Disclaimer - I make no profit in writing this. Done for entertainment only. Characters and world are not mine.

Watching over his brothers was never easy, and the loss of home and parents had been hard on all of them. Ori was too young to remember much, and he easily forgot except in his nightmares. Dori envied him that; not the nightmares, of course, but the innocence. As the eldest, Dori had to focus on his brothers, particularly raising Ori the rest of the way to adulthood but also making sure Nori, who'd not been an adult all that long, was fed and alright as well.

Nori… Nori never truly coped.

Dori knew that his brother's behavior was nothing more than acting out, a way to hide from his grief and the burdens of their forced exodus from Erebor. He tried to get through to him, to get him to talk about everything, but doing so only made it all worse. The older they got the more trouble Nori found, and the less of a reason and more of an excuse their plight became in regard to his behavior.

Eventually, Dori had enough, and though it broke his heart, he forced Nori to choose; his ways or his family. Ori needed stability and Dori needed to not sit up at night waiting on news of Nori. He spent far too much time worrying about what Nori was doing, if he'd found his way into jail again, if he was even alive or had finally wound up… Dori didn't like thinking about that, but it was how his thoughts always turned. One day, someone was going to come knocking, someone was going to inform him his brother had gone too far and was dead in the back alley behind some seedy something or other.

In hindsight, forcing the choice probably made it for Nori. He wasn't one to be pushed around. Dori had to bite back tears as his brother stormed from the house without a look back. Ori… Ori's cries echoed through the house and out into the street. For nearly two weeks, he wouldn't speak to Dori, blaming him for chasing away his 'favorite' brother.

How Dori's heart ached! For a time, he was broken and listless; functioning but not feeling much save the familiar loss he'd had after losing his parents. He had no idea how to fix anything; all he'd ever tried had never worked. Dori was beginning to believe he was part of the problem.

Then, out of nowhere, Ori was back to behaving as he had before Nori left, laughing and talking over breakfast one morning like nothing had happened and Dori hadn't been hurt or upset at all the last eleven days. It took him weeks to find out what brought about the change of heart.

Finding Nori in Ori's room wasn't that surprising, though the lateness of the hour left much to be desired. The lad had studies the next day and being awake in the middle of the night would do him no favors in them, even if Balin was a patient Dwarf. Yet, he left them there, murmuring to one another, and made his way back to his own room.

A part of him hurt that Nori wouldn't come see him, but he also reasoned that was because of how things had gone the last time they'd been face to face. It was good to know that his brother hadn't turned his back on family, which Dori had always hoped he wasn't capable of doing until that night he'd left. Not knowing how frequent these visits were, he decided to just let Nori comfort Ori a little, as the lad obviously needed more than Dori could provide alone.

Each night, he found himself sitting up again, waiting. Weeks of not knowing if Nori was alive or dead or in jail or something worse had been torture. Every time he found him talking quietly with Ori was a relief to know he was alive and seemed well. The visits, though, were few and far between. Sometimes weeks would go by without Nori stopping in, and other times he'd be in three times a week. The unpredictability of it all was hard on Dori, but Ori slept sound until his brother came and then dozed off again when he left. The arrangement seemed fine to the young Dwarf.

Dori tried to cope with it, to just let it be and go along with Nori's random visits, visits he only knew about because he heard the soft voices from his baby brother's room. Months had gone by and he'd not seen his brother once, and being satisfied with knowing he was alive… It really wasn't enough. He didn't know if he was eating well, if he was being kept warm enough, clean enough… He didn't know how his health was. Ori hadn't mentioned anything, but he was young and just happy to see Nori, Dori was sure. He'd not think of such things.

So, one morning after a visit, he waited in the kitchen for Ori to come to breakfast. When the young Dwarf did, he served him as usual. "It's been months, Ori. Don't you think at some point you should have mentioned Nori sneaking into your room?" He asked casually, back to his brother as he saw to tea.

The sudden quiet behind him alerted him to the fact that Ori truly did think he'd not noticed. "I…" The younger Dwarf tried. "You would have made him stay away," he finally whispered, voice scared and so small.

Dori turned around and walked over to him, putting an arm around his shoulders. "I've not stopped it yet, have I?" He sighed softly. "Just… The next time you see him make sure of some things for me, okay? Has he lost weight, does he look healthy, are his clothes good enough for winter, is he clean." His voice shook and he had to force himself not to let his worry show too much. It was becoming too hard and he felt like crying, like demanding Ori tell Nori to come home so he could take care of him. But, Nori was a grown Dwarf; he had to be allowed to make his own choices even if it broke Dori's heart and kept him awake at night.

Ori blinked up at him with innocent eyes. "He's fine, Dori. I promise. He's always clean and healthy, and his clothes are fine. He looks well fed and happy." He smiled then went back to his breakfast.

'Happy.' Ori had no idea how much that was a punch to the gut, and he turned back to the tea so the lad wouldn't realize. Nori was happy. He'd never seemed happy at home, happy around Dori. Maybe he truly was the problem, and if he'd done so poorly with Nori… Was he doing a bad job with Ori as well? Were the visits from Nori the only thing keeping Ori happy?

"Don't be late to Master Balin," he told Ori, taking his tea and leaving the room, forgoing any breakfast of his own. He felt sick and tired and just… All he wanted was to enjoy his tea and have some rest. His day was free, no errands or work to do, so he'd just go up to his room and rest.

He didn't even remember falling asleep, but Ori at his shoulder woke him and he blinked up at him. "Have you not left to Master Balin's yet?" He asked frowning.

Ori blinked at him. "I left this morning." He looked at his brother in confusion. "I've been home from lessons for hours."

Dori blinked again and sat up. "Oh my. You must be starving." He quickly got up out of bed, heading for the kitchen.

"I can make myself food, you know. I'm not helpless," Ori spoke softly behind him.

This made the older Dwarf pause and look back at Ori. 'I'm not helpless.' Nori use to say the same thing. "Did you make something to eat?"

Ori nodded. "Some ham sandwiches and fruit." It was a favorite afternoon treat of Ori's, and it was simple enough to make.

Dori gave a small nod. "Alright. If you've not seen to your studies that Master Balin sent home, go do so." He walked away, going to the kitchen to clean up from breakfast and Ori's snack so he could begin to prepare supper for them.

The work was familiar enough he didn't have to think about it, and he soon had the kitchen clean and supper roasting. He began himself some tea, going to his room to collect the unfinished cup he'd taken with him that morning to clean as well while it steeped. Then, fresh tea in hand, he went to sit and knit. It was something to do with his hands and to ease his mind, and when he lost himself to it, time passed rather quickly. He'd knitted baskets full of various things in his nights waiting up for Nori, before and after he'd left home.

"Dori, I think the roast's burning," Ori called to him, jerking him from the meditative state the knitting had put him in. He jumped to his feet and rushed into the kitchen, cursing under his breath as he saw smoke rising from the cast iron pot he had sitting by the fire.

He rushed forward, pulling it away before he thought to grab something to keep from burning his hand, wincing as he let go of the handle, he quickly grabbed a mitt and lifted the lid off. It was burned, but not too much that there wouldn't be something to eat. Grabbing a plate, he dumped the meat out onto it and carved off the parts too overcooked to be edible.

Dori then turned to making some vegetables to go with it, careful to not cook anything green, though beans were a perfectly good source of nutrients to make young Dwarves grow strong. Ori would have none of it.

It didn't take long to have the food on the table, and he had Ori sit to eat. He went to see to his hand, red and slightly blistered, wrapping it just enough to not need to worry about it until after Ori was in bed. Then, he sat down as well, joining the boy in the meal though he didn't have much of an appetite, and eating one handed was more hassle than he felt like dealing with.

After they had eaten, Dori left the dishes and leftovers be and went to sit with Ori and listen to the boy tell him all about what he'd learned from Master Balin during his lessons, as well as hear all about the antics of Fili, Kili, and Gimli, who was barely old enough to attend studies but kicked up too much of a fuss to be left out. Dori knitted, or tried to do so but the pain in his hand was making it difficult, as he listened, commenting here or there so Ori knew he was paying attention.

"You will have to invite your friends over to stay one night when you don't have lessons the next day." He smiled, knowing it would do his brother good to spend time with his friends away from Master Balin's.

When he didn't get a response, he glanced up at Ori. The lad sat staring at him wide eyed and slack jawed. "You really mean it?" He asked, eyes so hopeful it almost hurt to look at them.

"Of course I mean it, I said it." He rolled his eyes at his brother. "Now, off to your bath with you. I'll clean up and then see you to bed."

Ori rolled his eyes. "I'm not little anymore, Dori. You don't have to tuck me in." He got up, though, and headed off for his bath.

Dori sighed, sitting still for a moment before getting up to see to the dishes and leftover food. By the time he was finished, working through the pain in his hand as there was no way he'd have gotten it done using only his right, he went to check on Ori. The young dwarf was just getting into bed. "An hour of reading then lights out," he told the boy, then turned and left him to it. If he didn't want to be tucked in, Dori wouldn't force the issue. He'd not push another brother away.

He went to wash up as well, taking a moment to bandage his hand after, and then finished up a few things around the house before going back to make sure that Ori was not still up. Dori walked over to the bed and brushed the hair off the young Dwarf's face, smiling and leaning down to give his forehead a soft kiss before blowing out the lamp and putting the book still in Ori's hand on the bedside table.

Dori left the door cracked, like he always did, and headed to his room, feeling worn out despite the fact that he'd slept most of the day. He changed for bed and wasted no time in turning in. For the first time since he'd found out about Nori's occasional return home to see Ori, Dori didn't stay up waiting. Nori had been there the night before, and he had no reason to believe he'd be back again right after a visit. He never was, and Dori was so tired.

He slept soundly until a noise woke him, and he jerked awake and immediately moved to sit up, but a tug on his left hand and a jolt of pain through his palm made him freeze. His eyes jerked over and his breath caught in his throat at the sight of his brother, of Nori sitting on the edge of the bed holding his hand and gently smearing a balm across the burn.

He'd not seen him in months, and he wanted nothing more than to throw his arms around him and give him a bone crushing hug. Yet, all he could do was sit there, staring at the other with his breath stuck in his throat and his tongue numb for words.

Ori had been right. Nori did look well. He was clean and healthy, his hair shone and there were laugh lines around his eyes that Dori didn't remember. His clothes were clean and pristine. He looked like he was doing well for himself, better than he had with his family, with Dori.

"Ori said you'd hurt yourself, that you've not been eating," Nori's voice was soft and smooth, just like it always was, and it was so good to hear it up close instead of muffled through cracked doors and walls.

Dori gave a half shrug with his right shoulder and looked down at their hands where Nori was carefully tending the burn in his palm. "I'm fine," he finally spoke. "I've just had an off day."

Nori snorted and reached into a pocket, pulling out a white bandage. Dori didn't want to think about why he was carrying around bandages. "You've lost weight. Not a lot, but I can tell." He gently began to wind the bandage around Dori's hand.

"A little weight over so many months isn't such a big deal, Nori. I'm busy."

"It's not a little weight over many months. It's only been going on for the last few weeks, and your clothes are getting baggy. You hate wearing baggy clothing, Dori." He cut and tied off the bandage then slipped the rest back into his pocket. "Now what's wrong?" He looked up and met his older brother's gaze.

For a moment, Dori had no idea what to say. "Wrong? What could possibly be wrong, Nori?" He forced his voice down, though his will to fight, to yell wasn't really there, making it an easy feat.

Nori frowned at him for a moment. "You told me to leave."

"I didn't tell you to do anything. I asked you to consider your family, to realize that we… that Ori is more important than whatever thrill you get out of the nonsense you do." He dropped his gaze from Nori to his bandaged hand.

"Ori is more important than anything. How could you think I don't believe that?! I love him as if he were my own son, not just my brother."

"I know you love him, though random moments in the middle of the night are hardly the structure a child needs, are they? Never knowing when you will or won't come, if you'll come back at all." Dori shook his head. "I'm tired, Nori, so tired." He closed his eyes and rested his right hand over his face.

The room was silent for several moments before Nori moved and pulled Dori into his arms tightly. "I love you, too, Dori," he breathed into his brother's ear. "Living with me was hard on you. I thought it'd be easier if I wasn't around. I've been staying out of trouble, best I can. Still owe some debts and I have to make due on them when they're called, but otherwise… I'm staying over near the mines, in a little flat. I even got a job, if you can believe it, at a tavern over there."

Dori gave a choked sob and burrowed his face into Nori's chest. All that time and he'd thought that Nori hadn't chosen his family, when that was exactly what Nori had done. "I still sit up at night, wondering what sort of trouble you're in, if you're even alive, when I'll get to hear your voice in Ori's room. I sit up and worry and hurt because not once have you come to see me."

"I didn't think you'd want to see me," Nori answered honestly, squeezing his brother to him tighter. "I can come home, if you want, but I'm not sure my flatmate would appreciate it. We, uh, are kind of… Well…" Nori sat back and rubbed at the back of his neck in a way that reminded Dori of when he'd been a young Dwarf not more than a decade or so older than Ori.

"You are?" He prompted, sniffing softly and doing his best to get a hold on his faculties.

"Courting. I'm courting someone." He pinked about the cheeks and wouldn't meet Dori in the eyes.

The older brother didn't know what to think or say. Nori was courting someone. It was hard to imagine, his brother settling down. But, he wanted Nori home, and if that meant having another person about, someone else to anchor Nori to home, then he was more than happy to have it. "Bring them with you."

Nori gave him the same look Ori had given him when he'd suggested the sleepover. Did his brothers really think he didn't want them to have friends, to have people in their lives besides him? "I…uh… I'll ask him. He works under the flat, in a toy shop with his cousin and brother, but he might be willing, as long as his brother can look after their cousin. Bifur's not quite right in the head anymore, you see. Has a Goblin ax stuck in his skull."

"I think I recall hearing Dwalin speak of him, once." He gave a small nod. "If he can't come, then promise me that you will at least come over for dinner, no less than twice a week. He and his family are welcome as well."

The last thing he expected was for Nori to wrap his arms around him again and squeeze the life from him with the biggest grin Dori had seen in a long while spread across his face. He had a feeling this beau of his brother's was responsible for the laugh lines around Nori's eyes. "I promise, Dori. You have no idea how happy you've made me."

Dori gave a soft chuckle and shake of his head. It was strange, Nori seeming like such a young Dwarf when he'd been broken and bitter for so long. The elder brother couldn't wait to meet this Dwarf who had made Nori smile again, and thank him.

"I should be going. Bofur hates it when I'm out too late. He's a lot like you, in that. Fusses a lot, too, when he's of a mind." Nori moved to get up. "I'll bring him by tomorrow, let you and Ori meet him?" He looked hesitant, as if still unsure that Dori was alright with it.

"Bring him by in the afternoon, after Ori's lessons. I'll make tea and scones." He gave a nod, smiling as Nori gave a big grin and rushed out of the room.

There was still a lot for him to work through, questions that needed answered, but for the moment, as he sat there gently stroking the bandage around his hand, Dori felt that finally things were going to be alright for their family, finally he had the brother he remembered back and the little brother they both adored happy. For the first time in a long time, he felt a weight off his shoulders and warmth back in his chest.

Blowing out the lamp Nori must have lit; Dori returned to bed and closed his eyes without worry of nightmares or his brother's health. He thought he might even go with Ori to his lessons the next day. It had been quite some time since he'd seen Balin, and he truly did enjoy the older Dwarf's company. He might even have to invite Balin over for supper one night, after sending Ori off to stay with Nori or to Gloin's house to spend the night with Gimli. It would be nice, spending time alone with an adult not his brother, and he could think of no one finer than Balin.