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Shadows fall over Erebor

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Chapter 1
Fili was huddled in a dark corner of room that the dwarfs had taken to using as a central resting area. Much of Erebor remained untouched by Smaug, but most of the passages to those rooms were burdened with heavy rubble. This largish hall had been easy enough to clear and was close to a kitchen that was hastily made usable.

Fili took in a deep breath as he watched his fellow companions. Everyone of them, even Kili was playing with piles of booty taken from the royal treasury. The dwarfs that he had come to see as family had become more interested with gold than food or rest. The joy that he had felt reclaiming Erebor had faded mere hours later. The sight of the gold, all those jewels and precious metals had changed his uncle dramatically. Gone was the gruff but lovable man who was full of honor and dignity. Instead of one who would willingly sacrifice his own life for his companions, Thorin had become one overwhelmed with lust for gold. The change had been instantaneous and horrible. Yet, it seemed as though only Fili had noticed. The others continued on as normal, even heaping praise on Thorin and his decision to withhold loot from men and elves alike.

Only Bilbo, that gentle, amazing hobbit had shown any great displeasure with the decision. Bilbo had tried every argument that he could with Thorin. Not even Bilbo's displeasure seemed to move his Uncle. That is when it truly sunk into Fili just had "gold sick" Thorin had become.

Hours later, long past when the company should be resting, they all remained awake admiring their fortunes. The poor, confused hobbit was resting in the corner beside him. He was absolutely worn out from the encounter with the dragon. Fili sat next to him. Earlier he had made a half hearted attempt to comfort Bilbo, but it had failed. Fili knew that it was his own lack of conviction that made his words fall flat.

Fili rubbed his eyes and thought about attempting some sleep when he felt a plop next to him. He didn't need to look to know it was Kili.

"Brother, why so glum? We are rich beyond our wildest dreams! Erebor is ours once more and Thorin is a king! You should be celebrating." He threw his arm around Fili's shoulders.

Fili opened his eyes. "I am happy for our good fortune. However, everyone has seemed to forgotten that we are surrounded by enemies. We have betrayed our word given in honor to the humans. If our word means nothing, then so does this gold."

Kili blinked a couple of times. "Not that they did a fat lot. Its' we who suffered all this time. We've been wounded, poisoned, trapped, jailed and tortured. This gold is our birthright."

Fili let out a deep breath and turned to face his brother. He whispered harshly, "Have you already forgotten that their homes now lie burning, beyond repair? Bard shot the final blow. What do they have to show for their suffering now? We have no honor if we cannot help them face what our own kin suffered those long years ago. If we do not help, give them the coins they need to rebuild, we are as worse as Thranduil and his damn elves."

Kili's eyes grew wide. He sat the golden goblet down that he'd been holding. He said nothing, but Fili knew he was reaching his brother and pressed on. "You don't remember what it was like to go hungry. Watch others around you die as they were exposed to the harsh elements. I was little, but I will never forget. Our exile killed as many as that damned dragon did. It is a fate I would not wish on anyone, even elves. Hunger, illness, cold is not something that can be fought with a blade or arrow. Letting women and children die because we could not be parted with some coins is the height of dishonor and cowardice."

Fili silenced then and let his words sink into his brother's heart. He prayed to Mahal that Kili, his precious brother, would see the reason in this. For if he did not, if his entire family was against him, then his heart would go cold.

Kili rubbed his nose and then leaned against Fili. He picked the goblet up and stared at it for a few long seconds. Then he placed it back on the granite floor not caring that it toppled over.

Fili now continued. "All the gold, even the Arkenstone itself could never replace you Kili. If we don't honor our agreements and forge alliances, we will face the hoards of orcs and goblins alone. It is a battle that we will lose."

Kili's voice cracked. "I can't stand to lose you either Fili. You mean more to me than anything this world could offer."
Smiling, Fili drew his brother closer for a tight hug. After a few long moments, they released each other, but Kili continued to lean against his brother.

"What do we do?" Kili whispered. "The gold lust took hold of me. Yet its grip on Uncle is terrible. I can see it now."

Fili ruffled Kili's dark tangled locks. "I'm proud of you. No matter what anyone ever says or does, I will always be honored to be your brother."

"I do not like where you are headed. Why do I think you are planning something dangerous? That is my role."

"Because I am. It may not work and the dangers are great."

"We've faced an army of goblins, orcs, talking spiders, elves and a dragon together brother. Whatever you have planned I will be beside you." Kili declared forcefully and took a hold of his brother's hand.

Fili looked at his Uncle and friends to make absolutely certain none were watching the two. Satisfied, he pulled something out of his pocket that only Kili could see. It was barely a glimpse, but the light from the Arkenstone shone brightly. Fili fumbled immediately to tuck back deeply into his pant pockets.

"Fili!" Kili began and sat upright. Fili shushed him and pulled him back down.

"Be quiet. The others cannot know."

"But you found it!"

"Yes, but Uncle must not know."

Kili was confused and a little hurt. "Why? This is the sign of kingship, that our line was meant to rule Erebor."

"Because I mean to trade to Bard and his men for their cooperation."

Kili's eyes bugged out. "No!"

"I must. It is the only thing that will soothe their wounds. I will offer this in return for their assistance. With this one stone, this one rock they will be able to rebuild their homes, their families. It will also remove our honor-debt that they rightly hold over us."

Kili made to reach for the stone then shoved his right hand into his own leather coat. He took a couple of breaths. Fili waited his heart pounding, had he acted too soon after his own brother had cast of the gold sickness?

However, his faith was soon rewarded. "Uncle will have our hides. But you're right. It'll do the job."

Fili let out the breath he was holding. "Thank you little brother for seeing my point."

"Hmmph. I thought I was the crazy one, not you."

"This plan becomes crazier still. I intend to bribe the elves."

"Did you land on your head? Do you have some injury that I know naught of?" Kili demanded.

Fili managed a slight laugh. Now they caught the attention of Bofur and Bombur.

"Oi, laddies, come join us. We have some amazing rubies and garnets you must see." Bofur gave them one of his warmest smiles.

Fili made to stand and Kili, still very confused, stood with him.

"No thanks. Kili and I were wondering about sapphires. We want some to make hair beads out of them."

Thorin tore his gaze away from the glittering piles. "Just be sure to mark how many you take and their quality. No one will have more than their share." He grumbled.

"Of course not Uncle. We will render a faithful accounting." With that reply, Fili left the room to head for the treasury. Kili was right at his heels.

Once there and certain they were alone, Kili finally exploded.

"What in Mahal's name are you thinking? This is beyond anything I ever dreamed of or did! Take the stone to men, bribe the elves?" He shouted and pointed vaguely at Laketown's direction.

"It's the only thing that will save us, save him. What use is being King under the Mountain, if you are DEAD under the mountain?"

Kili rubbed his face in frustration. Fili however, was not done. "I repeat to you my brother, I would trade every speck of treasure there is to keep you alive, to keep Thorin alive. No gold is worth family."

Kili grabbed a gold coin and threw it hard against a large stack of gold coins. They all came tumbling down nosily.
"Gold is shiny and beautiful, but none of this treasure is as comforting as your smile or as warm as your arms. Do you understand me yet?"

Kili sat down beside the white marble stairs. "I do. I do. I just don't know how we pull this off. What do we bribe the elves with?"

"Emeralds. An entire sack full of them. The Mirkwood elves love this jewel beyond all others. You and I fill a bag and I will take them to Thranduil and plead our case."

"No. I will plead our case to Thranduil. Legolas and I aren't exactly friends, but we have an understanding. It will be better if I go to them."

Fili was about to argue, when Kili gave him that look that reminded him of their uncle. "Do not argue with me. It's bad enough that you would take the Arkenstone to Bard, to parley with the elves would end with Thorin demanding your head as well."

Fili sat down beside his brother. "I would not have you suffer our Uncle's wrath as well."

"Oh, this plan gets better and better with each moment. You planned to parley with humans and elves with treasure and the stone and do this all by yourself? Are you mad?" Kili waved his hands towards Fili's head.

"No. But"

"No buts." Kili demanded. "You are braver than I and smarter than I."

Fili tried to interrupt but Kili was not to be deterred. "You never succumbed to the gold lust. I DID. I will not have you shoulder all of this on your own. Besides, we don't have that much time. Azog and his army will arrive soon. Thorin and the others are too busy counting coins to plan. You convince Bard, I convince Thanduil. "

"And somehow, together we convince Uncle." Fili finished for him.

"Yes." Kili said with all the certainty that all their wild schemes ever had.

Fili snorted and began to laugh. It was ridiculous enough to work. Kili joined him after a second.

"We will probably be banished for this." Fili commented.

Kili shrugged. "I always wanted to be a travelling musician. Imagine the songs we could sing from our adventures."

Fili laughed. "Who would believe us?" He put his arm around Kili.

"Doesn't matter. We'd know the truth."

Fili looked into his brother's dark eyes. "So we do this then?"

Kili nodded, his faith in the plan positive because it was Fili's. "Yes, for no matter where you lead, I will follow." He replied honestly.

"I don't deserve to have such a brother as you."

"Of course not. You got incredibly lucky. After all, I got oozing charm, bravery, good looks and incredible battle skills. You just shine in my glory." Kili boasted. All this touchy feely talk was scaring him.

Fili laughed once more. "I may be crazy, but I am not yet insane. You are the biggest pain in the ass little brother in all the 7 dwarrow kingdoms. Yet I would not have it any other way. But come, let's put our plan in motion before we are caught."

Chapter Text

I welcome criticism of a helpful kind. I want to improve as a writer, but most of all I want to maintain character. Thorin is not himself in this tale. He is sick, saddled with a horrible addiction that he doesn't even recognize yet. Fili and Kili have to face challenges of different kind. Ones that can't be solved in combat.

Fili stood not with his beloved brother or Uncle on the battlefield, but with hundreds of humans. This is not how he wished the final clash of swords with the great goblin and orc army to happen. He should be beside his brother, Kili. They, together as always, should be beside their uncle fighting for family honor, for their home.

Instead he was surrounded by strangers, not those who he would give his life's blood for. He shook his head with disbelief that after all his trials his fate should come to this.

Bard sat atop of his chestnut stallion. His quiver full of arrows, the man did not look forward to this battle either. Yet, he was an intelligent person. He knew that if they did not stop the goblins and Azog now, his people would be the next target. Defeat the enemy here and now and use the riches of the Arkenstone to rebuild all that was lost to that damned dragon was the extent of his plans. He had not fully expected to be leading this group, yet fate had placed their lives in his hands. He hoped that he would remain as steady as the shot that struck down Smaug. He glanced at the golden haired dwarf sitting unhappily on his pony.

The young dwarf had spoken eloquently on behalf of his uncle and the dwarves of Erebor. Bard knew little of Thorin, yet he had some idea the amount of sheer courage it had taken the young one to come before him against Thorin's wishes. Fili had spoken with humility and begged for forgiveness. His tale of understanding their suffering and homelessness had swayed Bard. So with the price of their sacrifice paid for by the very stone that symbolized the Durin right to rule, Bard had agreed to help.

"It will begin soon." Bard broke the silence.

Fili nodded. It took all his patience not to ride across the lines into orc territory to get to where Kili must be with the Mirkwood elves. Over in the distance he could see them lined for battle much as the humans were around him. Kili had done his job well or else they would not be there. He longed to hug his brother and tell him of how proud he was once more of the dwarf that Kili was maturing into.

Fili knew though, once the battle was begun, there was only one direction to head, toward Thorin, toward their king, their uncle. Both had sworn an oath of loyalty to this quest and to Thorin. Their uncle may disagree with their methods, but Fili loved him deeply. It was his role as heir to stand by his side. He had no doubt in his mind that is also where Kili would ride too. That was their destiny to be beside him in this great battle for their home.

"Regardless of the outcome of this battle, Fili son of Dis, I have found you to be an honorable person. You have fulfilled the oath made by your uncle. May Aule watch over you." Bard told the youngster. He wished the lad no ill will. In fact he wished that it was Fili that was to be King Under the Mountain and not his stubborn and dishonorable Uncle. So he offered his words of kindness, hoping that should Fili fall in battle they would off some small comfort.

Fili tore his eyes away from the assembled hoard. "I thank you sir, for your forgiveness. I pray that we all meet after this battle and toast to our future alliance." He was happy that Bard was a reasonable man.

"Well met, young prince." A large roar then rose from the goblins and orcs. The night was dark and the time was now. Bard turned to his assembled men, more a ragtag band of militia than a true military. However, he was proud of them all and honored to be their leader. "To war, to victory!" He shouted.

Fili watched as the Bard waved his sword. He spurred his horse on toward the enemy. Fili shouted in Khuduzul and joined them in battle.

Kili stood beside Legolas and the rest of Mirkwood's archers. It had taken much to prove to the arrogant Lord of Mirkwood that this "dwarf" did indeed know how to use a bow. That he would not "accidently" shoot one of the elves with an errant arrow. Kili gritted his teeth once more. He was amazed to still have his teeth considering how much he had how to ground them to keep from uttering an insult or threat. But he had held his tongue and his temper, instead turning his anger and his embarrassment inward.

Thranduil had accepted the emeralds, but he had demanded so much more. Kili let out a deep breath. Fili would be furious as would Thorin. He did not want to think how the King would react to an heir of Durin debasing himself so. Kili, however, endured it all and would do so again. Having the Mirkwood elves armed and ready for battle meant he had not failed Fili. In the end that was all that mattered, not his wounded pride. Kili could not help but hope that an orc or goblin found a way to kill the son of bitch that was the king of these elves.

Legolas curiously watched the young dwarf beside him. If he understood correctly, Kili was even younger than him in his culture. It was amazing that the arrogant dwarf king would lead children into such danger. However, Kili's loyalty was that of any adult and his heart and courage was more than most that Legolas had ever encountered. Once more, Legolas found himself wondering what ages of hatred between the two great peoples was worth maintaining. Yet, he kept his musings to himself. His father had found his willingness to accept "others" as disturbing, especially his friendship with the humans residing in Riverdale.

Legolas had no wish to see Kili hate his new found allies so. The young prince himself was aghast at his father's behavior in court when the dwarf had begged for help. Yet, he had done nothing in Kili's defense and felt shame in that.

Kili's glare was as dark as his hair and clothing. His quiver was stuffed with elven arrows. Long, dark hair was bound in ponytail, the bangs forced back to keep out of his eyes. However, it was apparent that some hair was missing.

Kili didn't acknowledge Legolas when he spoke. Instead his focus was the enemy around him. He knew Fili would be with Thorin. Getting there was the only thing on his mind. He just had to see his brother once more.

"Master dwarf." Legolas repeated.

Kili turned his head toward the prince. If stares would burn, Legolas would be ashes. Legolas sighed. "My father can be harsh."

Kili gave the elf a stare that was easy interpreted as "no shit", but the elf continued on. "I myself have been on the receiving end of his wrath. It is no gentle thing. However, I was very impressed with how well you managed it. I did not think such a thing possible of a dwarf."

Kili kept silent. If he opened his mouth now to say what he really thought of elves this close to battle, it would undo everything.

Legolas tilted his head toward Kili. He whispered. "I apologize for his actions. The emeralds were enough."

Kili blinked, startled. That was not what he expected from the prince. He had expected more comments about how "elven" Kili looked now that his braids were shorn as well as his face.

Kili remembered. After showing the emeralds and proving his skills with a bow, Thranduil demanded to speak to Kili alone. It was there that the elf King had demanded the rest of his payment. The ultimate humiliation of Thorin's nephew was requested. Kili was made to cut out the braids that his brother and uncle had woven into his hair. Then with the same blade he was ordered to shave his face bare. Kili could not help the tears that fell, but he said nothing. He only thought of his brother and how much Fili was relying on him. If Fili could give away the Arkenstone, then Kili could cut his hair. Pride was poor comfort.

In those private quarters, Thranduil himself remarked that were Kili taller, he'd be more alike Mirkwood elves than Erebor dwarves. Then the king had ran his hands over his face and hair. It was only the thought of Fili that Kili didn't attempt to gut the bastard right there with his hidden knife. Thranduil had praised his dark good looks and his skill with the bow. He had even asked aloud if Dis had lain with an elf to beget the dwarf. At that Kili had finally lost his temper, but his sharp reply was cut off by a slap from the king.

"At last I have found what you consider worth your honor and it is your mother's defense." Thranduil stepped back from the young dwarf and appraised him cooly.

"You are a most unusual dwarf. I commend you on your differences." Thranduil nodded at Kili. "You have an agreement. The Mirkwood elves will ride against Azog and his minions. The Durin debt of honor has been finally filled." Thranduil walked to the door and opened it.

A elf in full armor and another garbed in court dress stood immediately outside. Kili still had tears falling and was embarrassed by it. He wiped them away and held his head high. "Ready our soldiers. We march to war against the orcs and goblins. See to it that the dwarf is fed and properly armed. He rides with us."

Now Kili stood beside Legolas. He found it hard to believe the young prince's words after all that he had endured. However, he nodded toward Legolas and his dark glare was lessened.

A great elven horn sounded at that time and the army moved forward.

Chapter Text

The five armies clashed. It was chaos, blood and death. The goblin and orc lines were broken within minutes. These creatures had no patience for battle strategy. However, what they lacked in intelligence they more than made up with sheer numbers. Pockets of humans, of elves and dwarfs fought surrounded by their horrid enemies.

It was with great relief that Fili realized that the dwarves of the Iron Hills and Dain had ridden to the battle. Yet, even with their increased might, Azog was winning the war.

Fili rode as far as his horse could carry him toward the gates of Erebor. Once his horse fell, he had jumped off and continued on foot. His twin swords were a blur of motion against the hoard. Soon Fili was covered in dark black blood of his defeated enemies. Yet, he pushed forward past the line the humans held and toward that of his Uncle. Just as he was about to face a huge grouping of orcs, elven arrows flew through the sky. Most were solidly embedded into their intended targets. Once the volley was done, Fili rushed forward. His blades swirled and he ended more orcs in those minutes than he had on the entire journey to the Lonely Mountain. When all were dead or scattered, Fili paused for a brief moment. He caught his breath and squinted, hoping for some sign of where Kili or Thorin would be. Fili saw him in the distance. Thorin.

His uncle was in the battle armor of Erebor. It shone brightly in the moonlight, like a beacon. This gave Fili hope because it meant he was still alive. Gulping air, Fili lunged toward his uncle, praying that he would get to his side.

 

At first Kili kept with the elven archers. He unleashed his arrows with an amazing accuracy that only Legolas could rival. When the archers pushed forward, Kili went with them deeper into the melee.

Soon however, Kili was out of arrows. He was surprised when another almost full quiver was thrown to him by Legolas. In a swift movement Kili discarded the empty one and shouldered the other.

Kili was surprised by the elf prince's actions. Legolas had kept near the dwarf. Amazingly the two complemented each other's battle styles. Kili took a moment to nod at Legolas. "Thanks." he yelled and the two pressed forward.

Kili searched with his keen eyes and finally found one of the people that his heart longed for. Thorin stood with Dwalin by his side on a hill. However, Azog had also seen the Durin King and was making a bee line for Thorin.

Kili shouted a terrible cry and began an all out run toward his uncle. Having also seen the pale orc, Legolas trailed behind.

Fili was now covered with minor cuts and bruises, but no orc or goblin had been able to stop his frenzied attack. His way made clear by the arrows, Fili made quick ground until he reached the back of the pack attacking his Uncle and friends. His blades flashed as he darted and rolled from one adversary to another. Barely having time to catch his breath, just running on instinct Fili finally fought to the side of Bifur.

Bifur was a swirling mass of death. The dwarf had never forgotten the Battle of Moria. The blade in his head was proof that he would not be killed by this scum, but he had huge grudge to repay this vermin.

Bifur was shocked seeing the blond dwarf suddenly appear beside him. However, in seconds the old dwarf grinned even more crazed. Fili at his back made him even bolder. The ground grew slippery with the blood of their foes. Then the two dwarves heard the horrible roar of Azog. For a second, everyone, even time stopped as the Pale Orc and the King of Erebor stared at one another. All of this, the violence, the gore was second to the battle that was about to play out.

Fili's shout to his uncle was lost in the noise of Thorin's own answering scream. The two combatants ran toward each other promising doom and destruction.

Fili finished his last goblin and sprinted after his uncle. Fresh in his memory was Thorin's fall the last time the two clashed. He had been so entranced at the horror of it, Fili had just watched. It took the bold and incredibly brave actions of their hobbit to rescue Thorin. This time Fili would not stand by. He would act.

Kili and Legolas hands let lose arrow after arrow. As soon as one arrow would fly, another would follow, until a path was made clear to where Thorin and Azog would clash.

Kili shot his last two into the pale blue hide of the horrible orc. He growled in frustration as they did not seem to impede Azog in the least. Kili yelled and pulled his sword out about to attack Azog when an arrow whizzed by. He whirled and saw three goblins about to attack him. Legolas shot had killed the first. Kili immediately attacked the largest first, his sword finally tasting goblin flesh.

Fili cracked the skull open of one goblin with the hilt of one sword. However, the creature managed a deep cut on his left forearm. He shouted with the pain, almost dropping that sword. Another rushed forward and Fili disemboweled it with one swift stroke of his right. He screamed with frustration. He could get no further to his uncle. The goblins and orcs were too many.

Fili saw him. Kili. Just a few yards away. His sword cutting and slashing the multitude around him while an elf stood by his side shooting arrows into their enemies.

Fili's strength had lagged for a second after his wound, but seeing his little brother so near, it reenergized him and he shouted, "Kili!" with all the breath he could muster.

Kili's head darted toward the sound of his name. So close. "Fili! I'm coming." His heart finally sang with some hope. For a moment he forgot about the raging battle between Azog and Thorin. All thoughts centered on reaching his brother.

Desperation and desire to see each other once more caused the two brothers to fight as if possessed. The orcs and goblins fell like a wave. In a few seconds the two were standing in front of the other, covering in guts and black blood.

Once more the battle seemed to stand still for a moment. Kili and Fili's eyes locked. That glance said everything they needed to say. The next second found the two brothers back to back.

Relief flooded Kili. If this was their end here he would be at peace with it.

Fili smiled underneath the gore. "About time you got here. Were you having tea with your elven friends?" He watched though as Legolas started darting into the enemy with his dual swords flashing.

The two adjusted their stance to cover Legolas as well.

"Just Legolas here, he's the only one worth a damn." Kili grunted in reply and his sword cleaved the right arm from a goblin.

Legolas heard the remark and a small smile graced his face. At least his sticking with Kili on the battle field had made an impression.

The three were making slow progress toward Azog and Thorin when it happened. Azog let loose with an incredible scream of agony. Suddenly, a small sword was stuck in his right eye. Blinded, the horrible orc grabbed at the presence he could not see, but felt on his head. His clawed hand dug deep into the invisible body and flung the weight off.

The shout of "Bilbo," was screamed by the dwarves that saw, but none louder than Thorin. Azog was still reaching for Sting when Orcrist found its mark.

Thorin had put all his heart, all his energy into the blow. The blade had swung true. He was rewarded with the spilling of intestines and black icor spurting out over his silver armor.

Such was Thorin's fear for the hobbit that he swung again and again, until finally Azog's head was cleaved from his body. Much like his grandfather's Thor, Thorin saw the orc's head roll until it stopped in front of line of orcs. There would be no mistake this time. Azog the Defiler was dead.

Thorin let go a shout of fury and victory that it was said it sounded to the halls of Rivendale itself.

Kili and Fili stopped for a second as did all the battlefield. The importance of what had transpired washed over them. All the dwarves and their assembled allies shouted in joy and victory. The goblins and orcs looked at each other lost and leaderless.

That is when Beorn and the Eagles arrived. The enemy chose that moment to run. They broke off their lines and began to run for the hills and caves, screeching and begging.

The armies chased them giving no quarter to the underworld creatures. Thousands more were slain with their backs to the humans, elves and dwarves.

However, Thorin did not press onward. His mind and that of his fellows was of Bilbo. He still had that damned ring on. None could tell where the small hobbit had landed. Nor was Bilbo answering to calls.

Kili and Fili looked at each and began to join in the frantic search. Legolas watched rather confused for a second.

"What are we doing?" He asked in a rush.

"Feeling for an invisible hobbit!" Kili grumbled as if that would explain everything. Legolas shot up an eyebrow. He decided that he would protect the searching dwarves instead of join in their search.

It was Kili who found Bilbo by tripping over him. He hadn't meant too. Kili had been walking carefully, but a hole made him swivel and suddenly Bilbo was just there.

"I found him!" Kili shouted as Fili was helping Kili up. Fili leaned down and his hands felt something solid. The young dwarf quickly realized that Bilbo was on his stomach and was covered in blood. Fili gently tried to find Bilbo's hands. That damned ring had to come off. His efforts were rewarded the second Kili dropped by his side.

The instant the ring slipped off the hobbits fingers and onto Fili's palm, Fili felt an electric jolt. It was entirely unpleasant. Instantly, seductive whispers of power and gold began to invade his mind. Instead of looking at his wounded friend, he found his gaze lingering on the most perfect, most precious ring in the world.

Kili, however was fully intent on Bilbo. The wounds were bad, very bad. The orcs' claw had raked Bilbo's side. Blood was rushing out of his body at an alarming rate. Kili shouted, "We have to bind the wound now or he'll bleed out." Kili grabbed at Fili who should be moving, not staring at a ring.

With his brother's touch and words, Fili roused himself out of stupor. "Was that gold lust" he wondered. How horrible was it! It made him feel sick and disgusted.

Fili then made a decision once more that would change the fate of Middle Earth. He wanted that ring away from him NOW. It reminded him of the gold madness that had almost cost him everything.

Even as the ring shouted to be carried, to be worn, Fili stuck his sword in the muddy earth. As if a huge spider was crawling up his arm he flung it in the hole, brushing aside its darkness at it attempted to climb back into his brain.

"Oi, be gone foul thing. Trouble me no more." He yelled. The one ring fell into the hole shouted to be saved. In seconds it was covered in a layers of dirt, mud and blood.

Kili frowned at his brother, they had no time for this. "We need a healer!" He yelled just as Thorin slid down beside his two nephews and the injured hobbit.

As soon as the ring was covered in the muck, Fili took a couple of deep breaths and recovered himself. The world stopped swirling. He was then greeted with the best sight he could have wished for. His brother and uncle alive and next to him, and Bilbo began to open his eyes

Chapter Text

Fili blamed himself. It never should have happened. He knew to never assume that his enemies were dead unless their heads were cleaved off. Kili was the younger, he should have followed behind Kili, not the other way around.

Fili sat beside Kili's cot waiting for his younger brother to awaken. Fili had not seen the attack. His blue eyes were focused on Bilbo as Oin and Thorin took the hobbit to a healing tent. Legolas had said his goodbyes shortly thereafter. The elf prince had to find his father before Thranduil fretted about his son. Before leaving, Kili and Legolas shared a hand shake and a hearty thanks. Animosity between that elf and dwarf was now forgotten.

Kili had lingered still confused by Fili's actions with Frodo's ring. "I still don't understand what you did. Bilbo never mentioned it talking to him." That sentence was followed by a loud scream of agony. One of the fallen orcs had regained consciousness as Kili walked by. The foul creature had grabbed a broken sword and swiped viciously at Kili's legs. Taken unawares, Kili crumbled to ground in a yelp of pain.

Fili swirled and darted forward. The next swipe of the orc was met soundly by Fili's own blade. Fili's vision was a red haze of anger. The orc offered no serious defense and in a matter of seconds the contest was over. The orc's head arched high in the sky as it was separated from his body.

Even as the corpse fell to the sodden ground, Fili was on his knees cradling Kili.

Kili looked up to his brother's worried face and let out a huge gasp.

"Didn't see the bastard. Sorry." Kili grunted out.

"Healer! I need a healer!" Fili shouted loudly. Then he turned his focus back to Kili. "Why are you apologizing, You're the one hurt. I need a healer!" Fili yelled once more.

A dwarf who was busy running checking on the wounded came running by. This new dwarf was old and his garments indicated that he was a member of the Iron Hills Clan. He moved aside Kili's bloodied clothing aside . With an expert's eye , the dwarf appraised the wounds. He was soon followed by someone the brothers did recognize, Ori.

"He'll live. Take him up there and I'll bind the wounds. Then we'll get the boy to surgery." The elder healer picked himself out of the muck and moved on toward the area where many dwarves had gathered.

"Ori, tell Thorin Kili was injured and I will be with him. Give me news of Bilbo as your able."

Ori had been whispering words of encouragement to Kili. His gingered head nodded. "At once. It's good to see you both!" He added as he scrambled toward Thorin and the others.

For some reason that made Kili laugh. Fili was feeling the exhaustion of the battle slip into his body as he picked up Kili's slight frame. He faltered a second, but mustered through the weariness.

"Why are you laughing?" Fili mumbled as he made sure his footing remained solid on the slippery ground.

"Because, I'm glad to see us too!" Kili laughed then moaned.

Fili was determined to keep his brother distracted from his wounds. "You doubted our plan? I'm wounded." Fili grunted out.

"No, I am." More laughter. Fili rolled his eyes. His brother was punch drunk from weariness and blood loss.

"That is not funny."

"Course not."

Silence for a few moments then the ground became less treacherous and level.

"It hurts." It was a simple statement, but raw in its emotion. Kili had been through so much these last hours. To admit that he was needy, that he was in pain was relief. Only to Fili could he show his vulnerability.

"Yes, but you will be better soon. I will not leave your side, nor allow anything to harm you again." Fili assured.

Kili let go a deep breath and relaxed some against Fili.

That was hours ago. Kili had passed out shortly after arriving at the Iron Hills clan's healing tent. Kili's leg wounds were cleaned. The horrible wounds across both his thighs stitched.

Fili learned that the elder healer's name was Norion. Norion explained that Kili would heal, but would require much care for infection. Kili would not be walking anytime soon either. Fili had thanked him for Kili's care.

Fili lay beside his brother's cot. Sometime in the morning, another dwarf had given him water and some hard bread and cheese. While Kili slept, he had dozed off. Now it was late afternoon.

Fili rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He was somewhat surprised that none of the company had found them yet. However, a part of him was also relieved. By now Thorin would have heard why the elves and humans had willingly joined in the battle. Fili did not yet feel up to his Uncle's wrath. It was a coward's excuse, to be sure. While Kili still slept, he would not leave. No one here had asked for their names and he had not offered. Fili hoped that Bilbo was alright. That the lack of attention was not due to grieving on the part of his kin.

Kili awoke with a start. He sat bolt upright, his eyes wild and unfocused. Kili then grimaced in pain.

Fili was beside him gathering him up in his arms. "Its alright. The battle's won."

"Fili?"

"Yea, I'm here." Fili muttered.

Sigh, "We survived." Kili seemed surprised.

"Yes. Azog is dead and the enemy is scattered. Erebor is now truly ours." Kili was calmed now so Fili just moved to sit beside his brother.

"Bilbo?" Kili looked around the healing tent.

"I know naught. I have not left your side. None of our kin has found us yet."

Kili blinked. "Oh. You think that's on purpose?" He couldn't disguise the hurt in his voice. It had been one thing to discuss being banished, but the actual thought terrified him. Thorin had been the only constant in their short lives.

"It might." Fili admitted.

"Well, damn." Kili muttered. "I expected fireworks." He felt guilty that his voice sounded relieved.

"I don't think we are out of the fire yet brother. I think this is on the quiet lull before all hell breaks loose. The healer says you'll be fine. It'll be a while though before you are up to any walking or riding."

"Hmmph. If we are banished, I am not going to crawl away. I'm proud of what we did. What you did." Kili's fire had returned.

"And I will carry you if I must. Just rest now Kili. But I must know, what happened with the elves?"

Kili became uncharacteristically quiet. Fili though needed to know. He had seen how Kili's hair was now clasped, He recognized that his braids were gone. Now that Kili was cleaned, it was apparent his beard was also removed.

Kili clung to his older brother's arm. The shame of his treatment by Thranduil momentarily overwhelming.

"Kili, please. Let me understand before Uncle starts another war." Fili pleaded.

Kili's voice sounded small, "I don't know that he will care. Not if the gold madness still claims his heart."

"I do." Fili declared.

Kili finally found the words. "Thranduil wasn't satisfied with the emeralds. He wanted more."

Fili stroked Kili's dark head. "Your braids."

"Yes."

"Your beard?" It broke Fili's heart to ask. To take a dwarf's hair in such a matter was the height of disgrace. Thranduil had wanted dwarf pride taken to its lowest point.

Kili nodded. Fili felt a cold white rage begin to boil in his gut. One day, he would find away to return this treatment to the Mirkwood King. However, he let none of that affect his gentle hold or words.

"It will be alright. Your hair will grow back. You fought bravely, no one will question your honor." Fili smiled at Kili.

The younger brother nodded. He still dreaded the others finding out. Fili soon realized that Kili wasn't ready to share more about what happened. He wasn't going to push the issue. The two sat talking about their roles in the battle. How odd it had felt to be standing with humans and the elves. The actual reality of the war had been nothing like they had imagined.

While in conversation, a dwarf handed the brothers a simple meal. Kili ate some bread and cheese while Fili sat nearby. Both were lost in thought. They were like this when Bofur found the two young dwarves.

"Thank Mahal! Here you two are. We searched this tent before, calling for you"

Fili reluctantly admitted, "We were asleep. "

"We'd been searching for hours." Bofur ran up to them. He embraced the brothers. Both boys felt relief to know that yet another member of the company seemed pleased to see them once more. "Don't you two lads ever run off like that again! We've been worried sick. How bad is it?"

Kili grinned, maybe they wouldn't be forced to leave. Fili knew that Bofur was never likely to blame the boys for their actions.

"Kili has deep cuts in his thighs. It will be a while before he walks, but he will recover fully. What of the rest of our company?"

Bofur kneeled down. "Mostly cuts, bruises, a couple of mild concussions. We've had worse. Bilbo, though, he is not yet out of the woods."

"We saw what he did to Azog. Once again our small hobbit has rescued uncle." Kili stated.

Fili let go of some of the stress he felt. "This is good news." He paused and took a deep breath before asking. "What of Thorin? Is he?"

Bofur's happiness at seeing the two faded. Immediately the two brothers braced themselves.

"He is in a right state. Thorin was enraged to learn that the Arkenstone now rested with Bard and his people. It didn't help to discover that the other nephew took emeralds and humiliated himself in front of Thranduil and his lot." Bofur admitted.

Fili spoke through gritted teeth. "My brother suffered so that we might have the allies we needed to survive the night. He is a hero. I will not have anyone say otherwise."

Bofur nodded. "Aye, I agree with you two. I only repeat what Thorin has said."

"He still has it then? The gold madness?" Kili asked.

Bofur's eyes showe'd his disappointment in Thorin. "I'm sorry boys. I'd hoped battle would have cured him of it. It did for the rest of us. His anger is made worse from his fear that Bilbo will die."

Kili looked up at Fili. Without words they came to a decision.

"Then we will accept our fate. There is no point in delaying. Tell Uncle you've found us. I will carry Kili to his tent. Together we will face his wrath, but we will not do it here." Fili instructed.

Bofur shook his head. "I'm sorry boys. No matter what happens with your Uncle, know that the rest of us, well, we think you to be heroes."

"Thanks." the two muttered. Bofur nodded and took his leave.

"So you got a plan for banishment? Where do we go?" Kili asked in a hushed voice.

Fili shrugged. "To Laketown. Bard will give us shelter. I can find work there until you recover. Then we'll do what

"ever the hell we feel like. It'll be okay Fili. As long as were together."

"agreed." Fili finished for him.

It took Fili longer than he expected to reach the tent. Kili kept trying to be put down and hop there. Fili wouldn't allow it. Once the two toppled to the ground. Fili was alarmed that Kili's stitches were burst, but a quick inspection revealed no harm done.

The two steadfastly refused all help from anyone. They had made their decisions on their own. They would face the outcome alone as well.

Finally, Kili drew back the flap to Thorin's tent and the two brothers stumbled in. Bilbo laid pale against white sheets. He seemed to barely breathing. Thorin sat by his side.

When the two boys wandered in, Thorin rose rapidly. At first the boys were surprised as Thorin graced the two with a look of concern and relief. He walked up to the them and embraced them. For a moment Thorin was the dwarf they remembered. A dwarf that loved his family, his friends more than anything.

But that moment was over quickly. Thorin stepped back and watched when Fili gently lay his brother down on another cot.

Fili's heart was pounding so hard, he could hear the blood in his ears. Had Thorin forgiven them?

His answer was painful. As soon as Fili turned to look back at his uncle, he felt a gloved hand strike him so hard he fell to the ground.

"FILI!" Kili shouted and made to move toward his injured sibling.

Fili looked up and waved his hands toward Kili. 'Stay put.' He indicated.

Fili was in shock. Never before had Thorin struck either of his sister-sons. Fili then righted himself and looked Thorin straight in the eye. He would take this punishment as an adult.

"You traitorous filth? How dare you? You had no right. NONE." Thorin screamed, his words jumbled so lost was he to his rage.

Thorin struck him once more, this time Fili remained upright. Kili yelled in anger.

"You are disowned, banished. Never again shall you lay claim to the name of Durin. Fili, son of Dis, you are banished from my sight. Never lay foot in Erebor or risk my punishment."

Fili nodded. He knew that any attempt to dissuade or defend himself was futile. He took several deep breaths. He had known that this was the most likely outcome from their actions. Still it was painful that it had come to this. Fili gave his brother a look. It stopped Kili from the shouting his own anger at their Uncle. Fili did not want Kili to say words he might regret later. Fili bent down and began to gather Kili up into an upright position.

Thorin's growled, "What in Durin's name do you think you are doing?"

"We're leaving." Fili thought it was obvious.

"I banished you Fili, not your brother." Thorin pointed out.

"What?" The two said in unison. Disbelief starkly shown upon their faces.

Kili was shaking his head emphatically. "No. No."

"We will not be separated." Fili growled. Behind him Kili reached out and grabbed his brother's hand. "You may take everything from me, my name, my gold, my birthright but you will not take him."

Thorin took a step back so great was Fili's anger. Thorin's voice lowered. "He did not steal the Arkenstone. You did. He will not share your punishment in this."

"I will not stay. I go with my brother." Kili shouted.

"No. You will stay as I have ordered. Your brother can not care for you now. Your injuries are too severe."

"Like you give a damn. I don't want your care. Or your damn gold. I share as much of the responsibility as Fili. I leave with him." Kili spit out. Never before had Fili seen Kili so angered.

Fili thought furiously. As much as he hated to admit it. Thorin had a point. He was in no position to care for his brother as he needed. Laketown was mostly destroyed. Shelter was almost nonexistent. It was no place for Kili to recover.

Fili swiveled and fell to Kili's side. Taking his brother's head between his palms, Fili stared directly into Kili's eyes. "He's right. I can't care for you on my own yet."

Kili could not believe his ears. "No! Don't do this. Don't leave me!"

"Listen. Listen to me. You have to get better. You have to let your legs heal." Fili begged.

Thorin interrupted. "In this, Fili speaks sense."

"SHUT UP!" Kili screamed. "I don't give a damn what you think."

Fili turned toward Thorin whose rage was about to return. "Please, a moment alone. Let me talk to him. Let me say goodbye."

Thorin took a deep breath. Seeing his two nephews so absolutely defeated suddenly made him feel ashamed. A part of his soul was weeping as well, but it seem helpless against the anger he felt. The King nodded. Without another word he left.

Kili pulled himself upright. The pressure on his wounds caused the pain to flare up. Fili however, motioned to set him back down again. The two tussled for a few moments. Kili started to strike out not believing that Fili would abandon him. The young dwarf was out of his mind in grief.

Fili let the soft blows fall and did nothing to stop them. Instead he grabbed Kili and bear hugged him. Kili eventually stopped and returned the grasp instead.

"Don't go. Don't leave me." He begged.

"Kili, we don't have a choice. Look at me." Fili ordered and Kili obeyed. "You're only going to stay here until your legs are better. Understand? When you are completely healed, you will come to me in Laketown."

"Laketown?"

"Yes, I will not leave the place without you. Until then you heal. Maybe look for ways to cure the gold madness in the library. Can you do this for me Kili?"

Kili repeated wanting to make certain he understood, "Only until I'm healed."

"Yes." Fili nodded. Kili finally lost some of the wild look in his eyes. "Try to stay out of Thorin's way. Keep your head low. Do not anger him. Especially on my behalf."

"I hate him," Kili spat out.

"No Kili, you hate his illness, not Thorin. This isn't our Uncle. He isn't the man who raised us now. Remember that."

They both turned when the tent flap was rustled. To their mutual relief it was Balin who entered.

Balin appeared to have aged a decade in the few days apart. He eyes betrayed his opinion of Thorin's rage.

"Laddies, I'm sorry, but time's up. Fili, you need to leave." Balin walked over the two. He embraced Fili. "Don't worry, we will watch over him. By Durin's beard we swear it."

Fili returned the embrace. "I'll be in Laketown. Send me word if anything happens to Kili."

"I'll do better than that. I will make certain that any "correspondence" passes safely between you two."

"Thank you Cousin." Fili managed to say. Everything was catching up to him. He was having to leave Kili behind.

"Go. While you can still make it in daylight. Many goblin and orc still abound." Balin explained.

The brothers hugged once more. "I'll see you soon." Fili let go and made for the tent entrance. He paused to glance back at Kili who looked more lost and young than Fili could ever remember.

Kili signed, "Be careful"

Fili returned the sign then departed.

Dwalin was waiting for Fili.

"I'm to escort ya to the boundary." Dwalin explained.

Fili nodded. He gave one last glance at the tent, then at the Lonely Mountain. He steeled his heart. He would not walk out of this place with his head held low.

Dwarves looked at the two as they passed. Mutters reached his ears, but Fili did not react to harsh words or embarrassing glares.

Soon the two passed out of the range of the Iron Hills dwarfs encampment. It was here that Dwalin finally spoke again.

"Be careful cousin."

Fili realized that Dwalin still counted him as kin regardless of the banishment. It was a small comfort.

Fili had one last request. "Watch over them for me. Help Kili, please. This will be hard on him."

"I will. Be patient Fili. We'll find a way out of this." Dwalin replied surprising Fili.

Fili was out of words, out of emotion. He just nodded and began the long walk to where the humans now lived.

Chapter Text

Fili turned his neck and was rewarded with a satisfying popping sounds. The dwarf had found work yesterday in the human forge. The need for items, especially ordinary things like nails, had the place working almost all night as well as the day.

Fili had long ago shrugged out of his only shirt. The smith's apron covered enough. His long golden hair was tied back. His beautiful hair that so many dwarf lasses had admired was now pocked with burn marks and tangled. Once it held such a source of pride for Fili. The human smith, Thomas had been more than happy to hire the dwarf on. His apprentice had been killed when Smaug attacked. The wages Thomas offered were fair. Fili even had a place to rest out of the elements. He slept in the upper story of the smithy's home. Of course that home was half gone, but still more shelter than many.

Fili threw himself into the work. Every time he pounded the hot metal, he thought of what had transpired. Frustration and melancholy threatened to overwhelm him. They only thing that kept him sane was the thought that Kili would recover. His brother would join him. The two would leave and never look back. Until then, the towering shadow of the Lonely Mountain made his heart ache.

He pounded in a rhythm, the work was simple and monotonous. Fili's mind returned to the mystery of Bilbo's ring. Why had it spoken to him? When Bilbo had shyly admitted to using the ring, he never mentioned that it was dangerous. His brow furrowed. Was it some latent gold madness? The nagging feeling in his heart was that it was something far more malevolent. Could it be influencing Thorin as well?

The most disturbing thing was he had dreamt about it. The ring had called out to him. 'Find me! Together we will cure Thorin. Your brother shall be by your side. I shall become your precious and in return I will unite family to you.' But instead of a happy reunion, Fili saw Erebor burning once more. His dear companions dead or dying, mutilated beyond recognition. Yet the dark images were even worse. When Bilbo tried to remove it from his fingers, Fili had not hesitated in slicing the kind hobbit's throat. The blood had splattered across his face and he had laughed in delight. In the smoke and gore, Fili witnessed himself and Kili murder Thorin, beheaded him with twin blows. Then in sudden swift move, Fili drove his twin blades into Kili's heart. Erebor was his. More importantly, the ring would belong to him only.

Fili had woken screaming. Instantly he cried trembling at the violent images still echoing in his brain. Yet, if he bent to the will of the ring Fili was certain nightmare would become truth.

That was days ago. How he wished he could talk to Bilbo about the damned thing or unburden his heart to Kili. Bilbo had worn the thing for weeks in their imprisonment in Mirkwood. Nightmares did not seem plague the hobbit. Maybe it was due to the fact that Bilbo was one of most honorable, kind beings that he'd ever encountered. He wasn't a warrior, a killer like Fili had become. Thankfully, the images continued to fade as the siren song of the ring was fainter. Whenever it tried, Fili battled it with images of simple joys, happy memories with his friends and family. He felt the thing become frustrated and angry. As his resolve grew the ring became quieter. But he knew. The damned enchanted metal would still be there, waiting though. It was patient.

Fili tossed the nails into the water to cool. He headed for a ladle of water for himself. He drank greedily, then poured some of the cooling liquid over his torso. He had worked in forges. All dwarves did, but Fili had been well, spoiled. He was more of a warrior than a smith. However, his skill was good enough for humans.

He drank another spoonful of water.

Thomas interrupted his dark thoughts. "How are things going?" The human was only 38 but to Fili he seemed far older. The man's hair was already completely gray and he had arthritis in his wrists. Humans lived for such a short time. It was something to get used to.

"Well, the last of the nails are done." Fili informed him.

"Good. Take a break. Then start on those iron bracers." Thomas was about to leave when he returned. "I forgot. This came for you while you slept."

Fili's blue eyes lit up. He reached out for the parchment. "Thank you, Thomas."

The man nodded, curious but too polite to ask. Fili took the letter and sat down outside of the forge. He sat on a fallen log as the breeze cooled him down.

Fili was surprised to see his hands shake, but he opened the letter carefully. As he had prayed, it was from Kili.

Fili,

I am well. I have no infection and hope to try to walk again in a few days. Bilbo woke again yesterday for a short time. Oin and Norion believe that he will recover but it will be very slow.

There is no change in the King. To be honest, I avoid him and his attempts to speak with me. I cannot look at him and not feel anger. This gold madness is a curse that he can't seem to break. No one else of our company still has it.

Ori is bringing me every book he can find on our history. Yes, I'm spending my time reading and researching. Stop laughing. However, I can't find anything that will help.

The King and Dain had a huge fight, but it was settled. Dain wanted to be named The King's heir. The King would not do it and named me instead. That is so wrong, so very wrong. It should be you. I went along with it like you told me and I hated it. Dain said little about the Arkenstone and its fate. I tried to convince Thorin to take my share of the gold to the humans in trade for the stone. Unfortunately, Dain complained that it was still too much and the whole suggestion was discarded. I find myself agreeing with Gandalf about the stubbornness of dwarves.

Nori has told me that you are working at a forge. He assured me that you were alright. I hope that the humans treat you well.

Someone will be around to pick up your letter tomorrow. Nori already has several spies amongst the settlement. He is the one who will to tend to our correspondence.

Until then I pray to Mahal to keep you safe,

Yours always,

Kili

Fili reread the letter three more times before carefully folding it back up. He placed it in his back pocket. He closed his eyes and let relief flood through his aching muscles. Kili was well. Balin and now Nori were keeping their word. Bless Kili, he was doing as instructed for a change. Fili couldn't think of a better time for his little brother to finally do as ordered.

Fili rose from his wooden resting spot and returned to the forge. For the first time since arriving in Laketown, the young dwarf felt hope return to his heart.

After several days of 16 hour shifts, Thomas insisted that Fili take some time to rest. He passed out the coin the dwarf had earned. Fili wandered to the center of the make shift tent city that had risen. Already, a sense of routine, normalcy fought to be established amongst the refugees. Merchants of distant lands began to arrive. The rumor of gold flowing once more from the Lonely Mountain was a herald that could not be ignored.

Fili pulled his cloak over his features. He had no desire to speak with anyone. All he longed for was an ale and to find a comb. He had lost his in the battle. Without Kili to comb it for him, the long hair was becoming a nuisance in the forge. He wanted the tangles out, he wanted to braid his hair properly. To have some routine that made him feel like a true dwarf again.

Fili went to the makeshift cart that seemed the most likely to carry such an item.

The merchant swiftly caught Fili's attention. "What can I help you with young sir?"

Fili sighed. Thanks to his height, the humans were constantly thinking he was some child. That was until they saw the beard and the ears.

"Do you have a comb for sale?" He asked.

The merchant rubbed the stubble that he called a beard. "Hmm. I haven't had a call for that in a while. Let me check." He reached down and pulled out a small wooden box. Fili could hear objects being shuffled around. "Oh, no sorry. I only have this small brush. But it is made with boar's hair. "

Fili frowned. It was not what he desired, but it would do. "How much?"

The merchant then stated a ridiculous price which earned him a full on Durin stare from Fili. "But for you, I'll take half that."

Fili nodded. When folks realized he was a dwarf they also assumed that he was somehow loaded down with gold. The reality was he had only the coins Thomas supplied.

The coin was handed over and the brush given. Fili only nodded when the merchant bid him good day. Later, Fili would bathe and use the brush. Now he just desired an ale.

There was really only one place to have such an item. It did a constant business as people flowed in from the outer areas. The hobbled together roof managed to keep out most of the rain and wind. It had a working hearth, places to sit and drink. That was enough for the townsfolk, merchants and soldiers.

Fili hated that the damn bar was so high. However, he could still order and grab an ale. His rough, dry hands closed around the large mug. Fili found a place to sit away from others in the lopsided building.

Fili sat and drank in silence. His thoughts were in Erebor. He ordered a second when the barmaid asked. He was almost done when he was startled.

Bard had entered the bar. He recognized the lonely dwarf instantly. Grabbing his own ale, he sat down uninvited. Bard had not lived when dwarves inhabited the Lonely Mountain. His encounters with dwarves had been brief. He found them to be an incredibly proud and stubborn lot. They were more earthy and easy going than the damned elves, but overall, still a mystery.

"Hello, Fili."

Fili nodded but said nothing. He had no desire for company. Bard continued on, not willing to take the subtle hint.

"I heard that you are working at the local smith. Is that true?"

Fili nodded and took a drink.

Bard licked his lips and leaned his elbows on the table. "I also heard you'd been banished."

Fili's head shot up from his mug.

"You remaining here, isn't going to cause trouble with your Uncle is it? Because my people have enough to deal with right now." Bard had decided that since Fili had no use for small talk, neither did he. Bard was exhausted. The man was doing his best to take care of the community. Everyone looked to his lead. It was draining to be responsible for so many when half the time he had no clue what the hell he was doing.

Fili took a calming breath. Bard had no trouble with him as a person. He had made that clear before the battle.

"No. If the King desired me to move along, he would have dispatched individuals to see that I did so. The King does not makes his moves in fits and starts." Fili relayed.

Bard blew out a breath and took a drink. He shook his head. "That's good. I don't know what happened between you and your uncle."

Fili couldn't stop the laugh. "Yes, you actually do. The Arkenstone."

"You're right. I do. I was trying to be political. Instead I came off as an insincere ass. Allow me to start over."

Fili nodded and waved at Bard to continue. Bard glanced at the ceiling as a errant leaf fell between the two. "I am sorry what happened between you and your uncle."

"The King. He is no relation of mine anymore." Fili corrected.

"Very well, the King. Honestly though, I can't thank you enough for what you did."

Fili drew back in surprise. He was expecting a scolding, a warning anything but gratitude.

Bard continued, "You managed to save my people. The stone means we can rebuild our homes and families. Without it, we would be dead, scattered. Probably at the mercy of Azog."

Fili managed a smile. "You are very welcome Bard. It gives my heart comfort to see this place rebuilt."

"What I don't understand is why your uncle, I mean the King can't see.

Fili interrupted his words with a hard glare. He had no desire to share family heartbreak even with Bard who was sympathetic to him.

Bard recognized the stare he was on the receiving end of. His words trailed off. "I am sorry master dwarf. My curiosity has overwhelmed my manners. I just, well. If I can be of any service to you, don't hesitate to ask. We value the risk you took. I wish it had ended differently for you."

"Thank you Bard. I do appreciate your kindness. However, I am fine. I have employment, a place to stay, ale in my stomach. You can do naught else for me." Fili replied still formal, but his words held warmth for Bard.

Bard nodded. "Well, I must be going. Others to speak too. Please, join me in a meal soon. I would enjoy conversing with you on other matters."

Fili smiled. "I will." Bard then took his mug and left. Fili watched the human. Bard's actions had been totally unexpected, but he welcomed the news. At least somewhere Fili still had value. He felt his self confidence rise a bit and decided that today was a good one.

Fili made his way back to his little spot that he was slowly considering his. He was pleasantly surprised to find yet another letter awaiting him. Fili thanked Thomas and ran up to his loft anxious.

These letters were keeping him calm. They arrived almost daily. He swore his penmanship as well as Kili's was finally improving. Kili filled his notes with little jokes and constant updates on his progress. Fili responded with his work, his new routine. He made a point never to complain. Kili occasionally would rip off several sentences about the bastard that their uncle was now. Kili had to blow off steam somehow. Confined to a room, unable to be with Fili, this was the best that Kili could manage.

This letter though was instantly different.

Fili,

Bilbo is awake and about. He finally heard was happened. He and the King had a horrible argument about it. Who knew that the hobbit had such good aim? However, Bilbo is leaving Erebor. He refuses to remain a day longer. The king is furious as Bilbo is refusing all aid in his trip.

He means to return to the Shire alone! We both know that Bilbo needs someone to watch over him.

Mahal help me. But I think you should take him. It tears my heart to even suggest this, but we owe him a safe return to the shire. You are the only one who can do that now. He has refused my pleas to assist. Unfortunately, I fell down a flight of stairs yesterday trying to show him that I could travel. I'm fine. Stop your worry. But I am currently unable to walk. Again. Damn my clumsiness. I don't want to spend another day apart longer than necessary, but I see no other way.

Please respond tonight. Leave your letter on the log upon which you rest. It will find its way to me.

Yours always,

Kili

Fili reread the letter again. This was not what he expected. Today had been full of surprises. Fili put his hands over his face and groaned. Warring needs battled a few seconds, but he already knew his response.

Dearest Kili,

When did you become such a mature dwarf? You continue to amaze me and make me proud. You are correct of course. Our burglar hobbit, while quite industrious, still requires "help".

I will gladly take him to the shire. By the time I return you should be fully healed. Then we can reunite. That is the day that I live for. Until then, I will be of what assistance I can to our friends and family. The hobbit has become like one of us. It will take a few months, but if you are willing to wait, I will take Bilbo back to Bag's End.

Send him to the forge in town. Tell him that if he hasn't arrived by second breakfast I will track him down. Remind him who caught dinner most of the time.

I will miss our letters as they have kept my spirits high. Keep writing them. I will continue to write of our adventures. If there is some way to get them to you, I will find it.

Never forget, that I will return for you.

Love,

Fili

Chapter Text

It was still early light when Bilbo made his appearance at the forge. The hobbit stood in his new waistcoat and hood. He shuffled from foot to foot as Fili made his goodbyes to Thomas.

Bilbo could not believe that this grand adventure, the journey had ended so miserably. Of course, he had expected on some level not to succeed. Yet, Erebor was reclaimed and the dragon killed. Never in a million years would he imagine that Thorin would banish one sister-son and damn near imprison the other. The love that Thorin had held for those two lovely boys had been destroyed by the gold. Kili was a shadow of the boy he knew. All the light seemed to be gone from his eyes. He kept to his rooms, only venturing out when Thorin demanded his presence at court. Otherwise, Kili read all the old books he could find. It was very odd indeed. Kili mourned his brother's lost presence every second he was awake.

Bilbo had been aghast when he realized what Thorin had done. At first he believed it to be a fever induced nightmare. When the truth of the banishment hit the hobbit, he unleashed his anger at Thorin.

That had been an evening to remember. Thorin had yelled, but Bilbo found the Took in him and returned the shouting match in spades. Bilbo was ashamed at the amount of crockery that had been demolished that night.

It ended with Bilbo's decision to leave immediately. Of course Kili had decided to go with the hobbit. But that plan was abruptly halted when the lad misstep on a flight of stairs and tumbled down. Bilbo still remembered the shame and heartbreak that etched itself on Kili's features. However, it was that young lad that then decreed that Fili would be the next logical choice to accompany the hobbit.

Bilbo understood what a gift Kili was offering him. It would delay the two in being reunited by months. However, Bilbo had no illusions that he would not get back to the Shire without help. Especially now he was now without his ring as well. Part of him looked forward to asking Fili about his actions. Why did he bury his ring on that battlefield? It made little sense to the hobbit and he longed to hold it once more. However, a part of him was actually quite pleased. It was as if some weight no longer held him down.

Thomas waved goodbye to the Fili who now walked to Bilbo's side.

"Anyone else to say goodbye too?"

"No. Did you bring any money or treasure?" Fili hated to ask. His remaining coins would buy them few supplies and no ponies.

Bilbo tugged at his waistcoat. "Uh, yes, some. Kili said we would be needed it."

Fili smiled. Kili's ability to foresee problems was growing immensely. "He was right. Let's get to the market. We will find what we can and get on the road."

"The sooner we leave, the sooner you return for Kili." Bilbo reasoned. He joined Fili in his quick pace.

Fili let out a small laugh. "Yes. Now tell me all about Kili and be honest. He is much too cheerful in his letters."

Bilbo shrugged. No use in lying. "He misses you. It is as if he is no longer whole."

"I know. I feel the same. I had no idea how dependant we are on each other until those first few nights," Fili admitted. "Every day is a struggle not to march up that gate and demand him back."

"That's why I wonder about you being my company to the shire. It will take you a few months to get there and back. Kili will be healed in a month." Bilbo admitted. No matter how badly he wanted Fili's company, he wanted the two brothers to be together once more.

"Because Kili and I count you as kin for whatever that is worth now a days. We will not have you out there alone. Plus I lost your ring." Fili admitted sheepishly.

"It is worth more than any treasure to hear you say this. As for the ring, do not think of it again. It was meant to leave me I think. Its usefulness was fulfilled when Azog died."

Fili smiled at Bilbo. He felt the most himself in these few moments with the hobbit than he had in all the time since he'd been banished. "I appreciate your forgiveness."

"Well, you really have nothing to ask forgiveness of. If you and Kili hadn't found me, I would have bleed to death. That is not a fate I desire."

"Nor I." Fili rested his arm on Bilbo's shoulder. They were at the market. The matter of the ring was dropped. Bilbo showed just a tiny bit how much treasure Kili and the others had stored in the hobbits clothes and things. Fili laughed. "Never doubt that you are well loved, Master Hobbit."

Fili took a small gem and wandered to the horse stalls. As Bilbo watched him fade into the crowd, he couldn't help but mutter, "As are you, Fili."

Chapter Text

Kili had watched the sun rise from the ledge of his only window. Out there in the morning mist Bilbo would be meeting up with his brother. He was so incredibly frustrated. None of the books Ori had found had given him a clue how to help Thorin.

To cope Kili had separated Thorin into two people. One was his Uncle, the dwarf that he loved. The other was The King, a being more consumed with treasure than his family, friends or people. Kili had no problem anymore keeping the two distinct. The new king wore the finest gems and clothes. His arrogance and haughty mindset was thousands of leagues away from the dwarf that had raised Fili and he. The new King had no love for Kili. Kili had only hatred for The King. The King had locked his uncle away upon their return to Erebor. Only Kili had no way to free his uncle.

"Damn it all." He muttered. A soft knock on his door stopped his whispers. Bofur and Nori walked inside.

"Is Bilbo gone? Did he met up with Fili?" Kili demanded.

"Yes. It went smoothly." Bofur replied quietly. Even with all of his new found wealth, the kind dwarf still wore that ridiculous hat. "Here let me help you." Bofur made to offer Kili his crutches.

"I'm fine." Kili declared. He swung his torso back away from the window. Kili half tumbled, half groped his way to his bed.

Bofur and Nori watched him silently. The youngest of their company was adamant about not accepting help for his wounds. Kili kept his hair pulled into a ponytail. The lad had no braids at all in the dark locks. He refused all beads from his family and friends. Fili would be the first to braid his hair. He would accept no other. At least the shadow of his "beard" was back.

"The King drank the sleeping draught?" Kili grunted out in pain as he settled into the bed. All the books he'd been reading gave him a new found knowledge in potions and medicines. He'd put that new information to use last night.

Nori nodded. He would not say it out loud.

"Good. They will need all the extra time they can manage before the King realizes Bilbo is missing. Has word been sent to Rivendale?"

Nori nodded once more. Bofur answered for him, "Your letter left with the dawn."

Bofur moved to sit beside the despondent dwarf. Kili had become someone that they barely recognized. The lad was dark, sullen. He refused to speak Thorin's name. He only referred to him as King, sometimes much worse. He constantly kept to himself. The majority of his interactions were with Ori or Nori. The company had hoped once Bilbo was about, he would be able to rouse Kili from his deep depression. Reinjuring his healing legs had doused any light in those dark eyes. The only things keeping Kili going was the promise of being reunited with Fili or finding a cure for Thorin.

Bofur once more tried to speak to his young friend. "Kili. You will see him again."

Kili sighed, "I know. Until then, I am in hell."

Bofur laid a gentle hand on Kili's shoulder, "You can't keep doing this laddie. You have to get out of your rooms. You must watch your tongue about the King as well. Your actions are bordering on treason."

"It is nothing less than the King deserves," Kili growled.

Nori took in a deep breath. Already there was mutterings of how unstable the Durins were. Some of the Iron Hills dwarves were openly discussing how the Durins had all gone insane in their quest for Erebor. Many spoke that Dain would be a more fitting ruler. Nori finally spoke. "Thorin must be cured of this madness and soon. Or else others may attempt to fix the problem for us."

At this Kili's eyes narrowed. "Speak Master Spy. Who is plotting against the King?"

Nori rubbed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. "There are those who wish Dain had been named King."

"Well, to hell with them." Kili growled crossing his arms across his chest. "The Iron Hills clan was nowhere to be found when we started this journey. They damn near did not make it to the battle against Azog in time. They have no right, none, to Erebor."

Bofur patted Kili on the back. A part of the older dwarf was glad to see that Kili still had some pride in being a Durin.

Kili looked up at Nori's face. "Why tell me though? Is it because you think that I would join them?"

Nori nodded negatively. "Not even with all the anger that you currently have toward your uncle."

Kili leaned over placing his hands over his face. He thought furiously for a second. The two elder dwarves stared at each other in the uncomfortable silence wondering what they should say.

Nori was about to speak when Kili straightened. "You're afraid to tell Thorin. That's it. Bloody Hell." He looked between the two of them. "You're afraid he'll start another war."

Bofur nodded. "Aye. Thorin is ..."

Nori finished for Bofur when the appropriate words were at a loss for the dwarf. "Unstable. When he learns Bilbo has left, there will be even more accusations I'm certain."

"What would you have me do? The King will not listen to me." Kili waved a hand towards his uncle's room.

"You must stop your sulking. The Heir of Erebor must be seen and heard as a strong, stable dwarf. Not some child sulking in his rooms." Nori told Kili.

Kili set his jaw. "My brother, the true heir, was banished."

"We know this. But do you wish for Dain to sit on the throne? Do you want another war? Fili would not want any of this to pass."

Kili leaned against the wall. He rubbed his hands through his short wavy hair. "Fili is on his way to the shire with Bilbo. I should be with him."

"Then you don't care," Nori pressed the youngster. Someone had to rattle the young one's self imposed cage.

"I do. Dammit. I do. But I'm not strong enough, I'm not smart enough. Not without Fili."

Bofur sighed. " I think Fili would be the first to disagree with you. You've grown up so much in this last year. You value yourself too little."

Nori nodded. "Bofur's right. You're not a child anymore. You've done things that most can only imagine. You brought the Mirkwood Elves, those tree shagging bastards to our aid. You are the only one who can do this."

Kili looked up to the ceiling. He didn't feel like an adult. He didn't feel like a hero or a heir. He just felt lost and alone. He closed his eyes and thought of Fili. What would he want? When Thorin was returned to them, he would want Erebor safe and whole, not under the control of Dain.

The two waited in silence wondering what the youngest Durin would decide.

"Fine. I'd do it. I'll leave my rooms. Become the "prince" that is expected of me." Kili prayed that he just made the right decision.

Nori nodded. Bofur clapped Kili's back. "That's good news. We will speak with Balin. He will get you into the formal decision making. Mahal knows that a strong hand is needed out there. Thorin has relied on Balin too long as his representative while he plays with his gold." Bofur stood up and the two made to leave. "I'll have him come by."

Kili shook his head, "Wait, I'm not done. I want to know who is doing these whispers."

Nori of course, supplied the information, "It is mostly some of the borrowed workers from the Iron Hills, a few of the soldiers lent to us by Dain. I believe that Dain has sent people to test the waters."

Kili's brow furrowed in thought, "How soon before more of our people arrive in caravans?"

"A couple of weeks at most. The weather has slowed them down." This time it was Bofur who responded.

Kili nodded. "As soon as they arrive, we send Dain's people back. Make some excuse of limited supplies or shelter. In the meanwhile, we keep a lid on Thorin's outbursts. I'll need to speak to the council, establish some authority. We also get more people working on finding a cure for this gold madness. Send word everywhere you can think of that Gandalf is needed here. That grey wizard comes and goes as he pleases, not as he is needed. I want him working on a cure."

Kili looked at the two who seemed suddenly surprised at just how take charge the reluctant dwarf had been. "Nori, if any of these whispers get out of line, attempt anything, you tell me. I will deal with it. Who else is with us?"

Bofur sighed. "Well, everyone in the company knows .

Kili stared at Bofur, "That's not what I asked. Who is with us? "

"Everyone ." Bofur and Nori responded together.

"Even Dwalin?" Kili was well aware the type of friendship the two shield-brothers had forged in the long decades. Dwalin would be the last person in Middle Earth to oppose Thorin.

Nori gave Kili the answer he sought, "Yes, the dwarf he swore allegiance too is gone."

Kili nodded. If even Dwalin agreed, then what he was about to do was not treason against Thorin, it was only treason against the King. He felt sick to his stomach. Nothing in life had prepared him for this. Fili gone. His uncle crazed. Now here he was attempting to rule a kingdom from behind the scenes. With all of his kinsmen and friends helping him as he made the foolish attempt. Curse the Arkenstone and all the gold in this mountain. He'd give it all up just to be back in Ered Luin with Fili with his uncle.

"What about Bilbo's leaving?" Bofur worried out loud.

Kili sighed, "I'll handle that. Tell Balin that the King will not be having court today. The King will be falling ill. I will be presiding this afternoon."

The two dwarves looked at each other in mild alarm.

Kili's frown did not help. "Look, you asked me to take charge. I am. Until Fili returns or we cure Thorin, I will play my role."

The two nodded and realized that they were being dismissed. However, Nori lingered at the door as Kili continued to sit lost in thought.

"If Thorin is still lost to the illness, what will you do when Fili returns?" Nori asked. He had to know. The master spy had to be able to plan for the eventuality.

The answer he received was not what he expected.

"That will be Fili's decision. If he decides to rule Erebor, then I will support him whole heartedly. If he decides to let the King rot and leave, then I go with him. I will help maintain this kingdom only with the hopes that my uncle can somehow be cured or if Fili chooses to rule. Otherwise it can go to Dain. There will be no war between our kind if I can prevent it."

Nori gave his new king a bow of respect and took his leave.

Chapter Text

Fili was pleasantly surprised once he and the hobbit left Laketown. Being on the trail and away from the people seemed to leach away some of his shame. He managed to laugh at the sight of Bilbo stiffly holding the reins of his pony. It reminded him of the day the hobbit had joined the company.

"She's no Myrtle, but I was assured she was a gentle, hardworking pony," Fili told his friend.

Bilbo screwed his face up. "No offense , but Clover smells. She keeps farting and well, shall I say, leaving a trail behind her."

Fili laughed again, "That's why I'm riding to your side. She's just been grazing on the wrong kind of grasses. There isn't much around the town currently."

"So you're saying it will get better?" Bilbo's huge hobbit eyes were full of hope.

He nodded, "Most certainly."

"It's good to hear your laughter. In those days I waited to heal, I heard precious little of it," Bilbo admitted then instantly regretted the words.

Fili's golden head turned to his friend. "So the truth finally comes out. Kili cannot lie to me in person, but I fear he has become all too gifted in his letters."

Bilbo's mouth grew thin. "Kili misses you terribly. Thorin, well, he is not himself. He is angry all the time. The two of them have had such horrible shouting matches. I think Kili is deliberately provoking him to have himself cast out."

Fili's eyes narrowed, "That is not what I told Kili to do."

"I can't say for sure. He always backs down to Thorin at the end however." Bilbo relaxed some of his stiff hold. "I think, that." Bilbo trailed off.

Fili though knew that the hobbit was terribly heartbroken at the change in Thorin as much as he and Kili. "I would know what is on your mind my friend, please."

Bilbo gave Fili a tender glance. "Kili provokes him so to see signs of the dwarf we all love."

Fili looked up and back toward the Lonely Mountain. He wished so much to ride back there and set everything right. "Yes, that sounds like Kili. Thorin was the only father Kili has ever known. To have Thorin treat him so, it must be tearing him apart. I should be there, sharing the burden."

Bilbo shook his shaggy head, "Maybe I should go on my own. You should stay and try to help Thorin and Kili."

Fili grew alarmed, "No, Bilbo, I did not mean to say I would not escort you."

Bilbo waved his hand, "Oh, I take no offense Fili. Your family should come first."

"You are family."

Bilbo's eyes grew huge and he looked startled. "Really, even now? Not that I'm not grateful, but with everything..."

Fili interrupted, "You tried to talk sense into Thorin before anyone else. You stood your ground against all the evil we faced. Then you stood for what was right against the ones you love. You have a courage that is as great as any dwarf I have ever met. You have done all this for my family, our cause. " Fili struck out a hand, "You honor us by considering yourself kin."

Bilbo felt tears threaten as he held the blonde's hand, "Oh, my boy, you have no idea what you and Kili mean to this old lonely hobbit. I was so very alone until you and those pantry raiding, dish throwing dwarves of yours entered my life. Now I have known true friendship. Never in all the days I have left will I regret signing that contract and joining your quest."

Fili nodded and the two broke apart their hands. They rode on for quite a long time in silence. Their minds were lost to memory and regret, but at least they had hope and each other.

Gloin helped Kili settle into his chair in their meeting chambers. The company was still clinging to the camaraderie they had shared during the journey. This room was their respite against all the new demands that Erebor gave them.

Kili soon found himself with an ale provide by Dori in one hand. In the other Ori handed him another old book.

Ori's smile was bright. "I found this today. It's ancient, some of it in old dwarvish, but it might be our best bet yet."

Kili gave him a slight smile. Ori absolutely loved being relied upon so much. Kili could empathize. He wished for the same with Thorin.

"Great job, Ori. Thank you. I will read this in my chambers tonight." Kili was determined to always show appreciation to those around him. He would not have them wondering whether they were valued. He would not make that mistake.

Ori's smile was even wider. "I will keep looking of course."

"I have no doubt that you will continue until we have found a cure."

Ori nodded. Kili took a drink as Balin sat down heavily beside him. Dori handed him his own stein.

"Kili, you did well today." Balin nodded at the youngest Durin then wiped the foam off his lips. "You settled many questions that have lingered for far too long. I believe we will be making progress from now on."

"Or until Thorin decides to return to court." Nori grumbled.

Dwalin squinted his eyes at the red head, but said nothing. If Nori noticed, he did not stop his next comments. "We have to make this a more permanent arrangement."

"Until Thorin is healed." Dwalin added.

Kili raised his voice sensing the tension between the two, "Until my Uncle is healed. I have no desire to continue this beyond necessary."

Balin turned to Kili, "Nori has a point. We must come up with a logical reason for Thorin to be absent for more than a few days."

Gloin stroked his long beard, "Wouldn't illness be good enough an excuse? We keep Thorin happy in the treasury. He would seldom leave that blasted room."

Balin leaned back into his chair, "It will be enough for a week or two, beyond that no."

Bofur added, "Its not our fold that causes me concern. We will accept Kili as our leader, it is the others."

Nori sat down beside Dori who had finally grabbed his own ale. "Dain's men. They must be dealt with quickly."

"But diplomatically. We can't just shoo them out of Erebor when their skills are still clearly needed," Balin finished.

Kili slouched now in his chair. Thorin's spot remained empty teasing him of the presence they all missed. His fingers rubbed his red eyes then swiped his loose dark hair aside. He wore the royal colors of the line of Durin with pride his entire life. Until these last few weeks it had never been such a burden. In his silence the others exchanged words. Wild suggestions and concerns flew about the room, but no consensus was found. Even here, Thorin's strong presence was needed. Kili thought, I am a poor substitute. But they would have to make do with his inexperience. Because Kili was here and he cared about matters other than gold. Fili, I need you.

Kili closed his eyes and thought. Thror his great grandfather had succumbed to the gold lust as well. However, the kingdom had functioned in spite of this.

"Balin, what did my uncle do when Thror had this damned affliction?" Kili's voice was soft but all other conversation ended.

Balin took a deep breath and tried to remember. "I was more of a warrior and friend to Thorin at that time. However, Thror still attended all the formal ceremonies. It was just taken for granted that Thrain or Thorin dealt with the grittier details. The knowledge that the line of Durin was strong was enough for the people."

Dwalin nodded in agreement. "Aye. Thorin did more than most realized. The sickness that ate at his grandfather tore at his heart."

Kili opened his eyes, "Well, I shall be very visible and involved. Dain's people will see that the line of Durin remains strong. Thorin named me his heir, I shall show them that I am not to be trifled with. Nori, do what is necessary to make certain we have the information needed to stay one step ahead of Dain and any others who would take Erebor from us. We didn't go through hell to let some outsiders take what is rightfully ours."

Nori smiled, he was beginning to sense that Kili was a more kindred spirit than he had ever let on. "As you wish my Lord. I must beg pardon and leave this gathering. There are things I must set in motion."

"Report to me with new developments, spin your web around our guests." Kili ordered, "Gloin, Bombur, make certain that Thorin has everything he needs to be content. He is only to be disturbed by a member of the company, naught else."

Balin looked to his young prince. Kili had grown up rapidly, much like his kinsman Thorin. Never before had Balin seen how closely the two were alike until this moment. Kili drained his cup and set it down on the table. Immediately, Dori rose to fill it once more. Bomfur sat a plate of food in front of the young prince.

Kili wasn't really hungry, but he knew he had to eat. Besides, Bomfur really was a great cook and he had no desire to insult his friend by not eating. The group turned to their own meals and conversation broke into small groups.

Kili just ate. Oh, how much did he miss Fili right now. Meals were a special time of inside jokes and laughter. Their way to unwind from whatever the tasks of the day they had performed. It would relax Kili and get him to begin to wind down enough to sleep later. Without Fili, Kili felt so tightly wound up inside himself that one unguarded moment would lead to him bursting. Kili could not, would not allow that to happen, not with the citizens of Erebor counting on him and especially with his Uncle so ill.

Chapter Text

Days passed on the trail. Fili would not lead Bilbo through Mirkwood. He had no desire to see the dark, depressing forest again. To be honest, he had also developed a little bit of arachnophobia. Those nasty eight legged talking freaks gave him nightmares still. However, the largest concern to Fili was his anger toward Thranduil. He could be friends with Legolas, but his father, he wanted to gut. His behavior with his little brother was something not to be endured, but revenged.

Bilbo would entertain him with tales about the shire. Fili would return with stories about he and Kili and growing up in the Blue Mountains. He would lose himself in the memories. It was a futile attempt to fill the hole he had in his heart. Since he'd been parted with Kili, Fili did all the motions, but it was so hollow. A part of him knew this wasn't normal, not even for brothers to be so close. Normal, though, was for others, not he and Kili.

Bilbo did his best to cheer the young dwarf up. He was amazed in many respects that Fili seemed to handle the separation better than Kili. Yet, the hobbit realized that while Kili would shout and fret, Fili just buried it all inside. Bilbo didn't know which of the two methods was better at coping. In the end he guessed Fili, for that is the method he chose as well.

The topic of the ring was a different matter. As the distance grew between it and Fili, the young dwarf had no desire to speak of it. In fact he wanted to banish it from his memory.

Bilbo could not stop himself from asking, "Why? Why did you bury it?"

Fili frowned, "It was evil. It spoke to me in whispers. It offered me all that I wished, but it was tainted. Did you ever feel that as well?"

Bilbo leaned back into his pony. He couldn't stop the long sigh. "I did. During those long days in Mirkwood. I wanted to take the thing off so many times. But I was too scared to be found by the elves."

Fili looked at his companion. "You are a much stouter fellow than I. I could not bear to touch it for more than an instant."

Bilbo looked confused, "It did not have the same ill effects, that is true. But I don't doubt that the thing had a will all its own. It was magic. Something I don't begin to understand. Nor do I want too. I will be a respectable Hobbit from now on."

Fili snickered, "I think its too late for that. We have totally ruined you."

Bilbo shrugged, "Well, you are probably right. But no more magic. None. Unless it involves food. Or warm beds. Safety is also nice."

"You are a hobbit that knows his own mind," Fili gently teased.

"Yes, indeed," Bilbo returned. He did set up straighter as he rode Clover however.

Fili watched the Mirkwood forest passing toward their right. Its edges were so close. He felt many times elven eyes were noting their journey.

The two travelers were surprised one day to see signs of many dwarves marching toward them. It was one of the first caravans of Erebor dwarfs. No longer outcasts their weary steps were lightened with the thought of coming home.

Fili turned to Bilbo, "We are merchants returning to our home." His companion nodded his understanding.

Fili spurred his pony to the dwarf leading the group. Bilbo followed at a respectable distance.

The leader was thankfully, someone Fili did not recognize. Hopefully, Fili would be able to maintain his anonymity.

"Greetings, I am Dondi." Fili called out.

"Hail to thee, I am Klud son of Knurid. We travel to Erebor. Do you have news of the journey ahead?'

"Aye. The trail lays true. Erebor is in need of its sons and daughters. The goblins and orcs have scattered. However, a trusty watch is still needed to guard against stragglers."

Klud smiled, his long grey beard was truly impressive. He signaled in Inglesmek to his companions.

Two dwarves walked up beside the man. One was clearly the dwarf's son. The other was closer in age to Klud. Klud's son held his axe to side. He was not as trusting as his father.

"What was your business in Erebor? Is it true that Thorin is welcoming all the Longbeards back ?" the youngest asked.

He received a harsh glare from his father. "Forgive my son's rudeness," he growled.

"Greetings, I am Gruin, son of Klud." He dipped his head slightly.

"Dondi, at your service. This is my companion, Master Hairyfoot of Bree. We are merchants seeking to relocate our stores to Erebor. The King under the Mountain has called for the Longbeards to return." Fili gave a smile, at least in this Thorin had remained true.

Bilbo tried not glare at Fili's ridiculous name for him. Instead he plastered a fake smile, but internally he promised revenge.

Fili looked out upon the plain. Several covered wagons, many ponies, and more than 30 families seemed to be part of this group. It made him happy to see so many return, especially the glimpse of curious dwarfling heads. Children were the truest jewel of the dwarves, far more precious than the rarest stone.

Klud nodded, "Aye a fresh start for us, but I must admit, I'd never thought a hobbit would be drawn toward our people or our cities."

Bilbo chose that moment to speak, "We hobbits love our food and furniture. There will be much need for those commodities in the families seeking their new homes."

Klud stroked his beard, "Ye are quite right. We will make camp soon. Master Dondi and Master Hairyfoot you are welcome to join us at our fires tonight."

Fili bowed his head, "We thank you for your courtesy, we would be honored." The three returned to their own friends to tell them of their guests.

Bilbo led his pony toward Fili's. "Master Hairyfoot? Is that the best you could do?"

Fili shrugged, a small smile played at his lips, "My apologies, I thought you hobbit's were proud of your furry feet."

Bilbo whispered loudly, "We are. It's just a name that's so, so ridiculous. I can't believe even dwarves would believe it."

Fili laughed, "Perhaps you'd prefer Master Proudfeet instead, or maybe Baretoes?"

Bilbo rolled his eyes, "Brandywine or

"Honeymead?" Fili interrupted.

"Ahh, you are as maddening without Kili, I would not have thought it possible." Bilbo grumbled.

Fili pulled up short and the smile dropped from his face. Bilbo's statement felt wrong. "Never doubt that I miss my brother." Fili then spurred his pony on leaving the suddenly miserable hobbit behind.

"Ugh," he grunted and slapped his hands against his head. He had spoken without thinking. Unfortunately, he had just undone several days of encouragement with Fili.

Thorin sat alone in his treasury. Surely this must be the most beautiful place in all of Middle Earth! The gold coins were stacked in towers as high as the pillars. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires all gleamed in the torch light. The rainbows dance with the fire and held his gaze. His fingers ran over the lovely wrought sculptures of fine metals. How could anyone resist the call of this place?

However, he sat heavily in the large leather chair that had been brought to him. Sometimes, though he knew something vital was missing. Thorin had searched repeatedly. He had memorized all the mounds of treasure, but he could not find what he needed.

It wasn't gold. It wasn't jewels. Nor was it food or ale. All this was provided for here. It was something else far more important, like air, necessary for life.

Thorin glanced around the quiet room. He missed noise. The sound of two rambunctious boys. Their wild stories and crazy pranks were always so loud and alive. There was more. An amazing hobbit, full of all the goodness that Middle Earth could provide. Friends and family. Trust, honor and love.

Thorin felt the headache slam into his body. It was crushing. He fell out of his chair onto the cold marble. Memories of a life well lived, a dwarf who had respect, honor and family flooded his mind. They battled with the cold greedy hunger that burned in his gut. The dwarf tried to hold onto those thoughts. But the pain drove those precious thoughts away like butterflies scattered in the wind. Thorin cried out but there was no one to hear him. In the agony Thorin passed out.

Chapter Text

Bilbo was frustrated. Fili had lost most of his cheerfulness around the hobbit. He was cordial enough to their guests. However, Bilbo had lived with Fili long enough to know that the youngster had pulled deep within himself. All those days of careful discussion wasted. Bilbo had to apologize.

Fili wasn't cooperating. He had avoided direct contact with Bilbo. Oh, the responsible brother kept Bilbo in his sight constantly. Close interaction with him was out of the question now. Bilbo poked at the fire he sat near. Fili was definitely Thorin's nephew. His little stunt had brought out all those madding, stubborn, prideful traits that infuriated and infatuated Bilbo with Thorin.

The dwarves of this caravan were friendly but they kept a very polite distance from Bilbo. He could feel their stares into his back. While it would be very pleasant to have others nearby in the night, Bilbo preferred that they had never met the caravan.

Fili watched Bilbo at his lonely fire. He sat with Klud's family and friends several yards away. Many dwarves had passed by eager to hear of their destination. Fili answered all their questions with a quiet politeness until Klud waved them away for some rest.

Fili was mostly lost inside of his own head. Part of Fili felt like the biggest ass in the world. Another part was scared. 'Was he really able to laugh and be normal without Kili?' He did not want to be. It was not right. Especially when he knew that Kili was absolutely miserable. Fili felt like he'd betrayed Kili, but that was stupid right?

"Master Dondi, would you care for more stew?" asked Fiona. She was Klud's daughter. She was a lovely dwarfling, into what humans called the teens. Her blonde hair was curly and her beard was growing in nicely. If Kili had been here, the two would have been strutting around like peacocks trying to catch her fancy.

Fili looked up from his bowl. It was empty. He had mastered the skill of eating mechanically many weeks ago. "Uh, no thank you. It was very good though."

Fiona gave him an odd smile. It wasn't often a dwarf turned down food. She placed the ladle down. She sat down on a lovely quilt that had been stitched with great skill. Fili had not believed it was what the family used so commonly for the ground.

"Your quilt is very nice." Fili commented. He wanted to be distracted from his thoughts.

Fiona smiled, "Thank you. My mother is the best seamstress. She is teaching me as well. Someday, I hope to make my own designs in cloth. Incorporate jewels, even fine metals. Bright, brilliant colors of the summer will be in my clothes. I want to dazzle princes and kings with my fabrics." She stopped immediately embarrassed at how much she had prattled on. "Please excuse me."

Fili held out a hand. "None are required. I have hopes and dreams as well. It is good to see your own path in this world."

Fiona drew her knees up and hugged them around her green skirt. "You are very kind. Most of the time, I am told I will make a good wife, but as much as I want that, I want more."

Gruin chose that exact moment to rudely barge in between the two and sit down. He had seen his sister talking to the stranger and had not liked it one second. They knew nothing about this smooth talking "merchant". Gruin did not believe his tale.

"I'm hungry," he announced and gave Fiona a glare.

Fili bit his lip and turned away amused. He knew a protective brother when he saw one.

Fiona reacted as much as any spirited female dwarf would. "There is the kettle. Help yourself."

Gruin grunted, "I need a bowl. Fetch me one from the wagon."

Fili returned Gruin's glare with passive curiosity. He wondered if the youngster was always this bossy.

Fiona jumped up from her quilt. "Fetch! What am I? Our dog? Oi, you rascal!" She grabbed the metal ladle and began to whack Gruin about the head.

"Fiona, quit! Are you crazy? We have a guest." Gruin yelled. He put his arms up in defense.

"One that you have just embarrassed me in front of!"

A sharp voice stopped the siblings antics. Klud stepped forward. "Stop this at once. Remember your manners both of you. You have Master Dondi thinking we are wild dwarves not fit for the halls of Erebor. Both of you help your mother. Go."

The two glared at one another. Gruin made a face at Fiona. She returned it with a too sweet smile indicating further trouble to come.

"Good evening." She stopped to say at Fili before hurrying off.

A pang of melancholy shot through Fili. This whole situation was rather like many an embarrassing moment with his uncle and Kili. He masked it quickly, "It's fine. I believe Gruin just wanted to ensure his sister's honor."

Kind took Fiona's place on the blanket. He pulled out his pipe and began to light it.

"You are very kind, Master Dondi. Gruin is a good lad, high spirited. Fiona is much the same."

Fili pulled out his own pipe. The two made more small talk. Soon though, Fili decided that he should make his way to Bilbo. He owed the hobbit an apology.

Bilbo had been distracted a bit when Fiona had begun whacking her brother with the spoon. Absently he wondered what role Fili had in the outburst. He felt very alone and inched closer to the fire. The hobbit was wondering if Fili's anger was so great that he would not bed down with him.

Bilbo scratched his neck and stared out into the darkness. Their fire was on the edge of the caravan, but still close by. However, he could not shake the feeling he was being watched. It was very unnerving. If Fili didn't return soon, he'd march right over and sit beside him. Not that he was scared or anything.

Fili felt it then too. Something was wrong. Too many nights of watch had ingrained a wariness in him. Fili stood up startling Klud.

"Put your people on alert. Something unfriendly is out there." Fili ordered. He dropped his pipe and began a hurried walk over to his friend. His hands reaching for his swords out of reflex.

Klud stood up. For a second he did nothing. The change in the merchant had been stunning. He yelled for his friend, "Fundri," but the rest of his words died in his throat.

Wargs. Three of the nasty, starved beasts were making a daring attack on the lone hobbit. The largest was making a bee line for the startled halfling.

Fili shouted in alarm as he broke into a flat out run.

Bilbo had his back to the tall grasses of the plains and the edge of the forest. His gaze had been on his friend. His mind was on how to make amends.

It was the smell that grabbed his full attention. The stench of something not quite belonging in the natural world. Full of decay, death, the smell of the wargs was impossible to understand unless one encountered the beasts.

Bilbo wanted to gag even as he stood up hurriedly. Panic filled his senses. Flashes of that terrible night, Thorin charging the Pale Orc. Leaping teeth and claws, death from below, fire all around.

Bilbo shouted in alarm. He drew Sting and began to backpedal towards the caravan and to Fili.

"NOOOO!" Fili screamed. He needed Kili, his arrows. He'd never make it to Bilbo in time.

Bilbo stumbled. It saved his life. The leader sailed over the prone hobbit, kicking up grass and dirt. Its two companions started to dart into their prey when shouts and new target made itself aware in their consciousness.

An axe shot through the darkness. It embedded in the smallest warg, the one about to leap onto Bilbo next.

It howled in pain and stopped its attack. It began to shake its head back and forth in a vain attempt to dislodge the axe.

The pack leader found its footing. Righting himself, it sought to cut down the small one and retreat to the safety of the darkness. Before it could pick up speed to launch an attack, he swiveled. New predator, not prey caught his yellow eyes. The warg turned to face off this threat.

Fili screamed curses in Khuzdul. He jabbed at the creature trying to engage the monster to come closer. The warg's growl made his hair stand on end. He did not waver.

"Come get me you bastard." The warg darted closer, reaching out with claw and fang.

Fili dodged and rolled underneath the attacks. Finally he heard the sound of other dwarves joining the battle. The pack leader sensed that his advantage was fading. The warg was infuriated. Easy prey had become death and fire. In its anger it leapt out at the yellow prey.

Fili had been waiting for this moment. He easily dodged the leap. Instead he twisted and jumped onto the back of the horrible beast. He drove both blades as deeply as strength would allow. Blood squirted up into his face and eyes. His hits were critical. Fili wrenched the blades free twisting as he did so. He couldn't waste another precious second. There was another warg.

Bilbo had scrambled upright. He saw Fili in a mad dance with one warg. But the third was about to leap at the hobbit's throat.

But hobbits are quicker than they look. Bilbo scrambled away as the beast leapt by. He scrambled toward the fire. Wargs hated the heat, the light. Bilbo grabbed a burning branch and brandished it against the beast. It shrank back, trying to quickly decide on a more prudent attack away from the burning heat.

Bilbo shouted, "Go, leave us foul beast." It wasn't as impressive as a dwarf battle cry, but it was very impressive for a hobbit.

To his relief his shouts were joined by others. The dwarves of the caravan finally arrived.

The pack leader was finished off in a flurry of pick axes and war hammers. The other warg was similarly deposed.

Fili reached Bilbo's side. In an instant the hobbit was swept behind the dwarf as he rushed to face off with warg.

The warg had not survived this long by being stupid. It took a quick glance at his prey, at the predator guarding it. Other noisy, hairy beasts were aiding them. It was time to leave.

Fili was surprised to see the warg suddenly break off the attack. Instead it darted back into the tall prairie grasses that it had sprung from. The beast was conceding the battle.

"Are you alright?" Fili shouted as others ran by giving chase to the beast.

Bilbo was a dirty mess, his hair was covered in dead grass. He gave Fili an expression of both fear and relief. He nodded.

Fili felt overwhelmed. He had nearly lost another member of his family. He reached and grabbed the hobbit by the scruff of his neck. He gently pulled Bilbo forward until their foreheads touched.

"I'm so sorry." He breathed out. Fili longed to stop Bilbo from his trembling.

"It's okay, Fili. I'm alright." Bilbo reached out and hugged the young dwarf.

The two stayed like that for moment. The shouts of the others, their frenzy lost to a type of haze.

It was Klud who broke them out of the spell.

"My lord, the other beast is dead."

Fili let Bilbo go. The two looked at the elder. Klud was looking at Fili with something resembling awe.

Klud explained, "We've heard some stories as we have travelled. The tales of Thorin and his nephews have made us a proud people once more. I did not understand who you must be until I saw you in action. You are Fili, Thorin's heir."

"You have found me out. I thank you for your assistance in killing the wargs." Fili straightened. He was every inch a Durin Prince in that instant. Bilbo felt pride.

Klud bowed, "It is we who are in your debt my Lord, we are not soldiers. Those beasts would have caused much misery amongst our people. You killed two before we were even able to react."

Fili smiled, "I've had lots of practice. Please though, keep your knowledge to yourself."

"As you wish, but we would hail you for your victories. We have much to thank you for. Your quest has giving us back Erebor. We fed you with stew. I must seem the most ungrateful dwarf in the world."

"No, banish that from your mind. Your hospitality was genuine. We will however, move our fire much closer to the main group."

Bilbo nodded very vigorously. His finger pointed at the heart of the camp. "Yes, I think, right over there. Much too much excitement tonight."

Fili let out a deep breath. He placed a hand on Bilbo, "I have to agree."

Chapter Text

More than a week had passed since Kili had assumed his role as Prince. Thorin had only been seen twice by others not in the company. A few whispers were beginning amongst the Erebor dwarves. However, they stayed extremely busy with the tasks Kili had assigned to them. Under Balin's careful eye Kili had managed to get the recovery of Erebor's mines and dwellings fully started.

None of it was easy to Kili. He had become rather glad he had spent a great of his convalescent reading about Erebor's history. It had prepared him better for these grueling days. In the past, he would have sheepishly admitted to being bored out of his mind when Balin had taught Fili and he. Now, he required every scrap of information just to keep his head in the game. When he wasn't in court, Kili found himself in meeting after meeting. Then it was more reading in his chambers. At least all this sitting meant his legs were healing. It was one of few benefits.

During this time Kili grew to appreciate just how much Thorin had handled in their exile. True, he'd always looked up to his uncle. But he had never really understood just how much Thorin had kept their people healthy, prosperous and in relative safety. He was ashamed to remember that he once thought Thorin stingy with his time with family. The young dwarf knew better now.

Kili was exhausted. The dark circles under his eyes made him look even more like his uncle. He rarely smiled anymore. He was too busy thinking. Just trying to keep one step ahead of everyone. More than anything, he wished Fili was here. Somehow this would be much more manageable if the two of them were doing this together.

Tomorrow was a day he was looking forward too. It was surprising how quickly it had happened. Kili valued all the assistance that his friends gave him. Nori, though, was absolutely surprising him. Truthfully, even during the quest the two rarely interacted. Nori never mingled with Fili or Kili. His reputation as a dwarf with certain "legal" problems meant that Thorin did not really approve of the lads getting any closer to Nori as well.

In Erebor Nori had blossomed. He thrived in the world of rumors, lies and shadows. The opportunity to play the leading role in such a drama delighted his heart. To do it as proof as his loyalty to the Durins was a pleasant reward.

It was Nori's suggestion to plant rumors that the Arkenstone was not safe in the hands of men. That there were angry dwarves and others aching to tear the incredible stone away from Bard. They were rebuilding. The humans were vulnerable and risked another attack.

When Kili sent a messenger to Bard offering to trade treasure for the Arkenstone, Bard had returned with a positive response the next day. The message had been simple. The gold and treasure would be much easier commodities to trade with than chips off the stone. Kili wanted to continue positive relations between the humans and dwarves. This along with the rumors made Bard more than willing to trade.

Kili had been amused it had only taken a week. He was impressed with his Master Spy. However, it was Ori who interrupted his thoughts as he reclined in his bed. His supper had long since grown cold. Kili was immersed in old maps trying to determine which rooms would be cleared next.

Ori knocked and waiting until Kili granted him entrance.

"Good evening my Lord," Ori looked down at his books in his arms. Ever since Kili was the acting ruler, Ori had become shy around his friend.

Kili put down his map. "Don't Ori. Just drop the my lord stuff. "

Ori nodded. "I brought more books. I have glanced through them."

"Anything?" Kili motioned him to sit in the chair by his bed. Since Kili had so many royal duties, he relied on Ori to research the gold madness.

"Perhaps. One of your ancestors had the gold fever very bad. His wife and sons were distraught. They finally took drastic measures once the King's life began to fade." Ori replied as he sat down.

Kili turned to Ori with the stirrings of hope, "This is first it's been addressed. What did they do?"

"They, uh, well,"

"What, out with it!" Kili grumbled.

"They took him from Erebor. The queen and her sons removed everything of any value from him. She took her husband along with some guards to a remote cabin. Together they stayed away for many months." Ori explained as he twisted his sweater into a knot.

Kili felt his heart pound, "Did it work?"

"Yes."

Kili closed his eyes and sank back in his pillow. "Thank Mahal."

Ori's continued silence however troubled the princeling. "There is something you are leaving out isn't there?"

"It is written that it worked because the king was reminded of his great love for the queen. The king has no queen, no love of his life." Ori finished sadly.

"All he has is two nephews, one of which is banished and the other has committed treason to keep the kingdom functioning." Kili pounded a fist into the mattress. He wanted to hit something harder.

Ori looked down at the books, he so wanted to something more. "I'll keep reading. Something else is bound to come up."

Kili shook his head no. "This is the best we've found in months. Thorin is fading. You saw how pale he was when he went to his chambers. He's ill in body as well as spirit."

Kili felt as desperate as he had in the Goblin's Kings Hall. Ori looked miserable too. Kili took a deep breath and made a decision.

"Please tell the other members of our company that we will be meeting at breakfast. Let them know this is very important." Kili instructed.

Ori jumped up happy to get out and do something. "Yes, right away. Should I also send for another supper? You should eat." The gingered dwarf then twisted his fingers. He had overstepped.

Kili managed a small smile, "Your right I should. Fili would be fussing at me. Tell the others, have Bombur send me up a meal. Thank you Ori."

Ori nodded and left quickly.

Kili swung his legs over the bed. He grabbed his crutches and began to hobble to his table. His right leg was healing much faster than the left. Every morning and afternoon, Oin helped him with exercises designed to help him walk once more. They hurt and made him sweat with effort. However, he never complained. It was one of the steps necessary to get back with Fili.

Kili's brain was a whirlwind of activity. He had made his decision, but he had no idea if it was going to work. Plus it would require even more of his friends. Kili thanked Mahal again for such loyal and hard working companions. Without them, Kili would be totally lost.

Kili was only able to sleep a few hours. He found himself in the eating chamber long before anyone else arrived. All night long he questioned whether he was making the right decision.

Dwalin arrived first. He was as grim as ever. Thorin's deteriorating health had not been unnoticed by the warrior. He dipped his head slightly at Kili.

Kili motioned an empty seat. Dwalin sat without a word. Balin appeared soon after. The older dwarf looked almost as weary as Kili felt. Kili knew Balin was keeping long hours as well.

Balin yawned, "Is this about the exchange today with Bard?"

Kili shook his head, "No. This is about Thorin."

The two brothers spared a glance. Kili had not used the King's name in a very long time.

One by one the others began to make an appearance. Bombur had a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausages, bread and cheese set before them. The group ate hungrily, but mostly in silence.

Finally, the door opened and Nori rushed in. His face was red as if he had rushed to get here. He smelled of wine and smoke. Ori was right behind him just as red, but his touched the tips of his ears. The youngster seemed embarrassed.

Kili knew he would have to ask about this later. However, he decided to get it over with. " Ori has found information that might help Thorin recover from his illness."

All at once the assembled dwarves began to talk. "This is wonderful news," Balin announced. Nori gave his little brother a huge smile of approval. Dori slapped Ori on the shoulders. Ori continued to blush.

Dwalin's eyebrows went up and he shot the young dwarf a look of respect.

Kili held up a hand. The talking stopped. "It requires removing Thorin away from Erebor. We remove him from the treasure and strip him of his jewels. He must live humbly."

"It will be difficult but it can be arranged." Balin announced.

Dwalin added, "We must see to it quickly."

"There is more. The seclusion worked on a king in the past. However, it also worked because this king came to realize he valued his love for his queen above all else. They were a bonded pair."

The hope in the room deflated a bit. The dwarves looked amongst themselves in silence. Thorin had never indicated such a bond.

Balin began, "He has you."

Kili shook his head. "No, I'm just the spare nephew," Kili's bitterness at this situation slipped out. "But I think it would help if we could get Fili and Bilbo back. If Thorin can respond to anyone, it would be those two."

Bofur was the first to agree. "Bilbo certainly seemed to have worked his way into Thorin's heart. Our chances of healing Thorin will be much greater if we can convince the hobbit to return."

Oin spoke up, "Our King is fading. We will have to get word to them quickly."

Kili directed his gaze toward the healer. "Is it that bad?"

"Yes," he nodded. "Thorin is waging a war against his self. No matter which side of him wins, he still suffers. When I spoke with him in his chambers, he described painful headaches. They are so intense that he passes out each time."

Dwalin frowned, "How long has this been going on?"

"Over the last 3 days. It is what finally drove the King away from the treasury." Oin informed the group.

Kili sighed and leaned his head into his head. He felt the guilt rush through his heart. "Oin I want you to check on him daily. He is never to be alone again in the treasury either. In fact we must begin to do what we can to wean him from that place, even if it means I am less in charge."

"What should we do about the Arkenstone? If Bard goes through with his side of the bargain, the King will certainly hear of it." Bofur asked.

Balin began to respond but Kili cut him off. "It will be used as a bribe. To get the King out of Erebor and away from the gold. The King will not be able to resist an opportunity to get the stone back."

Nori grumbled, "We have a new problem that severely complicates the plan to lure the King away from the gold."

"What now?"

"I have it from reliable sources that attempts will be made on Thorin's life. As well as yours and Fili's."

The room erupted in shouts. Kili's head swirled. He had to tell Fili immediately.

Dwalin's was the loudest, "Who dares threaten Thorin and his boys? If it is Dain, he shall end his days with my axe in his chest."

Nori stood up and whistled. It was shrill and made everyone stop for a second. "Dain is not that stupid or dishonorable. However, someone is. They rightly sense how weak we are with Fili gone and Thorin ill."

Kili felt his stomach clench. This enemy knew he was not a good ruler, now his entire family was threatened because of it.

"How fast can we get word to Fili? He and Bilbo must return. Not only are they Thorin's best chance, but we can't protect them on the open road." Gloin asked.

Balin stroked his beard, "We can send a bird to Elrond. He would probably be willing to set out a rider."

Kili spoke up, "That will be too late. If they have kept good speed Fili and Bilbo are on the other side of Mirkwood by now. The fastest way to reach them is the Mirkwood elves. They have a shortcut through their lands."

Balin turned toward Kili, "They still have no love for us, nor us them. How can we negotiate such a thing?"

Kili saw all his friends look at him with alarm. They knew what had happened to the poor dwarf the last time Kili petitioned Thranduil. "Legolas, the prince. I will plead our position with him. Balin send word and a gift from the treasury as quickly as you can. We don't have a moment to waste."

"Shall we still have the meeting with Bard today?" Balin asked.

"Yes. I want the stone back. We need it back in Erebor. It will send a message to our enemies that we are not as weak as we seem." Kili ordered. " In the meantime send our fastest messengers to ride after Fili and Bilbo. We will leave no possible way of contacting them unattempted. Finally, I want someone of the company with Thorin at all times. He is not to be left unprotected. Post extra guards outside his room as well." Kili slumped back in his seat. The companions began to rise to get started with their new tasks.

Kili motioned with a hand towards Nori. The dwarf hurried over to Kili. "We need to send a message to whomever is planning this. I don't particularly care about subtlety at this point. Make it painfully obvious, you don't want to mess with us."

Nori smiled wickedly, his imagination already at work. "At once my Lord."

Balin remained behind with Kili. "One of us will be with you as well my prince."

"It isn't my safety I'm worried about. It's Fili's. All he has is his swords and one hobbit to protect him. That isn't enough. Dammit! I want him back, now!"

Balin nodded and reached out a comforting hand to Kili's arm. "We will get them home, both of them."

Chapter Text

Bilbo sat by the fire. Their ponies were already loaded and ready to go. However, Fili still had to speak with Klud before leaving. The hobbit noticed however, that a few, very curious dwarflings watched him from the safety of one of the covered wagons. His hearing was sharp. He could make out the excited whispers.

"That's a habbit!" One boy muttered in awe.

"They must be awfully brave to face 3 wargs." Another boy added.

The first boy spoke again as he wiped his dark hair out of his eyes, "He can jump around like a rabbit. My dad said that's how he got round those nasty wargs."

"What's a habbit? Why are his feet so hairy?" A wide-eyed girl asked.

The first solemenly answered, "They must be a cross between a dwarf and a rabbit."

The second boy nodded in agreement. "Brave and big footed."

"Ohh!" The others said while nodding in agreement.

Bilbo's face shown his astonishment at the young ones reasoning. His mouth opened and then shut in utter surprise. He stood up and began to walk over to the three. One hand gestured widely at himself.

"I am a hobbit. HOB-BIT, not a habbit." Bilbo began to explain.

All three froze in shock at this great being coming toward them. They darted out of their hiding places and ran to the safety of their mother's skirts. Still Bilbo was trying to get his point across. "HOB-BIT!," he watched them realizing that his words were not being heard. "Drat and confound it!"

Bilbo's frustration was only multiplied when he heard the uncontrolled laughter of a certain blonde dwarf.

Fili was holding onto his saddle to keep from falling down with laughter. Bilbo shot a look into the blue sky and groaned.

He whirled on his hairy feet. Pointed a wagging finger at Fili, "No, no, no! You will forget you ever heard such a thing! I will not have you teasing me about this!" Bilbo strode over to Clover.

Fili just laughed harder until tears were coming out of his eyes. "Come, Master Bunny, let us hop onto the trail!"

Bilbo sputtered and gestured for quite a few moments. Everything that came to his mind to say were the most ungentle of words. He mounted his pony.

"I can't wait to tell Kili this! Oh, if only I could have put this in my letter!" Fili managed to say.

Fili spurred his pony. Clover followed obediently behind.

"You wouldn't. Kili will torture me endlessly." Bilbo was not above begging.

"Sorry my friend HABBIT. This is too delicious, too much of a tale to keep to myself."

Bilbo glared, "What if I promised to pound you with my big hairy feet!"

Fili continued to laugh. "That's a very brave habbit! Must be the dwarf in you! Who knew? It explains so very much!"

Bilbo decided at this moment, that to speak further , would only induce more teasing from his friend. He made the decision then to be quiet for some time later.

It was hours later before either of them spoke again. However, much to Bilbo's annoyment, Fili snickered every so often.

Fili's amusement faded. He felt something off, but he could not put a finger on it. His sharp eyes could see no foes around them. The trail lay true. Still, he had not gotten to Erebor by ignoring his instincts.

After awhile, he allowed Bilbo to wander ahead on Clover as he held back on a large hill. He backed his steed behind some trees and looked back for a few minutes.

Fili saw them. Three people, from their stature, most likely dwarfs following at a discrete distance. He frowned. They were being tracked.

He spurred his horse to a rapid trot and drew close to Bilbo.

"There you are. I was beginning to wonder." Bilbo broke the silence first.

"We are being followed," Fili told him in a low voice.

Bilbo drew up, "What? Why? Who are they?"

Fili shook his head. "Three dwarves at least."

"Could they be from the caravan?" Bilbo asked hoping that their luck wasn't taking another turn for the worst.

Fili glanced back, "No, they could have pushed their mounts to catch up with us. They do not wish to be discovered. However, they are not very adept at following us."

"Could they be other travellers? Maybe others looking to fetch family and friends back to Erebor?" Bilbo mused.

"That thought crossed my mind as well. But, no. They would have joined up with the caravan as we did. They are something else."

The two rode in silence a moment. Fili sighed. He hated that this even crossed his mind. "Did Thorin say anything about me when you two argued?" Fili had avoided bringing up Thorin to Bilbo. Of all the company Thorin and Bilbo had built a very close friendship during the journey. Bilbo had gained the trust and friendship of Thorin. Bilbo's friendship had soften Thorin, made the journey more bareable for the future king. Thorin's recognition of Bilbo's bravery and stout heart in turn made the hobbit grow into the hero he was today. For the two to have parted on such horrible terms would have been unthinkable. But they had, because of him, Fili the traitor.

Bilbo's wonderfully expressive eyes closed then. When they reopened with his heavy sigh, Fili felt his heart ache for both of them. "Yes, he spoke of you, your actions. He accused me of being a traitor as well."

Fili swallowed and glanced again behind as the trail wound around. "Did he wish me dead or in prison?"

Bilbo was so shocked he pulled on Clover's reigns. "No, never. He bellowed about you being a traitor. He never wished to see or speak to you again. But he never, never said such horrible words."

Fili felt some relief flood through him. Bilbo caught on quickly, "You worry he might have sent them?"

"Yes. The thought crossed my mind." Fili admitted.

"No. Plus I don't think Kili or Balin would allow it. They'd had found out and done something about it." Bilbo protested. His confidence was gone in Thorin, but not in the others.

Fili gave Bilbo a small pat on his arm knowing that the hobbit took great comfort in such touches. In that regard he was much like Kili.

"Then I will assume it is someone else who wishes to watch us."

"Or harm us."

"I will not let it come to that. Our path is full of small hills and trees. We will find and appropriate place to "talk" with our shadows."

Bilbo sighed, "I've had entirely enough adventure. Have I mentioned that lately? Far too much excitement." However, Bilbo knew Fili's plan was reasonable. Better to confront these strangers on their terms.

"Oh, I am certain you have room for more Master Habbit! We will take them by surprise. If they aren't reasonable to our inquiries, you may pound them with your hairy feet!"

"Brat."

Chapter Text

This was an emotional chapter to write. I wanted to explain a few of my decisions for portrayal of Thorin and Kili.

Thorin is an addict in many ways. His soul is sick and cannot recognize the obvious. His mind is full of delusions, paranoia. His realization of what is happening isn't going to be instantaneous. It's a long painful journey.

Kili is doing his best to live up to what everyone needs him to be. However, he was thrust into this role so suddenly. He's angry about it. This is why is language is cruder. He is a teen forced to be an adult. Even if he manages to cure Thorin, there is a world of damage that has been done to their relationship.

zzzzzzzzzzzz

Thorin sat up in his bed resting against the headboard. For the first time in days his head did not feel as though it would cleave in two from the pain. The room was only lit by a few candles. Light had only added to the pain.

He took a deep breath and rubbed his chest. He only wore a white nightshirt. All of his new jewels had been removed. In fact the only adornment the king had was the simple beads in his hair given to him by his relatives. Moving stiffly, Thorin attempted to stand. It took him ages and he frowned at the fact.

He felt old, far beyond his years. It had only been months ago that he had travelled, fought. 'How had this happened?' Thorin took a few hesitant steps toward his table. In a few seconds more candles were lit. The king got a good look at his room. It was damn near bare. Gone were all the gold and treasure that he had moved to his private chambers. The room was still comfortable to be sure. The furnishings were still the best that Erebor could offer. Yet the only items of note were his weapons, his few personal belongings that he had brought with him on the trip.

Thorin frowned. 'Who had dared remove his gold, his wealth? Who had committed such treason?' There was only one possible answer. 'Kili'.

Thorin roared in anger. He upended the table of food set out for him. The ceramic cups and plates shattered. He tore down the tapestries and began to kick over furniture.

Thorin's brain was a whirlwind. Dark thoughts swirled in his brain. 'Oh, how Kili would pay for this betrayal.' The brat would long for banishment before he was finished with his punishments. The dungeon would run red with his blood before he was finished.

Thorin was about to smash an end table imagining it was Kili's head, when the headache struck once more. The dwarf dropped the table instantly and sank to his knees.

"What am I doing?" his voice asked in a whisper. The pain started to subside as guilt wracked through his mind. How could he even think of doing such things to Kili? Torturing his own nephew, doing things to him worse than the elves of Mirkwood? Thorin felt his stomach lurch. He bent over and retched.

The heavy door to Thorin's room opened . Balin and Oin rushed in the two elder dwarves instantly at their king's side. Oin's gentle hands went to Thorin's back. The healer whispered soft words of comfort. Balin grabbed a bowl and water.

It took several minutes, but the two finally got Thorin calmed down. Balin led his friend to his bed. Oin immediately began to prepare medicine for the king's stomach and headache.

Balin's heart was torn. Never before had he seen Thorin so weak, so lost. This was the dwarf that had withstood so much sorrow, so much loss. Now he had everything he'd wished for, yet Thorin was almost destroyed by the victory. Fate was cruel, heartless bitch.

Balin spoke softly knowing Thorin most likely was suffering from another headache. "Rest my King. Oin will have you feeling better soon."

"Where is Fili? Where are my things?", Thorin asked his voice hoarse from disuse. There was no anger in his questions, just confusion. "Why is Bilbo not here?

Oin walked over with water and medicine. He and Balin shared a very confused glance.

Balin raised his bushy eyebrows, but then dampened down his own surprise. "My lord, please take these medicines."

Oin held out the liquids. Frowning, Thorin accepted them. His mouth tasted awful and his head hurt, but it was fading.

Thorin gave Balin a glare though. He was king, He wanted his questions answered.

Oin nodded at Balin.

"Your things are safe in the treasury. Everything is accounted for."

"Why were they removed in the first place? Thorin demanded.

"Because they are making you ill." Kili's voice sounded out before Balin could respond. "The gold you surround yourself with is the cause of your suffering. The only cure is to remove it until your sense returns."

The three elder dwarves turned toward the young prince. Kili walked stiffly into the room. He had ditched his crutches at the doorway. He would not use them in front of Thorin. Kili would not appear weak.

Thorin glared at his nephew for a second. Visions of what he would do to this upstart slammed back into his brain. 'Kili wanted the gold for himself, that selfish little bastard.'

"You have no right, no authority."

"But I do, my lord. By laws that you helped get written, I most definitely do."

"What?!" Thorin roared as he tried to jump out of bed. Balin and Oin restrained him.

Kili's dark eyes were ablaze with pent up anger and frustration. His long dark hair was unbraided and loose about his shoulders, his hands curled up in fists. Kili needed no jewels, no fine clothes to show that he was of Durin's blood. His demeanor was enough.

"You had the council write laws how to proceed when a king was ill with gold sickness. The day to day issues of running the kingdom would fall on the heirs. They would decide the petty details leaving the high king free to tend to his treasures. I invoked those same laws weeks ago when you would not leave the treasury to see to the oversight of rebuilding Erebor."

Thorin frowned. He struggled to remember. "I do not have gold sickness!" He shouted back.

"Bullshit. That is the same thing you said to Bilbo, you remember our brave hobbit? The one that pleaded with you about your gold sickness? The hobbit that saved your life over and over again. The one you called dear, but now curse his very existence?"

Thorin felt the bile rise in his stomach. 'The hobbit was gone?' He missed him. His gentleness, Bilbo's ability to see through the chafe to the heart of the matter, Thorin knew he needed Bilbo now.

Kili wasn't done however, "Do you remember how you went to the treasury and stayed there for days at a time. Refusing to meet with the council, refusing to make decisions while our people suffered your greed."

"Have care in how you speak to me, whelp!"

Kili moved closer. "I will give the King all the respect that he has given his people and his family."

"Balin, call the council immediately. The prince has overstepped his authority." Thorin demanded.

Kili laughed without humor. "Don't bother Balin. It is a waste of their time."

"You treasonous bastard. I'll have your head for this."

"Then who will be your precious heir then? I'll be dead and Fili is banished!" Thorin blinked in confusion. He had done that? He frowned as the memory came flooding back. He had thought it a nightmare.

Kili waved his hands furiously and took several steps toward Thorin. Balin moved to step between the two. At this point he feared that Kili and Thorin would raise hands against one another.

Kili pushed Balin aside, "Oh, you don't remember that little royal bitch fit you had. Sending my BROTHER away after every damn thing he has done for you? Every moment of his life spent trying to please you, trying to make you proud? And for what?" Kili spat. "You damn near get us all KILLED from your insatiable greed. Try to cause wars with elves and humans because you might have to part with a little gold."

Thorin shoved Oin aside and stood face to face with his nephew, his hand struck the youth's face hard.

Kili grunted and then turned to face Thorin again. Kili's right arm easily grabbed Thorin's to stop a second blow.

"Next time you try that, it will be your last." Kili told him low and cold.

Dwalin roared into the room. Instantly he had the two royals pulled apart from each other. Because it was Dwalin neither tried to fight back.

Balin's voice broke the tension. "Perhaps it would be wise if we all separated and allowed some time to cool off. Our King suffers from his illness, and much has been asked of our Prince in this trying time."

Thorin was about to yell he was fine, but it was clear even to him that he suffered from some malady.

It was Kili who relented first. He nodded at Balin recognizing that this situation had gotten rapidly out of control. "I will take my leave. " However, he walked away with his head held high.

Thorin growled as the prince left but said nothing. He went to his bed and sank back down.

"Dwalin, arrest Kili. Throw him in the dungeon for high treason. Balin, gather the council immediately." the king ordered as he seethed.

Dwalin gave Thorin a stare. He had seen the red mark on Kili's cheek. Dwalin had been torn between loyalties since this whole mess had begun. He had stood with Thorin on so many battles. Watched as this dwarf had suffered. Watched as Thorin endured mockery and pain to keep his people, his nephews safe and fed. The dwarf before him now was not that honorable prince. He was a stranger. A greedy, selfish bastard had taken his place. And Dwalin, his best friend, his protector had allowed it to happen. There was no greater dishonor. He had failed his friend, his king.

The two brothers gave each other a long stare. High treason meant a very painful death for Kili if found guilty. This was their worst nightmare come to pass. Balin's oath to Thorin was no less precious. He too had spent many a long hour in negotiations, in council with Thorin. His pride in his king was just as great.

Balin shook his head. "I am sorry my Lord, but I cannot do as you wish."

Dwalin nodded in agreement. "Nor I." Dwalin took his warhammer off his back and dropped it at Thorin's feet. "I will not raise my hand against Prince Kili, son of Dis even for you Thorin. He is a true son of Durin. I willingly forfeit my honor, my wealth and my life for defying my blood oath. I can serve you no more." Dwalin dropped to his knees and bared his neck.

It was Thorin's decision to send him to the Grey Lands or to banish him.

Thorin's blue eyes widen in shock. This was not possible. 'Not Dwalin'.

Balin took an involuntary step toward his younger brother. What had the hot headed dwarf just done?

Thorin bent down and picked up the warhammer. It felt so leaden in his hands. So many memories of Dwalin raising that weapon in his defense flooded his senses. The headache slammed back into his body with a vengeance and Thorin dropped to his own knees beside his beloved friend.

Thorin gasped out in pain, causing Dwalin to look up at his King.

"Take your weapon back my friend," Thorin grunted out. His insides were being ripped apart, but he continued to speak. "You have kept your oath to my house. Protect Kili. Keep him safe from me." Thorin cried out, and his eyes rolled back. Dwalin caught him as his form went slack."

zzzzzzz

Kili had managed to get his room before the tears came. "Mahal, how very stupid am I?" He cried out. Kili had every intention of being calm, being sensible toward the King.

However, the mention of Fili had undone him. Thorin had forgotten his banishment? Kili touched his cheek. The pain was still there but it did not sting as much as his own blundering of the king.

He closed his eyes against the pain. If he had been smart he would have used Thorin's confusion to get Fili unbanished. But no, his temper had reared and gotten him and the others in an even worse predicament.

Kili swallowed and rubbed the tears from his eyes. This was no time to wallow in self pity. He had screwed up, again. Kili forced his mind toward what he could do about the situation.

The council consisted of the company and one other Longbeard. An old dwarf of Erebor that had resided in the Iron Hills. Kili allowed his presence, but his every move was shadowed by Nori's spies. The dwarf might be wise about the old veins of wealth in Erebor, but he seemed interested in little else. He was a wildcard in the council. However, all the others would be on Kili's side. Kili knew if he kept a calm head, whatever damage Thorin wanted to wreck could be mitigated in council.

What was entirely evident is that Kili had to get Thorin out of Erebor. The fact that Thorin had forgotten he'd banished Fili and Bilbo had left might be due the king trying to fight off the gold sickness. Thorin had to leave.

Kili moved to his long wooden table. There, spread out, were many maps of Middle Earth. He shook his head at the distance Fili and Bilbo must have travelled. Kili leaned against the table. His meeting would have to happen soon with Legolas, otherwise they would have to wait on Elrond's rider to find Fili. Plus, there was Nori's warning of assassins.

The knock on his door disturbed Kili's thoughts. "Excuse me, my prince, may I enter," Balin asked.

"Enter, please. What new calamity has been brought down on us?' Kili asked.

Balin walked in very quickly. "Thorin has collapsed once more."

Kili took in a deep breath and blew it out. He moved to sit in a chair.

"Headache?"

"Yes, my lord. The stress was too much. He warred with himself again and lost."

Kili rubbed his cheek, "He did a damn fine job of warring with my face. And please stop calling me my lord. I am sorry Balin. I lost my temper and made things worse for all of us. Please sit and tell me what we have to deal with."

Balin sat heavily. "Thorin ordered Dwalin to arrest you for high treason."

Kili leaned back in his chair. Once again his dry, dark laugh erupted. "Oh, hell. I should have seen that coming. Is Dwalin giving me 2 minutes for a head start or am I already under arrest?" Kili rubbed the shadow of his beard. B'eing dead would put a kink in my plans.' He laughed again at his own dark musings leaving Balin disturbed.

"No, Dwalin refused the order." Balin responded proudly.

"What?"

"He forfeited his weapon and his honor to Thorin."

"Oh shit. What did Thorin do?" Kili's heart was about to pound out of his chest. "Was Dwalin alive? Banished?"

Balin had his own tears, "Thorin, he, he handed Dwalin's weapon back to him. He said that he still served the House of Durin proudly. Then he ordered Dwalin to protect you from him. The king then succumbed to his pain after that."

Kili's mouth was open but no words would come.

"Thorin is trying to come back to us. I saw him." Balin took Kili's hand.

Kili bit his lip, this was the first time in long months that his Uncle had shown himself. He felt overcome for a few seconds.

The prince collected himself. "The isolation is working."

"Yes, I believe so."

"We have to get him out of Erebor now! Have that cabin ready by tomorrow." Kili ordered. "Send for Nori, get word to Gloin that we've moved the date up. Oin is to keep Thorin asleep and out of pain until he is moved." Kili stood up and reached for his cloak. "Send Dwalin and Bofur to me, I'm riding out to meet Legolas today."

"What? You are barely healed." Balin objected.

Kili would not be dissuaded, for months he had done things slowly, carefully. It hadn't helped. "I'm done waiting in this mountain. Legolas can get riders to Fili faster. We need him and Bilbo back. No more protocols, no more polite discourse. I'm putting my family first, let politics and gold be damned."

Chapter Text

Bilbo and Fili spent the day wondering about who and why about the ones following them. Eventually, the tense day wound toward dusk. Fili finally found the appropriate place to surprise their shadowers. The site allowed them a natural place to stop and rest for the evening. The three trailing dwarves would have to climb up over the largish hill. Over that hill, several large rocks and strewn boulders provided shelters from the wind. Tall trees were nearby but none so close to the campsite to prevent good surveillance.

Fili had Bilbo make many preparations as if this would be their campsite. The hobbit made a fire, gathered nearby wood. Meanwhile, the blonde dwarf found the right approach the strangers would take to their camp, before realizing they would have to stop or risk detection.

Fili still hoped that he had somehow misread of the situation. His gut told him otherwise. Something was very amiss about them. Fili hoped it wasn't due to him. Perhaps they had hoped to steal treasure from Bilbo. If that was the case, the journey for the three would end rather abruptly tonight. End result was the same.

Bilbo wasn't entirely pleased about this decision to spy on their followers.. After all, if they were content to stay behind, he was positively delighted for them to do so. Yet, Fili needed to sleep, as did he. It was pointless to play wait and see what they do. It ceded too much information to the mysterious followers.

Sting was within easy reach. He found his heart pounding a little faster, but nothing like he once would have. How impossible was it? He, Bilbo Baggins, had gotten used to being a hobbit of action! He had no longer any concerns of jumping into battle along with his beloved dwarves. Gandalf had been so correct. He was a very changed hobbit.

Fili smiled a little at the dummy Bilbo was constructing from their normal clothing. The hobbit was very clever with his use of dried weeds and brush. His natural Fili was rather well done. In the dark, from a distance it would fool them long enough. However, 2 against 3 is never odds in your favor. Had Kili been here with his bow, Fili would have thought this trap much more amusing. Kili was not, so Fili, whose skill with a bow was merely passable, he would have to rely on his trusty swords.

As the sun's last rays began to fade, Bilbo wandered to where Fili kept watch. "It's done. Not sure about the quality. It would keep the crows away, if I do say so myself." He brushed off the clinging weeds from his second shirt. His cloak and waistcoat were on the dummy.

Fili looked down from his tree limb. "They have stopped to make camp. One of them come forward enough to see our fire."

"Why don't they just attack us if they are evil?"

Fili shrugged, "Maybe they just caught up to us recently. They could be just waiting until the right moment. I do not know, but I intend to find out."

Bilbo scratched his forehead. "What is our next step?"

"I will go scout out their camp. You will remain here as if on watch."

"What? I'm the burglar. Shouldn't I be the one to scout them out?" Bilbo offered.

Fili smiled. "Our brave hobbit. I thank you for the offer, but this is a task that I must carry out. Instead I would ask that you remain on alert here. I will return shortly with what information I could find. Then we will decide how to proceed."

Bilbo nodded. "Very well. But be careful. Or else I will have to come up with some mad scheme to rescue you."

"No more barrels."

Bilbo rolled his eyes. "Ugh, you can be so demanding. Go on then. Return back quickly."

Fili gave Bilbo a nod as he left.

Fili found his quarry setting up their camp. They were intent on their various activities. It was obvious they believed themselves secure in their secrecy. The blonde settled in amongst some branches in a nearby tree. These dwarves never seemed to glance up just around.

The three were all older than Fili, dressed in well worn clothing. It was fairly apparent to Fili that they knew each other well, he suspected that at least two of them were kin of some sort.

The one with the longest beard was busying himself by cooking some stew. Another with red streaks in his hair and beard sat on a nearby log sharpening his sword. The third stared out toward where Fili and Bilbo's camp was.

"Sturm, tell me we are going to rid ourselves of those bastards tonight. I'm tired of chasing their damned arses through the wilds." He grumbled.

Fili took in a deep breath. Well, at least that was quick. But why? Who had sent them?

The one sharpening his sword looked up. "I am tired of your complaining. We have a job to do. I won't rush this."

The cook looked up from his food. "We're away from that caravan. Still in an area of wandering orcs. This would be a good place to spring our trap."

Sturm grunted. "I will know soon. Render, as soon as its dark enough, scout their camp. Make certain we can sneak up on them safely. We need to be convincing that it was orcs that took his life."

Fili frowned and took a harder look at the camp. There, piled in a disorder lump was a bunch of orc weapons. Probably taken from the recent battle. So they intend to kill him and Bilbo, but make it look as if orcs did the deed. What was happening here? Who would want him and the hobbit dead?"

Fili continued to sit for awhile longer. They did nothing else that related to why they were intent on killing him. Instead, the three just did routine jobs in relative silence. He happily noted that none of the three had a bow.

Fili waited until the right moment to slip away from the three assassins. He wanted to be away before Render came to scout out their camp. Fili moved swiftly and silently.

Bilbo was wandering around the camp. Picking up sticks, piling up rocks and just fidgeting while waiting for Fili's return.

Fili called out. He didn't want Bilbo launching one of those rocks at his head. The hobbit had a deadly aim.

The look of relief on Bilbo made Fili guilty that he had to leave the hobbit alone.

"Well? Are they out to hurt us?" Fili could see that Bilbo still had hope. He hated to dash it.

"I am sorry Bilbo, but they are assassins meant to kill us."

Bilbo gasped. "Why? Who sent them?"

"They did not reveal that information. They will be sending a scout here soon. I mean to be ready for him. It is best if we pick them off one by one."

Bilbo glanced around at the wild around them. Fili was the expert here. "What do I do?"

"I hate to ask this of you. But I need you to be here in the camp thinking that you are on watch while I sleep. When this dwarf comes close I will spring our own trap. Will you do this for me?" Fili reached out and gently grasped Bilbo's hand.

"Of course. But you be careful, you hear me? My medical skills are not that great and Oin is nowhere near." Bilbo returned the gentle touch and let go.

"I will not allow him to get too close. Stay alert." Fili instructed before turning back into the wild.

Bilbo watched the young dwarf leave. Had his life always been like this? Always on the go, never home, never truly safe? For the thousandth time Bilbo felt sadness for the fate of his friend.

Fili pulled his dark cloak tighter over his golden head. He did not wish to risk the moonlight revealing his position. He knew the direction of the assassins' camp. They arrogantly believed that their presence was unknown. It was a fatal error, one that Fili prayed he would play to its fullest extent. Fili hoped Render would take the most direct route. If he did not, this position still gave him the best over watch of the camp.

He could see Bilbo in the distance. The hobbit occupied himself with poking the fire. Fili wished he had told the hobbit not to provide such a tempting silhouette, but he consoled himself with the fact that Render had no bow or spear.

After an hour of waiting, Fili was alerted by the slight shifting of bushes, the silence of some insects which had grown used to his presence.

Render was darkly covered, his cloak blended nicely in the forest shadows. Fili frowned. Render had done this before, his movements proved it.

Fili remained still, forcing his heart to beat normally, keeping his breathing still. Bilbo, yawned and stretched his arms out. In the background, Fili's dummy remained convincing.

Render moved toward the camp and then hid himself among a couple of rocks. Fili realized that he would have been hard pressed to see the dwarf if he did not know to be looking for him.

Fili waited until Render was settled. Then he silently moved toward Render's position. Fili had a decision to make. Kill Render now, or try and get more information from the dwarf. Fili decided.

Render's attention was fully forward on Bilbo who was busy fingering his long curly hair.

Fili struck just as Render began to feel that something was amiss.

Render was in the action of pulling his blade. Fili had both of his at the ready.

Render scrambled to get up and into a fighting position. Fili didn't give him the chance. He suppressed his normal battle cry and jumped forward.

Render managed to block the first blade in a very clumsy move. Off balance, Render started tumbling backward. Fili's right blade darted forward in deadly accuracy. The sharp metal tore into the dwarf's unprotected neck .

Render did not even have the chance to register the shock of his death. His head tumbled to the ground several yards away from his body.

Bilbo heard this and his head turned sharply toward the noise. He was tempted to call out, but instead drew Sting out of its scabbard.

Fili's shoulders slumped. Killing orcs and goblins was one thing. Having to kill one of his own kind was always depressing.

Fili moved forward and waved to Bilbo to show that he was alright. Bilbo waved back and rushed to his friend.

Bilbo was prepared for what he saw. Grimly, he looked at the dwarf that would have taken his life.

Fili was kneeling over the body, looking for any clues. "He is no Longbeard. His is from the Iron Hills. He was well paid, judging by the weight of gold in his pocket." Fili threw the pouch to Bilbo who caught it.

"Another dwarf clan? Would they want you dead?"

Fili sighed. "We are currently not at odds with any clan. Most looked down and jeered us in our exile. However, what would be gained by killing me or you? I am banished, you are willing to return to the Shire. There is no gain here by our death."

"But they meant it to look as if orcs did the deed? It can only mean one thing in my mind." Bilbo offered. "Whomever is behind this wanted to hurt Kili and Thorin. One less heir to Erebor, even though you are banished."

Fili stood up rapidly. Bilbo's words sent a hot rush through him. He frowned. "If what you say is true, then the person who paid them will be acting against them as well."

Bilbo nodded quickly, "Well, yes, it would make sense. The power behind this wants Erebor is my guess. But what do I know? I mean, I am quite probably wrong. This is all very unhobbity. When we want to hurt our enemies, we just imply their crops are full of worms and their home over run by gophers."

Fili turned toward the enemy camp. "Politics are something that are much slippery than any battle plans. We will have to try and question one of them if we can. Come Bilbo, we will go to their camp. We will try to pick off the two singularly. Question one of them. If they attack together then stay behind me. Cut off a route of escape if you can. "

Bilbo waved Sting. "I'm ready. It is time we have some answers. I will not have some villains out there, threatening my friends. That is totally unacceptable." Bilbo pronounced as he walked off into the forest.

Fili nodded then smiled when Bilbo turned and pointed, "This way, correct?"

One dwarf stood on the edge of the light of the small campfire. "Render should have been back by now? What'd you think that bastard is doin'?"

Strum shrugged. He stood up from his log. It was odd. Render was a pain in the ass, but when it was time to get to business, his cousin was efficient.

The other dwarf continued to talk. "Maybe he couldn't move without being caught. It's happened before."

Strum scratched his face. "Mayhap, but if he don't return soon, we'll set out after him. If they found him, he is stalling until we turn up."

"Good. Killing the hobbit should be easy. The royal bastard tho, he'll be difficult." The dwarf pulled out his dagger. "I heard that you get three gold for hobbit bits. Supposed to be good for making babies or some such."

"What?" Strum gave him a disgusted look. "We're assassins, not body snatchers. Have some dignity you gob smacked twit."

The other rolled his eyes, "He won't be needing it no more. Besides, our current employer would probably have a use for it, being all into the dark arts and such."

Strum growled, "Don't mention that bitch."

"Don't tell me yur scared of a female?"

"No, I'm scared of a witch you stupid moron. One that probably has magicked animals listening. So shut the hell up." Strum angrily ordered.

The other dwarf nodded. "Fine. When are we going then?" He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Strum sighed and hefted up his war axe. "Now. Just keep your mouth shut. We look the situation over first. No acting without me telling you what to do. Hear me Kyne?"

Kyne blew out a breath and nodded. Finally, they were acting.

Chapter Text

Although the tavern was relatively new, the place had a patina of age about it. Perhaps it was the roof the barely held out the wind and rain, or the floors that consisted of dirt and straw. All the furniture was roughly hewn. The patrons did not care. They weren't there for the atmosphere, but the cheap booze and tobacco.

Nori sat amongst the rowdy ale drinkers, laughing at a rather bawdy joke about an elf mating with an elk. The dwarf on his left was well on his way to being drunk off his ass. It had taken Nori weeks to cultivate a friendship with this particular miner, Borgi.

Borgi was one of those that hailed from the Iron Hills. Supposedly, he was in Erebor to assist with the reclaiming of the mountain. Instead, Nori learned that the dwarf spent a good deal of his time spreading rumors and falsehoods about the Durins.

Once Nori's "assistants" had identified Borgi as the originator of much of gossip and allegations, Nori decided that the dwarf needed his personal touch. For several days Nori had disguised his hair and beard in dark colors and new braids. He made subtle hints how disgruntled he was working for yet another king with gold sickness. Surely another damn dragon would come swooping down from the unknown and eat them all. Not once did Nori approach Borgi. He let his loose tongue and generosity of buying drinks lure the dwarf in.

Tonight Mahal willing, his patience would pay off. It had become obvious that Borgi was receiving instruction from another. The dwarf was good for the rabble, but he lacked the political acumen to motivate people with wealth or influence.

Nori waited until Borgi was finished with his jokes. With a nod of his head he indicated a quieter part of the bar. It didn't take long for the shoddier dwarf to follow him. After all he had another full tankard of ale to offer.

Nori knew the moment was ripe. Borgl was not yet too drunk to be incoherent, but he was suitably relaxed and comfortable to reveal things that he should naught.

"Good one. I hate those damned tree shaggers more than anyone. Aule started off with a mistake. Should send those bastards back, even orcs have more uses," Nori said. He put the drink on the table as Borgi sat.

Borgi laughed. "Yep, even them damned Durins know to send them straight to hell."

Nori snickered but the image he held in his head was slitting Borgi's throat. But now was no time for pleasantries, he was working. Borgi drank while Nori let out a long suffering sigh.

"You just had to bring up those royal arses. Ruinin' my good time." He muttered.

Borgi wiped the foam off his lips and leaned in closer to Nori.
"Sigrud, my friend. Not ta worry. I have heard that the King is not long for the world.""

Nori frowned, "What? You're drunk. Gold sickness doesn't kill. Thror lived decades with it, the old goat." Internally Nori's heart began to race. His assistants had heard whispers of the threat but nothing concrete.

Borgi shook his head violently and shifted his weight closer. Nori leaned over the dwarf. "Nahh, Thorin is gonna have a little help there. I heard it will make him right miserable before it finally kills his worthless hide."

Nori's eyebrows shot up. "Poison? Someone is dishonorable enough to poison a king?" Poison was not honorable to dwarves. Challenges to rule were to be met head on, in battle. Poison was a coward's method, human like.

Borgi shrugged. "Dishonorable? No, no. More like just aiding nature along. The bastard will go mad and die eventually. This just moves the time up a bit. Besides, its genius. Who would notice a slow acting poison in a daft king?" He grinned evilly and sucked down more of his ale.

Nori moved his hands under the table to keep himself from throttling Borgi right here. He took a deep breath pretending to be amazed at the plot. "That is unbelievable. Amazing. We will be rid of Thorin, but this? Has it been going on for some time?"

Borgi frowned, his brain working frantically. "Not sure, just know that it's happening. My boss is brilliant. But, I've said too much already. Best we get back to our drinking. Just don't worry none. Thorin is good as dead. Then all we will have to worry about is the fuckin half elf. No way that bastard was begot by a male dwarf. His bitch must have spread herself wide for a dandelion eater."

It took all of Nori's considerable self control not to react to this heinous comments. Instead his slammed back the rest of his ale. He knew that Borgi would give no more information this night. Nori stood up, "I have to heading back to my bunk. My shift starts far too early in the morn."

Borgi nodded. "Take care my friend. Remember what I have said and keep it to yourself. I'd hate to regret hearing you'd betrayed my confidence. It wouldn't be good for your health." Borgi smirked with power he thought he weld over Sigrud.

Nori returned the warning with a worried look, feigning intimidation. He hurried away from the table and out the door. The Spy Master welcomed the cool, calm air of the night. Nori adjusted his cloak and began the walk toward the miner's quarters. As much as he wanted to rush back to the royal floors, Nori knew he was still in his role.

He wandered slowly, "accidently" ambling down the wrong alley and turning back to the proper route. It was easy to appear as if addled from drink. He perfected this long years ago.

Tonight Nori was pleased he'd continued the habit. Two dwarves were following him. They had rushed at first, but were now trying their damndest not to be appear obvious. To Nori, they may as well be sporting flowers in the hair and beard. Nori realized that they weren't his people, nor were they any of the royal guard. So that left a much more interesting alternatives. Robbers? Or perhaps more of the enemies of the Durins. Nori was pleased. His blood was already racing with insults he'd had to sit through earlier. It would make his heart sing if he were able to unleash his fury on these amateurs.

Nori took the street of the miner's quarters suddenly. The two dwarves rushed up quickly. They had to turn the corner to see which of the temporary tents the dwarf would disappear too.

As the two dark covered dwarves rounded the large meeting tent, they looked frantically for Nori. It was as if the dwarf had disappeared.

The taller of the two whispered, "Which one?"

The other shook his head negatively. "I did not catch it. Damn. We will have to wait til morning. Make it look like a mining accident. More believable than a robbery."

"Borgi is an idiot. We could have used this Sigrud in the future."

"We can't risk him talking."

The two turned and were startled when the missing dwarf stood in their way.

Before either could react, Nori's hidden knife slashed out. The serrated edge dug a ragged wound across the taller dwarf's neck. The other tried to unsheathe his own dagger. Nori had not stopped moving. In a flash, he cut the short dwarf's hand. As blood gushed and bone cracked, the dwarf dropped his weapon. Nori continued his fluid action. Nori grasped the other hand and twisted violently. His opponent spun round by the force. In pain the dwarf fell to the ground. Nori dropped down, his knee implanted between shoulder blades. The dwarf attempted to move his head, his body. Nori growled violently, grabbing hair. His bloodied blade was then quickly placed against the jugular.

"You will tell me what I want to know now. Or else I will cut off your balls and make you eat them." The dwarf struggled, but stopped as the warm blood of his companion ran over his face."

"Nothing. You'll get nothing from me." He grunted out.

"Wrong answer," Nori reacted instantly. His blade flashed. An ear joined the blood pool. Nori's prey started to scream, but Nori just bounced his head hard into the ground.

"Try again. You have many body parts. I have infinite patience," Nori threatened.

"Uggh," he gasped out.

"Who is poisoning the king?"

"Some wench. It's in his drink."

Nori's teeth shown in the light. "Who is behind this? Who wants the Durin's dead?"

"No. I can't say."

"You will or your dead."

"Dead is better than rotting forever in hell." He cried out. Clearly more terrified of his employer than Nori.

Nori's brow furrowed at that. "Why?" He pressed the knife deeper against flesh.

"Gold, treasure, power. I don't know why else! I follow orders. Kill me and be done with it."

Nori struggled with the urge to follow through with the suggestion. After several long seconds wisdom won the battle. Nori's hand struck out. The dwarf's head once more impacted on the ground. This time, he did not stir. Nori barked out a loud order. "Sigrud, take care of the body. I'm taking this one in."

The real Sigrud emerged from nearby shadows. It was uncanny how much the two looked alike. "Take care no one sees you and this body is not found soon."

Sigrud nodded and silently went about his task. With a grunt, Nori shoulder his opponent. Next time he'd keep them awake enough to walk to the dungeons before he pounded them unconscious

Chapter Text

A small band of elven warriors rode swiftly and quietly in the bright sunshine. Winter so far had been mild. A bit of welcome relief after the recent war. Some small part of fate was being kind.

Legolas had been surprised when the urgent message had arrived for him. It was brought by one of the ravens that the dwarves so favored. It had been hand written by Kili imploring him to meet as quickly as possible about an urgent matter. Kili had assured the elf prince that this was concerning Kili's family and nothing more. Kili's words had been flowing with respect and Legolas instantly knew that Kili was sincere.

Legolas admitted to being curious about meeting the surprising dwarf once more. He had wanted to see Kili once he'd heard of the archer's wounding, but his father had forbid it. Legolas was needed to attend to the army pursing the scattered enemy.

It was during the time of rounding up roaming hoards of confused orc, he learned of the fate of the brothers. The eldest had been banished by the new King of Erebor. In Fili's place Kili had been named crown prince. Legolas had frowned at the news. He knew Kili adored his elder brother. He had seen the two reunite on the battlefield. Legolas had witnessed the ferocity they had fought with to get to each other, then the same fierceness to keep the other alive in the mass chaos. This forced separation had to be devastating for both of them.

It was when he returned to his father's palace that Legolas heard the rest of the story. Thranduil had smugly remarked about Thorin's losing battle with gold sickness. He had degraded and insulted the dwarf who once graced their dungeons. However, Legolas was pleased to note none of his father's verbal abuse included the young prince.

Weeks later messengers reported a stunning turnaround of fortunes for the Erebor dwarves. Instead of chaos, the dwarf kingdom was being sorted out, becoming functional. To Legolas happy surprise, it was Kili, the Crown Prince who was the strong hand guiding his people. The fortress was being rebuilt. The Arkenstone was brought back to the Mountain. In exchange, Kili had given the gold which had been initially promised. In spring, plans for Dale to be rebuilt would begin. It was a truly amazing twist of fate. All of it was by the youth who had begged in Thranduil's court for help against an enemy who was bane to them both.

As they rode to the meeting point, Legolas remembered the battle. He was glad he'd made the decision to stay with Kili through the clash of armies. Legolas had been able to see firsthand the kind of person Kili was. Now Kili humbly asked for a meeting between the two princes. Legolas was not about to refuse.

Indeed, Kili was becoming something of an inspiration to the young elf. Long years he had watched his father become less and less honorable. Some darkness was eating away at his father's soul. It was disturbing to witness. Legolas had only become aware of the differences between his father's kingdom and that off other elves in recent years. Living with Elrond in Rivendale had especially opened the prince's eyes. When he returned to Mirkwood, he had vowed to help his father out of the well of bitterness. However, he had not kept his promise. Under his father's sharp glances and sharper words, he allowed his will to falter. Legolas questioned his father's actions internally, but did not act on his true feelings. His father's dealing with the dwarves had brought all of his conflict to a head.

Legolas had been shamed by his father's treatment of the dwarves. They had arrived begging for food and shelter. They were starved. They were no threat to Mirkwood or its people. But his father had allowed ancient prejudices and offenses to guide his actions. Legolas was overjoyed when the dwarves escaped and saluted their stubborn pride not to give into his father.

The young prince reached the final parting with his father's mindset when Kili had arrived at court. He bore no weapons, just a large leather pouch. The young dwarf appeared a wild, startled faun at first. His courtly manners were appalling, but not his honest, humble pleading. All the elves laughed at the manner at which their king barely kept his words courteous enough to the sprite. He even threatened to imprison Kili once more.

Yet, the dwarf had surprised them all. Kili dumped out the contents of the pouch. Out spilled hundreds of emeralds, some the size of a human's fist. The light of the court bounced off them. It was as if a beautiful green river suddenly flowed through Thranduil's hall.

Kili had begged once more, "Please, King Thranduil , please accept this meager offering. Ride to the defense of all our peoples. Ride to defeat an enemy that would kill us all."

The elves had gasped. Never before had dwarves been so generous, so humble. Murmurs of shock and approval spread throughout the court.

That was when his father rose from his throne. He had stared down at the mounds of gems spread out before all the elves. He had ordered the young dwarf to his private chambers.

It was later that Legolas saw the poor dwarf. He'd been shorn of his braids and beard. The final payment for Mirkwood's army. Legolas had been aghast. There had been no need for the final insult. It was obvious to everyone, that Kili was still a child. He had been under the instruction of others when the dwarves first travelled through Mirkwood. He should not have to bare the humiliation for his elder's actions. However, his father thought otherwise. Kili had paid for the dwarves escape with his honor, his braids.

It was this offence which had almost broken Legolas inaction with Thranduil. If they had not been so busy with military preparations, Legolas would have finally had words with his father. However, time had given him no opportunity. The elf prince determined he would do his utmost to make amends to Kili. In his eyes it was now the elves who owed a debt of honor to the dwarves.

Legolas rode out to meet Kili. He had ridden out with only a few of his close companions. His father had not been pleased, but he had not forbid it either.

Kili was sore. It was surprising how easily he had gotten out of the habit of riding hard. He supposed some of that was due to his still healing legs. Still, he was of a mind to ask Oin for some of his muscle rub once they returned to Erebor.

Dwalin grunted something in Khuzdul at his own steed that had Bifur grinning. Bofur smiled. The three had accompanied the prince on his hasty ride to meet with Prince Legolas. A few others of the small royal guard murmured between themselves, but mostly kept their silence. The trek had been difficult on them all. However, if the injured prince would not complain, neither would they.

Kili would not wait to until they both had arrived on the set upon meeting place. Instead, the young prince had rode out to meet the elves as they travelled. They had rode almost all night, barely stopping in the morning to eat breakfast before continuing on.

It was mid morning when Kili and his riders saw the first sign of the elves. They rode upon their fine horses, shining in the brightness of the winter sun. The cold winds did not seem to even ruffle their fine hair. Unlike the dwarves, they looked rested and comfortable on their mounts.

Once each confirmed the other's identity, the two groups met up on the road.

Legolas wore none of the finery that would have dressed his father. In a same manner, Kili wore his normal travelling clothes. A stranger would not have know that these two were princes of powerful and legendary peoples.

The elves watched the dwarves with suspicion. The dwarves returned with glares of outright mistrust. Legolas and Kili ignored their fellows.

Kili didn't have time for that foolishness. He bowed his head deeply to the Mirkwood Prince. Dwalin followed, then the rest of the dwarves."Greetings Prince Legolas of the Mighty Mirkwood Kingdom, it is good to see you once more." Kili yelled to be heard over the winds.

Legolas gracefully bowed his head. "Hail to thee, Prince Kili of Erebor." Then his companions did likewise. They waited for the exchange of politically correct insults to begin. Both sides were disappointed when the two warriors spurred their horses to meet.

Kili offered his hand and Legolas shook it warmly. A small smile was on the elven prince's face. Kili was not like his uncle. He had the capacity to forgive. Nor was his pride so great that he forgot the needs of his people. For that Legolas admired the young prince. In many ways he wished he was as bold.

"It is good to see you my friend." Legolas said, shocking his companions. The dwarrow soldiers were shocked as well. The royal guard glanced at one another. This was unheard of, dwarves friends with elves, especially a prince? Dwalin shot them a murderous stare and they immediately shut up and stood at attention. Dwalin frowned. The new guard still need much discipline. And more training. And more marches. He'd see to it as soon as possible.

"I appreciate you meeting me so quickly," Kili replied.

"The situation must be dire for you to ride out. I had not heard that you were fully recovered."

"I'm well enough. May we speak in private, my lord?" Kili asked.

Legolas nodded, "Certainly, I admit to much curiosity."

Kili nudged his pony away from the crowds. One of the elves began to follow Legolas, who shook his head.

Kili led the two of them away from the ears and stares of the crowd to a small island of snow laden trees and rocks.

The two stopped their mounts side by side. Together they looked toward the direction of the battlefield far off in the distance.

Kili gathered his thoughts. All along the ride he had thought about the best approach to the young prince. He was nothing like Thranduil. To Kili, it was impossible to believe that they were father and son other than appearance. He laughed out loud. Then again, the same might be said of him and Thorin.

"What is it?" Legolas asked quietly.

Kili turned his attention to Legolas. Now the elven lord could see that Kili was not healed. The youth looked exhausted. His hair was kept in a tight ponytail to keep it from blowing in his face. He had a shadow of a dark beard. None of his hair was adorned in any fashion. It made Legolas deeply ashamed as he looked upon Kili's dark locks. His father's actions still made no sense to him.

"Please forgive me, my Lord. I appreciate you meeting me on such short notice." Kili began.

Legolas sighed. "We have battled dark enemies Lord Kili. If you would permit, I would drop formalities and talk as companions who have fought together."

Kili's grin lit up his eyes for the first time in days. "I would be happy to do so Legolas. In this I sense we are kindred spirits. Plus I admit to be damn terrible at all the courtly business to begin with."

Legolas nodded with his own smile touching his lips. "It will come in time. You have done well from what we have heard in Mirkwood. Erebor is thriving thanks to your initiative."

Kili's eyes went wide and he laughed darkly once more. "You flatter me. I merely do the minimum to keep the place from imploding. After all, I wasn't trained for this sort of thing. Fili was. I'm making it up as I go." Kili did not know why he was admitting all this to someone who could have been a mortal enemy by dwarven standards. He knew that it was because he missed Fili so much. Somehow, Legolas was a person he felt would understand him and he greatly needed that now.

Legolas shrugged. "I've been trained since birth for court formalities and politics. I still am unsure as I ever was."

Kili nodded, "You find yourself just doing what your elder does, for me it's Balin, and hoping you don't trip and embarrass yourself."

Legolas returned the nod. "Try it in front of elves that are thousands of years older than you. They notice if you have a strand of hair out of place. Formal clothes also itch."

Kili laughed and this time it was heartfelt. Legolas joined in. What remained of their uneasiness toward one another vanished in the winds around them.

Kili's eyes then became serious. He turned from his companion back toward the horizon toward Erebor. "There are those who do not think Erebor is in good hands. They would see my King dead, as well as my brother and I."

Legolas frowned, his beautiful eyes became stormy. "My father still grumbles toward your king, but I assure you, we have no wish to see the line of Durin fall."

"I appreciate that Legolas. It is not yet known whom wishes for our downfall. We only know for certain that the threat is legitimate. You must also know that Fili was banished for given the Arkenstone to Bard and the humans."

Legolas nodded, "Yes, I was saddened to hear of it. I only saw little of your brother in battle. What I did see was a very honorable and brave dwarf."

"Thanks, Fili, he's the best. At everything. If he were here, I'm sure we'd have more clues to who is behind this. The line of Durin would be much stronger." Kili replied. He continued as Legolas seemed to want to interrupt him. "No, my friend, please. I speak the truth. What I need is word to be sent to my brother and Bilbo, the hobbit he is with, to return to Erebor immediately."

Legolas sighed, "He traveled to the north of Mirkwood. They soon will be upon the pass through the Misty Mountains."

Kili nodded, "I figured you'd know of his travel."

"Our people always know who passes close to our realm, especially in this time of darkness." Legolas confirmed.

"Could you get word to him quickly to turn around?" Kili dared to hope that this hunch was also correct.

Legolas nodded this time, "Yes, he and the hobbit would know by the morning."

"Then I have one more favor for you to consider. Would you allow them to pass through the old forest road safely? It would cut over a week or more of return time." Legolas could not miss the imploring look on the young dwarf's face.

"What you mean is can I convince my father to allow them through?" Legolas asked slyly.

"Yes. I'm willing to pay. I brought treasure. Failing that, he can shave my head bald. I just need Fili and Bilbo back." Kili's hand went unconsciously to where his braids would have been.

Legolas eyebrows shot up. Kili had been remarkably calm and forgiving about the great injury to Kili's pride and honor. No dwarf would be so casual about such a torture, unless he cherished something meaning much more. For Kili, that was family. It was his gold, his treasure. For them he would endure anything. Legolas was touched by such humility and loyalty. He silently envied Kili and Fili.

Legolas would make his father see reason on this. In fact he would not even allow his father to comment on it. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

"I will personally ride out to meet them on the return journey. I will guide them safely to Erebor. Fili and Bilbo will be under my protection." Legolas promised.

Kili smiled in earnest once more. Years shed from his face. "I can't thank you enough. This means more to me than you can possibly know." Kili's hands went to a large pouch. "I know that your father adores Emeralds. I found more, a necklace wrought by the finest of our artisans back in the first age of Durin. Please give it to him as a symbol of my respect."

He reached out and held the item out for Legolas. It was a stunning piece of emeralds, white gold and mithral. It was worth more than most of the treasuries of royal houses throughout Middle Earth. Kili offered it to Legolas, only wishing for what should be giving freely amongst allies. The dwarf cared not for the disgrace Thranduil had shown him. Instead, he continued to respect the King of Mirkwood.

Legolas found himself moved greatly. He could not stop his hands from taking the piece. It was meant to be admired, not locked up in a cold dark room. Legolas stared at it for some moments. Kili began to wonder if he had insulted the elf. He thought the piece to be beautiful, it was one that made his dwarven heart sing with pride. "Is it not enough? I can get more."

Legolas glanced down at Kili aghast at his own lack of response. "I am sorry my friend. This is beyond exquisite. One of the finest pieces of jewelry I have ever seen in my life. What you offer is too much." He placed the necklace back in the young prince's hands.

Kili was confused. "Too much? Nay, not for my family. Naught for Fili and Bilbo." He held it back toward the elf.

"You are a very honorable dwarf," Legolas shook his head with a gentle smile. All of the words, the ranting his father had done of the ages was now come to naught. Here was a dwarf of true generosity, of true honor. Kili had taken the worst insults that Thranduil had tossed at him. Repaid an honor debt, yet still acted with nothing but humility and generosity toward his people. Here was a dwarf that could truly be described as a friend. "Instead, I would ask that as long as you live that you would consider us true friends, allies. That our example together would strive our peoples toward understanding and peace."

Kili could not disguise his surprise. "What? Uh, sure. I mean I would be honored to forge a new path of friendship between the noble elves of Mirkwood and the hardy dwarves of Erebor."

Legolas smiled at Kili's recovery. "Good." Legolas and Kili shook hands once more.

The handshake ended. "See, you're getting better already. Practice."

Kili let out a sigh of relief. "To be honest, I'd rather be practicing my archery. I have a letter for my brother. It explains the situation. Would you please give it to him?"

"I will see that he receives it." Legolas replied.

"We best be heading back. Hopefully, my companions have only exchanged glares." Kili led his pony back to the group.

"I hear no screams or weapons clashing. Perhaps they've behaved." Legolas offered dryly.

Kili laughed, "We're the youngest ones here. I'm not certain what that says about our elders."

Legolas returned the laugh, "Whatever it is, we best not say it out loud."

 

Sorry, I'm one of the folks that thinks Thranduil was an ass.

Chapter Text

The wind was picking up in speed, but only low clouds blew by a full moon. Fortunately, there would be no precipitation tonight.

Fili was listening to his senses. Cautiously, Fili led Bilbo along the most direct route to the enemies camp. He was thankful for his sharp hearing when he heard the sounds of two dwarves making their way toward them.

Fili signaled to Bilbo in Inglesmek to seek cover in the nearby brush.

Bilbo gave him a confused look. Fili suppressed the sigh. He was going to have to teach his hobbit how to sign. Instead, he pointed at the brush with the point of his sword.

Bilbo nodded and silently made himself disappear in the branches and twigs. Fili was grateful once more that hobbits could move so swiftly and silently. He barely had time to get himself hidden before the two were upon them.

Strum passed by first. The other dwarf followed quietly. Both had swords in their hands. Fili measured his opportunity then stepped out. However, he made more noise than he liked. Dried twigs snapped, heralding his movement.

His opponent swung around, already on alert. Unlike Render, Kyne blocked Fili's swing much more fluidly. However, Fili still had the advantage of dual welding.

Fili did not necessary want instant kills on either of the two dwarves. He had questions that needed answering. However, he wasn't exactly going to be picky either.

Kyne stepped back out of Fili's reach. Giving ground, he waited for Strum to arrive. Kyne just desperately did his best to block those flashing swords.

Fili's blades darted forward. Each moved so fast that Kyne barely had time to block or shrug out of the way. This contest was already over. Fili would have his victim in a second. .

Kyne faltered. His blade caught on Fili's. It wasn't available when the blade's mate drove into his gut. Kyne gasped as blood began to rise up his esophagus. He dropped to his knees. Fili kicked the loosely grasped sword out of the dying dwarf's hand. He dropped into position to receive Strum's blow. Fili's mind already two steps ahead of his opponent.

Sturm shouted as he began to attack. It was cut short with a cry of a pain and surprise. He pivoted to face his attacker.

Bilbo had jumped out of the dwarf's reach. Sting had sliced a bloody trail against Sturm's back.

Sturm growled and hurdled forward. Bilbo shouted. Sting clashed with the dwarf's blade. Bilbo was thrown slightly backward by the blow's ferocity.

Before Sturm could press this advantage, Fili's pommel cracked into his thick skull. Bilbo braced himself for another blow that did not come. Instead, Strum crumbled before his feet.

Bilbo let out a sigh of relief as Fili's form came into view. Fili wiped the blood of the two assassin's on Strum's shirt.

"Good work Bilbo. You distracted him nicely," Fili said as he began to tie the dwarf's hands together.

"Distractions. Yes, I'm rather good at that." Bilbo replied as he attempted to get his heart beating under control. He blew out a breath. "You did well too. Good job with the, uh, fighting and such." Bilbo's hands pointed in the direction of the fallen dwarves.

Fili grinned. "Thank you Master Habbit." Fili began to search the dead dwarf for any clues. "I may have need of your furry feet when that one awakes."

Bilbo frowned and point Sting at Strum. "I think he needs sharp pointy weapons instead."

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Nori finally dumped his "guest" off at the dungeon. Thankfully, Dori was one of the first dwarves he found on his return.

"I must speak to Kili immediately," Nori was almost out of breath. He had rubbed the dye out of his beard and hair, but still appeared very strange. He threw the towel down. He began to run up the stairs quickly.

Dori rushed after his brother. Nori was making a bee line for Kili's royal chambers.

"He's not here." Dori finally managed to get out.

Nori turned on his heels. "What? Where the hell is he?" He growled out letting his frustration out on his elder brother.

Dori frowned at the treatment. "Now see here. There is no need for concern. He's gone to meet Legolas."

Nori sputtered, "He's meeting with a damn elf and there is no cause for concern? Have you forgot what happened in Mirkwood?"

Dori placed a hand on his brother. Nori could get carried away at times with all the plots and paranoia. "No and neither has our Prince. He requested the meeting. Dwalin, Bifur and Bofur went with him. We tried to tell you earlier, but none of us could find you."

Nori rubbed his eyes. "Damn. Where is Balin then?"

Dori gave Nori a "duh" glance. "In his chambers, where else at the hour? Sensible dwarves are in bed at this time."

Nori rolled his eyes. Would his brother never get over the life Nori had chosen? He should know that I am beyond his redemption.

Dori sighed, he recognized that expression. "Have you eaten? Real food, not garbage from some shady tavern?"

Nori shrugged, "No, I really don't have the time for that now. Come with me. There is something we need to discuss." Nori turned back up the marble steps.

Dori's face changed to confusion. The two brothers had little time with each other. Nori was very busy with his new found royal duties. Dori had spent his days helping with the various projects Kili had implemented. His compulsive need for order was being fully utilized by the Prince. Dori had never been so happy in his many years. Ori was safe, better than that. Ori was a well respected scholar and researcher now. Nori was using his "talents" for good. They were wealthy and respected. In all his long years of caring for his younger siblings this was the first time he'd been at peace. For this, Dori had pledged eternal loyalty to the Durin Prince.

Dori blinked away his confusion and followed Nori to Balin's chambers. Nori was pleased to see the extra guards on the royal floor. They watched him and his brother carefully, but did not challenge the two. The loyalty of the company was beyond questioning.

Nori banged on Balin's door. Dori was not happy awaking the older dwarf. Too much had been on the advisor's shoulders these many weeks. It took several long minutes for Balin to finally answer the door. He was still in his formal garb, but it was obvious he had been asleep from the redness in his eyes.

"Nori, Dori, good evening. What brings you to my chamber at this hour?" Balin greeted far more cheerfully than his old bones felt.

Nori managed to give a sorry stare but kept his words neutral. After all, guards could be bought. "Dori has something to tell you. About the rearrangement of the plumbing. It can't wait til tomorrow when new pipes will be installed."

Dori managed to go with Nori's lead. He had done it for decades to keep the younger out of trouble, sometimes out of jail. "Yes, if we pour the channels on the morn, we will just have to rearrange them later."

Balin stared. His brain was still fuzzy but Nori was a very odd dwarf at times. "Well, if it can't wait. Come on in you two."

The two walked in. In many ways Balin's room was little different from Ori's. It was comfortable to be sure, but it was covered with papers, ink, scrolls and books. Dori decided that Ori must have decorated this room as well as own.

Balin shuffled maps around. "Odd, I don't remember pouring new pipes tomorrow."

Nori glanced around the room then listened at the door. Satisfied, he turned to his two companions. "I have new information that must be acted on immediately. When is Kili returning?"

Balin sat heavily in his lounger. His feet went up on the ottoman. "Hopefully by tomorrow eve. Kili believes strongly Legolas will react favorably to his request."

Dori sat in a nearby chair. Nori paced. "Don't shout. The king is being poisoned."

Balin and Dori almost ignored the instruction. Instead they both attempted to spit out words at the same time.

Nori talked over them. "It's in his drink. I don't know exactly what it is. I just know that we would confuse it with Thorin's gold sickness."

"The headaches. Thror never had them, not like this." Balin's eyes grew wide with understanding the new treachery.

Nori nodded and took a deep breath. "Whoever it is counted on us not realizing the difference between gold illness and slow acting poison."

Balin leaned forward, his face full of sorrow. "We've failed Thorin. Our King has faced a silent enemy with no help from us halfwits. No wonder he has been so out of his mind."

Dori reached out and patted Balin's arm. "He is still with us. We did not think of this possibility."

"I should have." Balin admonished himself. Thorin had counted on him. All these years, but now the lad was at his most vulnerable, he had overlooked the signs.

Nori grumbled, "We don't have time for recriminations. The King has been poisoned. I have a prisoner that can be questioned soon. So far I've learned it is some wench who's responsible for the poisoning."

Balin frowned. "We need to tell Oin. He's with Thorin tonight. As for a female kitchen staff, we'd need to discuss that with Bombur."

Nori continued to pace the room. "How do you wish me to proceed? This can't wait to Kili returns. "

Balin stood up. "Question your prisoner. Keep it as quiet as possible. Dori and I will check in on Thorin. We will inform Oin what has transpired. Until Kili returns we will let our assassins believe their plot remains undetected."

Dori stood up as well. "I could run down to the kitchen's. Use the excuse the King needs a meal. Maybe get a glance at our conspirator."

"Very well, we all have our duties. Meet back here. The lads in the hall are trustworthy. My brother personally vouches for these two." Balin shook his robes out.

Dori was out of the door when Balin spoke once more. "Good work, Nori. Well done."

Nori stopped in mid stride. It was praise he was not accustomed too. Dori smiled at the younger. "Yes indeed. Well done."

Nori couldn't stop the rush of warmth that flowed through his heart. The feeling of belonging, being needed felt good after so many years.

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Fili dropped Strum down on the ground in front of their dying fire. "Bilbo, I need you to stoke the fire." Fili and Bilbo had walked back to the camp quietly. Fili was not certain how to proceed with their prisoner. He had few qualms about what needed to be done here. It would get quite nasty. Dwarves were a stubborn folk with a high endurance for pain. Fili had no delusions. Asking Strum nicely about what he knew wasn't about to work. Fili recognized Strum would require a painful assistance to loosen his tongue.

However, there was Bilbo to consider. Despite the hobbits earlier comments, Fili had no desire to expose the gentle hobbit to this kind of violence. Fili remembered how the imprisonment in Mirkwood had so exhausted the hobbit. His spirit had been sapped witnessing the cruelty the elves imposed on the company. He had no wish to be seen in the same light as though bastards. Yet, Thorin and Kili's lives were in his hands. Bilbo's as well if more of them were out there. He had to get the information.

Fili started to remove Strum's boots and gloves. Bilbo raced around doing what he was instructed. He turned to his friend. Bilbo felt the bile begin to rise, his heart pound as he watched Fili prep his victim. He turned his head and watched the fire for a long seconds.

Fili knew that Bilbo was trying to prepare himself for what was come. Hell, he was as well. This was not his nature. He preferred his fights out in the open.

Bilbo swiveled. He tried to hide his reluctance at what must happen. Strum was tightly tied to four stakes, spread eagle.

Fili stood up from where he'd done his last rope. The blonde walked over to the hobbit. "Bilbo, you know what I must do now. I will question Strum. If intimidation fails,"

Bilbo bobbed his curly head. "You will do what you must. No choice really. None." He breathed deeply. "But I can't watch."

Fili went to the hobbit. "I do not ask you too. I just ask you to understand why I must." He laid his hand on the hobbit's shoulders.

Bilbo closed his eyes and grasped Fili's fingers. "I do, honestly. Can't be helped. I'll be fine but, you be careful." He had no desire to discuss this further. "I'll be just over there. Counting stars." He lied.

Fili understood it. "Stay warm, don't wander far." Then he turned his attention back to Strum who was beginning to awake.

Bilbo took it as a sign to leave. He didn't waste time. The hobbit made for an outcropping of nearby rocks. He eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly. He was glad for the wind whistling in the tree limbs. It would mute the sounds. The hobbit found a crevice between two of the larger ones and wedged his small hobbit body inside.

He wrapped his cloak tightly around his body. He prayed Fili would find his information quickly. However it turned out, he knew his young prince would lose more of his innocence this night, as would he. Bilbo cursed the fates, felt an overwhelming need to rant, to shout at the heavens at the damned unfairness of it all.

Bilbo did not. He controlled his rapid breathing . The hobbit banged his head against the rock. When the screaming started, Bilbo hummed tunes in his head. Happy songs, tavern songs, music from the shire rumbled in his brain. Tonight, the hobbit truly longed for Bag End.

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At some point Bilbo had fallen asleep. He was awakened by Fili's desperate shouts. Bilbo groaned as he stretched out numbed limbs.

"Here, I'm over here." He tried to shout, his voice cracked.

Before Bilbo could fully crawl from his shelter, a blonde, frazzled dwarf stuck his head in the rock opening. In the predawn, Bilbo still could see the relief in Fili's face.

"I had grown concerned. You had not returned to camp. I've been calling for you," Fili reached out an arm to help Bilbo up.

Bilbo's face reflected the emotion. "Sorry, must have dozed off. Didn't mean to scare you." The hobbit stood up stiffly and began to brush the small bits of twigs and dirt off his clothing.

There was silence for a moment. Fili looked absolutely drained. For a few seconds the young dwarf just wanted to collect himself. Bilbo was safe. His worry now was for Kili and Thorin.

Bilbo swallowed, his eyes were full of concern. "Did, he, you know, he talk? Did you find out stuff." His ever busy hands revealed his worry with the constant motion.

Fili nodded. "Yes, in the end I learned a great deal."

Bilbo moved closer.

"We have to return to Erebor at once. Kili, Thorin, their lives are in great danger. For my uncle it may already be too late. They've been poisoning for months now."

Bilbo was astonished, "What? How?"

Fili couldn't keep the despair out of his voice and Bilbo put his hobbit hand on his arm. "Since Laketown. It was in the food that the Mayor supplied. Strum told me that our enemy has lain in wait since we were forced from the mountain. This grudge is decades old."

"But wouldn't we all get it? I mean the poison?" Bilbo asked in a rush.

"Magic, Bilbo. Dark magic. It accentuates the gold sickness, makes it much worse. Worse enough to kill if someone has a strong case of it." Fili let out a breath. He then began the short walk back to camp.

"Magic? But, I don't understand this. Not at all. Who is powerful enough to do that sort of thing?" Bilbo stood for a second unwilling to move. This information was unbelievable.

Fili's response made his blood cold. "A witch, Bilbo. A very powerful one."

Bilbo stood trying to wrap his brain around this information. He shook his head in disbelief. Realizing Fili was some distance away, he scurried to catch up.

"How do we fight a witch?" Bilbo asked.

"I do not know. But I will find a way." Fili replied.

"We will. I will help in whatever way I can. Maybe Lord Elrond will know something." Bilbo declared.

Fili slowed and turned, "This is not something you have to do. You've done so much for my family already."

"Well, they're my family too. You adopted me, remember?" Bilbo tried to smile.

"Yes. I meant it too." Fili did smile at the hobbit's bravery and honor.

"Then we must return to Erebor. Thorin is not in his right mind. We can find a way to cure him, we must. Then Thorin will be the dwarf that we remember. The one who..." Words failed the hobbit. He was suddenly overcome with emotion. Poor Thorin. The things that he had said to his friend. Bilbo had believed Thorin of such thuggish behavior. Instead he'd been targeted by a cunning enemy. One that had counted on their willingness to believe that such a mighty dwarf as Thorin could be brought so low by sudden greed.

Bilbo felt a deep shame settle in his heart. He could not stop the sudden tears. "Oh, Thorin. My friend, my King. I have failed you." Bilbo sank to his knees slowly.

Fili stopped walking. He turned and kneeled down beside the hobbit. He tried to find words of comfort, but he was at a loss. The same thoughts swirled in his brain as well about Thorin. However, one thought seared into his heart. Kili was alone and in danger for his life. Kili could not fight shadows. Kili could not fight magic he had no way of knowing about.

When they were younger, it was Fili who had soothed Kili's fear about ghosts and magics. Their parents were dead. Too often Thorin would find himself in some late night meeting. It would be left to Fili to comfort the younger. Fili would check under the bed, in chests and cupboards. Then he'd bounce under the blankets with his little brother. Fili would whisper in his ear. "No evil witches, orcs or goblins here. We're safe, cause I won't let them hurt you."

Kili would look at him with those impossibly large brown eyes full of trust. The two would cuddle closely together. "I nose dis. You'd the bestdest brodder ever."

Fili would smile and feel very grownup. However, his pledge was made in earnest.

Bilbo wrapped his arms around Fili and cried. Fili did his best to comfort the distressed hobbit.

Fili whispered into Bilbo's ear. "We will ride as fast as we can make the ponies run. We will get back to Erebor. We will find a way to save Thorin. Save Kili. I will discover who this witch is. I swear by my ancestors, this villain will pay with his life

Chapter Text

Oin dozed quietly in the cot that had been placed in Thorin's room for him. A fire blazed occasionally spitting. The only other noise was a soft snore from Thorin. Hours ago, the healer managed to break the vise like hold the headache had held over the king. In a few moments of wakefulness, Oin managed to get the hungry dwarf to eat some soup and drink quite a bit of water. Thorin was just beginning to become agitated when the sleeping draught's effects began to kick in.

Oin made his notes in his journal. Ever since the headaches began, Oin began to record all types of information he could note about Thorin. He had learned long ago signs he had earlier dismissed might hold vital clues about how to treat a stubborn sickness.

Thorin was stumping his skills. He suffered from no head injury. However, the healer began to worry Thorin had something evil growing inside of him. It happened rarely to dwarves, however it was much more common in humans. Large growths, tumors would develop in their bodies. While these lumps grew in size, the health and vigor of the patient would waste away. It was a horrible way to die. It was not fitting for anyone, much less Thorin Oakenshield.

Oin did not mention his concerns yet. He had inspected his patient throughly, but found no such tell-tell lumps. He was also familar with those who had a past brain injury developing headaches and personality changes. Yet, as far as he was aware of, Thorin had none of this in his long career of injuries.

So that left the healer with the gold sickness as the cause. This he had only seen in Thror. However, he had only been an apprentice at the time. First hand treatment was not something he was a participant in. Davi, the royal healer frequently discussed patient symptoms, but headaches never were a problem for Thror.

Oin had seen much suffering and death in the escape from Smaug. Yet, it was the Battle of Moira which had truly left a mark on the healer. So much death. It had been beyond his comprehension. To his shame he had broken that evening. After informing the young prince Thorin his beloved brother was dead, he was taken to the dying body of his mentor.

Davi was a healer of renown. He treated everyone, even humans. Davi had stressed healers worked their skills for all those in need no matter their status or race. This kind dwarf also stressed the need to constantly learn and explore new methods of the healing arts. Record, observe, but above all be gentle and compassionate. Oin had no doubt that if allowed, Davi would have healed orc or goblin.

Oin always smiled remembering the old bald dwarf. His eyes sparkled with humor. He always put his patients or their family at ease with jokes or the right amount of sympathy. When death was inevitable Davi taught him to accept it with humility. They were not God. In those trying times, comfort was the first rule for both the patient and the family.

Oin had forgotten all those lessons when he found Davi's broken body by a fallen dwarf warrior. Apparently, Davi had been doing triage on the dying dwarf when a orc ran his spear through Davi's unprotect back.

Davi just had enough time to grasp Oin's hand before his passing. Oin held his friend's destroyed body. Oin had roared with such grief that everyone had stopped their actions.

Oin felt such an anger, a rage overtake him in that moment. It was as if Mahal himself poured in lava, hot and raw into his soul. Oin laid Davi down. The healer had grabbed a weapon, a long spear already marred with blood and gore. Oin was crazed with grief. He ran from orc to goblin. Anything that still twitched, anything that still drew breath he gored. From one body to another, he stabbed. It was the his brother Gloin and Balin who finally stopped his frenzied actions. He had collapsed in their arms with grief.

Oin still regretted his actions that day. He had failed in his solemn oath to be a bringer of comfort, of healing to others. Instead, he had indulged in his own anger and grief. In Davi's memory, Oin vowed he would never give into that madness again.

Now he was the older, experienced dwarf. He had his own apprentices back in Ered Luin. It was with pride he knew one of the best was his daughter. Her skills as a midwife were exceptional. He wished one day Sara's skills would be more in demand by dwarrowdams than human females. Oin knew that Davi would be proud of his granddaughter.

Oin awoke with a start. It wasn't often that he dreamed of his actions in Moira anymore. Experience and time had lessened the shame of his loss of control. Having these dreams reflected his helplessness at his failure to help his King. He was missing something, but he could not place it.

The knock at the door disturbed his deep thought. He grabbed at his ear piece and shuffled toward the door. He did not want Thorin disturbed.

"Calm down. I'm coming. I'm coming." He mumbled. He opened the door to a very upset Dori and Balin. They walked past the healer quickly and without explanation.

Oin shrugged and shut the heavy door. "Well, what is it that can't wait til morning? Thorin rests comfortably."

Balin walked to Thorin. He took the King's cold hand in his own. Emotions overwhelmed him as he stared at his friend.

Dori turned to the healer. He whispered, "Thorin's being poisoned Oin."

Oin frowned and moved his ear trumpet toward Dori. "What? Speak up!"

Balin responded louder than he intended. "Poison. Dammit. He's been drugged by a witch!"

Oin took a step back. His brushy brows went up. "Poison? No, no, it cannot be."

Dori nodded and took the old dwarf aside. "It's been going on since Laketown. It's some sort of poison that makes the gold sickness much worse. Nori discovered this secret tonight. He has a prisoner in the dungeons who confessed the knowledge."

Oin staggered a little and fell into a chair. "Magic. This bodes ill. I have little skill in the repair of the body from such foul deeds." His mind whirled. He had no experience with such hideous workings. "We will need help. From Gandalf, from Lord Elrond even. I'd take help from that Radaghast fellow too."

Balin nodded, releasing Thorin's hand. Still his king slumbered. "Is there nothing that you can do?"

Oin took a deep breath. His body was old, his hearing was long gone, but his mind was still very sharp. "Of course not. We will prevent further poison from getting into his body. I do know of cleansers for a body's stomach and intestines. I will start there. Kili's decision to remove him from the gold is still an excellent notion. Anything that lessens the weight of the gold sickness will slow down the poison as well."

Balin stroked his beard. " Gandalf seems to have disappeared from Middle Earth. Perhaps Lord Elrond will know something."

Dori spoke up, "I will go down to the kitchen. See if I can spot our spy."

Balin raised his hand toward his friend. "Dori, do be careful. Don't act yet. Not until Nori brings us more information. Keep this secret."

Dori puffed up. "I am always the very model of appropriate discretion. I assure you, our spy will have no notion that we are onto her."

Balin nodded as Dori left the room.

"Watch Thorin for me Balin. I must go to my quarters to prepare our king's treatment," Oin began to leave.

"Oin."

Oin stopped, "Yes?"

"Is it too late?" Balin asked. He could not keep the despair out of his voice.

Oin smiled, remembering Davi's lessons this night. Maybe that is why he dreamed of his old mentor. "No. Thorin is very strong. His will would have thrown off the gold sickness by now. I'm certain of it. We have a better understanding of what we are fighting. We will not give up on our king, just as he never gave up on his people."

Balin took his old comrade by the shoulders, "Thank you my friend, you have given me hope."

"Thorin is not defeated yet, neither are we. Now, I'll go prepare my herbs." Oin released his friend.

Balin watched the door close. He pulled the chair closer to Thorin and once more took his friend's hand in his. He began to rub the fingers and palm gently, trying to get warmth into the digits.

"Thorin, my friend, if you can hear me, listen well. We are coming to help. You are no longer alone. Fight this laddie, fight with all your heart and soul."

Chapter Text

Kili was covered in sweat. His horse's flanks also shined with a similar sheen. After the meeting ended with Legolas, Kili did not experience relief for very long. Instead, his gut started to shout at him to return to Erebor. Something was wrong, he knew it. Pushing his pony and his companions, Kili rode long hours to return.

At Dwalin's insistence, Kili finally called for a break. His legs were stiff and heavy with the long ride. The ponies barely stirred as the saddles were removed. No one spoke much. There was just no energy to do so.

Grimacing, Kili forced himself to move one leg after another. He pushed away his crutches when Bofur had offered them. The prince stumbled to an area of high bush and some rock. As he voided, two of the guard came to sit nearby.

The two were tending to their sore backs. Believing themselves alone, the younger one vented. "I can't believe we're on this daft mission. What is the Prince thinking? Parlaying with elves? Maybe them Ironsides are right. The Durin's have gone insane."

The older soldier rolled his eyes and tossed a rock at the younger's head. "You lazy, treasonous ass. It's not our lot to listen to them bastards. The Prince was smart enough to get Erebor back on its feet again. You speak like that again and I'll turn ya worthless hide over to Dwalin."

"Ouch! Stop that! I didn't mean nothing." He shouted.

"You've been in the taverns too much. Stop listening to those borrowed mining trash! Next time it will be my axe in your head." The elder raged at the other.

Kili quietly walked back to Bofur. His mind turning over the conversation. It was good to know that he had the loyalty of some. However, the others word's left a mark. In the past, he'd challenge the soldier. Kili would allow his anger to bubble up. His honor, his family's honor and the need for satisfaction roiling his heart. This Kili however, listened in silence. It was just more information for him to digest and process. He was too tired to do much more at this point. As soon as possible, Kili would speak with Nori. Kili would deal with those of less loyalty through his Spy Master. It was almost as satisfying.

Bifur, Bofur and Dwalin were eating a quick meal of dried meat, cheese and biscuits. Bofur frowned at Kili's disconnected glance.

"Here lad, eat up. You've being going nonstop for days now," Bofur smiled at Kili. Kili accepted the meal and sat down beside the miner. Bofur began to talk to him about the trip. However, Kili's mind was on the comments of the one soldier.

Kili knew others believed him stupid. He did tend to ask the obvious at times. Kili would scratch his head and move on. He knew he wasn't daft, but people could say one thing and do the exact opposite. It was frustrating when he was young. So he'd ask, just to make certain he understood.

There was also his tendency to be more concerned with matters deemed more frivolous. Kili again would shrug. His critics were often missing what Kili thought was the most important part of being alive, experiencing it. Only his brother fully understood who Kili was. Fili never underestimated Kili even when Kili did.

This is why Kili never longed to be Fili. Kili had heard tales of royal brothers fighting one another, causing civil wars over the right to rule. Kili had thought them insane. Pick the one the best for the people and be done with it. Fili was clearly the better one to rule. He was that perfect balance of intelligence with empathy. Fili got the subtleties that flew over Kili's head. Mahal had chosen wisely having Fili be firstborn.

Now that he was fully up to his pointed ears in court politics, Kili had begun to understand that his black and white world didn't apply. Kili constantly second guessed himself about decisions. He'd lay awake at night wondering what he'd missed, how he could have done a better job.

He missed laughter, good humor, his silly pranks. Kili found himself becoming someone he once vowed never to become. Fili had to return soon or else Kili would lose himself.

Bofur had made many attempt to break through to the real Kili. He never made it past the boy's defenses. Kili's mind was too busy. It raced with a hundred thoughts at once when he couldn't act on something. Bofur had tugged on his long moustache. He would find a way to get beyond Kili's walls. Tear them down and allow the boy some relief.

Kili ordered the group back to the trail. Despite his musings, his heart still tugged at him to get moving. No one was eager, but they all obeyed their prince.

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Dwalin arrived at the gate just ahead of Kili. His pony glistened with sweat from the exhausting journey. It alarmed the warrior to see how Gloin rushed down the steps clearly eager to speak to the travelers. He took at look at Kili.

Kili stopped his pony next to Dwalin. Gloin grabbed the reigns of the horse. "My prince, it is good to see you returned." However, his expression revealed Gloin's turbulent emotions.

Kili frowned and Dwalin returned it. Bofur and Bifur slid from their mounts. Dwalin strode quickly to Kili and held out his arms. Kili negatively shook his head. He would do this on his own.

"Don't be daft lad. Your legs must be jelly now," Dwalin grumbled and shook his arms insisting.

Sighing, Kili moved his numb leg over the saddle. He took Dwalin's strong arms in his own.

And was immediately glad he did. The young prince almost stumbled to the marble. He's legs were not ready yet for the abuse he'd pushed upon himself.

"Well, shit." Kili mumbled. Dwalin made no comment, but he nodded at the boy. Servants rushed up offering hands.

Instead, Kili held on tightly to Dwalin who was rock steady. Kili gasped but he forced his legs to straighten, to take the weight of his body. When his crutches were offered, he took them.

"Thanks cousin." he told Dwalin as he made his unsteady way up the stairs. Dwalin hovered at Kili's side, ready in a moment to catch the stubborn Durin should he stumble.

Guards and servants surrounded the group. Ponies were led away. Kili turned his attention to an increasingly impatient Gloin.

"Is it the King? Has something happened?" Kili asked. His heart began to pound at the dark look in his cousin's eyes.

Gloin nodded, "Yes my Lord. His fits are much worse." Gloin hated to lie in to Kili, but from what he knew the truth could not be discussed in the open. Balin and the company had decided to make the conspirators believe their plan was still succeeding. A courtyard of witnesses would help that ruse.

Kili stopped his progress for a moment. Dread settled in his heart. He had delayed evacuating Thorin until his return. Had this decision cost his uncle? Kili opened his weary eyes.

"Where is Oin?"

"With the King, he does not leave his side," Gloin answered.

"Dwalin, come with me to the King's chambers. Bifur, Bofur get some rest and regroup. Thank you for joining me." Kili felt the adrenalin rush through his body. Kili quickly rushed to his uncle's quarters, Dwalin right beside him.

Dwalin opened the door as Kili hopped in. Balin and Oin rose at once from their seated positions.

"Thank Mahal, you've returned." Balin greeted. "Did the meeting go well?"

Kili nodded his eyes fixed only on his sleeping uncle. "Yes it did. Legolas agreed to help. Fili and Bilbo will be escorted through Mirkwood's forest."

Balin came over. He slapped Kili on the back. Secretly, he had doubted the elven prince's willingness to help. Again, Kili's instincts had served the young prince well.

"That's good news."

Kili was impatient. "Tell me, how is my uncle. Gloin said he'd grown worse." Kili limped to Balin's chair and sat. It was the closet to Thorin. His uncle did not appear to be sicker.

Nori and Dori rushed through the door at that moment. It was clear the two had run to be here.

Balin replied, "I think its best that Nori explain. After all, it was he who found the information."

Kili barked, "I don't care, just tell me."

Nori walked forward to move closer to Kili. Kili looked up in anxiety.

"Your uncle has been poisoned by our enemies. It is a magical potion intended to make his gold sickness worse," Nori informed Kili.

"What?" Kili's expression turned to shock. "Poison! Are you certain?"

Nori bowed his head, "Yes my lord. I have a prisoner in the dungeon that confirms it."

Dwalin couldn't stop his anger from exploding. "Who? Who had done such a cowardly deed? " He drew his battle axe even though there was no foe in this room.

Kili nodded his heart already screaming for a blood feud. His now shaking hands sought out Thorin's.

Nori shook his head, "We are not yet certain. We do know that a witch is involved. This person has a grudge against the line of Durin. It is centuries old. The return to the mountain triggered his actions."

Oin spoke up, "The poison has kept Thorin from conquering the gold sickness. It keeps the curse alive in his heart. It is slowly killing him."

"Is there a cure?" Kili asked.

"I don't know yet. However, herbs to cleanse the King's body of foul spirits have helped. He is resting far more comfortably today," Oin answered.

Kili frowned, "Gloin said"

Balin jumped in. "We are trying to make our enemy unaware that we are onto their plot. I apologize for the deception."

Dori spoke up. "We have a person who is doing the deed being carefully watched. The female responsible works in the kitchens, but we know her to be doing the bidding of others."

Kili's rage reared. "Nori, I don't care what you have to do. Find me a name, the people responsible for this. NOW! Get that bitch talking. Dwalin go with him. Use your skills to help her tongue loosen."

Nori opened his mouth as if to speak, but Kili shook his head. "We don't have time to be subtle. My brother returns to Erebor with Bilbo. I want to know what this poison is and who the fuck is doing this. Push their hand and put them on the defensive!"

Nori nodded. He could understand Kili's frustration. Dwalin looked at the ginger dwarf. "Lead me to this damn traitor."

Dori opened the door, "I have seen her. Bombur has her under his steady gaze. Come with me."

The three left the king's chambers.

Thorin began to stir with the sound of the heavy door shutting close.

"Who? What is happening?" Thorin mumbled out.

Kili licked his lips, "It's me, Kili." He took Thorin's hand in his.

Thorin still did not open his eyes. "Kili. Stop goofing off. Keep your pranks for daylight, get Fili and go back to bed."

Kili smiled then swallowed hard. He couldn't stop the tears now. "Yea, right away Uncle. You get some more sleep."

"Uggh. You're a good lad." Thorin said before slipping back into unconsciousness.

Kili broke. This was the first real contact he'd had with his uncle since Laketown. His uncle was not the heartless bastard he'd believed Thorin to be. Thorin was fighting an enemy he could not see. His heart was still there.

Oin walked forward. Kili dropped his head beside Thorin and cried. Oin's voice was gentle. "Kili my prince, Thorin is the strongest, most stubborn dwarf I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. If anyone can beat this, it is him."

Kili did not even have the strength to acknowledge the healer. He was drained. His burst of anger had left leaving guilt awash in his soul. How could he have doubted his uncle so?

"Kili, no one saw this as a possibility. None. You cannot blame yourself for this. The persons responsible are very clever." Oin tried to get the grieving youngster to hear his words.

Kili rose his face flushed, "I am his nephew. More like a son. He raised me and Fili. When I think of the word father, it is his face that I see! Not the dwarf who spawned me. Thorin!"

Balin nodded. The lads' father died in the Battle of Moria. Kili never laid eyes upon his father.

"I doubted him. I CURSED him" Kili spit out. He wiped his nose with his gloved hand.

Balin leaned down. "Laddie, he did his worst to you. You bore the brunt of his anger, his outbursts. You cannot be blamed for what you felt. Most would have raised their hand in anger. You did not. Instead you kept watch over what he holds most dear, Fili, Bilbo and the people of Erebor."

Kili tugged on his short pony tail. He didn't have Fili's braids to tug on in his anxiety. "I'm no hero. I failed him."

Oin shook his head. "I think differently. You were here. Thorin kept fighting the madness, the poison because he has you to return too. Kili, it is his love for you and Fili that is keeping him alive."

Kili swiveled to the healer. Oin continued, "Love is a more powerful than any healing potion. It can make a huge difference in a person's recovery. I've seen it happen too often to doubt its strength. Stop with the guilt. The best you can do for Thorin and yourself for that matter, is to concentrate on the bond you do have."

Kili let out a deep breath. The words tumbled around in his brain and slid into his heart. "Show him love, compassion?" He asked to be certain.

"Absolutely. Stay the strong dwarf we have seen over these many weeks. Don't let the enemy defeat you by putting shadows in your heart." Oin offered.

Kili thought for a second, then gave the healer a small hint of a smile. He let go of his hair and turned back to Thorin. "Uncle, I swear you will be returned to us. We will right the wrongs we have said to one another. I will find our enemies and I will end their days."

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Bilbo did not see any sign of Strum at the camp. The wooden posts were gone as were the bindings.

Bilbo almost asked where Strum was but decided he really did not want to know.

"Could you eat? I could make tea. We still have biscuits and bacon from the caravan." Bilbo offered. He realized that Fili had been up for a long time. "I'll just get everything ready while you rest."

Fili nodded and slumped down next to his bedroll. He pushed the fake Fili off. He hadn't felt this tired since the spider venom in Mirkwood. Fili felt he should be riding back to Erebor, now, but his body was betraying him. Perhaps a few minutes of rest would be wise.

Bilbo had the fire going in no time. Soon water was put on to boil. The hobbit got up to check on Fili. The dwarf was asleep, all the adrenalin spent in his body.

Bilbo sighed and arranged the blanket around Fili. It was still a bit dark and rest would be good before they set off.

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Bilbo awoke with a start. He hadn't realized that he had drifted off. At some point he had lain down beside Fili when the youngster had a rather loud nightmare. Calling Bilbo, "Kili", Fili had snuggled against the hobbit's warmth. Soon there after he returned to a calmer sleep.

Bilbo had opened his mouth to correct Fili, but found he didn't have the heart. Instead, the warming comfort of Fili's body seeped into his cold bones. Bilbo was asleep in minutes.

It was the sound of horses that arose the hobbit from his slumber. He sat up with his hair in a hundred directions and his eyes wild. His neck swiveled as he tried to determine exactly which direction the noise was coming from.

"Fili, Fili! Wake up!" Bilbo's breath was visible in the daylight. The weather had taken a turn for the colder.

Fili murmured. He did not want to wake up. He dreamed of his childhood in the Blue Mountains. Kili and he under the blankets amusing each other of ever more ridiculous tales of adventure.

Bilbo's hands reached out and shook his companion. Finally, Fili stirred. His ears carried the sound of visitors to his foggy brain.

Fili abruptly shot out of his bed roll. Bilbo nearly fell flat with the speed of it. Fili drew his swords. "Stay behind me Bilbo. Be ready to run." Fili's blue eyes darted around trying to add to the information of the sound.

Seconds later a female voice broke the tension.

"Good morning camp."

Fili could see four male elves and one female ride into view. Fili lowered his weapon and straightened out of his defensive position. Bilbo peered around him. "Elves? Why are elves hailing us?" He scratched his curly head.

Fili shrugged, "I know naught."

The elves rode very close. Clover and Mittens became scared and let their displeasure be heard. They stamped their hooves and whinnied.

The elves watched the two with slight amusement. They spoke in their own melodic language, beautiful sounds concealing ugly words.

Fili frowned at them, or at least at the female of the group. She was impossible to miss. Her flaming red hair and green eyes were stunning. Her armor shone as she gracefully dismounted her white stallion.

"Greetings, Fili, son of Dis and Bilbo of the Shire. My prince, Legolas has instructed us to meet with you," Tauriel informed the two as she walked up to Fili and Bilbo.

Fili tried not to glare. His opinion of the gorgeous elven beauty was well known amongst the company. She was a cruel temptress who had taunted his very inexperienced and innocent brother with her beauty. Tauriel had teased his naive brother, flirted with him. She gave him tender glances and spoke kind words. Kili was entranced. Tauriel would suddenly strike at the young dwarf. With harsh words and mockery, Tauriel would make sport of Kili in front of an audience of elves. Kili would be hurt and confused. Later, Tauriel would return to Kili in his cell, begging forgiveness. The cycle would begin again. On and on it went until the day they escaped in those wooden barrels. Fili had promised to himself to kick out a few of those perfect teeth out of her head. No one hurt Kili in such a manner, especially when they were already so helpless from imprisonment.

His eyes narrowed at the she-elf. Fili sheathed his swords. He instructed a very confused hobbit, "We're leaving. Gather your things."

Tauriel smiled at how easily the youngster was ruffled. He was very much like his little dark haired brother. Only not as handsome. Too much dwarf in this one.

One of her soldiers spoke, "You are quite rude. You should address our Captain when spoken too, dwarf."

Bilbo stopped picking up his bedroll. 5 on 1 odds were worse than the night before and these were elves. "Oh, well, then, good morning. Bit cold though for my liking." His head nodded toward the wild. He then returned to nervously gathering up his meager possessions

Fili shot the soldier a glare at their "guests", reminding Bilbo of Thorin. He pointedly looked at Tauriel. Fili struggled to get a handle on his anger. He had villains to worry about. Fili had no time to deal with the massive ego of elves, especially this one.

"Good morning," he gritted out. "Good bye." followed quickly.

Tauriel laughed. It was a beautiful sound, like bells. "Like the sun rising in the east, you can always count on a dwarf's gruffness." She took several steps forward until she was only a few paces from Fili.

"Come now, I know dwarves have limited interests but even you should be curious what my prince has to say." Tauriel teased.

Bilbo gave Fili a quick glance of warning. The elf had no way of knowing what the two had just suffered through. The only things keeping Fili's tongue civil was the need to keep Bilbo out of harm and the need to return to Erebor.

"Fine, Tauriel. Please enlighten us with the message from Prince Legolas. We are quite curious to discover how one lowly dwarf and one hobbit require his attention." Fili replied.

Bilbo blew out a breath. This was not the diplomacy he was thinking of. This was more like bull headed Duriness. Bilbo stepped in just as the soldiers were beginning to become restless.

Quickly he placed himself between the blonde and the ginger. "I think we all have gotten off to a bit of a rough start. So why don't we all try again?" He waved his hands toward the entire group. "Good morning with all its various meanings and definitions to you Captain Tauriel of the Mirkwood Realm. Please tell us the message that you bring from the very honorable Prince Legolas." At this Bilbo hooked his fingers in his suspenders and smiled. It was huge and somewhat fake, but it pleased the elves.

Tauriel's smile became more natural. She dipped her head slightly. "Good morrow to you both. We come with an urgent message from our Prince. He instructs you to ride with us through the forest. We are to return you to Erebor as quickly as possible."

Fili frowned as did Bilbo. They were both taken by surprise. Bilbo looked at his friend his expression of confusion plain to see. Their reaction was not unnoticed.

"What? I think not. Our last trip through Mirkwood ended in imprisonment. I will not make the same mistake." Fili demanded.

Tauriel shifted her footing. "I only know that my prince does this out of respect for yours, Prince Kili of Erebor. The matter is most urgent."

Fili's brain went to the worst possible reason instantly, but the hobbit was even quicker. "Is the king alive? Is Thorin alright?" Bilbo rushed over, demanding "We must know!"

Tauriel's elegant eyebrow went up at the intensity of the hobbit's questions. "King Thorin still lives. Is there a reason why he should not?"

Bilbo let out the breath he was holding. He swiveled to Fili. "He's still alive." The relief in the hobbit's face was as great as Fili's.

Fili smiled at the hobbit. He grasped the halfling's shoulders. Bilbo returned the smile.

Fili broke off their private moment. Tauriel watched expectantly. "Thank you for this news." Fili's sharp brain finally overrode his emotions and exhaustion. They were asking Fili and Bilbo to join them. If they had wished, the five could have taken them in their sleep. Plus it was just like Kili to ask for help in an unexpected place. The elves of Mirkwood definitely qualified. This also meant that Kili was aware of some danger. He knew Kili. Kili would not ask Fili and Bilbo to turn back unless the situation was dire.

Fili's face became an emotionless mask. "We accept your Prince's most generous offer to be escorted through his realm. We will break camp immediately."

Tauriel and the soldiers stole glances at one another. The change in Fili was dramatic. The little hobbit ran around with an abundance of nervous energy. His need to return clearly evident. Fili's actions were controlled and deliberate as he gathered his things.

Tauriel watched very puzzled. One moment he was like any other dwarf. The next he was a calm pool of water. This would make for an interesting journey.

Chapter Text

Out of necessity the kitchens of the mountain fortress of Erebor were put to rights quickly. It had been an enormous process. However other races may believe, dwarves cannot survive on a menu of rocks and water. Bombur had been appointed head of the kitchens immediately. It was with great pleasure that the enormous dwarf took the reins of the few that would serve as his kitchen staff. Bombur's true love, other than his wife and children, was cooking. All dwarves have a skill, a craft that calls them. His was food and all the talents required to bring a good meal to an appreciative dinner.

Bombur's skills at feeding many and quickly in his past served him well now. Of course, when one has over a dozen children feeding a hoard starts at home. The large dwarf left much of the old stoves and ovens in place. However, he rearranged all of the areas for prep work and serving. In his mind the old design was muddled and caused people to bump and cross into another's paths. Despite his size, Bombur liked for things to flow gracefully and that included his kitchen staff.

Thanks to a great deal of travel, Bombur had also managed to sneak into kitchens of all types. As he snacked and nibbled on their wares, he made note of what worked and did not in the kitchens of dwarves, humans and elves of Rivendale. Bombur wanted the new kitchens of Erebor to be celebrated in Middle Earth for its fine food.

At the beginning, Bombur had little food to work with and fewer dwarves. His first two helpers arrived while they were still recovering from the Battle of Five Armies. Both were dwarrowdams from the Iron Hills. The elder was known as Edda. She had worked in the kitchens of Erebor as a youngster. It had always been her hope to one day return. She was an immense help to Bombur as the renovation took place. Her hands were old and wrinkled, but her mind was still sharp. Edda's beard was all grey, but she put the younger dwarrows to shame with energy. Bombur and Edda became good friends.

The much younger was Nevi. Also a hard worker, but unlike Edda she rarely spoke. Her clothing and manners bespoke a rough life, one filled with much hard work and abuse. She rarely looked anyone in the eyes. Instead, her grey eyes always seemed fixed on the floor. Simple black braids with two lone beads told her tale to those wise enough to read them. Nevi was an orphan. Her brother was killed in the battle. Nevi had turned to Erebor's dwarves for a chance at life.

Edda and Bombur watched after the poor, sad lass. Over the months Nevi had become one of the new dwarves of Erebor even though she was no Longbeard.

More and more dwarves poured into Erebor as the weeks turned into months. Bombur and Edda scrambled to keep them all fed with the meager supplies that could be bought or scavenged from the surrounding land. The kitchen staff continued to grow as well. Bombur added three more to try to maintain the necessary meals. The workload increased dramatically.

Bombur and Edda drew up plans for what would be required when the large caravans began to arrive in the spring and summer. Bombur looked forward to the Blessed Day that his large family would walk through the great gate. For the day, the two decided the crops that would need to be planted, the herds of animals to be bought and maintained. The dwarves once depended on men to furnish them foodstuffs while they traded gold and jewels. The lessons of their exile had been harsh. Prince Kili insisted that the old status quo would not come to pass again. Instead, the Longbeards would maintain a minimum of crops and animals for their own use. They would never again be totally dependent on trading with others whose good will would vanish. Durinsfolk had long ago put aside their pride. They would not let their children die again due to starvation. The Prince would not allow them to be at the mercy of any, including the other dwarves kingdoms.

In Bombur's culinary realm all was more or less proceeding well until the morning he met with Nori and Balin. Bombur had just finished up the last of the breakfast and was beginning the prep work for the midday meal. He'd been summoned to bring food to the king. In the king's chambers Bombur had learned the truth of Thorin's illness. Poison. From his kitchen.

Bombur had sunk to his knees in shame and guilt. His huge red beard quickly became sodden with his tears. He had failed. Bombur had been inconsolable for quite a long time. It did not help that Bifur and Bofur were away with the young prince. They were not available to talk sense into their kin. Balin and Dori finally got through to him over an hour later.

Bombur stared at the two through his redden eyes. "So I do nothing? I allow this traitor to stay in my kitchens? What if she decides to poison others? I haven't seen how she does it to Thorin. How can I prevent it from happening to another?," he demanded. His voice rumbled in the room not stopping to allow others to answer his questions.

Balin drew a deep breath. "Aye. We've decided we will allow her and her coconspirators to think their plan continues. Once the Prince returns, Kili will instruct us how to proceed. Nori is convinced that others are yet to be discovered. We must learn who their friends are."

Gloin grumbled, "I still say we split their fingers and toes, peel off their eyelids. They'll talk quickly enough."

Shaking his head, Dori interrupted, "Do you not think Nori has already done that with the prisoner we do have? He barely lives. Still he will not speak. Nori has never seen anything like this. His fear of what will happen to his spirit is greater than the death and torture we promise."

"We are up against a dark and cunning foe," Balin added. "Until the Prince tells us otherwise, we will proceed with caution."

Bombur struggled for a moment. "I will do as you instruct."

Dori placed an arm around Bombur. "It is difficult for all of us my friend. You are not alone in your feelings of guilt."

"Nor are you alone in the responsibility. It is something we all share. However, we have not failed Thorin yet. Our new enemy will feel our wrath and see the line of Durin stand strong and proud in Erebor." Balin encouraged.

Bombur nodded and left to return to what was now a place of sadness and disappointment.

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Bombur disguised his sadness with the tale of sickness in his family. Ravens had delivered the sour news. His two youngest were very ill. Bombur was uncertain if the two boys would live.

All of the kitchen staff were horrified with the news. When the normally jovial Bombur asked to be left alone with his thoughts as he worked, it was easily done. The lie convincingly disguised Bombur's melancholy.

It wasn't until the next day that Nevi became suspicious that Bombur's tale was not true.

Nevi delighted in her role. Oh, how she enjoyed letting males think they ruled her fate. She would quietly nod and do their bidding. Until the right moment, when she would have her revenge. It was so, so sweet. Never once did her targets suspect. Never did they know their days were numbered. At the end, when they were weak, brought low and trembling from HER skill, her power, Nevi relished their suffering. They begged Mahal or healers to end the agony. But they lacked the power to intervene. In those precious moments in time, Nevi was filled with glorious purpose.

But it was never enough. All the agony, be it swift or prolonged like that damned arrogant bastard Thorin, was never enough to satisfy her thirst for revenge. Nevi's desires and dreams were darker still. The Line of Durin would be ended. She would do what orcs, goblins, and dragons had not.

Nevi had thought little of Bombur's request she be the one responsible to clean out another large pantry. Nevi had done it before, but never without help. Bombur had waved her off claiming he trusted her to sort it out properly. Although Bombur did check on her regularly.

She had enjoyed working by herself. The opportunity to not carefully measure her every movement and action was pleasant. Nevi had returned to the main kitchen in order to obtain hot water for cleaning. Bombur was not there at the moment. Instead, Edda was at the large preparation table carving up tubers for the evening meal.

A soldier appeared before them. "I need food for a prisoner. He'll be needing a liquid diet," he told them with a dark grin.

Edda frowned as she looked up from her peelings. "What has this idiot done?" There were very few prisoners in the Durin Dungeons.

The soldier gave Edda a stern look. "High treason against the king. I need this done quickly and quietly."

Nevi continued her work quietly in the background. Her mind was swirling.

Edda gasped and dropped her knife on the table. "What? Who would be so foolish?" She stood up in a rush looking about the room to see who else was there.

Nevi stepped out swiftly, but only just evaded Edda's glance. Nevi stood in the dark shadows waiting for the soldier to reveal more.

"I cannot say. It is not to be spread." He ordered.

Edda nodded and began to rush around the room to get a broth ready.

Nevi slipped back to her pantry. She closed the door behind her and dropped the bucket to the ground. Taking a deep breath, the female clamped down hard on the feeling of panic that was trying to rise up.

Suddenly, so many little things that seemed slightly off began to make sense to her mind. The lack of messages from Borgi yesterday and Bombur's sudden assignment to a pantry deemed not necessary until spring. The way he carried himself. How he'd peek in quietly and checked her work without saying a thing. Why Dori had been around yesterday evening in the kitchens. Somehow they had found out.

Nevi cursed herself for missing the subtle clues earlier. She clenched her teeth and her fists. This is why you never relied on a damned male for anything. They will find a way to make a mess out of everything. Damn this plan for requiring the use of the stupid, useless brutes. Nevi had argued against it, but she had been over ruled.

Whichever moron was in the cell had to die before all their secrets were spilt. She had to assume they were also watching her. But Nevi was not a idiotic male, she always had a plan.

Chapter Text

A dark swirling mass of anger strode through the halls of Erebor. Dwalin had not been this enraged in decades. His weapon was in his hands. Fire blazed in his eyes and people hustled to get themselves out of his path. The others with him scurried to keep up with his long strides.

He ran into Bombur before he made it to the kitchens. Bombur's face was as red as his beard.

"She's gone. Can't be more than 10 minutes." Bombur rushed out.

"What? I thought you were keeping an eye on her!" Nori shouted.

Bombur was upset. "You told me to keep it natural. I did."

Dwalin grabbed a soldier that had rushed to the lower levels with them. "Close the gate now! No one leaves." The dwarf nodded and ran off. Dwalin swiveled to another. "You, alert the guard. We are looking for a female, Nevi. If found, she is not to be killed but interrogated. UNDERSTOOD? Go!" To the third he pointed to the kitchens. "Get some others and double check every square inch of the place."

Nori got Dwalin's attention. "I'm going to her sleeping quarters. See if she's been there or left something behind."

Dwalin nodded, "Bombur, you help the guards search the kitchens. Dori tell the Prince what has happened. I'm going to check on our prisoner."

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Balin had helped Kili remove his armor and travel clothes. The weight just added to the pain his legs felt. Kili then tumbled back into the seat beside his uncle. His mood was dark as his mind tried to calculate just how long it would possibly take Fili to return with Bilbo. All the answers were the same, too damn long.

Kili permitted Oin to give his legs a cursory inspection as he asked a hundred questions about the poison. Oin tried to engage the Prince in discussion, but Kili was in no mood. Balin finally waved off the healer. Balin took a seat next to Kili.

Kili lowered his hand covering his brow. "Is there anything else I should know of in my absence?" His voice was tired, but Balin knew it would be sometime before Kili would find rest.

Balin shook his head. "All else goes as planned. We running low on potatoes much to Ori's dismay," he managed a small smile. A caravan is close to arriving. Should be here in two weeks."

Kili nodded, "They must be courageous to travel in winter. Or else the conditions so poor where they lived too bad to continue in."

"I think it's both. The winter has been mild. I just hope..." Balin was cut off by a breathless Dori. Gloin, who had left to attend to other matters, trailed behind.

The meticulous dwarf looked very rumpled. "Nevi has escaped. She was gone before we got there!"

Gloin growled his displeasure causing the King to stir. Even Oin and Balin were out of the seats and complaining.

Dori continued on gasping, "Dwalin's ordered the gate closed, extra guards here, and the kitchens researched first."

At first Kili said nothing at the news. Dori's words spun around in his head. Instead, he nodded. He thought of what Dwalin had done and mentally agreed with every action.

His four companions watched and grew surprised. All had expected some outburst, a show of anger. Kili was doing none of those things.

He rose from his seat. His calm, quiet words in stark contrast to his fellows eruptions. "Guards are to be doubled for the king. Nothing gets into this room that hasn't been checked out three times. Gloin, see to it."

Gloin nodded and rushed out.

Kili whispered quickly "Balin, Oin, you keep the King safe. Keep him calm. Dori, tell Nori I need to know how our traitor knew to run now." Kili reached for his armor and began to shove it back on. Balin hurried over to help.

Dori watched for a moment a little out of breath. Kili glanced up at him. "Go Dori. We have little time."

"But where are you going?" Dori couldn't stop himself from asking. In fact it was the question they all had.

Kili buckled the last fastener together. His sword was once more at his side. It was obvious to Kili Thorin was struggling toward consciousness. He didn't have time to wait. Kneeling, Kili took his rough hand in his and gently kissed the fingers. He lowered Thorin's hand down. "Rest, this is for me to handle."

Balin repeated Dori's question. "Where are you going Kili?" He was still surprised at how composed the once boisterous prince had remained.

The calm facade fell apart when you saw Kili's eyes. They were dark and stormy, full of anger so deep it was beyond rage. Kili swallowed the truthful answer, instead the young dwarf replied, "To the dungeons. I want to speak with our guest."

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Nevi allowed herself to smile. Getting past the guards had been so easy. Play the meek female. Just hand them the bowl and blush. Let them deliver death to her prey. She didn't need to watch the idiot die. Just knowing his insides would soon be turned to a foaming, bloodied mess was good enough.

There was only one thing she couldn't truly control, time. Time was what she was short of. The prisoner would die quickly. Soon they would be turning over every stone in the castle to look for her. She walked up the rough granite stairs. Her footsteps were silent but quick.

Nevi had barely made it to the upper halls when she heard the ruckus. The orders being shouted. The great gate was to be sealed, a traitor was loose.

She gasped, but melted into the shadows of the staircases. Time was running out. Her eyes darted about. She would be found and soon now if she did not act. Nevi felt a cold calm wash over her. She had played this scenario over in head a thousand times. Nevi knew what she must do. Time could not be bartered with, but it could be bought. To buy time she would have to resort to dangerous actions.

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Dwalin arrived at the dungeon. A few guards panted as they trailed behind. They had not run the paths of Middle Earth as the legendary captain had.

The two prisoner guards dipped their heads in respect to their captain.

"Has a female been here?" He roared.

The two guards glanced at each other nervously. "Yes sir, a kitchen maid delivered the prisoner's meal minutes ago."

Bofur arrived then. The miner pushed through the three soldiers blocking his way. He was out of breath from chasing after Dwalin. "Open his cell. We have to stop him from eating."

Dwalin pivoted to race back up the stairs as Bofur shouted, "I've got this. Go find the witch!"

Dwalin nodded. Other following guards had to once more throw their bodies out of his path.

Bofur rushed to the prison cell. "Hurry mate. We can't lose him!"

The guard fumbled with the keys at the cell. Bofur could see through the cell bars. The prisoner had heard them talking. He had being laying on the floor. The broth was in a tray placed in the middle of the cell. He slowly crawled to his last meal. He was reaching out with a shaky, poorly bandaged hand toward the bowl.

The keys fell from the thick fingers of the dwarf guard.

Bofur muttered curses. "Give me the damn things." He grabbed the keys and shoved what he hoped was the right one into the lock.

"Don't do it lad. Don't! We can still help ye!" Bofur pleaded as his fingers found the second key.

The prisoner paid no attention to his words.

"Nevi lied. Don't damn yourself."

His right hand finally gripped the bowl. Much of the liquid splashed out onto the floor.

"NO!" Bofur yelled. He rushed across the room just as the traitor put the bowl to his swollen lips. He wouldn't make it in time.

The prisoner hesitated for second. He put his lips to the bowl and closed his eyes.

Suddenly the bowl and its deadly contents went tumbling down to the floor along with a large rather riduculous hat.

He frowned, never expecting to be snapped from death's grasp.

Bofur was on him instantly. He pulled the dwarf away from the spilled liquid and into the arms of the shocked guards.

"Treat him gently lads. Our friend here has more questions to answer."

Bofur went over and scooped up his battered hat. He let out a held breath. "Thank, Mahal."

Bofur shoved the hat on his thick dark locks.

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Kili forced his legs to move quickly. One shoulder brushing hard against the stone walls of the staircase as he fell/ran down the steps. He used it to keep his balance, to stay upright. Pain shot up his leg and spine when he half tripped over the last steps. The main halls were crowded, people rushing everywhere. Guards shouting orders. It was chaos. The soldiers following Kili soon found themselves caught up in the masses. Kili continued on without them.

Kili had his little voice screaming in his head. It was telling him she was still here. The traitor was nearby. If he just looked hard enough, if he could just listen to his instincts, Nevi would be his.

Then he saw it. In all the noise and confusion, no one would think of a door bumping as unusual. But Kili had spent hours pouring over every map of Erebor in the last weeks. That door was only to a small storage area. No one should be in there. Nothing should be going on there.

Kili took quick steady steps toward the door. The pain was gone, he was on pure adrenalin. His sword was pulled silently from its scabbard.

His half gloved hand felt the door handle. It was locked. It didn't slow him down.

In front of him was a ghastly vision of nightmares. A female dwarf stood, her mouth poised over the blood spurting from a wounded dwarf. The victim's eyes were sheer panic, terror as his life's blood spurted with each heartbeat. However, he was motionless in the witch's grasp. Nevi twisted away from her feeble victim. The incantation was still on her blood stained lips as her eyes grew wide in amazement.

Time would not be bought this day, not even with the price of blood. Yet of all those to find her, to seek her out, it was the dark, moody prince. Her life might end this day, but not before she struck a fatal blow into the line of Durin. Time had finally been generous.

Kili swallowed and put his sword up. "You are under arrest for high treason against the King. Surrender now or face my justice." Kili kept his voice steady, trying to keep the horror of what transpired from affecting his nerves.

She laughed wickedly in response. The door slammed shut behind Kili.

Kili and Nevi stared at one another for a long second. Each appraising the other. The room swam in hatred, in violence awaiting to erupt.

The lone candle glowed red. Kili's blade caught the crimson light, it was reflected in his own eyes.

Nevi let her victim slide to the floor slowly as his last gasp escaped his body. The poor miner's body dissolved in front of them. In seconds, only bones and dust remained of the unfortunate dwarf. It was so quick, so vicious that Kili took a half step back.

She smiled and her appearance shifted. The young, boring kitchen maid was replaced with a dwarrowdam of great beauty. Her hair was as dark at the deep night. Skin was fair and delicate, her form holding grace. Her eyes were something of a nightmare. The brown hue was replaced with a glowing crimson yellow of the damned.

Laughing, Nevi pulled a short blade from the confines of her skirt. The red light revealed a greenish hue to its edge. Kili instantly knew just a nick; a thin slice of skin would end in death. An impossible wind began to swirl the contents of the room.

"Come little prince. Meet your doom. You cannot escape it. Your pathetic friends can't help." Nevi boasted.

Behind him, Kili could hear pounding on the door. Dwalin's voice screaming the loudest.

Kili moved to a defensive stance. He gauged her movements as she mocked him.

"Don't you have questions? Doesn't Durin's little bastard want to know who wants him and his kin dead?" Nevi teased as if she had all the time in the world.

Kili and Nevi began to circle one another. "Why?" He made his voice strong.

"That's it? I was told you were simple. Now I see why. You have no imagination."

Kili didn't respond.

Nevi almost pouted. "Arrogance. Indifference. Stupidity. Brutality." She finally hissed out. "All males suffer from this and much, much worse. Your line has caused so much death, so much pain through greed. It ends." The dark energies she had called on earlier seemed to increase in their intensity. The winds became a gale. The room smelt of sulfur and electricity. Finally, the storage closet seemed to disappear altogether. Kili found himself on some dim plane. Grey and black dominated. The only other color was maroon in the dark above. Yet the red glow was not from stars, but from eyes which glowed with malice. The souls of the damned watched the two opponents.

Kili felt terror trying to claw into his heart and mind. Using her deadly magic, she was attempting to beat the will out of him, his courage to fight. His mind screamed for him to shut his eyes. Run, run far away. Find the door. Escape!

Kili didn't do any of those things. He forced his attention on the female. Kili remembered why he was here and who he was protecting. This bitch would not harm Thorin again. She would not get her claws on Fili, never him. Thinking of his brother he acted.

Kili suddenly moved to an offensive stance and sliced at her dark head. She barely blocked it, darting quickly from a follow up movement.

"Oh, you're a sneaky little bastard."

Kili returned her dark smile. "Sneaky, devious, cruel even." He replied softly. Today he would be all those things and more if ended Nevi's life. Kili felt all the tensed, bottled up emotions pour into his heart and mind. His exhausted limbs suddenly felt new energy pour into his body.

She raised her weapon at him once more as they carefully circled each other. Her countenance changed to one of mild surprise. "It's too bad you have Durin's blood in you. I am starting to sense a bit of kindred spirit. The winds and flames dance to your anger as well. You could have had true power." Her voice became smooth and seductive.

Kili realized these mind games were all designed to weaken him. He attacked.

She blocked it. Swiftly a second blade was in her left hand. It flitted forward.

Kili stepped back, Nevi's second blade slide off his.

The two exchange a flurry of thrusts and parries. The speed of which increased tremendously with each blow.

Kili drew her in. She was so concentrated on his one blade, Nevi failed to see his foot. Kili kicked out. Nevi stumbled and fell back. Kili's weak legs finally betrayed him. Instead of pushing his advantage he stumbled. She recovered in time to prevent the killing blow. The second blade was sent flying out of her grasp with the force of the strike.

Nevi scrambled upward. She began to speak some dark words even as she raised her remaining blade.

The sound of the words sent pain tearing through Kili's mind. He barely was able to roll out of the way of her steel. Nevi had the advantage now. Although this spell cost her much, it was worth it to see Kill swaying. Kili was barely able to stay inches away from death. He spun and ducked. The poisoned edge kept coming closer and closer. Nevi allowed herself to smile again. Time was on her side once more.

Kili gasped for breath, he had to keep moving, keep dodging. But the pain, it burned. He was slowing. The end was near. A quick slice and more of Kili's hair lay on the ground. Another dodge barely in time.

She tried to backhand her blade into his face. His sword caught it, but his left leg trembled and he began to slide down. In desperation Kili threw a left hook at Nevi's head. It connected. Nevi flew back and her muttering stopped.

Suddenly the burning agony in Kili's brain ceased. Kili heaved trying to pull himself upright. It was no use. His leg could take no more abuse.

Nevi bounced back. Her own blood covering her lips. She yelled in incredible rage and threw herself at Kili.

Kili blinked. Time seemed to stop. He thought how he would never see Fili again. But he would end Nevi now. She would not touch his brother. Fili would be safe. Thorin would be safe. In the end, that's all he had ever wanted. It's all that he had ever needed.

Nevi rushed forward. Kili saw every movement. The hate in her eyes. The wind blowing her clothes. The steel blade with its green death.

She slashed out. His blade fell from his much weakened grasp. Her body twisted her face already anticipating victory. The second strike would kill him.

She hadn't anticipated Kili suddenly jumping up from his nearly prone state. His right arm grasped hers and thrust it downward. They fell together, Kili on top. She grunted and tried to twist her hand. Just a nick, just a slice. That's all she required.

They tumbled on the rocky soil. She was so, so very close. One more inch.

Kili scrambled trying to get an advantage. His left hand flailed out in an attempt to find a weapon, anything to fight back.

Almost there. Nevi's mind sang in anticipation.

Kili screamed. It was a horrible thing, full of a soul weary pain.

His fingers found Nevi's forgotten dagger. He didn't hesitate.

Nevi gasped in sudden searing agony. Her red gold eyes grew enormous as her body began to shake in shock.

Kili rolled off the witch. He felt a tree and scrambled against it. He just wanted distance between himself and the bitch.

Nevi's hands flew to her bloodied midsection. One poisoned blade dropped from her hand. Both hands then clutched its mate now embedded in her stomach.

She stared at Kili. Kili sat just gulping in air, shaking at the effort he'd forced his body through. Darkness started to edge his own mind.

"You bastard," she whispered. Bloody foam began to seep out of her mouth. "Not... over... not..." Nevi could speak no longer. Convulsions violently ripped through her body.

Kili tried to hang onto life. The battle, the pain had been too much. "Fili... forgive me." Kili's body slumped forward beside Nevi's.

Chapter Text

Thorin felt his mind trying to wake. It was like slogging through a bog. He would make some progress only to sink down once more. It was frustrating. He heard the raised voices, sensed the anger and worry. Thorin knew he should awake. He was the king, it was his responsibility.

He was so tired of the dreams. One after another, they gave him little respite. Dark pictures of Thorin treating those he loved the most like the lowest of scum. Harsh, horrible words that had no place coming from his lips. The feel of his hand striking the flesh of his nephews.

Balin and Oin watched and quietly talked of the happenings outside the King's chambers. Thorin was tossing and turning constantly. Despite soothing words and gentle hands, the dwarf would not settle.

Soon the king's body was covered in a drenching sweat. He and his sheets were soaked. Limbs thrashed about and low, deep moans escaped from his lips.

Thorin's wild motions grew more intense. It took both Balin and Oin to keep Thorin on the bed.

The dark images continued to grow intense. He saw himself grabbing gold and gems in his arms. Bilbo pleaded for help as he was dragged off in the black. The hobbit cried out to Thorin, pleaded for his hand. Thorin looked up from his gold, but did nothing more. The hobbit was lost to the darkness.

Suddenly, his dream self was tackled to the treasury floor. Fili stood over him, his eyes blazing with hatred. Thorin was momentarily stunned. He tried to upright himself, gather his precious gold to cover him like armor.

Fili reached down and pulled him to his feet. "You bastard. You have betrayed all those you claimed to love. Bilbo is gone to the shadow, his body tortured and his soul enslaved. I try to save him, but cannot. Not alone, without family, without my BROTHER. Because your greed has killed him. My little brother and I will never be together again. Look, look at his body."

Fili's hand entwined in Thorin's hair. He forced the king to look down at Kili's body. Kili was a child again. His hair was short, he had no beard. His face was twisted in incredible pain. Death had been brutal. Blood seeped out of his body like a stream. It covered his hands and he knelt beside his sister son.

"You did this. You left him alone. We could have saved him, you could have. But the gold meant more. For this, I curse you. For this, I will kill you."

Thorin started to scream. His incredibly blue eyes shot open.

Balin and Oin were thrown off Thorin. He stood up, eyes wild, sheets falling off. Guards rushed into the room ready for combat.

Thorin heaved in several breaths as his two old friends righted themselves. His head was spinning, heart pounding out of his chest. Eyes searching, rested on his sword and armor. He strode to it.

Balin recovered first. "Thorin, stop." Reaching out, he tried to prevent the king from his frantic movements.

Thorin spun on him, grabbing him by his clothing. "Where are my boys? Where is Bilbo? They are in danger."

Balin stared for a moment. Thorin's face was a mass of pain and confusion, but for the first time in what felt like forever, there was no madness there.

"Please Balin. Tell me." Thorin begged. He hoped it was all illness induced, but his heart told him otherwise.

Balin swallowed as Thorin released some of his death grip. "Fili and Bilbo are in the wild. Kili is here, he is dealing with a prisoner."

Thorin frowned. "I sent them away. I banished Fili. Bilbo, he tried to talk sense to me. Then he left." His words were simple, because he felt such shock from finally understanding what had happened. The treacherous things he had done for the love of gold.

Oin came to Thorin's side. "Yes, Thorin. Your mind is clearing. The gold sickness is fading."

"Bring Kili to me, now. I must see him. I must know that he is alright." Thorin ordered the guards. One nodded, "Yes my Lord." He left the room in a trot.

Thorin let go of Balin. He leaned heavily against a chair.

"My king you should sit, your body has been put through a great struggle." Oin's hands began to guide the exhausted king to his chair.

Thorin let himself be led. His brain tumbled and he struggled to differ reality from nightmare. "Balin, Fili and Bilbo, I want them back."

Balin smiled. "Your lifting the banishment then?"

"Yes, damnit. I rescind the Banishment. I want them home. As quickly as possible. Send out a detachment to find them."

Balin ordered, "Send for Ori. This must be recorded into official record." The second guard nodded and left. "Kili has already sent for them."

Thorin threw off his soaked nightshirt. It landed in a heap on the floor. "How long? How long have they been gone?"

Oin did not stop his inspection of the king. He checked the king's brow, looked at his eyes, felt his pulse. Everything indicated that at long last, Thorin was back to them.

Thorin permitted this as he spoke. He knew it was necessary. He had to win over his friends first. Convince them the King of Madness was gone. Only Thorin remained.

Balin answered Thorin's questions as Oin tended to his patient. Balin felt a sense of relief flood through his old bones. This was the Thorin he remembered. "Fili has been gone for almost three months, Bilbo much less. They're together. Fili is escorting the hobbit back to the Shire."

Thorin shrugged on a clean shirt. "Just Fili?"

"Yes, Bilbo wouldn't accept help from anyone else of the company. It was Kili's idea that Fili go with Bilbo. Fili was working as a smith for the humans in Laketown."

"Fili stayed near? He did not try to return to Ered Luin?" Thorin asked. Thorin knew his boys. "Kili." Fili would never willingly be far apart from his brother. He answered his own question. Oin stopped his inspection.

Balin began to answer when the heavy door burst open. Gloin ran in looking wild. "Oin, Oin hurry. It's Kili!"

"What's happened? Where is the lad?" Oin reached for his medical bag.

Gloin's voice trembled. "He found the traitor. He's fallen." Gloin managed to get out before the emotion overwhelmed him.

Thorin felt his blood freeze. In two steps he was in front of Gloin. "Where is Kili?"

"Main Hall, storage closet. Dwalin's with him." He sputtered out. "I'm so sorry."

Thorin didn't hear the rest. He was out the door. Oin and Balin following close behind.

Dwalin kicked the door open with such ferocity it splintered. His weapon was at the ready, but there was no foe to strike. Nevi was covered in her own blood, obviously dead. Kili lay sprawled next to her, face down. There was so much blood, it was hard for the dwarf to tell whose was whose.

Dwalin fell to Kili's side and turned the boy over. He was totally lifeless, his limbs tumbling every which way. His dark eyes closed and his face as pale as the moon.

"No, No. Laddie, don't do this. Don't." Dwalin bent over to detect any sign of breath. Kili was cold and motionless. Dwalin ripped open Kili's shirt shoving down his armor. His ears went to his heart. 'Mahal, please, spare the little one.' No sound. No beat.

Dwalin roared in agony. Everyone within listening distance stopped what they were doing. The shout echoed in the halls. Dwalin didn't try to stop the tears from falling. He didn't care how it looked. Kili, little Kili was dead. He'd watched this boy grow from a bumbling, bouncy ball of energy to a man who'd he'd been proud to serve. A king in all but name. Dis' youngest and he had failed her. His promise all those years ago to a young, beautiful widow broken. Dwalin hugged Kili tighter not allowing any others to touch the prince.

Thorin moved as quickly as unused muscles allowed. People made haste. Their glances full of pity and curiosity. He spotted the storage closet easily enough. A large gathering of soldiers and others stood mingling around. He did not miss their heart broken expression, the tears in some of the dwarrowdams.

Thorin tried not to think the worst, he just had to see his nephew. His subjects and friends hurried out of his way. Thorin made it to the doorway when he stopped. Reality delivered a punch to his gut. There in Dwalin's arms, cradled so gently, was Kili. Pale and motionless, his hair wild, Kili looked so tiny, so young.

Thorin began to shake. A fear known to his heart gripped him. For a moment he was frozen. This cannot be. Not Kili, not his boy. Thorin stumbled forward, falling beside Dwalin.

Dwalin faced Thorin. They did not need words. This had happened in the past. With Frenin, with the boy's father, experience they wished they never had. Dwalin forced himself to let Kili go, to allow Thorin to hold the boy, no, the body, of Kili.

Thorin lip's quivered, tears already pouring off his shallow cheeks. He managed to say, "Kili." before the grief struck him. It was a physical blow. He stroked Kili's cheek. Gently, he kissed the dwarf's forehead.

"He died a hero's death. He found and killed the traitor." Bofur's gentle burr broke the silence.

Oin pushed his way through the company. Bifur, Dori, Bombur, Gloin, and Ori had all arrived. Oin knelt beside Thorin. "Let me see him." No one had dry eyes this hour.

Thorin laid Kili down gently, his eyes never leaving him. "What traitor? Why is Kili alone to face her?"

Bofur reached over and bent down to his friend. "You were being poisoned by a witch. She's why you couldn't break the gold madness. It was killing you. But, Nori and Kili, they found out. Stopped it."

Balin took over, "Kili was supposed to be talking to our prisoner. His legs. He wasn't ready to fight yet." The last sentence caught in his throat.

Oin stopped his administrations. Sadly, he shook his head. "I'm sorry Thorin. He must have been poisoned." Oin held out Kili's hand. A tiny inflamed cut on ring finger stood out covered in pus.

Thorin broke.

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Bilbo and Fili spent the time with the elves in silence. Bilbo long ago dropped his love for all things elven. Curtsey of the Mirkwood Elves, their cruelness taught him elves could be just as horrible, just as mean spirited as all the other races of Middle Earth. The imprisonment of the company had been terrible. Separated and half starved, Bilbo had spent the longest, most desperate days of his entire life in their halls. It took much to anger the hobbit, even more for the gentle one to have a grudge. But the Mirkwood Elves had succeeded on both counts. Their king was an arrogant snot. Like Thorin, he cared more for appearances and old wounds, than the living. Bilbo could forgive a great deal. He was gentle soul. He never completely believed the tales the dwarves had told them or why they hated elves so very much. After Rivendale and Lord Elrond, Bilbo had decided Thorin and the others were just too stubborn. Surely, Balin exaggerated about Thranduil's coldness at the death and suffering of the Longbeards.

Then he met the king. Watched in silence as the Ring kept his prescience shielded. He saw the elf's cold anger, his vanity, his love for things long lost. Thranduil took comfort in the pain caused in the dwarves. In Bilbo's eyes Thranduil became as if just another orc or goblin king. When Bilbo had seen poor Kili's lack of hair, Bilbo had actually cursed the elf king. His fingers had reached to Kili out of instinct. A desire to soothe the pain the boy felt. His hair and lack of beard had always been the boy's weak spot. Now Thranduil had made his embarrassment a thousand times worse.

Bilbo had been overjoyed when he'd found an escape out of the prisons. Thorin had almost squeezed the breath out of his burglar hobbit in his gratitude. Once more, the hobbit found himself at the center of Thorin's world and it was a very good place to be. All of the company held Bilbo in the highest esteem. No one was better than their burglar. He was the best Hobbit in all of Middle Earth. Bilbo smiled at the memories and held them close to his heart. If only Thorin had not been lost, if only the gold hadn't seized his mind.

Fili was lost in his thoughts this day as well. He missed Kili. Today it was a physical ache. His heart felt sick. He needed his little brother. Fili was so tired. With Kili he'd be able to unburden himself. They would joke, play silly games. Sing old made up songs. Drive Thorin insane with a stupid prank. Tease Bifur with Inglesmek that only the Fili and Kili understood. They'd brag and try to one up each other. His soul felt empty. Today, memories did nothing to soothe his emotions. Instead, it only made things worse. Fili felt as if he could not get to Kili fast enough. He would ride and ride, until his pony quit. Then he would walk, until he fell.

As the elves began to enter Mirkwood Forest, they began to sing. It was beautiful. Their elvish words were in perfect harmony. The melody was something belonging to another time and place. As they did so, the forest around them changed. Instead of the dark, brooding forest, this trail was a place of light and life. The sunlight reached to the trail in shafts of hazy gold. The plants were a vibrant green, not the dull dark. The feeling of oppression and hopelessness the two felt in their previous travel was nowhere to be found this time.

Bilbo slumped against Clover in relief. Hobbits love the green, but not this place. It was an exception. Bilbo had hated the dark, mysterious woods. This time the evil was kept at bay. He felt gratitude toward the elves for this.

Fili glanced at Bilbo and managed his first smile of the day. He too saw the difference and was greatly relieved for it. His soul already felt weak, the darkness of the forest would have made the situation much worse.

It was rather late when Tauriel finally called for a halt in their travel. The elf had been greatly puzzled by their two guests. They had said little. No complaining, nor rude jests. Just silence. It was the opposite of their time in the dungeons. Dwarves make for very loud and noisy prisoners. They were rude, uncouth beings, full of disgusting hair. She hated them the second they appeared. Except for Kili, they were hideously ugly inside and out. She had been secretly pleased when they escaped. Of course she had ordered the prison fumigated. Who knew what parasites those creatures had brought in?

Kili, though, he had been an exception. When he returned begging for aid for his kin, Tauriel had made certain to witness the whole thing. She had been amazed at the youngsters stout heart and humbleness. Tauriel had been pleased her estimation of Kili was right. He was an exceptional dwarf.

Then the boy proved his prowess with a bow. Once more Kili separated himself from his pack. When he appeared shaved and his hair bound, Kili became desirable to her shame. Now, the captain found herself escorting the older, much hairier brother. Fili was almost as surprising as his sibling. Fili had started out as she expected, but it ended the moment his brother had been mentioned. The change had been instant. She knew that Fili and Kili were close. In fact the worse thing about the imprisonment was the two brothers begging to be reunited. More than once, she almost relented just to stop their insistent whining.

Fili had defied his incredibly arrogant and pigheaded uncle to plead to the humans of Dale for help. He'd sold them the Arkenstone to do it. Fili was made of the same remarkable stone as Kili. Tauriel reluctantly admitted she would have to give Fili a chance to prove himself. The little hobbit was an even bigger surprise. How had he managed to evade an entire palace of elves? And for so long? He was made of much sterner stuff than any other hobbit she'd ever heard of or encountered. Bilbo was downright protective of the dwarf as well. A brave, sneaky hobbit full of loyalty to another race? She had also never believed such a possibility, yet here he was before her.

Bilbo had fallen asleep on his little pony when they stopped. Fili instantly looked to the hobbit's needs first. He set out Bilbo's bedroll near the fire. He made sure the hobbit ate the soup they hastily prepared. Fili arranged Bilbo in his bedding then he tended to both their ponies. Finally, the golden dwarf sat wearily beside the hobbit.

Tauriel offered him a bowl of soup. "Thank you." He said with a very dry mouth. He dipped his head to her slightly. She nodded back, "You are welcome. Rest tonight. We will keep watch." One hand rubbed the hobbit's back as he drained the bowl. Fili placed the bowl beside the fire. He arranged his bed roll very close to the hobbit and laid down. One hand on a sword, the other on Bilbo. If there was to be danger this night, it would go through him first.

The others spoke in Sindarian. They questioned each other about the actions of their very confusing and quiet guests. Tauriel stopped their gossiping even though the two heard not. She would no longer be rude to beings such as these two.

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Fili was having the worst nightmare of his entire life. Worse even than the Ring had inflected on him. Because this one had a desperate and terrible feeling of truth in it. And if it was, if this was not a nightmare, but a foretelling of the future. Well, then, he was already dead.

He was in the fortress of Erebor. Down deep in its heart. The mountain itself fiercely kept this place sacred, not even Smaug had tried to violate its sanctity. For this wall the Hall of Remembrance, the place where the Longbeard's had buried their kings, their heroes. On a richly veined, shiny black marble, Kili laid motionless on the slab. His hands were on his sword which had been placed on his chest. His bow and quiver on each side. Kili's short dark hair lay unbraided like a halo around his face. His features were solemn. There was no mistaking he'd died in pain. Fili's heart rendered in two. Because somehow he knew. Kili had died alone.

Fili didn't try to stop tears. He felt himself stumble forward. Fili heard sobs and turned. Thorin stood. His uncle, not the horrible King Under the Mountain. Thorin looked as if death's door would open and he would willingly tumble through it. Ordering the guards and Dwalin away, Thorin advanced to Kili. He took his sister-son's hand and kissed it.

"I never thanked you. You or Fili. I never told you how you kept my heart beating, kept me in this life instead of becoming a dull, dead husk. This was supposed to be for you, for Fili as much as our people. I wanted you to know you were princes, never to go hungry or cold again. And I failed. In every way that possibly mattered. Fili and you were the light in my heart, the reason to keep going when everyone else was dead. All that I loved, they died. I've lost a piece of myself with each death. But this. Oh Kili, you were a better king in your few weeks, than I would be in decades. I'm sorry my son."

Thorin slid against the marble slab to the cold granite floor. Kili's hand slipped from his. Thorin buried his face in his hands and grieved.

Fili scrambled beside Kili. "Kili! Kili! You cannot do this! You can't leave me!" He screamed over and over. His voice was hoarse when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

Fili swirled. Kili stood in front of him. His brother was dressed in his old clothes, his long hair restored, braids that Fili had woven still there. Thorin's beads.

"Kili!" He shouted and launched himself into his brother's arms. He went right through them. "No, you cannot be a ghost, you can't leave me."

Kili shrugged, "I didn't have a choice. Her or Thorin. Her or You. That's not a choice. She's dead. I'm glad."

Fili, "I won't accept this. I see no wound."

"Poison, her blade was covered with it." Kili explained.

"Then why are you here? Why are you not in the Halls of Manos?" Fili's brain worked overtime. He was trying to make some sense of this nightmare. It didn't feel like a dream, it felt real.

His brow furrowed like it always did when he was presented with a very difficult puzzle. "Because, I'm not good enough? I don't know." He admitted. Death was confusing. He was having a hard time getting used to it. Kili wandered to stand next to his brother. His desire to touch Fili was palatable. "Maybe I'm waiting." He blurted out. 'Yea, that was it. I'm a ghost to watch over my brother until it's his time. Better not tell him that.'

Fili had no idea where this was coming from, "You're not dead. You're just sick. Move. Show them. Your spirit hasn't left this place."

"I don't think so." Kili didn't feel his body. He didn't feel any sensation.

"Don't think, just trust me. Just listen to my words. I have no idea why. I don't understand any of this. But just move. Breathe for me." Fili pleaded.

Kili gave his brother a tortured look. He hated to disappoint Fili. "I can't."

"You will try. For me. You will do this. Or so help me, I will end your wait tonight."

"What? No. Nope. I did this for you. You're to be king. Have a queen and babies. Lots of them." Kili was frustrated. He thought death might give him wisdom. Apparently, it was another false assumption on his part. He was as muddled as ever. However, he's determination to keep Fili from harm was strong.

Fili was having none of his brother's stubbornness. "I will not. This poison may have fooled everyone, but not me. You will move. You will live. Or by Mahal, I promise I will join you."

Kili frowned, it wasn't as if he wanted to die. "No."

"Move."

"I can't."

"You will. Move."

"I," maybe he could. After all, Fili was usually right.

"Breathe, Kili. Just breathe."

Kili cried and looked down at his body. "It hurts. I am so tired."

"I know, I'm sorry, but Kili for heaven's sake. Do it."

Fili was as close as he could be to Kili.

He could see his brother try, reaching into a deep part of himself. Kili whined, "I don't wanna be alone."

"I can't be alone either. Not like this. Breathe."

Kili nodded, sweat broke out in his brow with the effort.

"You can do this. You are so strong. You can beat this. Just like the bullies teasing about your bow. Breathe."

"I'm trying!"

"Breathe."

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Thorin was startled. He heard a strange noise. Slowly he rose up. A quick glance revealed him to still be alone. He rose to be beside his dead nephew.

The noise repeated. It was strangled, like someone who was mostly drowned. Thorin's eyes grew wide. Had his prayers been answered. Did he dare hope?

His calloused hands flew to Kili's shoulders. He gently shook them. "Kili, Kili. Are you alive?"

The noise again and this time Thorin saw Kili's lips move slightly.

"Please, Mahal, Please. Let him live. You can have anything. My crown, my life. Please." Thorin begged his deity.

Kili gasped again. His hands jerked releasing their grasp on his weapon. It fell to the ground with a very loud clang.

"Kili. You live. You live." Thorin felt the hope swell in his heart. He shouted, Dwalin was already in the room. He'd never left his shield brother or his son.

Dwalin was at Thorin's shoulder. Kili gasped again and his body shuddered in Thorin's arms. Thorin gathered him into his arms.

Dwalin tugged Thorin aside. He'd heard the noise, but still couldn't believe it. Dwalin reached out and put a hand on Kili's chest. Thorin's gazed locked with his for a second. His look of relief and joy was soon joined by the old warrior's.

"Kili. He lives."

Thorin nodded. Dwalin held the two for a moment. Kili stirred slightly.

"Get Oin." Thorin whispered. Dwalin nodded smiling. He stood up.

Two guards confusedly looked down at the two. Had their king gone mad again?

"Go get Oin now. Tell him Kili's alive." Dwalin didn't want to leave. He didn't want this miracle to slip away.

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"This has cost us much." The female voice broke the meditation.

"It was necessary. The link between the two had to be maintained." The voice had an elvish ring to it.

"The boy will live." The first voice spoke again. This was a human female.

"The House of Durin had paid for the sins of many. The time has long since passed when they were due some mercy. These two young ones show much promise." This was a third female voice. The sound of comfort and compassion echoed in her words.

"For too long. I thank you for this kindness and this act of mercy." the fourth voice joined in. Her voice deep and rich.

"It is not over yet. We've spared them for now, but greater trials await." The elvish voice replied.

The fourth voice replied, "They will continue to surprise you. They are our hope."

In the trauma of his poisoning, Kili's mind reverted to a self when he felt truly loved and protected. This is why he acts and talks like a much younger dwarf.

Chapter Text

Bilbo was the first notice. He was so close to Fili, so it wasn't really a surprise. The hobbit felt Fili's hand entwine into his blanket and clothes. He was holding onto the sleeping hobbit as if his very life depended on it.

Fili was talking in his sleep. By the sound of his mutterings, his body jerking about, Bilbo quickly surmised his friend was in the throes of a nightmare. Bilbo frowned; Fili deserved some rest, some peace. Even sleep denied him those comforts.

Bilbo gently pried Fili's hand loose. He offered his hand instead and Fili clasped it tightly. Leaning over, Bilbo could make out the words that Fili kept repeating. "Breathe."

Fili remained unmoved by Bilbo's shaking. Whatever he was dreaming of, it was more important than the conscious world. The elves watched curiously at a distance. This was an unusual sight and could mean an ill omen to their journey.

Bilbo frowned. He didn't care for the intrusion but there wasn't a fat lot he could do about it. He hovered over Fili trying to keep prying eyes away from the youngster.

Fili shocked the hobbit by suddenly sitting straight upright. This time the word he shouted was heard by all, "KILI!"

Bilbo gathered Fili into his arms. "Fili, it's okay. It's just a dream."

Fili looked at Bilbo, his eyes wild and unfocused. "Kili, he's hurt."

Shaking his head, Bilbo placed his hands on either side of Fili's face. "Look at me. Fili, you've had a nightmare. A dream."

Fili seemed to calm at the hobbit's touch. Breathing deeply, he frowned. His blue eyes began to focus. "A dream? No. It was real. Real, I swear it."

Bilbo smiled reassuringly. "I promise you've been right beside me the whole time. Asleep."

Fili's body shook. The dream was so intense; its effects on the dwarf were very real. He was in a state of shock.

"Kili was dead. He died. He was poisoned."

"No. It's a dream. I swear. Kili's alive." Bilbo spoke softly.

Fili grabbed Bilbo by his collar. "He's alive. Yes. Yes. Kili breathed. He did."

Nodding, Bilbo decided the best thing to do was to agree with his friend. "Yes, of course. Kili's fine. He's alive."

Bilbo felt Fili let him go. Fili was beginning to calm down. "Kili is a brave lad. I'm sure he's right as rain. Just pacing the halls waiting for us to return."

Tauriel motioned to her fellow elves. "Excitement is over. Tend to your posts." She knelt beside the two. Fili was still breathing a little heavy, but his actions were calming down quickly. "Here, take a drink of this. It will help soothe your nerves. It is a strong elixir we sometimes use. I swear it will cause you no harm."

Tauriel extended to Fili a small flask. Fili though refused to even acknowledge her presence. Bilbo hated to seem rude, so he took the flask from her. He took to sniff. It smelled suspiciously like brandy.

He shrugged. The hobbit had no idea they even heard of the stuff. "Alright, it can't hurt." He offered it to Fili.

Fili refused to take it from the hobbit. His brain was still swirling from the memory of the dream. No, he refused to call it that. It was real. Whatever happened between him and Kili, it was real.

Kili had been poisoned. A poison so nefarious it mimicked death in his little brother. Somehow though, he connected with his brother's mind. Fili convinced him to stay alive, to fight the death that was so close to claiming his body. The rest of the details were fading. He had no idea who poisoned Kili or why.

The urge to get to Kili, to see him in the flesh was overwhelming. "He needs us."

"Yes, he does. And we need him. But this is a dream. We will get back to him as quickly as possible. When we get to Erebor, you will share this with Kili. You two will be together and have a laugh about all this. You'll be back to your jokes and pranks in no time." Bilbo's voice was soothing. "Now take a little sip of this. It's strong but it will help your nerves. Mine too, I'd wager."

Bilbo showed his willingness to trust Tauriel. He tipped some of the fluid into his mouth. He instantly began to cough and sputter. He gasped and flayed one hand about. Then he snorted. "Oh yes, very smooth. Here, have a go."

Fili's eyebrows rose up. His normal senses were returning quickly. "I'm not certain about this."

Bilbo coughed again. "Nope, very good. Just a bit stronger than I've had in the past. Better than ale if you give it a chance."

Cocking his head sideways, "Nothing is better than ale." Fili replied.

"Go on, give it a chance."

Fili took a drink. It spread warmth throughout his body. He did not sputter like the hobbit though. He took another sip. Not bad, but not ale.

Bilbo frowned and took the flask back. ' Of course dwarves would take hard liquor like old pros. Why would I expect otherwise?'

Tauriel was amused at their antics. Bilbo handed the flask back to her. She refused it, "No, please keep it. You may have need of it later. We still have several hours of darkness; I suggest the two of you get more rest if you can manage."

Fili shook his head. "I seriously doubt it." The images of his brother were too vivid. For as long as he lived, Fili would never forget the sight of Kili on his funeral slab. It was something Fili vowed he would never again witness. Fili would not survive it a second time.

Bilbo fussed about Fili like a mother hen. "You lay back now. Give yourself a moment to rest."

Fili allowed it. Frankly, he felt drained to an extent he'd never felt before. His connection, his link with Kili was real. Despite whatever Bilbo or the others might believe, Fili realized it was true. He did not understand why or how. All of that was beyond him. He had to trust that it was somehow Mahal looking after two of his children.

Bilbo continued to talk. His voice was soothing, some story of his back in the shire. Fili would nod at the appropriate time. However, his mind tried to hang onto the details, but they were slipping away. Kili had been poisoned. So their enemies were trying to kill both of them. Thorin was there, watching over Kili's body. However, he could take no information from that. Thorin could still be in the throes of the gold sickness.

The rest of it was lost except for one important fact. Kili was alive.

Bilbo finished speaking as he tucked in the blanket around his friend. "So Lobelia has never forgiven me for that little incident. But it was worth it to see the look on her face, all pruned up and wrinkly. "

Fili rewarded Bilbo with a faint smile. He knew there was no convincing the others to break camp. It was still dark. The hobbit needed his rest and so did he. Against his deepest desire, Fili allowed himself to close his eyes.

"Thank you Bilbo. You are a good friend." Fili spoke just as Bilbo began to settle in next to him.

Bilbo patted the dwarf's shoulder. "Just you rest. Tomorrow we will ride toward Kili. You'll be together in record time."

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Kili wanted to escape. Never before had he felt so helpless. Glowing red eyes chased him across a dead, blackened forest. He was weaponless. Laughter, wicked and evil came from all directions at once. Shadows just out of focus, chased after him. If they got their hands on him, just a touch, would condemn him to this hell forever.

He stumbled, falling over roots. Landing in thick mud, he felt himself sinking. It poured into his clothes, the slime instantly chilling his body. The shadows drew near. In that moment he feared his soul would be lost in this forever hell.

He heard it then. Fili calling out to him. He was in such pain. Kili had to get to him, so he fought the darkness. With everything he had in him, he struggled to be free.

Suddenly, he was in a different place. Fili was crying, sobbing his name. For one moment, one steadfast instant he willed himself to be able to reach out and touch his brother, to offer him some small comfort. It worked.

Fili had seen him and his tears ended, but Kili finally understood what happened. He was dead. Nevi had been true to her words. She'd killed him. However, he had managed to kill her as well. Thorin was safe. Perhaps without her wicked potion, their uncle would return to his true self. He could only hope. More importantly, Fili was safe from her clutches.

Somehow Kili was not surprised. He wasn't a hero. He wasn't special. There was no happy ending for a spare heir. He'd played his part. Kili had hoped for the Halls of Mandos. But he'd settle for being a ghost over the previous place. He heard about such things growing up. What child doesn't? Perhaps he could watch over Fili, he was here and they were together. It could work, not as good as living, but it beat that horrible dimension that was already fading from his mind.

Fili was trying to convince him to return to his body. It wasn't really possible. He was dead.

Fili was arguing with him, saying the poison made him appear dead. Kili couldn't feel a thing. 'So that was dead, right?'

Fili however, wasn't be deterred. When he had something so strong in his head, no one, not even Kili could change it. He was very much like Uncle Thorin in that regard.

So Kili tried. He tried to will himself back into his body. He was rewarded with pain, excruciating pain that seared every nerve. His body was on fire.

It was only Fili's promise to follow Kili into death that made him even attempt it again.

Because if Fili killed himself to be with Kili, where would he be? Would he go onto the Halls, or that dark terrible place? Would he be left behind here? Besides he wanted Fili to live. He was going to be a King of Legend. Fili would have strong sons and smart daughters. His deeds would restore Erebor to the greatest of Dwarrow kingdoms. One that the Dwarrows would sing of until the world was renewed. Fili had to stay alive.

For love of his brother, Kili returned to his body.

He woke up screaming

Chapter Text

Kili's unconscious body had been taken immediately back to his room. Word of his miraculous return to life spread through the mountain fortress. By the time Dwalin laid Kili down on his bed, the entire company was in attendance as well as a number of others.

Oin was very grumpy. He ordered everyone out. Of course no one budged an inch. Finally, the old healer bellowed, "I can't work with all of you idiots in my way. Be gone. Go."

Frowning and muttering the company left, all except Thorin and Dwalin. Oin suddenly realized he'd just called his king an idiot. He shrugged. He had certainly behaved like one.

Oin was disappointed in himself. He was getting too old for this. He'd seen the nick. However, Kili gave no signs of life. Perhaps his senses were becoming too feeble. It didn't matter now. What did is somehow the young imp had pulled the ultimate prank. He'd cheated death.

Oin gently and thoroughly examined the youth. He showed little sign of awakening, but he was most definitely alive. A fever raged now sending a flush to his face.

Oin took Kili's left hand in his. The spot on his finger was mottled black and purple. It would have to come off. It was the source of continuing damage.

Thorin hovered but said nothing. Finally, Dwalin pulled up a chair and shoved the exhausted king into it. Thorin shot him a look but said nothing. Neither wanted to disturb the healer.

"The index finger still causes the poison to be in his system. It must be amputated."

Thorin and Dwalin exchanged a brief glance. One finger was a small price to pay for his life.

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When Fili awoke he was still shaken by the events of the night. He reassured Bilbo he was alright twenty times, but said little else. Fili went through the motions of breaking camp. He sighed, Fili had become quite used to performing actions on without really thinking about it.

Tauriel asked once how he was. Fili noticed the captain was much less hostile to him. He wasn't sure why. Fili was thankful for it, but he did not dwell on the change. He chalked her change in attitude to Bilbo. The hobbit had the ability to make the most gruff of characters come to treat him with fondness. His uncle Thorin was proof of it. Fili benefited by association.

The elves began to sing again as they rode their mounts. Bilbo smiled openly. He was very appreciative of this and did not hesitate in telling Tauriel and the others. Fili nodded along with this. He just wanted to get through Mirkwood quickly.

It was after the break for lunch when the quiet genial mood began to change. The forest became darker. They could hear the sounds of clicking and scurrying. Bird song became rare.

Captain Tauriel grew concerned. In elvish she told her guard to be on alert. The spiders who populated the woods were growing stronger indeed if they could resist the song.

Bilbo and Fili caught on to the change. Bilbo gave Fili a very worried glance. Without words, Fili nodded. He already understood the hobbit's fear. He shared it twofold. When the spiders had captured the company, Fili had been bitten more than once. Fili had been miserable for more than a week with the after effects of the venom. Being separated from Kili at the same time, made for one of the most miserable times of his young life. As a result, he now hated the eight legged beasts with a passion.

Tauriel turned her head to the hobbit. "Mr. Baggins, the spiders may trail our progress. However, they have learned it is folly to attack so many elves. Especially since we appropriately armed should they make the attempt." She made a pointed glance to her bow.

Fladaith, one of the more vocal guards added to his captain's comment. "We would be removing them from the forest. That was our original task."

Fili could not stop himself, "Why do they persist in their existence? With the skills of your people, I would have thought they would be a temporary problem."

Tauriel smiled. Now this was much more like a dwarf. Praise along with a backhanded comment. Finally.

"They breed very quickly. We destroy one nest to find they've started two more. You dwarves would have been overrun long ago." Fladaith grumbled.

Fili shrugged, "Are you certain? We have no such creatures in our realms. We dwell below where the spiders are more at home. Perhaps, we have skill you underestimate."

Fladaith's cheeks turned red. He was a very proud elf. Tauriel jumped in. Fladaith had no patience for the game. He was too quick to take offense.

She rolled her green eyes. "I think its more likely we have kept them from spreading."

Bilbo though was lost in thought, he asked his musings aloud. "But why here? Radaghast mentioned a sickness of the greenwood. What is causing it?"

Fili smiled at his friend. He'd gone straight to the point. Bless him. It was the foremost question on Fili's mind as well.

At this question all the elves grew somber. It was a question plaguing their hearts and minds for some time now.

The silence grew into an uncomfortable time. Finally, Tauriel admitted, "We have no true cause. Many have guessed."

Fili pushed, "What is the common theory?"

Tauriel turned from her steed to glance back at him, "Witchcraft."

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Kili woke up screaming.

Everything hurt. His nerves felt as if they were on fire. Oin was there in an instant. Something foul was being shoved down his throat. He had no choice but to swallow. It took two other dwarves to keep him on the bed as he flailed about. He constantly shouted for Fili. Then the pain medication hit and the fire began to lessen to a dull ache.

Kili's brain could make little sense of what he saw or heard. The room was in a haze and he was seeing double of everything. His left hand felt off, the ache there more intense. His mind merged nightmare with reality still. He cried out, "Fili, help me!" before he slumped back onto his pillows.

Kili's mind tried to reach to his brother again. "Fee! Please!" Kili felt something brush up against his mind. "It's okay, little brother. I'm coming. I promise you. Rest."

Whether real or imagined, the effect was dramatic. Kili's body slumped in relief. Someone, Oin probably, placed some water to his lips. He drank greedily, before laying his head back once more. People were talking to him. He couldn't make out the different voices though. Kili was getting far too sleepy. For one brief moment, he blinked and his eyes cleared from the pain. The young prince was surprised to see the king holding his right hand. "Who are you?" Was all he managed to say before blessed sleep took him away.

Thorin watched as Kili finally let the herbs do their work. He'd been surprised at the strength Kili had in his upper body now. It required a great deal of effort to keep the lad from falling out of bed or hurting himself. Thorin let go a deep sigh as he his hands cupped Kili's unharmed hand.

"Oin, why did he not recognize me? Is the poison still in his system?" Thorin asked worriedly.

Oin sat heavily in a chair by Kili's long table. "The lad's been thru an ordeal. His body is still in shock."

"But he will recover?" Thorin asked.

Oin rubbed his temples. The Durins would be the death of him one day. The stress they put on him. He'd need an apprentice soon. "The next few hours will reveal much. However, Kili's will is quite strong. He will not surrender to death so easily."

Thorin nodded. "Kili will prevail. Durin's blood is strong in him." He could not think on the alternative. To have a miracle of his return to life, then to lose him again was unimaginable.

Dwalin took this opportunity to speak up. "Yea, the lad has faced the fire's of Mahal's forge. He is stronger than any metal you'd find in the mountain. You should be very proud of him." Dwalin's tone was affectionate, but the last was almost a blow to Thorin.

Thorin felt the guilt ripple through his gut again with Dwalin's words. Dwalin continued. The warrior had a point to make. "Few of us, myself included, thought young Kili would be up to the challenge. Especially with Fili gone. But he was."

Thorin's bloodshot eyes sought out his best friend's. Dwalin locked his gaze. This was raw, rough emotion for the Captain. Yet, he had always spoken truthfully with Thorin all his years. After the hell Thorin had put everyone through, he wasn't about to interrupt.

"He took over the council. Kili managed to get everyone moving forward again. Repairs, dealing with the refugees, handling the humans and the damned elves of all things. Nori and he, they even got the Arkenstone back!"

Thorin reacted to this. "They did? How?" The greed still lingered. He stood up. "Where is it now?" Then his mind caught up to his actions. He growled at himself, hitting his forehead with both hands, hard.

Dwalin frowned in disappointment. "Its safe."

Thorin stood up and paced the room. "Good, good. I don't, I can't go near it. Not yet. I'm still not fully recovered." It was tough to admit his weakness still remained. But he owed Dwalin the truth.

Dwalin let the relief shine in his eyes for a moment. "Kili's a better diplomat than we could of ever figured."

"Better than I, if he can broker peace with humans and elves alike. But who has poisoned him? I keep asking yet I've received no answers."

Dwalin looked down. For this, for his failure to keep Kili safe, he was ashamed. "We are not certain yet. Nori has learned it was from a grudge from long ago. A witch was involved as well as three others in the miner's encampment. One's dead, two are in prison. The witch is dead. Nori is busy extracting the information."

"Poison. It's a coward's way." Thorin said frustrated. He could not use sword against such a nefarious weapon.

"It was a witch. They fight no other way." Dwalin spat out.

Thorin rubbed his eyes. "I can't think of anyone that would hate me or my sister sons so intently. Why is Nori so involved in all this?"

Dwalin smiled then, "Kili made him his Master Spy. He gave him free reign to get the information, find Erebor's enemies. They have worked exceptionally well together."

Thorin finally stopped his pacing. This did make a degree of sense. However, he never completely trusted the dwarf. Kili did, however, and it had saved his life. The excitement and his illness was catching up to Thorin. He was turning pale and his hands began to shake.

Dwalin noticed this. "Thorin ye should rest a bit. I'll watch the lad."

Oin seemed to awaken from his minislumber. "I agree. Come, I'll have Dori help you to bed."

Thorin frowned but he felt suddenly as weak as a newborn. He nodded. He rose to his wobbly feet, with Dwalin supporting his weight. Thorin glanced down at Kili. He longed to tell his nephew how sorry he was. He needed to make amends to him desperately. Because no matter how hard he had been on his friends, he'd done his worst to his sister-son. Kili had returned Thorin's treachery by keeping Erebor safe. No, not just safe. Kili had the kingdom on the road to recovery. He still fought to keep their people safe. Then Kili had almost lost his life trying to find the traitors responsible for Thorin's poisoning.

Kili acted out of a pure heart. He was much stronger than Thorin had ever imagined or dreamed of. To his shame Thorin knew the only person who ever had this much faith in the boy was Fili. And he had banished the brother.

For that was the worst of all his crimes. He had separated the two brothers. Forced them apart when they should be together facing these great challenges together. Thorin knew he would not be forgiven for this anytime soon.

He didn't deserve to be.

Chapter Text

Nori nodded to the guard. He was a young dwarf, still get used to being in the new King's army. His inexperience showed in his black bearded face. It was one thing to talk of torture. It was entirely different to witness it. He was queasy and uneasy in his stance. However, he struggled to not let it affect his countenance or movements.

However, Nori noticed. That was his job after all, to notice everything others might miss. He couldn't help the green soldier. The boy needed to learn some things are bought at a high price. Today was an example of that. And if the Spy Master happened to enjoy the said activity, well, the boy would soon discover some insults were meant to be returned in full.

Nori had questioned Borgi for three hours. He was smug about turning the tables on drunken arse. The first three blows had just been payment for the horrible insults the dwarf had paid to the House of Durin. During the beating, Nori had been quite clear why Borgi deserved it and more. Nori had been pleased when Borgi refused to cooperate. He had much more in store for the dwarf.

Now he wiped the blood of his hands and knives. Borgi had talked in the end, begged and sobbed. Nori just wished it had soothed his anger more.

Borgi spoke of Nevi. It was clear the witch was the brains behind this plot. However, Borgi revealed Nevi took orders from others. These were also witches, of which there were at least two more. Borgi did not know their names nor their location. When pressed Borgi screamed he believed they lived in the wild toward the east. In pain, Borgi also screamed each witch had a special craft they excelled at. Nevi's was poison. Nevi paid them in gold and had a contact with someone in the Iron Hills. This was the extent of Borgi's information.

Nori had hoped for more, but realized Borgi was just a setup stooge. It was actually amazing he knew this much at all. The other prisoner, the one Bofur saved, had much the same information. The only addition was this contact was of noble rank, but not the king himself.

"Sir, what should we do.."

Nori sighed, "That is up to Prince Kili to decide his ultimate fate. Keep him alive for now." Not the king, he thought, for Nori still did not trust Thorin to be returned to his senses. The other companions might be so trusting, but he was not. Thorin had not yet done a thing to earn the Spy Master's trust. Until then, maybe never, he would always defer to Kili. Nori could not hide the relief he felt at Kili's revival. Over these weeks the two had become friends. Kili admired Nori's skill to see through subterfuge, to not be bound by other peoples' expectations. Kili encouraged Nori to do what he'd always desired, to follow the strings on the puppets. Then Kili trusted him to give his summations accurately. The two would plot courses of action together. The return of the Arkenstone was just one result.

It felt good to be trusted, to be relied upon. Nori never truly felt those emotions until recently. Oh, he knew Dori loved him. But the elder brother always withheld his full approval. Always leaving subtle hints, Nori was not to be actually counted on, at least not for the everything. Nori knew Dori resented him for leaving Ori in his care alone so often. Nori could not help himself. Dori tried to pretend they were just normal dwarves. They weren't. However, some part of Nori's bitter heart understood why Dori tried so much for Ori's sake. He just could not be around to play pretend, to be domestic. In the end Nori knew he'd bring more harm to his two brothers than help.

Working for Kili was different. It was freedom.

When Nori had heard the news of Kili's demise, the gingered dwarf was in the process of searching Nevi's bed. At first he had just sat heavily on the tossed bed, saying nothing. Not really believing the news. Then his brain processed it. Kili was still of a noble heart. His intentions were still for the good of others. Of course, the young, brash prince would find the witch. Then of course, the injured princeling would fight the bitch on his own, not getting help. Because that was Kili, acting on impulse and emotion and trying to make everyone happy.

Nori would have broken him of that habit. Try to teach him to put his needs before others. Yet, he would never have the chance. Nori erupted after his quiet minutes. He tore the bedding apart with his bare hands. He broke the bits of furniture, all the while raging at the top of his lungs. He did not feel this way when his mother died nor his father. Then again, he had not loved them.

He was with the first prisoner when word reached him about Kili. The prince was miraculously alive. Nori had disbelieved Ori. Nori did not have hope nor a childish belief that fates were ever kind. Yet, Ori insisted. His bright face was shining in joy. His eyes held no shadows, no untruths. Ori had grabbed his brother's hand, yelling to follow. He did all the way to the Prince's chambers.

Nori had left reluctantly along with most of the company at Oin's barked orders. None had wanted to leave Kili, not so soon after mourning his loss. Nori did though. He still had a job to do. For his friend, for his king.

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Bofur sat smoking his pipe in Kili's chambers. Dwalin reclined in another chair. They had both volunteered to sit with the prince even though still exhausted from their own journey. Food and drink had been provided, which restored the two somewhat. Bofur admitted he might have dozed off a bit now and then, but he doubted Dwalin did.

Bofur glanced at the hour glass. Soon Gloin and Dori would relieve them. Dwalin hadn't spoken but a few words, "Pass the salt." Bofur was different. He had sung to Kili. He knew how much song soothed the lad's nerves. He also told him great tales and small jokes. Dwalin had grunted, but not joined in. Kili seemed to rest more comfortably after that, pleasing Bofur.

Bofur, though, he was a might concerned about a great many things. That included his silent friend.

"You should stop blaming yourself."

Dwalin blinked, almost startled by the statement. "What? Why do ye say such a thing?"

Bofur blew out some smoke and nodded his head toward the bald captain. "Because it's as plain as day. Anyone can read it on yer face."

Dwalin's face screwed up into a frown, but Bofur was not easily detoured. "Ye can try to hide it. It's a waste of time, it is. He'll be needed ye to concentrate on other things. Like his uncle and the others involved in this mess."

"I don't know what yer talking about. Best be quiet for Kili's sake." Dwalin again tried evasion.

It failed. "Naw. I don't think so. The lad worries about all of us. He'd not want you to be in right state of guilt for this." Bofur waved his hand at Kili. "None of us knew the lad was going after the bitch."

"We should have. He's too damn thick skulled and rash. The young brat!" Dwalin grumbled.

Bofur nodded, "Aye, yer right about that. Expecting Kili to sit and allow others to sort out Nevi, it was a bit daft of all of us."

"Yer not helping."

Bofur smiled, "The point being, if I may make it clear. Is that we all failed to predict Kili's behavior. He told Balin and Oin he was going to speak with the prisoner. A perfectly logical thing to do. But when does Kili act logically without Fili in matters such as his heart?"

Dwalin became defensive, "He's done right well by the kingdom."

Bofur's hat bobbled as he nodded in agreement, "That he has. The people sing his praises and its right that they should. But this was a threat to Thorin and in Kili's mind, I imagine to Fili most of all."

Dwalin shifted in his chair. Bofur could make him feel uncomfortable with all his talk at times. This was one of them. He wished for Gloin and Dori to hurry up. He wanted an ale, he wanted a bed. He did not want to think on the day and its events any longer.

Bofur allowed the silence to stretch for a moment before speaking quietly again. "We can't dwell on mistakes. We can learn from them and move on. It's a hard lesson, but one I'm glad I'd learned many decades ago. Kili was being his true self. Just as we were trying to help him, them."

Dwalin nodded at this. Bofur continued, "The next days will be rough my friend. Thorin has much to make up to the lad. Horrible things were said and done. Kili might forgive him. The boy does have a generous heart. But I don't know that he will ever trust Thorin again. Watching it, being around it, will be as tough as sitting here beside his bed."

There was a knock on the door. Dori and Gloin walked in. Dwalin just nodded at the both of them while making way to his own room. He had much to think on.

Chapter Text

The days passed into something like a routine for Fili and Bilbo. Bilbo continued to warm up to the majority of the elves. He exchanged banter many times with Tauriel. She grew to understand why the dwarves had acquired a hobbit for a travelling companion. He was positively delightful. Fili, however, remained a mystery. He didn't spend much time talking, just listening to when the elves spoke Westron. He rarely rose to Faldaith's comments about dwarves. In fact, it was Bilbo who frequently championed their cause or culture instead.

Tauriel had asked Fili about this. He'd shrugged responding he had bigger matters on his mind instead of changing the attitude of one elf. Truth was, Fili was determined not to listen to such words. Fili's temper was absolutely raw. The nightmares, no, he refused to call it that. The mental contact with Kili still had the dwarf shaken. Bilbo still believed it to be a dream, a manifestation of Fili's longing and need. It wasn't.

Fili would lay at night pretending to sleep. Instead, he was attempting to reestablish the contact. He knew he had succeeded at least once, but it was one way. Kili had been terribly distraught. His little brother needed comfort and Fili was able to whisper to him. Since then, he could not be certain he was getting through. However, Fili didn't stop trying until at long last, deep into the evening, his weariness would overtake his mind.

The other thing keeping Fili quiet was the gloom that hovered over Mirkwood. When Tauriel had mentioned witchcraft, something just clicked inside his head. He had no idea how or why, but he could not shake the knowing. What evil lurked in this once pleasant forest was tied to the evil trying to take hold in Erebor. He had no proof, no clues to link together. The elves would speak naught of it. They believed it to be an internal affair, not to be shared with outsiders. Fili was definitely an outsider. The golden headed dwarf wondered if Kili would speak to them of this matter. Would they open up to the one they had shamed?

It was on the fourth day when things changed. The group had made very good time. All were more than eager to get this particular journey finished. The clouds overhead were dark and low. Even though it was not spring, lightning would flash. The winds blew in several directions, blowing leaves and small branches. The horses were skittish. The worse sign was the effects of the song were beginning to diminish.

Bilbo rode close to Fili. His eyes would glance at his friend every few seconds. Fili acknowledged his hobbit friend's worry. He told him he felt the same.

Tauriel told her companions to have their weapons at the ready. The trail before them had changed. Tall trees had fallen, narrowing the path. They would have to ride the horses one by one. With the clouds and the sun now low in the sky, it was as if night had fallen.

Tauriel glanced at Fili.

"Ambush." Fili said simply. "Is there no other way?"

"No. This was well chosen."

Fili straightened in his saddle. "They have help."

She nodded. Orders were given. She would ride first. Then Faldeaith, Bilbo, Fili with the rest of the elves at the end. Swords were already in hand, including the Hobbit who clung to Sting. Fili turned to his friend. "You wield her with much more authority now. You've come far."

Bilbo gave him a half smile. "I appreciate your sentiment. I wish those infernal creatures remembered it and would run far away."

The winds swirled. Lightning streaked across the sky. The answering thunder was low and deep and rattled them to their bones.

She spoke to her white steed. His head high, the proud beast trotted forward. Like his mistress, he was no coward.

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The last three days in the Erebor Fortress were difficult for many. The dwarrows were in shock. Their prince was dead. Then he was not. He returned to the living after being laid on his funeral slab. Wild rumors were spreading about Kili. Some even whispered he was the return of Durin the Deathless. Kili would have laughed himself into a fit.

Despite what the Kili thought, he had won over the Longbeards during his tenure. Kili worked with the humans of Laketown. That alliance was strong. In spring the town of Dale would begin to rebuild. He negotiated with the Mirkwood Elves. Rumors ran rampant that Legolas owed Kili some sort of life debt. For the first time since Thror, the Longbeards believed those arrogant elves to be back on even terms. Kili had returned the Arkenstone. The symbol of the rightful rule of the Durins over Erebor. It was also a symbol of pride for its dwarrows. They would never forget how they were treated by the other clans during their exile. The scorn they had heaped down on them during their misfortune would not be forgiven easily either. Yet it was even more than all this. Kili was doing things differently. Former noble blood did not mean as much. What matter to Kili is who could get a job done, regardless of community status. The young dwarf also paid homage to hard lessons learned. Their clan would not be dependent on others for such vital things as food. Kili also put an emphasis on record keeping of the events of their exile. Kili did not want the lessons and stories of those years to be lost to pretense or shame. Kili wanted the people to not think on the exile as a shameful time. Rather he insisted it was to be celebrated as point of their strength and indomitable spirit.

Thorin had been greatly surprised as Balin and others informed him of all of the progress. Kili had never shown the slightest interest as a youngster in the daily governing. Fili had been the one to undertake those lessons. Kili was too often daydreaming. He would have expected this of Fili, not Kili. Yet Fili also explained the Kili learned things in a different manner. His path was more circuitous but in the end Kili usually ended with the same results. He just was not one for book learning. Thorin felt humbled and guilty. He had missed so much during his insanity. He felt fortunate that his clan was willing to give him a second chance.

Word had spread quickly about King Thorin's poisoning. For many it softened their hearts toward their sovereign. It was far easier to forgive the King for his actions. However, a sense of uneasiness was paramount. In the last months, Prince Kili had been in charge. Much had changed and it was for the better. The young prince established a routine and a sense of security. Now he lay in his sick bed in a painful delirium. None of the healers, including Oin had any idea when he would awaken. This meant the Longbeards were back to the oversight of Thorin. Some said he was still ill, to full of greed to be an effective ruler. His people were worried and wary. They wondered if the honorable leader of Ered Luin would return to them.

The only good news to come of this was rejoiced by all. Fili's banishment had been rescinded. The people had hope. He had never succumbed to the gold sickness. Surely with Kili at his side, Fili would be able to make certain Thorin remained clean of the greed that had swamped his soul.

Thorin was made aware of the Longbeard's concerns. It did not help that Dain had decided to return to Erebor out of concern for his cousin. The King of the Iron Hills was headed to Erebor for one purpose, to undermine his rule.

Thorin sat by Kili's bedside. He had a pile of parchment in one hand. The other was rubbing his pounding temples.

A house servant poured him a cup of tea and left out a plate of food. She bowed and left the room quietly. Balin walked in and held the door for her. Then he came and sat wearily beside Thorin.

"The rooms are ready. Dain and his cohorts will be shown the highest courtesies we can offer."

Thorin looked tiredly at Balin, "I'd rather they pitch a tent in Mirkwood. They offer us only more strife."

Balin nodded, "I agree, but you're quite right to maintain a surface of fellowship. It will keep our citizens calmer. Many suspect that Dain is behind the witch. He will not receive a warm welcome. They prefer a Durin to rule."

Thorin threw down his papers. "They prefer Kili to rule you mean."

"No. That is not what I meant and you know it lad."

"I know. However, our people have become tough and smart in their hardships. They crave stability and a strong guiding hand. They are right to question my ability to lead them."

Balin lowered his head to his friend. "Our people know well what you did to return them to their homeland. They also realize your were sickened by the poison."

Thorin quickly added, "They also know the gold madness ruled my heart and mind. They are right not to trust me."

Balin patted his friend's shoulder, "They will not accept Dain's attempts to overthrow your rule either. We know he only reluctantly come to our aid during the great Battle of 5 armies. They know he did not help us reclaim Erebor, but left us to our own devices. He has no followers amongst our kin."

"Is this Nori's report as well? I have not seen him much."

Balin nodded, "Yes. His ears are everywhere. If Dain was relying on popular support, he will be very disappointed."

Thorin let the subject drop as Kili rolled over in his sleep. The only words the boy had ever muttered were for Fili. It was still a miracle Kili survived. Oin declared it the work of Mahal himself. Thorin believed it to be a sign.

The two ate in silence. Thorin's mind swirling. He still fought the sickness, but it continued to fade. He avoided the treasury. He refused all jewels or finery except that which he wore during his exile.

There were moments though, when he felt his lowest. Staring at Kili wondering when the lad would awaken, wondering where Fili and Bilbo were and if they were safe, it took everything he had not to run to the treasury and bury himself in gold. Gold had been his armor, his shield. It had protected him from fear and anxiety. It was beauty and safety. His dreams still cast a golden hue. He remembered Kili's birth not long after the disastrous battle for Moria. So much death, so much loss and for what? Moria would never be there home again. His grandfather, brother both dead. Kili's father butchered. Thrain lost to the orcs forever. To add to the tragedy, Dis went into a premature labor and Kili had been bore amongst the blood and horror. He was so tiny but he wiggled and squirmed, a healthy newborn. Little Kili, never had he seen a dwarf so full of life. Kili entered this world wide eyed and happy. As so many mourned death and destruction, the babe had laughed and cooed. He smiled, entangling tiny fingers in hair and beards. He became the center of Fili's world. Baby Kili was hope, he was proof that life continued on. In the long dark night of Kili's entry to Middle Earth, a solitary Thorin had cuddled the child and cried. Thorin felt reality of his new existence crash around his shoulders. Only Dis and her precious babes remained of their clan. One born in a cave and the other in a tent. They were no longer rich or powerful. They were refugees cast into the wild with no anchor, no prospects.

Thorin was now the leader of his people and he felt at a loss. They were all relying on him for guidance. for hope. He could not fail them any more than he could fail this babe. That long night Thorin cried out his emotions and doubt. The dawn arrived with a new Thorin reborn from his grief. He was filled with a calm resolve. Thorin was a prince, but only in name. He was in reality a father. One who had many children expecting him to find them a home. He would not fail Kili or their people.

That long night was almost eighty years ago. His people had their home. Kili was still their hope.

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Captain Tauriel's stallion whinnied, but continued on the trail. Her sword was out. Green eyes darted about looking for any sign of enemy. Nothing.

Faldaith came next. He was almost as calm. The elf had been on many campaigns with his captain. Despite his vocal attitude, he was a well respected soldier. His hazel eyes saw nothing menacing, but there was definitely something out there.

However when eyes are scanning for large threats, the little can become undetected. Bilbo's hand batted away the contact. It was small, light, like the brush of a falling leaf. He continued on his pony, his hand in a death grip on Sting. Bilbo glanced back in the looming darkness. Fili nodded at him, the dwarf as close as he could safely be.

Bilbo felt a tickle run down his spine. He straightened and made a face. His left hand dropped the reign as he began to pat the back of his clothes. Something had crawled inside.

Bilbo yelped with the realization. Fili shouted for a halt as he saw the hobbit flail about. Bilbo frantically yelled, "Something is inside my OWWWW!" Two fangs buried themselves deeply into the hobbit's soft skin. In seconds, the spider pumped the venom into Bilbo's blood.

Fili slid off Mittens and grabbed the hobbit. The hobbit was yelling in pain and still trying to swat the intruder. Tauriel ordered all to be wary as she turned her attention to their two guests.

Bilbo could feel the poison invade his system. He flushed with heat and nausea. His mind became fogged and distant. In the background he was aware of his waistcoat having buttons ripped off once more.

Fili tried not to panic. They expected an attack from spiders but not this. In seconds Bilbo was naked from the waist up. Fili spotted the creature responsible for his companion's sudden misery. He just reacted and smashed it with his gloved hand. He could feel its fangs attempt to bite through the leather but it failed even as it died.

Tauriel was at their side. Bilbo was now bent over, retching. Fili looked at the elf. He showed her the spider's remains. "Do you know what this is? Do you have a cure for its venom?" Fili tried to keep calm for Bilbo's sake.

To his relief she nodded, "Yes. We've suffered from this many times. Quick bring him with you." Fili gathered the hobbit into his arms and began to make his way to Tauriel's horse.

The spiders attacked.

The elves were ready. The first horrible eight legged wave died quickly, by bow and sword. Fili resisted the urge to join in the battle. He had to get the anti-venom into Bilbo. Tauriel reached into her saddle bag. She grabbed a vial before swinging her sword cutting a large arthropod into halves. The elf captain swirled. She thrust her weapon into the thorax of another. As she turned, Tauriel tossed the vial to Fili. "Drink it." She shouted.

Fili had to trust the elves. He lowered Bilbo down to the ground as his fingers fumbled to get the cork out. Bilbo was shuddering and the whites of his eyes shown. Fili forced the hobbit's mouth open. He poured the contents of the vial down the hobbit's throat.

The sounds of battle rang around them. Fili yelled, "Come on Bilbo. Be strong."

A large spider dropped down on them from above. It was easily the size of a large dog. Fili had no choice but to let go of Bilbo. He grabbed his two swords. The spider lunged forward. It narrowly missed Fili's head. Fili rolled to his side. He was trying to draw it away from his prone friend. The horses stamped about in fear.

The monstrosity reared on its back legs. It now easily towered over the golden dwarf. Fili felt horror. This was his nightmare come to life.

Fili stood firm. The spider jumped forward intending to collapse Fili with its weight. Fili yelled in Khuzdul. His swords raked the beast's abdomen. He was rewarded with a loud crack. The chitin split open. The spider went into sudden convulsions and began to curl up into itself.

Fili had no time to watch. Another smaller spider made its way to Bilbo. Fili yelled again and leapt. He landed on its back. His twin swords impaled it. Fili glanced up. Tauriel and her men were managing to keep the spiders at bay. If anything the insects were beginning to retreat.

For a second, Fili felt hope they would get through this with no more casualties. Then he sensed it. Out of the corner of his eye. A large dark shape moving in the trees. It was no spider. Too compact, too muscled. This was something else entirely. Something worse.

It moved incredibly fast. Even the elves seemed to be unable to keep with its movements. The spiders were gone.

"Form up!" Tauriel ordered.

It was too late.

The elf bringing up the rear was snatched. The dark shape grabbed him. In a second they were up in the tree. A scream of pure horror sounded. Then a terrible sound of flesh being rendered in two. Blood rained down from the trees above.

Tauriel's eyes finally shown true fear. "It cannot be. It's not possible." For a moment all were stunned by the brutality witnessed. The second passed.

Tauriel shouted orders, "Form on the hobbit!" She grabbed the reigns of her white stallion.

Fili kept looking to the trees above. He stood over the hobbit. Bilbo was no longer shuddering with the poison. Instead, he lay still.

The murderous shadow struck again. This time it ran into Faldaith. A large smack was heard as the two bodies collided. The elf managed to rake his sword across the beast's foul black fur. It was no use. Fladaith was taken into the bushes. They shook with the violence. Another scream. More ripping.

Tauriel was at Fili's side. Her stallion standing nearby. "Get on. Take the hobbit and go."

Fili frowned.

"We have no time to argue. Get on!" Tauriel grabbed at the elf thrusting him toward the horse.

The other two remaining guard went back to back. One elf shot his bow into the dark shadows. A grunt was heard.

"I won't leave you to face this alone." Fili shouted back.

"I don't have time to argue this. Take the hobbit and leave. Stay on the trail." Tauriel bent down and grabbed the prone hobbit. Fili sheathed his swords. He jumped and his feet caught the stirrup.

Tauriel handed the nearly naked halfling to Fili. "Ride, don't stop. You should meet up with others in a few hours. Go!" Tauriel then spoke loudly in Sindarian. The horse began to gallop. It was all Fili could do to grab one reign and hold onto to Bilbo.

He didn't dare look back.

Chapter Text

Kili woke up with a headache that felt as if a whole company of miners was picking at his head.

He flopped one arm over his head and moaned softly. "Fee, make it stop."

Fortunately for the young dwarf, only a few candles lit the room, otherwise he might have returned to his foggy slumber.

Ori jumped out of his chair. His knitting fell to the floor in a tumble. "Kili. You're awake. This is great!"

Kili moved his elbow slightly, "Ugh. Ori. What are you doing here? Where's Fili?"

Ori had strict instructions not to make Kili stressed. He was supposed to get Oin and Thorin immediately upon Kili's awakening. "He's on his way home. I need to go get Oin. And Thorin." He added. Ori started to make for the door when Kili's question stopped him cold.

"Where in Mahal's name are we? And what the hell is wrong with my hand? I don't remember anything."

Ori's orbs became huge. He wasn't his brother. He couldn't fake an emotion if he tried. "Uh, Kili? You don't remember?" You truly don't know where we are?"

Kili was examining his heavily bandage hand. "Nope. It doesn't look like any place in Ered Luin. Did we get in a fight with orcs?" Kili frowned. He didn't like Ori's horrified expression and he felt like warmed over horse manure. "Ori, is Fee okay?"

Ori's mouth hung open. Nothing prepared him for this. He was at a loss. His hands went to his tunic and began to twist it in knots. "Fili's fine last we heard. On his way home with Bilbo."

Kili shrugged, "Who's Bilbo? Where did Fee go? Just tell me how much trouble I'm in. Is Uncle pissed?" With each question Kili grew increasingly upset.

Ori was overloaded. "I'm going to get Oin and your uncle. They'll answer your questions." Because I can't. Ori made a hasty retreat.

Kili watched him leave and looked about the room. It was large. It was filled with fine furniture. Where ever he was, the owners were wealthy. He tried to wiggle his left ring finger and frowned at the lack of response. He moved to sit up. His legs were stiff and the muscles ached. His frown deepened. It must have been one hell of a battle.

Faster than he expected, Oin, Thorin, Dwalin, Balin and a dwarf he did not recognize burst into the room. Kili did not like the noise. He shrunk back against the headboard.

"Oi, not so loud." He grumbled.

Thorin got to his bedside followed closely by Dwalin. Thorin looked exhausted. Dwalin didn't look much better. Kili didn't expect his uncle to suddenly bend down and throw his arms around him. Kili felt Thorin hold him tightly as if he was afraid the dwarf would scramble away. Kili was really confused when he felt tears fall from his uncle's cheek onto his head. He shrugged. Whatever I did must have scared uncle fiercely. Maybe I'm not into too bad trouble. Then again, I could be grounded until I'm eighty.

"Kili!" Thorin cried.

"Uh, Uncle. Can't breathe!" He gasped.

Thorin released Kili and stared down at the lad. Kili's brown eyes still held some pain, but mostly he looked very confused. It didn't change when Dwalin nudged Thorin out of the way and gave Kili a fierce grasp as well.

Kili returned this very shocking reaction with a small hug of his own. He figured he looked like Ori did a few moments ago. Dwalin was hugging him? He hadn't done that since he was a wee lad. I really must have scared them.

"You're back laddie." Dwalin mumbled.

Oin then shoved Dwalin out of the way and began to examine his patient.

Thorin, Dwalin, and Balin were looking over Kili with love and relief. Kili felt his stomach plummet. Whatever I'd done this time, it must have been the biggest, most unbelievable stunt of my entire life. And where is Fili?

Oin poked him and grabbed his wounded hand.

Kili poked him back. "Watch it. I'm tender there. Did an Oliphant run over me?"

"Oin, what's happening? Why does he not remember?" Thorin asked.

Kili could see the happiness mingled with some weariness. He was past his patience level. "What the hell is going on? When will Fili be home, or here? Wherever here is. Cause I'm not sure."

Oin straightened everyone's attention turned to the healer for answers. He had seen this before. Traumatic shock brought on by near death experience. What Kili had gone through certainly qualified. It was probably only temporary. He pursed his lips and cut off his King.

"Kili, you suffered a terrible blow. Your mind is muddled right now. But I can assure you, you'll be right as rain with rest and time. No need to stress about anything." Oin gave Thorin and Dwalin a meaningful stare.

They were befuddled but caught on quickly. They had seen this before as well. Thorin felt relief. He would not have to explain his sickness or terrible actions to his nephew at this point. Mahal was truly gracious now.

Dwalin and Balin shared a moment of silence. Dwalin grunted. He hated letting things fester.

Balin took it in stride compared to the others. Too many years of being around Durins and the chaos that followed them had hardened him.

Thorin swallowed then moved to sit beside his nephew. "Fili went to take a friend to his home. However, he is on his way back to us."

Kili immediately suspected something, "Why am I not with him? Them? Is it this Bilbo fellow Ori mentioned?"

Thorin tried to hide his shock, but wasn't too convincing. Kili had forgot the Halfling? Where was his mind? How far back was he?

"Yes. Fili was taking Bilbo home. You didn't go with him because your legs were wounded fighting orcs." Thorin decided to keep to the truth as much as possible.

Kili's eyes shone with youthful enthusiasm. "Did I fight well? Cause I don't remember it. Was it a big battle or a patrol?"

Dwalin couldn't stand it anymore. This was Kili before the quest. This was a young Kili still trying to find his worth to his kin and his people. Dwalin turned and left without saying a word.

"Uh, oh. I made Dwalin mad." Kili was stunned. One moment Dwalin's happy and the next he's mad. Talk about confusing.

"No Kili. You made him very proud. All of us." Thorin felt the words catch in his throat.

Kili blinked, he was getting exhausted, and he was hungry. "I don't understand. Why don't I remember? Why do I ache all over?"

Oin motioned to the unnamed dwarf, "Send for food." He then shuffled back to Thorin. "Kili, the blade that cut you had poison in it."

"Poison?" Kili grew alarmed and looked down at himself. "Damn orcs."

"You're going to need lots of rest in the next few days. Don't push yourself to remember. It will come in time." Oin advised.

Kili screwed up his face at that. Then his free hand flew to his face. "Where's my beard?" His hands went to his dark hair. "Where are my braids? Ahh!"

Thorin reached out to calm Kili. "It's okay. It's okay." Thorin's heart sank at Kili's wild haunted expression. The boy in front of him began to weep.

Kili looked disgusted, "No wonder Dwalin ran. I'm dishonored. I'm bare, unmade."

Balin rushed over now too. The three dwarves were shushing and trying to all comfort Kili.

Thorin grasped Kili's free hand tightly in his two calloused ones. "Listen to me Kili."

Kili shook his head back and forth. He couldn't believe his fate. He finally fought in a great battle. He finally made his uncle and Dwalin proud. But somehow he had also earned the deepest shame any dwarf could bare. No wonder Fili travelled alone. He must be disgraced by Kili's failure, by his very presence.

"Kili, stop. You must hear my words."

"No. No. I wanna die." He cried.

Thorin's loud growl stopped all movement in the room. "YOU WILL NEVER SAY SUCH WORDS AGAIN! NEVER!"

Kili blinked. Thorin's face was in a rage. He stopped and stared at his uncle.

Thorin glared at Kili. "Your life is more precious than anything. More than gold. More than Erebor. And certainly more than strands of hair. Never again will you speak those words or even think along those lines. Swear it."

Kili gasped. He was overwhelmed with the raw emotion. The hurt and guilt that poured out of Thorin and into this room. He couldn't speak. Kili could only barely nod at the great dwarf in front of him.

Balin leaned over. He placed a calming hand on Thorin.

Thorin shuddered and looked down at the floor. The great anger forged from the gold madness still bubbled at his surface. Thorin felt shame at his outburst. "Forgive me Kili. I .. I must attend to other matters. I will be back soon."

Kili gave his head a little shake still in shock at his uncle's actions.

Oin's voice broke the tension, "I've sent for food. You're will eat, then sleep. No more questions for today."

Kili nodded. Thorin stood up. He gave Kili's hand a tight grasp before turning to leave.

Balin walked Thorin to the door. Thorin paused to look back at Oin who was fussing over Kili. "I'll watch over him."

Thorin nodded, unable to say anything further.

Kili wiped at his tears. What had happened? What hell had he woken up too?

Chapter Text

Fili clung to Bilbo while trying to maintain a grip on the large stallion. He had never ridden such a magnificent creature in his entire life. The horse was incredibly strong and fast. The two of them were a blur of motion.

Bilbo was moaning. The hobbit wanted to scratch at the bite. It felt terrible and incredibly itchy. However, he dare not let go of the saddle. This was terrifying. The ground moved at a speed he had never experienced before. The tree limbs seemed to reach down to try and knock them off their perch. Darkness seemed to be everywhere as the thunder crashed around them. Bilbo closed his eyes, praying that he would not vomit. His only comfort was the solid warmth of Fili tightly holding him close. Bilbo leaned into his arms as much as possible trusting to Fili to keep him safe.

Fili lost track of time. The horse apparently had unlimited stamina. The distance grew between them and Tauriel. Finally, the oppressive feeling of the forest began to give way. One incredibly loud rumble of thunder later, it began to rain. With this the stallion dropped to a trot. He too sensed the change.

Fili felt comfortable enough to glance over his back. Nothing followed. Fili gave a sorrowful glance back then turned his attention toward Bilbo. The halfling was squirming trying to reach the bite on his back.

"It hurts." Bilbo fussed and wiggled but his fingers could not reach the damnable spot. Fili tugged on the reins. The stallion finally relented to the dwarf's authority and paused. Covered in sweat from exhertion, the horse stopped.

Fili slid off and guided Bilbo down. He led to the two to the cover of a huge tree. Bilbo still squirmed.

"Here let me see it." Fili moved Bilbo's hands gently. He helped his friend out of his outer garments. Bilbo didn't care about the freezing rain. The water felt good soaking into his undershirt against the wound.

Fili pulled the shirt up. He didn't like what he saw. The bite area had swollen into a huge red sore. The center was filled with pus and blood. Around the wound was another reddish circle. Fili frowned racking his brain for how to treat it. He knew whatever was in the vial Tauriel gave him had worked. He suspected that Bilbo would be unconscious otherwise.

Bilbo squirmed some more. "Fili, please, just scratch it!"

Fili thought spider bites were to be treated like a normal wound. Clean it, put healing herbs on it and above all, don't scratch. But this looked unlike any bite he or Kili had ever encountered.

Bilbo was looking over his shoulder at Fili and whimpered. Fili sighed, he couldn't deny the hobbit any relief. "I'm going to check the horse for medicines. Tauriel is sure to have some. I'll be back and doctor it. Don't touch it."

Fili ran over to the horse who just seemed to have become a statue. Fili hated what he was doing. Rifling through Tauriel's things did not seem right. Neither did leaving her and her companions. Finally, he found a bag containing various herbs, bandages and ointments. He had found it.

"Bilbo, stop!" He yelled as he turned his attention back to Bilbo. The hobbit was about to rub his back against the huge pine. Bilbo hesitated. Fili's voice was commanding.

Fili rushed over and grabbed the hobbit. He tried not to force him down too harshly. "I'm sorry Bilbo, but you'll just end up infecting it or worse."

Bilbo shoulders went down. He felt defeated and miserable. "Fili, I"m sorry." The halfling shuddered and sneezed.

"C'mon. Let me get you doctored. Then I'll get you out of this rain."

Bilbo nodded and let himself be guided to the relative dry area under the canopy. Fili spoke to Bilbo as he began to sort the herbs out. "Itching is normal. Nothing to be worried about."

Again, Bilbo nodded. Fili continued, "Kili got bit more than once as a dwarfling. I got bit once too. But look at us now. No long term harm done."

Bilbo rolled his eyes to Fili as if to say, "Really?" but said nothing. Fili's gloveless hands were gently probing his back. After a few seconds of inspection, Fili made a decision.

He grabbed Bilbo's coat and wrapped the hobbit's front with it. "I'm going to drain the wound. I think it will stop the itching. Then I'm going to put some of these herbs on it. I know a few of them and this," he held up a fresh looking batch of leaves, "is good for wounds. Stops them from getting infected."

"Good, just, get on with it!" Bilbo snapped. His patience was at his limit.

"Bilbo, this is going to hurt."

"Do it already."

"Fine. Grab the tree."

Bilbo reached out hugging the tree trunk. Fili took out one of his knives. He didn't want to think on it too much. Quickly he made a clean cut at the center of the wound. The pus and blood burst open in a horrible gelantinous mass. It stunk. Fili couldn't stop himself from cringing and turning his head away for a moment.

Bilbo cried out. First at a sharp agony rippling through his shoulder blades. Then it turned into a pleasure/pain. The relief from the pressure and the poison was instantaneous.

Fili wanted to gag from the smell. The venom had eaten away at the muscle and skin. Black and blue dead tissue needed to be removed. The wound needed to be cleaned. Fili knew without Tauriel's remedy, he would have lost his friend this day. Fili's hatred of spiders was renewed tenfold. If it wasn't for the elves, he would burn down this entire forest. He wanted those eight legged monstrosities dead.

Fili felt Bilbo shudder. He was amazed at Bilbo's ability to withstand all the pain. "Bilbo, you're going to be okay." Fili tried to soothe as he began tending the site. He received no reply. Fili gently shook Bilbo, but realized that his friend had finally passed out.

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Kili sat at the table in his room. He was busy shoving in another of Bombur's biscuits. He felt so hollow. Like he hadn't ate in days.

Bombur, Bifur and Bofur had joined him. Oin had left to prepare more potions. Balin and Thorin were dealing with the first arrivals of Dain's company.

Kili had just awoken from a nap. He felt a hundred times better. But he was rather confused at everything.

"So, you're telling me we're in Erebor?" He asked as bits of biscuit flew out. He grabbed his cup. "Water? "C'mon. I'm thirsty. A little ale will do me good." He pleaded with Bofur. If anyone could appreciate needing some ale, it would be the miner.

Bofur smiled at the cheeky lad. He hated that Kili had lost his memory, but a part of him welcomed back the scamp who had kept everything so lively on the quest. It did his heart good to see Kili smile again.

"I'll see what I can arrange in a bit." Bofur relented.

Kili rolled his eyes and drank the water. "I'm holding ya to it. Erebor, right?"

Bifur started up in Khuzdul. Kili turned his attention to the warrior. Bifur went on for a few minutes before he finally finished with a dramatic shout and thrusting of his spear in the air.

Kili stopped eating. "Damn. Azog's dead. The damn orc from Uncle Thorin's past. Killed by a hobbit?" He half frowned, "You lot think I'm wonky."

Bombur and Bofur exchange smiles. "When you remember Bilbo, you'll know to expect the unexpected with the lad. He has the courage of any dwarf."

Kili scratched his chin, frowned at the lack of scruff, then held his bowl back to Bombur. Bombur jumped up at of his seat. It felt so normal to have a Durin boy always hungry and begging for more. He ladled more stew from the pot he'd brought.

"We're in Erebor, had amazing adventures,

Bifur interrupted again with more words.

Kili then continued with what Bifur told him, "fought trolls, orcs, goblins and spiders." He leaned over and put a hand in his head, "I don't remember a second of it."

Bofur leaned over and patted the youth on the back. "Now laddie. Don't ye be worrying none. Oin says yer memories will be back. Give it time."

Kili straightened and Bombur placed another bowl of stew in front of him. Kili blew out a breath. "I hope so. I still don't understand something. Why did this Bilbo leave? He sounds like the sort of person who fits right in. Why did Fili take him back alone? Couldn't they wait for me? I mean, Fili always waits for me." Kili's brown eyes went huge and puppy dogged.

Kili hadn't done that since Rivendell. Bofur sighed. Those eyes worked on everybody. Even Bifur smiled sadly at the lad.

"Well, Kili, there is more to story, but I do know Fili hates being away from you as much as you do from him."

Kili frowned. "What is it? I mean, there is something everyone isn't telling me. I don't like it. Fili being gone. My hair.." Kili stopped. He blinked several times. His three friends glanced at each other.

He pushed the bowl away. "I think I need to rest. Thanks for keeping me company. And the food. Bombur it was good. But I feel real tired."

The three kinsmen looked at each other and quietly stood up. "Well then, we'll leave ye to yer rest. Is there anything else we can do fer ye?" Bofur asked.

Kili gave a sad laugh, "Bring me my brother." Then he seemed ashamed to having voiced it aloud. "I'm fine. I'm going to sleep."

They gathered their things and left Kili alone.

Kili slowly made his way to his bed. He laid down. Kili couldn't stop the sense everything about Erebor was wrong. Everyone was putting up a friendly, happy pretense. The quest was a success. Thorin was King. They had all survived. By why was everyone so tense? It wasn't just from his battle. And the fight with the orcs to recover Erebor must have taken place months ago. So his legs could still be recovering given the nature of the wound. But nothing else about his memory loss and weakness made any sense. Orc poison would have killed him or been out of his system along time ago.

What was his uncle and the rest keeping from him? What was the real reason Fili had been gone so long? Kili knew, he knew, that Fili would have allowed others to return the hobbit, especially if Kili was wounded. Had he shamed Fili in some way? That was the only reasonable answer his mind could find to answer all the questions. He felt heart sick. Whatever he had done must had been so terrible, so awful that the others were ashamed and Fili could no longer be by his side.

Kili pounded the wall in frustration. He had to make amends. He would find out what he had done. Then he'd beg forgiveness, do whatever it took to make things right, even if it took the rest of his life.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Bilbo awoke to the smell of campfire. His back was sore, but thank the Valar, he was not itching any more. Bilbo blinked away the grit and started to sit up.

"Careful, my friend." Bilbo felt Fili's hands gently assist him upright.

Bilbo stopped moving, but his head didn't. It took several seconds for him to feel on solid ground and not in a river laden barrel. He was warm as well, even though he could smell the rain, hear it.

Bilbo twisted his head lightly. Their shelter was small. It was made of bent trees and growing vines.

"Where are we?" Bilbo asked quietly.

Fili grinned, "I think it's an elf camp site. I found it nearby. It's keeping the rain out."

Bilbo stretched and turned his neck. A satisfying pop was heard.

"How do you feel?"

Bilbo blinked. "Much better, thank you. My back is very sore, but that's to be expected."

Fili nodded as he poked at the fire. "Yes, I'm afraid you're going to have quite a scar."

"Well, I've collected a few over the past months. What is one more to add to the collection? I'm alive." Bilbo half smiled. "I hope Tauriel and the others made it out."

Fili lost his smile. "I do too my friend."

"The spiders are more aggressive. And I saw something. At least I think I did."

Fili looked back at Bilbo, "I did too. A dark shape. Large, fast and strong."

"Do you have an idea what it was? It was absolutely terrifying."

"No," Fili stopped and stood up. He held out his hand indicating Bilbo should be quiet. The dwarf frowned and silently pulled his twin swords.

Bilbo grew alarmed. He strained his ears and he heard it. Something was outside. He pulled Sting out a bit. No blue glow, not orcs something else.

Fili felt his heart begin to speed up. He had screwed up. Fili had hoped this elven spot was almost impossible to spot. Yet, someone else managed it.

Fili was about to climb up the small flue to reach the outside. Instead, the two heard greetings in Sindarian being called out.

Bilbo shared his expression with Fili. "Elves." They said together.

Fili sheathed one sword and lowered the other. "I'll go out to greet them, but stay ready."

Fili made his way outside. The rain was now just a slow steady stream, it was almost dark. In the twilight though the elves seemed to shine with their golden hair and white horses.

Fili hope it was Tauriel and her men. Instead, it was a group of elves he did not recognize except for one.

"Legolas?"

Chapter Text

They were gathered in Thorin's room this evening. Most of the company had crowded into the room.

Balin was not very happy with his King at this moment. "We have to tell Kili the truth. The sooner the better."

"No." Thorin decided abruptly. He wasn't ready yet to face Kili. Thorin's heart, his soul was still deeply ashamed at his actions. Most of all he knew the gold sickness was still there, right below the surface. He needed to be rid of it. There was no more time for Thorin to indulge in his weakness. Erebor needed him strong. "Mahal, help me though, I'm not ready.' "He is still recovering." A poor excuse he knew. Most of all Thorin feared he would still hurt Kili in his weakness if the lad pushed him. And Kili would when he knew the truth about Fili.

"Dain will expect him to make an appearance. You have to show your heir. Prove that" Balin tried again.

"Prove what?" Thorin interrupted. "I am King. I am in control. Dain will see that and leave. Kili is recovering from the attack. I will not parade him about for Dain's desires."

Balin tugged on his beard in a rare show of frustration. In many ways Thorin had his own form of amnesia. Lost to the gold sickness, he had missed a great deal of what had happened in his absence.

Nori had leaned against the wall, his arms crossed. He had said very little. He had hoped Balin would be able to talk sense in Thorin, especially since he was supposedly cured. Nori wasn't impressed yet. He doubted Thorin would listen to him. 'Yeah, I'm out of here. I half a mind to go to Kili's ..."

"Nori! Explain it to him!" Balin ordered.

"Uh, yea." Nori uncrossed his arms and walked over to the table where the others sat. He grabbed an apple and began to toss it around playfully. "It's very simple. Dain has people who've been actively undermining the Durin right to rule. They've cast you as insane." He gave a pointed look to Thorin. Who immediately glared at him. Nori supposed he should be more intimidated, but he couldn't muster the energy to pretend.

Balin covered his face. 'Of all the times for Nori to prove a point, now was not it.'

"Kili, though. He's started to prove himself. Earned a great deal of respect, despite his youth and injuries."

Thorin grabbed the tossed apple out of the air. Nori continued on unfazed. "He has to be there to demonstrate the line of Durin is still strong. That there is one Durin who is in control."

Thorin slammed on the table and stood up, "I've had enough of your insolence."

Nori went face to face with his king. "No, you haven't. You're going to have to keep a lock on your anger. Stow away any lingering traces of gold madness. Dain, is not your friend. He is your enemy or at best, a king unwittingly being used by mysterious forces. You have no friends in the Iron Hills. He will jump at any chance to prove you incompetent."

Nori stopped speaking, the anger flashing in Thorin's blue eyes now was dangerous. Thorin however, strode around Nori. Everyone watched him as he clenched and unclenched his fists.

"You have no proof Dain is involved." Thorin grumbled.

"Nothing directly. We do have information from prisoners indicating Nevi has connections with individuals in Dain's company." Balin answered. Nori nodded in agreement.

Nori added, "He is the one who would most directly benefit from the Durin's no longer being able to rule Erebor."

Balin continued, "Dain is here under the pretense of concern for Erebor. Your illness and the attempt on Kili's life."

Nori interrupted, "He wants to show the people he would be stability while undermining Kili's authority."

Balin jumped back in, "Your authority now." He gave Nori a glare.

Thorin leaned against the fireplace mantle. He stared at the flames thinking furiously.

"Whom else do you suspect?" Thorin asked.

Dori nodded at Nori while giving the younger a stern glare to behave.

"His advisor, Dornor. A dwarf who consults the stars and portents. It is said he dabbles in the dark arts. His wife was visiting Erebor when Smaug attacked. She was killed in his rampage."

"That seems very thin." Gloin submitted.

"Still, he has the coin and the possible connections." Bofur added.

Thorin waved a hand indicating discussion should stop. "Nori."

Nori continued on, "A powerful merchant with strong ties to Dain's council. He lost his entire family due to Smaug. Rifki openly blames Thror and the line of Durin for his loss. He speaks openly against Thorin and the lads. Finally, there is the queen Anra."

Everyone in the room was surprised.

Nori sighed. They had so little imagination. Nevi had already proven to be as dangerous a foe they had faced. Females should never by overlooked regardless of their protected status. Especially human females, they were exceptionally sharp and as cruel as their males.

"Dain becomes King of the richest dwarf kingdom. He is old. His son, Thorin the second is very young. It would only take a little patience and Anra could become regent of the two most powerful dwarf kingdoms of this age."

"That is quite a conjecture Nori." Balin finally broke the stunned silence.

Ori knotted his sweater. He had no stomach for all this conjecture. He didn't understand why his brother loved it so.

Bofur blew out a smoke ring. "Aye, I suppose tis possible. Some lasses, they have more ambition than their husbands."

Thorin turned from the fire. "We need something more than useless conjectures. I cannot act on this information without solid proof. Nori continue to dig, but be careful. We are in no position to provoke a war with Dain. Baseless accusations against his wife would be the incentive he requires."

"I shall endeavor to be circumspect." Nori shot back.

"However, we are now back to where we began. Kili must be informed before Dain arrives." Balin interrupted. "He must make an appearance to show the line of Durin is still strong. Plus it will be announced Fili's banishment is rescinded. You have two heirs again!"

Thorin saw several members of the company nod in agreement. "Aye. Best to have a united front. Show those bastards Erebor is still strong!" Gloin offered.

Thorin watched as his friends broke into conversation about Kili. He listened. He knew this should not be a difficult decision at all. However, the greedy part of his soul had no desire to face his nephew for the crimes it committed. It screamed at him that Kili had betrayed him. 'He wanted Erebor for himself. He had upsurped me in all but name. He wants my gold'.

Thorin felt the sweat break out on his brow. He turned back to the fire, sucking in deep breaths. Closing his eyes, Thorin began to scream at his gold sick soul. 'No, I will not listen. I will not give in. Not again.' He clenched his fists.

The spy master grew tired of the bickering and the king's silence. Nori was about to speak again when Balin shook his head negatively. The spy rolled his eyes and sat down at the table.

Internally, Thorin screamed at his sick soul. 'I will not betray my sister-sons again. I will not!'

"I will tell him in the morning. Kili will know the truth of my gold sickness. I will leave him to make the decision to stand with me. I will not order it." Thorin finally pronounced. His voice far calmer than he felt.

Balin shared a relieved glance at Dwalin. Dwalin nodded. He had not spoken during the discussion. Much more was to be learned from him being silent.

Thorin turned to his companions. He could see the emotions of relief in their faces. "Oin, you're certain this will cause no harm."

Oin twisted around to Thorin. "Yes, in fact it might help him to remember."

"Good, now leave me. I have much to think on before Dain arrives in the morning." Thorin felt his control slipping. He needed solitude. Time to steel his soul and try to find the impossible words to explain the crimes he'd committed.

Balin nodded. "As you wish. I'll come by early in the morning. We can talk if you wish." He gave Thorin an encouraging smile before leaving. "You made the right decision." He whispered.

One by one they left until only Dwalin remained.

Thorin faced his shield brother. It was so hard to look the proud dwarf in the eye.

"You must be very disappointed in me old friend." Thorin said as the door closed behind the others.

Dwalin walked closer. Never before had he seemed so tall to Thorin. "No. I'm not. Ye suffered from a curse and then from poison. This what not yer doin'."

Thorin felt the relief soar through his heart. He didn't deserve it, but he was so grateful. These words meant much to him.

"I don't deserve your loyalty."

Dwalin grunted, he laid his huge hand on Thorin's shoulder. He did not like how thin his King had become. "I doubted ye, I did. When you ordered me to arrest Kili for treason."

Thorin swallowed hard and began to shake from shame. Dwalin guided him to his chair.

It was so hard for Thorin to keep all his emotions within. Here was someone he could bare his soul.

"The madness. It distorted everything. Made me love treasure and hate what I loved the most. I wanted nothing more than to drown my soul in the light of gold. Bask in it's light forever. But it was really darkness. The deepest, darkest pit of a dwarf's soul. I wanted my nephew dead in that moment. I wanted him dead for taking my gold from me. Mahal, help me. I would have killed him."

Thorin shed tears from his guilt and shame.

Dwalin let him grieve for a moment. Speeches weren't his strength, that was Balin. But he understood a pure heart and true remorse.

"Ye didn't tho. Ye ordered me to protect him from ye. In the end your love for Kili won through, not the madness." Dwalin told him quietly.

Thorin glanced up. "Tell me you would have stopped me."

Dwalin sighed, "Aye. I would have done what needed to be done, out of respect for my friend."

"I could not ask for a more loyal friend. Mahal blessed me when you swore your oath to my house. We can never, I can never thank you enough. You have the highest honor I can bestow on you my friend."

Dwalin gave him a gruff smile.

Thorin asked him, "How do I face my nephew tomorrow? I fear to lose my head again, to succumb to madness once more when he learns the truth."

Dwalin shook his head, "Ye tell him the truth. Ye hold onto yer family, yer friends. I'll go with you. It's my duty. If ye become wild, I'll escort ye out. We'll send Balin in to finish it. Good enough?"

Thorin managed a weak smile, Dwalin had the ability to cut through tangled messes. "Good enough. Thank you."

Dwalin nodded, "I'll sit with ye tonight. If yer in a mood to talk, I'm here. Otherwise, ye get some sleep knowing tomorrow the guilt of it begins to get off yer heart."

"I appreciate it. I do not know if I shall desire to talk much more, but your words have been a great comfort."

Dwalin settled into a chair and pulled out his pipe. Thorin took up a position opposite his friend. Thorin returned his stare to the fire. 'How do I find the words to tell Kili of my treachery? How do I respond when he turns his love for me into hate? I deserve it and much more. I failed him and his brother more than anyone. And yet the boy ruled in my stead and did a fine job. More than that, a remarkable job considering how ill I prepared him. Fili, I sent away into the world with no name, just the clothes on his back. He saved Erebor. His wisdom, his bravery to face my greed and parley with those I had insulted. Like your brother, you would make a better ruler of our people than I ever could be. I don't expect your forgiveness either. Bilbo, my dear friend. You too I have much to ask forgiveness for. Over and over, you proved your loyalty to me, your courage. I have repaid your love with great malice. I do not deserve you.'

Dwalin observed Thorin's silence. He knew his friend was beating himself up inside. He doubted Thorin would get much rest tonight.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Nori was following behind the others down the hall when he felt something hit the back of his head. Frowning, he turned. A door was cracked open just a bit. A hand was waving him to come over. Nori glanced at his companions. They had continued on without noticing his absence. Quickly, he scurried over to the door as it widen enough to allow him entrance.

"Kili." Nori examined his friend. He hadn't seen him since he had awoken. Nori had been too busy. Besides the "old" Kili and he weren't close.

Kili locked the door behind him quietly. "Nori, thanks. I need to talk to you." Kili indicated the table. The room was very dark. Only two candles provided light. A person could not read by it.

Raising an eyebrow, "Me? What service can I provide my prince?"

Kili detected the hint of sarcasm. "Information. That's your commodity. I'm in need."

Nori grinned, he took a seat Kili indicated. "Anything in particular?"

Kili put a mug in front of him then sat heavily with his own mug in his chair. "Yep. I want to know what is really going on in Erebor."

Raising the mug to his lips, he smiled again realizing it was ale. "Why not ask Balin or your Uncle?"

Kili leaned forward. He gave the ginger a very fake smile. "Because they coddle me like a child. I am no child. I want to know the truth, or at least your version of it."

Nori thought for a second. "They intend to tell you in the morning. Is that not soon enough?"

"I'm impatient. Besides, you'll give me something to compare it against."

Nori laughed, "I may just feed you bullshit." He took another drink, his eyes merry.

Kili shrugged, "Naw. I think you'll tell me the truth."

"Why should you be any different?"

"Because, I trust you. And somehow, I think you trust me too. You know I'm not a stupid kid. I just do things different, I do them my way. Like you."

Nori dropped the teasing smile. He wasn't expecting this honest analysis of their relationship. For a change, Nori was surprised and at a momentarily loss of words.

Kili held his gaze. "I'm right."

Nodding, Nori let go of his mug. "Yea, you're right. Anyone who thinks you're a stupid kid is making a damn big mistake."

"Thanks. So can we start with Fili?"

That wasn't a surprise. Nori realized Kili's mind would primarily be concentrated on his brother. Kili's dark eyes were full of worry. "What did I do?" Kili asked afraid of knowing, but more afraid his brother no longer wished to be with him.

Nori shook his head, of course Kili would blame himself. Another constant. He grew angry at Thorin and the others. They should soothed any worry Fili left due to anything Kili did.

The truth. The simple unadorned truth would suffice tonight. He'd trust Kili to make the right conclusions.

"Thorin banished him..

Nori did not get to finish his sentence. Kili was up out of his chair like a bolt of lightning. He grabbed Nori's shirt. "Banishment! Why?" Kili's eyes locked on Nori's.

Nori could see the shock, the betrayal in Kili's face. "Fili stole the Arkenstone. He gave it to Bard of Laketown in order secure their help against the orc army."

"What?" Kili let go of Nori. He grabbed the top of a chair and clung to it.

"Thorin owed them a debt of honor. They supplied weapons, clothes, and gear when we arrived in Laketown. We were starved, only having the clothes on our backs. He refused to pay them back. Thorin claimed they had no right to the gold of Erebor." Nori did his best to keep his tone even. Kili's world was being destroyed a second time.

Kili slumped in the chair. "Gold sickness?" He spat the words out.

"Yes. To be fair, we all had it. Except Fili. He never succumbed."

"Of course not. Fili is just, just better." There was no hint of jealousy.

Nori let out a sigh. "I do not know exactly what was said, however Fili won the humans over. They marched to our aide when the orc army came."

Kili furrowed his brow, "What did I do? I didn't let him go by himself did I?"

"No. You went to the tree shaggers."

"Elves, I went to Mirkwood?" Kili's mouth hung open.

Nori snorted, "It was your brilliant plan. Fili bribed the humans, you bribed the elves with emeralds."

Kili was incredulous, "Did it work? I mean, me, a diplomat? Must have been some big damn emeralds."

Nori dropped his smile. "Again, I don't know what was said. That bastard Thranduill agreed. But he's the one that took your braids and beard. Final payment for the army of Mirkwood."

"Son of a bitch!" Kili kicked a nearby chair. His big toe immediately began to throb in protest.

Nori said nothing further as Kili mentally tried to come to terms with what had happened.

He blinked several times. "I let him do it." Kili broke the silence in a very calm voice. Flashes of memory blinked in his mind. "I let the bastard do it and didn't say a word. Because we were dead if the elves didn't join us. The quest would have meant ...nothing, not a damn thing. Greed. Old prejudices." Kili made an ugly face.

"Yes. We were outnumbered. No supplies to wait out a siege."

"Fili, he came to me with the plan. I agreed. It was crazy, but it was the only way out."

Nori nodded, "You're remembering."

Kili started to pace limping a little. "Thorin."

Nori braced himself. This was about to be a shit storm.

"He's the one that separated us. I didn't shame myself!" Kili pointed vaguely at Thorin's chambers. Kili's face twisted into a rage. "He hit him. HE HIT FILI!"

Kili began a run to the door. "I'm gonna kill him!"

Nori jumped up and grabbed his friend.

"Don't. Not now."

"Nori, let me go."

"No, dammit, that's not all the story."

"He became a greedy bastard. I'm gonna"

"You're gonna sit back down and hear the rest of it. Then you can pound him if you wish. Hell, I might help." Nori said through gritted teeth.

Kili breathed heavily and tried to calm down. He barely held on. Nori guided him to his chair. He grabbed Kili's mug. "Drink!"

Nori grabbed his own and sat down opposite Kili.

Kili wiped his lips. "That's what they're keeping from me? Thorin being crazy from gold madness? Him kicking my brother out on his ass?"

"Yeah, that's part of it. The rest is you taking over Erebor from the king while you healed."

Kili gave Nori such a look of disbelief that Nori rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you. You did a damn good job of it too. While Thorin was living in the treasury, you stepped in and took the reins. You put people on schedules, established trade, selected the places to be restored, hell, you just went in a made sense out of chaos."

Kili's disbelief did not abate. "Yea. Right."

Nori sighed, "Of course your best decision was making me your spy master. You gave me the freedom to ferret out the Kingdom's enemies. Together, we did."

Kili threw up his hands. He was about to say something, then stopped. His face grew dark. "The poison. Nevi. She was poisoning the king. Made it so Thorin couldn't kick it. Made it worse."

"Yeah, got it in one. We still don't know all the whys.."

"Revenge. That crazy bitch blames Durins for all that's wrong in the world. I think it goes back to Thror and the dragon. That's the sense I got when she and I were fighting."

"This is what I've been able to glean as well."

Kili licked his lips. "She was mental. Powerful. I have never been that scared before in my life. Not for myself anyhow."

"Naturally, when she was trying to escape our net, you charged after her. I don't know how you found her, but you did." Nori let anger tinge his voice, "You had no business taking her on alone, damnit!"

Kili shrugged, "Wasn't my plan either. I just wanted to find her. She caused so much grief. I couldn't let her escape."

"Sounds like you're remembering pretty well now." Nori observed.

The anger began to drain out of Kili. He was overwhelmed by the truth. "Yea, what a mess. No wonder my brain pushed it all out."

Silence returned to the room. Nori drained the last of his ale while he observed Kili.

"Hell, I'm lucky to be alive. She got me."

"You got her too. But you scared the crap out of everyone. We really thought you gone."

"Fili. He saved me."

It was Nori's turn to look incredulous. "Fili's gone. He's probably in Mirkwood with Bilbo now."

"I can't explain it. I just know somehow he anchored me. He brought me back." He saw Nori's expression just grow more confused.

"I'm not crazy alright. It's something, I dunno, spiritual."

Nori blew out a breath. "That leaves me out. I have no clue about that." He scratched his head.

Kili waved his hands, "And I do? Like I said, I can't explain it. I just know it's true."

"Okay, that's for others to figure out. You and Fili can put your heads together. What remains is what do you want to do about Dain and Thorin?"

Kili looked up at the ceiling. He searched his heart. "I want Thorin to explain it tomorrow. I want to see if he eliminates anything. I want him to beg for forgiveness, even though I'm not sure I can ever forgive him. This way I'll know if he's truly cured."

Nori nodded in agreement. "Clever. I approve."

Kili shot him a look, "Thanks, I'm personally thrilled."

Nori laughed at the sarcasm. This was his Kili back.

"What if he doesn't tell the truth, omits things? What will you do then?"

Kili shrugged, "Try not to rip his head off."

Nori glared at him, "You're smarter than that."

Kili sat heavily in his chair again. "I continue to pretend to have no knowledge of what happened. You and I work around him. Again. Until Dain leaves. Then I will raise such a hell with the King, he will wish for Smaug again!" Kili vowed angrily.

"I can work with that." Nori responded.

Kili felt his stomach turn. His memories spun in his mind. He tried to pair the horrible behaviors of Thorin with the knowledge his uncle was poisoned, damn near killed by it as well. Still, the pain of being parted from his brother hurt more than the barbed words or the angered blows by Thorin. Kili knew with time he could probably rationalize Thorin's actions. But his heart, oh his soul, could not reconcile his uncle with the king he'd become. Kili doubted that he would ever be able to forgive Thorin.

Still, he was back to where he was before Nevi's attack. Erebor deserved to remain intact and out of Dain's hands. No matter the strain he felt with Thorin, the people needed a strong ruler. If Dain were to gain control of Erebor and its riches, Kili had no doubt that the Longbeards would once again become outcasts. He had vowed this fate would not pass if he could prevent it. Never again would Longbeard's walk Middle Earth in shame and at the mercy of others, no matter the race. Kili would keep his role, stay strong for his people, for Fili. Fili spoke often of what he wished for the Longbeards. Fili's hope for their future, rebuilding a kingdom to be the envy of all once more. Kili had listened in amazement at his brother's vision. He hoped Fili would be proud of his actions. Kili felt he was totally botching the entire thing.

Nori waited in silence. He understood Kili had a great deal to think over. It was much to reconcile. Once more he watched and hoped Kili would rise to the occasion as he did those months ago.

"Tell me what you have on Dain. What leverage have you gotten on him?" Kili asked. His decisions made.

Nori leaned over. He gave Kili a conspiratorial grin. "It's going to be a long night."

"Enlighten me." Kili smiled back.

Chapter Text

Fili was shocked to see the elf. He wasn't alone either. The elf had three other companions who had ridden with him as well. Fili smiled in relief. Mahal blessed him with the one elf he had a favorable opinion of.

"Le suion, greetings Fili, brother to Kili and to Bilbo of the Shire." Legolas smiled back at the golden dwarf.

Bilbo popped his head out of the shelter. His shirt was off. The wounded hobbit, held his coat around his shoulders tightly.

"Greetings to Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood and your companions." Fili returned.

Bilbo nodded at the elves. "Good evening to you all."

Legolas dismounted and his companions did as well. "Master Bilbo, you seem injured."

Fili turned and waved Bilbo back into the shelter. "He was bitten by a very poisonous spider. Thanks to Captain Tauriel, he was given an antidote. However, he has suffered from after effects."

Bilbo still stood where the rain fell on his head. His curiosity was overwhelming. "I'm doing much better."

Legolas nodded. "If you would wish it, Eluren can examine your wound. He is an excellent healer."

Bilbo glanced at Fili who nodded. "Yes, a second pair of eyes is always helpful. I appreciate it. Thank you."

Legolas returned his attention back to Fili. "You mentioned Captain Tauriel. Where are she and her men? I see her mount."

Fili took in a deep breath. "I am sorry Legolas. We were set on by horde of large spiders. Tauriel and her men fought them off valiantly. However, Bilbo was bitten in the fray. Then we were set upon by a strange beast."

Legolas frowned and his men shared glances. Fili continued. "It moved incredibly fast. It was huge and horribly vicious. Tauriel gave me the antidote and sent Bilbo and I on our way. She and her men acted with great courage. We owe them our lives." Fili buried the animosity he felt toward elves in general. He would honor the sacrifice they made for Bilbo and him. He hoped somehow Tauriel and the others found a way to survive.

Legolas' green eyes reflected the worry he felt.

Legolas listened to Fili's and Bilbo's descriptions of the beast. It was unsettling for it matched the descriptions of a creature of nightmare. One the elves of Mirkwood had yet to have success against. Those who did not roam from the palace wondered if it was just some frightening tale created from dark imagination. Then the raugon began to take victims, usually during violent storms. Hunting parties were sent for its capture or destruction. None had been successful. Many wondered if it could even be wounded by their best warriors. The raugon became yet one more thing shifting the Greenwood into darkness, into melancholy.

Legolas turned to his companions. If the raugon had attacked Tauriel and the others, there was little chance they had survived the attack unless they were able to flee. Sadness gripped Legolas heart. Tauriel was a dear companion as were her men. The demon rarely appeared, but it seemed too much of a coincidence to disregard. Assassins were after the Erebor heir and his friend. Spiders attacked when the song was sung, now the raugon attacked. Malevolence seemed to taken hold of Mirkwood.

Fili noticed the quiet settling over the elves. They glanced about as if expecting an attack. Nervous elves made the dwarf worried.

"We must get the two of you out of Mirkwood as quickly as possible. Aithon, see to Braigon. Make certain the horse will be ready to ride in the morrow."

"This creature is as dangerous as we feared then." Fili surmised.

"Yes. Captain Tauriel did the right thing by sending you away. Her horse is one of the fastest in the realm." Legolas saw the hobbit's eyes grow sad. "If you had stayed it would not have made a difference."

Fili gave Legolas an unhappy stare. Legolas realized he misspoke. "The raugon has felled many a warrior. In many decades none who has fought the beast remained alive if they did not flee. Her decision was the correct one. The two of you are under my protection. A promise was made to your brother and it will be fulfilled."

Bilbo still looked very unhappy. Fili placed a hand on Bilbo. "Go inside. Your wound should not get wet again. Please, join us. I would like to ask you more about my brother."

Legolas nodded. He turned to his companions. "No dirweg! Set a watch!"

He followed Fili inside the small elfish shelter. It was warm and dry, pleasant to be in after the long ride in the downpour.

Bilbo settled down beside Fili who fussed over the hobbit's new dampness. "You must be more careful Bilbo. We can't risk infection."

Bilbo rolled his eyes, "Who sounds like a fussy hobbit now? I'm fine. Just curious. How is Kili? Is he healing?"

Fili returned his attention to Legolas who sat gracefully cross-legged in front of the small fire. His blue eyes sought the elf's. The anxious need to hear about his brother filled the room.

Legolas gave him a small smile. "Your brother is recovering well. We met on the road to Erebor."

Fili did not stop the grin. "He sent for you, but I'm guessing he did not wait in the fortress."

"Impatient. Sounds just like the lad." Bilbo added.

Legolas nodded, "Yes, we were surprised to see him on the trail. We had heard his injuries were severe."

Fili continued his fond smile, "He is incredibly stubborn. If he chooses to do something, it is damn difficult to convince him otherwise." His face fell though as Fili's mind turned to the reason why Kili would take such a risk. "Did my brother convey to you the necessity of our return?"

The elf replied, "Yes. Assassins seek to end the line of Durin. The Prince did not know the source of the threat however. He gave me this letter and asked that I carry it to you." Legolas drew out a sealed letter from a soft green leather pouch.

Fili took the letter in shaking hands. It had been so long. He opened it immediately.

Dear Fili,

I pray this letter finds you and our hobbit well. I'm going to get straight to the point. Nori has discovered forces who wish to remove King Thorin from Erebor. The threat also extends to you as well. I've requested Legolas to return Bilbo and you to Erebor as quickly as possible. I trust Legolas in this. I do not suspect him of being the source of the threat. We highly suspect it to be Dain or some of his allies. We have no proof as yet, but I feel it in my bones this information is correct.

The King remains in the grips of his gold lust. It is possible a cure exists. Ori found it in the old texts. It requires us to remove him from all the treasure. We will have to make the King live humbly and try to remember his bonds of kinship and friendship. We are in the process of relocating the King to a safe place. This will be difficult, but I believe you and the hobbit can reach Uncle's heart. Bilbo became a friend to Uncle, someone Thorin trusted before the madness. You have always been Uncle's favorite. Your presence is needed to cure him. I know your heart. Even though the King banished you, you will make the attempt. Your heart is too big to do otherwise.

The King has spent all of his time in the treasury. Erebor needs guidance, so Balin in a fit of madness, asked me to step in and assist. Yes, I'm actually an acting prince now, but I stink at it terribly. Kind of like how I tried to use a war hammer. I flail about with the weight of it, but try not to destroy anything precious in the process. The amount of decisions and energy required is amazing. I know I'm doing a botched job of it. But know that I will do my best to keep the kingdom in one piece. When I have to decide a matter, I think of what you would do. The long talks into the night of what we would want to do if we really were to really become princes. Unfortunately, none of my decisions have involved ale or dancing dwarrowdams with fine flowing beards.

Please come to me quickly. I need you by my side if we are to cure Uncle and keep our people safe. Tell Bilbo we all miss his humor and his courage. I know the King is much sadder with his absence as well.

Most of all I ask you to be careful. Come to me in one piece, alive and well. Erebor needs the Heir and I need my brother.

Always yours,

Kili, brother to Fili

Fili reread the letter before looking up again. Bilbo was waiting a little impatiently. "Kili wanted to warn of us assassins. They are after all of us. They mean to end the line of Durin." Fili spoke softly. He had no problems speaking in front of Legolas.

"Oh great. So those idiots weren't just after us? They're after Kili and Thorin as well."

"Yes, just like we learned."

"Does the letter mention who wants the Durins dead?"

"No, Kili and Nori suspect a villain in Dain's number. It is logical. Dain would be the one Erebor would go to if the three of us are dead." Fili responded, his hands still held the letter.

Bilbo rubbed his eyes. "Double blast. Out of the frying pan

"And into the fire." Fili said with a smile.

"We got out of that situation. We'll get out of this one as well." Fili tried to console.

"Dain is a relation then?" Legolas inquired.

"Yes, Thorin's cousin. He reluctantly came to our aid during the Great Battle. Dain offered us no assistance when our people wandered. The Iron Hills were no refuge." Fili said bitterly.

Legolas was quiet at this news. A civil war between the two dwarven kingdoms would only result in misery for everyone near as well. This included the elves and humans. Plus it would give his father further fuel in his hatred of all beings nonelven. "These tidings bode ill for all."

Bilbo bit his lip. "Kili must have some proof of this. Would the people of Erebor support Dain if he tried to take over?"

Fili sucked in a breath. "I cannot know for certain. Honestly, I believe our people will always follow my line. Thorin was a good and caring ruler when our people wandered. He led them with honor in Ered Luin. But they would be vastly outnumbered by those from the Iron Hills until everyone arrives. It would be a bloody battle, if Dain tries to take Erebor by force. Oh, little brother, what a mess you have surrounding you." Fili tugged at the beads in his moustache. His heart ached for Kili. It would be a momentous task to rebuild Erebor, but to do so with the threat of war and assassins? No wonder Kili felt overwhelmed. From what Fili could interpret Thorin was still counting coins rather than thinking straight. "Ori and Kili may have found a way to cure Thorin."

"At last, good news!" Bilbo positively leapt out of his seated position from the news. "Splendid! What do we have to do?" His eagerness made Fili smile.

"Kili plans to separate Thorin from the treasure. All possessions of wealth are to be stripped from his presence. He is to be surrounded by those whom he has strong emotions for. That includes you, Mr. Baggins."

Bilbo blushed. "Well, really. I uh, you're being very generous I think."

"Not at all, Bilbo. Kili believes the same." Bilbo blushed harder.

Legolas interrupted, "Won't this be complicated? How can this be achieved with the assassins' threat?'

Silence fell over the three as they were lost to their thoughts. Bilbo tugged at his shoulder. The herbs that had numbed the wound were beginning to wear off again. However, he truly felt at a loss what to do. His heart ached for Kili and the rest of his friends. The youngster should not have this many dangers. Erebor was supposed to be a home, a safe haven from the harshness of the world. Instead, it seemed a place of doom and misery. His mind turned to Thorin. This time his heart stopped for a second. Thorin had become a very good friend. Someone he would have called King and gladly followed to the rest of his days. They had a chance to cure him!

Legolas was concerned for the Prince. "Kili seems to be very resourceful. From what I have heard and witnessed, Kili is a humble and courageous leader. He will do the best for your people. If there is a way out of this situation without a war, I believe he will find it."

Fili was quite impressed with Legolas' praise of his brother. "Thank you for your kind words. Kili is usually underestimated by many. I am sure it is a mistake his enemies have made." Fili's face beamed with pride for his absent brother. "I agree with my brother's sentiment we must return to Erebor with much haste. Will this raugon be on our trail?"

"We cannot know for certain. In the past the raugon did not stay on pursuit. It seems to be satisfied to strike rapidly and retreat. The spiders remain consistent in their persistence." Legolas offered.

Bilbo wiggled again. Fili frowned and came closer. He took the heavy coat off the hobbit.

Legolas finished, "We will have two on watch tonight. Rest. We will leave at first light and ride hard. I will attend to my men. Eluren will be sent to assist you Fili."

"Thank you Legolas. We appreciate your hospitality." Fili replied.

Bilbo smiled, "Yes, I agree. You've been most kind."

"Le nathlam hí, you are most welcome." Legolas rose and left the shelter.

"I wish we had more news," Fili said as he began to remove Bilbo's bandage. "I know much more has happened since this letter was written."

"The dream you had?" Bilbo guessed. He winced again.

"Sorry," Fili was tempted to repeat, 'it was no dream', but he knew Bilbo would not be convinced. "Something like that."

"Well, it is Kili. So yes, I agree with you, much more has happened. Surely, Legolas would have heard of anything drastic, yes?'

"I hope so." However, internally, Fili had his doubts.

Chapter Text

Kili sat by his lone window. He watched the sun rise. It's golden light chasing away the darkness in the land but not his heart. This day was would shape his future. Kili had doubts matters would work out for the best for him personally. But in the long run, his feelings were not the priority here. The Kingdom and its King were. He prayed to Mahal, Thorin would speak the truth. Kili had no desire to thwart his uncle and his reign, but he would if needed. Once more he cursed fate that his relations with his uncle, his only father would come to this.

His stomach turned, but he couldn't eat. Kili would occasionally glance at the door. He wanted the discussion over with. There was much to be done before Dain arrived this afternoon. If Thorin was still gold mad at his core, his work was tripled.

Kili was rubbing his blood shot eyes when the knock came. He tried to keep his voice steady. "Enter."

The sturdy door was pushed open. Thorin walked in. Kili studied his uncle for a long moment. His uncle looked exhausted. The door was closed by Dwalin. Kili's brow furrowed in surprise. He wasn't expecting Thorin to bring another. Maybe he wasn't going to tell Kili the truth. Kili's stomach dropped again. He tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice.

"Uncle, Cousin. What brings you to my room so early this morn?"

Thorin glanced at Dwalin. The tall dwarf was taking a seat at the far end of the room. Dwalin was here for moral support for Thorin. If need be, he would be protection for Kili. Thorin returned his attention back to his nephew.

"Kili, Dain will arrive by mid day." Kili nodded, but Thorin continued to speak. He came closer to the younger dwarf. "There is much we need to discuss before he arrives."

Kili shrugged his shoulders, attempting to be casual about the matter. "Why is this such a concern? He's our kin."

Thorin sighed, Kili indicated a chair to his uncle as Kili sat at his long table. Thorin sat down directly opposite him. Kili became aware of the gray in Thorin's hair, the new wrinkles around his blue eyes. He was thin. It reminded him of the Days of Need. A time when the crops had been bad and the Longbeards starved once more. The gold sickness had taken a toll on his uncle's body.

Thorin appraised Kili for a second. He could tell Kili was anxious. Sitting still would be hard for the youngster. "Dain is not the ally he pretends to be."

Kili tried to look surprised. Thorin held up a hand to stop any questions. "We suspect he or someone close to him seeks to usurp our claim to rule Erebor. The truth is he does have valid complaints about my stability."

Kili frowned, "You led the quest. You reclaimed Erebor. Without their help."

Thorin gave a half smile, "I thank you for your loyalty, for I have much abused and took that gift for granted."

Kili lowered his hands below the table. They were beginning to shake from what Thorin was about to reveal. He did not trust himself to speak.

Thorin rubbed his eyes with one hand. He then stared his youngest kin in the eye. "The gold madness took my heart and sullied my soul. I did horrible deeds under its influence. I allowed my greed, my lust overwhelm everything I held dear. Our people, our friends, our hobbit and my sister-sons suffered." Thorin stopped for a second, the emotions were swirling in his mind. The kernel of madness was trying to strike out, render him silent and a coward.

Kili saw the struggle play out on his uncle's face. He debated sparing his uncle this pain, but he kept his silence. Kili had to see for himself Thorin Oakenshield was in control, not the King of the Erebor's Riches.

Thorin's hands knotted into fists.

"Uncle?" Kili asked impatiently.

"I banished Fili." There, he said it. His heart pounded in his ears. This was as bad as facing the Goblin King.

Kili couldn't stop the anger from flowing, this hurt was still too raw, too close to his heart. "How dare you! Your heir! Fili adored the ground you walked on. He wanted nothing more than to make you happy. This is how you rewarded his loyalty to you. You do not deserve his love." Kili shoved the chair back as he stood. Anger twisted his features into a much older, fiercer dwarf.

Thorin did not shrink away at his words. Another time, he would have shouted back. Now his excuses were hollow. "Fili tried to make me see sense about the gold. So did Bilbo. He was the first actually. Bilbo saw the gold lust swallow my honor and my soul whole."

"You didn't banish Bilbo!"

"I could have. But Fili led him away to sit beside him. My resentment calmed. It wasn't until Fili stole the Arkenstone and gave it to Bard"

Kili jumped down Thorin's throat, "Stole it? He found it. Fili took it to Bard. To save us! You were so damn insane you couldn't see the thousands of orcs about to rip us into pieces. He SAVED us!"

"So you do remember something!" Thorin shouted back.

Kili couldn't lie to his Uncle. He was too angry to keep up the charade now Thorin had admitted what he'd done to his brother. "Yes, I remember some of it. Flashes, dreams. My memory is not completely back yet. But I remember my brother being taken from my side after the battle." Kili's eyes flashed with anger.

Thorin shook his head. "Kili, I'm

"Not yet. No. You explain it to me. Damn you. You took away the only person I always need. My brother. I was hurt and scared. You sent him away. You parted us." Kili yelled, his hands were waving wildly.

Thorin tried again to speak. He watched Kili lean over and scream in his face. "You have no idea how afraid I'd been. We didn't even get to go into battle together. I was with those damned elves and he was with those damn humans. I did not even know if I would see him before we would die! I can face anything, face death with him, together. But alone, I was almost undone." Kili had tears falling. "Finally, we're together. We survived. You survived. We had won. But you stole away any meaning it might have had when you sent Fili away. Erebor didn't mean shit. You being King, I would have dragged you back home to make you come to your senses. But I was a damned cripple. I could do was lay there and sob like a newborn. Then you hit him! Twice! I hated you."

Thorin nodded. He offered no defense. He stared Kili in the eyes, Thorin could still see the depth of his emotion. The young sister son who had adored and trusted his uncle was dead. That Kili was gone and he had no one but himself to blame.

Kili was heaving, trying to get his breath back from the yelling. Thorin finally spoke. "Kili, I am sorry. I would give anything, Erebor itself, to right the wrongs I've done."

"You say that now. But I don't know how to trust you anymore. I don't know if the first sight of the Arkenstone, you won't go insane again."

"Kili, I won't lie to you. The greed is still there screaming to be let out. But I am in control. Not the madness."

Kili laughed darkly, "Prove it."

"How? How can I ever prove I am your uncle once more?" Thorin pleaded.

Kili jumped down Thorin's throat. "Fili. Bring my brother back."

"I've already rescinded the banishment. It was done days ago." Thorin offered.

"Name him the crown prince. Not me. I want him to have all the honors he should have garnered. Fili was the hero of this battle. He was the one who got the humans to fight with us. It was his plan to convince the elves to battle against the orcs and goblins. Acknowledge it was his wisdom, his foresight that saved this kingdom." Kili remained ferocious.

Thorin nodded. "The official scrolls will be amended to record the truth of the day. Fili's efforts will be acknowledged and celebrated."

"And Bilbo's!"

"Of course. I would not be alive if it wasn't for Bilbo." Thorin admitted.

"If you fall into gold madness again, you will leave Erebor. It is the only cure. In your stead, Fili will rule."

Thorin's greed screamed at this. "I will not abandon my people."

Kili barely let him finish his sentence, "You already have."

Thorin felt his own fury rise. He clenched his teeth. "I will not allow the greed to take hold of my head again."

"Sorry if I remain unconvinced of that."

"What would you have me do Kili? Do you think me unfit to rule Erebor? I am myself!"

Kili was in Thorin's face. "Sign a document stating if members of the company vote in a majority you are struck with the lust, you will willingly go into an exile until the madness is permanently cured. It was done in the past and it worked. That's how you prove it!"

Gritting his teeth, Thorin could see the wisdom of this precaution even if it made his gut clench. "Fine. Anything else?"

Kili still shook from emotion. "You will not hit Fili again. Ever. If you try, you will have to go through me. And I promise you, I will not simply allow you to beat me again."

Thorin knew this had to be addressed before Kili would ever even consider forgiving him. "I may raise my voice at you or Fili, but never again my hand. Dwalin has sworn to protect the two of you from me should I fall back into insanity. It will be by his hand I will be struck down." Thorin nodded toward his shield brother.

Kili shrugged back in shock. He swiveled to Dwalin. "This is why you are here?"

Dwalin stood up and walked over. His face was sad, but these words needed to be spoken. "Thorin has made me swear by my blood oath. If his head is lost to the madness again, if he tries to hurt either of you lads, I will not hesitate to protect ye from him. I will take his life if needed."

Kili sought out his uncle then, Thorin nodded. "I will not be a threat again. I will not permit it."

The younger dwarf staggered away from the two. He felt the stone against his back. Kili had wanted proof of his Uncle's conquering the madness, proof he was truly sorry. He had it now. And it was terrible.

Kili felt so young and lost again. He wanted to curse at fate. 'Why did it allow his family to be destroyed so?' Kili slumped down to the floor, his left leg wobbling from the strain. Rage giving way to sorrow. His hands wiped at the tears.

Dwalin started to walk to the lad, to pull him up. Thorin shook his head. Dwalin nodded. Thorin stood. He lowered himself to sit by his nephew who had now curled into ball.

Thorin reached out with an unsteady hand. His rough fingers gently rested on Kili's cropped locks. It hurt so much to see his dark hair so shorn. Kili had suffered so much for Erebor, but he cared only for his brother's honor. His nephews' loyalty to one another made his heart proud. His fingers began to stroke his hair.

"I do not deserve Fili or you. I have been harsh on the two of you for so long. The truth is, I wanted Erebor for the both of you. I wanted you and Fili to have a home. You never deserved the suffering. The hunger. The need to constantly move, chasing jobs or being chased away by others. Then when we had Ered Luin, I wanted you to have your heritage. I knew you two were special. Fili would be a strong king, just and kind. You would be his right hand. Together you would be rulers of legend. Ones who could wipe away our dishonor. To do that, you had to have Erebor."

Kili uncurled, "We never needed it. All we ever wanted was you to be proud of us. To finally be happy we were your heirs, not some idiots who couldn't get anything right."

Thorin nodded, " I am as much of a slave to my greed as my grandfather Thror was to the Arkenstone. I have become the very person I swore never to be. I pushed you and Fili into this. I risked your lives and that of our loyal family and dear friends on a fool's errand. I told myself it was my destiny, I had no choice. Our people deserved their home returned to them. I overlooked we had a home where we were safe and prospering. Instead of returning our line to glory, I could have easily destroyed it for all time."

Thorin shifted, he placed his hand on Kili's arm. Kili finally looked his uncle in the eye. "I would not change a thing about you or Fili. I am very proud to be your uncle. You have done more, surpassed all my wishes for who you'd grow to be. When our situation was dire, Fili rose to the occasion. He defended Erebor. You defended Erebor. I am sorry that it had to be against me for you to succeed." Thorin felt the greedy seed in his heart shrivel with this admission.

Kili wiped away more tears. When Thorin gently gathered him into his arms, Kili allowed it. He was so tired of being alone. Thorin wasn't done. "You saved me. Not just my life, but my soul. I had no chance with the poison in my system."

"Nori got the information. Not me."

"Mahal, lad. Take some credit. This wasn't just Fili's doing. Or Bilbo's or Nori's. You've ruled Erebor longer than I have! Everything Balin informs me of, I am proud of your decisions. You, Kili, did this, not anyone else. Did I so destroy your self worth that you cannot see this?" Thorin's voice rose in frustration.

"I didn't do it by myself. I just did what I thought Fili would. I asked Balin. I read the histories. Ori showed me stuff in old books and scrolls. I talked to people who'd done this before. Got their opinions. Miners, cooks, architects. I made former nobles angry. I know that. I wanted dwarrows with experience not those who had a title. I just wanted Erebor to work. I didn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past." Kili's words came quickly, one on top of each other in their rush. He was so insecure about what he'd done. "I trust my friends, like Nori to do what they do best. They did not fail me."

Thorin smiled. He moved forward and gently knocked his forehead against Kili's. "Your instincts served you well. Erebor will thrive. You have provided a solid footing for its future."

Kili stopped his tears. Thorin kept his contact with his nephew. "I don't expect you to forgive me. I realize I've caused you terrible pain. Fili as well. I will apologize to him and Bilbo when they return. I swear it."

Kili nodded, but he didn't remove himself from Thorin's touch. Kili wouldn't truly forgive Thorin while he was still parted from Fili.

"However, I will spend the rest of my life trying to prove to you and Fili I am worthy to be your uncle. Because even though you were so angered at me, you risked your life to bring my assassin to justice. A part of me is greedy enough to hope that I might one day earn your forgiveness." Thorin suddenly remembered Kili laying on a cold dark marbled slab. The pain of the loss stabbed through his heart. Compulsively, he gathered Kili into his arms. "My son, never risk yourself for me like that again. I could not survive it a second time." His words stuttered. The ache of the past felt very real again.

Kili returned the hug for a moment, then let go. This was the uncle he remembered, the one he loved. But Fili was still gone.

"Fili saved me."

Thorin let Kili go. "I don't understand. Fili is not here."

"I can't explain it. Nobody can. But he spoke to me. He pulled me back from hell. It's because of him I still live." Kili told his uncle quietly.

Thorin stole a glance at Dwalin. Both were puzzled. Thorin however, wasn't about to argue with Kili. If Kili believed Fili spoke to him in his delirium, then he would believe it. "Fili is your anchor." He finally decided to say.

Kili shook his head, happy someone got it. "I need him home. But I can't get rid of this feeling something dangerous is chasing him and Bilbo."

Thorin replied, "You fear assassins have their trail?"

"I guess. Whatever it is, it's dark and dangerous like Nevi. I should go to him. Meet him on the road like I did Legolas."

"You're not completely healed yet." Thorin objected.

"Doesn't matter, we're stronger together." Kili shot back. "I will not be parted from him any longer than necessary."

Thorin sucked in a breath. Kili was daring him to disagree. The thought of both of his nephews away from his sight made him very nervous. It took a great deal to have Thorin relent, "It is something to be decided upon once Dain has left." It was the best he could muster.

Kili nodded in agreement and Thorin tried to not show how relieved he was by Kili's decision. "Dain. He's a problem."

"Yes. He is coming on the pretense to show his concern for our well being. I expect him to challenge our right to Erebor out of this pretense." Thorin admitted.

Kili moved to stand. Thorin followed.

Kili's hand swept his locks behind his ear. "I will not allow Dain to take all that we've accomplished. Our people have worked too hard. They will not suffer again. The Longbeards will not be cast offs and rejects from their home ever again. " Thorin watched his young nephew transform before his eyes. The young, angry, and scared dwarfling was now a mature, determined dwarrow.

"I agree."

Kili nodded and looked at his long table. He pulled out an old scroll. "Ori's provided me with some information of past conflicts. We have room to maneuver. Nori has provided me with a great deal of information."

Thorin and Dwalin came closer. "You trust Nori a great deal."

"Yes. You should as well. Don't let your past disagreements color your decisions. What happened between you two is in the past. Give him an opportunity like you did on the quest. He will not fail you." Kili told his uncle.

Thorin smiled. "Very well. I shall do so."

"Good. We need to get the others in here. There is much to be discussed. I've given orders ..." Kili stopped himself as it dawned on him what he was doing. He was taking charge. He was giving his uncle instructions like Kili was Thorin's equal. He suddenly felt a wave of insecurity wash back over him. Thorin was still King. He was no longer in the throes of the madness. Kili did not completely trust his uncle yet, but there was no denying Thorin was currently in a proper frame of mind. "Uh, I mean, I suggest.."

Thorin laid a hand on Kili's shoulders. "Dwalin, get the rest of the company here quickly. Kili and I will go over strategy in the meantime."

Dwalin bowed his head, he did not try to hide his smile. "I'll have them here in minutes."

"Go on Kili. I would like to know what you have prepared for our cousin." Thorin gave Kili a grin. "You already have a wicked knack for diplomacy. I would be foolish to ignore your obvious talents."

Kili took in his uncle Thorin. He could see his uncle's relief. Thorin was glad to not be banished from Kili's life. Kili was still confused and hurt. However, Dain was rapidly approaching. Thorin had apologized. Thorin had sworn Dwalin to protect Fili and Kili from himself. It was more than he'd expected. Kili decided for now, he'd put his turmoil aside. He would focus his frustrations against Dain and their unnamed enemy. Whatever it took, Kili would see Fili safe

Chapter Text

He awoke to the sound of Legolas' voice. His dark dreams of late had been replaced with fond memories of his childhood. The dwarf was glad for the respite. It was as if he'd spent the entire night reminiscing with Kili. It was the best sleep he had in a long while.

Fili rubbed the grit as his blue eyes fluttered open. Legolas golden head poked inside their shelter. "Good morning. The dawn swiftly approaches. We will be riding at first light." Just as quickly, he was gone.

Fili groaned. He longed for a bed, a hot breakfast, and his younger brother's soft snores. He sat up and stretched before moving to Bilbo. Fili didn't have to go far. Somehow the two ended up sharing a bed roll once again. The hobbit was still in a deep sleep. Fili hated to awaken his friend. He knew the hobbit was exhausted from the travel, lack of six meals a day and the spider venom. However, he knew Bilbo wanted to be out of Mirkwood as badly as he did.

"Bilbo. It's time to wake up." His voice was soft. He reached out to gently nudge the hobbit.

"Mmph. Go away." Bilbo mumbled and snuggled closer despite his words. Fili smiled. Bilbo was acting just like Kili.

"Come on my hairy Habbit! You want your tea before hopping on the trail?" Fili's teasing voice was louder now.

Bilbo opened one eye. He mumbled again and shoved his very large cold feet against Fili's warm body firmly. He pushed the annoying dwarf hard.

Fili wasn't expecting it. He was suddenly rolled over into the side of the shelter with a loud thump.

"Oi! That's no way to treat a friend!" Fili reached out and grabbed the warm blankets suddenly exposing the hobbit to the cooled air.

"Acck! Give me my blanket back you fool! It's chilly in here. What are you thinking?"

Fili kept the blankets out of Bilbo's reach. "Nope. Time to be up. Master Habbit has to get out of his bunny hole."

"You brat!" Bilbo rolled up and tried to reach for the blanket. "I am not a habbit! Will you let that stupid comment die already."

Bilbo grabbed Fili's boot and tossed it very accurately at the offending dwarf's head.

Fili dodged it while laughing. This only infuriated Bilbo more. The second boot came much faster and clipped the dwarf.

"Hey, watch it! You might hurt somebody one day." Fili threw the blankets on top of Bilbo suddenly. They settled over his short friend like a cloud.

"You insufferable dwarf!" Bilbo ran his covered head straight into the sound of the laughter. Fili was surprised by Bilbo's sudden attack. Together the two fell to the soft ground and began to wrestle. Actually, Fili wrestled. Bilbo just tried in vain to get the blankets off while fending off a silly dwarf.

Legolas ventured inside just in time to have his feet tangled up in the rolling mass that was hobbit and dwarf. His arms spinning in midair before he too joined the two on the ground.

Heads covered and quite concentrating on getting each other further tangled, the two managed to engage the poor misfortunate elf. Legolas had no idea what was happening. If this was some crazy morning ritual between the two, he had never heard such the likes. Legolas let out a strange yelp as Fili put his covered skull into a head lock.

"Hey, wait? Who's this?" Came Fili's muffled voice.

"Well it's not me you daft dwarf. I'm over here." Bilbo had finally worked himself free.

Fili let go and pulled the last blanket off their mystery guest. Legolas normally perfect hair was scattered in every direction. His clothes had a decided rumpled appearance. "Oh, uh," Fili tried to look embarrassed, but he had never seen an elf so dishelveled before. "Sorry. Sorry about that." Fili did his best to wipe the smile off his face.

Bilbo became indignant. "Look what you've done. You've gone and wrinkled our host." He put his hands on hips in that fussy hobbit expression of his.

Fili snickered. He had no idea why he was being so childish this morning. After everything they'd been through especially. But it felt good as some long held tension evaporated in his tired body. He held up his hands in an appeasing stance. "Really, I am so sorry. I thought you were the habbit, I mean hobbit."

Legolas raised one perfect eyebrow. His expression was dour. "I would think you realized the height difference."

Fili bit his lips to keep the sarcastic comments from slipping out. He failed. "You're kind of short for an elf."

Bilbo's mouth hung open. He was beside Fili in an instant and punching him hard in the right arm. "You idiot. Will you get a grip on yourself? Honestly, you can't take a dwarf anywhere without them acting in the most childish ways. If we were back in the shire, I'd have you shining every piece of silver in Bag's End. And that's just for starters!"

Fili turned his amused expression back to Bilbo. Seeing the hobbit's fingers pointing right at his nose and his stern expression, Fili tried to sober up.

Legolas could no longer hold his amusement at the situation. The sight of the small hobbit scolding the dwarf was hilarious. He laughed.

Bilbo stopped his shouting to turn to his host. Fili joined in the laughter. He was relieved Legolas wasn't taking offense at his childish behavior.

Bilbo rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't encourage him. He'll just find an excuse to do it again." Then Bilbo realized he was scolding the Prince of Mirkwood. "Honestly. That's enough. I mean, you can laugh at Fili of course. He deserves it. I, well, you're a prince. And our host. Who has been quite kind." Bilbo stopped his wild waving of his hands. He took a deep breath. "I'll be outside. Getting tea ready." Without another word, he disappeared leaving the two alone.

Fili shook his head at Bilbo. He turned his attention back to Legolas who was beginning to smooth his hair back with his hands.

"Legolas. I am sorry. We had no intention of involving you in our antics. Please accept my apologies." Fili offered in what he hoped was a humble tone. He grabbed his boots and began to shove them back on.

Legolas was still smiling. "Oh, no harm was done. I found the whole encounter rather amusing. Do you always waken your comrades by pummeling them in their sleep?"

Fili grinned, "We reserve that for family and honored friends only."

Legolas bowed his head slightly, "Then I find myself fortunate to be counted amongst that number."

Fili's smile grew wider. Kili had been right on the mark about this elf.

The two began to leave the shelter. Legolas continued to speak, "I should warn you, I will not be taken unawares again. This was the last time you will manage to wrinkle me as it were."

Fili laughed, "I will take that as a challenge."

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It was a cold, wet, rainy filled day when the Lord of the Iron Hills arrived in Erebor. Blue flags with a black raven flapped in the chilled air.

Erebor's gates were opened for the arrival of Dain of the Iron Hills and his retinue. Dain raised a bushy eyebrow at what he saw. The gate was in good working order. Inside the courtyard, debris was no longer to be found. The stone workings were still in disrepair. It would take many years before it was all restored. However, the clutter and dust was long gone. It was stark but somehow proud. He frowned. Dain stole a glance at his friend, Wrenzt. The taller dwarf shared the same emotion.

Balin stood on the grey steps. He was dressed very fine. His white beard shone brightly against his new robes. He stood very straight and proud. The old dwarf was surrounded by many servants awaiting their appointed duties. Dwalin was by his side. He wasn't truly recognizable. It had taken a while, but his brother's unruly beard was shining with oil and new beads. Balin was rather proud of how well his brother had cleaned up. It had been years.

Balin's eyes appraised Dain and his dwarrows. He was pleased to note the surprised expression of the lord. Erebor displayed a different face since the great battle. Balin waited patiently until Dain acknowledge his presence.

"Hail to thee, Great Lord of the Iron Hills, Dain Ironfoot. Erebor and the House of Durin bid you welcome. Please accept our humble hospitality." Balin's voice boomed out. Immediately, all the commotion came to a standstill. Balin and the others bowed their head low. Except Dwalin. He only nodded it a bit. The warrior could not bow in respect to those who wished harm to his king and princes.

Dain dipped his head slightly. Wrenzt called out, "Greetings to Erebor and the House of Durin. We accept your offer as friends and kinsmen."

Servants came forward as Dain and the others dismounted their ponies. Balin walked forward to meet Dain and Wrentz. Dwalin followed quietly behind.

"Greetings Lord Dain and Councilor Wrentz. We hope your journey in this winter weather was not unpleasant." Balin said with a smile. However, he knew the last few days had been a downpour. The ride must have been cold and miserable. Balin felt there was some justice in this.

Wrentz began to speak but Dain cut him off with a gruff complaint. "It's been wicked the entire time. Do you have a working hearth in there at last? We need warmth and ale." Dain shook himself. Water droplets shook off his very fine beard and long hair. He was decked out in the same armor he wore in the Battle of 5 Armies. It still had the new dents it acquired but it was polished.

Balin took no offence. Dain was known for his bluntness even for a dwarf ruler. When he left Erebor, it had been in ruins. "Yes, of course my lord. Your rooms are ready for you and your companions."

"Good. Lead on. After we've rested a bit, I'll speak with Lord Thorin. How is the prince?" Dain asked as he followed Balin up the stairs.

Balin smiled. Dain's people were doing a rather good job of keeping him informed. This was expected. "The prince is still weak, but he continues to recover."

Dain nodded but said nothing further. They entered the main hall of Erebor. Dain and Wrentz did a better job at containing their surprise at the bustling activity. Like the entranceway, the huge hall was clean and fully functional. It wasn't up to its old standards of glory, but to look so in so short a time was amazing. As they walked Wrentz noticed Longbeards bowing and showing respect. However, there was no anticipation or heart-warming greeting. Dain was not appearing as a savior to this group. The advisor kept his face impassive, but his heart was pounding. 'What more had they been told in error?'

Chapter Text

Fili and Bilbo rode together on Tauriel's stallion. Their pace was not as fast as elves would have normally travelled. However, Legolas had no desire to risk either the mount or the riders this dark rainy day.

Fili had become somber once more at the sight of the magnificent steed. His mind turned to Tauriel and her companions. It was not in his nature to leave comrades behind in a fight. Legolas had decided they would ride the horse who had become accustomed to the inexperienced riders.

The elves sang their song once more. Another reminder of those left behind. The song was no longer a happy one to the two.

Despite the song, the trip was a quiet. Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts.

Bilbo occasionally tried to absent mindedly scratch at his wound. However, it was healing nicely considering how bad it was just a day ago. The elves healing touch was truly miraculous. It was another talent of the elves which Fili was already greatly appreciating.

During this ride Fili was beginning to believe the whole animosity between the races was nothing more than wasted time and opportunity. How many lives and families had been destroyed for the sake of prejudice?

His quiet musing was interrupted. The elves had stopped singing. Legolas' brow furrowed in alarm. Sharp words were exchanged between his men and the prince.

"The demon is near. It calls the spiders to its aid. We must hurry."

Fili nodded in response, "Bilbo, hang on!" He whispered in the hobbit's ears. Bilbo barely had a second to grasp the stallion tightly when Legolas elven command made him burst into a full gallop.

The thunder shook the trees and hills nearby. Bilbo shouted, "No, not again." His mind turned dark with the bitter remembrance of what occurred to Tauriel and her companions.

The first spider made to leap out of the tree limbs. Easily four feet across, it sprang with amazing speed at the Mirkwood Price. Quick as the lightning, his bow delivered an arrow to its thorax. It fell before coming near its prey.

Another spider jumped from another limb. Fili's sword flashed, easily slicing the arthropod into two pieces. It shrieked as it quivered and died.

Bilbo closed his eyes for a moment. The horse ran too fast for him to even think of drawing Sting. The only thing the hobbit could do to help was hang on and free Fili to battle.

The stallion was terrified. He connected these beasts with the loss of his mistress. In its panic, the horse shot out in front of the other riders. Legolas shouted at the horse. They had to stay together, stay in a group. The raugon picked off its prey one by one. The stallion played no heed to the commands or Fili's frantic attempts to pull on his reigns.

Legolas shouted his annoyance even as he spurred his own mount to run faster. That's when the first scream tore into the afternoon air. A lagging elf was no more. He'd been snatched from his mount as he travelled amongst the low branches.

The prince shot a glance back. The horse was on its side, trying wildly to right itself once more. One large gash was in its flanks, ragged and torn. His rider was nowhere to be seen.

Legolas shouted in frustration. Fili growled. He did not need to look behind to know what happened. His horse was out of control. Fili pulled once more and repeated the word he heard Legolas learn. This time he put the full strength of a dwarf behind it. The stallion finally yielded.

Legolas horse caught up while the stallion tried to rear up in protest. He grabbed the horse's bridle firmly and spoke Sindarian loudly. The horse began to calm. The other riders arrived. They instantly formed a protective circle.

Over the pants and stomping of their horses, they could the sound of a large beast tearing through the underbrush. They could hear the chitterling of the spider's mandibles. They had stopped in a small clearing, no spiders would be able to drop on them unawares. But the creatures were not their main concern, it was the raugon, the demon, that had their hearts pounding.

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Nori rushed about. So much to do, but the pieces were in place. Everything was ready. All that remained was for his prince and king to put the pawns in play. Kili had sent word Thorin seemed to be in his right mind. The gold sickness was no longer plaguing the dwarf. It made his job easier. Kili and he had prepared surprises for this day.

Dori shot a quick glance at Nori who stood in the shadows. "Everyone is here. This is a major break of decorum."

"Balin is fine with it. Do not concern yourself. It will be fine."

Dori huffed. "Well, I certainly hope so. I don't want a war with Dain and his men," his expression softened. "I know you don't either. Whatever happens, I know you've done your best to prevent that."

Nori felt a sudden rush of pride at the praise. He pushed it aside to savor later. The Spy Master placed a hand on the elder brother. "Should matters escalate,"

"I will see to Ori's safety as always. Have no fear of that. You may center your concerns elsewhere." Dori tutted.

Nori graced his brother with a rare, honest smile. "Always reliable, older brother."

Dori scoffed with some amusement, "Sentimental? That isn't your style."

The gingered dwarf let go and shrugged. "My style changes to suit the moment. Watch for my signals, be wary."

Dori nodded and in an instant, his younger brother disappeared to Erebor's shadows. "Be careful," he muttered knowing the intended was long gone.

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It was late afternoon when Balin finally approached Dain and his colleagues. The wait was unheard of, however, Wrentz suspected it was planned. Dain was frank and impatient. Making the Lord of the Iron Hills stew like this had a purpose. Whomever was truly in charge of the mountain, wanted his Lord on edge.

They followed the white haired chief councilor of Thorin to the great Meeting Hall. Once again, the circumstances of the room were the same as all those encountered so far. Clean, functional, but still not up to the former glory, however it was more than most would've expected.

Dain frowned as did Wrentz and the others. The king and prince were not present. However, the room was filled to the brim with Longbeards. The graduated stone steps were packed with everyone from cooks, engineers, architects, soldiers and miners. All types of returned dwarrows took seats. Normally, this room was used for judgments from the King and greeting dignitaries.

The large throne Thror once sat upon was draped in a royal blue velvet with a Raven standard. Two smaller thrones sat on either side of the main throne.

Balin led Lord Dain and his main councilors to a long wooden table in the center of the long rectangular room. A plush chair was in the center, clearly meant for Dain. Normal protocol called for Dain to present himself to the King and for them to be seated to the right as guests of honor. However, there were no chairs set out there. Instead, Longbeard's sat on the stone steps that graduated in height up the walls.

Before Wrentz could question Balin on this diversion of protocol, Balin pounded his large staff on the floor. The assembled crowd grew silent. Balin's loud voice rang out. "Good people of Erebor. Greetings. Today we ask that you welcome Lord Dain of the Iron Hills to our humble hall."

The dwarrows shouted the traditional welcome, "Hail to thee, great Lord. Welcome to Erebor. We are at your service." They stood and politely clapped.

Balin smiled and waved his free hand to the people. "The Longbeard's welcome you to Erebor, my lord. May your stay with us be one of comfort and joy."

Wrentz racked his brain. Balin had set up this encounter as an ancient one with many nuances. Again, Dain and he were being played, but to what end? A formal court had not been held in almost 90 years.

The advisor was calm under pressure. Otherwise he would not have lasted with Dain for all these many decades. Wrentz smoothed his red robes. "Our Lord Dain accepts your kind generosity. We thank the good people of Erebor. However, we must ask, where is her king, her prince?"

Thorin had stood quietly awaiting his moment. Kili was next to him, still whispering things to the others, what should be done when. It was obvious how nervous Kili was. Thorin took Kili by the nape of his neck and drew him near. The last few hours had been full of surprises. Thorin had learned a great deal about the strengths of his comrades. How quickly their talents had come to serve Erebor and his line so well. Yet the largest of these new discoveries was Kili. The youngster showed a remarkable head for strategy. Kili had already anticipated most of Dain's possible moves and formulated plans to stop each one. Everything from asking for an arranged marriage to siege had been discussed. Thorin had been very impressed. Still Kili did not reveal everything. He knew he still had to prove the honesty of his remarks with actions. The coming assembly would give him the format to display his newfound humbleness.

Kili swallowed, he knew the moment was almost nigh. When Thorin drew him close, he moved closer stiffly. Kili was still not used to having his uncle back. "You will make me proud." Thorin had time to whisper before he heard Balin replying.

Balin paused and nodded his head to the crowd. Still on their feet, they all bowed deeply and as one as their sovereign stood at the entrance. Still bowed, Balin's voice boomed, "Hail to thee, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King Under the Mountain. Hail to thee, Prince Kili, son of Dis, Thorin's heir. May Mahal bless you and your reign. May the mountain be generous, may your enemies be few. The people of Erebor are at your service."

This time the people shouted and stamped. "Hail to thee Thorin, King Under the Mountain, and to our Prince, Kili!" They righted themselves and riotously greeted their lords. The strength and warmth of their welcome for the Durins was obvious.

"Mahal Bless you Thorin! Mahal Bless you Kili!" Dwarrows shouted out. This was their first opportunity to show their rulers the gratitude they had for retaking their homeland.

Nori smiled. His people had done their work well. They worked amongst the Longbeards reminding them of the hardships the Durins faced. They bought ale and sang the songs of the desolation, reminded the people that Dain and the Iron Hills were no respite from the dark fate of the dragon. Dain and his advisors were absolutely overwhelmed at the warm embrace the Longbeards gave Thorin and Kili. There was no need or support for an overthrow amongst the people.

Thorin strode into the room with all the majesty he could muster. He paused and shook hands with members in the crowd. "Helgi, you've made it. It makes my heart glad." Then another young dwarf, "Welcome to your home young one."

Kili followed behind, trying to carry off magnificent as well, but then just settled for being as dignified as he could manage. Thorin was in a league of his own. He followed his uncle's example also greeting various individuals. His mind on the confrontation to come, he prayed Thorin would live up to his pledges.

He was surprised when Edda kissed Kili's fingers, "My lord, Mahal bless you. You saved us from that witch!"

Kili smiled trying not to blush too red. He needed to stay calm and in control, just like his uncle. He couldn't break the facade. "Thank you Edda for your good meals and service to the crown."

The old cook cried as Kili patted her shoulder before moving on. This was the effect Nori and he had plotted, but Thorin had added to it by greeting the people as individuals. Kili knew he had a lot to learn from his uncle as well.

This humble touch drove the crowd even wilder in their cheers. They, the common folk were being acknowledged before Lord Dain. Dain tried to control his anger at the show. Wrentz gave his lord an understanding nod. He whispered in Dain's ear, "There is no call for a new steward here. We should not try to ..."

Dain grumbled, his face turning red. He was trying to figure out who to be angry at.

Thorin finally arrived at his throne and strode up the steps, Kili did so beside him, slower but steady. They paused before their thrones. Kili on Thorin's left. Dwalin followed. He took his position beside the king as his protector. His war hammer was unsheathed, the hilt resting against the floor while Dwalin held the head in his hands. Dwalin fixed Dain's protector with a serious glare. Other members of the company filed in. Except for Gloin, they were less serious, smiling and waving at the crowd before taking positions on either side of Thorin and Kili.

Thorin raised a hand and the crowd grew quiet. Thorin stood proudly, the Raven Crown on his head for the first time in his life. Even in his gold sickness, he had not placed it upon his head. He hoped it was because some part of him knew he wasn't worthy of it, yet. Both he and Kili were dressed in the finest blue robes, with rich furs and jewels. To the people, they looked to be father and son so alike was their coloring and demeanor. Kili had laughed when the silver circlet had been placed on his head. He had no other way to react to something so thin and delicate reminding him of his duty and service to Erebor. He'd felt ridiculous.

Outwardly, Kili maintained calm. He locked his knees so as not to tremble. Today appearance was everything and he would not give into his weak leg. He had prepared many weeks and long hours. If Dain had expected Erebor to be ripe for the picking, Kili had a very rude reckoning for the Iron Lord. But this, being in front of the people in all this finery, it took a lot to get used too. Thorin acted as if he'd done it his entire life. Thorin nodded at Kili sending silent approval.

Kili drew in a deep breath. This was it, he would have to trust his uncle. Mahal, how he wished Fili was here. Fili was so much more calming to Thorin than he.

Thorin's warm smile changed to something more somber as he turned his attention toward Dain and his men. "Welcome, Dain, Lord of the Iron Hills and your company to the Halls of Erebor. May your stay here be blessed."

Dain and his group instantly recognized that Thorin had left out, at your service. He was asserting himself as the one King, the Durin who ruled. Thorin's blue eyes locked for a moment with Dain, the challenge was there, unspoken.

Dain rose to it. He hated games, formal protocol and its tricks Thorin and his people were pulling. Dain's confidants and advisors had spoken of an Erebor in chaos. A king too addled to leave his gold. A crippled prince not old enough to lead a hunting party, much less a kingdom. Another prince disinherited. Yet, two smaller thrones were clearly situated beside Thorin. He would not spare those who lied to him his temper. They would pay in pain for this humiliation. However, Lord Dain would make certain this was no false front.

He did not return the traditional greeting. Instead he yelled out, "Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror. You stand before us as King Under the Mountain. Yet word has reached us that the gold madness rules your head and heart. We will have proof it does not."

Thorin's smile changed once more. It was predatory. His stance changed subtly to an aggressive one. Beside him he knew Dwalin tightened his hold on his weapon. This was an expected move, predictable. Thorin was prepared for this. He would show strength.

"Cousin, I stand before you and my fellow Longbeards," he waved a hand to the crowd that was quickly becoming antagonistic toward their guests. "I ask forgiveness. The gold madness that once plagued my grandfather, Thror did indeed hold sway in my heart. However," his voice grew deeper and boomed loudly, "I am cured of this burden. The near loss of my sister-son Kili, brought me to my senses. No treasure is worth the suffering of family, " Thorin nodded at Kili, "of friends, or our people." He nodded his head toward the assembled Longbeards. "This curse no longer banes the Durins, for my heirs suffered from it naught. Even with the Arkenstone in their hands, they did not heed the siren call of greed."

The crowd shouted with joy and applause. Dain and his men glanced around. This argument was fruitless.

Dain waited a moment then yelled, "Your heir gave it to humans! Humans! There is no forgiveness for this."

Kili took a step forward fury etched on his features, but Thorin took his arm. Kili gave Thorin a glare. Thorin returned it with a nod a look of 'trust me.'

Kili swallowed and stepped back. He would have to faith in his uncle on this.

"Fili acted with honor and courage in the face of great danger. He does not need to ask forgiveness from me as it is already freely given. Fili, son of Dis, my sister-son is my first heir. His very actions prove he will always have the greater needs of the people in his heart. His soul belongs to no treasure, not even the Arkenstone." Thorin explained in a calm voice. The people dead silent to hear their king's reply.

Kili did not try to halt the smile gracing his features. His head turned to his uncle who nodded slightly. His brother was acknowledged publically just as Kili had demanded. Behind them the Longbeards shouted their approval.

Wrentz stepped forward, "Where is the stone my Lord? The proof of your divine right to rule?" He motioned toward the Raven throne covered in the cloth.

Kili took a step down and in front of his king. This had been predicted and planned for. Yet in unconscious need to protect, his hand went to the pummel of his sword to rest there. "My Uncle needs no jewel, no stone to prove our worthiness to rule. We suffered with our people, we went hungry with them. Wandered from place to place when others, including dwarrows offered us no shelter. Together we mourned our beloved dead. Uncle Thorin gathered his friends and family alone to face the trials of Smaug for when calls of help went out to the other dwarrow kingdoms, none answered." Kili waved to the company behind Thorin. He then turned his attention to the dwarrows, "Our right to rule is by the consent of our people, the Longbeards, not some stone that appeared well into my great-grandfather's rule. Nor is our right to rule to be questioned by those who did suffer in our sorrow." Kili ended his words a sharp challenge. In this moment, Kili stared the old dwarf lord in the eyes. His will as strong as one over a century older. Dain flinched first and turned his glare back to Thorin.

Thorin listened to Kili's words. This was not expected. He could have never hoped for such an impassioned protection from the nephew he had harmed so. He felt so grateful to Dis and Vili for giving him these sister-sons. Thorin would never be worthy of such lads.

The crowd went absolutely wild with their shouts and stomps of approval. However, Kili was not done. He nodded at Dori. Dori reached out and pulled the velvet from the raven throne. It fell into a puddle on the floor. The throne had changed since the days of Thror. In the place of the Arkenstone was an ordinary plain rock, like one that could be found anywhere in the mountain.

Dain waved a hand at the throne in a dismissive wave. "That is no Arkenstone. What game are you playing here?"

Thorin walked beside his throne and touched the rock. Kili and Bofur had told him what to expect. Still it was a shock to actually see. It made sense now he saw it. He then turned to the crowd, everyone was talking wondering what was happening. He answered their puzzled expressions.

"It is no game. This stone is here as a reminder. We are here to serve our people and our kingdom. This rock is the mountain, it is the Longbeard people. Sturdy, honest, hard working and fierce like our maker Mahal made us to be. This stone is to remind us our greatest treasure is our family, our friends. Never again will we worship treasure above our own home!" Thorin answered.

The crowd was going wild with the response. Dain and Wrentz knew the game was over, there was only one question which remained. Wrentz asked it, "What of the stone? We know it is back in your possession. Do you wish to have for yourself, a personal trophy only fit for a Durin?" It was a desperate play, but the only left to Dain.

Kili stepped in before Thorin could answer. He'd been working with the company for this since taking possession of the Arkenstone once more. This was for Kili to explain. "The Arkenstone is in the Hall of Remembrance where it will remain until Mahal remakes the world."

Thorin managed to keep his face from not showing his surprise. Kili and Balin had discussed something about the Arkenstone, but there had been no time for details. Thorin had just been assured the Arkenstone was beyond anyone's reach.

Kili now truly resembled his uncle. He walked with an air of authority and confidence. Kili stopped in front of Dain and Wrentz. He talked over the surprise and all fell silent once more. "The Heart of the Mountain now resides in its womb with the kings and heroes of the past. It shall cast its golden glow on a wall of the names of those lost to the attack of Smaug and the exile that followed." Kili motioned to Ori.

The scribe was nervous, especially in his fine clothes. He held in his arms a long piece of parchment. At Kili's signal, he threw it open. It rolled down the steps to reveal hundreds of names. Everyone stood and tried to catch a glimpse.

Kili pointed to it and Dain followed the motion. "These are the names of our honored dead. We lost our home, but we never lost who we were. Their names, their stories will never be forgotten. They shall glow in the light of the stone that took their dreams. The bones and scales of the dragon at their feet. We shall remember their sacrifice and stay strong in their memory."

This was the surprise that Kili and Ori originally thought of all those nights ago when the scribe brought lost books to the prince. Ori had wondered who the people were, what was their stories. Kili and Fili discussed it in the letters they exchanged. Fili had recommend some sort of memorial. Kili latched onto that thought. Together, the two wondered of proper ways to memorialize their loss. One night, Nori had suggested using the Arkenstone. This was the result. However, all they had were plans. The wall had yet to be constructed.

Kili saw Thorin's bright beam of approval. His attention turned to Dain. Kili had played his final card.

It was enough. Dain nodded. He was satisfied. Heads were going to roll once he returned to the Iron Hills. However, he would not lay claim to Erebor. It was in good hands.

Nori immediately noticed the end of hostilities. He gave the silent signal to the three in various spots in front rows. There would be no need for their skills this evening. Nori couldn't help his smile as he melted back into the dark. He still had duties to attend to, people to make uncomfortable, yet for a brief instant, he would enjoy this victory.

The air went out of Dain. He moved forward to Kili and offered his arm. "Thorin, your nephew does you proud. Erebor is in good hands. Hail to thee cousin, Thorin, King under the Mountain!" Kili took Dain's forearm. Dain head butted the lad in his acceptance. Kili saw stars and staggered a moment.

Dain went to Thorin and repeated the gesture. There would be no ill will between the relations.

Thorin's smile was one of great pride and joy. Pride in his people and his nephew. Kili blinked and tried to get his feet solid beneath him. Thorin clapped him on the shoulders loudly.

"Cheers to my sister-son Kili! He honors our kinsmen and makes my heart proud." Thorin shouted above the crowd.

Kili felt his leg go weak as the crowd shouted his name. Relief flooded his head and heart and he abruptly felt light headed. 'It had worked! There would be no war! Mahal, Bless me!'

Thorin sensed his nephew's sudden fatigue. The relief Kili felt was quickly replacing the adrenalin. Kili wanted nothing more than to sit and be quiet. Throwing up was also an option. Thorin wrapped a supportive arm around him. Kili was glad for his strength.

"Let us go to the dining halls. We shall eat and drink and remember our past while celebrating our future!" Thorin pronounced. One more time, the assembled throng went wild.

Chapter Text

Fili breathed hard. His heart pounding in his chest. "Whatever happens Bilbo, just hang on to this horse. Do not get off." He whispered to his friend.

Bilbo nodded, his fingers already white from the tight grip he held on the saddle.

Legolas shouted orders, "The spiders will swarm us here. Use bows. If the raugon attacks, we ride."

He barely got the command out when the first large spider began to leap from the woods. The arachnids could no longer drop from above, their favorite attack. The dark brown coloring of the spiders stood out against the grey greens of the surrounding grasses. The elves had no problem with their sharp eyes. The spiders attacked in a hoard, hoping to overwhelm their prey.

Instead the elves shot arrow after arrow in a rapid blur. Not a shot was wasted. Fili and Bilbo watched in amazement at the elves accuracy and skill. No spider came close to the group. In fact Fili's greatest concern became keeping the stallion calm.

Bilbo straightened. He was in awe of Legolas and his companions. Then something nagged at the back of his mind. He frowned and blinked. Bilbo's hand wandered to Sting. Glancing down he pulled his sword out. His eyes grew huge, it was glowing blue.

"Orcs!" Bilbo shouted as he pulled his sword out. Fili saw Sting glow its ominous blue. He also added to Bilbo's yell. "Orcs are coming!"

Legolas twisted to the hobbit and dwarf in astonishment. Quickly, he saw their sincerity. His sharp eyes returned to the forest still nearby. He saw the movement, caught the smell of the wargs. The elf prince sensed a trap being sprung. Never before had spiders worked with orcs. This was some new darkness.

"Ride." He shouted. Legolas urged his own horse into gallop. Fili was quick to follow. His steed was more than ready to flee the quivering bodies of the spiders. Other elves turned to their leader. Then they spurred their horses on.

The wargs crashed through the forest. They paid no heed to the dying spiders or the ones in their path. They screamed blood curdling yells in their foul language.

Fili held on tightly. He too sensed a trap. However, the choice to ride was obvious. Wargs were a danger in a first initial strike. Yet, horses had superior speed and endurance over a long path. "We have to get off this trail!" he shouted.

Legolas nodded in agreement, he was ahead of all the others on the path. With a quick word, his horse veered off. Crashing into the underbrush and dark trees, Legolas led them into the forest. His companions followed.

The orcs shouted more threats. Their crude arrows flew through the air coming close, but hitting none. The horses would have a harder time pulling away from the wargs away from the trail. However, everyone of these steeds had been bred for warfare. They did not falter. Occasionally, one of elves would twist sideways in his saddle to fire off a shot. By this manner, two orcs and one warg fell behind.

They began to pull away as the wargs began to tire. Bilbo glanced behind and was relieved to see the foul beasts lagging.

The screech that rang across the forest was the loudest Bilbo had heard since Smaug. Still looking backward, he saw the dark shape run at the elf. It was no contest.

The demon grappled the elven warrior with long black talons. His scream was cut off as his throat was violently ripped to shreds. The elf, horse and beast toppled to the ground in a tangle. The poor horse was the next victim. Claws dug deep into its flesh, destroying muscle and arteries.

Bilbo cried out in horror. The others saw the demon as well. Their hearts seized and they all knew true fear. The nightmare was real. It was here.

Braigon was an intelligent beast. He saw the black beast and without the order, began to ran as quickly as his heart could stand. He shot out in front of Legolas, galloping at a speed few horses could match.

Fili lurched back from the saddle. He'd been expecting this, but still riding such a magnificent and large horse was new to the dwarf. He yelped and frantically tried to grab onto the halfing and the reins. Fili might have righted himself if it wasn't for the large log the horse had to leap over. As Braigon made the high jump in stride, Fili felt himself falling. Out of fear of taking Bilbo with him, Fili let go. He would not be the cause of Bilbo's death.

Landing with a loud thud, Fili fell on his back. The wind went out of his lungs. He laid there in incredible pain, gulping like a fish. Then he had to move, twist out of the way. Hooves of horses narrowly missing his head. Fili twisted into the low bramble and then lay still. He could do no more until his breath returned.

Bilbo screamed, "FILI!" The hobbit tried to turn to see the dwarf who was rapidly fading in the distance. Frantically, he grabbed Braigon reins to slow and stop the horse. His hobbit strength did not deter the horse in the least. Braigon still sensed the raugon behind it. He knew his instructions. Flee!

Legolas reacted instantly. Slowing his own mount down as ordered the others to stay with the hobbit. The horse skid and slipped on the wet leaves, but halted near the fallen dwarf. Legolas was off in an instant, scrambling over to the prone dwarf.

"Fili, we must get you on my horse!" Legolas reached down to grab the gasping dwarf. Air was returning to his lungs, but Fili was still winded and light headed.

Fili knew the demon was on their heels. He could not voice his thanks, but he gave Legolas a look of appreciation. Legolas nodded slightly as he heaved the dwarf upright.

Legolas' steed remained steady, his breath heavy with the exertion, when it neighed in worry. Legolas heard it too. Crashing thru the forest, something large was nearby. Legolas pushed Fili toward his horse and pulled his twin blades.

Just in time. A large, riderless warg shot through the underbrush. The Mirkwood Prince yelled in his own fury meeting that of the wargs. The two tumbled together. Claws reaching out toward elven flesh, twin blades seeking to bury themselves into the warg's body. They fell, rolling one top of another.

Fili tried to shout, but didn't have enough breath. Instead, when he finally got a chance, he sank his own weapon into the torso of the foul beast.

The rolling stopped. Fili drew his blade out. He spun in time to see another foe. The warg's rider took aim with his bow. Fili barely dodged the clumsy shot in time. His hands flew to his knives in pure instinct. In a half second, the weapon was in his hand and flying toward the orc's head. It embedded with a satisfying thud.

Fili continued to gasp, waiting for the arrival of the demon to tear them to pieces. Legolas grunted. The body of the dead warg rocked back and forth. Fili wandered close still keeping his blue eyes darting about. With a swift kick, his left leg shot out and pushed the dead beast. It gave Legolas the momentum he needed to squirm from underneath its weight.

"You alright?" Fili gasped out while giving Legolas a quick concerned glance.

Legolas panted. He was now winded as well. "Yes," he managed. Legolas swiftly sheathed his knives and pulled his bow. Fortunately, it was still intact. His biggest problem was lack of projectiles. He had two arrows left.

The two had time for little else. Another warg rider crashed into their space. Legolas let an arrow fly. It embedded in the warg's right eye. The beast stopped his forward momentum. It began to claw and tear at the sharp object causing it so much pain.

The hideous orc leapt forward yelling. Fili lurched into its path. One sword, then the other cut into the orc's body. It fell to the damp twitching death throes. Fili then delivered death stroke to the scrambling warg. Legolas ready with another arrow if needed.

Fili fell back beside Legolas, adopting the same battle plan he always had with Kili. They could hear the sound of more warg's approaching. Legolas leapt on the back of his horse, he held a hand out for the dwarf.

Fili took it, leaping up with more grace than Legolas expected.

"Try to hang on this time!" Legolas shouted.

Fili grunted his response. He wrapped an arm around the elf. The horse took off instantly. A few seconds behind, two more warg riders raced.

The foul beasts were right on the heels of the white stallion. Legolas led the horse after the trail the other riders had left. However, when a third warg attacked from the side, he veered them left.

The warg was high, leaping from a small grouping of rocks. Fili's sword had the reach. The dwarf racked its side, trying to cut deeply. It yelped and fell back. It rolled over twice before scrambling to its feet. It joined the others in the chase.

Their opponents were now all behind them. Fili continued to glance at them. Two riders, three wargs against an elf with one shot and a dwarf. It wasn't good odds. The deciding factor was the horse. It sensed their desperation. The short break allowed the horse to catch its breath a bit. It hit a clearing and shot forth in a new burst of energy. The wargs began to fall back once more.

Fili saw the orcs now attempting to bring them down with arrows. Most went wide of the horse. Fili watched as one came near his back. He managed to deflect with his sword. Another whizzed by almost hitting the horse's flanks. A third shot out. Fili grabbed Legolas by the shoulders. He covered the elf with his body. Fili grunted in pain. The orc arrow had hit its target.

Legolas felt the dwarf jerk at the impact. For a second he feared the worse. Fili continued to hang on tightly. His horse continued its wild burst. Soon orc arrows began to fall far short. The orcs and their wargs were falling back.

"Are you wounded?" Legolas called out.

"Yea. But it's not bad." Fili replied quickly. The arm hurt with the arrow still protruding from his arm. He couldn't risk taking it out now. Fili could fall if he did not continue to hang on.

Legolas let go a sigh of relief. He spoke to his mount. "Just a bit further." The elf prince began to lead the horse back to the trail. They had to catch up with Bilbo and the others. Hopefully, they had left the trailing orcs far behind. However, he was more worried the raugon had taken more victims.

Several minutes passed. The orcs were far behind, no longer an immediate threat. He couldn't allow Fili to remain untreated any longer. Plus his faithful steed could use a breather.

Legolas halted the horse. Fili was confused. They had a hobbit to find.

"What are you doing? We have to go on!" Fili started to grab the arrow to yank it out.

Legolas frowned and sighed. He could admire a dwarf's ability to endure, but he needed medical attention.

"Fili, hold still." Legolas took the golden dwarf's bicep in one hand.

"We don't have time for this!" Fili grunted.

"It could be poisoned. I can't have you sick or passing out!" Legolas explained. With a steady hand, he removed the arrow.

Fili grimaced and tried not to yell. "Oww. Damn." He gasped out. His arm already felt better. Legolas reached into a brown saddlebag. Grabbing bandages and some jar of salve, Legolas twisted so that he faced the dwarf.

Fili's eyebrows shot up. This was new. A dwarf and an elf, on a horse, facing each other. Definitely different.

Legolas move with speed and precision. He spread the salve on the open wound. "This will stop the bleeding. It will also prevent infection."

"Fine, just hurry up." Fili could see the sense in this. Didn't mean he had to like it. Quickly, Legolas wrapped a white bandage around the dwarf's forearm. He was done. The entire procedure took a minute. He spun around tossing the supplies back in the bag.

Another word and the horse instantly began to gallop again.

They came upon the first body a few minutes later. Legolas was only able to deduce who the former elf was by the dead horse by his side. The poor elf's face was ripped off. Legolas slowed his horse. Fili and Legolas tried to quell their rising fear and panic. Coming over another of the raugon's victims did nothing to ease their tumult.

Fili shook his head. Bilbo had become such a dear friend. He was like family. Now the poor hobbit was being chased by the most vicious beast Fili had ever encountered. He could not get the feeling out of his heart they would be too late. 'Just hang on Bilbo. That horse will not fail you. Please, Mahal keep him safe.'

With each new body, Legolas felt his remorse and grief deepen. He had known all these elves his entire life. Some had been mentors, others long time companions. Each one was dear to his heart. He knew what it was like to lose friends in combat. But this, this method of death was truly horrible. Such fear and utter violation of the body was hard to imagine. The hobbit was in his mind as well. Such a gentle being should not meet so dark an end.

The stallion pulled up and reared to the side. It slid to halt. Legolas and Fili turning heads to see the destructive sight before them. It was the rest of the company and their horses, including Braigon. Fili could not stop the scream from escaping.

"Bilbo! No!" Fili slid off the horse before Legolas could stop the dwarf. Fili rushed forward over the dead elves and the fallen branches. He skidded to a stop to see Bilbo's coat, covered in blood and slashed in two.

Fili fell to his knees. His hands shaking. Fili lifted the coat up. To his relief no dead hobbit was underneath. 'He could still be alive. Please let him be alive.'

"Bilbo!" Fili shouted again and stood upright. The coat fell from his grasp.

Legolas had dismounted. He had his bow at the ready. However, his sharps ears detect a soft moan. Legolas lowered his weapon and scurried to the sound.

Pushing aside leaves and branches, Legolas discovered Eluren. He shouted. "Fili come quickly."

Eluren was gasping. His face was very pale. His breathing was shallow. "My Prince."

Legolas looked down at his dear friend. Eluren's intestines were hanging out. His abdomen had been sliced open. Legolas shook his head and closed his eyes at the horror for a brief second.

Then he shoved down his pain. "Eluren, my dear friend." Legolas brushed aside the elf's pale gold strands. He then took Erluen's bloodied hand in his own.

Eluren's green eyes found Legolas' own. "I have failed you my lord."

Legolas' voice was gentle and full of warmth. "No, you never could."

"The hobbit. It took him." Eluren rasped out.

Fili sank to his knees. "Took him? He's alive?"

Eluren nodded. He could speak no more.

Legolas put his second hand around Eluren's. "You are a brave and noble soul." Legolas want to say much more but it was too late. The light left the Eluren's eyes.

Legolas bit his lip. He wanted to rage. Scream his fury at fate, at the monster. It wasn't how he was taught. Instead, he leaned forward and kissed Erluen on the forehead. "I will see you on the shores of Valinor my friend."

Fili breathed heavily beside him. He turned and got up to give Legolas a moment of privacy. Much to his despair the dwarf could find no sign of where Bilbo had wandered. Fili's mind instantly wandered to Kili. Of the two, Kili was the better tracker. Fili wished for his brother's talent, but in his heart, Fili was actually glad his brother was not here. Fili would never risk his precious brother against so foul a beast. For the first time since being parted, Fili was happy Kili was safe in Erebor. Finally, he wandered to Bragion. Fili was startled to see the great horse was still alive. "Legolas, come quickly!" The horse had wounds raking across the abdomen, but the wounds were shallow. With treatment the horse could live if he hadn't run itself to death. The horse was in shock and still very scared. Legolas scampered over. He took the horse's head into his arms. Legolas began to speak to it softly in Sindarian.

To Fili this horse had somehow become the most important one in all of Middle Earth. It was all that remained of Tauriel and her men. Beside Legolas, the stallion was all that remained still of his men. He did not want to see this horse die.

"Fili bring me my medical bag. Then start gathering arrows for me. We'll need them." Legolas instructed.

Fili nodded. His mind was in turmoil. He wanted to immediately set out for Bilbo. 'But how? How do you track a beast that moved in the trees and shadow? Bilbo stay strong. We are coming.'

Fili handed the bag off. Then he began to gather everything he thought might be useful, not just arrows. 'I can't return to Erebor without him. Mahal, please let Kili understand.' His mind rushed these thoughts about his head.

Legolas tended to Braigon's wounds as quickly as he tended Fili's earlier. All the while he whispered to the horse. When he was done Fili stood next to him. The dwarf had two full quivers, two extra medical bags and three bags of rations. Two elven knives were in his waistband as well.

Slowly, he coaxed the horse upright. Braigon shakily got to his feet. Immediately, Legolas led the horse away from the death and gore. Legolas' steed followed obediently behind as did Fili.

"What now? How do we find this beast?" Fili barked. He was tired of delays even though they were necessary.

Legolas shook his head. "I do not know. We have tried many times in the past. The beast leaves no discernible trail. No one, not even the most skilled rangers have been able to find it."

"I will not accept that answer. It has my friend. I will take him back." Fili spoke with finality.

Legolas shook his head negatively. His thoughts still on his dead. They should gather them before their bodies were debased by wandering orcs. "We must gather others. We have no chance against the demon alone."

"No. It will be too late." Fili spoke with all of his Durin temper.

Legolas sighed, "Fili, we cannot defeat the demon, we are only two."

"Fine, we won't defeat it. But I will get my friend back. Bilbo is very quick, very smart. If anyone can get away, it will be our hobbit. You don't know him." Suddenly it hit Fili. Bilbo no longer had his invisible ring. He had taken it from him. He felt his stomach sink. The thing was evil. But in the hobbit's hands, it was merely a tool, one that he had robbed him of. 'Have I doomed my friend?'

Chapter Text

The halls were full of dwarrow music and laughter. Dain and Thorin sat at the head of the table. The feast was carrying on noisily around them. The relief of a nasty war prevented resulted in many light hearted dwarf.

Kili nodded at the dwarf on his left. Some nobleman of Dain's had attached himself to the Prince's company. Kili regarded him warily. He did not believe his new "friendship" was entirely without ulterior motivations. Nori's warnings rang clearly in his mind. Still, he played the part. Kili saw others around him laugh and he joined in. It would not do for the Prince to be lost in his own thoughts. He had to pretend to be here, involved in the celebration even though his heart was leagues away with his brother.

Suddenly, the banquet hall seemed incredibly small. It was filled with too many dwarrows, too much noise and too much smoke. Kili felt a wave of panic and weariness grip his heart. Kili's head spun for a few moments. His right hand shot out to grab the table in front of him, Kili had to steady himself. Thorin had taught his spare heir this much, never show weakness in front of the people. He swallowed trying to force down the feeling of nausea growing in the pit of his stomach. For a brief second, Kili felt overwhelmed with a feeling of dark dread and failure. Grief. It threatened to take him from the reality of his world. Just as quickly, it was gone, vanishing into the smoky air around him.

Kili closed his dark eyes for a moment. In that flashing second, Kili saw darkness and blood covering the Mirkwood Forest in a thick stifling blanket. Kili could not stop himself, "Fili." The bond was there again. He could sense what his elder brother was feeling. The emotions were gut wrenching. Whatever had happened, it was truly horrible to make his brother feel so. Kili's mind tried to grab onto the connection and hold it to his soul with everything he had. Kili no longer cared what others around him thought. Fili was in pain. He was scared. Kili concentrated in attempt to send a very important message. 'You are not alone. I am coming.' A heartbeat later, the connection was broken. Kili tried to desperately regain the bond, but it was futile.

This first sensation the prince had was being shaken hard. Kili blinked rapidly. The sounds and the smells of the hall assaulted his senses. He resisted the urge to burst from his chair and run.

Dori stood next to him, Bofur on the other side.

"My Prince, are you well?" Dori asked with concern.

Bofur frowned worry on his face as well.

Kili blinked again. He became aware of a silence that had descended on his companions. It was spreading across the room judging by the stares of curious dwarrows now being shot his way.

Kili raised his hand as if to brush their concerns away. "I apologize. My stamina is still recovering from my recent battle. I believe my old wounds require a moment's respite." He gave them his most charming smile. The one that got his extra helpings. The one that charmed many a dwarrow whenever he was in trouble.

It had its desired effect. Most nodded. 'Of course the Prince is still regaining his strength. He did lay near death only days ago.' Kili could hear the mutterings. He smiled and nodded. His people were in a generous and protective mood. They started to say many encouraging and sympathetic things. Only Dori and Bofur weren't quite as convinced.

He turned his brown eyes towards them. "I'm just tired. A little break and I'll be back to the celebration." He faked an earnest expression. Dori nodded. Bofur frowned, "Aye, ye been through a lot laddie. I'll escort ye to yer rooms."

Kili stood. He was the tallest dwarrow by far of his group. He laid a hand on Bofur's shoulders. "Nonsense. I'm quite capable of making it there myself."
Bofur's frown did not abate. "I think yer Uncle..."

Kili jumped in. His locked his gaze with Bofur. "Our King is busy with our esteemed guests. Why don't you tell them your tale about the Widow, the waffle iron and the Blacksmith? That's how we entertain company." Kili nodded at Bofur.

Bofur started to smile. That was a lively tale. "Aye, then I will. If yer certain?"

Kili nodded. "Dori, please see to it that Uncle has offered that red wine you found. It was excellent and I'm sure the King would chose to offer it to our Cousin."

Dori sighed, but he became excited at the notion that one of the royal family had actually paid attention to his discussions. "I would be honored. It needs some time to breathe though. I shall see to it at once."

Kili smiled, "My friends, if you will excuse me a moment? I shall rejoin you shortly." His companions nodded and returned his smile. Bofur began his tale as Kili deftly removed himself from the others.

He weaved in and out of the clusters of people. Occasionally, he would wave or nod at someone. Kili sighed in relief as he made it to the hallway outside. With a deep breath, Kili turned to the great staircase that led up to the royal chambers.

Guards were posted at the bottom. They bowed their heads as the prince walked by. Kili tipped his head, acknowledging their presence but said nothing. Kili made his way to the third landing before the adrenalin began to wane. Kili stopped and leaned heavily against the stone wall. He took deep breaths trying to center on the bond he had felt earlier. His eyes closed in concentration. His mind was screaming for Fili. Kili tried to grasp onto the tendrils of sensation, of memory hoping they would lead him back to his distraught sibling. "Fili!" The word escaped his lips in a half sob.

Kili opened his eyes to the darkened hall. He sensed someone, but that person was here in the shadows.

He spun on his heels pulling his blade out as he did. Kili's heart pounded as the shadow took on the form of a dwarrowdam. He raised his blade. No one, nothing would stop him from returning to Fili.

His grip tightened, his mind remembering Nevi. She had been one with shadow. Nevi had been death and madness.

The dwarrowdam took a step into the torchlight. Kili rose slightly out of his defensive stance. He was confused by the female before him.

She smiled at him. "Do not be afraid my Prince. It is merely an old dwarrow who sought the comfort of ancient stone and the memories it holds." Her face held a warmth and affection that reminded him of his mother. Her long fingers reached out to stroke the rough rocks of the mountain. "The mountain is filled with joy that her children are home and the great wyrm is dead."

Kili abruptly felt embarrassed that he had drawn his weapon on such a noble lady. His blade slid silently back in its sheath. His eyes never strayed from the dwarrowdam. He did not recognize her. They had never met before. She was of Thorin's and Balin's generation or older. However, this lady was still lovely. The march of time would never diminish such a true beauty of heart and soul. Her long silver hair shone with mithril and sapphire beads. Her gown was silver with rich embroidery of blue and purple. She did not wear an overabundance of jewelry as so many dwarrows were inclined to do so. A single necklace with the finest chains Kili had ever seen draped around her neck until it terminated at one single gem that shined with an inner light. Kili had never seen such a gorgeous thing, including the Arkenstone.

"My Lady. Forgive me." He managed, the words tumbling out quickly. Kili's instinct's were that of a hunters. He did not feel any sense of threat from this person. He straightened and bowed deeply. "I am Kili, son of Dis. At your service."

The matron's smile wavered some at his last statement. Sadness crossed her violet eyes. However, when Kili was upright, she banished any thought of melancholy.

She returned his greeting with a deep curtsey of her own. "I am Ana, daughter of Meri. May Mahal Bless you, Kili."

Ana straightened and continued to speak, "I apologize for startling you My Lord. I longed to wander Erebor and remember the days past. The mountain calls to us to remember. I wish to pay homage to those memories and those we have lost."

Kili breathed deeply and shook his head. "I've felt it too." He let out surprised at himself.

"The mountain speaks to you." It was a statement.

"I don't understand." Kili shrugged.

"It has been a long time. They have forgotten how to listen. The choices made to honor the mountain, the memorial have healed broken bonds." She held out her hand. Kili instinctively offered his arm. Ana took it and the two began to walk down the corridor. "The decision you and Fili made to remember the stories of her lost children means much."

Kili frowned, "How do you know such things? No one knows what was in those letters." Still he felt no harm from the lady beside him.

Her right hand passed over to pat his offered arm. "An educated guess. The tales of Fili and Kili, the two heroic brothers who are inseparable will be told until Eru remakes this world."

Kili snorted at that. "I am no hero. Fili is. He is the one who saved our people. Whatever success I have, it is with my brother's hand."

"You are quick to sing his praises while offering yourself none. Surely, Fili does not feel the same?" She probed gently.

Kili shrugged. They reached the level that looked out over the abandoned city of Dale. Scorch marks still stood where Smaug had breathed his deadly fire. The night was coming quickly. The sky was a deep rich blue and shades of purple.

She raised one elegant eyebrow at Kili. He relented. "No, he doesn't. Fili always says were a team. He says I balance him out."

"Then your brother is indeed wise. You should listen to him when he tells you to take pride in your good deeds." She gently commanded. They stopped to gaze out over the remains of the city, the barren ground surrounding the fortress.

Ana's face reflected sorrow and old pain. Kili shook his head, he did not like seeing her so. "It will be rebuilt. Erebor, Dale. We will grow stronger from our exile." He promised to Ana and himself. "Fili will return and we will make certain of it."

"What of your Uncle, the King? You still suspect his heart is tainted?"

Kili shifted to look Ana in the eye. Few would be so bold to question Kili so. "It will take time."

"For forgiveness? That should be offered freely. Thorin's heart always knew the truth even if his will was torn asunder by the madness." Ana spoke with a certainty that puzzled Kili.

Kili shook his head negatively. "Forgiveness for banishing Fili? My lady, this is a hard thing you ask."

She gave him a look of understanding, her warm hand sought his. "My child. Finding forgiveness is easy. It is freely given to those who seek it by Eru. We must follow example and give it freely to those who ask."

Kili took her hand and held it briefly and let it go. "That is a very undwarrow notion. We hold grudges for generations."

"It was not the lesson we dwarrows were meant to learn from the past. Our pride and greed has twisted it into some tale opposite its teaching. By asking forgiveness and giving it, we free ourselves. We release the curse laid upon our peoples. Do not repeat it." Ana gently replied.

Kili sighed, "Are you asking me to forget what Thorin did? The pain he caused us? Fili is out there, so is Bilbo. And I can't shake this feeling something horrible and dark is happening to them." He rubbed his dark stubble.

"No, I would not ask you to forget such a hurt. You've changed because of it, so has your brother, your uncle and those around you. You must reconcile your feelings to the people you've become now. But that is only possible with forgiveness freely given. Thorin still has much to answer for, much to make amends for. His actions weigh heavy upon his soul as well they should. Yet, no good will come of you keeping forgiveness from your uncle. In the end, holding onto the bitterness poisons your own soul. The true enemy was the curse, not your uncle."

Kili was silent, Ana's words tumbled around in his heart. "It isn't that easy. He hurt us. We trusted him. To protect us, to love us. In the end we were just enemies, things in his way." Kili felt tears threaten. He did not want to weep in front of a stranger, no matter how motherly she felt. He missed his mother so much in this moment.

Ana reached out a moved stray locks from Kili's face. "The curse was a terrible thing. It caused the sufferer to hate that which he loved the most. In Thorin's case, Fili and you. Only gold and treasure would be able to soothe the burning, acidic hatred. His feelings were so much worse due to how much he loves. The poison made this even worse."

"How do you know these things?" Kili asked, the ache echoing in his words. He wanted to believe this gentle stranger.

Ana dropped her hand, "I saw the same terrible fate befall Thror. He too, turned his heart against those he loved for the want of gold. The loss of his affection was a horrible thing to bare. I have felt the curse as you have. It took me many decades to learn the wisdom I am passing to you, my child. Spare yourself and your brother. Heed my words. Take the lesson of forgiveness and extend it to others as well, not just your uncle."

Kili's eyebrows went up. He knew instinctively somehow where this was headed. "You mean the elves especially?"

Ana nodded, "Yes. Thousands years of hatred, pain and suffering. Forgiveness must be given, healing must happen. Middle Earth is about to face the gravest of dangers. We must be united to face them. You and Fili have the opportunity, the ability to give this gift. There are others who can as well, but you must show them the path."

Kili jerked back, stunned. "My apologies Ana, but I believe you are mistaken."

"You will have help of course. Whenever it can be given." Ana continued as if he had not spoken. "Powerful forces are gathered against you. They have sensed the promise you and Fili hold. They seek your destruction. They have already tried. This is the darkness that you sense."

"Nevi."

"Yes, she is not alone. Two other witches remain that are bound by blood and a horrible oath to seek the end of the line of Durin."

"Where and who? Tell me Ana, and I will end them." Kili swore. "Please. I have loved ones to protect."

"A witch resides in the Greenwood, she serves the Necromancer of Dol Goldur. She must be defeated or her sorcery will overwhelm the elven realm. Their souls will be twisted into evil beings who will curse Middle Earth with such wanton murder and grief, she will never recover. The Necromancer will succeed and all will be lost."

"How do you know this? Who are you?" Kili begged to know.

Ana gave him an apologetic expression. "I having been fighting the darkness for a very long time in my own way. Thorin and the others, great dwarrows they are. However, they have forgotten how to hear. I cannot appear before them."

Kili sighed and shook his head, "I have to get Fili. They will ask me to wait, they need to hear this from you. They have to know the danger we are facing."

"Take this. It will help your leg. Rub it on your legs tonight. By the dawn you will feel better." Ana placed a small smooth stone jar in Kili's rough hands. Kili glanced down at it. It was warm in his hands.

"Ride out to Fili, your heart will guide you. Kili, son of Dis, Prince of Erebor, you have been Blessed." Kili felt lips brush his forehead. A warm electric sensation ran through his limbs and torso. He glanced up quickly.

Ana was gone.

Kili swirled around. He saw nothing but the night sky and the stone of the mountain. He looked down at the ruins, their jagged edges softened in the dusk. Kili raised the stone jar to his eyes. He did not dream this. But what had just happened?

Kili bit his lip and leaned against the old railing. His mind was confused. Already the image of Ana grew hazy as if a dream, but her words, the feelings of warmth and concern were still solid. One thing stood out. He was to go to Fili. Tomorrow he would ride. There would be no more excuses.

Chapter Text

Fili stumbled, tripping over a large branch. Even with his dwarrow eyesight the forest was almost pitch black. The dark clouds concealed any light coming from the heavens above. A strangely smelling mist swirled around them. It was like a marsh with too ripe vegetation rotting in the sun. However, that was impossible in winter in the deep forest. Being concealed by the mist, enveloped by it was truly disgusting. He tried to hold his breath until he could stumble upright. He couldn't. Instantly, Fili felt a headache begin from the stench.

Legolas faired only slightly better in the dark. This mist rising up from the ground further hindered their movement. Earlier, he had yielded his better judgment to the passionate dwarf behind him. Yet, this insanity had to stop. They would not find the poor Hobbit this day.

Legolas reached down a hand to help Fili regain his footing. Fili took it and mumbled, "Thanks."

The elf did not release Fili, instead he pulled him close. They could make out each other's shape. "We must stop before we injure ourselves. We can be no use to Bilbo exhausted and wounded." His tone was clipped.

Fili sighed. It had taken long hours but the adrenalin of this horrid day was finally worn out. Legolas waited not letting Fili go. He was afraid the stubborn dwarf would just mumble and continue on blindly. Instead, he was relieved when Fili's somber voice replied, "You're right. We are getting nowhere fast. Plus we could be missing signs."

Legolas relaxed his hold. "Finally, the dwarf sees reason." Once more the Prince felt he understood his father's frustration with these smaller beings. It was a wonder that they had survived this many ages with such folly in their hearts.

"That's the only thing I can see in this damned forest." Fili did not try to stop the rising frustration he felt. "Why do your people still live here?" Fili was a child of wanderers. If one place ceased to fill your needs, you cut your losses and moved on.

"It wasn't always like this. Once this was a place full of life." Legolas found some irritation at his companion starting to build. He frowned and tried to clamp down on his growing anger, "But come we must find shelter and rest. I need to look at your wound once more." Legolas replied.

Fili waved his unwounded arm, "Where do you suggest? I can't even see the trail any more due to this stinking mist!" Fili knew he was starting to sound petulant. Right now, though, he wasn't certain he cared. 'This entire place had been a nightmare. Bilbo and I should have gone the way they came. No stupid spiders jumping out at them on that path. In addition no nightmare creatures ripping people in two. Yes, these damned elves were so confident about getting him back to Kili faster.'

Legolas looked up. The clouds were beginning to thin out. "I can climb a tree, get my bearings. The moon is attempting to come out. It will be enough light for me to find us a path." 'Plus I can get away from the stench of this dwarf. Honestly, do they not bathe?'

Fili let out a tired grunt, of course an elf would suggest climbing up a tree. However, Fili could see sense in this. Kili scrambled up many a tree. His brother had done the same trick more than once while on hunting trips. Mahal, how he missed Kili! But his heart was still glad he was not here to face this terrible demon. Honestly, he had no idea as yet how to rescue Bilbo. Fili just knew he had to try.

"You climb the tree. I'll make a torch." Fili offered.

"It could be seen." Legolas disagreed. "Plus making fire in these wet and cold conditions will be difficult." Irritation rising in both his voice and emotions.

"I can make fire. I'm a dwarf. You climb the tree. You're the elf. The fire will be small, but I'm not going to break my leg or snap my neck." Fili snapped back with some anger.

Legolas rolled his green eyes. He too was feeling tired and the horror of the day had taken a toll. The loss of so many friends in such a violent manner had been difficult to bare. "Next time, heed my words. I know this forest."

Fili grunted again, his Durin temper starting to leak out, "Oh yes, so well we now find ourselves lost. Find us a campsite without any damned spiders, orcs or demons! Can one of you elves manage that?"

Legolas narrowed his green eyes. His mounting anger evident in his reply, "I am the only elf remaining. My friends have died trying to find you safe passage."

Fili squared his broad shoulders against the elf. One finger flew in front of the prince. "And my friend is likely dead as well! Or have you forgotten Bilbo already?"

Green fire flashed in Legolas' eyes now. "Dôl gîn los! Pe-channas!" He took a step closer to the dwarf drawing up to his full height advantage to the young dwarf.

Fili snarled, "Oh! Go on! Insult me in your damn fancy language! I don't give a rat's ass! Our language is sacred. From Aule himself! Not a bunch of gibberish from leaf eating morons!"

Legolas decided at that moment he had quite enough of dwarves to last him a life time. At this moment he wanted nothing more than to pound Fili into a quivering lump of goo. "Pedin i phith in aniron, a nin u-cheniathog." He grabbed the shorter dwarf by his coat.

Fili saw red. He didn't stop his fist from delivering a powerful haymaker to the elf's fragile looking jaw.

Legolas flew backward into a gnarled tree. He pushed back instantly. His own hands formed a fists. He took a mighty swing at the damn arrogant dwarf.

Fili blocked it neatly. Fili stepped into the blow. Instantly, he head butted the elf fiercely. Legolas flew back shakily. Fili felt smug. This was too easy.

And it was. Legolas struck out with his legs. Suddenly, Fili found himself joining the elf on the muddy forest floor. The two ignored the muck and the mist. They each grappled with one another. Neither could get a strangle hold on the other. The two rolled and rolled. Branches and leaves stuck into their hair and clothes. They continue to scream insults as they poked and struggled. Neither gained dominance.

Suddenly, the two felt the bottom fall out. Both yelled in shock and earnest.

The two combatants fell many feet. Their shouts were ended when cold muddy waters entered their mouths.

Legolas felt the cold water against his skin. All at once his mind rebelled at what was happening. 'How did he end up here? Where was Fili?' With a couple of powerful strokes he surfaced. The swift current was dragging him through the forest at a rapid clip. "Fili? Fili! Shout to me!"

Fili was not as lucky as the elf. His fall had him land in a tangle of downed tree limbs. The cold water quickly put a damper on his anger. Instead, the golden haired dwarf struggled to be free. Fili couldn't see in the brown waters. His hands reached out and he grasped the thick limb his coat was hung on. Fili felt himself growing weak. His lungs were burning. He had seconds. More bubbles of air escaped his mouth. For a second he considered just letting it happen. Fili was so damn tired of fighting. He felt his legs grow numb with the cold. A buzzing screamed in his ears.

His mind grew hazy. His thoughts on his brother. His fear for the younger more than himself. 'Kili, I can't make it. I am sorry.'

The reply was instantaneous and powerful. Kili's words seared into his soul. 'Fili. I'm coming. Don't give up.' Somehow his brother could sense Fili's pain and panic. A last desperate surge of adrenalin shot through his body. If he died, Kili would know. He would feel it.

The last wrenching from the branch was enough to break it. He kicked up. No matter his desire to live, another second more and it wouldn't matter.

Fili broke free from the muddy water just in time. His mouth hardly cleared the surface. He gulped in the oxygen, coughing and spitting. Fili didn't even try to guide his body. It was all he could do to stay above the river. He felt it tumble him around. The dwarf was banged against rocks and floating debris. He just stayed afloat for a minute. All he wanted to do was breathe.

Finally, his oxygen starved brain kicked back into function. Fili blinked. He could hear Legolas shouting his name anxiously. Fili spit out the dank water and hollered back.

Legolas had found a group of large rocks peeking out of the water's flow. He had grabbed onto one of them, halting his path. The elf spun around looking for his companion. He continued to shout.

"FILI!" His sharp eyes sought the water's waves. The moon broke out along with the last rays of sunlight from the dark grey clouds. Legolas saw golden hair. Fili was about to pass by.

Legolas shoved off the boulder. "Fili!"

"Legolas!" Fili yelled back.

Legolas felt relief. His friend was still alive! He reached out and grabbed the dwarf as he rapidly shot near him. Fili felt the elf's hand grasp his wounded arm. He yelled in pain involuntarily.

Legolas shifted in the rapids. His long arms wrapped around Fili chest. In alarm he could see Fili's nose gushing blood. He could see the shoreline close by. The rain fed river was beginning to spread out and the current slow. "Hang on to me."

Fili nodded and coughed. It was a struggle but he did his best to help Legolas make it to shore. It took longer than either care for. When Legolas' feet finally felt solid earth, he shouted in joy.

It took a few more seconds, but then Fili shared the same emotion. Solid land beneath his soaked boots.

Still arm in arm the two made their way up out of the dark liquid and onto the grassy shore. Legolas lowered Fili down and then collapsed beside the dwarf. He was spent keeping Fili and himself from drowning.

Fili coughed up more water. He rolled to his side and vomited up foul water. Legolas righted himself and kneeled beside his friend. When Fili's stomach stopped its convulsions, Legolas guided him toward the cover of large pines. The two stumbled and crawled there way there.

Fili collapsed against one trunk, Legolas next to him.

For several minutes the two just breathed heavily. Fili blinked away the mud. Legolas' shaky hands wiped the worst of it away from his face. He grimaced in pain.

Fili turned to Legolas. "How? How did we end up here?" He wheezed out. His mind was spinning and his head throbbed as if Mahal himself was using it as a private anvil.

Legolas would have shaken his head. However, the motion hurt too much. "I do not know."

Fili squirmed more upright. The bleeding was stopping. At this moment the last of the sun's rays illuminated their resting spot in a golden orange glow.

"You have a black eye." Fili observed.

Legolas frowned. Gingerly, his hand felt the bruising flesh. "Yes. A huge one. You have a broken nose."

Fili shrugged. "I know. I don't know how it happened." He just wanted a warm bed, dry clothes and a hot meal. Hell, at this point he'd settle for a dry cave. His brain continued to buzz.

There was silence for a few minutes. The welcomed sunlight slid underneath the trees. A new dimness settled over the two travelers.

Legolas struggled, but the new grayness was the clue he needed. "The mist."

"What? I don't remember any mist." Fili replied. His unwounded hand gripped his nose. This was going to hurt, but it was something he'd done before.

Legolas' sharp ears heard the loud pop as Fili painfully forced the cartilage of nose back into place.

"OW! Shit!" Fili cursed. His hand flopped down. If a hoard of orcs descending on them now, he doubted he could stand upright, much less fight.

Legolas had been distracted for a few seconds by the dwarf. Now he went back to puzzling out their mystery.

"Thanks. For saving me." Fili managed to say now that he was no longer cursing the pain in his nose. For once he was glad his was smaller than most other dwarrows.

Smiling, "It's becoming a bad habit." Legolas laughed.

Fili joined him. His good hand reaching out and fist bumping the elf in the shoulder. "I got you wrinkled again."

Legolas laughed more. They were punch drunk in their exhaustion. They should have been quiet. They should have been checking their weapons and remaining supplies. Instead, the two continued to say silly things to one another and laugh.

"You look like a drowned raccoon."

"You look like an elk with those twigs in your hair!"

"Yea! I guess your dad would approve!"

"Not with that nose!"

Finally, the rustling of the bushes reached their ears. The two stopped their laughter, but the damage had been done. They'd been heard.

The two shared a dark glance. Neither was able to fight well, their limbs were already weary and still trembling.

Fili began to use the trunk to upright himself. His back leaned against it as his powerful legs shoved himself forward. His hand gripped Legolas giving the elf the leverage he needed as well.

Wobbly, Legolas withdrew his twin blades. Fili did the same, barely able to keep the left one in a fighting position.

"We will die on our feet my friend." Fili whispered.

"Let them remember our ending and curse the day." Legolas replied. His heart as grim.

The bushes continued to shake. A loud noise of breaking tree limbs and squishing mud reaching their ears.

Legolas squared himself, his heart pounding. He hoped that his father would remember him proudly. Then the Prince of Mirkwood focused his senses on the dark shapes rapidly approaching.

Fili prayed to Mahal for Kili and Bilbo. 'Keep them safe. Forgive me for falling you.'

Fili instinctively went to a defensive combat stance ignoring the screaming pain of his resistant muscles.

The noise was louder, the shapes dark and nearly there.

Fili screamed, "Basaich, jarg-noid, geddyn basse!" He leapt forward to meet this new threat.

The downward arch of his sword was fiercely met. Enormous strength shoved him off. Legolas moved up instantly to cover Fili's stumbling form.

The dark shape suddenly became illuminated.

"My goodness. What are you two doing here? This is no place for an elf. Or a dwarf. No, this won't do. Not at all." Rhadaghast grumbled

Chapter Text

Chapter 37

Kili pocketed the stone jar into a pocket within his rich blue coat. He nodded to himself as he gazed upon the darkness shrouded ruins. Kili's mind turned over Ana's words once more. Finally, he gave a grim smile. Foremost on his mind was his brother. Kili would not wait another day in this mountain. Tomorrow he would ride out to find him and Bilbo. The sense of danger he felt from Fili had lessened over the hour. Kili's feeling of urgency to reunite with Fili had not lessened at all. Then came the Lady Ana's instruction for him to find Fili. This was not a coincidence.

Kili turned on his heels. He was tempted to immediately begin the preparations necessary for the long trip. However, the young prince knew he had to reappear at the festivities in the grand hall. Ana urged forgiveness for Thorin. As he took the steps down, he mulled that over as well. Apparently, he could forgive his uncle for his transgressions. That did not mean that Thorin instantly regained his trust or admiration. Thorin still had to earn it.

Kili's feet hit the bottom steps. The guards shared curious stares. They could see instantly the change in their youngest sovereign. He moved with determination and renewed energy. Kili headed for the crowded hall. The ending of the tensions was still being celebrated. However, he would put in a mandatory appearance then slip off quietly and quickly.

The cacophony of noise hit his ears along with the smells of smoke and ale. Instantly, dwarrows once more greeted the prince. Kili put on a bright smile that was totally false. He did not really pay attention to the words said. All his responses were neutral and noncommittal. Finally, he arrived where Bofur and Bifur were still with the group he'd left earlier.

Bofur's gentle burr greeted Kili, "There ye are. We were beginning to wonder." Bofur's eyes sought out Kili's for some further indication. The miner knew his prince. Something had changed.

Kili noted how well Bofur could read him despite the false appearance. "My apologies. I was being entertained by Lady Ana who told me of Erebor before Smaug. She was very informative." It was close enough to the truth to pass.

Bifur stood up and began to look around the crowded room. Kili took an ale and sat next to him. "The Lady has already retired for the evening." Bifur's brow furrowed and he hurried off. Kili and Bofur shared a surprised look and a shrug.

Bofur could see that Kili had no desire to discuss the matter further. With the guests about to ask questions, he covered for his friend. "Well, leave it to our prince to find the company of a lovely dwarrowdam. Our guests were telling of us of their heroics in the battle with Azog." Although it had barely been mentioned, this got the company completely off the topic of the long missing prince. Soon the dwarrows of the Iron Hills were telling them of increasingly bold heroics.

Kili laughed at the right times, but he did not offer to share his tale. Frankly, his mind did not want to return to that terror. The fear of his friends and family dying before he could get to them was something he did not care to remember. Trying to find Fili on the battlefield had seemed like days. Kili would love to tell his younger self what a load of pig manure it was to dream of glory in battle. Kili understood his elders now, especially Thorin, Balin and Dwalin. Battle wasn't about glory. It was sheer terror being contained by willpower to do the right thing. To stand strong and face danger wishing your comrades lived to see another day. Kili wanted to never see another war again.

Kili lasted almost half a hour before the urge to leave became overwhelming. He rose, clearing his throat, "I thank you for your tales of bravery. Erebor was truly saved by your efforts. We thank our Iron Hills brothers for their courage in battle." With that toast the entire table drained the ale in their cups. Afterwards many shouted and pounded the table. Kili placed his empty tankard on the table. "Good night my friends. I must speak with the King."

Everyone shouted to Thorin's good health. Kili felt his shoulders being slapped on in affection as he walked by the table.

Kili wound around the clusters of people. Occasionally, he stopped for a word or two with a group. Taking longer than he liked, Kili arrived at the main table. They were laughing at some joke and hadn't noticed his approach. Kili still admired the dwarrows at this table. They were a stalwart group, but he couldn't reveal what had transpired earlier with Lady Ana. 'They have forgotten how to listen' he thought remembering Ana's words. His right hand fingered the stone jar in his coat pocket. It was still warm. Then Kili rubbed the scruff of his beard and made a decision.

"Ahh, there you are Kili. It's time you joined us." Thorin remarked. The day's events had wiped out some of the guilt and tension the dwarf carried in his heart. Now with much ale and the company of friends, Thorin actually seemed to be somewhat relaxed. Kili started. He tried to wipe his expression off his face.

'How could Thorin be so damned happy?' he wondered. 'Fili is still gone. So is Bilbo. They're in danger.' His eyes scanned the expressions of his friends. Kili faked his smile. Kili realized he knew they were in danger. No one else here did. He couldn't suppress the sigh of frustration. However, Kili instinctively felt his decision was the right one.

Kili was not about to announce his leaving tomorrow. There would be no convincing his elders on this matter. They would attempt to prevent his departure. Kili was not about to give them the opportunity. He didn't have time or energy for the emotions it would cause. There was only one dwarf he would confide his plans to.

Dwalin stood up from his seat beside Thorin. He indicated his chair. Kili's eyebrows went up at this action. He sat and comprehended with some awkwardness things had changed since this afternoon. Reality struck him again as Kili tried to wrap around the thoughts he was truly a Prince. Which meant his mentor and Thorin's best friend and protector would now yield his seat for him. He felt his throat tighten. The earlier court and now this had cemented his new role in a way the previous weeks had not. It was all because it was being done with Thorin's approval and presence. 'How the hell did I go from being the spare nephew to this?'

Thorin seemed to sense Kili's sudden modesty and wonderment at events. His rough hand found its way to Kili's shoulder. He gave the boy a tight squeeze. Thorin smiled at the lad in encouragement. He knew Kili would be overwhelmed tonight. In the past Kili was never at the main table other than a quick introduction. If a prince's presence was required, Fili always attended. As for Dwalin's deferment, Thorin had felt the same ages ago when he'd come of age to seat with his father and grandfather.

Kili was still stiff at his touch. His heart sank a little. Thorin tried to take it in stride. Despite his nephew's deeds before Dain and his court, Kili was a passionate dwarf where Fili was concerned. His brother still was not at his side. Kili would be unbalanced until Fili returned. Only then would Thorin have a chance at forgiveness. He accepted this. His thoughts turned to their hobbit, Bilbo for a brief moment. It pained his heart to think of the argument they'd had before the burglar left.

 

Oin finished assisting Bilbo in his sick bed when Thorin thundered into the room. Oin's shoulder slumped. He was exhausted from the weeks of healing and constant stress of crisis. However, there were no herbs or salves to cure Thorin's gold sickness. He could no longer keep the gentle hobbit from learning the truth about his friend and their king, Thorin. "Bilbo be careful of your words." He cautioned. Bilbo stared at Oin in confusion. The older dwarf left hurriedly.

Thorin strode to Bilbo's side. He was clothed in finest tunics and furs that could be found in the area. His calloused hands were covered in thick gold and jeweled rings. Strands of gold hung about his neck. He was every inch a rich and ostentatious dwarf. Oin hated it.

Bilbo's gentle eyes settled on Thorin truly for the first time sense the battle. He blinked in confusion. Thorin didn't just look different he felt different. His stomach flipped even as Thorin took his hands in his.

Thorin smiled at him, but it wasn't one from the heart. It was nothing like those moments they had shared since Carrock. This was off. Then Bilbo remembered the gold madness plaguing his friend before battle. In his desire to see Thorin and the boys, to know his adopted family was alright, he'd blocked out this horrible detail. But the evidence was before him. Thorin, the King he had followed was not the dwarf he once knew. Bilbo gulped and smiled nervously. He wasn't sure what to expect, but Thorin's blue eyes greedily devoured his existence. This made him feel even more uneasy.

"Finally, you're awake. You had us worried!" Thorin said as he sat in a chair brought to him by a nearby servant.

Bilbo nodded, "I had me worried as well. How is everyone? Are the boys fine? I haven't seen Fili. They tell me Kili is in his bed with wounded legs."

Thorin's smile faded instantly at the mention of Fili's name. "Kili's fine. Don't concern yourself. You just concentrate on getting better. I want you sitting by my side. Soon I'll be holding court. I have many decisions to make regard Erebor's rebuilding. I want you there with me." Thorin fingered Bilbo's very long golden locks. "You need the right beads for your hair, new clothes of course. I won't have you wearing those ratty clothes anymore."

Bilbo's large expressive eyes grew humongous. "Well, thank you of course Thorin. I'm flattered you wish me to remain in Erebor."

"Of course. You've proven your worth and loyalty. Having a hobbit here in Erebor will be very profitable for both of us, I'm certain of it." Thorin replied in a haughty voice.

Bilbo shrugged off his blankets as he waved his hands. "Profitable? What are you going on about Thorin? I don't understand this. And why won't you or anyone else tell me about Fili?"

Thorin's previous good humor instantly evaporated. "Enough. It is no concern of yours."

"Since when is Fili no concern of mine? I love Kili and him like they were my own." Bilbo replied.

"They are not yours and never will be. Do not claim what you have no right to." Thorin's need to possess evident in all things.

Bilbo drew back in his hurt, "I apologize if I've over stated my affections. I know they are not my blood relations. However, my feelings are mine. I care for both of them and in turn

Thorin interrupted by standing up suddenly, "Silence. I told you twice now to end this discussion. I will not have a mere hobbit defying me."

Bilbo drew in a deep breath, this was too much. "Excuse me, but I thought I was a friend. Not one of your subjects. And when did that start to matter again? I want to know what has happened with Fili. If you will not tell me, I will find someone who will."

"I forbid it." Thorin growled out.

Bilbo shook his head in surprise. With a tired grunt he completely threw off his coverings and stood wobbly on his hobbit feet. "You forbid it? What have you done Thorin? What are you hiding?"

Thorin was red in the face with his anger. "I will not be questioned in this matter. Oin! Get in here. You told me the hobbit was well."

"Oh, I am. Quite so. But you. You on the other hand. You!" he pointed one finger at Thorin's impressive chest. "Have completely lost your mind."

"You will not address me in such manner."

"Ha! I can and I will. I earned that right, remember? You said as much in Laketown. Or do your words then mean nothing?"

Thorin sputtered and was rapidly turning red in the face, "My words are law."

Bilbo rolled his head in mockery. "I think you need to restate your words my lord. In Laketown you asked me to be honest with you always. Now you demand my silence. Fili is your heir and nephew. He loves you and you him."

Oin rushed in at this instant afraid for Bilbo's wellbeing. Thorin's hands formed fists as he took two steps away from the furious hobbit. "He is not well. Put him back in bed and make certain he is clear of his fever this time."

Bilbo was so lost to his anger he forgot all his manners or personal safety. "WHAT DID YOU DO THORIN?" he roared. Bilbo had faced all matters of dangers for this dwarf. This was his King. The one person he would follow to the dark halls of death itself. Yet something was now, so terribly wrong.

"FILI IS BANISHED! He is a traitor to his people." Thorin screamed back, spit flying from his mouth in the response. He pointed vaguely to the treasury room. "He stole the Arkenstone!"

"To save all of us from Azog's armies! You dim witted, stubborn idiot! Have you not come to your senses?" Bilbo snapped back.

Oin tried to shake his head, to warn the hobbit to stop his side of the fight. Bilbo ignored him even as the healer attempted to come to his aid.

Thorin took several steps back to Bilbo. For a brief instant Bilbo thought he might be struck. Thorin's hand stopped as it reached back. Instead, he glared daggers at Bilbo.

"Bilbo you will stop this now!" It was less of an order now.

Bilbo's temper was great. "NO! Fili did the right thing. Where is he? Where is Kili? Have you been foolish enough to ban him as well?"

Oin jumped in desperate to calm the situation down. "Kili is healing from his wounds in battle."

Bilbo shouted, "You separated them? How could you be so cruel? You have done what all the orcs, wargs and foul beasts could not do. You parted Kili and Fili! You must be so very proud of your power."

Thorin strode to Bilbo and grabbed him up by the collar on his nightshirt. He picked the hobbit up off the floor to be level with his eyes.

"Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, you should choose your next words carefully. You have spoken treason and have betrayed my trust."

Bilbo felt his heart pound. "Thorin Oakenshield, I have fulfilled my duties as laid out by the contract. I choose to part from your company." Bilbo wanted to say so much more. In this heated instant, his survival instinct kicked in. Nothing more would be gained by arguing with Thorin further.

Thorin growled and shook the hobbit for a moment. Bilbo winced as his wounds screamed out in agony. Seeing the pain on the hobbit's face somehow made Thorin stop his violent actions. Instead of throwing Bilbo like his blood demanded, he released the hobbit from his grasp. Bilbo fell back. The hobbit leaned against the bed frame panting in pain.

Thorin stood for moment saying nothing. Bilbo turned his now tear laden eyes to Thorin. His expressive face was filled with sorrow and betrayal. Thorin turned on his heels and stormed out.

 

Thorin blinked away the memory of the last time he had seen his friend. Remembering those moments, he closed his eyes as the shame of his actions swept him away. He had so many crimes to answer for.

Kili was talking, "So I have come to wish you all a good night." Thorin became conscious of the fact he hadn't heard much of what Kili was saying.

Kili stole a glance at his uncle as if expecting some plea that he remain. Thorin studied Kili's features. The boy had that determined air about him once more. He had it earlier in the day, but Kili lost it once the negotiations went well. His nephew showed no signs of the usual joy he felt from such revelry. Truly he did not expect it without Fili in attendance. Kili shuffled in his seat. Another sign Kili had something he was up too. It was the same nervous habit Kili had as a child. Thorin found he did not want to challenge him in front of Dain. Kili was up to something. He would just have to be patient and wait til the morning. After all, for Kili to trust him, Thorin had to return the favor.

Dain was rolling his eyes. "The night's young lad! You should be attempting to drink us under the table and dancing with the lassies!"

"The prince still has his injuries cousin. I suspect it is with great remorse he must take his leave." Thorin finally replied, surprising everyone at the table but Dwalin. "But first, have one last toast."

Kili nodded, his hand reaching for an ale. If this is all his uncle demanded for his escape, the terms were easily met. A servant handed out full tankards. Thorin stood up and all the assembled lords and nobles did so as well.

Thorin cleared his voice. He waited a few more seconds as the gathered crowds saw the King rise. All the attention in the room quickly focused on the King.

"Raise your ale to toast Kili, Prince of Erebor!" Thorin shouted.

Kili's brown eyes went huge. This is not what he expected. He wanted attention away from himself. Thorin continued, "My nephew has done his duties with honor and great courage. He has made his house of Durin and his uncle very proud! Mahal Bless you Kili!"

Kili heard the shouts of praise ring throughout the hall. Under most any other circumstance, this would be the proudest time of his entire life. Instead, he fixed a false smile and waved to the crowd as they guzzled their ale as one. Then he drank his own ale wondering about the feeling of treachery he was suddenly feeling.

Chapter Text

Bilbo drifted slowly up through layers of consciousness. His soul fought his mind. Truly, the hobbit did not wish to awake to the nightmare he knew would greet his eyes. The odors, the sensations of touch were unwelcome enough. However, his curious nature finally won out. Bilbo had courage, he had honor. If he was not yet dead by the hands of the ferocious beast, he would discover why.

The stench told him he would find decay and death. His eyes confirmed the nostrils. Bilbo lay on an ancient stone floor. It was cracked in a million places. Weeds with stickers, pointy stems clung to a tenuous life. He blinked several times bring his eyes into focus. The dried webbed husks of a multitude of victims lay scattered haphazardly about.

Ebony claws pushed him. The creature knew he was awake. Bilbo closed his eyes for a brief second. 'Oh please, let my ending be swift.' He prayed so rarely. Hobbit faith was a quiet thing, unlike the dwarrows who constantly praised Mahal for one thing or another. Swift thoughts of Fili and Kili flashed, followed by an older, friendly Thorin. An image of Bag End seared in his brain. The last quiet afternoon spent reading and smoking.

Bilbo yielded to the incessant and increasing violent shoves. "I'm awake. No need to get rough!" His small body was covered in bruises and small cuts. The raugon had traversed the forest with no care to hobbit on his shoulders.

Blessedly, the raugon moved off. Bilbo stood up carefully. He was in a cave. Luminescent mushrooms lined the walls. He could hear the steady drip of water nearby. Webs were everywhere as where randomly tossed bones. With a start, Bilbo realized this was a feasting area for these dark creatures. Bilbo shuddered. He would end his days a meal. Ironic for a hobbit actually.

As he eyes adjusted to the gloom, a silky voice interrupted his dark musings.

"A hobbit has come to i Gaer Gath. Your presence here is unexpected."

Bilbo looked up. A tall almost albino she elf descended old stone steps. Like the elves of Thranduill's court, her long straight hair was pale. It seemed to glow in the light. Her features were lovely, but it was a cold beauty, perfection but no warmth. Blood red rubies adorned her neck. Her gown was black as a moonless night, but it held small crystals which sparkled like stars. She wore a diadem in her fine white hair. Its style matched the necklace.

Her dark eyes studied Bilbo quietly. Bilbo felt himself squirming under her emotionless gaze. He was about to speak when once more her voice rang out.

"Your name hobbit."

Bilbo answered trying to muster some dignity. "Bilbo Baggins of Bag End."

She walked closer, her features only slightly curious. "You have touched old magic. It was some time ago, but your being still resonates with it."

Bilbo's green eyes grew huge. He could not hide his expression of surprise so tired and hurt was he. However, he said nothing to confirm or deny it.

"Delu tad-dal has brought you to me. He was right to do so. Consider yourself fortunate Bilbo Baggins for you have survived an encounter with my pet." Her attention turned to the raugon. "Bring him."

Bilbo shifted his attention to the beast. He still had yet to truly discern his appearance. He still had no opportunity. Bilbo shrieked as the beast roughly tossed the small hobbit over his shoulder once more. Black, stiff hair covered its entire body. It wore no clothing nor adornment of any kind.

Bilbo closed his eyes once more. Gore still clung to its fur in places. Bilbo felt bile rise in his throat remembering the horrible attacks of his elven friends. He felt tears threaten, but did not allow them to fall. His heart pounded and his head spun. Surely, she referred to his magic ring. HIS RING. The one Fili had buried instantly upon taking it from his possession. Bilbo knew the ring had a dark side. In the days he'd worn it in Thranduill's palace, it whispered to him. Dark, vile things, but so beautiful and tempting too. It tried to seduce him constantly, promising all he ever wanted as long as it was his. So many times he was tempted to toss the ring off. However, he could only possess the willpower to remove it.

Fili, the brave lad, instantly recognized the evil it contained. He had flung the cursed thing far away, covering it in blood and mud. Bilbo was relieved of his burden against his will. Most of the time, the hobbit sung silent praises to the dwarf. Yet, at night, when he was afraid, Bilbo still resented Fili for his actions. He had stolen his magnificent ring, his precious.

She wanted it.

Whatever happened, Bilbo Baggins knew he could never allow such a thing come to pass.

"Whatever are you two doing here?" Radaghast muttered. His rabbits shifted nervously as they rested and scratched.

Fili couldn't stop his body from falling back to the wet forest floor in a slumped sitting position. 'A friend, here?' The relief was like a blow to his overwrought senses.

Legolas recovered first. " Greetings Aiwendel. We are searching for a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. He was taken by the raugon."

Radaghast's bushy eyebrows shot up. "Poor hobbit. Poor, sad hobbit." He ran up to Fili and kneeled. Fili would have jerked back from the sudden invasion of personal space had he the energy. The brown wizard reached out a dirty hand to the dwarf and placed it on his forehead. "Tsk, tsk. You've been injured and drowned. Need healing, need rest."

"We must find Bilbo."

"No. Food and sleep. Yes." Radaghast straightened and whistled strangely. "No more can be done this night."

Legolas nodded. Fili could barely walk. Even his elven endurance was at its limit.

The bushes rustled. Legolas started to draw an arrow, when Radaghast's staff lowered the weapon down. Two magnificent elk stags bounded out of the dark. They stopped near the brown wizard.

He hurried over and stroked the largest's long elegant neck. He muttered words neither friend understood. The elk dipped its head slightly.

"Wonderful. Come on then." He turned to the two exhausted warriors. "Fleetfoot and Greathorn don't have all night. Things to do."

Legolas gave Radaghast a surprised glance. "Aiwendil, do you mean for us to ride them?"

Radaghast rolled his eyes and started to pull Fili to his feet. "Of course! Come. The ungol are hungry this night."

Legolas raised an eyebrow. He wondered what his father would think.

Fili, however began to laugh. "Oh Mahal!" He stood unsteadily as the mage pulled him upright. Legolas walked over and partially shouldered Fili's weight.

"Swear to me, you will never mention this to Kili." Fili begged his friend.

Legolas nodded, "Only if you promise never to tell my father."

"Done."

Radaghast tutted. "You two are very silly. Now mount and hang on." He helped Legolas lift Fili to the Fleetfoot. The elk stood patiently. Radaghast muttered in his strange language some more. Legolas then leapt onto Greathorn.

"Treat them well for they are princes." Radaghast declared before gathering the reigns of his sled. Legolas had no idea if Radaghast was referring to himself and Fili or the elk. The rabbits arose. With a sharp word the sled shot forward. Fili yelped trying to find something to hang onto. He settled for laying flat against the great stag.

Kili finally made it to his room. He shoved off the cloak and his jewelry. Quickly, his leggings joined the heap on the floor. The young dwarf undid the lid of the stone jar. The salve inside smelled wonderful, like mint and lemons. He dipped a generous helping on his wounded leg. As he rubbed it in, Kili felt a warmth spread through the limb. It was comforting. He used the excess to rub over the scars of his other leg as well.

His dark eyes closed for a moment. The sensation was tingling. He wandered to his bed. The need to lay down was suddenly urgent. Kili yawned. He battled the need to begin his preparations with the desire to sleep, to rest his eyes for a moment. He tried to catalog all the tasks he'd need to do before slipping out, the letter he would write. Instead, the hazy relaxed feeling of falling off to slumber claimed him.

Several minutes later, a knock sounded at his large door. After several moments of waiting, the door opened slowly and quietly.

Bifur walked in. Seeing his prince in asleep, he smiled. Bifur walked up and covered the youngest Durin in blankets. He wandered to the door and locked it. Then he walked over to Kili's stuffed recliner. The thing was old, a remnant of old Erebor the dragon hadn't trashed. Bifur settled in for the night.

Bifur remembered. He was always different as a child. Saw the world slightly off, experienced things that others didn't. He learned to keep it to himself. As he entered his adult years it was such a minor thing. Only his younger cousins knew and they did not speak his secret.

However, that all changed the day he had met Beryl in the marketplace. Never before had he beheld such a beautiful dwarrowdam. Bifur had been stunned no one else seemed to notice her brightness, her unique sparkle of green and turquoise. When she accidently touched his hand, he saw sparks. In that instant he knew, she was the one for him.

Their courtship was rather short. She was from a humble family as was he. All could see they belonged to one another after awhile, although not with the same vivid colors of Bifur.

Three years into their marriage, he had seen the subtle change in her colors. Another shade was suddenly presented deep within her own. She cradled it within her own swirls. A boy was born months later. Bifur thought life could be not be better. They may not have material things, but the love, ah, it was deep and richer than any gold.

A year later, it happened again. This time rosebud pink. A daughter. Bifur had been humbled. He considered himself the most blessed of all the dwarrow.

Then the ebon darkness of death crept into their tiny village. Bifur had ignored it at first. He thought it only a passing shadow. Never before had the dwarf been so wrong.

It was disease. Cruel and impartial, it struck old and young alike with a ferocious hunger. Kirin was the first to succumb. Bifur had blinked and it had happened so fast. Then the inky black was everywhere. It could not be out run, be fought with weapon. The grey black swallowed the tiny child. In two days his son was dead.

The shadow passed to the babe. Her bright pink become grey. As it happened so did his Beryl's incredible swirls.

He had cursed Mahal the night Beryl passed. She had lost the will to live when their jewel, their tiny delicate newborn baby girl succumbed in her sleep. She had wept so. No matter how Bifur tried to calm her, Beryl's grief was too much. Hours after her child passed, Beryl joined her and their son, Kirin in death.

Bifur had wanted to die. Prayed to die. The anger, the sorrow twisted his gut. Bifur screamed in terrible agony, of a heart broken for the rest of his mortal life. His life was all ruby red of blood and the dark black of death. No other color lived, no longer did his heart.

Bofur and Bombur had rushed to his small home, fearing the worst. Bifur had stormed past them, knocking the both of them to the stone floor. In Bifur's hands was his axe and spear. The illness had not touched him. But Mahal help his shredded soul, he would find orcs or other beings to claim him. The miner stumbled into the dark cold night with vengeance against the world in his heart.

It was hours later when he felt some semblance of reality return to his mind. 'Oh how his head hurt!' It almost matched the hole in his soul. He felt thick black red blood drip down his skull and pool beside his body. Despite the pain he felt relief. His end was near. He would join Beryl and the babes. Death was coming and he was so very glad. He could see grays now, some white.

Instead of Death's cold touch, Bifur felt warmth. A gentle caress and the murmurs of comforting words. He's eyes saw double, but he beheld the form of angel surrounded by the dead orcs in the cave. She knelt beside him, stroking his arms and forehead. Her light shifted the colors back to shades of grey. The black seemed to shrink in her being.

"I'm so sorry my child. Your wish for the hallowed halls of ancestors cannot be granted yet. Your role in this world as yet to be played out. Fate has treated you poorly." Her kind violet eyes shown with unshed tears.

"Know this. Your beloved wife and children are safe and no longer in pain. You will join them and be united for eternity. One day I must call upon you for a sacred task. For this I promise your kin will be rewarded in a way you were not. Long life with love and family. Your name remembered with honor forever. Will you do this for me my child?" The Lady Dwarf asked even as his head began to clear from the pain.

Bifur was torn. He was so lonely, so scared of going on without Beryl.

The Lady Ana nodded her head. "It is a terrible thing I ask to remain apart from your heart. Yet, I know your spirit is strong and loyal. You will see things that other dwarrows will not."

He thought of his cousins. He loved Bofur and Bombur like his own brothers. If he could spare them this heartache shouldn't he? Bombur's wife was Beryl's own sister. Beryl would live on their children.

The Lady did not rush his answer. She sat beside him, her fine dress soiled by the dirt and blood. She continued to stroke his head. Each touch banished more and more of the pain, the confusion. 'Could he deny such a spirit?'

Bifur's voice was hoarse. "Yes, I will do this, I will not have them suffer as I have."

Her smile was a benediction. "Then Bifur, son of Hizur, live. Know one day I will call upon you. May Mahal Bless your broken heart." Bifur felt a warmth spread throughout his being. In his mind he saw his beloved and their two children. She sat in the Great Hall. Her face smiling at their two babes. Their boy playing with a toy his father made, the baby cooing at her mother. They were Blessed in their afterlife.

"We will be waiting for ye. Until then ye have all our love." Beryl whispered and some part of Bifur's broken soul healed.

Bifur had awoken weeks later in Bombur's home. The axe of the last orc could not be removed without killing him. Bifur found he could live with the weapon. It was a reminder of his terrible anger. How close he could come to becoming a crazed animal with no honor, no heart. The axe head remained his unspoken promise to the Lady. Over the years he saw Bombur and his family grow until he was blessed with 10 dwarrows of his own, six of them girls. Bofur was a little less fortunate, but even his fate had changed for the better. With his new wealth and position, Bofur would soon find a mate. He was no longer a lowly miner, but a noble. With Bofur's gentle heart and kindness it was only a matter of time before a dwarrowdam fell hard for his cousin. In Bifur's eyes, the Lady was true to her promise.

Bifur blew out a candle. The room danced with the glow of the lone candle. The Lady had returned this night to Erebor. She had appeared to Kili, the young prince. Bifur had waited so very long for this. He wasn't surprised she had chosen the dark haired youth to receive her blessings. Long ago Bifur knew the boy was unique as his elder brother. Their colors were so vivid and bright, the pattern so complicated. He could only see it whole when the two were together. The first color he had seen in many decades. The others did not see it. He did and when the call came to follow Thorin Oakenshield on his wild quest, it was Bifur who conjoled the cousins into the journey. At first he believed this was the task he'd been called on to fulfill. After all, what greater glory could there be returning the Longbeards to Erebor? However, the toymaker had been wrong. He did not if it was because Thorin had managed to sully the sacred task with his greed. All Bifur understood was his promise remained open.

Then Kili mentioned the Lady Ana. The boy had no understanding of whom he'd been in the company of. He did not fault Kili. Most dwarrow belief was drawn from the same old sources. Only a few remained that remembered and honored Durin the First's wife. It was said she was the mother of all dwarrows for her gentle kindness. Her spirit remained where ever dwarrows called a mountain home.

Bifur had left in search of her. She had been waiting for him in a lonely alcove. Bifur had fallen on his knees in reverence. She was as lovely as he had remembered.

"Bifur, my child, you have done so many wonderous things. I thank you for your service."

"I am honored my lady."

Her hands placed softly on his now grayed head. The ache of the axe faded, the constant buzz in his ears quieted. She kissed his forehead. His unique way of seeing the world, the colors that only he could see came back into focus. Clarity was as crystal as the lake unstirred by wind.

"Our Prince Kili will ride out tomorrow to seek his beloved brother, Prince Fili. He cannot travel alone or he will fall to shadow. Go with him Bifur. Guard him and Fili. Fulfill your promise and help them see." Lady Ana whispered.

Bifur looked up at the great dwarrowdam. She smiled. Her hands caressed his face. He closed his weary eyes. Beautiful images of Beryl and the children flashed through his brain. The vision brought him contentment. He knew they waited, they still loved.

Thru his tears he glanced up, but he knew she would be gone. Bifur clung to the visions of glorious vibrant colors. He wasn't alone. Not in his heart.

Chapter Text

Kili had a surprise waiting for him when he woke up. Bifur was sitting quietly in the far corner of the room. His belongings already packed and laying on the floor beside him. Kili rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

Bifur pointed to the lone window. Already the velvet dark was starting to lighten.

Kili moaned, "Oh mahumb." Then he turned to his elder. "How? I mean, what are you doing in my room?"

Bifur sighed, rolled his eyes and walked over to the Prince's wardrobe. He opened the door with a bang and began to toss suitable clothing at Kili.

Kili sat up. He began grabbing his clothes out of the air, trying to keep up with Bifur's flurry of activity. When Bifur was satisfied, he closed the doors and began looking around the room for Kili's saddle bags. He finally found them and carried them over to the still confused youngster.

"Bifur, what the hell?" Kili grumbled. 'How the hell did Bifur know he was planning on leaving?"

Kili pilled all the clothes in a lump. Not that he was complaining, the selections were sensible ones for a long journey in winter.

Bifur grumbled in Khuzdul, "Get moving lazy bones! Horses waiting."

Kili's mouth flew open. He gaped like a fish out of water. "What makes you think I'm going anywhere?"

Bifur snorted and began to shove most of the clothing into the saddle bags in one large lump. "Fili." He knew Kili didn't really need another response.

Kili stood up and grabbed the saddle bag from Bifur. "You're wrinkling my stuff!"

Bifur gave him a impatient glare. He turned on his heels and began to rummage around the prince's room for more items.

"Wait, wait! I can do it myself." Kili complained.

Bifur didn't stop.

Kili shrugged and waved his hands in frustration. He rushed to his companion. "Look, I don't know how you know I'm leaving."

Bifur tossed Kili's fletching kit at him. Kili's quick reflexes stopped it from crashing to the floor. Next to come was a small leather pouch with fish hooks and skinning tools. Kili placed the fletching under his arms to catch that. Bifur seemed to be pleased as he made a noise like, "Ha!" He threw Kili's fiddle at the lad followed immediately by Kili's favorite blanket.

Kili managed to spear the items out of the air as they flew to him in rapid succession. Soon he ran out of places to hold the stuff as Bifur continued to toss things.

"BIFUR STOP!" Kili shouted much louder than he intended.

Bifur turned, his head cocked to one side. He saw the unruly pile of travelling gear in heap around Kili. "Hurry up boy! Don't dawdle."

Bifur ignored the daggers being glared at him. He took Kili's things out of his hand and walked over to another bag. Haphazardly he began to shove items in.

Kili let out a huge sigh. "I'll do it." He roughly snagged the fishing kit from Bifur. Turning the bag upside down he dumped the contents. "We'll never get everything in just cramming it in."

"I'm packed. Hurry, you don't even have clothes on. Funny way to travel."

"Bifur, you're right. I'm going to find Fili. I don't know how you.."

"Lady Ana." Bifur said with reverence in his voice.

Kili's expression was one of shock. He dropped his stuff and reached out to Bifur grabbing both his arms. "You saw her!"

Bifur nodded. He had smile on his face of contentment, it was an expression rarely seen.

Kili sucked in a breath. "I didn't dream her." He glanced down at his legs partially covered by his shirt. Kili released Bifur. Tentatively, he began to test his left leg. He bent at the knees. Kili's smile lit up the room. No pain. He bent at the waist touching the floor with his fingers. Only the pull of muscles being at rest greeted him, not the agony of tendons unable to stretch.

"Yes! Oh Mahal! Yes!" He ran around the room. Bifur shrugged and followed. The two dwarrows ran, slid and jumped over pieces of furniture. Finally Kili landed on his bed. He did a back flip from the mattress and landed on the table. "I'm back! Yea!" He laughed and jumped the distance between the table and the bed.

"She healed me! I'm in one piece again!" His joy was childlike.

Bifur stopped jumping up and down the mattress. Kili's color's burst like lightning gold sparkles. Before Bifur's tired eyes the dark grays and browns of Kili were changing back to his normal bright oranges and golds. The pattern wasn't there completely. It was still too dark, muddled still by the heavy weight of being a Prince without his brother.

Bifur spontaneously hugged Kili. He returned the gesture with a great deal of emotion. Mahal, how he missed contact. Fili and he touched constantly. When Kili became the acting prince, even the limited touches he had with Ori and Nori ended for the most part. Thorin's hug when he'd been so devastated had helped, but he still felt estranged from his uncle. But this, it was like Bifur understood exactly what Kili was experiencing.

Kili continued to smile. For a moment he would enjoy this. He was healed. He was leaving for Fili, finally! For some reason his mind no longer needed to question Bifur anymore. He just accepted Bifur knew his heart, knew he was welcome to join Kili on his journey now.

Kili glanced at the window. "We have to get moving! Quick, go down to pantry and load food for us. I'll finish packing."

Bifur grunted at Kili's unclothed state. Suddenly Kili blushed. He'd been so overjoyed he forgotten about that fact. "I'll get dressed first." The two jumped down. "Be quiet tho, the only other person we're telling is Nori, alright?"

Bifur nodded vigorously. He was out of the room in seconds. Kili grabbed his travelling clothes and began to shove them on. They were the plain, simple clothes he'd started with the journey for the most part. Kili stuffed his bags full, then stopped for a second. Fili. He might need some things. Perhaps a warmer coat. Then there was the hobbit. Kili wouldn't forget Bilbo either.

In minutes he was almost ready. For months he'd mentally prepared what he would need to take. Bifur had done a good job of selecting things. He only altered the stuff on the floor a bit. He did not care to pick up anything. Time was short. Kili had slept the night away. He was counting on Thorin and the others sleeping off the drink and festivities of the night.

Kili did NOT want to confront his uncle about this. Thorin would want him to stay. He wouldn't believe him about Ana. Thorin would be worried thinking her to be a witch or something foreboding. But he hadn't been there, he hadn't seen her. Bifur did. He understood.

Kili stopped his frenzied activity to stare at parchment and ink. He took a deep breath. All the ways he planned to notify Thorin went out the window. He owed the King an explanation. He had no desire to be dragged back to Erebor in disgrace. However, truth be known, Kili was still enormously angry he had to sneak off to find Fili in the first place. Yet, Thorin had tried. He had proof yesterday in the gathering hall.

"Ahh, kharub mahumb! What do I tell him?" Fingers tugged on his dark short hair. Finally, his mind settled. He tell Thorin, but not as a prince, but as his nephew. Kili suspected Thorin would respond more positively to that.

Bifur opened the door. He had a bag stuffed in one hand and a extremely sleepy and grumpy Nori in the other.

Bifur shrugged his head at Nori, "Hard to find, had to get him pry him out of the cupboard."

Kili blinked confused. "What?"

Nori sat heavily. His eyes totally red, his clothes hastily tossed on. His hands went to his head trying to soothe the massive hangover that was starting.

"I was occupied." Nori complained.

Bifur laughed. "Keeping cub away from the father. Naughty."

"I was occupied with company." Nori stressed the last word.

Kili laughed, "Sorry to put a damper on your courting."

Nori gave him a glare. Kili knew Nori had no intention of ever "courting" any dwarrowdam. It was a polite way to put it for sure.

Nori let out an exasperated breath. "Where are you going?" He waved one hand toward the packed bags.

Kili returned Nori's earlier glare. "Do I really need to say it?" Kili rolled up his parchment. The letter was done.

Nori closed his eyes. "Oh Mahal lad! Dain's still here."

Kili peeked into the bag Bifur had brought up. To it he added a brown package. "So he is. My part is done. Tell them I have the runs or something. You only need to distract Thorin and Dain for a day."

"Why can't you leave in two days? It would make my job easier."

"Can't. Fili's in trouble and so is Bilbo."

"And you're going to ride to the rescue? Just you and Bifur here?

'Yep, that's the plan. If we need more help, I'll send a raven. Provided I can find one." He added with a shrug.

"Not your best plan."

"It'll work. Trust me."

Nori leaned back in the chair. He knew this moment would come. Nori wasn't a fool. "What about your leg?"

"It's fine."

"Really?"

Kili ran in place and then bent at the knee.

"Satisfied mother?" He bowed with a sarcastic smile on his face.

Nori threw a crumbled piece of paper from Kili's first attempt at a letter. Kili caught it before it struck his nose.

"No. Tactically, this makes no sense. What about the rest of the witches? There's still two out there!"

Kili nodded his tone much more serious. "And Fili may be facing them both. Alone. Time's run out Nori."

"You 'felt' him again, didn't you?"

"Yep. It was bad. Fili's alive. Hurt and on the run. He needs help now! Not another council meeting or more delays!" Kili growled.

Bifur placed a hand on Kili's shoulder. He could see Kili's colors redden.

Kili had crossed his arms in growing anger.

Nori held Kili's eyes for a long moment. Finally, he spoke, "I'd be doing the same if it were my brothers."

Kili uncrossed his arms. "You'll help then?" His voice lightened.

"As if I ever had a choice." Nori stood up. "You two need to move."

Kili nodded and began to heft his gear. Bifur gathered up his own stuff.

Nori walked closer to Kili. "There's a human male in Laketown. Name's Drew. Look for him at the stables. He'll have more things ready for you. Maps, gear, items you might need."

"You knew I'd do this."

"Yeah, from about day one. You have some treasure, gold to deal with?"

Bifur grumbled and pointed to the window. The sky was beginning to brighten.

"Plenty. Give this to Thorin. It'll buy you some grace."

"Yea, right."

"Trust me."

"Yea, right." Then Nori was serious. "Be careful."

Kili nodded at Nori's serious tone. "Nori, no matter what happens, I want you to know

"Kili don't."

"you've become one of my best friends. I couldn't have done it without you. Thanks." He hugged his Spy Master with genuine affection. Nori returned the emotion.

"Bring your brother home Kili. Both of you safe and that damn annoying hobbit. Then for Mahal's sake, try not to create chaos!"

Kili raised an eyebrow.

"Go." Nori shoved him toward the door. With a grin, Kili waved goodbye.

The door closed shut. Nori sat back down. All joviality gone. His Prince was headed into danger. His head screamed at him to send a dozen guards or more with him. The part of him that plotted and schemed wanted to run to Thorin's room to stop the headstrong lad. But he didn't budge a finger. Everything Kili had done was toward this goal. Finding Fili. His heart may be hard and pitted, but he would not betray Kili's trust.

"Mahal Bless you Kili." Nori finally muttered

Chapter Text

Fili woke up in an unfamiliar bed. At first he was very confused. It had been ages since he'd been in bed. There was no hobbit laying by his side. No Kili snoring and hogging the covers. However, something was keeping him rather toasty despite the chill outside. He felt whiskers tickle his beard. He opened his blue eyes and rolled his head. There burrowed against his neck, was one of Radaghast's large rabbits. Fili lifted his head. His entire bed was covered with the bunnies.

Fili shifted stiff limbs. Several of his companions began to stir. Although one protested the movement with powerful thumps against Fili's legs.

"Fern stop hitting our guest. He's had enough orcs and goblins do that a plenty!" Radaghast said as he hurried about his ramshackle home. Fern straightened. The creamy colored rabbit gave Fili quite a glare before reluctantly moving off.

Fili blinked away the grit. He stretched. Glancing outside he realized dawn had passed many hours earlier. Frowning, he asked, "Radaghast. Thank you for rescuing us, but where is Legolas?" Fili barely remembered arriving at the wizard's home. He had clung blindly to the elk in his exhaustion. Fili had no idea how he even made it to this bed.

"Around. Elves come and go as they please, especially that one." Radaghast rumbled over to a weird looking mushroom and threw it in the pot of boiling liquid.

Fili stood up, a bit shakily. He started to wander over to the wizard when he realized he was in a strange nightshirt which reached to his ankles. His clothes and weapons were missing. He was clean of the mud from the flooded stream.

"Radaghast, where are my things?", Fili asked glancing around the small house. They were nowhere to be seen.

The wizard continued with his task as if Fili had not spoken. "Here, taste this. It should be ready."

"Uhh, alright," Fili cautiously took a sip from the offered spoon. He couldn't stop the horrible grimace. Coughing, "Sorry, but that's awful." His stuck his tongue out and in and looked for anything to remove the taste from his mouth.

"Oh, sorry, wrong pot. That's the laundry. Try this instead." Using the same spoon he dipped it into another much smaller pot.

Fili did not want to insult Radaghast. After all who knew what the Brown Wizard would do if he was offended? He made a bit of a face and sipped more cautiously this time. To his huge relief, the broth was rich and flavorful. It was one that Bilbo who very much approve of.

"Very good." He gave the wizard a smile.

Radaghast gave him a wild grin. "My own recipe. Saruman hates my cooking. Says I use too many mushrooms. Ha!" He stirred the broth and a small fox suddenly appeared with a bowl in her maw. Radaghast took it from him.

"Thank you Ezra." The regal looking fox bowed its head then sauntered away. Fili stared for a moment. This wizard took some getting used to. Like Gandalf, he had his own eccentric manner about him.

Fili started to speak when said wizard shoved a bowl in his hands. "Drink. You need your energy."

"I," He stopped speaking when his host shoved the bowl in his face.

Radaghast rolled his eyes, "Drink first. Then questions, maybe some answers too."

Fili sighed, but began to drank the offered broth. He had to admit, he instantly began to feel much better once the liquid hit his empty stomach. Radaghast watched. When it was empty he filled it up again. This time though he motioned for Fili to sit back on the bed. Fili did so. This bowl Fili sipped on instead of gulping.

The past day's events filled the young dwarf's head. The raugon and its terrible swath of death. Bilbo missing. All the elves that escorted them dead. Assassins wanting his entire family dead.

"Much on your mind young one. Legolas told me some of what has transpired." Radaghast interrupted the dwarf once more.

"Then you know of my missing friend. Can you help us find him? Do you have any idea how to fight the raugon?" Fili asked. He would beg on his knees if that's what it took.

Radaghast sighed and sat opposite Fili in his wooden rocker. Instantly, many small animals came to find warmth in his old robes. Fili yelped as a small mouse skittered over his bare toes.

Fili waited in silence for more than a minute. His patience was truly wearing thin. Finally, the Brown Wizard spoke. "Oh sorry. I forget. I need words here."

Fili nodded, "It would be most helpful."

"The raugon is not an animal. It is not natural to Middle Earth. I know all the beasts and plants of this realm. It is not one of them." Radaghast informed him with a sad shake of his head.

Fili's heart plummeted. "It's a demon. A real demon?" 'How do you kill such a thing?'

Radaghast pulled on his grey beard. "No. Not at all."

Fili just wanted some straight answers. 'Wizards and their damn indirectness!' "Well then what it is?"

"It is or rather was, an elf. Transformed by the darkest blood magic, even Melkor himself would have hesitated to use." Radaghast spoke as if the words left a horrible taste in his mouth.

Fili felt his stomach sink. "What? Who is capable of such of hideous thing?" Trolls, orcs, wild beasts he could fight, but this was something all together different.

"Legolas asked the same. Should have done this all at once."

"Where is he? Is he planning on coming back? Did he go back to his people?" One question after another, shot out in a rapid pace.

Radaghast waved at him as if his questions were annoying bugs. "Gone, yes, yes."

Fili stood up abruptly, once again rabbits scurried about. Fili felt anger seep into his bones. Legolas had been a good friend, but he had left him behind! Damn elves!

Fili gritted his teeth. "I have to find Bilbo. May I please have my things?" He asked, the irritation in his voice evident.

Radaghast shook his head, "Ah, Legolas said you would be most upset to find him gone. "

"Damn right I am. I will not abandon my friends to the hands of that thing." Fili started to leave.

Radaghast grabbed his arm gently as he came near. "Your friend may already be dead." His words were quiet.

Fili's anger shone brightly in his eyes. "Then I will return his bones to his people. He shall be honored as a hero."

"You don't need his bones to do that lad," Radaghast continued his hold. He did not want to see this young one off to his death.

Fili shouted forgetting whom he was speaking to. "I am one Durin who will not forget his friends or his family. Bilbo was accepted by Kili and I as kin. How would you feel if it was Fern or Ezra?" Fili pointed at the animals roaming the shack. He knew the feeling of abandonment, the loss of family. Try as he might, Thorin's banishment hurt him to the core. Most of the time he kept his thoughts from straying to his uncle's madness. If not for Kili, Fili would have given up hope on this life. The one thing he knew, Fili would never do the same mistake of his uncle. He would rather die.

"I'd be in a most foul mood. I understand you, young dwarf. I'm just uncertain how to help you." The wizard let his arm go.

Fili reigned in some of agitation. Radaghast had only been helpful. No sense in taking his ire out on his host. "Forgive my outburst. I appreciate you healing my wounds and the hospitality of your home."

The old wizard nodded and motioned for Fili to sit once more. Then he turned his attention to an old white rat who was currently squeaking into Radaghast's ear.

"Well, yes Fergus. I suppose." The rat continued its noises.

Fili's brow furrowed. The wizard was definitely an unique individual.

"Fergus wants me to remind you, Legolas wants to find Bilbo too. He went to get more warriors for the task. I can't tell him that." Radaghast frowned at the rat. It put its pink paws on Radaghast's hat and continued to "speak".

"What, I would know please." Fili tried to give an encouraging gesture to the rat. Strange times made for odd allies.

"Yes, I could do that. I don't think he'll want too but it is a good suggestion." More squeaking. "Very well, I shall. Thank you for your wise counsel. I will get your clothes and weapons young Prince." Radaghast stood up slowly as his small friends made their own ways.

"Thanks," Fili was finally glad to be moving forward. "But I am a no longer a prince."

"Ha. You most certainly are. Come, we will make a journey." Radaghast wandered to his staff and took it in his hands.

"Where? Do you know where the raugon is?" Fili asked.

"Perhaps. But first, I think we need help. Legolas was right. The demon can't be fought by the two of us alone. We must speak with the one who knows it the best." Radaghast began to grab Fili's hot, wet clothes from the boiling pot with the end of his staff.

Fili wondered how he was supposed to travel in winter with wet clothes, but that wasn't the question he asked. "And who is that?"

Radaghast turned to his friend, "Why, Thranduil of course. Come, we must hurry to make it before nightfall."

Chapter Text

Bilbo was miserable. He had occasionally peeked out while being carried by the Raugon. Spider webs clung everywhere, along with the luminescent mushrooms. Gnarled tree limbs stuck out. The whole place was crude, with rough support beams. This wasn't a safe hobbit hole nor even the great caves of the goblins. This was a pit, hollowed out roughly. It held the feeling it could all come collapsing around his head any moment.

Then he heard a strange sound, words he did not understand. The female elf spoke sharply. The sound of rock sliding away was heard. A few heartbeats later, Bilbo was in an entirely different place.

Gone was the dirt floor. Polished marble greeted them. The raugon's feet claws scraped sickly against it. Clump, scratch, clump. Bilbo shuddered remembering what damage those claws had rendered. The musky dirt was replaced by stone walls. Bright light emanated from above, giving the whole place an unearthly glow. Bilbo shuddered. Something about this reminded him of King Thranduill's palace.

The raugon dropped him. He fell to the floor barely having time to brace himself in the fall. He yelped, rolled and then slowly began to pull himself upright. This area was clean, no dust nor webs clung anywhere.

He blinked at the redish light. The witch sat on a white stone throne. It was polished and carved with all matters of fell beasts. The eyes of which were all decorated with red rubies. The only other item in this room was a large fountain, bubbling with water. It was made of polished black marble. It was beautiful but in a horrible sort of way. He could not find the words to describe the feeling.

The witch continued to stare at him exhibiting no emotion. Bilbo brushed himself off. Sticks and dirt falling to the pristine surface.

"Where is it?" She finally said. Both hands gripped the ends of the throne.

Bilbo gave her a surprised look and twirled around. "What, where?"

"Do not play games with me hobbit. Where is the item of power? It is no longer on your person." She explained.

Bilbo hated the fact, she did not blink. It was unnerving. He gave her a very confused look. "Uh, item of power?"

She narrowed her eyes. With a slight nod, she motioned to raugon. It came over to the hobbit and growled, saliva hitting the floor.

"Oh, that item of power!" Bilbo gave her a sheepish grimace. He waved his hands and nodded toward what he thought was outside. "Gone. Lost. Wasn't really all that powerful, actually. Just more like a parlor trick."

She raised one eyebrow and leaned back in throne. It had been a very long time since someone had stood before her and not instantly groveled in terror. Here was this hobbit, creatures that hardly knew what the word bravery meant, trying to lie his way out of the truth. She was almost amused.

Her voice remained calm. "You reek of old magic. It has waned through time. What was the item?"

Bilbo stuffed his hands in his pockets, very glad to no longer have the ring. He rocked back and forth on the pads of his large feet, wracking his brain for something to get him away from this nightmare.

"Just a plain old gold ring. Boring, actually. Find its type anywhere." He said shrugging his shoulders and trying so very hard not to show his fright.

"Hardly," She continue to appraise the hobbit coldly. "Where was it lost?"

Bilbo shrugged and gave a her a slightly annoyed face. "To be honest, I'm not certain. Had it one day. Then when I thought to look for it, poof, it was gone. Maybe it went back to its original owner."

"You are not entirely truthful, master hobbit."

"Ah, well, that is what happened. And you haven't even bothered to give me your name and now you call me liar." Bilbo mumbled out, not entirely sure where all this bravery was coming from.

Now the witch was amused. "I had no idea that hobbits could be so bold."

"Well, I'm not most hobbits. I've had too many adventures to be called normal." Bilbo replied. His heart pounded in his ears. He still could see no way out of this situation. What he refused to do, was tell this female where the ring was. Stall and hope something presented himself was the best he could manage for now.

She rose from her throne in a fluid motion. The witch glided to his side. "You will tell me the truth or I will be forced to extract the truth from you. It will not be pleasant."

Bilbo's head turned as she circled around him. "Yes, I imagine you could do a fine job of torturing me. Then throw me to the demon for his supper. None of which I fancy. But it is the truth. I lost the ring. I did not see how it was removed from my possession."

Suddenly, she was very near him. Bending over her breath was in his ears. She spoke again in words the hobbit did not understand. Before his face she dangled her necklace. Bilbo's green eyes went to it hesitantly. He sensed danger, all the hairs of his body stood up on end.

"Look at the red flame. See it dancing before you. It calls out to you, Bilbo Baggins. Its warmth weaves around your heart and mind. Welcome it."

Bilbo wanted to turn away, close his eyes up tight. He found he could not. Instead, his vision seemed to overwhelm his other senses. He found the red glow extend from the pendant to his own mind.

"Tell me Bilbo, where did you last see the ring?" Her voice was seductive.

Bilbo heard himself replying, "In my pocket."

The witch rolled her eyes but maintained the spell. "Where is it now?"

Bilbo struggled. He screamed and shouted in his head. He threw his will against the red energy. "I did not see where it went." 'I'm telling the truth he screamed at it!"

She took a slight step back, surprised at the little being's strength of will. He was telling the truth but he was hiding something from her.

Sweat began to pour off Bilbo's brow and his body shook with the strain of spell fighting his will. He would not betray Fili!

"Tell me what you are keeping from me!" She whispered harshly.

Bilbo thought briefly of Fili, what he had told him about the ring. He would not allow this bitch to come near him.

"Nothing," he sputtered out. Blood began to leak from his nostrils. His whole body began to convulse no longer content with mere shudders.

The witch found herself instantly infuriated. This small insignificant creature was resisting her! This had not happened in a thousand years. Her fury rose like a white hot flame. She fell into its arms.

Her hand shot out striking the hobbit in the face. Bilbo twirled and fell to the floor. Blood from his busted lips now mingling with the blood from his nostrils. Mercifully, he went unconscious from the strain of resisting the witch's spell.

"Take him. Throw him in a cell." She was furious with the hobbit and herself. She had not broken her facade of peace in a very long time. Five minutes with this stupidly sweet creature and she was undone. She would skin the flesh from his bones and mount his head before this was done. But now, she would not get the knowledge she sought from the hobbit. Bilbo would perish before he would speak his secret. She would have to go another route.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Thorin awoke with the dawn. He sat in his chair in his darkened room musing over yesterday's events. Even now, he could not wish for better than how had things turned out. 'Well, except for Fili and Bilbo arriving.' His heart sank thinking how he had sent his heir and his dearest friend away from Erebor, the one place they should always be welcomed. He shook his head, disappointment at his own behavior evident.

He turned his mind to a happier thought. Kili, their friends had truly surprised him. He let out a breath. How long had he gone underestimating his youngest nephew? He always expected great things from Fili. Despite the wild adventures with his younger sibling, Fili always had a calm head. When it came to things that mattered, such as speaking in front of a council, his words and actions were always tempered. Despite Kili always urging him to some new plot, Fili had taken his studies seriously. All of them, not just weapons training got his best efforts. Fili always tried to do his best, to please his uncle. Fili, since the day he understood he might one day be a king, tried to learn to become the best leader for his people.

There were many times, in a quiet evening, Fili would ask Thorin why he decided the way he had. What had been his options? How did he weigh all the different factors. Thorin would smile at the golden headed lad, once more feeling Blessed that Mahal had graced him with such a boy. They would spend hours in discourse, many times Balin would be there. His councilor also shaping Fili for the grand king he would one day be. In these times, Fili would be so serious. Balin would remark it was if Thorin had his own twin. Eventually Kili would join in. The younger never went too long without his elder.

Kili would try to listen. Soon though, his face would screw up in some crazy expression of bewilderment. Within moments, he'd burst out some ridiculous suggestion that nobody in the room would have ever thought of. It would leave Thorin muttering, Balin rolling his eyes or trying to hide his amusement. Fili's concentration would shift. Thorin would find further discussion useless. Kili would beg his brother for his attention in some way. Fili would excuse himself and follow, every single time.

For a while Thorin dismissed Kili's actions as childish. Later, he called Kili selfish for the deeds. For several days neither boy came near Thorin after that argument. It had taken Balin to steer Thorin in the right direction.

"Ahh, Thorin. Kili, bless his heart, isn't doing this for himself as much as you might think." The two sat as the grudge Kili and Thorin held against one another showed no sign of abating. Fili of course, stood up for his brother which only made everything worse.

"Of course he is! I love the lad, but he doesn't think of the future. Only of what he wants now!" Thorin grumbled back as the two sat in his Balin's receiving room.

Balin shook his head, blew out the smoke from his pipe. "Kili is a good hearted dwarf. He does this for Fili."

Thorin's brow furrowed together. "Hardly."

Balin shook his head. "Kili worries Fili will be become too old before his time. He wants his brother to enjoy his life before the crown takes it from him."

Thorin stopped his pacing and glared at his advisor. "Fili wants to learn these things."

"Yes, he does. To please you. To become a good ruler. However, he's still a child. He should be doing childish things as well. Kili does this for his brother's well being."

Thorin gave Balin a face. The thought had not occurred to him. It made perfect sense especially if you looked at it from the boys' point of view. He kicked himself for not seeing it. "I take it you approve," he mumbled.

Balin nodded, "I do. Fili is smart and caring lad. He will make a fine king one day. But don't rush it. You've worked hard to give us a stable life here in Ered Luin. Our people are finally seeing some prosperity and stability. It wouldn't hurt for you to relax a bit as well. Perhaps finally court a dwarrowdam." Balin hinted at last. Many of the Longbeards wished to see their king take a wife.

Thorin shook his head. "You know I will not. I am content with my boys. Both of them." He added.

Balin held up Thorin's pipe. Thorin came over and took it. He took a seat next to Balin in front of the fire. He started to put some of the offered tobacco inside of it. He packed the pipe and lit it.

Balin scratched his face and sighed.

Thorin turned his attention back to his old friend. "Dis trusted me to raise them. Between Fili and Kili, smithing and trying to rule this lot of dwarves, I don't have the time nor the inclination."

Balin nodded. "It is not my wish, but you should know. There are those you whisper you should have your own son."

Thorin's blue eyes changed to icy daggers. "I do not care for these whispers. Let those who give voice to such things know Fili and Kili will always be my first and second heirs, even if I were to have my own son."

Fili and Kili stumbled into the room just in time to hear these words. They were carrying a huge apple pie Kili had charmed the local baker out of for half the price.

The boys shared a startled glance between themselves talking silently in their way. Fili then came forward and kneeled before Thorin. Kili immediately followed. Kili was uncertain what to do with the pie, so he put it in Thorin's lap. It was his peace offering. Fili had been stuck in the middle of one of their arguments. He knew Kili was not selfish. Fili had also understood that Kili did this to keep him from becoming lost in duty. He just needed for his uncle to understand that. It had taken a couple of days, but Fili and Kili had decided to placate Thorin. Explain everything to their Uncle and try to make things right again. Kili had even bought his uncle's favorite pie.

Thorin looked at the pie from his lap and then stared at the boy's serious faces. They tried hard to appear grown up, but in his tired eyes, he saw them as two tiny dwarf lings once more.

"Uncle Thorin, please, don't deny yourself a wife or child because of us." Fili started his words so earnest, it made Thorin's heart ache.

Kili picked up instantly. "We don't wanna be princes. Not if it makes you lonely." Kili's brown eyes were huge.

"Your own son would be a better ruler for the Longbeards. A direct descendant from Durin himself." Fili added not given Thorin a chance to get a word in edgewise.

Kili nodded his head in agreement. "We would help though."

Fili nodded, "Yes, absolutely. We'd help. Do whatever was needed."

Kili added instantly. "We would be the best cousins ever. Babysit too. We just want you to be happy." Kili pointed to the pastry. "I brought pie."

That last odd statement was so Kili and the reason some thought him simple. Thorin felt tears well up in his eyes. He sat aside the pipe and the pie, taking a few seconds to compose himself.

The two nephews stared at their uncle, their expressions concerned. Thorin reached out and gathered them into a fierce bear hug, lifting them both off their knees.

"I don't need any more sons. I already have two." Thorin managed to say with all the emotion swelling up in his heart. He pressed kisses on top of each of their heads.

They both turned their happy faces toward their uncle. Thorin could see them starting to tear up as well. "Fili will make one of the greatest kings of Durin's line." Kili nodded enthusiastically while Fili blushed. "And you Kili, will be the best Hand of the King. Loyal and fierce in your protection of Fili. I cannot ask for anything more than what Mahal has already Blessed me with." Fili smiled at them both happy they were united as family once.

Thorin picked up an apple from the table before him. His eyes threatened to tear up at the memory. It was one of those he kept close to his heart in the darkest hours. His nephews simple, but honest declarations of love and loyalty. And pie. Afterwards, the boys had hugged him back. They all shared words before Kili's stomach rumbled. The rest of the night was spent playing games, the telling of tales and eating pie.

Fili had taken the Arkenstone and done what he'd been trained for his entire life. Take care of his Uncle and their people. Kili had been with him every step of the way. Once Kili had been wounded, Fili never left his side. Fili might be a prince, but he would always be Kili's big brother first.

Thorin had fooled himself. He told himself repeatedly Fili deserved the grandeur of Erebor to rule. He had forgotten the central message of what the two had told him that night long ago. They were happy there in Ered Luin as a family. They never desired grandeur or power or even wealth. They had just wanted to do best by their family. The boys had followed their uncle not for their own glory, but to attempt once more to make their stubborn uncle happy.

Damn him for forgetting. Damn him for ignoring those two these last years. He had so much to answer for even before the damned gold sickness. The hobbit was right. Bilbo usually was. Thorin, King under the Mountain, was a fool.

Thorin was roused from his musings by a sharp knocks on his door. Thorin frowned, surprised he would be disturbed this early in the day.

"Excuse me, my King. I have an urgent message for you." The guard said.

Thorin opened his door. The two guards stood at attention. Bombur and another dwarf Thorin did not recognize was also there. The dwarf bowed deeply and removed his cap.

"Tell me this urgent news," Thorin said calmly. Bombur gave the dwarrow a nod in encouragement.

The old dwarf was nervous, but he looked up at his king. "I'm Winfred son of Burfred, my Lord. I'm in charge of your stables."

Thorin nodded but did not interrupt.

"Prince Kili and Lord Bifur took two of our fastest ponies and rode out this morning."

"What? Did you speak to them?" Thorin felt his heart sink.

"No, my Lord. They did not speak to me. I was only able to watch them ride off. I hope I'm not overstepping my duties sir. It was just unusual for Prince Kili to do such a thing." The dwarrow looked down at his feet. He had spent several minutes wondering if he should say anything. When he wandered into the main dining hall, he mentioned this to Edda. She grabbed Bombur, who then grabbed the dwarrow and here he was speaking to his king.

"You did well Winfred. Please keep this information to yourself." The dwarf nodded enthusiastically.

"Yes my Lord." He nodded enthusiastically. He was in awe of his King.

"Go back to breakfast. Bombur a word please." The other dwarrow nodded more and hurried off.

Bombur looked at Thorin wondering if his King would explode or take the news calmly. After all, how long did he really expect Kili to stay here now Thorin was back to his self?

Thorin rubbed his face. "Gather the company. I want to speak to them before word of this gets out. Oh, send Nori here as quickly as possible."

Bombur nodded, "Yes sir. On my way. Shall we be dining here?" He added as an afterthought. Sleepy dwarrows and empty stomachs were often a bad combination.

"Yes, hurry Bombur. And make sure anyone who might have overheard Winfred is quiet as well." Thorin added as his friend hurried away.

Thorin sat heavily in his chair, his thoughts on his nephews and Bilbo

Chapter Text

Fili hung on for dear life. He was behind Radaghast as the Brown Wizard careened through Mirkwood with his rabbits. Fili had thought hanging onto the elk had been insane. This was worse, a thousand times worse. The trees and brush flew by in a frightening speed. This was faster than a horse, even Tauriel's it seemed. Or maybe because he was so close to objects that could kill him.

"Duck!" Radaghast shouted. Fili bent his knees as a huge black branch flew overhead. Had he not ducked, Fili would have been decapitated. They darted through the forest at an amazing speed. All the while he held onto the wizard's tattered robes. He wanted to close his eyes and spare his stomach. Fili dared not.

"Shift left!" Radaghast yelled.

Fili shifted left, but soon discovered the wizard meant right. He barely shifted the right way as the sled twisted around a sudden clump of fern covered rocks. Fili gulped. His mind flickered briefly on his younger brother. Somehow, he knew Kili would love this. Flying through the forest, standing upright while being carted about by impossibly huge rabbits. Yep, Kili would be shouting in joy. He, however, was turning green.

"Shift right!" Radghast yelled again. Fili waited until he felt the wizard move. This time the instruction was true. The slid changed direction again. Suddenly, they flew into the air. Fili felt his stomach drop out. He yelled in surprise. A stream flew underneath their feet. With a loud crunch, the rabbits landed on the opposite bank keeping up their furious pace.

Fili felt bile coming up his throat. He was still recovering from his wounds received yesterday.

Radaghast was enjoying the adventure. He got out so rarely now a days. It felt good to be useful to the occasional person, but he still preferred his animals. Today was a glorious sunny day, perfect for midwinter. His friends were glad to be running full out after being mostly cooped up for days. The wizard was lost in thought, so when he shouted for Fili to duck, it was a hair too late.

Fili would have still made it in time, but he was injured and slower than normal. The large hanging branch struck him solidly in the chest. The dwarf flew back from the sudden deceleration. Fili shouted out in agony as he flew backward. He landed hard. His body kept rolling for some time before he came to a stop in a clearing of grasses and mud.

Fili felt all the breath had left his body. He gasped like a fish. His body wanted to curl in on itself in pain, but he didn't have the strength. So he laid in the mud on his back, unmoving trying to get air in his lungs.

Finally he was able to breathe. He gulped in air. The buzzing left his ears and he heard strange sounds, like voices and horses. Fili still didn't move. His body was in agony. Nope, he would stay right where he was, it was the least painful option.

His eyes stared up at the dark green trees overhead. He could make out the brilliant blue sky above. Fili blinked several times and his double vision cleared just in time for a face to appear out of nowhere.

Legolas looked down at Fili in fear. "Fili! Are you alright?"

Fili frowned. His eyes were playing tricks on him. "I see Legolas. But it can't be him. He left me with a deranged wizard." He muttered.

Legolas rolled his eyes. "Stubbornness of dwarves be damned," he held out a hand. "I said I was going to get help and bring it back. I told you to stay with Aiwendil."

Fili slapped at the hand weakly. "Go away. I'm finding Bilbo."

"On your back, in the mud? Come, take my hand." Legolas reached down to help the dizzy dwarf upright. Another elf shot forward to assist his prince with the muddy dwarf.

Fili was pulled upright slowly, but it was still too fast for his stomach and head. "Uggh. I'm alright, stop." He shakily swatted away their sturdy hands. Immediately he began to wobble. Radaghast shuffled over. Fili's hands went to his sides trying to stop the searing pain.

Still the former prince was determined, "Now can we finally find my friend!" His eyes were red with pain.

Legolas shot Radaghast a worried glance. Radaghast placed a dirty hand on Fili's brow and began to mutter. Fili tried to wiggle away, he knew what was coming. However, Legolas held him firmly. Before he could get all his curse out, Fili was unconscious.

//////////////////////////////

Kili and Bifur made it to Laketown in record time. Kili briefly thought about continuing on without contacting Drew. However, Nori had arranged for the journey. He trusted his friend. So the two of them would stop briefly. Kili wanted to put much more distance between himself and Erebor. He was grateful for the clearing weather. Although the trail was still muddy, the streams were well on their way to returning to their normal banks.

Finding Drew took longer than Kili wanted. He had disguised himself of course. Many humans had not seen Kili in his formal role of prince. However, a good many might remember him from their recovery and stay at the town. Bifur was harder to pass. He hated wearing cloaks on his injured head. Any pressure on the axe handle was too much. However, he grumbled, but understood the necessity and Kili was grateful.

Drew was still waking up when they found him. He kept the same hours as Nori apparently. Yet the tall human realized their haste quickly enough. Fifteen minutes later, Kili had two more ponies and a mule laden with supplies. Fili and Bilbo might need new horses. It was a wise precaution.

Kili didn't waste time in talk. Nori had already paid for everything in advance. An hour after arriving in Laketown, the two dwarves were back on the trail once more.

Bifur was happy to be out of the fortress. He wasn't used to people calling him "Lord." All he truly wanted to do was find a quiet place and settle down making his toys again. After all, with any luck Erebor would soon be home to a whole new generation of dwarflings. Then the Lady appeared. He remembered once more what he was supposed to do. His damaged mind went back to his love's swirling colors. His life had color again.

He followed Kili as he pushed the animals. Kili's need to be with Fili once more was Kili's only focal point. A need too long denied. Bifur did not need Kili's words to feel comfortable. Instead, he watched Kili's colors. They became brighter and clearer as the miles began to pass. This was the only conversation Bifur required.

/////////////////////////////

 

Thorin swallowed his strong tea, but did not otherwise touch his breakfast. They were eating heartily while discussing Kili's absence. Thorin was lost in thought trying to figure out what he should do.

Balin caught his eyes and looked directly down at his sovereign's plate.

"Eat lad. Something tells me you are going to need your strength."

Thorin sighed. Balin still continued to treat him as if he were ill. However, he speared a sausage with his knife and began to eat. Nori wasn't eating either. He had been dragged here very unwillingly. It was obvious the Spy Master had a terrible hangover. His hand gripped his tea mug in a death grip. He otherwise laid his head face down on the table.

"Do ye want us to follow the lad?" Gloin asked. "They can't be far what with Kili's injured leg." He stroked his red beard in thought.

Dwalin nodded, "It's not safe. Just him and Bifur. I can catch up to them by this afternoon."

Thorin was about to speak when Nori loudly announced, "He's healed. You can't catch up to him." He spoke but did not otherwise move.

Dori had had quite enough of his younger brother's pitiful manners. He shoved Nori hard in the shoulder.

"Ouch. Son of bitch. I'm awake." Nori cried out and raised his dishelved head.

"What do you mean, he's healed. Kili was limping yesterday." Thorin demanded. He placed his mug down and stood up.

Nori looked at his companions through blood shot eyes. He should have kept his mouth shut. Still the more time talking, the further away Kili got. "He was. He got better."

Oin gave Nori a suspicious glance. "Durin's Beard! Kili is still weeks away from being back to normal, maybe months."

"Nope. He was running around, hoping from place to place like a rabbit on crazy weed." Nori offered. 'There, let Thorin know I knew.'

Thorin narrowed his eyes at the true thief of their party. "You saw him before he left." His words were clipped.

"Yep, but I was still drunk." Nori replied back with a small grin.

Thorin's anger rose, "You saw fit not to inform of Kili's plans."

Nori stabbed at a sausage. If they were going to insist he be awake, he might as well eat. "Yes, believe it or not, I tried to stop him from leaving."

Thorin and Dwalin scoffed together. Nori grunted and hid his rolling eyes. "By Mahal, it's true."

Gloin rose up in annoyance. He pointed his eating blade at the redhead. "You should have stopped him. The wilds are no place for him to be yet!"

"As I mentioned before, Kili was healed," Nori replied patiently.

"How did this miracle come about?" Balin asked trying to prevent Thorin from coming over to the spy and throttling him.

Nori shrugged, "Kili didn't tell me that detail, but Bifur mentioned over and over again about "the Lady"."

Bofur and Bomber shared startled glances.

Bofur burr's entered the conversation, "The Lady? Yer certain?"

Nori nodded and stabbed at a muffin moving it to his plate. "Yes. His face lit up when he did too. I have no idea who this person is. I'm puzzled as the rest of you."

Dori shook his head, "You are admitting ignorance? Another miracle."

"Thanks, brother for that lovely sentiment."

Thorin's attention was on the two Ur brothers. "You have knowledge of this mystery dwarrow? Is she a witch?" He voice grew in his alarm that the second witch had somehow tricked his nephew.

Bofur shook his head, "Nay. She's a blessing from Mahal himself."

Oin jumped into the conversation, "Yes. I've had many a patient, particularly a Broadbeam patient appeal to her in times of need. She is supposedly a Valar of mercy."

Thorin's brow furrowed in furious remembrance. His mother long ago mentioned such a figure. She too prayed to the Lady many decades ago.

Bofur continued to speak, "Long ago Bifur lost his love and his two wee ones to a horrible illness. In his grief and sorrow, he sought out an orc encampment by himself. He found it before we could catch up to him," Bofur's expression held grief at the remembrance. "This is when that damned ax got embedded in his head."

Bombur added, "We didn't think he would survive. He spent weeks in a coma. At times he would call at for this Lady."

Bofur agreed, "Yes, when he was awake we asked him about her. He told us she came to him and spared him death. She said his family was safe, but she asked him for a favor. He agreed."

"He never told us what it was or mentioned the Lady again. But I believe my cousin truly saw her. The Lady is real." Bofur said firmly while Bombur nodded beside him.

Thorin slumped back in his seat. He shared looks with Balin and Dwalin. "She appeared to Kili and healed him?"

Balin shrugged. Nori replied, "I don't know. Kili didn't mention her. However, he was different, changed. Like he had hope again." Nori leveled his gaze at Thorin. He was curious what their king would do.

Thorin stood up and paced toward the mantle. As always, the dancing flames seemed to calm his turbulent soul. He leaned against it, warring desires in his heart. He tried to understand Kili's wild need to be back with Fili after all these months. Never before had they been parted for so long. However, they still had many enemies. Despite Nori's dubious reassurance, Kili could not be healthy enough for the task. "Dain leaves tomorrow."

Balin turned toward his friend, "Aye at first light." He too wondered what Thorin would decide to do.

The whole company grew silent as they waited the decision of their leader.

"Tell Dain, Kili is recovering today. Don't let word of his disappearance leave our ranks. I don't want one of those witches to go after him." Thorin turned to his friends. "Dwalin, you and Gloin get ponies and supplies readied. Once Dain has left, we're going after Kili."

Everyone was in shock and began to speak at once.

Thorin's voice rose and they fell back into silence. "I will not leave my sister sons out in the wild to face these dangers alone, nor will I abandon our hobbit again. They will all be found and brought safely home. Balin you will lead in my absence. Nori, you will continue to find information on these witches and our enemies. Find out who is behind this. Break bones if you must, but get me some answers. Gloin you will stay with Balin. Dwalin, Bofur will ride with me as will Oin. If they are hurt I want our best healer with us."

Thorin came and sat back down with the company. "Make yourselves busy, but keep this quiet," he ordered.

One by one the company stood up to leave. Balin patted Thorin on the shoulder. Dwalin nodded silently at Thorin, the two sharing their sentiment's wordlessly. They would see the boys safely back in Erebor or die trying.

Bombur began to gather the dishes. Nori however stopped when he was near Thorin. He reached into his vest and pulled out a piece of parchment.

Thorin turned his head at the redhead. He expected an arguement.

"Kili left this for you." Nori explained

Thorin hid his anxiety behind his stern persona. He nodded a silent thanks to Nori who immediately departed. "Bombur, leave it. I would be alone."

Bombur looked up from the dishes and nodded his own gingered head. "I'll send someone up to collect everything soon then."

Bombur hurriedly left the room leaving Thorin alone with his correspondence.

Thorin took a steadying breath and then opened the parchment. Kili's now much neater hand writing graced his eyes.

Uncle Thorin,

By now you know I and Bifur have left Erebor to find Fili. Please understand why I could not wait another moment. Despite what everyone thinks, I can feel Fili now. It isn't just in my head. I know Fili's is hurt and in danger, just as Bilbo is. I could not stay here safe and sound while my brother faces these threats alone. While my heart beats, I will not allow this to happen.

I'm sure I've disappointed you yet again. I played at being a responsible prince, but that role is done. I hope I did not damage the kingdom too badly in your stead. I know now that your right mind and heart have returned to you once more. The illness is gone, as is the poison. I want you to know that I forgive you for your part in our separation. I still have much to reconcile with, I cannot go back to the nephew you once knew. I am still angry at Fili being banished from Erebor. Taken from me. It will take time for the hurt to heal. It can't start until I am with Fili. I hope this makes sense.

My legs are well and I am healthy enough for this task. How this happened, I will not reveal in a letter. Please don't try to stop Bifur and I. I will not return to Erebor without my brother again. Also, Nori had no idea I was planning this, so don't be too angry with him.

I do somewhat understand now why you wanted to return to Erebor. This place is grand and it holds so much hope and promise for our people. I hope one day we can live up to their expectations.

Kili, son of Dis, brother of Fili.

Thorin looked down at a hastily scrawled last sentence.

May Mahal Bless You, Uncle.

Thorin did not stop his tears

Chapter Text

The pain of losing someone you love never truly leaves you. It remains long after the shock, the finality of the word dead. Whether its is from horrible act of violence, or something extended agongy, it creates an ache so real, so deeply felt that it should be a visible mark for all the world to see. But it isn't. Instead, it's ragged edges at your soul. Tear marks that you wished would go ahead and rip you into pieces. But the loss doesn't do that. You remain behind. The absence so real, that you can reach out and touch it. You're touching your own worn out heart. There will be no more comfort from the departed. No more words or looks of love or understanding, no more gentle touches. You want to scream at the injustice of it. Why God did you make us mortal? Why must this pain be felt so deeply? You question things, rethink your last words, last actions and find yourself failing to convey all these emotions you had. You doubt your own existence and your guilt mounts. Sometimes you feel fear at your own mortality. A selfish but oddly comforting notion. The pain won't last. It has an end. Like your beloved family, friend or lover. You hope it was quick, you hope they had no suffering, no time for terror at the end of all things. You wonder if you will find courage at your end. But sometimes, the pain is so deep, so rendering, the life you had no longer has meaning. If there is no heaven to be reunited with those you loved, then at least oblivion offers some eternal calm, a state of unpain.

Elves are said to be immortal. However, the fact isn't really true. Elves may live long lives, their features unraveged by time or disease. But they do die. Some pass this veil in combat. Honorably sacrificing their being to save the lives of their fellows. It is unpleasant, but usually quick. Those elves are envied. Many more elves waste away. Their reason for being in this realm ended. Often it is due to the departure of a beloved. Someone who has been your heart, your shadow for thousands of years. These elves could chose to sail. Travel to the waters and cast off to the deep blue. Indeed, many depart in such a manner. The pain of the separation creates a single purpose within their soul. They set sail to become whole again.

Then there is the final group. It is said amongst elves these are the true unfortunate. The souls so shredded by the loss even the action of setting sail to Valinor is beyond their will. They are lost to the agony. Their will is bereft. They are incapable of movement toward any goal, any hope. These elves waste away, their spirit becoming thinner and thinner, til finally the cracks in their hearts shatters their being. They are no more. It is beyond hopelessness to feel such a way. It is worse to watch, witness from the outside. To know that no matter your pleading, begging on your knees, this person is lost. There is no redemption.

So you watch, cursing yourself, cursing the Valar silently. For elves do not express such things openly, especially when they are kings. Love leeches from your heart or else you too will join in the longing ache and perish. Other emotions creep in, like anger or bitterness. You find your soul changed irreversibly as well. It is still torn, but held together with barbed wire and stones. You will not fall into melancholy and depart. You cannot allow the selfishness or beg for the eternal calm. You have a realm to rule, a young son to raise. The wire and stone work together to wall your soul off from the loss, but they also keep you from feeling the new joys which eventually come to your life. You're alone in a prison of your own making. You continue to misguide yourself that you are nobler, stronger for having endured. You become a shadow of your former self.

This is the state of being of Thranduil, King of Mirkwood. The few who know of his loss will not speak of it out loud. Indeed, the remembrance of the passing of his beloved wife and stillborn daughter is never whispered. Legolas is the only one who will give voice to the memory, but even then he is alone and so very lost. His heart is not as scarred as that of his sire's. For he was young and still willing to risk further injury. In doing so, he allowed in all the little things, the small joys which would allow his heart to feel again.

Thranduil has purged so much emotion, telling himself Mirkwood and he are the better for it. When the forest grew dark, he did not always recognize it for it mirrored the shadow of his own soul. All the world was tainted. A synchronicity existed between his new darkened realilty and his beleaguered soul.

Then the damned dwarves arrived. Not just one or two, but a dozen! Proud, stubborn and full of so many emotions they threatened to overwhelm the delicate balance Thranduil had carved for his kingdom. For the Longbeard dwarves meant change.

Once again the young dwarf prince stands before the king. His hair was still short, the beard trying to make the attempt to fill in. Yet, the child was very different from the previous visits. The first, he was a terrified, starving youngster. Kili constantly looked toward his Uncle or brother for their lead. He was a wild child, mostly skin and bones, yet fair in face. Kili stood apart from his dwarrow kin and Thranduil was at a loss as why. For a being who could summarize others in mere moments, Kili puzzled him. The elder brother was too ill to read, but the bond between the two was the strongest he'd witnessed in centuries. The boy was angry on behalf of his uncle and his quest. However, his most obvious source of anxiety was how ill his brother was. Thranduil knew if pushed, Kili would have given the king everything if it had meant saving Fili. However, there was no honor to be had in this manner. The king ignored this path. He ignored the child as well, certain dwarrow life would render his uniqueness common. His focus was on the elder, his uncle.

Thranduil is rarely surprised. Events happened with a certainness that he found calming. The dwarrows upset his calm, but the actions in Erebor with Smaug were predictable, as was Thorin's inevitable slide into madness. However, the day Kili returned to his palace Thranduil discovered his tranquility truly shattered. Once more the youngster appeared in his court. He had no kinsmen at his side. This day it was all Kili, son of Dis. No, that wasn't quite true. For Fili, his brother, may had no physical place, but the youngster was still very present in his brother's thoughts and deeds.

At first Thranduil found himself absolutely enraged at the spontaneity of his request. A dwarf begging for his help, humbling himself with absolutely no arrogance, no hint of insult. This was not possible. So Thranduil stepped up his own insults, his own ridiculous demands for the youngling. He made him sacrifice his self worth, his dwarrow honor all to sate a long held grudges. At each one, Kili swallowed his own pride and gave in to each request.

When the last of the youth's hair fluttered to Thranduill's marbled floor, the king could see the boy shaking in his shame. Still no complaint, no attempt was made to stop the odious task. Thranduill's internal beast had been sated. No one could have predicted such a humble dwarf or one with such courage. He acquiesced to the child's begging and assembled his army. After all, Azog and his minions could not be allowed to roam free. If that foul creature met his end with the help of the stubborn dwarrows, so be it. The end result was the same.

Of course it was his son though, who truly demolished his stone walls. Legolas was the only one capable regardless of how Kili had battered it. Legolas tried to hide his shame at his father's actions. To most he would have appeared to stoic, but not to his father. Thranduil felt his son's disgrace of the treatment of one with such honor, despite Kili being a dwarf. Thranduil accepted this with a quite sigh, Legolas was much like his mother. Yet the second shock was realized when his only son chose to go into battle not at his father's side. Instead, Legolas stood with the dwarfling. At this moment, Thranduil understood the depth of Legolas emotion. Now he felt shame upon reflection. It had taken youthful eyes and heart for him to recognize the intensity of his own ancient prejudices.

After battle, Legolas did his duty. Again, utterly predictable as his son was an intelligent, honorable elf all were proud to serve. Later in the halls of palace, Legolas sang the praises not of his kin in battle, but of two brothers who rent the battlefield in half in their desire to be together once more. His green eyes, lit up in pleasure recalling how he had fought beside the two against the assembled hoard. Thranduil listened, unseen to his son's eyes. His heart, however, felt under siege. Legolas was his child. He'd been raised to see the events of the world calmly, find the order and the structure. However, Legolas lit up at the emotions of acceptance and belonging the brothers wove around themselves and others in their company. There was no mistaking Legolas raw need. Those dwarrows were chaos, spontaneous, emotional and worst of all, unique.

Legolas had friended the two, but connected with Kili. Thranduil knew then, the days of elven enmity toward dwarrows and vice versa would soon be ended. The third surprise arose when the younger, a true prince now, became the ruler of Erebor. Thranduil predicted chaos. Dain taking charge or a civil war between the hot headed dwarrows. Yet, Kili managed to take a firm hand on the rebuilding kingdom. Within weeks of his assumption of authority, Erebor was sorted. The dwarrow kingdom on the road to recovery. So when Kili reached out to his son once more, Thranduil was no longer startled by the actions of the boy. The king now took comfort in the knowledge he'd seen something special in the lad, something his uncle had dismissed. That gave him satisfaction. Plus he was pleased to see Legolas take initiative, to nurture the fledgling friendship to see its blossom.

Thranduil's gaze rested on the young dwarrow prince a third time. Kili held himself with more authority. He still deferred to the King of course. The anger and the awe were displaced. There was no shame in his eyes either, despite what Thranduil had done. Internally, the king frowned at himself. Kili had endured out of love. Even his presence before Thranduil at this court were the actions of love, pure and selfless. The child had taught the very ancient elf a thing or two about feeling, about emotion. Thranduil felt humbled from the lesson. A part of his own walled off heart felt life. He remembered his wife. Not the days of her wasting, but the time of their courting. The joy of the birth of Legolas, the happiness they shared. Because love, pure love like he once held was worth every second of sadness, all the centuries of separation. It had taken a child, a dwarrow at that, to show him.

Kili stood before him, dressed in humble traveler's clothing. His only request that he and his friend be permitted to ride out to met his brother Fili and their companion Bilbo. He asked for no provisions, no guides, just permission.

Thranduil reminded him he'd already requested much from his only son, a fellow prince.

"Yes your Lordship. Prince Legolas was overly generous offering to oversee my brother's return personally." Kili acknowledged.

Thranduil swept an arm out towards the forest, "Is that not enough? My own son sees to your brother's safety. A Prince of Mirkwood now a mere escort."

Kili did not flinch from the sneer, "My Lord, I can think of none better than your own son Legolas to guide my brother. I have witnessed his courage in battle. His bravery and honor are the highest and I count myself fortunate to be numbered among his friends."

Kili wasn't prepared for the gasps that went around the court. He blinked wondering what he said wrong. Bifur grunted and whispered something in Khuzdul to his prince. Kili nodded at his friend.

Thranduil sent a withering gaze to his court which immediately settled down. Of course his son would count this prince as a friend, why would they be so shocked? "You are indeed most fortunate to be called elf-friend, for my son has described you as such."

"I pray I am worthy of such title." Kili injected with a smile, "For I call him friend as well. He is cumraag caggee, shield brother for me. Not only for his courage in the battle, but his willingness to put himself in peril for my brother."

Bifur nodded pleasantly. Thranduil sat back against his throne. He knew it was no small matter for Kili to state this, it was unheard for a dwarf to think of one of another race as such. The admiration was both directions and Thranduil was pleased with this.

"Very well. I shall honor my son's agreement. Tomorrow you will be escorted by my own sentinels to find Prince Fili and Bilbo Baggins. Tonight, we shall dine together." Thranduil rose, "Take them to their rooms for rest. May your stay here be pleasant."

Kili smiled and bowed deeply, Bifur following suit.

Chapter Text

Bifur picked at his shirt. It was so different from the normal clothes he normally wore. The newfound wealth of Erebor had changed little of his tastes but much of his life. It was Dori's insistence he had new clothing made. To be honest, his travelling clothes were worn out. It made sense, but the new shirts and coats were the finest things he'd ever worn in his life. Oh how he wished he could have shared this with his beloved! She would have looked grand with golden beads highlighting her hair. By now his son and daughter would be well into their teen years. It would have brought him much pleasure to indulge the three of them with jewels and fine food. It was no longer an option for him. So other than fancier materials to make his toys out of and some really fine ale, Bifur was content to allow his vast fortune to remain idle. Of course there was always Bombur's large and still growing family to indulge. He did enjoy that as well.

Kili walked over to him, his fingers gently untangling a small clump in his friend's beard. "Supper will go quickly, I promise. We are riding out with the dawn. This meal won't drag out. I'll explain our need for rest."

Bifur smiled at his prince. It was true he felt very uneasy in the presence of these elves. His long days of private imprisonment had brought many ghosts to dance before his eyes. Unlike Kili, Bifur still harbored much resentment. Yet, he stared at Kili. His colors were calm, except for the tiny sparks of excitement whenever he thought of Fili or Bilbo. Kili had endured so much more. If the prince could be this calm, he would attempt to follow his example. Bifur's eyes shown with gratitude Kili understood his discomfort.

Bifur nodded, "At least these elves eat meat. They also have the sense to live underground."

Kili laughed as his fingers brushed through Bifur's hair. The elder dwarf leaned into the touch. This was the first time the prince had ever personally groomed Bifur. The old toy maker regretted not coming to him sooner. No wonder Fili, Ori and more would wait patiently for his nimble fingers. A feeling of relaxation swept over him. Kili continued to work on the graying hair for some minutes longer until a knock on the door interrupted the two. One of Lord Thranduil's people announced it was time for supper and he was here to accompany them to the meal.

The two dwarrows followed their silent guide. Kili once more noted the differences between this palace and the homely houses of Riverdale. Despite it being underground, Kili much preferred Lord Elrond's humble homes. Kili was a child of the outdoors as was his brother. They had spent rather little time underneath the weight of mountain and stone. Although both places were beautiful, King Thranduil's palace was cold comfort. Once more he felt pity for Legolas although he would never admit this to the young elf.

They arrived at the dining hall. The tall solemn elf guided them to their seats. Kili noted instantly they were being seated in a place of honor. He hid his surprise with a smile. Kili did not yet understand Thranduil. The young dwarrow knew he'd be old and graying and still not have a firm read on this ageless being. Kili wasn't stupid. He knew something horrible must have happened for this elf to be so cold and aloof. Kili would also be lying if he said he wasn't intimidated and still angry at the king's treatment. However, Kili instinctively felt that any show of such feelings would harm his request to retrieve his brother and the hobbit. His pride just wasn't worth it. Whenever a burst of anger shot through his heart, Kili ruthlessly smothered it. Thorin's pride had damn near killed everyone he loved. Kili would not allow his to prevent his reunion with Fili.

"Thank you," Kili said as he and Bifur took their seats. The table was long and in some ways similar to dwarrow dining halls in that respect. However, the tables were covered in cloths. Every so often containers of flowers and plants were set on the table. This was hardly done for dwarrows. It made less space for food. Bifur glanced around. This place was a bit crowded which was yet another difference to note with Lord Elrond's home. Kili spoke in Khuzdul. "They are curiously to see us. No tossing bones this night over our shoulders, I think."

Bifur grinned and nodded in approval, "They want to see the Prince of Erebor. These elves know you are special."

Kili gave Bifur a confused glance, "I think not. They just want to see a hairless dwarrow." Kili pulled on his locks. His brown tresses still only reached down to his ears, where of all things, the hair began to curl. His beard was still only a dark shadow. In this Kili believed himself to be cursed.

Bifur rolled his blue eyes. "Nonsense. They've come to see the dwarrow who has survived an axe to the head."

Kili laughed, the sound carrying in the hall. "Then we make quite a pair. Neither of us normal dwarrows. I fear we make poor examples."

"Bah, normal is boring. I keep explaining that to Bombur and Bofur." Bifur replied still amused.

Elves of both sexes began to set plates of food on the tables. Much to Bifur's and Kili's delight, meat was among the offerings. However, no one began to serve themselves. Instead, they all waited patiently. The two dwarrows followed their example. When Thranduil and his court entered the room all stood up and bowed, Bifur and Kili included.

Kili stood up ramrod straight. He might defer to Thranduil in his palace, but Kili had served as a ruler now himself. His people were just as grand, just as important as the elves that surrounded them. Kili would offer all the appropriate honors to his host, but never again would he tremble or hide his eyes.

The herald made announcements of the guests joining them this evening. "Our King Thranduil welcomes Kili, Prince of Erebor and his companion, Lord Bifur to our dining halls this evening."

Thranduil set upon his magnificent seat of green and gold. Kili's dwarrow eyes noticed the inlay of some of the fine emeralds brought from Erebor's treasury. He gave the prince a glance. Kili once more bowed his head as did Bifur. Once the King was seated the rest of the crowd sat as well. Soft music from harp and flute began as did soft conversation. Friends and families began to exchange the day's news as well as curious glimpses of their guests. It had been centuries since dwarrows had so calmly sat breaking bread with Mirkwood elves.

Thranduil's cup was filled with a red wine. He nodded to the server to pour some for the Prince as well. Kili was putting venison on his plate when the elf approached and filled his cup.

Kili's nose instantly picked up the familar scent. This was the same wine that had been in the barrels the company had used to escape. The young dwarrow had hoped never to encounter this particular smell again. It had taunted them with the odors of apples and spices when he'd been still hungry. Kili almost rolled his eyes, Bifur was about to grumble but Kili's hand shot to his leg. Underneath he squeezed the elder's thigh as an indicator to stop what he was about to do. Kili's sharp eyes caught the fact everyone is the room was suddenly watching the two of them.

Kili took the offered wine and stood up. He saw the glint of humor in Thranduil's normal stoic gaze. Kili raised his cup to the elven king. "To King Thranduil and his gracious hospitality." Kili now turned and raised his cup to the assembled masses. " To the elves of Mirkwood Realm, the People of Erebor thank you for your invaluable assistance against our common enemy the orcs and goblins. May we also remember the bonds that bind us together, love for our families, our friends and our land. May we always respect and acknowledge that our common threads are much stronger than our past differences. We are eternally grateful for the sacrifices your Lord and your people had that night of dark battle. You spilt your precious blood with us to drive back the forces of darkness and evil. This was a gift more valuable than gold or mithral. We are great peoples on our own, but together, we are a force the tidings of malice will never overcome."

The elven crowd was silent for moment. It had been eons since a dwarf had sung the praises of their people, much less compliments delivered so honestly. Thranduil nodded his golden white head and graced Kili with a half smile. The stately elf stood up and raised his own goblet at Kili. Mirroring their ruler, all the elves stood as one with their own cups.

"Prince Kili of Erebor, you have honored us with your words and deeds. Many times you have been tested, by circumstances, your own people and even us. You have risen to the occasion each time with honor and humility. I shall follow the example provided by our own honored Prince. My son, Legolas has called you elf-friend. Tonight, I declare it to be so for my kingdom. Let all present know Kili, son of Dis, Prince of the Longbeard people is our ally and friend. He shall be accorded with all such honors and the rare privilege."

The elves assembled repeated the words, elf friend and drank. Bifur shrugged and drank the wine as well.

Kili tried to mask his surprise at this turn of events. Thranduil was very amused at the blush that was rushing to the wild prince's features. Kili was almost at a loss. "Thank you, King Thranduil for your generosity." He managed before gulping the wine hastily. Then he sat back down again. Of all things, this wasn't what he expected. Kili had no political ambitions here. In fact, all Kili truly desired was to get to Fili and Bilbo. But this had presented the opportunity, and he went with the moment. Once more Kili wondered if he had just passed yet another test. He was never going to get the hand of this diplomacy stuff he thought.

Now everyone began to dine in earnest including the King. Bifur slapped Kili's back so hard, the young prince almost fell forward. "Good words well said." Bifur muttered. "Now let's eat before everyone starts talking again!" Bifur heaped their plates with the meat and root vegetables while Kili continued to recover. The dark colored prince glanced at the elves around him. Much of the suspicion and distrust was fading before their eyes. It wasn't what he had set out to do. Kili knew he had set out with purely selfish reasons. He wanted his family back home. But if so good also came out of this mess, he was eternally grateful for this.

Thranduil spoke with his normal court. However, the king examined Kili from the corner of his eye. The boy really had been taken by surprise. He was genuinely overwhelmed by his announcement. Instead of being annoyed at Kili's lack of foresight, Thranduil was very pleased at Kili's innocence at the turn of events. The child was truly heartfelt. In this moment he felt something of his own son's desire to be caught up in this raw joy.

Thranduil turned to speak to his guest. He was also pleased to see the two eating, well, like dwarrows. A wonderful pale ale had been poured for their guests and they had taken to it with gusto. Bifur would make a comment in their rough language and Kili would laugh. Sometimes a member of the kingdom would say something to the two. They would return the discussion politely. At one time Bifur pointed to the ax in his head and all three had laughed before the elf moved on.

"Prince Kili."

"Sir, just call me Kili." Kili replied without thinking. He wiped his greasy hands suddenly, "I mean yes sir." Kili twisted in his seat to face his host. He was quickly trying to mask his features back to those of a leader.

Thranduil was still amused by the youngster. It had been long time since such youth had been present in his court. Legolas had long since grown beyond such inexperience. "Tell me of your brother, Fili. Your devotion to him is admirable."

Kili's eye lit up so bright, Thranduil blinked. "Fili is my elder brother. He's really smart. I mean he always got the lessons Uncle and Balin taught him the first time. He is the best brother ever. He is loyal. Fili always does the right thing too. Whenever I wonder what to do, I talk with him or think what he would do. Things become so much clearer then." Kili's hands flew in his exuberance. Bifur nodded occasionally as well. "He's no stuffed shirt either. He can pull pranks with the best of them! Plus he fights incredibly. I can't match him with a sword." Kili leaned over, "Don't mention I said that. It'll go to his head. I gotta keep him honest."

Thranduil bit his lower lip. It would not be wise to laugh at the young prince right now. However, his youthful enthusiasm for Fili was infectious for lightening the mood even more.

"He'll be a King of legend. I'm sure of it. He'll marry, have lots of sons and daughters that I'll spoil rotten then return them." Kili grinned wildly. "Fili will be a ruler that you'll enjoy having as a neighbor. Fili believes in honesty, honor and doing the best for people. Most of all, he just makes you a better person. You want to do the right thing and he's not a prat about it either."

"Breathe, Kili." Bifur poked Kili's shoulder.

Kili managed to be embarrassed then. "Yea, he's just great." Kili finally finished.

The elven king openly smiled now as did many of his court upon hearing Kili's simple but heartfelt devotion.

"Prince Kili, your brother sounds like a remarkable and honorable dwarf." Thranduil kindly replied.

Kili suddenly looked seriously at Thranduil. His eyes changed from adoration to a much steadier and hard stare. "You may think it unwise to boast so about my brother. It is no secret of my devotion or my loyalty to Fili. It has never been hidden. If people believe my estimations of my brother's skills to be over exaggerated, then they are in for a surprise. If they take me at my word, then they will know better not to cross my brother and give him due respect. Possible trouble has been avoided. They also know that there will be no tensions between brothers for the crown. We stand together and we are stronger for it."

Thranduil raised one elegant eye at Kili's sudden political acumen. "I stand in the corner of preventing trouble before it arises whenever possible." Kili finished.

Leaning back in his chair, Thranduil returned the serious expression. "You're quite correct. Much of a ruler's time is spent preventing the potential of threats to the stability of the kingdom. Having the wisdom to put out the fires before they spark, is a skill that takes constant attention. If you have learned this from your time on Erebor's throne, then your wisdom is greater than many I have encountered."

Kili gave a slight smile, this was high praise coming from the Mirkwood King. He grinned again like a young fool, once more lightening the mood back to a comfortable level. "Thank you your highness for your kindness again. However, if my teacher, Balin, heard me say that now, he'd take a faint."

Bifur nodded his hands motioning a person falling flat on a surface. "Yep, right on his ass," Bifur said in Khuzdul figuring the elves wouldn't get the vulgarity.

Kili didn't try to stop the chuckle. Thranduil was about to speak more when one of his servants leaned low and whispered Sindarian in his ear.

"Your highness, sentinels report Prince Legolas is returning to the palace. He will be here within the hour. Aiwendil is in escort as is the dwarf."

"What of the hobbit?"

"He was not seen my Lord," was the quick response. Thranduil nodded, "Make certain healers are notified. Notify the staff to expect the Brown Wizard and our guest."

"At once." The elf bowed and moved silently off.

Kili's brown eyes tracked the movement, however Thranduil said nothing. Kili moved onto to speaking to the female elf to his right. They politely discussed some matter of dwarrow female roles. Bifur frowned for a second. As old and wise the elf was, he could not stop his colors from being read by the toy maker. The subtle shift of color and swirl of patterns was obvious to the dwarrow. The news Thranduil received both excited and worried the king at the same time. His colors also created a deep eddy. Thranduil was hiding this news from them and it was important.

Bifur let out a long breath and took a drink from his ale. Kili was young and brash at times. He hoped his companion had not put his trust in the Mirkwood Elves too soon.

Chapter Text

For quite some time Bifur kept taking glances at the elven king. Thranduil caught him at it. Bifur held the King's eyes. He did not blink, he did not back down. Bifur's blue eyes bore into the elf's golden green. Bifur's message was clearly conveyed. 'Harm him at your own risk.'

Thranduil realized that Bifur somehow knew he was keeping a important secret from the dwarf prince. The king stored this knowledge away. For although he thought it foolish for the Prince to travel with only one other in his retinue, this dwarf held skill that was not obvious. Rather, Thranduil wondered what other secret skills the two kept to themselves. It was becoming obvious Thorin's chosen companions were not the common, bumpkin dwarrows he'd initially thought.

Kili picked up on the rising tension between his host and Bifur. He figured his friend had finally had enough. "Your highness, with your permission, I would ask that we take our leave. We have to travel early in the morn."

Thranduil dipped his head slightly. For a split second he debated telling the dwarrow prince his brother was on his way. However, he would lose his opportunity to test a suspicion that had risen unbidden in the back of his mind. One, that if were true, meant huge implications for his own kingdom. Changes massive enough for Thranduil to feel fear. There was no harm in the prince not knowing for a few minutes longer. He could lie to himself about this. Cling to his precisely ordered world a few minutes longer. So the great elf king said nothing.

"Thank you again for your hospitality." Kili offered before turning to Bifur. His friend rose quickly. An elf came to them, "Allow me to show you back to rooms."

Kili nodded and he followed behind. He was eager to speak to Bifur.

Thranduil looked out amongst his people. His face borne no emotion. Outwardly, he was calm, but the stirrings. They had already begun. It was only a matter of time.

/

Legolas continued to cradle Fili as his horse rode steadily into the night. Aiwendil had done what he could to stabilize the young dwarrow's injuries, but he needed much rest and healing. His ribs were held in place tightly by clothes wrapped around his torso. Fili's entire face was covered in bruises and scrapes. To make matters worse, the dwarrow had developed a cough and fever. Home was so close, Legolas had decided to risk riding in the dark rather than make camp. He prayed to Aule he was making the right decision and not condemning Fili to a worse fate.

When the torch light of his home came into view, Legolas sighed with relief. He could feel Fili's fever burning through his own clothing. He needed his father's healing touch as well as the Brown Wizard's. The guards surrounding their home would inform his father. They would be waiting.

Legolas whispered to Fili, "Stay strong my friend. Soon you can rest and heal." Fili had said nothing, but moaning with pain. This greatly bothered Legolas. He feared that his new friendship with the dwarf would be over before it truly began. His mind switched to Kili, the younger brother. Legolas' features twisted in grim determination. He would not fail Kili, not in this.

Legolas stopped his horse as he came to the entrance nearest the healing quarters. As expected many of his father's healers and several cots awaited in the clearing. Their torches danced as they quietly made ready for the wounded.

"Gently, gently! He has been near drowned and suffered many a fierce blow!" Legolas explained as he tried to lower Fili into their administrations. Many elven hands guided the broken body of the golden dwarf to a cot. Legolas slid down from his horse. Beside him Radaghast and the others came to a halt.

Legolas motioned to one of the guards, a long time friend. "Tell my father of my arrival. Assure him I am well and his presence is required in the healing rooms."

Fili moaned in pain, then returned to his shallow panting. Fili felt so tired, so worn down. He couldn't open his eyes, he couldn't really think. There was only one thing he wanted. That was Kili. But his younger brother was gone. Had been for a long time. Fili would cry if he could, but that took too much energy. He was weary body and soul. Someone else was missing, someone else important. But he couldn't focus.

Fili was being dragged down again. This time it was a different type of swirling water and mud. It was the pneumonia festering in both of his lungs. This was a thickness, a lack of air that he couldn't escape. He coughed up sputum and blood. The agony of it burned through his chest and he awoke. Everything slammed into his consciousness for one moment, Bilbo, the raugon, Tauriel and Kili. His cracked lips moved and he cried out in want. "Kili."

The elves tried their best to move the Prince gently, not too jostle him about too hard. However, even their innate grace could not make up for the sickness in the dwarrow.

/

Kili and Bifur were almost back to their rooms. In fact their escort was about to open Bifur's room for him when it happened. A blinding flash of excruciating pain swept Kili. He staggered against the wall, unable to move for a second. Kili clutched his chest and gasped. Bifur and the elf came to his side out of sudden concern.

Kili's eyes watered. This ache was Fili's. Comforting arms reached out for him and he shoved them aside. Another wave hit him. Kili took in deep breaths. Closely his eyes, he concentrated fiercely. 'I'm here Fili. Hang on. I swear, I am close. Breath for me this time brother. Breathe for me.' He sent out with all the energy he could muster.

It hit him then. Fili was close. Impossibly close.

Kili's eyes went wide. 'Fili is here.'

His heart skipped a beat.

/

Fili managed to blink. The elves had stopped and placed his cot down for a moment afraid to continue while he seized. The fit was bad. Dark black blood stained his jerkin. Fili felt as smothered. He couldn't catch his breath. The blood and mucus was too thick, coating his mouth. He began to panic, grabbed at Legolas weakly.

'I'm here Fili. Hang on. I swear, I am close. Breath for me this time brother. Breathe for me.'

It was if he was near. His little brother was talking to him, helping him breathe through the pain and the cough. Lending his strength when the possibility should not exist. Fili felt air go to lungs a little easier, the coughing ceased. The blue features faded a bit. Fili closed his eyes and centered on getting air down into his lungs.

Kili was close, he knew it then.

'Kili is here'.

/

Kili felt Fili's sudden panic soothe, aware he was still breathing thru the fit and hurt. Kili launched himself from the wall. "Fee's here." Was all he said before Kili moved with a speed impossible in a dwarf. The two watched as the young prince shot quickly out of their sight.

Kili ran. He ran knowing his heart would show him the way. When startled elves would be in his path, he twirled and darted around them barely slowing his speed. He did not slow, did not falter as the path went to winding stairs leading deeper into the palace. He leapt over railings landing like cat below. When one female elf squealed by the surprise, her mate tucked her into his arms. They witnessed the dwarf prince not even acknowledge their existence. With a few steps he once more leapt down to the level below. Nothing could have stopped his progress.

/

The fever cleared as did the pain for a brief precious second. Fili's redden eyes flashed open. Legolas tried to take Fili's hand to assure the him, but Fili did not take it. Instead, he whispered his brother's name in an almost airless cry.

"Kili." Suddenly nothing matter more than getting to his little brother.

They were taking him the opposite direction. 'Kili was that way'.

Before anyone could stop the dwarf, Fili rolled off the cot and onto his knees. His body was broken, but his will was not.

/

Kili was unaware of what he was even seeing. Everything was a blur, elves, furniture, steps. They were all obstacles. Things in the way. Kili had to get to Fili now. Nothing else mattered. Nothing.

/

Fili cried out as the jolt of the landing made his ribs shift. The searing pain did not stop his determination. Even as his friends shouted and hands started to grab at his clothes and limbs, Fili began to crawl toward Kili.

/

Kili's boots slid and he almost crashed into the opposite wall. He bounced off of it using the sturdiness to propel him forward.

"Fili!" he screamed. His brother was weak, fading.

/

Fili cried out. He had no strength left to keep those damned hands from stopping him. Tears fell to the floor below. "Kee."

/

Kili rounded the final hallway that second. He saw a flash of golden hair. A circle of elves surrounding a fallen figure.

/

Fili could feel Kili, he was here. But there was no breath, no energy left to speak again.

/

Kili screamed in horrible realization how close to death Fili was. The shout ringing throughout all the halls and rooms of Thranduil's palace.

Kili shoved everyone out of the way. His tears already joining his brother's on the stone floor below. "Fili!" he cried again. This time his hands stopped their shoving and pushing. In that second Fili's battered face came into view. "Fee! No, please, no." Kili went beserk. With all the strength a young dwarf could possess, he shoved aside the attending elves. They scattered aside, shocked into silence by the tragedy they were witnessing.

Kili slid down beside his brother's prone body. He reached out and quickly gathered Fili's hand into his free one. There, on the stone floor Kili pressed his body against Fili and his lips to Fili's brow.

"I am here. I am here and we are together. Fee! Hear me please." Kili begged as his voice cracked in anguish. "Please somebody, help him!" He could feel his brother dying again.

Fili opened his eyes. His fingers twitched and his free hand came to Kili's beautiful face. Everything was alright now. Kili was here. For one last golden moment, Fili knew completeness.

"Fee, I'm here. We're going to get you healed." Kili pressed himself tighter to his brother's prone body.

Fili managed to smile. "Kee. I love u."

Kili shook his head, "You are not going to leave me. Not now, not ever again. Do you hear me?" His tears fell on Fili's dirtied brow. Kili screamed at fate at Mahal at everybody and everything that had kept them apart.

Fili wheezed, but didn't lose his smile. Kili, his precious little brother was holding him. It made it better, everything. The hurt, the fear of dying. He could face it now. Fili wanted to say more, tell Kili just how proud he was of him. He wanted to give him the words he would need to survive his death. But he didn't have the breath.

Kili cried out again, feeling Fili's grasp on life wane. "No, no! Don't. Please. Keep fighting. For me."

Fili felt the last of tears leak out, his fingers twitched again. 'I love you brother. You have always been my greatest joy.' Fili thought hard. He wanted to leave Kili with this.

"NO! Take my strength, take my heart, anything! But you will not leave me!" Kili whispered this time, his heart was shattering. His soul was breaking. Kili reached out to the echoes of Fili's words in his mind. He grabbed onto them and pulled. Fili's warmth, his soul was passing this world but Kili latched on. He would not release his hold. If Fili was leaving this world, Kili was not to be left behind.

Kili gasped out his breath. He fell motionless beside his now still brother.

Chapter Text

Bilbo awoke to complete blackness. For one long terrifying minute, the poor hobbit believed himself to be dead, lost in unending void. Bilbo swallowed, feeling his heart pounding in his ears. The dirt and stones felt rough against his palm. Aching all over from the rough trip through the forest, Bilbo decided this was not death. It would not hurt so much. He blinked several times, his throat terribly dry, his lips chapped.

Carefully, he straighten despite the protesting muscles. He coughed involuntarily. It was dry and Bilbo was suddenly aware of just how very thirsty and hungry he was.

Bilbo's fingers felt his scalp. The blow had left a bloody scab. The ringing still echoed in his ears. Bewildered by the darkness, Bilbo reached out with his hands, trying to feel his way around. His hands grasped at the air. Nothing was available to touch. That's when the hobbit ran into some piece of furniture. Striking the edge hard, his eyes teared up at this new hurt.

Suddenly, Bilbo just felt completely overwhelmed. A soft cry of despair escaped his lips. Tears tried to flow, but he was so dehydrated only a drop fell. Bilbo dropped to the floor. His will was spent. Closing his eyes, Bilbo imagined the last happy moments of his life. They seemed like years ago. Fili and he laughing on the trail. The youngster declaring him family. Once more feeling a sense of belonging that had vanished the moment Thorin succumbed to the gold sickness.

Bilbo pressed his palms to his eyes. He didn't want to think of the dwarf king now. It would only make him feel worse, sink deeper into the pit in his heart. 'Damn you, Thorin.' He thought over and over again. He grabbed his arms around his knees and began to rock back and forth. He couldn't stop his brain, the memories crashed into his skull with a force as strong as the blow he'd received.

Thorin hugging him at the Carrock. Thorin smiling at him in approval at Beorn's. The two sharing pipeweed outside the shape changers home. Thorin singing in that wonderfully deep voice. Bilbo beside him, watching as the fire died. The overwhelming emotion that being here, by this dwarf's side was what he'd been missing his entire life. The contentedness of being trusted by the dwarf king. Thorin's dark head nodding as the two discussed matters. Shared looks of knowing, flashes of concern, being treated like a friend, a colleague and later like family.

To have that all torn from his needy heart by gold. Greed.

Bilbo trembled, whether it was from his injuries or from the hurt in his soul, the hobbit could not say. How long he sat miserably like this, Bilbo was unable to say. When the sliver of golden light burst into the room, Bilbo was unaware his eyes were still open.

The light started as tiny flickers but it grew in intensity. Casting deep shadows on the stone and dirt walls, Bilbo recognized he was in a cell. Iron bars were in front of him. Solid rock made the other three walls. A cot, a table, a chair, and a chamber pot were the rooms only contents.

Bilbo struggled upright as the creatures holding the light began to take ominous shape. From their shadows, it was a multitude of grossly angled and gnarled beings. Bilbo gasped and shrunk back. The hobbit would never forget the goblins. Their stench, their raw greed and malice was firmly emblazoned in his mind.

Bilbo heard then the whisper of leaves on the wind, a soft sound out of place in the rough hewed place. His green eyes grew huge as the shadows meet up with their owners. Surprised he took another step back until he felt the solid rock firm against his back.

There had to be twenty or more of "them". Bilbo had no idea what he was seeing, or who. All of the grey-green creatures looked like walking roots. They had a multitude of limbs, some thick and sturdy, like the ones they walked on. Others were small and seemed to reach out delicately to the surroundings. Each being had at least 10 or more of them. A face was crude, more like slits for eyes and a mouth. No nose graced those "faces". On the top of each grew an assortment of ferns, mushrooms and lichen. A few of them carried objects, but Bilbo couldn't make them out clearly. The creatures moved in a huge clump. Their saplings gently touching, affirming the others presence before wandering about in the air once more.

Bilbo's mouth opened in wonder. Nothing about this beings radiated danger. In fact they seemed incredibly calm and unassuming. They moved en masse to the cell door. A rooted limb reached out and the door unlocked. They scurried in quickly, closing the door behind them.

Watching curiously, but far more cautiously, Bilbo tried to speak to them, "Uh, hello. I'm Bilbo." He tried.

The plant beings swarmed over the small table and moved toward the hobbit. Bilbo squeaked in alarm. "I'm harmless. Mostly."

His speech was rewarded with all those small saplings reaching out toward the wounded hobbit. Bilbo tried to avoid them, but it was impossible. He grimaced, expecting pain. Instead he was caressed gently by the saplings. The ends of which felt like soft velvet against his skin. The plant beings seemed to whisper amongst themselves. Bilbo couldn't stop himself. He giggled. The hobbit was particularly ticklish as Fili and Kili had learned one night.

He tried to push the stalks away gently. Whatever these creatures were, they didn't seem threatening. Then he felt a sticky liquid from an opening in one of the stalks. More followed. He tried to squirm, but the sturdier roots kept him from moving too much.

Bilbo stopped when his eyes lit up in understanding. The plant beings were putting their sap on his wounds. Where ever the sap was applied, he felt an instant soothing comfort. His struggles stop and he relaxed . Bilbo knew he should be wary. Who knew if these beings would turn on him? However, he just was so very tired and their attentions felt so very good. He let go a deep sigh.

He laughed when the saplings reached inside his shirt. They probed his hurts slowly and with great consideration. It must have taken quite some time, but finally satisfied, the plant beings began to withdraw. Bilbo opened his close eyes. The plant beings huddled together in front of him whispering with their leaves. Oh, how he wished he could express his gratitude to them.

"Thank you. That was very kind." He offered, unsure if they could understand.

Their leafy limbs twitched. They began to withdraw to the door. As they did, Bilbo realized they left items behind. On the table was a large red clay pot. Beside it was a huge bowl with steam coming out of it. A grey wool blanket had been lain on the floor as well. The plant beings swiftly made to the door and in seconds were on the other side. They stopped their movement and hesitated as if they were observing the hobbit.

Bilbo came forward, his hunger rumbling from his stomach. He could smell the stew. Rushing forward he sat down, hands covered in a thin film of sap grasped the bowl. He sniffed the contents cautiously, fearful for poison. However, if the food was altered, it was beyond his telling. Besides, why heal him only to kill him with soup? The temptation for the starved hobbit was too much. Shrugging, he drew the bowl to his lips. "Well, starvation is no way for a hobbit to die," he explained to his audience. Closing his eyes he drank. The thick broth was delicious. It was rich and satisfying. He continued to drink, barely stopping to breathe. The warm liquid hit his empty stomach. The shriveled organ seemed to groan in delight. Bilbo finally, stopped to lick his lips. Cooked vegetables were at the bottom, a collection of carrots, mushrooms, leeks and more. He used his fingers to scoop the softened food into his mouth.

His "hosts" seemed to be pleased. They shifted and whispered, rocking back and forth slowly in unison as if they could sense Bilbo's pleasure.

Bilbo looked up. "Thank you again. This is delicious." Briefly his mind wondered if they felt odd serving their "cousins" to him and quickly pushed the idea out of his head. The leaves rustled briskly. Then slowly the creatures began to leave. However, they left behind the thick lit candles on the floor. Bilbo realized the light was never for them.

Nodding at them, he turned his attention to the last contents of his bowl. He then grabbed the large jug. Cool refreshing water went down his throat. It was better than any wine. He sighed, feeling sleepy once more as his stomach was now full and his hurts very numb.

Bilbo reached down to grab the wool blanket. He went to the cot and curled up. A part of Bilbo screamed for him to get up, he had to find a way out of here! That witch, that horrible cold elf would not forget about him or the ring. She would not rest until the object was hers.

But Bilbo smiled, she had already tried to insert her mind into his. Her cold tendrils of icy greed trying to force the information from his memories. Bilbo had fought back. He'd created a wall, just a thick, just as imp retable as the Lonely Mountain. The ebon witch would find no entry there.

His heart latched onto that. He may be a very small, very lost hobbit. But his will was fierce as the deadly dwarrow warriors he called family. He would not yield.

Chapter Text

Fili opened his eyes. He no longer felt weighed down by lungs that refused to fill with air. Blinking, he looked down at himself. His body was whole again, his clothes back to their normal unworn state. Fili took a deep breath and slowly spun around.

He was in the grey. The dull void between the Living, the Halls of Mandos, and the Damned. He blinked again and before him was laid a path of carefully fitted stones leading to a bright light. This light was so radiant, it hurt his blue eyes. He raised his hand to try to shade his eyes. On either side was a grey mist that seemed to stretch on forever. Yet, a horrible noise reached the back of his mind. Somewhere in the distance was a the screams of the damned. Those that led their lives without honor, justice or love. Shuddering, Fili was glad to know he had at least earned the halls of his ancestors. He had accomplished that much in his short life. Fili sighed. Technically, he wasn't even an adult yet. Some heir of Durin he turned out to be. That wasn't what burned in his gut though. It wasn't Fili had disappointed his uncle, or mother, or father, or some long deceased kin he never met.

No. None of that bothered him in the least.

Two people did.

The first was Bilbo. He'd left his friend. Fili did not know if the wonderful hobbit was dead or still alive. He did not think that hobbits and dwarrows mixed in the afterlife. If they did, he would be the first he would ask for. He would beg the gentle being for his mercy and forgiveness. Fili would apologize with all of his being. And if by some miracle the hobbit was still amongst the living, Fili prayed Bilbo was safe. Bilbo did not deserve the cruel fate of being killed by that dark monster. Bilbo had earned a long life, with rooms of books, food, and a handkerchief always ready. Fili would not lie, he had hoped Bilbo would have preferred Erebor to the Shire. Now Fili would never know.

Fate had been cruel, but Fili supposed he was now old enough to know happy endings weren't for him. Hell, his family appeared to be cursed with arrogance and stupidity. Why on earth would he be immune? He tried though, honestly Fili wanted to be the person Thorin desired him to be, the ruler the Longbeard people needed. So often he concentrated on who he was supposed to be, but not the one he wanted. It was water under the bridge now.

Of course the other person was Kili. Leaving him behind after being briefly united for less than a minute, was the most difficult thing he'd done. It wasn't on purpose. No, he wanted to be living even if it was agony.

Ever since he could remember, Death had never been his biggest fear. Here he was, as dead as a cold hearth. All he could think of was Kili. This was it. To be separated from him. 'People never understood Kili, understood us.' Fili knew he was seen as the stronger of the two, the reliable one. The brother who would could be so much more if Kili wasn't there. The younger pulling him to outrageous pranks and ridiculous stunts and questionable adventures. They were wrong. Without Kili, Fili would not have the inner strength to not wilt in front of the demands of being Thorin's Heir. Kili kept him laughing, kept him full of hope. Kili also saw the world in a different light. It made Fili ruminate harder about concerns. Kili showed Fili how to see things outside a narrow set of rules and traditions. Fili rose to become the heir Thorin needed, the one he relied on. Yet, this never would have happened without the spontaneity of Kili.

'How would his brother cope? How would he cope'? The only thought these last months, his one constant was reuniting with his little brother. He rolled his eyes and looked up at the starry night looming over head. He felt tears threaten. Fili wondered if he could wait out the long years here for Kili to arrive. Or maybe, Mahal willing, he could be a ghost and watch over his brother. Fili could do that, would do that, if permitted. But he didn't know who to ask.

"Well, don't just stand there. Let's get going."

Fili spun on his heels once more. A partially gloved hand took his firmly.

Gasping, Fili felt Kili's hand gripping his tightly. Fili instantly felt his brother's warm, the blood still flowing in his veins. His hood was up, Kili still trying to cover his lack of proper hair. Even here, Kili still had no beard, no long dark thick locks.

Kili grinned lopsidedly, like he just stolen some forbidden sweet.

"What?" Kili jerked Fili into his arms ungracefully. He didn't care.

Kili sighed in contentment. Fili was in his arms wherever here was. It didn't matter. They were together again.

Fili couldn't stop himself. Kili was holding him. For a glorious minute all the elder could do was grab Kili by his nape. He breathed his scent, always woodsy and full of sunshine. His calloused fingers knocked down the hood. They entwined in Kili's ridiculously soft and fine dark hair. Hair so unlike any other dwarrow. Hair as unique as his dark eyed brother.

Kili's innocent smile lit up his face, Fili marveled at it. Kili's light was so bright and glowing. It danced and sparked. Fili wanted to bathe in it. Reality hit Fili square in the chest. It sucked the air right out of him harder than that limb in the forest. Kili was alive. Kili should not be here.

Every protective fiber of his being screamed. Always it was his job, his loving duty to keep this one safe. No matter how much it hurt him, no matter how much he needed his brother, Fili would not accept this.

"Kili."

Kili nodded. His hand reached out. Gently he gathered Fili's braid. The lopsided one with the first bead Kili had ever made. Kili could braid brilliantly now, but back then it always pulled to the right. Out of love for his brother, Fili always had Kili braid it the same way, to remember the moment so long ago. Kili kissed the bead. Same ritual whenever they had been parted for a night or more. His way of saying "thank Mahal, you're back!"

Kili sensed a shift in Fili. The joy being replaced by duty. Kili shrugged. Of course Fili would object. He expected it. Didn't matter. Because like in so many things, Kili would have his way in this.

"Let's get going. Who knows how long this path will stay clear!" Kili let Fili out of the hug. Neither would let go of the other's hand.

Fili's voice broke, "Kee, you're going back."

"Ha! Nope, not happening."

"Kili. You're still alive" Fili tried reason, knowing though Kili would not listen.

Kili's head tilted to the side, "Not for long. Lost the whole will to live thing. I'm fading."

Fili's heart clenched. Kili said this with a smile, with bright love shining in his brown eyes.

"You can't. No. Not this!

"You don't get a choice."

Fili was in no mood to be disobeyed, "Yes, yes I do. I'm the elder. This time you lose, this you will do. You're going back." Fili let go of Kili's hand. He started to grip the younger and pull him back toward the path of the living.

Kili shrugged out of the hold.

Fili yelped in frustration. "Imp. You will not have your way, not this time!"

"Ha! You always say that. I always win, when it matters, I always do!" Kili leapt out of his grasp.

Fili shouted in frustration. "Get back here!"

Kili shook his head confident of his ability to stay out of his brother's reach. He failed to realize the depth of Fili's desperateness. Fili moved forward gracefully. He grasped Kili's forearm. A second later, Kili found himself over Fili's shoulder.

"Put me down!" Kili began to wiggle.

"Quit it."

"Down, now!" Kili's voice sounded like he was 10 years old again. Kili managed to rock his body. Fili's hold became less sure. Another bounce, failing limbs harder and Fili couldn't keep upright. Fili cried out in frustration. How could he make Kili see? To be the cause of Kili's death, this would mark his soul forever.

Kili did not see it like that.This was nothing more than one more adventure. Death was not the end. It never was. It was just a journey, one Kili would not allow Fili to undergo alone.

The brothers fell for what seemed like a very long time. In this freefall, the feeling of nothingness stretching out before them, they clung together out of instinct. Their earlier disagreement lost. The whole sensation was disconcerting. They lost all sense of direction, of up, down, right left. The gust of wind became sharp causing their eyes to water. They closed their eyes and the light faded.

They kept on falling.

The wind made it too hard to speak. They just entwined their bodies closer. If this was their eternal end, the only sensation of right being the touch of the other, then they would lose themselves to it.

When they landed, pain shattered their tight, condensed universe.

Chapter Text

It is said that all of Mirkwood heard Kili's cries for his elder brother. The depth of emotion, of feared loss and despair, had not been felt in more than a thousand years. The elves felt the young dwarrow's loss echo in their own minds. Many staggered, ill-prepared for the onslaught of feelings. Others began to weep openly not understanding the true cause. The elven song of Mirkwood was changed. The tune, the melody had been the same for so long it was now routine, background noise they did not contemplate deeper any more.

Thranduil was the only one not taken by surprise. When the King of the Greenwood arrived at the chaotic hallway scene, he was his usual visage of calm. His green eyes took in everything, the stunned expressions of shock and sorrow, the waves of despair still emanated from Kili. His two faithful friends walked behind him. The tall male elves shared concern about the evenings events as silently as their king.

Legolas kneeled beside the darker brother. He grabbed at Fili, "No! You cannot die! Help me!". Legolas bent over the Erebor prince, "Kili, Kili! Hear me. Your brother needs you. Wake up!" Legolas reached down and gathered his friend into his arms. Even unconscious Kili would not let go of his brother's hand. Legolas felt his heart pounding rapidly. They could not end this way, not here, not in his father's own halls!

Radaghast took a position opposite the Prince of Mirkwood. "Oh the stubbornness of dwarrows! Blast and confound it!" He gave a curled up expression of annoyance and frustration. Fili had suffered in silence, not breaking their rapid pace with complaints of pain nor illness. By not speaking out, Fili may have condemned himself. Damn noble, these bloody dwarrows could be! The brown wizard, took the stone from his staff and then laid the ancient wood down beside the broken body of Fili. He hoped the magic had regenerated enough from his healing of Sebastian.

Legolas turned his head toward the ancient istari. This was not the reaction he expected from the wizard. Legolas felt anger rise on to be instantly hushed.

"Patience." Thranduil said as he placed a hand on his son's shoulder. Radaghast was reknown for the unexpected. Best to let a wizard be, was a lesson he had learned a very long time ago. Legolas turned his head toward his father. The king was surprised by the depth of his son's feelings toward the dwarrow brothers. Legolas' pleading glance was begging for reassurance from his father. Thranduil found his son's attachment to the two brothers was still unsettling to the king. In their very brief time together, how could his son develop such an connection? Thranduil had taught his son about the folly of such relationships. Humans, dwarrows, the lesser races were not worth the enduring ache and pain when their pitifully short lives ended. Nothing was to be gained by creating such friendships. It was far better to have them at arms length, kept harmless. Legolas saw the puzzlement and the silent rebuke. Legolas set his jaw and turned his back to his father.

Thranduil straightened and let out a deep breath. No words had been said between them, but his son's rejection stung.

Legolas gripped Kili tighter in response to his father's coolness. Later he would be having a discussion with his father, one he'd been avoiding for centuries. His attention slammed back to his friends. "What can I do to help?"

"Don't part them. Little bird here has hung on too tightly. Break the bond physically, loose them both." Radaghast grumbled out. Then his eyes rolled in the back of his head. The words that began to be uttered from the raggedly wizard were unknown even to the ancient being of Thranduil. Yet, even a babe could feel the power behind the utterances. The words of buried song brought forth from forgotten memory.

The crystal began its glow, slow and steady. It's bright white light filling the enclosed space in the hallway. Eventually, all had to avert their eyes, the light too brilliant to be bared.

The tune ended, the light ebbed away. Silence descended swiftly. The absence of any noise was also painful to the sensitive ears of the elven folk. Their hearts had soared to hear the ancient words spoken.

Radaghast gasped, drained he slumped inward on his self. Exhaustion spread across his features.

Shortly thereafter, the sounds of raspy breathing echoed in the hallway. Fili's chest rose and fell. The noise was immediately followed by Kili's quick gasp.

Radaghast gave a slight smile unseen by anyone. Legolas' face turned into one of astonishment and joy.

However, the first words spoken were Khuzdul.

Bifur shoved his way to thru the circle of onlookers. He was breathing heavy, having run almost twice the distance of Kili to find the brothers. Unlike Kili, Bifur had wandered around unsure where exactly it was he needed to be.

"Durin's Beard! What have you done?" Bifur gave Legolas a frown as he kneeled down before his fallen princes. Bifur reached out a hand and touched Fili's forehead. Fili's color's were dull and faded. Kili's own colors were much too gray. Bifur knew instantly what it meant and he saw what he was looking for quickly. Kili was using his strength to keep his brother alive. Whatever healing Radaghast had done, it wasn't enough, not yet.

Legolas looked at the wild dwarrow. He did not understand the crazed looking dwarrow's words.

"Radaghast has brought Fili back from the dead! Kili touched his brother and since then, he's been unconscious." The elf tried to explain.

Bifur rolled his eyes. "Of course he did. Keep them together. I have medicine for them. Don't do any more elvish things. I might not know how to fix that!" Bifur barked out.

Legolas stared at him in confusion, still cradling Kili's head. Thranduil's steady voice responded to Bifur's words.

"Master dwarf, we will keep them together. Fetch your medicine, they will be taken to the healing rooms. However, you will allow our medicines for our arts in healing are far more encompassing than you could possibly imagine." Thraduil's voice was commanding, intimidating. The brothers were under the protection of his son and his own word. They would be accorded every possible courtesy and the expertise of the elven people. It was an insult to think otherwise.

Bifur crinkled his noise. Thranduil's accent was terrible. Bifur ignored the king and reached out to the quiet wizard. Radaghast opened his tired eyes at the dwarrow's touch. This dwarf could see things, imagine the world just beyond the perception of the others.

"May Mahal's Blessing fill your soul for what you have done here. But, I have something else. It will help!" Bifur's blue eyes sparkled with hope and promise.

Radaghast blinked and straightened. Sadness had filled his being for a moment. Not even his skills with healing had been quite enough to pull Fili and Kili completely back from the dead. Fili had been a short second from accepting his death fully when Kili had delayed his journey. The idiot younger brother had willed himself to die just to connect to Fili. This had not been done in thousands and thousands of years. Radaghast had not even thought it possible anymore. It was Kili's heart and soul still keeping them anchored in this plane, but Kili's strength would not last forever. Fili's body had to be completely healed. The bones were mended. That was easy enough, the puncture in the lung weaved back to a whole. But the illness in his lungs, the thick, wet blood filled pockets of infection needed time and herbs. Radaghast was not sure Kili was capable of keeping Fili alive long enough for the medicines to work, especially in Fili's weakened state.

Bifur smiled at the old one. "The Lady. She was with Kili and Blessed him. There is medicine."

Radaghast straightened at once and grabbed the dwarrow's jerkin. "The Lady! Bless my Stars! Get it, get it now!"

Bifur nodded, happy Radaghast understood. Without another word he abruptly stood up and ran off.

Legolas looked to Radaghst, "What is happening? Can he help them?"

Rhadaghast stood up wobbly. Birds chirped in alarm. "Yes, of course, yes! Move them to a bed, but don't part them."

"Merin, help me." Legolas ordered. A male healer rushed forward to Fili's side. "We'll move them together to the closest room!"

Once the elf was in place, Legolas gave a nod of his head. They moved at the same time, making certain the brother's hand grip on the other remained constant.

Healers scurried forward to prepare the area. Others who had gathered rushed to get out of their way. Thraduil stood silent not blinking. The wild dwarrow's words reverberated his head. Everything was falling into place now. What Kili had done for Fili, the changes in his own son, the mood of the Greenwood was shifting once more. His world was transforming, taking a new shape. His blood ran cold. For if this truly was what had been foretold by seer came to pass, Thranduil's days were now numbered. His immortality was vanished, his days were now shadowed by a deep dread. A heavy weight slammed into his soul causing him to shudder suddenly.

One of his assistants, saw Thranduil's uncharacteristic display of emotion play across his face. Alarmed, he moved forward reaching out with a hand, a question forming on his lips. Thranduil shook his head, halting the action. He would not acknowledge this, not yet.

Meanwhile, Radaghast was handed his staff. Wearily, he placed the darkened crystal back in its place.

Thranduil's voice was low, a sense of unfamiliar anxiety crept into the tone. "This Lady the dwarrow speaks of, it is not possible. She long ago left, never to return to this vale. They all did."

Radaghast shook his head sadly. "Not at all. Their precense is still here. You just haven't been looking in the right places. Stare too hard at rocks and trees you have. Missed the moving, living parts." Radaghast lifted up his hat. The chirping had grown even louder. His hands righted the nest that was lopsided.

"So sorry Wilhemina, George. Glad no younglings are about." The birds twittered at him, flew about in a few tiny circles around Radaghast's head before coming back to land in the now fixed nest. Once they settled, Radaghast flipped his worn headgear back into place.

"Now come! We have work to do!" Radaghast exclaimed then sent off after the brothers and Legolas. "Dark creatures are afoot, a child must be healed and a hobbit rescued. You will need to screw up your courage elven king!"

Thranduil raised an elegant eyebrow but followed. His attendants gave one another very curious glances. This night had been full of confusion and surprise.

Chapter Text

Thorin thought the long evening with Dain would never end. He had hoped for an early night. Dain and his company would leave in the morrow.

Instead, his cousin decided to fill him in at length on a number of subjects. Ordinarily, Thorin would have taken the knowledge and advice and been grateful. This eve, Thorin had done his own imitation of Kili. He'd been distracted and fidgeting. In the future, he vowed to take it easier on the youngest heir. All evening long his thoughts returned to his sister sons and Bilbo. Kili's words echoing in his mind. Fili is hurt. The more the uncle pondered on Kili's firm belief, the more it made sense. If any two dwarrows were closer, he had not heard of them. Then there was this matter of the Lady. Bofur and Bombur were absolutely convinced in her reality. Oin was less so, but he did believe the belief in her helped his patients. In addition, there was the matter of his own mother and grandmother. Mahal, how he tried not to think of their passing, the gaping hole their absence left in his heart. Thorin rubbed his eyes. Their images danced in his memory. How long had it been since he felt so loved and protected from the harms of the world? Yet, these were the emotions that lingered from the memory. His mother was so gentle for a dwarrow. He could never remember a weapon in her hand. She had such joy in her bearing, a delight in life that Kili had inherited. His mother would have adored her grandchildren, but Kili, he had no doubt the two would have bonded deeply. Fili was more like Thorin's grandmother, practical, calmer, but with a wicked sense of humor that kept Thor on his toes. Their marriage had been arranged, but no one doubted Thor loved his mate with all his soul. It was no wonder the gold madness held off until Suri's passing. It was only then his grandfather became vulnerable to the damned curse. Both said prayers to the Lady. He remembered this clearly now. They had firm belief in the Lady's ability to help suffering dwarrow. The tales had not been passed to Kili though. For the boy to suddenly mention her presence, it truly was a sign. Thorin would be an idiot to ignore this.

Dain continued to talk about the Firebrands to the east. Thorin politely added, they would be trouble in the future. He said aloud. The rest he kept to himself. Those future political tussles felt far off. His future was his two sister sons.

Balin stepped in for his distracted sovereign. Thorin silently thanked Mahal for such loyalty from his old friend. Balin bantered with the Iron Hills diplomats with his causal wit and good humor. Thorin glanced at the group advising Dain. He wondered absently, if any of them were behind the witches. He felt a protective and righteous anger rise. He slammed it down hard. Now was not the time to reveal any possible aggression. The site of Kili on his funeral slab had shattered his heart. That more than anything crumbled the hold of the gold sickness in his soul. The child so small and frail on the cold stone, wait, how could he realistically even think of Kili in that manner anymore? Yes, Kili was still years away from being an adult, as was Fili. Clenching his hand into a tight fist, Thorin fought down his emotions. Oh, they weren't children. Not any longer. He'd seen to that. Thorin had taken them from Ered Luin, the only stability the lads had ever known. Taken them on his mad quest across the whole of Middle Earth for a kingdom they did not want. No, it was his own mad desire, his lust for Erebor that damn near killed the two boys. His precious sons and for what, exactly? To sit and be bored in large hollow halls by his cousin! There was nothing in Erebor he truly desired anymore. Not the gold, not the Arkenstone. He wanted his people happy, to have a home. They did, but now, the ones whom he held dear, the ones he loved, were out in the wild, abandoned. How callously had he treated their love and loyalty? He did not deserve them, his sister-sons or the hobbit.

Thorin laughed with the others and raised his goblet in the air. He followed Balin and Dwalin's cues. He paid closer attention to the conversation. His face shown with true pleasure as he realized Dain was finally calling it a night. The usual pleasantries were exchanged and Thorin was dragged from the recesses of his mind to the present.

Minutes later, Thorin was walking toward his rooms with more energy than he's showed at the banquet. Dwalin and Balin were beside him. Balin was chatting amiably about the evening. Dwalin's head was in the same mindset as Thorin's. Leaving Erebor and finding the lads.

They came to a stop when a breathless young dwarrow rushed up to them. He skidded to a stop, his cheeks as red as the hair smashed down by a heavy hat. The youth was covered in grime where the coal was to be found. It was a surprise. No boy his age should be in those areas of the mines. They were far too small and narrow and dangerous.

Dwalin stepped forward. His hand automatically pulling out his weapon. No one, not even a child, should have been allowed on these levels. The youth swallowed and breathed deeply. "Message for the King, sir." He said nervously. In his dirty hand he held out a rumbled piece of parchment. The boys eyes were huge at the sight of the fierce warrior ready to run him through.

Balin sighed, Dwalin took his role as protect very seriously. He trusted no one when it came to the Durins. Balin moved around his younger brother and reached for it. "Who sent you lad?"

"A guy I know. He's always looking out for us." The boy stuttered, his eyes still big and frozen on the weapon.

Balin gave the boy a grandfatherly smile, "Name please."

Dwalin grunted at the boy's hesitation.

"He's called the Lizard." he squeaked out.

The elders exchanged glances, it was one of many Nori's alias.

Thorin appraised the boy's rough appearance. He couldn't be older than 20. "Where are your parents?"

"Gone my lord. Ma died many winters ago. Da died in the last battle."

Thorin felt pain go through his heart. The battle with orcs and goblins would always be an endless cycle of loss and pain. Damn those creatures to the void! A pang of responsibility reverberated in his heart.

"How many?" Thorin asked as Balin read the hastily scribbled note.

The boy blinked confused for a moment. He kept staring at Dwalin's tattoos fascinated now that Dwalin was less hostile looking. "Uh, 5 of us. Sir." He added after a half second, trying desperately to remember some manners. "We don't have nobody left. So we work with the miners from the Iron Hills, doing chores for em.

"What is your name lad?" Thorin asked. He noticed Balin's brow furrowed in a scowl.

"Spin, sir." The boy tried to stand up straight and look proud. "Actually its, Kriff, son of Spik. But nobody calls me that."

"Spin, you will gather the others and bring them to Bombur in the kitchens tomorrow at breakfast. He will be expecting all of you. You will eat properly. Then Lord Dori will see to it that the five of you will be cared for."

The child blinked in shock and surprise. This was a child not used to kindness from anyone. Thorin felt his temper rise. Children were to be cherished and protect. Had Dain and the others grown so complacent to forget such an important fact? "My Lord..?" The youth seem shocked and scared as well.

Dwalin shook his head with a small grin. "Is the dirt too thick in yer ears boy? Ye heard yer King. Bring the others in the morn!"

He nodded, shaking his head furiously. "Yes sir. Of course sir! Thank you!"

Thorin nodded, his attention now firmly on the note sent from Nori. The words did not bring him comfort.

Dwalin gestured at the youth. "Go on then."

The boy mumbled, "Yes sir, "and began to scurry off.

Thorin's voice halted his progress. "Spin, how did you make it up here without the guards noticing?"

At this the boy looked positively frightened as if something very secret was about to be revealed. His cheeks flushed red. "Uh, sir, well,"

Dwalin and Thorin gave the child a stern look. He bit his lip, "We've been sneaking around stealing extra food. There are ways around the mountain if you're small enough." The child trembled. Thieving was not looked on kindly in the Iron Hills.

Dwalin shared a look with his brother and friend. This was a serious breach of security.

Balin gave the boy a smile as he looked ready to wet his pants. The unfortunate lad had no idea the scowling on his king's face and Dwalin's was not directed at him.

"Well, then young Master Spin. You and your friends already have your first task appointed to you on the morrow." Balin walked over and placed a calming hand on Spin. "A friend of ours, Master Ori, he's very good at drawing maps, will be meeting with you. We will need you and your friends to help us find all these hiding places. Will you do that for your king?"

"Yer not gonna lock us up? Chop off our hands? She said you would. Swore it!" He asked nervously as his blue eyes darted toward Thorin and Dwalin.

Thorin handed the letter to Dwalin. He came over to Spin and Balin stepped aside.

Thorin gave Spin his best "uncle" smile that had worked wonders on Fili and Kili. "No, child. You and your friends should have been cared for in the first place. Your father died for this mountain, your home. You are children and our future. We will care for you and you will not have to resort to theft to fill your stomach's. Who is this she you speak of?"

"But we're Iron born sir."

"You are dwarrow. Erebor is now your home. That makes you a Longbeard as well. Do you understand?"

"I do sir. Thank you. It means a lot. A whole lot!" The youth's face lit up with hope. "And I can bring all of 'em? Yer be mad if we don't show, right?" His brow furrowed in rapid thought.

"All of them. Any child at all, no matter their clan. All food and shelter thievery will be forgiven for you sought only to remain alive. Then you will help Dori and Ori in the morning. Who is this female?"

The boy shook his head vigorously, "I can't say sir. She'll know." Fear swept over his grimy face.

Thorin held the boy's shoulder firmly. "Spin, this person is not your friend. If she is harming you or your friends, you should tell us."

The boy glanced back and forth from Thorin's earnest expression and Dwalin's frowning one.

"Aye, laddie. Give us a name, we'll put some proper sense back in her head." Dwalin added.

"Maybe tomorrow. When we're all here. I can then. But not yet, not now," the boy decided firmly.

Thorin shook his head in understanding, this youngling was terribly intimidated by this person. " Very well then. We will expect you on the morrow with a name."

Balin spoke just as the lad turned to go. "The lizard, your friend, does he know this female?"

Shrugging his shoulder, Spin then sighed. "He knows of her. They don't like each other at all. Both speak horrible things of the other, but I reckon they've never met proper."

"Why do you say that lad?" Thorin asked.

The youth shifted on his feet very quickly, "Cuz one of 'em ain't dead."

This was met with sudden silence. Spin shifted nervously from foot to foot. "I gotta go. Sir. My Lord." He added quickly.

"Go on then." Thorin added.

The boy spun on his heels and took off in a quick trot.

Dwalin sighed as he put his weapon back up. "Why are young ones always in such a damn hurry!?" He grumbled as he set out after Spin to follow the boy. They needed to know as much as possible about these secret passages and the mystery woman.

Balin and Thorin walked quickly to the next set of guards. Both dwarrow were alert, acknowledging their lord and King quickly. Thorin motioned one forward.

The guard stood at attention beside his sovereign. "Tell the watch commander to meet me at once."

The guard bowed his head and rushed off.

Thorin opened the door to his chambers and Balin followed behind.

Balin let out a deep breath and settled in his chair. He began to stroke his beard.

Thorin began to dump his royal attire.

A full minute passed as the two were lost in thought.

"It stinks worse than a sulfur vein." Thorin decided. He carefully laid the crown down and began to rub his temples. "Nori is never that polite in his letters. We must assume he's been compromised, or rather the lizard persona of his has been."

"We've been spied upon. That much is obvious. Our enemy is aware of Kili's absence already. This bodes ill. They must already know your plans to depart."

"It changes nothing. However, I will leave Dwalin behind. Someone has to find Nori, learn what the truth is." Thorin decided as he went to his weapons. He missed Orcrist. The blade was lost in the Mirkwood forest. Not that he'd ever admit it. The weapon from Erebor's treasured halls was a good substitute, but Orcrist had sung in his hands.

"Lad. Do you think it wise? With the letter Nori has sent, it is obvious the second witch is about to make her move. And she is aware of Nori's movements as well." Balin argued.

Thorin closed his brilliant blue eyes rimmed in weariness. "It matters not. I'm done hiding in this mountain. Let her make her move. I owe her and her kin much pain for the hurts paid on Kili!" Thorin growled.

Balin laced his fingers together and frowned. Thorin wasn't thinking logically. The King was letting his heart led him. "And Nori? What shall we do for him?"

"Dwalin is the only one who can hunt him down when he has buried himself in secrets. Nori gave no hint he was in danger. Only that his words and actions were being watched." Thorin countered as he began to gather his travel clothing.

At Balin's soft grumble, Thorin interrupted. "I will not leave them to their fate without trying to assist. I owe them that much! All three of them!"

"You do them no justice if you end up injured or dead!" Balin stood up.

Thorin swiveled to his trusted advisor. "I am in neither state. I do not intend to allow this wicked woman the opportunity. Nor will I allow this witch to dictate to me that I stay in these stone walls. I have spent far too much time there, lost to insanity."

"What if the witch attempts to overthrow your rule in your absence?"

"IF Dain was unable, she will be worse. No, this bitch wants pain and death. I can draw her out in the open. No more shadows." Thorin decided. His voice lowered from his harsh tone. "Plus you are far too cunning for her. I have faith in you my friend. My head and heart are not here. I need my family about me. This time, I need to put them first."

"I don't want you leaving without Dwalin."

Thorin smiled as he tossed a dirk on the bed while pulling out his other knives.

"We both know Dwalin is needed here to help with Nori. I may be somewhat worse for wear, but I assure you I can still weld my blade with efficiency." He walked to Balin and placed an arm on the shorter's robes. "I will have many guards with me as well. I will not be an easy target."

Balin rolled his eyes, "I don't know who is worse! You or Kili?"

At this Thorin let out a short laugh. "Kili, obviously. I'm just following his example. Fate is laughing heartily at me. For all my berating of Kili's impulsiveness, his following his heart instead of his head, I am about to travel the same road. And I can find no fault in this course of action." Thorin took his hand off of Balin. "I know you will keep a good eye on things. The witches are not after you. They are after the line of Durin. Let them follow me. Let them make their attempts. For I will end them. They will be but dust and memory and my nephews will not suffer at their hands again."

Balin's eyes grew bright in understanding. "That was your plan all along."

Thorin leaned against his bed post. "Perhaps."

Balin shook his head, "It isn't wise."

"When have I ever really done the wise thing? Leading a party of 13 dwarrows and a hobbit across the lengths of Middle Earth to face a dragon. None of that was particulary wise or well thought out."

Balin sighed, "Ah, well, I'll give you that one."

"I pretended it was, but in the end it was as insane as Fili and Kili's worst plots. I pretend they inherited their wild streak from Vili, but I was wrong. It is Durin, through and through. I may have been gruff about it rather than sniggering at the absurdities like the boys. It was still naught but a crazy scheme that I convinced my friends and dear family to indulge. I owe all of you so much." Thorin uncrossed the arms across his chest. Once more he stepped forward to Balin.

"I will led the witches out in the open, they will follow me. I am too tempting in the wild for them to resist. No more of Nori's games, no more hiding behind walls and politics." Thorin said decisively. "Their pledge of vengeance will end with me."

Chapter Text

The healing room was mostly white. White walls, white bedding, white curtains, as if the lack of the color would assist in the healing or perhaps the rest the bed ridden required. There was a golden glow of candles scented with herbs which eased breathing. Even the patients were now clothed in white garments. Kili's dark hair stood out starkly against the white pillow. Fili's golden strands in contrast seemed to blend in with the surroundings much easier. It helped that his braids had been redone by Bifur. Kili's hair was as big a mess as ever, the fine strands refusing to bind to the will of Bifur's fingers.

The two brothers rarely stirred during the long hours. Usually, it was Kili who moved. He'd whimper in his sleep, muttering words not even the sharp hearing of the elves could discern. However, his fingers would find Fili laid next to him. They'd wrap into his clothing, Kili would turn on his side and nuzzle his brother. The words would cease and the youth would slumber once more.

The elven healers came and went as the time passed. They marveled how the two dwarrows managed to survive, for they had never witnessed such a miracle. Fili should be dead. Kili had willed himself dead as well. Yet, the youths still drew breath and as time passed, continued to strengthen.

Of course such miraculous events are possible with a wizard in attendance. But it wasn't his magic that prevailed. It had delayed the inevitable. No, what had finally turned the tide in the children's favor was the salve.

/

Bifur had ran into the room as they were carefully cleaning and applying herbs to Fili's wounded torso. The crazed dwarrow had gestured at the two healers wildly while talking in that extremely crude language of his. Legolas was there, standing to the side. He had refused requests by his friends and his father's advisors to step back and care for his own haggard state. Legolas knew he could not rest, not yet, he had to know what was happening to the brothers.

Bifur had given the elven prince a frustrated glare and began to make motions with his hands. Legolas didn't understand Bifur. It didn't matter though. Legolas caught the meaning that Bifur needed to help Fili and the healers needed to step aside.

"Merin allow the dwarf to help." Legolas ordered softly.

Glancing up from his work Merin's eyebrow shot up. "My prince, we must attend to these wounds at once." His assistant did not stop her ministrations.

Legolas gently laid a hand on his friend's arm. "Let him do his work. Then attend to the cuts and wounds as you see fit. Please."

Radaghast swept into the room during that moment. "Yes, allow him room to work. Watch and see very old knowledge work its wonders." Radaghast leaned on his old staff and nodded at Bifur.

Merin sucked in a deep breath. It was not in his nature to stand back and allow others to do his work, not with one so injured. Only Thranduil himself was a better physician. His assistant looked up from her work curious as to how to proceed.

"Very well, Master Dwarf. Please work quickly for we have much to do." Merin turned to Bifur as his eyes unconsciously went to the axe buried in the dwarf's head. 'How had the dwarf survived such a calamity?'

They stepped aside. Bifur grunted in thanks. He handed his spear to Legolas. Then he bent over and ripped off all Fili's shirt, before undoing all the bandages the elves had applied.

Merin stepped forward to protest, anger in his eyes. Legolas' hand stopped him from speaking. He shook his head. "Let him try."

Bifur then pulled out the smooth stone jar. He spoke some words clearly. Although the elves knew naught the meaning, they felt the emotion. It was a prayer, a supplication for healing. The words weaved together, the song was totally different from the smooth melodies of the elves, but this held beauty as well. His voice was joined quickly by Radaghast's. Bifur was glad the old wizard remembered the Lady. He was glad to have help with the tune. Bifur's song ended. He opened the jar and rubbed a generous helping of a white creamy salve with hints of mint into both of his palms.

Continuing to sing but much more softly, Bifur began to massage the cream into Fili's torso. His rough hands moved in smooth circles, gentle and soothing. Bifur took his time. His blue eyes observed every nuance of color in Fili's ill body. He could see the dark septic colors of the disease in Fili's lungs. His hands lingered there, Bifur imagining the color of health and life returning to those areas. Radaghast muttered his own words of healing at the same time.

The three elves watched in silence. Clearly, whatever the wild dwarf was doing was bringing relief to Fili and in turn to Kili. Fili's breathing grew easier and smoother. A natural shade of pink began to replace the blue in his skin. In return Kili's gray lightened as well. By the time Bifur had finished his administrations, Fili's lungs no longer shuddered under the burden of breathing through thick mucus. Kili's normal color had returned fully.

When Bifur sighed deeply in both satisfaction and exhaustion, the two healers now moved forward. Curiosity overwhelmed their good manners. As Bifur moved from the bed, the others rushed in. Radaghast greeted the dwarrow with a warm smile. "I think that has done the job. Well done."

Merin placed his hand on Fili's head. There was no sign of fever. His sensitive ears picked up the sounds of lungs cleared.

"What medicine is this Master Dwarf? It has worked a miracle!" The she-elf face did not hide her surprise at the sudden turn of fortunes.

Merin nodded his head as well. "No medicine I know of could have worked so quickly. Please, share your knowledge with us!"

Bifur shrugged. He pointed at the jar. "Wasn't me, it was the Lady. You'd have to ask her." He responded.

He was met with confused expressions from all but Radaghast. "Bifur was given the medicine. The secrets of salve lie with one you must ask directly. I suggest you brush up on your ancient poems and remember from whom we all are Blessed."

The healers stared in confusion, not understanding the Brown Wizard.

Legolas came to the rescue. "Master Bifur, thank you for your assistance. I believe you have saved their lives." Legolas gave Bifur an earnest, but wearied smile.

Bifur grinned at the lad. Of all the elves here, this one was alright. His heart was with Fili and Kili and that made him okay with Bifur.

Bifur slapped Legolas on the back. "Thank you for bringing them back together. You have lived up to word. Unusual for an elf. You will be remembered as a friend."

//////////////

That was many hours ago. Radaghast had left to be with his animal companions. Two continuous occupants watched over the two brothers. Legolas had finally submitted to clean clothes and a meal. However, he would not leave the two brothers despite the many pleadings. Until they were awake and truly reunited, he would continue his vigil. After all, Legolas Greenleaf had given his word.

Legolas rested in very comfortable chair. A fire glowed low, but it kept the room very comfortable. Bifur had finally drifted off in his own chair placed directly beside Kili.

Legolas' green eyes grew heavy. He may have even drifted off when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.

Thranduil had walked into the healing room as quietly as ever. Merin had assured him Fili was mended. The magic Bifur had used had worked. The brothers now only required rest and food.

Thranduil had accepted the news calmly. Inwardly, he was pleased. He had no desire to see Kili die at such a young age. After all, so few dwarrows held the type of promise he'd seen in the lad. Fili must be of similar mindset. What else could have inspired his son to act so?

Hours had passed since his revelation in the hallway. Thranduil had calmed himself and retired to his rooms. Once there he had mulled over all that he had witnessed. The evidence was clear and bare. Nothing attempted to hide the signs in subterfuge or diversions. Again, not what he'd expected. Thranduil had fully expected the end of his time to be embedded in a web of lies and confusion. Instead, it was raw and exposed. However, Thranduil was a king. He would meet this challenge head on, with all the dignity and honor his race demanded. Yet, this was not his only trouble. Legolas, he had always imaged at his side should the prophecy come to pass. These dwarrows had changed that, and for that reason Thranduil cursed the existence of dwarrows once more.

"My son. You cannot help them by sitting here. Retire to your rooms for some proper care and rest." Thranduil's words were softly said but the meaning was firm.

Legolas shot a glance at Bifur who continued to snore softly. Then his green eyes rested on his father's appearance.

Few would notice the change in Thranduil, but Legolas saw it clearly. His father was deeply troubled. Legolas resisted the urge to look away from his father's searching stare. Legolas assumed it was due to the brothers and the chaos and death their appearance in Mirkwood had caused. He felt annoyance rise in his heart. The death of his dear friends, Tauriel and Eluren were not the fault of the brothers nor the hobbit. The cause of this calamity was the raugon and the spiders, threats they had never fully addressed.

"I was resting. I will continue to do so here. I do not need to be in my rooms, I prefer to be here when my friends awake." Legolas explained in a put upon voice.

Thranduil expected Legolas stubbornness. It didn't make it easier to experience.

"I will watch over them. I insist you retire to your chambers." Thranduil replied quickly.

Legolas set his jaw and snuggled deeper into the cushions. "I prefer to remain. Thank you father for your concern for MY well being."

Thranduil heard Legolas stress on the word. He began to speak when Legolas uncharacteristically interrupted him.

"Fili and Kili are MY friends whom I have given an oath too. I will see to their reunion as promised." Legolas added his voice laden with agitation.

Thraduil resisted the urge to sigh, "They are together now. They do not need you hovering over them." His son was being purposely stubborn. After such a long day, Thranduil found himself with little patience for his child's flare of temper.

Legolas gave his father a glare. "Father, I appreciate your concern for myself. However, I meant what I said. I will not dishonor my vow to them, nor will I show them any discourtesy. They deserve to have me here when they awaken. I will look after their needs as long as they are guests in Mirkwood."

Thranduil drew back from the implied insult. "You do not trust me to see to their well being." He stated Legolas round about insult clearly.

Legolas felt color spring to his cheek, he did not want to have this discussion here in front of his friends. "I do not." He said it before he could stop the words from slipping out, despite his own desire not to escalate this.

Thranduil narrowed his eyes at his only son. Such disobedience! Legolas had never been so bold. "I have given my word. Kili was declared an elf friend tonight."

Legolas at least had the good graces to looked surprised at the announcement, but his next words were sharp and cut Thranduil. "You've given your word before, thousands of his people died and we did nothing. We swore an oath to be neighbors, to assist each other in time of need."

Thranduil sucked in a breath as Legolas cast off his blanket and stood to face his father. "Mirkwood did not come to their call."

Thranduil's words shifted to Sindarian, they were low and angry. "Our people could not have saved the dwarrows from their greed! The disaster they faced from the dragon was one of their own making. Dwarves suffer from greed and avarice. Ever has it been since the dawn of time! It has resulted in the death of our own. I will not sacrifice elven lives for such base creatures. Never again!"

Legolas did not even flinch. "We didn't have to face Smaug to help their people. Fili and Kili's people died from starvation, from exposure. They begged for aid. We refused. You refused." Legolas pointed a finger at his father's chest. "Your oath meant nothing. Who is the base creature then?"

Thranduil slapped his son so hard, that Bifur snorted and arose from his slumber. He blinked in surprise at the sight of the two noble elves lost in a fierce fight before him.

Thranduil felt the blood rush to his head in his fury. "You will not speak to me in such a manner. I am your father, but more importantly, I am your King. You would do well to remember that. I will no longer tolerate your behavior. You will offer your proper obedience to your King."

Legolas eyes burned with anger. He did not bow under his father's formidable glower. "My Lord King, the Prince of the Realm respectfully requests to remain in the healing rooms with those under his protection. The Prince insists on his divine right to fulfill an oath of honor. An oath of the type that my father taught me could have no higher meaning."

Thranduil's fury continued to mount as did his son's. The two appeared to escalate the argument even louder.

Bifur had had enough. The tired dwarrow had no clue what the angered words meant. However, he knew it involved Fili and Kili. They were his to watch now, he was their protector, appointed by the Lady herself. He stood up and wandered over the father and son. He surprised them, so wrapped up they were in their words.

"Durin's beard! You two shut up already! They need their rest." Bifur turned to Legolas. He shoved the boy back into the chair unexpectedly. "You stay. Kili trusts you." Then he swiveled to Thranduil. He took the tall elf by the hand and began to led him to the door.

"You and your boy can fuss it out later. You're elves. Save your bitching when you can throw pillows at each other. Fili and Kili don't need you draining their energy." Bifur growled unhappily. Thranduil was a king, but not one that had ever impressed this humble dwarrow. Bifur did not blanch at the death stare he was graced with. 'What would the old elf do? Throw them in the dungeon, AGAIN. Bah!'

Thranduil pulled his hand away from the dwarf. Bifur didn't give him the chance to speak, "Your boy has the most sense of any elf I've ever met. Not because he knows you did the Longbeards wrong. He can see things differently. New paths, new directions. You're stuck in the mud."

"Dwarf you tread on dangerous ground and are at risk." Thranduil threatened.

Bifur rolled his eyes. "I speak the truth and you know it. You're just afraid of it. Like Radaghast said. We will leave and you can go back to hating us for stupid things done thousands of years ago. You let females and babes suffer so you can hang onto your pride. So much for the first born! But dwarrows had to change their ways as well. Not without blame are we either! Thorin had to learn his lesson and it almost cost him all he held dear! You must learn too. But do it outside this room!"

Thranduil looked up and realized Bifur had maneuvered him to the doorway. "Good night your highness!"

A second later Thranduil found him on the outside of the wooden door wondering what the hell had just happened and not at all pleased by the development.

For a brief moment, he considered sending in guards. He would send Bifur to his room and have Legolas escorted to his chambers. It would show he was still very much in charge.

Healers came to the king, his assistant by his side in an instant. The orders were on the tip of his tongue. No dwarf would order him around in his own realm. However, he did not.

The long held burden of doubt and regret gripped his heart and held firm. Many hours of meditation had been spent on his actions the day Smaug attacked. He believed his actions had been in the best interest of his people on that day. They would not have survived an attack on the great fire drake. He would always stand firm on that decision.

However, Thranduil never intended for the dwarrow to not turn to them for help in their escape from the dragon. He would have welcomed their survivors. Offer them food and rest in the realm of the Greenwood.

The request for that aid never came. Thranduil did not believe the dwarrow to be so stupid and petty to allow their elderly, youth and females to suffer so.

It wasn't until much later that the king fully understood what his actions meant to the dwarrow. They believed Thranduil and Mirkwood to reject them in full. In his arrogance, Thranduil had not sent messengers to offer them aid. He had wanted them to beg for help.

They did not. Pride damned those souls. Pride and greed, from dragon, from dwarrow and from the elven kin.

So for a few long moments Thranduil mulled these thoughts over in his head. The past, the future colliding in a dark miasma of pain and regret.

Thorin had suffered from the dragon sickness which blinded him to all that mattered, his friends, his people and his family. He almost brought down doom and destruction upon all that he loved. Somehow, that infuriating and stubborn dwarrow had pulled his heart away from the curse. Thranduil now understood he was under one which was equally damning. Had been for a very long time. Could he follow Thorin and throw this off? Could he make amends before his end came?

He thought of Legolas and his actions, so unlike the boy he had raised. He had held such mirth when his spies told him of Kili's and Thorin's spats. No such thing would happen between him and Legolas. Yet, it just did. Damn his pride. His own arrogance.

The great elven king therefore said nothing to his waiting servants. Instead, he turned silently and departed to his own chambers to contemplate the evening's events further.

////////////////////

Kili awoke abruptly. "Fili! Run! I'm coming!" The dwarrow sat upright and was half out of the bed before Legolas caught him.

Legolas gathered his friend gently in his arms. "Kili, it is alright. Fili lies beside you! Look!"

Kili's brown eyes were huge in fright and need. He grasped his friends arms tightly. Kili turned his head to where the elf motioned. There, just a few inches away was Fili.

Fili was alive! He could see his chest rise and dip. His face was no longer covered in dirt or reddened from fever.

"Fili!," Kili cried. He let go of Legolas and instead turned to Fili. "Oh Thank Mahal! Brother, you live!" Kili instantly burrowed into Fili's side and buried his face in Fili's long golden locks.

Bifur awoke and shuffled over. "He just needs some rest. You both do!"

Fili stirred in his sleep. "Kee."

Tears streamed down Kili's face, "I'm here. You're gonna be alright!" He gently kissed Fili's brow.

Fili grunted. "Missed you." His eyes did not open. He was still too tired. But he felt Kili, could smell him next to him. His body relaxed into Kili's touch.

"Me too. So much. But it's over. We're together and nothing and no one is gonna make us part again." Kili said quickly, words sliding over each other in his excitement.

Fili smiled for a brief second he saw Kili grinning like a fool over him. He touched the younger's cheek. Only peach fuzz tickled his fingers.

Bifur tugged on Kili's shirt. "Get him to drink this." He handed his prince a cup of water.

"Here, Fee swallow some water for me, kay?" Kili gently tipped Fili's head forward so his brother could drink without choking. Fili managed to drink most of it before his head dipped backward. Bifur took the cup from Kili.

Kili's smile lit up the room,"That's good. You rest now."

"You'll be here, right?" Fili asked sleepily.

"Right here, by your side. Promise. Sleep." Kili brushed golden hair out of Fili's face gently. "Love you."

"Me too." Fili managed before slumber caught him once more. His fingers curled around Kili's.

Kili held his brother tightly, staring at him without moving for a few minutes. "This is real, right? I'm not dreaming this?"

He turned to look at Legolas and Bifur in the dim light. They could see his raw need.

Legolas confirmed it for Kili, "It is no dream my friend. I swear it." Legolas smiled back at Kili. It was impossible not to be caught up in such joy.

Kili reached out for Legolas hand. He grasped it tightly. "Thank you Legolas. For what you have done for me on this day, I can never repay. I will ever be in your debt."

Legolas returned the touch, "I cannot accept it for I regret the hobbit is not with us."

Kili blinked in shock, "Bilbo. He isn't here. I thought." Kili looked about the room in frustration. In his focus on his brother, he neglected to wonder about Bilbo. He felt a wave of shame and worry seep into his heart.

Legolas shook his head. "I apologize my dear friend. For I have failed you. Bilbo was taken be a foul beast, called the raugon."

Kili shuddered, the happiness drained from his face. "Is he, is he dead?" Kili finally spoke the dreaded words. Bifur's attention turned to the prince. He too was concerned for the fate of the hobbit. He had asked, but no of the elves understood his questions.

Legolas grasped Kili's hand tighter. His face wearing an expression of regret and sorrow. "Fili believes him to be alive. However, the raugon killed many of my friends. Captain Tauriel and her men. One of my childhood friends Eluren died in my arms from the wounds received from the raugon. Only Fili and I managed to make it out alive."

Kili reached out and grabbed Legolas arm. Legolas found himself suddenly embraced by the affectionate dwarrow. Kili wrapped his arms around the elf firmly pulling him to sit beside him on the bed. "I'm so sorry, so very sorry for the loss of your friends. They didn't deserve it! Neither did Bilbo."

Legolas felt Kili's tears fall on his shirt. Legolas stiffly held himself in Kili's embrace at first. He was not used to such shows of affection since he'd reached adulthood. Dwarrows however, were very open about their feelings and were not embarrassed to show them amongst their own. Kili, though, he shared his emotions freely. Closing his eyes, Legolas relaxed and remembered his friends, the sorrow and emotion eroding away his stoicism. He was so tired of keeping it all behind carefully constructed shields. He allowed the tears to fall as Kili held firm.

"Legolas, I know of loss. My father and my mother were taken from me before I even got to know who they were. I lost playmates from illness, guardians to orcs and goblins. Friends to battle. It stinks and it never gets easier." Legolas nodded and pulled away from Kili. He wiped away the last tear. "You're older than me. I get that. But pain shared, it eases the burden to talk and stuff. I just know it does. Can't explain it. But you can talk to me about it. I'll listen."

Kili shook his head in sorrow. "Bilbo is dead. He was such a gentle soul. Oh, Uncle Thorin. He'll be heartbroken. All of the company will. This cannot be."

Legolas shook his head, "We did not find his body. It is possible the raugon kept him alive. Why, or for what purpose I do not know. Fili wanted to keep searching for him."

"But he got sick. You had to bring him here." Kili filled in for him.

Nodding, "We had no choice. Your brother almost drowned. He received many blows in the water from logs and debris. Then he was hit riding on Radaghast's sled in the forest. A tree limb broke his ribs."

Bifur handed Kili a cup of steaming broth, "Drink this while he explains. You must gather your strength as well before we go searching for Bilbo."

Kili turned to Bifur while accepting the broth. "Wait, Bifur. You think Bilbo might be alive too?"

"I'm not sure, but Radaghast is. He knows something important. He thinks Bilbo is alive. We need to talk to him in the morrow." Bifur answered.

Legolas looked at the elder dwarrow then swiveled to Kili for a translation.

"Bifur says Radaghast thinks Bilbo is still alive. If he is, we got to find him! He's like family! He'll be scared and lost and he's the best hobbit ever. We can't abandon him!"

Legolas gave Kili a slight grin, it was like Fili only Kili was much faster and well, hyper. "I swore to bring both your brother and Bilbo to you. I will help you find Bilbo."

Kili's look of relief made Legolas slightly smile, but his words were far different. "Thanks Legolas. You've been the best friend I could have asked for. You've already suffered much. I cannot in good conscious request you lose any more friends to our task."

Legolas shook his head, "I will not suffer my newest friends to face death at its destruction when that task should have been done ages ago. You will need a guide and assistance facing this monster. I am going with you. Together we will rescue the hobbit."

Bifur nodded in agreement. "Good lad. Stout heart you have. Now, Kili needs his rest. You need your rest. Tomorrow we make plans. Sleep now."

Bifur took the empty cup from Kili. He motioned Legolas to the chair. "Bifur says we'll plan tomorrow. We need to sleep now. All of us." Kili added, "He's like a mother hen. Best to go along with him or he'll fuss at us for hours."

Legolas raised an eyebrow as Bifur blew out the candle nearest Kili then began to arrange the blankets around the elf. Bifur grinned madly down at the elf and then ruffled his hair. "Sleep."

In the dim light, Legolas saw Kili mold himself to Fili once again. Bifur took up his spot and began to settle down. Somehow in the presence of these three dwarrows, Legolas found the turmoil in his mind lessen and a few minutes later, a calm acceptance wrapped around the tired elf.

Chapter Text

Nori wandered past the drunken miners. People scrambled to get out of his way. Normally, he would do his best not to draw attention to himself. Tonight was different. Under his breath, Nori cursed his stupidity. The first witch should have tipped the bitches' hands. The pattern was laid bare. But he'd been distracted, watching too many possible threads. They unraveled in his hands. The threat did not truly come from the Iron Hills. The whispers and coincidences had been cleaver subterfuge. Dain had idiotic advisors. They had grown fat and lazy, thinking the Longbeards no longer their 'friendly' rivals. Dain's wife also had plans for Erebor, but she was not a short term threat. Her child was not old enough and Dain was too set and old in his ways. Nori could deal with her later and what remained of the morons that had advised Dain. Nori wound down the dark alley. The cold night made his breath visible. He could feel the witch's eyes on him. Waiting for him to be alone, waiting for him to be venerable so she could strike. Tonight, he'd finally seen the threat. Once more the witch was operating underneath their noses and she'd been less veiled than the first. 'Durin's Beard', Nori wished he had waited longer to send the boy with the note. Thirty minutes longer, Thorin and the others would have been alerted to the entire plot. Nori cursed his impatience and stupidity once more. He would have to face the witch with a minimal amount of preparation and less backup. This time though, he'd be damned if he allowed the assassins to get close to the Durins. Fili and, thank Mahal, Kili were out of her reach. She'd waited too long to get to the Prince. When Kili unexpectedly rode for Fili, her plans to lure the young ruler were destroyed. Thorin was in his right mind finally. Which meant Thorin was now at risk. Because as stubborn and frustrating as Nori found the dwarrow, Thorin would fight Azog, Smaug and trolls single handedly to save the lives of babes. Ironically, had he still been ill with gold lust, Thorin would have been immune. Kili would have fallen for it. Of that, Nori had no doubt. Kili was still too young and trusting and damn it all, noble. When the witch made her demands, Kili would have complied. Because Kili understood what it felt like to be an orphan, remembered what it meant to go to be hungry, watch the adults around you starve so you could eat. If possible, Kili would be even angrier than Nori found himself now. This could have been Ori. Over and over that phrase turned over in his mind. It could have been Ori, his sweet, smart, innocent brother that he loved more than anyone else, who was in such dire danger. Instead, it was the younglings at risk, especially those of the less fortunate. This bitch was attacking them at their weakest point, the too few children of dwarrow race. And it was all being done with the face of kindness and generosity. But the witch had such pride and anger. She'd made a fatal mistake allowing her frustration appear. Nori had finally being paying attention in the right place. Tonight, he would send her to hell. / The child skirted the shadows with ease. He passed by the late leaving dwarrows without any noticing his presence. Spin skirted the remaining feast tables, crawling underneath. His hands reached out randomly, grabbing any usable scraps into a burlap bag hanging loosely about his shoulders. He paused, still hidden as adults shoved their chairs back into place. Silently, he gnawed on a pig bone that still had meaty bits left. After hearing the footsteps retreat, Spin finally made a break for the rapidly clearly hallways. From there, he dodged and skirted guards and others, none thinking to look up. In a fraction of the time it would take to walk, Spin found himself outside the giant walls of the Erebor fortress. Now he took his time and caught his breath. It was a short walk to where the miners from the Iron Hills camped. Even closer to the small hovel he, his sister and the others called home. It was very cold this evening and he hugged himself hoping that his family was snuggled deep underneath their blankets. The twins would be wrapped in each other's arms. Suri would be next to them, cradling black haired Jagger in her own embrace. He doubted she would be asleep though. Suri never truly rested until he came home. Spin hated stealing, he preferred to work, but he just couldn't earn enough for all the food for the others and the medicine Jagger needed. Spin did his best work at night, sliding in and out of deserted rooms, mingling with the drunks in the pubs. Tonight the Lizard had given him enough coin for many months! He'd be able to stop stealing for awhile and even buy some new boots for the twins. It felt good. Everything about tonight had been amazing. As he made his way home, Spin's mind was still lost to his meeting with the King. He had not expected to ever see the Legendary dwarrow so close, nor the fierce warrior Dwalin. The stories he'd heard about them! They filled his imagination. In the cold, hungry nights, he would retell the tale of their heroic return to Erebor. Often enough, it did the trick and the little ones would be distracted from their misery. His task was to deliver the Lizard's note without being seen. Deliver the note and disappear, the Lizard had told him. He'd given Spin so much coin, the boy's head had spun. However, Spin had failed. He'd seen the three great dwarrows and panicked. 'Couldn't he be thrown in jail for trespassing?' But they had seen him. They were even taller and more impressive than his imagination. Balin seemed so wise. Dwalin was so terrible and impressive, surely orcs ran from his mere presence. The King, Thorin, he had no words. Spin had heard he'd been ill. Yet, the King stood in the hallway more majestic than Spin had ever imagined. He overheard the Iron Hills miners complain about the king. He'd never believed a word of it. They were the repeated words of the Hag. 'Who else could have killed Azog? Who else could have brought together a mere group of 13 to kill a horrible dragon?' Thorin was a grand king, and his nephew, the prince Kili was a hero as well. The prince had ran the kingdom and he wasn't even a grown up. 'They'd let him go on a quest and even met with elves. He'd fought in a war and killed a witch! He used a bow and arrows. It was all so incredible.' It was under the Prince's control that his little family found their shelter and were even given blankets and new clothes. Spin had high hopes that more would be done for the people. Then he met the King who had spoken to him, a mere child, worse even, a thief. Thorin offered him and his family food and shelter. Spin could not believe his fate this night! How wonderful was this turn of events. "All of them", the king said in response to his question. The King he trusted and had imaged in his own mind was grander in person than Spin could believe. His father had fallen in the Battle of Five Armies. He'd left his children in the camp that had followed the soldiers. Spin and Suri had no other living relatives. Somehow, Jagger, Kern and Baran came under his care soon thereafter. They were orphans whose caretakers just disappeared one night. Spin knew he was not all that smart, but he was very agile and fast. He was too weak and young to be a miner, so he the red head did what came naturally to him. He'd spin and weave through people and places without anyone ever realizing he'd been there. It was a game at times. How much could he grab, what shiny thing could he sneak from the noses of the others. The fun came to screeching halt when so many depending on his ability. After months of stealing and living in the encampments of Erebor, it was the Lizard was the one who finally caught Spin. He'd caught Spin in the act of nicking some bread and cheese. Spin tried to squirm away, tried lying. The elder dwarrow had looked bored the entire time. Instead, he gave Spin some finer points of how not to be caught. He'd given the lad a bag of coins. The Lizard told him to be careful and he'd find Spin again soon. Spin had stood in the alleyway absolutely confounded about the entire meeting. Spin's hope continued to grow that life would get better. But she arrived. Spin called her the Hag. She showed up one day after Prince Kili had believed to been assassinated by that damned witch. The Hag was know by other names though. To many the elderly white haired dwarrowdam appeared to be generous, caring lady. Giving away her meager items of food and clothes to the poor children had fooled most of the population. The youth involuntarily shuttered thinking about the evil female. Spin kept his little family far away from her poisoned words. Once one of the twins, Kern had brought home bread and boiled eggs. When Spin discovered the true source was the Hag, he tossed the food out. He felt bad about making Kern cry, but he was afraid of anything that came from the evil dam. Shuddering, he remembered the night he accidently discovered the witch. The boy had ducked into the darkened tent evading some guards. In the dark as his eyes adjusted to a lone candle, Spin heard the scariest sounds of his entire life. The mutterings seethed with malice. The red headed youth hunkered down hidden between barrels and sacks of coal. Spin was too afraid to move, too scared to do more than breathe. His blue eyes beheld a female dwarrow. As she continued to whisper her foul language, the dam poured blood over her head. It was in stark contrast to her perfect white skin. Beads of the blood were absorbed into her body. With sickening pops and cracks her form changed to that of an elderly dam. All the time, Spin felt a cold seep over his body that seemed to suck out his breath and warmth. Shaking, the boy thought his life would end there. The evil female would find him and kill him. Briefly his terrified mind turned to his little sister, the other boys in his care. He barely breathed, dared not make a sound. His eyes watered, he was too frightened to blink. Once the transformation was complete, the dwarrowdam gasped in great pain. She fell in a heap onto the dirt floor. That's when reality burst into Spin's brain. RUN! It was all he could think of, run, and get as far away from this damned monster as he could. The child ran. It was cold and wet and he bumped into more than one adult. But he didn't trust any of them, even when they called out either in anger or to inquire about the youngster's state. Spin just kept his feet moving, wanting distance from what he'd seen. It was some time later before he stopped. Spin had found this tiny room in the old fortress in his first forays into the castle. No one else seemed to know of its existence. The boy fell to the floor his legs too weak to carry on and he cried for hours. He would not lead the witch to his sister, Suri or the boys. This was the only safe place he knew. Long hours passed before Spin was certain the Hag hadn't followed him. Spin returned to his scared sister and the others. They were all a mess in their fear they'd lost the only person in the world who cared and loved for them. Spin never told anyone what he had seen that night even though the images haunted his sleep. Spin decided he couldn't risk their lives. He didn't tell them what he'd seen. The boy did not have any adult who would believe him. Nor did the youth have anyone he trusted to keep his family safe. Instead he chose to never cross paths with the hag or have anything to do with her or her "treats". When spring came, Spin would find a way to get them back to the Iron Hills. The twins had relatives there, he'd could get them a proper home. He didn't want them to go. But he was doing a dismal job of caring for them. Then the Lizard reappeared a day ago. Looking hung over as usual. He'd found Spin listening in on his conversation tonight with a couple of the Lizard's usual drinking buddies from the Iron Hills. He'd ended his drinking with his lads and was at Spin's side before the youth could scamper away. Spin looked more haggard than usual, thinner. Spin always gave his food trying to spare the younglings from hunger. They needed the food more. Little Jagger was always sick. The dark dwarf ling was barely 7 and the youngest of the group. He rarely talked and when he spoke it was only to Suri, Spin's sister. Tonight though, the Lizard talked to him directly asking him all sorts of strange questions. He'd heard of the Grandmother as the majority of people called her. Spin had been asked why he was so thin, why wasn't he taking advantage of the dam's food? What had happened to the coin he'd given the boy? He hadn't meant to let anything slip. Spin usually was so careful not to reveal anything about himself or the others to strangers. But the taller red head was so confident and he just made Spin feel safe. It was an entirely strange sensation. He knew the Lizard was a follower of the King and the Prince. Spin felt in his gut, the elder red head would hate the poisoned words the witch was spreading. Spin's instincts screamed at him. The Lizard could be someone he could tell the truth to. However, he held an image of Suri being in the evil female's clutches stopped him from revealing the total truth. Spin told the Lizard he didn't trust the hag. But he did tell the fellow thief, because who else could the Lizard be?, about the hag's devious words. She handed out treats but always had back handed insults about the Prince or the King. Spin revealed he was scared of her and how easily the stranger had become so friendly with all the children. The dwarrow had listened, nodding occasionally. Gently probing for more information until Spin clammed up. Then he told Spin to return to the pub in a hour. He would have a job for him and he'd pay in gold. Tonight had been one miracle after another. Spin was counting his good fortune and thanking Mahal when the blow came. He never saw the hand of the Hag as she stuck him down from behind. The child fell still believing dreams did come true and wishes could be granted. / Nori knew he was being followed. This person was no amateur however, unlike previous shabby attempts. Frowning, Nori did not believe the witch would make her move so clearly out in the open. She seemed more the meticulous planner. Maybe she did not truly know who he was. Nori discarded the notion. That would be too lucky. Nori stopped for a second scratched his nose then suddenly double backed down another side alley way. The figure followed startled by the sudden movement. Nori caught a good glimpse. Huge lout, scary sort. Not the type to be taken out by one nimble thief. Nori melted into shadow. The would be assassin rushed down the alleyway. His footsteps were still careful, quiet. He halted suddenly, realizing this place was a perfect place for an ambush. In one fluid movement he pulled his grand weapon. The dwarrow spun on his heels just in time to stop Nori's blade from slicing into his thick neck. Metal against metal sounded in the still night. Nori took a step back well out of the angered dwarrow's reach. Of course it would be him. "Dwalin, you smelly troll! Leave me now or risk everything!" Nori grumbled lowly. He didn't need Thorin's lap dog nipping at his heel's this night of all nights. Dwalin barely lowered his great axe. "Idiot thief! Luring a poor child into this night. You must help me find him." As the warrior lost the boy's trail, Dwalin felt a sense of creeping anxiety fill his soul. It wasn't frustration at losing the agile thief. Nori had given him plenty of experience in that area. No, this was something different. His warrior's instinct's screamed at him. There was malice here, a hunter on the loose. "Saving his life you great ox! Did you not read the damn note? Or is that beyond your limited skills?" Nori snapped back. He wasn't surprised Spin had lost Dwalin, the boy was almost as talented as Nori himself. Dwalin was tired and frustrated. Kili was gone on his mad chase to find Fili. Thorin was determined to find the lads. It was still an impossible job to keep the Durins out of trouble and safe. "If you weren't a necessary evil, I'd stomp your head to the dirt this night!" Nori rolled his blue eyes. They really did not have time for their usual routine of insults and threats. "Shut up you balding oaf. We have a witch on our heels this night. She is following my every move. Dwalin frowned and looked around, "Where? Show her to me so that her neck shall met my steel." Finally, Dwalin could act. His blood sang with the thought. "Great plan. Always thinking, that's you." "Quite pissing about. Where is the bitch?" Nori didn't stop the sigh. He began to walk back out of the alley and looked around. "I was in the process of finding her lair. It is somewhere near here. We can't just kill her this time." Dwalin grunted, "Why in the name of Durin not?" Nori did not hide his disgust, "Because this time they've poisoned the children. At least 15 or more and she has the antidote." Dwalin's eyes grew huge in anxiety. He grabbed Nori's cloak and instantly pulled the thief close. "What treason is this? What doom threatens babes?" Gone was the rivalry, the natural tension between the two. Instantly , Dwalin was Nori's to command. Nori noticed the shift and dropped his owned aggression. He shook his head in sorrow. "I'll explain the details later, but it's important you let me go on by myself. Watch me from afar. But tonight I have forced her hand. She wants my head. The witch will try to end me before I get within Erebor's walls. She must or else I have doomed the children to a painful end."

Chapter Text

Thorin let his body sink into the warm water. It was one of his deepest pleasures to soak his worn, battle scarred form. Erebor had naturally hot springs. Some of which was diverted to the king's private chambers back in the age of Thror. His grandfather would allow other members of the royal family to partake of the heated waters. It was one of the true luxuries of his former youth he had missed the most.

He allowed himself to sink under for a few precious seconds. The water flowing in his thick dark hair. Then he sat up and spit out the water, pushing back his now sodden locks. Leaning back against the marble edges of the tub, he willed his body to relax. His arms were criss crossed with a score of scars, most from battle some from the forge. His legs faired only slightly better. Unlike Dwalin, he only had a few tattoos. His body was marked with his failures, not with his few victories. He bore the names of his lost loved ones on one arm. Often he would stare at their names and pray no more joined them. In the lovely heat of the calm waters, tense muscles began to unwind.

His mind was a far different matter. Tomorrow, Dain would leave and so would he. Thorin had understood Balin's objections. They had just fought politically tooth and nail to keep the mountain under the rule of Durin. Now, he was going to abandon it to ride out after his nephews and Bilbo. He told himself repeatedly that wasn't what he was doing.
The threat of the witches remained. Two more were out there, plotting the death of the Durin line. If naught else, Thorin believed they would follow him from Erebor. Because he'd make certain he was proper bait. Instinctively, Thorin knew he was the biggest target, the stag they desired to take down the fiercest. Thorin would reel them into his own trap. He would find a way to end their wicked lives. They would threaten his boys no more. Thorin understood he failed them repeatedly on the quest. In this, he would not accept defeat. Never again would he see either Kili or Fili on their funeral slabs. This was an oath he swore to their Maker.

Then was going after Erebor's true rulers, Fili and Kili. He had not shared this decision with either Balin or Dwalin. However, Thorin knew he was no longer worthy to rule the Longbeard clan. Fili, his lion, had never succumbed to the gold lust for even one second. His soul was pure from the Durin curse of lust for wealth. Fili was the one who brokered for peace with humans and elves alike. It was because of Fili's great heart and humble words the company and their very foolish uncle survived Azog's attack. Erebor would thrive under his nephew's rule.

Kili, his little bird, would be right there beside his brother. Only a fool ever tried to part the brothers. By banishing Fili, Thorin had become the greatest idiot in all of Middle Earth. But, in one corner of his mind, he was proud for the most unique member of the Durin clan. Because in his brief rule, Kili had shined spectacularly. Fili was always a precious gem, but Kili's worth was always covered and hidden away. Or maybe it was just Thorin who couldn't see it, because Fili always claimed it was there. It didn't matter anymore. Neither child had nothing to prove, not to the world and certainly not to their dishonored uncle.

He rubbed his tired blue eyes. Images of Fili and Kili dancing in his vision. He'd seen them both born. Watched as they took their first steps. It was by his hand they were guided from babes to teens to the young dwarrows they were. Thorin shrugged, wondering for the thousandth time, how they managed to turn out so well. Despite him possibly being the worst possible person to raise the boys, Fili and Kili had proven themselves to be noble dwarrow. Far better than their old uncle. Thorin would spend the rest of his days in shame, knowing how poorly he had treated them.
Kili was still furious with him. Thorin would never forget the images of Kili shouting at him with such anger, such a sense of betrayal. Even now his heart clenched at the memory. Bilbo's words rang in his head. Bilbo's finger pointing in his chest sharper than any blade. "You have managed what trolls, orcs, goblin and dragon's could not. You have separated Fili and Kili."

Damn his soul. He'd had not listened to a word of his hobbit. "Mahal, had he really tried to kill him?" Would he have shaken the life out of the gentle soul from his greed? Although much of the gold lust was a fevered dream, Thorin remembered Bilbo's wounded expression in the healing tent. Before his eyes, the king could see Bilbo lose all respect for him, all affection, as Thorin managed to fail his friend once last time.

Thorin understood if the boys did not forgive him, but he would make certain the crown was Fili's. His boys would finally have the heritage of Erebor as theirs. It was truly all he'd ever desired. A mountain over their head, no more living as scavengers. Fili and Kili would have the home they truly deserved. Then he would leave, not allowing his taint to spread over their rule.

He would travel to the Shire.

Thorin would attempt to spend the rest of his life trying to make amends to Bilbo. The selfish part of his soul told him the hobbit would eventually forgive him. Bilbo was truly an amazing being with depths of courage and understanding that Thorin did not possess. Maybe with enough time, with honest words and deeds, Thorin could find a way to get back a tenth of the lost respect in Bilbo's heart. He had to try.

Thorin rubbed out the water in his beard with a sigh. "How do you fix the biggest mistake of your life?" Words seemed too ineffectual. But it was all he had left. A thousand apologies and more he would make to the three of them.

///////////////////////
Spin awoke to the place of his nightmares. As his eyes fluttered opened, the pain could not conceal the horrible. He was back in the witch's lair. The same darkened, smelly hole. Only this time he was bound by both hand and foot. His hat long gone.

The Hag had her back turned to him. For a minute, all the child could do was shudder in fear. He tried to not make a sound. Noises came from the dark figure, words he could not make out. The sounds of bottles clinking, liquid boiling. She was engrossed in her work.

Maybe she would forget him.

He blinked as his tear stained face tried to see a way out of this old dark tent. Spin had left before, he could do it again. He just had too.

The boy started to squirm toward the edge of the tent. Progress was slow. Spin did not want to make any sound. The floor of the tent was covered in various rugs and great deal of debris. As time passed the young dwarf grew bolder. He wiggled closer to the edge. Spin thought he could hear the sound of people passing outside. His heartbeat rang in his ears as a rat ran over his bound hands. It ran up his arm, its claws digging into the boy as it scurried over the boy's body. Spin stopped his shriek of alarm. He bit down on his lip instead drawing blood.

Spin squirmed trying to rock the vermin off his shoulder. It finally fell without biting him. Spin turned back to the edge of the tent.

The hag was in front of him. Suddenly, she filled up the entirety of his sight, her wrinkled flaps of skin draping down from hollow checks. Grabbing the boy by his neck, she single handedly lifted the child off his feet.

Spin gagged as his breath was instantly cut off. His blue eyes bulged with fear.

"Your blood. It smells...good. You would make a tasty meal." She continued to hold him close as if she was inspecting a rare jewel.

Spin tried to squirm, wiggle his rapidly weakening body from the witch's hand. Nothing worked.

His eyes began to roll to the back of his head. Blackness was swallowing him whole. The boy wanted to cry out, strike back, anything. But it was useless.

She tossed him across the room. The boy crumbled into some old wood boxes, a broken chair. He tried to gulp in air as she strode across to him. Spin tried to squirm away but his body betrayed him. He was too weak.

Once more the hag lifted him up off the floor, but this time it was by his greasy red hair. She once more held the child close. Spin gasped in agony, but his throat was burning from the earlier strangling.

Her right eye twitched uncontrollably. Then her dark gray tongue lashed out, like that of a great reptile. "Sweet meat." She muttered.

Spin glared back at her. He couldn't strike back, couldn't even scream. But he'd meet his end with his eyes open, just like his father had told him all brave dwarrow warriors did. Yet, Spin didn't feel brave, he didn't want to die.

"You have other uses this night. There are others who will fit my need." She dropped him. He fell once more like stone.
The hag walked back to black wooden table lit by long yellow tallow candles. Spin wanted to curl up into a tight ball. Hold the world back by shutting his eyes. Instead, he shakily tried to get to his feet.

"The Lizard favors you. Noble name for a stupid dwarrow. He is no lizard. Just a male. Another dumb piece of meat." The witch rummages around her belongings for a brief second. She selects an item and turns back to the young thief.
She grabs him by his face, one clawed hand digging into his freckled flesh. "Now you are in my service. You have something which I seek. I know how hard you have avoided me. My treats. You keep your little precious family from my sight, but not from my knowledge."

Spin's head jerks up and her words.

She jiggles a black velvet bag in her hand the size of a loaf of bread. "You will do my bidding. If you fail me, I think I'll start with, oh wait, what is his name? The youngest babe. Jagger. Fresh, sweat meat with tasty fat. He'll be very, very good."

Spin's vision turned into a red haze. Never before had the boy been so angry, not when his mother died, not when his father fell in battle. This time he did scream with a primal shout of pure hatred.

Chapter Text

Thorin tried to let his mind clear, allow himself a rare moment of peace in his own bed. He didn't expect Dwalin to return anytime soon. He could be searching out Nori for quite some time. Everything was in place for their departure, at least as much that could be done without alerting Dain and his court. Who knew when he'd have such a luxury again?

His repose lasted less than a few hours. His sleep was interrupted by very loud banging on his door. Thorin frowned, rubbed his tired face and threw off his blankets. Tossing on a robe, he walked to the door.

"My King, urgent news." Came a gruff voice after the banging stopped.

"Password?" Thorin asked, still somewhat miffed about the whole procedure Kili had thought up during his rule. He was certain Nori held a role in it.

"Mushrooms are tasty." was the awkward reply.

Thorin sighed. Kili had used members of the company as his inspiration. Obviously, he'd been thinking of the hobbit that day.

Thorin released the heavy bolts and locks, allowing the door to open. Two guards were beside a petite dwarrowdam. She was young, still not in her 70's by the look of her. She still had no beard and her golden locks were woven in a crown of braids around her head. Small dark freckles covered her nose and cheeks. Along with the long light blue smock, her status as a healing apprentice was obvious. Her green eyes were red with weariness and unshed tears. She curtsied deeply with grace. Her eyes kept downward, voice unsteady, she coughed then spoke softly.

Thorin blinked, he'd met her before. She was one of his people from Ered Luin. Damn it though, he could not remember her house or the young one's name. His heart fell at the sight of the young dwarrow. Clearly some calamity had befallen. For one brief second, Thorin became selfish, begging Mahal to spare his too few friends and kin.

"Excuse me, your Highness. Lord Oin has sent me from the sick wards. Several children have fallen quite ill." Her shaking hands wound into her apron. Her voice trembled at her next words. "Lord Oin believes them poisoned."

Thorin stared hard at the young lady. Her proclamation swept over his mind and his heart skipped several beats. Nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath. His guards began loud unhappy mutterings. Thorin did not give into the rage now burning through his heart. His voice almost cracked before returning to its deep rumble, "How many? Does he know who is behind this cowardly attack?"

She looked up at her king's low, dark tone, before rapidly looking down again. "12, but we, I mean Lord Oin expects many more. Parents began arriving at the healing wards a few hours ago." Trying hard to conceal her trembling, she shoved her hands in her pockets.

"Twelve!!" Thorin shouted. His face paled at the staggering number. It was a third of the children within the mountain at his last count. 'This could not be happening, this could not be!'

She swallowed and nodded, "Yes, my Lord. Most of them are recent arrivals or those who belong to the miner's kin. My Lord Oin has requested your presence at your earliest connivance. If he knows who is so vile, he did not tell me, sir."

Thorin felt an anger sweep in his soul. This was a blinding white rage. He knew at once who was behind it all. One of the witches, it had to be. Such a dark price for the blood of a Durin. Thorin was trembling with fury, but his voice was firm and commanding. "Awake Lord Balin and the rest of my advisors at once. Have Balin, Gloin and Dori sent to the healing wards. The others are to await me in my council chambers." Thorin commanded one of the guards. "Place the guard on full alert. If these children have been poisoned, the ones behind it will rue this day with the last of their breath." He demanded of the other.

Each nodded, eager to do anything to assist. A third guard replaced the other two. Thorin's attention returned to the messenger. She still shook and looked very lost. "What is your name?"

The blonde finally snuck a hasty glance up at her king.

"Meri, daughter of Grundur, my Lord." Thorin realized where he'd seen the child before. She had played with Fili and Kili many years ago before the Fili had to sent on his path toward kingship. One of the precious few females born in the first years after their exile.

A memory of several young dwarrows cavorting in a large puddles after weeks of rain.

The rain had been especially long that spring. Everyone, not just the younglings desired to be out of their humble homes. When at last the warm winds blew the last of the rain clouds away, Ered Luin was dotted with multiple mini lakes and large puddles.

Thorin and Dwalin had been meeting with some human farmers. They had received their payment for sharpening and fixing their farming implements. The two old friends walked casually into the center of the dwarf settlement. They were surprised to see the children's teachers nowhere about.

Instead all of the younglings were cavorting in the dirty water without a care in the world. For the youngest generation born under sky and sun, these shallow waters were a new playground. Every single dwarrow child found themselves in these gentle waters. Meri and another lass, had been making mud pies decorated with dandelions and leaves. Kili was covered in mud head to toe with the muck and the weeds declaring himself to be a frog. The imp was leaping about as if a bee had stung his bottom. Fili was leading the other boys chasing him, laughing and screaming in delight. All of them tossing great chunks of mud at him and one another. Even little Ori had managed to be without his elder brother. He sat in the mud puddle, carefully piling thick oozy chunks of dirt and rock into a watery castle.

Kili spied his uncle and Dwalin quickly. Both of them were simultaneously amused and annoyed. The sight of such joy though was hard to ignore and they felt smiles win over any scowl of disapproval. Instantly, Kili devised a clever plan. He could escape his pursurers by seeking the shelter of adults.

Thorin approached the dwarflings catiously. He had no desire to end up in that muck. Dwalin, normally beside him, stood carefully behind his friend. Thorin shook his head and shouted for Fili and Kili. He needed to know where their guardians were.

The muddiest child of the group suddenly turned suddenly. A second later, Kili greeted Thorin by leaping straight at him. Thorin was wide eyed as the dirty child almost landed in his arms. Thorin dodged the ten year old only to be taken by surprise by the other brother. Fili was similarly dripping the brown ooze. Like the others, Fili had a difficult time trying to catch his nimble brother. His uncle was never his target. Fili never meant to tackle Thorin from the side. He'd been aiming for Kili, honest!

Off balance, Thorin had tumbled into the large puddle himself. Dwalin had instantly fallen into hysterical laughter.

When Thorin finally sat up, now looking like his precious children, Dwalin had to hold his sides and tears were falling. It didn't help that Thorin's own shout of surprise had brought others to check in on the noise. Thorin grumbled as he wiped the wet mess from his eyes. Kili giggled and leapt at his uncle once more.

This time, Thorin didn't bother to move. Kili was in his arms and wiggling like a frog, yelling "Ribbet!" over and over again at the top of his lungs. Fili had gotten a bear hug on Thorin's neck, he was laughing too. Thorin finally gave in and joined the two. His kingdom had too few children, not enough muddy imps causing chaos. "

Meri, does Lord Oin require anything that you can think of?" He kept his voice calm even though he felt anything but. Raging about would not be helpful. He had no desire to alert Dain to this as of yet. Not until he had further information.

Shaking her head, "Yes sir. He has sent another to the kitchen's requesting broth and mint."

"Very well, return to assist Lord Oin. Tell him I will be there in minutes. The resources of the entire kingdom are at his disposal." Thorin held her with his gaze. He patted the child on her shoulder. "Oin has worked miracles in the past. Stay strong Meri, hold on to hope."

Meri rewarded her king's efforts with small smile, her form straightened. "I shall sir." Meri started to rush off muttering, "Thank you," before leaving.

Thorin turned to his two guards, both looked too young to be in the guard already. Each was trying to smoother their inner instinct to charge off after the villain, but there was no one yet to direct their fury. "I will dress, then we shall head to the Healing Wards." He informed them before heading back into his room.

Thorin returned in minutes. Without words, he stormed from his rooms and down to the chaos that awaited him.

Chapter Text

Fili awoke with a start. His body arched upright with the need to move. Blue eyes flashed around the room, wild eyed. He remembered a rush, a frightful speed to get to somewhere, to get to someone. His breath caught in his throat for a moment, as his hands grabbed out to steady his suddenly spinning head.

Sure hands caught him. Their warmth spread through his body. "Fee, its alright. You're safe."

Fili turned his head, even in the dim light the smile on Kili's face was unmistakable.

"Oh, Mahal, it was no dream." Fili's voice was dry, but the emotion behind his words was clear. "It is you. Really you."

Kili nodded, "This time I'm real. You're real. We're together. Not just in each other's heads." Kili's words rushed out in a whisper. Fili blinked as Kili leaned forward to place his head against his elder brother. Kili closed his eyes for a moment, savoring having his brother in his arms. Gently, he guided his brother back to a reclining position.

Fili reached out with a hand to grip Kili's arm. He did not want to lose the physical contact so soon. Kili was of like mindset. He took Fili's hand in his.

With his free hand, Fili waved at the room. Everything was still fuzzy, but the details didn't matter to Fili at this moment.

Kili saw his confusion mixed with Fili's joy at seeing Kili once more. "Yeah, I know. After all these months. But it's happened. And no one is splitting us up again against our will. Ever." Kili added firmly.

Fili nodded his head in agreement then stopped. In an instant everything came rushing back into his memory and every inch of his big brother instinct's kicked into high gear.

"You came after me." Fili's grip on Kili's hand became vice like.

Kili shrugged, "We should whisper. Bifur's asleep." He knew what path Fili was venturing on. His shifted his gaze momentarily at the dozing elder.

"Kili DURIN. What the HELL

"SShhhh. You'll wake the elf." Kili interrupted. He shot a glance toward Legolas. An evil thought crossed his mind that the elf prince was pretending to be resting.

Fili was not about to be deterred. "WHERE YOU THINKING?" Fili shot back up to a sitting position, his blue eyes burrowing into Kili's warm brown ones.

Kili dropped his fake concern of sleeping friends. "I swore it. When I saw you leave and I could not follow because of my stupid legs. There is no place you can venture that I will not follow." Kili's voice no longer held any of it's lighter tone.

"Following me into death! That is something I do not want! Kili, I would not have you end your life because of me!" Fili's grip tightened. "Mahal, Kee. You willed yourself dead to follow me. Swear to me, swear you will do no such thing again." Fili's voice took on a desparate edge. Fili knew twice now, he'd been spared. Each time, he had felt Kili's touch in his mind.

Kili gave Fili a small sad smile. "It's not your choice, but mine."

Their eyes met. Fili recognized the fire in his younger brother, the strong will he possessed. Nothing Fili could say would dissuay his brother. Fili was both touched and saddened at the same time.

Fili started to speak, but Kili continued on. "We've been together every day of our lives. Until Thorin banished you and my world fell apart. Being your little brother was the only real role in this world I've ever embraced. But I learned much in our time apart. I discovered I could function, even manage to behave like an adult. I grew up some." Kili's gaze dropped from his brother's face. "I found out what it was like to walk in your boots. All the responsibilities you've been faced with since you were born. I'm the spare and didn't face the scrutiny or the demands. Then suddenly, it was thrust on me." Kili looked back at Fili's face seeing his brother's concern still war with his anger at Kili's decision.

Kili sighed and reached out for one of Fili's braids. "The only way I could manage was try to act how I thought you would."

Fili interrupted, "Kee, but I

"Fili, I'm making a mess out of what I'm trying to say. I lost faith in Thorin. I had no faith in myself. The thought of you is what kept me moving forward. Of doing what I needed to keep the Kingdom running. I realized then that I stunk at it." Kili took a deep breath, then gave Fili a sad smile. "Don't worry tho, the place is still standing. Uncle's come to his senses. I was healed enough. I couldn't wait anymore, it was eating me up inside. So I left, just took off with Bifur here. He knew what I was going to do. Nothing was going to stop me from getting back to you. Death just seemed like one more obstacle. It wasn't what I was scared of."

Fili shook his tangled mane, "Oh, little brother," he grabbed Kili into his arms. Tears began to flow, "I don't deserve such loyalty or devotion. You are more precious to me than anyone or anything. I want to see you happy, not returned to stone with me."

Kili just returned the hug tighter, "I would never be happy again if you were gone."

Their hug was interrupted by a gruff and sleepy voice, "Mahal's Hammer. You dwarflings need to sleep. Never apart, bad thought. All know you brothers always together. Just rest. Tomorrow we need to find the hobbit." Bifur stood over the two.

Kili and Fili parted. Fili got a good look at Bifur. The elder dwarrow then reached over and tugged the golden one into his arms. He held the boy for a long minute, hugging him and rocking gently.

"Next time, do not fight a tree. They are harder headed than us," Bifur muttered.

They both laughed softly, as Bifur finally relinquished his hold. "This one did right well as king. Ruled well from the heart. Did you proud."

Fili cocked his head as he watched Kili blush from the compliments. "Of that I have no doubt. I'm certain he ruled Erebor wisely. After all, his heart has always been in the right place. No one could ask for a more loyal and caring Durin."

Kili's cheeks were now scarlet, "He exaggerated and you put too much confidence in me."

"Do you dwarves ever take a compliment? No wonder we prefer insults." Legolas gentle voice wafted in the darkness to the trio.

Kili laughed as Fili raised an eyebrow as the elf's droll humor.

"Legolas? You're here as well?"

"Obviously, I was concerned you'd get lost again, so I remained in your room in case you needed a guide." Legolas replied.

Kili grinned brightly, "We've got a sleep over, like the old days with Gimli."

Fili moaned. "I appreciate all your attention, but I'm fine."

Kili dropped his light tone, "You weren't earlier. We would not risk you a second time. Legolas offered to watch over you should a healer be needed instantly. I am extremely grateful for the Prince's hospitality and concern."

Fili gave everyone a fond glance, "I appreciate it, I really do, but I'm fine now. Everyone can stop worrying about me and think about Bilbo."

"And we will. In the morning. You are still recovering," Kili told his brother firmly.

Fili snorted, "When did you get put in charge?"

Kili gave Fili a smug smile, "Of you? When you lost your fight with a tree and a river. You get to rest."

Fili rolled his blue eyes, "Is that an order from my prince?"

Legolas crossed his arms and stared down at his friends, "From two. I agree with Kili. Sleep is the best for you. I have my friends already preparing for our journey to rescue your friend. There is nothing more for you, or Kili, for that matter, to do this eve."

Fili held up his arms in surrender as Bifur nodded his agreement vigorously, "Fine. I can take a hint."

"More like a bludgeoning," Kili muttered.

Fili gave Kili a dark glare, "Not helping." His shoulders dropped with his exhaustion but he continued, "Just, I, well, thanks to all of you. I really appreciate you saving my hide."

Bifur came forward, "Good, all welcome. Go to BED." He began to lower Fili down as Kili adjusted the covers.

Legolas spoke, "Rest tonight my friend. I will go and make sure the preparations are proceeding while you sleep."

"Thanks," Fili replied as Kili was tucking in the blankets. Bifur touched the blonde's arm gently before leaving the two. He blew out the lone candle as he walked by.

Fili stared at the ceiling as his eyes tried to focus in the dark. He felt Kili moving beside him, still attempting to make Fili more comfortable.

"I'm fine, Kee."

"Oh, I just wanted to be sure."

Fili felt Kili settle into his own side of the bed. A thousand questions tumbled in his brain. How was Kili really? How did he survive Thorin's madness, how did Thorin get cured? What was Erebor like? Most of all, if Kili had really had been in his head when he faced death, then that meant Kili had died too. Fili gasped in realization and his arm shot out for his little brother.

Kili's voice was low as it broke the silence of the last few minutes. "I'm here. Don't dwell on it. Just don't."

Fili didn't know if Kili was reading his mind or talking about Bilbo.

"Whatever is out there, we'll face it together. Just like we were meant too." Kili took Fili's hand and squeezed it reassuringly.

"I know, Kee. I wouldn't have it any other way." Fili finally replied his voice heavy with emotion.

"Night Fee."

"Night."