Without, Part 2
Opening her eyes again, willing her inebriation away, she looked up to see a tall blond guy glowering down at her. “No more sex on the beach,” Corinne muttered, blinking up at him. She liked her stupidly named cocktails as much as the next grad student, it was true, but surely a mere half-dozen of them could not have caused a delusion of this magnitude.
She shook her head, trying to clear it from the obvious hallucination she was having. Nope, he was still there, and now he was aiming a bow at her. This was going from bad to worse. She scrambled to her knees, wincing at the knowledge that her taupe linen capris were being irreparably damaged, and held up her hands to show they were empty.
Except they weren’t. For clutched in her left hand was none other than the Cartouche of Weshem-ib, and it was back to glowing softly as it had before going supernova on her. The man before her stared at it.
“Is this a weapon?” he asked, his English strangely accented, his eyes flicking back and forth between it and her. They were a stormy, dark grey, and she felt like a butterfly on a pin as he peered at her.
“Uh,” she began stupidly. “I don’t think so. It’s not supposed to be.” Then, as he reached out to take it from her, she screeched, “No! Don’t touch it!” She jumped to her feet and stepped back from him. If he took it, how would she get back to New York?
He reached out to her again, dropping his bow and arrow heedlessly as alarm spread over his face— his very handsome face, she realized irrelevantly—and Corinne understood why when her right foot took another step backward and met with no resistance. Just as panic began to fill her, he grabbed her still-outstretched wrists and hauled her against his unyielding chest.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?” he demanded, and she struggled to twist her head from where it was buried against his shoulder to look around her.
“Oh,” she same lamely, for it would appear they were in some sort of treehouse, and rather high off the ground. And also that she had nearly stepped right off of it. Wiggling, she craned her head to peep over the treehouse’s edge and saw it was a very long way down. “Oh,” she said again, and looked up at him.
It was a mistake, because her senses, already burdened from the bright light and crashing boom of the transfer-of-reality, and then by almost falling and being snatched by a weird guy, were assailed with stimulation to yet another sense. He smelled extraordinary, like summer grass and fallen leaves and honey, and she breathed it in so deeply her head swam.
It simply had to be the vodka talking, because she did not normally think this way. In ordinary circumstances, she couldn’t be bothered with men on a personal or sexual basis. “No more sex on the beach,” she repeated firmly.
“That is the second time you have mentioned it. Is sex on the beach a frequent habit of yours?” he inquired, staring at her once more. His eyes were the colour of pewter, she thought hazily as she stared back.
He was considerably taller than she, and looking up at him from this proximity brought her gaze directly in line with his ear. It was delicately pointed at the tip, she noted with interest, but what really captured her attention was the earlobe. It was a tender, pale pink, with a silvery down that positively beckoned to her…
Before she realized what it was she did, she stood on tiptoes and captured that earlobe between her lips, drawing it into her mouth to suckle it gently. He gave a dreadful moan as if he were being murdered, and released one of her wrists to cup the back of her head, preventing her from moving away from him even if she’d wanted to.
Corinne used her free hand to reach up and trace the intriguing point of his ear, and he moaned again, releasing her other wrist to wrap his arm around her waist and press her even more firmly against him. At this rate we’re going to merge bodies, she thought dazedly, and then felt her face blush violently at where that line of thought took her… the blushing didn’t prevent her from releasing his earlobe to flick her tongue a little higher, traveling closer to the point.
Against her, she could feel rather than see his breathing become ragged, and felt a queer tightening in her chest at his strong body pressed to her soft one. She wanted nothing so much as to sink to the floor of the treehouse and have him cover her with himself, to surround him utterly with all that she was. Ah, so this is desire. Wondered what that was like.
“I want you,” Corinne whispered, the words leaping from her mouth without any interference from her brain whatsoever. “Make love to me.” Her empty hand wound around his neck, twining them even more closely.
“Yes,” he replied, his voice low and thrilling, and his hand buried in her hair held her still for the coming onslaught of his kiss. She gazed up at him with heavy-lidded eyes and waited for the first electric touch of lips upon lips, but it never came.
What was this madness? Haldir demanded of himself as he stepped closer to the centre of the flet and thrust her away. Elves did not join lightly, and when it happened it was usually a binding of souls, a marriage. He had shared his body with less than a handful of others in all his thousands of years, and never had he been in love.
And yet he’d been entirely too close to flinging this female—this mortal, human female—to the floor and ravishing her like a rabid orc. He ran his hand in agitation over the crown of his head, the familiar smooth locks of hair calming him as he stared at her.
She stood there trembling like a deer in the sights of a hunter, watching him warily even as she breathed shallowly. Her peaked nipples were clearly visible against the nearly-transparent white fabric of her short tunic, and he fought hard to suppress another moan from surfacing.
I will fight this weakness, he informed himself coldly, and jumped a little when she replied, “When you figure out how, tell me, ok?
Haldir’s eyes narrowed. I did not say that aloud, he thought.
“Yeah, you did,” she replied crossly, wrapping her arms around herself as if cold. The action only served to push together and up her generously-proportioned bosom and he once more felt the dizzying tide of lust begin to overtake him.
“What have you done to me?” he groaned, staggering to the trunk of the mallorn and leaning heavily against it. “What is that thing you carry, that it has such power?”
She looked down at it in amazement, as if only just remembering she held it. “It’s called the Cartouche of Weshem-ib,” she replied, falling back into grad-student mode and beginning to lecture. “In the language of Kemet, it means “Yearning of the Heart’. It was created by the command of Hatshepsut, during the 18th dynasty. Her fascination with mysticism is well-known, and—“
Corinne was cut off by an agitated motion of his hand. “I know nothing of which you speak,” he told her.
“If you would be so kind as to not interrupt me,” she sniffed, “I was coming to the good part.” He looked distinctly skeptical, which she ignored. “As I was saying, her fascination with mysticism is well-known. She commissioned many pieces of art that also served as magical talismans and devices. This,” she held it up so he could see, “was one of them.”
“Almost as well-known as her interest in the occult was her deep unhappiness,” Corinne continued. “She was the ruler of a great land, but still miserable. She had this cartouche created to fulfill her fondest wish and deepest desire.”
“And did it?” Against his will, Haldir found himself interested in this Hatshepsut.
Corinne shrugged. “Impossible to know what her deepest desire was. But this thing is supposed to do the same thing for anyone who activates it.”
“How did you activate it?” he wanted to know, folding his arms across his chest sternly.
“I didn’t!” she wailed. “Didn’t do a damned thing! It just started glowing.”
“You had to have done something,” he insisted. “Think, woman! What did you say before it began to glow?”
“Didn’t say anything,” she replied angrily.
“Well, what were you thinking, then?” He really was beginning to lose the patience for which he was famed.
She frowned in concentration. “Well, I—.“ She halted suddenly as it came back to her. The breathless couple, the newspaper, the kiss. “Oh.”
His extraordinary eyes narrowed threateningly. “Tell me,” he commanded.
“Um, it’s really nothing,” she said nervously, for some reason reluctant and more than a little embarrassed to reveal it to him. If she were to accept what was glaringly obvious, it would seem that ‘Cartouche of Weshem-ib’ plus ‘moment of wistfulness for love’ equaled ‘plummeting through thin air to plop on her butt in front of a pointy-eared studmuffin who she then snogged with abandon’.
She stared in consternation down at the cartouche, glaring at the two-headed lion that represented the god Aker. He was also known as ‘Yesterday and Today’, and embodied the concept of where past met present, and present met future. Then she recalled something else, and slapped her forehead in the universal gesture of ‘I am incredibly stupid’. Aker had a third name as well.
The Bender of Reality.
The old shopkeeper’s voice rang like a gong through her aching head: “probably wants it to meet her TRUE LOVE”. She glanced at the angry face and threatening stance of the man in front of her and covered her own face with her hands. “No,” she murmured. “Please, no. This is too weird even for me.”
He strode to her and grasped her arms, giving her a little shake. “You will tell me.”
Corinne stared hard at the strong ivory column of his throat, and forced herself to speak. “I was watching a man and a woman kiss. They seemed very much in love, and… I wanted that,” she told him softly.
He flung her from him in horror. “I’m sorry!” she cried. “I didn’t know… I mean, I haven’t ever really thought about love before. Usually I’m obsessed with people who’ve been dead for thousands of years!” She dared a glance at him and saw that along with his fury, there was in his eyes a hint of recognition and… guilt? Now it was her turn to narrow her eyes at him.
“Professor Ives told me that the cartouche rarely works with just one person, that the energy of another is needed to activate it,” she said accusingly. “So tell me, Tall Blond and Grouchy, what were you thinking about just before I appeared?” Definitely guilt, she decided when a pale pink flush stained his high cheekbones. “You were thinking the same thing, weren’t you?”
He turned his head and stared off into the distance. Corinne took that as a typical man’s “yes, but I refuse to admit it”, and rolled her eyes. She thought for a moment. Didn’t know where she was, who he was, or even his name. He seemed to have a surly temper, and was a bit too free with the manhandling, but… she’d been drawn to him from the moment she’d clapped eyes on him, and judging by the way she’d molested his ear earlier, they had chemistry galore. It also didn’t hurt that there was some sort of magic bond between them, one which had caused her to fall through some wacky portal in time and space to meet him.
She went to him, put her hand on his cheek and forcibly turned him to face her. “What’s your name?” she asked him.
He stared down at her a long moment before answering. “I am Haldir of Lórien.”
“Where is Lórien?”
He laughed briefly. It was musical and enchanting, for all that it was meant to be a sardonic bark rather than an expression of mirth. “You stand at the edge of it, in one of its mighty trees,” he informed her. “It is the Golden Wood, and I am its Guardian.”
“I’m Corinne… of New York,” she told him, and frowned when he laughed again. “What?”
“In my language, ‘coron’ means globe, or mound.” Haldir’s gaze dropped to her chest. “It is fitting.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, hoping to shield them from his view. He only smirked. God, men were all alike, no matter what country they were from. Speaking of which, where the hell were they? “So you can speak English, but with an accent,” she said, trying to solve the mystery. “You’re blond, so I figure we’re in Scandinavia somewhere.” He looked utterly blank. “Or Russia?” Nope, no flicker of recognition at that either. She sighed. “Ok, so what country are we in?”
He frowned. “Corinne, I have told you. We are in Lórien.”
Frustrated, she flung up her hands. “But where is Lórien?”
Haldir looked wary, as if unsure of what she wanted to know. “West of the Anduin,” he said cautiously, pointing to the river not far from them, glittering like a wide silver ribbon a few hundred yards away. “And east of the mountains.”
Corinne had never heard of the Anduin, but geography had never been her strong suit. “Which mountains?”
“The Misty Mountains,” he replied, marveling at her lack of comprehension and wondering if she’d lived in a Hobbit hole her entire life, to have never heard of Arda’s greatest range.
“Let’s try another approach,” she said tiredly, rubbing her forehead. “Which continent am I on?”
“Continent?” He was beginning to think she was mad. “There are only the two, Arda and Valinor, and mortals are not permitted on the latter,”
“Mortals?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. “As opposed to what alternative?”
“As opposed to elves, of course,” he told her, as if he were speaking to a particularly slow child.
She snorted in frank disbelief. “Yeah,” she said. “Elves. Next you’re going to tell me there’s dwarves, and werewolves and wizards and gnomes and—“ Her words choked off as he gazed steadily at her and she remembered the distinct feel of a pointed ear against her tongue. “Oh, god,” she moaned. “Elves.”
He only smirked. “Welcome to Arda, Corinne.” However, his smirk faded when she fell, senseless, to the floor of the flet.
With a muffled curse, Haldir caught her. Clasping her tightly against him with one arm, he used the other to spread out a blanket and lower her down. Looming over her, he jammed his hands on his hips and frowned as fiercely as he knew how. In spite of the last few moments’ distraction, his mind was still whirling over the implications of what she’d told him.
It was not that he believed it impossible for a person to tumble through the air, from one world to the next. After all, had not Buffy come to Arda in the same manner, just decades ago? The Valar will have their little jokes, he thought sourly. No, it was more the reason for Corinne’s travel. Buffy had a destiny, and the personal involvement of the gods directing what happened to her. With Corinne, it all seemed… random.
Or was it? Amazingly, in spite of her bizarre ramblings, he believed her. Haldir knew himself to be a master of self-containment; no one knew anything of him that he did not wish them to. There was no one on the face of Arda who could have blindly guessed that he’d indulged in a rare moment of sentimental pining. No, there was much more to this situation than mere lunacy.
His reaction to her, for instance. Never had Haldir felt such an instantaneous, searing desire—not even in his earliest centuries when neither skill nor control had been his fortés. After he passed his first millennia, he’d thought those pleasantly lusty times far behind him. Oh, but how he’d been mistaken… even now, as she stirred to consciousness once more, he felt a jolt of awareness ripple through him, arousing him.
It wasn’t that she was beautiful. She was barely even pretty, and her human body was not at all elfin—where his kin were tall and slender and pale, she was short and plump and ruddy. Perhaps it was that opposition to what he was accustomed to that attracted him. Yes, surely that was it. Satisfied with his tidy explanation, he sat easily and folded his legs, waiting for her to come back to herself.
“No more sex on the beach,” Corinne was saying for the third time as she shoved a handful of messy hair off her forehead. “I sweartagod, I’m never drinking again.”
Confusion eased from Haldir’s ivory brow. “Ah, so sex on the beach is not actually sex on the beach, but a type of… ale?” he ventured even as his unruly mind began conjuring up images of the two of them laying on the sun-warmed sand, her legs wrapped around his waist as water and pleasure crashed over them. He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts, but could not prevent a tiny grin when he noticed her vacant expression… she too was picturing something imprudent.
“You’ve… got a bit of drool, just there,” he teased, pointing to the corner of her mouth and grinning when she blushed and tried to duck her head in embarrassment. His fingertip hovered just a fraction of an inch over the pink satin of her lips, feeling the faint warmth and some odd tingle of awareness crackle between them. Unbidden, completely against his will, he reached closer just as she leaned toward him. The rough pad of his finger caressed those plush lips until they parted and took it between them, teeth lightly gripping it as tongue flicked at the very end.
They both moaned then, and this time it was Haldir who acted first—he grabbed around her waist with his free arm and hauled her into his lap. He withdrew his finger from her mouth and cupped her face, staring at her a long, breathless moment. Her skin was olive-toned, with arching dark brows over green eyes, a tilted nose, and stubborn-looking chin. There was a faintly nearsighted look to her gaze, as if she spent far too much time squinting at small text in thick books, and she had a small scar on her jaw line below her ear, very faint.
“What is this madness, that I cannot resist?” Haldir growled, pressing his lips to the scar, but he didn’t allow an answer, for he captured her in a kiss so searing he was positive their mouths would fuse. It was a very gratifying kiss, this, because she did not play the shy maiden like a younger elleth, nor did she try to taunt and tempt him with guile and craft as an older would have done.
Instead, Corinne kissed him back with an honest enthusiasm that touched him even as it aroused him. She honestly, genuinely wanted him. She knew nothing about his position as third in command of Lothlorien. She cared nothing of his family, his wealth, or the fact that it would be quite a coup for a human to bed an elf—especially the haughty March-Warden who had for years been perceived as a considerable challenge to many an elleth of Caras Galadhon and beyond.
She knew not his brothers, or any of his history, nor even of his duty to remain as Guardian of the Wood until its end, and still she wanted him. If she spoke truly, she had come from very far away for only a single reason: true love. The knowledge sent a quiver of something deeper than mere physical hunger through him, and he found his embrace gentling around her.