Dís swore as she stabbed her finger with the needle yet again before setting the fabric aside with a sigh. As much as she needed to finish patching the hole that Kíli had put in the seat of his trousers climbing trees—even if he swore that his feet had never left the ground—it was beyond her at the moment. As important as it was for Fíli to learn to defend himself, and even though she knew that he was in no danger with Dwalin, she couldn't help but feel anxious. It was a strange feeling for her, this restlessness.
It wasn't uncommon for her sons to be out of the house, either with their uncle or one of their elder cousins, but for some reason something felt wrong to her. She couldn't put her finger on it, and had she attempted to explain it she would never have been able to, but something felt amiss. She tried to tell herself that she was being foolish. Kíli was safe with his uncle and Fíli was safe with Dwalin. She was simply being paranoid.
She had tried to burry herself in the housework that she occasionally let slip. Keeping up with her boys was still a full-time job, even if they had grown to be more help as they'd aged, and so there was plenty of deep cleaning that had been neglected for long enough that she should have been able to occupy herself until they returned. It had failed, just as it always did, to hold her attention.
Just as she was about to give into her need to pace if only so that she could be in motion rather than sitting still even if she was going nowhere, the door opened and Kíli tumbled through it, kicking his boots off in a heap and dangling a stringer full of fish.
"Look, Mother, fish!" he called charging towards her in his socks, and offering her the stringer.
"I see that," she replied, taking the stringer with a smirk. "Lots of fish. Just what do you plan to do with so many?"
"Eat them," he said simply, his brown eyes dancing with mischief. "I might even share with you and Fíli."
"Might, eh?" she asked with a laugh reaching out with her free hand to ruffle his hair. "If you won't then I hope you're content to eat them raw because I'm not certain that I will be willing to share my hearth to cook something I won't get to enjoy."
"You'd better share, Lad," Thorin said, placing a hand on Kíli's shoulder and smiling down at him. "After all, your mother does have the best recipe for roasted fish in Ered Luin. It would be a shame for us to have to eat them raw." In response, Dís scoffed. It wasn't the best by far.
"Stop teasing, Thorin," she breathed blushing red beneath her beard.
"I do not tease, Dís," he replied with a smile. "I only speak the truth. Your fish are delicious. I would very much like to eat that for dinner if you have no other plans."
"I had a plan but we can eat it tomorrow. After all, there was no guarantee that you would come how with fish," Dís said, her blush refusing to fade. "So," she said clearing her throat, "since I'm cooking them does that mean I have to clean them as well?"
"Well, we did catch them," Thorin replied with a smirk.
"You did," Dís agreed. "However, I believe that would be a good deal more fun than roasting them. Can you deny that you enjoyed yourselves?"
"No," Thorin said. "I can't. However that doesn't mean that it wasn't work as well. Right, Little One?"
"Oh yes, Mother," Kíli added, looking up at his mother with wide eyes. "It was lots of work."
"Oh, do tell," Dís prompted fighting the smirk she could feel trying to creep onto her face. Kíli would say anything to get out of work and she knew that Thorin would back him, all the same, she couldn't resist the urge to see how he rationalized fishing as hard work.
"Well, we had to tie knots to keep the hooks on and catch bugs for bait and . . . and we had to carry them back!" Kíli said, his face showing that he thought it was a wonderful explanation.
"Oh! That sounds so arduous," Dís teased ruffling his hair again. "At any rate it's more trying than what I've done today. I'll clean them."
"Or I can," Fíli said from the doorway. Dís glanced up sharply at the offer and inspected her son the best she could without touching him. There were no visible marks on him and it seemed that everything was where it was supposed to be. Perhaps she had been worrying over nothing.
"I can handle it, Darling," Dís replied with a smile. "You had a busy day as well. Why don't you go sit with your brother and uncle while I take care of this."
"If I do that I'm the only one that contributed nothing to the meal," Fíli said. "Let me help."
"Fíli," she sighed, trying to come up with a way that would keep him from feeling as if he hadn't done anything to deserve food—though he knew that you didn't have to deserve food to get it—and yet also keep him from cleaning the fish.
"Don't coddle the lad, Dís," Thorin said, causing his sister to turn towards him incredulously. He dared to accuse her of coddling Fíli—who had been training all day—when he'd said nothing to Kíli for attempting to skive off work after a day spent sitting on a bank fishing!
"I do not coddle him!" she snapped. "He just spent the day training with Dwalin. He's bound to be exhausted and if—"
"And he wants to clean them," Thorin countered. "He knows his own abilities. Give the lad the fish." Dís opened her mouth to protest, but Fíli was already beside her, his hand around the stringer below her own and his blue eyes staring up at her with determination.
"I can do this, Mother," he said with a small smile. "Let me help."
"Fine," she said relinquishing her hold with a sigh. "If you insist, you can clean them. Leave the skins." Fíli nodded, already having known that since they were trout it would be better to leave the skins on but said nothing. Instead he went to the counter and began setting up an area to clean the fish.
Dís watched him for a moment, prepared to take over at the first sign of fatigue. She remembered just how trying the first day of training could be, though if she remembered correctly, Fíli wouldn't be aware of that fact until he attempted to rise tomorrow morning.
"He's all there, Dís," Dwalin said leaning against the doorframe with a smirk. "Just like I promised." She jumped, embarrassed to have been caught checking him over so soon after she'd denied coddling.
"A mother likes to see these things for herself," she replied covering her embarrassment with coolness. "After all, Cousin, you would tell me that he was fine. Especially knowing what I would do to you if he wasn't."
"Damn right I would," Dwalin replied with a laugh. "As would any dwarf with a hint of sense."
"I can't believe that you are afraid of my little sister," Thorin scoffed, leaning casually against the wall and smirking at his cousin. "You're nearly twice her size."
"Would you be willing to come home and tell her you'd injured either of the lads?" Dwalin asked seriously.
"Well, that's different," Thorin replied airily waving away his question with a dismissive gesture. "They're . . . they're my nephews. Of course I am expected to protect them from harm when I take them out. You're his combat instructor. She can't expect you to return him without the occasional bruise or cut."
Dwalin snorted but said nothing. It hadn't missed his notice that Thorin had avoided answering the question.
"So how did he do?" Dís asked, cutting into the conversation just as Dwalin opened his mouth to rebut her brother. The last thing she wanted was for the two of them to decide the boys needed a "combat demonstration" in the yard.
"He was brilliant, Dís," Dwalin said grinning widely. "Lad's got talent."
"I wasn't that good, Mr. Dwalin," Fíli said quietly, looking over his shoulder with disbelief clear on his face. "I wound up on the ground more than once."
"That you did, lad," Dwalin agreed. "But that's expected. Trust me, you wound up there fewer times than most. You've got good instincts."
"Course he does," Thorin added with a laugh, pride at his nephew's intrinsic abilities lightening his already good mood. "It's in his blood. I'd be more surprised if you told me he was hopeless."
"Thorin!" Dís hissed, hating the way her brother dismissed Fíli's achievements so casually. The fact that it was done with a laugh and a smile only adding to the sting of the dismissal rather than making it better.
"What?" he replied wondering what he'd done to evoke her ire this time. Perhaps it was the reminder of their family's bloody history, but that did not change the veracity of his statement and he was prepared to defend it. "It's true. Battle is in his blood, Dís. As is perseverance in the face of adversity, but it'll take more than instinct to keep him alive if someone wants him dead."
"That's why he's training," Dís said doing her best to keep her voice level so that neither Dwalin nor her sons saw her arguing with her brother. "He's there to hone those instincts into skills."
"Aye," Dwalin agreed, trying to break the tension he could feel between the siblings. "And he's got the instincts to hone. You should come see for yourself, Thorin. I think you'll be impressed." Dís flinched as Fíli dropped the knife he was using to clean the fish and shot a furtive glance over his shoulder. As Thorin seemed to consider it, Dís found herself praying that he couldn't make it. It was clear to her that Fíli did not want his uncle there and that Thorin's presence would only hinder his lessons since he would be more worried about pleasing his uncle that learning what he was being taught.
Thorin looked from where Fíli continued to shoot glances over his shoulder, to the tension in his sister's shoulders and knew that even though he had a full day scheduled tomorrow he had no choice but to fit in a visit to the training ground. If he wanted to keep peace in their home, that is. His meeting with Balin could be moved up and there was only a bit of work to be done at the forge. If he was up before dawn he could meet all his obligations and still make at least the end of Fíli's lessons.
Once he had it figured out, Thorin nodded. "I will come," he said. "I'm afraid there is no way I can be there for the whole lesson but I will be able to be there for the end. The two of you can show me what he's learned in two days."
"That we will!" Dwalin laughed clapping Fíli—who was now moving some of the fish to a new counter for his mother to season—on the shoulder. "Won't we, Lad?" Fíli's smile as he replied was much too tight for Dís' taste, but his voice was steady as he spoke.
"That we will," he said. "Mother, do you want the rest of these fish cleaned or—"
"Go, Darling," Dís replied. "Have a bath. Kíli can finish."
"What?!" the younger brother asked looking up from his latest project.
"You heard me," she replied. "Your brother cleaned half already, you can do the rest while I get started on dinner. It's only fair, after all." Kíli looked as though he would protest but stopped when he felt a hand come down on his shoulder.
"Come, Little One," Thorin said smiling down at his youngest. "Your mother's right. It is only fair. We were the ones that had fun catching them, we should at least share in the task of cleaning them."
Dís fought back the urge to protest as she watched her brother pick up the knife and begin cleaning the fish, leaving Kíli with the task of "assisting" and then threading the clean fish onto a line to be dried. To her knowledge, her youngest son had never cleaned a fish on his own and she wanted to tell her brother that Kíli would never learn if never given the chance but she kept her peace. After all, if she had learned one lesson in her lifetime it was that she needed to pick her battles. As irksome as this was, it wasn't worth the fight. Not yet. After all, Kíli was still a child. There would be plenty of time for him to learn to clean fish.