Chapter Three:

Kili got jumpy as soon as they crossed into the Shire. Fili hid his grin and pretended not to notice every time his little brother twitched away from a rustling bush, or stared nervously off the path. It didn't help that the moon was full that night. Dire-hobbits are especially dangerous when the moon is full, he remembered telling young Kili.

The road wound on, past rolling green hills and neatly tended fields, till the brothers saw their first hobbit hole, its bright yellow door tucked snuggly under the overhang of a grassy hillock. Soft yellow light shone from inside, the kind of glow that reminded Fili of home. The front garden was full to bursting with wildflowers. A wheelbarrow, loaded with pumpkins and cabbages, was leant precariously against the fence. All in all it was probably the least threatening house that Fili had ever seen.

Kili's grip on his sword didn't loosen.

They continued on deeper into the Shire, as the hobbit holes became more and more numerous, and they were forced to stop nearly every metre to check the doors for Gandalf's special symbol. From inside the houses they could often hear voices, laughing or talking or even singing. Fili found himself getting more and more curious as to what hobbits looked like.

"Evenin'."

Kili jumped a foot in the air and dove behind his older brother with a wild cry, simultaneously trying to draw his sword on the withered old hobbit who had appeared behind them.

"You wouldn't happen to know where the Baggins residence is, would you, sir?" Fili asked mildly.

The hobbit's gaze flicked between the two dwarves. "Uh…"

Kili cleared his throat and shuffled out from behind Fili, trying his best to look casual. "We've been invited to a party," he said gruffly.

"Well," the old hobbit muttered, frowning a bit, "I ain't heard nothin' 'bout no party of Mr Bilbo's."

"It's a surprise party," Fili said with his most winning smile.

"Hmm." He though for a few moments, looking them up and down, and for a second it seemed he would walk away. But Fili's charm won out in the end, and the old hobbit pointed up the path, where the road wrapped itself around the side of a hill. "Mr Baggins lives over thataway, up at Bagend. Dark green door."

"Our thanks, Master Hobbit," Fili said, inclining his head and turning on his heel. Kili followed sheepishly behind him.

They were silent for a while as they ascended the hill. "I'd like to thank you, little brother," Fili said finally, managing somehow to keep a straight face. "I thought for a moment we must be overcome. By the hobbit. The little elderly hobbit."

Kili punched him hard in the shoulder.

As they approached the door, Fili continued in a conversational tone. "It's funny though. Did you notice? When he turned his head a certain way, it almost looked like his eyes were…glowing."

"Stop it!" Kili hissed, an involuntary shiver running down his spine.

"Sorry, Kili. I didn't mean to scare you."

"I'm not scared." Kili twitched as an owl hooted off to their left. "I'm just…" They reached the front gate of Mr Baggins' hobbit hole and climbed the stairs. "I'm just…" Gandalf's symbol was easily visible on the dark green wood. Fili rapped sharply on the door. Kili's eyes widened just a bit as they heard a raised voice from inside, and someone stomping through the house towards them. "I'm…"

The door swung open, revealing a small, curly-haired hobbit dressed in a patchwork dressing-gown, scowling comically up at them. Kili breathed an internal sigh of relief; he had never seen a more harmless looking creature in his life. Beside him, Fili was smirking.

They introduced themselves ("at your service!") and bowed in unison, and when Kili straightened again his panicked expression had been replaced by an easy smile. "You must be Mr Boggins!" he said.

"Nope!" Bilbo Boggins Baggins said. "You can't come in. You've come to the wrong house." Then he promptly tried to close the door on them.

They made it into the house anyway, eventually, Mr Baggins' continued protests falling on deaf ears, and ran straight into Balin and Dwalin.

"Mister Dwalin," Kili said with a grin, clasping his forearm. The bigger dwarf smiled back at him and led the way to what must have been the dining room, instructing him to pull up some more tables and chairs. Kili helped Fili drag over a desk from the hallway that was quickly relieved of its burden of books and papers.

There was a loud rap at the door, and Bilbo Baggins stormed off to answer it, leaving Fili and Kili and Balin and Dwalin looking at each other around the table.

"So," Dwalin said, raising his eyebrows at Kili. "Hobbits."

"You," growled Kili, "are almost as bad as him." He stabbed a finger towards his brother.

Fili laughed, grabbed him around the neck with one arm, and ruffled his hair. "You're just so easy to tease, Kee," he said. "And I'm afraid dire-hobbits will never get any less funny."

Then the others arrived, Thorin regally late as usual, and dinner was begun and ended, and talk turned to the Lonely Mountain and to their quest, and Mr Baggins, quite overcome by it all, fainted right in front of them.

"Well," said Dwalin later that evening, once they'd finished smoking and talking and singing, and Bilbo was safely tucked away in his room. "Grab your bedrolls, lads. I claim the couch."

Kili did not fall asleep easily that night. He was almost completely sure it was excitement for the journey keeping him awake, and definitely not the nightmare visions of glowing-eyed dire-hobbits that plagued him whenever he closed his eyes.

Stupid, he thought. You're not a child anymore. Mahal, if you're still afraid of dire-hobbits you should hardly be on this quest. He frowned and drew his knees up to his chest.

"What are you doing?"

Kili jumped and looked down at his brother, lying in the adjacent bedroll, face barely visible under his mane of sleep-mussed hair. "Nothing," Kili said quickly, and wriggled down into his bedroll.

There was silence for a few moments, and Kili thought that Fili had gone back to sleep.

"You know I'll protect you, Kili. With my life."

Kili glanced across at him again. Fili had propped himself up on his elbows, his face deadly serious. He was not joking now.

"You promised me that same thing when I was less than two feet high," Kili said, half-smiling at the memory.

"And it still stands. I will always protect you."

Kili closed his eyes, still smiling. "I guess you're an acceptable big brother after all."

There was a moment's pause.

"…from the big bad dire-hobbits."

"Oh, sod off," Kili hissed, grinning and kicking him in the shin.

Fili chuckled and rolled over onto his stomach. He flung one arm over his little brother's middle, in what an onlooker would have been wrong to call a nonchalant gesture; from a very young age he'd been aware of the security that Kili gained from physical contact. Even only half awake, he knew what Kili needed.

And with the comforting presence of his big brother beside him, and the reassuring weight of Fili's arm across his stomach, Kili soon fell asleep.