Helo, dearest readers, have some Kíli&Tilda interaction!

pallysd'Artagnan, Bard has no clue as to what lengts Sigrid's loyalty to her sister goes.
Celebrilsilweth, they'll find more than they expect, be sure.
salwyn77, Thorin tries hard, but his creativity has limits, poor dwarf.

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=^.^=

Some more days of traveling brought them to the forest river, the one that the Company barrelled down in their flight from the dungeons of the elven king. After crossing it, while the horses rested from their swim, Tilda decided it was for the best to take a bath, much needed after all that traveling.

Tilda's laughter could be heard as the merry sound of fresh water cascading down a rocky spring. The river that ran down from the elven forest was fresh, and the day was sunny, and she was hot from the ride and happy for the company. It had been years since she bathed in a river like that.

Her laughter was so contagious Kíli forgot for the moment that he bled in those waters from the wound inflicted by and orc when Thorin's company was fleeing Thranduil's dungeons. Of course he could forget it, it happened ten years before and he was not even there when Tauriel found blood marks where Óin tried to tend him in less time than one could spell painkiller. Certainly, that place bore no memories for him, no more than Tauriel telling him about Legolas following her could do.

The riverstone was warm and comforting under his crossed legs, and his eyes watched without seeing as Tilda enjoyed the warm water ponded in some stone shallows. She had taken off her outer clothes so they would not be soaked in the river crossing, and now enjoyed being only in her undies to take a bath. Kíli could not keep himself from wondering how long had it been since he saw a naked ankle last time.

He diverted his eyes from the unsettling sight, scolding himself for the inappropriateness of staring at Tilda's foot, and blushed. He never had any problems with barefooted hobbit lasses when he travelled to the Shire, and he knew it was not because their feet were big and hairy. He simply could not imagine any hobbit foot in other place than the ground; now, that young woman's pale feet reminded him of silken sheets and the warmth of a fireplace in the Blue Mountains' halls.

Still with the sound of splashing water and crystal laughter in his ears, Kíli reached for his water skin, hoping a draught of water could calm down his confusion. He was drinking when Tilda called him.

"Kíli, look! I'm a mermaid!"

Frowning and considering what in Ulmo's sake did she mean with it, Kíli turned his head to the direction Tilda's voice called.

Then he choked on his own draught of water.

In her innocent play in the river, Tilda had just put herself upside down and showed above the surface a fan of bare feet and ankles that could be described as vaguely mermaidish only by some childish conception.

Kíli was sure Tilda meant nothing but that childish conception, his brain told him, but some differences in culture were never fixed in his mind and a pair of naked ankles played in the water right there in front of him…

"Tilda, stop it!"

Her delicate feet found their way down from the surface and Tilda's wet face showed above the rim of the water.

"What happened?" In two or three quick steps Tilda left the river and was beside Kíli, still dripping water. She surveilled the vicinity. "Is there anybody out there? Are we safe?"

Kíli tried to divert from what was really disturbing him with undesired effects. But the water made her cotton underwear to cling on her body and its weight to pull her neckline down. Not that any neckline was really needed when the fabric of her undies clung to her body like a second skin.

And the most disturbing was that Tilda didn't even care.

"We…" He tried to find excuses. "We'll never be safe this close to the elven river. I know it is enjoyable to take a bath, but, if we risk…"

Tilda's crystal laughter struck him like a slingshot projectile.

"You're afraid of water!"

"What?"

"You're afraid of water, that's why you keep away from the banks, even when…"

"Shut up!" Kíli was on his feet now, ignoring whatever could be said that might be true. "I just don't want us to get caught by, by…"

He looked desperately around them, sorting what could be chosen as a menace ready to catch them.

A blue jay chirped in a nearby tree, cherishing the sunny afternoon.

"By a chilly wind?"

Kíli looked down at the rock under his feet and sentenced.

"Tilda, this was cruel."

For once she perceived that he was really upset, despite ignoring the real reason for it, and tried to fix things between them.

"Kíli, sorry, I didn't mean…" A cold hand reached for his face, asking for forgiveness. "It is all right if you fear water. You were very brave to cross this river like you did, fear and all, and…"

That was the last drop of river water in the cup of his thin patience. Kíli grabbed her hand, taking it off his cheek and staring sternly into her eyes, assuring himself that way he would not look at any other disturbing place of her body.

"I'm. Not. Afraid. Of. Waaa…!"

The last word was literally drowned in the river in which Tilda just pulled him in, grabbing his wrist with her free hand and moving fast as a fish.

"Tilda!" Kíli was sputtering as his head popped out of the water. "Why did you do this?"

"The best way to overcome a fear is by facing it!"

Her smile was too genuine for Kíli not to notice the prankster behind it. Of course, it was the kind of smile himself and his brother graced their victims times enough.

"You… I faced a thrice accursed dragon, you wicked mermaid!"

"Aye, but it did not spit water!"

She had a point, even if the logic behind it was twisted. At least, it had the effect of chilling down his earlier reactions to the sight of Tilda's ankles, and he was kind of grateful for it.

"Gnn… Right." Kíli agreed, gritting his teeth. "Now, now that I waded across the river once and survived your attempt of assassination by drowning, might we please get out of here and dry ourselves while we have sun on our heads?"

Kíli accompanied his exaggerated speech by equally exaggerated gestures, only to hear Tilda laugh again. So she did, and answered with the same exaggeration. For a fraction of a second, he wondered why was it so important to hear her laughter.

"Surely, Milord, for none knows when a wicked mermaid might attempt against your noble life again."

He held her hand hoping his embarrassing situation of before had gone unnoticed and helped Tilda out of the water and back on the flat stones their things were drying on. Her hand was still in his, for the support her body needed not, but her soul.

"I got scared, you know." Kíli mentioned after they both wringed underwear and hair the best they could and sat down to sun themselves.

"Of… of the water?" This time Tilda's voice was not teasing, but genuinely concerned. "I didn't mean… I mean, I…"

"Hush, it's all right." Kíli dismissed her apologies. "Actually, I got scared about you. I thought you were in danger there, with your head under the water. I would never forgive myself if you got drowned."

It was not a complete lie, and it was what Kíli had to justify his strong reaction to Tilda's mermaid tail joke.

"Oh." She fidgeted with the string of her chemise. "'Ma sorry, I really didn't mean… But then it makes sense, you know. Dwarves live in the mountains, how would you know I could not get drowned?"

"Of course you could get drowned, you're child of Men."

Tilda smiled at his misconception.

"Kíli, I'm from Lake Town."

"And so?"

"I learned to swim before I learned to walk, Kíli. All children from Lake Town do."

"There's no such thing as all whatever do whatever, Tilda. It's like saying all dwarves are smiths, or all elves are…" Kíli's eyes lost the brilliance of the argument and left the sentence unfinished. "… whatever."

Tilda noticed the change in Kíli's tone but could not quite figure out what it meant. All she could do was to explain things better with the data she possessed.

"I know people are not all the same. Yet, all children from Lake Town learn to swim before they learn to walk. This is a fact."

"Why?" Asked Kíli, taking heart to look at her direction again.

"Because all who don't, get drowned."

The statement was so crude it sent shivers down Kíli's spine, bad shivers.

"Do your… Do your people let babies drown?" He could not control the disgust in his voice. It was unthinkable, on any account of his.

"What?" Tilda noticed the disgust in Kíli's voice. "No! Of course not! They're taught to swim least they get drowned!" The horror of what passed though the dwarf's mind struck her. "Kíli, how can you think this of my people? We take care of each other, we… No mother or father would ever, do you understand me, ever let a baby go close to water without knowing how to swim! This is… this is… Kíli, how could you even think my people would be capable of such a thing?"

The young woman was so upset by what Kíli understood, or rather, misunderstood, from her words, that by now she was already up and grabbing her bit of clothes from the stony riverside, right to where horse and pony seemed to be having a quite fairer conversation than their owners. Kíli lost more time taking his pieces of warfare garment while putting his boots on, and stumbled right behind her.

"Tilda, wait! It was not… I didn't mean… Tilda, I did notthink…"

"Aye, that you did too!" Was all she conceded to shout from over her shoulder. "I saw your face, Kíli, the disgust in your face! What do you think, us Lake Towners, humans, are so heartless that we don't take care of our youngsters? Our babies don't sprout out of stone, they are hard to get, our mothers die to have babies, did you know?"

"I… I…" Kíli had lots of positive answers starting with I, but for once he considered the Children of Iluvatar might have an everlasting stock of wind and how Mahal prepared his own people to deal with it.

A will as hard as stone was part of it.

A patience the size of a mountain, too.

He angered a human woman, and would have to weather it.

By the time Tilda reached her rohirrim steed, peacefully grazing by the eaves of the south margin of the river, Kíli was beside her, half of his things scattered all the way from the river bank to the horses.

"Tilda, please, I…"

"You what? Want to criticize humans from Lake Town some more?"

He reached for the horses' reins before Tilda could do it. She was better than him in the water, but Kíli was versed enough in the deals ashore. Now, to deal with an angry woman… that was not his mother…

"I ask you to hear me and to forgive me. I misunderstood you. I understood you wrong."

"You… You what?"

Tilda heard so much about the stubbornness of dwarves in the last years that it was hard to believe her ears.

"I… Misunderstood you. I didn't realize what you meant when you told about babies who don't swim. It's obvious. I mean, the truth is obvious. No father or mother would let a baby to crawl around unwatched and uncared for. I'm sorry."

Tilda's anger boiled down under Kíli's puppy eyes. How could it not? Besides, she never heard about a dwarf saying he was sorry about anything.

"I… I think I'm… over-reacting a little." She said, wiping a drop of water from her brow. The other hand played with the portion of the reins she had taken hold with the intention of running away from Kíli as soon as possible. "Maybe not just a little…"

The dwarf reached out his free hand and cupped her face the best he could. Tilda was not extremely tall, for a human, but four inches were enough to make him to tilt his head up to face her. Cupping her face made him feel she was closer to him.

"We've both been under a strain that leads to nowhere safe. Why don't we… Why don't we end our traveling for today, dry our clothes, allow the horses to graze, make a hot meal and give ourselves some rest? It might do us good. Both of us."

Tilda didn't expect such a reasonable suggestion from Kíli, focused on her escaping as she was, but it made some sense. Her panic on being caught spoke louder, nevertheless.

"We should be going. We're too close to Lake Town, people there can recognize me and…"

"Tilda…" Kíli dared to arrange a lock of hair behind her ear. "We're miles from Lake Town by now. No bargeman would be so bold as to come here at this time of the afternoon, only to reach Lake Town after dusk." Then he reconsidered. "Aye, your father would be so bold, but since he doesn't work as a bargeman anymore…"

This statement almost brought some relief to Tilda, suppressing her anxiety.

"You're right. We should stop…" But then some kind of panic took hold on her again. "But no, Kíli, what if they recognize me? All the bells of Dale must be tolling by now, everybody knows I'm a runaway!"

He let his shoulders to drop down.

"Tilda, you know bargemen don't come this way this hour of the afternoon. Nobody will see us, and anyone who sees us won't know who we are."

"But if… But if…"

"But ifs we might think in the morning. We're both tired and in need of a hot meal. Trust me, after some days of hard riding, both rider and horse need some rest."

Tilda's horse seemed to agree, neighing softly.

"Maybe… Maybe you're right." She dropped her eyes to Kíli's hand, still holding a lock of hair in his fingers. He noticed he had forgotten to let it go and withdrew his hand quickly, embarrassed. Tilda looked back at his eyes, not completely happy about his last action. "We should camp here for the night. We all must take some rest."

Kíli let out a sigh, glad they were on good terms and agreeing about something. If they had all the way to the woodmen dwellings to go, it would be better to be in harmony.