Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,

This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 4

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 4: Ramekh
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count epic amounts of pining.
Word Count: 3888 (20,439 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'
Chapter 2: Nu'
Chapter 3: Gem

Even as goblins drag Thorin’s company into the dark depths of the Misty Mountains, Kíli is far more worried about Bilbo’s safety than his own. The latter probably should have been more pressing but worrying about the archer has always been Fíli’s job and since he hasn’t felt his brother panic, Kíli is sure they’ll be all right. The princes have their fellow warriors and a wizard to aid in their survival while their missing hobbit has no such guardians.

Indeed, the dwarves have just been brought before the goblins’ leader when Gandalf arrives to help them. The wizard blinds their captors with magic so that his companions can break free and they grab their weapons before running toward the surface as fast as possible. The goblins try to stop them only to be met with naked steel and fury.

Although, in truth, Fíli and Kíli are fighting primarily on instinct as their eyes search for the slightest glimpse of Bilbo in the dark. They will not leave these tunnels without their amrâbulnas, they can’t, and the archer almost gets decapitated when his bond with Bilbo suddenly grows even fainter. The hobbit is not dead, this much is certain, but something is very wrong.

Something has stretched his connection with Bilbo near to breaking and it's only Dwalin's iron grip on Kíli's shoulder that stops him from running back the way they came. Well, that and the thousands of screaming goblins chasing after Thorin's company.

As much as the princes want to find their hobbit, they will be no use to Bilbo dead, and against such overwhelming numbers, the dwarves can only flee.

“We'll come back for him,” Fíli promises his brother fiercely and Kíli nods shortly before he starts to run. The princes and their companions follow after Gandalf as the wizard leads them toward the surface, trying desperately to stay ahead of the goblins on their heels.

Kíli sends his thoughts toward Bilbo while sprinting through the tunnels, hoping and praying that this time the hobbit will respond. But the archer receives nothing but silence in answer, his sense of Bilbo so weak that he can barely feel his amrâbulnas at all.

The younger prince is so focused on the burglar that he nearly falls off the path; only luck and Nori's quick reflexes stop Kíli from tumbling. Fíli keeps one hand on his brother after that, although it's Dori who blocks the arrows aimed at the princes' backs. In truth, Kíli barely notices. The archer would have happily been shot in order to know that Bilbo was okay but there's still no sign of the hobbit when Thorin's company finally sees the light again.

The dwarves race for the exit, the goblins' shouts chasing them out onto the mountainside. Sunlight stops the creatures from following them any farther but Gandalf continues running anyway. The wizard only stops once they've left the tunnel entrance far behind and his companions stumble to a halt gratefully. Dwarves aren't built for sprinting and even Thorin is panting heavily.

Kíli and Fíli leans against each other as they try to catch their breath, still trying to sense anything but blankness from their burglar. They have to go back; they have to convince Thorin that Bilbo is worth saving before they lose everything.

What point would there be in changing dwarvish law if they've lost their amrâbulnas? If the hobbit was safe at home, that would be a different matter. But the princes won't abandon Bilbo when he's sick or injured, and there can be no other reason for the void inside their chests.

So Fíli turns toward Thorin, trying to think of an argument that will make the dwarf lord turn around. His uncle may not like Bilbo but surely the prince can appeal to his sense of loyalty. However, before Fíli can plead his case, Gandalf speaks instead.

“Where is Bilbo? Where is our hobbit?” the wizard asks, looking around the clearing frantically.

“You must be joking. Now he's lost?”

“Don't blame me. I thought he was with Bombur.”

“Well, clearly not,” Gandalf says a little sharply. “Where did you last see him? One of you must know something!”

“I thought I saw Bilbo slip away when we were captured,” Nori speaks up. “It was sensible of him to take advantage of the opportunity and if he’s really a good burglar, he should catch up soon enough.”

“What? Are you sure? Tell me exactly what happened!” the wizard orders.

Gandalf looks prepared to run back into the goblin tunnels after Bilbo and the princes are glad to see that at least one person shares their worry. Although, to be fair, most of Fíli and Kíli's companions seem to be concerned about the hobbit’s fate. It's only Thorin who doesn’t care at all.

“I'll tell you what happened.” the dwarf lord sneers. “Bilbo Baggins saw his chance to run and he took it. Our burglar is long gone.”

“Seriously, what is your problem?!” Kíli bursts out. “Why are you being such a dick?!”

Thorin just glares in answer, the dwarf's expression daring his sister-son to challenge him again. Kíli is fully prepared to make this into a proper argument but before he can say anything he might regret, his connection with Bilbo suddenly comes rushing back. The ashânumahâl flares into life between them, both princes swaying from the relief of knowing that their amrâbulnas is fine. Fíli and Kíli still can't feel the burglar as strongly as they feel each other but anything is better than the empty void that had been there before.

Indeed, the brothers can't stop themselves from hugging Bilbo when the hobbit steps out from behind the nearest tree. Even with several inches of leather in between them, the burglar's warmth is comforting. Kíli and Fíli hold him tight, squeezing Bilbo in their arms until he squeaks.

The princes only let go when Thorin interrupts them. He pulls the trio apart so that he can yell at Bilbo, somehow finding fault with the hobbit even now.

The dwarf lord seems determined to drive away their burglar for good, insulting his courage, his skill, and his loyalty in a multitude of ways. Thorin's rant is entirely illogical, built on nothing but dislike and paranoia, and Fíli has just opened his mouth to protest when Bilbo speaks up first.

“Look, Thorin. I know that you don't like me,” the hobbit growls. “But you're the one who hired me so you can damn well suck it up. I am here and I am going to help you; I gave my word and whatever you believe about my honor, a Baggins never breaks his promises. So yes, I miss my home and my armchair and my garden, but we're on this quest to reclaim your family's kingdom, so maybe you should spend a little less time being a hypocrite and a little more time watching out for traps. I swear to Aulë and his lady that before this quest is done, you are going to admit that I'm more than some burden you were forced to drag along. You're going to like me someday, Thorin, wait and see.”

Although Bilbo's speech implies a greater need for the dwarf lord's approval than Fíli likes to hear, the prince's misgivings are overwhelmed by admiration as Thorin gapes in shock. The hobbit has struck his uncle speechless and Fíli couldn't be prouder of his amrâbulnas for calling the dwarf lord out at last.

Mahal but he really is perfect, the prince thinks to himself. Kíli and Fíli love their burglar dearly, but he hasn't exactly shown much spine before this and it's so nice to see him stand up for himself.

Thorin even looks apologetic, which is not an expression that his sister-sons have often seen. Maybe their uncle has finally realized what a jerk he's been to Bilbo, though to have him actually say he's sorry would be a miracle.

“I-” the dwarf lord starts. But before he can finish his sentence, a chilling howl cuts through the air.

“Wargs!” Gandalf curses at the sound and when his companions look back up the mountain, they see that he is right. There is a pack of wargs charging toward Thorin's company and once again, the dwarves must flee.

They run until they can run no further. Their path is blocked by a sheer cliff and razor fangs are snapping at their heels.

“To the trees! All of you climb!”

At the wizard's urging, Thorin's company takes to the trees, even the stockiest dwarrow made nimble by necessity. The dwarves are hoping that the wargs will lose interest if they cannot reach their prey but this is not to be. These wargs are driven by more than hunger; they answer to an ancient enemy.

Balin and Dwalin can't believe their eyes when the pale orc rides out of the shadows, rays of moonlight catching on the white fur of his warg. Azog the Defiler has come back from certain death to take his revenge on Thorin, to slay the one who nearly killed him at Azanulbizar. Indeed, the pale orc is the stuff of nightmares: tall and strong and covered with scars from head to toe. His single arm only makes him look more dangerous, a three clawed mace embedded in the stump where his other arm had been.

The Defiler grins sharply when he sees that Thorin and his companions have been trapped and a guttural command signals his warg pack to attack. The creatures crash into the trees, snarling and snapping at the dwarves who scramble farther out of reach.

For a moment, all seems lost. But then Gandalf remembers that he’s actually a wizard and flaming pinecones serve to drive the creatures off. Wargs do not like fire any more than wolves do and they run back to Azog with their tails between their legs.

However, this moment of respite doesn’t last. The dwarves cry out in alarm when the trees in which they've taken refuge begin to topple one by one. Thorin and his companions are forced to leap from tree to tree in order to keep from crashing to the ground.

When the dust settles, the entire company is perched amongst the branches of a single pine tree on the very edge of the cliff. Looking down is not an option – the merest glance nearly makes Dori faint with vertigo – and there is no place to left for them to run.

Azog rides closer, a gloating smirk on his face as his prey glares at him helplessly. Even without the wargs, Thorin's company is too exhausted to fight the Defiler and his pack with any hope of success. However, the dwarves are out of other options and their chances grow even slimmer when their last refuge starts to tip. Thorin and his companions scramble to hold on as the tree's roots pull free of the ground, only Dwalin's quick lunge saving Ori from falling to his death. Fíli and Kíli nearly fall themselves before the tree finally settles, though thankfully their hobbit is safer up on the trunk.

The pine teeters on the edge of the cliff and the dwarves know that it won't be long before the last few roots give out. Their only choice now is whether to die by orc or die by gravity and like any true son of Durin, Thorin chooses to attack.

Fíli and Kíli don't begrudge their uncle this decision, not when the brothers would be right there with him if they could. However, the princes do not expect Thorin's charge to fail quite so miserably. For all the dwarf lord's flaws – and there are many – his sister-sons have never doubted his ability to fight.

Yet Azog strikes the dwarf lord down without even trying; the Defiler's white warg swats Thorin to the ground with one blow of its paw and his sister-sons scream their uncle's name as much with shock as fear. Then the Defiler strikes a great blow with his mace, knocking the shield from Thorin's hands before his warg grabs the dwarf lord and throws him through the air. Thorin does not get up again and Azog mutters something that Fíli and Kíli can't understand. But the princes don't need to speak orcish to read the scorn upon his face.

At Azog's signal, one of his orcs stalks over to Thorin and raises his sword high. Kíli and Fíli try to pull themselves up but the princes know that they won't make it before the dwarf lord dies.

However, the brothers' horror at the danger to their uncle is nothing compared to the panic that ignites within their hearts when Bilbo suddenly runs onto the field. He tackles the orc, knocking the creature to the ground before its sword can fall. Fíli and Kíli can feel the hobbit's desperation as he buries his own blade in the orc's chest; some unknown barrier between the amrâbulnâs shatters into pieces and the princes feel everything.

Kíli and Fíli's ashânumahâl resonates with Bilbo's fear and with his courage, the sudden strength of their connection taking the brothers' breaths away. But it's the hobbit's willingness to die in order to save their uncle that gives them the strength to climb back onto solid ground. Bilbo isn't dying for anyone, not tonight, and the princes leap to his defense with a strident battle cry.

The pair may be outnumbered but their ferocity drives Azog's pack away from Thorin and their hobbit, Fíli and Kíli relying more on the ashânumahâl than any conscious strategy.

Yet even as half a dozen orcs fall beneath the princes' weapons, Azog and his wargs dance around them and it's only a matter of time before this fight is lost. At least the amrâbulnâs will die together, Fíli, Kíli, and Bilbo united in death if not in life as Mahal meant for them to be.

This is it, the archer thinks when a warg slams into him. The creature knocks him to the ground, its jaws snapping at his neck as he tries to hold it off.

“Kíli!” his brother shouts. Fíli lunges at the warg but his first strike glances off the monster's shoulder. He raises his sword for another blow when an orc jumps onto his back, wiry arms wrapping around his neck. The creature's weight pulls the prince off balance and he falls onto the ground. Fíli manages to stab the orc in the ensuing struggle, but the grip on his neck only tightens when it dies. He gasps for air, trying to pry the monster off him before another warg attacks.

“Aagh!” Kíli curses and a flash of pain slices through his brother's shoulder. When Fíli glances over, the archer is still fighting with the warg that jumped him, every snap of the creature's jaws a little closer to his face.

A few feet away, Thorin is lying on the ground and the prince can’t be sure he’s still alive. Meanwhile, Bilbo has been cornered by two orcs against a burning tree trunk and Fíli knows that he's about to lose everyone he holds most dear.

Until an enormous shadow dives across his vision, wings dark as pitch against the flame-lit sky.

At first the prince assumes this eagle is some new beast of Azog's and he scrambles for a dagger with which to fight it off. But the bird is not here for Fíli. It flies over the dwarf without pausing and grabs the warg on top of Kíli in its claws. The eagle lifts the beast into the air and throws it off the mountain even as another dozen of its brethren drop out of the night.

Apparently these eagles are here as Thorin’s allies and Fíli does not stop to question where they came from or why they wish to help. He honestly does not care about the answer as long as his kin survive.

So the prince just throws his dagger at one of the orcs that threatens Bilbo. The weapon slams into the monster’s head with a wet thunk, this orc slowly crumpling to the ground as the hobbit stabs the other in the gut. Fíli struggles to his feet, picking up his sword and running to his brother's side. Kíli is bleeding where the warg's fangs tore through his leathers, but the injuries are superficial and it could have been much worse.

The prince helps his brother up and then looks around for the rest of their companions. He collects Bilbo and his knife before moving to check on Thorin, his uncle breathing but still unconscious from his injuries.

At least the fight is over. Azog has disappeared and there are eagles everywhere, some lifting the other dwarves out of danger while others chase the surviving wargs as an owl might hunt a mouse.

One by one Thorin's companions are swept away to safety until only his sister-sons, Bilbo, and the dwarf lord still remain. Fíli secures his uncle's sword and shield before another eagle wraps its talons around Thorin and then the prince is being lifted from the ground. He and Kíli are dropped onto an enormous feathered back and Bilbo lands next to them a few seconds later, both brothers grabbing the hobbit’s coat to ensure he does not fall.

While Kíli gets their amrâbulnas settled safely, Fíli does a quick headcount and his mind is eased when he sees that everyone survived. Even Thorin is still breathing due to their hobbit’s bravery and surely the prince’s uncle will be forced to acknowledge Bilbo now.

Indeed, there is a strange bubbling elation inside of Fíli’s chest and it takes him a moment to realize that this feeling belongs to their burglar. He isn't used to sensing Bilbo’s heart this clearly but he is overjoyed to know that their ashânumahâl is not as broken as he'd thought. Kíli must have been right when he said that Bilbo was somehow blocking their connection and whether it was intentional or not, that barrier is gone.

Fíli can feel the hobbit's emotions almost as clearly as he has always felt his brother's: Bilbo's relief at being alive, his surprise at his own actions, and the sheer joy of having wings beneath his feet. The prince tries not to hope too much for fear of disappointment, but he can't stop himself from smiling.

Surely this is a sign that he and his brother will succeed.

So Fíli wraps himself up in his cloak and rests his head on Kíli’s shoulder, the touch of his amrâbulnas lulling him to sleep. He slumbers without dreaming and when he wakes to a new dawn, he feels more hopeful than he has for quite some time.

The prince nudges Kíli and Bilbo awake when their eagle begins to descend, his amrâbulnâs yawning and stretching their arms out carefully. The raptor settles gently atop a tall rocky spire and the three amrâbulnâs leap down to the stone. As soon as their feet touch solid ground, the bird leaps back into the air to make room for its brethren. Fíli, Kíli, and Bilbo move aside when the next raptor starts to land, helping to steady their companions as each bird drops off its passengers.

The last eagle places Thorin’s body on the stone and then the whole flock departs, several of the dwarves waving at them in farewell.

Before the birds are out of sight, Gandalf is rushing to Thorin's side. The dwarf lord is still unconscious and Fíli watches with concern as the wizard leans over his uncle now. Gandalf's expression is worried and the prince holds his breath, not daring to hope until Thorin finally stirs. However, even as the rest of his companions sigh with relief, Fíli can't help a stab of bitterness.

His ashânumahâl has ever been a two-edged sword, Mahal's gift tinged with suffering where Bilbo Baggins is concerned. Because the prince can feel exactly how the burglar's heart begins to flutter when Thorin looks his way and that is something Fíli did not need to know. He did not need to know how deeply Bilbo cares about his uncle nor sense the hot flush of attraction underneath the hobbit's skin.

Bilbo still wants Thorin even when the dwarf lord starts to shout again. He rounds on the burglar in a fury because he cannot just say “thank you” like a normal person; instead, he must rehash every single baseless accusation that he has ever made.

Thorin seems determined to hate Bilbo for coming to his rescue and Fíli is ready to strangle his uncle by the time he finishes. The prince isn't sure whether the anger in his gut is more his own or Kíli's; the ashânumahâl always resonates more strongly when their blood is running hot. In truth, it hardly matters since the pair is in complete agreement that this nonsense has to stop. However, before Fíli and Kíli can make good on their fury, Thorin changes everything.

“I have never been more wrong in all my life,” the dwarf lord pronounces as he sweeps Bilbo into a hug and Fíli wants to scream at the expression on his face.

Because that look screams admiration strong enough to match their hobbit's and the prince does not want to believe what his bond is telling him. Fíli does not want to believe that his amrâbulnas could forgive Thorin's doubts so easily.

But the burglar has, the dwarf can feel it, and this realization makes a hard knot of despair bloom inside his chest. Keeping Thorin and Bilbo separated was hard enough when their uncle couldn't stand the hobbit; it will be nigh impossible if Thorin starts to seek their burglar out. Fíli and Kíli cannot hope to match the dwarf lord's courtship, not when they can't offer their own suit publicly. Durin's beard, even if they could, the princes only have their ashânumahâl to tip the balance in their favor – the ashânumahâl that Bilbo still doesn't seem to feel – while their uncle will soon have a kingdom to his name. The hobbit isn't greedy but that's bound to make a difference in his choice.

“Fíli, what should we do?” Kíli whispers softly. His eyes beg for reassurance, but the older prince has no comfort left to give.

Not when his heart is torn between his brother's pain and Bilbo's joy, his ashânumahâl pulling him to pieces where it made him whole before. The feeling hurts, sharper and deeper than the loneliness has ever cut him, and for the first time in his life, Fíli truly curses Mahal's name.

The prince cannot believe that Melkor is the one who marked him; Fíli refuses to believe that he and Kíli bear false karrash as the law would have him do. But why would Mahal bind three souls together only to hide the truth from Bilbo? Why would the Smith choose the princes for this endless misery?

These questions burn within him and yet Mahal does not answer. No one answers and it's almost a relief when Fíli's link to Bilbo suddenly goes dark, the barrier between their hearts snapping back into place.

Chapter 5: Gamekh

Tags: Fíli, canon!au, fi/bi/ki, fic, long and winding road*, mid-series, other slash, poignant, the hobbit, thilbo
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