Not all the towns of Men were kind to wayward dwarves.

Bofur had gotten good at telling which towns might give them work and which would only give them abuse. Not every town needed a toy maker, and not every inn would trust a dwarfish chef. Some would try to cheat them, some would try to steal from them, and some would outright attack them for what coin they could get.

The sight of Bofur's mattock resting casually over his shoulder could generally deter thieves. But dwarves who didn't go so easily armed often had a harder time of it.

Bombur did not go easily armed.

Bofur had, therefore, gotten used to going hunting for his brother, only to have to pick him up from some filthy street or alleyway in the aftermath of a mugging when he found him. That didn't mean he liked it.

"Get up, you great, fat ox," Bofur grumbled, giving another hard heave. With one of Bombur's arms around his shoulders, and his feet planted as firmly as he could against the ground, and his back to the back wall of the pub for support, he had all the assistance he would get to lift Bombur's bulk from the muddy ground.

Bombur let out a whine, and Bofur was kept from snapping at him only by the sight of his brother's stubby legs honestly trying to find purchase in the mud. "You're squeezing my arm too hard," he whimpered. "My legs hurt. And what is the point? Some more men will just come along soon, knock both our heads together, and make off with your money as well as mine."

"Not without a nice, hard lesson about why they shouldn't." As ever, his mattock was in easy reach. But Bofur did give Bombur another concerned once-over. He couldn't smell any blood on him, but in this accursed rain, he couldn't smell much of anything, and Bombur wore enough layers that he'd have to be outright gutted before any blood would seep through. "You're just bruised," he finally decided. "It'd take more than a couple of men to get through all your blubber."

"That doesn't mean I enjoy being beaten and battered," Bombur huffed. There was real pain in his voice, but he managed to regain his feet and stay there after Bofur pulled away a bit.

"Really? I thought you'd enjoy it a lot more than being stabbed and sliced. I certainly do." Bofur was not without sympathy or worry for his brother, but he was also not without relief that he was alive, and he wished Bombur would focus on that as well. It wasn't as though they had a lot to be positive about – Bofur preferred to make good fortune feel welcome, when it did decide to drop by.

But when life gave Bombur a kick, he tended to let the world know about it. "There is nothing more disheartening than working on a delicious meal and then not getting to taste any of it," he lamented. "Oh, for the day when I don't have to work any longer for these rotten men. Louts who wouldn't appreciate fine food if it were their only choice. Better I cook for squirrels than waste my talents on them."

"It's a nice thought, but squirrels don't tend to have coin to pay. Come on." He patted Bombur on the back, inviting another wince by probably hitting another bruise. In an attempt to cheer up the fat dwarf, Bombur patted his chest pocket with his other hand, producing a merry jingle. "I got paid for my last job. I think this is a sign that it's our time to get going."

This did seem to brighten Bombur's spirits again, enough that he asked the question Bofur had been expecting, almost hoping, for him to ask. "May we buy something to eat, then? I am dreadfully famished."

"Sure. I saw a place selling apple bread. Our coin's as good as anyone's, right? At least while we've got it."

"With some honey to go with it?"

"I'll find us a hive on the road. It's cheaper that way, and probably easier. At least from what we've seen of this town."

"But you always get stung."

"And you always get your great, fat stomach kicked in when we're in a town. So I suppose that one of us is always going to be suffering some misfortune." Bofur heaved a sigh, suddenly feeling so much older as he realized just how true his own words were. "Honestly, I'd rather it be me."

That was true, as well – Bofur had often wished that the world would turn on him rather than his brother, that he might suffer its slings instead, and Bombur be left to cook and create and enjoy in peace.

It turned out to be the wrong thing to say, however true it was. Bombur was miserable enough – Bofur's grim assessment of the general turn of their lives was enough to make him outright sob. And Bofur might have been a cynical sort of dwarf, but he was far from heartless, especially when it came to his brother.

"All right, all right," he said, his voice soothing and soft, patting Bombur as gently as he could on the shoulder. Bombur still flinched, whimpering, but he still looked up at Bofur properly for the first time since Bofur had found him, and that was something. At least he was still capable of paying attention, and looking his own brother in the eye. "None of that. It won't do either of us any good. What will help is a full stomach, and getting on our way. Together, the both of us again."

When people looked at his brother, they saw a voracious appetite and a truly staggering girth. All of Bombur's blubber, however, served to hide a genuinely tender and soft heart. It might have made him prone to whining about the unfair state of the world, about the bruises and the knocks and the sourness, but that was only because he wasn't tough enough for it to have all stopped hurting.

Bombur might have been a fearsome fighter. He might have retaliated against those thieves and beaten them into senselessness, maybe even to death. He was one of the largest dwarves Bofur had ever seen, and not all of it was fat – just most of it. A few bruises, or even a few dozen bruises, didn't have to slow him down at all, if he didn't let them. He could have been strong and powerful and able to defend himself as a result.

But, he wasn't. He wasn't just awful in a fight, he didn't enjoy it at all. Not that Bofur did, but he could see merit in a scrap, under the right circumstances, and he knew that you could benefit from coming out on top in a scrap. Bombur didn't, and he usually came off worse for it.

That shouldn't have been how things worked, but it was. Bofur was just glad he could stay by Bombur's side to soften the blows. Not that he wasn't above giving Bombur a hard time about his weight or his whining or his softness. He wasn't. But he was family, and whether he castigated Bombur or comforted him, it was all done out of love and duty. And he knew which tact was called for, depending on the situation.

Whacking Bombur on the hand for trying to take too much stew from the fire was one way he looked after his brother. To Bofur's mind, buying two twisted loaves of hot apple bread from a baker on their way out of town, and giving half of his to Bombur anyway, was another.

Unless he stuck to Bombur's side like a burr, and kept one of them from working and earning coin as a result, there was nothing he could do about the attacks or accidents. There was little he could do about the bruises and sometimes worse that resulted, except pick Bombur up, gruffly remind him that walking did more than weeping, and do a bit to fill up his great stomach, because there were few things Bombur loved more than food.

But if there was one thing he loved more than food, it was his brother, which he proved half a mile out of town by giving Bofur a one armed hug so strong that Bofur felt his bones creak. Bofur endured it for a few seconds before he started struggling and demanding to be let down, a request that was honored with commendable speed.

"You don't feel that bruised to me," he grumbled, after his feet had touched the ground again.

Bombur was quick to resume his lament of the bruises and how sore he was and how tired, and how he was sustained only by his measly portions of apple bread, but he was trying not to smile under his beard, and Bofur saw it plain as day. And he didn't bother to hide his smile as he gave Bombur a shove to get him walking again. "Come on, keep at it! We'll meet up with every bandit on the highroad at this rate, before we reach the mountain."