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It is only when they choose, when they come to this with rationality and final, resigned acceptance, that he learns what it is he has truly done.

Elves do not age, and elves do not scar. Unless they wish for a mark they retain their flawless, supple skin; fair and soft and eternally young.

Dwarves, however, do not.

Dwarves most certainly age.

The dark jewel Thranduil first saw as a young Prince of Erebor in fine clothes pretending to the simplicity of a soldier is now over a century older. His face is no longer youthful, his eyes are not so clear. His hair is streaked with threads of silver.

His attire, though returned to the rich simplicity of a soldier, now hides the scars that litter his skin.

Thranduil expects the mended rends and tears of the body. Thorin is no elf, or simpering human dairy maid; he has survived war and assault and the hardship of forge-work. He has been a labourer in Men’s villages, a labourer on Men’s farms.

Thranduil knows this because he has always watched over his dark jewel. From afar, from the shadows of Mirkwood, from his seat of Elven power. A fact he will never acknowledge because he knows how Thorin’s brows will lower and how his mouth will thin.

The day he turned his face from the helpless and desperate pleas of the displaced people of Erebor will never be forgiven. Or forgotten.

He has paid the price for a century since then.

Thorin removes his layers of fine cloth with careless, impatient fingers, face grim as he looks inwards to a hesitation he will never be free from.

Thranduil knows the struggle, because he has faced it himself in the dark nights, conjuring the ruins of Doriath and the anger of his people in his mind’s eye, his father’s cold bitterness and his own distaste of the dwarven troops on the battlefields of the Last Alliance.

Heat and mud and dirt had covered everything and everyone; even the elves had not escaped the grime of battle. But in the midst of the quiet mourning of Elves and Men, the Dwarves alone had shouted their grief cries, had bellowed their impotent rage and clanged their armour and drunk themselves into a stupor.

The unappetising spectacle left its indelible mark in Thranduil’s ancient memory.

Yet now he sees a hardy descendant of Durin and he feels his troubles calm, his burdens ease. He feels himself smile, no matter the glower levelled in his direction.

He feels happiness with Thorin, and that is a thing with which he has taken a century to make his peace.

And then Thorin stands before him bare to the waist, only his dark hair a veil of modesty for his nakedness.

This is not the first time they have shared relief but it will be the first time they share real pleasure. The first time they will acknowledge their want, and explore it, and perhaps allow it to mend the broken, jagged pieces of their souls.

Thranduil is happy to look upon his Naugrim. Until he sees the scars.

The ones from the Battle of the Five Armies are expected. The ones from Azanulbizar too. The nicks and scrapes and roughened patches common to those who have travelled long and hard are beautiful for they proclaim the life Thorin has led to bring him here, newly king and assuredly alive in the face of certain death.

He does not expect to see the old scars of chains upon Thorin’s wrists, or the thin white lines of a lash on his broad back.

He stills at the sight, and the veil of his control comes down to screen his roiling emotion.

It is an old trick, learned for the skill of diplomacy and perfected to protect the all too easily wounded softness of his heart.

Thorin does not notice, and merely throws his tunic over a chair before sitting down to untie his boots. When he perceives no movement, only then does he pause.

One boot is off, and the other unlaced. His feet are rough-skinned and rough-soled, as befits a dwarf who has travelled on foot across the worlds and in many mines.

“If you’re looking for an invitation to join me,” he says, voice relatively mild, “I will remind you that I was not the one who began this.”

Thranduil watches his eyes, because he cannot bring himself to stare in fascination – horror – at his hands.

Thorin’s lighter mood begins to dissipate, and tension seeps into his shoulders. His lips tighten beneath his beard.

“If you have changed your mind tell me now,” he says.

His voice is still soft and low, rich and warm, but the warmth is deceptive. It’s moving away from resigned acceptance – comfortable irritation, intent knowing, affection – towards anger. Humiliation.

Humiliation, for a dwarf who is always so close to breaking. Cracked and bent and bowed, but not broken. Not yet. Who is strong as iron and as immovable as a mountain, but fragile as glass.

Thranduil works his throat before he raises his hands.

Court robes fall like water against the smooth rock of the chamber he has set aside in the Greenwood.

No one will seek them here, for he comes here to be alone. Only a trusted few will venture here, and they will do so only in urgency. Those trusted few he would trust even with his dwarf.

Thorin stares at him, one boot on and one boot off, never ruddy and flushed beneath his beard and braids, but his keen eyes flash with fire.

The Dragon, Thranduil thinks, would have done better to keep Thorin son of Thrain with the rest of his treasure hoard.

In the space of a few seconds, no time at all to an elf, he is naked from top to toe, and he notices when he rises to his full height that Thorin’s anger loses itself somewhat in the looking.

“Come,” he says.

Commands it.

Orders it.

Because Thorin needs something to resist, and he has never denied Thorin anything except the one thing it was not his right to give. His people would have perished. His kin would have perished. And he had seen with his own eyes that Thorin lived.

Where life existed, he had thought hope would flourish.

Aid he had offered; Thror had refused.

Tens of years he has spent watching from the shadows, his greatest weakness becoming one of his only joys in the creeping sickness of his Greenwood. So many items has he had third parties buy from the forges of the dwarves of lost Erebor, and from the forge of Thorin Oakenshield himself. Tragically sold items of value returned to rightful owners, the kindness of men shown to wary dwarves. Orc parties intercepted, food made available in the marketplaces. Slow ripples of comfort flowing from the Throne Room of Mirkwood.

And all for this – a dwarf.

He had thought it would be enough.

The hair on Thorin’s chest is coarse and he smells faintly of sweat and soap. The clasps of his braids are gold and precious stone these days, and they are cold where they touch elven skin.

Thorin kisses the way he lives – with fire and passion. With the impatience borne of someone who asserts his control because he knows no other way.

Thranduil leans over him as they lie together, the difference of their heights both negligible and yet obvious where Thorin’s knee rubs higher up his flank than he is used to, arms reaching up to enclose him by the shoulders.

Strong, thick fingers knead the back of his neck, imperiously loosening a tension he hasn’t realised he was carrying until it is gone.

They have little enough in common as it stands, except for this – he rarely forgives, and he does not easily forget.

He slides his own fingers up the arm, feeling the curve and line of muscle and sinew. Thorin is more lithe than he expects, and yet still thicker than he was in his youth. Arm gives way to sharp elbow, which tapers down a brawny forearm, and there, there, the insulted wrist.

He pulls gently until Thorin releases his hold and lets his arm be taken.

Then Thranduil separates their mouths and tongues, and he lifts his eyes away from his lover’s face to examine the scars in minute detail.

Thorin rumbles a sound of disgruntled enquiry.

Thranduil ignores it.

He runs his thumb over the scar, first the soft pad and then the edge of the nail. He tracks its length around, and the way it is thickest over the jut of the bone.

“Elf?” Thorin asks.

Thranduil glances at him, momentarily though lazily warning.

Thorin’s mouth is full and wet, lips reddened with the press of kisses. “Thranduil,” he amends, somewhat reluctantly, “What is it you’re staring at?”

“You were held captive,” Thranduil says simply.

And he traces the scar with the nail of his thumb once more.

Thick dark brows rise. “Yes,” and there is irony in the rich, warm voice, “By you.”

Thranduil does not stiffen. He does not drop the hand he holds, nor does he give any sense that the words have cut him to the quick.

He waits while the hurt and anger flare and die down. When that’s over, he leans down and lays his lips against the healed wounds.

Thorin does not understand.

He can see that, even as he worships and caresses and soothes a hurt that stopped aching too many years ago.

“Tell me,” he invites.

Keeps his voice neutral, because the King Under The Mountain has lived in hardship for too long to trust gentleness from his enemy.

Thorin will trust him to behave as he expects. He is not ready yet for a lover who will behave as he wants. Elves live forever, barring tragedy, and Thranduil has time to coax a stubborn dwarf.

“There is nothing to tell,” Thorin snaps.

He lays down the hand he has examined and reaches for the other.

Thorin snatches it away. Lays it beside his head instead.

Thranduil’s eyes darken.

The darkness in the Greenwood does not affect only its trees. He is the keeper and care-taker of his kingdom, and he feels it in his senses, lives in it through the long years of his life. Elves, as he well knows, are created beautiful but their souls are not created perfect.

He has strength and height and greater experience in battle. This is his territory, and he has the advantage.

He straddles the other with a swift flex of long limbs and slams his hand down on Thorin’s withdrawn wrist. When the other comes up in defence he slams that down to the sheets as well.

Beautiful, he thinks, and exults in the imagining of the cuffs he could command. Of Thorin, proud and strong and fragile as glass, broken beneath him.

A whip is crude but it serves its purpose. Pleasure and pain, the finest of both to be enacted upon his body, to kindle the heat of his blood until he burns with it. Glows. Like a fire, like a gem.

Like the Arkenstone.

He lets go swiftly and Thorin hits him.

The blow is hard, with a clenched fist, and not an ounce is spared for the sweet, hungry kisses they have shared so short a time before.

Thranduil’s head is thrown to the side with the force and he has to blink the buzz of pain away before he turns back.

Thorin is pale beneath his beard. Not trembling, not quaking. The King Under The Mountain faces him like the legends of the First Age, with his head held high and no fear in his heart. But he is sad, somewhere beneath the anger and the shock.

He throws the elf off him effortlessly before he scrambles off the bed.

He is perfectly proportioned but the room itself was never built for a dwarf.

Thorin is small in this room. His feet would barely touch the ground were he to sit in the chair at the desk. The window seat alone is of a height he can use and that is where his boots are.

The threads of silver in his hair are burnished in the moonlight, just as the bloom of his flesh is gilded by the candlelight.

He is silver and gold, and the dark jewel of Erebor.

The Arkenstone, yes, Thranduil remembers it well. Knows too that Thorin has set it again in the carved throne of his grandfather and rules beneath it with a defiance that has a grace all its own.

He ignores the strictures on his race and morals, his figure and history and disregard for living things. He ignores the words and listens to the pain and he too has his fierceness. His fire.

It is not a mortal fire, consumed within a lifetime. It is an elvish fire, slow to kindle but eternal, and once kindled, the destruction it causes can be unthinkable.

“Tell me,” he repeats.

The flame never shows. He has learned to hide it all too well, and has perhaps lost the art of how to speak without a veil.

Thorin glares at him with hooded eyes. “What is it you want to hear? That we were accused of theft? Because we knew the skill of hard work and metal craft? Men do not always know the difference between metals.”

“Tell me,” Thranduil says, “Who hurt you.”

Thorin’s frown deepens. “Do you wish to congratulate him? I cannot think this is concern for a past wrong.”

Thranduil rises as he did before, though Thorin does not look at him as before, so he makes sure to turn the dwarf’s face away before he kisses the first mark across the left blade of his back, the thinnest tip of the scar looping over his shoulder.

Thorin struggles.

Not in earnest; Thranduil can tell the difference. His jaw is still tender, and the bruise is already formed.

“Is it elvish custom to mock and humiliate?”

The words, again, are biting.

Thranduil curls down further, his hair a curtain down Thorin’s back. He kisses further, and strokes his thumb over the thick beard he buries his fingers in.

It is not a dignified way to restrain a lover but he is ever pragmatic when he has not an appearance to maintain.

They return to the bed when anger shifts to something more ambiguous, something more needful and urgent.

There he lays Thorin on his front and caresses the lash marks the way he caressed the scars from the chains. He drifts further and further down the expanse of gilded skin before he reaches the small of the back, just above the waistband of Thorin’s dark breeches.

He does not speak, and Thorin does not permit himself more than a soft sigh of impatient pleasure.

That Thorin will let him do this at all is heartening. A warrior does not easily present his back to a lustful male gaze. Elves have some tradition for the love males may hold for other males but Men do not. Dwarves are secretive and silent on their own traditions.

In no culture is there permission for a king to lie with a king, or an elf with a dwarf. Nowhere in the world will they find acceptance for this.

He tugs gently on the waistband of the dark breeches and is rewarded with movement. Cooperation.

Thorin sits up and reaches for him; cups the curve of his skull in one large hand. Stretches forward and pushes their mouths together in a slick, perfect fit.

Thranduil parts his lips willingly enough.

The kiss is long and deep and grows greedy as time flickers slowly through the dimming room. When Thranduil finally draws away, he is on his back, and Thorin is as bare as he is, and the dwarf is astride his thighs with yet another frown pursing his lips.

Thranduil watches patiently, and simply luxuriates in the weight upon his legs. Much heavier than an elf, for all that dwarves are shorter.

He watches while Thorin pushes his hips forward experimentally, aligning them and sliding back and forth. He seems pleased when Thranduil twitches and flexes beneath him. More movement brings more reaction, and when the pleasure begins to build in earnest, Thranduil allows him a moan.

One sound becomes two, and Thorin stares at him with those hawk-sharp blue eyes, lips red and wet and swollen with kisses. When Thranduil moves with him, in the rhythm they find together, those eyes slip closed, the dark head lifts and a small groan eases into being.

Thranduil feels his desire flame. The light suddenly seems brighter, warmer. Thorin’s scars are seams of mithril and he himself is silver and gold; lit with a wild, fierce glory no one else could ever replicate.

There are no words for this. There can be none.

Thranduil wraps his long fingers around them both together and the pleasure is intense enough that they find their release soon after.

Thorin grunts and then, unexpectedly, collapses on top of him, weight jarring Thranduil’s ribs and threatening to punch through his belly. But it is a good pain, and Thranduil feels his lips curve up as he reaches down to softly stroke the hair and skin he can reach.

Thorin grumbles something into his chest.

He absently traces the lash marks again.

If Thorin notices, he never says.

Thranduil luxuriates in the pleasure-haze for a few more minutes before he prepares himself. Thorin will not stay, and he knows better than to ask. He does not mind binding the dwarf in chains but he has no taste for scars that have no honour, that are not marks of victory against a true enemy.

The anger in him is still burning but he turns stoically away from it to finger a tumbled braid.

The chains he plans to forge are to be welcomed and asked for, and they will not hurt, because they will never be constructed to hurt.

The poison in the Greenwood swirls, ever on the periphery of his senses, and he knows the darkness is pressing closer. Thorin, too, has felt darkness in his life. But he has survived. As they both will.

Thranduil feels a soft kiss pressed to his skin and his smile widens. Just a little.