A/N: This is fluffy. Or as humanly possible as I can come to writing fluff after the shredding of my soul. Enjoy!

They had been traveling for only two days when Thorin left them. He bid them farewell at a crossroads, handed Fili a map, and told them to make haste.

He had sent Kili hunting that morning, drawing Fili aside into a grove of trees, as though he feared being overheard by man or beast.

"I go to meet with emissaries of the Seven Kingdoms," Thorin had said, a hand resting heavy on Fili's shoulder. "I do not yet know if they will join us in our quest for the Mountain."

"And if they do not?" Fili had asked.

Thorin's smile had been bitter. "It will not be the first time, nor the last, that those who owed allegiance were loath to follow. They may watch and wait, but we will not delay. Still, there is hope."

"You will wait until Kili returns, to take your leave, won't you?" Fili knew how his brother would feel if Thorin departed without so much as a word.

"Aye." Thorin had nodded. "I would not disappoint the lad."

It is many hours hence, and Kili is disappointed anyway. He has killed two rabbits for their supper, but he has not spoken as much as usual. He skins his kills neatly, fingers quick and able, but he is frowning. Fili can guess why, and in a moment, it bursts out, as usual.

"Why did Uncle tell you, and not me?"

There are things Kili may never understand. Thorin has ever made a distinction between them, slight but felt. Fili is his heir, and Thorin has taken care to lead as well as love. It is hard, to receive responsibility rather than affection, but Fili has learned that with it comes his uncle's trust. He cannot say all of this to Kili, and it pains him, because he is so used to telling his brother everything.

"No doubt Uncle is testing us," he says at last, lightly. He tugs at his pipe. "You know, brother, we've still much to learn. Relaying information of such importance was never a strong suit of mine."

This is not true, and they both know it. Kili throws an acorn at him. "Uncle doesn't think I'm ready, does he?" His tone is solemn, contrasting with the childish act.

Fili sighs. His brother is not too far from eighty, which is a graybeard among men (or so Thorin has said) but he is still very young for a dwarf. Far from a dwarrow, but still rather…well, adolescent, as Balin would say. As Balin does say, whenever he encounters one of Kili's pranks.

"You'll prove yourself on this quest, little brother," he promises, and nicks Kili's ear with the acorn, because—why not? Thorin isn't here to see them. "Uncle is cautious, and he is eager for me to…to…"

He does not always have his uncle's way with words.

Kili swipes his hands roughly against the moss. The rabbits are roasting on a spit. "Is it because of the beard?"

Fili hides a smile. His brother's sunny disposition is clouded by the fact that his beard is shorter than most dwarves'. Shorter than Fili's was, certainly, at that age. "No, Kili. It's not the beard. Thorin merely wants me to bear the responsibilities that I ought to." He pinches a bit more weed into his pipe, sends a swirl of translucent smoke into the gathering dusk. "Your turn will come."

Kili stretches out his legs before their small fire and says nothing, but Fili knows his brother. The lines of Kili's shoulders have relaxed, and his eyes are fixed more hopefully on the rabbits.

"They're rather scrawny," Fili quips, after a moment's pause.

"Compared to you," Kili retorts airily. "Toss me my pipe." He scrabbles with his flint and knife until he strikes a flame, and they smoke in companionable silence until the meat drips fat into the crackling flames. Then Fili searches through his pack for the crusty waybread that their mother had packed and they wrap the sizzling meat in it.

"S'good," Kili announces approvingly, around a large mouthful. Any manners that Thorin or Mum drilled into them are forgotten. This is like eating with Dwalin, who is never without both hands on his plate, broad fingers tearing the bread and meat with gusto. Kili is doing the same now, and Fili pauses in his own meal to take another draw at his pipe and smile across the flames at his brother.

He misses his mother, and he is concerned for his uncle, but at this moment, he is content. This is no puzzle, being with Kili. He need not mull over the intrigues of kingdoms and politics, not while he can smoke and eat and simply be, here with the one he knows best.

Kili would laugh at such thoughts, but without malice. He would laugh, and then his eyes would grow bright with feeling, and then he would punch Fili so that his brother does not tease him.

Kili wipes his mouth on his sleeve, unaware of any of this. "D'you think he's a warrior?"


"The burglar," Kili says, hushed and reverent. The wizard—Gandalf the Grey—he has chosen a burglar for Thorin's quest. The burglar's name is Beckins or Biggins or Baggins. Kili thinks it is Boggins. Fili isn't so sure.

Fili shrugs, not wanting to display his ignorance. The burglar lives at Bag End, in the Shire. It is not a grand name, not like Erebor or Moria, but one cannot be certain.

There will be food, Thorin said. Thorin is very grand, most of the time, but he is as much a dwarf as any of them. Mum's larder has been cleaned out by his unexpected visits too many times for anyone to doubt that. So Thorin gave an address and a promise of food and told them to make haste.

That is all Fili knows for certain. "Perhaps," he says carefully. "Thorin was very close about it."

"Maybe he doesn't know," Kili whispers, as though the prospect of Thorin's ignorance is truly horrifying. As usual, though, he recovers quickly, settling more comfortably against the tree trunk on which he is leaning. "We'll soon find out, won't we?"

Fili takes a moment to answer, and when he is ready to, he sees that his brother has fallen asleep.

That leaves Fili with first watch, then. He gazes into the strange patterns in the flames, secretive and steady and yet so changeable, and it reminds him of his people.

He remembers, suddenly, when he used to mull over the long passages of Khuzdul that Balin taught them. Thorin was displeased that the Common Tongue was their first language—he and Mum had had something of a fight over it—and Fili remembers how he had pored over the engraved tablets until the words rolled through his mind as smoothly as a mountain stream tumbling over rocks. Of course, Dwalin had taught them too, rollicking curses that they had shouted gleefully until Mum had heard and silenced Dwalin and Thorin's laughter with a steely glare.

Fili smiles as the flames dance. Those were good days. Mum worries, but she need not. With Thorin and Dwalin and Balin and all the others, they will be safe. They will fight and laugh and share meals, and they will take back the days of old, the birthright of their forebears.

Fili knows there will be peril, but he is not afraid. His uncle will lead, and his brother will be beside him, and he has never asked for more than that.