Ethereal beams of light streamed through the windows, enveloping the room in a wreath of glory as sunbeams filtered through the leaves of a birch in delicate patterns of green tinted gold.
The return to wakefulness was painful, and Fili dragged his eyes open with an effort that seemed to take years. Grief crashed upon him in a physical wave of lethargy and he hastily blinked out the world once more. It was his duty as Prince, even one in exile, to hide any signs of weakness that would discourage his people, but how Fili longed to escape the empty loneliness for one more day.
Living was perhaps the most agonizing punishment of all. At every turn of the corner Fili imagined his brother's skittering footsteps as Kili was distracted like a crow by every shiny pebble or curious looking insect that caught his eye. Every smile was forced as Fili heard his brother's echoing cackle of mirth. Every minute at home was silently coped, for though the heirs of Durin were a people legendary for the strength of their character it had only been that blithe ray of sunlight which had given them reason to laugh in face of their adversity. Now only darkness shrouded those who remained, and sometimes Fili wondered if he would ever have reason to smile again. Fifteen years had passed, and he still did not know how to exist without his brother.
Daylight could no longer be thwarted, however, and soon enough Thorin would be pounding on the door for Fili to stop moping around and move on with his life. No words would be spoken; the hammering of his fist would be indication enough. That was the extent of Thorin's conversation since Kili's death, and no one begrudged him for it. They all had their own ways of coping with their grief.
Sighing dismally, Fili forced his eyes open once more. It took him a moment to adjust to the sight of his room; the pattern of veiled green reflected on his wall from the open window, his swords, axe and hammers hunt neatly on individual pegs, a stick-figure drawing Kili had made of his kitten Mewy when he was ten summers old; tacked up where Fili could glance at it frequently and remember, a trunk engraved with stories of their past resting against the opposite wall, his brother slouched in a chair across from him snoring, his books and scrolls neatly aligned on a shelf above the bed, a simple -
Fili's mind reeled to a halt and he bolted upright, his breath leaving him in a rush of as he stared at the slumbering form of his little brother. Kili was hunched awkwardly into a chair, one leg drawn up in front of him and his head resting on his upraised hand as he remained oblivious to his brother's panic.
For a moment Fili could only watch Kili as his heart was rent within him. He yearned for nothing more than for the illusion to be true, but such a longing would never come to pass. Painfully Fili slumped back onto the covers, knowing that the instant he reached out to wake his brother Kili would vanish before his eyes. Nothing in his dreams ever changed.
Kili snorted lightly in his sleep, one foot twitching spasmodically as his dreams were disturbed. The simple act reminded Fili starkly of the days when his brother was still alive, and he instantly squeezed his eyes shut and willed the vision away. Had he not suffered enough already? Why could he not force himself awake?
Kili's right foot slipped off the edge of the chair and he startled awake, shaking his head in dazed befuddlement and brushing his straggly hair out of his face. His eyes lit on Fili and Kili's features lit up, all signs of exhaustion eradicated as he bounded off the chair and knelt by Fili's side.
"Fili!" he hissed in a loud, exuberant whisper, "You're awake!" He glanced hurriedly over his shoulder and lifted a finger to his lips, adding, "Shh! Mum's talking to Oin right now; I'm not supposed to be disturbing you."
Fili drew back with an expression of horror, shaking his head and mentally commanding the nightmare to end.
The glimmer of excitement faded in Kili's eyes and he questioned in a hurt voice, "Fili?"
The tone of betrayal was too much for him, and with a muffled cry of loss Fili pushed the illusion of his brother aside and stumbled out of bed. He took only two strides forward before the room tilted alarmingly. Reeling slightly, he forced himself to proceed, ignoring Kili's indignant squawk as his brother leaped to his feet and followed after him.
"What did I do, Fili? - Wait - Fili! - Mother will have my head if she finds out I woke you!"
Ghosts did not normally squabble over whether or not Dis would murder them for uncouth behavior - especially when that ghost was the one of his long dead brother. Kili should have vanished by now, or at least stared at him pleadingly until blood spilled from his torso and painted the floor crimson, just before the light died in his brother's eyes for eternity.
"Fili, would you sit back down before you give yourself another concussion? Mum is in a tizzy and Oin said if you hit your head again you're likely to - Fili!"
Fili did not heed the prattling spirit, reaching for the doorknob to escape the close confines of his room. He should speak to Oin about the disturbing clarity of these visions; perhaps after fifteen years he was finally losing his mind.
"Fili!" Kili skidded in front of him to block the door, glaring at Fili with a vehemence worthy of rivaling Thorin's glare. "Sit down! Or I'll tell Oin you're being an idiot and make him give you some of that foul, green muck he forced down my throat during my illness."
Fili stopped dead in his tracks, staring at his brother as though seeing Kili for the first time. Bruises darkened the right side of Kili's jaw and cheekbone, and his lower lip was puffy and split as though struck with a crushing blow. He had the lingering squint of a painful looking black eye and he wobbled slightly as though off balance. Bandages had been wound around the knuckles of Kili's right hand, the left newly splint and supported by a sling. An angry looking gash in his cheek had been neatly stitched, matching a slightly deeper scratch on his neck. It was the dark marks of fingerprints around his brother's neck that caused Fili to clench his fists again a wave of injustice, however, for even in his dreams his brother could not escape his torment.
The pleading in Kili's gaze was not for himself, however, as though he were begging that Fili would somehow end his torture and give him the peace he could no longer attain. His dark eyes searched Fili's face with quiet fervency, imploring his brother to assure him that Fili was all right; that Fili was merely acting out of character due to his injuries and he would startle back to himself moments later.
It was in that instant the revelation fully struck that Kili was unmistakably, irrevocably alive.
Fili found himself edging back slowly, his eyes never leaving Kili's even as he steered clear of his brother.
"Fili?" Kili spoke again, worry shimmering in his gaze as he tracked his brother's cautious retreat.
"You died," Fili whispered, shaking his head once more. His heart longed to accept what was before his eyes, but his mind screamed in denial at the impossibility.
A flash of disappointment sparked in Kili's eyes and he sighed. "Oin was worried about this. I never died, Fili. You pulled me out of the lake in time; remember? Thorin - "
"No, no, you don't understand!" Fili shouted. Kili blanched under his rebuke but Fili could not hold back any longer. Fifteen years of lingering agony and loneliness rose up in a swell of desperation until Fili thought he would drown in his sorrow. "Fifteen years you have been dead, Kili! You ... He shot you!"
Fili swallowed against the lump in his throat, unable to believe he was describing Kili's murder to his kid brother who was supposed to have passed away long ago. "You... you saved my life. I held you ... as you breathed your last, Kili. I watched you die, all over again. I - I couldn't save you! And this time," he said raggedly, his tormented eyes sparkling with unshed tears, "This time you never came back."
"Fili..." Kili said cautiously, regarding his brother warily as though he was speaking to a cornered animal, "No one was killed during the conflict."
"Do not look at me as though I have lost my mind!" Fili ordered harshly. "I know what I saw!"
Kili's eyes were wide with concern and he reached out to grasp Fili's shoulder, wincing as his brother drew away. His gaze was destitute as he sank down to rest on the carved trunk, rubbing his left shoulder insecurely as he contemplated the matter.
"I think ... perhaps you saw something differently from what took place," he considered. He was hasty to assure, "I do believe you, Fili; when I was ill my dreams took me to scenarios I had never envisioned possible, and never wanted to see again. But..."
With a frown Kili picked at the bandages covering of his left hand, his brow furrowed in his own grim recollections. Fili sat down on the edge of the bed and watched him with haunted disbelief, still unable to grasp that his brother might truly be alive and speaking with him at this moment.
"When Keilan was threatening us in the forest ... do you remember that?" Kili questioned guardedly. Fili nodded in numbed confirmation and Kili proceeded on, "He tried to kill you, Fili. I pushed you out of the way, and ..." He worried his nails with his thumb, his expression dark with a memory he did not wish to revisit. "I was not watching what I was doing. You struck your head on a rock, Fili. There ... there was blood ... everywhere."
Flinching as he remembered, Kili quietly admitted, "I thought I had killed you, Fili. You've been unconscious for two days now."
The blood drained from Fili's expression as the implications set in. "Then ... it was all a dream?"
It could not have been an illusion conjured from his mind. Fifteen years was too long to pack into forty-eight hours of delirium.
Kili nodded somberly and Fili for once did not know how to react. He wanted to reach out and denounce the guilt plaguing his brother's eyes, but he was afraid that the slightest touch would shatter a dream into reality and he would be forced to endure the remainder of his life with only the bitter knowledge of Kili's sacrifice.
"What happened?" he questioned hoarsely, not certain he wanted to know but unable to bear the suspense any longer.
"He did find us; Keilan, I mean," Kili enlightened, hesitating to continue. "In the forest near the archery grounds... just after you had given me my bow. He apprehended us... ordered us to choose which of us would have the chance to survive, and then ... then he tried to kill you."
Muted embers flickered in his gaze as Kili was helplessly drawn back to a time he no longer wished to remember.
"Really, are you two so stupidly devoted to one another that this should be a painstaking decision, or do you merely seek to waste my time?" The sunlight drew patterns of shadow across Keilan's face as his eyes narrowed in resolution. "Fine. I shall decide for you, but your blood be upon your own head." His voice rose to the shout, loathing twisting his expression as he proclaimed, "The murderer shall die first!"
Even before the bow shifted in Fili's direction, Kili somehow knew. He moved on instinct, barreling into his brother and shoving him out of danger's path. The deadly projectile hissed through the air, a sharp pain lancing the side of his neck as the arrow's razor edge sliced across his skin.
Kili let out an 'oof!' as the air rushed from his lungs, mentally apologizing to his brother for landing on top of him. Behind him Keilan cursed vilely, his burning gaze tracking the lost arrow's flight before it settled with unrequited malice on Kili. Recognizing his peril, Kili scrambled to his hands and knees and dove for the bow Fili had given him minutes before.
Keilan noticed the discarded weapon at the same time, three long strides carrying him the distance to the perceived threat. Just as Kili's left hand closed around the slender wood a boot smashed down on his fist, snapping bone and splitting flesh. Kili screamed and yanked against the weight holding him down, kicking wildly at Keilan's heels and thrashing to get away.
Fili! Where was Fili? Surely his brother would be assisting him if he were able. A glance to the side stilled Kili's struggles with a whimper as he realized Fili had never moved from where he had fallen. Blood glistened upon the stone where he had struck his head, and the terrible accusation knifed through Kili at the sight. Surely he had not...
No ... please ...
Keilan sneered, chuckling coldly as he ground his foot down and flipped a knife from his belt. His knife. The one Fili had given Kili years before when his brother had first started to work in the forges. The taunting laughter, the uncertainty whether or not his brother was still alive (and he was; Kili refused to believe otherwise), and the further injustice of his own blade being used against him stoked the embers of Kili's fury into a raging inferno.
His right hand closed around a stone and Kili wrenched to the side and slammed it against Keilan's knee. He had wielded hammers of greater weight with less effort, and the petty rock needed little exertion on Kili's part as the solid weapon struck and shattered bone. Keilan screamed and collapsed to the ground, writhing in agony even as his eyes flared with enmity. Kili did not wait for him to recover, throwing himself at the hunter and smashing his right fist repeatedly into the detestable face which had haunted his nightmares for too long.
With every blow he envisioned Fili's fear-ridden, traumatized blue eyes the day he realized that Kili had not been killed after all. The memory which incited Kili most, however, was that of Fili's still, pale face as he lay eerily quiet where he had fallen, blood trickling down his forehead to splash crimson on the emerald grass. Howling in rage at the image, Kili bashed his fist into Keilan's jaw, the pain from his torn and bloodied knuckles barely noticeable in his fervor to avenge his brother.
No creature is more deadly than an animal which has been wounded, and like a predator maddened with pain Keilan's mind only grasped one thought; the unmerciful annihilation of the enemy. Instinct overruled calculation and with a snarl Keilan smashed his elbow into Kili's cheek, splitting a molar tooth and opening a wide gash in the Dwarf's lower lip. Kili faltered in a wave of vertigo and Keilan flung him onto the ground, slamming his hand against the Dwarf's throat and pressing him into the dust. His knife flashed in his hand and Keilan smote downwards, no longer desiring to toy with his prey. It would be finished here and now; he would not suffer the filthy mud rat another chance to land a blow.
Kili ceased grappling with the hand closing off his air supply, lashing out to halt the blade's descent. The strength of the Dwarves oft surpasses that of Men, but Kili was weakened from the lingering wounds and the weeks of inactivity during his recovery. A curtain of grey hazed his sight and he twisted under Keilan's grip, silently screaming for release as his lungs protested their starvation.
His grip slipped and the edge of the knife gashed Kili's cheek, blood streaming from the raw wound as Keilan wrenched free and lifted the crimson stained blade for a final strike. Blackness was descending rapidly and with a grimace of desperation Kili raised his foot and kicked out at Keilan's shattered knee. The hunter yowled as bone grated against nerves and his concentration slipped just long enough for Kili to move.
With the last of his strength Kili wrench his opponent's wrist to the side, plunging the knife into the hand clenched around his throat. Instantly Keilan yanked away and Kili drew in a blessed, painful gasp of sweet, pure air. He tolled to his hands and knees and clutched his throat, gagging for breath. An instant later he cried out as a blunt object connected with the back of his head.
Reeling in a daze, Kili fell onto his side and clutched the lump near the base of his neck. Tacky blood coated his fingertips and he blearily watched as Keilan dropped the stone Kili had struck him with originally. The hunter snatched the bow he had brought with him and snapped it over his good knee, selecting the longest spearlike shaft and lurching forward. His eyes rabid with the fires of vengeance, Keilan grasped a handful of Kili's hair and dragged him to an upright position even as the Dwarf tried to scramble away. His makeshift spear lifted high, Keilan smile coldly as though to give his final farewell.
A thousand hammers assaulted his skull and his hand throbbed where white bone had stabbed through flesh. Even so Kili snarled in a last act of defiance, despising the fact that the enemy would triumph yet refusing to be cowed in the face of death. Shields of bronze clashed with fiery coals and for an instant the world seemed to hush in a requiem of suspense.
The solid thunk of metal in flesh was punctuated by Keilan's screams as scarlet blossomed from the back of his shoulder where a knife was buried to the hilt in muscle and bone. With a terrible cry Keilan wrenched away from his quarry, clawing at the wound and thrashing on the ground as the combination of his ravaged shoulder, wrist and knee threw him into a convulsion of agony.
The loathing in Keilan's expression was no match for the fury that glittered in Dis' eyes as she darted from the cover of the trees, Thorin close on her heels. Kili swore for a moment that the his Uncle's rage was almost kind compared to the raw hatred in Dis' eyes as she grabbed a sizeable rock and slammed it against Keilan's cheek.
The hunter gurgled in anguish, spitting out blood and three broken teeth as he attempted to drag himself away. His eyes were filled with wild terror, and for the first time he experienced the helplessness of one who was left at the mercy of a stronger foe. Thorin's gaze was pitiless as he stood above the hunter, but Keilan's pride would not allow him to scream for help even now.
Underbrush crackled under pounding hooves as a grey horse burst into the clearing, the rider swinging off in panicked urgency and starting towards the group.
"I'm not here to hurt anyone!" he stated at once, holding his hands in the air to indicate he intended no harm. "My name is Logan; the one at your feet is my younger brother. Please. Listen to me before you destroy him."
"This is your brother?" Thorin questioned darkly, sinking his hammer into the ground by Keilan's head and regarding Logan with glowering accusation.
"Keilan," Logan affirmed, glancing towards his brother and swallowing convulsively before meeting Thorin's eyes. "I assure you, I had no foreknowledge of what he intended to do. If I had known, I would never have brought him here. He told me he would turn himself in; I had no way of realizing he would betray me."
Keilan snarled and scrabbled his fingers into the dust, his pitiful struggle earning no sympathy from his brother this time.
"I know I have no reason to plead for his life," Logan said with forced calm. "His crimes are unforgivable and I cannot repair the damage he left behind. Allow me to beg of you his life, however, even if he deserves no less than your determined justice."
"Why should you defend him?" Thorin demanded, his eyes glowing with malice as his gaze flitted between the unconscious Fili and Kili, who had slumped into Dis' arms and could barely keep his eyes open.
Logan rubbed his hands together and whetted his lips nervously, nodding sharply in assent. "There is no excuse for what he has done," he agreed, "But grant me the chance to explain my reasoning. Understand me when I say you will gain nothing in Keilan's death. If you kill him now, there are others who will bring it as a charge against you. Even if I said nothing word would spread, and you will be labeled as murderers among your people and mine.
"If he lives," Logan continued logically, "He will carry this lesson with him for the rest of his life. You know yourself that whether or not he changes for the better, he will always remember the Line of Durin with fear."
Fervently Logan requested, "I swear by whatever vows you consider to hold true, that if you allow me to take Keilan away from here he will never set foot in your land again. I in turn will not breathe a word of what has taken place. I will not forestall your judgement; I only ask that you spare my brother's life."
Roiling clouds of thunder darkened Thorin's expression and his grip tightened around his hammer until his knuckles turned white. He glanced surreptitiously to Dis and Kili and then to Fili, his thoughts warring against one another. Logan remained outwardly calm, but his hands flexed anxiously and he fidgeted in the gnawing suspense.
Even in the face of certain death, Keilan acknowledged no victor. He glowered up at Thorin and spat blood on the leader's boots. Past his swollen mouth he lisped a curse upon the Dwarven race, hissing in repulsion as he resigned himself to his fate. Clearly he had determined his final act would be one of antipathy against those he had chosen to despise, and Kili shuddered to imagine how deeply ingrained that hatred must be.
Kili's gaze flitted to Fili at the gruesome reminder of Keilan's vengeance. His brother had not stirred since he had fallen, and an unspoken fear clenched Kili's heart in an icy grip. He leaned away from Dis and tried to pull himself forward, determined to reach Fili even if he had to crawl the entire way. Dis only stiffened and held him tighter, however, her eyes never leaving Thorin. Kili was consumed with the agony of not knowing and he whimpered in the back of his throat, struggling weakly and imploring Dis to permit him to see if his brother was still alive.
Thorin silently regarded Kili's desperation to free himself, comparing it against his will to the abject terror filtering through the disguised serenity of Keilan's elder brother. Something shifted in his perception and without a word he raised his hammer. Logan flinched and shut his eyes, his hand straying towards the knife in his belt before he rigidly restrained himself. The mallet swung down as though in slow motion, its weighted arc seeming to take an eternity to sweep through the air.
Suddenly Kili could watch no longer; not for the promise of Keilan's death, but for the hopeless loss wrenching Logan's eyes as he forced himself to turn away. Kili hid his face in Dis' arm and gasped sharply as the hammer slammed down with a sickening crack.
The ragged wail which followed caused a flock of crows to seek refuge in the sky. Keilan's eyes rolled back in his head and he fell limply against the earth. Thorin hefted his hammer to the side and tossed it away in revulsion, stepping out of the way as Logan darted forward. With dread seeping into his heart Kili dared to peek and he instantly winced at the sight.
Keilan's his left leg was stretched out before him, the bones below his knee mangled and crushed beyond repair. He was unconscious, but Thorin had heard the pleas of one who called himself brother and allowed his enemy to live.
Logan's trepidation was palpable as he gently lifted Keilan's head, touching a finger to the pulse on his brother's neck and closing his eyes in relief when he found what he was seeking. Gingerly he lifted Keilan into his arms, his expression torn with compassion in spite of his own admission that his brother deserved none of his pity.
"Thank you," he whispered hoarsely, nodding solemnly to Thorin in respect.
No further words could Logan force through his turmoil, but his earnest gaze reflected his gratitude. Carefully he settled his inert brother onto his horse, swinging up behind him and clacking his tongue to urge the mare into a gallop.
As though a spell had been broken with Logan's departure, the stillness was shattered as Thorin ran to Fili's side. Before Kili could move to accompany him Dis clutched him tighter to herself, trembling in the wake of the near-disaster. She stroked Kili's hair as though to assure herself her son was still alive, kissing the top of his head and whispering, "I thought I had lost you."
Part of Kili yearned to comfort her and for a moment he remained still in her arms. A greater part of him screamed to know if Fili had survived, however, and he struggled anew to see his brother. With a dismal sigh Dis released him, helping him to his feet and supporting him as his legs threatened to give way.
Kili did not dare look at Thorin as he lurched to Fili's side, terrified at what he might see. He crumpled to his knees and grabbed Fili's hand, paling at the sheer amount of drying blood on his brother's face. Desperately he looked to Thorin, pleading wordlessly that it was not true.
'It was an accident! I didn't mean to ... surely I did not...'
A keen was forced from his throat and Kili shook his head in denial, every second of the fall replaying through his mind in cruel detail. He had tried to save his brother from Keilan's vengeance; he had not meant to hurt him! A choked gasp escaped him and suddenly Kili could not breathe. He gaped uselessly for air, black dots swimming before his eyes as a wave of panic swept him into a vast ocean of despair.
His brother could not be gone. Not because of him - it was an accident! Surely Fili would open his eyes any minute now and smack him over the head for being an idiot. He could not be lying here; so still and silent as though he were already laid out for the grave.
Kili softly wailed and pushed Thorin away from his brother, ignoring his Uncle's shout of protest at his violent reaction. He gathered Fili into his arms, scrutinizing his face with wild, searching eyes as he sought the faintest sign of life. Dis sucked in a sharp breath and suddenly her arms were around Kili, restraining him gently as she whispered,
"It is all right, Kili, he is still with us."
His panic instantly drained to be replaced with exhaustion and Kili slumped in his Mother's embrace. He was inexplicably tired, his body craving rest after so much excitement too soon after his recovery. Thorin brushed himself off ruefully and reached to take Fili away, ignoring his nephew's frantic protests. Kili had no strength left to fight his Uncle and he chose to rebuke him dourly with his dark glare.
Then Thorin stepped out of his sight and Kili's world careened to a halt, fear for his brother mingling with the pain of his injuries until the forest pieced into shards of emerald light and Kili gladly welcomed the comforting embrace of unconsciousness.
"For two days you did not move," Kili whispered, his gaze tortured as he stared at the floor. "I thought I had killed you at first." He pressed his knuckles to his mouth, sick at the prospect. "I never could have forgiven myself if I had."
Fili did not respond and Kili looked up uncertainly, no knowing what to expect. In an instant he was on his feet and bounding across the room to sit beside his brother. He wrapped his arms tightly around Fili, holding him close as the elder wept. Fili sobbed as though his heart had been shattered a thousand times over, only for him to awaken to the revelation that the shards had been welded back together against all belief that hope could never be regained.
"I thought - I thought I had lost you!" Fili stuttered, clinging to his brother as though to prevent him from drifting away like a wisp of a dream carried on the wind. He clenched his hand in the fabric of Kili's sleeve, ordering raggedly, "Don't you ever do that to me again, Kili! Don't you ever leave me!"
"I won't," Kili assured quietly. "I'm right here. I'm not going away."
He glanced up as the door cracked open and Dis peeked inside, her eyes lighting up upon seeing Fili awake. The somberness of the moment was not lost to her, however, and when Kili cast her a sharp glare and swung his head for her to give them some privacy she quietly slid the door shut once more.
Kili intended to fully apologize for such a rude dismissal of his Mother at a later time, but for now his brother needed his undivided attention. He could not imagine what Fili must have endured with the belief that his brother was dead and he must go through life alone. Kili had been terrified that he might have killed Fili when his brother had struck his head, and that single moment alone had almost broken him beyond repair. The strength his older brother had; to continue on through his mind's depiction of fifteen years of guilt and loneliness ... One year - one day - without his brother would have been too much for Kili.
"You are never setting foot outside this house without me," Fili commanded in a choked voice as he at last began to rein his emotions under control. "Preferably not without Uncle Thorin or Dwalin there to protect your scrawny neck at all times."
Kili chuckled and parried, "Only if you wear promise to wear a pillow strapped to your thick skull from now on. No wonder Thorin never let us practice Mister Balin and Mister Dwalin's form of greeting."
Fili's bark of laughter broke off in a sob and he shuddered silently in his brother's arms. Ages seemed to pass and neither spoke, the younger taking the role of the comforter as the elder crumpled in the wake of his pain.
"Thorin, don't you dare go in there!"
Dis' heated whisper broke through the solemn moment as the door creaked open. Fili and Kili glanced up as one as Thorin cast a miffed glare over his shoulder before looking inside and nodding tentatively to his nephews.
"Boys," he greeted gruffly. He shifted from one foot to the other as though wondering if he should make a hasty retreat.
Fili found himself smiling like an idiot, laughter rising up in him as he soaked in the image of his Uncle; vivacious, proud and hopelessly awkward as he had once remembered. Gone was the calloused, stone-hearted personage of his nightmare, and Fili had never been more grateful to acknowledge the end of a dream.
His laughter was contagious and Kili joined in, not understanding what the point of the jest was but reveling in his brother's happiness all the same. For too long they had endured the trials of Keilan's wrath. The defeat of their enemy had brought with it hope for a brighter future, the dread of the storm washed away in a glorious burst of sunrise.
Dis shoved Thorin out of the way and swept inside, embracing both her sons and holding them close to her heart. Fili fought back tears once again, this time from pure joy. The sound of Kili's infectious laughter was a delight he never thought he would experience again. Ruffling Kili's hair the moment Dis gave them room to breathe, Fili chuckled and dragged his brother into as tight a hug as he could manage without worsening Kili's injuries.
Thorin had drawn near during the commotion and he now stood close by with his arms folded loosely, watching the trio with calm fulfillment. He nodded with pride when Fili looked his way, warmly acknowledging his return.
"You're lucky to be alive, you know."
Logan slammed the door closed as soon as the healer left, casting a scalding glance in Keilan's direction before crouching to pile more wood on the meager fire. He grimly scanned the furnishings of the room, mentally determining what they could take and what should be left behind. As soon as Keilan could endure the long journey by wagonride without the risk of losing his leg entirely they would leave the village for good.
Keilan, his brain too hazy with pain medications to think up a proper response and his mouth to swollen to deliver a retort, chose instead to glower fiercely in his brother's direction. The challenge was unheeded and Logan continued to scold.
"If I ever hear one more word against the Dwarves, one derisive term coming from your mouth ever again, I swear to you I will break your jaw myself and save them the trouble."
Logan paced feverishly as he spoke, rummaging through the house and tossing odd trinkets into the fire or piling them in the corner of the room for the neighbors to quibble over when they were gone. He knew he had to do something or else go mad from the outrage and hurt assaulting him in waves every time his mind was drawn back to the cruelty he had seen dealt by his brother.
The betrayal of his trust was like a twisted blade in his heart every time Logan thought of Keilan's tears and his foolish, stupid gullibility in believing his brother had repented of his deeds. The sight that had greeted him when he rode into the forest haunted him to no end. Every time he shut his eyes he saw Keilan writhing on the ground in agony, or the icy fury of the woman as she held the wounded one with fierce protectiveness, or the blazing contempt of Thorin Oakenshield as he spared Keilan's life and condemned him to what might be considered a crueler fate.
"He'll never gain full use of that leg," the healer had informed Logan as the young man slipped him an extra handful of silver to keep silence regarding the matter. "Ye'd be better off cuttin' it off now... save yeh a lot of trouble."
But Logan could not condemn his brother to the life of an invalid. A cripple he would always be, but if the fates smiled kindly upon his brother perhaps Keilan would still be able to limp around with a cane in the future. He might die of the humiliation, but he would still have a shred of the independence he so craved. If, that is, Logan ever allowed him out of the house unaccompanied during the next fifty years.
"Heard that Lake Town is quite nice around this time of year," Logan quipped testily, tossing a delicate teacup that had once belonged to their Mother into the corner and barely flinching as it shattered. "Far enough away from Dwarves, Elves and whatever race you deem unworthy of your company. I could probably find work there; a trader mentioned they always are in need of raftsmen."
Keilan growled in the back of his throat and Logan cast him a look of sarcastic pity. "My apologies. I forgot you have no way of voicing your objections. Worry not; I have already made up my mind for us both. Bilch has offered me a wagon, horses and any supplies necessary to cut the costs of purchasing our farm. You'll ride in style, brother; just like you always wanted."
A bottled of salve the healer had left was swiped off the table, followed by a grunt of pain from Keilan as his arm protested the sudden movement. Logan ignore his brother's tantrum and calmly continued on his tirade.
"Maybe I can even find a wife; someone with a stubborn streak and as sharp a tongue as yours who can put up with you. I would hate to be here to witness the battle should you need her care while you are healing, though, so try not to agitate your injuries any further than necessary."
Keilan garbled curses behind the bandages wound around his head and Logan smiled bitterly, shaking his head.
"I trusted you," he whispered. He tossed a carved wolf his little brother had once treasured into the air, catching it deftly and aiming to throw it into the fire in disgust. At the last moment he hesitated, examining the piece with wistful longing before slipping it covertly into his pocket.
Never again could he believe that Keilan was incapable of the atrocities Logan had once only associated with goblins alone. He had never really understood his brother, and now he wondered if he had ever known anything about Keilan at all. The thought was like the fresh pang of a wound and Logan slammed his fist into the mantelpiece to numb the pain he felt inside. Tears gathered in his eyes as he stared into the flames, wondering if he had ever really had a little brother, or if he had merely envisioned the prospect to soothe his own heartache.
If that were so then it was the worst thought of all, for it meant that Logan was truly alone.
Four Months Later...
Fili yelped as Kili barreled past him, helpless to save himself as his brother grabbed his arm and pelted down the cobbled lane. Passerbyers lunged to evade the sprinting Dwarves, a number of shopkeepers swearing in the most outrageous terms as their business was disrupted.
"Kili!" Fili panted, throwing up an arm to protect himself as a flustered chicken flew towards his head. "What are we running from?"
"Don't talk!" Kili called back over his shoulder. "Just keep going!"
Angry shouts resounded behind them and Fili risked a glance over his shoulder. He yipped in surprise as he caught sight of the furious expression of Kili's pursuer, and with a burst of renewed speed he surged ahead. Now Kili was the one being dragged behind his panicked sibling, and despite his brother's protests Fili had no intent of slowing down in the least.
Goats and ducks scattered in the path, their herders shaking their fists at the rampart brothers as they fled for their lives. Feathers were sticking out of Fili's hair and Kili's hood was coated with flour. How his brother had managed to run with one hand keeping his hood in place and the other pulled out in front of him was beyond Fili's comprehension, but he had no time to question the matters of logic.
"What on ... earth did you do to upset him?" Fili gasped.
"Nothing!" Kili squeaked, almost falling flat on his face as he tripped over a wagon tongue.
"Nothing is about to get us killed!" Fili fired back. He swerved into an alley and yanked Kili after him, pressing flat against the wall and watching with baited horror as their pursuer drew closer.
Near the entrance of the alley their pursuer paused and glanced around, his face livid with animosity. Kili whimpered and plastered himself further against the wall, bending his knees slightly so that he could effectively hide behind his brother.
With a last growl of frustration Nori sheathed his knives and stomped away, his boots squelching with pond water. A tadpole slithered out of his sopping knot of hair and writhed pitifully on the ground before Kili darted out and rescued it, slipping it into a tankard of ale for the next unsuspecting victim.
"What did you do?" Fili interrogated, wiping chaff from his sleeves and cursing the hayloft his brother had nearly flung them both into.
"I didn't do anything!" Kili defended himself. He cringed under Fili's glare and buried his hands deeply in his pockets, dragging his foot across the ground as he muttered, "Maybe I ... accidentally startled him while he was teaching Ori how to swim ... And I might have given him an extra helpful shove..."
Fili groaned and rubbed his temples, shaking his head at his brother's uncanny ability to flaunt death. "One of these days you are going to find yourself in over your head."
"Nah, that was Nori's fate," Kili jested, clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle his laughter.
"You idiot!" Fili chuckled, slapping his brother over the head and mussing his hood.
Kili yelped in surrender and ducked away, hastily rearranging the fabric before the ragged patch of his shorter hair could be revealed. Fili sighed at his brother's impulsive reaction. He understood the reasoning behind Kili's mortification and he could not chide him for it, but he did wish they could step out of the house for five minutes without Kili hiding away like a schizophrenic ranger.
"How long do you intend to wear that?" Fili questioned. "It's the middle of summer, Kili; you're as likely to die of heatstroke at this rate."
Kili's mirth died and he clamped his mouth shut, his eyes riveted straight ahead as he strode away. "Four more years, Fili," he answered in a clipped tone. "Or at least until I can trim both sides to look a little more even."
Fili knew by now that he could not dissuade his brother, but all the same he was frustrated by this constant game Kili thought he was pulling off. "Everyone knows about it by now, Kili," he pointed out sensibly. "No one thinks lesser of you for what happened."
"Stop it, Fili," Kili bit back a snap. "You promised we would never speak of it."
Fili threw his hands in the air and gave up with a sigh. Fine. If little brother wanted to sulk under his hood for the rest of his life, who was he to try and help? Perhaps a few broiling days would change Kili's mind if kindly advice availed little.
A hand lashed out at that moment and yanked Kili's hood back, the young Dwarf slamming to a halt as Thorin strode briskly past him.
"You are a Prince of the line of Durin." Thorin did not even bother to look back over his shoulder as he spoke. Unspoken was the command, Act like one.
Kili gaped in dumbfounded silence for a moment. Something shifted in his expression and he lifted his chin defiantly, a fire lighting in his eyes as he straightened his shoulders and followed in the footsteps of his King.
Fili was struck speechless for a moment, stunned by the abrupt reversal of Kili's behavior. With a small grin of triumph he shook himself out of his daze and hurried forward to walk at his brother's side, feeling as though for the first time everything was as it should be.
The sun blazed down upon the small town in the Blue Mountains, outlining the shadows of all who passed by. For an instant a dazzling ray lit upon the Sons of Durin, emblazoning them in a wreath of pride and glory as together they set off for the light and comforts of home.
And that is officially the end!
The Mini-muse squeals in happiness and squeezes its Kili plushie half to death, before the Original Muse rolls its eyes and flicks Mini-muse off the desk.
The author thanks the readers for all their support and for not quite murdering the Muses upon last chapter's epic tragedy. I was astounded at how many people still loved the story despite its sudden twist! Thank you for all your encouraging comments and detailed reviews (and for feeding the Muses, as they would like to add!). XD