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still wide-eyed you go

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'You're adorable,' they say, ruffling his hair and loosing the one braid he's managed, fingers so deft in his brother's hair useless in his own. Fili took to braiding like a shuttle and weft, but Kili could never quite keep up. He compensates. He's 15 before Balin realises he repeats his lessons by rote; 26 before Dis notices his Khuzdul is all echoes, stock phrases he'd mimic in Thorin's brogue or Dwalin's gruff voice. Kili doesn't react properly--he'd borrow the firm set of his uncle's jaw, his brother's smirk, the tilt of his mother's head, applying them slapshod, all wrong, uncanny in his imitation. Kili tells stories of Erebor with all the poignancy of the prince who failed to protect it; he studies tone, pitch, inflection, spends hours manipulating the muscles in his face, even Thorin's haunted look preferable to Kili's vacant, vacant stare. He's good at that, pretending.

'You're adorable,' they say, when he spits back adjacency pairs. 'Happy birthday!' Fili yells, on the morning he turns twenty. 'You too,' Kili replies; reciprocity is the rule, he thinks; he repeats it verbatim and they laugh, they laugh. He's good at that too, making them laugh, even if he doesn't know why.

But Dwarves live long, and Kili learns. He takes up archery when Fili declares his sword stance hopeless, apprentices himself in Thorin's forge. He keeps his hair back with a silver clip and leaves the braids to his brother. He becomes a troublemaker, wide-eyed and grinning--he grows into himself, stops living by conversational maxims.

Kili adapts, slides his limbs into Fili's lengthening shadow. They praise his craftsmanship, say he'll make a fine smith someday. No, they say, all indulgent smiles and placating hands, not a warrior, not you, but a perfectly respectable smith. It's easy to ignore his lineage when the line of Durin is secure in Fili, and Kili's still slapshod, still wrong.

Dwarves live long, and Kili learns.
'You're adorable,' they say, ruffling his hair.
'You too,' he echoes, and they laugh, they laugh.
He's good at that, making them laugh.
'Fili means joy,' their mother tells him. 'And he's been our joy.'
'What about me?' asks Kili, tugging her sleeve. 'What do I mean?'
Dis smiles indulgently, spreads placating hands. 'I don't think there's a word for what you are.'