Fili wandered the rooms of Mr Baggins' house in search of his brother, stopping here and there to peer at the faces of his snoring companions. They had stayed by the hearth, smoking, drinking and singing songs of their lost kin late into the night. At one point, he and Kili had got out their fiddles, and others their pipes and had been ready to become quite merry indeed in the face of the sombre mood the evening had taken. But Mr Baggins had put his foot down and declared it far too late for such antics, and 'what will the neighbours think?', and, though they did begin a short tune, they were forced to stop or risk their host fainting clean away from the over-excitement. Kili and a few others had seemed happy enough to risk it but their elders had eventually put an end to it with increasingly pointed comments about early starts and long journeys. And so, their company had spread out across the house in search of suitable sleeping arrangements and slept now on sofas and rugs, propped up in overstuffed armchairs (for Bag End – as Mr Baggins had called it – was, for all its apparent finery, not equipped for large parties requiring beds). Bifur had chosen to sleep – somewhat unnervingly in Fili's opinion – upon the kitchen table, his arms crossed like one entombed. But, for all the nooks and crannies occupied, Fili had yet to come across his brother. He paused in the hallway, looking this way and that. Had there been another room he had missed? His eyes fell upon two doors down a long, private looking passage that they had previously not gone down; after all, they did not wish to seem intrusive guests. Glancing back at his sleeping companions, he began towards the closest of the doors – perhaps if he could just peek inside, it could not be counted as snooping? He was, after all, only doing so in search of his younger brother.
Turning the knob and pushing ever so quietly, Fili peered into the darkened room. Through the darkness he could make out a smallish bed with a smallish lump in the middle of it – too small to be his brother.
"Who's 'at?" came the hobbit's sleep-fuddled voice as Fili went to close the door again.
"Erm, Fili?" he replied, cursing himself for interrupting the little fellow's sleep. There followed a noise from the figure that could only be described as a whine.
"What d'you want?"
"Sorry," Fili whispered, suppressing a laugh – gone was the almost-unfailingly polite master of the house from earlier, this chap had clearly had a bellyful of being accommodating tonight, "wrong room." The hobbit huffed and turned away from him, falling quickly into sleep again. Pulling the door closed as silently as he could, Fili turned to the next one. And almost jumped out of his skin as he walked straight into his brother.
"Evening," Kili grinned broadly, looking extremely proud of himself for some reason.
"Don't do that!" Fili gasped, clutching his chest in shock. "Hi," he muttered when he had recovered slightly.
"What were you doing in there?" Kili asked, his expression turning to the type of curiosity that is only ever bred from having caught one's sibling in mischief.
"Looking for you."
"Oh, well, I'm out here," Kili shrugged irritatingly. "Come and look what I've found," he suddenly grabbed Fili's hand and dragged him into the next room.
Fili followed, feeling a lot happier having located (or been located by apparently) his brother. Closing the door behind them, Kili ducked around his older brother and stood in front of the bed, grinning maniacally again. Fili glanced around the room expectantly.
"What am I looking at?"
"Watch this," Kili told him, even glancing back once or twice to be sure Fili was doing so. Standing to one side of the bed (which, Fili thought, was slightly bigger, though less homely than next door), Kili took a running leap onto it, landing with a muffled 'flumph!' on his back, arms flung out to his sides. In fact, from where Fili stood, it looked as though his brother had disappeared into the bed. Sitting up, Kili grinned (if possible) even wider. "You have to try it," he jumped up and down a few times as if to make his point, "it's amazing!"
"You're drunk," Fili informed him, laughing at his little brother's antics.
"It's got feathers in it!" his brother explained excitedly.
Fili was about to tell him to come away when he paused, suddenly caught up (as always) in his little brother's enthusiasm. "Really?" he asked hesitantly, "feathers? In the bed?" Glancing back at the closed door, he wandered slowly over to the bed (it wouldn't do to look too interested, not when he was supposed to be being mature and setting a good example). He poked it once suspiciously. It did feel very soft – unlike any bed he had ever come across before. "All right, clear off then," he told his brother, backing up so that he could a run up. He paused. "Just once though," he told his brother, attempting sternness despite feeling himself getting more and more excited. Kili nodded vigorously, face set in mock seriousness. Laughing again, Fili leapt onto the bed – it was incredible, like lying on a cloud! Nothing had ever felt as good as this bed; no wonder Mr Baggins didn't want to leave this! Feeling his brother flop down, laughing, next to him from the other side of the bed, Fili turned. "This bed is coming with me – do you think the ponies will bear it?" he asked Kili in mock seriousness, before both of them cracked up once more. He couldn't decide if it was the ale, the smoke or the imminent threat of painful death on their quest that was causing this sudden surge of immaturity.
Sitting up, Kili beamed down at him happily, and Fili decided not to care as to the reason. He laughed again, picking a stray feather out of his brother's dark hair. "Why are we in here?"
Kili shrugged, "Bilbo said there was a spare room. I found it." As if that explained everything.
"Why should we sleep in it though?" Fili found himself asking, unfairness nagging at his mind.
" 'Why?' indeed."
Both Fili and Kili lurched upright, spinning to face the newcomer at the door. "Thorin," Fili said, attempting mature nonchalance which was somewhat ruined by his brother's gulping "Uncle!"
A flicker of irritation crossed Thorin's face before his face became impassive again. He strode into the room, shrugging out of his jacket and laying it over an armchair in the corner which, now that he looked, Fili could see already had their uncle's fur and satchel hanging on it. "What is the meaning of this?" He asked quietly, turning to them.
Kili, fearless in the face of anything but their uncle's wrath, gave Fili a shove towards Thorin. Fili would have scowled at him and shoved him back except his uncle was sighing impatiently and crossing his arms. Their long history of having been caught in mischief by Thorin told Fili that was bad sign.
"I am waiting."
"Thorin," Fili began, determined to cling to whatever adulthood he could despite feeling like a small child caught playing games long past bedtime. "We…there was nowhere left to sleep out there," he gestured vaguely in the direction of the others.
"Dear me," Thorin said rather amiably, raising his eyebrows, "has Master Baggins run out of floor?"
"No," Kili muttered darkly from behind Fili. Fili could see in his mind's eye the – there really was no other word for it – pout, perfected over years of getting caught, that would be gracing his brother's features.
"Kili…" Thorin murmured in warning.
"There were no good places left out there…Thorin…Sir," Fili amended quickly, attempting to avoid the lecture about to befall Kili about respect and proper tones when addressing their uncle who was, after all, also their king.
"And this has feathers," Kili put in helpfully, patting the bed.
Fili closed his eyes in exasperation, though, when Thorin's gaze returned to him, Fili could have sworn he saw his uncle's mouth twitch upwards. Ever so slightly.
"Does it indeed?" Thorin asked, wandering over to the bed and causing both nephews to edge away slightly. Seating himself on the edge of the bed, Thorin bent to remove his boots. "So it does; I shall enjoy that. Now leave me in peace – you should both be asleep like everyone else."
"Yes, Thorin," Fili nodded, grabbing a hold of his brother's sleeve and dragging him to the door. Praising their good luck to have avoided both a lecture on the proper behaviours of princes and how long and arduous their journey would be from the morning onwards, and imminent bodily harm.
"Well, where are we supposed to sleep?"
Sometimes, Fili wondered whether his brother had taken one too many tumbles during their childhood. He sometimes seemed not to possess an ounce of common sense or self-preservation. "We'll find somewhere," Fili muttered in his ear, pushing him towards the door.
In the end (and much to Fili's concern), they settled for two hard, wooden benches that sat in the hall just outside of Thorin's door. Ignored by the others, they were slightly shorter than comfortable and provided not a moment of comfort. They could still hear Thorin moving around in the room next to them, though they lay awake, talking at intervals until Thorin came out each time and told them in increasingly more annoyed tones to sleep, for what seemed like hours.
"I've slept in some hard places but this is ridiculous!" Kili moaned after a while, shifting and trying to get comfortable. "What can that hobbit possibly use these for but as an instrument of torture?"
"Go to sleep, Kili."
His brother stilled and quieted for all of two minutes before:
"There must be somewhere else!" he exclaimed, sitting up and plumping the cushion he had 'borrowed' from Bofur's sofa/bed.
"Kili!" Fili growled in frustration, though he completely agreed with every complaint his brother had voiced – and there had been many, including some not altogether flattering, respectful (or, given that he was next-door, wise) comments about their uncle.
They both paused as they heard movement again in Thorin's room.
"What's he doing in there?" Kili muttered under his breath.
"Don't see why we couldn't sleep on that thing – he's not even using it!" Fili added, without really meaning to say it aloud.
Suddenly, the door was flung open and their uncle's shadow fell across them once more. They both closed their eyes and went still – as they had every other time. For some unknown reason, Kili chose that particular occasion to release a very loud and very obviously fake snore. For some even more unknown reason, Fili suddenly found the whole situation hilarious and burst into helpless laughter which he was soon joined in by Kili. It was possibly the most blatantly disrespectful thing either of them had done to their uncle in recent memory, and this seemed to make it all the more funny. When, finally, Fili had to sit up and stop laughing or risk choking on his own breath, Kili began to wind down as well.
"Have you both quite finished?" Thorin whispered ominously, grabbing them roughly up by their arms. They nodded quickly, not trusting themselves to speak. Thorin released a long, slow breath and stepped back into his room and slightly to one side, "Get in here. Now."
Exchanging slightly terrified looks, they grabbed up their things. Kili nodded his head frantically, motioning for Fili to go first (as he always seemed to when in trouble). Fili, as always, obliged, ducking under their Thorin's arm and was quite suddenly met with a sharp smack across his backside from the flat of their uncle's sword. Wincing, he turned to meet his uncle's glare. "We're sorry, Uncle," he murmured, for the first time that evening, addressing Thorin by – as far as he and his brother were concerned – his proper name. Thorin held his gaze (which, to Fili's credit, was unfaltering) for a moment before nodding his acknowledgment and turning his head back to his youngest nephew.
"Well, young headstrong?" Thorin said gruffly, raising his brows. Kili did not move – he had been on the receiving end of that happening often enough to know he wanted no part of it. Even so, at Thorin's exasperated "Kili," he, too, ducked through the door and was met with the same treatment.
"Sorry, Uncle Thorin," he muttered, eying the toe of his boot and scowling. Reaching out, Thorin raised his nephew's chin with one curled finger until their eyes met. Kili felt his rebelliousness falter and fail. "Sorry," he repeated, "we will rest now."
"Yes," Thorin said, raising his brows imperiously, "you will." Turning, he replaced his sword belt on the chair and climbed into bed and seemed to make quite a show of being ready to sleep.
Fili and his brother looked nervously at one another – they were to sleep now, yes, fine, good, but where? From the bed, Thorin cleared his throat, jerking one hand vaguely in the direction of…
Kili gave a rather undignified whoop and fell gracelessly on to the featherbed that had been laid on the floor by the bed. Thorin opened one eye and exchanged a long-suffering look with his elder nephew who found himself smiling somewhat bashfully back.
Once both of his nephews were settled and looking almost as if they might, at some point in the not too distant future – possibly even before daybreak – obey his orders, Thorin felt some of the tension drain out of himself slightly.
On the floor, Fili could make out his brother's face, smirking contentedly at him. It suddenly occurred to him that this may have been his brother's plan all along – kick up just enough fuss, make their uncle just angry enough to react without losing his temper (too much) and now his brother could congratulate himself on a job well done. As had so often happened before, one of Kili's ridiculous, foolhardy plans had come good and he could again sleep calmly, believing himself (and his older brother) to be above the unfortunate facts of life. Dwarf children who climb too high, fall to the ground hard; older brothers cannot always protect younger ones; straying too far from home can get you lost for good; if you deliberately incite Thorin Oakenshield's wrath then, uncle or not, he will hurt you.
Years of indulgence and pure dumb luck (not to mention his older brother always two steps behind, smoothing the ruffled feathers and averting the disasters), that had previously seemed so harmless had bred recklessness in his brother that seemed, for the first time, dangerous rather than exasperating. This time it was only Thorin, this time it had been safe albeit the sort of dangerous safe that their uncle had ever been to them. But out in the wild – if anything happened – this recklessness of youth would be something neither Kili nor the rest of the company could afford.
"This has to stop," Fili murmured, "You have to stop."
Kili's eyes opened again, and Fili fancied there was something regretful in them as he whispered, "I know."
"You have to grow up now," and Fili felt as if he were trying to rip his brother's very soul from him. Kili grow up? Who would he be without the wild, mischievous schemes, or that wide beaming grin that somehow let him look both entirely innocent and yet, full of devilry?
"I know," Kili replied with determination, though he turned his head away from his brother with something akin to shame.
Fili reached out, brushed the dark hair from his brother's face and reminded himself that the grief of losing his little brother forever to the Halls of Aule would by far outweigh the loss of his playmate, this constant source of both amusement and concern. Behind him, Thorin shifted on the bed and they froze, willing him to be asleep rather than about to fall upon them for once more disobeying his order. Fili released his breath slowly as their uncle remained where he was. There was something else he wanted to discuss with his brother, something he couldn't bear to say on the journey over – not when Kili (and admittedly himself) had been so full of excitement at the prospect of daring adventure with their mighty uncle and facing down the great threat that was Smaug who had haunted their childhood games. Their uncle had brought them because if – when – Erebor was retaken, Fili would be Thorin's heir and neither Thorin, nor Fili would allow himself to sit upon a throne he had not helped regain. Thorin had given the better part of his life after their births to training Fili – both of them – to be great princes, worthy of Erebor and Durin's name – he could no sooner have left Fili behind than stayed behind himself. And of course Kili had followed, as he always did. On the other hand, kinship was all very well – they would, of course, have followed their uncle even had they not been asked – but it had been made clear to Fili that they were there as Thorin's loyal subjects, not as his nephews. Hence Fili's determination to prove his maturity, his independence, to his uncle – even in such a petty way as addressing him by name, even in private – because for all his gruff rebukes, Thorin was, and always would be, the same man who had, when he could, raised them with their mother from their father's death. Fili somehow doubted he would have huffed and stomped had Dwalin refused to rest, or that he would have, well, not swapped but compromised if Bombur complained that his bed was not to his liking. But, at the same time, things could not be the same between them because...
"He's the king," murmured Kili seriously, knowing his brother's mind before he even spoke, as always.
Fili turned regretful eyes on his brother and nodded slowly. Kili's face tightened. Fili understood, squeezing his brother's hand which lay between them. There was a feeling, almost like grief between them. He was their uncle, and yet…not. Nothing was drastically changing; Thorin would remain stern and imperious as he had always been and they…they would put aside the childish antics, the ever-present comfort that whatever danger they haplessly wandered into, their uncle would come and save them and instead they would become the adults he had trained them to be. Hadn't they yearned for this independence all their lives? For the day when their uncle would look on them as, if not equals, then at least as adults whom he could respect and trust rather than worry after if they strayed from his side for too long?
"He cannot be father to our people and to us at the same time," Fili whispered softly, pulling his brother closer and squeezing tightly. He felt Kili nod against his chest slowly. "He has trained us for this," Fili muttered, as if any amount of training could prepare them to separate themselves from their uncle in so painful a way. It would have been easier if they had not been there, if they had been left in charge of their people in Ered Luin instead of being with him. Some small part of him wondered whether their uncle would find it as hard as they would but Thorin was surely their king first now – their people had to come first and he, being the great leader that he was, would know that. Thorin had enough to worry about, without having to be responsible for them – they were adults now and he had spent years on their training. "We must not allow ourselves to become burdens to him," Fili said aloud, more to himself than his brother, "the people must come first."
"Our people," Kili corrected softly, straining his neck to look at his older brother, "your people."
"Yes," Fili agreed absently. "Tomorrow has to be a new beginning for us."
"Thing about that," Kili scowled petulantly, "is there has to be an end first."
Fili 'mmed' in response and was about to speak again when suddenly he was interrupted.
"Lads," Thorin growled from the bed, having waited for them to stop speaking. Fili closed his eyes, cursing internally – had their uncle been feigning sleep all this time?
"Yes, Un – " Kili stopped himself, casting a nervous look at Fili, "Yes, Thorin?"
Thorin sighed harshly, turning onto his side to glower down at his sister-sons – they blinked back at him, no doubt awaiting his order to leave. "For the last time, and this time you will heed me," both Fili and Kili looked at him apologetically, "go. To. Sleep." Thorin paused, his face softening slightly, "Am I not still your uncle, if only for this last night?"
He was met with twin looks of astonishment and murmured "Yes, Uncle"s as they both finally – finally – settled. He waited a moment, testing whether their obedience would last before turning on to his back again. He was met with familiar, scuffly sounds of his nephews shifting around so that they were comfortable and then Kili shifting just a little longer because lying half atop his brother was just that bit more comfortable and Thorin waited until Fili had to shift them both around a bit, because now he was uncomfortable. Then, suddenly, they both moved again because – and wasn't this both very old and slightly new at the same time? – they both wanted to face their uncle a little more.
"Far over the Misty Mountains deep…" Thorin began in his rich, throaty voice when they had both quieted once more. Fili flushed, recognising the singing for what it was and obediently remained still and quiet, dropping quickly into the oblivion of sleep. Kili meanwhile, in some fit of misjudged respect, leant up on one elbow slightly to listen, blinking owlishly as he struggled on the edge of sleep. Thorin glanced at him, still singing, nodding pointedly at the pillows when he saw Kili still awake. Realisation dawning, Kili dropped down again, shifting yet again until he was underneath his snoring brother's arm. Thorin paused, watching and listening for the sniffly, snuffly noises that predicted his youngest nephew's snores.
He scowled as the first rays of watery sunlight crossed their faces, and was struck by how very young they both looked. Illuminated by the light, Fili's golden hair shone whilst next to him, Kili's dark hair – so like his own, and that of his own brother – glittered, reflecting the sun's rays. Blinking slowly and fighting sleep despite his concerns for the journey, he decided that despite his annoyance, the boys' antics, their childish refusal to sleep when told and the knowledge that they would all suffer each other's sleep deprived ill humour at some point in the day, if this was to be his last night as their uncle rather than their king, he would not have wished to have spent it any other way. And if, in the morning after they had both bickered and grumbled their way through dressing and repacking they were both met with swift slaps across their backsides, well, then they ought to have moved faster. Aule knew, they had earned themselves plenty of opportunity for training. And if he assigned them ample opportunity to prove they could be responsible even (particularly) at the most mundane (mind-numbingly dull) tasks, then that was merely their king demonstrating his leadership and trust in their maturity and not, as they might otherwise have thought, their Uncle demonstrating his continued authority over them as patriarch of their family, his exasperation at their behaviour or his annoyance at his lack of sleep.
It was no one's business but his own whether he chose to look on them as sister-sons and heirs or as subjects, and he would abide by their decision as much as he could – for he did see and appreciate the logic in it. But, if they truly did believe the thought that he would sooner be a king in halls of gold, before he would be their uncle – their father – then he was afraid he must be more like his ancestors than he had hoped.