Washing off the grime of the tunnels beneath Goblin Town was heavenly. As a matter of fact, Bella mused, attempting to squeeze the water out of her shoulder-length damp curls, if it weren't for the lack of food, this would be the best day yet on this journey.

There was a muffled thump and some cursing behind her as Óin apparently accidentally poked one of Thorin's wounds while trying to bandage him.

Well, the food, and Thorin being so badly injured.

"Oh, for Mahal's sake!" Óin exclaimed. "My apologies, Thorin."

Bella threw a glance over her shoulder in time to see Thorin nodding tensely, his posture rigid and arms held out to let Óin bandage his torso.

"Do you need help?" Kíli asked, stepping forward willingly. He and Fíli were hovering around Thorin and Óin, clearly trying to not look too worried. Bella bit her lip in amusement, wondering who they thought they were fooling.

Going back to trying to dry her hair, the hobbit wished briefly that she, like the rest of the Company not overseeing injuries or being on watch duty, could also go to sleep. She knew better than to think that she could sleep, however. Weary or not, so many thoughts were flurrying through her mind that it would be a wonder if she did, indeed, manage to get any rest at all this night.

There was also a twinge of guilt whenever she thought of Thorin's injuries. He was clearly in quite a bit of pain, for all that the stubborn and stoic dwarf tried to hide it. The hobbit tried to comfort herself with the fact that he would live, he would recover without her help. It would just take a bit more time.

And a bit more suffering, she thought, hunching her shoulders with a fresh wave of guilt. But the fear was still stronger than the guilt. Bella refused to become a prisoner and martyr to her gift.

"Miss Baggins," Óin suddenly called. "Come here a moment!"

Bella turned, startled, to the sight of Kíli and Óin on either side of Thorin, holding bandages up, Fíli struggling with trying to get said bandages to stop sticking to the ointment covering the stitched wounds and bleeding through the bandages and Thorin in the middle of it all, a long-suffering look on his face.

"Seeing as you're still up, you might as well help out with this mess," Óin grunted at her as she hurried over. "Try to keep that mass out of our way, if you would." He pointed with his chin at Thorin's hair, swinging in the way of the bandages.

For a moment Bella's mind went blank. Óin was asking her to…!

Then Thorin slanted her a glance, a wry smile on his lips, and she hurried around him to gather up the long, damp tresses before she could think about it any further.

As the hobbit gathered up Thorin's hair, her fingers brushed against his neck and jaw line, and she bit her lip in an attempt to distract herself from what she was doing – what she was actually being allowed to do! Meanwhile, Fíli, Kíli and Óin worked together to get Thorin's wounds wrapped, which was made both easier and harder with all the help. On the one hand, Thorin's hair was kept out of the way and there were plenty of hands to make sure that Thorin's bandages were wrapped correctly and not pulling. On the other hand, well… there were a lot of hands.

Still, the bandaging got done soon enough, and to Bella's relief, no one seemed to have noticed her extreme distraction with Thorin's glorious hair. She hadn't been able to keep herself from petting it slightly, during, relishing in the warmth of the dwarf's skin where her fingers grazed his neck and marvelling at the soft coarseness of his hair.

"There," Óin sighed, patting the bandages lightly to make sure they were firmly in place. "A bit of rest and you'll be good as new. I will need to put the ointment on again tomorrow morning, but after that it should be easier to change the bandages."

"Same arrangement tomorrow, then?" Fíli asked as Bella carefully, mournfully let go of the thick, dark hair she had been holding.

Óin gave a confirming nod as Thorin stretched carefully. "Thank you, all of you," he murmured, nodding to the half-deaf healer in particular. Óin nodded back briskly and got to his feet, muttering about going to wash the ointment off his hands before going to bed.

Fíli and Kíli left as well, in short order, but not before Kíli had thrown a teasing grin over his shoulder at Bella, who suddenly wondered if she'd been wrong about her fascination with Thorin's hair going unnoticed.

"You should get some rest as well, Miss Baggins."

Bella startled slightly, then climbed to her feet. "I'll try." Before leaving, she stepped up beside him and hesitated for a moment. Thorin turned to look at her and raised his eyebrows in question.

After a moment of meeting his gaze, she offered Thorin a hand to help in getting him to his feet. After all, the worst thing that could happen would be that the proud dwarf would be offended she would think he might need help. Nothing she hadn't seen before, she told herself, ignoring the nervous pounding of her heart. The pounding that said, I only just got him to respect me.

To her surprise, though, Thorin did not look offended. Instead, after a moment's hesitation, he took her hand and let her assist him. He must have noticed her surprise, for the next thing he said was, "My pride has done enough damage between us as it is, Miss Baggins. If anyone in this Company ought to be allowed to see me not at my best, it would be you."

His face was so very sincere that Bella could not help but blush as she met his gaze. Still, "You know you do not have to be strong at all times."

The dwarf's face went grim, and Bella cursed her own impetuous tongue. "As a leader of my people, Miss Baggins, yes, I do."

He squeezed her hand before letting go, making his slow and halting way back to where most of the Company lay curled up in their cloaks and coats, asleep. Bella looked after, chagrined. Well, that was that moment ruined, she thought, angry at herself.

A/N: One step forward, two steps back in Bella and Thorin's relationship. Oh, Thorin… ::shakes head:: Relax!
As for why they needed so many people to help with the bandages, well... apparently, it was a really sticky ointment. ;) Hands all over the place.
Oh, and I was tripping over words trying to write this.
Apologies if the end result was awkward.