Fili and Kili made their way through the dark, deserted alleys that wound between forges and smith shops. They had taken the shortcut home a hundred times or more but it felt different tonight. The dark granite was cold and damp and hung with shadows which flickered and barely retreated from the small lantern they held. Somehow, the brothers felt they were intruding and spoke in hushed voices.
'I feel bad.' Whispered Fili with a pained expression.
'You feel bad? I'm the one that called him useless! I feel awful.'
'It's not a competition, Kili. It's both our faults. We both feel bad, alright?'
'Aye, I suppose.' Kili's face twisted with concern. 'How are we going to make it up to him?'
Fili turned an incredulous look on his brother. 'Apologise of course!'
'We can't do that!' Kili said with horror.
'What are you talking about?'
'Well if we say we're sorry, then we'll have to say what we're sorry for and that'll throw fuel on the fire and I just know I'll say something stupid again.'
The scenario seemed to play itself out in Fili's mind. He winced. 'Hmm, you've got a point there.'
Kili sighed. 'I just don't want to make Ori cry again that's all.'
Suddenly two hands melted out of the darkness behind them and grasped the brother's shoulders. A low voice hissed.
'Who's been making my little brother cry?'
Fili and Kili cried out in shock, spun to face their assailant, bashed into each other and landed in a pile on the floor. As they scrambled to their feet, a familiar chuckle from the shadows made them relax.
'Nori, thank Mahal it's just you!' Said Kili with relief as the dwarf emerged from the darkness with a lopsided grin on his face.
Fili cocked his head, 'I didn't know you were back in town.'
Nori shook his head and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. 'Ach, I've just arrived.' Then his eyes narrowed. 'Who did you think it was, that gave you such a fright?'
The brothers glanced at each other sheepishly.
'What, you're more scared of that old fusspot than you are of me?' Nori's voice teetered between amusement and theatrical outrage.
'Yes.' They admitted together.
'What could he do? Knit you into a jumper? Make you eat some of his stew?'
'Tell our mum we made Ori cry.'
At this, Nori couldn't contain his amusement any further. 'Well I'm plenty of things but I'm not a sneak.' He said laughingly and the brothers' relief was evident. But Nori's brow clouded.
'I don't like hearing of Ori upset, though. What happened?'
Again the brother's glanced at each other. They'd heard stories about Nori's brawling and fighting prowess. Mostly from Nori himself, though, which meant they were likely to be hugely over-inflated. If they weren't just pure invention to begin with. It didn't stop him being slightly intimidating. And everyone was protective of Ori, his brothers especially.
'We...uh... we might of accidentally said-'
'-implied that is-'
'-that he wasn't all that-'
'-when it came to fighting.'
The brother's braced for the anger to come, but only heard a faint chuckle and looked up to see Nori shaking his head.
'And he got riled by that? He still hung up on it? When will that boy learn to stop being afraid.'
Kili and Fili exchanged puzzled glances.
'He seemed really, really upset.' Kili offered and Fili nodded his head in agreement.
'I've never seen him like that.'
Nori narrowed his eyes again. 'So you did make him cry. So what are you going to do about it? Eh?'
'Oh uh, we were thinking. Maybe a..' Kili stopped mid sentence. They had no plan.
'A party.' Fili blurted out and looked as shocked at the idea as his brother.
But Nori just laughed and claps his hands. 'What an idea! Where were you going to have it? Your place?'
'No! Um, no I don't think Uncle-' Fili began
'-There's not enough room!' Kili interrupted hurriedly.
'Aye, we thought...'
'Dori's place?' It was Kili's turn to look shocked at the words coming out of his own mouth.
A grin split Nori's face and his eyes glinted.'Have you asked permission?'
'Well, not yet, as such, we-' Fili fumbled with his words but Nori interjected.
'No need! That old badger needs a shake up. A surprise party it is! Who's coming?'
'Us. Eh, you and...Amad, Balin and...everyone else.' Kili ran out of people that knew both Ori and themselves.
Nori's eyes twinkled. 'Needing help with the guest list? Not to worry. I know people.'
With that he turned away into the darkness. Leaving the brothers to worry about just what sort of people Nori knew.