A/N: Well, uh, hi. I'm back. My apologies for the double post - apparently, when I uploaded it last time, it had ALL TRACKED CHANGES and I'm sure that was an absolute mess. Thankfully I caught it and deleted it and here I am uploading it again.
I have two excuses for my year-long hiatus. The first is that I got a new job about 10 months ago and I do not have free time there like I did at my old job. But I'm making like twice as much money and I have HEALTH INSURANCE and it's an awesome job so there's that. Hashtag adulting. The second excuse is that I had writer's block for like an entire year. But I broke it and I'm here now and I'm sorry for broken promises. Reread if you must! Carry on.
When Thorin and the other Dwarves returned five days later, Fíli was more exhausted than he had ever felt in his life.
The past days had been torturous for both Fíli and Kíli. Fíli, driven by fear, refused to leave Kíli's side; Kíli, irritated with Fíli's hovering, tried to escape him constantly. Being sightless and loath to leave home, however, made avoiding Fíli impossible. So he ignored him, most of the time, unless he decided to shout at him instead. And yet Fíli would not be deterred. If Kíli was in such deep despair, Fíli would be there for him, no matter what his brother said. Someone had to watch over him.
The night made Fíli especially fearful; who knew what could happen then? Dark nights brought dark thoughts. He found himself sitting up, either outside Kíli's door—his brother would not let him come in—or in the kitchen, his heart troubled. He could not sleep; the pitch darkness in his room let fears run wild, and when he did try to sleep by his mother's command, his chest felt tight and uncomfortable. He would rather sit up and make sure his brother was all right.
A messenger came to report that caravans had been seen in the distance in the early evening, but it was several hours before any of the wagons reached the mountains. Fíli whiled away the time sitting in the parlor, cleaning each of his knives, as Kíli brooded in the chair by the fireplace. Dís entered the room and looked hard at Fíli.
"I already said no," he said without looking up.
"You should go, Fíli," Kíli muttered.
Fíli shot him a sharp look and returned to working on his blade. He wasn't going anywhere if Kíli was going to be alone.
"Fíli," said Dís, taking another step into the room, "Your uncle will expect you to be there. As will the rest of our people. You are their prince. Don't you feel it is your duty to greet them?"
"As I was supposed to be returning with them, I don't feel that I am bound to any such formality," he said. He set down one knife and began work on another. Kíli shifted in the corner of his vision.
"Oi, don't talk to me like that," said Dís.
Fíli sighed and set down his knife, and then he looked up at his mother. "Like what?"
"Like that," Dís said irritably. "Dismissive. Have you forgotten how to treat your elders with honor and respect?"
Fíli did not have an answer for that—at least, not a polite one. By Durin, he was tired. He picked up his knife again. Dís's gaze was burning into him, but he kept his focus on the weapon in his hands. Let her be angry; Kíli was more important right now than any obligation she made up. He was not leaving his brother alone in his current state of misery.
After a long silence, Dís said, "Fine. I will go—as is my duty—and I will tell Thorin that you refused to come."
"Fine," Fíli retorted.
With an exasperated sigh, Dís left the room. Fíli attempted to stifle a yawn unsuccessfully. His eyes burned. The outer door from their wing to the hall opened and closed.
"That was rude," Kíli said quietly.
"You're one to talk," said Fíli. "How many times have you shouted at both of us in the past week?"
"How much sleep have you gotten in the past week?" Kíli shot back. "You're doing this to yourself. I'm fine. I don't need you watching me at all hours of the day and night."
Fíli hissed as his hand slipped and he cut his finger.
"Mahal's balls," he whispered, putting his finger in his mouth.
"Mum would've slapped you for that."
"Shut up, Kíli," Fíli said over his bleeding finger. He pulled it away from his lips look at it; could be worse. Still, it would need to be bandaged. Setting down his knife, he put the wounded appendage back in his mouth and got up.
"I really would be fine if you went, Fíli," said Kíli as he started towards the door.
"I'm not leaving you," Fíli said, continuing on his way. "Not with what I know."
"Fíli," Kíli called, but he had already left the room. He searched the cabinet in the kitchen for bandages and set to work. A minute later, he heard Kíli come up behind him.
"Fíli, can we please just talk about this?" he said. "No one else is here. Let's actually talk about it."
Fíli did not answer right away, deciding to finish patching up his finger first. Then he turned around and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms. Kíli was frowning deeply, and though he could not look at Fíli, his eyes were pleading.
"It is my duty to make sure you are safe," Fíli said. "It always has been. I'm your brother, and it is what is expected of me."
"But you assume the worst!" Kíli argued. "I never said I would—"
"You never said you wouldn't."
"Fíli, please," Kíli pleaded, his voice cracking. "You have to understand that this isn't easy for me."
"That's why I try to be there for you as much as I can, and you push me away!" said Fíli.
"You never leave me alone, Fíli!" Kíli cried. "You haunt my steps! You watch me sleep, for Durin's sake! You're not being there for me; you're just being ridiculous!"
"I don't know what else to do!" said Fíli. "You said you'd be better off dead! What am I supposed to do—let you… let you…" Fíli trailed off, unable to say the words. His throat felt thick, and his head was starting to pound. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead.
He heard a shuddering breath from Kíli and looked up.
"Maybe I think I would be better off… that way," Kíli said softly. "But it's not like that. It's just not. I wouldn't—I couldn't—Fíli, it's different." He bowed his head. "It's different."
Fíli stared at him. "I don't know what that means, brother," he said.
Kíli looked pensive, and he was silent for a long moment. Then he shook his head slowly.
"Just leave me be," he said.
He turned around and headed back to the parlor, gently touching a few key points to guide his way. Fíli watched him plaintively and rubbed his forehead again; his headache was getting worse. He wanted to throw something. He wanted to sleep.
Thorin would be home soon, and Fíli was starting to regret his decision to stay. Not that he would have changed his mind—Kíli needed someone to keep an eye on him—but he knew his mother would ensure he received a scolding for shirking what she saw as his responsibility. Truth be told, he did feel that he should have been there, but he also remembered his words to his uncle in Tumunzahar. I belong with my brother. Even if his brother insisted he did not need his company.
With a sigh, he pushed himself away from the counter and inspected the handiwork on his finger. It would hold. He put away the bandages and slowly headed back to his knives in the parlor. Kíli was curled up in his chair, his head resting on the arm and his face drawn. His eyes flickered in the direction of Fíli's footsteps, but he did not move or speak; Fíli sat down and continued his work.
"Fíli? Kíli? We're back!"
Fíli looked up at the doorway and then back to Kíli, who had once again fallen asleep. He stood up and peered into the hall; voices and the sound of bags hitting the floor met his ears, and he followed them to their source. When Thorin spotted him, he smiled warmly.
"Fíli, it is good to see you," he said. As he looked him over, his brow furrowed. "You look terrible, lad. Are you all right?"
"Just tired, is all," Fíli said, casting his gaze downward. "I'm fine."
"The boy won't sleep, Thorin," said Dís, pulling the door closed behind her.
"Oi, I'm not a boy," Fíli muttered.
Dís ignored him. "I find him awake at all hours, sitting outside Kíli's door, or peeking in his room, or sitting up in the kitchen. He won't listen to me at all."
"And what is the cause of such great concern? Your mother says he is improving," said Thorin, casting a sharp eye over Fíli, who ducked his head sheepishly.
"He won't say," Dís answered for him, setting down one of Thorin's bags. "He'll only say he has to keep an eye on him."
"I can answer for myself," Fíli grumbled.
"Oh, and do you have something different to say to your uncle than what you've said to me?"
Fíli began to wish he had been asleep like Kíli.
"And how is your shoulder?" Thorin asked.
Fíli blinked. He had expected more of a reprimand. "Er, much better," he said. "Still a bit sore, but I can move it, mostly."
"Good," Thorin replied. "Good. Then would you mind helping your old uncle with these bags?"
"Of course," Fíli said, stepping up and taking one from Thorin's hands.
"Here, come with me to my room," said Thorin, picking up the other bags. Fíli followed obediently, and Dís stayed behind, sorting through some supplies. His uncle was silent until they reached his room.
"You can put it over there," he said, gesturing next to the bed.
"How did the rest of the expedition go?" Fíli asked, setting down his burden.
Thorin dropped his own bag. "Not very well," he said. "Many of the others were quite put off by what happened to you and Kíli, and we found an entire section of the halls underwater." Thorin rubbed his beard. "I think it would demand far too much work—and possibly some lives—to fix. No, it looks uninhabitable, I'm afraid."
Fíli sat down on Thorin's bed, a weight sinking in his stomach. They had had high hopes for Tumunzahar, and he and Kíli had contributed to the bad report for the halls. So much for his first expedition; now it was simply his first failure.
"I'm sorry we poisoned the mission," he said.
Thorin stopped digging through the bag he had just opened and smiled kindly at Fíli. "You didn't sink Beleriand, lad."
"You're in a very good mood for returning with poor news," said Fíli, looking up at Thorin suspiciously.
"I was worried for you and Kíli," Thorin said with a light shrug. "I am just glad to be home and know that you are both improving. It weighed heavily on my mind, with both of you gone."
"Kíli still can't see, though," said Fíli folding his hands between his knees. "And we don't know if he will…"
"Óin says he might," Thorin said. He sat down next to Fíli and rested a hand on his good shoulder. "Do not allow yourself to lose hope."
Fíli looked down at his hands. You should tell Kíli that.
"Now, as for you," Thorin continued, taking a more serious tone. Fíli looked at him nervously. "Your mother said you have been refusing to sleep, and that you have been short with her. Is this true?"
Fíli swallowed and looked away. So here was the reprimand.
"She is your mother, and she deserves honor, no matter how old you may be," said Thorin. "But she believes it is because you are simply tired. Fíli, I think you need to go rest."
Fíli looked up at Thorin, his eyes widening. He couldn't leave his brother alone now.
"Your mother and I are here for him," Thorin interrupted. "I do not like hearing that you are disrespecting your mother. Do as I say and get some rest, my boy."
"Blimey, lad, what has you so worried for your brother that you refuse to sleep?" Thorin asked incredulously.
Fíli immediately looked down to avoid giving any telltale signs. As worried as he was, and as much as Kíli denied what Fíli knew, he felt as if he had been trusted with a heavy secret—one that could not even be shared with his family. He had already betrayed Kíli's trust with Flán, days before, and now he was here; he was not prepared to see what would happen, should he betray Kíli again.
"He… I just need to be there for him, Uncle," Fíli said. "I've been with him this far. I can't abandon him now."
"You're not going anywhere," Thorin replied. "You just need to sleep. You should see yourself—you're pale as a ghost. Your mother told me you seemed sickly on the way up, but seeing you… You cannot do this, Fíli. Get some rest. Kíli will still be here in the morning."
Fíli squeezed his eyes shut. His throat felt tight. Would he?
"Look at me, Fíli."
Fíli looked at Thorin.
"Get some sleep," Thorin said, looking him square in the eye. "That is an order."
Fíli scowled and looked away. He was an adult, and it rankled him to be told to go to bed. Still, he didn't have it in him to disobey a direct order from Thorin. Yet his fear for Kíli lingered; his mind pulled in multiple directions, and he did not move.
"Go," Thorin commanded again. "I'll not have you worrying your mother."
After another moment's consideration, Fíli reluctantly rose to his feet. He paused and looked back at Thorin.
"You'll keep an eye on him?" he asked.
Thorin looked at him quizzically. "If it is necessary, aye," he said.
Fíli nodded and turned away. That would have to be good enough. He trudged to his room and changed his clothes, but his thoughts would not slow down; in his mind's eye, all he could see was waking up to a disaster, and he could have stopped it if he had only been vigilant, if he had not let down his guard.
He left his room.
Knowing full well that Kíli would hear him if he were awake, Fíli made his way to the kitchen as if he were only going for a drink of water. As he pumped water into his glass, he listened for any sounds from the parlor. He did not hear anything, so he made his way back, peeking in surreptitiously as he went by. Thorin was inside, kneeling down beside the chair where Kíli still slept. Fíli stopped.
"Kíli," said Thorin, resting a hand on his arm. Kíli stirred, and Fíli stood stock still, afraid to move for fear of being discovered.
"Kíli, it's me," Thorin said as Kíli slowly opened his eyes. "I'm back."
"Uncle?" said Kíli sleepily.
"Aye," said Thorin. Kíli started to lift his head, but Thorin said, "No, no, you don't have to get up."
"A'right," Kíli mumbled, laying his head back down on the arm of the chair.
"I wanted to say hello and see how you were faring," Thorin said. "Are you feeling much better?"
Kíli simply shrugged. He looked ready to fall back asleep at any moment.
"Anything coming back…?"
Kíli scowled. Thorin sighed and patted his shoulder.
"It may come back yet, lad," he said. "Do not lose heart."
"You smell bad," Kíli said in reply.
Thorin chuckled. "You'll have to forgive the smell; I've been traveling for days," he said. "Go ahead and rest. Your mum and I are here if you need anything."
"Tell Fíli to stop hovering," Kíli said. "He won't leave me alone."
Fíli took a step back, frowning. Of course Kíli would go up the chain of command.
"He's gone to bed already," said Thorin.
"No, he's standing just outside the door."
Damn his senses. Thorin turned and looked, his eyes flashing when he saw Fíli standing there, and Fíli slunk off before his uncle could say another word. So much for keeping an eye on Kíli. He was not going to get away with staying up any longer.
With a sinking heart, Fíli went to his room and crawled into bed; the moment his body hit the mattress, it seemed as if every ounce of exhaustion he had been holding back rushed at him at once, and he dropped his face into his pillow. The thought crossed his mind that he needed to turn out the lantern, but his pillow was so soft, his bed so warm, and he was so tired…
Fíli awoke to pure darkness.
It was silent in the mountain, and Fíli made a quiet, strained noise. Why did it seem more silent than it should have been? He attempted to lift his head, but he could not move.
Then he felt it.
It was far enough away at first, but he could feel it coming closer. The ceiling. The ceiling was falling, and now he could hear the cracking of the rock, remote and far away, like it was meeting him underwater. Fíli still could not move. A second noise escaped him, but the ceiling was coming closer still, and now the walls were closing in, too. He could feel the closeness of the air—it seemed thick, hard to breathe in, as if the shrinking room was compressing it until it was not breathable at all. He could not move.
Not again, he thought, struggling to bring in a breath. Please, not again. He couldn't breathe. He could not move. What was happening?
"Help," he managed to push out, but it was hoarse and quiet. The walls were coming in. "Help," he tried again, but it was as if his voice had been silenced. The air seemed a solid mass now, pressing him from all sides.
"Help!" he called. Please, someone, anyone. Not again. "Help! Please! Help!"
Light flooded Fíli's senses, and the walls and ceiling instantly snapped back to their proper place. A hand touched his shoulder, and he saw Thorin beside him. He could suddenly feel his body shaking, his heart pounding. He could move. He still couldn't breathe. A heavy weight sat on his chest. He covered his face with shaking hands. What was happening? What had just happened?
"It's all right, lad," said Thorin from somewhere above. "It was a dream. You're all right."
Fíli shook his head, wheezing. He was not all right. Something was still pushing on his chest, keeping him from breathing in. He clawed desperately at his throat with one hand.
"Fíli, can you hear me?"
He did his best to nod, and a strained whimper left him. Two hands grabbed hold of him, pulled him up so he was sitting, and held him there. He grabbed his throat with both hands.
"Can you tell me what is happening?"
He shook his head. He didn't know. He felt trapped…
"Fíli, you're panicking. Listen to my voice. You are all right. You are safe. You are at home, in your bed. Everything is all right."
Irritation niggled at Fíli's insides. Why was Thorin lying to him? Everything was not all right. He struggled to bring in another breath. What was sitting on his chest? Why couldn't he breathe? A hand pulled his fingers away from his throat, and he covered his eyes instead, trying to focus on air. A panicked hum left him.
"Can you look at me, Fíli?"
He shook his head.
"Did you dream you were trapped?"
A short cry escaped him. A dream. Of course. A dream. He had been dreaming. So why did he still feel like this?
"Fíli, I want you to breathe slowly. Five seconds in, five seconds out. Ready? One, two, three, four, five…"
Fíli did as he was told to the best of his ability. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. Again. Again. It was easier with Thorin counting. He could do this.
"Good, lad. Keep breathing. One, two, three… whoa, there."
A wave of lightheadedness had sent Fíli pitching forward. Thorin's hand made contact with his chest and held him up.
"Fíli, look at me."
A moment of strength made it possible. He dropped his hands and looked up, and his eyes met Thorin's. They were calm and gentle.
"All right?" Thorin asked.
"N-no," Fíli breathed. "No. What is happening?" He touched his throat again and breathed slowly and shakily.
"It's all right, lad," said Thorin. "It happens sometimes, after what you have been through. Is this the first time?"
Fíli's brow creased, and then the thought cleared. The cave-in. This was because of the cave-in. Thorin looked at him hard for a few moments, but he could not answer.
"Well, we can talk about that later," he said finally. "Dís, will you hand me that glass?"
Fíli blinked and looked up at his mother. He had not even noticed her in the room. She handed the glass on the bedside table to Thorin, who held it out for him to take.
"Have some water," he said. Dís sat down behind Fíli and started rubbing his back. It felt soothing. He took the glass with two shaking hands and took a sip, and then Thorin took it away.
"How do you feel now?" Thorin asked. "Better?"
"Still feels tight in my chest," Fíli replied. His voice sounded strained and hollow.
"Keep breathing. Just the way I showed you, now."
For a few minutes, the only sound was Fíli's shaking breaths. Thorin watched him, keeping a steadying hand on his shoulder, and Dís's hand never left his back. His pulse began to slow, though he could still feel himself trembling.
So this was what it had been before. The breathing problems, the tightness in his chest… all of it because of the cave-in. Had it truly damaged him so badly? The thought embarrassed him. A dwarf, afraid of small spaces? Even a wagon? Even in a dream? How would that work? How could anyone follow him? How could he stand proud as a prince before his people now?
Tears built in Fíli's eyes, and he drew up his knees and covered his face with his hands.
"Dís," he heard Thorin say, and then he felt movement; a few moments later, his mother's arms were around him, and he rested his head in the crook of her neck.
"I'll check on Kíli, poppet—you stay with him," Thorin said to Dís. "And Fíli… you have nothing to feel ashamed about. Take it from this old Dwarf. Nothing."
Fíli did not believe that. He heard Thorin's footsteps fade away.
I would like my brain for making this happen to me a few months ago, and to apologize to my roommate for scaring the crap out of her with my sleep yelling. At least I didn't have an anxiety attack about it, although I've definitely had one and not realized why until later on, as well. Hey, it's good for storytelling, right?
I have some ideas for the future, but please review! I want to thank each and every one of you who reviewed and encouraged me to continue, because every single time I got one, I sat down with my notebook and tried my best. Nothing came to me until the other day, but it was all of you who kept me going. You're the best and I love you all.
You can also keep in contact with me on Tumblr (I have it again; mistergandalf, as before, but I'm not on too much) and Twitter (italian_hobbit, and I'm on here all the time)!
Until next time!