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The Love We Found

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He prefers to come out at night, when the stars are burning and the moon is high and the ground is frozen, covered in a glitter of frost that dazzles his eyes and crunches under his gentle footfall. But life is busy, and he’s usually exhausted by the time the sun sinks low behind the trees, and so morning it is.

His land consists of about twenty acres, most of it densely wooded and unexplored even by him. There are large gulps of clearings though, long spreads of soft grass where wildflowers spring up when the weather is warm, where he has drifted out with his son and fallen asleep for hours, cradled by the sweet smell of grass and earth and flowers, protected here in this home he has created, built, maintained.

The first week of December the sun rises early, and so he stays along the edges of the clearing just outside his backdoor, keeping his steps as quiet as he can, his long, winter white robe dragging along the frozen ground, collar raised to protect his neck from the bite of the wind. He’s still wearing his silk pajamas beneath, just like he does every morning, the silver-white spill of his hair tucked into a loose braid over one shoulder, the ends of it grazing the point of his elbow.

He’s carrying two large buckets, one with organic deer feed that he’ll fill the feeders with and the other brimming with sliced apples and sweet potatoes. His son says he spoils the deer, that he makes them fat and maybe they won’t be able to run fast if they need to, but Thranduil doesn’t worry. His land has become a bit of a deer sanctuary, one where they come by the dozens all year round and stay protected from the hunters beyond.

He goes about his chores with the efficiency of a man who does this every single day; pale, bare hands making sure the feeders are dispensing correctly, that there’s plenty of feed in each of them as the deer already present hang back, watch him warily but don’t run.

There is one who lingers, who comes walking toward Thranduil with very little hesitation. He’s tall, nearly four feet at the shoulder, his antlers massive, eight-point, velvety branches spreading almost three feet out. His large brown eyes regard Thranduil for a long moment before he steps up and takes the apple slices right from his outstretched palm, snuffling against his skin while he eats.

Thranduil smiles, his hands stroking over the deer’s nose and and his muzzle, fingers coming together briefly to rub at the tufted tips of his ears and the base of his velvet antlers. The deer snorts in annoyance, trying to lift his face to get at Thranduil’s hands, wanting more treats.

“There’s more right over there, Pen-adar, and you know it,” he murmurs, going so far as to point over at the small pile of fruit just a couple of feet away. Pen-adar actually turns and looks, glancing momentarily back at Thranduil with what feels like mocking patience before he strolls over to the fruit.

Thranduil shakes his head, wiping his now-dirty hands off on his robe just as his phone chirps in his pocket.

He pulls it out, the light from the screen unnatural out in the pristine, quiet morning.

dad i am going to be late for school! come on!

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he sighs, tucking his phone back into the pocket of his flowing robe, giving one last glance at the peacefully grazing deer before he turns back toward the house, smiling at Legolas waiting there for him on the back porch, cheeks already pink from the cold, backpack on his small shoulders.

Thranduil lifts his hand and waves, thanking the stars that at least one of them is grounded, responsible enough to pay attention to annoying things like time, or who knows what would become of them.

 

“Dad,” Legolas ventures halfway to school when they’re stopped behind a bus, waiting for a gaggle of children to load onto it. Thranduil grips the wheel, drawn out of his thoughts of the gown he’s currently working on, out of the patterns of the beadwork he will sew on once he gets back home from his errands. He blinks over at his son, their matching blue eyes meeting. Thranduil quirks an expressive eyebrow.

“Yeah?”

Legolas squirms, chewing on his lip fitfully as he gazes back out at the cold morning. He’s only ten, but he’s smart, careful, knows exactly how to act to get Thranduil to say yes to absolutely anything.

Not that he says no to much.

“I was just wondering,” he starts, his voice carefully casual, “you know how I love Robin Hood?”

A smile tugs at one side of Thranduil’s mouth.

“I do.”

“And you know he’s an archer. Right?”

They’ve been reading the legends of Robin Hood for a month or so now, watching all the different movies, and Legolas has gotten Thranduil to play Robin Hood in the woods on their property (naturally, Thranduil makes a dastardly Prince John). He’s even made Legolas an historically accurate costume (and himself a lovely, lofty crown). He has been waiting for this moment, this question, and he can barely hold in a laugh.

“Yes. I seem to recall that.”

“Do you think I would be good at it?”

Ooh, well played.

“Good at what? Archery?”

“Yeah!” Legolas fights against his seatbelt to turn and face his father, his eyes massive, bright with excitement. “Yeah, I wanna shoot a bow and arrow! I wanna take down the bad guys and save all the poor people!”

Thranduil pulls up to the school behind a small line of cars, each with a kid about Legolas’s age getting out and waving back into the warm car at their respective parents. He lets out a sigh, fully aware of Legolas waiting, blinking at him with the barest amount of patience.

“I’ll make some phone calls. If you’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.”

“Thanks, Dad!” Legolas throws his arms around Thranduil’s neck, and Thranduil puts his Nissan Leaf in park just long enough to hug his son right back with all of his attention, his eyes falling closed, nose tucked indulgently in his long blonde hair. Anything, he promises to himself, hugging Legolas harder. He’ll give him anything he wants.

 

He makes a series of phone calls when he gets home, tossing ingredients he’d just gotten at the market into the slow cooker to make vegan white bean chili while he does. He ends up with a name and a phone number by the end of a good hour of talking to local archery supply stores and grilling them about the ethics of instructors they recommend. One guy, recommended by two different shop owners, and they both swear up and down he doesn’t hunt.

He changes back into his pajamas and grabs his phone again, putting it on speaker when it starts to ring so he can thread his needle.

“Girion Body Shop, can I help you?”

“Yes,” Thranduil mumbles as he frowns at the eye of the needle, trying unsuccessfully to slide the thread into it. “May I speak to, ah.” He glances over at the paper on his station. “A Brad Bowman?”

There’s a pause on the other end of the line that Thranduil doesn’t notice because he finally gets the damn needle threaded and taps out a small pile of garnet-colored glass seed beads onto his work surface.

“There’s no Brad here.”

Thranduil stops, looking over at the phone with a frown.

“There’s not?”

“No. But there is a Bard Bowman.”

“Bard?” Weird name.

“Bard.”

“Well, alright. May I speak with him, please?”

“You already are.”

“Oh.” Thranduil doesn’t know why, but the conversation has flustered him. He weaves the needle through the lapel on his silver pajama top and grabs up the phone, taking it off speaker and tucking it against his ear. “Hello. My name is Thranduil Doriath. I was calling to inquire about your services.”

“And what services would those be? Oil change? Tune-up? New tires? Winter’s here, you know. A very dangerous time of the year even for the most careful of drivers.”

“What? No! No, I’m not… my car is…” He shakes his head, ready to hang up and search online for a cool-looking knockoff bow that might appease Legolas and make him forget about actually wanting to learn how to shoot. “Your name was given to me by a couple of men who own archery supply stores in the area. My son is interested in taking lessons.”

“Oh, those services. Hey, can you hang on a minute?”

“Well. Sure, I--”

“Great.”

He’s put on hold, a blaring hair metal song sounding off in his ear, making him cringe, yanking the phone away from his ear and sittng back in his chair with a sigh. He reaches up and lifts the skirts of the gown in front of him, always getting a little thrill when they fall back down so prettily.

“You there?”

Thranduil drops the skirts.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Sorry about that. Busy today, so I’m hiding in my office where it’s a little more quiet. Okay, how old is your son?”

“Legolas is ten.”

“Ten.” There’s the soft scratch of a pen on paper. “And are you interested in taking lessons, too?”

“Me?” Thranduil lifts a pale hand to his chest, eyebrows going up like this mechanic-archer can actually see him. “Ah. No. No, I’ve had my share of weapons training, thank you. Which reminds me, Mr. Bowman.”

“Yes?”

“You aren’t a hunter, correct?”

“You mean do I shoot and kill animals for sport?”

“Yes.”

“No. I don’t.” There’s a hint of amusement in his voice, a bit of satisfaction, like maybe he’s got Thranduil figured out. It’s unnerving. “But I do eat meat. Is that a problem?”

“Well, I guess not,” Thranduil mumbles, though he’s really thinking about it. “I mean, you are just going to be teaching my son how to shoot a bow and arrow. You can eat whatever decaying flesh you want.”

“Well, thank you.”

“So, do you have a certain time or day you give lessons, or…?” He scoots up to the edge of his chair again, twisting a knot into the end of his thread with a quick movement of his fingers and picking up a seed bead on the tip of his needle, eyeing the dress once again, trying to remember where he left off.

“Let’s say, uh.” More rustling, and Bard hums a little while he apparently checks over his schedule. “How about Saturday morning? Say around ten?”

“Saturday morning at ten.” Thranduil grabs up his pen and scrawls the information on his paper. “Where?”

“I live at 937 Laketown Drive, about ten minutes from downtown.”

“Is it safe to shoot arrows that close to people?”

“Hey, Mr. Doriath?”

“Mm?”

“How about you just trust me on this, alright?” There’s a smile in the man’s voice, and it makes Thranduil pause, makes his cheeks flush.

“We will, ah. We’ll see you Saturday morning.”

“You will.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Bowman.”

“Later.”

They hang up and Thranduil stares down at the phone, not sure if he’s pleased or annoyed by the entire conversation he just had.

It doesn’t matter.

He slips the needle into the taffeta, absently wondering what one wears when taking their son to archery lessons.

 

Well, this man wears a sage green sweater made from bamboo yarn with a sumptuous, thick collar and wooden toggle buttons, dark indigo skinny jeans, and brown faux leather riding boots that stop just below his knee, along with his customary thick white-blonde braid draped over his shoulder, in case you were wondering.

The drive from their house into town takes about thirty-five minutes, a drive they are both more than use to. It snowed last night, and the air is bitingly cold when they pile out of his Leaf in front of the modest brown house and next to the biggest, rustiest, least environmentally friendly pickup truck Thranduil has ever seen.

“The tires are almost as tall as me!” Legolas runs over and touches the dirty front tire, and Thranduil grabs his other hand and steers him toward the house.

They’re not even up on the porch before a man is bustling out, a clipboard tucked under his arm, a cup of coffee in one hand, and a phone to his ear.

“Sigrid, it’s fine. I promise. Bain can help out, and I’ll stick around the house today. Just go and have fun, alright?”

Thranduil just stares, not surprised by this man’s harried demeanor but surprised by how attractive he is, how dark and rugged and very, very similar to the men on the cover of the (mostly gay) romance novels Thranduil keeps discreetly tucked away in the drawer by his bed.

The man finally looks up, staring at Thranduil like he’s standing in front of a new breed of animal that nobody’s ever seen, and it makes Thranduil almost shy, makes him look away, busying himself with fixing the sleeves on Legolas’s coat while the man continues his conversation.

“...Alright. Call me if you need anything. Love you, too. Bye.” The man tucks the phone into the pocket of his brown leather jacket before he fixes Thranduil with a piercing gaze, looking at him in a way that Thranduil hasn’t been looked at in a long time. “Sorry about that.”

“Your wife?” Thranduil smiles, his tone polite, trying desperately to put up a wall between himself and this man, to give himself a reason to stop looking at him the way he is.

“Ah. No. My daughter. She went to a sleepover last night. Her friends want to go to the mall and a movie today, but she felt bad for not coming home to watch Bain and Tilda.” Bard gives Thranduil a small smile and a shake of his head, his long black hair tugged up into a forgotten bun much like the ones that Thranduil fashions his own hair into when he’s lazing around the house.

“Three children?” They walk back down the steps to the front walk before Bard leads them around back where there’s a wide yard that extends quite a ways, archery targets set up on bales of hay at the very edge of it.

“Yeah, three,” Bard sighs, taking a sip of his coffee and smiling down at Legolas who is watching him with wide, solemn blue eyes. “You must be Legolas.”

“Yes,” Thranduil answers for him, embarrassed that he’d forgotten his manners somehow. “Sorry, this is Legolas, and I’m Thranduil. We spoke on the phone.”

He offers the man his hand, and he feels a warmth spread over his cheeks when Bard slides their palms together, tanned, work-roughened fingers clasping Thranduil’s pale hand. The difference between their hands, in color and size and experience and strength, is stark.

“Oh, I remember,” Bard murmurs, a smile tugging on his lips. There’s dark hair on his face, from his brows to his lashes all the way down to his mustache and the scruff on his cheeks, his whole appearance mysterious, making Thranduil lower his gaze again as they walk through the yard.

This is not what he was expecting to see this morning, or else he wouldn’t have worn something as boring as jeans.

“Well, listen, um. There are a few errands I’ve got to run while I’m in town. Is there a time you want me back to pick him up?” Thranduil tucks his hands into his back pockets, squinting over at the targets, at the trees beyond just to keep from meeting those eyes that have barely left him since the front porch.

“Give us an hour. Just to get us started, right, kid?” Bard smiles down at Legolas, a thick-fingered hand sliding across the top of his blonde head and ruffling his hair. Thranduil reaches out immediately to fix it, to smooth it down, his own fingers long and pale and deliberate. He can feel Bard’s eyes on him again.

“You be good for Mr. Bowman. I’ll be back in one hour, alright?”

“Bye, Dad!” Legolas dashes off toward the targets where he has spied some stray arrows, and Thranduil finally looks up to meet Bard’s eyes once they’re alone, his smile small but amused, shared between fellow parents all around the world.

Bard nods at him once, eyes lingering just a second longer before he’s turning his attention to Legolas, setting Thranduil free to go back to his car.

He doesn’t recall his visit to the farmer’s market, to the bead shop, to the post office. He only knows that he’s about ten minutes late when he pulls back into Bard’s driveway and that he’s stressed about it.

They aren’t in the backyard where he’d last seen them, so he rings the doorbell, ridiculously nervous because he doesn’t see Legolas where he left him. The front door opens seconds later and Bard’s there with a smile, looking stupidly handsome lit by the late morning sun, his face flushed and beaded with sweat, and Thranduil makes sure to hold his breath and not inhale the heady scent of a handsome, sweaty man when he steps inside past Bard.

He is not going to start crushing on a presumably married father who eats meat.

Legolas is there at the small kitchen table in the clean but crowded kitchen with another boy, one with Bard’s warm green eyes but a delicate face, a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows in front of each of them. Thranduil doesn’t ask about the milk in it, doesn’t ask if it’s coconut or almond or cow, let alone the marshmallows, just gives Legolas’s lowered head a smile as he steps up.

“So? How’d it go? Are you Robin Hood yet?” He gathers Legolas’s hair back, messy from his time outside in the cold and from sweating most likely, absently braiding it loosely down his back to keep it away from his face.

“Not quite,” Bard answers, sinking down into the chair next to the boy and smiling up at Thranduil, “but he is a natural. Great aim, amazing posture.”

“Well, we do yoga every morning, don’t we, hon?” He gives Legolas’s back a rub before reaching into the bag he has over his shoulder, pulling out his checkbook. “So, how much do I owe you?”

“Let’s say forty an hour.” Bard steals the kid’s hot chocolate and takes a drink, and Thranduil tries his best not to be charmed by the marshmallow-y stickiness that clings to his mustache. He fills out the check and tears it off, handing it over to Bard.

“We can do this again next week, same time, same place?” Bard wipes his mouth and folds the check up, tucking it into his pocket. Thranduil guides Legolas to stand up and they start toward the door slowly, and Thranduil tries his best not to look at the man too long.

“Sounds good. Thank you, Mr. Bowman.”

They duck back out into the bright morning, and Thranduil stays quiet while they buckle their seatbelts and he pulls out of the driveway.

“So, did you enjoy it?” he finally asks, pulling on his sunglasses and smiling over at his son.

“Yup!”

“Like you enjoyed karate? And riding horses? And building 3-D model airplanes?”

“Daaaad.” Legolas frowns, folding his arms over his chest and looking down with a sigh. Thranduil smiles indulgently, reaching over to trace his fingers lightly over the soft point of the shell of Legolas’s ear, so much like his own.

“I’m glad. Really. And Mr. Bowman seems to be nice.” He turns his attention back to the road, glad he has his sunglasses on so his eyes don’t give him away to his overly intelligent ten-year-old.

“He’s awesome! He works on cars and motorcycles and he won a silver medal in archery at the Olympics!”

Thranduil raises an eyebrow, barely holding in an eyeroll. Just like men to make up outlandish stories. He wonders what else Bard exaggerates about.

“I’m sure. Well, good. I’m glad you like him.” He starts down the long, straight road blessedly empty of cars that leads them out of town and toward their home.

“He said that it’s good that you didn’t want to take lessons.”

Thranduil jerks his head over to glance at his son for that.

“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”

“He said you have delicate hands. That archery’s hard on your hands, and it makes them rough. And you get calsus.”

“Callouses,” Thranduil gently corrects.

“Callouses,” Legolas repeats slowly. “He said it would be sad if you messed up your hands.”

“I’m not delicate,” is all Thranduil can think to say, eyes sliding down to regard his own hands on the steering wheel, trying to see them how this Bard apparently sees them. Not delicate at all. He hasn’t even had a manicure in weeks.

And besides, who cares what sweaty mechanics think?

 

He doesn’t get out of the car the next week, just sends Legolas in with a wave to Bard who stands in the doorway of the house, squinting at Thranduil through the morning sun and not doing a very good job of hiding his disappointment. Thranduil ignores the heavy thump of his heart, turns up Sigur Rós, and heads to the yarn shop.

He sits in the car for a good five minutes when the hour is up, contemplating whether he should get out and go up to the door or just honk, bypassing any interaction with Bard at all this week even though it’s strangely (annoyingly) all he’s thought about since last Saturday.

He’d even dressed in his least delicate outfit: an over-sized red and black flannel shirt and a pair of fitted charcoal trousers with the cuffs turned up over black boots similar to last week’s. His hair is loose today, long and spilling down his shoulders in cornsilk softness, and goddamnit, he looks too good to stay in the car.

Bard answers after the first knock.

Thranduil thrills at the eyes that trail down the long length of his body, that seem to drink him in like he’s something that Bard has craved. Their eyes meet finally and Thranduil gives him a pleased, cool smile, breezing into the house past him and absolutely not smelling him again. He sets the cookie tin he’d brought with him on the table, heading toward the sound of his son’s laughter.

“So, what did you do this time?” He’s talking to Legolas, but Legolas is on the couch playing a videogame with the same boy from last week, too engrossed to even acknowledge Thranduil. He turns his reluctant gaze on Bard who is leaning against the back of the couch, arms around his broad chest, eyes already on him.

“Oh, you know,” Bard sighs, one shoulder lifting in a shrug. “Took him out into the woods. Got him his first kill. A huge buck. We’re having venison for dinner, if you’re hungry.”

The horror on Thranduil’s face must be hilarious because Bard bursts out laughing, a deep, joyful sound that makes Thranduil take a step toward him and swat at his strong, firm bicep.

“Kidding! I’m kidding. Legolas told me about the white-tailed deer on your property today. I was just teasing you.” Bard’s face relaxes into a kind smile, and Thranduil can’t help but sigh, a smile ghosting his own lips.

“You’re an ass.”

“Yeah, probably.” Bard’s grinning now, his own flannel shirt soft and faded and worn in all the right ways, pulled tight over his chest in an incredibly distracting way. Oh. So that’s how flannel shirts are supposed to look. “No, really though. He did very well. He’s a good kid.”

“So, this is your side business, right?” Thranduil doesn’t lean very well (though he can look absolutely gorgeous while lounging), so he doesn’t even try it with the chair next to him. He tucks his hands into the sleeves of his flannel, a very young, nervous thing to do, but he’s barely even aware of it.

“Yeah. Own a body shop downtown. It’s been there forever. My grandfather started it in the fifties. Archery is just something I like to do. My hobby, I guess.”

“Legolas told me that you won a medal of sorts,” Thranduil ventures, eyes narrowing at Bard, expecting him to look sheepish, caught in his lie.

“Yeah. Silver at the ‘04 Olympics in Athens.” Bard looks at him evenly, dark green eyes glinting in amusement. “You wanna see it?”

Thranduil, a man who does not like to be upstaged or made to feel ridiculous, just smiles, his shrug mirroring the one that Bard had tossed his way earlier. “Sure.”

Bard leads him deeper into the little house, down a hallway cluttered with dolls and action figures and into a room that is very obviously Bard’s bedroom, the bedding dark, the floor cluttered with clothes, a few glasses of water collecting on the bedside table. It doesn’t look like a woman lives here, maybe hasn’t for a long time.

It makes him ache, for some reason.

Bard is staring at the wall above the bed, at the framed silver medal on the bright blue ribbon next to a picture of Bard looking ten years younger: tan arms sweaty and gleaming in the sun as he draws his bow back, eyes directly ahead on some unseen target.

“Oh,” Thranduil breathes, one knee pressed into the mattress to get closer, to see it more clearly. “That’s… that’s impressive, Mr. Bowman.”

“Not bad for a mechanic, right?”

Thranduil glances over, catching the self-deprecating smile and giving him a shy one of his own.

“Not bad for anyone.”

“Dad!”

Legolas comes running into the room, his cheeks flushed, eyes bright like they always get when he’s excited about something. Thranduil forces himself to look away from Bard, hurriedly stepping away from his bed and flashing his son a patient smile.

“Hm?”

“I want Bain to see my treehouse! Can he come over?”

Thranduil glances over at Bard to catch his initial reaction before looking back to Legolas.

“You have a science project that you have to work on this weekend, remember?”

Legolas’s little shoulders fall, all the happiness draining off of him almost tragically fast.

“Oh. Right.”

“Maybe next week?” Another glance at Bard as an idea springs into his mind. “Hey, how about next week’s lesson, we have at our house? And Bain can come over and hang out for awhile.”

“And meet Aragorn!” Legolas is beaming again, giving an excited little hop, his hair bouncing with him.

“Sure, hon. If that’s what you want.” He reaches out to curl a stray lock of Legolas’s hair around his fingers, releasing it as he turns to Bard. “What do you say? We’ve got plenty of property, lots of room to practice. Do you think you can bring your… equipment stuff? I can pay you extra.”

“I don’t think that’d be a problem. Sounds like fun.” Bard’s smile is quick, almost nervous, eyes darting around before they land on Legolas. “You can show me the deer, right?”

“Yes! And you can meet Pen-adar! He was an orphan baby deer that me and Dad raised and now he’s huge!” Legolas stretches out his arms as wide as they will go, his eyes massive. Bard laughs, hands shoving into the pockets of his faded jeans.

“Sounds like a plan.”

They wander back out into the living room and to the front door, but Thranduil stops near the table in the kitchen where he’d left the red and green cookie tin.

“I almost forgot,” he murmurs almost shyly, holding out the tin like he’s in the third grade and giving a valentine to his crush. “Legolas and I like making cookies around the holidays. We wanted to make sure to give you some.”

Bard’s smile is quiet and trained down at the tin in his big hands, pausing for a few beats before he pries the lid off and grins down at the reindeer-shaped cookies covered in red and green sugar.

“They’re vegan sugar cookies. I promise they’re still buttery and delicious.” He folds his arms over his chest, feeling silly now, taking a few steps backwards toward the door. Bard puts the lid back on the tin and finally lifts his eyes to give Thranduil that same smile, one so real and soft that Thranduil doesn’t know what to do with it.

“Thank you very much.”

Thranduil nods, his cheeks flushed, fumbling a little as he reaches back for the doorknob.

“I’ll, um. I’ll call you early next week with our address.”

“Legolas has my number. You can just text it to me, if you want.”

Text him. Text the sweaty, sweet mechanic dad who won a silver medal and has a very cozy mattress.

“S-Sure. Goodbye. Bye, Bain!”

“Bye!”

He hurries them out, cheeks still hot as he makes sure Legolas is buckled up. He’s quiet as they head home, already trying to decide on all the things he needs to do to the house before next Saturday.

 

Later that night, after he’s finished the gown and arranged for it to be picked up in the morning, after he’s gone through his nighttime ritual and is curled up in his big, wooden bed in his big wooden house, he opens a text to Bard.

41 Mirkwood Lane. It’s a bit off the road and up a long, gravel drive. Call if you get lost. - T

It’s completely boring, the most unsexy text he’s ever sent, but at least he sends it. He turns his screen off, doesn’t watch the message get delivered, and he takes a deep breath as he opens up his book. He doesn’t read a word, just lets his tired eyes go unfocused on the clean, typed lines. Bard is probably asleep. He hopes he didn’t wake him. He might not even respond. What is there to say to--

Brrrr-ing!

He digs for his phone where it’s lost now in the covers, heart racing like a teenage girl as he turns the phone back on, opening up Bard’s reply.

i’ve got a pretty good idea where you are. if I get lost, I can just stop and ask a deer, right? ;)

Thranduil smirks, fingers flying over the keyboard.

Deer aren’t the friendliest of creatures. You might be better off consulting Google maps.

He sends and waits, watching the little ‘typing’ bubble on the left side of the screen with way too much anticipation.

good to know. thank you for the cookies by the way. Wouldn’t even have known they were plant food if you hadn’t told me.

Before Thranduil can even think of a reply, another message comes through, this one a picture. It’s Bard and three smiling little faces in the background behind them, all four of them holding up a half-eaten reindeer cookie, Bard’s eyes right on the camera, his smile little and secret, tiny bits of crumb and sugar caught in his mustache.

Thranduil’s chest tightens, and he doesn’t even know how big the smile on his face is or he would be mortified.

I’m glad. Maybe I’ll make something else for you someday soon. I may change your mind about plant food yet.

Bard’s reply comes almost immediately.

I look forward to it. goodnight. :)

Thranduil tucks down into his covers, curling around his phone and staring way too long at that smiley face.

Goodnight, Mr. Bowman.

He sets his phone on the nightstand after quickly saving the picture, reaching up to flick off the light and settling back into his bed with a sigh.

He falls asleep with a smile on his face.

 

“What do you mean, you don’t have an electrical outlet out here? How could you not have electricity?! What is this, Amish country?!”

The man just blinks at Thranduil, unimpressed, not intimidated, and maybe even just a little bit bored.

“Um. I sell Christmas trees? I don’t need to plug anything in. We’re literally in the middle of a field.”

Thranduil glares around at the lines and lines of already cut trees, at his own 10-foot, majestic Noble Fir that is going to go in his high-ceilinged living room before he turns his wrath back on the man.

“While we’re on the subject, what kind of hack job operation are you running here? Why do you have to chop the trees down? Hmm? Why can’t you just very gently remove them from the ground with their roots? Maybe I want to plant my tree. Did you ever think of that? How do you feel about sustainability?”

There’s the sound of a throat clearing behind him, and Thranduil’s eyes widen at the tree farm worker, terrified that he knows exactly who that throat belongs to.

“Need any help?”

Shit.

Thranduil closes his eyes, realizing so many things in that moment: that he’d just had a full-blown hissy fit in front of Bard, that Bard knows exactly how dramatic and hysterical he can get when he’s scared or angry, that Bard might make fun of him for thinking that trees can be delivered, that Bard will make fun of him because he forgot to charge his electric car and now it’s dead in the muddy parking lot of a Christmas tree farm on a Thursday afternoon, and worst of all, that Bard is seeing him now at his very very ugliest: his hair dragged up into an insane, messy bun, a too-tight, faded Lorien Dance Company shirt on under his faux-fur lined hoodie and his clingy black yoga pants proudly proclaiming that Thranduil is SASSY in huge, pink letters across the swell of his ass.

He takes a deep breath and turns around.

“Hi, Mr. Bowman,” he says meekly, finding Bard there in layers of dark clothes under his leather jacket, half his hair pulled back, his hands dirty and beautiful, and he’s got the most infuriatingly adorable smirk on his face when their eyes meet.

“Hey.” Bard’s smirk grows into a smile as he saunters over, eyebrows lifting when they’re close enough to speak quietly. “You seem a little upset.”

“I’m just,” Thranduil starts, forcing himself to take a deep breath, to not raise his voice again. “Just having a really, really stressful day. I come here to get a tree, and I decided to get a real one this year for the first time in so long because Legolas wants it to smell like ‘Christmas’ in the house, and he doesn’t fall for the candle scent crap, and I get here and guess what?! They don’t deliver!”

Bard has his face schooled into as much seriousness as he can muster, and he shakes his head ruefully at the news.

“Fascist bastards.”

“That’s not even the worst part!”

“Oh?” Bard leads Thranduil away from the poor worker who has moved on to helping another customer, and Thranduil doesn’t register how close they’re standing until he realizes he can smell a faint whiff of cologne on Bard, one of those gorgeously masculine scents that makes you want to follow a man around a store just so you can smell him. He forces himself to concentrate.

“My!” He lowers his voice again, glancing around self-consciously. “I forgot to plug my car in last night.”

Bard blinks at him.

“You forgot to plug your car in.”

“Yeah! Hey, you’re a car guy! Can you fix it?” He grabs Bard by the sleeve with his gloved hand and tugs him toward his poor dead car, gesturing to it when Bard stops beside it.

“Can I fix your plug-in car?”

“I just need a 120 volt. It’s not ideal, but at least I will be able to get home.” He glances over at his car, bottom lip caught between his teeth. He’s never done this before. He’s usually so good with this kind of thing, usually remembers to plug it in (or Legolas will). He doesn’t know whether to be upset that Bard’s here or just relieved.

“Your car is dressed up like a reindeer.”

Thranduil winces when he realizes that is totally true, that his car has a red nose and antlers and--

“Oh! It’s got a tail. You’ve gotta come see, it’s so cute.” They walk around to the back of the car where a little fuzzy tail is swishing back and forth on a spring stuck to his bumper. He grins over at Bard. “Legolas found it and I had to put it on my car, you know?"

He pauses, letting out a heavy sigh.

“I can’t believe I let my car die.”

Bard looks like he wants to say a lot of things, that he’s biting his tongue but he finally just shakes his head, giving Thranduil his most sympathetic smile.

“How about this: I’ll drive you and your giant tree home, and I’ll call one of the guys down at the shop and get them to come tow your car out to your house.”

Thranduil just stares at him, and he swears he can feel the twinkly stars in his eyes as he does. He reaches for Bard again, clutching his arm, relief falling over him in waves.

“Really? You’d do that for me?”

“Of course. Hey, go ahead and get in the truck and get it started. You’re probably freezing out here. I’ll get your tree loaded up and we can head over.” He pulls his keys from his pocket and passes them over to Thranduil, not giving him time to argue before he just walks away.

Thranduil makes his way over to the giant black truck parked nearby, some huge 80s model Chevy something-or-other with mud splatters and a sticker on the back that says My child is an HONOR STUDENT at Esgaroth Elementary. He stares at the sticker until his eyes start to burn, and he’s even smiling by the time he gets the truck unlocked and manages to climb up into it.

The engine roars to life when he gets it started up, the heat blasting out of the vents so wonderful on his cold skin. He sits back and closes his eyes, listening to Led Zeppelin crooning softly from the speakers. He almost drifts off to sleep, lulled by the hum of the engine, but the door creaks open and Bard’s there, so suddenly there beside him, smelling like he smells and looking like he looks and closed in so close to Thranduil.

He sits up straight, only now thinking to reach up and fuss with his hair. There’s some rustling and movement in the bed of the truck behind them, and then the crash and slide of the tree being lifted into it.

“Didn’t you come here to get a tree, too?” Thranduil’s eyes land on Bard’s frozen hands on the steering wheel once he puts the truck into drive and ambles out of the makeshift parking lot, wondering if Bard has gloves and if he does, why he isn’t wearing them.

“Eh,” Bard shrugs, glancing up at his rearview and then back out at the road while Zeppelin plays on. “I’ll come back later. Let’s get you home first.”

“I really do appreciate this, Mr. Bowman.” His voice is soft with honesty, with how genuinely touched he is. “You’re keeping me from hitting the hard liquor before the sun sets, I hope you know that.”

“There’s an easy way to fix this, you know,” Bard murmurs, his voice low and barely heard over the music. Thranduil leans a little closer on the bench seat to make sure he hears the incoming pearl of wisdom.

“My car? How?”

“Drive a car that doesn’t plug in.” Bard smiles over at Thranduil, his eyes bright and teasing, and Thranduil sits up straight again, refusing to be ruffled by the condescending tone about his car or the way Bard seems to be flirting with him.

“Oh? What do you suggest? An ‘87 Chevy Deathtrap like this one?”

“Hey,” Bard says gruffly, a scowl now covering his very wonderful, handsome, kind face. (Sigh.) He looks over and meets Thranduil’s wide, surprised eyes. “It’s an ‘88.”

“Forgive me,” Thranduil replies with an amazing amount of sincerity, but they’re smirking at each other, eyes catching for a few exquisite seconds before Bard is turning into his driveway, making the long trek up to his sprawling log ranch house. He blinks in surprise. “Wait. How do you know where I live?”

Bard’s staring straight ahead, driving slowly, eyes darting around like he’s watching for deer.

“Told you I’ve been out in this area before. Must be kind of a pain to live so far from town sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” Thranduil shrugs, eyes on his home that seems to come out of nowhere as if by magic when they go around a curve, the windows taking up large sections all the way around, the porch absolutely huge, the whole thing covered in pretty, twinkling lights even in the daytime. “Most of the time I’m just grateful to be so far from everything. I love the absolute quiet. And how amazing it is to feel like the only person left in the world sometimes, you know?”

Bard slows to a stop on the gravel drive right in front of one set of stairs that leads up onto the elevated porch and the front door, his truck idling with a low rumble. It’s quiet otherwise in the car, the air warm all around them, and Thranduil feels the wonderful, terrifying tension between them.

“Seems a little sad,” Bard says finally, looking down toward his lap and not at Thranduil which gives him permission to look himself, just a glance, but it lingers on Bard, on how tired he seems suddenly, on the loneliness that seeps into his voice. “Feeling that alone.”

Thranduil looks away now, swallowing around the sudden tightness in his throat. He glances out the window, comforted a little by the sight of a couple of deer at the feeder closest to the house.

“I’m used to it,” he says softly. “I realized years ago that I either have to embrace it or let it consume me.”

“And so you embrace it?” Bard’s eyes on him again, and it makes Thranduil shiver.

“Most days.” He exhales slowly, a quiet sigh. Looks over to meet Bard’s gaze, giving him a small smile. “Thank you. For the ride.”

“Here.” Bard turns the truck off and opens the door, letting the frigid air inside of their warm little haven as he piles out. “Let me help you get this tree inside.”

“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that.” He hurries out after him, not exactly graceful as he slips down to the gravel in his Uggs. He’s terrified of what his house looks like, the fabric and sequins everywhere, the dishes from breakfast in the sink.

“You don’t have to ask me.” Bard opens the door to the bed of the truck, climbing up into it so easily that Thranduil can’t help but stare, but watch the way his jeans get tight on his thighs and how strong his hands seem when they wrap around the trunk of the poor dead tree and yank. “Go unlock your door and keep it open for me, alright?”

Thranduil obeys because he’s helpless to do anything else with Bard, it seems, hurrying up the stairs and unlocking his door, leaving it open as he rushes around to pick up, throwing the fabric and dragging the dress form into his studio and shutting the door behind him, turning on his fireplace with a tap on the remote control and plugging in the lights he’s managed to get strung over the mantel.

He hears Bard grunting outside, and he listens with entirely too much interest before he realizes he should probably at least offer to help. He hovers around in the doorway while Bard makes his way up the stairs, his now bare hands lifted in some weird semblance of support.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“You got a stand for this beast?” His voice sounds even gruffer and out of breath. Thranduil licks his lips.

“Yeah. Yes! I’ll go--” He dashes back into the house and goes about getting the stand set up while Bard drags the tree through the living room, thoughtfully kicking the door closed with one boot-clad foot. Thranduil backs up while Bard hefts the tree up and into the stand, a fancy one that Thranduil had picked up that works via a foot pedal and Bard seems to understand how to operate.

It goes up easily, standing tall and still caught up in the netting used to transport it. Bard is panting and sweating and staring up at the tree warily.

“Get some water in there right away,” he says while his breathing slows down, wiping his forehead off on his sleeve. “You don’t need any of that sugar water crap. Just water, and keep it filled.”

Thranduil nods, arms folded over his chest as the fire crackles behind him, the whole house empty except the two of them. Bard finally looks around, taking in the expanse of it with a quick glance before their eyes meet again.

“Thank you. So much. I could have hired somebody to do that. You’re so kind, Mr. Bowman.”

“It was no problem.” Bard glances back toward the front door, and Thranduil feels a sharp pang of panic, of keep him here, try to know him, a hand coming out to land on Bard’s arm through his layers.

“Would you like a glass of wine? I just opened a bottle last night.” He doesn’t start toward the kitchen and grab glasses like he wants to, feels like maybe he should wait for Bard’s response before he does. He can tell by Bard’s smile, small and quick, that he’s going to say no.

“Thank you, but I’ve got a lot to do today. I have to get Tilda from school here in about an hour. But I’ll see you all in a couple of days right? Your car should be here soon. One of the guys from the shop should be towing it right now.”

“Y-Yes. Yes, but.” He follows Bard to the front door, the feeling of rejection making his skin feel tight, his wrists ache. He tries to take it gracefully on the chin, but he knows that maybe he just wants it too much. “But I need to repay you somehow. To say thank you.”

Bard is at the glass front door, has it open and is halfway outside before he pauses, turns, giving Thranduil an unreadable smile.

“You want to do something for me?”

Thranduil’s pulse jumps.

“Yes?”

“Call me Bard.” His smile spreads just a little, lifting up higher on one side while he winks at Thranduil, gaze holding for a few seconds longer before he’s stepping out onto the front porch and across it, not looking back at all but the smile stays until he gets to the car.

Bard turns around then, looking back up toward the house like he knows Thranduil is watching. He lifts his hand and waves at him, that smile turning into a grin.

“See you Saturday, Sassypants!”

Thranduil has the grace to cover his face, to hide his grin and his blood red cheeks.

 

Saturday comes, and Thranduil is so caught up in his new commission of a wedding dress for his lovely cousin a couple of states over that he doesn’t realize that it’s ten o’clock until he hears the sweet chime of the doorbell echoing through the house.

“Shit,” Thranduil breathes, looking down at his lounge clothes just as he hears the thundering of Legolas’s excited little feet from across the house. Thranduil rushes to the door and opens it to call out into the open house. “Babe, I’ll be out in a minute! Go ahead and show Mr. B--Bard where to set up, alright?”

“Okay, Dad!”

He hears the front door open and the cheerful tone of Bard’s low voice as he sneaks out of his studio and hurries to his bedroom for the clothes he might already have laid out and waiting for this morning. Maybe.

 

He emerges about fifteen minutes later, hair tamed and braided, a long, soft grey turtleneck sweater on over cozy black leggings with his black boots, and he stops a few yards from where Bard has set up some targets off away from the deer feeders in the backyard and closer to the shrubs at the edge of the woods.

Bard is there in a black henley and jeans, the sleeves pushed up, his hair down and falling around his face as he slips leather sleeves over the tips of his bow, a long, loose string drooping from it. Bain and Legolas watch closely, listening as Bard talks.

“Now put your foot here right in the middle,” Bard is saying, stepping on the middle of the string dragging the ground, “and your hand right in the middle of the bow. And pull up carefully, keep everything centered, got it?”

Legolas nods, not even blinking.

“Now you come in with your actual string. As you pull up, see? It exposes the notches but it keeps the bow taut the way you’ll need it to be after it’s strung.” Bard’s voice is a little strained because of the effort he’s putting into the hold, the muscles in his arms lean but strong, corded under the light expanse of dark hair. Thranduil bites down gently on his bottom lip and doesn’t let a sound out, doesn’t want any of them to look up and see him, see the look that’s probably on his face that he can’t reign in right now.

“Just slip the ends into the notches, like this. And release real slow, let the stringer loosen up. You can pull the leather ends off now, and look at that.” He lifts the bow strung almost like magic, and Legolas is absolutely enthralled.

“Wow,” he whispers, and Bain grins, looking a little proud that his dad is so awesome.

Bard glances up right then, spying Thranduil standing off to the side, and their eyes meet, hold for a heart-skipping beat while Thranduil tries desperately to look cool, neutral, not at all aroused by that display of skill and strength and skin. He lifts his hand to wave, and Bard glances back at the kids, clearing his throat.

“Bain, why don’t you, um. Why don’t you help Legolas get his bow strung for me?”

The boys hurry away to the bows waiting in a stack nearby, and Bard turns once again to Thranduil. They walk toward each other with their heads down, meeting in the middle, and what should be a simple, easy greeting between parents is quiet, breath held, hands in pockets and lashes lowered.

“Good morning,” Thranduil says softly into the quiet between them, his lips curling into a smile as he glances up at Bard through his lashes.

“Morning,” Bard echoes, looking up for just a second before he glances away again, already a little sweaty, cheeks flushed with it and with the cold.

“I just wanted to say a quick hello. I’m working up in my studio this morning, but I’ll be down at the end of the hour. If that’s alright?” He wraps his arms around himself as a swift slice of air cuts across them, driving a shiver up his spine. He is so, so very close to asking Bard where his coat is, where his gloves are and why he isn’t wearing them, but he holds his tongue. It’s a miracle.

“You won’t be joining us?” Bard takes a step closer with a smile that can’t be and isn’t anything but flirtatious, his hands tucked boyishly into his pockets, hair lifting in the breeze, showing off the few strands of gray around his temples. Thranduil stays still under that gaze, lets it rush warm all through him, his smile as secret as Bard’s.

“I shouldn’t,” he says after a long moment, taking a step back toward the house but not really ready to leave, not yet. “I don’t want to distract Legolas.”

“I don’t think it’s Legolas you’ll be distracting.” Those eyes drift over him again, dragging and appreciative all the way down to the tips of Thranduil’s shoes before they lock with his own again. Thranduil laughs, placing a hand in the center of Bard’s firm chest and giving him a playful shove that would make even a high school girl roll her eyes.

“Oh, hush. You’re just trying to get out of working, Mr. Bowman.”

“What did I tell you? Hmm? I thought we had a deal.” Bard’s voice is low, sliding over Thranduil’s face like a caress. He vaguely realizes his hand hasn’t really left Bard’s chest. He watches his own hand, lashes lowered demurely.

“Bard,” Thranduil corrects softly, feeling the pleased rumble in Bard’s chest against his palm more than hearing it. He looks up again as he finally lets his hand fall away. “Come on in after you finish up out here. Legolas and I started some Shepherd’s Stew this morning for us to have afterwards.”

“Can’t wait,” Bard murmurs, moving the tiniest bit closer for just a few seconds, just long enough to let Thranduil feel his warmth and catch the smell of his skin and sweat before he’s slipping away again, back toward the boys who have just gotten their bows strung and ready.

Thranduil watches him walk away, eyes narrowed in barely contained hunger before he tears himself away, heading back to the house before he decides that working on the dress isn’t as important as watching Bard sweat and flex for an hour.

 

Thranduil has four heaping bowls of steaming hot stew on the table when Legolas and Bain burst into the house, breathless and bright-eyed with easy happiness. Bard follows after slowly, closing the door behind him and smiling at Thranduil who is fussing over Legolas, tugging his hair back and twisting it into a loose knot to try and tame it.

“Go wash your hands, you two. Food’s ready.”

They thunder through the room and down the hall, the sounds echoing through the whole house. Bard is smiling apologetically, wearing fingerless gloves after all, which is a tiny relief.

“They get excited when they’re together. I think they’re becoming pretty good friends.” Bard clasps the back of a chair and pulls it out before sinking into it with a sigh. Thranduil hovers behind him, fingers drifting over the chair before sitting down in his own across from him.

“I’m glad. Legolas has a hard time getting to know people sometimes. He likes to stick to what he knows.” He grabs a slice of bread from the plate in the middle of the table for himself before lifting it to offer some to Bard.

“Why’s that?” Bard tears a piece of bread off and dips it into his stew before sliding it past his lips, dragging his napkin into his lap while he chews.

“Oh, I’m sure he’s learned it from me.” He pours ice water from a pitcher into their two glasses, lifting his own in a salute before sipping from it. “Questionable parenting and all that.”

Bard takes a bite of hot soup, giving an approving nod as he chews, diving back in for more immediately. “Well. He’s also sweet and thoughtful and happy and intelligent and hilarious. Can I blame you for that, too?”

Thranduil smiles then, flattered, giving a meek shrug. “Maybe. But that’s probably all his mother.”

“His mother,” Bard ventures, his tone so careful that it’s touching. Thranduil keeps busy with his stew, looking down at it to try and prepare for this inevitable conversation and the pain that will come with it. “Where is she?”

“She died nearly seven years ago. She was killed in a car accident when she was driving to see her sister on Christmas Eve. Her name was Elien.” He’s afraid Legolas is going to come in and hear this conversation, afraid to be having it in the first place. He swallows past the lump in his throat and tightens his grip on his spoon.

Bard’s hand is suddenly closed around his own, rough and warm and so comforting that Thranduil closes his eyes.

“Mine died of cancer four years ago,” Bard whispers, his voice so wrecked that Thranduil has to open his eyes, has to look at him, to share this with him no matter how painful it is. “Tilda was only two. She doesn’t even remember her.”

Thranduil drops his spoon into his bowl with a clatter to tuck his hand into Bard’s, letting Bard’s close around it, work-rough thumb stroking over his knuckles. He searches Bard’s eyes, both of them laid bare so unexpectedly, dark eyes meeting blue, both filled with tears.

“What was her name?”

“Thora.” Bard looks down, chin trembling under the scruff of a beard there, hand tightening on Thranduil’s. “The girls look just like her. You know? That’s the hardest part. Because I can never let myself forget. She’ll never fade. It’ll always hurt.”

“Bard, I--”

Bard’s phone rings in his pocket. They’re jolted back into reality, hands untangling, stray tears sliding down Thranduil’s pale cheeks. The boys choose that moment to come flying back into the room while Bard stands up to take the call, and Thranduil turns to them with a forced smile.

“Dad, Aragorn’s here. Me ‘n’ Bain are gonna go outside to the treehouse before we eat. Is that okay?” Legolas stands in front of his dad with clean hands still damp from being washed, his eyes blue as the sky and so carefree that some of the pain drops away, eases out of Thranduil’s chest. He tucks some of Legolas’s hair behind his ear and presses a kiss to his forehead.

“Sure. I’ll put it back in the pot. You tell Aragorn to get in here and eat before he goes home, too, alright?”

“I will!” Legolas darts away with Bain in tow, yelling back at his new friend the whole way. “Wait ‘til you meet Aragorn! He’s the coolest boy in the whole world! He’s not scared of anything!”

The door slams shut and Thranduil closes his eyes, reminding himself to be patient, that Legolas won’t always be so careless.

“--be right there, Gustaw. Just tell Olaf to calm down, okay? ...Bye.” Bard hangs up and tucks his phone back into his pocket, turning reluctant eyes on Thranduil who is sitting back from the table, still wrecked from their conversation, from seeing Bard so bared just a few moments ago, so exposed and in so much pain with no comfort. Bard sighs, thick fingers pushing up into his hair.

“I have to go. I’m so sorry. Two guys at work who’ve been at each other’s throats for a few months now apparently chose today to have a confrontation. I’ve got to get down there and figure out who to fire.” He swallows thickly, staring almost longingly at the stew before he finally meets Thranduil’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Thranduil.”

“Hey, listen,” Thranduil shakes his head, forcing a smile onto his face as he stands up. “It’s okay. You’re so busy. Thank you for coming all the way out here. I’ll make sure Bain gets home later. Don’t worry about him.”

He gathers two of the uneaten bowls and takes them over to the counter, not letting Bard see his disappointment because it’s not his problem, because it’s not something Bard needs to be worrying about right now on top of everything else.

He feels Bard behind him then, feels the heat of his body right against his back, and he draws in a deep breath, letting his eyes fall closed just to feel him, to savor this feeling, however brief it is.

“The last thing in the world I want to do right now is be somewhere you’re not.” Bard’s voice is right against Thranduil’s ear, mouth not touching it but his breath is, sliding over his skin and pulling a shiver up Thranduil’s spine. Bard’s hand lights on his waist, on the slight curve of his hip through his soft sweater, and Thranduil lets the quietest sound escape. He nestles back against Bard just a little, just a small give, an indulgence on borrowed time.

“The last thing I want is to let you go,” he replies softly, tipping his head to the side when Bard’s mouth ghosts over his neck, his lips soft and damp but his cheek is rough, the duality of sensations absolutely gorgeous.

“Thank you. For everything.” Bard presses the softest kiss just behind Thranduil’s ear, lips hovering almost reverently before he pulls away. Thranduil stays where he is, eyes closed, listening to the thump of Bard’s boots on the wooden floor and the sound of the door closing behind him.

He watches him go out to the yard and gather the targets and the bows, and his heart skips when he gets the idea to pack up Bard’s soup and give it to him to take with him. A perfect excuse to see him again, even if it’s just for a minute.

He rushes out onto the front porch and down the stairs just as Bard starts his truck up, snow starting to fall when Thranduil comes to a breathless stop next to his rolled-down window. Bard is smiling, such an intimate thing on a mouth that hasn’t even touched Thranduil’s own yet.

Thranduil lifts the bag of a container of the soup and a bundle of bread, holding his eyes while he hands it over.

“For the road,” he explains needlessly, just wanting something to say that isn’t a plead for him to stay, to touch him again, to never stop looking at him the way he’s looking at him right now. “Call me if you… if you need anything. I’m here. Alright?”

Bard takes the bag and puts it on the bench seat beside him, face softened, touched when he looks back to Thranduil. He reaches out of the window and touches his cheek, thumb stroking down the line of it with a sigh.

“I will. Get back inside where it’s warm.”

Thranduil nods, staying still against that hand for a few beats before he pulls away, stepping back but not going in, not until Bard rolls his window up and leaves, driving into the darkening day and away from him.

 

tell me one thing

Thranduil raises his eyebrows at the text he just got from Bard right in front of the display of organic apples, mouth tucking into a tight smirk as he taps back a reply.

What’s that, sir?

“You’re making the sound again,” Legolas says out of absolutely nowhere as he carefully examines the apples, squinting at the one in his small hand before putting it back. Thranduil looks up from his phone, an eyebrow raised at his son.

“What? What sound?”

is your hair down or braided today? comes Bard’s reply. Thranduil’s face heats up.

Braided. Down my back.

“The Mr. Bowman sound.” Legolas grunts, a low, soft sound that sounds rather pleased with itself. Thranduil’s eyes widen.

“I don’t--”

“You do it when you see him, too.” Legolas places a fourth and final apple in their crocheted produce bag and drops it into the basket on his arm before he continues on to the oranges, leaving Thranduil standing stunned in his wake.

His phone vibrates in his hand.

thank you. just what i needed to get through the rest of this shift. :)

He definitely catches himself making the sound then.

 

Thranduil does a cowardly thing and makes Legolas call Bard later that week to tell him that they’re going out of town for Christmas, going to visit his late wife’s sister, and that they won’t be home until right before New Years Eve. They’re in the car on the way there, driving slowly through the snow as the sun sets in the late afternoon. He listens closely to Legolas’s half of the conversation, and he can tell when Bard starts to get flustered.

“It’s okay, Mr. Bowman! We go every year.” Legolas glances over at Thranduil who keeps his eyes straight ahead, jaw clenched, and he strains to hear the faint murmur of Bard’s voice from the phone. “My dad’s a good driver. ...No. Not that I know of?”

Another glance. Thranduil looks over this time, curious now.

“But-- okay,” Legolas finally sighs, pulling the phone away from his ear. Thranduil relaxes, thinking that the conversation is over, but then Legolas is pushing buttons and suddenly can hear the sound of Bain and the girls talking in the background and then Bard’s voice fills the air.

“Legolas?”

“You’re on speaker, Mr. Bowman.” Legolas shrugs when Thranduil gapes at him, feeling a little bit betrayed but then Bard is talking to him.

“Thranduil, how long is the drive?”

“Just under four hours. Why?” His cheeks are flushed because he can hear why in Bard’s tone, can very clearly feel the protectiveness coming through the speaker.

“The weather’s bad. How are your tires?”

Thranduil scoffs, wringing his hands on the wheel.

“They’re fine! You know, I get my car serviced regularly. I--”

“I could have driven you.”

“Bard,” Thranduil’s voice softens, a smile coming out finally. He reaches out to take the phone from Legolas and holds it closer to his mouth so he can speak more quietly. “We’ll be fine. I promise. We make this drive pretty often.”

There’s a pause on the other end of the line, no sound but Bard’s quiet breathing. It’s stupidly, beautifully comforting.

“You call me,” Bard finally says, the worry still there but he sounds a little calmer. “As soon as you get there. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Thranduil tells him, mouth nearly touching the speaker. He can feel Legolas watching him. “We’ll be fine.”

“Be safe.”

Thranduil smiles.

“We will.”

He hangs up the phone and hands it back to Legolas, letting the quiet hang there between them, giving Legolas time to gather whatever questions he has and using that time to brace for them.

“Dad, do you like Mr. Bowman?”

He takes a deep breath, keeping his eyes on the road while he figures out the best way to answer.

“I do,” he says, glancing over at his son. “I think he’s a very nice man. Do you like him?”

Legolas nods, a smile on his face in the dark of the car.

“Yeah. A lot.”

“Why?” Another look, genuinely curious.

“Because,” Legolas meets his eyes with a smile. “He makes you happy.”

Thranduil takes a deep breath as they ease onto the interstate, and the lightness in his chest seems to come from out of nowhere, something he hasn’t truly felt in so long.

“Yeah. I guess he does.”

 

“Hello?”

“Checking in, sir,” Thranduil murmurs into the phone as he shuts the door to the guest room, leaning back against it with a smile on his face.

“Don’t call me sir. Makes me feel old.”

“Oh. I was hoping it sounded naughty.” He’s glad that Bard can’t see the pout his mouth falls into.

“Well. It does. But I can’t exactly say that with a six-year-old in my lap, can I?”

He smiles again, crossing the room and falling back into the bed with a sigh.

“I suppose not. What are you all doing?”

“Watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And I am absolutely not thinking of you every single time I see a damn deer.”

Thranduil grins.

“You love my deer.”

“I haven’t gotten to meet your deer yet,” Bard reminds him, his tone teasing. “I just know you.”

“Oh, do you? Spring for a background check? Listen, I can explain the arrest.”

Bard laughs, the sound making Thranduil roll over onto his side on the bed and tug a pillow close so he can push his face into it, burying his smile there.

“Probably some kind of environmental protest, right?”

Thranduil gives a surprised little burst of laughter.

“Close. Animal rights. Outside of a circus. I stole an elephant. Or, tried to anyway.”

“Mm,” Bard hums, his voice so, so close to Thranduil’s ear, almost like he’s lying here with him in this small, lonely room. “My brave fighter for the voiceless.”

“See, you make me sound so good. I should get you to call my father. Maybe he’ll listen to you.”

“I take it you two don’t get along.”

Thranduil shrugs to no one, turning over to lie on his back again, pillow tucked under his head.

“We just have nothing in common, I guess. He’s career military retired Army General who likes to hunt and marathon Fox News in his spare time and then there’s me.”

“And then there’s you,” Bard echoes softly, fondness enveloping the words.

“Yeah. Left military boarding school and joined up with a radical animal rights group. That’s where I met Elien. I don’t usually…” He licks his lips. “Women aren’t really my thing. She was an exception. She was just so fierce and so fearless. I couldn’t help but fall for her.”

“And now?”

“My mom is secretly supportive of me. And she’s the one who’s loaded, so my bank account has more money in it than I will ever know what to do with. And now I’m a costume designer by trade. For theater, for ballets, for weddings. We built that house for a big family, and now…”

“Now it’s just the two of you.”

Thranduil lets the silence speak for him, staring up at the white ceiling and hating the lighting in the room, too bright for this conversation. He reaches up to flick the lamp off, leaving him in darkness.

“What about you?”

“Me?” Bard sighs, his voice falling even softer, like he doesn’t want the kids to hear him. “Family’s all from here. Didn’t go to college because I was training for the Olympics. Worked at dad’s body shop in my spare time. After you win a medal, what do you do then? Dad had a heart attack that fall, and I just couldn’t run off. He needed me. So, I took over Girion’s. And here I am.”

“That medal is amazing, by the way,” Thranduil tells him, something he’s been wanting to say since he saw it with his own eyes. “Not many people can say they’ve won one.”

“Doesn’t feel so amazing when money’s tight and I can barely scrape together enough money to feed my family, you know?”

An ache settles in Thranduil’s chest. He’s quiet now, they both are, just listening to each other breathe.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you we were leaving. I was nervous,” he finally confesses, reaching up to gather his hair and fling it over the side of the bed, letting it drag against the carpeted floor.

“Nervous about what?”

“I don’t know, really.” He pauses, chewing on his bottom lip. “That telling you would be unnecessary. I mean, why would you care if we’re gone for a week?”

“Because I care about you? Because I would worry about you? Because you’re going to be gone for Christmas and I would miss you?”

Every word is exactly right, slots right into Thranduil’s heart like tiny keys. He closes his eyes and holds onto each one.

“I’m going to miss you, too,” he says softly.

“The last five hours have been hell for me.” Bard’s voice sounds rough, scraped raw and quiet. “You making that drive. That’s the same drive your wife made the night of her wreck, isn’t it?”

“It is.” He listened, he remembered. He cares.

“It’s snowing like crazy now,” Bard continues, that protective edge coming back. “If anything happened to you…”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me,” he replies, soothing and low. It’s ridiculous, absolutely terrible of him, how happy this conversation is making him. He smiles against the phone. “Get some rest, okay? You sound tired.”

“You can call me, you know. Any time. But please call me on Christmas Eve. Even if it’s just for a minute.”

Thranduil smiles even harder.

“I will.”

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Bard.”

He pushes under the covers, drawing them up to his chin. A text comes through, lighting up the phone in the dark room.

can i call you darling? can i call you beautiful?

God,” Thranduil sighs, the phone pressed tight to his chest, right against the fast thump of his heart. He wants Bard here, right now. Wants him in this bed, wants Bard’s hands on his skin and his tongue in his mouth. Wants to spread his legs for him and feel his body against the insides of his thighs.

He lifts his phone to reply.

You can call me absolutely anything you want.

then goodnight, my beautiful thranduil.

He sleeps curled around his phone.

 

They talk briefly on Christmas Eve, Bard busy with the kids and Thranduil trying his damnedest not to screw up the crème brûlée this year. Thranduil invites the Bowmans to his New Year’s Eve party with no small amount of stammering and shyness, and Bard promises that they will be there. They talk about the kids bringing pajamas, about where they will sleep, but they don’t talk about how that also means Bard will be staying over, too, and where he will be sleeping when he does.

 

The week inches by, and Thranduil finds himself anxious to get home, to start getting the house ready for New Year’s Eve.

The party is usually pretty small, no more than fifteen people, but it’s become a tradition and an excuse to get the house all festive and glittery and to make new playlists. And he dresses up a little more this year, wearing a fitted black vest over a white button-down with French cuffs and a silvery blue tie along with tight, buttery soft velvet trousers.

He wants Bard to have something nice to touch.

Bard and the kids show up right in the middle of all the other guests’ arrivals, and so Thranduil greets Bard briefly, says hello to the kids and manages to introduce Bard to Aragorn’s father, Arathorn. He mentions that Bard won a silver medal and watches Arathorn’s eyes light up, respect immediately seeping into his voice.

He squeezes Bard’s arm through his nicely fitting charcoal grey sweater, giving him a wink before he walks away.

It’s nearly an hour before he gets a chance to breathe, to stop racing around from here to there to make sure there’s enough food on the table, enough ice, that he has plenty of wine up from the cellar and chilling and that the champagne is ready for midnight.

He finds Bain and Legolas and Aragorn in front of the TV with Sigrid and Tilda, all of them captivated by the music group performing on whatever New Year’s program they’re watching.

“Bain, do you know where your dad went?”

“Went to the bathroom,” he says distractedly, not looking away from the television. Thranduil smiles, touching the top of Tilda’s head with gentle fingers before he walks away.

The bathroom is empty, light off, and he’s not in his studio or the first guest room either. He opens the door to his study and falls absolutely still when he sees him there.

Bard’s back is to him, facing the large window that takes up most of the wall opposite, the one that looks out over the long run of his backyard, the gentle hills and the woods beyond. The fire in the study is burning, providing the only light in the room and it’s a warm, honeyed one.

He closes the door behind him, fingers slipping around to lock it.

Bard’s hair is thick and clean and falling in dark waves down to his shoulders, pulled halfway back. His shoulders are broad, hips lean but strong in his black trousers.

Bard knows he’s here.

Thranduil doesn’t take his eyes off of him as he approaches, doesn’t hesitate in a single step. He comes to a stop just barely behind him, looking over Bard’s shoulder at the moon-and-starlit night, at the snow blanketing their entire world, at the deer scattered over all the white, black smudges in the glittering night.

He’s watching his deer.

“Hi,” he breathes, not daring to touch him, not yet, just savoring the quiet, these few moments alone, the contentment he feels because Bard is here at all. He hears Bard take a deep breath, closes his eyes to listen to it. Bard turns to him and Thranduil keeps his eyes closed, only knows because Bard’s hands are on his waist, because they’re standing chest-to-chest now and Bard’s breath is washing over his face, nose grazing his cheek.

“Look at me,” Bard murmurs against his skin, his hands spreading out and sliding down to cup his hips. “Let me see those eyes.”

Thranduil opens his eyes in a heavy lift of his dark lashes, meeting Bard’s gaze from so, so close, their mouths so near he can taste Bard’s breath, the sweetness of wine there. One of Bard’s hands slides around to Thranduil’s back, tugging the tie from his hair and sifting his fingers through it, brushing out the braid with long sweeps of his hand until it’s falling loose and soft down his back, around his shoulders.

“There,” Bard sighs, both his hands in Thranduil’s hair now, sifting through it so tenderly, like it’s made of spun silk, their mouths parted and ghosting together, lips trembling as they press closer and closer. “Want you soft and undone. Want you bare and only for me tonight.”

“Then undo me,” Thranduil breathes into his mouth, and he gives a tiny, hungry whimper when Bard’s hands cup his head under his hair and pull him forward, sliding their mouths together in a hungry drag.

He closes his eyes and soars while Bard feasts on his mouth, his own hands pressed to Bard’s chest, feeling the thundering thump of it under his palms and he knows without asking that this is the first time in a long time for Bard, too, that he’s been just as lonely, wanted a comfort exactly like this for years on end just as much as Thranduil has.

Bard’s hands slide down then, shaking and impatient and pulling at him, at buttons and more buttons, giving a frustrated growl when he finally gets the vest open only to encounter the ones on his dress shirt beneath. Thranduil laughs, an adoring breath into Bard’s mouth before he gives him another slow, warm kiss.

“Let me.” Thranduil tugs his tie off and unbuttons his shirt one slow button at a time, staring up into Bard’s eyes as he does and loving every single second of eagerness and lust there. He pulls his shirt open to show the bare skin beneath, his petal pink nipples that Bard lowers down to latch onto, the scratch of his beard dragging on sensitive skin while he tongues at them one at a time, drawing them in to suckle and gnaw at until Thranduil is panting, fingers scrambling over the back of Bard’s head, his nipples raw, throbbing under that greedy mouth.

“Wanted you so much,” Bard growls while he kisses Thranduil again, cupping his face so he can suck at his bottom lip until it’s fat and red and ruined while Thranduil works at getting Bard’s pants off, tugging at his belt and edging them open with shaky fingers. “From the first time I saw you on my porch. Could barely believe that you were real.”

“I’m real,” Thranduil promises, sucking a kiss at Bard’s tongue that slips into his mouth. He slides a hand into his pants and grips at the heft of his cock there under soft cotton briefs, already hard and pulsing there against his palm. The sound Bard makes is so hungry it’s almost shocking, his hips straining forward to get at that hand while Thranduil rubs him, squeezing at the head and almost dizzy with the thought that this is going to be inside of him soon, that all that thickness is going to somehow squeeze inside of a place that hasn’t been touched in years and years by anyone else. “Can I tell you something? And you have to promise you won’t laugh at me?”

Bard huffs a breath against Thranduil’s mouth, hands running over his bare arms and the long line of his waist before trying to get his velvet pants off.

“You’ve got my cock in your hand,” Bard reminds him, pressing forward to grind against Thranduil’s hand a little more. “I promise I’m not laughing at you.”

“I got myself ready earlier. In case…” He licks his lips, eyes falling closed again while Bard finally gets his pants open and rips them down his hips with a hard jerk. “In case you wanted this. I didn’t want to wait.”

“Oh, fuck.” Bard actually growls, the sound rumbling low and dangerous in his chest. He slides both hands down the back of Thranduil’s slinky black boxerbriefs, calloused, thick fingers gripping his ass and tugging the cheeks apart while he hauls him in, Thranduil’s hand caught between their hips where he keeps working Bard through his briefs, the cotton soaked through with slick at the tip.

He edges both his forefingers inside of Thranduil and they sink inside so easy, so wet, and Thranduil whines when they pull apart inside of him, stretching his hole while their mouths clash again, the kiss filthy and devouring as they kick their underwear and pants off, toeing off their socks and shoes.

Bard turns them around and presses Thranduil against the wall next to the window, one arm hooking under Thranduil’s knee and lifting his leg up, spreading his legs while they stand while the other hand grips his own dick that is dripping and hungry and sliding up behind Thranduil’s balls and slipping right up into him, sinking in deep with an upward push of Bard’s hips that locks them together hard.

Thranduil sobs, hates the sound the second it leaves him but he can’t help it, just buries his face in the crook of Bard’s shoulder and wraps his arms around him, holding on while Bard grips his thigh, grips one pale cheek of his ass and starts to fuck him.

He’d forgotten somehow, how intimate this is, how completely vulnerable it is to let someone inside of you, to let their heartbeat pulse in your soft insides, to let them push in as deep as they want and lay claim. This claim, this throbbing push into his body, this man holding him, holding him up and open and right against himself feels permanent, feels like the last one who will ever get to do this to him, the only one ever again. This feels like a vow.

“I need in deeper,” Bard pants into his hair where he hasn’t stopped pressing kisses, where he’s been breathing in the scent of Thranduil just as surely as Thranduil has to him, right in the warm safe tuck of his neck, the place where the smell of Bard’s skin is the strongest, where Thranduil can kiss and taste and feel surrounded by him. He just nods there, not saying anything back because he can barely breathe as it is.

They’re moving again, Bard’s arms so strong around him and Thranduil stays pliant, doesn’t tense even as they sprawl out on the rug in front of the fireplace as Bard rips both of his own shirts off over his head, the carpet scratchy under Thranduil’s tender skin but he just holds onto Bard, just wraps his arms and his legs around him and keeps him while Bard starts to move in him again, sinking in so much deeper suddenly, pushing in so deep that it takes Thranduil’s breath away, head tipping back to pant up into the warm air.

Bard’s mouth descends on his neck, marking him up with sucking bites all over the pale expanse while Thranduil closes his eyes, mouth parted and just lets the feeling pass over him, all through him: I belong here, under him. I belong to him. This is where I am supposed to be.

He strokes up and down Bard’s back, along the tired, tensed muscles there, fingers gathering sweat as they move around to Bard’s chest, rubbing at the light hair there, plucking at his nipples and smiling when Bard moans, pushing into him harder.

“Keep doin’ that,” Bard mumbles against his mouth, thrusting faster, Thranduil so hot and open and clutching around his cock. He pulls at his nipples in opposing, rhythmic tugs, purring when one of Bard’s big hands wraps around his dick between them, jacking him just at the head, playing dirty.

“You gonna come inside of me?” Thranduil’s legs tighten around him, feet tucking up under Bard’s ass to pull him in harder, to get some leverage to lift his hips and meet the thrusts that are full-body hard now, that are loud slaps that echo around the room.

Bard gasps, hips stuttering for the first time, and Thranduil feels the hot shiver of so-close, almost there already at just the thought that Bard is just as turned on by it as he is, that he wants to claim as much as Thranduil wants to be claimed.

“Yeah,” Bard finally gruffs, free hand sliding up to gather Thranduil’s hair, wrapping it around his arm and getting a grip right at the crown of his head to keep Thranduil’s head tipped back, their mouths scalding together while Bard pushes in one final time, straining against him, cock grinding deep when he starts to shudder on top of him, empty into him with thick, burning gushes.

Thranduil follows right behind, can’t help it in the face of Bard coming apart, when he can feel the tremble of his body and the quiet, strangled gasps right against his own mouth. He comes in Bard’s shaking hand, splatters between their bodies and clenches hungrily at Bard’s dick, milking him, pulling in and keeping every drop.

They push in hard together, Bard’s grip and weight on him bruising and it’s perfect, it’s suffocating and the only thing Thranduil knows right now, his entire world right here between the clutch of their bodies. Somewhere in the house, there's an explosion of noise and voices as the clock strikes midnight.

Bard kisses him softly, noses grazing as they start to melt together, hands sliding over burning skin, tender and easing out all the strain until they’re just sighing and sprawled there on the rug, Bard’s hips caught against the petal-soft skin of the innermost parts of Thranduil’s pale thighs, kept there.

“Stay with me tonight,” Thranduil whispers against Bard’s lips, eyes opening, lashes sliding against Bard’s while they gaze at each other from so close. The way they’re touching, the solemnity on Bard’s face and the way he’s still sunk up inside of Thranduil’s body, pulsing quietly there now, all of it saying and responding to stay with me always.

And the answer, unspoken and simple, is yes.

 

 

One Year Later

Thranduil never feeds the deer alone anymore.

Bard is always with him, always carries one of the buckets and checks the feeders carefully before filling them, always makes sure Thranduil is bundled up if it’s cold or that he doesn’t stay in the sun too long in the warmer months.

They planted a garden for the deer in the spring, one that they could graze in freely, one that gave Thranduil an excuse to come out and get his hands dirty, to connect with the dirt and the earth in a way that he’s craved all his life.

It’s cold again, just after dawn on Christmas Eve, and they’re all out here now, six bodies bundled up and leaving piles of fruit for the deer.

Pen-adar ambles up to Thranduil, his rack even bigger this winter, body thicker and stronger. Bard is there beside him, holding a couple of chunks of sweet potato while Thranduil holds nothing, just stays quiet and watches.

The deer snuffles at Thranduil, at his coat and his face before he turns to Bard, large eyes regarding him carefully before looking down at the offered food. He hesitates just a few seconds more before he’s lowering his head and eating right out of Bard’s hand, something he’s only ever done for Thranduil himself.

Bard’s smile is radiant, eyes glinting and exhilarated when he looks over at Thranduil.

“He likes me,” he whispers while Pen-adar finishes chewing and then stalks away toward one of the feeders. Thranduil can’t help but smile, but wrap an arm around Bard’s waist and tuck in against his side.

“It’s just because you smell like me,” he teases, smirking over at Bard who drops his arm around Thranduil’s shoulders, fingers sliding ticklishly over the side of his neck.

“Probably,” Bard admits, tugging Thranduil along while the kids run around, throwing snowballs at each other, the deer largely ignoring them while they get their breakfast. They head toward the woods, just far enough away that they can pretend they have privacy for a few minutes.

“You know what this means, don’t you? Acceptance from Pen-adar is just as good as a blessing.” Thranduil pulls them to a stop, tugging Bard around to stand in front of him, his eyebrows raised.

“A blessing?” Bard’s gloved hands slide over Thranduil’s waist, tugging him just to feel how easy Thranduil moves for him.

“Yes,” Thranduil continues, going for casual but his eyes give him away. “If you were to ask me to marry you, I can say yes now.”

Bard’s eyes widen just a little, his cheeks flushing.

“Well. That’s good to know. But you’ve totally ruined my plan.”

Thranduil just stares at him, heart skipping hard in his chest.

“What?”

When Bard sinks down to one knee in the snow, cries come up from the kids, shrieks of delight and of “Dad!” and then there are tiny feet crunching in the snow toward them. Thranduil doesn’t hear any of it, doesn’t look away from that man he loves so much knelt in front of him, just tries to keep his composure until he can give the answer he has ready, has always had ready.