a/n: so like woah, i wish this was less angsty. um.
just wanted to thank everyone for the reviews/alerts/faves and for tagging along for the ride! special thanks also to starkling, who let me play around with an awesome prompt.
anywho. please read and review :)
iv. finale, march of the swiss soldiers
The thing he's learned over the years—and, as is brother would tell him, that he learned anything was a rare sort of feat—is never to hesitate. Never to pause and calculate, with the bowstring taut and the arrow resting on the flat of your index finger, because the longer you sighted down that wooden shaft the more the target moved and swayed. The more you inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, the more you began to count heartbeats, the more you began to become comfortable, easy, relaxed, the more the world shifted in and out of focus.
No, the trick was to shoot first, fast, and ask questions later.
—"Fire," Kíli whispers, and the arrow flies.
It crunches into the apple, force flinging it backward into the nicked and tattered wall behind, and Fíli doesn't even flinch as the arrow embeds itself into the wood. Two uneven pieces fall to either side of the quivering shaft, slapping to the floor with a sound like an avalanche in the silence that has followed the release of his bow string.
Kíli is staring intently at his brother's eyes, watching a smug grin grow on Fíli's face as he turns his blue-gaze upon the mayor.
There is no applause, only a stunned stillness. The crowd is clearly uncomfortable, not only with the quickness with which he shot but the apparent ease with which he managed the whole thing and the overriding, very-noticeable fact that he reached only about to their collective hips. Kíli finally rips his gaze from his brother and settles it on the mayor.
The man's mouth is hanging slightly open as he looks between the two dwarves, until he notices everyone staring and snaps it shut angrily, teeth clattering against a spare bone in his mouth, which he spits onto the plate before him. He picks up a tomato, ripe, juicy, small, about the size of an eye, and bites into it, red dribbling like blood down his chin.
"Well," the mayor manages at last, between mouthfuls, "that was certainly surprising."
Kíli turns back to his brother and their eyes meet at last, and suddenly Fíli is shaking his head, satisfied grin gone, replaced instead with the closest thing Kíli has seen to fear on his face tonight.
(See, but he shoots first and aims after.)
"Why, if I didn't know any better," the mayor continues, and Kíli drops to the ground in a roll, bones aching from tension and prison walls as he grapples blindly before him, hand closing around the shaft of the single arrow, which he brings up in a smooth, practiced motion to rest in the crook of the bow, pulls back—"I would have mistaken you for an elf—"
The word dies a bloody death in the human's throat, gurgling and struggling to the surface. The silence that follows is pierced by a single, high-pitched scream before anarchy reigns, every human springing to frenzied life, and all Kíli can think to say is:
"Damn. I missed."
The arrow is protruding from the man's eye, which had burst outward in an unrecognizable display of pale-red, like one of the human's firework displays. He slumps forward amid his gluttony, scattering the feast to the ground as the nearest guards spring forward to aid him. Kíli watches it all with a strange sort of apathy, noticing the little lings:
The dotting of bright red tomato juice on the mayor's chin; the way the fingers on his right hand twitch with the last breath of life; the way slamming into the table has driven the arrow further into the man's skull.
He blinks, pain blossoming swiftly and suddenly across his left shoulder, bringing him back to the bedlam of reality. He twists, but too slow—the blade is already reaching back to deliver the fatal blow across his neck, singing his funeral dirge, and he closes his eyes, and at least his brother should manage to get out in the confusion, because really, that's all that matters—
A familiar weight hits him low, driving into his stomach and pressing him to the floor so that the blade sails harmlessly over his head. Fíli's voice is a roar above the din, frightening in its intensity, wordless and sharp. Kíli shoves his brother off of him, hall kicking into bright color. He spring boards up, shoulder shrieking in protest as he brings the bow in a backhanded swing across the guard's knees, so hard the wood shatters. The human collapses awkwardly, and Kíli's reaching for his sword even as he delivers a solid kick to his chest. The blade cuts along his palms as he turns.
Fíli is struggling to his feet behind him, and out of the corner of his eye he sees other guards advancing, and this was going to turn into a bloodbath very, very quickly. "Here," he snaps, twisting his brother around and slashing the ropes around his wrists. He tries for humor but it falls flat: "How'd you manage that distance with no arms, eh?"
"What is wrong with you?" Fíli's eyes are darting between his bleeding shoulder and the advancing guards and the stoic-bordering-lifeless look on his face. Kíli dodges the misjudged punch of another human, dragging his brother closer to the ground, and seethes, "Nothing." The door to the hall is up ahead. "Can you yell at me later?"
Fíli doesn't respond.
The two plunge into the twisting mass of bodies, all running in swarm towards the entrance and freedom and outside. Guards are shouting behind them, get the dwarf, kill the dwarf, but no one is listening, no one is concerned with anything but escape—and everything is so large, the stamping of stick-feet and the shrill shriek of human voices—Fíli's grip on his coat is vice-like, tighter than a lock, even as they are forced apart by the pressure of the crowd and his arm bends—and Kíli's shoulder is on fire, wet and soggy—and they are squeezed and stretched and pulled, hidden by human skirts and human feet, suffocating—
They fall, stumble, drop into sudden space. The air is fresh, biting its way up his nose and burning down his lungs, so that he takes huge, quick gulps to rid himself of the stench of blood and meat and sweat. The humans are scattering on either side, like ants, and Fíli is immediately at his elbow and Kíli, like nothing just happened, grabs his arm and drags him into the shadows, shouting, "Run!"
Ask questions later.
They run until his breath is a knife scratching up his throat. He feels he left his lungs somewhere back by the fork in the road, trying to catch up with the rest of him. The forest is very green after the dark brown of the town, cluttered with pine trees whose trunks are as thick around as he is, and he leans sideways against one now, face red, trying to figure out if he can move his fingers. He manages the twitch of one, barely, and slow-moving, but then pain shoots up his arm and he gives up with a frustrated cough. When he places his good hand along the top of the cut he feels nothing, just a numb sort of cold that stings if he presses too hard. There is a lot of blood as he pulls his probing fingers away.
When he blinks he sees the dead man wearing Fíli's face and the mayor's eye, exploding out in a fire-burst.
He should feel guilt, for killing the man, but he didn't—doesn't—just a cold-seated, ice-hard fury that is gathered in the pit of his stomach. He had shot, and now the questions were pouring in, the dam breaking, the what-ifs taking root and sprouting like mad trees.
What if his brother had not switched places with the human? (First and foremost.)
What if he had not shot the mayor? (Second.)
What if he had missed? (Third.)
(Each with an outcome worse than the last.)
"Durin's beard," he curses, rubbing his good hand vigorously down his face, covering it with blood and grime, and when he turns, cowed and scared, feeling sick, towards his brother, he starts, for Fíli, breath ripping violently from his mouth, is pacing in exact imitation of Thorin, demanding and leader-like and scary as an orc pack. Kíli turns his attention back to his shoulder, trying to massage feeling into his hand, which is numb and detached, like it belongs to someone already dead.
Humans could be as bad as orcs, is what he tells himself; the mayor would have killed Fíli, is how he justifies it.
He is a child again, having just shot down his first goblin, feeling guilty and sick at the blood coating his arrow and arms and hands. His uncle pulls him aside, places gentle hands on his shaking shoulders, and asks, "Would you act the same, if given the chance?" (And of course he would, no hesitation, because Fíli had been in danger, the goblin had been rearing for him, so yes, he would take the sick and guilt if it meant he could save his brother.)
This time, it really isn't any different.
Would you act the same?
"What were you thinking?" Kíli starts at the sound of his brother's voice, leaking rage and worry. He scratches the thin of his ruined tunic—torn and scraped and bloodied—against the bark of the tree, trying to rub feeling back into his injured arm, and shrugs, not meeting his brother's eyes. "Nothing."
"That much is obvious." Fíli kicks a pinecone with such force it sails several feet through the air, cracking like bone against a low branch. "Clearly."
"He was a bastard," Kíli says, rather unconvincingly. "He was making those people—do horrible things and—"
"Give me the real reason why you did it," Fíli growls, whipping sharply towards him, and damn his brother for being able to read him like an open book, "or have you become a liar as well as a murderer, now?"
It's a low blow. Fíli seems to realize this as soon as it leaves his mouth, for he shirks angrily to one side. Kíli flinches, returning to scratching his boots along the forest of pine needles beneath him. He wants to sleep. "It was nothing. Just leave it alone, alright?" He bites out the last, and so preoccupied is he with the movement of twigs that, though he registers his brother's footsteps, it's not until after Fíli has him by the collar and is swinging him into the trunk. His vision bursts and his shoulder flares.
"Do you have a death wish?" Fíli yells, and Kíli lets him, looking resolutely to the side, biting his tongue hard. "Do you want to die? Is that it?"
"No," Kíli says stubbornly, thinking about all the times he's bested his brother in wrestling and knowing he could do it now, even with his Mahal-cursed arm.
"Is that why you decided to kill him?" Fíli accentuates his words by shaking him. There is something wild, like fear, in his brother's eyes. "Is it?"
"Do you place so little value in life that you would risk yours so—so—stupidly?"
Kíli snaps, the what-ifs spilling from his mouth. "I COULD HAVE KILLED YOU!" He screams, raw and broken around the edges, so that Fíli drops him almost immediately in surprise. Ego bruised, eyes hurting, he rubs his crumpled collar and tries to ease the shaking of his good hand. There is blood on Fíli's fingers, shining dully in the growing light of early-morning sunrise. He turns his gaze stolidly on his brother in the horrible, awful pause that follows, as his voice echoes to its death on the breeze, as the forest wakes up.
He's glaring, fiercely, daring his brother to say something more, daring him to ask for a clearer explanation, but Fíli doesn't, because he's Fíli, so he knows, of course he knows, that if something had happened to him Kíli would have clawed tooth and nail to follow, anywhere, knows that the fact that several somethings almost happened to him because Kíli was too bloody proud and the mayor too bloody human has shaken him to the core, and so why let the man who would take him away from his brother live?
He closes his eyes. The picture of the dead man wearing Fíli's face greets him.
Suddenly, abruptly: "Sit down."
"What?" He asks, short of breath and confused and still disoriented.
"Sit down," Fíli says again, and he sounds tired and sad and not nearly so angry. Kíli lets himself slide down the side of the pine, scattering leaves and needles on the ground as he settles with a wince. His brother kneels down in front of him, prodding the arm he has cradled to his chest. Fíli pulls, none too gently, at the fingers of his hand, examining the cut on his shoulder with a critical eye, and Kíli hisses.
"Grow up," his brother orders, settling back on the balls of his feet to rip a strip of cloth from his tunic.
"You first," Kíli counters, and something shifts.
"I knew you were going to do something stupid. I could see it in your eyes."
"Shoot first," he says, like a mantra, "ask questions later."
"And I thought," Fíli continues, ignoring him, "that's fine, he always does stupid things, and we're usually fine—we'll be fine. It's fine. But then I saw the blade coming for your head." His brother ties the bandage none-too-gently, snorting. "I think Uncle is right. We're too dependent on each other."
"So?" He pulls his arm away, defensive.
"So?" Fíli mimics with a sigh, checking his handiwork. "So, you would go, and I would follow. Always." His brother straightens, knees cracking, holding out his hand. Kíli takes it, an unspoken promise in the grip, not saying what doesn't need saying and instead complaining all the way to his feet. "Mind, I think the mayor deserved it. But don't tell anyone, or I'll be a wanted dwarf, too."
"Har, har." Kíli tries to move his fingers but can't. "I think it's infected."
"You're a horrible medic."
"I can hit it, and make it feel better."
"Ass." Kíli frowns. Then: "Can we not tell Uncle?"
"That you saved me? Or that you, an heir of Durin, are now the most wanted dwarf within twenty miles of this place?"
"Both. We can say—we can say we got lost," Kíli finishes brightly, the world spinning as-close-to-normal as circumstances would now allow.
"For five days?"
"You were always bad with directions."
"Aye—but you led us astray first."
"Fine," he concedes. Then: "Mother's probably worried sick."
"Mother is probably skinning Uncle alive."
"I'd like to see that." He pauses. "Fearsome dwarf-king cowed by sister!"
Fíli laughs. "Come on, then—I don't much fancy being here when the calvary comes. And we should find Uncle before Uncle finds the town."
"I—" Kíli frowns, chewing on his lip. "I can't—"
"Don't worry, little brother," Fíli brings him forward with one hand, kissing his forehead and stepping back with a devil-may-care grin. "Together, or not at all."
"Together, or not at all," Kíli repeats, like a prayer.
This is how they fall:
The first, a spear in his back and a sword to his side.
The second, an arrow to his heart and a smile on his face.