"So why are you still here?"

Nori's heart clenched at his brother's words. It didn't matter that Ori's barely audible musings weren't directed at him; the question still struck his guilty conscience and once again made him doubt his resolve to go through with the journey that lay ahead.

He never wanted this. Though, he reminded himself, he should have expected it. How else was his nadadith supposed to react after he'd broken his promise to him and Dori more times than any of them cared to remember? Nori's concentration on drying the tears that pricked the corners of his eyes was broken as Ori mumbled to his older brother from across the room.

"I don't suppose I should even bother asking where you're off to this time?" Ori managed to choke out, "Seeing as whenever I do get an answer, it's never the truth."

Nori opened and closed his mouth several times, intent on saying something, anything, that would put his brother's mind at ease. He wanted to tell him. Mahal, did he want to tell him. He wanted to explain to Ori that he only did what he did to give them a better life than the one they knew. He wanted to assure him that the months he spent away from Ered Luin were not filled with debauchery and meaningless crime sprees. He didn't covet the trinkets he stole, nor did he use any of their profits for his own use. Each and every gold piece went to his brothers and their household. He only wanted to contribute to the family using the one skill he was proficient at!

But he knew his words would mean nothing to Ori. After all, how could he trust his brother truly had good intentions if he couldn't even trust him not to leave unannounced for months at a time? Nori had no answer for that. And so, instead of replying to his younger brother, Nori silently gathered his bed roll and satchel before making his way toward the front door.

At the sound of what Nori thought to be a sniffle, he paused and turned toward the chair his nadadith was occupying. Ori's face was that of stone as he stared into the dying embers that were strewn about the stone floor of the fireplace. The youngest Ri showed no sign that he'd uttered anything to imply sadness at his brother's departure. It was more than a little unsettling for Nori to see his gentle, kindhearted brother so unflinchingly cold, especially with the knowledge that he was undoubtedly the cause of the uncharacteristic reaction. With one last rallying push against the guilt and helplessness that threatened to consume him, Nori tried once again to explain himself.

"Ori..." he started, "I- "

"Maybe...maybe this time it would be best if you didn't come back, brother."

Ori's voice held none of the conviction shown in his face, but the force of the words was still almost enough to knock the wind of Nori's lungs. The words he meant to say died on his tongue, and tears sprang back into his eyes with renewed vigor. Swallowing hard, Nori nodded imperceptibly before opening the door into the caverns of Ered Luin, the Ri's home for their entire lives.

An unusual feeling passed over the thief as he glanced over the front room of the brothers' home and the passages that laid just beyond the door's threshold. It was a moment before he was able to identify the sensation as nostalgia, as he had never held sentimentality in high enough regard to experience it before.

With a pain that stretched down to the very core of his being, Nori did the only thing he could to apologize for the disgrace and shame he knew he brought upon his brothers. Reaching up to where his left brow reached his hairline, Nori began to unbraid the brow until he reached the small silver bead that rested at the base of the ginger locks. The thief slid the bead off before repeating the process on his right brow.

Finally allowing a couple of the tears that had been threatening to spill since his brother had first spoken fall over, Nori squeezed the two beads in his palm as if trying to embed their meaning into his very skin. Nori took a shaky breath and glanced apologetically over at his brother one last time. Releasing his grip, Nori dropped the beads and walked out the door, leaving behind the last bit of proof that he was one of the brothers Ri.

A/N: Alright, well this just sort of came to me in the middle of the night. First attempt (hopefully not failed attempt) at writing anything fictional. In any case, hope you enjoyed!

Oh, and of course I own none of the characters.