Thorin smiled to himself as he looked down at his sleeping nephews. As usual, the two rascals had tuckered themselves out and fallen asleep in the grass, Kíli's small form draped over his older brother with little arms wrapped around the blond's neck. A whole day of training and then playing was still a bit much for either child, though they would not admit it, stubborn as they were; so almost every evening, Thorin would find them in this position and carry them home.

A short chuckle sounded from Thorin's chest, and he knelt next to the youngsters. He peered down at Kíli's face; his brow was furrowed, as if he were caught in a bad dream, and Thorin frowned. Such a sweet child should not be upset by things like nightmares. He brushed the unruly hair out of Kíli's face and then untangled him from his brother gently. Kíli was still young, but he and Fíli were too big now to carry at the same time. He scanned the horizon critically, searching for threats; however, he was not truly worried. Fíli would be safe until he returned. So he gathered the younger of the two brothers in his arms and started off, breathing a sigh of relief when he did not wake.

Kíli was heavier than he expected. When had the child gotten so big? But Thorin was strong, and he carried him back to their home, where Dwalin stood with arms crossed and a fierce scowl upon his face. When he saw Thorin approaching with Kíli, his eyes widened, and he rushed forward.

"Thorin!" he said. "Is he-"

"Shh," Thorin said, looking down at the wee dwarf in his arms. "You'll wake him."

"Thorin, he's-"

"Peacefully sleeping," Thorin interrupted. "Balin's lessons can wait. He's exhausted - look at him."

Dwalin started down at Kíli and then up at Thorin, his expression softened. The exiled king stepped past his old friend and into the hall, where he laid his burden down on a pallet on the floor.

"Where is Fíli?" Dwalin asked quietly.

"Still asleep outside," Thorin said.

"I'll get him," Dwalin said quickly.

"No, that's all right - I'll get him," said Thorin. "Stay here with Kíli in case he awakes. You know how he gets when he wakes up alone."

Dwalin nodded, staring down at the dwarfling, and Thorin departed to go get his brother.

Fíli lay where Thorin had left him, still soundly asleep, and the old dwarf chuckled at the sight. Fíli had always slept like a log. Thorin knelt beside him and ran his fingers through the blond waves; then he glanced at Fíli's face and started, for Fíli's eyes were open.

"Shh," Thorin said gently before Fíli could speak. "Your brother is already home. It's all right - go back to sleep." He passed a hand over Fíli's eyes and closed them, and the small, exhausted dwarf did not protest. Thorin picked him up and cradled him close to his chest to protect him against the chill in the air, carrying home his elder nephew just as he had the younger, and Fíli slept peacefully the entire way.

"Is Kíli still asleep?" Thorin whispered to Dwalin as he re-entered the hall.

"A-aye, Thorin," Dwalin said in an uncharacteristically soft tone, and Thorin looked up at his friend, confused.

"What, Dwalin?" he said.

"Nothing," Dwalin said; Thorin accepted his answer and laid Fíli down next to his little brother. The two would want the security of knowing the other was near when they awoke.

Thorin was tired, too - so tired. Looking upon his slumbering nephews, he suddenly felt the overwhelming desire to lay down with the two dwarflings and rest in peace. There were duties to be done, for sure, but those could wait. The old dwarf wanted some time with his boys, his sweet boys to whom he could never seem to express just how much he loved them. His eyelids felt heavy, and he could feel himself wavering. Dwalin's hand found his arm.

"Thorin - no. You can't."

"I am the king," Thorin replied. "I may do as I wish - and I shall rest with my nephews."

"Thorin," Dwalin choked. Thorin whirled around to look at his friend and was startled to see his eyes shining with unshed tears. He furrowed his brow and blinked, perplexed.

"Dwalin, are you ill?" he said.

"No," said Dwalin, his voice breaking. "No, Thorin - you are."

Thorin shook his head. "I'm fine, Dwalin," he said. He offered him a small smile. "JUst tired, and wanting to rest with my boys."

"They're not resting, Thorin," Dwalin said. "Look at them. Really look at them!"

"What do you mean?" Thorin demanded, looking down at his two sleeping nephews. There they were, two little dwarflings, sleeping side-by-side peacefully. "Of course they are. What are you getting at?"

"Thorin, please," Dwalin begged, but Thorin held up a hand to silence him.

"Go," he said. He started at the choked sound of his own voice; something warm and wet tickled his face, and he wiped at his cheek. His hand came away wet, and he stared at it.

"I can't let you, Thorin," Dwalin pleaded. "Please - come away from here. Come away from this."

"Leave me," Thorin hissed. "Leave me with Fíli and Kíli."

"Thorin-"

"Go!" Thorin roared.

Dwalin did not even flinch; he merely swallowed and stared hard at his old friend, as if he knew he would never see him again.

"Goodbye," Dwalin whispered, and then he was gone.

Thorin cleared his throat and turned back to Fíli and Kíli, and for a moment, it seemed to him that they were suddenly grown - proud young warriors, yet still looking up to their stern, bitter uncle who had never loved them the way they truly deserved. With a shake of his head he willed the image away, and once more his boys were just that - mere boys, sleeping peacefully and quietly. Later they would wake and pounce on their uncle, begging him to play with them or teach them how to handle a sword or an axe or a bow. Gladly he would agree, laughing with his two lighthearted nephews that meant more than the world to him.

He laid down beside the two and drew them clumsily into his arms, burying his nose first into Fíli's hair, breathing in the scent of pipe-weed and soap, then into Kíli's, which smelled of earth and green wood. He ignored the stench of sweat and blood that mingled with those familiar smells. He ignored the fact that his little boys were not little boys at all. He ignored the fact that Fíli and Kíli were not sleeping, and he shut his eyes tight. Tears dripped off his cheeks as he kissed the young dwarves' foreheads and then laid his own head down.

Then Thorin Oakenshield drifted off into a peaceful sleep with his two young nephews, and the three heirs of the line of Durin lay as still as the stone they were made from forevermore.