Fandom: The Hobbit/LoTR (Jackson movies)
Characters: Tauriel/Kili, Legolas/Tauriel (one-sided), Bard, Sigrid, Tilda, Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, Thorin's Company, Thranduil, Radagast
Rating/Warnings: T, none
Word Count: 6200
Summary: Because if Kili survived, there would be long-reaching consequences.
AN: Because I needed a fix-it Kili/Tauriel fic after BotFA, and because the timeline at the end baffled me: either the sun freezes in the sky for hours after Thorin dies, or Bilbo left (at earliest) the next day. Cheers to melonhead315 for the encouragement- I rarely venture into AU. Obvious deviation from canon, but I’ve tried to stay true to the characters and events of the movies. Mouseover for translations or here is the ffnet version if you prefer parentheses. (I find mouseover more like subtitles, but it doesn't work on mobile.)
Desperation spurs Kíli to leap when he sees the Orc captain swing a mace over Tauriel. And it works: Bolg immediately breaks off the attack when Kíli lands on top of him, although it only takes an instant before he throws him off.
Kíli scrambles back to his feet and attacks again. He was helpless to watch his brother die, but he can give this loved one a fighting chance. This foe is beyond even her—she's still lying stunned and helpless, so he knows his odds of surviving are slim. The Orc seems to hardly feel his blows and he's as fast as an elf despite his massive size.
An instant later Bolg's swiped the sword out of his hands before bulling forward, sending Kíli crashing into the staircase and knocking the air from his lungs. He sees stars and reaches feebly to grab a rock, a branch, anything- when he feels something smooth against his fingers.
And he wheels it overhand as Bolg hauls him up like a rag doll for skewering.
Kíli shouts and he hears Tauriel scream as the sharpened end of Bolg's mace hits his chest, like an anvil into his ribs before they both go crashing to the ground.
But the dagger has done its work, quivering in Bolg's eye socket, and without guidance Bolg's weapon has missed the gap in his mail.
"Kíli!" Tauriel heaves Bolg's corpse off of his body, falling to her knees beside him.
Tears fill her eyes when he takes a desperate breath, clutching at his ribs reflexively. He opens his eyes and attempts a smile.
"Seems you gave this Dwarf a weapon after all," he gasps, indicating the dagger with a tilt of his head, and she huffs a laugh and shakes her head as she strokes a hand down his cheek.
She can feel her fate sealing like Luthien's doom as relief and joy flood her senses, threatening to make the tears fall. But she says only, "your mother was correct."
"Hopeless," he agrees, placing his hand over hers and smiling as their eyes meet. He knows. But now is not the time.
They both grimace and scramble to retrieve their weapons when they hear shouts in Black Speech and heavy footfalls approaching.
They have yet to cut the head off this snake.
There's a kind of bitterness in Kili's heart as he chops down Azog's signal vanes atop Ravenhill, sending them spinning down the snowy slopes.
He pants for breath and discards the orc axe, bracing his hands against his knees as his wrathful momentum flags. Awareness seeps in of just how badly his chest hurts and how tired and sore he is as he looks around at the bodies scattered around. Ravenhill has a perfect view of the surrounding area, and Tauriel is studying the battlefield below.
"The Orcs scatter. A… large bear and the Great Eagles give chase." There are bewildered tears in her eyes. "My people did not retreat."
He looks up at her, placing a comforting hand on her arm, and she looks back at him and smiles. "It has been an age since Elves, Dwarves and Men fought together. Perhaps brighter days return."
He looks over at Erebor, relieved to see the Dwarf lines have held, although it's obvious how drastically their numbers have been reduced. Their reclaimed homeland, held at a terrible cost.
And he's reluctant to retrace his path back down to where Fíli lies, half hoping that it was all an awful joke. The numerous dead orcs littered along the way give him no pride or solace: none of those deaths will bring his brother back.
And he can barely breathe for weeping when they find him where he fell- wide-eyed and pale, the ground stained red under his body.
Kíli kneels to close his eyes and wipe the blood from his lips. Fíli had been the golden boy, Thorin's heir, always stronger, smarter and better prepared. And he'd always taken the duty to protect his brother to heart- they've all heard his mother tell the story of how she'd looked over to see Fíli dragging Kíli away from touching the glowing coals in the hearth, though he'd been just a wee lad himself.
"I know what you did. And I wish you hadn't. How am I going to tell Mother?" Kíli whispers brokenly.
Tauriel places her hand on his shoulder, eyes full of sorrow. She understands now why he'd been fighting his way uphill with such desperate rage.
She waits until the first storm of grief has eased a little, and wordlessly takes the sword he hands her so he can carry his brother's body down the mountain.
But that is not the only blow his heart has to withstand that day.
They hear Bilbo weeping before they find him, and Kíli staggers to a halt when they spot the hobbit huddled protectively over Thorin's head.
"No! No, no, no…"
It matters not that Azog lies impaled upon Orcrist a few feet away, his vile oath unfulfilled. Fíli was still not his final victim from the line of Durin.
"Oh Kíli. I'm so sorry," she whispers, bowing her head. She knows she can offer him no comfort beyond her sympathy- she remembers well the bewildering intensity of her own grief when she had lost her parents to orcs, now dead for six hundred years.
That is where Legolas finds her, and he assesses Azog's corpse and the company of dwarves grieving before he inclines his head in brief deference to Thorin's fallen figure. Then he approaches Tauriel and speaks low, urgently.
"Tauriel. They gather the wounded in Dale. Healers are needed."
She hesitates- she hates to leave Kíli like this, so raw and brokenhearted, but this isn't her place either.
Balin nods at her. "We will take care of our dead. You do what you can for the living."
She nods and follows Legolas back down the mountain.
In retrospect, Kíli finds surviving the next few hours far more difficult than surviving the battle itself.
Balin is solemn and regretful when he speaks once Kíli sits hollow and quiet before their bodies. Terrible to lose close kin, doubly so that he was witness to the violence of Fili's last moments.
And yet the words must be spoken. "As Thorin's next male kin, rule of Erebor and Durin's Folk falls to you now, Kíli, son of Dis."
The words take a few seconds to register, and Kili's mouth opens in stunned realization.
"How… can you even…? Thorin and Fíli were the elder brothers, the ones meant for greatness. I'm not… a leader, I'm just… I can't even braid my beard yet!"
Balin nods soberly. He'd expected Kíli to be reluctant- he's always been a follower, dutifully providing support instead of holding the position of power. But he's shown enough of his own initiative recently to give even a Longbeard some faith in this last member of Durin's senior bloodline. "The line of succession is clear. And perhaps you're too young to have done enough to merit greatness. But you are a worthy son of Durin. You've shown your mettle in battle today, fighting uphill to bring down the command signals of the enemy and defeating Bolg, spawn of Azog—you did not know?" he asks in mild surprise.
Kíli shakes his head and grimaces. His chest still aches from that encounter, every breath causing a sharp pain in the ribs. "That was… chance. He'd disarmed both of us and was about to finish me when I found Tauriel's dagger on the ground."
Balin tilts his head thoughtfully. "Was it only chance? Or could it possibly be fate? Shall I remind you how Thorin defeated Azog and became leader of Durin's Folk? Or simply of the last words you exchanged with your uncle?"
Was that only a few hours ago? Kíli stops, reeling. "You're saying that quailing isn't right? That leadership is in my blood? This was never meant for me. I am reckless, inexperienced, Fíli was supposed to… How could I possibly do justice to such an honor?"
"With one just act at a time. Your doubts are understandable- expected and right, even. Perhaps you could yield the crown to Dain, although he and his kin hold the Iron Mountains. Or you can trust, as I do, that Blood will tell." Balin pauses, raising his brows. "It seems you have a natural skill for Elvish diplomacy, at the very least."
Kíli flushes but says nothing of Tauriel. Tauriel. He had expected to marry or not, as he chose, and Durin's senior line truly hangs by a thread now.
But this duty is hardly one he can bypass with honor.
Bofur pats him on the shoulder. "And of course we know you're a reckless stripling! Who else would charge uphill into an army of Orcs alone? But you don't expect to rule without a council, now?"
Bifur glares and smacks him on the shoulder, and Bofur mouths "What?"
"Even Durin the Deathless listened to the people before founding Moria," Ori ventures. "Every leader has, in all the histories."
"Then advise me now. What does a king do after a battle is won?"
Ori gulps nervously. "Treat with the other kings."
"Our allies may expect to be compensated before they take their leave." Dori notes, frowning and stroking his beard.
Kíli nods, thinking aloud. "Well…we now owe the Eagles and Beorn twice over, and of course Gandalf and that other wizard fellow."
"Radagast was his name," Ori says.
"Bard still has the Arkenstone and the Elves won't be going anywhere soon with so many dead to mourn, nor our kin from the Iron Mountains. Have I forgotten anybody?"
They eye each other and shrug.
Kili nods and looks at his brother and uncle again.
Not so easily broken.
And he swallows and stands. "Let's get them home, then."
He's not sure why tears spring into his eyes again when they all bow and move to carry out his words.
As they carry the bodies of their kinsmen back to Erebor, they have to make their way past the carnage strewn over the land and spilling out of Dale, the moans of the dying and stench of death and smoke and blood. Oin and Gloin leave the procession to assist badly wounded kinsmen to Dale. And for the next few hours, those still able bodied compete in a grisly race to keep the wounded alive and retrieve their dead before the bodies are desecrated: many of the Gundabad bats linger, feasting on the abundance of carrion.
Kíli thinks those tasks more critical, but he has other duties now. And if he discharges them as a novice with red-rimmed eyes and a heavy heart, he believes he does well enough, considering. Dain Ironfoot, Balin, Dwalin and Ori accompany him to the gathering of the leaders, carrying what rewards they would offer, and he's grateful for their presence and Bilbo's in the presence of such towering, powerful allies.
Gandalf directs the proceedings, for which he is grateful. Kíli merely has to follow his lead, thanking the Eagles and offering them lasting friendship, along with a gold crown for their Lord and armlets for the others as tokens of that promise. The Lord of Eagles accepts them gratefully and Kíli bows. One thing done.
Beorn thunderously forestalls any offer of gold, growling that he is satisfied with the knowledge that Thorin Oakenshield killed the Defiler. Kíli nods, forcing back the surge of emotion those words evoke and scrambling to think. "As you will- of course. But- we Dwarves have some skill with metal, and you have aided us twice. I wonder… if you would allow us to try to remove the shackle on your wrist. After all, we have forge and tools again."
This surprises them all, and Beorn considers for a nerve-wracking moment before accepting with a fierce delight that makes them all take a nervous step back.
Kíli bows before standing straighter and prouder. And another.
But the next part is hard anyway—Thranduil's manner is so cold and superior that Kíli understands immediately why he had driven Thorin into a rage. His son Legolas glowering behind him is also the one who'd ordered Tauriel away from him on the shore.
But Kili's also learned the bitter price of war, and he reminds himself that Elves fought with Dwarves today; that their healers work even now to save life and limb; that these are Tauriel's kin and their neighbors, and goodwill will smooth future dealings. And there is blood—both orc and not—splattered on their beautiful clothes and faces.
So he opens a chest of diamonds, the largest of which are set in a mithril necklace crowning the lot. And as he sees hungry triumph flare in the Elven King's eyes he feels his gut sink, but that unease tempers when he sees the tearful emotion that follows on its heels.
"Ah, Legolas. If only your mother were still alive to wear these. She so dearly loved the stars," Thranduil whispers.
Behind him, Legolas' eyes widen with startled vulnerability before he lowers them hastily.
Thranduil closes the chest before he smiles regally and bows, and Kíli bows in return.
They then approach Bard with two chests of gold. "A portion of what is owed. I hold three of fourteen shares now. Dale will have one, honoring the bargain my Uncle originally struck. I would not ransom more lives for gold," Kíli vows.
Bard bows. "It will not bring back the lost. But it will help rebuild the lives of those who survived. We thank you for just settlement."
He produces the Arkenstone, regarding it thoughtfully for a moment. "I return this then, to the one whose share it was claimed under."
Kili's face tightens as he looks at it. Their family treasure and the right to call on all seven tribes: the Heart of the Mountain so irreverently passed between non-dwarves.
Bilbo quirks his head before he speaks, voice thick with emotion despite his attempt to keep the words light. "If you don't mind, I'd like to give this into Thorin's keeping where he- rests. I'd intended for him to get it back all along and heaven knows I don't need it. Would that be all right? I'm not sure of the proper Dwarven wa-"
Too moved to speak, Kili forgoes all ceremony and engulfs him in a hug, eyes full as he claps the hobbit on the back. He swallows before he finds the words. "It will be done, and gladly. But do not think you go home with nothing- a Burglar should have gold and silver for cheese and dishes and pipeweed."
Gandalf smiles as the others of the company join them, buffeting Bilbo with tearful hugs and pats.
And so ends of the presenting of rewards, for both wizards brush off offers of compensation.
"We aid those that would fight the darkness. Nothing more. This reward business is concluded, yes? I must needs return to my friends," Radagast grumbles, looking distractedly out of the tent.
Gandalf coughs hastily. "Well…then." He looks at each of them solemnly. "All creatures under the light fought together this day. May we see such bonds continue even in times of peace."
They all bow, and Radagast hustles out, beckoning to the Eagles to follow. Thranduil and his son depart behind them in that graceful unison that Elves achieve so easily before Bard and his men carry out their gold. Somewhere in the fuss Bilbo disappears in typical Burglar fashion.
Kíli directs the other dwarves to guide Beorn back to Erebor and lingers behind. "Gandalf- could I have a word?"
The wizard grips his shoulder, seeing the fresh grief in his eyes, the uncertainty. "That was well met, Kíli, King under the Mountain."
Kíli feels unsure all over again hearing Gandalf utter the title. But the assurance gives him a little heart. "…I only try to honor my kin and pay proper due. But one thing plagues me: is there some way we can cleanse the dragon sickness from the gold? I dare not use it if I will fall prey to the same weakness, and yet I see no other course."
Gandalf beams before he starts to chuckle. "My dear Kíli. You spend it."
Kíli blinks, baffled. "That is… all? No wizard's spell, no secret tool?"
Gandalf nods, squeezing the shoulder of this unlikely king. "The sickness festers in the hoarding. Turn that gold into grain and livestock, steelworkers and stonemasons- do anything but keep it. And both king and kingdom will be healthy and prosperous, indeed."
Kíli sighs, looking out at the scarred and littered battlefield, the oily smoke from the pyre of orc corpses, Erebor's ruined gate and Dale's collapsed outer walls. "It will take much more than gold to right this."
"Anything worthwhile does," Gandalf replies philosophically. "Destruction has always been easier. Creation, construction, connection: those take the longer and harder path. But- I think most would concur that they are far more rewarding."
Not sure that he's comforted, Kíli bows and takes his leave. There's work to do, and he's still surer of what he can accomplish with his hands than with the grand gestures of a king.
They all continue to work until well after the moon rises: both Elves and Men will eventually return their dead to the soil, but Dwarves place their fallen into the stone crypts under the mountain. Occasionally the grim task uncovers a survivor on the battlefield—both orc and not- and the bats become more aggressive as they fight for the right to the corpses, so they all work with blade in hand.
Kíli leads a group of injured to Dale once their dead have all been retrieved: they'd refused to waste time seeing to themselves while they could be of service, but he'll accept no protest now. He brings them to Oin and Sigrid, who immediately begin sorting those that need Elvish healing from those they can treat with splints, poultices and stitches.
"Isn't Tauriel here?" Kíli asks, searching the hall. Sigrid gives him an unhappy look. "She's out back. We lost another Elf and she's taking it hard."
Satisfied that the men are being seen to, he goes to find her.
She's sitting against the wall, face toward the night sky and tears leaving tracks down her cheeks. Her clothes are badly stained now with blood that isn't hers, and it smears her face when she attempts to wipe away the tears. "Kíli?"
"…You lost a friend?"
She shakes her head. "A subordinate. I trained him. Perhaps not well enough."
He's never seen any elf forlorn and uncertain. "Tauriel. The fault is not yours."
"Is it not? All captains must learn critical healing, but perhaps I should have asked a dedicated healer to care for him instead," she says, disconsolate as she looks at the blood staining her hands. Kíli swallows before venturing closer.
"You may not have saved him. But you saved at least one. More, if we helped hasten the retreat of their armies," he says, taking her hand and sitting next to her.
She leans her head on his and squeezes his hand. "Victory does not taste as sweet as I had imagined."
He leans back against her, thinking of Fíli and Thorin on their stone beds, and his voice cracks. "No, it does not."
They speak simultaneously:
"I've been banished."
"I am king now."
Then again, aghast.
"Thranduil banished you?!"
"King Thranduil. I defied him and worse. If not for Legolas I would be dead. How can you be king?"
"Thorin Oakenshield was my uncle. And Fíli was his heir," he says, and she can hear the tears in his voice.
"Oh Kíli," she says softly. What strange fates we have found.
They are silent for a minute, grieving together before she realizes how shallow and halting his breathing is and sits up. "Curse the stubbornness of Dwarves. You are injured."
His mouth falls open to protest, but she quells him with a stern look and briskly parts the gap in his mail to examine his chest with a frown.
"This was where that Orc struck you- I suspect you've several fractured ribs. You should have told me earlier; it must be painful. I need you to come inside, take off your armor and lie down."
He can't help it with an opening like that: he half-smiles and raises his eyebrow suggestively. "If you insist."
She rolls her eyes, but can't hold back a faint smile. "I will ask you not to be so impudent in front of the others."
"Says the She-elf begging me to remove my clothing."
She huffs her outrage while offering him a hand up. She can still feel grief clinging, a mournful ache in her eyes and chest. But there will be time and space to mourn later, when the need for action is not so pressing. And there's a kind of relief with Kíli here being his irrepressible, vital self.
It reminds her of what they fought for, a spark in the darkness.
He's less cheeky in the hall—taking off his armor hurts more than he wants to admit, and he's grateful she's facing away washing her hands. But he winks when she asks him to pull up his shirt, smiling wider when he sees her cheeks color before she lays her hands on his chest. Watching their king trust in Elvish medicine also helps Oin convince the reluctant to submit to magical healing as well: no ointment can heal wounds inflicted by the cursed blades and arrows some of the orcs carried.
Kili's grateful he's not delirious this time- his memory of her healing had been as a dream, fragmented and otherworldly. And he wants to remember this, her hands cool and smooth on his skin, and her eyes on his as she chants. He gasps when he feels intense heat where constricting pain had been, with Tauriel seeming to glow, incandescent. Then the vision dims and his breathing suddenly comes easier again.
She smiles when he does, and lets him hold her hands close as he gulps for breath.
"What does it mean? The words."
She hesitates. "May what grace is given me pass to him."
That puzzles him. "Is that the usual spell for fractures?"
She flushes, lowering her eyes, but before she can speak she's curtly interrupted.
"No. It is not."
Legolas has entered the hall with Bard, narrowing his eyes at Tauriel and jerking his head in wordless disapproval.
She pulls her hands back, embarrassed, and turns away. Bard glances around warily, taken aback by the sudden tension. "I… apologize for the intrusion. Our women have made soup and stew and they send word that Elves and Dwarves are welcome to share in it."
Kíli nods, pulling down his shirt and sitting up slowly. While Bard has averted his eyes respectfully to the side, Legolas' scrutiny is distinctly uncomfortable.
"That is most generous. I will tell my kin. Perhaps we can contribute in some way as well. Erebor's food stores have long turned to dust but there are still spirits in the cellars."
Bard smiles faintly. "I think many will welcome a drink tonight."
"We dwarves greatly prefer it to anything else after a battle," Kili agrees wryly.
"We will be in the square." Bard bows before leaving.
To Kili's dismay, Legolas stays while Tauriel self-consciously busies herself collecting more medical supplies. So Kíli blithely ignores him, shucking back on his armor and checking that the other dwarves have been treated and released before approaching her again.
"Tauriel, I thank you."
"A healer's duty is to the injured," she says, demurring, and he knows she's speaking as much to Legolas as to him.
"Will you come to eat later?"
She meets his eyes hesitantly. "If duty permits. The need is less critical now, but some were merely putting off seeing a healer," she says pointedly, and he grins back cheekily.
"Then I hope to see you there," he says warmly, squeezing her hand before giving Legolas a wary look and bowing himself out.
She hopes that the public nature of the hall will prevent Legolas from airing his frustrations. But he simply speaks low.
She looks down, shamefaced. "Ú-iston."
His eyes narrow slightly, and there's cold anger in his tone. "Den ú-iston. "
She swallows. "What does it matter? Did we not gain a victory over darkness today by fighting with them? Perhaps now the Mirkwood will return to the Greenwood and trade will once again flourish-"
"Tauriel! I ask for answers, not evasions."
There's no time for more recriminations though- several Elves hurry in holding another. "She's badly injured- we thought we were recovering a corpse when Amathiel realized she still drew breath."
The other healers are all occupied. She gives Legolas a pleading look. "Forgive me."
He gestures impatiently, bidding her to attend to the injured.
She swallows and briskly issues orders, assessing the extent of the injuries, prioritizing the swelling in the brain over the nasty bite marks and dislocated shoulder.
By the time the long and difficult healing is complete, he has already gone. And the relief that she feels is a double-edged blade: Legolas has ever been her closest friend. Feeling the widening gulf between them is yet another torment in a day already overfull with anguish.
The number of patients falls off dramatically when their dead are all accounted for. Most of those that survived need talk, rest and nourishment to heal, and drink can suppress the pain of the heart the way magic cannot. The senior healers urge the others to rest, the mortals especially.
Tauriel approaches Sigrid at their behest. "You are weary and the hour is late. Go, eat and rest."
She widens her eyes and straightens in simulated alertness. "No, I want to help. I'm not that tired."
Tauriel sighs and gives Oin an imploring look. He nods gruffly. "Come on, lass. Many a healer has become the patient through lack of rest. We do not have the stamina of Elven-kind, and may hinder more than help."
Tauriel thinks quickly. "Send food. That we need, and dare not leave our station to retrieve."
Oin pats Sigrid's shoulder, tucking away his ear trumpet. "Well. We've one last task then. Show this old dwarf the way to the square?"
Sigrid sighs, outnumbered and outwitted. But Tauriel is surprised when Bard himself appears with stew and bread.
"Sigrid dispatched me," he says, proffering the food. His manner suggests exactly how that encounter went.
Tauriel smiles, serving the most senior healers first. "She is eager to learn, and the young chafe against limitations. I understand that."
Bard speaks reflectively. "She admires you greatly. You rescued them from Orcs and then Smaug's wrath. I am in your debt."
Was that only days ago? "No- we should never have let Orcs pass our lands. And I doubt even our finest bowmen could have brought down that wyrm- you have truly prodigious skill. Any debt would be mine."
He raises his brows self-deprecatingly. "High praise, coming from an Elf- I thank you. But I cannot claim the whole of it- without my son we would have been lost. And the Black Arrow was dwarf forged, passed down from my fathers. Nothing else would have pierced that hide, no matter how fierce and true the flight. Such craftsmanship has long been lost."
She smiles faintly at such unrelenting pessimism. "Perhaps it can yet be found again. After all, a prophecy has been fulfilled."
Bard's more accustomed to hardship than hope. "That is true. But I worry this new king seems more reckless than wise. And his kinsman proved less than honorable."
She can feel her cheeks warming as she eyes him sharply. There's an unspoken question there- this Bard missed little from earlier. So she speaks carefully, placing her hand over the runestone still safe in her pocket. "They were our prisoners for a time. Kíli and I became- close…in a way I had not expected. Your perceptions may be apt. But I also know he has a good heart. And that he keeps his promises."
Bard tilts his head and nods respectfully. "I rest assured, then. Please, eat. I dare not risk my daughter's wrath again."
And he gives her a rare smile before he departs, leaving her bemused. A man asking an elf about a dwarf. To think she'd been bemoaning their isolation.
Kili hadn't meant to get drunk. He knows people look to their kings, and his uncle had always been the model of moderation and princely self-control.
But he's exhausted and it dulls the pain of lost loved ones, the horror of seeing his kin cut down and feeling of being hopelessly out of place in his new role. If only I'd gone with him. Refused to obey. They might have both made it out.
The others are no help- they're all somber and heartsick too. So he keeps drinking in silence, listening to Dain talk of their desperate journey here and the valor of some of his fallen men. Bombur is the first to start crying into his cups, but not the last.
There will be songs and heroically embellished tales later to celebrate the lives of their honorable dead. He'll get through that with as much bravado as he can, but for now he can't think about how brightly they had shone in life without feeling their loss more keenly.
He glances around the square, where humans and elves are sitting in their own groups, sharing their shell-shocked tales of near misses, orc depravity and lost comrades. He still hasn't seen Tauriel, although Legolas has been glaring daggers at him all night.
Which reminds him of her exile. It's lucky chance Thranduil isn't here or he would probably be belligerent and inappropriate towards their new ally.
He sets down his mug and belatedly realizes how far-gone he is when he staggers to his feet. It brings to mind his mother's advice: Look for Fili if you're in trouble. Like as not he'll be in it with you, but even so. He's always found a way to scrape you home from bar or brawl.
He swipes away tears before he informs Ori instead, who nods absently while continuing to fill his book of parchment.
But he never makes it to the healing hall- she's striding toward the square, her red hair easily recognizable even in the waning moonlight, and her tender smile gives him a rush of warmth.
"I'd forgotten to ask if you needed a place to sleep. You will always be welcome in Erebor. And I can say grand, sweeping things like that now," he says, swaying a little on his feet.
"I thank you. But Elves do not sleep as mortals must. The sky is clear and starlight will give me refreshment enough," she says, looking at him with concern. He's grieving, battle weary, and more than a little drunk. And yet concern for her had spurred him to seek her out.
"You and your starlight. You will be free to see it every night now, at least," he says tentatively.
She smiles tremulously. "Come then. See it with me now?"
They climb up the broken wall of the city so that the view is less obstructed. And it's easy enough to convince him to lay his head next to hers so she can tell him their names until she hears his breathing even out.
She keeps vigil as he sleeps, deep and blessedly dreamless. Her conscience demands that she should seek out Legolas. But she's not sure she can say anything that will soothe his ire- she's acted on emotion more than wisdom, broken a long held trust.
And she cannot deny that spending her night next to Kíli under the stars is what her heart wants after the events of the day.
So she brushes a kiss to his lips and stays, pondering what new paths lie before her -and which are now closed behind- as she looks out into the night.
Legolas tracks her down just after daybreak.
"You did not come to the square." He looks inordinately pleased until he realizes who lies beside her.
"He was so weary," she explains weakly.
"So he drank himself into oblivion? A suitable new king, indeed."
She exhales, exasperated. "Legolas, have mercy! Surely even our kin were not restrained after yesterday's horrors. He lost his brother and uncle and was then asked to carry an honor he never wanted. I understand wanting to cloud such painful memory."
He looks at her with disbelief. "You speak as if you've known him longer than an instant."
"…Because I know him. Amiable and courageous, curious and loyal, proud and yet humble… He makes me laugh and wonder and hope. He's seen so much more of our world despite being so young…"
She smiles then, as if at some sort of private joke.
Stricken by the tenderness in her expression, Legolas inhales, looking away. "You love him. Against all that is natural."
He knows her better than anybody, and she can't lie to him about this any more than she can continue lying to herself. "I- I suppose."
His eyes are pained. "You suppose? It is folly, Tauriel! Would you catch a falling star? It will not extinguish the slower, merely take you with it into oblivion."
"…But I would get to hold it close. If only for a moment."
She looks at him with regret, tries to explain, as much for him as herself. "Do you think there is any argument, any scenario you could imagine that I have not already considered? I know Luthien's tale and all I stand to lose; I know the great divide between our peoples; the power he now holds and how it may change him. … But my king has already decreed that I cannot go home. And you know that hearts do not heed commands. I have tried mightily to school it with reason; to forestall such perilous emotion, and I have failed. So I would follow where it leads."
Legolas turns away, horrified. Long moments pass before he speaks. "Then our ways must part. For I cannot abide witnessing you succumb to this fate." He pauses, his eyes anguished as he stares into the sunrise. "You know the yearning of my heart."
The despair in his voice breaks her heart, and tears spring to her eyes.
He does not bid her farewell. He hasn't the heart to, with her doom like a stone weighing it down and her choice of another cutting it to the core.
The Elves take their leave shortly before sundown, when the Dwarves will ceremoniously seal the crypts of their dead. Kíli is paying his last respects to his kin, and Tauriel suspects her king has timed this as a final punishment.
Thranduil rides at the front of the procession, and he halts their progress so he can speak to her one last time. "I have not congratulated you for snaring a king. If only you had not ensnared a prince first, I might have spared you your prize."
Legolas' parting is painful enough without adding salt to the wound, and she looks away bitterly. "This was no game. You mock me for feelings I cannot control."
"And yet they have driven my son away. I suspect he cannot bear to see you cleave to this…Nogotheg. As such, I expect his return when you have both met your doom. For all the love in your heart… will not spare him from death."
She stiffens as if he's struck her but simply lowers her head deferentially when he urges his horse to ride onwards.
Tears run down her cheeks as she watches her people file past, cold and silent. But they are not all unmoved: several—her comrades and subordinates- walk by with hand over heart to show their grief over parting. They dare not do more, and she stares straight ahead, determined to endure this with grace.
She's so focused on maintaining the façade that she gasps with shock when Tilda runs up to tug at her sleeve. "But why are you not going with them?"
She struggles to find an explanation that would suit a child. "…I defied my king by leaving the wood. So I must now make my home elsewhere."
Bard joins them belatedly, giving Tilda a reproving look as he pants for breath before frowning at Tauriel. "Exile? A harsh sentence."
Tauriel swallows. "Soldiers must obey."
Bard frowns, understanding. "An example, then."
Tilda screws up her forehead in dismay. "Well that's not fair. If you hadn't come those Orcs would have got us."
Tauriel inhales jaggedly at such childish, self-centered reasoning. "I am glad I came, then."
Tilda looks up. "You can hold my hand if you're sad."
Chapter 2 (Oh My Stars)