Thorin had a headache coming on.
He would never understand why people found coffee shops relaxing. The whir of blenders and the steaming whoosh of espresso machines, the clack of fingers on laptop keyboards, their plaid-wearing owners hunched over, squinting at the white glow of the screen - it all drove Thorin to distraction.
Not to mention his nephews - and he adored them, and viewed their easy grasp of joy with a mixture of exasperation fondness - but as baristas, they talked in shouts over the various machines making drinks, between games of catch played with day-old pastries and leaning on the counter to flirt with anybody who happened to catch their eyes. Of course, they were also probably the major reason that people even came to The Lonely Mountain in the first place. They were handsome, self-assured men with great smiles, who made everyone who came in feel important and special.
They kept the place running with a teetering efficiency. Thorin’s skin always pulled a bit tight on his shoulders, like he was sure the whole place was going to topple into chaos at any moment, but the boys worked with ease, had turned his father’s cafe full of dark wood and darker paint, that still smelled of cigar smoke and spilled brandy on slow days, into a popular spot with college students, the walls a bright yellow, the mugs oversized, a playlist of what Thorin suspected was mostly Mumford & Sons playing quietly over them. And all-in-all, they were good at their jobs.
Thorin liked to think he oversaw the place to some extent, but he knew that, were he to disappear, it would run just as well without him. (On some level, that was a very encouraging thought.)
“Thorin, he’s here again.”
He grimaced, knocked back an espresso shot, and very carefully ignored the grin Fili was sending in his direction. “So?”
“So maybe today’s the day you should finally go talk to him.” Kili popped up beside him, carrying a tray full of cheese danishes. “Obviously, it’s fate that he keeps coming here.”
“It’s probably the coffee actually.”
“He’s been here twice a week for a month. Someone doesn’t just change their entire routine for no reason. He probably thinks you’re handsome.”
Thorin turned his face up to the ceiling, closed his eyes to ask for strength. “Have either of you actually looked at the guy?”
“Yeah, a lot actually,” Fili sighed dreamily.
“It’s the cheekbones,” Kili added. “They get Fili every time.”
“Not even going to deny that.”
“Stop. You’re both completely inappropriate.” Thorin tugged on Fili’s ponytail, feeling a swell of affection even as they harassed him. “Get back to work. Those danishes aren’t going to put themselves on display.”
It wasn’t as if they were completely wrong, if he was honest with himself. Thorin found the man, who only came into the shop to order black tea, which he drank with two sugars and a splash of soy milk, strangely attractive. He always retreated to a table outside, where he sat with his fingers pressing carefully over the raised letters of his book. He read with his eyes closed, his back and shoulders straight and relaxed, as if sitting with perfect posture came easy to him.
He always offered the boys a smile, a small quirk at the corner of a wide mouth, tilting his blonde head in thanks, when they set his drink down on the table, his quiet demeanor not putting his nephews off at all from being as lively as ever.
“You have to admit, Thorin,” Fili said quietly under cover of the espresso machine, “he is sort of hot.”
Thorin cleared his throat. “No one’s denying that.”
It was easy to see by Fili’s grin that he counted that a victory.”
* * *
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya? It pours, man, it pours.
The song bled in through the shops corner speakers, dripped in like the rain outside, and Thorin sighed, because Kili had gotten to the playlist again. Fili hummed along, his smile fond. He was just as indulgent as Thorin was of his younger brother, though neither of them were likely to admit that out loud.
Kili was parked in a corner of the empty shop, studying for the history exam he had the next day, his earbuds plugged in so that he didn’t even get to hear his own handiwork.
“He had considered putting that recording of you playing that one Bach piece on the playlist instead, you know,” Fili said suddenly, breaking the near-silence between them. “I can’t remember the name. The one that sounds happy.”
“It’s Vivaldi.” Thorin rolled his eyes. One day, he would successfully cure his nephews of their obsessions with pop-folk bands who used banjos and synthesizers in equal measure and introduce them to actual music. “‘The Four Seasons.’”
“Right. That one. He almost put it on the playlist.”
“He thought it might inspire you.” Fili shrugged, leaned back against the counter with his mug of sugary coffee. “We haven’t heard you play in a long time.”
“I’ve had no reason to.”
“The fact that you love it isn’t enough?”
Thorin didn’t answer, and luckily, he didn’t have to. The door opened and brought a rush of cool spring air with it, the sound of cars crawling along wet streets, the patter of raindrops following. The man came in, his walking stick folded into the palm of his hand. He shook out his umbrella, and felt for the rack by the door, where he hung it, and then walked with purposeful steps toward the counter.
“Good morning,” he said in that soft baritone, his blue eyes hovering somewhere over Fili’s shoulder. His white blonde hair was more the color of pollen today, damp like he’d been caught unexpectedly in the downpour. The dark spots on the shoulders of his jacket testified to the same.
“Morning!” Fili greeted him with a grin. “Kind of awful out today, huh? You’re the only one who braved the rain to come in.”
The man hummed.
“Anyway, black tea coming up.” He paused, frowning in the direction of the windows. “We couldn’t put the umbrellas up because of the wind. The chairs and tables outside are soaked. Sorry about that.”
“I’ll make do. Thank you.” He unfolded his stick, let it snap into place, and ventured out between the tables, letting it knock against chair legs, until he found the back wall. He sat carefully at a table there. Thorin thought he looked rather vulnerable, out of his element perhaps, forced into an environment he wasn’t used to. But he settled into his skin, his shoulders easing, and opened his book on the table top.
Kili had given up on his studies and was now exchanging meaningful looks with his brother. Thorin, if he didn’t know better, would have assumed they were twins communicating telepathically. He became immediately suspicious this was actually the case when Fili pushed the man’s tea and a sugar caddy into his hands. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing. You’re going to take our regular his tea and you’re going to thank him for being such a loyal customer.” Fili guided him gently around the counter and out toward him, careful not to slosh the tea out of the mug. “And then you’re going to tell him his drink is on the house and ask for his number.”
“No, you’re going. It’s about time you did some work around here.”
Thorin realized as he walked that he was grumbling to himself under his breath, so he paused to take a deep breath. No need to come across completely insane, was there?” “Here you are.” He slid the mug onto the table, managing to only spill a small amount onto his thumb. “And the sugar’s beside your left hand.”
The man turned the corners of his mouth up. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” He hesitated for a moment. Then, awkwardly, “Any time.”
As he was spinning on his heel to turn away, the man stopped him. “I don’t know your voice. Usually the boys bring me my tea.”
“Fili and Kili.” Thorin nodded, affection swelling in his chest - the boys. “They’re my nephews. I’m the owner, Thorin.”
A long hand raised toward him. “Thranduil.”
Thorin shook, smiled despite himself, and was almost glad Thranduil couldn’t see his face. “I appreciate you coming in so often. We don’t have too many regulars, to be frank.”
“You do.” Thranduil smiled in earnest now, and Thorin was unexpectedly taken with how his frosty eyes crinkled at the corners, with the lines that parenthesized his mouth. “I’ve heard at least five of the same voices when I’ve come in. You probably don’t notice them because they aren’t as… noticeable as I am.”
Thorin bristled, his face going hot. “That’s not the case at all. It’s not like we’ve-”
“It’s alright.” Thranduil lifted his hand, as if demanding his silence, which only made Thorin that much more indignant. “I know it’s unusual, to have a blind person in your establishment. It makes a face hard to forget.”
“It has nothing to do with that,” Thorin said sharply, more sharply than he probably should have spoken to a guest who came to their establishment at least once a week, as both Fili and Kili were quick to communicate with a great deal of flailing. “Just because I’ve noticed you here doesn’t mean I’m somehow preoccupied by the fact that you’re blind. I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass.”
Thranduil blinked rapidly, apparently stunned into silence, and Thorin used the opportunity to stomp away. He grabbed his jacket from the hook with a huff and ripped the door open, barreling out into the rain, leaving his nephews to deal with the damage.
* * *
To his surprise and, perhaps, dismay, there was no damage - at least, not the kind he expected. Two days later, Thranduil arrived just as he always did, ordered his tea as he always did, with the same polite distance with his boisterous nephews as he always used, and then, instead of going outside to sit in the sunshine as he usually did, he parked himself at the same table against the wall and proceeded to read his book.
Thorin was furious.
So was Fili. “You have to go apologize to him,” he said in a low, stern voice, prodding Thorin around the edge of the counter. “That was no way to talk to him and you know it.”
Thorin did know that but it didn’t make the idea of apologizing any more attractive. “You didn’t hear him,” he hissed back. “He was so smug and self-important. Like I care whether or not he’s blind, like that’s the only reason someone might remember his face.”
“Regardless, he is pretty much our best customer, so you’re going to go apologize like the grown-up that you’re trying so hard to pretend you are and then I’ll make you a caramel macchiato because you’ll have earned it.”
Thorin did his very best not to sulk, even if being scolded by his nephew like a child certainly made him want to act like one. But he swallowed that petty desire and stomped his way over to Thranduil. He cleared his throat, to make sure he knew he was there, before launching right in. “Good morning. I wanted to apologize for the other day. I was out of line. I’m sorry if I offended you.” He rushed through the last part: “You’re a valued customer and I appreciate your business. Thank you.”
Thranduil laughed softly, tilted his face up toward Thorin. “They made you apologize, didn’t they?”
Thorin grimaced. “Indeed.”
“It’s alright. I’m not angry anyway. I’m not used to getting so much attention. I suppose I went a bit overboard with my assumptions.”
Thorin barked out a startled laugh. “You’re not used to getting so much attention? God, it is obvious you’re blind.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re gorgeous, Thranduil.” Thorin wasn’t one to beat around the bush. “If you’re not our only regular, you are our best looking. You turn heads, my friend.”
Thranduil tilted his head to the side like a cat, his mouth pursed. “Is that so?”
“And that’s why you’ve remembered me.”
Might as well go all in. “It is. It’s also why my nephews have been especially obnoxious.”
“I’m flattered - and also slightly crushed. I had this idea that they were like that with everyone. My ideas of them have been shattered.” Thranduil let his book fall closed, marking his page with his index finger.
“Oh, they are.” Thorin tucked his hands into his pockets. “They’ve just taken a special liking to you.”
“Well, I will certainly keep that in mind.”
* * *
Their relationship was easy after that. Well - it was a relationship in the loosest sense of the word. Thranduil continued to take his new place sitting at the back of the shop where Thorin brought him his tea and they talked - often about nothing - about the weather or the book Thranduil was reading or the fact that Kili had filled the playlist with nothing but the Spice Girls.
One day, as Thorin set down his tea, and also an apple-cinnamon muffin, because Fili had just taken them out of the oven and Thranduil had a sweet tooth he would never admit to, he commented, “You know, if you went back to sitting outside, I would still come talk to you. I know you like sitting in the sun.”
Thranduil scoffed. “Who says I’m sitting inside just for you?”
“Aren’t you?” Thorin grinned at him, then shrugged, even though he knew Thranduil couldn’t see him. “But if you’d like to talk to me somewhere that isn’t my workplace, you could always go to dinner with me.”
Thranduil’s hands, which were pulling the warm muffin into bite-sized pieces on the plate, went still. “You’re asking me on a date.”
“It certainly sounded that way, didn’t it?”
Thranduil blinked, and if Thorin didn’t know him better, he might think there was surprise there, that despite being possibly the most handsome man he’d ever seen, Thranduil might not be used to being asked out. After a moment, he lifted and dropped his shoulders in an elegant shrug. “Alright.”
Thorin might have expected a warmer agreement, if he was talking to anyone else. In this instance though, he would take what he got. “Alright.”