The Gift of Death, Part 24
“I… can’t… lift her!” groaned a voice close to Buffy’s head as her limp body was grasped round the waist and tugged upward. “She… won’t… let go… of him!”
Now that consciousness had returned to her, her senses were following. First, of course, was sound; then smell: the stench of blood and sweat hovered around the periphery of her mind, while Legolas’ own particular scent captured the majority of her attention. Feeling returned to her then, and she realized that beneath her cheek pressed to him, his chest neither vibrated from his heartbeat, nor rose and fell with his breath. She began to get a little worried that perhaps Skip had fibbed to her.
“Even in death, she is ever stubborn.” The voice continued, and she was released to slump back on top of Legolas. It was Aragorn, she realized, and he sounded more amused than upset. Hmph, she said to herself, thinking he could be a little less chipper in light of the fact that her no-longer-dead body was pinning Legolas’ still-dead one to the ground.
A little further away she could hear muffled sobbing that sounded suspiciously dwarven, and she thought her heart might break at Gimli’s grief. Concentrating hard, she willed strength back into her limbs, then forced her arms to release Legolas. Pushing up slowly, she sat back on her heels and stared down at him. He looked like he could be asleep, except his eyes were closed. And, of course, the lack of breathing thing.
“Buffy?” Aragorn asked, touching her lightly on the shoulder. Even so, she flinched away from him, eyes still locked on Legolas. What was wrong? He was supposed to be alive, both she and he had used their boons to make sure they both lived.
“He’s not supposed to be dead,” she told him dully, and Gimli sobbed louder. She looked up to see not only he and Aragorn, but a crowd of others standing around her, pity plain on their faces. She turned her gaze once more to the elf. “Please, Legolas, don’t be dead.” Feeling wane the little strength she’d gathered to herself, Buffy placed her head on his chest once more.
Long moments passed, and she held him close, waiting patiently for something, anything to indicate that he lived, but nothing happened. One by one the crowd dispersed until there was only the core group: Aragorn, Gimli, Haldir, Boromir. Aragorn sat on the dusty, bloody ground beside her and wrapped his arm around her waist, knowing that even if she gave no indication, his warmth comforted her.
Finally the sun began to go down, and Aragorn spoke. “My sister,” he began, “There are things I must do. We are winning, but still there are more to fight, and many are injured that need my help, but I will not leave you. You must come away from here; we will bring Legolas, and once in the city you can sit with him again.”
Buffy fastened bleary eyes on him, her gaze moving over each of them in turn. Gimli sat on Legolas’ other side, clasping the elf’s hand in his own stubby one; he looked dreadful. Haldir’s face was impassive, but his eyes never wavered from her. Boromir seemed not only exhausted, but somehow guilty as well… a vague sense of suspicion crept into her mind, pushing back her numbness and the blind-barbaric fury that threatened to overtake her at Skip’s betrayal of his promise to them.
“Where’s Dawn?” she asked sharply, sitting up once more and leaning against Aragorn. For the first time since reawakening, she looked at her surroundings and realized they were no longer in the middle of the plains-cum-battlefield where they’d died—sometime after that they’d been moved to this sheltered niche in the great wall of Minas Tirith. In the distance a ring of soldiers cordoned of the area from the remaining enemy.
Boromir knelt by her, his face pleading for understanding and mercy. “She rode out with Gandalf; I thought she would be safe there. But she leapt from Shadowfax almost the first chance she had, and… I am not sure what happened,” he said in a rush. “But I was in the city when she was carried back—“
“Carried back?” Buffy demanded, voice rising. Aragorn squeezed his arm tightly around her waist and she eeped at the pressure.
“She said that she, Merry, and Eowyn had killed the Lord of the Nazgûl,” Boromir told them, and smiled with pride. “Not with a full company of men could you defeat that monster, but my Dawn, a Hobbit, and a shield-maid of Rohan did the deed.” He sobered then. “Of course, they are quite ill with some dark sickness.”
“They are why I must return soon, Dagnir,” Aragorn said quietly. “They will need my healing, and whatever the twins can do for them.”
Torn between her love for her sister and the raging ache in her chest for Legolas, she looked down again at him; he was as unmoving as ever. “Yes,” she agreed, her voice sounding hollow to her own ears, hollow and empty like her heart. “We’ll bring him to the healers as well.”
“Buffy,” Aragorn began as he stood and stretched a hand to help her up, “My soul grieves as well for his passing, but Legolas is dead. You must accept this.” Boromir and Gimli watched her, concern plain on their faces.
“You don’t understand,” she said tiredly, ignoring his hand. “When I was dead this time, I had another chat with the Valar. They were supposed to let Legolas live. They said I could have whatever I wanted, and I wanted his life. They said he would live!” Her volume rose until she was screaming up at the sky. “You bastards! You said he would live!” Buffy collapsed back onto his chest then. “You said he would live,” she mumbled against the growing wet patch on his tunic from her tears.
An arm wrapped around her waist again; this time, it was Haldir’s. “Dagnir, please,” he entreated, his deep voice soothing. “We must go now. Cling to me if you must cling to someone, but we must go.” He tugged on her, trying to peel her away from Legolas. “The soldiers cannot continue to shield us much longer.”
But Buffy had locked her arms around Legolas again, even as her head came up so she could stare at his face. “Legolas?” she asked, the words trembling on the air, quivering from the force of her hope. She’d felt a heartbeat—just a single one, but it had been there. Crouching beside him, she lay her palms flat on his chest and began to perform CPR, or as close to it as she could remember after so long.
“What is she doing?” Gimli muttered to Boromir, who shrugged.
“I do not know, but it appears to be working,” the Gondorian replied, for Legolas drew a great, shuddering breath, eyes flying open to stare blindly at the darkening sky above.
Sitting back, Buffy stared at him until he blinked and turned his head feebly toward her. “Ever are you beating on me, Dagnir,” Legolas complained, and tried to sit up. “Do not make me wish you had chosen Angel instead of me.” He frowned when he fell backwards, too weak to manage it, and frowned deeper when no fewer than four sets of arms came forward to support him.
Buffy’s were not amoung them, however. “You didn’t seem to mind my beatings when I was directing them toward Angel.” As the others watched in fascination, she crossed her arms over her chest. “And who says I chose you, anyway, Mr. Smug Elf?” She tilted her nose up haughtily, leaving all but one of them thinking she was spending entirely too much time with Haldir.
Legolas brushed their hands from his shoulders and sat up again, this time with success. “Did you not choose me over the vampire, then?” he asked, brow raised elegantly. “For it seems to me that you are here with me now, instead of in that strange place with him.”
She waved her hand airily, brushing away his reasoning. “Means nothing,” she informed him, standing. “Totally irrelevant. Just because I didn’t want you to die is no indication of anything—“
“Indeed not,” he agreed, but his eyes were twinkling. He even allowed Gimli to assist him to his feet. “But the broken sobbing all over me… ah, that is most definitely a hint that you might perhaps be more devoted to me than you wish to admit.” She opened her mouth to deny it, but he stepped to her and took her hand, pressing it to the tear-dampened patch over his heart. “Why will you insist on pretending you do not love me any longer?” he asked quietly. “I know you do, as I love you. Will you not leave off with the deceit?”
“I’m scared, Legolas,” she whispered. “You hurt me a lot when you shunned me, and so much has changed so quickly. I need to think about things more, before I can commit to anything.”
“You do not need to commit to anything but loving me, for I will not press you to anything you do not wish,” he replied, and his eyes were so blue and intent as they gazed into hers that she could not keep from raising up on her toes to press a kiss to his lips.
“Aragorn!” called a voice from beyond their guard, and all turned to see Eomer gesturing wildly. “You are needed! This battle is not yet over!”
“Are you feeling strong enough to fight?” Aragorn asked Legolas with concern, handing his bow, quiver, and daggers back to their owner.
The elf stumbled a little over his own feet. “Not by myself, just yet,” he admitted reluctantly. “Perhaps Dagnir and Gimli would be so kind to flank me?”
“It had been my plan even if you had not asked,” the dwarf announced grimly. “The last time you left my side, you ended up dead. It shall not happen again.”
“You’ll be fine in a few minutes,” Buffy assured Legolas. “The first time I died I was shaky, too. It gets easier.”
And with that, they waded back into the battle. The enemy’s numbers were severely depleted, and as the sun lowered in the sky and Legolas’ strength returned to him, it became clear that the day would belong to Gondor.
Buffy had just decapitated an Uruk-Hai with a serious halitosis issue when she heard a thin, reedy voice calling her name from very far away.
She shielded her eyes against the sunset’s glare and peered up, and up, and up. Standing on the wall at the highest level of Minas Tirith stood a Hobbit, waving his arms in agitation.
“Is that Pippin?” Buffy asked Legolas, who spared a scant glance over his shoulder
“No, that is Gimli,” he replied, and carved open an orc’s chest with a double slash of his blades.
She rolled her eyes. “Look up,” she instructed, pointing.
He obeyed, and then frowned. “Yes, that is Pippin. He calls for Boromir as well.” They exchanged a look; if both she and Boromir were needed, it could mean only one thing.
“Dawn,” Buffy whispered, then yelled, “Dawn?” as a question up at Pippin. His little form immediately began hopping up and down excitedly.
At Buffy’s shout, Boromir whipped around from where he was impaling a Wild-man, his face filled with alarm. “What about Dawn?”
“Something’s wrong,” she replied harshly, and began to run toward the gate, pausing when Legolas and Gimli began to follow. “You two stay here, Aragorn needs you.” She reached up and kissed the elf hard on the mouth. “Be careful, we don’t have any boons left.”
He nodded, his blue eyes glimmering as they stared into hers, and he brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek before spinning around and flinging himself back into the fray, Gimli charging gleefully after with axe upraised.
Buffy and Boromir ran toward the demolished gate, and she became aware of how tired he was as he began to swiftly flag. “How long have you been fighting?” she asked him. “Have you eaten at all?”
“All day,” he gasped. “I fear there is not much more left in me to give. And no, there has been no time to eat.”
She dug a cake of lembas from a pocket and stuffed it into his mouth. “Chew, and swallow,” she ordered him. “If you collapse that’s one more thing I have to worry about.”
He grinned around the lembas and it wasn’t long before the elven waybread did its job and his speed picked up a little. Once they’d entered the city it became clear that all was in chaos, and peering up they saw that the highest level of the city was wreathed in smoke and flame.
“What the hell is going on up there?” Buffy demanded, grabbing the arm of a soldier who leant against the wall, pressing a bloodied wad of cloth against his head wound. His eyes were frightened and very white in his dirty, soot-streaked face.
“I do not know!” the soldier exclaimed. “Some are saying the Steward has gone mad, and Gandalf is set to slay him—“
Boromir took off at a run. Releasing the soldier, Buffy pelted after him. Halfway through the city they met Pippin, who was nearly hysterical as he ran down to meet them. She snatched him up and settled him on her, piggy-back, as they continued through the gates.
“Your father has gone mad!” Pippin declared. “He thinks to burn Faramir and Dawn on a pyre!”
“But they are not dead,” Boromir ground out.
“Did I not say he was mad?” Pippin shrilled. “He has soaked them and himself in oil, and waves about a torch! It is but Gandalf’s skill with words that has prevented him from yet setting them all alight.”
They passed through the last gate, and immediately were assailed with the acrid gusts of smoke pouring from a small building at the base of the great white tower. Its door was flung open, and Gandalf’s familiar figure stood in the threshold. Buffy and Boromir pushed past the wizard and entered the building.
Denethor glanced at the newcomers with wild eyes as he brandished a torch, pitch dripping from it with each of his erratic gestures. Behind him, side-by-side on a slab of stone, were the motionless forms of Dawn and Faramir. Their skin and clothing glistened with what Buffy recognized by smell as the oil used in lamps.
“Father!” Boromir shouted. “What folly has come upon you?”
“My son, my eldest!” Denethor cried. “Ah, my heart breaks to see you, alive and yet dead to me!” The torchlight reflected eerily in his eyes, and Buffy suppressed a shudder even as tears began to course down Boromir’s face. “One son dead, one nearly in death’s grip, and my daughter…” He reached a hand out to Dawn, caressing her cheek gently. “Beautiful, beloved daughter… they will not wake again. Should we not go to death together?”
“He’s really wigging me out now,” Buffy muttered. “Beloved daughter, my ass. Gandalf, distract him so we can get them out of here.”
Gandalf stepped forward. “Come, Steward of Gondor, we are needed!” he said, lifting his arms welcomingly. “This can be put behind us.” Denethor took a few steps toward the wizard, and Buffy and Boromir took the opportunity to dart behind him and grab their respective siblings. The stench from the lamp oil was very strong on them, and set all four to coughing.
“So!” Denethor cried in triumph when he saw the limp bodies of Faramir and Dawn whisked from the smoky building. “Even in this am I thwarted!”
“Surely you realize it could not be permitted?” Gandalf asked, sounding very old and weary.
“Permitted!” Denethor shrieked. “I am the Steward of Gondor! Lord of Minas Tirith, the shining white city! There are none to say me nay in all this land!”
“There is one, Father,” Boromir reminded him, turning from where he lay his brother on the ground. Pippin jumped forward to replace him in tending to Faramir, smoothing rumpled hair back from the damp, smoky brow. “He is Aragorn, true and rightful king, and he shall come to claim his throne. You must give up this fever in your brain, for it is futile.” He took a hopeful step forward. “Put down the torch, Father,” he entreated. “Put it down, and help me see to Faramir, for he shall be healed.”
“Yes,” Denethor whispered, and for a brief, shining moment Buffy thought everything would be okay. But then he leapt backward into the midst of the oil-soaked room and flung his arms wide. “Yes!” he cried. “All is futile, and the king is coming! No need is there for a Steward any longer. No Steward, no son, no legacy. Just this. Just a wreath of flame, and eternity.”
And with unnerving calm, he set his robes alight before removing a Palantir from his pocket and laying down on the slab previously occupied by his younger son and Dawn. Clasping it on his chest as the flames rose to lick at his body, he closed his eyes peacefully.
Buffy left her ministrations of Dawn and Faramir to help Gandalf restrain Boromir from running to his father. “You can’t do anything now!” she told him, yanking him back and out of the building. Gandalf slammed the door shut, his aged face lined with sorrow, and Boromir slumped to the ground, weeping.
Buffy felt her own eyes prickle with tears and fell to her knees beside him, wrapping her arms around him. “I’m sorry, Boromir,” she murmured, wincing as he clasped her tightly and sobbed into her hair. “I’m so sorry.”