After days of rain, it was surprisingly cold for a night in May and Bombur’s stew had only done so much to warm them up. Fíli curled up tightly in his bedroll and shivered until the space he occupied was no longer quite as unpleasantly chilly. He could see Bilbo, who had the first watch, standing as close to the campfire as possible without scorching the hair on his feet.
A little bit beside him, Fíli heard his brother sigh and turn in his own bedroll. Fíli rolled his eyes. He didn’t know how often he had told his brother to patch the holes in his bedroll before the journey, but the lazy thing had refused to.
Fíli sighed as well. “By Mahal’s beard, we’ll never get any sleep if you keep fidgeting like that. Come over here, Kíli, you can share my bedroll.”
Kíli quickly dragged his things over, smiling sheepishly. He draped the additional bedroll over them and snuggled against Fíli. Fíli draped an arm over him as he had when they were both little dwarflings.
“But tomorrow, you’d better patch that up,” he whispered.
Kíli huffed and shifted. Two icy feet settled against Fíli’s shins and he let out a yelp, drawing Bilbo’s eyes over to them. Some of the other dwarves muttered grumpily.
“Get your freezing paws off me, you ingrate! Are you trying to kill me?”
Kíli sniggered and after a brief scuffle, they both drifted off to sleep.
“Dare I ask?” Bilbo muttered, shooting them a look. “No, better not, it may be too private and I’m not Lobelia to go meddling… but…”
Fíli exchanged an amused look with his brother and they spurred on their ponies until they rode beside Bilbo.
“What is it, Master Hobbit? Just ask away!” Kíli said. “Don’t worry, we won’t take offense, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”
Bilbo ‘s eyes flicked between them nervously.
“I… well, I was just wondering… and I really do beg your pardon if this is a delicate topic… but is it common for male dwarves to… well, lie with one another? You know, as… umm… well…”
Fíli grinned at Bilbo, whose bright red face left little doubt about the direction of his thoughts. “It is not unheard of. After all, only one in three dwarves is female and even though many dwarves are quite content to think only of their craft and not of love, there would be many more lonely dwarves if there were such strict rules about it as men seem to have. And as the old saying goes: who are we to frown upon love, wherever it falls?”
“Oh, hmm, quite, yes. That’s nice, very nice indeed,” Bilbo spluttered, seeming quite relieved when Ori interrupted the conversation by calling Bilbo over to discuss a knitting pattern.
They waited until Bilbo had ridden off and then burst out laughing.
“Well, what was that about?”
“Do you think he fancies one of our company?”
Kíli let out a highly undignified giggle. “Who do you think it is? Perhaps Ori? They are always discussing knitting and yarn and crocheting…”
“Or maybe Bombur? Our burglar is rather fond of good food after all. And they do say the stomach is the way to a man’s heart…”
“….do fit together quite well….”Bilbo was saying, a somewhat apprehensive tone in his voice.
“Are ye sure, lad? I hadn’t thought…” Bofur started replying when a mosquito settled on Fíli’s nose and he killed it with a loud slap.
Bofur looked at him in shock and Fíli suddenly had the feeling he had been listening to something he wasn’t supposed to hear.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt. Has either of you seen where Kíli went?”
If possible, Bofur’s eyes widened even more and he simply pointed towards the trees on the right.
Fíli thanked him and set off into the pine trees with a grin. As strange as this all was, he was getting an idea what it was about.
After some grumbling, Kíli settled against Fíli’s chest and started mending his bedroll while Fíli combed his brother’s dark hair and untangled it from bits of leaves and sticks.
“I don’t know how you always manage to get it into such a mess.”
Kíli snorted. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I hunted us dinner today and I’m afraid deer don’t always keep to the path. But perhaps you’d just like to live on greens only.”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t tangle so if you’d just let me braid it into something more sensible.”
“You’re one to talk… “
Not being able to resist, Fíli gave Kíli’s hair a sharp yank and Kíli tossed aside needle, thread and bedroll and shoved him to the ground. Moments later, the two brothers were wrestling, tugging and kicking at each other until Fíli finally pinned Kíli down. He tickled him until he was begging for mercy.
When they finally got up and dusted themselves off, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur were staring at them blankly. Fíli gave them an awkward smile, slightly embarrassed of behaving like a wee dwarfling. As they settled back down to their previous activities, Fíli remembered something.
“By the way, I think I know who our hobbit likes,” he whispered into the tossled hair behind Kíli’s ear. “I’d bet money there’s something developing between him and Bofur.”
Kíli turned his head, a mischievous grin on his face.
“No, really? Bofur? That’s bound to be amusing!”
A bit downstream, they found a suitable spot where the trees gave way before the river. There was even a small, gravelly shore with one or two larger rocks. The other bank was covered with thick green reeds.
They stripped bare, leaving their clothes on one of the rocks at the shore and raced into the water. It was refreshingly cold after the hot day of travel behind them. They splashed about, dunking each other in the waist-high water, before they decided to explore the reedy area.
As it turned out, there wasn’t much to explore about a few reeds. The mud squelched between their toes and half decayed plants wrapped themselves around their legs, but the reeds soon gave way to more forest and they turned back.
They had almost reached the open river again when Fíli found himself with a mouthful of rotting plants, courtesy of his little brother. Spluttering, he turned around and flung a handful of mud towards Kíli. To Fíli’s embarrassment, he missed. Kíli was already grabbing for another handful of filth and Fíli fled, his brother in hot pursuit.
Just as Fíli burst free of the reeds, Kíli tackled him. Fíli went down splashing. To his astonishment, Kíli didn’t renew his attack when he surfaced again but was waving at the bank where they had left their clothes.
Ori stood there, wide-eyed and gaping.
“Come in and join us!” Kìli yelled. “The water’s really nice!”
Ori stood there staring for another moment before shaking his head jerkily. With a strangled sound, he turned around and rushed back.
“That was… strange,” Fíli noted with a frown.
“Yeah. What was that even about?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea. Maybe he’s afraid of water?” Fíli wondered.
“Hm. Maybe. But you know what?” Kíli asked.
Fíli’s reply was cut short when he was dunked under again and the fight resumed.
“Is anything the matter? Did something happen while we were away?” Fíli asked Glóin, but the older dwarf shrugged and shook his head.
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Some of the others seem a bit out of sorts this evening and I thought that there had perhaps been an argument.”
Gloin shook his head and Fíli went over to where Bombur was handing out soup.
Fíli sat down, stirring his soup, and wished his brother had managed to hunt something that day. As it was, there were only greens and a few chunks of the fish Oin had caught earlier in the soup.
Kíli nudged him softly. Out of the corner of his eye, Fíli thought he saw Bofur giving them a brief glance.
“Is it just me or have we been getting the smallest pieces of bread lately?” Kíli whispered. Fíli glanced at the slices the others were holding. Most of the dwarves had already eaten quite a bit, so it was hard to tell.
“I’m not sure,” he replied softly, “but we are among the youngest, so perhaps that’s why. You know, still young and strong enough to be fine with eating a bit less than the others, or they think that we haven’t proven our worth yet.”
“But look at Ori! His slice is much bigger than mine!”
He looked over and saw that the younger dwarf had barely touched his food and that his slice was indeed larger than the ones they had eaten. Ori noticed Fíli’s eyes on him and quickly looked away, blushing and shifting closer to Dori. Fíli wondered again what had disturbed the younger dwarf so.
“Well, perhaps Bombur noticed he is a bit out of it today and tried to cheer him up that way.”
The remaining meal passed in silence.
To Fíli’s surprise, Bifur pulled him aside afterwards. His slightly deranged smile a bit brighter than usual, Bifur began talking to him in rapid Khuzdul.
Fíli found himself desperately wishing he had paid more attention in his Khuzdul lessons.
As it was, he understood that he was to ignore questioners and evil shadows. Bifur would support the beams of clothing pieces and wished them perfect joy, riches, health, and for some reason, seagulls.
Bifur thumped him on his back and Fíli smiled and thanked him, wondering what exactly had truly been said.
Deciding he had had quite enough of the confusion and the day in general, Fíli laid out his bedroll and went to sleep.
As the final straps were being secured, Thorin pulled his nephews aside. His stern face told Fíli this wouldn’t be the most pleasant of chats.
“I trust you two know that this is not simply a trip to the toymaker in the next village, but a real quest with real dangers?”
“Yes, uncle,” they nodded and Fíli felt as though he were a dwarfling no higher than his uncle’s knee again.
“Though you may make light of them, there are real orcs somewhere out there and they will not have blunt practice swords or bright targets painted on them. They may appear suddenly, out of nowhere and they will try to kill you. I allowed you to join this company as the grown dwarves you supposedly are and yet you tumble about like dwarrowlings, starting wrestling matches and pretending you are ducklings as though this were all one big game. I do not begrudge you the occasional jug of ale or bout of laughter. Just remember you are no longer in the safety of your mother’s forge in the Ered Luin but in the wilderness with all its dangers. Is that understood?”
“Yes, we will try to be more alert from now on,” Fíli said and Kíli nodded.
“We’re sorry if we made the impression we do not take this quest seriously. We really do.”
Thorin smiled and clasped a shoulder of each of his nephews.
“I promised I would try to keep you safe. I mean to keep that promise and bring you back safely to your mother.”
Bilbo chose that moment to walk past them, apparently looking for something he had forgotten to pack. At Thorin’s last sentence, he stopped dead in the spot.
“Your mother? Wait… You’re brothers?!” They watched in puzzlement as he paled.
Thorin nodded. “Yes, they are both the sons of my younger sister Dís…”
“Oh. Oh my.”
“Is that so shocking?” Kíli asked, completely astonished at the hobbit’s reaction.
“No, no, of course not. Not at all. I guess it all really is quite a bit different with dwarves. Oh my…. Wherever it falls, indeed,” he muttered, wandering off.
Fíli’s and Kíli’s eyes followed him.
“He is a strange little fellow, isn’t he? I mean, we really don’t look all that much alike, but still, it shouldn’t be that surprising… Uncle Thorin?”
Their uncle was still staring after Bilbo, silently mouthing the last words their burglar had said with an expression as if he had just been told he was actually an elf.
Thorin snapped out of his daze, looking at them as though he were seeing them for the first time. “Hmm? Yes, a strange little fellow indeed.”
With that, Thorin strode back to his pony, mounted and the dwarves were off for another day’s journey.
As most of the company was now acting a bit strangely around them, Fíli and Kíli spent most of their time together or discussing history with Balin or weapons and battles with Dwalin, since neither of them were all that interested in either Óin’s herbs or Glóin’s family. Bifur was friendly enough, but neither of Thorin’s nephews was especially keen on anyone finding out just how poor their Khuzdul skills were. That didn’t stop Bifur from giving them his ration of meat and they gladly gave him some vegetables in return.
Eventually, Fíli was so tired of all the awkwardness that he decided to talk to Ori and try to get whatever had happened out of the way.
“A lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” he asked, drawing up next to Ori’s pony.
Ori startled slightly, dropping a stitch of the sweater he was knitting. Still, he nodded. “It is indeed. I’m glad it’s warm and dry, that way I don’t have to worry about the ink on my parchments getting too wet.”
There was an awkward pause, only interrupted by the clicking of Ori’s knitting needles.
“Look, Ori, I’m sorry about the other evening. Kíli and I really didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I… it’s okay, really, I… it’s just really not my thing, you see…”
“Don’t worry, it won’t happen again, I promise. And I really am sorry.”
Ori smiled at him and from then on, things were almost back to normal between them, although Fíli still wondered what exactly he had promised not to do again. Perhaps he would just avoid Ori whenever water was involved.
Kíli started helping Bombur with the meals and slowly, their cook seemed to warm to them again as well and their servings went back to normal sizes.
As Thorin’s warnings about the dangers of the wild came true and they met trolls, wizards and wargs, orcs and elves, their other companions slowly went back to treating Fíli and Kíli normally as well. Only the occasional odd glance was sent towards them, especially by their uncle, but they eventually learned to ignore that.
Only after they had been greeted by Lindir and offered food by Elrond did Fíli get the opportunity to pull Kíli aside.
“What is wrong with your foot? Were you injured?”
“I just landed unhappily when I slid down into the crack between the rocks. It will be alright again in no time at all.”
“Are you sure?” Fíli asked, still gripping Kíli’s shoulders.
“Absolutely. It’s not too bad.”
However, he was not the only one who had noticed Kíli’s slight limp, as Lindir came up to them.
“I can take a look at your ankle if you like, Master Dwarf. There may be something I can do to speed up the healing process.”
Kíli agreed and the distrust Fíli felt must have showed on his face because Kíli grinned. “Don’t worry, I think not even elves would be so discourteous as to cook their guests into a stew.”
Fíli frowned. “I didn’t mean to imply…”
Lindir laughed. “Be assured, you’ll have him back at your side before dinner, so you need not question the contents of your soup.”
Still, Fíli remained in the vicinity of the bench where Lindir took care of Kíli’s injured ankle, looking around but staying within sight.
After a while, Lindir came over to Fíli.
“As I suspected, it is nothing serious. I have treated it with herbs and bandaged it. It should be as good as new in one or two days. Still, your lover shouldn’t move his leg too much today…”
“What?! He’s my brother, not my lover!”
“Oh, I apologize! I shouldn’t have assumed…”
Lindir hastily bade his goodbyes and Fíli made his way over to Kíli, still shaking his head.
“So what happened?” Kíli enquired. “Did he threaten to put you in the stew instead?”
Fíli shook his head. “The bloody elf thought we were lovers!”
Kíli burst into laughter. “Perhaps he should go easy on the elven wine; it seems to put strange ideas in his head.”
“Must be that. I don’t know how else he would get that notion.”
“Well, who knows what he does with his brother. You can never know with elves.”
Now Fíli also burst into laughter. “Lovely. Now I need to get that image out of my head.”
Kíli extended his hand. “Aren’t you going to help your poor crippled brother up? Who knows, perhaps the perverted elf applied the wrong herbs as well and my leg will have rotted away come morning.”
Fíli grasped his brother’s hand and hauled him to his feet. To his surprise, Kíli took the chance to pull his brother closer by a fistful of hair and plant a slobbery kiss on his nose.
Fíli yelped and wiped off his nose as Kíli doubled over with laughter.
“You are disgusting! If you weren’t an invalid already, I’d make sure you were!”
“Oh, you wound my heart, sweet lover,” Kíli warbled, clutching at his chest.
Injury or no injury, Fíli cuffed him over the head and they walked down the corridor still laughing.
Óin, who had come back and waited at the turn of the corridor to show them the way, couldn’t quite meet their eyes.
As Fíli had suspected, Thorin’s mood got more tolerable as soon as they left the valley and made their way over the remaining foothills to the Misty Mountains.
One night, after they had been on the mountain trail for several days, Fíli saw that Thorin and Dwalin were arguing quietly. He could not make out what his uncle’s low voice was saying, but occasionally, bits of Dwalin’s replies drifted over to him.
“Thorin, that’s ridiculous! You cannot honestly believe…” Dwalin looked at Kíli before catching Fíli looking. He lowered his voice.
Thorin muttered something and Dwalin laughed in disbelief.
“The Halfling? Since when do you give any thought to what he says, and that over your own kin? Have you even asked them?”
Thorin gave a disbelieving snort and a short reply.
“... no need to worry,” was all Fíli could catch of Dwalin’s answer before his uncle’s confidant got up and readied his bedroll.
Fíli glanced over at Bilbo to see if he would get any answers there, but the hobbit was already fast asleep.
The next morning, Fíli made sure to keep close to Bilbo in the line they walked in. When the path widened, Fíli walked beside him.
“Did you talk to Thorin about Kíli and me?” he asked, before realising that it sounded slightly like an accusation.
“To Thorin?” Bilbo looked confused. “No, what should I say to Thorin? And it’s not exactly like we talk much anyway, except about the things absolutely necessary to say about the quest. Because Valar forbid he admit that I might not be completely useless! Yes, most of the time I am, but I did actually save you lot from the trolls. Did Thorin even acknowledge that? No, of course not, Bilbo Baggins is just a useless waste of space...”
Bilbo, Fíli concluded as the hobbit nattered on, may be fairly upset at his uncle, but he would be of no help in finding out what Thorin and Dwalin had said about them the previous evening.
When they were finally reunited and in the safety of the cave, Fíli rushed to Kíli and pulled him into his arms. Kíli clung to him so tightly that Fíli thought he might run out of air. Kíli’s wet hair stuck to his face and the wet clothes were uncomfortable, but none of that mattered because his brother was safe.
After a while, Fíli became aware of the others moving about, making sure the cave really was safe. He also saw Thorin awkwardly hovering close by, looking at them. It briefly registered as strange in Fíli’s mind, since no matter how stern Thorin could be, he was always affectionate with his nephews. Fíli reached out an arm to pull Thorin over to them and knocked their heads together.
Eventually, the three of them pulled apart. They quickly changed into dry clothes from their packs and ate a quick meal. Before long, Fíli found himself in a corner in the back of the cave, once again hugging his brother close.
“I thought I’d lost you,” Kíli murmured.
“Me too, nadadith, me too.”
Beside them, Glóin began unrolling his bedroll, but was soon pulled aside by Óin, who whispered something into his ear urgently. Somewhere behind them, Dwalin shook his head. Glóin looked at Fíli and Kíli with wide eyes before gathering his bedroll up again.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you,” he mumbled uncomfortably.
Before Fíli could say anything, Glóin had carried his things into another corner of the cave.
Too exhausted to ponder the strange behaviour of yet another member of their company, Fíli and Kíli soon fell asleep.
They hadn’t slept long before they, quite literally this time, dropped into yet another adventure.
Balin suggested they make camp where they were, but Thorin insisted on pressing on, at least to the bottom of the Carrock where Gandalf said an overhang would give them shelter and they would have fresh water from the river.
When they reached the bottom, Bilbo, Ori and Dori laid down under the overhang and fell asleep immediately after drinking some water from the river. The others sat down, taking care of their wounds and inspecting their bruises.
Fíli and Kíli made their way over to a copse of trees, but were stopped by Dwalin.
“Where are you two going?”
“Fíli’s sword needs a good polishing. No need to send a search party after us,” Kíli said.
“We wouldn’t want to wake them with the noise whetting a sword makes,” Fíli added, nodding towards their sleeping company members. Fíli noted that the others were either gaping at them or trying their hardest to look elsewhere.
Dwalin spluttered and Balin raised an eyebrow. “Do you think it’s appropriate to tell us that?”
“Why not? Does your sword never need a good polishing?” Kíli asked.
Dwalin choked and began coughing so hard that Balin had to thump him on his back. He frowned disapprovingly.
“Never you mind that. Just go, and keep it down.”
They made their way into the trees.
“Is it just me, or do all the others sometimes seem to be having a completely different conversation with us than we are having with them?” Kíli asked tentatively.
“No, it’s not just you. They seem to be seeing a entirely different reality. I don’t think I’ve seen Dwalin that out of it since the time Thorin made him dance with him at Gimli’s axe gifting. And we only told him we were taking care of our weapons the way he always told us to.”
Kíli shook his head as Fíli took his whetstone out of his pocket.
“Sometimes I swear we are the only sane ones in our company.”
While Gandalf and Thorin were in deep discussion, Balin talked with Beorn before Beorn warned all of them to stay inside until the sun rose and went off into the night. After a while, Balin called all of them over.
“Perhaps we ought to get the assignment of rooms out of the way before the mead is brought out.”
Everybody snickered at the pointed look Balin gave Nori, Glóin and Dwalin, who glowered back at him. Balin began to point them all towards the different rooms.
Fíli and Kíli frowned when they realised that all the rooms had been assigned but they still didn’t have one.
“What about us?” Fíli asked.
“Oh, yes. There’s another bedroom at the other side of the mead hall and I thought you might like that one. That way, you two can be as loud as you like without disturbing any of us. I’m certain you won’t mind that there’s only a double bed since you’re already used to sharing bedrolls, right?” Balin said with twinkling eyes.
“No, that’s quite alright,” Kíli replied.
A couple of hours later, when they stumbled into their room more than a bit drunk, Kíli turned to his brother.
“Why did Balin want to put us out of the way so that we don’t disturb the others by being too noisy? We don’t talk that loudly, do we?”
Kíli tripped and crashed into the bedpost when he tried to pull off his boots. Fíli nearly doubled over laughing.
“He probably knows what a clumsy oaf you are when drunk, that’s why!”
They were currently camping at the edge of a small copse of trees and since only Fíli’s bedroll had survived the ordeal with the goblins, they were back to sharing again.
Much to Fíli’s regret, because Kíli was a brat and woke Fíli by tickling him as the sun was just rising. He knew just how ticklish Fíli was and Fíli was trying hard not to giggle and squirm, since that would not do for an heir of the line of Durin. Instead, Fíli flipped Kíli over and began tickling him. Kíli did not have the same level of control as Fíli did and began giggling softly as he tried to buck Fíli off.
“Fíli and Kíli! Stop that this very instant!” Thorin’s voice was thunderous. “You can do what you like in your bedrolls, but the rest of us do not want to know! Take it elsewhere!”
There were murmurs and grunts of approval across camp as Fíli and Kíli pulled apart slightly and sat up.
“Why? We were only...”
“Lad, really, we don’t want to know!” Óin said hurriedly.
“I had hoped that you, as my heirs, would know that discretion is sometimes advisable. We may be accepting of your... choices, but there will always be some that take the chance to smear the line of Durin.”
“By Mahal, a tickling fight may be childish, but it’s not something that would besmirch our family!” Kíli burst out.
Thorin stared at them and Fíli became suspicious.
“Wait, what do you think we were doing?”
Thorin turned bright red and started coughing. “Ah... well, umm... you know, the things adult dwarves in a courtship tend to do.”
“In a courtship? What are you talking about?” Kíli was bemused.
“Mahal, no!” Fíli protested. “Look, we’re both fully clothed!”
Bilbo made a sound that could only be described as a squeak and covered his eyes as Fíli pulled away the bedroll.
“We’re not... ew! Why would you even think that?! We’re brothers!” Fíli and Kíli both sprang up to put more distance between each other.
Fíli didn’t think he had ever seen his uncle look so relieved.
“You mean you’re not... ?” Bofur asked.
“No!” Kíli said. “Definitely not!”
“Wait... did you all think...” Fíli looked around the group. Most of them looked ashamed and couldn’t quite meet his eyes. Bifur almost looked disappointed. Gandalf was simply laughing so hard he was crying.
“But why? I can understand if some ridiculous elf thinks we are... well, you know. But you should know us!”
There was a moment of silence. Then Bofur and Thorin both replied “Bilbo said...”
They trailed off, first looking at each other, then at Bilbo.
“Oh, no no no! This is not my fault! I didn’t even know they were brothers at first! None of you told me and all of you dwarves always seemed so keen to accept everything that polite society frowns upon. And with the way you two were acting, what else was I supposed to think? You were using every chance to touch each other, whispering and braiding your hair! Balin told me what that means!”
“He was talking about special courtship braids, not the normal, everyday braids we were using!”
“But you were rubbing against each other naked in that river!” Ori pointed out, blushing. “And then you asked me to join you!”
Fíli blanched. No wonder Ori had avoided them. Kíli was already protesting.
“We were not rubbing against each other, we were wrestling, play fighting. We would never... ew. That’s just... I’m so sorry, Ori!”
“You admitted to sharing a bedroll.”
“Of course we did! I’m not going to sleep on the hard ground just because some filthy goblin has mine!”
“And you went on and on about cleaning Fíli’s sword and how much noise that would make...”
“We were talking about actually cleaning my sword... rubbing it clean from...” Fíli stopped and shuddered. “Now everything I say is starting to sound dirty in my mind! This whole thing is just absolutely ridiculous!”
The others nodded and fell into silence. Fíli knew it would be a long time before he would be able to look Kíli in the eye again.
Finally Thorin spoke, using his most authoritative voice. “None of us will ever speak of this again, do we all agree on that?”
All the dwarves all nodded eagerly, as did Bilbo.
Thorin turned on the still chortling wizard.
“Not a word of this to anybody, is that understood? Or I will not hesitate to kill you, wizard or not.”
Gandalf nodded and wiped the tears from his eyes.