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            The blond elf strode boldly into a reception room full of over dressed courtiers, doing his level best to not sneer at them. He was quite tall, even for an elf, and could easily see over most of their heads anyway, so he was not obliged to make unnecessary eye contact. If he could not completely avoid their gaze, fixing them with his piercing blue eyes was usually enough to clear his sight line. The ladies around him admired his midnight blue and gold trimmed tunic, athletic figure, and ruthlessly straight hair, but he did not see them.

As he walked past the throne, he glanced over to assure himself that the king and queen were not, in fact, in the room, then continued relentlessly forward. The crowd parted slightly, and the elf stopped before another blond male, and bowed politely.

“Father, you sent for me?” The young man's voice was flat. His father, who could have been his twin, offered his son a slight smile.

“You are late, Thranduil.”

“I was riding,” Thranduil countered.

“The king and queen will be here soon, and I wanted to talk to you before then.”

“Regarding?” his son asked. His father, Oropher, took his elbow and directed his son's gaze across the room, where a group of nervous looking young ladies were waiting near the door. Thranduil had noted them as he entered, as a mass of colour and too much perfume, so he had taken the long way around to avoid them.

“Pretty things, are they not?” Oropher asked his son. “They are being presented today. I think you should try to get introduced to one or two of them.”

Thranduil looked balefully at his father. “Why? I see nothing at all to recommend them. The lot of them appear quite silly and ignorant.”

The smile fled Oropher's face. “Thranduil, you are almost 2,500 years old. How much longer do you intent to put off getting married? There is no reason on earth for you not to wed.”

“No, indeed,” Thranduil agreed with a slight nod. “Save the fact that I do not wish to be. I have had no good examples of the married state, and see no reason to torment myself or anyone else. I may fall in love one day, but today is not that day.”

His father frowned. “Do you prefer boys?”

Thranduil turned visibly green. “No, Father! I prefer the freedom of being single.” He gestured offhandedly towards the gathering at the door. “Besides, they are all blond, a colour you know I do not care for.”

Oropher looked annoyed, “That is no impediment.”

“Is it not?” Thranduil demanded, one thick, dark eyebrow sliding up. “So, in your opinion, I should choose a random female with attributes I abhor, marry her for the sake of you boasting that I am finally wed, and somehow, someday, I might learn to tolerate her? Marriage is forever, Father, and I refuse to spend eternity with an ugly wife.”

“You are being far too picky,” Oropher countered. “Besides, you have blond hair.”

Thranduil sighed and began looking around in the hopes that one of his friends was close by so that he could escape his father. Thranduil had found over the years that he preferred dark haired girls, who were a rarity among the pale blonds and red-heads of the Doriath court. His continuing in singleness was not a new argument, but it had begun to resurface lately with alarming regularity.

Every fifty years or so, Oropher would bring up his son's lamentably unmarried status, then pressure him on its correction. Thranduil would draw back, and his father would complain bitterly, and finally retreat.

Thranduil was beginning to despair of deliverance, when he spotted his friend Dorondir. He sketched a brief bow to his father and hurried away. He reached Dorondir's side before his father noticed he had left. The shorter elf gave Thranduil a grin.

“I saw you when you came in,” he told Thranduil. “And it has been some months since I saw you last. Where have you gotten off to?”

Thranduil sighed. “I was about the king's business. He and my father are cousins, and I am a Gentleman of the Bedchamber.”

Dorondir nodded. “I know.” He glanced at the girls by the door. “Pretty, aren't they?”

Thranduil shook his head. “Father called me out to get my opinion on them. Or rather, he wanted me to have his opinion on them.”

Dorondir laughed. “So do none of Doriath's beauties strike your fancy at all?”

“Not one,” Thranduil sighed. “Father finds it most vexing, but I find I have more time to draw and play, since I'm not forced to deal with a wife.”

He looked over the room again. He saw no reason why he should marry. His father had disliked his own wife, and Thranduil had spent his childhood watching his mother love her husband without reciprocation. She had gradually retreated inside herself in despair. Just before her son reached his Century, she finally Faded. Oropher didn't really seem to notice, which offended his son’s sensibilities, and Thranduil was still not sure he had truly forgiven his father yet. With such an example to hand, Thranduil had little confidence in his own chances of matrimonial felicity.

Dorondir nodded. They had been friends long enough for him to know the whole, sordid tale.

            “Well, perhaps you might be happier with a less permanent connection,” he suggested.

Thranduil's eyebrow rose. “I do not understand. You know as well as I do that we cannot take lovers the way Men are want to do.”

Dorondir shook his head. “No, indeed. I was thinking more along the lines of a temporary wife.”

Thranduil frowned. “As in . . . take a mortal for a wife?” He shuddered. “What if she becomes pregnant? Father would be furious with me for diluting the bloodline.”

His friend shrugged. “So take precautions.”

Before he could continue with his outrageous thought experiment, the main doors opened. Everyone in the room turned and smoothly began separating into two groups, creating an aisle for the king and queen to pass. The herald's announcement was somewhat drowned out in the shuffle and rustle of heavy, expensive fabric and the click of shoes as the courtiers cleared the way. As the king and queen entered, a low murmur began rising in their wake. The king was entertaining a small group of dwarves. That was no surprise, as Doriath often traded with them, and this group was well dress, as was proper for a formal visit, but what had caught everyone's attention was the fact that several of them were wearing dresses. No-one in the room recalled ever seeing a dwarrowdam before.

Dorondir's eyebrow rose as he studied the small beings. “Well now,” he said finally. “This is most amusing! I wonder how they tell the difference.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “I am sure they have learned to distinguish which bits belong to whom.”

Dorondir laughed. “Oh, of that I have little doubt—”

“Then stop saying stupid things. It bores me.” Thranduil sighed.

His friend laughed again. “But, they come so easily to my lips.” Thranduil didn't argue with him, and his grin grew cheeky. “What about them?”

“What about whom?” Thranduil asked.

“One of the girl dwarves. Marry one of them. They live a bit longer than Men, and the chances of you having a child instantly drop from seventy-five percent to zero.”

“Indeed they would,” Thranduil agreed dryly. “As I would never touch her.”

Dorondir shook his head in amusement. “Maybe your father is right; you are too picky.”

Thranduil huffed and studied the visitors. Some of the dwarrowdams had beards, some long, but well groomed sideburns, and a few even had totally smooth skin. These latter were slightly smaller than the others, so Thranduil dismissed them as children, or young adolescents. The amount of facial hair they all sported seemed split generationally; the older they appeared to be, the more likely they were to be sporting fuller beards. What struck him most was the fact that they all had dark hair.

Princess Lúthien and the queen had dark hair, but that was a colour that tended to run through the common, Silvan elves to the east. The ladies at court admired the royal ladies, but made no effort to emulate them. His obsession with hair colour annoyed him, but he knew it was born out of desperation for variety more than anything else.

One of the dwarrowdams, who had been studying the men in the room, leaned over to whisper to her companion. They both looked at Thranduil and Dorondir, who were near the front of the crowd, and began giggling. Dorondir gave them a wink, making them flush and giggle more.

“Well, now. My friend, we seem to have caught the attention of our tiny guests. Shall we—”

“No, Doron,” Thranduil pleaded. “Please, I beg you stand and be still. Do not make—”

“Thranduil,” the queen, Melian, barely had to raise her voice to be heard. “Come here.”

Thranduil glanced desperately at his friend, silently praying he would behave himself, and moved to the queen's side.

“Your grace,” he greeted her with a bow.

She looked him over for a moment, then smiled. “Cousin, I am pleased to see that you have returned to us, safe and whole.”

Thranduil nodded his thanks, and she looked over at the dwarves.

“Lord Hegan and his sister, Lady Kasin, are come from Amon Rûdh, on their way east. Lady Kasin is to be married in the Misty Mountains in the summer.”

Thranduil glanced over the dwarrowdams. Lady Kasin was tiny, almost too small to be a dwarf but for her large nose and well rounded features. Her thick, dark brown hair carried a faint, auburn tint, which the rich, burgundy and gold velvet gown she wore emphasized. The square neck line hugged her ample bosom, but a white lace fichu added a demure air to the otherwise shockingly daring gown.

She was one of the ladies with long, styled sideburns that framed her face nearly to her chin. The ladies around her that Thranduil now assumed were her attendance, were similarly dressed in rich gowns, but Lady Kasin carried herself in a more aloof manner, that made it clear that she was the most important among them. Thranduil looked at Lord Hegan.

“Congratulations to your sister. Is it not rather late in the season to be setting out on such a journey?”

Lord Hegan nodded. “It is, indeed. That is why we will be staying here over the winter. I look forward to King Thingol's hospitality.”

Thranduil nodded and turned to walk away.

“Thranduil,” the queen called him back.

“Your Grace?”

“While they are here, it would please the Throne for you to act as Lady Kasin's personal liaison.”

Thranduil only just kept a contemptuous sneer from his face with a low bow. He turned back to Lady Kasin.

“It would be my honor.”

He walked over to join the cluster of people around her. As he did, he noticed several of the ladies signing to each other. Lady Kasin noticed as well and made a small, firm motion with her hand. They stopped instantly, and she turned to look up at Thranduil. He was surprised at how green her eyes were. They studied each other for a long moment.

“Lady—” he started, but Lord Hegan broke in.

“Is it wise to put a male in such a close position to my sister?”

Queen Melian smiled slightly. “Though he is unmarried, Thranduil's reputation regarding the fairer sex is unimpeachable. She could not be in better hands.”

Lord Hegan's eyebrow rose. “Unmarried? Why? You seem to have an embarrassment of fine ladies here.”

The queen laughed and the king shrugged. “My cousin enjoys solitary pursuits — reading, hunting, music.” He gave Thranduil a grin. “But, he does enjoy dancing as well, so we have not totally despaired of him.”

Lady Kasin offered Thranduil a politely blank smile. “I do believe that we will suit.” She looked at her brother. “I feel as if I am in safe hands.” She rose and nodded to the queen. “You will excuse me. The journey here was long, and I am quite fatigued.”

She was dismissed, and Thranduil hesitated for a second before following them from the room. If he was to be her go-between, he needed to know where she would be staying. The dwarrowdams paused in the hallway after the door closed behind them. Lady Kasin, took a deep breath and turned to look up at Thranduil again.

“I have been a guest in this city many times. I do not need, nor did I request a minder. I realize you cannot countermand your queen, so let us do this: in public, you will be at my side, and all will look well, but in private, I do not want you anywhere near me.”

Thranduil was taken aback by her bluntness. “As you wish,” he said. “I have no desire to take part in this exercise either. I will still need to know where you are staying, otherwise it will look odd for me to be roaming the halls in search of your quarters.”

She nodded once and set off briskly. He was surprised anyone so small could move so quickly, but he kept pace with her to the north wing. Outside of her door, she stopped.

“I will tell my brother that I will call you if I need you. Which I will not.” One of her ladies opened the door, and in a moment, Thranduil was alone in the hallway.

 

***

 

Lady Kasin kept her ear pressed to the door until she was sure that the elf in the hallway had departed. She huffed in relief and turned to look at her ladies.  They were watching her with varying degrees of alarm.

            “What?” she demanded, pushing away from the door.  The maids looked at each other again, and finally one of them said:

“The queen is a Maia. Almost a goddess. She commanded that male to stay with you. You cannot disobey her.”

“I have not,” Kasin went to sit in the chair beside her bed. “I have no need of him, so I sent him away.” She closed her eyes. She had not lied to the queen, she was tired.

Kasin and Hegan were only two weeks away from home and had not anticipated the need for a three month delay in their journey, but the outriders had spotted an unusual number of orcs on the Northern Road, and it was too late to turn back and head south. After a lengthy debate, they took the Dwarven Road to Doriath. King Thingol had agreed to let them stay over the winter. When the weather cleared, they would be hooded and escorted south until they cleared the Girdle, and from there, they could continue on to the Misty Mountains.

Kasin was not looking forward to her marriage. Hegan wanted a connection in the east, and the only way to get one — a real, lasting one, was through a diplomatic marriage. Hegan had two sisters to offer on the Marriage Mart, so he was often sought out. Her older sister, Kinus, had married into the Durin Clan — a prize match indeed. She had written to Kasin to reassure her little sister that she was happy with her husband. They would be stopping briefly at Kinus’ home in Erid Luin, and Kasin was anxious to see her sister again.

Hegan had told the elf king and queen that a groom was waiting for Kasin, and she supposed that was true, in a way. But when they reached the Misty Mountains, Kasin knew the real work of searching for a husband would begin. Hopefully, Hegan would stay with her, however long it took. Kinus had been lucky — she found her husband within a month, but Kasin knew that she was the ugly sister. She would be married, of that she had no doubt. Dwarrowdams were too rare a gem to pass up, but as tiny as she was, most dwarrow men saw her and assumed she was still a child.

‘One hundred and one,’ she thought. ‘And I still look like I am thirty.’ She sighed again. “Is there to be a ball tonight?”

One of the maids nodded. “And I am sure that huge elf will be back to escort you.”

Kasin went to lie down on the tall, enormous bed. “Maybe he does not know,” she mused. “Then we will not have to attend.”

Her ladies exchanged glances and went to begin laying out her evening clothes. Three hours later, a firm knock brought an end to her hopes. The maids had let her sleep for an hour, then dragged her, protesting, from the bed to begin preparing her for the ball. Her assurances that he would not come fell on deaf ears. One of the maids opened the door, and Kasin rose from the dressing table to look over her escort.

Thranduil was wearing another dark blue robe, though this one was calf length, with black leggings, and soft leather shoes for dancing. She huffed.

“I was rather hoping you would not come,” she muttered.

“And I was rather hoping that you were planning to run away. Is that not the usual modus operandi for a young lady being led reluctantly into marriage?” He countered.

Kasin was so shocked by his reply that she laughed. “Is it that obvious?”

Thranduil shook his head. “Your brother’s question about me earlier tipped me to it. He would not be so concerned with your virtue, if he knew that you loved the man waiting for you at your journey’s end.”

“Ah,” she nodded. “I supposed that is true.” She raised her eyebrow. “So, am I safe with you?”

“Beyond any shadow of any doubt,” Thranduil assured her. “As long as you are with me. If Dorondir is with you, I can guarantee nothing.”

Kasin frowned slightly at the name. “What an odd assortment of names you all have here. This . . . Dorondir . . . was that the person you were talking to when we were introduced?”

Thranduil nodded as Kasin followed him into the hallway. They walked down the corridor, he slightly behind her.

“Yes. He is an old friend.”

“Then, I am sure that I will be meeting him very shortly.”

Thranduil didn’t reply. He stepped in front of her to open the door to the reception room. Her brother, Oropher, and the king and queen were waiting for them. After a half hour of polite chatter on the weather, the state of the roads, and many assurances by Lady Kasin that her rooms were quite to her taste, they moved into the ball room to  receive the rest of the guests. The line was nearly at its end when Dorondir finally joined it. He nodded to Thranduil and offered Lady Kasin a low, courtly bow.

“Ran, is this the lovely lady you will be keeping company this season?”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “Lady Kasin, Lord Dorondir.”

She nodded, recognizing him, and offered him an indifferent smile. “Yes, Thranduil mentioned you.”

“Did he now? Did he also tell you how much I look forward to dancing with you?”

She rolled her eyes and Thranduil shooed him away. Dorondir gave Kasin a wink as he departed, and she looked at Thranduil.

“Do the ladies here really find his nonsense charming?”

Thranduil declined to answer her as the receiving line broke up, which, as far as she was concerned, was its own reply.

 

***

 

            At supper, Dorondir managed to get a seat beside Lady Kasin. Thranduil sat on her other side, glaring at his friend as he flirted with the tiny dwarrowdam. Kasin was already bored with Thranduil. It was clear that he was determined to be her bodyguard, and she had hardly danced at all that night. Her brother’s obvious disapproval of Thranduil’s friend made her even more determined to talk to him, and over supper, he was happy to oblige her.

Thranduil wondered, as he listened to them, how they found anything about which to talk. Lady Kasin loved to ride, hunt, and fish. Dorondir thought rising precipitately from one’s chair was a vulgar exertion, emblematic of ill breeding. They had read none of the same books; she played, he did not. Lady Kasin could sing. Dorondir did too, but only after a pint or twelve with the lads. She was the youngest of three; Dorondir was an only child.

By the time they left the table, Kasin was half in love with his friend, and Thranduil could only shake his head in grudging admiration. He knew that he could never talk about literally nothing for an hour with a woman already predisposed to dislike him, make her laugh, and have her heart in his hands before the last dance. Truly, Doron’s skill was one to be admired.

Thranduil withdrew, watching over the tiny woman from the sidelines until the ball was nearly over. She was surprised to see him when he appeared at her side.

“Lady Kasin, it is time for us to retire.”

She looked over the virtually empty ballroom in surprise, then rose and curtsied to Dorondir. “You will excuse me, my lord. It is rather later than I had anticipated.”

Dorondir kissed her hand. “I look forward to our next meeting, Lady Kasin.”

Thranduil shook his head disapprovingly at his friend, and led her away. “I told you to be cautious of him,” Thranduil told her in the hallway.

“You misrepresented him to me,” she scolded Thranduil. “He is very nice. I can see why the two of you are friends. He is your polar opposite in every way; he’s charming, interesting, funny —”

“Short,” Thranduil added. Kasin snorted.

“That is a matter of perception,” she disagreed.

“No,” Thranduil shook his head. “Dorondir is considered short for an elf.”

“And I am a short dwarf,” she countered. “So that is something else we have in common.”

            They reached her door and Thranduil waited until he heard the lock on her door catch before he left the guest wing. He wasn’t surprised to see Dorondir leaning against the wall by his apartment door a few minutes later.

            “I like her,” he told Thranduil as the taller man unlocked the door and led them inside. “She’s tiny and adorable. And smart. And I dare say, cute.”

            Thranduil shut the door and sighed. “Doron, you fall in love once a day, every day, and twice on Sunday. Lord Hegan is taking his sister to be married in the Misty Mountains. The queen put me in her path, to block yours. You cannot stop what will happen, so do not even try.

            Besides, she’s a dwarf.”

            “I did notice,” Dorondir dropped onto Thranduil’s couch and sighed. “But I am serious this time. I was not flirting with her for the sake of flirting. I wanted to hear her voice, to understand what is going on inside her head. I want to know her! Everything she told me about tonight was fascinating!

            She likes fishing, did you know that?”

            “She might have —” Thranduil started, but Dorondir rushed on.

            “She doesn’t like using live bait. Instead, she makes the little flies she uses. Makes them! By hand!”

            Thranduil rolled his eyes and went to pour himself a drink, while Dorondir exalted the intricacies of fly-fishing to his best friend, who had been trying to get Dorondir to join him on such an outing since they were in the schoolroom.

            It was going to be a long night.

 

***

 

            Thranduil very soon found himself in the awkward position of disaproving chaperon, older brother, friend, and confidant, as Dorondir and Kasin used him as a way to spend more and more time together. Thranduil didn’t want to be involved in any of this. He did not think it was wise for Kasin to be alone with his friend, so he stuck to her like a burr. He did not want Dorondir’s reputation to ruin her chances of making a good match. Her maids thought the whole situation was quite romantic — star-crossed lovers, with only a season to live it all, and they in their turn, went out of their way to get the pair alone.

            Dorondir continually came to Thranduil, seeking advice and counsel, all of which he would listen to only slightly, because what he really wanted to do was rave about how wonderful his tiny girlfriend was. Thranduil started drinking more and paying closer attention to the calendar than he ever had in his life. He liked Kasin, she was a nice, sheltered, intelligent young woman, about to do a bad thing. Thranduil was waiting for it.

            He spent many nights up, pacing his apartment, wondering how he could explain to the king and queen, and Kasin’s enraged older brother that his best friend had eloped with the girl.

            ‘I will, of course, be blamed,’ he thought. ‘After all, I was the one there all the time, and through me, they are much thrown together. Holy Valar, please do not let Doron do anything foolish. Please.’

            The winter passed, and Thranduil had never been so relieved to see the copious mud the snow melt always left behind. Lady Kasin was still safely within the walls of the city, and Thranduil had yet to hear his friend mention taking off with the girl. Lord Hegan was cautious in his thanks when they finally departed. Thranduil had declined to be a member of their escort, and he refused to let Dorondir volunteer, either. Lady Kasin’s maids wept at the hopelessness of it all as they rode away, and Hegan was silently determined to see the whole lot of them married off. Clearly, leaving dwarrowdams with elves made them soft and useless with alarming speed.

            Thranduil followed his friend back to his rooms once everyone was well away.

            “I cannot say that I will miss her,” Thranduil said, pouring himself a drink. “Though . . .” he eyed his friend. “She was rather sober for a female leaving behind the male she claimed to love. As are you. What is brewing here?”

            Dorondir shook his head. “Nothing, my friend. We said our goodbyes already.” He sighed deeply. “I shall miss her eternally.”

            “Truly?” Thranduil asked. “And tomorrow, when the Lady Lúthien appears with a new maid of honor, you will be in love all over again.” He emptied the glass.

            Dorondir shook his head.  “No, my friend. I am finished with all of that. Permanently.”

            Thranduil made a disbelieving sound, then paused as he prepared to pour himself a refill. He turned around slowly to look at his friend.

            “Please, please tell me you did not do anything so foolish as to Dishonor the lady.”

            “No, no, no.” Dorondir shook his head. “She left the maid she came. But, it was a hard choice! One that I will regret forever.”

            Thranduil recapped the decanter and walked away from the bar and his empty glass. “You sound like a pampered princess on her fainting couch. What are you planning, Doron?”

            “Nothing, Ran! I swear! Kas made me promise that I would not do anything foolish.” Dorondir rose and circled the room restlessly. “I can feel her getting father and father from me. Once they pass beyond our borders, then, will my suffering truly begin.”

            Thranduil groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Stop being so melodramatic; there is nothing at all the matter with you. Go home and get some rest. I know you have not slept in weeks. Tomorrow, we can go to the pub. After a drink or two with the boys, you’ll be fine.”

            Dorondir gave Thranduil a cold look. “You have never loved anyone but yourself. I am not being miss-ish or anything else you might accuse me of. I just let the woman that I love walk away! She is being taken far beyond my reach, to be the wife of some other man! She will lie in his arms, and bear his children! And one day, in a lifetime for her, but a mere blink for me, she will die. I will never see her again . . . and I   . . . cannot bear the weight of that loss. And yet, I must.

            You will never understand this. One day, Oropher will force you to marry some female he fancies, but who will not have him, and you will spend eternity, locked in misery with a female you cannot abide on one side, and your father drooling down her blouse on the other. Your sons will be your brothers, and you will do nothing to stop it, because you care about no-one but yourself.

            And I weep for the day you remember my words.”

            Dorondir left, closing the door softly behind him, and Thranduil sat, contemplating the whole, sordid mess for a long time.

            He wasn’t really surprised that he did not see Dorondir in the city again. He wasn’t surprised when Lord Hegan returned in the late summer, much travel stained and more harassed, demanding to see his sister.

            “She is not here,” he was told again and again. Searchers went out in all directions, and many parties stayed until the winter chill began creeping in, but the Lady was not to be found. Lord Hegan finally returned home, furious with the elves for the loss of his sister.

            Thranduil was sent by the queen to take a message south the following spring, and Thranduil found himself being accosted by dwarves demanding the location of the missing Lady at every turn. Several of them even followed him almost to Nargothrond before turning back. Thranduil half expected to see his friend, but silently hoped that the world was big enough that he never would. He silently wished them well, and dismissed the rumors aloud.

            “No elf would lower himself to such a thing. It is unthinkable. Perhaps she was taken by orcs. It has been known to happen.”

            Court gossip is fickle, and soon moved on to other things. After a while, Thranduil stopped thinking about his former friend, and all was forgotten.

 

***

 

2,000 Years Later:

 

            Thranduil shifted his weight, trying to get the feel of this new armor. Beside him, his valet, Glánor, shifted it slightly to test the fit, then stepped back.

            “This one might just work, my lord.”

Thranduil grunted softly. The End of the Second Age was drawing near, and the shadow of war was looming closer. Some of the Men of the West had angered the Valar and lost their Reward. The few Faithfull had returned to Middle Earth, determined to remain True to their beliefs, and destroy the evil that had haunted it for the last two Ages. Oropher, nominally king of the remaining elves from Gondolin, Doriath, and the silvan elves in the East, had tentatively agreed to help fight in the war.

            Thranduil was looking forward to proving himself on the battlefield once more, and had heartily begun preparations, but his father had balked at the expense.

            “The men can supply their own gear,” his father told him. “All will be well; we have good fighters among our people.”

            Thranduil was horrified. They may have the numbers, but without armor, they could all be cut down in one swath. So he was trying to find something light and inexpensive that his father would not immediately veto, but might yet save the lives of some of their people.

            The door opened and Oropher entered his son’s room without knocking. Glánor bowed slightly to the king, and started to leave, but Thranduil put out a hand to stop him. He went still, but Oropher didn’t even notice him.

            “Today is a day of rejoicing, my son.”

            Thranduil’s eyebrow rose. “Why, Father?”

            “Because, today you will be betrothed, and when we return victorious, you will be wed.”

            Thranduil frowned slightly. “How?” he asked. “I am seeing no-one.”

            “Well,” his father said, circling him, his hands crossed behind his back. “You are quite beyond the age when you should have married. I have tolerated it until now, because there was truly no pressing need. But now, you are the Crown Prince of Greenwood the Great, and a kingdom needs Heirs to survive.” His father eyed him speculatively. “Do you remember Lady Eril?”

            Thranduil suddenly felt lightheaded. He remembered her alright. She was a willowy blond, with huge blue eyes, and as far as he could tell, little personality. She liked crafts, and Oropher had been attempting to court her for nearly half a century, but she was having none of it.  She had even relocated for a decade or two to Lothlórien, in a concerted effort to escape his father and his over bearing attentions.

            “What . . . about . . . her?” Thranduil asked slowly. His father smiled.

            “She has returned. And I think that this kingdom would well benefit from your marriage with her.”

            ‘Your sons will be your brothers . . .’ Dorondir’s words from so long ago flashed through his mind, and it took every ounce of his will to keep Thranduil on his feet. He felt sick.

            “And what says the lady?” he asked, his voice tight. Oropher shrugged.

            “She is amenable,” his father said off handedly. “As you know, she has been long away, but she was rather surprised by your change of heart.”

            “My what?” Thranduil demanded. “I have never said two words to the lady!”

            “Oh, you’ve been writing to her for almost five years now.”

            “Holy Valar,” Glánor whispered softly, his usual convenient deafness and dumbness momentarily abandoning him. Thranduil silently agreed.

            “Father, that’s revolting! She has agreed to marry you, not me! You take her to wife! Have more sons, and the Line will be quite secure! I will have no part in this gross deception and grievous folly!”

            “No, no,” Oropher said mildly, unaffected by his son’s words. “Marriage is for the young, not old men like me. It will be so nice to have a woman’s touch in the house again.”

He went, and Glánor only just caught him as Thranduil’s knees gave way. He knelt on the floor, head down, panting and focusing on not being sick. He wanted to vomit, but he had not eaten in several days, and there was nothing to come up.

            “No, no, no, no, no. I will not let him do this to me,” Thranduil muttered. Glánor knelt beside him, rubbing Thranduil’s back.

            “This is wrong, my lord. Against the lady. Against you. Against this Kingdom. How can we survive if deception is to be the Rule of Law?”

            Thranduil swallowed hard a few times, trying to push back the bitter taste still rising in his throat.

            “We cannot. My father has taken leave of all sense of decency. I will not take part in this. The lady must know what she is walking into. I will not be cuckolded by my own father.”

            He ran his fingers through his hair and slowly got to his feet. “Do not let my father see you. Find the lady; tell her what you can, however you can, then come back here. I will not see her  my father’s puppet.”

            Glánor nodded. “Will you be alright?”

            Thranduil swallowed again. He still felt queasy. “No. But that is irrelevant. You must hurry. Knowing my father, he will make his announcement at sunset.”

            Glánor departed, and Thranduil gave in to the urge to be sick.

 

***

 

            Thranduil was stone faced at dinner. He sat beside his father, refused every dish that was brought to him, and took no drink. Across from him, bland, willowy Lady Eril sat with her head down. She refused to look at anyone, least of all at Thranduil. When she had come down for dinner, her eyes were red, and she would not speak to anyone who approached her. Instead, she hovered around the edges of the room, wringing her hands, and pleating a wrinkle into the front of her blue and silver gown.

            Oropher and the rest of the guests ate and chatted, but the supposedly happily in love couple looked nothing of the sort, and it cast a pall over the entire table. Finally, Oropher signaled for the table to be cleared, and wine was poured for everyone. He rose and looked over the guests, and Thranduil silently regretted what he was about to do. It was always a sad day when a good vintage had to suffer for the good of all.

            “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen. As you all know, in just a few weeks, we will be marching south to try and rid Arda of the last stain of Mordor. It will be a glorious battle, and the victory will be all the sweeter when we return, to grow our new home.

            My only son, Thranduil, has finally agreed to take a wife. Tonight, we wish him and the Lady Eril much happiness and joy. Thranduil, do you have the ring?”

            Thranduil looked up at his father, then reached one long finger across the table and tipped over his goblet. The red wine flowed over the tablecloth like blood. Eril raised her head slightly, as the rest of the guests gasped in horror, and Oropher’s face went dark.

            “I do not,” he said softly. “You courted the girl in my name, and without my consent. It is you she has agreed to wed, not I. Do you have the ring, sir?”

            Eril’s face went red and she began to cry. She jumped up from the table, knocking over her chair, and fled. The door hung open in her wake, allowing her sobs to be heard for a long time as she retreated into the palace. Thranduil rose without a word and marched out of the room. Everyone turned to stare at Oropher, who looked like he wanted to kill his son.

 

***

 

 

            Thranduil had never understood why the poets called battles glorious. They were nothing of the sort. They were horror, and screaming, and dying, and utter wretchedness, expanded by a factor of ten thousand. But, perhaps that didn’t sound well in a poem. The battle was over, and he sat in a smallish tent with the other remaining commanders, counting their losses. His father’s unwillingness to properly prepare their people for battle had cost him close to two-thirds of his men, and made him king before the first sortie was even supposed to begin. Oropher didn’t want to take orders from a noldor elf, and had, on his own authorization, jumped prematurely into battle. Countless lives were needlessly thrown away, his own being among the first.

            Thranduil had been waiting for the signal from Gil-galad with his own men, and had refused to let them follow his father prematurely. They were now all that remained of his army. His father’s body could not be recovered, and Thranduil was still waiting to feel some form of regret, but so far, he only felt desperately tired. Across from him, Lord Elrond of Imladris, looked near sick with weariness and regret. His kinsman on his brother’s side, had chosen not to destroy the Ring of Power. Sauron was physically gone, but with the Ring still in the World, his Spirit, and the hate and evil it created would linger, like a bad odor, likely for centuries.

            A pyrrhic victory.

            Thranduil finally rose without a word and went outside. The air in the tent was getting close. and he couldn’t breathe. He needed to gather his men and return home. So many had left, and so very, very few would be returning. He turned and stopped short. Covered in dirt, blood, and grime, the elf before him was nearly unrecognizable, but Thranduil had known him far too long.

            “Doron?” He asked, taking a step towards him. The elf offered him a half lopsided grin and shook his head.

            “That is my name, sire,” he said. “But I do not think I am, who you think I am.”

            Thranduil drew back slightly. This was a mere boy, and the voice was wrong; his accent attesting to his eastern origins. “Who are you, then?”

            “I was named for my great-grandfather, Lord Dorondir of Doriath. But Mother said that name was far too archaic for this day and age, so it was shortened to Doron.”

            “Great . . . grandfather?” Thranduil asked. The youth nodded. “And what happened to him?”

            “He died,” the boy said. “My grandfather said his parents lived a long, long time, and that they went with no regrets.”

            Thranduil felt like crying for the first time in centuries. “They were happy?”

            “Very. They had three children, which is a lot for dwarrow.” Doron rubbed the back of his head. “At least, it would be if we were proper dwarrow. But my grandfather married into the world of Men, and my mother is a dwarrowdam. So, we’re all a bit mixed up.”

            “Why are you here?” Thranduil asked. The youth gestured towards the battlefield.

            “There was always talk in my family that there would be a great war. And no matter whose lifetime it came in, we were to side with the Elves and the Men of the West.”

            “Ah,” Thranduil nodded. “Doron? Are your grandparents still living?”

            “No, sire. It’s just me and my mother now. Mother wants to go to Moria, to live with the Longbeards from Erid Luin. I understand they are my cousins.”

            “They are,” Thranduil told him. “Where is your mother?”

            “She’s around. She’s pretty handy with an axe, and getting her to stay home without me was next to impossible.”

            “The elves of Greenwood the Great are leaving tomorrow. Get your mother and come with us. We will see you through the Misty Mountains. There are still loose orcs about, and it will not be safe for you two to travel alone.”

            The boy nodded and bowed, running off in the opposite direction.

So, Dorondir had taken the tiny dwarrowdam from her brother, spirited her away to who knew where, and had lived a long, happy life. Thranduil sighed. It was far more than he could boast, and he was excessively sorry that their final words, after so many centuries of friendship, had been bitter.

            ‘I hope he forgave me,’ Thranduil thought. He couldn’t bear the thought that his best friend had died hating him. He glanced back over his shoulder. Doron had stopped running some distance away. He was talking to a dwarf with thick curly blond hair and pointing in Thranduil’s general direction. The dwarf hugged the boy and they set off together with purpose. Thranduil continued back to the command tent. It would be an interesting trip home.

 

***

 

            Outside the gate to the Greenwood, Lady Eril was waiting for Thranduil and his army to arrive. Behind her, the citizens were gathered, fearing the worst, and hoping for the best. A low voice began a lament as the much diminished army came into view. Thranduil rode before them, and dismounted at the gate. The soldiers drew up in ranks behind him, and they stood as the crowd took up the song. The very trees themselves seemed to be weeping when the last, mournful notes finally died away.

            Lady Eril stepped forward and dropped into a low curtsey before Thranduil. “The king is dead. Long live the king.” The crowd repeated the words as one. Thranduil was officially King of Greenwood the Great.

            Lady Eril rose and looked at Thranduil. “I burned your father’s letters,” she said. There was steel lining her voice now. The weepy child he had briefly been introduced to was gone. “What he did to both of us is utterly reprehensible. But I came here to marry a king.”

            He held her gaze. “I do not know you.”

            “Nor I, you,” she replied. “But there is work to be done here that has been too long neglected. I have seen to some of it. If it is not to your satisfaction, then you are free to seek out another. If, however, you are willing to accept that we have both been badly used, we can take the steps needed to repair what has been broken. Together.

            I do not ask for love. That is for children. I do demand respect and courtesy, and perhaps, one day, we may yet be friends.”

            Thranduil was silent for a long time, considering, then he offered her his arm. She took it, her fingertips just resting on his sleeve.

            “I am Thranduil, son of Oropher,” he told her. Eril inclined her head.

            “I am Eril, daughter of Arlyn.”

            Thranduil waited as the crowd parted, bowing as the couple passed between them.

            “Let us see, my lady, what has yet to be done.”

 

 

The End

ChibiMethos

2014

 

chibimethos: (Default)
 
               Dís Eadmund’s grip tightened slightly on her four-year-old son Fili’s hand as she watched the first shovel full of earth dropped onto the lid of her husband’s coffin. On her other side, her friend, Celebrían Peredhil, wrapped a comforting arm around Dís’ shoulders. Brían, as her friends called her — had been Dís’ best friend since college. They were Godmothers to each other’s children, had been maid and matron of honour at their respective weddings. Brían’s husband, Elrond had first introduced the two women, and Dís was happy to have Brían beside her now. 
Standing a little away, Dís’ older brothers, Lt. Col. Thorin Durin, US Marine Corps, and Capt. Frerin Durin, US Air Force, waited for their turn to comfort their youngest sibling and only sister. Dís nodded, acknowledging Brían, and turned towards her brothers. They came forward and hugged her and Fili, then, Thorin picked up his nephew.
“Dís, you know that I really liked Garin. He was a great guy, and he really loved you,” Thorin told her softly.
“Yes,” Dís agreed softly. “I know he did.”
Frerin offered his sister his arm, and led her back to the limousine. Dís stared pensively out of the window all the way back to the house. Their mother had stayed behind to prepare food for their guests, and Dís wasn’t looking forward to having to entertain, even if it was a few friends, and only for a few hours.
Fili followed his mother around the house when they got home, though his friends, Elrond’s seven year old twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir, were there. He seemed to need reassurance that his mother wasn’t going to disappear. After dinner, the children were put down for a nap, and the adults settled in the living room with coffee.
“Dís,” Elrond asked. “Do you want me to cancel the launch party on Tuesday?”
Dís shook her head. She didn’t even need to think about that one. Growing up, Dís had always been the short, chubby kid. She loved clothes and fashion, and spent far too much money on fashion tomes from every place she could get them. At first, Dís’ ambition was to be a model like the ones in her favourite magazines. She kept a notebook, full of poses and she spent a great deal of time practicing in the mirror. However, to her dismay, the weight that she was hoping she would outgrow, merely grew with her. Durin women had always been solidly built, but she prayed God might have taken pity on her at least.
  Dís began to feel her dream slipping away. She started to wonder if there was such a thing as a market for plus sized models in the fashion industry. By the time she got to high school, Dís, had given up searching for magazines with plus sized models, and her dream of being a model herself, and set a new goal: start her own fashion magazine for girls like herself. After a crushing class load in college and in grad school, three years of internships, and nearly a decade at other firms, Dís was ready to launch her own publication, Goddess.
“No, no matter what, I must get Goddess in the public eye.” She gave her friend a sad smile. “Garin was one of my biggest supporters. He wanted this to succeed as much as . . .  I need it to.”
Elrond nodded. “Alright. Everything will go ahead, as planned.”
Dís’ eyes dropped to her lap. “Thank you, Ron.”
 
*** 
 
“Father, I told you I wasn't going to be happy with that woman,” Thranduil Lasgalen shifted gears as he raced down the beach road towards the city, his black Bugatti Veyron convertible eating up the miles. His father, Oropher, snorted in his earpiece.
“That's because you're a stuck-up asshole,” his father said bluntly. “Eril is a perfectly nice woman.”
“Then you should have married her yourself,” Thranduil countered. “I don't like blonds, you know that.”
Oropher sighed deeply. “Did I also mention that you are a narcissist of the first order? I'm glad that you at least seem to care for your son, but I worry for him.”
Thranduil scoffed. “Please. Legolas is the only reason I didn't sic the full measure of my legal team on Eril. I want him to know his mother, but there is no reason on earth for me to have to endure another second of her. Five years was long enough. And she doesn't like me, either.”
“Yet you have a child?” Oropher asked.
“Father, sex and love have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. They are mutually exclusive. You and Mr. Lhain wanted a dynastic union, and you got it. Legolas has a brilliant future ahead of him. He'll have more money than Croesus, and will die before he makes a dent in the interest of his first trust fund.”
“And what will become of Eril?” his father asked, sounding tired. Thranduil shrugged, even though his father couldn't see him.
“I don't know. Legolas is staying with me since she travels so much with her job.” 
Thranduil and Eril Lhain had known each other for years, and had disliked one another from their first meeting as toddlers. Their fathers had refused to admit that they didn’t get along, and forced the pair into marriage. While he did not care for Eril, Thranduil made the decision to uphold his vows; he would not cheat on his wife. The next two years were spent ducking their father’s demands as to why Eril wasn’t pregnant yet. Finally, in a desperate bid for peace, Thranduil and Eril had decided to give medical science the responsibility of providing their child. When Legolas was two, they set about annulling the unhappy union.
He easily navigated a hairpin turn that was almost too narrow for the width of the Bugatti, and smirked at the driver of a tiny Smart car in the other lane, that was forced to pull all the way onto the shoulder as he passed. Since no-one who actually lived on The Hill would be caught dead standing next to one of those cars, much less driving one, he could only assume it was one of the environmentalist hippies from in the Valley,  that had gotten lost on his way to the outdoor cannabis and organic vegetable market.
He sped down the hill, enjoying the feel of the wind in his hair. 
“Listen, Father, I'm nearly at the office. I'll talk to you later.” He tapped the earpiece, disconnecting the call before his father could reply. Almost at once, his phone rang. “Yeah,” he answered casually, recognizing Elrond's ringtone.
“Hey, I'm going to be a bit late this morning. I have a few more things to wrap up here.”
Thranduil didn't bother to ask where 'here' was. “I'm not your boss, Ron. I'll see you when you get there.”
“Yeah, but we have clients coming in this morning.”
“I know. I can handle the consult.”
Elrond agreed and they hung up. Thranduil arrived at work a few minutes later. As he parked, he couldn't help but take a moment to enjoy the sweeping ocean view, and the clean lines of the building he and Elrond had designed together during grad school, that housed their architectural firm, Lenhil Designs. He got out, and made his way into the mostly concrete and glass building. Inside, despite almost 360 degrees of windows, the self-tinting, triple paned glass made the building cool and comfortable.
Their secretary was ensconced at her desk as Thranduil walked in.
“Good morning, Mr. Lasgalen. Mr. Peredhil will be late this morning.  But it doesn't matter, the nine o'clock consult you both were on called, and asked to be pushed back to two.”
Thranduil nodded. “Good. Thank you.” He disappeared into his office and settled at the drafting table to finish tweaking the concept house he had been working on for over a week.
He was rather startled when Elrond put a hand on his shoulder several hours later. He looked up at his friend in surprise, then down at his watch. It was one thirty.
“Hi,” Elrond said. “I thought you might like lunch before our clients arrive.”
“Yeah, actually, I would.” He tossed the pencil onto the table and stood up to stretch and pop his back. Elrond winced and grimaced at the sound.
“I hate it when you do that,” he muttered, turning to head out the door. Thranduil laughed.
“Yes, I know. That's why I keep doing it.” In the conference room, the secretary had already put out lunch for the two men and they sat down to eat. “What were you finishing up this morning?” Thranduil asked. Elrond looked surprised.
“Oh, I thought I mentioned it. Dís' husband was killed in a car wreck last week. The funeral was on Saturday. She's a bit of a mess herself right now, but she's doing her best to keep it together.”
Thranduil froze for a moment. Dís. That was a name he had not heard in a long time. He knew Elrond must recall the scathing remarks he had made about her when they were in college, giving that he had not mentioned the woman to him once in the last seven years. He looked blankly at Elrond, and tried to react the way his friend would expect. 
“Who?” he finally asked. Elrond put down his sandwich.
“Oh my God, why are you such a jerk!? You remember Dís! I introduced the two of you just after the start of junior year, and you bitched because she's curvy. And she was the maid of honour at my wedding! You had to dance with her!”
Thranduil recalled her just fine. He had been discomforted by the fact that he had started to like the pint-sized woman, and had deliberately been abrasive enough to her at Elrond’s wedding to insure that she would turn her back on him, since he knew he didn’t have it in himself to pull away.
  “Oh, yeah! Her,” he said, sounding disinterested. “She got married?”
Elrond rolled his eyes. “Yes, she did. A year before you did. She has a son who's about to be four. And she just found out there's another one on the way.”
Thranduil nodded. “And her husband just died last week? That's very sad. Please give her and her son my condolences.”
Elrond nodded, slightly pacified. They continued eating in silence for a few minutes while Thranduil thought about Dís, and wondered what she looked like now.
“She wanted to start a fashion magazine, right?” Thranduil asked. Elrond nodded.
“Not just wanted to, she's done it. The first issue hits the newsstands tomorrow.”
Thranduil nodded, impressed. “Well, I hope it sells well.”
“I'm sure it will,” Elrond said. “And you'll get a chance to see it, because I added it to the magazines we order for the office.”
Thranduil sighed, but didn't reply. Elrond took care of most of the marketing, and he knew what their clients would read and what they would not. He glanced into the tastefully decorated reception room, and at the coffee table that was already groaning under the weight of Elle, Vogue, and Cosmo, as well as several architectural digests. Besides, it wasn’t as if she would be modelling in her own publication, but he couldn’t help wondering  again what she looked like now.
The post lunch consult took up most of the afternoon, and it was late before the two men were able to go home. Their secretary had already gone for the day. After they locked up, Elrond and Thranduil made their way to their cars. 
“Oh, Ran, before I forget. Brían and I are hosting a launch party for Dís tomorrow. We were going to cancel it, considering, but she insisted that we have it anyway. The press will be there, and we could use the extra exposure as well, so I expect you to be there. It's at eight. Wear a tie. And be nice.”
He climbed into his car and drove off. Thranduil didn’t reply, and drove home faster than he really needed to. When he arrived, Legolas came bounding out the door to greet him.
“Daddy!” Thranduil picked up his son and carried him back inside, while Legolas recounted his entire day to him. Thranduil loved his son, and found the child’s often mindless chatter soothing. He hugged the toddler and Legolas giggled happily. Thranduil smiled at his son, and allowed the problems of the day to remain outside, where they belonged.
 
*** 
 
Dís took a deep breath and smoothed her hands down the skirt of the black dress she was wearing and turned to look at Brían.
“I don't look like I've been crying, do I?” she asked. Brían hugged Dís, being mindful of her hair.
“No, dear. You look like you are about to take the fashion world by storm.” She grinned at Dís. “I can't believe you've been invited to Fashion Week already.”
Dís nodded. “It might just be a sympathy toss, but I'll take it. Goddess will take the world by storm, if I have anything to say about it.”
“That's the attitude,” Brían cheered. “Come on. Let's do this.”
The two women left the room arm in arm and started down the stairs towards the reception room. In the hallway outside the room, reporters, photographers, magazine executives, and a few celebrities that Elrond and Brían knew were milling about, talking and waiting for Dís' arrival. When she appeared, the reporters pressed closer, asking questions about her hopes for the magazine and about Garin's death.
She felt smothered by the press of people, but tried to answer most of them as coherently as she could. Once through, the reception room was also full of well dressed people, and Dís recognized some of the models from the Goddess photo shoots. She made her way over to them, and was soon chatting amiably with a few of them. The photographers that were following her took loads of pictures, and Dís' face hurt from smiling so much.
Elrond finally located her almost an hour into the party. He dropped a fond kiss on her cheek and looked over the room.
“This is a pretty good crowd,” he said, giving her a quick squeeze around the shoulders. “How are you holding up?”
Dís sighed, and they turned to pose for another picture. “Okay, I guess. I'd kill for a drink right now, though.” She held up her wine glass. “But I must be contented with carbonated juice instead.”
Elrond laughed and tugged her across the room. “Come over here and sit down for a minute.” She sat down gratefully on a couch that was placed near the wall. Elrond glanced over the room, then waved. Dís followed his gaze and groaned.
“Ron! Why did you invite him?!” 
Elrond laughed. “I think it's funny. You remember him, but I had to remind him who you were.”
“I always remember the jerks,” she muttered. 'Especially when they look like they just stepped out of the pages of GQ.'
Thranduil arrived at his friend's side and greeted him. Dís sighed. As usual, Thranduil was dressed in a suit that looked like it was made for him. She frowned slightly as she studied him, then nodded mentally. Of course. He was wearing an Ozwald Boateng, so it was indeed custom made.
“Ran, you remember Dís,” Elrond prompted his friend when Thranduil didn't seem to notice her. He looked down at Dís. 
Thranduil didn't know what he had been expecting, but the nervous girl in the K-Mart skirt was long gone. Sitting before him was a confidant, professional woman, dressed to the nines in a black cocktail dress that complimented her figure, subtly emphasised the narrowness of her waist and made her legs look a mile long. Her thick black hair was carefully pulled back in a French braid, the ends left loose to curl over one shoulder. Tiny curls artlessly framed her face, and her make-up made her eyes seem more blue than he recalled them being. She rose and inclined her head, drawing his eyes to the onyx and pearl drop earrings she wore. The three inch peep-toe heels she had on brought the top of her head to his chin.
“It's been a long time, Thranduil,” she greeted him blandly. “I understand you've married and have a son now.”
Thranduil was still staring at her. This could not be the same girl Elrond had introduced to him in college. It just couldn't be. Elrond was watching Thranduil with amusement as his brain finally re-engaged, and he blinked at Dís.
“I . . . yes. No. Eril . . . and I are getting divorced,” he stuttered.
“Ah,” Dís nodded. “Well, I hope that you do not forget your son in the mad rush to escape one another.” She offered him a politely blank smile. “Thank you for coming tonight.”
She started to walk away and he whirled around and grabbed her wrist to stop her. Dís made a small mew of displeasure, and he quickly released her, more shocked by the spark of awareness that went through him than by her surprise.
“I'm sorry. I . . . just . . . wanted to say how sorry I was to hear about what happened to your husband. I hope that you and your son will . . . have a lot of good friends around you during this difficult time.”
Dís nodded and her face relaxed into a real smile. “Thank you, Thranduil. I believe that we do.”
She walked away and Thranduil stared after her, in vaguely awestruck wonder, until Elrond clapped his hand down on his shoulder, startling him.
“Forget it,” he told the blond man. “That ship has sailed. She hates you.”
Thranduil glanced at Elrond for a second, then looked after Dís. “She didn't look like that when you introduced her to me in college.”
“No,” Elrond agreed. “She was fifteen pounds lighter and willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
Thranduil watched as Dís made her way through the crowd, pausing to talk to various people until she reached Brían's side. She glanced around, then pointed in his general direction, and whispered to her friend. Brían followed Dís' gaze, a smile flitting across her face. Dís finished talking and both women began laughing hysterically. Thranduil winced and Elrond nodded.
“Sorry, my friend. You had your chance. And you blew it. Big time.” He walked away, and Thranduil snagged a full wine glass off a passing tray. 
He drained it in one swallow and tried to find something else to look at. Anything else but Dís, who was easily working the room, stopping for pictures and to talk to everyone. Several of the women in attendance tried for a little while to get Thranduil's attention, but he was so focused on watching Dís that they soon despaired, and turned their attention to easier targets.
When he got home that night, Thranduil went in to say good night to his son, even though the toddler was already asleep, then went to his office and searched the book shelves for his copy of Elrond's wedding album, which had been presented to all the members of the wedding party. He finally found it, and sat down at his desk to flip through the little book. The first picture was of the whole party, but he skipped past it, recalling that he and Dís had a picture together. He looked over the book twice before he found it. It was near the back, stuck together with another page. He held up the book and looked Dís over.
Elrond was right. Dís had been thinner then. And just as pretty, though there was still a little bit of girlishness to her that made her more cute than beautiful. The two of them were standing together and smiling for the camera, but it was quite obvious, even at a glance, that they couldn't wait to get away from each other's presence. Thranduil sighed and tossed the small book onto the desk.
“Oh, my God, I'm a fool.” He looked at the book and stood up. Elrond was right. He had refused to see past the end of his own nose, and really look at Dís Durin, and now, any chance that she might see him as anything other than a pretentious prick, was lost. She wouldn't even acknowledge him if she passed him in the street.
 
*** 
 
[10 years before]:
“I can't believe I let you talk me into this,” twenty year old Dís Durin moaned, as she followed her friend, Elrond Peredhil into the Venus de Milo, an expensive, high-class restaurant just outside of the town that housed their university. Even without opening a menu, she could already hear the meagre, hard earned funds in her wallet protesting their impending abuse, and subsequent separation. 
Elrond scoffed. “Talked you into this? Dís, I’ve only been begging you since the end of last semester!”
She sighed and glanced down at the knee length black pencil skirt, white peasant blouse, and sensible black flats she had finally settled on, and knew without a shadow of a doubt, that she was under dressed. 
“Ron, you know I’m not that social,” Dís said softly.
He patted her hand in a brotherly fashion. “That is your only fault my dear, which is why we are here.”
The glass double door was opened for them by a red uniformed doorman. The doors led directly onto a black and white speckled marble floor, and a pair of sweeping, wide marble stairs, carpeted with red velvet, and edged by gold railings. Ensconced between the stair cases was a tuxedo clad maître d', and off to the right was a ballroom, where women in cocktail dresses and more tuxedoed men were being announced by a doorman in a blue coloured uniform. To the left was a coat check, packed with fur wraps and Burberry overcoats.
Dís glanced over her shoulder at Elrond. “Are we going in there?” she asked worriedly, glancing towards the ballroom. Elrond shook his head and tucked Dís' hand into his elbow so that she couldn't escape as they approached the maître d'.
“No, we're going upstairs,” he patted her hand again. “Relax. Everything will be fine. Brían will be there, so you can talk to her if things get awkward.” They reached the maître d'. “Two for Peredhil.”
The man, who had been looking down his nose at them as they approached, dropped his eyes to the leather reservation book lying open before him. He nodded once, and spotting the name, drew a careful line through it with a fountain pen, then offered Elrond a polite smile.
“Good evening, Mr. Peredhil. The rest of your party has already arrived.” He gestured towards a woman Dís hadn't noticed before. “Maria will escort you to your table. Enjoy your evening.”
Elrond nodded and they followed Maria up the stairs. The hallway at the top of the stairs was carpeted in red, and looked totally deserted except for two sets of solid double doors, and a marble table decorated with a small copy of the statue the leant the establishment it's name, and a crystal bowl of real roses. Maria opened the doors on the right, and Dís bit back a gasp. The dining room was just as breathtaking as the entrance below them. Enormous crystal chandeliers provided soft mood-lighting, as did the candles on the tables. The carpet in this room was wine red, and plush enough to muffle their steps as they walked through to their table. 
The patrons were talking quietly, and black clad waiters moved about with near silent efficiency. Even the clink of silverware on the plates seemed to be soft, despite the overall quiet of the room. Dís felt as if she were totally exposed, and sure that everyone around her could see that she was not One of Them, and would stop her and throw her out for the presumption of entering their exalted space, and daring to breathe their rarefied air.
Elrond squeezed her hand. “Relax,” he said again. Dís finally spotted Brían, and tried to focus on her as they got closer. Elrond's girlfriend, Celebrían Falmari, was a tall, soft spoken woman, with silver-blond hair and kind, green eyes. Sitting across from her, to her left, was a tall man with long, pale blond hair, pulled back in a neat queue. Maria stood aside when they reached the table. 
The blond man rose as Brían smiled at her boyfriend, and Dís felt her stomach clench. The man was gorgeous. His piercing blue eyes were nearly the same colour as the tie he wore, and his dark suit looked as if it had been tailor made for his tall, athletic frame. The man nodded to Elrond, and went around the table to pull out the chair beside Brían for Dís.
Dís murmured her thanks and the man resumed his seat. Elrond sat across from Brían, and the blond man glanced at Maria.
“Bring the wine,” he told her. Dís liked the timbre of his voice, and wondered if he could sing. It was a silly thought, but she managed to hold back the nervous giggle that bubbled up because of it. Maria nodded and disappeared. Elrond looked at the man.
“Ran, I'm glad you could make it. Dís Durin, this is my friend, Thranduil Lasgalen. We have a lot of the same business classes this semester, and are PBK Brothers.”
Thranduil was looking Dís over with cool disinterest. He inclined his head. “Nice to meet you,” he said finally, and Dís' gaze dropped into her lap. She was overwhelmed by his good-looks, but it was obvious that he was totally unimpressed by her. 
Dís had found over the years, that her black hair and blue eyes, while a striking combination, were overshadowed by the fact that she had always been a bit heavy, and to make matters worse, short. Once she had begun college, Dís had put forth every effort to get and keep her weight down, and for the most part, she had succeeded. But even as she was preparing now for her third year, she knew that last ten pounds that added a slight roundness to her face and hips, was never coming off.
She sighed and after a moment, she looked up at Thranduil, and gave him what she hoped was an indifferent smile.
“And you.” She looked at Elrond. “Is he in your House on campus?” She had a feeling that if he had been there, she would have noticed him long before now.
Elrond laughed. “Yes —” he started. 
“I moved in this semester,” Thranduil interrupted his friend. Dís nodded.
“We only have one friend in common, so we had no reason to meet before now,” he continued, sounding bored. Elrond and Brían exchanged uneasy glances as a waiter appeared with their wine, in an ice bucket. They fell silent as he poured, then nestled the bottle in the ice bucket. He straightened and looked at them expectantly. Elrond glanced at Dís.
“Is chicken alright with you?”
She nodded, slightly horrified that there were no printed menus, meaning that she could not even ballpark how much this evening was going to set her back! Elrond nodded and waved the waiter away. She looked at her wine glass, slightly afraid to touch it. Thranduil's thick, dark eyebrow rose.
“So . . . Dís, was it? You're a student as well? What are you studying?”
She glanced at Brían, who gave her a reassuring smile, then clasped her hands in her lap. “I'm a triple major in English, textile arts, and fashion design, with a double minor in business and marketing.”
He seemed genuinely surprised by her reply. “Interesting combination,” he said, taking a sip of wine. “To what end?”
“I will either be a designer or the editor of a fashion magazine. My goal is to start my own magazine firm in the next ten years,” Dís tried to keep the excitement of her goals out of her voice. Such a petty plan would never impress a man like him.
Thranduil nodded. “There is already a glut in the market,” he pointed out. Dís looked up, forcing him to make and hold eye contact with her.
“Not for my target audience, there is not,” she said firmly. Thranduil frowned slightly for a moment, then his gaze slid away as understanding dawned. 
“Ah. No, I suppose not. Well, your plan is ambitious, but eminently doable. I wish you every possible luck with it. Have you already settled on a name for this publication?”
Dís shook her head. “I have a few thoughts,” she said. “But I still have to get through grad school, so there is no rush to settle on anything just yet.”
Their food arrived, and the already stilted conversation flagged. As they ate, Elrond and Brían did their best to keep the conversation flowing. For her part, Dís tried to find interesting topics to raise, but Thranduil only offered her one word, mono tone replies, so after a few tries, Dís gave up, and fell back into her usual habit of simply watching. Thranduil was content to chat with Elrond and Brían though. When dessert was served, the rest took their time going over the choices, but Dís declined it, and settled back to watch her “date”. The others indulged in cheese cake, and the blackest chocolate she had ever seen, while she fiddled with her napkin. 
With his height and colouring, education, and from what little Elrond had told her, family background — Thranduil more than fulfilled Dís' criteria for the ideal mate. Thranduil reeked of old money and privilege. The women in his universe were 5”11' at their shortest, mostly blond, and likely came to America on the Arc. She, however, was on nobody's list, was no-one’s' ideal. 
The Durins were decidedly middle-class, and had likely come to America to escape the Potato Famine, clinging to the outside of the ship for dear life, since they couldn't even afford to be on it. Her older brothers, Thorin and Frerin, were ten and five years her senior respectively, and after high school, they had both enlisted. Thorin was in the Marines and Frerin was in the Air Force. Dís had been the brain of the family, and studied hard, a task made easier by her lack of friends. 
She had secured several scholarships that were the only things putting her through school at the moment. Over the summer, she had found a paid internship that held her over the summer, and she hoped that they had liked her enough to call her back the following summer, and maybe even after graduation.  She sighed and looked again at her still full wine glass. She hadn't tasted it yet, and sweat had beaded on the bowl of the glass as it warmed. Thranduil followed her gaze.
“You're not a teetotaller, are you?” he asked mockingly, pouring himself another glass. Dís shook her head.
“I am not.” She looked at Elrond. “Please, excuse me.”
Both men rose as Dís and Brían stood and made their way towards the lavatory. In the rose marble tiled room, Brían dragged Dís over to the sitting area, and pushed her down onto one of the plush white love seats.
“Well, what do you think of him?” Brían asked, eagerly. Dís sighed.
“He's gorgeous,” she answered after a long moment. “And stuck-up. And bored out of his mind. He was sneering at my clothes, my weight, and my future plans. What the hell was Ron thinking?”
 
*** 
 
The men resumed their seats once the girls were gone, and Thranduil drained his glass before turning to glare at Elrond.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded. “I distinctly remember telling you I don't like fat girls.”
Elrond scoffed. “Dís is not fat.”
Thranduil waved away Elrond's words. “Fine. Full Figured. She's still too big for my liking. And too short! Where did you unearth her, anyway?”
Elrond shook his head. “Dís and I met during Orientation. She looked as lost as I felt, so I went over to talk to her. She's shy, but once I got her to start opening up, I realized that she's a keen observer of people and situations. She's smart, funny, and driven — all things that you demand from the women in your life. Her only flaw, if you can even call it that, is that she doesn't count the crowned heads of Europe among her ancestors.”
Thranduil snorted. “No, indeed. That skirt looks like it came off the clearance rack at K-Mart.”
“Why are you being such an asshole?” Elrond demanded. “You asked me to introduce you to someone who was well-educated, capable of challenging you mentally, wasn't likely to spend you into the poorhouse, and attractive. Dís ticks every one of your boxes.”
“She's short and fat. And poor,” Thranduil glanced over his shoulder at the patrons sitting behind him. “You see that girl over there, in the blue dress?” He asked. 
Elrond glanced at the willowy brunette and shrugged. “Yeah, what about her?”
“If your Dís looked like her, you might have scored a home run.”
“If Dís looked like that, the chances that she was intelligent drop by a good fifty percent,” Elrond said dryly. He noticed that their dates were returning, and the two men rose. Brían sat back down, but Dís remained standing.
“Ron, Brían, thank you for inviting me this evening.” She looked up at Thranduil. “It has been most . . . instructive. Thranduil.” She inclined her head at him, and walked away. Elrond and Brían stared after her in open-mouthed shock, and Thranduil resumed his seat.
'She’s way too short,' he thought, reaching for Dís' still full wine glass and draining it in one go.
 
*** 
 
Dís returned to her dorm room, and spent the weekend alone, dwelling on the Evening Gone Sour with Mr. Perfectly Wrong, ignoring Elrond and Brían's calls, and working on the dress she was designing for her textiles class. By Monday, she had rather hoped that she had put Thranduil out of her mind, and she was even feeling gracious enough to consider forgiving her friends for orchestrating this whole situation. However, when she walked into the cafeteria to get her morning cup of coffee, He was standing at the coffee machine. Dís sighed softly, and moved quietly up behind him, hoping, despite her shorter arms, to reach around his taller frame, and snag a cup. He noticed her hand, and stepped to the side, reaching up to hand her the 32 ounce cup that was just out of her reach.
“I'm sorry,” he said politely, glancing at her as he held the cup out to her. He paused as he recognized her, and stared. Dís was surprised at the level of hauteur that spread over his handsome face. Dís reached for the cup at the same time he started pulling it away, and caught it.
He frowned slightly. “Oh. It's you.” 
He turned back to the coffee machine, and retrieved his slim, silver travel mug. Thranduil finally stepped aside, and Dís took his place. She was annoyed that he didn't move farther away than the cream and sugar station a few feet away, and stopped to watch her. Dís filled the cup, and turned towards the cashier, glad that she preferred her coffee black. Thranduil followed her. She paid in cash, unwilling to start using her school issued Cafe-Cash so soon in the semester. She hurried outside, and trotted across the campus' narrow main street, towards the main academic building.
“If you are running late, you should consider getting up earlier, or investing in your own coffee machine,” Thranduil told her, easily keeping pace with her short legs. Dís sighed and scooted her messenger bag farther back on her hip.
“I'm not late,” she told him shortly. She stopped walking in the middle of the deserted sidewalk, and so did he. Dís frowned and gestured towards the building.
“Please, go ahead,” she invited testily. Her good mood was quite gone, and she was feeling irritated with Elrond again for introducing her to this pest.
Thranduil smirked at her. “When is your first class?”
Dís rolled her eyes. “Who wants to know? Why are you even talking to me?”
Thranduil didn't reply for a moment, then moved ahead of her to open the main door. “You seem to be in a hurry. Please, ladies first.”
Dís stormed past him, and tried to ignore his towering frame as she made her way towards the stairs. Thranduil stayed with her all the way to the fourth floor, and he followed her down the nearly empty hallway to the lecture hall. Dís moved towards the back of the stadium-style room to sit in the back row, as she usually did. Very few people sat in the back of the room, so Dís often had half of the room to herself. It also enabled her to see everyone and everything, without drawing undue attention to herself. Thranduil stopped at the foot of the steps to watch her sit in a middle row seat, and begin pulling out paper and pens. She set these items just so on the desktop, then pulled out a thick novel, and took her first sip of coffee.
He blinked, and looked over the otherwise empty room. “Why are you hiding up there?”
“I'm not,” Dís told him, turning a page. “I always sit back here.” She dropped a pen into the book to hold her page, and reached into her bag, pulling out a pair of headphones. She put them on, selected a song from her phone, and resumed her book. Thranduil smirked, irritated and unwillingly amused that she was ignoring him. After a moment, he mounted the steps and took the seat to her left. Dís sighed and turned another page.
It was going to be a long day.
 
*** 
 
Having never seen him in this class before, Dís was surprised that Thranduil was easily keeping pace with the lecture. Thinking about it after the class began, Dís decided that he must be using this earlier class as a make-up for a later one that he would be wilfully skipping. Pleased that she would only have to tolerate him for a short while, Dís threw herself back into the lecture. When it was finished, she had five minutes to race across campus to the Art Building for her design class. Away from Thranduil's overwhelming presence, Dís felt her good mood returning. By the end of the day, Dís had texted her friends, and was considering studying outside in the late summer sunshine. It was warm enough, and while having dinner with Brían would be fun, she elected to enjoy the nice weather instead.
She took a blanket and her art pad out to the Quad. She settled on the grass, and began sketching the other students who had the same thought. Most of them were in groups of three or more, and most of them were either sleeping or sunbathing. A few of the boys were playing football. Dís was using them to practice drawing figures in motion when a shadow fell over her paper. Dís raised her eyes to look at the pant legs before her, but not her head. She sighed. While most of the students here were exceptionally well off, and dressed accordingly, she personally only knew of two men who would wear designer khakis the way the rest of the world wore blue jeans.
“What, Thranduil?” she demanded testily. “You're blocking my light.”
He didn't move. “We do seem to keep encountering one another, Ms. Durin.”
Dís raised her head and looked around. The closest people to her were over 50 yards away. She was in the near exact centre of the Quad, as far away from the sidewalk as she could manage. Her eyebrow rose.
“Really, Lasgalen? Try the other leg; it’s got bells on it.”
He smirked, and dropped down onto the grass beside her, leaning back on his arms. “Very well. I sought you out. I need to speak with you.”
Dís glanced around, hoping that no-one noticed Thranduil sitting beside her. When it was clear that they were being ignored, she dropped her eyes back to her art pad. 
“Why?” she asked.
He remained silent for a long time, hoping to make her uncomfortable enough to look at him. It didn't work, and he finally sat up. “I—” 
Elrond sprinted over, clearly surprised to see the two of them together. “Ran! Hey, Dís.” He stopped in front of them. “Ran, we need a fourth for Ultimate Frisbee.”
Thranduil rose, and glanced at Dís for a second, then nodded. “Lead the way.”
Dís breathed a sigh of relief as the two males moved away. She had no desire to talk to Thranduil, though she was amused by his attempt to discomfort her.
 
*** 
 
Two days later, Dís was disheartened to see Thranduil in her early class again. She tried to ignore him as he sat beside her. She focused on her coffee and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.
“Ms. Durin, we have been introduced. Ignoring me is most rude,” Thranduil chided.
Dís compressed her lips, but refused to look at him. Thranduil smirked.
“Ms. Durin, we will be seat partners for the rest of the semester.”
Dís frowned. “Why? We should have no classes together.”
“Well, for the first week of class, I was taking this class online, but, then I decided to matriculate.”
‘Great,’ Dís thought, suddenly wishing for a chocolate bar. ‘My life just became hell.’
“Since you are the only person in this room to whom I have been introduced,” Thranduil continued. “I have selected you to be my partner for the proposal project.”
Dís shook her head in denial. “I got permission to do that alone, since I was the odd — dammit!”
His smirk was unpleasant. “I have not settled on a topic as yet, so on whatever you are working, I will simply join you. That way, we don’t have to start over. I will do my share of the work, rest assured.”
Dís’ head dropped to the desk top. “I hate you,” her voice was muffled.
“I assure you, the dislike is mutual,” Thranduil told her blandly, as several people made their bleary way into the room. “However, circumstances have conspired to force our interaction, and one cannot always have what one wants.”
Dís huffed and sat up. She rummaged into her messenger bag, took out a paper, and dropped it onto Thranduil’s desk. He picked it up and glanced over the notes she had made for her business proposal. He nodded once and handed it back.
“I may have some thoughts on this,” he told her. “You are on the right track. I have . . . connections . . . in the publishing industry, so I can help you with the language, and the presentation. And I have Photoshop for my art classes.”
Dís nodded, having just intended to use the programme in the school’s computer lab, but if he had it already, that meant less restricted access at the hours she usually studied.
“Very well. I am free after 8 PM. We can use the second floor study rooms in the library.”
Thranduil agreed and Dís pointedly ignored him for the rest of the class. Eight o’clock arrived far sooner than Dís wished, though she was already in the study room when Thranduil arrived, exactly on time, a designer messenger bag across his shoulder. His eyes registered a brief flash of shock that she was already there, but it was gone in a second. He offered her a nod and took a seat at the table. He pulled out his laptop and booted it up.
“Have you added anything to your proposal since this afternoon?” he asked.
Dís shook her head. “I wanted to see what you had to offer.”
“I have a title,” he said, opening a file. “And a cover. A couple of them, in fact.”
Dís was prepared to dislike any and everything Thranduil had in mind. He turned the computer to face her, and Dís was surprised. The first cover design was of a tall, Rubenesque brunette, professionally dressed in a dark suit, with just a hint of a red, laced edge cami peeking out from the top of her closed, three button jacket. Down the left hand margin, in bold, drop relief letters was the title, Diva.
Dís eyebrow rose. “Why her?” she asked. “Why not a toothpick blond with huge boobs?”
“I do not find blonds attractive,” he told her imperiously. He reached around the monitor to tap the right arrow key. “And you already informed me of your plans for a Rubenesque themed fashion tome.”
The second cover was a voluptuous, curvy red head, standing on a white sandy beach in a sky blue, one piece bathing suit, with a diagonal green stripe across the body. Dís nodded, and glanced over the other two covers Thranduil had designed.
“All of the models are lovely. And I appreciate that you took the time to find well dressed ones as well.”
Thranduil shrugged and turned the computer to face him. “So, which do you prefer? We can still make changes. I saved the working files.”
Dís scoffed ruefully. “Honestly, I like them all. But I don’t like the title font.”
He agreed, and scooted his chair around the table so that they were sitting side by side, and both could see the screen.
“Let us see what we can do about that then.”
 
*** 
 
Elrond and Thranduil had breakfast in the school cafeteria every Saturday morning. Elrond watched his friend without speaking as they got their food, and chose an out of the way table. After they were seated, Thranduil looked squarely at his friend.
“Ask away. I know it’s killing you.”
Elrond smirked. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Ron, I’ve known you from the crib. Just answer me.”
Elrond considered for another moment. “I thought you hated Dís. But you transferred into her class and now you’re doing the project with her?”
“Her class was the only one with an opening and she was the only one without a partner. The professor told me to work with her.”
“So, this is all against your will?” Elrond asked, pulling the ceramic butter dish across the table towards him, to add the toping to his pancakes.
“Completely and utterly,” Thranduil agreed flatly. “An additional three days in her company has shown me that Dís Durin indeed possesses a modicum of intelligence. And that I could never go out with her. Unless —”
He paused and took a sip of coffee. “No, I shant say it. I have been rude enough to Ms. Durin’s character. When the semester is over, I have no reason to speak to her ever again.”
Elrond shook his head. “Ran, why are you being so stubborn about all this? There is nothing on earth wrong with Dís.”
Thranduil’s eyebrow rose slightly, but he refrained from saying more. Elrond sighed and shifted the topic.
 
*** 
 
That afternoon, Thranduil met with Dís again in the library study rooms. He was annoyed that she had insisted on meeting on a weekend. Unlike her, he did have an active social life. Dís was writing when he arrived with his laptop. She didn’t look up as he shut the door harder than necessary.
“You took your sweet time,” she slid the paper across the desk towards him. “I’ve been working on the “articles” for the front cover. Also, the background colours need to be different. Lighter, I think.”
Thranduil sighed and sat down, plugging in his laptop. “Is this all you have been thinking about?”
Dís shook her head. “No, I spent the morning tweaking the dress I’m designing for my textiles class, I finished the landscape I have to turn in on Monday for my art class, and I did the reading for this class. I still have to finish the research for my creative writing class, and I have a quiz in history to make notes for.” 
Thranduil stared at her for a long moment, as his laptop booted up. “No wonder you don’t have a social life.”
Dís shrugged. “I don’t need one. I have come to the conclusion that that is not for me. Others may waste their time.”
Thranduil pulled the paper over and skimmed it. “Ron introduced us in the hopes that we would be interested in going out with each other,” he pointed out.
“I know. And thanks to that . . . experience . . . I have seen the error of his ways.”
Thranduil scoffed and turned back to the paper. “So, how will a camera help you dress better?”
 
*** 
 
Thranduil circulated the press of bodies in the dorm lounge, keeping his beer aloft for safety from the gyrating bodies around him. After leaving Dís in the library, Thranduil had returned to his room to change into a navy blue polo, blue and red chequered board shorts, and boat shoes. He was scanning the dimly lit, overly warm room, looking for Elrond and his girlfriend. Dís had a dozen things that she wished to add or change to their business proposal, and she wouldn’t let him leave before she had listed them all, in agonizing detail. The party he wanted to attend was well underway by the time he arrived, and he was having a hard time not feeling annoyed with her.
Just because she had nothing better to do than study all the damn time didn’t mean that he didn’t. He had been intending to scope out the party goers, searching for a new companion for the next few weeks. However, after an hour, everyone was drunk, and he wasn’t interested in chatting up a drunk girl. They were boring and not thinking clearly. The last thing he needed was a sexual assault charge or a pregnancy scare to spice up his semester. He sighed, and took a sip of his rapidly warming beer. Elrond and Brían were sitting on a couch in the corner, watching the rest of the guests with bored disinterest. He joined them.
Elrond looked up at his friend. “Well, I see you have finally arrived. We were just about to leave.”
Thranduil sighed. “Ms. Durin wouldn’t let me escape. It seems that all she thinks about is school work.”
Elrond smiled and nodded. “It can seem that way. Perhaps you need to listen to what she’s not saying. She has almost no friends, so she fills her time with class work.” He sighed. “We invited her along tonight, but she turned us down. To meet with you.”
Thranduil drained his beer, and looked away. “I left her in the library nearly an hour ago. She was . . .  knitting something.”
Brían sighed and exchanged a speaking glance with Elrond. “Ran, please try and be nice to Dís. She really needs someone to be there for her. I know for a fact that she really likes you, quite a lot.”
Thranduil shuddered with disgust. “I did not need to know that. Look, I already told Ron that I can see that she’s intelligent. But beyond that, I see nothing to recommend her.”
He cast his eyes over the party goers, then turned back to his friends. “Come on. Let’s hit the Pub and then FlashBulb,” he said, naming a popular local club with the college set.
Brían rose and nodded. “Yes, let’s do that. I’ll call Dís on the way and see if she will at least join us at the Pub.”
 
*** 
 
Dís started to ignore her phone when it rang, but she recognized Brían’s ringtone, and knew that her friend wouldn’t stop calling until Dís answered the phone. She sighed and put aside her knitting.
“What, Bree?” In the background, she could hear the sound of a jukebox playing. The crispness of the sound told her that it was a cd player.
“I’m at the Pub with Ron. Would you care to join us?”
Dís shook her head, even though she knew Brían couldn’t see her. “No, I don’t think so. I have—”
“No you don’t,” Brían interrupted her. “That knit project isn’t due for another eight weeks. You’ll be done with it in another six hours, and then be at a loose end for the rest of that time. Put down your needles, get into a pair of jeans and a clean shirt, and get your fanny out here. If you aren’t here in the next half hour, I’m coming back to your room to get you. 
The library is closed, all the classrooms are locked. You belong to no clubs, and even after living here for three years, you barely know your way around town since you hardly leave the campus. There is no-where for you to hide; I will find you.”
Dís stared at the handset, torn between irritation at Brían’s demands, and depression because it was true. She sighed, and put the phone back to her ear. “Very well. A half hour.”
When she saw Thranduil’s blond ponytail through the window as she approached the Pub twenty-five minutes later, Dís was sorely tempted to turn around and go back to her room. She should have known that Brían would leave out the fact that Thranduil was with them. She stopped outside the door. If she went back to her room, Dís knew that Brían would keep her promise and drag her back against her will. She sighed and pushed open the door.
The Pub was small, with maybe eight tables scattered the length of the square room. A pool table stood in one corner, a group of men in their thirties playing and drinking after work. The TV over the bar was tuned to ESPN, and a few older patrons sat at the bar, having their drinks and ignoring the TV. On the far side of the room, away from the noise of the pool table, Elrond, Brían, and Thranduil were sitting at a booth. Dís paused to allow her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room, and to study the group. Brían’s pale, delicate features and willowy figure made her the talk of the school when she arrived. Everyone wanted to know her — the boys wanted to own her, and the girls wanted to be her. When Elrond first introduced them, Dís was braced for Brían to be cold, ultra formal, and dismissive. What she got was a warm, good natured woman, with a bright smile and a genuine interest in getting to know her. She thought Dís was perfect, and envied her curves.
“I bet all the guys are falling over themselves to go out with you,” Brían had gushed. “I mean, look at you! I’d pay for those curves!”
Dís had stared at her in confusion, then looked to Elrond for help. “What is she talking about?” Dís asked. Elrond laughed.
“Bree, Dís thinks she’s fat.” 
Brían’s face had gone pale, then red. “What? No, you don’t! How many boyfriends have you had since high school?” she challenged.
“None,” Dís told her, feeling a perverse pleasure in this odd conversation. “Before, during, or since. In high school, the boys called me The Weeble. They wobble, but —”
“I know what it is,” Brían cut her off testily. “Boys are stupid.”
After that, Dís would have walked over hot coals for Brían, and her friend in turn had set herself on a crusade to improve Dís’ self-esteem. She attempted to revamp Dís’ wardrobe, and setting her up with Thranduil was also a big part of that push. Dís sighed. Except, neither Elrond nor Brían had counted on Thranduil taking such an instant dislike to her.
Dís crossed the room and slipped into the booth beside Brían, putting her between Dís and Elrond. “Well, I’m here,” she said. “And under your time limit, as well.”
Brían nodded. “And for that, I thank you. You need to get out more. I know its dark now, but the pale vampire thing really isn’t a look I’d recommend for you.”
Thranduil scoffed. “No. I think Dorothy of Kansas is more your style.”
Dís started to reply, but Brían beat her to it. “Judy Garland was quite the beauty in her day. Thank you.”
He looked away, and Dís smiled at her friend. “I really can’t stay long. I have so many projects due—”
“Dís,” Brían interrupted her. “We have been back for three weeks. Relax. You and I know that nothing except your art is due any time soon. Chill out.”
“But—” 
“Dís, chill.” 
Dís sat back in the booth. She had nothing but her classes. When there were no projects, papers, or assignments, Dís generated extra credit projects to keep herself occupied. She loathed not haveing something to focus on, and at the moment, if she stopped, she’d start dwelling on how handsome Thranduil was, and how unfair the universe was to allow a man like him to even cross her horizons. Seeing him made her wish for things — a dangerous habit to get caught up in. She looked down at the table top for a moment, then reached over Brían and Elrond to pull over the music selection card for the jukebox cd player.
“Any requests?” she asked.
 
*** 
Thranduil strode into his father’s office without knocking, and carefully placed a thumb drive on the polished surface of the older man’s desk. Oropher looked at the tiny device, clearly confused for a moment, then up at his son.
“You drove three hours from school to give me a thumb drive?” Oropher asked. Thranduil sighed.
“No, Father. I could have e-mailed this to you, but frankly I felt its contents warranted a personal explanation.”
The elder Lasgalen went pale. “It’s not ultrasound photos, is it? You’re twenty years old now, and are basically an adult, but I’m not ready to be a grandparent just yet. And neither is your mother.”
Thranduil laughed and dropped down into the seat across from his father. “No, sir. They are pictures, but not of a zygote.” A frown flitted across his face. “In all honesty, it’s because of these pictures that I have not had the opportunity to secure a proper female companion this semester.” He sat forward. “For my marketing class, the one I dropped online — well, in the classroom, I was assigned to work with — of all people on this earth — the girl I told you Ron set me up on a blind date with.”
Oropher nodded. “The smart girl, that you decided was too short to warrant your attentions?”
“Father! I don’t think she’s even five feet tall! Anyway, she wants to be a magazine publisher, and surprise, surprise, that’s the topic of her presentation. Anyway, I kind of figured that’s what she would be doing, and I saw no reason to change ores mid-stream, so I told her I’d help. Anyway, long story short — we will be giving our presentation in a couple of weeks, and I want to punch it up. If we do well on the project, the professor said we can skip the final. And I want to be out of this class ASAP.” He gestured towards the thumb drive.
“So, I — we need posters of the pictures on that drive.”
Oropher nodded and plugged the thumb drive into his computer. “I don’t see how that required . . .” he trailed off with a low, appreciative whistle. “Well, now!” He glanced at his son, and Thranduil flushed and looked away. 
“I know,” Thranduil moaned. “I’ve been stuck, this entire God-forsaken semester looking at fat girls! I just . . . ugh! I want to be finished with this project already! Please print the posters, so I can go back to school, and face the end of this humiliation.”
Oropher was still looking at the computer screen. “Ran, these girls are smoking hot. What are you complaining about?”
“They’re fat!” Thranduil protested. “I . . . just can’t!”
Oropher shook his head. “Ran, no-one likes cuddling with a coat hanger. These are real women.”
Thranduil wrinkled up his nose. “I don’t like cuddling, period.” He rose. “Can you get them done by this afternoon?”
Oropher nodded and watched his son depart with a terse ‘thank you.’ He closed the picture folder and glanced over the PowerPoint that was also on the drive, making a mental note as her read to keep his ears open for any news regarding one Dís Durin. He knew his son’s writing style, and this was not it. The young Ms. Durin was knowledgeable and passionate about her subject. With a very little bit of help, she could go far in the industry.
 
*** 
 
Thranduil knocked on Dís’ door and shifted impatiently as he heard her crashing around. She opened the door, clutching a towel around her damp body. His eyes grew wide, and she squeaked when she saw him, then slammed the door shut.
“Uh . . . just a second!” she called.
He closed his eyes and leaned against the door jamb with a sigh. After a few minutes, she reopened the door. Now, she was swathed in a dark green, plaid robe.
“Yes?” she said, her voice annoyed. Thranduil held out the poster tube he was carrying.
“I come bearing gifts.”
Dís smirked. “So did the Greeks. It didn’t work out so well for the Trojans.”
A real smiled flickered across his face. “Well, this is our project. I told you, I have some publishing connections.”
Dís frowned slightly. “But I thought we were using the PowerPoint.”
“We are. This,” he waggled the poster tube. “Is just for extra punch. Everyone else will be using tri-fold boards and glue. We will be approaching this as if we were talking to real editors and sponsors.”
Dís nodded and stepped back, inviting him into her room. Thranduil hesitated and she sighed. “All of my neighbours are out on the town. No-one will see you entering my room. Or leaving.”
Thranduil smirked. “That is not why I hesitated, my dear Ms. Durin. You are not dressed.”
Dís tugged the neck of her robe open, giving him a glimpse of her ample cleavage and the spaghetti strap pyjama shirt she had on underneath. He nodded and stepped over the threshold. Dís watched him, feeling as if she just invited a vampire into her home. She glanced up and down the deserted hallway and shut the door. As she turned, she nearly ran into Thranduil, who had stopped in the short entrance hall that housed her closet, and the door to the bathroom she shared with the girl in the next room.
He was staring over her room, clearly appalled by what he was seeing. One wall was dominated by a long desk top. Half of it was covered with stacks of textbooks, notebooks, and pens, and the other half housed her sewing and knitting machines. The two shelves above the desk top were full of sewing and knitting paraphernalia, her microwave and a few random cans of food. On the floor, nearly hiding a fuzzy, purple rug, were stacks of pattern books and fashion magazines, art supplies, and a few pillows for sitting on. The wall directly opposite the desk had two plastic storage totes of yarn and fabric stacked against it, her bed — currently covered in discarded clothes and her bath towel, and a small dresser with clothes hanging out of it haphazardly. The window in the centre of the wall between the desk and the bed was cracked open, causing the neon green and electric pink drapes to flutter in the chill breeze that was coming in. 
Thranduil looked down at Dís. She was always so organised with her work, and for some reason, he had pictured her living in a much more tightly managed space.
“I . . . never would have pegged you for a slob,” he commented. Dís pushed him into the body of the room.
“I live alone. I have had exactly three visitors in the last three years. Including you.” Dís was annoyed that she felt the need to justify her use of the space. “Also, I’m working on several projects at the moment. Remember—triple major, double minor?”
He nodded and popped open the poster tube. He pulled out the posters and handed Dís the tube. She took it, and he carefully unrolled the posters. They had finally settled on three of the five covers — one for the PowerPoint, and the other two as visual aids. The posters were huge, nearly movie theatre sized. On was the professional woman in the dark suit and the other was the redhead in the blue bathing suit.
Dís whistled. “Well, if nothing else, the class will remember this,” she gestured towards the red head. Thranduil was inclined to agree.
“I have the stands in my room. We can set them up before class starts and keep them covered with dark cloth until it’s our turn.”
Dís nodded. “Great. Then I’d say we are as ready as we’re going to be.”
He rerolled the posters and carefully slipped them back into the tube. “I have somewhere else to be in twenty minutes. I’ll see you later.”
Dís turned to open the door for him. “Bye.” 
He left, and she leaned back against the door. She should not have let him come in. Her room suddenly felt smaller, even with him gone. While he could easily ignore her, Dís still found him attractive. Working with him so closely these last few months had just amplified it. When he relaxed a bit, and let his guard down, allowing his personality and wry sense of humour to show through, Dís almost felt as if they could be friends. And in those few minutes, he seemed to be enjoying her company as well. Then, something would distract him, and he’d suddenly remember who he was — who she was, and become cold and aloof again.
She sighed. Thinking about it made her want a giant cookie. Dís pushed herself away from the door and went to rummage in her freezer, looking for a sugar-free, soy frozen yogurt bar to snack on.
 
*** 
 
Thranduil returned to his room and stored the posters in his closet. He hadn’t been totally truthful with his father about Dís. He had managed to stay single this year because he had stopped looking for a girlfriend. It was true that Dís Durin, and her obsession with this project was taking up a good deal of his time, but not so much that he couldn’t get a girl if he really wanted to. He brushed his blond hair out of his face, and plopped down on his futon, in front of the TV. He was starting to actually like Dís, and that thought made him disgusted with himself. 
He had teased, insulted, and irritated her a lot the first few weeks they were working together, but then, it had just petered away. He didn’t like the distress in her eyes when he made a cutting remark about her clothes, or how much time she spent with her face buried in a text book. Elrond had already told him that Dís was the first Durin to attend college, and that was a coup any family would be proud of. She had gotten into college with sheer will, and was staying in with hard work. After that, he stopped commenting about the cost of her clothes, the fact that her cell phone was four years old, and teasing her for not having a laptop. 
He had actually come to her defence at a party not two weeks before when one of the guys he usually hung out with commented that Dís Durin was the frostiest virgin on campus.
“I mean, come on! She’s got a cute enough face, and I suppose with the lights off, you won’t care about the stretch marks.” The other boys laughed, but Elrond frowned and Thranduil had sent him a quelling look.
“Ms. Durin is, I believe, quite selective about with whom she chooses to associate. She does not give you the time of day for fear of confusing you. After all, small minds tend to struggle with even the most basic details. It is a kindness, really.”
The silence that fell over the group was short, but awful. Elrond cleared his throat and changed the subject. Later, on the walk back to their House, Elrond kept giving his friend appraising looks, but never voiced the question that was obviously begging to be asked. 
‘I am not interested in Dís Durin!’ he thought, feeling irritated with himself. It was just the affects of a dry semester. She was the only female had been seeing with any regularity, and in desperation, he was starting to obsess over her. ‘I just need to get her into a small, dark room, kiss her a few times, and then I can move on with my life.’
“Ugh!” he picked up the remote and turned on the TV. He most assuredly did not want to kiss Dís Durin! Not in a small room, not in a dark room, nor any other sort of room. He powered up the video game he had been playing earlier. Shooting zombies was the perfect way to keep Dís out of his mind.
 
*** 
 
“—Such publications, have, in the past, been public relations gems. However, miss handling and ignoring the needs and wants of the target market have negatively affected sales, and driven them out of business.”
Dís paused and looked over the classroom. The professor was sitting in the front row, listening intently to her. The rest of the class was listening and taking notes as they had been told to do. She glanced up at Thranduil. He was standing beside her, immaculately clad in a dark, pinstripe suit and a tie striped in the school’s colours. His long blond hair was held back in a neat queue. She was wearing a knee length black wrap dress, with a white shirt collar and white cuffs on the three-quarter length sleeves. Her hair was caught back in a braided bun, and she had kept her jewellery simple — a single strand of pearls, and the watch her brother Thorin had bought for her when he learned that she had been accepted into college.
She and Thranduil were among the last of the class to make their presentation, and were the only ones to dress up for it. Thranduil nodded at Dís’ words and picked up her speech.
“Knowing and understanding the needs and wants of the target audience is key. Once upon a time, brick and mortar, ink and paper meant the difference between success or failure. But no more. We are living in the 21st Century. Online shopping and social media are the keys to success. These new mediums allow us to reach our clients, and know what they think, need, or want in a heartbeat.” 
He pushed a button and the slide behind them changed. Dís glanced at the computer screen, then reached over and tugged the covering away from the first poster of the professional woman. The class murmured and the professor smiled slightly.
“This is the new Diva of the 21st Century. A beautiful, professional, woman, with a dozen places to be, at once. She has no time to thumb through a magazine. She does, however, have a few minutes between soccer games and ballet class to check her e-mail on her phone. She wants to see this,” he gestured towards the poster. “She wants to know how much it is, does it come in her size, and can it be overnighted.” He paused for dramatic effect, and Dís watched him move towards the second poster. She picked up where he left off.
“But, she will also be going out of town with her husband for a weekend at the shore—no kids allowed.” Thranduil tugged down the second cover and Dís watched the guy’s eyes widen. A few catcalls went around the room and the girls began glancing at each other.
“With the power of digital media, she can have both,” Dís gestured towards the posters. “She can have her magazine, place her order with the touch of a button, and rate the publication. What becomes of that feedback? Do we store it in File 13, never to be seen again?”
“No,” Thranduil picked up. “We release this suit,” he pointed towards the work outfit. “In red. And this one,” he gestured towards the bathing suit. “In black. Or silver. Or gold. What the consumer wants, when and how she wants it.”
“We do not,” Dís continued solemnly. “Feature the newest incarnation of Twiggy, in a silver lycra cat suit. That you can get anywhere. Here, we only cater to the Real American Woman.”
 
*** 
 
Thranduil followed Dís to the cafeteria after class. Neither of them had stopped for coffee that morning and now that the adrenalin had worn off, they desperately needed it now. Dís was going to be late for her art class, but the teacher had already given her permission to do so, since she wanted to change out of her good suit. Thranduil graciously paid for their drinks, and escorted Dís back to her dorm.
“I think we passed,” he told her. Dís shrugged.
“Like I said, it would be memorable, but I’ll withhold judgement until I see the numbers.”
“Ms. Durin, we were the only ones who dressed for the occasion, we were the only ones with visual aids, and we were the only ones to take questions afterwards. We passed, I’m telling you.”
Dís stopped outside of her door and sighed. “Maybe.” She unlocked the door. “I need to change. I’ll see you later, Lasgalen.” 
She started to step into her room, but Thranduil put a hand on her shoulder, stalling her. He turned her around to face him, and bent to kiss her. Dís was startled, but didn’t pull away. It was hard, fast, and desperate, and Dís could only stare after him in shock as Thranduil abruptly turned away from her and disappeared down the stairs. She raised a shaking hand to touch her lips, then rushed into her room, slamming the door shut behind her.
 
*** 
 
On Sunday night, Dís’ cell phone buzzed, startling her. She flipped it open. It was a text message from Thranduil.
I told you we passed, he wrote.  Prof. says to have a good Christmas. We don’t even have to come in for the last four lectures or the final. Win!
Dís huffed out a breath and slapped the phone shut. She never had to see Thranduil Lasgalen again. She looked down at the phone sadly for a moment, then slowly tipped over onto her pillows, hugging the phone to her chest. 
“Get over it, Durin, It’s not like anything was going to happen between us anyway.”  She closed her eyes, hoping that would stop the burning sensation she could feel growing behind them. 
 
*** 
 
Thranduil tossed his phone on the futon beside him. He took another long look at the e-mail he and Dís had gotten from their professor and rose, closing the computer. He had texted Dís since he knew she didn’t have a computer and was not likely to see the e-mail before class started the next morning. He was, at long last, free of her and her relentless pursuit of academic perfection. It was supposed to be a good feeling.
‘I really shouldn’t have kissed her, though’ he thought. ‘That was foolish.’
 
*** 
 
Several weeks after the spring semester began, Thranduil stood in the lobby of the main academic building, staring at the snow covered sidewalk in dismay. Around him, a small group of fellow students were murmuring as well. None of them had walked to class anticipating snow. It had been grey and cloudy for weeks, but dry. Several people were looking at their shoes as the white fluff continued piling up rapidly outside the window. Finally, Thranduil decided that fortune only favoured the bold, and pulled up his hood, preparing to brave the cold and fast vanishing sidewalks, when something small pushed past him.
The door opened, blasting everyone with cold air. A few girls squealed in protest, but the small person continued out the door, their hood cinched tightly around their head. Thranduil frowned, recognizing the walk, then darted out of the door after them.
“Ms. Durin! What are you doing?!” The wind pulled his words away, and Dís kept marching on, towards the art building. He followed her, catching up with her surprisingly quickly. She looked back as some of the wind around her was suddenly blocked. Her eyes widened in astonishment, not having expected to see Thranduil again before they marched for graduation.
“What—” she started, but he couldn’t hear the rest. He glanced around, unwilling to remain where they were. He turned her towards her dorm, but she resisted.
“—Class!” 
He shook his head, and pushed her towards her building. They fell inside the doorway and gasped as the warmth of the building hit them. Dís pushed back her hood.
“I have to get to class!” she repeated, glaring at him.
Thranduil dug his phone from an inner pocket and handed it to her. “Check your e-mail every now and then, stupid! Everything has been cancelled for the day!”
She read over the e-mail and sighed.
“Well, that’s . . . disappointing,” she said handing it back. She popped up on her toes and looked out of the window. “I’m not sure you can make it back to PBK House in this mess.”
Thranduil followed her gaze and was inclined to agree. “Then, may I beg leave to take temporary shelter in your lounge, Ms. Durin?”
Dís shook her head. “No. Mom bought me a coffee machine for Christmas. Come on up. I’ll make you a cup, if you don’t care that it’s not designer.”
“If it’s hot, I’ll take it,” Thranduil told her gratefully.
Much of the organized chaos that had held sway in her room the previous semester was still in evidence, though her text books were different, and Dís had added two posters – one of a Marine officer and another of an Air Force officer, both in full Dress Blues. She followed his gaze.
“My brothers, Thorin and Frerin,” she told him, hanging their dripping coats in the shower to dry, and putting their wet shoes on newspaper she spread over the bathroom floor. Thranduil nodded, finally noticing the resemblance between them. 
“Next time you speak to them, please pass on my thanks for their service.”
Dís beamed at him, and Thranduil had to ruthlessly quash the desire to kiss her again. He sat in her desk chair while she made them coffee. Honestly, he thought he had moved past all this nonsense over the holiday. Dís finally finished making the coffee and handed Thranduil a mug. He took a cautious sip, and his hair nearly stood on end.
“Christ! This stuff is strong enough to degauss an engine!”
Dís laughed and settled herself on the floor pillows. “Just the way I like it. I do have cream and sugar if you want some, though.”
“No,” Thranduil took another sip. “I’m good.” He looked at his mug. “The stuff they serve in the caf must taste like dish water to you.”
Dís shrugged. “It served its purpose.” She pulled back the curtain and looked outside. “I can’t even see the parking lot for the next building anymore,” she told him. “And it’s less than 100 yards away.”
Thranduil settled more comfortably in the chair. “Then I hope you have a TV, because we may be in here for a while.”
 
*** 
 
[Now]:
 
 
Fili followed his mother through the fabric warehouse as she chose cloth for her next design project. He was so used to coming here with her now that he pouted when he found out she had gone without him. He fingered the cloth as she did, asking her questions about what things were what, and she named the colours and fabrics, and gave him examples of things made from them. 
Goddess was already on its sixth issue and while sales were still a bit slow, they were starting to pick up as designers and advertisers were realizing that there was a market they were pointedly ignoring. Dís had already been interviewed twice by The Today Show, and Good Morning, America, once on The View, and had been spotlighted several times by Style, E!, and had been seen at Fashion Week. Fili enjoyed travelling with his mother, though now that her pregnancy was starting to show, she had pulled out of the spotlight a little bit. 
She stopped in front of a roll of embroidered navy blue Chinese silk and sighed. “Fili, isn't this pretty?”
He dutifully studied the fabric and finally nodded. “I like the dragons, Mama. What if you made a wrap with this?”
She giggled and patted his head. Like his father, Fili's thick blond hair was curly, but Dís had been reluctant to cut it, and the weight of it had started pulling the curls into gentle waves. He looked like a little Cupid and she prayed he would never want to cut it. 
“You're so smart, my little lion. I think that's an excellent idea.” She added the bolt of silk to her list and nodded. “I think that was the last thing I needed. Let's go pay and then get some lunch.”
Fili nodded and held the door for his mother as they left the warehouse. Dís looked up and down the street for a moment, then took her son's hand. 
“I know a place nearby that we can go,” she told him. “We can get a lot.”
Fili grinned. “I like a lot,” he agreed. She got him strapped into his booster seat, and they sang silly songs all the way to the restaurant. They were still in a good mood when they got inside, and Dís saw the length of the line. She sighed and looked down at Fili.
“I'm sorry, honey. It looks like we'll have to wait a bit.” Fili nodded and looked around.
“There's a seat, Mama.” 
“Okay, go wait over there for me while I talk to the hostess.”
He nodded and hurried over to the empty seat. He climbed up and looked around the room. Nearby, another blond boy was waiting with his father. The two children made eye contact and offered one another hesitant smiles. Fili glanced around for his mother. She was coming towards him, so he looked at the other boy again. The other boy got up and approached Fili.
“Hi,” he said. “I'm having dinner with my Daddy.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Daddy hates coming here, but I like the food.”
Fili laughed. “I'm here with my Mama. We both like it here.” He pointed at Dís as she came over. He hopped up. “You sit here, Mama.” He looked at the other child. 
“Mama has a tiny, kicky person in her belly, so she needs to sit down a lot.”
Dís laughed. “Fili!”
The other boy nodded. “How did it get there?” he asked. “Did she eat it?”
Fili shook his head and stood up taller, pleased that he knew something this boy did not.
“No. Grown-ups have sex. That makes a baby inside the Mama. It takes nine months, and then a new person comes out,” Fili declared proudly. “I can't wait. Mama says I have to wait two more months, but that seems like a long time.”
“It can indeed,” agreed a deep, male voice. Dís flushed without looking up as she recognized the voice.
“Hello, Thranduil. What brings you down from the mountain to mingle with the proletariat?”
Thranduil reached for his son's hand, but the child pulled away. “Legolas, this lady is an acquaintance of Daddy's. Her name is Ms. Dís.”
The boy nodded. “How do you do, Ms. Dís? I'm Legolas.”
She smiled at him. “Nice to meet you, Legolas. You look like your Daddy. This is my son, Fili. Fili, this is Ron's friend, Mr. Ran and his son, Legolas.”
Fili nodded. “Hello, Mr. Ran.” He looked at Legolas. “There are crayons over there,” he pointed towards a small table, strewn with colouring books and crayons. The two children ran over and sat down, flipping through the books, looking for a page on which to scribble. Thranduil looked down at Dís. 
In the months since the party, Dís had plumped up more because of her pregnancy, but she seemed to be glowing just the same. She put a protective hand over the baby when Thranduil moved closer to her, so he stepped back.
“Legolas likes coming here with his mother. Eril is out of town for work again, so he asked me to bring him.”
“Ah,” Dís nodded. “I knew you would have never come here of your own volition.”
“Lasgalen, party of two!” the hostess called. Thranduil nodded and she approached him. “Your table is ready, sir.”
“Is it a booth?” he asked her. She nodded. 
“Good. Add two more to my table.” The woman glanced at Dís, who started to say no, then her stomach growled. She flushed.
“Yes, you can cancel the table for Eadmund.” The hostess nodded and Thranduil called the children over. They were seated and the waitress took their drink orders. The two parents then spent the next few minutes settling with the boys what their dinners should be, before choosing their own meals. The boys chatted and coloured on their placemats after the waitress departed for the second time, sparing their parents the chore of talking to one another.
Thranduil took the time to study Dís. He had hoped his reaction to her at the party was a fluke, but seeing her walking in that afternoon, with her hair pulled back in a careless ponytail, and wearing casual clothes, he had the same heart-stopping reaction. Dís Durin — 'Eadmund,' he mentally corrected himself. Dís Eadmund was a beautiful woman, no matter what she was wearing.
'And I'm the fool that let her get away,' he thought, watching her reach across the table and pluck the salt shaker from Legolas' hands as he prepared to dump it on his placemat. She put it back, and began telling the boys about the history of salt and why it was bad luck to waste it.  
Thranduil grinned as the boy's eyes grew wide as they listened, then turned to look at the salt shaker with new respect. 
“So let's not play with that, okay?” Dís asked. The children nodded and began chatting excitedly about how they were great sea captains, about to strike it rich from finding the biggest salt mine in the world.
Dís settled back to listen to them, an amused smile flitting past her lips. 
“Nice save,” Thranduil said quietly. She shrugged.
“I only told them the truth. It's easier than explaining later why I felt the need to lie in the first place.”
Their food arrived, and Thranduil was shocked that Legolas sat still at the table the entire time, and ate all of his food. Normally, Legolas would grab a bite here and there, between standing up in his seat to look at the people behind them, jumping across the table, crawling around on the floor, and complaining about his dinner being cold. Dís didn't seem surprised that Fili calmly ate his meal, like a normal person. Thranduil sighed, and wondered if Dís might be willing to take Legolas for a few months, and turn him into a normal person as well.
When they were finished, Dís insisted on separate checks. She took the boys to the bathroom before they left, and Thranduil waited for them in the waiting room, that was now almost bereft of people. He fiddled with his shades, and an elderly couple that had been sitting near them in the dining room, paused in front of him on their way out the door.
“You have a beautiful family,” the woman told him. “Your sons are very well behaved.”
Thranduil managed a coherent reply, and they continued on their way and Thranduil stared after them in shock. He studied Dís as she reappeared with the boys a few minutes later. Fili and Legolas looked nothing alike. Fili had inherited his mother's build, but he had the potential to be built like a linebacker, not stout like his mother. Legolas had taken the willowy fragility of both of his parents. He would be thin all his life, and could easily be a runner or a model. Their hair was even different shades. Fili's curly hair was closer to old gold and beside him, Legolas' ruthlessly straight hair was so pale as to be almost white. 
He rose, and slid his shades on. “Shall we go?” Legolas took his father's hand when it was offered this time, and they moved out into the sunshine. Dís dug her shades out of her purse, then looked down at Fili.
“Say good-bye, honey. We have a few more errands to run before we head home.”
Fili smiled at Legolas. “Bye!” He put his hand in his mother's.
“Nice to meet you, Legolas,” Dís said to the child and they continued to their car. Legolas watched them get in, then looked up at his father.
“Daddy, Ms. Dís didn't say good-bye to you.”
Thranduil nodded. “I know. Come on, let's go home.”
 
*** 
 
[10 years before]:
 
The arrival of actual spring, a few weeks before the end of the semester, finally drew the warmth starved students outdoors. The snow was finally gone, and with the promise of warm afternoons, most of them were willing to endure chilly mornings, inadequately dressed in light jackets and shorts. Dís was not. She pulled her knit hat down tighter over her ears and trotted into the Art building. The delays caused by the snow had extended the due dates on several projects, but she had chosen to stick with the original dates, and therefore had a few things to turn in. 
She rounded a corner, juggling the dress bag she was carrying while trying to remove her gloves, and nearly slammed face first into Thranduil’s chest. She flailed, but he snagged her and the bag, keeping then both off the floor.
“Ms. Durin, surely you have not come so soon to the juncture of your life where walking is now foreign to you?”
Dís stepped back with a huff. “I’m sort of in a hurry, Lasgalen.” 
She started to move around him, then noticed the tall, dark haired girl at his side. She was watching Thranduil curiously, her hand tucked into his elbow. Dís stared at her for a long time, then looked at Thranduil. His eyebrow rose slightly, daring her to say something. She lowered her gaze and moved around them, hurrying away. 
That first snowfall had trapped Thranduil in her room for nearly 14 hours. Dís had done her best to entertain him, and everything seemed alright until it was time for him to leave. A simple ‘thank you’ might have sufficed, but as Dís reached for the door knob to let him out, Thranduil had pulled her into his arms and kissed her for the second time. He had given her the long, slow lingering sort of kiss that invited old loves back into a familiar embrace, and encouraged new friends to amend their arrangements. Dís was caught off guard, but didn't pull away. She wondered briefly what had possessed him to kiss her a second time, but instinct took over, briefly banishing that thought and all others. 
When he finally drew away, Dís closed her eyes. “Why are you tormenting me? I know you don’t really like me—”
Thranduil gazed down at her for a moment without answering, then yanked the door open and marched out. Dís made every effort to avoid him after that, and until today, she had succeeded. 
‘I knew he was full of it,’ Dís thought, hurrying towards her professor’s office. ‘Don’t let him get to you. It’s all a game to him.’
Thranduil watched Dís hurry away, then offered his arm to the female beside him. “Sorry. She’s one of Ron’s projects.”
The girl nodded, and they continued on their way.
 
*** 
 
[Now]:
 
Dís knew enough not to totally ignore the twinges that started in her back as she waved Fili off on his play date with Elrond’s children. She sighed and looked down at the bulk of the baby.
“So, we meet at last, my child. Just wait until Fili comes home. He will be so disappointed if you come sooner.”
Dís shook her head at her own nonsense, and headed back into the living room. Her laptop was open on the coffee table, and several sketches and photos were scattered around it. She had been working on the layout for the next issue of Goddess, and Fili had finally begun showing her that he was indeed actually only four years old. He was getting into everything, and making it almost impossible for his mother to work. After telling Fili to get off the counter in the kitchen for the third time, and  remembering that he could not go out and play in their currently unfenced yard alone, Dís had texted Elrond and begged him to take the boy away for a few hours.
Elrond agreed and had arrived within the hour. Fili was happy to see his friends, and since Elrond lived on almost 15 acres, she wasn’t worried about his safety as he played with Elladan and Elrohir. She picked up the few scattered toys he had abandoned when she told him he was going to his friends’ house, and retook her seat. 
When Elrond brought Fili back, long after dinner, Dís was still in the living room, but she had put away her work. Her small suitcase was out of the closet and waiting by the door. As soon as he unlocked the door and saw it, Elrond half dragged Fili into the living room behind him.
“Dee? Are you alright?”
Dís gave her friend a strained smile. “I’m still good. They are fifteen minutes apart.”
Elrond pulled out his phone and pushed a couple of buttons. “It’s time. I’m taking her to the hospital. I’ll let you know.” He hung up and let go of Fili. “Fili, it’s time for Mama to have the baby.”
Fili, who was drooping with tiredness, tried to perk up. “Really, Mama? Now? Can it wait until in the morning?”
He frowned as both adults began laughing. Elrond helped Dís to her feet, and pulled up the long handle on Dís’ suitcase.
“I am sorry, Fili. Babies come when they want to. It’s one of the only things we are allowed to do on our time in this world.” He glanced around the room. “Is there a toy you want to bring along?”
Fili frowned slightly and Dís pointed to her purse. “His toys are in there.”
Elrond tossed the bag over his other shoulder. “Then we’re off.”
 
*** 
 
[Five Years Ago]:
Dís watched Garin race about the living room in a frantic quest for his car keys. She was perched, as best as she could manage, on the arm of the sofa, timing her contractions. Garin passed the key rack by the door — and his keys — for the fourth time and Dís rose.
“Garin, stop. Your keys are there,” she pointed. “Where you always put them. Now, can we go, please?”
Garin turned to follow her finger, and rushed over, yanking them down. “Okay, yes, let’s go. Don’t panic, everything will be great.”
Her eyebrow rose. She was calm, all things considered. “Of course. Don’t forget my suitcase. I’ll be in the car.”
Garin arrived in the garage, slightly out of breath. “I hope I have everything,” he said, placing it on the back seat.
“Maybe I should drive,” Dís suggested. Garin shook his head.
“No, no. I can do this. I’m totally calm.”
Dís prayed they wouldn’t get pulled over on the way to the hospital, as Garin broke nearly every traffic law in his anxiety to get them there. When they arrived, Dís’ OB/GYN was waiting for them, Dís having called her on the way. The hospital staff took over, in a jovial manner, taking Garin away to get a hospital gown, and Dís to be settled in the delivery room.
By the time Fili arrived, almost four hours later, Garin was much calmer, and had been able to coach Dís through the delivery, as they had been taught in their Lamaze classes. 
When the nurse finally handed him his son, Garin pulled the tiny child to his chest, and cried.
 
*** 
 

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