A/N: OK, so this was meant to be the next one-shot in the "Subordinate Clauses" series, but then it ended up getting way too long. It'll probably be two chapters. Thank you to those who reviewed the last one-shot!

It was a clear night in late August when Bilbo finally saw his home once again, more than a year after he had set foot out of his front door on his journey towards becoming a very different hobbit. The stars shone over the gentle hills, and the soft dirt of the path was cool underneath his feet, having been slightly dampened by a sprinkling of light summer rain. Bilbo could not have wished for a better introduction to Hobbiton for Kili, and he smiled at the little dwarf as he looked around at everything with great interest.

"It is all even smaller than I remember," Fili commented, although he had a smile on his face, too, and a hand on his brother's back.

"Well, it is certainly not a marvellous dwarven kingdom like Erebor," Bilbo retorted. "But it is exactly the right size for hobbits."

Fili laughed. "Well, of course," he said. "It is all exactly the right size."

They met no-one on the road as they made their way up to Bag End, which was exactly as Bilbo had planned it and the reason they had come so late in the evening. Certainly Bilbo did not plan to hide his visitors away, but he felt that a gentle introduction would be advisable, given the amount of attention they were bound to attract. The lights were doused in the hobbit hole itself, of course, but the outside lamps burned brightly, a circumstance which left Bilbo rather confused and curious. He slipped the key from under the mat and unlocked the door, smiling and gesturing for his guests to step in. Fili, though, paused on the doorstep.

"I never imagined, when last I knocked on this door-" he started, and then stopped. After a moment's contemplative silence, he turned to Kili with a smile. "Do you know," he said, "I think Mr. Baggins was not entirely happy to meet me when first I stood here, though of course he did an excellent job of hiding it."

"Yes, well, even one dwarf can be quite disconcerting," Bilbo said, "let alone twelve, and all quite unexpected, too! But I am happy to see you now, Master Fili. As long as you wipe your feet this time!"

Foot-wiping took a little explanation for Kili, but he had given up wearing the dwarvish boots his uncle had cajoled him into many weeks before, and although his bare feet were grimy, they were no more so than Bilbo's own, and unlikely to be dropping mud into the clean passageway. He stood in the hallway, staring around with a rather wondering expression on his face, and Bilbo let him look his fill and then patted his arm.

"Well, my lad," he said, "what do you think of my hall?"

"Is good," Kili said. "What is word? Nice?"

"Nice," said Bilbo with a nod, for he had been trying to expand Kili's vocabulary of positive adjectives.

"Is nice," Kili said. "Nice place. More nice." He stared at Bilbo's mother's glory box and his fingers twitched as if he wished to touch it, but he did not move.

"This is just the hallway, my brother," Fili said with a smile. "There is a great deal more than that."

And so they showed Kili the rest of the hobbit hole - or at least, part of it, for as soon as they stepped into the kitchen, Bilbo decided that the tour would wait until they had had something to eat. They still had some rations from the road, which was not ideal, but of course, Bilbo thought as he peeked into the pantry, the dwarves had eaten him out of house and home immediately before he had left, and even if they hadn't any food that had been left over would be long spoiled-


He frowned in some confusion, for the pantry was far from empty. Indeed, it was almost full, and nothing looked to be rotten at all. Had someone somehow known he was coming and prepared this for his return? They had been travelling through the more remote parts of the Shire for some days, after all, and it was not at all beyond the realm of possibility that news of his return might have leaked out. Perhaps Holman-

His thoughts were interrupted by a shriek from the living room, and he started violently and then immediately reached for the first object he could see that might serve as a weapon - a heavy glass bottle of what appeared to be cherry liqueur, as it happened - thinking with a sinking heart of the little sword that he had cheerfully unbuckled in the entranceway. His heart in his throat, he made his way silently to the open living room door and then peered through it, liqueur bottle raised and at the ready.

The sight that he saw was not something he was prepared for in the slightest. His least beloved cousin, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, stood in the middle of the floor, her eyes almost bulging out of her head and one hand clutching a ladle, which was half-raised as if to strike a blow. Kili was pressed against the wall, his head down and his hair covering his face, although Bilbo could see his dark eyes darting to and fro as if searching for an escape route, and his hand was clenched into a fist at his side. And Fili stood with a knife to Lobelia's throat and a look of absolute fury on his face that had even Bilbo faltering in the doorway.

"You touch him again and I will make sure you regret it," Fili said, his voice deep and dangerous.

There was a frozen silence, and then Lobelia let out a squeak, and that was enough to break through the fog of astonishment that held Bilbo in place and propel him into the room, raised his free hand in a placatory gesture and glancing briefly at the liqueur bottle in his other hand before setting it down on an end table.

"Now," he said, "what is going on here? Fili, kindly do not skewer my cousin, we hobbits consider such things to be rather bad manners."

Lobelia's eyes bulged even more, if that was at all possible, and Bibo began to be rather concerned that they might simply pop out of her head. Fili scowled at Bilbo.

"This - person is your cousin?" he asked.

"Indeed she is," Bilbo said, though at this moment (and indeed not for the first time) he rather wished she wasn't. He eyed the ladle that Lobelia still clutched in her hand, and then went over to Kili and tried to pry him away from the wall, finally settling with putting a hand on his arm and squeezing gently. "Lobelia, please put down that ladle and refrain from attacking my guests in future."

The ladle fell from Lobelia's fingers and clattered on the floor, causing Kili to flinch a little. Fili took a step back and lowered his knife, though he kept it still in his hand and did not take his eyes from Lobelia, and the fury on his face did not abate in the least.

"Your... guests?" Lobelia said, in an extremely high-pitched tone. Then she turned to him and stared as if she had seen a ghost. "Bilbo Baggins!" she cried, as if she had found him stealing her silverware. "What do you mean by coming back here?"

Bilbo did his best not to scowl at her, for that only ever made things worse. "What do you mean by asking me what I mean?" he said. "This is my house. I come and go as I choose!"

"It is not your-" Lobelia started, and then drew her eyebrows together in a deep frown. "You wandered off with-" she glanced at Kili and made a disgusted face "-dwarves and we have assumed you were dead for months! You cannot simply come back as if nothing has happened!"

A thought slowly began to take shape in Bilbo's mind. The food in the pantry, the lights burning outside - and now he looked around the living room, he saw there were a few things there that he was sure were not his, an ugly little carving of a dog on the mantelpiece, an unfamiliar shawl on the back of a chair. "Lobelia," he said slowly, "are you trying to tell me that you have been - been squatting in my home?"

"Squatting?" Lobelia cried, her fear apparently forgotten as she worked herself up into a fury. Kili shifted a little beside Bilbo, and Bilbo squeezed his arm a little more firmly. "I have rights! You went away, how was I to know you were not dead?" She sounded quite put out by this last, and Bilbo decided that perhaps scowling was the order of the day after all.

"My dear Lobelia," he snapped, "it is hardy my fault that you assumed something that was certainly not true! Whatever it was you thought, the truth is that I am very much alive. What is more, I have been travelling a long time, as have my invited guests, and we are all quite weary. I suggest you go back to your own home and leave us in peace. I will have your things delivered to you in the morning."

Lobelia gaped at this, for previously Bilbo had generally been in the habit of placating her as much as possible - anything for a quiet life, so he had thought. She seemed like perhaps she was going to start shouting again, but Fili stepped up behind her so that his mouth was directly by her ear, and she jumped as she felt his breath on her cheek.

"I suggest you do as Mr. Baggins says," he said quietly.

Lobelia squeaked again, and Bilbo gestured towards the door. She rushed to it, but paused in the doorway, glaring again at Bilbo. "You have changed, Bilbo Baggins," she said. "You have become... dwarvish."

And she fled.

Bilbo waited until he heard the front door open and close, and then sighed in relief. "Well," he said, "there is nothing wrong with that."

Fili's knife had disappeared somewhere about his person, and now he stepped forward and stroked Kili's hair.

"Come on then, brother," he said. "She is gone now, and she will not be coming back, I promise."

Kili made no response for a moment, but then he glanced at Bilbo. Bilbo nodded. "She is not invited," he said. "She won't come back. And if she does, your brother and I will throw her out again."

Kili seemed to relax a little at this, and he allowed his brother to put an arm around his shoulders and lead him to an armchair in the corner facing the door. Bilbo saw, though, that his hand unclenched from his side, and that it had been wrapped around the hilt of his own little knife, and he realised that had Fili not intervened, the situation could easily have become very serious indeed.

"Oh dear," he muttered to himself.

And in fact, things were not nearly as simple as Bilbo had hoped. Whether it was a reaction to Lobelia or simply to being in a new place, or whether it was for no reason at all other than the fact that twenty-five years of misery leaves marks that are not easily erased, Kili had a dreadful nightmare that night, and slept not at all afterwards, which of course meant that Bilbo and Fili also slept very little. But in the morning, Bilbo woke in his own bed, and he felt a sense of peace that he had almost forgotten could exist. Certainly things would not be simple, but they would be better, of that he was sure.

After breakfast, Bilbo led his two guests out to sit on the sunny bench where once, more than a year and many, many adventures ago, he had blown smoke rings with Gandalf. Bilbo and Fili talked quietly, and Kili sat and listened, seeming content not to speak himself, though he was paying very close attention to everything that happened around him.

Holman Greenhand came by before the sun was very far up the sky. He broke into a great, gap-toothed smile when he saw Bilbo, and hurried up the hill towards him, stout stick in hand.

"Why, Mr. Baggins!" he said. "I had given you up for lost, so I had. When I heard this morning you'd come back with a pair of bloodthirsty dwarves, I could hardly believe my ears!" A look of chagrin crossed his face then, and he bowed quickly to Fili and Kili. "Begging your pardon, sirs," he said. "I am sure you're not bloodthirsty at all."

"Only for Sackville-Baggins blood," Bilbo said with a smile, and jumped from the bench to embrace his friend. "I am sorry I gave you such a scare! I had certainly intended to be back before this, but one or two things happened to delay me."

"And is it true you slew a hundred dragons, Mr. Baggins?" Holman asked with wonder in his face.

"Oh, my dear Holman," Bilbo laughed. "I think you will find that almost everything that is said about me is untrue. I have not slain even one dragon."

"Oh," Holman said, looking quite disappointed, and Bilbo leaned closer.

"I find that riddling with dragons is better than slaying them, anyway," he said. "Much less unpleasantness involved!"

At this, Holman beamed at him. "And will you be wanting your garden doing?" he asked. "I'll have young Hamfast up and help me."

"Why of course!" said Bilbo.

And that was that.

After that, there appeared to be a steady stream of hobbits who just happened to be passing by Bag End. Some, Bilbo was happy to see, others, not quite so happy, but all he sent on their way as quickly as possible, for he did not think it was yet time to be introducing his guests around. Fili watched with some amusement, and occasionally bowed when he was referred to, but said nothing. Kili kept his head down, but watched everything from underneath his hair, and whenever they found themselves alone Bilbo regaled them both with tales of this or that hobbit who had just left, Fili asking the occasional question and Kili listening with a look of deep concentration on his face. Finally, Fili announced he was going to go exploring, and after a quick consultation it was decided that Kili should stay behind for the time being.

So it was that Bilbo found himself sitting down to elevenses with his little dwarf friend in his own home, and he felt again that sense of peace as he laid a plate of bread and honey in front of Kili, courtesy of Lobelia's well-stocked pantry. Kili ate in silence for some time, and Bilbo busied himself making tea and occasionally suggesting to Kili that he might consider not trying to put entire slices of bread in his mouth at once - although in truth he had long since given up any thought of instilling anything like table manners into the little dwarf - when Kili swallowed a particularly large mouthful and finally spoke.

"Mr. Baggins," he said carefully, "how many hobbits there are?"

"Hm?" Bilbo asked, looking up from the stove. Something had been quite wrong with Kili's framing of the question, and he tried to establish what it was so that he could correct it, but it took him a moment to realise that in fact, it had not been the question at all.

"What was that?" he asked, confused. "What did you call me?"

Kili stared at him. "Mr. Baggins," he said, his mouth twisting a little. "It is right?"

"Well, I-" Bilbo started, but he could not deny that it was, and so he nodded. "Yes," he said. "That is my name."

Kili nodded slowly, looking quite troubled. "Yes, it is right," he said, as if to himself. "I am wrong, am wrong many months. I thinked - thought, I thought understand, but not understand. Hobbit not is name."

"No," Bilbo said, sitting down and offering Kili more tea. "Hobbit is a type of creature. Like dwarf."

Kili looked very solemn. "Yes," he said. "I understand. I am sorry I wrong, call you wrong."

"Oh, my dear lad," Bilbo said, "don't worry your head about it. You had far too many things to try and learn in a short time to worry about something so unimportant."

"I think important," Kili said.

"You think it is important," Bilbo said, deciding to focus on Kili's grammar instead of his mistake. Kili grimaced a little, but then frowned in concentration.

"I think it important," he repeated, and Bilbo laughed.

"Well, that is actually right!" he said. "Though rather like something your uncle would say. But I'm sure he will be pleased to hear you speaking like a proper dwarf prince!"

Kili shook his head, looking confused, and Bilbo smiled. "It doesn't matter," he said. "You see, my lad? It doesn't matter."

Fili returned when Kili and Bilbo had just finished afternoon tea, carrying an apple in one hand and grinning all over his face. "I have never seen so many children in my life!" he said. "Did you know there is a market in the next village?"

"You went all the way to Bywater?" Bilbo asked in surprise. "You have missed three meals!"

"Not to worry, Mr. Baggins," Fili said, "I do not think I need fear for my stomach in this little country of yours!" He sat down next to Kili and pressed the apple into his hand. "Here, my brother," he said. "I bought this for you."

"Thank you Fili," said Kili, and tore into the apple, core and all, as if he had not just eaten half a large seed-cake. Fili watched him in fond amusement, and Bilbo was reminded of something.

"Ah, yes!" he said, and hurried to a little cupboard, rummaging through it until he found what he was looking for. "I have been meaning to give this to you," he said to Kili, stepping over to him and holding out the little object. Kili took it and stared, holding it between his fingertips.

"Thank you h- Mr. Baggins," he said, and looked a little upset for a moment. Fili raised his eyebrows, and Bilbo felt an odd sort of pang himself, but then Kili turned the little object over in his hand and brushed his fingertips across it. "What it is?" he asked.

"It is a mouth harp," Bilbo said. "It was my father's, but I have never been much given to play. I thought you might like it." He took it gently out of Kili's hand and put it to his mouth, doing his best to make it sing, although he had never had much of a gift for it and it sounded rather wretched. Kili looked astounded at the vibrant twanging noise it made, and Fili did not seem all that much less amazed than his brother.

"Here," Bilbo said, handing the mouth harp back to Kili. "Perhaps you will be able to do a better job than me."

Kili tentatively put the harp to his mouth, clacking the metal tongue against his teeth and making a confused face. Bilbo smiled and patted his arm, getting up to clear away the plates from afternoon tea. "Practice, my lad," he said. "Nothing comes without practice!"

Fili followed Bilbo to the kitchen, smirking a little at the strange noises his brother was now producing. "We do not have anything of this sort amongst the dwarves," he said, and then gave Bilbo an appraising look. "You have finally taught him your name, then?"

Bilbo set the dishes down in the sink. "Ah," he said. "It was more that he discovered it for himself."

"It sounds strange in his mouth," Fili mused. "Still, it is good. He could hardly go on calling you hobbit now that we are here."

"No, of course not," Bilbo said, for after all, it was true enough, and there was certainly no reason to feel disappointed at being called by one's own proper name. Disappointment, then, could not have been the cause of the slight unpleasant feeling in Bilbo's stomach. It was most likely hunger.

Yes, decided Bilbo, ignoring the fact that afternoon tea was barely a memory as yet. Hunger it most certainly was.

On their second night in the Shire, Kili had another nightmare. Bilbo did not hear it, but he was awoken by the sound of shuffling feet in dwarvish boots in the hallway, and he stumbled out of bed to find Fili half-carrying his brother to the door. Kili's head hung between his shoulders, and although Bilbo could see little in the way of detail, as Fili had not brought a lamp with him, it was clear that he was shaking. Bilbo went quickly to open the door for them, and they stumbled through, Fili stopping just beyond the threshold and reaching a hand to tilt Kili's head up.

"Look, brother," he murmured. "There are the stars. There is the moon. You are safe here."

Kili stared up at the sky, unblinking. Fili did not take his eyes from his brother's face, and he must have seen some sign there that was invisible to Bilbo - quite possibly only because of the fact that dwarves see better in the dark than do hobbits - for after a moment or two he shuffled them onwards and settled Kili on the little bench where they had sat that morning. When Fili turned his own head to the moonlight, Bilbo saw that there was a shadow on his jaw that would probably become a bruise by morning, and he sighed and patted him on the shoulder before settling himself on Kili's other side. Kili leaned back against the hillside, tipping his head up to watch the stars.

"What do you dream of, my brother?" Fili murmured, sounding quite exhausted.

Kili did not respond, and in fact made no sign that he had even heard the question. Perhaps, indeed, Fili had not really intended it to be answered. Certainly Bilbo had little desire to hear of the spectres that haunted the little dwarf - he had seen quite enough already in his limited exposure to the cruelties of orcs.

They had been sitting there for some while before Bilbo realised that Fili had fallen asleep. He tutted a little, but got up and fetched three blankets from inside, draping one around Fili's shoulders and sighing at him.

"It would be better if he slept in a bed," he said to Kili.

Kili made no response for a moment, but then he tilted his head slightly so that he was staring at Bilbo. His eyes looked very dark in the moonlight, and Bilbo was uncomfortably reminded of that first night out in the wildlands, when he had looked at the little dwarf and seen nothing but a witless, violent beast. He shook himself a little and wrapped a second blanket around Kili. Fili stirred in his sleep and pressed closer to his brother, his head descending to rest on Kili's shoulder. Kili's eyes slid sideways, but he did not shift away.

"Is he bothering you?" Bilbo asked. Kili looked at him, but did not answer. Bilbo sighed again.

"Well, if he becomes too heavy, you must tell me," he said, sitting himself down again. In truth, he almost hoped that Kili was upset by his brother's proximity, for at least then the little dwarf might speak to complain. It was most unsettling how silent he always was after waking from a bad dream. But Kili seemed accustomed now to his brother's constant, affectionate manhandling, although he still would rarely tolerate easy touches from anyone else other than Bilbo. And so they sat in silence, staring up at the moon.

"Hobbit," Kili said finally, when they had been sitting for what must have been well over an hour, "Why-"

He stopped, and Bilbo turned to look at him, but he was looking at the ground, his head bowed. Bilbo frowned.

"What is it, my lad?" he asked. "Why do you hang your head so?"

Kili did not speak, and Bilbo put gentle fingers to his chin and lifted his face. Still, Kili did not meet his eye, and Bilbo felt a pang of worry.

"Come now," he said, "there is no need for that. Just tell me what the trouble is."

Kili's eyes slid to Bilbo, and then away. "Mr. Baggins," he said. "Forgot. Am sorry."

"Oh," Bilbo said. "You do not have to be sorry, Kili! I certainly am not offended. Now, won't you tell me what the matter is?"

Kili persisted in looking at the ground. "It not important," he said, then pressed his lips together and would speak no more.

And although Bilbo suspected that, in fact, it might have been rather important, he could get nothing more out of the little dwarf that night.

On their second day in Hobbiton, they had some new visitors.

Unlike those callers from the first day (some of whom strolled past again, for it seemed that there was a remarkable amount of business occurring in the village that required the participants to wander past Bilbo's door), these new visitors were quite elusive and certainly did not show their faces outright. From quite early in the morning, Bilbo started glimpsing tiny, giggling shadows from the corner of his eye, and bright eyes peering through gaps in his hedge and gate. In truth, he was surprised it had taken so long for the children of the neighbourhood to discover that not only had he returned from his adventure, but that he had brought two strange big creatures with him, and he smiled and winked whenever he caught sight of a flash of movement or heard a whispered argument.

Kili, however, seemed decidedly less at ease with their unseen little visitors. He shifted uneasily, his agitation growing as time went on and more little shadows appeared, until Bilbo decided that enough was enough and he would have to send the lot of them packing, if only for the sake of his friend's peace of mind, which was fragile enough as it was. Before he had the chance to do so, however, Fili rose to his feet, a rather grim look on his face, and stalked quietly over towards the hedge.

"Master dwarf-" Bilbo started, but Fili put a finger to his lips and paused just inside the garden, standing silent for a long, long moment. There was a sudden rustle on the other side of the hedge, and then Fili pounced, leaning over the privet and seizing something behind it. Moments later he straightened up, bearing aloft a wriggling little hobbit lass of perhaps five years.

"What have we here?" he said, sounding rather terrifying. "Trespassers! What do we do with trespassers, Mr. Baggins?"

"Er," said Bilbo, for he was suddenly a little alarmed by how serious Fili appeared, and after all he did not know what dwarvish customs were with regard to children, let alone children who were bothering unhappy little dwarf princes. "We send them home to their mothers?"

"Perhaps that is what you hobbits do," Fili said, glaring at the little lass, who had now stopped wriggling and was staring at him with enormous eyes. "But in the ancient dwarvish kingdoms of the east we tickle them."

And with that, he flung himself down to the ground with his little burden, tickling her under the arms until she was half-choking with laughter. Bilbo laughed, too, and only part of it was in relief, for Fili was beaming all over his face, and it was good to see him so delighted. Moments later, curly-haired little heads were popping up over the hedge from all sides, staring in some amazement, and Fili, without letting up from torturing his captive, looked up at them all with a majestic tilt to his head.

"Ah, you think you can stage a daring rescue, do you?" he cried. "Come and get me! I'll never surrender!"

The hobbitlings looked a little doubtful at this, but Bilbo smiled at them all, and finally one of the older lasses gave a high-pitched battle cry and leapt over the hedge, followed swiftly by her companions. In no time at all, Fili was buried under a mass of curly hair and tiny, flailing arms and legs, and his deep laughter echoed around the garden. Bilbo grinned and clapped his hands, turning to Kili, who was staring at all this with a look of great astonishment and not a little nervousness.

"I did not know your brother had such a soft spot for children!" Bilbo said. "It seems dwarves are not entirely hewn from stone after all."

The subtleties of this were lost on Kili, who shot Bilbo a look that might rightly have been described as worried. "What is childen?" he asked.

"Ah," Bilbo said. "Children is the plural of child. You know child, do you not?"

Kili nodded, and Bilbo pointed to one of the little lads, who was currently staggering out from under the battle. "Well, there is a child," Bilbo said, "but all of them together are children."

He expected a scowl at this, or at least a grimace, for Kili was usually quite exercised over the irregularities of Common, but the little dwarf seemed lost in his troubled thoughts.

"Children," he muttered, and then frowned at his brother. "Fili did know children before?"

"Not these ones, certainly," Bilbo said. "Why do you ask?"

"He is laugh," Kili said. "Is laugh with children. Why laugh, not did know children before? Laugh is with friends, friends is people did know before. It is right? Laugh is with friends?"

"Well," Bilbo said, "it is true that you are more likely to laugh with friends than with people you don't know. But children are different. They will laugh with anyone who laughs with them, and they will love anyone who loves them. That is why your brother is so happy to see them."

Kili did grimace at this, staring as the mass of hobbitlings and (supposedly) grown dwarf erupted into a game of tag. "Yes," he said, "children different." Something about the way he said it had Bilbo frowning, though, and he thought back over it and came to the conclusion that, aside from the brief conversation with Bard's young ones in Lake-Town, Kili had not really met any children before.

"Do you want me to tell you about children?" he asked. In truth, he had not so much experience himself, at least not since he had been one, but at least he could remember having been a child, and that would certainly help.

"I know children," Kili said. "Children small, weak. Not run fast. Make noise. Too much noise." He cast a grim look at Bilbo. "I not understand why Fili love. Not can fight, not can work. Die easy."

Bilbo felt all the words dry up in his throat at this. His horror must have shown on his face, because Kili looked suddenly miserable - more miserable - and hunched his shoulders.

"It is wrong," he said. "I am wrong. Am wrong, yes?"

"I-" Bilbo said, and then had to cough a little. "You are - it is not that you are wrong, Kili, it is only that you are thinking about it like- like-"

Kili hunched a little more and bowed his head. "Think like orc," he said. "That is you want say, yes?"

Bilbo did not reply, but it seemed he did not need to. Kili huddled now on the bench, as if he wished to become part of the very hillside, and Bilbo shuffled closer and put an arm carefully around the little dwarf's shoulders.

"It cannot be helped, my dear lad," he said. "It is only because that is what you know. In yourself, you are not orcish at all."

Kili did not speak for a long time, staring now at the ground, and it was only because Bilbo's arm was across his back that he felt his shoulders tense every time the play got particularly loud. But a few moments later, a little hobbit lass of maybe seven tumbled across the lawn and stopped, standing in front of them and staring solemnly at Kili.

Kili seemed to sink even further into himself, and Bilbo opened his mouth to tell the lass - little Esmeralda Took, he thought it was, though of course he had not seen her for more than a year, and hobbitlings change very fast at that age - to run along and play, but she spoke before he had the chance.

"Who is that, Mr. Bilbo?" she asked, her voice high and sweet.

"This is my friend Kili," Bilbo said, for he thought that refusing to introduce the little dwarf would probably attract more attention than simply answering the question. Kili did not seem to notice the introduction, however, and did not raise his eyes from the ground.

"Is he a Big Folk?" Esmeralda asked, and Bilbo laughed, though it was rather strained.

"No, my dear," he said. "He is a dwarf, like Fili who you are playing with." He gestured at Fili, who was currently carrying two hobbitlings on each arm and grinning all over his face.

"Why is he sad?" Esmeralda asked, and Bilbo decided that now was definitely the time to start shooing.

"Never you mind that," he said. "He is only thinking, which is a very noble pastime. Now, off you go and play!"

Esmeralda chewed on her finger for a moment, then turned back to her little friends, and Bilbo decided it was high time he took Kili inside. Kili followed him without protest, and Bilbo settled him in his armchair in the corner, and sat opposite him. He sighed to himself a little as he saw how Kili still huddled in on himself, for it had not occurred to him even to wonder if the little dwarf might find children difficult or upsetting. He wondered for a glum moment if he would still be accidentally prodding at scars the orcs had left on his friend when he was ninety-five. But then Kili lifted his head and stared at him, opening his mouth as if he wanted to speak, and then closing it again with a look of intense frustration, and Bilbo put aside his own worries to deal with more immediate problems.

"Now then, what is the matter?" he said.

Kili frowned for a moment as if trying to work out a way to say what he wanted, but finally he shrugged his shoulders with an explosive sigh. "I not know what is think like orc, what is think like dwarf," he said. "How can know which?"

"Hm," Bilbo said, for of course to him the difference was exceedingly obvious, and so it was difficult to invent a way to diagnose it. "Well, first of all, anything that involves dying children is most probably thinking like an orc."

"I not understand children," Kili said. "Not understand children, not understand name. I am dwarf now many long time, why still think wrong?"

Bilbo blinked, for although Kili had not said many words, there were rather a lot of things packed into them, and he was not sure which to deal with first.

"You have always been a dwarf," he said firmly, deciding to start with the easiest subject. "You were a dwarf before the orcs, and you were a dwarf when you were with the orcs, and you are a dwarf still. Do you understand?"

Kili nodded, but he did not look at Bilbo. Bilbo sighed and moved on to the next subject. "Now," he said, "what is this about not understanding your name? I know that you know what it is."

"Yes, I know name," Kili said. "Only I understand wrong. I did think name important."

"Well, names are very important!" Bilbo said. "Why would you think they weren't?"

Kili did look at him now, frowning. "Hobbit say - Mr., Mr." He stopped a moment, then took a deep breath and started again. "Said name is not important. You said."

"I'm sure I did not," Bilbo said, but then he remembered the previous day and Kili's worry over having called him the wrong thing for so long. "Oh!" he said. "Well, I did not mean names were not important at all, only that it didn't matter that you didn't have mine right."

"I am wrong long time," Kili said. "Why you not tell me am wrong? Name is important, why you not tell me?"

Bilbo thought about this, for in truth he should probably have told Kili what his name was much earlier - at the very least, he might then have avoided this very situation. "At first I was just happy you were talking to me at all," he said, "and then after that - do you know, I think I quite forgot it wasn't really my name." And that was the truth of it, he realised, that it had become quite natural for him to hear the little dwarf call him hobbit, and indeed that he had come to look forward to it, for it meant that Kili was keeping his head above water enough to engage with the world around him.

"How can forget name?" Kili asked. "Name is important, how can forget?"

"I didn't mean I forgot my name!" Bilbo said. "Why, that is quite an absurd notion!" He laughed a little, but Kili simply stared at him, and Bilbo remembered with a pang that, absurd as it might be, Kili had done just that. Bilbo shook his head, feeling as though he was wading into quite the morass, and sat for a moment considering how best to continue. Finally, he leaned forward and placed his hands on his knees.

"Kili, my lad," he said, "did you know that people sometimes have more than one name?"

Kili did not reply, but he did not look away from Bilbo either, and Bilbo took this as an encouraging sign.

"Yes, of course you know that!" he said. "After all, you had a different name amongst the orcs, did you not?"

It was, of course, quite the wrong thing to say, and Bilbo had no excuse other than that he was very tired after two nights of little sleep and quite unprepared for something so simple as a name to cause so many problems. But excuses or no, it was said, and Kili's face had already grown grim.

"No," he said, and it seemed to Bilbo that his odd accent had grown a little thicker. "No name with orcs. Snaga not have name."

"But-" Bilbo said, and then pondered the wisdom of continuing a moment. But he had already brought up the orcs, and he decided the damage was most probably done. "They called you something, I thought?" he said cautiously.

"Yes," Kili said. "Call khozd shrakhun. Khozd shrakhun is not name. Dwarfs give name, not have name before."

Bilbo could not really understand the distinction between being called something and having a name, but in truth he was rather happy to hear that Kili had not thought that his name was something so unpleasant, and so he did not further press his luck. Instead he went back to his original point.

"You have always had a name, my lad," he said, "just as you have always been a dwarf. You have always been Kili."

Kili shook his head now. "Am different before," he said. "Everything different."

"Before the orcs?" Bilbo asked, and Kili shook his head again.

"No, not before orcs," he said. "With orcs. I am different with orcs. Am dwarf now, need think like dwarf. How can I know when think wrong?"

Kili was growing quite agitated now, and Bilbo still was not sure how to answer his question. It was such a broad subject, and of course, Bilbo was not a dwarf himself, so he was hardly the best guide on how to think like one.

"Well," he said, after some consideration, "let us start with children. You see, for hobbits - and I believe for dwarves as well - children are exceedingly important, and must be protected at all costs."

Kili stared at him. "Protect children?" he asked. "Why protect?"

"Because they are weak, just as you said," Bilbo said. "The strong should protect the weak, just as the rich should give to the poor and the happy should try to cheer the sad. So you see, you are not wrong for thinking that children are weak, and indeed they - well, they are easy to hurt. But that only makes them more precious. And of course, they are innocent as well."

Kili seemed to think about this for a time. Then he frowned. "What is insent?" he asked.

Bilbo spent a few moments thinking about how to explain this concept, and resolutely not thinking about the fact that this conversation was quickly wandering into territory that might well become heartbreaking. "It is when a person has done nothing wrong," he said finally. "It is always bad to hurt someone, but it is worse to hurt an innocent person. And children are born innocent. We are all born innocent."

Kili looked quite confused by this. "Is always bad hurt someone?" he said.

"Yes," Bilbo said firmly. "Sometimes it is necessary, if they are trying to hurt you, but it is always bad."

Kili frowned deeply, seeming to retreat a little into his armchair. Bilbo let him think about this for a time, and then he leaned forward.

"Kili, my lad," he said, "you understand that it was bad when the orcs hurt you, don't you?"

Kili stared at him. "Orcs punish," he said.

"No," Bilbo said. "They were not punishing you. They were hurting you. Punishment is only for when you have done something wrong, and you did nothing wrong, my dear friend. You were just an innocent child."

Kili kept staring, and oh, there was the heartbreak that Bilbo had been dreading, for now he slowly shook his head. "I am not child," he said. "I am never child."

Bilbo closed his eyes a moment and gathered himself. He had learned from Fili that, in fact, Kili ought not yet quite to be considered of age, and that the ceremony that Balin had performed for him in Erebor had been rather irregular for that reason, although of course demanded by the exigencies of circumstance. And yet here the little dwarf sat, not only denying that he was now a child, but that he had ever been one at all. And how, indeed, might he compare himself with the happy, laughing little sprites that still tumbled under the windows outside? But nonetheless, Bilbo could not leave off the conversation without at least trying to make Kili understand truly what his situation had been, and indeed, what it now was.

"You were a child," he said. "You were just a child when they took you, just as those children out there, and you were as innocent as they are. You are still innocent."

Kili shook his head again. "No," he said. "I am never child. Child is weak, is make noise. Child is die easy. I am not die easy."

"Oh, my lad," Bilbo murmured, feeling quite without the strength to continue. "I do believe that you were never weak. But that is not all a child is. A child is innocent. A child is someone who should be loved and protected, because they are too young to be expected to protect themselves. It is not fair to ask anyone to endure such hardships as you did, but it is even more unfair to ask it of a child."

Kili did not reply to this. He had stopped staring at Bilbo and now looked at the ground, although he still frowned deeply, apparently having great trouble understanding - or perhaps simply believing - Bilbo's message. Bilbo waited, but it seemed that nothing else was forthcoming for the time being, and so he leaned forward and gripped Kili gently by the chin, lifting his face so that they were eye-to-eye, for he wanted to be quite sure that he had been heard, if not entirely accepted.

"Kili," he said, making sure to speak clearly, although the little dwarf understood almost all of what he said these days, "what the orcs did to you was not punishment. It was only cruelty. Do you understand me?"

Kili held his gaze for a moment, then looked away. Bilbo sighed and opened his mouth to try one more time, when Fili suddenly burst into the room, bringing with him the smell of fresh grass and sunshine. He had a smear of mud on his forehead and a healthy glow in his cheeks, and Bilbo sat back and smiled, welcoming the distraction and pleased to see that at least one of his guests was happy.

"It is quite marvellous, Mr. Baggins!" Fili said. "I would swear you have more children in one village than we manage in an entire kingdom!"

"Ah, well, we do like to have them around," Bilbo said with a chuckle. "Although they do get rather underfoot from time to time. But you seem to have been quite enjoying that!"

"Oh, I cannot tell you," Fili said, beaming. "It reminds me of-" He stopped, and looked for a contemplative moment at Kili, who was still frowning deeply at the floor. "Well, my brother," he said, apparently deciding he would not finish his original thought, "and why are you inside on such a beautiful day? Do you not want to look at the flowers with Mr. Baggins?"

"It is as you say, my dear Fili," Bilbo said, shooting him a meaningful glance. "Such large numbers of children do take a little getting used to, if you are not accustomed."

Fili's smile faded a little. "Ah," he said. "Yes, I see." He sat down by Kili and slung his arm around his shoulders, giving him a quick hug. Kili did not pull away, but he did not lean in, either, and Fili pulled his arm back and looked momentarily unhappy. "Well, they are gone now," he said. "They are all gone home to lunch."

"Lunch!" Bilbo cried, hoping the salvage some of the cheerfulness that Fili had brought in with him before it all disappeared entirely. "Now there is a capital idea. Fili, will you fetch the plates, please?"

Fili jumped to his feet, quick to smile again in a way he had never been when Bilbo had first met him more than a year before. "I swear, you will feed us all to death!" he laughed, and perhaps it was a little strained, but only a little.

"I cannot imagine a better way to die," Bilbo rejoined, and smiled at Kili. Kili did not smile back, but he did not frown either. He did not frown, and although it was not quite what Bilbo had hoped for when he brought him to the Shire, it was enough for now.

After all, these things take time.