Chapter II: Prologue - Part 3
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo, unrequited Bilbo/Thorin
Warnings: angst, lots of pining, minor violenceWord Count: 7774 (27,724 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, Part 2
From the moment that Thorin's company left Rivendell, nature itself seemed to be ranged against them, the dwarves' every step taken into a fierce and driving rain. Even in the lower reaches, the storms were almost constant, the icy sleet soaking through Kíli's clothing until he quite forgot what it felt like to be dry.
The weather only grew worse with every league the company traveled, rain and sleet turning into hail and howling gusts of wind when they neared the Misty Mountains' highest peaks. Indeed, Bilbo nearly tumbled from the path more than once from the sheer strength of the wind, only the weight of his pack giving the dwarves enough time to grab their burglar before he fell. After the third close call, the company made sure that someone always had a hand near Bilbo so that they did not lose him, though the hobbit was hardly the only one who was miserable.
Durin's beard, why was I so bloody skinny? Kíli cursed on many a chill evening, huddling next to his brother and sorely missing the extra pounds of muscle that he had gained in Erebor.
Even Bombur began to lose his cheer after endless days of sodden travel, the company's progress slowing to a crawl. Indeed, Thorin's face grew darker and darker with every week that the dwarves spent in the Misty Mountains and Kíli was beginning to share his uncle's frustration by the time they reached the highest pass. For the dwarves had already lost the time they'd gained by leaving Rivendell so quickly and their original journey had not had many days to spare.
Thranduil's dungeons alone had cost Thorin's company an entire month of travel and Kíli was trying to think of a way to avoid being captured in Mirkwood when the mountains began to shake beneath his feet.
“Watch out!” Someone yelled, the once-king looking up to see a massive boulder flying toward the company. This hunk of rock slammed into the cliff above Kíli's head with a deafening crack that left his ears ringing even as the force of the impact almost knocked him from his feet.
“This is no thunderstorm; it’s a thunder battle!” Balin shouted, the words nearly inaudible over the rushing wind and rain. “Look!”
The old dwarf was pointing into the storm, Kíli following his hand to see large shapes moving through the wall of rain before another thunderous impact made him duck his head again. The archer didn't need to see the creatures clearly in order to know that they were giants – indeed, his memory filled in the details well enough – and he was rather more concerned with staying on the path right now.
However, not all of the once-king's companions shared his survival instincts, Bofur stepping to the very edge of the cliff as he tried to get a better view. “Well bless me, the legends are true. Giants! Stone giants!”
The other dwarf sounded more impressed than frightened and to be fair, the giants weren't actually attacking Thorin's company. They were far more interested in slaughtering each other than they were in Bofur, but their argument was no less dangerous for this truth. Because the dwarves were still trapped in the middle of a massive battle and the combatants were paying no more attention to them than the dwarves might pay to a bug beneath their boots.
“Take cover, you’ll fall,” Thorin yelled, pulling Bofur away from the edge just as another boulder slammed into the mountainside. This impact was the strongest yet and the dwarves held onto each other tightly to keep from falling into the canyon down below.
“What's happening?” Kíli shouted, trying to see the stone giants around the barrier of his uncle's back. Thorin had pushed his sister-son against the cliff face when the last missile landed, blocking the once-king from danger with his own body, and while Thorin’s protectiveness was understandable, it was rather irritating now. Kíli couldn’t brace for the next impact when he couldn’t see the boulders coming, but when the dwarf finally managed to get a clear view of the giants, he did not believe his eyes.
Because these were behemoths of rock and stone instead of the enormous men that he remembered, their bodies carved whole from the mountainside. Indeed, they were the mountain and in this moment, Kíli realized that his private quest might be much more problematic than he’d thought. For the once-king had assumed that the only changes to their journey would be those of his own making and this was swiftly being revealed as the utmost arrogance.
Yet the dwarf did not have time to dwell on this revelation when the very stones upon which he was standing suddenly began to crack and sway. A third giant was rising from the mountain and Thorin’s company was positioned straight across the creature's legs.
So the dwarves scrambled for safer ground, the once-king following his uncle as he ran further up the path. The trail was quickly disappearing into a mass of cracks and fractures, Kíli leaping one last gap to land on solid rock again before turning back at Fíli's panicked shout.
“Kíli!” his brother yelled, reaching for the archer as the stones gave way. “Grab my hand! Kí...!”
The once-king tried, but it was too late, their fingers missing each other by inches as the giant broke free of the mountainside. Kíli could only watch in horror as Fíli and his companions were swept away into the storm, the dwarf’s heart stuttering in his chest at the thought of losing those he loved.
In truth, Thorin's grip on his shoulder was the only thing that stopped the once-king from jumping in an attempt to reach his brother because the once-king would rather die than live alone once again.
But his uncle had halted the archer’s instinctual leap toward Fíli and even Kíli wasn’t quite mad enough to try again. Instead he stood frozen as the three stone giants continued their titanic battle, the creatures throwing missiles back and forth until the newcomer was struck down by a well-placed chunk of rock.
The giant stumbled back against the mountain and then began to crumple, those trapped on its legs shouting with alarm as they plummeted toward the rock. There was a thunderous crash when the giant’s body slammed into the cliff face and while the remaining dwarves could not see their companions around the curve of the pathway, the once-king feared the worst.
“No!” He screamed, his voice intermingling with his kindred's fearful cries.
“No! No! No!” Thorin shouted before charging forward, the dwarf lord calling Kíli to follow after him.
The two dwarves rounded the corner at full speed, panic lending their feet wings, and the once-king nearly collapsed with relief when he saw Fíli lying on the stone. Because the other dwarf was bruised and battered but alive, as were the rest of their companions, and Kíli could ask no more than that right now.
His brother was fine and his burglar was... missing?
“Where's Bilbo? Where's the hobbit?” Bofur cried even as the once-king looked around wildly.
His nerves couldn't take these sudden shifts between panic and elation and when the dwarves spotted Bilbo hanging from the edge of path by his fingertips, Kíli might as well have been a helpless dwarrowling again. The archer stood frozen while his companions tried to pull their burglar to safety, even Ori jumping forward to grab Bilbo's hand. But the rocks were too slick and when the hobbit lost his grip again, Thorin swung down over the edge to boost him up. It was a near thing even so and the entire company breathed a sigh of relief when both the hobbit and the dwarf lord had regained the path again.
“I thought we'd lost our burglar,” Dwalin said, patting Bilbo on the shoulder and something about this statement set Thorin's temper off.
“He has been lost ever since he left home,” Kíli's uncle growled, sneering down at their burglar. He seemed to consider it a personal affront that the hobbit had needed to be rescued even though any one of his companions could have fallen just as easily.
Though perhaps the once-king should not have been surprised by Thorin's fury since his uncle had been refusing to see Bilbo's worthwhile qualities from the moment that the company left Hobbiton. Indeed, Kíli could not understand it for while his uncle and his hobbit hadn't been the best of friends in their previous lifetime, there had at least been a grudging respect between them rather than this endless scorn.
However, as much as the archer wished to reassure Bilbo that he was a valued member of their company – and he greatly feared that their burglar was taking Thorin's words to heart – he could not find his chance. For the encounter with the stone giants had made his uncle even more protective of his sister-sons than usual and he would not let either of them from his sight. Indeed, Thorin made sure that Fíli and Kíli laid their cloaks down next to his when the company took shelter in a nearby cave, the space small but infinitely more comfortable than the roaring storm outside, and there was no way that the once-king could sneak off before the morning's light.
So Kíli lay down upon the stone, cursing his uncle's vigilance and trying not to stare at Bilbo too obviously. The hobbit looked far more disheartened than he liked to see and the once-king felt like such a coward when he turned his face away. But Bilbo would hardly be willing to speak freely with Thorin listening to their discussion and Kíli's duty to his family would always come before the desires of his heart.
Until the safety of his friends and family was secured, the once-king could not afford to say anything that might make his uncle doubt him and speaking truth to their burglar would do just that.
Of course, none of this would have been an issue if the dwarf lord hadn't been acting like such a bastard and in this moment, Kíli rather wished that he had never stepped foot outside his door. Not to join this mad quest anyway.
For while the once-king had loved his people dearly, he had never believed that Erebor was worth the price it cost. Gold and gemstones and all the heirlooms of Thrór's kingdom could not compare to the lives of his kindred, and while life in the Blue Mountains had not been easy, Durin’s Folk had done well enough. Indeed, Kíli had learned far more about the world while guarding caravans and selling goods at market than he might have as a pampered prince of Erebor.
So if the once-king had not known that Thorin would never be happy until he reclaimed his homeland and Fíli would never be happy as long as their uncle’s dreams went unfulfilled, the dwarf might have tried to convince them to turn back.
Kíli could have wooed Bilbo just as well in the Shire as he could on the road to Erebor – much better probably – and while Smaug would still control the Lonely Mountain, Thorin did not truly need the Arkenstone to be the king of Durin's Folk. His people followed him for love not glory but the dwarf lord had never been able to believe this as long as the shadow of Thrór's lost treasure still weighed upon his heart.
Which was why thirteen dwarves and a hobbit were slogging their way through the Misty Mountains in Thorin’s service and Kíli really needed to regain his strength for the trials still to come. Yet even as the rest of his companions began to drift off into slumber, the once-king found himself wide awake instead. His body was exhausted but his mind was whirling, the encounter with the stone giants having thrown his surety into doubt again.
Indeed, the archer stood on the edge of a revelation, a truth that teased at his thoughts until denial shut it out again. Because the world could not have been changed so greatly and he must simply have misremembered the stone giants from his past.
With this thought held firmly in his mind, Kíli allowed the sound of the rain to lull him into a doze, though it seemed like he had just closed his eyes when a new noise snapped him alert again.
It was Bilbo, the hobbit sneaking away in the middle of the night like a true burglar, and while the once-king’s heart protested this decision, he couldn’t fault his beloved for not wanting to stay. After all, Kíli had hardly given him a reason to endure Thorin’s constant derision, not one beyond simple friendship, and that was cold comfort on a night like this.
To tell the truth, the once-king wasn’t sure if Bilbo even liked him very much at the moment because the dwarf had been counting on the company’s long days in Rivendell to begin his courtship under optimal conditions and the loss of that opportunity had thrown him off his game. Rain and crags were a far cry from the flowers and romantic walks that he’d imagined and he’d barely talked to his hobbit during the last days of their climb. In fact, Kíli had barely talked to anyone, the constant damp and chill making him so irritable that only Fíli and Thorin had been willing to walk next to him in line.
So while the dwarf hated to think that Bilbo was capable of abandoning his companions without even a farewell to mend their sorrow, he would not stop the burglar from departing now. Indeed, the once-king’s loyalty to duty had its limit and if his hobbit truly wished to return to the Shire then Kíli could not make him stay.
After all, a miserable burglar would be more burden than advantage and even if this would make it more difficult for the archer to save his family, he would find another way.
Indeed, on further contemplation, Kíli saw no reason that Thorin’s company must reclaim Erebor this year rather than the one that followed and it would be easy to ensure that Thranduil kept the dwarves imprisoned without Bilbo there to break them out. After Durin’s Day had passed, the once-king would have an entire year to make peace between his uncle and the elf king, and with a bit of luck, the dwarves of Erebor would have allies long before Bolg attacked. It’s not as though Kíli truly needed Bilbo to discover Smaug’s weak spot when he already knew it and the men of Laketown would look on Erebor more kindly if the dragon died before burning down their town.
Although, it seemed that the dwarves might have their burglar after all, for Bilbo’s departure was stopped by Bofur, who had been standing watch near the entrance of the cave. While Kíli could not hear what the other dwarf was saying, he was certain that Bofur was asking the burglar to stay and perhaps the miner’s earnestness could heal the damage that Thorin’s scorn had done.
At least he was making the attempt, which was more than could be said for any other member of their company. In truth, Bofur was one of the few who had always treated Bilbo with friendship and while the once-king had sometimes resented the other dwarf’s interruptions, he was also grateful for the chance to hear his hobbit laugh. But tonight even Bofur could not convince their burglar to change his mind.
However, the miner had managed to delay him and it appeared that the fates were not ready to let Bilbo Baggins go just yet. Because Bofur’s farewell was cut short by the glint of blue from Bilbo’s scabbard, Thorin shouting an alarm when the floor of the cave began to split apart beneath his company.
The dwarves scrambled to their feet, tossing cloaks and weapons on haphazardly. But they could not fight without firm ground to stand on and all the once-king could think was, Oh, fuck, not again, as that ground disappeared.
While Kíli hadn’t forgotten about the goblins in the Misty Mountains, he had been a bit distracted, and anyway, Orcrist should have glowed a warning when such creatures were nearby. But Thorin’s blade remained dark even as Bilbo’s sword shined brighter and with such little notice, the dwarves could not hope to escape their enemies.
Instead the company tumbled into the depths of the mountain as the last of the cave floor vanished, rough-hewn tunnels funneling them into the goblins’ trap. Kíli tried to slow his fall but he was traveling too fast to do more than bang his fingers and the rest of his companions were no better off.
The dwarves fell at least a mile by his reckoning – though the twisting tunnels made it difficult to judge – and then landed in a crudely woven basket clearly built for prisoners. Although their pace had slowed enough to keep their bones from breaking, the impact was still hard enough to knock the once-king’s breath from his body and leave him gasping on the stone. That's going to leave a bruise, Kíli groaned, his attempts to breathe growing increasingly labored as the rest of his companions fell on top of him.
Indeed, the once-king was almost grateful when spiny goblin fingers dragged him to his feet and he could take a breath again. The dwarves were poked and prodded forward and while they struggled fiercely, their enemies far too numerous to fight. However, despite the mob of goblins that surrounded Thorin’s company, Kíli somehow lost track of Bilbo and by the time he reached the goblin king, the burglar was nowhere to be found.
Thank Mahal for small favors, the archer thought, pushing down the knot of worry in his chest. His hobbit might be alone in the deeps, but he had fallen once before and survived to tell the tale. Indeed, the experience had tempered Bilbo during their last journey, giving the hobbit a confidence and a magic ring that he had not had before, and so Kíli told himself to trust in their burglar.
If Bilbo was going to stay then he would need to find his courage and the once-king had his own problems now. For the goblin king was even more grotesque than the dwarf had remembered: huge, pale, and corpulent, the monster loomed over his captives and order them searched thoroughly.
“What are you doing in these parts? Speak!” the goblin king demanded once Thorin’s company had been stripped of anything worth value and when the dwarves refused to answer, he threatened to torture Ori until his command was satisfied.
So Thorin stepped forward to stand for his companions, the goblin king immediately focusing his attention on the most valuable prize amongst his prisoners. But where Kíli had vague memories of a surreally polite conversation, the discussion took a very different track this time. Indeed, the goblin king greeted Thorin by name and title, speaking of bounties and Azog the Defiler as though the pale orc still walked amongst the wilds, and this was another sign of truths that should not be.
Something much larger than Kíli was at work here, something that the once-king did not truly wish to think about.
So he didn’t; the dwarf told himself that the goblin king must be lying and pushed the implications of the creature's words from his mind to focus on his imminent demise. Not the most cheerful of subjects but one that Kíli found rather pressing as the goblins began to wheel great instruments of torture toward Thorin’s company.
It seemed that the dwarves' captor intended to torment his prisoners before he killed them and his joy at the prospect was more disturbing than his appearance could ever be. The goblin king actually started to sing about the pain and suffering that he planned to inflict upon his captives and the sight of him dancing around the cavern was not one that Kíli would be able to forget easily.
However, before the creature could begin his work, one of the other goblins recognized Orcrist and the dwarves' enemies went berserk at his panicked shout. The sight of the elvish blade stirred the goblins into frenzy, the goblin king leaping back onto his throne as though to hide behind it even as he shouted for his subjects to slaughter everyone. Beginning with Thorin, the dwarf lord's captors forcing him down to the ground and raising a wicked knife above his neck.
At this, Kíli and his companions began to struggle even harder, twelve dwarves watching in horror when that foul blade began to fall.
But before the knife could reach its target, a sudden shock wave swept through the cavern, destroying the torture machines and flinging several goblins into the air. Everyone else was knocked off their feet by the force of the explosion, even the torches blown out as this burst of power rushed back to its source.
“Take up arms. Fight! Fight!” a voice shouted, the once-king looking up to see Gandalf approaching through the gloom.
The wizard was making a habit of these last minute rescues – indeed, it seemed to be his nature – and the archer was sorely tempted to explain the concept of promptness most emphatically. However, at the last second was far better than too late and given the current situation, his lecture would have to wait.
So Kíli grabbed his weapons from the stone while the goblins were still dazed by Gandalf's magic and then followed his companions as they fought their way towards the light. The wizard’s blast might have given the dwarves their freedom, but their enemies recovered quickly and they had the advantage of numbers on their side. In truth, the only thing that kept Kíli and the others from being overwhelmed in seconds was the maze-like structures that made up the goblins' kingdom, twisting pathways and narrow bridges holding the creatures back.
Yet despite the odds that stood against his kindred, it was not fear that made the once-king's heart pound within his chest. Kíli could not be afraid when his body was finally answering him exactly as it should and if he became a little reckless in his jubilation, this was understandable after the weeks that he had had.
Indeed, the worries of his future and the sorrows of his past disappeared beneath the quicksilver slash and thrust of the blade within his hands. There was only this single moment, nothing but the next goblin charging toward him to be slaughtered by his kin.
However, such a moment could not last and when the company was finally cornered on one of the goblins' swinging bridges, Kíli felt the cold touch of reality wash over him. Because there were not enough arrows in all of Erebor to match the sheer numbers ranged against them, the goblin king appearing on the path before Gandalf with a roar.
“You thought you could escape me?” the creature shouted, nearly knocking the wizard over with a swing of his mace. Yet Gandalf was not one to be defeated easily and moments later, he darted forward to slash the goblin king across his throat.
Dwarves and goblins alike stood frozen as the monster crumpled, the sheer weight of his body making the bridge creak dangerously. Goblin architecture might be impressive in its own way but it was not very sturdy and Kíli could not be too surprised when the structure suddenly dropped out underneath his feet. The remains of the bridge slid down the wall of the cavern, gathering speed until the dwarves were barely able to hold on and if Mahal had not built his children sturdy, the landing might have killed them all.
As it was, the once-king gathered another score of bruises and a possible cracked rib as rock and timber crashed around him, the body of the goblin king falling on top of the wreckage to add insult to injury. But when Kíli finally managed to pull himself free and looked back toward the rocky heights from which the company had fallen, he knew that their ordeal was not quite over yet. Because there was a horde of goblins swarming toward them, a legion out for blood, and the dwarves had no choice but to run.
One mad dash later, Kíli and his companions spilled onto the eastern steps of the Misty Mountains, those dark tunnels left far behind by the time they finally stopped. The dwarves gathered together in small clusters, each checking on the safety of their closest kindred while the wizard took a total count.
“Where's Bilbo? Where is our hobbit? Where is our hobbit?!” Gandalf demanded after counting the members of Thorin's company and coming up one burglar short.
However, the wizard received no explanation for this absence, just a smattering of excuses mixed with finger pointing as the dwarves passed blame around. Glóin said Bilbo had been with Dori while Dori denied everything and Dwalin just seemed angry at their burglar for being lost. Indeed, Kíli was one of the few who stayed silent but the once-king had nothing to offer to the conversation now.
All he had was his faith that Bilbo would soon join them, and if his hobbit did not survive the Misty Mountains, Kíli would never be able to set aside his guilt.
What if I was supposed to save him? the archer wondered. What if his survival wasn't fate at all? Perhaps it was only luck that had rescued Bilbo in their first lifetime and longer that the hobbit went without reappearing, the more Kíli began to worry that death was exactly what he had encountered in the deeps.
For the dwarf saw nothing but empty forest where his burglar should be standing and he didn't even have the heart to argue when his uncle began spewing hate again. If Bilbo was truly dead then Thorin's opinion of him no longer mattered and while he deserved to be remembered as more than a craven coward by the dwarf lord's company, Kíli, at least, would honor him. He knew how to mourn even if he had failed at courtship and he swore that Bilbo would never be forgotten while he still lived and breathed.
But it seemed that fate was on the once-king's side in this because Thorin had just finished listing off their hobbit's failures when Bilbo stepped out from behind a tree and told the dwarf lord off as he deserved.
“Bilbo! We'd given you up!” Kíli exclaimed, certain that he was grinning like an idiot again. There was something seriously wrong with him, his moods swinging wildly between joy and depression, and it was no wonder that he hadn't managed to woo his hobbit properly. The once-king couldn't even understand his own mind any longer and the doubts that he had tried so hard to ignore were a shouting clamor now.
I was the King Under the Mountain; I lived through the brightest and the darkest times Erebor had to offer so why can't I seem to make use of my experience? Why do I keep reacting to each new trial like some useless dwarrowling? I should have been able to map out the path we took before and steer us around the dangers, but instead I've been allowing Thorin to lead us into suicide and panicking whenever a warg howls... WARGS!
Kíli had forgotten that his companions were not safe here on the mountain; when recalling the long series of catastrophes that had made up their journey, this one had slipped his mind. However, the baying of the warg pack in the distance was bringing back those memories, flashes of fire and fear in the night as Thorin's company ran down the mountainside.
The archer had been terrified then, treed by wargs and helpless as he had never been before, and he felt a shiver run through him when the dwarves took to the boughs again. Yet that was only a ghost, the echo of a memory, so Kíli shoved that fear down deep. Gandalf would save his companions because the wizard had done it once already and the once-king would not give these goblins the satisfaction of seeing him sweat again.
Only the threat was not goblins, not this time, and when Azog the Defiler rode forth upon a great white warg, Kíli felt the world shift beneath his feet.
He looks like his son, was the once-king's first nonsensical thought, that grim visage threatening to make him lose control. For if Bolg had nearly managed to wipe out the line of Durin, what worse destruction might his father cause?
Kíli's second thought was that he must be dreaming because this? This was impossible. Azog had been dead, dead and buried long before Thorin's quest had ever started and nothing about the once-king's return should have been able to alter history. A difference in timing, routes or relationships was one thing; this was something else entirely.
But then again, I've noticed that this world is not like the one that I remember; I've just been living in denial about the changes that I've seen. Every little thing that Kíli had chalked up to chance or fuzzy memory – the appearances of his companions, the stone giants, and Rivendell's moon-struck evening – no longer seemed so innocuous. The archer had not forgotten the details of their quest, this world had changed around him and it was no wonder that he had felt so lost since waking up near Hobbiton.
No wonder Kíli hadn't been able to escape the feeling that something was very wrong with his journey and he had no idea how he was supposed to save his family now. For if those once dead are living and the paths we walked are altered, then the life I lived will give no warning before my kindred die.
Although, some things were not so different and the once-king gripped the branches of his perch tightly as Azog ordered the wargs to attack. His creatures leaped into the trees, jaws snapping at the dwarves' heels and claws tearing deep gouges from the wood. Soon the tree in which Kíli, Fíli and Bilbo had taken shelter began to sway beneath the onslaught, the weight of their attackers tearing its roots free of the ground.
So the once-king grabbed his hobbit and leaped into the next pine, Dori holding out a hand for Fíli when he slipped. But this tree was not safe either now.
One after another, the pines toppled until the entire company was perched on a single tree at the edge of the cliff, the warg pack stalking toward them with hungry growls. This might have been the end of Thorin's company if Gandalf hadn't finally decided to be useful, tossing flaming pine cones to Fíli and the others so that they could drive the creatures back.
Fire was one of the few things wargs truly feared and the smirk dropped off Azog's face when his beasts retreated with their tails between their legs. However, the pale orc's frustration soon turned to triumph once again because the company barely had time to cheer their victory before the final tree began to shake. Within seconds, the pine was dangling over the edge of the cliff, the dwarves hanging on as best they could.
Kíli glanced down and then quickly turned his gaze back to the tree trunk as the long, long drop beneath his feet made his stomach lurch painfully. Even Durin's Folk could not survive a fall like that and yet, down was the only direction left to Thorin's company.
Down or forward into flames and a waiting orc pack and the once-king had to wonder about his uncle's sanity when the dwarf lord chose the second path. Thorin must have lost brains as well as beard in this new reality because even if it looked quite regal, charging the Defiler would never be anything but a truly awful plan.
The archer watched in horror as the pale orc swatted his uncle aside almost casually, Kíli's worst nightmare playing out before his eyes. The once-king could not watch Thorin die again, he couldn't, and yet he was helpless to do anything but struggle against the pull of gravity.
Even as he and Fíli dragged themselves back up onto the pine tree inch by inch, Kíli knew that they would never make it before their uncle was decapitated and he could feel a scream of denial welling up inside of him. However, before the sound could escape the archer's throat, someone ran past him; Bilbo Baggins had found his bravery.
The hobbit rushed forward to tackle the orc that was looming over Thorin, knocking him to the ground before his blade could fall. It was Bilbo's sword that slashed down, butchering the monster with a ferocious snarl that Kíli had not seen since the day his hobbit died.
But courageous as he was, the burglar was still no fighter, and once their enemies recovered from the shock, he was outmatched rapidly. Azog and his wargs were toying with Bilbo and the once-king knew that his death would be neither swift nor clean. However, he and Fíli had finally managed to put solid ground beneath their feet and they did not hesitate before charging forth to aid their friend.
While Kíli didn't exactly have a plan, the Lord of the Eagles had come to their rescue once and the archer could only hope that the eagle might do so again. The once-king and his brother just had to hold off Azog's pack for a few more minutes and when Dwalin joined them, he started to believe that they actually had a chance.
So the dwarf threw himself into the fight with abandon, taking a savage pleasure in every beast that died. These were Azog's creatures and thus Bolg's allies and the more that Kíli managed to slaughter now, the fewer his kin would have to face upon the battlefield. For the once-king knew his enemies and even if the future was suddenly uncertain, he was sure that a war was coming soon enough.
Indeed, some things held true between lifetimes and Kíli looked to the heavens with relief when he heard the rush of giant wings.
The eagles fell upon the remaining wargs as hawks upon a rabbit, striking with wings and talons until half their enemies lay wounded and the others ran off into the night. With far more gentleness, those same talons lifted Thorin and his companions out of danger, Kíli tumbling through the air to land next to his brother on a downy feathered back.
Although the once-king could not relax completely while his uncle lay limp within the Lord of the Eagle's claws, he knew that he could do nothing until the dwarves touched earth again. Besides, Thorin might have been sorely wounded by Azog but he had always been a stubborn bastard and Kíli had to trust that he would not die easily. So the once-king settled himself more comfortably beside his brother and then allowed the stress of the last day to take its toll.
“You are late, child. Now come; we have much to speak about.”
The dwarrowdam looks like his mother and yet somehow more as well, a soft luminescence dancing beneath her skin. She is both familiar and a stranger just as Kíli does not quite recognize the place in which he stands.
But the dwarf does not resist when she takes his hand and leads him forward into the grandest hall that he has ever seen. Marble columns support a high arched ceiling, every inch of stone carved with fantastic elves, dwarves, and dragons so detailed as to seem alive, and the sheer magnificence of it takes his breath away.
Yet despite the wonders that surround him, Kíli's eyes are drawn inexorably to the far side of the hall where another dwarf sits waiting on a massive golden throne. He too looks familiar; his face an echo of Khagolabbad's oldest tapestries and his eyes glowing like forges from the fires lit within.
“What have you been doing, Kíli, son of Dís, daughter of Thráin?” this dwarf asks when Kíli walks closer, the echoing rumble of his voice driving the archer to his knees. “We sent you back to change the future and you have only made it worse instead.”
“You sent me back?” Kíli murmurs, staring up at these strange dwarves in confusion. “To save my family?”
“To save the world,” the dwarrowdam corrects him gently. “Your family is not the fulcrum here.”
She is clearly expecting a response but the once-king can only gape as he finally realizes who stands before him and eventually the Smith breaks the silence in his stead. “If you were intending to save your kinsfolk then you have been doing a rather pathetic job of it so far. Thorin Oakenshield almost died tonight and if any member of your company perishes before reaching the Lonely Mountain then our sacrifice will have been made in vain. Stop rushing about as though you were some foolish elfling born of Manwë rather than a son of Durin and use the wisdom that you learned upon the throne of Azsâlul'abad to lead your kindred home.”
“Now, love,” Mahal’s Lady cautions, laying a hand upon her husband's arm. “The lad is trying and we did send him back without any instructions to guide his way. That is why we are speaking to him now. Although...” she frowns at Kíli and he feels as though the sun itself has dimmed, the archer ready to promise anything to remove the disappointment from her eyes. “My husband does have a point. You need to use your knowledge more effectively if you hope to win this time.”
“But... the world has changed,” the once-king protests. “Our journey is not as I remember and Azog, he was dead.”
If Kíli was hoping for sympathy, he is disappointed for Kaminzabdûna just shakes her head at him. “Of course the world is different, child. We are powerful but even we could not send you through time without far-reaching consequence. Our actions have caused ripples throughout history, the tapestry of our existence changing threads beneath Vairë's hands. But while the warp and weft have altered, the framework is the same and you will find that your quest is not as different as you fear.”
“But why me?” the dwarf asks softly. “Why choose me and not someone better qualified?”
It is Kíli's old insecurities speaking, the part of his heart that had never wanted to be king. He had done his best but the archer was no born hero, not like Thorin and his brother were.
Yet the Smith and his Lady do not judge him for his weakness; instead their faces soften into something almost comforting. “We chose you because your life was the turning point in our war against the darkness; something that occurred during your journey is the reason that we lost. We do not know exactly where the fulcrum lies, not yet, but we know that you are the only one who can shift the balance toward our side. You must keep your company alive to reach the Lonely Mountain and as soon as Vairë has deciphered the secret to a better future, we will call you back again. Now go, child, and remember that our fate is in your hands.”
The once-king has questions, a thousand questions dancing on the tip of his tongue, but it seems his time is up. For Kaminzabdûna leans forward to place a Runestone in Kíli's palm and then both Valar disappear into light.
Kíli woke just as the eagles began to descend toward a tall stone spire, his brother's hand rough upon his arm. He felt stunned, dazed and disoriented by the vividness of his dreaming even as his mind struggled to process that which he had seen.
Yet the archer could not doubt the truth of his vision, not when he opened his fingers to see the Vala’s Runestone lying in his palm. It was the deep green of an emerald or a pine tree and carved into its surface was a short command. 'Innikh dê,' it said, 'Return to me.'
This might seem a strange message to one not born of Durin's Folk, but it made perfect sense to Kíli. It told him that he could still earn his place in the Halls of Mandos now. So even though the fate of the world was not something the once-king had ever wished to carry, he knew that he could not refuse the Vala's charge. Not when Kíli might be able to save everyone, to undo his past failures and be welcomed into the last home of his people after a long and happy life.
Indeed, the dwarf saw truth in Kaminzabdûna's words when he thought on their conversation, his company's current journey having followed the same broad trace as the one he lived before. There had still been trolls and elves and stone giants – no matter how different their appearance – and there should still be men and orcs and dragons further on their way.
Perhaps the fate of Thorin's quest was not as dire as Azog's resurrection had made the once-king fear. Perhaps the company's trials were not random and the archer could use his foreknowledge to protect his kindred until the Valar discovered how to alter history.
Thus Kíli had hope again when he and Fíli stepped onto the stone of Beorn's Carrock, though the sight of his uncle's unmoving body made his heart falter in his chest. But Mahal had said “almost” in the once-king's vision and the Smith would not have lied to his child about this.
Indeed, Gandalf took only a few moments to work his magic once he reached Thorin's side, the wizard's murmured spell bringing the dwarf lord back to consciousness again. He opened his eyes with a groan, Kíli and Dwalin stepping forward to help their leader to his feet as the rest of the dwarves gathered round. Thorin still seemed weak despite Gandalf’s healing and the once-king could see his own worry mirrored on his companions’ faces, Fíli reaching out to grab his brother’s hand. But their uncle recovered quickly, every passing moment putting more color on his cheeks.
Doubtlessly, Thorin would have naught but bruises and injured pride to recall last evening’s foolishness, dwarven sturdiness winning through where sense had failed. Although, Óin was not one to assume anything about his charges safety, the healer moving to the dwarf lord’s side to examine him properly. However, before Óin could begin, Thorin turned away from his kindred to round on their burglar instead.
“You! What were you doing?! You nearly got yourself killed!” the dwarf lord shouted as he stalked toward Bilbo, the words making Kíli bristle indignantly on his hobbit's behalf.
It was inconceivable that Thorin could still hate their burglar after Bilbo had saved him and only Fíli's grip on his shoulder kept the archer from stepping in this time. But it seemed that his brother was right to stop him because Thorin ended his rant with the most heartfelt apology that Kíli had ever heard his uncle speak.
Indeed the dwarf lord hugged Bilbo close and proclaimed all his doubts misguided even as a shard of ice settled in the once-king's heart. Not from Thorin's action since his uncle was only doing what was honorable but from the expression that the archer saw in Bilbo's eyes. Kíli recognized that look; he had seen it in his mirror for decades. That was the look of someone who wanted what they knew they'd never have.
Only Bilbo was aiming this gaze at Thorin and that wasn't right at all. The hobbit was Kíli's; he was supposed to be Kíli's and the dwarf did not know what he would do if he lost his burglar now.
Because his love for Bilbo had supported the once-king as much as his love for his family and he wasn't supposed to be alone this time around. Sure Kíli hadn’t exactly swept the hobbit off his feet so far, but he had still hoped to win the burglar's heart in the future even if he was forced to wait until his larger task was done.
The archer had still hoped to find the happiness he'd dreamed of and yet... this wasn't really his Bilbo, was it? His Bilbo had been dead and buried for a lifetime and even if the hobbit had once cared about him, he clearly did not love Kíli now.
So maybe there truly were no second chances where the heart was concerned. Perhaps their burglar had been changed too much by Vairë's reweaving to see the once-king as a lover and why should Kíli have expected otherwise when he had never made his true intentions known? After all, Thorin might have been needlessly cruel to Bilbo but he was also handsome, loyal, and far more experienced in such matters than his sister-son.
Thus Kíli should not be surprised that the company’s hobbit had fallen for his uncle and if the dwarf had lost Bilbo for good, he had only his own cowardice to blame.
However, it still hurt deeply to see his burglar yearning for another and if the once-king's companions had not been distracted by the sight of the Lonely Mountain, they might have questioned the strained grin upon his face. For Kíli could not smile when his heart was shattering within him and he turned his gaze toward the trees in the distance to keep Fíli from noticing his pain.
The archer did not want to ruin this moment for his brother nor answer the questions that the other dwarf was sure to ask. Though he also could not stop himself from scoffing quietly when Óin spied a thrush flying eastward and Thorin took it as a good omen for the journey still to come. Because the worst was only just beginning and Kíli's uncle – all of Kíli's kindred – had no idea of the dangers that lay in store for them.
Chapter III: Preface - Part 1