Another chapter so soon, will wonders never cease? Continuing the tradition of using your ideas, this one is dedicated to two like-minded individuals, Celtic_Angel18 and Pergjithshme. I hope it meets your expectations.
This one also is dedicated to Kappa and Pidge, who were kind enough to stay awake until 0100 as I wrote this. Bless you all, and please, if you have an idea for a chapter, do not hesitate to post it in the comments- hopefully I will not disappoint.
Taking the night watch was relaxing. Bilbo tried not to unwind too much and fall asleep, but the stillness, coupled with the beauty of the night sky, was mesmerizing, bringing up sweet memories of camping trips with friends and relatives back home. In the back of his mind a small voice chided him for being so silly; this was a quest and was very serious and possibly life-threatening and he should take things more seriously, but he just couldn't help-
A snapping branch brought him to his feet immediately, his heart pounding in his ears, hand fumbling with the sword at his belt as he peered into the darkness, cursing himself for being so foolish; very faintly he thought he saw two shapes? very quietly he thought he heard breathing?... "Fili? Kili? Is that you?" he whispered loudly.
Kili's black-braided head popped out from behind the bush. "How did you hear us?"
Fili stepped out from behind a tree. "More importantly, how did you know it was us? For all you knew, we could've been anything," he teased.
Bilbo's hand fell from his sword hilt as he pretended they had not actually scared ten years off of his life. "Well, who else could it be but you two?"
"Oh, you never know what could be out there," Fili murmured, all mischief gone from his voice as he stared very seriously into Bilbo's eyes. "Orcs, goblins, imps, trolls, or something even worse..."
Bilbo heard a step behind him. He did not flinch, did not hesitate, rather spun wildly to find- Nori. The three dwarves, their prank foiled, groaned slightly. "There's no way you heard me!" Nori insisted. "Fili gave me away somehow, didn't he?"
Bilbo managed to keep up his nonchalant facade with a shuffle of his feet and a modest smile downward, trying his hardest to keep his breathing under control. "Oh, no, I could hear you clumping from a mile away." The instant the words left his mouth he knew they were the wrong ones to say, and he grimaced and fumbled for a moment. A passing image of himself shoving his foot into his mouth came to mind.
Fili and Kili whistled low, and both of them moved to either side of Nori. "You hear that, Nori? He said you were clumping." Fili tut-tutted, shaking his head.
Kili added sagely, "Well, he is the burglar, he ought to know how to be silent."
Nori, clearly offended, came back with, "Clumping, is it? I'll have you know I myself am renowned for my abilities to burgle! I'd like to see you do better!"
"I only meant-"
"I propose a challenge," Nori continued. "Mister Gandalf states that you ought to be the quietest around, let's see if he's right. I'll close my eyes and you walk to the edge of the camp and back here. The instant I hear you, you lose. Ready?" The three of them closed their eyes tight and clamped their hands over them. "Now!"
Bilbo saw it was pointless to argue. It was no real secret that hobbits could be absolutely silent, and it was no great trouble to move away from the three of them without any of them hearing. Behind the tree, he stole a quick peek just to make sure they had not heard him, when a wild idea crossed his mind. Leaving the three standing by the campfire, he climbed the tree up above them, accidentally knocking a few acorns off above a slumbering dwarf's head.
Fili nudged Nori slightly. "Do you think he's gone?"
Nori whispered back, "Give him a chance, we've only just started." It was insulting, hiring another burglar in the first place. Wasn't he just as good a burglar as any? Baggins seemed like a decent fellow and all, but it was likely the most those fingers had ever pinched was food. This would either confirm his doubts or lay them to rest completely. And as he heard the footsteps in front of him, (Clumping, indeed! As though he was one to talk!) he couldn't help but feel vindicated. As he opened his eyes, he crowed, "Well, it looks like you're the noisiest of us all, Ba-"
Only it was not Baggins at all, but rather the very cynical, very tired, and downright grumpy Balin who stood before the three. "I thought th' whole point of a watch was t' keep yer eyes open for trouble, not cause it," he drawled. "And pardon me for not being as stealthy as I normally am, but when three fools throw acorns at me and don't even bother to hide, I don't feel the need to be quiet."
"Acorns? What are you talking about?" Fili asked.
"Master Fili, don't expect me to believe that it wasn't you." He paused. "Wasn't Bilbo supposed to have watch? What's happened to him, then?"
The three cast a quick look around, but none of them could even see a trace of where the hobbit had gone. "Er, well, you see..." Nori began.
"He heard something, and..." Kili fumbled for a moment, "he went to go see what it was?"
Balin's cool glare flicked to the young dwarf. "And instead of going with him, you three are covering your eyes like a trio of clowns? Suppose he finds himself another troll?"
"No, he's around here," Nori muttered, walking past Balin and searching the ground for a trace of where the hobbit may have gone. Fili and Kili followed suit, searching through the bushes. "I'm sure of it. He's got to be around here, he can't have gone far. We barely covered our eyes half a minute, Balin, I swear!" Nori continued. He peered into the darkness, apprehension sinking in his gut like a stone; where in the name of holy Mahal had that blasted Baggins got to?
"Which brings me back to my first question, what in blue blazes are you three idiots doin' standin' about with yer eyes closed?" Balin hissed, collaring Nori. "And while yer at it, ya can tell me what you've done with our burglar!" Nori shook the older dwarf off, standing nose to nose with him and clenching his fists. Before any blows could be thrown, Fili and Kili stepped in and swiftly separated them.
A sigh of relief on the other side of the campfire startled the four of them. "Thank you for watching my post a moment, fellows!" Bilbo causally sauntered in the middle of the group, smiling to give a polite, "Evening, Balin." It was rather difficult to creep down the tree and past the three of them- he was almost certain that Kili had spotted him- but after accidentally incurring Balin's wrath he knew he owed it to them to get them out of their predicament. Now, looking at their faces, he smothered a grin as he bounced back on his heels.
Balin huffed and rounded on the hobbit. "And where were you, then?"
Recovering remarkably, Bilbo cleared his throat delicately as he cast a furtive glance at the forest. "Well, not to be crass, but I've just been watering a tree, if you follow." Bilbo gave Balin an apologetic look, trying to say 'I promise I'll explain later' without speaking.
Balin's cool, even gaze said 'I look forward to it' before nodding and stalking back to his bedroll, muttering something about young people and their shenanigans.
Nori, Fili, and Kili collectively breathed a sigh of relief. "Where did you get to, Bilbo?" Fili asked.
The hobbit bounced back on his heels. "Oh, you know, just crept along quietly."
"Quietly is an understatement, Master Baggins," Nori stated, shaking his head in wonder. To Bilbo's surprise, he bowed low saying, "Clearly, I've been wrong about you, and I ask forgiveness."
Bilbo blinked stupidly. "I... Well, of course, Nori, I've held no hard feelings." As Nori rose, they shook hands, one professional burglar to another (almost professional).
Kili scratched at his beard. "But his feet are so big," he mumbled, "how does he sneak about so quietly?"