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Title: The Other Side of the Coin
Series: A Matter of Perspective
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo
Rating/Warnings: angst, homophobia
Word Count: 10,323 (29,023 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit there would be more angst
Summary: Kíli just wanted to have an adventure, he never expected to find love as well. (The companion piece to A Terrible Mistake)

Part I: Secrets
Part II: Sabotage


Part III: Sorrow

It was a long time before I was able to stand again, once my tears were finally spent and my sobs reduced to choking gasps. Yet even after I dragged myself to my feet, I could not bring myself to move, instead leaning heavily against the tree where I had kissed my hobbit such a short time ago. For while I knew I should return to camp, I simply could not face them. I could not bear to face my brother and see the poorly hidden triumph in his eyes, not when my wounds were still fresh and bleeding.

Perhaps I was actually doing Fíli wrong by this assumption and he would have welcomed me with open arms, soothed my hurts without saying that he had told me so. But I doubted it. That would require the older brother I remembered not the arrogant stranger who now walked in his place and I had not seen that Fíli for quite some time.

My reluctance also stemmed from the fact that I did not wish to have confirmation of my sorrow, to watch Bilbo turn away from me once more. How could I return to camp and not ache to hold him? How could I not suffer at the sight of him when my heart had not yet said goodbye? As long as I stayed here in this wooded clearing, I could pretend that our conversation was no more than a nightmare from which I would soon wake to a more pleasant dream.

Indeed I could hardly grasp what had just occurred and the speed at which my life had shattered took my breath away. How could my hobbit leave me like this when I was sure that he still loved me? How could he have been willing to cause us both such pain?

It simply didn't make any sense because Bilbo had obviously been hurt by his words as much as I was and remembering the sorrow in his eyes made my own heart bleed fresh. Why would he destroy us like this and how did he discover that dwarves love only once? Why does no one believe me when I tell them that I know what I want?

Yet for all my recriminations, I could not truly blame him because I should have been the one to tell my hobbit what our love would cost. I should have been there with Bilbo to support him through the shock of learning the endless grief his death would cause. So I could not hate my love for wanting to spare me heartbreak, no matter how badly his intentions had gone wrong.

I had never been able to hate people even when I should and Fíli used to chastise me for feeling too much too keenly. Indeed my brother used to rebuke me for putting other's happiness before my own and I always thought it was a great hypocrisy because what he truly meant was that I should listen to my family's demands alone. But it was true enough because despite my small rebellions, Bilbo was the first thing I had chosen for myself since I could remember and if he had truly wanted to leave me, I would have let him go without a fight.

Yet my hobbit had not been happy when he said his goodbye and I was done living my life by what others thought was right.

Whatever grief Bilbo had hoped to spare me was already tearing at my chest and so what did I have to lose by fighting to convince him of his error? I had to make him understand that I preferred to let our love burn fiercely, short and swift though it may be, rather than attempt to smother it and live forever with cold embers in my heart. I had to make Bilbo see that this was not just some foolish infatuation, no matter what my brother wished to think, and that I had made my choice with open eyes.

But not tonight, tonight I grieved for those first golden days of love and laughter which I had hoped would never end. Tonight I walked back into our camp and felt my hopes die a little more when my hobbit would not even meet my gaze. He had become my solace and my sanctuary and now I was bereft, the walls of my heart shattered and defenseless against the desolate chill of my despair.

So I curled up alone by the fire and prayed desperately that tomorrow would be a better day.

---

It was not.

When I awoke it took me a moment to remember what had happened and why there was no hobbit sleeping at my side. But when I did my grief rose anew, an icy hand clenching in my chest and it was all I could do not to weep again.

However, as much as I might wish to fall into despair once more, I had to be strong and so I forced myself to rise and face the day, though every time Bilbo walked away from me was another dagger in my heart. He was the only one I wished to speak with but he simply wouldn't listen to me and now I knew how my brother must have felt these last few weeks.

Not that I was ready to forgive him either because while he tried, he could not hide his pleasure at the loss that I now faced and my empathy did not extend that far. Indeed the first words Fíli said to me were, “I warned you,” and after that I refused to listen anymore. So just as my hobbit avoided my gaze, I avoided my brother and the rest of our company could only stare on in confusion at our odd and awkward dance.

However, despite my grief I still meant to keep my promise for in some things blood ran true. A Durin's word was his bond, even that of a Durin who was the shame of his family, and thus I would tell no one the true reason for my pain.

Not until we reclaim Erebor. Only then will I be free of my duties to live the life I want and yet what is the point if I don't have Bilbo at my side?

This thought came near to destroying me again and while I knew that they were worried, I made myself avoid the rest of our company as well. While they might offer comfort, with my mask in shambles the slightest kindness could shatter my resolve and the results would not be merciful. Either I would break my word and beg my hobbit to reclaim me where everyone could see or I would give up on love entirely to pretend forever that I was whom my brother wished that I could be. And no matter which way I fell, I would hate myself for who I had become.

So instead I threw myself into packing, hoping that busy hands might clear my mind and truly we needed to be prepared. While this whole quest had been one near-death experience after another, there was something different about this forest and as I stared into the trees, I shivered at the sheer malevolence I felt. This part of our travels would be a test of our resolve and I wasn't sure if I could pass it with mine already weakening, particularly when Gandalf chose that moment to say goodbye.

Our wizard announced quite suddenly that he had business to the North and although my uncle argued vehemently against this abandonment, the other could not be swayed. So there was fear visible on my companions' faces, the same fear that already stirred within my heart and I did not know how we would survive the coming days.

Even my dear egotistic brother seemed shaken by the wizard's loss and as we finally walked beneath the trees, Fíli poured out his worries in my ears. These worries were well-founded for doom must truly stalk the world if Gandalf now considered Smaug a lesser threat and no matter the heartbreak that I faced, I still did not wish to die. So I listened carefully in order to be prepared for whatever danger the future brought and because for the first time in weeks Fíli was discussing something other than the many reasons why Bilbo was a mistake.

While I knew that my brother still believed my love was wrong, perhaps we could repair our bond somehow and though I walked away this time, our conversation gave me hope within my grief because it was proof that he still saw me as a an ally against the cold uncaring world.

It gave me hope that he might realize what his stubbornness would cost and that one day we would be brothers once again, Fíli learning to accept if not approve of the path I wished to trod. Though first I had to convince Bilbo to walk it with me and I swore I would not rest until my hobbit took me back into his arms.

Yet he would not.

With every day that passed without a hint of reconciliation, I lost more of my hope and the oppressive atmosphere of the Mirkwood began to wear me down. For Bilbo still refused to listen, fleeing whenever I approached and although my pain eventually eased enough that I could have worn my mask again, I simply didn't have the heart. I didn't have the heart to pretend that things were fine when my every breath was still bleeding and I avoided talking to the others so I didn't have to lie.

However they still noticed, of course they did for the change was obvious to anyone who knew us and none of them were blind. But to my surprise rather than asking questions that I could not - would not - answer, they simply began to help us in whatever ways they could.

Bofur was the first who tried to ease our sorrow, walking at my side to keep the loneliness away and it warmed my heart to see him do the same for Bilbo as well. His friendly presence was a comfort and if I had not promised Fíli otherwise, I might have told him of my grief because if anyone would be sympathetic it was Bofur, sharing my inclinations as he did. However, my oath kept my voice silent and perhaps this was for the best since sympathy did not mean support when the hammer fell.

Still I appreciated the effort and as each of my company came forward in turn, I thanked Mahal for the friends I had been given, friends who cared to notice the sorrow in my heart.

So I accepted gratefully when Ori gifted each of us with a new scarf to keep the chill at bay and my voice might have become choked as Bifur placed a finely carved wooden figurine into my hand. It was the image of my mother and I tucked it carefully into the folds of my tunic so that even if my choice cost me my family someday soon, I would still have this.

That night when I tried to speak to Bilbo once again I saw him holding a figure of his own, the great tree of Hobbiton standing tall upon his palm. It was a piece of his home, a symbol of the life I had hoped we'd make together and the sight of it brought fresh tears to my eyes.

However before I could sink back into despair, Dori was at my side and suddenly I was wrapped up by the fire, a steaming cup of tea placed in my hands. For the rest of that evening I was distracted from my pain by Balin who began spinning tales of dwarvish myth and history until even Bilbo was drawn from his depressed shell. This was the first time I had seen my hobbit smile since he had said farewell and an ache grew in my chest as I wondered if my brother might be right and everyone really would be happier if I just left him alone.

Perhaps he truly does need to forget me in order to find peace. Hobbits can love more than once and maybe if I were not holding him back, he would be able to find a love that would not bring him pain. Yet everything Bilbo had told me about Hobbiton had painted a picture of loneliness to match my own and I could not believe that he would actually be happy without me there.

I could not believe it or I would not believe it, it did not make a difference in the end because even if it was selfish of me I refused to let my hobbit go without a fight. Not until he had crushed my heart to pieces and all my hope was gone.

However tonight I would not bother Bilbo anymore because I could not bear to see his smile disappear, small and wistful though it was, and I fell asleep watching the soft curve of his mouth. Over the days that followed I was ever more grateful for our companions because they kept up a mission of distraction which allowed me the space to think and plan. For if left to my own devices I would have fallen quickly back to begging and the last days had shown me that this was ultimately futile if my hobbit would not listen to what I had to say.

So I waited instead, allowing Nori to pass the hours showing off his thievery and Óin to quiz me on the medicines he used. His brother tried to teach me to juggle nuts that we picked up off the ground and I poured my frustration into mastering the skill. When I couldn't stand the hidden worry in their eyes anymore, I would walk by Dwalin for he was the only one who still treated me the same.

Through it all I watched my hobbit, waiting for a moment when my words might reach his heart and ensuring that he was not unprotected despite the distance which he kept. Through it all I dodged my brother because Fíli still radiated smugness when he tried to speak to me of Bilbo, a smugness that infuriated me when I gave it any mind. So I did my best to disregard him, staying on my guard whenever he drew near and ignoring the hint of satisfaction in his smile just as I tried to dismiss the displeased glances uncle sent my way.

However, Thorin was the easier of the two to ignore because we had never been as close as Fíli and I once were and I had already told him where I stood. Besides he had other worries on his mind for with every step our company took toward the Lonely Mountain, my uncle was reminded of the battle still to come and the whispers which lived within the Mirkwood spoke of failure and of death.

All of us could hear these murmurs and felt the presence of living shadows in the dark, but the words resonated most deeply with my uncle for they carried his greatest fears upon the wind and as our leader our lives were in his hands.

My life as well and although I did not wish to live in Erebor, I knew I would die for it if necessary and I only hoped that I could reconcile with my hobbit before that moment came. If it came, but considering the enemy we faced, it was looking all too likely and I wondered how Bilbo could worry that his age would break me when neither of us might live out the year.

Yet despite this truth, our reunion remained elusive and whatever fear had caused my love to reject me remained a stubborn shield around his heart. In fact, to my surprise it was the separation with my brother that first began to heal because against the evil of the Mirkwood all disagreements had to fade.

---

It began with a river blocking our path, a stagnant and putrid thing like no water I had ever seen before. Although the stream seemed shallow, it was far too wide to jump and no one wished to risk wading it when its flow gave off such hate. Instead uncle ordered us to search for another way across and it was not long before I spied a boat tethered to the far shore.

As I pointed it out to the others, I met Fíli's eyes and for a moment all was right between the two of us again. This was a problem we could solve together and for the first time since he had confronted me about my love for Bilbo, there was no judgment in my brother's gaze. There was only pride and he handed me his rope before I could even open my mouth to ask because he already knew what I would say.

The shot was difficult, not for its distance but for its precision and for the line tied to the end of my arrow which increased its weight. But Fíli stood by me with a quiet confidence that steadied my hands and when I released the bowstring, my arrow flew swift and true.

Indeed it landed precisely where I wanted it, traveling through the mooring ring on the prow of the boat and lodging there so that my brother and I could drag our new vessel to this shore. While it was certainly old, the boat appeared sturdy, cutting easily through the water, and it should serve to keep those carried within free from whatever taint the river held. The two of us were the lightest and most nimble of our company, other than Bilbo who lacked our strength, so we paddled across first, securing a line over the river to ease the others' passage.

From there the road was smooth for our company pulled themselves along the rope in twos and threes and when most of them had crossed the water, I dared to hope that we would pass this obstacle unscathed. By this point only uncle and Bombur remained to travel onward becauseThorin would never run for cover before those he led were safe and we watched nervously as the pair stepped in the boat.

The vessel creaked beneath the chef's considerable weight and he settled carefully in the bottom so that uncle could pull them both across. Without Bombur's aid it was slow going but he would have caused more harm than good in the attempt. As they drew toward us inch by inch, I stood with my bow drawn and ready, watching for anything which might choose to attack them while they could not defend. However, everything appeared to be fine for the pair neared the shore with no surprises and I was about to relax when the boat began to crack beneath their feet.

Fíli yelled for uncle to cut the far end of the rope so that we could pull them forward and our company dragged them in as fast as we could. However it was not quite fast enough, for while Thorin managed to jump to safety, the wood split before Bombur could do the same and the other dwarf fell into the river with a splash.

The moment his skin touched the water, the chef's eyes rolled up in his head and all we could do was watch as he crumpled, sinking like a stone. But before he could disappear forever, I moved to my brother's side and we used the remaining rope to drag our companion up onto the bank.

As soon as Bombur was fully on dry land, Óin ran forward and I stepped back to give our healer room. When I did, my gaze fell on the hobbit who was watching us with an expression of shocked horror and for the first time in nearly two weeks, my love met my eyes.

There was such pain there, pain and sorrow beneath the fear and for the first time I had proof that Bilbo was suffering from our separation just as much as me. Yet this revelation was not a comfort and when he looked away again, it was a sharp reminder of the rift I could not heal. I turned back to see my brother watching me and with this fresh wound upon my heart, I suddenly could not bear the thought of reconciliation. If Fíli had his wish both Bilbo and I would suffer like this forever and it seemed obscene that he could wish this pain on anyone, let alone his flesh and blood.

So I turned away from him again, the small connection we had reformed now breaking and it hurt nearly as much this second time. But then Óin cried out that while Bombur seemed unharmed he would not wake and we could not leave him there.

Instead Thorin ordered us to create a litter with which to carry our fallen companion and we pressed on through the gloom. However our already slow pace suffered beneath the extra weight and as our supplies started to dwindle, we began to lose the fight against despair. For we could not leave Bombur without betraying everything our people stood for, but at the same time I feared that our stubborn honor would cost us all our lives and I could see this same knowledge in my uncle's gaze.

However Thorin had never been one for compromising so I also knew that there was no other choice - we would either win free of the Mirkwood with all of our companions or we would die here in this hell beneath the trees. We would die here for our honor and while I had always known that my duty might cost my life one day, the thought that it might take Bilbo's was almost more than I could bear.

Thus the day that Bombur woke was a bright spot within the darkness and when we made camp that evening it was a far more joyful group than it had been in days past. Particularly since even the few bits of food which we had left tasted far better when prepared by our chef's skillful hands.

So that night when Fíli sat down next to me again I decided to wait and see what he had to say, hoping that this had shown him the importance of family ties. Yet the moment he placed his hand on my arm and looked at me with steely determination, I somehow knew this would not be the case. And I was right.

“I am sorry for your pain, brother. But it is for the best.” He said, words meant to be a comfort and yet nothing of the sort.

That was it, that was the apology that I've been waiting for? That was really the best that you could do? I thought, stiffening in anger and then in sorrow as I realized that his opinion had not changed at al. So I asked him how he could believe that. I asked him, “How is this for the best?”

For some reason Fíli seemed startled by my question, did you truly think I would not challenge such a claim? Grief has not broken me just yet, and my brother shifted uncomfortably beneath my gaze. This time when he told me his reasoning I would listen and once I knew how far gone he was, I would decide what I should do. But when he finally answered it was in an awkward stammer which struck a strange chord in my mind. “Well, uh, because... Because you'll have your family and your people and someday you'll find love again and you'll grow old together. I am sure of it.”

Something about the words sounded familiar and I tried to remember where exactly I had heard that phrase before. And then I realized, that was what Bilbo had told me on the night he broke my heart. He had used those exact words and how could my brother have known that unless he had been there? He had been there watching us and rage ignited in my chest as I realized why that must have been.

“It was you!” I snarled, caught between fury and horror as I realized the magnitude of what he must have done. He was the one who told Bilbo the dark side of our future; he was the one who convinced him that he should say farewell.

So before Fíli could gather his thoughts to lie to me again, I grabbed him by his coat and yanked him forward, demanding that he give me the truth. “What did you tell him? What did you do?!”

“I did what I had to do to protect you from making a terrible mistake! You were going to ruin your life.” With these words my brother proved my fears beyond all doubt and proved that he felt no remorse for his actions, the fury in his voice fanning my own.

“So you decided to ruin it for me?!” I gripped him tighter as a wave of hate washed over me and there must have been murder in my eyes for he recoiled as if struck. “I will never forgive you for this. You are no longer my brother, you are no longer my friend and when this quest is over you will not be my liege. Take care of yourself Fíli for I will not watch your back.”

It was a vow and a promise, our bond shattered by his actions and my words. He had betrayed me worse than any enemy, lies hidden behind a smile and an unyielding vision of what he thought was right. And I hated him for it, in this moment I hated Fíli more than anyone whom I had ever known.

Perhaps one day I would be able to forgive him but at the moment there was nothing but the red haze which filled my vision and his obvious confusion only increased my rage. How could he not understand what he had done to me? How could he look at me as though my fury was irrational when he had sabotaged the one true desire of my heart?

How could my brother do this to me when I would have died to protect him and anyone he chose to love? So when Fíli opened his mouth to protest, I opened mine to cut him off, but before either of us could do more than whisper, something landed heavily upon my back.

It was a spider, a giant monstrous spider which bit into my neck and I could see more of them dropping down on our companions from the trees. I shoved Fíli away and shouted a warning as best I could but the world was going dark around the edges of my vision and the last thing I saw was my uncle facing off against the beasts.

---

“Kíli! Kíli, wake up. Can you hear me? Are you all right?” The voice sounded like my hobbit, sharp and worried, but it couldn't be him for Bilbo had not talked to me in weeks. Am I dreaming... or dead? I wondered as I realized that I couldn't move my limbs. But how could a hobbit be here in Mahal's halls?

Then there was a warm hand against my cheek and when I finally pried my eyes open, my hobbit was there, hovering over me with concern stamped upon his face.

“Bilbo, what happened?” I asked muzzily, warmth growing in my chest at the love which I could feel in his gaze. My head was still heavy but sensation was returning to my body even as my memory of the last few days began to clear.

“Spiders. Remember?” My hobbit asked while he helped me to my feet, the sight of web wrapped bodies hanging from the trees bringing the ambush to the forefront of my mind. “I escaped with my ring when they attacked and followed them back here to their lair. I couldn't stop them from taking you but I managed to lure them into an ambush of my own.”

Bilbo waved one hand toward the edge of the grove and as my eyes cleared I saw a pile of corpses, spiders laying cold and dead upon the ground. There must have been at least half a dozen and I was filled anew with admiration for this hobbit who lived such endless courage and for one brief moment, he returned my smile.

But then he must have remembered our last conversation because his smile disappeared and he stood quickly, once more refusing to meet my eyes. “I need to go cut down the others.” Bilbo muttered, staring fixedly at the ground. As he began to walk away I could feel my love slipping through my fingers and I knew that I had to talk to him now or I might never have another chance to change his mind.

“Wait! Bilbo, please wait!” I reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him back around to face me. “Please, you have to believe me. Whatever Fíli told you isn't true. My brother lied!”

“Lied? Why would he...?” Bilbo's voice was more confused than convinced but he stopped pulling against my hold and when he finally met my eyes there was an openness there which I hadn't seen in weeks. “He said that dwarves only love once in their lives and that to love another male is forbidden, even more than you had said. He told me that if we continued to be together you would be separated from your family, banished and alone for the rest of your life. I couldn't let that happen...”

He would have continued but I laid my fingers across his mouth for I could imagine the rest myself and I did not want to hear it from his lips. This moment was about my love for Bilbo not my rage, and even imagining how Fíli must have convinced my hobbit that I would be better off without him was enough to make me growl.

So I kept my voice soft and earnest as I tried to repair the damage that my brother's words had wrought. “While it is true that dwarves only fall in love one time in our lives, it is far too late to spare me the grief of losing you. My heart already belongs to you and you cannot change that by casting me aside. So if we say goodbye now or in decades, I will grieve for you either way and I would rather have the joy of years together to warm me when you're gone.

Besides no matter how much my family may disapprove, no one is going to cast me out, except possibly my brother, and he will not be king for quite some time. Even if I am banished my heart will never change, for you are all the family that I need and when you pass on they will not leave me alone in my grief. I promise you, that is considered a worse crime by far. Fíli is trying to destroy us because he thinks you are not worthy of our name but he is wrong and I don't regret choosing you.”

“I- Are you sure?” Bilbo asked me and at the tentative hope in his voice I knew that my arguments had finally struck true. He finally believed how I felt about him and the wound across my heart might start to heal.

“I have never been more sure of anything,” I promised him, feeling a brilliant smile spread across my face. “I just want to live with you and love you for as long we have.”

“I love you too,” He whispered, at last saying the words which I had so dearly wished to hear. Then I leaned down and kissed my hobbit, wrapping my arms around him and savoring the feeling of rightness which I had started to fear I would never have again. And when Bilbo responded, lips sweet and welcoming against my own, all was finally as it should be in my world.

Yet while I could have happily kept kissing him forever, this was neither the time nor place for what I wished to do and eventually we had to part. So I placed one last kiss on the corner of his mouth and then drew my sword to help cut the rest of our companions down. Perhaps it would have gone faster if I had been willing to let Bilbo out of my sight for more than a moment but every dwarf we freed was one more set of hands and so it wasn't long before we were all reunited once again.

Or rather almost all of us. I didn't notice at first because I was listening to Bilbo explain the last few hours to Dwalin and his brother but when I finally looked up from their discussion, I realized that there was one member of our group whom I could not see. One dwarf who was missing and icy fingers wrapped around my heart.

So as soon as Balin paused for breath I spoke up and announced the truth I did not wish to know. “Thorin is missing.” I told him, a slight waver in my voice and soon the rest of our company had come to the same conclusion, gathering around us with panic in their eyes. At first this panic led to chaos as everyone yelled over each other, trying to be heard above the noise and I must admit that I was no better than the rest. For I had been on watch last night and if uncle had been killed by the spiders, the guilt of his death would be mine to bear.

“Enough!” A shouted command cut through the cacophony like an axe and shocked us to silence, all eyes turning toward the white-haired dwarf who stood glaring in our midst.

“We will accomplish nothing without a plan so calm down and start thinking about what we need to do. Now, Bilbo, you were the only one who avoided capture, what do you know of Thorin's fate?” Balin asked and everyone turned to my hobbit who met their expectant gazes and shrugged uncomfortably.

"I saw him fall to the spiders and he was carried off with the rest of you but I lost sight of the creatures for quite some time.  Thorin must have woken up somewhere along the way and escaped because only you twelve were here when I arrived. I know we must find him somehow but first we should leave this place and quickly, for though I killed many spiders there may be more of them hiding out there in the dark.”

He pointed toward the pile of corpses and it amused me to see shocked wonder dawning in our companions' eyes even as I took pride in his accomplishments. Serves you right for doubting him.

Certainly no one else had expected this despite his bravery against Azog and there was a long moment of silence as everyone simply gaped at the damage my hobbit's blade had done. Of them Balin recovered first, perhaps because he had always been more fond of Bilbo than the rest and his words were filled with admiration. “You have quite a sting on you laddie. But you are right and we should leave before more danger finds us. Let us backtrack along the spiders' trail and perhaps we shall find a sign of Thorin there.”

The plan was as sound as anything I could think of so our company gathered ourselves together to follow Bilbo back into the trees. Considering our recent ordeal I couldn't fault the speed of our progress but at the same time I chafed at every delay, worry for my uncle gnawing at my mind.

I wish I could say that my fear stemmed solely from the knowledge of my duty and the need to keep my family safe, but this claim would be a lie. For while this was part of my concern, I also could not ignore the voice in the back of my mind which screamed that if Thorin died this would make my brother king. Fíli would be king and I would certainly be banished with no hope of seeing my family anymore.

However, soon I had other worries for the path that Bilbo followed ended sharply in a gnarled and unbroken wall of trees and my hobbit laid a hand against one smooth wooden trunk as he muttered to himself.

"I don't understand, it should be here. It's as if the forest grew up just behind the spiders in order to cover up their path."

As mad as it sounded, my hobbit spoke truly for when we turned back our very footsteps had been erased and in all directions there was only the forest, as dangerous and trackless as the sea. Since we had little other choice, most of the company took this chance to rest and wrap their wounds while Balin pulled Bilbo and I aside.

He had uncle's map and the one Gandalf had drawn, given to him for safe-keeping and his skill at navigation, and so together we tried to make sense of where we stood. To be honest the dwarvish map was next to useless for its focus was solely on Erebor and all that it told us was that the Lonely Mountain stood to our east. Even the wizard's was little more than a scrawl, the scribbles of a path and a mass of wooded darkness and now that we had lost the trail, it might as well be written in Sindarin.

So it was up to me and Bilbo to divine our route and hope that we ran into my uncle somewhere along the way. Based on what my hobbit remembered about the spider's path, we had been carried roughly north-west from the trail so we at least knew the direction in which we should travel and I had always been able to feel north in my bones.

Thus between the two of us and our near useless maps we soon had a rough idea of the direction we should travel and Balin agreed that our reasoning was sound. Yet we were no closer to knowing the route my uncle might have taken for Thorin's sense of direction above ground had always been unique at best.

Yet our options were severely limited so all we could do was map the shortest route to Erebor and hope that Mahal would smile down on us. All we could do was hope that we would stumble upon my uncle through sheer blind luck and thus as soon as we had rested enough to take the edge off our exhaustion, our company set out into the dark once more.

---

Yet despite the troubles that plagued us, it was hard to keep from whistling for my hobbit was walking at my side once more. One small change and the world seemed completely different so neither my worry for my uncle nor the continuing gloom of the Mirkwood could bring my spirits down.

For what was danger, starvation or the possibility of being lost forever now that my heart might be whole once more? How could I fear anything when Bilbo smiled at me with such adoration in his gaze? It was almost like the beginning again, that first flush of love within my chest and it was even better now because I knew that my hobbit loved me in return.

He loved me and now that there were no more secrets between us, I was sure that nothing would ever be able to tear us apart again. Well other than the dragon, starvation or old age, but optimistic fool that I was, I decided to ignore those possibilities for now. They were in the future and I rather thought that I deserved some happiness after all the pain Fíli had caused.

Therefore when my whistling was interrupted by an elvish spear pointed at my throat, I was most definitely not happy. They appeared suddenly out of the trees a few days after Bilbo freed us from the spiders' clutches and even if we had not been exhausted, there would have been no fighting them. Not outnumbered, out-equipped and on the elves' home ground where they melted like ghosts into the mist.

My first thought was for Bilbo and as we closed ranks I shoved him behind me, using my height to keep him out of sight long enough for him to disappear. There was enough chaos as the elves wrestled twelve protesting dwarves to the rocky ground that they didn't seem to notice when our numbers diminished and I put on a show of struggling to help cover his escape.

For there was no reason to fight seriously when the effort could only be futile and indeed it wasn't long before all of us were bound. Bound, disarmed and at our captors' mercy and no dwarf with a lick of sense would be so foolish as to expect leniency from an elf.

Admittedly my days in Rivendell had shown me that some of their race could be trusted, but everyone knew Elrond Half-Elven was a special case and these elves were not making a great first impression.

At least Bilbo is free, I thought, holding tightly to this small relief as our captors began to speak above our heads. Languages had never been my gift so I could not understand what they were saying, but my companions' faces spoke louder than any words and I could see that whatever fate lay in store for us would probably not be kind.

Therefore I was not surprised when the elves dragged us to our feet and made us march onward through day and night, showing little sympathy for the weariness which slowed our pace. All attempts to rest were met with arrows or with spears and I could only hope that my hobbit was following for he had yet to give me a sign. Only when Ori finally collapsed in his tracks did our keepers allow our company to rest and I felt the featherlight touch of Bilbo's hand on mine.

It was brief, barely more than a second but it was all I needed to know that he was with me and so when Dwalin covertly signed, 'Where hobbit?' in Iglishmêk, I was able to reply, 'Escaped. Follows.' Some of my companions' worry eased with this message for even those who didn't like Bilbo knew the value of a ally of whom our guards were not aware.

This was all the discussion we had time for because just after my statement, the elves prodded us back to our feet and our march began again. We traveled for another day and into the evening before we finally reached the rotten heart of Mirkwood and stood in front of the elf king's hall.

It was a strange building, formed of living trees and water in the manner of Rivendell and yet it lacked the grace of Elrond's house. Instead the structure seemed almost twisted, its harmony distorted and there was no joy on the faces of those elves whom we passed by.

Our original captors seemed glad to be rid of us, handing our weapons and bonds over to the gate guards as quickly as possible before disappearing back into the woods. Only their captain remained, following the guards who led us into the depths of the hall and Balin signed, 'Say nothing,' as we paused before a pair of intricately carved doors.

“Captain Tauriel and prisoners to see the King,” his steward announced and then we were moving forward into the throne room, forced to kneel in front of Thranduil himself. Although many of my companions were nearly vibrating with rage at our treatment and the sight of the elf's hated face, I couldn't help but be interested to see my childhood boogeyman in the flesh. For while I had been raised on tales of how Mirkwood had abandoned our people on the day of our greatest need, Thranduil didn't look evil to my eyes.

Instead I rather thought that he looked tired, thin and worn around the edges in much the same way that my uncle had appeared whenever times were hard. Though the elf king also seemed to share my uncle's hate for when he finally spoke, Thranduil's voice was filled with naught but scorn.

“Tauriel, wherever did you find this ragged lot?” He asked his captain and while I was trying to keep an open mind, I must admit that the disdain in his words needled at my skin. I might have decided that not all elves were evil but that didn't mean that all of them were good, and these Mirkwood creatures were getting on my nerves. Particularly when the captain replied with a disparaging remark about our inability to walk through their woods without a sound.

If they make a crack about our weights like the elves in Rivendell I am actually going to snap, I thought to myself, though my annoyance was largely replaced with amusement as Balin stepped forward and somehow managed to insult Thranduil with every polite word he spoke.

They bantered for a few moments, hatred hidden beneath a diplomatic riposte as fierce as any battle, but we were hardly in a position to negotiate so as much as I enjoyed the show, I knew that we would lose. All our temporary leader could do was delay the moment of our judgment and given how Thranduil's eyes were narrowing, antagonizing the elf king was not helping our odds. But then our captor said something which put all thoughts of that danger from my mind.

For when Balin refused to tell him of our business, the elf asked haughtily, “Really? And if I told you that I had found one of your kinsmen, injured and alone, and granted him my hospitality, what would you tell me then?” There was only one dwarf whom that could be and a wave of relief washed over me at the knowledge that Thorin still lived and my brother was not king yet.

However, while this news raised all our spirits, it did nothing to change our situation and Thranduil once again demanded to know the quest that brought us here. Alhough this seemed a rather strange question considering that there was only one thing that would bring dwarves to these parts and surely the elf would have recognized my uncle from the days of Erebor?

Maybe he just wants to see us break, I thought to myself and indeed he truly seemed to enjoy having us in his power, though the gleam in his eyes was fast replaced by rage when Balin once again refused to bend.

"Our business is ours and ours alone.  Our mouths are sealed against your threats and we will gladly accept the hospitality of your cells for we have the strength to keep our oaths." The dwarf told him, head held high, and while I was positive that this would not end well, I knew that I would have done the same. Dwarves were not known for their willingness to give in to ultimatums and those of Durin's line tended to be the stubbornest of all.

Though as it turned out I was right, for the next words out of Thranduil's mouth were no peaceful benediction. “If you will not speak then you are liars, fools, or thieves and whichever it may be, you deserve your fate...” The elf proclaimed, eyes cold and hard as the finest steel. “Take them to the dungeons and let them rot there until they change their minds.”

At this command his guards dragged us to our feet and out of the throne room, leading us ever downward into the earth. When we reached the dungeons, the elves searched us one last time before I was separated from my companions and shoved into a small stone cell, the door slamming shut behind me.

---

Despite the horrors of my imagination, the worst part of our captivity was actually the boredom for the days passed without ever seeing anyone except the one silent elf who brought me my food. Perhaps the others were being interrogated or even tortured but no one bothered to ask me any questions and I started talking to myself just to hear the sound.

During the early days escape was my first concern, escape and worry for Bilbo who had only his ring to protect him from our fate. However, it didn't take long to discover that without the proper tools or a miracle I would not be leaving this place without the elves' consent. Even the door, often a weak point in shoddy constructions, was more than three inches thick and had its hinges on the outside where I simply could not reach. And where I had hoped that I might escape when my meals were brought, I was not yet desperate enough to charge a crossbow and my guard was careful to keep me in his sights.

So I worried and I paced and I recited all the old songs I could remember and wondered how long it would take me to go mad. If Thranduil intended to keep us here until his questions were answered, then I would likely never see the sun again and I was having trouble adjusting to that fact. Maybe if I were a proper dwarf it would not have bothered me, but I was not and that was that.

Yet I could not tell the elf king what he wished to hear without breaking the oaths which I had sworn and while my family would likely disown me anyway, when the truth came out I needed to be able to face them with my head held high. So although Fíli could rot for all I cared, I was not ready to betray my uncle yet, not without much greater cause. However, while Thorin had his hate to sustain him, I had not made it past dislike and that was not enough to keep the walls from closing in.

It was Bilbo who saved me from despair for I would not have lasted much longer on my own and while the elves had left me no weapons, even walls could be deadly in the right circumstance.

I was asleep when he finally found me and his voice drew me from my nightmares, chasing away the darkness and the mist. When I opened my eyes to see his worried face, peering at me through the bars within the door, I first thought that I must still be dreaming but my hobbit was warm and flesh beneath my hands.

“Bilbo, love. I was worried about you.” I told him, relief welling up in my chest as I stroked his cheek as best I could. It was a little awkward since the space in the door was set at elvish height not ours, but I would have done far worse than this to touch my love again. “Are you all right?”

“Shouldn't I be asking you that?” He replied, raising his eyebrows and I had to smile faintly at the familiar sight. “I'm not the one locked up in the dungeons, am I? But I'm sorry it took so long to find you, this place is a maze and even with my ring it's hard to remain undetected.”

I wanted to kiss him desperately, to wrap him in my arms and hold on tight until my heart could believe that he was real. But instead I had to content myself with joining our hands together and letting his voice wash my fears away. Yet as much as I would have liked to stand there with him for hours, it would not be long until my guard returned.

“Have you found the others?” I asked, turning my mind toward escape once more. Now that my hobbit was here we had a chance and nothing was going to stop me from holding him again.

“Most of them. No one seems to be injured either, just bored out of their minds.” Bilbo answered with a slight grin. “I haven't managed to find Thorin, Fíli or Dwalin yet though I should run into them soon. These dungeons are enormous and the elves have you all scattered about but there aren't that many more places for me to look.”

“All right then. I suppose I should let you go find them so we can start planning our escape.” I said reluctantly and although my hobbit seemed just as loath to leave me again, Bilbo knew that I was right. So we untangled our hands and he dropped back down to the floor, though I didn't move from my position until he replaced his ring and disappeared before my eyes.

“I'll be back as soon as I can,” My hobbit promised as he left the chamber and I tried not to worry about him out there on his own. It's not like I could do anything to help without a ring of my own, I told myself but it was still a huge weight off my shoulders when he returned a few hours later with the news that he had found the rest of my kin.

From then on the days had purpose once more for Bilbo would visit me when he wasn't passing messages for uncle and together we mapped out a plan. My hobbit had already discovered where the keys were held but he could hardly lead us out the way we came and the guards would need to be distracted before we could make our move. However, when he stumbled upon a river running through the cellar, a river upon which all trade to Laketown flowed, this was the largest problem solved.

I wasn't sure how exactly my hobbit planned to use it considering that neither he nor the majority of our companions knew how to swim, but I trusted him to figure something out. So now we simply had to wait until the perfect moment, though as the days dragged on I began to wonder if it would ever come.

To distract myself from these thoughts I focused instead on Bilbo and we spent many hours talking about whatever crossed our minds. While I still wished that I could touch him properly, even his presence was a comfort and these conversation gave me something to look forward to each day.

Although I was less than pleased on the morning when my hobbit greeted me with this confession: “So I've been talking to your brother.” He said as casually he might comment on the weather and I was too shocked by the statement to do more than whisper, “Why?”

“I wanted to know what he was thinking. I wanted to know if there was a chance that he would come around.” Bilbo said and I just gave a bitter laugh.

“I could have answered that. Fíli thinks he knows what's best for me and he's not going to change his mind no matter how often I try to tell him what I want.”

“But he's your family. Even if he's been horrible and he has, how can you just give up on him?” My hobbit asked and it was all I could do not to scream at him for taking my brother's side.

“I'm not giving up on him, he's the one who's giving up on me. I've tried to change his mind for months without success and I am done sacrificing my happiness in order to make my family happy. That's what I've done for my whole life and what has it gotten me other than a brother who doesn't know and doesn't care about who I really am? Do you want me to leave you like you left me? Because that's the only way that he is ever going to speak to me as his brother again.”

“No! Kíli, of course I don't. I just want to understand” Bilbo told me and I felt my anger dissipate into guilt at the pain in his eyes. Dammit brother, now even I'm hurting him because of you. I clasped his hand in apology and turned the conversation to lighter things but I should have known that my hobbit would not give up so easily.

Indeed the next day he brought up Fíli again and the truth in his words made my heart ache for better days. “He just wants to protect you, you know. He loves you and he doesn't want to see you hurt even if he's going about it all wrong.”

“I know that.” I told him with a sigh. Bilbo was never let this go unless I explained things properly and I did not want him to feel guilty over something that was not his fault. “I know Fíli loves me but that only makes things worse because I can't even hate him anymore. However, while I know that he meant well, this doesn't mean I will ever forgive him for caring more about my reputation than my heart.

So you see, there's really nothing to be done. Until Fíli understands how he has wronged me I cannot accept him as my brother anymore and you cannot force remorse into his mind. He must come to this himself or not at all and honestly, I think not is far more likely now. Besides even if I don't hate him, I am still furious and it will be some time before I can bear to look him in the eye.”

Although I could see that Bilbo understood my point, I fully expected him to keep trying to change my brother's mind but as he never mentioned it again, I knew he must have failed. Despite anticipating this outcome from the start, it still hurt to see it made reality and so I was grateful when Bilbo finally said that it was time for us to leave these walls behind.

---

He ran up to my cell that night, keys dangling from his hand and in a breathless rush explained that Thranduil was throwing a party which all his guards were required to attend. So the dungeons would be empty long enough for us to flee and after one quick kiss we ran on to find the others, Bilbo leading us down to the cellar in twos and threes.

When our entire company was gathered, my hobbit explained that we would be escaping in wine barrels on the river and although no one looked very happy about the method, none of them complained. So once Bilbo was satisfied that we knew the plan, he went to try and find our weapons, while the rest of us began to pack ourselves away.

The barrels were large enough that everyone fit easily if not comfortably and by the time our burglar returned, we were prepared to leave. Unfortunately he could not reach most of our weapons but at least we would not be entirely unarmed and when Bilbo handed me by bow, I almost kissed him then and there. Somehow I managed to restrain myself, instead stroking his cheek gently and hoping that he could read the thanks in my eyes. Though I had never before been so happy that it was a short bow by most people's standards until I was crammed into a barrel with it shoved in at my side.

Then Bilbo eased the lid closed gently and with a splash, we were on our way to freedom at last. The trip was unpleasant in the extreme for every bump slammed me against the side of the cask and my bow was digging into me hard enough to bruise. However, I would have endured much worse than wet and cold and dark to see the sky again so I simply braced myself as best I could.

I wasn't sure exactly how much time had passed by the time my barrel thumped into the shore and when my hobbit released me, I spent a long moment just laying on the ground. Everyone else was in similar shape as they staggered out of the river, a green tinge on their faces to match my own. However, now that we were free, my sickness was easing quickly and when Bilbo helped me to my feet I felt almost like my old self again.

At least I did until I turned once more to the east and saw our goal, a dark shadow rising high above the plain. It towered over everything, even the enormous lake and the town that stood upon it, and once I saw it I could not look away.

While most of my companions were overjoyed to see the Lonely Mountain now so close, I did not feel the same delight that sang within their hearts. For Erebor was not my home and though reclaiming it would free me, all freedom had its cost. Yet it had its rewards as well, so I wrapped an arm around my hobbit and swore to myself that whatever our future held, I would choose love over all other things and live without regret.


Part IV: Schism - Section A