To Be Like You
'I'm doing it, Fili, I'm going to!'
Fili said nothing, but looked at his little brother worriedly from under his brows. His mouth was pressing together in a straight unhappy line.
He knew his mother would not like this idea at all, and he knew that it was his job to protect Kili. Kili was young and didn't think and was always getting into Situations. Mother said that Kili's Situations gave her grey hair.
So he looked back at Kili, and shook his head sternly, and said nothing.
'Oh, come on, you aren't afraid, are you?' Kili said fiercely. 'Thorin isn't scared of the old Bone-Smasher!' He swung his small fists at his sides.
It was quite true, of course, Fili thought. Thorin most certainly was not afraid of the Bone-Smasher. Thorin wasn't afraid of anything, anything at all, not Orcs or Wargs or Goblins or even Dragons. Fili wanted to be just like Thorin, wanted it so much that sometimes it was like an odd sort of pain in his chest.
Perhaps if he and Kili climbed the Bone-Smasher, Thorin would be proud. Perhaps he would smile at them, his slow hard-won smile. 'You two are true Dwarves, and kin of mine,' he might say, and perhaps he would put his arms around them, and grip their shoulders with his hands.
It was that thought that pushed the little cautionary voice in his head to one side.
'All right, come on then,' he said quickly, trying to make his voice sound deep and rumbling, like Thorin's did. Like a leader – a King. Mother always said that Thorin would be a King, if things were to rights, and Fili sometimes imagined what it would be like to help his uncle take back the Mountain and become a King again.
Kili beamed at him, sunshiny and impish and delighted, and Fili grinned cautiously back, and pushed the little voice of warning still further down inside him.
The Bone-Smasher was a high crag, all but inaccessible. But there was a way up, a treacherous way up a vertical cliff, a way too scarce in hand-holds and foot-holds to be called a path, where the penalty for a lost grip was a sheer drop. Only one had conquered the summit of the Bone-Smasher, and that one was Thorin Oakenshield.
Thorin had climbed the peak once, in search of the elusive white star-flower that could save the life of one who was suffering from the hacking lung-sickness. It had been little Ori, always a small sickly child, and he had coughed and coughed and coughed, bringing up great gobs of redness, too weak even to cry.
And Thorin had heard tell of the star-flower that grew only on the summit of the Bone-Smasher, and had climbed it, and had brought back the flowering herb to save little Ori's life.
Fili felt something inside his chest expand warmly, like a bubble, at the thought of Thorin's courage. He was so big and magnificent, a real King.
Kili was already climbing. 'Come on!' he called, and Fili followed. He was following in Thorin's steps.
The way was rocky and sheer, little rocky crops and ridges the only places for hands to grip. Sometimes the gaps between foot-holds were frighteningly far for Fili's legs, and once he nearly slipped and fell, but caught himself in time and clung to the rock, his heart pounding wildly and a dizzy ringing in his ears.
The little sensible voice in his head was calling urgently, now. Go back! Go back! But then he thought of Thorin, climbing this very path, and reached obstinately for his next grip.
Then, above him, there was a sickening scuffle of boots on loosening rock, and a small, terrified, bitten-off cry, and Fili jerked his head up to see Kili swinging, dangling over the drop. He was grasping frantically at a stunted weed growing from a crack in the rock, making the little panting noises he only made when he was terrified.
Fili's heart gave a great leap of terror, as though it had thudded up to his throat and back. Kili – Kili, his little brother! He knew he should never have agreed to this! It was all his fault! Kili!
'Kili!' he screamed, and tried to climb closer, and nearly slipped himself. There was a tiny ledge above him, and he managed to heave himself onto it, desperation lending him strength, hearing his own small sobbing gasps in his ears.
And then Kili was falling – falling – and Fili caught a glimpse of wide terrified brown eyes, and then he was lunging for his brother's hand, and hauling him onto the tiny ledge.
Kili was white and shuddering, his leg injured and hanging limply, and he grabbed the front of Fili's clothes and did not let go. 'Fili – F-Fili,' he gulped, 'oh, Fili,' and his voice was small and scared and altogether unlike it usually sounded. And Fili hugged him tightly and tried not to give in to the prickling behind his eyes and the hot achingness of his throat.
Thorin wouldn't cry, ever, ever, and Thorin would come soon and rescue them. Fili repeated it to himself, over and over, as he huddled on the ledge, holding Kili tightly and forcing back the shameful tears.
Thorin never cried.
The sun was setting, when Thorin found them. He climbed up, the evening wind tangling his dark hair, and he said nothing at all as he scooped them up and climbed down with them. But his eyes were hard and blazing, and his mouth was set as though it were carved mountain stone. And the pricking behind Fili's eyelids was worse than ever, and guilt and shame twisted in his stomach.
Their mother was waiting for them, white-faced, and she bent down and put her arms around both of them, and her voice was funny, as though she had been crying herself. Then she scooped up Kili, and bore him off to the kitchen to bind up his ankle.
And Fili was left alone with Thorin, whose eyes were still hot and hard, and whose mouth was still set like stone.
'Come,' was all Thorin said, curtly, and motioned towards Fili and Kili's sleeping room. He closed the door behind them, and then, at last, turned to look down at Fili.
'What,' he said, very low, 'were you thinking?'
And his voice was quiet, but humming with furious anger, so that Fili couldn't help but shrink back into himself a little. It felt like a great black pit had opened up inside him, and his heart was falling down inside it, falling, falling…
'I…' he whispered, and swallowed hard. 'I… I'm sorry.'
'You are sorry?' Thorin's voice was as harsh and loud as the crack of a whip, and his great fists clenched for a moment.
Then he drew in a deep breath that sounded ragged, somehow, and turned his face slightly away.
'Do you – have any – understanding – of how – worried – you made us?' he said, his voice quiet again, but rough at the edges. And he looked back at Fili with angry eyes that seemed to pierce him through.
There was a horrible guilty condemningness in Fili's stomach, because he had known he shouldn't do it, he shouldn't have let Kili do it, and he had been stupid and childish and let Thorin down. And now Thorin was terribly angry, and disappointed, and he probably wouldn't ever want anything to do with them again, and – and…
It was no use. He couldn't stop the big tear that squeezed out from under his eyelid, or the little heartbroken sniffle. He swiped furiously at the tear, and turned away. Thorin would go now, and – and never want to speak to them again – well, not Fili, anyway. He gulped back another sniff.
And then there was a hand on his shoulder – a very large hand. 'Fili,' said Thorin, and his voice sounded much, much gentler all of a sudden. And there were tears gathering thick and fast behind Fili's eyelashes, too many to stop.
'I – I really am – sorry… just wanted – to… to do what – you did,' he said chokily, and gave another little helpless sniffle.
Then Thorin's arms were around him, holding him very close, and Fili was sobbing in earnest into his broad shoulder. And Thorin was saying, quiet and rumbling into his hair, 'Hush – hush, Fili. I understand. I am – sorry I was angry. Do not cry,' and the palm of Thorin's hand was rubbing warm soothing circles over his shoulders.
Thorin held the child for a long time, listening as Fili gulped out fragments of the story into his tear-dampened shoulder.
'You must think before you act, Fili,' he said seriously. 'For one day, you will be my heir. You are of the line of Durin's folk, and that is a proud heritage. But with it, it brings the duty and care and responsibility that is the inheritance of Kings.'
The child was worn out with excitement and danger and tears, and Thorin held him closely as he drifted closer to sleep. Fili had endured enough, and it was not the time for more reprimands.
He smoothed the soft golden tangles of Fili's hair, gently, and rocked him a little, and the child blinked up at him mazily.
'Thorin…' Fili mumbled, 'want to… be like – you…' Then, as Thorin bent closer to hear, he smiled, sweet and drowsy and tearstained, and murmured, 'Love you... so much – Thorin.'
And then he was asleep, and Thorin laid him gently down on his bed and covered him. But before he left the room, he smoothed Fili's golden hair again, and bent over and kissed the child's forehead.
'Rest well, Fili,' he said quietly, and then, even softer, 'I love you, too, little one.'