The sun was beginning to set as closing time brought merciful relief to the shops that pinpricked the main street of the village. Tall, brick buildings leaned against each other in the grey and orange, casting long shadows on the pavement. Here and there, doors were being locked and ‘OPEN’ signs were being flipped to ‘CLOSED’ and the last of Friday’s customers were encouraged politely to leave.
Situated on a corner, next to the watchmaker, was Greenwood, a flower shop famous for its stunning bouquets and arrangements. The owner was said to be a charming man – if a bit quiet and stand-offish – and was well-received at parties because he always gifted the best of his flowers. He didn’t have many friends, but people spread good word about his establishment anyway.
Thranduil was collecting the last of the wilting flowers from various containers when the bell at the front of his shop sounded. Bent over some lilies, he looked up to see who was so desperate for flowers at closing time.
It was a man who had entered, uniquely striking and catching Thranduil off-guard. He was curiously singular in his appearance; tall and humbly built with short dark hair, a scuffed stride and an easy smile. Tattoos coveted every inch of his arms and hands, though many more hid beneath his white t-shirt and jeans.
“Hi,” he greeted, bouncing on the balls of his feet somewhat sheepishly. “I know you’re closed, but could I quickly buy some flowers? It’s sort of an emergency.”
Thranduil blinked for a moment, perplexed. Then he nodded, for he wouldn’t dare to turn away a customer. And the explanation was familiar to him. Many people came for Apology Flowers; last minute requests for forgiveness when they had done something to upset someone – usually their significant other.
However, no one quite so handsome had ever graced Thranduil’s shop before. Maybe it was his pretty tattoos or maybe it was the respectful way he manoeuvred himself around the containers that were usually displayed outside during open hours, but the man unnerved Thranduil somehow. The florist retreated behind the counter skittishly, reluctant to offer any assistance, but guiltily happy to stare and admire.
“What flowers would you give to someone who is really angry at you for no good reason, but still wants you to kiss their arse?” the man inquired.
At being addressed, Thranduil pulled himself out of his reverie and pointed to the containers of orchids by the window on the other side of the store.
“Those are popular,” he said, grateful for his steady voice but not for his shaking knees. “Tulips also say that… and blue hyacinths. Or roses, if you want to be on the safe side.”
The man made a thoughtful face, pausing by the hyacinths before traipsing over to the roses and taking out an already bundled dozen from the water.
“That’ll have to do,” he grumbled.
He presented them to the counter where Thranduil stood awkwardly, flexing his fingers; a nervous habit.
“How much are they?”
The man swore under his breath and pulled out his wallet. He opened it only to find it empty and so proceeded to search his pockets, finally extricating a crumpled note with some difficulty; his jeans were very tight.
“I’ve only got ten,” he said miserably, flattening it out pathetically against his leg. “Do you accept card?”
“Ten is fine,” Thranduil interjected breathlessly.
He wanted this guy out of his shop before he lost his composure completely. He took the money from ink-stained fingers and stuffed it into the register before there was time to argue.
“Can I have it wrapped?” came the next request, courteous and a little shy.
Feeling foolish and decidedly hot, Thranduil hastily retrieved some paper from the drawers below the register and wrapped the roses neatly, his fingers working dextrously regardless of their tremor. He handed them to the man with a forced smile and went to wave him out of his store and hopefully out of his life – but it seemed Thranduil was not to be flustered by this stranger just once.
“I’m Bard, by the way. I own the new tattoo parlour down the street.”
“Oh,” was all Thranduil gave in response, having not even known there had been an empty shop nearby. He typically never made it past the café a few doors away. He had an anxious rule about meeting new people and it was that he didn’t like to.
Bard was waiting for a proper reply, but when it became clear to him that one pitiful syllable was all he would receive, he admitted defeat and made at last to leave.
“Well, uh, thanks!” he farewelled.
He hitched the flowers into the crook of his arm and left the store, finally allowing Thranduil to breathe properly again. He ran over to the door and locked it, just to be safe, wondering if he would ever be able to recover from such a wretched first impression. He wanted to hope so, but it looked as though Bard had been on his way to apologize to a beautiful girl with some of Thranduil’s nice roses, so it probably didn’t matter.
Though, his reasoning hadn’t indicated quite as such.
Thranduil threw off the idea. He had learned long ago to stop making assumptions about people; especially involving their relationships.
He finished closing, drawing the blinds and shutting off the lights. Carrying the selection of flowers that he hadn’t had the heart to throw out, Thranduil went upstairs to his flat above the shop. He lived there with Haldir, his best friend and employee, and Legolas, who was three years-old. He was watching a cartoon, his little feet wiggling off the edge of the sofa. Just to be annoying, Thranduil went over and blew a raspberry on his son’s cheek by way of a hello.
He arranged the flowers on counter of the adjoining kitchen and began cutting the stems, placing them into an empty vase and feeling the heaviness of another long day hit him in a bout of lethargy.
Haldir emerged from the bathroom a few seconds later, shuffling into the kitchen without greeting and pilfering the pantry for some food, but finding nothing of interest. He heaved himself up on the counter next to the vase and helped Thranduil by picking off the leaves, humming contentedly.
“There’s a new tattoo parlour down the street,” Thranduil remarked conversationally.
“I know, the owner is really cute,” Haldir returned, his face lighting up.
“You’ve met already?” Thranduil tried not to sound disappointed.
“He did the rounds on Wednesday when you weren’t there. Did you get a good look at his tattoos? His sleeves made me absolutely swoon.”
“Please don’t flirt with him.”
Haldir pouted. “But he was nice, Thran. And how often does a fit, well-spoken guy with tattoos show up in a neighbourhood as tragic as this one? Honestly, I’ll be amazed if he gets business. I wonder if he’s any good.”
“Well, if you insist on flirting with him, the very least you can do is get free tattoos and find out,” Thranduil encouraged, though with no real conviction.
“He’s probably taken anyway. And guys like that are always straight.” He said this with vehemence, sighing wistfully. “He probably has a leggy girlfriend with an undercut and cat-eye specs.”
Thranduil couldn’t argue this comment when the subject of the conversation had just been in his store buying flowers. Looking at the bigger picture, he was just as sceptical as his flatmate.
Something pulled at the hem of his trousers then, and Legolas was at his feet, looking up at his father.
“I’m hungry,” he said importantly.
“Dinner will be ready soon, but you can have some fruit?” Thranduil suggested almost hopefully, because even when there was nothing else, little could persuade Legolas to eat fruit.
“What’s for dinner?” Haldir asked, grinning cheekily.
“I don’t know; what are you making?” Thranduil teased.
They bickered good-naturedly for a moment over who would cook that afternoon until Thranduil gave in, preferring his food over Haldir’s barely passable slop anyway. He chopped an apple for Legolas to occupy himself with and then threw together some fried rice with tofu and the remaining vegetables he found in the fridge. Haldir made himself ‘useful’ and set the flowers on the coffee table.
“I wonder if Bard is a vegetarian. He gives off a carnivorous impression, don’t you think?” he pondered over dinner.
Thranduil didn’t feel like talking about Bard anymore and made a noncommittal sort of noise. The rest of the meal was met with silence, occasionally broken by Legolas’ one-sided and sometimes unintelligible dialogue and firm protestations towards certain vegetables. Thranduil patiently picked out any snow peas and cauliflower and then left his son to struggle through the remnants of his rice, complaining to his heart’s content and receiving no sympathy for it.
Legolas normally would have made a run for it, but his high-chair prevented any escape. Thranduil picked him up and carried him kicking and wailing all the way to the bath tub, at which point he was dropped in some soapy water and became immediately satisfied with the situation, gurgling and swimming a doll through the water peacefully.
Haldir poked his head through the door a moment later, handing Thranduil a cup of tea.
“Your dad called again,” he put forward warily, his expression gentle. “I said you were out of town for a few days and didn’t have a mobile phone on you.”
Thranduil sank to the floor miserably, rubbing his face. It was the sixth time in two weeks that his father had called and Thranduil and Haldir were running out of excuses to give him after blocking his number on both their mobile phones. After three years of pitiful contact, Thranduil decided he couldn’t care less what his father might have to say to him.
“You should call him back, Thran. It could be important.”
Thranduil snorted derisively and Haldir left.
After Legolas was bathed, read to and put to bed, Thranduil went to the balcony where Haldir was watering the plants that lived there. They stretched and grew and climbed over the railing down to the rooftop and the entrance of the shop below. Thranduil poured water on the rosemary lazily.
“I’ve got an appointment tomorrow,” he explained. “Will you be okay to manage the shop?”
“Yeah, I think so. Except, we still have that bridal order to fill. The woman is coming in after noon to pick it up and I don’t know what to do."
“I’ll put it together before I leave. The appointment isn’t until eleven o’clock,” Thranduil said. “And don’t forget Legolas’ nap at twelve.”
“So, other than that, you’ve no other problems you want to discuss?”
Thranduil shook his head, wincing slightly as the doctor removed the needle in his arm. He shuddered, never able to grow accustomed to the feeling of having his blood taken. Galadriel was always gentle, however, and he had on good authority that her cotton wool was softer than other practitioner’s.
“Growth in hands and feet is normal. It’s common even to go up a shoe size,” she said, setting the vial of blood aside and taping her soft cotton wool over the little incision in Thranduil’s arm.
He looked down and wiggled his toes thoughtfully. Perhaps it was time he found an excuse to buy new shoes, even if that meant bigger feet.
“Can you lift your shirt please? I want to see how your scars are healing,” Galadriel requested then.
Thranduil obeyed, pulling off his t-shirt. His skin prickled at the sudden chill.
“It doesn’t look much different,” he said.
Galadriel peered as his torso with interest for a second and then returned to her computer. He liked that she did not hover over his scars or his troubles, both of which he had plenty of.
“The healing process will continue to be slow, but eventually you’ll hardly even notice that there are scars at all,” Galadriel said.
Thranduil gave no reply and put his shirt back on, shivering.
“How’s Legolas?” was the next question.
“Good. Growing fast.”
“I don’t mean to be impertinent, but what do you tell him?” Galadriel wondered. She was speaking off the record now.
“About his mother. He doesn’t ask why he doesn’t have one?” her expression was polite, but curious.
“He asked a few months ago,” said Thranduil sadly. “I told him she just had to leave. I’ll tell him the truth when he’s old enough to understand.”
Galadriel dismissed him with a tight hug when the session was over and Thranduil paid for the appointment at reception before leaving, rubbing his arm where it was tender from the needle. He hoped the results did not return with bad news, though they never had before. He made a mental note to have some flowers delivered to Galadriel to thank her, because sometimes words just weren’t enough.
Upon checking the timetables, Thranduil decided it was better to walk back home rather than wait for the next bus. He put headphones in his ears, stuffed his hands into his pockets, and slunk his long body back to the flower shop.
On his way there, he made a stop at the café. Feren, the owner, greeted him enthusiastically and took his usual order, as well as a cappuccino for Haldir.
“Have you met the new tattooist yet?” Feren observed, raising an eyebrow smugly. “He comes in every day for coffee. I feel like offering him a loyalty card; buy nine coffees and the tenth is a free dinner.”
Thranduil did the gag-me-with-a-spoon gesture and paid for the drinks with the loose change in his pockets. He didn’t like all the gossip surrounding this new tattoo artist. He was just another neighbour to the other businesses that lined the street. Sure, he was gorgeous, but not so wonderful as to become a topic for shop-to-shop gossip, after all…
Thranduil turned around to leave and hopefully spend the rest of his day not thinking about Bard like everyone else when he walked straight into him, spilling coffee all over them.
Bard laughed unsteadily as they broke apart, his arms raised away from his ruined t-shirt.
Thranduil’s face burned with humiliation and he set the half-empty drinks on the nearest table, shaking his wet hands. Behind him, he could hear Feren almost sobbing with laughter before grabbing a roll of paper towel from behind the counter and cleaning up the mess. His grin was so wide it threatened to split his face in two. Thranduil offered him a scowl and took some of the paper to soak up the coffee from his own clothes. He tossed his hair behind his shoulders out of the way, but it was already wet.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured to Bard, not meeting his gaze.
“It’s okay! Accidents happen,” he rumbled good-naturedly.
Thranduil returned his smile weakly, but only felt worse for it.
“Do you want replacements?” Feren asked, standing up with handfuls of wet paper. “I won’t charge you.” He looked ready to laugh again. It seemed such entertainment was worth two free coffees.
Thranduil shot him a dirty look, but accepted.
“Can I get a flat white while you’re at it, Feren?” Bard called out, flourishing his shirt uncomfortably as it tried to settle against his body.
“I’ll pay for it,” Thranduil supplied quickly. It was the least he could do.
Bard smirked lightly, his expression calculating.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I will accept a clean shirt to borrow, though, if you have one.”
Thranduil nodded, swallowing his nerves.
Bard paid for his coffee and Thranduil took his free ones and they exited the café together, walking in uneasy silence. The wind pressed against their clothes and made them stick against their skin. Thranduil tried not to tremble. The sun had disappeared behind some clouds and it was cold again.
“You never told me your name,” said Bard after a moment.
This was followed by more silence and they arrived at the flower shop, grateful for its lack of draft. Thankfully, there were no customers and Thranduil vanished upstairs, leaving Bard in Haldir’s unfortunately flirtatious company.
After cleaning himself up, Thranduil pulled on a new t-shirt and grabbed another one for Bard, trying to steady his quivering hands. He knotted his hair on top of his head and then pelted back downstairs to rescue Bard from Haldir.
But it was not Haldir he had to worry about.
Legolas was still awake and had found Bard to be a particularly intriguing recipient for his endless chatter and questions. Bard was crouched down, showing the toddler the tattoos on his arms, grinning hugely.
Thranduil froze at the foot of the stairs, his heart seizing in his chest.
“Why isn’t Legolas asleep?” he hissed to Haldir, who was watching from behind the counter with an endearing look on his face. He jumped at being spoken too.
“He wouldn’t settle down,” he protested. “He’s getting too old for such an early nap.”
Thranduil whined uselessly and went over to where his son was talking animatedly to Bard, asking what sounded like very important questions, but likely weren’t very important at all. It was rare for Legolas to interact with strangers, but Thranduil supposed when you were as attractive as Bard and resembled a walking art gallery, it was hard for even the most timid of children to not be inquisitive.
“Legolas, shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Thranduil suggested firmly, interrupting the conversation.
Bard got to his feet at his approach, a smile still plastered on his face. He was handsome when he smiled. It made Thranduil’s stomach twist strangely. He bent down and hitched Legolas onto his hip with what he pretended wasn’t a considerable amount of effort; the toddler was getting heavy.
“This is Bard. He does tattoos,” he introduced.
“Bard is cool, Ada. Can he give me a tattoo?” Legolas asked urgently.
“Maybe when you’re older,” Thranduil replied, exchanging amused expressions with Bard.
“How much older?”
“Much, much older,”
Legolas was put back on his feet and he stampeded over to Haldir behind the counter.
“Haldir! Haldir! Do you have a tattoo?”
“Sure do, kiddo. Haven’t you seen my space man?”
“Here you go,” Thranduil said, handing over the t-shirt. “Sorry for getting coffee all over you.”
“It’s fine,” Bard returned, giving his paper cup to Thranduil who took it without question.
Then, Bard tugged off his coffee-stained shirt and got changed right in the middle of the store.
Thranduil clenched his teeth and forced himself not to look away, as he was warranted to do when any person got undressed in front of him. Peculiarly, Bard had no tattoos on his torso. The sleeves ended at his shoulders, but indicated a substantial back piece.
“Doesn’t Legolas go to day care?” Bard continued, his voice slightly muffled through the fabric.
Thranduil opened his mouth to reply, but then closed it again, troubled. He realised sending Legolas to day care was probably more reasonable than keeping him frolicking among a flower shop, but Thranduil didn’t think he could bear to part with his son for even a day. With either Haldir or Thranduil always around, it meant Legolas could stay at home, which was something of a convenience, and it saved money.
“No,” Thranduil answered warily, returning the cup. “We live upstairs, so it’s sort of easier this way.”
“Oh, I see.” Bard cast his gaze up to the ceiling as though he might see through it to the flat above. Thranduil caught a peak at a small tattoo behind his ear, but looked away quickly when Bard’s eyes returned to him.
“Well, I’d better get going; I have a monster piece to finish today. I’ll see you around?”
Thranduil managed a curt nod and Bard waved goodbye, taking Thranduil’s t-shirt as an excuse to come back.
“That was amazing!” Haldir shouted delightedly once he was gone.
Thranduil crinkled his nose irritably and stretched himself across the counter, dangling his arms over the edge. He groaned until he ran out of the breath.
“That was embarrassing,” he amended.
“You spilled coffee on him; that’s like the beginning of a romantic-comedy!” Haldir declared as-a-matter-of-fact.
Thranduil straightened up, rolling his eyes.
“You should chase that, Thran. He’s pretty cute.”
“There is no chance he’s single; you said so yourself. And, even if he was, he’s only going to be disappointed when he finds out about me.”
“That you’re an annoying walnut with terrible taste in shoes?” Haldir provided.
Thranduil made a rude hand gesture and went upstairs, leaving Haldir to tend the shop. He felt lethargic now, the appointment at the doctor and the incident with the coffee taking its toll on him already. Being around other people wearied him easily.
Legolas tottered after him and they fell asleep on the sofa together. Thranduil tried not to think about Bard and the implications that came with potentially being friends, or even more than that, should the opportunity present itself. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be friends, but that he was afraid to have the smallest taste of companionship again only for it to be pried from his fingers before he had a chance to properly have it at all.
On Sundays, the shop was closed. Haldir took the day to see a friend and do the grocery shopping. Thranduil gave him a list of things of buy and then took Legolas to the park, eager to go out of doors and embrace the last of summer’s sunshine. Autumn was turning the leaves orange; trees glowed about the neighbourhood like a burning sunrise. The weather was still warm, but it would not last for much longer; the chill that came with the change in the seasons was fast approaching.
Legolas was hardly tolerable, jumping on his little legs and making it difficult for Thranduil to put on his shoes. After the usual fuss over which clothes to wear, they left just before noon. Thranduil was tempted to put his son on a leash at the rate he bee-lined for the park. He kept a firm grip on the boy’s hand when he could, but his towering height did not make it easy. He couldn’t wait until Legolas was sensible enough not to run onto the roads without thinking.
Many of the townspeople had also come to the park to enjoy what little good weather there was left to appreciate, basking on blankets in the grass and letting their dogs roam freely among the trees. A few children dotted the playground, their shrieks and high-pitched laughter able to be heard from down the street. Legolas ran over to the swings, climbing onto one and demanding to be pushed.
For a while, the adventure at the park was relaxing. Legolas went where his fancy took him, his father following in his wake when bid, milling about like all the other parents that were there. Thranduil admittedly liked playing games with Legolas, however trivial or silly they were, for it was far better than the mind-numbing conversations he had with adults.
He was briefly kept company by Glóin, who owned a pizza restaurant called The Tinderbox. With him was his own son, Gimli, unmistakable with flaming orange hair and a round, freckled face. He went over to where Legolas was playing in the sandpit and Thranduil dropped himself in the seat next to Glóin, exchanging some small talk. He didn’t dislike the man, but found him slightly unpleasant and short-tempered, and so kept his distance where he could.
Thranduil was given the chance to excuse himself, however, when Legolas insisted he come and make a sand castle. Thranduil obeyed, as always, and sat himself on the edge of the sandpit. He took off his shoes and dug his toes into the sand, at which point Legolas proceeded to build the castle on top of his feet.
Bard approached, smiling widely down at Thranduil, who wished it was not just his feet that were buried, but the rest of him as well. It seemed he couldn’t escape this guy.
He was wearing Thranduil’s t-shirt. It hung slightly loose across his shoulders as it was a size too big for him. Thranduil went red at the sight of it, wondering if he could all but die of shame.
“I thought I was making a smart move bringing my kids to the park, but it seems the entire town has shown up here,” Bard said.
Thranduil's heart skipped a beat desolately.
“You’ve got kids?” he posed.
“Three,” replied Bard with an affectionate grimace. “My youngest is Tilda, who is – uh – nowhere to be found, it seems. Then Sigrid, who is over there by the swings, and Bain there on the slide; he’s my eldest,”
Thranduil inclined his head to the various directions Bard pointed, his stomach twisting oddly. He hadn’t expected Bard to be a father. Attached, surely, but not to such an extent as to have children. It wasn’t that he didn’t seem like the type, but Thranduil had just assumed him to be too young for family. This was deeply ironic, though, for he was probably older than Thranduil.
“Oh! There’s Tilda,”
Thranduil looked ahead to see a small girl skipping towards them. She was about Legolas’ age and had wild, curly blonde hair and a pair of thick-framed glasses perched on her nose. They magnified her eyes so much that her stare at Thranduil made her look like a bug.
“Hello,” she squeaked. Her accent was from London, which confused Thranduil as Bard sounded like he originated from Wales.
“Tilda, this is Thranduil,” he said.
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
“It’s fine; I get it all the time,” Thranduil said before Bard could scold his daughter for such impertinence. “I’m a boy.”
“Then why is your hair so long?” Tilda insisted.
“Who’s to say it must be short?” Thranduil countered smartly, flashing a rare grin.
She found this reasoning to be quite sound and so turned to her father, requesting his urgent attention by tugging the leg of his jeans. Bard peered down at her like she was the moon and he was but a tiny star.
“Can you push me on the swing, please?” she said sweetly.
Bard gave her a glowing smile and said yes. He nodded to Thranduil and went with her to the swings, leaving the other man to the peril of Legolas’ rather impressive sandcastle.
“How am I going to get out?” Thranduil queried, genuinely interested.
“Gimli will be a dragon and you have to fight him,” Legolas clarified simply, packing on some more sand.
“What if he defeats me?”
“All the people die.”
“And if I win?”
“We get ice cream.”
Thranduil decided this was a fair trade. When Gimli the Dragon was deemed defeated, Legolas said goodbye to his friend and went with his father to the ice cream parlour right before it shut for the day. Thranduil only agreed to these terms because it avoided any more conversations with Bard. The last thing he needed was to fall for a taken father of three. He was so far out of his depth he was already forgetting what the shallow end felt like.
Haldir was home unloading the groceries when Thranduil and Legolas returned.
“Did you buy anything on my list?” Thranduil moaned, searching the bags.
“Sure, I bought the almond milk,” Haldir said, taking it out pointedly.
“That’s because everyone drinks it.”
Disgruntled, Thranduil decided to go the store himself, seeing as he had nothing better to do and had forgotten to write down some things on his evidently pointless list. He stuffed his feet back into his shoes and, taking some money from the safe downstairs, he ran to catch the next bus.
The grocery store was on the main road where the bigger, more industrial-looking houses were. Thranduil wandered the aisles with a shopping basket, throwing in various things he needed, like oats, apple juice, face wash and a new packet of hair-ties.
He headed toward the aisle where the crisps and biscuits were kept, checking things off the list in his hand. He looked up just in time to collide into a solid something, throwing out his shoulder from the sudden pressure on the basket.
“That’s oka – oh, hello again,”
“For fu – I mean - hi,” Thranduil said breathlessly, spotting children out the corner of his eye just in time to catch his profanity.
Bard’s face looked very smug.
“Three times in two days,” he pondered, amused. “I’m not stalking you, I swear.”
Thranduil managed a pathetic smile at this, unsure of what to say. What could he say? That this was ridiculous? That he would very much like to stop running into Bard and embarrassing himself every step of the way? That he would greatly appreciate his t-shirt back along with what remained of his dignity?
Bard's kids peered up at Thranduil curiously from behind their father. The two eldest looked old enough to be in primary school, which made Thranduil wonder how old Bard actually was. He couldn't be passed his mid-20's.
“Hey, what are you doing on Friday night?” he said, interrupting Thranduil's thoughts.
“Er –” Thranduil could not think of an excuse fast enough.
“I’m showcasing some of my work with other artists at the Imladris. I’m trying to help my friends get a bit of fame and I’m inviting everyone in town; you should come.”
“Oh, I – uh – well -” Thranduil stammered, his heart racing.
“Here, do you have a phone number? I’ll text you the details,” Bard pulled out a mobile phone, which looked new and expensive.
Thranduil provided his number, his mind reeling as he failed again and again to try and offer an excuse. After Bard said goodbye at the request of his nagging children, Thranduil concluded that there was time still to think of a reason not to go, though he admittedly did want to. He watched Bard’s retreating back with a vague sense of longing, feeling very lost and very intimidated.