Between a bear and a dark place

Chapter 29

Dwalin sat with his head bowed and his hands knotted together in his lap. He had lost count of how many times he had apologised to the frail figure in the bed before him, yet for some reason it still did not seem like enough.

I did this to him.

It was the simple truth.

Peeling his eyes from where they had sat half open, the warrior glanced up to where Fili had relieved his uncle on vigil. The blonde was watching over his brother the same way a female dog watched over its newborn pups.

Fili had not spoken a word to Dwalin since the warrior had set foot in the house. It made the silence now all the more uncomfortable, like he had struck his thumb with a hammer hours ago and it was still throbbing from the abuse. In a way he had been struck though, and the appendage was still throbbing all too painfully, only it wasn't the warrior's thumb. No, it was his heart. Looking to Kili and the pain clearly etched on his unconscious face, the dwarf allowed his lips to be pushed open once more.

"I'm sorry."

"Will you stop saying that!" Fili's words were almost as scathing as they were surprising.

Dwalin flicked his gaze back up to the blonde. "Stop what?"

"Saying your sorry," Fili growled, his blue eyes flashing with a dark and swirling emotion. The look was enough to put Dwalin at unease, sealing the warrior's lips for what would be the rest of his vigil.

The room fell back into the awkward tension from before, with two waiting for some sign that the youngest would pull through. The red brush of fever seemed to mock them, as did Kili's sweated forehead and the twisted claw that was his hand. Dwalin's own hands were caught between being twisted claws and the normal ends of his arms as he fidgeted with his leg, not one for merely sitting still. He was a warrior who had been taught to fight, not a healer who had been taught the art and skill of patience. Fili seemed to have the same problem, not that it surprised Dwalin. The blonde's blood was that of the line of Durin, born warriors and leaders, although he did have somewhat more patience than that of his younger brother and even his uncle from time to time. This was not one of those times, however, and the youth had been constantly switching between kneeling at his ailing brother's side and merely holding the younger dwarf's hand whilst seated in a chair.

Kili mirrored his brother's inability to keep still though his eyes were still tightly shut barriers against the awareness of his mind. First one hand would twitch, and then the other. His eyelids were waver every so often in their strength, and his head moving slowly from side to side as time wore on. The cold rag on his head trickled water down the sides of his face, the individual droplets getting caught in his tangled hair. If Dwalin listened close enough, he swore he could hear the sound of the liquid catching on the skin of the young dwarf before him.

It was enough to drive him insane.

Across from him Fili stood, seeming to be unable to keep a hold of his nervous energy anymore. The blonde paced from wall to wall on his side of the sick room, stopping every now and then at the side of his brother's bed. He seemed to be chewing on a thought, or so Dwalin observed, the older of the two tensing up as he waited for the finale piece of the tarnished mask to fall to the ground and reveal everything that there was to reveal.

Finally became clear Fili could not keep silent any longer. "Of all things that could have happened I was not expecting to return home to this."

Dwalin lifted his gaze to where the blonde was standing, opening his mouth to reply. He didn't have the chance however as Fili was not yet done.

"What is more," the young dwarf said, his lips stretched tight in a mocking grin, "Is the fact that he was under the care of someone I thought I could trust." The sentence ended with Fili looking pointedly at the only other conscious dwarf in the room.

Dwalin merely hung his head in shame, unable to maintain eye contact through his unwavering guilt.

Fili straightened his back, a harsh frown now decorating his regal features. "You were supposed to be looking out for him, keeping him out of any danger. He was your charge, yet you let him get attacked anyway, and by a bear no less."

Again Dwalin tried to talk, but again he was overruled.

"Then you left him open to infection, the reason why my little brother is laying almost lifeless before me," Fili continued, his volume level, his tone condemning. "You're a warrior. It is your duty to protect those around you, especially those under your charge, but you failed to do that. You let a bear almost maul a dwarfling to death, a dwarfling. So what does that make you? Incompetent? Or just plain useless?"

The words burned, no one could deny that, yet Dwalin endured them without a word. He deserved them in any case for it was all true. He was supposed to have been protecting the youngest of the line of Durin, yet he had failed. He had failed because he was incompetent in regards to performing the job required of him. Fili, however, was not done yet.

"What did you do when it happened anyway?" the young blonde asked. "Did you try and fight it off, or did you just stand there and watch it happen? You didn't kill the bear, that much I know, but how much did you do to stop it from hurting my brother?"

The oldest dwarf in the room was rendered speechless, not just shocked but dumbfounded at what Fili had just accused him off, or at least indirectly implied. The most painful fact was that, in a way, what the blonde had said was true. Dwalin had hesitated from a moment, only a moment, yet that might have been enough time for the bear to land a killing blow had fate chosen a different course. Some would defend him, his brother mainly, saying that freezing up was a normal reaction to something so unexpected and shocking, but Dwalin knew that the arguments would be questionable at the best. He had hesitated. There was no denying the matter.

"But that's not the worst of it." Fili's voice pulled Dwalin from his stupor, snapping the warrior back into the harsh reality formed by the blonde's words. "No, the worst of it is that only now you have the courage to sit here, the courage to apologise for what you have done to my brother. Well it is too late. You left it too late. He can't hear you, and he certainly can't forgive you now. He can't even speak to you, let alone acknowledge your presence, and all because you were too much of a coward to face him before, to face what you had done before now."

Fili's words, to Dwalin's amazement, hadn't risen above anything but a cruel level of speaking, the words just loud enough to pierce through the air and smack the warrior in the face like the well trained hand of an offended woman. The blonde stood for a few moments more before dropping back down into his seat, refusing to so much as look at Dwalin from the corner of his eye in his obvious fury that his venting had only served to progress.

Dwalin watched as Fili drew in a deep breath, blue eyes glinting with a deep seeded rage. "I have only you to blame."

The last accusing word fell against the back of a swinging door, the warrior they were directed at unable to stand it anymore.

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