Chapter One: Amber

There is a stone in his boot.

Don't ask him how it got there. Fíli doesn't know, but cares dreadfully, because it's bloody annoying and they can't stop until they reach lower ground. It's right at that spot between toe and arch where it hits his foot every single time he steps down, and like usual, Kíli is not helping.

"It's just a stone, let it be," the brown haired nuisance says. "You can get it out once we set up camp. It's not going to kill you."

Fíli, in a fit of supreme maturity, sticks his tongue out and pulls a face. "It's just a stone," he mimics. His impression of his brother is uncanny. "It's just a stone that's been digging into my foot for the last four hours. We have been walking for seven, will be walking for three more, and I am not going to have this bloody thing in my boot for any longer."

Kíli frowns, but then holds up his hands in a mock surrender as his features loosen into a smile. "Alright, alright, hold your horses. Actually, how about I hold your horse while you get it out. Only do it fast, these parts aren't friendly."

Fíli gives a sigh of relief and drops where he stands, throwing his pony's reins at Kíli before pulling at his boot laces. Dwarf boots are sturdy things, but his has a small hole in the sole that lets in anything from water to rocks to leaves. Kíli has offered to mend it before, but until the entire sole has fallen off and the boot is a complete mess, Fíli isn't going to waste time, or effort.

He tugs it off his foot and peers inside, trying to find the irritating stone in the dark cavern. It is harder than expected, so he ends up flipping it around the other way and slamming his hand on the heel to try and dislodge it. It works, and a stone the size of his eye drops out with a satisfying 'thunk'.

He raises his eyebrows in faint surprise. The stone hadn't felt that large while in his boot, which is odd considering how most often they feel larger. It's also rather pretty, for a lump of rock, so he shrugs and picks it up again. It disappears into one of the pockets of his coat, not even making a bulge in the thick material. Perhaps it could be a souvenir for the trip.

He grins and pulls his boot on again, taking far longer to tie up the laces this time to annoy his brother. It works. Kíli makes an exasperated sound at the back of his throat and wanders off along the mountain path they're following.

"Kíli!" Fíli rolls his eyes and quickly finishes tying. "That eager, are you? I didn't know you liked, what are they, Hoobits?"

Kíli spins around, jaw dropping before he begins to laugh hysterically. "Hoobits? HOBBITS, Fíli, not Hoo-"

He doesn't even finish the sentence before succumbing to laughter once again. Fíli slams a hand into his face, trying desperately not to feel like an idiot. It doesn't work, unsurprisingly, but he is soon laughing along with Kíli as they set off again along the trail. The younger's laughter is infectious.

They had set off nearly a week and a half ago, riding their ponies where able and walking elsewhere. Their uncle and liege, Thorin, had set off on some mysterious pre-quest a month ago, and they were to meet him in a place called the Shire. From what Thorin had told him and what he had overheard, Fíli assumed that he was off trying to find others for his quest to retake Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. The Wizard, more commonly known as Gandalf, would mark the door of the house where they would find the final member of their company, and there they would congregate then set off together.

Fíli doesn't particularly mind spending long hours on the road, so long as he has some form of company beginning with 'Kí' and ending in 'li'. If it splits their paths – no. All deals are off, and he isn't going anywhere.

His mother hadn't been particularly happy with allowing either of them to leave, due to their youth, but Fíli had managed to convince her. For that matter, neither had Thorin, but even he admitted that they would probably need all the hands they could get, and Fíli and Kíli had to see the outside world at some point.

"Hurry up, you'll fall behind!" calls Kíli over his shoulder, and Fíli realises with a start that he has been gradually slowing down while looking at the scenery around him. With a shake of his head, he pulls forward and takes his pony's reins back from Kíli.

"I keep telling you to get that boot fixed," remarks his brother. "I'm not stopping for you again."

"Don't be ridiculous, you'll always stop." This is said with rock-sure certainty. Kíli can tease all he likes, but he can't fool his brother. It had only needed to happen once before Fíli was having none of it.

Kíli twists so that his quiver hits Fíli around the head. It takes Fíli by surprise and he sputters a bit, blinking and rubbing the side of his face. Then with a challenging growl he leans sideways and flips Kíli's hair over his face, making sure to unfasten the clasp and pocket it so it didn't hinder him. This time it is Kíli's turn to sputter, although through his hair it sounds more like some kind of sneeze.

Or perhaps it was actually a sneeze.

Kíli shakes his head and glares at Fíli, brushing hair out of his eyes and pinning it at the nape of his neck with his hand. He must have registered the missing clasp, as his next words are, "Fíli, give it back."

Fíli raises his eyebrows. "Give what back?" he asks innocently. "Are you missing something? Check the ground, things fall down all the time."

Kíli isn't fooled and sticks his other hand out demandingly, a habit that has remained since his childhood. "Fíli…" he says warningly, before a wicked glint sets in his eye and a rather worrying grin forms.

Fíli glances behind him and backs up a little. "Oh, no, I don't know what you're thinking, but it's a bad idea."

It's Kíli's turn to look innocent. "Bad idea? All my ideas are good ones, it's yours that get us into trouble."

"Brother, my ideas only get us into trouble because yours would have gotten us into even more."

"I take offense at that. My ideas are perfectly fine. You only get to say no because you're the older one."

"Oh, is that what this is about? I'm so sorry, little brother, but even I can't change that sort of thing."

"Even I?" Kíli looks more amused now that irritated. "You're not very modest, are you?"

"You'd know all about modesty."

Kíli frowns, seeming to register that yes, Fíli is most definitely mocking him. Neither of them are the wisest of dwarves, but sometimes Fíli thinks that Kíli might have been hit on the head one too many times as a baby. Either that or sarcasm is just so foreign to his straightforward nature that he has trouble picking it up.

"Anyway, let's hurry on," Fíli says quickly. "We need to reach somewhere to camp for the night before it gets dark." He pushes past him with what he hopes is the same kind of majesty that Thorin seems to have patented, but the effect is spoiled as Kíli suddenly throws himself at him from behind. He feels arms wrap around his middle as he pitches forward, and they begin to tussle in earnest. It's childish and silly, but Kíli is a child and Fíli is a bit silly, so it's perfectly justified, or at least that's what he tells himself.

"Good thing we left early," Fíli laughs, pinning Kíli down and grinning widely at his struggles. "Wouldn't do to be late because of moments like this, would it?"

Kíli relaxes and grins back. "At this rate, we won't arrive until mid-winter!"

"Then we best be off, shouldn't we?"

Fíli rolls off and stands up, with more grace than his brother but less energy. He was naturally as energetic as Kíli, but years spent being an older brother and shouldering the responsibility as Thorin's heir has left him calmer and slightly wiser. Kíli, being the younger and therefore less burdened, still retains that childish and passionate edge.

He grabs his pony's reins and begins off again, glancing back once to make sure Kíli is behind him.

The Blue Mountains are beautiful in their own way, and Fíli is quite used to their terrain and general layout, but seeing the same scenery for hours on end gets very boring, very quickly, and he starts to wonder how long it will take before they finally reach the foothills. He also wonders what the Shire will be like. And what, precisely, are hobbits?

Time passes. Kíli laughs when Fíli finds another stone in his boot, and Fíli laughs when Kíli manages to get his quiver tangled in low lying branches.

"I suppose travelling to Erebor is going to be more interesting than this," Kíli mutters, kicking at a rock. "Because if it's not I really don't understand why Thorin didn't want us to come."

Fíli sends him a warning glance. "There are more dangers out there than you think."

"You haven't left the Mountains either, how do you know?"

"Because Thorin has told me more than he has told you, and I learnt his lessons well."

Kíli frowns. "I pay attention!"

"Yes, you do, but you don't read between the lines. Don't worry – it's not a bad thing. You just haven't had as much practice as I have." Fíli chuckles and reaches over to ruffle the dark hair. "You may not think it, but five years is a long time."

"Five years is nothing," Kíli says with what Fíli recognises as a pout. He tells him this, and it disappears immediately. "I'm nearly eighty, five years is barely a difference anymore."

"But it is still a difference."

Kíli has no argument for that, so Fíli lets the subject drop. As the terrain slowly even out, the sun sinks behind the horizon, and they both hurriedly seek for somewhere to camp for the night.

"Over here!" Fíli calls, finding a nook in one side of a hill that looks large enough for both them and the ponies. It's sheltered from the wind, would provide a barrier against any rain, and most importantly, its inconspicuous. He doesn't go in just yet, knowing Kíli wouldn't find him if he did.

Kíli trawls over and nods before slipping inside and peering around. Fíli can barely see him, his dark appearance blends in so smoothly.

"See anything?"

Kíli's night vision is better than Fíli's, perhaps due to the fact that Kíli has a tendency to keep his eyes slightly wider open. Fíli doesn't know where this odd little trait came from, but it's been very useful in all sorts of situations, so he doesn't complain. They each have their strengths.

"It's clear. You can bring Red and Arrow in."

Red and Arrow are the ponies. Red is Fíli's and Arrow Kíli's, and they're both notorious for their stubborn tempers.

Fíli goes in, manoeuvring himself just so, and lets the ponies in before moving a small boulder in front of the entrance. It will stop the ponies leaving but not constrict the Dwarves' line of sight, which Fíli thinks is rather a good idea considering where they are.

He rolls his pack of his shoulders and pulls out some of the kindling he stashed between clasp and pack. He'd stopped to grab likely looking firewood earlier, rightly guessing that they'd forget to stop until the sun was already down.

Kíli does the same, and soon they have a small fire going at the front and centre of the cave. Fíli doesn't hesitate to wrench his boots off and stick his feet towards the flames, sighing as he feels the warmth sink into his bones. He has been cursed with cold extremities, as his father was before him, and dislikes it immensely.

Kíli's smile looks eerily demonic in the shadow of the flames. "You were waiting for this, weren't you?" he asks teasingly.

"I was indeed." Fíli shrugs his shoulders with a little smile, before looking questionably at Kíli. "You're not actually cold, are you?"

Kíli pokes his tongue out. "Not in the slightest."

Fíli sighs and then laughs, gesturing his brother over to sit beside him. "Well, then, seeing as you aren't cold, you have been put in charge of dinner."

"You aren't serious."

"I'm perfectly serious. Wouldn't want my cold hands doing it now, would you?" To prove his point, Fíli leans over and clasps the part of Kíli's wrist that isn't currently protected by layers of leather and cloth. Kíli wrenches back with a little hiss, and scowls at him.

"Your hands," he says in a serious manner reminiscent of their mother, "are bloody freezing."

It is almost like a royal proclamation, which makes Fíli laugh. The idea of Kíli standing above the masses with a crown on his head is too far from the norm that it takes on a rather ludicrous edge. Kíli will never be majestic. He's too full of energy.

However, Kíli does begin to search among their packs for some form of sustenance that Fíli lets it go. While he may never be as good a cook as their uncle's friend Bombur, Kíli isn't that bad, as long as no one asks him to try and cook anything more difficult than a stew. And his rabbit is second to none, Fíli can attest to.

Clearly spending half their childhood pinching food from the kitchen paid off.

Fíli begins to strip off his leathers, rolling his shoulders slowly to ease the kinks out. Leather is heavy, even for a Dwarf, and wearing it does put quite a bit of stress on various pressure points. He hooks what he can on a few pieces of rock that jut out from the wall, making sure to hang them at such a height that they won't get in the way of any movement.

"Do you have everything you need from these?" he asks of Kíli, holding up their packs. His brother nods, so he takes them over to begin to unpack their bedrolls.

He's halfway through spreading them out when he smells the beginning of a rather small stew wafting over from above the fire. He fires Kíli an appreciative thumbs up and hastily shoves the bedrolls out to make room.

A while later, Kíli passes him a bowl and drops down beside him, before beginning to tug off his own boots.

Silence descends as they eat, except for the crackling of the fire, the snuffling of the horses as they munch on apples, and the sounds wafting in from outside. It's a companionable silence, though, because there's nothing that particularly needs to be said and despite others' impressions, Fíli and Kíli do not actually talk a lot between them. There's very little that needs to be said.

"It's going to rain," Kíli notes, slightly despondently. The younger doesn't like rain very much, although Fíli doesn't really care either way.

"At least that way we can wash these easily," he points out, holding up his bowl.

Kíli makes an odd sort of sideways shrug. Fíli takes it to mean acquiescence and leans back, staring up at the ceiling of the cave. There are small veins of various different minerals running through it, and Fíli amuses himself by trying to guess what they are on observation alone.

He watches as Kíli grabs both bowls and drops them next to the empty stew pot. There's a stiffness around the way his brother moves that shows that he's as tired as Fíli is, and Fíli is quick to help him douse the fire and ready them both for another night on the road.

They have a rather peculiar way of sleeping when out of the safety of civilisation or other companions, which greatly amuses their mother and even makes Thorin's lips twitch into a hidden smirk. They sleep back to back, sometimes with Fíli's arm slung over Kíli's side or Kíli's hair itching Fíli's arm. It's for both comfort and safety – both get twitchy when they can't locate the other, and there's no point on setting a watch with only two people. This way, if something wakes one it wakes the other, and either one will be able to see it from the two vantage points.

Fíli is just at that point of half awareness that comes before slumber when he feels Kíli's elbow dig lightly into his side.

"Fíli," his brother says in a rather tight voice, "look around."

He does.

"Was that passage way there the whole time?"

Fíli peers over to where Kíli is looking and his lips press together involuntarily. On the wall of the cave in front of them is a slit in the rock, slightly taller than the average Man, leading deeper into what they had first thought to be nothing but a nook.

"You see it?"

"I see it."

He gets up, picking up one of his swords just in case. Caves can be dangerous places, even Kíli knows that, especially ones that haven't been thoroughly searched or stabilised. He notices Kíli making two torches out of the corner of his eye and nods at his taking the initiative.

"Do we search it?"

He nods again.


"I think we'll have to. There could be something behind it, and it could be hostile."

He sees a familiar look of intensity cross his brother's features, the one he gets when heading into danger. It's part worry, part resolution and part excitement. He knows a similar look is on his own face, and he takes a deep breath.

"Follow me," he says quietly, before taking a torch and slipping into the dark.

A/N: This is the beginning of a prequel of sorts for Fíli and Kíli's journey to the Shire. It's not going to be incredibly angst-ridden, torturous or gruelling, because they're in the bloom of health at the beginning of The Hobbit, so no promises there. However, it is an adventure story, so it's not going to be peaceful!

Thank you for reading, and please review!