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When Victory Tastes Bitter

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“It must be here, it must be, somewhere…” Thorin walks between the piles of gold with his eyes to the ground, looking, searching, seemingly uncaring for the treasure surrounding him. “The Heart of the Mountain… it cannot be gone…” The muttering has gone on for hours, just like his fruitless searching, and Fíli feels his heart clench as he silently watches from the shadows.

 

~*~*~

 

“Am I surrounded by traitors?!” Thorin snaps with his back still to Fíli when he approaches him about his decision to banish the hobbit. “He betrayed me – no, he betrayed us! You and Kíli too!”

 

“But –“

 

“He stole the Arkenstone! Our – our heirloom, our right!” He turns around to face his nephew, who shrinks back at the sight of the mask of fury that twists his beloved uncle’s face almost beyond recognition. “It belongs here, with the line of Durin, not in the hands of filthy men and treacherous elves!” he spits, a disgusted sneer distorting his face even further. Fíli’s heart races as he slowly backs away, his hands raised in front of him.

 

“I – I’m sorry, Uncle – I didn’t – “

 

“YOU ARE AN HEIR OF DURIN TOO, HOW CAN YOU NOT REALIZE THE DEPTH OF THAT – THAT THEIF’S BETRAYAL?” Thorin roars, and Fíli starts at the sudden increase in volume. Tiny droplets of spit land on his face and he scrambles backwards as Thorin advances on him, but not quite fast enough.

 

Before he gets a chance to duck away, his back slams into the wall with enough force to make his teeth rattle, and the back of his head makes contact with the rock in an explosion of pain that causes him to see stars for a moment. His mouth tastes of blood and his heart races as Thorin shakes him, his fingers digging into Fíli’s shoulders so hard he’s sure there will be bruises later.

 

“You think he was right, don’t you? Did you help him in his despicable – “ Fíli’s head smack into the wall again, “ – treacherous – “ tears of pain or fear or both rise in his eyes as he stares at his uncle, “ – TREASON?!” The tears spill over and run down his cheeks, but Thorin doesn’t seem to notice. “You little – traitor, you – “

 

“Uncle, no, I – please!“ he gasps, his voice breaking on a sob. Thorin goes on as if he hasn’t heard the terrified plea, and maybe he doesn’t, Fíli thinks, his mind too far gone with gold-sickness and rage.

 

“ – elf-friend, you’re shame to the House of – “ Several pairs of strong arms pull him away, and Fíli collapses on the floor when the iron grip holding him up suddenly disappears. He huddles close to the wall and pulls his knees to his chest, burying his face in his arms, and cries.

 

His head throbs and his back and shoulders ache, his tongue and the inside of his cheek sting where he’s bitten them, the metallic tang of blood makes him want to be sick, his heart races and he’s trembling with shock and fear; and the noises around him drown in the buzzing rising to a roar in his ears. Vaguely, he hears this – this monster that wears his uncle’s face shout more abuse at the dwarves restraining him, and he curls in even tighter on himself.

 

~*~*~

 

“It was beautiful, more so than any other gem I have ever seen, shining with its own radiant light, yet catching every source of light around it and reflecting it, breaking it into the most exquisite rainbows...” his uncle says with a wistful sigh. “The Arkenstone… one day I will show it to you, boys, I promise you that. One day, you will look upon it in its rightful place, hung on the great throne under the Mountain, with the splendour of Erebor restored to its former glory all around it!”

 

Fíli looks up at his uncle; full of awe at the picture Thorin is painting with his words. For once, Kíli is sitting absolutely still beside him, and Fíli squeezes his hand; their eyes meeting and matching smiles lighting their faces before he looks up at his uncle again, his voice almost trembling with excitement.

 

“When can we go there, Uncle? When will be ready to take back our Mountain with you?” Thorin smiles and affectionately ruffles their hair.

 

“You have to get a bit older first, ghivâshelûh, so you can lift your sword properly”, he says and Fíli beams at him, already longing for the day they will reclaim their Mountain and its Heart.

 

~*~*~

 

He flinches when he feels a hand on his arm, shrinking back from the touch.

 

“Fí, it’s me, Kíli.” Fíli lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding as Kíli tenderly runs his hands over his arms, then gently cups his chin and tries to coax him into raising his head.

 

Slowly, Fíli obeys, his brother’s presence a comforting warmth at his side, where he kneels with one arm around Fíli’s shoulders, the other one resting on his knee. His nimble fingers ghosting over the braids in Fíli’s moustache as he slowly lifts his face from its hiding place, but stubbornly continues to look down, refusing to meet his brother’s eyes.

 

Kíli’s eyes are large and worried, and shine with concern and love.

 

“Are you, um…” He chews on his lower lip for a second, a habit he’s had since he was a dwarfling. “Did he hurt you, Fí? Hey, look at me?” He places his palm on Fíli’s cheek, gently turning his face away from the floor. Reluctantly, Fíli meets his gaze, frantically searching for any sign of the same madness that already has taken his uncle away from him; when he finds none he wraps his arms around him and buries his face in his brother’s chest.

 

“I’m so scared, Kíli”, he whispers, and clings desperately to him, dreading what could happen if he lets go just for a second. Kíli holds him tightly and rubs his back with soft, soothing motions, slowly rocking them back and forth with his nose buried in Fíli’s hair. “It’s – it’s like Uncle isn’t Uncle anymore, a-and Bilbo’s gone too, and there’s a wh-whole army of elves and men outside and Unc- Thorin wants us to fight them!” He gasps for breath with his face still squashed against Kíli’s chest, his brother’s familiar scent filling his nostrils. “We’re going to die, Kíli”, he whimpers, and Kíli tightens his hold on him.

 

“Shh, don’t cry, Fí, please don’t cry”, he begs in a thick voice, sounding like he isn’t far from tears himself. The cold knot of fear in Fíli’s stomach twists at the lack of reassurance, mingling with a sudden surge of pride for the same reason. He takes a deep, ragged breath and tries to stem the tears, for Kíli’s sake.

 

“S-sorry”, he mumbles and swallows thickly. “I know you hate to see me cry.”

 

“’S alright”, Kíli mumbles, a quiet sniffle betraying his words. Fíli pulls back from the embrace and cups his little brother’s face with both hands, stroking his temples and cheekbones lightly with his thumbs. A tear escapes from the corner of Kíli’s eye, and Fíli tries to smile.

 

“Hey, not you too”, he says. “Kí…” He presses their foreheads together, the ancient gesture of comfort being as familiar and natural as breathing, having shared it with his little brother countless times before. Kíli screws his eyes tightly shut and leans into Fíli’s touch.

 

“I’m scared too, Fí”, he whispers. “And I don’t want to be here, I want to be home!”

 

~*~*~

 

“We’re going home, azaghâlithûh! We’re finally going home”, Thorin says the night before they cross the border of the Shire, his voice thick with emotion. “Finally I will get to walk with you in the halls of Erebor, where we belong.” And his eyes shine in a way Fíli has never seen before, and cannot help but smile.

 

They are finally going home.

 

~*~*~

 

“Me too, Kíli”, he murmurs, closing his eyes. “Me too.”

 

When they finally rise, Fíli has no idea how much time has passed. He still doesn’t want to rejoin the rest of the Company, and definitely not see his uncle, but he’s getting hungry and stiff from sitting awkwardly on the floor for Mahal knows how long, and he knows Kíli feels the same without having to ask. Slowly, they walk back to the Great Hall, both silent and wondering what is going to happen next.

 

The following day, the battle begins.

 

~*~*~

 

Though matted with both blood and dirt, the mop of hair the colour of gold stands out in the sea of corpses littering the battlefield, and Thorin goes cold with disbelief and fear.

 

“NO!” he roars, the strokes of his axe becoming careless as he dashes towards Fíli’s fallen body, heedless of the blows he fails to parry. No, he thinks, this is wrong, so very, very wrong, it can’t end like this, not with those horrible accusations fuelled by hurt and rage and gold-sickness being the last words he’s spoken to his nephew, his precious Fíli, his sanûrzud.

 

After a mighty swing of his axe almost cleaving a screeching goblin in half he finally reaches his destination, and though the battles still rages all around him it ceases to matter as he takes in the scene in front of him.

 

He can’t breathe and feels sick, everything but the two crumpled bodies in front of him fading into nothing.

 

“No…” All strength suddenly gone, he falls to his knees and drops his axe. He reaches out to touch his nephews’ hair, tangling his fingers in the snarled locks. “Wake up, ghivashâlh, please…” He leans forward to touch his forehead to Fíli’s. “Please forgive me, kidhuzurâl, I’m so sorry, I never meant what I said”, he whispers, closing his eyes and praying for a miracle. “I never wanted to hurt you, mizimelûh, please tell me you know that…” Despite squeezing his eyes tightly shut, a tear escapes and lands on his nephew’s brow, quickly followed by another one, and Thorin’s body shakes with quite sobs.

 

Fíli, however, neither wakes nor moves, his chest already still and his empty eyes staring unmoving at the sky.