“He does not know?”
“He does not know.”
“How can he not know?”
“I do not believe the hobbit knows, either.”
“What are you two younglings talking about?”
Fili watched with amusement as Kili pouted viciously at Bofur's casual comment. His little brother had always been touchy over his youth, especially with how little years were between them. So few, and yet everyone always treated Fili as the worlds wiser older brother. Which, really, he was: even with so few years more than baby Kili.
Bofur threw himself down on a log across from them, glancing between the brothers. Teasingly, Fili reached up and ruffled Kili's hair. His little brother might have gained more height than him, but his beard had yet to flourish, and even when it was long and braided as Bombur's, Fili knew he'd still think of Kili as his little baby brother. He'd always be ready to protect him without a thought—and always ready to tease him, just as easily.
Kili flinched away from Fili's hand, then turned around to punch him in the arm three times. Fili didn't wince—though that was definitely a reminder that his little brother wasn't really that little: that was going to bruise. He'd get Kili back for that later.
“Nothing of import,” Fili replied to Bofur.
“Thorin wants to take the hobbit to bed,” Kili followed with. Fili rolled his eyes at his brother, giving him a good sneer at the end of it. Kili wrinkled his nose right back and stuck out his tongue.
“Pardon?” Bofur choked out. He glanced not-very-surreptitiously at the company gathered around the fire a short distance away from them before leaning closer to the brothers. “Has he shared... intentions, with you two?”
Kili crossed his arms across his chest in an angry little gesture. His eyebrows drew low over his eyes as he glowered in the direction of their uncle, who was sitting off by himself around the fire. “Uncle hardly tells us anything.”
“But it's obvious,” Fili pointed out. “The way he watches over Bilbo. Like he's some delicate gem Uncle dug up from the earth, polished and shiny and not meant to be dirtied by the likes of our business.”
Bofur shrugged. “He is less used to this sort of thing than us. And young—younger than you two, even.”
Kili brightened at that, before Fili settled him with a hand on his thigh. “But not by much, and not by hobbit reckoning. And not all of us are warrior, or adventurers, or wanders. If that was all it was, Uncle would be staring across at Ori, and the way his skin glows golden in the firelight.”
Kili snickered as all three dwarves turned to look at Thorin, and examine the direction of his gaze. Indeed, Fili's observation was correct—as it was more often than not. Uncle's solemn gaze wasn't focused on the fairest and sweetest of the dwarfs (besides Kili, but he would smite Fili if he even sensed he was thinking such a thing), but instead was locked on Bilbo Baggins as the hobbit stared skeptically down at his bowl of stew. Fili would bet a good week's wages working at the smith that Uncle didn't even realize what he was doing. Meanwhile, Bilbo was still staring down at his stew, poking and poking with his shiny cutlery. Fili frowned. This could be a problem.
Bofur just snorted and levered himself upright, hands pushing flat on his thighs. “Well, good luck getting Thorin to focus on anything besides reclaiming our lands from Smaug on this journey. Best to put all the schemes from your foolish heads and bring your minds to bear on the situation at hand.”
With a self-important nod, Bofur headed back over to the campfire gathering proper. Kili stared after him for all of two seconds before turning to Fili, mischievous grin on his face. “We must help them.”
Fili sighed. This was going to end with Uncle Thorin being very stern and disappointed with them, in his regally depressed way that he had. Fili hated the Regal Disappointment face. It made him feel all of fourteen years old and half the size of half a halfling.
“We watch, first,” he commanded. If he was going to indulge Kili in this matchmaking project, they were going to do it the smart way. Which meant he was in charge—not Kili.
Kili pouted mightily at that.
“Two days,” Fili repeated himself. “We watch for two whole days and see if there is a common interest. And if perhaps they are acting on it themselves. After two days, then we can discuss what to do next.”
Kili clasped a strong hand to Fili's neck and rattled him ferociously. Fili stayed relatively still—Kili wasn't that big and strong yet, even if he did have the extra inches of height.
Fili sighed again as he took in the broad grin that split Kili's face and felt the way it affected his poor, ridiculous heart.
This was going to end in Regal Disappointment Face. He just knew it.
As the company spread out their bedrolls at the end of the second day, Fili felt on the verge of felling a tree in one blow with the amount of frustration bubbling up in him. Uncle Thorin was wandering off to take first watch, eyes trailing over Bilbo as the hobbit fussed over his bedroll, walking around and around as he looked for the softest patch of earth. Thorin didn't stop to say anything to Bilbo—he never did, to Fili's utter exasperation—but his eyes lingered, and his steps faltered. Just as Bilbo was bending over to smooth out the corners of his bedroll, having finally found a suitable spot, Thorin's eyes skittered away and his steps quickened. Fili groaned.
“So what's the plan? I say we get them naked together. At a hot spring.”
Without even looking Fili shot his hand out and thumped Kili upside the head. Kili growled and smacked him back, on the same bruise his fist had made two days earlier. Fili grunted absently.
“You've been listening to many of the women customers telling romantic tales.”
Across the dwindling campfire, Bilbo finally settled down onto his bedroll for the night. Thorin was nowhere to be seen, off on watch.
“So?” Kili pestered. “Hot springs. Naked flesh. Surely Uncle won't be able to resist? I bet Bilbo is smoother than a woman underneath those fancy clothes of his.”
“Almost as smooth as you, then?”
The wind was knocked out of Fili as Kili tackled him to the ground, small but sharp fists catching him in all his soft tissues. Fili grunted and took too long to fight back, only managing to roll Kili and get a solid thump to his sternum while Balin was reprimanding them with a sharp tone.
Fili grinned and ignored Balin, straddled on top of his brother and mockingly petting at Kili's soft, short beard. “Sorry, what were you saying?” Fili teased.
Kili grunted and squirmed, all anger and litheness. Fili managed to stay firmly atop his brother. Meanwhile, the other dwarves had written them off as a lost cause and settled back to sleep, even though Fili could see Balin shooting them unkind looks from his spot on the ground. Bilbo, soft touch that he was, had a blanket curled up to his chin and was peering somewhat fretfully over it at them. Fili ignored him. Hobbits were a gentler folk than dwarves, it seemed.
“What was that?” Fili asked again. With a sharp thump he brought his hand down on Kili's chest bone again. Kili wheezed, batting weakly at the hand that Fili stroked against his short beard.
“Big brother!” Kili finally gritted out. “Big. Bigger than me.”
Fili laughed joyously, planting a big, smacking, wet kiss to Kili's cheek. Kili whined and rolled away, wiping viciously at his cheek and glowering at Fili, who just basked in the smug satisfaction of still being able to best his little brother. He knew he didn't have many more years of that ahead of him—not with how much taller Kili was than him. When he filled out into true adulthood, he'd surely end up the bigger brother. But not yet. Fili grinned.
“Come on.” Kili poked Fili in the side. “What are we to do?”
Fili settled himself down on his bedroll before answering, waiting for Kili to curl up against his stomach like a kitten. He draped a calf across Kili's leg, and Kili draped an arm across his waist.
“Do you know of any hot springs in these parts?” Fili asked.
Kili opened his mouth immediately—always the one to speak before he thought—before he closed it. He repeated the process twice before shrugging, no less enthusiastic. “A stream, then?”
“Fed by the mountain runoff? Not the most erotic situation: cleaning yourself with water that is only just not snow.”
Kili frowned. Then he moved forward to bump his forehead against Fili's entreatingly. “Well then? You're the smart one. What do you think?”
Fili settled down and thought for a moment, listening to his brother's breathing: soft, so much softer than the bombastic snores and snorts starting to fill the air around them. It had made him so nervous when he was younger, how little his little brother was, how small and fragile. Not that he ever shied away from taking care of Kili, no: just the opposite. There was no one Fili trusted Kili with more than himself, besides their mother. When Dis would turn to Fili and ask if he would like to hold the baby, Fili was always there: arms outstretched seriousness radiating through his every hair. He would be a good big brother, and he would protect little, fragile Kili.
“That's it!” Fili knocked his forehead into Kili's to catch his attention. “We could stage something. Make Bilbo in danger. Thorin would rush to his aid, and..”
“And sweep him into his arms and plunder his mouth deeper than the mines of Moria!”
Fili rolled his eyes and knocked Kili with his foot. Kili knocked right back.
“Something like that. But we have to find out if Bilbo's interested. We know Uncle is besotted, we are familiar enough with his moods. But we don't know Bilbo as well. We don't want to set all this up just to have Bilbo bolting like a skittish colt.”
“He'll probably do that even if he is interested.”
Fili and Kili snickered together, rubbing foreheads as they shared breath. Carefully Fili peered above Kili's head over at Bilbo. He wasn't asleep yet, lying on his back and twiddling his thumbs. After a moment he twitched, then batted one hand about his face madly. Fili sighed and settled back down against his brother.
“Tomorrow, we find out where Bilbo's interests lie. Leave the talking to me. Then, if Bilbo is pining after Uncle just as badly as the reverse, we set up a plan to get Uncle to rescue Bilbo from some sort of peril.”
The brothers lapsed into silence, moving around and adjusting themselves for the night's sleep. They shifted in closer to share body heat, Fili reluctantly tucking his head under Kili's. It didn't used to be this way around.
Just before sleep took him, Fili felt his brother whisper against his ear: “I hope poor Bilbo's back is up to it.”
Their united giggles followed Fili into his dreams.
With the sun still low in the east, Fili and Kili nudged their ponies even with Bilbo's: Fili on his right, Kili on his left. Bilbo plodded forward a few paces before he started, glancing between the two brother's warily. Kili's grin was too toothy to be reassuring, and Bilbo's eyes lingered on it, subconsciously leaning away from him and toward Fili.
Fili used the movement to clasp Bilbo heartily on the shoulder, startling the hobbit so badly he nearly fell from his pony. Bilbo gazed at Fili with large, worried eyes. “Yes? May I... May I help you?”
“No, but you can hel-”
Fili cut Kili off with a sharp look. Leave the talking to him, he had said. Baby brothers: never doing what they were told.
“What my brother means to say...” Fili hesitated, trying to think quickly. “Have you... Helped...” Thinking. Thinking. This wasn't working. Back to his first plan of attack. “Are there many hobbit women?”
Bilbo blinked at the change in topic.
“There aren't many dwarf women!” Kili offered helpfully.
Fili picked up the thread. “Kili and I were discussing the issue. And the different races. And we thought, well, Mister Bilbo will know the answer to this, in all his wisdom.”
“I... The... You wish to know if there are... Many hobbit women?”
Fili nodded. “Yes. That is what we want to know.”
“The ratios are... Well. I've never given much time to it, come to think. I suppose the ratios are roughly equal. They certainly seem to be. I suppose. I've never noticed a discrepancy.”
“Ah!” Kili's grin was again the too-big toothful thing that had Bilbo backing away from it. “Then perhaps Mister Bilbo even has a young hobbittess waiting for him when he returns home to his Bag-Und?”
Bilbo clutched the reins of Myrtle tightly, head shaking back and forth between the brothers as if they were going to attack him. “I... I'm sorry, are... Is this dwarf courtship?”
Kili blinked and looked at Fili. He shrugged and shook his head at his brother.
“No,” Fili said slowly. This Bilbo was perhaps even denser than their uncle Thorin. “Why would you think that?”
Bilbo's eyes went wide, his mouth slightly slack-jawed. He pointed between the brothers. “You're not... Neither of you are propositioning me?”
Fili and Kili again looked at each other, baffled. This Bilbo was an odd fellow, with odd notions.
“No,” Fili reassured him again.
“But would you bed us?” Kili asked.
Fili wanted to throw his boot at his thick little brother.
But then Bilbo offered up just the information they were after: “Wha- Are you asking because you are dwarves, or dwarf men?”
Fili perked up, beaming at Kili.
“Is either a problem?” he probed. When he saw the cautious look in Bilbo's eyes, Fili put on his friendliest smile. “We're not propositioning you, Bilbo. No worries about that. And no offense taken if either isn't to your tastes. Just curiosity.” He nodded over at Kili. “My little brother's been propositioned by all sorts. He's much prettier to the humans than he is dwarves, what with his sweet little scruff.”
Kili's fingers twitched for his bow and Fili pressed himself flat against his pony's neck, laughter bursting out of him in great rolling peals.
“I don't suppose it matters?” Bilbo tried out.
“Which one?” Kili prodded. “The dwarf part or the dwarf man part?”
Bilbo shrugged cautiously, eyes still darting between the brothers and entire body tensed almost painfully. “Either I suppose. Perhaps. I...
Bilbo huffed, stared down at his pony's mane. Then he looked straight ahead, staring out at the horizon far, far ahead of them. Fili watched him curiously. His ears were going red. Had they broken him?
“Are you sure neither of you are propositioning me?
Kili had judged their fact-finding mission a rousing success, and Fili had agreed enough. Bilbo admitted that he wouldn't be predisposed against a male dwarf courting him, so that gave hope to them enough for Uncle Thorin. And really, it would have to be enough, since Bilbo's face just kept turning redder and redder until Gandalf had called for Fili and Kili to come back and look at some terrain with him. Fili suspected Gandalf did that just to save Bilbo more of their inquiring, but he let it slide.
The way Kili figured it, as he explained to Fili that night curled up in their bedrolls, was that if Bilbo thought he could be courted by a dwarf man, than of course he would accept the courtship of their uncle, since he was the absolute best dwarf out there. Fili had to admit there was something to that logic, especially since their uncle was the most handsome dwarf in their company. Unless Bilbo had some interesting secret predilections for an extreme robustness in size or affection for cardigans (which, actually, wouldn't be horribly surprising, considering hobbits' general air of bookishness), Bilbo most certain would be unable to resist Thorin's advances.
Now all they had to do was get their dear oblivious uncle to make such advances. Therefore, it was up to Fili to figure out how to endanger Bilbo in as safe a way as possible, while simultaneously making sure Uncle Thorin would come to the rescue. Fili just wished hobbits were made of sturdier stuff, like dwarves were. Everything would be much easier if he could just have a tree fall on Bilbo's head or some such thing, but Fili was worried the soft, domestic fellow wouldn't survive something even that tame.
Kili was—by some odd twist of the laws which governed the natural world—the first to have an idea. “Look, brother. Do you see?”
Fili squinted to where Kili was pointing, off to the west of their ponies. It took him a moment, Kili's eyes being the sharpest in the company. But then, just almost out of his sight, he saw it: white specks on the mountain side, like rocks or wisps of cloud. “Sheep?” he asked.
“We can make them run over Bilbo!” Kili proclaimed.
Fili considered this. It was not dangerous, not in the least. But a herd of sheep just might send Bilbo into a fit, maybe enough of one to have Thorin come to his aid. Fili nodded. “Go.” He reached out and clasped Kili's hand in his own. “Have them on us before the pass ahead. I'll make an excuse if anyone notices your absence.”
Kili was off like a shot, nudging his pony at a brisk base across the rolling slopes. Fili glanced around the company and began whistling a jaunty tune. No one suspected anything. This was sure to go off without a hitch.
An hour later Fili and Kili were clutching each other from atop their ponies and howling with laughter as Bilbo swotted at sheep with his walking stick. The fluffy hoards were bleating almost as pathetically as Bilbo, though perhaps with more dignity. Thorin had turned to look at Bilbo once, and then proceeded to ignore him for the remainder of the slow, fluffy stampede. Fili hung onto his brother's shoulder and just kept laughing, tears streaming down his cheeks. He might need to go through the trouble of coming up with another plan, but it was worth it to watch Bilbo try and pull his legs up on top of his pony and shoo the sheep with his stick. He almost overbalanced and fell into the herd four times. Best entertainment they'd had since Bag End.
The next “danger” was Kili's idea again, but it was such a stupid plan that Fili didn't even really count it. One day just after midday meal Kili's bow twanged on Fili's left, causing him to start.
“What-” he was already grabbing at his sword, ready for danger, when he heard the very, very distant thump of Kili's arrow connecting with its target. He followed his brother's extended hand, pointing up at the sky far above their heads. Fili could just make out a spot that grew larger by the second. A hawk, it seemed as it grew closer. A hawk with Kili's arrow jutting from it, and it was falling toward their company... Straight in Bilbo's lap.
Bilbo shouted and fell from his pony, one foot still stuck in the stirrup. He had to hop along backwards, trying desperately to tug his left foot free as Myrtle broke off from the line of pony's and started whinnying, perturbed by what her hobbit was doing.
The dead hawk slowly slid off Myrtle's back, down the same side Bilbo had fallen from. He managed to free his foot in a panicked jolt away from the dead fowl. The rest of his body decided to follow his momentum, sending him crashing backwards onto his underfed arse.
Fili and Kili howled with laughter again. Thorin scooped Bilbo up with one fist and set him back onto Myrtle. It was like watching a mountain panther pick up a particularly pathetic cub of hers by the scruff of its neck.
That he set Bilbo down backwards onto Myrtle, and that Bilbo made no move to turn himself around for several miles, had Fili and Kili clutching each other again, sides hurting with the force and duration of their merriment.
By the second day of this, Fili was having to repeat to himself every few minutes that he could not fell a tree in Bilbo's direction. Bilbo was not a dwarf. He was a hobbit. Fili was not going to fell a tree onto Bilbo's head. He was not.
With a flash of inspiration, Fili volunteered himself and Kili for scouting duty. They rode quickly ahead, and Fili explained his plan to his brother.
An hour later, they were watching Uncle Thorin stare down at Bilbo from his mount. Bilbo was flat on his back, having been thrown from his pony by the rope that Fili and Kili had held between two trees.
Bofur hopped off his pony and helped Bilbo up while Thorin just shook his head and rode away. Fili hid himself behind a tree, away from the Regal Disappointed Face he knew his uncle was leveling at every tree, branch, and leaf in his field of vision. It wasn't hard for any of the company to know who to set the blame on for a thing like that.
The next day Fili chopped down a tree onto Bilbo.
It was a small tree.
Thorin didn't even flinch. Bilbo was beginning to look a bit touched in the head.
Fili was beginning to think maybe his plans weren't the best. Perhaps there was an easier way to get Thorin to court Bilbo?
The day after Kili caused a boulder slide to nearly bury Bilbo. Fili was mostly certain it wasn't on purpose. Kili only chuckled a little bit, after all.
“This isn't working.”
Fili scowled into his stew, speaking more to it than his brother, almost.
Why wasn't this working? Thorin should see by now that Bilbo was helpless and needed saving, and should have saved him. Now it seemed Uncle was lonelier and sadder than ever, like he was besotted with Bilbo but disappointed in him, and disappointed in himself for wanting him. Or something like that; Fili didn't pretend to understand the complexities of his uncle's mind.
Kili pouted, stabbing at his stew with his spoon. Fili wasn't sure exactly what that was supposed to accomplish.
“I could cover him in honey...”
For a moment, Fili considered it. Then he shook his head sadly. “I don't think this is the right way to go about it, brother. Putting Bilbo in distress just seems to make Uncle... disappointed.”
“With Bilbo or us?” Kili grumbled.
Fili slouched, deflated. He almost didn't have the appetite to finish his stew. Almost. He hated his uncle being disappointed in him, and now it was just like his face was fixed in Regal Disappointment every time he looked at his nephews.
“I say we call a truce on the courtship. For now. Until an idea other than putting Bilbo in danger presents itself.”
Kili sighed deeply, like Fili was asking him to give up his bow. With a sad whimper he let himself fall against Fili's side, snuggling his forehead warmed by the fire against Fili's neck. “Fine,” he grumbled.
There was a pause, then:
Fili collapsed on top of his brother in a fit of giggles, ignore the disapproving grumbles of the older dwarves.
In the end, it was quite the opposite of their strategies that lead to their uncle acting on his feelings for Bilbo. It was Uncle Thorin who had been the one in trouble—and did that just make Fili feel sick, their uncle coming face-to-face with his father-slayer, with him coming so close to death, so far from reclaiming his home—and Bilbo who had come to his rescue. Sweet, soft Bilbo, who missed his books and comfy chair in the Shire. But he had shown loyalty, and understanding, and compassion the likes of which Fili hadn't thought possible from someone who wasn't kin.
That night, Thorin kept Bilbo close to his side as they ate around the fire, and it occurred to Fili that this was how people became kin in the first place. It wasn't some impossible question like a chicken and an egg (though rumor had it that Gandalf knew the answer to that, but kept it secret for some reason of great import), but happened just as Bilbo had: men and women who were welcomed as kin became such because they acted as such, not the other way around. And Bilbo had acted as good as kin and more to Thorin, charging in to protect him even before Fili and Kili had gathered their wits and followed swiftly after.
Fili wrapped his arm around his brother's waist and held him close, tight, thinking about what they had almost lost today and how much they had gained instead. Kili seemed to understand, for once, the seriousness of what Fili was feeling, because he held him back just as tight and didn't say a word.
The next morning, Fili was first awake with the sun, body feeling too emotionally drained from the previous day to do more sleeping. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and lifted his head from where it was buried in his brother, scanning their little camp blearily. When his eyes landed on an unusual sight on the outskirts, he scrambled to quietly shake Kili awake.
His brother started grumbling and rolling over, trying to press his face tight to Fili's tunic. Fili grumbled and shoved at Kili harder, smacking his shoulders with great force. “Brother, wake up! Look!”
Kili mumbled something that was entirely muffled by Fili's tunic. Drool started to seep through to his chest hair. “Kili,” he whispered louder. “It's Uncle. And Bilbo! Wake up.”
That seemed to register a bit more, at least, and Kili was lifting his head like it weighed the same as a Warg's left flank. Only one eye was open, peering up sadly at Fili. He groaned. Fili rolled his eyes. Baby of the family, every inch of his little brother.
“Look,” Fili nudged him around. “Uncle. Bilbo.”
Finally Kili seemed to understand, a light going off behind both eyes as he opened them. He peered around, finally seeing what Fili was pointing at: Uncle Thorin and Bilbo, bedrolls pulled together and curled up on the outskirts of camp. To both the brothers' great amusement, Bilbo was wrapped tight around Thorin, like he was trying to protect the much sturdier dwarf. Kili fought down a giggle as Fili propped his chin on his brother's shoulder, watching the tableaux slowly be illuminated by the rising sun. Bilbo's arms were clenched tight around Thorin, his legs thrown over one of Thorin's, their backs to the brothers. It was like watching a baby opossum clinging to its mother.
As they watched, Uncle Thorin stirred in Bilbo's arms and rolled over. Fili dropped down from atop Kili's shoulder, peering over the thin line of his neck instead. Both brothers went as still as they could, watching as their uncle cupped Bilbo's face in one big hand and spoke something softly to him. His head lowered for a moment, presumably into a kiss. Fili and Kili stifled proud squirming. Perhaps they would become the official matchmakers of the court, once they reclaimed their kingdom from Smaug. They were obviously quite skilled at it.
When Thorin lifted his head again, his gaze was locked on the two brothers failing to pretend to sleep. Fili froze, feeling Kili do the same against him. And there it was, everything they had been dreading: Uncle's Regal Disappointment Face. Then Thorin was looking away from them and back down at Bilbo, expression greatly softer in the blink of an eye.
Fili sighed and knocked his forehead despondently into the back of Kili's neck. At least they had done the right thing, and Uncle and Bilbo were happily together now. Even if they did have to endure the Regal Disappointment Face.