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It started with a long flight spanning hours and crossing continents. The journey was long overdue, prevented for many years by responsibilities and pride, but eventually it could no longer wait. Time stopped for no one, so Thorin traveled hundreds of miles from his concrete starless kingdom to a secret haven his sister had escaped to, for an heir, someone to take over his family’ empire when he was gone. The scowl on Dis’ face when he arrived and the argument that followed didn’t surprise nor deter him. He needed an heir and he was determined to return home with one. Even as he left, he promised to return, ignoring his sister’s shouts that he was unwelcomed. Thorin wasn’t overconfident or arrogant. He just knew with cold certainty that eventually everything would belong to him. This shouldn’t be much more difficult than the uncountable tricks and negotiations he had partaken in the past. This shouldn’t be memorable except for the procurement of someone to continue his legacy after him. But as his car crushed gravels on its way to bring him back to his hotel, Thorin caught a glimpse of a young man in his sister’s small apple orchard. Dark eyes followed Thorin’s black car as it drove past and for a brief moment Thorin thought the young man had caught his eyes, saw him through dark tinted windows that should be hiding him from the world, saw him through his mental armors and his invincible fort. The moment lasted only seconds but the piercing gaze haunted him, crawling under his skin.

Kili, his mind supplied. His sister’s second and youngest son. A short phone call gave him all the information he needed. He was less academically accomplished than his older brother, but the list of his work experience and skills was surprisingly long. He dabbled in anything a small town in the corner of the world could offer, but never stayed for long. He was a spoiled child, Thorin could immediately tell from the pictures and files sent to him. His parents were lenient to him, allowing him to do almost anything he pleased and demanding little responsibility in return. It had been why Thorin had immediately dismissed Kili’s file, finding him unsuitable for the role that needed to be filled. But now Thorin read the information carefully, trying to assess the young man it described. The picture he had initially built of an irresponsible young man ruled by whims and led easily by promises of temporary pleasures was erased. There was something Thorin missed, something the files didn’t describe. Thorin knew the eyes that had followed his car that morning. He had seen it in mirrors staring back at him, in people he carefully placed around him, in those he held in both respect and contempt. There was focus there, there was ambition. There was something searching for greater things, something potentially dangerous, something that could be equal to Thorin’s drive for wealth and power, something beautiful.

The next day, Thorin ostensibly tried to talk sense into his sister, but her harsh words were merely background as he searched the apple orchard for the unknown nephew who had occupied his mind. It was uncharacteristic of him to be diverted from his objective, the curiosity mortified and exhilarated him at the same time. He should turn away, should focus on the certainty of Fili’s competence and ignore his brother’s peculiar distraction. But he stayed, eyes locked on the orchard and the greenhouse outside while Dis listed her fearful and angry objections, until the door of a small greenhouse open and out came Kili with a basket of produce in his arms, dirt smeared on tanned cheek, a picture of liveliness and innocence. At once, he noticed Thorin’s black sedan and then, as if sensing Thorin’s gaze from the living room, he looked straight at him, his sharp eyes tearing down walls Thorin had built in his solitude, seeing through layers Thorin had put up to hide and protect himself. For a moment, Thorin was terrified. For a moment, he thought to hide. For a moment, he thought to flee and never return. But then Kili smiled and it was the warmest, kindest thing Thorin had seen since he set foot on this side of the globe, since the tragedy that made Dis leave their family house, since he became aware of the nature of life he was to inherit from his father, since long before that. He realized right then and there Kili had found his way to his heart and never would he leave until the end of Thorin’s days.

He came every day. His interest in procuring Fili as his heir waned as his desire for Kili grew, but he never let it show. He argued with Dis, all the while stealing glances out of the windows of her living room to catch any glimpse of Kili to observe and learn about the young man who was at once his opposite and his same. Sometimes he saw Kili alone tending to the orchard or the greenhouse, others he saw him working and joking with Fili. He always looked as he did in the picture Thorin had saved and memorized: Happy and carefree. He seemed completely at ease here, in a way that Thorin couldn’t be. He longed from the franticness of the city, the sense of urgency in the air, the sense of purpose in every single action. He missed the tall towers he usually spent most of his days in, the grand view of a sleepless city from the window of his office, the pride of the legacy that surrounded him in his old family house that only a handful had the privilege to visit. The small town and the peace of a country life weren’t for him and he wondered if he was wrong, if Kili was not at all like him after all. But then, Kili always turned to him to fix him with a look so knowing and possessing, a look that almost mirrored Thorin’s desire, a look of hunger, a look that sought to satisfy what would always longed for more, and Thorin’s doubt was removed.

Eventually Dis gave up on arguing and refused to talk to Thorin. Her husband, Vilir, came to replace her. He didn’t have Dis’s fire, but he possessed the same unmovable disposition. He was calm, determined to protect his loved ones, confident that nothing would happen to them. He was so confident, in fact, that he allowed Thorin to wander by himself around his house—a mistake, an opportunity Thorin seized eagerly. He forced himself to explore the empty orchard for a while to avoid suspicion, quietly bearing the torture of each step taken when he could see Kili’s back turned toward him in the greenhouse, oblivious to the torment of curiosity he inflicted on Thorin. Thorin longed to rush there, to see up close what he had admired and wondered about from the distance, but he waited until his heart pounded with impatience and declared he had hidden his excitement long enough. The door to the greenhouse opened and closed without sound and then finally they were together, no barrier between them, nothing to keep them away, nothing to protect them from each other. Thorin looked down and saw his hands tremble in anticipation.

Kili was planting flowers Thorin distantly identified as tuberoses. He glanced up, sizing Thorin with the same scrutiny that had arrested Thorin’s attention, and turned back to the flower, smirking as if pleased by Thorin’s undoing. “Mom said not to talk to you.”

“Yet you are talking to me,” Thorin pointed out, his voice huskier than he intended. It was different, being close to Kili like this. He was suddenly self-conscious in how unsuitable his suit was for the greenhouse, how the world had left him cold and wary of any and all, how time had left so many lines on his face, how grey had crept up his previously dark hair. Age and experience were nothing to be ashamed of, but it was important to him that Kili saw him as good, likeable, desirable.

Kili laughed cheerfully, not at all guilty for disobeying his mother. Spoiled, reckless, irresponsible, but still Thorin wanted him. “Yeah, I guess I am.” His eyes swept over Thorin again, assessing a potential friend or foe, unaware Thorin wanted to be so much more. “Why am I not allowed to talk to you?”

“Did Dis really not tell you?”

“She said you’re a greedy bastard who’s trying to take Fili away from us for your own end,” he answered with a shrug.

Thorin crossed his arms defensively, hating that he couldn’t deny that, that Kili’s first impression of him was bad. “And what do you think about that, since you’re obviously not listening to her?”

Kili’s eyes glinted wickedly. “That it’s not the entire truth.” He fixed Thorin with a look that nearly took his breath away, so dark and eager and dangerous as it was. “So why doesn’t she like you?” he asked.

So Thorin told him about the world of glittering darkness he was born into. He told him about long family trees that spanned uncountable generations and rooted deep into every conceivable part of society. He told him about favors owed to him, puppets whose strings were ready to be pulled by him, power beyond measure. He told him about office high among the clouds, his kingdom, his playground. He told him about immeasurable wealth hidden in plain view in his old manor and skyscraper office and even more immense power over the world he had at his fingertips. He told him about jealousy, envy, greed, people who waited for a moment of weakness in him so they could ruin and take advantage of the organized chaos he tried to maintain and the satisfaction he felt for besting them. He told him about the brother he lost, a tragic casualty in a secret war for power and money, and the sister who left her family, disillusioned. He told him about pride, joy, satisfaction of serving a greater purpose, of running the world without it knowing. He didn’t tell him about the loneliness in a world that took so much from him but gave little in return, the guilt haunting his dreams, the fear of being a cause of disappointment whispering in his mind, the echoing silence in his too-big house, the longing for companion in a life both coveted and hated, the hollow inside his chest. He didn’t have to. Looking at Kili, he thought he understood. More than that, he thought he craved. Thorin took in a deep shuddering breath, recognizing in Kili’s eyes the shadow of the same character he saw in himself.

They talked in secret sporadically as to not draw attention. Kili was unsurprisingly adept at avoiding supervision, but Thorin had to relearn to watch his behaviors, his control gone before someone he had thought he would never find. Dis by all indications had no interest in dealing with him in anymore, but Vilir was quietly watchful. For him Thorin played the part of a greedy man so cold, unfriendly, unpleasant that he eventually abandoned attempt at friendship after a while. At some point, Thorin met Fili, too. But, though he discovered that Fili was as stellar as predicted, Thorin’s interest had shifted. It was Kili that he came for every day, that he lied for every day, that he yearned for every day. Still he feigned interest, still he negotiated for terms he no longer wanted, still he offered life he wanted to give to another, until Fili left, disgusted, and then Thorin was free to slip away from the house and into the sun to heed the heart that recently came back to life.

In the greenhouse or hidden corners of a garden his sister’s family maintained in their backyard, Kili told Thorin about his happy and peaceful childhood. They didn’t have the luxury of man-made goods, but they had the rich nature to explore and enjoy. No servant rushed to obey their every wishes, but they learnt to be proud of using their own hands to do something for themselves and others. People didn’t cower at the sight of them or lie to gain their favor, but they flocked to them as good friends. There was no business empire for them to command, but they were self-sufficient and grateful when they could share something. They had never been invited to parties with glimmering lights reflected by crystals and diamonds, but they spent many nights under the stars just singing and laughing and talking until their voices were only whispers. Their house wasn’t an old manor with empty rooms and halls and ghosts from magnificent past, but a small building filled with love and laughter and simple everyday joys until it was fit to burst.

Yet, Kili wanted something else. His life was fulfilling but he wanted something more—he was made for something more. His hands itched to do something greater than tending the greenhouse and the orchard. His eyes were set on a world he only saw on screens. His dreams were filled with searches to be more than an unseen fragment of history. He admitted to being dissatisfied—lessons and skills he learnt got old and the adventures he embarked on failed to excite. He searched for something different he could be, something bigger than his small town could offer. He tried to quench the urge, to contend himself with the home made by his parents, but it was no use. Though nurtured to enjoy peace and simplicity, his nature longed for excitement and challenges. His blood tempted him like a siren, urging him toward glittering doom and intoxicating power. His upbringing held him back—he would never be quite as ambitious and driven as Thorin was—but he still wanted more than the life set up for him in this quiet corner of the world. He was drawn to the world Thorin painted for him, the world Thorin wanted to share with him.

“Why don’t you just leave?” Thorin asked, trying to look nonchalant while his eyes tracked a bead of sweat rolling down Kili’s neck. A tree hid him from view from the house, but he was entirely for Kili to see through.

Kili frowned at the colorful round flowers he was tending—ranunculus, he had laughingly informed Thorin earlier when he tried to understand his love for nature. He probably never could, but he hoped if he kept trying he would. “I can’t leave my family,” he grumbled. His disappointment would’ve gone unnoticed had Thorin not learn to read his mood.

Thorin didn’t point out how Dis had done exactly that, understanding that the circumstances were different. Dis’ life had been perilous though alluring, as evidenced by the death of their brother. Meanwhile, Kili’s life had been completely blissful, just lacking. Had Thorin been in Kili’s position, had he had the family he had, had he not been left to carry the family duties on his own, he, too, would be reluctant to leave. Still he wished to show Kili the world their family had built, he wished to give Kili any opportunity to grow he might want, he wished to see Kili become the person he knew he could be, greater than what his parents wanted him to be. So, they told each other stories of their lives, torturing each other with things they wanted but couldn’t have. Each day, Thorin crept closer to Kili until he was just a breath away but still beyond his reach. Each day, Kili looked at Thorin with increasingly covetous eyes, though whether it was Thorin or his life that he wanted, Thorin didn’t ask.

They were not as careful as they had thought. One day, when Thorin was having tea at the kitchen with Vilir, Vilir spoke up, “you’ve been watching Kili.”

Thorin could lie, but Vilir looked too calm to mean harm and Dis still didn’t tell him to stay away from her sons. Thorin clenched his teeth, refusing to be threatened. “So I have,” he admitted, narrowing his eyes at Vilir.

Vilir studied him intently, appraising his worth in a way that almost offended Thorin, who never had anyone question his authority. There was something in Vilir’s gaze that was uncomfortably familiar. Thorin had seen it many times in Kili when he drew dark truths out of Thorin, when he let Thorin tempted him with stories of a world where he reigned. But Vilir asked nothing, letting heavy silence showed him the answer he sought. When he found it, he stood up and brought his and Thorin’s empty cups to the sink, turning his back toward the door leading to the greenhouse and orchard. “He’s been watching you, too.”

Thorin didn’t let any concern regarding their blood relation bothered his conscience. They barely knew each other, he reasoned. They were practically strangers until very recently—their familial relation mere technicality. So, Thorin felt no guilt desiring Kili and wanting Kili to be with him. But he knew better than to simply claim, knew from years of secretly serving others to not only think what was good for him. He needed Kili to want this, too. He needed Kili to choose this, too. And despite what Dis thought and said, Thorin wasn’t selfish and unkind, he never meant to harm anyone. He gave Kili a choice. He waited. For days, Thorin didn’t visit his sister’s house, agonizing himself with plans he made for Kili, plans he wasn’t entirely sure Kili would agree to. He might have power over his concrete kingdom, but he held no authority over Kili. His orders would be meaningless, his guidance might not be welcomed. He would not force Kili to into the life he offered, but if it was what Kili wanted, Thorin would give it to him.

“I thought you’ve given up,” Dis said in greeting, visibly dismayed when Thorin returned.

Thorin gave her a cool look and swept his eyes over the rest of her family, eyes lingering on Kili, who stared at him wide-eyed as if in disbelieve of Thorin’s presence. Thorin hid a smile as his chest was filled with warmth he thought he would never feel. He weaved wise words on letting Fili speak for himself and respecting his decision, bait Dis readily took and made Kili deflate in disappointment. Thorin deliberately didn’t spare him a single glance, the illusion of indifference was of utmost importance at the moment. He focused on the task at hand, explaining to Fili his need for a successor and the wealth and power he could have. He told Fili the tantalizing but dangerous world he had told Kili about many times before, the world he would hand to Kili if he so asked, and was secretly pleased when he saw Fili’s complete disinterest. Fili was a noble young man, not tempted by promises of luxury that so many would do anything to obtain. It was an admirable trait, but Thorin saw now that it was why he would not fit into the role that needed to be played. Thorin’s kingdom was a place for great ambitions, personal sacrifices, and cold judgments, and he doubted Fili would want to have any part in it. It was a place for someone like Thorin. And he hoped it was a place Kili would want to be in.

When Thorin left, Dis smugly watched him go. She didn’t see the sad look Kili gave Thorin, didn’t see her son’s heart and mind swayed, didn’t see the moment Thorin’s mind was made. She never suspected a thing. None of them suspected his plan. For all they knew, he disappeared from their lives, leaving them back to the peace and quiet they had before he arrived. Thorin let them be lulled by their rediscovered humdrum lives, watching from afar, smiling whenever Kili looked at the empty road in front of his house longingly, a confirmation of his decision. Each passing day Thorin’s visit became a distant memory, the unwanted fragment from Dis’s past out of their minds, and he finally decided to bring his plan into motion. When Dis’ family least expected it, he returned in a quiet road Kili told him he took to go to the town. A group of men stopped Kili’s bike and disposed it behind tall grass. Thorin’s most trusted people removed any evidence of the ambush from even the keenest of eyes. Thorin himself pulled Kili into his car and ordered his driver to take him to the airport at once, gripping Kili’s arm tightly, barely flinching at his half-hearted fight.

“Where are you taking me to?” Kili demanded, looking fearfully at the familiar scenery rapidly passing outside the car, the only home he knew quickly falling behind him.

“Where do you think I’m taking you to?” Thorin countered calmly.

Kili scowled at him, but Thorin didn’t miss the way his eyes drifted to his lips. “I thought you wanted Fili,” he said sulkily, jealousy unmistakable in his voice.

Thorin gentled his grip on Kili’s arm and stroked the abused flesh affectionately. “Not anymore.”

It only took a couple of phone calls and a little fund transfer to smoothly whisk Kili away to Thorin’s home without any documentation. It was the first display of Thorin’s power that he witnessed, having only heard of it before. Perhaps he should be afraid but Kili only gave Thorin a look and nothing more. He was quiet throughout the flight, looking outside of the plane that tore up the distance keeping him away from the world he desired. What was on his mind, Thorin didn’t ask. But he didn’t say a word about his family and didn’t demand to be returned, and that was all Thorin could want. Later Thorin would explain that this was the only way he could give Kili what he desired. Later he would say that this was the only way Kili could become the best person he could be, the person his mother wouldn’t let him become. Later he would admit that he couldn’t bear to leave Kili, that his heart yearned for his love and his body burnt for his touch. But for now Thorin kept quiet, letting Kili reconcile with the abrupt turn of his life.

They arrived under the cloak of night after countless hours of flight. Kili shivered, his thin t-shirt not protecting him from cold night wind, but shook his head when Thorin offered his coat. Thorin didn’t try to persuade him and quickly led him to the warmth of his waiting car. Not even the sight of brilliant lights of a sleepless city managed to cheer Kili up, but Thorin could be patient. He would give Kili time. He took no offense when Kili barely glanced at the opulence filling his manor and only voiced concern when Kili refused dinner, but he didn’t push too hard. They parted without exchanging words and Thorin pushed down the feeling that although they were never closer to each other, he felt most distant from Kili at this moment. That night he stared at the dark ceiling of his room, wondering if Kili was regretting going with him so easily, if Kili was angry at him for pulling him toward the choice he didn’t dare make, how Kili would react when he realized that Thorin didn’t regret his action even a little bit, if Kili changed his mind and wanted to be returned to his family. Thorin closed his eyes as his heart was ripped apart by the imaginings. He locked the front door and gate, but if Kili wanted to leave, all he had to do was ask and Thorin would leave all doors open.

Kili didn’t leave. Thorin found him in the morning looking at an old painting of his family. It was made many decades ago, when Thorin’s mother and brother were still alive, when Dis was still smiling when she was near him, when his father was unburdened by too many loses, when Thorin thought himself invincible. Many things had changed since then—Thorin had learnt many bitter lessons. He taught Kili what he knew over breakfast and a tour around the manor. Thorin showed him things he had only talked about, valuable items many coveted, endless grounds begging to be explored, family secrets hidden in every corner. This was but a small piece of what he had, but it still drew Kili’s interest. Thorin’s heart swelled when Kili visibly clung to every word he said, absorbed every scrap of information he shared, searched for his own place in this new world Thorin presented. Thorin had uncountable plans for him, but he would let Kili decide his path for himself. He didn’t take Kili to dictate him to be someone he wanted Kili to be. He took Kili because he wanted Kili to be whoever he wanted to be.

When they arrived at the conservatory, a corner of the manor Thorin rarely visited but naturally attracted Kili, Thorin stilled, wondering if had made a mistake by reminding Kili to his family. He warily watched Kili wander around the building, caressing lush green leaves and colorful petals. Thorin understood the appeal of being with family. After all, he spent his life submerged in them, although differently from Kili. He understood reluctance to change, for his mind, too, was often unmovable. He understood fear of risks, which he had often defeated and often saw overpower others. He watched Kili among reminders of what he had left behind, bracing himself for rejection. Tension didn’t leave him even after Kili quietly led him out of the conservatory. In front of a small peach tree he stopped, looking at the blooming flowers thoughtfully while Thorin waited his verdict in dread and resignation. Kili picked a pink flower in full bloom and offered it to Thorin, who shook his head.

“I don’t know why you took me instead of Fili. I don’t know anything,” he said to the flower. He paused and then turned toward Thorin with determination lighting his eyes. “Will you teach me?” he asked, still unaware that Thorin couldn’t refuse him.

“Of course,” Thorin vowed to him in relief.

Thorin taught him the lessons he learnt from his father, who had learnt it from his own father before him. He taught him the intricate web his family had built over decades and how to navigate it. He taught him who to trust, who to use, and who to be wary of. He taught him how to behave to impress, manipulate, ensnare, and intimidate. He taught him when to be kind and when to be merciless (and when Kili showed distaste for cruelty, Thorin was secretly pleased, for the cold man he sometimes was, was something he never wished Kili to be.) He took him to his office high above the city to show him how to exert power over his domain. He introduced him to close friends and relatives who could be relied on for guidance and assistance and knew better than to ask about Dis’ son sudden appearance. He showed him the glamorous but dangerous city life that had drawn and claimed so many. He brought him to properties Thorin was proud to call his own to show the extent of his pleasures and responsibilities. He flew him to accompany him in meetings in foreign cities and countries to accustom him to the high demand for the ones who reigned great authority. He assigned him a position at the bottom of the food chain, resisting urges for favoritism, to let him understand how the business worked like a well-oiled machine conducted by the masterful hands of Thorin.

Thorin watched Kili transform. He watched the naiveté and simplicity being slowly eroded away. Kili saw now that the life he wanted wasn’t always so easy or beautiful, but he was undaunted. There was a new sharp edge to Kili that wasn’t there before. There was now willingness to hurt for the greater good. There was focus in his mind, a goal he strived for. His objectives were different from Thorin’s. Kili wanted to make a change, to make something of himself, to be remembered and even admired, while Thorin had long fallen in love with the thrill of having power over the world, of surpassing others and proving them wrong. But, the difference didn’t matter and he said nothing as long as Kili stayed with him. As he had promised to himself, he helped Kili grew, turning into something like Thorin, but not quite. Despite having mind similar to Thorin’s, Kili wasn’t quite made for this, there was gentleness in him that Thorin and his father and his father’s father didn’t have. It was a product of his peaceful upbringing, a final hold Dis had on her son even from the distance. Some days, Kili struggled with it, frowning at some of Thorin’s decisions, arguing against his visions, opposing his well-crafted plans, but never, not even once, did he refuse Thorin’s demands. He was so eager to please that sometimes Thorin had to tell him to stop and let himself enjoy the fruits of their labors. A deep loyalty took root inside Kili and he began to look at Thorin with deep admiration. It was thrilling to know he had captivated Kili, perhaps almost as much as he had been captivated by Kili in turn. There was temptation to use and abuse his grip over him, but Thorin resisted, but Thorin waited. Kili’s life decisions weren’t his to make.

They celebrated Kili’s birthday with a lavish dinner in a posh restaurant most could only dream of dining in. They ate and toasted in privacy and talked about anything but work and the family they had both left behind. There were surprisingly many things they spoke of. There were TV shows Kili made Thorin watch, books Thorin recommended to Kili, sport teams they cheered for, little habits no one but each other knew about, comfortable moments shared before and after work, little comments made in passing, small things that made them smile and laugh. They made no mention of touches that lasted too long, gazes that lingered, words that teased and seduced, desire that took hold of them, heat simmering under their skin that waited to burst, the way they said each other name that spoke of invitation they couldn’t give properly. Kili was still unsure and Thorin didn’t want to rush. Their shoes knocked under the table, but no more.

Afterward, they returned home, but instead of parting to their own lonely rooms, Thorin took Kili to his office. There, he showed him a wall that gave way with a solid push. It swung open without sound, admitting entry to its masters. Kili froze but Thorin gently pushed him forward. Inside, laid a treasure trove of wealth collected by many hardworking generations. There were jewelries, precious stones, gold, items from long-gone past, and papers worth more than everything in the secret room combined. Thorin looked at the content of the small room sometimes to remind himself of his very fortunate life, his rich family legacy, his heavy burden of expectations, his past, his future, everything he had given away, everything he had gained, every mistake and every right choice. This room was private not only because of the monetary value contained in it, but also the meaning Thorin attached to it. For so long it had been only his to use and admire, but now he wanted to share.

“Take anything you want. Everything that is mine is yours,” he whispered to Kili’s ear, lightly squeezing his shoulder, and he wondered if he only meant his possession or himself as well.

Kili blinked and looked around the room in a daze. His eyes flitted from object to object, his body trembled, and Thorin could sense his mind spin in indecision. Finally, though, Kili pursed his lips and turned to face Thorin with the same look that had stolen Thorin over a year ago. “I don’t want any of them.”

Thorin wasn’t surprised. He knew Kili spared no more than a glance at the valuables littering his manor. He was well-aware that Kili only viewed the numbers of papers and screens as digits. He didn’t mind and was proud and glad to see Kili not setting his eyes on monetary gain. So, Thorin told Kili to ask for anything within his means to give and was quietly amused when Kili simply requested command over the manor’s garden. Thorin gave it easily, never having much care beside for it to look nice and orderly. He nodded absently as Kili excitedly listed flowers he’d like to have in the garden and conservatory—yellow jasmine, crown imperial, venetian sumach, mercury, amaryllis, amethyst, heliotrope, and a number of other things that meant nothing to Thorin. The little project made Kili happy, a reprieve from endless work, a break from necessary monotony, and that in turn made Thorin happy. He listened attentively to Kili’s vision of the garden and looked over the landscaping plan he made. However, he heard only the joyful lilt of his voice and saw only the excited light in his eyes and happy curve of his lips. With a piece of map held by both of them and their thighs pressed together, Thorin wondered if he had given this gift for Kili or himself.

Thorin wouldn’t call himself generous—he kept far too many to himself and never seemed to give enough—but to Kili he couldn’t help from giving. He meant it when he said that everything he owned belonged to Kili and spared nothing to provide anything he might desire. Sometimes, this made Kili merrily laugh, cheeks slightly red as he marveled how Thorin remembered every whimsical wish he said in passing. Other times, Kili was hesitant, too polite to refuse but too good to accept gifts that were far too extravagant. They might occupy the same space more often than not and know each other the way they had never let themselves know others and be known by others, but something about Kili would always be beyond Thorin’s comprehension, a fundamental gap he could not bridge. It wasn’t just upbringing. They were also made of different things. Often Thorin tried to grasp how easily little simple things in life could bring Kili cheer, but always he failed to understand how to derive happiness from something other than the pride of doing a task well, the satisfaction of fulfilling heavy expectation, and the thrill of fruitful risk-taking. However, Thorin tried to accept and understand. He wondered sometimes if Kili ever felt the same struggle. He wondered if some days Kili questioned how they stayed together. He wondered if one day Kili would think he wasn’t worth the trouble.

Watching Kili have his first taste of the lavish parties Thorin frequented, Thorin wondered even more. To Thorin this was familiar ground, this strange temporary peace among enemies and friends. He was familiar with the level of carefulness he had to have in conducting himself, for someone was always watching and listening for mistakes and weaknesses. This was just another part of the game he played in his office, behind glass walls and digital protection. The rules might be different, but the objective was the same—it was still success that he fought to win. He mingled with friends and tried to form new alliances, ignoring discomfort that came with sacrificing familiar solitude and feigning niceties. Meanwhile Kili easily mingled with the crowd as if he had spent his whole life being a part of it. He won and broke hearts with every turn and made friends with ease that astounded. There was no need for guidance as he carefully avoided rivals hungry to find Thorin’s weakness. He joined those who were born into wealth as if he was one of them, as if Thorin hadn’t taken him away from a simple life half a world away only a couple of years ago. One person after another asked for his singular attention. Few daring ones won a moment in his arms while they danced. Curious, envious, and licentious eyes followed him, unable to resist being drawn toward him. People wanted to know him, to be with him, to have him. His ignorance, or perhaps indifference, pulled them ever closer. And there was nothing Thorin could do but watch things unfold.

Jealousy pricked at his skin when Kili danced with pretty young ladies, when people lay hands on him in a way that meant to be more than friendly. Longing tugged his heart when Kili talked and laughed with his new friends, ignoring the world around them, ignoring Thorin. Desire coursed through his veins when Kili moved gracefully through the crowd, cheeks flushed with excitement, eyes bright with delight, lips full and red inviting passionate intents. Thorin withdrew to a corner, hiding from his insecurity and yearning to no avail. He could offer (and had given) money and power, but he could never provide the companionship Kili found in his admirers. He was too world-weary, too cold, too driven to partake in youthful attractions and fun. He didn’t even have half Kili’s charm to garner friends of his own. Still, despite his flaws, despite knowing how little what he had to offer, Thorin wanted him. He wanted to be the one with his arms wrapped around Kili as they danced. He wanted to be the one, the only one, Kili laughed with and smiled at. He wanted to be the one to whisper to Kili sweet suggestive invitations. He wanted to be the only one to whom Kili promised his time and sole attention. And he wanted more than anything for Kili to also want all of these in return.

Thorin should be content that he was the one Kili went home with, but he wasn’t. He wanted more, far more than what he could properly ask for. Finally safe in the quietness of his home, Thorin wanted to withdraw to his room to lick his wound, swallow his pride for he was utterly defeated. But, drunk on wine and sweet new friendships, Kili demanded his company in the conservatory and Thorin was, for all his anger and frustration, a mere subject to his affection. So he followed, wearily reluctant but foolishly hopeful, as streaks of lightning flashed in the cloudy night sky to reflect his mood. The sight of flowers of various shades and leaves of rich green color—the early result of Kili’s hard work—didn’t much improve Thorin’s temper. He heavily sat down on a sofa as Kili flitted around the conservatory, stroking soft petals and beaming at growing flower buds. Outside the rain began to pour. Thorin closed his eyes, wishing to be numb.

The sofa shifted under Kili’s weight. Silence followed instead of the previous chatter and Thorin knew Kili was waiting for something. He couldn’t bear to contribute to his own torture, but neither could he deny Kili his attention. Warily, he cracked his eyes open to see the wickedest smile he wouldn’t find out of place on his own feature.

“You want me,” Kili stated.

There was no denying that observation. There was no denying how he had yearned. Thorin didn’t resist when Kili pulled him close for their lips to meet. He kissed with all the craving he had endured in silence, the frustration borne out of distance, the jealousy produced by hidden affection. Fine cloths wrinkled under wandering eager hands and Thorin groaned out loud when he touched skin that had plagued his dreams. They shifted, pushing and pulling until Kili lay down on the sofa, Thorin on top of him. They kissed over and over, hungry and passionate. There were a hint of sweet wine in Kili’s mouth that Thorin eagerly sampled and a trace of feminine perfume that he angrily tried to remove. Kili cried out when Thorin roughly sucked on the side of his neck, a sign of possession, a deep mark of angry affection. Thunders boomed too close for comfort, the rain pounded on glass roof and walls, hiding the sounds of zippers undone, grunts as arousal released from its confines, ecstatic moans as hands grasped each other for the first time. They moved, erratic, pushing into each other’s hand, kissing with desperate need. There were whispers of each other’s name, instructions in breathy moans, pleas made with sinuous motions. Thorin buried his face in the crook of Kili’s damp neck, panting harshly as his peak approached and was frantically held back. He didn’t want it to end too soon. He wanted Kili’s attention. He wanted to be held in Kili’s arms. He wanted to keep hearing Kili desirously breathing out his name. But then Kili turned his head, captured his lips in an unending kiss, and Thorin was lost, spilling heavily onto soft hand and white silk. Kili followed closely, twitching in his grasp before spurting so hard he was trembling.

Then, they slowed down, sweat cooling, hands gentling, lips parting. Thorin removed his hand and carefully rested his weight on Kili. Under the brief brightness brought by a lightning, he could see the mark he had left, dark red against tanned skin. Guilt curled in his gut even as pride settled in. He couldn’t have many things about Kili, but at least he had this, no matter how briefly. How long would it stay, he wondered and he absurdly hoped for forever. Then Kili’s fingers sink into his black and grey hair and his lips pressed against his temple and Thorin told himself that this was enough.

Now some nights found them tangled on the sofa, TV ignored, shirts forgotten on the floor, trousers pushed down. They were soon well-acquainted with each other’s bodies and the best ways to elicit delightful responses. Thorin was soon addicted with the way Kili threw his head back and called out Thorin’s name as he was brought to climax, the way he smiled when he tugged on Thorin’s cock in the way he liked, the way he trembled under Thorin after being brought to completion.

Although it was clear that at least his desire was reciprocated, Thorin still tried to hold back. He never approached first, instead he waited for tale-telling hand on his thigh and lips on his neck. He was wanted, but still he was careful not to ask too much. Nevertheless, it was him who first crawled down to take thick erection into his mouth. He barely winced when his hair was pulled or when Kili forgot himself and bucked up or when bitterness filled his mouth. But, he gasped in surprise when, determined, Kili pushed him down and allowed him to find pleasure on the cradle of his agile tongue. He didn’t expect anything in return and every moment spent with Kili enjoying carnal pleasure or familiar company never failed to surprise him. If this was a dream, he wished it to last forever. He’d let his body waste away, his legacy withered and disappeared, if that meant he could spend the rest of his lonely existence with the privilege of having Kili’s touches and kisses.

It was near perfect, a dream Thorin hadn’t even dared to dream. He caught himself staring at Kili sometimes, amazed that he was really there. Occasionally he found his hand hovering, longing to touch but not daring, needing to ascertain that this wasn’t a cruel fantasy. Nightly, he ran his fingertips over soft skin and hair as Kili dozed beside him or in his arms, grateful for the gift of Kili’s affection. While jealousy flared every now and then, he was more secure now that it was him that Kili embraced in the end. He convinced himself that it was enough to help make Kili the person he wanted to become, to share laughter and stories in hard-won free time, to see private sides of him no one had ever seen, to gain comfort and care in his arms, to know that even in his darkest days he could find light in Kili. He didn’t need more. He was happy with what he could have. If he kept telling himself that, he might one day convince himself to be fully content with his life.

The news reached him on a winter day. Staring at him from the screen of his laptop was Dis’ family. The article reported tireless search for a missing person. In the picture above bold headline, his sister looked at him with hardened gaze because how could she move on? How could a mother move on from her missing son? Beside her, holding her hand, Vilir sat stoically, but Thorin noticed new tired lines on his face. Did he ever suspect Thorin had taken his words about Kili’s interest in him as a permission to take him? Thorin couldn’t tell. But he could tell that Fili was devastated even as he calmly sat on Dis’s other side, ever the devoted son. Did he blame himself for not doing something—anything—as Thorin had blamed himself for Frerin? Would he achieve the peace Thorin still sometimes struggled to find? They were sitting in what Thorin recognized to be their living room—but it had been sapped off its comfort and life. It seemed barren and the few furniture Thorin could see looked dirty and old, as if it had been decades instead of years since Thorin’s final visit. A small vase containing a drying bouquet of flower (cinquefoil, cardamine and woodbine, Thorin remembered from peaceful nights spent holding Kili, reading a book on the secrets of plants, the evening news humming in the background) only emphasized how the household had lost its life. On the table in front of them sat a picture of a young man Thorin could barely recognize, a young man who only had a small world to contend with, who only dared to dream, who held back and tried to be satisfied with what he was allowed to have. He wondered if they saw the Kili that he knew now would they recognize him as their lost loved one?

The news reported no clue or suspect, assuring that Thorin’s life with Kili was still safe. He should hide it, should pretend he had never seen it. Kili was clearly content with the life he built here, why give him reasons for doubt? Why jeopardize what Thorin was now convinced he couldn’t live without? It would be easy to keep this a secret—the news was just a small article lost amidst bigger issues, a sad local tale bound to draw temporary sympathy before being forgotten in a matter of days. He could easily keep Kili in the dark, never any the wiser of how desperately his family missed him and looked for him. He should say nothing, but he couldn’t lie, not when Kili told him how he spent the busy hours they spent apart, not when he prodded and teased Thorin to ease his troubles until he laughed, not when he looked at Thorin and kissed him in a way that left almost no question of how to Thorin he was devoted.

Kili frowned when Thorin pulled away, but when Thorin showed him the article, his expression transformed into something Thorin didn’t dare examine. He smiled, broken and resigned, and handed Kili a key ring holding six keys: one to his study where he kept his inheritance, one to his office where his power was practiced, one to a room in a bank where he kept everything he had gained, one to a safe containing evidence of all his family’s sins, one to a shelf hiding plans of crimes he would risk committing for them, and one to the front door that had guarded against Kili’s escape. He explained what each key opened, each word cutting into him. When Kili looked to him for guidance, he hid his feelings away. Quickly, he left, having done what he should, having done what was just. Thorin escaped to his room, leaving Kili to make his decision, resigned to losing everything: his power, his life, his wealth, his heart.

Thorin expected distancing footsteps in the night or a blinding smile in the morning as if everything was all right. He didn’t expect his door to creak open. He didn’t expect his blankets to be pushed aside. He didn’t expect to open his eyes to the sight of Kili climbing into his bed and then on top of him. Perhaps Dis would like to belief he had forcefully pushed Kili down. Perhaps she would insist that he had frightened Kili so much that he was unable to reject. But it was Kili who kissed him first, who discarded their clothes and demanded his touch. It was Kili who stroked him to hardness, who teased until Thorin all but beg for release. Thorin’s unsteady fingers found Kili’s entrance slick and loose and he had to pull away with a groan from a ferocious kiss to see Kili’s face to make sure this was really what he wanted, to make sure this wasn’t a dream. Kili answered by sinking onto him, engulfing him in heat that was impossible to be make-believe. The bed barely creaked, the manor barely stirred, all was still. They groaned together, a symphony of pleasure filling Thorin’s room. Thorin lay back to allow Kili to do whatever he pleased until he realized Kili’s struggled to take his girth, the trembling of his muscles and the discomfort on his face told Thorin what he had been gifted with.

“Oh, Kili,” he breathed, sitting up to gather the shaking young man into his arms. He held him loosely, foreheads pressed together, as he murmured calming words and caressed away tension. He swallowed thickly when Kili began to move tentatively, a little rise and fall to tease and hips grinding down to drive Thorin insane.

“Tell me I can stay,” Kili begged, fingertips digging into the base of Thorin’s skull, his voice cracked, his eyes wet.

As if Thorin remembered how to live without him. He lightly gripped Kili’s hip, leading him to a slow pace that burnt in all the best ways whenever Thorin surged up to fill him to completeness. He swallowed the gasp he earned with a deep kiss. “You can stay,” Thorin said as he pulled blissful moans from Kili’s lips with gentle undulations of his hips.

Kili whimpered, his cock left a sticky trail on Thorin’s abdomen. “Tell me I’m yours,” he asked, needy for reassurance, shifting ever closer until their lips almost touched, tight heat gripping Thorin so good it was near impossible to not come.

Thorin paused and a sliver of fear crossed Kili’s eyes. “No,” he said. Before pain of rejection could overcome Kili, he continued, “I’m yours.”

Time seemed to stand still as lips found each other and damp skin, parting to release soft moans of their lover’s name. Thorin’s hands roamed over the body that was at once familiar and new as it moved atop him. While Kili clenched around him, he pressed his lips over erratically beating heart, a gesture of gratitude and worship and love that words could not say. This was replied by fingers combing his hair, lips gliding over his skin, passionate moans of his name. Shadows grew as midnight approached, hiding all in darkness. But, Kili’s eyes met his as easily as they had years ago, when he had stolen Thorin’s heart and soul. Hearts skipped a beat, breaths harshened, fingers dug deeper while confessions sit on the tips of their tongues. Kili broke down first with a plea he whispered directly to Thorin’s ear and Thorin’s hand closed over straining arousal, pumping in the rhythm they knew by heart. Outside, the snow began to fall, but they were enveloped in heat as Kili rode Thorin eagerly, arching his back to give and give and give as he sank down heavily onto Thorin’s cock and pushed upward desperately into the sheath of his hand. Lips were bitten as final measure to keep their secret and this time it was Thorin who caved in, harshly breathing his love to Kili’s heart over and over until Kili couldn’t help but replied with his own confession. The pace increased, moans and gasps and wet slapping sounds filled their senses along with their sight of each other and the feel of skin on skin. Kili leaned forward to capture Thorin’s lips tenderly even as he grew desperate, body tightening around Thorin, words of love breathlessly exchanged between them. He cried out as Thorin pumped out his thick seed until he fell limp over Thorin, head resting on his shoulder, shuddering. Only moments later, Thorin grunted as he held Kili close and rained open-mouthed kisses all over his neck and chest while he thrust up and spilled deep inside him. Finally, they slowed as they marveled the new connection between them and the lifetime ahead of them.

Outside, winter continued on its chilling course, covering the manor in thick white coat, hiding it behind a pale curtain. Far away, a family stubbornly searched to a missing brother and son. In Thorin’s bed, the new couple kissed and murmured love previously hidden, basking in the safety, comfort and joy of their private little heaven.