It's me again! :D

Man, I know it's been forever since I updated THIS story! Times just gets away, especially when you get busy with a bunch of things...that's life for ya :P

I'm hoping to be a little more consistent with my updates as best I can! Fingers crossed!

Now...on with our adventure in "Home Is Where the Heart Is: Part III"! :D

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By sunrise, the survivors of Laketown had all made it to the shores on the other side of the Long Lake, wailing in pain and despair at losing their home, friends and loved ones to the dragonfire. All of Laketown was burnt and destroyed and the size of the plume of smoke they could now see hovering in the air above the ashes was immeasurable. A number of survivors were wounded with serious burns or other injuries. There were children wandering around, afraid and looking for their families. Parents were searching for their children or spouses. Others were tending to the wounded, helping stragglers out of the water or gathering any supplies that had been brought with them.

Tauriel stood on the shore, observing all these behaviors around her. It truly was an awful sight to see. These people were now homeless and forlorn. She had never witnessed such sorrow in her lifetime and it made her heart ache to see this horrible suffering. She and Maori were there with Bard's two daughters, who were crying out desperately for their father and brother. While she helped them look, Tauriel hoped that Bard had escaped the onslaught safely so he could return to his family. She also hoped that Bain had made it out alive, as well.

Fili, Kili, Oin and Bofur were preparing an empty boat and trying to get it back out onto the lake so they could head for Erebor as quickly as possible. Kili broke away momentarily to speak to Tauriel. He wanted to convey his gratitude to her for saving his life. He approached her and she greeted him.

"Tauriel...I want to thank you for saving my life as well as my brother and my friends from the Orcs and also for helping us escape. None of us would be alive without your help," he told her gratefully. "I don't know how I can repay you."

Bowing her head, Tauriel replied, "You're welcome, Kili. I am grateful I got there in time. And there is no need for you to repay me in any way. Peace between your friends and I as well as our friendship is enough." Her eyes drifted over his head to where the other Dwarves were getting their boat ready. Motioning with her head to them, she told Kili, "They are your people. You should go."

"Come with me," he then suggested to her. When she looked startled, he said, "You saved all our lives and you are a great fighter. I am sure if I explain to my uncle what you have done for us, he will understand and will make peace with you, as will the rest of our company. Please, Tauriel, come with us."

She, however, shook her head. "No, Kili…," she answered softly. "I am grateful for your support and even if there was a chance that could happen, my place is not in Erebor. My place is with my people, just as your place is with yours." She gave him a friendly smile. "I will still be your friend and will come should you ever need me, but I could never stay in Erebor. I hope you understand."

"I do understand," he replied with a nod.

"You should hurry," she said. "You have a company and a fiancee to return to."

He replied, grinning, "Aye, I do." Then Kili extended a hand to Tauriel and said, "Farewell, Tauriel. I pray our paths will cross again one day."

Tauriel took his hand in hers and said in return, "Farewell, Kili. I pray for that likewise. May your journey be safe."

Kili gave Tauriel's hand a final grasp and then turned away, walking down the beach to join his companions. Fili saw him coming and then began walking towards him.

"Is Maori coming with us?" Kili asked him.

"I am going to find out right now. Give me a moment," Fili replied as he passed him. He saw Maori was sitting on the ground with Tilda who was on the verge of tears and Sigrid was standing on the other side of her, keeping an eye out for Bard. When Maori saw him coming, she stood up and approached him.

"How is your shoulder?" he asked her, remembering her shoulder had been hurt during the Orc attack at Bard's house.

"I'll manage," she replied. "Are you all about to leave?" she then asked him.

"Aye, we are," he responded. "Are you coming with us?"

Maori looked at him, unsure and hesitant. "Fili...I want to go with you; I would in a heartbeat, but...I cannot leave Bard's daughters," she answered. She turned around to look at the two girls. "Bard has not yet returned and we don't know if he is even alive or dead." Then she looked back to Fili, her expression apologetic. "I have to stay with them, Fili. I cannot leave them alone, not now. Not until their father is found."

"But, Maori…what if Bard didn't make it?" Fili asked, apprehensive of entertaining the thought of Bard being killed in the destruction of Laketown.

The pained look that Maori had made it known that the same thought had crossed her mind, too. "Well…then my answer remains the same. I will remain with the children," she stated. Knowing Fili might not understand at first, she quickly continued before he could say anything, "The children are not all old enough to take care of themselves on their own! Someone has to look after them; someone they know well. I'm sorry, Fili, but that is what I must do if we find that Bard did not survive. He is my friend and I can't abandon his children."

As much as Fili wanted her to come to Erebor with him, he begrudgingly understood her position.

Maori then added, "I hate to have to say this, as well, but…if I have to stay with them, I don't think they'll be happy living in a mountain as much as I would be…and I don't know what that would mean for us in the future…."

That was what Fili was afraid of hearing…and unfortunately, he could also see it coming. Maori was a good friend of Bard's family and, if Bard was indeed dead, she would be all his children had left. Who was he to deprive two—possibly three, if Bain was still alive—innocent children of the only person they had left to call family, even if she was his fiancée? He didn't have it in him to try and convince her otherwise.

"I am sorry, Fili…," he heard Maori say sadly.

He wanted to say it was all right, but at the same time, he wasn't sure if it really was. Did this mean he would have to give up marrying Maori because she would have to care for Bard's children who wouldn't want to live in Erebor? It's not as though he could ask her not to or that he could give up a life in Erebor.

"Wait…that's it!" Fili thought to himself.

He turned to Maori and declared, "Maori, if that is what it must come to if Bard does not return for his children…then I will go with you and the children, wherever you choose to go."

Maori stared at him and narrowed her eyes, unsure if she had heard him correctly.

"What…?" she questioned.

Fili grasped her shoulders and told her steadfastly, "I will abdicate my right after Thorin to the throne of Erebor and I will leave the mountain to live with you; to marry you and help you take care of Bard's three children."

She then understood what Fili meant and her eyes grew huge. "Fili, no! I couldn't ask you to do that!"

"I don't recall you asking me," Fili retorted. "And it matters not. I have made up my mind. Besides, I have grown accustomed to living outside of a mountain back in the Blue Mountains, which is a little more spacious. I could easily adapt better to living anywhere else than the children could living in a mountain. I promised my life to you and if that is what is to happen, then so be it because I know how much those children mean to you. With love and marriage comes sacrifices and this will be one of mine. "

Maori shook her head back and forth. "Let us not think like that yet. We still don't know if Bard is dead or alive. We cannot make a decision until we know for sure."

Fili nodded in agreement. "Aye, you are right," he said. "But I want you to know that I am ready to do whatever I have to, no matter what happens."

"And that's why I love you," she told him sweetly. She reached down and took his hands. "I promise I will come to Erebor as soon as I can if Bard returns. If he does not, I will send word."

"Fair enough." Fili tilted his head and gave her a quick kiss on her forehead. "Stay safe, my love," he said to her, "and have faith that Bard survived."

"Until I have proof otherwise, I will hold onto that faith with an iron grip!"

"Then I pray we'll see each other soon." He brought her hands up to his lips, kissed them firmly and said as he backed away, "Farewell, for now."

"Farewell, for now," Maori said back with a small wave. She winced a little and grabbed her shoulder. The pain was seemingly getting worse. Eventually, she would have someone look at it, but that didn't matter at the moment. What mattered was finding Bard.

Fili hated having to leave Maori for a third time now, but of course he knew he had to. He had to reunite with his uncle and the rest of his companions because, more than likely, they believed he and the other three Dwarves were dead.

"Is Maori not coming with us?" Kili asked when he saw only Fiil coming to the boat.

Fili shook his and answered as he helped push the boat out to the lake, "No, not yet. Bard has not yet returned and she wants to stay with his daughters until he does. Then she will join us in Erebor."

"Very well, then," said Oin. "Let's get a move on!"

The four Dwarves pushed the boat out and hopped into it once it was on the lake. They took up their oars and started rowing.

"Goodbye, my friends!"

They heard Maori call out to them, so they turned around to see her standing at the edge of the beach, waving at them. Each of them waved in return and bid their farewells to her. Fili kept his eyes on his love for a little longer until finally she was almost a dot in the distance. Then he turned back and resumed helping the others row the boat.

At last, they were going to the Lonely Mountain.


After some time, the Dwarves got back to the other side of the Long Lake and they began their trek up the hills by Dale, making their way for the mountain. They were ready to get back with their companions and finish the journey they had started so long ago.

While they were walking, Kili seemed to be slowing down and Fili stopped to make sure he was all right.

"How are you holding up, Kee?" he asked.

"Much better," Kili answered with a nod. "I hardly feel anymore pain. Tauriel's healing really worked magic on me."

"I'm relieved to hear that," Fili replied gladly. As they continued walking beside each other, Fili then asked, "Are you excited to see Aira again?"

Kili sighed loudly and said back, "More than I was when she came back after thirty years. I nearly died...and in my mind, all I could think was how I afraid I was that I would die without ever seeing Aira again."

"Well, there's no need to think that way now," said Fili. "Very soon, you two will be together again and all will be the way it used to be."

The morning sun had reached its zenith in the sky by the time the four Dwarves came up over a hillside and beheld the great front gates of the Lonely Mountain.

Fili and Kili looked at each other, both in awe of the fact that they had finally made it to their ancestral homeland; the land where their uncle, father and mother had once dwelt. It was almost surreal to them that they were finally there after only hearing stories of Erebor since they were little Dwarflings. Every step they took forward began to feel lighter and lighter.

However, once the four of them reached the gate, they observed that it was almost completely obliterated. That surely had to be the work of Smaug when he left the mountain shortly before he attacked Laketown. Realizing that, the four Dwarves grew worried. What had become of the others before Smaug had left?

Anxious, they dashed inside as quickly as they could. When they got inside, they found the main corridor was as destroyed as the gates.

"Hello?" Bofur called out. "Bombur? Bifur? Anybody!"

His voice echoed off the walls of the empty hallway, but there was no answer. The four of them began to fear the worst: that the others didn't make it. They continued on through the halls of the mountain, looking for any signs of survivors.

They had gone down a flight of stairs when they heard a familiar voice cry, "Wait! Wait!"

"It's Bilbo!" said Oin.

"He's alive!" exclaimed Bofur.

The Hobbit came darting from around a corner up ahead, calling as he came up to them, "Stop! Stop, stop!" He approached them abruptly and told them, out of breath yet still sternly, "You need to leave. We all need to leave."

Confused as to what was going on, Bofur replied, "We only just got here."

Bilbo explained, "I've tried talking to him, but he won't listen."

"What do you mean, laddie?" asked Oin.

"Thorin!" Bilbo replied loudly, repeating the name twice. He motioned behind him and told them, "He's been down there for days. He doesn't sleep...he barely eats. He's not been himself...not at all. It's this-it's this place. I believe a sickness lies on it."

"Sickness? What kind of sickness?" asked Kili, concerned.

Fili, however, had started to move towards another set of stairs in front of them. Hearing that his uncle wasn't acting like himself made him worried. He had to see him. He had to see for himself what was going on. He moved past Bilbo and dashed down the stairs towards a brightly lit room.

"Fili? Fili! Fili!" Bilbo called after him in urgency with Kili, Bofur and Oin in tow.

Soon, they all entered through the open doorway below onto a high up platform and beheld a giant room filled wall to wall with huge piles of gold. The four Dwarves were amazed at how much gold there was. They had heard tales of the vast treasure of Erebor, but this was beyond their imagining.

"Gold…!" they then heard a soft voice say. They looked to the source below and found Thorin in the middle of all the gold, dressed in dark royal robes and looking to the gold around him.

"Gold beyond measure...beyond sorrow...and grief…!" he said in an entranced voice.

What was going on, the four Dwarves wondered. The way Thorin was talking sounded different and they were in shock. What had happened to him in the short time they had been apart?

It was then Thorin took notice that they were there above him. However, when he laid eyes on his nephews and companions, he did not rejoice at their return or show any relief at all. He simply stared at them with blank eyes until a grin formed on his face.

"Behold...the great treasure hoard of Thror!" Thorin said to them, looking away and back to the treasure.

Fili and Kili's eyes widened in unbelief. He had shown no emotion at their return or survival; they thought he would be happy to see them...but he didn't seem to care. All he was thinking about was the gold. What had become of their beloved uncle? Because the Dwarf they saw before them was not him.

Right then, Thorin raised his arm and tossed something up towards them. Fili lifted his hands and caught a large ruby.

Then Thorin followed his action by saying to them in almost a dark-sounding voice, mainly to Fili and Kili, "Welcome, my sister-sons...to the kingdom...of Erebor!"

Fili felt incredibly uncomfortable at that moment, so without a word, he turned away and walked back to the doorway, dropping the ruby to the floor as he did. Kili, Bilbo, Bofur and Oin followed after him.

"Where are the others? Did they all make it?" Fili asked Bilbo.

"Yes, everyone is alive and well," Bilbo replied.

They all heaved sighs of relief. That was the news they were hoping to hear.

"Where is Airaním?" Kili asked right away.

"I don't know. She...hasn't been as well as the others," Bilbo informed him.

"Why is that? What's happened?" Kili inquired with immediate concern.

Thinking Kili should've known the answer, Bilbo said back, "Aira thought you all were dead, Kili! She thought when Smaug escaped the mountain and destroyed Laketown that she had lost her fiancee and her brother as well as her friends. That devastated her and she fell into despair. Since then, she has locked herself away somewhere in the mountain and I don't know where. And Thorin has not been there for her; he's been down in that room practically every minute since Smaug was brought down and I have a feeling that's weighing heavily on Aira, too."

"We have to find her. I need to see her," Kili said.

"I think Balin may know where she is. Let me take you to him. He and the others will be so happy to see you all have returned; they've been very worried. I am glad you all survived."

"As are we," said Fili.

Bilbo led the four of them down some stairs and through a few halls until they came to smaller room and Bilbo gestured with his hand for them to go inside. Bofur went in first and saw Balin sitting at a table inside with Dwalin standing beside him.

"Balin!" he cried out.

The other two looked over at the four Dwarves that came in and the joy that appeared on their faces was immediate. With cries of relief, they went over and embraced their long-lost friends. The rest of the company came over from another part of the room and shared in the joy at seeing their companions alive and well. The company had finally been reunited.

"We're so glad to see you're all alive!" exclaimed Dwalin, clapping Fili on the shoulder.

"We've been so worried that you didn't make it," added Ori.

"Never you fear anymore, lads," said Bofur. "We made it out alive and that's all that matters."

"Where is Maori?" asked Balin.

Fili looked a little sad and then answered, "Bard was the one who took down the dragon, but we couldn't find him once we escaped to the other side of the lake. Maori chose to stay with his children until he returns or she finds out for sure what happened to him."

"I do hope he made it, for the sake of his children," Balin commented. Then he turned to Kili and pointed out, "Kili, my lad, you look a hundred times better than you had when we left Laketown. You had quite the speedy recovery."

"That's a long story, better for later," Kili responded. "Right now, I need to find Aira. Bilbo said she's hidden away somewhere and he hasn't seen her, but he says you might know where she is."

Balin's expression grew somber as he nodded and said back, "I do know where she is. Come with me, laddie."

He led the young Dwarf out of the room and down the hallway, where they turned and continued down another one.

As they walked, Balin told Kili, "The poor girl feared the worst when Smaug left the mountain. She's been so distraught."

"That's what Bilbo told me," Kili replied.

"Now that you're here, her heart and mind can be at peace. She will be overjoyed to see you're alive."

Kili then asked, "How are you the only one who knows where she is?"

Balin answered, "I followed after her when she ran off. I knew she wanted to be alone, but I figured at least one person should know where she was, lest we spend hours searching for her."

"Wait for us!" cried Fili from behind them. When Balin and Kili turned around to see Fili, Bofur and Oin coming, Fili added, "We want to see Aira, too."

Balin smiled and simply said, "Very well, then. Follow me."

They walked through a series of hallways until finally Balin motioned for them to wait a moment behind him. While they stood in place, he walked up to a door and carefully knocked.

"Airaním, dear...it's Balin," he said in a gentle voice.

There was no reply for a moment until Aira's low, cracked voice asked on the other side, "What is it, Balin?"

Kili's throat tightened hearing how distressed she sounded. He knew how she felt. He remembered the feelings he had experienced when he thought Aira had perished on the Misty Mountains after their run-in with the stone giants. He had felt lost, empty and sorrowful. Knowing that she was experiencing those same feelings made his heart hurt, especially since they were for naught since he and the others were alive.

"May I come in? I need to speak with you," said Balin.

Once again, there was a brief silence and then Aira answered, begrudgingly, "Come in."

Balin turned to Kili and whispered, "When I open the door, I'll give you the signal to go in and surprise her. You will go first and I'll send in the others shortly after."

Kili understood and nodded.

Carefully, Balin opened the door and peered through. Aira was sitting against a partially busted bed frame with her back facing the door. That was perfect to surprise her. He waved a hand at Kili and he came up by the door. Balin motioned for him to step inside and he obeyed, closing the door behind him.

Without turning around, Aira spoke up, "Balin...I really do not want to talk right now, so please, whatever you have to say, make it quick."

Kili smiled to himself. He couldn't wait to see her reaction when she realized it wasn't Balin standing behind her.

He said, 'Well, I would like to talk, so dry your tears, my love, and please, look at me."

Aira's heart stopped and she froze. That wasn't Balin's voice. Surely, she had to be hearing things; she was going mad. The voice that had spoken to her...was it truly him?

"It can't be…!" she thought in astonishment.

Cautiously, she turned over her shoulder to see who was behind her. Then...she beheld him: Kili, her One, standing there with his familiar loving smile. She gasped loudly and her hands flew up to her mouth. For a moment, she could barely speak; she was too overcome with shock.

Finally, Aira said in just above a whisper as she stood up, " Kili…? Is...is it really you…?"

"Yes, amrâlimê...it's me," Kili replied, taking a few steps forward and holding a hand out to her.

Hesitantly, she lifted her hand and reached out to him. Was he really there or was he a figment of her imagination? Her hand hovered above his for a short moment and then she lowered it...until her skin touched his.

Another gasp along with a sob escaped Aira's lips and tears immediately came to her eyes. It wasn't a dream or her imagination! Kili was real; he was really there! The love of her life was really standing there in front of her! The fear she had felt thinking he was dead faded straightaway and the overwhelming joy she felt in that moment was immeasurable; she felt as though her heart could've grown wings and flew right out of her chest.

"Kili! You're alive!" she exclaimed with great happiness as she then jumped on to Kili and threw her arms around his neck. She clung to him tightly as if he would disappear the minute she let go, trembling as she cried tears of joy into his shoulder.

Kili held Aira close, stroking her hair gently as he let her cry. He knew this moment would be a bit overwhelming and there was nothing wrong with her shedding a few happy tears. He was just glad that she was there in his arms again and that she was all right. That was all that mattered.

Aira pulled back and brought her hands up to Kili's face, tracing her fingertips over his eyes, cheeks and lips, as if to ensure that he was truly real. Then, before he could do anything else, she kissed him harder than ever, making him stagger back a little. Feeling the sensation of his lips again made Aira feel so warm inside.

"My love, I can't believe you're really here!" she cried once the kiss ended. "You survived the attack...I can't believe it!"

"Sometimes I can't believe it myself," Kili replied. "But I am here now...and I'm not going anywhere."

Right then, the door opened and Fili appeared. "Don't leave us out!" he cried out, with Bofur and Oin popping up behind him.

Aira's heart leapt once more at seeing these other three familiar faces. "Fili! Bofur! Oin!" she exclaimed, leaping at them and hugging them all. "I am so relieved to see you all alive, my friends."

"As are we. We're glad to see the dragon didn't get any of you," said Bofur.

"You're all well and that's what's important," said Fili.

Aira's expression then turned solemn. "Well...most of us are well, anyway."

"You're talking about Thorin?" asked Oin.

"You've seen him, then?" Aira inquired.

They all nodded somberly.

"He is not himself...he hasn't been since Smaug was defeated," said Aira.

"So we've been told…," said Kili.

"And seen," added Fili.

She then sighed. "I don't know what to do with him. He won't listen to anyone, not even me. I've tried...but he has grown so obsessed with all that gold and finding the Arkenstone. He's made all of us look for it in that treasure room, which is almost impossible."

"Are you serious?" asked Bofur.

"I wish I wasn't," she answered. "He's changed and it's worrying me."

Kili gripped her shoulders. "Don't you worry. Everything will be all right."

Aira smiled at him and replied, "Especially now that all of you have returned. Everything is how it should be for now."


Aira, Kili, Fili, Bofur and Oin returned to the room where the others were waiting and they started telling tales to each other of what had transpired since last they all saw each other.

While Balin was telling the lads when they fought the dragon, Bilbo asked Kili if he could speak to him alone. Wondering what the Hobbit wanted, Kili obliged and went with him outside of the room and into the hallway.

"What is it, Bilbo?" he asked the Halfling. He noticed that Bilbo looked a little nervous and was looking up and down from the ground and up to him.

"I...well, I...did Aira tell you anything about what happened while you were gone?" Bilbo asked him.

"She only mentioned what's happened to Thorin. Why? Did anything else happen while we were gone?" Kili asked in return.

Bilbo's nose twitched nervously. He knew what he was about to say, Kili needed to know...but he didn't know how the young Prince would take it. He was bracing himself for the worst.

He finally said, "Well...actually, yes. Something did happen...and I feel it's something you should know."

"What happened?"

"You see...before I went into the treasure room to find the Arkenstone...Balin and Aira came down with me so I wasn't alone. Balin left first and Aira stayed with me a little longer to offer some last words of encouragement."

Kili remained silent, but he nodded in understanding.

"She told me she believed in me and that I would come out alive. She then was going to give me a kiss on the cheek for luck and...well...I didn't know what she was doing at first, I turned at the last moment and…."

In that moment, Kili could see where Bilbo's story was going. "You kissed her, didn't you?"

Bilbo didn't answer verbally, but nodded instead. He felt guilty and embarrassed about telling Kili this, but he knew he had to tell the truth.

Before Kili could react, Bilbo went on in a rushed voice, as if to get everything out before Kili could say anything, "I swear to you, Kili, it was an accident! I didn't know she was going for my cheek and it just happened. Even so, I feel guilty about it and I felt you needed to know the truth. I promise you, I hold no romantic feelings for Airaním in the least. I love her, yes, but not the way you do. I love her as a cherished friend; nothing more. I wanted you to know that happened, but nothing will ever come of it. I hope what I have said will not change your opinion of me or Aira."

For a moment, Kili didn't know what to think. Initially, he was angry, mostly at Bilbo...but then Kili remembered what had happened between him and Aira before she had left Laketown for the mountain. In his sick state, he had basically accused Aira of being unfaithful to him and having feelings for Bilbo after seeing them spending some time together. She swore that there was nothing between her and the Hobbit and he should have believed her. Plus, he knew that Bilbo was an honest person; it was not in his nature to lie, especially considering that he had chosen to tell Kili about the kiss he shared with Aira when he could have easily kept it a secret. Kili felt terrible for doubting Aira even a little and, in so doing, doubting Bilbo.

He then said to the Halfling, "I'm glad you told me, Bilbo...and I believe you."

Bilbo wasn't expecting so easy of a response. He thought Kili would get angry and maybe yell at him a little bit. "You...you do?" he asked in reply.

Kili nodded. "I know you to be an honest Hobbit, not to mention you chose to tell me the truth instead of keeping it from me, which you could've easily done," he said. "You have no reason to make up such a story and you were being brave in telling me. Therefore, I have no reason to not trust you at your word. I am grateful for your honesty and if you say there is truly nothing between you and Aira but good friendship, then I am inclined to believe you."

Exhaling a sigh of relief, Bilbo replied, "Well, you reacted better than I thought you would."

With a chuckle, Kili said back, "I am not my uncle; I do not lose my temper or get angry easily."

"For that, I am most relieved." Then Bilbo motioned with his head back in the direction of the room they were just in. "Come on, then. You've been away from Aira long enough. I shan't keep you from her any longer."

With a grin, Kili gave Bilbo a friendly pat on the shoulder and the two of them walked together to join back up with the others.

.

Yay! Everything is all happy and hunky dory now!

...or is it...? :P

I know, I'm evil...! xD

Aira is supposed to help save Thorin, but how is she going to? Maori is still in Laketown (and, well, we know that Bard lives), but will she return to Erebor right away?

Much is still to come! The adventure of Part III has only just begun!

Leave me a review or PM me!

Until next time, my friends! :D