After a very uncomfortable lunch where Dís glared at her brother the entire time and Fíli shot anxious looks between them while Kíli ferociously dug into the greens his mother had put on his plate—making sure to set the serving bowl out of reach to prevent a repeat of the night before—Thorin took both of his freshly braided heirs and headed to Balin's office. As was usual, Kíli was situated on his hip and Fíli clutching his hand as they made their way through the market. This day, however, none of the people came near.
Dís' behavior at lunch had put Thorin on edge and there was a nervous energy that radiated from him that gave them a cushion of space. He knew that his sister blamed him for Fíli going and for Kíli wanting to and knew that was why she had been so angry with him. She might joke about needing time away from her little demons but she loved the boys and he knew that she would miss them even in so little time, though she would deny it.
When they reached the building that housed Balin's office, Thorin set Kíli down beside his brother and straightened both of their clothing. When they were smoothed to his satisfaction, Thorin stood once more taking both Kíli and Fíli's hands and leading them in.
"Remember, little one," he told Kíli, "you are allowed to ask if he will let you stay but that is all you are allowed to do. If he says no . . ."
"I come home with you," Kíli muttered. Thorin nodded and knocked on Balin's door. There was only a second's pause and then Balin's voice wafted through the door, telling them to enter.
"Best behavior, lads," Thorin reminded gently before opening the door.
"Thorin!" Balin said, looking up from his paperwork after Thorin and the boys were through the door and missing the children over his desk. "What brings you here?"
"I'm bringing Fíli to you as I said I would," Thorin explained gesturing to his blonde heir with a small smile.
"So Dís couldn't talk so sense into you about this?" Balin said with a sigh standing to come around the desk and better see the lads. They looked quite the picture with their matching braids and clean clothing. Nothing like the wild little dwarflings that had been rolling in the grass the previous day. They were a matched set, one colored like the day and the other like the night. He hadn't spent much time with them but he had to wonder if their personalities were opposites as well.
"Oh she convinced me that he didn't need to come but she didn't convince him," Thorin said with a small laugh nudging Fíli gently forward. "Fíli is only here because he wants to be. Neither of us forced him and if he changes his mind we will respect that. It was Dís' ruling on this."
"He wants to be?!" Balin asked incredulously before turning his attention to the boy in question. "Is that true, lad? You wanted to come here today."
"Yes, Mr. Balin, sir," Fíli replied trying to be on his best behavior. "Mother told me I didn't have to but I told her I wanted to. So here I am. Will you teach me?" Balin couldn't help but smile at Fíli's question. With his shy blue eyes and hopeful tone Balin couldn't say no. The boy really was far too cute for his own good.
"Aye, lad," Balin said, his voice and eyes gentle. "I'll teach you."
"And me too?!" Kíli chirped from Thorin's other side. "Will you teach me too, Mr. Balin?"
"Aye, lad," Balin said with a laugh at just how eager Kíli was at the prospect of lessons. The tiny dwarfling was actually bouncing at the idea. He'd never seen anything like it. He rapidly decided that they were opposites: with Kíli being hyper and forward to Fíli's calm shyness.
"Thank you!" Kíli squealed throwing himself at Balin's knees and hugging them. "I so wanted to stay with Fíli and Mother and Uncle said that I can if I agreed to wear braids and you said yes! Thank you!" Balin looked at Thorin in confusion and the King just shook his head sadly.
"Kíli, lad, do you mean today?" Balin asked bending down to look at the dwarfling on his level. Kíli nodded enthusiastically, his brown eyes bright and wide. "Surely you would prefer to play outside with your uncle or mother than stay cooped up in here with me, wouldn't you?"
"It's no fun to play without Fíli," Kíli complained. "I want to stay here, with him. With you. Can't I, Mr. Balin? Please?" Balin sighed. With the way the lad was looking at him so hopefully, he couldn't say no. He really did have a soft spot for children and didn't like to tell them no if he didn't need to. Though he did decide that he needed to learn Dís' secret for motivating dwarflings to want to come to class. Oh, the fits he'd seen over the years when parents decided that they needed to school their children. If Dís' secret was marketable, she would make a fortune: and not a small one either.
"Aye, lad," Balin said, shaking his head indulgently. "You can stay." He wasn't prepared for the high-pitched squeal of joy that followed, or for Kíli to throw himself at him, but he couldn't say that he was displeased by it either. He would give the lad one thing: he was enthusiastic.
Dís was sitting on the front steps when Thorin returned home from taking Fíli to school. Her expression was blank but Thorin almost looked as if someone had slapped him. He seemed shocked. Her youngest was nowhere in sight.
"Where's Kíli?" she asked without even bothering to greet Thorin.
"He . . . Balin let him stay," Thorin said sounding just as shocked as he looked.
"Good," Dís replied in a curt voice.
"Good?" Thorin snapped. "He's seven, Dís. It very well is not good. I thought you wanted him not to go. What would make you think that this is good?"
"He wanted to be with his brother," Dís replied with a shrug. "Balin will be gentle with him. It's not like we sent him to weapons training. Anyway, I'm just glad that he's not going to be here for this and I don't have to find some way to get rid of him."
"Get rid of him?" Thorin asked, wondering just what had gotten into his sister. She was talking about getting rid of her youngest and she seemed furious. It wasn't as if this were entirely his fault that her sons were in lessons. He had merely suggested it. Fíli wanted to go, Kíli wanted to be with Fíli and Balin had let him. It wasn't like Thorin had drug them to lessons like Thráin had and threatened to tie them to the chair if they wouldn't stay and punish them if they didn't pay attention. They had gone freely.
"Yes," Dís snapped before grabbing Thorin roughly by the elbow and dragging him bodily through the door. Once they were inside, she released him and slammed the front door.
"Don't speak," she snapped. "Don't speak, just listen."
"Dís!" Thorin tried again, not understanding what she was so upset about. It was a very rare thing for her to put her hands on anyone like that, let alone him."I—"
"That's speaking, Thorin!" She snarled moving forward to put her hand over his mouth. "You're supposed to be listening." Thorin had the brief, childish impulse to lick her hand before deciding that it was below his station and sighing. "Good," she said pulling her hand back but not moving out of his personal space as she spoke.
"Now . . . I do not know what your problem is with my son," Dís began her voice quivering with furry, "but you need to figure it out and fix it. I will not tolerate you upsetting him like this when he has done nothing to merit your ire. He loves you, Thorin. Worships you, even. I don't know what you imagine that he's done, but I can assure you that any—"
"I don't have a problem with your sons," Thorin replied. "With either of them. I don't know what you're talking about, Dís." Dís saw that he looked genuinely distraught at the idea that she believed he did but she didn't care. She'd heard what she heard.
"Then why did you refuse Fíli," she demanded. "All he wanted from you was the same thing that you were giving Kíli. If you were going to refuse either of them I had thought that it would have been Kíli. He asked while being a petulant child and you gave it to him instantly but Fíli . . . he asked nicely, Thorin. Why couldn't you just do it? What would it have hurt?"
"Is this about me agreeing to do Kíli's braids but not Fíli's?" Thorin asked. "Dís, you know that—"
"Don't you DARE lie to me, Brother," Dís snarled. "I know for a fact that you can braid. And that you are both quick and skilled at it. Do not try to tell me the same lie you told my son. Why, I've seen you do your own hair, mine and Frerin's in less than half an hour. You could have done Fíli and Kíli's and still had them there on time and you know it. And even if they weren't there 'on time' you and I both know that Balin wouldn't have cared."
"It wasn't a lie, Dís," Thorin countered. "It's been over a hundred years since I did that. I'm not capable of it anymore."
"Thorin, you're only a hundred and thirty," Dís sighed. "Grandfather could still braid up until the last time I saw him. In fact he did. The night before you all marched off to war he did all of our hair, remember?"
"I remember, Dís," Thorin sighed, closing his eyes and feeling again his grandfather's fingers in his hair as the old dwarf wove both his and his brother's hair into the plaits of their line for war. Dís had gotten a different style, but she had sat and been braided as well. Hers had been braids of hope and victory. Obviously they hadn't held the magic Grandfather had believed they did.
"Then tell me the truth; why didn't you braid Fíli's hair?" Dís asked. "What would it have hurt?"
"I . . . I don't know, Sister," Thorin replied, his brows drawing down as he tried to think through it. "He asked me and . . . I couldn't say yes. I don't know why. I just . . . I couldn't do it. He was standing there looking at me with such innocent eyes but when I looked at him . . . I couldn't do it, Dís. His hair . . .I couldn't bring myself to touch it. Not like that . . . not like . . . not after . . ." Thorin looked away, unable to finish the thought to himself let alone aloud.
Dís slapped him.
She couldn't remember deciding to do it and wasn't entirely sure why she had, but it was clear that she had. The reddened place on Thorin's cheek and the stinging in her own palm were testament to her violence. She drew in a shuddering breath as she stared into Thorin's shocked blue eyes. His hand cautiously came up to his cheek and touched it, wincing slightly at the tenderness he felt there. He was beyond shocked; Dís had hit him.
"Dís . . . " Thorin breathed, unsure what he had said to make her strike him. She had only hit him once before and it hadn't been nearly as hard that time as it was this time. True, she had playfully swatted him more than once but she'd never struck him. Not like this.
"You need to find a way to do it," Dís said, tears beginning to flow both from the fact that she had just slapped her brother and at the memory of Fíli's tears. "You have no problem touching Kíli's hair like that. The only real difference between them is the color. The texture is even similar though Fíli's is a bit softer—easier to braid even. I don't know why you can't do it, but you need to figure it out and get over whatever problem you have with his hair." Even as she said that, Thorin's words about Fíli's resemblance to Frerin rang in her ears but she savagely pushed it way. Surely Thorin wasn't so foolish as to conflate the issue.
" You need to figure out a way to bring yourself to show your nephew the love he deserves from you, Thorin. You told me that you need them, both of them, so show Fíli that you need him," She continued. "You can say that you love him all you want—"
"I do, Dís," Thorin protested. "I . . . "
"He thinks you hate him, Thorin," Dís said, knowing that her words would hurt her brother but that he needed to hear them. "He thinks you're angry with him and he blames himself for making you angry."
"Why does he—"
"Because of how you speak to him!" Dís said incredulously. Surely her brother wasn't so dense as to not realize he was treating Fíli differently than Kíli.
"How I . . . I don't speak to him any differently than I do to Kíli," Thorin said. "I even offer him more praise than I do Kíli because he earns it. Fíli is such a bright child, Dís. He's smarter than Kíli."
"You can't compare them like that, Thorin!" Dís exclaimed. "It's not fair. Fíli is five years older than Kíli. Of course he's going to seem smarter. Kíli's not stupid. Foolish, yes, and young but not stupid. You can't compare the two when it comes to their ability to rationalize. And it may turn out that you're right and Fíli is the more rational of the two but we can't be sure yet. And even if he is, it alright. They're each different and Fíli is the sweeter and more sensitive of the two at the moment but he's quiet about it. Kíli is a bit more outspoken and will tell you what he wants but Fíli . . . you've hurt him, Thorin. He'll never come to you and confront you about it like Kíli would, he respects you too much for that, but you've hurt him all the same. And you need to make it up to him. "
"I don't even know what I did, Dís," he protested.
"Neither do I," she replied. "Not entirely. But it apparently started yesterday and continued today. I heard you today, Thorin. When you spoke to Kíli you sounded normal but when Fíli had your attention . . . it sounded forced, tense. I can understand why he thinks you're mad at him. Are you?"
"No!" Thorin snapped. "Why would I be? He's done nothing wrong."
"He thinks he has," Dís replied. "Maybe you should let him know he hasn't. Did you know that he went to class today just because he knew you wanted him to? He wants it because he knows that you want him to want it. I didn't confront him about it but I do think that you need to make it clear to him that you are proud of him regardless of whether or not he goes to lessons. All that boy wants is to make you happy."
"I am happy," Thorin replied shocked by that revelation. "He couldn't do anything to change that. He . . . I am proud of him."
"Then show him." Dís sighed. At Thorin's troubled expression, she shook her head and continued, "It's not like I'm asking you to make a grand gesture of your love and pride, Thorin. All I ask is that you behave the same around him as you do around Kíli. Or . . . or do something nice just for him. It doesn't even have to be a big thing, just something especially for Fíli. Not something for them both that he just gets to tag along on. I-I don't know. Just . . . just show him that you love him as much as you do Kíli. Please. My heart can't take seeing him so upset. Not by you."
"Alright," Thorin said. "I'll do something nice just for Fíli before I have to go back to work. I'm sorry, Dís. I didn't mean to upset him." He opened his arms to his sister and she walked into them, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I know, Thorin, I know," she whispered. "I know that you love them both. But Fíli's just a child and he's always been so eager to please and worried he failed. Just . . . don't give him cause to think you're angry with him if you're not, please?"
"I won't," Thorin replied. "I'm sorry that I did." Dís nodded and they stood there in silence for a moment before she spoke once more.
"I'm sorry I struck you," she whispered.
"I'll daresay I deserved it," Thorin replied pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "I'll just have to make up a better story to explain the bruise. Perhaps a bar fight. Yes . . . three on one, humans. That should do it. Can't have the people knowing that their king was beaten by his sister." Dís laughed and pulled away swatting his arm.
"That wasn't a beating, it was a slap," Dís replied dancing out of the way of his return swat. "But, Thorin, if we have to have this conversation again there will be a beating. You will have to make up an entire army of humans to save your reputation once I'm done with you."
"Understood," Thorin replied. "We won't be having this conversation again, Sister." She nodded and took him at his word. Thorin would watch his behavior around Fíli and she would have no cause to kill her only brother.