A/N: This is something of a filler chapter, sort of a break from all the 'drama,' which will pick up again in the next addition, I promise. I hope everyone enjoys more time spent with the dwarves and at last, some bonding (finally) with the elves. Also, a bit of Kíli/Tauriel fluff. Please enjoy and know that I read each and every review and they mean a great deal to me. I'm sorry I don't have time to reply to all of you, between work, child raising, and writing I have to do what I can . .

Just know that you all are wonderful and you keep the motivation alive and well!

The Heir Apparent

Chapter Five: Of Elves and Dwarves

I remember tears streaming down your face
When I said, "I'll never let you go"
When all those shadows almost killed your light
I remember you said, "Don't leave me here alone"
But all that's dead and gone and passed tonight

Just close your eyes
The sun is going down
You'll be alright
No one can hurt you now
Come morning light
You and I'll be safe and sound

-Safe and Sound

By Taylor Swift (and the Civil Wars)

The dwarves hadn't the faintest clue what to do with her, that much was clear. One of the younger ones -Dori? Glori? Mori? or something of that nature- was staring at her with owlish wonder. Dwalin, despite his previous gratitude toward her, was scowling at her with his thick arms crossed over his broad chest. Tauriel suspected scowling was his preferred means of expression and decided not to take it personally. Kíli, for his part, had attuned his more jovial self and was smiling broadly, obviously pleased she was there. The others ranged from blatant dislike to a wary understanding that was not nearly close enough to acceptance.

Tauriel felt unwanted, discarded, and very, very tall.

"Well, I hadn't quite expected Thranduil to take my advice quite so… quickly, but I must say, I am glad you are here Tauriel," Gandalf said cheerily. His attempts at breaking the tension were kind if not blatantly obvious.

For her part, Tauriel was not sure how to feel. On the one hand she was pleased to have the opportunity to spend more time with a certain dwarf lord; on the other hand she was in an unfamiliar land, with an unfamiliar people, surrounded by a largely hostile race. A big part of her was tempted to race after her King and beg him to let her come home with them. A smaller, insistent part of her however, thrilled at the change of scenery and the potential for adventure. Her people did not embrace change easily or amiably but despite the atmosphere, she was quietly excited. And also, she accepted, afraid.

"I am glad to be of service… to my King and people," she said politely. She focused on the encouraging smile of Kíli, who still had grief lingering in his features but seemed more himself than he had the last few times they had met. She refused to believe, however, that it had anything to do with her.

"Yes well, I'm afraid Bilbo and I must depart," Gandalf said and Tauriel had to restrain herself from throwing herself at the wizard's feet and begging him to stay. His words did have the effect of distracting the dwarves from her presence, however, as they each wished the sad Hobbit farewell. She watched as Kíli attempted to gift Bilbo a large share of the remaining treasure, which came to an extraordinary twenty cases of gold and jewels, but the tiny creature declined, saying one chest would do him just fine, thank you very much. Tauriel's affection for him grew and she was sorry to see the amicable creature leave. In the end, Kíli and the others loaded the wizard's cart with two overflowing chests and her heart was touched by their gratitude and fondness.

She stood to one side as the Halfling said his final goodbyes and listened as Gandalf spoke to the remainder of Thorin Oakenshield's company while they stood in the victorious shadow of their mountain home. Even Tauriel, despite being an elf, was touched by the magnitude of the occasion, by all that they had suffered and all they had accomplished.

"Well, my friends, this is goodbye, for now," Gandalf said kindly, leaning on his staff with his great pointed hat casting a long shadow.

"What gift can we offer a wizard for his services?" Kíli asked, his voice filled with gratitude and a small hint of fear. Tauriel realized she was not the only one to dread the departure of Gandalf.

"The dragon Smaug is dead and the dwarves once more established in the halls of their fathers, I can think of no greater gift than that, Kíli."

"There must be something Gandalf, we insist," Balin said, squaring his shoulders in the stubborn manner Tauriel had come to associate with all dwarves.

The wizard smiled a bit and glanced briefly her way before saying, "Very well, Master Balin, if you wish to repay me you will treat Tauriel as a guest and friend. She did, after all, save the life of your King on more than one occasion."

Tauriel flushed and lifted her chin slightly to hide her embarrassment under a mask of serene pride as they all turned to look at her in surprise. Dwarves were not the only ones who could embody strength and stubbornness, she told herself.

Balin looked uneasy. "Aye, we know well enough what we owe her, and her people, but it might be a wee bit harder to convince the others… the distrust runs rather deep."

Dwalin huffed, "Dwarves don't forget trespasses easily, Gandalf. The lass will have a hard time among us, especially as our kin from the north return. She'd be better off going home with the rest of her lot."

The young one -she really needed to figure out all their names- blinked at her. "I think she's lovely," he said.

"Either way," Gandalf interrupted, "You asked what I wanted in payment, and Tauriel's acceptance is what I'm asking."

Kíli stepped forward at that, meeting the wizard's eye. "And you shall have it Gandalf. You have my word that I and my company will do all that we can to make Tauriel feel welcome here."

Gandalf smiled and placed his hand on the young dwarf's shoulder, "You did well today Kíli, very well. I'll try to return in time for your coronation, if I can. And don't be too hard on Dáin, he means well."

One of the dwarves, who wore an interestingly twisted hat and had been present in Lake Town as she healed Kíli, huffed angrily, "Rotten ol' bastard, mighty keen on the throne, he is."

"Over my dead body!" cried one of the others who possessed a very long, red beard and a giant axe.

"Now now," Gandlaf said, fluttering his hands as though he were shushing a batch of unruly children, "You owe Chieftain Dáin a great deal for his help during the battle, I'm sure you'll find a way to repay and placate him."

This was received with grunts of dissatisfaction and reluctant grumbles. Tauriel found herself smiling at their antics.

"Farewell, my fine dwarves, I shall see you when I may," the wizard said and left them with a parting smile and bow, which all of the dwarves returned, several wiping stray tears from their eyes.

Gandalf turned to Tauriel and motioned her with one slight jerk of his head to meet with him aside the cart. She obliged, feeling oddly self conscious, and found his smile to be apologetic.

"I knew Thranduil would select you," he confided to her in Sindarin, "if he selected anyone at all, and I'm sorry if it came as an unwelcome surprise. He was not terribly pleased when last we spoke."

"Not entirely unwelcome," she assured him quietly, "But I can't say I'm thrilled at the prospect of living amongst dwarves."

"And I don't blame you, but I think you can do a great deal of good here," he insisted. "They are a stubborn, difficult lot to be sure, but you've already won over several, their new King not being the least of them." She flushed and he smiled a little more knowingly than she would have liked.

"I would… encourage you to follow your instincts in this matter, Tauriel. I know Thranduil is neither eager nor willing to extend friendship toward the dwarves of Erebor, but I've a feeling that an alliance between your two peoples might be key in the days to come." There was something ominous in his tone and in the way his eyes would not quite meet hers that set her skin crawling.

"You suspect dark days ahead, don't you Mithrandir?"

The old wizard sighed, suddenly looking much older and wearier than he had mere moments before. "I suspect many things, none of which are confirmed or certain. I hope for peace, Tauriel, but I do not expect it. And neither should you."

She drew in a shaky breath and gave him a rueful smile, "I will do my best Mithrandir, but I can make no promises."

"That is all I or anyone else can ask of you," he said with a smile of his own. "Farewell, Tauriel and may the light of the Valar be with you."

"And with you," she replied and he mounted the heavily burdened cart beside his small companion. With a final wave from the odd pair, they turned and left them. Tauriel watched their departure with an array of emotions until they disappeared into the line of Mirkwood trees far into the distance.

Tauriel worked alongside the Dwarves and Men as the battlefield was cleared little by little over the remainder of the day. It would take many days for all the wreckage and death to be removed completely, and she suspected the earth would always carry a stain of the misery it had wrought. She bitterly recalled her gleeful sentiments at not having to do exactly what she was doing in that moment, which was piling up the lifeless, foul bodies of Orcs and Wargs that had been missed during the initial carcass round up. She found, however, she was oddly grateful for the work as it left little want or need for conversation. No one, save perhaps Kíli, who had almost immediately been whisked away into a political meeting with his grumpy kinsmen from the south, would have spoken to her anyway. She'd only been able to offer him one tentative and encouraging smile before he was gone. She had made a 'sort of' friend in the curious young dwarf, whose name, she had discovered, was Orí, and he was never far from her side, staring shyly and never speaking a word. He was helpful though, lifting heavy weapons and hefting massive bodies twice his size.

It was dismal, but necessary work, made all the more difficult when the stray body of dwarf, man or elf was found and Tauriel kindled a newfound gratitude for her presence as several disfigured elven bodies were discovered. She saw to their funeral pyres personally. As such it was late into the night when she at last returned to the camp just outside the ruins of Dale and found an unexpected face waiting for her.

"Luríena?!" she exclaimed and blinked in shock at her friend's distinctly uncomfortable expression. The She-Elf stood near the fire, opposite the wary party of dwarves, attempting to look detached and composed. Only her eyes gave way to her discomfort. Her friend rushed forward to greet her immediately, saying in Sindarin, "Tauriel! Prince Legolas sent me with your belongings." She motioned to a tidy pile of her possessions that had been neatly stacked to one side, "He told me the King had ordered you to remain behind and I simply couldn't believe it."

Tauriel gave the glaring party of dwarves a stern look and steered her friend to one side where they might speak in private. "Thank you Luríena, I am very happy to see a friendly face."

"Is it true? Are you to remain here with these… these… dwarves," she said at a disgusted whisper. Tauriel couldn't quite suppress a soft smile of amusement.

"I'm afraid so."

The other elf looked incredulous, "But why?"

Tauriel sighed heavily; beyond weary after a long day of emotional upheaval and manual labor. "As an Ambassador, of sorts, supposedly. To garner friendship between our people… and theirs."

Luríena crinkled her nose. "I have a hard time believing our King would insist upon that."

"He didn't, Mithrandir did, Thranduil was… not pleased."

"Legolas didn't seem very happy either. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing him quite so distressed…"

Tauriel cringed and sighed, "I fear I'm a bit out of sorts… Luríena….I…" She hesitated, realizing she was about to divulge all the confusing feelings in her heart. She quickly searched her friend's concerned, innocent face and found she could not quite form the words.

"I'm… just glad you're here. It's nice to see a friendly face."

Her friend beamed and opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by a cheery voice.

"Tauriel! You must join us for dinner we're –Oh, hello…" Kíli, divested of crown and robes, stared at Luríena in obvious surprise. He was holding two bowls of steaming stew with flagons of ale gripped between his fingers. The dwarves and many of the human men had decided to camp outside of Erebor among the ruins of Dale. Tauriel had wondered at the choice but, being very fond of the open sky and the stars, was grateful.

Tauriel smiled a little at the dwarf and motioned to her friend, "Kíli, this is my good friend Luríena. Luríena, I present to you, Kíli, King Beneath the Mountain."

Kíli seemed deeply embarrassed by the title and even in the dim fire light she could see his flush. Luríena executed a small curtsey and said, "I am honored to meet you, King Kíli."

Kíli cleared his throat and shook his head, "Please, I'm not a King yet, just a humble dwarf lad and certainly no one to bow to."

"Oh?" Tauriel questioned. "And I thought you were a great Prince among your people? I must have been mistaken…"

Kíli shot her a look and, catching her teasing tone, smirked. "Oh aye, I am a great dwarven Prince to be sure. One who feels meekly shy when lovely maids bow before him."

Tauriel laughed despite herself and even Luríena chuckled, though she looked more than a little confused at their banter.

"Your friend would be welcome to share our meal," Kíli offered with sincerity and held out a bowl and mug to Tauriel who accepted them graciously. Their fingers touched over the warm wood of the carven bowl and heat, which had nothing to do with the stew, coursed through her. Kíli looked up into her eyes and held them for a brief moment before averting his gaze with another telling flush.

Tauriel cleared her throat, murmuring a thank you, and looked to Luríena who no longer seemed confused, instead she appeared suspicious. Tauriel took a quick swallow of the ale and was grateful for its honey warmth.

"I would like that, King Kíli, though I cannot stay long," Luríena said, warm and gracious as always. Her dark brown tresses lay loose and shining, the creases of her dark green travel gown precise and elegant. Tauriel felt like a troll in her presence.

Kíli smiled and said, "Please, just call me Kíli, I've had enough of that 'King' business for one day." He turned and called behind him, "Bofur! Pour another bowl before you eat it all you great glutton!"

"Oh aye, your majesty!" came the sarcastic but good humored reply, prompting a chorus of (somewhat) drunken replies in kind.

"You see," Kíli said to the two elf maids with a grin, "No one treats me like a King anyway."

Luríena smiled kindly and they headed back toward the fire and the waiting company. Tauriel's eyes met Kíli's from across the fire as they sat and he winked at her. She couldn't help smiling into her stew despite her friends questioning looks and raised brows.

A few hours later found the moon high in the sky and Tauriel and Luríena clutching their eighth (or maybe tenth) flagon of dwarven ale. They sniggered slightly as two drunken dwarves attempted to show them a traditional dwarven dance. This, so far, had amounted to a lot of pushing, shoving, falling and cursing. Several of the dwarves, and even a couple of Men, had produced flutes and fiddles and a lively tune had been taken up.

The dwarf called Bofur said, in his thick slurring brogue, "No ya great idiot! Ya turn left an' I turn right."

Gloin, the red bearded dwarf with the wicked axe, glared at his dance partner, "Idiot?! What would a backward lad from the Blue Mountains know of real dancin!" He then proceeded to kick up his short legs in a mad, drunken manner which Tauriel highly doubted would be considered a dance among any race. His brother, Oín, was clapping cheerily as though it were the greatest display he had ever seen; he also had beer all down his front and bits of stew in his impressively long beard.

"I hadn' realized tha' such great lords danced like headless chickens!" Bofur roared, nearly falling over a pile of stones in his mirth. His statement was followed by a chorus of hearty laughter, general clanging mugs and stamping feet, and a very indignant glare from Gloin.

"I shouldn't expect you lot of cravens to appreciate true art when you see it," the Dwarf Lord said then promptly belched and even Tauriel and Luríena had to laugh at that.

Taking another sip of her brew, which was surprisingly delicious, Tauriel glanced around the fire and found one face missing among the dwarves. She blinked and frowned, peering into the shadows for the wayward dwarven Prince, but she could see no immediate sign of him.

"Might I have this dance, milady?" Orí asked Luríena suddenly, all sweet, shy smiles. To Tauriel's surprise, the She-Elf beside her smiled and set her mug aside, taking the dwarfs proffered hand with a delicate press of her own.

"I would be honored, my lord," she said sweetly, leaving the young dwarf clearly star struck. It looked as though her little dwarven shadow had found a new elf to follow, she noted in amusement. The mismatched pair stepped toward the fire amidst a great approving cheer and a robust tune was started. Tauriel clapped cheerfully with the rest, for a time, as her friend whirled and spun gracefully and joyously about the flames, holding dwarves and men alike enraptured. Orí proved to be quite a fine dancer indeed. Still Kíli had not returned. She wondered how long he had been gone and understood that perhaps, for him at least, it was too soon for celebration.

She hesitated only a moment more before taking one last swig of ale and slipping away from the merry group of Men, Elves and Dwarves.

Silent as a shadow she walked alone through the ruined city. The warmth of the fire and drink left her so quickly it felt as though the ruins themselves had siphoned it away. It had been wonderful to enjoy herself for a moment, to forget the tragedy that had so recently befallen them, but here, amidst death and destruction, sadness was poignant once more. Smaug's presence would remain among the abandoned city for many years to come.

Tauriel picked her way carefully amongst the old debris, noting sadly the remnants of the lives once lived amid the now silent stone and shadow. She paused for a moment to lift a partially smashed porcelain doll from the street. She smiled sadly as she realized it was meant to be dwarf lady, complete with braided hair and hints of a wispy beard. Tauriel placed the doll gently on a fallen parapet, allotting the broken toy a regal throne over the surrounding wreckage and continued on her way.

She found Kíli at the edge of town, opposite the camp site, looking out across the valley to the ruined Gate of Erebor, the mouth of the city dark and portentous. He was seated on large piece of stone that had once been part of the city walls and she could see, even from her distance, the tears shining on his face. In his hands he held his runestone, twisting it between his hands just as he had during their first real conversation within the dungeons and it made her heart twinge. She paused, still within the shadow of the city, unsure if she should disturb his grief or if she should tempt her already erratic emotions. Yes, she told herself, it would be best if I left him alone-

"You can come out Balin," Kíli called suddenly, just when she had been about to turn away, "I heard you stumbling about."

Tauriel cringed and sighed, saying, "I hadn't realized I walked like an old dwarf." She stepped out of the shadows and into the moonlight as he turned toward her. He had rather exceptional hearing, for a dwarf.

Kíli started and immediately swiped the tears from his cheeks with the back of his coat sleeve. He cleared his throat sheepishly, "Ah… I'm sorry Tauriel. I figured Balin would come after me eventually."

She smiled kindly and moved slowly to stand near him, leaning back on the cool stone below him. From his perch he was quite a bit taller than she and Tauriel found it odd to be looking up at him instead of the other way round.

"I noticed your absence and I thought perhaps you might like some company. Though I could leave if you'd like-"

"No," he said quickly. "Stay. Please, I do not wish to be alone with my thoughts any longer." His voice softened as he spoke and his gaze once more settled on the gates of his newly recovered kingdom. She wondered if he felt the sacrifice of his brother and uncle had been worth reclaiming his homeland. From her own experience, she imagined he would have traded every coin, every jewel, and the entire mountain itself to have them back again. She knew she would have given everything she had to have her parents with her once more.

Tauriel remained silent, sensing that he needed her companionship more than he needed her words. The music from camp floated on a light winter breeze and tangled in her hair with a gentle, lingering touch. There was a melancholy tone to the music now and she wondered what they might be singing around the fire, if merry making had turned, as it must, to sad remembrance.

"He was always there, you know," Kíli said at last, his voice husky and far away. Tauriel looked up at his face, which had titled up toward the full moon, his eyes glistening. "We were always getting into trouble. I drove him mad for years, following him around, trying to be just like him. I looked up to him, he was my hero, even when he was being a prat," he chuckled a little but it was a hollow, lost sort of sound. "I… I keep looking for him you know, turning to share a joke or a look. In my head I know he is gone, but in my heart…" he trailed off.

Tauriel wet her lips and took a breath, turning her own face toward the silvery lantern in the sky. "When my parents died I used to stay up at night and talk to the stars, sure that they were up there listening somehow, watching after me."

She felt more than saw him glance her way as he said, "How old were you when you… lost them?"

She ducked her head little. "Young, by elven standards, still a child, really."

"I too was young when my father died… I barely remember him. Fíli… he takes after him." It wasn't lost on Tauriel how he referred to his brother in the present tense, and her heart ached for him. "I've taken more to my mother's side. She used to say I was the spitting image of Thorin when he was my age. Was… was your mother like you?"

Tauriel grinned slightly as she remembered her mother with fondness. "I look much like her, yes. I've her hair and eyes, but more the face of my father. She was wiser than I, and fiery, her temper was somewhat… renowned."

Kíli smiled in his turn and caught her eye. "I would say you may have inherited that temper. You're quite a… ferocious fighter. Not that you rival the ferocity of a dwarf, per se."

"Of course not," she rolled her eyes.

"But you're certainly skilled," he allowed with a smirk.

"My father was a great fighter," she said, finding herself oddly eager to share parts of her past with him in a way she had never been eager to with anyone prior. "He was in the King's guard; he likely would have been Captain someday. He loved to read as well as fight, something I never took a keen enough interest in. He would read me stories as a child, wonderful tales from his rather impressive collection. We used to stay up late into the night, lying beneath the stars, as he built wondrous places with his words and voice."

Kíli's smile had gone soft and his eyes shone with an emotion that made her heart tremble. She looked away.

"My mother is a wonderful story teller," he said, "she used to gather all the children around the Great Hearth in the Blue Hall and tell us tales of Erebor, Moria and Mahal. Fíli was a fair storyteller as well, though he used his talents for trying to scare me at night in the dark of our room…" He trailed off, visibly cringing as though physically pained.

"You two must have gotten into immense trouble as children," she remarked, attempting to sound moderately light hearted. She knew, from personal experience, that it would ease his loss, in the long run, if he spoke of happier times.

He sighed and it was a weary, lost sort of sound, "What do you want to hear?"

"Anything, really, about all the adventures you had or the tricks you played."

"How do you know we played tricks?" he asked with strained humor.

"Please, I may not have much experience with dwarves, but I know a troublemaker when I see one."

Kíli chuckled with true amusement this time and suddenly he was leaning down toward her with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Tauriel swallowed and mentally forced herself to hold his gaze and not allow her eyes to wander to his full, slightly parted lips. Heat radiated off him in wonderful waves and Tauriel recalled that Dwarves typically ran hotter than other races. She wondered, vaguely, what his bare skin would feel like beneath her hands.

"Well, there is one occasion that comes to mind," he said, distracting her from her inappropriate thoughts.

"D-do tell," she said, flinching internally as her voice shook.

"It was all Fíli's idea of course," he continued. "And it all started when Dwalin got it into his thick, bald head, to try to court our mother…."

Tauriel pictured the gruff, tattooed dwarf and gaped in shock, "What?!"

"Oh aye, but fear not, because Fíli and I taught him a right good lesson. So, first, we had to get a hold of some sheep…"