A/N: Well, here it is folks, final chapter. Thank you for coming along on this ride with me, I've enjoyed it a lot and I hope you have too. I hope you will all leave nice long reviews - those of you who have done so before know how happy they make me! If you don't have a lot to say, I like one liners almost as much, just a quick note to say whether you've enjoyed it or not.
This chapter does require you to think slightly differently to the film and the book - it doesn't differ enough to be AU by any means but in case there's any one who is particularly savvy about how long there is between each event in either version, there are a few minor time line changes you need to be aware of so that you don't think I've just forgotten them.1) They are encountering the trolls the night after the orc joke happens and we see the lovely flashback sequence.
2) While I have left it that it is Fili and Kili who send Bilbo off on his own to recover the ponies from the trolls, I have written it slightly more like the book in that they don't realise what they're sending him into (because that doesn't really work with my head canon right now, and I'm willing to overlook that minute of the film).
3) The scene where they meet Radagast doesn't happen until at least the afternoon/early evening so there's a good few hours of hiking involved in the morning.
"Maybe we ought to tell Thorin."
Beside me, my brother paused, spoon halfway to his mouth. Placing it back down, he turned worried eyes on me.
"He's not going to be happy," he said apprehensively, "Aren't you…I mean, shouldn't we at least try to sort this ourselves? It might be nothing – Bilbo will be back soon."
I raised my eyebrows sceptically, 'it might be nothing' indeed. "Yes, Kíli," I said somewhat mockingly, "I'm sure the ponies simply untied themselves and wandered off. And of course they uprooted a few trees, crushed a few bushes while they were about it."
"'can hope, can't we?" He asked, shooting me a slightly hurt frown.
"He ought to have been back by now, surely?" I stood, creeping forwards a few feet to see if I could see our burglar returning. He hadn't signalled for our help but then who's to say hobbits even know the difference between brown owls and other owls – I hadn't thought of it at the time. Through the brush, I could still see the flickering light of the fire but we were too far to hear any of the goings on around it, if indeed there were any. All the same, I cursed my earlier cowardice, encouraging Bilbo to go alone when he hadn't even a knife with which to defend himself. He really ought to be back by now. "Surely we ought to be doing something too?" I asked Kíli, jumping slightly as his face appeared barely a foot away from mine. I had not the faintest idea what we could do, not knowing what we were facing or even whether Bilbo was in trouble. I turned to my brother, placing my hand on his shoulder and pressing him to sit. "If I go on a bit further – just to get a look – do you swear you'll stay here, and not follow unless I call for you?"
"No," he answered emphatically, an incredulous laugh pulling at his lips.
"No," he repeated, brushing my hand away and pushing past me. "If you want a closer look, let's go and get one but I won't sit here and wait for you like some helpless little dwarfling."
I stared at him a moment, at once proud of his bravery and exasperated by his own need to prove himself. "All right, we'll both go," I conceded, slightly disconcerted by the way his eyes lit up as I said it, "But we'll just get a look and see if we can't find Bilbo and then we'll go back and tell the others. Promise?"
He sighed, scowling as if to say I had completely taken the fun out of it but nodded reluctantly.
"Kíli, promise me." I repeated sternly, knowing how easily my brother walked into disasters simply because he could not wait to throw himself into every new situation. If he would give me his word, I would feel a good deal better about this – a dwarf's word was a thing of honour, even my brother in all his impetuousness would not break a promise once made.
"Yes, Fíli," he bit out, clearly frustrated, "I promise."
Satisfied, I turned my attention back to the light. Drawing a couple of my knives in case we were caught, I edged forwards, Kíli following just behind. From the corner of my eye, I saw him follow suit and draw his sword. Moving forwards slowly, I crouched down in the undergrowth, peering into the firelight to see what had become of Bilbo. Had he found the ponies? Was he in trouble? And just who – or what – had built a fire out here? I pulled aside a branch to get a better look and suddenly I saw –
"Kíli, get back," I ordered quickly, throwing my arm out to stop him moving any further forwards. He froze, following my gaze before turning and looking fearfully at me.
I swallowed nervously, peering through our cover and trying to spot our little burglar in the circle of firelight. Horrified, I spied him just in time to see one of the trolls snatch him up in its great paw and…blow it's nose on him, most ferociously. Beside me, Kíli gave a quiet noise somewhere between a laugh and a retch.
"Hush," I ordered him quietly. I could not think what to do – leave Kíli here and run for help myself? Or send Kíli back alone when there could be more of the foul creatures roaming about? We could hardly just sit here and hope they would come looking for us. "Kíli," I began firmly, "I want you to stay here. Do not move from this place, do you hear?"
He looked at me incredulously, gesturing emphatically towards Bilbo and the trolls. "I know," I said, holding one hand up to stop any further protest, "But I will be back with Thorin and the others– there's nothing we can do just us two."
"But – "
"Kíli!" I poured every ounce of severity and fear and anger that I had in me into that one word. He could not ask me to choose between trusting him to do as I said while I ran for reinforcements or staying here and minding him whilst our poor new friend was murdered and eaten by trolls. My brother is stubborn and brave and childish but even he would not disobey me in this – he could not! He nodded once.
"Well, go on then!" He ordered, even giving me a half shove away back towards our own camp before turning back to the peril unfolding before him.
I did not need to be told twice. Kíli may have agreed to stay where he was but I did not intent to test my brother's restraint – if he felt I was taking too long then he would be up and throwing himself into danger without a second thought. And I would not be there to protect him. I wished I were faster.
"THORIN!" I began shouting the moment I knew I was within earshot, hoping that my companions would hear my cries and be ready for a fight ere I reached them. My forethought paid off; by the time I broke into our camp (very nearly sending Ori crashing into the fire) my companions were armed and on their feet ready to fend off whatever foul enemy I came to warn them of.
I looked up from where I had been bent double – we dwarves are surprisingly fast but even we 'youngsters' tire quickly – to see Dwalin standing over me, axe in hand anxious to know what was wrong.
"Trolls," I managed to gasp out, "Trolls have Bilbo…ponies…'s a fire."
I had not made much sense I knew but our entire company was off like dogs on a scent, crashing through the undergrowth in the direction I had come, Dwalin grabbing a hold of my jacket and dragging me along beside him. Though my limbs ached and my chest burned so that I thought I might never breathe normally again, the knowledge that I had abandoned my little brother so close to danger spurred me on with them. As I ran, images of the terrible things three huge mountain trolls could do to my gangly, foolishly courageous little brother filled my head and I thought I might tear up just from the thought of it. Thorin may have had his brother snatched from him but at least he had been there at all – I had abandoned my own little brother to the mercy of three enormous trolls. What had I been thinking?! Kíli would not stay put – Kíli never stayed where he was told not even when he was threatened into doing so by Thorin or our Mother – I was going to arrive back at the troll's camp to see my poor brother already roasting on their spit I just knew it!
It seemed to take an age to get back to where I had left my brother. Just as I realised we were drawing very near we heard commotion up ahead – no doubt they were sharpening their best skinning knives and arguing about the best way to cook a one hobbit and a very young dwarf – suddenly I heard squeals of pain and my brother's voice interrupting them, ordering them to 'DROP HIM'. I had no doubt as to whom he was referring to, I was shocked Bilbo had lasted this long! All the same, I had never been so happy to hear my foolish younger brother's voice – if he was able to make demands then he was not dead. This was a good thing indeed for when I got my hands on him I intended to murder him myself. What was he thinking? Three trolls. Three huge trolls. And he was making demands of them. Alone. The little fool.
Blessedly close, I heard Bilbo cry out and saw him flung down though I could not see him hit the earth. Finally – finally – the first of our company broke into the camp, Thorin and Gloin at the head. Entering the fray myself, I tripped and fell as I came across my brother lying prone on the earth, Bilbo atop him. Grabbing Bilbo up and setting him on his feet, I hauled Kíli to me and we embraced for a fraction of a second before I had to shove him away to avoid us both being crushed by a troll's fist.
It was a mistake. I spent the rest of the fight struggling to get back to him; to my frenzied mind it was as though he was as set on avoiding me as he was our combatants – more so in fact, if the number of times he was very nearly crushed was anything to go by. Every time I thought I had him I would turn away for a second and he'd be off again, ducking and slicing at their huge legs as he slid perilously close to their enormous great feet. And oh! All I could think of was what my Uncle had said the previous night. I could not let that happen – I would not let that happen to my precious younger brother!
At one point, in the process of knocking Ori from within one of the creatures' grasps I found myself flung to the side and lay there for a moment in a sort of pain-filled haze in such intense pain that I could scarce breathe from it. Perhaps as thanks, I found my recovery being courageously defended by Nori before suddenly everything went disturbingly quiet and still. Alarm filling his eyes, Nori turned and helped me up supporting me with one arm. As in pain and terrified for Bilbo's sake as I was, I could have cried from the relief of seeing my brother – seeming to be blessedly unharmed – being held back by Thorin's restraining arm. If the slight tightening on my arm and soft, disbelieving sigh was anything to go by, Nori felt quite the same to see his own brothers standing beside them.
That relief was short-lived as we followed Thorin's example, laying down our weapons and stepping back that they might be grabbed up by our captors. They made short work of bagging us up though in truth we put up very little fight – we could do no more for fear of losing Bilbo – and throwing half of us into a pile before preparing to spit roast the others. Though in a most inconvenient position, it did afford me the opportunity to wriggle closer to Kíli who still seemed mostly outraged than injured. From somewhere behind me, I could hear Balin and Thorin muttering to each other – I hoped they had a plan because my own mind was entirely blank but for the part of me that was praising Aüle and just about every ancestor in his halls for my brother's (and of course everyone else's) continued existence.
"What?" I whispered, attempting but failing to roll the right way up in my sack.
"Are you very hurt?"
Aüle bless him. With a great deal of quite painful wriggling and flexing about, I was just about able to move enough that I could nudge at Kíli's ankles with my head. Hardly reassuring – or remotely useful – but the contact soothed some innermost part of me that was certain Kíli would be safer if I could only reach out and touch him. "No," I reassured him, grunting as he accidentally kicked me in the face, shifting himself lower down towards me, "Are you?" I was vaguely aware of others around us having much the same conversation, though interspersed with hopelessly ambitious escape plans.
"No…perhaps a little," he admitted quietly, as though ashamed to say so. I felt my stomach lurch; when it came to being injured, Kíli's idea of his being 'a little' hurt was very different to my own. I felt utterly hopeless. My poor brother was injured and tied up in a sack waiting to be roasted alive to feed three foul trolls and it was all I could do to roll over, let alone get up and defend him! Completely unable to do any more, I rubbed my face against his shin slightly (though the rough burlap chafed mightily), he seemed slightly comforted. I felt him shift as if straining to look elsewhere and I hoped he could not see what I could.
Mahal save us, we were going to be roasted alive.
We would never see home again. We would never see Erebor at all. Our Mother would never know what had happened to us – both of her sons and her beloved older brother eaten by trolls and she would never even know! We would vanish into the world just as Thrain had and – Where was our Uncle? He could not let this happen – he would not! Thorin would have a plan. Uncle always had a plan, always knew what to do. Why did he not do something? We were going to die – Kíli was going to die – outwitted by three stupid, brutish mountain trolls and surely Thorin had some sort of plan?!
"Kíli," I said breathlessly, straining to see him (or Thorin), "…ask Thorin, what do we do?"
I heard him murmuring above me, Thorin replying in deep, quiet tones.
"Can you use your knife?" Kíli asked me quietly.
In all the commotion and terror, I had quite forgotten I even had other knives about me. I shifted, bringing my knees up as high as I could within the bag, trying to reach the weapon I had strapped inside my boot; it was no bigger than a letter knife but I had always kept it sharp. Grunting, I felt my fingers brush the very top of the handle but restrained as I was, I could not get any purchase on it with which to withdraw it. I could not stand it! It was absolutely, positively the most wretchedly useless I had felt in all my life – my little brother and my Uncle were almost certainly about to die – horribly – simply because I could not puzzle my way out of a sack!
"Kíli, I can't reach!" I told him and I vow I was near weeping from frustration and shame.
Suddenly, I was aware of Bilbo standing – how in Durin's name…? – and speaking to our captors about….the proper seasoning for dwarves. If I could only have gotten up, I'd have knocked him down – the little weasel! We did not have to come and help him! We could very well have stayed out of it and left him to it, thank you very much! We'd none of us be in this mess and I would not be facing watching my brother be cooked alive in front of me and we'd all have a great deal less to worry about without a ridiculously naïve little hobbit slowing us down or jumping at shadows every five minutes. If I had been able to reach, I'd have bitten his great hairy feet, the treacherous little toad!
And then one of the loathsome creatures reached down and grabbed up poor Bombur, ready to swallow him whole – seasoning or no! But suddenly Bilbo was warning them about infections and worms and all manner of nonsense and was it not enough that he was getting us eaten? Must he insult us as well? With a shriek, the troll flung Bombur back down on top of us and off Bilbo went, railing about parasites and infections and of course, my brother could not allow that. Injured or no, most of our company (led by my particularly indignant brother) were shouting and protesting the hobbit's claims. Suddenly, I felt Kíli jerk as though something or someone had hit him and they all went very silent before:
"I've got parasites as big as my arm!"
"Mine are the biggest parasites – I've got huge parasites!"
Clearly, the hobbit was not as naïve as he seemed. Soon we were each of us loudly claiming to be the most infected of all, it was ridiculous – laughable even – but clearly no one else had a plan and I myself was at a complete loss.
"We're riddled with them!" I added hopefully.
Alas it was not to be. Like Bilbo, the trolls were clearly not as foolish as they seemed. We were all going to die. Smaug the Terrible had failed to end Durin's line, Azog had been destroyed whilst trying and yet here, over a hundred leagues from our home, Durin's line was about to be utterly quashed by three of the ugliest, foulest, most dim-witted creatures I had ever seen. And I could not escape that accursed sack even to attempt to protect my Uncle or brother one last time.
"THE DAWN WILL TAKE YOU ALL!"
Never in all my life have I been so grateful for sunlight. I could have cried from the relief – I certainly would not have been the only one to do so. As it was, there was a good deal of laughter and great shouts of delight as Gandalf descended and began untying ropes and helping to lever the spit off the fire to release Dwalin and the others, muttering all the while about the foolishness and stubbornness of dwarves and how he had warned us to go on further last night.
Finally free of my restraints, I sought out my brother at last.
"Fíli!" In his haste, Kíli caught one foot in his sack, sending him careening into me with a force that near knocked me flat.
Kíli. For what seemed like the longest while, I could think no further than the fact that we were free and that my brother was once more safe, enfolded in my arms and trembling something fierce. Or perhaps it was I who trembled. Eventually, when it seemed we had both calmed somewhat, I pushed him back from me, staring urgently into his eyes.
"Where are you hurt?" For a moment, he looked almost confused before coming back to himself and drawing up one sleeve. I breathed a sigh of relief; though long and no doubt very painful, the cut was shallow, as if he had justbeen caught by the creature's blade as he passed. By Durin's beard, he had been unbelievably fortunate. Not to mention outrageously careless– how dare he take such risks with his own life? He had as good as given me his word! He had been injured during the fray; that was all very well and good (though the thought of it still made me feel somewhat ill) but to have thrown himself into a battle where he was outnumbered three to one and facing foes he had never come across before with no clear idea of when or even if I would be arriving with reinforcements was just…there were simply no words in Westron or Khuzdul for it. How dare he?!
Some indication of my fury must have shown upon my face for Kíli shot me a wide-eyed look of such innocent confusion that had I been any less acquainted with him, I might have honestly thought myself mistaken – no one could be so completely unaware of having committed such folly.
"What were you thinking?" I asked, struggling to keep my voice hushed. I did not wish to draw attention to our quarrel, not when our party was so shaken by the night's events but…"You little fool! You could have been killed!"
"Bilbo needed my help – they were going to eat him," he protested, still the picture of wide-eyed innocence though I could see the telltale flush creeping up.
"I don't care, Kíli, they could have – " I broke off as I saw Thorin approaching. As angry as I was and as tempting as it might have been at that particular moment to bring our uncle's wrath down upon my brother, I had had a lifetime of keeping silent about my brother's occasional feats of complete and utter stupidity; I did not intend to stop now. Besides, given that I did not intend to let Kíli out of my sight until his centenary – possibly not even then – there would be plenty of time to continue our 'discussion' later.
Kíli threw himself at our uncle with almost as much enthusiasm as he had done with me, and in fact was probably received with just as much. As tall as he was now, I vow he nearly disappeared within our uncle's furs so tightly did they embrace. I was no less thankful to see him; in fact, given our current relationship I was probably even more relieved than Kíli to see him alive and well. The very idea that Thorin could have gone to the halls of Aule with this still lying unresolved between us hurt. Even so, I could not bring myself to join them – not while this distance remained between us – I did not wish to cheapen our reconciling by doing so in the aftershocks of a fray. There could be no question now that I would fix this thing – and today – but I would not do so right now nor did I wish to begin any discussion of it whilst I was so utterly furious about other matters.
"This will need to be taken care of," my Uncle was saying now, looking over my brother's wound carefully and valiantly ignoring Kíli's involuntary attempts to pull away from his inspection.
"Do you suppose it will scar?" Kíli asked hopefully once Thorin had released him.
"Time will tell," Thorin replied evasively. Truthfully, I highly doubted it would; we had probably both taken deeper wounds during training though I am certain it must have stung mightily. Suddenly, Thorin turned his gaze on me and I felt my throat constrict. "Fíli, are you hurt?"
I opened my mouth to speak but thought better of it, instead settling for shaking my head stiffly. Casting his eyes over me again, he turned away.
"Gandalf and I believe there must be a cave nearby," Thorin announced, calling the attention of our companions, "Their hoard may hold items of use to us. We must find it ere we set out but stay together! If trolls have become so brazen as to venture this far south, there may well be fouler things about than them in these parts. Keep your eyes open, all of you."
With that, he set off, my brother following in his wake like a puppy. I laughed incredulously – sometimes, I wondered if my brother possessed an ounce of adult dignity in his entire body – though I fell into step with Kíli anyway. Ahead, Thorin paused and turned to look at me queerly, something between anger and uncertainty. It was not until much later that the thought occurred to me that he had thought I was laughing at him.
"I'm just saying what would you have done?" Kíli huffed, raising his hands in frustration.
We had been at it for several hours now, and clearly he was not going to concede the point but frankly neither was I. If nothing else, I hoped he might think twice in the future if only to avoid my lecturing him. Also, though I did not like to admit it, I would most likely have done exactly the same thing as he had. Except I would have done so without getting hurt.
From the corner of my eye, I saw him break a few leaves off a birch tree as we passed it. I could not decide whether I was still annoyed enough at him to ruin his fun and put an end to his ridiculous 'Fill Big Brother's Hood With Lots of Strange Leaves' game or whether to just let him be and get him back for it later somehow. For now, I considered I was generous enough to allow him his childishness a while longer. To be perfectly honest, I was relieved that he seemed his usual impish self; after this morning, I had worried he might be mildly traumatised – I certainly felt it! But then Kíli always had shown a distressing propensity to forget the perils he had walked into once he was removed from them. It was primarily the reason I had not left Kíli's side all morning. Within me, there was a nagging fear that the moment I stepped away from him, some great foe would come upon us again, we would be separated, and not even Gandalf would be able to save us this time.
Besides which, I was still planning what I was going to say to Thorin; I was not so foolish as to believe either of us harboured any ill-feeling towards the other anymore – narrowly avoiding being roasted alive will do that, I suppose – but I was worried all the same.
Still, we were going along quite merrily now, despite our troubled night, and the entire company seemed to have been cheered by our discovery of the troll hoard. I could not help but notice poor Ori, pale as anything still, stuck decidedly closer to his brother's though; I had every sympathy with both him and his elder brothers, I was certainly doing everything I could to stay by my brother's side today. The earth was still treacherous from yesterday's rainfall so we were not riding which, on reflection, was probably just as well or I suspect I might have had to insist Kíli rode with me instead of on his own mount. He'd have pleaded and sulked about it all day but at least I'd have known exactly where he was at all times…these past couple of days seemed to have turned me into as much of a clucking old hen as Dori.
"Kíli!" I exclaimed as I walked straight into him. I ducked around him, wondering what on earth he could have seen to have made him stop so suddenly. Nothing. I could see nothing ahead to have caused alarm or shock or anything really, so why…? I turned to him, concerned.
He blinked at me innocently for all of a few seconds before breaking out into a devilish grin and pulling my hood (still full of leaves) up over my head before dashing off up to the front of the party, weaving in between our fellows as he did so. Very well, if it was a chase my little brother was after…
And we were off.
I am embarrassed to say that our games went on quite a while – much to our companions'' entertainment– and we were even cheered on by a few of our company. Eventually though it seemed even Kíli was getting tired – just as well since I was not sure how much more I could have run with my ribs aching as they were – and we settled down to walk again like good, respectable dwarves for a brief time before Kíli somehow slipped my notice. I had a brief moment of panic before I spied him wandering back down our line to Gandalf and Bilbo. Well, if anyone were to babysit him today, I'd rather it was Gandalf – at least he wouldn't put up with any of Kíli's nonsense. Still, it left me at rather a loose end; I knew all along that my watchfulness was grating on my brother so I could hardly drop back to walk with him now.
Thorin it was then.
I stopped off to one side, waiting for Thorin to catch up with me before falling in to step beside him. It was…awkward. All thought of what I had planned to say had quite flown from my mind.
"Thank you," I told him, turning my eyes skyward so as to avoid having to look at him.
There was a pause before, "Whatever for?"
For a moment, I congratulated myself on finally having confounded my uncle to the point where he allowed himself to express it.
"We didn't get eaten."
I could feel the blush creeping up my neck; I sounded ridiculous. This was not the speech of two people who had known one another eighty two years, we were speaking like strangers – polite, careful – it was worse than shouting at each other. There was a long pause before he answered me. I wondered what he was thinking about, whether he was angry at our having caused it in the first place or whether he recognised it as the foolish mistake it had been.
"I did very little."
I smiled – he had rallied our company, thrown himself headlong into almost entirely unknown dangers to aid Kíli, surrendered the field to prevent one of our party suffering a most agonising death and been the only one amongst us intelligent to recognise the Bilbo's rouse for what it was. Obviously, he had done hardly helped at all.
"Kíli would have gone on like that forever – his pride was hurt. 'Infected' indeed." From the corner of my eye, I could see him smiling slightly, no doubt recalling my brother's outraged protests. I took a deep breath, finally forcing myself to look him in the eye. "I thought we might die this morning. I kept thinking about what you said about Frerin, well, no, about Kíli." After all, how could I forget the images that had plagued my dreams that night or the waking nightmare that was this morning?
For a moment, I wondered if he would speak at all. He had gone very pale; I began to wish I had not mentioned my later uncle.
"I…I oughtn't to have…Frerin's death weighs heavily on me," I stopped, shocked. I do not believe I had ever heard him speak his brother's name before, I had known about him, certainly and my Mother spoke of him occasionally but Thorin… "It grows worse each day the closer we come to Moria and I cannot – I will not – allow you or anyone else to think that those monsters are something to be laughed at. But…I should not have said such things to you; you should not think of things like that." He broke off, looking away from me.
. I understood what he had meant though – 'you should not think of things like that' – that he thought me too young to know the truth of battle, of how easily a life can be ended. I was beginning to feel that way myself but there it was. Suddenly, a realisation came to me, one that made my stomach clench at the very thought of it.
"You were younger than even Kíli, Frerin even more so."
"Yes, I must have been," he admitted, seeming almost surprised at the realisation. I wanted to offer him comfort, to tell him I did not need him to say any more but I sensed somehow that he had more yet to say if I would only let him.
"You have never spoken of his death," I prompted quietly. As far as I knew, he had never even discussed it with my mother – his own sister – and Kíli and I had been warned from a young age that we must never ever speak to him of Frerin unless Thorin brought him up first.
"I saw him carried off, and I could not get to him…He died cursing my name." For several agonising moments, I thought my Uncle might break down entirely – I could already see his eyes were glistening – and I could not have blamed him if he had. I had known from stories told by others – Balin, in particular – that Frerin's death had been somewhat…gruesome, particularly since he had been so young at the time – almost half my age. But to hear it spoken in such plain terms, not just now but several nights ago too, it was horrifying. I felt as though every story my childhood had been a lie – where was the dignity or greatness – the honour – in such young men, children really, being slaughtered as animals while their kin looked on helpless to stop it? Unable to help myself, I reached out both my hands to cling to one of my uncle's, feeling the strength in it even whilst he barely realised I was doing so.
Suddenly seeming to return from the nightmare he was no doubt replaying in his mind, he closed his eyes briefly. I pretended not to have noticed the single, tiny droplet that slowly made its way down his face. Opening overly bright eyes once more, he raised my hand in his own.
"Oh, Fíli, please forgive me," he implored suddenly, squeezing my hand almost painfully tight and raising it to his lips.
"Of course!" I said immediately – as if there had been any doubt in the matter! I had absolutely no idea what else to say to him. I could not recall ever having seen him look so beside himself or so discomposed by anything other than his temper. I glanced at him apprehensively, wondering whether I should or even could let him on the joke Kíli and I had perfected over years of hearing him repeat the same phrase to us over and over (for, it had to be said, we gave him much occasion to do so). "Though it was badly done, Uncle. Very badly done."
He glared at me and briefly, I sincerely regretted my teasing but then: "I couldn't agree more," he said, shaking his head fondly. I joined him in his hesitant laughter before suddenly his previous, far darker speech entered my mind.
"Not Kíli, I'll never take my eyes off him," I swore, staring at him earnestly. I meant it too; as ridiculous as it was, even standing here with him was causing me to have niggling concerns as to my brother's whereabouts. "Not Kíli, Uncle, never Kíli."
He stared at me for a moment, slightly reddened eyes searching mine. "No, not Kíli," he agreed gently, bringing his hands up to my face and laying his forehead against mine. I closed my eyes. "And not you."
It occurred to me, in some abstract way, that he was in all likelihood simply telling me what I wanted to hear – I was far too old by now to be thinking that my uncle, however strong or mighty he seemed to my brother and me, could see all ends – but in that moment, I truly did not care. As it had with Kíli earlier, my world seemed to have faded until all that was left – all that mattered – was my uncle's somewhat tremulous breathing and warm hands against my face. I was suddenly entirely ashamed of myself for allowing what now seemed such a trivial, silly little thing come between us – it had been a terrible shock and I had admittedly been beyond hurt by his actions not to mention his complete inability to admit he had been wrong (up until now at least). But really, in all honesty, what did it matter? One moment of grief and anger fuelled madness against a lifetime of being cared for, protected, and loved by him? As it had several days ago (which had felt like months), the thought of losing my uncle hit me like a punch to the gut.
"Or you?" I am not in the slightest bit ashamed to admit I may have whimpered it.
His reply came immediately. "Not me either. We are the last of our house," he said, firmly pressing dry lips to my temple, "we go together or not at all."
The promise of the complete ending of Durin's line – our line – had never sounded so reassuring.