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.
breakfast with family
There was nothing better than dwarf construction. The door swung on silent hinges and Nori slipped in. It wasn’t the biggest of houses, only pushing a little past modest for Erebor. As he was closing the door as quietly as he had opened it, a weight crashed into his back. Nori stumbled; if Ori got any bigger, the two of them would end up on the floor the next he did this. With his brother’s arms wrapping around him, Nori finally let himself feel like he was home.
Nori took a moment to squeeze the arms Ori had around his middle before he smirked over his shoulder. “I need to make sure all these new dwarves coming in know who is really in charge.”
"Then you must mean Dori.” Ori mouth stretched into his sly smile and turned a little to talk towards the kitchen as well as Nori, “I swear he is the one actually running things; no matter what Thorin does to seem in charge."
"I did need to learn everything I know from somewhere." Nori turned and slung an arm around his younger brother. Ori’s grip shifted but he kept one arm around his back.
"You most certainly didn’t learn anything from me!" Dori came up to the two dwarves with hands on his hips, prim as always. "And Ori, what nonsense are you going on about? All I do is my job, same as everyone else."
Nori lifted his other arm, an expectant look on his face. With an exasperated sigh, the oldest brother joined his siblings. Dori came up and wrapped an arm around each of his brothers and tipped his forehead against Nori’s. After a brief squeeze back, Nori detangled himself and went to poke through the kitchen.
"What’s to eat?" Nori called, voice muffled in a cupboard, "There must be something decent in the mountain by now."
"What’s 'to eat' isn’t ready yet. You can sit and wait for once."
Dori caught the back of Nori’s tunic and hauled him towards the table; Nori went. This was the best thing that had come from quest. He and Dori bickered but that was all they did; there were no more fights that left them aching worse than any blow could. Nori got to have both of his brothers and trust that they’d stay that way. At times, it was still difficult to believe and was worth more than anything they had reclaimed from the dragon.
Dori bustled back to the counter and set to cleaning the surface. The kitchen was clean but Dori was wiping up flour and that could only mean a loaf of bread in the oven; Nori had picked a good day to come home. A block of cheese was already waiting on the table and Dori rummaged in the cupboards for a fresh jar of trout to set beside it. Back in Ered Luin, Dori had always his best to feed Nori, who he always called too skinny, when he was around and it seemed that a new home hadn’t changed much. Once he set the kettle to boil for tea, Dori joined his brothers at the table to wait for the bread.
They took their time eating. Cheese melted on the still warm bread and their tea started to cool. A few times Nori almost had Ori choking on his breakfast in laughter to his wildly exaggerated tales, which Dori would half-heartedly scold as he chuckled himself.
Everything was warm and comfortable when Dori said, “I hope you have something to tell the others ready. They were just about ready to turn the mountain upside down or ride out to find you.”
Nori stilled. Dwalin had said the same thing. Surely reconstruction would have been more important than a crooked dwarf that was unable to sit still.
"They didn’t understand." Ori wasn’t looking at him. He knew that his brothers didn’t understand either but at least they had the experience to know what to expect.
"Everyone still meets for lunch if they’re able to." Nori saw the order for what it was despite how casually Dori brought it up. He would have to be there.
"And they’ll all be happy you’re back!" Ori added much more cheerfully.
All Nori could manage was a nod. The three of them cleaned up what was left from breakfast and knocked foreheads as Dori and Ori left for the day.
Then Nori was alone. Lunch with the company loomed ahead of him and Dwalin’s gift, still tucked away, weighed at him. It had been many years since Nori was going to be held accountable for his actions and didn’t have a way to get out of it. There was still a few hours; he could still find a way.