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Title: Comes Wisdom in Defeat
Chapter II: Prologue - Part 1
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo
Warnings: angst, lots of unrequited love, more angst
Word Count: 4773 (11,606 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit it would be an even bigger tragedy
Summary: Kíli is the only Durin to survive the Battle of the Five Armies but when his world falls into darkness, the Valar grant him one chance to make things right.

Chapter I: Epilogue


Then Kíli woke up.

The archer shot upright, patting his chest frantically for any sign of the injury that had claimed his life. But there was nothing, nothing but smooth skin and a phantom pain that was already fading fast beneath his hands.

“Are you all right, Kí? Did you have a nightmare?”

The dwarf turned at the question and when he saw his brother, all thought of his death was forgotten instantly. Because Fíli was there, hale and hearty and staring at him worriedly, and this must be the afterlife of which he'd dreamed.

So Kíli lurched forward to hug his brother, wrapping his arms around Fíli's neck and holding on as tight as he could.

“I've missed you so much,” the archer whispered, burying his head in Fíli's shoulder as other dwarf stroked his back soothingly. His brother was murmuring comforting nonsense into Kíli’s hair just as he used to do when they were younger and Kíli wanted nothing more than to remain here until the end of days.

But eventually Fíli nudged him back, wiping away the tears that had trailed down the archer’s cheek. “Don’t cry little brother. You were dreaming, quite a nightmare by the sound of it, but you’re awake now and everything is fine. Truly, you needn't worry, Kíli. I know that our quest will be dangerous but we can conquer anything as long as we’re together and I am certain that we will be all right.”

But we weren't, Kíli thought, a dawning horror filling him as he finally glanced around. This place was familiar, far too familiar even though his memory had dimmed with the weight of passing years.

This was the clearing in which he and Fíli had camped before they reached Hobbiton – he remembered that strange crooked tree stump because it looked like their uncle – and unless Mahal had a sick sense of humor, this could not be the afterlife. Indeed, now that Kíli was no longer blinded by the joy of their reunion, the dwarf realized that his brother was also far younger than he should be by now. Fíli looked no older than he had been on the day that Bolg had killed him and although he feared he knew the answer, the archer had to ask:

“Which quest, Fíli? Of which quest do you speak?”

His brother was definitely puzzled by this question, the dwarf giving him a look that was usually reserved for Kíli's stupider drunken antics before answering. “I’m talking about the journey to reclaim Erebor, of course. You know, uncle's dream and our legacy? You were excited yesterday, little brother; are you sure that you're all right?”

“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine; just tired, I guess,” Kíli mumbled vaguely, his mind caught on the idea of a yesterday that had been so very long ago. If this was not some awful nightmare then the archer did not know what he would do because he had been free, free from his grief and his duty and his failures, and he would shatter if he had to watch his family die again.

But maybe I don't, the once-king realized, a sudden flicker of hope piercing his despair. If I have truly been sent back through the years by some strange magic, maybe I can save them all this time.

So the dwarf forced himself to breathe evenly until his panicked thoughts stopped racing and he was able to rationally consider the road ahead again. Kíli might not be able to remember every detail of their journey, but the dangers had been rather difficult to forget and, in truth, he wasn’t too worried about those encounters that his company had managed to survive. It was the Battle of the Five Armies that troubled the once-king, but now that he knew it was coming, surely he would be able to turn their fates aside. Surely Kíli could save Thorin and Fíli with enough preparation and he was certain that Erebor would reach new heights of splendor once her rightful king was crowned.

However, the archer must first convince his brother that he had not gone crazy and honestly, he wasn't entirely sure that he was sane. Because this was impossible, everything about this was impossible, and yet if the Valar had truly granted Kíli a chance to alter history, the dwarf would do anything to see that his kin survived.

Which, at the moment, meant plastering a smile on his face and trying to remember how he had acted when young and untroubled by his own foolishness. It was difficult since the once-king had not been so carefree for decades but with some concentration he managed to find that place again. Indeed, Kíli wrapped his younger self around his thoughts like a mask and when Fíli finally relaxed, the dwarf knew that he'd gotten the grin right.

A little crooked, far too cheerful, and loudly confident, this smile was a lie upon his face and the archer hoped that this facade would hold once they’d joined the rest of the company. For Kíli could not tell the other dwarves the truth; they would think that he was raving and force him to stay behind. No, the once-king must pretend to be his former self while working to save his kinsfolk and perhaps it would be easier to laugh and grin with time. Perhaps he might actually become that joyful dwarf again.

So the archer settled down to rest at his brother’s urging, Fíli scooting his bedroll closer so that they were pressed back to back. However, despite the comforting weight of his brother’s body, Kíli had difficulty sleeping because he could not shake the fear that this was some strange dying hallucination and he would wake alone again. For any dwarf who had not earned a place in the halls of his fathers was doomed to wander in the darkness and the once-king’s failures had always seemed far heavier than his successes in the scale upon his heart.

But eventually Kíli worried himself into an exhausted slumber and when he opened his eyes in the morning, his surroundings had not changed. If this was not real then it was so close that the dwarf could not risk doubting and so he told himself to stop questioning the hand that brought him here.

Because it did not matter how or why the once-king had been transported to the beginning of their journey; the only thing which mattered was that he did not waste this opportunity.

However, before Kíli could save anyone, he would have to readjust to his own body for when the dwarf stood, his whole world spun in place. Every step felt off, his center of balance shifted just enough to make him wobble, and Kíli hadn't realized that he had changed so much throughout the years. But now the archer felt positively gangly, like a newborn foal taking those first shaky steps upon the plain, and if the battle were to occur tomorrow, Kíli would be nothing but a liability.

So maybe this is why I was sent back to the beginning, the once-king thought, thanking the Valar that he would have time to prepare. He would need a steady arm and certain aim when Bolg came for his uncle and at the moment, he had neither to his name.

At least his bow was familiar since Kíli had used the same one for decades – barring that brief period before Thranduil had returned it – but when he pulled back the string to test it, he could feel the weakness in his arm. The dwarf’s arrows would fly with neither the speed nor force that he was used to and it would take at least a few hours of concentrated practice to accommodate the difference in his aim.

However, that practice would have to wait because his brother was already making impatient noises by their ponies, Fíli having packed up camp while the archer fiddled with his gear.

“Hurry up, will you?” the older dwarf demanded when his patience finally ran out. “We're supposed to meet the rest of the company at our burglar's house this evening and we still have a fair distance left to travel now.”

“Right, of course, our burglar,” Kíli agreed vaguely as he tried to remember where he had left his whetstone and his fiddle when they’d made camp. It might have been last night for Fíli but it was a long, long time ago for him and these little details hadn’t exactly stuck his memory. In fact, his pack was something of a shambles at the moment since the once-king had utterly forgotten which items were supposed to go in which pockets and he’d just about decided to deal with the mess later when his brother’s words finally registered.

Durin’s beard, he means Bilbo! My dear hobbit is alive and well again. Kíli couldn’t believe that he had forgotten about their burglar – though, in his defense, waking up back in the Westlands had been something of a shock – and now that he’d been reminded, the day seemed twice as bright.

For the once-king would have a second chance at love as well as family and he promised himself that he wouldn’t let it pass him by this time. Truthfully, Kíli had been dreaming of what he should have said for decades, a hundred conversations with Bilbo held only in his mind, and surely in this lifetime, the dwarf could finally get it right.

Surely the hobbit must have loved him dearly to make the sacrifice he did and the archer would have months to regain that love again.

So Kíli finished the rest of his packing in record time before mounting his own pony and if his brother was startled by the abrupt change in his demeanor, Fíli didn’t mention it. Instead the other dwarf just smiled indulgently when Kíli urged him to ride faster, the two of them arriving in Hobbiton earlier than planned.

However, this still wasn’t fast enough for the once-king and he practically leaped out of his saddle when they reached the bottom of the hill where Bilbo lived. Indeed, Kíli’s hands were shaking so hard that he had trouble tying up his pony and if Fíli hadn’t already been waiting for him when he finished, he might have left the other dwarf behind. Because Gandalf's symbol seemed brighter than he remembered, the rune on Bilbo’s door calling to him like a beacon in the darkness, or perhaps that was just the archer's anticipation twisting his perceptions round.

Yet some things were not subjective and as they walked closer, Kíli saw that Bag End was just as grand in this lifetime as it was in his memory. The smial claimed pride of place near the top of the hillside, that familiar green door framed by a verdant garden, and in this moment, the once-king truly understood what Bilbo had given up.

Their burglar had had a home, one that was snug and comfortable, and yet he had risked everything to help a band of strangers reclaim their own. Bilbo could have refused them, he could have turned back instead of facing death and dragon fire, and the dwarf was filled with a new determination to repay the debt he owed.

Their hobbit was going to know that someone loved him - that someone appreciated his snark and his courage - and this time no one would be dying before the gates of Erebor.

So Kíli fully intended to be suave and charming and sweep Bilbo off his feet like he’d always imagined, but when the door to Bag End finally swung open, his mind went blank instead. Because his hobbit was standing there framed by candlelight and the once-king could hardly breathe for the sight of him. Short and slightly plump, with sharp eyes and soft curls just as the dwarf remembered, Bilbo was the most beautiful thing that Kíli had ever seen and the urge to kiss their burglar was almost more than he could bear.

However, the once-king managed to resist temptation for the moment, though his smile must have been a little crazy given the startled look that Bilbo sent his way.

“Kíli and Fíli, at your service,” the dwarves said with twin bows and Kíli could no more wipe the joy off his face than he could stop his internal wince when he called Bilbo “Mr. Boggins” by mistake. The sight of his hobbit had simply left him reeling, tongue tripping over his words in his haste to get them out.

Not that their burglar seemed to notice, Bilbo much too busy trying to shut the door in Kíli’s face to worry about a name.

“Nope, you can't come in. You've come to the wrong house,” the hobbit said and while the once-king knew it wasn’t personal – it couldn’t be personal when Bilbo had just met him – that knowledge didn’t stop a stab of hurt from lodging in his chest.

Indeed, Kíli’s voice was rather plaintive when he asked their burglar, “What? Has it been canceled?” his plans turning to dust before his eyes. Because this rejection was not at all what the archer had expected and even though Bilbo capitulated quickly, that didn’t take away the stone.

So the once-king forgot about making a good second first impression, instead wiping his boots on Belladonna's glory box just to hear the hobbit shriek. Perhaps this was a little petty for someone who had been the King Under the Mountain, but it made Kíli feel better and he needed to embrace his younger self anyway. Bilbo was going to notice the dwarf one way or the other and it was either this or kiss him right there in the hall.

The latter of which was admittedly very tempting, but thankfully Dwalin walked out of the dining room before the archer could compound his foolishness. If seeing Fíli and Bilbo again had been more than Kíli had ever hoped for, seeing Dwalin was almost as joyous an occasion and the once-king threw his arm across the warrior’s shoulders with a grin.

The other dwarf had been a constant in Kíli’s life for as long as he could remember; indeed, Dwalin had been fighting with his king when the Lonely Mountain fell to fire, and it was such a relief to see his friend alive.

It was wonderful to see all of his companions once they arrived at Bilbo’s door with Gandalf, the archer quickly swept into a whirlwind of fond memories as the dwarves prepared their meal. There was Ori, whom Kíli had not seen since he went to Khazad-dûm with Balin; Nori, who had led Dwalin on many a merry chase through the halls of Erebor; Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur who were always up for a good story, and Dori, Óin, and Glóin to round their party out.

Indeed, the only one missing was Thorin and while the once-king was excited to see his uncle, this reunion was more than enough for now. Adding Thorin to the mix might be more than Kíli’s heart could take when he was close to bursting from happiness already, the once-king’s cheeks actually hurting from the strength of his grin.

But how could he not smile when he was surrounded by friends and family, even if the other dwarves did look a little different than he remembered them? That was only to be expected when it had been more than seven decades and his own reflection was seemed a stranger now. His companions’ personalities certainly hadn't changed a whit over the years, the meal quickly becoming an exuberant event as challenges and bread rolls flew back and forth.

The only thing that dampened Kíli’s mood slightly was the fact that his hobbit had not joined in the festivities, instead watching them from the doorway with wide eyes. But when the once-king tried to view the company from Bilbo’s perspective, he had to admit that they might not be coming off too well.

For while their burglar had always preferred things to be neat and tidy – something that was admittedly difficult out on the trail – Bag End looked more like a hurricane had hit it now. So the archer probably needed to do some damage control or Bilbo would throw them out without even hearing Thorin’s proposal and his opportunity arose when Ori asked the hobbit what he should do with his plate. Because Fíli took the dish from the other dwarf before Bilbo could answer, tossing the plate to Kíli who in turn threw it to Bifur by the sink.

A challenging grin aimed at his companions was enough to cajole the rest of the dwarves into helping and soon the hobbit's dishware was flying across the room. After all, there was no reason that chores couldn't be fun as well, though Bilbo hadn't quite gotten into the spirit of things yet.

In fact, he seemed rather more concerned by the potential damage to his dishes – as though any of the dwarves would drop one – and when they began tapping out a rhythm with his silver, the hobbit really balked.

“You'll blunt them!” Bilbo shouted, to which Bofur replied, “Do you hear that lads? He says we'll blunt the knives,” and that was too good of a line to pass up.

Because the hobbit that Kíli remembered had always enjoyed a good tune and so the once-king began to sing, a song that had filled Bag End once before and he sometimes heard on the edge of fonder memories. He still wasn’t sure exactly what had happened to his fiddle or his companions’ instruments, but the archer was sure that they'd manage well enough. Indeed, the dwarves sang a merry tune while they scrubbed Bilbo's dishes and cleaned the crumbs off his table and when they'd finished, Kíli had to smile at their host's astonishment. The hobbit must be starting to warm up to them by now and indeed, the gleaming pile of crockery on the table made Bilbo smile for the first time that night.

However, just when Kíli was thinking of going over to his hobbit and reintroducing himself properly, there was a knock on the door and the laughter halted instantly.

It was Thorin, the dwarf lord’s presence enough to turn his companions’ gaiety to somberness although he greeted Gandalf amiably enough. Kíli’s uncle had always been like that, an air of sorrow around him even when he smiled, and yet, when the once-king stepped forward to greet him, he stopped short in surprise. For while the rest of their company looked a bit different, Thorin might as well have been a stranger to his eyes.

His beard was shaved close against his chin instead of trailing down toward his belt and he seemed much younger than he had before. Indeed, the grey hair of Kíli’s memory was only a few streaks amidst the black, and while Thorin did paint a much more majestic figure, the archer was too weirded out to be impressed.

But his uncle’s appearance slowly became less jarring, the dwarf able to pick out details that he remembered amongst the rest. This was still Thorin whatever he looked like and perhaps the once-king’s memory was just that bad after all.

His recollection of this party certainly hadn’t included the other dwarf’s interrogation of Bilbo, which ended when Thorin muttered a dismissive, “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar,” to a chorus of laughs from his company.

These words did not sit right with Kíli, for while the archer vaguely remembered some of his kindred doubting Bilbo in the past and his uncle had always tended toward a brusque impatience, that had been different than this open discourtesy. They needed their burglar even if the others didn't know how badly and Thorin should have tried to be polite at least.

But maybe it was simply experience altering the once-king’s perceptions since he was watching the dwarf lord more as a fellow leader than as his sister-son. After all, Kíli had spent nearly as much time as King Under the Mountain as he had as the younger prince of Durin's Folk and if those years had taught him anything, it was that kings could be wrong.

So where the archer had once been content to follow Thorin into peril blindly, things were different now. Now all Kíli could do was wonder, Was our plan actually this bad? Seriously, thirteen dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard are going to march all the way to Erebor and then what, hope Smaug leaves peacefully? I may know that the dragon has a weakness but no one else does so this is less a plan and more insanity.

Although, the other members of the company were not entirely without reservations and Balin perhaps said it best when he reminded the dwarf lord, “This task would be difficult enough with an army behind us. But we number just thirteen and not thirteen of the best, nor brightest.”

However, while Kíli was pleased to know that he wasn't the only one with some doubts about his uncle's strategy, Bilbo already looked far more worried than the once-king liked. Their quest might be crazy but it would be far more difficult without their burglar and the other dwarves were going to scare him off if they kept on like this.

So even though the archer knew it was a lie, he added his own voice to his brother's when Fíli stood up to support their uncle's cause. “You forget; we have a wizard in our company. Gandalf will have killed hundreds of dragons in his time.”

Of course, Dori then had to ask how many dragons the wizard could count amongst his slain enemies and when Gandalf could not provide him with a number, the rest of the company soon began arguing heatedly. The dwarves only stopped when Thorin stood and shouted, “Shazara!” – his bellow commanding silence amongst those who followed him.

The once-king's uncle had always been charismatic, his passion able to sway even the most reasonable dwarrows into reckless loyalty. That was the spark Kíli had always lacked in his kingship, that overwhelming certainty of his own place in the world, and he found himself moved despite himself. Thorin was so earnest, so determined to do right by their people, and his sister-son swore that the dwarf lord would live to see his home restored this time.

With this goal in mind, Kíli soon stopped paying attention to the company's conversation – he hardly needed to hear his uncle's long and rambling explanation of Erebor's history again when that had been his bedtime story growing up – instead throwing out a few mindless comments while thinking on his own private quest.

The once-king wasn't worried about reaching the Lonely Mountain, only about what would happen when Bolg brought forth his armies, but he didn't see any reason why he couldn't make their journey a little easier. If Kíli knew what was coming then he should be able to steer the company around the worst of it and the dwarf thought that he'd identified a few key moments to watch out for when his attention was drawn by a loud thud. It was Bilbo, the hobbit having passed out on the floor, and the sight of him lying there unmoving brought back unpleasant memories.

“What did you say to him?!” the archer asked, giving Bofur a furious glare before rushing over to check that his hobbit was all right. They were trying to win their burglar over not terrify him into unconsciousness and Kíli might have said more if not for his uncle's growl.

“Leave him,” Thorin ordered, staring down at Bilbo disdainfully. “He will be no use to us if he faints at the slightest sign of danger and there will plenty on this quest. Better for the hobbit to stay here where it is safe and comfortable and he cannot get us killed.”

To Kíli's horror, most of the other dwarves nodded their agreement and in this consensus, the once-king saw his hopes for the future going up in smoke. His own feelings aside, the archer truly did not know if this quest could succeed without Bilbo and yet he also did not see any way to change his companions' minds. For Kíli could hardly shout, “We need him to get us out of Thranduil's dungeons,” without looking like a madman to them all.

Indeed, the once-king had no argument to offer when Bilbo awoke and refuse to come with them, the courage that Kíli remembered nowhere to be found. Thorin's company would not have its burglar and with no other options, the archer tried to tell himself that this was for the best. Because even if he might never have the chance to court Bilbo properly, at least the other would be far, far away from that corpse-strewn battlefield.

At least his hobbit would survive and if Kíli did manage to change the fates of his kin, no one would think twice about the younger prince of Erebor. He would be free to do as he willed; free to return to the Shire without the weight of duty on his shoulders and the once-king could not care less if anyone disapproved. Because he had given his life for Erebor even if no one now remembered it and he was entitled to be a little selfish this time around.

So Kíli joined the rest of the company by the fireplace, his heart twinging painfully when Thorin began to sing of the home that Durin's Folk had lost. While the dwarf's dreams no longer lay within the Lonely Mountain, he had seen Mirkwood burning and his kingdom fall and so his voice was rough as the memory of that last desperate fight washed over him.

The dwarves sang until the fire began to die into embers and the last notes of their sorrow faded into the evening air. Then Thorin set his company to cleaning, the dwarves moving quietly so as not to wake Bilbo, who had drifted off around the second verse.

All this excitement had been too much for the hobbit and while this likely made him seem even weaker in Thorin's eyes, Kíli found it rather adorable. So the once-king went to lay a blanket over Bilbo, tucking the fabric around his shoulders before moving to help Fíli with the carpets and if the dwarf's fingers stroked briefly across the hobbit's cheek, no one mentioned it.

The company scrubbed Bag End from top to bottom, removing all evidence of their visit as Bilbo slumbered on. Although the dwarves would not be spending the night here – it would hardly be polite when the hobbit had turned down Thorin's offer – they still owed Bilbo for his hospitality.

Thus the dwarves would leave the hobbit's smial as clean as it had been on their arrival and once Bag End was spotless, they drifted off by twos and threes. Nori, Dori, and Ori first, the eldest dwarf chiding his little brother for staying up so late into the evening; then Glóin and Óin, then Bofur and the others in their wake. Most of them spared little thought for the hobbit who should have been their burglar, though Balin did leave Thorin's contract on Bilbo's table in case he changed his mind.

Eventually only the sons of Durin and the wizard remained, Kíli and Fíli straightening a few last knickknacks while Thorin and Gandalf finalized their plans. The once-king wished that he could join them, offer his own memories to chart the company's course a little clearer, but he had not been invited to participate. He would not be invited until he proved that he had something to offer, something more than could have been expected from the foolish lad he used to be. Indeed Kíli would have to walk a careful balance in order to warn his uncle of the coming dangers without revealing the true source of his knowledge and he had yet to decide on the best approach to take.

So tonight the archer just waited with his brother until Thorin had finished his discussion; the trio saying farewell to Gandalf’s on the hobbit’s porch. Then the once-king left Bag End with his kindred, one last yearning glance cast toward Bilbo’s door before he rode away.


Chapter II: Prologue - Part 2