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We Are Made Wise

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“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” ― George Bernard Shaw.



Gandalf sat. And smoked. And thought.

The longer he sat, the more he thought, and the more he thought, the more he smoked.

“If I did not know better, Mithrandir, I would think you destined to become a cloud!” came Glorfindel’s voice, preceding him out of the darkness like a beam of sunlight on an otherwise grey day. Gandalf raised a shaggy eyebrow at the bright elf, but it did nothing to dim his dazzling smile.

If Lady Galadriel was the light of the sacred trees, silver and softly golden, then Glorfindel was the sun—burning white and splendid.

“Destined,” Gandalf muttered around the stem of his pipe. “Hm.”

Glorfindel stepped up next to where Gandalf sat on an outcropping of rock, down in the yet uncleared section of mountain. It was a good place as any to sit and think—and he would be undisturbed, besides. Or—that had been the plan. Instead, he had Glorfindel towering above him—at easily seven feet, the elf could do little else—frowning an exaggerated pout.

“Better make that a thundercloud. What bothers you so, old friend?”

Gandalf’s eyes snapped to him. “Did I not just say?” he barked. “Destiny! The fate of the world!”

Glorfindel narrowed his eyes. “Young Gimli says we escaped darkness before, so it may yet be done again. Difficult, sure, and worrisome, but—“ he cut himself off, tilting his head. “That is not what has you so aggrieved.”

“No,” Gandalf said. “No it is not. It may be nothing—it is probably no matter.”

“And how often has that truly been the case?” Glorfindel asked.

Gandalf scowled with little heat—just once in his life, he’d like to be wrong.

“It is said, if any are again yet found, it would spell a final doom for Middle Earth,” Gandalf said, and he watched as Glorfindel’s eyes widened in understanding. “It may not be, for there was no ‘finding’ to be had, but—“

“Gimli forged a silmaril,” Glorfindel breathed, and closed his eyes, pained. “Oh, Elbereth!”

“Indeed,” Gandalf said, and placed his pipe once more between his teeth. “Let us pray that in our efforts to heal, we are not simply sealing our doom.”

***

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” Gimli muttered to himself. He had faced greater dangers than this--he had stood in the face of all the darkness of Mordor and was not cowed, for Mahal’s sake. Yet it did little good—his heart still hammered in his chest, his knees still trembled, and his guts still churned as if with water. In the mirror, his reflection was ashen and his eyes too wide.

Legolas appeared behind him, out of the shadows of their rooms. Gimli could not see Legolas’s face with the mirror angled as it was, but he could see his long, pale hands settle on his hair, could feel their weight, warm and comforting, on the sides of his head.

Gimli sighed. “I don’t think I can do this,” he said, and hated the way his voice broke, leaving his last words near whispered.

“You can,” Legolas said gently, his strange woodland vowels soft as flickering candlelight. “Because you are strong. You will because it is right, and you have never lacked the strength to do what is right.”

“Still," Gimli said, as Legolas’s hands fell to his shoulders. "I am glad you are with me, my husband. What strength I lack, I have ever been able to draw from your presence.” He reached up with both hands, placing them over Legolas’s, running his thick fingers over the delicate bones, knuckles, and the still-strange bumps of rings Gimli had found and resized for his husband over the long winter.

Several months had passed since the council of Erebor, and a harder winter than Gimli had yet to experience. The snows were deep around the mountain, and the wind biting cold. With no stores and the weather driving even the winter game away, there had been times that Gimli wondered who, if any of them, would live to see the spring. Their lives were indebted to King Thranduil, who continued to send what supplies he could to the Mountain. It was never enough, really, but the deliveries came always in the last possible moment, and they continued.

It was a trying time for the new King Under the Mountain, and Gimli was happy to say that Fili had risen to the occasion. He still had his fair share of doubts, and there were days when the cold was too much for Fili’s recent wounds. Used to being a more active dwarf, Fili hard took the days he could not get up from bed, and it often led to several more days when he could not escape the darkness in his own mind. (“Runs in the family,” Dain had joked darkly one night when supplies were such that they had naught but ale for their supper. “And Family is the answer for it,” Thorin had said, but his face had reamined hidden in shadow for some time after.)

All winter, the Lady Dis watched her son with sadness in her eyes, for she felt his pain as if it were her own, and Lord Dain would take up the mantle of regent and do what he could in Fili’s name until Fili could once again gain his feet. “I know what it’s like, to have your body betray you when everyone and their brother is looking at you to fix their problems,” he had said calmly to Kili one night, when, in his own frustration on his brother’s behalf, Kili had accused Dain of seeking the kingship for himself. Kill had paled, as if he had just remembered the beginning of Dain's own rule, and no more was said on the matter.

But there were times, when the cold was not so cold and the snow not quite so deep, when Fili’s golden head could be seen hobbling around the mountain. He walked with a cane now--the cane, elaborately carved from oak and inlaid with gold, had been a surprising gift from Thranduil—it had arrived at midwinter with a note that simply read “for the King.” There had been many at court who seemed inclined to take offense on Fili’s behalf, the cane was perfectly balanced and heavy—perfect for supporting the weight of a full grown dwarf with a bum knee. Somehow, Fili was sure, the cane would also make a perfect cudgel, if necessary. So, Fili had quietly—yet publicly—started to use the cane, and after a few days the murmurs had died down. Oin had said that Fili must use it for at least the year, but that he might find his need less over time, until he reached such an old age that his need became inevitable. Gimli did not think the lessening of need was happening at a pace Fili would have preferred. But Fili seemed glad enough to be up and around, and carried himself with a dignified sway with just a hint of his previous cocky gait. His mood had picked up considerably a few weeks before, when the few pregnant goats began to foal, and there was fresh goats’ milk and cheese and butter once more. The whole mountain seemed to waken, then, and take heart.

Spring was here; they would live to see the summer.

Spring thaw, however, meant travel could resume as the ways and paths cleared, and this new fellowship of theirs was due to depart in only a few days. Gimli’s hair had run out of time.

Gimli knew, despite the plan to have his hair cut and bleached of color, that he would not actually look all that hobbitish—he had too much hair, still, over his cheeks and on his arms. The only place where he didn’t have too much hair was his feet—and there, he didn’t have enough! He was taller than any hobbit he’d seen, even Pippin after his experiences with the ent draught, but hobbits were yet unknown in this part of the world, and many, when they saw dwarves, stopped looking as soon as they saw the beard. As, to date, only Gollum had ever truly seen Bilbo with the Ring, many had been quick to assure him that their ruse was unlikely to be discovered.

Further, as Gandalf had explained, the enemy did not see with true sight, and his servants’ gazes were forever darkened to all but shadow. As long as the ring remained unworn, the enemy could not truly see him.

It was not, in Gimli’s estimation, a good enough reason to hobble him for the length of their journey. In addition to his hair, Gimli was to wear hobbit-style clothing (no armor, save for a coat of mail under his vest), could carry no weapon but Sting (loaned to him, reluctantly, by Bilbo), and a pair of cleverly designed soft leather shoes meant to mimic hobbit feet. They wouldn’t hold to close scrutiny, but any who came that close would find themselves with other problems to deal with. Dori had made them, with help from Bombur, and they would hold as all true dwarven craft would, but they added length to his feet and though he had been practicing with them for most of a month, he still found them difficult to walk in, let alone fight.
Luckily, they were to take ponies as far as they could, all the way to Lorien if possible.

“We were supposed to take our Bill through the mountains, as well,” Gimli had grumbled. “You saw how well that turned out.” Legolas had looked at him with sympathy, and Gimli had borne it with ill grace. Legolas did not have to disguise himself, after all. No one was asking him to cut his ears, or hide his luminescent skin or anything else that made Legolas elven. Luckily, Legolas had understood where Gimli found his temper, and Gimli was able to apologize without causing him much distress.

Now, Legolas squeezed Gimli's shoulders, placing a kiss on the crown of Gimli’s head and holding his lips there for a long moment. “Always,” he said against Gimli’s hair, and Gimli forced a chuckle.

“See? You will miss it as much as I.”

“Aye,” Legolas said, turning his head to press his cheek instead. “But I have seen your hair change before, and you are still young yet. It will grow back, my love.”

“Hmph,” Gimli grumbled. “All right. But get it over with.”

Gimli turned from the mirror. He’d do it—it was his duty and he would do it, Mahal curse it, but he'd be damned if he would watch.

He heard the sliding hiss of metal on metal as Legolas lifted the shears, and Gimli closed his eyes. The first cut drew forth a shuddering breath, and when Gimli felt air on his nape, he stopped trying to hold back his sobs. Legolas, bless him, held Gimli tight until the tears slowed and they could continue.

Deep within him, the steel in Gimli’s spine hardened like star-forged mithril, and he held steady until Legolas signaled the end by pressing Gimli’s marriage braid—bead and all—into his palm, to keep safe until it could be rebraided into Gimli’s hair.

“Gimli?” Legolas asked, quietly. ”Meleth-nin?”

“Aye,” Gimli said. “I’m still here.” He tightened his fingers around his braid until the bead dug into his palm.

Later, Gimli, freshly shorn and feeling rather unmoored, slipped away from his rooms and his husband, and he climbed to the uppermost parapet. The small balcony was usually deserted, especially in winter, and even in summer it was mostly a place for ravens. It was perfect.

With his cloak’s hood drawn against the early spring chill, Gimli sat on a stone, feeling the heat of him leach quickly away. He lit his pipe. Once again, Gimli felt himself longing for his lost supply of Old Toby. The midwinter solstice had brought a surprise - a wagon from the Iron Hills filled with small comforts in the spirit of the holiday. Dain had personally handed Gimli a box of pipeweed, a darker breed from the East with thicker, spicy smoke, that Gimli remembered the scent of fondly. He found the taste harsh, and a bit too sweet, but he really was not going to complain. Breathing deeply, he let out a long sigh, streaming smoke from his nose and mouth.

“You look like a dragon yourself,” a warm, welcome voice said from the corner of the parapet. Surprised, Gimli fumbled his pipe, nearly dropping it as he turned to the Lady Galadriel.

“Lady,” he said, quickly standing to bow. “There’s no need to insult me.”

Galadriel laughed. It had been…interesting, having the Lady in residence for the winter, especially as Gimli knew she was only staying for him—for the Company. Winter posed little threat to her, or to Glorfindel, who also stayed. HIs presence was like summer (and Gimli had seen more than one dwarf try to bask in it), but the Lady was bright like the end of August—full of summer's heat, but with the nights growing colder in anticipation of the coming frost.

“You must be eager to leave. Erebor is much different from Lorien, especially in winter,” Gimli offered. Galadriel hummed, stepping forward to the archer’s railing. It came up to Gimli’s shoulders, over his head at its highest points, yet the lady measured it just over waist-high. She looked out over the desolation, still covered in snow. (The thaw would bring seeding, Gimli know, and by the time the caravans arrived, enough would be green to show how rich the expanse would someday be.)

“I will not mislead; I have longed for my trees these past months, but I have lived centuries. What is one season to the long, slow march of time?” Galadriel looked back at Gimli, over her shoulder. “And I find I have much enjoyed the company.”

Gimli grinned, pipe between his teeth. “Aye, and Gandalf was glad of it, too,” he teased. The Istari’s respect for the Lady was plain as the nose on his face, and the continued presence of his friend had served to lighten Gandalf’s spirits--as light as they ever were, anyway.

Galadriel laughed. It wasn’t the first time Gimli had wintered with Gandalf, but then it had been Gandalf the White in the years after the final fall of Mordor. Gandalf the Grey was far too restless—indeed, Gimli would not be at all surprised if the only reason he stayed was because Galadriel was in Erebor and not back in Lorien.

“Mithrandir is often good company, yes,” Galadriel said. “I find his thoughts most keen and wise, and I find him most entertaining to talk with. But I did not mean Mithrandir, as you well know.”

“Aye,” Gimli admitted, hopping off his bench and walking around to regain the feelings in the back of his thighs. “And on behalf of my kin and myself, I thank you.”

Galadriel beamed, and Gimli felt his heart lift. Whatever happened, it would be all right.

Gimli smoked his pipe, staring out over the winter-barren land, and felt his thoughts begin to darken. The little cherry flare of the embers glowed at the corner of his vision, almost uncomfortably resembling the fires that had spread during the battle. His memory of the future weighed on him; he had seen this land war torn once before, when he had from Gondor and seen the toll the War in the North had wrought. Fiercely he desired to keep the mountain from further turmoil, but the future was again uncertain. The Enemy was returned to these lands, and none were safe--not even the Hobbits, unaware in their peaceful little Shire.

“Heavy are your thoughts,” Galadriel said, breaking Gimli from his reverie.

“Aye, well,” Gimli said, and shrugged. “When I returned from my future, I knew the path events would take. My task was not to stop the quest from happening, but to change enough to make the outcome different. In that, I must have succeeded, for the outcome is very different.” He paused. “But now, I find that I am without guide, and once again the Enemy has returned.” He swallowed. “I fear both that my influence has been not enough to change the coming darkness, and that it has been too great and the Enemy will return with an even greater evil than before.”

Galadriel was quiet for a long moment. “If it is comfort you wish for, I fear it is the one thing I cannot give,” she said, quietly. “I see many things in my mirror: things that were and are and may yet be, yet even I can not see the way this path is heading. Do we act to prevent our dreams, or will our action cause those dreams to come to pass? It cannot be said, for only Iluvatar knows the entirety of the great song. We may only glimpse and hope.” She smiled without humor. “This is the burden of prescience.”

Gimli looked at Galadriel and wondered for a moment what she had seen that made her look so very melancholy. She caught him watching, and raised an eyebrow.

“There are some things, Gimli son go Gloin, that not even the Valar can change.”

“Aye, I know” Gimli said, looking out over the destruction brought by the dragon and war alike. “So we turn our hope to us mere mortals, more the fools we.”

Their conversation then turned to lighter topics: the health of Gimli's family, the warming weather, the agonizingly slow courtship between Thorin and Bilbo, and the whirlwind romance that had swept up Kili and Tauriel. Gimli would never, could never, think of the Lady as an idle gossip, but she did titter like a songbird when Gimli told her of the way Thorin had flushed bright red when Bilbo first appeared in fully dwarven attire, and asked that Thorin re-braid Bilbo’s hair by “putting it back in.”

“Hobbit hair is different, you see,” Gimli said, twinkling. “Braids don’t hold long. It’s not a problem, but Bilbo asked in ear shot of Dain and Dis both - and neither have given Thorin a moment of peace since.”

The Lady’s laugh echoed along the mountainside, and Gimli’s cheeks hurt from his grin. The wind that blew around them finally whipped Gimli’s hood from his head, and the cold air on the back of his neck had his grin falling fast. He scrambled to grab at the hood, to pull it back up, and stopped when he felt Galadriel’s hand on his own. Gimli froze, and forced himself to drop his hands. He would have to get used to having his head seen—and the Lady had seen far deeper inside of him than this, besides.

It took him longer than he would readily admit to look her in the eyes.

“Such sacrifice,” she murmured. From anyone else, Gimli would have taking it as mocking, an insult to the dedication of him and his kind to their hair—a crude lack of understanding of dwarves culture that still got his blood up—but she was herself, and Gimli felt his eyes tear with the genuine sympathy of her words.

“It’s only hair,” Gimli said, trying for levity and missing. “It will grow.”

“Future growth does not lessen current pain,” The lady said. “Others may not recognize what you have done here, but know that I bear witness, Gimli son of Gloin.”

Gimli closed his eyes and bowed his head. “I thank you, Lady.”

Then, Lady Galadriel bent and kissed the top of Gimli’s head, and when Gimli looked up in surprise, she was already gone.

Gimli remained on the parapet long after she departed, pulling his hood up once more against the chill. He was not fretting, however, no matter what his husband might have said. It simply made sense to review what he knew, to prepare and plan for possible futures.

When even Gimli had to admit that his thoughts were just chewing gristle, he made his way back into the mountain. The sun had long since set, and the halls of Erebor were even emptier than they had been of late.

Dwarves, underground as they lived, were not technically daylight creatures. What purpose do lights in the sky have for a race that does not see the sky nor have need of light? And yet, many dwarves elected to keep a day to night schedule that fit that of their trading partners (and, Gimli knew, to further separate them from the truly dark things of this world, the creatures that lived in shadow and moved only at night). Ultimately, that meant dwarven cities were always bustling.

It made the emptiness of Erebor all the more stark—

—and made the warmth of lived-in quarters all the brighter. Gimli couldn’t keep himself from smiling as he entered his family’s rooms.

Gloin was standing near the fireplace, pipe smoke curling and streaking grey in his hair, gesturing with his mug of ale as he spoke. Oin was sitting in a high-backed chair, the recent fruits of Gimli’s labor—He had turned to anxious reclaiming of furniture in his down time as they neared the company’s departure date—and was nodding along with the air of a dwarf who had heard this damn story before, brother.

But Legolas sat at the kitchen table, long fingers wrapped around his tankard, listening to Gloin’s story with total fascination. It was a sight Gimli never thought he’d see—and a sight that gave him pause, especially when he heard just what Gloin was saying.

“…then he let loose and pissed all over the damned thing!”

Legolas let loose a sharp peal of laughter, leaning back on his heels and clapping delightedly, as best he could while holding a mug.

“Da!” Gimli cried out though the laughter. They had skipped this step last time, somehow, between the war and Aglarond. Everyone turned to him, his father raising his tankard.

“There he is, my fine lad.”

Legolas beamed at Gimli, bright as stars. “Gimli-nin,” Legolas said. “Your father has been telling stories.” There was a faint flush high on Legolas’s cheeks - just how much of that ale had he had?

“I can see that,” Gimli said, and pulled off his cloak to hang it by the door. The room grew suddenly quiet and Gimli looked up to see their mirth sobered. Legolas was staring with his elvish intensity, as if he could see Gimli’s hurt like a physical thing, and offered only love in return. Oin watched him with dark and serious eyes—like Gimli had learned some lesson Oin had never wished on him. And Gloin—

Gimli’s father was flat out staring, mouth dropped. Gimli rolled his eyes.

“You’ll catch flies,” he said, walking further into the room. Legolas handed Gimli his tankard and Gimli drank gratefully.

“Sorry, son,” Gloin said. “I—I didn’t know it would be today. I would have been here—“

“Aye, well,” Gimli said and waved him off. He walked over to the fire to warm his limbs. “Neither did I, but the time was right.” He raised a hand and ran it through his hair—the shorter length of it had tightened the curls and this fingers hit empty air far too quickly. It made something unpleasant turn over in his stomach.

“Well,” Gloin said. "Are ye hungry, my son?”

Ravenous, Gimli thought. He’d been constantly, gnawingly hungry since—well, since Beorn’s. Adolescence. “Aye,” Gimli said. “I can eat.”

“Though not as much, I think, as a hobbit,” Legolas teased, and Gimli fought a grin, cocking his head to consider.

“A dwarf on a feast day can match a hobbit on a good day, but none can beat a hobbit on a feast day and a dwarf cannot feast every day.” He grinned, flashing his dimples. “Not even Bombur, and he’s undefeated at feast day games.”

“Oh, he’d try,” Oin said.

“Aye,” Gloin agreed, recovered and bearing a bowl of hearty soup and old bread—supper. “He’d do it, too, make no mistake.”

“I wouldn’t dream of underestimating Bombur,” Legolas said.

Gimli dunked his bread in the soup to soften it, and bit heartily. Spices burst across his tongue—hot peppers and smoky salt, sweet cinnamon and cloves—and it occurred to him that, in a few days time, he would be on the road once more, and it could be years before he tasted dwarven cooking again. He chewed slowly.

While Gimli ate, Legolas began to talk, telling Gloin and Oin of the prank war that had started between Merry and Pippin in Gondor in the days of waiting for Frodo and Sam to wake—the war that had escalated quickly to involve all members of the company and only ended when Aragorn had gotten involved.

No one pranked like the King of Gondor (and honestly, who would believe it?) and the young hobbits had to admit defeat.

Yet to this day, Gimli snickered when someone mentioned cabbages. It was no different now, and Gimli snickered helplessly into his soup as the room roared into laughter.

It was a good memory that had lasted Gimli the rest of his first life—this night would make a good memory as well, to bring with him to guard against the coming darkness.

***

Bilbo sat at his desk—an overlarge and incredibly ornate beast of a thing that was gilt, not in gold and silver, but in in copper and bronze. “Writer’s metals,” Balin had assured him, tapping the side of his nose. Bilbo had no clue what that was all about. Dwarves were still a strange culture, but the desk was well large enough to hold his notes and the growing pieces of parchment that were rapidly becoming the first draft of a manuscript. A memoir. His memoir.

The Baggins side that still lived deep within him longed for a proper journal—something to impose a sense of order on this mess. The Took half took great delight in reminding his Baggins half that there was no order in a proper adventure (no matter how much that half may wish for it). Either way, Bilbo would sit at his desk when a rare free moment came, and when he put his pen to parchment the words would come—a torrent, a flood, and it was all Bilbo could do to keep up, to stay afloat in the words and not drown. His hand ached constantly, and his arm was frequently sore, but when he sat, he wrote whatever freely came to mind.

Now, he sat and picked up the flintspark starter to light his candles (a gift from Beorn and the shifters. One giant candle could last them nearly a month as giant bees apparently made giant beeswax candles). He struggled with the mechanism, muttering to himself about helpful dwarves who still didn't understand just how much stronger they were—when a great, broad hand closed gently over his own.

“Oh!” Bilbo said, with some surprise, looking up into a very welcome face. “Thorin! I didn’t hear you.”

“So I gathered,” Thorin said, softly, his smile private and warm, and Bilbo melted like so much beeswax, sure he was flushed to the tips of his ears. Calmly, Thorin took the starter from Bilbo and lit the candle with a deft move, a show of dextrous strength that made Bilbo swallow thickly.

“Your shift over then?” Bilbo asked, and Thorin nodded, humming.

With so much of Erebor still damaged, repairs were going quite slowly. It would feel faster to focus more dwarves on a single task, working until completion—but then, while they worked, other parts of the mountain languished. It was not simply a matter of establishing priority, however; Erebor was an interconnected city, working like the innards of a clock. With only part of the mountain working, daily operations placed great strain on others, causing more damage to be dealt with. It was bad enough dealing with the aftermath of reigniting the forges (and thankfully for Bilbo’s toes in the dead of winter, they could not be easily shut down again, and had helped to warm the city).

Thorin placed his hands on Bilbo’s shoulders, bending his head to nuzzle at Bilbo’s ear. Bilbo bit back a whimper when Thorin’s beard, longer now that Bilbo had ever seen it, brushed at sensitive skin.

“So delicate,” Thorin murmured, his words making Bilbo shiver. “Soft and warm as a summer peach, yet more fragile than marble.” His lips, warm and soft, brushed the tip of Bilbo’s ear.

“Oh," Bilbo breathed, and twisted on his chair to kiss his—lover? No, not yet, despite Bilbo’s—despite both their desires. To call him Bilbo’s fellow, the way one would courting tweens, seemed childish. Better to call him simply Bilbo’s.

Thorin rumbled deep in his chest, pressing in closer, and Bilbo flushed with sudden heat, and he bit at Thorin’s lips. It made Thorin pause, just a bit, and he grinned, slow and with promise, but it was enough.

Bilbo forced himself to pull back, eyes closed as he breathed, breath shuddering. It was getting harder and harder to resist. Bilbo opened his eyes and saw the flash, so quickly hidden, of disappointment and hurt in Thorin’s eyes.

If only Bilbo could explain why, but whenever he opened his mouth to try, all his fancy words deserted him, drying up on his tongue.

Thorin smiled anyway, and Bilbo was relieved to see the affection was genuine. “You are working on your tale, then?” he asked, and leaned forward again to lift a page from the desk. Bilbo's eyes fluttered - Thorin smelled like hot steel and leather and hard-earned musk, and Bilbo licked his lips, chasing the scent even after Thorin pulled back.

Pulling a rather clever pair of spectacles from a pouch at his belt, Thorin muttered to himself as he read Bilbo’s spidery handwriting. Bilbo felt his heart fill with a different kind of warmth, and he braced his head on his hand as he watched Thorin with a fond smile.

“Oh, come now,” Thorin said, pushing the parchment away and peering at Bilbo over his lenses. “I don’t sound nearly so…so..”

“Pompous?” Bilbo asked. “Arrogant? A horse’s arse?”

“Oi,” Thorin protested through a laugh, and Bilbo grinned.

“But you were, though.” Bilbo said, pointing his finger. “Always be nice to the hobbit with the pen,” he grinned, cheeky. “For it is he who controls your reputation.”

Thorin raised both his eyebrows, as if to say he cared not one whit what a hobbit thought of his reputation, but he could not hold his scowl for long. Gently, he leaned in and pressed his forehead to Bilbo’s before leaning back and placing a tender kiss on the same spot.

“I must wash. Will you join me for dinner, after?”

Bilbo smiled. “Of course, my dear,” he said, and as he watched Thorin walk away, his smile slowly faded and he pulled his fingers from his pocket, the weight of the ring falling heavy against his side.

***

Fill knew it would be a good day when he woke and his knee hurt less than the day before. The gnawing ache in his other leg had faded to a dim pressure, and when he stretched, his muscles moved with him instead of seizing in the cold. It was almost enough for him to believe he might one day regain his old ability.

Almost.

Either way, seasons change, and some things are easier to bear in the spring—easier enough that when Dis arrived to wake him at seventh hour, she found him already up and washed, hobbling quickly with his cane around the room to get the kettle on for his morning kafe. He grinned at her.

“Morning, Mum,” Fili said.

“You’re up,” Dis said. She was enough of a diplomat to hide her surprise in pleasure, but Fili was learning to move about in such spaces as well.

“Aye,” he said, pulling a mortar and pestle down from its place on the shelf. He took the mortar with him into his pantry, filling the small bowl with a handful of the aromatic dried and roasted beans, and carrying it back to the counter. On a good day, like today, Fili could walk with the same speed and surety as before; if anything, his limp added to his old swagger.

“Kafe?” He asked, holding up the mortar before he placed it on the counter. He balanced his cane against the table behind him, and picked up the pestle, grinding the beans. “I can make one cup as easy as two.”

“Thank you, no,” Dis said. “I refuse to drink kafe without milk, and the goats have yet to make more than for their kids.”

“Tea, then?”

Dis shook her head and sat at the table. Fili shrugged and turned back to what he was doing. Once ground, the beans went into the kettle to brew and steep, and Fili grabbed an earthenware mug from its shelf. He had a few such mugs, purchased from a woman of Laketown who made such items from the clay-rich river soil. Collecting it was hard in winter, and dangerous, but they were still the first crafts made in the mountain—human made or not—and Fili felt a sense of pride when he saw them.

Fili looked over his shoulder at his mother. “You look like you’re here for a reason,” he said.

Dis raised an elegant eyebrow. She, like many of the others, had forgone tradition in favor of simple work wear, and so her braids were thicker and less elaborate and her face unadorned, but her natural sharp beauty showed through despite it all. “Can’t I just visit my son on this lovely spring morning?”

Fili snorted. “If you were here just to visit, you wouldn’t be wearing working clothes.” He smiled, softening the blow of his words.

“A mother worries,” Dis said.

“And you are right to,” Fili said. “The past few months...” he shook his head, leaning heavily on his cane. It was exhausting, never knowing which way each day would go. He breathed deeply, forcing himself to brighten. “But not today.”

“No,” Dis agreed. “Not today.”

The kettle rattled and Fili pulled it from the fire, carefully filling his mug. He added a few spoonfuls of Beorn’s honey, thick and raw, and carried the mug back to the table.

Fili sat, and blew across the surface of his kafe, and felt, for the first time in well over a year, a sense of peace.

It was a good morning, warm and easy, and eighth hour found them leaving Fili’s chambers for the great hall. He wasn’t holding open court--it made no sense with so few dwarves in the mountain and everyone’s days preoccupied by the constant rebuilding, but there were meetings and decisions to be made--and it was Fili’s responsibility to manage them.

Dain was there already, sitting on the floor next to the throne, helm perched on his head and pushed down over his eyes, his booted feet kicked up on a worn footstool. He looked, for all the world, asleep, and Fili knew that was just the way Dain wanted it. Dwalin and Balin were also there, speaking quietly together, and Ori had his lap desk out, his pen moving quickly across the parchment--sketching, probably. Bard was there as well, with Sigrid and Dulcan, the latter looking quite tired. He had been working the night shifts for the past week or so, though that should be over soon so he could rest before the quest began.

Fili hadn’t seen much of the company--those that weren’t family (or part of the White Council), anyway--and they were still mostly strangers to him. He found that oddly disquieting. It wasn’t like the jobs he and Kili would take, where they were hired to travel with strangers, but Gimli did not seem concerned. “I didn’t know a single soul in my Fellowship,” he had said. “And I ended up married to one!”

Easing himself onto the throne, Fili rapped his knuckles on the arm above Dain’s head. “Morning, Cousin,”

“Morning, lad,” Dain said, tipping his helm back to peer up at Fili. “You seem in a fine mood.”

“I had a good morning,” Fili said, honestly, and Dain grinned wide.

“Good! That’s good to hear!” Dain lifted his fist, as if he was lifting a mug of ale. “Here’s to many more.”

Fili laughed, raising his fist as well, and looked out across the hall. The Lady Galadriel had entered with Glorfindel, and the sight of the two tall, bright figures seemed to light the far end of the hall. Galadriel laughed at something Glorfindel said, and Fili found himself smiling. He could easily see why Gimli spoke of the lady with such reverence. As Fili watched, the Lady Dis approached the pair, saying something that made Glorfindel throw his head back, holding his sides as he laughed. The lady grinned at Fili’s mother, and took both of her hands, kissing each cheek and gently tapping foreheads.

“That’s terrifying,” Thorin said, and Fili started. He hadn’t heard his uncle enter. There was a dull thwack, and when Fili looked, Bilbo had the hand that had swatted Thorin’s arm tucked into his elbow. Thorin was grinning like he had won a competition only he was involved in. “Are you sure we can’t just send the two of them to Mordor? Sauron would never have a chance.”

“It would take far more than even the combined might of such formidable ladies, I’m afraid,” Gandalf said, coming closer. He usually smelled thickly of pipesmoke, but today the scent was thick enough to choke a raven, and Fili had to blink his eyes several times to keep them from filling with water.

“Pity,” Thorin commented, dryly. While Thorin’s contempt for the wizard had passed with his sickness, their close quarters all winter had hardly helped their relationship grow. Gandalf, if he was aware, was choosing to ignore Thorin’s bitterness to his face, through Fili was sure that Gandalf went out of his way to pester Thorin.

A side door opened, and Dori came bustling in, a parchment roll in his fist and an expression like a caldera just before the mount burst, and Fili braced himself. Apparently, the day had begun. It was only when Bilbo started muttering about elevenses that Fili realized that Kili had yet to make an appearance.

Where in Mahal’s name was his brother?

 

***
Tauriel fell back against the furs, pale skin flushed like rosy quartz as she breathed, glistening in the firelight. Kili ran a broad hand along her side, feeling his callusing pull and drag against the softness of her skin. Her eyes were still blissfully distant and they fluttered at his touch. He brushed a thumb over her nipple, still drawn up tight, and she gasped, focusing on him at last. She smiled, bright and free, reaching out to cup his face in her hands and pull him in for a kiss.

Kill went happily, humming against her mouth. The skin on her cheeks and chin were warm, rubbed raw from his beard, and he placed gentle kisses in apology (even though he was actually rather proud. His beard had finally consented to grow, and had filled in thickly over the winter).

”Amrâlimê,” Kili said, quietly.

”Meleth e-Guilen,” Tauriel replied, her voice low and clear as a mountain spring.

Kili’s grin curled at the edges as he watched the firelight twinkle like stars in her eyes. “You amaze me every day,” he said, and to his delight, Tauriel flushed, looking away. “Come now, you cannot be shy!”

“And why not?” Tauriel returned. “I am not used to such talk.”

“You will be,” Kili said, brushing her hair from her forehead and rubbing gently at the pointed tip of her ear. She hummed, her eyelids falling heavy and her teeth sinking into the plumped flesh of her lower lip. “For I will tell you every day until you are sick of it.” Sick of me, he thought, and pushed it away. There was no place for such thoughts here.

Tauriel seemed to hear it anyway, and she pushed herself up on her elbows, insistent. “Never,” she promised.

“Never is a long time for an immortal,” Kili said, his fingers trailing down the side of her face, along her neck to feel the pulse strong under her skin, and down again to play along her collarbone. She took his hand and pressed it to her chest over her heart and between her breasts. It beat like a war drum.

Guren be ‘ureg,” she said. “For as long as I live, I will love you,” she swore, and Kili grinned and kissed her dearly. For the first time in a long time, Kili was looking forward to the future.