That night, after Thranduil had dozed off on the couch beside him, the color of three glasses of wine in his cheeks, Thorin prodded him to bed and then sat out on his balcony. The night was clear and cool, a breeze coming salty off the bay. Below, he could hear the night life just beginning – howls of laughter, whistles for taxis – and the smell of cigarettes smoked on the street drifted up toward him. His nephews were probably among that crowd, somewhere, living those big grinning lives they always seemed to be. He almost envied them. Then he felt tired.
He opened his violin case, for the first time in more months than he could count, and ran his fingers over the wood grains, scraped his thumb against the bridge, plucked at the strings with too long fingernails. Gently, he turned the pegs, pulled the strings loose, wound them around his hand, one by one. He laid them to the side, a neat coil, and drew out the strings he'd bought himself on the way from work.
He liked to string his own instrument; he always had. There was something to it: the slow precision necessary, the sharp press of the strings against callused fingertips. He liked the soft vibrations they made as they tightened, the thrum that ran through the instrument and into his hands, like it was humming, eager for him to play. Though he knew Thranduil's heart was in the right place, he would never have been able to explain to him how this felt. For a long time, he hadn't even been willing to admit to himself that he felt anything at all about it.
He turned the pegs slowly, tested their give, turned them slightly further, until the strings rang out true, sure in their notes. He knew he should take the time to do a string test, but he wasn't sure he was comfortable picking up his bow. He hadn't held it in so long; he wasn't sure how it would feel. He couldn't remember the weight of it, how it sat in his palm, the way his fingers crooked on it. It would be too much like playing, and he didn't play anymore. So he strummed his fingers across the strings, plucked out “Ode to Joy,” a simple melody, one he could recall from his very first lesson book.
He sat there until he drooped in his chair, the violin settled into the crook of his arm like a baby, until the sounds on the street began to die away, until the kind of silence that only falls in cities fell over San Francisco, broken by the skid of tires on the road, by the occasional dog letting out a surprised yap at an unexpected sound, by his own violin strings, adding to the rhythm.
He woke just before dawn with a crick in his neck from being slumped over there, as Thranduil tucked a blanket around him. He blinked drowsily up at him, confused. “I was worried,” he murmured, brushing a kiss across his forehead. “You didn't come to bed.”
“I'm sorry.” Thorin took his hand, pressed his lips to his palm. “Just lost track of time and fell asleep, I guess.” He sat up, dislodged his violin, caught it just in time. The strings vibrated, echoed inside its wooden body.
Thranduil stilled. “Were you playing?”
“No. Just... holding it.” Thorin laid the instrument carefully out in its case, shut it with a snap. “Let's go back to bed.”
“You weren't in bed to begin with,” Thranduil murmured grumpily, though he let Thorin steer him back into the apartment. “I couldn't find you. I thought maybe you'd gone home.”
“I'm sorry. I meant to come to bed. I must have just dozed off.” He ushered him towards the bedroom, and crawled into bed behind him.
“Why did you have your violin out?”
“Your violinist friend didn't string it right.” Thorin tucked his lover's head under his chin. “I had to redo the whole thing. It was a mess.”
He could feel Thranduil smiling against his throat. “I'm sorry.”
“It's okay. How could you know? You can't be nearly as attached to your piano as I am to my violin.”
“And I have more than one,” Thranduil pointed out. That was true; he had a baby grand in his spacious living room, a keyboard set up in the corner of his bedroom, for middle-of-the-night composition needs, not to mention the grand piano he played in concerts and with the orchestra. “A violin has to be just... different.” He paused. “If, even now, you're so attached to your instrument, why do you refuse to play it?”
“I don't know. I lost interest, I suppose.” Thorin slid his fingertips over Thranduil's sharp knuckles, slotted their fingers together, curled his arm tight around him. He brushed a kiss across his ear. “Kind of gave up on music.”
“Why are you so curious all of a sudden? It's almost five in the morning. Go back to sleep.”
Thranduil grumbled, irritated. “This conversation isn't over.”
“No, I'm sure it's not.”
* * *
“If you would just cave and serve food, we could be having breakfast at your cafe.”
“Serving food implies having someone on my staff who won't burn down the building if they try to cook,” Thorin pointed out, scraping his scrambled eggs onto a piece of toast. “You know the majority of the responsibility of running the shop falls to my nephews, who I'm still apprehensive about leaving alone with the espresso machine.”
“You don't give them enough credit.” Thranduil said it with a smile, his hands curled around his cup of tea, his oatmeal left to the side. They sat outside, the morning warm, and Thorin could see himself reflected in Thranduil's glasses. “They're both smart as whips. They could probably run the shop without you.”
“They often do,” Thorin admitted. “They seem to be able to tell when I am going to kill someone if I have to be there another second, so they kick me out and take over.”
“Why don't you let them?”
“Hm?” Thorin raised his eyebrows, chewed his food distractedly.
“Why don't you let them have the shop? They seem so fond of it.”
“And what would I do without it?” Thorin wondered. “It's my livelihood.”
“You could take up music again.” In response to Thorin's impatient snort, Thranduil lifted a long hand in a pacifying gesture. “Just hear me out. Music is your passion. After last night, I refuse to believe that you don't still love it.”
“What could I do with it, at this age?” Thorin leaned back in his chair, threw his napkin on his plate. “I'm too old to try again to be a virtuoso. You don't go into the Symphony middle-aged. I'd have to pursue an advanced degree in order to even teach in a music college. I don't have that many options.”
Thranduil sipped his tea thoughtfully. “You must have thought of something,” he said quietly. “After the Symphony rejected you. You must have had other plans. Other places you went, other tries.”
“Of course I did. I didn't sit on my ass because one orchestra didn't take me. I tried every orchestra on the west side of the country. I even tried to get Gandalf involved, to offer his recommendation, but he wouldn't. He thought I needed to do it on my own.” He scraped his thumbnail across the edge of his juice glass, caught it on a chip. “After I gave up, I thought maybe I'd open a music shop, but – well, what did I know about opening a shop anyway?”
“You have a shop now.”
“I have my dad's shop, which was my grandpa's shop. It's mine because I inherited it, not because I wanted it.”
“But you know how to run it. There's no reason you couldn't run your own music shop. You could turn the coffee shop into a music shop.”
“It was my dad's. I can't just gut the place and start over.”
“You can't just give up on it. It's what you've always wanted to do.”
“I didn't give up,” Thorin said sharply. “I failed. There's a difference.” He fished his money out of his pocket, tossed a few bills on the table. “I've got to get to work.” He scraped his chair back more forcefully than he intended to. He bent to kiss Thranduil's cheek. “I'll call you later.”
He walked away, his hands stuffed in his pockets, and tried not to think about how Thranduil looked, sitting alone at the table, his hands on the table, looking straight ahead at the place he had been sitting moments before, helpless.
* * *
Thorin had thoroughly hoped Thranduil would drop it, but that hope had really flown in the face of everything he knew about the pianist. He was avoiding him like the plague, but that didn't stop him from being utterly annoying about the whole thing.
He set Thranduil's tea down on his table, hard enough for it to slosh over the side of the cup, and hard enough to make him jump. “I know you're still angry with me,” he said quietly. “But you haven't returned my calls in almost a week. If you're going to break up with me, just do it.”
The thought hadn't occurred to Thorin, and the idea made his throat close, but he was still angry, and perhaps petty, enough to not speak up to deny it. He instead dropped a kiss on Thranduil's blonde head and turned on his heel to go back inside.
“I still have your violin at my apartment,” Thranduil called after him, but Thorin ignored him.
He wasn't completely sure where they had learned them, but his nephews had a certain talent for the most scathing looks he had ever seen. Not even Thorin himself could have managed the expressions they sometimes did. Right now, Fili stood at the counter with his arms crossed over his chest, lips pursed, eyebrows drawn low. “You are acting like an asshole.”
“That's no way to talk to your boss,” Thorin said breezily, stepping past him to pick up a bus tub that Kili seemed to have forgotten about. “Or your uncle for that matter.” He took it into the kitchen, came back out to find Fili still waiting for him.
“Look, I don't know what happened.”
“No you don't.”
“But if you're not going to forgive him for whatever it was, or if you're going to be irritated with him, then why not just break up with him?” Fili shrugged. “The poor guy has been sitting out there all week, trying to get your attention, but not demanding it, and you've been ignoring him. I don't know if he deserves that, but if he does, then he deserves to hear from you what you're thinking.”
“You don't know anything about it, Fili,” Thorin reiterated firmly. “Keep out of it.”
“I won't. You've actually been happy, Thorin. Do you know how unusual it is for us to actually have you seem like you're pleased to be here? Or anywhere, for that matter? You've looked, these past months, like you're actually sure you're going to have a good day, that you're looking forward to things for once. And I know a lot of that has to do with him. He's given you a reason to care about things, to look to the future, and yeah, maybe I would want you to be happy on your own as well, but if he's going to get you there, then I'm happy to let him.” He took a breath. Thorin was glad it was the slow part of the day, and only one red-haired girl was sitting in the corner of the shop, her earbuds in and music presumably loud. “Talk to him or I swear to god, I will. And you really don't want that.”
No, Thorin was sure he didn't. He cleared his throat. “I'm not going to have a private conversation with my boyfriend out front of my shop. It'll have to wait.”
“As long as it happens.” Fili stood with his shoulders back and, not for the first time, Thorin saw himself in him. “I'm going to do the dishes.” No one else could storm off with such pride after a sentence like that.
* * *
“I would like you to know that I'm not mad at you,” Thorin said even before he was fully in the door of Thranduil's apartment, and he was pacing in the next moment. “I'm really not. I know it seems like I am, but that's not really what I'm feeling.”
Thranduil closed the door behind him, his head moving back and forth across the room, following the sounds of Thorin's footsteps. “Alright.”
“I'm frustrated – with myself as much as with you. And I just need to know why you're pushing this.” Thorin scrubbed his hands through his hair. “I've been – I had put music out of my mind. It wasn't important anymore, and I could live pretty easily without it, and without thinking about the implications of what a musical career might have done to change my life. Meeting you – and caring for you – has meant that I've had to think about it all and it's just – it's not fair. I was good. I was great, even. I could have been famous, I could have made money, and I would have done it doing what I am good at and that I love.” He pressed his lips together, nostrils flaring, and he paused. “I just don't understand what I did wrong.”
“You didn't do anything wrong,” Thranduil said quietly, his eyes moving, as Thorin noticed they often did, somewhat restlessly, when he was upset. “Symphonies are full of virtuoso musicians. They're filled with scientists and mathematicians – the kinds of people who can read a piece of music and meet each instruction and follow them to a T and not have a single bit of artistry or passion.” He bent his head, a smile quirking his lips. “I am as much a part of the Symphony because I'm blind as because I'm good. I'm a commodity, someone people come see as a savant.”
“I've heard you play. I know that's not true.”
“It's not true to you because you're special.” Thranduil reached out his hand, and Thorin took it, pulling him in closer. “You have never looked at me and thought of me as a blind man. You have always thought of me as a man, first, who happens to be blind. And because of that, I trust you to be honest with me. Because of that, I have to be honest with you.” He let Thorin draw him in, pressed a kiss to his eyebrow. “I'm sorry if I pushed too hard. I just want you to be as happy as I am.”
Thorin didn't say anything, just cupped his hand around the back of his neck and drew him down to press their mouths together.
* * *
“You can't sell the shop,” Kili said firmly, his hands balled into fists.
Thorin blinked at him, a little surprised. “I'd have thought you might want to not spend all of your free time working here.”
“We love it here,” Fili admitted quietly, shrugging. “We wouldn't really know what to do without it. Besides, we always sort of thought we'd inherit it.”
“Why do you think we put so much energy into the place?” Kili pointed out. “We've always thought of it as ours!”
“You might not have to sell it,” Thranduil said slowly, as if afraid of Thorin's reaction. “We did the math. You have enough savings to rent out another space. With some loans, you could probably keep both shops open.”
Thorin groaned, tilting his head back. “I don't want to run both a music shop and a coffee shop. What free time would I ever have? I would actually murder everyone.”
“We'll run the coffee shop,” Fili said quickly. “Or I will. There's no reason I couldn't take over; I have a business degree. I'm here all the time anyway. Kili can finish his studies and I can manage here. I pretty much do as it is.”
“Sounds like it's settled.” Thranduil quirked his mouth into a smile.
Thorin looked around the shop with a sigh. They'd closed ten minutes ago, and the space was warm with the smell of chai tea and cinnamon buns, the lights dimmed to discourage customers from thinking they were open. Thorin had been planning this conversation for days, having worked out the logistics of his plans with Thranduil. It was not going like he might have expected.
He cleared his throat. “You're responsible for it,” he said firmly. “Completely. Anything that goes wrong, it's on you. I'll show you how to do the books so you don't accidentally run the place into the ground, and then it's yours to deal with. Understood?”
Fili grinned. “Understood.”
“Oh, god.” Kili hung his head, burying his face in his hands. “This means you're going to be my boss.”
Fili had him in a headlock before he could take another breath. Thorin rolled his eyes, and Thranduil reached out a hand for him, drew him in closer. “Some things work out,” he reminded him gently. “Isn't that nice to know?”
Thorin kissed his cheek. “It is.”</lj>