This was written as an expansion of a couple of things in my one-sentence fic collection, Anoesis. It's based off of #200 and #253—Gold and Swell—for those of you who also followed Anoesis, but of course it can be read independently, and stands alone as its own oneshot.
Set in bookverse for purposes of plot—nobody got held up in Laketown, etc. etc. etc.
Elysium: the resting place of heroes after death
They are within the mountain, and everything is wrong.
Fíli cannot say when or why or how it happened. All he knows is that he stands in the mountain of his forefathers (his mountain, he reminds himself—this is his birthright, the kingdom he will one day come to rule), his brother at his side, and he wishes to be anywhere but here.
He is terrified for his friends and his king and his brother, because even though the dragon is gone (he watched with sick horror as Esgaroth burned, but Thorin only told him with a stony face and dark eyes that they can do nothing for the men now, no matter how terrible the carnage), the worst threat to their Company and their Quest yet remains here. He first noticed it in the elders, a tendency to spend long hours in the treasury; but even now the younger ones—those who have never known the mountain, those who have no true ties to its riches except the fourteenth-share they are promised by Thorin—spend too much time lost to their own minds, sifting through the gold and the gems despite the dragon-stench that makes it near-impossible to breathe.
Fíli and Kíli and Bombur, alone, seem unaffected, and though Fíli feels a calling within him, from deep in his bones that tugs him near-unconsciously toward the treasury, he does his best to resist. He has seen the darkness in Thorin's eyes, of late—he has seen the greed and the eerie joy light up the others' faces, and it terrifies him. He ignores the siren song of the mountain, the dirges and the love songs and the lullabies she sings to him—ignores the way she begs him to come to her bosom like a mother after a long day.
(He hopes his own determination will be enough.)
Bilbo, too, seems skittish and terrified like he has not in months, and his gaze often finds the king when they are in the same room. Often, he clutches the strap of his bag ever-tighter, or slips his hand into his pocket and clutches something, as if gaining courage or peace of mind. Sometimes, Fíli wonders whether he might be willing to share whatever positive thoughts he has managed to conjure.
The four of them take to sitting in far corners whenever possible (for Bombur is often dragged away by his brother, a horribly uncomfortable look on his face as he stares at Bofur's darkened eyes), whenever Thorin has not ordered them to search for the Arkenstone among the mountains and mountains of gold. They agree without question when asked, of course—because Fíli isn't so sure Thorin would recognize dissension as anything less than treason—but he sees the way Bilbo glances furtively around, moves so very slowly toward the gold to resume the search.
And then Fíli sees the way he hardly ever seems to sleep, the way he never lets his pack out of his sight and never allows anyone to see inside it, and wonders whether someone hasn't found the King's Jewel, after all.
It would be folly to hand it over to Thorin now, and all three of them know it, so Fíli only acknowledges Bilbo with renewed respect and dares not say anything about it.
It has been nearly three weeks, now, since they have reentered the mountain; the men and elves have come and offered their terms. Fíli—were he in any position to negotiate—would agree to them in an instant, and similarly, he sees the apprehension warring with unfailing loyalty in his brother's eyes. Esgaroth was razed to ashes, anyone could see that; the survivors huddle in tents supplied by the elves (and no matter how much Fíli resents them for what they have done to his kin, he must admit that they are doing more for the men than Thorin ever will), scrambling for food and supplies enough to last the winter.
But he is not king—he is not king, because Thorin is king, but perhaps Thorin is mad and perhaps Thorin is not making the right decision, here. Because even though the Men are not of their own race—even though the elves have wronged their line in the past—perhaps the men of Dale have some claim to the gold after all, and perhaps a fraction of the vast treasury is not worth going to war over. And, after all, they are thousands and the dwarves are only thirteen, and even the most prejudiced and stubborn of creatures would realize that these are impossible odds.
Even the most prejudiced and stubborn, perhaps, but Fíli was not properly reckoning with the sheer will that is Thorin Oakenshield, especially one reunited with his lost home after nearly two centuries. Because Fíli sees, he knows, that there is something wrong with his uncle's gaze, when he peers over the treasury, his grandfather's crown sitting heavily upon his brow. Lately, he scarcely saves a glance for kith and kin that have traveled all these hundreds of leagues to attempt—succeed—at reclaiming their long-lost mountain; he would rather spend every waking moment in his precious treasury.
It was worth it.
(Was it worth it?)
Because Kíli's face—gaunt, already, from their near-starvation in that damned Mirkwood—is grown paler still, and dark circles haunt his eyes in a way that Fíli is sure must mirror his own. Bombur is rationing out their cram and their water, and there is not much left of it; they have a week, maybe two, before they are well and truly out of options.
Fíli is so close to confronting Bilbo, this close to begging him to give Thorin the Arkenstone—or—or—do something, he knows not what, because they will starve at this rate, or be forced out to meet the combined forces of those who now want them dead—
(He is a prince but he is powerless and he hates this, that when his people need him most he can do nothing and this weakness will surely damn them all—)
But surely Bilbo will be able to do something, yes? Surely, Bilbo—who has saved them from mountain trolls and Azog the Defiler and monstrous spiders and elven dungeons and a Mahal-forsaken dragon—will have some sort of plan. Surely, Bilbo will be able to burgle them all from this impossible situation.
He goes to confront Bilbo one desperate night—when Bombur is out on watch and Kíli has fallen into restless sleep and the rest are searching the treasury without a thought to the time—but he is nowhere to be found.
The next morning, Fíli finds both his wildest dreams and his worst fears realized.
Bilbo has done something—done the impossible—but at the same time it is so paralyzingly stupid that Fíli can only stare in stunned shock, because as much as he resents Thorin for being so single mindedly focused on finding the Arkenstone, he recognizes its significance to his people, to his family, to him.
And Bilbo—their impossible burglar—has smuggled the stone out of the mountain altogether, and has handed it to their enemies; as Fíli sees Thorin's unbridled rage and Bilbo's terrified resolve and maybe—maybe that is the beginnings of horror on the others' faces as well—he thinks that perhaps they should not be led into a war against those who were once their allies.
But now Bilbo has been—damn it all—he has been exiled—excommunicated—from this Company who have come to call him family, even when it was clear that he was only trying to help… Fíli cannot help but feel resentment and—dare he say it—anger toward his uncle like has not in all his life, because this is wrong, and despite every shred of loyalty he can gather to rally around Thorin, he cannot help but think that Bilbo was in the right here.
But Bilbo is gone now, and the darkness in his uncle's eyes rages ever-stronger, and even though Balin is looking toward Fíli with something akin to horror and terrible grief on his face, they both know there is nothing to be done.
Perhaps this madness claimed Thrór, and Thráin, and perhaps Thorin swore to his family and to his people and to Mahal that he would not fall as well…but it has happened, and there is nothing to be done, now, but try to salvage whatever good can be brought from this situation.
But looking at Balin and Óin and Dwalin—veterans, already, of the sickness that has claimed too many in the past—and feeling Kíli's iron (trembling) grip on his forearm, Fíli knows that there is little to be done anymore.
There is war on their doorstep, and Fíli does not know what he is most scared of anymore.
There is the madness in Thorin's eyes beneath that heavy iron crown, certainly, though Balin has convinced him to leave the treasury for the war room. After all, while battle with the elves and men has been stalled (and Fíli foolishly hopes that, perhaps, it has been forgone entirely), there is a darkness, a bitterness on the air that tastes of copper, which Fíli is all too familiar with...remembers tasting and smelling and breathing in Ered Luin.
This time, it is not so benign as to mean a new vein to mine from the mountain.
This time, it means blood.
He has slept little, wondering whether Bilbo has left for his home, safe and warm in the Shire (which he would be wise to do), or whether he has foolishly stayed behind with the elves and men (and, after all, Bilbo has never been very wise so much as clever). Though he doubted the hobbit at the beginning of their quest, he misses him dearly now—he would even take his grumbles about the lack of rations, his reminiscence about his armchair and his history books and his garden, of all things—he would take anything that would mean Bilbo—another sane mind amidst this madness—were here, a silent force at his back driving him on.
But Bilbo is not here (and, likely, Fíli will never see him again), so he soldiers on like he has always been taught to do: hoping for the best and planning for the worst. He lies awake at night listening to the others' snores, listening to Thorin's dark mumbles from the corner when he retreats from the treasury…listens to the heart of the mountain, pleading with her children to arm for war.
Perhaps Thorin listens to her as well. Or perhaps Thorin only recognizes the inevitable…because early the next morning, Fíli is woken by a rough hand on his shoulder and a short bark to wake his brother and follow his king to the treasury.
He scarcely has enough time to reach over and shake Kíli awake, yanking on his boots and coat and casting a short glance around to see the rest of his companions asleep. He considers before eventually leaving his swords and hammer by his bedroll; after all, he has several knives yet about his person, and if it comes down to it, there are surely weapons enough in the treasury for him to use.
(He hates himself for even thinking it, but the blazing fury in Thorin's eyes as he held Bilbo by the throat over the vast mountainside is burned into the backs of his eyelids. Despite the fact that Thorin is their uncle—despite everything—he cannot help but think that perhaps he will have to defend himself and his brother against his own kin.)
(He does not feel shame for it—only regret.)
Thorin—somewhere—has found himself a beautiful set of armor that could only have been Thrór's, so many years ago when the mountain still thrived. It is made of the strongest of steels but dyed jet black; the plates overlap like ravens' feathers, and and it is all shot through with gold that glimmers in the dim light of the torches they carry. The breastplate is severe and imposing; the greaves and gauntlets are jagged and dangerous. This armor is designed not only to defend but to destroy...
Fíli has never seen anything like it in his life.
The two of them follow closely behind Thorin, sharing wary glances but saying nothing to each other—not when he could overhear, not when he could misinterpret and throw them out of the mountain just as he did Bilbo—and then who would be left to guide and rule the others with a sure, rational hand? Fíli does his best not to be taken in by the architecture around him—he has been hard-pressed enough to resist the gold, after all, and the gold- and silver-laced pillars and arches and beams are beautiful and tempting and deadly—but he cannot help but be impressed by the vastness of this kingdom, created centuries ago by his ancestors.
They're long-dead, now, many lost to this same sickness. Fíli wonders suddenly—what would they think of Thorin now?
(What would they think of him, an heir too weak to stand up for the good of the kingdom and of the people?)
Thorin lingers in the dim treasury, his eyes gleaming as he casts his gaze about the riches collected here (and Fíli determinedly looks at his boots, the walls, the furs Thorin yet wears beneath the armor—anything but the tempting sheen of the gold), but eventually, the king leads them to a side room, with doors nearly as ornate as the treasury's: onyx shot through with copious amounts of gold, the emblem of Durin emblazoned proudly in what can only be mithril.
Thorin opens the doors without a word, and the two of them have no choice but to follow.
It is the armory, Fíli realizes almost immediately, and it is enormous. The treasury had skylights carved into the distant ceiling, offering some visibility in the vast hall, but the armory has nothing of the sort; the darkness bears down on them, so complete and so overwhelming that were it not for the three torches they carry, Fíli would fear being swallowed up entirely.
But despite this, what Fíli can see of this hall (for the walls stretch far beyond the torchlight on every side), it is the grandest he has ever seen—Ered Luin hosted an armory, of course, but it had been small, and nearly all of the weapons and armor had seen war and been put back together rather than forged anew; the iron used had been hardy but often impure, sub-par, especially when compared to the alloys of old that are displayed in abundance here, flickering in and out of sight as they walk along some predetermined path through the room.
There must be hundreds of full steel sets stacked in neat rows, only waiting for skilled soldiers to wear them, with lesser—but no less impressive—iron armor in even greater numbers behind. The sheer number of spears and axes and swords—and yes, even bows, and Fíli sees his brother's eyes widen in amazement as he brandishes his torch at the impressive display—is overwhelming; their craftsmanship is beyond measure; this, surely, has always been counted among the great riches of Erebor, that no other kingdom could hope to outmatch.
Fíli suddenly feels very young, and very small.
He wonders whether Thorin plans to gift them with new weapons—those from Laketown are serviceable, surely, but the axe they gave Fíli is too long to be fluid in his arms, and the bow given Kíli is far too tall—but they bypass the weapons entirely. Fíli finds himself captivated by a particular pair of swords as they walk past, the blades sharp as the day they were forged and the hilts intricately carved and inset with many jewels; he can see Kíli itching to take several of the bows from their stands and to test the draw and the handling…but Thorin ignores it all—spares not a glance for the beautiful steel weapons on all sides—and says nothing to either of them as he leads them to the very top of the room.
Here, two full sets of armor come into view; they are displayed in high honor—surrounded by enormous, burnt-out torch stands that once must have illuminated a radius of several dozen feet—and one is burnished gold while the other is made of shining silver. Both have the seven stars of Durin engraved on the breastplate and on the helm as well as the ravens' feather design—strengthening the armor while at the same time denoting the wearers as high-ranking officials in service of the Longbeards, or else nobility themselves.
Neither have seen battle, that much is clear…and Fíli is struck silent for a moment as he can only take in the beautiful craftsmanship that went into the metalworking.
"I wish for you to wear these," Thorin says, and maybe it is only Fíli's mind playing tricks on him, or maybe his voice sounds curiously soft and more emotional than it has in weeks. "If there is to be battle, you both must be well-adorned and well-armed. You may have your pick of the weapons here. In time, I will have even grander ones forged by the greatest blacksmiths in the land, but for now, you must settle for what is available here."
Fíli isn't sure that he'd be settling for anything; tearing his gaze away from the armor to gaze again at the thousands upon thousands of swords stored here, he realizes that any of these are more beautiful than the swords he has carried for decades. Though they were—are, and he plans to ask that the elves return them once this is all over—among his most prized possessions, forged for him by Thorin for his coming of age decades ago, they were not so beautiful as sturdy and strong, and he has never realized this supposed shortcoming…not until now.
(He wonders what Thorin—this Thorin—thinks of those swords now, wonders whether he would cast them away for their leather-wrapped hilts, their blades that are not as shined as they used to be…not beautiful, surely, but well-loved and cared for, and that has all that has ever mattered to Fíli.)
He pulls his gaze back to Thorin when he hears the clinking of steel, and his eyes widen to see him putting his torch aside. He lifts the golden helm from its stand with near-reverence, turning to Fíli after a moment and placing it onto his head. "Fit, I think, for the crown prince of Erebor," he says, and his voice has that same curious tone to it that Fíli cannot quite identify.
He bids him don the rest of the armor, and strangely, it fits without adjustment; without proper leathers beneath the mail, the chain links bite into his skin, uncomfortable and probing, but he does not dare complain—not when Thorin is in such a state…
Not when Thorin is looking at him with that same, dark glint in his eyes, trailing from the golden helm upon his golden hair down to the breastplate, the strongest of steels plated with pure gold. A son of Durin, it proclaims, and Fíli cannot tell whether he is proud or horrified in this moment to be named as such.
But his king says nothing, only turning to the silver-plated armor, staring at it for several moments—drinking in the shine of it as the surface dances for the flames of the torches—before lifting the helm, fitting it almost gently onto Kíli's head.
The only adjustment the armor requires is a slight tightening of the straps that hold the breastplate together—his brother has not yet grown into the barrel-chested physique that is typical of their kind, but Fíli is sure that he will, in time—and then Kíli stands beside him, adorned in armor that matches his own down to the smallest detail. The only difference is the coloring, for surely, it is proper that the elder prince wear gold, and the younger wear the silver.
Fíli has never felt his heritage more than he does now, and he nearly staggers under the weight of the thousands of years of Longbeard history—the legends of Durin, of his descendants and their great deeds…of everything his line has accomplished, and everything that it will.
He wonders, suddenly, whether he will be hailed as a hero or buried by the passage of time, his deeds forgotten by those who do not care.
(And then he wonders what history will make of Thorin, should he not break free of this madness before he truly becomes king.)
He is torn from his thoughts by Kíli shifting next to him, discomfort clear in his stance and in his clenched fists, and Fíli follows his gaze to where Thorin is staring at them, his eyes unreadable and almost black in the dim, flickering torchlight. His king's scrutiny is intense and unblinking, but then, it has been so for all these long years—Fíli only straightens under it, setting his jaw in a hard line and meeting Thorin's gaze bravely.
After all, even if he has succumbed to madness—even if the uncle he once knew is long gone—this is still Thorin Oakenshield, the king he has followed and idolized and emulated for his entire life…
And he'll be damned if he doesn't make the memory of his uncle proud.
So he stands up all the straighter, watching Thorin's sharp eyes flicker up and down the gold armor before turning to Kíli's, taking in the beautiful silver and the way it matches his brother's dark hair and flinty eyes. But then, Fíli sees something else in the king's eyes as well. Something akin to pride, which he has only rarely seen on Thorin's face…something he has yearned after all his life, and only rarely received so visibly. At any other time, he would have been ecstatic beyond belief to see such a thing.
But now, watching this near-manic pride raging across his king's face, he does not feel ecstatic at all. Instead, he realizes with a feeling of sinking dread that he does not know whether Thorin is so proud of seeing his nephews arrayed as such, ready to fight and die for the home they have never known…
Or whether he is proud of the precious metals gleaming off their bodies, reflected back in his cold, cold eyes.
Later, when they return to their makeshift camp, having picked their new weapons from the vast collection and still wearing the armor (for Thorin bade them show the others, and Fíli does not wish to return to the armory in the coming days), the others are now awake. Ori's jaw drops open when he sees them, his quill faltering from where he had been writing in his journal. Most of the others, likewise, seem astonished by them and by the armor; Óin half-rises as if to congratulate them—embrace them—Fíli does not know what…but he only smiles wanly at his cousin, saying nothing.
But soon, Balin is the one who catches his attention, though the old dwarf says nothing and does not rise from his place on the ground by his brother. Both of them seem shell-shocked by their appearance, and Dwalin's gaze quickly seeks out Thorin, a question written all over his face though he does not voice anything aloud. "You must arm yourselves for war," the king says loudly, silencing any questions they may have dared to ask. "There is blood on the air, and if we must fight, we will fight as lords of Durin!"
He says more, but Fíli scarcely listens; he is too distracted by Balin, who, likewise, does not seem to be listening to their king at all. His gaze flickers often to him, true, but he only fixes Fíli and Kíli with old, grief-stricken eyes, looking from their faces to the armor and then to Thorin before heaving a heavy sigh and looking down at his hands.
Fíli wishes to ask him what he is about, what could possibly sadden him more than this situation already has, but before he has the chance, Balin is being pulled to his feet by his brother, and the others make their way to the armory to arm and guard themselves against whatever foe they might face in the coming days.
Fíli wishes to ask him, but never gets the chance, because the next morning, there is an army of orcs on the horizon, and the three allied armies ride into battle.
(And even when he lies dying on this terrible battlefield, his lips stained red and his ruined chest rasping for air, begging for another breath even as his brother is run through and dead beside him, Fíli stares into Thorin's fading eyes and does not understand.)
(After all, Thorin is the king, and Fíli is his nephew and heir and protector—how else should he have died, except shielding him with steel and flesh, keeping him safe from any further harm and doing his best to ensure his continued survival?)
(Fíli has done his duty to king and kin, so why are there tears streaming down his uncle's face and onto this black, bloody ground?)
(Could he have disappointed his uncle even in this?)
Fíli dies not knowing, and perhaps that is the greatest tragedy of all.
Thorin Oakenshield dies with many regrets, and he dies knowing he will never be forgiven for any of them.
Kíli's eyes, in death, had been wide in surprise and pain (dead before his body hit the ground, the gaping wound still draining blood from his veins). Fíli, on the other hand, had not died so quickly; he had struggled for minutes on end to stay aware, to reach out for his brother and for Thorin in those final moments…and a few traitorous tears had fallen down his cheeks in his failure before he was lost.
(Thorin would have gathered him into his arms in an instant, had there not been a dozen wounds marring his own body, and half a spear-haft protruding from his gut—had his muscles not betrayed him in those crucial moments when all he wished to do was move.)
But as it was, Fíli died cold and alone, and his face had been full of fear more than pain or sadness, and Thorin knows that he has failed them both.
Kíli died in pain, and Fíli died alone, because they were far too young to go to war and lay down their lives for an uncle—no, a king, for that is all he has been these past weeks—who has never deserved it.
Thorin only knows horror as he remembers the previous night, when he gifted them the most beautiful armor in the mountain in the hopes that it would keep them alive through the terrible battle looming on the horizon. He had hoped—foolishly—that this armor would protect them when it had not had the chance to protect others in the past…
But it has failed him—failed them all—because his nephews lie dead just as his brother once did, a century and more ago, now, when this armor—which, by all rights, should have been protecting him from harm—was far away under the watch of a great, wretched dragon.
Frerin died cold and alone in the forests near Mirrormere (sacred to their line—so why could Mahal not protect his brother?), and Kíli died surprised, and Fíli died in fear, and Thorin knows he has failed them all as surely as he is dying in this very moment.
Because that golden armor adorning Fíli's corpse like a bastardized banner was forged for him, nearly two centuries ago—it was forged for the heir to the throne, and later a second set was wrought for his younger brother in gleaming silver. It was forged with hope for the future king and right hand of Erebor, and last night, though it was far too late for the original bearers, Thorin thought that maybe—maybe the next generation would be just as well-suited for it.
But it was not, and all four of its owners now lie dead or dying, and perhaps Thorin has been an even greater fool than he initially thought. Perhaps he has been wrong all along.
(Perhaps he has no right to be as proud of a king as he always has been.)
But he feels as if he should be allowed a certain measure of pride, if only to acknowledge that his nephews—strong boys who grew into even stronger dwarves, hardy and brave and loyal and far too loving—are more deserving of praise than he ever has been, even if they will only be footnotes in the annals of history…even if they will be forgotten entirely by time and cruel fortune.
He would not forget them—he would never forget them—because he has watched them grow from tiny dwarflings to great and true heroes even though they never knew power or riches; they never knew Erebor and were kings all the same…
And when he saw them arrayed as such for the first time, by the strong, flickering lights of three torches in a long-abandoned kingdom, he could not help but allow his pride to shine through. After all, shouldn't those boys have known exactly how glorious they looked, standing there in gold and silver and precious gems as they should have been all their lives?
But he has betrayed himself, and they did not understand; Fíli died frightened, and Kíli died too quickly, and Thorin never earned the chance to tell either of them with clear eyes and an honest heart exactly how proud he was of the heroes they had become.
(Thorin Oakenshield dies with many regrets, and he knows this is the one he will never—never—allow himself to forgive.)