Fíli's been in love with Ori since Kíli was young enough to still be using a child's bow. It's mostly been a source of amusement over the years, occasionally one of embarrassment when his brother managed to make an arse out of himself in front of Ori for the hundredth time.
Like now, as Ori turns red and gathers up his papers and pencils quickly, careful of the items even as his hands visibly shake. “No, wait, I didn't mean-” his brother tries vainly, but the damage is done.
“I have to get back to Balin.” Ori says firmly, face flushed and looking like he's about to cry. “My hour is probably over.” He's got all his things in his bag now, and he's trying hard to leave, but his brother is still hoping to salvage the situation.
“Ori, no, the clock hasn't even sounded,”
“I have to go,” Ori insists, his bag over his shoulder, but now his brother's grabbed on to his arm, holding him still. “Fíli, I have to go!”
“You'll come to my weapons practice today though?” If Kíli was a less generous brother, he'd interject that it's both of their weapons practice, and he intends to best Fíli at least twice today. He is a generous brother though, so he keeps quiet and pretends he's not listening as his brother makes a fool of himself over a scribe. “You promised.”
“Dori doesn't want me to anymore.” Ori says, looking at the ground. “He says I've got no business down there.”
“I invited you, that's good enough.” Kíli makes a note to himself to tell his brother that pathetic isn't attractive.
Now the bell sounds, and Ori finally tugs out of Fíli's grip, dashing back off towards the halls where the scribes and artisans keep quarters. His brother stands there for a second, before making an aggravated sound and pressing his palms to his forehead. Kíli lets him swear for a bit, because he's nice, and then very helpfully tells him, “That was sad.”
“Kíli, shut it.” His brother kicks at the ground.
“Really sad,” he says. “You're lucky Uncle didn't see it. Or Dwalin.” His brother is glaring like Kíli is about to get a thrashing if he keeps on, but he's rather sure he can still outrun him. “Or for that matter, Dori.” That's what does it. Fíli dives on him, but he rolls away, and finds his feet, taking off towards the training grounds.
Fíli manages to catch him eventually, tackling him hard into the ground and grinding dirt into his hair. They've finished their trade work for the day, and they don't have lessons, so now they're in Dwalin and their uncle's loving care for the rest of the day.
Speaking of Uncle, he's strolled over to them, an amused look on his face. “What did you do this time, Kíli?” Dwalin hauls Fíli off him, and his uncle helps him stand back up.
“He made Ori run away from him again.” Kíli is all too happy to share the joke, and Dwalin doesn't hide his chuckle as Fíli glares venomously at them all.
“Lad, perhaps no one's told you, but the idea is for them to run to you,” he claps Fíli on the back twice, the second time hard enough his brother stumbles a bit.
“That's what I told him.” Kíli says, but his own laugh is cut short when his uncle slaps him over the back of the head. “What?”
“Leave your brother be.” Thorin lectures. “Both of you, get yourselves together. I want you both going over hand-to-hand before either of you get to so much as look at a sword.”
That doesn't bode well.
He's right, of course. By the time Ori actually shows up, even Kíli's a bit sympathetic towards his brother. He's certainly not looking very majestic. Just pretty sweaty and dirty, like Kíli. Somehow, their uncle still looks like he stepped out of an epic ballad though. Kíli's really hoping that's a family trait he'll grow into.
Considering Ori's not alone, he bets his brother wishes he'd grown into it already. Kíli doesn't know who the Dwarf is with Ori, and judging by the hateful look on his brother's face, he doesn't either. Not a good sign, because he's good looking, and he's awfully close to Ori, going so far as to throw an arm around him and smirk at him. Not only that, Ori is chattering excitedly, barely looking at them, gesticulating big and smiling wider than Kíli's ever seen him.
He's suddenly afraid Fíli is going to hurt himself, or more importantly Kíli, by swinging too wide or too hard. “Oi, get your head together,” he hisses. “You're not going to impress anyone if you knock yourself over with your own sword.”
“Do you know him?” Fíli asks. “I've never seen him before.”
“No.” And Kíli would have remembered that hairstyle. It's pretty memorable.
“He doesn't look like someone Dori would want around him.” Fíli misses him by an inch, and Kíli dances away. He's not as good with a sword as Fíli, but if he puts in a good effort, they'll finish in time for Fíli to practice his forms and Kíli to get to move on to his bow and his targets.
“Dori doesn't want you around him.” Kíli reminds him.
His brother scowls. “Only because he thinks I have bad intentions.”
“You do.” Kíli reminds him of that too.
“I do not!” Fíli gets him with the flat of his blade.
“Ow!” Kíli did not deserve that, so he whacks his brother hard in the shins with his own sword. “It's not my fault you can't talk to him! Don't take it out on me!”
Dwalin's not watching anymore, and their uncle is watching Dwalin curiously. The big Dwarf is turning red, gripping the handle of one of his war hammers. He keeps pointing over at the stranger, and if Kíli knows Dwalin's angry face, and he does, he's swearing. Thorin being Thorin, he just shakes his head, and it looks like he's telling Dwalin to let it go.
The stranger with Ori doesn't seem to have noticed. He's grinning down at Ori, gesturing wildly, like he's telling a story.
It's at that point that Fíli's patience snaps, and he leaves Kíli to stride over there and poke his nose in Ori's business. Kíli almost lets him make a fool of himself on his own, but then his better nature gets a hold of him and he follows, if only to save Fíli from himself. Thorin and Dwalin are too absorbed in their conversation to notice they've stopped, but Kíli knows there will be a reprimand later. Still, he can't let Fíli ruin all his chances. He doesn't actually want him to be miserable.
“Ori,” Fíli calls, and even Kíli's a bit hurt at how Ori immediately starts to close up. They're friends, aren't they? “Why don't you introduce us?”
“Or - and here's a thought, little princeling - you could ask me for my name yourself.” There's something in the stranger's eyes, a twinkle of mischief that lets Kíli know the stranger knows exactly what's going on. His arm tightens around Ori, and Ori's face lights up. Kíli can almost feel Fíli wilt beside him.
“Have to forgive Fíli,” he says. “I'm the thinker between the pair of us. I'm Kíli, he's Fíli. And you are?” He elbows his brother as subtly as he can, hoping he can remind Fíli that desperate isn't charming. At all.
“Nori,” the Dwarf inclines his head.
“He's my second brother.” Ori pipes in adoringly, and Fíli's relief is almost palpable. “The middle one.”
Nori sighs dramatically. “Neither the lovely eldest, nor the sweet youngest. Leaves me with very few respectable roles to play.” He winks, and there's a flash of silver up his sleeve.
None of the Brothers Ri look alike, not really, but they're all very good-looking. Their mother had been very beautiful, supposedly. She died before Kíli can remember, not long after Ori was born. All her sons are the same, beautiful, but in different ways. Dori's a classic beauty, refined and strong. Ori is sweet and innocent. And now here's another, and he's just as different. He's the sort of Dwarf you know is trouble, but welcome trouble, at least for a time.
Kíli's not going to lie, not even for Fíli. When Fíli had first noticed Ori, he'd assumed his brother had just fallen for a lovely face in the line of Ri, like about a hundred Dwarrows before him. It's probably why Dori doesn't want him within a stone's throw of Ori. He knows Fíli better than anyone though, and he knows his brother likes the way Ori smiles and the way he writes and how kind he is and how clever.
It looks like Nori's thoughts are running more towards Dori's line of thinking though, judging by the way he's glaring at Fíli, just a little, and the way he produces a knife from nowhere to dance through his fingers. It's a neat trick. Kíli wonders if he could teach him.
“I could have sworn I made it very clear what would happen if I saw you again in this life, Nori.” Dwalin's joined them, their uncle at his side.
“Cocky, to think you can follow through on it.” Nori's cheeky, but the knife he's twirling about his fingers looks awfully sharp. “How have you been, Captain? Got some more ink since we saw each other last, don't you?”
If Kíli didn't know better, and he really doesn't, he'd say the second Brother Ri is flirting with Dwalin.
In any case, Dwalin looks like he's one second away from throttling him.
“I've been asking after you, actually.” His uncle interjects, and now there's a bit more respect in Nori's eyes. “Your older brother claimed he had no way to contact you. That you would appear when you felt like it.”
Nori inclines his head. “If I'd known you were asking for me, I'd have felt like it sooner, your Majesty.”
“Now's as good a time as any.” Thorin looks at Kíli and Fíli. “Individual work, if you both please. And you may move on to your bow, if you like, but I want you to use the crossbow.” Only his uncle can raise and dash his hopes so quickly. He hates the crossbow. “And Fíli, focus on your forms. You nearly took off your brother's ear earlier, and his ability to listen is poor enough already.” Well, that was an unnecessary jab, Kíli feels, but his uncle puts a hand on his shoulder fondly before he and Dwalin leave with Nori, talking in low, serious voices.
Ori looks a bit disappointed, even as his brother touches their foreheads together in good-bye, but he still seems happy. “I never get to see him,” he says, once they're gone. “He travels, and he and Dori fight a lot when he does come home.”
“What's his trade then?” Fíli asks, clearly seeing this as an opportunity.
“He's a weaver, like Dori.” Ori sits down on one of the benches, and his brother sits beside him, a bit closer than he should, but Kíli's just glad he's actually making a move of some kind. It really is just sad. “But he specializes in tapestry-story. He's good with details.” He means the panel pieces that tell tales, and it's impressive. It's hard work, and requires steady hands.
“That's like you though, and your drawings.” Fíli says, and really, if he was any more obvious Kíli would beat him over the head with his own sword. “Have you done anymore? Since last time?”
Ori's bright expression dims a bit, and he bites his lip, opening up his book. “Just a few. Nothing like the big ones you saw in the workroom.” Kíli raises an eyebrow at his brother. When was he in Ori's workroom? He better not have been alone with him. He knows it's not proper, not if they're not courting, and they're not.
His brother makes a face back over Ori's bowed head, telling him to keep his mouth shut, so he does, and goes back to caring for his crossbow.
“See,” Ori says, and he's actually blushing. “I know you said it was alright, but if you don't like it, it's fine.”
Fíli looks thrilled actually. “You drew me!” He shows Kíli the sketch, and it really does show Ori's talent. It's rough, but it's clearly Fíli, stringing his bow. Ori's even put in the detail of his braids. “It's brilliant.”
“It looks like him.” Kíli says, and when Fíli glares, he makes a face at him. He's not the one in love with Ori, he's not going to make a fuss over him and his drawings of his brother.
“Ignore him,” Fíli says, turning Ori's attention back to himself. “They're really good. I wish I could draw like that.”
“You play music.” Ori shrugs, playing with the ends of his sleeves. “I can't. So it's all the same, really, when you think about it. It makes me a little sad, sometimes, when I'm drawing for the ballads and I can't sing the stories, or play them.”
“I like your drawings.” Fíli says. “And I'll play you any ballad you want to hear, if you like.”
Ori's blushing again. “Really? I wouldn't want to be rude, or impose,”
“No, I want to.”
Kíli's beginning to get a bit uncomfortable. He can't leave them alone, not without risking the combined wrath of his mother and Dori. They're not courting, but Fíli has intentions, so it's just not proper, and the reputation that'll suffer is Ori's. It'd be different if they were older, but Ori's just barely of age, and he and Fíli aren't that much older. Still, he really doesn't think he can listen to any more of this without being sick.
“I'm going to shoot targets. Over there,” he says, springing to his feet. He'll still be within sight, and Fíli knows it, but he won't have to overhear anymore of his brother's lovesick ramblings. He loves Fíli, he does, but some things are just not to be endured.
Things seem to go a lot better this time, at least. Well, Ori doesn't run away. Anything is an improvement over that. And if Fíli keeps being nice, maybe Dori will actually consent to him courting Ori.
And then Kíli can leave when they're being like this, thank Mahal.
“Ori!” He jumps, and so do they, when Dori appears. Dori still makes Kíli's stomach swoop a little, not in a serious way, just in a general, appreciative way, even when he's clearly furious. Like now. “Ori, what are you doing down here?”
“Oh, um,” Kíli hears, as he comes closer.
“I invited him down.” Fíli says, not helpfully, if Kíli has to guess from the look on Dori's face. “He showed me some portraits he'd done, and I asked to see the rest.”
“Really now?” Dori asks, hands on his hips. “Are you thinking of taking up sketching, Fíli?”
“Well, no,” Fíli is taken aback by the harshness in Dori's voice, that much Kíli can see. Neither of them are used to being disliked, Fíli especially. And Dori really, really doesn't like Fíli, especially not anywhere near Ori. “I just, well, he drew me. I wanted to see.”
“Yes, well, now you've seen.” Dori says. Ori is already packing his things, not looking at Fíli anymore. “Come along Ori. I need help getting supper prepared, and Nori will be back at the house soon.”
“Yes, Dori.” Ori obeys, but he does look reluctant to do so. “Good-bye Kíli,” he says with a nod, “Fíli.” He says it much quieter, and the way he glances over his shoulder at Fíli gives Kíli hope for the sad state of things.
Kíli waits until they're both gone before speaking, so he doesn't needlessly embarrass Fíli. “He's not going to give you permission.” However, he thinks maybe Ori really does like Fíli. He's suspected, but never been sure. Ori's shy, and he hides his feelings more than a Dwarf usually would, but the way he'd smiled just now, when Fíli liked his drawings, it looks like maybe his brother isn't as hopeless as he's been calling him. Still doesn't mean Dori will let Fíli court him, of course.
“Ori's of age,” Fíli argues, something determined setting in his expression. “And I don't actually need Dori's permission.”
He's not wrong, but it's not right either, and Kíli knows their mother and their uncle would get angry if they heard him say it. “If Dori won't give you permission, Mum and Uncle won't let you either.”
His brother's got that look on his face though, the one that means he's listening, but he doesn't care. “He likes me. He said so. I asked him if I could talk to Dori, and he said he'd like it.” Kíli nearly drops his bow in surprise. Fíli's really serious. “If Dori says no, I don't care. We're already exiled princes, might as well add a forbidden romance to the ballad.”
“Fíli...” He needs to make his brother see sense before he gets himself in trouble. And Kíli will get blamed too, they always get punished together.
“He's my One, Kíli.”
His protests die.
“What, really?” He sits down beside Fíli, leaning his bow against the bench. “He is?”
His brother nods. “It's always been Ori. Since we were little. I've always known.” His leg shakes a bit as he talks, looking down at the ground and not Kíli. “I'm tired of waiting. Ori finally likes me, and I won't let him get the chance to change his mind about courting me.”
“But you can't,” Kíli says.
“I'm the Crown Prince of Erebor.” Fíli snaps, and Kíli blinks in surprise at the force of it. He's really serious, if he's dragging that title out. It's true, after all, but Erebor's got a dragon living in it, and here, Fíli's really just a musician, and Kíli's a jeweler. Thorin's a blacksmith, for mercy's sake.
“And Thorin is our king. Mother outranks us too. If they tell you that you have to respect Dori's wishes,”
“And how will they find out?” Fíli demands, and Kíli wants to say he'll tell, that he'll do the right thing, but it's Fíli, and Kíli's loyal to him above all others. He won't tell, he knows that already, though he really should, even if Ori is Fíli's One. “I'm not going to use him, or anything. I just can't not be with him anymore. It hurts.”
He doesn't actually know what Fíli means, but he's heard how the Longing can ache. It makes him grateful he got lucky, like their mum. He can love who he likes, or no one at all, if he so chooses. Or he can be useful, and unite their house with someone, make children for the line of Durin. Fíli certainly won't be now. The whole idea of Ones seems unbearable, to him. He'd hate to be tied to someone else in such a way, to have all his happiness depend on one other being. He has his bow and his brother and his fiddle and his mum and his uncle and his trade.
“I still think this is a stupid idea,” Kíli says, in his own defense.
“I don't care anymore.” Fíli shakes his head. “Promise you won't tell, I mean it.”
Kíli picks his bow back up, and plucks at the string. “Fíli.” He doesn't want to promise to lie to their uncle and their mum. It's wrong, even if it's Fíli asking.
“Kíli, promise.” Fíli demands.
“Fine.” He gives in. “I promise. But you better mean it, Fíli. Don't put me in a bad position here, all right?”
“I'm not.” Fíli promises as well. “Just do this for me.”
“Yeah, all right.” He still doesn't feel right about it, but he agrees, because it's Fíli, and he'll do just about anything for Fíli.
Over the weeks, he watches his brother court Ori behind Dori's back, watches them talk and Fíli show off for him, uneasy about the whole thing, but quiet, until one day, during the Solstice festival, Fíli plays a love ballad on his fiddle for his demonstration, and looks at Ori the whole time. It's dark, and everyone's drunk, but Ori blushes and Kíli sees the way Nori's eyes narrow as he looks between the two of them.
He grabs Fíli after, hissing, “Have you gone mad?”
“I told him I'd do a song for him.” Fíli argues.
“Nori saw!” Kíli insists. “He's not stupid, you know he's worked it out after that!”
“I'm not scared of Nori.” Fíli pulls out of his grip and joins the rest of his guild, the grandmaster waving him over.
He's not, but Kíli is when he finds himself with his back to the wall and Nori at his front, a knife pointing very, very sharply into his side. “Well, look what I found. A little princeling.”
“Nori,” he smiles charmingly, or tries to, but Nori doesn't look charmed. Instead, he grins back, showing too many teeth. “Something I can help you with?”
“What does your brother think he's playing at?” The grin drops, and Nori's all business. “My little brother isn't a plaything for any princes looking to keep their beds warm, are we clear? You tell him to back off, or it'll be him against this wall next, and my knife,” it digs in unpleasantly, “won't be in his side, understand?”
“It's not like that!” Kíli tries to squirm away, but Nori's got him pinned too well. He's not as strong as Dori, but it doesn't seem to matter.
“Then what's it like?” Nori demands.
“He's Fíli's One!” The knife actually moves away as Nori frowns. “He's been in love with Ori since we were kids, I swear. He's not playing with him!”
Nori releases him entirely, and the knife slips back up into some mysterious place in his clothes. “His One?” Kíli nods. “He's sure? And you're sure he's not lying?”
“I'm sure he's followed Ori around like an idiot since we met him.” Which really is just sad, even if Ori is Fíli's One. Kíli's so happy he's not involved in that nonsense. “I promise, it's not what Dori thinks.”
“Trust me, you don't want to know what Dori thinks.” Nori waggles his braided eyebrows. Damn it all, what is with the line of Ri? They're all always so good-looking, it's just not fair. “You swear to me, Kíli, he's Fíli's One?”
“I swear,” he says, nodding. “He wouldn't lie, not to me.”
Thank Mahal, Nori actually looks like he believes him. He tugs on his beard thoughtfully, and looks out at something, someone, in the crowd. Kíli can't tell who, through the smoke of the fires and the crowd. Maybe it's only in Nori's mind anyway. “Dori doesn't have the right to keep them apart, if they're each other's Ones.” There's something there that Nori probably doesn't want Kíli to see, so he doesn't push or even let on he notices.
The knife comes back out, well, it's actually a different knife, and Kíli's impressed. How many does he have? Where does he keep them all?
“You listen to me, Kíli. I won't say anything just yet. But I'll be telling Ori I know, and you'll tell your dear brother. You let him know I'll stay out of it, but if I get wind of him mistreating Ori...” The knife is precariously close to some bits Kíli is still using and enjoying. “Get the point?”
“Yes.” He nods emphatically.
“Good.” The knife disappears, and really, where do they go? “Glad to know we understand each other.” He claps his hand on Fíli's shoulder and grins. “Now, if you don't mind, there's a bed waiting for me, and I'd like to be in it. Unless you'd like to join me?” He doesn't mean it, but Kíli shakes his head anyway. He may make Kíli feel a bit light-headed, but he's also sort of terrifying, and Kíli doesn't like the idea of those knives near his manhood or his purse. “Suit yourself.”
He's gone between one breath and the next, leaving Kíli alone in the crowd.
He decides he's earned a drink or eight.
When he finally stumbles home, he's rather drunk, and happy again. As he approaches their house though, he hears the fiddle playing, sweet and low. A song he's never heard, as he boosts himself up through the window. His brother is sitting on his bed, paper laid out in front of him with notes scribbled, his fiddle on his shoulder as he concentrates.
At first Kíli's not sure what he's doing, but then he realizes. “You're writing him a song.”
“I am.” His brother puts the fiddle aside and crosses something out.
“You're really serious.”
“Yes, Kíli, we've been over this,” Fíli mutters impatiently. “You smell like a tavern, by the way.”
He throws his shirt at his brother, but goes and washes up in the shared bathroom downstairs. It wouldn't do for their mum or their uncle to know just how much he'd drunk. Once he's back up in their room, his brother has put his fiddle away and is studying the notes he's made.
“Nori knows,” he says, throwing himself down on his own bed. “Thanks to your little show tonight. He demonstrated just what he'll do to you on me, to be sure I got the message right.”
Fíli at least looks sorry, so there's that. “What'd he say?”
“If you break Ori's heart, you won't be breaking any more,” he mumbles into his pillow, his head a bit muddled now. “You owe me.”
“I know.” Fíli sighs. “Thank you, for doing this. I know you don't like it.”
“I don't.” He rolls over so he can really look at Fíli. “I really don't. It's not proper, and everyone's going to be really angry when they find out.” When Fíli looks dejected, he rolls his eyes. “But you're my brother, and I love you.” Just so Fíli doesn't get too full of himself, he adds, “Even though you're an idiot.”
Fíli throws his balled up shirt back at him in response.