One moment, Dwalin had been on his death bed, and then he was standing tall and strong in a dark antechamber. He could feel all of the pain and aches of his life cast off like so many rags, and the stiffness in his knuckles was gone.
Looking around, he had to admit that, if this was death, there wasn't much to recommend for it. A bare, empty antechamber, lit by enough torches to see it was such, and a single door that he faced. It opened to reveal someone he hadn't seen in a little over 120 years.
"Ori." It was surprise that kept him rooted in place. If he hadn't been so, he would have swept the younger dwarf into his arms without a moment's hesitation.
Ori, still looking the same as the day he'd left Erebor, smiled up at him, looking sheepish and so deeply pleased it almost hurt. His hands were nervously fiddling with the knitted gloves that Dwalin remembered from the quest for Erebor. "Hello, Dwalin."
"So, I really am dead," Dwalin grunted. "Good to know."
Ori grinned. "Indeed. As soon as you step through this door, you'll enter the halls that Mahal has set aside for us, that you can rest and be merry until we are to rebuild Arda after the final battle."
Dwalin scowled. "Why have you come to meet me here, then?"
"I..." Ori's gaze slid to the floor. "When I knew that you'd arrived, I couldn't wait to speak with you."
Dwalin set his jaw tightly.
"Dwalin," Ori looked up at him, taking a hesitant step forward. "I need to apologize for how we parted." The words rushed out of him like water from a breaking dam. "I didn't truly--"
"You did," Dwalin grunted. "You meant every word, and if you try to take them back now, I will make you regret it. I told you when I courted you that I wanted honesty from you, and I got it that day."
Ori shook his head quickly. "We shouldn't have parted like that."
"And yet, we did," Dwalin countered. "If you weren't as stubborn as you were about reclaiming Moria, you would've been denying yourself. My only regret was that I wasn't there to protect you. Another axe could have turned the tide. It was so at Azanulbizar--"
Ori's dark eyes widened. "No! No-- Dwalin--"
"Do you want to know how I learned of your fate, Ori?" Dwalin snapped, closing the distance between them and grabbing his shoulders as tightly as he could. "Gimli brought your book back to Erebor, telling of how he found you in my brother's tomb."
The younger dwarf, his hair still the bright ginger it was in life, looked up at him sadly. "I'm sorry."
"We cannot get out," Dwalin growled through gritted teeth. "We cannot get out. They have taken the bridge and Second Hall."
Tears were spilling from Ori's eyes openly. "Dwalin--"
"No," Dwalin growled again. "I'm going to say my peace before you distract me." He squeezed Ori's shoulders once before moving his hands to cup his face, much more gently than his voice seemed capable of. "I made myself a promise when I was but a child that I would become the strongest warrior throughout the land, so that my One, my beloved, would never come to harm. So that I would be able to spend the rest of my days with him, and we would die together and come here so that neither of us would ever be alone. I told you of my father and mother. You know of what I speak."
When they had been bound to each other, Dwalin's vow had changed from the typical recited words. After the celebrations and the first night, Ori had sleepily asked him why, and Dwalin had murmured to him of his mother's death in battle, and how his father had been alone for a century afterwards, alive but broken in a way that could never be repaired.
Ori's lips parted to speak, but Dwalin shook his head.
"And what should happen? My beloved heads out on a foolish expedition with my elder brother, and dies without me there to protect him." He brushed a heavy, callused thumb against Ori's lips gently. "I should have been there."
As he watched, Ori's eyes hardened. "I'm glad you weren't."
Dwalin glared at him. "What?"
"In the end, when we were overrun, the warriors were terrified," Ori whispered, wrapping his hands gently around Dwalin's wrists. "They fought with all their strength, even after Oin's party came back to the Chamber without him. We were overrun, and we fought to the last dwarf, but in the end, we were all terrified." He turned his head to kiss the palm of Dwalin's right hand. "I would never have wanted to see that look in your eyes."
"So you would rather have had me wait one hundred and twenty years to see you again?" Dwalin whispered, feeling his eyes stinging with tears, but refusing to let them fall. "To hear your voice? To touch your skin? To feel you beside me? Is this how deep your anger runs?"
"No!" Ori shook his head. "I wanted you to live a long, full life, Dwalin. Dying in fear would have been a poor way for you to die."
"But I did die in fear," Dwalin admitted in a small whisper. He leaned in close enough to touch his forehead to Ori's. "Because I never knew if you forgave me for not being there for you at your end."
Ori squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before he met Dwalin's gaze again. "You did nothing wrong, beloved. I should be the one pleading forgiveness," he whispered back. "I meant to return to you after Moria had been restored to its former glory. I never meant for you to hurt so because I was too stubborn."
Dwalin shook his head. "I told you before. Were you not so stubborn, I wouldn't love you as much as I do."
Ori's laugh was a tear-stained breath against Dwalin's skin. "I keep forgetting." He gave the taller dwarf a tentative smile. "Shall we agree that we're both forgiven, then?"
Dwalin nodded, leaning down and brushing a kiss against Ori's lips. "Agreed," he murmured.
When Ori threw his arms around Dwalin's neck and deepened the kiss suddenly, Dwalin found himself remembering their courtship, and the years that followed, how each kiss had been treated as a delight that Ori had never expected, but always enjoyed to its fullest. With the memory came a pang in his heart, because he had almost forgotten how it had felt to have the younger dwarf in his arms.
When they broke the kiss, Ori grinned up at him. "There is one advantage that I can see from our separation."
Dwalin scowled at him. "Advantage?"
Ori nodded, his grin melting into a contented smile and a nod. "Think of all the wonderful stories you can tell me."
"You're the storyteller," Dwalin objected, "not I."
"Oh, I'm sure you can make them interesting," Ori told him fondly. "Come. I know of a warm fire and comfortable chairs we can sit in while you tell me all about them."
"Only if there's a warm bed nearby," Dwalin grumbled.
Ori's smile was dazzling. "But, of course."