The Gift of Death, Part 5
Buffy spent over a year with the elves of Lorien. She pestered Celeborn for what she called “career planning”; soaked Galadriel’s lovely white gowns with floods of tears of rage, fear, and loneliness; and drove Haldir nearly to distraction with her demands for training in tracking, hunting, and living rough.
She decided, after many days’ discussion with them all, to become a Ranger. “It will not be easy,” Celeborn warned as they lounged in his study, high in a mallorn, one warm summer day. He sat at his desk, elbow propped on its surface as he steepled his fingers under his chin in his characteristic ‘I’m being very serious, here’ pose. “It is a tight brotherhood, and you are female. You will have to force them to accept you.”
“I can do that,” she said confidently from her slouched position on his squashy divan. “It’ll take a lot more than a bunch of sexist pigs to keep me out of their tight little club.” Celeborn blinked in confusion—what did pigs have to do with anything? They were known to be very smart and clean animals—but Buffy just grinned and climbed out of the tree.
And she did get them to accept her. It took another three years and many ass-kickings courtesy of the Slayer, or Dagnir as she came to be known, for the Rangers to accept that this tiny female was just as good as they—better, even, if they were honest enough to admit it—but eventually they did.
And so she set out on her new life. Being a Ranger agreed with her—it was solitary enough to meet her need for seclusion, and just social enough for her to not become a total hermit. She got to travel the length and breadth of Middle-Earth, and marveled at how different it was from her own dimension. As the years passed, however, her curiosity waned and she became somewhat blasé about it, just as she had with being a Slayer back in Sunnydale. Galadriel expressed concern over it during one of Buffy’s annual visits to Lorien.
“How do elves deal with it?” Buffy asked one bright morning in Galadriel’s garden. They sipped mint tea and basked in the sunlight, and Buffy enjoyed being able to be clean and dress like a girl for once. “How do you keep from going stark raving mad at the idea of living for thousands of years? How do you handle the knowledge that there will be nothing new, or exciting, or fresh? Cause I’m really getting bored.”
Galadriel smiled. “Elves are not as easily bored as humans, I think,” she said in her melodic voice. “We also have other things in our lives besides travel and fighting the forces of darkness. We also have art, music, literature, poetry.” She looked meaningfully in the direction of Haldir’s flet. “We also have love.”
Buffy sighed and studied her hands. They’d been lotioned and massaged; the nails filed and buffed, they shone like mirrors. It was so rare to live in a civilized manner any more…if she’d stayed in Caras Galadhon, she’d never have to do without cleanliness and pretty clothes again. But if she stayed in Caras Galadhon, there’d really be nothing for her to do—fighting the baddies of Lorien was Haldir’s job, not hers.
She knew Haldir had a ‘thing’ for her, but she doubted it was love—merely an appreciation for a kindred spirit. She was a warrior, like him, and they shared a toughness that could be off-putting to others. They’d become good friends, and Buffy would be lying if she said he wasn’t attractive to her, but… “How about ‘like’?” she asked the elf-witch weakly. “I don’t think I’m up for ‘love’ just yet. Maybe in a decade or two.”
Galadriel smiled, and patted her hand. “There are many kinds of love, Buffy. A life closed off to all of them is not a life, but mere existence.”
Inspired by Galadriel’s words almost as much as Haldir’s sudden but breathtaking kiss, that visit, Buffy began a physical relationship with him. He was a wonderful lover, easily able to keep up with her Slayer strength and stamina. In spite of her fears that having sex with him would destroy their friendship, she was delighted to find that it was enhanced instead. He never demanded more of her, like her heart, than she was willing to give, and for that even more than his friendship of the past years, she was profoundly grateful.
Buffy had been a Ranger for three years when she met another member of the brotherhood—he called himself Strider, but there was something different about him. He wasn’t an average Man, and learning he’d been raised by Elves wasn’t the only explanation for it, but she didn’t press him to reveal himself any more than she wanted him to press her. She’d settled into a comfortably remote persona, after all, and enjoying having her business be her own.
Strider proved to be a fine companion on those occasions they’d worked together, respectful of her and possessing an even temper and decent sense of humour. She wished she were able to see more of him, but with her primary territory so far out of the way, and not terribly fun to visit, it wasn’t much of a surprise.
No one was more surprised than she to find herself headquartering in the kingdom of Lindon, far to the north and west. It was damned cold and snowy there for almost nine months of the year, and hadn’t she been the classic California girl? Beach bunny no longer—her turf was the sea route around Forlinden from the Bay of Forochel to the city of the Grey Havens, from where the elves tended to sail west to Valinor. Many of the elves sought her out on the recommendation of the Lórien folk who had befriended her, often bringing messages from Celeborn and Haldir.
She had no need for messages from Galadriel, who could talk into Buffy’s mind at will. This was something she wasn’t entirely thrilled with, but at least she’d gotten used to it over the years. She’d just wrapped up dealings with a particularly persistent ice wraith in Forlond south of the Ered Luin, and had fallen gratefully asleep beside Gordo in a not-too-snowy grotto at the mouth of the River Lhûn when Galadriel’s voice floated into her mind.
“Buffy, you are needed.”
“Aren’t I always?” Buffy groaned, turning over in her bedroll. “Can’t you ever decide to have a chat when I’m actually awake?”
“Buffy,” Galadriel said with gentle reproach. “You must go to Rivendell; you must go now. The Fellowship will break without you.”
“Fellow-huh?” Buffy asked blearily, pushing hair out of her face. The only thing about herself that had changed since arriving in Middle-Earth, she had never cut it, and it often wormed its way out of its plait while she slept.
“Go to Rivendell,” was all Galadriel said, and was gone.
Buffy sighed, and threw back the covers of her bedroll to saddle Gordo again.
And so it was that she came to be at Rivendell, place of the Last Homely Home, during the council called by Elrond for the purpose of determining the fate of the One Ring. Buffy knew she had to be a part of the mission, even as she knew that there was no way in hell that any of the males would agree to it. Hadn’t it taken her years to gain the grudging acceptance of the Rangers? And they were mere Men, mortal and short-lived. Elves and dwarves, with their longer lifespans and thus longer prejudices, would be damned near impossible to win over.
So Buffy came, saw, and decided to conquer in her own way. “Just like a female,” she could almost hear Haldir say in his mocking drawl when she set out a quarter-day behind the Fellowship as they travelled south toward Mordor. If it weren’t for Strider and the elf, she had no doubt they’d have died twelve times already—the Man from Gondor was a fine fighter, but in spite of his blustering about his land not needing a king he was not equipped to lead this interspecies group through rough land. The dwarf was merely overconfident, and the Hobbits were a cheery bunch but hopelessly inadequate to the task of keeping themselves alive in the wilderness.
She knew that at least the elf would know she was following them, and probably Strider as well, but they made no effort to confront her, and she was content to simply trail behind until the snows of Caradhras slowed them to such a pace that she caught up with them almost against her will.
Once part of their group, however, she found herself strangely drawn to them. Strider, of course, she knew and liked, and the Hobbits were oddly endearing. The dwarf reminded her of Xander with his clumsy humour, and the Man was rather like Riley, big and handsome, but without the puppy-dog eyes pleading with her to love him.
The elf, however… many were the times she’d caught him watching her, but the usual elfin impassivity of his face prevented her from knowing his thoughts. She knew that her way of doing or saying certain things surprised him sometimes, and that he didn’t like being surprised.
Neither did she, for that matter, and resolved to be wary of him. One thing she’d learned from her time in Lothlorien was that elves were much like cats—graceful, smart, and deadly. They were not above indulging in cruelty for the enjoyment of it, and while they held to high ideals for the most part, could be ruthless in pursuing their own goals. Yes, she would watch Legolas of Mirkwood carefully.
Now she was back in Caras Galadon, the city she loved above all others in Middle-Earth, with the closest things she had to friends, and she was clean and well-fed and warm. It didn’t happen often, and she reveled in it. Instead of finding Haldir for some ‘naughty time’ as she had implied to Strider—Aragorn, she reminded herself, now that he had been revealed as Isildur’s heir—she went to Galadriel, who had requested she come to the mirror glade for a chat.
When Buffy had arrived at rapid pace after leaving the rest of the party at Cerin Amroth, she had been warmly received by her old friends, but both Galadriel and Celeborn had refused to shed any light on the intriguing fact that two events of significance had occurred seventeen years ago: Frodo’s acquisition of the Ring, and Buffy’s advent to Middle-Earth.
“The time has not yet come to learn more,” Galadriel had told her with regret. “Go now and rest, eat, bathe. I will call you when the Valar deem it time to reveal all.”
Buffy had obediently rested, eaten, and bathed. She and Haldir had had a happy reunion of their own in his talan. She’d dug out her girly clothes from the trunk in his bedroom, and now felt as ‘at home’ as a person from another dimension possibly could. So easy it was to fall back into her usual behaviours when in Lothlórien that it had taken a few days to remember to visit the rest of the Fellowship in their pavilion on the ground.
It had not gone unnoticed by her how Legolas had seemed displeased at the mention of Haldir, nor had she missed the thrill of pleasure skating up her back at the sound of his laughter. He was quite possibly the best-looking creature she’d ever laid eyes upon, and it was much, much easier to deal with him when he was being cranky to her.
Note to self: keep Legolas grouchy in order to maintain grip on hormones, Buffy thought as she made her way to Galadriel’s private glade.
The elf-witch greeted her with a warm smile, and beckoned her to sit. “It is time for you to look in the mirror again,” she told Buffy. “Prepare yourself for news of great importance.”
Skip hadn’t wanted to talk to her since that first time seventeen years ago… immediately going on red alert, she tried to work out of Galadriel what was going on, but her friend would not say a word in elaboration, but merely smiled in that mysterious, maddening way she had. Buffy breathed deeply, and went to the basin. The water was still and dark, and she gazed into it until her neck became sore. “It’s not working,” she complained.
Galadriel tsked and came to stand behind Buffy, her surprisingly strong hands kneading the tension from the other woman’s neck. “Try again.”
Buffy bent over the water again, and this time saw Skip almost immediately.
“Hi!” he said, waving cheerily. “Been a good long time, hasn’t it?”
“What can I do for you, Skip?” she asked, a wry smile on her lips.
“Oh, the question is really, what can I do for you, Slayer,” he replied, and her heart leapt.
“Do you mean I can receive my gift now?” she asked eagerly. In spite of having a successful career-- if you could call being a Ranger a career—and a decent relationship of warm friendship and fabulous sex with Haldir, and making a few friends here and there, and even after so many years, the lure of the nothingness of death tempted her sorely. She was just so damned tired some of the time, and the loneliness for her friends and Dawn ached in her very bones.
“No, no, no, nothing like that,” he replied hastily, waving his leathery grey hands in agitation. “Sorry to get your hopes up,” he added when her shoulders slumped. “You still have to finish this ring-to-Mordor thing, and who knows what else the Valar will want after that. No,” he continued, “they’ve decided that you deserve a little reward after your years of long-suffering duty to them.”
“What, like a watch? For twenty-five years of faithful service?” She rolled her eyes and snorted derisively. “I’m underwhelmed.”
“No need to get snippy, madam,” Skip sniffed. “No, what they had in mind was not a watch, but… a key.”
Buffy looked confused for a moment, and then her eyes flew wide. “A key? You don’t mean… not Dawn?”
Skip beamed at her. “You’re smart. I like that in a human. Yes, I mean Dawn. The Valar are going to give you the opportunity to bring Dawn to you in Middle-Earth. If you both agree to it.”
Buffy gripped the sides of the basin to keep from falling over when her knees threatened to give way. “But why?”
Skip shrugged. “You weren’t supposed to be separated, and you’re both stagnating where you are. You’ve plateaued, aren’t progressing from here. They feel that, together again, you’ll be able to continue your destined journeys.”
Buffy just gaped at him as he clapped his hands once, then rubbed them together. “So!” he announced. “You ready to talk to her?”
She blinked. “Talk? To Dawn? Talk to Dawn?” He nodded. “Of course! Yeah! Yes!”
He nodded again, and with a flash, instead of him, she could see Dawn in the mirror. Seated on the side of a bed, she was removing a pair of shoes and dumping them carelessly on the floor. Buffy smiled to see that some things never changed.
For a long moment, she simply gazed at her sister/daughter, taking in the myriad ways she was different now, and the many ways she was still the same. Instead of a gangly teenager, Dawn was tall and slim, with long dark hair that fell down her back. The roundness of youth had left Dawn’s face, replaced by the smooth angles of womanhood, and Buffy realized with a shock that her sister was over thirty years old now. Her eyes were the same, though—those ageless blue eyes that had seen too much ugliness, lived through too much pain.
“Dawn?” she whispered. “Dawnie?”
Dawn’s head flew up, and she glanced around the room wildly. “Buffy?” she said, her voice low, hopeful but wary.
“Dawnie,” Buffy repeated. “It’s me. It’s Buffy.”
“Buffy?” Dawn stood up and darted around the room, hands out, searching for her sister’s presence. “Are you here?”
“I’m in your mind, Dawn. Please, don’t be scared.”
“I’m not scared, Buffy,” Dawn told her, tears coursing down her face. “Where are you?”
“I’m in another dimension. I have something to tell you.”
“I’m listening!” Dawn’s voice was becoming shrill, panicked. “I’m listening, Buffy!”
“Settle down, Dawnie. Relax,” she said, starting to worry.
“Ok,” Dawn said, sitting limply on the edge of her bed and breathing deeply, her hands clasped tightly in her lap as tears poured unchecked to drip off her chin. “I’m ok now.”
“Dawn, I—“ But her words were cut off by Dawn’s gasp when the door flung open.
“What’s wrong, Niblet?” demanded Spike, and Buffy’s eyes bugged out.
“I’m ok, Spike!” Dawn was saying, her face almost glowing with joy. “I’m talking to Buffy.”
The vampire’s face somehow paled even more. “Bit?” he asked carefully. “What have you been doing?”
“Nothing, Spike!” she snapped with familiar impatience, and Buffy had to smile. “I was just sitting here, and Buffy started to speak to me.” She stood and went to him, taking his hands in hers. “She’s ok, Spike. She’s alive.”
Spike stared into her eyes, searching for… something, sanity perhaps. Seeming to find it, he finally nodded. “Alive?” he asked, his voice trembling, and Buffy’s eyes filled. After all these years, the vampire still cared for her. It was humbling, and not a little touching. “Where is she? Is she coming back?”
“I don’t know, you came in before I could get that out of her,” Dawn replied. “Let me ask her.”
“I heard him, Dawn,” Buffy told her. “I can see both of you.”
“She can see us!” Dawn exclaimed, and waved before eeping in horror. “I look terrible!”
Buffy and Spike both laughed. “You look beautiful, Dawn, just like always. And Spike’s looking well, too,” she added. “I can’t believe he’s wearing a colour that’s not black.”
Dawn grinned at him. “She likes your new wardrobe,” she told him, and he grinned back.
“Variety’s the spice of life, ain’t it, bit?” he grinned, plucking at the forest-green shirt he wore with nicotine-stained fingers. “So, Slayer, where’ve you been?”
“In another dimension,” she told Dawn, who relayed the information to Spike. “Still killing the bad guys.”
“Some things never change,” he muttered, and Buffy got the impression he wasn’t only talking about her. “It’s been seventeen years, pet. Why are you back now?”
“Well,” she began slowly, “I’m not sure. The PTB’s have decided that I deserve a reward for being a good little Slayer for so long.”
“What, like a gold watch?”
She laughed. “That’s what I said. But no. They said I could have a key, instead.” And she fell silent, letting them figure that out for themselves.
“Me?” Dawn said finally. “They said you could have… me? What did they mean by that?”
“I think they mean that you can come here, to be with me.” Buffy took a deep breath. “I’m on a big quest thing with a bunch of guys, and we have to destroy this ring o’ evil before the Big Bad can use it to nuke the world. You know, the usual.”
“And Dawn being with you will help, somehow?” Spike’s skepticism was palpable even over their tenuous connection via the mirror.
Dawn slapped his arm. “Hey! I’m not totally useless, you know!”
He rubbed his arm. “I know, Bit, I know,” he said, smiling affectionately at her.
She gazed at his face a long moment, and then asked Buffy, “Can Spike come too?”
“I… don’t think so, Dawnie. I think it has something to do with the blood, with the monks making you out of me. We were never supposed to be separated, he said.”
“Skip. He’s the Powers’ spokesmodel.”
Dawn grimaced. “So, I have to leave everything behind and come to you?”
“No! No, Dawnie. You don’t have to do anything. It’s just an offer. If you don’t want to come, you don’t have to.”
“Oh.” Dawn chewed on her lip. “Can I think about it? Not that I don’t want to be with you, because, hell yeah! I do! But… it’s a big change.”
“Buffy,” Galadriel said in her head, “You will talk to her one sen’night from today, at the same time. Tell her this. One sen’night from today, she must make her decision known to you. If she accepts, she will be brought here. If she declines, you will say goodbye, forever.”
Buffy relayed the message to her sister, and couldn’t resist adding, “If you come here, Dawnie, you’ll get to meet elves and dwarves and Hobbits and huge eagles and dragons. And the elves are really hot.”
Dawn squealed in excitement, just like she had when she was little. “Ok, Buffy, I’ll think about it.” Then she sobered. “Do you have to go now?”
“I think so, yeah,” Buffy replied with reluctance. “Spike’s still a good guy, huh?”
“Yeah, he is,” Dawn replied softly. “His chip’s been out for eight years, and he’s still here, fighting the good fight.” Spike snorted beside her, folding his arms grumpily over his chest.
“Tell him I’m proud of him, will you, Dawnie?” Buffy asked. “I have to go now. I love you. I love you both.” She had just enough time to see Dawn relate the message to Spike, and his eyes fill with tears, before the mirror was once more just a dark basin of water.
“Thank you,” Buffy whispered to Galadriel, surprising the elleth by flinging her arms around her and squeezing tightly. “Thank you! Thank you!”
“It was not me, child,” Galadriel protested, gasping. “It is the Valar to whom you should show deference and gratitude.”
Buffy looked up and waved energetically. “Thanks, you bastards!”