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Fic: Aftershocks
thranduilendures
dbalthasar
A short fic, Thranduil/Bard. Set some days after the events of the Battle of the Five Armies.

It is folly, Thranduil knows. In the end, there will only be pain. Did he not just give his guard captain that very truth as she wept over the body of her dwarf? And he cannot claim that this is love, or anything more than liking and comfort, the aching need to hold someone living, to prove by the striving of flesh against flesh that there is more than blood and death. Those are all bad reasons to take a mortal man to bed, if indeed the new King of Dale would even consider such a thing. He pours the wine with a steady hand, and makes no effort to ensure their fingers touch.
But nor does he avoid it, and he sees Bard’s eyebrows twitch before the man as visibly decides to say nothing. It has grown colder since the battle, and the tent’s saffron walls are laced closed against the thin and piercing wind; the brazier burns bright, and the lamp oil is scented with herbs that smell of warmer days. Someone has found Bard a better coat, though the fur trim is singed and it’s missing one of its clasps. Everything still smells faintly of smoke, a bitter note beneath the sweetness of the lamps.

“Feren says you’ll have to leave soon.” Bard takes a swallow of his wine, but he’s watching over the rim of the glass.

“Yes.” Thranduil lowers himself onto his throne, and waves generally for the man to seat himself. The eyebrow flickers up again, and Bard leans instead against the table.

“It would be helpful to know when. We’re well enough supplied just now, particularly if you’ll let us hunt in the eaves of Mirkwood, but there are still hard goods that can be salvaged from Laketown — chandlers’ gear, tools and the like, maybe even the blacksmith’s anvil. If your men were still here guarding Dale, I could take more men, and get the job done faster.”

“When do you mean to go?”

Bard shrugs. “The sooner the better. The water’s not getting any warmer.”

Nor are the dead getting any fresher. Thranduil nods and drains half his cup, barely tasting the rich Dorwinnion. ”I can give you four more days. Will
that be enough?”

“It’ll have to be.” Bard’s smile is crooked.

“If you need more —“

“No, I think we can manage. After that, we’re better off waiting until spring to try to recover any last bits and pieces.”

When the thaw has come, and the dead are bones in the mud, mingled with timber and roof slates and the bones of the dragon. At some point, the bravest children will dive for dragon-scales, and Thranduil hopes Bard will live to see that. And to appreciate it, if he can. He hunches his shoulders inside the rich brocade gown, unable to shake the chill that has held him since Legolas walked away from him on Ravenhill. To his annoyance, Bard glances at the brazier, the leaping flames, and then looks back at him.

“I thought elves didn’t get sick.”

“I am not ill.” Thranduil drains his cup, and refills it, trying to feign ease. From Bard’s expression, he is not succeeding.

“You look —“ Bard stops abruptly, and Thranduil raises an eyebrow.

“Well?”

“As though there’s been a battle.” Bard shrugs. “As though too many men and elves are dead. And dwarves.”

At least he had the grace to make the dwarves an afterthought. Thranduil cannot say he ever much liked Thorin son of Thrain, but he likes Dain Ironfoot even less. Having him as a near neighbor is going to be… difficult. He feels the scars on his face tighten, not pain, not after so many years, but a weight that drags at mind as much as flesh. The illusion remains, and he takes another drink of wine. “A reasonable assessment, Dragonslayer.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.” Bard adds a bit more wine to his own cup as if to drown his momentary anger.

“I apologize.” Thranduil touches hand to heart — he hadn’t been thinking, merely repeated the epithet most of the men of Laketown used — and is annoyed by Bard’s visible surprise. He rises and moves closer to the brazier, holding out one hand to the leaping flames. “I am merely… cold.”

“It’s bitter, these nights,” Bard agrees. He gives Thranduil a sidelong glance, impossible to read in the lamplight. “I heard Prince Legolas has gone north.”

And that is not a thing Thranduil wishes to discuss. Or even to think about, just now. “Yes.” He gives the word a chill that is meant to forestall further questions, but the bargeman doesn’t seem to hear.

“He fought well.”

“Yes,” Thranduil says again, and hears himself softening in spite of himself. “I hear your son acquitted himself well, too.”

Bard gives a flickering, unexpected smile. “As well as can be expected of a bargeman’s son, aye. He’ll have to learn better, he and his sisters both.”

This is a safer subject, Thranduil thinks, and draws the flames up to nip at his fingers. Ordinary fire holds no terrors for him. “You’ll have to think of marriages for them, as well as swords and martial training.”

Bard breathes a startled laugh. “So I will. Though god help anyone who tries to make Sigrid do anything she doesn’t want. And Tilde’s worse.”

“But your son is biddable?” Thranduil’s smile falters, thinking of his own son, and Bard looks away.

“He’s responsible. He worries. He takes too much on himself — like his mother, he is.”

And there is no way not to ask, and perhaps it is kinder to lance the wound. “She is dead?”

“Died of fever when Tilde was three.” Bard looks away, as though there’s something to be read in the saffron walls. “We were lucky Tilde was weaned by then, I couldn’t have afforded a wet-nurse.” He pauses. “And your — wife? Legolas’s mother?”

“My wife,” Thranduil agrees. The men of Laketown know nothing of the ways of elves. “She died in Angmar, fighting by Gundabad. We think! Her body was not found.” And that is a nightmare he will not indulge, not now, the oldest terror, born in the First Age, the whisper in the dark. Orcs were Elves once, twisted beyond bearing. Surely she is dead.

The chill has deepened, in spite of the fire. He lifts his head, letting his hair fall in perfect strands, silver against the dark brocade, knowing precisely how beautiful he seems. Bard’s eyes widen, and Thranduil hears the hitch of his breath: Men, too, feel the need of passion, the heat of bodies to wall out the dark. He allows himself a smile, the one that has conquered Men before, regal and secret and predatory, and when he extends his hand to touch Bard’s rough cheek, the bowman does not flinch away.
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This was very nice! BotFA showed that this pairing had some real potential.

Thank you! I think the moment that hooked me on the pairing was when Thranduil pours wine for himself and Bard and very pointedly doesn't offer Gandalf any... ;-)

I really like how alien-but-not Thranduil is here, the weight of age and grief, the palpable sense of inner chill. I'm glad he reaches out.

Bard is very much himself, and I love the shout-out to Sigrid, Tilde and Bain. And Dain.

Beautifully bittersweet.

Thank you! For me one of the touchstones of Thranduil's character is how much of his kingship is rooted in loss - he comes to the throne after his people are decimated (and his father killed) in the Last Alliance, he has been fighting an interminable rearguard action against the forces that have turned the Greenwood into Mirkwood, in movieverse there is whatever happened with a dragon to leave him literally scarred, and the Battle of Five Armies isn't exactly an easy victory. And yet - and this is the other half - he never chooses to go into the West, and his very name suggests that he will always find a way to reach out, to go on.

And you have to think that having Dain on his doorstep is going to be... awkward... for all concerned. My headcanon is that Bard spends a lot of time mediating between the two of them.

That is lovely! I like your Thranduil so much -- so old, so tired of this, so calculating and so lonely. He won't name that part, but it's what it is. He's lonely.

I especially love the line about diving for dragon scales. I think Bard will live to see that day, and to marvel at it. It's what the old men do, when their deeds are so far behind that children can play them. "I get to be the Dragonslayer!" "No, me!"

Thank you! He is lonely, though you're right that he'd never admit it, and the persona he turns to the world is, in this moment, a burden. And he's not about to put it down, not entirely and not at this point. But he'll find a way.

I'm glad you liked that line! And I expect Bard will live to see children reenacting his deeds in entirely unrecognizable ways. (And imagine all the kids playing out the scenario from the movie! Bard and his son together destroying the dragon! that's the best game ever!)

Oh, very nice! They are weirdly charming together.

Thank you! They are a weirdly plausible pairing.

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