Bilbo felt incredibly out of place as they traveled, and wished, rather than being at home, that the Company was filled with hobbits.
It wasn't the dwarrows fault (except Thorin, who looked at him like he was something on his boot) exactly; most of them had tried to at least be welcoming. No, it was closer to distrust, perhaps even subconsciously.
Bilbo knew that typically dwarrows were more suspicious and less trusting than hobbits were, and for good reason. Certainly they had been given little reason to trust anyone in these latest years, with the destruction of their home and the wanderings of their people.
And considering his obvious reluctance in leaving his home and his fear of, well, everything he didn't recognize, they really had no reason to immediately trust him.
But it didn't lessen his annoyance that they wouldn't let him help at camp; he could cook, at the very least, and certainly collecting firewood wasn't out of his skill level. He had camped, regardless of where, and disliked that he was essentially a burden on the Company.
He'd offered, only to be chased away from the fire and told to stay put when he tried to help with the wood. Annoyed, he moved to sit on the other side of the fire, away from the others. He huffed, before examining himself. His legs were scuffed and his clothes dirty, but nothing needed repairs of anything else he could distract himself with. He could smoke, he supposed, but leisurely sitting around would only make his obvious lack of usefulness all the more apparent. He just wanted to help! If he didn't, why would he have even come along?
Scowling now, he bent a bit to examine his feet, which bore the brunt of the dirt on his body. Usually they would be fairly clean, and the hair along the top brushed neatly, but he didn't have that luxury, and didn't believe there was a point to keeping them up anyway. He'd only be filthy later anyway.
"Mister Boggins, did you forget your shoes?" He looked it up, and dropped his foot back to the dusty ground. Masters Fili and Kili were sitting nearby now, bowls of stew in their hands. He frowned in confusion, looking between them, before glancing at Gandalf, who appeared not to have heard.
"Ex- excuse me?" What on Middle Earth were they talking about?
"Shoes, Mister Baggins! Cover your feet, keep them warm and protected from harm? You ought to have them, you know. Forgetting them in the Shire is one thing, but we're heading through the mountains soon enough. You'll be needing the extra protection." They both looked amused, which clued Bilbo in to their joke.
They were making fun of him! His scowl deepened, and he pulled his feet closer to the log he was seated on, partially hidden from sight.
"I don't need shoes, Master Fili. Please, dismiss it from you minds." He hoped they would leave it alone; they weren't far in their journey yet, and having to deal with their light-hearted teasing would be tedious. He hoped it was light hearted, at least.
Kili seemed to disagree, and began to open his mouth when Thorin called them both back to the other side of the fire. They went, and Bilbo hoped it would be the last of that. A hobbit wearing shoes indeed!
Three days later, Fili and Kili seemed to have realized how much this shoe business bothered him, and brought it up often. Thankfully they were often away from the others; Bilbo didn't want another song detailing his lack of shoes, of all things!
"Come now, Mister Boggins, we'll be passing another village within a few days, perhaps you ought to get a good pair of boots." Fili said, and grinned when Bilbo turned to glare at him.
"No need to be embarrassed, everyone forgets something! Granted, shoes seem an odd thing to forget, but really! You ought to be thankful we're both so attentive!" Kili's voice had risen, not much, but it was, unfortunately, enough.
"What's that, lads? Mister Baggins, do not tell me you didn't bring shoes?" Bofur was looking back at them, curse it, and at his voice, the others were beginning to look. Gandalf and Thorin were the only ones who seemed not to have heard, at the other end of their camp and speaking lowly.
"No, I did not." Bilbo was about to continue, when Kili cut in.
"He seems to have forgotten them back at his little home! We may have to get some in the next town, it isn't seemly to have one of our Company so ill-equipped." Bilbo was horrified to find that the others were nodding with Kili's statement. He stood, quickly, and his pack clattered as it fell from his lap onto the ground. He couldn't bring himself to care.
"Now see here! I realize that I am rather unused to travel, and certainly less prepared as you all, but really! There is no need to be so insulting!" He scowled at all of them, and even more so when he realized that both Gandalf and Thorin had looked up at his raised voice.
"I am going to collect firewood, and I would rather that I didn't hear another word about my feet, or you may find yourself at a loss for a burglar once again." Before the others could move, he stomped out of the camp into the trees. He heard his name, but it was unclear who had spoken, and he didn't bother turning around.
"Well, there was no need for that. We were only trying to make sure he was prepared for the snow." Kili sulked, sitting in Bilbo's abandoned place by the fire. Fili nodded, frowning.
"Perhaps teasing that he forgot something like that wasn't the best idea." Bofur pointed out, as he tended the fire. He watched the direction that Bilbo had gone from the corner of his eye.
"Someone who manages to forget something that important ought to be prepared for teasing, and a good deal worse besides." Dwalin muttered, from where he was cleaning his axes. They didn't need it, per say, but he found it a useful way to occupy his hands.
"Oh dear." Gandalf murmured, so quiet that only Thorin, who stood next to him, noticed.
"Did you hope he would be entirely prepared for a journey he didn't even wish to join? One he was woefully under trained to undertake?" The Wizard looked up at him with a crooked brow, before looking around at the others, ending on Balin.
"Master Balin, perhaps you noticed what your fellows did not. Were there any shoes in Bag End? Or indeed anywhere in the Shire?" Balin frowned, shaking his head.
"No, I dare say I did not, Master Gandalf. In fact, I had thought a hobbit would not have any reason for them, with that hair and how think the skin looks." Gandalf nodded, and peered at the members of the Company again.
"Hobbits do not wear shoes. Ever, even in the deepest and coldest of winters. The skin is indeed thick, as is their hair, to the point that no hobbit would ever go out with shoes. In fact, think feet are a source of pride, somewhat similar to a dwarf's beard." He paused, letting that point sink in. Kili looked appalled.
"We insulted him greatly, didn't we?" Fili asked, and sunk into his seat when Gandalf looked at him.
"Yes, Master Fili, it is indeed incredibly insulting to a hobbit to be told they need shoes. Master Baggins no doubt thought you knew of this when you asked, or he would have enlightened you."
The camp was rather quiet for a moment, each dwarf wondering what else there might have been confusion about, because of cultural differences. Then, simultaneously, Fili and Kili stood, and began walking quickly in the direction Bilbo had gone.
"In that case, an apology is in order! We'll be back soon enough." They disappeared into the woods as well, while Thorin pressed his hand to his forehead, groaning something under his breath.
Bilbo continued to gather firewood, though his anger had by now almost abated, and faded into embarrassment, and a touch of shame. He hadn't meant to explode at them, when they didn't seem to mean any actual harm.
But he could easily remember his childhood, when he had gone on his own little adventures around the Shire, away from the settled fields and into the mysterious Old Wood. 'Thinfoot,' they'd called him, a common insult for a traveling hobbit. Walking in foreign lands wore away the skin on the feet, or so it was said, and he remembered other relatives claiming he'd been born as such, from his mother wandering in her youth.
"Not sure he'd all hobbit, really. For a Baggins, he has remarkably thin feet," he'd heard, so many times that he'd started to believe it himself. He'd tried to keep it to himself, how much that hurt, but couldn't always manage, and even a tiny chink in ones' armor was enough to be used as a weakness.
He sighed, bending to pick up another branch, as think as his arm and twice the length. Despite whatever the dwarrows thought, he could easily gather wood! Hobbits generally worked with wood in their crafts, and each home had a large stack of wood for when the winter was upon them. Footsteps along the ground came to his ears, quickly but not panicked. He straightened up, but didn't turn around.
"Mister Baggins?" Fili came up to him, and now he did turn to face him. He looked surprisingly… contrite, and deeply bothered. Beside him, Kili wore a similar face, less tempered and more raw with emotion.
"Look, before you say anything, I would like to apologize for my earlier actions. I realize you both were teasing, and my reaction was uncalled for." Bilbo cut in quickly, wanting to get his words out quickly. Oddly enough, this only made the pair look even more bothered, as though that was just what they didn't want to hear.
"No, it is us who ought to apologize. We did not realize… Gandalf explained your lack of shoes, and the importance they have. We did not know, or we would not have said such things," Fili said slowly at first, gaining speed as he spoke. Bilbo frowned, a touch confused.
"Mister Boggins, please believe that we would never have said such terrible things if we had known! I am no stranger to such insult, and would not wish it on another." Kili spoke empathetically, and rubbed his chin slowly, without seeming to notice.
"Master Fili, Master Kili, please, don't worry about it." He smiled a bit awkwardly, but continued.
"I admit I was rather insulted, but you didn't know of it, so I see no reason to worry about it. Perhaps, in the future, I ought to ask before I assume you know about the differences between our cultures. Now, I do believe we have lingered here long enough. Shall we get back to camp? I daresay I have gathered more wood than we will need for the evening." He gestured his armload of wood to the two, who still looked flummoxed, as though his forgiveness wasn't what they had expected from this conversation.
"I believe this is one of those cultural differences you spoke of," Fili noted, as they fell into step with him.
"Well," Kili grinned at him from his other side, "an apology in dwarvish culture is usually accompanied with a boon from the one that was wrong. As a sign of remorse, of course." Bilbo shook his head.
"I won't ask one of either of you. As I said, this was a misunderstanding, not something worth worrying over." They reached camp, and found that all eleven dwarrows, as well as a Wizard, were watching them. Gandalf looked pleased, and the others a mix of mildly apologetic and confused. A few, he noted, were looking at his feet, and he wiggled his toes a bit in bashfulness.
"My thanks, Mister Baggins, for the firewood. It seems we should trust you a touch more, though I would remind you that even in the relative peace of the Shire, one should keep an eye out. We have gone in groups for such tasks for a reason." Thorin spoke through the slightly awkward silence. Surprised, Bilbo only nodded, and set his pile alongside the already dwindling firewood. He had been correct; it was more than they would need for the evening, unless there was an unexpected need for flammable things tonight. Bofur thanked him quietly.
"My own apologies for my earlier comments." Bilbo smiled.
"They are not needed. I am told it was out of misunderstanding, not malice." He received a smile in return, and a bowl of stew in return. He settled back into his seat on the log, resettling his pack against his leg.
Two bodies settled heavily on either side, and he looked up in surprise to find both Fili and Kili seated next to him, each with their own bowl and a grin. He smiled in return, and tucked in. Perhaps this would not be as bad as he thought.