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with friends like these

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“Don't eat the soup tonight,” Bombur tells Bilbo as he hands him two bowls for the princes. Kíli and Fíli are guarding the group's ponies and the hobbit wanted to make sure that they got fed.

There must not be enough for everyone, Bilbo thinks and then puts it from his mind. Even if rations are tight, Kíli will be happy to share his portion anyway.

Except it's not that easy. There are trolls and missing ponies and when the hobbit is volunteered to steal them back, he has to leave the soup behind. Bilbo plans to eat it later, but he's bad at burglary. Instead he's captured quickly and he's sure he's gonna die.

Thankfully he's not alone. Thorin's entire company rushes to his rescue, shouting at the trolls to free their hobbit and eat someone else instead. Kíli suggests Dwalin and Ori points at Thorin while Bifur and Bofur shove Fíli to the fore. Glóin starts yelling recipes while Óin waves around his herb pouch and Bombur pulls a stick of butter from somewhere that Bilbo doesn't want to think about. It's a strange distracting tactic but it proves quite effective, confusing their captors until Gandalf can arrive.

“The dawn will take you all!” the wizard shouts as he appears on the horizon and a brilliant flash of light turns the trolls to stone.

“Cutting it a little close,” the hobbit mutters, shaking out the pins and needles in his legs. Gandalf's timing could use a little work. Honestly, the entire company is stiff after being tied up for hours. Ori nearly stumbles right into the fire and he pulls Balin with him, the old dwarf's beard igniting where the butter ran.

The smell of frying grease makes the hobbit's stomach grumble, reminding him that he hasn't eaten in too long. But when he goes back for the soup, both bowls are empty and the bodies of several rats lie on the ground nearby. The poor creatures must have eaten until they burst.

So Bilbo returns to his companions with a mournful sigh. When he reaches the clearing, Gandalf and Thorin are butting heads so he settles down by Fíli and asks what's going on.

“Our wizard wants to see the elves and uncle wants to punch him,” the young dwarf answers cheerfully. “Nori has been taking bets on which of them snaps first. I have two gold on Gandalf lighting him aflame.”

Fíli sounds far too gleeful about Thorin eating fire – he must still be cranky from not getting fed last night. Bilbo can hardly blame him. Missing meals is enough to make anyone foul-tempered; eating is important after all.

However, before the hobbit can suggest a nice big breakfast, their company is set upon by wargs. It's another bit of bad luck on this journey but without bad luck, Bilbo is fairly certain that these dwarves would have no luck at all.

Indeed, it's a shame that Kíli's arrow fails to silence that warg rider, this from the same archer who shoots sparrows on the wing. But everyone has bad days and the young dwarf is so distraught that he doesn't watch his footing. He gets in his brother's way and accidentally trips him, almost sending Fíli into the monster's jaws.

The dwarf dodges at the last second and six-inch teeth close on leather instead of skin. It's a near thing, too close for comfort, and Fíli's not the only one who's wearing thin. When the orcs catch up, the battle is a comedy of errors like the hobbit's never seen. Dwalin hits Ori with his back swing and Óin almost gets kneecapped. Bofur chucks axes willy-nilly and Glóin actually slices off the tip of Nori's ear. Blood is flying everywhere along with dwarvish curses as a sudden burst of clumsiness overtakes his company.

Bilbo is sure it's just exhaustion. All of them just need rest, but even reaching Rivendell doesn't stop the injuries.

The hobbit's not concerned at first. He knows his dwarves love sparring. But he can't understand why they use real weaponry. Wooden blades would be much safer and after the first week, Bilbo is getting tired of patching up his friends. However, Dwalin insists that practice blades just don't have the right balance and who is he to argue with the warrior's experience?

“Wouldn't it be better to let Óin handle this? I thought he was your healer,” the hobbit asks one evening as he's wrapping the dwarf's arm.

“Hah! Like I'd give that old bastard another opportunity,” Dwalin scoffs. “It's not as though I'm badly injured and even you can tie a bandage. At least I know you wouldn't dare to stab me in the back.”

Bilbo's companions do seem determined to practice different kinds of combat, including night-time ambushes and attacks out of the dark. Ori even leaps from the fountain one brisk morning, jabbing Thorin in the side before the dwarf lord fends him off. Their fearless leader seems more exasperated than surprised by the attack, shaking his head as he tells Bilbo, “The lad should simply give up. Even if he succeeded, he'd never survive to inherit anyway.”

“I suppose it's good to have ambition,” the hobbit answers absently as he digs through his pack for another roll of bandages. He's found that it's best to nod and smile when his dwarves start speaking gibberish.

Thankfully the sparring ends when they reach the Misty Mountains, though Bilbo never thought that dwarves would be so bad at keeping their footing on the stone. His companions can't go an hour without slipping, often when their kinsmen are reaching out a hand. Fíli and Kíli are particularly clumsy, each falling several times a day while their uncle marches well in front and glares at anyone who tries to walk too close to him.

It's a miracle that no one dies when they run across the stone giants, what with Thorin shouting “Jump!” from a hundred feet away. The hobbit knows the dwarf lord really means, “Jump to safety,” but the rest of his words are blown away upon the wind.

Or maybe Bilbo's going deaf. When Thorin falls to Azog, the other dwarves are terrified. He can see it on their faces, but he can't hear a single person screaming out the dwarf lord's name. Of course, the hobbit can't hear anything over the rush of flame. Just the pounding of his heart as he runs to Thorin's rescue, doing what his companions are too worried to attempt.

Then it's a mad scramble for the eagles, the other dwarves climbing over top each other in their hurry to escape. No one stops for Thorin, but Bilbo cannot blame them. No one could battle through that fire and it's obvious the eagles are doing all they can. Kíli certainly isn't shouting, “Leave him!” as they're flown into the night. Not when Bilbo knows how deeply Thorin Oakenshield is loved.

Indeed, the entire company stands frozen when it seems the dwarf has perished. Grief has locked their legs in place but their hands inch toward their weapons and blood will be flying soon enough. The hobbit has learned that his companions express most emotions violently.

Thankfully, it's a false alarm. Thorin is still breathing and Beorn's house is a fine reprieve, despite his almost eating Balin the night that they arrived.

But that was yesterday and Bilbo doesn't like to dwell on might-have-beens when there's breakfast to be had. So the hobbit puts it from his mind and digs into his meal, pausing only to warn Kíli about the poisonous mushrooms that somehow made it on his plate. He'll need to give the prince some lessons next time they're foraging.

However, those lessons have to wait because nothing in the Mirkwood is safe enough to touch. The forest holds a myriad of dangers and seems intent on killing Thorin before they reach the other side.

On the first day, the dwarf lord almost falls into three separate gorges, only saved by the vines that had wrapped around his neck. On the second day, their company is forced to flee from swarms of wasps for hours until Thorin finally realizes that there's honey in his beard. A white stag, a sleeping river, far too many giant spiders; their leader only narrowly survives each obstacle.

Bilbo is run ragged before the wood elves find them and rather insistently invite the dwarves to enjoy their hospitality. He's hoping for another break, perhaps a bath and supper, but that's just not to be. Because Kíli introduces Thorin Oakenshield by his full title when they walk into the throne room and King Thranduil orders them imprisoned instantly.

“He wasn't supposed to hate us all,” the young dwarf protests as they're dragged off to the cells.

“Damn it, Kí, I had a plan,” his brother answers. “We could have taken care of uncle properly.”

Always so conscientious, Bilbo thinks from his hiding spot. It's a good thing he found that magic ring a few weeks back; he'd never have been able to sneak around the Elf King's Palace otherwise. Even then it takes the hobbit several days to discover an escape route and in his opinion, that's several days too long. Robbed of other entertainment, his dwarves return to brawling and even without their weapons, the damage soon adds up.

When Bilbo finally steals the keys, Kíli has bruises around his neck in the shape of fingers and Fíli is favoring his ribs, several of the other dwarves all bloodied up as well. In contrast, Thorin just looks hunted and the hobbit doubts he's slept a wink since his imprisonment.

At least the escape to Laketown goes much smoother than expected. There's only three near drownings and a small hiccup with the sluice gate that Kíli sorts out quickly. Of course, the prince nearly takes an arrow and, Really, where did those orcs come from?

Bilbo must have spoken aloud because Nori murmurs, “Come on, Bolg,” in answer. It seems that he's forgotten Kíli's name again.

Thankfully the dwarrow lunges sideways to avoid a stray hand axe and the arrow shatters harmlessly off stone. From there, the company floats on down to Esgaroth, Thorin and then Fíli and then Balin falling in. His friends are as clumsy in the water as they were in the mountains and it's enough to make the hobbit wish that he could swim.

Bilbo is sure he could have gotten the three dwarves back in their barrels without banging their heads against quite as many rocks. Indeed, Thorin seems quite woozy when they meet with Laketown's barge-man, holding his head and demanding that he ferry their group to the far shore.

“... Don't you wish to go to Laketown?” Balin asks carefully. “Think of the alliances we could be making and we need to resupply.”

“Think of the daggers in my back,” Thorin snorts. “Buy whatever rations this man has and then arrange our passage. We are running out of time.”

With a heavy sigh, Balin does as ordered and the small amount of dried fish that he procures makes Bilbo very thankful that he grabbed a couple bags of elvish hard-tack on his way out. In truth, that hard-tack is the only thing that stops his companions from coming to blows once they reach the Lonely Mountain. They arrive at the secret door a few days early and none of the dwarves are willing to take food from each other. His friends are quite determined to solely eat their own supplies, only the hobbit's hard-tack shared between them without complaint.

Even then tempers flare as hunger and exhaustion take their toll. That's the only reasonable explanation for how many times Bilbo has to stop the dwarves from stabbing each other seriously. Bilbo knows that they like sparring but this is just ridiculous.

Of course, when the secret door finally opens, the hobbit is forcibly reminded that he was hired as a burglar. Fíli, Kíli, and oddly Ori all offer to go with him, but Thorin quickly puts a stop to that. “None of you are leaving my sight until the Arkenstone is found.”

It's really sweet how much he worries, even if it means that Bilbo has to face a dragon on his own. But he has a magic ring and the example of the wizard who pried a hobbit from his hole.

So he takes a page from Gandalf's book, acting smug and mysterious until the dragon leaves from sheer frustration. It's a shame Smaug thinks that Laketown sent him, but the men are surely more capable of dealing with the wyrm than his small band of dwarves. His friends can't even keep watch without getting hurt somehow. The dwarves look even more battered when he makes his way outside and when Bilbo asks what happened, he gets a chorus of replies.

Apparently there was a rock slide and a landslide, two attacks by goblins, and a sudden hungry bear. That does explain the stab wounds, though Bilbo can't quite hold back a sigh. He was hoping his companions' luck would change eventually.

Maybe this will help, the hobbit thinks and then tosses the Arkenstone at Thorin Oakenshield.

Of course, Bilbo probably shouldn't have thrown the gem at him quite so hard. He gets one glimpse of the dwarf lord's startled face before he goes down in a tangle of flailing limbs. Every single dwarf had leaped for the stone, desperate to stop their prize from falling off the cliff.

“My aim isn't that bad,” Bilbo grumbles, a bit offended by their doubts. There's no need for all this brawling or for Fíli and Dwalin to have their weapons out.

Eventually Thorin pulls himself free of the scrum, the Arkenstone clenched in one fist and blood dripping down his face from a cut above his eyes.

“I am King Beneath the Mountain!” the dwarf lord roars, his boot pressed to Kíli's neck. It's a bit grandiose but at least the others settle down. The hobbit's companions brush themselves off and then trek into the mountain, their awestruck expressions making the entire trip worthwhile. He's so glad that he could help his friends reclaim their long-lost home.

Of course the place needs work and Thorin should really learn not to stomp so loudly; the stonework always seems to crumble just as he's walking by. It's a shame about the balcony, the staircase, and all those falling statues, but that's no reason for the dwarf lord to grow so paranoid.

It's not as though Kíli meant to push him down that mine shaft and Thorin managed to climb out of the hole quite skillfully. But Thorin is convinced that his kin are out to get him and nothing Bilbo says can change his mind. The hobbit is actually grateful when Mirkwood and Laketown show up with their armies to demand a share of gold. At least that gives their leader something else to focus on.

Negotiations don't go smoothly. Thorin is so busy shouting threats at Thranduil that he forgets to watch his footing and nearly tumbles from the battlements half a dozen times.

The whole thing is a bit ridiculous since the dwarves have gold to spare and Bilbo is tempted to steal the Arkenstone for Laketown just to end this nonsense fast. However, the hobbit's efforts are stymied by his companions as one by one each of them sneaks out past enemy lines. They must be trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement without Thorin losing face and Bilbo would feel terrible if he got in their way.

Instead, the hobbit takes up a position guarding Thorin to make sure he doesn't wake and gives the other dwarves a thumbs up when they glance his way. They seem confused by his support but he tries to show them that he means it by keeping his sword drawn.

It's a long and sleepless night filled with much furtive whispering, but eventually the morning dawns. Breakfast is tense, Thorin's mood so foul that no one dares to mention whatever deals they made. Bilbo is dying to bring up the situation but before he can, Sting's blade starts to glow.

“Ambush!” Thorin shouts and the dwarves leap up as orcs pour into the hall. The hobbit thinks that they might be the same orcs from the river, but he's too panicked to be sure. He still isn't used to fighting so he stands at Thorin's back and waves his sword wildly at anyone who comes near.

Bilbo almost stabs Nori by mistake when he sees movement in the corner of his eye and he doesn't think the dwarf hears his stammered apologies over the ring of clashing steel. Not when Nori is still glaring at him as the last orc falls.

“How did they break through our walls?” Thorin demands with narrowed eyes. But before the dwarf lord gets himself too worked up, the sound of a horn draws the dwarves up to the battlements. The elves and men are waiting but Gandalf is standing with them. The wizard bring news of orcs instead of ultimatums even as a dwarven army crests the eastern hills.

“It seems Dáin got my message,” Thorin gloats before turning to his kin. “Truce until the greater threat is dealt with?”

That's the most sensible thing the dwarf has said in days and Bilbo is glad to see his companions nod along. Thorin clearly wants to present a unified front to his new allies and this is the time to work together, not point out hypocrisy.

So the hobbit stays out of the way during their battle preparations and being told to man the ramparts suits him fine. Even from a distance the sounds of combat threaten to overwhelm him: the screams of pain, the ring of steel, and the roar of ten thousand voices on the field. Bilbo wants to run and hide inside the mountain, but he knows his friends are out there fighting and he has to do the same.

At least Ori and Kíli are on the ramparts with him, the young dwarves' skills more suited to fighting at long range. The hobbit does his best to keep up with his companions as the battle rages, though he's sure that they're both hitting two targets to his one. But the horde seems never-ending and Bilbo doesn't know how long they can hold out. He has to duck behind the wall when their foes start shooting back, javelins and crossbow bolts clattering off stone.

Just as the hobbit's losing hope, the cry of an eagle draws him back to his feet. He watches in awe as Beorn drops out of the sky in a ball of fur and fury and soon the remaining orcs are running for their lives.

“The battle's finished!” he shouts to his companions.

“And I am a Son of Durin!” is the cry that answers him.

What does that matter? Bilbo thinks, wondering why Ori would be bragging about his heritage. But then the hobbit's lunging forward to grab Kíli as the young dwarf goes tumbling off the ramparts with a cry. He lasts about two seconds before the archer's weight pulls him over, just long enough to notice that the prince has been impaled.

“Oh fudge!” Bilbo curses as the ground rushes up to meet them; he barely has time to notice that orcish spears look a lot like knitting needles before the world goes black.


The hobbit wakes up with a headache, not sure what's going on.

“Are you back with us, burglar?” a deep voice asks and Bilbo turns his head to see Thorin lying on a cot across from him. The dwarf lord is heavily bandaged and the hobbit rushes over, swaying a little when he shoves himself upright.

“Are you okay? What happened?” he asks frantically but Thorin Oakenshield just laughs.

“This? This is nothing. My nephew's ambition far outweighs his aim. I will recover and he will learn to be more cautious in the future.”

Aah I see, he must have been injured helping Fíli, Bilbo thinks, settling down next to him.

“And speaking of my sister-sons,” the dwarf lord continues. “It seems that I owe you another debt of gratitude.”

“Is Kíli all right? I'm not sure I really did much.”

“You slowed his fall and took the brunt of the landing, enough that he survived. If Ori had claimed one of Durin's Line in such a fashion, our family would have never lived down. Not that he came through unscathed; Kíli is a fighter and the youngest of our group won't be knitting anymore.”

Bilbo isn't entirely sure what Thorin is going on about – Ori helping Kíli doesn't seem that bad – but he nods along anyway. His headache is growing stronger and he knows he'll never understand dwarvish politics.

So the hobbit stays awake until he's certain that his friends survived that battle and then he crashes once again. Indeed, Bilbo's recovery involves a lot of napping but at the end of one long week, he feels well enough to leave. He bids farewell to Thorin's company in the dwarf's new throne room, tears and hugs for everyone. The hobbit will really miss his friends after all they've gone through. He offers them an open invitation to visit him in Bag End and receives one to Erebor in return.

“No matter who is king,” they promise and Bilbo is so glad for friends like these. He turns back to wave one last time before he leaves and his last sight of his companions is Fíli shoving Kíli so hard that the younger prince almost falls into the deep.

They really should have guardrails, the hobbit thinks. But it's good the lads are feeling well enough to spar again.

Then Bilbo begins the journey back to the Shire with a smile on his lips. He knows that Thorin Oakenshield will be all right without him. The dwarf lord has his kingdom and more importantly, the dwarf lord has his kin.