Between a bear and a dark place

Chapter 3

Dwalin stared at his hands knowing he should wash them yet unable to force his body to cooperate and his mind to focus. The blood on his hands was Kili's, a dwarf who was still a boy, though he was admittedly nearing adulthood with every passing year. Never the less, Kili was a youth Dwalin had sworn to protect, at least while the young brunette was within his vicinity. Then he had decided to take the lad hunting and look at what had come from that.

"Are you alright?" a soft voice asked from behind him.

Dwalin merely grunted, finally plunging his hands into the basin of lukewarm water before him. Tendrils of red began to swirl off his hands, darkening the water and reminding the seasoned warrior of the same red blood running down Kili's arms and chest, the same red which had sent his mind reeling.

"Do you want some help?" the voice behind him questioned. Dwalin frowned but did not turn around.

"I do not need you help to wash, brother," he said in a tone a fraction harsher than he intended for it to be. Balin, however, took this all in good stead.

"You are upset," the older dwarf said much to Dwalin's exasperation.

"Can you not just leave me be?" he snapped, the worry and guilt fueling his frustration. Balin somehow knew this and merely heaved a sigh, settling himself into a more permanent position behind his brother.

"It was not your fault," the white bearded dwarf said. Dwalin maintained his frown. Sometimes his brother knew him too well.

"I was meant to be watching out for him," Dwalin answered, bringing his hands up to splash water onto his arms, the mix of water and blood running down his skin and back into the bowl.

"You managed to save him from the bear," Balin replied, "Is that not enough?"

"I should have killed the beast," Dwalin growled, knuckles turning white as he gripped the basin with strong hands.

"So the bear is not dead?" Balin sounded almost shocked.

"Unfortunately no," his younger brother answered, the bald dwarf glaring stonily ahead into nothing, "I managed to drive it off and might have pursued if Kili had not been bleeding all over the ground and in extreme pain."

Dwalin could almost feel his brother thinking behind him, the older dwarf mulling over thoughts only known to him. Dwalin himself was deep in thought, thinking of the numerous ways he could have somehow prevented such a situation, let alone the outcome of it. However, as long a period of time the burly dwarf thought, nothing came to mind. The simple answer to Dwalin's inability to find a solution was that Kili, no matter how skilled he was in certain areas, attracted trouble and usually the worst of it. The young brunette had been visited by healers more time than his brother who was five years older than him. He also had a reputation for receiving all kinds of injuries which more often than not saw him locked up inside a house for days at a time. There was only one way to describe a being with such a tendency to get hurt; reckless. This was why Dwalin refused to accept that he was not to blame for the situation, refused to accept the fact that it was just in Kili's nature to get hurt. With the way the world was, the youth would one day find himself in battle where it was widely known that those with a streak of recklessness were the first to go. Dwalin was afraid that such a fate would meet the youngest of the line of Durin, and it was because of this that he burdened himself with guilt he need not have borne.

"You're brooding, brother."

Balin's voice startled Dwalin who had been so deep in his own thoughts he had forgotten the other dwarf was behind him.

"I am merely thinking," the tattooed dwarf replied, glancing down at the basin before him only to find that the water needed changing. It was not surprising. There had been a lot of blood.

"No," Balin argued, "You are brooding. I know you well enough to know when you are upset, brother. Sometimes I think you forget I have known you all your life."

Dwalin had no answer to this, nothing to say to his brother to prove that he was wrong. Instead the bald warrior took up the bowl before him and threw its contents into a bucket by his feet before grabbing a nearby pitcher and filling it again. He allowed the simple task of cleansing himself of Kili's blood to overtake him, to lull himself into an otherwise thoughtless state. Dwalin knew he would need to bathe, but it was too late a time to do so meaning he would have to wait until morning. For now, however, the tall dwarf would do what he could if only to try and eliminate the memories of recent events. By the time he was done, Balin had long since disappeared to some other place within the house.

Dwalin was glad to be alone; it gave him time to think, time to gather himself after being shaken so badly. As the seasoned warrior emptied the basin of bloody water into the bucket for the last time he tried to remember the last time he had been so afraid. He hadn't been for a long time in any case, that much Dwalin knew, and certainly not so afraid that someone he knew might not make it.

The tattooed dwarf set the basin down by the now empty pitcher before drying his upper half and grabbing the fresh tunic his brother had no doubt left him. Pulling on the clean garment, Dwalin allowed it to fall loosely past the waistband of his trousers, rolling the sleeves up to give his arms a small amount of freedom. The cold air of the night grasped at the dwarf's exposed skin, but Dwalin found it refreshing, the bite of the air awaking his senses more than anything. He wanted to sleep, to let the terrible day fade away until it was nothing more than a bad dream.

Walking out of the room, Dwalin made for his own bed drifting past the chairs by the fireplace in the process.

"Are you hurt?" Balin asked from where he sat hidden, the worry evident in his voice causing the white bearded dwarf's younger brother to pause, if only for a moment.

"I am not," Dwalin replied with only the slightest of hesitations. It was not a lie.

"Would you tell me if you were?"

"Brother, I am fine," Dwalin insisted, turning so that he could catch a glimpse of the back of Balin's head.

"You were attacked by a bear, Dwalin," the older of the two brother's replied, desperation ringing clear in his voice, "You could not have walked away from that unscathed."

"No," Dwalin disagreed, "Kili was attacked by a bear. I merely leapt to his defence."

"Are you hurt?"

Dwalin sighed, knowing there was only one way he would be able to reassure his brother.

"Balin, I am fine," he said as he crouched down beside the chair where his elder brother sat, "You can even look for yourself. The bear did not harm me and nor did anything else out there. The only injuries I might have sustained would be one or two bruises from where Kili struck me as Bofur and I were tending to his wounds, and I do not blame the lad for he was in extreme pain and did not comprehend what we were doing."

"Let me…let me see," Balin said, stumbling over his trembling words. Dwalin gave his brother a reassuring smile before tugging his tunic over his head for a second time that night.

The light from the fireplace illuminated Dwalin's naked skin, Balin running his old hands over his younger brother's chest in search of wounds the latter might have been hiding. When the older of the two was certain Dwalin was not injured in any manner he let out a small gasp of relieved air.

"See, brother," Dwalin said softly as he replaced the tunic he had been holding in his hands, "I am fine. There is no need for you to worry over me."

"There is always a need," Balin replied weakly, grasping Dwalin's face between his hands and looking down upon the kneeling dwarf, "You are my younger brother and it is my duty to look out for you."

"I can take care of myself," Dwalin replied gently, bringing up his hands to cover Balin's own, "You will not lose me so easily."

"I do not want to lose you at all," Balin answered.

The older dwarf's words faded into the air, leaving only the sound of a crackling fire in its wake. Dwalin kept his hands on his brother's, moving to press his forehead to Balin's. Both dwarves sat there for a long while, unmoving as they shared the quiet and brotherly moment. Their relationship ran deep roots, roots which would be nigh impossible to destroy or corrupt, if at all. Bonded in blood the two brothers felt what each other felt and knew what the other thought. This night was no different and it was the concern which Balin soon voiced was a concern that plagued the both of them.

"There have been few bear attacks in my life time," the white bearded dwarf began to state, "And they are widely known not to end well more often than not."

"Kili is stronger than most," Dwalin replied, trying to reassure himself and his brother with the same words, "And even if he is to leave, he will not do so without his brother by his side. Fili would not allow it."

"Fili is not here to ensure that," Balin countered.

"But Thorin is," Dwalin answered, "And he would sooner face the Defiler again than allow his nephew to slip through his fingers before his time.

"That may not be enough though," Balin argued, a crease born of worry and fear furrowing his eyebrows, "If fever were to set in and infection-"

"Then we will have to hope that will not be the case," Dwalin answered, his expression one of grim seriousness. Balin sighed in response, finally pulling entirely away from his brother.

"You should get some sleep," he said, "And with luck, the poor lad will still be with us in the morning."

Dwalin contained a yawn.

"Aye, a sleep would do me good," the tattooed dwarf replied before standing and bidding a good night to his brother. He would stop by Thorin's house in the morning, but until then he supposed he should take his brother's advice and rest.

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