It's several days later that the three of them finally get their mother and Gimli to themselves. It's clear that their mother has grown increasingly concerned for them—because more often than not, Kíli wakes up screaming for the nightmares that often make Fíli lose sleep as well. Their rooms are close, in the royal wing—too close—and Kíli knows she hears them every time, though she does not always mention it, and knows better than to try and offer them comfort in the middle of the night.
Even Gimli has noticed the way they have lost some of their cheeriness, their luster, and the way seemingly innocuous comments make them clam up. Kíli knows it's ridiculous, but he can't help it—the last time he saw Gimli, he also saw Ori's corpse and Balin's tomb and all the others who perished in the mines, and the grim set of Gimli's face haunts him (it wasn't him, but it was, and Kíli's still unsteady at the difference), the way he bit back tears as he all but forced the draughts down their throats. Determined to save them when he was not able to in the past, even if it meant his own near-certain death—
They're huddled around the fire in Thorin's spacious rooms, and Bilbo has joined them too, sitting a little ways away and clearly uncomfortable with the situation, his fingers closing around nothing at his sides and his eyes fixed with eerie emptiness on the fireplace.
"There's something wrong with you. All three of you," their mother breaks the heavy silence, and hesitates a moment before putting an arm around Kíli's shoulders. (He barely restrains himself from flinching at the contact.) "You haven't told us everything, have you? Even though the battle was horrible, you aren't…"
She trails off into silence, looking between all three of them, waiting for someone to take the initiative. Thorin's fists are clenched, white-knuckled, in his lap, and Fíli's face is twisted in a pained frown, the scars illuminated eerily in the dim firelight.
Kíli knows this must fall to him—after all, this was his fault to begin with. He was the one who stole the potion, forced his brother to drink it with him…
(Saved all their lives, but honestly, this doesn't feel like any sort of victory, now, watching the worried faces of his mother and cousin, waiting for an explanation nobody wants to give them.)
"We…" he starts, but finds himself unable to continue, choking on his words and biting back what threatens to be a sob even as Fíli shifts beside him, as his mother's arm tightens around his shoulders. "We…"
He does his best, but the words will not come, and Gimli's worried frown deepens, on Fíli's other side, as the seconds grow longer. Eventually, Thorin takes a deep breath, forces his fists to relax, and says, nearly inaudibly—
"Truly, none of us should be alive."
The story comes out in fits and bursts, each of them contributing as they are able, and Kíli feels his mother's grip become tight enough to hurt as the tale comes out. Their travel through time, the purpose of that quest—and Thorin tells of the madness that overtook his mind with a downturned face and a near-inaudible voice, shame and quiet horror evident in every twitching muscle of his broad frame.
But all of that comes out easily—easily, at least, in comparison to the inevitable explanation of Thorin's first statement. Gimli's fists are white-knuckled and shaking as Fíli eventually tells them of what happened in the battle, and their mother—strong, unshakeable Lady Dís, daughter of Thráin, son of Thrór—lets the tears fall unashamedly down her cheeks, barely holding in her sobs as Fíli's voice falls to nothing more than a mutter.
"It was the only thing we could have done," he finishes at last, glancing up from his knees to look at their mother, as if begging for understanding and forgiveness. "He is our uncle and our King—we could not leave him to die. It was only luck that it did not come to that, in this time—but if it did, I'm sorry, Mother, but we would have done it again, without hesitation. We tried so hard to change it, but if we could not, it would have been for nothing, and—"
"You have nothing to apologize for," she finally chokes out, and whatever reaction Kíli expected from her, this is not it—because within seconds, he is crushed into an embrace beside his brother, their mother's sobs echoing in his ears as she buries her head between theirs. It's so wrong, to think of his mother crying—he hasn't seen it happen since his father died, and that is long in the past, buried in hazy memories of his early childhood, filled with golden hair and bright smiles from a face he can no longer recall. He has not seen his mother cry in decades, and the concept is so foreign to him that he is terrified by it—and his own tears finally spill over, dampening his mother's hair as everyone else in the room falls into silence.
Soon, though, they must collect themselves—and their mother eventually pulls away, looking at them each in turn with such pride and affection in her watery eyes that Kíli nearly breaks down again. "My brave boys," she finally says, no louder than a whisper—and she gently tucks a braid behind Fíli's ear, tightens her grip on Kíli's shoulder. "I would not expect anything less of you—but I am so very glad you are here with me still."
"I am sorry, Dís," Thorin's voice breaks through Kíli's haze unexpectedly, and the tone is so strained that all three of them turn. Thorin meets his sister's gaze with obvious effort—his eyes are strangely bright in the firelight, and he is bunching the edges of his tunic in trembling fists as he continues, "It was my fault, in that other time—and if it had happened again, you would have had no one to blame but me."
"You are an idiot, brother," she agrees, her voice shaky as she attempts a laugh, "but we need not worry anymore about this, because the battle is over, and all of you are alive. I cannot ask for anything more, and neither should you."
Thorin's face darkens in denial, but he seems to recognize when an argument will be futile—at least, in front of so many others. So he only swallows heavily and looks away, his sharp profile illuminated by the fire and highlighting the crushing set of his jaw. "There is still the matter of the Ring," Gimli says after a moment, and Kíli looks over to see his hands clenched into fists as well, his face pale beneath his sparse beard. "You said it has to be destroyed in Mordor, but how would such a quest ever succeed? Even with so many of the orcs killed—"
"Gandalf is going to help us," Kíli answers, nodding slightly toward a suddenly tense Bilbo. "Master Baggins will have to carry it—no dwarf, man, or elf can be trusted to stay strong against it. But he cannot be expected to go alone."
"No," Bilbo says immediately, even as Thorin and their mother both open their mouths, likely to say the same thing. "You and your brother will stay here, in Erebor—I cannot ask this of you, when you have cheated fate so many times already. The captain of Thranduil's guard said she would journey with us—and Gandalf will ask Lórien and Rivendell for support as well. You dwarves have done enough, and have plenty left to accomplish in your mountain."
"I will not send you out with only elves for protection," Thorin nearly spits the word as a curse, and Bilbo's frown turns toward him instead. "Any of the Company would be more than willing to travel with you—in fact, I will be surprised if they do not demand it outright. Do not think—"
"This, I think, is a discussion for a later date," Dís cuts them both off, her voice sharp and her face brooking no room for argument. "Gandalf has not returned, and until he does we can do nothing. At the least, we can treasure this peace while it lasts, yes?"
Kíli finds himself nodding (for, truly, his mother is the wisest of them all, and Kíli wonders briefly how he could have turned out so bull-headed in comparison), even as Thorin and Gimli's faces darken, and Kíli can see his cousin's mind turning over the possibilities. Even though he is nearly a century younger than he was then—he must be thinking—he has more of a right than any of them to accompany Bilbo on this quest, for he was chosen for the Fellowship in that time.
It is an impossible hope, of course—Kíli and his family beside, Glóin and Lady Mizim would certainly never allow it—but like his mother said, that is an argument for another time. The hour is late, and all of them are tired, emotionally drained from the trying conversation they have endured. So Kíli leans in closer to his mother, feels her arm wrap around his shoulders once again—feels the comforting warmth of his brother on his other side—and simply treasures these few moments of calm silence…
Because he knows, all too soon, that they will be shattered…possibly for good.
Thorin's official coronation is a grand—if rather unnecessary—affair, nearly a year after the battle.
He has been recognized as King of Durin's Folk—the direct heir of Durin the Deathless—for a century now, since his father disappeared into the wildlands. He has done more for his people than any other king in living memory, leading them as best he could through poverty and starvation and homelessness until, eventually, he earned them some semblance of peace in Ered Luin.
And then, even after that (which is honorable in and of itself), he reclaimed Erebor from the maw of the greatest dragon of the North, and every member of his Company lived to tell the tale.
More caravans have arrived in the interim, dwarves from the Blue Mountains and the Iron Hills and all corners of Middle Earth hoping to make a better life for themselves in the famed Lonely Mountain. Thorin turns away no one (though Balin and Dori are driving themselves mad, trying to plan, to make sure that every family will have adequate apartments and a place to work, and Dwalin is going apoplectic, ensuring that none of those who pass into the kingdom mean any harm), and so the mountain's population swells quickly in size.
Thorin's coronation is unnecessary but celebrated nonetheless. A new crown has been forged by the best smiths in the mountain—Thrór's, while salvaged from his desecrated body outside of Moria and kept safe for these long decades, holds connotations that Kíli knows Thorin would rather forget. So when empty caskets for Thrór and Thráin and Frerin are hewn in the catacombs, the elder's crown rests upon the stone—and the father's lesser coronet and hammer—and the younger's bow and sword that Dís and Thorin have kept safe all these years, as well as the armor that Kíli places upon the empty, lifeless stone. It is mangled now beyond use, and the smiths tell him it would be easier simply to forge him a new set entirely—and so he places the breastplate and the helm and the greaves and gauntlets upon the memory of his uncle, and murmurs a near-silent thank you to the dwarf he never knew.
The coronation is glorious and triumphant, the largest cleared (scorched, but Kíli doesn't think anyone minds) hall used for the celebration and still, it is full to bursting. Bard and some others from Dale are there, standing tall and proud near the back of the room without complaint, even his youngest daughter's head rising higher than many of the dwarves'.
And, surprisingly enough, Thranduil is there as well, with his son and the red-haired captain of his guard and some others—and when the time comes for him to pay his respects to Thorin, he inclines his head with scarcely a trace of malice, congratulating him on a home hard-won, and offers his hopes of a strong and fruitful rule.
Kíli can see the surprise on his uncle's face—indeed, feels it growing in his own heart, because from the little he knows of the Elvenking, he would never subjugate himself as such—before Thorin collects himself, his features relaxing a small amount as he inclines his head in return.
Fíli is clearly surprised, from his place of honor at Thorin's right hand—and their mother looks beyond pleased, beaming at her brother with twinkling eyes and a wide smile. This, surely, is part of Thorin's efforts to distance himself from the memory of his grandfather's later years—when he stood tall and arrogant upon his throne, ignoring advisors and kings and even wizards in his greed, when Thranduil—and, later, Gandalf—attempted to make him see reason.
It had not worked, but Kíli can see the stubbornness in his uncle's eyes, the determination to not let himself fall to that same madness—and he believes, now, that Thorin will succeed.
The men and elves excuse themselves before the true festivities begin, but the dwarves all but pile into a hall of feasting, where ale flows freely and food is plentiful and the members of Thorin's Company are given places of honor at the head table, no matter the fact that Bifur and his cousins are not of Durin's line, no matter the fact that Bilbo is not even a dwarf.
Thorin looks odd, adorned as he is in a heavy golden crown, lined with diamonds and sapphires—and Fíli, too, is stranger than Kíli has ever seen him, for the silver and ruby crown he wears is unlike anything Kíli has ever seen. But Thorin is the same uncle he has known all his life (brooding and reserved, even amidst the dwarves toasting his life and happiness and prosperity), and Fíli is unchanged from the brother he knows better than himself, and so Kíli forces himself to forget such oddities—for they are a part of his life, now, no matter his thoughts on the matter—and simply allows himself to indulge in the happiness finally allowed to his family.
The celebrations last well into the night and even to the morning—though Kíli is feeling equal parts nauseous and exhausted from the amount of ale he's consumed, he is better off than Bilbo (who is lost to the world, snoring lightly atop a plate of walnuts) and Ori (who faceplanted, unfortunately, in a bowl of mashed potatoes, and had to be fished out by a laughing Nori and an indignant Dori). He has never attended such a feast before, but he's heard tales enough from his elders, how the merriment can last for days on end, and he's just starting to wonder how on earth that is even possible when he feels the ghost of a movement behind him, much taller than any dwarf.
He turns swiftly to see Gandalf—for who else could it be, towering at nearly six feet in height and cloaked, as always, in fraying grey robes?—move swiftly past his and Fíli's seats to stand beside Thorin's decorated chair. His uncle has been allowing his attention to wander, Kíli can tell—but as soon as Gandalf steps up to him, he is sitting straight and alert, his gaze flickering down the table to Bilbo before refocusing on the wizard.
"Congratulations are in order, I believe," Gandalf comments lightly, glancing up to the shining crown on Thorin's head with a raised brow. "You are not wearing your grandfather's?"
"I am not Thrór, nor do I wish to be," Thorin says shortly, and it's clear that he has little interest in such a conversation. "What have you found out? What must we do to end this?"
The wizard's other brow rises swiftly, and he glances down the table (all of the Company who are still conscious and at least slightly sober are watching them, now, leaning in closer to hear the conversation) before saying in an undertone, "We must leave as soon as possible."
In the end, it is a smaller group than any would have liked who accompany Bilbo and Gandalf away to the south.
The hobbits and men in the last Fellowship, Kíli knows, have not been born yet—and Gimli, too, is denied the right to go. His face is nearly as red as his hair at the decision—Kíli knows he is still sore at the fact that he was not allowed to accompany them to Erebor, and now that he is nearly sixty-four, he's of the staunch belief that he can do whatever he damn well pleases. But Bilbo—who has taken quite the shine to the young dwarf, oddly enough—reminds him in an undertone one quiet afternoon that this quest is likely a suicidal one, that those who venture away from the Mountain will probably never return. Gimli, he says with a rueful smile, has too many things left to do, and who will keep Fíli and Kíli in check if he leaves, after all?
Gimli huffs and stomps around some more, but seems to eventually acquiesce—not in the least because Glóin threatens to lock him up in irons if he doesn't shut up already.
Bifur and Bofur refuse point-blank to allow Bilbo to leave without them, and Dwalin, similarly, has made up his mind to protect the hobbit. Their relatives are unhappy with the decision, but Balin is needed in the mountain, and Bombur cannot leave his family behind again, and so eventually, they have to agree to let them go.
(That doesn't mean everyone else—Kíli and his brother chief among them—is happy with the decision to leave their friend so unprotected…because if they had it their way, an entire army would be at his back, protecting him from every last threat right up until the gates of Mount Doom.)
But it's impossible—of course it is—so the days pass swiftly, and Dwalin and Bifur and Bofur prepare to leave. Thranduil, too, has held true to his promise; a few days before they are to leave, the red-haired she-elf with the twin daggers and the sharp eyes arrives at the gates of Erebor, accompanied by a small guard and—Kíli is honestly surprised—the king's son.
The guards are dismissed soon enough, and Legolas introduces his companion as Tauriel, the captain of the guard who all but manhandled her way into accompanying them on the quest. He—he allows with a rather rueful smile—was nudged along by his father, who says it is his responsibility to see this deed done. At the very least, someone needs to keep Tauriel in line.
(Kíli is glad Thranduil asked him and Fíli for details of that future, even if it was clearly to protect his own kingdom—because something had shifted in his gaze, when they told him that his son had left Mirkwood to journey so far away. The woodland king—if not wholly realizing or accepting why—has slowly come to understand that sitting within his own borders is not going to be enough for him or his people or anyone else in Middle Earth, not if such horrors are growing in the South. And so he has agreed to this much—sending his son on the quest he has always been destined to join…sending his son away from the safety of the kingdom, perhaps, to save the world.)
The early spring day when the seven of them are to leave dawns far too soon for Kíli's—or anyone's—liking, and the good-byes are long and painful at the gates. Thorin embraces each of his companions in turn, pulling Bilbo into a crushing hug before pressing his forehead to Dwalin's with such intensity that Kíli is sure it must be painful…and then he turns to Gandalf.
"You bring them back, Wizard," he rumbles, and his voice is that of the King Under the Mountain, that of Thorin Oakenshield, the great warrior and strong monarch of the mightiest kingdom in Middle Earth. "You bring them back, or Mahal help me, I will—"
"I will do everything in my power," the wizard says as Thorin's voice chokes off, and there is nothing of the customary twinkle in his eyes as Gandalf inclines his head solemnly, a promise they all know he may not be able to keep. "I do not intend to allow anyone else to perish for this venture."
Thorin's jaw tightens, but he only nods shortly, holding Dwalin's gaze for another long moment before they are off, ponies and horses carrying their riders swiftly down the mountainside, toward the South, toward whatever horrors await them there.
Kíli's hand has found Fíli's sleeve, without either of them realizing it—he knows this is what must be done, knows that if it is not, they will all likely die by Sauron's hand in just a few short decades. But he is not fond of the idea of sending his friends to their deaths, and it is clear that none of the others are, either—because many of them stand watch even after the group disappears from sight, gazing endlessly down the thin horizon, hoping with everything they can possibly give that every one of them will return safely.
Fíli eventually turns away, pulling Kíli gently from the gates even as he attempts another look over his shoulder, hoping irrationally to catch another glimpse of his friends. But they are gone—Gandalf's staff, and Bofur's hat, and Dwalin's axes and Bifur's spear and Bilbo's curly hair—they are long gone, perhaps permanently, and he feels strangely numb as Fíli leads him slowly toward their family's quarters.
It will be months before they return—if, of course, they return at all. It will be months, and yet Kíli already feels hollow and terrified, minutes after seeing them leave.
(How is he expected to handle this, when it was his word that sent his friends out into the wildlands alone?)
It will be months, and they will have to wait—but there is no alternative, no taking it back now, because they cannot undo what they saw in that future; they can only try to rectify it.
(No matter how much damage it may cause in the interim.)
And it's several months later that they do return, after no messages and no news and ever-dwindling hope; the call comes up from the gates, that a group of seven is approaching the mountain—and a great roar arises from the kingdom as Kíli and the others rush toward the entrance.
And—Mahal above—they are alive (they are alive), and Kíli's rashness and stupidity have not cost any more lives, and if they are alive then surely everything must be all right again. Perhaps Bilbo's eyes and frame are haunted, dark-ringed and tired as Thorin pulls him from his pony into a hug with a sob; perhaps Dwalin has gained some new scars to add to his collection, which Balin fusses over with tears in his eyes and a desperate smile on his face; perhaps Bofur and Bifur look a bit older than they should, even as they are nearly mobbed by their nephews and nieces, with Bombur trailing behind with trembling hands and a watery smile.
Perhaps Gandalf looks just a bit more tired than he should, as he dismounts from his pony and steps toward Thorin, leaning heavily on his staff. Even the elves—timeless and inexhaustible as they are—look drained, and gratefully relinquish their horses to the dwarves. They're different ones than what they rode out on, Kíli notices; he remembers the horse-men in the south, remembers the desperate messengers from Rohan three months ago, calling for aid that Thorin and Dáin and Bard quickly sent (though the Company was strictly forbidden from joining them), and feels sick at the thought that more blood was shed for the sake of this quest, that more lives were lost to Sauron's might.
(But he remembers, a month ago, now, the moment the world seemed to shift—it had been a day like any other, until it hadn't been. He had hoped, but had not dared to voice it aloud, that perhaps it meant that it was done, that Bilbo and the others had succeeded, but he had been so so scared that maybe if he allowed himself to believe it, they would never return at all—)
But it is over now, if the wizard's murmured explanations are to be believed; though Kíli can scarcely hear him through the ringing in his ears, and he eagerly takes his turn to embrace his companions even as Thorin refuses to relinquish his grip on Bilbo's shoulders, everything is finally over.
Maybe, now, with that future gone for good, with his family alive and the Dark Lord dead and everyone whole and hale within the mountain, he can finally let go of the nightmares, let go of the fear and uncertainty that have plagued him since that morning they arrived back, on the edges of Mirkwood. Everything is finally over, and the world has righted itself again, and as the group is quickly shuffled into the mountain, Kíli allows himself to believe that everything is all right.
(And if this is the happiest he will ever be again—as Bilbo's face breaks into a tired smile, as Fíli pulls Bofur into a hug, as Thorin finally releases the hobbit to crush Dwalin between his shaking arms—he thinks he will never ask for anything ever again.)