Being back under the mountain and old stone of Erebor felt better than Nori expected.
Ered Luin had never been so welcoming, not even after years under the sky. Those memories felt brittle now in comparison to Erebor. Nori hadn’t even been gone a full year this time before the ache of wanting to be surrounded by family and familiar stone outweighed the itch that always stayed just below his skin and urged him to wander.
Erebor had been recovering well when he left. Every dwarf helped where they could and the work of restoring the city grew easier with every pair of hands. But, with every dwarf that returned, Nori’s restlessness grew.
He may have been a part of the company that reclaimed the mountain but Nori was still crooked and he hardly wanted to change. Erebor was supposed to be a good fresh start for all the dwarves that had been scattered across Middle Earth. What place did a crooked dwarf, even one called a hero, have in such a place?
Nori hardly noticed that he kept to the shadows as he made his way around the city. Nori always brought back presents for his family. That his family had grown significantly since the last time he had done this was both nice and surprising. Tonight he would leave the little gifts where they would be found, as was his tradition, and tomorrow he would actually say hello to everyone.
He slipped in and out of houses with an ease that only practice brought and the surety of familiarity. It was all so routine that Nori let his mind drift.
Nori froze. Big hands landed on his shoulders and turned him around.
"Where have you been? We were all ready to go out looking for you before Dori talked us out of it."
His words stuck in his throat as he watched Dwalin glance over him. The big dwarf looked relieved and Nori didn’t know what to do. This was normal, routine, something Nori had done countless times. Why would Dwalin look at him like that?
But it wasn’t normal. Dwarves didn’t just walk out of their mountains without telling anyone. Dwarves didn’t just disappear for months, only Nori did that.
A quick twist broke the bigger dwarf’s grip and Nori was out of the house before Dwalin could react. Looking down at his hands, Nori saw the little gift he’d brought back for Dwalin. He sighed and tucked it away before leaving to find a comfortable corner to spend the night.
There was nothing he could do now. Tomorrow he’d have breakfast with Dori and Ori before facing the rest of the company.