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The plan is set. They wait only for the right moment to make their escape and now his thoughts are tumbling, filled with the desire to leave this prison. Erebor is so close, as is Durin’s Day, and the whole rests on them finding a hidden door through a riddle he cannot yet answer.

And that is the point at which he is once more removed from his cell by the guards. Somewhat unexpectedly.

He finds himself marched down a different path, trying to keep up with longer legs and quick, elven feet.

All he can think of is how he may break from his guards, if only to make his way back to the cells. The plan is set. Many plans are set. He cannot afford the distraction.

Which is why he is not surprised to find Thranduil at journey’s end.

The Elvenking has ever been a distraction. Perhaps at one time he could have grown to be a pleasant one but Thorin cannot look at those beautifully moulded features without remembering cruelty. Without remembering covetous greed for the treasures of his people, and cold dismissal for their desperate cries for help.

“There was only one cry that day,” Thranduil says softly, “And it was yours. Your kin fled, eyes to their own survival. You alone raised yours to the horizon, though it was only to preserve what you were leaving behind.”

He snarls, goaded to viciousness because that is what the elf can always reduce him to – a sullen child, a barbaric warrior, a stunted inferior. Other races look down upon the dwarfs but the elves look down as though they truly believe the dwarves are the Unwanted, the Trespassers on this world.

Once, he had imagined that he might prove himself an example of the glories of his people.

Erebor, he thinks desperately, even Erebor had never been beautiful enough for an Elvenking.

The Mountain calls to him, to his past and his future and the blood in his veins.

“Will you tell me of your quest?” Thranduil asks.

“I will tell you nothing,” Thorin says.

Blue eyes silvered by moonlight are as familiar to him as they were always alien. Foreign. Dark rites beneath the starlight and as ancient as the forest itself.

“Why do you do this?” Thranduil asks, tilting his head in pure curiosity. His voice is carefully blank.

Thorin does not dissemble. He cannot, and he pledges to never try. Besides, it is obvious. Thranduil is no fool and why else are dwarves returned to the Rhovanion, if not to scout at least for news of their lost kingdom? A company of thirteen plus a hobbit and a wizard is not large, nor is it awe-inspiring, but they are all armed, and they are all prepared, and had they never gotten lost in the forest they would be there now.

They would be approaching Erebor.

He thinks of it, pictures it in his mind’s eye and feels the yearning rise like bitterness in his throat.

“For my grandfather and father,” he says, voice rough, “Who died in exile. For my kin who were born in a hovel. For all my people who were left with the clothes on their backs and sometimes even less. And who were spit on and despised when they asked for help.”

“I heard tales of thievery and demands. Of goodwill turned to sour enmity by those who took because they thought tragedy gave them privilege.”

Thorin bristles, and actually bares his teeth. “Then I will tell you other tales, of honest labour turned to near slavery, of a respectful desire to earn our way broken on the wheel of greed and needless suspicion, because we would not bow and scrape and lick the hands of those who deigned to feed our children.”

“It is ever the way of the world.”

“The way of the world does not make it right.”

Thranduil stares at him, enigmatic and unreadable. But then – “No, Thorin. It never does.”

He has heard his name in that voice several times over the last few days, but the tone has always been cold and faintly mocking. A use of his name that may as well be a title, and equally lacking in the personal.

But now, now there is a tone. And it is entirely personal.

He shifts uncomfortably, though he is too proud to retreat. Even while he glances swiftly through the room, mapping the dimensions and hoping with all his heart that this unexpected diversion will not cost him his quest or the lives of any of his Company.

He carries the responsibility for them in his bound hands, and he will not fail them if he can.

The room itself is small and near empty. There is another door across the way from which he entered, there is a low, wide divan with cushions and a low table; there is a window. The bare stone of the walls does not have the curving, craggy beauty of Erebor’s great rock but it is just as age-smoothed, though militantly evened to mimic the straight up-and-down of a house built above the surface.

The divan is laid with white and thick, soft green. The cushions are strewn as though someone lay amongst them not so very long ago.

The table alone is highly carved, and made of thick, sturdy wood. The legs are clawed, as though the furniture is some great beast made tame at its master’s side, and the lip shows a range of figures he cannot quite make out from where he stands.

“I imagined you upon that table many times,” Thranduil says suddenly.

And all at once his thoughts scream to nothingness.

He knows he lifts his head too quickly, eyes blinking in too-honest confusion while his brows lower automatically at what he assumes is either a joke or an insult.

Thranduil’s mouth tilts up at the corners. “Rope to bind you down, helpless against my whim. I am still unclear as to whether I would appreciate you with a gag or without one. It may depend on how you choose to cooperate.”

Thorin goes pale. This time, he does take a step back, eyes flicking nervously to the door to reassure himself that there is an escape, difficult though it is, and to ensure there is no soft-footed guard behind his back to hold him in place.

Thranduil does not attempt to reach for him. He remains where he is, with his hands clasped behind his back and his ageless eyes fixed unwaveringly upon the dwarf.

Thorin clenches his fists uselessly, tugging on his restraints in futile anger. “Is this how you treat your prisoners, elf? Defiling their bodies for your amusement?”

“I recall you were once only too willing to indulge my amusement,” Thranduil replies, “And I have not yet laid defiling hands on you. I merely remind you of what we once discussed.”

“Your lies and my naiveté were not a discussion.”

“Your youth. You were hardly naïve.”

Thorin flushes red, another glance over his shoulder though this time it is more embarrassment than fear.

“Need I remind you that you came to me? You made your wants clear, and when I advised you that you had not yet reached your majority, you gave me detailed account of your… shall we call them dalliances?”

Thorin yanks harder at the rope. “You knew the difference between my practice and your experience. You took advantage…”

“Of what was offered,” Thranduil interrupts smoothly, “Of course I did. I doubt many others would have given you warning before they did so.”

“Which you twisted into lies so I would not heed them.”

Thranduil’s dark brows lift. “It was not my fault that you would not listen to reason.”

Thorin sees red, briefly, spitting curses as only orcs and elves can make him do, almost dislocating his shoulders in his need to get free. And all this time his tormentor merely stands there in his silken silvered robes, his crown upon his head and his mouth twisted up at the corners, hands behind his back as though a dwarf can be no danger to him.

Thorin stops himself by will power alone.

And for a few moments, he stands there bowed, shoulders aching and chest heaving, panting heavily as his eyes burn, glaring at the elf he is powerless to either attack or defend himself against.

All he can do, he realises, is stand there. And endure.

His mouth shuts abruptly and he straightens. One deep breathe and he lifts his chin, a regal presence even if he only reaches Thranduil’s chest.

He remembers distantly how the tip of his nose could run the slight dip down Thranduil’s chest, how tiny, hardening nipples felt against the wet rasp of his tongue. He remembers the smell of trees and the flowers in the crown of the Greenwood. The musk of flesh and sex and the slight salt of elven sweat.

He shakes his head and lets the shiver roll up his spine unheeded.

The plans are made, he tells himself, and he needs to return to his cell. This distraction is only a distraction. The quest is all-important.

“What do you want?” he hears himself say.

“You have made me an enemy and I wanted to see if you remembered that we had once been something sweeter.”

“There was nothing sweet about the spells you put on me.”

“Oh? Do you call me a Witchking now?”

“I would think nothing of it if you were,” Thorin snorts.

Thranduil stiffens and his mouth twitches, but he inclines his head a fraction. “In your unreasoning eyes, I see anything is possible.”

“If you remember anything of what we had as sweet, how is it I’ve been put into your dungeons? You called me Prince and King at our last meeting, and invoked my father and grandfather, noble dwarves as they were, and here I am in chains. My companions sit in filth and damp. Our food has been lacking and our heat almost nothing. Yet you want to speak of being lovers and of kindnesses you say you’ve done.”

The Elvenking’s face is once again a blank mask, and Thorin feels the wild exultation of finally having pierced the armour of his heart. Of finally pushing the elf from his pedestal at the top of his ivory tower – untouched and untouchable.

For once, Thorin sees he has dragged Thranduil into the murky water of emotion and unbalanced his superiority.

He has made him angry.

Thorin sets his teeth and hunches his shoulders, prepared to face the wrath he knows will come to him.

And then he is once more confounded. Victory is sweet, but when Thranduil approaches, it is with open palms and slow, measured steps.

His hands are unbound, and Thranduil calls his guard, not to remove his guest – which is what Thorin wants – or to have him beaten – which is what Thorin expects – but to have food and drink brought to the room.

A flurry of Elvish words he cannot understand leaves Thorin frowning at Thranduil’s long, slender back, wondering what it is that could put that startled frown on a guard’s face before his king.

He briefly contemplates attacking Thranduil while his back is turned, if only to prompt his immediate removal from Thranduil’s presence. He calculates a good chance of being returned to his cell in the aftermath.

But he also calculates a good chance of severe punishment. Which would, given what could be administered, make him unfit for the next stage of the quest.

His only hope is to wait for an opening and hold himself ready. That is all he has done in this cursed forest, this Mirkwood. And waiting is not something he has been allowed to indulge in, in his long life.

He thinks of the century since he was last in Thranduil’s presence. A dwarf of twenty three, newly matured in his body but still a long way from his majority. A wild youth who held a double mask of dutiful prince and reckless warrior. Who had seen both his worlds collide in the person of an elf; one he was not supposed to desire but did because it was forbidden, and because he was curious, and because here was a king who had ruled for longer than his kingdom had been founded.

His nephews have never been so duplicitous; that he knows. And his nephews have never been so foolishly deceived.

The shiver rolls down his spine again and this time he recognises it for what it is – anticipation.

He is appalled at himself. And he is guilty.

Thranduil returns and gestures him to the divan, where he sits awkwardly and rubs his wrists. The elf sits as well, and there is a handspan only between them.

Thranduil says nothing, and Thorin doesn’t dare break the silence. Will not lower his pride enough to show his nerves and confusion. He busies himself with pondering how Bilbo will arrange to have them escape their cells.

He thinks of sneaky, near-silent Hobbit feet, as big and hairy as they are, capable of going places where no one expects.

Food is brought in, with a carafe of wine and two goblets.

He has not had fine wine in many decades. Not since before the Battle of Azanulbizar, when the line of Durin were lauded for their desire to reclaim the lost city of Khazad-dum. After the battle, when only a handful returned with no reward for their sacrifices, the line of Durin rested only on a young Prince’s shoulders. And though Thorin had covered himself in glory, his kin could no longer trust his family to lead them to anything but sorrow and death.

Thirteen is a small number against a dragon, and he knows this. A toymaker, a tinker, a cook, a thief, a scholar’s apprentice – these are the only people who will trust him.

He eats and drinks with caution, tasting with his tongue before chewing, concentrating on the effects on his body and ruthlessly overruling his desire to eat like a beast, flecking his face and hair and clothes with what he fails to cram into his mouth.

Thranduil does not eat, but he does drink.

He drinks two cups to one half of Thorin’s, much to the dwarf’s unvoiced surprise. It does not seem to affect him much beyond loosening his frame and bringing a slight colour to his cheeks. His eyes remain as clear and sharp as they ever are.

Thorin watches, and finds he cannot look away.

The wine goes to his head and he knows he is staring.

When he is done eating, and pretending not to trace the flattened curves of Thranduil’s body from the corner of his eye, the table is cleared and more wine delivered.

He looks from the carafe to his own goblet to Thranduil’s. He has only drunk one cup.

He has known men and dwarves who develop an unquenchable thirst for ale, an unbreakable habit of drinking to excess. He cannot believe elves capable of it, controlled as they are, and if elves in general are to be less than perfect, he does not believe Thranduil in particular capable of such a petty weakness.

And yet, he thinks, yet even Thranduil must have pleasure.

“You still look at me,” Thranduil murmurs, “When you think I do not notice.”

“I’m pondering your consumption of wine,” Thorin retorts, entirely truthfully, which delights him.

Thranduil says nothing as he sips again. And again. And then drains his goblet.

It is a pointed action.

“If you believe you can wait for the wine to render me helpless to make your escape, I will have to disappoint you.”

“My only disappointment is that I am stuck here, unable to rest while I must watch you drink yourself into a stupor.”

“Do you wish to leave?”

“I don’t wish to stay. Unless there is a purpose to our discussion.”

“What if I were to confess to a purpose? But not of discussion.”

Thorin flushes again, before he can help it. “I will break your fingers if you lay a hand on me.”

Thranduil’s smile is slightly more heated, his colour slightly higher. He says nothing, but gestures to Thorin’s goblet with an imperious hand.

“Is it not to your taste? I imagine it has been some time since you have been able to drink anything but watered ale.”

The sneer in the words is enough for him to lift up the goblet and drain it. He deliberately treats it as he would the ale of which Thranduil speaks, and behaves in mockery as he knows the members of his more free-acting company might behave. He doesn’t belch, but wipes the back of his hand across mouth and moustache, and bangs the goblet down on the beautiful table as though it were a serviceable wooden tankard.

“My compliments to the wine-maker. But, I think, a little too sweet for my tastes,” he grunts.

It is a mistake, and he knows that immediately. The wine is too strong to be downed in that way and he no longer has the skill to resist its rising fumes in his blood. His over-full stomach is suddenly warmed and bloated, and he feels lethargy creep along his limbs.

He does not dare show these symptoms to the elf at his right.

“It is to be expected that your tastes would be corrupted by lack of practice,” Thranduil returns smoothly.

Thorin glares.

Thranduil, unexpectedly, laughs. And even more unexpectedly, he removes his crown and reclines against the cushions and all of a sudden the years are peeled back until the elf has the merry, challenging fondness of another time and place. Of another age.

“Muin nin,” he says, “Must we spend this night using our tongues in such a wasteful fashion?”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Is it not true? It was once. It used to give you pleasure to hear me say it.”

“That has changed, like my taste for wine.”

“I very much doubt that.”

Something about the way Thranduil speaks makes Thorin tense. Something knowing, something darkly satisfied.

He glances to the side, and tries not to focus on the way the robes drape teasingly over the long, slender limbs that seem so deceptively fragile. He’s felt the strength in them, the hard muscle beneath soft skin. He knows, as well as anyone can, that Thranduil could match him easily in a contest of strength, and may even win.

But Thranduil has never relied on simple strength to get his way.

That, in itself, is enough to set a dwarf’s teeth on edge.

“What,” he asks again, “Do you want?”

“What I have been robbed of, for all these long years.”

“I don’t know what you think you mean…”

He is seized by the wrist and pulled, unbalanced and unsuspecting enough to fall forwards until he sprawls chest-down across Thranduil’s long legs.

The searing heat rises almost immediately and he curses himself and his nature and his fate even as he scrambles away in undignified haste.

Thranduil only smiles victoriously. “I have only recently learned what manner of need a dwarf has for his One.”

Thoughts of escaping the dungeons are suddenly very far away. Now Thorin thinks of them longingly; thinks of the stone and cold and wet, and of the thick door separating him from the Elvenking.

Though that separation, he remembers, will always be an illusion. His cell locks only on the outside, and he has no say in who or what will enter it. In whether he can be left in it, or returned to it, or leave it.

“You are wrong,” he says, with all the vehemence he can muster.

Thranduil only smiles, and leans forward, shifting fluidly on the divan so that he may reach out, eyes beginning to glow with an expression that once again cuts through the veil of years until Thorin is twenty three and barely mature enough to understand why the intense pleasure he felt for someone who was meant to be an experiment, if not an outright rebellion, was building to a desire that threatened to drown him beneath it.

Without thought Thorin hits out, and knocks the hand away.

One hundred and ninety two is old enough now to know why he must stop the elf from touching him, and to understand the consequences of what he may do if he fails.

The fear is a shock of cold, which should be a relief since fear is not normally a pleasure to be enjoyed, but this desire has never been constructed on normal terms. What he wants with his heart verges away in very important details from what he wants with his head, and he fell to this sickness only after Thranduil had trained his body to respond to certain stimulations.

He’s already hard.

It isn’t an easy submission, but in the end it is a submission.

He fights as hard as he can, and this time he is no untried youth. He has experience on his side, and the solid strength of the best of his race, honed by many battles and hard work. It has been some time, he suspects, since Thranduil has had to use his bare hands to stage an attack and defend from counter-manoeuvres.

Still, Thranduil wins.

Thorin is barely logical by the end of it, his blue eyes near swallowed by lust-widened black, his chest heaving and the soft give of his belly quivering as Thranduil pins him down. His thoughts are scattered, recalling the past and yearning for the immediate future, mourning what is and was and is certain to be.

And then unbidden he remembers his Burglar.

It is not the most welcome thought given the circumstances but the flash of awareness cuts through the haze of want long enough for him to realise that he has spent several hours longer than he can afford to in this room.

“My companions,” he says, somewhat foolishly.

And Thranduil slips a hand through the rough tangle of his hair to caress the curve of his skull. “They have been fed and given blankets. If you would admit to your folly and end your unreasonable quest, I could let them go.”

“No,” he says.

He’s referring to every part of his journey through Mirkwood, from hunger to losing his way to standing in the presence of the one being in all Arda save Azog and Smaug he has not the strength of belief to fight. He is moreover referring to his current position prone beneath Thranduil, and to the threatening heat he can begin to feel in the body moulding itself so easily to his.

What Thranduil chooses to believe he means is that he will not admit either folly or quest, and will remain stubborn to the end.

A flash of irritation colours the silver-blue eyes, alien and otherworldly as they always seem, and then Thranduil’s mouth thins.

“You will sacrifice their comfort for your needless greed.”

“I am not the one who holds us here in chains. You have no cause. We did you no harm.”

“You trespassed upon our festivities.”

“We were starving.”

“And I,” Thranduil returns, “Have fed you. But the forest has many dark things to hide, and there are spies and enemies abroad in these days.”

“I am no enemy,” Thorin says, and struggles again.

“Is it possible that I can be your enemy if you are not mine? If we are enemies, then I have cause. If we are not… there is a better way we could deal together.”

Pale blond hair falls like silk over Thranduil’s shoulders, and pools along the dark contours of Thorin’s tunic. He watches, fascinated, while the lamplight highlights threads of silver and skeins of gold, a whole mine of precious tints.

“Thorin,” Thranduil whispers, and leans forward, “You would have been wise not to return. Now that you are here, I will seize what I am owed.”

“Nothing is owed to you,” Thorin snaps, and shakes his head to clear the ringing in his ears, the pounding of his blood. The gibbering of panic in the back of his mind. “If you know anything of dwarves, you know we will not be slaves to anyone, including our own natures. We choose, and I never chose you.”

Thranduil’s eyes darken. “That,” he murmurs, “Is something I am bound to change.”

The kiss is hard and violent, a biting press of lips and teeth and an assault of tongue. Thorin returns depth for depth, his natural wilfulness asserting itself this much even in the face of his weakness.

It continues, on and on, but somewhere in the back of his mind is a quiet, clear space. The voice that plans and plots is meticulous and practical, and it sounds somewhat terrifyingly like Bilbo.

It notes that he cannot linger in this room, and that he cannot afford the distraction. It notes that he is required to end this now, and end it quickly, before the escape plans are in ruins and his company is left to rot in an elven dungeon. His nephews, his people – the only ones who answered when he called. He has a responsibility for their wellbeing over everything else.

And he cannot give up his quest, or call it folly.

“Wait,” he growls, and nips hard at the swelling fullness of Thranduil’s lip. He momentarily loses his train of thought and nips again, and again, and then soothes the hurt with his tongue.

Thranduil captures the muscle between his lips and sucks, an obscene gesture of bobbing head and hollowed cheeks that makes Thorin groan his despair.

“Wait,” he says again, “I have a challenge for you.”

Thranduil flicks his gaze from contemplation of Thorin’s mouth to Thorin’s eyes. His expression is uninterested but politely enquiring.

Thorin knows just enough of Thranduil’s nature to know he will not back down from a challenge.

“I will give you one night,” he says recklessly, “From now to dawn. Show me how you plan to make me choose differently.”

“I have no need to make these deals. I have you here with me, and I can keep you here with me. You cannot run and you will not resist for long.”

“It seems elves are happy to steal the treasures they desire, then. At least dwarves will earn their worth, if they cannot create it for themselves.”

It is too obvious a ploy, but Thorin believes that, in his own way, Thranduil is an honourable elf. His honour is twisted and whimsical, but the pride he feels in himself and his race is too strong to resist the pull of the insult, as feigned or exaggerated as it sounds.

This is one trait they do share in common, for all that Thranduil conceals his emotions behind a mask of mocking indifference.

“Do you consider yourself treasure?”

“You have stormed my cell, stolen me from my rest, and locked me in a room where you paw me and hoard me. It isn’t my word that calls me treasure but your actions.”

Thranduil bares his teeth. It may be in a smile, but Thorin suspects there is no nice motive behind such a gesture.

“Very well, then. One night.”

Without any other warning, Thranduil releases him and rises from the low divan.

Thorin, hit by the sudden chill of the air and relieved of the weight pressing him against the firm wooden slats beneath the padded silk, can only inhale and exhale deeply before he allows himself the chance to peer warily up.

“Come with me,” Thranduil says mildly.

Thorin contemplates making for the door instead.

“If you run, your freedom and the freedom of all your kin are forfeit,” Thranduil says carelessly over his shoulder.

Thorin presses his lips together and nods, turning his face resolutely from the exit.

Thranduil leads him to the door opposite the one through which he entered, and ushers him inside. There is a bed, a chest, and very little else.

Thorin doesn’t ask, and Thranduil doesn’t tell.

It has been years, but the old ways come back with tragic ease. He steels himself to the fevered pain of yearning he will feel on the morrow, the heated dreams and empty place in his heart. He focuses on Thranduil’s hands, and on the way the elf kneels beside the chest he has opened.

A very long time ago, an amused and challenging Thranduil had told him casually of these ways of joining, of the eroticism of submission and domination, and his imagination had been fired for no reason that he could see.

In the end, he had asked, and when Thranduil had woven his net like the giant spiders in his forests, he had pulled it tight and Thorin had been trapped, drugged on the explosion of his senses that came with every night spent in thrall at an elf lord’s feet.

He has a purpose to the way he holds himself still in Thranduil’s presence, silent and unquestioning. The sooner this is over, the sooner Thranduil gets what he wants, the sooner this will end and he will be returned to his cell.

He does not doubt he will be returned to his cell. Thranduil’s people have never appreciated the presence of dwarves, and while an Elvenking may take advantage of an insolent prisoner while his court turns their eyes away and pretends not to see, it will not do for this to end as a love story for the Third Age.

They are no love story.

Thranduil turns with a tray in his hands and Thorin feels his throat constrict.

The sleek satisfaction in Thranduil’s expression tells him this instrument of his torment has been especially selected.

He should have known it would be. His own work was commissioned to make a set of golden ornaments to certain specifications.

His fingers were more slender then, and lighter. The work is some of the best he has ever done; a fact which brings him no comfort as Thranduil sits upon the edge of the bed and gestures him close.

The gold shines as bright as it did on the day he gave it into Thranduil’s keeping.

He remembers how it had been firmly given back.

“Present it to me in a better way,” Thranduil had whispered, “With the pieces used on your flesh.”

He had known, even when making them, what he would be asked to do.

Now he looks at them and he undresses without comment. There is nothing to say in the face of this. A part of him still thrills in anticipation, and he knows with tired certainty that he will still respond. He will never be able to fail to respond as Thranduil wants.

The elf is lodged like a thorn in his flesh, trapped beneath his skin. The ache of it will never leave, and it will forever be bound in sweetness and pain.  

He stands between Thranduil’s legs, made small by his nakedness and his size in comparison. Made humble by his desire.

The first ornament to be placed on him is a simple ear cuff. The pattern is plain, but the surface is flawless. The silver is removed from him, along with his hair clasps, which are to be replaced with golden ones from the tray.

He touches these symbols of wealthier times, when he wandered only in his mind while his feet were planted firmly into the roots of his home. So much has changed since the time he last wore these.

Thranduil strokes his beard with careful, controlled fingers, and then winds the end of a lock of his hair around a fingertip as to test its flex and softness.

Before he is rebraided, his hands are pressed gently to his sides in silent order. He obeys, and he stiffens in horrified fascination as Thranduil sets the tray down.

The armband is the most mundane piece of jewellery to be placed on him. Shaped like the winding branch of a vine, it encircles his arm with a tighter grip than he remembers.

Thranduil laughs softly. “You have grown, little one,” he says, with soft fondness, and runs his thumb along the muscular lines outlined by the band.

The next to be placed are two simple seeming golden rings.

Thorin holds still as first one nipple, then the next, is ringed and the rings adjusted. His breath hitches as Thranduil turns the rings in the pierced flesh, the feeling magnified until his whole chest tightens in reflex.

He has barely recovered when a thin, golden rod is removed. His stomach twists and his fists clench but he holds still as Thranduil reaches between his legs.

He is hard, and has been in some state of arousal for much of this encounter. A touch of those long fingers brings yet more blood, more swelling, and just when he begins to feel light-headed with it, the blunt end of the thin golden rod is placed against the vulnerable slit at the tip of his cock and it is eased home.

When he was young, Thranduil did this to him with a liberal application of grease. He is unsure why that care has been abandoned for this night but the near-pain is good. The unyielding metal is cold and stiff and he closes his eyes as he feels it inch its way into him, sealing him and stretching him in ways that make him squirm.

For a few passing moments, all he knows is that thin rod probing down to his core.

When he lifts himself from the lethargy of his submission, he opens his eyes to see Thranduil remove a set of rings from the tray. Three are placed upon his erection, one pushed snugly down to glint at the base. He gasps and grasps Thranduil’s shoulder for support as his knees weaken.

He can feel the flex of hard muscle beneath soft skin against his palm, and he aches for his One to remove his robes so that he may see more, feel more.

This time there is a little pain. The combination of the rod stretching him taunt and the rings circling him tightly leaves him quaking where he stands, fighting his own body to prove that he will endure. He will always endure, though it is hard, especially when Thranduil toys with the rings in his nipples after each ring is placed upon his thick cock.

He is reduced to nothing but a living statue, a doll to be played with. Sometimes the play is cruel, sometimes it is sweet. Sometimes it is both.

He comes alive as Thranduil strokes him roughly in the aftermath, shifting rings and rod by judicious fondling. His vision begins to blur and his concentration cracks. Pleasure crackles up his spine and his skin is parched for more than just a hand, for more than just the weight of an ancient gaze fixed unwaveringly on his face as he fights his urges and lays his feelings bare.

He loses track of time and loses a small part of his grip on reality. It is the realisation of this fact that draws his consciousness back.

He finds himself bowed forward, curled slightly around the sweet torment of the hand on his trapped flesh, panting for it while his own fingers fist silken cloth over longed-for skin.

He knows this feeling, no matter the years that have separated their last encounter from this night.

He swallows as unobtrusively as he can manage before he opens his mouth to croak, “All those years of fantasy, and this is all that satisfies you?”

Thranduil’s eyes darken. “Little one, you cannot imagine the fantasies that filled my mind.”

A trap. So rare for a dwarf to bait a trap for an elf. Thorin cannot help the victorious curve of his lips, lifting his eyes through the falling curtain of his own hair so he can see the effect when he says, “Then you’ll have to show me.”

Push on and on, and until this is over, he must endure.

He is tied again, which he expects, but not with the coarse rope of before. This rope is clearly elven, almost silken; a thin, pale cord that winds in bizarre patterns across his body. His hands are once more restrained, his feet hobbled. He is more perturbed with the enforced spread of his thighs but he holds his tongue, too proud to show his discomfort.

He thinks bitterly that his discomfort is the point. For both of them.

Thranduil prefers him uncomfortable, and this was no rare experience in their past.

He breathes in deep and breathes out slow, and lets the secret, quaking corner of his heart soak in the feel of Thranduil’s touch. Of his care, and his attention, and the promise of what they will accomplish together before this night is done.

The ache of his calves pressed against his thighs is enough to hold his focus. The ache in his shoulders from his elbows near-touching at his back is enough to submerge him beneath sensation.

It’s a familiar trance, though it’s been so long, and yet he still isn’t prepared to be rolled from his front to back upon the bed. To have his own weight suddenly grinding pressure into his strained shoulders and back and hips and knees.

He lets out a sharp hiss, eyes slipping closed as his focus shifts down to every joint of his body.

He can hear the hum of satisfaction above him but it still takes effort to open his eyes to see it.

Thranduil’s eyes are bright in the dim light, a catlike smugness twisting the corners of his mouth to a lazy smile. Like a cat the elf lays beside him, long, sleek limbs at rest in careless grace.

Thranduil is still covered from neck to toes. Indeed, with the exception of his hands and face, there is little skin showing. Should anyone walk in, should an army of orcs suddenly invade this room, there will the elf be – dressed suitably for a public gaze.

Thorin imagines how he would appear, naked and trussed ignominiously. He imagines what his company would think of him, and for a moment the bizarre panic that the hobbit may find his way into this room in search of him grips his heart and squeezes tight. He twists a glance to the corners he can see but he sees nothing.

It doesn’t help his paranoia.

“What troubles you?”

He holds his tongue and returns a curious gaze with a hard stare.

Thranduil’s brow lifts. But his only response is to run his fingers down the straining, lifted line of Thorin’s left flank.

He is not to know that Thorin has lost muscle in the long days of starvation prior to this meeting. He is not know that these ribs are too prominent, the belly too lean.

Thorin is thicker than he was in his youth but the changes in his body are less obtrusive in the circumstances, and he idly wonders what Thranduil would think were they to see each other bare in other circumstances, when a dwarf of Thorin’s size is not weakened by hunger and thinned by deprivation.

He shuts his mind to the possibility of future encounters.

Should this quest succeed, and should he survive, he will be King Under The Mountain. It is not to be borne that a king will love another king. And Thranduil, as he knew on the day he watched the elves retreat, has no pull towards a One. The elves may love long and true with their hearts, but they act with their heads, and he cannot risk his people in such hands.

He cannot risk himself in such hands.

The bone-deep ache of pressure on his joints grows heavier with every breath. He is caught in the rhythm of his own breathing, fevered thoughts slipping free as discomfort mounts.  

And then lips brush lightly against his lips.

Once, again, and once more. Little teasing brushes of soft skin.

He lifts his face to the touch, and bides his time to force a deeper connection but Thranduil evades him neatly and brushes a kiss against his brow. One against the line of his nose. One against his cheek. A soft kiss to the curve of his ear. One to the hollow beside his eye.

The discomfort in Thorin’s joints starts to turn into pain.

His world narrows.

The kisses continue. Brushes so lightly against skin and hair he almost fails to notice some.

The pain begins to mount. Time begins to slip again.

Thranduil reaches down between his legs again and starts to stroke once more. It sends pain suddenly lancing through Thorin’s limbs as he tries to move.

He doesn’t cry out, but only because he suddenly has not the breath for it.

Eyes wide, he chokes and gasps for air, the pressure sitting like an unbearable weight on his chest.

Just when he starts to panic, Thranduil’s sure hands leave his flesh and roll him over. A hand in his hair yanks his head back and he gasps, struggling just a little as air flows easier into him.

It doesn’t last long.

Thranduil’s soft sound of cool interest is all the warning he gets before his head is forced further back. Fingers in his hair, and on his throat, and he starts to struggle again.

He will not concede his fear, he will not ask for mercy, but his lungs are burning and there are tears pricking the back of his eyes. His vision is beginning to fade.

And then Thranduil eases his head back to the soft pillow.

“You have still not learned,” the elf says.

He coughs and works his tongue in his mouth before answering – “And what lesson would you have me learn from you?”

“Trust,” the elf says.

He barks laughter before he thinks.

He is lightheaded, and there is groveling relief threading through his lax muscles. “I once trusted an ally. I found myself betrayed.”

He feels the sharp bite of fingers in his hair again. He stiffens, holds himself ready to have his air restricted again.

But his head is not forced back again. Instead, long, strong fingers fist hard enough to tug the roots and then let go.

It is a warning, he realizes, just as Thranduil says, “My betrayal saved my people and yours from needless death and greater failure. Your trust should have told you that I had good reason to hide an army from a dragon. He would have spared no one in the face of reinforcements.”

“Words,” Thorin says recklessly, and turns his face aside. His hands are numb from the restraints and the pain in his joints but his hips twitch. He is still held hard and stiff by the rod and the rings, and the awkward crouch he is forced to affect becomes a maddening friction for his heated flesh.

He finds himself yearning for the sting of Thranduil’s fingers in his hair again.

“Words,” he repeats, and grinds down against the sheets, “Hollow. Your true reason was different.”

“To save my kin.”

“To abandon mine.”

“I was an ally. I had no quarrel with your people.”

“Elves have never liked dwarves.”

“Dwarves have never favoured elves.”

The words slide free with practiced ease, a parry for each thrust. It is an old conversation, and it moves in a well-worn groove to where it always leads – nowhere.

And while it does so, Thranduil rises from the bed.

Thorin can feel the lifting of weight off the bed. He can hear the whisper of cloth, the near-inaudible shift of Elvish feet on the smooth, worn rock floor.

All around him is stone and rock, grey and thick and old enough to be ancient when the forest was young. He rests his head wearily against the pillow, every limb aching, every breath an effort.

Erebor is so close he can feel it call to him.

He can picture it now, and still see the horizon as it looked from the great battlements.

He closes his eyes to better pretend.

He is lost in the haze of his imagined homecoming when Thranduil returns.

He is roused by the swift removal of his restraints, long fingers briskly rubbing life back into his extremities.

“Age has marked you, Thorin,” Thranduil says quietly, “You shall rest before we go further.”

It is an unexpected gentleness.

“I’m not yet too old to endure anything you can try me with,” he snaps, and brings the weight of his iron will to bear on raising himself up to a sitting position.

Thranduil is undressed.

The warmth grips him like a strong tide in a river. It tumbles his senses, and disorients him as his body yearns forward and his self-denial holds him back. His hands begin to shake and he cannot look away.

Thranduil reaches out to touch him and once again he knocks his hand aside.

“Has it been so long you feel fear?” Thranduil asks quizzically.

But there is a smug knowing in his eyes that makes Thorin tense. He cannot help his love, much though he deplores it, and Thranduil will not fail to exploit it for his own amusement because that is what draws them to each other – a desire to provoke. To test boundaries.

In spirit of which Thranduil’s eyes begin to roam his body, from the brace around his arm to the rings adorning his flesh.

“I don’t fear you,” he replies.

“Because you know I will not harm you,” Thranduil agrees placidly. He lifts his eyes. “A matter of trust, I believe.”

Thorin stills.

Thranduil’s brows lift. “Or,” he asks gently, “Is it that you desire me more than you hate me?”

Thorin stays silent.

He considers tiredly that he knows this game too. Eventually he will fall, because he always will, and Thranduil’s contentment lies in having his will without the use of brute strength. But it will take time and effort and he cannot spare much of either.

He makes his decision and reaches out.

Thranduil’s thigh is cool and smooth beneath his rough palm, and with hopelessness he feels the small empty space beneath his ribs overflow with the need he has denied himself for so long.

“You are losing your night,” he says, with all the strength he can muster, “Take your chance now. For you will not have it again.”

Thranduil studies him, as though he were an object, a curiosity. Distant and only mildly interested.

“You truly believe you will have the strength to leave,” Thranduil says slowly.

“I will choose,” Thorin rasps, and he has already allowed himself to move closer.

He has shuffled forward on his knees, and continued until he is close enough to trace the contours of the shape he has dreamed of through the long years. Bittersweet dreams of longing and fantasy.

“And I? Do you think I will let you go?”

Thorin looks up to an odd expression in his elf’s eyes. “No,” he says, and he does not recognize the tremor in his own voice, “No, you will pin me until I tear myself in two to get away. But when I have done that, you will not follow me.”

The odd expression vanishes, to be replaced with a blank enigma.

“An interesting view,” Thranduil says, and his voice is cool and dark, “Let us see if that is how it will play out.”

His braid is seized, wrapped twice in the elf’s fist and pulled until he is pressed forward, teeth bared in a pained snarl as Thranduil delicately kisses his brow again.

“I will not be merciful tonight,” Thranduil whispers.

And Thorin feels his blood surge.

He is blindfolded, gagged, and laid to rest upon his back, knees bent and his hands tied to his ankles. It has been some years since he had the flexibility for this position and he has already been tied once tonight. The pain is enough to make his breathing hasten again.

Thranduil only parts his legs and slips oiled fingers down to idly stroke where he may enter.

Thorin endures the initial discomfort. It has been so long, and he is unbearably tight. Thranduil’s fingers are slender but they are also long. The intrusion feels endless before it is fully seated. And then it is withdrawn until only the tip remains before the intrusion begins again.

He huffs behind his gag and tries to will his stubborn body open. Tries to ignore the discomfort, and the stretch as one finger is changed to two. The burn of it threads across sensitive flesh.

And then he opens his eyes to the imperfect darkness of his blindfold and growls in realization.

Thranduil merely laughs, soft and low, and withdraws his fingers completely only to re-insert them coated in more oil.

His hips buck, which is the genius of the position he is in. He can move but not far, and not in any way that allows him to protect himself from the work his One has begun on him.

The burn intensifies as the oil spreads slick over sensitive flesh.

His harsh breaths become gasps become moans. His body is overheating, his core on fire, and he can only buck and writhe on Thranduil’s tortuous fingers. His moans become a whimper when the oil is liberally applied to his straining cock.

“Perhaps I should coat this as well,” Thranduil murmurs, and taps the rod still pushed into him.

He strangles a gargled yell of rapidly overloading sensation and then bites hard on his tongue to silence himself.

The rod is played with for a time as he twitches and writhes, the burn throbbing against his skin but no fingers to fill him. He is empty and aching and yet filled all at once and he twists, trying to get some purchase on the sheets in order to slip his bonds.

There is some give in them, and his frustration mounts the longer he takes to break them.

He almost has them when Thranduil deftly intercepts his actions.

He expects to have the bonds tightened but they are removed instead. And then his hands are free and he reaches unerringly for the blindfold and the gag.

“What did you use?” he demands, and does not dare to touch himself even though it costs him almost everything not to grind against the sheets. “Tell me!”

“It will not harm you, if that is your concern.”

“It burns,” he snarls, his face flushed.

Thranduil’s mouth curves up at the ends again. “Yes,” he says, “I imagine it does.”

Thorin groans and clenches his fists in the sheets, almost driven out of his mind with frustration. What he wants he will not get. It will not be offered, and a part of him knows he will not know what to do with it if it were.

This is all he knows – forces beyond his control, and the strength required to endure them.

“Ease it,” he demands.

And Thranduil’s smile widens as though he has won victory.

He is put on hands and knees, and he clenches his teeth against what is to come.

“This will hurt,” Thranduil warns, and eases his way in.

Thorin grunts and drops from hands to elbows, hands digging into his own hair to distract himself from the spike in discomfort. The golden beads remind him that he is still ringed and plugged, incapable of achieving relief without either release or yet more pain.

He wonders how long it will be to dawn, and then he wonders if he will be cheated of his time, since he cannot tell day from night without daylight to advise him. He does not know this Keep, and cannot tell its changes.

But he believes Thranduil to be honorable, in his own way, and there seems little point in fear and worry when pleasure begins to spark in his veins.

He is drugged on sensation, and the pain retreats to where it is only fuel to the fire in his blood. And unbidden, he begins to push back to meet each thrust, to feel wild exultation build in his heart.

Because this is his One.

And perhaps he is old enough now, and wise enough, to see a better way. Perhaps there is a chance. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Thranduil twists the ring in his left nipple and he throws his head back with a groan, spine arching as the spike of need flashes through him like lightening.

Pain and pleasure flex like snakes beneath his skin and he feels the heat of flesh at his back and inside him so he reaches back, blindly, searching for an anchor in the storm.

His arm is seized, long fingers as hard and biting as the armband he still wears, and he is nearing his completion when he remembers the rod still inside him.

He moves to take it out but his actions are restrained.

Eyes snapping opening, he turns his head but Thranduil’s face is tense with his own impending relief and again, that odd look in his eyes. A sort of anger, or disbelief.

“Not yet,” the elf tells him.

And he curses in Westron before he pulls his arms away and tries to do as he wants.

He finds both arms seized, and he is suddenly dragged up, struggling and unbalanced, and pulled astride Thranduil’s thighs. Thranduil’s smooth chest to his back. His wrists held fast and neither of them controlling the pace; only grinding against each other like youths too far gone for finesse.

This is not what he remembers of Thranduil.

But his surprise seems unimportant, and he finds the position seated on Thranduil’s lap humiliating.

In his attempts to free himself, he clenches and shifts, until suddenly he is wrapped like a child in Thranduil’s long arms as the Elvenking lifts up.

Thranduil rises almost on his knees and Thorin is pushed forward and filled deep, and he sinks his nails into Thranduil’s forearms as he clenches down for the last time without thought. A soft cry is the answer he gets, warm breath against his ruffled braids, and he stills, allows it to run its course even as his body begs for its own release.

When it is over, he is laid down to the sheets again.

“Finish me,” he asks, and his voice is ragged. Cracked.

Thranduil kisses him tenderly, as if they are lovers, and while he is so distracted his legs are pressed apart once more.

Thorin blinks at the ceiling.

Fingers are pushed into him again and he bites his tongue on an honest groan.

He cannot take much more of this. The pleasure is beginning to cede pain again.

Thranduil bends over him and lies beside his, and with his fingers pressing into him, he is surrounded by the feel of his heart’s desire at his fingertips.

He takes his chance, and it shocks him to think that he has not touched often in the time they have spent in this bed.

The two fingers inside him stretch him carefully.

He bites back another groan.

“What else will you do to me now?” he asks tiredly.

“We spoke of another act, many years ago,” Thranduil murmurs, dusting kisses against his beard.

 “What act?”

Two fingers become three. The act is unhurried, but there is something in the calm of the beautifully moulded features that prickles the hairs on the back of Thorin’s neck.

“What act is this?” he asks, and struggles to sit up.

The fingers attack the pleasure center inside him and he is bowled over, breathless and ragged, eyes wide and distant as his body succumbs immediately. Quick taps, slow dragging circles – grinding and massaging and toying with him until he is sobbing with every exhale, his hand on Thranduil’s wrist, trying to push him away.

But the wrist is as steel and he has been trained to need this, to enjoy it, even as he is shamed by it and fights its effects on his senses.

Three fingers become four and when the touch lets up in favour of stretching, he can only whine and twist and dig his fingers into the bruises he has already left on Thranduil’s shoulder. If the elf feels the hurt of his grip, he does not show it.

And then Thranduil begins to pull his fingers away, only to return them with a fuller feeling.

Thorin realizes what will happen to him when he feels the curl of a thumb tucked up close to the palm. Five fingers press in and twist slightly and then pull back, only to repeat the cycle.

He opens his mouth for an immediate denial, but the words lose themselves.

They have spoken about it, and he was younger then, and more wanton, and he had asked for this with the knowledge that it would be his beloved, his One. Secrets and half-truths and a desire to feel more, to take more and have more – in this, at least, if nowhere else.

The same want fills him now. To carry the ache of it will be something. Might be enough on the long road to the end.

He might die, and he has cheated death too often to cheat it eternally. If he is to die, in success or failure, he will have this.

He clenches his teeth and closes his eyes but he lifts his hips and he knows the picture he makes. The shame he feels is agony but he sweeps it aside in his need.

Thranduil’s hand is long and slender. It is also big. Thorin is a tall dwarf, but he is a dwarf. He has been stretched but the tight grip of his flesh makes him shudder and lick his lips. He does not know how it will fit.

It does fit.

He cannot stop his wail as he is breached wider than he has imagined. He fears he is injured, at first, so intense is the protest of his body, but then he feels the stretch narrow until it is bearable at Thranduil’s wrist.

“Good,” Thranduil croons, “Good,” and he realizes he has tightened his hand on a lock of Thranduil’s golden hair only when the elf nuzzles his locked fingers in what feels like comfort.

He rocks helplessly against the weight and size and Thranduil’s hand shifts inside him.

Thorin yelps and rocks harder.

His own hands rise immediately for the accursed rod blocking him but his grasping fingers are slapped away. He snarls in his desperation only to have Thranduil place his mouth on the tip and begin to suck.

The world falls away.

He is sobbing and gasping once again, tearing at the sheets as his body rebels once again, pulled in too many directions to stay quite sane. In his mind he promises everything he is and has for relief. For mercy. For an end to the constant agony of want.

Thranduil’s cheeks hollow, his hand fists and Thorin yells as it feels as though it grows bigger inside him.

He can feel the impending flood approaching, and he trembles to think it must drown him or turn back. He is not sure which would be worse, to endure the pain or to have release denied. To have it denied is to suffer it again, and again, and as long as Thranduil wishes it.

But again, he thinks, and damns the morning to hell as he gives himself to what was always simple in a bedroom – need.

His need approaches, and he embraces it, winds his fingers in Thranduil’s silken hair and forces a rhythm upon the elf that suits his temperament. The green eyes are no longer cold, no longer distant. They are dark and dangerous and he feels his soul rise up to meet the challenge in them.

The hand inside him does its best to drive him crazy.

And then Thranduil’s mouth pulls away and his free hand deftly removes the rod while Thorin reaches instantly for the rings. Together they free him and together they return to work him to the edge of the precipice, and then Thranduil reaches up and crooks a finger gently into the golden ring in Thorin’s left nipple.

He pulls.

Thorin lets out a howl and bucks his hips, shifting sensations slamming him from one peak of pleasure to the next until he finds himself fading into near blackness.

It takes a thousand years and a moment before he is finally calm enough to feel only the tremors and aftershocks ripple beneath his skin.

Thranduil is patient in the circumstances, and does not withdraw his hand until Thorin is ready.

Thorin is almost too exhausted to move. But with the end comes cold rationality.

There are plans made, and he is expected to be in his cell when it is time. Thranduil, beautiful and needed and unwanted as he is, is not a part of those plans.

Thorin lifts himself on his elbows as he watches the long, bare lines of the elf’s body as he washes his hands.

“Well?” Thranduil asks, without turning around.

Thorin imagines staggering across the room, imagines pressing himself into that skin, luxuriating in its warmth and closeness. He pretends such a thing could be wanted.

“Is there more to be said?” he asks.

He feels empty, and older than he ever has. Older than the day he blessed his sister’s union, than the day he taught his nephews how to hold a sword, how to care for a pony. Older than the day he looked around a hobbit’s table and saw the only people to answer his call were children and old childhood friends.

“You said you would make your choice,” Thranduil returns.

He has nothing to say to that.

The elf turns, with no shame or false modesty, and even bare he looks as a king must look – complete assurance and iron control.

He gazes back in much the same manner. Mere moments ago he was writhing as though he would never be sated, as though it would kill him to finally end his anticipation. Mere moments ago, he was sunk in a desire to never leave the bed unless he was dragged from it.

It should be harder than it could be to bow his head and ask to stay until such time as he is no longer wanted.

Instead he reaches up to slowly gather the ornaments that have been used to adorn him. Gifts, made by his own hand and presented on his own flesh. He lays them aside carefully, and the Lonely Mountain calls to him.

He winces when he rises to his feet, but though he glares warily at Thranduil, the elf shows no sign of offering him assistance.

Every step is an ache. Every heartbeat is bleak.

The bond stretches as he dresses himself. If his hands shake, neither of them notice. The bond pulls taunt as he goes to the door. It snaps when he steps through and closes it behind him.

Thranduil follows him a short time later, and once more they are king and prisoner, quester and obstacle. Neither allies nor enemies but inconveniences in each other’s worlds.

Thranduil does not address him again, though he calls in the guards to have Thorin removed.

Long-legged elven strides are uncomfortable in his condition but he swallows the shame and the heat and pain to where it turns into illicit pleasure, somewhere beneath his ribs, just warm enough to fill the empty space.

The guards are barely gone when Bilbo appears from nowhere.

“Where did they take you?” he asks.

Thorin feels much kinship with the little Burglar since his life was saved by a glowing blue letter opener and a heart as big as a kingdom.

But he looks away and asks, “When will we leave?”

The plans are made, after all, and Thranduil is only a distraction.