At last! Chapter 9 is written and posted! As I always say, better late than never! Actually I hate being late for anything, but the muse was adamant. She did not want to write. So you all have my most sincere apologies for making you wait this long for chapter 9! I was all pumped up to start writing again with the release of The Desolation of Smaug. However, the film did not live up to a lot of my expectations (I did love the interactions between Kíli/Fíli/Thorin) but some bits really disappointed me and left me feeling unmotivated. That's just my opinion though. I have my good friend MistakenMagic and nblb to thank for talking me round to getting this written down!
The chapter is here though! The conclusion to the three chapter arc. There will be another chapter after this, tying off lose ends (I also hate ending a story on an odd number of chapters- especially nine!) So please enjoy it :)
Disclaimer: As usual, nothing produced by Tolkien is owned by this author!
The Burden of Guilt
It was the touch of a warm hand, lightly brushing the dark curls back from his forehead, which brought Kíli out of his healing sleep. Without realising, he leaned tiredly into the comforting motion. He was tired. So tired. His limbs were sluggish and heavy, while his eyelids felt like they had been glued shut. It took a herculean effort, but Kíli forced his eyes to open. He then instantly regretted the decision, as the remorseless throbbing in his head ratcheted up to a stabbing pain.
His breathing hitched and he closed his eyes. He didn't want to do that again. However, his youthful curiousity was demanding to know what was going on, despite his body's cry for sleep. Fingers twitching lethargically against the rough blankets, his brown eyes opened again, this time only to mere slivers. Around him it was dark, save for a flickering candle sending shadows skittering up the wall across the room. What was going on? Where was he? His mouth was very dry and a tickle was building in his throat, but he felt too weak to cough. His body seized as he tried to clear his throat and he jerked, pain lancing through his side.
"Easy, easy now…" A familiar voice soothed, massaging his shoulder gently. A cup was brought to his lips and Kíli sighed in relief as his tongue touched blessedly cool water. He drank greedily, but the cup was lowered several times to prevent him from choking. Eventually, exhausted just from drinking, Kíli sagged back against his pillows. Feeling more awake though, his eyes opened fully and he began to take in his surroundings.
He was lying on a wooden bed, piled high with soft, warm blankets. His side in particular felt sore and tender and Kíli realised he was wrapped tightly with bandages. What was going on? Where was Fíli? Everything was very patchy. He could remember shouting, very loud shouting. Someone had been shouting his name. Fíli? There had been arguing. Who had been arguing? All these questions were making Kíli's head hurt even more. Why did he hurt so much? What had…Kíli paused and then gasped as everything came flooding back. The arguments with his uncle and brother, Thorin's dagger, the blood on the floor- his blood on the floor, the pain…oh gods what had he done? How was he going to get out of this one? Kíli bit his lip.
The voice's body materialised into his uncle. Glancing to his side, Kíli saw a mop of dirty blonde hair poking out of a tangle of blankets; blonde hair that could only belong to one other dwarf. Fíli. The blankets rose and fell in time with his brother's gentle breathing, indicating he was deeply asleep.
"U-un-cle?" Kíli managed to whisper. Dark eyes met his own.
"Kíli." Thorin's voice was harsh in the darkness. At once, Kíli drew back from his uncle, despite his body's pained protests. He could hear the anger and disappointment as loud as bell in his uncle's voice. Thorin wrenched his hand away from his nephew's head, where it had stayed while he helped the young dwarf to drink. He rose from his chair, so quickly it made an ugly jarring noise against the stone floor. Another heartbeat passed and Thorin was striding from the room, leaving a heartbroken little dwarfling behind.
Kíli felt his eyes fill with tears. Thorin couldn't even bear to look at him. He had messed up so badly this time, been so bad that his uncle now hated him. That's what Kíli had heard in his uncle's voice. Gone was the comforting gesture. His uncle's whole posture had screamed anger, frustration and disappointment. He hiccupped and sobbed as the tears overflowed down his cheeks. It was all too much. His side ached fiercely and his chest felt too tight.
"Kíli?" The pile of blankets beside him was stirring.
Fíli could hear something. It sounded like crying. Who could be crying? Kíli! He jerked awake, shoving the blankets away, looking around wildly. There, on the bed next to him, was his little brother, awake and curled up in a ball of pain and misery.
"Kíli!" Fíli cried in horror, shifting his body across the beds so he was beside his brother. Tears were running down Kíli's cheeks and his eyes were red rimmed. Tentatively, hoping to not cause his brother any more pain, Fíli wrapped himself around the younger dwarf, rubbing his back and running a soothing hand through his hair. If anything, this made Kíli's sobs even more desperate.
"Mama!" Fíli shouted. "Mama!" What if Kíli was hurt even worse than before? Had the healers been wrong? "Kíli tell me what's wrong!" he begged.
"H-h-hates m-m-me," came the muffled sob into his shoulder.
There were hurried footsteps and a moment later Dís and Balin arrived in the doorway, both looking anxious. A healer was hot on their heels. Dís hurried to her sons' side, carefully sitting on the bed and rolling Kíli over onto his back so the healer could begin to examine him. Fíli was left sitting in the middle of the bed, his own eyes filling with tears at the sight before him, his expression a war between looking lost and terrified. Balin stepped forward, pulling the older brother towards him, letting the healer have space and the mother calm her child. The healer unwrapped the bandage around Kíli's abdomen and examined the wound seriously.
"The wound itself is fine. There's been no tearing or inflammation. I can prescribe more herbs to help with the pain," the dwarf healer said. Dís nodded as she rocked her son gently. She had been so close to losing him. Her headstrong little boy. Just like his father and his uncle. She was not going to lose anyone else in her family. Not if Dís, daughter of Thrain, had anything to say about it.
"What is it Fíli?" Balin had been watching the older dwarfling while the healer had checked his brother. Something wasn't right.
Fíli looked up at the older dwarf, his uncle's close friend and confidant. "Kíli said "hates me". Who was he talking about? He doesn't think that I hate him does he? I don't. I couldn't hate him. He's my brother." More tears filled his eyes but he blinked hard, determined not to cry in front of Balin.
Balin's eyes widened in surprise and he stroked his white beard in puzzlement. Then it snapped together. They were one dwarf short in the room, a dwarf Balin knew for a fact had been in the room last.
"You stay with your brother laddie. I'll be back soon," Balin squeezed the confused dwarfling's shoulder. "After I've bashed some more sense into that loggerheaded uncle of yours," he added under his breath as he stomped out of the room. Really. He thought they been through all of this already. Balin had the bruises to prove it.
Thorin was not where Balin expected him to be. He wasn't in the armoury, the weaponry, the forges or the smithy. Balin searched the Blue Mountains up and down before he finally found his target. It was the last place Balin checked, a spark of inspiration. Similar to Erebor, the Blue Mountains also had battlements overlooking the surrounding area. It was on the battlements that Balin found the grandson of Thror, pacing up and down, his gaze occasionally turning to the east.
"Thorin?" Balin called out.
Surprised he had been discovered, Thorin turned to see his old friend standing a few feet away. "What are you doing here Balin?"
Balin frowned. Thorin was far from stupid. Yet here he was, pacing the battlements when he was clearly needed elsewhere. The older dwarf bristled. "Durín's beard, Thorin! I should be asking you that question. I've just left the healers where not one, but two confused and distraught little dwarflings are crying their eyes out. You want to know the reason why Thorin. You. You are the reason they are in such a state."
Thorin paled a fraction. That had not been his intention. These last few days had been one mistake after another, he could do nothing right. Only one who knew Thorin well could see the internal struggle and Balin was one such dwarf. He noticed Thorin's fingers clench into fists, the tightening of his jaw and shoulders. Thorin crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I didn't…didn't know how." he growled.
"Didn't know how to do what?"
"Sit there and apologise to my nephew! How can I apologise for nearly killing him? How can I face my sister? How can I face Fíli for putting his brother in danger? The three of them are better off without me. My lifestyle is not suitable for them." Thorin turned back to look to the east, his expression unreadable. A stray wind caught his long dark hair, tugging it, a lock freeing to flutter in the wind like a standard.
"Thorin," Balin began. "Forgive me for saying this, but I fear that you need it. Have you lost hold of your senses? Have you no idea how much those little dwarflings love you? This was an accident. You did not hold the blade. Kíli is an overeager, mischievous little dwarfling and accidents happen. That scar you have on your hand is testament to that. If you leave those boys now they will never be the same. They idolise you Thorin! And you are throwing it back in their faces. Now Kíli thinks you do not love him. What did you say to him?"
Thorin froze as the words hit him. How could he do anything but love his nephew. The precious dwarfling who was his last link and reminder of the purity, innocence and light in the world? Who had dragged him from the depths of his despair after the loss of Erebor, his grandfather, his father and his brother. Thorin had lost nearly everything in his life and now he was losing the last things he held dear. A dark voice rose up from the back of his mind: it was for the best. He was doing his nephews a kindness. He would not force death and destruction upon them.
"It is better for me to let them live their lives, rather than grow up before their time. Do you think I want them to live by the sword? They are dwarflings Balin! I do not wish this life upon my kin. The uncertainty, darkness and despair. The feeling that war is coming. I am detrimental to their wellbeing Balin. I have seen too much death, too much suffering. Even you should see this," Thorin answered bitterly.
Balin sighed sadly, shaking his head. "It is a great shame if you think that. Those boys would be nothing without you Thorin. Your sister would be nothing without your support. None of us would be here if you had not carved out a life for us in these mountains. We all depend on you Thorin. Those boys more than ever since they have no father. You do not know what you are losing." With that, the older dwarf turned away, leaving the battlements and a tormented son of Durín behind him.
Thorin stayed a while longer on the battlements, alone with his thoughts. His eyes gazed, unseeing, at the landscape spread out before him. He did not take in the glorious sunset; the dying orange beams splashed out across the horizon, the blues and purples of dusk creeping in and the emerging pinpricks of starlight glimmering between wisps of cloud. The wind was cold but Thorin did not feel it. He was lost in an internal battle. One he feared winning would not be the optimal outcome.
At length he drew himself together. He was stronger than this, better than this. Firming his resolve, Thorin left the battlements and headed back into the mountain. He passed several dwarfs he recognized on the way but did not stop to speak to anyone. With great strides he quickly ended up at his destination: the healers. The ward was quiet when he entered, a single healer on duty who looked up in surprise at his abrupt arrival.
"Is my nephew still here?"
"Down the hallway on the left," the healer replied. "But he is resting…"
Thorin took the information and the warning and walked past the healer. He hesitated for the briefest moment outside the door, before walking into his nephew's room. Inside, Kíli was being dressed for bed. The little dwarfling had his back to the door and did not see Thorin, but Dís spotted her brother immediately as he entered, as did Dwalin who was seated in the corner of the room. She stared at him for a long moment, judging him as only she had ever been able to do. Then she tilted her head slightly and motioned him closer.
"Kíli, I need to check on your brother. Will you be alright for a minute?" she asked her son, soothing his dark curls. Thorin watched the small head nodded forward once tiredly. Dís smiled at him, stroking his cheek and kissing his forehead. "Dwalin?"
The broad dwarf rose, giving the dwarfling the softest pat on the shoulder Thorin thought the large dwarf capable of. Dwalin eyed Thorin for a moment before nodding gruffly to him. He left the room. Dís stepped around her son so she was standing next to Thorin. Her eyes glittered and Thorin clearly read the warning there. Then Dís' face softened and she placed a hand on her brother's shoulder before departing the room to check on Fíli.
For a moment, Thorin stared at the back of his nephew, perched on the edge of the bed. All of a sudden, Kíli began to fall slowly backwards onto the bed. Concerned, Thorin stepped forward and caught the boy before he hit the mattress. Startled from sleep, Kíli jerked awake, his tender side protesting at the abrupt movement and the dwarfling cried out in pain. Cursing himself for hurting the child even further, Thorin moved around the bed so Kíli could see him. Wet brown eyes widened and the small mouth popped open in surprise as they took in Thorin. Carefully, Thorin arranged his nephew more comfortably on the bed, resting him against the pillows.
"Uncle?" the boy whispered as though he was dreaming. More tears filled his eyes and began to pour down his cheeks. Thorin looked thunderstruck for a moment, wondering what he had done to warrant tears.
"Kíli? Are you hurt, do you need the healer?" the almost unflappable dwarf leader was nearly approaching a panicked state as the little dwarf beside him sobbed. The little boy shook his head, struggling to get his emotions under control. Awkwardly at first, Thorin placed a hand on the dwarfling's shoulder before stroking his back soothingly as Kíli coughed and spluttered.
"I'm sorry!" Kíli gasped, interrupting. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to touch your dagger and get hurt! I only wanted to try because I want to be as good as Fíli and I thought that you would like me better if I could fight better, so I took the dagger and I tripped and fell over and it was an accident and I promise I will never do it again, I won't touch any weapon, Mama has made me promise until I am older, but I'm sorry please don't be angry at me, I just wanted to please you! Please don't hate me Uncle! I will be good, I promise, I won't do anything bad again!" The dwarfling took a deep, shuddering breath and started again. "I just wanted to help and you seem to like fighting a lot, so I thought if I could learn with the dagger you might spend more time with me and it might make you happier…" Kíli trailed off, wringing his little hands together.
Thorin sat stunned as Kíli poured out his heartfelt apology, wiping tears from his cheeks and looking up beseechingly at his Uncle, having put everything into his little speech. Several phrases hit Thorin like a punch to the solar plexus. "I thought you would like me better", "I just wanted to please you", "don't hate me"…
"Kíli," Thorin began, once Kíli had calmed down slightly. "I will never hate you."
The small dwarf blinked in surprise, his mouth forming a round 'o'. "You…you don't hate me? Even though I was very naughty and took your dagger?" Thorin was devastated at the hope that seemed to be dawning in his nephew's eyes. How could he have possibly convinced this innocent child that he hated him?
"Kíli, I'm sure your Mama has talked to you and you know what you did wrong. But I will never hate you. Do you understand?" Kíli nodded quickly and was about to utter more apologies but Thorin stopped him. "I need to say sorry to you, Kíli."
Kíli frowned in confusion. "But, but you didn't do anything bad," he pointed out.
Thorin sighed, thinking of every time he had done something, inadvertently, to hurt his nephews. "I did not mean to leave you out Kíli. I should have explained more carefully about why you cannot train yet and the dangers of using weapons. The weapons I have are not toys Kíli. You could have hurt yourself much more seriously and it would have been my fault. I will not love you any less for not being able to fight. You are young Kíli; you have your whole life ahead of you. When you are ready you will train. You must promise you will not try anything like this again."
Kíli nodded quickly. "I promise I will not touch your weapons," he said solemnly. He looked a little downcast.
"However, maybe I can ask Dwalin if he can start training you without weapons," Thorin suggested. His lips quirked as Kíli all but lit up in front of him, eyes widening in delight, a beaming smile spreading across his cheeks, his dimples creasing.
"Really? Can I? Thank you, thank you!" Kíli gasped, reaching out his arms to hug his uncle. His bound side prevented him from moving very far but Thorin moved so he was half sitting on the bed, leaning against the headboard. This allowed Kíli to shuffle awkwardly until he was leaning against Thorin, tucked under the older dwarf's arm. Kíli reached out, his small fist closing around the material of Thorin's coat and he sighed in contentment as he rested his head against Thorin's side.
"Love you," Kíli yawned as he played with a loose thread within his reach.
Thorin felt at the moment like a piece of his heart had thawed as he felt the unrestrained, unconditional love pouring from the little being at his side. Unable to say anything, he simply placed a hand on top of Kíli's head, stroking the soft curls as he had a few hours ago, before the whole mess had unravelled. The two dwarfs stayed that way until Thorin sensed Kíli had fallen asleep. He carefully extracted his coat from the dwarfling's clenched fist and settled him on the bed, pulling the blankets over him.
"You are so good to him and to Fíli," Dís said from behind him. She had come to check on her son and her brother. Finding all was well, she smiled at Thorin. She shifted a lock of his hair and he allowed her mothering touch as she kissed his forehead.
"I'm sorry," Thorin said very quietly. Without needing to say it, he knew his sister would understand. Sorry for hurting her, sorry for hurting her boys, sorry for everything.
"Oh Thorin," said his sister gently. "There is nothing to forgive. We must learn lessons from this and move on. Kíli is alive and that's what matters. We will be stronger for this. You have not lost their love, nor mine."
Thorin nodded jerkily. He deserved neither his kind hearted sister nor his nephews. "Where is Fíli?" he asked at length.
"In a room a few doors down," Dís answered. "He needed sleep and he wasn't going to get it watching over Kíli all night. You know how stubborn he can be."
"I need to speak with him."
"I know," said Dís. "He is awake now. Just don't keep him up too long."
Thorin quietly pushed open the door to his eldest nephew's room in the healers' ward. The ward was empty of occupants apart from his nephews so there were plenty of beds to choose from. Fíli had apparently refused flat out to be more than 20 yards from his brother's side. His mother had compromised by placing him in the room next to Kíli's but ensuring Fíli could easily access his brother's room if he needed to.
Fíli was sitting in bed but he wasn't asleep. Instead, his mind was ticking over the day's events. Kíli's tears, his Uncle's disappearance, Balin's mysterious retreat and Dwalin's sudden appearance. His mother had been tight lipped about the whole affair. Something still didn't seem right to the blonde dwarf.
The dwarfling looked up in surprise to see his Uncle standing in the doorway. He offered a smile and beckoned the older dwarf over. "Did you see Kíli?" Fíli asked immediately. "The healer says he's doing much better. He might be able to go home in a few days. Mama says we have to be careful with him but of course I will be." Fíli scoffed at the thought that he could be anything but careful with his brother.
"Kíli's wound is healing nicely," Thorin agreed. "Fíli…"
"Do you blame me?" Fíli asked suddenly, his small hands twisting in his lap. "Because Kíli got hurt? I should have…but I didn't…I mean…" He took a deep breath. "I laughed at him. He was so upset and I didn't try to help him. I knew he was angry that he couldn't train and I made it worse. I wasn't there…I should have stopped him…but I…" He sniffed. He was too old to cry really but his eyes were welling up. "I'm sorry Uncle. I didn't mean for any of this to happen!"
At once, Thorin understood what Balin meant. How he had left two distraught dwarflings in his wake. It was not only Kíli that was suffering. So often, Fíli was overlooked as Kíli was the one who most often got into trouble. Fíli was the one who did the looking after. However, it was now Fíli who needed comforting and Thorin was the only one who could provide it.
"I do not blame you for anything Fíli," Thorin said firmly. "You found your brother and you did everything right. You look after him and care for him. Kíli could not have a better or more caring older brother. What happened was an accident and if anyone is at fault, it is me. Kíli does not blame you and you should not blame yourself. I am…proud of you Fíli. Though I don't often say it."
Fíli stared at his uncle as though he had grown another head, before ducking and blushing. Fíli never had been good at taking compliments. "He's my brother. I would do anything for Kíli," he said softly.
Thorin went very still. He could remember a time, a time when he had been the older brother. When he had said something very similar about his younger brother. The thought still brought a pang of grief with it. Frerin…
"You should sleep Fíli. Kíli will need your help in the morning," Thorin said.
Fíli looked as if he was about to protest but nodded, muffling a yawn against his sleeve. He allowed Thorin to arrange the blankets and was settling down before he surged back up again and wrapped his arms around Thorin's middle.
"I don't blame you at all," he said into Thorin's coat. "I couldn't hate you. Ever."
Thorin nodded slowly. Part of him still could not understand the unconditional love his nephews showered upon him. He had been so close to giving it all up, distancing himself forever from the two dwarflings, under the misguided notion that he was sparing them. Perhaps maybe, they would save him instead. He watched as Fíli lay down again, tugging at the blankets until he was comfortable.
" G'night…" came the sleepy response as Fíli's eyes slowly shut, the young dwarf finally at peace and able to sleep, the burden of guilt lifted from his young shoulders.
And there you have it! Chapter 9 done and dusted. Look out for a small epilogue coming afterwards to wrap everything up. It will be a relief to have this finished- it's been hanging over my head for a long time too! Recently, I've been trying to concentrate on my own original writing but I feel like I owe it to my faithful reviewers and readers (and favourite-ers/alert-ers) to finish this. So this is for all of you!
Let me know what you thought :)