Being the youngest is hard, everyone who is or was ever in this position knows this. But sometimes it's good to have someone who understands.

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Disclaimer: I don't own the hobbit.

Dwalin sighed as he stretched, limbs and back aching from the hard pace both Thorin and Gandalf had been pressing. After the whole company's initial shock at the survival of Azog the Defiler, they had all, for the first day at least, fallen into a sullen silence of mingled disbelief and determination as they pushed themselves harder than before. The days after had seen the company relax, though the air was still tense between a few, the heirs of Durin giving off the most strained atmosphere. The seasoned warrior sighed as he removed one boot and inspected a rather spectacular blister that had formed on the heel of his foot. At this moment he was envying the thick soles of their burglar's own feet.

"Getting old are you?" he heard Bofur call from across the small campsite they had set up.

Dwalin growled in good humour but continued to stare darkly at the blemish on his foot as he bound it with a strip of cloth torn from the hem of his filthy tunic. Once he had finished with this task he looked up, searching for the company leader and exiled dwarf king. The usually broody dwarf was nowhere to be seen and for a moment Dwalin drew up a blank as to where he was before realising he had gone off to find a more private area to talk to his nephews. The tall dwarf shook his head to himself, unsure of how the conversation would turn out.

"What did you do to yourself? I saw you limping earlier before."

The tattooed dwarf turned to face his older brother. Balin met his stare with an anxious gaze before his eyes flicked to the younger dwarf's bandaged foot. He gasped and instantly began to play the older-brother-mode, a mode which Dwalin hated. He found it demeaning in more ways than one.

"Did you cut yourself on something? Stab yourself? Drop a hammer on it?" The old dwarf's frantic questions, while at other times could be delivered with less concern and more humour, were filled with worry as he tried to see if there was any blood leaking from the binding. At the opening of his sibling's mouth for the fourth question, Dwalin decided to stop the onslaught.

"Blister," he grunted in his typical way not being one to waste words, or much of anything really.

"Let me see," the white-bearded dwarf demanded, holding out one hand as if he expected Dwalin to give him his foot straight away, and in earlier times, the burly dwarf had.

"Why?" Dwalin asked, raising an eyebrow, annoyance colouring his voice, "It's just a damn blister. Get them all the time, especially on this bloody journey." His own mood was still sour from the near death experience of the leader he had sworn to follow to the grave. Balin did not shift his hand and Dwalin did not move his foot, both at a stubborn stand-off. The younger of the two growled.

The sound of sniggering drew the tall dwarf's line of sight over to where Bofur, Nori and most the others were crowded. The two afore mentioned stole another glance at the scene before them and bit their lips, eyes watering as they tried not to laugh. Dwalin huffed and turned back to his brother, bending over to pick up his discarded boot. The elder's hand had still not abated in its demand for his foot.

Slowly, as if to draw it all out, Dwalin jammed the boot in his hands onto his bare foot, smirking at his brother as he did so. It was a childish move to say 'I got the better of you' but Dwalin didn't care as he held the gaze of his brother, fighting back a wince as he felt the blister burst with the pressure he had put on it.

Balin got the message and dropped his hand. He frowned at his brother and opened his mouth presumably to tell his sibling off when the three heirs of Durin re-entered the campsite, the younger one stalking away from the other two and sitting down hard against a tree, brow creased as he began to inspect his arrows for any flaws that they might bear. Thorin and Fili did not look after or follow him, both splitting up as they moved to separate within the company, Balin approaching Thorin and Fili doing the same to Bofur and Nori.

Looking around himself as life went on, Dwalin saw Kili making no effort to find himself company. At one point his brother tried to approach him but an angry glare sent the blonde on his way, the lad looking slightly agitated by his brother's reaction and as though he wanted to talk, but Kili would not allow it. Twice more the golden-haired dwarf tried to seek out his brother's company and twice more he was chased away by the look in the brunette's eyes. The third time that this happened Thorin looked as if he were about to make his own way over to his angered nephew, but Dwalin got the impression this would only make it worse. Doing the only thing he could, the burly warrior stood and walked over to lonesome dwarf before the exiled king could ever take a single step forward.

"You look very intent there, lad," he said as he dropped to the ground beside the brown-haired dwarf. Kili did not reply.

To make the situation less awkward and Kili to feel more comfortable, Dwalin pulled out his hunting knife and began to sharpen it. He continued with this for a while before opening his mouth to speak again.

"Want to talk about it?" he asked, gaze still fixated on the blade in front of him but the corner of his eyes glimpsing the young dwarf's reaction.

"Talk about what?" Kili asked in return, taking after his uncle in the aspect that he preferred to mull over his thoughts brooding alone. Dwalin bit back a small smile at the boy's denial.

"It's obvious you are upset with your brother and most likely Thorin as well," he said. Kili did not look up from what he was doing.

"Was that a question or a statement?" the brunette asked.

Dwalin shrugged. "A question or a statement; it doesn't matter. But you're changing the topic."

Kili's chest heaved as he audibly sighed, sneaking a small glance at his two kinsmen as he done so. "It's just so hard being the youngest," he said finally.

Dwalin, for all his thoughts on what the issue might have been, was not surprised in the least. He knew the feeling well. "How so?"

Kili shrugged as he went stored away his arrows and took out his own knife and a small block of wood, whittling away at the slab as he processed his thoughts.

"The fact that they're always trying to keep me away from any harm." He looked up to meet Dwalin's gaze. "Look, I know they're trying to protect me, but sometimes it's like they forget I can fend for myself." Dwalin thought back to earlier and had to agree with the statement.

"What did they say exactly?" he inquired, not wanting to pass judgement until he knew the full story from at least one person's point of view.

"Thorin said that we were both idiots for putting ourselves in danger and coming to his aid back on the cliff," Kili answered, lowering his head as he began his carving again.

Dwalin frowned. "But how does that infer that they're both trying to keep you out of harm's way because you are the youngest?" he asked, now confused.

Kili's hands paused for a moment before continuing on with their job. "He said that Azog might have pieced together that we were his nephews, and that Fili, at least, should have known better and should have stopped me from doing anything so rash." The young dwarf's voice was soft and bitter.

"But I still don't see-" Dwalin began, though he did get Thorin's reasoning. Kili cut him off.

"And Fili took his side," the archer continued. "He said that I, at the very best, should not have joined the fray." The lad's tone clearly displayed the betrayal he had felt at this comment.

"They may have had a point, Kili," Dwalin said after a pause, but the brown-haired youth just shook his head.

"What else could I have done?" he asked of no one in particular. "Thorin was wounded, and both him and Bilbo were in danger. Another second and they might have both been killed." The dwarf's voice was steadily rising and Dwalin sought to cut him off before he drew the unwanted attention from the others.

"They were just worried for you, that is all," he told the prince in front of him, deciding that taking the lad's side might be the best option to calm him down. This was not just the only reason why he had done so however. He agreed with the dwarf's arguments and had shared his frustration before over a similar matter years before.

"Well they don't need to act like I'm still a child," Kili muttered, his thoughts and eyes dark. Dwalin didn't bother with pointing out that Kili was, in fact, still a child, though barely. Instead he opted to take a different approach.

"I understand your feelings," he said, actually meaning this often used line to try and reason with those who were upset or angry and Dwalin could see Kili was both.

"Do you?" Kili's blunt reply had been expected and Dwalin nodded in answer.

"A while ago, around a decade in fact, Balin and I had an argument about the same thing. True it was just the two of us, but he had been annoyed that I had placed myself in danger to save his life." As the burly dwarf finished his sentence, Kili stopped what he was doing, curiosity dawning on his face as he realised there was a story to be told.

"What happened?" he asked breathlessly. Dwalin shifted around, getting comfortable before he settled in to telling his tale.

"Well we were out hunting, you see, for we had both decided to try and see if we could catch something ourselves and feel the old thrill as we had when we were both younger instead of buying it from the stores in the town," he paused for a breath before continuing. "It was just the two of us and we were way out of the way of any regular hunting paths. It had been a while and no game had shown itself and we were about to give up when a deer came into view."

Dwalin smiled at the memory; Balin had looked like a child who had visited the forges for the first time.

"Obviously being determined to meet the challenge, we both readied ourselves to kill it, but a bear got there before we could make a move. The deer fled but the bear had picked up our scent. He nearly squashed us," Dwalin commented, thankful that Kili seemed to have forgotten his fury for the time being and was caught up in his story.

"How did you get away?" he asked, eager for the ending to be told.

"Balin pushed me away from the beast and told me to run," Dwalin said. "Before he leapt out of the bushes to attack the animal. I didn't listen to him and followed in his wake, and it was a good thing too. The bear had already knocked him down and was rearing up to slash at his body when I landed a blow to its head with a well-placed axe."

"Of course Balin was furious after that," the seasoned warrior reflected. "We had both escaped any form of injury ̶ though he bore a few bruises ̶ but he was mad that I had not done as he had said and placed myself in danger. I was naturally angry with him for if I had not of intervened then he would have most likely been killed by the bear." Any anger he might have said with those words before had long since abated. "I did not speak to him for several months afterwards, though he did not truly realise his mistake. I don't think he ever will."

Kili realised that the older dwarf had finished his story and opened his mouth to speak. "What are you trying to tell me?" he asked, anger suddenly flying back to him, but, Dwalin noted, it was not yet all there.

"That, like Balin, Thorin and Fili may not realise that what they said caused you any pain or resentment," he replied. "Like Balin, they are probably more used to the idea of protecting you and keeping you out of harm's way than the other way round, especially for Fili. Thorin was playing dirty when told your brother that he should have done a better job of preventing you from joining in the fighting, but don't be angry with him for it," he said hastily, aware of the dark look that had crossed Kili's face at his words. "You're uncle loves you both and it would break his heart and most likely his will to see one of you hurt because of him."

"But he could have died!" Kili cried out, still not completely won over. Dwalin smiled a smile of one who knew what both he and the other person was talking about.

"Then you need to tell him that," Dwalin said, "Tell him that you done it because you wanted to protect him."

"But I already did. If anything, it just made him angrier," Kili said despairingly.

Dwalin sighed. "That's just worry coming out as anger," he informed the youth, making a mental note to discuss how this fact affected his nephews with Thorin. "He debated for a while about bringing the two of you along with him on this quest, unsure if he was willing to place both of you in such immense danger. Although now that Azog is back I suppose he will be questioning whether or not he made the right choice." This last part was said darkly, more to himself than to Kili.

"But we chose to come along knowing full well the danger that was involved," Kili protested. "And the fact that he is our uncle and we love him would mean us putting ourselves in risk to save him."

That's what Thorin had been most afraid of, but Dwalin did not say this out loud. Rather he looked the brunette straight in the eye.

"Then tell him you love him," he said simply, thinking it was the simplest option to solve the issues between Thorin and his nephews. "And tell Fili too. You might be the youngest, but it does not mean that you should not be able to protect them." Kili was silent for a while before he broached another topic.

"Did Balin get mad at you for leaving the tree?" he asked.

Dwalin smiled again and shook his head. "No, I think he understands that even he cannot keep me from every danger we face. He was probably glad that I was there to help you and your brother up in defending both your uncle and our burglar."

The warrior looked over at where his brother was as he said this before turning back to Kili who struck up his whittling again. He could see Fili hovering a few feet away from them and stood to leave. "Explain things to your brother," he said as he moved back to his previous seat.

As Fili struck up a conversation with his brother, Dwalin contemplated the pair and the motives he had borne back on the cliff with Azog.

True he had been defending Thorin, whom he thought more of as family than his king no matter how distantly they were related by blood, but he had also thrown himself into the fray for the two brothers as well. He knew how losing Frerin had destroyed Thorin and did not wish for Fili to lose his younger brother as well. He also did not wish that Kili would lose his own brother for it would destroy him in the same way losing Kili would destroy Fili. Yet with all the danger ahead that they were to face, and with Azog trailing diligently behind them snapping at their heels, Dwalin could not help but wonder whether one might very well leave the other behind.

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