Thorin called for a halt just as the sky was starting to bruise pink and purple. The dwarves moved efficiently as one body, dismounting and unpacking and setting up camp, and Bilbo found himself pushed to the edge of the group once again. Not that he particularly minded having nothing to do, of course. Years of solitude had remedied that. But he felt a bit useless watching the Company scurry about with their work, talking cheerfully to each other and laughing.
Well, if he couldn't help, he could at least stay out from under foot. He led Myrtle over to where the other ponies were standing on one side of the clearing, surreptitiously slipping her an apple when he was sure nobody was looking.
"This is the absolute last one," he whispered to her sternly, scratching her behind the ears as she made fast work of the apple. "If Thorin finds out he'd probably skin me for wasting supplies."
Myrtle whickered agreeably.
"That's a good girl," Bilbo crooned.
He almost jumped out of his skin when Gloín appeared behind him, cursing under his breath as he struggled with two heavy packs. "Pass me that bag there, would you laddie?" the dwarf asked him. He indicated a pack hanging from the saddle of another of the ponies.
"Uh, yes, sure. Half a mo." Bilbo ducked under Myrtle's neck to get to the pony (Daisy, perhaps?) and lifted the bag, grunting under the weight of the thing. He wobbled back over to Gloín and deposited the pack in his already laden arms. "Are you…are you sure you can, carry, that is–"
"Aye, laddie," Gloín said. "We dwarves are made of sterner stuff than the wee gentle folk of the West!" Then he marched back off towards the space he'd designated as his sleeping area.
Bilbo watched him go, unable to keep a slight grin off his face despite the insult. Gloín looked like a pack-horse himself, burdened as he was by all the bags and all the pouches on his belt. He always took more than his fair share of the packs, Bilbo had noticed. He insisted that he was capable of carrying all that and more. The others were happy to oblige him.
The hobbit plonked himself down beside the ponies, still smiling at the absurd idea of Gloín as a pack-horse. "Yes," he chuckled to himself, tugging at a lock of hair absently as he inspected the rest of the Company. "Gloín the pack-horse, sounds about right." He made a face. "What does that make Oín, then?"
The old dwarf was laying out his bedroll, humming something that was very loud and very out of tune, ignoring the complaints of his brother. Bilbo regarded him with narrowed eyes. Woolly clothes, curled beard, engraved ear trumpet. Ram. Bilbo grinned. Perfect.
Dwalin strode past; Bilbo barely had to think about that one. "Bear," he muttered. "Most definitely a bear." He still remembered the first impression he'd gotten of the dwarf when he opened the door at Bag-End all those days ago – an enormous figure covered in furs, almost large enough to be a bear, or so it had seemed to his startled mind. Dwalin's older brother was just as easy to pin down. Owl. Snowy owl. Bilbo watched Balin settle himself on a fallen log by the fire. The white-haired dwarf was certainly stately enough, and in Bilbo's opinion the wisest in the Company (excluding, perhaps, Gandalf).
Thoroughly enjoying his game, Bilbo looked around for new subject matter. His eyes settled on the Brothers Ri, sitting huddled in a loose circle away from the rest of the group. Dori and Nori seemed to be arguing over something, their voices harsh in forced whispers and their gestures wild. Ori sat in between them, acting as a sort of buffer, scribbling in his sketchbook with a long-suffering expression on his face.
Bilbo considered them for a few moments. Nori was easy enough. Russet hair coaxed into points, a wicked grin, quick fingers that had almost made off with Bilbo's silverware (plus, if Dwalin's less than flattering comments were anything to go by, a very strong sense of self preservation). Fox. And Dori – Bilbo smiled wryly, watching the oldest Ri brother fuss over Ori's jacket, continuing his argument with Nori all the while. Dori was a mother hen through and through, kind and strong and protective.
He turned his gaze to the youngest of the brothers. Ori was still scribbling away, at what, Bilbo wasn't sure; the lad never let anyone see his drawings. Bilbo pondered Ori for a good minute or two. Squirrel? No, too excitable. Kitten, then?
"Mm, not quite," Bilbo murmured, brow furrowing.
It came to him when Ori looked up from his sketchbook, nose twitching in resigned frustration as Dori shuffled him sideways to fix his collar. That, and the young dwarf's observant, nervy eyes, gave him an answer.
"Rabbit," he said, feeling very self-satisfied. Yes, Ori was a rabbit. Timid and jumpy, and prone to being coddled, but sweet and trusting enough once befriended.
His attention turned from the Brothers Ri to the Brothers Ur. Bofur was whistling happily as he fixed the Company's dinner, hat sitting slightly askew over his forehead. Taking into account the dwarf's winning smile and clever fingers and lively, kindly eyes, Bilbo was reminded of an otter that he'd seen once on a walking holiday down the Brandywine. The creature had been lying on its back in the slow flowing water of the river, knocking a nut against a small rock in an effort to crack open its shell. Bilbo's mind supplied him with a picture of Bofur in the same position floating down the Brandywine, scarf trailing in the water and eyes closed blissfully against the sun. He chuckled quietly at the mental image.
Bifur, on the other hand, was nothing so comical. Bilbo watched him toying with a mechanical bird he'd pulled from his pocket. The remains of the axe in his forehead gleamed dully in the firelight – he looked ferocious, like some wild thing driven in from the forest.
"Badger?" mused Bilbo. The mane of salt-and-pepper hair confirmed it. "I'm sure he'd fight like a badger when cornered," he added to himself with a wry grin.
And Bombur? Bilbo frowned, wracking his brains for a suitable match. As his mind wandered he thought back to his book collection, and remembered an illustration he'd seen in one of the old tomes. It had been a type of bear from Far Harad, if he recalled correctly, a great, round creature with bright button eyes and black and white patches all over its substantial body. It had been reclining against the trunk of a tree, just as Bombur was now, and chewing sedately on a mouthful of leaves. What had it been called again? A panda?
"Panda," Bilbo repeated, tongue wrapping around the unfamiliar word. "Bofur the otter, Bifur the badger, and Bombur the panda." He laughed. Now who did that leave?
A familiar voice barked something from across the clearing and Bilbo smiled dryly. Of course. How could he forget?
Thorin Oakenshield stood in front of his nephews with his arms folded across his chest, looking severely unimpressed. Fili and Kili hung their heads sheepishly, obviously having said something, yet again, that had displeased their uncle. They looked at each other as Thorin turned away, smiling ruefully and bumping shoulders as they set out their bedrolls.
Bilbo's eyes followed the king as he moved to stand by the fire. He'd always thought Thorin was too hard on the lads, even if they were princes. He might've said something if he hadn't seen the way Thorin constantly sought out his nephews on the road, in the camp, during battle, his face only softening when he was sure they were safe. It was clear that Thorin loved the boys, despite his gruff exterior.
Watching Thorin now, all dark hair and dark furs and flashing eyes, Bilbo quickly came up with an animal counterpart. On one particularly terrifying outing when he'd been a young hobbit he'd wandered off the path and gotten lost in the woods far from home. He'd found himself in a clearing surrounded by dense forest, bordered on one side by a high, rocky bank that cast a gloomy shadow across the glade. He'd collapsed in the middle of the space, shaking and teary, convinced that he would be lost in the woods forever, only to be shocked to his feet again by the sound of something growling. He'd looked up to the rocky outcrop and frozen – atop the bank there stood the largest wolf Bilbo had ever seen, coal black and fanged like something out of a nightmare.
It growled again, and Bilbo was stunned out of his stupor. He'd scrambled backwards and tripped over a tree root, ending up on his backside in a patch of clover, and huddled there in a quivering ball, convinced that he was about to be eaten. But when Bilbo peeked briefly from between his fingers the wolf had not moved, and only watched him impassively as he picked himself up and bolted into the trees, stumbling across the path an hour later just as the sun was starting to set.
Bilbo had been on the receiving end of one of Thorin's unsettling stares too many times to count, and although the king had never scared him in quite the same manner as the wolf, Bilbo had little doubt that he could if he really wanted to.
Now, how about Thorin's nephews?
Brilliant, golden Fili, for all his neat braids and charming smile and good humour, was one of the most ferocious warriors in the Company. Bilbo had heard him roar his war cry when charging into battle, and to the hobbit's ears there was not much difference between that and the roar of a lion (not that he'd heard one, of course, but he had a very clear idea of what it most probably sounded like). Coupled with Fili's fierce protectiveness of his younger brother and the deadly grace that he always carried himself with, it was not hard for Bilbo to imagine a big golden lion lounging in Fili's place near the fire.
Kili, on the other hand… Watching the youngest of the line of Durin now, Bilbo could not help but smile fondly. The lad had his bedroll gripped between his knees, struggling violently with the knot that was keeping it from unfolding. His tongue was held between his teeth and his brows were drawn together in a look of intense concentration. He sighed and collapsed onto his back dramatically when Fili, at last, took the bedroll from him and deftly untangled the knot. No, there was very little deadly grace in Kili. When the boy moved he bounced. Eighty odd years had done little to curb Kili's youthful enthusiasm.
Bilbo wanted to say puppy. He really wanted to say puppy. But he could imagine the look of betrayal on Kili's face if he ever found out that his uncle and his brother had gotten two such fierce, majestic animals as their counterparts while he had been stuck with a puppy. Wolf pup will have to do, I suppose, Bilbo thought to himself. That made sense too, considering the blindingly obvious way Kili tried to emulate his uncle.
He did a quick count, wondering if he'd missed anyone. "Twelve, thirteen…no that's everyo- oh!" He slapped a hand to his head. How could he have forgotten the wizard?
Gandalf had settled himself on a stone at the very edge of the clearing. His staff was propped up beside him and his hat sat low over his eyes, making it hard to tell if the wizard was awake or not. Bilbo did not have to think for long about Gandalf's grey clothes and peaked hat and seemingly ridiculous height before the picture of a stork sprung to mind. The mental image of a Gandalf-stork scolding Thorin-wolf was all too much; Bilbo burst out laughing.
"What're you up to, Master Baggins?" a voice said teasingly from behind him. Bilbo spun around to face Fili, who had snuck up quietly and was crouched down on his haunches beside him.
"What're you laughing at?" Bilbo twisted back around fire-wards, only to come face to face with Kili, who was grinning impishly at the hobbit's jumpiness.
"Nothing!" Bilbo said quickly. "Nothing, I–"
"Come now, Bilbo," Fili chided, scooting around to sit beside his brother. "We saw you watching us. And Uncle. And Gandalf, just now. You're not up to nothing, that's for sure."
"He's having a laugh at us," Kili said mournfully, slinging an arm around Fili's shoulders. "Revenge for the orc prank. And his mother's glory box."
Bilbo gave him a withering glare. "I am not having a laugh at your expense, not that you don't deserve it, you two little devils."
The brothers grinned at him. "What were you laughing at then, if not us?" Fili pressed.
Bilbo opened his mouth to shoo them away, but the eager light in the princes' eyes stopped him. He didn't have the heart to deny them this bit of fun, not when their journey was getting grimmer and grimmer as the days progressed.
He sighed and told them.
They stared at him for a second or two, then simultaneously let out howls of laughter that almost deafened him.
"Mahal," Fili hooted, "what was Dwalin? No – what was Bofur?"
Bilbo rattled off his list, smiling at their reactions. By the time he got to Bombur they were laughing hysterically and leaning against each other for support. The rest of the Company shot them bemused glances and continued on with their chores, but judging by the scowl on Thorin's face he looked as if he was planning to come over and tell his nephews to quiet down. Fili and Kili saw Bilbo tense and turned to look over their shoulders, and their laughter died quickly at the sight of their uncle about to bear down upon them. They hunched their shoulders awkwardly, and Thorin, placated by their silence, turned away.
"How about Thorin?" Kili asked quietly, offering Bilbo a lop-sided smile.
Bilbo frowned at Thorin's back, upset on behalf of the lads. "Well," he said, "I had decided upon wolf, but now I'm feeling more inclined to say boar."
The brothers clapped their hands over their mouths to keep from laughing. "He means well," Fili murmured, smiling at the indignant look on the hobbit's face.
"I know that," Bilbo grumbled, "but there are better ways to show that he loves you."
Kili shrugged good-naturedly. "Don't worry, Bilbo. I reckon once this quest is over he'll stop being so grumpy. He's not usually so bad-tempered – it's only because he's so worried about everything." Kili stilled, expression growing uncharacteristically sombre as his thoughts strayed. Then he remembered himself and grinned brightly. "You haven't finished yet, Master Baggins! What about us?"
Bilbo could not help but chuckle at the princes' keen expressions. "You two were not nearly as challenging as some of the others," he told them. "But as per usual, Fili was less troublesome."
Kili made a show of looking wounded as Fili and Bilbo stifled their laughter. "Well then, what was the big oaf?" Kili asked, punching his brother playfully on the shoulder. "An oliphant?"
"A lion," said Bilbo.
"A lion?" Kili echoed. He grinned. "You know, big brother, I could see that working. You should try a new hair-style some time. I think a mane would suit you."
Fili rolled his eyes and ruffled Kili's hair. "You're the only oliphant here, Kee. Am I right, Master Baggins?"
The hobbit smiled. "Not quite. I pegged Kili as a wolf, like your uncle. Friendly wolves, of course." As an afterthought he added: "Well, at least you, Kili," and shot a sour look at Thorin across the fire.
When he turned back to face the brothers Kili was looking very pleased, probably more with the fact that he and Thorin shared an animal counterpart than because his own animal counterpart was anything particularly special. Bilbo was glad he'd changed his mind about the puppy.
"We'd look pretty impressive, wouldn't we, charging into battle?" Kili remarked gleefully. "Two wolves and a lion!"
"You'd have to run fast to keep up with me, little brother," Fili teased.
Kili snorted. "You keep telling yourself that. How about Gandalf, Bilbo?"
"A bird of some kind?" Fili guessed.
"A stork," Bilbo grinned.
The princes laughed quietly for a good long while at that. They seemed to find the mental image of stork-Gandalf just as funny as Bilbo did, and kept shooting furtive glances at the wizard to compare his traits with the bird's.
The three settled at last into companionable silence, watching the other dwarves go about their business in the dim light of the fire. Then Fili turned to the hobbit with a bemused smile and said, "But Bilbo, you've forgotten the most important member of the Company."
Bilbo started. "No– no I haven't! Have I?" He searched the campsite in confusion. "Who?"
Having quickly picked up on his brother's thoughts, Kili smiled and leant forward. "Really, Bilbo, how could you have forgotten yourself?"
The hobbit blinked. "Well, I suppose…it didn't really cross my mind. I don't particularly–"
Kili ignored him and turned to his brother. "What do you think, Fee? He's so tiny, gotta be something small. "
The eldest prince frowned and rubbed his chin, inspecting Bilbo with his intense blue eyes. "Not sure…a possum, maybe?" He and Kili shook their heads at the same time. "No."
Bilbo squirmed, not liking being the centre of attention. "Look, lads, I–"
"Some sort of rodent?" Kili mused.
"Rodent?" Bilbo bristled.
"Something really cute," murmured Fili, absently patting Bilbo's head.
Bilbo scowled dangerously and batted Fili's hand away. "I hardly think–"
Fili snapped his fingers and grinned. "Hedgehog."
"Wha–" Bilbo spluttered as the brothers erupted into laughter again, not even noticing the quelling looks Thorin was shooting their way. "Hedgehog? Why hedgehog?" He refused to admit that deep down in his heart he'd been hoping for something a little more…exciting.
"Well you're so tiny," Kili snickered, "and adorable."
"And you were almost as prickly as Thorin when we first met you," Fili added with a smile.
Now that was highly offensive. Bilbo could handle being compared to a hedgehog, but being compared to Thorin? Unacceptable. He had just opened his mouth to scold the princes when another voice resounded across the campsite.
"Fili, Kili, come eat before it gets cold."
"Yes, Uncle," the brothers chimed in unison, then grinned one final time at Bilbo and headed towards the fire.
"Rascals," Bilbo muttered, and set off after them.
I would pay so much money to see more Bilbo/Fili/Kili interaction. Or just interaction. Any interaction within the Company. I will pay for it all. I will finance the movie that covers the gap between Rivendell and the Misty Mountains and all the shenanigans that Fili and Kili get up to. I just need another movie is what I'm trying to say.
Anyway this was a lot of fun to write, even if Ori and Kili caused me a lot of grief. I was 100% going to make Kili a puppy but then my thoughts went the same way as Bilbo's and I realised how offended he'd be.
Thanks so much for reading! Any and all comments/critiques are hugely appreciated!