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Every last guard in the line pulls taut as Thranduil steps down into the chamber, their collective breathes held in abeyance. He strolls before them like a benevolent Vala that could end them at any moment, and in truth, he could, though he’s never yet killed any of his own people. His visage is still stern, his head high as he eyes his polished soldiers. They’ve just come from the hunt, and none look any worse the wear for it—nor should they. These are his elite. Tauriel stands at their head, and Thranduil passes her without a second glance.

He makes his way towards the end, and two elves away from it, he pauses, turning to observe his latest recruit. New to both his woods and his service, Cloud stands a little shorter than the rest, but he holds himself as tall as he can. His eyes are downcast, lost far away, but his chin is high enough to be acceptable. Thranduil darts a hand out to catch it, and Cloud’s breath hitches as he’s forced to look up towards his king.

His blue eyes burn. They aren’t so very different than Thranduil’s, than Legolas’—clear and intense, though there’s an almost childish darkness in them that Thranduil’s long since left behind. He knows Cloud is well past his majority—he wouldn’t be allowed in the guard if he were not—but clearly, he hasn’t fully finished maturing. He almost glares, as though he has something to prove, and that can get one killed in the chaos that’s become of Thranduil’s realm.

Thranduil purrs in silken amusement, “Clearly, you are not yet having enough fun in your new home.”

Cloud blinks up for one startled moment, then swiftly covers it and darts his eyes away. He mutters, “I apologize.” Just that: no more. He’s a quiet one, it seems. A quiet, brooding soldier that’s beginning to stand out almost jarringly from the others.

He’ll need to be stripped away of such deplorable attitudes if he means to make a life here, and he’s just beautiful enough to garner Thranduil’s interest in it. Thranduil’s been known to make his new citizens feel most welcome. To this handsome specimen, he teases, “I hear you prefer a sword to a bow. ...I would not mind seeing how good you are at handling... my sword.”

Cloud’s brow furrows for an adorable heartbeat, and then he seems to understand, and his fair cheeks colour pink. Thranduil leans closer, ducking over his shoulder to hiss into his ear, “Perhaps I can cheer you up with private lessons.”

As Thranduil leans back, Cloud looks flabbergasted, and his mouth works a few times before he manages any words. His gaze seems lost again, now within himself, clearly torn. He eventually answers, “No.”

“No?” Thranduil idly repeats, cocking a brow. His people are, of course, always entitled to refuse his advances, but they’ve never yet done so. And he can tell from the blush that lingers on Cloud’s cheeks and the interest that fight in his eyes that ‘no’ was hardly his first choice. Thranduil studies him for a moment, trying to derive what sort of internal battle’s gone on. It doesn’t take long for Thranduil to deduce: “Ah. You do not think yourself worthy of pleasure.” Cloud’s eyes widen—another so easily guessed. Few withstand Thranduil’s centuries of wisdom. “You came only to exhaust yourself in the horrors of my woods. Such a pity. I far prefer my guards to fight for the good, rather than for wont of anything else to do with their energies. I am afraid I do not tolerate such lack of direction in my guard—you will have to tell me what you will fight for, or you will be suspended.”

Suddenly aghast, then angered a second later, Cloud all but snarls, “I fight to kill spiders. And wargs. And anything else that crosses me.” Crosses him. His youthful will is almost comical.

But Thranduil can see he’ll still need some time to work out all that difficult energy, so Thranduil merely snorts, “How disturbing,” and flippantly announces, “very well—stay, if you like, and have no more use than one of the pitiful creatures you slay.” Done with the topic, at least for now, Thranduil turns to continue his survey down the line.

He makes it only one elf over before Cloud thickly grunts, “Wait.” When Thranduil looks back, Cloud’s looking stubbornly away. He mutters quietly, “I... might be interested in your... ah, offer...” Then, as if just to be difficult, he adds, “though I’m only interested in broad and long swords.” He has the nerve to cast Thranduil a challengingly look, though Thranduil can see the slight waver behind the heat.

Grinning widely, Thranduil muses, “Mine fulfills both, though you will have to report to your king’s chambers tonight to find how it truly handles.”

Blushing dark crimson, Cloud nods. His plush lips abruptly take on a pinched look, as though being bitten from the inside—perhaps he’s trying not to smile.

He’ll be smiling plenty enough by tomorrow. Few in the Woodland Realm go long without any reason to grin. The king sees to that. Thranduil continues his walk, then dismisses his guard, and he watches Cloud’s toned body as it leaves, nearly trembling with barely-bottled anticipation.