A/N: Special thanks to cecania13 for being my beta for this chapter! Further notes at the end. Read on!
The air was warm and gentle as Fíli and Kíli made their way slowly through the clearing near their small village. The cold snap had passed, leaving surprisingly balmy weather in its wake, and Kíli had begged to be allowed outside for the first time in a month (save for one small mishap). After bundling Kíli up far more than he thought necessary, Dís had given her blessing to the trek and watched the brothers depart with a final warning to be careful and take it slow.
Kíli had even taken his bow, though Fíli was not sure how he planned on using it while supporting himself with the cane Thorin had purchased for him from a neighboring village. Still, he did not want to dishearten his little brother if he did not have to, so he had helped him strap on the bow and quiver, and they had set out.
"Let's… let's stop here for a bit," Kíli said, wheezing slightly. Fíli nodded and took Kíli's elbow, helping him sit in the cool grass. Kíli reached back to pull off his bow and quiver, wincing; Fíli quickly pulled them off for him, and Kíli lay down in the grass, closing his eyes and attempting to steady his breathing.
"You doing all right?" Fíli said, joining his brother in the grass.
"Yeah, yeah, just tired, is all," Kíli said casually. He took a couple of deep breaths, smiling as he exhaled. He did this often now—breathing in deeply, seeing how far he could push his endurance before the pain came, and it was a little farther every day. The two lay in silence, admiring the deep reds and oranges of the twilit sky.
"How long d'you think until Mum sends Thorin to search for us?" said Kíli finally.
Fíli studied the sky with narrowed eyes. "An hour, maybe two," he said. "We probably shouldn't stay out too much longer. It's getting cold, and it'll take twice as long to get home with you."
Kíli cried out, offended. "I think I'll manage just fine, thank you," he retorted. "Bet I'm still quicker than you."
Fíli scoffed, and his brother let out a small chuckle that turned into a cough. Fíli rolled onto his side and looked at Kíli, concerned.
"M'fine," Kíli muttered, avoiding Fíli's gaze. Fíli raised one eyebrow, but Kíli closed his eyes and began breathing deeply once again.
"I thought you wanted to make it to the woods," Fíli said, peering again into the darkening sky. "We'd better get a move on."
"Half a moment!" Kíli protested, keeping his eyes closed and clutching at the grass. He sighed happily, and Fíli could tell that he was relishing the feeling of earth and dirt—nature—after so long cooped up at home. He waited patiently, breathing in the gentle air and relaxing in the stillness of evening. He felt peace sinking into every pore of his body, drawing out the stress and pain of the past four weeks. It had been five days since Kíli had reconciled with Thorin and Dís, and as he let go of his anger, his health had improved rapidly; he could now walk and talk for a decent amount of time without losing his breath, though he moved slowly to avoid pulling his still-healing side. The cane Thorin had purchased had been treated with scorn at first, but Kíli had begrudgingly accepted it after he realized that he could walk around without someone hovering around him, concerned, at every moment.
Nothing brought Fíli more joy than the knowledge that Kíli was alive and finally, truly, on the mend.
"All right, I'm ready," said Kíli, pulling Fíli from his thoughts. Fíli blinked and looked to his brother, who was struggling to pull himself back up.
"Here, let me help," said Fíli, standing to his feet and holding out his hands. Kíli stared at his brother's hands for a moment, a shadow passing over his face. Fíli frowned.
"It's all right, Kíli," he said kindly. "There's nothing wrong with—"
"Needing help, I know," Kíli interrupted, taking Fíli's hands and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. He huffed and steadied himself, and Fíli picked up the cane and handed it to him.
"Thanks," Kíli said sheepishly. He looked down to the ground and nodded to his bow and quiver.
"Can you carry those?"
Fíli's heart leapt into his throat at the simple request. Relax, he told himself. You're carrying them, not shooting them. He swallowed back his fears and nodded, picking up the weapons and slinging them over his shoulder.
The brothers slowly made their way into the woods, taking twice as long as usual as Kíli hobbled along. Eventually they made it to a familiar spot. Fíli looked around, and his stomach lurched. He turned to Kíli with wide eyes.
"Why did you want to come here?"
Kíli smiled at his brother, panting. "Why not?" he said. "It's a good spot."
"A good spot for what?"
"For practice," Kíli said, rolling his eyes. He set down his cane and motioned to Fíli to hand over his bow and quiver; Fíli eyed him apprehensively, knowing that Kíli would not be able to shoot his bow just yet.
"Kíli…" he said softly, reaching for the bow but not putting it in his brother's hands. Kíli lowered his waiting hand slowly, the light in his eyes dimming and his smile fading.
"You don't think I can do it," he said flatly.
"I think the stretch will be too much just yet," Fíli said quickly, and Kíli's smile died away completely. Fíli's heart sank as he kept his brother's gaze—he knew his words stung, but they were the truth. "But soon. Just give yourself time to heal."
"Can't I at least try?" Kíli said, his voice thick. He and Fíli stared at one another, and his jaw shifted slightly. Fíli licked his lips and pressed them together, sighing; he pulled the bow off his back and handed it to Kíli.
"All right," he said. "But don't push yourself too much. You've been unwell for too long to hurt yourself again."
Kíli shot him a cross look and held out his hand for an arrow. After a moment of hesitation, Fíli placed one in his waiting hand, and Kíli expertly nocked it into the bow. Fíli cringed, waiting for the moment he knew was coming, and sure enough, it did. As Kíli pulled pack on the bowstring, an agonized look crossed his face and he gasped harshly, dropping the bow and arrow and slapping both hands over his left side. Fíli bit back his I told you so and ran forward, hands outstretched, but Kíli hit his hands away.
"I'm fine," he said, giving his brother a dark look. Fíli nodded and took a step back, allowing Kíli to compose himself unassisted. He bent down and picked up the bow and arrow. Kíli squeezed his eyes shut and grunted, holding still as he waited for the pain to stop; after a few moments, he opened his eyes again and looked up at his brother.
"See? Fine," he said with a half-hearted grin. Fíli shook his head with a small smile and chuckled lightly. Kíli truly was the most stubborn dwarf he knew. He looked up at Kíli again, and the look on his brother's face made him start. Kíli's face was frozen in fear as he looked over his brother's shoulder.
"What is it?" Fíli said, looking over his shoulder—and then he saw it. A wolf prowled much too close to the two dwarves, watching them with hungry eyes. Fíli felt every muscle in his body tighten as an icy stream of panic flooded through him.
"It's fine," Kíli whispered, but the tightness in his voice betrayed his words. "It's all right... right? It hasn't seen us."
"Shut up, Kíli," Fíli hissed. "It's looking straight at us. Of course it's seen us."
Fíli's mind raced as he considered his options. The wolf clearly considered them a weak target—it had probably seen the slowness of Kíli's movements and picked him out as an ideal meal. He stepped in front of his brother and pushed the younger dwarf behind him.
"Shoot it," Kíli whispered frantically.
Another flood of cold panic went through Fíli at those words. I can't I can't I won't I'll hurt Kíli I can't do it. Fíli shook his head violently, and he felt Kíli grab his arm and squeeze.
"Fíli, I can't shoot. You're going to have to do it. It's going to come after us. Look at it."
Fíli shook his head again as tears stung the corners of his eyes. Fear washed over him and muddled his senses, and his breathing quickened; he balled his fists and then stretched out his fingers, trying to gather himself back together. Why hadn't he brought any weapons? The only thing he had that could cause harm was the small knife in his pocket—and the wolf was too far away to cause any damage with the miniature blade. Why had he left himself defenseless with only one weapon—one that he was afraid to use?
"Fíli, don't be foolish! I'm fine. I'm back here. Now use the bow."
Fíli heard the sense in Kíli's words, but the fear was paralyzing him now. He tried to pull the bow in his hands up, but his hands stayed lowered, as if they were not receiving the messages he as sending to them. He whimpered softly, and Kíli's grip tightened on his arm.
"Fíli," he begged. The wolf was creeping closer now, and the bow dangled loose in Fíli's hand.
"Why can't we run? Let's just run," Fíli said, wincing as he heard the high, panicked sound of his own voice. Kíli let out a disbelieving scoff.
"Did you forget who you're with?" Kíli said. He was moving backwards and pulling Fíli back with him slowly. "I am not running anywhere."
Fíli looked down at the bow in his hand and back up to the wolf, who was crouching. It had seen its window of opportunity—it could sense their fear, and it was ready to pounce. Fíli could feel it. His stomach lurched in panic, and he sidestepped so that he was completely blocking Kíli from the wolf's view. It was no use; the wolf leapt forward.
"Shoot it!" Kíli screamed, and finally, Fíli pulled up the bow and nocked an arrow into it as quickly as he could. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as the wolf charged towards him and Kíli—his Kíli. His Kíli, who had survived so much pain and misery and would not die because of one hungry wolf. Tears burned in his eyes as he fought down the irrational fear that gripped him, and he aimed and fired. For a moment, he thought he had missed—but then the wolf let out an ear-splitting yelp and stumbled, the shaft of the arrow sticking out from the creature's front shoulder-blade. It snapped furiously at the object causing it so much pain, but Fíli's shot had been true; the arrow had sunk deep into its shoulder. Without another thought, Fíli pulled out another arrow and fired, and the wolf lay still.
Suddenly everything seemed very silent. Fíli noticed a fading roar as the blood rushed through his ears, and his knuckles were white as he gripped the bow. He let out a ragged gasp and blinked; the world seemed to spin, and he stumbled, crashing into a tree close by.
"Hey!" Kíli cried out, following his brother and laying a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, it's all right. You did it, Fíli."
A disbelieving laugh escaped Fíli's lips, and he turned his eyes wildly to look at his brother. Kíli was smiling broadly, though his eyes shone with concern. Fíli could feel the tear tracks on his face; he dropped the bow and wiped at his eyes, embarrassed, and took a shaky breath.
"I knew you'd be a good shot," Kíli said proudly, but Fíli's chest tightened. He shook his head slowly, and Kíli frowned, drawing his eyebrows together.
"I... I can't, Kíli," he said breathlessly. "I'm glad I stopped the wolf, but... I don't want this. I can't do this."
"Can't do what?"
"I don't want to learn to shoot," Fíli said. "That's you. That's all you." He offered his brother a half-hearted grin. "If we ever fight Smaug, I think you'll have to be the brave archer to save the day."
Kíli studied Fíli's face and nodded slowly.
"All right," he said. "I won't make you shoot again."
Fíli sniffed and dipped his head in gratitude, then leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes for a moment. Suddenly, he was trapped in his brother's warm embrace; after he got over his initial surprise, he wrapped his arms as tightly as he dared around his little brother, dropping his forehead onto Kíli's shoulder and fighting back fresh tears.
"I love you, brother," Kíli whispered.
"Love you too," Fíli mumbled. Kíli made no move to let go, and Fíli was glad of it. He had his little brother, and that was all that he needed. Kíli was alive. Kíli was safe. Kíli would get well—the horror was over.
In that moment, Fíli truly understood the meaning of peace.
A/N: Well... this is the end. It's been an amazing journey... I've never written anything anywhere near this long in my life, and I'm super proud of it. I've made so many friends through writing this, and I love all of you and I'm glad to have met you! Thank you to all my reviewers, followers, and casual readers for choosing my fic to read and love. You're all beautiful.
This is not the end of fics from me! If you take a peek at my profile, you'll see that I have several other lovely little works… and then the one you may be most interested in is a sequel to Race Against Time entitled Illusions. I highly encourage you to read it if you loved this fic! It's from Kíli's POV and I am loving writing it.
Anyway, thanks so much for sticking with me. It's been a blast.
If you would like an HONEST TO GOODNESS BOOK VERSION of this fic, please send me a PM and I will arrange getting it to you. I am not charging for the book because that would be SO DISHONEST WOW but I will ask you to cover printing/shipping fees. I have this all arranged and I will be able to mail them out just as soon as the cover art is designed. Let me know!
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