most of that short time than let the opportunity slip by. He didn’t have many opportunities given to him anymore, not since Thorin had changed for the worst, and he’d come to learn that those few moments of respite were the most privileged instances he was probably ever going to get from now on.

He wasn’t expecting Thorin to listen to him, let alone actually do it, but when he felt a slight shuffle of movement in front of him and then the blessed absence of the regular dripping on his forehead, he wasn’t too sure whether the sound he emitted was a breath of relief or a sob –whatever it was he didn’t really care. The water had stopped, and that was mercy enough for him for the time being.

“Thank you, Uncle.” Maybe using the familiar name, reminding him of the bond they supposedly shared might strike a cord inside of him, and the tiny hope that Fili felt at the thought that he’d finally reached that small part of Thorin still capable of mercy was like a battle victory to him, it meant that he could maybe still talk him into letting him go, it meant that he was still family, that he was still-

“Tell me Fili,” Alfrid’s wide grin of glee at the fact that he’d once again managed to reel the whelp into trusting him stretched from cheek to cheek, and he prayed whatever gods might listen to him that the deceit colored-tone he was adopting would not give his game away. Rummaging though his pocket, he found what he was looking for, and ever so slowly so as to not startle his unsuspecting victim, he drew the bottle and whatever tattered rag he found out, gently setting the two on the floor. “I’ve always wondered about it but never gotten an answer from anyone. What do you think it feels like to drown on dry land?”

Fili froze beneath the hand on his shoulder, the hand that had now morphed into a vice-like grip.

“W-What?” And the note of sheer terror in the question was obvious, even to a half-deaf person. Where in Middle Earth was Oin? If anything, his Uncle had gone mad, he needed a healer as soon as possible he couldn’t possibly be contemplating this!

“Oh you know, I was thinking I’d like to see for myself how one drowns in something other than a raging current or a torrential river, it could be useful to me I my later years if ever I am to oversee an execution you see? I may as well get used to watching people die.” The casual way Thorin talked about it, what Fili could imagine in his head and the knowledge of what he could not see sent his terror rising to new heights, and although the dwarven healer would probably have his head for this but knowing there was no other way he might survive if he did not, he abruptly began to back away.

Before he had any other opportunity to get his body to move, Fili felt Thorin’s left hand pinning him down by the shoulder as his right places something cold and wet onto his face.

Nothing happened at first, apart from the shudder that ran down his body at the intense cold numbing his face as he tried to hold his breath, but eventually, like he knew it would, his breath ran out, and the burn that quickly spread across his chest as the lack of air made itself known hurt.  But he couldn’t breathe in, he knew he couldn’t because it wouldn’t be air, it would be water, and who only knew what would happen if that entered his system instead? Fili wasn’t so foolish as to believe that Thorin might bring Oin in to see him if something went wrong: surviving all depended on him being able to keep his breath, and with the increasing pressure put on the rag and the growing desperation for air it was with dread that he realized that he wouldn’t be able to hold out forever. Something had to give in eventually.

And that something was him.

The need for air overwhelming anything else he might have needed, including keeping his mouth shut knowing what was to happen once he would open it, Fili gave in, praying for a measly strip of air to make it’s way to his lungs. Please, please, please! However, the deep breath he’d hoped for was  not met with air, but water as he sucked in the soaking rag. That was when the panic rose and without an ounce of hesitation, he knew he needed to get rid of it or he was done for. The problem was, though, that with both hands tied behind his back and with no way to push Thorin off him, the cloth was not going to move anytime soon, meaning that he wasn’t about to have access to air.

Whatever Thorin might have done to him before, nothing had ever sent such immense fear racing towards his heart. It was like the river incident all over again, when he and Kili had dived in after the ponies after Minty had gotten spooked. He could remember it then, how the cold water had numbed his limbs, how his heavy gar had weighed him down, how the sheer terror at being alone and feeling his life drain away from him after that first lungful of water had been, how he probably would have died right there and then had Dwalin not rescued him. It had been something he’d vowed to never feel again, and it was exactly what he was going through now. The only difference was that this time, it was Thorin who was doing the drowning, it was his Uncle, the one dwarf he’d always looked up to and aspired to be like, the one dwarf who was both his King and Father, the one dwarf he knew whose arms would always welcome him in time of need, the one dwarf to whom he would always be family.

The one dwarf who was now killing him.

He didn’t know what was worse anymore (Fili found himself not knowing a lot of things these days) , Thorin, his never-ending oscillation between his gentle talking, as if they were just and uncle and nephew discussing the world together, and the crazed vindictive and hateful being who was unable to recognize in him his own family and took great pleasure in versing him in the arts of torment or the fear he’d harbored of meeting his end at the claws of something liquid. It was a ridiculous fear, something that anybody else would deem childish and ridiculous for a Prince of Durin like him, but it was there one the less.

So it was a relief when the rag was lifted upwards, and Fili didn’t wait for an invitation, casting aside whatever further harm might befall his stomach if he jostled the wound there, he rolled over onto his side, coughing up what felt like the Brandywine River (or whatever name Mister Baggins had given it) in an attempt to let his lungs take in the air they were so desperately deprived of.

Everything burnt: throat, mouth, eyes, the lot, but the small intake of fresh air, the feeling of it going deep down in his lungs as they expanded once again, was worth it, and, greedy for more, Fili didn’t let the first exhale finish when he was already taking in more. It hurt, fire licking his insides as another intake traveled through him, but he couldn’t bring himself to care, couldn’t bring himself to slow down either knowing that if he did so, Thorin may not give him another chance to do so again, and he would die. He stopped at the thought.

Thorin had tried to kill him. And this time he hadn’t stopped. It wasn’t like last time where his uncle was in complete control of the knife, where he could chose the extent of the damage inflicted and stop before drawing blood, this time, once the rag had hit his face, Thorin had let go of that dominance, had stopped using the precision and dexterity their last encounter had, this time he didn’t hold the reins, not entirely, and the fact that Fili was sure that his Uncle was very likely to let them go was anything bu reassuring. This was a dangerous game he was playing, one Fili wanted no part of but had no choice but to participate in, and one that was very possibly going to cost him his life if he couldn’t get though to Thorin –now.

“Please!” It was more along the line of gurgled nonsense than a plea to be heard, what with the additional water he kept spluttering up, but it was now or never, and if there was the slightest hint of a chance Thorin might be able to still see reason, Fili knew he had to take that chance, regardless of what might be done to him afterwards, anything was preferable over having his own uncle drown him in his books. “Please uncle, please stop playing games! This isn’t you! The Thorin I know wouldn’t do this.” He added quietly, hoping against hope that it might reach out to the dwarf he remembered.

“Why?” Nothing made sense to him, not Thorin, not why he was here, not this, and to get his grip back on reality, Fili needed an explanation as to why Thorin was doing this to him, there had to be one, right?

Alfrid had been leaning over, cloth in hand, when the question reverberated on the stone wall of their prison and he stilled. It went without saying that he’d never expected the whelp to be lucid enough to talk anything remotely sensible while using the cloth, but this? What was he supposed to say without blowing it?

He couldn’t use the excuse that Thorin hated the elves, given the fact that they had long gone and that the dwarf himself had ended up giving them his assistance those three weeks ago, that he did it for his own amusement, while partly true, did not ring true to what he knew of Oakenshield himself. If anything the dwarf was a prideful one, and Alfrid was pretty certain that nothing would ever warrant this sort of behavior from him, Gods above! He doubted Thorin would act as such towards an elf even if he had the chance. No, to stop this low, Thorin had to have something held over him, something which he held dear that was worth protecting at the cost of his eldest nephew something-

Nephew.

The answer was so obvious Alfrid could almost slap himself for not coming up with such an excuse earlier. He remembered the ceremony the Master of Lake Town had thrown in honor of the dwarves the night of their arrival, he remembered them entering the Great Hall for the feast, and he remembered the glances Thorin would cast towards the younger brunet dwarf (the injured one, the one who had stayed behind) and the fond smile he had adopted with him when he had sat down next to him and encouraged him to eat a little, claiming it might help him recover quicker if he had a little sustenance in the belly. They were family just as much as Thorin was family with this one, the only difference was that he’d seen how much The dwarven king had cared for the other one, he’d seen that concern and reassurance in the way he held himself around him, and Alfrid came to the conclusion that it would be pretty safe to say that, while Thorin certainly valued gold riches and treasure, that one dwarf obviously meant more to him than the rest of his companions, it would also make sense that he put anything on the line if it meant that it would keep him safe from harm.

“Why? Do you really need to ask me?” He hissed in his ear, the wet rag pushed down even harder now, constricting any gaps of air there might have been previously, and the involuntary reflexive flinch he felt beneath him let him know that the kid was definitely close to letting go.

“To save your brother, of course.”

There it was, the whole reason for all of this sordid affair, and Fili could almost laugh at himself for not having figured it out sooner. Kili, of course it would be Kili, it all made so much more sense now that his Uncle had given him a reason (and he almost didn’t hate him for what he had done to him, almost). Thorin had always been fiercely protective of his younger nephew, it was not hard for anyone to see, least of all him who spent his every day at their side, but it was reason enough to justify why his Uncle had taken such drastic actions against him, anything was worth sacrificing in the name of his brother, even him.

He just wished he might have had enough air to let him know that he understood, that even if their bond was now probably irreparably broken by hate and fear, he understood.

But everything stopped as he chocked one last time on the wet rag, and whatever understanding apologies and hateful resent he might have wanted to throw at Thorin went along with it as his lungs inhaled water once again and his body went limp.


Alfrid hadn’t even realized that he was now the only one conscious in their alcove, too busy enwrapped in his own little victory over the dwarven deceiver until he felt the shoulder he’d been holding go slack, any tension he’d previously instilled in it now gone.

The initial thrill of pride he’d been feeling at what he’d been doing quickly faded when the body beneath his hands did not respond

“No! Nonono kid, wake up! You have to wake up!” If those creatures find you like this, I’m done for! He cared not for his fate, of course not, but Alfrid knew his own life heavily depended on his work on the kid, and the bargain he’d struck with the half-blind orc did not involve him killing the whelp. It had been a mere accident, he really hadn’t intended it, he’d simply let his anger get the better of him and… Well here he was, definitely not looking forward to having to come up with an explanation.

And luck seemed to be slipping right out of his grasp, as his panicked pleas caught the attention of his half-blind protector, who came striding towards him, torch at hand and menacing glare shadowed upon his face, and it took him only one look a the kid to know what exactly had happened.

“You killed him?!” The hand at his neck pinning him to the wall came so fast, Alfrid never saw it coming, and the tightening grip was unfortunately not one his mere human fingers could pry open. “Your orders were to keep him alive! He’s no use to us in this state, Oakenshield will never come for a corpse!”

Thinking quickly (and knowing that if he didn’t, he was likely to meet a similar fate), Alfrid choked “I know, I’m sorry! It got out of hand!” What an understatement.”But the dwarf-king doesn’t need to know this!”

The grip on his throat loosened ever so slightly, the half-blind orc giving him a sharp nod to continue and quickly, anything out of line and he knew he would snap his neck.

“Please, trust me, if I can just talk” –another squeeze- “to the King, let him know about…” And his weakened hand gestured to the heap on the floor. “Maybe he’ll consider-“

The grip loosened a little more as Bolg considered it. Truth was, the human had more than likely killed their prisoner, for the dwarf had yet to show any sign of life, but while he and Alfrid knew that, Oakenshield didn’t. If his pet were to convince him the little twerp was still alive, have him come up here, his Father would be at a fine advantage to finish the job he’d started long ago at the Battle of Moria.

Besides, all of this was in his and his Fathers interest if it drew the dwarf-scum up, the only thing that hadn’t gone according to plan was the blonde’s fate -not that he cared, but it hadn’t been part of the bargain he’d struck with the weasel wriggling in his grasp.

Eventually though, he conceded. What did he have to lose? Dale was surrounded, there was nowhere for the slimy human to run to where his warriors wouldn’t get him, and he knew Alfrid was aware of what Fate would befall him if such a thing were to happen to him. It was really in Alfrid’s best interests to do as he said. Leaning in closer, fetid breath obviously discomforting him, he whispered in his ear”

“You do whatever it takes to bring that dwarf-scum up here, or else I’ll be sure to send my wargs after you. And trust me, they’ll show you no mercy this time.”

Alfrid merely gulped in response, very well aware of which fate he would rather have happen to him.

Chapter Text

Exhaustion didn’t even begin to label what exactly trailing his overexerted body around really felt like, Dwalin mulled cynically as he and Dori carefully weaseled their way around the ruins of Dale, scouting the perimeter for the night and (vainly, in his mind) keeping an eye out for possible unfortunate survivors.

They had been stuck here for about three weeks now, and the burly warrior strongly doubted that anyone who hadn’t previously made it safely and relatively unharmed to the Great Hall would have survived this long by their lonesome- he didn’t particularly want to discredit Human will to survive, but even stretching the whole thing, it seemed realistically impossible a feat to achieve by oneself.

Nevertheless, he understood why he and Dori were tasked to do this while they were keeping an eye out and patrolling through the miserable cold, their faces sore and red after hours spent outside facing the unforgiving elements: this had become the only way to keep some semblance of hope and optimism among the survivors, men and dwarves alike, for Bard’s dwindling comrades and what remained of the Iron Hills’ army had grown weak and weary after such a long siege with little to no supplies left for them, and were thus of no real efficiency anymore when out on the battleground. Dwalin still didn’t particularly appreciate being the one stuck out here by his lonesome in the dark and cold though, and the fact that Dori had eventually insisted in joining him, claiming that he could probably do with another sturdy companion by his side to keep him company and watch his back (Dwalin had scoffed at that last part, a trained warrior such as himself knew how to ensure their own safety, he’d been doing fine over the past two weeks). It hadn’t really been much of an improvement to their situation however, it just meant that if ever they were to be unlucky enough to be taken by surprise, that they would be two to die instead of just his sorry arse.

Near a month of fighting in an increasingly desperate effort to protect what now amounted to nothing more than a bunch of ruins certainly seemed to have taken a toll on him and his psyche, and had sent what little remained of Dwalin’s ever-dwindling optimism plummeting. Their current situation certainly wasn’t one he found ideal: trapped in a crumbling city, whatever soldiers still stood all reaching a point far beyond exhaustion, their weakest being torn apart day after day –waiting for Gandalf to hopefully return with help from Rohan seemed pointless now, by the time he made it back (if he did, that was) they would most likely be dead- gaunt women and children who dared not entertain a glimmer of optimism that they might survive if they dared set a foot outside in a desperate attempt to flee now found themselves slowly starving to death locked inside the Great Hall, nothing Dwalin could really foresee as a potential victory for them. Poor Bombur had done his best to ration whatever little stocks they had left, but he’d searched out for Thorin a few days ago in a frantic panic to tell him that even those were dwindling fast, and if they didn’t manage to do something soon, Dwalin had no doubts that hunger would wipe them all out a lot faster than the orcish spears and crude axes that were waiting for them outside. This certainly wasn’t the glorious end he’d pictured for himself once upon a time, when he’d been naught but a dwarfling looking up to the tales of battles of old and grand dwarven heroes.

If he were to be honest with himself, Dwalin had to admit that the Company wasn’t faring much better than their companions from Dale or from the Iron Hills. There were little doubts as to their skills: even the youngest members, Kili and Ori, had been well trained and verse din the art of war and wielding weapons (after all they had to be if they hoped to join Thorin Oakkenshield’s companions before departing the Ered Luin), and the two had so far been lucky enough be blissfully unaware of experiencing hunger gnawing at their insides since Nori and Thorin had taken it upon themselves to delegate their shares to them instead –and it had taken some degree of convincing before they had relented, and instead had taken to offering their help around the Hall with whatever strength they could spare.

An extremely reluctant Thorin had even let Kili go outside that one time, under Dwalin’s supervision of course, to help their human companions on a run for whatever weapons they could find (young stealthy dwarves with better eyesight were candidates of choice for such missions, and with little youth left to spare, Kili had offered himself, promising adamantly that he would be more careful this time around). Dwalin had naturally kept a close eye on him the whole time, knowing all too well that losing his youngest nephew weeks after Kili’s brother would more than likely break Thorin beyond repair –Fili dying and the Company subsequently coming to terms with the loss of one of their own had not been easy. It was something neither Kili nor Thorin had had an opportunity to properly grieve yet for it was something they could not afford to do while under constant attack – Kili however seemed to have cut down on his reckless attitude however, which was a small relief for all of them.

At the end of the day, the dead stayed dead. Only the living could go on to fight another day and hope to secure a time for mourning and proper goodbyes in the future, and having Kili understand it and grow from it was a small thing Dwalin had begun to cling to. He and many others were beginning to truly see just how much they had lost from this siege, how much they had things and people torn away from them without a chance at a proper goodbye, but if victory meant a chance to come to terms with it all and eventually find a way to move on for Kili, for Thorin, for himself, for everybody, then it was worth hanging on just a little longer. It was worth fighting to live.

By pure chance or some luck that Fate deemed it necessary to bestow mercy upon them for a short while, the orc filth seemed inclined enough to give them respite for tonight. The eerie silence weighing heavily over the ruins of Dale and the decaying bodies littering the crackled pavements they could not afford to bring back to the Great Hall out of fear of a possible infection, was by no means a comforting picture to look at, but was proof enough that for tonight at least, they could lay down their weary bodies and rest for a short while. And by the Gods did they need it at this point.

Ever the duty-fulfiller however, Dwalin had offered to stay out on watch, and thus now found himself patrolling down a nausea-inducing painting of corpses and decaying flesh, carefully stepping over the bodies until his feet knocked into something hard. Daring to have a little hope as he cast his eyes down, his knees cracking uncomfortably as he knelt over the item, he reached a hand out for the cloth material, taking a hold of the rough texture in his hand and peeling it back over the box slowly with baited breath, hoping against hope that it might be something he could bring bac-

Of course it just had to be empty, just his luck. Dwalin’s heart sank heavily as he realized that he and a lot of the others would still be going hungry tonight. His famished stomach gave an audible growl as he kept staring at the food-less container, as if hoping to find some safely tucked away left-over crumbs of some sort he might feast on in the corner, and to quell it’s cries, the dwarf’s hands swiftly flew to his offending organ, pressing down harshly in the hopes to quell it’s cries and not dwarf attention to himself. Ignore it, ignore it. You’ve probably gone over a day without food, you can keep on going for another few hours.

“I feel you, mate. I think I could do with another rade of Bilbo’s pantry tonight.”

Dwalin smiled fondly at that, the memory of what seemed to be all of a sudden a time long past, before all this, back when things were simpler. Back when they had hope. “If we ever manage to get our hands on that, can you imagine how goddamned happy everyone would be? Why, we’d be heroes!”

“Mahal knows I’d like that.” Dori sighed wistfully, remembering a time that seemed long gone now, when his little brothers still had high hopes for a grand and glorious adventure, when neither of them had been disillusioned like they were now. “A blast from the pa-“

But Dwalin however, interrupted him as he held his hand up, the other one going straight for the damaged axe at his hip, and the small air of camaraderie vanished into thin air. Dori longed for it to come back for a moment, upset at no longer even being able to share little moments with his closest friends without it being taken away from him, instead replaced with that all encompassing fear he’d grown accustomed to when looking out for his own life.

Painfully aware of his thundering heartbeat now, almost certain that he’d just given away their exact location whatever orc must be lingering in the rubble around them, Dori pressed his back into his comrade’s and gripped his weapon tighter, feeling his knuckles go white as he wrapped his fingers around the pommel of his battle-weary sword.

Their feet creaked in the snow below, their breaths felt more like pants, little white clouds exhaled from his mouth in time with his increasing heartbeat and the pair of them crouched down as they reached the side of what must have been some merchant’s stall, the ruined frame of his selling cart now lay broken against a crumbling wall.

Leaning against the solid stone, Dori could now very clearly hear the grunting and shuffling on the other side and he swallowed in anticipation, not looking forward to this at all. His arms were heavy, exhausted and covered in cuts Oin had deemed too superficial to treat –what little they had went for the ill and deeply wounded, and as long as the damage his body sustained did not prevent him from fighting, Dori had to do with nothing- but the lingering fear he had of sustaining something deeper or having the misfortune of opening them while fighting off one of those orc-filth (and potentially not being there for Ori and Nori, which was by far the worst) had him suddenly very worried and very aware of the fact that he could simply not afford to be careless with his body, not when his only family depended on him coming back to them alive and well.

Dwalin seemed to be wrestling with the same problem for Dori could clearly see the dilemma written all over the burly dwarf’s face as he turned to him, taking a deep breath. Silently, Thorin’s best friend counted down with his hand and as he curled back his last finger, Dori gripped his sword as tight as he could, raised his arm and the pair rounded the corner-

“No please! Please don’t! I’m not one of them, I swear!”

Dwalin halted in his movement, arm still drawn back and ready to strike as Dori lowered his weapon slightly, poking the tip of his blade beneath the creature’s face. From its kneeled position, it held its hands up in surrender, and craning his neck to either side, Dwalin saw no trace of any weapon beneath the fabric of the stranger’s dirtied clothes –pretty foolish, to be out here without any means to defend oneself in times like these.

“Are you tiring to get yourself killed out here?” It came out a lot more harshly than Dwalin had probably meant it to be, but the cold, exhaustion and utter brainless decision this fool had made for himself really tried his patience.

Dori shot him a dirty look, already lowering his weapon and crouching down next to the huddled figure, hand reaching out towards the stranger’s arm.

“We’re not going to hurt you, just… Let us help, we can bring you back to the others, it’s warmer there, we might even be lucky and gat a hand on a spare change of clothes for you. Just let me give you a hand-“ He said quietly, as if he were trying to soothe a spooked pony or calm a crying dwarfling, and instead of butting in, Dwalin stood back, keeping an eye on their surroundings and hand at the ready just in case –or at least he did until the hood was pushed back and Dori’s exclamation had him turning right back to him.

“H-How can you possibly still be alive?!”

Indeed, while neither had expected to come face to face with anyone in particular, Dwalin could safely say they had not ever thought that they would be seeing the lecherous little scum that had first welcomed them to Lake Town at his Master’s side. How the little man was still alive when the little he’d seen of him had let Dwalin know that he was in no way cut out for survival was truly the only question he could come up with on the spot.

“Well?” He asked, poking him with his weapon again to get him to answer.

“O-Okay.” The trembling voice certainly didn’t do him any favors, if anything, Dwalin remained as unimpressed as he’d been the first time they’d first met in Lake Town. “O-Okay, just, pull that thing back a little.”

Dwalin did so without lowering the sword: Likspittle was a coward, there was no denying that, but he also seemed to be cunning (he had to, if he had managed to survive almost a month by his lonesome), and Thorin’s companion wasn’t above suspecting that at the first chance he got, the quivering human would make a run for it if he could. “So,” He pressed. “How come you’re still in one piece?”

“Orcs.” The human choked out, lips turned blue and trembling due to the cold. “They’re smarter than Bard and your boy Oakenshield gave them credit for, they cornered me and decided to keep me. Thought I could be a reliable source of information.”

Dwalin could already feel where this was going, anger bubbling up in his chest and found himself having to clench his fist closed to avoid striking the man across the face. “And you did? Tell them how to get in here? Where to strike? The best ways to cut us off?”

Dori was the only reason Alfrid didn’t get punched in the face right there and then as he placed himself between Dwalin and the human, and for good measure, the latter thought it wise to take a step back, just in case the angry dwarf decided to come at him again. What reason could he have to take it out on him anyway? In Alfrid’s books, he’d managed to survive, and if a few dead people were a consequence to that, well he guessed he could live with it if it meant that he was still breathing at the end of the day.

However, antagonizing them would probably not be a wise move on his part, especially if he was supposed to gain Oakenshield's trust and have him believe it was necessary for him to go all the way up the mountain again, and so, thinking quickly, Alfrid did what he usually did, and used others to get by. It had always worked for him before, and he certainly saw no reason to stop now.

“N-No, t-that wasn’t me. However, I can still be of use to you.” He stuttered, partly to play his part and partly because of the cold. If he could just convince them to bring him back to the Great Hall and offer him a bowl of nice soup…

The burly dwarf raised a questioning eyebrow at that, already taking a step back and hand inching for his weapon once again, much to the grief of his silver haired companion, who had to talk him out of it.

“And why should we believe you’d have anything of value to offer us?”

Time to play your cards right, Alfrid.

“Because I have information, something Thorin might be interested in knowing.”


Thorin eyes flicked from Dori to Dwalin, and went back and forward several times as he took in the tale they’d spun. It all seemed a little surreal when they’d first said it, after Bombur had sat them down in front of the fire at the center of the Hall and offered them what little soup he could spare for them, and he looked back to the quivering human several times (Bifur and Bofur had agreed to tend to the scratch on his head and were now trying to get him to talk, and judging by Bofur’s expression, neither seemed to be getting much out of him), he really didn’t look like much, what with the trembling limbs and the blanket threatening to fall off his shoulders at any minute.

“You think he’s telling the truth?” He asked after a while, pondering on the answer the human had given them.

“Honestly, I can’t say. He’s good at lying, and I certainly wouldn’t believe everything coming out of his mouth, but I don’t see a reason as to why he’d lie either. What ahs he got to lose?” Dori asked, shoulders sagging as he wrapped his hands around the warm bowl. His stomach growled, crying to be fed.

“I still don’t trust him.” Dwalin grumbled, obviously more inclined to just throw him back out to the wolves as soon as they were done with him. “He said he’d offered up information as to how best attack and surround Dale, he gave the orc scum that piece of information, all to admitted to it himself, why should we believe anything else he might have to offer.”

“But you did say he wanted to talk to me, personally?” Thorin asked back, still not quite getting what the battered human could possibly have to offer him that might be of any interest.

“Aye, wouldn’t tell us though.” Dori shrugged, glancing past his shoulder.

“I still wouldn’t trust him. Probably only looking to save his own skin.” Dwalin muttered, clearly not willing to give the human a chance.

Neither did Thorin for that matter, after all, Alfrid had never shown them any kind of favor, and if anything, he’d been openly hostile to them ever since that first evening in Lake Town. There was absolutely no reason for the man to seek him out specifically, and the less it made sense, the more nervous he could feel himself growing. What kind of game was he playing at?

He caught Bard’s eye over the fire, the other man watching the fellow survivor skeptically, as if weighing his options as to what he could do, until he decided to take a step towards him. Thorin did the same, Bofur and his cousin immediately stepping back, as if aware their lord would probably wish to speak to Alfrid alone.

It was awkward for a minute, both Thorin and Bard eying each other, as if waiting for the other to make the first step while Alfrid gulped down the soup between them until the other sighed, and sat down beside him, leaning back and stretching his tired legs, muscles cracking in the process. It had been a long day for all of them.

“So, how exactly did you survive in a pack of orcs for three weeks?” Bard asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow, ready to distrust whatever came out of the man’s mouth if it wounded too far-fetched. “Forgive me for sounding rude, but they don’t exactly seem like the type to let a mere man off the hook.”

“I-I was with Mikkel-“

“The blacksmith?”

“Aye, he and I got caught together.” Alfrid lied, not looking Bard in the eye and focusing on the warm soup instead –it was a nice change from the meat, he could say that for sure. “He’s a good spokesman you see, he thought it would be a good idea to offer our services to them if it meant we got to live. We’d be able to escape one day that way.”

“Orcs aren’t famous for letting their prisoners go.” Thorin cut in, finding the whole story rather odd, but with no proof Alfrid was lying, he guessed he just had to take it at face value. Maybe Azog had kept him alive.

“They do if you have something to offer them. And what with the dwarf they had and Mikkel being desperate enough to do anything to save his life, he quickly came up with some idea.”

“Dwarf?” Even to his ears, the question sounded dumb. Thorin knew there was nobody left up there, it had been him, Dwalin, Kili and Fili, they had been the only ones to attempt to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ as Gandalf put it, and had failed in the attempt. Dain certainly hadn’t brought up having tried to climb the mountain either after the incident.

“Dain’s people would have tried to climb up there behind his back?” Bard suggested, looking to Thorin for conformation, but the latter only shook his head. The read-headed was quite reckless at times, but he wouldn’t have been that frivolous with the lives of his men. Anybody going up there by themselves was practically suicide in his books.

“He was younger than your friend over there.” Alfrid pointed out, seizing the opportunity to get Thorin to listen to him. “Little blond boy, not much older than the one I saw writing notes earlier.”

“Blond?” Either it was weariness finally getting to him or Thorin was indeed slow that evening, but the distinction didn’t go unnoticed by him. Thing was, Alfrid had to have been mistaken, there were no blond dwarves down here, his nephew had been the only one, and well… He was long dead, he’d seen it himself. “Your eyes probably did a number on you, there are no-“

“Aye, the one you left behind with his injured brother, that blond.” Fingers crossed in the sleeve of his coat, Alfrid hoped he could get Oakenshield to believe him. The conversation wasn’t going exactly the way he’d wanted it, but at least, that piece of information was out now, he simply had to get him to believe it was worth his while going up the mountain again and then he would be free to leave. “He’s alive.” He added for good measure, just to get it to sink in.

He’s alive.

Thorin blinked. Blinked again. Blinked several times as the words still rung in an echo around his ears as they waited for him to let them sink in and believe it was true.

Fili was alive.

According to Alfrid, Fili was alive.

Apparently.

But-

“No.” He shook his head vividly, making the image of his elder nephew disappear. It simply wasn’t possible, he’d seen it himself, nobody could have survived that blade, let alone the fall. There was no way. Kili had even told him he was dead, had come to him needing reassurance, a shoulder to cry on and a chest to burry himself in, there was absolutely no way Kili would have left his brother behind. Alfrid was lying to get him to fight, have him take care of the beast while he quivered and shook behind his back.

“No, you’re lying. My nephew died three weeks ago, I saw it for myself with my own two eyes!” He shook his head, the resounding thud as his sister-son’s body had hit the ground, unmoving, after the Defiler had let go of him still fresh in his mind. There were a lot of things Thorin was willing o believe, but this nonsense was not one of them.

Alfrid, however, still looked unimpressed, actually raising an eyebrow as if daring him to come up with a valid reason as to why he would be lying. Which made absolutely no sense: Thorin ad seen the blood, the unmoving body, he’d seen it all. “H-He can’t possibly be alive after that, you’ve got the wrong person.”

Shut it down right now.

Alfrid shrugged his shoulders, having half expected this. Thorin had seen the kid impaled and dropped down the side of the cliff, his other nephew had no doubt run back to him, telling him his brother was dead, he had no reason to believe the brat was alive in the first place. And now realizing that he was going to have to find some damn good story to get him to believe he was alive didn’t seem as easy as he’d initially thought.

“Well, I know for a fact that the kid called out for you –Thorin Oakenshield is your name after all- I was there. After, with what’s been done to him I’m not entirely sure he’ll actually want to see you again though. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t try to kill himself or that your orc pal didn’t off him, what with all the crying he was doing.”

Thorin, who had turned away, stilled. Alfrid was lying, Alfrid had got to be lying, there was no other explanation possible, but the words still hurt, to have his deceased nephew talked about in such a manner.

“Don’t know how he’s doing now, but last I saw, he was definitely-“

“Stop it!” Whether he was aware of it and doing it on purpose or not, Alfrid was picking at a raw wound, one Thorin wasn’t ready to deal with right now. He had grieved, they all had, but it was behind them: Fili was dead, there was nothing they could do to bring him back, could only hope to honor him properly once this was all over, and here was this coward, trying to talk him into believing he was still alive- “He’s dead! Whoever your fellow prisoner was, it wasn’t hi, couldn’t have been. He’s… dead.”

Thorin hated how his voice wavered on that last word, as if he’d almost hesitate don it as he’d turned back to Alfrid, as if he’d hesitated when he’d seen the raised eyebrow and impassive features, as if he was subconsciously already doubting (wanted to doubt) his own mind.

Indeed, Alfrid caught onto the pause, knew what it meant and saw his opening. The dwarf was wavering –it was slight, anyone else might have missed it- but he caught on, grasped ad that tiny seed of doubt and pried on Thorin’s possible willingness to believe. He had his opening, now if he could just push a little further and convince Oakenshield to actually go up there, he knew he would sleep easy tonight.

Alfrid had offered nothing as rebuttal yet, but he hadn’t corrected Thorin either, and he now found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. He didn’t know what to think anymore: the chances that his nephew was alive, that there was even the hint of a chance that he might see him again (apologize, bring him back, to where he belonged) weighed heavily on his conscience. Part of him wanted to believe Alfrid’s words, that he was telling the truth because it was Fili, Fili was family, something he had all too little of and someone he would want back at any costs if he could.

But if Alfrid was telling the truth, the heavy underlining of his words meant that his nephew had also spent the past month in the company of the Defiler, and all of a sudden, Fili dying when Azog had initially gotten his hand son him seemed like such a more merciful outcome. Mahal only knows what he will have tone to him.

The mere thought of it was enough to have him shaking his head in denial again, the sheer possibility that it might have happened too horrible to face.

“No, the Defiler ran him through, I saw it. Dwalin saw it. Bilbo saw it. Kili saw it! There is no way Kili would have left his brother were he alive!”

He was pacing now, hand restless as it worried his beard and then his hair as Thorin was vainly trying to convince himself –and doing a rather poor job at it- Alfrid was lying. Looking back at him, the man looked unperturbed, as if leaving the choice whether he ought to trust him or not up entirely up to Thorin. He’d said his piece, and had it been a lie, Thorin liked to hope he would have seen something flicker in the other man’s expression that would have given him away, and unfortunately, nothing had. The possibility that Fili just might be alive became slightly more real then as he kept waiting for Alfrid’s features to betray him. After all, from where he’d stood that day, it had been impossible for him to judge whether his nephew was alive after the fall or not, he’d simply assumed without ever checking. If what Alfrid said was true, that he’d seen him up close and that Fili was still breathing…

Caught in the dilemma, Thorin bit his lip, unsure as to whether he even wanted Fili to be alive in the first place. If he was still alive, it meant that a rescue could still be organized, that Thorin could still go after him, that Kili could actually have his brother back that he could still apologize for leaving him there in the first place after they saved him.

If there’s something left to save.

Because Thorin had no illusions that three weeks with his sworn nemesis would not have born well for his sister-son, who was probably a mangled mess of broken bones and tortured skin at this point.

“W-Why should I believe you?” Shit, now his voice sounded meek, unfit for a future dwarf king, the tremor of anticipation definitely audible to whoever would have been in the same vicinity as them at that moment. But Thorin be damned, even as he asked it, he still wanted to trust a dishonest guy like Alfrid, because this wasn’t some random citizen of Lake Town or Dale they were talking about, this was his nephew, Fili, who he’d seen grown up all though his life, how own blood.

Alfrid, for his part, sensed that something had changed, and that he now had the opportunity to get the complete upper hand if he was careful. He just had to make it that more real for Thorin, give him something concrete to back up his words, and as he rummaged through the pocket of his coat, he was fortunate enough to come across a small sharp object, the knife he’d first pulled off the kid. Well, if that didn’t reel him in completely, he wasn’t too sure what else he could offer.

“Here, he must have dropped it before they got him.”

Thorin took the offered object, one of Fili’s prized knives he kept in his sleeve, the carved design on the side of them unmistakable. He would never have parted with it unless he’d been forced…

“What proof is this that he’s alive?”

“Don’t you want him to be?” It was playing it close, and for a moment, Alfrid thought he’d almost blown his chance as Thorin frowned down at the knife, still debating whether he ought to believe him or not.

“What proof is this that he’s a live?” Bard asked as he leaned forward, taking part in the conversation again. “It’s a knife, no insurance that the boy is still alive and breathing, or that he’s still up there at all.”

Curse Bard and his unwanted level-headedness! Thinking quickly, there was only one thing Alfrid could do at this point, and it was play on Thorin’s will, with a deep breath, he gave it a shot. “But don’t you want him to be?”

How was that supposed to help anything? Of course Thorin wanted him alive, what Uncle would he be if he were to answer with the opposite? The problem wasn’t him wanting Fili to be alive, it was what was in Fili’s best interests, and Thorin was pretty certain that it would be for best were he dead for Azog was no merciful creature, the things the beast must have done… Still, was it worth sacrificing the possibility of his heir still breathing and making it home if he were to simply organize a rescue party?

No, no it’s not.

It was selfish, wanting to go up there to rescue his own blood before wanting to go up there to remove the origin of the threat they were all facing, but right then, Thorin couldn’t exactly bring himself to care. He’d believed that his nephew was dead for too long, now with the hint of him being potentially alive and him being able to actually do something about it… He wasn’t about to stand by and do nothing.

And so he gave in completely.

“When did you last see him?” He cringed at the hint of desperation, at how un-royal he both sounded and felt, but it was a discomfort he was willing to bear. A few minutes where he degraded his image were nothing when compared with the fact that they might just be a means to save a life. His voice was hoarse, eyes still locked on the knife –now tangible proof to him that Fili was indeed alive, had to be- and hand ghosting over it as if it might somehow bring him closer to the latter.

“So you believe me now?” Alfrid almost scoffed (retained himself simply so this would be seen through and he could make sure Thorin was well intent on heading up that mountain, and having a fit might just jeopardize that if he wasn’t careful with how he handled his emotions), but none the less relieved that he seemed to have a stroke of good luck. He could deal with his hurt pride later, right now, he just had make sure that Thorin and as many of those dwarves as possible actually attempted a rescue. “Saw him a few days ago, think he was still breathing when I left.”

Well, that dampened things immediately. If he was still breathing, Thorin could only imagine that it was the less preferable of the options.

“What did he do to him?” To be fair, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to know, but if it meant that he’d be aware of what state they’d find his nephew in, he was willing to hear it.

“Well he gutted him in the die, that much you probably know already.” And at Thorin’s nod, Alfrid continued on. “After that though… I’ll be bluntly honest with you, but he completely broke him.”

“Broke him?” Damn his voice for sounding so small, Thorin really wasn’t sure he wanted the detail at all. He knew the orc scum would have shown no mercy on his nephew, but to actually go as far as to break him? No, Fili wouldn’t break. Ori, he could see collapsing, maybe even Bofur, but not Fili, the heir he’d trained for the past eighty-two years.

“Aye. When I got caught with Mikkel, they brought us up there, tied us up next to your kid. Not long after, the orc came and offered us a deal, work for him and he’d make sure we were well fed, warm and would actually be safe, as in, he wouldn’t kill us one day like we were prisoners. Of course, I tried not to but Mikkel, he was really taken in by the idea –desperate to live you see-and what with Mikkel looking like you, long hair, dark bear you name it, your orc pal offered him a deal: break the kid and he’d be sure to be safe.”

Thorin brought a hand to his mouth, worrying one of his nails as Alfrid continued on. Mahal knew he wished to be anywhere else right now, not having to hear this.

“Looking back on it, he looked quite like you, like I said, hair, eyes, beard… And with the bottles he’d scampered off with, it wasn’t really difficult to make your kid believe it either. So when Mikkel tried to drown your kid, of course he believed it was you doing it.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Thorin cut in sharply, refusing to believe a word of the sordid tale. “Fili would never ever believe me capable of doing that to him! He knows I care for him!”

Just picturing the whole thing, Thorin felt sick to his stomach –how much further would he have to listen to this man’s lies?

“Fell free to believe what you want, he certainly fell for it, hell he completely lost it when he thought you were about to gut him through, sent him into damn hysterics for days.” He snapped back, Alfrid’s patience now thin with the hot headed dwarf. Stubbornness was one thing, this was something else.

“The point is, the boy’s still alive, right?” Bard interrupted, eager to placate the two before they drew knives at each other’s throats and not keen to hear more horrors spouting out from the poor man’s mouth. By no means was he doing this out of concern for Alfrid, he did not hold the man in any esteem at all, but recognized that he could be a useful fighter, especially since he’d been in the company of orcs –maybe had more information to offer about them, and Thorin offing him now would not help anybody anyway.

Alfrid nodded, looking directly at Thorin as if daring him to disagree. Instead, the dwarf king seemed deep in thought, and when he turned back and made his way back to his kin, Alfrid knew he had him wrapped around his finger.


Thorin’s mind was reeling, Fili was still alive, Fili was still alive. They could get him back as soon as dawn broke tomorrow and end this once and for all.

How should he break the news to Kili though? He couldn’t outright say that they’d abandoned his brother to be… That would make all of the implications real, that would make the current state of Fili’s body real, that would make the fact that they abandoned him up there real, and Thorin still couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Kili had told him-

“Thorin?”

“He’s alive.” Well, so much for not blurting it out. Looking up from the knife in his hand, Thorin looked at their puzzled faces, as if it weren’t that obvious to them, and lingered on Kili’s for a moment –Kili who was still unsuspecting, who didn’t know, who might be better off not knowing- “Fili’s still alive.”

The way Kili’s eyes widened would have been almost comical were it not under these circumstances.

“Laddie-“ Balin tried gently, rising up to meet him and hands up in a placating gesture, “We all know-“

“No, he really is alive.” He left out the part where he supposedly hurt his sister-son because Thorin knew Fili would never ever believe him capable of sinking that low, that was all Alfrid’s superfluous nonsense to try and get him up there out of desperation.

“No.”

Thorin’s head whipped to his other (no longer only) nephew as Kili reeled back, as if the news had come like a blow to him. “He… He can’t be.”

The irony of the urge he had to tell him don’t you want him to be was rather ironic, instead, Thorin opted not to say anything, let Kili see for himself that his uncle truly believed that his brother wasn’t dead.

“But- But I saw! I saw the body Uncle, he was dead!”

“Are you sure? Did you check?” The horrible seed of doubt was still there, and while Thorin would take Kili’s word over a man like Alfrid’s any day, this wasn’t something he could chose to dismiss, not when there was a life they all cared about at stake.

Kili’s opened his mouth, the words of course I did! At the tip of his tongue but for some reason, unable to push them past his mouth.

“Kili, did you see?” Thorin’s tone was more pressing now and Kili could feel cold sweat trickle down his neck as he pictured himself back there, his brother’s body in front of him and panic threatening to overwhelm his whole body. He could still feel the cold, still remember the shock, still recall how his muscles hurt as he ran, and by Mahal were of course I did wishing to come out.

Kili’s honor was the only thing holding them back, because a dwarf of Durin’s line did not lie, and it was with dawning horror that he realized that he hadn’t.

The implication of it all, the knowledge that his brother might have been spared three weeks of… Whatever it was that had been done to him, could have never even happened had he just taken a moment to rationalize and check, that things might have been different f he had, it was all too much.

“I swear Uncle, I didn’t mean to! He wasn’t moving, I panicked and I thought- Oh Mahal, what have I done?”

With his nephew now pacing up and down, painting aloud every scenario in which he could have done something, Thorin caught him by the arm as he past, knowing that the route he was about to go down was not one that would help them.

“Kili, there was nothing any of us could have done after we descended that mountain, and you know that.”

“But I left him! I left him to-” I left him to a fate worse than death.

“And that’s done, none of us can change that now. The only thing we can do is get him back, and trust me, we will. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it never helps.” Mahal knew he’d had to deal with Frerin’s death for that lesson to sink in, for Thorin to understand that death is death, one doesn’t come back from it, ever, and the only thing for those still alive to do is to learn how to deal with life as it is then. They hadn’t lost Fili (yet), but Kili losing himself in guilt and self-loathing over something his panicked-addled brain had not thought to do in the heat of the moment wouldn’t be of any help to him, he just had to accept it and move on to a way to get him back.

Looking back up to his uncle, eyes moist and teats threatening to trickle down his cheek at any moment, Kili couldn’t understand why the other dwarf wasn’t angry or eve upset with him, like he was treating this as something they simply moved on from. Kili knew he had a certain fault in all of this, or at least, felt like he did, shouldn’t his actions not garner him a free pass?

“Listen.” And a large comforting hand landed on his shoulder, Kili’s eyes looking directly into his Uncle’s blues (like Frerin’s, like Fili’s), and there was no trace of anger, resentment or condemnation there –which was both a relief and frustrating at the same time. “We can’t change the past, we can’t change what was done to him over the past month, we can’t change what either of us did at Ravenhill that day, but we can decide to do something for your brother now, we can decide to bring him back, but if we’re going to do this together, I need you to be level-headed for it, all right?.”

Kili nodded, before Thorin’s hand at the back of his head tightened a little and he buried himself in his uncle’s shoulder, as if he were a dwarfling seeking comfort after a nightmare. Maybe he was putting on a show, maybe the others were looking at him like a child, but right now, he didn’t really care. Thorin’s firm chest beneath his face was unwavering and it was strong, something he could rely on, and if his uncle thought they could pull this off, then they would, and he would be there by them when they did so.

“Well, I guess that means an early start for everyone tomorrow morning then.” He heard Dwalin’s gruff voice say form behind his back, not without a hint of fondness. Turning his head just slightly, Kili realized it wasn’t just Dwalin though: the whole Company seemed to have converged towards them, Balin so close he now had a reassuring hand on his shoulder and a new surge of confidence bloomed in his chest.

“I could find us a passage with a little help.” Nori offered, one hand on Ori’s shoulder as he looked to Thorin. “Give me a weapon to make sure those things don’t bight my head off and I can probably scout a way to the mountainside.”

“And I can gather whatever bandages, gauze and herbs I have left.” Oin offered from beside Bofur, who was already holstering his small axe.

“You-“ Thorin’s words caught in his throat as he understood, as he saw them all banding together for something they didn’t have to, and in that moment, he realized that he truly could not have wished for better companions. “You don’t have to-“

“We want to.” Dori’s strong hand was on his shoulder now, steady, strong and firm, like he actually believed in this, believed in him. “The kid’s your family, he’s part of this family, of course we’ll go after him.”

Seeing everyone nod, including little Bilbo hovering at the side of the Company, made Thorin all the more aware of just how deep this friendship they’d created over the past year ran, and made him appreciate what he had right now in front of him so much more than he’d ever thought he would –for these eleven companions truly were worth more than any amount of treasure he could hope to amass inside the walls of Erebor during his lifetime.

“All-All right, I… thank you, I really don’t know… Thank you, truly. I could not have wished for better friends.”

“Well, as your friend,” in said cheerfully, “I think a full night’s sleep would be in order for everyone if were actually doing this. No point in you all collapsing before reaching the bottom of the mountain would there?”

The Company laughed at that, and the new levity Thorin felt as he watched them truly was something he realized he’d missed, something he’d never hoped to see again someday, yet here they were, alive and jovial as ever at the prospect of putting their lives on the line for him, fir his family, for-

“We’ll make it.” Bilbo said quietly from beside him, but with such a conviction that, for a moment at least, Thorin couldn’t help but believe him. Maybe, for once, everything would turn out all right for them.

One thing was for certain, he wasn’t coming back down that mountain without Fili.


Having long since lost Thorin’s attention as he’d gone back to his Company made it all the easier for Alfrid to slip about unnoticed. Bard certainly had no love lost for him and the people of Lake Town, Dale and Esgaroth currently held up in here neither, so slipping out the door after claiming he had a need to relieve himself had been easy. Now if he could just quickly let his half-blind orc protector know that Thorin would indeed be on his way soon and then escape, Alfrid was pretty certain he would like that. It was probably dangerous to stay with those monsters once he was no longer of any use to them, how long would it take for them to turn on him then?

No, it was a much safer bet to run while he still could. 

Chapter Text

“I thought I told you to bring them back with you.” Azog growled to his human prisoner as he paced restlessly from one corner of their little alcove to the other, clenching and un-clenching his sharp claws several times so as to try and not lash out at the wimpy little thing trembling in the corner. Not that he would try it anyway, Bolg had strategically placed himself between the pair of them as a way to ensure that his father would not act out rashly and off their only link to the human-scum’s possible strategic positions. Damn him.

“He-He’s coming, I s-swear, b-but your son wanted me to come back with him, to only stay down there for a few hours only. I swear that Oakenshield outright said that he would be coming up here as soon as he was sold on the idea that the little brat was still breathing.”

“And how do I know for certain? How do I know you didn’t just rat the whole thing out to them and that you didn’t ditch us in the process, all the while you’re preparing some sort of exit plan and that you’re just waiting for me to turn my back so you can scamper off?”

For all that he recognized their strength, orcs could turn out to be surprisingly thick when it came to their reasoning at times, as Alfrid discovered, or at the very least, the question made it evident to him that the beast lacked a certain amount of logic to how he was seeing the whole situation: what advantage would Alfrid possibly have by returning to Dale and not seeing the task he’d been appointed to through to the end when he’d been in on it for nigh three weeks nearly and had shown near a month of nothing short but loyalty to him and his father?

“Why would I be lying?” The question just seemed natural to blurt out in the face of such preposterous accusations. “Listen, I apologize for having the dwarf king back with me right this second, but were he to be here now and see you not laying a claw on a single one of the hairs on my head, he would undoubtedly grow instantly suspicious, and if anything, the possibility of that horrid warmongerer running me through with a pointed blade when I’m that close to my freedom is less than appealing.”

“Who’s to say that I won’t kill you? Let me remind you that our deal is only complete once the dwarf king make sit up here and I get to run my blade through his flesh and watch him bleed to death as he suffocates at my feet. Until that happens, you’re still very much fair game as far as I’m concerned.” The scarred beast hissed, Alfrid wiping the spit he sent on his cheek away in disgust, and now very much frustrated with the forced extension of the deal he was now obligated to take.

But we had an agreement! An (immature) part of him wanted to cry out, a part of him that had somehow naively believed that even the vilest of creatures might uphold their word if they offered him a way out. However, when looking back on it, Alfrid guessed he should have known: it was just an extension of a few weeks that he’d gained by agreeing to mentally destroy Oakenbshield’s little brat, nothing more, and while it had certainly opened his eyes to a certain newfound pleasure he had gained in having the upmost control over the child, it certainly wasn’t amounting to how much he valued his actual life, which, once again, was looking like it was coming to a very abrupt end if he didn’t manage to talk himself out of it.

Arguing with the orc now, of all times, was shaping up to be a very unwise move, since Alfrid had no doubt that it would only anger it, and once prone to anger, he had very little interest in being around it in case it decided to vent out it’s frustrations on him (which probably included a swift and painful death). At this point, he could only cross his fingers and pray that he had been convincing enough when he’d pleaded his case to Oakenshield, rather ironic how the one dwarf he’d come to hate beyond all others was shaping out to be his only saviour. And it was now as he realized that his fate largely rested in the hands of the would-be dwarf king that Alfrid begun to second guess his act, doubt creeping up on him and whispering things along the line of him not having been convincing enough or not having chosen the right words to reel the smaller being in. Thorin, for his part, had seemed quite determined to come up here and rescue his brat as soon as possible (would probably have left on the spot were it not a reckless move) –and if he wanted to kill himself climbing up a frozen mountainside on a suicide mission to rescue a kid hat was now terrified of him and face the very nasty looking weapons Azog’s orc pack seemed to possess, Alfrid wasn’t one to talking him down of it. By all means, he would probably encourage it- but the little seed of doubt that Azog had planted just then and the fact that Thorin still hadn’t turned up (and, judging by the sky outside the alcove, it was probably well beyond midday, surely if Thorin were as desperate as Alfrid had judged him to be last night, he wouldn’t be waiting for so long) was steadily growing nonetheless, so much that he could now see the approaching execution block right in front of him, something that definitely hadn’t been a part of the plan.

Damn it all.

“T-The kid,” Alfrid stuttered, looking down so as to avoid having to make eye-contact and hoping it would possibly draw the attention away from himself, and instead asked in what he hoped to be a optimistic tone, “Has he shown any signs of still being alive?” (Not that he particularly cared for the brat himself, but Aflrid was nonetheless aware that if their bait was still breathing, then it meant that he hadn’t screwed everything up, that there might be a way out for him still).

“Aye, think I caught him twisting and coughing up something during the night. You’re damn lucky, or it would have been your head on a spike.”

Alfrid felt his shoulders involuntarily sag at the news, but it meant that for now at least, there was no reason for the beast to kill him prematurely (especially if Alfrid could offer something else to him, some argument that he was still of use to him alive), especially not when he’d filled his end of the bargain. Which in turn, was raising another problem: if the dwarf scum was to be expected up here like Thorin had made it clear last night, Alfrid was certain that he would much rather not have an unfortunate run in with him, very aware of the conclusions that might draw and knowing that Thorin would probably not be inclined to be very merciful should he ever catch wind of just how involved he’d been in breaking down his little boy. Having witnessed the angry dwarf’s wrath firsthand (and the consequential war he blamed on the king) Alfrid didn’t particularly want to have to face it again anytime soon, especially not alone. Hell, were Thorin to know what he’d put his kid through, any sliver of mercy was then officially out the window.

“I-I,” Alfrid cursed himself as the words refused form on his tongue, which probably made him look like a bumbling fool and it certainly wasn’t going to make the orc any more inclined to listen to him. “Speaking of luck, I-I think may need to ask for a favor.” When crossing his fingers seemed to miraculously work and the scarred beast motioned for him to continue instead of biting his head off, Alfrid took a deep breath, and pushed his good fortune a little bit further. “I need to leave. If Oakenshield happens to find me up here and pieces the whole thing together, I’m done for, he won’t hesitate for a moment to kill me for what I’ve done to his kid. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret what I did to stay alive –because that’s what it all comes down to- but somehow, I doubt that he’ll see it that way, he’ll just see me as some unscrupulous psychopath who hurt and traumatized his little brat, not quite what I’d ideal circumstances to hope for mercy.”

To his credit, at least the beast seemed to take a moment to ponder on it -to take his words seriously and mull over the possible implications and consequences- but Alfrid’s tiny shred of hope soon vanished when his heart leapt in his throat, the orc unexpectedly swerving on him and, before a poor man like him could even get a second to do anything, had him pinned against the wall of the cave by his throat, the hard rocky surface digging into his back and a large and very menacing looking claw now at the base of his delicate neck. Alfrid gulped.

“I think it’s a chance I’m more than willing to take. Like I already said, why should I trust you once I let you go? What is stopping you from going back to your pathetic little brethren and telling them everything before vanishing into the distance, safe and sound, while I have to deal with them all?” Just because you didn’t do it the first time I let you go by no means equates to me not thinking you capable of doing it at all. You’re desperate, and the desperate ones are always the people one must keep an eye on, since they’re willing to go to insane lengths to save their own skin, and-“ Alfrid felt the sharp tip of a claw extremely close to drawing blood from the pulsing vein in his neck, his heart now pounding wildly behind his ribcage-“betray those they swear allegiance to.”

“But I-“

“I’m not letting you go. At least, not until the dwarf scum gets his scrawny skin up here, that is when your part in all of this ends, until then though, you better not think of going anywhere. Do the slightest hint of a stupid thing and I can promise you that my son will retaliate with something infinitely worse than you’ve put the little whelp through. So,” He asked, emphasizing his threat by nearly cutting off Alfrid’s air supply and, for a moment, reducing him to a squirming mess, “Have you changed your mind at all?”

Not being in a position to do anything else, Alfrid just vehemently nodded, just desperate to get the weight off his throat. His enthusiasm backfired though, as he was roughly grabbed by the shoulders and shaken before even drawing breath, his back slamming into the cold hard wall behind him several times as his captor slammed his little body into the wall. “Say it!”

“I-I won’t go! I promise I won’t leave!” A lifetime of perfecting the art of pleasing others while only half heartedly believing the words he poured out made it easy for Alfrid to convince the brute to let him go and give him a satisfied sneer. The disgruntled human leaned back against the wall for support once the muscled arm holding him up let go, however, Azog’s close proximity now made him seem to loom over him, the massive beast looking even more threatening as he towered over him, reinforcing Alfrid’s conclusion that it was certainly not a good idea to anger him any further.

“Good. Now do what you can to bring the brat back. If Oakenshield decided not to come up here after all, I might as well go down there and finish this off myself. To hell with the whole breaking his family part.”

Not needing to be told anything to understand that he was dismissed, Alfrid gave his benefactor a slight bow as a mark of respect before quickly backing off, knowing all too well that now was probably his only opportunity to try and escape by himself. He simply needed to pick up his small bag of provisions and the knife without anyone noticing him and he was decided to make a run for it. To hell with the orc’s wants, his life always came first.


The nagging voice in his head repeatedly reminding him that they were possibly doing all of this for nothing and that Alfrid (who seemed to have made a run for it during the night since he had been nowhere to be found that morning) had effectively lied to him about the whole thing was what Thorin was predominantly worried about as the battle rams Dain had managed to spare for him continued their ascension of the gravely mountainside. Thorin certainly wasn’t ecstatic at having to return to the place where everything had started to fall apart the first time, especially since there was a high probability that the orc scum either knew that they would be coming or had possibly already seen them  from where they were hiding, and the complete disadvantage he and the rest of the small party he had brought along with him were now at certainly wasn’t putting the odds in their favour.

Still, if Fili was still alive like Alfrid had strongly suggested he was last night, Thorin owed it to him to at least try and rescue him (if he was still even up there, that was). Since learning of his sister-son’s dire state from the less-than-trustworthy human, he had pointedly tried to not imagine the possible state the blond was in, but now, with little else to occupy his mind as they kept going on up in their ascension, there were little distractions to be found other than to anticipate what was to come, how they would go about getting in there, finding Fili and assessing the extent of damage that had been done to him, and then getting back out. It was needless to say that Thorin definitely didn’t like the picture he was painting. It was gruesome, a morbid tableau of violence and near sadism, and projecting it all onto his nephew (the eldest of his sister-sons, on whom such brutality was not warranted, in his mind, since he was the one the Defiler was after), made his empty stomach churn. Were he to be a hopeless idealist, he might have been able to at least entertain the thought that his and Dwalin’s minimal and rudimentary patching-up skills would have been enough to ensure that the wounds Fili had sustained would not worsen as they awkwardly navigated their way down, however, having been in battle before, having already a firsthand experience in being forced to accept reality for what it was and remembering all too well just what the orc-scum was capable of doing left him with little positive outlook, and Thorin quickly came to the conclusion that if Fili could stand by himself and –without any extra help- hobble around with whatever injuries he currently had, that that was probably the best outcome they could hope for.

He really hated even entertaining the idea, but perhaps if Fili had well and truly died that day, it possibly would have been for the best, for what kind of a life was one where he would be forever crippled by wounds, trauma and fear?

No. No, he couldn’t think like that. Alfrid had said that he was alive, and while Thorin had to admit that under normal circumstances, he probably would not have believed the human’s words for a second, especially with no real tangible proof on his part, believing him was much more preferable than the alternative. And it also gave him a valid reason to go back up to Ravenhill in the first place. He’d come to the conclusion that Azog absolutely needed to be dealt with it they hoped to end the siege on Dale, for as long as the monster still drew breath, he could still organize his armies and plan massacre after massacre until there were nothing left, ending him for good was necessary if they hoped to destabilize his army and strike amidst the confusion. Thorin had initially shut down any talk of heading back up the mountainside out of fear that it would end in the same disaster as last time –and he was not losing anybody else- and a month ago, having another member of the Company dying so soon after his nephew just hadn’t been an option in his books. However, now that he knew that Fili was alive (or at the very least, it was what he chose to believe until proven otherwise), Thorin most certainly had a motive to head up to the Pale Orc’s lair without any delay, for the faster he wiped the beast out, the faster he could bring his sister-son home (and the less damage Azog could do to him –in addition to what he had probably already put him through, Thorin thought grimly).

However, the fact that they were rescuing him did little to assuage the guilt gnawing at Thorin’s insides because of leaving Fili up there in the first place. He knew he’d let that thought in the way he’d asked the question to Kili and whether he had been certain that his brother had no longer been breathing when he’d run off, but Thorin had to admit that he hadn’t done anything either. Injured though he might have been at the time, Thorin could now see so many ways he could have just checked for himself before deciding to turn his back on their mission and head down back to Dale (damn it, he could have shouted, could have fought his way over despite Dwalin’s admonishments that he needed to see Oin as soon as possible, could have let his concern for his nephew override his decision made on his royal stature –that king Thorin was more needed down there than Uncle Thorin was up here, that he could have fought for his family until he’d made it to the younger dwarf’s side) and he simply… Hadn’t. It hadn’t even remotely crossed his mind to do so, and it was so incredibly frustrating to now know that it had caused his sister-son weeks of suffering he could have prevented has he simply just pushed on a little more.

“We’ll get him back Thorin, I swear it.”

Dwalin’s voice from beside him was gruff, tense, and while it tried to be sympathetic, Thorin still read the unspoken worry behind it. Thankfully, with Kili having taken the lead, he was grateful that his other nephew was not around to hear their (justified) worries about this plan. Thorin could only swallow hardly though, especially considering that they weren’t going back down now when they had told the rest of the Company that Azog’s death would be the only point after which they would come back, not before having achieved that.

While it was comforting to hear someone have a little faith in their venture, Thorin didn’t want to sink in to blind optimism only to be bitterly disappointed if this turned south (optimism had gotten the best of him once, he wasn’t going to give in to it again), so he simply nodded, afraid that voicing an answer would doom them before they’d even set out.

“How many of those beasts do you think are still up there?” He asked instead, preferring to come back to something he was certain they would indeed be facing.

“If it’s anything like last time, I’d say a good dozen, if not more. It’s very possible that the scum decided to regroup and keep more members of his army close by in case we eventually did come for him. While I certainly don’t see anything for now, I wouldn’t be inclined to let our guard down once we reach the summit.”

Aye, grim prospect indeed. At least Thorin’s wound had healed up surprisingly well thanks’ to Oin’s expert hands and (repeated) warning for him not to go out. While it had certainly irritated him to no end at first, in hindsight it was probably for the best, and the future king of Erebor was sure to let the old apothecary know once they made it back. (Because they would).

“Well, I guess we’ll simply have to take them on one by one then.” And at the half mischievous look Dwalin gave him, Thorin smiled back, basking in the familiarity of their younger days, where proud banter and joking among themselves was somewhat of a norm, something he had sorely missed over the past while. “I’m pretty sure that the two of us can take care of that at least, we wouldn’t really be fit to call ourselves heirs of the great Durin if not.”

“Says the would-be king who managed to get lost in the Shire.”

“That was one time.” Thorin shot back, the embarrassing miscalculation on his part having become a joke at his expense in the Company at this point.

Twice. You got lost twice.” The bald dwarf pointed out, chuckling slightly at his friend’s damaged pride. “You certain you’re not about to get lost in those tunnels up there? Want me to go with you and hold your hand just in case?”

No thank you, I think I’ll manage fine by myself. As a matter of fact, I’d rather you stay with Kili, just to keep an eye on him. I know he’s aware of the danger, but… He’s young, still prone to recklessness, and I’d rather avoid losing him if I can. Can I count on you to look out for him?”

“Aye, I’ll take care of him.” Having caught on to the sudden seriousness, Dwalin let the joke drop, knowing that Kili’s safety was going to be primordial once they entered the mountainside. He understood the younger dwarf’s eagerness to take action and retrieve if injured brother, but where Kili often let emotions dictate his decisions, Dwalin knew he would have to be there to temper it down and keep an eye out where the archer might not. As far as they were concerned, Kili was still the heir to the throne of Erebor until they got Fili back, and finding him was probably going to be another mess all to itself.

“Thank you,” Thorin replied quietly, but with a gravity that didn’t go unnoticed to Dwalin, “I-“

“I know.”

And that was all that was needed for a silent understanding to pass between them.

The summit of the peak was a bleak and desolate as the first time Thorin had come up here, only this time, he did not let himself be lulled into security by the lack of a threatening environment. This time, he knew the Pale orc was hiding away in the dilapidated ruin just across from them, this time he knew not to go in there alone, this time, he knew not to underestimate a seemingly placid looking tableau. Ringing his battle ram to a halt and dismounting, he waved towards Bilbo and Kili to follow him behind one of the taller stone walls, where he hoped they might have a minimum of privacy and in an attempt to stop his younger nephew from heading straight in without a plan. The lack of a clear method as to how to go about bringing the Pale Orc down had cost him dearly last time, and vowing to learn from his mistake, Thorin would rather lose time in order to make sure everyone would be careful, know what to do and remain safe than head in without thinking it through.

Obviously, Kili disagreed though.

“What are we waiting for? We need to go in there, now!” And without waiting another second, he tried to pull away from his uncle’s grip. “Let me go!”

“Kili!” Thorin had to put both hands on his nephew’s shoulders to get him to stay put, and looked him in the eyes in order to get him to understand that this was serious. “Kili we need to think this through first. We can’t go charging in there head first, it’s what we did last time and look where that landed us. We need a different approach, one where I’m not going to lose you, Bilbo or anybody else.”

“Then perhaps we should go in together.” Bilbo suggested to his right. “If we stick together, we’re more likely to fend off any attacking orc than alone.”

“Aye, but that means we cover less ground and spend more time than we should trying to find him.” Dwalin countered, hand already itching for the axe hanging at his side. Thorin understood his anticipation, was guilty of it himself, but knew that acting on impulse again would not be in any of their interests.

“Then we should split up. Bilbo and I will take the top level, you and Kili take the bottom one. We’ll cover more ground if we split up in pairs, but don’t lose each other from sight.”

“But Uncle-“ Kili began protesting, estimating that he ought to be by Thorin’s side for something of this magnitude. As Prince of Erebor, was it not his duty to protect and defend his liege lord? End the beast that had unleashed chaos on his bloodline for nigh a century?

“Kili, I understand where you’re coming from, believe me, I do. But don’t you think that it’s best that at least either you or me be the one to find Fili? That whichever group gets his hands on him, at least someone from the family will be in it?”

He has a point, Kili conceded. Not that it made him any happier about the plan, but guessed he might as well go with it, especially since the sooner they were off, the sooner they’d get his brother back.

“All right, you two stick together, and in case you run into any trouble, yell. It might draw the orcs to you, but it’s the only way Bilbo and I will know you’re in danger. We should meet back here in a few hours at the most, but if the sun starts to set, you should head down. Making it back to the others safe and sound is more important than waiting on Bilbo and I and risking being caught unprepared.”

“Kili,” Thorin turned to his nephew, features harboring something grave, and Kili swallowed, pretty certain that he would not like what was to come. “In the events that I should not make it back, you are the one designated to lead our dwarven brethren and take up the crown of Erebor. You have to remember that. I know you want your brother back, so do we all, but unfortunately, Fili cannot come at the expense of the crown, and if it is in jeopardy and leaving is the safest option to preserve it, you have to do it, do you understand?”

Kili swallowed the ball in his throat, suppressing his will to scream out No!, that he wasn’t going to do that, but the past month had taught him much of the duties he was expected to perhaps one day fulfill, had taught him that the matters of the heart often had little say in the matters of the crown, and if this was Thorin’s will, well he would damn well see it through, no matter how much he disliked it.

And with a tense nod, feeling the crushing weight of his new position on his shoulders, he gave his consent, that no matter what happened to his Uncle, Kili would make it back alive for their people and the future his family was destined to provide for them.

“All right, well, now that that’s settled, think we ought to get moving?” Dwalin prompted, axe now pointed to the ominous looking opening right ahead of them.

Thorin swallowed in anticipation, knowing very well that once they stepped in, there was no backing out until they achieved what they’d come up here to do.

“Aye, let’s finish this.”