It was dawn, the camp was dark as Thorin Oakenshield moved about, staring down at his sleeping warriors and wondering for the umpteenth time whether his quest was in vain. Stepping lightly around the massive form that was Dori, Nori, and Ori, Thorin stopped short, staring at his sleeping sister-sons. He shook his head fondly. He never had been able to fathom just how exactly Dis's sons managed to sleep sprawled out so. Rough and tumble, even in sleep, they lay- Kili's wild locks mussed and ratted, lying across his face as he snored lightly, elbow thrown at a hard angle and pressing into Fili's side. Thorin grimaced. He knew all to well the effects of Kili's elbows. The lad had always been a restless sleeper, muttering and thrashing, all knees and elbows as he dreamed. Fili, however had always slept the same: curled on his side, facing outwards to protect his brother from intruders, neatly braided hair fanned out around his face as he snored loudly. Moving to Kili's side, Thorin knelt grasping his shoulder and shaking gently.
"Kili, wake up lad."
Moaning, his youngest nephew scrunched up his face, frowning as he scooted closer to Fili's warmth. Bleary brown eyes met deep blue, irritation quickly overtaking sleepiness at being woken before dawn. Thorin was struck, yet again, by just how young Kili was. The perfect mix of irritation and sleep was a look Thorin was all to familiar with, Kili having perfected it before his first winter. Shooting his nephew a sharp look that said all too clearly "Do not go back to sleep", Thorin shook Fili awake, smiling as Kili made sleepy noises of protest as his brothers warmth vanished.
Not long after, the noises of grumbling sleepy Dwarrow filled the camp, along with the clang of pots as Bombur and Bofur began breakfast. Kili sat propped against Fili's knees bonelessly, staring sleepily at nothing as his brother tugged a comb through his dark locks. They had learned long ago that braiding the lad's hair was useless, any attempts at neatness would be gone within moments when it came to Kili. Balin and Dwalin patrolled the camp, gathering up bedrolls as they were tied up, depositing them in a heap beside the ponies. The Hobbit yawned and peered curiously at little Ori as he nimbly braided Dori's beard. Nori in turn weaved small braids into Ori's hair, slipping beads into them as he went. Bending over his pack, Thorin tugged his comb from its place, his own braids in sore need of reworking. Sinking onto a log, he ran his fingers through his disheveled braids, taking the beads as he went. His gaze once again rested on his nephews as he combed through his hair, Kili slightly more alert, now braiding Fili's beard for him. Fili caught his Uncle's eye and smiled tiredly. They both acknowledged that although it was useless to braid Kili's hair, Kili had inherited quite the knack for braiding. In fact, he braided better than Thorin or Fili put together. Thorin's lips quirked as he recalled the particular day they had discovered this odd quirk.
Kili had been sick for days, lain flat on his small back by a bout of the pox, and it was quite a challenge to keep the tiny dwarfling occupied during the day. Each morning, Fili rose, dressed himself, and went off with Balin and Dwalin for his studies. This incited a particularly loud and persistent wailing from his youngest sister-son, the likes of which Thorin did not think could be matched by another dwarfling for an age. Thorin himself had been stuck inside for his share of days as well, his stifling sister keeping a close eye on him, as he'd developed a nasty cough helping Bofur get the wagon unstuck a few days before. The wet weather combined with the incoming winter had combined to give the future king of Erebor quite a time of it. It was three days into his own sickness that Kili developed the pox. Bofur had taken the lad 'exploring' in the woods beyond the toy shop the day before, and thought he might have contracted poison ivy. Ever the contrite dwarrow, Bofur had apologized profusely to Dis, who had graciously declined the validity of his apologies. Her youngest was inquisitive, she said, and it could not be avoided that he would contract the rash sooner or later. However, when Balin and Oin emerged from the dwarfling's quarters after several moments, with the announcement that he had contracted the pox, poor Bofur was devastated. Beside Thorin, Bofur and his brothers were the lads constant companions, their toy shop combined with Bombur's fondness of sweets made the family Ur a frequent stop for the little Durins. After dosing Thorin liberally with Oin's herbal tea to soothe his cough, Dis had assured Bofur it wasn't his fault, and he might visit the lad as much as he liked over the coming days, as they would be sure to need it. His sister had never been more right, Thorin observed, finding himself suddenly with an armful of sobbing dwarfling, Dis having thrown her hands in the air and stalked out of the room for a respite. Squirming around in the bed to find a better position, Thorin cradled his sister-son close to his broad chest, wincing as tiny (and for some reason perpetually sticky) hands fisted around one of his braids, yanking hard in anguish.
"Kili, easy lad!" Thorin cautioned, rubbing a large hand down the small back soothingly. His littlest nephew gave a great, heaving shudder, nosing into the crook of his neck, hiding in his uncle's thick mane of hair. Thorin spent several long moments coaxing his nephew out of his hiding place, before he was finally rewarded with a pair of red-rimmed and despondent eyes peeking up at him.
"There's a good lad." Thorin praised, ruffling Kili's hair lightly. The lad looked a sight, to be sure—great, red and angry welts lining every inch of his skin, slight fever warming him to the touch. His hair stuck up in odd tufts here and there, nose running down his face as the last of his tears flowed slowly down pudgy cheeks. Staring at his uncle for a moment, Kili gave a hiccup, sniffling miserably, still fingering one of his braids in his little hand. Leaning forward suddenly, the little dwarrow bracketed his Uncle's face in his pudgy hands, leaning forward solemnly.
"Kiwi have bwaid?" his nephew asked, staring into his eyes.
The innocent question posed so solemnly drew a chuckle from his lips. Raising his hands, he copied Kili's actions, cupping his little face. "Yes, lad." Leaning forward farther, Thorin pressed their foreheads together briefly before gently turning him around. By Mahal, how he loved his sister-sons! They made him feel such emotions as he hadn't felt since Frerin was alive, which for Thorin was bittersweet.
"You must sit very still, Kili." Thorin cautioned his little dwarfling. "If you squirm, I might pull your hair."
Kili nodded eagerly, and went the stillest Thorin had ever seen him. Shaking his head fondly, Thorin gathered up the appropriate sections of hair and began to work.
By the time Dis returned, Kili had three neat braids in his hair, and was far less preoccupied with his sickness than he had been. Bouncing up and down, Dis's youngest chirruped happily, "Amad, wook! Unca Forin maded me wook wike him!"
Thorin and Dis had exchanged identical smirks across the excited dwarfling's head, before making room as their oldest charged into the room.
"I'm home, Kee! Uncle, Mr. Dwalin says I did the best he's ever seen with my sword today!" Fili bubbled excitedly, climbing up onto the bed and sitting at Thorin's feet. After assuring his oldest nephew he was in fact, very proud of him, Thorin had waved Dis off, having his nephews well in hand—Kili grumpily insisting his nadad pay him attention and Fili graciously supplying it. Kili climbed up into his brother's lap, tugging at his half unraveled braids.
"Let me fix those braids, lad." Thorin extended a hand to his oldest nephew. "It'll do you no good to have your hair hanging in your supper."
Fili obediently set his brother aside, scrambling into Thorin's lap. "Kili, come here lad. It's time you learned to braid."
Curiously, Kili scrambled over beside his uncle, watching in fascination as nimble fingers began to unwind the few braids adorning his brother's head. "Sit still, Fili." Thorin reminded, suppressing a smile as Kili's eyes locked onto his every move. Carefully, Thorin combed his fingers through his golden nephew's hair, readying it for re-braiding. Setting aside the beads carefully, he cleared his throat. "You must be very careful when working with another dwarrow's hair." He explained. "Braids are a symbol of honor. They display that the dwarf has reached warrior status. Beads display the family of each dwarrow, and the occupation of each house." Kili's little eyes were the size of saucers, mouth slightly slack in admiration. "When you braid, you must take three separate pieces," Thorin demonstrated. "once you have the pieces, you must weave them one over the other like this." Kili's brow furrowed, but he remained silent until Thorin had completed most of the braid. "And now…" he grabbed a bead, swiftly adding it to the end of the braid. "There." He tugged lightly at the finished product, illiciting a grin over the shoulder of his nephew.
"Kiwi twy!" the dwarfling hollered, carefully crawling towards his brother's head.
"Don't know if I want you near my head, Kee." Fili teased his little brother.
"Don' wowwy Fee! Kee do good job!" Kili crowed, little tongue poking out in concentration as he separated the strands of hair. Thorin rumbled a deep chuckle, watching in fascination as the tiny hands perfectly replicated his own work, right down to the bead.
"Kili?" he queried in awe as his young sister-son finished the other three braids in record time. It seemed as though Kili had found his new hobby.
He was pulled from his reverie by a chorus of identical sniggers.
"Were you planning on actually braiding your hair, Uncle?" Fili's joking voice sounded from off to the left.
Thorin grunted, illiciting a chuckle from his youngest nephew.
"Or have you forgotten how?" Kili teased, tugging at a dark lock of his uncle's hair.
"I think old age is finally starting to catch up with him." Fili whispered loudly, covering his mouth conspiratorially with a hand. Thorin scowled menacingly at his nephews, before breaking into a rare smile.
Kili laughed, plucking the comb deftly from Thorin's idle fingers, assuring his hair had the proper kingly sheen to it before laying it atop his knee and beginning to neatly plait the thick locks. "It's alright Uncle." He patted Thorin's shoulder in mock consolation. "I did a good job if it's any consolation."