Years passed and Fíli never came for the ring. He and Kíli both grew, Fíli filling out nicely and remaining proportional while Kíli . . . well, Kíli was just Kíli. He was still much to tall and thin for his age, but for all his thinness, there was a strength in those scrawny limbs that was still rather impressive.
They had continued their lessons. Fíli's work impeccable and brilliant—though he refused to believe it and could always find fault with even the most flawless things, much to Dís' continued displeasure—while Kíli's was passable at best. Unlike his brother, Kíli was pleased with it and even when it was criticized, it did not seem to faze him. He just laughed and said that he'd do better next time.
Balin had spoken to Thorin about Kíli's lack of drive, but the king had only laughed it off and asked if Balin could remember any young child that behaved differently. Balin had just looked sadly at where Fíli sat pouring over a text of history in Khuzdul while Kíli sat across from him doodling. It was clear to him that Thorin was blind where his blonde heir was concerned. He may still be proud and yet critical of Fíli's achievements, but he had no idea what the boy himself was like; he couldn't see the drive that Fíli possessed. The exact opposite to how he viewed Kíli. Thorin seemed blind to Kíli's faults, offering praises for even the most paltry of attempts, but had no doubts as to what Kíli was himself. Even so, there was nothing to be done for it and once more, Balin let it go.
Despite their differences in temperaments, Fíli and Kíli continued to be inseparable. That was until Fíli's twenty-fifth birthday. That was when Thorin and Dís had agreed upon him beginning to train with weapons. Unlike the start of his education, there had been no brawl between the siblings over this matter. Thorin had learned his lesson about challenging Dís in such things, and this was something that Dís had an interest in her son learning. She'd already lost too many people that she cared about to war and while she understood that teaching her son to fight might put him in a position to be lost, she also understood that not teaching him to fight would be worse.
The idea of Fíli being cut down because she had forbidden him to learn to defend himself . . . it was not one that bore consideration. No. There was no way in good conscience that she could forbid this. Even if the thought of her son being faced with others that held weapons, even for training purposes, was one that she also refused to consider. It was that final thought that made her force Thorin to allow her to be the one to take him to Dwalin the day after his birthday. She wanted to express to her cousin just how much of her ire he would bring down upon himself if he ever returned her son to her more injured than was absolutely necessary.
Even though her nerves were strung so tightly that she could barely plait his hair that morning, Fíli was full of energy. She smiled as he squirmed under her hands. If she closed her eyes and ignored the texture of the hair in her hands she could almost imagine that it was Kíli who sat between her knees. Fíli was never one to fidget and that he was now . . . well, it only served to show her just how excited he truly was.
Looking down, she swore under her breath at the uneven plait her clumsy fingers had created. It had been far too long since she had braided his hair. With a sigh she began to unravel it in preparation of beginning anew.
"Mother," he offered, his tone the soft one that he had adopted when offering a suggestion that he knew would be rejected—the one that broke her heart to hear, "I can have them in in just a moment. They don't take me long anymore."
"I know that, Darling," Dís replied pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "And they would look better than mine as well."
"I . . . I didn't say that," Fíli breathed frantically.
"Hush," she replied stroking his cheek. "I know you didn't. I said it. And it's true." She ignored his stuttered protest and continued. "But be that as it may, today is a special occasion and I'd like to do them. That is, if you'll hold still. You're worse than Kíli."
"What about me?" Kíli called from across the room where he and Thorin were examining a plan for something or another that he was doing for class, Thorin suggesting improvements while Kíli incorporating them into the finished design.
"Nothing," Dís replied. "I just said that your brother is more fidgety than you today."
"Doubt it," Kíli muttered turning back to his work. "Fíli never fidgets."
"I assure you, he does," she said with a laugh. "And when Dwalin asks me about his crooked plaits that's what I intend to tell him."
"That's not what Mr. Balin says," Kíli said sullenly.
"If you don't like hearing it," Fíli said quietly, "then maybe you should learn to sit still in class, Kíli. It's only a few hours."
"It's not the end of the world if he fidgets a bit," Thorin said reaching out to ruffle Kíli's hair affectionately. "After all, the inability to sit still is just a sign of all the energy he contains. Isn't that right, little one?" Kíli beamed at his uncle, all traces of his foul mood disappearing as suddenly as they'd come.
Fíli said nothing, but Dís did notice that he made a conscious effort to hold still. Perhaps he'd taken her lighthearted comment about crooked braids to heart more than she had thought he would. Fíli did take more pride in his appearance than Kíli, or even Thorin, did. She'd tried to tell him that it wasn't necessary but he'd merely smiled at her before saying, "I'm the heir. I should look the part." She'd wished then that she had a way to show him what Thorin had looked like at his age, running wild through the corridors of Erebor and the forests that surrounded it, braidless hair tangled with leaves and twigs just as Kíli's tended to be. But that, like all her wishes went unanswered. And he wouldn't have believed her had she attempted to tell him such a thing. Even she couldn't see the carefree child that her brother had once been. There was no way that Fíli would be able to.
Eventually she managed to get his braids in place so that they suited her and would please him and tied the last one off with a bit of twine.
"Up you get," she said patting his shoulder to encourage him to move. She wasn't the least bit offended when his fingers came up to check her work. Especially not when he decided to leave it in.
"Thank you, Mother," Fíli said turning to face her, a small smile on his face.
"You're welcome," she replied. "Now, let's get you to Dwalin before he wonders if we've changed our mind." Fíli nodded and turned to go to the hall to gather the things that he'd been told to take with him.
"Can't I come?" Kíli whined, trying one final time to be granted the permission that he'd been denied countless times before.
"No," Dís said firmly. "You can go when you're twenty-five. Not a day earlier." Kíli pouted for a moment before turning to Thorin, his brown eyes wide.
"Uncle?" he pleaded, begging Thorin to overrule his mother on this.
"Not this time, little one," Thorin said with a laugh. "In this your mother's word is law. You'll just have to stay here with me. Now tell me, is that truly so bad?"
"Suppose not," Kíli muttered with a smirk. "Can we at least do something fun? I don't want to stay cooped up inside all day."
"We could go fishing," Thorin offered. "It's been some time since we had fish and the stream should contain them this time of year."
"Can we?" Kíli asked sitting up straighter, a smile splitting his face. Dís looked down at Fíli who had made a happy noise in his throat at the idea of fishing but refused to express a desire to go.
"I see no reason why not," Thorin replied. "Get your boots." As Kíli fled the room with a cheer, Dís cleared her throat and leveled a glare at her brother.
"What?" Thorin demanded, not understanding what she might be objecting to. He'd taken the lads out of the settlement more times that once over the years and she'd never objected yet. Dís sighed and raised an eyebrow before nudging her head at where Fíli was bent over his boots. Thorin sighed as well. This was another of his sister's "say something nice" moments.
"Good luck today, lad," Thorin said his eyes meeting Fíli's as the boy turned to look at him.
"Thank you, Uncle," Fíli replied. "I'm ready to go, Mother." Dís sighed at her brother's weak attempt before turning to Fíli with a smile.
"Thorin," she called as she walked out the door, "Just be home in time for supper." She didn't wait for his response before shutting the door.
It wasn't a long walk to the training grounds but it seemed interminable to Fíli. It was everything that he could do to keep stay next to his mother. It seemed to him that she was being deliberately slow, but he didn't say anything. Instead he made a conscious effort to match his steps to hers the best that he could with his shorter legs in an effort not to rush her. It was only when he would feel the tug on his hand that he realized that he was attempting to run off and leave her only to slow once more.
About the fourth time this happened Dís laughed.
"Peace, Fili," she said pulling gently on his hand. "The training grounds will still be there. There's no need to rush."
"Yes, Mother," he replied obediently, though he wanted to say that they were already running late and that Mr. Dwalin would be unhappy. He'd never seen Mr. Dwalin displeased, but he could imagine that it would be quite intimidating.
Dís smiled at the disquiet she could hear in his tone. She knew that Fíli hadn't meant what he said just as she knew that he would never tell her that she was taking too long. He truly was a sweet child, she only hoped that he could retain some of that sweetness when her cousin was done with him.
"I'll walk faster," Dís said, quickening her steps to match the pace that Fíli had been trying to set.
"You don't have to," Fíli said, though he began trotting beside her and seemed more pleased with the pace. "I was being unreasonable. We can—"
"A brisk walk never hurt anyone, darling," she replied cutting off his protests. She knew that she'd been walking slower than she normally did at any rate. Even if she knew that it was essential that Fíli went to training that didn't mean that she wanted to allow her baby to go. Fíli's enthusiasm did make it easier, though. She couldn't bring herself to let him see how much something he was looking forward to bothered her and take that from him. Especially when she knew she was being foolish. Dwalin would look out for him.
"'Bout time the two of you got here," Dwalin said the moment they entered the training grounds. Dís smirked at the way Fíli ran right up to her gruff cousin.
"Of course we came!" the dwarfling chirped practically vibrating with energy as he looked at all the training weapons laid out at the larger dwarf's feet. "I wouldn't have missed this!" Dwalin raised an eyebrow at Fíli's demeanor, he'd been told by his brother that Fíli was more sedate than Kíli when it came to lessons but he couldn't imagine how the younger could possibly have more energy.
"I . . . I mean," Fíli said seeing the raised eyebrow and knowing from his uncle that it meant he had done something odd. With a great deal of energy, he suppressed his excitement and offered his cousin a bow, "Thank you for agreeing to teach me, Mr. Dwalin." He was slightly hurt when his cousin began to laugh but that disappeared as the large dwarf scooped him up into a bone-crushing hug.
"You're more than welcome, laddie," Dwalin said setting him down and patting him on the shoulder a bit harder than Fíli was prepared for nearly causing his knees to buckle.
"Be gentle!" Dís chided. "He's still a child, Dwalin."
Dwalin made a dismissive noise and waved his hand at her. "Nonsense, Dís," he scoffed. "I didn't hurt him, did I, laddie?"
"No, Mr. Dwalin," Fíli replied with a shy smile.
"Be that as it may," Dís said, not believing her son—Fíli would have agreed to anything a teacher said, "I swear to the Maker, Dwalin, if you so much as—"
"I hear you," Dwalin replied. "He'll be fine, Dís. He may get a few bruises, and odds are he'll be a bit sore tomorrow but he'll have all of his fingers and toes when I return him to you."
"He'd better," Dís said coldly before bending slightly and pressing a kiss to Fíli's forehead. "Have fun, Darling," she said, placing her hand on his cheek and offering him a warm smile. Her smile turned cold as she looked back to her cousin.
"This mean you're not staying?" Dwalin asked. With that, Fíli's mother said a word that he'd never heard before and didn't know the meaning of but that caused Dwalin to laugh.
"I'll take that as a 'no,'" Dwalin said.
"Of course it's a no," Dís said with a smirk. "I'd hate to have to beat you in front of your new pupil, cousin. And we both know that's what would happen if I watched you attack my son."
"We'll see you later," Dwalin replied with a laugh not willing to take her up on her threat. He'd never seen the fury of a mother dwarf protecting her child directed at him but he had seen Dís in a rage. To be completely honest, she was far more intimidating than her brother could ever hope to be. At least Thorin followed a warrior's code. Dís . . . well she had no such qualms.
"That you will," she said in parting. Dwalin wondered if he was the only one that had heard the hint of threat in her words.
"So, laddie," Dwalin said, shaking off his nerves. "What would you like to try first?"