A Manly Problem

Kili prowled around the base of the pine, his eyes scanning its lowest branches like a cat hunting out the best place to land. Fili sprinted into a jog as soon as he recognized his little brother's behavior. He knew from experience that once Kili was in a tree, there was no getting him out of it until he was ready.

Kili's eyes latched onto a branch within jumping reach.

"No. No!" Fili shouted. He sprinted down the hill and intercepted his brother in mid-jump, tackling him.

Kili hit the ground with a wince, the air coughing from his lungs from his brother's weight. "Fili!" he hissed.

Fili scrambled to his feet and blocked the tree, as if he expected Kili to attack.

"What in the world was that for?" Kili asked, climbing to his feet and fixing Fili with a peculiar look as his older brother hunched a little, more than ready to hold his ground.

"You're not going up there."

"Why not?"

"Because it won't change anything," Fili said.

Kili pressed his lips together then stalked off into the woods behind him. Relaxing a little, Fili abandoned his post and trotted after his brother.

"You have no idea what it feels like," Kili griped, shoving branches out of his way.

"There is a path just yonder," Fili reminded with a smile he hoped his brother would catch. He didn't. "Oh, come on. It isn't that bad."

"You're right," Kili said. "It's far worse than bad. It's horrible."

Fili flung out a hand to his brother's shoulder, stopping him and forcing him to meet his gaze. "Kili."

"You heard what she called me!"

"I did. And you're overreacting."

"Overreacting?" Kili's voice rose with his indignity. "OVERREACTING? I'd like to see how you feel if a pretty young thing were to – "

"Stop right there," Fili interrupted with a wave of his hand as he resumed walking. "She wasn't that pretty."

Kili sighed, his voice softening as he fell into step beside his brother. "Pretty enough."

"Still. She had a stubby nose."

"And small ears," Kili added with a wry smile.

"And bony elbows."

"Hey," Kili snapped, furrowing his brow. As an unusually tall dwarf, he was self-conscious of his slender appearance. In fact, it was his peculiar height that got him into this. Kili frowned. "No matter her look, it doesn't change what she called me."

"Nay, it does not," Fili agreed, forcing more solemnity into his voice than he felt. "But if it will pain you this much, then it is a burden I'll help you shoulder."

Kili grunted, shoving aside a branch. If only it were that simple.

"Look," Fili began. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but… it was an honest mistake."

The fire in Kili's eyes when he whipped his head to his brother made them seem something other than deep brown.

Fili held up his hands defensively. "I'm not saying that I agree with her. Only that, when I look at you from that angle, I can see where she's coming from."

"What angle?" Kili snapped, and Fili noticed his hand was on the hilt of his dagger.

Fili furrowed his brow. "Curse your pride, Kili. You know what I'm talking about! You'll grow out of it!"

"I don't look like a… a…" Kili snarled, but his words failed him.

"Man?" Fili supplied, then closed his eyes and ducked, expecting a blow. It never came. When he opened them, he found that his brother was staring at him with a pathetic mixture of betrayal and hurt… Were those tears making his eyes shimmer? Fili sighed. "You've got to be kidding me."

Half an Hour Earlier

Fili and Kili strolled the market of the small human settlement, perusing the shops and stalls, enjoying the strange items and exotic foods that could not be found in the Blue Mountains. Kili was too transfixed by the longbows that were bigger than him to notice what Fili had: several merchants were casting them curious glances. It was clear that this market was rarely frequented by dwarves.

With a quiet grunt, Fili stepped away from his brother to examine the knives. He couldn't blame the humans. He'd seen many a young dwarf do the same to them, and had once been one of those wondering children, gawking at the long legs and stubby noses of the Big Folk.

"My father makes them all himself," came a shy voice from behind him, and Fili glanced over his shoulder to see a human girl in her young teens smiling at Kili. And giving him the eye. Smirking, Fili turned back around, pretending to examine the knife hilt while eavesdropping.

"They're the finest in these parts," the girl continued.

"They are beautiful," Kili quietly remarked.

Fili chanced another look over his shoulder. The girl was biting her lip and toying with her sleeve as she watched Kili hang the bow back up. "You could come back tomorrow and try one out, if you like," she offered.

Kili looked at her for the first time and was startled when the girl's face broke into a giddy grin. "No… that's all right. They're not…" he trailed off, his thoughts derailed by the obsessive way she was looking at him. "That is, they're…"

"Too big for a dwarf," Fili finished for him, setting the knife down and stepping over to his little brother.

The girl's eyes widened and her smiled fluttered and died. "Oh."

Kili frowned. He may be slow on the uptake about these things but she wasn't bad looking and seemed a friendly sort. But she was blushing now, habitually tucking her hair behind her ears. "What is it?" Kili asked.

"Nothing. I'm sorry – I just… I had thought you were…" she fumbled. "It's just that you look rather like, well… a human."

Kili's eyes grew wide and his mouth twisted as if he'd just caught the scent of fresh warg dung.

Fili rested a hand on his brother's back and spoke quietly in his ear. "Come on, brother. We want to get back before it's dark."

Kili nodded and followed his brother away from the stall, his face now as red as the girl's. Once out of earshot of the bowman's daughter, Kili let out a low scream and dashed for the woods. Fili had followed him, which lead to their current predicament.

Fili stared at his younger brother whose eyes were shimmering. Actually shimmering. "Don't tell me you're – "

"I'm not!" Kili whipped around, sniffling before composing himself and shoving through the brush, making his way to the trail as the sun set. "I'm allergic to pine, remember?"

Fili snorted and followed his brother. "More like cute human girls."

"Shut it!"

"Why let it bother you?" Fili asked as he caught up and they both set foot on the trail.

"Because," Kili began, then cut himself off and looked away. "Never you mind."

"No, I want to know." Very few things made his brother come close to tears, and even fewer made him cry. Among them were spicy peppers, the memory of their dead dog, and empty barrels of ale. That last one was usually when he was already drunk.

"You wouldn't understand."

"I'm thick-headed now, am I?" Fili asked, brows raised.

Kili sighed and stopped walking. "You're a prince."

"So are you!"

"We both know I don't stand to inherit anything. You're Thorin's heir. The only thing I can do to make him proud is to be the best that I am able."

Fili furrowed his brow. "The best at what?"

"Everything. Anything."

"Kili, he's not father…"

"But he may as well be."

Fili considered this for a moment before nodding. Five years Kili's senior, her remembered more about their departed patriarch than his brother.

"The last thing I want is to be the… the…" Kili's voice flooded with emotion as he struggled to just come out and say it. "The laughingstock-nearly-human-dwarf!"

Fili giggled, unable to help himself despite the twisted look on Kili's face when he did so.

"You see? Even now you mock me!" Kili spun on his heels and marched purposely down the path.

"Kili!" Fili called once he had recovered from his laugh. "Kili, I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh." He jogged to catch up. "Do you honestly believe we think that of you?"

Kili moodily shrugged. "Someone might."

"Then if they do – who cares? They're obviously a troll. Like Aunt Millicent."

Though he tried to fight it, Kili slowly smiled then cast his brother a fleeting look.

"You can't control what others think. Only what you think. And what you think is far more important than some silly vendor's daughter whose never seen a dwarf in her life, much less a handsome one."

Kili's smile threatened to grow but he instead forced it into a grimace. "Maybe."

"All right?"

Kili shrugged then nodded.

"Then let us be back to our camp and forget this silly nonsense. And besides, being taller does have its advantages."

"Like what?"

"Longer legs."

Kili fixed his brother with a quizzical stare. Fili smiled.

"Race ya back to camp!"

With that, he took off.

Kili broke into a grin and chased after his brother, knowing he was right. He could almost always outpace him in a race. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all.

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