Thorin trudged along, cursing the snow as he went. He had known. He had known his sister-sons would range beyond the bounds he had given them. Thorin had seen it that day with the scalding tea in his hands and foreboding in his heart. The sons of Durin always walked on the edge, even as young as Fìli and Kìli were. Thorin had hoped that stepping too far would teach them a lesson. He had left the snow out of his calculations that morning when he watched them tumble over the sunlit horizon.

Watched and did nothing.

The crownless king tried to ignore the wind eating at his bones and soldiered on, promising himself that he would find Fìli and Kìli in time. He had heard of Dwarves freezing to death in the Wild, but to see his own sister-sons cold and pale under the falling snow...

Thorin redoubled his pace.

They could not be far, he assured himself, plowing though the knee-high drifts and gathering night. How far could a couple of hardly-less-than-Dwarflings get in a couple of hours? Not even a league – but he must be vigilant. Thorin peered into the shadowy dark, his lantern raised high. Was there not a hollow in the hillside somewhere close by? If Fìli and Kìli had any sense at all, they would have made for shelter. He must find that hollow.

Shading his eyes against the snow, Thorin scoured the dark, casting about left and right. He saw nothing but the endless purple twilight and the snowflakes caught in the golden circle of his lantern, heard nothing but the whisper of drifting snow and the rasp of his own breath, felt nothing but the cold bruising his ribs. Despair gnawed at his heart, but the old flame of Durin's house flared up in a deep and ancient song. He would not give in, would give in. He would not abandon Fìli and Kìli to a slow and aching death. Thorin sang, praying that the sound would carry though the night to his sister-sons.

'Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the gates the trumpets rang.'

His words died away, unechoed, as Thorin stood listening for he knew not what. The swish of the snowflakes and the creaking of his bones became loud noises. Then, faintly carried on the whispering wind, the next lines came to him -

'But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;

There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.'

The words had never seemed so blessed to Thorin's ears, as he hastened to find their small, dark-haired source. As the song cracked and flickered out, he stumbled upon the hollow, half shrouded under the snow. He brushed it clumsily away, pausing before he knelt. Would he be met with two relieved faces, or only one?

Kìli had never felt a bubble of warmth rise up in him when he heard the Song of Durin before. He was fairly sure he had never felt as brave at the sound of the rough voice singing it before either. He rose up on his knees, jostling Fìli a little, and gathering his breath, flung back,

'The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shown forever far and bright.'

He saw a bobbing light drawing roving over the snow, golden in the sea of dark. Or was he imagining it? Was he imagining all of it? Kìli shuddered, not just from the cold this time. He mustn't think that way. Help would come. He watched the light and kept singing, trying to ignore the cracks in his voice and the way his hands shook as he brushed the snow from Fìli's slack face for the thousandth time.

Snow soaking his knees, Thorin knelt and lifted his lantern high. An ashen face stared up at him, framed with sodden black hair. Kìli just looked at him, caught between hope and doubt, Fìli's still form cradled in his arms. His dark eyes were holes in his pale visage, and for an instant, Thorin saw his own brother, Frerin, in his sister-son's look. The shard of memory almost tore through the wall he had thrown up against it long ago. Wordlessly, he wrapped both brothers in a tight embrace. There would be time later, to let in the ghosts of the past. Now, he must keep the present alive.

"I'm sorry, Uncle," Kìli whispered, "Fìli is too, only... only" - his voice broke - "he won't wake up."

Thorin rocked back on his heels, fighting the guilt clawing up his throat. But his hand did not shake as he shone the lantern-light full on Dìs' eldest son. He was white, paler than Kìli, golden lashes gleaming against the pallor of his face. Kìli let out a little sob, shaking his brother's shoulder in vain. But Thorin saw the faint mist clouding his lantern's glass pane. There was time.

Kìli pressed into Uncle Thorin's shoulder, desperate for the warmth and strength he had thought never to feel again. He breathed in the smell of the forge, mingled with pipe smoke. More tears leaked out, seeping into Uncle's rough cloak. He would go home and see Mother's face again, but would his brother? The shoulder drew away, and Uncle Thorin cupped Fìli's face in his huge hands. Fìli looked like the snow. Fìli looked dead. A sob tore out of him.

Uncle Thorin seemed like a giant, cradling Fìli's still form. He began to hum the Song of Durin, so low that Kìli's bones quivered with it. It seemed that the light was coming from Thorin himself, splashing across the hollow in a great, golden wave. Fìli's hair shone madly, damp and matted as it was. Kìli welt warmth seeping into himself, even though his breath hung in clouds around them. He wasn't sure, but it looked like Fìli's lips and fingernails were less blue now, his face less white. As Uncle Thorin finished the song, he gently rubbed a callused thumb along the side of Fìli face.

'Awake,' he rumbled, sounding like Kìli imagined Mahal to sound. Hope flared within him like a bird, fragile and fluttering, but warmer and brighter than the lamp.

And then Fìli stirred. His brows knit together and his breath caught as he slowly opened his eyes. Bleary blue met troubled brown and glinting gray. A long moment passed, punctuated the swoosh of falling snow and the rasp of anxious breath.

Then Kìli launched himself at his brother, holding on as tightly as he could and fiercely chanting, "Don't-you-dare-do-that-again-I'm-sorry," over and over again. Fìli coughed and hugged him back. He was so cold. Kìli could feel him shivering. He plucked off Fìli's cloak and coiled it snugly around him, then dropped his head on Fìli's shoulder and just listened to falling snow and his brother breathing...

...and Uncle Thorin chuckling? He looked over Fìli's shoulder and met his uncle's tired eyes, smiling like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.

Thorin thought Dìs' embrace would crush her first-born and her boiling tea would scald her youngest. But neither came to pass, so he leaned back in his chair and wrapped his hands tighter around his own mug of tea, grateful that he was still wearing gloves.

The darkness crowded beyond the windows, and the logs on the hearth burnt clear and red, making caverns and ships and swords and dragons and strange faces in the heart of the fire, drawing him down the long road of his childhood and letting the ghosts in. Thorin looked into the faces of sister-sons and saw another set of siblings: the sister tall and proud beneath her shining dark hair, but wild as the wind; the younger brother, dark-eyed and laughing, but quick-minded as a fox; and the eldest – grave, even then, weighed down with the knowledge that one day he would be king. But the red heart of a different fire had charred that dream long ago. The sister's pride was withered, her shining hair tarnished gray. The younger brother slept cold beneath the ashes of his fathers' kingdom. And the eldest bent before the hearth of a house not his own, bowed down with the years and the wandering.

"Uncle Thorin?" Fìli asked, "What are you thinking of?" The young dwarf was looking up at him with the fire shining in his blue eyes.

"The fire," Thorin replied, and saw it was the truth. The old fire, Durin's fire, burned in the faces of his sister-sons, dancing and fluttering now – but one day, they would grow tall. And then, together, they would kindle Arda around them. He saw and realized that the ghosts had laid themselves to rest.

Fìli nodded and plunked himself down at Thorin's feet, leaning back against his knee. Kìli drained the last of his tea and thrust the mug at his still-smiling mother before settling next to his brother.

"Finish the song," he murmured, resting his head on his brother's shoulder.

Thorin hummed an agreement and began where he had left off.

'But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.'

Dìs looked at him from the doorway, her smile a silent thank-you. Thorin returned the smile, feeling the years slide from his shoulders. In the firelight, he saw the same dwarf maiden who had laughed and played and stolen apples with him long ago. Frerin's laughter hung in the air, and for an instant, the present touched eternity.

Thorin saw fire still in Dìs: now it was her sons. And that was right and good: it was always to be that way. Though the road had wound through cold and ash, still the fire burned. Thorin nodded to her and she disappeared round the corner, dark braids swinging behind her.

At his knees, dark hair and golden bled together, gleaming in the light. And still the fire burned.

So. There we have it. The arc resolves. This was supposed to be about Fili and Kili, not Thorin and his angsty past. But RandomCelt had a muse attack and that's the way the story went. Was Thorin in-character? Did his musings make sense? What about Dis?

Unfortunately, this is the last chapter of ToTB that we will write before Desolation of Smaug comes out. Blame it on a) a lack of inspiration and b) a novel-length Avengers AU sucking up most of our writing time. More will probably come after DoS is released, though. Do not despair!

...or Gandalf will get on your case.

Also, we'll be gone until Wednesday, and probably won't reply to your reviews until next Friday, but we will reply. We are rather curious about what everyone thinks.

-DarthMihi and RandomCelt