Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,

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Comes Wisdom in Defeat - Chapter IV: Part IV

Title: Comes Wisdom in Defeat
Chapter IV: Preamble - Part 4
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo & Bilbo/Thorin, somewhat requited Kíli/Tauriel
Warnings: angst!!!!, canon violence, pining, battles, the whole shebang
Word Count: 7418 (81,560 total)
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, Part 2, Part 3

The archer had never been very good at waiting. He had neither the patience nor the temperament for standing by when action might be called for and becoming the King Under the Mountain had not changed this basic feature of his personality.

Waiting like this – with the sounds of battle raging on outside the gate and the knowledge of his helplessness burning in his gut – this was torture on the once-king's heart and mind. This was guilt and self-hatred clawing at his chest, a sick sense of dishonor that was a far cry from Kíli's memories. But in the archer's previous lifetime, Thorin's company had waited to join their kindred for strategic reasons instead of cowardice.

The dwarf lord had been with them then; he had promised that they would fight as soon as the right moment came and he had delivered on his vow. Indeed, the Thorin that Kíli had known in the past was a very different dwarf than the one who had disappeared down the tunnel to Erebor's throne room and not returned again.

So while the once-king had endured worse than this before – months of worse until the Lonely Mountain fell – he soon found himself pacing fitfully. Twenty steps across the open space before the gate and back again as his thoughts went round and round.

Kíli was terrified that Bilbo would die before Thorin regained his senses and the once-king could join his hobbit on the battlefield. Even the reminder that Gandalf and Bilbo were together didn't stop the dwarf from worrying and the rest of his companions wearing expressions just as grim.

The dwarves had removed their gleaming armor after climbing down from the gate: gold-plated helmets, gauntlets and greaves thrown down to the stone in disgust. The treasures of Erebor's great armory might as well be tin if they could not be used and Kíli kicked his helmet out of the way with a curse on his next lap of the hall.

Ori looked up at the sound, the other dwarf opening his mouth as though to say something before sagging back down without a word instead. He had been writing again, passing the time as best he could just as his companions did the same.

Indeed, Ori's brothers were sitting near him, Dori fretting and Nori tossing rocks from hand to hand. Glóin had pulled out his whetstone again, Óin was searching through his herb pouches, and Fíli glared down at the stone. Balin slumped in exhaustion by his brother while Dwalin just stared pensively after Thorin, the old warrior's expression as close to heartbroken as it had ever been. Meanwhile Bifur carved, Bombur moped, and Bofur watched Dáin and his allies from the top of the wall.

The miner was calling down updates whenever the tide of battle shifted, Kíli torn between joining Bofur and covering his ears. Because every word seemed to paint a bleaker picture of their allies' chances, Bofur's descriptions lighting a fire in the once-king's mind.

Not panic but a grief-tinged fury, a driving need to somehow make things right. He needed to do something - anything to stop the Battle of the Five Armies from ending in defeat instead of victory.

Kíli kept hoping to hear a shout of “eagles” from Bofur's lips, some news that would let the dwarf breathe easy once again. However, there was naught but death and slaughter, the miner's shouts becoming few and far between as Dáin's army was driven back toward Erebor. Eventually Bofur turned away from the battle, climbing down from the barricade and collapsing next to his kin with a choked-off sob.

“Dáin is surrounded,” the other dwarf whispered, his usual boundless optimism nowhere to be seen. What elves and orcs and stone giants had not managed to extinguish, the Battle of the Five Armies had broken easily, and at this realization, Kíli could not hold back the maelstrom of his emotions anymore.

“We cannot do this!” the once-king burst out, stopping in front of Balin as he turned pleading eyes upon his company. “We cannot sit here hiding while our brethren lose this war.”

“We have no other choice, lad. Thorin will not listen,” Balin replied wearily, rubbing one hand across his face.

“Then we make him listen. We make him listen or we join the fight without him. Twelve more warriors can still make a difference on the battlefield.”

“That may be true but your uncle has forbidden us from leaving Erebor and his word is law,” the old dwarf answered, his voice riddled with defeat. “To defy him is to defy everything that unites our people – everything that makes us Khazâd.”

“But he’s wrong!” Kíli cried in frustration. “You all know that Thorin’s wrong. He is sick with greed and dragon-madness and his actions bring dishonor on us all. There is a battle outside these walls; one in which our kindred are fighting and dying while our king sits on his marble throne and broods upon his wrongs. Better to disobey and fight then let our allies lose this battle and maybe Erebor as well. Thorin will forgive us when his mind returns.”

The archer's words echoed harshly from the stone, a ringing cry to arms. But when Kíli looked around the hall at his companions, none of them would meet his eyes. They were ashamed; the once-king could see it on their faces. They were ashamed because Kíli spoke the truth and they were going to refuse him anyway.

For honor, for loyalty, for cowardice – the reason did not matter. The only thing that mattered was the other dwarves' actions and the archer's anger transmuted into desperation when no one moved at all.

“Fíli, please. I can’t… I have to help them,” the once-king begged, turning to the one person who had never let him down. “You know the duty that I carry and it does not stand behind these walls. I thought it could but I was wrong.”

“I know, brother, and if you choose to go, I will not allow anyone to speak ill upon your name,” Fíli answered, raising his head to meet his brother's eyes, and what Kíli saw there sent a stab of foreboding through his heart. “But what you ask now is different than defying our uncle back in Laketown. That was a family matter and this… this is treason and I cannot cross that line. As Thorin’s heir, I cannot disobey his orders and lead this company into battle, not unless I mean to take his crown.”

His brother's voice was pained, but firm, the voice of someone who did not like his options but would stand by his choice at any cost. Kíli knew that voice, it was the voice of duty and position, and it had spilled from his own lips for years.

So the archer did not try to argue the point any further – he was more likely to win Azog's hand in marriage than to change Fíli's stubborn mind – and with neither Balin nor his brother, Thorin's company was lost. They were trapped by their loyalty and their traditions and if the once-king left this mountain, he would be doing it alone.

“Shukêl! Kaminzabdûna cast rust upon your blades!” Kíli cursed, sending one last glare toward his companions before sinking down onto the floor in defeat. “Valar save us all,” he whispered. “May the Valar save us all.”

There was silence for a long moment; guilt and shame and failure thickening the air. But perhaps the archer's words had struck deeper than he'd realized for the silence was broken by an unexpected voice.

“You may be wrong, laddie, but you are also right,” Dwalin said quietly. “We dishonor your uncle by allowing his mistakes to go unchecked. I do not know if I can reach Thorin beneath the dragon-sickness, but I will have no one say I did not try.”

With this, the warrior climbed to his feet and disappeared into the mountain, the once-king staring after him in open shock. Dwalin was the last dwarf that Kíli would have expected to challenge Thorin; he loved the dwarf lord too much to ever wish him harm. But maybe that was the point. Maybe Dwalin loved Kíli's uncle enough to speak the harsh truths that he so dearly needed to hear and the once-king prayed that Thorin's oldest friend would succeed where his sister-son and his burglar had let the Valar down.

However, when Dwalin returned some minutes later, he returned without Thorin and the tears in his eyes told the archer everything.

“There is no king beneath the mountain,” the warrior declared before sitting down and burying his face in his hands. His shoulders shook with sorrow, the rest of the company turning away so that Dwalin could mourn his dear friend privately.

But even as Kíli's heart ached for the warrior's pain, it ached for his failure more. Because Thorin was still lost to them, lost to gold and dragon-madness and soon the once-king would have to make the choice that he had been avoiding from the start. Soon he would have to choose between his family and his duty and as much as the archer hated to admit it, he knew which one would win.

For he had been the Lord of Silver Fountains and the King of Carven Stone; he had built greatness from the ashes of his sorrow and he had fought against his enemies until his last breath choked on blood. Throne or not, that dwarf still lived within him, and he would not let fear turned his path aside. Kíli would fight these orcs as he had fought their past incarnations; he would slay Azog as he had slain the pale orc's son.

Or the dwarf would die. If terror and memory stole the once-king's senses in the midst of battle then he would die but at least he would die with a weapon in his hands. At least he would die with honor instead of cowardice.

So Kíli opened his mouth to tell Fíli that he was leaving, ignoring the way that his heart shuddered at the thought. However, before the dwarf could speak, a shadow moved across the sun. It was Thorin, the dwarf lord striding toward his company like some conquering hero from the tales of old and at the sight, the once-king's temper snapped. Kíli's uncle had no right to act as though his deeds were righteous, not when his kindred's lifeblood stained the ground outside his door.

“I will not hide behind a wall of stone while others fight our battles for us!” Kíli shouted in sudden fury, rising to his feet and moving to meet the dwarf lord in the center of the hall. “It is not in my blood, Thorin.”

I could not do it then and I will not do it now, not when I know the cost of cowardice. We must win this battle or see our futures burn forever and I cannot watch our people die again.

These words came out more honest than the once-king had intended, perhaps the most honest thing that he had said to Thorin since he died. But his uncle did not try to strike him down for the challenge as Kíli half expected, instead reaching out to clasp the archer's shoulder with one hand.

“No, it is not. We are sons of Durin and Durin's Folk do flee from a fight,” Thorin said, his eyes clear for the first time in days. Indeed, the dwarf lord's smile was heartbreakingly familiar and Kíli couldn’t help but answer it in turn. Because this was his uncle instead of the shadowed king who had been haunting Erebor's deep halls of treasure, and the archer had begun to fear that he would never see this dwarf again.

So the once-king felt no shame in crying, his eyes damp with tears as Thorin pressed their heads together gently and then turned to the remainder of his company. “I have no right to ask this of any of you, but will you follow me one last time?”

There could only be one answer to this question, the dwarves of Erebor standing to join their king once more. They took up their weapons and marched to the gate, Thorin laying out his plan in hurried words. For the dwarves were racing against time now, every wasted minute one that Dáin did not have to spare, and they could not stop to dismantle their barricade properly. Instead Thorin told his companions to seize one of Thrór's great golden statues, the dwarves tearing it from its base and hoisting it into the air with pulleys to make a battering ram. Then the dwarf lord ordered Bombur to signal their intentions to both friend and enemy. So Bombur climbed to the battlements with one of Erebor's enormous battle horns thrown over his shoulders, the deep notes ringing out across the plain as the advancing orcs stumbled to a halt in surprise.

The dwarves' enemies did not know exactly what Bombur signaled but they knew that it meant trouble and they had not expected any more resistance now. Indeed, Azog had promised his warriors that they would feast on man-flesh and drink the blood of elves like wine and they could taste this victory when the sons of Durin began their final charge.

The enormous statue slammed through the gate in a shower of rock and stone, Thorin's company charging across the rubble to meet their enemy. The ranks of Dáin's army opened to let the dwarves pass through before falling in behind them, the warriors of the Iron Hills rallying behind their rightful king. They formed a wedge with Thorin at its head and his sister-sons only steps behind him, the dwarves' swords raised high as they joined their voices to their uncle's battle cry.

“Du bekâr! Du bekâr!” the King Under the Mountain shouted.

“Du bekâr!” his army roared in answer, a hundred thrown spears taking Azog's ogres down. Then the dwarves slammed into the orcish line with a crack like thunder, axe and sword rending blood and bone. While this rally was not without its price, it was a price that the warriors of the Iron Hills would gladly pay for king and country and Azog's orcs carried no such loyalty.

Indeed their courage soon began to falter in the face of Thorin's fury, the dwarf lord and his cousin carving themselves a clear space to breathe upon the field. It did Kíli good to see Dáin and Thorin reunited – the Lord of the Iron Hills one of the few dwarrows who made his uncle appear small – and the archer knocked his shoulder into Fíli's with a grin. Kíli's arm might be aching and his armor stained black with the blood of his enemies, but that was nothing compared to the exultation in his heart. For he was fighting side by side with his brother and while the battle was not yet over, the once-king could finally see the path to victory.

They were so close, one more push to drive the orcs into Esgaroth and then sweep this valley clean. For the men and elves had rallied with them, Azog's forces spilling from the walls of Dale until Kíli was reassured that he did not need to worry about his hobbit’s safety anymore.

However, the archer could not relax until every enemy had fallen and it worried him that he had not seen Bolg upon the field. The orc would never have missed the chance to kill the sons of Durin any more than Azog would admit defeat as long as he still breathed.

It was not in his nature and Thorin would not have trusted surrender were it offered on a shield of mithril shining bright. Indeed, the Battle of the Five Armies would not be over until the Defiler had fallen and his corpse left for the crows to feast. This was strategy as much as hatred and when Thorin set his sights on Raven Hill, Kíli knew that he couldn't stop the coming fight. However, the once-king was not going to let his uncle to face Azog without assistance and he fully intended to stab the pale orc in the back at the first opportunity.

So when Thorin strode forward to mount one of Dáin's armored war rams, his sister-sons were right there with him, the archer moved by his purpose and Fíli by loyalty. To tell the truth, Kíli was slightly surprised that the rams had survived this long into the battle, but perhaps Dáin had been keeping them in reserve for such a contingency. Whatever the reason, be it luck or careful planning, the once-king could not deny that the animals would be useful now.

Kíli swung into the saddle quickly, Fíli and Dwalin mounting their own rams while his uncle waited impatiently. Indeed, the dwarves were barely seated before Thorin growled, “I'm going to kill that piece of filth,” and kicked his ram into a run.

The dwarf lord's companions followed quickly, tearing off across the battlefield toward Azog’s perch on high. The remaining orcs scattered before the rams like leaves before a winter gale storm, those who did not move fast enough trampled under hooves and steel.

Soon the dwarves were climbing the side of Raven Hill, their mounts racing up the steep stone steps as though on open plain instead. For these were mountain rams, bred to scale the rocky crags and snow-capped peaks that crowned Dáin's kingdom, and when Kíli decided to take a shortcut, his ram climbed these icy boulders just as easily.

However, while their approach was swift, it was hardly silent, and when the dwarves reached the top of the hill, a band of orcs was waiting there. They roared a challenge even as Fíli leaped from the back of his ram into battle and his brother followed, the once-king ducking and weaving as his blade carved through his enemies. But these orcs were better trained than those down in the valley or perhaps Kíli and the others were simply growing tired because it took several minutes before the dwarves managed to cut their last foe down.

Thorin’s sword slammed this orc into the stone with a vicious crack and when the dwarf lord looked for his next target, there was none to be found. Indeed the fortifications on Raven Hill appeared to be deserted, the pale orc’s signal flags left handing limply upon the highest tower and no sound to be heard but the dwarves’ own panting breaths.

“Where is he?” Thorin snarled.

“Looks empty; I think Azog has fled,” Kíli replied, knowing that the words would make him seem foolish but unable not to try.

The Defiler’s refusal to meet the once-king's uncle on equal terms could only mean he had a plan to turn this battle in his favor and if Thorin was sensible, he would wait Azog out instead of charging headfirst into whatever trap his foe had set. But while the line of Durin had always been known for its courage, prudence was a much rarer trait.

“No, I don't think so. He is here,” Thorin said, denying Kíli's hopes with a firm shake of his head. However, the other dwarf must have learned some caution from his last encounter with the Defiler for he did not charge into the ruins to seek out his enemy.

Instead the dwarf lord turned to his sister-sons and ordered, “Fíli, take your brother and scout out the towers. Keep low and out of sight. If you see something, report back. Do not engage; do you understand?”

These words sent a chill of foreboding through Kíli's mind even as his brother nodded his agreement with the plan. Splitting their group was a bad idea when they did not know where Azog was hiding and the once-king would never forgive himself if Thorin died without him there. But the archer had barely opened his mouth to object when goblins began to spill over the northern fortifications and his chance passed by.

Because his brother was already moving as their uncle shouted, “Go! Go! We'll take care of them,” and Kíli could not allow himself to be left behind. So he ran after Fíli, the two dwarves stepping carefully onto the frozen lake that stood between them and their goal.

The ice was slick but thick enough that Kíli did not fear it cracking and the archer moved quickly once he found his feet. Though his brother was only a step behind him when the once-king reached the base of the first tower, Fíli moving to take point as they began to climb.

At first the dwarves found nothing but dust and footprints, a few bits of flint and leather the only evidence that Azog's warriors had passed this way. However, the once-king did not find these empty chambers reassuring, his nerves winding tighter with every step they took. For if the Defiler was not lying in wait here then he might already be attacking Thorin and Kíli needed to be present when that battle came.

However, just as the archer was about to suggest retreating, he saw a light down the tunnel up ahead, the red glow of torchlight reflecting from the stone. Then there was noise, the dull thump of booted feet and the deep vibration of war drums telling Kíli that they'd found their enemy.

So the dwarf started forward, eager to take out this force before Azog could threaten his uncle or his brother once again. They should strike hard and strike quickly, any thought of reinforcement forgotten in a sudden surge of hate. It was time to end this, end the feud that had stolen everything that the once-king loved on Middle Earth.

However, Kíli's attack was brought up short by Fíli before he could take more than a single step down the tunnel, his brother's hand warm against his chest. It was this living heat that snapped the once-king from his anger, Fíli's safety more important than his hatred and not served by recklessness.

“No, stay here. Search the lower levels,” Fíli ordered as he pushed the archer back, clearly thinking along similar lines as Kíli now. “I've got this.”

As if, the archer snorted, taking a deep breath to tell his brother exactly what he thought of such stupidity. For while the once-king had been willing to fight without Fíli when he had no other options, he had no intention of leaving the other dwarf alone to face their enemies. He might be Fíli's little brother, but he was no dwarrowling and everything about this encounter screamed out trap to him.

So Kíli was going to refuse; he was going to drag Fíli back to Thorin's side and make him stay there this time around. No more heroics, no more sacrifice, and no more dying now.

Kíli was going to refuse, but then he met his brother's eyes. In that gaze, the once-king saw love and worry and a fierce determination and suddenly he realized that nothing would turn Fíli's heart aside. This insight struck him sharply, as though someone had placed the thought within his mind, and once it was there, Kíli could not seem to root it out.

He tried, Valar knew he tried, but his every attempt to doubt only made this certainty grow stronger as Fíli stared at him steadily. For how could the once-king deny his brother when this was the heart of what he loved about him, the other dwarf's endless selflessness when it came to those he loved. Indeed, the archer had always known that Fíli would protect him, that Fíli would be there to soothe his hurts and guard his back in battle, and this is exactly what his brother was trying to do now. Only it was supposed to be Kíli's turn to save Fíli and he couldn't hold back a growl of frustration at his older brother's streak of sacrifice.

Yet Fíli had not left him any other options because the once-king would have to knock out the other dwarf to change his course and that was no choice at all. That would be doing their enemies' work for them and the fight that was coming would be difficult enough.

The longer that Kíli thought upon his choices, the greater his surety that he must do as Fíli asked. After all, his brother was a skilled warrior and far more cautious than most of their kindred, and the fear that this parting stirred within the archer was a pale and distant thing. Indeed, it was the barest echo of the panic which had paralyzed his heart within the Lonely Mountain, coming to Kíli through a veil of battle-rage and bone-deep certainty.

This more than anything swayed the once-king's decision, though even now, he would not tempt the fates with a farewell. To say goodbye was to tell the fates that he and Fíli would not be reunited and that could not be allowed. Because his brother was going to scout out Azog’s forces and then return with Kíli to their uncle, the sons of Durin facing their enemies together as they were meant to do.

So with one last curse, the archer turned his back on his brother, moving to search the lower levels as Fíli had asked. He would do this for his brother: trust the other dwarf to complete their mission and then never let the self-sacrificing idiot out of his sight again.

Just a few minutes and then we’ll be reunited, Kíli promised himself before turning his thoughts back to the job at hand. He might not be happy about searching the rest of the tower without Fíli, but he would not allow his frustration to stop him from protecting his brother properly. So the dwarf entered each chamber with his blade at the ready, determined to keep their exit clear.

However, the lower levels were just as empty as the higher floors had been and the longer that the once-king spent without his brother, the louder the voices grew within his head. He shouldn’t have left Fíli; why the fuck did I leave Fíli? the archer asked himself. Despite his brother's skill with sword and dagger, the other dwarf could not hope to stand against Azog without assistance even if Bolg appeared to have forgotten about his father’s war this time around.

Indeed Kíli's certainty was disappearing as quickly as it had come upon him, the veil pulled back to reveal the blinding terror beneath. But just when the once-king had decided to go back for his brother, he stepped out of the tower and heard a voice that froze his blood.

Someone was shouting in Black Speech far above him and while the archer could not understand every word through the rush of wind around the tower, he knew that Azog had appeared. The Defiler was challenging his uncle and the dwarf had to be there when they began their final fight. Yet some dark premonition kept Kíli's feet sealed to the stone when he should have been tracking down his brother, the archer unable to stop himself from listening.

“This one dies… Then you, Oakenshield,” the wind whispered to him, Azog’s words almost a caress against his ear. “Here ends your filthy bloodline!”

There was a noise then, a choked off cry that could not be what it had sounded like. Because Fíli was safe; he was safe and on his way back to his brother, the once-king was sure of it. Yet something was falling from the tower, a dark shape that Kíli could not quite make out against the sharp brightness of the sky.

Perhaps one of Azog's orcs had stepped too close to the edge of the tower, though the silhouette seemed somewhat small for that. Small and blond and wearing dwarvish chainmail, but not Fíli, not like this.

It was a lie, an awful trick, and yet Kíli knew his brother; he knew his brother’s face better than he knew his own reflection and his eyes told him that was Fíli falling there. That was his brother and when the body landed at his feet with a sick crunch, the archer could not deny it anymore.

This was death that lay bleeding on the stone before him; this was death wearing his brother’s face once more. For Kíli knew far too well what Fíli looked like when the life had left his body and his brother's spirit had long since fled this world. There would be no last words to see the once-king through his sorrow, no last farewell in which to beg forgiveness, just this sudden ending to their tale. Yet while the pit of grief within his chest was far too familiar, it was shame that choked his breath because Kíli had been given a second chance and he had failed his brother anyway.

The once-king should not have left him; he should have kept Fíli by his side at any cost. Perhaps they would still have died then but at least they would have died together if they had to pass at all. But Kíli wasn’t there and this was the truth that killed him; his brother had died alone and frightened while the archer searched empty stone instead.

Fíli had died and the last thing that Kíli had done was curse his sacrifice.

Yet as he stared down at his brother, the dwarf found that he had no tears to weep for Fíli's life. There was no release in sorrow when the fault lay on his shoulders; there was no way to patch his heart from this.

If Azog did not kill Kíli, his own shame would drown him and he had known that losing Fíli again would be more than he could take. The only thing left was vengeance now that his family had been shattered and the one bright star within the sea of loss that bound Kíli was the certainty that Kaminzabdûna did not need him anymore. For Bilbo was safe in Dale with Gandalf as the Vala had demanded and Dáin could lead his warriors against the few orcs that remained. Erebor’s future would no longer end in blood and fire but the once-king’s hopes were broken and all he saw was death before his eyes.

For if he could not have his happy ending then he would have slaughter; Azog would pay the debt of blood that he owed Kíli now. So the dwarf let rage force back his shame and sorrow, letting out a scream of hatred as this red haze washed over him.

The once-king sprinted up the tower stairs toward Azog, wings of fury lending speed to Kíli's feet. He leaped up the steps two at a time, the dwarf halfway up the tower before he met an enemy. But Kíli didn't even pause then, parrying the orc's blow, slicing him across the chest and then beheading his foe with one smooth strike before continuing his charge.

This orc was only the first, Azog's creatures suddenly spilling from the stonework like the vermin that they were. But the next few orcs died as easily as their brother, the once-king's fury giving him a savagery that his usual style lacked. There was no mercy in Kíli's heart this day, no mercy for those who had stolen Fíli's future, and the once-king would die happy as long as Azog preceded him into the afterlife.

And the dwarf was going to die here; they were all going to die in this cursed place. For when Kíli happened to look north, an army of orcs stretched toward the horizon as far as his eyes could see and he knew then what Azog's plan must be.

The Defiler had been stalling for time, grinding down his foes so that they would have no strength left to fight when Bolg arrived. A simple plan but one that Kíli saw no way of stopping when Dáin could not hope to defeat the army that he saw. Erebor would be conquered; Dale would be conquered and with the city, Bilbo would be lost as well. In this one moment, the once-king saw the ruin of everything that he had tried so hard to protect, the future that was supposed to be worth his family's sacrifice.

Bolg's arrival meant that Fíli had died for nothing and with this thought, Kíli threw himself back into the fight. If the dwarf was to kill Azog – and he still meant to shove his blade into the bastard's heart – then he must do it before the pale orc's second army reached Raven Hill.

But then the once-king heard it, a cry that cut through his desperate fury and nearly stopped him in his tracks. Someone was calling his name; someone was calling his name as though they cared whether he was still breathing, and when he placed the voice, Kíli knew that he could not die just yet.

“Tauriel!” the archer shouted back, his vengeance suddenly less important than getting the elfine out of here. Because even if killing Azog would be immensely satisfying, no amount of bloodshed could bring Fíli back to life and maybe the once-king did not need to lose everyone. Maybe with Tauriel's help Kíli could save his uncle, maybe they could still save Bilbo and salvage something from this tragedy.

A slim hope given the size of Bolg's army, but without the fire of his hatred to sustain him, a slim hope was all he had.

So Kíli ran forward, slicing through those orcs who tried to bar his way. Tauriel had stopped calling his name but the dwarf could hear the sounds of fighting down below him and there should be no one else on Raven Hill right now. Indeed, the first thing Kíli saw was the bright spark of the captain's hair, Tauriel's fiery mane shining through a crack in the stone. She was green and growing things where there was nothing but grey rock and ice around them and the once-king could not let that light go out.

Yet the elfine was not alone within the tower and when Kíli moved nearer, his heart screamed in his throat. Because Tauriel was fighting Bolg and she was losing, her blows glancing off the monster's twisted armor as his hand closed upon her neck.

The orc lifted her into the air as though she weighed nothing, the once-king sprinting toward them with a curse. He lost sight of the pair for a moment when another orc attacked him and by the time Kíli had dispatched this challenger, Tauriel was on the ground instead. She was lying on the snow, her face bruised and bloody, and when Bolg pulled the spiked mace off his back, the dwarf did not hesitate.

Kíli took two steps and leaped into the air, sword raised to claim the monster's life. The once-king landed hard on Bolg's shoulders, the orc nearly falling beneath the sudden weight. But whatever advantage Kíli had gained through surprise was lost when his blade caught on Bolg's mace and failed to meet its target, the dwarf barely having time to curse his luck before he was flying through the air again.

He landed hard upon the steps, hard enough that he could feel the impact through his armor and he nearly lost his grip upon his blade. But the once-king pushed himself back to his feet with a snarl, lunging forward to attack his foe again.

Bolg parried this wild strike with ease, Kíli ducking under the orc's riposte to slice his blade across the monster's chest. However, the armor embedded in Bolg's flesh turned aside the dwarf's weapon just as it had deflected Tauriel's and before the once-king could recover, the orc's fist slammed into his face.

Kíli reeled backward, his sword falling from numb fingers as Bolg held him down with one enormous hand. The dwarf didn't have the strength to fight off his enemy; his attempts to regain his footing leaving him flailing uselessly. He was bent nearly all the way to the stone, the position giving him a perfect view of Bolg's gruesome smile as the orc raised his spiked mace high.

Yet the once-king could barely see his enemy through the stars that filled his vision, his head pounding so fiercely that he didn't think to wonder when his world went white again.

But then Kíli blinks and Bolg is gone, the dwarf now sitting cross-legged on the stone. He is still on Raven Hill, at least he thinks so, but the ruins are silent and empty of all life. All life but the once-king and the dwarrow who stands before him, fires burning in the Great Maker's eyes.

It is just Mahal this time, his Lady nowhere to be seen upon the hilltop, and while the archer has grown more used to these encounters, he does not understand why the Smith is smiling. For Kíli has betrayed the Valar; he has failed his kindred and his duty, and Mahal should be furious. But the Smith does not look angry, the Vala laying a hand on the once-king's shoulder and rumbling, “I am proud of you, my son. You have served our purpose well.”

“What are you talking about? I have done nothing!” Kíli bites out, unable to accept his Maker's praise when such shame is in his heart. “My brother is dead, my uncle is likely dying, and I could not even save Tauriel. The only one I've managed to keep alive is Bilbo and I do not hold much hope for his survival now that Bolg's army has arrived.”

“Blood pays for blood, young Kíli,” Mahal says, looking down at the dwarf with kindness where there should be scorn instead. “We said what we must to drive you onward, but even a Vala's tongue may lie. Indeed, your kin were always meant to die here; that was the price of Azsâlul'abad. For only blood could break the curse that Melkor laid upon the Lonely Mountain at the forging of this world. Only blood could free your people so that gold lust would destroy the hearts of Durin’s Folk no longer and their kings might rule in peace again.

“Some fates must not be changed, no matter how you wish it. Some fates cannot be changed, no matter how you try. We could not let you save your brother, child, though our hearts bleed for your pain. Indeed, much of your ill luck was our doing and you may be proud that it took the Valar to turn your path aside. ”

“Then why send me back?! Why send me back to fail my family?!”

“For the hobbit,” the Smith tells Kíli, this single phrase halting any further accusations before they can pass the archer's lips. “When Bilbo died, your future vanished and we had to rip the weft of time itself to find that truth again. The hobbit is the fulcrum of the coming battle against Sauron, not for his bravery but for the souls that he must touch if the immortal evil is to fall. Yet the One Ring requires sacrifice to bind it to quiescence and while that price was meant to be yours, in the past that is no longer, Bilbo sold his life instead.”

“I know; your Lady told me,” the once-king replies bitterly. “Bilbo loved me and he died for me and in so doing doomed us all. But loving Thorin has hardly saved him this time around.”

“Of course not,” Mahal answers. “You saved him when you said goodbye. You loved Bilbo enough to free him when his heart turned toward another and you made that choice long before my lady asked. You let the hobbit go when you might have still bound your lives together and I promise you, he will survive this battle now. He will survive and Middle Earth will have the future that it was meant to see.”

Although Kíli cannot doubt his Maker's words, he doesn't understand how his love or lack of it has somehow altered the course of history. Why would Bilbo die for him but not for Thorin when his hobbit had never even known how much the archer cared? But perhaps it is the smallest things that make the greatest difference when the Valar are shaping the future of their world. Perhaps love does not need to be requited in order to change everyone it touches and if his life will buy Bilbo's then Kíli cannot refuse the bargain now.

Because he wants the hobbit to be happy more than he needs vengeance; Bilbo deserves to be happy this time around. Indeed, the dwarf has lived one life already and while it was not the future he would have chosen, he cannot demand another chance now that he knows the cost.

There is peace in this decision, a peace that helps to ease the grief still screaming in his chest. For if his kin were always meant to die here then Kíli cannot claim the burden of that failure and he is just grateful for the promise that the future will be changed. He is grateful for every moment that he was given and if this is to be his ending, then he will face his death with courage instead of sniveling.

Mahal must recognize the acceptance in the once-king’s eyes for the Smith does not ask him if is ready, he simply reaches out to clasp Kíli's shoulder one more time. “You were a good king, my son. You did your best for your people and the crown that fell upon your shoulders and you deserved to live a long and happy life. But the fates demanded blood and it is the line of Durin who must ever pay that price. Just know that you have earned your place in the halls of your fathers and you will find both love and laughter there.”

Then the Vala snaps his fingers once and…

Kíli found himself back in the clutches of his enemy, the once-king opening his eyes just in time to see Bolg's spiked mace fall. The sharpened point of the weapon’s shaft pierced the dwarf’s chest where there was a gap in his armor, the shock of impalement driving the breath from Kíli's lungs.

“No!” The once-king turned his head at the cry, his eyes meeting Tauriel’s anguished gaze. The elfine was staring at him as though it was her heart that had been skewered and Kíli was truly sorry for the pain his death would cause.

While the dwarf still considered his life for Middle Earth the fairest bargain ever paid, he knew well the agony of outliving those you cared about and Tauriel deserved better than a fleeting star-crossed romance to hold back a sea of grief. She deserved someone who loved her more than duty or the ghosts of a forgotten lifetime and if the archer had known that this would be their ending, he would have tried harder to turn her heart aside.

However, the once-king had not known and so he used the last of his strength to whisper, “Tauriel,” the word a farewell and apology in one. She had been a beautiful dream but now that dream was over and as darkness began to overtake the archer’s vision, he prayed that the elfine would find someone else to love.

Because Kíli could hear the Halls of Mandos calling and he did not have the strength to resist them, not when Mahal had promised that his kin were waiting there. Fíli would be waiting and this time nothing would separate the once-king from the people that he loved. His brother, his uncle, and perhaps his hobbit, for only Kaminzabdûna knew the fate of her children and she had told him that love was stronger than any single lifetime's memory.

Perhaps death can be its own beginning, and with this thought, the once-king closed his eyes.


This is officially the longest thing I've ever written and while I know most people probably won't be happy about the ending, I'm actually rather fond of it. The beginning and the ending of this story were the only things that never changed.

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