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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 12A

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 12: Nu'sasekh
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count canon injuries and more pining
Word Count: 11362 total (66,649 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 6: Ges                  Chapter 11: Ze'sasekh
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon
Chapter 4: Ramekh                   Chapter 9: Tager
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh

Bain did as the archer told him, freeing his father from the Master's prison while Kíli and Tauriel prepared to fight. Once free, the bargeman took control of Laketown's evacuation, turning the chaos of their retreat into something almost orderly, and when Smaug finally attacked, there were far fewer casualties than there would have been without Bard's guiding hand.

Now the bargeman stands on the shore with his children and the remainder of his kin. He watches with a heavy heart as the dragon burns his city, flames pouring from the great wyrm's mouth as he sweeps across the town. Everything the fire touches catches instantly and many of Bard’s people must turn away to hide their tears.

Their houses may not be fancy. Their buildings may not be grand or gilded and their lives are often hard. But Laketown is their home and most of them had thought to die in the same house where they were born. Yet now half of their city is on fire and Smaug shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, the Lakemen can hear the dragon laughing as he destroys everything they’ve worked for and they know that the monster will probably decide to finish off the survivors when he’s done.

But then the wyrm pauses. He lands upon the streets of Laketown, his great weight crushing what few buildings his fire had not burned. Smaug appears to be focused on the Master's house and when Bard squints, he can just see two small figures standing on the roof.

“Are they mad? What do they think they're doing?” the man wonders, not realizing that he's spoken aloud until Bain answers him.

“They mean to fight the dragon. The younger dwarf, Kíli, and the elf maid,” the bargeman's son explains.

“Elf maid?” Bard asks. “What elf maid?”

“Tauriel. She, uh, showed up after you were gone but she's really very nice. She healed Kíli's injury somehow so he's all right again. He's the one who warned us that Smaug was on his way,” Bain continues with a shrug. “I gave them your Black Arrow – I hope that's all right, I didn't know what else to do – and they mean to kill the beast.”

Bain does not speak quietly and his words ripple through the watching Lakemen. Soon everyone is focused on the standoff, those with better eyesight explaining what's happening to those who cannot see.

Even Bard cannot look away, though he does not watch with hope of victory. Tauriel and Kíli may have the Black Arrow and the wind-lance, but Smaug still seems invincible. The man watches because such bravery deserves a witness and if he must tell Thorin Oakenshield that his nephew perished, at least he will be able to say that the dwarf died well.

So Bard watches Smaug lunge forward and his heart leaps in his throat as the dragon's scream of triumph turns to agony. The wyrm crashes headfirst into the Master's mansion in a cloud of smoke and fire and while it seems unlikely, Bard prays that Kíli and Tauriel somehow managed to jump free.

The pair's bravery may have cost them both their lives, but the bargeman swears that they will not be forgotten. The Lakemen will remember those who dared to stand against Smaug in the defense of their city; they will remember the dwarf and the elfine who succeeded where all other warriors fell.

Because Smaug's rampage is over. The wyrm's only thought is retreat when he rips himself free of the wreckage and leaps into the air. He climbs higher and higher, every wing beat a struggle as the Black Arrow twists inside his chest. These puny mortals hurt him. Somehow he who slaughtered armies has been defeated by one young dwarf with a wind-lance and Smaug's cries are filled as much with anger as with pain. This is not how a dragon should be conquered. This is not how he should die.

Those watching on the shore see the great wyrm falter, his voice raised in one last defiant scream. The Lakemen see the dragon's fire fade within his belly before Smaug the Golden plummets to the earth again.

The dragon's corpse lands in the center of Laketown, a massive wave of water spreading from the point of impact. His body disappears beneath the surface for a moment before it bobs back up again, his great weight kept afloat by the wreckage of a barge.

With the heart of the blaze extinguished, the few small fires that remain soon wink out one by one and the Lakemen trade cautiously hopeful glances when they realize that some of the outer quarters may still be intact. Although the central warehouses will have burned already, every family had its own small store of food and these supplies could mean the difference between survival and starvation now that their home is gone.

Someone needs to organize a search party to see what can be salvaged and Bard is declared the town's new leader when no one else volunteers. The bargeman doesn't actually volunteer either, but the Master has gone missing and Bard is the only person that his kinsmen can agree on without arguing. He is respected, level-headed, still alive, and a good fighter – the latter most important if Alfrid and the Master's guards get ideas about starting their own coup.

Since Bard truly does care about his people, he cannot refuse this honor, no matter how much he hates the thought of such responsibility. The bargeman may have no idea what he's doing but common sense will guide him for the moment and he will do his utmost not to let his children down.

So Bard orders most of his kinsmen to scavenge through the wreckage on the lake shore and treat each other's injuries as best they can. Then he gathers a couple boats and leads a small group back to Laketown to see what can be saved.

As long as they pool their resources, Bard hopes that his people will be able to survive the winter without too much charity. He will still need to ask for aid from Erebor, assuming that Thorin Oakenshield still lives to grant it, but the dwarf lord had promised plenty in exchange for the Master's help and the Lakemen should barely make a dent in the Lonely Mountain's stores.

Of course, if Bard must be a supplicant on Thorin's doorstep, the man would prefer to weigh negotiations in his favor and returning the dwarf lord's kin alive seems like a good place to start. Although two dwarves had been with his daughters, the healer and the one with the hat, Thorin's nephew has yet to reappear.

So the bargeman leaves his men to gather supplies while he takes Bain and rows over to the Master's mansion. The pair is forced to stop several times to clear debris out of their path and their hands are dark with soot by the time they reach their goal. Only one wall of the great manor is still standing – if you can truly call it standing when it is nearly horizontal – and Bard's hopes sink sharply at the sight.

However, the man will not give up that easily. Kíli and Tauriel risked their lives for Laketown even if Thorin Oakenshield is the one who woke the dragon and bringing their bodies home seems the least that he can do. So Bard tells Bain to stay in the boat before climbing out onto the floating wreckage that had been the town's main square. His son argues of course, but the bargeman will not risk losing one of his children and the footing is treacherous.

Bard scours the area, looking for any sign of the two who saved his people, but all he finds is pieces of the wind-lance scattered everywhere. Smaug managed what years of wind and sun could not, the last weapon of Lord Girion shattered in service of its cause.

The man is about to give up and rejoin the other Lakemen when he hears a voice. Bard pauses, wondering if his mind is playing tricks on him until he hears the voice again.

“Hey! Is someone there?!”

The words are coming from underneath the bargeman's feet and he stares at the ground in confusion until he remembers the watertight cellars underneath the Master’s house.

“Can you hear me? Are you okay?” Bard shouts, crouching low. He thinks that he can see a hint of movement roughly where the center of the Master's manor used to be, but he cannot be certain when there's so much rubble in the way.

“We're fine. Just dig us out!” the dwarf calls back, banging on the walls of the cellar to guide the bowman over.

“There you are. Give us a moment,” Bard tells him before waving his son over. With their help, Kíli manages to shift the largest of the beams that were keeping him trapped, creating a space large enough for the archer to crawl out.

However, first the prince helps Tauriel to her feet; the elfine has finally started to come around but she's still too woozy to stand up on her own. Still, Kíli is grateful that he doesn't have to lift her since their height difference would make that rather difficult.

“Here, take her first,” he says, supporting Tauriel until Bard grabs her hand and pulls her out. Once they're out of the way, the archer scrambles out of the cellar, accepting Bain's help to make the last few feet.

Then Kíli stands and stretches with a great sigh of relief; dwarves may live underground for the most part, but the archer has never enjoyed being cramped. He raises one hand to block the glare of the morning sun and looks around, wincing a bit at the wreckage that he sees. But there are still houses standing in the distance and Kíli has to grin a little proudly when he spies Smaug's body lying some yards away.

“Damn, he is big, isn't he?” the archer mutters, somewhat amazed that he managed to bring down such a beast. “I only wish I could have killed Smaug before he did such damage to your town.”

“You saved our lives, Master Kíli,” Bard replies with a shake of his head. “And we will always be grateful. As long as we still live then we can rebuild what was broken and what Thorin promised us should be more than enough to make our futures bright. I just pray that your companions survived Smaug's wrath as well.”

“They did,” the dwarf prince replies with certainty. All he's feeling from his amrâbulnâs is relief – they must have seen the dragon fall – and while he's too far from Fíli to sense as much as usual, Kíli would surely feel his brother's grief if their kin had died. “Although, speaking of your future, you should secure Smaug's corpse before it sinks.”

“We should? Why?” the bargeman asks. “The Long Lake is large enough that he shouldn't contaminate the fishing and I doubt my kin will want that memory.”

“Maybe not, but I'm sure they'd appreciate the gold his bones might bring,” Kíli tells him. He's a little surprised that Bard doesn't already know this, but then again, it has been a long time since someone slew a dragon in these parts. “The scales of a great wyrm are worth a fortune in most dwarven kingdoms and I am sure uncle would pay good coin for Smaug's teeth and claws if you do not wish to keep them for the weapons they can yield. Besides, while I do not know whether men can eat the flesh of dragons, my people can, and it would be a shame to waste the meat.”

“You make good points, Master Dwarf. However, if Smaug's body is so prized, should you be telling me? I would not start a war with Erebor over the dragon's corpse.”

“I killed Smaug; by dwarvish law that makes his remains mine to dispose of and I am gifting it to you. Tauriel here can be my witness should my uncle start a fuss,” Kíli tells Bard with a shrug. While it's true that Thorin might be angry, the treasure in the Lonely Mountain should be enough to soothe him and Kíli cannot leave these people to their fate without doing what he can to help. Not when the princes' quest for their amrâbulnas brought Smaug to Laketown's door.

“However, if you are truly worried about starting a war,” the dwarf continues, grasping at dim memories of his uncle's diplomatic lessons. “Give one of Smaug's legs to the King Under the Mountain and one to the King of Mirkwood to bind your lands in friendship. They will not be able to accept such a gift and then attack you; no one would ever trust their word again.”

“He is right,” Tauriel says when Kíli finishes, the elfine looking much more alert than she had before. “That would be a kingly gift indeed and my lord Thranduil would be honor bound to return such friendship in kind.”

“Then I will do as you advise,” Bard replies as he waves the archers toward his boat. “We should go before Smaug's body sinks any further.”

Kíli and Tauriel climb into the Lakeman's boat and hold on as Bard and Bain steer them over to the dragon. Smaug's corpse looks even larger up close, his crumpled wings towering over Kíli and his head much larger than their vessel. The wyrm's scales are dull now that the Black Arrow snuffed his fire but his teeth and claws still shine brightly in the morning light.

Underneath the dragon, Kíli can see the remnants of a barge – likely the only thing that has kept Smaug's corpse from sinking – and when he points out the gilded rails to Bard, the man barks out a laugh.

“It seems the Master of Laketown will not be returning. You have done my people a twofold service by slaying Smaug right here,” Bard tells the archer before looping a rope around the dragon’s trailing claw. “And speaking of service, are you truly certain that you wish to give the creature’s body up? The prize was yours to start with and Laketown pays its debts.”

“I have no way to bring it to the mountain,” Kíli replies. “And I think my uncle's kingdom needs goodwill far more than it needs another treasure. However, if you do not mind, I would appreciate a token to prove the beast's demise.”

With Bard's permission, the prince climbs out of the boat and makes his way over to Smaug's head. He intends to take a set of teeth: one for himself, one for each of his amrâbulnâs, and one for his uncle, a royal gift for a reclaimed crown. The dragon's horns would be more impressive, but they are much too large for Kíli to carry so he just pulls his dagger from his belt and grabs the first tooth in his hand.

“A wyrm's skin softens once it dies,” the archer tells his companions conversationally as he starts to cut his bloody prizes from the dragon's flesh. “But you will still need to carve between Smaug's scales in order to butcher him. If you lift the scales, you should be able to fit a knife between them and as you can see, your weapons are sharp enough for this, particularly if you work from the inside out. Or you can wait until I speak with my uncle; I am sure there are blades within the mountain that can pierce Smaug's flesh more easily.”

“You seem to know a great deal about this task. Where did you learn such information?” Tauriel asks curiously. “I didn't think there were any dragons in the west.”

“There aren't. But my people have killed a number of the creatures in the past and my brother and I made a study of the tales those warriors told,” Kíli explains. “We always knew that our uncle was looking toward the mountain and we wanted to be ready when he called.”

The dwarf lets out a grunt when the final tooth comes loose in his hand. He's dulled his dagger on the dragon's jaw, but it served its purpose and he should be able to find a better weapon in Azsâlul'abad.

So Kíli gives the knife a quick rinse in the lake before cutting a strip of cloth from his tunic and putting the blade away. The archer washes the blood from Smaug's fangs and then wraps them in the cloth, tying this bundle into a sling that he throws across his back. It is heavy but not as overwhelming as the dragon's horns would be.

“All right. I am ready,” Kíli says as he climbs back on board.

By now Bard has finished securing Smaug's body to the surrounding wreckage so that it cannot sink and the four of them meet up with the rest of the Lakemen before rowing back to the shore. The trip is slow since their boats are heavily laden with survivors and supplies pulled from the wreckage and by the time his barge touches land, Kíli is vibrating with eagerness.

He can see Óin and Bofur waiting on the bank and their faces light with smiles when he calls their names. The dwarf leaps ashore as soon as possible, his boots soaked through with water almost instantly. But he ignores the discomfort as the three dwarves run to each other, their reunion filled with hugging, laughing, and a great deal of relief.

“Oh, thank the lord, Thorin would have killed us if we'd lost you,” Óin says, patting the archer on the back. “Our people will be telling stories about your courage for centuries.”

Mahal, but I hope so, Kíli thinks. If Bofur and Óin think him a hero for his actions, then Thorin might feel the same; hopefully the prince’s uncle will offer him a boon immediately. Hopefully he and Fíli will be able to change the law for good.

That is all the dwarf desires but before he can disappear into thoughts of the future, Bofur nudges his shoulder and he looks up to see an enormous crowd of Lakemen watching them.

“Um, hello?” the prince says awkwardly, wondering if they'll be forced to fight a horde of angry fisherman after all. Bard hadn't seemed inclined to hurt them even before Kíli gave him the dragon's body, but the bowman might not be able to stop a mob if his people disagree.

However, instead of attacking, one man steps forward and shouts, “That dwarf killed the dragon. I saw him. He brought Smaug down before the wyrm could burn us all.”

At this, the whole crowd bursts into cheers, men and women rushing forward to pat Kíli on the shoulder and thank him personally. To be honest, Kíli isn't sure what to do with all this admiration; while he's glad to know that most of the Lakemen seem to have survived, he hadn't stayed for them and saying otherwise would be a lie.

However, when an expectant hush falls over the crowd, the prince knows that he must say something. Fíli has always been better at speaking to an audience but his brother isn't here to take the slack.

So Kíli simply smiles as warmly as he can and says, “I am just glad that I could help. Smaug has been a curse upon these lands for far too long and now that he is gone, I hope that we can all build better lives. Dwarves, men, and elves alike. Indeed, I could not have made that shot without the Black Arrow that Bard gave me and Tauriel of Mirkwood's keen eyesight.”

As much as the dwarf needs glory for his mission, it doesn't seem right to ignore the fact that he had help in killing Smaug. However, the Lakemen don't seem to notice that portion of his speech as the crowd breaks into cheers again.

“Dragonslayer! Dragonslayer!” they shout until Bard finally makes his people settle down. The bowman orders the Lakemen back to work, ending the celebration in favor of food, shelter and other practicalities. He tells everyone that they will sleep in Dale tonight so that he can speak with the King Under the Mountain before returning to rebuild their lives again.

The dwarves take this as their cue to leave and Kíli waves off Bard's offer of shelter for the evening as soon as it is made. He has been apart from his amrâbulnâs for too long and he needs to leave right now.

“You must look to your own, son of Girion,” Óin explains when Kíli can't find the words. “Your people will need a strong leader in the coming days and we must return to our company; they will want to know that we still live. However, there will be time enough for food and friendship when our work is done and we thank you once again for your hospitality.”

The dwarves bow in farewell and Bard returns the gesture. He can understand the dwarves' desire to return to their companions and make sure their kin are well. So the bargeman offers them a boat with which to reach the lake's far shore, Óin and Bofur pushing it toward the water while Kíli says farewell to Tauriel.

“Thank you again, for everything,” the archer tells her. “I would not be standing here if you had not saved my life.”

“You are welcome,” the elfine replies. “Though no true healer could have left you there to die.”

“Well, I hope your king will see it that way. I know he does not like my uncle and he probably would have celebrated at the news that one of Thorin's sister-sons had perished,” Kíli says with a crooked grin. “If you need someone to talk up your courage around Thranduil, just let me know, although you might have better results if you let the Lakemen do it. I doubt the elf king would believe a word I said.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” Tauriel tells the dwarf as she chuckles quietly. He truly is a strange one but she's glad she saved him; no soul that glows so brightly should die before its time.

“You do that. I figure I owe you one. Maybe two for your help with the dragon,” Kíli pauses, looking at something over the elfine's shoulder. Tauriel follows his glance and then spins around with a wide smile when she sees Legolas.

“Meleth nin, you found me,” the elfine says in greeting. Her prince looks no worse for wear after their separation; indeed, he picked up a horse somewhere during the night, though the reins are dangling from slack fingers now.

“Tauriel, you're all right,” Legolas whispers, the relief in his voice clearly audible. He takes a few steps forward and then wraps his arms around her tightly, hugging the elfine despite their audience. “I feared the worst when I saw Laketown burning; I never would have forgiven myself if I'd left you there to die.”

“But I am fine,”
Tauriel reassures him. “I stood with Kíli there against the dragon and now the beast is dead. My eyes and his Black Arrow pierced the monster in his heart.”

“You let him shoot the dragon?”
her prince asks, eyeing Kíli skeptically.

“Of course, melui nin. I have never used a wind-lance and that did not seem the time for pride,” the elfine chides him gently. “I am content to know I helped. And what of your task? Did you find Bolg?”

“He got away,”
Legolas replies, his expression darkening. “I fought him but he ran. He met up with a warg pack waiting on the edge of the lake and I could not keep up. The pack bore a symbol that I have not seen for many years: the mark of Gundabad.”


“Yes. My father believes that fortress still abandoned but now I fear otherwise. I must travel north,”
the elf prince says. "If the kingdom of Angmar has risen from the ashes then there is no time to waste. Will you come with me?”

“Of course,”
Tauriel answers before turning back to Kíli. “It seems we both must go. I wish you luck in all your travels.”

“And to you as well,” the dwarf replies. He moves to the lake, joining Óin and Bofur on board their borrowed craft while Legolas and Tauriel mount the prince's horse. Kíli gives the elfine one last wave as the pair rides off and then he puts his mind to paddling. The quicker this boat moves, the sooner he will see his amrâbulnâs again.

Yet even Kíli must stop and gape once the trio reaches the other side of the lake and hikes the long road up to the Lonely Mountain, the prince staring at the entrance to Azsâlul'abad in awe. He has only heard stories of those high reaches and the fabled gates that guard his great-grandfather's kingdom, the gates now standing open once again. There is an air of history and majesty about the Lonely Mountain that is undeniable and it strikes all three dwarves when they walk inside. This is a homecoming even though Óin is the only one who has seen these halls before.

However, the silence is soon broken by a gleeful shout as Fíli runs up the stairs to greet his amrâbulnas. The princes slam into a hug, clutching each other tightly in relief at finally being reunited, and when Bilbo walks up a few moments later, Kíli pulls him into their huddle without a second thought. He can't help it, not when he nearly died without the chance to hold his burglar. But Bilbo doesn't stop him; the hobbit just slots in next to Fíli with a relieved sigh of his own.

“Amrâbulnâs,” Bofur whispers in shock as he stares at the trio. “In Laketown, Kíli said that his amrâbulnâs were in the mountain. Plural, not just one.”

“Leave them be,” Óin murmurs in response, laying a hand on the miner's shoulder before he can say anymore. The healer has seen many forms of love in his long lifetime and he wants to give these lads a moment of peace before the world intrudes again.

Indeed, Bilbo pulls away only a few moments later, his face flushing scarlet when he realizes what he'd done. Hadn't he just decided to keep his distance from the princes? The hobbit couldn't be near them until he discovered what had caused that strange feeling when Fíli touched his hand. But then again, Bilbo has not felt that connection again and is it good to see the brothers reunited. The world had not seemed quite right ever since the pair was separated and the archer looks much better now than he had before.

So Bilbo refuses to feel guilty about taking comfort in their presence. Indeed, he has just come from speaking with Thorin and after that conversation, the hobbit sorely needs comforting.

The burglar wants to believe that his beloved's sudden burst of violence in the treasure hall was caused by fear and worry, these emotions understandable since Smaug had been nearby. But Thorin has only gotten worse since then and Bilbo cannot understand it; shouldn't the dwarf lord be happier now that Erebor is his? Shouldn't the coldness that began in Laketown now turn to warmth again?

Yet the hobbit barely recognizes the person that he fell in love with in the dwarf that stands before him; Thorin is actually worse than he was when their trip started and that should be impossible.

Where the dwarf lord had simply scorned the hobbit at first, now he alternates between ignoring his existence and watching him far too closely, a terrible possession burning in his eyes. While Thorin had grown softer since acknowledging the burglar, always taking a moment to remind Bilbo that he was appreciated, now he is as hard as stone again.

Chapter 12B