NEW: My debut novel is now available on Amazon as an e-book! Look for Darkling by K.M. Rice. If you don't have a Kindle, don't worry – there are many free apps that allow you to read a Kindle book on any device!
Old Author's Note: As anyone who has looked at my profile knows, I am an aspiring author. I've written several books and am trying to get published, but it's a tough business with a lot of rejection, so getting so much support for this story has been incredible and has truly lifted my heart and boosted my confidence.
I know there are far more of you reading than commenting, and I'd like to thank you for giving my work a chance and devoting your time to it. But more so, I would like to thank my reviewers, many of whom made it clear that they were just as invested in this story as I.
Your feedback and encouragement always made me strive to write the best possible story that I could. You reminded me that I could never get lazy, even if this is "just" a fanfiction. Writing a new chapter each day, being forced to keep it all streamlined with what I'd already posted while making it up as I went along was a brilliant writing exercise. The journey has been both wonderful and exhausting, and to all who have chosen to bless me by sharing it, I offer you a heartfelt hannon le.
Lastly, for this chapter you may want to check out Amy Robbins-Wilson's rendition of "Hebridean Lullaby," for her voice is how I imagine Dis' to be.
And so, without further ado, here is the final chapter.
Chapter 16: Bluebird
Kili closed the door to his room, leaning his back up against the wood and closing his eyes for a moment. The hurt and lack of understanding on his mother's face as she tried to give him the cloak made his chest clench and his throat tighten. He ought to go back out and apologize. She was trying to do something kind for him and here he was, shunning her, hurting her again and again.
Crossing over to his bed, he sat down. The morning light cast cheer around the room, and with a sinking heart, he realized just how early it still was. He'd awoken at the crack of dawn and snuck out, as he so often did, to avoid waking to his family's concerned gazes. And Fili… Fili watched him with such sorrow in his eyes that Kili couldn't bear to look at him anymore.
His ribs that had broken under the warg's weight ached, and as he slipped a hand under his tunic to rest on them, his fingers brushed over the jagged, scarring tissue at his side.
His dreams were different each night, but most contained some element of the burning fortress. Intellectually, he knew that he had stabbed the warg, and that Thorin had bashed in its skull at the last moment, just before its jaws closed around his neck and shoulders. That his uncle hadn't stopped pounding in the beast's head until it was a white and red mash. Thorin had then carried him out of the smoke and heat, like the wounded whelp he was.
But intellect wasn't everything, and a part of him was still trapped in the burning fortress.
He had a habit of reminding himself of how he had survived – images from his own memory and those he created from Thorin's re-telling – for no matter how hard he tried, his mind was full of holes when it came to that night.
Except for what happened afterwards. That he remembered far too vividly.
A knock sounded on his door and Kili jumped, his dark eyes darting to the wood.
"Can I come in?" was Fili's hoarse voice. It sounded as if the older dwarf had been crying again, and Kili couldn't handle that. Not yet.
"I'm busy," he lied.
Fili didn't move and waited outside his door for several moments before shuffling off.
Kili closed his eyes as he heard his brother leaving. The tightness in his chest only grew and he lay down on his bed. Fili had already had to watch him battle through fever-dreams upon their return home, and didn't want to drag his brother through even more pain, for all Kili wanted to do was scream at the world.
In the main room, Thorin watched Fili shuffle back to his bedroom, his shoulders bowed. He shook his head as the fair-haired dwarf quietly closed his door, then Thorin looked to his sister, who was hanging Kili's mended cloak up on the peg beside his bow and quiver. "It's been a month."
Sighing, Dis looked to her brother. "Does your arm still pain you?"
"No… it's not my arm." His hand unconsciously reached up to cup the scar on his bicep. "It's something far more vital than my arm."
Dis' face became stony as she looked into the flames in the hearth. "We're all trying, Thorin."
"I just fear it won't be enough."
Dis closed her eyes and clutched the collar of her tunic. Thorin watched his sister, remembering when she'd started that habit as a child, and how their mother had scolded her for wrinkling her shirts. The years fell away, not that they every truly mattered to begin with – not when he was with his sister – and he saw her as the boisterous, impulsive girl she had been. Crossing over to her, he rested a hand on her shoulder then pulled her into a hug.
She clung back fiercely, resting her forehead against the crook of his neck. "He won't let me touch him," she whispered brokenly.
"He won't let any of us touch him."
"I thought everything would be all right," she whimpered in a whisper. "Once we were home and safe and he was on the mend, I thought we could heal and share laughter again. But there is something so wrong in him – something so broken. And now he's breaking Fili."
Thorin rubbed her back, his own throat tightening at her words.
"His eyes are so cold… the only time he looks like my boy is when he sleeps. And even then, I'm terrified to touch him. He's fragile… I fear he might shatter."
Thorin mulled over his sister's thoughts for a few moments before speaking, and she could feel his voice vibrating in his throat. "Battles change even the best of us. Sometimes warriors are left with sickness… sickness in the mind."
Dis shook her head then pulled away, wiping at her cheeks. "Fili doesn't have it."
Thorin offered her a bittersweet smile. "Perhaps then, it is just the remnants of his second fever. They are known to alter survivors, and in all my years, I've never seen anyone live through such fire in their veins. Who knows what he saw in his dreams."
"Because of what we did," Dis whispered, looking away from Thorin and closing her eyes.
Thorin sighed. "We saved him, sister."
Dis shook her head. "If that were true… then he wouldn't flinch at my touch."
Thorin's eyes drifted to the floorboards. A part him held onto the hope that if he could just talk some sense into Kili again like he had when they thought Fili was gone, then he'd have a chance. That he could coax the resilience he so admired out into being once more.
But it was all he could do to get his youngest nephew to meet his gaze, and truth be told… Thorin was afraid of talking to him.
The dinner table was quiet save for the scraping of dishes and hiss and snap of the fire in the hearth. Dis and Thorin were nearly finished with their stew, but Fili had only eaten half, and Kili seemed to think he could get away with stirring his around his bowl without having a bite.
"It's very good," Dis complimented her brother.
The pair watched Fili take a half-hearted bite in response while Kili ignored them.
Sighing, Dis set down her spoon. "Kili, you are being rude. Your uncle worked very hard to make this for us."
Kili's dark eyes flicked up from his bowl and Thorin smiled. "It's my famous Wilderness Stew. Though for it to be proper, you must be soaked and starving in the woods. Always tastes better that way." He chuckled, earning a smile from Fili.
But Kili was looking at him as if he wanted to squash him under the heel of his boot.
Thorin's smile faded, for the expression on his youngest nephew's face was so dark and unlike the lad he knew that it made the food in his belly sour.
Scooting his chair back, Kili rose and stalked from the room, slamming his door shut behind him. Fili clenched his jaw, meeting his mother's gaze with a tortured look, as if asking if Kili would ever stop burning down the world with his eyes.
Seeing the anguish in her eldest's gaze, and the timid way her brother was now prodding his stew, made something snap in Dis. They had tiptoed on eggshells around her volatile youngest long enough when they ought to be steering him, by force, if necessary. She rose and slammed her napkin down on the table before striding to the hall.
The door to Kili's room was yanked open without so much as a knock and he whipped around to face his mother as she shut it behind her. Her eyes were livid. He hadn't seen that look on her face for years, for it had only surfaced in the past when he or Fili had accidentally-on-purpose hurt each other.
Kili didn't budge so his mother took a step towards him and pointed to the bed.
"I said sit down."
Hesitating, Kili did as he was asked and eased onto the edge of the mattress.
She took a step towards him, swinging her arm up to fold it over her chest, and in the brief moment that her motion caught his eye, he started to lean back, as if thinking she was going to strike him. Her heart clenched as fear flickered on his face and the brooding dwarf was gone. Despite the fading purple scar on his neck and the ghost of bruises on his face, for that brief moment, her little one was back, and he wasn't angry – he was afraid.
As soon as he saw her cross her arms, however, his eyebrows frowned and he looked away, his hair falling in his face, and her boy was gone.
He picked at the cuff of his tunic sleeve.
"Kili, look at me."
Sighing, he stopped fidgeting and looked up at his mother.
"You are being ridiculously rude to your uncle," she scolded, moving to stand directly before him. "As you have been again and again. Need I remind you that he is more than kin? That he is your king?"
Kili snorted, looking away.
"I said look at me," Dis growled.
Kili whipped his head back around. "Yes, your highness."
Dis' lips parted at the mockery in his tone and her arms fell to the side. "How dare you."
"How dare I?" he asked, raising his brows. "You come in here and start barking orders then try to pull rank with uncle and you still have the gall to scold me? As if I've done something wrong? As if I wasn't the only one who went after –" Kili paused as his voice broke. He hadn't said so much all at once since the darkness stole his voice in the fortress, and by the impressed look on his mother's face, he wasn't the only one who had noticed.
Dis couldn't help but smile faintly. "It's good to hear your voice."
Scoffing, Kili rose and stalked to the window, looking up at the rising moon.
"Why won't you talk to me?" Dis asked, wanting to follow him across the room but knowing the tension in his shoulders warned that she shouldn't. Sometimes he reminded her of a bird with a damaged wing, panicking when cornered and trying to fly away, only to fall to the ground. A bluebird. Her bluebird.
"I have nothing to say," he muttered, shifting so that his back was completely to her as he picked at the bark of the rough-hewn log sill.
Dis sighed, her anger at him over dinner fading. "I don't know what I've done to make you treat me like this, but at least talk to your brother."
Kili's upper lip curled slightly, his chest filling with unshed tears as words welled up within him. Words that needed to come out but that he daren't utter, for they were from the darkness, and saying them might reveal that he was just a ghost of his former self.
"You're breaking his heart," Dis offered before heading for the door. Her hand was on the lever when Kili made a soft sound, drawing her attention back to him.
"You didn't do anything," he whispered, leaning his temple against the window frame. Dis stepped cautiously forward, afraid she'd startle him into flight. "Only…" He closed his eyes. "Why did you save me? Why did you put me through all that if you never even wanted me?"
He looked to her then, half of his face bathed in silver moonlight, the other in shadows, and his eyes were no longer cold or detached, but instead looked as raw as wounds.
Dis shook her head, the air disappearing in her chest, replaced by cold mist as his words and the confused pain on his face gutted her. She took a step over to him and Kili looked away, his eyes shimmering in the moonlight as he focused on the outside world. But though he tensed, he allowed his mother to approach his side, close enough to touch him if she wished.
"Why, in all of Arda, would you ever, ever think that?" she asked, her voice hitching.
He picked at the sill once more before swallowing down his emotions, his eyes clearing of their tears.
"You held me down," he whispered. "You covered my mouth."
Dis clutched her collar. "So any surviving orcs couldn't hear your cries."
"But I couldn't breathe," he whispered in such a rush that she almost couldn't understand him. "And I couldn't move. You were all holding me down and I couldn't move. It was like you were…"
Dis clenched her jaw, watching the way his face twitched as he spoke, looking so unlike her child, and she realized that somewhere along the way, he had shed his baby fat and was growing up.
"And then Thorin…"
He faltered and Dis let out a shuddering breath. Once they had escaped the fortress, Kili was too weak to even sit on a pony, and Thorin feared the infection had poisoned his blood.
In a last ditch effort to save him, Thorin had heated the tip of Dis' blade then had the other two restrain Kili as he pressed the scalding metal into his wound. They had hoped Kili was close enough to unconsciousness to be pushed over the edge and pass out without bearing the brunt of the pain, but instead he had screamed and struggled. She'd had to clamp a hand over her son's mouth and pin him down with Fili while her brother burnt his flesh.
Necessary or not, it was torture. It had changed all of them.
"I know," Dis whispered, tears filling her eyes. "And I am so, so sorry, sweetheart. But it worked. You're here now."
Kili didn't look at her but instead bowed his head further, his hair falling into his face. "Your faces turned into orcs. Sometimes they still do."
Dis' breathing hitched in her chest and she wanted nothing more than to pull her youngest to her in a hug and never let go, but his body was screaming at her that she was already too close. Because she had hurt him. Like the enemy. When he had thought he was safe.
"Kili… it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. And as much as I hated to cause you pain… it saved you. I pray that one day you will understand."
She started to reach out her hand to rest it on his shoulder but he somehow caught the movement through his curtain of hair and flinched. Dis recoiled her arm and shuffled backwards before heading for the door, sniffling.
"Besides, you have him back now," Kili's voice croaked and Dis looked over her shoulder to find him facing her, his eyes brimming with tears. "Isn't that all you ever wanted?"
Dis pivoted to face him, tilting her head, desperately trying to link his tortured face with his words.
"To have your firstborn home, safe and sound?" he continued. "Or else have nothing at all?"
Dis shook her head, his words fraying her soul. "Why would you say that?" she asked again.
"Because I heard you say it," Kili whimpered, tears escaping as the darkness-words spilled forth from his lips, tasting like bile. No matter how he tried, he couldn't stop his word-retching now that he'd begun. "To Thorin, when I was wounded. 'I wish Kili had died,' you said. And you could've had your wish. You had your chance but you saved me anyway."
He paused to take a shuddering breath, for his voice had risen to a shout as his tears spilled out. Dis couldn't breathe, and felt more than a little faint. As if his words had sucked all of the air and light from the room. No… as if hers had.
"I don't understand," he squeaked, giving in to a sob. "I don't know what it is that's so wrong about me. I've tried… I've…" He grabbed onto the sill as he curled in on himself, the sobs wracking his body nearly sending him to the floor. For now that the darkness was out, he was only ribs and sinew instead of a whole person.
Dis ran to her son, falling to her knees beside him and wrapping her arms around his broken frame, hugging him to her. Kili didn't resist and limply held her back, shaking with sobs. She closed her eyes, her own gasping breaths blending with his as she held him all the tighter, running a hand through his hair.
"Oh, my poor darling," she squeaked. "My poor little bird. You've done nothing wrong."
Kili's loud sob made her think he didn't believe her.
"I never meant what I said," she insisted, "Only that I didn't want you to have to bear the agony you were in."
But the air was wrenched from her yet again as she recalled Thorin's words to her on the hilltop before the battle. You all but abandoned him.
She had. Hostage to her grief, she had left her brother to tend to Kili, and had him feed the boy lies that she was only resting but had been there all along. Because she hadn't had the strength to be in the room with him while they thought he might not make it. She hadn't been able to see him suffer after having already lost a son and wasn't brave enough to visit with him until she knew his fever had broken and he would recover.
But even then, even then she had not been there for him. Her heart and mind were off with Fili, reliving his birth, his first steps, the first purse he had made for her out of a rabbit pelt… Instead of grieving with her surviving son, she had turned her back on him. She had abandoned him.
It was little wonder, then, that he looked so grown up now. She'd forced him to.
"I've been so selfish," she whispered into his hair which was damp with her tears. She rocked them both as she spoke, but a part of her knew there were no words in the world to erase what she had done. "You are so much stronger than I, Kili."
"No, Momma," he hiccoughed, and the way he scooted closer and tightened his grip around her, as if trying to both comfort her and hide in her embrace, broke her heart.
"Yes…. You are. And I'm so sorry that I have failed you. But I am here now."
Kili sobbed again, and her blouse above her heart was moist with his tears.
"I'm here now," she repeated, closing her eyes as she rocked him, forcing her tears to subside.
She could feel his ribcage so easily beneath her arms, and it was shaking. While Fili often astounded her with his ability to buck up and save emotions to deal with later, Kili had trouble stopping once he'd started.
"And I love you more than there are stars in the sky and waves in the sea."
"I love you, too," he whispered as best he could, though it was almost unintelligible.
She continued to comb her fingers through his hair, rocking them back and forth on the floor in a pool of moonlight. Taking a shaky breath to test her breathing, she parted her lips and sang to her bluebird until his tears subsided to hitching breaths.
"Coo roo koo, cooruku, coo ru ku, coo ku
Coo roo koo, cooruku, coo ru ku, coo ku
Oh hush thee my dove, oh hush thee my sweet love
Oh hush thee my lap wing, my dear little bird.
Oh, fold your wings and seek your nest now
The berries shine on the old rowan tree
The bird is home from the hills and valleys
Coo roo koo, cooruku, coo ru ku, coo ku
Coo roo koo, cooruku, coo ru ku, coo ku."
When neither Dis nor Kili emerged from his bedroom, Thorin quietly approached the door and listened. Both he and Fili had heard the two weeping earlier, but now it was quiet. He rapped softly at the door before easing it open, and was surprised to find Kili in bed, tucked under the covers, with his mother sitting beside him, rubbing her thumb over the back of his healed left hand.
Thorin let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and leaned against the doorway, smiling at the loving scene that he hadn't seen for so long. Too long.
Dis returned his smile then rose, kissing her son on the forehead before crossing over to her brother. "He cried himself to sleep," she whispered, the rims of her eyes red.
Thorin rested his palm on her bicep, looking her in the eye. "Are you all right?"
She took a deep breath and let it out shakily but nodded. "Yes… finally, I think we will be."
Thorin smiled. "Good."
Dis rested her hand over her brother's and squeezed before exiting the room. Thorin moved to follow her when movement caught his eye. Kili rolled over onto his side, curling up, and the blanket slid off his shoulders.
Treading as quietly as he could in his boots, Thorin crossed over to his nephew's bedside and tugged the blanket up over his shoulders. The lad had grown far too thin and would need all the warmth he could get on the cold spring night. Perhaps Fili could make him some –
Startled, Thorin looked down at his nephew to find his eyes cracked open. "Yes?"
Kili shifted his shoulders a little so that he could better see him, even if he refused to open his eyes past slits. "Thank you. For coming after me."
Thorin smiled, reaching down to squeeze Kili's hand. The lad's voice was so hoarse that he wondered how awake he was. "I always will."
Kili smiled, and the sight flooded Thorin's chest with affection. His nephew looked like himself again. There was still much good in the world.
"Now," Thorin said, brushing hair off his nephew's face. "Get some sleep."
Kili shifted back onto his side and closed his eyes, and Thorin didn't doubt that the lad would be out before he even reached the door. Then Kili's quiet voice caught him off guard again.
Looking over his shoulder, Thorin fixed Kili with a questioning gaze.
"Why you're quiet when others are not," Kili said, his sleep-drenched voice quiet and eerie in its honesty. "Why you get that… look in your eye, and I know you're in Erebor. Why you're angry. Why you burned me."
Thorin couldn't move if he tried, for he felt as if his soul had been pierced, and that he'd been truly seen for the first time since losing his home. He had never heard those words uttered before, and never thought he'd believe them coming from one so young. But he did. Oh, how he did.
Looking at the floorboards, Thorin realized he had no words to offer in return.
Kili sighed, shifting again, and when Thorin looked back up, his chest was rising and falling peacefully.
The boy didn't respond, and Thorin wondered at how long his nephew had kept such thoughts to himself before spilling them when half in the world of dreams.
Easing the door shut behind him, Thorin closed his eyes, tears slipping down his cheeks. When he walked back down the hall, his step was lighter. He felt younger. He felt forgiven.
Later that night, when he sat alone beside the hearth, watching the dying embers glow like a dragon's heart, he thought of his kingdom. His nephews would've been safe from such terrors as they'd already lived through had they been born in the homeland. No orc horde or delusional creature thinking it could command one as Azog once did would dare touch his nephews in Erebor. He could do naught to change that now, but he could make a difference for their children.
Though it would take several years before he set out on his quest, Thorin Oakenshield decided that night that when he left to take back Erebor, his sister-sons, who had more than proven themselves, were coming with him.
Fili had spotted Kili from a distance away, lounging in the setting sun by the stream bank. But now that he approached the spot, the only sign of his brother was a flattened patch of young grass.
A piece of bark fell on the top of his head and Fili smirked, not even bothering to look up. "One of these days, Thorin is going to go into a rage over your Elven ways."
Looking up, Fili squinted in the afternoon light to spot his brother up in the boughs of the pine, high enough to not be reached. Kili studied him for a moment before smiling sheepishly.
"What – did you think I'd come to push you in?" Fili asked, resting his hands on his hips.
"I couldn't see who you were," Kili quietly replied before making his way down. Fili didn't taunt further, for he often had the same reaction. Though two months had passed since his capture, mundane still had a way of morphing into orcs and wargs, and he couldn't blame his brother for his flighty instincts.
Kili hopped out of the last branch and landed on the ground, dusting his hands off then inspecting the shallow cuts on his palms from the rough bark.
"Is this where you've been all day?" Fili asked then tousled his brother's hair before approaching the stream. "Hiding in a tree?" The thawing snow had had fattened the water-serpent.
Kili narrowed his eyes at his brother's taunt but Fili missed the look.
"Mum just got back from that trader Dwalin mentioned," Fili continued when his brother didn't answer.
"Oh?" Kili flicked his hair out of his face. "Did she decide anything?"
Fili nodded, watching the light dance on the ripples. "She's going to get a filly." He looked to his brother as Kili stepped up beside him. "That way, we can name her Daisy."
Kili followed his brother's gaze to the water, remembering the pony of the same name that they had lost the night of their attack. While no one could ever replace Daisy's gentle nicker, the thought of getting to know a new pony dampened the pain of her passing.
Tension built in Kili, and Fili sighed, for while his brother had unthawed almost to the point of living with ease, tension still reared its head whenever their ordeal was mentioned. As a result, Fili had stopped bringing it up around Kili altogether. But there was only so much he could say to his mother and uncle, for neither of them had shared in his experience like his other half had. "I still have nightmares, you know."
Kili turned to face his brother, his dark eyes concerned. "Oh… I can't even imagine… You were with them for so long."
"No, not that." In moments like this, the younger dwarf seemed loathe to make eye contact, so Fili waited until he held his brother's gaze before continuing. "I dream about the warg attacking you… killing you."
The tension doubled and Kili tried to break it with a crooked smile. "Well too bad – you're stuck with me."
He squeezed Fili's shoulder then turned to grab his bow, only to have Fili catch his sleeve, drawing his attention back to him.
"Don't ever, ever, do something like that again."
Kili furrowed his brow, his spine growing stiff. "Something like what?"
"Like making me promise to leave you for dead, then hurling yourself at a monster."
Fili paused, clenching his jaw, trying to disguise the tightness in his throat lest his brother sense his sorrow and grow taut like a bowstring, ready to snap as he'd done in the past.
Kili studied his brother's face with concern, and instead of putting distance between them, he surprised Fili by stepping closer.
"You're my entire world, Kili," Fili said quietly, then smiled a little. "Durin knows, I don't always act like it, but it's true. And I need you to know that."
Kili sighed, his expression reminding Fili of the silent, brooding shell he had become after their escape, and the thought of that ghost of Kili returning frightened him.
"Fili…" Kili began, turning his back to him, his voice somber. "Sometimes… I… worry about you."
Tightness coiled in Fili's chest. "Why?"
"Because you can be dafter than a horse-kicked dandy," Kili replied with a chuckle, spinning back around to face his brother with a smile. "Of course I know. And you damned well better know I feel the same. I only went through Mordor's fires for you, didn't I?"
Fili scoffed, but the small sound turned into a laugh as relief and love washed over him.
"And no," Kili continued, his eyes dancing. "I didn't sit here all day. I'm no Elf, no matter how much you tease." He trotted over to the base of the pine where he'd covered something with fern fronds. Brushing the foliage aside, Kili lifted up a pair of dead badgers with a grin.
"By Durin," Fili barked. "Those are half as big as you are!"
"They'd have to be to fit your hobbit feet."
Fili studied his brother with wonder for several heartbeats, his words slowly latching onto a memory in his mind. Before they were attacked, they had been out trapping, and he'd caught a fine badger he hoped to turn into a boot. He hadn't remembered until this moment, but clearly, Kili had.
Kili chucked the badgers at him without warning, and, distracted as he was, they struck Fili in the chest, knocking him over. Kili stared in shock, having never been able to bring his brother down with anything before, including logs, then dashed over and looked down at him. A giggle that quickly morphed into a cackle escaped Kili's chest as Fili glared up at him.
Hearing his brother laugh so freely made Fili's chuckle join his. As he took Kili's hand and rose, he realized just how much he had missed the way his brother's eyes crinkled to the point of disappearing as he laughed, and the sight of them doing so now made him laugh all the harder.
For the first time since they had returned, he knew he was home. And so did Kili.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts :)
I dedicate this story to my two brothers, and especially to my little sister who is my Fili – my other half. I would go through the fires of Mordor for all of you.
And in response to a handful of questions: no, I have not been through anything as traumatizing as Fili and Kili in this story, thank the gods. Though my family and I have been visited by death rather frequently of late, unfortunately, so grief keeps finding its way into my stories.
That said, I need a break from the angst and am already writing some humorous Kili and Fili stories, so please, keep your eyes peeled! I'll probably return to drama at some point, but for now, please enjoy some of the insanity of my other Hobbit fics to rejuvenate you after this one!
That is more than enough from me, so until next time, I bid you all a very fond farewell!