He's been running his whole life. It's nothing new. The pounding of his heart in his ears and the ragged tightness in his chest is no less familiar to him than the easy rhythms of sleep and waking, though the latter would be far more welcome now. His hand clutches tightly around the little mobile tucked in his pocket - but he needs to get away from his pursuers for long enough to make the call. He darts into a narrow close between two buildings, then sprints through a courtyard into another dim alley, trying to silence his footfalls. He's done this dance a thousand times, staying just out of reach of anyone who sought to touch him.
He's not getting away this time.
Kíli works his way down and out, weaving a torturous route, and he can hear the angry shouts growing a bit fainter behind him. Smaug has the city entirely within his grasp now, though, and there are no ways out. All he can hope for is long enough to pass on a warning.
He hadn't been afraid when he'd left the family behind, back at Aberfeldy, even though he could see the fear in all of their faces. Kíli was far from stupid; he knew the dangers - but he also knew Edinburgh. The wide streets and narrow closes had been his playground from the time he was tiny, and the street gangs had answered his calls, willingly offering him information in exchange for the right words. Edinburgh was his, and her underground people were his people. Fíli might have hugged him so hard it hurt, and Thorin had looked like there was something desperately trying to escape from his iron control of his own thoughts, but Kíli had not been afraid.
Very few things scare him. Losing the family, that's terrifying. Losing Fíli is not to be thought of. And his recent forced stay in hospital might have been the most terrifying experience of his adult life - but that's more related to the first two fears than anything inherently frightening. It was being alone that had robbed him of his strength.
There are armed men after him now who fully intend to kill him. Kíli isn't frightened.
He ducks into a main street, crossing just ahead of traffic, and darts through a little shop that's nothing more than a tourist trap, waving an absentminded farewell to the sweet little old lady who minds the till. She's been sneaking him free sweets since he was small, and he knows she'll cover for him for a few minutes - perhaps long enough. Kíli hugs the wall beyond as he moves, already pulling up Fíli's number and preparing to call. He makes sure his breathing is under control. No sense panicking his brother just yet.
He's more tired than he ought to be, and that is a frustration. He should be faster and smarter now - but they hadn't slept the night before, Fíli and Kíli, pouring over the data that clever little Uncle Bill had managed to secure for them, and the lack of sleep is dulling his responses. Fíli had tried to make him sleep, to shove him off when Thorin had passed out, but Kíli had refused. He feels guilty, sometimes, when he thinks of how much the older members of the family have sacrificed, even if they never complain, and he pushes himself farther than he should, trying to make up for it. They know, he and his brother, that the rest protect them. They've always known it. But now, they're returning the favour.
He finds a tiny, quiet corner - almost a cave, if you could have those in the ancient substrata of the city - and backs into it, pressing the button. Fíli will answer.
Fíli has to answer, and he has to do it NOW. They're out of time. Kíli breathes out - once, twice, three times - and wipes at his forehead, where hair has tumbled into his eyes.
They're out of time, and Kíli had known it before he'd snatched the keys from Uncle Bill and thrown himself onto that delightfully dangerous little motorbike and flown to Edinburgh as fast as it would bear him. Everything is bearing down on them at once, building momentum and danger like snow gathering into an avalanche, and if they don't move they'll be crushed. Fíli complains that they're always running, never given a chance to stand still and live like people, but Kíli likes the running. It keeps them ahead of the disaster, and as long as they're running together, he is pleased.
All he ever wanted was his family.
"Pick up, pick up," he mutters. Fíli always answers when he calls. If he can't get through to them - if something has already happened while he has been too slow, made useless once again by distance and lack of skill - he won't forgive himself. His fingers are shaking a bit, holding the mobile to his ear with too much force, but he's running on caffeine and adrenaline and desperation, and it's enough, it has to be enough. "Pick up!"
"I did!" Fíli snaps back, worry and exhaustion making the familiar voice terse, but no less welcome. "Where are you? Are you safe?"
"Sleeping on the job, big brother?" Kíli teases, trying to keep his tone light. This is going to get very bad, very quickly, and a childish part of him wants to close his eyes and just talk to his brother, pretend none of it is about to come down on him.
If you close your eyes, they can't see you. His heart hammers in his chest.
It's late afternoon, and the rays of sunlight that make their way into his little hideaway are dim and strained. A shiver runs up his spine.
"Power nap. Recharges the brain - not that you'd know anything about that," Fíli says sharply - part of an old argument, and it feels so normal that Kíli grins, closing his eyes for just one instant, and draws in a solid breath. "Are you on your way?"
"Not exactly," Kíli says wryly, slouching against the stones of the damp walls. "I need to talk to Thorin."
"Forget it," Fíli says, using the Older Brother voice that he always thinks will work on Kíli. It never does. "I'm not putting this mobile down. Tell me, I'll pass it on."
There's a shout from too close - far too close, and Kíli winces. "Tell me you've moved," he begs. It's his one hope, and the time for pretending is now past. He'll put it behind him, like everything else. "You're not in Tyndrum, are you?"
Fíli hums, unhappy confirmation of his fears, and Kíli pushes himself upright, squaring his shoulders and preparing to move again.
"I need to talk to Thorin, Fee," he says soberly.
"Speaker," Fíli concedes, and Kíli can hear him moving. He moves too, ducking away from his momentary respite, trying to keep moving with purpose. He's got to buy himself enough time to get the family the information. That's all he can want, now.
Fíli goes quiet, and Kíli's heartbeat spikes. They're on his trail again, now, a roar in the distance making it clear that he's been spotted. "Fíli? Are you still there?" The sudden fear that he's been abandoned - that he'll have to do this completely alone - is like a punch to the gut, and he breathes hard around it.
"We're here, Kíli." Fíli sounds far away, now, but it's a relief nonetheless. Kíli nods, blinks, and picks up his pace. He could head for the main roads, hoping that public scrutiny will dampen Smaug's men's thirst for violence - but there's no time, and he knows they're everywhere now. He wouldn't make it to Prince's Street even if he had wings. "You're on speaker, so you'll have to speak up."
They're there, scarcely further away than the mobile in his hand, and Kíli stifles a sob of relief that comes out of nowhere. "I need to tell you what I've found," he says desperately, words tumbling over one another until he's not sure anyone but Fíli will understand. "It's - not good news. Is Thorin there?"
If Fíli's voice had been a relief, and the sound of home, then Thorin's is the ground beneath his feet. Kíli feels his shoulders straighten automatically, and he moves faster. "You need to get out of there," he says rapidly. "Word on the street is that we are dead men." He tries hard not to think of how true that's about to become, because he doesn't have TIME for that now, not with the family hanging on his words as the avalanche descends on them. "Smaug's gathered up every gang, every mob, every petty lowlife and criminal and drug addict - everyone with a grudge against us, or who is desperate enough to take his money, or who owes him a favour." He wishes he could make them understand what it means - but they've always left it to him to understand the workings of the underworld in the cities, ever since he was old enough, and there's no way they can comprehend what's coming after them. There's a stitch in his side, but Kíli doesn't have time. "They're all coming after us, and they're coming now!" He'd be screaming it, if that wouldn't bring them down on him even faster.
He hears Fíli react, from miles away, or just next to his ear. "It's an army!" His brother always has been quick on the uptake.
"They know where you are," Kíli says desperately, having to scuttle quickly sideways to dodge a car that's headed straight for him. Running through traffic is not his best bet, now. "Smaug had Bilbo followed, and they're coming to Tyndrum now - you've got to GO!"
He makes the mistake of looking behind him, just as Thorin calmly refuses to do the sensible thing for once in his life and get them the hell out of there. At least half a dozen of Smaug's choice thugs are behind him, and they look delighted to have him in their sights. There are things Thorin doesn't understand, because he's not here, but Kíli has to make him see.
"They're not going to arrest us this time," he spits, breath coming harder now. "Or beat us up for information. They're going to KILL us, Uncle Thorin!"
His voice cracks at the end, and Kíli slaps a hand over his mouth to stifle the traitorous little sob that tries to break out. He's not afraid - he doesn't have time to be afraid - and he isn't alone. That's the important thing to remember, no matter how desperately alone he might feel in the next few minutes.
But he's never been able to lie to Fíli - not ever, not since he first started talking, and he can practically hear his brother's face freezing into that terrified expression he only wears when it's Kíli who's in trouble. He hopes they'll look after him, once it's all over. Fíli's no better at being alone than Kíli is.
It's routine, to answer his question, but it's making it far too real a thing for Kíli's liking. He's trapped - motorbike gone, roads closed, trains stopped. He's got no way out, and now Fíli knows what's happening, and everything is going about as badly as it possibly could.
It was never supposed to end this way.
"Fíli," he begs, drawing on everything he's got left, "get out of there! Just get out, please!"
He won't cry.
He ducks into the only street he can see, mind whirling too fast now to see his mental map of the city - he's lost even that, now, in the end. It doesn't matter. But his heart sinks, because this is a dead end - blind bricks and high walls, and there won't even be any witnesses.
"Hide yourself somewhere," Thorin is saying from a million miles away. "We'll come and find you as soon as we can." And of course he would, and Kíli has never doubted it - it's why he's never been afraid. The family always comes. Just not this time.
"Too late for that," he says, trying to find the energy to make it a joke. The walls are tight around him, and he puts his back against a wall, and watches them coming at him. "Please go," he begs one last time. "I'll delay them as long as I can." He's got knives, somewhere, if he could get his hand to let go of the mobile to just find them. Thorin roars from the end of the line, and he can hear them all - muttering and protesting, Fíli's half-choked breath near the speaker - and that, he can hold onto. "Get Fíli out, please!" He's begging now, asking his uncle for one last favour. "You've got to!"
Because Fíli is the most important thing in the world, and always has been. Kíli is fairly certain that the world didn't ever exist without Fíli, no matter what the history books say - because how could it? Fíli is like the sun, golden and warm and the most certain thing there is - and if the world is going to go on without him, it's going to need Fíli.
"Kíli," Fíli whispers, and Kíli smiles, just a little, even though his breath is still coming in ragged gasps and his eyes seem to want to tear up - but he's not afraid. It's as good a goodbye as anyone ever got, he supposes.
The lead thug reaches him, barely stopping in time to avoid crashing into the wall, and slaps the mobile from his hand. It hits the ground with a sick crunch - and Kíli knows it doesn't matter, because he told them everything he could, they know what's coming, and he has to know that Thorin will get Fíli out and keep him safe. But his fingers are still clutched too tight on empty air, and there are no comforting voices any longer, and Kíli is alone.
All he ever wanted was his family.
He tries to keep his head up, to look the leader in the eyes, but they're quick and brutal - fists smashing into his face and ribs, and then boots, once he's on the ground, and it's all he can do not to scream. He's seventeen, and cornered in a dark alley in the streets of a city that had once loved him, and he is alone. He was never supposed to die alone.
Kíli is struggling to breathe around a sharp pain in his chest, in his stomach, when he slowly becomes aware that they've stopped hurting him, and one of them has handed his poor, battered mobile to the giant, savage man who led the chase after him. It looks terribly small in his huge fist, and Kíli bites back a groan of pain - because the thug is talking into it, now, which means the family are still talking, and can likely still hear him, and he doesn't want Fíli to hear this, he doesn't.
"We're coming for you," he says, mouth twisted in an cruel grin. "And everything that didn't burn then will burn today!" And with one giant hand, he smashes Kíli's mobile against the wall, and opens his hand to let the ruined piece fall to the ground.
Kíli wants to scream - to let himself cry for the loss of everything he has loved, to say goodbye in actions as deep as the agony that's ripping at his heart - but right now, he is the representative of the Sons of Durin, and he has to be strong. He pushes himself upright to sit, and then to stand on wobbly legs, feeling blood trickle from half a dozen lacerations, and squares his shoulders. He's got a smart mouth, and a brain that's gotten him in trouble more times than it's gotten him out, and his family are gone, and he's going to die alone. He has nothing left to lose.
Kíli shakes his head, carefully twisting his face into what he hopes is a condescending smile. It's a bit hard to tell, as most of it is either numb or in horrible sharp agonies. "You'd have to do much better than that to bother my uncle. He's laughing at you right now, I hope you know."
Someone roars and kicks him in the side of the leg, making his knee buckle. He gasps, and shoves at the wall to keep himself upright, but manages to find a pathetic little laugh somewhere. "What will they say, in the end, even if you win? That it took every piece of garbage in Scotland to take down thirteen men? They write ballads about that sort of thing, you know, and the mindless hordes of lackeys don't come off well." He doesn't know what he's doing anymore, except that if he stops talking, then it presses in around him - the being alone, and having to wonder if he's done enough, if he's made a difference. He puts his chin up, and doesn't wipe at the blood that's flowing into his eye. The man who destroyed his mobile growls and pulls and knife, and Kíli breathes one last deep breath, and wishes he weren't so very cold.
"Wait!" It's a leisurely call, devoid of much urgency, but it stops the man in his tracks, and Kíli watches in confusion as a gap opens up between the ranks of angry men. A man glides through the gap, cold sharp eyes taking in every detail as he advances, and Kíli would have known him on sight without ever having seen a picture. Smaug has come.
"We caught him, sir," the leader of the gang offers obsequiously. Some part of Kíli knows that it's inappropriate to snort in derision, but that part has been knocked about too much to get a say any longer. Smaug blinks slowly at him, looking almost pleased, and ignores his thugs entirely.
"So, this is Oakenshield's youngest brat?" he asks, moving sinuously - dangerously - forward to inspect Kíli. Kíli wants to bite him, but if he moves too fast, he's going to fall over. He'll bide his time. "Not much of a catch, I'd say. I'd throw you back, myself. It's not particularly sporting to bring children into this business."
Kíli glares at him. "You're the one who burned our homes. There were children there that day."
Smaug shrugs, like it doesn't matter. He grimaces at the smell of the little alley, casting a disdainful look around. "No matter. It won't be remembered - no more than you will, child. Even your uncle doesn't seem to mind losing you, or he'd never have sent you here to me. Will they even miss you, little Kíli?"
Kíli does laugh at that, properly, even though it's murder on his ribs. He shakes his head, further amused by how angry Smaug looks at his laughter. If there is anything he has ever known, it is that he is loved. Thorin has proven it in blood and sweat and tears, and all of the others have as well. He remembers their arms, tight around him as he left, and their hands warm on his head, their farewells a benediction that he carries with him even now. Kíli Oakenshield is loved.
Smaug glowers at him, and narrows his eyes. "Very well. You said something, before, that made me think - about ballads, I believe. Is that how you think you and the others will be remembered? As plucky heroes who fought off the armies of evil?" His voice drips disdain, and Kíli is really far too tired to be having this debate. He shrugs the shoulder that will move.
"Probably. People like the underdog, and the corrupt government official is only a hero to other corrupt government types." He gives a crooked grin, leaning forward as much as he dares, and drops his voice. "And we've got the truth on our side, which generally helps. You'll be lucky to be remembered as anything better than a common criminal."
Smaug slaps him then, with a sort of offhanded, casual cruelty that adds to the sting of the blow, and Kíli tries to ready himself for what's coming. But the cold eyes turn calculating again, and rake over him uncomfortably.
"Will they miss you, then?" he asks, voice low and slow. "Will they miss you, the boy who will not stop talking? Will Thorin weep for you?"
Kíli looks away. He's buying them time, even if it's measured in seconds. Smaug grabs his chin, fingers cold and bruising, and forces his face up.
"Tell me, little Oakenshield," he purrs with a dangerous smile. "What were you doing here in my city? Were you running away from the battle? Did your uncle send you here to hide you away? Did you abandon them to die?"
Kíli wrenches his face away, fury mounting at the suggestion. "No! They're my family!" He glares as best he can, but Smaug looks amused.
"And what do you do for this family of yours, my boy? Why do you come to the dragon's lair alone?"
It's a spark to his tired heart, and Kíli feels himself flare up, anger and pride taking the place of the adrenaline that's long since faded, lending him strength to stand. "I came and saw what you had done! I warned them! They know that you're coming, and they'll be ready!" He grins, fierce and wild, and feels like Thorin's nephew for the first time in an age. "They're so much more than you can imagine, Smaug. My family is going to destroy you!"
Smaug hums, noncommittal, and steps forward a little more. He's far too close now - enough that Kíli can smell him, a bitter tinge of metal and greed and blood on the air. He tips his head to the side, and watches Kíli with interest, and finally blinks, looking satisfied. "I understand, now," he says. "You've put yourself between me and them, haven't you? This family of yours - this precious thing. It's your Arkenstone, isn't it?"
Kíli blinks, and wonders just how much head-trauma he's suffered so far, because Smaug isn't making much sense. He looks very pleased with himself, though, and reaches out to pat Kíli's cheek, as one might a friendly puppy.
"But it cost you, didn't it? To save the thing you love, you had to give it up. Where is your family now, Kíli Oakenshield, when you are at your end?"
Kíli closes his eyes, and thinks of them, images flashing across his mind in a heartbeat. Wild and dangerous, but so kind, and more than a little strange - the arms that had held him and taught him to stand, and sent him out into the world. He opens his eyes, a wild grin crossing his face - and smashes his forehead into Smaug's, in the best headbutt that Dwalin had ever taught him. Smaug staggers back with a howl of pain, and Kíli laughs like a wild thing. They're all here with him, at his end, and that is all that matters. He hasn't lost anything.
He's still laughing when they leap on him again, and when the fist comes down that will send him down into the depths of unconsciousness. Smaug is hissing in pain and anger, and somewhere, Kíli is sure, his mother is watching him with approval, and he can all but hear the roars of delight from his brother and his uncles. He's warned them of their danger, and bought them all the time he can, and wounded their enemy, even just a little. He is his uncle's son, and youngest of the Sons of Durin, and not alone.
All he's ever wanted is his family.
So this is one of those stories I always wanted to tell from another perspective, since we only get to see it from Bilbo's side in the original narrative. My wild boy.