Without, Part 3
“Softly,” he murmured against her mouth, nipping with sharp white teeth at her lower lip. “There is no rush, doll-nîn.”
The scholar in Corinne was awakened by the foreign words and would not be subdued. “What did you just say?” she asked, and the glow of desire on her face vied for pride of place with a glow of another type: the thirst for knowledge. She realized, just now, that if Haldir really were an elf, he was a member of a civilization heretofore unknown to mankind. The idea that she would be the first to study it made her head spin. “What language was that? What do you call yourselves? Is yours a literate society, or do you pass on your history by word? Or even song?”
She was firing the questions at him so rapidly that he felt dizzy, and not a little disappointed that she was so easily distracted from their love-play. Haldir arched a dark gold brow at her. “Are you more interested in my people, or me?” he asked, mostly joking.
Corinne knew there was a thread of seriousness in his question. For some reason, her answer would matter very much. “Who are you, but the result of your upbringing?” she asked carefully. “To understand you, I have to understand your people.”
It was apparently the correct response, because his smile as he put her off his lap and stood nearly blinded her. “I will tell you all you wish to know,” he promised. “I will even bring you to the city to meet the others. Eventually.”
“Eventually?” Somehow, that sounded… ominous. What was he going to do with her until then? Another series of explicit images jogged past her mental viewscreen and she found herself gaping stupidly at him once more while he laughed at her.
“You’re drooling again,” Haldir informed her smugly, and hauled her to her feet. “Is it the beach again?” She could only nod mutely. “I am enjoying that one, as well. But perhaps we should improve upon it.”
“Impossible,” she breathed as she looked up at him, unaware that the rising moon reflected in her eyes and fascinated him. All she could see was him, silhouetted against the rippling peach and lavender of the setting sun. She could almost hear the cry of the gulls and smell the sea salt. “Impossible.”
Haldir only smirked at her, very slowly. “Naught is impossible, Corinne,” he informed her. “Your presence here is proof of that.”
“I admit, it’s weird when a person falls out of the sky—“ she began, but he interrupted.
“Not how you came to be here, Coron, but the fact that you are here at all.” His dignity prevented him from saying more, but she understood.
“That we were able to find each other, from so far away,” she said softly, and he nodded briefly even as he looked away, unable to meet her eyes. He was a proud man—elf, she corrected herself—and this could not be easy for him. And, after all, the whole thing was perfectly ludicrous. So why did she feel like she could flap her arms and fly, she felt so light and happy? She watched as he glanced almost shyly at her, gauging her reaction to what-he-had-not-said, and felt a constriction in her chest, in the area of her heart.
I guess the grumpy old guy in the store was right, she thought with surprising cheerfulness. Ordinarily she would have been quite put out at being proven wrong, but she found that she couldn’t really think of anything besides Haldir, how close he was, and—oh lordamighty—how he smelled. She needed to know how it was he smelled that way. Perhaps it was the soap he used…
“Wanna take a bath together?” she asked, trailing a finger along the decorative stitching of his uniform.
“Yes,” he replied immediately, reaching for her, but before he could an unwelcome voice intruded.
“I am here to relieve you, Haldir!” exclaimed Faltho as he arrived for his watch, seeming oblivious to the romantic tension on the flet, and utterly unsurprised to find a human female in his fellow march-warden’s arms. “Greetings,” he said brightly to Corinne. “Mae govannen.”
She recognized it for the greeting it was, and tried hard to repeat it to him, imitating the inflections he had used. Haldir raised his brows, impressed, at how accurate her imitation of the Sindarin had been. “I’m pretty good at learning languages,” she said with a little blush. “Will you teach me yours?”
“Amoung other things,” he promised her, and enjoyed the deepening colour on her cheeks.
Haldir brought Corinne to his own flet there on the Eastern Marches of Lothlórien. He had only been in that post for a few weeks, so it wasn’t very homey—just a hastily-made bed in the corner, two chairs around a small table, clothes hung neatly on pegs on the wall, a few books here and there. Still, she had the feeling that even had he occupied the little treehouse for a lifetime it wouldn’t have held much more. He was a man—elf, she reminded herself—who did not allow his life to be cluttered.
There was a singular purpose to everything about him, she saw. He devoted himself entirely to his task at hand, whether it be guarding a stretch of land or explaining about the trees around them, as he had done during their walk from his post to his home, or preparing a meal, as he now did. And yet, even as he concentrated on his cooking, she knew he was exquisitely aware, and not only of her, but of their surroundings in general. She had a feeling a squirrel could sneeze a mile away and he’d say, “bless you”. Or whatever the elven equivalent of that was.
Elven… she sat on a rock beside the campfire and drew her knees to up, wrapping her arms around and resting her chin on them as she watched him. His movements were economical, but supremely graceful. After meeting Faltho, she knew that Haldor’s beauty wasn’t atypical of his people—unless both elves were especially handsome—but if she were honest she’d have to admit that Faltho was the better-looking. Haldir’s nose was on the big side, his forehead a little too wide for true perfection.
Why then did she find gazing at Haldir infinitely more satisfying? As if his face were the answer to an age-old question? Corinne sighed. This was all too weird. Shouldn’t she be more upset? It wasn’t, after all, every day that you got sent to an alternate dimension—or wherever the hell she was—to fall in love-at-first-sight with an elf. Shouldn’t she be horrified, or frightened?
She bit her lip to stifle a laugh. Frightened? She’d never felt more safe in her life, and knew without a moment’s doubt or hesitation that he’d protect her with his life, and also that his brand of protection was fearsome indeed. If the way he’d aimed his bow at her earlier, without a bit of wavering, hadn’t clued her in then the vicious-looking daggers he’d unstrapped from his waist and the ease with which he handled them would have. This man—elf!—was a formidable warrior.
Corinne shivered a little at the memory of his big archer’s hands on her body, how firmly and yet carefully he’d touched her. Would they make love that night? She certainly hoped so. There was no doubt it would be mind-blowing. Her few previous experiences, mostly in her early college years, had been disappointing. Frat boys were not exactly known for their finesse at the romantic arts, relying more on the magic of beer than the magic of wooing to achieve their goals.
Haldir ladled stew into bowls for each of them, and sat nimbly on the ground beside her, spilling not a drop. In fact, the surface of the stew hadn’t even rippled, she thought enviously. She always spilled. “Thanks,” she told him with a smile, and accepted the spoon he handed to her. “What’s in it?”
He shrugged and dipped his own spoon in. “Venison, root vegetables, herbs. I ran out of salt last week and forgot to get more in my haste to return here.”
She took a bite. Even a little bland, it was delicious, and she said so. “Why were you in a rush to get back?”
He took his time answering, chewing and swallowing slowly. “I… was feeling somewhat restricted back in Caras Galadhon,” he said at last. “It is much freer here.” He scooped up another mouthful. “But it seems I shall be going back much sooner than I had anticipated.”
He smirked at her. “Because of you, of course. We must consult the Lady about your presence here.”
At first she was disappointed… didn’t he want to spend time with her alone? The idea of holing up with him in his treehouse for a few days at least was very, very appealing to her. But then her overbusy mind began piecing together the possibilities—she could meet other elves, begin learning their language, perhaps even get a glimpse into their books, if they had any. Would they permit her to hear their music? She had to get Haldir to describe their concept of religion. And aesthetics… from the look of his clothing and weapons, they were a people who believed in form as well as function.
“Oh, yay!” she said around a chunk of venison. “When can we go?” An entire city in the trees, what must the architecture be like? Was it different to the plain, serviceable treehouses—Haldir had called them flets—she saw here?
“We will go tomorrow,” he answered, grinning at her. Her eagerness to learn more was very amusing; never had he met a human more enamoured of educating herself. Most, he’d found in his few dealings with Man, were content with the little they knew and suspicious of learning more. Celeborn was going to adore her, he thought, for that elf-lord was ever despairing of locating someone with whom he could share his prodigious knowledge.
Yes, they would leave on the morrow, but what to do until then? In spite of the cauterizing passion they seemed to possess for each other, it was not truly a good idea to join so soon. Her presence here had to be explored, if not completely explained, and it was entirely too soon. Elves did not simply fling themselves into a relationship, be it friendship or love, nor did they indulge in quick, meaningless romps.
Not that what he had with Corinne was devoid of meaning. Elbereth, no. Even after a few mere hours, she had become a startlingly important part of him, and he knew that even if she disappeared at that moment, he would feel her loss for the rest of his years.
She put aside her empty bowl then, and glanced hopefully at him. He smiled. She was unsure what to do next. He could smell her desire for him, and felt his own answer it. No, a complete joining would be imprudent just now, but there was no reason Haldir could see that they could not find pleasure in less momentous ways.
But first, there was more to know. “Tell me about yourself,” he said, taking their bowls to the basin of water to wash them.
“I’m not sure what to say,” she replied, chin on her knees again. “I’m a graduate student—“ when she saw his lack of comprehension, she explained. “Many people where I’m from choose to study beyond what society requires of them, and study a variety of things for four years. Some of them want to learn even more than that, and take another three or so years to specialize in a certain area. We undertake a huge study project and present it to our teachers at the end of our coursework, basically becoming the world’s expert on whatever it is we’ve researched for those three years.”
She sighed. “I’m on my third year of coursework, and half-way through my dissertation—that’s the huge project—but I’ve reached an impasse.” Corinne grinned suddenly. “Or I had, at least, until this happened.”
Haldir tilted his head in curiosity. “What does that mean?”
“It means that the topic I’d chosen, mysticism in Hatshepsut’s reign in ancient Egypt, wasn’t going anywhere. There was no proof that it even existed, let alone that it worked. I begged my advisor for help, and he told me about this store where I could get this.” She dug in her pocket and extracted the cartouche. “I never thought it would actually work. Magic simply isn’t a part of life where I come from. But…”
She moved her gaze from the embossed gold to his face, and smiled. “But it’s a part of life here, isn’t it?” At his nod, she uncurled herself and stood, walking to him, and continued, “And it did actually work. Did everything the old guy said it would.”
“And what is that, doll-nîn?” Even with his hands in dirty dishwater he was perfection, and Corinne couldn’t resist wrapping her arms around him from behind, pressing her face between his shoulder blades. She didn’t answer; she didn’t have to.
“You must promise me, Corinne, that you will not venture from the flet without me,” Haldir said a little while later. She’d begged him to bring her to the river, and he’d watched with an indulgent smile as she removed her chunky sandals (quite the ugliest shoes he’d ever had the misfortune to clap eyes on) and stuck her feet in the chilly water. They’d stayed until twilight wrapped them in its cool blue shadows, and she declared her feet were frozen and they could return now.
“Why is that?” she asked, hardly able to see at all now that night had fallen in earnest. She slipped her hand into his so he could guide her in the dark, and when he squeezed it gently felt her entire body give a throb of longing.
“There are dangerous, evil things that would delight in slaughtering you,” he told her plainly. “You would have no chance against them, none at all.” He stopped and turned to her, watching the moonlight flow over her face. “Promise me you will not?”
Corinne stared at him a long moment. She didn’t like the idea of needing a babysitter, but he was so intent and serious about this… “Yes,” she said, and was rewarded with a brilliant smile. “I promise.”
Now that he was cheerful again, maybe he’d answer some of her questions.. she began peppering him with them as they walked through the meadows surrounding the Anduin back to Haldir’s flet, where they sat at the table and gazed at each other over the candle. He answered patiently for hours, stopping only when she demanded he begin to teach her Sindarin, right now.
“That is a job for Lord Celeborn, I think,” he said with a laugh, his throat hoarse from speaking so much. “We should sleep now, if we are to leave in the morning for Caras Galadhon.” He pulled her to her feet and began walking backwards toward the bed.
“Sleep?” Corinne asked, shooting him a naughty glance and even naughtier smile.
“Yes, sleep,” Haldir replied haughtily, staring down his nose at her. “The March-Warden commands it.”
“He does, huh?” she said, trying to make it seem indignant, but the huge yawn that followed rather spoiled the effect. Now that she’d stopped firing questions at him, her fatigue was swiftly catching up with her and she could barely keep her eyes open. “Well, he seems like a pretty smart guy, so, ok,” she agreed sleepily, and rested her head against his chest.
He smiled down at her, reluctant to release her form even for a moment, and so reached out to pull back the covers with one hand while the other held her. “Undress now,” he said at last, and without paying much attention she stepped out of her ugly shoes, pushed down her trousers, and pulled off her short tunic. “What on Arda is that?” he demanded, pointing to the contraption that clasped her breasts.
“Huh?” she asked, squinting up at him through the curtain of hair that had fallen over her face when she’d removed her shirt. Haldir was staring at her chest, or more accurately, at her bra. It was a very nice one, she thought—creamy-white satin with ribbon straps, the underwires making more of her charms than were actually there.
“Is it not… uncomfortable?”
“Hell, yes,” she replied cheerfully. “Women have to suffer to be beautiful, ya know.”
He just shot her a strange look and began to undress himself. Corinne leaned back on her elbows and surveyed the process. If she had thought any of those pretty-boy Calvin models she was always seeing on the ads plastered to the buses were hot, she was utterly, completely in error—Haldir of Lórien eclipsed them like the sun outshone the moon.
His ivory skin was taut over a smoothly sculpted musculature, and the elegant bones of his clavicles, hands, and pelvis looked as if they’d been carved by a master’s hand. His limbs were long and graceful, and the sweep of pale-gold hair against his shoulders made her ache to stroke him. Shadows cast by the room’s lone candle swept over his face, throwing it into high relief. In the near-dark, his eyes were the colour of pewter, and when he looked up to find her watching him with what had to be a world-class amount of lust, they deepened to midnight-black.
“Do you not want to take off that contraption?” he murmured, hands at the low-riding waist of his braies, drawing her attention to the ridges framing the fine line of silken hair arrowing down his abdomen.
Sitting up, Corinne reached behind and unhooked the bra, allowing the weight of her breasts to pull it from her shoulders before removing it entirely. Even her human hearing could detect the sound of his breath catching, and she saw the ripple of a tendon in his cheek as he clenched his teeth, fighting to keep control.
Then Haldir pushed his braies past his narrow hips and they pooled to the ground around his ankles, revealing the well-muscled legs that she had the sudden urge to lightly rake her fingernails down, that arrow of pale hair pulling her gaze inexorably toward the source of his lust. Surrounded by a halo of golden curls, it thrust proudly toward her even as he smiled a little sheepishly.
“It is just being optimistic,” he told her, and pulled the braies off his feet, hopping a little as he did. It was such a funny sight—the haughty Guardian and his package bobbing up and down as he undressed—that Corinne found herself laughing. Then he frowned at her, and she laughed harder. Before she knew it, he was laughing too.
She was glad for it—the tension had been building for a moment there, and she realized as she knew he had that it was not right yet for them to make love. This would help it be more bearable. Yay, she thought, not entirely happy about it, and scooted over to make room for him as he approached.
Haldir lay beside her and immediately pulled her to nestle against him, and they both sighed at the contact of skin against skin before he pulled the covers up over them.
“I’m suspicious,” Corinne mumbled against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of his skin against her lips. “This feels too good. There must be some sort of catch.”
“Perhaps,” Haldir replied, a note to his voice saying that he was actually somewhat serious. “I too worry about the consequences of such an odd occurrence. But I am willing to enjoy what is before us now, and accept what comes.” He shifted so he could look at her face. “Are you?”
Corinne smiled at him. “Haldir, I’m laying in bed naked with a man I only met a few hours ago. What do you think? Does it seem like I’m willing to take a risk?”
But Haldir only frowned. “You are in bed with a man?” he demanded. “Tell me his name, and I will slay him.”
She rolled her eyes. “All right, Mr. Pesty. You’re an elf, not a man. I get the point.” And she flicked her fingertip against a point—that of his closest ear. It made his breath catch and his hips undulated briefly against the lush cushion of her hip before he forcibly stilled. “Um, I won’t do that again,” she said, sorry she’d disturbed him when it seemed he’d been settling down.
He rolled to his side and pulled her tightly against him. “Only for a short while,” he muttered into her hair. “Later on, you may do that as much as you wish.” She made to speak, but he only pulled her face closer to his shoulder. “Sleep now,” he insisted, and who was she to argue with a naked elf?
doll-nîn = my dusky one