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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 2

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 2: Nu'
Pairings: Platonic Kíli/Fíli, and Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli (w/ some Kilbo and Filbo too), plus minor Dwalin/Ori
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count epic amounts of pining.
Word Count: 4721 (10664 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'


Kíli does not find it odd that his heart grows lighter with each day of travel, the princes' slow journey toward Hobbiton ringing with his laughter and excited chattering. The world seems new and fresh again and while Fíli's smile is often tinged with exasperation, the archer knows that his brother shares his happiness. The princes are amrâbulnâs after all; Fíli couldn't hide the spark of joy within his heart even if he wanted to.

Both dwarves are looking forward to this journey and they are still young enough not to worry about the dangers that they may face along the way. Fíli and Kíli have faith in their training and in each other; the princes have to believe or give up hope entirely.

This is where they're meant to be. This is the dwarves' one chance to alter their destiny and it seems only natural that the Valar's gift should reflect the joy inside their hearts. Indeed, the song of their ashânumahâl grows louder with every league they travel and by the time the princes ride into Hobbiton, it is almost deafening.

A decade ago, the brothers would have taken this as a sign that Bilbo Baggins was nearby, but they think nothing of it now. If their amrâbulnas lived so near to the Blue Mountains then the princes would have found him long ago. Fíli and Kíli do not know that hobbits never discuss their kin with strangers and while their travels sometimes led them to the Shire, no dwarven caravan ever passed through Hobbiton.

So the princes are not expecting anything when they arrive at their destination. They are simply looking forward to a hot meal with their companions and the chance to sleep in a real bed before heading back out onto the road.

According to their uncle's instructions, Fíli and Kíli are supposed to meet the rest of their companions at the house of Thorin's burglar. Or rather, Gandalf's burglar, and the princes meander their way through Hobbiton until they see the wizard’s mark shining from a nearby hill. This glowing rune is etched into the door of a hobbit hole and if Fíli and Kíli still had any doubt about their destination, the ponies tied to the garden fence would have put those doubts to rest. So the princes dismount, tying up their ponies next to the others before opening the gate and climbing up the stairs. Then they knock on the door of the hobbit hole and wait for their host to let them in.

“What do you think our burglar will be like?” Kíli muses to his brother. “And do you think Thorin managed to get any other dwarves to come along? As much as I like Dwalin and the others, a few more axes wouldn't go amiss... Honestly, what is taking so long? I'm getting hungry here.”

Fíli opens his mouth to reply, but the door swings open before he can say anything. Their host is standing in the doorway and the princes fall silent as their world suddenly changes irrevocably.

Because it's him. This hobbit is their Bilbo and the shock of recognition echoes through the ashânumahâl as the tugging on their hearts is replaced with certainty. Fíli and Kíli don't need an introduction to know that this is Bilbo Baggins and the pair smiles widely as they greet their amrâbulnas with their most polished courtly bows.

“Fíli and Kíli. At your service,” the princes announce in unison, expecting their hobbit to recognize the names. But Bilbo does not look at them with the same joy of recognition. The hobbit treats them like total strangers; he tries to turn them away without an ounce of hesitation and that makes no sense at all.

It never occurred to either Fíli or Kíli that their amrâbulnas might not be waiting for them, that he might be content without the heart they share. Indeed, such a thing is inconceivable and yet the princes cannot deny the truth before their eyes.

Fíli and Kíli must practically force the door before Bilbo lets them inside his smial and even then, he clearly wishes they were gone. He almost snarls at Kíli when the archer starts to wipe his boots; the prince was trying not to leave muddy footprints on the carpet but apparently Bilbo doesn't think his efforts good enough. The dwarves can hear the hobbit muttering about uninvited visitors and people without manners even as he collects their weapons and tosses them in a pile by the door.

But even though that is not how one treats good dwarvish steel, the brothers still want Bilbo to smile at them. Even in a scowling temper, the hobbit is the most gorgeous thing that Fíli and Kíli have ever seen and all they want is to take him in their arms. They want to hold their amrâbulnas and never let him go but Bilbo would probably just stab them if they tried.

The brothers trail after their hobbit as he leads them deeper into his home, logic warring with the need beneath their skin. The ashânumahâl demands contact now that Fíli and Kíli have found their final piece and even with the threat of stabbing, it takes all the princes' self-control to keep their hands from reaching out.

“He doesn't know us. How can he not know us?!” Kíli whispers to his brother, the thought of their amrâbulnas so close and yet unreachable almost more than he can take. This is worse than all their years of pining ever were.

Because it hurts. It literally hurts for the archer not to touch Bilbo and he knows that Fíli feels the same. The hobbit should be in their arms already, not glancing back at the princes with suspicion in his eyes. He seems to think that they're going to steal the silverware if he looks away too long.

And yet, that's just a guess. Kíli doesn't know what Bilbo's thinking – he cannot feel the hobbit's emotions – and this realization makes panic rise up in his chest. The prince's knees threaten to give out and it's all he can do to keep walking after the hobbit now.

This is not what the ashânumahâl is supposed to feel like; Fíli has always been a warm spark inside him, a kindled flame that roars and crackles with his moods. In comparison, Bilbo is little more than ash and embers. Kíli can only feel the faintest flicker of irritation from the hobbit when he concentrates and even that could just be his imagination. While he's certain that Bilbo is his amrâbulnas, the prince feels as though he's trying to track the hobbit through a fog.

However, even as Kíli teeters on the edge of despair, Fíli throws an arm around his brother’s shoulders. He wraps the archer in love and support, soothing his sorrow before the younger prince's panic can send both of them spiraling.

“Don’t give up, little brother,” Fíli murmurs, keeping his voice low so that Bilbo cannot hear him. The hobbit is oblivious to the princes' distress, though he does seem to have remembered his duties as a host and has started pointing out important features of his home as the trio walks along.

“The washroom is there and that hall is private,” Bilbo says, waving toward each room in turn. “Your companions are in the dining room, which is just through this door right here.”

The hobbit walks toward another doorway as Fíli continues whispering to his brother, trying to get Kíli under control before Bilbo looks back again. The archer's expression is too raw to pass more than a cursory inspection and concentrating on his brother is the only thing keeping Fíli on his feet right now.

“Bilbo may not know us now but that doesn't mean Mahal has chosen falsely,” the older prince says with as much conviction as he can muster. He has to believe the words or Kíli will know that he is lying instantly. “Perhaps other races simply do not feel the ashânumahâl as strongly as we do. The plan has not changed. If we must earn the love of our amrâbulnas, then will we court him, but first we must prove our worth as heroes before this quest is done. You must have patience, Kíli; we cannot lose heart now.”

“I don't want to be patient,” the archer hisses back. “We have been waiting for far too long already and Bilbo is right there. Maybe he will know us if we simply tell him. Maybe he's just blocking us unconsciously somehow.”

Kíli reaches out to grab Bilbo’s arm, either to plead their case or kiss him, the archer's not quite sure. However, before his hand touches the hobbit’s shoulder, Fíli yanks him back. He holds his brother still as Bilbo disappears into the dining room, still oblivious to his guests' distress.

“Kíli, stop! We can't!” the older prince hisses when Kíli keeps trying to get free, the words stopping his brother in his tracks.

Fíli has always been the sensible one, the one who thinks about the consequences of their actions, and Kíli knows better than to argue with that tone. When his older brother talks like that, his words are important and this is no exception to the rule. Once the archer actually stops to listen, he can hear familiar voices arguing in the next room and this is not a conversation that should be overheard. Not even the princes' rank would save them if they tried to court the hobbit now.

Fíli and Kíli cannot risk telling Bilbo about their bond while there are other dwarves around; the hobbit might let something slip and even the intent of courtship could get the trio killed. While the princes are willing to risk their own lives for the chance to change their future, they won’t threaten Bilbo's without cause.

“Fuck. I hate it when you're right,” Kíli says with a sigh. “That sounds like Balin and Dwalin and there's no way we can talk to Bilbo with those two around. Dwalin and Ori are too disgustingly happy in their ashânumahâl to ever understand and Balin... Balin just loves the fucking law.”

“I hate it too, Kí. You know that,” Fíli murmurs, pulling his brother into a proper hug. Kíli returns the embrace tightly, resting his forehead on the older prince's shoulder as he tries not to sob.

“How are we gonna do this, Fí?” the archer asks quietly. “Bilbo is supposed to be our burglar but I don't know if I could stand to have him close for months on end. I already want to touch him so much my fingers hurt.”

“I know, little brother. I know. But maybe Bilbo won't choose to come along. Given our reception so far, I highly doubt that he's signed Thorin's contract. Maybe he'll stay here where it is safe and at least we know where to find our hobbit now,” the older prince tells Kíli. His words are slim comfort – truthfully Fíli thinks that leaving their amrâbulnas will probably be just as painful as having him close by – but it's something for the archer to hold onto and that's enough for now.

A loud knock on the door makes Fíli and Kíli separate, Bilbo stomping past the dwarves to answer it. The princes follow their amrâbulnas – partially from curiosity and partially because they're helpless to do otherwise.

So the pair is standing behind Bilbo when he yanks his front door open with a shout, “Who the bloody hell is knocking now?”

“Hello, Bilbo,” a tall old man says cheerfully as a pile of dwarves eight high is suddenly falling through the door. Fíli heard that Thorin's wizard had an odd sense of humor but this is just ridiculous and the prince yanks his hobbit out of danger by the back of his waistcoat, the dwarves who would have hit him landing on the floor.

“Thank you,” Bilbo murmurs, looking up at Fíli in surprise. Simple words but the prince finds himself blushing anyway. Because for the first time tonight, his amrâbulnas is looking at him without a hint of irritation in his eyes.

In fact, Fíli is almost certain that he feels a flicker of admiration from the hobbit before his senses dim again. He definitely isn't feeling anything positive as Bilbo rounds on the wizard who just stepped through his door.

“What is going on here? What part of 'I'm not interested' did you fail to understand?” the hobbit asks and the prince isn't sure whether he's pleased or disappointed by this proof that he was right. Their amrâbulnas has no intention of being Thorin's burglar.

Which means that Fíli and Kíli have one night to make an impression on their hobbit, one night to ensure that Bilbo still remembers them several months from now.

So the princes step forward to help their companions off the floor, making sure the other dwarves hang up their weapons and wipe their feet before Bilbo can complain. Only Ori manages to slip past the brothers and the scribe only carries a few daggers anyway.

Indeed, Fíli and Kíli probably couldn't have stopped Ori, not when Dwalin was waiting for his husband in the hall. The two dwarves fall into each other's arms as though they've been apart for months instead of days, holding each other tightly despite their audience. Fíli is actually surprised that Ori traveled with his brothers rather than the warrior – it's rare for amrâbulnâs to separate for any reason – but perhaps Dwalin had to make a dangerous detour that he didn't want his husband on.

“Not in public, little brother,” Nori says a little sharply as he walks by the couple. “I know you're glad to see him but try to keep it in your pants.”

Dwalin stiffens at the words, taking a step back from Ori to glare at his brother-in-law. The warrior opens his mouth to say something cutting but Ori lays a hand upon his arm.

“Leave it alone, my dear. For me?” the scribe asks and Dwalin can only nod. He turns back to his husband while Nori stalks off into the dining room and Fíli is curious about the tension there. The prince doesn't know Ori's family very well but he never thought that anyone could actually dislike Dwalin. The warrior is actually a sweetheart underneath his tough exterior but maybe Nori is simply jealous of his brother since his own wrists are bare. Dori certainly doesn't seem to have an issue with Ori or his spouse.

And it's none of my business, Fíli tells himself as he turns back to his own brother. Kíli is watching Bilbo argue with the wizard Gandalf and he seems to be having a grand time of it judging by his grin.

“I like him, Fí. He's spunky,” the archer says.

“You'd like him anyway,” the older prince retorts.

Before Kíli can say anything else, Bilbo throws his hands up in the air and shouts, “Fine! I'll feed your bloody dwarves, you crazy wizard. But I'm still not joining you.”

The hobbit stalks back into the dining room, his scowl deepening when he discovers that his guests have started emptying his pantry dish by dish. Bilbo tries to corral the dwarves but they just ignore him so Fíli and Kíli step forward in his stead.

“Listen up!” the princes shout, their voices echoing off the walls. “We're going to do this orderly!”

Although the other dwarves are surprised by Fíli and Kíli's interference, the pair quickly glares them into submission – they are their mother's children, after all. The brothers make sure that their companions do not empty Bilbo's pantry completely, leaving behind enough nonperishable items that their amrâbulnas need not go hungry if he doesn't come along. Fíli and Kíli also make sure that Bilbo has the chance to eat his dinner once the group sits down, guarding the hobbit's plate as fiercely as their own.

Indeed, the meal is quite pleasant as dwarvish dinners go and Bilbo seems grateful for their help. He even gives them both a smile and when everyone has finished, the princes cannot resist teasing their amrâbulnas a bit. Fíli and Kíli turn the cleanup into a song and dance production, one that just happens to show off their acrobatic skills.

The princes don't stop until every dish is shining and even Balin cracks a grin at the delight on Bilbo's face. The hobbit has finally warmed up to his uninvited guests and Fíli and Kíli are hoping for the chance to speak with him quite soon.

However, their hopes are dashed when the leader of their company arrives. Thorin announces his presence with a firm knock, everyone trailing into the hallway to welcome him inside. Although, in truth, Fíli and Kíli would be perfectly happy to shove their uncle right back out the door again once he starts to talk.

“Is this the burglar you've found me, Gandalf?” the dwarf lord asks, looking Bilbo over with a sneer. “Tell me Master Baggins. Have you done much fighting?”

“Pardon me?” the hobbit replies, clearly taken aback by Thorin's question.

“Axe or sword? What's your weapon?” the princes' uncle clarifies.

“Well, I have some skill at Conkers, if you must know,” Bilbo retorts. “But I fail to see the relevance.”

“I thought as much,” Thorin snorts dismissively. “You look more like a grocer than a burglar to me.”

Most of the other dwarves laugh at their lord's joke but Kíli cannot take it. How can his uncle come into Bilbo's home and just insult him constantly?

“What's wrong with being a grocer?” the archer exclaims as the rest of his companions turn to stare at him in shock. Bilbo may not look like a warrior but that doesn't make him worthless and the dwarf lord shouldn't judge him for living peacefully. The hobbit hardly needs to be battle-hardened here in the Shire and Thorin would be lucky to have a home like this. Truthfully, the archer fell half in love with Bag End as soon as he walked across the threshold; it’s warm and cozy and full of comfort just like a house should be.

“Seriously, uncle. You may be our leader but there's no cause for being rude,” Kíli continues, crossing him arms over his chest. Fíli is shaking his head in bemusement but he isn't trying to stop his brother and the archer takes that as permission to go on. “Mother would box my ears if I talked to someone else like that.”

Thorin stares at his sister-son for a long moment, the tension almost tangible as the dwarf lord holds Kíli's gaze. But then the prince's uncle relaxes and everyone can breathe again.

“You are right, Kíli. That was rude,” Thorin says with a wry grin. “My apologies, Master Baggins. We are here for your skill not your appearance and perhaps Conkers is exactly what we need. It has been a long and frustrating journey and my manners are not what they should be. I thank you for hospitality and would appreciate some food to eat.”

“Oh, you're welcome,” Bilbo says, sounding a little stunned. “Your friends cleared out a good portion of my pantry but I'm sure I can manage that.”

With that everyone troops back into the dining room. The hobbit gives Thorin a bowl of soup and the dwarf lord explains the lateness of his arrival in-between each bite.

“I spent more time arguing with envoys than I planned to, curse those cowards' names,” the dwarf snarls, jabbing his spoon into the air. “Envoys from all seven kingdoms came to say that none of them will help us, not even my cousin Dáin. They say our quest is folly and without the Arkenstone, I cannot command them to obey. But we will show them, won't we? My faithless kin are too afraid to heed the omens but I say our time is now.”

“You're going on a quest?” Bilbo asks from his place in the corner even as Thorin's companions mutter amongst themselves. Most of the dwarves were hoping for at least a little help, only Fíli and Kíli fully prepared to kill a dragon on their own. Somehow. With a bit of luck and a Vala's miracle.

Indeed, the princes are more focused on their hobbit than any talk of strategy and at Bilbo's question, Fíli has to sigh.

“Honestly, Gandalf. Didn't you tell him anything?” the older prince says. “If he's supposed to be our burglar, he should know exactly what he'd be going up against.”

“Of course, of course,” the wizard says. “In fact, I have good news for you all.”

Gandalf pulls a piece of cloth from his robes with a flourish and of course Thorin managed to find a wizard with dramatic tendencies. Fíli and Kíli pay little attention to his explanation – there's a key, there's a door, that's all they really need to know. Instead, the princes watch Bilbo's face and their hobbit is growing paler with every word that Gandalf says.

“A dragon?” Bilbo squeaks. “You expect me to steal from a dragon?”

“Not without a proper contract,” Balin tells him, handing the paper over. However, the hobbit does not seem reassured. In fact, the fine print just seems to increase his worry and when Bofur starts talking about claws and teeth and death by incineration, Bilbo crumples to the floor in a dead faint.

“Useless,” Thorin mutters as Kíli and Fíli rush to their amrâbulnas. “You made a poor choice, Gandalf. I don't need this burglar.”

“He may surprise you, Thorin Oakenshield,” the wizard replies. Thorin opens his mouth to argue but Gandalf slams his hand upon the table, all the shadows in the room start flickering as his voice booms out, “If I say that Bilbo Baggins is a burglar, then a burglar he'll be!

The entire room gapes at the wizard in shock; even Fíli and Kíli turn to stare at him from their position on the floor.

“Fine,” Thorin says finally. “The hobbit may join us if he chooses. But I will not force him and if he decides to stay, then we will not speak of this again. I do not need dead weight on this journey and I doubt Master Baggins here really wants to come along.”

Indeed, Bilbo rejects the dwarf lord's offer quite emphatically once he wakes up again. This is what Fíli and Kíli expected from the beginning and the princes do not blame their amrâbulnas for wishing to remain.

However, understanding Bilbo’s choices does not stop the pain. When the fire has died and the dwarves begin to leave Bag End, Fíli and Kíli lag behind the others. The princes find their gaze pulled inexorably toward Bilbo as the ashânumahâl screams inside their chests. Their amrâbulnas is sleeping peacefully in his armchair and it would be so easy just to touch him, to kiss his cheek and promise that they'll be back again.

So Fíli and Kíli keep stumbling as they walk toward the door, every step forward pulled sideways in the air. The princes feel as though they're marching into a headwind but the storm is deep inside them, the clouds running over and pouring down their cheeks.

Neither dwarf wants to do this. Neither prince wants to leave and Fíli's fingers shake as he reaches for the door. Kíli grabs his other hand, the archer's fingernails digging into his brother's skin. The pain helps him focus and with one last concerted effort, the princes manage to walk out of Bilbo's home. Fíli and Kíli stagger down the steps and mount their ponies, both dwarves looking back half a dozen times as they start to ride away. Even drawing strength from their own connection, Fíli and Kíli aren't sure how they'll survive the coming days.

“We will return here, won't we?” Kíli asks his brother plaintively, looking back at Bag End one more time.

“Of course we will,” Fíli reassures him. “As soon as the law is changed, we will return triumphant with jewels and gifts enough to court our amrâbulnas properly. So stay strong, little brother, just a few more months of separation and then our bond will be complete.”

The archer takes comfort from these words as he is meant to and his comfort soothes Fíli's hurt in turn. Even if Bilbo never feels the ashânumahâl that binds their spirits, surely he will not reject the princes' overtures. Surely he will come to love Fíli and Kíli just as much as they love him.

“You're right, Fí. It's going to be wonderful,” the younger dwarf says. He starts to spin a bright dream of the future for his brother, soothing the pain of separation by imagining the home that the three of them will make. If that home sounds much like Bag End, Fíli doesn't mention it. Bag End is as good a place as any for them to settle down; the older prince knows he'd be happy anywhere with his amrâbulnâs by his side.

All Fíli wants is Bilbo and Kíli to love and hold and treasure and the thought of them entwined sparks desire where none has ever stirred. This rush of heat is simply one more sign that they are meant to walk through life together, their trio far stronger than any pair could be.

Kíli stops talking once the princes catch up with the rest of Thorin’s company, Gandalf leading the dwarves to a nearby inn where he rented rooms for the night. But the archer’s dreaming served its purpose and despite the lingering ache inside their hearts, Fíli and Kíli are smiling when they fall asleep.

When they wake up in the morning, the princes feel more refreshed than they expected. The ashânumahâl still aches but the pain has faded slightly and their spirits are light when they join the rest of their companions in the taproom of the inn. While leaving Bilbo behind was awful, finding their amrâbulnas has only increased Fíli and Kíli's motivation to kill Smaug with style and then return to the Shire to woo the hobbit properly.

However, Bilbo’s soft exterior must have hidden an adventurous streak as deep as any dwarrow’s because Thorin’s company has barely set out from Hobbiton when someone shouts for them to wait.

It is Bilbo Baggins and at the sight of their amrâbulnas, Fíli and Kíli have to grin. Because the hobbit looks even more adorable in the daylight and the tug of the ashânumahâl is easing with every step he takes.

By the time Bilbo reaches Balin and hands over his contract, the ache has faded to a dull throb of longing, though Fíli is certain that it will probably grow worse again with time. Indeed, now that his initial surge of delight has passed, the older prince can't help wondering if Bilbo's decision is really for the best.

Because Fíli knows his brother and he doesn't know if Kíli will be able to contain himself until their quest is done. To be perfectly honest, Fíli doesn't know if he will be able to resist both his amrâbulnâs together when he's been waiting for so long.

However, even though the hobbit's presence is bound to make everything more complicated – and test the princes' willpower to its limit – Fíli cannot hold onto his worry. Not when his brother's effervescent joy shines so brightly through their bond.

'Cheer up, brother,' Kíli signs in Iglishmêk, the other dwarves too distracted by Bilbo to notice his quick gestures. 'This is good. We will make Bilbo our friend so that he likes us and accepts our courtship when it comes.'

Then the archer nudges his pony forward to greet the hobbit and what can his brother do but follow his amrâbulnas as he has always done? Still, Fíli cannot entirely quell the skeptical voice inside his head, the one that is certain this road will end in tears.


Chapter 3: Gem