Author’s Note: This my offering for the TTH fic-a-thon, as requested by the wonderful Clannadlvr.
Ever hear the expression, “that person will never die: Heaven won’t have him, and Hell is afraid he’ll take over”? And did you ever wonder what happened after Cordelia croaked on AtS in season 5?
I make a number of references to pre-LotR people and events. Notes on them at the end. Extra points for whomever knows who Huan is without peeking.
Genre: Harry Potter or Highlander or Lord of the Rings, or Smallville
Max Rating: NC-17
Characters: Methos/Willow or Snape/Willow or Cordelia/Haldir or Lex/Cordelia
Want To See: There\'s gotta be an angst angle, a darkness in at least one of the main characters of the pairing. Character death is cool too. yeah, yeah, I\'m an angst fan.
Not Want To See: No pregnancy stories.
I loathe Willow, and have no idea who Lex is, but adore Haldir. There was but one choice…
There could be only a single explanation for this, Haldir mused, and congratulated himself on his logical personality, for his natural inclination to consider and discard the unlikeliest of possibilities until only the probable remained.
Fact the first: he had been gravely, fatally injured during a battle at the fortress of Helms Deep. Sorrow streaked through him at the knowledge that his archers were now leaderless without him, and hoped they would follow the direction of Aragorn, though he was not their lord. Failing that, Legolas could be pressed into captainship of the Lórien elves, he was sure.
Haldir had been relatively sure he’d died; his breath had faltered and his blood had slowed. His soul had wrenched itself free of its earthly moorings; he’d felt himself shedding his body like an old, damaged set of clothing, and striven Westward, toward the warm silver-gilt glimmer that beckoned to him. And then all had faded.
Fact the second: he had returned to awareness in a quiet room shrouded with pale silk that fluttered, though there was no breeze he was able to discern. Haldir had thought, at first, that this place was Mandos. How odd to feel himself in a body again, and thought it might be his own; he had looked down and thought he recognized the long, pale limbs that stretched before him.
It was, however, disconcerting to realize that he was nude. And, consequently, chilly. Sitting up on the long, soft bench, he combed fingers that trembled (though only a little) through long, familiar hair.
Fact the third: a Mannish female stood beside where he currently reclined. She was dressed like no woman he had ever seen, in snug trousers and a midriff-bearing tunic made of some whispery material. He could see quite clearly through it to another, skimpier garment underneath. She wore cosmetics, and her hair was bobbed short, its ends brushing her flawless cheekbones in a soft caress. She carried some flat boardlike object in the crook of one arm whilst the other impatiently tapped a writing implement of some sort on the end of the board-thing. The tapping was accompanied by the motion of her smartly-shod foot on the marble floor.
He had been fully prepared to accept the first two facts, but this last was beyond the pale. It was simply not possible for this outlandish creature to exist within the Halls of the Dead, and his acclaimed logic asserted itself, declaring that there was but one explanation.
It must be that he had not actually died but was still in Arda, still at Helms Deep, hallucinating or quite possibly in a coma.
Haldir lay back on the bench as his world righted itself and made sense once more, and closed his eyes with a smile. Aragorn was reputed to be a fine healer; he had no doubt the Man would fix him in good time. Sadly, his satisfaction was not to last.
“Well?” the woman prompted, annoyance clear in her less-than-dulcet tone. “I know it sucks to be dead, been there myself, but I don’t have all Age. Snap out of it and tell me your name.”
Haldir frowned and turned his head to the side. “I am not dead. Go away, irritating human.”
She rolled her dark eyes. “Great, another bigot,” she muttered. “Even at my worst, I was an equal opportunity snob, judging a person not by the colour of their skin but the quality of their wardrobe.” She stared down at him beadily. “And it rarely steered me wrong; Xander was a fashion disaster, and look how well that ended. Not.”
Haldir squinted at her, momentarily impressed with the quality and strength of this particular hallucination. She was annoying in the extreme, but he had to give himself full marks for originality; he doubted either of his brothers would be able to conceive of a being so utterly bizarre to occupy his feverish dreams.
Aragorn really should be by with those athelas of his, any moment now. Haldir was sure of it.
“You get one last chance to tell me your name and shuffle off to your reward, Elfums, before I knock your pasty ass off that bench. I’m really not having a good day, and you’re getting on my last unshredded nerve.”
Elfums? Hallucination or not, this slight could not go unaddressed. Nor, he thought fiercely, could the other insult. “Most certainly is not pasty,” he muttered under his breath as he sat up once more, swinging his legs down before pushing himself to his feet.
Another roll of her expressive eyes. “Yeah, you’re the only Elf here with a full-body tan. Name!” she barked, and he flinched back at the force of it.
“Haldir o Lórien,” he replied with dignity, deciding to humour her, even if she were just a figment of what appeared to be a truly abnormally active imagination.
His acquiesence spurred an abrupt change of mood. “Hi, Haldir, I’m Cordelia.” She beamed a smile at him that momentarily took his breath away with its sheer force. She didn’t seem to note his reaction, however, because she was flipping through the pages affixed to the board on her arm, perfectly manicured fingertip trailing down as she searched for something, repeating his name under her breath.
“Got one Haldir here, but he died in the First Age. And was a Man.” Her smooth brow creased in perplexment. “And this is the updated list, just printed the spreadsheet out this morning...” Her shoulders slumped. “It can only mean one thing.”
Spinning on her tall, needlelike heel, she strode from the chamber, motioning for Haldir to follow. Indignant, he considered ignoring her command but his curiosity got the better of him, and he broke into a light jog to catch up to her in the corridor.
“And what one thing is what?”
She glanced sideways at him, seeming surprised he’d actually listened to her. “That a mistake was made. That you shouldn’t have died today.” She heaved a sigh. “I hate when this happens. The paperwork alone...” Her voice trailed away, and she shook her glossy head. “I have only myself to blame. I was the one who came up with it... ugh, bureaucracy. Looks like another reorganization is in order.”
The idea seemed to cheer her immensely, for she flashed him a devastating smile as they turned a corner and entered a massive hall. Cordelia gestured to the room at large; everywhere were tables with chairs ranged round them, and long, comfortable-looking chaises. The walls were lined with bookcases, and the far wall was a series of etched-glass doors that seemed to open to some sort of garden.
And there were people everywhere; Elves, yes, but Men and Hobbits and Dwarves and Orcs and Goblins... and they were all interacting as if it were nothing at all. As if it were perfectly normal for Dwarves and Elves to chat, for Men and Orcs to laugh together at some joke, for Hobbits and Goblins to play a rousing game of chess together...
Wide-eyed, Haldir turned to Cordelia, feeling so incredulous he thought his brain might break from the sheer force of it.
“No one’s evil or good here,” she said softly. “Everyone just is. You get past petty racial issues when you’re dead, you know.”
He looked down the considerable length of his nose at her; even in those ridiculous shoes, she barely reached his shoulder. “I am not dead,” he informed her, infusing the words with as much haughtiness as he was able. Which was a lot.
“Suit yourself,” she replied with a shrug, supremely unconcerned. “Anyway, welcome to the Halls of Cordelia.”
He blinked. “Not Mandos?”
Her brilliant smile immediately fell away. “Well, officially, yes. Even though the lazy bastard’s been retired since Nargothrond. Even though I have been doing all the work around here for six thousand years without a single vacation,” she continued, her voice raised to echo off the stone walls as she tilted her head back, addressing the ceiling.
The occupants of the huge room stopped, saw whom it was causing the ruckus, and returned to their previous actions.
“The Valar are big on that emeritus crap,” she confided in Haldir. “I fixed everything when I got here. You would cry to see the state of Nàmo’s ‘filing’—“ here, she made air-quotes with her fingers—“ because God knows, I nearly did. And apart from double-knit polyester, not a lot makes me cry, believe me.”
She peered at him as if expecting him to dispute her declaration. When he simply stood, staring at her, acutely aware of how cool was the air in the hall, since he was yet unclothed, her shoulders loosened a little and she nodded.
“This place runs by will. If you want to wear clothes, just will some clothes on yourself. If you’re hungry, you can either will food directly into your stomach, or will some onto a table in front of you. When you get tired, just leave the hall and the first door you find will be your room, you can sleep there. I’m going to go look into what happened with you.”
“Nothing has happened to me but an injury,” he stated, still confident in his ability to discern reality. This was all far, far too bizarre to be truth.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Whatever blows your skirt up,” she told him. “I’ll find you when I know something.” She began to walk away, and Haldir found his gaze fixed on her. Those snug trousers of hers left little to the imagination, and he openly admired the lean length of her legs, the slim straight line of her spine, the way her short hair swung with her gait.
A strange feeling gripped Haldir then, a worrying curiosity. He shivered, then recalled his nudity and tested her words: he willed himself into a set of long, warm robes and soft shoes, but still the shivers did not abate. What if he was wrong, unlikely as it seemed, about this hallucination?
“Wait,” he called after her. She paused, but didn’t turn around. “What if I am dead, but not meant to be?” He hated the soft tremble of his voice. “Can I return?” If this death of his was not fated for much farther in the future, he would dearly love to see his brothers again. And what would the Lady and Lord do without his counsel and protection? “I must return.”
Cordelia did turn then, her warm-brandy eyes sympathetic as she approached once more. She even went so far as to lightly touch his arm. “No,” she said, her tone gentle to soften the starkness of the answer. “Once you’re here, you’re here. You can be reborn, but that takes a while. The most I can do is figure out why it happened, and try not to let it happen again.” Her lips tilted in a sad smile. “Not much comfort, I know, but I didn’t make these rules.” She squared her shoulders and smirked. “I just try to twist them to suit my needs.”
She glanced at something strapped round her wrist. “And right now, my needs are to get my toned and attractive ass to the main office for my 10.30 with Manwë; he’s a total bitch when I’m late. Ta.”
She left him there, staring wonderingly after her, his head a total muddle. She was on first-name-basis with Manwë, feeling comfortable enough with her relationship with the god to say outrageous things about him. She was brusque, confusing, rude, and utterly baffling... but then she was compassionate and actually kind.
It befuddled him, refusing to be classified into the logical paths and alleys in his mind. Most disconcerting. Feeling quite unsettled he drew the long comforting sweep of fabric closer to him before wandering off into the chattering masses of people.
Haldir still was convinced this was a hallucination—it was the only explanation he was prepared to accept—but he might as well enjoy himself while it lasted... choking back his rather strong reservations, he nodded hesitantly to an Uruk-hai’s invitation of a game of cards and sat at one of the tables, hoping Aragorn would hurry up with the thrice-damned athelas.
* * *
The passage of time, while noticeable, was yet difficult to gauge. There was no night or day in the Halls of Cordelia, or Mandos (whichever name you were inclined to employ), nor was there sun or moon. There was no such thing as a set time to wake or sleep; one simply woke when one was no longer tired, and slept when one was fatigued. It was similar for meals, with everyone simply willing food into existence when the desire struck. There was no actual need for food, but most ate out of habit and for pleasure.
Haldir, against all realm of possibility, forged a tentative friendship with the card-playing Uruk and soon fell in with Drashtor’s group of friends, which included many of the races of Middle-Earth, and began to pattern his existence after theirs. He retired when they did, woke to find them awaiting him in the hall, shared meals with them, and explored whatever areas were open to him.
What he had thought was a garden was nothing of the sort. It was a courtyard, yes, filled with exquisite statuary and beautifully-tended vegetation, but above was not sky, but a swirling miasma of clouds in every shade of grey known to Elf. It was puzzling, for Haldir had believed plants required sunlight for life, but as Drashtor explained, will was life here: one had only to desire a plant to thrive, and throve it did.
Thus Haldir created a rosebush of his own, and tended it carefully by directing its growth with his will. The petals were palest yellow, tipped with coral-pink at the edges, and its stems were long and sturdy.
“But why did you not will it to be thornless?” inquired Drashtor after receiving a significant puncture from one of those thorns.
Haldir frowned and healed his new friend’s wound with a thought, watching as the skin closed as if it had never been sundered, and the blood simply vanished. “Part of a rose’s beauty is its danger,” he said at last. “The risk you must chance in order to experience it... something comfortably gained has little attraction.”
“Foolish Elf,” grumbled Nud, their party’s resident Dwarf. “It makes no sense to prefer what comes hard, instead of what comes easily. No sense at all.”
“Is the Elf a fool, or sage beyond our comprehension?” asked Dondo, the lone Hobbit of their group, of the Man who sat nearby. “What say you, Boromir?”
Boromir sobered, stroking his chin as if lost in deep thought. “Though most of my experience with the Edhel has been with but a single Elf, and he of Mirkwood so I am not sure if his behaviour is typical... it seems to me that, sage or not, Haldir’s reasoning is compatible with something my friend might believe.” He grinned, then. “They are all like this, I think, the Edhel,” he told them. “I met many in Rivendell, and always were they speaking of bittersweet this, and hard-won that... yes, this perverse preference for desiring what is nearly out-of-reach is perfectly typical.”
“Typical… but is foolish or not?” Dondo pressed.
“That is not for me to say,” Boromir replied gravely.
“We have a diplomat in our midst,” Haldir commented, his tone arid.
“But of course!” exclaimed Boromir, standing and clapping the Elf on the shoulder. “The Steward of Gondor cannot afford to take sides when mediating between subjects.”
“We are not your subjects, human,” Nud grumbled, his fingers moving on his belt as if searching of their own volition for the axe that should have been tucked there.
Boromir smiled serenely. “Be that as it may,” was his only reply.
A Goblin ambled up to them, then. “Where’s Théodred?” he asked. “He promised me a rematch at chess.”
“He was Released,” Dondo replied, looking sad. Théodred had been one of their number until a short while ago, when his stay in Mandos was deemed sufficient. The length of time differed for each mortal being; Drashtor was the most recent of the mortals in their group, only arriving a little prior to Haldir, having died at the hands of Éomer’s eored not long before Helms Deep’s battle. In comparison, Nud had been there for a very long time, since the Battle of Five Armies eighty years ealier, after a set of his kinsman had set off with a Hobbit to conquer a dragon for its treasure... When a mortal was ready to depart Mandos, he was Released. No one knew his destination, but all were assured that it was a gift, not a curse.
Thus Théodred had been Released. Cordelia had come for him, and they had said farewell. Then she had begun to glow, and with a single pulse of white light, Théodred was gone.
“I miss him,” Drashtor said.
“I do not,” Nud countered firmly. “Now with him gone, the rest of us have some chance with the ladies!”
The others gazed at him with tolerant amusement. They had had quite the competition for winning feminine hearts, Nud and Théodred, and the Man had been far ahead of the Dwarf when his Release had come. Now, with no rival for his pursuit of the various lovelies that called Mandos (or Cordelia) their home, Nud had been on a positive tear through the female populace.
Haldir exchanged a look with the rest; none had quite so great an interest in women as their friend. Boromir had ever been more concerned with the progress of his country than of his social life, Dondo was saving himself for marriage, and Drashtor’s kin were created from earth and magic instead of a union between male and female, so he simply could not be bothered.
And Haldir... Haldir would not confess to it, though he might be entreated at length by his companions, but his attentions were reserved for one female in particular. She was brusque, confusing, rude, and utterly baffling... but then she was compassionate and actually kind. He had decided, somewhere along the way (around the time that she’d given a crushing rejection to the suave Théodred, he suspected) that the former were the thorns he would have to traverse in order to reach the latter, the rose within.
Thus it was with carefully-hidden pleasure that he saw Cordelia entering the courtyard, the familiar click of her shoes on the flagstones echoing off its high walls. “Haldir,” she addressed him, the clipboard dangling from her fingers, “I’ve found out what happened. Come with me.”
Nud smirked knowingly; damned Dwarf was too canny by half, Haldir groused to himself as he levered himself from the table to follow her. Boromir only raised his brows, and Dondo flashed him a sympathetic smile (for Cordelia scared the Hobbit very much) whilst Drashtor turned his attention to the cards spread before him on the table.
“Now,” he said happily, “if one of you dense lot will take Haldir’s place, I have a chance of winning this game.”