The months came and went, falling into a very similar pattern to the first month, taking breaks, but never slowing down enough to become monotonous. The days were split between work, both diplomatic and laborious, and time spent with his children when one or all of them were free at the same time he was. At first his nights were just as solely devoted to work as ever, but slowly, over the course of time, Thranduil had begun showing up more and more, until he was there nearly every night. Bard had worried about feeling smothered as he was always being surrounded by people—goodness knew he was never alone during the days—but Thranduil was easy to be around. His Thranduil of course, the real King Thranduil was still rather intimidating. Still, the differences between Thranduil and King Thranduil made it easy to separate the two of them. King Thranduil was cold and distant, though helpful and polite enough to inquire after Bard and his family though their letters, while Bard’s dream Thranduil was open and relaxed, easy to speak with on a number of topics, and always aware of when Bard needed silence more than conversation.
Even though Thranduil never helped with Bards reparations to the island, he never hindered either, and Bard got a kick out of the elf’s reactions each time Bard found a new method of repairing the dream. King Thranduil rarely showed more than a ghost of emotion, but Thranduil’s eyes would widen and he’d look torn between investigating closer and fleeing the scene of whatever new reality breaking thing Bard had found in his quest to return life to the place. Then, after he’d finally decided which path to take—usually investigating further—he’d look at Bard like he’d done something incredible, and was even more confused as to whether that was a good thing or not
It might’ve been off putting, but the expression Thranduil wore when Bard finished whatever repair he’d found made up for it. Sparks of sorrow, yes, but it was all drowned out by the contentment he hastily covered up when he noticed Bard looking. Evidently Thranduil wasn’t used to the lack of limitations in human dreaming. Or, at least, Bard’s imagined Thranduil wasn’t.
When the basin was finished they moved to the rocky beach, and it was there that Thranduil really started to participate in the building. Nothing physical of course, though Bard was sure the elf would bring his race’s signature grace to whatever kind of menial labor he might do, instead working on delegation. The outsides of the rock walls needed to be smoothed to Thranduil’s exact specifications, and while they were on it, they might as well go back for the inside as well. It he was going to be turning the ground there, he should carve out a hollow too. No, that wasn’t a good place to end the line of rocks, it needed to be a couple paces further. The constant instruction slowed down Bard’s progress, but he couldn’t help but find it entertaining. Thranduil was almost like a child in his fussiness, and Bard humored the elf like he would one of his own children, not minding the extra work for the amusement of teasing Thranduil about it.
Thranduil also insisted on rest days, putting his foot down on days when Bard was working when the elf thought he shouldn’t be, and dragging him into walks or conversations to distract him if he needed it. Gradually their conversations changed from small talk with the odd serious topic to deep conversations that often had to be put on hold for waking hours only to start up again the next night.
They spoke of their children, of their lives, of their loves, lost and found. Of dreams and desires, small pleasures and guilty ones. Bard spoke of things he’d never mentioned to anyone else, and night by night, he began to lean on the other for comfort and understanding. When the Master had ruled Laketown Bard’s status as a pariah had done nothing for making friends, and as a king people would rarely approach him without an ulterior motive in mind. It was no surprise then, that as time passed, Bard realized that other than his children, maybe even including them given the number of burdens he couldn’t force them to bear, Thranduil became his greatest friend.
It was not only Bard who shared his secrets, and during a still night after one of the few calm days in Dale the elf unwittingly revealed a major one of his own.
Dirt parted under Bard’s fingers as he drew meaningless shapes on the ground, the mindless activity such that he could sink into it, but not so enthralling that he missed the sharp ozone signaling Thranduil’s arrival. Turning with a smile and a greeting already on his lips, Bard jerked, staring at the haggard elvenking. Nothing was really amiss by human standards, but Bard had spent enough time with his friend to see that something was wrong. Clothing ruffled, shoulders hunched, and hair apparently un-brushed and covering half his face. Something was definitely wrong.
Quick to jump to his feet, Bard took a step towards the other, not bothering to dial back his concern as he asked, “Are you-“ and cut himself off, frozen in surprise as Thranduil’s full face because visible.
One half was haggard yes, but practically as flawless as usual, while the other half was one big scar, creeping down from his left hairline, across his eye and just touching the side of his mouth before running down the side of his neck and under his collar. Bard could see tendons and veins, the wound clearly painful and from the raw edges of it newly burnt. With a start, he realized that the king was now blind in his left eye. It explained so much, yet this had to be new, and surely couldn’t be the reason so many of Thranduil’s gestures were only now clicking into place.
With a shake of his head, Bard flicked the thoughts away. Answers could wait until later.
"What happened?" He demanded, ignoring all propriety to grasp Thranduil's face in his hands, careful to avoid touching the wound as he tilted his face to better see it. "Does it hurt? Of course it does. What can I do?"
Bard thought it was rather unfair that the elf looked so shocked, given that Bard was the one unexpectedly faced with his friend so grievously hurt, but figured with the amount of pain he must be in he could be given a free pass for being surprised at Bard’s presence there. Even as Bard was going to ask again, all emotion was wiped away, the blank mask of King Thranduil sliding seemlessly into place.
"It only aches now. There’s nothing to be done."
“’Only aches now’?” Bard repeated, his eyes roving over the elf’s exposed flesh, “When did this happen? Why hasn’t anything been done?”
"Many, many years ago." His friend replied quietly, cutting off any scolding Bard might’ve given him as Thranduil closed his eyes tiredly. "The dwarves of Erebor are not the only ones to know dragon fire."
The memory of fear and dragon fire over Laketown was bad enough in its own right. To think that there was another dragon, well, it wasn’t something Bard wanted to consider, not beyond the thought that the elves must’ve taken care of it, because surely Thranduil wouldn’t let a wound like that go unpunished. His thoughts only stopped racing when Thranduil lightly covered Bard’s hand where it still rested on the elf’s face. The intimacy of the moment was unexpected enough to stall his worry, and though not unwelcome it made him flounder. Even further when he relaxed to hand to let Thranduil go and the elf didn’t take the out.
Trying to get his footing back, he asked, "Why can I see it now and not before?"
Thranduil sighed, finally releasing Bard. "Because I am tired, and it is harder to keep up the illusion here."
"Then why do you even have it?” He knew the elves were vain, but really, tiring himself out nightly just to hide a scar?
Looking again surprised, this time at Bard’s question, Thranduil cocked his head to the side, narrowing his eyes. "Is does not bother you?"
The man frowned. "Why would it? It shows you've survived a dragon. You won."
There were many in Laketown who bore scars from Smaug’s breath, and while some had indeed embraced their markings as proof of life, too many viewed them with disgust as marks of a tragedy. Bad enough for his people, for that to be Thranduil’s mindset too actually hurt Bard. That the elf would think of himself as anything less than wonderful was a travesty.
A humorless chuckled preceded Thranduil’s answer as he turned away, keeping the scared side facing hidden from sight. "It is ugly, terrible to look at. I would not subject another to such a sight."
“It’s not ugly at all.” Bard denied, unconsciously straightening his shoulders as he glared at the elf. “It only adds to your beauty if anything, because it shows that you’re still here. You survived, and if a scar is what speaks to prove that then I will only be more thankful because I was able to meet you.”
He winced as the last part slipped out, but stood strong even as Thranduil shot him a surprised glance, considering the human for a few moments because his lips turned softly up at the corners.
“Yes” He agreed. “I suppose I did.”
There were a hundred more things that Bard wanted to ask or say after that, but Thranduil seamlessly slipped into a different topic all together, lamenting some new spider nests that had popped up in the Greenwood, and explaining how he was setting up a team of elves to take them down from the source. He’d been putting it off for far too long, he admitted, but that was no longer possible with the darkness growing in the south-east.
Acknowledging that he had won a small victory here, but would get no further if he pursued the topic, Bard accepted the conversation change, sitting on a nearby rock and leaving enough space for the elf to sit beside him. Thranduil’s words stuttered for a second as they both realized the offered seat would place Bard at his left, but before Bard could come up with a subtle way to switch, the elf had already sat, movements a little too accented to completely at ease. When Bard did nothing but prompt him to continue his conversation, Thranduil relaxed, and soon was sitting again almost as casually as normal.
The two of them sat and talked about meaningless things for the rest of the night, and the illusion never went back up.