Dori has a thousand regrets.
He waits until the mines are running steadily, working side by side with his brothers, and watching Beinn Chùirn come back to life under their hands. There is music on the mountain again, and light and warmth, and little ones running in the heather. It is like stepping back in time thirty years, and he regrets the lost time bitterly. Then he tells Thorin he has business to see to for a few days, and packs a bag and leaves.
Nori and Ori snicker behind their hands as he gets ready, asking whether he's off to the cities to find a new life insurance policy, or to have himself fitted for personal armour in case of falling rocks in the mine. He laughs with them, though it sounds somewhat snippy, and leaves for Tyndrum on foot. He knows they think him stuffy and worried - fussy, Ori always complains - but his brothers mean no harm. He is sorry for what has become of them.
Tyndrum to Elgin is a long journey when he is on the edge of his seat the whole while. The trains bear him steadily north, and he wraps his fingers around the package in his coat pocket and tries to breathe. Balin had looked at him with nothing but a too-knowledgeable pity when he said he was leaving, and had told him quietly to come back soon. His family would be waiting.
The train from Inverness to Elgin is the slowest of the lot, and he watches the little city come into view. It's still midafternoon, and he thinks she will not be home until evening, if nothing has changed. He has not been to Elgin in almost two years, though, so there is no knowing. He wanders along the River Lossie, feet bearing him steadily to the house where she has lived for almost twenty years. He puts a hand out to the knocker, as he has every time.
This time, Dori knocks.
The door opens after only a moment, and he resists the urge to neaten his hair or his beard, or to try to suck in his stomach. He is who he is, now, and there is no helping any of it.
Noreen stares at him, and he feels tears spring to his eyes as he looks at her. She has grown old, as he has, and the loveliness he remembers has faded quietly into a plump sweetness. Her hair, red as fire once, is more grey than anything else now. He thinks, dazedly, that they are still as well matched as ever they were.
"Dori?" Her voice is little more than a choked gasp, and he nods, throat thick. How can she still be so beautiful? She looks around fearfully, then moves inside the house, beckoning him. "Come in, quickly, before someone sees you! Are you being followed? Where are the rest?"
He steps inside, but puts his hands up to calm her. He doesn't dare touch her. She deserves so much better than him.
"Noreen," he whispers, and she stills, looking at him with worried lines in her forehead that he wants to kiss away. "It's all right. They aren't following us any longer. We're free, now."
She shuts the door, shaking her head. "How? Has Thorin finally given up his madness?"
"No!" Dori can't help the smile that pulls across his face, nor the laughter that bubbles up. He hadn't thought that she would not have heard. "We did it, my love! Smaug is in prison, and Beinn Chùirn is ours again! The mines have been open for two months now."
Her mouth drops, and Noreen gapes at him for a long moment, then nods decisively. "Tea, and you can tell me everything." She leads the way into her kitchen, warm and sweetly decorated. It's the touches of lace and dried flowers that get to him. How many years since he has seen something so effortlessly, sweetly domestic? He regrets them all.
He sits at the scrubbed wooden table, staring at her as she makes the tea and sets out a plate of biscuits. The story comes out in bits and pieces - too much to tell all at once, but he can give her the picture. He spares the details of twenty years of loneliness and fearful exile, and tells her instead of life coming back to the mountain - of children playing where they had played, of lovely little cottages going up outside the shadows of the trees that still bore the marks of the Burning. She drinks her tea and watches him intently, though he doesn't know what she's looking for. Sometime in the last twenty years, Dori has lost the art of reading her face, and that is the unkindest cut of all.
She watches him when he has finished, and there is a distance there that he can understand, but it still hurts.
"I'm so very glad that he is gone," she says finally, and her voice is steel. "And that you are home again - but Dori, you can't just come here and expect me to run home with you! I have a life here now, and I have for decades."
"No, no!" he says, interrupting her, but unable to bear the accusation in her voice. "Noreen, I am not here to demand anything! I just wanted you to know, and I wanted to give you a few things." He doesn't tell her that he didn't think he could go another day without seeing her. He is not going to put that kind of pressure on her.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the paper-wrapped parcel, shoving it gently across the table, and she opens it with hesitant fingers. Her hands fly to her mouth as she sees the treasures inside.
"I went home, once we were free," he says quietly. "I didn't think anything would be left in the ashes - but there were a few things that didn't burn."
"My mother's ring," she whispers, touching it reverently. "And the luckenbooth I gave you when we were married. Oh, Dori!"
"Noreen, there has not been a day I haven't thought of you," he says quietly. He keeps his hands folded so he does not reach out and take her hand. "I needed you to know that. I know you're fine here - and I hope you're happy. I hope everything we ever dreamed together has worked out for you here. But I needed you to know."
"Did they hate me for leaving?" she asked suddenly, blinking back her tears. "Dis and Thorin and everyone?"
He won't lie to her. "Yes, some of them. I didn't tell them why you did, and mostly they just pitied me. Nori despised you, though, for my sake."
"I won't apologise." Her chin is up, and her back is straight. "I made the right choice."
"Yes, you did!" The eagerness of his agreement is a surprise to Noreen, and she looks at him in shock. "Noreen. I missed you more than anything - and I was angry every day for what I was missing with you. But I watched Dis' children grow up - and they are wonderful lads, and we all love them - but every time I saw them, I was so desperately grateful that our baby was not growing up like that. It was no life for a child."
Noreen sniffles. "You can't expect to walk back into her life like nothing's happened, Dori. You choose to stay with Thorin when you could have come with us. You've never even seen her!"
"I wouldn't ask it," Dori says sharply. The old arguments spring back to life in his head, and he pushes them away. "I don't want to fight with you again. I stayed with Thorin because I couldn't leave Nori and Ori to that life alone - and I knew the costs. I won't ever come around again if you don't want me. Just tell me - is she happy?"
Noreen smiles. The warmth and kindness there have not faded with time. "Yes. She's everything we dreamed our child might be. I wish you had been here! You would have been so proud."
"I am anyway." He chuckles a little, because it is easier than any other reaction. "I would have loved nothing more."
"She knows nothing of you," Noreen says abruptly. "I've never told her anything - not who you were, not why you were gone. I didn't want her to be worrying after you."
He nods slowly. He can understand this.
"Dori," she says after a moment, a knowing look in her eyes. "Those envelopes that would appear inside the door - those were from you?"
He ducks his head, nodding shyly. "As often as I could. I let the rest think what they would of how I spent my money, but I had to do what I could for you, and for her."
Noreen reaches out and pried his hands apart, holding one of them between both of hers. "I married a good man, Dori of Beinn Chùirn."
"Some day," he asks gently, "will you come back to the mountain? Just to see what we've made of it?" He kisses her fingers. "It is not the same without you."
She sighs, but there is a smile in her eyes. "And how am I supposed to stay away forever? Beinn Chùirn was my home as much as yours, foolish man."
There's a sound at the door, and they snatch their hands apart like the bashful teenagers they had once been, in another life, sitting up straight. Dori glances at Noreen in alarm, but there is nothing but peaceful welcome in her eyes.
"Mama? I'm home!"
"In here, love," Noreen calls, and Dori turns to watch as his daughter comes into the kitchen. She is so much like her mother at that age that Dori could weep. She is seventeen, with hair like fire and eyes that sparkle - but she has his sad lack of height, and the point of her chin is so much like his mother's. She stops and stares at him.
"Dianna, this is an old friend of mine." He hadn't known her name. It is perfect.
Dianna narrows her eyes, examining him. "You're my da, aren't you?" Dori splutters in surprise, and she laughs in mischievous delight. Nori would love this niece of his. "Well, aren't you?" He looks to Noreen.
"Aye, love," she says quietly. There's no shame in it. "He's your da."
"And who else could he be, with you looking at him like that?" She sweeps through the kitchen, dropping a fond kiss on her mother's head, and places herself at the table between them as she snatches a biscuit off the plate. "Go on, then, let's hear everything!"
"Everything could take a while," he says slowly.
"Waiting for my da has taken a while," she shoots back, but she's grinning. "Mama doesn't talk about you, and she talks to me about everything."
They look at one another, Dori and Noreen, and he can't help smiling. He doesn't think he's really truly been happy since she left, and now it's bubbling over. Maybe they will come to the mountain one day. Maybe they will stay. Maybe this is the only day he will have with them. But this day, he will have no regrets.
Right, my lovelies! A few notes!
This one came out a desire to understand Dori a bit better, and a discussion that a friend and I were having about what might have happened to the women of the Lonely Mountain. Eventually I hope to flesh out all of the Sons of Durin.
I may or may not manage an update tomorrow, as I'm working on a project for the 5th that I'm excited about, and which will hopefully be very good fun. I'd like to promise both, but we shall see! :D