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He admits he is distant.

It has not always been that way. A great many years ago, adding up to decades of forgotten memories, he and his sister Dis, and their brother Frerin, had been close. Then, there was blood shed upon grim battle-fields and before they had even grown old, they had grown older from loss.

Dis had married the son of a respectable Court official. Though it was a marriage of haste and convenience, against all possible odds, Dis and her husband had grown to first respect each other, then slowly, developed something close to love.

Five years ago, Fili was born, a little thing with skin tinged blue from the cold and crowned with startling golden hair. It had been an especially hard winter night when Fili was brought squalling and struggling into the world. Thorin remembers that night with pained clarity. Even to this day, Dis’ screams, interspersed with the higher, weak cries of a near-dead infant, resound in Thorin’s mind during the nights that are particularly still and silent.

Yet Fili lives, and endures. He is the pride and joy of his parents. Sometimes, he is their only warmth. With her husband and Fili, his sister looks complete. Whole.

Thorin had found himself thinking perhaps he would bring edges, raw and sharp and bleeding, into her life. It was better he stayed away. So, in that way, with a distant, careful love from afar, Thorin forged a separate life with his soldiers and their work in creating a kingdom out of shambles. Ered Luin has nothing on the greatness of Erebor, but it is home now, and there are possibilities there that would again bring prosperity and hope to their people. Some of his soldiers grew closer to him than others, and one amongst them became his shadow – a constant, steadfast source of support.

For five years, Thorin lived like that. He visited Dis and her family in their home when he could, which was rare. Each time Dis quietly asked him to come more often, he demurred, fixing his gaze on the far wall beyond her face. When her husband spoke to him with amiable warmth, Thorin nodded and politely refused any attempts at persuading him to stay for more than just a few hours. When Fili came to him with upraised arms, Thorin patted him on the head and looked away.

Dis’ first child, that was all Fili would be. If Mahal would help him, Thorin did not want to see anything in the boy, lest he is reminded of family long gone. Better to keep their lives cleanly divided. So, when Thorin meets his expected end, Dis and her family would be spared from no more grief than they had already expended on Frerin and Thror and Thrain – a whole line of Durin ghosts haunting the deepest recesses of their minds.

But this day.

This day, all the barriers that Thorin has erected so painstakingly for five years, come crashing down upon him like a burst river.

In the still-dark hours of the morning, Dis and her husband had come to Thorin. Large with her second child, Dis was precariously close to labour, her skin sheened with sweat. She had asked, in a young, trembling voice, for Thorin’s aid. Then, as Thorin began to refuse, years of reflexive denial manifesting in him yet again, her voice had taken on a quiet anger, and a strained, beseeching note. Please, brother. For me. She had sounded like a frightened, demanding, and weary sister.

There was no other way but for Thorin to nod in response. The smile on Dis’ face was bright like a ray of sunlight, and just before she turned to leave with her husband for the Healers’ Houses, she laid a hand on Thorin’s arm.

Get to know him, brother, she grinned through her exhaustion and pain. Before Kili comes along and you have too much catching up to do. Then, she had laid a hand on her heavily-swollen belly and leaned down to kiss the bundle deposited in Thorin’s arms, her eyes shining with all the strength of both a mother and a princess.

Thorin had stood staring after the departing carriage for some time, before gazing down blankly at the mass of warmth and blankets in his arms. Then, like a man trapped in a waking nightmare, he turned to his waiting servant and said just three words.

Fetch Dwalin now.

++++++++++

Thorin hasn’t felt anything like this in years. In fact, he cannot remember the last time he felt anything close to this – this anxiety. No. Fluster may be the more appropriate description. Dawn is approaching soon, and any time now, the child would wake. What is Thorin to do? He has realised with some vexation that the success of his methods of distancing himself means that he knows little of Fili, save his name and the colour of his hair.

What if the child is a devious little monster?

Why isn’t Dwalin here yet?

What is he supposed to say when Fili rouses?

Questions. Questions.

Drowning under the weight of his own mind, Thorin sits stiffly in his chair and awaits the moment of reckoning.

Across the parlour, separated by nothing more than a white-oak table, lies Fili. More accurately, it is a heap of what looks like blankets and one or two glimpses of babyish skin, sleeping on Thorin’s personal armchair. Around them, dawn is approaching, and soft washes of scarlet-gold begin to stream into the parlour.

He should be surveying the troops now. He wants to be surveying the troops.

The first stirrings from the blanket heap make Thorin go very rigid in his chair. Carefully he rehearses the speech in his mind. He supposes he will have to do some explaining to the boy, such as where his parents are, what they are doing as of this moment, how he should occupy himself in Thorin’s abode, and so on and so forth.

Little arms and legs begin stretching out from the blankets. Then a small figure sits up abruptly. Its face is almost entirely hidden under a shock of golden hair. Slowly, that fair head turns this way, then that way, as though it is trying to make sense of its strange surroundings.

Thorin opens his mouth to begin his speech.

“Mama?”

All the words on Thorin’s tongue flit out of his mind. The only sound that squeezes out of his chest is a strangled grunt.

The child’s head immediately turns to him. “Papa?”

“Certainly not,” Thorin barks.

Fili jumps at his voice. His eyes can be seen now through the rakish golden curls. Round, and startlingly bright. His lips are beginning to tremble. “Where’s Mama, Papa…” he says, voice getting higher.

Oh – that is not good. “Your mother and father are with the healers,” Thorin says, pronouncing each word carefully and slowly. He studies the boy and doesn’t think he truly understands. So, Thorin tries to further explain. “Are you aware of that? Your mother’s having a baby.”

“Baby?” Fili repeats.

“Baby, yes,” Thorin ploughs on, somewhat encouraged. Perhaps the boy is not so hard of understanding, after all. “Your new younger brother.”

“Brother…” Fili says after Thorin like an obedient pet. He looks dazed for a brief moment. Then, all the distress and fear and childish anger in the world flash one after another in his eyes, and his face crumples. “I want Mama!” he wails.

Thorin just grits his teeth helplessly as the child’s eyes well up with tears, which then proceed to spill down his cheeks in fat droplets. His tiny chest begins to flutter as he takes in sobbing, hitching breaths. His golden head keeps jerking this way and that as if searching desperately for his missing parents.

I want Mama!” Fili is screaming now.

It sounds like a terrible, high-pitched, neverending chime. Thorin is on his feet before he knows it. “She’s not here,” he growls, far louder than he means to. “And neither is your father. Do you hear me?”

Fili’s shriek cuts off suddenly, and he stares up at Thorin with his face all red and wet. He stops bawling too, effectively silenced by Thorin’s snarling, but he is making these little crying mewls in his throat. Thorin is certain now he is the most villainous character the child has ever come across in his young, five-year-old life.

But what is Thorin supposed to do? Awkward even by his own admission, Thorin extends a hand towards the boy, intending to – pet him? Hold him? “Fili…” he begins gruffly.

With a loud sniffle, the boy shies away and burrows back under the blankets, refusing to look at Thorin. So now Thorin is left with his hand dangling in mid-air, above a pile of blankets bobbing up and down with each pitiful, muffled sob the child makes.

Thorin’s slaughtered Orcs and Wargs. He’s commanded the greatest of Dwarven soldiers, led them across the battlefield in charges to death and glory. And he is effortlessly defeated by a petulant, crying little creature.

May Mahal strike him dead now. The timing is about right.

There is noise at the front hall, and strains of a familiar, rumbling voice. Hope flickers anew in Thorin’s chest.

Thorin looks up just as an enormous Dwarf strides into the parlour. Broad-shouldered, rough-bearded, and crowned with black hair that sweeps from heavy forehead to the back of neck in a coarse, bristling arc, Dwalin looks as fearsome as the stories say. Thorin would never admit it, but it is a mixture of gladness and relief, and deeply-buried warmth that he feels at the sight of Dwalin.

“Where is he?” the warrior speaks now, voice thundering across the parlour.

Thorin frowns, both at Dwalin and at the whole situation in general. Wouldn’t Dwalin terrify the child even further? The warrior resembles a bear at the best of times. Fili has gone completely still under the blankets now at the strange new voice in the chamber.

“Dwalin,” Thorin says, and makes a gesture of frustration and impatience at the bundle on the armchair, sighing as a large, warm hand grasps his shoulder and squeezes.

“The lad’s in there?” Dwalin replies, still very loud and very brusque. He strides past Thorin with great, booming steps, but he is surprisingly gentle as he lowers to his knees before the armchair. “Are you sure he’s in here, Thorin?” he muses aloud.

“Yes, of course,” Thorin mutters, not even sure if he’s supposed to answer. “He’s not flying over our heads, that’s for certain,” he adds under his breath, and shuts his mouth when Dwalin shoots him a reproachful glance.

There is a small, quick movement as the lump under the blankets curls in even more tightly into itself.

“Hmm,” Dwalin hums in his chest. Even from where Thorin is, he can see the twinkle in the warrior’s hard eyes. “Hard to believe there’s a lad under this…” he begins to peel away the blankets layer by layer with unlikely gentleness. Soon enough, he unearths a tangled cloud of golden hair, and a small body wrapped around itself like a ball.

“By my beard,” Dwalin exclaims like he’s discovered treasure, in a disturbing sing-song tone no less. “This is not a Dwarfling. It’s a little Elf.”

Thorin blinks. Wha –

There is a sudden flurry of blankets and small limbs, and the same child-voice that has been weeping a moment ago, now declares in a most imperious manner, “I’m not an Elf.” Fili is sitting up again, but this time, his hands are clenched into small fists, and he is wearing a suitably-furious pout.

The warrior with the fearsome hair and rough beard leans forward and cocks his head. “No? What are you then?”

The Dwarfling gazes back at him quite fearlessly. “I’m a Dwarf. My name is Fili,” the boy says his own name with puffed-up pride.

Thorin grudgingly approves. Son of Dis, no doubt. Inherited her temperament too.

Dwalin huffs. “Fili who?”

“Heir of Dween.”

From the way Dwalin coughs, Thorin knows the warrior is masking a chuckle. Thorin doesn’t whether to laugh along, or to bemoan how Fili has mangled the name of the Great Durin. But – well – it is an admirable thing, perhaps, that the child has such awareness of his own lineage, even if he knows not the meaning of it.

“Dwalin,” the warrior nods solemnly. “Son of Fundin.” He holds out his hand to the child.

Fili, Heir of Dween, frowns very suspiciously at the stranger’s hand. Then, as if making up his mind that the stranger is no bad Dwarf, Fili places his own hand in Dwalin’s.

Thorin, son of Thrain, is then treated to the sight of a precocious five-year-old and a fiery warrior shaking hands like old comrades, the child’s hand barely even fitting into Dwalin’s palm. But the moment of brotherhood doesn’t last as Fili seems to recall all the great and upsetting things of the day, and he grows downcast again.

“Mama, Papa…don’t want me anymore, Mister Dwalin?” he says in a small voice, one hand tugging sadly at the blankets puddled around him.

“No…” Dwalin hushes him. “They’re going away for a very short time. And then,” he nudges his hand under the child’s chin and lifts his face up. “They’re coming back to fetch you home.”

“Are they?” Fili says doubtfully, his parents’ betrayal multiplied to devastating levels in his Dwarfling eyes.

“Of course,” Dwalin replies very firmly. “Now, I’m feeling a little hungry. What about you, Fili?”

It’s like spell-casting. The boy perks up instantly, eyes wide with hope. “I want piggies in blankets!” he squeals. “May I?” he adds a heartbeat later, remembering his manners.

“We’ll make them together,” Dwalin agrees at once and holds out his arms. Grinning brightly, Fili launches himself into Dwalin’s chest, letting the warrior envelop him in thick, muscled arms. When Dwalin straightens from his crouched position and draws himself to his full height, the boy is suddenly elevated a long way above the ground and his eyes go very round at this.

“You’re a giant,” Fili says, his voice hushed in awe.

“It’s a secret,” Dwalin whispers back to him, and winks for good measure. “You won’t tell?”

“Not a soul,” Fili nods solemnly, lifting a finger to his lips.

Where did the child learn that from? Despite himself, Thorin half-smiles. His giant of a warrior is heading towards the kitchen, a tiny golden child in his arms, and little hands clinging onto his beard. Thorin follows behind, both relieved and just a little – wistful, unwilling as he may be to admit to it. As it turns out, for all of his legendary axe-wielding, blood-shedding history, Dwalin is brilliant with children. Over Dwalin’s shoulder, Fili’s face abruptly appears. He eyes Thorin very intently for a brief moment, then sticks his tongue out petulantly, before disappearing again into Dwalin’s embrace.

Thorin snorts to himself.

Little. Dween. Rascal. And now there’s a second one on the way.

The child is deposited on the table once they are settled in the kitchen. Dwalin busies himself, dismissing the concerned cook, and creating a right ruckus as he brings out the pans and digs through the larder for ingredients. Thorin seats himself on the chair, watching the proceedings with a critical, long-suffering eye. He doubts he will get to survey his troops until their young charge has been sufficiently fed and subsequently entertained.

Considerably cheered up, Fili bounces on the table, swinging his legs back and forth, forth and back. Thorin doesn’t fully understand the fascination with what is essentially just flour and meat, but it’s as good as a peace treaty with the child.

The aroma of savoury flavours sizzle from Dwalin’s activity at the stove, distracting the boy immensely, who is craning his neck to see what the warrior is doing. A little growl in Thorin’s belly distracts him too, and he realises he’s not eaten since the night before. Well. This just means Dwalin’d better cook enough for two Heirs of Durin.

“I want to see,” Fili begs earnestly.

Dwalin turns his head and gives Thorin a look that sums up an entire speech about getting off his arse and doing his part as an uncle.

Thorin abruptly feels like a man chided by his – wife. He glances at Fili, who looks crestfallen at being neglected on the table.

Sighing inwardly, Thorin gives in to the situation. He shifts uneasily in his seat “I’ll bring you,” he suggests to the child.

Fili’s small golden head tilts as though he is considering Thorin’s proposal very seriously. He looks torn. He wants to see his cooking piggies, but he doesn’t quite want to be carried by Thorin. Finally, his lips purse in grudging and gracious obligation. “All right, you may,” he sighs. He nudges around on his rump, and now holds out his arms towards Thorin.

Stemming down his instinctive discomfort, Thorin hefts the child into his arms. Fili is soft warmth in his chest. Now up close, Thorin notices that the child’s skin is a shade too pale and his weight just a little too slight, a reminder of the harsh years that the Ered Luin Dwarves suffered earlier. Already, there is a smattering of light, silvery scars on his knees and elbows where he had gotten himself into scrapes. Thorin remembers abruptly what Dis had told him some time ago – her golden child can never keep still; no table or shelf is too high for him.

“I want to see the piggies,” the reminder from the child brings Thorin’s mind back to the present. He obeys, carrying the child over to the stove.

There is no end to the little details that Thorin notices about the boy now. They keep coming, cropping up before his eyes. The child is capable of being quiet; he is entirely mesmerised by the way the flour rolls turn into golden-brown puffs, bits of juicy sausage sticking out on either end. He squirms ceaselessly in Thorin’s hold, thrumming all over with energy, and his eyes change blue and green, as if they cannot decide if they want to resemble his Mama or Papa. And he has a hand clasped tightly around one of Thorin’s braids, tugging on it to steer Thorin in the direction he wants to go.

Thorin doesn’t know whether to be surprised at the brazenness of the boy, or at the fact he doesn’t mind it as much as he thought he would.

When the rolls are toasty and ready to be devoured, Dwalin holds one up, skewered on a fork, and Thorin teaches the boy to blow on it to cool it so it would not burn his tongue. After tasting one, Thorin establishes wryly that Dwalin is still better on the battle-field than he is in the kitchen, but Fili doesn’t seem to mind at all as he gleefully attacks the piggies. Between them, Fili wolfs down a good five rolls all by himself, Dwalin two and Thorin three of them, mostly hand-fed by Fili, who insists his pet adults be taken care of as well.

Through it all, Thorin carries his sister-son, who doesn’t whine about wanting Dwalin to hold him instead, and rolls his eyes when the boy concocts a preposterous game of Orc-chase which they are all made to partake in. Afterwards, when they decide that the child must be bathed and restored to a sweet-smelling state, Fili climbs all over the bathing quarters with the nimbleness of a small animal, giggling to no end when Thorin bellows at him to stay still, goaded on by a much-amused Dwalin who does nothing but lounge in a corner and marvel at the chaos around him.

And later at night, when the child has exhausted himself into a bleary mass, he remains curled in Thorin’s arms, right up to the moment the carriage draws up to them.

Her second birth has been much kinder. Pale but lucid, Dis is settled against the seat, a weary smile lifting her lips, and her husband by her side. Thorin thinks she may have laughed once or twice, upon catching sight of the little Dwarfling nestled in his chest, but he tells himself it’s the wind. In turn, he and Dwalin leave their kisses on her hair, and at her urging, on the tiny babe in her arms. Kili. Dark-haired, like his mother and uncle.

Thorin should return Fili to his parents right away, yet he hesitates when Fili snuggles into his neck.

“You’re warm, Uncle,” the child says sleepily.

Thorin blinks. He hasn’t thought Fili remembers who he is.

“Like my pocket,” Fili finishes with a huge yawn, making absolutely no sense at all.

“Hmm,” Thorin grunts, making no sense himself when he leans down and kisses the child.

So a spell can be cast this way as well. Like magic, Fili smiles. Pure and radiant, a dimple winking in his cheek.

++++++++++

The one thing that sages did not warn about history repeating itself, is the fact that not only does history repeat itself, it does so with alarming, increasing intensity.

The Orc-chase game created five years ago has now grown in complexity – one Dwarfling perched on each of their backs, Kili on Thorin and Fili on Dwalin, chasing each other all around the house like demented goblins.

And as if one squirming terror in the bath tub isn’t enough to ruin their combined reputation of King-in-waiting and Warrior, now there are two.

“Catch him!” Thorin fairly roars. And once he sees the escaping fair-haired child scooped up securely in Dwalin’s huge arms, he glances down sternly at the mess of slopping-wet dark hair and chubby face at his own chest. “And you,” he growls.

“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Kili giggles, not sounding the least bit apologetic.

“You are not sorry at all,” Thorin snorts. He dries the little Dwarfling with a large rag, the child protesting all the way, and pays special attention to those ebony locks, which are always tangled despite the best intentions.

When he is sure the boy is suitably clean and in neat order, Thorin takes his hand and lets the child drag him into the room he and Fili share whenever they stay with him. It’s a permanent chamber in Thorin’s abode, and a stark, colourful contrast to the rest of the sparse furnishings, with its clusters of hand-made toys and vibrant pictures of Dwarven glory. The boys do not visit often, for Thorin is mostly away from home. But when they do, this room comes alive with their laughter and mischief.

The warrior is already stretched out on the bed, completely knackered. He’s been placed on special assignment that day – being maidservant to all three Heirs of Durin. Fili is curled up next to him, mostly dried, cheeks still pink from his bath.

Large as the bed is, it is still a very tight fit for two fully-grown Dwarves and two Dwarflings between them. The boys whine about sharing space, poking and shoving at each other as they bicker about where the halfway line is on the bed. By the time they have worked it out, Dwalin’s eyes are heavy-lidded, a lazy, drowsy grin on his lips, and Fili is buried into Dwalin’s side, already half asleep.

So Thorin turns to the five-year-old under his arm, who is still looking around him with wide, dark eyes. It is quite possible that Kili has twice the level of energy Fili had at that age, and thrice the chatter.

“You haven’tkissedusgoodnight, Uncle,” Kili tells him very seriously, tripping over his own words in his effort to squeeze every word into a single breath.

“I haven’t?” Thorin keeps his face straight. Oh, to be a child when the worst thing that happens is a forgotten goodnight kiss.

Kili shakes his head primly. He points to his slumbering brother. “There.”

Not quite able to keep from smiling now, Thorin leans over and brushes his lips on the spot on Fili’s golden head where Kili has specified. The older Dwarfling makes a soft noise at the caress.

Next, Kili taps his finger on his own cheek. Then he thinks for a bit, and changes his mind, pointing to his forehead instead.

Leaning down, Thorin rubs a thumb across the soft, babyish skin. “Here?” he confirms. When Kili nods again, he kisses the Dwarfling soundly on the forehead.

Now, Kili beams merrily and swings one arm out to point at the warrior giant across the bed. “You mustkissMisterDwalinnext,” he declares in a most princely fashion.

The unwitting little brat. There is an amused rumble from Dwalin, and a heat in his eyes that Thorin is coming to realise is reserved for him alone. Thorin lets his gaze linger on his soldier for just a heartbeat too long, then he looks away, pinches Kili on his button-nose and tells him, “Later.”

Satisfied with the state of the world, Kili squirms into the space between Fili and Thorin and promptly falls asleep.

Dwalin reaches down and drags the blankets up, tucking them around the Dwarflings.

“You’ll be a good father one day,” Thorin blurts abruptly, startling himself. The Kili effect is contagious.

“Bollocks,” the warrior scoffs, but there is an unmistakable chuckle in his voice. He falls quiet for a moment before continuing, “You are a good uncle.”

“I won’t always be one,” Thorin admits. He cannot always be one. There will be a time when the boys grow up and he leads them to face the perils of their world. He will be their King then, and Uncle no more.

“I know,” Dwalin does guffaw out loud this time. “But I’ll remind you, when you forget.”

++++++++++

The days drag on, each one longer than the last. They weather the elements. Blazing sun, torrential rain. And they suffer the snarling, slashing attacks from foul enemies. But they forge on, taking one arduous step after another on their journey, towards the reclamation of their lost homeland.

Kili is impulsive and reckless, but also exceedingly resilient and courageous about everything the quest hurls at them. He still chatters like a child, finding good even in the worst situations.  Fili has grown quieter in his adulthood, but the moment the fragrance of meat-rolls and warm ale reaches his nose, he becomes the golden Dwarfling once again, clambering upon tables and goading Kili into rollicking pranks.

They are asleep now, the only bright sparks in the ever-encroaching darkness of the quest, lying side by side on the sharp, uneven ground. Thorin looks at his sister-sons, and he is reminded that he has borrowed the only remaining light from Dis’ world, knowing not if he can ever return it.

A rustling through the air, and Thorin reacts just in time to catch the blankets that Dwalin has tossed to him. Older, scarred and battle-weary, the warrior still remembers his promise.

Thorin covers the lads with the blankets, watching them mumble in their sleep, and thinks he finally understands what it means to be warm like a pocket.

 

finis