He was ready to leave it all behind in what his brother had called a foolish pursuit. He was ready to walk into the forest when there was a very large possibility he would never walk back out. He was ready to right the mistake he had made, to fix the problem he had created. Above all he was ready to kill the bear or be killed by it. He was ready, yet he stood motionlessly in place. His brother stood stubbornly opposite him refusing to make way.
Dwalin frowned. "As I have said before, you cannot stop me."
"And as I have said before that I will not let you go through with this."
"Aye, it is an idiotic endeavor if I ever heard of one." Bofur stepped up next to Balin, tweaking the ends of his moustache. The toymaker looked Dwalin up and down before lifting one corner of his mouth. "Then again, idiotic is what you tend to be."
Dwalin glared at the dwarf before turning back to his brother. "Get out of my way." How his brother still failed to grasp his need to do this was beyond the warrior, but he wasn't about to waste time trying to make the white bearded dwarf come round.
The tattooed dwarf pushed through the slight gap between the shoulders of the two shorter dwarves, surprised but not caring at the lack of resistance they put up. He let out a huffed breath as he titled his head further towards the sky to keep fear from obtaining a place in his eyes. His long strides took him a further three paces towards the tree line and the monster that resided within it.
The voice was not one Dwalin would have expected and the warrior found himself turning to greet it. Looking away from the blue eyes that were staring at him the bald dwarf rubbed his forehead. Why did it have to be him?
Out of the dwarf's field of sight Fili shuffled uncomfortably, looking to Bofur for inspiration before returning his attention to Dwalin. The taller dwarf was still starring up into the sky as though he were trying to gauge the movement of the darkened clouds of evening as he avoided Fili's gaze.
"I was wrong to blame you for what happened."
Dwalin blinked as the words floated through his ears. Each sound was like a thought of nothingness – shapeless, weightless and bodiless. Then the thoughts began to build themselves a form, and he snapped his head towards the brother of the one he had let be harmed. Fili caught his gaze and seemed to shrink, becoming more unsure of himself.
"It wasn't true and I suppose…." He trailed off before regaining his confidence. "What I mean to say is that what I said before, I didn't mean it. Any of it. At all."
The words shocked Dwalin right down to his core, the very heart of who he was. Never had he thought he would hear those words, and never did he think that those words would have the effect on him as they did now.
"So you don't need to go after the bear," Fili concluded. Bofur was now nodding rapidly by the blonde dwarf, Balin eyeing Dwalin with a guarded expression.
The tallest of the four dwarves near the outskirts of the forest drew in a breath. A faint scream echoed from behind the tattooed warrior, audible to his ears alone. A hundred rivers of non-existent blood ran down the air in front of his eyes and a terrible roar accompanied the sight. The vision changed to a pale young face swimming inside lifeless brown hair before Dwalin's mind went blank, shutting out all thoughts except one.
"There is no choice," the dwarf said as he pushed past the blonde before him.
The call of the forest had become too much, too strong against the fragile and weakened state of his common sense. Dwalin took one step and then another, each one taking him closer and closer towards a place from which he could not return. A third step left the warrior with his head higher than it had been in days, exhilaration and dread hitting him all in one go. A fourth and he knew there was no turning back.
"A fleeing coward - that is what you are."
The words froze Dwalin in his place.
"Only a coward would run from his fears," Bofur continued, his voice having taken on a frosty edge.
"And what fears would they be?" Dwalin forced himself to laugh, a deep growling sound if anything.
"You aren't even waiting for Kili to wake," the toymaker behind him said.
Dwalin closed his eyes and breathed in. "If he even wakes."
There was silence, a slight breeze picking up and blowing against the seasoned warrior as though it too did not want the dwarf to continue. The trees before him rustled, almost beckoning him into their depths that offered a consoling oblivion.
"Don't say that." The voice was quiet but forceful.
Dwalin glanced out of the corner of his eye to where Fili was standing, blue eyes shining but mouth stretched in a thin line. The bald dwarf was unsure of his feelings towards the youth. While the blonde had taken back and even apologised for what he had said, there was no denying the fact that his words had been true. Anger began to brew within the warrior at the thought, its waters dark and churning. Deadly.
"How could you?" he shot at the youth now just before his face.
The young blonde looked startled. He opened his mouth to speak, but Dwalin got there first.
"How could you say it?" he half yelled. "Do you not think before you speak, or are you just incapable of doing so?"
Fili, for the life of him, looked utterly lost. His blue eyes appeared to be begging for forgiveness, offering up yet another apology as his mouth opened and closed in stunned shock. Dwalin took this in and the waves crashing around inside him only grew more furious.
"Enough," the warrior ordered. "Enough! Why do you continue to take it back?"
"Take what…" Fili trailed off in a daze, only half aware of Balin and Bofur moving forward in an attempt to calm the largest dwarf of the four.
"You have no right to apologise for what you said," Dwalin bellowed. "No right to take back what you said."
And it suddenly was as though Fili had been struck by an arrow poisoned with harshness, the blonde dwarf snapping shut his mouth and steeling his eyes against the sight before him. Dwalin watched the youth as his chest heaved with large and clearly visible movements. Balin and Bofur had stopped in their tracks, both staring at the tallest dwarf with astonished gazes.
"They were my words and I can choose to do with them as I please," Fili stated almost as coldly as Bofur had called the warrior a coward. "So if I choose to take them back then take them back I will and apologise for saying them while I do so."
"You cannot take back nor apologise for what was merely the truth," Dwalin stated.
"It's not the truth," Bofur cut in. "You tried to save him as best you could. I watched you do so with my own eyes which are still good enough to know what they saw was not a lie. Going after the bear is pointless. You have nothing to prove."
"And nothing to make up for," Fili added, blue eyes boring into Dwalin's being. "So why not just return home and forget about all this?"
The warrior almost let out a scream of frustration, his eyes completely unveiled for a rare moment as they begged the blonde before him to understand. "I cannot look your brother in the eye if I know that the monster than almost slew him is still roaming free in the forest. I could barely look in his eyes even if it weren't. You brother will not forgive me if I did not do the uttermost to ensure that what befell him could not happen again." Taking a breath, Dwalin blinked slowly. "That is if he even chooses to see me after my failure to protect him. I would not blame him if he never forgives me for such a lapse."
At first Fili just stared at him with a dead look in his eyes. Then he let out a tightly wound laugh that sounded more like the young dwarf was madly gasping for air. "My brother would not forgive you if you went into the forest now of all times."
Dwalin tensed his broad shoulders but did not show any other sign of how the words of the young blonde had affected him. Fili did not need any other sign however, for he had seen the slight movement and knew he had delivered a potentially fatal blow to the mad idea.
"You do not know whether or not he will forgive you for he has not woken long enough to do either," the young dwarf continued. "And if I know my brother, he would rather forgive then condemn you if he finds any fault in what you did at all."
"See, there is not reason for you to pursue this foolish endeavor." The words were the first that Balin had spoken in a while.
Dwalin turned to his brother, the look of a hopeful pleading evident upon the older dwarf's face. The warrior sighed and lifted his gaze to the skies once more. The first few stars that were evident in the dusty grey sky seemed to point in a single direction. And Dwalin knew what he needed to do but he did not want to do it. So he started forward back the way he had come trying to quell the little seeds of fear and doubt in his heart all the while.