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Mirkwood Suites

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Sauron stuffed his T-shirts into a bag, annoyed, upset, and somewhat surprised. He expected it to happen one day, but not like this. After all the pranks he played on his roommate, no wonder the guy finally reported him, and he got evicted, even though this time it was honestly not a prank. Sauron continued packing and cherished all the good memories about the shit he did to Thranduil since his day first in this dorm room. Thranduil had been living here alone for a while, and, apparently, he had expected this to be the case until he graduated. When Sauron moved in, Thranduil did not try to hide his annoyance and irritation - and paid his price for it.

Sauron lost count of Thranduil’s things he ruined. Among them, there was that very expensive purple shampoo that was supposed to keep Thranduil’s hair snowy white and not yellowish. Sauron decided to relieve his roommate of this bother of a hair altogether by squeezing some hair removal cream into that shampoo. That night, he went to bed with a sense of satisfaction, imagining the sight we would wake up to. He woke up with that stuff on his face, his handsome beard gone, and the medicine cabinet in the bathroom now had a lock on it. Thranduil’s hair was still long and pristinely white.

Sauron giggled at the memories and tried to pack his model of the Black Tower securely into brown paper. That prank was not the end of hair jokes, he recalled. Next time, he actually managed to dye Thranduil’s hair pink while the latter was getting some beauty sleep. This was even more of a failure, as it turned out to be the only time Thranduil actually wept in the common room. Everybody felt sorry for him and told him he looked lovely, and Galadriel got him some products that managed to get him rid of the color in mere two days. Sauron was unanimously named the monster of the building, and no one talked to him but Saruman and Angmar. This felt bad.

Then, there were little things, Sauron recalled as he packed his mugs. Like that time when he put a glittery “Bitch” sticker on Thranduil’s car. Thranduil kept it. He even got a pair of shades with a matching frame. What a bitch, really.

But last night was just the worst. In the evening, while Thranduil was sitting on his bed with that weird sheet mask on his face (Sauron had long since been done joking about it), he went to visit Radagast and smoke some weed. Radagast’s annoying roommate Gandalf was off at a party in the Hobbiton building and was not going to return until morning, so they could smoke all they wanted, even though it was against the rules.

“Gandalf will not report me, especially if we air the room,” Radagast said, and Sauron was not the one to argue since it was Radagast who paid for the weed.

At two a.m., Radagast suddenly realized he had promised his parents to show up for this weekend. His family lived in another state. His things weren’t packed. And he had a bunch of pet spiders that Gandalf didn’t know about.

Before Sauron realized what was going on, he was already carrying the tank with Radagast’s spiders into his room. He knew Thranduil was already asleep: his roommate was strict about his sleeping schedule. Radagast forgot to mention the tank had to have a cover; Sauron had no idea. All he wanted was to fall into his bed and sleep till, like, 4 p.m. or something.

He didn’t get to sleep till 4 p.m. because Thranduil’s SCREECH could be heard on the other side of the campus. Why, just why did the fucking spiders have to get into his bed?!

Things went fast: there were plenty of witnesses of his previous pranks on Thranduil, the dorm manager was Galadriel and not Saruman like last year, Radagast didn’t even remember meeting him yesterday in the first place, and so Sauron received his eviction notice pretty soon. No one believed it was an accident. Now he had to find himself a room in some house or apartment. Saruman said some friend of his had a room, but if that doesn’t work out, he’d have to stay with Angmar’s parents. Also Glorfindel promised to kick his ass. This was the worst.

He would miss Thranduil, Sauron realized all of a sudden. What if his new roommate would be some prude or nerd and not the fun, aggressive bitch like Thranduil? That would be no good. No good at all.

“Hey Sauron,” he heard behind his back.

Sauron sighed. Now Thranduil could laugh at him all he wanted: Sauron was the loser here.

“Just so you know, I didn’t file any complaint.” Thranduil continued. “It was Galadriel. I didn’t stop her though, because you suck, but I’ll still miss you.”

Sauron turned around.

“I hope your new roommate will be a hoe like you.”

“Thank you,” Thranduil smiled, smoothing his precious hair. “Oh, and by the way, get Saruman and Angmar when you are going to exit the building. Glorfindel is smoking on the stairs, waiting for you. He has a full pack of cigarettes and ready to wait long. I won’t stop him either.”

“Thanks bitch,” Sauron nodded and made a mental note to text Saruman. Angmar wouldn’t even breathe anywhere near Glorfindel.

Thranduil left quietly.

***

Luckily, he did not have to stay with Angmar’s parents. Saruman drove him straight to his friend’s apartment, which happened to be not that far from the campus.

“Sauron, you are very lucky you got evicted, because I was totally planning to take that room next year,” Saruman growled. “I am indescribably sick of living with Theoden.”

Saruman even had a key. “Look, man, Denethor is sleeping after his night shift, but the incredibly nice person he is, he allowed you to move in now, so please be quiet and postpone the unpacking.”

“Understood,” Sauron nodded, and they carried his modest possessions into the living room as quietly as they could. Saruman silently showed him around, scribbled a couple of notes, handed him some list of rules (typical Saruman), and waved him goodbye.

Having locked the door after his friend, Sauron sat on the bed in his new room and sighed. What now? It was all weird, to sit here like this, surrounded by bags.

His phone chimed; cursing under his breath, Sauron turned the sound off. It was an unexpected text from Thranduil.

“Hey bitch,” it read, “you forgot your toothbrush.” Next was a close-up picture of Thranduil’s mouth, his tongue looking ready to lick that toothbrush.

“Ewwwwww,” Sauron immediately replied, “you can fuck yourself with it but don’t send me pics!!!”

There was a small noise from Denethor’s room. Sauron didn’t want to continue the conversation, so he tiptoed into the hallway with the phone in his hand to take a look at his new roommate. Denethor’s door was slightly open, and Sauron peeked inside. He quickly scanned an open, messy closet, some kind of sports bag on the floor, models of castles, and a white bonsai tree on the windowsill, before he looked at the bed. His new roommate was gorgeous.

Sauron eyed the dark curls, handsome face, and broad chest. So that’s Denethor. Did he even bother to put on his underwear on or is he completely naked under that patch of blanket covering his hips? Did he know he’d have a stranger in his house and still leave the door open? No fucks given. Sauron liked that. That reminded him of Thranduil.

Thoughts going back to Thranduil, Sauron unlocked his phone to see what his ex-roommate was texting.

“Bitch you’re not homeless now are you?” Thranduil was suddenly worried about him.

“I’m fine,” Sauron replied coldly and then added, “In fact, my new roommate is much hotter than you.”

“Lie!” Thranduil replied. Sauron could tell how irritated he is. “You are probably staying with some ugly freshman who has pimples all over his face.”

Now that was blunt. Sauron had to do something. With a deep breath, he opened the door wider and pointed his camera at his sleeping roommate.

“Meet Denethor,” Sauron texted triumphantly and attached the picture.

“Oh, fuck,” Thranduil answered immediately, “is that how he always sleeps?”

Sauron was about to reply that he had no idea when a deep, lazy voice interrupted his activity.

“May I have an explanation of this behavior?”

***

Thranduil got so annoyed at the fact that Sauron got that gorgeous new roommate. That spider man had to be miserable, not happy! Thranduil sighed and proceeded to cleaning Sauron’s side of the room. It wasn’t particularly messy, but he was determined to have a nice relationship with his new roommate, who, according to Galadriel, had to arrive soon. One of the dorm buildings had a fire; that would take months to repair, so everyone from the affected rooms had to move out urgently. He wanted to show his new roommate that he cared.

It wasn’t going to be Sauron again. He wanted to live peacefully, sleep calmly, and focus on his studies, not on checking everything around him for hidden traps. He was so tired of it. It made him sick and shaky, and he saw nightmares about his hair being gone, but he would never tell that to Sauron. He prayed to the Valar that they send him someone cute and nice. At least nice.

Just when he was halfway through wiping the window, there was a slight knock on the door. Thranduil rushed to open, and oh yes, the Valar heard his prayers.

Behind the door, there stood a boy just slightly shorter than himself, with wavy dark hair and deep, piercing eyes. His body was carved from Thranduil’s dreams. Thranduil sighed and tried to distance himself from the warm feeling in his lower stomach.

The boy shifted in place nervously and gripped the little box he was holding more comfortably.

“Hi. I’m Bard. Is this 101A? There is no number on the door. Galadriel said it was here.”

Of course there is no number on the door; Sauron moved it to Glorfindel’s door a month ago so that Thranduil gets lost and goes to the wrong room after his night class. This joke was not too upsetting: Glorfindel was alone, slightly drunk, and very happy to see Thranduil. And they became friends afterwards. Glorfindel even tried to put the number back where it belonged, but he broke it with his strong, sexy hands, and the building office wasn’t too quick to replace it.

“Hi Bard, I’m Thranduil, and yes, this is 101A.” He tried to be as friendly as he possibly could. His father would laugh. Sauron would laugh. Even Galadriel would laugh. He desperately wanted this boy to like him. “I’m sorry it’s such a mess here. My roommate moved out without cleaning up. And there might be a spider or two around since he unleashed them on me.” Thranduil cringed. He hated spiders.

Bard looked into his eyes sincerely.

“I’m sorry about the spider story. You don’t have to clean up. Here, I made you a strawberry cake. Galadriel said you weren’t allergic to strawberries.” He handed over the box shyly.

For a few seconds, Thranduil contemplated dropping to his knees right here, with the door still open, and giving Bard a blowjob. He would probably get all shy and fill the hallway with moans... But no, that can wait. Cake first.

He opened the box cautiously, still nervous after his experience with Sauron, but it was really a strawberry cake, and no, it didn’t explode into his face. Thranduil sighed with relief.

A few moments later, he was tasting Bard’s amazing cake, while his new knight in shining armor was chasing a spider in the bathroom. This was better than sex. He decided to post a picture of the cake to his instagram, unlocked his phone, and saw a recent text from Galadriel.

“YOU OWE ME A LATTE THRANDY,” it read.

Seconds later, Galadriel added:

“Actually, two lattes. It could have been Thorin Oakenshield.”

Ah, so it was Galadriel. Of course: she was the dorm manager.

“Thanks, love,” he typed quickly. “Meet you Monday for latte.”

Then he texted Sauron.

***

Sauron was sipping the calming herbal tea that Denethor brewed for him. He’d prefer something stronger, but one of the rules typed by Saruman said “no alcohol in the apartment.” Denethor quit drinking a few months ago.

“I am warning you,” Denethor started, sitting down after he was done slicing the fruit, “I have heard from Saruman of your behavior, and that won’t do here. I will know you did shit before you even do it.”

“Oh yeah?” Sauron smiled, eyeing his chest. Denethor preferred to wear shorts and nothing else.

“Oh yeah,” Denethor mocked his voice and exchanged their teacups. “Hope you enjoy that salt you put into my tea. And if you do anything at all to my car, I’ll stretch you across the hood and spank you, mind my words.”

Sauron gulped. Something told him Denethor wasn’t joking.

His phone chimed, saving him from the necessity to reply. It was Thranduil.

“Hey asshole,” it read, “I got myself a hot roommate too.” Attached was a picture of a dark-haired boy smiling and waving to him.

Sauron knew the face.

“That’s Bard Bowman,” he typed, annoyed. “If he fits your definition of hot, you need to work on your standards.”

“No need to be jealous, Sauron,” came a quick reply. “Say hi to Denethor.”

Another message.

“Oh, and by the way, Aragorn is back.”

Sauron growled. He hated Aragorn Elessar. When Aragorn left for an exchange program, Sauron hoped he would get lost or, hopefully, die. No such luck.

“Fuck your Aragorn,” he replied.

In response, he received a picture of Thranduil making out with Aragorn, next to Elrond who was making a prudish face, and a giggling Galadriel.

“What about Bard Bowman?” Sauron asked.

“Bard took the picture ;) We are celebrating getting rid of you!”

Sauron didn’t reply. Somehow it was too upsetting. Maybe he was jealous after all.

He brushed the thought aside and looked at Denethor.

Chapter Text

Sauron sighed and, once more, concentrated on scrubbing the dishes clean. It’s been a while since he’s last done it: he’s always had Thranduil for such things. It was not like Thranduil had to do the dishes, but out of the two of them, he was more easily disgusted by the growing towers of plates with utensils sticking out of them. Thranduil wore his funny pink gloves to do the dishes. Sauron shredded them once, just for fun, only to see Thranduil wincing and applying some hardcore hand cream to his red and cracked skin afterwards. It was that bad. After new gloves were bought, Sauron decided to leave them the hell alone.

It was not easy to admit that he missed Thranduil. Not just because of the dishes. Though when Denethor raised his eyebrow this morning and threatened to put that dirty pot on his head (and he was serious), Sauron missed his former roommate more acutely. Thranduil has not texted him for two days now. It’s not like they texted a lot before he moved out, but they saw each other every day. It feels weird to text Thran first. Maybe he was happy to get rid of Sauron, to finally get some sense of security about his things and his hair. And Bard Bowman was cute. Sauron sighed.

Not surprisingly, he wondered what those two were doing in his former room. Have they kissed already? Knowing Thranduil, they probably did. Thranduil liked to kiss everyone. He kissed even Elrond (who was kind of old for him). He kissed Aragorn (who has straight). Goddamnit, he even kissed Sauron. Once, just once, he probably doesn’t even remember: he was dead drunk that night, returning from some party at Galadriel’s. Sauron never got invited to those parties, but Thranduil obviously intended to continue the party in their room, with him . It was not easy to resist the temptation: Thranduil was attractive and willing, and it was funny to think of the humiliation on his pretty face after he would wake up and realize what happened last night. That humiliation would last for months . No prank could surpass that. But this was way, way too low even for Sauron. He may break traffic regulations, shoplift, and sleep with married men, but bedding a drunk person is a whole other level of bad. He was not going to go there. Which did not mean he didn’t occasionally regret his decision.

The dishes were almost done; it was less painstaking than he initially thought. Maybe it’s finally time to start doing some housework.

“Hey,” Denethor approached swiftly, “that’s enough, let me wipe those. I know, it’s hard for you, being a decent roommate and stuff.”

Sauron chuckled and was surprised to hear Denethor do the same. Denethor was beautiful even with his grumpy face, sad grey eyes, and depressive dark curls, yet smiling elevated him to perfection. He stopped beside Sauron, too close for the latter to stay calm, and started drying the dishes with a towel.

“I met your former roommate today, at the grocery store,” Denethor said casually, and Sauron’s heart skipped a bit.

“Uh-huh,” he reacted, trying to hide his curiosity.

“He was with the shooter guy… whatshisname…”

“Bard Bowman,” Sauron guessed, already annoyed.

“Yeah, the rifle champion guy. I watched him on TV last month. Didn’t know he was in our school. He’s real nice, by the way. Are they dating or what?”

Sauron couldn’t help himself.

“What made you think they were dating?”

Denethor wiped the last dish and started stacking them.

“Well, I don’t know. They were all happy and looking each other in the eye, and they agreed on every purchase without arguing. I always thought this was what relationships looked like.”

For a moment, Sauron was distracted from his illogical jealousy. Did Denethor just admit he only had a hypothetical understanding of a relationship? No, that can’t be. He’s hot and can probably get anyone he wants. Maybe he just prefers one-night stands? That would be very awkward for Sauron, if Denethor decides to bring them home. Thranduil never brought his boys to their room; he just disappeared for the night and then returned with his hair disheveled or a red marks on his neck or a bracelet missing. He would never ask Sauron to free the room for the night. Sauron could only wonder where he went and what his partners’ roommates thought.

“Sauron, you okay? Are you jealous or what?”

Sauron shook his head, getting out of the memory flood, and proceeded to defending himself.

“Over Thranduil? Seriously, have you seen him? That… that twink!”

Denethor laughed, and Sauron wasn’t even mad. Denethor laughing was too good of a sight: his dark curls shook, his soft, sensual lips parted, and his eyes narrowed with joy.

“You’re funny, Sauron.” Denethor sighed, as if exhausted from doing something as unlikely for him as laughing. “You kept talking about him last night.”

“No I didn’t!” Sauron resisted.

Denethor sat back, got comfortable, and grabbed a breadstick, amused.

“He uses purple shampoo. His favorite colors are silver and green. He gets up at 6 a.m. He eats a lot of lettuce. He uses a vanilla spice perfume. Why do I know all this if I only met him once?”

Sauron covered his face with his palms. Fuck .

“You like Thranduil,” Denethor giggled.

Sauron’s face turned crimson. Outrageous! He never thought of this, and he didn’t want to think of this now, especially in front of Denethor. He was so mad he decided to fight dirty and pick on some hint from Denethor’s earlier remark about relationships.

“You’re a virgin.”

Denethor looked Sauron in the eye. There was wrath in his eyes, and hurt. He got up sharply and crossed the kitchen in two seconds; in another second, Sauron heard the loud bang of the front door. Oh no. He was right . Shit.

***

Mornings definitely got better. No need to get up so early to check his hair and make sure Sauron doesn’t ruin his breakfast. Bard was awesome and would never do anything of the sort. Thranduil allowed himself to sleep till eight now, and when he woke up, he did not rush to get up.

He stretched lazily and double-checked the grocery list on his phone. He knew planning was important: it would save him not only extra trips to the grocery store but also money, which he now had very little. Even with the stipend he received for his outstanding achievements, it was still not easy to get used to this modest living after a lifetime of getting whatever he wanted from his father. Father’s support, he figured, came for a price. As soon as Thranduil learned that their unwritten contract was tied to him having the “correct” sexual preferences, they parted ways. Fixing holes in his old jeans and cutting on groceries was easier than becoming straight. Still, his precious hair, sensitive skin, and carefully cultivated style had their demands. Sauron had his, too. Thranduil would never tell him, but the night he smelled hair removal cream in his purple shampoo, he stayed up late, crying in the bathroom. The shampoo was $50, it was the cost of his groceries for a week, and it was just not fair . Other things followed, giving him even more stress. More expenses for the ruined items, more anger and anxiety. He tried to stay as often as possible in other rooms, which sometimes entailed having small affairs with their inhabitants. Thranduil didn’t mind: it was nice to feel attractive and wanted.

It was only fair that he met Bard after this. Bard knew how to cook something other than salad: in fact, he could cook a lot of things. He immediately agreed to Thranduil’s organization of their kitchen cabinet, and they even established a cleaning schedule. Life was finally getting better.

Later this morning, the grocery shopping went oh so well. Bard’s understanding of the balance between price and quality fully coincided with Thranduil’s. They met Sauron’s new roommate (Thranduil recognized him from Sauron’s picture) and wished him best of luck. Then, they almost kissed because some arrogant old lady pushed Bard with her cart, and he nearly fell into Thranduil’s arms (Valar bless grumpy old ladies). Before getting untangled from Thranduil’s arms, Bard complimented his perfume (yes, he sprays himself with perfume before going to the grocery store). Bard also got Thranduil an ice cream, despite his half-hearted protests. No one but Galadriel usually treated him to ice cream. What was needed was just a little push, maybe some kind of event where they could get slightly drunk and very happy. Yes, this would be fantastic. He had to talk to Galadriel.

 

***

Halfway through mopping the floor (yes, Denethor made him mop the floor), Sauron received a call from Angmar.

“Hey man,” he answered, pressing the phone to his ear with a shoulder as he continued mopping - Denethor expected Sauron to be done by the time he returns from his fencing practice. “You haven’t been returning my calls. Did you even know I got evicted and moved to a new place?”

“Nah, congrats.”

Typical Angmar.

“Sorry man,” his friend added. “I was recovering.”

“Wow, what happened?”

“I groped someone I shouldn’t have groped.”

Sauron chuckled. Angmar had a somewhat blurred notion of consent, which occasionally got him in trouble.

“Let me guess. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.”

“Worse.” Angmar sighed. “Eowyn Rohan. She kicked me right in the solar. With her foot. She was wearing Dr. Martens.”

“Oh, fuck.” Sauron’s imagination made him suffocate. “You’re an idiot, Angmar.”

“You won’t believe how many times I said that to myself in the last four days. Anyway, did you get a text from Galadriel?”

Galadriel ? Why would I get a text from her?”

“Well, Aragorn’s back, and for some reason, the lot of them decided we’d be happy to welcome him. Anyway, it’s the first party I got invited to in ages, so I’m going, and so is Saruman.”

“Wow.” That came unexpected. “Did Azog get an invitation?”

“He did, but he doesn’t know if he’s gonna. Ya know. Thorin is invited, too.”

“Right. Are we required to bring something?”

“Well, Elrond said we can bring some snacks, but if you put laxatives in there, Glorfindel is gonna fuck you in the ass.”

Sauron chuckled. That wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

“Since when are you friends with Elrond, Angmar?”

Angmar yawned, and there was a rustle of sheets. Apparently, he was still in bed at 1 p.m.

“Well, all it took was to give Lindir a ride two times, and now I’m a nice person and not ‘that asshole, Sauron’s friend.’”

“And since when are you a driver to Elrond’s lil’ fucktoy?”

“Sauron, no need to insult people. He’s a nice guy, and we have a class together.”

“Did you grope him too?” Sauron chuckled, amused at the picture that arose in his mind.

“You know I’m straight as a log.” Angmar giggled in response. “Man, why are you breathing so heavily? Did Thrandy send you nudes?”

Sauron blushed aggressively and growled.

“What are you talking about, I’m just mopping the floor.”

“Come on man, don’t lie to me. You never mop the floor.”

He sighed.

“Well, now that there’s no Thrandy to do it, I do mop the floor. Man, if you meet Denethor, you’ll mop the floor too. With your own hair, if he asks.”

“That’s the right roommate for you,” Angmar laughed. “Anyway, I’m gonna go shop for the snacks, good luck with your floor. Party’s at seven.”

When Denethor returned from the fencing practice, he informed Sauron that he also received an invitation, even though he hardly knew anyone in the Imladris building. That was nice. Sauron knew Denethor probably wouldn’t let him pull any pranks at the party, but for some reason, he was happy.

It turned out Denethor could cook, so in a few minutes, they were making pigs in a blanket for the party. Denethor gave Sauron instructions in this soft, quiet voice of his that sent shivers down Sauron’s back, the food smelled nice, and the whole process was surprisingly relaxing and calming. Nothing like when Thranduil cooked, constantly cursing under his breath, throwing out the hopelessly spoiled parts, and consulting his laptop while Sauron tried to slap his butt and steal some ingredients. A couple of times Sauron tried to lean on Denethor slightly, but he either didn’t notice or didn’t care. That didn’t discourage Sauron at all. Maybe Denethor just needs some party atmosphere to let go of the tension and notice his… little advances. He even forgot about Thranduil for half an hour, so something just had to work out with Denethor.

 

***

Thranduil was so grateful to Galadriel. Welcome back party for Aragorn - this was the best idea ever! Since his dad took his credit card away, it has been an established practice that Thranduil was excluded from the requirement to bring snacks or drinks in exchange for some organization work, so he was ready to help Galadriel. After-party cleanup was also part of his responsibilities.

He started picking his outfit well in advance to be on time. It took quite a while, as usual, until he made a choice in favor of a light green top and sparkly silver-grey jeans. Thranduil exploited every opportunity he had. First, he pretended that the room did not have a “changing only in the bathroom” rule; Bard was new, after all, and couldn’t know that, so Thranduil flashed his naked thighs and everything else, including his very presentable underwear. He couldn’t tell if he got Bard turned on since he was standing with his back to Bard, yet there was no doubt he caused some interest. Next, he asked innocently if the jeans still looked good on his behind since he “had not worn them for a while and may have lost weight” (that did not happen), so Bard had to stare at his butt. Then, Thranduil brushed his hair till it shone and put on his prettiest jewelry: a leaf-shaped pin, a matching earring, and a delicate silver ring with a complicated pattern. He finished the look with that perfume Bard complimented in the morning. This just had to do it.

Bard gave him one of his hottest smiles and said he was gorgeous. Thranduil thanked and left him to his cooking: Bard also got invited, and he had to bring something. Thranduil was sure everyone would be pleased with whatever Bard decided to cook. After applying some eyeliner (just a little bit!), Thranduil strolled down the hallway, got a slightly-more-than-friendly wink from Glorfindel, startled some freshmen girls at the entrance, and rushed to Imladris.

Imladris Suites and the other wing of the building, Lothlorien Suites, was the fanciest dorm on campus. That was where Galadriel, Elrond, Celeborn, Lindir, Haldir, and the rest of the cool folk lived. This building had bigger suites (that were actual suites and not rooms like in Mirkwood), nicer bathrooms, terraces, and even a pool. Thranduil lived here when he was still a rich kid; of course, he had to move to Mirkwood. So did Glorfindel, but for other reasons: he just did not care enough to pay so much money for the dorm. Glorfindel could totally sleep in the hallway and still be happy, gorgeous, and popular. Outside circumstances had very little effect on the way he perceived himself and was perceived by others. Thranduil, however, was self-conscious about his current social status. Still, he was grateful to Galadriel, Elrond and others: his friends would never let him become an outsider.

In the Imladris common room, Galadriel was already hanging decorations. She bought new ones every party and then donated the used ones to freshmen, which was really nice of her. This time, the theme was sea: waves, seagulls, shells, and stuff like that.

“Heyy!” Galadriel was distracted from a little ship model by Thranduil’s appearance. “Looking good today! Is that part of a plan to seduce that chocolate candy of a roommate?”

“Exactly,” Thranduil nodded, chuckling shyly.

“Well,” Galadriel went back to looking for the place to put the model, “you know where the bathroom is. There is a hair dryer box in the closet; Celeborn stuffed it with condoms. Known by select few. Lube is in the hair oil bottle right next to it.”

Thranduil laughed.

“I love how organized you are. So, what am I to do?”

Galadriel put him to work; he hung paper shells, sliced cheese, arranged fruit plates, and dreamt of getting it from Bard. Whatever position Bard wished, Thranduil was ready. He planned his every movement in every situation as he went to the grocery store with Celeborn to buy extra paper plates; Celeborn’s usual quietness worked in Thranduil’s favor. Maybe Bard wanted Thranduil to suck him or lick him, he would do that, he would stand on his knees on the cold bathroom tile if Bard wanted, and he would not ask for anything in return. He would be shoved with his face into the wall, or bent over the tub, or whatever else Bard desired. Anything.

Upon their return from the store, Galadriel told Thranduil to help Elrond hang the string lights. This was boring and tedious work that required concentration. Half an hour before seven, Lindir walked in, and Thranduil immediately sensed a rival in swag. Lindir was all golden and sparkly, his shirt was almost completely transparent, flashing his lovely pink nipples, and his warm-colored jeans were way too tight even for his slim legs. Thranduil suggested that Elrond gets off the ladder; he was pretty sure standing high up with a boner was against all safety rules. At least Bard was not yet here to distract him. Aragorn arrived soon, looking as plain as he possibly could; he was not supposed to bring anything or do any work since the party was in his honor. He still helped Gimli bake a chocolate cake. Thorin Oakenshield showed up with cheese rolls, Gandalf brought whiskey, and Radagast, to everyone’s laughter, presented his homemade weed cookies. Saruman provided the wine, the Rohans dragged in six boxes of beer, and Angmar had some flower-shaped cookies. Azog brought vodka.

Thranduil and Galadriel set up a playlist that was awesome to their opinion, and the party got started. Most people were happy to see Aragorn; others were glad to have some fun and maybe Azog’s vodka. Even Thorin, for once, didn’t mind his presence.

Finally, to Thranduil’s relief, Bard joined the party, with a tray of small pizza slices and parmesan crisps. He looked as stunning as Thranduil thought he would be: his dark shirt slightly open, hair in a lovely bun, and pants quite flattering but leaving something to the imagination. Thranduil’s heart sang. This is the day. This is the moment. From now on, he will be happy.

He had no idea just how wrong he was.

Chapter Text

Bard was ridiculously excited about the party. He had never been at one before, always studying, always working, always self-conscious. He’s hardly had any friends until today, and now all these kind people asked him how he was and complimented his food. Galadriel introduced him to a company of guys and girls dressed better than he will ever be, and they still were all nice to him. Someone did ask about that incident in the mall a month ago, but Galadriel shushed them.

He should make some friends, Bard thought. It would help him forget about the mall. He should be young, and he should party, not think about the crazy man threatening peaceful shoppers with an automatic gun. Not think about his own self-defense gun or the bullet he sent into the lunatic’s head. Yes, he was a shooting champion with a steady hand, but he did not possess a steady soul. It was still too painful and scary to delve into these memories and realize what he did, even if it was the right thing to do.

“Hi Bard,” a sweet, cheerful voice rescued him from the void. “Looking good, and the parmesan thingies are awesome, too.”

That’s Thranduil, his nice new roommate. Bard was so relieved when they first met, and Thranduil looked happy to see him. Bard had heard about the spider incident and could imagine just how cringy it must have felt, so he made a strawberry cake for Thranduil. His new friend seemed to like it.

“Thank you,” Bard finally replied and confessed, “It’s a bit unusual for me to be here.”

“Just stick with me,” Thranduil suggested with a friendly smile, only to get distracted by some guy who felt obliged to insult his choice of jewelry.

“Fuck you, Sauron,” Thranduil answered him, half-amused, half-irritated. “What you said was homophobic. Me and Glor should kick you out.”

Sauron defended himself, stating that he, a gay person, could not be homophobic, to which Thranduil replied with a speech on internal homophobia. Bard decided not to stick with Thranduil for now. He looked around and approached a tall, handsome man with blonde, wavy hair.

“Hey,” the man greeted him with a wide, warm smile. “I’m Glorfindel.”

“The one and only,” Bard added the phrase that Thranduil frequently pronounced in relation to his friend Glorfindel, of whom he spoke quite often.

“That’s me,” Glorfindel chuckled. “And you must be Bard Bowman.”

“Please don’t say you saw me on the news,” Bard managed a weak smile.

Glorfindel patted him on the shoulder.

“No worries, man. I’ve been in combat. Got my share of questions from the lucky people who have never seen death.”

Bard really wanted to give him a hug, and so he did. Glorfindel gladly responded, his strong arms wrapping around Bard.

“Just so you know, friend,” Glorfindel spoke softly, “since I am ‘the one and only,’ people often have… hopes. I am always happy to fuck, but there’s a fair soldier waiting for me on the other side, and I am forever his.”

“I see,” Bard nodded. “Nice of you to warn.”

It surprised Bard how calmly Glorfindel spoke of his deceased boyfriend, as if it was normal to have someone waiting for you beyond death. He did not even look sad.

Bard couldn’t help but ask Glorfindel about his fair soldier. The blonde didn’t mind at all; on the contrary, he seemed happy to share some details about his love. They sat together and poured some wine into plastic cups.

“He was very beautiful, my Ecthelion,” Glorfindel started. “He had dark hair, and he wanted it long, but it wasn’t allowed in the army. He loved the sea. We agreed that if one of us were to die, he would wait for the other to join him in eternity. And the living one would not love another. So we parted.”

Bard listened, enchanted - it all sounded like some legend of old.

“I made some money while in the army, and Ecthelion left me his, too. I have this dream, to save a bit more, finish school, and then buy a house next to the sea. Any sea. I want to look at the waves and worship my Ecthelion until the end.”

“That’s a beautiful dream,” Bard said. “But is it easy to keep the promise?”

“Well, mostly, yes, because I love him. However…” Glorfindel looked tenderly at Thranduil who was still talking to Sauron, “I may have been close to slipping once.”

“Wow.” Bard looked at Thranduil, searching for whatever qualities that almost made Glorfindel betray his Ecthelion.

“Don’t tell him,” Glorfindel chuckled, “he has no idea.”

Thranduil finally got rid of Sauron and approached the two of them. Glorfindel blushed.

“Hey Glor, Bard,” Thranduil smiled, “Sauron just told me that Angmar dared Lindir to wear that shirt.” He pointed at Lindir who looked almost naked above the waist. “Now Angmar owes him a hundred bucks. If any of you have a hundred bucks, you may lend them to Angmar. He will never give them back.”

All three of them laughed until Glorfindel spotted the look Thranduil threw on Bard. Glor quickly explained he wanted the same shirt as Lindir, and so he had to go inquire where to get one.

Bard and Thranduil chatted for a while, barely paying any attention to what was going in around them. Meanwhile, others had their fun. Galadriel had lost a bet and was now making out with Aredhel, Haldir filming it. Azog and Thorin were getting thoroughly wasted on Azog’s vodka. Cirdan was clearly not sober; he was hauling the ship model around, screaming things like, “Steady as she goes!” Sauron pulled no pranks, busy with eye-fucking Denethor. Later, the two of them left. Soon, Glorfindel, Celeborn, and Tauriel began performing their usual duties as the “wasted relief team”: they relieved the room of Gimli, Radagast, and Azog. Thorin was able to leave by himself. The party continued.

***

Sauron really liked it here. He liked the food. He liked the drinks. And oh, how much he liked Denethor. He did stop to tease Thranduil a little because he was afraid that without some distraction, he’d fuck Denethor right there. Eventually, he calmed down and was able to focus on the food and conversation.

“I am glad someone brought juice,” Denethor smiled with his adorable full lips as he poured some for himself.

“What happens if you have a little wine?” Sauron asked, curious.

“Hopefully you’ll help me collect my things, because I will go back to the clinic for addiction treatment,” Denethor explained, still smiling.

“Oh Valar,” Sauron winced, “that bad? My poor boy.”

Denethor seemed to like being called his boy.

“So,” Sauron started, encouraged, “are you going to tell me why such a handsome man is still untouched?”

Denethor choked on his juice. Sauron silently poured him some water and waited for the coughing fit to pass.

“Well, I had a girlfriend,” Denethor started after a big gulp of water. “She, um, she was very traditional. She wanted to wait till after the wedding.”

“How sweet.” Sauron smirked. “I wouldn’t be able to wait. And then what, you broke up?”

There was silence.

“She got hit by a truck, full speed,” Denethor blurted out. “I saw it.”

For a moment, Sauron lost his ability to speak and just gaped at Denethor.

“I had to call 911 and tell them my love had turned into a bloody pile. I think you won’t blame me if I say I started drinking and wasn’t looking forward to another relationship.”

“Fuck, Denethor!” Sauron breathed out. “I need a drink just after listening to this!”

He got himself more wine, took a large sip, then looked Denethor in the eye, and spoke tenderly.

“Darling, you really need to relax.”

“How do you suggest I relax?” Denethor asked.

“Well,” Sauron smirked, “there’s one good way. Look around and pick anyone you like. I’ll do my best to set it up.”

“Oh, really?” Denethor chuckled. “Fine.”

He looked around, his gaze stopping on every handsome person. Sauron followed his eyes anxiously. Oh, why on Arda did he just offer that? Always joking, always teasing… What was he to do now?

“This one,” Denethor smiled triumphantly and poked Sauron in the chest. “Can I choose this one?”

Sauron gasped, blood pumping loudly in his temples, his mouth suddenly dry. Oh, Valar. Oh, Valar!

“Yes,” he finally managed a reply, “I suppose you can.”

He grabbed Denethor’s hand, praying the man doesn’t change his mind, and rushed them out.

***

Bard rather enjoyed talking to Thranduil and nipping at cheese rolls. And then his companion offered him to go outside for a bit.

“Well, I guess that shall be fine,” Bard agreed reluctantly, and they walked out of the building. Thranduil was flashing him wide smiles all the way downstairs, and Bard answered with his little shy ones.

He welcomed the light chill once they closed the front door behind them. The stars were beautiful and calm. Bard was just going to draw Thranduil’s attention to this lovely fact, but suddenly, he received a push into the chest and found himself pinned to the wall with Thranduil’s body.

“Oh, finally, Bard,” Thranduil purred, “I’m here with you.”

In a second, he was kissed, softly but insistently. Bard froze, reflecting on polite ways to stop his friend - and then a hand slipped into his pants.

Now that’s enough. Bard pushed Thranduil away and pulled the hand out by the wrist.

“Thran, you’ve had too much wine.”

Thranduil blinked, hurt and confused.

“What’s wrong?” he asked in a small voice. “Am I going too fast?”

“You shouldn’t be going at all,” Bard replied firmly. “We’re friends.”

Friends ?!” Thranduil started growing mad. “You think your behavior towards me was friendly?!”

“Most friendly,” Bard answered confidently. “Do not worry, Thran. That’s just wine. You’ll be fine in the morning.”

“You… you… shut up!” Thranduil hissed. “We organized this fucking party so that I can kiss you! And you… ugh, don’t even open up your mouth, or I’ll hit you!”

“Thran, please…” Bard started panicking.

“Fuck you, Bard Bowman,” Thranduil spat out, turned away, and ran.

Oh. This was bad. Very bad.

***

Sauron is impatient. Years ago, he was the type of kid who ate all the candy before the meal. Now, he presses Denethor against a tree in front of their apartment complex and kisses him, hard.

For once, Denethor is no longer his confident, overbearing self. Apparently, he did not expect such force in a kiss: he trembles and whimpers and allows Sauron to fondle him right here. It feels good to touch everything he could only stare at.

“Please,” Denethor begs in a delightfully weak voice as Sauron’s hand is getting under the waist of his pants. “Please, let’s go inside. Before I collapse.”

Sauron leads him inside, grabbing that gorgeous butt on the way.

“Shall I carry you bridal style, sweetheart?” he teases.

Denethor doesn’t reply. Damn, Sauron thinks, he must be hard as hell, that’s so unlike him! Inside, they kiss more, on the living room couch. Sauron is on top, his hands under Denethor’s shirt, teasing, stroking, rubbing. Denethor is unusually pliant and soft (though hard in the right places), and Sauron realizes he might not need any of the elaborate plans he had for Denethor. For his lover-to-be, the very idea of being touched is mind-blowing. A hand may well be enough.

“Are you well?” Sauron purrs into Denethor’s ear, making him shiver. Sauron’s hand is right where it’s needed. “We may stop right here if you wish.”

“No, no need to stop,” Denethor whispers.

Sauron strokes him, hard, and earns a yelp. Denethor’s suddenly high voice makes him tremble. He strokes more, listening to the low grunts of pleasure, and gets his other hand into the long, dark curls that he has always loved so much. He pulls those, only to get deeper moans in reply. Suddenly, Sauron has Denethor’s fingers in his hair, caressing his scalp and scratching it lightly. It is pleasant, but the way Denethor looks at him is much more so. The grey eyes radiate such trust Sauron can barely believe it. No one looks at him like that. He is the liar, the cheater, the disturber. No one gives him such sincere, naked trust.

Only someone does, and Sauron cannot help but kiss the owner of the trusting grey eyes. Oh Valar, he doesn’t even need anything in return. Just the kiss. Denethor’s soft lips part, his hips tremble, his back arches slightly, and his cheeks and neck grow pink. Sauron smirks and squeezes him harder, and Denethor comes quietly into his hand. Denethor’s excited facial expression gives way to a soft, tired one, and his eyes look down in embarrassment. Sauron kisses him before he submits to shame. In a few moments, they are cuddled up in Denethor’s bed. Sauron is listening happily to his boy’s sleepy, relaxed breaths as he slowly drifts off to sleep himself.

And then his phone rings in the living room.

***

Thranduil ran as fast as he could until he found himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood. He used a navigator app on his phone to find the nearest Starbucks - which turned out to be closed at this late hour. Thranduil had to settle for a shitty 24-hour cafe instead. There, he ordered a cheap, sour coffee, shed a few tears, sobered, and played some Candy Crush.

In about half an hour, he got a text message from Bard. He told his stupid heart not to hope for anything good, but it didn’t help at all.

“Thran where u at?” the message read. “Pls don’t do anything stupid.”

Thranduil sighed.

“You know I already have.”

“Pls come back. Where r u?”

Thranduil realized he just couldn’t bring himself to spend the rest of the night in their room with Bard. How awkward would it be?

“I will return in the morning. I will be fine.”

But where would he go? Galadriel was probably still enjoying the party, and people always sat in her room during parties. Glorfindel could be anywhere, helping those too drunk to get home by themselves. Celeborn, Haldir, and Elrond were not close enough friends to be tangled into this mess. And he did not have any money for a hotel room.

Thranduil was already prepared to sleep on a park bench when he had a remarkably stupid idea. Yes, that will do. He will call Sauron.

Chapter Text

Thranduil woke up with a familiar uneasiness in the back of his head; his eyes stung. This indicated he had  more than enough wine last night. He closed his eyes, sighed, opened them again, and looked around. Oh. Not his room.

Valar, please let it not be a hookup.

He took a deep breath and explored the room a little more. Wow, the Black Tower model! Thranduil sighed again, this time with relief - it’s Sauron’s room, so definitely not a hookup. With a considerable effort, he sat up and leaned on the headboard. There was a tall glass of water and a jar of Advil on the nightstand. Valar bless Sauron. And whatever turned him into such a caring person, Valar bless it, too.

After treating himself to water and Advil, Thranduil noticed a piece of paper on the nightstand. It was a note for him that said:

“Thran,

I’m sorry for what happened last night. Denethor and I have to go to classes. You can have breakfast (don’t touch Denethor’s healthy green shit in a bottle - it’s yucky af!). Use the yellow towel in the shower. The key is hanging from the doorknob - lock up and give it to Angmar when you see him in class today. If you really sleep in and have to rush to class, take my clothes and change (don’t go to school in those pants!!).

Sauron

P.S. If you eat here, please do your dishes, Denethor is OCD!!!”

Thranduil pressed the note to his chest. The dreadful events of last night came back to him, but it was sweet to have help from where he least expected it.

Taming his breath, he unlocked his phone. Nothing from Bard - but a ton of messages from Galadriel.

22:30 “Thran?”

22:40 “Where are you?”

23:35 “You are late to the cleanup. Rude.”

23:42 “Fuck Thran why is Bard doin vodka?! You guys had a fight?”

23:51 “I assume you had a fight. You are forgiven for missing the cleanup.”

00:03 “Text me morning.”

Thranduil sighed. He did owe his friend an explanation.

“Meet you in an hour for latte?”

Galadriel replied immediately, as if sensing the perspective of getting a free coffee.

“Good.”

Time to get up, then - but no breakfast, or he might throw up. Thranduil put his feet on the floor and slowly, carefully lifted his body. Despite the effort, pain started pounding into his temples, and black dots flashed in front of his eyes. Thranduil gave up and went to the bathroom at his usual pace, muttering “fuck-fuck-fuck” on his way.

In the bathroom, he spotted his very own bottle of bodywash with a broken lid - the bottle that had mysteriously disappeared at the time when Sauron moved. Chuckling, Thranduil looked into the mirror - and gasped. On his left cheek, there was a beautiful little sticker depicting a bouquet of snowdrops. Thranduil smiled. Another one of Sauron’s pranks, then.

It was kind of sad to take it off, so he shot a smiling selfie and texted it to Sauron. “This is the cutest prank ever,” he added, and then, “Thank you.”

His spirits lifted, Thranduil showered, got dressed, locked the door, and headed straight to their campus Starbucks. Galadriel was already there, looking glam as usual, though it was obvious that she did not get enough sleep. As Thranduil approached, he noticed a hickey on her neck.

“Didn’t know Celeborn was that passionate,” he smirked and sat at her table.

“No one said it was Celeborn,” Galadriel replied, returning the smirk. “And where were you last night?”

His face tensed. Oh, the need to recall yesterday’s events again...

“At Sauron’s.”

Galadriel eyed him suspiciously.

“No, no,” Thranduil protested vigorously, “I’m pretty sure he’s with Denethor. They were in the same bed.”

“Wow,” she giggled. “They left early, too. Hope you did not interrupt anything…”

Thranduil shook his head and got up to order the drinks.

“So,” he asked after his return, “are you going to question me?”

“Yes,” Galadriel replied firmly. “Is it true that you threatened to hit Bard?”

“Oh,” Thranduil grew pale, remembering. “I did. Did he tell you?”

“Bilbo heard you when he went out for a smoke.”

Oh. Perfect. His emotional outburst had another witness.

“Thran, that’s, like, creepy.”

He frowned.

“It does come across as creepy, I agree.”

“Have you apologized?”

“No.”

They set in tense silence, waiting for the lattes to be ready. After the barista’s call, Thranduil  brought them to the table.

“I… I don’t know how I could be so wrong,” he finally confessed while Galadriel was trying her latte.

She sighed and rubbed her forehead.

“I should have talked to you before I agreed to throw that party. You told me he was ‘totally into you.’ What made you think that?”

“Being a vain, superficial idiot,” Thranduil replied but then caught his friend’s look. “Um, well… He had heard about that spider shit, and he made me a cake. He was really polite all the time. He asked about what I liked and disliked. He respected the rules I set. And he cooked for me.”

Galadriel shook her head.

“Thran, that’s basic decency.”

He lifted his eyes up at her, looking more hurt than he would want to admit.

“Really? But people are rarely that nice to me. I thought it was because he was into me.”

She took a large sip of her latte, her face saying “this is not gonna be easy.”

“You’ve mentioned once that you had a boyfriend in your first year. How did you meet him?”

Thranduil blushed at the memories.

“He found my wallet in the street and messaged me on facebook. We met, and he invited me on a date.”

“And you fucked the following night,” Galadriel added with a smile.

“You read my mind,” he giggled.

“And when you got lost in the dorm because Sauron messed with the sign, Glorfindel said it was okay and allowed you to stay for the night.”

“Yes.”

“And you fucked.”

“Um… yes?”

Galadriel took a triumphant sip.

“So every time a guy is nice to you, you end up having sex with him.”

Thranduil froze. He thought about all the other times it happened, times his friend didn’t know about. He felt an urgent need to defend himself.

“So what? What’s so bad about it? Do I need to be in a relationship to get laid now??”

“Well, no. I just think it’s not good for you to basically have no experience in anything but fucking.”

“That’s not true!” Thranduil shook his head angrily.

“No, that’s…” Galadriel frowned. “Maybe it’s time to see a therapist, darling?”

Thranduil almost jumped in his seat.

What ? No. No, no, no. They will start saying shit about my childhood again. I hate that. I had everything I needed, and I was fine. And I am fine.”

“Thran, you had to call your dad by the last name.”

“That’s not as uncommon as you imply.”

“That’s not uncommon, that’s nonexistent. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone else. Ask Elrond if he calls Maglor or Maedhros ‘Mr. Feanarion.’”

“Please, stop,” Thranduil hissed. “You are making me uncomfortable. I do not want to talk about Mr. Lasgalen.”

“I heard you,” she nodded calmly. “Anyway. Please apologize to Bard. We’ll meet another time to talk about this, if you want. You need to chill. I need to finish my essay. Good luck.”

She got up and walked out before Thranduil had any chance to react. He sighed. Perfect, now he’s pissed off his best friend. Frustrated, he headed to the dorm, walking as slowly as possible. His mind was making up the worst scenarios: Bard was probably packing to move out, or he would avoid Thranduil, or he would call Thranduil out…

He took a deep breath and opened the door. Bard was lounging on the bed, relaxed, painfully beautiful, reading a logistics textbook. Never in his life has Thranduil wanted to be a logistics textbook so badly.

“Hi Bard,” he muttered as Bard looked up at him.

Bard put his textbook aside and sat on the bed.

“Thran, are you okay?” he asked in that sweet, gentle voice.

He’s being friendly - he’s being friendly - he’s being friendly , Thranduil had to remind himself.

“Yes. Yes, I…” he had to fight back tears. “I’m sorry, Bard, I was horrible to you.”

“It’s okay, Thran, really. I’m not mad at you.”

Bard’s voice was soothing to his ears. Oh, shit, that makes him more in love! Thank you very much, Bard.

“Are you hungry?” Bard asked, and Thranduil had to admit he indeed was, after which his lovely roommate accompanied him to the kitchen and showed him a stack of pancakes.

Thranduil decided to accept Bard’s friendly gesture and finally have breakfast. He had classes to attend, and there was no time for getting angsty. In half an hour, he was ready, thanking himself for being responsible about his assignment that he had wisely completed prior to the party. Perhaps it was time to become as responsible about other aspects of his life, though.

***

“See? I told you, doing nice things unexpectedly would get you the best kind of attention!” Denethor smiled at Sauron who was marvelling at Thranduil’s happy selfie with a sticker on his face.

Sauron blushed. Making someone happy was certainly new to him.

Denethor walked into his bedroom and started changing without even trying to close the door. Sauron was immediately distracted from the selfie.

“So,” Denethor asked, putting on a comfy shirt, “what are our plans for today?”

Sauron smiled slyly and entered Denethor’s bedroom.

“Let’s explore your body.”

Denethor arched an eyebrow.

“Wouldn’t you rather go downstairs and do that laundry?” he asked calmly as Sauron approached him and put both hands on his chest.

“I would totally go down, baby,” Sauron smirked, “but not the stairs.”

“Then get to work, you!” he hissed and grabbed a fistful of Sauron’s dark locks to push him down.

That did it for Sauron. He looked at Denethor, wide-eyed, and dropped to his knees with the softest moan possible. Any discernible thoughts left his head, and he pulled down Denethor’s shorts. He was so aroused he didn’t even think of protection (something he normally felt very serious about) and went straight to pleasuring Denethor with his mouth.

Denethor’s knees trembled, but he forced them steady. He kept his hand in Sauron’s hair, tugging at it when Sauron grunted in excitement and gave him those delightful vibrations. Denethor had thought such things were no good for the giver; Sauron, however, seemed to enjoy that immensely. He moaned as if he was the one receiving, and closed his eyes in pleasure, and grabbed Denethor’s buttocks, trying to shove his lover’s length deeper down his throat.

The sight and the sensation were all too unbearable. Denethor wanted to tell Sauron to move aside, yet he was not able to produce any sounds but sobs. Sauron did not object at all; he swallowed and licked Denethor clean before getting up on his shaky legs. Denethor wrapped his arms around Sauron and gave him a soft, tender kiss on the lips. Sauron relaxed in his arms.

Yesterday, Denethor was too exhausted and overwhelmed to ask Sauron if he was fine with not getting any response, but today, he had no such excuse. And it was not about excuses anyway: the very idea of making Sauron feel as good as he just felt himself made him dizzy. He is inexperienced, yes, but surely he can manage a thing or two!

“You… you don’t have to, you know…” Sauron protested weakly when he felt Denethor’s fingers undo his pants.

“Don’t argue with me,” Denethor whispered and turned him around boldly, with an arm holding him by the waist.

Sauron’s breath hitched. Denethor suppressed a giggle: who would have thought this arrogant boy liked to be commanded so much!

Sauron leaned on Denethor, relaxed, and allowed Denethor’s hand to caress him as he let out sharp breaths and small moans. It didn’t take him long to finish; after all, he’s just given the most exciting blowjob of his life.

“So, you are not doing the laundry today, I assume?” Denethor asked, smiling, when they were both clean and sitting on the couch. “Okay. I’ll do it then.”

“Really?” Sauron blinked. “Does it mean I can just blow you every time I don’t want to do chores?”

Denethor kissed his forehead.

“Has Thranduil explained you how inflation worked, my clueless art major?”

“He has. Why would you be asking that?”

“You should know the rule applies to all forms of payment, not just money, if you offer them too frequently,” Denethor smiled.

“Fine.” Sauron pouted. “Next time in a month.”

“Oh, I hope not. You…”

He did not get a chance to finish the sentence: there was a knock on the door.

“Is it Thranduil again?” Denethor giggled.

“No. He has classes.”

Sauron got up reluctantly and walked to the door. There was Angmar (oh right, the key!), looking strangely polished, his usually unruly hair combed to perfection. He was spinning their key around his finger in a fit of whimsy - again, very unlikely for him.

“Come in, come in,” Sauron smiled, wondering about the reason for all these changes.

“Hey Sauron, hey Denethor,” Angmar greeted them as he walked inside. “So, why does Thrandy have a key to your place?”

“Well,” Sauron grinned, “he had to hide here after he groped someone he shouldn’t have groped.”

Angmar laughed at the reference.

“Look, man, I apologized to Eowyn, I got her a footlong sandwich to show how sorry I am, and she even agreed to go on a date with me.”

“Oh my god, I am so excited for you!” Denethor gasped, utterly sincere in his approval.

Sauron felt something shift uneasily in his chest; he turned to Angmar for distraction.

“Who gave you the idea to apologize? You wouldn’t think of that by yourself.”

“Lindir,” Angmar replied, but hearing his friends giggle, he hurried to add, “But he told me to get her flowers! And I thought, that’s Eowyn Rohan, what flowers? A footlong Black Forest Ham will do it!”

“Genius!” Denethor nodded. “And your shirt looks great, even if Lindir helped you pick it.”

Angmar’s dark skin acquired a deeper hue, indicating that Lindir indeed helped him with the outfit.

“Whatever,” he shook his head. “Sauron, get me a glass of water, and I’ll get going. Eowyn will skin me alive if I’m late.”

After seeing Angmar off, Sauron checked the time and the weather and then opened his laptop with the most determined expression Denethor has ever seen. He spent about fifteen minutes scrolling and clicking until he finally asked:

“Steaks or sushi?”

Denethor lifted up his eyes from his phone, confused.

“Why are you asking?”

Sauron looked him in the eye.

“Because, Denethor, I want to ask you on a date.”

Denethor’s face lit up.

“Steaks.”

***

Bard was returning from his parents’ house after a small dinner in honor of his birthday. He vaguely registered that it was October, and his birthday had already passed in August - how could time repeat itself? But maybe it wasn’t the birthday. Maybe his parents just wanted to give him that modest sum of money so that he can buy new sneakers. He looked down at his feet; his ancient, ragged sneakers were there, even though he clearly remembered tossing them.

With a mild feeling of anxiety, Bard walked down the street until the mall stood in front of him. That was surprising also: normally, getting from his parents’ house to the mall would require a bus trip. Anyway, the mall appeared here just on time: his sneakers were already falling apart, and the new ones would be…

He heard two girls chatting at the entrance and froze. He’d heard the conversation before. He’d shopped for the sneakers before. This had all happened before .

Bard swallowed, hard, and slipped a hand into his bag to feel for the gun. Yes, it is there; his parents lived in a poor neighborhood, and he always had the gun on him while visiting them, for self-defense. But this time, it is not himself he has to defend. He needs to protect the young pregnant woman in a white dress, the crying teenage girl with a Starbucks cup, the elderly couple, the tall man in sunglasses…

He doesn’t want to do this, but he must. He steps into the building. He takes three deep breaths. He hears the shots: the madman appears.

Blood, blood, dead security officers on the floor. The lunatic has an automatic gun, and the officers don’t. But the lunatic thinks Bard is unarmed, and that’s his disadvantage.

The lunatic threatens the pregnant lady like last time. The teenage girl shrieks, distracting him, and he turns with his back to Bard. Now.

As quietly as he can, Bard takes the gun out. He aims for the head. He shoots. Click. Not charged. Valar, no, no!

Somehow, the lunatic can hear the click amidst the girl’s wailing, and he turns around to look at Bard. His eyes glow with hatred. He points the gun at Bard, and Bard’s throat goes dry.

“No, no, no!” he cries, suffocated by the rain of flame that pours into his chest. He gulps and sobs and trembles until a pair of arms wrap around him, gently yet firmly. And there is a tender voice:

“Bard, it’s fine. You’re in your bed. You’re safe. Wake up, Bard!”

Bard took a deep breath and pressed his face against someone’s chest clad in a soft sweater and smelling of vanilla and spices.

“Was it a dream?” he asked anxiously, looking into Thranduil’s kind grey eyes.

“It was, it was,” Thranduil whispered, stroking Bard’s hair.

Bard withdrew and looked down at his chest anxiously, still not daring to believe.

“There’s nothing, right? He didn’t shoot me?”

“He didn’t,” Thranduil said. “Bard, let me order you a pizza, alright?”

“Please.”

***

Frustration definitely marked Thranduil’s day. He couldn’t focus in any of his classes, especially the financial management one. He could not stop thinking about the relationship with Bard he would never have. His heart ached - or whatever it was that kept moving in his chest, bothering him. He has also forgotten his notebook and was forced to write on a piece of scrap paper, which annoyed his perfectionist self to no end. His pencil case, the one where he kept some bright pens for highlighting important stuff, has ripped. He thought it was the end, but no, Professor Ilmarë just had to make it worse.

The assignment seemed quite fun: pick a fictional country and explain how its financial system might have worked. But it was a group assignment. And Professor Ilmarë matched the collaborators herself. And she made Thranduil suffer.

Because he got.

Thorin.

Oakenshield.

They threw a hateful glance at each other the moment their names were pronounced. Valar, why?!

Thranduil couldn’t even tell why Thorin hated him, but he sincerely hated Thorin back. Oakenshield always joked at him, picking at his supposed lack of manliness - something Thranduil was not generally very concerned about, but the comments made him feel bullied. And Thorin had a whole bunch of friends who laughed at his jokes while Thranduil sat alone and wished the earth swallowed him whole.

He promised himself a chocolate cake as he approached Thorin after the class was dismissed.

“What do you want, pretty girl?” Thorin frowned.

“Ask me for my number, cowboy,” Thranduil riposted with a smirk.

“Ugh, alright,” Oakenshield took out his phone, “but don’t imagine I’m happy about it.”

“Don’t worry. My imagination is incapable of such a stretch.”

Seriously, what has he ever done to deserve this?

Thranduil returned to the dorm in the worst mood possible. He hoped that at least Bard would be home. Yes, he wouldn’t return Thranduil’s feelings, but he was kind and nice to look at.

His revelling in the thoughts of Bard’s cuteness didn’t last long; he heard the screams when he was still in the hallway, and he rushed to open the door. His dear boy was tossing on the bed, clutching his chest and crying. Poor Bard! Without a second thought, Thranduil sat on the bed and enveloped Bard in his careful, loving embrace. After waking up, Bard was still distressed and quiet, and he allowed Thranduil to take care of him. They ate pizza together and watched the first season of Steven Universe (Bard has not seen it before), and then Bard drifted off to sleep.

Thranduil took some time to sit by his side, just to make sure the dream did not return. Bard’s face remained smooth and calm. After some hesitation, Thranduil gave his darling a light, chaste kiss on the forehead before he quietly cleaned up, changed, showered, and crawled into his bed.

Maybe it would not be all that bad, he thought as his eyelids closed. Maybe he had to give it time, and patience, and hard work, and everything that worried him at the moment would be gone. He would be happy.

Thranduil fell asleep with a smile on his lips. This time, he was definitely right.

Chapter Text

Time was flying: the fall break was only a couple of weeks from now. Despite his exhaustion from school and work, Thranduil was not looking forward to the break. In fact, the thought of it was quite literally breaking his heart. First of all, Bard would probably leave. He had mentioned his parents lived not so far away, so why would he stay in the dorm? To look at his dork of a roommate who was hopelessly in love with him? Probably not. Then, there were all the thoughts of Mr. Lasgalen . Thranduil used to go home every break, and while his father did not demonstrate utter happiness at his arrival, they at least talked… Now, even that was gone. His father didn’t want him and was clear about it. Thranduil was no longer welcome in the Lasgalen mansion. He had already spent a summer break like that, but then, he could take summer classes, and it felt like nothing was out of the ordinary. But now, he’d have to live for a week with no classes or work, all alone in the dorm. And these questions from other students about whether or not he was going home… This was very upsetting. Yellow leaves scattered all over the place and cold, piercing wind only made it worse.

And he still had to meet with Thorin Oakenshield. There was no delaying it further; the assignment was due two weeks after the fall break, so it would make sense to meet now, so that each of them can do their share of work during the break. But ugh. Thorin Oakenshield.

Well, at least it was a quiet day at work. No one asked dumb questions about their library accounts or refused to pay a fine for a book long overdue. Merry and Pippin did show up, but this time, they did not throw the copies of Das Kapital at Eomer. No soda cans exploded in the cafeteria. He got a chance to read his collection medieval ballads and make up some music for them in his mind. Some handsome boy flirted with him and even presented him a wreath of fallen leaves. He said Thranduil would look even more beautiful in it. So Thranduil continued reading medieval ballads in a leaf crown, which made quite an impression on a group of campus visitors. Thranduil could swear someone took a picture!

He daydreamed a little, thinking of Bard and whether his facial hair burned during kisses. Thranduil has never kissed anyone with facial hair… and probably never will, because Bard will never love him, and he will never want anyone who isn’t Bard. Well, the latter might not be true. He hasn’t seen Glorfindel in a while… Yes, he decided, this is what the fall break will be for: getting plowed by his golden-haired lover who was not going anywhere and who was always happy to see him and be touched by him. There was always room for some bliss even among the suffering of heart.

Thranduil sighed sweetly and packed his things, for this quiet shift was over. Now, a couple of hours to get mentally ready to a meeting with Oakenshield. Valar help him.

***

“Be careful, Bowman. I know where you live.”

Now that was funny, Bard thought, and he absolutely couldn’t suppress a snicker.

“For Valar’s sake, Alfrid. It’s a fucking dorm. Everyone knows where everyone lives.”

Alfrid was definitely going to spit out some insult, but Bard was suddenly rescued by Thranduil. For some reason, Alfrid was really intimidated by him, and one arched dark eyebrow was enough to make him flee. Bard laughed.

Thranduil answered him with a smile. “Is that worm bothering you again?”

“Not really. He made a webpage with gossip about everyone, and I called him out. Now he hates me even more!”

“Gossip?” Thranduil’s voice rang with curiosity.

“Yeah.” Bard took out his phone. “Just listen to these. ‘Bard Bowman is an assassin. He actually killed a person!’ Well, okay, true, but this one… ‘Galadriel Arafinwë does not wear a bra.’ I’m pretty sure he has no idea what a bra or a breast looks like.”

Thranduil chuckled, perhaps deciding not to discuss the assassin part, and Bard continued.

“‘The entire 1st floor of Mirkwood Suites is gay.’”

This drew a hearty laughter from them both. Alfrid was not completely wrong on that one.

“No, check this one out. ‘Thranduil Lasgalen dyes his eyebrows to look like Daenerys Targaryen.’”

“I can’t believe he actually wrote this,” Thranduil choked with laughter. “You should not object, this is very funny.”

“Um… ‘Theoden Eorling gave Saruman Curunír head on more than one occasion?’ Why would he know that?! ‘Feren Greenwood and Meludir Gilluin fucked each other in the Mirkwood common room last night.’ Okay, I can believe that… ‘Prof. Bauglir is building a nuclear bomb in the bathroom at the engineering department.’ Damn, these are addictive! I gotta stop!”

After another round of laughter, they headed to their room. It was good to just sit and relax after his demanding economics class.

“So, Thran,” Bard asked when they were seated on his bed with cookies, “are you leaving for the fall break?”

He saw Thranduil’s face get tense.

“No, Bard, really, no. Everyone keeps asking that… I’m staying here.”

Bard touched his roommate’s hand gently. He sensed something was off here.

“I’m sorry, Thran. I have to leave you here alone.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Thranduil’s eyes lit up with mischief. “I got Glorfie to keep me company .”

It should not have been a big deal for Bard, but he felt a slight sting in his chest. He knew Glorfindel and Thranduil had been intimate, and it was none of his business. His mind did not think so; it showed him pictures of Thranduil, steaming hot and writhing under Glorfindel, and he felt himself fill with rage and… something else. This was weird -  and completely unjustified.

Did Thranduil notice the change in his face? Bard hoped not. He stuffed his mouth with a cookie to get rid of the thoughts. It didn’t help much.

“So, Bard,” Thranduil rescued him yet again, “are you going away for the winter break, too?”

“Oh yes,” Bard nodded. “I love the winter break. Lots of attention and good food!”

Thranduil smiled faintly.

“And the feasts, gifts and candy, and a snowman in the yard!” Bard forgot about his unreasonable jealousy, actually excited about the winter holidays that seemed now so close. His parents were always happy to have him back home, and he would get a break from both school and work, dirty dishes becoming his biggest concern.

“Yeah, yeah,” Thranduil nodded, his face devoid of any enthusiasm. “I’ll probably have to move in with someone for the break, or I’ll end up becoming an alcoholic.”

“Can’t you go home?” Bard asked carefully.

“I have no home, and no one to visit,” Thranduil replied flatly. “My uncle and aunt are probably in Switzerland somewhere. Or was it France? My father banned me from his house. My cousin lives in a studio with her boyfriend. Not many options, as you see.”

“I feel really bad about leaving you alone.”

“As I have already mentioned,” Thranduil stated with some vengeful pleasure, “I will not. Be. Alone.”

Bard sighed. He did not know why it upset him so much, but he could not cancel his family plans only to figure out this weird thing with Thranduil.

“I gotta go,” Thranduil said, in a softer voice. “I have to meet with Thorin. Ugh. Wish me luck.”

“Why?” Bard raised his eyebrows. “Thorin is a nice person. I used to be his roommate. He can be grumpy at first, but if you don’t let that fool you, you’ll discover just how awesome he is.”

Thranduil winced. “I can’t believe you just used Thorin Oakenshield and ‘awesome’ in the same sentence.”

“Please, Thran, don’t be arrogant,” Bard pleaded. “All you need is respect. If he says shit about you, just let it go. Answer with respect. A couple of times, and you’ll get him.”

It was not Thranduil’s way to miss insults. “I’ll try,” he promised and proceeded to getting dressed (this time in the bathroom). He picked the plainest clothes he owned: a plaid green shirt and straight blue jeans. He would not give Thorin additional reasons to insult him.

***

At one, Sauron was already back from his art class. It went so well he was still shining. Professor Ossë always tried to acquaint them with different techniques and topics, but this meeting was absolutely incredible. The art professor invited his colleague from the engineering department who somehow was also interested in art. Sauron would draw cogs and chains and some steampunk shit, and even that was weird enough for his classmates. But Professor Bauglir…

Professor Bauglir created fucking cities . That seven-levelled giant was just fantastic. It had gates and streets and a tower and some kind of a park, and it had both a 3D model and a ton of masterful sketches. There were other things: buildings, mechanisms, but the city captured Sauron’s mind. He wanted to make a paper model of that city so badly, just to stare at it daily. He took off all of his rings, sat at the kitchen counter, and sketched like mad, trying to recall every detail, and maybe add some of his own. Denethor’s little white tree would look great on top! And maybe some sharp, awesome cliff right in the middle…

Sauron stopped sketching only when he felt Denethor’s hand on his shoulder.

“You’re back, darling?” he turned around, some part of his mind still in the gorgeous city.

“I’ve been talking to you for fifteen minutes, are you okay?” He peeked over Sauron’s shoulder. “What is this cool castle?!”

“It’s a city,” Sauron replied simply. “I want to make a model of it.”

“You’re so talented, darling,” Denethor kissed his cheek.

“So are you! Will you ever let me attend your fencing thing?”

“Feel free.” Denethor sat on a stool next to him. “We are still meeting twice before the fall break.”

Sauron tensed. “Are you not fencing during the fall break?”

Denethor looked at him attentively. “I am going home to the fall break. I’m sorry if it wasn’t obvious.”

“Of course,” Sauron sighed. “I should have guessed.”

“Not sure if it was sarcasm.”

“It wasn’t.”

Denethor cupped Sauron’s cheek. “But darling, it’s just a week. You probably want to see your family, too.”

Sauron turned away and gently packed the blueprint his dream city into a folder. “Never mentioned that, but my family consists of myself. Unless you want to join in at some point.”

Denethor stroked his back, not sure how to react to both the news and the strange sentence that vaguely resembled a marriage proposal.

“Are you… are you not in a good relationship with your parents? Maybe we could talk to them?”

“Yeah,” Sauron replied quietly, still with his back to Denethor. “It would be really helpful if I knew their names.”

“Oh.”

He hugged Sauron from behind, and they sat like that for several minutes.

“I feel so shitty about leaving my boy here all alone,” Denethor whispered into Sauron’s hair, tickling the tip of his ear. “Maybe I could… maybe I could ask my parents to let you come with me?”

“It’s definitely too early for that shit, Denethor,” Sauron replied, his voice more cheerful now. “I know how you feel about me, but meeting parents is too big of a step.”

“As you wish,” Denethor agreed and kissed him on the head. “But I would love you to meet them at some point.”

“I don’t know, dear.” Sauron sighed. “I’m the worst for this kind of thing.”

“Why?”

“Well, my grades suck, I’m out of job, and my car is in the garage of Angmar’s parents because I’ve committed so many traffic violations I have to retake the driver’s test.”

Denethor laughed. “Typical Sauron. Well, all these can be corrected. Why are you out of job?”

“Ugh. I used to work at a restaurant. You know, lots of people, food… I slipped.”

“You pulled one of your silly pranks, right?”

“Exactly. Got thrown out that very day.”

“Well,” Denethor sighed, “I do have a job for you, but if there’s any shit coming from you, I’ll suffer too.”

Sauron slipped out of his embrace and turned to face Denethor.

“I would never do that to you.”

“Fine. I’ll make a call. But if you prank, we break up, is that clear?”

Sauron looked him in the eye.

“Clear.”

They kissed, but Sauron was still feeling all confused. Cogs and chains and his promises to Denethor all mixed up in his head: he felt he was lost in the streets of the beautiful city right now, rather than kissing Denethor. He did not know why.

***

When Thranduil entered the library lounge, Thorin was already there. Thranduil looked at his phone, irrationally anxious that he was late and made Oakenshield wait. Ugh, of course it wasn’t late. It was early. He got here early to arrange his books and notes, acquire a busy look, and arch an eyebrow when Thorin appears. And now, Oakenshield was going to do just that. What an asshole!

Thranduil took a deep breath and remembered what Bard told him. Respect.

He approached Thorin who first did the eyebrow arch and then threw a surprised look at his shirt and jeans.

“What’s wrong?” Thranduil looked down at himself and gasped in mock horror. “Valar, I forgot my tutu!”

Thorin tried to keep his stern face, but a smile broke through, and soon he was laughing with his face in a stack of books.

“Fuck you Lasgalen, that was my line! How did you know I was gonna say this?”

“Because I am reading your thoughts.” Thranduil smiled and sat at the opposite side of the table.

Okay. Now what?

“Well,” Thorin unfolded some scratch paper, “in fact, I have already planned everything.” He handed the paper to Thranduil. “You are welcome.”

Thranduil only needed a few seconds to review the plan. He grew pale, and his throat went dry. It was complete trash.

“What?” Thorin started getting irritated. “Don’t tell me you don’t like it, Lasgalen. I spent two nights pulling this shit together.

Oh no. No, no, no. This partnership is never going to work out. The only way they could be rescued is by…

“Oh hey guys, what’s up?”

Right. Bilbo Baggins.

Thorin’s face changed so immediately as if he was bewitched. His lips stretched in a smile, his eyes widened a little, and his eyebrows went slightly up. Thranduil giggled internally. Does he look that silly when he stares at his dear Bard?

“Didn’t know you guys hung out!” Bilbo made a surprised face.

“Ugh, no!” Thorin protested. “I’m stuck with him because of the stupid finance assignment!”

Thranduil looked away, trying not to feel too offended. Bilbo sighed, sat next to Thorin, and gently put his hand on Oakenshield’s shoulder.

“First of all, Thorin,” Bilbo spoke with a smile, “you are not stuck with him. He is stuck with you .”

Thorin frowned but said nothing.

“Professors typically pair stronger students with… less successful ones. Which is why I am doing a presentation with Gollum for the environment class.”

Thranduil chuckled. “I’m sorry you have to work with Gollum. He is the worst.”

“I know right? Like he doesn’t even study!” Bilbo shook his head and looked at Thorin again. “Thran is really knowledgeable. Listening to him will do you good.”

“How do you know?” Thorin was still not convinced.

“Oh, that’s a story.” Bilbo sat in his chair more comfortably. “He really helped me with my statistics class. I sucked at it so much! No matter how hard I tried, I could not understand what Professor Eonwë meant. So he assigned Lobelia to me for help.”

“Oh no!” Thorin gasped.

“Yeah.” Bilbo quivered at the memories. “She was real mean to me, she wouldn’t explain anything, she was just laughing and calling me dumb. I thought I was going to fail the class, I was so desperate I just ended up crying in the library over a stats textbook.”

“And that’s when he came in,” Bilbo threw a grateful look at Thranduil. “He asked me what happened, and he explained the page I was crying over, and then we would meet twice a week… Even though Thran had his own classes, and work, and some personal shit he was going through, he still found time for me, a complete stranger. And I got an A- for stats. So, Thorin, do me a favor and don’t be a bitch to him.”

Thranduil totally expected Thorin to just dismiss the whole conversation, but instead, Oakenshield nodded, sighed, crumbled the result of two nights’ work, and threw it into the recycling can. Bilbo gave him a peck on the cheek; Thorin would probably spend the next hour blushing.

Bilbo waved them goodbye and left. Thorin took a deep breath, apparently gathering his courage and patience.

“Alright, Thranduil…”

Thranduil gasped. This was literally the first time Thorin called him by the first name. Wow, his feeling for Bilbo must have been really strong?

“... what did you not like about the Harry Potter universe?”

Thranduil could physically feel how hard Thorin tried not to flip over. He respected that. He had to be more flexible himself.

“I am quite fond of the series myself, that’s true,” he spoke softly, “but from what I can see, the magical economics and finance are connected to some extent with the muggle ones. I think the two governments were in contact, and the two worlds were not completely autonomous. So, we would have to study the actual financial system of modern Britain, which adds an extra load to our already busy lives.”

“Shit.” Thorin frowned. “I never thought about that.”

Thranduil bit down a “that’s why you have me” comment. Diplomatic .

“Thorin, but maybe you have other ideas?”

Thorin opened his mouth, as if trying to say something, but then closed it.

“Go ahead,” Thranduil encouraged as softly as he could.

Thorin looked away, then stared at his notes, fumbling with them.

“Valinor.”

Thranduil’s mouth opened. “W… wow. You...”

“Let me speak first.”

“I’m listening.”

Thorin took a deep breath and looked somewhere far. “I have always been thinking, as I was reading, just how did this paradize work? When Aule makes stuff for someone in the forge, does he get paid? Or does Yavanna bring him food in exchange for agricultural tools? Is everybody doing something? What is the motivation for work? Is it communism or more like benevolent capitalism? Who scrubs the floors? If we take that it is real, does it change with time?”

Thranduil quickly touched Thorin’s hand in acknowledgement. “Thorin, honestly, this is great. I’ll shoot a quick email to Professor Ilmarë and ask her if we can do religion instead of fiction, and if yes, I have all the books we need…”

Thorin stared at him in disbelief. “You really like my idea?”

“Are you serious?” Thranduil gasped. “This is gonna get us an A, I tell you! And it’s fun, too. We might accidentally shake the foundations of theology though. Which makes it even more fun.”

In a few minutes, they received the approval from their instructor and distributed the literature. Thorin even agreed to listen to Thranduil’s instructions for the reading.

“So, as you probably already know, you need to look for the rules and means of exchange. Like the thing you said about Aule and Yavanna. Don’t limit yourself to just finance; take all things economics, they might come in handy. And please, give your special attention to the port. Whenever it says ‘Alqualondë,’ highlight the shit out of it! Except for the Kinslaying maybe. Ports were extremely important to early finance.”

“Got you,” Thorin nodded. It seemed that he wrote down all the instructions!

Thranduil smiled at that. “I think it’s enough for today. We need to do the readings before we proceed to any analysis. You can borrow the books from me. They have copies here in the library, but those are extremely worn out, and theology students keep them all the time, so I got my own.”

“Thank you,” Thorin nodded.

“I have a question for you,” Thranduil smiled.

Thorin narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Only if you answer my question first, and be honest about it.”

Now that was funny. “Fine. Do your worst.”

Thorin looked around, then leaned closer to him and whispered as if they were plotting to overthrow the government. “Why do you dye your hair, Thranduil?”

Thranduil blinked in surprise, then erupted with laughter. “Oh Valar, Thorin. Seriously? I don’t dye my hair!”

Thorin was not so easily convinced. “That does not sound believable.”

Thranduil couldn’t stop giggling. “I can’t believe how silly you are. If I show you my childhood picture, will you believe me?”

Thorin nodded, intrigued, and Thranduil opened his laptop to search for his most treasured folder of photos. Here was the one, the only picture he ever had with his father. He was four or perhaps five, and he was sitting at the table beside his father at some event. The picture was taken by a reporter, and Thranduil downloaded it from the news website years later. It still had the logo in the bottom right corner. And of course, Thranduil already had his ash blonde, strangely at contrast with his father’s warmer, deeper tone.

“Wow,” Thorin breathed out. “That’s… that’s Oropher Lasgalen next to you.”

“He happens to be my parent,” Thranduil nodded.

Thorin blinked. “I didn’t know it. And he doesn’t really look like a parent on this picture. My father would have hugged the shit out of me!”

“Oh come on,” Thranduil shook his head with a smile, “you’re not saying your father hugged you?”

Thorin sighed impatiently and opened his own laptop. He went to the facebook page of a Thráin Oakenshield and scrolled down to a quite recent post. There was a picture, apparently of Thráin himself, but younger, hugging a little boy and a smaller girl. The caption read “With my cutie pies Thorin and Dís some years ago! Babies grow so fast!”

Thranduil blinked. Never in his wildest dreams could he imagine his father hug him or post a picture of them hugging, let alone call him a cutie pie. Maybe he’s done something wrong? Surely Thorin and his sister earned such treatment. He blinked again and looked away.

“Hey Thran,” Thorin called quietly, and Thranduil looked back at him. “What did you want to ask?”

Thranduil smiled. This was a much nicer topic to discuss. “Do you like chocolate cake? I bought it to reward myself for meeting with you.”

“I do like it, and I have a matching question. Do you like red wine? Because I got it for the same purpose.”

They packed their things, dropped by the Erebor building to pick up Thorin’s wine, and headed to Thranduil’s kitchen for the cake. There was enough to share with Bard who also had to reward himself for the hard work on assignments.

Thranduil was happy to forget his diet and his enmity towards Thorin and, for a moment, his suffering because of Bard, and the greater suffering because of his father. Friendship was important, too.

Chapter Text

Thranduil smiled, turning over another pancake and quietly cursing at the rolled-up sleeve of his sweater that kept sliding down. It was getting cold now; winter was drawing nearer. Bard and Thorin were chatting at the table, the morning was bright (first time in ages), and he felt if not happy, then at least moderately comfortable. Despite his anxieties, the fall break flew past him almost unnoticed, and he barely had time to miss his love as he worked hard on the finance assignment. Thranduil also swallowed a lot of the readings for other classes and used his carefully saved money to shop for a bit of pretty winter clothes, which barely gave him any time to think about either Bard or his father. He had neither Galadriel to help him shop nor, as a matter of fact, Glorfindel who unexpectedly left for the entire break to visit a friend. That was a bit suspicious, just as Galadriel’s decision to go on a trip with Aredhel (and without Celeborn). Anyway, after the break, Thranduil and Thorin completed their assignment brilliantly and earned a heartfelt approval of Professor Ilmarë and the entire class. Now, Oakenshield visited Thranduil and Bard every day or two, sitting on the floor in their room or in the kitchen when other students weren’t using it. Being a decent man, he always brought some food with him. Thorin’s friends finally stopped making fun of Thranduil, which was also very nice.

“Valar, you listen to this,” Thorin gasped, marvelling at the new post in Alfrid’s creation - the Secret Gossip blog. Officially, it was anonymous, but everybody knew it was Alfrid who was behind it. “‘Thranduil Lasgalen and Thorin Oakenshield are lovers. They have a religion kink together. Also Lasgalen wears a tutu.’ This is so fucked up, Thran!”

Thranduil didn’t have a religion kink, yet he couldn’t help but blush as he imagined himself with Thorin while wearing a tutu. Nothing but a tutu. Maybe that’s why Secret Gossip was so popular - because people didn’t actually mind reading borderline nasty stuff about themselves?

Bard joined in. “‘Glorfindel Gondolin sleeps with any guy willing to fuck. Local pharmacy cashiers know him by name because of the amount of condoms he buys.’”

Thranduil snorted. “Alfrid needs to raise his standards. That is no gossip but a well-known fact.”

After their snicker, Thorin continued. “‘Aragorn Elessar pretends to be straight so that guys don’t throw him out of their rooms when they change.’”

“That’s funny,” Bard said. “But no one kicks me out of the room when they change even though I’m not pretending to be straight.”

“Is every single one of them going to make me blush?!” Thranduil asked in mock disapproval and turned back to his pancakes.

“Wait, wait, this one is gonna destroy both of you!” Thorin exclaimed. “‘Bard Bowman stares at Thranduil Lasgalen’s ass when he thinks no one sees him.’”

Bard choked on his tea. Thranduil stopped breathing; please, Valar, let Alfrid be right this time, just this once.

“Oh,” Thorin didn’t seem to notice their confusion, “Pippin Took was the reason behind the destruction the Dale building. He tried to set Percy Lakeman on fire.”

“Is that for real?” Thranduil asked as he put a plate of pancakes to the table, to Thorin’s visible rejoice. “Did they catch whoever did it?”

“They did not,” answered Thorin, “but I don’t think it was Pippin. He’s crazy, but not that crazy.”

“Well,” said Bard, “let’s put gossip away for now and eat while we can still enjoy the taste of food and feel alive.”

“True,” Thorin groaned and grabbed the biggest pancake, “finals are drawing nearer. Have you guys ever finished a semester while suffering from unrequited love? I am accepting tips.”

“Don’t study with your crush,” Thranduil answered readily, “keep listening to music but make sure it’s not angsty, don’t - I cannot emphasize this enough - don’t stay up late when everything gets eerie and sad and…”

“How come you know so much about this?” Bard looked surprised. “I have never even experienced unrequited love.”

He instantly received angry stares from both Thranduil and Thorin.

“Oh, and my last tip, I almost forgot,” Thranduil said. “Get yourself someone… you know… to relax with. This really helps.”

Bard nearly choked on his pancake.

“I am not sure that is my style, but if you say so…” Thorin answered reluctantly.

“Trust my expertise,” Thranduil nodded eagerly. His phone chimed, and he turned his attention to it. “Oh, good news. Someone has it worse than us: Sauron says Denethor is applying to graduate school for Fall.”

“Valar bless,” Thorin shook his head. “As soon as I get through my senior year, I’m so outta here! And my dad said he’s not gonna pay for my graduate school should I want to do it cause Dís needs college too.”

“I’m not planning either,” Bard admitted.

Thranduil sighed. They were in their third year now, so a year and a half, and he would lose Bard? But maybe he’ll get over Bard by that time. Or he will just suffer through the separation like he suffered through everything in his life. Yes, that shall be fine. That will do.

He poured himself more tea.

***

Denethor walked down the street with his favorite fabric grocery bag with a print of a tree and seven stars around it. The picture was as stylish as it was laconic, and Sauron had tried more than once tried to get hold of this bag himself, but Denethor would never permit it.

He glanced around absent-mindedly, recalling what Sauron asked him to buy: he had forgotten the grocery list on the countertop. Sauron was too busy with that new project he was doing with Professor Bauglir: he stayed up till 3 a.m. and sometimes even received late night calls from his professor. They were preparing a five-foot model (or rather, a sculpture) for some exhibition for which Melkor (yes, Sauron was already calling him by the first name) had graciously paid the registration fee. So, Denethor assumed some house responsibilities - temporarily, of course.

The traffic light was taking unusually long to switch, so he focused his attention on a grey car parked nearby. Behind the wheel, he spotted a handsome dark-haired guy who reminded him of Sauron, only instead of Sauron’s mischievous smirk, the guy’s face featured a serious, slightly anxious expression. His pensive blue eyes met Denethor’s, and the stranger turned to his companion on the passenger seat. A door opened, and the other stranger climbed out quickly.

Denethor frowned. What was going on?

The man approached swiftly, and Denethor’s throat went dry. He was gorgeous . His tall, slim frame was clad in skinny jeans and a thin navy blue coat, its pulled-up sleeves revealing a most unusual tattoo on his right arm and hand. Instead of the usual black, the lines were shining silver, twisted into an elaborate Celtic pattern that densely covered the skin. As if that wasn’t stunning enough, the man also had a ridiculously long dark braid thrown over his shoulder; it was adorned by a few silver trinkets that matched his tattoo as well as his earrings and cuffs.

And his face… oh, that face. Why would such a guy even look at him?

The grey eyes of the stranger stared at him without hostility, but the driver suddenly pulled the vehicle closer to them, and Denethor got tense.

“Easy,” the tattooed man smiled, “we’ve come with peace.”

“Who are you?” Denethor asked bluntly.

“Oh, right,” the man smiled wider. “Celebrimbor Eregion.” He offered his hand for Denethor to shake - left hand, leaving his right one hang limply.

“Denethor Gondor.” It took Denethor a few seconds to figure out a way to shake a left hand. Celebrimbor noticed his confusion and chuckled bitterly.

“Not easy, right? I know who you are. Sauron’s boyfriend.”

Denethor tensed again. “If this about some trouble he ran into, I am sure there are decent ways to solve the problem.”

“Sounds like Sauron hasn’t changed,” Celebrimbor smiled. “No, it is you I need.”

“What for?”

“A warning,” he nodded. “A warning from someone who had known Sauron most intimately.”

“Why would I believe you?” Denethor asked, barely containing his desire to turn around and walk away. The anxiety in his chest was growing every second. His heart was pounding. He know Sauron had done a lot of shit, and he was not sure he wished to know all of it.

“Fine.” Celebrimbor smiled. “I’ll show you some proof.”

The proof was buried somewhere in the depths of Celebrimbor’s iphone, and Denethor felt impatient, watching him scroll. At least it meant Celebrimbor was not stalking him: otherwise, the man would have come prepared.

“Here, I got it,” Celebrimbor smiled, suddenly shy, and handed him the phone.

Denethor looked at the screen. The contact was called “Do Not Pick Up at Any Cost,” but the number was Sauron’s. The texts were from five years ago. Some of the received texts reminded him very much of the ones he got from his boyfriend.

“Baby you still there? Get me more pasta sauce.”

“You have NO IDEA what I can do with my tongue.”

“If I cook naked, are the neighbors gonna see me? Second question, do I care?”

“Love you sooo much my Tyelpe! Please get home soon.”

“Pizza waiting for you. Oh, and I’m gonna fuck you, too!”

Some were oddly specific.

“Tyelpe, Barahir is going crazy. He wants that ring, like, tomorrow. Is that possible?”

“I signed the contract, but she offered slightly less than you wanted. Hope it’s okay.”

“You idiot, why did you leave your fucking anvil on the floor? I’m in hospital!”

“The participation fee is 1500. I say fuck them.”

Denethor sighed: the proof was sound. “So, you’re his ex. Sauron never told me about you.”

Celebrimbor smiled and leaned against the car. The driver inside was busy with his phone.

“Well, that is not surprising. You don’t tell them about your exes either, do you?” the man smiled at him and then narrowed his eyes, watching his reaction.

Denethor couldn’t help but blush. Yes, the outcome of his previous relationship was dramatic, but the thing itself was not at all notable: a few coffee dates and a peck on the lips. There was nothing to tell Sauron about.

“Oh, I see.” Celebrimbor smiled and picked up one of Denethor’s locks to put it behind his ear. “He was your first, just like he was mine. He likes that.”

“Likes what?” Denethor’s voice sounded more hoarse and strained than he wanted it to. Something was squeezing his chest, hard, making it difficult to breathe.

Celebrimbor licked his lips and leaned in his direction, widening his predatory smile as he whispered into Denethor’s ear. “Popping cherries.”

Denethor growled and stepped back. “That’s just a coincidence.” He looked around, as if preparing to leave.

Celebrimbor straightened and opened his palms defensively; it turned out that the silver tattoo covered his right palm, too . He spoke more sincerely now. “Alright, Denethor, I’m sorry for being creepy. I’m still mad at Sauron for all he did to me, and I wanted to warn you. I saw him with you, and I got really worried. I don’t want anyone else to suffer.”

“So what did he do?” Denethor asked, losing patience. “So far, you’ve only been smiling at me and showing me perfectly normal texts.”

Celebrimbor bit back his smile and stretched out his right arm. “Take my hand,” he smiled encouragingly. “Take it, touch it. Feel for yourself.”

Denethor was surprised at the request, yet he obeyed. He wouldn’t admit even to himself that he wanted to touch the silver tattoo, and Celebrimbor’s hand was beautiful, nicely shaped and with long fingers. It looked so surreal!

Yet Denethor flinched when he touched that hand, Celebrimbor’s laugh more bitter than mocking. Scars. Lots of scars, everywhere. The sublime, otherworldly tattoo only served to cover them.

“This parting gift is not easy to forget, is it?” He smiled, but Denethor could now see the smile was some kind of way to prevent tears from flowing out. “You want to know how I got them?”

Denethor nodded. Whatever it was, he had to face the truth.

“Fine.” Celebrimbor leaned against the car again. “I am an artist, a silversmith. I used to be a right-handed silversmith, but then I met Sauron. We fell madly in love and never left each other’s side. He said I was a genius. A visionary. Just google my name, you’ll see it wasn’t mere flattery.” His eyes glistened in excitement and horror. “Sauron wanted a part in this, a share of my glory, and I let him become my assistant. We ran a business together . Everything was going so well, and I trusted him completely, and he loved me and my art so passionately…”

He looked down, as if unable to speak, and his right hand trembled. Following some strange instinct, Denethor took it into his, very gently, and Celebrimbor found it in him to continue.

“As a silversmith and an idiot, I made rings for us. Wedding rings. I don’t know what I hoped for, he was far too young to get married, but he found out somehow about the rings and was very pleased. And then… some time later, I found the tax return he prepared for our business. He… filed for about a half of what we actually earned.”

Denethor sighed. Tax fraud, why is he not surprised?

“I got furious. I didn’t know my partner, my lover could do such a thing! It could get us both in jail, ruin my reputation, close my doors to the world of art! I threw away the rings, I didn’t even remember where they fell, and I was stupid enough to text him about it.”

Denethor’s instinct told him to take Celebrimbor’s other hand.

“He showed up five hours later, dead drunk and no less mad. He hit me. Once, twice. He asked where the rings were. He told me I had to retrieve them. I fought back, and then… he grabbed my hair and tossed me. There was a glass top table, it was a bit cracked, which is why we got it for real cheap at the thrift store. Valar, if only I knew that table would cost me my hand...”

Denethor ceased breathing as Celebrimbor freed his injured hand, lifted it up, and moved the fingers absent-mindedly in front of his own face. The movement was slow and forced. “Do you know what losing a dominant hand is to a smith, Denethor? To anyone? It took me so long to train my left hand. I had to start as a beginner, an apprentice, after everything I had achieved. Months and months of pain, of despair, of tears… Yes, he said sorry, but I will never forgive him. Never, ever.”

The other man opened the car door abruptly and jumped out to envelop Celebrimbor in his arms. “Tyelpe, that’s enough. You should not think of this anymore. Come, you need a drink.”

“I had to warn him, Gil,” came the muffled voice, “I had to…”

“I am warned,” Denethor nodded gravely. “I’m sorry you had to experience this. I really am.”

Celebrimbor got out of Gil’s embrace and took a wallet out of his pocket. “Here,” he handed Denethor a business card, “text me if you need me. If he gets aggressive or something… Gil and I, we have three working fists together,” he smiled, and Gil with him. “We’ll protect you.”

“Thank you,” Denethor nodded, sincerely.

The two men waved to him, got into the car, and promptly drove off. Denethor looked at the card. It read:

“Celebrimbor ‘Tyelpe’ Eregion

AND

Narvi Khazad

Durin's Door

Silver & Jewelry”

Denethor smiled: Celebrimbor had definitely learned his lesson. His boyfriend (and Denethor assumed Gil was a boyfriend) and his business partner were now different people. But what was he to do now? How is he supposed to react to such a revelation?

His phone chimed: a text from Sauron.

“Denethor, could you get the pasta sauce, darling?”

***

For the first time in ages, Sauron was cooking. Denethor had school and work, like himself, and on top of that, his graduate application, which turned out to be much more of a nuisance than Sauron had imagined. Personal statement (a separate one for each program, no less), a writing sample that Denethor hasn’t even completed, a bunch of recommendations, and some stupid standardized test that, for whatever fucked up reason, involved a maths section. Denethor sucked at maths. Sauron was starting to think of asking Thranduil for help because he himself sucked at it even more. For now, he wanted to help his dear boy in minor ways: cook a dinner.

Not that Sauron was less busy than Denethor: Minas Tirith was taking up all his free time, but the experience was rewarding. Before he met Melkor, all he was getting were favorable comments on DeviantArt, some As for courses, and quite a bit of private commissions. Now, he was receiving professional feedback and collaboration. Instead of Professor Ossë’s “well done, Sauron,” he now had detailed comments, and he could even show his commissioned works to Melkor, even though it was not the professor’s job to assess them. When he shyly demonstrated Melkor the blueprint of the seven-levelled city with his corrections, the professor grabbed his hand excitedly and gasped, “What a wonderful cliff!” Sauron felt truly happy for the first time in ages. All he needed was the recognition, and his supervisor’s fond smile.

His phone made a weird sound, and he dropped the ladle to take a look. It was two messages at a time: one “just did” from Denethor, and the other one from the professor.

“Whatcha doing?” asked Melkor.

Sauron smiled. Their interaction was definitely becoming informal, and he liked it.

“Cooking pasta for my boyfriend.”

“Didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” came an immediate reply.

Sauron was thinking about a good way to respond when the pasta started boiling furiously and spilling water all over the stove. Apparently, he had forgotten to put the stove on simmer.

“Shit!” Sauron gasped and ran to correct the situation, forgetting about the text. Just when the spaghetti was ready, he heard the front door open.

“Darling, give me that sauce, I need it now!” he yelled.

Denethor slowly walked into the kitchen, still in his boots, and silently put the jar of sauce on the counter. He looked grim.

“What happened, baby?” Sauron smiled sweetly. “Did the prices upset you? Come here, let me kiss you, that should be a consolation enough.”

“I’m tired,” Denethor nearly growled in response. “I need to get back to my writing sample.” He walked out of the kitchen and headed straight to his room.

“Wait, wait,” Sauron followed him anxiously, still holding the ladle in his hand, “what is this all about?”

Denethor closed and locked the door before Sauron had a chance to get into his room.

“Wha…” Sauron dropped the ladle. “Denethor?! What the hell… I am entitled to an explanation! And I will be standing here until you give it!”

No sounds from behind the door. Sauron started panicking.

“Fine,” he said, crossing his arms. “You will need to go to the bathroom sooner or later anyway.”

Still no answer. In five minutes, the meat Sauron was frying for the pasta started burning and set off the fire alarm.

“Fuck!” Sauron screamed, running to the kitchen, “fuck, fuck, fuck, why is my life such a mess?!”

And of course, the noodles had already turned into jelly, and the ladle he was carrying left lots of white drops on the floor. His surprise dinner for Denethor was definitely ruined. Sauron dumped the spoiled food into the trash can, wiping his tears with a pot holder. Of course. What did he even hope for?

Disgruntled, Sauron went back to his phone. There was a new text from Melkor; at least something to cheer him up! He’ll deal with Denethor later.

“I’m sorry, was that inappropriate? My apologies.” Apparently, Melkor mistook his silence for offense.

“Nothing wrong,” he hurried to type. “I just ruined my dinner because of an unexpected drama and had to clean up the mess.”

“Love drama?”

“I guess.”

“Wanna meet and talk about it? I’m free. Super need rest from M-T. The tower roofs are the freaking worst.”

Sauron gasped. Wow! This was very unprofessional and it was probably a better idea to talk to Thranduil or Angmar or Saruman, but he really wanted to see Melkor right now.

“Please.”

“I am at the Hithlum cafe. Kinda far from campus but no students saying hi every second. Is it convenient?”

Sauron looked at the map. He needed to take the bus there, and the next one was leaving in five minutes. He looked into the mirror at his disheveled appearance… Whatever, he thought, it’s not a date or anything.

“Be there in 15,” he texted, put on his boots and coat, and stormed out. Let Denethor sort out his drama by himself. Maybe it was wrong, it most certainly was, but he could not care less at the moment. He just needed to see Melkor, right now.






Chapter Text

Sauron grinned - and immediately received one of Melkor’s breathtaking smiles in return. Just why does he have to be so handsome? Is that an integral part of his success story?

“I’m leaving in the morning,” Melkor said, and Sauron could swear he sounded somewhat sad. “But please call or text me anytime if you need anything. Still, I would prefer that you take a break, as the academic calendar suggests. You’re exhausted.”

If Sauron smiled any wider, his cheeks would have started hurting.

“I will.” He hesitated a bit before adding, “I’ll miss you.”

Melkor put his beautiful warm hand on Sauron’s shoulder. “I will miss you too, Sauron, very much. Good bye now.”

Sauron jumped out of Melkor’s car before he could burst with happiness. He turned around and waved, watching Melkor drive off, and then ran inside and upstairs to his apartment, singing.

In the kitchen, he put the popcorn into the microwave and unloaded all the soda bottles from the fridge to put them into Denethor’s fancy tree bag. Everything seemed to be going smoothly for now. Denethor apologized for that weird fit of irritation, the work on the model was going fine, and their friendship with Melkor seemed to deepen after the latter wiped some tears from Sauron’s sad face at the  Hithlum cafe. Yes, Melkor and Denethor were leaving for the break, but he was still blessed with a friend and a sweetheart. Besides, they both promised not to stay away for the entire break, only because of Sauron, which was extremely nice of them and also very flattering.

Also, he and Denethor were invited to a party - well, not technically a party, more of a meeting. Most students from Galadriel’s broad circle of friends had already left for the winter break, and she belatedly decided to have a meetup with the rest. Sauron was secretly proud of belonging to this cool circle, even though he would never openly admit it.

“Hello, love,” Denethor smiled, walking into the kitchen with a bag of fencing gear. He threw the bag into his bedroom and approached Sauron to kiss him on the cheek. “You fine?”

“Very fine, unless you decide to lock yourself up again,” Sauron smiled.

“I’m sorry, dear.” Denethor flashed him a charming smile and kissed him on the lips, softly, slowly, like he alone could do.

“We’ll be late, my heart,” Sauron whispered as he broke the kiss. “Go shower.”

***

“We are so glad to see you!” Galadriel clapped her hands excitedly and hugged her longtime friend.

He was the first to arrive to the common room where she and Aredhel were getting ready for the meetup. Galadriel decided to skip decorations this time; instead, they brought blankets and marshmallows to fry them in the fireplace, which was probably against the dorm rules.

“We?” Galadriel’s friend smiled. “Is Aredhel the lady of the house now? What about Celeborn?”

“Yes, very funny, Tyelpe,” Galadriel giggled and then waved her hand dismissively. “It’s officially over with Celeborn, you’ll have to get used to it.”

“Whatever you say, my dear,” Tyelpe nodded. “Just let me know her ring size before long.”

“Hey, you,” Aredhel slapped him on the shoulder, blushing.

“Do you like marshmallows, Tyelpe? And where’s your boyfriend?”

“I do, and he’s at work.” Tyelpe sat on the couch and wrapped himself into a blanket.

“How’s your hand?” Galadriel asked, quieter.

Tyelpe frowned and moved the fingers on his right hand slightly. “It works. I started using it in the forge a little bit. But the fingers won’t bend enough for me to drive. Gil has to drive me everywhere.”

“That’s okay, you’ll get there, love,” Galadriel approached to give his braid a gentle tug.

The door opened slightly, and Thranduil peeked inside.

“Hey, I brought apples!” he announced cheerfully and then gasped, noticing the guest. “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Eregion in his own person! What made you descend on us, o silver star?”

Tyelpe laughed, showing all of his teeth. “I am living in the town again. Such an artsy place! Narvi and I moved the business, and Gil just got a job here. Currently stocking up the forge. If any of you have cool posters you don’t need, lemme know.”

“I will,” Thranduil said, putting a bowl of sliced apples on the table. “But I must have missed something, when did you move?”

“Do you even follow my instagram?” Tyelpe raised his eyebrows.

“I can’t,” Thranduil admitted, giggling. “Everytime I see that username, I just start laughing like an idiot and don’t go any further.”

“Oh, I don’t blame you!” Tyelpe joined in giggling. “It was Narvi’s stupid idea. That doesn’t even make sense because I don’t technically have a silver fist. It doesn’t bloody bend into a fist.”

“I am sure it will, eventually.”

Tyelpe shook his head and got up. “Forget about it. Thran, you still have such nice hair!” He got both of his hands into Thranduil’s hair and then brushed it with the fingers of his left hand. “I love it. Do you have someone really good to pull it for you?”

“He does!” Galadriel yelled, and Thranduil said “I do not” at the same time.

“I don’t get it,” Tyelpe smirked, still caressing Thranduil’s hair. “You do or you don’t?”

“Let’s put it this way,” Thranduil replied, suppressing his gasps when Tyelpe’s nails started scratching his scalp, “there is someone incredibly hot who I would like to pull my hair, but he doesn’t want that. Or anything.”

“Only he stares at you like he would fuck you against the wall in front of everyone,” Galadriel said absent-mindedly while typing something on her phone. How could she even follow the conversation and text at the same time?

“No he doesn’t!” Thranduil exclaimed; he finally freed his hair from Tyelpe’s grasp and turned to face him. “You say my hair is nice, but your braid! How do you get all these thingies into it?”

“Oh, let me show you,” Tyelpe smiled, visibly pleased that he asked. He undid his braid, divided the trinkets roughly in two, made Thranduil sit, and started braiding his friend’s blonde hair.

Aredhel took a few pictures of them. “You guys look really nice like that.”

There was a knock on the door, and Galadriel yelled to them to come in. It was Eowyn in her usual jeans and combat boots combo with four bottles of wine pressed to her chest.

“Gals, you got more alcohol?” she asked, carefully unloading her bottles onto the table. Tyelpe rushed to help. “Four isn’t nearly enough, also Eomer is sick and… wow, who dat?”

“Our old friend Tyelpe,” Galadriel replied, still texting. “Really old. Like, ancient.”

Aredhel pointed at more wine bottles and laughed at Tyelpe’s pinched face. “We knew him back when he studied here, and now he moved here again, but we’re leaving for a month. So Galadriel invited him here… Sweetie, what are you typing?”

“Thorin has invented ninety-nine reasons why he can’t show up, and I’m trying to convince him to come.”

“Oh, come on,” Aredhel waved her hand, “just say Bilbo is gonna be here.”

“Okay.” Galadriel typed something and stared at her screen blankly for a few seconds. “Wow. It worked. Is there something I should know?”

“Thorin is mad for Bilbo,” Thranduil replied, Tyelpe’s hands in his hair again. “He keeps talking about that. Oh, shit, I probably shouldn’t have told you…”

“That’s okay,” Galadriel said, finally distracted from her phone. “I told Eowyn you were smitten with Bard.”

“That’s okay too,” Eowyn lifted up her eyes from the wine bottle tag. “I only told Eomer and Angmar. Oh, and Arwen, too. She might have told Hilda.”

“That’s not even funny,” Thranduil sighed. Tyelpe kissed him on the forehead in consolation.

Galadriel frowned, staring at the two of them. “Tyelpe, how the fucking fuck do you braid hair with one hand?”

Tyelpe chuckled. “So, you liked my pic of a two-foot silver tree with thin branches and like a hundred and thirty leaves, and what you’re asking about is a braid?”

“Show me the tree!” Aredhel demanded, and Galadriel opened the picture on her phone, showing it to everyone.

“What’s that?” Bilbo asked through the open door. “Are you guys reading Alfrid’s gossip or what?”

“No, we’re staring at some silversmithing,” Galadriel replied. “What did you bring, Bilbo?”

“Egg rolls,” he replied and extended his hand to Tyelpe, “Hi, I’m Bilbo.”

Tyelpe smiled and presented himself in turn, shaking Bilbo’s hand.

“Guys, I can’t believe what Alfrid wrote about me!” Bilbo exclaimed. “Just look at that!”

Galadriel waved to Glorfindel who just came in and immediately started reading the new post in the gossip blog while he and Tyelpe kissed each other’s cheeks in greeting. “Okay… ‘Lindir Figwit is a…’” She coughed. “‘...is a hoe who sleeps with both Elrond Peredhel and Angmar Witcher. Both think they are the only one!’ Ugh, Alfrid…”

“He doesn’t sleep with Angmar,” Eowyn shook her head. “I do. And Angmar’s straight.”

Galadriel continued. “‘Galadriel Arafinwë left her boyfriend for a girl.’ Well, true… ‘If someone threw up on your car last night, it was probably Radagast Brown.’ Eww!”

“Okay, now I know who it was,” Aredhel frowned furiously.

“Guys,” came a muffled voice through the door, “could you please open?”

Aredhel opened, and there was Bard, carrying a nice round homemade pizza. “Hey guys! Thanks, Aredhel.”

“Oh Valar, I love the look of it!” Aredhel cheered and helped Bard put it down. “Bard, we’re reading Alfrid’s gossip. Oh, and this is Tyelpe, buy the way.”

After the due introductions, Bard sat next to Galadriel. “I haven’t read today’s gossip yet. Also you know what, we should probably watch for Alfrid tonight. He gets this stuff from somewhere, and lately I’ve had a feeling I was being spied on.”

Thranduil had to nuzzle into Tyelpe’s chest to suppress his blushing giggles: he recalled an older post about Bard supposedly staring at his butt.

“Oh, look, this is it!” Galadriel gasped. “‘Bilbo Baggins is cute.’ This is the whole thing! Omg, Bilbo, the whole world loves you, even Alfrid.”

“Or maybe Thorin hacked his account,” Thranduil couldn’t suppress his laughter.

“What do you mean?” Bilbo asked curiously, but a second later, the door opened to let in a flushed, panting Thorin.

“Hey guys,” he waved cheerfully. “I was just racing Denethor and Sauron, and I outran them both!”

Thranduil laughed again but fell silent as soon as he spotted Tyelpe’s pale face. “You okay, friend?” he asked, concerned. Tyelpe’s right hand was trembling.

“You…” Tyelpe looked at Thorin, “You don’t mean Sauron Gorthaur, do you?”

“I’ve no idea what his last name is,” Thorin replied and stuck his head out into the hallway. “Hey Sauron? What’s your last name?”

There came an indistinct reply from the hallway, and Thorin looked back inside. “Yeah, that seems to be correct.”

“Tyelpe, are you well? Should I call Gil?” Galadriel sat next to him and took his hand into hers, but Tyelpe didn’t respond.

In a few seconds, Denethor opened the door - and froze at the sight. “Oh, hi, Tyelpe,” he managed.

“Hi Denethor,” Tyelpe gave him a nervous smile. “How are you?”

“I am…” he started but was interrupted.

“Baby, stop standing in the doorway and please let me pass, okay? You made me carry everything, and it’s freaking heavy.”

Denethor moved aside with a dramatic sigh, and Sauron stepped into the room. He gaped at Tyelpe and dropped his bags to the floor.

“Tyelpe??” he gasped in shock. “What in Aulë’s name are you doing here?”

“That’s Celebrimbor to you, bitch,” Tyelpe hissed, rising from his seat and throwing his blanket away.

“Sorry, not drunk enough to pronounce that,” Sauron grinned.

“Well, forgive me for not bringing you a bottle of wine; got one working hand, and it was busy shooting you this!” Tyelpe approached Sauron to demonstrate his middle finger with furious enthusiasm.

“Is that nail polish?” Sauron narrowed his eyes, smirking. “Wow, how do you put that on?”

Tyelpe growled. “There’s salons, but surely poor unkempt trash like you wouldn’t know that.”

Sauron kicked the door shut angrily and came closer, but Galadriel stood between the two, spreading her arms. “Guys, enough, enough. I don’t know why you hate each other, but please don’t fight. I’m the dorm manager, and you won’t believe how many administrative mechanisms will be involved in the investigation if you do. I will see no end to emails.”

“Okay,” Tyelpe nodded. “But I’m outta here. I’ll see you later, Galadriel, Aredhel, Thran, Glor. My apologies.” He pressed his right hand to his chest and made a ceremonial bow.

Sauron snorted. Tyelpe walked past him, pushed down the door handle, and… nothing. He pushed again, more furiously.

“Who locked the fucking door?” he started hyperventilating. “No, please. No, no. Not this. Not with him!”

“Chill, Celebrimbor,” Sauron grumbled and stepped to the door to try it. “Shit. It’s stuck again. I thought they fixed it, Galadriel?”

“Oh fuck,” Galadriel rolled her eyes. “They were supposed to fix it already!” She came to try it herself, to no success. “Aredhel, take a plastic cup and get Tyelpe some water. He’s gonna faint any moment.”

Sauron looked at Tyelpe, concerned, but didn’t dare step closer. Instead, it was Thranduil who helped him sit.

“I’m sorry,” Tyelpe mumbled. “I’m fine, really, please don’t worry.”

Aredhel was filling up the cup in the adjacent bathroom, and Galadriel went there to make a phone call.

“Day off?” her voice came out, increased by the echo created by the tiled walls of the bathroom. “But we’re stuck in here. There’s like ten of us. Please, could you just drop here and break the door? … No, the windows have grates on them. … Really? Okay, we have food and water here, so… Okay? Good. Good. Thank you so much, sir, we’ll leave you some pizza.”

She walked out to find ten pairs of eyes stare at her. “Guys, um… the repair guy is five hours away, and there’s no one else to help cause it’s winter break already. We gotta wait for him. I’m sorry, Tyelpe.”

Tyelpe got up again. “I’m gonna break the door.”

Sauron just couldn’t resist his assholish temper. There was no power on Earth that could close his mouth once a stupid pun started crawling out of his throat.

“Do you need a hand?”

Denethor gasped in shock and elbowed him in the side. Tyelpe tried to hide his face in his palms, but he couldn’t suppress the giggle: hand jokes were his weakness.

“Sauron, I fucking hate you,” he smiled and sat back on the comfortable couch he was previously occupying. “I guess I can endure these five hours, just don’t sit next to me, okay?”

Sauron did just that. Denethor shook his head, rolled his eyes, unpacked the items they brought, and sat next to Sauron. Galadriel finally relaxed and sat on the smaller couch, hip to hip with Aredhel. The other girl giggled and took her hand, squeezing it gently. The rest of guests each took a bean bag, putting the bags around the table.

“So, Sauron,” Aredhel inquired, “you are the shitty ex who ruined Tyelpe’s hand?”

Bard frowned, and Bilbo’s mouth made a perfectly round “O.” Glorfindel shook his head disapprovingly. Eowyn looked at Sauron, munching on a slice of pizza and listening attentively: Arwen wasn’t here, so she had to listen for them both. Thorin was busy Bilbo-gazing and took no notice of the drama.

“That’s a… pretty accurate description of what happened,” Sauron replied carefully.

“Okay, guys, enough of that,” Tyelpe waved with the hand in question. “Galadriel, I trust you have a plan of entertainment? Let me just text Gil real quick, and I’ll be right with you.”

Galadriel sighed with relief and walked to a small corner bookcase to take something out.

“Denethor,” Tyelpe whispered, leaning over Sauron to make sure Denethor could hear him, “I’m really, really sorry you had to witness this. I should have been more thoughtful.”

“That’s okay,” Denethor replied softly.

Sauron stared at each of them in turns. Some pieces of a puzzle seemed to connect in his head, yet he said nothing. He grabbed an egg roll and a few apple slices to occupy himself.

“You had a very beautiful print of a tree on your bag,” Tyelpe continued whispering, smiling, while Sauron examined the silver trinkets in his hair. “Could I see it again? It’s really inspiring, I badly want to cast one!”

“That’s a print of my bonsai,” Denethor smiled, really pleased by the interest. “Sauron, would you mind switching seats with me?”

“Sure, sure,” Sauron smiled, “sit next to my ex for a friendly chat, what a wonderful idea.”

After Denethor got to sit next to Tyelpe, they poured some soda into cups and started showing each other things on their phones, whispering, as Galadriel mixed some rumbling paper in a big bowl.

“What’s that?” Bilbo asked her.

“Okay, guys,” Galadriel put the bowl on the table, Aredhel helping her move the pizza to make room. “There are plenty of board games in that bookcase, but this is the fucking wickedest game that ever existed at UME.”

“Oh no,” Tyelpe lifted up his head from Denethor’s phone, “is it the truth thing?”

“Yes, but I removed the dick size question, so you need not worry,” Galadriel replied seriously. Sauron and Thranduil spluttered. “Guys, be serious for a moment and hear the rules. This bowl contains pieces of paper that give you a task. To confess something, or to do something. If you do not fulfill it, you lose, and you have to sit there and watch the rest of us play. Some requests are very blunt and may hurt you or cause discomfort. You are warned.”

Everyone nodded, and Galadriel got up to carry the bowl to Eowyn. “Get you a wine, girl,” she nodded gravely, “because you are first. We count turns from the door.”

Eowyn filled her plastic cup with wine, took a sip, and reluctantly picked a paper.

“Come on! What’s it saying?” Bilbo shifted in his bean bag, impatient.

Galadriel put the bowl on the floor next to Eowyn’s bean bag and returned to her seat. Eowyn unfolded the paper. “‘Read aloud the weirdest text you have on your phone.’ Oh. Okay.” She opened a fairly recent one. “From Eomer. ‘Eowyn pls help. I tried to reheat an egg in micro and also put mayo on it. I opened micro and now I got mayo in my eye. Id fucking k how to take it out, heeelp!’”

This first answer was met with universal laughing approval. Sauron was next; he opened the paper. “What do you regret the most?”

It was way too early for the serious shit to start coming out, but he had no choice. He fell silent for a bit, frowning and gathering his courage, and took a deep breath.

“Tyelpe,” Sauron said, not looking at him. “I regret causing you harm. More than anything.”

Tyelpe simply nodded, and Sauron passed the bowl to Denethor in silence.

“Oh, I hope I get something funny and decent,” Denethor blabbered cheerfully as he rustled through the paper. “Here, I’ll take this one.” He looked at it, and the smile was gone in a moment. “Please let me throw this out of the window.”

“Nope, you gotta read it aloud,” said Aredhel.

“No.” Denethor blushed crimson, even the tips of his ears, crumbled the paper, and attempted to throw it away, but Tyelpe grabbed him by the hand. There was a brief struggle in which the silversmith’s one hand prevailed over Denethor’s two.

“Do you crush stones with that hand or what?” Denethor asked, shocked.

“Only delicate metals,” Tyelpe replied with a smile and unfolded the paper. “Oh. Which innocent soul wrote this? ‘How many times have you been fucked in the ass? Did you always like it?’”

The room erupted in laughter. For whatever reason, Bard was the loudest.

“Chill, Bard, please,” Eowyn begged. “Alfrid is gonna hear you, and all our answers will end up in Secret Gossip.”

“There is a gossiper?” Tyelpe gasped excitedly. “You guys do honor traditions! We had one, too. His name was Grima. He ended up becoming a reporter.” He looked at Denethor. “Baby, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you.”

Denethor blushed deeper, if that was possible.

“So, how many times?” Tyelpe asked, smirking.

“Like I counted,” Denethor muttered.

Tyelpe wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “And? Did you like every one of them?”

“Most of them,” Denethor replied, looking down, his voice lowered almost to a whisper.

What ?” Sauron breathed out, and their entire company bursted out laughing. “What do you mean, most of them?” Laughter continued.

“Well, you know, Sauron,” Tyelpe picked one of his most annoying smiles and turned slightly to the left to display it to Sauron, “sometimes you have a tendency to…”

“Tyelpe, sweetheart,” Sauron cut him off with an equally poisonous smirk, “it’s your turn now. Let’s see what you get and how you will be smiling them.”

“Oh, fine,” Tyelpe’s smile got a little less confident as he picked up a paper, but then it went back to its original glory. “‘How tough are you?’ Hella. ‘Demonstrate.’ Okay.”

“You go, boy,” Galadriel held up her fist encouragingly, and Aredhel clapped her hands impatiently.

“Bilbo,” Tyelpe turned to the right and wore a nicer smile, “would you please come up and and aid me in demonstration? Denethor, would you move the table to the left?”

Both guys complied.

“Oh, I know what’s gonna happen!” Glorfindel said, grinning widely. “Done that in the army.”

Tyelpe asked Bilbo to sit on his legs, closer to the feet, and hold on. When Bilbo did, Tyelpe lifted his legs up, to everyone’s gasp, until they were at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Then, he brought them down and repeated. Galadriel managed to count ten times until Bilbo confessed he was getting dizzy, so Tyelpe put him down.

“Man, what do you do with those legs??” Thorin asked in shock.

“I fucking forge,” Tyelpe replied, not without pride. “Foot-operated powered hydraulic press.”

“You’re a smith?” Thorin gasped. “Dude, me too! I don’t use the press though...”

“You got two hands,” Tyelpe shrugged, “I got one.”

“You forge one-handed?!” Thorin’s excitement was reaching its limits. “Am I still allowed to sit in your presence??”

“Please sit, and please pick a paper, it’s your turn,” Tyelpe smiled, barely containing his enjoyment.

“Okay. But only if you promise you’ll let me watch you forge.” After Tyelpe’s content nod, Thorin picked his doom. He laughed. “It says, ‘Would you go down on someone in the room? Give names.’ Haha, that’s hilarious, thank you, Galadriel!”

Galadriel blinked. “You know, we’ve been playing this game for two years now, and you’re literally the first person who said thank you.”

Thranduil and Glorfindel looked down in shame.

“So, the answer?” Aredhel demanded.

“Okay,” Thorin chuckled, looking around. Some cheeks blushed. “Sorry, ladies, not playing for that team. I would go down on…” He looked around once more and pointed his finger at Thranduil. “You.”

“Just how much wine did you have?” Thranduil inquired, blushing furiously and trying not to crush his egg roll.

“So what Alfrid wrote, I mean the tutu thing, was true?” asked Glorfindel.

“No, it wasn’t,” Thorin replied calmly. “Oh, Glorfindel. You.”

“Me?” Glorfindel blinked, surprised. “But you don’t even know me!”

“Like that ever stopped you,” Thranduil blurted out, giggling uncontrollably. Once again, there was a roar of laughter.

“Thran, Glor, who else?” Aredhel wouldn’t leave Thorin alone.

Thorin pointed his finger at Tyelpe who lifted up his head from a bag of chips. “I prefer blonde or chestnut. But if I see you pump that press, you got me.”

Not in my forge,” Tyelpe replied firmly. “I am not picking bits of sterling silver from my butt.” Laughter again.

“So, is it my turn now?” Bilbo asked and reached for the bowl.

“Bilbo,” Thorin looked him in the eye with a smile. Bilbo pulled his hand back. “I almost forgot to tell you. I would totally go down on you!”

Bilbo covered his face with both palms, giggling and blushing. Thranduil and Bard gave Thorin a standing applause, to universal amusement. Thorin was happy: Bilbo didn’t seem to mind at all! Valar bless this game.

Bilbo finally picked up his own paper. “‘If we saw your browser history for the past week right now, what would you be the most embarrassed about?’ Ugh, okay. Fine. Thorin was honest, and I can, too. No one is gonna believe me when I say 10 tips for a perfect blowjob popped up on my screen, and I accidentally clicked it, right?”

Thorin laughed louder than anyone else; Bilbo thought the windows would shatter from the sound wave.

“And now we have come to Galadriel,” Thranduil smirked. “Go ahead and get the taste of your own medicine.”

“Fine,” the girl grumbled, picking up a piece of paper. “I do prefer to watch, you got me there. But alright… ‘Name one weird thing you do in the shower.’ Oh, who even wrote that? Okay, okay. Obviously, I get fallen hairs out of my butt crack!”

Aredhel slapped her shoulder and laughed out loud. Thranduil and Tyelpe threw a glance at each other and joined her, followed by Thorin and then everyone else.

“I’ve been waiting for that for ages,” Thranduil rubbed his hands. “Aredhel’s turn!”

“Oh, come on, don’t attract extra attention to me,” Aredhel replied in her low voice and grabbed a paper. “‘Ever broken the law? If yes, how?’ Alright, so this one time I went into a park, and I walked for, like, two or three hours. And then this ranger comes up and says I’ve wandered into private property and I’m not supposed to be here. And he showed me the way back to then park. But he was cute and kinda hot, so we fucked in the woods, breaking another law.”

For this revelation, Aredhel received an applause.

“You’re so cool, fucking in the woods like that,” Thranduil spoke with admiration. “I would probably, like, get a sunburn, three ticks, and skin irritation after that.”

“I would never make you…” Bard started calmly before he realized he said this aloud. He coughed and hurried to correct himself, “I mean, I would never do that.”

Thranduil looked to his right, at Glorfindel, as if silently asking, “Did I hear that right?”

Glorfindel nodded most eagerly, smiling, but then he turned to the bowl with dread. He felt nothing good was going to come out.

“‘Is there anything you hate yourself for at the moment? Be honest!’ Ugh.” He looked around, as if searching for support. Thranduil squeezed his hand.

“I…” he looked down, unusually quiet and upset, all traces of laugh gone from his blue eyes. No one has ever seen him like this.

“Glorfie, you don’t have to,” Aredhel whispered to him, stroking his shoulder. “It’s just a silly game. Say something silly.”

“No,” he replied firmly. “I have to be honest with myself. Well. I’m sure not all of you know the story, so I will make a little introduction. I met my love while in the army, and we promised each other never to part, even if one of us ends up dead. I promised not to love another. I have kept the promise for years.” He looked up to meet everyone’s gazes. “I’m not sure I can continue to keep it. And I hate myself for it.”

Bard gasped. He still remembered the beautiful love story Glorfindel told him at the party. He did not expected the fairy-tale to be broken like that. Thranduil bit down a smile: finally. Finally! It has always seemed so fucked up to him, the promise his friend had to make. It was wrong on many levels, and maybe now Glorfindel could be happy and loved once more. He deserved it. Thranduil would talk to him later. The look Galadriel gave him said that she would join, too.

As usual, it was Tyelpe who blurted it out. “Oh, come on, Glor, this is not how human mind works. You can’t promise anything like that to anyone. I’m glad you’re moving on, sweetie.”

Glorfindel sighed and looked down.

“Of course, Tyelperinquar is not the type to experience eternal love,” Sauron snapped.

“Valar forbid and protect my poor soul,” Tyelpe replied sharply. “Being stuck with you forever because of some romantic shit would be the worst eternal nightmare. No offense, Denethor.”

“None taken,” Denethor chuckled. These exchanges seemed to amuse him.

The reaction cheered Glorfindel up a little bit, so Thranduil let go of his hand and proceeded to take his turn.

“Please, Varda the Queen of Stars, let it not be embarrassing,” he prayed, and Bard smiled at just how cute he looked and sounded. But then Thranduil unfolded his piece of paper. “Manwë fucking Sulimo! This is double embarrassing!”

“One doom for all of us,” proclaimed Galadriel. “Read it.”

“‘Count all the people in this room you’ve slept with and name as many reasons your parents were, are, or would be disappointed by you.’”

The task was so bad everyone gave Thranduil a cheer.

“I hate this,” he confessed, but Bard, apparently inspired by Thranduil’s own treatment of Glorfindel, took his hand and squeezed it. Oh, Thranduil would do anything for it.

“Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Step one.” He looked around the room. “Sauron… I have a really weird question to you.”

“No we haven’t,” Sauron replied nonchalantly.

The round of laughter that followed was louder than anything the Imladris common room had ever experienced.

“I’m so relieved,” Thranduil smiled happily. “That makes two.”

“Wait, TWO?” Galadriel even stood up. “Glorfindel and who the fuck else?”

“That wasn’t in the task,” Thranduil replied shyly, “so I don’t have to tell you.”

“Tyelpe’s smirk is eloquent enough,” noted Aredhel.

“Varda and her fucking stars!” Galadriel stomped on the floor. “Just when did you guys manage? Also, why ?!”

Thranduil blushed and looked sideways.

“Because Ereinion wanted, what do I know?” Tyelpe shrugged and sent another bunch of chips to his mouth.

“Wait, you mean Gil was there, too?!” Aredhel had to make Galadriel sit down.

“Dear, please, chill,” Tyelpe replied calmly.

“I really, really hope Alfrid wasn’t eavesdropping at any point today,” Bard said.

“Alright, step two.” Thranduil took a deep breath. “Two reasons my father is disappointed in me. First, I’m gay.”

“But does he know it?” Tyelpe frowned.

“Yep, and he threw me out.”

“Seriously? That’s ridiculous.”

“Tyelpe, your dad threw you out for working with the wrong type of metal,” Aredhel reminded.

“Oh, but he didn’t mind me being gay! Thran, what’s the second one?”

Thranduil scratched his head. “I’m… getting a nipple piercing?”

“For real?” Galadriel gasped.

“That’s so adorable!” Aredhel applauded.

Tyelpe narrowed his eyes. “Did you know sterling silver was the best for this type of thing?”

Sauron growled. “Do you ever think about anything but dicks and sterling silver?”

“I know, I know!” Tyelpe raised both of his arms in excitement. “Dicks made of sterling silver! Sauron, you’re the inspiration.”

Sauron couldn’t help but giggle.

“Guys, quit your bitching, I want to hear what Bard gets!” Thorin yelled.

Bard took a paper obediently, watched especially keenly by Thorin, Galadriel, and Thranduil.

“‘Do you have a crush on anyone in the room? If yes, name their hair color.’” Bard read.

Thranduil’s heart stopped. Yes, yes, this is it, this is the moment. Bard is going to say it, and when this stupid game is over and they are back in their room, he is going to kiss Bard so sweetly. Of course, he will ask permission first, it won’t be like last time…

“No, actually, I don’t,” Bard said with a smile.

Galadriel snorted into her wine cup, and Glorfindel gave Bard a threatening glance. Aredhel shook her head. Sauron sighed. Tyelpe observed the drama.

Thranduil felt himself grow even paler than he originally was. He let Glorfindel fill his cup with wine and drained that at once. Again, oh, Valar damn him, Bard did it again! He’d been showing his sympathy for Thranduil for over a month now, and now he backed up saying he didn’t have a crush on anyone! Pain and rage filled Thranduil. He had thought things were slowly working out, and now Bard threw everything back to the start! Ugh.

“Guys?” Bard was visibly uncomfortable. “Is anything wrong?”

Galadriel turned to him and opened her mouth, but a knock on the door saved Bard from the queen’s wrath.

“Hey? You still there?” a male voice called.

“Yes, yes, we are!” Galadriel rushed to the door.

“Okay, I’m gonna break it now. Please stand clear of the door and, if possible, remove anything that’s in front of it.”

They removed Eowyn’s bean bag. After a few loud noises, the door cracked open, and a tall, muscular man with curly hair waved to them from the doorway.

“Really sorry about that,” he said. “It swell a while ago and started getting stuck in the doorframe. We ordered a new door, but they delayed the shipment for whatever reason.”

“That’s okay, thank you, Mr. Gothmog, for getting here so late and in your day off.” Galadriel wrapped some pizza into napkins for him.

“Oh, that’s cool,” the repair man said, “cause my wife was worried I’d be hungry here. Thank you. I’m just gonna remove that door completely, so that no one gets stuck.”

Galadriel started wrapping up the rest of the food. “Guys, time to go, cause I’m not playing that with no door.”

“That’s reasonable,” Thorin said and looked around for Tyelpe, whom he found kneeling beside Thranduil. “Tyelpe, can I have your number?”

“Sure,” the silversmith replied and pulled out one of his business cards to hand to Thorin.

“Cool last name!” Thorin said, taking a look at the card. “Is it pronounced ih-ridge-eon?”

Tyelpe frowned with slight irritation. “No, it’s air-egg-eon, please. And my name starts with a ‘k’ sound. Aulë fucking Navatar, it’s time to put the phonetics in there!”

Thorin was about to say something, but he got distracted by a blushing, giggling Bilbo who’d had too much wine and now had a mind to find out whether or not Thorin really meant what he said today. Oakenshield lost interest in discussing pronunciation right away and followed his love through the doorway, barely saying any goodbye.

“Thran,” Tyelpe asked, holding Thranduil’s hands and looking into his eyes with concern, “are you okay? Can I help you somehow?”

“I’m not okay,” Thranduil whispered. “But if you have a place for me to stay for the night, that’d be great, because I live in the same room with Mr. Denial.”

“Oh, Fëanor will be happy to see you,” Tyelpe grinned.

“You’re staying with Fëanor?” Thranduil smiled through tears, imagining the thirty-year-old Tyelpe living with his grandpa like a kid.

“Obviously. We arrived here like two days ago, all we have is a forge and a shitton of Gil’s clothes.”

“But wouldn’t he mind?” Thranduil asked. He really wanted to go with Tyelpe, but the last thing he wanted was to anger Fëanor.

“Oh, come on,” Tyelpe waved his hand dismissively, “I’ve already dragged in myself, Narvi, and Gil. I might just as well bring you. Fëanor says, as long as it’s not Sauron, I can bring any boys or girls.”

Thranduil chuckled. He could easily imagine Fëanor’s reaction to Sauron.

“Pack your shit, Thran, and prepare to pour out your soul, cause Fëanor is in the mood for some drama today.”

They helped Galadriel clean up, for which they were rewarded with the unpacked marshmallows,and then said goodbye to her and Aredhel. Eowyn and Glorfindel had already disappeared.

“Are you going to be around, Tyelpe?” Sauron asked carefully.

“Yep,” Tyelpe chuckled. “What, you want to hang out with me again?”

“I never said that,” Sauron grumbled.

“Okay, whatever, we’re leaving,” Thranduil said impatiently. “Good night, Sauron, Denethor.”

“Do you guys want to finish these chips?” Denethor asked, holding out a pack with a few chips still left on the bottom.

Without waiting for anyone’s reply, Tyelpe got his right hand into the pack and grabbed all the remaining chips. “This doesn’t count as breaking the diet cause I’m helping to clean up,” he explained to the giggling Thranduil. Unfortunately, Tyelpe’s fingers did not comply, and he dropped everything on the floor.

“Shit!” he stared at his hand. “What a fucker. Not once did it drop any broccoli!”

“Tyelpe, you’re a disaster!” Galadriel growled. “Get out of here, I’ll clean it up.”

They walked out; Sauron and Denethor went to the parking lot, but Tyelpe stopped in front of the building, on a spot brightly lit by a street lamp.

“Tyelpe?” Thranduil stopped too and looked at him. “What’s wrong?”

Tyelpe glanced sideways and suddenly grabbed Thranduil by the shoulder; Thranduil opened his eyes wide as he felt Tyelpe’s lips on his. That was unexpected but still nice; Tyelpe’s lips were sweet with some lip balm he used, and his tongue was gentle enough and not too insistent. Thranduil relaxed, allowing his friend to kiss him. He tensed, however, when he felt Tyelpe’s hand on his butt.

Thranduil pulled away slightly. “The fuck are you doing?” he whispered into Tyelpe’s ear.

Tyelpe giggled and whispered back, “Just making sure Bard over there gets the show he deserves.”

Thranduil gasped, fury flowing through his veins; he took Tyelpe by the face and kissed him, hard, crushing and biting his lips. Tyelpe moaned and pulled him closer so that their hips touched. They heard a silent curse and the sound of running feet, and they took it as a sign of success.

“Damn it, Tyelpe,” Thranduil giggled, still holding his friend.

“That went well,” Tyelpe admitted with a smirk. “Now, do you need anything from your room?”

“No, I came prepared,” Thranduil nodded at his little bag. “I thought I might get drunk and stay on Galadriel’s couch instead of walking over to Mirkwood.”

“Are you drunk though? You fine to drive?” Tyelpe asked, concerned.

“I only had two cups. Should be fine.”

***

The drive to Fëanor’s place went smoothly, and soon they were pulling into the driveway. Feanor’s house was way too big for him alone, and masterfully decorated. Two tall lamps shaped like trees lit the space in front of the house, a beautifully forged fence surrounded the premises, and all windows had stylish cast grates. Fëanor probably did all of this himself.

Once they got out of the car, Narvi greeted them with a loudest laughter.

“This fucking old idiot!” he yelled to Tyelpe, not caring that the neighbors could probably hear him. “Gloin disliked his video tutorial on youtube, and he just cast a fucking iron dick to mail to Gloin’s place! He has a mold now, he’s gonna send those to everyone he hates!”

Thranduil joined Narvi in laughing. Fëanor walked out of his forge, broad-shouldered, shirtless, and incredibly content.

“Hey. Someone here can’t take criticism,” Tyelpe noted.

“Come on, that was fun!” Fëanor roared and undid his bun, letting the long black hair fall on his shoulders and back. “Oh, you brought a friend?”

Thranduil waved shyly. “That’s Thran,” Tyelpe stroked his back lightly, “he’s sad and heartbroken.”

“Oh, we got wine for the heart,” Fëanor assured, nodding, “and for whoever broke it… Let’s say I might cast something particular.”

Thranduil chuckled. He had a plan now: he would drink his head off, listen to all the smith jokes, eat the marshmallows, and in the morning, he would return with messy hair and circles under his eyes. And may Bard wonder where and how he spent the night. If that doesn’t do it, nothing will.

Chapter Text

The dawn came and went, and yet, Bard still lay sleepless in his bed. Thranduil did not return to their room for the night; it didn’t take much imagination to guess the reason. Bard saw them, Thran and that silversmith guy. They kissed so passionately! Where would that passion come from? Maybe Thran was just like that, maybe he just liked to meet guys? If so, was his feeling to Bard of the same kind? After all, Thran kissed him only a day or two after they met. Maybe all he wanted was a one-time thing, or a relationship such as whatever he had with Glorfindel. That was upsetting to think of.

Bard was jealous, so very jealous. Tyelpe’s hands had no business being on Thran’s butt. Generally, the silversmith did not belong anywhere near Thranduil. Bard felt a strong urge to find him and tell him that; Thorin had his number… But how would he explain why their behavior was wrong when it wasn’t? Thran was a single man, and a very attractive one at that; Tyelpe, apparently, had a boyfriend, but it didn’t stop both of them from screwing Thranduil in the past…

It was all so complicated, and the worst of it was that Bard had no idea what he felt for Thranduil. Yes, Thran was so organized and responsible and serious about the school and knowledgeable in various spheres, and Bard loved that. He had that perfect blonde hair, the tragic eyebrows, the piercing grey eyes, the smile, the gorgeous body, too, and these things Bard also liked. But what’s more? He was not the type to dive in and figure the rest out later. He wanted to know that it was serious, that they would be together for real, but he could not know for sure, and that made him reluctant to admit his crush on Thranduil during the game.

Oh, he probably ruined things for both of them by saying he didn’t have a crush. In a few hours, he had to take a bus to his parents’ town, he would leave Thran alone for a month, and surely Tyelpe would be around to offer Thran his consolations. Ugh. Ugh!

Bard climbed out of the bed, showered, got dressed, chewed whatever fell out of the fridge, and packed the rest of his things. It was time to go; he would have a whole month to figure out what was between him and Thranduil. Hopefully it will help.

***

“I am so sorry, Sauron.”

The sky was dark, and the morning gloomy. His bags were already packed, but instead of having some steamy sex before a three-week break, they had to discuss Celebrimbor. Just freaking perfect. Well, what could one do?

“For what, Denethor darling?”

Sauron’s voice was soft and a bit guilty. He did not often sound like that, and for some strange reason, Denethor loved this voice. It made him shiver.

“I didn’t tell you I met Tyelpe. I snapped at you and locked up in my bedroom instead of talking. I am sorry.”

“Well, the whole thing is my fault anyway. And I am sorry for not letting you know what kind of a person I was. Denethor, is there anything you want to ask me?”

Denethor collected his courage and despair to say all of it without his voice breaking. “I’m confused, Sauron, and worried. What he described… were you really that aggressive? Would you hit me if I upset you?”

There were tears in Sauron’s eyes; he’d never seen that before.

“Tyelpe hurt me very much. That does not justify me, and I know better now. I would not hurt you, Denethor. Even if you hit me, I would not hit you back.”

“Why did you throw him at the glass table?”

“I couldn’t aim. He sprained my wrist. I was just trying to push him away so that I could run before the fight became even uglier.”

Denethor was silent.

“Do you believe me, darling?”

Denethor stood up and approached him; Sauron’s breath hitched as his lover slid on his lap.

“Tell me again how sorry you are,” a whisper tickled his ear.

What followed… Denethor was not sure what that was, but he liked it.

“I’m sorry… oh, I’m so sorry Denethor… Ah, please, forgive me… please…”

And Denethor forgave, so very generously. Surely it would be no trouble if the trip got delayed by a few moments?

***

Thranduil squinted his eyes. He couldn’t determine what time it was: winter sun did not provide much guidance, and he couldn’t find his phone. His eyes hurt, and the back of his head tortured him with dull ache. Ugh. Wine.

He tried to recall what happened last night; oh right, the truth game, lots of someone’s wet confessions, Bard breaking his heart, Tyelpe kissing him… Then, more drunk confessions at Fëanor’s house. He vaguely remembered speaking of his father - oh Valar, he probably still called him Mr. Lasgalen, even when drunk! Gil added something about his father too, or the absence of a father. There was a talk of Fëanor’s divorce and Narvi’s ghetto childhood, and Tyelpe said Sauron did what ?!

Oh no. His head hurt too much to recall all of the pain, his own and others’. Why was there so much pain in the world? He got up, slowly and reluctantly, visited the bathroom, and patted downstairs. Apparently, he was the last one to get up.

“Fifty four! That’s my boy! Fifty five! Don’t go too fast, Tyelpe. Fifty seven!”

Yawning, Thranduil careened into the living room. He spotted Fëanor in shorts and a tee - Manwë fucking Sulimo, was the guy running after how many drinks they had? Was he literally wearing this in the winter?!

On the floor, Tyelpe, with his braid wrapped around his head, was doing one-arm push-ups; Narvi stood next to him, holding a foot on Tyelpe’s back. Ereinion was watching the scene from the couch with a cup of coffee in his hand.

“What kind of BDSM session is this?” Thranduil asked, suppressing another yawn. Fëanor laughed heartily at his remark, forgetting his counting.

“Just Tyelpe doing push-ups,” Ereinion explained calmly. “He usually does them every morning, and today Narvi is helping him by putting some weight on his back.”

“I love this,” Narvi giggled. “I recall every damn time he yelled at me at the forge and have my revenge.”

Tyelpe’s breath was getting labored.

“That’s enough, son,” Fëanor stated firmly. “It’s past sixty already.”

“I can do eighty,” Tyelpe replied in a strained voice.

“Don’t argue with me, Celebrimbor.”

“Call me Celebrimbor one more time, I’m calling you grandpa for the rest of the week.” Still, Tyelpe brought himself to his feet compliantly.

“I don’t understand,” Thranduil whined, sitting down on the couch: standing up for so long was making him exhausted. “Am I the only hungover person in this house?”

“You definitely are,” Tyelpe replied, his breath calming. “I don’t drink because of this silver fist buddy right here,” he pointed at his right hand, “my knight in shining armor dropped alcohol to support me, and Fëanor and Narvi never get drunk no matter what they do.”

Thranduil sighed. So some people here were making drunk confessions without actually being drunk. “I thank you for your hospitality, but I want to get to my room where I can be shamelessly miserable in peace.”

“Has Bard left already?” asked Tyelpe. “Has he texted you?”

“I have no idea where my phone is.”

Fëanor found it behind the couch cushion. “Here you are. You were making out with Gil and attempting to send pictures to someone, and Tyelpe judged it unreasonable, so we hid your phone.”

Thranduil sighed again. More embarrassment, then. “My apologies for my indecent behavior, everyone. I was… kind of heartbroken.”

“No worries,” said Fëanor. Apparently, Gil did not have any worries either.

Still, Thranduil craved solitude, and so he wished the company goodbye and drove back to Mirkwood. Bard had left, and there was no text from him. Thranduil felt super shitty, and even shower and a light breakfast didn’t help. Galadriel was probably driving right now; Glorfindel had his own drama, probably even greater than Thranduil’s own; Tyelpe had seen (and experienced) enough. That left him with… yeah, Sauron. Well, it was not the first time, and probably not the last.

***

“Hi Thran,” Sauron replied lazily, stretching in bed with the phone under his ear. He had just ventured outside, dressed only in his robe among the snows, to give his Denethor a deep, sweet goodbye kiss in front of the car, and he was now warming up in the sheets while his lover was on his way. “What’s up?”

“You sound unusually cheerful for someone who met their ex last night,” Thranduil noted. He did not sound particularly cheerful.

“Yep, there’s Tyelpe,” Sauron replied, “but for each annoying Tyelpe, there is a Denethor, so life is fair.”

“Come on, Sauron. Tyelpe isn’t annoying.”

“Of course, not for you, you silver-fucker.”

Thranduil spluttered. “This pun was too stupid even for you.”

“That’s no pun. Weren’t you making out with him last night?” Sauron sounded a bit tense.

“We were trying to make Bard jealous,” Thranduil replied sadly. “Probably didn’t even work. Also he stays with his grandfather, so how would you imagine us fucking?”

“He lives with Fëanor?!” Sauron sat up.

“Yeah. He’s rather nice.”

“Rather nice?” Sauron gasped. “He threatened to set me on fire!”

“You probably deserved that, Sauron,” Thranduil giggled. “So, do you wanna meet and whine about Tyelpe in exchange for my whining about Bard?”

“Sounds awesome,” said Sauron without even thinking. He immediately bit his tongue in regret.

“Did you just acknowledge you needed to whine about Tyelpe?”

“Shut up.”

“Starbucks?”

Sauron sighed. He had not spoken to anyone at length about this whole thing. “I’m not sure Starbucks is ready to my silver tragedy. Can you drop by? Denethor’s left.”

“Be there in fifteen.”

“Bring wine.”

Sauron’s dreamy laziness evaporated; he paced back and forth in the living room, agitated and confused. Was he really ready to tell all that to Thranduil? Their newly born friendship would probably die on the instant. He barely ever spilled his guts to anyone. Even with Denethor, it was more like a short dialogue with one or two confessions thrown into it. He could not completely open up to Denethor because his love would then leave him for sure. If he must speak, he will speak to Thranduil.

He was so deep in these thoughts he did not even notice how fifteen minutes had passed, and Thranduil was now knocking on his door.

“Sorry,” he said, presenting Sauron a bottle, “I have no money, and Glorfie could only spare me one cause he has his own tragedy to water down.”

“Is it that bad?” Sauron asked as they walked to the kitchen.

“Bad?” Thranduil opened the wine with the easiness of someone who had been doing that a lot. “He has not slept with anyone for a month, I’d say it’s pretty fucking bad.”

Sauron brought out the glasses. “Why is everyone having some drama? Saruman’s parents had a fire in their house, Khamul has a visa trouble, Eomer had a fight with Angmar, and now Eowyn is not talking to either of them…”

Thranduil sipped his wine. “I didn’t realize so much drama was around. I was focused on my own.”

“I’m not sure I understand what’s going on,” Sauron said, trying his best to be polite. He rewarded himself with a large gulp of wine. Oh, Glorfindel definitely knew a thing or two about wines!

Thranduil chuckled. “If only I myself understood. If only I could know what the fuck is going on in Bard’s head. I know I messed up, I really did.”

“Oh come on,” Sauron took another sip. “Did you give him a disability?”

“Well, no, but I… kind of kissed him by force a day after we met?” Thranduil smiled apologetically.

“I am definitely not the one to judge you, as Tyelpe would be happy to confirm, but why did you do that?” Sauron asked. Thranduil did not strike him as the kind of man who’d force anyone.

“I was so fucking sure he liked me!” Thranduil growled. “He does this thing when he’s all nice and interested and attracted, and he would, I don’t know, touch my hand, or look me in the eye, or say something really suspicious! Like that one time he walked in on me changing in the bathroom, and he saw me in my lacy undies - yes, I have lacy undies, not a word about that - and I said sorry for not locking the door, and he was like, 'Well, not that I mind,' or something like that.”

Sauron laughed. “And you had to lock yourself up in that bathroom for much, much longer.”

“Shut up,” Thranduil muttered, “or I’ll respond in kind.”

“Like, how?” Sauron raised his eyebrows, amused.

“Don’t tell me you never think about Tyelpe.”

“SHUT UP!” Sauron even stood up at this blasphemy, Thranduil laughing triumphantly.

“That’s okay, Sauron, I’m not telling anyone.”

“I don’t think about Tyelpe,” Sauron protested but sat down again. “I mean, I do, but not in that way.”

“In what way, then?” Thranduil asked with curiosity.

“It’s mostly guilt. Some hatred, too, but mostly guilt.”

“Guilt is understandable, but why would you hate him?” Thranduil sounded strangely surprised. “What did he do? I know him, he wouldn’t hurt anyone!”

“Yeah, of course,” Sauron growled. “Just like Bard wouldn’t hurt a fly. He only gives you hope and then takes it away.”

“But I don’t hate him.”

“If he gets you a wedding ring and then throws it to trash, you would.”

Thranduil’s mouth hung open; for a few moments, he only blinked and stuttered before he managed to produce any actual words. “You… you and Tyelpe… were going to marry?!”

Sauron sobbed and looked away; he rubbed his eyes furiously and snorted. “I don’t know. I don’t know!” He felt his voice grow somewhat panicked, and he forced himself to calm down like many times before. “He made the rings, sterling silver and pearl. Beautiful like Tyelpe.” Another sob.

“What happened?” Thranduil asked quietly.

Sauron needed another immense effort of self-control to let it out gradually and not at once. “Tyelpe wanted to participate in an exhibition. The fee was fucking crazy, and also it was in France, so add airfare, hotel, and shit. Ost-in-Edhil was still in debt after a fire at the forge, so this stuff was out of the question. But I saw him grow sad, Thran. Disappointed. I don’t know what he told you, but I loved him dearly. I couldn’t refuse him anything.”

Thranduil was so deeply invested in the tale he was barely even breathing.

“I had several shitty ideas on where to get the money. I need you to understand, Thran, I don’t come from a decent loving family like Tyelpe does. I grew up differently. I didn’t care much for the law, especially if breaking it offered a chance of making my boy happy. So I messed with the taxes.”

“Oh shit, Sauron,” Thranduil shook his head. “It didn’t make him happy.”

“It didn’t, and he finally realized what trash I was, so he threw out the rings.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. I went furious and got out of control. For that, I am sorry. It’s my fault, and there’s nothing to argue about here. I didn’t mean to throw him at the table, but the whole fight was my fault, so this is, too. I am shit, and Tyelpe will never forgive me.”

Thranduil seemed confused, but he still took Sauron’s hand. It was not in Sauron’s fashion to accept condolences like that, but again, he had hardly ever spoken about such stuff with honesty.

“Sauron,” Thranduil spoke, still quietly, “I don’t think Tyelpe knows why you messed with the taxes. And he thinks you threw him at the table on purpose. Have you ever talked to him?”

“Well, have you ever talked to Bard?” Sauron riposted with a smirk.

Thranduil blinked; he even put the wine glass down. “Shit. Oh, shit, you’re right, I didn’t even think of it!”

“See?” Sauron smiled. He was glad to be of use.

“May I ask you something else about your painful and shitty memories?”

“Always up for that!” Sauron chuckled.

“So we had that oversharing night at Fëanor’s house, and Tyelpe mentioned something about you grabbing his good hand and crossing some limits five years ago.”

Sauron sighed. “I was pretty damn fucked up five years ago. I didn’t rape him, if that’s what you mean, and I didn’t intend to.”

“That’s what I said, that you didn’t strike me as the type.”

Sauron smiled. “Did you tell Tyelpe about that?”

“About what?” Thranduil arched his eyebrow. “About how I had more tequila than I should have and asked you to fuck me?”

“Asked?” Sauron smirked. “You didn’t ask, Thran. You begged .”

Thranduil blushed. “I did tell that to Tyelpe. He was glad you’d become more responsible than you used to be.”

“I’ve grown up, yes,” Sauron nodded. “Of course, it doesn’t excuse me, but I was quite young back then, and I didn’t have the experience of having my own boundaries respected.”

Thranduil blinked, fast, and grew a bit pale. “Wait, you don’t mean… Sauron?”

Sauron looked away; he didn’t like to be pitied. “It’s nothing. I meant nothing.”

“But you…” Thranduil struggled with his breath, “Tyelpe said you were only eighteen when you started dating him! Surely you couldn’t have had much experience before that?”

“Surely I could,” Sauron said quietly. “Surely I did.”

“Wow. Wow. Just how young were you when you started??”

“Ten, eleven, like I remember,” Sauron replied and poured himself more wine. This was the first time in over a decade he told anyone, and he was not yet sure it was a good idea.

“WHAT?!” Thranduil choked on his drink. “The fuck? The… the actual fuck, where were your parents, Sauron?!”

“I didn’t have’em.”

“But you were a child, there should have been some adults around?! Did you tell them?!”

“I did,” Sauron said, still calmly, looking away. “They told me to pray to Varda. I did. She never protected me no matter how much I begged. Maybe Varda didn’t like me that much. I don’t blame her for that.”

Thranduil’s hands squeezed his, tighter than was comfortable. “Shit, Sauron, this is so fucked up. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t. Don’t be sorry,” Sauron hissed. His tone grew aggressive. “It happens all the time. To a lot of people. There is nothing that shocking about it, Thranduil, and if you don’t stop crying over my fucking life, I’ll…”

“You’ll what?”

Sauron covered his face with his palms and replied in a weak voice he did not expect from himself. “I’ll start crying too, please, Thran, shut up, just shut up.”

“Okay,” Thranduil said, wiping his tears and trying to calm his breath. “Here, finish the wine.”

Sauron gulped the wine straight from the bottle. “Good shit,” he said, smiling. “With Denethor in the apartment, I’ve forgotten when was the last time I drank at home.”

“Promise me you’ll talk to Tyelpe,” Thranduil said; he wisely waited for Sauron to stop drinking, or the latter would have choked.

“You promise me you’ll talk to Bard.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

Sauron stood up; his head was swimming, and his hands shaking. “Do you want a nap?”

“I could do with one,” Thranduil nodded. “I spent most of the night drinking.”

Sauron extended his hand for him to take. “Come on.”

“What, you want to cuddle me in your sleep?” Thranduil giggled.

“When was the last time you cuddled someone in your sleep, Thranduil?” Sauron smiled.

Silently, Thranduil took Sauron’s hand and followed him into his bedroom. Within minutes, they were comfortably entangled and fast asleep under a thick, warm blanket.

Chapter Text

“Yes, fine. No, I’m not afraid that much, don’t be ridiculous!”

Thranduil tossed in the bed and woke up. Where was he again?

“Is he going to be there, Tyelpe?”

Oh, right, Sauron’s apartment. They had been napping together, and now Sauron was on the phone in the kitchen - with Tyelpe. About time: these two had been having this drama between them for five years. It had to be resolved at some point.

“Yeah, see you then. No, I don’t drive at the moment. Don’t ask why! Yes, yes, traffic offenses, Tyelp, leave me alone with that, ugh!”

Thranduil climbed out of the warm bed (that required a considerable effort of will!) and walked past Sauron to the bathroom. By the time he returned, his friend had finished talking.

“Thran, you can stay here. I gotta go up to Fëanor’s place,” he said.

Thranduil smiled. “Glad you finally decided to talk to Tyelpe. I need to get back to Mirkwood. How about you walk with me, and I’ll drive you to Fëanor’s?”

Sauron seemed really pleased with the idea. “What a sweet boy you are, Thran!”

They walked to the dorm, enjoying the way soft snowflakes landed on their clothes and fell down in the calm, windless air. The building was deserted; not even Alfrid could be found creeping in the hallways. Thranduil found his car keys on his desk, and they headed out.

Outside, they spotted a silver-haired man in a grey trench, ridiculously tall, standing with his back to them. He was smoking lazily and looking into his phone. Apparently, either the stranger’s height or his hair color (or, most likely, both) appealed to Sauron.

“That’s a hot baby,” he grinned. “I’d have fun with him if I didn’t have Denethor.”

As if hearing that, the man turned around; unexpectedly for Sauron, he looked at least twice older than them, though very handsome.

“Wow,” Sauron gasped, a little embarrassed. “Thran, he kinda looks like you, you know?”

Thranduil smiled and nodded happily. “It’s because he’s my uncle Elu.”

“That’s right,” the man smiled: he could definitely hear them, to Sauron’s shame. “Glad my little boy still remembers me.”

“Ugh, this is super embarrassing,” Sauron muttered, blushing. “I’m gonna go, and you talk to your uncle. I’ll call an uber.” He escaped quickly before Thranduil had a chance to object.

“So,” Elu threw his cigarette gracefully into the nearest trash can and approached his nephew, smiling in his particular half-friendly, half-sarcastic manner, “what is my stylish boy doing in a North Face coat? You’re a little old for a teenage rebellion, ya know?”

Thranduil sighed. He was truly glad to see his uncle, but since Elu was travelling most of the time, along with his wife Melian, he clearly wasn’t aware of the changes in the lives of the Lasgalen branch of the family. Well, Thranduil thought, Elu could be a little snooty, but he was not nearly as regal as Mr. Lasgalen. He would not faint from hearing the truth.

“Father threw me out, uncle. North Face isn’t the worst of what I have now. But I don’t complain.”

“He WHAT?!” Elu grew pale, then crimson. “The fuck, Oropher?! The actual fuck?..”

Thranduil stood there for a few seconds, quietly, letting his uncle chill. Elu liked to be expressive.

“Okay, Thran, let’s go inside somewhere, cause I’m gonna freeze in this signature piece,” Elu tugged at his grey trench, one of the numerous grey coats he owned. “Is there some relatively decent place around here? A Starbucks, at least?”

“There is one, yeah.” Thranduil almost shook his head at Elu’s “at least”; he himself had grown to consider Starbucks a luxury.

They walked into the Starbucks, which was almost as deserted as the dorm, with the exception of two students talking at the bar stand.

Elu went straight to business after they received their drinks: Thranduil’s latte and his uncle’s weird seasonal frappuccino. “Why the earth-digging fuck did the old Lasgalen throw you out?”

Thranduil paled a little and looked down on his paper cup. He had no idea what his uncle’s opinions were: they had never talked about coming out or gay rights or anything of the sort.

He was nervous. What if he would lose Elu as well? “I… I just… I am…”

“What?” Elu shifted in his seat impatiently. “You took his money without permission? You got someone pregnant? You called him ‘dad’ in front of the press???”

“I’m gay, uncle,” Thranduil breathed out.

Elu blinked and fell silent. Now what?

“That’s it?” he finally spoke. “That’s a reason to throw a nice, smart, and perfectly reliable boy out of the house?” Elu snorted. “You know what Oropher needs? To swap children with me for a week. He’ll get my dearest daughter and that THUG that comes in package with her! Then he’ll learn to value what he has. But enough of that old piece of disappointment, how are you living, Thran? Are you doing fine on your own?”

“Pretty fine, yes,” Thranduil nodded, still unable to believe Elu was alright with him being gay. “A campus job, careful planning, and a stipend.”

“A campus job…” Elu sighed and pulled something out of his bag. “Let’s say, two, no, five thousand for the start, and then…”

“No, no, uncle, really, I’m fine,” Thranduil muttered, barely holding back his tears. Five thousand dollars could literally solve almost every problem he had. His broken laptop, his bills, his ripped (in the wrong places) jeans, and tons of other things that just always manage to add up and produce a monstrous expense.

“You stop that, Thranduil,” Elu replied firmly and signed a check with a steady hand. “Campus job does not sound secure to me. And please, don’t be a proud, stubborn prick like your father. You have an uncle who loves you. Text him if you need money. Like, if there’s a doctor’s bill or something… You still have that car, sweetheart?”

“I do,” Thranduil nodded, taking the precious check and trying not to look too embarrassed. “He didn’t take it away. He took me off his insurance, though.”

“What a petty motherfucker,” Elu shook his head. “I told my sister, don’t marry that bastard, he’s so full of shit! She never listened. Anyway, I’m gonna put you on my insurance. And please don’t argue with me. Beleg will call you about the details.”

Thranduil breathed out. His insurance was the shittiest, cheapest kind that included almost nothing. He couldn’t say no here.

“And I’ll send you money every month.”

That was a bit much.

“No, uncle, thank you, really.”

“Big boy now, huh?” Elu smiled. “Well, fine. But I can still send you gifts, right?

“If you wish,” Thranduil smiled. Uncle Elu was incredibly good at picking gifts: rather than following his own preferences, like many givers tended to do, he always tried to figure what the receiver would truly want. In fact, the vanilla spice perfume that suited Thranduil so well was originally a gift from Elu.

“Would you mind if I make a little call?” Elu asked suddenly.

Thranduil sighed: he could guess what this call was going to be. “Unleash yourself, uncle,” he nodded and walked away a little bit to give Elu some privacy - not that the latter really needed any.

It took literal seconds to confirm Thranduil’s suspicions. “Oropher?” Elu sounded almost cheerful. “Did I tell you you were a piece of trash? … No? Well,  I’m telling you now. … No, your son didn’t ‘call me and complain,’ I met him, and you won’t believe what he was dressed like! Even you would be ashamed. … Oh, shut up, go fuck yourself in the nose. And by the way, what if the press accidentally meets your son? … Yes, yes, I like how hasty your voice sounds. Plead me!” Elu giggled. “I heard something about your creditor, whatwashisname… Falmaro? Olwë Falmaro? Married to a man, huh. Can you imagine? Can you imagine just how much money you’ll lose if your son gives an interview? … Oh no, Thranduil is kind. He loves you, I have no idea why. Me, however… Yes, Oropher, rethink your choices. Nah, don’t worry, I’ll be supporting your son since you’re incapable of it. … Oh, by the way, saw your latest interview. A cane, seriously? Who do you think you are, Lucius Malfoy? … Okay, now I’ve had enough of Lasgalen shit for today. Hope your dirty conscience lets you sleep tonight.” He hung up - apparently, without letting his brother-in-law come up with an answer.

“That was harsh, uncle Elu,” Thranduil noted quietly, sitting down next to his uncle again.

Elu shook his head. “Not nearly harsh enough. I was mindful of your presence.”

Thranduil snorted.

“Please, Thran, do me a favor and find yourself a decent boyfriend. I don’t need another idiot to keep Oropher and Beren company,” Elu grumbled angrily, yet his expression softened immediately at a sudden thought. “Or do you already have a boyfriend?”

Thranduil blushed. “No. I mean… well, it’s complicated.”

Oh no: Elu set back and rolled up his sleeves. There was no escape now. “You gotta tell me, darlin’. Now that I am the father figure here. Maybe I can help? I have… quite a bit of experience in the matters of heart.”

“Nothing to tell,” Thranduil shook his head. “I am into him, dreaming day and night of getting his attention, he seems to like me, and then he backs away. Never says anything explicitly. Meanwhile, I have to suffer in silence.”

Elu listened attentively, frowning; his facial expression reminded Thranduil of Galadriel’s. “Does he suffer in silence as well?”

“What?”

“Well, does the boy even know you’re that much into him?” Elu shrugged.

“I’m sure he does.” Thranduil sighed. “Sauron tried to convince me to talk to him, but I don’t know what to say. He’s aware of my feelings. I would just embarrass myself once more.”

“Maybe he thinks you’re playing or whatnot,” Elu suggested. “You know… I’d been into Melian for a year before I figured she liked me back. I flirted with everyone around, and she thought I wasn’t a good option, so she pretended she wasn’t interested.”

Thranduil blinked. Oh, fuck . First, he had kissed Bard the second day they met, then he’d been talking about Glorfindel all the time, winking at Thorin, and later, making out with Tyelpe. Of course Bard wouldn’t think he’s serious. Shit!

“Anyway, darling,” his uncle interrupted his thoughts, “Melian here is texting me she is already done. We have to go. But please, text me whenever you need anything.” He stood up and patted his nephew on the shoulder. “I know I’m always running around, and we don’t talk much, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care, alright?”

They hugged, then Elu shot a selfie of them (for his instagram, obviously) and waved him goodbye before getting into his car and driving someplace where Melian was waiting for him. Thranduil wasted no time; he grabbed his phone and dialed just the right number.

“Galadriel? Can you do me a bit of an illegal favor?”

***

Bard sighed and sent another piece of mom’s meat pie to his mouth. Just perfect: now he was stress eating. He used to go out to the shooting range whenever he was stressed, but shooting itself was part of the problem now. Farewell to the perfection, the precision, the concentration: now he was eating in bed while wearing pajamas. He felt like a part of him was missing now, and yet Bard could not bring himself to shoot again, not after what he did. It was so deeply disturbing, so upsetting, so unfair after all! Why did he have to give up on his life’s passion only because he happened to be at a certain place in a certain moment, by accident, by coincidence? If only he could avoid that. If only he had not been at the mall that day…

But enough of that. What else was there? Oh, right, he was in love (?) with some guy who liked to fuck around! Just what he needed, as if the gun drama was not enough for him. And to complete the pile of shit in which he was now stuck, he had the stupidity of telling his parents about both situations, and now they were pitying him. The pitying included freeing him from all housework, as well as giving him massive amounts of food. Even the thought of the upcoming winter holidays could not cheer him up. Studying and reorganizing some old junk in the closet did not help either.

But surely his life was not so miserable? His grades were very satisfactory, even better than he expected; his writing had improved, his parents were alright despite the burden of paying his tuition, and he had some friends now… Right, friends!

His spirits lifted, Bard dialed Thorin’s number. Hopefully he would not be busy!

“Hey Bard!” Thorin replied cheerfully within a second - apparently, he had been browsing on his phone.

“Thorin,” Bard smiled gladly, “I was upset and decided I’d call you.”

“Why upset?” Thorin asked with genuine interest, and that made Bard feel better already. “Is it about Thranduil?”

“How do you know?” Bard gasped in surprise.

“Doesn’t take a lot of imagination,” Thorin chuckled. “Also Tyelpe enlightened me on the whole love drama thing.”

“What’s Tyelpe’s business in this?” Bard growled. Not this guy again!

“Oh, relax, man,” Thorin assured him, “they were just playing around to trick you into jealousy. I think it’s silly, but again, who am I to judge.”

Oh, that was a relief.

“Look, Bard, I am having Bilbo over at my dad’s place, and it’s getting serious. All it took was some honesty. I figured you could use it, too.”

“Wow,” Bard blinked. “You and Bilbo?.. How?”

“Well, you see, I was so sure he wasn’t interested in me, or in any relationship at all, I’ve built a whole picture in my head that had nothing to do with reality. He was into me all along, can you imagine? I’m so glad. All I had to do is ask, but instead, I was overthinking and denying and avoiding. No good. Don’t be me.”

“So what am I gonna tell him then?”

“Just tell him the truth. Hide nothing. Even if he does not feel the same way about you, Thran is decent enough not to take advantage of you . At least you would know you tried. Alright?”

Bard sighed. “Okay. But only after I take a nap.”

“Go ahead then,” Thorin chuckled. “Bilbo is finally out of the shower, so I gotta go, too.”

“Thorin?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

Bard sighed and went to bed. Despite being never much of a Valar worshipper, he prayed quietly to Irmo, the Lord of Dreams. “Please, Irmo,” he whispered, wrapping himself into the blanket, “show me the right way. Tell me if my decision is correct.”

Within seconds, Bard was fast asleep. Snow fell quietly on the roads, making the tires screech quietly at sharp turns. Two and three-story houses adorned the sides of the road, modest but brightly colored and glowing with string lights. The hands on the steering wheel were shaking a little bit, yet there was confidence in them, and determination. Even the snow would not prevent the driver from reaching his destination as soon as the weather made possible.

The mall was covered in snow as well, with a beautiful, lush spruce tree decorated with sparkles and garlands outside. People chatted cheerfully next to the entrance, and kids were laughing happily, perhaps in anticipation of winter feasts and gifts. Bard felt like something grand was about to happen, not just the festivities but something actually special, something for him alone. Earendil shone brightly in the winter sky, even though it was not nearly nightfall yet - surely it must have meant a thing!

The driver was somewhat anxious; he consulted the navigator more frequently than needed, and worried about the snow, but most of all, he feared the outcome of his trip. What would the reception be? Could it turn out that the whole ride was in vain?

Bard stepped into the mall confidently, with a smile on his face. He had not any money, and still, he came here to receive his gift. Inside, there was another spruce tree, smaller, and he approached it, breathing in its fresh scent. Somehow, the intricately shaped snowflakes were still here, descending from the ceiling and falling to his feet, to his ragged old sneakers, and above, he could see Eärendil.

But the screams came all the same, and the shots. His vision darkened, and the snowflakes and the star were gone. Blood, blood again, here comes the flaming demon of his dreams, and Bard has no gun. He feels shiver and cold sweat run down his back. How, how could this happen?

“Why would you believe you were to find happiness here?” the demon speaks, his voice cold iron, echoing Bard’s own thoughts. “There is nothing for you here but endless suffering.”

Bard wants to respond, to challenge, to resist, but words get stuck in his throat, and no sound comes out. He cannot move either. This is it, this is the end, once again, every night, he would end here, stuck in the endless loop of pain and fear.

Yet the car door opened, and He jumped out and ran inside, swift as Nessa, strong as Tulkas, beautiful and fearsome as King Manwë himself. He was clad in shiny white robes, with a sword in his hand and a bow on his back. “This is but a dream, Bard,” He spoke. “Wake up. Wake up and let me love you.”

“Thranduil?..” Bard could not believe it, and hot tears ran down his cheeks. “ You came for me?

“Yes, yes, Bard,” the beautiful vision smiled, and the demon shrank and faded away. “Now, it’s time to wake up.”

“I love you so much,” Bard sobbed.

“Bard! Wake up!” his voice grew as loud as the rocking thunders of Ulmo and the stormy waves of Ossё. “Bard! BARD!”

Bard flinched and gasped - and found himself in his bed, wrapped in a warm blanket, still in his pyjamas.

“Bard! Bard Bowman!”

Someone was still calling him?

Confused, Bard slid to the floor, shaking his head to overcome the drowsiness, and ran to the window. Yes, he was there: proud posture, long hair almost as white as snow itself, a large scarf around his neck and shoulders, skinny jeans…

Bard opened the window with his trembling fingers, cursing at the frame that got stuck because of the frost. “Thranduil!” he screamed into the open window, clouds of steam swirling around his face, snowflakes clanking and chirping next to his ears.

“Bard!” Thranduil responded, less desperately and more happily now. “Please, Bard, let me in! We need to talk!”

Unable to calm his breath, Bard ran downstairs in his pajamas as fast as he could, barely bothering to out on some boots before jumping outside, into the snow. The gate was stuck too, and he cursed and cursed, accompanied by Thranduil’s fond laughter, still not daring to believe his dear boy was here. Yes, Bard opened the gate, and the vision did not disappear - instead, he found himself wrapped into a tight, warm embrace.

“You came,” he whispered, kissing Thranduil’s warm fingers, “you came for me…”

Inside, there was hot chocolate, and a blanket, one for the two of them. Bard wanted to cry, and to kiss, and send a grateful prayer to Irmo, and he had to harbor so many emotions at once that he just sat numbly with Thranduil’s arms wrapped around him.

“I’m so sorry, Bard, “ Thranduil spoke softly, no longer a victorious, Vala-like vision from the dream but his kind, lovely self again. “I’m sorry. I do not need anyone else, not Glorfindel, not Tyelpe, not anyone, only you. I’m sorry I didn’t make it obvious enough.”

Bard’s throat felt so tight he could barely talk. “I’m sorry I pushed you away instead of talking to you. Will you forgive me, my heart?”

Of course, there was nothing to forgive. Eärendil shone brightly in the darkening sky, Bard’s parents were off at a friend’s birthday party for the entire night, and there was enough meat pie in the fridge for both the tired hero and his defender.

Chapter Text

Sauron threaded carefully through the enemy’s territory. The front door of Fëanor’s house was unlocked, and no one seemed to notice his arrival, so he decided to proceed at his own risk. Fëanor’s place was impressive, especially to Sauron who had never lived in a house.

He was in the hallway when he started hearing voices.

“Well, I don’t know. I think there’s a cost to everything. A cost to being popular.”

“But we can’t work in the forge and deal with that shit at the same time. We need to hire someone.”

“I agree. Any ideas?”

“Why don’t we ask Thran? He seems to need money.”

“Well, yeah, but I’ve slept with him, so this violates the policy.”

Laughter. “Oh come on, that was long ago, Tyelpë!”

“According to that logic, I could just as well hire Sauron!”

Sauron stepped into the living room, yelling, “Hire me, I’m broke!”

Tyelpë’s face reflected no surprise. He was seated on the couch next to Narvi, his friend whom Sauron remembered as the grumpy guy who didn’t approve of their relationship. On the coffee table in front of them, there were numerous pieces of jewelry, not only silver but also gold and something else Sauron could not tell. Apparently, until the guest’s arrival, Tyelpë and his companion had been packing the items into small cardboard sleeves.

“There is a quota for Ost-in-Edhileans in our company,” Tyelpë replied. “It’s one , and it’s me .”

“Alright, alright,” Narvi grumbled, “I’m gonna leave before I hear anything embarrassing that will haunt me in my sleep!” He removed some jewelry and sleeves from his lap before standing up and patted Tyelpë on the shoulder. “I’ll be in the forge.”

After Narvi left, Sauron took a deep breath and sat into an armchair, across from Tyelpë. Thankfully, it seemed that his ex was just as distressed as himself.

“Are you guys going mass market now?” Sauron asked awkwardly, nodding at the mass of jewelry and sleeves.

“Yes!” Tyelpë replied cheerfully. “Gwindor allowed us a section at his store for a very modest price. We need more labor force though.”

“How’s your… health?” came an even more awkward question.

“You mean, my hand?” Tyelpë rewarded Sauron with one of his annoying smiles.”I can pretty much slap your face with it, which you deserve, so, good.”

“You’re still mad at me,” Sauron sighed.

‘Well...” The annoying smile melted into a somewhat sincere one. “On the one hand, I hate you. You were shit to me, you hurt me physically and mentally, and you didn’t even apologize. You subjected me to years of pain and all kinds of emotional tortures my broken heart and wounded self-esteem gave me.”

Sauron couldn’t breathe. Merciful Eru, wasn’t it all true? “Tyelpë, I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I truly am, I didn’t mean to…”

“On the other hand,” Tyelpë continued cheerfully, showing no intention of listening to Sauron’s pleads, “if it wasn’t for your assholery, I wouldn’t have met my beloved boyfriend Ereinion. My father reconciled with me and Fëanor to support me in my pain. I got to develop my left hand, and my right one is coming back. So once this process is, hopefully, over, I’ll have two dominant hands, which means I’ll probably go beyond anything I’ve achieved before.” He smiled triumphantly. “So… thank you?”

“That’s… that’s more resilience than I expected,” Sauron confessed. Secretly, he was glad Tyelpë didn’t break because of him.

“So you ‘didn’t mean to’ what exactly?” Tyelpë raised his brow.

Now was the time. He had to explain, he had to make sure Tyelpë would understand.

“I didn’t mean for any of that to happen,” Sauron started. “Honestly, Tyelpë, I didn’t want it. What happened was a mix of bad luck and my own stupidity. I swear it, I swear it, I didn’t mean to come across as negligent with the taxes. I just wanted to save some money so that you could go to that stupid exhibition!”

What?! ” Tyelpë gasped. “I… honestly, Sauron, I had no idea it was about the exhibition . Why couldn’t you tell me, you idiot?!”

“After you texted me that you dumped the rings?!” Sauron raised his voice without realizing it, tears still hot in his eyes despite so many years. “You… you RUINED me, I’ve never had a family in my entire fucking life, and you gave me hope, and then you DUMPED it!”

Tyelpë sobbed, his eyes wide open. “I’ve never thought of it. Not for a second. I’ve never thought about the pain I gave you. I’m sorry. I didn’t even let you explain yourself…”

“Yeah, you didn’t,” Sauron sighed.

“But you still maimed me,” Tyelpë spat in response, his remorse all but gone. “And you tried to rape me. And don’t you dare deny it, I know what you were going to do, and I have two witnesses.”

“Tyelpë,” Sauron begged, “do you trust me a bit more now? I didn’t mean to throw you on the glass table. You sprained my wrist. I tried to push you away, I couldn’t aim well because of the pain. It was an accident. I’m not lying, I have a physician’s statement, if you want!..”

“I didn’t know...” Tyelpë gasped. “But you started the fight! You hit me! You hit my face! There is no excuse.”

“There is none,” Sauron nodded, agreeing. “I was very upset about the rings. I had no right to hit you, and I’m sorry. That is all.”

“That is NOT all!” Tyelpë protested angrily. “What about groping me while blocking my only working hand?!”

“I was shit,” Sauron breathed out. “I was shit to you, and I regret it a lot. I’m sorry. I didn’t know any better.”

“You mean, you treated your other boyfriends that way?” Tyelpë asked, his tone calmer now, yet his eyes still betraying a whirlwind of emotions.

“Rather… the other way around,” Sauron pursed his lips, feeling way more vulnerable that he had during his confession to Thranduil.

Tyelpë’s sigh was about as loud as his yelling earlier. “Come here,” he whispered, patting the couch beside himself.

Sauron joined Tyelpë; right away, he was wrapped into the arms he had been missing for so long.

“What have you been doing?” Tyelpë asked in a soft, quiet voice, stroking Sauron’s hair gently.

“Well… Odd jobs, currently art school, third year,” Sauron replied, his voice calm and even, his eyes closed.

“Wait, you go to UME?” Tyelpë gasped. “I did attend, briefly.”

“Are you kidding?” Sauron raised his head. “We’d been going to the same school?”

“Well, maybe I saw you on campus without recognizing because you dyed your hair black?” Tyelpë suggested, smiling.

Sauron was just going to explain his choice of hair color when a thunder-loud voice came from the front door. “Tyelpë, my boy! Look what I got!”

“Oh shit,” Sauron whispered, pale as snow. “Fëanor!”

“Fëanor, I got Sauron over!” Tyelpë hurried to warn him right away.

“Tyelperinquar Eregion,” the man yelled in response, “what did I say about this?!”

Sauron paled even more, if it were possible.

“Yes, you said, ‘any girls or boys as long as none of them is Sauron,’” Tyelpë replied quickly, a little scared himself, “but you also said, ‘I don’t give a riveted fuck about the rules, and I did not raise my grandson to follow them!’”

Fëanor finally showed up in the living room; he was holding a long, heavy sword in his right hand.

“Fuck,” Sauron gasped at the sight of the mighty weapon. Tyelpë blinked in confusion.

“Chill, kids,” Fëanor grinned, “I just got this back from the leather guy. Needed the hilt done, and he’s still working on a scabbard. It’s for a reconstructor, not even sharp.”

Sauron breathed out loudly with relief, but too early.

“You,” Fëanor walked up to him, pointing at his face with the sword, “if you try to get him back, I won’t need a sharp blade to deal with you!”

Promptly, Tyelpë slipped into the space between the point of the sword and his distressed ex. “It’s okay, Fëanor,” he assured. “We’re just talking, resolving that old conflict.”

“Good for you,” Fëanor grumbled and went back to the front room to pick up a fabric sack that served as a temporary scabbard to the sword. He then put the covered sword onto the mantelpiece in the living room.

“You still remember how to help in the forge?” he asked Sauron.

“I sure hope so,” Sauron replied, desperately trying not to cause Fëanor’s wrath by his choice of words.

“Then grab Tyelpë, get your asses to my forge, and finish my work for me while I’m cooking the dinner. Then, I’ll extend my hospitality to you ,” he turned to his grandson, “and I won’t be mad at you .”

“Fëanor,” Tyelpe groaned, “it’s the shoe rack, isn’t it?”

“Yes, its the tedious, boring, stupid shoe rack,” the old man replied, suppressing mischievous laughter. “Get going, and don’t cripple each other over there.”

Tyelpë and Sauron snickered, appreciating Fëanor’s crude wit.

***

By the time they were done with the boring shoe rack, Gil returned from work, Narvi came back from the Durin’s Door workshop, and Fëanor took lasagna out of the oven.

“Can I work for food in this house?” asked Sauron, delighted by the scent of that nice big chunk Fëanor had just put onto his plate.

“Whenever you feel like it, kid,” Fëanor replied, now more at ease around Sauron.

Tyelpë smiled at both of them and nuzzled gently into Gil’s neck, receiving a lazy hug in response. All was well.

***

“I’m sorry I have to leave, my love,” Thranduil whispered and kissed Bard’s knuckles, holding his hand gently. “It’s really too early for me to meet your parents. I hope it will happen, but later.”

Bard kissed his brow in agreement. “Be careful, my dearest. There’s snow. Don’t drive fast and don’t get distracted.”

“I won’t.”

They shared a deep kiss in lieu of goodbye, and off Thranduil went. The ride back seemed longer and much more boring, and his chest hurt with longing for Bard - already. He received a call from Galadriel but, keeping Bard’s warning in mind, promised to call her back once he would be home.

Mirkwood Suites were quiet as usual during breaks, but in the hallway, Thranduil spotted Glorfindel holding someone in a tight embrace; the pair was kissing so fervently he even felt a slight sting of jealousy.

He stood there and stared until Glorfindel’s soldier instinct made him aware of the other’s presence. “Hi Thran,” he greeted, turning to Thranduil. Glorfindel was, apparently, deprived of any shame: he wasn’t even blushing. “This is Erestor, my boyfriend.” He stepped aside to present a short, slender young man with long dark hair. Thranduil recognized the quiet, nerdy history major he had a class with.

Erestor’s face acquired a lovely hue of pink.

Finally ,” Thranduil thought. Glorfie was the nicest person in this Erudamned building, and he deserved a loving partner just as much as everyone else.

Having wished happy holidays to the new couple of Mirkwood Suites - the two were leaving for a vacation together - Thranduil withdrew to his room. Just as he was about to drift off to sleep, tired by the road and lulled by the dim winter skies, his phone chimed.

“Hey Thran!” It was a text from Elu. “Melian decided she’d study at UME. Celeb. dinner at 7.” Attached was a location: probably some fancy restaurant.

“Congrats! Will be there,” he replied.

After a long, satisfying nap and no less pleasant shower, Thranduil checked his social webs and proceeded to picking clothes. A plain blue shirt, dark pants, his treasured sapphire ring, and silver earrings. Favorite perfume - Elu would appreciate it. Thranduil texted Bard a picture of himself in his outfil and got a heartfelt approval, which felt encouraging.

Halfway through getting ready, he got a call from Galadriel. Oh, shit! He’d completely forgotten to call her back after his arrival!

“Thran,” she sounded anxious, “you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just a bitch that forgot to call you,” he replied cheerfully. “Elu and Melian invited me for a dinner, and I’m pulling a look together.

“That’s a noble job.”

Her voice was uneven and somewhat shaky. Something was amiss. “Galadriel, what’s wrong?”

“I…” She took a deep breath. “I came out to my parents.”

“And… how did it go?” Despite being her best friend, Thranduil had no idea about Galadriel’s sexuality and her parents’ awareness of it. Until recently, she had dated only Celeborn.

“Not well,” Galadriel sighed. “At first, it was okay, but then Finrod decided to tell us he was gay and the whole thing with Amarië was a lie for mom and dad. Dad flipped over, and mom didn’t even defend us, and now they are both mad at us.”

“That’s so… that’s so screwed, I’m sorry, darling.” Thranduil’s heart genuinely hurt for Finrod. Finrod was the nicest, kindest creature he’d ever met, soft-spoken, caring, and passionate about his art. This lovely boy deserved no harm, and neither did Galadriel.

“Please, Thran,” Galadriel begged, “please help me find a place for Finrod. He’s out of job, and he lived with mom and dad, but he cannot anymore. We are driving to Middle Earth right now, but I don’t know where to put him. If I get him to Lothlorien, we’ll both get kicked out. Please, help me find someone with a place! Tell them he can cook and clean and do whatever. He’s a good cook.”

Thranduil frowned. He knew that situation very well, and he would spare nothing to help those two. If necessary, he would sell that sapphire, and then the rest of his jewelry.

“I’ll ask Sauron right away,” he promised. “Denethor left for a couple of weeks, so that should be a good temporary option. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll ask Tyelpë to talk to Fëanor.”

“Oh, I forgot about Tyelpë and his granddad,” Galadriel breathed out with relief. “But please, ask Sauron or whoever else.”

After the conversation was over, Thranduil texted Sauron - and almost immediately received a positive reply. Of course. Sauron’s cookery was shit, and he never had enough money to eat delivery food often; he was probably starving right now.

***

Thranduil got to the restaurant right on time, but Elu and Melian were already there. Melian was wearing so much silver Thranduil had to squint his eyes to avoid losing his eyesight.

“Do you know Durin’s Door?” she asked, still excited about her today’s adventures. “I just dropped by the local jewelry store, and their things are exactly what I love!”

“I am friends with one of the owners,” Thranduil smiled, making a mental note to pass Melian’s words to Tyelpë.

“The hot one or the other one?” Melian asked with interest.

“Um, I don’t know,” Thranduil giggled. “Which one’s hot?”

“Narvi Khazad!” she breathed out, as if surprised her nephew even asked such a question.

Elu choked on his breadstick; Thranduil laughed, followed by Melian. Poor Tyelpë!

“So,” Thranduil asked after they were done laughing, “is there anyone else we are waiting for?”

That very moment, Elu lifted up his head, looking at the entrance. Following his gaze, Thranduil turned - and froze.

Mr. Lasgalen, his father, stood there, splendid as usual, looking around nervously. Melian waved to him… Oh, so it was all planned.

“It’s not about your education, is it, Melian?” Thranduil asked, blushing and smiling.

“Oh, of course it is,” Melian protested, but not too insistently. “Elu, baby, I think I’ve left my hat at that tea place nearby. Would you care to go with me and search for it?”

Surely Elu would care, right when Oropher approached their table and greeted everyone with a shy nod.

“We’ll be right back, Oro,” Melian smiled playfully, stroking Oropher’s upper arm. “Have fun.” With that, she strolled across the room, followed by her husband.

Thranduil took a deep breath, his heart racing, his complexion switching between crimson and pale. Oropher sighed, himself not in the best of conditions. His outfit was flawless, but his face, instead of the usual palest-of-pale, was pinkish, and his silver hair, well-styled, was not perfect. Only someone who knew Oropher well could tell something was amiss; Thranduil could.

“That’s… that’s a nice sapphire,” Oropher finally broke the heavy silence, pointing at his son’s ring. His voice sounded higher and softer than Thranduil remembered it.

“Thanks,” Thranduil answered, in a very similar voice. “It’s a gift from Galadriel.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know who that is,” Oropher sounded apologetic.

“My best friend. I’ve told you about her several times.” Thranduil desperately tried not to sound accusing and bitter - unsuccessfully. “You’d allowed me to invite her over.” He wanted to leave. Now.

“I’m sorry, Thran,” Oropher sighed. “I’m not the most attentive father.”

“No, you’re not,” Thranduil grumbled. What was the point of denying it? Oropher never remembered his words, his tastes, his friends, while being perfectly fine at keeping in mind what kind of wine he should offer to each of his business associates. This was sickening.

“I’m sorry,” Oropher repeated.

Why are you here?!” Thranduil felt his anger go out of control, but at this point, he could not bring himself to care. “You don’t know anything. You don’t care about anything. You threw me out for loving boys, but you’ve never loved anyone in your miserable fucking life!” He had to stop to catch his breath, and his heart was racing. It seemed that everyone in the restaurant was staring at them.

“I did,” Oropher replied in a small voice, as if intimidated by his son’s rage. Never in his life had Thranduil lashed out on him before. “I love you. I loved your mother. I loved… others.”

“Others who?” Thranduil demanded. As far as he recalled, Oropher only loved cash.

“Other… people.” Oropher looked away. “Men.”

W h a t ?!”

Thranduil’s mind was blowing up, thoughts running in circles. Oropher… too?!

“I’m sorry, Thran,” the older man begged, his voice shaking. “It wasn’t alright in my time. It wasn’t alright with my parents. It was something… s-something that deserved…” his hands started trembling, “ph-physical punishment.”

Thranduil gasped. Wow. W o w . His grandparents didn’t live long enough to meet him, and he’d had no idea they were like this.

“I’m sorry,” Oropher said, again, seconds away from crying. “I thought if I shut it inside, it would be fine. I thought it would go away. I didn’t want any reminders. I thought… I thought it was like a disease. I was horrified to learn the disease was hereditary.”

“It’s not a disease,” Thranduil assured gently, placing his hand on top of his father’s. “I have a boyfriend, and we love each other. We study together. He helps me with Spanish, and I help him with statistics. Here, I’ll show you a picture.” He pulled out his phone and opened a photo of Bard in cozy pajamas, frying something on a pan, smiling nicely into the camera. “What’s bad in that? How can this be wrong in any way?”

Oropher sighed - not in his usual disappointed way but with regret. “I wish… I had…” he pointed at the picture, unable to continue. A tear rolled down his cheek. Perhaps he too wanted someone to smile for him while making him breakfast.

That very moment, Elu walked inside, smiling, and Melian followed. There was no hat in her hands or on her head.

“Did you guys order anything for us?” the woman asked as she approached.

“We haven’t looked at the menu yet,” Oropher replied, desperately trying to regain his composure.

Elu sat right next to him in a seemingly absent-minded gesture; Melian joined Thranduil.

“Uncle Elu,” Thranduil spoke, his face dead serious. “We gotta find my father a boyfriend.”

“What?!” Elu and Melian yelled, together.

Oropher blushed and covered his face with his hands. The dinner was going to be great.

Chapter Text

Despite Melkor’s absence, their seven-levelled city was almost finished. A few spots needed painting, the piece required some sort of elevated base for exhibition purposes, and a couple of weaker points demanded reinforcement, but that was all that was left.

And yet something was still lacking. The city did convey that feeling of safety and protection intertwined with artful magnificence. It was all beautiful, the towers, the walls, the narrow, paved streets, but there was no element that would catch an eye, no point that would tie the sculpture together. For the second time this morning, Sauron walked around the table, looking at the sculpture from different angles. He sighed. Inspiration wasn’t coming today, just like it did not come yesterday or the day before.

Sauron took several pictures - again, from different angles - and texted them to Melkor. “Do you feel like some centerpiece is necessary?”

“I DAMN WELL DO,” came an immediate response. Oh, so Melkor was struggling with the same problem. “Perhaps a bird/flower/whatever else on the top gallery?”

Before Sauron could react, another message arrived. “No, that sucks, forget it.” And then, “Let me know if you have any idea.”

He didn’t.

The sound of the doorbell interrupted Sauron’s miserable reflections. The heck? He did not expect anyone. Furiously, his mind started listing his plans and obligations one by one to see if he’d forgotten something. Oh, right! He promised to host Galadriel’s brother!

Grumpily, Sauron patted to the door. It did not seem like such a great idea now; why had he said yes?! The stranger would distract him from his thoughts, inevitably generate noise, and probably ask tons of questions. Ugh!

He opened the door, determined not to show his emotions and be nice for once - and gasped. Holy fucking Valar. That boy was even prettier than Galadriel, his hair so blonde it shone like gold, his eyes soft and kind, the lightest shade of blue, his lovely lips stretched in a smile. His sister stood beside him, slightly taller and a lot more serious.

“Good morning, Sauron,” Galadriel said. “I hope you’re still okay with letting Finrod stay.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Sauron nodded enthusiastically. How could he refuse shelter to such a beautiful creature?

Galadriel nudged Finrod a little, and he finally spoke. “Thank you, Sauron.”

Oh, that voice! Even higher and much softer than Thranduil’s. Sauron was delighted.

“Okay,” Galadriel sighed tiredly, “I have a lot of work to do, so I’m just dumping you here, Finrod. You’re on your own.” She patted at his backpack, nodded to Sauron, turned around, and left.

Oh, of course the lovely Finrod wasn’t alone; he had a friend to help him!

“Come in, come in,” Sauron smiled, stepping aside to let the guest in. “Sorry, I totally forgot you were coming, so I did not remove my boyfriend’s things for you…”

“Oh, so you have a boyfriend,” Finrod’s singsong voice replied as he followed Sauron into the living room.

Sauron sighed. Being monogamous had its disadvantages.

“You’re going to stay here,” Sauron opened the door to Denethor’s room. Thankfully, it was neat: Denethor had left it in photo-ready condition.

“Lovely,” Finrod smiled. “Were you in the middle of something when we showed up?”

Sauron sighed - again. That question brought him back to his defeat with the centerpiece. “Yes, this way,” he replied quietly and made his way to his bedroom, followed by Finrod. “Here,” he pointed at Minas-Tirith on his desk.

Finrod gasped. “So so beautiful,” he whispered. “Can I touch it?”

“Sure, sure,” Sauron felt lenient. Why not let a pretty boy touch a pretty sculpture?

Finrod seemed to value touch over sight. His fingertips explored every tower, traced every wall, and even felt the “paved” surface of a street. “Perfect,” he resumed.

Sauron didn’t want to share his concern with a stranger. Finrod threw a last tender look at the sculpture and turned to face Sauron. “I haven’t eaten in the last twenty-four hours,” he spoke sadly. Sauron blinked in surprise. He realized that Galadriel and her brother’s flight must have been chaotic. They were both probably confused right now, and scared, and insecure about their future.

Following the impulse, Sauron wrapped his arms around Finrod’s gentle frame. “How much pizza can you fit into yourself at once?” he asked.

“A lot,” Finrod giggled, hugging him back.

“Then I’ll order two big ones.”

The pizzas arrived surprisingly fast. Soon, Finrod dozed off on the couch, his stomach definitely full and his mind probably blank. Sauron covered him with a throw and texted Thranduil, “If you can, go see Galadriel. She’s back, and she needs help.”

* * *

Thranduil woke up late. Last night felt like an illusion: seeing his father again, learning his secret, talking to him late into the night, making up for all the time they hadn’t conversed.

He refused an allowance from his father despite how much easier it would make his life. Thranduil was by now so used to being by himself he no longer wanted any dependence. Oropher, however, reserved the right to help with emergencies - Thranduil’s or his friends’. That, Thranduil could not refuse: one of his friends did need assistance.

This morning, Sauron reminded him of that once more. Thranduil texted Galadriel but got no response. Anxious, he got dressed, brushed his teeth, skipping the breakfast, and rushed to Lothlorien.

Galadriel didn’t react to his knock on her door either, and Thranduil turned the knob; the door was unlocked. Galadriel sat in the middle of her living room on a pile of clothes, her face covered with her palms. Thranduil had never seen her dorm anything but neat before, but right now, it was a complete wreck. Her things were scattered all around, and a bunch of shards of what used to be a teacup decorated the coffee table, little streams of coffee running down and dripping on the floor. Galadriel’s hair was in disarray, and her shirt had a few spots on it.

The sight was shocking. Quickly, Thranduil crossed the room and enveloped Galadriel into a hug. The girl gasped, suddenly aware of his presence.

“Thran,” she muttered. “Go away.”

“I would,” he replied quietly, “but it appears my friend needs help.”

“I do not,” Galadriel protested. “I never do!”

“You always say you do not,” Thranduil said. “But there are times when we all do. Remember when I was in the same situation? What did you do?”

She sighed.

“You hugged me,” he reminded, squeezing her tighter in his embrace. “You held me while I cried. You gave me money. You did my laundry. You found me a job.”

Silently, Galadriel nuzzled into his shoulder.

“It would be very cruel of you not to let me do the same for you,” Thranduil insisted.

Galadriel chuckled, tickling his skin with her breath. “You have no money, Thranduil Lasgalen.”

“I do not,” he smiled, “but there is another Lasgalen who does.”

Puzzled, she lifted up her head; Thranduil pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket.

Pay to the order of Galadriel Arafinwë, ten thousand dollars even. Thank you for being there for my son when I failed to do so. Best wishes. Oropher Lasgalen.

Galadriel gasped. “Your father!”

“Yep, Mr. Lasgalen is back,” Thranduil chuckled.

“Thran, that’s so much money!” the girl shook her head. “I can’t…”

“Oh, come on. Google his name and see how much he owns. I’m pretty sure he thinks he only bought you a cup of latte or something.”

Galadriel took the check. “I…”

You , my darling, need a nap,” Thranduil stated.

“No. I need to clean my place. I need to cook something for breakfast.. Lunch… whatever. I need to get Finrod a job. I need to find him an apartment.”

Thranduil sighed and cupped her face. “Galadriel,” he spoke firmly, looking into her eyes. “You’re always keeping things neat. You do stuff on time. You help everyone around, you find them jobs, you proofread their essays, you give them rides, you listen, hold, console, support, you do that all the time! But there are moments when we cannot do what we always do. There are moments when we need to take a check from a well-wishing person, eat delivery food, rest, and let our adult sibling take care of himself.

Galadriel chuckled. “Thran, that sounds too good.”

“I don’t care how it sounds,” Thranduil shook his head with a smile and pulled out his phone. “Right now, I’m ordering a pizza for you. And I’m ordering it to Mirkwood Suites because you’re going to go to my dorm, take a shower, put on my shirt with the mallorn print that you want to steal so badly, eat the pizza, and nap in my bed while I’m taking care of this mess.”

Galadriel opened her mouth to protest, but her strength left her. She collapsed into Thran’s arms, her shoulders shaking.

“You don’t have to be everyone’s mom, Galadriel,” Thranduil spoke softly, holding his friend and stroking her back. “You’re too young. You need to think of yourself, my dear.”

“Alright,” she sniffed. “Unleash your pizza and your mallorn shirt on me.”

“That’s much better.”

* * *

The cleaning did not seem as tedious as when he would do it for himself; he knew he was helping a friend out, and it encouraged him. Aredhel was on her way from her parents’ house; surprisingly, Galadriel had not told her a thing about what happened. Actually, it wasn’t that surprising. When Galadriel dated Celeborn, she would try to solve all his problems while he was barely aware of hers. She seemed to replicate the pattern.

Thranduil was almost done collecting the glass shards (they seemed to have flown around at a pretty wild range) when he received a text from Bard. Sitting down on the carpet, Thranduil opened it, smiling to himself.

“What is my darling doing?”

“Nothing exciting,” Thranduil typed in response. “Cleaning up Galadriel’s place. She’s not feeling well. I sent her to sleep in my dorm.”

“You’re lovely,” came a reply. Thranduil couldn’t suppress a gasp. It was just a couple of days since they had gotten together, and he would still get surprised whenever Bard would say something affectionate.

“What happened to Galadriel?”

Thranduil vaguely replied that she had serious disagreements with her parents. He was not sure Galadriel would want him to tell Bard the whole story; he would ask her later.

“Are _you_ well, my forest flower?”

Thranduil felt heat growing in his face. His previous boyfriend barely ever called him anything but “Thran,” and Glorfindel limited himself to saying “babe.” This was totally new.

“I am. Are you?” His reply felt awkward, and he didn’t manage to invent a nice name for Bard.

“I am, except I miss you too much. I should have tried better to convince you to stay. I can’t believe I only got a few kisses from you.”

Thranduil sighed blissfully. Those kisses were perfect though. Bard’s lips were so hot against his, so eager, and some fondling was also involved… Oh, he missed this so much.

“I need you to return soon,” Thranduil typed impatiently.

“Oh, I will, my dear, I definitely need to change my plans. I won’t survive too long without you.”

Thranduil held his breath, typing back, “When?”

“In two weeks?”

Thranduil’s heart sang. In two weeks, he would prepare to the semester to the best of his ability and spend time with his father, and then, he will be Bard’s. Completely.

“Thank you, dearest. I will be waiting for you.”

“Poor thing,” Bard replied. “You need to be taken care of so badly, and I have to leave you alone for two weeks.”

That… that sent a spark down Thranduil’s stomach. Did taken care of mean?..

Bard wasn’t going to leave him in peace. “What are you doing there, moaning?:)”

As a matter of fact, that was exactly what Thranduil was doing as he imagined Bard “taking care of him.”

“Yes…”

“I wish I could hear it, my lovely. I would look for ways to make you moan louder.”

Well, the text message worked just fine to achieve that purpose, and Thranduil was sure to let Bard know.

“Can I call, beloved?” Bard asked. “I SO have to hear that…”

Thranduil took a deep breath and reminded himself that he was still in Galadriel’s dorm. She could return any moment and…

And then another text came, from Galadriel. “Pizza was delicious, thanks. Nighty-night, going to bed.”

Oh. Perfect. He sat on the couch and dialed Bard. In the few seconds before Bard picked up, his mood went from excitement to confusion and slight embarrassment. How was he supposed to act?

“Hello, darling boy,” Bard spoke, warm passion in his voice, and Thranduil’s worries dissipated. “Goodness, I miss you so much, I miss your scent, I miss how you feel in my arms… I need you, Thran.”

Thranduil was going to reply, but only a soft gasp came out.

“You sound so sweet,” Bard all but purred. “I wish I could run my hands up your thighs to hear that gasp again.”

And he did - a much louder gasp, though. Thranduil felt his face grow warm, and not only face.

“Beautiful, so finely shaped,” Bard continued, and Thranduil was no longer sure if his beloved was right here with him or far away. “Spread your legs for me.”

Thranduil blinked in surprise as he heard his own moan; his legs parted obediently.

“Whatever you’re wearing,” Bard continued in a low, hoarse voice, his own breath quickening, “pants, leggins, pull that down now.”

Another moan, and his jeans are pushed down to his knees.

“Now, pull your shirt up and pluck those nipples for me.”

“Goodness, Bard!” Thranduil sobbed, speaking up for the first time, and pulled up his sweater. His nipples hardened immediately in the cool air.

“Do what you’re told, sweet boy.”

Again, Thranduil obeyed, moaning as he caressed himself. It was so unusual, so arousing to sit here, all exposed, on the phone with Bard. He’d never done anything of the kind.

“Oh, you sound so warmed up,” Bard’s voice was content. “Now, stroke yourself. Lightly. No squeezing, babe.”

Sighing in disappointment and delight, Thranduil ran his hand up and down his hardened length, gently. His other hand grasped at the throw he was sitting on.

“Those sounds… oh, darling,” Bard moaned. “I would love to fuck you right now.”

Thranduil cried out in pure, blissful excitement; he did not expect Bard to be so explicit. His hand trembled, and he could not, there was no way he could continue lightly .

“P-please, Bard,” he begged breathlessly, “can I…”

“Of course, my love,” Bard allowed kindly, “pump yourself all you want. I apologize, my beautiful boyfriend, that I am not here to turn you around and load up your ass.”

Moaning even louder, Thranduil threw his head back, eyes closed, and moved his hand vigorously, up and down, mixing up incoherent pleads, moans, and Bard’s name.

“You’re doing so… well… Thran…” Bard replied, his breath getting out of control. “I love you… darling… Need you so bad, now, Thran!..”

Thranduil hoped he would last longer in the future, but this was just too damn hot. Within two minutes, he was spent, lying back all sweaty and exhausted.

“You alright?” Bard sounded no less drained.

“Yes… Yes, Bard,” Thranduil smiled. “Thank you.”

“Love you, blondie,” Bard chuckled. “Go shower. I will too. I’ll text you after.”

Thranduil looked down shyly. “Love you.”

Wow. Did he just… wow . Quickly, Thranduil showered and collected the laundry. He put the towel he used and the couch throw into the bag too. He would finish the cleaning as he promised, but nothing, nothing could divert his mind from the thoughts of Bard.

When Bard would come back, they would be so, so happy. Yes, they would. Yes, they would.

Chapter Text

The day in the library was annoying. First, for whatever reason, the system assumed that a bunch of seniors who still had another semester to go had graduated, and Thranduil had to fix all their accounts. Then, someone spilled their drink onto his (white!) shirt in the cafeteria. Later, as if what had already happened was not enough, some very smart person decided to pull the fire alarm for fun, which resulted in firefighters arriving and shit being stirred. Disgruntled, Thranduil assumed that this day was the shit day of the week – that particular day when nothing goes right and things just suck and it seems like the Valar collected all their trash from the entire week and just dumped it on you.

Seconds after the key turned in the keyhole, Thranduil came to thank the Valar instead of cursing them. Curled up in Thranduil’s own bed was his darling boy, his Bard who was supposed to show up here a few days later. Tiptoeing, Thranduil came closer to marvel at this miracle the deities had sent him; eyes closed peacefully and sleepy pursed lips, all dark curls and relaxed limbs. Thranduil smiled sweetly as he stood there, barely moving, only his chest heaving with the quickening breath and the sobbing he was trying to keep inside.

Bard needs sleep , he told himself. Darling is tired after the road .

With a huge effort of will, Thranduil pulled himself onto Bard’s empty bed and texted Aredhel. She replied quickly; apparently, her visit was working out well for Galadriel, so that was off Thranduil’s back at the moment. Relieved, he tried to entertain himself with Alfrid’s Gossip; today’s update turned out to be remarkably stupid. “Nearly everyone in the Erebor building smokes weed. Those who don’t inhale it so often they are practically smoking too. Denethor Gondor is a former drug addict. Eowyn Rohan is actually a guy.” Apparently, Alfrid was running out of inspiration, or otherwise, he was still at his parents’ house (Thranduil was surprised that that creature even had parents) and did not have any new observations. But seriously, who on Arda would believe Eowyn was a guy?

“Thran?”

Thranduil let the phone drop as he ran to Bard’s side. He did not know what to say, so he grabbed Bard’s hand and covered it with warm kisses, quick and somewhat desperate, as if he was running out of time.

“Darling…” Bard murmured. “Couldn’t wait any longer…”

“It’s good to have you back,” Thranduil whispered. “Are you hungry?”

“As hell,” Bard sighed. “Driving took ridiculously long, it’s so snowy! Also, I need a shower.”

“Go shower, I’ll reheat something for you to eat.”

Bard smiled, smirked even. “I feel like I’m married, suddenly.”

Thranduil pretended it sounded funny; it was indeed ridiculous how much faster his heart ran after hearing those words. Anyhow, he went to the kitchen to reheat a meal while Bard took his time showering.

“So how are your parents doing?” Thranduil asked awkwardly when Bard was already sitting at the table, dripping water from his hair on everything around him.

“I told them about you,” Bard smiled. “I told them you were the kindest and fairest of all beings, and that you had the courage to approach me where I had none.”

“Bard, please,” Thranduil blushed. “You should have told them I studied finance… or mentioned my father’s name…”

“But that says nothing about you as a person.” Bard frowned. “I don’t know how to tell them about your father. I… you… They’d probably be ashamed of our level of income, you know.”

Thranduil bent over the table to kiss Bard on the forehead. “I’m a part-time librarian wearing thrift store jeans, so no, I don’t think so.”

“Oh, I see,” Bard suddenly grabbed Thranduil by the hair, smiling smugly.

Thranduil sighed softly as Bard kissed him, warmly and possessively, on the mouth. He failed to notice how Bard managed to get around the table and seize him by the waist. Impatient hands crawled under his shirt, stroking, rubbing, teasing.

“Mine,” Bard breathed hotly into Thranduil’s ear, a thumb brushing against Thranduil’s nipple while another hand slipped into his jeans.

“Bard,” Thranduil moaned, shaken and disoriented, “oh goodness, Bard, what are you doing… we are - ah! - we are going to be seen…”

Yet Bard would not listen to the voice of reason. His gentle fingertips teased at Thranduil’s length, making him sob and squirm and buck back to get some friction against that delightful hardness that was growing in Bard’s pants. Hot lips on his earlobe almost made Thranduil forget that they were in the kitchen. Blushing and breathless, Thranduil rolled his hips into Bard’s hand, now cupping his arousal. Absolutely thrilled, Thranduil closed his eyes - only to reopen them a second later and meet someone’s astounded gaze.

Terrified, Thranduil blinked, hoping that the vision would go away. It did disappear, though it was no vision.

“Shit,” Thranduil swore quietly.

“What is it, darling?” Bard stopped nuzzling into Thranduil’s perfect hair, worried he had displeased his sweetheart.

“It’s Alfrid,” Thranduil replied through his teeth. “He saw us and ran away. Now we’re going to be the stars of the Gossip.”

Gently, Bard took his hand out and pulled Thranduil into a hug. “I’m sorry, darling. I’m sorry I’m so impatient.”

Thranduil chuckled, unexpectedly even to himself. “You know what? Screw Alfrid. Let’s continue in the bedroom.”

Encouraged, Bard pulled his sweetheart by the hand, rushing him to the safety of their room. He was considerate enough to lock the door once they were there.

“Now,” Thranduil whispered, his throat dry, “where were we?”

Silent, Bard stepped closer to cup Thranduil’s face and kiss him so gently as if they were on an innocent coffee date. Thranduil melted, his body growing pliant and relaxed far too early.

“I want you,” Bard whispered. “I want you so bad…”

Thranduil blinked, as if waking up, suddenly self-conscious. “I… I think I need to take a shower first. Do you mind?”

Bard sighed yet smiled. “Whatever you need, dear. I’ll wait.” He sat on the bed, as if to demonstrate he was ready to wait, however long.

Thranduil rushed to the bathroom and took a deep breath. He tried not to think of all the imperfections he believed his body had, of all the things he could do to appear more attractive. He had never felt that way with Glorfindel, so worried about failure, so wishing to impress. Slightly shaken, Thranduil convinced himself to be reasonable and not make Bard wait for ages. He would only take a shower and prepare himself… hadn’t Bard expressed an intention to “load him up?”

Twenty painful minutes later, Thranduil peeked out of the bathroom, wrapped into a towel, shy, and horrified at the thought that Bard might have fallen asleep waiting. His worries were unfounded; Bard took hold of him, suddenly and forcibly, his towel dropping somewhere between the bathroom door and the bed. Thranduil had not time to process his self-consciousness as Bards hot lips went on exploring him, seeming to cover every inch of his pale skin, caressing each of his nipples in turn and going down, tickling his stomach with warm kisses - until those lips closed around his length. Then, Thranduil forgot caution also, his low, sweet moans probably echoing in the hallway.

At some point, Bard lifted up his head, Thranduil’s fingers still in his hair. “Darling?” he asked in a whisper.

“You may have me,” Thranduil smiled, guessing what he would want to ask.

The condoms in his nightstand drawer were Glorfindel’s, and Thranduil tried not to giggle thinking of the ridiculousness of this situation. Bard, however, made him forget about that soon enough, his breath warm against Thranduil’s neck. He grabbed some lube from the nightstand as well and coated himself quickly, and with his wet fingers searched for Thranduil’s entrance, only to find it spread wide already.

“I looked forward to opening you up,” Bard smirked down at his blushing lover. His hands were strong and tight on Thranduil’s hips, and he entered his lover, his hot length stretching Thranduil, burning him sweetly as it went deeper.

“Come here,” Thranduil whispered, opening his arms for Bard to have him on top, and Bard obeyed.

“Is that… fine?” he asked carefully. “Are you fine?”

“More than fine, darling, now please, please move ,” Thranduil begged.

“I love you so very much,” Bard replied quietly, yet Thranduil could not answer, distracted by slow, delightful thrusts.

They went for a quicker pace soon enough, Thranduil forgetting his shame once more. They would indeed become the stars of Alfrid’s Gossip, if only for the noise.

“Darling?” Thranduil’s weak voice called when they were cuddled up together, all spent and sweaty. “Is that how it will always be from now on?”

Bard stared into the ceiling and sighed. “No, my love. We’ll move out of this shitty dorm and get a place with a proper wide bed. And there, I’ll show you how it would be from then on.”

* * *

Meanwhile, Sauron was busy cuddling up to Finrod on the couch, probably for the first time in his life without any sexual tension involved. Finrod was crunching with popcorn, upset about the job application he was supposed to be called about today - it was 5 p.m. already. At the moment, he was deep into the plot of a stupid superhero movie that Sauron cared little about. The protagonist’s life drama did not measure up to Sauron’s own, and so he easily dismissed it, which made the subsequent plot utterly irrelevant. The only reason he did not flip the laptop over and go back to Minas Tirith was that he enjoyed his time with Finrod.

Strangely enough, Finrod was unbelievably easy to open up to. In the first three days they spent together, Galadriel’s brother learned more about Sauron than Tyelpë or Denethor ever knew. In a week, Finrod held more knowledge than Saruman and Angmar. By today, some things came out that even Sauron himself was not consciously aware of.  Finrod listened attentively but never made a show of it, never openly pitied him or dropped any of those annoying tears as if his life was an angsty theatrical play. He listened, sometimes commented, and cooked something nice afterwards. That was appreciated, especially the last part.

Perhaps his mental health was getting better; his creation, however, was not. He had fixed and solved all the minor issues, yet the problem of the centerpiece still remained. Melkor was about to return to town, and he promised to take a look at it, but Melkor had already done most of the work, and Sauron felt like he had to figure this out by himself. Besides…

“Sauron? Are you listening?”

Sauron blinked. “Oh, I’m sorry, Finrod. I got lost in my thoughts for a bit…”

“I was saying, maybe we should drop this, cause it’s really boring and not worth my time.”

“Oh, I stopped watching, like, twenty minutes ago,” Sauron replied with relief. “Let’s never come back to this again. I’d rather work on my sculpture.”

“You mean ‘I’d rather go brooding around it again?’” Finrod asked innocently. “What is the problem with it anyway? Looks perfect to me…”

Sauron sighed. “Come, I’ll show you.”

Back to his room, he started his usual circling around the sculpture. “It’s a city, a supposedly ideal creation where all the buildings are tied together by one idea, despite being different.”

“And what is the idea?”

“Strength. Endurance. Safety.”

“What are the dwellers of the city doing?”

“Defending themselves. The city walls and its structure are the guarantee that no evil could ever breach in. They have lost all they had, and the city walls are their last hope.”

“Hope…” Finrod rubbed his chin. “I wonder if there needs to be an embodiment of that hope.”

Sauron stopped moving, his gaze focused on Finrod. “Go on.” An idea started taking form in his head.

“Walls look strong and beautiful, but there needs to be something charged with hope, something people would look up to, something… right here,” he pointed to the upper gallery.

“Like a statue?” Sauron frowned.

“A statue would involve either too much lore or too much detail for the viewers to understand its role,” Finrod disagreed. “How about a living thing? Something that grows despite the pollution and decay? A… tree?”

“This gallery is already green,” Sauron shook his head.

“Not a green one. A white one, a white tree.” Finrod stepped closer to Minas Tirith, squinting his eyes. “No, a silver tree.” He grabbed a piece of white construction paper, a thin brush, and silver paint. Quickly, he painted a thin, delicate tree with  few leaves and then cut out the picture. “How does it look?” he asked with a smile, holding the tree slightly above the upper gallery of the city.

Eyes wide open, Sauron froze at the sight. “Holy shit,” he muttered. “Holy fucking shit, don’t move, I’ll take a picture for Melkor.”

His hands trembled so hard he needed several attempts to take a photo. Melkor only took a few seconds before erupting with excited messages. The new centerpiece was approved.

“I think,” Finrod suggested, smiling, “this has to be made of actual silver. Only you would need to order it from someone, I don’t think you would find the right kind of tree on the market.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,“ Sauron smirked. “I know just the right guy.”

* * *

As usual, Fëanor’s home was a mess. Even for such a big house, there were too many people around.

“Yes, I am ready to start tomorrow,” Gil-Galad spoke into his phone, paying no attention to Sauron or Finrod as they passed. “What time again?”

“Honey, do you like a lot of tomato or just a bit?” Nerdanel called from the kitchen.

“Who are you asking?” Fëanor giggled from the living room.

“Definitely not you, silly,” she replied. “Tyelpë! Tyelpë!”

Tyelpë was busy arguing with Narvi. “I told you the striped towel was yours, and the starry one was mine!”

“Literally yesterday you told me the opposite!” Narvi disagreed.

“Then let’s just dump them both into the laundry and take new ones?”

“Can I have a red one?”

“There’s only one red, it’s Fëanor’s, and it has his name on it.” Tyelpë shook his head. “Can you imagine? I took it once, he was like, ‘That’s mine!’ I said, ‘Does it have your name on it?’ And he just went ahead and put his name on it.”

“Of course, all towels around are Tyelpë’s unless they say otherwise,” Sauron intruded.

Tyelpë flinched. “Sauron?! Did you just magically teleport here because of a towel argument?”

“Hi Tyelpë,” Sauron put on his nicest smile.

Finrod looked around, unbothered by the noise and chaos. “That’s some nice filigree,” he pointed at Tyelpë’s earrings.

Narvi narrowed his eyes, staring straight at the stranger. “What about this?” he asked, presenting another pair of earrings by Durin’s Door, oxidized silver with pearls.

“Lovely,” Finrod replied nonchalantly, “as long as one does not pair them with a heavy necklace.”

Sauron was forgotten; Tyelpë’s attention was now on the newcomer. In a harsh movement, he stepped to the coffee table and opened a box full of jewelry and looked at Finrod. “Sell me any of those,” he demanded.

Ever calm and undisturbed, Finrod took a few seconds to examine Tyelpë’s appearance. Carefully, he picked two oxidized rings. “These would look good on your right hand,” he explained. “The silver would match your tattoo, but since they’re darker, they will stand out.” He then extracted a pair of long earrings. “These have a bright finish, which would look good against your hair, provided that you wear it in a braid, and they don’t get tangled.”

Tyelpë and Narvi exchanged glances. “So,” asked Narvi, “are you looking for a job by any chance?”

“Tyelpë, listen,” Sauron wrapped his arm around Tyelpë’s shoulders and led him away, leaving Narvi and Finrod to discuss possible collaboration. “I have something to commission from you, a delicate piece. It’s for an exhibition. It’s very important, and it’s a tree.”

Tyelpë smiled widely and pulled out his phone to show something to Sauron. “Like this one? I made it for no particular reason. It’s the one from Denethor’s grocery bag.”

Sauron looked – and in that moment all noise around him ceased, the movement stopped, the entire world came to a halt.

That tree was perfect.

Chapter Text

“Bowman and Lasgalen - the stars of Secret Gossip!”

Bard sighed. Yeah, Alfrid’s blog was definitely killing it today. What had they been thinking?

“Did you seriously do this, guys?” Bilbo squinted his eyes, his head turning rapidly between Bard and Thranduil.

“Of course not!” Thranduil protested.

“Yes we did,” Bard blurted out at the same time.

“Oh wow.” Bilbo threw a look at the giggling Thorin. “Imagine if we did something like this.”

“I’d kill the witness,” Thorin deadpanned.

“I just hope no one gets us reported or something,” Thranduil mumbled, looking down in shame, fiddling with the spoon.

“Calm down, Thran,” Bilbo patted him on the shoulder. “The only - the only evidence comes from the dude who said that Pippin burned Dale and that you wore a tutu.”

Bard chuckled.

“No one’s going to believe him, ever.”

“Alright,” Thranduil nodded, a little less nervous now, and returned to his breakfast.

“So what are your plans for today, guys?” Bilbo asked, obnoxiously munching on a pancake while talking. “Besides worrying about Alfrid.”

Bard put on a shiny smile as Thranduil gave him a tender look. “We’re meeting with Thran’s father later today.”

“So soon?” Thorin gasped. “Well, I mean, that’s rich coming from me. Bilbo showed up at my place right after we got together.”

Bard let out another sigh. He wondered whether Thranduil’s father would accept him as easily as Thorin’s parents accepted Bilbo. Well, he would find out soon enough, wouldn’t he?

* * *

Sauron did not remember how his serious, focused business conversation with Tyelpë turned into a relaxed dinner that involved a considerable amount of alcohol. Tyelpë’s grandparents seemed capable of consuming large quantities without any visible consequences, and Tyelpë’s boyfriend was not too far behind.

Sauron, however, had nearly lost his prowess in all those months of living with a recovering alcoholic. His head was now ringing like steel being shaped by a smith who was desperate to pay off a forge loan. His throat begged for some cold water, and his body demanded that he did not make any attempts to get up. On top of that, he didn’t know where Finrod was or what condition he was in.

“Sau?” a gentle voice called from the other side of the door.

Oh, he knew that voice. His instincts almost kicked in, the combination of bed, warmth, morning, and that dear voice almost making him call out one of those pet names.

“Tyelpë…”

Tyelpë walked in, carrying a ridiculously small cup of coffee along with a tall dewy glass full of water.

“You’re a treasure,” Sauron exhaled.

“And you’re a silly little boy.” Tyelpë handed the glass to Sauron and watched him drink the whole thing down.

“How are you not hungover?” Sauron eyed Tyelpë suspiciously over the rim of the glass.

Tyelpë sad on the edge of the bed, smiling. “Well… I had to quit alcohol since my painkillers don’t really go well with it.”

Sauron turned away, lips pursed.

“That wasn’t an attack on you.” Tyelpë’s right hand touched Sauron’s gently. “Alright. I’ll go make breakfast. You start climbing downstairs, you’ll be right there by the time I’m done.”

“Piss off.”

Tyelpë’s chuckle could still be heard as he ran down the stairs. Slowly, Sauron let one of his legs slide towards the edge of the bed. He sighed. He groaned. Gradually, he lowered his foot until it touched the floor and then put his whole weight on it. Little by little, he managed to get up.

It went faster from there. Soon, he was downstairs, much earlier than Tyelpë had expected.

“Need help?”

“Thank you.” Tyelpë offered a small smile. “I’m still very clumsy at cooking. You won’t know how much you need that other hand until you try without it.”

Sauron, feeling bad, was stupid enough to try without using his right hand. An egg he picked up immediately slipped out of his left hand and on the floor where it broke, turning into a yucky puddle.

“I’m sorry, Tyelpë.” Sauron looked down, staring at the egg absent-mindedly. He realized he’d broken something much more important than an egg. “Goodness, I’m so sorry. I probably have no idea how many things I’ve ruined for you.”

Once again, he was wrapped into an embrace he did not expect.

“We’ve been through this,” Tyelpë’s voice was soft and calming. “Please, don’t torment yourself over it. You were a bitch to me that night and after the breakup, yes, but you had been wonderful to me a lot of times before that. You were my inspiration, my first love, someone who made my days bright... I did not forget it.”

That brought warmth to his chest. He was not sure how to feel about it.

“Tyelpë...” Sauron whispered, finally looking up. Tyelpë’s face was now so close, as lovely as back then, unchanged.

“Yes?..”

“You need to let go of me, or I will do something that will make Gil turn me into that egg.”

Laughing, Tyelpë removed his arms. “You’ll have to clean up your mess. And please, don’t mess things up even more in the process. Denethor won’t appreciate it.”

Sauron sighed, ashamed of that sudden unclear urge.

“Though...” Tyelpë rubbed his chin, observing Sauron hunched over the unfortunate egg with a paper towel. “If our partners agree, certain arrangements can be made.”

Sauron hoped Tyelpë couldn’t see his face then, for it was burning as hot as fire in a furnace.

“Alright Sau. Quit blushing there, we need to get back to our last night’s discussion.”

“Well, you showed me Denethor’s tree,” Sauron was now finished with the runaway egg and proceeded to cooking breakfast. “It fits perfectly. I asked Denethor, he doesn’t mind me using his design. What else is there?”

“Darling,” Tyelpë pulled out one of those annoying smiles again, “you can’t just use my work like that. I’m not your local apprentice boy.”

“I’ll pay you and put your name on it.” Sauron started was a little displeased.

“No.”

“What?!”

“You will list me as one of the participants,” Tyelpë slowly poured coffee into a cup. “I have reestablished myself as a business owner, and now, I will be making my comeback as an artist. You, my dear, will finally get me on an exhibition, just like you wanted.”

Sauron chuckled, shaking his head. “Give me back my sweet naive Tyelpë.”

“Sorry,” Tyelpë shrugged, “he perished.”

“I smell coffee!” Fëanor sang from the hallway.

Tyelpë smiled and poured another cup.

* * *

“Finrod texted me he got a job!” Galadriel chirped excitedly “He says Tyelpë and Narvi hired him. I should have asked Tyelpë earlier.”

“No, you should not have,” Aredhel insisted, frowning. “Finrod is a grown man, he can and should take care of himself. You don’t have to be responsible for him. You’re younger!

“I… often forget about it.” Galadriel looked away. “He’s always so cheerful and relaxed. He always thinks it’s gonna work out. But I know it’s not. It will not unless you make it to .”

“Yes, and guess what?” Aredhel raised a brow. “He makes it to! He just did! He’s perfectly fine on his own. And now, please, quit worrying and start packing. We’re going to my parents’ place, and Finrod stays here, with his new job, his new friend Sauron, and his questionable coming-out practices. C’mon.”

* * *

“So you’re the hero I watched on the news!”

Thranduil slurped his healthy mellon tea, the sound almost annoying enough to convey how uncomfortable he was. Yes, it did please him that Oropher was liking Bard, but…

But the light in Bard’s eyes faded. “I… do not like to talk about it.”

Thankfully, Oropher did not feel offended. “I understand. Those must be painful memories.”

“That, and…” Bard turned away, observing the world out of the coffee shop window. “It took away my passion. I can no longer shoot… I take aim, and I see…” He coughed, apparently unwilling to share this much yet.

Oropher frowned, thinking. “I see. Well. What if you didn’t use a gun?”

“No gun?” Bard blinked. “Shooting without a gun, how?”

“Well, you know,” Oropher raised his finger, acquiring that look of an old wise man that had always made Thranduil roll his eyes, “guns didn’t always exist. People threw spears, then used bows, crossbows…”

“Archery!” Thranduil gasped. “Bard, we have an archery club at school!”

Bard’s face lit up, eyes shining, lips parted in wonder and delight.

“Just don’t use a crossbow… or you’ll have to become Bard Crossbowman.”

Thranduil received a “disappointed father” look for that pun, yet he was happy. Oropher was a wise old man, after all!

* * *

Sauron sighed, looking into his coffee cup, and then again, looking at Gil-Galad. The memories of himself being the villain who assaulted the poor helpless Tyelpë and Ereinion being the hero, the dashing knight in shining armor, coming in to save the victim were still fresh in his mind. He couldn’t help but wonder why it took him so long to become at least halfway decent while for Gil, it came naturally. Or maybe it did not. Or maybe Gil came from a really good family where they taught them love and compassion and all that bullshit Sauron had always had trouble figuring out. Or maybe it was just because Gil was older. Tyelpë did need someone his age…

He needed to stop thinking about that. He was happy with Denethor, Tyelpë was happy with Gil-Galad. He had apologized for what he had done. There was nothing more to do or think about.

“Hey?” Gil called gently. “Tyelpë says you made breakfast. Thanks. I like it.”

Sauron could feel himself blush, as if Gil could read his thoughts and was now trying to cheer him up. Maybe he could teach Gil to cook scrambled eggs… in exchange for a lesson on how act and treat others to be acceptable in a society. “You’re welcome.”

He needed to get away from all this drama, which would happen soon. Melkor promised to pick him up in a few minutes, him and Tyelpë, and they would both go straight to Sauron’s apartment to see how well the tree fit into the sculpture. Then, Sauron had to get some sleep before the night shift at work, as well as clean up and put Denethor’s things where they belonged, as his boyfriend was to return next morning. Sauron would finally be held, and kissed, and all the other things, and he would no longer have to ask Thranduil for rides to the grocery store…

“Sauron? Is that your ride?”

Great. No more awkwardness. Quickly, Sauron stuffed his plate and mug into the dishwasher and ran outside to meet Melkor. He was already on the porch.

“Hey, Sauron!” The professor gave him a hug, obviously in a good mood and glad to see him. “What’s going on? What is this place?”

“That’s my friend’s house,” Sauron broke the hug and gestured to Tyelpë who was coming out already, putting on his coat and scarf as he walked.

“Wait,” Melkor blinked and threw a brief glance to Tyelpë’s hand, “is that…”

Get thee gone from my house, you piece of crap! ” Fëanor’s thunderlike voice overwhelmed all three of them.

“Hi Mel,” Tyelpë managed, quickly recovering from the shock.

“Get. Lost.” Fëanor frowned, pointing at Melkor. “You should not be on my porch. And you should not be anywhere near my grandson. I don’t want you teaching my boy your evil ways!”

“Fëanor, I’m thirty-five!” Tyelpë protested.

Sauron blinked, his head turning side to side, from his professor to Fëanor. “You guys... know each other?”

“I wish I didn’t,” Fëanor replied, glaring at Sauron. “Tyelpë, don’t you dare go with that monster. If you do, I..! I’ll take you off my will!”

“Then you’ll have to leave everything to father,” Tyelpë shrugged nonchalantly.

Fëanor growled like a trapped animal. “Do what you want. But this... creature must be off my porch this instant!”

Melkor, who spent the entire speech standing quietly and demonstrating the offended innocence, stepped off the porch immediately. His mouth was still open in shock, his hand pressed to his chest, as if signaling the unmistakable honesty of his heart.

“Mel, stop,” Tyelpë rolled his eyes, “you look like that Pikachu meme. Let’s go before Fëanor combusts.”

“You’d better uber back, young man, and not have him drive you,” Fëanor shook his hand in the air, “or I’ll load the gun and check the limits of that trespassing law!”

“How dare you oppress a poor disabled person?!” Tyelpë shook his head in mock resentment, buying Melkor time to get to the car. “But fine. Uber it is.”

Soon, Tyelpë joined Sauron and Melkor in the car.

“Phew,” Melkor started the engine, his hand shaking just a tiny bit. “Is he still not over it?”

“He’ll never be over it,” Tyelpë replied, smirking. “And now that you also know where he lives, he’s gonna hate you even more.”

“Tyelpë,” Sauron turned to the back seat, “are you good fastening the seatbelt?”

“Sure. I can fasten your too if you’re struggling.”

Sauron snorted. He would take that from Tyelpë; Melkor was back, the sculpture would soon be finished in the most wonderful way, and Sauron’s pool of friends was growing, including the most unexpected people. Life was beautiful.

Chapter Text

Alfrid crept into the exhibition hall as discreetly as he could, even though the event was open to the public. He quickly noted - both mentally and in his little gossip notepad - how Angmar was kissing Eowyn while Saruman was rolling his eyes at the scene. Surely he was into one of them, probably Angmar. Lindir was dressed like a slut - again. Gandalf carried a suitcase that definitely contained fireworks, which was illegal as heck. Radagast’s backpack looked no different from usual, but “usual” meant there was weed in it, so Alfrid would not be mistaken if he would write that Radagast brought weed.

There were new people here who were not from college, whom Alfrid did not know. Narvi and Finrod were discussing Finrod’s successes at his new job - all the blingy ladies of Middle Earth were now regular clients of Durin’s Door. Melian was staring admiringly at Narvi, whether she admired his business and HR genius or his biceps, Elu did not know, but he was displeased nevertheless.

“No, do you see that, man?” the poor Elu tried to apply for Oropher’s support, but Oropher’s gaze was as dumb as Melian’s, only it was directed at Bard’s new archery teacher, Beleg Cuthalion.

“Idiots everywhere,” sighed Elu and poured himself some wine - thankfully, there was plenty at the reception.

Meanwhile, Sauron tried to approach his illustrious ex-boyfriend, but that was near impossible. In addition to his numerous family - holy Eru, just how many relations does one person need?! - there were random smiths and artists wanting to shake his hand - preferably the silvery one. Some people even took selfies with him, like he was a celebrity, and the journalist that Sauron was ready to trap for Melkor walked right towards that smug tuxedo-wearing bastard Celebrimbor instead.

“He’s looking like he’s the star of the show,” Sauron hissed to Thranduil.

“He kind of is,” Thranduil shrugged. “But don’t worry. We know what a pain that sculpture was to you, Sauron.”

“Especially to me,” grumbled Denethor. “Trying to kiss my boyfriend, only to end up all sticky, covered in paint, and with a piece of paper stuck to my ass.”

“Trust me, now that you’re going to be in graduate school, you’ll have plenty of papers stuck to your ass,” Sauron retorted.

Denethor only sighed.

“Thran, do you think your dad, like…” Bard whispered, nodding at Oropher who was, at the moment, watching Beleg chug water out of a little plastic bottle.

Thranduil giggled. “Damn, I sure hope so. Dad needs to get his gayness back. Hold on, let’s go tell Elu.”

“Just talk quietly, I saw Alfrid.”

“Oh, shit.”

Alfrid, however, paid no heed to that old people business; he was watching Sauron trying to get through to Celebrimbor, annoyance and admiration curiously mixing up in Sauron’s eyes. That was quite interesting; who was this silversmith anyways?

“Who are you, Celebrimbor?” Sauron seconded, irritation clear in his voice.

“Call me Celebrimbor one more time,” the silversmith replied.

“I’m sorry.” Sauron sighed. “It’s just… We’ve spent so much time making that model. Mostly, me.”

Tyelpë’s hand landed unexpectedly on Sauron’s shoulder. “You did a great job, my dear. I’m so proud of you. I’m honored to have been allowed to participate in your project. I’m sorry I used to not take your talent seriously enough. I’ll make sure you get your share of fame, trust me.”

Sauron was surprised to feel his eyes moisten; he did not expect to hear such things, not from Tyelpë.

Meanwhile, Tyelpë’s hand slid off his shoulder, and Sauron noticed a subtle spark of silver. “A ring? What… what is that, Tyelpë?”

Tyelpë smiled, happy and perhaps slightly guilty. “Engagement ring.”

Sauron looked away, feeling like he’d just been stabbed in the chest.

“Sau… no, no, no, don’t…” He ended up in Celebrimbor’s gentle arms, just as he was afraid he would.

“Don’t need your compassion,” Sauron hissed.

“Shh. Don’t be angry,” Tyelpë whispered discreetly into his ear. “I haven’t forgotten what we had. I’m sorry it ended the way it did, but life goes on, Sauron… You have Denethor now, so please, focus on him. Don’t let yourself be led astray by unclear passions.”

Sauron allowed himself to nuzzle into Tyelpë’s neck, just for a bit. “Alright,” he smiled bitterly.

“You’re lucky,” Tyelpë smiled back. “He is a perfect marriage material. Much better than I.”

“That’s… actually true.”

 

“Interesting,” thought Alfrid, quickly taking notes of the scene. “Very interesting.”

As the organizers ascended to the scene for their speeches, another touching scene was unfolding right beside the Minas Tirith model.

“Mom, Dad, I’m fine,” Finrod whispered tearfully. “I have a job, and I… I like living here… I’ll be fine, I promise…”

Finarfin held him tightly, nonetheless, as if he wasn’t planning to let his son go, not anymore.

“I love both of you, just the way you are,” Eärwen said, holding Finrod’s hand, her other arm wrapped around Galadriel’s shoulders.

“I’m glad they made up,” said Bilbo. “And the model is very beautiful. The other things here don’t measure up to it.”

Thorin said nothing, as he was desperately trying to find the right angle for a photo without glass glare. Alfrid ignored the scene as well, busy observing Denethor trying to cheer Sauron up by kissing him passionately. He even took pictures of the couple.

 

Suddenly, a speaker called for everyone’s attention with polite coughing. “And now,” she announced, “please welcome a well-known Middle Earth artist, Celebrimbor Eregion.”

“It’s Tyelpë, for fuck’s sake,” the famed artist muttered under his breath as he walked to the microphone. Having accepted a round of applause, Tyelpë cleared his throat. “Thank you, thank you. It’s so good to be here, I’m so happy. I wish you could all feel how happy I am. I was also proposed to this morning, so I might just explode from happiness… any moment now.”

The audience met the news with another round of applause, laughter, and occasional “Congratulations!”

“Thank you. Thank you.” Tyelpë nodded. “Now, I know a lot of people are here because of me.”

More applause.

“And I thank you for being here. And everybody else, thank you. I’m so happy to return to the world of art after the trauma that I experienced.” He flexed his right hand slightly, perhaps absent-mindedly. “But today’s event is not necessarily about me. Let us not ignore the rising star who did the bulk of the work here.”

The audience fell quiet.

“Sauron,” Tyelpë called.

Sauron, who had been quietly standing in the audience and in Denethor’s embrace, lifted up his head to give Tyelpë a surprised gaze.

“Yes, you,” Tyelpë smiled. “Come up here. It’s your time to shine.”

The listeners chuckled supportively as Sauron proceeded shyly to the scene.

“Now, I know there are a lot of rumors about us in the press,” Tyelpë said, laying his hand once again on Sauron’s shoulder.

In that moment, Alfrid froze, struck with a sudden life-changing realization. He had been so focused on the gossip at the university, but the whole time, there had been a larger gossip word - on the town level! He bit his lip, shaking in cold sweat. He needed to talk to someone, to get advice!

“And yes, some of them are true.” Tyelpë looked at Sauron, as if seeking approval. Sauron nodded. “We had a history in the past… We hurt each other a lot.”

Ereinion and Denethor watched the scene intently.

“It is another reason I am very happy to have been part of this project. It allows us to regrow the friendship that we once had.” Tyelpë’s face was so happy and tender and warm Sauron had to suppress tears. “You’re my friend,” Tyelpë turned to Sauron and even took both of his hands. “You’re a great artist, and I’m proud of you. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.”

Sauron wished that he could speak, but his throat was so freaking tight, and his lips were trembling slightly, and all he could do was embrace Tyelpë with all the love and warmth of a true friend.

People cheered and applauded for them, but it mattered not. Sauron’s heart was singing, happy with the approval and acknowledgement he had not known he needed.

Fëanor was not as easily impressed. “You little drama queen, Tyelp,” he laughed when the two of them were finally off the scene.

“Wait till Melkor approaches, we’ll see who’s a bigger drama queen,” Tyepë replied immediately.

Indeed, Melkor showed up shortly thereafter to express his admiration and support to the two friends before it was his turn to speak. Fëanor was less than happy to see him.

“Get out of here, thief,” he growled.

You get out.” Melkor even made a finger gun. “I’m the curator of this project, and you are nothing and nobody.”

“Please, stop this right now, ” Tyelpë demanded.

Thranduil approached as well. “Hey, Sauron,” he laughed, “you know, now I can actually tell people you used to be my roommate, and they will be really impressed!”

Sauron winced, recalling all the cruel pranks and his stupid little crush on Lasgalen.

“Don’t worry,” Thran patted him on the back. “You’ve grown so much since then. I’m so proud of you.”

“Whatever.” Sauron didn’t like to experience such emotions. Or maybe he did, but it was all too fuzzy and too embarrassing. Finally, he gave up and hugged Thranduil, and all was well.

 

“I’m so confused,” Alfrid whispered, shaking his head. “Which one? Which one does he sleep with?!”

“Probably all of them,” Grima suggested. “You should write about all three. That way, you’ll get at least one right, and you’ll look credible in the end.”

“That’s great! Thank you!” Alfrid could barely contain his excitement. After all, this event was supposed to bring happiness to all of them - even to the gossiper.