The March of Time

25: Firemoon and Starlight

Chapter Twenty-Five: Firemoon and Starlight

"So, when do you think it's a good time for me to start singing the blues?" Alison asked, as she sat propped against the stone wall of her cell, her legs tucked criss-cross so as to avoid sticking her feet in Kili's face as he slept.

If Alison would have known how small these cells were, and that there weren't enough to where she could have her own individual one, she would've stuck with Thranduil's offer of going back to the infirmary, for she was distinctly uncomfortable now as she squished against the cell wall, leaving most of the room in the cell for Kili as he was stretched out across the floor, still sleeping.

"What in Mahal's name are you talking about, Alison?" came Kili's muffled voice from where his head was pressed into his coat, which he was using as a pillow.

"Nothing," she sighed, leaning her head back against the stone and shutting her eyes. "My prison humor is wasted here."

Kili only grunted in reply, his deep breaths slowly filling the cell once more, and Alison sighed again, tilting her head back up and opening her eyes.

The dungeons were quiet right now; the only things Alison could hear were the occasional snores and shifting of the still-sleeping Company, the quiet pad of the Elf-guard's footsteps on the stone, and the soothing roaring of the waterfalls some distance away, which fell from somewhere above the dungeons to somewhere below that she had yet to figure out.

Alison got stiffly to her feet, stretching out her cramped muscles and, taking care not to step on Kili, she made her way over to the bars, wrapping her fingers around the cool metal and pressing her forehead against them, enjoying the cold metallic feel on her skin. Across the dungeon, she could make out the sleeping form of Bombur in his cell, and Dori and Ori doing the same in the cell next to his, but beyond those three and Kili, she couldn't see any of the others, their cells nestled into the stone around them and cutting off Alison's vision of them.

On her way to Thorin's cell the previous night, she had passed by Fili, alone in his cell a few down from his uncle's, but she hadn't had a chance to stop and talk to him, only managing to catch his eye briefly before the guards had decided to make her cellmates with Kili, since he had been the conveniently closer candidate. Not that she minded that much; it was better than being stuck with Bombur or Dwalin, at least, who probably would've left her no room in the cell at all.

Alison looked to her left, where the line of cell blocks ended and instead opened into a chasm where the waterfalls fell through, the water catching on glints of golden light as dawn sunlight poured through the archways high above, and Alison could barely make out the figures of the Elves walking through the halls far above her and the dungeons. She watched their small silhouettes for a moment, trying to ignore the fingers of sleep that pulled on her and whispered for her to just float; she knew sleep was not going to be easy to come by now, for she had tried all night, but to no avail.

Her mind was running rampant with thoughts and worries, and she had spent the whole night watching the shadows melt into dawn, her mind refusing to shut off and going around in circles, making sleep elusive for her.

Her talk with Thranduil had dredged up all of her old worries again, and new ones, as well. There was the obvious problem of them being stuck in the Woodland Realm, but she knew Bilbo was going to rescue them any day now, so that wasn't a great concern, though she hoped he would hurry. What was a great concern was the inevitable deadline now looming before them, closer than ever. The last days of autumn were upon them, and they still had some ways to go before reaching the Lonely Mountain, and Alison feared that they would come all this way to only miss Durin's Day, and she didn't think she could bear seeing the others' disappointment and crushing loss, or even her own, and especially not Thorin's…

"I warned your grandfather of what his greed would summon, but he would not listen," Thranduil's unbidden voice echoed in her head. "You are just like him."

In light of what they had been going through so far, Alison had nearly forgotten the threat of the gold-sickness lingering over Thorin—or, rather, had chosen to forget it temporarily—but Thranduil's reminder had carved a pit into her stomach, and Alison could feel the fear and uncertainty roiling inside of it, the same feelings she had gotten at the beginning of her journey when she had realized she was meant to save the line of Durin coming back full-force. They were dangerously close to the Mountain now, and if by some miracle they did manage to get inside before the last light of Durin's Day, they wouldn't just have a dragon on their hands to contend with—their biggest threat could possibly be Thorin himself.

But Alison shoved those fears to the back of her mind, tightening her grip on the cell bars. Thorin was stronger than that; he was not his grandfather, and there was a very high chance he would not succumb to the sickness lying dormant inside of him, if it even lay there at all. Thorin was greater than madness, and Alison had to believe he would not fall—for if he did, it would mean that she had failed in but one of her tasks of saving the line of Durin from their fates, and Alison didn't think she could ever live with herself if that happened.

She broke out of her reverie as a figure came to a stop before her, and she brought her gaze back down to meet the level stare of a brown-haired Elf, starting a little as his equally dark eyes met hers, for she hadn't heard him approach.

"Apologies, my Lady," he said in a clear yet soft voice. "I did not mean to startle you."

"I wasn't startled," she said, a bit rudely, and then she winced at her tone as he raised a slender brow. "Okay, maybe a little bit. Sorry."

The guard gave her a thin-lipped smile, taking her own apology in stride. "I came to tell you that breakfast will be here within the hour, if that was what you were wondering."

"Well I wasn't really wondering that, but it's still good information to know, nonetheless," she said, giving him a small smile, and the guard nodded, making to move away, but Alison's voice held him back.

"What's your name?" she asked suddenly, and the Elf turned and looked at her in puzzlement. Alison didn't know what had possessed her to ask him his name; perhaps the brief kindness Tauriel had shown her had made her believe that not all of the Wood-Elves were as cold and heartless as Thranduil; and she was curious about the Elves, as well.

The guard teetered, staying silent, and Alison thought he was just going to ignore her and walk away, but he eventually said, "Elros. My name is Elros."

Alison nodded at Elros, glad that the Elf had chosen to answer her instead. "I'm Alison," she offered, and Elros quirked a half-grin.

"I know this," he said. "Talk gets around these halls." He added at her questioning gaze, and Alison cocked a brow; apparently Elves were just as gossipy as Dwarves in that respect.

She was spared trying to come up with an answer to that when footsteps sounded to her left, and her and Elros looked to see Legolas descending the dungeon stairs next to Alison and Kili's cell, coming to a stop beside Elros, who bowed and greeted, "Legolas, hîr nín."

Legolas inclined his own head, saying, "Mae govannen, Elros, Lady Ashburne." Alison lowered her eyes respectfully as Elros and Legolas conversed quickly in low voices so as not to wake the Dwarves, but she looked up in surprise as she heard a jangle of keys and a click, and then her cell door swung open.

"Walk with me, my Lady," Legolas said, offering her a hand out, and, confused beyond anything, she accepted it and stepped out of the cell as Elros closed and re-locked the door, placing the ring of keys on his belt.

"I'll have her back before your charge is over, Elros," Legolas said to the guard, and Elros bowed once more, continuing his rounds of the dungeon, and Alison tried not to let her eyes linger too long on the keys now swinging from his belt as Legolas released her hand.

"Come," he said, gesturing up the stairs with his head, and he began to ascend the steps. Feeling apprehension and wariness battling within her, Alison hesitated before following him up the stairs, and she found him at the top of the landing, standing in an archway that connected with a long corridor beyond.

When she finished her ascent, he jerked his head once more and started down the hallway, which looked very much like the one he had led her down yesterday, before her audience with the Elven-king.

Alison fell into step beside him, and her nervousness increased when he didn't immediately say anything to her, opting to walk in silence with her at his shoulder. After several minutes of this, Alison decided to take advantage of the moment to really study the Elf prince up close, intrigued by the son of the cold-hearted Thranduil.

He was no longer wearing any armor, instead dressed in a simple tunic of nice brown cloth and pants and boots, and she noticed with vague surprise that he wasn't carrying any weapons for once, which gave her some relief that she wouldn't have to be intimidated during this whole escapade. As they walked, the pale dawn light of the autumn sun caught his white hair, turning it golden, and his eyes were like blazing sapphires, half-hidden in the early morning shadows. Though he looked detached and reserved in the proud set of his shoulders and facial expression, Alison couldn't see any hint of coldness or steel in his features, which gave her hope that this wasn't just a mini-me of Thranduil himself like she had originally thought.

When it became clear that Legolas still wasn't going to speak, Alison coughed slightly until the Elf prince looked at her, but she kept her eyes adamantly ahead to the empty hallway as she said, "Not that I'm not enjoying this fascinating tour of the Woodland Realms' halls, but I have the feeling that this wasn't the reason you got me out of my cell for."

She looked at him shrewdly from the corner of her eye, gauging his reaction, and she felt a flicker of pride as she glimpsed the small grin on his face at her words.

"No, it is not," he said, and he stopped mid-stride. Alison stopped as well and turned to face him.

"Then why did you?" she asked.

"My king ordered me to," he replied neutrally, and he paced over to one of the archways, looking out at the forest beyond with his hands clasped behind his back. "He has a request for you, though he is under the impression that you might refuse it." He looked faintly amused as he said this, and Alison crossed her arms, on-guard and wary as soon as the words left his mouth.

"And what would that request be?" she said, trying to sound as aloof as she could, though she had could feel the shock and suspicion rising in her; she had practically given Thranduil the finger last night, and now he had a request for her?

"He wishes for you to accompany him to the feast we are having tonight," he said, turning back to face her, and Alison felt her stomach drop to her toes, staring at the Elf in bewilderment. "He is intrigued by your story and how you came to be here, and he is also curious about the land you are from," he said in response to her baffled look, and Alison nibbled on her lower lip nervously.

"And what if I say no?" she asked, expecting the "it's an order" thing, but she was taken aback again as Legolas smiled amusedly.

"He was under the impression that you would refuse," he reiterated. "But he left the choice up to you; you can either accept his offer, or refute it. But he made it clear he would not coerce you into it—though I expect he is also under the impression that since you will probably be staying here a while, there will be other chances to talk, which is my guess as to why he is being so lenient."

"Well if that's the case…" Alison said, standing firm and meeting Legolas' gaze boldly. "Then no. You can tell your king I'd prefer to stay in my cell tonight, since undoubtedly we will talk soon enough."

Legolas merely shrugged. "Very well," he said. "I will inform him then of your decision." His blue eyes raked her up and down as he said it, though, and then he said, "I'm assuming he did something to raise your ire during your audience?"

Alison shot him a look, feeling slightly abashed; was her disdain for the Elven-king really that easy to read? "You could say that," she said, unfolding her arms and pacing to the archways, where the red-gold foliage of the healthy part of Mirkwood and the Forest River lay below. She sighed, blowing a strand of hair away from her face. "Your father is a complicated person," she said. "But…I get he has his reasons. He might not care for other people so much, but he cares for his own, and that's better than not at all, so…" She lifted her shoulders in a shrug, feeling Legolas' eyes on her back.

She turned back around, meeting his gaze, and she found him scrutinizing her intently, as if she were a puzzle piece he was trying to figure out where to put.

"You have an interesting quality, Lady Ashburne," he said finally, and her eyebrows shot up. "You see the good in people; and if not the good, then you understand their reasoning for certain things," he continued. "That is a rare aspect to have; keep it with you in later days."

Alison said nothing, not knowing how to respond, and Legolas switched his gaze to the forest outside, his eyes taking in the lightening landscape.

"The sun is close to breaking the tree-line," he said. "Elros' post will be over soon, and I said I'd have you back by then." He gestured to her with his hand. "We should go."

Alison nodded and followed after him, taking one last look at the splendor of the autumn forest before they entered back into the staircase, the twisting tree-branch archways above them glowing with gold light to illuminate their way as they descended the steps they had just come from. The roaring of the falls filled Alison's ears again, and a sudden thought came to her head, though it was so random she wondered where it had come from in the first place as they neared the dungeons.

"Where is Tauriel?" she said, and Legolas gave her a half-glance over his shoulder as he flowed down the steps gracefully.

"I expect she is resting," he replied evenly. "She has no watches or patrols until this evening, and with the threat of the spiders gone…" He trailed off, and Alison nodded, though he couldn't see her.

Alison thought it a little strange how well she had taken to Tauriel; in Rivendell, she had been jealous of the Elf-maidens, in all of their grace and beauty and etherealness, but she didn't feel that way about Tauriel. Certainly she was a tad envious of her looks and obvious skills at weaponry—which far surpassed her own—but Tauriel seemed more…grounded, and not as aloof, and Alison felt a sort of connection there, from one female warrior to another, thrust into this world of men where it felt like they had to fight to prove they didn't need coddling or protection. And not to mention that she had saved Alison's life, twice. If that didn't signify a bond, then Alison had no idea what did.

She and Legolas descended the last few steps into the dungeons, and they saw Elros standing a few feet away from them, talking to another Elf with black hair and stern features, and Alison guessed the next few hours were not going to be pleasant with this scowling guy around.

The two Elves looked up as they walked in, and when Alison stepped into view, she realized that the Company was awake now, and they all pressed into their bars, looking immensely relieved that she was there.

"Alison!" Bofur called down from his cell. "There you are, lass! Gave us a right scare, you did, disappearing like that—"

"I'm fine, Bofur," she said, smiling at the Dwarf. She felt happiness bubbling up inside of her at the sight of the Dwarves; she hadn't heard their voices in days, and she hadn't realized until then just how much she had missed them, her Company, her friends. "I just took a little walk."

Elros nodded his head to Legolas and Alison, and approached Kili's cell with his keys as the other guard inclined his own head, watching Elros unlock the door.

Alison made for the cell, but she was stopped as Legolas put a feather-light hand on her shoulder, and she faced him again, having to crane her head up to look into his face.

"Are you sure about King Thranduil's offer?" he asked, and Alison nodded, aware of all the Company's incredulous stares on her back now as she said, "Yeah, I'm sure."

Legolas nodded, releasing her shoulder, and she stepped down the last few steps where her cell with Kili was, and Elros opened the door for her to go in. Before she did, though, she looked over her shoulder, further down the cell block, and saw Fili clutching his bars, his solemn gray-blue gaze upon her, silently asking, Are you all right?

Alison winked, flashing him a brief smile, and she saw his own lips quirk in return before she stepped into the cell and he was blocked from view.

Elros shut and locked the cell door behind her, and then she heard him and Legolas speaking Elvish, before their voices retreated back up to the halls above and the new black-haired guard remained, beginning to pace around the dungeon with the same scowl on his face.

As soon as Elros and Legolas couldn't be heard anymore, Dwalin's voice came echoing out of his cell, and Alison stepped closer to the bars, trying to see him, but he was blocked from her sight, as well.

"What offer did this Elf speak of?" he demanded. "What did the Woodland King have to propose to you?" The other Dwarves chimed in their own agreement and questions, and Alison waited for the clamor to calm down before she spoke.

"It's nothing, really," she said loudly, so everyone could hear, and she was distinctly aware of the guard still pacing around, though she tried to ignore him. "King Thranduil wanted me to come to the feast they were having tonight, but I said no. And that was it, basically."

She could hear the Dwarves' mutters and grumbles, and she smiled slightly to herself at the sounds of their scoffing and disbelief, until the guard shouted at them to be quiet and they grudgingly obeyed, retreating back deeper into their cells.

Alison stepped away from her own bars, sliding down the wall of the cell opposite from where Kili was sitting, now awake and watching her carefully as she pulled her knees to her chest.

"So, was that really the offer Lord Pointy-Ears was talking about?" he asked her, his dark eyes alight with curiosity and a flicker of suspicion.

Alison met his gaze and smirked at the nickname he had given Legolas, reaching for the elastic on her wrist (which had miraculously stayed with her after all this time on her journey). As she tied her hair back in a ponytail, she answered, "Yes, that was really Lord Pointy-Ears' offer." She decided to elaborate as he cocked an eyebrow at her. "The Elven-king is interested in my story and where I come from, but…" She trailed off, shrugging her shoulders.

Kili nodded, settling back against the wall more comfortably, but Alison could still see the suspicion in his eyes, and she wondered why he was being so skeptical at her words.

"Why are you so interested?" she asked, and then a teasing smile curled her lips as he looked at her, brows furrowed. "Jealous that you weren't the one who got invited to a feast?"

Kili snorted, giving her a dry look. "My soul is black with envy," he replied sarcastically, and Alison laughed. His own grin faded a bit as he met her eyes again, his expression turning more serious. "I'm not sure I trust these Elves," he said quietly. "I mean—" he gestured to the cell around them as Alison watched him carefully. "This isn't exactly my definition of hospitable."

Alison hesitated before answering, flashing back to an image of Kili winking at an Elf-maiden during their stay at Rivendell; and, looking at his troubled expression now, she noticed that what he said and how he looked didn't really match up.

"Is that your own judgment of the Elves?" she asked, slowly and quietly, and Kili looked back to her, his dark eyes searching her face. "Or is that your uncle's own beliefs?"

Surprise flitted across Kili's features, and he opened his mouth to reply, but before any words came out their cell door swung open a crack, and they looked to see the stern guard pushing in two stone plates filled with bread, cheese, and fruits and a stone pitcher of water, their constitution of breakfast, before he shut and locked the door again and moved off, presumably to give the others their own food.

"Mahal forbid we should ever get any meat," Kili said in disgruntlement, but he began to wolf down the food nonetheless, and Alison followed suit, though less enthusiastically.

Once their plates had been cleared and they both had their fair share of water, they went back to their lounging positions on the wall and sat in silence for a few moments, until Kili spoke up again.

"You know, I never got a chance to ask you," he said suddenly, and Alison looked to him. His eyes were glinting cheekily, per normal, but he also looked at her with genuine concern as she raised a brow. "How are you? Are you feeling well? That water sickness…"

"I'm fine," she said, smiling gently. "I'm one hundred percent fully recovered."

"Good," he said, nodding in a relieved fashion. "We hadn't seen you until you came in last night, and, quite frankly, we were all worried you had…" he trailed off, looking grave, until his cheeky grin returned and his eyes lightened again. "I tried asking that she-Elf, the one with the red hair, about you yesterday, but she only said you were on the mend in the infirmary before she walked away…"

He looked out the cell door, and if Alison wasn't mistaken, she could've sworn she saw a hint of wistfulness in his face, before it was gone, and he looked back to her.

"Tauriel," she said, and his brows crinkled in confusion. "The she-Elf you spoke to. Her name is Tauriel. She was the one who healed me."

"Tauriel," he repeated, as if testing the word on his tongue. "Tauriel…"

He looked back out the cell door, almost as if expecting the she-Elf to be there, and Alison watched him suspiciously, feeling a small, taut strand in her chest twitch uncomfortably as she looked away from him, wrapping her arms more securely around her knees and falling silent.

They sat without talking for the rest of the day, each wrapped in their own individual thoughts, and without anything to distract her, Alison's mind turned yet again to the worries of the challenges they would face in the coming days, and she began to pick and tear at her nail beds in her usual habit of anxiety.

Dusk was falling when she began to hear noises from above the dungeon, the babble of many musical voices and the shimmers of flute, harp, lyre, and viola music taking to the air, and Alison guessed the feast Legolas had mentioned earlier had begun. She tried to imagine if she had accepted the king's offer instead, and how she would look and feel if she were with those creatures of such beauty and coldness, but the images were fleeting; down here in her cell, with only her worries in her mind, the noises from above seemed farther away than ever.

Alison sighed, rubbing her temples with her now-raw fingers, and she looked up only when Kili asked, "Is something bothering you?"

She dropped her hands, sitting up straighter and meeting his dark gaze, and she gave a tight smile. "No, I'm good. Just…" She sighed again, running a hand over her scalp to smooth down the pieces of hair that refused to stay in her ponytail. "Distract me, Kili."

His brows furrowed, and his lips pulled into a frown. "Uh…all right," he said. "What kind of distraction would you like?"

She thought for a moment, casting her mind around for anything; and then she landed on the image of a toy eagle, its mechanical wings moving from a crank, and she saw Bifur's face and heard the word he had uttered from his mouth that night: Balakhuruzndash. Eagle.

"Teach me Khuzdûl," she said, and he jerked, starting a bit at her unexpected statement.

"Alison," he said slowly. "You know…" he glanced quickly out of the bars, and then leaned closer to her, dropping his voice. "You know I can't do that. Our languages can never be used by an outsider of our race; I can't go against that—"

"I'm not asking you to," she said. "Well, at least not fully. I'm not trying to learn your whole language; just simple things, like 'hello,' that I can use with Bifur or something. I'm tired of only being able to communicate with him in two ways, and I know how frustrating it must be for him."

She gave him an imploring look, and he searched her face, chewing on the inside of his cheek, and she knew he was internally arguing with himself.

"Fine," he sighed finally, and Alison's heart leaped. "But I'm coming over there. I don't want the others knowing I'm giving you a Khuzdûl lesson, and I'm only teaching you hello."

"For now," she said lightly, and she shot him a smug look as he eyed her warningly, scooting across the floor until he was propped up beside her, and she could feel the thick fabric of his undershirt brushing against her jacket and the heat emanating from his skin through the material as he settled against the wall.

"Well, firstly, before I teach you, I have to say there's no literal translation of 'hello' in our language," he said, and Alison looked at him blankly as he shifted and spoke in a lower voice. "But we have two greetings that we use, one formal and one informal. The first one, the not-so-formal one, also stems from one of our words for 'please,' and it can also be used as a farewell—"

"Kili," Alison interrupted. "I just want to say 'hello,' not go through an intensive language study class."

"This is important information, Alison," he huffed, sounding slightly affronted, and she had to conceal a grin at his suddenly fussy tone, sounding a lot like Dori when he reprimanded his brothers. "I mean, I can always just not teach you—"

He made to move away, but Alison grabbed his arm and pulled him back. "No, I was kidding!" she said. "I won't say a word now. Please, continue."

He chuckled at her reaction, and then continued his explanation. "So, yeah, the first one we use is megrîfatzu Yau mala, and the second one we use is more formal, literally meaning 'hail and well met,' and that is shamukh ra ghelekhur aimá. Simple enough, right?"

"Uh, for you, maybe," Alison said, looking stricken. "How is one tiny word so complicated in your language?"

"It's not even that bad," he scoffed, and then he grinned at the dubious look on Alison's face. "C'mon, try it. Repeat after me."

And so for the next half-hour, they sat on the floor of the cell, Alison trying to get the pronunciations right and Kili going back over the parts she stumbled on, talking in low voices so as not to alert the others, who probably wouldn't be as lenient as Kili if they found out he was teaching her their secret language. The memorization part Alison got down quickly, for she had always had a good memory (which was ironic, considering she could barely remember the own story she was in), but the vocals of the words were what confused her; she could never obtain the right level of throatiness or pronounce the harsh syllables just right, but as the sun slipped further and further down and the shadows in the cell grew dimmer, she just barely managed to get both of the phrases right, and she allowed herself a small smile of victory.

"Good, Alison," Kili said, nodding enthusiastically. "Now you know how to greet Dwarves in their own language; which probably isn't the greatest thing, but still impressive, nonetheless."

Alison only nodded, taking a swig from their water pitcher to get some of the scratchiness out of her throat, and she leaned back next to Kili, swallowing the water and looking around the cell as the music and voices of the Elves at their feast reached her ears once more, almost drowning out the sound of the waterfalls.

She stretched her legs out across the floor, and a sudden movement from the corner of her eye made her look over, just to see Kili's fingers tapping out a pattern on his thigh, drumming his fingers on the material of his trousers as if playing out a beat.

Alison studied his fingers for a moment, trying to make out the complicated rhythm as she watched his large, callused and weathered hand move, when she noticed something that made her reach over and grab his hand suddenly.

"What happened here?" she asked, eyes wide, as she brought his hand closer to her face. He wasn't wearing his gloves anymore, and against his tanned skin there was a whitish scar on the back of his hand, and she ran a finger over it, feeling the rough, ridged flesh of it under her touch.

She looked up, and he grimaced, half-amused, half-abashed. "I got that when I was a lad," he said, and he looked down at his hand, still in her own small ones, before meeting her gaze again with that hint of mischief in his eyes and a wry grin, and she could sense a story coming on.

"Thorin and my mother had warned me not to go shoot my bow without one of them or a guard present, for I was much too young to be left unattended with weapons," he began. "But, like all children, I ignored them. I snuck out in the early morning, just after it had snowed, and went to the shooting range by myself. I had an arrow in my left hand,"—he raised the hand Alison wasn't holding—"and when I stepped out into the snow, it was much deeper than I expected. I fell down, throwing the hand with the arrow out to catch myself, and the tip went straight into my other hand, though luckily it didn't go all the way through," he indicated the hand Alison was holding, and he chuckled as she gave a faint smile.

"I imagined that hurt quite a bit," she said, running another finger over his scar, and his grin got wider.

"My mother reckoned my cries could have caused an avalanche," he said, and she laughed as he went on. "It was quite pathetic, really; I hadn't even gotten to shoot once and I was already injured, an arrow sticking out of my hand as I screamed for my mother. You can imagine the kind of reaction from Thorin and her when they ran out to find me crying as my hand bled everywhere."

They both chuckled at that, and Alison shook her head, giving him a wicked grin. "You know, I never took you for such a clumsy person, Kili."

"Clumsy?" he echoed in mock-indignation. "At least I don't chuck myself into a body of water whenever the chance arises," he said jokingly, obviously referring to her bad experiences with the river at the beginning of their journey and the much more recent stream incident.

"I don't chuck myself into the water," she protested, and she shoved his shoulder when he laughed.

"Ooh, defensive, aren't we?" he said cheekily, poking her in the ribs.

"Hey!" she complained, as the ticklish side of her twinged, and she reached out to push him again, but this time he blocked her. She pushed harder, and soon they were involved in a small-scale wrestling match, which ended after only a few seconds when he poked her side again, and she had to clamp her mouth shut to keep from shrieking with laughter.

They stopped grappling with each other after that, and they leaned back against the wall again, trying to regain their breath. It was then that Alison became aware of just how close their faces were, his warm breath fluttering against her cheek, and she could feel the heat of him radiating off his skin, though she doubted it was as hot as her cheeks had become as she met his eyes.

They were dark with surprise and a flicker of something else, something she had seen in Rivendell, but she zeroed in instead on a strand of hair that was falling into his face; and then, as if her hand belonged to somebody else, she slowly reached up and hesitantly brushed it back into the rest of his hair, her fingertips grazing his forehead and hovering near his temple before she lowered it again, and still they said nothing.

Kili opened his mouth, his eyes still boring into hers, but whatever he was going to say was cut off as sudden footsteps sounded from outside their cell, and they started and pulled back quickly, Kili all but throwing himself to the opposite wall as the black-haired guard came to a stop and opened their cell, pushing in two new plates with their light dinner fare on it before re-locking the cell and striding away.

Alison kept her eyes downcast as she ate, feeling heat prickle her fingertips and something hazy swirling inside of her, clouding her brain and befuddling her thoughts every time she was reminded of Kili's eyes, so close to her own to where she had seen herself reflected back in them, and she felt a slight stirring of panic in her chest at the reminder. What had just happened between them?

They stayed in tense silence, listening to the sounds of the feast above, until Kili eventually cleared his throat and said, "You look exhausted, Alison. You should sleep."

She nodded, not meeting his eyes all the way, before shrugging off her jacket and wadding it into an imitation of a pillow and stuffing it under her head, facing away from Kili as he finished the last of his dinner.

Confusion and angst roiled inside of her like a hurricane, and Alison shut her eyes, trying to ignore the image of Kili's face, so close to her own, imprinted on her eyelids. What was wrong with her? There was no way that she could—that he could—

Get a grip, she thought scathingly to herself. You came on this quest to save the Line of Durin and change the ending of the story, not throw yourself at every hot Dwarf available to you. Stop being a stupid teenage girl and focus on being the Hero you are. You have better things to do than lust after attractive Dwarf princes.

Feeling slightly more comforted at this thought, Alison buried her face deeper into her jacket, trying to ignore the stench from it clogging her nose and the sounds of the partying Wood-Elves, and to her intense surprise she fell asleep quickly. And again she dreamed.

Kili listened to the sounds of the feasting Elves with growing annoyance, his stomach growling even after he had just finished eating his dinner, which had consisted of nothing more than the usual bread, cheese, and greenery that seemed custom for all the Elves of Middle-earth.

He sighed, tilting his head back against the stone, and his eyes settled upon Alison, who was curled in the middle of the cell floor, her back to him as it rose and fell in time with her breathing.

Kili marveled at how fast she had gone to sleep; his thoughts were tumbling so wildly he didn't think he would ever be able to fall asleep, and a thrumming energy had taken a hold of him, making him antsy and jittery, like he needed to get up and run around the entirety of the Woodland Realm, no doubt brought on from what had transpired between him and Alison earlier.

Kili could still feel the phantom touch of her fingertips brushing his forehead and grazing his temple, and he remembered the look of innocent hesitation on her face as she had done it, her pale eyes narrowed and her mouth quirked as if she were confused as to what she was doing. Kili held on to the moment a few minutes more before releasing it, knowing it was no use. He had seen the look in her eyes as she had pulled her hand away, and he knew that what they had shared would not happen again.

For about the millionth time, he heard Thorin's voice echoing in his head, stern and unyielding: "You are the next heirs to the throne of Durin, and she is a warrior; though your paths may be entwined now, it is doubtful they will continue to be that way in the future. So before you begin to form deep attachments, remember your place in the world, and remember hers."

Kili knew his uncle was right; their quest had nothing to do with sentiments and what Kili felt whenever he shared a smile with or held Alison's gaze. She was brave, and loyal, and witty, a true Hero in Kili's regard, sent by the Valar to aid them, and he was a Prince of Durin, on a quest to reclaim his homeland and bring his people back to greatness; there was no room for each other in their own separate worlds, and as much as Kili wished that weren't the case now, he knew that when this was over with and Alison was gone, he would not remember her as anything more than the warrior who helped them take back their kingdom, which is exactly how he should remember her. Nothing else would ever exist, and it was time to wrap his thick head around that.

A great roar of laughter echoed from the halls above, startling Kili out of his brooding thoughts, and when he looked up from his lap he noticed with faint surprise that the black-haired Elf who had been watching them had gone, leaving them alone as the rest of the Company began to settle down for the night.

Kili rubbed the scar on the back of his right hand absent-mindedly, looking back down to it and smiling slightly as he recalled the story he had told Alison. He could still remember that day clearly, and he chuckled ruefully under his breath as his mother's voice came back to him, as if he really were kneeling in the snow with an arrow-tip embedded into his hand, blood droplets falling onto the fluffy whiteness and his cries, more from shock than pain, echoing around Ered Luin like an injured dog's howls, instead of sitting locked in an Elven dungeon.

He remembered the way Dís had held his uninjured hand as he was sat upon their kitchen table, whispering soft words of comfort to him as Thorin pulled the arrow out and tended the wound as Kili cried and Fili watched silently from around the kitchen corner, his eyes wide and scared over his little brother's cries.

When his hand had been cleaned and wrapped, Thorin had left him and his mother alone, taking Fili off to spar as Kili sat on the table still, sniffling as Dís pulled up a chair and sat before him, brushing her lips gently across the thick wad of bandages now covering his injury.

"Dry your tears, inúdoy," she had whispered gently. "You are fine now."

"It hurts, amadinh," he had said, his chin wobbling.

"I know it does, Kili," she had replied. "But you are a prince, yes? And some day you will be a great King. Have you ever heard of a King that cries?"

"N—no," he had said, his eyes widening, and he immediately wiped away the tears. "I am a great King. See, ma?"

Dís had laughed then, and brushed his hair back in a similar gesture Alison had done earlier. "Yes, you are, my son. And you will be one of the greatest, just and sure and honorable, like your uncle, and Fili will, as well. Indeed, you will be great."

Kili smiled fondly as the memory faded away, running a finger over the scar again before leaning over to his coat and rummaging in the pockets until he clasped onto the cool surface of the rune stone and took it out, holding it in his palm as the familiar runes gleamed in the dim light of the dungeons: "return to me."

He began tossing it in his hand, his mind still too riled for sleep, but he looked up as a shadow fell upon him, and his heart stuttered as he realized the red-haired she-Elf—the one Alison had called Tauriel—was outside of his cell.

He swallowed a bit nervously, still not used to how silently the Elves moved and startled by her sudden appearance, and also taken aback yet again at her clear beauty. In some strange way, Kili had always found Elf-women attractive (much to the other Dwarves' detestation), but the ones at Rivendell had been far too silent and ghostly for him—whereas Tauriel was fierce and a kind of untamable beauty, something Kili found fascinating.

He met her jade green eyes warily, forcefully reminded of the first time he had laid eyes on her in the forest during the spider attack; she had seemed like an illusion to him, unearthly and distant and powerful, and he remembered wondering if he had died somehow until she had pulled him to his feet, and he knew he was not dead as her touch was real and solid on his arm.

"How is your friend doing?" she asked in her musical voice, gesturing to Alison with her head and breaking the slightly long silence between them.

"She's fine," he replied evenly, continuing to toss the stone. "She says she's completely healed."

"That's good," Tauriel said, the corners of her mouth tilting faintly upwards as her eyes took in the girl's sleeping form.

Kili nodded, tossing the rune stone up again, and he noticed the she-Elf's eyes following it carefully. She teetered, as if considering walking away, but then she turned back, instead saying, "The stone in your hand. What is it?"

Kili pondered for a moment, wondering if he should tell her, when suddenly a joke popped into his head, and he said in mock seriousness, "It is a talisman." At Tauriel's questioning look, he decided to elaborate further, trying to keep the grin off his face as he realized she was taking him seriously. "A powerful spell lies upon it. If any but a Dwarf reads the runes on this stone…" He shook his head. "They'll be forever cursed."

He held out the stone suddenly, and Tauriel took a step back, looking alarmed. She averted her eyes quickly and made to walk away, and now Kili grinned at her reaction.

"Or not." He said, and Tauriel stopped, turning around gracefully on her heel again until she faced him once more, her slender brows drawn low over her eyes in confusion. "Depending on whether you believe in that sort of thing," he continued, chuckling, and Tauriel stepped closer to the bars, not looking so suspicious anymore. "It's just a token, really."

He laughed again, and a small smile graced Tauriel's lips, her eyes bright with interest once more. "A rune stone," he said, running a finger over the runes. "My mother gave it to me so I'd remember my promise."

"What promise?" Tauriel asked, stepping closer to the bars, and Kili hesitated before answering. Why would he tell her this? Why was he trusting her so easily?

But as Kili looked back to her, he found himself compelled to answer her, despite Thorin's warnings that Elves were not to be trusted. Then Alison's voice whispered in his head, "Is that your own judgment of the Elves? Or is that your uncle's own beliefs?"

"That I would come back to her," he found himself saying. "She worries. She thinks I'm reckless," he said in response to her curious look, and she smiled again.

"Are you?" she asked amusedly.

Kili shook his head, grinning. "Nah," he said, and he tossed the stone up again, only this time it bounced off his fingers and skidded away across the floor, out from under the bars and making for the chasm—until Tauriel brought her foot swiftly down upon it, stopping it from skittering away over the edge.

Kili jumped to his feet, watching as Tauriel picked up the stone carefully and held it up to the light, examining it intently as she turned it over in her deft fingers. Kili watched her long red hair ripple down her back as she faced away from him, like a river of fire, and he noticed with some disgruntlement that she was taller than him by at least half a foot, if not more.

His observation was cut short, however, as a great cheer sounded from the Elves above, and he was jarred from his thoughts on height differences.

"Sounds like quite a party you're having up there," he remarked, and Tauriel turned to face him, lowering the stone in her hand.

"It is Mereth-en-Gilith," she said, and the Elvish rolled off her tongue easily and smoothly. Kili found himself fascinated by the language, for it was nothing near the throaty roughness of Khuzdûl, but something lighter and sweeter and infinitely more musical and graceful. "The Feast of Starlight," she clarified in response to his blank look, and then she gazed up to the halls above, her expression becoming wistful. "All light is sacred to the Eldar, but Wood-Elves love best the light of the stars."

"I always thought it a cold light," Kili said honestly, and she turned to look at him, her brows pulled low. "Remote and…far away."

"It is memory," she said passionately, her eyes beseeching his. "Precious and pure."

She looked down at her palm where Kili's rune stone sat, and she weighed it in her hand, the dark surface catching the golden light from the halls above. "Like your promise," she said, and held it out to Kili.

A bit startled at her abrupt gesture, he reached his hand through the bars and carefully took the stone from her palm, his fingers dusting the smooth, cool skin of her hand as he pulled his arm back in, watching her as she smiled gently, her eyes lighting up from within the green depths.

"I have walked there sometimes," she said quietly, and she turned away, gazing back up towards the heavens. "Beyond the forest and up into the night. I have seen the world fall away, and the white light forever fill the air."

She sounded so wistful, so awed, that Kili felt something stir in his chest, and he found himself wanting to share in that wonder with her, wanting to feel what she felt when she talked about the stars.

"I saw a firemoon once," he said, and she turned to face him again, her expression genuinely interested as he went on. "It rose over the pass near Dunland—huge! Red and gold it was, it filled the sky completely. We were an escort for some merchants from Ered Luin; they were trading silverwork for furs." He smiled faintly at the memory, seeing the firemoon before his eyes as Tauriel sat down on the steps outside of the cell, gazing at him intently as he went on. "We took the Greenway south, keeping the mountain to our left, and then it appeared. This huge firemoon, lighting our path. I wish I could show you…"

"It sounds fascinating," she said softly as he trailed off, and he nodded.

"It was," he said, and then a shuffling noise from behind him made them both look to see Alison stirring, and Tauriel stood up in one fluent motion.

"I should get back to my duties," she said, and her expression had gone neutral again as she nodded to him. He inclined his own head back, and then she whisked away up the steps, her long hair fluttering behind her as Kili stared at the place where she had been, feeling more confused and torn than he ever had in his life.

In her dream, Alison was back at Dol Guldur. Without even opening her eyes immediately, she instinctively knew, as the wind rasped around her and the same sense of perverted magic coiled around her like a vise.

She opened her eyes, seeing the ruins in front of her, but this time, she was not alone. A yawning blackness kept to the peripherals of her vision, flitting out of view no matter how quickly she turned her head, and she couldn't see what it was, though she knew it had great power, a ravaging maw that sniffed at her experimentally as if wanting to drag her unto itself and consume her utterly.

"Who's there?" she said, as a grating, harsh voice began speaking around her, but she couldn't pinpoint where the source of it was coming from, and it's words were indistinguishable as she continued to whirl around. "Stop hiding and show yourself!"

The words kept coming, not even pausing at her comment, but they grew louder, scraping against Alison's eardrums and setting her teeth on edge, and she felt her blood turn to ice as she realized what it was saying, though she knew for certain it was nothing in English.

"The blood of war will run down the mountain-side," it hissed in its harsh, malevolent black tongue. "The flames of war will raze this world to the ground. The ravage of war will be swift and it will consume all."

And Alison realized then, with a thrill of horror, that the voice was not speaking to her at all. It was speaking—no, commanding—something else; she was just a witness. And then she felt blades ripping through her gut as she came to know what it spoke of: the Battle, and what was yet to come.

With a forceful yank and a final vision of darkness, Alison wrenched herself out of the dream; and as the noises and lights of the Elven dungeon came back to her, the dream turned to wisps and dissipated, leaving her shocked and cold, but now she could barely remember from what.

As her consciousness came back to her, she began to hear words, and through the fog of sleep, she could hear—was that Tauriel?

"—but Wood-Elves love best the light of the stars." The she-Elf was saying, and Alison felt a flicker of confusion. What was going on?

But she listened even more intently as she definitely heard Kili's voice say, "I always thought it a cold light. Remote and…far away." And the tone of his voice, so soft and awed and wondrous, seemed to punch right into Alison's gut, knocking out her breath as she listened, silent and still, to the rest of Kili and Tauriel's conversation as an image of Kili, looking out wistfully from the cell as he said Tauriel's name, burned into her consciousness, and that same twinge of tension she had felt in her chest earlier twanged again.

Finally, she couldn't stand being so still anymore, and she shifted on her side into a more comfortable position, pausing when she heard Tauriel say in her musical voice, "I should get back to my duties."

Alison listened as her footsteps hurried away, up the steps, and when Alison was sure Tauriel had gone, she sat up so quickly all the blood rushed to her head, but she blinked the spots out of her vision, her eyes only for Kili.

At her sudden movement, Kili, who had been standing at the bars of the cell, jumped violently and whirled around, his eyes widening fractionally as he took in Alison's presence.

"Um, Alison," he said, and his voice came out thick and befuddled until he shook his head and cleared his throat, Alison just staring at him. "I thought you were…ah, couldn't sleep?"

"What the hell was that?" she demanded, ignoring his feeble attempts at nonchalance, and his sheepish smile froze and kind of plastered to his face as he stared at her.

"What do you mean, 'what was that?'" he said, and his smile faded as she continued to glare at him suspiciously, and his face took on a sharper edge. "It was a simple conversation, nothing more."

"Sounded more than 'simple,'" she observed, cocking a brow skeptically, and his face went carefully blank, as if he had put up his guard.

"I don't know what you mean," he said coolly, and Alison rolled her eyes, distantly wondering why she was getting all up in his business the way she was. "Besides," he continued. "I don't see why you're so concerned if I was speaking to an Elf; I could demand the same thing of you with what you were speaking to Lord Pointy-Ears about earlier."

Alison made a noise in the back of her throat that sounded like a cat spitting as Kili looked at her evenly. "That's totally different!" She hissed, keeping her voice low so as not to wake the other Dwarves. "He was talking to me about a request from his father! We weren't talking about…starlight and a firemoon or whatever!"

"I don't know that," he said, and that same taut strand in her chest twitched uncomfortably again, like someone had plucked a guitar string inside of her. Alison continued to glare at him while he just looked steadily back, and some far-off corner of her mind was yelling at her, Why are you acting like this? It's not like—you—

After another tense moment of silence, Alison finally sighed, something in her seeming to deflate as she dropped Kili's gaze. "Whatever," she grumbled, shaking her head. "Forget I said anything."

"Are you jealous?" Kili asked her abruptly, and she jerked her head back up as if she'd been shocked, seeing him scrutinizing her with an unreadable look in his eyes. "What?"

"Are you jealous?" he repeated, and Alison gaped, wondering how this day had gone so completely bizarre. "I mean, I think you're overreacting a bit, Alison. I don't know if you dislike her or not, or if you're angry at her for imprisoning us—"

"I'm not jealous," she said, and her voice had gone flat, emotionless, as her chest began to feel constricted. "And I like Tauriel; she saved my life, twice. And yours. I'm just…shocked, and confused, is all."

He gazed at her thoughtfully for a moment more, his eyes still unfathomable, until he shrugged and sat down, stowing his rune stone into the pocket of his trousers. "'Night, Alison," he said abruptly, and Alison hesitated, staring at him for a few more seconds before she said, "'Night, Kili," and lay back down, her mind buzzing.

Alison had no idea what to make of her suddenly up-heaved predicament, but all she knew was that in twelve short hours, her life had gone from being complicated to like being on a collision course that was sure to blow up in her face—and soon. Not entirely comforted by that thought, she settled into sleep, wondering what she had just gotten herself into.

Bilbo had to admit: being invisible did have its perks.

After he had followed the Company inside the Elven-king's Halls, he had started immediately on his task of trying to figure out how they were going to escape the Woodland Realm—only the trouble was, he hadn't the slightest clue of where to begin.

He had spent the first night wandering the halls quite aimlessly, ducking behind corners whenever he saw Elves approaching and standing still until they passed before he moved again; despite the fact he was invisible, Bilbo knew he could still be heard or bumped into at any given time—something he had learned quite well the second night when he had inadvertently found himself in King Thranduil's chambers, his way back out blocked by the red-haired she-Elf, so his only option had been to go through the king's chambers and make his way out the other side.

When the king had spoken at first, questioning why the she-Elf was lurking in the shadows, Bilbo had thought for one heart-stopping moment Thranduil had been talking to him. And then, he had had another scare when he had reached the other side of the king's chambers and had accidentally slipped on the top step leading down into another private corridor; he had thought his noise had given away his position to the Elven-king, but once again, his luck had held and he had managed to escape.

Now, Bilbo was back to roaming the halls again, munching on some powdered rolls he had managed to sneak from the Elves' great feast, and he thanked the Valar that Thranduil had thrown such an elaborate and decadent festivity; not only did it give him more time to look for an escape without interference, but, almost as importantly, it had allowed him to fill his belly proper after nearly two days without food—which had been quite a discomfort for the Hobbit.

Bilbo walked along an empty, long stretch of hallway he had already been down several times, but he stopped quite abruptly before an opening to a side corridor that he had never seen before.

With a sniff and quick glance around to make sure there weren't any Elves nearby to hear him, Bilbo crammed the last of the powdered roll into his mouth, brushed off his hands, and went through the opening.

To his surprise, he found that the corridor was actually a set of stairs, leading downwards, and he began to tiptoe down them quietly lest there should be someone at the bottom of the steps. As he went, he could feel the flats of Alison's Twin Blades hanging off his back hitting his legs as he went, and he shifted the harness up more securely to lessen the noise, wondering how on earth the warrior girl managed such a nuisance, before he was reminded that she was taller than him by several inches, and that soothed his disgruntlement.

When Bilbo reached the bottom of the stairs, the sounds of waterfalls and the distant noise of the feasting Elves reached his ears, and he figured he must be somewhere below the great banquet hall he had seen before he was distracted by the more closer noises of the Dwarves—the Dwarves!—sleeping in their cells off to his right, and Bilbo felt his heart leap as he recognized their outlines behind the bars; however, he refrained from going to them after he saw the same red-haired she-Elf pacing around the dungeon, and, being as silent as he possibly could, Bilbo crept further down the stairs, until he came to a narrower staircase he was sure he had never seen before.

Cautiously, Bilbo made his way down the steps, hearing noises of much thudding and voices below him, but he pressed on, determined to find a way to help his friends escape. When he came to the bottom, he found himself to be in a cellar of some sorts, and he watched from his vantage point on the stairs as a couple of Elves walked around, chatting and setting out goblets and decanters of wine.

"Galion, you old rogue, we're running out of drink!" An Elf with dark hair chided good-naturedly, and Bilbo could hear a muffled reply from behind one of the wine racks in the center of the room. The Hobbit crept deeper into the cellar, curious about what this secluded place had to offer and also still looking for a way out.

He stopped suddenly though, his breath hitching, as a brown-haired Elf whisked by not even six inches in front of him, looking stern as he said, "These empty barrels should have been sent to Esgaroth hours ago, Lethuin. The bargeman will be waiting for them."

Bilbo relaxed slightly as the Elf moved out of his way, and he saw with keen interest a stack of maybe a dozen or more large barrels situated in the center of an empty space on the cellar floor, and then he saw, with even more interest, a lever…

"Say what you like about our ill-tempered King," the red-haired Elf behind the wine rack said, coming out and holding a clear decanter of red wine appraisingly. "But he does have excellent taste in wine."

Bilbo held in a snort, watching the Elves as an idea began to tug at his brain…

"Come, Elros, try it," the one holding the wine (who Bilbo assumed was 'Galion') said, holding out the decanter to the brown-haired Elf, who looked disdainful, but Bilbo could see the spark of eagerness in his eyes.

"I cannot," Elros said, and then Bilbo's eyes widened as he held up a ring of keys to show Galion. "I have the Dwarves in my charge first thing at sunrise."

Bilbo held his breath, his eyes flickering between the barrels, the lever, and now the keys, a definite plan forming in his mind…all he needed was for Elros to say yes…

"They're locked up, where can they go?" Lethuin said carelessly, swaggering over and taking the keys from Elros' hand, and Bilbo watched as the Elf put them on a hook nearby on the wall. It was working…

Elros looked hesitant, but then he grudgingly agreed, taking the decanter and swallowing a swig of wine while the other two Elves cheered appreciatively and moved off to a table in the corner, presumably to have their own party. Bilbo made sure their backs were turned before quickly grabbing the rings off the hook and holding them to muffle their jingling, but the Elves were too absorbed in their drinking now to notice.

Bilbo settled himself down in a corner that was out of the way, concocting a plan in his mind that he prayed would work as he watched the Elves become more and more inebriated as the night wore on, until finally they slumped over on the table near dawn and their snores filled the cellar (which Bilbo was distinctly surprised by; for such elegant and silent beings, their snores were like the roaring sounds of a Stone Giant in battle).

Then, as dawn sunlight crept in through the high windows of the cellar, Bilbo steeled his nerves and made his way back up the stairs, towards the dungeons. It was time to put his plan into action, and he could only pray that it would work as he entered back into the dungeon, thankfully devoid of any Elf-guards.

Bilbo held up the keys in his hand, allowing himself a small smile as he made for the cell that contained Thorin. Now, let's get this adventure started.

Hîr nín – 'My Lord'

Mae govannen – 'Well met'

It's Spring Break, I have nothing better to do, so why not be generous with two chapters?

And, uh, Alison...WHAT THE HECK? Have some thoughts you'd like to share?!

And I really felt that Kili-childhood story with the arrow. It was completely random and small, but I adored writing it. Oh, Kili...our poor little puppy just doesn't know what to do with himself anymore!

And we all know what happens next..I'm actually super excited to write this next chapter, because there will be a pretty big defining moment for one of our characters (besides the main one), and someone unexpected shows up...(again, besides the main one). But I'll let you guys read for yourselves next time!

Anyway, thank you so so much for your reviews last time, and also a big thank you to putting up with my rambling A/N's as well. But for all of my readers, reviewers, favorites/followers, thank you more! Truly, you guys are great!

Take care, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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