The Gift of Death, Part 7
“Youch,” Dawn complained after five days of paddling down the Anduin. “I’m gonna have shoulders like Boromir if this rowing keeps up.” She glanced anxiously at him, hoping her comment would lighten his mood. He’d seemed greatly troubled throughout his stay in Lothlórien, and had not once been able to meet Galadriel’s probing gaze. Buffy had commented on it, admitting that she’d worried about him ever since something had happened on Caradhras.
Dawn’s attempt met with a measure of success; Boromir looked pleased that the width of his shoulders had been commented upon, and flexed them showily. The others just looked amused and slightly relieved, and continued paddling.
That night Aragorn decided it would be safe enough to make camp on shore, instead of sleeping in the boats, and it was with great relief that they dragged out bedrolls and made a fire.
“We shall have hot food!” exclaimed Pippin, “Sausages and crispy potatoes!” Sam immediately set to cooking while the other Hobbits went about making the little clearing as homey as possible.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Dawn?” asked Buffy.
“Bathtime?” Dawn asked in return, eyes lighting up with anticipation.
“Bathtime,” Buffy confirmed, and they took soap, drying linens, and a change of clothes back to the riverside. “It wouldn’t kill the rest of you to have a nice bath, either,” she reminded the men, giving them the gimlet eye. “I have enough soap for everyone.”
“Perhaps later,” they all demurred, and glowering, Buffy stomped away.
“So, Man of Gondor, do you plan on advancing upon the Lady Dawn anytime soon?” Aragorn asked at some point, sliding his gaze toward Boromir, who promptly blushed bright red.
“Am I so transparent?” admitted the Gondorian with a smile that had become rare since entering the Golden Wood.
Legolas laughed his silvery laugh. “You are just impressed by any pretty woman who can walk and talk.”
“She doesn’t have to talk,” replied Boromir earnestly. “In fact, life is easier when she does not.”
“If you want life to be easy, best not to have a woman in it at all,” Gimli said practically. “Why do you think I am yet unwed? Gimli son of Gloin is a fine catch, a fine catch! And still do I escape those bonds.” He smiled. “Many are there who would have me, and none shall succeed!”
“You’ll go to your grave a pure, untouched virgin?” Legolas asked, his face bland. “How sad. For the she-dwarves, that is.”
Gimli huffed in horror. “I never said anything about being untouched,” he grumbled, staring into the fire as they laughed.
“Eat heartily, lads!” declared Sam as he shoveled portions of food onto their tin plates. “We feast well tonight!”
“Typical,” came Buffy’s voice, and the men turned to see her and Dawn emerge from the trees, their hair hanging damply around their faces. “We leave, and they decide to have a party.”
“Men!” Dawn agreed, and plopped down ‘coincidentally’ by Boromir, who flushed again and offered her his plate, which she accepted with a bright smile, rendering him completely speechless.
Buffy grinned at the scene, meeting Legolas’ eyes when she bent to take Sam’s offer of a filled plate. He was smiling, his cerulean eyes gleaming with humour, and for a long, strange moment she forgot to breathe. Then his smile became a knowing smirk and her breath returned to her in a whoosh.
Damned elves, she thought crossly, stabbing a chunk of meat with her fork. Maybe Dawn’s got a point about them. She refused to think about how she hadn’t been as… enthusiastic to see Haldir as she usually was after months and months of celibacy, and she most certainly wasn’t thinking about how a different elven face hovered in her mind’s eye when he kissed her, nor how a different name was on her lips at the ‘moment of truth’.
When had it happened, Buffy wondered… when had she started to be attracted to Legolas? She’d have liked to think it was when he was nice to her in the talan, their first night in Lothlórien, but if she were honest, she’d admit it was when they’d been sniping at each other. What is it about me, Buffy demanded silently of herself, that gets off on tension and arguing? She’d asked Dawn her opinion during their speedy bath.
“I think it’s that you don’t respect anything that comes too easily,” Dawn replied thoughtfully after a moment’s pondering and final rinse of soap from her body. “I always thought that’s why you and Riley were so blah together, and why you were so wacko for Angel. Riley was way too easy—there was no challenge. With Angel, there was all that forbidden love stuff, and the angst…” She sighed nostalgically. “Ah, the angst.”
“Yeah, fun times,” Buffy replied sourly as they climbed, shivering and blue-tinged, from the water. “So looking forward to more of that.”
Dawn lobbed a bar of soap at her sister, hitting Buffy squarely in the middle of the chest. “One thing I’ve learned over the years, Buffy, is to just accept who you are instead of beating yourself up over who you aren’t.” She squeezed the excess water from her hair and wrapped a towel turban-style around her head.
Buffy stared at Dawn a long moment. “When did you get all mature and well-adjusted?” she demanded. “No, let me rephrase that: How did you get all mature and well-adjusted with people like Spike and Xander hanging around you all the time?”
Dawn only laughed and tugged her clean clothes on. “It’s called growing up, Buffy. Even the best of us have to do it eventually.”
“Does that mean you won’t laugh at me when I stare at Legolas?” Buffy asked, her voice lowered now they were heading back to camp.
Dawn smirked. “You can only hope,” she replied, then dodged away, laughing, when Buffy smacked at her. “Sister abuse! Sister abuse!”
That night, all were asleep but for Frodo, who sat on watch. He watched them slumber peacefully. The women were across the clearing from the men, wishing for a little privacy, and the firelight flickered over Dagnir’s face. She seemed… softer, since Dawn had come. And Dawn herself was a breath of fresh air to the Fellowship—the fear and fatigue that plagued them all was absent in her, and she buoyed their flagging spirits. He was glad she had joined them.
His thoughts were interrupted by the rustle of leaves in the distance, and he held his breath as he strained to listen. Another rustle, then the snap of a branch as it was stepped on by a careless foot— Frodo’s gaze flicked over to the pile of weaponry by Aragorn, and saw that Sting was glowing faintly.
“Orcs!” he shouted, leaping around the fire for his sword. “Orcs!”
In a flash, everyone was out of their bedrolls and reaching for weapons. As orcs burst into the clearing, Buffy leapt up and rushed toward the creatures, her sword upraised for maximum damage. The fact that she was barefoot and wore nothing but a thin, brief shift that barely came to mid-thigh seemed to bother her not at all.
“Mmmm,” growled one orc in appreciation, coming toward her with an eagerness borne not entirely of bloodlust. “Woman. Mmmm.”
Buffy tapped her bare foot impatiently. “So, are you going to kill me or are we just making small talk?”
“Kill?” the orc asked with a horrible smile. “Maybe after.”
“Ew, Buffy,” Dawn said, hopping as she yanked on her leggings with one hand and grabbed for her pike with the other. “No orc smoochies, or I swear I’ll barf.”
“Oh, damn,” Buffy replied as she smoothly lopped the head off the amorous orc. “And here was me thinking I’d get some steamy lovin’ tonight.” She stabbed another in the belly and sliced upward, dancing back when his innards spilled out to cover the ground where she’d just stood. “Guess I’ll just have to stick with hot elves, huh?” And she kicked a third in the head, smashing him back into a tree before slashing it across the chest. She stood back and surveyed her damage. “The things I sacrifice for the cause.”
The men had made short work of the other orcs. “You didn’t save me even one?” Dawn asked petulantly, dropping her pristine, unbloodied weapon on the ground and yawning. “That settles it. Next time, no pants. I wasted too much time getting dressed.”
“If you feel it best, Lady, please do not trouble yourself to wear pants,” Boromir told her gravely while Aragorn covered his smile with his hand.
“See, Buffy? Gondor Guy thinks I shouldn’t bother with pants. He—“ Here, Dawn realized what she was saying and stopped to face him. He was watching her, an expression of careful innocence on his handsome face. Her gaze narrowed. “I’ll go pantsless when you do, Boromir, how’s that?” she asked sweetly, enjoying the widening of his eyes.
“Enough,” Buffy said, pulling her blood-splattered shift away from her chest. “If I have to live through much more of this mating ritual stuff I’m gonna take a vow of celibacy.” She seemed thoroughly oblivious to their staring at her legs until Dawn coughed and nodded at her sister’s bared limbs. “Oh. Geez, guys, they’re just legs. What did you think I walked on, anyway?”
Dawn tilted her head consideringly. “Kinda pale,” she commented.
Buffy stuck one out in front of her to examine it. One of the men choked; possibly it was Gimli, though it could have been Aragorn. “You live in the mountains hip-deep in snow for ten years and tell me how tan your legs will be.”
Dawn sighed. “I’m gonna miss the beach, aren’t I?”
“Yep!” Buffy chirped. “You’re gonna get pasty like me. Ha-ha!”
“If you would be so kind as to put pants on now, Dagnir,” Aragorn ventured politely as Dawn glowered at her sister, “I believe there are more orcs out there. We should continue down the river toward Amon Hen.”
Within a half-hour, they were packed up and back in the boats. Paddling in the dark was surprisingly peaceful, the only sound the faint splash as oars dipped into the water. Buffy manipulated the oars almost mindlessly, instead staring tiredly at the reflection of the moonlight on the rippling river. Daylight came at long last, and then they were staring at the immense statues of Isildur and his brother Anárion, the Argonath.
“Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old, my kin,” said Aragorn, gazing up. Buffy looked at him a long moment, understanding intimately how it was to bear a legacy, to feel a connection to those who had gone before. He seemed to be handling it far better than she, but then he was much less vocal about things that bothered him. Buffy made a mental note to bug him about it later on, get him to open up a bit.
“This is the northern border of Gondor,” Boromir said to no one in particular, his voice suspiciously gruff. “I am glad to be home.”
They paddled past the Argonath into the lake of Nen Hithoel, and pulled up on the shore. Gimli grumbled about some supposed slight Aragorn had made upon his dwarfly strength, and while the Ranger tried to appease the Dwarf’s bruised ego Legolas straightened, his alert senses picking up on something.
“Something draws near, I can feel it,” he said earnestly. “We should not longer, but press onward.”
“I can feel it too,” Buffy agreed, gaze flickering toward the trees in the distance. “They’ve been following us along the river for hours.” Aragorn would not be swayed, however, and insisted on waiting until nightfall.
“Where’s Frodo?” Merry asked suddenly, and Sam jolted awake from where he’d been dozing against a tree.
“Boromir’s gone, too,” Dawn said uneasily, scanning the surrounding area for a glimpse of him or the halfling.
Aragorn bolted off up the hill, and Buffy took off after him. “Stay away!” Frodo was shouting at Aragorn when she stumbled to the hilltop.
“Frodo, I swore to protect you,” Aragorn protested, his hand outstretched to the Hobbit.
“Can you protect me from yourself?” Frodo whispered, his face stricken. “Would you destroy it?”
There was a pale whisper on the air, the faintest susurration, like a barely indrawn breath. “Aragorn… Elessar…”
“What’s that?” Buffy demanded, her voice harsh with apprehension. “Who’s saying that?”
Aragorn lifted anguished eyes to hers before dropping his gaze to stare at his hands, trembling before him, and she realized that it was the Ring. It called to him, called him by name, entreating him to claim it. Aragorn recognized it too, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “I would have gone with you to the end,” he said at last to Frodo, voice breaking with emotion. “Into the very fires of Mordor.”
“I know,” Frodo gasped, eyes brilliant with unshed tears. “Look after the others, especially Sam. He will not understand.”
Another sound, this time a faint hum; Buffy’s sharpened attention effortlessly homed in on it as the glow of Frodo’s sword, and muttered, “Orcs!”
Aragorn looked too at the blue light shimmering from Frodo, and unsheathed his sword. “Go, Frodo! Run, run!” And as the Hobbit pushed past them to dash back down the hill, Aragorn and Buffy raced down the other side to confront the attacking horde.
“Find the halflings!” one of the creatures, the leader apparently, yelled to his companions.
Buffy and Aragorn flung themselves into the fray, slicing and hacking, and she was very glad indeed to see Legolas and Gimli battle their way through the throng toward them. She did a bouncy leap over the head of one of the Uruk-hai and landed lightly beside Legolas. “Where’s Dawn?” she demanded even as she scanned him for injuries.
“Still looking for Boromir,” he replied, returning the favour. Finding none, he then did some complicated thing with his daggers that Buffy had to admire even as her brain whirled with panic for Dawn’s safety.
“That way,” Gimli grunted, pointing with one hand while the other slung his axe with practiced ease into the torso of an Uruk-Hai.
Buffy dashed away, straining her ears, and heard the higher pitch of Dawn’s voice in the distance. “Dawnie!” she screamed. “I’m coming!”
Ahead of her she saw Dawn, pike in hand, struggling with a particularly large Uruk-Hai. He had grasped the pole of her weapon and was trying to wrench it from the woman’s grasp. Buffy put on a burst of speed and leapt, cleaving Dawn’s attacker in half at the middle before spinning around and cutting off the upraised sword arm of another.
“Dawn, stay behind me,” she panted. “Use the pike over my head, if you can.”
They fought successfully that way for a few minutes, and when the number of beasts on the ground was greater than that still advancing upon them, Dawn whimpered, “Buffy, I’m worried about Boromir.”
They heard the twang of a bowstring not far away. “That’s not Legolas,” Buffy said in trepidation. “He was using his daggers…” She finally killed the last one with sudden twist of her blade.
Dawn gasped and pulled away from her sister, running toward the sound. “Boromir!” she shouted. “Boromir, where are you?”
Tearing through the brush after her, Buffy thought her heart would stop when she saw Boromir on the ground, an arrow in his shoulder, and Dawn crouched over him, using her own body as a shield as an incredibly ugly Uruk-Hai slowly and with great deliberation aimed his bow at them.
“Crap,” Buffy muttered, and flung herself in front of her sister. The arrow, when it struck her, felt very cold. It would have been oddly soothing if it hadn’t hurt so damned much. And what was that noise? She blinked. Oh. It was Dawn screaming. Why was she screaming? She would get a sore throat if she kept it up for much longer. “Dawnie?” she asked at last.
“Buffy…” moaned Dawn.
“Dawnie, shut up. You’re giving me a headache.” Buffy coughed then, and was surprised to taste blood in her mouth. “Ew.”
“Buffy, you’ve been shot, but you’re not going to die, ok?” Dawn said, her hands fluttering uselessly.
Buffy stared blearily up at the face above her. “Where was I shot?”
Dawn’s face was a bleached, sickly white. “In the chest,” she whispered as the others crashed through the forest toward them.
“Not again,” Buffy muttered. “Just once, I’d like to go by beheading. Just to see how it would feel.”
“What talk is this?” Aragorn asked, falling to his knees beside Buffy, his face drawn.
“Buffy, don’t joke about this!” Dawn shrieked. Tear coursed freely down her blood-spattered cheeks, making a pinkish mess on her pretty face.
Buffy smiled. “Dawnie, don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I’m going to die now, but I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Back in a few hours?” asked a hoarse, disbelieving voice—Boromir’s.
“Oh, you’re still alive,” Buffy gasped. “Good. Now, listen, Dawn. I can’t die. Not permanently.” She coughed up more blood. When she spoke again, her voice was much weaker. “Yuck. Dawn. I will be back. Yank out the arrow, clean me up a little, and just prop me in a corner. I’ll be back.” Her voice was fading fast.
“Do you promise?” Dawn demanded tearfully.
“I promise,” Buffy replied, and died.