A shout came from over the boundary of the camp. There was a brief silence, before the haggard and very much annoyed face of Kili burst through the bushes.
"Fili! You better get out here right now, before I am forced—" Kili spat out a stray leaf from his mouth, "—to take drastic action!"
The young dwarf stomped into the centre of the clearing, twigs and other unsavoury bits of the forest still clinging to him.
He raised his fist, gesturing wildly. "That's right, you little prat, I said drastic action. If you don't give me back my damn—" Kili's spluttered words were suddenly interrupted by his brother suddenly swinging down from a low branch of a nearby tree.
"But my dear, dear brother, surely the point of me liberating this fine dagger from your person was not to return it to you," Fili's grin grew large with wicked mirth, "but rather to, in fact, keep it." The blond dwarf's smile split impossibly wider as he saw Kili's face turn a rather delightful shade of furious red.
Fili began to strut away from his brother, pretending to use the dagger to clean under his nails. "The thing is, brother, you spend so much time playing with those bits of twig you call arrows, that I find it just a bit hard to believe that you would even know how to properly use a dagger," he flipped the hilt between his hands. "Let alone appreciate the fine craftsmanship of this little beauty."
Kili ripped the remaining twig out of his hair, before lunging after his brother with a frustrated yell. "Blast it, you boil-infested, clean-shaven, elf lover! Give. It. Back!"
Fili continued to dodge his brother's increasingly clumsy grabs at his person, laughing raucously each time Kili missed. Bofur and Bilbo had looked up from they were sitting next to the campfire, as they prepared what the hobbit hoped to be a passable meal.
Bilbo fought the smile creeping onto his face, not sure if he should be laughing or trying to break up the scuffle before someone – Thorin – came back and inevitably blamed him for the lack of proper work being done.
"Should we, uh... should we be doing something?" Bilbo glanced nervously at Bofur, who appeared to nothing short of immensely amused.
Bofur stopped slicing the pair of rabbits Kili had brought back earlier and let out a bark of a laugh. "Nay, Master Baggins, they do this sort of nonsense more often than not – no sense tryin' to get in the middle of that pair while they be makin' mischief."
Bofur threw the freshly cleaned rabbit chunks into the pot of stew before continuing. "The only thing that could stop those lads is one thing they actually respect."
Bilbo stopped chopping the carrots and narrowed his eyes as he glanced at the dwarf. He couldn't imagine anything being able to rein in Fili and Kili once they got each other going.
"And, uh, where would we go about finding this thing?" Bilbo glanced at the dwarf skeptically.
Bofur just cast an amused glance back Bilbo's way, like the answer shouldn't even need to be said. "And here I thought you were supposed to be the brains of this operation, Master Baggins. The only thing those two lads respect is the fearsome glare of their uncle." A smirk crept across Bofur's face, "I know you've gotten one or two of them yourself. I think even stone would collapse if Master Thorin glared at it long enough."
Bilbo felt his face flush hot with an involuntary embarrassment. It wasn't like he was trying gain Thorin's ire; it was just really, really hard not to. At this point it almost seemed as if even if Bilbo was sitting perfectly still making absolutely no noise, Thorin would have cursed the fact that hobbits needed to breath like any other folk.
"Well then," Bilbo grumbled, "we should probably just let Thorin glare at the dragon for a bit. Who knows? We might not even need to draw our swords."
Bofur laughed once more, clapping Bilbo on the shoulder and forcing all his finely-chopped carrots to the dirty ground. "Yer alright, laddie, yer alright."
They both turned to see that Kili had finally managed to tackle his brother to the ground but Fili had immediately wrapped an arm around his brother's neck in what Bilbo thought to be a rather impressive chokehold.
Fili tightened his grip as the younger dwarf continued to struggle.
"You'll have to do better than that, brother dear! I think even Master Baggins could put up a better fight!" The blond dwarf looked up to wink at Bilbo, "No offense meant, of course."
Bilbo just shot him a rather unimpressed look and continued to try and salvage what he could of his vegetables.
Kili took Fili's momentary lapse in concentration to place an elbow in his brother's stomach and a boot to his shin. Fili clutched his leg in pain as Kili lunged forward, grabbing his brother's braided hair.
"Not the beard!" Fili shouted, only to be met with a cackle of decidedly unapologetic mirth.
"Then maybe you shouldn't take my things!"
"And what exactly do you two idiots think you're doing?" An unmistakably gruff voice came into the clearing. Thorin and Dwalin made their way to the centre of the camp, both covered in what Bilbo considered to be an obscene amount of blood.
Thorin's nephews immediately stopped their wrestling and attempted to disentangle themselves, scrambling away from each other. Despite their efforts, Thorin made it to them first, grabbing the young dwarves by the collars of their coats and hoisting them up before shoving them onto their feet none too gently.
"He took my—" Kili began quickly, thrusting a finger into his brother's face.
"I was only—" Fili shouted back, before they both recognized the thunderous look on their uncle's face.
"Enough," Thorin ground out. "I don't want to know what happened and I am finding it extremely hard to care. You two are supposed to be adults – why don't you start acting your age, instead of running about like ridiculous dwarflings? Go make yourselves useful."
The expression on their leader's face indicated that he was nowhere near optimistic that any work would be getting done despite his instructions.
Thorin turned away brusquely just as Fili and Kili shared a look before scrambling away from camp, yelling something about the obvious poor quality of the firewood and their sworn duty to find more.
The hobbit looked nervously at Bofur, trying to understand how he should be reacting, but was met with an extremely unhelpfully ambiguous twitch of the dwarf's mouth. Bilbo then tried to steal a quick glance at Thorin, only to find himself meeting an impressive stormy-eyed stare and noticing the frown fixed on their leader's face.
"Would you like to say something, hobbit?"
Bilbo laughed nervously. "Nope, no, not me – wouldn't dream of it. No hobbit says less things about some things than yours truly." Bilbo continued to ramble, as Thorin's frown started to deepen.
Thorin glared at the hobbit as he and Dwalin made their way over to the supplies. Bilbo's eyes widened in shock as he fully took in their appearances. The dwarves were both sporting several rather jagged-looking wounds and Dwalin was favouring his right leg.
Bilbo shot up in concern, dropping his knife. "You're hurt! What happened?"
He ran over quickly to Thorin and immediately began inspecting the dwarf's face, assessing the damage. Their leader's eyes widened, clearly not expecting the swift approach of the hobbit, nor the concern etched across his face.
"We ran into a pack of wargs during the patrol." The dwarf leaned back slightly, looking uncomfortable.
Bilbo pushed himself into Thorin's space even further, hands waving fretfully as he examined every cut. Thorin stood still for a brief moment, before he shook his head and shoved Bilbo out of the way.
"I am fine." Thorin spat out, trying to resume his course to the supplies.
Bilbo frowned, crossing his arms as he moved into their leader's path. "Clearly you are not. Would you just let me help you?"
Thorin paused for a moment, apparently not sure whether to shout or just ignore what he doubtlessly saw as an excessive show of impudence.
"I do not need, nor do I want any help from you," Thorin scowled, pushing by Bilbo again. "I'm going to clean up. Bofur make sure the halfling finishes his task. I would hate for us to go hungry tonight because he couldn't keep his concerns away from where they are unwanted."
And with that, Thorin made his was out of the clearing and into the forest towards the stream that lay nearby. Bilbo eyes flicked to Dwalin momentarily, but the dwarf merely shrugged and followed their leader out of the camp.
Bilbo stood there with his mouth slightly open, as he narrowed his eyes at Thorin's retreating form.
'How can anyone be so rude?' He thought to himself with irritable frustration. After all he was only trying to help, not get in anyone's way. The hobbit felt a hand on his shoulder and glanced up to see Bofur with a kind smile on his face.
"Don't worry, laddie, Thorin's 'bout as soft as an anvil and as prickly as a mountain shrub, don't be takin' it personally. He isn't used to people carin', is all." Bofur gave him a friendly squeeze, "C'mon, let's go finish up the stew before we both get any more of that Durin glare."
Later that evening after what was, in Bilbo's rather humble opinion, a very good batch of stew, the dwarves had just about finished cleaning and setting out their sleeping rolls. They had only set out from Bag End a week ago, but Bilbo was… well, he still wasn't sure as to the general opinion of his presence. Thorin excluded, of course. He knew exactly what feeling that dwarf felt when intreating with him and he would hazard a guess that it wasn't unbridled joy. Even though several members of the company had been nothing but friendly towards him, the hobbit didn't want to impose.
The sleeping place he had taken was far from the fire. It seemed to him that the more senior members of their company, or at least the ones Bilbo guessed were some sort of nobility, were given the closer spots even though no one actually discussed it aloud. Not to mention he also was hesitant to breach the tight circle of sleeping dwarves when most of them had barely even spoken to him.
With a sigh and a shiver, he rolled out the small mat and the blanket that his mother, Belladonna Took, had passed down to him. Falling asleep in the wild wasn't easy for Bilbo Baggins. He grumbled a bit as he looked around at the rest of the dwarves and Gandalf had all fallen asleep almost immediately despite the unforgiving ground and incessant presence of rocks underneath wherever he laid down.
Shifting back and forth, trying to find some semblance of comfort, Bilbo felt a pair of eyes on him. Looking up, the hobbit was met with the dark glare of Thorin, who had taken up his customary stiff-backed first watch of the evening. Still miffed about their encounter earlier, Bilbo purposely made even more noise getting comfortable than he would have usually, all while grumbling about Thorin's apparent indifference towards proper sleep being nothing short of unnatural.
Bilbo refused to look over at the dwarf again and rolled over so that his back would face Thorin. He knew he was being petty. Not that the dwarf would care one way or the other which direction Bilbo decided to sleep, but even that knowledge didn't stop the slight swell of satisfaction he felt.
It was just when he was beginning to enjoy the feeling when Bilbo felt his stomach clench uncomfortably with guilt. When the hobbit had glanced at Thorin, he had realized that the cuts on the dwarf's face and arm were still exposed and untreated.
Bilbo waged a furious debate with his conscience as he lay on the cold ground. Thorin clearly didn't want his help, but Bilbo was familiar with stubbornness, if only because he was half a Took. He knew that just because Thorin was too proud to ask didn't mean he didn't need it.
Sighing loudly, the hobbit found that he could ignore the wriggling sensation in his gut no longer and threw off his blanket, rummaging in his pack for his the basic healing supplies that he had brought from the Shire. Ignoring what he knew to be a distasteful look on Thorin's face, Bilbo continued rustling until he found the small leather satchel.
Standing up with a bit of a stretch to loosen his aching back, Bilbo stepped carefully over the clutter of sleeping dwarves until he reached the log Thorin was sitting on. He sat down, still not making eye contact with the dwarf, and opened the bag, gathering the balm and bandages he would need for his task.
"What do you think you're—" Thorin began, before Bilbo shot him a practiced Baggins' glare of his own, raising a hand to silence the dwarf.
Slightly shocked that Thorin had actually stopped speaking and didn't, oh, punch him in face, Bilbo threw caution to the wind.
"I understand you don't like me. I get it, I really do. I know I've had little in my life to speak of sorrow or hardship." Bilbo let out a short sigh. "I can't possibly understand the weight that rests on your shoulders, Thorin, nor can I ever fully appreciate what it is to be forced out of my home and watch my people move from place to place."
Bilbo looked up and met Thorin's gaze he opened the jar. The dwarf's face had fallen into that odd little place of a not entirely disgusted grimace and yet still looking like he might pull a knife. It was an expression Bilbo was quickly realizing had a monopoly on Thorin's features.
"But what I do know is that I am here. I am a part of this company now and whatever your personal opinion of me, if nothing else, you should allow me to do what I can to help. I am perfectly aware how hopeless I am with a sword – you said it yourself that I look more like a grocer than a burglar. I won't debate that."
Bilbo felt his hand clench the pot tightly. "But I think I do have value in this group or else Gandalf would have never come to my home in the first place. So... I am asking you to use your judgment as a leader to allow me to assist this company as best I can. And if that means helping our no doubt invincible leader clean his wounds, then so help me, I will see it done."
Bilbo finished his speech with a large breath, not remembering when he'd gotten worked up enough to stick an accusatory finger near Thorin's chest. Quickly pulling the offending hand back, Bilbo kept his arms crossed and a scowl on his face to show the dwarf that he would not be intimidated into conceding this point.
If he had not been trying to cow a frightening and very intimidating dwarf prince into submitting to his wisdom, Bilbo might have laughed at the expression on Thorin's face. The dwarf clearly had not being expecting Bilbo to grow a spine and actually confront him.
The slightly agape mouth and mildly shocked expression lasted for a good few seconds until Thorin seemed to realize that his regal and stoic mask had slipped. He slammed his mouth shut and narrowed his eyes in what Bilbo thought to be a challenge for him to say anything further. The hobbit just continued to wait, not willing to move unless the prince physically removed him from the log. Which... well, it wouldn't be totally uncharacteristic if he did.
To Bilbo's immense surprise, Thorin seemed to deflate a little. His usually rigid posture gave way to a slight slumping of his shoulders, and the dwarf's eyes shifted away from Bilbo towards the crackling fire.
Thorin was silent for a few moments more, before he let out a breath and grumbled. "Carry on, if you must. Clearly you feel very strongly about finally being useful for a change. Who am I to discourage you from pulling your weight?"
Despite the harshness of Thorin's words, Bilbo let out what could only be described as a beaming smile. He had done it. Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, useless Bilbo Couldn't-Even-Hold-a-Sword-Without-Tragically-Impaling-Himself Baggins had convinced Thorin Oakenshield that he was right. He could get used to this feeling.
Thorin took one look at the hobbit's bright grin and shifted uncomfortably, as if preparing to bolt as soon as he regained his sense again.
"Get on with it before I change my mind," the dwarf muttered, refusing to look away from the fire.
The hobbit let out a chuckle, savouring the feeling of light elation that spread through his chest and began to spread the balm on the gash that had torn several inches through Thorin's shirt. The work was methodical and, much to his surprise, actually quite relaxing.
He had experience with scrapes and small wounds, both from helping the little hobbits that played around in the Shire and from random gardening mishaps. None of the dwarf's wounds appeared to need stitching, for which Bilbo was eternally grateful. Regardless, he wasted no amount of balm in making sure that they remained unimflamed.
Bilbo wrapped up Thorin's arm tightly with a bandage over the prince's cut shirt. Standing up to get a better angle to treat the dwarf's face, Bilbo carefully stepped between Thorin and the fire. He stood there for a second, waiting for the other to tilt his face up so that the balm could be applied more easily, but Thorin appeared to still be clinging to any chance to make this process more difficult than it had to be.
Bilbo let out an irritated sigh. He seemed to be doing that in much greater frequency the more he was exposed to the stubbornness of dwarves.
"Can you please look up?" The hobbit asked as he rolled his eyes, "I'll get this sorted and then you can pretend this never happened and that you healed magically through sheer willpower and pigheadedness."
Thorin's head snapped up, a frown firmly set on his face. He looked one moment away from hissing a scathing remark at the hobbit, but seemed to think better of it when Bilbo started to slather the soothing mixture on his face.
Thorin made one last attempt at a small glare, before he gave a small shrug and closed his eyes. Bilbo worked without comment, his back warmed by the fire. He found that the methodical process combined with silence interrupted only by the small crackle of the flames proved to be the most pleasant interaction he'd had with the dwarf since they'd met. Bilbo covered each of the small cuts carefully until he found that he had gotten them all.
"All done now," Bilbo said with a small smile. "See, now that wasn't so bad – pride still intact, I'm sure."
Thorin kept his eyes shut, a mostly passive expression on his face.
Bilbo moved his hand from Thorin's face, wiping the remaining balm on his trousers. The hobbit made to move away, until he felt a hand grasp his wrist. Starting slightly at the unexpected contact, Bilbo's eyes widened as he looked back at the dwarf prince. Thorin's eyes were still closed and no expression reached his face. The dwarf's voice was so quiet that Bilbo almost didn't catch the small and muttered "My thanks."
Thorin quickly released his wrist and Bilbo moved back to his pallet with a small smile on his face. Thorin had the social grace of a goat and the conversational skills of a moss covered rock, but, he supposed, the dwarf couldn't be that bad deep, deep down. He pulled the blanket over his body and shifted into a passably comfortable position.
He took one more small peek at Thorin through almost-shut eyes. The dwarf was brooding again and Bilbo could only feel bad for the fire given the intensity of the glare it was receiving. Bilbo couldn't help but roll his eyes; Thorin was nothing if not predictable in his moods. Or mood rather, so far as he'd known the prince, Bilbo had witnessed just the one: grumpy.