Fíli threw himself on his and Kíli's bed doing everything in his power to stop the tears that he could feel pooling in his eyes from falling. He failed. As that first traitorous tear rolled down his cheek, a sob forced its way up his throat. He buried his face in the pillow in a vain attempt to muffle the sound so that no one else would hear. It was bad enough that they knew that he had failed. That his mother had seen his pathetic attempts that afternoon. That he had failed so miserable in front of his uncle that he broke the quill. The last thing he needed was for them to know that he was weeping like a babe.
Rather than convince him to stop, that thought only caused his tears and sobs to intensify. It only solidified his belief that he was a failure. He couldn't even control himself. What kind of a dwarf was he? As his thoughts continue to spiral, his misery only grew. By the time Thorin entered the room, Fíli had worked himself up to the point that he didn't hear his uncle's knock or the door opening. Thorin's presence wasn't noticed until he placed a hand in the middle of Fíli's heaving back.
"Hush," Thorin whispered stroking his nephew gently as he wondered if Dís hadn't been right about it being too soon for Fíli to go to school. "It's alright. Hush now." He was shocked when his words had the opposite effect. Rather than quiet, Fíli's sobs only grew louder.
"Fíli," Thorin breathed shocked that Fíli was the one doing this. From Kíli he could have seen it but Fíli? Even as young as he was he was remarkably well-controlled. He couldn't ever remember seeing his eldest nephew cry like this. The closest time was when he had fallen from the tree, but then he had been injured. Not so now. Thorin couldn't make sense of it.
"It . . . it was only a quill, lad," Thorin offered. Even though that answer made little sense it was the only explanation he could come up with. "There are others. It . . . it was nothing special. Hush now."
"Please," Fíli whispered miserably between sobs. "Please just leave me here. I . . ." he trailed off into another series of sobs. With a sigh, Thorin sat on the edge of the bed. He debated with himself for a moment before reaching out and lifting his distraught nephew into his lap.
Despite his shame at crying in front of his uncle, Fíli lost no time in burying his face in Thorin's shoulder, clinging to his shirt and taking the comfort that was being offered. Automatically, Thorin's hand came up to stroke Fíli's hair, stopping just before touching it. Remembering his promise to Dís, Thorin pushed down his own discomfort and brushed along the blonde strands, thinking of the times that he had seen Fíli calm when Dís petted him in such a way.
It was gentle at first, the touch barely there and for a moment Fíli wondered if he half-imagined it but then the pressure grew and there was no denying it any longer. His uncle was petting him, just as he did Kíli. His shock at the touch caused his tears to stop as he tried to understand why his uncle would be stroking his head. He'd done nothing to deserve it. He'd failed at school and broken his uncle's quill and was crying. If anything, his uncle should have been walking out of the room in disgust, not attempting to comfort him.
Thorin was equally as shocked. Despite his sister's words about the texture, he had still expected Fíli's hair to feel more like Kíli's— more like Dís'—but it didn't. It was thicker than either of theirs. More like Thorin's own hair, though so much softer and finer with youth that there was no real comparison to be made. Even so, it felt familiar. Suddenly an image came to his mind: one of his brother from when they were children
They were sitting cross-legged on the floor in their mother's room in Erebor, Thorin attempting to braid Frerin's hair, while their mother rocked a newborn Dís in a chair, trying to get her to sleep. Having finished the braid, Thorin tied it off before realizing that not only were the strands uneven, the braid was crooked. With a grunt of disgust, he untied it and began undoing his flawed work. He must have been too rough about it because Frenin's hand was suddenly there, swatting his own away.
"Ow!" he complained. "Why do you always pull, Thorin!? There's no need for that. Mother never pulls."
"Yes," Thorin groused, reaching for his brother's hair again. "But Mother has had more practice. How do you expect me to learn if you never let me try?"
"You have hair, don't you?" Frerin retorted. "Braid your own! I'm done having you pull mine."
"Mother?" Thorin said turning to her, begging with his eyes for her to side with him.
"I won't make him let you braid his hair, Thorin," she said with a laugh. "If he doesn't want you to touch it, I won't force him to let you. You'll just have to ask nicely." It was everything that she could do to hide her laughter at the petulant look on her son's face.
"Will you let me practice braiding on your hair?" Thorin asked, a scowl marring his features at being forced to ask permission from his sibling.
"No," Frerin replied simply.
"But . . . Mother!" Thorin said. "I asked nicely!"
"You did," she agreed, "and he said no. Now leave him be. When he wants to let you, he will invite you to do it. Won't you, Frerin?"
"Yes, Mother," Frerin replied nodding enthusiastically before shooting a cheeky grin at his older brother. "But I'm not ever going to want to let him. He pulls too much."
That had been a lie. After they had lost their mother to Smaug, Frerin had often asked Thorin to do his hair. And he never once complained that Thorin pulled, though he knew that he still had to have. It wasn't as if he had gotten much practice before the dragon came though he got more than enough of it afterwards. With his eyes closed, he almost wasn't sure if it was Fíli or Frenin whose hair was under his fingers. They felt so similar. He could still remember how last time he had touched his brother's hair it had still been as soft as it had been when they were children. He could remember how it had slid between his fingers like silk as he placed a braid in the back to keep it out of his face in the battle the next day. That had only been moments before their falling out. His last act of kindness before betrayal. Just as he was about to lose himself to the memories of that night, a small voice pulled him back.
"Uncle?" Fíli asked, the tone still watery and hesitant despite him having calmed significantly.
"What?" Thorin asked, his voice harsher than he meant it to be due to his own pain. He regretted it as he saw Fíli flinch but he didn't apologize.
"I . . . I just wanted to say that I am sorry about your quill," Fíli said, looking away. "I . . . I didn't mean to break it."
"I know," Thorin said. "And as I said, it was nothing special. I have more. Now, come. Your mother will be worried." Fíli nodded and wiped his eyes on the hem of his tunic before pausing and looking at his uncle expectantly. Fíli could still remember how warm he had been the last time this had happened and was waiting for it to continue.
"What are you waiting for?" Thorin asked nudging his nephew gently off his lap and towards the door. "Go on."
"Are . . . aren't you coming?" Fíli asked quietly.
"No," Thorin said simply. "Tell your mother that I'm not particularly hungry tonight. However, I am tired. I'm going to go to bed."
"Alright," Fíli said turning and walking to the door. He stopped just outside and turned back to see his uncle still sitting on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. It almost looked like his shoulders were shaking but that was impossible. His uncle didn't cry. Fíli said nothing but simply turned and walked into the dining room.
Though it worried Dís to only see Fíli walking into the room, she forced a smile onto her face. While it was clear that her son had been crying, he was not longer weeping and that was a good sign, even if he did still look too sad for her to be overly comforted by his lack of tears.
"Come, Darling," Dís said, wincing a bit at the forced brightness in her own voice as she stood to get a bowl for her eldest. "Eat. Growing dwarflings need food, after all."
"Yes, Mother," Fíli replied woodenly as he sat in his seat, staring dejectedly at the table. Dís sighed at his tone as she put the bowl on the table before bushing a stray lock of hair out of Fíli's eyes. He didn't even react to her touch. It was then that she knew something was still wrong. And she would bet all the gold in Erebor that her brother was the cause of it. She felt guilt swirl within her that she had allowed Thorin to attempt this when she had known that he would fail. As hopeful as she had been, she knew that she shouldn't have placed her brother or her son in that position.
"Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?" she asked gently sitting beside him and continuing to pet him, watching as her son moved his stew around his bowl without ever moving a bite to his mouth. He shook his head and continued stirring his soup. She nodded, knowing that he would say nothing by that route of questioning. She would have to try something else if she wanted to know what happened between her son and brother.
"Where . . . where is your uncle, sweetheart?" she asked when it was clear that Thorin was not just taking longer to follow.
"Not coming," Fíli replied, his voice full of tears and his breathing beginning to speed once more.
"Not coming? Why?" Dís asked wondering just what had gotten into her brother's head this time. With a sigh she realized that she had to know what had happened between them.
"Says he's not hungry," Fíli muttered refusing to look at her. "But I don't think . . . I don't think that's true. I . . . I think it's really because he's mad at me."
"What make you say that, Fíli?" she tried to keep her tone level but it was nearly impossible with the rage that was beginning to burn in her veins that her brother would have said that to her son. He was supposed to have been comforting him, not telling him that he was disappointed in a "failure". Even so, she knew that it wouldn't do to let Fíli know just how angry she was, not in his present state of mind. She knew that he would find some way to blame himself for her anger, just as he blamed himself for Thorin's stupidity.
Despite her best efforts to keep a level tone, Kíli had looked up from his food in shock when she spoke so she knew some of her anger must have bled through. She tried to shoot him a reassuring smile, but she could see from his expression that it fell flat as well. And if Kíli could sense her frustration . . . she only hoped that Fíli was still so wrapped up in his own head that he missed it.
"I cried on him," Fíli said simply. "He has to be mad. Or . . . that was when he seemed to . . . that has to be it, Mother. I shouldn't have cried on him."
"Darling, no," Dís breathed, shifting Fíli from his chair and into her lap. "You did nothing wrong, Fíli. It . . . it was a trying day, Son. There were so many changes it . . . it makes sense that you would—" she cut herself off trying in vain to think of a way to say what she meant without using the word 'overreact' as hearing that would do Fíli no good. With a sigh, she gave up and cradled him against her, stroking his hair and resting her cheek on his head.
"This was a difficult day for us all, my darling," she murmured into his hair. "For your uncle as well. Wait and see, tomorrow, after everyone has had a good night's rest, everything may be better. Try not to worry so. You're still so young. He won't fault you for a few tears, Fíli. Trust me." Fíli said nothing, but simply clung to the front of her dress. For a time, she sat there in silence, holding her son.
"Come now," she said eventually. "Dinner's getting cold."
"Not hungry," Fíli muttered refusing to budge.
"Is that so?" she asked. He nodded his head against her but said nothing. "Hm. Then I suppose you can just go to bed. However it would be a shame for you to miss out on dessert." He shifted slightly and looked at her with one red-ringed eye but still said nothing, not that it mattered; Kíli was more than willing to speak for them both.
"Dessert?" he chirped, his brown eyes wide and his entire body vibrating with barely contained energy at the idea of such a rare treat.
"Mmhm," Dís replied with a nod. "Pie."
"Cherry?" Kíli asked, beginning to squirm even more at the idea of cherry pie. They never got cherry pie and it was his favorite.
"Apple," Dís said offering Kíli a small smile of consolation before she glanced back down at Fíli. She had debated making cherry pie, as she knew that both Kíli and Thorin preferred it, but there were no cherries to be had. Not for a reasonable price anyway. But apples, they had been cheap enough that she hadn't felt guilty splurging on a pie. Especially not when it was the fruit that she and Fíli preferred.
"Apple?" Fíli asked, peeking up at her tentatively, a rogue tear clinging to his blond lashes. She nodded and he offered her a weak smile before maneuvering back into his own chair and eating his stew. Once she was certain that he wouldn't fall, she turned back to Kíli who was sulking a bit.
"I do hope you aren't too disappointed, Kíli," she said brushing a hand through his wild hair. Even though it had been braided before they went to school, it had managed to escape during the day and his nap so that even though you could still see the braids they were doing nothing to control it.
"No, Mama," he said, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes before his face scrunched up in displeasure. "Even if it is apple," she shook her head fondly at how much that word sounded like a vulgarity from her youngest son, "it's still pie. I like pie."
"I'm glad that even the evils of apples can't discourage you," she said with a laugh as she bent to press a kiss to the crown of his head before walking into the pantry to retrieve her no-longer-secret gift pretending for Fíli's sake that she couldn't feel the wet spot on her dress where his tears had soaked through.