CHAPTER ONE

"The world was on fire, and no one could save me but you."

-Theory of a Deadman: "Wicked Game"


He couldn't remember having been this cold before.

Surely, he had been, but the frost collecting in his nose and the icicles forming in his hair blurred out most of his thoughts. Kili kept his eyes down, locked onto the heavy footprints of his brother, only feet ahead of him, but barely visible through the blizzard. Luckily for them, the snow wasn't too deep, hardly coming up to their ankles. This luck didn't hold out, as this meant that the bitter mountain winds were keeping the snow suspended in the air around them, whipping the space into an almost opaque frenzy.

The storm had come up on them far too quickly, not half a week after they left Rivendell. Oin had warned them that a storm was to come, but with no place to take shelter, they assumed their best bet would be to outmarch the storm.

They had, unfortunately, lost that bet by a mile.

Lost in his mind, Kili failed to notice the rock that his toe had caught on. In one heart-thudding moment, he felt himself pitching forward, arms flailing out to catch him as best they could with the snow-laden weight of his coats. Before he could connect with the ground, however, he felt something grab his shoulder, hauling him back up to his feet. Once stable, Kili glanced over his shoulder to find Dwalin grimacing against the whipping frost. "Watch your footing, laddie." Kili merely nodded, his lips too numb and stiff to speak. Dwalin jerked his chin forward. "Eyes up, something ahead."

Kili turned to see that this was indeed true. A dark shape stood out against the far-away light of the setting sun. It was low to the ground and a blocky shape and he could already see this discovery was causing commotion in the company ahead of him. Kili only caught bits and pieces of the conversation as the wind carried the sound to him, but after a moment of eye-aching chill, he had to tuck his face back into the relative warmth of his scarf. It was sodden and cold with snot and his breath, but it was better than nothing. One word came up strong enough to make him perk his head again. "Inn?" he repeated.

Fili, ahead of him, turned. He was already grinning as best Kili could see. "Gloin checked. It's an inn."

Kili blinked in disbelief. "Really?"

Fili was already turned around, trotting towards the building, which was coming sharper into view. It was a sturdy frame, low to the ground and built into a cliffside that rose far out of his view into the pale skies. The sheer bleakness of it made his stomach flip, but he shook that off to jog after his brother. The door of the inn cut a sliver of golden light into the blizzard as the first dwarf reached it, and this only increased Kili's urgency. Mahal above, he just wanted to feel warmth again.

It wasn't long, before Kili felt the ground rise into flagstones under his boots, and he narrowly stopped himself from tripping again as he vaulted up onto the wooden porch. He wasted no time, shoving past Fili and through the entrance.

Passing the threshold of the door was like stepping into a hot bath. His face burned deliciously, heat crawling in licks across every scrap of his exposed skin.

Kili's moment of bliss was somewhat interrupted as more dwarves shoved him further through the doorstep, but at that point he hardly minded. He spared a glance up as he unwound his scarf and shucked his gloves. The inn was a humble affair, unlikely qualified to easily house their whole company of dwarves and hobbit. The somewhat frightened look of the innkeeper confirmed these thoughts.

Two long wooden tables fit snugly into the room, a rough-hewn bar across the back wall with a few wooden stools. A flowery curtain separated the room from what Kili's nose determined to be the kitchen. A hearth rested on either side of the room, already occupied with a few dwarves each, who were just as desperate as Kili to dump their soggy gear.

Once his coat was dropped unceremoniously onto the table, Kili felt he was able to breathe. He collapsed heavily onto a stool, and turned to see his brother slumped next to him. Fili looked like he'd been dragged through an icy river, his golden hair matted across his forehead, cheeks and nose flushed bright pink. Fili looked at his hands in awe, flexing the raw, red knuckles. "Still can't feel 'em."

Kili snorted. "Told you to bring your sheepskin gloves."

His chiding got him a swift elbow to the ribs.

Kili's chuckles turned into a heavy sigh as he dropped his head into his hands. Now that his adrenaline was fading, the weight of a hard day's march was settling heavy into his bones. He was in shape well enough, but even for him, it had been a very long day. Poor Bilbo was probably half dead with the strain.

He lifted his head, sniffling his runny nose. "Where's Bilbo?"

Fili shrugged, bending to unlace his boots. "Ori?" He suggested.

Kili looked to the younger dwarf, but other than Dori fussing over him, he was alone. "No…" His eyes swept the room again, before he shoved his brother. "Fee, he's not here."

Fili's head shot up, boots forgotten in a moment. "What?"

"Bilbo's not in here."

After he had checked the room as Kili had, Fili stood. "Bilbo?"

"Has anyone seen Bilbo?" Kili asked, raising his voice over the chatter of the dwarves.

Silence fell as they all glanced around themselves, almost in a daze of exhaustion, looking for the hobbit. Fili swore. "Kee, go tell Thorin, I'm going outside."

Worry set into Kili's gut, hard and thudding. "Don't go far."

Fili nodded, shoving his feet back into his boots. Kili took a deep breath, refusing to think of the possible consequences of the hobbit being left out in the chill. Fortified, he went to see his uncle, who was standing, talking to the innkeep at the bar, with Gloin at his side. "Thorin."

Thorin ignored Kili, so he tried again, this time letting more urgency leak into his tone. "Thorin."

"What is it?" Thorin growled, turning. Clearly the weather hadn't improved his temper.

"Bilbo's missing."

Thorin quirked a brow. "Missing?"

"Yes, missing. Not here. Didn't come in."

"Are you sure?" Thorin asked.

"Yes, I'm bloody sure," Kili hissed, seeing the innkeep look over in confusion.

A frown deepened the set of Thorin's brow. "Are you going to find him?"

Kili blinked in surprise. "Well—yes, of course!" He suddenly found himself bristling at the prospect of not going out to find the last member of their company.

Thorin shrugged slightly. "If that's what you wish, I don't see why you're not at it now."

Kili sputtered for a response, only feeling more ruffled. He wasn't some young pup that Thorin could—no. That thinking wasn't helping him here. Thorin was right; he should have already been out there, searching. He turned on his heel towards his coats, throwing them back on. Dwalin approached, asking, "What's going on? Where's your brother off to?"

"Bilbo's gone," Kili bit out.

"Gone?"

"Yes, gone."

Dwalin sighed heavily. "You head on out there. I'll follow after in a moment."

Kili felt a part of his heart briefly warm, even as Dwalin walked away to his coats grumbling. Dwalin may not have been over fond of Bilbo, but at least he still cared for Kili and Fili's wellbeing. Kili threw on his scarf and was pulling on his gloves as he shouldered past the heavy wooden door.

The sudden darkness almost startled him. His bones creaked and ached instantly as the snow nipped at his face, and he fought back a groan, squinting through the darkness. He had only gone a few yards into the blizzard, when Fili's voice carried to him. "Found him!"

Kili started momentarily, his footsteps pausing. However, with his brother still out of sight, he plunged further into the growing night. It clutched about him cold and empty, the wind a roar against his ears. "Fili," He mustered the breath to shout. "Fili where—"

"Quiet!" An unfamiliar voice hissed, barely audible over the dull roar of the storm. A hand fell on Kili's shoulder, causing him to nearly jump right out of his skin. He looked up to see a dark figure practically towering over him. "You'll attract wolves."

Kili tried not to look too startled as he took a more defensive stance, ripping his shoulder away from the person's grip. "Where's my brother? Who are—"

The figure jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "They're safe."

Kili looked past him and soon saw Fili's figure trudging along. His cloak was spread wide, and upon closer inspection, Kili could see a small shape struggling to keep up at his side. Fili glanced up to see Kili and tried to grin. "He's safe, brother!"

Relief washed over him, but a sharp sound of displeasure from the tall man caught his attention back. "The wolves."

As if on cue, a piercing howl cut through the storm. Another creature responded, and Kili's heart sank into his boots a call broke back through the dark. The figure tensed and Kili peered up through hoods and scarves to see two dark eyes widen in alarm. In a moment, they flicked over to Kili's and held his gaze as he said, "Quickly. Head back. I'll help them."

Kili felt torn for a moment, looking to see that Fili had doubled down, but a sharp shove on his shoulder got him moving back towards the inn whether he liked it or not. He looked back to see the man had plucked Bilbo off the ground and was now practically dragging him across the snow, as Fili, unencumbered ran for the inn. Another howl sent chills across Kili's skin. It sounded closer. He swallowed back his ragged breath and charged forward, keeping his head down and eyes to the ground. Just as Kili's feet hit the flagstones, the door opened, a fully wrapped Dwalin stepping out into the gale. "Back inside," Kili barked.

Dwalin looked confused. "What's that?"

"Wolves," Kili said, which was rendered redundant, as two howls in chorus broke out, followed by some excited barking. "Fili found Bilbo, they're coming back."

Dwalin gave him a curt nod. "I'll get them inside. Get something to bar the door."

Kili needed no further encouragement, stepping into the threshold. He spared one glance over his shoulder though, to see that Fili, Bilbo and the man were only a few more yards away from the porch. Kili hurried inside as more yips and snarls echoed out of the shadows, close enough to feel their hunger.

Luckily, upon entering, the innkeep was next to the door, peering out nervously. "We need a bar," Kili said firmly, not wasting any time with formalities.

The man blinked, seeming surprised at Kili's urgency. "A bar?"

"To block the door. Wolves."

A murmur of surprise went up about the room at his words, and with a wide-eyed nod, the man was shuffling away behind the counter, Nori and Dori hurrying after him to help. As Kili caught his breath, trying to listen out the door, Ori approached. His hands were shaking, But he was trying his best to look brave. "Kili, are they—"

"They're on their way," Kili replied. "They've got Bilbo. Dwalin's out there." Ori nodded. "Now move away, they're going to be in a—"

He was cut off as the door burst open, Fili practically falling in, followed by the man, a huffing Bilbo, and finally Dwalin, shouting at them to haul their arses faster. Once they were all inside, Kili helped him slam the door shut, stepping aside just in time for the innkeep and Nori to drop into place a heavy wooden bar, hooking through the door latch. Just as the door was secured, they all jumped as a heavy thump sounded on the doors, accompanied with a yelp. They watched on anxiously, hands at the ready on weapons as the thud turned into the sound of claws scraping on wood, and the snarling of a hungry beast.

After a few moments, it seemed their assailant lost hope, the sounds retreating with some yelps and whining. With a few resounding howls, the yips and yaps of the animals faded back into the wrath of the storm.

Finally, Kili breathed. He was covered in a slick of cold sweat, but looking out, he was entirely relieved to see his whole company was safe, hobbit and all.

Fili clapped him on the shoulder, suddenly breaking into a loud laugh. Kili was unsure what was so funny, but hearing the sound of his brother's chuckling, he soon found himself laughing right along with him, be it from relief, adrenaline, exhaustion, or all three. This chuckling spread almost contagiously to the rest of company, except Bilbo, who seemed somewhat shell-shocked as Ori lead him away to a fire. Fili made it to a stool just in time to collapse down onto it, his coats effectively soaking everything around him with snowmelt. Kili slumped down next to him, letting all of the day's tension fall out of his body. "That was close," Fili sighed, mirth twinkling in his eyes.

"Aye," Kili chuckled in return, shaking his head. "It was."

"You're hopelessly irresponsible."

Kili and Fili's heads perked up at the sound of that. They turned to see that the man had sat down across the table from them, shedding layers as he—she, rather, continued to speak. "You're damned lucky I was following so close and fast behind you all. That little one dropped behind, and couldn't see a thing. Could have fallen off a cliff for all you would have known—or frozen to death more likely. Or been eaten by those wolves, for that matter! What is it with you lot and shouting in the dead of night in the mountains anyway? What would possess you to- Those wolves are hungry and they know prey is weaker in foul weather. You shouldn't have been travelling at all—"

Her words were tuned out as Kili watched the woman in pure fascination. Underneath her layers and packs, she seemed much less intimidating, still a head or two taller than him, but far too skinny to do any real damage. A scarf and hood remained tightly wound around her hair and shielded most of the bottom half of her face, but Kili could see that this was most certainly a woman. She had high, sharp cheekbones, and pale, weather-flushed skin. Her eyes were some shade of dark, slightly slanted in an unfamiliar angle, and blazing with the passion of telling them how brainless they were. Her lips may have been nice, but they were currently set in a scowl. Curls of dark brown hair sprung out from the scarf, giving her an almost deranged look. Perhaps she could have been pretty, but...no, she wasn't pretty. Too bony and ragged for pretty. Interesting, perhaps.

Kili quirked a smile as it seemed she had run out of words, ripping her gloves off with a huff. "Is that all?"

She shot him a glare, her brow quirking slightly at the playfulness of his tone. "Aye," She admitted, appearing to be a bit ruffled by her outburst.

"Well now that we've got that out of the way," Kili pulled off his glove and leaned across the table, offering his hand to shake. "My name's Kili."

"Fili," his brother introduced, with a chipper nod towards the girl.

Her eyebrow lifted further. "Brothers?" She leaned up over the table, taking Kili's hand in a firm grip. Her hands were slight, all bones and calloused skin, still cold and chapped from the weather outside.

"How'd you guess?"

"Was it our similarly dashing good looks?" Fili prodded, grinning at her, as he shrugged off his jacket, leaving him in a soaked tunic.

Kili could have sworn the woman rolled her eyes, but she shrugged. "Or the rhyming names. Dwarves aren't difficult to figure out."

"Now, that can't be true," Kili teased. "What was your name again?"

She looked almost startled by the question. "Hm?"

"Your name?" Fili prodded, smiling.

"Oh, Gwen."

"Gwen," Kili repeated, rolling the name around his tongue to taste. Simple, but fitting enough, he supposed. He'd have to be sure not to forget it. "We're indebted to you now, you know."

"Ah, no, that's quite alright," she mumbled, almost flushing a little if Kili wasn't mistaken.

"No, no, it's quite true," Fili insisted.

"What would you like from me, then?" Kili asked, leaning in to her slightly, his tone lowering, eyes locking on hers. "Anything you'd like, love. A drink? A meal? A room? A bed?" He tossed in a slight wink at the end, which sent Fili practically chortling with barely hidden glee.

To her credit, Gwen didn't sputter or flush like many of the other girls that Kili turned his attention to before. She opened her mouth to speak, but shut it quickly, as she broke eye contact. "No, Master Dwarf, that'll be quite alright. Call it my good deed of the century."

Kili let the smirk he was hiding slide across his face. "None of that 'master dwarf,'" He corrected her. "Call me Kili. Although 'master' could come in later, if that's what you like."

Fili smacked his arm hard, roaring with laughter, and Kili doubted Gwen could possibly look more exasperated. He grinned. She seemed hostile, but she wouldn't take too long to break. "I'm joking," he assured her.

"Aye, well, I'm going to check on the hobbit," she huffed, pushing back from the table to stand.

Kili stood as well. "Hobbit? How do you know that?" He and his brother hadn't heard the term until they reached the Shire.

She shrugged as she began her way towards the hearth where Bilbo sat, bundled in a chair, his feet nearly being licked by the flames. "Travelled through Bree not two months ago. They were about."

Kili nodded, following her over. "And what brought you to Bree?"

Without taking a beat, she responded, "Travelling."

Kili snorted. "Aye, thanks. I meant why were you travelling?"

She turned over her shoulder to fix him with a look. "I meant not to tell you." Before Kili could respond, she had knelt down next to Bilbo, who looked somewhat surprised to see her again. "How are you, Master Hobbit?"

Despite being wrapped head to toe in blankets and looking quite like an overly fluffed mattress set, Bilbo tried to retain some sense of dignity, shuffling up straighter, and nodding curtly towards her. "Much better, thank you."

"That so?" her expression softened into a slight smile. "Perhaps you should get those feet wrapped."

Bilbo's protests began immediately. "Oh no, that's—I hate-That won't be necessary," he fussed, his furry toes, although red with cold, curling at the detestable suggestion. "I'll be quite alright, thanks to you. And," He cleared away his momentary upset. "Thank you, indeed. Very much. You saved my life."

Any reply Gwen may have had was cut off by Fili coming up behind Bilbo, and ruffling his damp hair. "Oh, we would have come along in a few moments, Mister Boggins."

"Doubtful," Gwen snorted, sending him a challenging look. "Not how I found him, off the—"

Bilbo made a few "oops" and "ah"s as he cut her off, a flush darkening his already pink cheeks. "That—um- Perhaps—"

"Ah, right," Gwen said, a knowing smile in her eyes as she tapped the side of her nose confidentially. "Of course, Master—"

She paused and Bilbo hurried to fill in for her: "Bilbo. Bilbo Baggins."

"Gwen." She offered out a hand for him to shake, and he did his best to get a hand from under the blankets, quivering still with the cold.

"It's good to meet you, Gwen," Bilbo said.

"You as well, Master Baggins." Gwen stood, giving the hobbit one last smile, before her eyes met Kili's briefly. "I'm off to find a room."

She was already walking away, but Kili called after her. "You'll be back down then, I hope?"

She shrugged, continuing her way to the innkeep. Fili tugged on his sleeve, calling his attention to the center of the room, where Thorin was clearing his throat. "They've three empty rooms," He told them as they all turned to look. "Fili, Kili, Dwalin, Balin, you'll be with me. Ori, Dori, Nori, and Bilbo, you'll be in one. The rest have the other. Move your things in now, dinner will be served in half an hour."

There were nods and grumbles of assent, and Kili started towards his things. A sudden thought had him turning back, to his brother's confusion. "We're taking all available rooms," Kili reminded him. "That means—"

"Gwen," Fili finished, as he followed Kili back to the bar.

Gwen was just finishing up her conversation with the barkeep, who turned around, disappearing behind the curtain. Her lips were set in a thin line.

Kili smirked. "Did you find out you're going to have to bunk with us?"

"I don't kick in my sleep, I'm good to share with, I swear," Fili added, tone serious but laughter in his eyes.

"In your dreams, Master dwarf." She bit back. "I'll be sleeping in the attic."

"Sounds…cozy," Kili commented, with no small dose of sarcasm.

"Stuff it," Gwen shot back, returning to her pack and cloaks. "It's your fault I'm going to be up there."

"In our defense, we offered an alternative," Fili argued.

"Won't it get a wee bit cold?" Kili asked, a bit of actual concern creeping into his tone.

She shrugged. "I've got blankets."

"Well, if you're in need of a dwarf blanket, if you understand my meaning, you know who to come to."

Kili's comment made Fili giggle, but only made Gwen glare as she picked her belongings up from the ground. "Are you ever going to stop with that?"

Kili caught her full attention, before saying quite seriously, "I think that depends on whether you really want me to or not, love." While he loved ruffling feathers, he didn't want to make her, or anyone for that matter, truly too uncomfortable. He may be insufferable, but he wasn't cruel.

He could see that part of her wanted to protest, but that a bit of her resolve crumbled under the weight of his warm gaze. "Stuff it," she mumbled, barely audible, breaking the eye contact, and starting off to the back door.

"What was that?" Kili asked after her.

"I said stuff it, Kili," she said back, not bothering to turn around. Her tone was disdainful, but Kili already knew better than to take her too seriously.

"You're repeating yourself," Kili jabbed at her, but she didn't reply, disappearing through the doorway.

"She's fun," Fili said, as he bent to gather his things.

"Well enough," Kili agreed. "We'll wear her down soon."


Their room was small, and there were only two cots, which were silently set aside for Balin and Thorin. Respecting your bloody elders and all that. This meant that Fili, Kili and Dwalin were given nothing more than a sack of hay on the floor for their beds. They had slept in worst, certainly, but it wasn't any kind of luxury accommodations. Still, the room was fairly warm, one wall built directly up against the cliff face, with a tiny fireplace lighting the room, and they were able to change out of their soaked clothing, into warmer garb.

He overheard Thorin and Balin discussing their plans. Obviously, they would have to stay the night, but if conditions had let up even a little bit, they would ideally be on the road by the next afternoon. While Kili's sore feet protested this idea, he knew that their pace was necessary if they were to reach the mountain in time.

Dinner came very welcome to the lot of them, although it was a simple affair. The innkeep's two daughters helped serve each of them a scoop of plain, cooked potatoes, a hash of salted ham and smoked sausage, all covered with a thick, steaming gravy. The girls giggled at the sight of them, and Kili wondered if they had even seen a dwarf before. The inn was isolated, and according to the innkeep's relaxed chatter from behind the bar, they didn't often receive guests.

The two tables were already set with loaves of thick bread, and a small bowl of butter, and to the dwarves' delight, great brimming mugs of ale. A glance to Thorin told Kili that this had probably been a special request of his, if the well-hidden smile on his face was anything to tell of it. They all sat down with great gusto, Kili finding himself surrounded by his brother, Nori, Bilbo and Bofur. They dug in happily, the food and conversation revitalizing their moods.

A few minutes into the meal, Gwen appeared in the doorway, looking out at the relative chaos with a raised brow. She seemed wary, and a bit taken aback as one of the girls ran up to her side, presenting her with a plate of food and a mug of ale. "Come over 'ere!" Fili called through a mouthful of bread, spitting crumbs across the table. Bilbo flinched away from the spray, a look of faint disgust on his face. Kili was impressed. A week ago, this would have sent the hobbit swooning. It seemed he was beginning to get used to their company.

Gwen looked over at the sound of his voice. "Um—"

"Yes, you!" Fili called again. He slid over, patting the now empty spot on the bench next to him. "I won't bite."

Kili could swear Gwen rolled her eyes, but she submitted, making her way over to the end of the bench, sitting down. "Gwen, this is Nori, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Oin, Bifur, Bofur—"

Gwen's eyes were wide. "There's no way I'm remembering all of that."

Bofur chuckled, but smiled warmly at her. "It's alright. I hardly remember them myself. Name's Bofur. Am I to believe you're the hero of the night?"

She cringed. "Hero's a strong term, but aye, certainly. I'm Gwen."

Nori nodded to her, lifting his mug. "Nori, at yer service."

She nodded, digging into her food.

Conversation continued easily from there, spiraling uselessly but enjoyably into the warm, smoky air. While the food ran out fairly quickly, especially in Bombur's tragic case, their drinks were refilled enough to satisfy them. It wasn't a particularly good draught, a little thin tasting, but there was enough alcohol in it to warm him from the inside out.

"What is it you said you were out here for?" Bofur asked Gwen, finishing his drink off.

"I haven't said," Gwen corrected him as she scraped the last of the potatoes off of the bottom of her bowl.

"Well what are you travelling for, then?" Kili prodded.

"What are you travelling for?"

"Quest," Nori mumbled. "Reclaiming the mount—"

"Well, no, not that!" Bofur interjected suddenly, as if realizing that the alcohol had loosened the other dwarf's lips a bit. Kili listened to Bofur as his eyes fell wide with disbelief. Thorin would not like one bit of this. "Mountain is a strong term. It's more of a hill, really. A burrow, more so. You see, Bilbo, here is having a bit of a tiff with his cousins, the…Berfends—"

"The Lonely Mountain," Gwen said softly, realization lighting her eyes. "Erebor. You're trying to reclaim the mountain."

Well, there it was. The ruse (a somewhat laughable ruse, albeit) was up.

Kili smiled as best he could, trying to keep his good humor. "Going to. Not trying."

"It's impossible," Gwen said, her volume rising slightly, her eyes calculating and critical. "The dragon—you'll be killed."

"Ah, maybe keep the voice down a bit," Fili said, cringing, as Nori and Bofur watched the conversation with wary eyes. "Uncle Thorin would be…less than impressed if he discovered we let that little tidbit slip."

"You're not a spy, are you?" Bofur asked very seriously, leaning in.

"Spy?" Bilbo repeated, his hobbit ears catching up the conversation. "Who's a spy?"

"I'm not," Gwen replied, though Kili had been watching her face, and saw that her mind was somewhere else. The gears behind her eyes were working, and her lips had moved slightly to form a word that he could have sworn looked like "Thorin."

"You hear that, lads?" Bofur said with a relieved sigh as he leaned back in his chair. "She's not a spy, it'll be alright."

Bilbo seemed to bristle at the very suggestion, some sort of righteous indignation. "Of course she's not a spy! What a terrible thing to say."

Nori leaned in to roughly (and none too quietly) whisper, "Dolts, just b'coz she says she's not one, doesn't mean she isn't."

Their slight inebriation seemed to keep them talking circles, not noticing as Gwen stood, a forced smile on her face. "I'm off to bed."

A chorus of "Goodnight's" rose up from the surrounding dwarves, who were still deep in the discussion of her loyalty or lack thereof to the darker forces. Kili exchanged a look with Fili, who also seemed to have noticed something was off with her. A silent agreement was formed, and Kili stood, following after her as she disappeared into the back hallway. "Gwen!"

She stopped, turning. The only light came from two lamps, which brought out a soft slanting gold outline to her features. Her eyes were dark and piercing, somewhere between black and brown. "What is it?"

"What…what did you realize?" Kili asked cautiously.

She paused for a moment, her eyes flickering away from his, and Kili could almost see her mental battle between the truth and a lie. They met his again, a moment later. "Thorin. Thorin, son of Thrain, isn't that?"

"Aye," Kili sighed. "I suppose it was a poor assumption to think that didn't know your dwarven history."

She ignored his quip entirely. "And he's your uncle?"

Kili could only nod.

"So…" She glanced over him, considering, wondering. "You're royalty."

He shrugged. "I suppose you could call it that. Thorin will be King under the Mountain once we reclaim it, and Fili's next in line for the throne."

"And you?"

He grimaced a little. "Younger brother."

"And that means?" she asked, raising a brow.

"I don't get half of an ass' arse."

She snorted a laugh at that, and he couldn't help but smile. She had a nice laugh. Warm and low. "You know," she fixed him with a serious look. "You're all mad."

"Sometimes that's not a bad thing, though," he replied.

She chuckled, more dryly this time, giving him an exasperated shake of the head. "Brilliant conversation, but I need to sleep."

Before she could turn, he said, "I'll see you tomorrow?" he tried not to let himself get too hopeful. He couldn't say quite why, but he didn't want this to be a real goodbye. Perhaps it was that he hated goodbyes.

She seemed momentarily torn, but her eyes met his for a moment. "Aye."

He almost could have sworn there was a real smile beginning to tug at her lips as she turned away towards the ladder at the end of the hallway. That smile…He wanted to see more. Maybe it was just the lighting or the ale, but for a heart-tapping moment there, she was something like…pretty?

Hm. No. That still didn't feel right.

"G'night, Master Dwarf."

"Just Kili," he reminded her, not bothering to stop the goofy smile that rose from his heart to his face.

"Goodnight," She repeated, ignoring him as she climbed the ladder, to what was presumably the attic.

"G'night, Gwen," he said, finally.

He would be lying if he said he didn't watch her ascend for as long as possible, only tearing himself away as the trap door slammed shut with a resounding thud.

Mahal. She certainly was interesting.


Hello, all! This is a rewrite, so if you read the previous iteration of this tale, Noticeable Differences, the following note is for you:

Greetings, friend! So glad you returned to read this rewrite. As you will note, this is almost entirely different from Noticeable Differences. That's because it is! I didn't reference any of the old story while writing this, so this will be totally overhauled characters, character relationships, character arcs, even a plot. I'm very excited to share with you the much improved version of this story and thank you for your continued reading.

For those who have not read the old version, I recommend you don't. It's not that good, to be honest. Just stick with this, you'll be better off. But I'm so glad to have you here! This is going to be a fun trip.

I'll be updating on Sunday and then every Wednesday and Sunday following that. Please review, I adore constructive criticism, and really just want this story to be the very best it can be, so do feel free to share any and all opinions you have. Thank you so much!