"Come on, Fíli," Kíli said, tugging at Fíli's arm. Fíli stayed stubbornly in place, leaning back against the wall in his bed.
"I don't want to," he grumbled.
"Fíli, I'm starving," said Kíli. "And I know you must be, too. Why won't you come eat?"
"I don't feel well," Fíli said. He avoided his brother's eye.
Kíli sighed and let Fíli's arm drop, and Fíli immediately wrapped it around himself. He still would not look up.
"I know you don't feel well, but you still have to eat," Kíli said. "What is the problem?"
"I just don't want to see new people," Fíli said to his knees.
"Why?" said Kíli, exasperated.
"I just don't!" Fíli shouted. He rested his arms on his knees and buried his face in them, and Kíli huffed as frustration burned in his gut. He could not understand what was keeping his brother from seeing Tom and Goldberry. They had only been helpful and they had never judged him—what could the problem possibly be?
"Fíli," he said, sitting down on the mattress, "you'll be fine. I promise. Just come eat."
"I'm not hungry," came Fíli's muffled reply.
"That's a lie, and you know it."
"I'm not hungry."
Kíli rolled his eyes. This was ridiculous. He wasn't going to get anywhere if he kept trying to convince him.
"That's it," he said, pulling again at Fíli's arm. Fíli jumped, but Kíli was too quick for him; before he could fight, Kíli had his brother's arm around his neck and was pulling him up.
"Wha—hey!" Fíli protested, but Kíli pulled him along, and Fíli was forced to follow. They made it to the hallway before Fíli started sagging in his brother's arms.
"Kíli, slow down," he gasped, clutching his abdomen with his free hand. Kíli halted and looked at his older brother; his teeth were clenched and his eyes were shut tight. A bolt of remorse shot through Kíli as he realized that he was pushing his brother too hard.
"Sorry," he said. "I got a little carried away."
"You carried me away," Fíli said with a chuckle. His smile faded quickly as he looked up into his brother's eyes, his brow creased in a frown. "Do I really have to go?"
"Yes, Fíli," Kíli replied. "You need to eat. Let's go."
"I just don't feel very well," Fíli mumbled, but still he walked along with his brother, slower now than before. Kíli ignored his excuse and carried on until they reached the room where Tom and Goldberry were laying things on the table, dancing around each other and singing as usual. He helped Fíli sit and then took his own seat, and before he knew it, a plate overflowing with sausage and eggs and all sorts of good things was pushed under his nose. His mouth watered.
"Thank you," he said to Tom, who was smiling over the two brothers. Tom laughed and took a seat himself, allowing Goldberry to serve him his meal.
"We're glad you decided to join us, Fíli," said Goldberry, taking her seat. Fíli looked up at her timidly, opening his mouth and then closing it again.
"Indeed, we're glad to see you recovering," Tom added. "Please, my friends—eat! There is plenty to go around."
"Thank you," Fíli said quietly, casting his gaze downward. He looked at the food hungrily and started on his meal. Kíli grinned. I'm not hungry, my foot, he thought. Of course he was hungry.
Fíli's gaze turned to Kíli suddenly, as if he could feel his brother staring. A scowl crossed his face.
"What?" he snapped. Immediately his eyes widened and he glanced up at Tom and Goldberry, his face reddening. He looked back at Kíli apologetically and then stared down at his food, pushing the sausage around his plate.
"It's all right, Master Fíli," said Tom. "You are still unwell. We understand your discomfort."
Fíli looked up again, surprised; his cheeks turned an even darker shade of red.
"Thank you," he said. "And—thank you for saving me." He looked as if he wanted to say more, but he bit his lip.
"It would not have been possible without the help of your brother," Tom said, casting his blue eyes onto the brunet. Kíli frowned. None of this would have happened at all without me.
"Aye, he was very determined," Fíli quipped. He smiled at Kíli. "No matter what I said or did—what I almost did—he still fought for me. I don't deserve such a brother, really."
"Now, that's not true!" Kíli objected. "After everything you've done for me in my life, Fíli, you can't say that."
The two brothers looked at each other for a long moment; Kíli could see a hundred objections in his brother's eyes, but he did not speak. Kíli shook his head slightly, and Fíli sighed and turned back to Tom and Goldberry.
"Anyway, thank you," he said again. "If there is anything I can do in return—"
"Oh, no!" Goldberry said with a laugh. "Do not worry about anything while you are here. We have cared for many a traveler; you are no burden to us."
"You may stay as long as you have need," Tom added.
Fíli raised his eyebrows at his hosts, but he offered no protest. He smiled and bowed his head gratefully.
"Well, then," Fíli said, taking on a more confident air, "I suppose we should better acquaint ourselves. If it is not too bold, may I ask—who are you? And why do you live in such a place as this?"
"Well, I am Tom Bombadil!" Tom said. "I am as you see me, Master Fíli."
"But—forgive me, but what are you?" said Fíli. "You're not a Man, and you're certainly not a Dwarf—and I can't imagine that you're an Elf or a Hobbit."
"I am Eldest," Tom said. "Master of wood, water, and hill. I do not own the land, but the land does not own me. Tom was here before the trees, before the river, before Dwarves and Men and Elves awakened—before the Kindler with her fair hand laid the stars in the sky. That's what I am."
"Eldest," Fíli repeated, pondering. His eyes widened. "Forn! You're Forn, aren't you?"
Tom's eyes gleamed. "I have many names by many people. The Elves call me Iarwain Ben-adar; Men call me Orald; yes, Dwarves have called me Forn, but I call myself Tom Bombadil."
"Forn… I didn't believe Glóin…" Fíli said, turning his gaze to Kíli, who stared back at him with the same wide-eyed expression. He had heard stories of Forn, of course, and he knew that in the Common Tongue, it meant Eldest, but he had simply thought of it as a name—never as a description.
"Yes, I am Forn," Tom laughed. "And many other things besides. And here beside me is the River-woman's daughter, my Goldberry. Tom had to catch his pretty lady before she caught Tom."
"What do you mean?" asked Kíli.
Tom launched into a lively tale—more song than spoken word—of his adventures with the River and her daughter, with Goldberry chiming in here and there. Fíli and Kíli hung on to every word with fascination. But every once in a while, Kíli would look away from his hosts and watch Fíli instead. He was listening with great interest, even laughing, as much as he was able. Kíli's spirits rose higher and higher as he watched his brother finally—after all this time—come alive.
Fíli's good mood lasted until the afternoon. After lunch, he became increasingly irritable, but he would not tell Kíli why.
"What is the matter?" Kíli said, exasperated. He flopped down onto the couch over the arm and looked up at his brother, who was leaning back, staring out into space. Fíli mumbled something unintelligible, and Kíli sighed.
"I didn't catch that," he said.
"I'm just tired," Fíli repeated. He looked down at Kíli sadly. His cheeks were flushed, and a frown seemed to be etched into his face. Kíli looked him over skeptically; then he swung his legs over the arm of the couch to the floor and sat up. He placed a hand on Fíli's forehead.
"What are you doing?" Fíli said, jerking his head back, but Kíli kept his palm firmly planted on his brother's temples. Definitely warm.
"You're not healed yet," he said. "You've still got a fever from the infection. Maybe you should rest."
"Stop touching me," Fíli grumbled, batting Kíli's hand away. Kíli gave him a hard look.
"Fíli, if you want to rest, all you have to do is say so," he said. "I can help you back to bed."
"I'm fine," Fíli said, casting his eyes downward. His hand strayed to his stomach, and Kíli's gaze followed the movement. He glanced back up at Fíli's face.
"Fee, what are you hiding?" he asked, though he knew the answer.
"You don't have to lie."
Fíli huffed and sank further into the couch, closing his eyes. "It hurts," he said, his voice cracking. "It hurts a lot."
"Come lie down, then," said Kíli. "You don't have to stay up if you don't want to."
For a moment, Fíli did not speak; he merely kept his eyes closed and sighed. Kíli waited for a response.
"All right," said Fíli finally. "Let's go."
With a smile, Kíli hopped up and reached out his hands to help his brother. Fíli took them and attempted to pull himself up, but his face contorted and he grunted in pain. He let go and sat back, grimacing. Kíli twisted his mouth and thought for a moment; then, he sat down next to Fíli and took his arm, pulling it behind his neck. Carefully they stood up together, and though Kíli walked as slowly as he could, Fíli still lagged behind. He stumbled and his knees buckled, but Kíli caught him just in time and helped him back to his feet.
"All right, change of plans," said Kíli. "How about you rest here on the couch?"
"Thank you," Fíli said, turning and resting his forehead on Kíli's shoulder. He stumbled back to the couch and lay down with Kíli's help; Kíli found a blanket and covered him.
"I'll leave you be if you'd like," said Kíli, ignoring the twist of discomfort in his chest. Never had he seen his brother so helpless.
"No, it's fine," Fíli said. "You don't have to go."
"All right," Kíli replied. "But you rest."
Fíli did not reply; his eyes were closed, and he took a careful breath and let it out slowly. Kíli sat on the floor beside him, and within minutes, the blond was asleep.
For a while, Kíli stayed where he was and watched his brother rest. Though he was clearly unconscious, his brow remained furrowed, and every so often a short whimper would sound from his lips. Concern for his brother burned in his heart. Fíli was clearly hiding his pain and discomfort, but not well enough—Kíli had felt how heavily his brother had leaned against him. He was much weaker than he let on.
He was almost dead yesterday, he reminded himself. Give him time. He will heal. Still, fear for his brother's health left him nervous. Fíli would never admit just how badly he was doing to him—he had no way to gauge when he would be well enough to start the journey back home. He cringed as he thought of his mother and uncle. Surely the ponies would have found their way home by now, if they had not been attacked by other creatures or stolen by vagabonds. He would not be surprised if his family thought that he and Fíli were dead. I'm going to be in so much trouble.
"How is everything here?"
Kíli jumped and looked towards the entrance to the living room; Goldberry stood smiling there, her pale hands folded over her shimmering blue gown.
"He's not feeling well," Kíli said. "Is he going to be all right?"
"He will be just fine," said Goldberry. "Wounds take time to heal."
"Well, that I know," said Kíli, rubbing his left side. "And sometimes they don't heal at all."
"Fíli will heal," Goldberry said confidently. "Do not fear. He was near death, but you brought him in time."
"The knife," Kíli said. "It didn't—it didn't pierce anything, did it? You know—inside."
Goldberry shook her head. "He was very fortunate. Only flesh and muscle were pierced. He will feel pain, but he is no longer in danger."
Kíli looked at his brother furtively, making sure he was still asleep. His brother's mouth hung open slightly, and his eyes roved through dreams beneath his eyelids. Kíli took a deep breath.
"But will it stop? Eventually, I mean."
Goldberry gave Kíli a curious look. "Why are you asking this, Kíli?"
Kíli glanced at Fíli again. He would not risk this conversation—not where Fíli could possibly hear him, even if it were only in his dreams. Fíli could never know. He would never know.
"Can we go somewhere else and talk?" he said.
Goldberry nodded and beckoned, and Kíli hopped up to follow her. She led him to the kitchen, and they sat down there together. Goldberry's ever-shifting eyes lay on Kíli as she waited for him to speak. It was strange, Kíli thought—this woman's gaze. It felt somehow otherworldly and more of this world than anything he had ever known. He did not fully understand Tom Bombadil's story about Goldberry; from what he could gather, she was possibly some kind of water-spirit—a fey creature herself, one who had attempted to pull Tom himself into the river on their first meeting. But she did not strike fear in his heart, and he felt no danger when he was around her. Instead, he felt only warmth, compassion, and joy, and quite a bit of playfulness. Tom seemed to have tamed her dangerous qualities with his love, and she emanated the same feeling as he, though to a lesser degree. Despite what reason would tell him, he felt safe.
"A long time ago, there was an accident," he began. "I was teaching Fíli how to shoot a bow, and I stepped in his range and then told him to shoot. I flustered him, and he missed his target and shot me instead. The arrow pierced my lung, and it took me a long time to recover. I almost died."
"Why are you telling me this, Kíli?" said Goldberry.
"Fíli doesn't know, but it still hurts every once in a while," he said. "Not often—well, it wasn't often. Then I almost drowned twice in two weeks, and it's been hurting a lot more often. I still haven't told him—but it's been hard to keep it a secret."
"May I see?" Goldberry said.
"Is there something you can do about it?" Kíli replied, pulling off his tunic. He pointed to the white scar on his left side. "If I can be rid of this forever—well, it would be best for me and Fíli both."
Goldberry examined the scar with her shifting eyes; she pressed against it with her thumb, and Kíli gasped in pain. Immediately she lifted her hand and met Kíli's gaze.
"I'm sorry, Kíli, but neither Tom nor I can do anything about this," she said. "The wound is on the inside."
"That's what I was afraid of," Kíli said, slipping his tunic back over his head. "I'll just—have to hide it the best I can. But I don't want the same thing to happen to my brother. If that knife pierced anything but flesh—"
"Do not worry," Goldberry interrupted. "Fíli will be fine. His wound is not as deep as yours."
Kíli breathed a sigh of relief. "Good," he said. "Thank you. But he is hiding his pain already. We need to get home, but I don't want to push him. I've come too far to lose him because he won't tell me he needs to rest."
"I will talk to him," said Goldberry. She offered Kíli a reassuring smile. "Do not fret. You are in good hands."
"I know," Kíli replied. "You and Tom have been nothing but kind. I am grateful for your kindness."
Goldberry's eyes shone gold with a warm light as her smile grew wider. "You are most welcome, Kíli," she said.
Kíli smiled back awkwardly, unsure what to say next, now that his fears had been alleviated. He cleared his throat.
"I should, uh—I don't want to leave Fíli alone," he said, rising from his chair and steadying it as he almost knocked it over. "I don't know how he'll do if I leave him alone for too long."
"Of course," said Goldberry, her smile never wavering. Kíli backed up and left her in the kitchen alone, his face flushed with heat. His elders had taught him many things, but not how to properly communicate with a tall, graceful woman who was not of dwarf-kind. When he rounded the corner, his shoulders dropped, and he blew out a puff of air. He felt safe in Goldberry's presence, but he also felt incredibly awkward. He wondered why.
Fíli was still asleep when he took his place back at his side. Kíli knelt on the floor next to the couch and looked at him; he started when he noticed the tears rolling down his brother's face. Immediately he took hold of Fíli's shoulders and shook.
"Fíli!" he called.
Fíli started awake with a gasp and immediately swung out, but Kíli caught his arms.
"It's just me," he said. "It's just me, Fíli. Calm down."
Fíli's panicked eyes met Kíli's, and a tearful gasp left his lips. He let out a soft wail and dropped his head back onto the couch, closing his eyes again. Kíli let go of his arms, and Fíli covered his face with his hands.
"I can't sleep, I can't sleep," Fíli whispered. He let out a sob.
"What do you mean you can't sleep?" Kili said. "You were just sleeping…"
"I can't, Kili," said Fili. "I don't want to—I keep seeing things, I keep dreaming about what I've done, what I could have done…"
Kíli stammered, unnerved by Fíli's demeanor. Fíli had had nightmares before, to be sure, and Kíli had always been there for him afterwards, but never before had Fíli awoken like this. Usually the only indication of bad dreams was the distant, shadowed look in his eyes, and Kíli would just know what had happened. This was something else entirely.
"I-It's all right, Fíli," he said nervously. "It was just a dream."
"It wasn't just a dream, Kíli!" Fíli cried. "It was a memory! A memory of what I did to you!"
"Now, don't do this again," Kíli said. "We talked about this. It wasn't you—you were frightened and you didn't know who you were. You didn't know who I was."
"No," Kíli said. He bent over and pulled his brother into his arms, hugging him tightly. "I don't care. I don't care what you did. I told you, I forgive you."
Fíli dissolved into uncontrollable sobs then, and Kíli held on tight, though his heart was pounding. He pulled himself up onto the couch and sat down, pulling Fíli in closer; the elder dwarf gasped in pain, and Kíli started, but Fíli sank into him, clinging tightly, his fingers curled into the fabric of his little brother's tunic.
"I'm so sorry," Fíli sobbed.
"It's all right," said Kíli.
"It's not, though, it's—"
"Hey, shut up," Kíli said. "I'm trying to be comforting here."
A breathy chuckle sounded into Kíli's collarbone, and he grinned. After a few moments, Fíli pulled back and gritted his teeth as he tried to hold himself upright; Kíli put a hand behind him for support, and he leaned into it gratefully.
"Ugh," Fíli said, wiping tears from his eyes. "I feel terrible still."
"Of course you do—look at you," Kíli said. "Beating yourself up like that. It isn't fair. You can't do that."
Fíli cast his eyes downward and sniffed. "Yeah, well," he said, "that's easier said than done."
Kíli sighed and said nothing, watching his brother sadly. Fíli wrung his hands.
"It just feels like everything is different," Fíli said. "Like I've—like I've ruined everything, and it will never be the same. It can't be the same."
"What do you think you've ruined?" said Kíli.
Fíli opened his mouth and closed it again, searching the air. "I… I don't know," he said. "Something. I don't—I don't know, Kíli, it's just how I feel."
Suddenly, Kíli had an idea.
"Stay here," he said, grabbing Fíli's ankle. "I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?" Fíli said, watching Kíli rise with a raised eyebrow.
"Just stay here," Kíli repeated, dashing out of the room.
"Well, I can't really go anywhere, can I?" Fíli called after him. Kíli grinned and searched the house. He stopped in the kitchen pressed his lips together.
"Hello?" he called. "Tom? Goldberry! Hello!"
"Yes, young master Kíli?" said Tom, rounding a corner and smiling at him.
"Ah! There you are," Kíli said. "I need your help. I need something to cheer Fíli up—make him feel normal again. Like a game, or maybe some music. Yes! Music—do you have a fiddle? Or even two fiddles?"
"Whoa, slow down, my friend!" Tom laughed, holding up his hands. "I have plenty of musical instruments that you may borrow—fiddles and harps and flutes and clarinets, drums and tambourines—"
"Fiddles will be just fine," Kíli said. "Fíli and I both play."
"Follow me," Tom said. He led him down the corridor to a room that was full of instruments, as Tom had promised—some that Kíli recognized and others that he didn't. Soon Kíli had a fiddle and bow in each hand, and after a quick but polite thank you, he returned to the living room. He crashed onto the couch excitedly.
"Watch out, you loon," Fíli said, laughing. "What have you got?"
Kíli grinned wide at the sound of his brother's laughter. "Here," he said. "I got you something to pass the time."
Fíli's eyes widened as they settled upon the beautiful instruments in Kíli's hands. "Where did you—?"
"Tom let me borrow them," he said. "Here, take one. Let's play—it's been forever."
"Kíli, I don't know—"
"You said you felt like everything was different," Kíli said. "Did you forget how to play?" He raised an eyebrow playfully at his brother.
Fíli took a fiddle from his hand and tucked it under his chin; then he snatched one of the bows and held it in position. He looked up at Kíli expectantly.
"You start," Kíli said.
Fíli began a lively tune—a duet, one that Kíli knew well. He waited for his turn and then joined in. As the music came alive, he looked up at Fíli; his brother was smiling unabashedly, though his brow was creased—whether it was focus or pain, Kíli could not tell. However, Fíli continued to play as the music gained momentum, and soon the two of them were fighting laughter as they struggled to keep the beat. They finished the song together perfectly, and Fíli dropped the fiddle onto his lap and laughed breathily, placing one hand over his stomach.
"That was good," he said. "That was… it hurt, but it was good."
Kíli joined in with his brother's laughter, dropping his head onto Fíli's shoulder. Fíli ruffled his hair.
"Shall we do another one?" Kíli said, raising his fiddle back up.
"You play, I'll listen," Fíli said. "I've got to rest still."
Kíli nodded and played a few notes absentmindedly, trying to think of a solo song to play.
Kíli lowered his bow and looked at his brother. Fíli smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling and his blue eyes sparkling.
I just wanted to let you guys know that unless I post an Author's Note here at the end saying that the fic is over, it's not over. The fat lady has yet to sing. Fear not; there is still a huge part of the story left to address, and we haven't reached it yet.
Please review, as always! And do yourself a favor and search "fiddle duet" on YouTube. There's one on there called "Taylor Morris and Daniel Pentecost Fiddle Duet" that was my inspiration for this final scene. You'll smile, too-I know I did!