This is the fourth story in what has shaped into the "Problem" series following:
1. A Manly Problem
2. A Girly Problem
3. A Racing Problem
But it could also be read alone. Enjoy!
A Furry Problem
"What in Durin's name happened to your face?" Thorin asked, furrowing his brow.
Kili stopped chewing and glared at him. "I've always looked like this."
Fili snorted and Dis shot him a warning look. "You look fine, Kili. You're very handsome. Isn't he?" she stressed, arching a brow at her brother.
"Normally he looks like an otter, but now he just looks horse-kicked."
Kili scowled and tugged more of his hair over the side of his face while Fili snorted. "Mum's right. That is just what he always looks like."
Kili elbowed Fili, cutting off his older brother's laughter.
Sighing, Thorin lunged across the table to grab his youngest nephew by the chin and yank his head to the side, revealing a swelling laceration.
Dis gasped. "Kili!"
"It's nothing!" Kili snapped, yanking his chin free of his uncle's grasp.
"Who kicked you?" Thorin asked, settling back into his seat.
"Let me look at that," Dis said, getting up from her spot.
"No, I'm fine," Kili shouted, batting his mother's hands away when she tried to inspect the injury.
Thorin narrowed his eyes at Fili when he noticed his other nephew's near silence. "You know, don't you?"
Fili looked away from his mother, who had pinned Kili to the back of his chair in order to get him to hold still. "Why would you say that?"
"It looks infected." Dis sighed and released her youngest, who nearly fell out of his chair. "Stay here."
"You ought to be as curious as your mother is, but you're not."
The two lads exchanged a nervous look before Fili met his uncle's gaze once more. "If he says it's nothing, then it's nothing."
Thorin narrowed his eyes and stared Fili down, even as Kili screamed from his mother pouring alcohol on the wound. Though he would never admit it, Thorin sheltered a secret desire to be a constable and fancied himself rather good at solving mysteries. So it was that he accepted the challenge of discovering the identity of Kili's attacker.
Later, Fili watched Kili play with his pet as he took off his boots and readied for bed. The dark-haired heir lay on his mattress and smiled as the rodent that they hadn't quite identified yet walked all over him.
"Have you named it yet?" Fili asked as he sat down on his bed.
Fili smirked. "Why?"
"Because that's what I've decided he is. A snunkle."
Fili laughed. "What in Arda is a snunkle?"
Kili shrugged, grinning as the snunkle's whiskers tickled his face. "Even Thorin couldn't identify him, so he is what I say he is."
"If it even is a he…" Fili laid down and watched the furry, long-nosed creature begin to chew on one of the laces to Kili's tunic. "You know Thorin thinks Mr. Snunkles is a temporary visitor and not a pet."
Kili furrowed his brow. "He doesn't get to decide."
Fili eyed the swelling mark on his brother's cheek. "You're not going to tell them what happened, are you?"
Kili sat up and gently tucked Mr. Snunkles back in his cage then crawled under his covers, yanking them over his shoulders with his back to his brother. Fili sighed then likewise tucked himself in, blowing out the candle.
The next day, Thorin took the lads out for some weapon's training, only to spot bruising cuts on Kili's wrist, as if fingernails had dug into his skin, and the inner-constable took over.
"Where is this from?" Thorin asked, latching onto his arm and hoisting it up to reveal the marks.
Kili winced and tried to yank his arm back. "Nowhere."
Thorin turned his glare on Fili. "Well?"
The blonde swallowed hard, his eyes darting to his brother. "Kili," he hissed. "Tell him."
"Never," Kili snapped then locked eyes with his uncle and put on a mask of calm. "I cut myself on accident. When I was… chopping carrots."
Thorin arched a brow. "Carrots?"
Kili nodded. "For mum's stew."
"As if you've ever chopped a carrot in your life." Thorin released his nephew and Kili hastily tugged his sleeve over his wrist. Thorin smirked. These two thought they could outwit his deductive mind, did they? "Besides, it's your wrist, not your fingers."
"He's very bad at chopping carrots," Fili chimed in.
Kili nodded. "They roll around so..."
"He just hacks at them as he goes."
Kili nodded even more vigorously.
Thorin grunted, crossing his arms on his chest as he scrutinized the two. He knew they were lying. Ever since they were small, Fili's tell was to dart his eyes to his brother, probably to see if he was doing his tell, which he was, for Kili was picking at the back of his trousers as if his underpants were knotted up.
The two stood side by side in a silent show of unity, and he knew that any chance of solving this mystery would require patience. Sighing, he waved a hand, pretending to believe them and dismissing them from training.
As the two walked back to the house, Fili whispered to his brother. "This can't go on, Kili. You must tell someone… or let me at least do something about it."
Kili glared at his brother. "It's nothing I can't handle."
"Don't 'Oh?' me! You know as well as I do that there's only one way to put a stop to this, and I won't allow it."
"Then I'll do it!"
"No! I can stand up to him if I wish. And… I will."
Fili eyed his brother skeptically. "If you could, you would've long ago."
One Week Earlier
Fili raised his knife, ready to kill the vermin in his trap when Kili screamed. Halting in mid-strike, Fili shot his brother an annoyed glare. "What?!"
"Don't!" Kili cried. "You can't kill it!"
"You just watched me kill two rabbits and –"
"But this one's different." Kili dashed over to the trap and kneeled at the rodent's side. "It's so fluffy and… cute."
"Cute?" Fili waited for his brother to laugh, but he didn't. "It's a varmint, Kili. Some sort of… deformed shrew or hedgehog."
But it was too late. Kili had already let the thing out of the trap and was cuddling it to his chest, making soft cooing sounds. The little creature nuzzled up under his chin, making him laugh. "I think he likes me!"
Fili stared in shock then blinked a few times. "I must've missed the moment when you hit your head this morning."
"Look, he even has whiskers, like a kitten!" Kili held the rodent out to Fili with a grin.
"It's probably covered in ticks and lice!"
"So I'll give him a bath."
"I can't believe this – you're bonding with our dinner!"
Kili shrieked and tucked the animal away inside his cloak. "We're not eating him!"
"We can't! We don't even know what he is – he could be poisonous."
"All the more reason to kill it and leave it behind."
Kili glared. "Have you no decency?!" With that, he stalked off, taking his new "pet" with him.
At first, having a varmint in their room was entertaining. Kili built the critter a cage and was true to his word about bathing it. He fed it vegetable scraps and took it out to exercise every day, often by letting it walk around on his body while he lay in bed, observing. While Fili had never had the desire to hold it himself, he had to admit, the creature was growing on him. It had big eyes and made innocent squeaking sounds.
And then it happened.
Kili was lying still, letting the animal poke about on him as always when he suddenly yelped.
"What happened?" Fili asked.
Kili plucked the rodent off of him and lifted his shirt to examine his stomach before turning to Fili in shock. "He bit me. The little goblin bit me!"
Fili grabbed a knife off his nightstand and held it up in a silent offer.
Kili's eyes grew wide and he hastily stuffed the animal back in its cage. "It was an accident. I'm sure of it."
"He's a wild animal, Kili."
"He's my best friend and he'll love me forever!"
"Then who the blast am I?!"
After the drama of the first episode, Fili knew not to react so violently when it happened again. This time, Kili had been offering the creature a blade of grass when the little bastard lunged and bit his finger instead.
"That was so not an accident," Fili observed.
"He thought it was grass is all."
Fili arched a brow. "He could be carrying diseases. You could die. This has to stop."
"No, no! It's fine. I'll just wash it out," Kili replied as he wrapped the hem of his tunic around his bleeding finger.
Fili studied him for several moments, weighing his options before heading to the door. "I'm telling Mum."
"What?!" Kili whipped his head around to face him. "You can't! She'll put him in our stew!"
"Exactly." Fili placed his hand on the door lever.
"Fili, don't. Please."
Fili's hair flew over his shoulder as he locked eyes with his brother, parting his lips to snap at him, but when he saw how hurt and desperate Kili's gaze was, he remembered how he had fallen and skinned his knee at the race he'd pushed him into, and realized he owed him something in return.
"One week," Fili said, holding up a finger. "I will give you one week to work this out. Then I'm getting rid of him."
Kili nodded, grinning. "Thank you."
It was over a week now, and it was clear that Kili's attempts to train Mr. Snunkles weren't working. In fact, the violence had escalated. Other than gnawing on Kili's wrist, the little terror had recently waltzed up Kili's chest and took a chunk out of his cheek. He hadn't been let out of his cage since.
"I just need more time," Kili said.
"You'll regret this when you're foaming at the mouth from his diseases. Mark my words."
Kili shot the healing bite marks on his wrist a worried look.
"There ya are, lads," came a voice. The two looked up to spot Bofur waving them over to his doorstep. "Just in time for some tea. I'll put the kettle on." With a wink, he stepped back inside.
Kili latched onto the front of his brother's tunic. "What's he doing? Why does he want us to go inside? What's happening?!"
"Shh, he might hear you. Stay calm. He's one of Thorin's friends."
Bofur reappeared at the door and stepped out. "Don't be shy now! Bombur just baked a batch of biscuits and they won't get eaten all by themselves." He leaned in close and Kili couldn't help but let out a whimper as the corner of his hat brushed against his hair. "Actually," Bofur whispered, "Me brother could eat the entire tray in a heartbeat, but that's beside the point." With a wink and a slap on the back, that was a little too south for Kili's liking, he ushered the two in.
Further down the street, Thorin was on his way home, attempting to stitch all of his clues together and wondering if he ought to have his pipe for this, for a pipe seemed fitting of a constable. It was obvious that the boys were covering for someone, and that someone had a big enough grudge on Kili to not only bully him but to intimidate Fili into silence, as well. Which would make sense if it was an older dwarf… possibly…
Just then, he spotted the lads being ushered into Bofur's house by said dwarf. Thorin halted his step.
Bofur… of course! Kili had stumbled in the race, tripping the older dwarf and making him lose! "Motive," Thorin rumbled, stroking his goatee.
Inside, Fili kept shooting his brother warning glares as Kili kept starting at every little noise as he sat across from him at the table while Bofur readied their teacups. They could hear Bombur snoring in the back room.
Kili made a whistling sound to get Fili's attention. The older leaned in and Kili whispered in his ear, "Don't you think Bombur's snoring a bit loud?"
Fili furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"
"I think he's been drugged," Kili whispered with a worried glance at Bofur's back as the other dwarf began to hum. "So that he doesn't witness our deaths. He's poisoning our cups, I know it!"
Fili elbowed him to silence his paranoia as Bofur headed over with a tea tray and a smile. He poured them each a cup and Kili watched with muted horror. "Isn't this nice?" Bofur asked. "I've been wanting to do this for some time, lads."
Fili forced a smile and placed a biscuit on his plate for propriety's sake. Then Bofur scooted his chair in, the tip of his hat brushing against Kili's cheek on accident, and the youngest dwarf squawked.
"Oh!" Bofur laughed. "Excitable little one, isn't he?" He winked at Fili, who furrowed his brow even as he smiled.
Kili stilled and slowly looked over to Bofur. "Little?"
Fili pinched the bridge of his nose, muttering "Oh no…"
"Aye," Bofur said, taking a bite from a biscuit. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, lad. We dwarves come in all shapes and sizes." He winked again and this time Fili sat up straighter, worrying that he would have to defend his brother's honor.
"I'm taller than you," Kili muttered.
"That you are, lad, that you are. In fact, that's why I wanted a chat with you both." His dark eyes darted to Fili. "I know how much you wanted to win that race, and I just wanted to say that I wish things had turned out differently. I really do."
He offered them both a smile from beneath his handlebar mustache and Kili shot Fili a look that he no doubt that was covert but gave him the appearance of just having smelled dog poo.
"That's…" Fili began, his eyes still on his brother. "Very kind of you," he said, smiling at their host. "Isn't it, Kili?"
Kili was preoccupied by Bofur placing a biscuit on his plate. The youngest dwarf stared at the biscuit which had one of Bombur's red beard hairs baked into it.
"Don't be shy now," Bofur said encouragingly. "Help yourself."
"They're delicious," Fili lied for he hadn't even had a bite yet.
"I'm sure you would've won that race," Bofur said, smiling at Kili. "If only I hadn't gotten in the way… but you know, that end result was worth it. I can't tell you how long I've wanted to just grab you and –"
Kili and Fili's eyes were locked in twin expressions of horror when Bofur was cut off by a knock at the door.
"Now who could that be?" Bofur asked. Getting up, he headed for the door and Fili had to grab Kili's shoulder to keep his brother from trying to leap out the window.
"I'm sorry – grab him and what?" Fili asked.
"Oh." Bofur paused beside the door. "Grab him to invite him for tea, of course." He smiled then opened the door as Fili forced Kili back into his seat.
The dwarf at the door looked suspiciously like their uncle, only his beard was gray, he wore a plaid hat, and a monocle covered one eye.
"Do come in," Bofur said, stepping aside.
"Nice place you've got here," the dwarf said before placing a pipe in his mouth. "I'm Constable –"
"Have a seat, Thorin, and help yourself," Bofur said, pulling out a chair.
"Blast," Thorin hissed before slouching in the chair. Kili and Fili had identical shocked expressions on their faces as they watched their uncle adjust his eyepiece and scratch at his fake beard.
"Thorin…" Kili began timidly, and upon seeing the healing cut on his youngest's face, Thorin remembered why he was there and leapt out of the chair. Unfortunately, at that very moment, Bofur was readying to lean over and serve his king from the tea tray, only to have the dwarf's shoulder knock it from his grasp and send scalding liquid all over him.
Thorin screamed, which made Bofur scream and whip off his hat, and the sight of Bofur without his hat made Kili scream. Bombur waddled in the door way to see what all the fuss was about, and Kili stopped screaming.
"He was wearing pajamas," Kili said as Fili later ushered him out the door. "Actual pajamas. Who makes them that big?"
"Someone far more talented than you," Thorin griped as he shoved past the two, casting aside his tea-stained beard and hat.
Once back home, Kili gazed woefully at Mr. Snunkles in his cage. Thorin narrowed his eyes and crouched so that he was level with it. "All this time… you were getting bullied by a rodent? He could be rabid."
"That's what I said," Fili said, folding his arms over his chest importantly.
"He could be the last of his kind," Kili snapped. "You can't kill him. He doesn't mean to hurt me. He's just… enthusiastic."
Thorin arched a scorched brow at his nephew. "Normally, I'd ignore you and decapitate it right here after the day I've had. But as it stands… I admire your compassion."
Kili fidgeted, darting a glance to Fili as if thinking his uncle was teasing him.
"If it is truly what you wish, Kili," Thorin said, resting a hand on his nephew's shoulder, "Then we'll release him back into the wilds."
Kili smiled then leaned down to his pet. "Did you hear that, Mr. Snunkles? You're gonna survive!" The creature cooed then tried to rip off the tip of his nose.
An hour later, Kili and Fili were waiting for their uncle by the stream. They had just released Mr. Snunkles where they'd found him over a week ago, and Kili still had tears in his eyes, though Fili couldn't tell if they were from saying goodbye to his furry best friend or from the pain of the bleeding wound on his nose.
"On the bright side," Fili offered, "maybe this will make your nose heal funny so that it'll look bigger."
Kili glared at his brother.
Thorin approached the two from the brush he had disappeared into an hour before. "All right. Shall we?"
"Where were you?" Kili asked as they started for home.
"Call of nature," Thorin replied.
Kili sighed and didn't notice when Fili dropped back to walk alongside their uncle. "Call of nature?" he whispered.
"You killed it, didn't you?"
Thorin smirked. "Let's just say that Mr. Snunkles has snunkled his last."
Fili chuckled and patted his uncle on the shoulder before jogging to catch up with his little brother. Thorin smiled as he watched his nephews playfully butt shoulders as they strolled ahead of him in the light of the setting sun.
Meanwhile, several yards behind them, an unidentifiable rodent cooed as it inexplicably healed itself then scurried off to live to bite another day.
Please share your thoughts! I don't know about you, but I'm missing Wlador... hopefully he'll make an appearance in the next story!