Warm breaths caressed her skin like the hot air one might blow from a freshly brewed cup of tea. The tip of a nose touched her cheek, then nuzzled into her moustache. Her moustache was braided; she could feel it as the muscles in her cheek twitched, stretching the intricate patterns, the braids reaching from her lips to her jaw and up all the way to her ears. She had favoured that pattern long ago when she had been newly married, when she had no ornaments but her jet-black hair to adorn herself with. The hair that had turned white as chalk and had started to abandon her during the final decades of her life when she had mountains of jewellery at her disposal, but would not touch a single piece of it.

A beard tickled her face; warm air now being blown onto her mouth. Without warning, sharp teeth nipped at her lower lip, gripping a tiny fold of flesh and tugging softly before releasing it again. A tongue brushed over the spot soothingly, then followed the outline of her lips all the way around her mouth. Lips were sucking on her lower lip, then the tongue darted out, teasing her, gently worming its way to her teeth. Lips were claiming hers, smooth lips to contrast with the scratch of beard on beard. She relented then, opening her own lips, giving herself over to the invader, that probing tongue that immediately dashed forwards, curiously exploring her teeth, tickling her gums. A hand came up to cup her face; a large hand with callouses from hard labour, but still so gentle, so kind and caring. She pressed her cheek against it and breathed in deeply, savouring the familiar scent, the unique flavour that reignited the fire in her heart. She opened her mouth fully, only to have it hungrily devoured by the insistent assailant. Their tongues entwined and slithered around each other like snakes. It was no fight for dominance, but a dance, a lively swirling and swaying set to their very own music. It was hot and it was messy, but it was life. There was no need for air, no need for anything but their love, eagerly exploring the once familiar caverns of their mouths, mapping out every part of those long-lost treasures.

"Oh get a room!"

The interruption was rude and sudden, and they both stopped their movement. Their lips stilled and the other withdrew slowly, decision clearly tinged with regret, giving her lips one last playful tug. She arched up slightly, unwilling to let go of these almost forgotten riches. Somewhere else, a sharp slap resonated accompanied by a dramatic "Ouch!" and somebody hissing "Shut it!"

"Behave for your amad, you little rascals," he said and his voice made shivers run down her spine.

Dís opened her eyes and looked straight into the smoky quartz of her husband's eyes. They were framed by his rich golden brows and the surface of his skin crinkled slightly as he smiled down onto her. She wanted to reach up, wanted to touch him, to feel him, to assure herself that she had really found the fire of her soul again, but he caught her hand, interlinked their fingers and brought their hands up to his mouth, tenderly kissing each of her knuckles.

"That was the last thing I ever heard you say," she whispered, her voice toneless.

"I know," Jóli breathed just as quietly. They had had almost a century to contemplate all of those little details, almost a century to treasure tiny words that had been spoken in anticipation of nothing more than a day apart. She had spent almost a century without that voice, without those eyes, without his kisses, but never without his love.

She moved to sit up from where she lay, but found herself unable to do so, a weakness set in her bones that was not the familiar mixture of aches and pains, but rather the heaviness after a long and peaceful sleep, the kind that refreshes and rejuvenates. There were hands on her shoulders, an arm across her back, carefully lifting her, raising her up and steadying her in a sitting position. When she tore her glance from her beloved, she saw another golden-haired Dwarf, sapphire eyes mirroring hers.

"Fíli," she said, her voice catching in her throat.

"And Kíli!" shouted her youngest, jumping onto the bed next to her and slinging his arms around her neck.

Kíli was hugging her fiercely, exuberantly, while Jóli continued to hold her hands just as tightly as her heart, and Fíli had settled in behind her, allowing her to lean against him as she grew accustomed to this new body, this new existence she had just entered. An existence without aches and pains, but with her beloved family. She felt like she was flying, floating on a cloud of happiness.

She had no way of telling how much time had passed until they helped her to her feet. Time did not seem to pass as usual here in the Halls of Mandos, in fact she doubted that time had any meaning here at all. And why would it? They had all the ages of the world now; all eternity to share with her favourite Dwarves, and no accident and no battle would come between them this time. Eventually, she stood, with Jóli's arm across her shoulders and her sons around her. All eternity was theirs.

"You know, we did get a room," Jóli pointed out as they stepped through a lofty doorway. "Now if you two hadn't come barging in..."

"We hadn't seen her for ages!" Kíli said.

"You had her for all those years when I was stuck here with nothing but the tapestries!"

"Sounds like you did a whole lot of tapestry-gazing."

Dís listened to their squabbling and was content. Her sons, who had bidden Jóli goodbye at such an early age, had finally won back the one who had been missing for all the important stages of their lives. The distraught little boys in front of an unyielding tomb had grown into fine young Dwarves, and finally they had what nobody had been able to replace—a father.

She smiled at Fíli. Her eldest had an amused smirk on his face, watching his father and brother bicker as he had probably done every day since they had been reunited. Every day since that dreadful autumn day... that day that had been such an ordinary one for her, going about her daily business in the Ered Luin without an inkling of the tragedy that had befallen her family. They said that you felt it in the stone of your soul when somebody you loved died. She never had. She might have expected some deaths; she had expected heavy losses during the war, but she had been caught by surprise when they returned without Frerin. There had been nothing to prepare her for Jóli's death. After a day like any other, she had been preparing dinner with Kíli on her hip when the door opened and instead of Jóli, Thorin had stood in front of her, always the harbinger of bad news. It had been many weeks until she had learned of the battle for Erebor. Once again, she had expected to hear bad news, but she had expected to hear them from Fíli, or from Kíli in case his brother had actually ascended to the throne of Erebor.

Fíli seemed to sense her dark mood, for he took her by the hand and directed her towards an elaborate tapestry. Invisible fingers were weaving a complicated pattern as they watched. Line by line, a scene took shape in front of their eyes, a scene so familiar to her and yet so far removed from the present. The tapestry displayed the green marble of Erebor and in front of it a body, her own body that her soul had finally left behind, immaculately dressed, her white hair intricately braided. She sighed and felt a lump in her throat. The figure in the tapestry was too indistinct to really tell, but she knew that she had grown old long before her time, a fragile creature, a mere shadow of the dwarrowdam she used to be, the dwarrowdam she was once more here in the Halls of Mandos.

"You are well-guarded," Fíli said, his voice soft as he pointed to another figure on the tapestry, a figure who stood next to her prone form.

"Dwalin," Dís breathed and reached out for him instinctively, then quickly withdrew her hand. She looked at Jóli apologetically. "He has been a good friend to me," she explained.

Jóli smiled and squeezed her shoulders more tightly. "I'm glad of it," he said, pressing a soft kiss onto the tip of her nose. "Dwalin is a good Dwarf."

She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, but could not keep a tear from escaping her. Fíli embraced her tightly, caressing her hair as she pressed her face into his shoulder. She breathed deeply, inhaling his familiar scent and thinking back to all the times when he had held her, when he had been her rock, even while he was still the size and age of a pebble. She had tried to keep her troubles from him, but there was no way to hide from his caring nature. Fíli could sense the slightest bit of distress and had been able to do so since he was a small boy. She shook herself out of her reverie.

"This is not a time for tears," she said and smiled at her boys, all three of them.

It really wasn't a time for tears. On the contrary, it was the time of many happy reunions. Dís got to meet her parents and grandparents, all restored to full health, both mentally and physically. She only let go of Jóli's hand when it came to greeting her mother. She was surprised that she recognised her immediately, given that she had such few and distant memories of her. Eydís was as thin as a blade, and Dís recognised much of Kíli's build in her. She was a gorgeous dwarrowdam, her hair and beard braided close to the skin at first, then being released into a mass of luxurious curls. But most of all, she was her long-lost mother. Dís let herself feel small and innocent in her embrace, her many decades of suffering brushed away by her touch. All the pain she had experienced since the dragon came and took her mother from her was erased in that moment, as they touched foreheads and whispered sweet words of a love that had endured a lifetime apart. She was more hesitant with her father. She had taken care of him when the madness had clouded his brain, had born much of his rage while Thorin tried to establish their people in the Ered Luin. Now she was wary. But her mother encouraged her and Thráin held out his arms to catch her the way he had when she was just a little girl, and finally Dís went and let herself be caught in her father's arms.

"Forgive me, mamarlûna[1]," he whispered, using a nickname that had been buried so long ago. "I did not know what I was doing."

And she found it in herself to forgive him. He was himself again, was the strong warrior and loving father from her childhood, not the violent madman of his later years, when exile, poverty, and loss had driven him to despair.

Her grandparents were there as well, and death had even softened Thrór, so it was a joyous occasion indeed. None of the reunions rivalled the joy of meeting her brother again. Dís squealed in a very girlish manner when she spotted him and ran towards him all tiredness forgotten. The lithe young Dwarf grinned and caught her under the arms, lifting her high into the air and twirling her around. For once, Dís did not swat his hands away, did not chide him for his childish actions, but simply laughed, enjoying his merry nature. They were both laughing when he finally set her down. His blue eyes were sparkling with mirth, and she felt happiness bubble up in her, fluttering and shimmering like boiling quicksilver.

"Good to have you back, little Díssy," Frerin said, still holding onto her as if she might evaporate. She put her hand onto her head and moved it forwards, hovering a tiny distance above his hair.

"Think I've got a fingerbreadth on you by now," she said with a wink. He was so, so young, much younger than Kíli had been, with just a soft fluff for a beard. He laughed merrily, and leaned forwards to whisper into her ear.

"If I try real hard, I can still see you as a little girl," he said. "You can be whatever age I want you to be when I see you here."

On some level that registered as an interesting fact and an explanation as to why her parents and grandparents had looked so young, but Dís did not want to focus on facts now, not when she was finally caught up in so many positive emotions.

"Oh don't," she said instead, pretending to shudder. "I was awfully spotty and annoying back then."

"And you were still my favourite sister," Frerin replied, crinkling his nose as he laughed.

"More importantly, I was your only sister, so it doesn't take much to be your favourite," she teased.

"Pity the same can't be said for being your favourite brother," Frerin said.

She shuddered for real then and a dark shadow seemed to fall upon her. She had seen him out of the corner of her eye, had seen him linger in the background and had consciously ignored him.

"Say hello to him," Frerin said.

Dís shook her head. No good could come of that.

"Please, Díssy," Frerin urged. "He has been blaming himself for all those years."

"As he should," she ground out between clenched teeth.

"Talk to him."

There were so many reasons why she couldn't, why she shouldn't. She had nothing to say to him, nothing at all. She had wanted to talk to him, back in the early years, but she did not know what to say now, or rather she knew too well what she wanted to say. She did not want to spoil their wonderful reunion. There was no point in it, no point at all, not when she could spend her time with her parents and her husband and her sons and with Frerin. No reason to talk to him. She hated him, she really did. Her thoughts were flitting back and forth between that and the fact that her sons had died because of his stupid quest, that they had died because of him, that he had killed them. She knew she had to compose herself, but her thoughts kept going round and round like a grindstone.

Suddenly there was a hand on her shoulder and a deep voice spoke her name. Her reaction was pure instinct, no conscious thought slowing her muscles. In the blink of an eye, she wheeled around and planted her right hand firmly on her attacker's face.

Thorin did nothing to shield himself.

It felt like a punch to the stomach to see him again. Dís gave herself no time to recover.

"Why?" she shouted at the top of her lungs. "Who gave you the right? Why? Not my sons, you rat!"

All the rage, all the anger that she had carried within her for twenty-one years broke free in one fell swoop. She kept shouting, insulting her oldest brother in every manner conceivable, but mostly she kept coming back to the one question that had kept her up at night and downcast during the day for so long:

Why?

Thorin did not respond.

It was a one-sided battle. They were all behind her, around her, while Thorin stood alone.

Why did he lead her sons to their deaths? Why did he die? Why did he ever set out to reclaim Erebor? Why did he succumb to madness? There were so many questions and in her mind they tumbled one over the other, the lines between them blurring until she could not make out the individual questions any more and just kept asking Why?

"Mamarlûna..." said her father.

She looked towards him and saw him extend his hands in a placating gesture. Her mother was at his side, but her eyes were filled with understanding. Frerin on the other hand stood flabbergasted.

"Why, Thorin? Why did you take my sons from me?"

"Darling..." Jóli interrupted. She ignored him.

"How could you? My sons, Thorin, my sons!"

"Amad..." Kíli said. She ignored him as well.

"What gave you the right to sacrifice them for your vanity?" she shouted at the still unmoving Thorin.

Fíli gently pulled her back.

"Amad," he said evenly, not heeding her struggling. "He did nothing of the sort. We went willingly, Kíli and I. We went into battle not because of Thorin, but because we wanted to. We knew how high the stakes were and we risked our lives willingly. We lost our gamble and for that I am sorry, but we did so out of our own free will. We went into battle with Thorin, but not because of him; on the contrary, we would have gone in spite of him."

His quiet voice was water to the flame of her pain. She looked into his eyes and saw only the truth. Behind him, Kíli nodded earnestly. Fíli had never been one to tell lies; if anything, his honesty had gotten him into trouble. And now he took responsibility for it all, for her pain, for their loss, for everything that had haunted her and it left her stunned.

Jóli put his hands on her shoulders.

"You raised them well," he said.

She had raised them well, had raised them to be fine young Dwarves, but in the end she had raised them only for death, a valiant death on the battlefield, but a premature death nonetheless. Their love and kind words had robbed her rage of its fuel, but she could not simply forget the suffering of more than two decades. She stared at Thorin. Her eldest brother stood with his head bowed, hands hanging loosely by his side. He seemed shrunken, somehow diminished. The sight of him ignited a tiny spark of pity inside her heart. She tried to squash it, but it persisted, small but stubborn. She was with her sons now, her family reunited. Thorin however remained alone.

Frerin tugged on her hand lightly and pulled her towards Thorin. She resisted for a moment, but found herself unable to continue to do so. They were her brothers after all, no matter how stupid, they were still her brothers. Frerin took one of Thorin's hands and linked their fingers. Thorin's hand was life-less in hers. For a moment she just stood, touching him for the first time since that night many years ago when they had said their farewells on the mountainside, then she gently stroked his fingers with her thumb. His fingers twitched and when she looked up, her glance met his. He looked insecure, questioning, something she had not seen on him often.

Frerin had a hand on each of their backs and pushed them closer together.

"Forgiven?" he asked.

Dís looked at Thorin. He was a Dwarf in his prime, the grey gone from his hair and beard, his body powerful and chiselled features handsome as ever, but there was a pain in his eyes, a pain that not even the magic of the Halls of Mandos could heal. She pitied him.

They looked into each other's eyes and simultaneously shook their heads. Frerin frowned.

"Not yet," Dís said.

"But you will forgive him?"

"I'll try."

Thorin nodded. "I have all the ages of the world to earn your forgiveness," he said, his voice raspy and constricted with tears.

She leaned forward, pressing her forehead to his.

"I love you, big brother."

Surprise lit up his eyes, and then a slow smile brought warmth to his features.

"I love you too, little sister."


[1] She who is loved — Khuzdul stolen, as usual, from those with a talent for languages, in this case from Meysun's "King of Carven Stone" (which you should totally read).