Thorin was sitting on the porch smoking a pipe when Dís came staggering through the gate and into the yard. It was clear to him from the set of her jaw that the only thing keeping her going was sheer will power. It was clear that the boys' combined weight was too much for her. He shook his head at her affectionately. He couldn't fathom what had made her think it was a good idea to attempt to carry them both. Even he would have balked at the idea.
With a sigh, he set aside his pipe and stood to relieve his sister of one of her children and lighten her burden. Without conscious thought, his hands reached for Kíli where the child was burrowed into his mother's neck, one tiny fist around her braid and the other across her chest to grip Fíli's.
"No," Dís panted turning slightly so that her brother's grasping hands touched her eldest. "Take Fíli. He's heavier and I'm afraid that I'm going to drop him." Thorin had a brief flare of suspicion go through him as he wondered if this was an attempt by his sister to get him to show affection to Fíli but tamped it down and took his sleeping blonde nephew from Dís, pausing with him between them for Dís to remove his braid from Kíli's hand. Fíli moaned quietly at the transfer, but as Thorin pulled him against his own chest, the child sighed contentedly and nuzzled the shoulder under his cheek.
Dís watched as Thorin raised his hand with a somewhat bemused expression and ran it along Fíli's cheek. She saw the way his eyes softened as her son leaned into the contact and couldn't help a small smile of her own. Even though she hadn't doubted it, she was glad that she had talked some sense into Balin. She knew that her brother loved her son, Balin's worries were unfounded. She felt her smile fall a bit when Thorin's hand faltered at the edge of Fíli's hair before skipping over it entirely and coming to rest in the small of his back.
"Let's—" she cut herself off and cleared her throat to modulate her voice before she continued, "Let's get them to bed. I . . . I know you didn't cook while I was gone."
"I did so!" he argued shooting her a mock glare, unsure what had caused the emotion in her voice and knowing that she would tell him if he was ready. "Lunch is ready. If you wake them, they can eat right this moment."
She snorted to show her disbelief that her brother had cooked anything even remotely edible but, rather than challenge him on the matter simply said, "Do you want to be the one to wake them?" Thorin said nothing in response, but merely turned and carried Fíli into the house. Dís followed him, a smirk on her face as she wondered what their people would think of the great Thorin Oakenshield if they knew that he was afraid of waking two little dwarflings.
Thorin hadn't lied when he said that he had cooked. After the boys were tucked into their bed to nap, Kíli melting right back into Fíli the moment they were both laid down, Dís walked into the kitchen to see that Thorin had in fact cooked supper, if the pot steaming on the hearth was anything to go by. Curious as to what he had made, she lifted the lid only to replace it with a laugh.
"Just mutton?" she asked turning to look at her brother, who was leaning against the table and looking far too pleased with himself. "No potatoes, no vegetables. Just mutton? Did you even bother to put any seasonings in?"
"Of course!" he retorted. "I'm not a barbarian! There is mutton, seasonings and water. That's all a stew needs."
"Stew!?" she scoffed. "This isn't stew, Thorin! It's boiled meat! Not that there's anything wrong with boiled meat but . . . what do you intend us to eat with it?"
"Meat," he replied simply. "Meat is food, Dís. It doesn't need anything to go with it." She sighed and shook her head with an indulgent laugh before walking into the pantry and returning with some potatoes and carrots to go into the 'stew.'
"What are you doing, Sister?" Thorin asked as she lobbed a barrage of potatoes at him with the command to "peel those"
"Fixing your mistake, like always," Dís shot over her shoulder as she set to peeling a carrot.
"There is no mistake," Thorin countered as he retrieved a knife and roughly peeled the potatoes before cutting them. "I made what I meant to make. Mutton stew." He couldn't hide his smirk when Dís exhaled slowly, clearly trying to rein in her temper.
"Stew, Thorin, requires more than one ingredient," she explained in the same tone she used when Kíli was being a nuisance and asking foolish questions. "That," she turned, gesturing at the pot with her knife for emphasis, "is not stew. It's boiled mutton. If you intended to make boiled mutton you succeeded. If you wanted stew, I have to fix it."
"But Dís," Thorin protested with a smirk, "there is more than one ingredient in the pot."
"Really?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and looking at her brother incredulously. "What other ingredient is in there?"
"Seasonings," he said brightly, dodging the carrot stem that she threw at him with a laugh and dumping his cut potatoes into the pot with a sigh. "Ruining good stew, Dís," he said shaking his head in mock sadness.
"Oh!" she scoffed, swatting his arm as she added the carrots. "Just go away. You clearly know nothing about cooking so get out and let me do it."
"But, Sister," Thorin replied mock hurt in his tone, "I just want to make sure you don't ruin my perfect stew."
"Out!" she said with a laugh. "Go take a bath before the boys wake up. You're a horrible example to them. How long has it been? Two, three days?"
"I don't know," Thorin lied, he knew that he had bathed the day before but just wanted to ruffle her feathers a bit. "Less than a week, I believe. No more than a month at any rate. I think I'll still be good for another fortnight."
"Out!" she laughed, pushing him towards the door. "If you insist on behaving like a dwarfling I'll treat you like one. Take a bath before the boys wake up or there'll be no dinner for you. I won't have the ripe smell of unwashed dwarf putting my children off their food."
"That's cheating, Dís," Thorin countered before walking out the door and heading towards the bathroom. "Besides," he called just before he shut the door, "how long has it been since you've bathed? Perhaps the ripe smell you detect is you, Sister dear!" He heard her indignant shriek from through the door and was immediately thankful that he had thought to put a lock on that door. Even knowing that he was naked wouldn't keep Dís out if she truly wanted a word. With a laugh, he set himself to the task of drawing a bath, thankful again that he had thought to have water piped into the room so he didn't have to traipse through the house and tempt Dís' wrath.
Eventually the boys woke up on their own. By that time, Dís had repaired Thorin's error with the stew and Thorin had finished his bath—Dís taking one as soon as he had cleared out as she couldn't swear when the last time she'd had one was, even though she refused to admit this to her brother. So when the boys awoke, it was to freshly bathed adults sitting in the dining room playing a card game at the table.
"You're cheating again, Dís," Thorin was saying as Fíli and Kíli walked into the room. He didn't see them, as his back was to the door, but Dís did. Including the shock on their faces that their beloved uncle would accuse their mother of cheating.
"You only say that because you're losing, Brother," Dís countered. "And at any rate, I don't cheat. Do I boys?" Thorin turned in time to see Kíli looking at him with wide brown eyes as he shook his head.
"Mama doesn't cheat, Uncle," Kíli said, creeping forward to crawl into Thorin's lap while Fíli moved more calmly to sit beside his mother, who moved him into her own lap with a smile.
"Only at cards, little one," Thorin corrected with a laugh ruffling his hair. "And your mother has cheated at cards her entire life. Especially when she plays against me."
"Maybe if you were a more graceful winner I wouldn't have to," Dís retorted with a smile. "And I don't cheat, Thorin. I simply make it so that the odds are more in my favor."
"But Mother . . . " Fíli began cautiously. "Is. . . isn't that cheating?"
"Oh I suppose it is," Dís said with a laugh petting Fíli's cheek with her free hand. "However, you lose a few games to your uncle and listen to him gloat about it for days and then tell me you wouldn't do the same."
"Uncle doesn't gl. . . gloat," Kíli said trying out the new word. He wasn't sure what it meant but he knew from the way his mother had said it that it wasn't good and he knew that his uncle could never do anything bad.
"He used to," Dís said with a sad smile. Kíli was right, other than their bit of banter that day, it had been too long since Thorin had done anything quite like that.
"I did not," Thorin replied indignantly. "I never gloated. I just reminded you that I had won."
"That's gloating, Brother," Dís said, her brown eyes dancing with amusement. "But enough of this. I'll bet you boys are hungry, aren't you?" She smiled as they nodded enthusiastically before moving Fíli back to the chair he had originally sat in and standing to fetch food.
"You boys show your uncle what Balin taught you today and I'll dish up the stew that I rescued from Thorin's cooking," she said smirking at her brother before sliding a quill and parchment towards Kíli and Thorin. She saw the flash of irritation in his blue eyes as she did, but he quickly became absorbed in watching her youngest try to hold the quill that was far too large for his tiny hands.
Thorin watched in amazement as Kíli's little fingers wrapped deftly around the quill, the stem far too large to be comfortable but him managing it all the same, before he dipped into the ink well and carefully wrote his own name in halting runes. When his name was complete, Thorin had to smile. It was legible.
"That's fine work, little one," he said softly. "Do you know what it says?" He watched as his nephew nodded before redipping the quill and putting it to the parchment again.
"It says me," he replied. "It says Kíli and that means me." Thorin nodded and watched again as his youngest nephew continued to write. As the words continued to form, Thorin felt his eyes go wide in wonder. It wasn't perfect, a couple of the remaining runes were missing lines but the message was still clear, despite the errors.
"Kíli," he breathed. "Do . . . do you know what you've written, lad?" He met his nephew's innocent brown eyes as Kíli turned to face him and nodded.
"Mr. Balin showed it to me," Kíli said. "It . . . It says 'Kíli loves Uncle Thorin'. Mother asked him to show me something else and this was what he showed me. Do . . . do you like it?" Thorin had to swallow before he could answer. He knew that Kíli had been prompted to write it, but seeing what he already knew in clear, if flawed, runes . . . it was nearly too much for him. He knew that he didn't deserve the pure love that he could see burning in that child's eyes. But even if he didn't deserve it, it was his and it would be cruel to reject such a gift.
"I love it," he promised before pressing a kiss to Kíli's forehead. "Thank you, Kíli." He took a moment to compose himself before he turned to Fíli.
"What did you learn today, lad?" Thorin asked, his tone still gentle from the gesture Kíli had just made.
"I . . . nothing worth sharing, Uncle," Fíli said looking down. "I . . . I tried but . . . it wasn't any good. I couldn't even add and when I tried to write . . . it was all spotty and smeared. It . . . I'm sorry. I failed."
"What do you mean you couldn't add?" Thorin asked quietly. Fíli was the brightest dwarfling he had ever seen. It made no sense that he would fail at school. Surely the lad was being too hard on himself.
"It . . . it just makes no sense," Fíli said, looking at Thorin desperately, his small chest heaving. "I . . . I tried but . . ."
"Fíli," Thorin said sternly as he tried to break through Fíli's panic. "Calm down, lad. I don't expect you to learn everything there is to know in one day. Now," he continued in a more gentle tone since the boy was no longer at risk for hyperventilation, "I'm sure you did something you can show me, or tell me. So show me."
Fíli nodded, his blue eyes tortured as he stood and came around the table to stand beside his uncle and brother. He took a deep breath before taking the quill from Kíli's hand and dipping it into the inkwell. He felt shame well within him as his hand quivered over the paper. He knew that he couldn't do this. Not with his uncle watching and not when he was already cross with him. He couldn't fail, but he was going to. He felt determination wash through him and when he put the nib to the parchment it was with a bit more force than necessary and the quill broke with a loud snap, splattering ink all over the paper.
"See," Fíli whispered, looking up at his uncle with tears in his eyes. "I told you I can't do it. And . . . and now I've broken it." Before Thorin could say a word, Fíli had turned and fled the room. Kíli squirmed to go after his brother, but Thorin was too shocked to realize what the squirming meant. Thorin heard Dís sigh as she set two bowls on the table and looked away from the door to see infinite sadness in her face.
"You two eat," she said quietly. "I . . . I'll go try to—" she cut off in a sigh, unsure just what she could do for her son at the moment. Clearly Fíli didn't believe her assessment of the situation.
"No," Thorin said, standing before passing Kíli to his mother and heading for the door. "I'll go. I'll talk to him." Dís was of two minds as she watched her brother walk out of the room after her son. The first was that this might just be the gesture that Fíli needed; the second was that she hoped Thorin was up to making it.