A/N: Hey, everyone! Here's a new fic for you! It's not necessarily a sequel to Race Against Time, but the events in that fic still happened, according to this one - thirty-seven years before. For those of you who didn't read it, the premise was that Fíli accidentally shot Kíli with an arrow one day (in the side, and it punctured his lung), and pretty much everything goes wrong, but Kíli pulls through and yeah. That's all you need to know for this fic, as far as I can determine.
In this fic, I'm dealing with some obscure Tolkien mythology, so I wanted to announce that right away. It's not mentioned much in popular Tolkien canon, but there are more sentient creatures in the world of Tolkien besides the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth (Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, & Ents). There are all sorts of fey creatures - as Tolkien says, pixies, faeries, leprawns, et cetera. Other examples of fey creatures in popular canon: the Huorns and Tom Bombadil (who I think is one of these fey creatures, but that's up to your interpretation). So if you didn't know that - now you do!
This fic is dedicated to my darling friend Mhyin, because it was at her request that I came up with this idea in the first place, and she's been drawing an illustration for every chapter! You can find her illustrations on her tumblr!
Sorry for the long Author's Note! I hope you enjoy this new adventure!
It was summer in the Blue Mountains, and nothing could be finer.
Fíli and Kíli lay under a canopy of towering trees, their vibrant green leaves swishing and swaying in the gentle breeze; sunlight dappled the forest floor and kissed their faces with its warmth. The air was thick with the scent of dirt and moss in the midst of the forest, but as the wind filtered through the trees, it carried in the fragrance of wildflowers in the meadow. Fíli was gently snoring, and Kíli was…
Well, Kíli was bored.
"Fíli?" he called softly.
A snore was cut short as Fíli's eyelids opened halfway; he looked up at the verdure and blinked slowly.
"What do you want?" said Fíli, his voice thick with the fatigue of sleep.
"Let's go down by the creek," Kíli said.
"Kíli, we just laid the traps," Fíli said. "Can I just rest for a while? We don't have to be home for hours…"
"Right—so let's go do something!" said Kíli. "I heard there's a pixie down by the creek that grants wishes if you catch it…"
Fíli let out an incredulous guffaw and turned to look at his brother.
"A pixie? Are you serious?"
Kíli nodded enthusiastically, and Fíli guffawed again. Kíli's face fell, and Fíli cleared his throat and attempted to put on a less disbelieving expression.
"What would you wish for, anyway?" he said.
"Oh, I don't know," said Kíli, settling back down in the moss and leaves, his hands behind his head. "I'd wish for… gold."
"And what would you do with some mithril?"
"I… I dunno."
"Can we go to the creek now?"
Fíli sighed. "Kíli… you're sixty-two years old…"
"Sixty-two years old and bored out of my skull."
Fíli closed his eyes and made no move to get up.
"You go ahead. I'll catch up later," Fíli said. "Ten minutes."
With a resigned sigh, Kíli pulled himself to his feet and dusted the dirt off of his back. He glanced at Fíli one more time, but his brother had already started to snore again. When had Fíli gotten so boring?
"Ten minutes?" he said.
Fíli made no reply.
Kíli shrugged and shouldered his bow and quiver, leaving his snoring brother to rest. He made his way expertly through the trees, following a long-since memorized path to the clearing between the woods and the small village in which they resided. He turned south and headed downhill. He could hear the creek before he could see it; the previous week had been dark and gloomy, with torrential rain every day. As such, the creek had taken on much water, its banks swollen to overflowing. The creek resembled a rushing river more than the gentle stream it usually was, and Kíli kept a wide berth from its shores. He had never learned to swim.
Kíli knew that Fíli did not put much stock in the existence of pixies, but Kíli was convinced of it. He had spent many a night listening to Bofur and Bombur's wild tales, and Balin had given him a book about pixies, faeries, leprawns, and other such creatures. He had hungrily devoured every word, from dwarfling to the current day—he was sure that they existed, especially after hearing Glóin's tale of a man he had met in the Old Forest, a legendary man who was known as Forn to the Dwarves. Glóin claimed to have met him once—a creature of dwarf-height, or a little taller, with a blue coat and bright yellow boots and a feather in his cap.
"No mortal man was he, mark my words," Glóin had said, though Óin had scoffed. "He was Forn, I tell ye, and no one else. He made ye feel… odd. But a nice fellow."
Fíli had joined Óin in scoffing, but Kíli and Gimli had believed every word.
So it was that Kíli searched for the pixie in earnest, though he was not entirely sure how to search for a pixie, or how to catch one even if he managed to find it. He would cross that bridge when he came to it.
After a fruitless search, Kíli sat down at the bank of the creek, picking at the grass and watching the water rush by. He had never seen the waters so high; he drew up his knees, watching the creek warily.
"Looking for me?"
Kíli started and looked to his left—the voice had seemed to be coming from right next to his ear, but there was nothing there.
"I heard you were."
Now the voice was coming from his right. It was thin and reedy, but it seemed to be feminine, and full of mirth. He looked to his right, but again saw no one. He stood to his feet and turned around in a circle, but he seemed to be alone, save for the telltale giggling from nearby.
"Who are you?" Kíli called out nervously.
"I am who I wish to be," said the voice on his left. He whirled and caught sight of nothing. "I am many things, but you may call me whatever you'd like, if you wish."
"Are you… a pixie?" Kíli said, whirling again. The voice tinkled mirthfully.
"If you'd like," said the voice, and Kíli turned to face the rushing creek. Two hands were suddenly on his back, and then Kíli was in the water.
Pure, icy panic filled Kíli's body as the creek swiftly pulled him away and downwards. He tried to take a breath, but instead, he got a mouthful of water and gagged, swallowing involuntarily. For a moment he surfaced, and he tried to call out, but instead, he took in even more water; it burned as it went down his windpipe, it burned so much—another mouthful of water. He was drowning, drowning, the water burned so—how could water burn? The current dragged him across the bottom and smashed his face into a rock. Kíli saw stars, even with his eyes closed, and more water burned down his throat.
Where was Fíli? Surely Fíli should have made it to the creek by now. Surely Fíli would find him and save him—he always did, he was always there, he wouldn't abandon him now. Not his Fíli. His lungs were burning, and he couldn't see. He felt as if the world above water couldn't exist anymore—he was doomed to this, a watery grave. Darkness filtered into Kíli's mind, and he screamed—no. No, not this. Not without Fíli. Never without Fíli. More water rushed into his mouth, and he swallowed it. He was drowning. He was drowning...
Suddenly he was flying. No, not flying—he was being dragged. Where was he? In the sky, it felt like. But everything was so wet. Somewhere, someone was calling his name, but he could not answer. It was so dark...
There was a pressure on his chest. A deep, pounding pressure, and it hurt. He furrowed his brow and wished the pain would go away, and then he retched, coughing up water. It burned as much coming up as it had going down, but he couldn't stop as more water made its way out of his lungs.
The world came rushing back, and Kíli finally gathered that he was no longer in the water, and the person calling his name was Fíli. He reached out blindly for his brother, still coughing and retching; Fíli pulled him up and supported him as he vomited water and bile.
Kíli breathed in then—finally—with deep, grating gasps, feeling the beautiful air fill his lungs and calming his panic. Fíli pulled him away from his sick and cradled him, touching his forehead to Kíli's.
"You idiot," Fíli whispered. "You bloody, fantastic idiot…"
Kíli wanted to respond, but he was still coughing. Now that his fear was fading, he could feel a hot pounding on the right side of his face where he had collided with a rock, and his whole body felt weak and shaky. Fíli held him tightly until his coughs quieted; then, he pulled him up into a sitting position and looked into Kíli's eyes, his own flooded with fear and relief.
"All right?" he said.
"Yeah, I think so," said Kíli in a gravelly voice. His throat still hurt, but at least he could breathe again. He grinned cheekily. "That was no fun."
Fíli chuckled, his shoulders relaxing, and pulled Kíli into a tight hug. Kíli returned the embrace wholeheartedly.
"Don't ever do that again," Fíli said, his fingers curling into the back of Kíli's dripping shirt. "You're not allowed to die without me, you hear?"
"I'll just pull you in with me next time, then," Kíli said, and Fíli cuffed him gently on the back of the head. They both laughed a jittery, relieved laugh.
Fíli stood then and pulled Kíli up with him, his arms out to catch the younger dwarf if he fell. Kíli held his own, though his knees felt wobbly; he threw his arm around Fíli's neck and leaned into him, and Fíli was ready for it.
"Forget the traps for now," said Fíli. "Let's get you home."
Much to Kíli's dismay, he found that his body was much weaker than he had originally thought, and he needed his brother's support the entire way home. So it was that the sight of the two brothers struck fear and worry into their mother before she even knew what had happened. Worse yet, they had an audience; around the table sat not only Dís and Thorin, but also Balin, Dwalin, Óin, and Glóin, all deep in conference as they arrived. All eyes turned to Fíli and Kíli as they stepped into the house, and Dís was on her feet quicker than lightning, followed by Thorin.
"Kíli!" Dís cried, taking his face in her hands and studying him with worried blue eyes. "What happened?"
"M'all right, Mum," Kíli said, cursing the raspy sound of his own voice. "Just—I just fell into the creek."
"Looks like ye did more than just fall in, laddie," said Balin.
"Aye, he looks half-drowned," added Dwalin.
"Well, I—" Kíli faltered as Thorin's sharp eyes met his, and then flitted to Fíli. "I'm fine," he said. "Fíli saved me… everything is fine." He leaned into his older brother, and Fíli straightened, pulling Kíli out of his slouch.
"And what happened to your face?" Thorin said.
Kíli ducked his head, and his hair fell over his cheek. He had forgotten about that.
"I hit it on a rock," he mumbled. "It's fine. I'm fine."
"Óin?" said Dís, turning to face the old apothecary. He studied Kíli's face intently, and Kíli straightened, doing his best to look healthy and whole, though his cheeks burned with embarrassment.
"Better follow me, lad," said Óin, nodding towards Kíli's bedroom. Fíli started to help him that way, but Thorin spoke:
"Fíli, you stay out here."
Kíli cast Fíli a helpless glance as Dís pulled him away and out of the kitchen, his heart sinking. He should have known this would happen. He wished he had better hidden his fatigue.
Dís led him into his room and shut the door after Óin had joined them; he sat down on the bed, listening intently for the low rumble of Thorin's voice.
"Kíli, pay attention."
Kíli turned his gaze to Óin, waiting for instruction. The first thing Óin did was spread something thin and cool over his cheek, and Kíli wondered where on earth he had procured the ointment from as the pounding on his cheekbone melted away. He could hear Fíli's voice, and he could tell by his brother's tone that he was trying to defend himself. Kíli cringed.
"How long were you under, lad?" said Óin.
"I don't… I don't know," said Kíli. He avoided his mother's gaze. "It felt like forever."
"Did you lose consciousness?"
Kíli shook his head. Then, after a moment's thought, he added, "Almost, I think. I don't know. It was all sort of a blur…"
"What can you remember?" said Óin.
Kíli cast a sidelong glance at Dís, hesitant to relay his story in her presence, but he knew that there was no getting out of this.
"I was p—" He stopped, glancing up at Óin and remembering how he had scoffed at Glóin's story about Forn and the fey creatures of the Old Forest. "I mean... I fell into the creek. I swallowed a lot of water… and breathed it… it hurt a lot. Then Fíli pulled me out, everything was sort of—dark—and I think he must've been pounding on my chest or something—"
"Good lad," said Óin. "Looks like he knows some first aid, at least."
Kíli nodded. "Then I coughed up water, and I—I threw up—but I'm fine now. Really." He looked up at Óin pleadingly, begging him silently to believe him, but the old, grey dwarf simply watched him skeptically. Fíli and Thorin were still talking in the kitchen.
"I'm fine," said Kíli again.
"Sit up straight for me and take a deep breath," was all that Óin said.
Kíli rolled his eyes, but obeyed, ignoring the familiar twinge in his left side. He had never told anyone—and especially not Fíli—but the pain had never fully gone away from the shooting accident so many years ago.
"Any pain?" said Óin.
"None," Kíli lied.
Óin nodded, satisfied.
"He'll be all right, Dís," he said. "Now, Kíli, you should rest for the remainder of the day. No gallivanting about. And take off those wet clothes. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Kíli said, looking down at his lap.
Óin patted his leg affectionately. "We'll leave you to it," he said, and he stood and left the room. Dís moved in front of her son and knelt, resting her arms on his legs. She looked up at him, and Kíli met her gaze.
"Are you sure you're all right?" she said, pushing Kíli's damp hair behind his ear.
"Really, Mum, I'm fine," he said again. "Just tired, is all."
Dís studied his eyes for a long moment, and then nodded.
"All right," she said. "I'll leave you to rest."
After she had left the room, Kíli swung his legs onto the bed and plopped his head down on the pillow, facing away from the door. He placed a hand over his left side and breathed in deeply again; it hurt, but he was an expert at keeping a still expression through the pain. It had been thirty-seven years, and as far as he knew, no one had discovered his secret. It didn't impede his activity anymore—he had fought hard to work through that—but after coming out of the creek, he could tell that the water had irritated something. His breathing was not fine.
I'll be all right with some rest, he told himself.
The bedroom door opened suddenly behind Kíli, and he heard Fíli stomp inside; he quickly removed his hand from his side and rolled over.
"Hey," he said.
Fíli said nothing.
"Fíli?" said Kíli nervously.
"Irresponsible," Fíli muttered. He sat down on the other side of the bed and removed his boots, tossing them aside as if they disgusted him. "As if it were my fault…"
Kíli shrank a little, but reached out towards his brother.
"Don't touch me," Fíli snapped, jerking away. Kíli withdrew his hand, unsure what to do. Fíli was rarely angry, and Kíli never knew what to do when he was the cause of it—which seemed to be the case this time. He lay in silence, hesitating, and Fíli removed his outer clothing. As he faced away from Kíli, shrugging off his wet tunic, he spoke.
"What were you even thinking, Kíli?"
"I didn't—I—I wasn't—"
"You know you can't swim. You should have known."
Kíli struggled internally as to what to say. He knew—he was certain—that someone—something—had pushed him in, but he was not sure that Fíli would believe him.
"I didn't mean to fall in," Kíli said. "I was just—"
"Looking for pixies?" Fíli whirled around; his eyebrows were drawn together, and a fierce snarl twisted in his lips. "Really, Kíli? How close to the creek were you looking, that you fell in?"
"You weren't angry about this earlier," Kíli muttered, avoiding his brother's gaze.
"I didn't realize that I would be blamed for your irresponsibility," Fíli retorted.
"It wasn't my fault!" Kíli exclaimed. "I was—I was—"
"You were what?"
"I was pushed, all right?" said Kíli. "Something pushed me in."
Fíli straightened and eyed Kíli curiously, saying nothing.
"I—I don't know what it was… but it pushed me in, said I'd been looking for it…"
"A pixie?" said Fíli, the words coming out in a snarl. "Really, Kíli? That's the story you're going with?"
"It's not a story!" said Kíli. "That's what happened!"
"I can't believe this," said Fíli, throwing his hands in the air. "You can't even take responsibility for your own actions—you blame it on pixies—"
"I'm not lying!" said Kíli defensively. His felt a twinge in his left side, but he kept himself still.
"For Mahal's sake, Kíli!" Fíli shouted. "You're really doing this? I just got scolded by Thorin—called irresponsible, should have been watching you, as if you can't look after yourself—never mind that I saved your life; of course there's no thanks for that! Scolded in front of Balin and Dwalin and Glóin, like a child!"
"Shut up." Fíli threw on a dry tunic and sat down on the bed, pulling his boots back on hastily. "I'm going out. I'm not dealing with you right now."
Kíli swallowed as a lump developed in his throat. He had never meant for this to happen; it wasn't even his fault. It was no one's fault.
"Don't talk to me!" Fíli snapped. He stomped out of the room and slammed the door behind him. A few moments later, Kíli heard the front door slam as well.
Kíli stared at the bedroom door for a long moment, regret and sorrow sinking down through him painfully. He sat up and peeled off his wet clothes; the air cooled his skin, and goosebumps quickly popped up on his arms and legs. He considered putting on dry clothes, but in his state, he didn't want to do anything but make it right with Fíli, and that was not possible at the moment. So he threw the sopping clothes on the floor and rolled onto his stomach. He pulled the covers over his head and shoved his face into his pillow.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to no one.