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The Gift of Death, Part 17
They had a long march, and a hard one, from Erech down to Pelargir. Aragorn had his hands full controlling the Shadow Host, as his fellow Rangers had taken to calling the ghosts, but still he found time to wonder about the change wrought in Buffy.
As she rode alongside Haldir in companionable silence, or laughed at yet another of Gimli’s dirty limericks, or pretended she was ignoring Legolas, he found himself studying her. She was no more talkative than she’d ever been, but the jangling energy that seemed an intrinsic part of her character was missing. In its place was a sense of resigned calm, as if she’d finally accepted something she’d long avoided.
Aragorn knew she’d told Haldir what had happened when she was unconscious for that long, frightening day. His terror when she awoke had not been feigned; always her friend, he had come to view her as a sister during these past months and for Dagnir, the Slayer, to be so mysteriously incapacitated had been truly fearsome to him. She was indestructible, immortal, relentless in her pursuit of evil. Without her by his side, would he be able to lead Men to victory? A pang of self-doubt wracked him then, and the ghosts around them seemed to writhe and swell, as if they could sense his uncertainty.
For her part, Buffy had been studying him in kind, along with the rest of her companions. She knew Aragorn was having qualms about his leadership skills, but she also knew he was the strongest and bravest man she’d ever met, and had every reason to believe he would eventually triumph over not only his reservations but his enemies as well.
Gimli was so relieved she was well he had hardly shut up since she’d woken up; Haldir too was glad but restrained his joy to those tiny half-smiles for which he was famous. The other Dunedain were even more unnerved by her than they’d been prior to this whole Fellowship deal, although she thought Halbarad might have the hots for her, for some bizarre reason…
No more bizarre than the fact that she was positive one of Elrond’s twins had the hots for her. Which one she couldn’t tell, because they were like peas in a pod—tall, dark, beautiful, with silvery-grey eyes that give her little tingles. She was pretty sure they pretended to be each other just for kicks, and in her randier moments on the journey (because when you’re riding for days at a clip, there’s always plenty of time for randy thoughts) she entertained some of her naughtier fantasies about what exactly one might be able to accomplish when equipped with a really big bed, a bowl of brownie batter, and identically gorgeous twins sporting that fabulous elven stamina.
And speaking of things which were both fabulous and elven: Legolas… ah, there was a mystery. She was not much closer to understanding his sudden change of behaviour than she had been days ago even with Haldir’s explanation. Some sort of fight, or break-up, she could understand, but this deafening silence… Buffy couldn’t decide if wanted to beat him senseless, or just curl into a corner and weep for a few months.
After a few days of this, she decided she was more angry than hurt. In spite of her newfound sense of completion and tranquility, he was really starting to piss her off the way he behaved in the most neutral of ways, as if she were a stranger he’d just met, as if she hadn’t told him everything about herself and admitted to him she was falling in love with him. As if he hadn’t accepted that information and promised he would never make her regret trusting him.
On the morning of the fifth day, as the sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon and drive away the grey shadows of the night, Buffy sat on a log by the smoldering fire pit finishing the scrap of lembas Haldir handed her for breakfast and contemplated the concept of closure. She’d lacked it for seventeen years with the other men in her life, and she’d be damned if she went that long with this aching void between her and Legolas.
And so, quite methodically, she finished chewing, took a final sip of mead, wiped her mouth. Stood, brushed off her backside, made sure she was all ready to go, and excused herself from the others’ presence before finally losing whatever semblance of patience she’d been faking and stalking to where Legolas perched on a rock, examining his arrows.
“What are you doing?” Buffy asked without preamble. He looked almost ethereally handsome, the ivory planes of his face glowing in the dawn’s light, and even through her anger she was almost shaking with the effort to refrain from launching herself at him and begging him to take her, to love her.
“I am preparing for the day’s journey,” he replied, scarcely looking at her. It wasn’t disdain, exactly… more a benign neglect, and it infuriated her.
She tilted her head to one side, watching him a moment longer. Then, “It’s interesting how ‘preparing’ looks a great deal like sitting on your ass.”
He stopped then, and quirked a brow as he gazed up at her. Once, that expression on his enchanting face would have melted her; now, however, she only longed to slap if off of him. The feeling was not diminished in any way when he spoke next. “Is there something I can do for you, milady?”
Oh, he was back to calling her ‘milady’. He hadn’t used that with her since they’d left Lorien. Buffy clenched her jaw to keep her temper, and said, “We’re gonna have a talk.”
“Are we?” he asked conversationally, still not really catching her gaze as he carefully replaced the arrows in his quiver.
“Yeah.” Her hands were flexing in that way that indicated she was just about to get violent, had he been paying attention. “We can do this the hard way, or… actually, there’s just the hard way.” And she grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and carried him away from the others, deaf to his mutterings of dire consequences for treating him that way and immune to his squirmings to be free.
When they were out of earshot of even the twins, she dropped him to land in a heap on the ground. “If you run, I’ll just catch you and tie you up,” she informed him coolly.
Legolas didn’t doubt it. He stood and brushed himself off with great aplomb. “What is it you want to talk about?”
“Hm, I don’t know,” Buffy said, touching her fingertip to her chin in fake wonder. “Could it be… the reason you’ve been ignoring me since the last time I died?”
“I think you are mistaken, milady,” he informed her gravely. “I am ever aware of you.”
“Okay, then, I’ll rephrase it.” She paced in a circle around him. “Why is it that, back in Edoras, you were threatening to take me against a corridor wall—how did you phrase it? ‘I want to make love to every inch of your body’, yes, that was it—and since Helm’s Deep you haven’t said three words to me?” Buffy turned to face him then, eyes bright with unshed tears. “I know I didn’t do anything differently, so it’s got to be something with you.”
“Something with me?” he repeated, his face impassive as he watched her. “I do not understand.”
“Well, I don’t think I can talk any slower,” she retorted, and came to stand right in front of him. “What. Is. Wrong. With. You?” she asked, enunciating carefully, and poked him in the chest with each word.
Legolas carefully removed her pointy little finger from where it was bruising his pectoral muscle, and did not reply immediately. “Do you remember our conversation in Fangorn?” he asked her suddenly.
“The one where I poured my heart out to you, and you said you would never betray me?” she asked, her voice deceptively light. “Yeah, I think I might recall that a little.”
He had the grace to flinch at her not-so-subtle reminder, but continued. “You said that I did not truly know you. I, in my foolishness, insisted you were wrong. But you were not. I was.” He clasped his hands behind his back and stared down at the ground, studying the tracks of her footsteps in the dirt. “I had formed an opinion of you that was incorrect, and for that I am sorry. I led you to believe I had feelings for you, when in reality I only had feelings for the woman I thought you were. But she does not exist.”
He looked up then, at her stricken and pale face. “I am sorry,” Legolas repeated sorrowfully. “I think, in my sorrow at this realization, that I was angry with you, as if it were your fault, when it has ever been my own.”
A rogue tear spilled from each eye, and she dashed them impatiently away. “Just out of curiosity,” she began speaking carefully so her throat didn’t close up, “In what way did you wrongly think I was someone you could love?”
“I did not know you wanted so deeply to receive your Gift, Dagnir,” he replied quietly. “Haldir explained it to me; you are indeed better off with him, if he can accept such a thing, but I cannot. It is not in me to stand by while my mate desires her end, instead of to be by my side. I could not join with you knowing that, more than you longed for me, you longed for death. It would almost be… an infidelity, do you see?”
His eyes, blue as the sky now lit above them in the fullness of morning, pleaded with her to understand. “Realizing this, I thought to end what we had before it became something more difficult to part from. I see now that I chose my method poorly.”
She stared at him with a growing expression of amazement, and then Buffy shocked him greatly, because she threw back her head and began to laugh. She laughed until she cried, laughed until she was hiccupping, laughed until her legs gave out and she dropped to her knees in the dirt. And even then, she laughed.
What he didn’t know, what she hadn’t told anyone, not Haldir, not Aragorn, not Dawn-- hell, she hadn’t even admitted it to herself—was that she didn’t want the damned Gift anymore. She wasn’t quite sure when the shift had come, when she’d changed, but somewhere along the way (somewhere between Lorien and Helm’s Deep, she suspected) her desire to end it all, to take her reward and drift away, had… drifted away. And now that she had spoken with Angel, and Riley, and even Spike, she was free to let go of that long-cherished idea, that goal she’d striven for for so long.
“Unbelievable,” she gasped at last. “You’re just frigging unbelievable. And, I might add, your timing sucks like a tornado.”
“Milady?” he asked, the slightest tinge of unease to his voice. He’d never seen a reaction like that in all his lengthy life.
She bounded to her feet. “Don’t call me that,” she hissed at him. “You’ve had your tongue down my throat, don’t you dare call me ‘milady’ like we just met at a goddamned party.” Eyes alight with fury, hair gleaming in the sunlight, she was a sight to behold, one he knew he would carry with him the rest of his days.
He backed away from her, hands up in surrender and shame. “All right,” he agreed cautiously. “Dagnir, then. How am I unbelievable?”
She looked at him sadly then; sadly, and with so much heartbreak and regret and pain that he thought he too might weep. “I guess it never occurred to you that you could just ask me if I still wanted my Gift, huh?” she asked, hazel eyes hard in contrast to her soft smile. “Or that, just maybe, you might be the reason I changed my mind?”
A terrible realization dawned on his face, and he just stared at her in horror. She smirked. “Guess not.” And she leant over to brush the dirt from her knees and shins before tucking loose strands of hair behind her ears. “I’ve become that woman you would have loved, Legolas, and it’s mostly thanks to you,” she told him at last. “Ironic, huh? I would have stayed with you forever, and you threw me away. It was all for nothing. And if you’d only just asked me…” Her voice trailed off.
“I used to think that real love and passion have to go hand in hand with pain and fighting, that that’s where the fire in a relationship comes from.” She sauntered over to Legolas, and ran her hand down the silvery spill of hair over his shoulder, up the smooth skin of his throat, to his lips. Brushing over them with her fingertips, she caressed them, watching as his eyes fell closed for a brief, blissful moment, then sighed. “But I was wrong. The fire comes from the other person loving and respecting you back, just as much as you love them.” She stepped back. “I’m not doing this again.”
And Buffy walked away, picking her way through the trees as silently as any elf, leaving Legolas alone with only his own tears as he realized the magnitude of his mistake, of the pain he’d caused her, of how he’d destroyed their newborn love.