Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,

Comes Wisdom in Defeat - Chapter II: Part 2

Title: Comes Wisdom in Defeat
Chapter II: Prologue - Part 2
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo
Warnings: angst, lots of unrequited love, minor violence
Word Count: 8344 (19,950 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
Chapter II: Prologue - Part 1

Despite Kíli's best attempts to convince himself that Bilbo would be safer in the Shire, and the dwarf spent a sleepless night trying to do exactly that, his mood was sour when his brother finally roused him from his bed. For there was a sick feeling in his stomach, a warning that said this wasn't right, and he could barely find the heart to eat. Instead the archer found himself looking out the windows of the tavern while his companions laughed and joked over breakfast, hoping beyond hope that he might see Bilbo there. But the hobbit did not appear and when Thorin cajoled his company into motion, their burglar was still nowhere to be seen.

However, if Kíli's memory served, Bilbo had been quite late the first time, late enough that the dwarves had almost left without him once before. So even though the hobbit had never agreed to come with them – in fact, he had most emphatically refused the invitation – there was still a chance that he might change his mind.

Besides, the once-king did not want to ruin the joyful mood with his own dark premonitions, not when this quest was as much his Fíli’s dream as their uncle’s and there was no need to speak of danger now. The dwarves should be able to manage without their burglar until they reached Mirkwood since Gandalf had been the one to save them from the trolls and goblins and Kíli was hoping to avoid those pitfalls entirely.

So the archer plastered an excited smile on his face and tried not to look back toward Hobbiton too often even as he became increasingly sure that Bilbo would not appear. However, when Nori started giving odds on whether their burglar would join them, the once-king still laid his coin on Bilbo because he would rather lose the money than admit he'd given up.

Kíli owed the hobbit that much loyalty after his sacrifices and the dwarf was glad for his denial when he heard someone shouting, “Wait!”

The once-king pulled his pony to a halt, twisting around in his saddle to see Bilbo sprinting down the path, Balin’s contract flapping like a banner in his wake. This was more like the burglar that Kíli remembered, the hobbit's eyes lit up with excitement and his travel pack bouncing on his back. This was more like his Bilbo and the archer was so very happy that the hobbit had changed his mind.

Indeed, the knot in the dwarf's stomach was finally easing now that Thorin’s company was complete again, his careful justifications nothing compared to the reality of Bilbo standing there. Because the burglar’s presence should keep the coming journey much closer to the once-king's memories and thus give him every possible advantage in his quest to keep his kin alive. If this would also allow Kíli a chance to court his hobbit, well that was just a bonus; although the dwarf couldn’t deny that he was looking forward to their travels with more anticipation now.

So Kíli might have been grinning like an idiot when Thorin told his sister-sons to find their burglar a pony, he and Fíli lifting Bilbo up despite his protests that he could walk just fine. But how could the archer hold back a smile when the hobbit's mistrust of his pony was so very adorable and the future was looking much brighter than it had been before?

Indeed, with Bilbo there amongst them, the beginning of the dwarves’ quest passed much as the once-king remembered; it was only Kíli who had changed. The archer simply could not summon the same lighthearted exuberance that he had known in the past despite the younger body that he wore. He tried, Mahal knew he tried, but that first rush of elation at seeing his companions wore off within a week.

Because the grief that Kíli had carried on his heart for decades did not fade just because time had warped around him, the once-king terrified that he would fail his purpose and be forced to live that pain again.

It was bad enough in memory when every glance at Fíli contained an echo of his brother’s bloodstained body and he could not look at Bilbo without remembering the way his hobbit had gasped when impaled. Kíli would never forget that sound, not if he lived another hundred lifetimes after this.

So the once-king smiled less than he used to and when they were not paying attention, he watched his companions with the desperation of someone who was not quite sure that this was real. Every time he fell asleep, the dwarf could not be sure that his kindred would still be there in the morning and he tried to embed each moment into his mind against such a possibility. For Kíli could not bear the thought of forgetting the way that Fíli's eyes crinkled up when he smiled or how Thorin always frowned when he didn't want to admit that he was lost. He didn't want to forget the light of Bilbo's smile or the sweet sound of his laughter, though the dwarf had not quite found the courage to state his admiration yet.

Kíli was too busy trying to maintain his masquerade, a task that should not have been as difficult as he found it now. But when he tried to act like his younger self in mind as well as body, the once-king always went too far. The dwarf could never seem to remember the line between youth and stupidity until he crossed it and the way that Thorin sighed at his missteps didn't help.

His uncle had a way of making him feel guilty for his actions, young and foolish as he had not felt since first taking the throne of Erebor. Indeed, the dwarf lord's disappointed gaze was far worse than any lecture and when Kíli and Fíli decided to tease their hobbit about his nervousness one evening – the description of an orcish raid both meant to needle the hobbit and harden him toward the dangers yet to come – the once-king thought that Thorin might strike him then and there.

“You think that's funny? You think a night raid by orcs is a joke?” the dwarf lord snarled, glaring down at his sister-sons.

“We didn't mean anything by it.” Kíli protested, his shoulders hunching defensively. He hadn't meant to upset his uncle; he'd only wanted Bilbo to look at him again. But the once-king couldn't seem to stop acting like an idiot when Thorin was watching and he didn't know what was wrong with him. Because it was not inexperience as the older dwarf believed, his uncle taking his sister-son’s protest as another example of imbecility.

“No, you didn't. You know nothing of the world,” Thorin told him dismissively and that just wasn't fair at all.

You are wrong, uncle. I know far too much of it.

What did it matter if he and Fíli teased their hobbit? It's not as though Thorin was the only one who had suffered loss at orcish hands. But he was the only one who stalked off to brood in the darkness of the evening, the dwarf lord staring over the edge of the cliff top as though to find all answers there.

Truly, Kíli's uncle was far more stern than he had remembered, the pontificating speeches replaced with gloomy majesty. For Thorin offered no words to explain his sharp reaction and while the once-king knew the reason of it, Bilbo was staring after the dwarf lord with utter confusion on his face. Confusion that Kíli might have eased in different circumstances, but as he could not remember how much he was supposed to know about his people’s history, it fell to Balin to reassure their burglar instead.

“Don't mind him, laddie. Thorin has more cause than most to hate orcs. After the dragon took the Lonely Mountain, King Thrór tried to reclaim the ancient dwarf kingdom of Moria. But our enemy had got there first.”

The old warrior told Bilbo of Azanulbizar, the battle that had graced Thorin with his epithet many years ago. Balin had always been a gifted storyteller and the rest of their company soon gathered around to listen, entranced by the scenes of loss and glory that the dwarf painted with his words. But as gifted as Balin was, Kíli had seen battles that did not end in victory; he had known this gruesome carnage and he could not share the admiration that the others seemed to feel.

Thráin's attack on the Misty Mountains had been ill-advised, his grandfather more interested in revenge than the safety of his people, and while Azog’s actions had been unforgivable, all the once-king could think about were the lives that had been lost.

Although, as the story continued, the archer had to wonder if Balin had heard a different version of the tale. For Kíli could have sworn that Thrór had already been dead when the War of the Dwarves and Orcs ended at Azanulbizar – indeed Azog’s murder of his great-grandfather had been the cause of it – and Dáin II, not Thorin, had slain the Defiler. But perhaps Balin was simply tailoring his words to his audience since this was not Dáin's company and when the old dwarf finished, Bilbo was not the only one with moisture in his eyes. Even Kíli was affected, not by the images of glory but by the parallels to his kin’s final moments on the plains of Erebor.

However, if the once-king was successful then these losses would be nothing more than an unpleasant memory, the echo of a nightmare that would not come to pass. So when the company lay down to sleep again, the archer vowed that he would work harder to win his uncle’s approval in the days to come.

For while Kíli didn’t yet have a concrete plan for making his fellow kings see reason sooner, being invited to Thorin’s council would be a good place to start. If the dwarf lord thought his sister-son had some insight to offer than he might actually listen when Kíli urged him to peace instead of conflict and preparing for the Battle of the Five Armies would be far more straightforward if Erebor was actually part of the process this time around.

Unfortunately, winning his uncle over was easier said than done because Thorin seemed to grow more disdainful of Bilbo with every league they traveled and it was difficult for Kíli to stop himself from standing up in their burglar’s defense. The hobbit might not be a travel-hardened warrior, but he was doing his best without complaining and Thorin should have had the decency to recognize his heart. However, the dwarf lord refused to see that Bilbo was trying and Kíli feared that arguing with his uncle now would ruin his chances of convincing him to listen later on.

So no matter how much the once-king loved their burglar, he did not dare take this risk with his companions’ lives. All Kíli could do was comfort Bilbo when Thorin had been particularly harsh, showing the hobbit the correct way to tie a snare, skin a rabbit, or groom his pony so that he would not make the same mistakes again.

Bilbo seemed to appreciate the dwarf’s assistance if his grateful smiles were any indication and Kíli's heart fluttered every time the burglar grinned at him. Though the once-king still had not told Bilbo of his true feelings, deciding that it would be better to gain the hobbit’s friendship before making any further overtures. For their burglar did not know Kíli yet, not the way the dwarf knew him, and he could wait until Bilbo began to show the brilliance that he held inside. Which would hopefully be soon since the once-king was coming closer to punching his uncle in the face with every day that passed.

Although, in truth, it wasn’t only Thorin’s moods that were bothering the archer, it was his unthinking assumption of obedience. Understandable, perhaps, but Kíli had been King Under the Mountain for decades and while he had never asked for that burden, he was out of the habit of taking orders now.

Indeed, the discordance between his current role and his ruling instincts was making the once-king tetchy and while he managed to hide his irritation from the others, his brother saw through him too easily. Fíli knew him better than anyone – or rather he knew the old Kíli – and despite the archer's best efforts, the other dwarf could tell that something was not right.

“What has been the matter with you lately?” Fíli asked one evening after Thorin had told his sister-sons to watch the ponies, Kíli wincing guiltily beneath his brother's worried stare.

Come on; get it together, the once-king told himself. I can't give the game away when we haven't even crossed the Misty Mountains yet. What nonsense would the old Kíli have spouted off? Something about our uncle or archery?

Truthfully, the dwarf was sorely tempted to spill the whole story despite his earlier resolution to hold his secrets close. He had never enjoyed hiding things from his brother, largely because he was awful at it, and seven decades of separation had not changed everything.

But Kíli could not speak the truth, not when the consequences might be lethal and so he blurted out a different truth instead. “Have you noticed how Thorin doesn't actually have a plan?”

“I- What?” Fíli responded, eyebrows shooting up in bafflement.

“Think about it, brother. We're going to march up to Erebor, find our great-grandfather's secret door and then what? Hope that Smaug died of old age somehow? That's not a plan; that's a suicide mission,” the archer babbled, the torrent of words distracting the other dwarf from his original question quite effectively.

“Don't be silly, Kíli. That's why we brought the wizard and the burglar along. Even if Thorin hasn't shared every detail of his strategy, he's our uncle and we should have faith in him.” Fíli's reply was earnest and clearly meant to be a comfort, but it left the once-king shaking his head in disbelief.

The dwarf couldn’t understand how he and his brother had ever followed anyone so blindly, this quest built on nothing but an axe and a prayer. Indeed Fíli, who had always stood so tall in the archer's memories, now seemed impossibly young instead; impossibly young but no less stubborn when he thought that he was right.

So while this had not been Kíli's intention, he and Fíli were soon in the midst of a heated argument. His brother refused to see the truth of his words, defending their mission's reckless disregard for common sense or survival instincts until the once-king wanted to shake him violently.

Enough!” the archer finally shouted, not wanting to fight with the other dwarf anymore. “You’re the one who asked me what was wrong and it’s not my fault that you don’t like the answer that I gave. So will you just accept that I'm not trying to be disloyal and let me get back to worrying? Because I don’t want to lose what family I have left and someone in this company has to have some sense.”

His brother's face softened then, Fíli reaching out to pat his shoulder soothingly. “And when did you become the cautious one, Kí? Truly, brother, every warrior in our company knows what we are facing and we are ready for whatever comes our way.”

No, Fíli. We are not, the once-king thought, visions of that blood-soaked battlefield swimming through his head.

But he just smiled weakly at the other dwarf's reassurance, promising Fíli that he would try not to worry as much anymore. Indeed, Kíli would have to work harder at keeping his fears hidden from his brother, although at the moment the archer was rather more occupied with wondering, “Fí? Where have our ponies gone?”

There had definitely been two ponies tied to the tree across the way, a tree that had somehow been uprooted without either of the dwarves noticing. Damn it! I can't afford to drop my guard like this. This is exactly the sort of thing that I was just worrying about.

While Fíli walked over to inspect the wreckage for clues, as soon as he saw the gaping hole in the ground, Kíli knew exactly what had happened here. Only mountain trolls could have caused such damage, but the once-king had not been expecting to reach their cave so soon. He could have sworn that the company should have had at least another week of travel before it ran into these creatures – indeed, he had been planning to steer their path a little south around that time – but he must have misjudged their route somehow.

Not that this was too surprising considering how long it had been since the once-king had traveled the Great East Road and how little attention he had paid to landmarks the first time around. Truthfully, Kíli's sense of time had felt off ever since he had woken up back in his younger body and this wasn't the first landmark that hadn't appeared just when he thought it should.

But whatever was wrong with the archer's internal clock wasn't important at the moment; the only thing that mattered was ensuring that their company survived this night again.

“Thorin doesn't need to know about this, does he?” Fíli asked beside him and although their reasons likely differed, the once-king was quick to agree.

Although the dwarves had managed to escape from the trolls once, it would be better to keep the company from being captured in the first place and so Kíli needed to think of a way to get their ponies back. Thorin and the others would never agree to leave without them and telling his companions what had happened would only lead to a fight.

However, just as Kíli was cursing his lack of imagination, Bilbo arrived with dinner and the once-king was sure that his problems had been solved. Because the archer knew that their hobbit could be incredibly sneaky when he put his mind to it; he just needed a push in the right direction now.

So the two dwarves informed Bilbo of the situation and when he suggested telling Thorin, they were disagreed emphatically. “Uhhh, no. Let's not worry him,” Fíli said while the archer nodded fervently. “As our official burglar, we thought you might like to look into it.”

The hobbit was, if not exactly willing, easy enough to drag along in their wake and thus the trio followed the trail of broken branches toward the trolls' hiding place. This was hardly a difficult feat of tracking since the path was wide enough that Fíli and Kíli could have walked abreast if they so desired and soon the red glow of the creatures' fire was visible through the trees.

“What is it?” Bilbo asked as harsh laughter drifted to their ears and the once-king did not need to see his enemy in order to murmur, “Trolls,” in reply.

Indeed two trolls were visible sitting by a stew pot when the dwarves dashed closer, their burglar trailing after them somewhat reluctantly. While Bilbo was clearly nervous about the situation, he had not run away and Kíli was certain that his hobbit would find the courage to do what was needed here. Indeed, when the third troll rejoined his companions with another pony held beneath each arm, it was Bilbo who spoke first.

“He's got Myrtle and Minty!” the hobbit exclaimed rather indignantly. “I think they're going to eat them; we have to do something!”

“Yes; you should,” the once-king agreed, nudging Bilbo toward their enemy. “Mountain trolls are slow and stupid and you're so small.”

“N- n- no,” the hobbit protested, looking back at Kíli with pleading eyes.

That gaze should be counted as a dangerous weapon and indeed, it took a great deal of willpower for the archer to keep from giving in. But he managed somehow, his mind reminding his heart that this was the best path open to them now. For if their burglar could release the ponies without alerting the trolls to his presence, then the company could ride out of here without any trouble and at least one more dwarf would know of Bilbo's usefulness.

However, despite these justifications, Kíli wasn't able to resist his hobbit's begging gaze completely and so he soon found himself promising, “It's perfectly safe; we'll be right behind you.”

The once-king needed Bilbo to know that he would never allow anything to hurt him and his actions now were not meant to be cruel. He only wanted his hobbit to have as much faith in himself as Kíli did and proving his courage here would be the first step toward showing everyone. Because one of these days Thorin was going to eat his scornful words and the archer fully intended to be there when he choked that bitter mouthful down.

“If you run into trouble, hoot twice like a barn owl, once like a brown owl,” Fíli added when their burglar kept hesitating, the other dwarf pushing Bilbo forward again and then pulling his brother with him out of sight.

“Twice like a barn owl, twice like a brown – once like a brown?” the hobbit muttered to himself. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Bilbo looked almost betrayed when he glanced back to see that the two dwarves had disappeared and for a moment, Kíli wasn't sure whether he would follow through. But then the burglar squared his shoulders and began creeping toward the ponies, ducking close to the ground so that the trolls would not notice him.

Indeed, their enemies were quite busy bickering amongst themselves and the hobbit reached their ponies without incident, though the once-king kept one hand on the hilt of his sword just in case. Kíli might trust Bilbo with his life – and he really did – but the dwarf was still going to be prepared to leap to the rescue if anything went wrong. And it seemed that a rescue might soon be required because after reaching the ponies, their burglar just sat there tugging at the trolls' pen ineffectually.

Curse my close-shorn beard; he doesn't have his ring yet! Kíli realized with a start when the trolls began to argue more fiercely and Bilbo remained visible, freezing in place until the monsters settled down. Or his sword. Damn it all!

The archer had quite forgotten that his hobbit began their journey without even a dagger to his name; indeed, he would have given him a weapon with which to cut the ropes if he’d remembered – it's not as though Fíli didn't have blades to spare. But now Kíli could only watch, praying that their burglar remained unseen and cursing violently when the Valar decided not to answer him.

For one of the trolls grabbed Bilbo when the hobbit tried to steal his weapon and Kíli could not remain hidden after that.

“Fíli, go summon the others! Now!” the once-king ordered as he pulled his sword free of its sheath and thankfully his brother did not question his newfound authority. Instead the older dwarf just nodded sharply and sprinted off through the trees, leaving Kíli alone to confront their enemies.

The three trolls were gathered around Bilbo, poking and prodding the hobbit as he dangled from their fingers, and while he had refused to give up his friends so far, the once-king didn’t want to see him suffer for his bravery. So the archer ran into the clearing and slashed one troll across the leg to get his foes’ attention before shouting, “Drop him!” as fiercely as he could.

“You what?” one of the trolls replied, looking down at the dwarf with confusion on its face. He’d forgotten how stupid these monsters were, stupid and yet extremely dangerous, and he needed to get his hobbit out of their hands as soon as possible.

“I said, drop him!” Kíli shouted again, spinning his sword around dramatically. While the move was a little flashier than necessary, the dwarf couldn’t entirely resist the urge to show off for his burglar and it served its purpose well enough. Because the troll holding Bilbo proceeded to throw him directly at the once-king, who dropped his sword to grab the hobbit from the air.

They tumbled onto the ground together, Kíli shielding the burglar’s body from the impact, and although this was hardly the time, the once-king couldn’t help but flush at the feel of his hobbit in his arms. Bilbo was pressed against him almost from head to toe, warm and soft and incredibly inviting, but he only had a moment to enjoy it before the rest of their company was rushing into the clearing with a dwarvish battle cry. So Kíli shoved his more lustful thoughts from his mind and helped Bilbo back to his feet, pushing the hobbit toward the safety of the trees before join his kindred in their fight.

However, while the archer had grown more comfortable with his current body over the course of their travels, he quickly discovered that he was still far from battle-ready now. Indeed, the fire burning in the once-king’s blood might have added strength to his blows, but that was slim comfort when his hands refused to follow direction properly.

Half of Kíli's strikes completely failed to hit their target, only Fíli's intervention saving his brother from serious injury. The few blows that the dwarf did land flew more on instinct than strategy, muscle memory guiding him where conscious thought could not. Clearly the once-king would need to train harder because this was just pathetic and he could not afford to acquit himself so badly in the defense of Erebor.

Only, as it turned out, Kíli's sudden incompetence did not make a difference because it was soon obvious that the dwarves would not win this day with the weapons that they had. The best of the Blue Mountain's smithies could not pierce the mountain trolls’ tough hides and while the old stories hinted at such natural armor, the company had not had the chance to test this truth the last time they were here.

In fact, Kíli and his kindred had been captured with embarrassing ease and the once-king was proud that they’d put on a better show tonight. Yet the archer’s satisfaction disappeared when he saw one of the trolls grab Bilbo, the entire company freezing as their hobbit was held up in front of them.

“Bilbo!” the once-king shouted, only his uncle's arm across his chest stopping him from charging forward foolishly. Kíli could not hope to reach their burglar before he was torn apart and trying to do so would be suicide, no matter how much the dwarf might wish otherwise.

So the once-king threw his blade down with a curse as the rest of Thorin’s company surrendered, his mood darkening further when Bilbo was thrown down next to him. This wasn't right – his hobbit was supposed to remain free in order to save the dwarves from being eaten – and yet it seemed that Kíli’s attempts to make things better had only screwed them up instead.

At least Gandalf was still out there somewhere but there was no guarantee that he would return in time. Not when the trolls were far too eager to begin their feasting, lashing several of Kíli's companions together for roasting and tying the rest in burlap sacks upon the ground.

We cannot die like this. Not so painfully nor so far from our goal. The idea was unthinkable and yet no matter how fiercely the archer struggled, he could not free himself. Indeed, none of the company managed to get loose before the trolls had finished building a spit on which to cook their captives and so the dwarves’ only chance of survival was to delay until dawn or the wizard came to save their lives again.

However, before the once-king could think of something clever with which to distract their enemies, Bilbo stood up and shouted, “Wait! You are making a terrible mistake.”

The hobbit soon drew their captors into a heated discussion of cooking techniques and while Kíli was too busy counting down the minutes until sunrise to pay much attention to the details of their conversation, he felt a surge of pride at Bilbo’s cleverness. Being captured hadn’t stopped the burglar from working to save his companions and surely after this, Thorin would have to acknowledge his bravery.

But then one of the trolls grabbed Bombur and lifted him above his mouth, the sight nearly sending the once-king down into a morass of painful memories. Death was too close, the echo of Kíli's grief twisting a knife deep within his spirit, and the dwarf pulled himself back from the edge of panic just in time to hear Bilbo declare that the company was infested with parasites.

“We don’t have parasites! You have parasites!” the once-king shouted back, insulted that his hobbit would ever suggest such a thing. Sure Kíli might be looking a little scruffy after several weeks of travel but that was no reason for Bilbo to say he was diseased.

If the burglar actually thought he was infected with something awful then the dwarf might never be able to win him over and this thought was so awful that Thorin had to kick Kíli in the side before he realized what was really going on. Of course their hobbit was just trying to stop Bombur from being eaten and the archer was so embarrassed about his confusion that he threw his own voice into the ruse a bit too enthusiastically.

However, even as the trolls finally began to question Bilbo’s motives, Kíli saw the light of daybreak to the east and he knew that they had managed to delay their captors long enough. Indeed, the trolls had barely taken a single step toward the burglar when Gandalf appeared on top of a rock behind them and shouted, “The dawn will take you all!”

“Who’s that?” “No idea.” “Can we eat him too?” the trolls asked in quick succession, their curiosity proving to be their doom.

For the wizard wasted no time in slamming his staff down on the stone beneath his feet, the enormous boulder splitting in two so that the sun shone directly onto the mountain trolls. The creatures screamed as this light fell upon them, their skin sizzling and crackling audibly.

A few seconds later, there was only rock where living flesh had been and the entire company let out a resounding cheer at their close escape. It serves them right, Kíli thought to himself, looking at the trolls as he waited for Gandalf to come down and cut his companions free. That was just as unpleasant the second time around.

Indeed, his back was aching from hours spent in such an awkward position on the ground and when he regained his feet again, the once-king stretched out his shoulders with a groan of relief. Only then did Kíli seek out his hobbit so that he could apologize for nearly ruining everything.

“That was some quick thinking back there, Bilbo; I'm just sorry that my thickheadedness almost messed it up for you,” the archer said, truly mortified at his own stupidity.

But the burglar just blushed and murmured, “Don’t worry about it,” with a glint of the sheepish smile that the once-king so dearly loved. “If not for you I would have been eaten when the trolls first grabbed me and it was my fault that you had to surrender anyway.”

The burglar's voice sounded almost admiring and Kíli could not stop himself from flushing slightly when Bilbo reached out to touch his hand. He finally seemed to be making progress with his hobbit and he probably would have blurted out something utterly embarrassing if Thorin hadn’t interrupted them right then.

“And why didn't you stay out of the way, halfling?” the dwarf lord growled, Kíli's good mood evaporating instantly. “You must have known that you would be worse than useless in this fight.”

Kíli's uncle didn’t seem to care that Bilbo had helped to save his life, choosing to ignore the burglar's courage under fire in favor of his earlier mistakes, and watching Bilbo’s face fall beneath the weight of Thorin’s anger was almost more than the once-king could take.

“I- I just wanted to get our ponies,” the hobbit stammered weakly and before Kíli could come to his defense, Thorin rounded on his sister-son as well.

“These were the ponies that you and your brother were supposed to be guarding, were they not?” the dwarf lord asked pointedly. “Perhaps you and Fíli should round up our mounts before they stumble into the jaws of some other evil creature and we’re forced to walk all the way to Erebor. Or is that task to difficult for a pair of useless louts like you?”

While Kíli was sorely tempted to refute this accusation – asking how, exactly, he and his brother were supposed to chase off a bunch of mountain trolls would be a good place to start – he knew that Thorin’s words were driven as much by worry as true irritation and he was simply happy that Bilbo wasn’t the focus of his uncle’s wrath anymore. So Kíli just nodded along as the dwarf lord continued ranting, trying to appear contrite even though he wasn't really listening and eventually Thorin stalked off again.

“Don't let him get to you,” the archer told Bilbo once his uncle was out of earshot, patting the hobbit on his shoulder and then calling Fíli over to do as Thorin asked. For as much as Kíli would have liked to hold Bilbo close until the burglar stopped shaking, he hadn't earned the right. Not in this lifetime, not yet, and his long years of pining meant nothing to his hobbit now.

This would be so much easier if I weren’t the only one who remembered, the once-king thought somewhat despondently as he and Fíli rounded up the company's mounts. Although I would not wish the knowledge of their future deaths on anyone.

But Kíli's mood improved slightly when Thorin took several of his companions to search the trolls' hideout and Bilbo returned with a familiar weapon in his hands. That sword had served his hobbit well in the once-king's memory, indeed it had slain an orcish general, and the dwarf was happy to know that his love would have protection when peril threatened once again.

Although, the archer was not expecting that moment to arrive quite as soon as it did, the company’s discussion of what to do next suddenly interrupted by a mad wizard on a sleigh. Not just a sleigh, but a sleigh pulled by rabbits and Kíli would definitely have remembered seeing such a thing before.

So the dwarf could say with certainty that he had never met this Radagast, nor had he heard such dire warnings in his last lifetime. While Gandalf had periodically disappeared on some unknown wizard’s business, that business had never followed him back to his companions, and Kíli dearly wanted to know just what in Mahal’s name was happening. But before the archer could ask, all conversation was cut short as an echoing howl sounded through the trees.

“Was that a wolf? Are there… are there wolves out here?” Bilbo asked, looking around nervously.

“Wolves? No, that is not a wolf,” Bofur told him, seconds before a warg leaped into the midst of their company.

While Thorin brought down this beast quickly with one strong blow from Orcrist – the dwarf lord's weapon back in his hands where it belonged – another warg was close behind it and Kíli's arrow barely slowed it down. Of course, this was hardly surprising since the once-king missed his target yet again but perhaps the archer could be forgiven for his distraction because none of this was right.

None of this should be happening and yet the dwarf could not deny the truth before his eyes. He must have changed something, altered the pace of his company just by being different than he had been before. Because the dwarves should not have met the trolls so early in their journey and they certainly should not have been attacked by wargs before reaching Rivendell. But whatever the once-king had missed, it was too late to fix it now.

For when both wargs were dead, Thorin looked down at the remains and cursed, “Warg-scouts! Which means an orc pack is not far behind.”

This was ill news indeed since the company could not hope to fight off an entire pack of wargs and riders, not when they'd barely had any chance to rest after the trolls' attack. Indeed, Kíli and the others had been awake for more than a day by this point and the once-king did not like to think that some tiny act on his part had so endangered all their lives.

To make matters worse, the dwarves' ponies had bolted when the wargs appeared and they would never be able to outrun their enemies on foot. But then Radagast volunteered to draw off the warg pack with his rabbits and while Kíli worried for the brown wizard's safety, the company could not afford to refuse his gesture now.

So the once-king told himself that Radagast would be fine and indeed, if anyone could escape unharmed from a warg pack, it would be this wizard because his sleigh burst from the copse as though pulled by Arien herself.

“Come and get me,” Radagast shouted with a wild peal of laughter and the wargs raced after him, the group soon disappearing out of sight behind a hill.

Once the orcs were gone, Thorin's company left the shelter of the trees, Gandalf leading them eastward across the rocky plain. They ran for what seemed like ages over rolling hills covered with stones and scrub brush, only luck keeping one of the dwarves from turning an ankle in some hidden gopher hole.

Across such ground, the warg pack would have caught them easily without Radagast's assistance and yet, the brown wizard couldn't seem to shake his pursuers off. His rabbits were fast but the wargs were damnably persistent and his twisting path forced the dwarves to stop and hide more than once. They threw themselves down in the grass or under overhanging boulders, waiting anxiously until the orcs turned away again, and all Kíli could think about was how much he hated this. He hated the ever present danger threatening his kindred and the overwhelming fear that he would fail them all again.

So by the time one of the warg scouts stumbled upon the company’s latest hiding place, the archer’s hands were already shaking with worry and exhaustion and his tension ratcheted up tenfold when Thorin ordered him to take the rider out. Because Kíli needed to kill this orc before he could warn his fellows and if once-king had been himself, he would have slain beast and rider with one shot.

But he wasn't himself, was he? The dwarf was an old soul shoved back in his younger body and while his sword hand was slowly growing stronger, his aim had not recovered yet.

So while Kíli did manage to hit the orc, he caught his foe in the shoulder instead of the throat as he intended, and the orc nearly managed to sound his horn before the archer released another shot. This arrow brought both creatures down, the rest of Thorin's company leaping forward to finish off their enemies. But while the orc fell silently, the warg was a different matter and the rest of its pack could not have missed the tortured screams that it let out before it died.

The dwarves' enemies had been alerted because Kíli could not do the job he had been given and Thorin's annoyed glare made him cringe inside. The archer should have done better; he had been the goddamned Lord of Silver Fountains after all and he had bested Bard the Dragonslayer in a contest once or twice.

So the once-king was damn well going to act like he had deserved the crown his people gave him and when the warg pack managed to corner its prey near a large group of boulders, Kíli stood tall against the tide. Not that this made the archer's aim any better but he would fight until his quiver was empty in the defense of his kin. Indeed, the dwarf shot arrow after arrow as he slowly retreated toward the rocks with the rest of his company, thinning out their enemies as best he could.

However, even if Kíli had been able to hit more than half his targets, arrows alone would not have won this fight. The dwarves needed a miracle and he was rather hoping that their wizard might think of something clever soon. But when the archer glanced back at the boulders, Gandalf was nowhere to be seen and none of the company seemed to know where he had gone when Kíli asked.

If the wizard had abandoned them, the once-king would curse Gandalf’s name upon his dying breath as the faithless friend that he had proved to be. For the once-king might have forgiven the wizard for leaving his company at Mirkwood – and he had, reluctantly – but to disappear now would be a far worse crime than that.

However, before the dwarves could curse their erstwhile companion too fiercely, he reappeared from amongst the rocks and shouted, “This way, you fools! To me!”

“Come on, move! Quickly, all of you!” Thorin ordered, the other dwarves running toward the crevice that Gandalf had uncovered while Kíli and his uncle stayed back to cover their retreat.

Only once the rest of their companions were safe within the rocks did Thorin shout for his sister-son to join him, the archer slinging his bow across his shoulders and sprinting toward the stones. He leaped into the gap moments before his uncle, the two dwarves sliding to a stop at the bottom and then turning to face the opening warily.

Kíli fully expected the dwarves’ enemies to follow them into the crevice and he knocked another arrow for the moment that a silhouette appeared against the sky. But it seemed that his arrow would not be needed because the sound of the company's panting was soon drowned out by the echoing peal of hunting horns. The rumble of hooves and the wet thunk of steel through skin told the rest of the story, the orc who fell at Thorin's feet moments later proving it beyond a doubt.

Because that was an elvish arrow buried in the creature's flesh and Kíli was pleased to know that Elrond was still a worthwhile ally in this life. Indeed, something in the once-king eased when Gandalf led the company further into the rocks and their path came out inside the hidden valley of Rivendell.

Whatever dangers lay in the world outside, Rivendell had always been a place of rest and healing and the archer could not understand why his uncle was so angry that Gandalf had brought them here. Hadn’t the company meant to seek Lord Elrond’s counsel since no one else in the Westlands could read the dwarf lord’s map? Kíli certainly hoped that Thorin hadn’t been intending to find Thrór's hidden door without even the map’s short verse to guide them, particularly since the once-king had forgotten several of the lines.

But when Elrond returned from orc hunting, Kíli's uncle greeted the elf lord with far more suspicion than was warranted. For while Thorin had always spoken of Thranduil with this sort of deep-seated hatred, Durin’s Folk and the Western elves should have been allies if not the closest friends.

To make the situation even weirder, the archer was the only one who seemed surprised by his uncle’s words and actions, the rest of the company responding with just as much suspicion when Elrond welcomed them in Sindarin. He was offering food and shelter but Glóin and the other dwarves reacted as though he’d offered insult and surely the once-king could not be the only one who spoke the elvish tongue?

Not that Kíli was supposed to know Sindarin fluently, but he was prepared to make up months of private study to explain his sudden talent if it would stop a needless fight. However, that turned out to be unnecessary for Gandalf stepped forward to tell his companions the truth of Elrond's hospitality.

After a brief discussion, food proved more powerful than suspicion and even Thorin relaxed somewhat once Elrond's steward led the company to a well-laden table, enough food and drink to satisfy even the largest appetite. Admittedly there was more greenery and less meat than most dwarves preferred in their repast but Kíli, at least, was too starved to care.

So the once-king dug in with a will and by the time Elrond joined the company, he was feeling much more himself. He joked with Dwalin, laughed at Ori and listened with interest when their host explained the history of the blades that Thorin and Gandalf had taken from the troll hoard earlier that day. Indeed, Kíli might have carried Orcrist in his uncle's memory, but he had forgotten that the wizard's sword had earned a name as well. Glamdring and Orcrist would serve their new masters proudly, though it was the as yet unnamed Sting which Kíli was still most pleased to see.

However, that blade was not part of Elrond's story and when the elf returned Orcrist to Thorin, the dwarf lord thanked him almost civilly. So perhaps Thorin's earlier rudeness had simply been due to exhaustion and his dislike of being rescued rather than some deeper conflict, which meant that the rest of the dwarves' stay in Rivendell should pass peacefully.

Truthfully, Kíli was quite looking forward to a few weeks of rest in which to practice his archery and create a better plan. The once-king needed to use the years the Valar gave him to anticipate the coming dangers and avoid them instead of running around in a panic every time a monster howled.

The archer also planned to use this time to talk to his hobbit because Bilbo was never going to fall back in love with him again if all of their conversations were interrupted by Thorin's glaring or one of Bofur's stupid jokes. Kíli needed to show his hobbit that he wasn't actually as foolish as he'd probably seemed during the first part of their journey and these two weeks in Rivendell would be the dwarf's best chance to start courting the burglar properly.

The once-king would have time to state his intentions since the company had to wait for the moon to be aligned correctly before Elrond could read Thráin's map and so he did not think much of it when Thorin, Bilbo, Balin and Gandalf went to meet with the elf lord later on that night. Kíli was busy enjoying a late-night meal with his companions, snacking on fire-roasted sausages while he and Fíli traded jokes back and forth.

One lighthearted evening would be just the thing to put him in the right mood for romance since Bilbo did not need to know about his sorrows yet. Perhaps someday far in the future, Kíli might be able to tell his hobbit about the life that he had lived without him, but it would doubtlessly be better to stick to flowers and stories from his childhood for now. For the once-king had seen some lovely violets on the way into Rivendell and Bilbo had always enjoyed his descriptions of the fire moon near Dunland when Kíli had told the tale before.

So even though Thorin and his companions returned too late for the once-king to speak with Bilbo again that evening, he was not particularly worried about the missed opportunity. Kíli would have days to woo his hobbit before the dwarves left Rivendell and a good night's sleep might lower his chances of making a complete fool of himself.

But instead of waking comfortably to the fresh scent of elvish bread rolls, the archer was shaken from a sound sleep before the crack of dawn. He looked around in confusion to see the other dwarves packing up their gear, Thorin ordering his sister-son to his feet when the once-king hesitated for too long.

This doesn't make any sense, Kíli thought, completely flabbergasted by the time that he had lost.

Even if their company had been traveling with greater speed in this lifetime than in the last, there was no way that the elf lord should have been able to read the moon runes on Thorin's map. But when Kíli mentioned this concern to Balin, the older dwarf assured him that Elrond had translated the runes without any trouble and the once-king could not understand how this was possible. Because leaving Rivendell now would alter the entire timeline of their journey and Kíli did not want to imagine what this change might mean. However, Thorin could not be dissuaded and so despite the archer's misgivings, their company marched out with the dawn.

Perhaps this will allow us to avoid some of the dangers that we faced in the past, Kíli told himself, trying to remain optimistic about their chances even as the absence of their wizard left him cold inside.

Chapter II: Prologue - Part 3

Tags: fic, kilbo, mid-series, poignant, the hobbit, timetravel, wisdom in defeat*
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