The cool, crisp air of autumn swirled and danced around Fíli and Kíli, carrying with it bright red and orange leaves that clung to their bodies. The young dwarves joked and laughed together, every once in a while shoving each other playfully. They were alone, enjoying brotherly time together away from disapproving eyes and strict uncles. No one understood their mischief, but to them, that was all right. They understood each other.
It was early in the morning. The sun still hid behind the mountains and everything held a pale blue hue. Mist rose from the ground, forming a fog the sun would soon burn away. It was one of those rare mornings in which every intake of breath seems to bring in joy and wonderment; this feeling was not lost on Fíli and Kíli. They lay down in the cold blue grass, closing their eyes and breathing in the crisp air, their noses and cheeks pink with cold.
"How long until Thorin discovers we're gone?" said Kíli.
"I'd give him an hour, maybe two," Fíli replied. "It's early yet, and we both know he had too much ale last night."
Kíli chuckled. "I don't think I've ever seen him dance in such a lively fashion." They both laughed at the memory. "You had a bit much yourself, Fíli. How is your head?"
Fíli groaned. "Sore," he said, "but this fresh air is doing me a world of good."
"Good," said Kíli. "Then you'll be fine for archery practice, right?"
Fíli let out another groan, this one louder and longer than the first, and closed his eyes. "I don't know why you are so intent on making me as good as you," he said. "You're almost better than Thorin now. I prefer my axes and my swords."
"Oh, come on!" said Kíli, rolling onto his side and propping himself up with one arm. "Who knows? One day, you may be very grateful that I made you learn."
Fíli opened one eye and raised an eyebrow.
"Imagine killing Smaug the Terrible with one arrow," Kíli said. "Or do you think a great dragon is going to stay in range of your axes and swords?"
"I'll just let you shoot him, then," Fíli said, closing his eye and sighing. Kíli made no sound, and after a minute, Fíli got suspicious and opened his eyes. Kíli had sat up and was looking at him with his shining brown eyes, his mouth pulled into a frown.
"Kíli, you're not a child anymore. Cut that out."
Kíli kept staring at him, opening his eyes even wider. Fíli sighed and hit the ground.
"Fine," he said, "teach me how to shoot."
Kíli grinned and hopped up onto his feet. He held out a hand, and Fíli took it and pulled himself up. Kíli took his bow and quiver and tossed them to Fíli, who looked at them with unease.
"It'll be fine," Kíli said. "Come on!"
Fíli shouldered the quiver and followed Kíli into the woods.
"Now, remember, you need to pull back as far as you can," Kíli said. "And you only need to let go with your fingers, not your entire arm."
"You've told me this ten times already," Fíli growled. "Just let me try."
Kíli held up his hands and stepped back, closing his mouth. He raised his eyebrows, and Fíli rolled his eyes.
"Being taught archery by my younger brother," he muttered. He notched an arrow into the bow and took aim at a nearby tree. The tip of the arrow fell away from the bow.
"You have to—"
"Shut up," Fíli snapped. He felt heat creeping up into his cheeks. He was an accomplished fighter with the axe and the sword and the knife, but he felt like a ten-year-old again when he held a bow. He would have teased Kíli about the elves' weapon, but Thorin also had great skill with a bow, and Fíli held his uncle in the highest respect. Besides, Kíli's skill had saved his life once before, years ago.
He drew the arrow back again and aimed. He took in a deep breath and released the arrow as he breathed out. Thunk. The tip sank into the tree trunk, and Fíli lowered the bow, smiling. He felt a clap on his back.
"See, I didn't think it'd be that hard for you!" Kíli said. "You're doing really well!"
Fíli nodded with a half-hidden grin. He was pleased, but his pride still felt wounded.
Fíli whirled around and searched the woods for whatever it was that Kíli saw. His eyes caught it almost immediately—a large buck, not too far away—at least, close enough to shoot.
"Can you shoot it?" Kíli said.
"I don't know," Fíli whispered. "I can try."
"Oh, that would be good for dinner tonight," Kíli said excitedly. "Give it a shot." He ran toward the buck quietly, hiding behind a tree. The buck remained still, munching on some vegetation. Kíli looked back at Fíli and nodded.
Fíli took in a deep breath and strung an arrow into Kíli's bow. He pulled back the arrow swiftly and took aim, his heart pounding. This would be so much easier with one of his knives—he wouldn't have felt any nervousness at all, then. But now he felt the double pressure of bringing home a good meal and not embarrassing himself in front of his younger brother. He hesitated.
"What are you waiting for?" hissed Kíli. "Shoot it!"
Fíli took another deep breath and focused on the buck. He blew out slowly and readied to release the taut string.
Suddenly, a branch fell from a nearby tree, startling the buck and causing it to dash. Fíli faltered.
"Shoot it!" Kíli shouted.
Fíli quickly pulled the bow again and turned to catch the buck in its path, releasing without fully aiming in his panic to catch it. He missed, and the buck got away.
"Damn it!" he shouted, shouldering the bow. He looked to where Kíli had been standing, embarrassed. But Kíli was not standing anymore. He was kneeling, and a cold wave of fear ran through Fíli's body as he beheld what he had done. An arrow was buried deep in Kíli's side.
"Kíli!" he screamed, and he ran to his brother. He was kneeling with his head against the tree, shaking and silent.
"Oh, Kíli, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," he said hoarsely. Kíli only grunted, breathing hard, his eyes squeezed shut. Fíli was at a loss for what to do. The arrow had not gone through, which mean the head was stuck inside him. They hadn't taken the ponies. The only options were to carry him—unlikely, as movement could move or break the arrow—or go and tell Thorin what he had done. Another cascade of fear went through him at the thought of Thorin's inevitable anger. But it had to be done.
"Kíli? I'm going to get Uncle," he said. "I'll be back as soon as I can be."
Kíli nodded shakily, still incapable of speech.
"I'll be right back, Kíli. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
Kíli reached out and took his hand, squeezing gently. "It was an accident," he grunted. Fíli watched as a visible wave of pain went through Kíli, who let out a short cry. "Get Uncle, please," he whimpered.
Fíli squeezed his hand and stood up, searching for the exit to the woods. He ran as fast as he could, crashing through brush and branch in a race against time.