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[personal profile] seikilos
Title: Walking Out
Fandom: The Hobbit
Genre: Romance
Rating & Warnings: PG
Words: 2831 this chapter; 20 409 overall.
Disclaimer: I don't own The Hobbit.
Summary: Sequel to Out of Step. A few weeks after discovering Thranduil's feelings for him, Bard still does not know whether he wishes to court him. After all, they have rarely spoken outside the meeting room--do they truly know each other? This chapter: The final day of walking out and the decision.
Author's Notes: Thank you very much to all my readers for joining me on this fic! The next installment is already written, but in a very rough form, so unfortunately I won't be posting it anytime soon. My goal is to have it to you all by the end of the year, but hopefully it'll be sooner than that.

Enjoy the conclusion!

(4)


As early as he and Thranduil had departed the previous day, today, Bard left even earlier. If he was to get any work done and still have time to meet Thranduil for one more day of walking out, he needed to leave with the first party travelling to Dale that morning.

It was odd being without Thranduil after two days of constant company, and that itself was odd. He was hardly lonely—with the weather promising one of the fairest days so far of the spring, it was a large group of workers and volunteers he joined. And yet, there was the sense of something missing.

He let himself be distracted by songs and the moaning of those unaccustomed to such early travel, and he laughed as much as any at the teasing and tall tales shared. But from time to time he found himself wondering which story Thranduil would have told him next and wishing to hear it in a deep and steady voice.

Once the group arrived at Dale, as the morning pinkness had just faded from the sky, there was little time for feeling and thinking. Rebuilding an entire city was work, plain and simple, and there was lots of it to be found. Three years might seem to be a great deal of time, but when their focus for the first year had been on survival and the labour was divided three ways—between Dale, Lake-town, and the Desolation—it was truly as nothing.

By now, Bard had lent his hands (and arms and back) often enough that no one thought to spare their king, and so he spent the morning sawing, hammering, lugging lumber, mixing mortar, and doing every task that was sent his way.

But there was joy in the work, and not simply from the warm spring sun shining down upon him. Each nail driven, each stone laid was bringing Dale back and bringing his people farther away from poverty. With those thoughts always within his mind, it was difficult to begrudge the aches he knew he would feel in the coming days.

Of course, that did not mean he was not glad when the midday bell rang and they all laid down their tools. Bread and stew and ale were brought out to them within moments of the bell's chime. It seemed everyone was of a mind: today was far too fine to be spent indoors.

He sat upon a half-finished wall and thanked the boy who brought him his share, then dove into it with an appetite to rival Bain's. Fresh air and hard work could double a person's appetite, it was said, and today he was proving the saying true.

He considered moving from his spot to retrieve his coat—laid aside early on in the morning—but decided against it. Even if it was a bit soon in the season to go without, the air felt far too good to layer up just yet.

When Hallstein brought out his fiddle, there was still less reason for Bard to move. Hallstein started off with "Bo's Two-Step," as some were still finishing their meal, then followed it with the much faster "In the Door and Out the Window." Some of the younger workers got up to dance, both leaving Bard to wonder if he'd ever had that amount of energy and making him smile at the whooping and laughter that echoed throughout the city.

When all the dancers collapsed back into their places at the close of the piece, there was a break for Hallstein to rest. But when he started up again, those who had begun to chatter fell silent, for they all knew the opening of "Market-Day Morning."

It was an old, old song. Hallstein had learned it from his grandfather, who had learned it from his own grandmother, and so on back to the days when Dale was beautiful and alive. Bard had not been there the first time Hallstein had played it amidst the ruins of the city, but he had been told it had brought some to tears and haunted them all. He could understand: like the first notes of the bell after it had been raised to its tower, "Market-Day Morning" showed them clearer than any words why they were labouring.

It was a slower song than the other ones Hallsteinn had played so far, but not slow. It was lilting and sweet, winding through its tune. Some of the workers around him sang along softly, about the treasures that might be found in the market and brought home to the long-gone singer's family. Bard only listened, eyes half-shut, hands folded between his knees, and let himself be cradled by the music around him.

There was a brief silence when the last notes faded into the air. Then, as they all shook themselves and began to move once more, the woman beside him on the wall nudged him. When he looked to her, she nodded in front of them.

"Someone to see you, sire," the stocky man she'd indicated was saying, but Bard's gaze was already travelling past him to where a tall, lone figure stood a few paces outside the gathering.

The instant Bard took in long and unbound fair hair, he jerked to his feet, his meditative mood disappearing at the clench of his stomach.

"Celtharan," he called as he strode over. He doubted any here would recognise Thranduil, but he did not want to give them the chance. "I had not expected you here today."

"I did not intend to disturb you," Thranduil murmured once Bard had drawn even with him. At Bard's brief glance, Thranduil followed him out of the hearing of the others.

"Is something wrong?" Bard demanded. The children—

"No," Thranduil said immediately when Bard's fear must have shown. "I thought merely that you might prefer to have company on the long road back to Lake-town, and so I came to meet you."

Bard breathed out, bringing himself back to calmness. "That is kind of you."

Greatly so, for Thranduil. Bard would not call him cruel, of course not, but—he also would not have thought that Thranduil spent overmuch time thinking of ways to ease the lives of those around him.

"Your company would be much appreciated," he added.

Thranduil nodded, but his attention seemed caught on something else, beside Bard's head. Glimpsing a movement out of the corner of his eye, Bard turned his head to see Thranduil's hand rise . . . his fingers curl . . . and then he gestured.

"You have sawdust in your hair," Thranduil said at last.

Bard's hands leapt to his hair, finding not only the sawdust but that his hair had half escaped its tie.

Now fully aware of every speck of dust and mortar and dried sweat upon him, Bard turned away to clean and recapture his flyaway hair.

"Thank you. I'm certain I make a filthy sight."

"You look," he heard Thranduil say softly, "like a king rebuilding his kingdom."

Bard's hands stopped in his hair. His heart, recently slowed from his scare, began its pounding anew.

With his back turned, he said, "Dale will be my home as well. It would not seem so to me if I did not lay a single one of its stones myself." He faced Thranduil again and was very nearly prepared for the warmth of his expression. "My people would not respect me if I let them labour alone. Here, doing what you can is valued above position and power."

"A fact the former Master seemed not to have understood," Thranduil replied.

Behind them, he heard Hallstein bow a few chords; he looked back at the gathering, then to Thranduil.

"I expect there will be one more song before work begins again." On impulse, he added, "Will you join us and listen?"

Thranduil's eyes widened the smallest amount. ". . . I would, and gladly."

They picked their way around workers and past discarded bowls and mugs as the first verse of "Unnur the Cooper" started up. Bard found his old place on the wall and the woman he'd shared it with budged over into her neighbour. There was only just enough room for even one so trim as Thranduil, and though Bard sat with one of his legs half off the wall, Thranduil still could not help but be pressed into his side.

He could feel the tension in Thranduil's body at so much physical contact, but when Bard made to sit on the ground and give him space, Thranduil shook his head. Inwardly, Bard shrugged, but Thranduil knew himself best—and were he honest, he much preferred staying where he was for reasons that did not only include the coldness of the ground.

When the chorus came around, Bard joined in with an eye to Thranduil. But Thranduil gave no sign that he found the song familiar, even though he must surely have known this part with the number of times Bard had sung it. Bard did not press him, though, and kept singing through the next verses as well.

Before Unnur could begin her boxing match with the Great Bear of the Grey Mountains, however, someone yelled, "All right, you lazy louts, back to work!" Hallstein led them all to the next chorus, tacked on a small ditty of notes, and that was the end. With groans and stretching, the workers got up to return to the business of rebuilding Dale.

Bard remained where he was, and so did Thranduil. Even when the woman left the wall, Thranduil edged over only slightly, far less than Bard would have expected. They still touched lightly at their thighs and Bard's shoulder remained against Thranduil's upper arm, and Bard was far less conflicted about that than he would have been three days ago.

"I had been planning on leaving for Lake-town about now, but that can wait. Would you like to see anything here, or perhaps have a bite of food?"

Thranduil looked down at him. His face was not even a forearm's-length from Bard's. His hair spilled almost against Bard's shoulder, close enough for Bard to see its many shades of sunlit blond and moonlit silver.

It was in that moment that the peace he'd felt from listening to "Market-Day Morning" returned. It flowed through him, bringing calmness to his body and touching his face with a small smile.

Thranduil had breathed in to speak. In that moment, however, Bard could see the words catch. He watched the movement of Thranduil's throat as the other tried again.

"I will leave the decision in your hands," Thranduil said. There was the slightest hint of breathlessness to his voice that warmed Bard the way not even the spring sun could. "I have already eaten this morning. There is no need for you to delay if you wish to return to Lake-town."

"Then," Bard said, and his smile grew a little, "I would ask you if you would be willing to show me something."

Again, Thranduil's eyes widened. Bard was coming to find this was a look he enjoyed causing. "What could I show you of your kingdom?"

"Your camp. If you would not mind," he added, for while he did not think he had stepped too far, with Thranduil, it was best to be sure.

He did not move or change expression as Thranduil's eyes flicked across his face. He only waited, allowing him to read what he wished.

Then, Thranduil drew in a breath. "Very well."

*


There was an energy between them, on the ride back, that travelled beneath every action and every word. Each song Bard chose to sing had a spark within it, and the words of Thranduil's stories were not quite so settled and slow today.

As the yellow cloth of Thranduil's tent came into view, the same one he had used when riding to war, Bard's heart began to beat faster—but it was not an unpleasant feeling. He knew what his actions would be. Now it was only a matter of carrying them out.

They tied their horses to one of the scattered trees that grew along the shore of the river. Thranduil seemed to take extra time settling his mount; for the first time, Bard finished before him and was left waiting. He watched and, also for the first time, saw Thranduil's hands fumble.

When the horses were secured, Thranduil led him into the tent. Its furnishings were plainer this time, with fewer indications of Thranduil's rank, and that was all the attention Bard wished to spare for his surroundings.

"I've made my decision," he said.

Thranduil stood tall and still in the centre of the tent. He looked as if he were attempting to hold himself apart, but his detachment was belied by his quick and shallow breathing.

"Yes?"

Bard stepped farther into the tent, stopping only when he was directly in front of Thranduil. In contrast with the other, he felt only sureness, and that sounded clear in his voice. "And I would like to walk out with you. Properly, as" —he took in a breath— "as a courting couple."

Thranduil did not smile at the news. He showed no reaction at all. He only stared down at Bard, leaving Bard to wonder if Thranduil were now breathing at all.

He truly had been expecting a rejection, Bard realised. That same warmth as before—affection, fondness—filled him, strong but not overwhelming in its newness.

Gently, he took Thranduil's upper arms. "You do realise I said yes."

"So you did." Thranduil's words sounded far off; he did not appear to be fully seeing Bard.

But then his gaze focused. This time, keeping still as Thranduil took in every line of his face was harder, but he did it, for Thranduil seemed to need the reassurance still more deeply than before.

When Thranduil spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. "May I kiss you?"

Bard's face heated; his chuckle was just a little uneven. "I had been hoping you would."

Thranduil bent his head. Bard lifted his chin.

This time, Thranduil's lips were hesitant on his. There was no desperation, no fear behind the kiss as there had been the last time . . . but it did not quite fit. They did not quite fit.

But that was all right. Thranduil might have been uncertain of the way, but Bard was not.

He lifted a hand from Thranduil's arm, slipped it into hair that flowed over his skin like water, and guided Thranduil's head just so.

They came together perfectly. Thranduil made the smallest sound, and at that, they pressed in together, all hesitation lost.

Bard stumbled as he was dragged against Thranduil's body. Their teeth bumped, Thranduil jerked back, but Bard pulled him in again, and this was even better. It had been long since either of them had kissed another, he knew, but they were remembering and they were learning anew together.

When they broke apart for air, the sight of Thranduil—his blue eyes gone dark, his cheeks flushed, his mouth deep pink from their kisses—was so powerful that Bard pressed up to kiss him before he had taken more than a single breath.

But at last, they could delay no longer, and this time, they truly had need to breathe. Thranduil would have moved away, but Bard kept him in place with the arm that had wrapped around his shoulders. He pressed gently with his hand behind Thranduil's head so that their foreheads rested together.

For a few moments, they only breathed together, Thranduil's air cool against his flushed face. Then Bard smiled, more freely than he had in years with anyone not his children.

"You will need to come to dinner tonight."

"Oh?"

It was a single word, but Thranduil's voice was so low that it sent a shiver through him all the same.

He kissed Thranduil again, briefly, unable to help himself. "The children would never forgive me if you were not there with me when they learned that we're now courting."

Thranduil kissed him back, longer. "Far be it for me to be the cause of a rift between you and your children. We should depart soon, so that we may arrive while it is still light."

They did not leave immediately, in spite of Thranduil's words, not when they still had so much to learn of how they fit together. But when Bard broke away and began to drop little kisses on Thranduil's eyelids, the corner of his mouth, his cheekbones, Thranduil pulled back.

Bard was not offended: so much contact so suddenly would be overwhelming. But, as they left the tent together, Bard found Thranduil's hand and laced their fingers together. The shocked look on Thranduil's face made him grin and lightened his heart.

There was still much they needed to learn about each other. But that, out of all his tasks, was the one he knew would bring him the greatest happiness.
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