Dwalin woke to the sound of voices, one distinctly more familiar than the other.
"…dead," someone was saying is a hushed voice, "Died this morning of fever. He never stood a chance, not from the wounds he received."
Dwalin bolted upright in his bed, the sheets falling down to his lap in a jumbled heap.
"No," he rasped aloud, his voice sounding half strangled. The seasoned warrior knew he had to have heard wrong. The young lad could not be dead, not Kili, not Thorin's youngest nephew. There was still a chance, however, that he had misheard….
"I fear Thorin will not take the news well," Balin said, his voice floating through the wall to his brother, "Not with everything that is going on."
Dwalin barely suppressed a moan of grief, letting his head fall into his hands as his mind reeled.
They never said his name. Kili could still be alive.
All the warrior's false hope shattered into a thousand tiny fragments as his brother walked in through his door, expression guarded, but eyes mournful.
"I take it you heard then."
Dwalin did not respond, but he did not need to. Balin sighed and sank onto the edge of the younger dwarf's bed.
"It is a sorrowful business," the advisor said as he rubbed his face dolefully, "And no doubt Oin is displeased with himself, but when there is nothing you can do there is nothing you can do."
"He was too young," Dwalin murmured half to himself. To his surprise his brother gave a short laugh.
"He was older than me by far," the dwarf said in amusement before quickly sobering. It was in a rush of guilty relief that Dwalin understood his brother's words.
Kili was not dead, but someone else was and Dwalin had a good idea who it was.
"It happens in battle," the seasoned warrior said despondently, "Warriors sustain wounds and then die before their intended time."
"Oh no you don't," Balin scolded almost immediately, "You are not blaming yourself for this death. If it were not his time than he still would be alive, not laid low by infection."
"Your responsibility," Balin finished, cutting his younger brother off midsentence, "He was also Thorin's, yet would you tell Thorin he should feel guilty for Uric's death?"
"No, but-" Dwalin began before being interrupted yet again.
"Then why must you always act as though the blame is yours?" Balin asked, exasperated, "However it matters not. Besides, you should be glad for it is now down to Oin and not you to inform Uric's family of the matter of his death."
Dwalin closed his eyes, breathing in deeply as he steadied his mind allowing himself to think clearer. True, he was glad that he did not have to bear the responsibility of delivering the news of yet another death, yet it was a responsibility that was his none the less. Uric had been his soldier and as such he should be the one to have given the news to the family.
"There will be time for you to pay your last respects later," Balin said, the warrior's brother somehow knowing what the younger was thinking, "But for now it would do to leave the family to grieve and Oin to do his job."
"How does Kili fare?" Dwalin asked, changing the subject as he reopened his eyes to look at his brother. Balin sighed and rubbed his lined face.
"To be honest, I do not know," he answered, "But I would assume the same since you last saw him."
"He still may have changed," Dwalin replied. Balin smiled gently, his expression halfway between sad and knowing.
"You care for that lad greatly," he remarked.
"And you do not?"
"I do," Balin said as he shifted the weight on his legs, "However I do not think I care for him as much as you do."
"He is so young," Dwalin said, letting out his breath is silent rush. Balin blinked.
"He will not stay young forever."
"He is reckless," Dwalin continued closing his eyes again.
"We can only hope he will mature enough to grow out of it," came the reply.
Dwalin looked down at his hands for a moment, allowing his brother's words to sink in beneath his skin, brining a sense of uneasy reassurance that the warrior had been unable to find for a long while. Swallowing he then stood, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"I will go and see how the lad is fairing," the tattooed dwarf said as he pulled his coat over his rumpled tunic. Balin tweaked the corner of his mouth.
"Then it would do you well to comb your hair before you leave," he said as he walked out of the room. Dwalin ran one hand through his hair and grimaced as he saw his brother's point.
It did not take long for Dwalin to rid himself of the tangles in his hair. It took even less time for the warrior to walk past where his brother had his head bent over a pile of parchment and out the door to the house.
The fresh morning air hitting the bald dwarf's face shook Dwalin from whatever small amounts of sleep he had still been clinging to. The light breeze did nothing to smooth the furrowed lines from his brow however, nor did it succeed in brining him some much needed joy.
"The world is just as gloomy as ever," he muttered to himself as he walked through the barely stirring streets. Uric was dead and at least three more of his men were still in Oin's care from the day before. The warrior bit the side of his cheek wondering who he should see first. He held a duty to his men, but he had known Kili since he had first laid eyes on the boy during the harsh winter the brunette had been born.
Heaving a giant sigh Dwalin switched directions, making for Oin and the healing house. He could always ask for information regarding Kili's condition from the healer. Besides Kili was as much of Thorin's charge just as the men in the healing house were the bald warrior's.
"Oin?" Dwalin called as he stepped through the door leading into the first of several healing rooms. The healer's assistant looked up and sent a short grin in the direction of the warrior.
"He probably didn't hear you," the young dwarf said as he gathered up an armful of bandages, "He's in the back room though, if you want him."
"Would I be calling him if I didn't?" Dwalin grumbled as he strode past, a frown drawing his eyebrows closer on his forehead. He poked his head through another door and, spying the dwarf he was looking for, called out again raising his voice slightly this time round.
"Keep your voice down least you wake one of my patients," Oin chided as he drew closer. Dwalin set his mouth in a thin line.
"How are my men?" he asked. Oin grimaced.
"Did Balin tell you about-"
"Uric? Yes," Dwalin cut in, "How are the rest of them?"
"Well, Reade should be up in about a week," Oin began, "Though he will not be joining any patrols any time soon. The wound he received was clean but deep. Darien on the other hand…."
"The orc that got him did tear his blade through his body numerous times," Dwalin said. Oin sighed.
"There is not much I can do in the face of such injuries."
The words sounded similar to the ones that the healer had spoken to Thorin when informing the dwarf about Kili's wounds.
"There is still a chance he may live," Dwalin said with no small amount of hope.
"There is an even greater chance he will succumb to fever or infection or the mere exhaustion of his body fighting against both these things," Oin followed without pause. The healer turned to grab the bag beside his feet, but Dwalin got there first, sweeping it up for the half deaf dwarf.
"Thorin will not like hearing of such prospects," the warrior said. Oin regarded Dwalin with detached eyes.
"It is not my job to tell him what he would like to hear," the healer replied before turning to his assistant, "I am going now. You know where to find me if any problems occur."
"It is also your job to fix the injured," Dwalin said as he stepped out into the weak sunlight a second time that day.
"Sometimes the injured cannot be healed," came Oin's answer, "Despite what you or I might do."