Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,

Comes Wisdom in Defeat - Chapter IV: Part II

Title: Comes Wisdom in Defeat
Chapter IV: Preamble - Part 2
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo & Bilbo/Thorin, somewhat requited Kíli/Tauriel
Warnings: angst, canon violence, injuries, pining
Word Count: 9200 (66,864 so far)
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, Part 3
Chapter III: Preface - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3A, Part 3B
Chapter IV: Preamble - Part 1,

Despite his uncle's rather unsettling greeting, the once-king refused to let himself give into despair. Thorin might be sick, but that did not necessarily mean Kíli had laid his plans for naught. After all, where there was life, there was hope, and the archer would reserve judgment until he could discover more about this so-called dragon-madness that held the dwarf lord's heart.

Indeed, Kíli would never know if Thorin could be cured unless he tried it and all things considered, his chances could have been much worse than this. The once-king could have been trying to broker peace while fighting off a dragon if Bard's attempt to kill the beast had failed. Or the dwarf might have been alone, his companions already dead or injured before he reached the mountain, and thus Kaminzabdûna's promise proved a lie.

Compared to those other paths, this one was not so difficult. This one only required a bit of cunning and the wisdom to know whether subtlety or brute force would be more effective in swaying Thorin's mind.

So for now the once-king stayed silent as his uncle led Fíli and the others through the twisting halls of Erebor, observing the dwarf lord in conversation rather than joining in, and what he saw was actually heartening.

The power that held Thorin's mind had not destroyed him, only buried his better nature beneath a mask of avarice, and that mask was not complete. In one breath, Kíli's uncle boasted of the Lonely Mountain's wealth and in the next, he asked after the archer's injury, his expression wavering between a brooding pride and something like normality.

Wherever this gold-madness came from – some weakness within the hearts of Durin's children or a dark echo of Smaug's time within the mountain – the once-king believed that it could still be broken now. Kíli simply needed to discover the key to Thorin's better nature, whether it be honor, threat, family or something still unknown. Thus a combination of the archer's knowledge, a raven's warning, and the pleas of the dwarf's companions should serve his purpose well.

Perhaps Balin will have some ideas, the once-king thought. If Thrór truly carried a similar affliction before he died then someone must have tried to heal his mind...

With this thought to bolster him, Kíli was feeling almost cheerful by the time Thorin led his small group to the small hall where the rest of their companions had set up camp the night before, and the sight of his friends put a true smile on the archer's face. For it seemed that all of the dwarves had survived Smaug's awakening with nothing more than scrapes and bruises, and the joy of their reunion pushed Kíli's worries to the back of his mind.

Indeed, the once-king should have days yet before Bard and Thranduil came to call upon the mountain – plenty of time to set Thorin on a better path – and he had learned to appreciate those brief moments of joy before more grief arrived.

So the archer hugged each of his companions in turn, the other dwarves just as happy to see that he was recovered as he was to see them well. Soon the dwarves were trading stories of their recent trials, Fíli and Bofur bringing Smaug's attack on the Lakemen to life in lurid detail while their companions listened on aghast.

Many of them clearly felt guilty about the damage done to Laketown, their burglar most of all, and when Balin began to tell their side of the story, Kíli understood. Because Thorin's company had tried to kill the dragon, Balin's story making Fíli and Bofur's seem almost boring in comparison.

Daring escapes, wild rides, liquid gold and fire – the only thing Thorin's plan had been lacking was rationality. Truthfully, the archer wasn’t sure why his uncle had believed that molten metal would kill a fire drake, but he had to admire the dwarf lord's tenacity. At least Thorin had made an attempt to slay his enemy and even if that attempt had been borne from dragon-sickness, there was still honor in the fight. There was certainly more honor in trying than there was in running as Kíli and his companions had been forced to do.

But perhaps the once-king had lived through the destruction of Laketown so that he could speak more eloquently in their favor now.

“Thorin, I- I am worried about Bard's people,” Kíli began, choosing to speak of the bowman as though he were already the king of men again so that his uncle would not be taken by surprise when he came to negotiate. Let Thorin think of Bard and Laketown as one unit and thus his vow as something that must still be upheld.

“What of them, Kíli?” Thorin replied impatiently, his eyes gleaming with a golden light once more.

“Smaug destroyed their city, uncle, and winter is coming,” the once-king persisted. “They will not last long on what few supplies they have.”

“That is not my concern.”

“But we have so much treasure an-”

“Treasure, yes. I must find the Arkenstone,” the dwarf lord muttered before whirling on his watching company. “FIND THE ARKENSTONE!!

Well that was a failure, the archer thought, joining the other dwarves as they scrambled to obey his uncle's shout. He hadn't even managed to remind Thorin of his promise before the dragon-sickness overtook him, sympathy clearly the wrong approach to take.

However, there were others and even wracked with gold-madness, the dwarf lord should not be able to ignore an army of orcs marching toward his door.

Which meant it was time to find a raven, Kíli slipping away from his companions after they reached the heart of Erebor's treasury and spread out to search. The once-king sought wisdom instead of treasure, climbing to the highest levels of the mountain where Erebor's ravens lived.

He was pleased to find that many of Roäc's children had already returned to the Lonely Mountain, though the great bird himself was absent from his nest. In another life, Roäc had brought news of Smaug's demise to the King Under the Mountain and while that was no longer necessary, Kíli spared a thought to the raven's health before turning to his task. These birds did not know the once-king as his own ravens had and they did not speak so clearly, but they recognized his birthright and it didn't take long for him to convince one young raven to scout the western plains.

The orcs must be on the move already if they were going to reach the Lonely Mountain in a few days' time and an army would not be able to hide from the raven's eyes. When the bird returned, Kíli should have proof that he could bring to his uncle – proof that even Thorin should not be able to deny.

Until then the archer would do his best to weaken the dwarf lord's dragon-sickness so that Thorin might greet his allies with something like diplomacy.

Although, speaking of allies, I don't need to wait on uncle to start sending messengers. While Kíli did not have the authority to summon the other dwarven kingdoms, he could still warn Dáin that he might be needed shortly so that the dwarf lord would not be caught unawares. So too could the once-king contact Beorn and the eagles for their assistance and it would be no ill thing if these allies arrived sooner than they had in the past.

Thus the archer sent out his ravens, waiting until they disappeared from sight before rejoining his companions in the treasure hall where the other dwarves were still searching for the Arkenstone. As though anyone could find one gem amidst a sea of treasure without a great deal of luck to guide his hands.

No, the Arkenstone would be found or not by fate alone and Kíli honestly didn't care if that damn jewel ever saw the light again. He had far more important things than treasure on his mind.

“It truly is beautiful,” the once-king said, walking up next to Thorin where he was standing on a hill of gold. His uncle wasn't searching with the others; the dwarf lord was watching his companions closely, ready to swoop down if anyone uncovered so much as a hint of glowing light.

Indeed, Thorin was so focused on his treasure that he didn't seem to hear the archer's statement, ignoring Kíli entirely until he reached out to nudge the dwarf lord's arm.

“Did you hear me, uncle?”

“Yes, I heard you,” Thorin answered, his eyes still lock on the gold down below. “But this is nothing next to the beauty of the Arkenstone.”

“Right, okay. But the mountain will be even more impressive once it's been restored. I know mother will be very glad to see Durin's Folk brought home again,” Kíli continued, hoping that his words might help Thorin remember the true reason they were here. The dwarves had not walked all this way to seize the Lonely Mountain's treasures, impressive though the hoard of gold might be; Thorin’s companions had joined him out of love and loyalty and the promise that Durin’s Folk might finally reclaim their place within the world.

“Have you given any thought to the future? To keeping our home safe now that we have taken Erebor once more? Word will spread that there is a new King Under the Mountain and soon both allies and enemies will turn their eyes this way.”

“You are right,” Thorin answered and for one brief moment, the once-king thought that his uncle was ready to listen to his advice.

But then the dwarf lord turned to look at him and Kíli saw that there was no reason in his eyes. “I must find the Arkenstone before anyone else tries to claim the Lonely Mountain. This treasure is my birthright; there must be no doubt of that.”

“Can we just forget the King's Jewel for a moment?” the once-king asked. Thorin's inability to think of anything but the Arkenstone was both worrying and irritating, this conversation going nowhere with his uncle at the helm. “There will be time enough to find the gem once we have renewed Thrór's treaties and our kingdom stands strong against all enemies who dare to challenge Erebor.”

Our kingdom? This is not our kingdom. This is my kingdom and I will have the stone that is my right. There is nothing more important than the Arkenstone and only a fool would believe otherwise. Unless...”

Thorin's eyes narrowed suddenly, Kíli's fingers itching for a weapon when his uncle's gaze turned murderous.

“You want it for yourself, don't you?! You would dare!”

“No! No! Of course not!” the once-king stammered quickly, holding up his hands. “I don't want power and I don't want the Arkenstone! All I want is for you to reign beneath the mountain, our people happy and prosperous again.”

Every word was truth but the dwarf lord did not want to believe him, Kíli needing another dozen apologies and excuses before Thorin finally let go of his sword. Even then, he didn't seem entirely convinced and the archer knew that his uncle would be watching him with suspicion now. Anything that he said would be suspect and convincing the dwarf lord to listen would be that much harder after this.

Clearly mentioning the Arkenstone had been a grave mistake because Thorin's need was worse than the once-king remembered – much, much worse. His uncle was obsessed with the gem beyond reason or regret and war might be the least of Kíli's worries now.

Like this the dwarf lord would be less a king than a tyrant and the archer had a feeling that Thorin's fixation would only grow when the Arkenstone was found. The King's Jewel would give weight to his uncle's position, give him power enough to brush aside all doubts and turn allies to beggars in his mind. That would be the end of Kíli's hopes, the once-king losing more than the chance to save his family.

But even without the gem, Thorin was clearly getting worse, his dragon-madness already stronger than it had been when his sister-sons arrived. If the once-king could not find a way to reverse the process then more extreme measure might be required and while Kíli did not want to reclaim the throne of Erebor, the negotiations to come would go much smoother with a different dwarf in charge. There was too much at stake for the archer to ignore any options, even ones that made him sick inside.

So Kíli considered leading a coup against his uncle; he considered it and then he laid that thought aside. Because treason for a just cause was still treason and there were some lines that the once-king could not cross.

Even if the rest of his companions backed him or Fíli agreed to steal his uncle's place – both propositions about as likely as Thranduil wedding Bard – Thorin would never step down peacefully. Kíli would have to kill him and the better future that Kaminzabdûna promised could not require regicide.

Sacrifice was one thing, murder quite another, and so Thorin Oakenshield must remain the King Under the Mountain until the day he died.

It was the once-king's task to ensure that this day came decades in the future and yet, as he considered the various paths that lay before him, Kíli found himself torn between Kaminzabdûna's purpose and everything that he believed was right.

Because the archer's companions would actually be safest if they hid inside the Lonely Mountain during the coming battle and the strength of Thorin’s obsession would make him easy to convince. However, such cowardice would leave their allies on the field to be slaughtered, Erebor lost to Thorin with his honor even if his fellow kings won the day somehow.

Indeed, Kíli was not sure how the rest of the company would react to such a suggestion when they clearly knew that Thorin was not well. Fíli and Ori kept glancing over in concern while the eyes of the older dwarves – those who remembered the last days of Thrór's kingdom – held despair as well as pain.

This despair told the once-king several things that he did not wish to know. First, that Balin and the others knew of no way to cure his uncle's gold-madness. Second, that they probably would not try.

His kin were in mourning for their leader, Thorin's commands something to be endured instead of challenged or ignored. That was the danger of kingship, that the dwarf lord's people would follow him even when his words were wrong.

Although, once again Bilbo seemed to be the exception amongst their company; the hobbit had tried to talk to Thorin, he had told Kíli that himself, and he was just as unhappy about the dwarf lord's transformation as any of his kin. Indeed, Bilbo looked at Thorin as though his heart were breaking, what warmth the dwarf lord had found for his hobbit gone cold and cruel again. But there was also anger and determination visible beneath the sorrow in his eyes.

Bilbo's expression told the archer that he was bound to repeat his theft if he found the Arkenstone, Erebor's greatest treasure bartered for a chance at peace and the sanity of the dwarf their hobbit loved. And while Kíli could probably stop the burglar despite the ring he carried, the archer could not force him to remain within the mountain while Thorin spiraled deeper into lunacy.

For there was no guarantee that his uncle would not turn on his companions one by one and even if there were, Kíli could not cause such pain to one whom he still loved. Staying in this place as Thorin shattered would destroy Bilbo along with him and their burglar meant for joy instead of suffering.

Bilbo was meant to return to the Shire and yet watching him watch Thorin, the once-king realized a simple truth. The hobbit would never leave his uncle willingly; he cared too much for that.

So if Kíli could not return the dwarf lord to his senses, then he must allow Bilbo's banishment to happen as it had in the past. Thorin's hate would drive the hobbit away as his sickness never could and while this would hurt Bilbo, this would also save him – Valar's grace but it would save them all.

However, this path must also be the once-king’s last resort because he knew well the strength of their hobbit’s loyalty and sending Bilbo from the mountain did not mean that he would run. After all, their burglar had thought Kíli worth dying for once already and the archer could not believe that Thorin would receive any less a sacrifice.

In truth, the only way to ensure that Bilbo left before the Battle of the Five Armies started would be to leave the mountain with him and if needs must, Kíli was prepared to do just that.

If all else fails, I can warn Fíli about Bolg and Azog and their army before leaving. With my raven to support him, Fí should be able to convince the others if not uncle and thus earn some grace to balance Thorin's cowardice. And at least my brother won't be jumping in front of any sword strikes without our uncle there. He's a skilled warrior and he'll be fine. He's not going to die if I leave him... Not going to die if I leave... Not going to die if I... Going to die if... Going to die... To di-

The once-king stumbled, his vision suddenly gone grey around the edges as a sharp pain pierced his chest. It felt as though someone was squeezing his heart in an iron grip, Kíli falling to his hands and knees with a gasp. But when he looked down, he didn't see the gold that must be there beneath him; all he saw was blood upon a muddy field.

All he saw was his brother, cold as stone and unmoving but for the accusation in his eyes. You should have saved me, those cold eyes seemed to say, boring into Kíli You should have been there to save my life.

“But I was there,” the once-king whispered. “I was there and I failed. I cannot fail again.”

So you will run instead?

“I'm not... I have to protect Bilbo... I have to change our futures as Kaminzabdûna asked.”

At the cost of your family?

“He's not going to die!”

You don't know that. You can't know that. You're just hoping that the Valar won't demand your brother in payment for Bilbo's life. But what use are you to the future if not in sacrifice? You have no special skills, no special wisdom that another dwarrow could not gain. You cannot even convince your uncle to forget the Arkenstone. Your kin will die because you cannot do this task. You will leave and Fíli will die and it will not matter if the Lonely Mountain falls.

This was not the voice of the Valar; this was the voice of Kíli's own fears within his mind and yet it was no less powerful for that. If anything, the voice was only stronger for being built from the once-king's nightmares and his deepest weaknesses and maybe it was Kíli who was the mad one now.

He was shaking, rocking back and forth in a pile of gold and gemstones helplessly. He was shaking because he was a failure; he was helpless and uncertain and he could not breathe. His fear was choking him; his memories were choking him and it took everything that the archer had to force them back again.

Kíli was not on the battlefield; he was in the heart of Erebor. His hands were not painted red with the lifeblood of his brother; they were buried in the cold metal of Thrór's great treasure hoard. The once-king focused on these small details, concentrating on the smooth metal beneath his fingers until his brother's corpse faded from his vision and the fist around his heart finally let him breathe.

But the archer could still feel the echoes of that terror inside him when he thought of leaving Fíli, a gaping hole just waiting to pull him down once more.

Valar's grace, but I can't follow Bilbo, Kíli thought, resting his head in his hands If this happens again, I'll be worse than useless; I'll be a liability. Maybe if Fí joined me, I could manage but I can't ask him to give up Erebor. Not when he defied our uncle once for me already and this would break his heart.

Which meant that the archer had no good options if Thorin was not cured of his gold-madness before Bard and Thranduil came. Bilbo would not be able to stay and Kíli would not be able to go with him, the hobbit left to fend for himself outside of the walls of Erebor. And, knowing Bilbo, he would probably do something brave and foolish without anyone there to stop him, the future lost when their burglar got himself killed again.

So I will just have to ensure that my first plan succeeds and there is no need for an alternative. I will cure Thorin with the aid of my raven, we will ally with Laketown as uncle promised and find something to appease the elf king. We will be prepared when Azog and Bolg come to claim our bloodline and they will rue the day they tried. This I fucking swear.

Vow made, Kíli looked up, worried that one of his companions – or worse, his uncle – had seen him fall apart. That wouldn't exactly make him more trustworthy in the realm of kings and battles but it appeared that the archer had been lucky this time around.

He had fallen some distance away from the others, hidden from their sight by one of the hall's enormous pillars, and while his thoughts had been screaming, he had not let them out. If Kíli had then Fíli would have been at his side already and when the archer pushed himself back to his feet, he saw his brother standing unconcerned on the far side of the hall.

Or, at least, as unconcerned as he could be with Thorin glaring at him, the entire company starting to look a bit disgruntled as their search dragged on.

“Any sign of it?” Thorin called, receiving a chorus of 'no's and 'nothing's in reply.

“Keep searching!”

“That jewel could be anywhere.”

“The Arkenstone is in these halls; find it!” Thorin overrode Óin's protest with a quiet fury that was somehow more disturbing than his explosive rage had been. Rage might burn out, but this was the endless hate of a mountain and it would last a lifetime easily.

“You heard him; keep looking!”

“All of you, no one rests until it is found!” the dwarf lord commanded before stalking off in a swirl of ermine, seeking solitude to brood upon his wrongs.

Indeed, the once-king was growing increasingly worried about his uncle, fearing that the other dwarf might fall past the point of no return before he could bring his plan to bear. Kíli needed his uncle rational enough that is raven's words would reach him and the way things were going, Thorin might not last until the dwarf returned. The archer needed a holding action, something to weaken Thorin's dragon-madness before it consumed him utterly.

Kíli knew that he could not speak with his uncle himself, not when Thorin already thought his sister-son had designs on Erebor, but maybe the dwarf lord would still listen to his burglar. After all, Bilbo had no true stake in the Lonely Mountain beyond his share of promised treasure and his position as an outsider would serve the once-king now. Indeed, the hobbit had the best chance of piercing Thorin's obsession and thus when he slipped away from the treasure hall, Kíli waited a few minutes and then followed him.

It did not matter that the burglar had failed this task once already; all that mattered was that he tried again. Because Bilbo did not have to heal Thorin's gold-sickness; he just had to keep the dwarf from losing himself completely before the once-king and his raven could make him see sense again.

Only then would Kíli be able to leave Bilbo in the mountain where he would not come to harm, the archer perfectly willing to tie the hobbit to a pillar if that would keep him off the battlefield. With the burglar safe, the once-king would only have to protect Fíli and their uncle from Azog’s fury, and his knowledge of his enemies should give him an edge in this fight.

Once the orcs were defeated, Thorin would take his rightful place on the throne of Erebor while Bilbo returned to the Shire as Kaminzabdûna asked. There was nothing but love to hold their hobbit in the Lonely Mountain and that would be slim comfort when his love was not returned.

Of course, Bilbo was loved and seeing him pine over Thorin like this was making it difficult for Kíli to remember that he had planned to build a life with Tauriel. This hobbit might not be his hobbit, but the once-king's eyes could not tell the difference and his heart did not truly want to know.

So when the archer finally managed to find their burglar in one of Erebor's many antechambers, he did not begin with a plea for help as he had planned. Instead he found himself sitting down next to Bilbo, his heart aching at the slump of the hobbit's shoulders and the sorrow in his eyes.

“Are you all right?” Kíli asked, wishing that he dared to hug the burglar now.

“I’m okay, Kíli. You don’t need to worry,” Bilbo said, smiling at the archer tremulously. “I don’t even know why I’m surprised since nothing on our journey has happened as I thought it would; but it doesn’t seem fair that Thorin should reclaim your homeland only to lose himself instead. Erebor was supposed to be the end of our quest, but while the mountain is beautiful, I have a bad feeling in my chest.”

“Maybe you should leave, now while you still can,” Kíli suggested on the slim chance that the hobbit might heed his words and go

But Bilbo simply shook his head, denying this choice as the once-king knew he would. “I can’t leave. I’m not going to abandon this company when you might still need your burglar. Besides, where would I go? I can’t go to Laketown when it’s my fault that Smaug attacked them, the elves would probably just throw me back in the dungeons, and I don’t fancy making the trip back to Hobbiton alone.

“No, Kíli, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me until this tale comes to an end. And even if our quest has not been what I expected, I can honestly say that I do not regret my choice to join your uncle's company.”

The hobbit smiled then, sweet and sad and far too similar to the one that still haunted Kíli's dreams. That sad smile was the once-king’s last memory of his Bilbo – it had come to symbolize all that he regretted – and so he did now what he wished that he had done back then.

Kíli leaned forward and kissed his burglar softly, one hand cupping the nape of Bilbo’s neck. It was just the barest press of lips but even so the archer could almost believe that he was back in his own time again. Back in the time when his hobbit had truly loved him and before his blood was spilled. But even though Bilbo’s lips were as soft as the once-king had always imagined, this fantasy could not last. Because the hobbit did not respond to Kíli's overture and when the dwarf felt a hand on his shoulder, he drew back to meet the burglar’s startled eyes.

“Kíli? Why… I'm sorry... I'm not...” Bilbo stammered out in awkward apology, “I just don’t feel that way.”

The hobbit seemed honestly regretful, more worried about comforting Kíli than the line his friend just overstepped. But Bilbo wasn't telling the once-king anything that he didn't know already so Kíli stopped the burglar’s apology with a hand against his lips and a sad smile of his own.

“I know, Bilbo. It's all right; just call it a goodbye. I've been wanting to do that for a while now” - for decades, truly - “and I could not miss my chance. Thorin doesn't know how lucky he is to have won a heart like yours.”

“Thorin? I don't...” the burglar started, trailing off with a blush when the archer raised one skeptical eyebrow. “All right, maybe I do, but it’s not as though anything will come of it.”

“My uncle may not return the strength of your feelings, but I am sure that he considers you a friend,” Kíli said, though he knew this was probably slim comfort now. “Thorin does not have many friends beyond the members of this company, and in truth, most of us are kin as well. So please do not give up on him just yet. Remind him that treasure is a cold companion when life grows difficult and if you do find the Arkenstone, I would keep it to yourself. Because there are more important things than gold and gemstones and if you can make Thorin remember that, we may rid him of his madness before all hope is lost. ”

“I will do my best, Kíli,” Bilbo promised. “Though I do not know how much difference one hobbit can make on this grand stage of kings and treasure halls.”

“You are more important than you know, Bilbo, so just do the best you can,” the once-king replied. “And perhaps my uncle will finally see how much you care before our quest is done. You would be good for him.”

As he spoke the words, Kíli found that he meant them despite the ache in his own chest. Bilbo deserved to be loved as he desired and there was still a chance that Thorin would realize the truth of his hobbit's feelings, slim though it might be. Maybe the burglar would be able to steal the dwarf lord's heart for himself if he did not have to steal the Arkenstone. After all, Kaminzabdûna had not said that Bilbo had to return to the Shire forever, just that he must go.

Let the hobbit live out his days in Erebor if he so desired, Thorin showering him with all the love and adoration that his bravery had earned. Admittedly, the dwarf did not know whether he would actually be able to bear the sight of Bilbo and his uncle bound together, but once the Battle of the Five Armies had ended, Kíli did not need to stay.

He could leave with Tauriel if the elfine agreed to join him and traveling the world with her should make him forget the ache. He would have a new love to replace that which this timeline had forgotten, carving out his own small bit of happiness.

This would be enough if his friends and family could be protected and the Lonely Mountain need never face a hopeless war again. Indeed, the future should be bright for everyone if Thorin could just be brought out from the darkness and the tide of battle changed.

So Kíli thanked Bilbo for his promise and then took his leave of the hobbit, seeking out the rest of their company instead. The archer had done what he could; he trusted Bilbo to speak to Thorin as soon as possible and his presence at that meeting would only hurt their cause. Now was the time for patience, for waiting as his plans came to fruition, and he should spend some time with the other dwarves to judge what they might do.

Most of his companions were gathered by the gate, taking a break from their search for the Arkenstone while Thorin wasn't there to shout. Instead they'd turned their hands to other work – Bombur and Dori were grooming their beards while Ori wrote upon a borrowed scroll and the rest of the company had taken their weapons out for sharpening. The dwarves might have replaced their stolen armaments from Laketown's stores, but men did not care for their blades as a dwarrow would. These swords needed polishing and edging and while the weapons in Erebor's armory might be better on both counts, no one would dare to touch them without Thorin's permission, not when his mood was so unpredictable.

The dwarf lord would probably banish his companions for theft or some such ridiculous charge and while Kíli hoped to have Thorin sane before there was any need for battle, it was always good to be prepared. So the once-king sat down by his brother and pulled out his own sword, accepting the whetstone that Fíli offered him and then bending to his task.

As he sharpened the blade, the archer listened to the others talk, their conversation laced with worry though they spoke of simple things. Kíli could hear the concern beneath the words, concern but no call for action, and as the minutes dragged by without a sign of Thorin or their burglar, the once-king found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Because there were too many unknowns in his future – too many what ifs that the dwarf could not control – and any one of them might ruin everything.

If my raven does not return... If Bilbo fails to ease Thorin's madness... If Azog and Bolg choose to attack more fiercely than before... If... If... If.. If.. If. If! If! the litany went until the maelstrom in Kíli's head was enough to drive him to insanity.

The once-king was doing his best but he could not prepare for every twist of chance and there was no way of knowing what would be the same as it had been before. There were only guesses to guide his planning and while the dwarf was sure of certain actions, he was unsure of far more.

Chief amongst his troubles was the fear that Bilbo and his raven would not be enough to sway his uncle toward alliance and even if the dwarf lord kept his promise to Laketown – and he must keep his promise – that still left Thranduil unaccounted for. Thranduil whom Thorin had hated even before the gold-sickness took his mind.

So Kíli might well fail in his endeavors and just in case he was forced to let their hobbit steal the Arkenstone and be banished from the mountain, the archer should take measures for Bilbo's safety now. There must be some way to ensure that the burglar was protected even if the once-king was not with him; there must be some way to make him run far from the battlefield.

However, the dwarf could not see a clear path to this future no matter how he tried and after the third time that he nearly sliced his finger on his sword through inattention, Kíli decided that he needed to try something else instead.

“Fíli? Will you walk with me?” the once-king asked his brother, sheathing his blade as Fíli looked up in surprise.

It had been too long since the two of them had had time for each other, conversation falling by the wayside when danger threatened all their lives. Indeed, there hadn’t been a truly peaceful evening since the company left Beorn’s hall and even then the archer had been more distant than he ought.

While Kíli had gotten his brother back, there had been too many secrets standing in-between them, his heart grown old with sorrow while Fíli's was still young. And the once-king had accepted this, the disconnect a small price to pay to see his brother live the life that he deserved. But that did not mean Kíli had to like it and he needed Fíli now. He needed to know that his brother was there with him as he tried to change the future and he had always done his best thinking when bouncing ideas back and forth.

So he asked and despite their recent distance, Fíli answered without argument. Indeed, the other dwarf simply smiled at Kíli's request, pocketing his whetstone and moving to his brother's side.

“Lead on, little brother,” Fíli said, ushering the once-king forward with a wave of his hand. So the archer did just that, leading his brother into one of the hall's many side passages where they would not be overheard.

However, once they were alone, Kíli did not know where to start. The once-king didn’t know how to share his burdens after so many weeks of holding silent and he would need the perfect words to bridge the gap between their hearts. But he could not find them and so instead of speaking, the archer paced the width of the tunnel, circling around his brother until the other dwarf took pity on his cowardice.

“Are you all right, Kí?” Fíli asked, reaching out to still his brother when he drew near again. “You’ve been different since we reached the Lonely Mountain and while I am also troubled by the changes we have found here, I do not like to see such worry on your face.”

Somehow this concern was enough to end the once-king’s silence, though he could not bring himself to speak of the life that he had lived without Fíli at his side. But that didn't mean he could not speak of the task that stood before him and perhaps warning his brother would help to ease the terror within his heart.

“War is coming, Fíli. War is coming and I fear for us all,” Kíli told him, slumping down next to the other dwarf with a sigh. “This battle will be the linchpin of our future and I do not know if I can do what the Valar ask. I do not know if I can heed Kaminzabdûna and keep us safe as well.”

“And what did our Mother tell you?” the elder prince replied, giving Kíli a half-shrug when the archer glanced over in astonishment. He had been expecting something other than this calm acceptance, but it seemed Fíli was not done surprising him.

“If you say that you’ve heard the Valar then I believe you and it’s good to have an explanation for the distance in your heart. You’re still my brother; you’re always going to be my little brother, and I will ever be there to help you if I can.”

Fíli couldn't know how much these words meant to his brother, a promise that the archer had not destroyed their relationship with his secrets and his lies. They could still be Fíli and Kíli even if they would not be quite the same and the once-king dearly wished to see how his brother grew and changed throughout the years. That was a prize worth as much as any love or treasure and Kíli would not turn Fíli's helping hand away.

Instead the dwarf admitted, “This is probably going to sound crazy, but I have to ensure that our burglar survives. I do not know why, for the Valar did not tell me, but Bilbo must return to the Shire or all our hope is lost.”

“You’re right; that does sound a little crazy,” Fíli agreed, grinning when his brother smacked him on the arm. “Yet it does not seem that difficult. If you fear for his life on the battlefield then we keep him in the mountain and send him home when the fighting’s done.”

“That is my hope, Fí, and I have several plans in motion that may make my worry moot. But what if uncle does not improve? What should I do then?”

His brother’s grimace was answer enough, the other dwarf far from blind to the way that their uncle had been acting: his suspicion and obsession and the driving need to possess the Arkenstone. Thorin was no longer the dwarf that his sister-sons had admired and while some of that shine had already been lost for Kíli, this truth must be a dagger to his brother’s heart.

However, Fíli did not give into despair as the once-king had been sorely tempted to do more than once. Instead the other dwarf just wrapped an arm around his brother’s shoulders and pulled him into a hug.

“If we cannot protect him here, then we’ll find another way,” Fíli promised, somehow making Kíli believe him even now. “Perhaps Bilbo can seek refuge with Bard and his family since the man seemed quite fond of our burglar. Surely the Dragonslayer should be able to protect one hobbit's life. Or, if all else fails, maybe Thranduil would give him shelter since the elf king should not know that Bilbo traveled with us and hobbits look much like children to most eyes.”

“I do not think I should trust our future to Thranduil’s hospitality,” Kíli told his brother, the elf king not exactly known for helping those who were not Mirkwood born. Thranduil might protect the hobbit or he might just leave him – in fact, I'm pretty sure that's where Bilbo started the battle last time and Mahal knows where that decision led.

But Fíli still had a point; if Kíli couldn't follow their burglar from the mountain – and the once-king had certainly noticed that his brother failed to mention this possibility – then he would have to trust Bilbo to someone outside of Erebor. Someone who could convince the hobbit to seek refuge while Thorin's company sought battle and there was only one person whose opinion Bilbo respected well enough for that.

It would have to be Gandalf and if some new threat had not waylaid him, the wizard should be arriving on wings of warning soon – though, sadly, not soon enough to plan for the coming battle properly. But the once-king remembered him being present when Bard showed the Arkenstone to Thorin, Gandalf saving Bilbo from a much worse fate than banishment.

The wizard had done it then and he should do it now, the Battle of the Five Armies gathering all threads together in a knot of fate and destiny. This would be Gandalf's chance to redeem himself for his failures since Kíli's revelation in Mirkwood did not absolve the wizard from all responsibility. Even if the blood of Durin's sons was not his sole weight to bear, Gandalf had brought Bilbo on this journey and he should have seen the hobbit safely home again.

However, this time, the wizard would. This time Kíli would warn him to keep their burglar from the battle so that Kaminzabdûna's charge could be fulfilled.

“Thank you, brother; I think you’ve helped me find a better path. Though I hope Thorin will find the strength to shake off this treasure madness before it comes to that,” the archer said, resting his head on Fíli's shoulder with a sigh.

He should really get up now, search out another raven to be his messenger and ensure that Gandalf was forewarned when he arrived. But Kíli didn’t want to get up; he wanted to stay here with his brother and pretend that he was truly young again. He felt closer to Fíli now than he had in ages and while the once-king was still holding secrets, they did not seem so heavy anymore. Because his brother had believed him when he spoke of his mission and the dwarf could ask no more than that.

But eventually Kíli's arm started to fall asleep where he was leaning against Fíli and his stomach started to protest the hours since it had last been fed. So the archer pushed himself to his feet with a groan before holding out a hand to his brother and pulling him up as well.

“Are you ready to go back?” the once-king asked. “Depending on our uncle's mood, I may need you to distract him while I seek out a raven. He'll probably be suspicious if I try to sneak off on my own.”

“Don't worry, Kí. I'll watch your back,” Fíli agreed readily. “Just tell me when.”

So the dwarves returned to the entrance hall, Kíli needing to borrow a scrap of parchment and a quill from Ori in order to write his message down. That much went smoothly, the other dwarf not even asking why. But unfortunately, the once-king hadn't finished writing before Thorin stormed back into the chamber with Dwalin and Bilbo trailing after him.

The dwarf lord ordered his company to the gate, his face twisted in such a froth of rage that no one dared to question him. Instead the dwarves did as Thorin commanded, laying down their tools and climbing to their feet. Even Kíli just pocketed his message since he could not risk trying to sneak off until his uncle had calmed down. Gandalf would simply have to wait until Thorin stopped staring at his sister-sons with such suspicious eyes.

Something had made their uncle very, very angry and judging by the pain on Bilbo's face, the hobbit would be no help in extinguishing this rage. Their burglar had clearly tried to talk to the dwarf lord and just as clearly failed, Kíli now one step closer to needing Gandalf's help.

However, Bilbo wasn't the only person distressed by Thorin's anger and the once-king's disappointment was overcome by curiosity when he saw the pensive frown on Dwalin's face. So the archer sidled up to his old mentor, keeping one wary eye on Thorin to ensure that his uncle would not overhear his words before he spoke.

“Is everything all right, Dwalin?” the once-king asked, wanting to make sure that no new danger had appeared while he and Fíli were working out their plan.

“Aye, laddie. I just curse my timing,” Dwalin told Kíli with a sigh. “Thorin looked almost normal talking to our burglar, but as soon as I told him about the refugees from Laketown, he turned back into that again.”

It was rare for the other dwarf to question Thorin so openly, the warrior loyal to his king beyond a doubt. Indeed, this conversation was a sure sign that no one was resting easy with the change in Thorin's temperament, particularly those like Balin who had known his grandfather in the days when he was young.

This was wrong; the entire company knew that this was wrong and so the mood was grim when Thorin ordered them to block up the mountain's gate. It was not the work that bothered his companions, indeed repairing the damage that Smaug had done was only sensible. But Kíli knew that his uncle was motivated more by fear for his kingdom's gold than by any fear for his people's safety, Thorin's priorities made far too obvious by the crazed light in his eyes.

Still, needs must, and at least moving blocks of stone around might distract the archer from his worries about the days to come. So the once-king offered to help Bilbo with his wheelbarrow, patting the burglar on his shoulder when his uncle looked away.

“It's not your fault,” Kíli murmured, though the hobbit didn't seem to believe him. He just kept watching Thorin, the burglar's disappointment at his failure written clear across his face.

The company worked steadily, those more skilled at masonry directing those without the knack. Soon Erebor's gate had been sealed off to the height of the average dwarrow, but their pace wasn't fast enough for the King Under the Mountain to be satisfied.

“I want this fortress made safe by sunup,” Thorin growled, his thunderous scowl urging the company to work more quickly at their task. “The mountain was hard won; I will not see it taken again.”

As though a bunch of desperate fisherman would truly be able to overwhelm their defenses. As though the dwarf lord had not promised Laketown aid from Erebor. The men needed this assistance more than ever now that Smaug had burned their city and honor demanded that Thorin offer succor even if his vow had not. But the King Under the Mountain was speaking of the Lakemen as enemies when he would need every ally shortly and his words made Kíli's blood boil in his veins.

Give Bard a few chests of gold; give Thranduil the White Gems of Lasgalen that he so desires and just call this madness done.

So the once-king let go of his wheelbarrow, the metal hitting the floor with an echoing clatter as he rounded on his uncle, worry and anger overwhelming his restraint.

“The people of Laketown have nothing,” the archer shouted, trying to make Thorin see that he was acting as false as Thranduil had all those years ago. “They came to us in need; they have lost everything!”

“Do not tell me what they have lost. I know well enough their hardship,” the dwarf lord snarled back, refusing to see the parallels between his actions and those of the elf king he so despised. “Those who have lived through dragon fire should rejoice. They have much to be grateful for.”

Thorin's tone brooked no argument, the dwarf lord looking out over the ruins of Dale with a cold glare before shouting, “More stone! Bring more stone to the gate!”

And the company obeyed him, even Kíli, though his heart was heavy when he went back to his work. But to challenge his uncle further could easily lead to banishment given Thorin’s current state of mind and the archer could not risk that, not when the very thought sent a twinge of pain through his heart again. Instead the once-king would wait for their burglar to steal the Arkenstone, his well-intentioned betrayal sending him straight into the wizard’s care.

Don't think like that. There's still the raven, the archer told himself, trying to shake off the foul mood that he was in. Bolg and Azog's army shouldn't be very difficult to find and the bird is probably on its way back right now. Even Thorin won't be able to ignore such enemies.

Indeed, the dwarf lord had fought bravely in the past Battle of the Five Armies despite everything, waiting until he could best turn the battle's tide before charging forth to meet his enemies, and if Kíli's plans were successful, the King Under the Mountain would fight with honor once again.

Yet there was still the if, that ever present if, and thus Gandalf must be warned.

So Fíli offered to take first watch when the company finally finished blocking off the gate to Thorin's satisfaction, the prince covering for his brother so that Kíli could slip away. The archer returned to the raven's aerie, finding a bird that was willing to carry his warning to the wizard with the first light of dawn.

‘Gandalf, I hope this message finds you in good health and good haste,’the once-king’s letter read.

‘Although our errand was successful and the kingdom of Erebor reclaimed, it pains me to inform you that Thorin has been overtaken by dragon-sickness and thus we can no longer guarantee Bilbo’s safety in these halls. However, our burglar is not without friends amongst our company and I would beg you to see to his protection if you can. If the worst should happen and war comes upon the Lonely Mountain, please send Bilbo as far from this cursed place as possible before the fighting starts. He is a gentle soul and he does not deserve the sort of friendship that Thorin offers now. No one does and his true friends will rest much easier knowing he is safe.’

Kíli signed this letter with his own name and then gave it to the raven, knowing that the bird would not rest until his message was in the wizard’s hand. While the once-king had not spoken of Bilbo’s true importance to the Valar – those words much too dangerous to put in writing with enemies about – this warning should be enough for now.

Indeed, the archer didn't know if Gandalf would believe the whole truth if he told it and he couldn't afford to have his letter dismissed as mad ramblings. Let the wizard arrive at the Lonely Mountain before Kíli started speaking of the Valar, this first letter laying the foundation for the revelations still to come.

With his task completed, the once-king relieved Fíli, serving his own watch before lying down to sleep. Kíli was expecting a restless night but he slept surprisingly well, his worries quieted by the hope that still lived on raven wing. Instead of blood, the once-king dreamed of starlight, of flame and glowing emeralds, and he woke feeling well-rested just before the dawn. None of the others were awake yet, even Bombur having drifted off on watch, and Kíli was grateful to have a quiet moment before he must be strong again.

“You will have your king,” the dwarf whispered to the stone beneath him, the song of Erebor dancing through his mind. “You will see joy and love and glory, golden centuries to rival any kingdom that has ever lived before. You will thrive and Durin's Folk will thrive with you until the last days of our world.”

As though this promise were an omen, the once-king heard the rustle of wings above him and when he looked up, he saw two ravens flying through the hall. One was leaving, Kíli's message held gently in its beak, and he knew that Gandalf would have his letter before the day was out. But it was the other raven that made the archer sit up quickly, hope and anticipation warring in his heart. For this was the bird that Kíli had sent to find his enemies and his uncle would have to listen to him now.

So the once-king wrapped his cloak around his shoulders and crept away from his companions, freezing in place whenever one of the others stirred. He wished to hear the raven's news in private before bringing it to Thorin since the dwarf lord's dragon-sickness would require a delicate approach.

This was Kíli's last chance to change the pattern; if he failed then he must trust to Gandalf and to heartbreak to see the Valar's mission done. But at least the archer had a chance and his steps were almost light as he climbed the stairs to the upper level where his raven waited. It was time to discover what the bird had found.

Chapter IV: Preamble - Part 3

Tags: angst, fic, het, kilbo, mid-series, the hobbit, thilbo, wisdom in defeat*
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