A/N: Last chapter everyone. Thank you so much to those who have already reviewed - they really make my day. I love hearing from you all and hearing all your thoughts - the good, the bad, the ones of questionable content ;p Please keep them coming and I will reply to all of you! This chapter is basically a wrap up chapter, there's possibly some OOC but no worse than my other fics in this fandom. There's some hugs, some jokes *le gasp* and of course, my customary angst injection. I hope you enjoy all of them, even if you don't then thank you for reading. Happy Monday everyone, I know we all get told we should hate Mondays but Mondays have feelings too and they really don't hate you, I promise. In fact, they're more scared of you than you are of them...But that might be spiders. Anyway, have a lovely day.
Probably unnecessary at this point, but it's Thorin's POV.
Dwalin stood as we approached, one hand pushing against Kíli's shoulder as he too attempted to stand. My younger nephew was a pitiful sight to behold. Although Fíli's attempts had gone some way to cleaning him up, dried mud still marred his pale face and the hands with which he reached for his brother were bloodied from his efforts to cling to his rock. Their earlier argument forgotten, Fíli dropped to his knees beside him, immediately embracing him and seemingly oblivious to all but Kíli. I joined them on the fire-dried earth and tested the abandoned vat of water – still blessedly warm – and cast about for the cloth.
"Uncle," Fíli called to me softly, looking pointedly at his brother. I sighed, feeling my heart constrict at the sight that greeted me. I reached out and took the hand Kíli was hesitantly outstretching to me, lightly though, to avoid any further injury to his palm. He returned my smile wearily, breath still somewhat shaky despite the warmth of the fire. "Kíli, Uncle found something of yours," Fíli told him, his head resting atop his brother's.
"Ori found it," I corrected, wanting both of my sister-sons to know exactly to whom they owed their gratitude and perhaps further encourage some sort of bond between my nephews and someone other than each other.
Weakly, Kíli released my hand and attempted to push himself upright, hopeful curiosity written on his face. As I had done, Fíli withdrew their treasure and dangled it before his brother's wide eyes, pulling it just out of reach as Kíli lunged for it. I knew I ought to reprimand Fíli for taunting his brother with such a thing as that but the thought had barely entered my mind before he was lowering his arm back to his brother and Kíli clasping the thong protectively to his chest.
"Uncle – Fíli – I'm sorry," Kíli murmured breathlessly, eyes suddenly swimming with tears. "I thought it would be safe."
Gravely, I nodded my understanding and he shot me one last pitiful look before slumping back against Fíli and curling into him, necklace clenched possessively in both hands under his chin. "Kíli," I said firmly as realisation set in, "Please do not tell me you went after that pony – "
"Ham," he interrupted softly, eyes widening as I glared at him.
"After that pony," I repeated sternly, seizing the necklace from him and shaking it slightly, "for the sake of this." The scowl he fired at me did nothing to assuage my concerns; I sat momentarily speechless before recovering myself. "Kíli," I began, passing a hand over my eyes, "This is not worth dying for."
His face remained unchanged; clearly, my nephew disagreed with me. Despite what I had thought when his brother had done so, I pulled my arm away as Kíli reached for his prize, swiping at it and giving a frustrated huff when his hand closed on nothing. For a moment, none of us moved. Fíli sat silently, eyes closed and no doubt willing one of us to back down from our disagreement. Surrounded by his brother's protective embrace, Kíli glared at me reproachfully. Suddenly he dropped his gaze; my will faltered as he returned it to me, eyes glistening.
"I would die tomorrow for your father's treasures, Uncle," he said fiercely, "Why should I not do the same for my father's?"
I exchanged an uneasy look with my elder nephew whose eyes had flown open in alarm at his brother's words. Once more, I found myself rendered speechless. Though his open condemnation infuriated me, I was not so blinded by it that I could not understand that he saw my words as hypocrisy – that I was asking him to place my father's memory above his own father but surely, surely he knew it was more than that? He could not really believe that this quest was for gold alone? It was birth right, and our duty to our people and to each other and vengeance for what and whom we had lost over the years. I would not insult him by claiming our lost treasure to play no part at all but this quest was for Erebor, not its gold.
"The two do not compare," I said shortly, pressing forth despite the hurt looks they both fired at me, "These are trinkets – heirlooms at best – they have no meaning if all those that recognise them are dead."
Fíli at least seemed to grasp my point, nodding against his brother's head and squeezing him slightly. I felt some of the tension in me ease; I had only warm feelings for their late father – though it had not always been so between us – and I did not like to think of my sister-sons believing otherwise. At my unsympathetic prompting, Kíli also nodded albeit reluctantly, several tears spilling forth. Sighing, I shook my head. This was an argument for another time – one that I was certain Kíli and I (and most likely Fíli) would be revisiting before long – at a time when Kíli's obvious exhaustion and pain were not making his emotions so pitifully hard to control.
Soaking the muslin, I set to wiping the filth from his face as best I could, continuing to speak sternly to them both though it was little more than exasperated admonitions rather than true chastisement. I could feel my residual anger ebb away with every stray tear that traced its way down my younger nephew's face. When I had finished with Kíli – his face pink from my efforts though I had tried to be gentle – he settled lower with his head in his brother's lap, Fíli's hands immediately straying to attempt to brush the worst of the mud from his hair. If the faces and weak protests Kíli made were anything to go by, his brother was not being nearly so gentle as he was presumably trying to be. I shook my head, entirely and eternally exasperated and yet charmed by the pair of them. I concentrated my efforts on Fíli now and he scrunched his face up as the water trickled down into his eyes. Grinning, I wiped the worst of it away with one hand.
"You are doing that deliberately," he accused the third time it happened, eyes tightly closed.
I raised my brows at his brother, who had opened one eye, curious to know what was happening. "Perhaps," I conceded eventually, at last setting the cloth down beside me and wiping the last of the dirt from his cheek with my thumb. Undoing the braids on either side of his beard, I fought another smile as one hand appeared from his brother to help thread carefully through the thick hair before pausing and playfully tugging on it until Fíli looked down.
"Behave yourself, young Sir."
Although Fíli's words had been immediate and chiding, the effect was ruined somewhat by the indulgent smile creeping across his face. Glancing up and seeing my raised eyebrows, that smile became an outright grin.
"Wise words, Kíli," I said mock-sternly, dropping my eyes to his, "Keep them in mind."
Kíli began to nod vigorously but suddenly put an end to any further teasing by bursting into great hacking coughs; Fíli and I both helping him to sit upright as he did so.
"That did not sound at all healthy," said a voice behind me and we all of us turned to see Gloín approaching us, Oín close behind.
"Nothing a few days rest wouldn't cure," Fíli smiled, eyeing me hopefully, "And one of Oín's delicious tonics."
Kíli made a small sound of protest at that but did not speak – he had seemed unusually quiet around Oín and Gloín recently though I did not know why for with the exception of Balin, Dwalin, Fíli and myself, they were the members of our company he had known, if not best then certainly longest.
"We are staying two days at least," I informed my nephews, enjoying the way they both seemed to brighten at the prospect. Though dwarves are hardy by nature, constantly being on the move and out in the open with no shelter but what nature could provide us was a hardship we had not had to endure for many years and was therefore difficult for us all but particularly for the youngest of our party (and, I was not so blind as to not notice, for Master Baggins) who were entirely unused to such a life. "And I am certain Oín has all manner of peculiar tasting concoctions for youboth."
Fíli wrinkled his nose but was diplomatic enough not to comment any further.
Several hours later when we had all been fed and watered, I shifted wearily against the log at my back and took a moment to enjoy the absorbed warmth against my aching shoulders. Sighing, I lifted one arm and guided him down as Fíli sat down beside me with his pipe, fidgeting restlessly against me before lying down with his head and shoulders propped against my thigh. Though our companions undoubtedly thought no less of my nephews for seeking comfort from me as their uncle – nor of me for giving it – it clearly troubled Fíli to be seen to be openly doing so. Kíli, on the other hand…
Although my younger nephew was by nature of a far more demonstrative disposition than his brother, it was still a testament to both his rising fever and to his lingering shock from the day that he had attached himself to me whilst Oín had been seeing to Fíli and essentially not left my side since. Even now, he barely raised his head from my shoulder as his brother joined us. As I had been doing before Fíli re-joined us, I ran my hand through Kíli's hair, working the dried mud and knots from it with the practiced ease that comes from living fifty years with a younger brother and sister who must have found every single swamp, lake or muddy puddle from Erebor to Ered Luin. Earlier in the evening, I had considered braiding it – perhaps adding one or two of my brother and brother-in-law's beads that had been so terribly important to my nephew – but the last of the sunlight had faded before I had been able to rouse Kíli enough to do so. No matter, we had several days now. I had at least been able to convince Fíli to redo the braids in his beard – though his hair was now loose – but he had done so himself; clearly his sensitive pride would not stand for so humbling an experience as his uncle reforming them for him.
"Is Kíli sleeping?" Fíli asked quietly, shifting around to frown up at me. Glancing at Kíli, I nodded wordlessly. Fíli frowned in concern, trying to sit up even as his entire body no doubt protested the sudden movement.
"I had Oín put something in his tea," I informed my eldest nephew, ushering him back down with one hand, "Strong enough to floor a troll apparently."
His mind clearly slowed by exhaustion – as if I would have allowed Kíli such powerful tonics without reason – Fíli's eyes widened in alarm before he suddenly relaxed once more, his mouth quirking into a smile. "It would have to be," he said ruefully, "For him to sleep this soundly after that."
I 'mm-ed' absently, faintly amused as he cast a furtive look about us before slumping more heavily into my side and tugging my own fur closer to himself.
"Are you in pain?" I asked after a moment, thinking of how violently the rope about his middle had been stopped earlier and feeling my own stomach lurch as I though of it, how it had seemed to force every speck of air from his body, the noise of the rope pulling taught cracking like a whip across my memory. Watching me closely for a few seconds, he gave an odd one-shouldered shrug and shook his head.
"I'm all right, Uncle," he assured wearily, eyes straining in an attempt to keep himself awake, "Just – " he broke off in an enormous yawn that he did not even try to disguise. "Just very tired."
"I would never have known."
He ducked his head bashfully and burrowed himself further into his blanket with an ill-concealed shiver.
"I'm all right," he repeated more forcefully when I suggested he either sleep or ask Oin if there was any more to be done for him. Despite this, I soon felt his body beginning to relax into the first stages of sleep when a clatter and cursing from our companions close by brought him back into consciousness with a jolt. I scowled as he straightened up from where had been lying and made great attempts to shake the weariness from himself. At my not-quite-ordering him to sleep, he fired me scowl that would have made his mother and brother proud, jaw set stubbornly in a way that was fiercely reminiscent of my grandfather.
"I don't want to sleep, Thorin," he informed me mulishly, reaching across me to shuck a blanket further up his brother's shoulder. As he leant back, I took a hold of his arm, using it to hold him still as I forced his eyes to meet mine.
"Perhaps not," I said unsympathetically, "But you will." I forced myself to remain stern even as his defiance flashed into hurt anger and then into dread as he no doubt allowed himself to think of the horrifying 'what-ifs' that awaited him in his dreams. Though I remained outwardly unmoved, I trusted him to know that I was not unsympathetic to his plight – how could I be? But the fact remained that he was glassy-eyed with exhaustion, battered in both body and mind, and most likely facing a long day of playing nursemaid to his brother who was already showing the first signs of a fever. I had indulged his fears and avoidance of sleep for long enough but to do so any longer would be detrimental to his own health, never mind his brother's. Finally, when I was beginning to wish my nephews had not inherited my family's legendary stubbornness, Fíli's expression melted into acceptance, his entire body going limp with the realisation that sleep and it's inevitable nightmares was now unavoidable. With one last reassurance from me that his brother would be well-looked after while he slept, my eldest nephew's eyes drifted shut at last and within moments he had lost his admittedly well-fought battle with exhaustion.
He could not have been sleeping more than a few minutes when my younger nephew finally dared to move. Having seen his brother's bone-weariness and knowing there would be no end to it until he himself was sleeping soundly, Kíli had been feigning sleep at my side from the moment we saw his brother heading towards us – it had admittedly been something of a falsehood that Oín had put anything in Kíli's tea but Fili was not to know that. I could not be certain but from the way he rubbed at his eyes, I suspected he may have actually drifted off briefly.
"Good evening, my young counterfeit," I began amusedly, before frowning in sudden concern as Kíli's eyes seemed unable to focus upon me for several moments and his arms shook with the effort of supporting himself on them as he leant back from me. Despite his pains, he (as his brother had done) leant across me to fuss half-heartedly with his brother's blankets before squirming to find a position that did not exacerbate his many injuries (thankfully, they was mostly just severe bruising). Kíli finally settled again, his head tucked 'neath my chin as he had frequently done as a child but not for many years now. So be it, I could scarcely believe my luck to be so entirely unharmed and settled in for the night with both of my boys so blessedly alive after two such incredibly close calls in the past few days.
This close to Kíli though, I could feel the fever setting in even without seeing the glassy eyes and flush in his face. Troubling, that it should have set in so fast really. It was just as well Gandalf had agreed with my decision to hold here for a few days for I would not have moved Kíli from this very spot let alone this camp. I began to mentally prepare myself for the day to come; I did not intend to leave Fíli to take care of his brother alone and, as much as I trusted Oin as a healer and would not dare to question his knowledge of medicine, there was nobody in our company who knew these boys better than I. Regardless of whether this fever really came to anything, it would do our entire company good to stay and rest in one place for a couple of days - if we were not all wearied by the crippling pace we had been encouraged to set since our encounter with the trolls, then we were certainly in need of rest after today's events. Still, these were not friendly lands here – would not be, I supposed, until we at last reached Erebor –and I did not wish to tarry any longer than absolutely necessary, if Kíli (or indeed Fíli) were unwell when we next planned to set off then for the good of the company he would simply have to ride with someone else. If we were to reach our journey's end before the seasons turned against us then we could not afford to stay in any one place longer than that – no matter how much any of us might desire to.
The road goes ever on indeed.
D'you know, I /honestly/ thought I had managed to stop ending every story/chapter with them falling asleep...*sigh* I might get there one day. In the meantime, at least they're getting they're (and my) 8hrs a night. Oh well...thoughts?