Once upon a time, which is all times and no times, but not the best of times, there lived a young dwarf prince who couldn't find a consort.
It was not for lack of trying on his part…or on the part of all the eligible young dwarves in the kingdom. The prince simply had not met anyone who caught his eye. That changed one day when a delegation from the land of the halflings arrived, though, bringing with it the son of some lesser noble among the halflings. The young noble had been nearly outraged when the prince had spilled red wine on his waistcoat and the prince had been smitten almost immediately…though it took him some time to admit that. When that time came, the pair went breathlessly into each other's arms.
The king of the dwarves was outraged when he discovered their trysts, saying he would never allow his son to put a halfling on the throne beside him, but there was little he could say when the halfling fell pregnant by his son. By the ancient magic of their line, it happened that whenever the king, or the king apparent, as the case may be, chose a partner in love, true love, that person would bear a child, be they male or female.
Enraged, the king abdicated his throne and fled the kingdom, leaving the prince and his love free to marry and govern the land as they saw fit. The former king had not forgotten them, though, as they soon learned…at the birth of their firstborn son.
"Hello, Fili," Bilbo cooed softly to his infant son, who reached a hand up out of the blanket he was wrapped in to grasp the finger he held before his face. Fili burbled sweetly for several more minutes before yawning and falling fast asleep.
"You probably ought to take a leaf from his book," Thorin said, not taking his eyes off their sleeping son. He hadn't moved from where he sat beside Bilbo on their bed ever since the healers had finished cleaning up after the birth.
"I don't know if I could sleep now. I feel…strangely awake. I know I should be tired…after that, but I just…I don't want to stop looking at him. He's so beautiful, Thorin," Bilbo said, looking up at his husband with a hint of tears in his eyes.
"And here you were worried you would disappoint me," Thorin said, leaning in for a kiss. "That's quite impossible. Perhaps now you'll believe me. No prince has ever been lovelier. The maidens will be throwing themselves at him."
"The lads, too," Bilbo said, offering his husband a wink and a kiss on the nose.
"Of course…anyone with eyes, really," the king said, leaning down to give Fili a soft, whiskery kiss on his forehead. "That's my son…my Fili."
"Yes…the little half breed really is lovely, isn't he," a new voice sneered.
Thorin and Bilbo both snapped up, heads turning in the direction of the unexpected sound, only to see the former king standing at the window.
"Father," Thorin growled low in his throat, wrapping a protective arm around his husband's shoulders and keeping little Fili carefully between them. As he watched Thrain approach, he couldn't help but notice he now wore an eye-patch.
"Where did you come from?" Bilbo asked, trying not to let his worry show.
"Dwarves have more capability for sorcery than you realize, halfling," Thrain said as he circled slowly around their bed. "I'd like to show you first hand, if you think you're feeling up for it."
"Get out of here now!" Thorin snarled, reaching for his sword. "You've no business here."
"I'll be the judge of that, my boy," Thrain said, sneering as he raised a hand. Immediately, the sword became molten hot in Thorin's hand, forcing him to drop it. Fili woke with a cry as the blade clattered uselessly to the floor.
"What do you want?" Bilbo asked, holding Fili as close as he possibly could.
"To show you what a mistake you made in agreeing to marry Thorin. Of course you know by now of the line of Durin's ability to get children on their chosen mates. I don't imagine halflings have such power."
"In fact, I don't imagine your kind have much power at all."
"You'd be surprised," Bilbo said, keeping his face carefully blank.
"Nothing that could possibly be of any use to a dwarven prince, I'd wager. Think for a moment…about what you've done. With your blood, half of your child's heritage is lost. What happens if he failed to inherit the ability to give a child to his chosen mate? What becomes of him if dear little Fili should choose a male? He will have no choice in the matter. He will be trapped…and it will be your doing."
Bilbo had nothing to say to this. In truth, it was a possibility he'd considered, but there was really nothing to be done about it. He had not made a choice to love Thorin; it had simply happened…and…was it not better to be with Thorin and to have Fili…than to not have either of them? To lose this happiness to a fear that may prove to be unfounded?
"Don't listen to him," Thorin said softly, making sure to keep himself between his father and his new family.
"Yes…because it's clearly so easy for you to not listen to your father, Thorin. What sort of father will that make you, I wonder?"
"Don't think you can get into my head. You can't hurt me. No matter what you might do to me, it won't change the fact that he loves me…or that I love him…so do your worst."
"Oh, I intend to. You see, it isn't you that I mean to hurt. There are other ways of reaching your hearts," the former king said, and with another wave of his hand, Fili disappeared from Bilbo's arms, reappearing in Thrain's. Immediately, the dwarfling began to wail.
"NO!" Bilbo screamed, attempting to jump up from the bed, but unable to for the labor his body had just gone through. "Don't hurt him! Please don't hurt him! Please!"
"No need to fuss, little one. I won't harm him…not physically, anyway. I will see you both punished for defying me. I'm going to give your little boy a gift…a gift that will tear your precious family apart."
"Thrain, if you don't put him down-" Thorin started, but Thrain soon interrupted.
"Promises, Thorin. You won't touch me while I'm holding your boy…which will give me just enough time for a little curse."
"Curse?" Bilbo repeated in shock.
"Yes. When Fili reaches his sixty-fifth birthday, he will transform into something horrible and vicious…a hideous beast that no living creature could love."
"No!" Bilbo pleaded, struggling against both Thorin and his own traitorous body to no avail. "Please…you can't do this."
"I will not hurt the two of you, no. Your baby boy will be the one to suffer for what you've done. You will see what your love does to this kingdom. Much joy may it bring you," he said, chuckling wickedly as he vanished, leaving Fili behind in Bilbo's arms.
"Oh…oh…" Bilbo cried out several times, clutching the wailing infant tightly against his chest. "Oh, Fili…Fili!"
"Mahal preserve us," Thorin muttered as he rose from the bed, throwing a furious punch at the stone wall. "That damned-"
"Thorin," Bilbo called softly, looking to him with tears in his eyes as he soothed their son. "What will we do? What will we do?"
Feeling his anger abate at the sight of his husband and son in such distress, Thorin moved back to the bed, sitting down beside them. Then he rested a hand on Fili's small head, his expression going soft and gentle.
"We…will find a way to break this curse. There has to be a way."
"And…if we can't?"
"We will…but if we cannot manage it before he turns sixty-five, then…we will just have to face it when it comes. We will do what we must to protect our child.
The new king and his consort never did tell their son about the curse on his head. They told no one, allowing the prince to believe he was like any other dwarf child while they desperately searched for a counter spell.
In time, the king's consort gave birth to a second son, and the oldest loved his dark-haired baby brother as no dwarf before him ever had. The two princes grew up together, closer than most siblings…closer than most people, some thought. The two princes paid them no mind, though…or at least they tried not to. For in their secretest hearts, both brothers carried thoughts that were not strictly brotherly in nature…a stray thought of what his lips might taste like…or a thought of the beauty of his bare chest when he removed his clothing, afraid and wanting to view lower…his warmth in their shared bed on cold winter nights…and the line of sweat that trailed wantonly down his back on hot summer days. And very occasionally…the truly forbidden thought…
Brother…dear brother…what would you feel like…between my legs?
They both longed to reach out and touch each other, but neither dared to take such a step, fearing to destroy the love they already cherished so fiercely. Wasn't what they had better than having nothing at all?
The years passed in this way, with the two brothers dancing around each other, close as the press of holding hands, but never closer, fearing their desires. The days wound down to the older prince's sixty-fifth birthday and their parents were no closer to finding a solution, dreading the day of their firstborn's coming of age. The two princes, though, simply went on with their lives, secretly wanting each other, never knowing that their innocent happiness was about to come to an end…that in the coming days, their lives would change forever.
"Do you think maybe Father and Papa might have some sort of surprise for your birthday?" Kili mused as he and Fili traipsed through the forest. "They both looked so odd this morning."
"Well, maybe they're just sad to see their baby boy growing up," Fili teased, ruffling his brother's hair.
The two princes had spent the afternoon in their favorite meadow, enjoying a picnic lunch away from all the others. The official celebration of Fili's birth would be taking place later that evening and the brothers were on their way back to the city for it.
"Maybe…but…they looked more worried than sad, I thought."
"You think too much, my love," Fili continued with his quiet teasing. He always called Kili that. Whether his little brother understood just how deeply he meant it or not, he didn't know.
"Maybe," Kili repeated, stealing a glance at his brother, whose eyes were fixed on the ground in front of them. He wasn't sure what, but it seemed to him he could almost see something flickering in his brother's eyes. He wanted to look harder, but Fili caught him staring the next minute and he was forced to look away, his face going a violent shade of red.
Fili saw the look on his brother's face and felt himself go a touch red. Maybe…maybe today was the day? He had long suspected…that maybe his feelings were returned, but he was just as terrified as ever he had been. What if he was wrong? Though…something just felt different about today. He couldn't understand what it was, but…he somehow felt that if he didn't tell Kili today…right now…that he would never be able to…or that he would lose his chance for a very long time.
"Kili?" he started, stopping his brother with a hand on his shoulder. "Can…can we stop for a moment?"
"Yes," Kili said, trying to get a look at his brother's face, but unable to get a good look as Fili led him away from the path. By the time Fili let go of his hand, they'd reached a clearing. Fili continued to pace, but Kili hung back.
"Fili…is something wrong?"
"There's…something I've been wanting to tell you…for several years now…but I'm not sure if I know how to say it," the blond dwarf said, not quite looking at his brother.
"It's…I'm just…scared, Kili. I'm scared," he hissed, finally moving back to Kili and dropping to his knees before him, taking his hands in his.
"What…what are you scared of, Brother?" Kili asked, feeling a little fear himself as he gripped Fili's hands tightly in his.
"I'm afraid of myself," he said quietly, even though that wasn't what he'd meant to say. As he gazed into Kili's eyes, he felt something strange begin to stir inside of him. Something…something was wrong.
"What do you mean?"
"I…I'm not sure," he said, his grip tightening even more. His heart felt like it was literally on fire. "Something…isn't right."
"Fili…Fili, you're hurting me," the younger dwarf protested, feeling pain shoot through his hands as his brother's fingers dug into his.
Fili cried out as he tore himself away from Kili, clutching his head in desperate hands. His whole body was aflame now.
"You've got to get away from here! Run!" he growled, his voice more animal than dwarf.
"Brother, I can't…what about you?" Kili pleaded, trying to get closer to Fili, who was now writhing on the ground in agony.
"GO!" Fili snarled at him, baring his teeth, which seemed to become sharp as daggers. He spoke more but the words were lost in his shifting mouth. Kili took several steps back, horror in his eyes as he watched his brother's transformation.
Fili's small dwarven frame burst outward into something hulking and four-legged. His beautiful golden hair disappeared and white fur rippled out across his skin as his muscles bulged. His hands and feet changed into massive paws, each one armed with killing claws. Kili shook in fear as his brother's cry of agony changed into the roar of a horrible beast. By the time the transformation was complete, a gigantic white bear was standing before him, more than two times his own size.
For several minutes, the bear just stood, shaking its great head back and forth, as if trying to shake something off.
"Fili?" Kili called softly, nervously, taking a few steps toward the bear. Still dazed and confused, the bear smacked him hard across the chest with one massive paw, sending him flying into a tree. Kili hit the ground with a pained cry. This the bear heard, though, for it focused in on him. For a moment, it sized him up, then let out an enraged roar before charging straight at him. Kili was too dazed and petrified to move…and didn't really get his senses back until the white bear clamped its powerful jaws down on his left shoulder, teeth tearing through flesh and muscle.
Kili screamed in agony as blinding pain ripped through his body…and it was the sound of his distress that finally seemed to reach the bear through its haze of anger and confusion. Slowly, the bear dropped the young prince, laying him out gently on the ground. Then it seemed to look him over again, lingering over the injury to his shoulder before finally looking into his eyes.
Kili knew it wasn't possible…knew that the severity of his injuries could have easily caused delusion…but he still somehow recognized Fili behind those large, dark bear eyes. He didn't know how…but this was still his brother.
"Fili?" he whispered, tears in his eyes as he reached up his good hand to stroke the bear's- Fili's –massive maw. "It is you, isn't it. My brother…you're still in there."
Fili seemed to flinch when Kili's hand came into contact with his fur. His large eyes shifted back to the grievous wound in his brother's shoulder…the wound he'd put there! Standing on his hind legs, Fili threw his great head to the sky and let out a roar of grief, horror, and anguish. Then he bolted off through the trees.
"Fili, wait!" Kili called out, wincing in pain as he forced himself to sit up. Where did Fili think he was going?
The city…back to the castle, to where all of the guests for his birthday were gathering. That was where Fili was going; and if the guards took even one look at him, they would kill him on sight. They wouldn't recognize him…not like Kili did. So, forcing himself up past the pain in his body, past his mauled shoulder and the blood that was flowing freely from the wound, Kili got to his feet, slowly dragging his battered body through the trees, leaving a trail of blood spatters behind him.
"Fili! Stop! Come back! They'll kill you!" he called weakly, even though he knew his brother could no longer hear him.
Fili, meanwhile, could handle only very simple thoughts as a bear, and he was currently consumed by one very powerful, very painful thought.
I hurt Kili. I hurt Kili! I HURT KILI!
The guilt overwhelmed him, driving out all other thoughts. He hardly even noticed when he crashed into a table laden with food. The screams that sounded in his ears were more nuisances than anything else. The fact that he was a bear hardly even registered in his mind. All he could see was Kili lying on the forest floor, the leaves turning red where he lay. The scent of Kili's blood overwhelmed his newly sensitive nose, driving him even further into despair. He screamed and the sound left his throat as a roar.
Kili! Kili! What have I done?! Kili!
Kili emerged from the woods to find Fili barreling through his own birthday celebration, tearing through everything and sending terrified dwarves running for their lives. The palace guards were already surrounding the rampaging bear.
"No! Stop!" Kili screamed, forcing himself to run, even though his shoulder burned with pain.
"Kili, what are you doing?!" he heard Papa's panicked cry as he ran, but he couldn't spare him the time. He had to get to Fili.
The guards were ready to fire a volley of arrows at the enraged beast by the time Kili broke their circle, but he paid them no mind. He ran straight to his brother.
"Yer Highness, get back!" the captain, Dwalin, ordered.
"You're hurt!" another protested.
"Dwalin, wait! Don't shoot!" his father ordered.
Kili heard none of it. He approached Fili cautiously, arms held as wide as he could manage with his injury.
"It's all right, Fili. It's all right. I'm all right."
Fili stopped moving when Kili approached, tethered to the spot by the scent of his brother's hot blood. He held still, but he continued to bellow in his strange new bear voice.
"It's all right," Kili continued to soothe, taking Fili's massive head in his arms. "I know you're frightened…and upset, but it's going to be all right. I'm going to protect you…always…I promise. Please…don't cry," he pleaded, knowing that even as there were tears pouring down his own face, his brother was also crying, even though he was no longer able to shed tears.
Giving one last long bellow, Fili collapsed onto his side. Kili went with him, curling up against his brother's hulking shoulder.
"Fili?" the young prince heard their father's shocked gasp.
"You can't hurt him," Kili called weakly over his shoulder. "It's Fili. It's my brother. I won't…let you hurt him."
Consciousness was already slipping when Kili heard their father order, "My son is injured. Get him inside."
Kili didn't feel the hands pulling him away from Fili. His world had narrowed to the musky scent of his brother's large body and the warm softness of his white fur pressed against his cheek and clutched in his hands. He dreamt of that white soft warmth as he drifted out onto a sea of unconsciousness.
When Kili finally managed to climb out of the darkness, it was to the sound of his parents' hushed voices overhead.
"Fili," he called, struggling to sit up. "Where is Fili?"
"Kili, stop. You mustn't move," he heard Papa's worried voice at his ear as a hand pushed against his chest, holding him down on the bed he lay on.
"No!" Kili argued, fighting both his papa and the pain. "My brother…where's my brother?!"
"Kili, calm down," his father ordered, both stern and concerned in the same breath. "Fili is here. He's…all right."
"I want to see him," Kili said, finally managing to open his eyes and look up at his parents. He was in his own room, lying in his own bed…his and Fili's bed.
Thorin and Bilbo both helped their youngest son to sit up. The light from the fireplace only dimly lit the chamber, but in the glow from the fire, Kili could see his brother in a far corner, sitting on his haunches. He had no idea how he could tell, but Fili looked worried. Kili offered him a tired smile.
"Fili…it's all right. Please…come here. I want to see you."
Fili shook his large head several times, turning away from him in shame. Kili's face crumpled in misery, but he soon put on a cheerful façade for his brother, trying to tease like they used to, even if it was only a shadow of their former happiness.
"Get over here, you nasty little goblin. I'm hurt and I should get whatever I want, even if it is your birthday. Right now I want my big brother, so get your furry arse over here," he demanded, smiling, even though he felt more like crying.
Fili chuffed several times, looking indignant, before getting to his feet and lumbering to the bed. When they were finally together again, Kili wrapped his good arm around Fili's neck, briefly burying his face in his beautiful fur before looking back up at their parents.
"What's happened to him?"
"A curse," Papa said quietly. "A curse from a bitter old dwarf."
"What do you mean?"
"My curse, to be exact," a new voice said. The little family looked up to see an old dwarf approaching them.
"Thrain," Thorin snarled.
"Thrain?" Kili repeated in confusion. "Thrain, your father, Thrain?"
"How do you like your birthday present, my little Fili?" the old dwarf asked, stepping forward to stroke the fur of his grandson's back. "I haven't seen you since the day you were born. You've grown up quite a bit since then, haven't you."
Fili snarled at Thrain, turning his head to snap at him. He nearly managed to take his hand off, but the former king quickly poofed to the other side of the room.
"You did this?" Kili demanded, eyes burning with rage.
Thrain laughed at the young prince, very much enjoying his helpless anger. "Yes."
In that moment, Kili forgot that he'd been badly injured and had lost a lot of blood. He threw himself at his grandfather with a cry of rage. Thorin and Bilbo both held him back and Fili stood between them, snarling at the former king.
"Change him back! Now!" he demanded.
"Or you'll do what, exactly? You're no match for me, little Kili."
"Why would you do this? Fili's never done anything to you!"
"No…but your parents have. This is a punishment for them…and they've known it was coming ever since I bestowed the curse sixty-five years ago."
All the fight drained out of Kili at this. "What's he saying?" he asked, looking at each of them in turn. "You knew this would happen?"
The two rulers looked both saddened and guilt-ridden at their son's words…and those looks were all the confirmation Kili needed.
"We searched for a way to stop it," Bilbo recounted. "We searched…and we searched and searched…and almost before we knew it…the day of Fili's sixty-fifth birthday was dawning."
"You will never break the curse. You will find it quite impossible. However, Grandson, because you asked so nicely, I'll let you in on a few secrets," the old dwarf said, holding up a hand. Immediately, magic began to swirl around Fili, forcing the transformation to move in reverse…until the blond dwarf was left on his knees on the stone floor, naked and trembling, gazing on his hands in shock.
"What…what's happening?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
Thorin and Bilbo didn't hold Kili back this time. Despite his heavily bandaged shoulder, the young prince fairly flew from the bed, landing behind Fili and sweeping him into his arms.
"By day, you will walk as a great white bear. Only at night will you be free to walk as a dwarf. You will live seven years in this way, and you will have until the end of that time to find someone who will love you as you are, for no one can see your face. If you should fail in this…to find a consort in the allotted time and produce an heir, or if, after tonight, someone should see your face before that time is up…then you will belong to me."
Fili could only stare at their grandfather in shock, but Kili continued to glare at him. "Why? Why would you do this?" he repeated.
"To show your parents the mistake they have made…how easily our line may be broken. For indeed, who could love your brother as he is in the light of day? He will find no one…and when the seven years have passed, the boy will be mine."
"No, he won't," Kili growled, his tone nearing that of his brother's bear voice. "I have never known a finer dwarf than my brother. Anyone would be blessed to have him. He will find someone. Somewhere out there is a person who will see past his cursed flesh…one who will love him…and be worthy of everything he is," he declared, even though he could feel his heart breaking at the thought of willingly giving Fili to another.
Thrain stared at him strangely for a moment before laughing mockingly in his face. "We will see," he said before vanishing back into the darkness from whence he'd come.
Silence reigned in the chamber for several moments after the former king had gone. When Bilbo attempted to approach his two sons, laying a hand on Kili's uninjured shoulder, Kili flinched away from him.
"Leave," he ordered, his voice raspy.
"You knew. You knew this would happen…and you said nothing. You have no say in what happens to us anymore. Now get out! I want to be alone with my brother."
Bilbo looked as if Kili had physically struck him, but he did ultimately leave the room, looking ready to burst into tears. Thorin glared sternly at his youngest son, who scowled defiantly back.
"I will allow this childish behavior for one night…but only because we did wrong in our choice not to tell you of this. Make no mistake, Kili, you will be punished for this. I will not have you disrespect your papa so."
Kili showed no remorse. He only continued to glare at Thorin.
Thorin finally did so, closing the door behind him and leaving his sons alone.
Fili was still kneeling where he'd crumpled, still in shock. For a long while, Kili just held him, running his fingers through his now unbraided hair and murmuring soothingly to him.
"It's going to be all right, Fili. We can get through this. I'm going to help you."
"Help me? Help me what?" Fili asked him as he helped them to their bed.
"I'll…help you find someone, of course," he said, smiling at him as they lay down together. "We'll search until we find someone. I know your love is out there somewhere."
Fili knew he couldn't say it now. If Kili was talking about finding someone for him, he obviously didn't love him the way Fili loved him. Thrain was right. He would find no one. There was nothing anyone could do for him. He would just have to live out his seven years as a bear…then go to Thrain at the end of it…whatever the former king had planned for him. There was nothing left for him now.
"You're in no condition to travel," Fili pointed out. "You're hurt. I hurt you."
"We'll just wait a few weeks then. I'll be fine. We'll solve this together…just like we do everything else," Kili said, running his hands over his brother's face…through his loose golden hair.
"You should rest," Fili said, offering Kili a sad smile as he rested a hand on top of his. "You won't heal if you don't take care of yourself."
"I'll sleep tomorrow. If I'm not to see your face again for seven years…I want to have my fill of looking now."
"Not much to look at…but if it's what you want, I'll give it to you," he said, gently nuzzling his brother's hand
"Too right you will," Kili said, leaning in to kiss his forehead. The two stayed awake long into the night, just looking at each other.
The sun had not yet risen when Fili crept from the city, hooded and cloaked. At the very least, he wanted to be allowed to leave his home in his own shape…and he didn't want to force Kili to join him on this pointless quest. Kili deserved the chance to live his own life…to have a home and be loved by their parents and their people. He deserved a chance to find love for himself…and not to be bound to Fili's hopeless fate. So he had left his beautiful baby brother sleeping in their bed and crept silently from the castle.
The prince hadn't gone more than ten feet into the woods, though, when he heard a painfully familiar voice.
"Where do you think you're going?" Kili asked him as he stepped out of the foliage, outfitted for a long journey.
Fili returned the question with a question of his own. "What are you doing here?"
"Don't you think I know you better than that, Brother? I knew you would try to leave me behind, out of some misguided attempt at nobility, so I made ready for the journey before dawn while you slept."
"Kili, you're hurt. Badly. You're in no condition to make this journey. You should go back. Go back to your bed and heal."
"Maybe you've forgotten, but that bed belongs to us. I'm not going to leave you to suffer this alone. Even if you did leave me…I'd just follow you. I'd search until I found you. You won't quit me that easily."
"Kili…please…don't do this," he begged with tears in his eyes. "Go back. Live your life. Leave me to my grief."
The playful light in Kili's eyes dimmed at this and it killed Fili to see it. His eyes darkened and he looked like he might cry. Slowly, he came to Fili, nearly collapsing against his chest and clinging to him with all the strength he possessed.
"Please…don't leave me. Don't leave me here. Let me stay by your side. How will I live…knowing you are alone? I couldn't take it. Let's go together…just the two of us…like always."
"Oh, Kili," Fili cried softly, finally feeling the tears scar his cheeks as he held his brother close. "You take my strength from me…you always have. I could never turn you away. But…what about Father and Papa?"
Kili's expression hardened as he looked up at him, anger sparking in his eyes. "I said already, didn't I? They have no say anymore. They obviously have no care for us…not telling us of this."
Fili smiled sadly as he ran his fingers through his brother's hair. They wouldn't be fingers much longer. "It's a little more complicated than that, but I know better than to try and stop your anger when you want to be angry."
"You don't blame them?"
"No. There's no reason to. They did what they thought was right…just like we're doing now."
For several minutes, they stood holding each other, touching each other's faces and looking into each other's eyes, the words they wanted to say to each other stuck in their throats. So many words…too many.
"Kili…do you remember yesterday…when I wanted to tell you something?"
Kili was listening raptly, but in the moments Fili was hesitating, the younger prince saw the glint of light in his brother's golden hair. Gasping at the sight, he turned to see the light coming through the trees.
"Sunrise," he said, a note of panic in his voice as he turned back to Fili. The older dwarf had a look of defeat in his eyes.
"Kili…thank you," he said softly, leaning forward to kiss his younger brother's forehead. When he pulled back, Kili gripped his face a moment, gazing into his eyes. Then the transformation began to happen.
Fili took several steps back as his muscles began to ripple and bulge, bursting out as the white fur spread across his body. It wasn't nearly as horrific the second time around. In fact, Kili found it almost…beautiful.
Before long, the great white bear was standing before the young prince once again. Giving a low whine, he slowly lowered himself to his belly. It took Kili a moment to realize what he meant.
"Are…are you sure?"
Fili nodded his great head, giving his shoulders a good shake. Smiling slightly, Kili used his good arm to pull himself up onto his brother's back. Fili made sure he was well settled before getting to his feet once again. Then they headed off into the forest, Kili looking all the smaller astride his brother's massive shoulders.
And so the two brothers wandered, moving upward toward the northern climates, as that sort of whether was better suited to the older prince's bear form. They wandered from village to village, searching for a dwarf who would be willing to hear their tale. The younger prince tried, but he could never find anyone his brother was completely happy with. The older prince could find no being in all the world to match his brother's beauty. Occasionally, he would choose someone to lie with, but only for the sake of making his brother happy, not out of any actual interest in any of them.
He tried both men and women, all of them swept away by the romantic notion of a prince under a spell. Nothing ever came of these trysts, though. Not one of his partners fell pregnant. It hadn't been known if the older prince even possessed the ancient ability of their line…to sire a child on his choice of mate, but they were beginning to suspect that he must, for it was also said that any union outside of that one love match would never bear fruit, though the truth of that claim was uncertain. If not even one female had become pregnant by his seed, did it not stand to reason that there was only one being in all the world who would? On lonely nights when the golden-haired prince lay with his sleeping, blindfolded brother in his arms, he sometimes allowed himself to wonder if…maybe he really was his mate?
As a bear, the older prince's sense of smell was much stronger than it was as a dwarf, and as he walked as a bear, he gradually began to learn what all of the new scents meant. He could smell the differences between prey. He could smell blood before it was spilled. He knew the scents of different plants. Even water and snow had their own scents. The most intriguing of all, though, was the scent of his brother. He could tell when the younger dwarf was sad or discouraged, or when he was happy, even when he was angry, just by how he smelled. He didn't get scent nearly that strong with any other dwarf. Dwarves just had a general scent of their own that differentiated them from other bears and from other kinds of animals, but his little brother…he could read him in the scent that came from his skin. The scent of his beautiful baby brother was intoxicating. In bear form, it caused him to salivate and as a dwarf the memory of it left his body aching with desire. There was also something intangible about it, as well. Something about the scent of his brother that was almost always with him…but had little to do with his emotions. As he could tell when his brother was weak or sick, this intangible quality had something to do with the state of his body. It called to him in a way he didn't understand and he wasn't able to figure it out for a long time.
The younger prince's injured shoulder healed well, but there came a time, some three years into their wandering, when he fell ill. Nothing the older prince did seemed to help any and his brother soon slipped into unconsciousness. He was then forced to seek outside help.
For several days, Fili had watched the pair of twins, and they had seen him. They both had dark eyes, much like Kili, and the younger one had a single green eye. She seemed to realize that he was not what he seemed and encouraged her sister not to be afraid when the two of them came to him on the outskirts of the village near the end of the day. Being careful not to frighten them, he lowered himself to his belly…as he'd only ever done for Kili before.
The twin with the green eye understood easily enough and pulled her sister with her up onto his back. Once they were settled, Fili headed back into the snow-covered forest from whence he'd come, carrying the two girls to the place his brother lay, comatose.
Kili had been coughing and shaking for about a week. He hadn't been able to help hunt, so Fili had assured him he would take care of everything, bringing him fresh kills and making a weak stew for him when he had the use of his hands at night. Neither the food nor the herbs he brought for him did any good, though, and only the day before, Kili's cough had worsened and he was unable to do anything but lay under their thick fur blanket, shaking with chills and fever. He had fallen asleep around nightfall the previous day and Fili hadn't been able to rouse him since. Fearing for his brother's life, he'd gone to the village they'd discovered earlier in the week to seek out the only people who might help him.
Indeed, when the older twin spotted Kili lying helplessly at the mouth of their cave, she slid right off of Fili's back and hurried to the stricken prince, checking for a fever.
"Oh, Mahal, the poor thing's burning up with fever. Tiri, run home and fetch mother's herb kit…and bring a crock of that lentil soup that's on the fire."
Nodding, the younger sister, Tiri, jumped down from Fili's back without waiting for him to kneel down, hurrying to do as she was bid.
While she waited, the older twin busied herself making their fire bigger. There was nothing cooking in the small pot over the dying fire, so she began to shovel handfuls of snow into it, readying to boil water. As she worked, she would occasionally glance at Fili, who sat on his haunches at the edge of the small clearing, watching intently. He could see that there was fear in her eyes without her sister here to calm her, but she gradually began to understand that he meant her no harm. As she sponged the sweat from Kili's brow with a section of her own skirt, she looked back at him.
"You're worried about him…aren't you? You care for him. That's why you brought us here."
Fili nodded his large head, his only other answer a low whine. He was worried sick about Kili.
"Tiri thinks you're really a dwarf under all that fur. What about this one?" she asked, looking back down at Kili. "Is he your friend? Brother? Lover, perhaps?" she suggested tentatively.
Fili made no kind of response to this. For one, he felt torn over the answer to that question, and underneath those broken feelings of love, anguish, and despair, there was also now a hot surge of jealousy at the hopeful note he heard in her voice. Before that surge could call to his baser instincts, though, she looked back to him.
"Don't fear, great white bear. Whoever this boy is to you, Tiri and I will help him. We'll see that he gets better."
That's all I want.
"Nes!" the younger sister called as she came scurrying back with a large crock and a bulging leather satchel. "I've brought what you need. I also brought another of Mother's blankets."
"Good. Set up a place nearer to the fire. Put the crock in the fire, as well. We must keep it hot. I'll make some tea while you get that bedding set up. We're going to be here a while."
Hearing this, Fili decided he'd better make himself scarce. His brother needed the very best care that could be provided and the sun would be setting very soon. These two sisters absolutely could not see him after dark.
As he wandered back into the forest, far enough away to keep clear, but close enough to keep watch, he began to realize something. He was picking up on that scent again…that same intangible scent that always seemed to be on his brother. Only he hadn't smelt that scent at all while Kili had been sick…and it wasn't coming from Kili now. It was coming from the two sisters. What was that scent?
Fili hardly noticed the cold on his skin when he transformed. Normally, he would snuggle up with Kili under their blanket, but of course the two girls couldn't see him and he didn't want to take any warmth away from Kili, so he was prepared to spend a night just like this, worrying over Kili and wondering just what that unidentifiable scent was.
"Aren't you cold?" a voice suddenly sounded off to his left. Shocked and horrified, Fili turned to see Tiri standing there with a blanket in her arms. His horror was lessened only slightly when he saw that she wore a blindfold around her eyes. He'd been so focused on Nes tending to Kili, he hadn't noticed her slip away.
"Don't worry. I know I'm not supposed to see you…whatever spell you're under. I just thought you might like a blanket," she said, moving slowly toward him and draping the blanket around his shoulders, despite the fact that she couldn't see. Fili didn't say anything. It was getting harder and harder to remember how to speak, and he usually only taxed himself that much for Kili.
"I know you care for him…and that he cares for you…to undertake this journey with you. Nes will do what she can for him…and I'd like to try and help you…if you'd let me. I know…that you need a child."
So that was it. She wanted to lie with him. Well…that was something he could grant easily enough…and it would please Kili when he finally came around.
"It…isn't…just…a child," he said haltingly.
"I know that. My great grandmother was a witch, so I know these kinds of spells. Only the truth will break it…but if you won't tell him the truth, you may as well keep trying other ways."
"What…truth?" he ground out.
"There's only one truth, and you don't need me to tell you what it is."
"His…truth…is not…the same as…mine," he said, his voice bitter even in its uncertainty.
"You can't know that unless you ask him."
Maybe…maybe she was right? Maybe he should go to Kili…tell him how he felt…like he was going to before. Maybe the love he'd dreamed of was closer than he'd imagined.
Only…nothing else had gone right thus far. Everything else had been ruined….everything but this. What if he was wrong? What if Kili's feelings toward him were only those of a brother…as they should be? Would Kili hate him…turn his back on him and leave him to his well-deserved punishment? Or would he break Kili's heart? Would he feel guilty and sad if he knew of his love…but was unable to return it?
"Would…rather…die…than hurt him," he growled.
"How do you know you're not hurting him now?"
Fili shook his head several times. Unable to properly voice his confusion, all he could do was give a small whine.
"You suffer…constantly…from the pain of wanting his love. What if he suffers as you suffer? Aching for your love everyday, but unable to tell you for fear his love is not returned. Would you wish such pain on him? Would you let it go on if it was in your power to stop it?"
Feeling confusion and despair overthrow his heart, Fili sank to the ground. Such a thought had never really occurred to him before. Was such a thing possible? That Kili's heart broke for him…just as his broke for Kili? But…if that was true…then the only way to ease that suffering…was by risking the other possibility: Kili's anger, or worse…his heartbreak.
"Do not…know," he ground out, burying his face in his hands. "Do not…understand."
"Well, white bear…you know how to end your curse. The decision is yours as to whether or not you will make that choice."
For a moment, she seemed like she was going to move back toward the cave, but then Fili reached out a hand to take hers, suddenly curious. Seeing that he was under a spell, that he could understand…but to know as much as she did…
"How…do you…know…?" he struggled to ask her. Without Kili, it was getting harder and harder to keep hold of the non-animal part of himself.
"How do I know so much about you? Well…in truth, I've dreamt of you and your brother for many months now. I dream true, the elders say…and I've dreamed of the two of you…never and always touching. I knew I was meant to help you…and for the longest time, I thought that meant I was to be the goal at the end of your long journey…that I would break your curse and bear your child. But looking at you now, I see that isn't so. You and I will find no love in each other. I'm meant to guide you…to light the path to that which you refuse to see. As I said, though, dear white bear…the choice of whether to walk the illuminated path is yours alone. I have given you what I can."
Again, she turned to leave, but Fili didn't let go of her hand.
He understood her words now…only he didn't feel at all ready to confront what they meant. So, for now, he would go about things the old way. He would have this girl…and when she did not fall pregnant…just like all of the others before her…he and Kili would leave. Maybe by then he would feel more ready to face what was between them.
"All right. If that's what you want…my poor, lost white bear," she said gently, her voice soothing as she settled her warm weight in his lap.
Fili was more passionate with Tiri than he'd been with any of the other lovers he'd taken, focusing his frustrations, his desires, and his new revelations on her. By no means did Tiri feel used, though. She used Fili as he used her. It was also one more thing she could do to help him see…make him realize…
Indeed, when Fili transformed again in the morning and smelled that same scent lingering on Tiri's naked, sleeping form, he finally began to understand. That scent he'd smelled on the two sisters…that he smelled on Kili…that scent was desire.
He'd never realized it before, never having been near any of his previous lovers in his bear form…and unable to conceive of Kili harboring such feelings for him. Though really, breathing in that heady scent from his brother almost constantly could mean only one thing.
Tiri was very well satisfied with her one night in Fili's arms, but the scent of desire did not leave the little campsite. Nes smelled heavily of lust, although she obviously felt guilty over her attraction to the stricken dwarf. When Kili's fever finally broke and he regained consciousness, she did everything but strip naked and throw herself at his feet. Kili politely turned her interest aside, though. The feeling wasn't mutual and, unlike his brother, he had no need to lie with dwarves he didn't want.
When Kili was finally well enough to travel, the brothers moved on, slipping quietly out of the twins' lives. Grateful though they were for their help, neither of them wanted to prolong this unusual encounter anymore than they needed to. Kili tried to insist they remain a while longer to see if Tiri was pregnant, but Fili refused. He knew she wasn't. None of them ever would be. He understood now…and he could not go back to a time when he didn't.
They were many miles away from the little village when they next spoke of Nes and Tiri. It was night again and they were curled up together beneath their blanket, as they had done every night before the illness. Kili lay wrapped up in Fili's arms, back pressed firmly against his chest, feeling the rise and fall of their shared breathing. Now that he had his strength back, the blindfold was back in place. He refused to risk accidentally looking upon his brother's face, even though he had so desperately missed the sight of the face he loved these three years. Sometimes he feared he was forgetting, but he knew he couldn't allow himself to look. Otherwise he would lose Fili forever.
"You know," he began quietly, "if you think about it…they really should have been perfect for us. Two sisters…one for you and one for me…more importantly, one who could see what you are underneath. Why…why didn't we at least try?" he wondered, even though the question was half-hearted at best.
"Well," Fili began after several moments of silence, holding his brother a little tighter, "you can't…be with someone…if you're…in love with…someone else."
At this, Kili shifted in his arms, rolling to face him, even though he couldn't see him. "Fili? Do you mean you…feel something for one of them?"
"Isn't…quite what I meant," he said, reaching up a hand to stroke his baby brother's hair.
"What do you…mean, then?"
For several moments, Fili just stared at his brother, seeing how lovely he was in these last moments before the plunge, even though his features were tense. He heard the way Kili's breath shuddered on his lips. How long had it been since he'd been able to gaze into those lovely dark eyes without the hindrance of the white bear's poor vision? Would he ever see that beautiful face again?
"I mean…I've known…all along…who I love…more than…anything."
Fili felt Kili tense in his arms at this. When he didn't say anything, Fili began to be afraid…then he realized there were tears flowing from beneath the blindfold, soaking the dark cloth.
"Kili! Kili, why…why are you crying?"
Kili shook his head. "Fili…don't play with me…don't play…"
"I'm not. Kili…that day…that day in the forest…on my birthday…when it…happened…I was going to tell you then."
"R-really?" Kili asked, turning his head up as if he could see.
"Yes," Fili said, feeling tears prick at his own eyes. "I've…loved you…for so many years…but…when you said you'd…help me find someone…thought it meant you…didn't want me."
The sound that escaped Kili's mouth was half-laugh, half-sob. "I want you. I knew…a long time ago…that if you didn't want me, I would have no other. I want no one to touch me but you, Brother."
"That's…all I've ever wanted," Fili whispered, pulling Kili closer and pressing his lips against his in a heated, hungry kiss…a kiss they'd both longed for for years. They sank into the embrace without thought and without regret, clutching each other as tightly as they possibly could. All through the night, they kissed, touched, and stroked each other, each making the other come undone with the touch of their hands alone. So caught up in each other were they that by the time the sun began to rise, they hadn't even properly had the chance to know one another.
"Sunrise?" Kili whispered regretfully when he felt Fili begin to shudder against him.
"Yes…don't worry…my love. We have…all the nights to come," he said, kissing his brother's temple.
A hopeful smile lit Kili's face at this. "Do you think I might be able to…have your child?"
"I know it," Fili said, his voice certain in his mouth. "We won't stop until it happens."
"I love you, Fili," Kili said firmly, leaning up to kiss his brother one more time.
"And I love you, my Kili," he said as he felt the fur begin to ripple across his skin. The next sound from his mouth was a low bear whine.
Once the transformation was complete, Kili removed his blindfold, smiling up at his brother's large, furry bear features. Laughing quietly, he leaned forward to rest his forehead against Fili's, kissing his large black nose. Chuffing several times, Fili stretched out his long, rough tongue to lick Kili's face. The younger dwarf laughed out loud at this, tumbling backward.
"Hey! Leave off! No biting!"
Both bear and dwarf chuckled helplessly for several minutes before curling back up together, Kili cuddled safely in the large warm nest created by Fili's massive body. Together they nestled down to catch up on the sleep they'd missed out on the night before, both secretly hoping to take the shorter route to the next night.