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Not that easy

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“Your birthday’s tomorrow, brother!” Kíli threw his arm around Fíli in excitement, as they left the training range of Erebor. “Are you excited? You’re going to be of age!”

Fíli laughed and looked up at his little brother. Kíli was not fully grown yet, but already taller.

“It’s not going to change much, is it? Mam and Thorin are still going to boss me around.”

“That’s true.” Kíli grinned and after giving Fíli’s shoulder one more squeeze he released him. They walked in silence for a moment. It stretched longer than was normal for Kíli, who was usually full of things he needed to get off his chest after a training session. Before he could ask what was wrong, Kíli spoke, looking at Fíli sideways.

“Do you think your marks will appear tomorrow?”

“No.”

Kíli was discouraged by the short answer, he could tell.

Dwarves had soulmates, unlike any other species as far as Fíli was aware. They called them “Ones.” Once both dwarves were of age, matching patterns would appear on their bodies. Other races believed them to be tattoos of course.

The problem was that Fíli was all but sure that his brother was his One. He was the only person Fíli felt drawn to. Kíli was not perfect, but Fíli loved him fiercely. The idea that his brother would bond with anyone else was repulsive. He wouldn’t be able to bear losing Kíli to somebody else. And he couldn’t imagine who his own One would be if marks appeared tomorrow. He felt no desire to find out if that was the case.

*

It was not entirely unusual for siblings to be Ones among dwarves. If siblings were Ones, it was generally assumed that the dwarves in question were asexual as well as aromantic. The only problem was, Fíli did not think he was asexual. He had no idea how dwarves had sex, no one had bothered to tell him and what he had seen animals do had repulsed him.

Nevertheless, he knew he’d like to hold and kiss Kíli. And do more. Possibly. Not that he could admit that to anyone.

*

To Fíli’s immense relief, no marks appeared on his birthday. There was a lavish celebration under the mountain and Thorin officially declared him to be his heir and presented him with his crown.

But what was most memorable to Fíli was the way Kíli had beamed at him during dinner, and how they had danced together during the feast, until their mother walked up to them and informed them that it was time to behave in a more dignified manner again.

 

***

 

A year before Kíli’s birthday Fíli woke up remembering a particular rumour from their childhood days. Some silly dwarves had decided that Thorin’s One was not, in fact, unknown. No, Thorin’s One was an elf and the royal family hid that secret.

Kíli, those gossipers claimed, was the result of this union, the son of Thorin and an elf. As a small but strong dwarfling Fíli had beaten up any dwarfling who dared to utter this blasphemy. The rumours had dried up soon enough; it was plain enough for everyone to see that while Kíli’s features were finer than those of the average dwarf and while he had a bit less hair, he grew up at the average speed of a dwarfling. And he got the soulful puppy eyes from his father (Nali. Not Thorin).

Still. There might be a remote possibility that elves also had such eyes. Fíli hadn’t seen many. Maybe Kíli was an half-elf and thus it would be normal that he was sexual; his mother had told him that those “nasty sprites” didn’t consider a marriage valid until the partners had sex.

“So primitive really,” she had chided the absent elves, “What are they? Animals?”

And Kíli’s One would then certainly also be sexual to satisfy his needs. It would all be normal. Well, apart from the fact that Kíli would be a half-elf. He frowned. That would complicate matters.

*

The outrage in his mother’s face answered that question. He thought he had asked discreetly. Starting with the innocent question if it was true that there was some sort of tragedy behind the mysterious absence of Thorin’s One. Usually Mahal made sure that Ones met. Thrain had once sent messengers to Ered Luin and the Iron Hills with pictures of Thorin’s mark, he knew that. Surely …

“Are you listening to petty rumours?” she demanded. “Is that silly idea that Kíli is somehow not my son, still circulating?”

“No, Mam …” he conceded. “It’s just that …. well … I thought that maybe … it might make things easier …”

“Easier?” She looked thoughtful then she glared again. “We all know that Kíli is most likely your One. Is that your problem now?”

“Kind of?”

She huffed and stomped the ground with one foot. “I know that Thorin made a mistake when he assigned you to deal with the humans. You’re too young, you pick up all of their silly ideas. Do you think it’s shameful to be bonded to your brother?”

He hesitated. “No ….”

There was no way he would bring up his confusing attraction towards his own mother. His own very asexual mother.

He did not know how exactly she and his father had conceived Kíli and him. Some dwarves did not mind intercourse, especially not for begetting children; others went to the healers for more mechanical ways.

Whatever it was, Dis had always wanted children contrary to her two brothers. But she would not understand Fíli’s strange yearnings. She swatted him lightly now, as his mind drifted off.

“Listen to me, my jewel. Never doubt Mahal’s decisions.”

*

But he did doubt them. If his brother was indeed his One. But if he wasn’t, why were his thoughts always centred on Kíli when he masturbated? That wasn’t normal. That wasn’t right.

Fíli began to dread his brother’s 45th birthday. He would have to face those feelings then. Or, and that was even worse, it would turn out he wasn’t Kíli’s One after all. Another dwarf would claim that honour.

Fíli couldn’t even think about that. His whole life had revolved around Kíli. He could share his brother with his parents. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to share him with another dwarf.

***

On Kíli’s birthday, he woke up to an insistent tugging at his tunic. He rolled over, still half asleep. When he opened his eyes, his brother swam into vision.

“Happy birthday, little brother.”

Kíli didn’t take the bait. He kept tugging at Fíli’s sleeve. “Let me see.”

“What ….”

“Didn’t you feel anything?” Kíli asked.

“Feel wha … oh.”

He took in his brother’s state of undress. Kíli was only in his smalls. His bare shoulders proudly displayed a pattern that closely resembled the patterns of the royal family.

They had never spoken about it, but apparently Kíli assumed that they would be Ones. He hastily divested himself of his tunic.

Fíli didn’t even need to check. While he was still pulling the fabric over his head, Kíli sighed in clear relief.

“Same patterns,” he informed Fíli. “You’re my One.”

“Well, that’s good.” That was all that Fíli could vocalise. His head was dizzy from the rush of relief flooding through him.

Kíli didn’t say anything. He just suddenly surged forward and gave Fíli a fierce hug. Then he ran out of the room, still in his smalls.

Fíli blinked, not quite sure why Kíli would run away. He heard the deep laugh of his parents and struggled out of bed. Contrary to Kíli, he put at least his tunic back on before he ventured into their family’s main room.

*

His mother engulfed him in a hug as soon as she saw him.

“I’m so glad I was right and you no longer have to wait for your One, my jewel.”

“Mam.” He put his forehead against hers, as soon as she loosened her embrace.

His father embraced him next. Then Kíli demanded all of their attention when he asked if they could finally go and have breakfast with Thorin, Balin and Dwalin to start the celebration of his coming of age. They all laughed at that, but followed him out.

Of age or not, Kíli would hopefully always be this animated and passionate about the little things.

*

As was custom, they had announced the bond during the festivities in honour of Kíli’s birthday. There would be an official celebration of their bonding six months later.

That was not customary; most dwarves would celebrate shortly after the patterns appeared. Only the poorest families, which couldn’t afford two celebrations in a short span of time, and the royal family, which was expected to host lavish feasts that required much preparation, let several months lapse between the events.

*

They were given their separate living quarters on the day after Kíli’s birthday. Their new rooms were in the royal wing, next to their Uncle Frerin’s. Of course, Frerin was mostly living in the Iron Hills where he and his One cared for his One’s parents. He would be expected to attend their bonding ceremony, though.

*

Fíli liked the relative privacy of their new chambers. The door opened to a generous sitting room with a large fireplace. At the back there was a small kitchen and doors to two bedrooms.

When the others had left them, Kíli turned to him.

“Which room do you want?”

“What …”

“I’ll let you pick your room first,” Kíli explained. “I can take the other.”

“Oh.” Fíli deflated a little bit.

Shortly after his embarrassing feelings started, he had insisted on a separate bed. He had hoped that now that they were officially Ones, they would begin to share a bed again. His brother had other ideas, apparently. Instead of getting closer during the night, they would separate further.

He sighed and picked the right one. It was the smaller room. His instinct, ever since they were little, was to take whatever was smaller or inferior.

Kíli gave him a quick hug.

“I’m going to turn in now, all right? I’m exhausted.”

“Sure. Sleep tight.”

Kíli grinned. “You’re the best.”

Fíli drew a pint of ale from the casket in their living area and sat down on the rug in front of the fireplace. He would have loved some alone time with his brother, but he understood that Kíli was tired. It was all right. They had the rest of their lives together.

***

Life with Kíli was not as Fíli imagined it, not even in his chastest dreams. He felt like he hardly saw his brother anymore. They didn’t even train together anymore, Kíli had changed his schedule apparently. They still had meals with their family, but that seemed to be the only time they spent together. Kíli spent his evenings making arrows in his forge or in a tavern with friends. Fíli was not invited.

*

There was one memorable evening when Fíli went to a tavern with Dwalin after a particularly strenuous council meeting. They felt they deserved several large pints. As luck had it, it was the same tavern Kíli was at. He would never forget the shock in Kíli’s face when he saw his brother. Dwalin naturally went straight to the table Kíli was at; Kíli was Fíli’s brother and his One, so of course they’d want to sit together.

Fíli doubted it was evident to an outsider, but knowing his brother as he did, he could tell Kíli was uncomfortable. He left early, claiming to have some reading to do.

*

Not much later, Kíli came home, but he didn’t knock on Fíli’s door. Fíli didn’t go to a tavern again. He knew it was silly, but this rejection by Kíli hurt.

Their mother noticed her sons’ listlessness when she talked about planning the bonding ceremony, but she didn’t seem to realise that it had something to do with their relationship. She just chided them for not doing their part in the preparation of the festivities.

“Really, you’re not dwarflings anymore! You can’t expect me to do all the work for you!”

*

After that Fíli made an effort to be involved. He talked with Bombur about menus, with Bifur and Bofur about presents for the guests and with Thorin about appropriate speeches. He worked on convincing Thorin and the more stubborn members of the council to issue an invitation to the elves of Mirkwood. They’d probably sneer at the idea of brother’s “marrying” but Fíli, as well as Balin, felt that strengthening their ties with all surrounding powers was important.

***

Despite his mother’s misgivings, Fíli was still the dwarf in charge of dealing with the humans. He was, as Balin put it, the only member of the council besides Balin himself who could be trusted to remain polite. Dale was very close to Erebor, but Fíli often took King Bard’s offer to stay the night.

He was particularly fond of Bard’s little ones. Princess Tilda had loved to chew on his moustache braids when she was a baby, and still loved to play with his hair. He was possibly the first dwarf in the history of Middle Earth whose hair was regularly braided by two human girls.

But Fíli also spent some evenings drinking with men of the court. He regretted that Bard would not let him go to a human tavern even though he understood that Bard was unwilling to take that responsibility for Erebor’s crown prince.

And so it came about that Fíli learned one evening how men could have sex together. They seemed to be highly amused that he didn’t have a clue, and he was smart enough to keep acting mildly shocked until they basically explained all the details to him. All that remained to do was to get some oil on his way back to Erebor.

*

After dinner, he retired to his room and pulled the bottle out of its hiding place. It was a good thing his clothes were designed to hold numerous knives, hiding a vial had been no problem. But he felt a bit silly now. Would he really try this? Try to touch himself …. there? He felt bad enough for masturbating as it were. In one of the most embarrassing conversations of his life, his father had told him that most male dwarves masturbated. It was supposed to be relaxing. But Fíli was sure that other dwarves didn’t imagine doing dirty things with their brothers while they did it. Not that his imagination had ever gone this far.

He took a deep breath. Nobody would even know about this. He bought the oil, he might as well use it. And if he didn’t like it … well then he would just assume that the men had been joking.

*

20 minutes later he knew they hadn’t been joking. He felt boneless as he lay panting on the bed. That had been incredible. As he stood to clean himself, his euphoria vanished. It was as if the movement had brought him back to the harsh reality. He might have fantasised that his fingers were Kíli’s cock, but that would remain a fantasy. He could hardly approach his brother with such a proposal. Kíli would barely even touch his shoulder these days.

***

One month after Kíli’s birthday Tharkûn arrived in Erebor with the most extraordinary man Fíli had ever seen. Tharkûn introduced him as his old friend Bilbo Baggins, a gentlehobbit from the Shire. The dwarves had heard about the Shire folk; some had even seen them on their travels to the Ered Luin, where a small dwarf colony had settled. They didn’t know much about them, but they knew the most important thing: They were definitely not dwarves.

Still, Fíli was a bit surprised by Thorin’s rudeness, when they all sat down for dinner. As was custom, Thorin had invited their guests to dine with the royal family.

Thorin couldn’t take his disdainful eyes off Mr. Baggins and kept badgering the poor hobbit throughout dinner. How such a soft creature had even managed to travel all this way. What his favourite weapon was. Disdainful sniff when the answer was “I’m good at conkers.” How he would have defended himself on the road if necessary.

Both Kíli and Fíli were glad to flee once dinner was over and Fíli, for once, had no complaints when Kíli retired immediately, announcing “This was draining!”

*

It did surprise both of them when they were summoned to Thorin’s office the following afternoon. When they entered, they found their mother and their father already sitting on the chairs next to the wall, clearly fighting with laughter. Tharkûn didn’t even try to fight it, he chuckled.

And next to Thorin, who looked ready to murder his beloved sister, his brother-in-law and a powerful wizard, was the hobbit, looking very puzzled. Thorin turned to his nephews.

“Sit down.”

They did as commanded. Thorin took a deep breath.

“Tharkûn was among those my father, Thraín, entrusted with the message about my marks all those years ago.” He looked steadily from the wizard, to his nephews and then to the hobbit.

“He honoured my father’s trust by keeping the picture in his mind. And he found the equivalent in the most unlikely of places.”

As his nephews gaped, Thorin took a step towards the hobbit, and put a tentative hand on his shoulder.

“On a hobbit. Bilbo Baggins from the Shire and, indisputably, my One.”

Kíli whooped in joy and Dis broke out in delighted giggles.

Fíli looked from his giggling mother to his grave uncle.

“The council is not going to like it,” he said.

“Fíli!” his mother and brother chided immediately.

“This is a joyous occasion,” his father added sternly. But Thorin shook his head.

“My heir is the only one with sense in this room. The council, and what’s more, the kingdom, is not going to like this.”

*

The council meeting on the next day was just as bad as they had feared. Thorin had barely formally opened the meeting, when the first council member already sprung up from his chair to inquire if it was true that the strange creature that had arrived was the king’s One.

It deteriorated from there. The worst one was, as expected, an ancient dwarf called Doron, who was vaguely related to the royal family but more importantly, the head of the miner’s guild and one of the richest dwarves in Erebor.

“All I am saying,” Doron said in his third ‘speech’, “is that an outsider as king’s consort is impossible. We dwarves have always kept our secrets. Durin decreed it and we have honoured him throughout the ages. We cannot have a king who consorts with an outsider.”

There were some nods around the table. When Fíli saw the next idiot open his mouth, he stood up and banged his fist on the table. That gesture was unnecessary. All eyes were upon him. The heir had never spoken in council without being prompted.

“Enough,” Fíli said as sternly as he could. “Thorin is our king. Mahâl has blessed him with a hobbit. Who are we to question this union? Mahâl does not make mistakes when he chooses a dwarf’s One.” Oh, how he wanted to believe it. “Why do we doubt the work of our maker?”

He saw some dwarves looking guilty. “Instead of doubting the abilities of our king, we should wonder what message Mahâl is sending us. A hobbit who happens to be our king’s One has travelled halfway across Middle Earth. To what purpose?”

“Tharkûn is not to be trusted,” Doron interrupted him. Fíli glared at him until the older dwarf reluctantly backed down.

“Tharkûn was gracious enough to have remembered a message Thraín sent decades ago. I have since talked with the wizard about hobbits. It seems that while they are peaceful and evade conflicts, they till the land with more success than any other race. Tharkûn tells me that none of the places surrounding the Shire yield a comparable abundance of fruit, even though their soil quality is comparable.”

Fíli made an effort to look around the table, conveying the seriousness of the matter.

“Erebor had always depended on Dale and Laketown for supplies. But in Thror’s time we were more independent. As it stands, we would not be able to last for longer than a month should trade stop.”

He glared around the council.

“We have peaceful relations with Dale and this event is unlikely, but we know that there are troubles in the East. Our brethren in the Iron Hills might require help in the future. I cannot pretend to know the future. Nor can any of you. But I am convinced that Mahâl sent us a hobbit for a purpose. Our maker has blessed us with a message. We need to till our fields again. Our gardens are barren, but we need to make them fruitful again.”

Silence descended. He felt a bit self-conscious but didn’t let it show as he sat down again. Thorin didn’t look at him. Balin finally cleared his throat.

“Thank you Fíli. Does anybody else wish to weigh in on this subject?”

They didn’t. To Fíli’s surprise, Thorin stood and asked the council for a vote of confidence. That had never happened in Thror’s or Thraín’s time. The council members were taken aback, Fíli could tell.

Thorin must have planned it, however, for Balin had the stones ready. Each council member received a black and a white stone.

In the end, there were only two black stones against 23 white stones. Thorin gave the council his thanks and dismissed them

He put his hand on Fíli’s shoulder to keep him from leaving and the moment only he and Balin remained, he turned to Fíli, smiling at him more openly and brightly than he had since Fíli had become an adolescent.

“Nephew,” he put his forehead against Fíli, “you have saved my kingship.”

Balin smiled kindly, once they separated.

“That was a splendid speech indeed Fíli. You have swayed the council.”

Fíli couldn’t deny that. Instead he dared to squeeze Thorin’s shoulder. “I meant every word.”

“You’re going to be a good king.”

It was the first time Thorin had ever said that, so Fíli was happy that his uncle had turned around now to lead the way out of the chambers. He needed to compose himself.

*

Kíli wasn’t there for dinner, but that had been planned. He was taking on some more responsibilities and was having dinner with representatives from the artisan’s guild. It could be supposed that he would head to a tavern with them afterwards.

Fíli sighed as he took off his heavy coat. On impulse he pulled his tunic down to look at the edge of his marks. The ones he shared with Kíli.

He wondered, not for the first time, if Kíli was simply too young to appreciate a steady bond. There were only 5 years between them, but Fíli had always been mature for his age. Not least because Thorin insisted on training him for his position early on.

Kíli had been spoilt in comparison; everyone had always been more lenient with him. Fíli didn’t resent that; he doubted that Kíli would have submitted himself as docilely has he had done to a rigorous schedule.

Suddenly Fíli noticed that he was tracing the marks with his fingers. He let his hand drop. There was no point in mooning over Kíli. Instead, he grabbed a volume on laws concerning kingship.

Just to make sure, that there really wasn’t any law forbidding Thorin to continue to reign when bonded with a non-dwarf. He doubted it, but it would be better to be prepared.

He was barely five pages in when the door opened. He jumped up in surprise.

“Kíli? Are you alright? Did something happen?”

Kíli looked at him, adorable confusion in his eyes. “I’m fine. The dinner went well.”

“That’s good.” Fíli still scanned Kíli’s face and then his body for any visible signs of discomfort. Had there been bad food at the dinner? Or the wine? Did his brother have an accident?

“I’m really fine. I just …”

Fíli looked up again. Kíli cocked his head.

“I just heard what you did in the council today.”

“What I did in the council? Why?”

“You stood up for Thorin. And … And Mahâl’s choice of a hobbit for him.”

“Yes. Of course.”

“I just ….” Kíli still stood next to the door. He interlaced his own fingers now, stretching his arms nervously. “I guess I wanted to thank you? It should have been a joyous occasion, Thorin finally found his One, and so many dwarves made it awful. So they wanted you to succeed but instead you defended Thorin and said that to go against Thorin because of who is One is, is to go against Mahâl.”

“Of course,” Fíli repeated. The air felt oppressive in their chamber as he looked at his brother as from a great distance. He didn’t know how to react. Why did Kíli feel the need to tell him that? Could Kíli have believed for even one second, that Fíli would not have stood up for their beloved uncle? That he would have accepted the throne while Thorin was still alive?

“I need to retire,” he finally said, when the silence stretched too long. He saw hurt flash in Kíli’s eyes, but he turned around resolutely and went to his own room, closing the door firmly behind him.

It didn’t make the ache any better. But at least Kíli didn’t need to see him as he couldn’t hold it together anymore. Fíli let himself fall onto the bed, rubbing his hands over his face to stop the tears. What had gone wrong between them? Why had their closeness vanished as soon as they had proof that they belonged together?

Chapter Text

The next morning Fíli went to Thorin and asked him to be part of the delegation to the Iron Hills. Thorin just stared at him for a moment.

“Fíli. You were the one who suggested that we look into improving our farming yesterday at the council. I expected you to take a lead role in this project.”

Fíli bit his lower lip. “I am sure there are dwarves better qualified than me. I just thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about the dwarves in the Iron Hills. I was a little dwarfling last time I was there.”

“And we send regular delegations. I appreciate the idea, but you won’t go now. It’s not a good time.”

“I actually think it’s the perfect time.”

“I’m listening.”

Fíli thought quickly. “I understand that you want to spend more time with Bilbo, getting to know him …” That was enough personal matters. “But the council yesterday was just the start. If I take over such an important project, it will give people hope that you might step down. You have to be the one to prove to everyone how valuable your One will be to Erebor, Thorin. Not me.”

Thorin continued to look sceptical. “With my heir by my side, to show we’re working on this together.”

“I will be back in less than a month. And I will make sure Dáin and every other dwarf in the Iron Hills respects Mahâl’s choice for you.”

Thorin looked at him.

“Fíli … what is wrong? Why do you wish to leave Erebor?”

“Nothing is wrong,” Fíli protested. “I just think I should go to the Iron Hills.”

“I can see that something is bothering you, nephew.”

Fíli shook his head. “Thorin focus on Bilbo now.”

Unexpectedly, Thorin laughed. “That’s the advice everyone gives me. Very well. You may join the delegation to the Iron Hills. But I hope you know … you can talk to me if you need too.”

This was very nearly embarrassing. Finding his One appeared to have made Thorin soft. Fíli coughed.

“Thank you Thorin.”

*

Fíli announced his imminent departure during dinner with his parents and Kíli. They weren’t happy, Fíli could tell. Kíli went back to their rooms with Fíli after dinner.

Once there, they both divested themselves of their leathers and kept some idle chit-chat going about their day. But then Kíli turned to him, his face uncomfortably serious.

“Fíli, about your trip …”

“Yes?”

But before they could get anywhere, Balin came in to discuss. He had news about the trip; they would leave the next morning, he informed Fíli, two days earlier than planned because they needed to make a detour via Esgaroth. Kíli excused himself and went into his room.

 

***

As expected, Fíli had to put the fear of Mahâl into some dwarves in the Iron Hills too. Dáin, however, was just genuinely delighted for his cousin, as was Frerin.

“I’ve always worried about Thorin’s missing One,” his mother’s brother confided in Fíli on the first evening. “I felt bad for leaving Erebor, even though I know Dis, Nali and you boys were always there for him. And to be honest, I think for many dwarves this would have been easy. Not all of us truly need a One, as I am sure you know best.”

“Yeah …”

“I think that’s why some bonds are just like that of friends,” Frerin continued, “but Thorin … I always felt that something was missing for him. Something his family couldn’t give him.”

Fíli nodded awkwardly.

“He seems happier now, apart from his worries about the reactions of other dwarves.”

Frerin made a rude gesture, indicating his opinion about those other dwarves.

*

His uncle couldn’t know that, but his words had cut Fíli deeply. Was that how people considered him and Kíli? Dwarves that didn’t really need partners, so Mahâl just gave them their brother as a faithful friend? And nothing more? Did Kíli see them like that? Was there just something wrong with Fíli? How could he ever be a good king, if he couldn’t even be a good dwarf?

There was no way he would confide in anyone, though. After he had struggled his entire life to be seen as a worthy successor for Thorin, his family was finally telling him that they were proud of him and that he would make a good king. He would most definitely not destroy that.

*

The next day he met Dáin’s son, Thorin Stonehelm. Stonehelm reminded him of Kíli at that age. Too exuberant for a dwarf and full of curiosity not only about Erebor but also about this strange Hobbit creature. He dragged Fíli to the library to pore over maps of the West. They found the Shire, as well as Hobbiton, the place Bilbo came from, and the road the dwarves usually took through it on their way to the Ered Luin.

He spent much of his stay in the Iron Hills with young Thorin Stonehelm. His distant cousin was all too happy to be his guide and to introduce Erebor’s heir to every one of any importance in the Iron Hills settlement.

Despite the official nature of his visit, Fíli hadn’t felt so young and careless for a long time. This was similar to the feelings Kíli used to incite in him, before things grew so awkward between them.

*

When it was time for the Erebor dwarves to return to their home, Stonehelm asked his father to let him go with them. Dáin did not hesitate to give his permission. He told Fíli very frankly that he was happy that the respective heirs of the kingdoms got on so well and that he would be glad to foster their friendship.

Especially because Stonehelm’s son might reunite the kingdoms. Fíli wasn’t offended by that dynastic sentiment. He was bonded with his brother; male couples occasionally adopted dwarflings, but no adopted dwarf had ever sat on the throne of Erebor. Thorin Stonehelm was not of age yet, but everybody hoped that he would bond with a dwarrowdam to keep the royal line a bit more linear.

***

In Erebor, the delegation from the Iron Hills, including the heir of the Iron Hills, was of course received in the throne room by Thorin.

Fíli was pleased to notice that Bilbo stood to Thorin’s left, as his consort should. The hobbit seemed to be much more at ease with his position now.

Once the formalities were over, Thorin invited his family, including little Thorin, to tea in his chambers. Tea, he explained on the way there, was one of the eight meals hobbits partook of in a day, and that Bilbo had personally baked tea cakes, scones and seed cake for the occasion.

On their way to the chambers, Fíli introduced Kíli and Thorin Stonehelm to each other. Kíli seemed cordial, but Fíli knew his brother well enough to detect some reticence. Little Thorin didn’t notice any such thing of course, he was still excited about being in Erebor and kept asking Fíli questions about the things they had already seen. Fíli had to put his hand on his young cousin’s shoulder to calm him down.

*

Stonehelm’s presence in Erebor made Fíli’s time much more enjoyable. When he wasn’t busy for the Kingdom - Thorin had put him in charge of overseeing their new agriculture program after all - he didn’t have to wait around for Kíli and mope. He showed his cousin all of Erebor and in the evening, they would go into a tavern with some dwarves whose area they had visited, be invited to their homes or even drink something in Fíli and Kíli’s chambers.

Fíli was even allowed to take his cousin to Dale. Thorin Stonehelm was so open and so sincerely interested in Dale and its people, that Fíli later told his Uncle that taking his cousin to Dale was probably the most successful thing they had done for years to improve relations.

*

The only thing that bothered Fíli was the hostility Kíli showed towards their cousin. Not too long ago he would have felt confident enough to call Kíli out, but no longer. He was just left puzzled every time Kíli shot down one of little Thorin’s innocent questions or rudely refused to take Dáin’s heir anywhere. Stonehelm had actually looked forward to seeing some of Kíli’s archery, which Fíli had praised, but Kíli always found reasons to stop him from being present during archery practice.

It was almost like jealousy, Fíli thought. But Kíli had never been a jealous dwarf, and why would he be jealous? Fíli invited him along often enough, but Kíli usually refused. Or if he did tag along, he was so morose that Fíli barely recognized his brother.

***

Stonehelm usually had breakfast with the royal family. Of course, they did not all have breakfast together every day. One rare day, Bilbo had decided to take Thorin to a picnic for breakfast, to show him some of the gardens. Dis and Nali had decided to skip breakfast to lay in after a long dinner the night before, so breakfast was going to be served in Fíli and Kíli’s rooms.

They were supposed to be joined by Stonehelm, but the servant who brought the food told them that he had knocked on the young dwarf’s door and been informed that he was feeling too hung-over to come.

They started to eat in silence. Then Fíli sighed to himself.

“I hope little Thorin is all right. I’ll need to make sure they brought him a little bit of food.”

“He’s old enough to take care of that,” Kíli grumbled, viciously attacking the bread with a knife.

“I know. But we meant to look at the battlements today, I hope he is still up for that.”

“Why do you always want to spend your time with that Stonehelm?” Kíli demanded suddenly, putting the knife down with some force. “I’m your brother. And your One.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed!” Fíli bit back.

Kíli glared at him.

“Go and run to little Thorin then.”

But it was Kíli who jumped up and hurried out of the room. All Fíli could do was stare at the door.

Kíli spent time with his friends all the time. Why wasn’t Fíli allowed to have any friends?

*

Later, Fíli was taking Stonehelm to a tour of the battlements of Erebor. They didn’t make it far though. As soon as they were out of earshot of the guards, little Thorin pulled him down to sit on a ledge.

“What’s the matter?” he demanded. “You’re hardly paying attention to what you’re saying, it’s very distracting.”

Fíli laughed despite himself. His cousin really was like his brother. They were the only dwarves to begin a discussion about feelings without preamble. Or discussions about feelings at all, really.

“Nothing's the matter,” he answered levelly. “I am sorry.”

Thorin nodded. “You should make things up with Kíli though.”

“Excuse me?”

Stonehelm grimaced. “Sorry, I really need to learn your diplomacy skills!”

“You do,” Fíli agreed. “But what gave you the idea that there is something wrong between Kíli and me?”

The young dwarf shrugged. “Other dwarves talk about their One. Some of them talk about them all-the-time. You barely mentioned Kíli in the Iron Hills, and always only as ‘my little brother.’ And here, Kíli obviously dislikes me for no apparent reason and you never talk about him at all. And barely spend together.” He grinned awkwardly. “Sorry?”

“It’s fine.” Fíli sighed. “Your observation skills are excellent. All you need to learn now is to keep them to yourself.”

“I didn’t mean to make you angry.”

Fíli took pity on his friend. “I'm not mad at you. You can be honest with me, I don’t mind.” He managed a sincere smile. “But you should be honest because you plan to be, not blurting things out without giving it thought, that’s all I meant. And yes, as you guessed, we did have a fight. Just don’t tell anyone.”

“I won’t!” Stonehelm promised. “But you should really make up with him.”

“I know.” Fíli smiled again. He was really attached to the other dwarf, but he was too young to understand all the problems. “Don’t worry about us. We’re brothers, remember, and brothers fight sometimes.”

“As long as Kíli doesn’t go and found another dwarf colony,” the heir of the Iron Hills dared to joke, whose grandfather had fought with Fíli’s grandfather and gone to build his own kingdom.

Fíli laughed. “He won’t.”

*

Kíli didn’t appear for dinner with the family. Fíli was getting a bit worried, but he knew his brother well enough not to bother looking for him in the mountain. He didn’t want to cause a scene.

Instead, he settled in front of the fire in their living room, trying and failing to read a book while he waited.

It was well past midnight when the door opened. Kíli staggered in, holding onto the wall. Fíli wondered what Kíli had been drinking. It took a lot to get his brother this drunk.

“Kee?”

Kíli blinked owlishly and slowly turned his head towards his brother.

“Fee? Whaa .. yoostilloop?”

Fíli interpreted that as “why are you still up?” and he took a careful step towards his brother.

“I was worried about you.”

“Ayyeee …”

“You better get into bed.” Fíli forgot about their troubles and put his arms around his brother’s larger frame. “You’re barely able to stand up.”

“Whaaa.”

“Shhhh.”

Luckily Kíli didn’t try to talk anymore. He was docile as Fíli led him to his room - it occurred to him, that this was the first time he entered Kíli’s new room.

But he was focused on getting his brother onto the bed. It was at the side of the chamber, in a little alcove. Beautiful, but not that easy to manoeuvre a drunk person into.

He managed, with very little help by Kíli, to at least get Kíli’s coat and boots off.

Finally, Kíli was laying on the bed, looking at Fíli with big eyes as he let himself be tucked in. But just as Fíli straightened again to leave, Kíli’s hand shot towards him with surprising speed and grabbed Fíli’s wrist.

“Fee. Plees.”

“What?”

Kíli frowned slightly, in an effort to enunciate his words. “Stay. Here. Please.”

Fíli sighed; it was getting too late for this.

“I’m tired; I need to sleep, Kee.”

“Here.” Kíli rolled a bit towards the wall, messing up his blankets again. He patted awkwardly at the free spot next to him. “Stay here?”

Fíli hoped that Kíli wouldn’t regret this in the morning, but he was unable to deny a request that was so in line with his own buried desires.

He had already stripped off his coat, his vest and his boots earlier in the evening, so he lowered himself carefully onto the bed. Kíli rolled towards him, curling next to Fíli but not quite touching as he had done when they were dwarflings.

Fíli chuckled a bit and pulled the blankets over them. He dared to stroke Kíli’s back a couple of times.

“Good night, little brother.”

A soft snore was the only answer he got.

*

The next morning Fíli woke up to a loud banging noise. It came from their front door.

Fíli groaned. This was probably way past their usual hour.

Once he made it to the front door of the apartment, an angry looking Dwalin greeted him. The face of the stern dwarf softened a little bit when he took in Fíli’s tired face.

“You were expected at a meeting with your Uncle and Bilbo half an hour ago. And both you and Kíli didn’t even have breakfast yet.”

“Kíli is not feeling well.”

Dwalin snorted. “I heard he drank himself into a near stupor. They thought they’d have to carry him home.”

Fíli frowned, not happy that his brother’s escapade had been so public.

“It’s not only that,” he answered. “Tell Thorin that we need some time to ourselves today.”

Dwalin frowned. “Is something wrong between you?”

Fíli hesitated. He knew that Dwalin’s relationship to his One, Nori, was not always easy, so he’d probably be the only dwarf to understand at least a little. But Fíli still shook his head.

“No, there isn’t.”

Dwalin didn’t look convinced, but he nodded.

*

Fíli hesitated, not sure, if he should enter Kíli’s room again. But then again … he at least needed to see if Kíli was awake. Because if he was, he certainly needed some water after his alcohol excess.

What he heard when he entered the room, rooted Fíli to the spot though. Those were stifled sobs coming from the bed, and he could see Kíli’s shoulders shaking under the blanket.

“Kee …” Fíli came slowly forward and settled on the edge of the bed. “Kee, little brother. What’s wrong?”

There was no response at first, but when Fíli put his hand on Kíli’s shoulder, the younger dwarf drew in a shaky breath.

“You hate me.”

Fíli blinked, but before he could answer, Kíli continued.

“I know you hate me. You … you don’t want me to be your One.”

When Fíli didn’t respond, he cried harder, his sobs turning into hiccups.

But Fíli really didn’t know what to do. This went deeper than he had thought. Up to this point, he had thought Kíli was the one who resented their bond.

“Kee …” he said a bit belated. “Kee … You’re still drunk.”

He certainly still smelled like it. But there was a protesting noise nevertheless.

“You hate me,” Kíli repeated. Fíli patted his shoulders, feeling awkward.

“I never hated you. I could never hate you.”

When Kíli audibly tried to stop crying, hiccuping pathetically, Fíli gave into the urge and settled back on the bed, pulling his brother into his arms.

“It’s all right, Kee, I’m sorry.”

He wasn’t sure what he was sorry for, but he couldn’t stand seeing Kíli so upset. They stayed like this for a while. Kíli inched a bit closer into Fíli’s embrace as he tried to calm down.

“Who was at the door?” He finally asked.

“Dwalin. I told him we need time for ourselves today.”

“Hmm …”

“Kee? Is that okay? Can we … can we maybe spend some time together today?”

He cursed himself for being unable to ask for a talk directly. Kíli lifted his head.

“Without little Thorin?”

“Without little Thorin.” He managed to keep his voice level, even though Kíli’s jealousy annoyed him. Instead he smiled down at his brother. “Come on, let’s get up, you need to get some water into you.”

“And I need the bathroom,” Kíli confessed.

*

After breakfast, Fíli suggested that they could ride out together. It would do them good to get away for a bit.

Dwarves didn’t require as much fresh air as other races did, at least according to Bilbo, but Fíli hoped it would still help Kíli’s slightly hung-over state. Kíli was all for it, of course.

They took two mountain rams - both brothers had always loved riding them, relishing the thrill when their mounts scaled impossibly steep cliffs.

Once they reached a mountain pasture that looked towards the Iron Hills, they stopped. The rams were happily feeding on the fresh grass.

Kíli stood near the edge, looking outward. His shoulders were sloped. On impulse, Fíli stepped behind him and wound his arms around Kíli’s waist. The younger dwarf relaxed instantly.

They just stood like that for several moments. Fíli was too small to put his chin on Kíli’s shoulder, so he just leant his forehead against Kíli’s back. Kíli had entwined their hands.

Then Kíli slowly turned around, so they could face each other.

“I’m sorry about this morning.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Kee.”

“I …” Kíli sighed and tried to break their hug, but Fíli held on tightly and only allowed a small distance. Kíli looked down at the little sliver of ground between them. “I’m sorry I got so drunk you had to tuck me into bed. And then I got so emotional in the morning.”

“That’s all right, really.”

“You deserve so much better.”

“I … what? Kee …”

When Kíli tried to break out of the embrace again, Fíli let him. He even took a step back as a heavy weight settled in his chest.

“What is this about?” he demanded, more roughly than he intended. “What did I do wrong to make you believe I hate you?”

His voice nearly broke towards the end. This was his worst nightmare. He had failed his little brother.

“You did nothing.” Kíli wrung his hands. “I just …”

The silence was awkward.

Fíli wanted to speak, say something to soothe Kíli, as he always did. But his tongue seemed to have transformed into stone. He couldn’t get a word past his throat.

Finally, Kíli, his brave little Kíli, looked up and directly into Fíli’s eyes.

“You’re so aloof. Not with me, I mean, you’ve always been so kind and caring, but it’s just like … Mahâl created the dwarves from stone and you are so much like stone. You’re just what a dwarf should be. And I’m … not.”

He took a deep breath.

“I … I was so excited on my birthday, I really wanted you to be my One, I never said that, I didn’t want … I was scared to be disappointed, but I was not. And … you’re so perfect and calm, and you just said ‘well that’s good’, so calmly, like it wasn’t a big deal, and …”

“Kíli …” Fíli finally found his voice. “I …”

“Let me finish, please.” Kíli gave him an apologetic smile. “I know you want to tell me that it’s alright, you always did. You were always there for me, always making me feel better. But I am an adult now. We are officially bonded, we moved out of our parents’ rooms, and … I knew I can’t cling to you for the rest of my life, Fee! You’re so … so kingly already, you don’t need a partner who is needy all the time. I couldn’t just keep on trailing you and eating up all your attention, like I did when we were small.”

“You want to tell me, you spent time with everyone but me because that made you feel more grown-up?”

“Um, sort of? I’m stupid?”

“You really are.” Fíli pulled at his own braids. Of all the reasons to put distance between them, he really hadn’t expected that to be one.

When Kíli’s large eyes shone with hurt, Fíli finally caught on to the rest of what his brother had said. He carefully came closer again and gripped Kíli’s forearm.

“I never thought you were needy. And …”

He took a deep breath, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am for my reaction on your birthday? I was …” he grimaced.

“I’m much less stony than you seem to imagine. I had feared your birthday for five years, little brother, so afraid that either somebody else’s mark would appear on your body or none. That you were not my One. When you said they matched, I was overwhelmed with relief. I always wanted it to be you.”

“Really?” Kíli breathed, taking a tiny step towards Fíli.

“Really,” he confirmed, putting his free hand on Kíli’s neck and pushing his brother’s head down so their foreheads could touch. “There is no one else I could ever imagine sharing my life with.”

“Even when I’m very clingy?”

“I’d prefer you to become clingy again, compared to spending my evenings alone.”

“Oh.” Kíli straightened again, a look of intense guilt settling on his face. “I never considered … I’m such a selfish brat.”

It was quite true, but Fíli was well aware that it was partly his fault. Kíli had been spoilt, his own mother had complained about that recently. His cheerful little brother was everybody’s favourite; he had never been encouraged to think about others.

*

Later that evening, when they were in their room, Kíli sat down next to Fíli on the rug in front of the fire.

“Why were you so angry with me before you left Erebor?”

“Angry with you?”

“Yes …” Kíli knelt in front of Fíli, looking at him earnestly. “I … I didn’t feel I was right for the role as your consort. I thought …. Well I thought maybe it was a bit of a mistake? Or that you just didn’t need anyone so Mahâl simply gave you your brother, because dwarves would think it odd if their king has no One?”

He scratched his nose. “And then I heard that you told the council that Mahâl didn’t make mistakes and that there was always a reason for the choice our maker made? So …”

“So you thought I was also talking about us?” Fíli could kick himself. He reached out to grab one of Kíli’s hands. “I’m sorry. In the council … I just said what I felt would sway the other dwarves. And I was hurt because I thought you were surprised I stood up for Thorin.”

Kíli smiled hesitantly and shook his head.

“I know you’ll always protect Thorin. Just like I would.”

“We’re idiots.” Fíli squeezed Kíli’s hand. “I’m not as sure as I pretended in the council that Mahâl never makes mistakes, but I am certain he didn’t make a mistake when he destined us to be together. I’m sorry I never told you that.”

Kíli nodded and edged closer. Fíli put his arm around him, and Kíli curled up against Fíli as they watched the fire. After a while, Fíli began to sing to Kíli, just as he had done when they were smaller.

But at the end of the evening, they still retired to their respective rooms. Fíli knew that there was a long way ahead before before they could be as close again as they used to be and hopefully even closer.

He was deeply troubled by the fact that Kíli had suffered from insecurity without Fíli noticing it. And that Kíli hadn’t noticed that how unhappy his older brother was. They both needed to learn to focus less on themselves and more on each other.

Chapter Text

The next day Fíli and Little Thorin were invited for dinner with Dwalin and Nori. The conversation turned to the bonding ceremony held for Thorin and Bilbo (which had pushed the one for Fíli and Kíli back for a further few months).

When Fíli looked at Kíli, his brother’s eyes twinkled and he quirked his lips for the briefest moment. They both thought the same thing.

They had not even started on ideas for their present yet. While that thought was scary, it was comforting that they could understand each other that easily again. After missing this connection for weeks, he appreciated what his mother had said about Ones; it was about the connection, the wordless communication. And he understood why everyone had already known they were meant to be together; he had always had this bond with Kíli.

He would never risk it again, he silently vowed, even as he continued joking with Nori and teasing Dwalin (something he would certainly regret during the next training session).

*

Kíli allowed Stonehelm to join them in their living area to brainstorm a present for their uncle. In an effort to show off his new diplomacy skills, little Thorin excused himself soon. Kíli looked at Fíli.

“He knows about our problems, right?”

“He figured it out,” Fíli agreed. “He’s trying to be subtle.”

“Well ….” Kíli laughed. “He’ll get there. He’s learning from the best.”

Fíli quirked an eyebrow and Kíli hit his shoulder.

“You, of course. Nobody can read you. Well apart from me and mam, maybe.”

“Thank you.” It was a virtue among dwarves, one that Kíli would possibly never master.

“That’s why you took him to Dale, right? To learn diplomacy?”

“That’s the idea, although the Iron Hills are far from large human settlements. The few humans around there accept Dain as their king.” Fíli smirked and tousled his brother’s hair. “You should come to Dale too some time and charm them.”

A light blush started to spread over Kíli’s cheek, but then he suddenly sat up straight.

“Dale!”

“Yes?”

“Our present! Bilbo isn’t a dwarf; we need to think more broadly. Something that shows we welcome him into the family but respect that he’s different?”

“Well, yes, but he’s not from Dale,” Fíli pointed out. “He’s not even human.”

“Close enough.” Kíli made a dismissive hand gesture and Fíli laughed. An idea struck him.

“Gardening tools perhaps? I did say in the council that Mahâl sent Bilbo for his skills with plants.”

“Perfect. We’ll go to Dale to figure out how to make good quality tools and emboss them with the royal seal.”

***

Fíli was feeling worried when Kíli followed him home after dinner for the third evening in a row. Once they were in their chambers, he turned to him.

“Kíli … what are you doing here?”

Kíli frowned. “I … I wanted to spend the evening with you? Is that … not okay?”

“It is …” Fíli did his best to smile and he even stretched his arm to put his hand on Kíli’s shoulder. “But this is the third evening you’re not in a tavern.”

“Well, yes?” Kíli looked at him again. “I thought we agreed it was silly that I ran away all the time?”

“Silly is harsh.” Fíli took a small step towards his brother. “And you have fun with your friends in the tavern, right?”

“Sometimes?” Kíli took a step backwards and Fíli’s hand slipped off his shoulder. “Why do you want me to go out?”

“I don’t.” Fíli sighed. “I just thought it might not be a good idea if you change your habits so publicly.”

He tried to reach for his brother again, but Kíli ignored his outstretched arm.

“Why?”

“People will talk.”

“Just tell me if you don’t want to spend time with me!” Kíli’s voice was rough now.

Fíli practically jumped in front of the door when he noticed Kíli turning towards it.

“I do!” he protested. “Of course I want to spend time with you.”

“Then why do you want me to go out!”

“I told you, it might look odd …”

The fierce look Kíli gave him made him take a small step backwards.

“It looked odd when we never spent our evenings together! Don’t you know that dwarves talked about it? Do you know how often old dwarves thought they needed to tell me to grow up?”

“I don’t. You never told me.”

“No.” Kíli still glowered. “But you’re a clever dwarf. You must be aware that our way of living together gave raise to talk. Thorin Stonehelm figured it out. So what if they talk again? All they’ll say is that you finally talked some sense into me, so you won. It’s not like any of this is going to reflect negatively on you! You’re always the perfect, golden prince, and I’m just … the odd prince.”

Fíli swallowed.

“I’m sorry, Kee.” Fíli reached out again and this time Kíli took his hand. Fíli stepped closer, squeezing Kíli’s fingers.

“Truly, I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I didn’t think it through. I’m not perfect and you’re not odd.”

“Yes, I am.” Kíli put his free arm around Fíli’s shoulders and drew him closer. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t bother me much. I’d rather have them badmouth me than you.”

He looked down at Fíli and chuckled. “Don’t. I know that look. But you can’t go and beat up everyone who insults me anymore, big brother.”

Kíli knew him too well. Fíli had been starting to figure out a plan to take revenge on the entire kingdom, if necessary, for calling Kíli an odd prince.

“You’re not odd,” he insisted, holding Kíli’s gaze. “They’re just jealous.”

Kíli chuckled.

“Jealous of what?”

“Your cheer and charm. I know most dwarves adore you. Don’t listen to the others.”

“I don’t.” Kíli pressed his forehead firmly against Fíli’s. “As long as you love me, I don’t even care. And I’ve got my friends. And Thorin, and mam, and dad.”

“I do love you.” Fíli raised a hand to caress Kíli’s cheek with the back of his fingers. “Let’s go to the kitchen and get some milk with honey. Like when we were dwarflings.”

He was rewarded with a laugh from Kíli.

“That shouldn’t be as tempting as it is.”

*

The dwarves in the kitchen who were nearly done cleaning up after dinner, were surprised by the sudden appearance of their princes, especially when they heard what they desired. Bombur’s massive body shook with his chuckles as he insisted that he would prepare it, he would not have any young dwarves mess around in his kitchen.

*

They carried the two steaming mugs back to their home and settled in front of the fire. Fíli wondered if they should get some cushions, they hardly seemed to use the chairs at all, always sitting on the comfy rug in front of the fire.

They did not talk much anymore and just enjoyed each other’s closeness. Milk with honey soothed both their nerves and they turned in soon after they finished their milk.

***

They could not shut themselves in all the time. Thorin Stonehelm was still a visitor, and Kíli had agreed to try to be friends with him after all.

Kíli was also smart enough to understand that the purpose of Stonehelm’s visit was to foster a good relationship between the two future kings. He didn’t try to stop Fíli from spending time with the other prince, now he just tagged along more often than not when Fíli and little Thorin went somewhere in the evening.

A few times, he even went out with his friends without Fíli. However, he always came home early and Fíli always waited up to say good night.

***

The pace with which their relationship changed amazed Fíli. When they were dwarflings, they showed their affection in physical ways all the time. Even when they were just sitting and listening to the stories of their older relatives, they would always touch.

Gradually those tokens of affections faded when they grew older and noticed that other dwarves were more distant with each other. Then Fíli had discovered his inappropriate desires for his brother and refrained from any touch that wasn’t strictly necessary while training.

Now, however, Kíli always found an excuse to touch him. To get his attention during dinner. To steer him around an obstacle that Fíli was in no danger of walking into.

And as soon as they made it to the privacy of their chambers, Kíli would turn to Fíli and they would hug. Fíli could not hold his brother in his arms often enough.

*

Kíli became an oversized puppy. Wherever Fíli sat down in their rooms, Kíli would follow and drape himself around Fíli. It had started innocently, just Kíli sitting next to him, their sides touching. Soon Kíli began to put his arm around Fíli when he did that. One evening Fíli fell asleep and woke up with his head in Kíli lap. His brother was threading his fingers through Fíli’s hair, occasionally massaging his scalp. After that it seemed surprisingly natural to seek out as much contact as possible. Fíli pulling Kíli down to lay across his lap while they talked about the day, Kíli circling his arms around Fíli’s waist and his head on Fíli’s shoulder, while the crown prince complained about the council, massaging each other’s legs after battle training and ending the massage by leaning against each other in front of the warm fire.

*

Of course, it sometimes became a bit much. When Fíli tried to concentrate on a book or the design of the gardening tools for Bilbo, Kíli would sit down next to Fíli and pull him into his lap. He just laughed when he Fíli complained.

But he never complained much; he was too happy that Kíli was this affectionate again. Kíli had always been a dwarf(ling) who liked to be in the centre of attention, and especially his brother’s attention.

Fíli had never minded giving him that attention.

*

Their respective rooms were, however, once again taboo by an unspoken agreement. At some point in the evenings, Kíli would kiss Fíli’s cheek or the top of his head, whatever was closer and retire to his own bed.

***

Fíli gathered all his courage one evening when Kíli was curled up with his head in Fíli’s lap, just relaxing in front of the fire after a hard day training with Dwalin. Fíli was tracing idle lines on Kíli’s scalp.

“Kee?”

“Hm?”

Fíli took a deep breath.

“Do we … Do we have to sleep in separate rooms? I would like to share a room with you again, as we did when we were younger.”

“I …” Curiously, Kíli blushed. It looked pretty on the young dwarf, but did not answer the question.

“Yes?”

Kíli pushed himself up and sat down in front of Fíli, but not meeting his brother’s eyes.

“I don’t think it’s such a good idea …”

“But why? You wanted to when you were drunk,” Fíli pointed out. Kíli grimaced.

“Emphasis on drunk.”

“Can’t we at least try?” Fíli hated begging, but he’d do anything to get closer to Kíli. “Please? If you hate it, we can go back to using separate rooms, or maybe separate beds, but I’d like to try.”

Kíli bit his lower lip. “I’d like to, but …”

“But?”

“I … sometimes … at night, I get …” He stopped, but Fíli waited patiently. He tried to hold Kíli’s hand, but his brother folded them resolutely on his own lap.

“I get hard!” it rushed out of him. “And when we sleep in the same bed, I KNOW I will snuggle up to you, and then you’d feel it through the smallclothes, and you’ll be disgusted and I can’t stand the idea!”

He started crying softly. “I’m so sorry Fíli, I couldn’t stand it, please don’t be disappointed …”

Fíli pulled his reluctant One into a hug with some difficulty. He rubbed Kíli’s back soothingly until he felt that the younger dwarf was ready to listen again. Then he leaned back a bit, so he could look into his brother’s face, but Kíli was still practically sitting in his lap.

“Kíli, I’m not disappointed and certainly not disgusted. And it’s perfectly okay.”

“It is?”

“Did you never talk about that with Dad?”

Kíli blushed again and shook his head. Fíli bit down a groan. He had searched out his father to ask him, but if Kíli already felt the odd one out among dwarves at that time, of course he never approached either his brother or his father.

“Kee … that happens to most dwarves. Just because most of us don’t have any desire to engage in … to use it …. doesn’t mean our bodies are not ready for it.”

It felt very wrong to talk about that in such a distanced way. He saw Kíli’s small smile.

“So you …”

“Definitely.”

Kíli drew his brows together as he mulled this over. When he looked back up, Fíli was taken aback by the look of fierce determination.

“But I don’t want to lie to you, Fíli. I …” His lips twitched in a failed attempt to smile. “I am an odd dwarf. I … have those desires. That’s why … I don’t think we should share a bed or even a room. I’m so sorry.” He tried to slide off Fíli’s lap, but the older dwarf held on tightly. “Fíli … don’t you see? That’s why I don’t think I’m good enough to become your royal consort! I’m not a proper dwarf!”

“Kee …” Fíli surprised himself with the gentleness in his voice. “Kee … I’m sorry you ever felt this way. And I’m sorry I never talked to you about this. You see, I’ve got the same problem.” He dared to plant a small kiss on the top of Kíli’s head.

Kíli’s large brown eyes grew even larger as a genuine shy smile spread across his face. “You do?”

“Yes, and I’ve felt just as bad and inadequate about it as you.” Fíli was the one to look down now. It was so tempting not to admit the next bit, he hated to lay himself bare, but he felt that he had to. “I started to wonder how I can ever become a good king if I’m a bad dwarf. I didn’t think you’d have those feelings, and that there was something wrong with …”

He didn’t get any further. Kíli’s hand shot forward and covered Fíli’s mouth.

“No, Fíli. You’re not a bad dwarf. You could never be. You’re perfect. I know that. Everybody knows what a great king you will be. If you feel like that, then it must be right.” He chuckled wetly. “Even if it might take us some time to get used to the idea that it is all right?”

Fíli nodded, carefully removing Kíli’s hand. “It will take some time,” he admitted. “But for now, we can just acknowledge our feelings? I ..” He licked his lips nervously. “I don’t feel ready to act on them.”

“Nor do I,” Kíli confessed softly. “It is one thing to dream of … doing stuff with you, but another …. to actually do it?”

“Yes.” Fíli was glad that his brother understood.

He put both his arms around the younger dwarf again, and they both sat in silence. It was comfortable. They both knew they wanted more, but they could wait.

*

When the time came to retire to bed, both hesitated. Fíli was the one who finally disentangled himself and got up. He offered his hand to Kíli to haul him up.

“Your room or mine?”

“Yours.” Kíli jumped up and put his arm tentatively around Fíli’s waist. “You’ve seen mine.”

*

On the bed they each fought to be the cudlee. Of course, Fíli gave in quickly, and held Kíli in his arms.

Kíli was warm and solid against him, half draped over his brother’s body, head heavy on Fíli’s chest and one leg slung over Fíli.

Fíli was dozing, when Kíli began to struggle against his hold. He immediately released his little brother. Before he could ask what was wrong, Kíli rolled off him, grabbed him and pulled him against his chest, reversing their position in one smooth movement.

He blinked and angled his head to look up at his brother.

“Kee?”

“You always take care of others, Fee. You always put my needs higher than yours. But you’re my One, and I will take care of you, ok?”

Fíli chuckled and pushed his nose against Kíli’s chest. “Ok. But I’ll always take care of you too.”

“I know.” The words were spoken into Fíli’s hair and soft lips pressed against the roots of his hair. “But I mean it Fee. I’m an adult now. You’re my One. You don’t … I don’t know how to say this.”

Kíli pressed another kiss on his head. “I just realised that this is something else we do wrong. You treat me like your baby brother.”

Fíli blinked. “You are my baby brother,” he pointed out.

Kíli still looked more serious than he should.

“It’s only five years, Fee. I’m 45 now and you’re 50. We’re both adults and we’re bonded, like any other couple, right? If we do it your way, you’ll still protect me when you’re 250 but won’t let me take any burden from you.”

Fíli wanted to protest, but deep down he knew it was true and that Kíli was not in the mood to hear him deny the truth. When he didn’t speak, Kíli rubbed his hand over Fíli’s back.

“Let me be there for you too, Fee, even if it is unpleasant. I love you so much, I don’t just want you to take care of me. I want to take care of you too.”

Fíli sighed and buried his face in Kíli’s shoulder. He had to admit the idea of Kíli taking as much care of him as he took of Kíli was appealing.

It would just probably take him another 50 years to get used to it.

“My first instinct is to protect you, even from myself,” he admitted.

“That’s why you could never be honest with me about your desires, right?” Kíli’s voice was even deeper than usual.

Fíli swallowed. “Yes,” he mumbled against Kíli’s chest, not sure if his brother could even hear it. “I’m sorry.”

Kíli traced circles on Fíli’s spine. “Don’t be. I understand. I was afraid to disappoint you.”

Fíli looked up again. “Yes. And talking about habits we need to change … I’m not perfect.”

“You are,” Kíli assured him.

“No, I’m not. If I’m not to treat you like my baby brother, you can stop idolizing me as the perfect older brother.”

“But I can idolize you as my perfect One.” Kíli grinned again, but sobered up when he saw the look on Fíli’s face. “Fee … I know what you mean. You’re perfect for me. But I’m your bloody brother, I know all your flaws. I can give you a list, ranked from endearing to making me want to punch you in the face.”

Fíli had to laugh at that and pinched Kíli lightly. “You’re perfect for me too, you idiot.”

And he meant it. Kíli was right, they had to become more mature in their relationship to each other, but right now, safe in Kíli’s arms, he felt that they could conquer anything if they did it together.

Chapter Text

It had been a week since their confession. There were more kisses on cheeks now, more holding hands, and of course, cuddling in bed.

But they didn’t go any further than that.

They both didn’t know how. It wasn’t as if young dwarves got any sort of education on the subject, not unless they specifically asked for it. And this was something they couldn’t do.

“So …” Kíli said, putting an inch between them, instead of cuddling as usual when they settled down in front of the fireplace after dinner. “Maybe … maybe we need to talk about this?”

Fíli didn’t pretend not to know what “this” meant. He sighed.

“Yes. We can go on as before …”

“… which made us miserable already …”

“… or we need to figure this out.”

“Yes. So … how does one …I mean how does it work?”

“Well … you mean …”

“Everything.” Kíli blew a stray strand of hair from his face. “I mean I’ve got some ideas, that’s what imagination is for, right? But is there more than, you know, touching? And … and how does one get started?”

“I … the men of Dale actually told me some interesting things.”

Fíli felt himself blushing, but he described to Kíli what he had heard about the use of mouths and the usefulness of oil and technicalities of preparation. Kíli blushed even more deeply.

“I get that …. sucking cock … is fun, but … the other thing? That … that just … that can’t be pleasant?”

“I tried, with my fingers,” Fíli confessed. “It was … it was nice. And … I imagined you.”

“Oh.”

Their faces were hotter than the fire by now. They were both looking intently at the flames.

After what seemed an eternity, Kíli cleared his throat.

“We won’t start with that, right?”

“No. No.”

Fíli was thinking quickly.

“We can start with kisses? On the mouth?”

“Yes. Just kisses?”

“Just kisses. That can’t be too hard.”

“Are we trying now? Here?”

“That’s better than the bed I think …”

“Yes. Oh, yes.”

They were silent for another moment, then Fíli got to his knees and inched closer to Kíli. His hand was shaking when he reached out to touch Kíli’s cheek.

He had never before allowed himself to just enjoy the bristly texture of Kíli’s cheeks, so unlike that of any other dwarf. Kíli looked at him, his eyes wide and wondering.

“You’re really the most beautiful dwarf,” Fíli whispered.

Kíli blushed again, his skin began to feel hotter under Fíli’s fingers.

“I’m not,” he protested.

“Hush,” Fíli told him sternly. “I know better than you.”

Kíli giggled and poked Fíli’s side.

“You don’t. You’re the most handsome dwarf, everyone knows that.”

And he finally lifted his own hands, one resting at the back of Fíli’s neck, worming its way under the mass of Fíli’s hair, the other gently exploring Fíli’s face.

It was such a small thing, but it felt so good. Fíli felt nerves coming alive he hadn’t known existed. Kíli’s hazel eyes were shining with love and wonder, as if Fíli was made of mithril. The tips of his fingers rough from all the work in the forge, but also gentle. He touched Fíli with the same reverence other dwarves touched precious pieces of ancient art.

Then Fíli leant in closer for a kiss. And bumped his nose against Kíli's.

Kíli giggled again.

“That’s not going to work.”

“Oh, really?”

Fíli moved back again, scowling only a little. Kíli still looked radiant, the fire throwing red highlights into Kíli’s hair. The solution was obvious, he needed to angle his head.

Holding Kíli’s shoulders tightly, he leant back in, angling his face.

Kíli seemed to have had a similar idea, and their noses collided again.

This time it was Fíli who laughed.

“Hold still,” he admonished his brother, still close enough to feel Kíli’s hot breath.

“Alright.”

Kíli’s voice was mix of suppressed laughter, lingering desire and trepidation. They were going to cross a threshold, it would change their entire relationship.

Holding Kíli’s face between his hands, Fíli changed his angle, and planted his lips firmly on Kíli’s.

And froze.

Kíli’s lips were soft and warm and to feel them against his own, was overwhelming. He suddenly found it difficult to breathe. His nose was squashed against Kíli’s face, and he needed a lot of oxygen now to deal with this. His entire body was tingling. Kíli’s hands grabbed his shoulders almost painfully, and dragged him closer, pressing his face even harder against Fíli’s.

They needed to do something, kissing couldn’t just be pressing your lips against each other. He vaguely remembered a man kissing a woman at Bard’s court. They had been drunk. And they moved their lips quite a lot.

So he began to move his own slowly, hearing himself moan quietly when the sensitive nerves of his lips were sliding over the softness of Kíli’s lips, catching the rough stubble around Kíli’s mouth.

Kíli gasped, surprising Fíli so much that he pulled away.

“Sorry,” Kíli mumbled, sounding as breathless as Fíli felt.

“It’s fine, I was just …”

“I want to do this again,” Kíli interrupted him, surging forward.

This angle was different, Kíli took advantage of his superior height, and pressed his lips down on Fíli with more force, clashing their teeth together. They both pulled back after that, but Kíli didn’t allow Fíli any time to even chuckle, he leant back in, more gently this time and their lips moved more easily this time, slowly getting used to the unfamiliar sensation.

Fíli felt himself growing hard; it felt a bit uncomfortable in this position, but good. The change in Kíli’s breathing told him that Kíli was in a similar state. He pulled back a bit and nodded towards Kíli’s groin.

“Should we do something about that?”

Kíli blushed again. “Yes,” he breathed softly, “Can you … can you put your hand there?”

Slowly, Fíli complied, opening Kíli’s pants carefully, his hand brushing against Kíli’s hard length.

It was new, but it also felt so right, as if he should have done this a long time ago. He flinched when he felt Kíli fingers against his own erection, but then he spread his legs slightly, allowing easier access.

Kíli pulled him closer by his pants, his lips searching Fíli’s again.

Their teeth clashed against each other, their noses collided several times, as they tried to finish each other while kissing.

It was clumsy, their kisses and jerking each other off.

It was so different to hold Kíli’s cock instead of his own, to feel Kíli’s firm hand against his own sensitive skin, but it also felt wonderful.

Kíli came first, and he broke the kiss, leaning his forehead heavily against Fíli’s. Just the small sounds Kíli made, feeling the contentedness radiating from him, sent Fíli over the edge too.