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The Twilight Of Durin's Blood

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The throne room of Erebor had lost none of its grandeur in the years it had lain abandoned by its creators' hands. Though the high walkway had been chipped away by dragon claws, and the throne itself marred by a lash of his tail, still the cavernous chamber retained its air of somber regality, the towering statues of Thorin's forefathers standing in solemn observance as the mountain itself played audience to its king.

It's king. He was an exile no longer, restored to his rightful place, in possession once more of the wealth that was his right by birth. But not of his birthright, for that had been taken from him, stolen by one he had called friend. He had trusted the Company's burglar even when he doubted others. Had confided in him. Had not thought to even question the Halfling's word, such was his faith in him. But Bilbo had repaid that faith tenfold with disloyalty, dishonour, and theft, and Thorin had been reminded of the reason trust should be treated as such a scarce commodity.

He would not make that mistake again, nor would he accede to the demands being made upon him by those barricading him in his own home. Let them threaten their dire consequences. Dain would be here come the dawn, and they would see how steady was the enemy's resolve when the dwarves of the Iron Hills came storming down upon them. Thranduil's betrayal would be avenged, the Arkenstone reclaimed, and none would dare treat the King Beneath the Mountain in such a way again.

In the midst of his dire thoughts, footsteps shattered the silence, quick and light. A rhythm he knew as well as his own heartbeat. Well enough he recognised the sharpness of each footfall, and knew the anger he would find in his heir's face ere he had even lifted his head. It was a vibrating anger, true and deep, and Fíli's blue eyes blazed with it as he came to a halt at the foot of the dais, even as his face fought to hold onto the calmness that was his strength.

"Uncle." He bowed shallowly, rising to hold Thorin's impassive regard without flinching. "May I speak with you?"

His words were thorns hidden beneath a thin veil of civility, and Thorin frowned as he took a seat upon his grandfather's throne, wondering why his nephew had felt the need to ask such a question when he should already know the answer. "You are free to speak your mind, Fíli. You know that."

"Once, perhaps, I did." Fíli's words were taut, an accusation, fury building and seeking an outlet like a storm caged in a tiny room. "I am not so certain anymore." Before Thorin could summon a response to that declaration he continued, "You left us there."

They had had this argument already, and he felt impatience stir at Fíli inability to grasp his reasons. "Kíli was wounded-"

"Not then." Fíli cut him off, one hand slicing through the air in a decisive movement, and there was betrayal behind the ire in his eyes. "After. When you had found your way into the mountain, when Erebor was yours, when Smaug burned Laketown to the ground and you did not even spare us a thought. Did not send anyone to discover whether or not we had survived. Kíli almost died, Thorin, the barb in his leg nearly killed him before the dragon had a chance, and you left us there."

"But he did not die." He smiled, trying to ease his eldest nephew's clear distress at the idea. "And you are both here now, safe and well."

Fíli reeled back as though he had been struck, eyes widening, face stilling in dismay. Then, in a voice both low yet firm, he said, "Once, you would have made certain. You would not have waited here, counting an accursed treasure, when our fate was not certain. Would you have cared had we never appeared? Would you even have noticed?"

"Of course." The doubt in the young dwarf's voice surprised him. "This has all been for you. Everything I have done has been so that you and your brother might have what is rightfully yours."

"Has it?" Fíli's answer came, harsh and bitter. "Because it was not Kíli or I who wished to hurl a member of the Company from the parapets. We tried to stop you."

"Bilbo Baggins..." The words came slowly at first, swimming their way through a mire of betrayal and broken trust, then they flowed freely, driven by the same. "Was no part of this Company. He is a liar, a thief, a traitor."

"He was your friend." Fíli refused to give ground. "He was only trying to help."

"Do not take his side in this!" Thorin surged to his feet, his voice bordering on a shout. "Not unless you wish to share his fate!"

For a brief, poignant moment, Fíli hesitated, fear lancing through his stormy gaze. Then his eyes hardened, and he retorted with the all the fire of his bloodline, "I would gladly do so, if it meant putting an end to this madness!"

Thorin stilled, ice wrapping itself around his heart as he spoke in low, furious tones. "You would defy your king?"

"Never." There was no hesitation in Fíli's response, every word a word meant. "But my king is dead, and I know not the creature that has taken his place."

Between one second and the next Thorin had drawn his sword, stepping forward in a blind rage, only to grind to a halt as Balin's voice cut through the tension in the room.

"Thorin!" He jerked his head around to glower at his advisor.

"What is it?"

"Gloin has found something you should see," the white haired dwarf said calmly, oblivious to or purposefully ignoring the scene before his eyes. "If you are not otherwise engaged?"

On instinct, Thorin whipped his head back around to his eldest nephew, only to find Fíli still standing, unmoving, his eyes bright with unshed tears, his face twisted into an expression of anguish. Shocked, cold rippling through him in an unforgiving wave as the hilt of his sword burned hot in his hand, Thorin found himself suddenly at a loss. Too late, however, for Fíli did not wait for the words Thorin did not have, swinging on his heel and leaving as swiftly as he had come.

Thorin could only stand in his wake, gripped by a deep chill, and feeling as though he had lost something worth more than he could fathom.

The silence was thick and oppressive, hovering like a weighted cloud above their heads, curling around their feet, smothering the echoes of Fíli's words as if that would somehow erase the truth behind them. But nothing could erase that truth, and nothing could change the fate bearing down upon them all with every passing moment.

Fíli drew in a breath, reminded himself to release it again, and thought of home.

"What do we do now?"

Kíli's voice was small, little more than a fraught whisper, and had Fíli the strength he would have offered him some form of reassurance. A pat on the arm, a squeeze of the shoulder, any gesture that would tell the lie his words could not. But he didn't have the strength, not after what he had just witnessed, and he found his own voice little stronger when words finally left his lips.

"I don't know."

He thought he did, once. He had been so certain that if he could only talk to Thorin, just make him listen for a few moments, that he could put a stop to this madness. Madness, however, was not so easily thwarted, and it had sunk its talons into his uncle's heart as deeply as they could go. Thorin was lost, and with him went the Company, for love and loyalty would hold them here despite all reason begging for a different course, and Fíli didn't... he couldn't... wouldn't...

"We're not going home, are we?"

Kíli's soft utterance drew him from his reverie, and he turned to meet the archer's dark eyes. His brother had always been young to him, young and reckless, but in that moment there was an age about him that spoke of all the hardships they had suffered in coming this far, and all those that were yet to come.

"No, Ki," he found himself answering. "We're not."

Kíli drew in a breath that shuddered in his chest, his eyes growing damp and distant. "I wish..."

"I know." He could see the rune stone passing back and forth between his sibling's fingers, even in the half-light. "So do I."

"It was an adventure, though, wasn't it?" His brother smiled at him, the brittle edges of his expression just reaching his eyes.

"It was." Outside, the first light of the new day was beginning to beckon. Impulsively, he added, "I'm glad we came, even if..."

If what? He wondered. If it had ended in madness? Would end in death? If all the gold in the mountain wasn't worth any of this?

Horns sounded on the morning air, bright and clear. Dwarven horns. The Iron Hills had come.

Kíli straightened, the rune stone slipping back into his breast pocket, and Fíli reminded himself once more to breathe. Just breathe.

"It's time to go," he said, standing, and offering his hand to his brother.

Kíli took it without hesitation, allowing Fíli to pull him to his feet so they could meet the dawning of this black day as they had always done; Together.