AN: One of my goals for April was to finish one of my in progress Hobbit fics every week. So after posting BETTER TODAYS, I naturally wrote something ENTIRELY NEW.

Rating: Teen? Yes, Teen

Disclaimer: You know, I actually kind of FEAR the day this becomes creative commons.

Characters: Ori, Dori, Nori.

Summary: Your brother is your brother forever.

Holding On

Ori doesn't remember the Fires of Erebor because he was not yet born when the mountain burned beneath the moon. He knows the tales, though, as well or better than every badger born on the wandering dirt roads that led to Ered Luin. It took his family a while to reach the halls Thorin built in the Blue Mountains. They had tried to make a go of it themselves, first, knowing that there would be no welcome for them in those distant hills. They have never been miners, and their merchant-craft is in softer goods than the hard northern winters can afford.

When they come, finally, his mother carries what was left of their House, and helps Nori when he stumbles in weariness. Ori could walk, just, and when they were not in a hurry Dori lets him toddle in the wagon ruts made by wealthier pilgrims, but as the cold presses in, Ori has to let himself be carried like a babe, strapped to Dori's chest, above the hammer of his heart.

He knows he is small and that his brother is grown, but he also knows that he is heavy, because his mother cannot carry him herself. He wonders how Dori manages. He's too big to go over-top of Dori's pack, where he carries the last of the heirlooms rescued from the dragon, including his da's bolas which he is not yet adept at using, and Ori's nearly long enough that Dori can't reach around him to where he carries his sword, at least not without some struggle.

Ori realizes that his brother is strong when the orc pack finds them. While his mother swings her axe above her head and Nori ducks for stones to throw, Dori holds two of the attackers in his bare hands, unable to reach his sword, and squeezes the life from them. They don't get close enough to Ori for him to hear their dying breaths, but he can hear the way their bones crack under his brother's fingers, the same ones that combed Ori's hair so gently while they walked.

For the first time since he learned what fear was, Ori isn't afraid of anything.

They have a terrific row the night Nori finally leaves for good. Oh, his room's still made up and some of his things are in their places on the mantel and in the lockbox in the pantry, but Dori stops settling a plate for him at the table, and in their House, that's much the same as being disowned.

The fight is about money, just like it always is, and Nori's refusal to come by it honestly. Nori has called Dori a hopeless fusspot and Dori has called Nori a thankless degenerate, and Ori has sat at the table and pleaded before the Maker that he's never made to pick sides.

Dori has an honest job he detests and Nori plays crooked and loves every moment. Ori has long since decided to meet them somewhere in the middle. He copies the archives, as all the good journeymen do, but already he has a profitable side business writing letters for those as can't, and if he makes a quiet sum peddling gossip and secrets on the side, it's no one's business but the ravens who carry the mail.

In the end, though, Nori really is gone, and then Ori finds himself the sole focus of Dori's attention. He had liked it well enough as a badger, but those years are long past, and being so-suddenly smothered again starts to take its toll sooner than later.

Ori begins to sneak out in the evenings, saying he's going to the library and heading off to the pub instead. There's the chance he'll see Nori, or one of his people, and if not, there's always some kind of entertainment to be found.

Dori catches on, of course, but not before Ori has learned all the drinking songs the local miners will teach him, and also how best to kiss when a kiss is what he wants, and where to hit when a kiss is what he doesn't. Thankfully Ori is doing neither of those things the night Dori comes through the door, red-faced beneath his ever-intricate beard.

They leave immediately, because Ori doesn't want a scene, and after that Dori is even more annoyingly involved in his decision making. Ori makes himself forget about Dori's steady heart and the strength of his hands. He doesn't want to remember. He's too busy wishing he'd gone with Nori, or at the very least, had the wherewithal to strike out on his own road.

For a very long time, the house is quiet.

When the heat is on, and Nori has to leave town as quickly as possible, Thorin & Co. are the only sure road. Nori laughs, privately to Ori, of course, that "sure" has taken on a different meaning since the mines ran thin a few years back. Ori is not so foolish that he tells Nori his plans. His brother is reckless, it's true, but of all the things on which to agree with Dori, he had to choose overprotectiveness.

Ori waits until Nori has disappeared into some alley or another, and then he goes straight to Thorin's hall. He thinks the King might laugh at him, but Thorin hears him out, and then gestures for the contract without hesitating. Balin's eyes say everything, and Dwalin couldn't keep doubt from his face for all the mithril in Moria, but neither will gainsay their King.

Dori does enough doubting and gainsaying when Ori gets home, face flushed pink with victory, but that doesn't stop him from signing the contract as soon as Thorin will let him. The night before they are due to set out, he sets a plate for Nori at the table, and if he asks Ori for packing details four times, it's only because he wants to make sure they are all prepared. In the morning, while Nori checks their weapons one last time, Dori plaits the last of the Erebor Violet, carried all these years, and kept from mildew and moths by charms that are a clan secret, into Ori's braids.

The road is not as bad as he had thought it might be.

When the branch breaks beneath him, and Ori feels all the empty air the way only a mountain-dweller can, his arms find his brother's waist almost before he has time to panic. Nori shouts, reaching beyond hope, and Dori slips, thrown off by the new weight, but keeps his head enough to call for aid. Ori doesn't know what comes next, but he knows that Dori is with him, just like on the road all those years ago, and so he closes his eyes.

And Dori, Dori holds on.


Gravity_Not_Included, April 5, 2012