The March of Time

43: Bloody Noses & Those Bloody Feelings

Disclaimer: All rights go to JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson, respectively. Anything you don't recognize is mine.

Quick A/N: So carrying over from last chapter's ending A/N about the wonky timeline thing, this is where it starts. Anything you see in bold that relates to time, means that that is how early the event took place before Smaug's attack. Confusing, I know, but it'll make sense in the long run.

And about this chapter: some of you might love me, some of you might hate me. But remember it's all part of a greater plan...

Thank you to mh21, Guest (*prays that everything works out for you for your profile and story!*), Lily Rae, PK-chan12, MidnightTales357, and Arveldis (x4) for your amazing reviews!

Enjoy!

Chapter Forty-Three: Bloody Noses and Those Bloody Feelings

Two Hours Earlier

If there was anything that could have made Alison's night worse, it was having her nose start bleeding again after she stalked back inside from her talk with Fíli, little droplets of blood showering the floor as she shoved the broken door shut behind her.

She raised a hand automatically when she felt the warmth gushing from her nostrils, a coppery-smelling splash landing on her lips, and when she pulled her fingers away, they were smeared with blood, making her let out a frustrated growl as she stormed into the kitchen to grab a rag.

None of the others said anything to her as she began to dab at her nose, but she thought that their silence was better, for she was afraid that if anyone tried to talk to her, she'd end up snapping and either start crying or shouting, though both options sounded pretty bad.

She blamed Fíli for that, though; she knew it wasn't going to be pleasant telling the Line of Durin about their fates, but the older prince's reaction had caught her off-guard, if she was being honest. Out of all three of them, she had expected him to be the most level-headed about her secret, but she had misjudged him terribly.

But his anger was only fueling her own; it wasn't her fault - entirely - that she couldn't have told him before now, and the fact that he had accused her of keeping it from him for so long only made his words that much more scathing. Last she checked, it was only the warnings of Gandalf and Galadriel that had kept her from speaking up before now, and she would've explained that, until he decided that he needed to brood alone and practically dismissed her.

Whatever, she thought to herself, shaking her head. When he wants to talk, we'll talk. But I'm done holding their hands every time I tell them something new. We'll just cross that bridge when we get to it.

She threw the rag down on the kitchen counter angrily, sniffing hard to get rid of the last dredges of blood clogging her nostrils, before she turned to the rest of the house at large, wanting to distract herself from her infuriating thoughts as she took in the damage the place had sustained during the attack.

Fortunately, there was nothing that was too irreparable, seeing as only some of the furniture had been crushed or broken in some way during the fight, but pieces of ceramic littered the ground from where Bain had taken to chucking plates and bowls at the Orcs' heads, along with the splintered rafters and pieces of roof that had fallen when the stupid oafs had decided to bust through the ceiling; that was pretty bad, she had to admit, but it could have been worse; they could all be dead as opposed to just having a destroyed house. The thought offered her some relief, but she couldn't help wondering if they had insurance in Middle-earth, and, if they did, if an Orc attack would fall under the coverage plan. And, speaking of Orcs…

"Guys," she said, cringing slightly at how nasally and gross her voice sounded, but everyone still looked at her; Óin and Bofur from where they sat beside a still-unconscious Kíli, and Bain and Tauriel from where they were seated in the wrecked living area, though she then noticed Sigrid and Tilda sleeping in the alcove of their room, and lowered her voice a little so she wouldn't disturb them. "Um, why are there still, you know, bodies in the house?"

To support her words, she pointed to where a mangled Orc foot was still visible behind one of the overturned armchairs.

When no one immediately answered her, she sighed and pushed herself off from where she had been leaning on the counter, gesturing for Óin and Bofur to come help her. The two dwarves complied, scraping back their chairs, but halfway across the living room, Alison suddenly stopped, feeling a now-familiar warmth trickle in her nose.

"Holy shit, again?" she growled, grabbing at her nose and running back to the kitchen to get her rag.

"Oh, sorry for the language," she said in a muffled tone to Bain, who stared at her with a half-amused, half-nervous expression, but at her voice, he started, blinking, a faint pink hue coloring his cheeks.

"Don't be," he said, waving a hand and giving her a half-hearted grin. "I've heard Da say much worse, trust me."

Alison stopped dabbing for a second, a thought registering in her mind as she glimpsed Bofur and Óin struggling to remove the heavy Orc body from out of the living room, Tauriel watching with an amused curl to her lips as the two dwarves almost dropped the slightly bloodied corpse, though she made no move to help them yet, seeming to take in the moment while it lasted.

"Wait," she said, turning back to Bain with furrowed brows, though she stopped doing it after a few seconds when her face began to hurt again. "Bain, where is Bard? I haven't seen him since Bofur and I went to go get the kingsfoil."

"I – I don't know," he said, frowning. "While you were gone, there was that rumble from the Mountain, and he suddenly pulled this Black Arrow out of nowhere, and just tells me to come with him. So I did, but then some guards saw us, and he told me to take the Arrow and hide it while he stayed behind, and… that was over two hours ago, just before the Orcs attacked us when I got back here."

Alison processed this information quickly, rolling her eyes internally. Great. The dragon could come at any minute, and the one person who is destined to kill it is missing. Fan-freaking-tastic. Why did I sign up for this again?

She shook her head, her mind working rapidly to conjure a solution to accommodate for Bard suddenly not being there, biting back a curse when she realized she was fast running out of options.

"Okay, here's what we're going to do," she said, gripping the bloodstained rag in her hands tightly. "I'll help Bofur and Óin get rid of the bodies first, then you're going to tell me where you hid that Arrow, and I'll go find it and look for Bard while I'm at it, while you stay here and gather all salvageable supplies and start making packs, got it? We'll need all the provisions we can get soon. Ask Tauriel to help if you need it."

Alison met all of their gazes evenly, trying not to squirm; it felt weird, giving out orders like she was Thorin, but it also felt… good, in a way. Like she was in control, like she actually knew what she was doing. She felt useful.

"What do we need supplies for?" Bofur asked, struggling to maintain his grip on the Orcs' slack legs, even though Óin had dropped the other half of its body on the ground so he could hold his ear trumpet up to listen to her.

"Oh, you know, just in case that dragon I told you all about decides to actually come here and destroy the town," she said, raising an eyebrow, and the hatted dwarf gave her a curt nod, looking slightly abashed.

"Wait," Tauriel said, standing up from her seat on the couch and holding up a slender hand, her jade-green eyes boring into Alison with that look of steely determination and icy coolness she had come to associate with Elves. "What do you mean, the dragon is coming? How do you know this?"

Alison stifled a sigh, not wanting to explain the whole story situation over again, but when Tauriel only raised her arching brows higher, she did sigh out loud and said, "This is going to sound really bizarre, but I need you to trust me, all right?"

The she-Elf hesitated, opening her mouth to object, but after meeting Alison's eyes for a few moments, she closed it again, nodding her head for her to continue.

"So, basically, in the mortal world, there's this book, and it recounts all of our quest within it, and I know that the dragon is coming because of that book and that Bain's dad is supposed to kill it with the Black Arrow, so it's kind of like foresight, except not really. It's more of a set of guidelines that the book follows - well, more of when it actually feels like following the guidelines, because apparently it hates me and just wants to see me suffer the rest of the time by going off and doing its own thing, making my knowledge pretty useless in those cases."

Tauriel blinked, and Alison knew she had shocked the she-Elf, because she never saw Elves blink, except for when they were caught off-guard, like now.

Fortunately, she chose not to comment further, and Alison relaxed a little when Tauriel took the news in stride and instead said, "Then you are right; we must prepare for the worst. But this man, Bard; he is the one that will kill the dragon?"

"If all goes according to plan – which, it's not so far – then, yeah, he's the one to kill Smaug," she replied, and the she-Elf nodded.

"Then I'll help with the supplies," she said, inclining her head to Bain, and the young man blushed even more deeply than before.

Alison nodded, walking over to where Óin and Bofur were carrying the body, but she hadn't moved more than two steps when the healer dwarf was already shaking his head, and she stopped, confused.

"Oh, no, you are not helping with the bodies, lassie," he said, and when Alison began to protest, he silenced her with a sharp look. "That nose of yours keeps bleeding because you won't sit still and take a break; you're exerting yourself too much. So, here's an idea; why doesn't the lad help us with the bodies, and you help the Elf with supplies, eh?"

Alison shifted her gaze from Óin to Bain, pointing to the dwarf when she said, "You all right with this?"

The younger man nodded, torn between looking relieved and disappointed as he moved away from Tauriel and stooped to help the dwarves with the bodies, saying, "Yeah, it's fine. It'll give me a chance to keep an eye out for Da, too."

"Good point," she said. "Just be careful. We don't need any more nasty surprises tonight."

The three men nodded, but as they began to walk out with the body again, Bofur suddenly looked at her and said, "What about Fíli?"

Alison bit her lip, taking a few seconds to respond. "Um, just leave him be for the moment," she said. "He's a little… stressed out right now."

That didn't cover it by a long shot, but he nodded nonetheless, and they continued on their way, Bain telling them of a good spot where they could dump the bodies in the lake; though how exactly he knew that, she didn't want to know.

"I found some packs," Tauriel said, holding up a patched rucksack in her hand, and Alison forced a small smile, beginning to salvage what was left of the food in the kitchen and starting a hunt for water skins as Tauriel did the same beside her.

The two women worked in silence for a good half-hour, the three men coming back to dispose of the last two bodies during that time, and, despite her hands busy and full packing up supplies, her mind was not as blissfully worked, and her thoughts turned once again to her angry musings about Fíli (who was still brooding on the porch, apparently), souring her mood, and she began packing with stiff, jerky movements, a frown pulling on the corners of her lips as she thought again of how complicated and ridiculous all of this was, not even realizing that Tauriel was picking up on her emotions in the creepy way that Elves did.

"You are upset," the she-Elf stated, causing Alison to jump, but she just shrugged, not wanting to get into that particular story at the moment as they finished packing. "And I sense that your friend outside is none too joyous, either."

Alison shook her head, resisting the urge to retort with, Good job with those deduction skills, Sherlock, and instead mumbled, "It's nothing," as she tightened the string on the last pack with a bit more force than necessary.

Tauriel did not reply, finishing off her own pack with a flourish, but after a few moments of Alison chewing on the inside of her cheek and glaring down at the counter, the she-Elf placed a gentle hand on her arm.

"Come," she said. "I know something that will take your mind off your troubles for a moment."

"Unless it's a tub of chocolate ice cream and a season of Game of Thrones, I doubt that," she muttered under her breath, and Tauriel looked at her weirdly, before gesturing her over to the table where Kíli lay, still unconscious but looking much healthier, and Alison felt her heart lift at the sight, remembering how awful she had felt when she thought that he had been going to die…

"I'm going to teach you a very useful lesson," the she-Elf said, interrupting her thoughts, and Alison tore her eyes away from the prince's face, raising a brow as she elaborated. "I'm going to teach you how to treat and bandage a wound."

Alison's stomach squirmed a little at the thought, but then she mentally chastised herself; if she could cut an Orc's head clean off without a second glance, then treating a wound wouldn't be that much more difficult to face; though the thought disturbed her a bit when she realized that chopping a living thing's head off its shoulders was now deemed 'tolerable' in her mind.

"Okay," she said, hovering over the she-Elf's shoulder (or, rather, off to the side, considering how tall the other woman was and that she couldn't actually see over her shoulder) as she began to pick out herbs from Óin's medicine pouch that still sat on the counter. "I mean, it definitely wouldn't hurt." Especially considering the hell we're about to be put through.

Tauriel nodded, pulling out a wrap for bandaging, a tiny pouch of crushed petals, and a small jar of salve from within the contents.

"First, you need to become familiar with these medicines," she said, pointing to the vial and the petals. "The salve is aloe vera, and the petals are snapdragon; together, these two will work against infection, but don't limit yourself to only these, especially in a life-or-death situation."

"All right," Alison affirmed, watching as the she-Elf worked the two medicines into a cloying-smelling paste, then slathering it on the bandages.

"Untie his wrappings and discard them," she ordered, gesturing to Kíli's leg with her head. "Then I'll show you how to tie the new ones."

Alison did as she was instructed, wrinkling her nose and then immediately regretting that decision as she untied the bandages as carefully as she could, trying not to jostle his leg too much. He stirred when she unstuck the cloth from his clotting wound, breathing out a deep sigh, but he didn't open his eyes, and Alison went to throw the slightly soiled bandages away before coming back to the table, standing across from Tauriel as she began to demonstrate how to wrap his wound.

Alison watched as she wrapped the injury expertly, her fingers feather-light yet sure, and she felt a flicker of jealousy go through her, wondering if all Elves had to be so perfect in every way that humans were not, before she pushed that feeling down; yet that train of thought had already begun alighting her with curiosity, and before she knew it, she found herself speaking.

"Tauriel," she said, as the she-Elf continued to wrap, and she gave a small hum in response, not looking up from her task. "Is it true that Elves are immortal?"

Tauriel did not react so much, though her lips curled ever so slightly at the question, and her voice was light as she replied, "Yes, that is true. Out of all of Ilúvatar's children, and even those that are not, we are the only race granted with immortal life."

Alison wondered if 'Ilúvatar' was like their God in Middle-earth, but her mind got caught up on something else, and she asked instead, "What do you mean, 'and those that are not?'"

"Dwarves," she said, nodding her head at Kíli, "are not of Ilúvatar's creation; the Vala, Aulë, was their Maker, yet Ilúvatar still gave them life through his will."

Alison's eyebrows rose, more questions bubbling on her tongue, but to her surprise, what came out next was, "Is that why Elves and Dwarves don't like each other?"

Tauriel paused in her task, looking up with some veiled surprise as Alison mentally face-palmed herself, wondering why she had to be so nosy all the time.

But to her relief, Tauriel only pursed her lips, then said, "That is a long and winding tale that goes back even before my age, to the Elder Days of the First Age and Beleriand. The way I see it, there was fault on both sides, but the major problem arose with the making of the Nauglamír; that grudge delved deep into the hearts of both races since that day. But if you are looking for the true fault, it would be wise to start from the very beginning of the world, for history is a forest, and where one tree falls, so does another, and another, forever onwards. And that is a difficult story to tell."

"I understand that," Alison said, shaking her head. "The history of the mortal world is so complicated I feel like I could study it for years and still never even scratch the surface. But I would like to hear about your history one day; it sounds fascinating."

Tauriel smiled, going back to wrapping the bandages. "I would find that very agreeable," she said. "Only in exchange for the telling of your world, as well."

Alison grinned back. "Then we have a deal."

They went back to amiable silence as Tauriel finished tying off Kíli's wrapping, but both women looked on in surprise when the dwarf shifted on the table, groaning slightly as his eyelids fluttered open, and Alison's heart leapt when she saw the familiar brown depths shifting around the room dazedly before landing on Tauriel first.

"Tauriel…?" he whispered, struggling to move, but the she-Elf put a firm yet gentle hand on his shoulder, forcing him to lie back down.

"Lie still," she said. "The poison may be gone, but your leg is not fully healed yet."

Kíli didn't appear to listen to her, instead mumbling something under his breath Alison couldn't decipher, and she suddenly found that her throat was quite dry, her chest seeming to expand, like a flame under a balloon, rendering her speechless, so many emotions beginning to swirl within her, the most prominent being relief, but mixed with…something else she couldn't place.

Kíli focused his bleary eyes on Tauriel, his voice coming out weirdly as he said, "You…cannot be her. She is far away. She is far, far away from me…"

Tauriel and Alison looked to each other sharply at this, both raising their eyebrows at each other, the she-Elf looking utterly bewildered while Alison felt as if the balloon in her chest was deflating, wondering what on earth the dwarf was talking about. But when he began to speak again, his next words were like punches straight to her gut – though why, she couldn't say. Shock, perhaps? Yes, that was it. That had to be it.

"She walks… far beyond me, through flames and stars, in a world where none can follow," he said, his voice slurred just a little bit. "It was just a dream."

Delirious, Alison's mind dismissed, as she continued to stare at the dwarf, though it seemed her mind and gut were at odds with each other, because something hot was beginning to churn her stomach, making her clench her fingers on the hem of her coat. He's just delirious.

"What does he speak of?" Tauriel whispered, but Alison couldn't answer, a memory of a dungeon cell and listening to a conversation about a fire moon and starlight coming back to haunt her, just as it had that night, though why it would haunt her…

"Do you think…she could have loved me?" Kíli asked, and Alison felt her jaw drop as Tauriel stiffened, but it seemed the prince was not done. "Do you think…Alison could have loved me?"

The world seemed to grind to a screeching halt, spitting up sparks that seemed to catch on Alison's skin and burn, the gravity of his words slamming into her like a thousand tsunamis packed into one, and she met Tauriel's eyes in stunned silence, the she-Elf looking like a deer trapped in headlights, and Alison vaguely wondered how her eyes could get so wide before her world tilted alarmingly again, jarring her back into the now very confusing and frightening present.

Finally, she found her voice again, but all that was going through her mind were the two words she could now articulate: "Oh shit."

One Hour Earlier

"I take it that was quite unexpected for you," Tauriel said, sinking down gracefully onto the floor where Alison sat in the living room, her back pressed into the couch as rubble was littered around her, as scattered and broken as her mental state.

Alison shot the she-Elf a dark glare, her irritation rising when she saw the faint amusement curling her elegant features, but she did not answer, going back to staring at the wall before her like she had been doing for the past ten minutes, ever since Kíli's proclamation.

Alison was determined to not think about it, but that was proving to be an impossible task, for every time she blinked, it seemed, his words sounded through her head again, etched into her memory with searing clarity: "She walks far beyond me, through flames and stars, in a world where none can follow…Do you think Alison could have loved me?"

She felt as if she had been sitting quietly in a fragile glass ball, content and unnoticing in her own little world, but his words had plowed straight into that flimsy wall, shattering it and sending ricochets of glass that embedded into her skin, that pelted her with stinging lies, for the other thought was too terrifying to bear—that he had been telling the truth.

"I gave him a tonic to soothe his mind and nerves," Tauriel said, when it was clear Alison was not going to answer her. "He should sleep through it for a few minutes, but when he next wakes, I do not think he will be as…confused as he was a moment ago."

"He was delirious, right?" Alison said suddenly, not acknowledging Tauriel's words, and she turned to face her, her expression neutral while Alison's felt desperate. "I mean, he had no idea what he was saying, it was just…"

She trailed off when Tauriel didn't immediately say anything, her heart beginning to pump out a lopsided beat when the she-Elf finally spoke.

"That I do not know," she said, and her tone came off as just a tiny bit uncertain. "His mind was befuddled, yes, but his words…" She paused, scrutinizing Alison with her aged green eyes. "Would he have any reason to say those things to begin with?"

"No!" Alison said, a little too quickly, and Tauriel cocked a brow as she flushed, feeling her irritation bubbling close to the surface again when she berated herself for feeling embarrassment—she shouldn't even be feeling uneasy in the first place! It wasn't like—

"I mean, we're just friends," she backtracked, trying to swallow down her suddenly pinging nerves and growing annoyance. "We always have been, and I – "

She stopped talking when Tauriel seemed a tad skeptical, and she made a sort of strangled noise in the back of her throat before burying her face in her knees, wondering why she was so distressed over a few harmless words. She figured she was just finally losing her shit completely as she sucked in a few rattling breaths, trying to soothe her nerves, though her mentality wasn't having it.

"Jesus, what am I supposed to do now?" she said into her knees. "Ignore it and pretend like nothing ever happened? Or just live with this…weirdness and never question it, ever?"

"I do not know who this 'Jesus' is you are referring to," Tauriel said slowly, and in any other situation Alison would have laughed at the she-Elf's confusion, but she only listened as she went on. "But you are going to have to face this sooner rather than later, I fear, in whatever manner you deem the wisest."

Alison looked up at this, meeting her green eyes steadily, and her beautiful features softened just a fraction as she gave a tiny smile. "Words are powerful instruments," she continued. "But they are only as strong as the voice who speaks them. And leaving things unsaid is the most dangerous enemy, not only for the one they were intended for, but also for yourself, as well."

Before Alison had time to truly process what she had said, Tauriel stood up in one fluent movement, retrieving her bow from where it lay on the couch next to them, and Alison scrambled to her feet as the she-Elf passed her hands over her weapons, making sure she had everything.

"Wait," Alison said. "Where are you going?"

"I must take my leave," she said, looking back to Alison's wide eyes once she was sure she was not missing anything. "I have stayed for far longer than I intended, and I must find Legolas before his trail goes cold."

Alison spluttered as Tauriel made for the door, her long red hair fluttering behind her as she weaved through the destruction of the house. "But what about the dragon?" she demanded. "Aren't you going to come back?"

Tauriel hesitated, her hand hovering above the doorknob as she turned back to face the other woman. "I make no promises of returning," she said solemnly. "But I will not allow myself to stand by should there be an attack, either. I will see what I can do; this is all that I can promise you."

Alison nodded, though her gut still clenched when Tauriel inclined her head and slipped out of the door, revealing a faint silhouette still seated on the porch before the door was shut, and she was left alone in a house full of sleeping people.

Alison turned slowly away from the door, her eyes darting warily to Kíli on the table, but after a few moments of him not moving, she took a deep breath and made her way into the kitchen, hooking her ankle around one of the legs of a chair and dragging it over to her before sitting down, close to the table, but not too close.

After several minutes of sitting and staring at anywhere but Kíli, the sudden silence in the house began to weigh on her, and the lack of voices and noise was becoming increasingly unnerving. She shivered, partly from the cold now creeping in through the gaping hole in the roof, and partly from the odd sense of loneliness she was now experiencing, and she brought her knees up to her chest again, propping her heels on the edge of the chair while she wrapped her arms around her legs, settling her chin onto them.

More silent minutes ticked by, and Alison found her eyes being inexorably drawn towards Kíli over again, before she would rein in her senses and distract herself with something else; but after the fifth time or so she caught herself doing this, she mentally berated herself, huffing out an irritated breath.

You are not twelve years old, Ashburne, she scolded. Stop acting like a pathetic little girl.

But what was she shying away from? That was the question all of this led back to, and it was making her head ache just from the mere thought of it. Why had what Kíli said shaken her so badly?

"Do you think Alison could have loved me?"

But Kíli couldn't actually be in love with her…could he? It was probably the dumbest notion that had ever crossed her brain, even more ridiculous than that time she had chosen to save a stupid pony and almost drowned in the process, or when Gandalf had first told her she was in Middle-earth. He had become like a brother to her during the six months she had journeyed with the Company, and she knew that they had been nothing more than friends.

Then, of course, the most unbidden of thoughts popped into her head, a memory of a beautiful summer day in Rivendell, when she had been walking with Kíli on his way back to the dwarves' camp, joking and laughing as she pretended to storm away in mock offense, then doubling over in pain when she had jarred her troll injury; and then him being there, asking if she was in pain still as his hand covered her abdomen, sliding up her rib cage, and she had been unable to look away from his eyes, dark and burning along with the brightness of the sun…

Alison froze, the memory sticking like a hot poker into her brain, as suddenly a rush of even more recollections clawed their way to her conscious, whirling and blending into a maelstrom of feelings she couldn't identify:

- A lonely evening in a cell, far below the Halls of the Woodland Realm, meeting his dark eyes with her own pale ones as their breath mingled as one, their faces inches apart, her fingers grazing his cheekbone and temple as she pushed a strand of dark hair away from the features she had grown so accustomed to, not nearly as rough or scowling or scarred as her other companions'-

- Laughing at some of the most outrageous stories she had ever heard as they sat around a fire, leaning into his shoulder when her giggles got too out of control while feeling his own chuckles reverberate in her chest, inhaling the smell of the burning wood and another, more pleasant scent that she now recognized as Kíli himself, a strangely intoxicating thing she had grown to appreciate –

- A cold night on Bard's porch, standing with her arms wrapped around Kíli, and then her hands enveloped in his own large, warm ones, the calluses tickling her palms as he told her she was stronger than this quest, before kissing her forehead, stubble skimming her skin before he walked away and left her standing, much colder yet so much warmer than before –

- Him walking away from her, once again, as he left to join the others for the Mountain, the sharp edge of his clasp digging into her hand as something hollow opened within her, something that screamed for her to run after him, to not leave him alone – as long as he didn't leave her alone, either –

- And only just now, when he had been writhing and screaming from the poison that was rapidly killing him, when she had been praying for him to hold on, praying to anyone who would listen to not take him from her, because –

Alison ripped herself free of those thoughts, her heart beginning to pump fiercely with the newfound shock and revelation running through her veins, and, as if they were someone else's movements, her hand reached into the pocket of her coat and brushed against the hard, cool surface of the clasp he had given her before they had departed, and something hot poured itself over her heart, engulfing it with something that had crossed her mind before, but never would she have thought that it was real—

STOP! Her mind screamed at her suddenly, and Alison jerked her hand out of her pocket like she had been branded, the rational part of her fighting its way to the surface. You don't—you can't—you were sent here to change fate, to save these two worlds from Johnathan and the Shadow! Falling for every Dwarf you encounter does NOT fit into that category!

Search your feelings, the other half of her whispered, the half that usually got her into these sorts of messes to begin with. You know it to be true.

"Oh my God," she groaned out loud, clutching her head and digging her fingers into her scalp. "Why am I quoting Star Wars to myself? Or, better yet, why is my life starting to feel like a giant freaking kick in the face?"

She didn't have time to answer herself, though (which would have been weird enough to begin with), for at that moment a low moan issued from the table before her, and she snapped her head up, her eyes going wide when she saw Kíli shifting awake again, apparently over whatever tonic Tauriel had had him drink earlier.

His eyes opened blearily, and he blinked several times, before turning his head in her direction, and it took every ounce of her willpower to stay in her seat and be quiet, even though every fiber of her being wanted to get up and grab him by the shoulders, demanding to know what the hell was going on and why she suddenly felt as if she had been pushed off a very tall cliff.

But she said nothing, only watched as his eyes found her, confused and groggy, but becoming clearer once he met her gaze, lifting his head up a few inches and squinting.

"Alison?" he said, and she was relieved to hear his voice come out normally, albeit scratchy, instead of the delirious whisper that had issued from his mouth earlier. "Was that you that was talking?"

"Uh…no," she said, trying not to squirm and to keep her cool. Maybe he didn't even remember what he had said, and she could make it out of this wreck with her sanity still intact. "I…didn't say anything."

"Oh," he said, frowning, and he took his gaze off her to stare up at the ceiling, and it was then that she noticed how tightly her muscles had coiled, and she forced herself to relax. "Maybe it was just a dream, then. I feel like I had a lot of them, but I just can't remember." His frown deepened. "What happened to me?"

Alison pushed away his voice echoing in her head, "It was just a dream," and instead decided to focus on the present, meeting his dark eyes again, and her gut pinched at the prospect of telling him what had happened.

"Well," she began lamely, and she unhooked her arms from around her knees, setting her feet back on the floor as she leaned forward in her chair. "Um, what do you remember? I can fill in the blanks for you, if that's easier to take in."

He nodded, the motion looking weird since he was still laying down, but his features pulled into a concentrated look as he said, "Pain, I guess. That's the main thing I remember. That poison from the wound…I don't know what it was, but it was agony. I felt…like I had been set on fire, but also like my skin was being carved from my bones at the same time. It was…awful."

"It was Morgul poison," she supplied to his troubled look, and she noted how pale his face got after she said that. "Apparently Bolg had dipped the tip of the arrow in it, and some of it got into your bloodstream after you got shot. If Tauriel hadn't been here…" She trailed off, biting her lip and ignoring the cut in it that stung when she did so.

"Wait," he said, looking to her quickly. "Tauriel was here? What was she doing here?" Then he finally seemed to take in the carnage around him and the half-destroyed house, and his eyes widened even further. "And what in Mahal's name happened?"

"Yeah, Tauriel was here," she said, raising a brow. "And I thought you knew that?" When he looked even more bewildered, her brow rose higher. "We got attacked by Orcs just a few hours ago. We were all fighting, and Tauriel was about to be overpowered by one of them, and I was going to help when you stabbed it from behind. Then you just kind of…collapsed, so maybe you…don't really remember," she said haltingly, when shock and disbelief now colored his features.

He snorted at that. "That's an understatement," he said drily, and she had to crack a grin when she realized how good it felt to hear him joke again, instead of screaming in pain. "The last thing I can remember was you and Bofur leaving to get kingsfoil, I think. Whatever happened to that, anyway?"

"Oh, we got it," she said, waving a hand. "And then Tauriel stayed and she was the one to heal you. She knew how to use it, and then she worked some of her Elvish voodoo medicine magic, and…here you are."

He scoffed, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling. "Don't sound enthusiastic about my survival or anything. Really, it's fine."

Now it was her turn to roll her eyes. "Sorry if I didn't have time to get the confetti and cake and have everyone throw a surprise party, Your Highness."

He snickered, before his expression turned serious once more. "Speaking of which, where is everybody?"

"Tauriel went after Legolas—oh, yeah, he was here, too—," she said in response to his surprised expression. "And Bain, Bofur, Óin, and maybe Fíli went to take care of the bodies and look for Bard, because apparently our dragon-slayer has gone missing." She threw in Fíli's name with the other three, hoping he had gone with them by now instead of stewing in his thoughts outside still, and she made a mental note to check that out in a bit after she took care of Kíli first.

He nodded thoughtfully, though she saw the tension in his eyes at the news of Bard's mysterious disappearance, before he said, "Do you think I can get some water?"

"What's the magic word?" she said wryly, though she was already standing up, and she smirked when he gave her his puppy-dog eyes (how did he do that after literally being on death's door?) and said, "Please?"

"Actually, the word was 'vegetable,' but yeah, I'll get you some," she said, walking over to the cabinets and looking for a usable cup.

"That has got to be one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard you say," he said, and she shrugged, her back still turned as she found a glass and went over to the somehow untouched water pitcher, pouring some into the cup as her mouth curled up at the edges.

It felt great, actually, to joke around with Kíli again, after he had been through so much suffering in the past few days, and she was relieved, as well, for it felt like old times, and none of the awkwardness she had been experiencing earlier was present. It was almost as if the weird moment had never happened at all. Almost.

She went back over to the table, setting the cup down on the chair when she saw Kíli trying to sit up on his own and going over to help when he struggled, and she gripped his shoulders and pushed him up as he scowled, though said thank you when he was now sitting upright.

He swung his good leg off the edge, shifting his body so it faced her while still keeping his injured one elevated on the table, grimacing at the bandages as she retrieved the water and handed it to him.

"How does it feel?" she asked, gesturing to the wound as he gulped down the water like a parched man in a desert, and he gave a noncommittal shrug as he sucked down the last few droplets.

"Still like shit," he replied as he set down the cup, raking his hair out of his eyes in a gesture that was so familiar she felt a rush of nostalgia go through her at the sight. "But it could have been a lot worse."

She nodded in agreement, not knowing what else to add, and they fell into silence, her tugging on a loose strand of hair and staring down at her dirty boots while he fingered the edges of his wrappings idly, the only sounds the distant waves lapping against the docks below and the quiet breathing of the still-sleeping Sigrid and Tilda.

Alison was glad he hadn't made any mention or exclamation about the state of her face upon his awakening, for she hadn't seen it herself yet and was afraid he'd react with horror or something, but she guessed that he had pretty much inferred what had happened to her after explaining the Orc attack, and for that she found herself grateful.

The silence grew longer, and she cast her mind around for things to say, shying away from the fact that she had yet to tell him about his fate at the end of the story or that Johnathan was currently on his way with an army, not wanting to bombard him with the worst possible news imaginable after his near scrape with death already, though she knew she would have to tell him soon.

She was still struggling for something to say when Kíli cleared his throat, and she looked up, her senses jangling when she saw the quiet determination and solemnity in his dark gaze, along with something else her heart began to pound for, but she shrugged it off, convincing herself it was nothing.

"You know, I was kind of lying when I said I didn't remember all that much," he began, and when she didn't say anything, just kept her arms crossed and stared, he went on, meeting her gaze evenly. "There are some…dreams, I guess you could call them, that are still fresh in my mind, and some other things that I can recall."

He paused, obviously waiting for her to comment, and Alison ignored the sudden quickening of her heart rate, forcing out an "Oh?" as he continued to look at her expectantly, and he nodded, slowly, as her heart twanged again.

"Those things I said earlier," he said, and he still held her gaze steadily, raising his chin just a hair in boldness, and her mouth went dry, half of her mind begging him to stop right there, to let her continue on in unknowingness, while the other half relished in the thought of hearing him confirm his own words. "How much did you hear?"

Her first reaction was to lie; to lie and say nothing, that she hadn't heard a word, but meeting his unflinching gaze, she said, "Um…all of it?"

He nodded, still watching her carefully, as if he expected her to say more, but her tongue refused to give voice to any of the crazy, jumbled thoughts pulsing through her mind.

Another prolonged silence passed, and with every increasing second, Alison began to feel something akin to irritation rise within her; how could he sit there, so calm and collected, and expect her to say something first? What did he want her to say?

As if reading her thoughts, he lifted his shoulders, still looking at her, and said, "…And?"

And just like that, her last strand of cool snapped.

Suddenly, all of the irritation, all of the uncertainty and fear and terror and anger and rage and frustration, everything she had been feeling since the night she had decided to go after Johnathan, every emotion she was capable of feeling without exploding in that moment rose to the surface and gushed out, without warning, as she stared at the dark-haired dwarf incredulously, a muscle in her jaw jumping as she ground out, "And what, Kíli? What do you want me to say?"

He blinked in shock, taken aback by the tremble in her voice and the sudden deadly tone she used while her eyes bored into his, but he kept his expression the same as ever, which only pissed her off more, while he said, "Anything! I didn't say those things for my own pleasure, Alison; I may have not been all there when it came out, but it did anyway, and now I can't take it back. Why are you so upset all of a sudden?"

"Because this wasn't supposed to happen!" she snapped, heat flooding her body as her anger flooded full-force through her veins, all of her emotions channeling into the fury that had been swelling underneath the surface for quite some time now, she realized dimly.

"What do you mean?" he asked, narrowing his eyes, and she threw her hands into the air, not being able to stand still any longer and beginning to pace in front of him, the rational part of her mind taking over and making words spill out of her mouth before she could fully digest them.

"Whatever the hell this is!" she said, gesturing furiously between herself and him. "I was dragged here to help you on your quest, to save all of you from the fate of a goddamned story!" Her voice had risen to a shout, but she paid no heed to the two sleeping girls or if Fíli was still seated on the porch, everything pouring out of her in that moment as she continued, unable to stop.

"I didn't come on this journey to become the target of anyone's affections, and I sure as hell hadn't counted on developing feelings of my own, for any of you!" His face tightened at this, but she plowed on, in too deep to stop now, though the empathetic part of her tried to get a grip on her spiraling feelings, but to no avail. "But now that means nothing, because you—you—you're all my family—"

Her voice broke on the last word, and she paused, swallowing down the sudden tightness in her throat as Kíli seized the moment to speak again, a scowl tugging on his lips as he faced her on the table, turned as best as he could while he kept his other leg propped up.

"Well." He said tightly, while she blinked furiously, clenching and unclenching her fingers. "I'm sorry for speaking my mind, then." She spared him a quick glance, and he raised his chin again, meeting her gaze head-on as he continued. "As much as it seemed like it, that wasn't the herbs talking, Alison."

She said nothing, just glared, and he shook his head, his scowl deepening as he said heatedly, "Mahal, you are the most infuriating, stubborn, impulsive, compassionate, and endlessly fascinating person I have ever met, and I tried to fight it, I really did; for my brother's sake, for yours, and for my own—but it was bloody useless, because I realize now that I'm in too deep. I love you."

"Christ, stop saying that!" she yelled, as a stake of panic punched straight through her gut, but she ignored it, knowing that she had to put a stop to this, that she couldn't allow this to happen. "I'm not some stupid teenage girl, fighting for—for—forbidden love or some shit! I'm fighting for this world, and my own, because it was what I was sent here to do!" She could feel tears burning in her eyes now, and she blinked angrily, wondering vaguely if she had truly and finally lost all shreds of her sanity as the words continued to flow. "I'm not fighting for—"

But she stopped again, a strangled sob escaping from her mouth before she could clamp her lips shut, and her chest heaved as Kíli said, in a colder tone, "For what, Alison?"

"For you!" she shouted, gesticulating wildly to him. "I tried to convince myself that I would be fine, but you know what sucks?"

No, stop talking, stop talking now –

"Trying to fight fate and stop from giving in to my feelings, and I won that war against your brother! But you know what sucks more?"

What are you doing, stop talking right now before you ruin everything

"And what is that?" Kíli said, and the veiled layer of bitterness underneath his hard tone made her pause for a second, before her next words came out of their own volition, being driven by everything she could feel battling within her, and she couldn't stop it until it was already done.

"Realizing too late that every step away from him, was leading me straight to you. And now I'm even more pissed off, because I think I fell in love with you!"

And for the second time that night, Alison's world crashed to a stop, every nerve ending in her body freezing as the full implication of what she had just done crept through her veins like venom, and she met Kíli's dumbfounded gaze with her own horrified one as her heart beat painfully loud in her ears, a sharp staccato banging against her ribs like it had been caged for too long and was trying to get free.

"Al—" Kíli said, his voice hoarse, but he never finished what he was about to say, for Alison decided then to drop all pretense of decorum and hesitation and surged forward, grabbing either side of his face and silencing his mouth with her own.

He went rigid for a few seconds before responding with an enthusiasm that surprised her, both of his hands gripping her waist as he all but yanked her forward, her having to brace a hand on the table to steady herself before they both toppled over, but she did not remove her mouth from his, bringing her hand back up to where both tangled in his hair as she pressed as close as she could, though it was quite an awkward position to work with considering his leg.

She paid no heed to this, though, only aware of her hands in Kíli's tangled hair and his own roaming up and down her back, one coming to rest on the back of her neck and effectively anchoring her mouth to his as the tip of his tongue traced a line of fire across her lower lip, making her gasp in a way that would have made her roll her eyes if she was watching a movie.

She was burning, on fire, falling to the earth in a blaze of glory, even though a distant part of her screamed that she had to stop, that this could only end in one way, that her heart wasn't ready to shatter and burn just like she was doing now, but she couldn't stop, couldn't bring herself to break away as the void this world had carved into her chest began to fill with fire, a fire that only Kíli could kindle, she realized now—

She gasped, pulling away and breathing heavily, her heart pounding and her fingertips searing, and she met Kíli's smoldering dark gaze just as a violent quake rocked the house, and everything came flooding back to her; where she was, who she was with, and, now, as the most distant of noises came to her, like that of a hurricane, what was about to happen.

"Shit," she breathed, before turning heel and sprinting to the front door, ignoring Kíli's cries for her to wait from behind her and Sigrid and Tilda's panicked voices as she shoved open the door and barreled outside, her eyes immediately going to the sky as a dark blot dappled the silvery moonlight, and her blood ran cold as her heart faltered, then picked up, double-time.

She swore, automatically looking to her left where she met the wide grey-blue gaze of Fíli, her own fear being reflected back to her as she looked back up to the sky, watching the shadow descend upon the town.

"Get ready," she said to Fíli, as they watched the shadow grow closer. "Because it looks like a dragon is coming to crash the party."

No sooner had the words left her mouth then flames lit up the night like the sun hurtling towards the earth, and Esgaroth began to burn.

Author's Note

:)

Next chapter is a whopper: we rejoin our friends in the Mountain for Smaug's confrontation, with some sides of *Legolas* POV and our favorite J-Ash.

Thank you for all the reviews/favorites/follows! You guys are all amazing! Please don't forget to review this chapter, I love hearing your thoughts: anything you liked, disliked, are looking forward to? Let me know! (And the more reviews means less time until the next update...just saying)

Thanks again, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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