The Gift of Death, Part 11
“What are you to each other?” asked Legolas,
She took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. “Haldir… was the first friend I made in Middle-Earth,” she said at last. “He found me in the woods, brought me to Caras Galadhon. He was surly, and arrogant, and exactly what I needed to keep from pitying myself too much. It took years for our friendship to become more, but I won’t lie to you. He’s been my lover for over a decade. I like and respect him. He’s been good to me.”
Legolas was staring stonily at the dancers, his face expressionless. Buffy cupped her palm around his cheek and turned him to look at her. “I do not love him,” she said softly. “And once this is over, I will not be returning to him as a lover, ever again.”
“Because I do not love him,” Buffy repeated. “And for some reason, I find love to be… very important to me lately.” She held her breath, waited for him to hear what she had not said.
It didn’t take long. Elves were very perceptive, after all. He raised his own hand to her face, brushed the back of his fingers over her lips before placing his palm against her cheek, and lowered his mouth to hers. He rubbed his lips against hers softly, merely enjoying the feel of skin against skin, before nudging them open and tasting her. The velvet touch of his tongue against hers sent a shock-wave of heat down Buffy’s spine, and she could feel herself trembling like a leaf in high wind. Legolas pulled away and smiled at her, that smile that never failed to turn her knees to jelly.
“Let us find a place more quiet,” he said, his voice deep. “I want to make love to every inch of your body.”
Buffy almost melted right there. “Keep that up and we won’t even leave the hall,” she warned as he caught her hand in his and led her from the huge room.
“Hm, I wonder what I must say to get you to keep that promise,” he replied, glancing at her from under silvery lashes, making her breath catch in her throat.
Dawn is insane for not liking elves, Buffy thought hazily, and then the thought of her sister wiped all traces of haze from her mind. “Wait,” she said, skidding to a halt in the corridor. Legolas turned, looking at her inquiringly. “Dawn,” she said. “I never got to talk to her about tomorrow.”
“Can you not simply tell her in the morning?”
Buffy shot him a look. “You’ve met her, do you think she’ll just say, ‘Ok then, I’ll stay behind and the rest of you can go risk your lives’?”
Comprehension crossed his handsome face. “This will take a few hours, will it not?”
Buffy nodded. “A few hours, and all the persuasion that Boromir and I can muster.”
Legolas smiled and took her hand again, this time to lead her back to the hall. They found Dawn in a clinch with Boromir in a corner, and Legolas was grinning as he tapped the Man on the shoulder. “Come, Boromir of Gondor, and bring with you your lady, for there is a matter to be discussed.”
Boromir and Dawn disentangled themselves from each other and followed Buffy and Legolas out of the hall to the landing outside the great doors, curiosity plain on their faces. In the moonlight, the city of Edoras was peaceful and quiet, and the only sound beside the faint whinny and nicker of the horses below was the wind whispering around them.
“Well, what is it?” Dawn said, a trifle impatient to get back to her liplock with Boromir.
“We’ve been discussing it—Aragorn and the others and I—and we don’t think you should come with us to Helms Deep tomorrow,” Buffy said hurriedly, then closed her eyes in preparation for Dawn’s explosion.
But it didn’t come. Instead, Dawn said softly, “Why not?”
“We’re worried about your safety, Dawnie,” Buffy said earnestly. “We don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Dawn looked to Boromir and Legolas. “Do you two agree with this as well?”
Legolas nodded; Boromir caught up her hand and pressed his lips to it. “Dawn, I would carry you in my pocket and know you were close to me always, if I could; but greater than my desire to be with you is my need to know you are safe.”
She studied him a moment, then nodded. “I believe that’s your reason.” Then she turned to Buffy and Legolas. “And your reason too, Buffy. But you,” she addressed Legolas. “What’s the real reason?” She folded her arms over her chest. “Because I know that it’s not just a burning desire to keep me safe, with you and Aragorn and Gandalf.”
“Dawn…” Buffy began, but Legolas held up a hand to silence her.
“You are observant,” he told Dawn, respect in his blue eyes. “The concern of Aragorn, which Gandalf and I share, is that your skills are not good enough to protect you. We would be too concerned with your safety, and not able to concentrate as we should on keeping ourselves alive. Your presence would be dangerous to us.”
Dawn stared at him a long moment, then at Buffy and Boromir. All wore identical expressions, of concern and honesty and just a touch of pleading. She nodded. “All right. I won’t go to Helms Deep.” Then she laughed when Buffy looked shocked. “Buffy, I’m thirty-one years old. I don’t have tantrums anymore, and I’m perfectly able to listen to reason and accept things I don’t like.”
She grabbed her sister’s hands and pulled her back inside. “Now, let’s dance!”
And Buffy was only able to shoot Legolas a glance of regret before Gimli grabbed her round the waist and spun her into the mass of bodies on the floor. He only laughed and joined the dance himself.
~ * ~
The next morning, in spite of the brightly shining sun and clear sky, was somber and drear as two groups prepared for their journeys: one consisting of women, small children, and very old people, were being clucked over by Éowyn and Dawn as they rushed about helping everyone prepare for the trek to Dunharrow. Dawn wore her sturdy cargo pants, the myriad pockets of which were stuffed with all sorts of handy items—bandages, medicines, small knives, a packet of lembas Legolas gave her.
“Gotta get me a pair of those,” Buffy muttered to herself as she strove to find somewhere handy to secret her own stash of miscellany, but leather trousers, linen tunic, and wool cloak were not conducive to storage. She was a member of the second group. Its ranks were entirely male, with the sole exception of Buffy, and she was saddened to see how very young some of them were.
“Beardless youths,” Boromir murmured beside her. “And elders well past their prime. We have come to a pitiable state, indeed.”
“Where is Aragorn?” Buffy asked, scanning the group but not seeing the ranger
“He is in the stables with Gandalf, moaning over Théoden’s poor choices,” Boromir answered wryly. “They believe going to Helms Deep is a disastrous move, but the king shall not be swayed.”
“Is that Shadowfax?” Buffy asked suddenly, pointing to the distance where a luminous silvery-white blur was heading east.
Boromir squinted against the sunlight. “Aye, I think is it. Where does Gandalf go at this time?”
Aragorn was trudging up the hill to them. “He goes to see what others he can rouse to the fight,” he told them, and looked impossibly weary, his handsome face tired and lined with responsibility.
Buffy squeezed his arm and smiled at him. “I’m with you, Strider. To the end.”
He attempted a smile of his own. “And that means much to me, Dagnir. Glad I am that you joined us on Caradhras, and have been with us since.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Finally it was time for the two groups to depart, and Dawn bid her sister and her lover farewell with tears in her eyes. “Take care of each other,” she told them, hugging them fiercely. “If you die, I’ll kill you.”
“I will not die,” Boromir told her. “For how can you wed a dead man? 'Tis impossible, I am told.” And, without giving her time to respond, he swung up onto his horse and trotted away, grinning hugely.
Dawn stared after him, then turned to see her sister beaming at her. “Not the most romantic proposal I’ve ever heard,” she grumbled, cheeks becomingly flushed pink.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Buffy replied, her head tilted to one side, considering. “I kinda liked it.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “You would,” she shot back. “You’re weird. You like elves.”
Buffy’s eyes sought and located Legolas, looking impossibly gorgeous as he helped load supplies. His graceful movements, even when lifting a heavy box and plunking it without ceremony into the back of a crude wagon, stole her breath even as the gleam of his pale hair in the sunlight dazzled her eyes. As if he felt her gaze on him, he looked up and caught her watching him, and gave her a tiny smile that promised much.
“Yeah,” she said at last. “I really, really do.”
~ * ~
They were almost to Helms Deep, and Éomer’s éored had joined their force, when Aragorn decided to do some scouting. Buffy insisted on going with him. “If you die, we’re screwed,” she told him flatly, and he sighed, knowing she was right. She gave Legolas a glance of farewell, and off they rode.
“Stop,” she shouted after a while, and they halted their mounts. “Wait.” She closed her eyes and extended her senses the way Giles had taught her so long ago, listening and feeling. Slowly, things became clearer to her: the whisper of the wind over the grasses, the sound of the horses’ breathing, even the faint thump of Aragorn’s heartbeat. And… in the distance…
“An army,” Buffy said at last, her face blanching as her eyes flew open to look at Aragorn.
“How many?” he asked, apprehensive.
“Thousands,” she whispered in horror. The sheer magnitude of the battle they would fight threatened to overwhelm her, and she swallowed hard to contain the jolt of panic that rose in her belly. “Tens of thousands. And they are closing fast.”
“Eru,” Aragorn breathed. “We are lost.” He looked as disheartened as a man could look; as if he were mere moments away from catatonia. Having once enjoyed that state herself, however briefly, when Dawn had been taken by Glory all those years ago, Buffy knew it was essential to keep her friend’s despair at bay, or else it would conquer him as no orc or Uruk-hai ever could.
Pushing back her fear, she forced her face into what she hoped was a neutral-but-encouraging expression. “There’s still Gandalf,” she reminded him as convincingly as she could, but she wasn’t so very sure herself. “As long as we’re still alive, anything could happen. There is always hope.”
He stared at her a long moment, and then nodded firmly. Without a word, they wheeled their horses and pelted toward Helms Deep. They arrived not long after the others, and found Théoden arguing with Boromir, Gimli, and Legolas about their defenses. Théoden was of the opinion that the Deeping Wall, a tall and broad structure guarding the entrance to the cave-fortress beyond, was impenetrable and no reinforcements were needed.
Boromir was trying, without success, to convince the king of Rohan that these were not ordinary orcs. “These are Uruk-hai! They are smarter, faster, stronger! And we a force of but 800, and many of them children!”
Théoden was far from convinced. “Who will come to help us? Elves? Dwarves?” His contemptuous glance raked over Legolas and Gimli. “They will not answer the call.”
“Gondor will come,” Boromir told him angrily, face flushing in anger.
”As it came when the Westfold was attacked?” Théoden sneered. Éomer paled at his uncle’s rudeness. “No, fair lord, we are alone.” He saw Aragorn and Buffy approach then. “A handful of men, some children, and a woman. Rohan has reached its final hour.” With this parting shot, he stalked away to join a group of his men across the hall.
“Ain’t he a ray of sunshine?” Buffy muttered as Éomer tried to make his apologies for the king’s beheaviour. “Jerk.” Then she sighed, watching as the men and boys of Rohan were outfitted with armour and weapons. “I’m glad Dawn’s not here to see this.”
“As am I,” Aragorn agreed. “It is no place for her, her light would dim.” Buffy smiled a little at this unexpected poetry, and looked where he pointed at a young boy, his shoulders hunched and face pale with fear. “Like his does.” He walked to the boy. “What is your name, child?”
“Haleth, son of Háma, my Lord,” the boy replied nervously. “The men are saying that we will not live out the night. They say that it is hopeless...”
Aragorn placed a hand on Haleth’s shoulder, and glanced back at where Buffy stood watching them, her form silhouetted in the sun and her hair gleaming gold. “There is always hope.”
Damn, but the man was amazing, she thought in admiration. No matter how depressing things got, he was just… indefatigable. For the first time in a long time, perhaps since meeting the elves of Lórien, she felt the fine, strong glow of friendship burn in her for Aragorn. He was very different from her old friends back in Sunnydale, but what had made her love Willow and Xander so fiercely were the same characteristics Aragorn displayed so consistently: strength, courage, resilience. She realized, with a start, that she loved him, loved him like a brother, like a Scooby, and knew without a doubt she’d die for him.
She smiled brilliantly at Aragorn, making him wonder what had her so cheerful all of a sudden, and walked away.
~ * ~
“Dagnir, I still say it is foolishness for you to be without armour,” Gimli said for the fourth time. He himself had added a too-long shirt of mail to his usual outfit of helm, bracers, and shield. Aragorn was buckling himself into plate armour, and glanced up to watch the discussion.
“Slows me down too much,” she told him for the fourth time, not lifting her eyes from where she sat sharpening her sword. “Besides, it would be a waste, when someone else could wear it. It’s not like I can really die, after all.” She glanced up at Legolas, who stood leaning against the wall and watching her with a faint smile. He had already donned a light corselet of silvery mail and looked almost indecently attractive. “How come you haven’t weighed in on this discussion?” she asked him. “I bet you’d just let a girl go off to her doom.”
“Not just any girl,” he replied with a smirk. “You are special.” She grinned at him and the others rolled their eyes.
Suddenly, they both became alert. “You heard a horn?” Buffy asked Legolas, who nodded.
“That is no orc horn!” he told them, and they all ran outside to the battlement, Gimli tripping over the hem of his mail shirt, to find the guards gazing down in shock.
“Send for the king!” a guard shouted. “Open the gates!”
Buffy lost patience with trying to look over the wall and leapt nimbly onto the parapet. “Holy shit!” she exclaimed, drawing not a few glances to her. “It’s Haldir!” she said with delight. “He’s leading a pile of Lórien elves!” Hooting happily, she waved down at the march-warden, who calmly lifted a hand in reply.
“How is this possible?” Théoden gasped, out of breath from running from the caves. He watched in amazement as an entire battalion of elven archers strode, tall and lean and deadly, through the Deeping Wall’s gate and into the courtyard.
“I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell,” Haldir told the king, alighting from his horse. “An Alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago we fought and died together.” He looked up to see Buffy, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli running down the steps, and smiled. “We come to honor that allegiance.”
“I love elves!” Buffy yelled, and flung herself at him. He hugged her back, then put her gently away from him with an amused expression when he saw the glare Legolas was leveling upon him.
“Mae govannon, Haldir!” Aragorn said, and surprised the elf by pulling him into a big bear hug. Haldir was startled, but after a moment, haltingly returned it. “You are welcome.” Buffy returned to Legolas’ side and he wrapped a proprietary arm around her waist before regaining his good humour and clapping Haldir on the shoulder with his free hand, grinning.
“So this is how it is,” Haldir murmured to Legolas while Buffy was occupied in teasing Gimli about his mail shirt. “It does not surprise me.” At Legolas’ expression, he elaborated. “Long have I known that you and she would be a fine pair. ’Twas evident the moment I saw how you sniped at each other upon arriving in Lòrien. I was not eager for you to be allies on this quest, if I be honest. But I see it is what the Valar have fated, and even I cannot thwart them.”
“Not even you, Guardian of Lórien?” Legolas murmured, just the faintest hint of mockery in his dulcet voice.
Haldir glanced down his nose at the Mirkwood elf, then pointedly turned to Théoden again. “We are proud to fight alongside Men once more.”
Then he said to Buffy and frowned. “Should you not be wearing armour?”