Haldir trailed after Cordelia, wending through the corridors until they reached a door that was different from the rest. They were all tall and pointed in an elegant arch at the top, carven of dark wood, but her door was square at the top, and made of a stained glass scene of a tree by a lake in the most startling jewel tones.
“Tiffany,” she told him when she noticed his admiration. “You can’t go wrong with Tiffany.”
He didn’t know what ‘tiffany’ was, but was prepared to humour her if it meant some answers in regards to his death. Yes, by now he had accepted that he was not, as he’d believed, merely unconscious. No, the undeniable presences of Théodred and Boromir had confirmed to him that even the only explanation could nevertheless be mistaken.
And since Haldir was rarely mistaken, he decided to enjoy it as a novel occurrence, since it would likely not happen again any time soon.
On the other side of the door was a study. There was a large desk, heaped with stacks of files, books, and an impressive array of cups all redolent of the brew Cordelia favoured so much—she called it “coffee” and seemed devoted to it. Even now, she ensconced herself behind the desk and picked up one of the cups, draining it with a sigh of relief.
“Crap, I’m tired,” she muttered, then looked up at him. “Ever get to the point, Haldir, when you want to say ‘fuck it’?”
Haldir couldn’t say he had.
“Well, I’m just about there,” she continued, “and there’s not even a hot Swedish guy I can pay to massage me to get over it.” She rubbed her temples before getting down to business. Haldir just concentrated on decoding what she’d said.
“It’s like this,” Cordelia told him, opening one of the files on one of the piles before her. “Somewhere, things went haywire.”
“Haywire?” he repeated. It sounded bad.
“Haywire,” she confirmed. “We’re still looking into who, exactly, signed off on the change but somewhere along the way, the decision was made to send you and your archers off to Helms Deep.”
“We should not have been there?” he asked, frowning.
“Nope,” Cordelia replied, and leant back in her chair. “Legolas was supposed to be the only Elf at the battle. Oh, and Éomer was supposed to be there. And Gandalf was supposed to be getting Erkenbrand, not Éomer... oh, forget that other stuff,” she griped. “Thing is, there’s been all sorts of changes made, and we don’t know why, or by whom. But once we find out...” Her eyes glinted. “Let’s just say, the Valar are none too happy about it. I sense an eternity brushing the tangles out of Huan’s butt fur for the lucky perp.”
Haldir blinked, not really wanting the mental image but helpless to prevent it. He sighed. “I was commanded to lead my archers by the Lady and Lord themselves,” he told her. “Are they not responsible for this... error?”
“Nah,” Cordelia replied, rubbing her temples once more. “They were being directed by the evil mastermind. Had no control over it... it was as if their actions and speech were being modified from the true, original script... crap.” She glared blearily over the file-mountains at him. “I thought migraines were supposed to be a thing of the past when I took this job.”
She stood and went to the door, opening it to indicate their time was up. “That’s all I can tell you for now, Haldir. Sorry it’s not more helpful, but life sucks all over.” She paused. “Death sucks, too. It all sucks.”
When he didn’t go through the door immediately, she turned around, huffing impatiently, only to find him standing directly behind her.
“Are all the abilities of my body intact here?” he asked, very aware of her proximity. She smelt of an intriguing blend of rose and sandalwood, and he found himself breathing deeply, inhaling as much of it as possible.
“Yes,” she said, her throat sounding... tight.
Haldir brought his hands up to her shoulders and began to massage them. Tension sat in two hard knots on either side of her neck, and he used his thumbs to firmly erase them, pushing his fëa out to heal and regenerate her, and absorb some of her discomfort. “Tell me what has you so upset,” he entreated, smiling a little as her head lolled back in ecstasy.
“I’ve been here a long time,” Cordelia replied thickly, her eyes falling closed. “A really, hellishly long time. There was a lot to do to get everything fixed up, let me tell you. Mandos has no sense of organization, and you should see how he filed things. It was chaos. I wasn’t pleased at being sent here, at first—I wanted to be at the home office, in the thick of things. At the epicentre. Et cetera.”
“But for some reason, they didn’t like my determination to make sure things were running smoothly,” she continued, disgruntled at the memory even as she allowed Haldir to turn her around. Facing away, she sighed as his strong fingers traveled down her spine, rubbing away pain and discomfort. “They said I was better suited to a smaller, ‘less competitive environment’. Whatever the hell that means.”
Haldir bit his lip to keep from laughing; it was clear that they’d sent Cordelia to Aman simply because there was no one here willing to argue with her; she’d get her way, there’d be no stress, and that was that.
“So now, you are here,” he prompted. “It seems a pleasant enough place, if somewhat boring. Whence comes this unhappiness?”
She brushed his hands away and turned to face him. “I have no one here,” she told him, her voice quiet. “At first I didn’t mind, because your robes? So First Age. I wouldn’t be caught dead associating with someone in an embroidered potato sack. But after a while...” Caught up in her memories, she failed to notice his offended look. “I could see that potato sacks didn’t matter. I tried making friends with some of the people who came through here, but it wasn’t long before they were passing on... the mortals get Released, the immortals get reborn, and I’m still here.”
Haldir decided it wasn’t worth it to make a fuss about her accusation of his lack of style. Which was, incidentally, a complete falsehood. He considered himself garbed in the height of Elvish fashion for Lórien, but that was neither here nor there... “What about the Valar, the Maiar?” he asked. “They shall not pass from here.”
“Oh, them.” Cordelia dismissed the gods and demi-gods with an airy wave. “We can’t really relate to each other, you know? It’s like trying to compare rubber flip flops with Manolo Blahniks. There’s just nothing there.”
Haldir didn’t even bother trying to figure out what she was saying. It was best, he was learning, to simply accept and move on. “I see,” he lied. “Is there nowhere you can go? Are you tethered to this duty forever?”
“Pretty much,” she said glumly, indulging in a moment of self-pity.
“It seems to me,” he ventured, “that refusing companionship for fear of loss is self-defeating. It will hurt to lose them, but does it not hurt just as much to never have them in the first place?”
Cordelia’s eyes flashed as anger replaced the pity, just as he had intended. “You don’t know how many I’ve lost,” she snapped. “You don’t know what I’ve given up, what’s been taken from me.”
Haldir smoothed his hands down her arms. “Then tell me,” he said. “Tell me.”
She stared up at him a long moment, not even realizing her hands had come up to cup his elbows so she was nearly clinging to him. Then she pulled away, a big false smile plastered across her lovely face. “Maybe another time,” she said brightly. “But right now, I’ve got a lot to do, and playing Bare-My-Soul with you has wasted far too much time.”
She knew she wasn’t fooling him, but he courteously sketched a bow and murmured, “Of course. Thank you for your assistance.”
Cordelia waved a hand in his direction. “Just doing my job. It’s what they pay me the big bucks for.”
He paused in the threshold as she went back to her stack of papers and files, turning to glance back over his shoulder. “There is more to life... and death... than your occupation, Cordelia. Perhaps you would benefit from some days away from your duties here.”
She snorted. It was most unladylike, he thought, but he found it didn’t matter to him that she didn’t behave as he had been reared to believe a proper female would. “Yeah, I’ll just pack a few bikinis and go sun myself on the shores of Alqualondë, huh?” she asked. “That would go over really well with the PTBs, I’m sure.”
“I know nothing of the... PTBs,” Haldir said, “but I find it hard to believe that the Valar would force one of Their children to work without cease for millennia. Even for we Edhel, there is Mandos to give us relief, though we are tied eternally to Arda and shall endure as long as it does.”
The brittle, skeptical look remained on her face but something flickered in her eyes; Haldir pressed on. “Ask them, Cordelia,” he entreated softly. “Ask them for... for a sen’night away.”
Her mouth trembled just a moment before she curled it in a smirk. “And if they gave it to me? Where would I go?”
“You mentioned Alqualondë...?”
“Alone?” She snorted again. “Yeah, that sounds like the party of the century. I like myself, don’t get me wrong, but after a week alone with myself I’m ready to become a dues-paying member of the We Hate Cordelia Club.”
He took a step into the room once more. “I will come with you, if you would have me,” he said, steadfastly ignoring the alternate meaning of that last phrase, even though his blood sang at the prospect of being had by her.
It was as if a skin had been peeled from her eyes, a mask from her face. “Would you really?” she asked, her voice low. In that moment, Cordelia was utterly naked before him as loneliness radiated from her.
He took another step closer. “Yes,” he replied simply, drawn to her pain, her beauty, her fire, her thorns.
She stared at him a long moment, a hunger on her face that almost alarmed him. Then, with visible effort, she smoothed it from her features and forcibly relaxed her body. “I’ll keep that in mind, Haldir, thanks!” she chirped.
Gone, then, was the moment of genuine sentiment. He nodded; he more than anyone knew what it meant to retain composure. “I hope to see you again soon.”
* * *
More time passed; Haldir rarely saw Cordelia, though he would greatly have liked to, and unlife went on. Nud’s devotion to the fairer sex seemed to inspire Boromir, and he was observed to engage various women in conversation, after which occasion his friends gathered round to critique his performance.
But Boromir was not one to suffer in silence; as soon as he was able, he turned to Haldir and inquired with deceptive innocence how fared the Elf’s wooing of their toothsome hostess.
“There has been no... wooing,” Haldir sniffed. The idea.
“Then it is no mystery that you are so surly,” commented Nud. “You should try it; wooing does wonders for a sour disposition.”
“The sourness of my disposition has nothing to do with wooing, or lack thereof,” Haldir snapped.
“Of course, of course,” Dondo said soothingly. But Nud snorted in frank disbelief, which made Haldir lift a haughty eyebrow, which made Drashtor laugh, which made Boromir swat at him, and then the group of them were wrestling in an unruly tangle on the floor.
The tapping of a smartly-shod toe on the floor by Haldir’s head drew his attention from the choke-hold he had on Nud’s throat, and he froze, only his eyes moving as his gaze traveled up from the foot. A shapely calf, a surprisingly—and endearingly—knobby knee, the long smooth thigh disappearing into a narrow skirt...
Transfixed, he didn’t even see the fist until it had socked him right in the cheek. “Drashtor!” he growled, rolling off Dondo and clutching his face.
“My apologies!” exclaimed the Uruk, meaty hands fluttering uselessly. “Boromir pushed me...”
“Men,” Cordelia muttered, gesturing the other away with an imperious wave. She traced a fingertip over the small, bleeding gash on Haldir’s face, and it was gone. “Come on,” she said to him. “We’re leaving.”
He frowned. Boromir, Nud, Dondo, and Drashtor frowned, too. Seeing that Haldir wasn’t moving in response to her command, Cordelia frowned, and the toe-tapping commenced once more.
Haldir stood with customary grace, smoothing his robes and hair surreptitiously. “Where am I to go?” He was puzzled. It was far too soon to be Reborn, was it not? And Elves did not get Released...
“We’re going to Alqualondë,” Cordelia said. “I got a week off.”
Haldir felt a smile lift his mouth. She had actually heeded his advice! Miraculous. “And I am to accompany you?”
“Well, duh,” she replied impatiently. But there was a flash of something foreign, something incongruous, in her eyes. Worry, perhaps? Fear he would not accompany her? “Unless you changed your mind about going with me?”
Haldir tamped down the wild sensation of something doubtlessly completely imprudent flaring to life in his chest. “I have not,” he answered gravely. “I will always go with you.” He dared to reach out a finger to trail its tip down the silken surface of her cheek. “Or stay. Wherever you are, I shall be.”
And she smiled at him, a glorious smile that reminded him of the sunrise he had not seen since the morning of his death, what seemed like so long ago.
“I would like to see Alqualondë,” Nud mentioned, combing down his beard which had gotten knocked askew in their tussle.
“Me, too!” exclaimed Dondo, and straightened his little jacket.
“And I,” added Boromir, whilst Drashtor nodded hopefully.
Haldir most certainly did not want his friends to tag along, as he had begun to entertain certain possibilities for their time away, but he took one look at them and knew all was doomed—it would take a stronger Elf than he to deny those shining faces.
“How about no?” Cordelia told them flatly. Clearly, she suffered no such weakness when confronted by pathetic, pleading eyes. “Do you know what I went through to get a full week’s vacation? I had to get Nàmo to agree to come out of retirement, and let me just say, he’s not happy about this. There’s no way in hell Larry, Moe, Curly, and Shemp are going to tag along on my holiday. I had to jump through hoops to get a beachfront villa, and it’s gonna be just me and the hot elf, so you can forget it.”
With that, she grabbed Haldir’s hand and began walking, forcing him to follow or be dragged behind. He had not completely understood what she had meant. And what did “hot” mean in reference to, he assumed, himself?
“Cordelia,” he ventured, “I am not feeling overheated.”
She stopped and turned slowly to face him. “What?”
“You said I was ‘the hot elf’. But I am feeling perfectly comfortable in my robes.”
She stared at him a full minute, then threw back her head and laughed. “Speaking of which,” she said at last, completely ignoring his comment about being hot, “do you happen to have a swimsuit? Because we’re going to be spending a lot of time on the beach.”
The question made Haldir frown. “Elves wear nothing to swim,” he said slowly, even as his heart thumped with the realization that he would, at long last, come to the sea.
Cordelia’s smile grew, somehow, in brilliance. “Excellent,” she purred.
Haldir blushed a little; only a fool could have missed her inference. “And you?” he asked boldly. “Shall you be unclad, as well?”
She walked backwards, smirking at him. “If you’re a good boy.”
He smirked, too. “I can be very good, when I wish.”
Heat sparked in her eyes, and he knew it was met by the heat in his own. “Excellent,” she repeated softly. She led him down the hallways; he wondered where they were going. Always before, during his explorations, the corridors had twisted and turned endlessly until he found himself back where he’d begun.
But this time, there before them was another immense, arched door. He had never seen it before. Cordelia twisted the huge brass knob, flung it open, and there before them stretched a vast plain of rolling green hills, brightly lit by the glowing golden sun above.
Awestruck, Haldir stood motionless, but Cordelia grabbed his hand once more and pulled him after her. “C’mon,” she prompted. “We have to hurry, before they realize you’re gone.”
That jolted him from his reverie of delight. “What?” he demanded. “You do not have permission to take me with you?”
But Cordelia just adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder and looped her arms around his waist. “Not precisely,” she admitted blithely, bestowing another megawatt smile on him, and they blinked out of existence.
Nargothrond – big, ill-fated battle in First Age 495 (approximately)
Huan – Maiar who took the shape of an enormous dog.