Without, Part 5
Corinne had felt a coldness grow in her the longer she was back in New York, as if there were a chunk of ice in her belly, and found her hands had started to shake as she packed for her return. She had bought the largest duffel she could find—it was the size of a body-bag—and filled it with all the things she didn’t think she could live without for any period of time. She’d also purchased a few gifts for him and the people he’d told her about, his brothers and his lord and lady.
Then Corinne did her hair and dressed carefully, knowing that Haldir’s last memory of her would be of her looking pretty grungy. She didn’t want him to be sorry when he saw her again. She fastened her hair up in tiny clips, and applied her makeup, and pulled on the light blue spaghetti-string tank top and oyster suede skirt before stepping into these awesome tan demi-boots she’d found at that discount store around the corner…
Enough of that, Corinne scolded herself. If what Haldir and Faltho had been wearing was any indication, there wasn’t going to be a lot of love shown her trendy wardrobe in any case. Grasping the strap of the huge duffel with one hand, she closed her eyes and focused on where she wanted to be.
Or rather, who she wanted to be with. Haldir’s face rose clearly in her mind’s eye, and like a slide show she could see him in varying poses: that cautious, alert look when he’d first aimed his bow at her; the expression of pleasure when she’d made love to his ear; his hair silvered by early moonlight as they walked from the river at dusk; even his scowl when they’d bickered just before she’d left.
“I want more than anything to be with my true love,” Corinne whispered, and the cartouche on the desk began to hum and glow. Relieved that it was working, she picked it up and closed her eyes against the corresponding intensification of brightness.
She first became aware of the faint, haunting strains of harp-music somewhere in the distance. When she opened her eyes again, she was standing in a clearing surrounded by familiarly tall trees. There were a handful of elves all around her, and some in the middle of climbing down some stairs. And there, across the clearing from her, stood Haldir. He looked so distant and forbidding, so much like the warrior who’d trained his arrow between her eyes when she’d dropped so unexpectedly into her life, that she was daunted and found her feet rooted to the ground. Had he been glad that she’d gone? Would he be sorry she had come back?
Then he spoke, and it was the name he’d called her before—his dusky one. And she knew he was glad she’d returned to him, and couldn’t restrain herself from saying his name in relief. “Haldir,” she said, tasting it on her lips, and then he was holding her in the shelter of his arms. His arms locked around her like a vise and abruptly, the coldness within her thawed and the sense of panic she’d kept at bay dissolved completely. Turning her face against his neck, she breathed deeply of his scent and sighed, feeling the familiar weakness in her knees at his proximity. She never wanted to move—this was perfection.
“Ahem,” coughed a feminine voice near them, and she reluctantly cracked open one eye to see an ethereally lovely woman standing not far from them, clad in a white dress and with her hands folded patiently before her. Beside her was an amazingly gorgeous man, his hair almost matching the silvery tunic he wore. He was watching them with a wide smile.
Corinne pulled back a little so she could look up at him. “I missed you,” she whispered, nuzzling his chin with her forehead. He closed his eyes as if in pain and then moved his hands to her hips, shifting her back a pace.
“And I, you,” Haldir replied, his voice deep from emotion as he surveyed her with a cool gaze. “Is it the custom in your land to go about so scantily clad?” he asked, taking in her bare arms and shoulders, and the expanse of leg bare between the hem of her skirt and the top of her boots.
Corinne looked down at herself, then at the women who stood watching. To a one, they were covered from throat to ankle, and if their arms were revealed, it was only to the elbow. “Um, yeah.” She was feeling kind of stupid now, and more than a little slutty, and was relieved when Haldir came closer to her. Even though they were not touching, his nearness soothed her.
“I like it,” he whispered, and she smiled up at him from beneath her lashes, suddenly glad she’d brought plenty of other skimpy clothes with her.
“Do not fret,” the closest woman said, and stepped forward with her hands extended. Corinne automatically placed her own in them, and felt a jolt of both power and affection at the touch. “We do not judge you for the manners of your home.”
“Thanks,” Corinne replied with a shy smile. “I’m Corinne.”
The woman inclined her head gracefully. “I am Galadriel, lady of this Wood, and my husband, Celeborn,” she looked to him, and smiled, “is its lord.”
“You are welcome,” Celeborn told her. “Haldir has told us much about you. Quite distraught was he when you disappeared so suddenly.”
“Yeah, about that,” Corinne said, and saw that Haldir was folding his arms over his chest in a now-familiar gesture of ‘ok, let’s hear this explanation’. “It seems we have to be very careful about this cartouche. Can’t want anything strongly, and then touch it, or you’ll be brought to where it is.”
The elves looked rather confused by her babbling statement. “I’m going to pack it away and not go near it,” she said at last, and they nodded.
“You will not leave me like that again,” Haldir informed her severely, frowning down at her.
“Ok,” she agreed cheerfully, and stretched up on tiptoes to plant a kiss on his chin. He looked very uncomfortable with this public display of affection and Celeborn veiled a laugh behind his hand. Galadriel didn’t bother to hide her smile, however, and beamed at them.
“I see you have brought a sizable amount with you, Corinne,” Galadriel said, peered at the huge duffelbag with interest.
“I brought presents for you all,” Corinne replied, and went to the bag, not noticing their expressions of amazement when she unzipped it. “Haldir told me a little about you, so I’ve got books for Celeborn—“ she hauled a particularly large one out and handed it to him—“and I never met a woman who didn’t love chocolate, so—“ she held out a large, gold-foil box of Godiva to Galadriel, who took it cautiously.
“What is chocolate?” the elf-witch asked, turning the box over in her hands.
Corinne’s eyes grew comically wide. “Oh, this is going to be fun,” she said with a devilish grin, and took the box to untie the gold bow and pull off the lid. Inside were two dozen delectably dark confections. “Take one,” she urged the other three, “but be careful when you bite into them, they’re drippy.”
Eyeing her warily, they each took tentative bites. Celeborn chewed thoughtfully, as if he were cataloguing the experience in his mind; Galadriel’s lashes fluttered in bliss; and Haldir only stared at Corinne with a predatory expression that make her think about dribbling the liqueur from the cordials all over him and licking it off.
“Um,” she said haltingly, a little breathless as a current of awareness passed between them, and Haldir’s eyes darkened to onyx. “Don’t you think it’s time to show me where you live, Haldir?” To her way of thinking, Haldir’s talan equaled Haldir’s bed, and perhaps some steamy elf snoggings.
“Yes,” he replied instantly, and reached to grab the duffel’s handles.
Corinne’s internal shout of “yay!” was interrupted, however, when Galadriel said, “There is much to talk of; you cannot think of sequestering yourselves so soon after Corinne’s arrival?”
She heaved a huge sigh, only noting at the end of it that Haldir had heaved one of his own, and couldn’t keep from laughing. “We’ve got two weeks until I have to go back, so why not?” she asked happily, and took the arm Celeborn offered to lead her up into the talan he shared with his wife.
They chatted amiably for a few hours. The most Galadriel could tell without having a lengthy perusal of her mirror was that it would not be prudent for them to ‘join’, which Corinne assumed was the elven euphemism for sex. She felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment, and was unable to meet Haldir’s gaze, only nodding vigourously at the top of the table.
“I suspected you would advise that,” Haldir remarked, his voice both amused and a little bit frustrated. She knew how he felt, even as she couldn’t help thinking some chasm had opened between them—though he sat beside her, and often touched her hand or knee as if to reassure himself she was really there, she felt as if he was holding himself distant from her.
“I’m getting pretty tired,” she said when she could no longer bear wondering what was wrong. “Just point me to where I’m going to be staying.” She peeped at Haldir from beneath lowered lashes, not wanting to force herself into his home if he had changed his mind about her. Of course, if he had changed his mind, she’d just wish herself back to her dorm room. There was no way in hell she’d stay in Lórien with him so near, if he’d rejected her…
“Do you not wish to stay with me, doll-nîn?” Haldir asked her quietly, his handsome face expressionless.
“I… only if you want me to,” she answered miserably, staring down at her hands. “I don’t want to intrude.”
He startled Corinne with his laughter. “You have been naught but an intrusion since first we met,” he told her, grabbing her hands and hauling her to her feet. “I find I like your brand of intrusion.” And then he shocked the other three occupants of the room by winking at them, sweeping Corinne up into his arms, and walking out.
Corinne was by no means a lightweight but Haldir carried her effortlessly. The feel of his arms around her, his scent in her nose, and the silk of his hair brushing against her cheek would have made her swoon if she hadn’t already been supported entirely by him. She was a little baffled by this sudden change of attitude, however—he’d been so aloof throughout their discussion with Celeborn and Galadriel.
“Haldir, I’m confused again,” she said, her voice a little muffled as she’d pressed her nose against the smooth skin of his neck, all the better to inhale his luscious scent.
“About what, doll-nîn?” His voice was low, almost a whisper, and Corinne felt the familiar tremors begin in her belly. No, no, focus, she insisted to herself.
“You seemed happy to see me again, but then you seemed unhappy while we were at Galadriel’s, and now you seem happy again.” The light breeze blew a strand of his hair over her face and she brushed it away, toying with it before placing it carefully on his shoulder. “Are you bipolar or something? Because that would explain a lot.”
“Bipolar?” he repeated softly, and began climbing the steps to his talan.
“It means someone whose mood changes quickly, from one extreme to the other.”
Haldir gave it a moment’s thought. “No,” he replied at last. “I do not think I am this. Mostly, my mood is constant.”
“Constantly severe,” added a new voice, and Corinne lifted her head from where it rested against Haldir’s shoulder to see two pairs of bright silver eyes watching them with great interest. The elf on the left seemed to have been the one to speak. “Is she injured, Haldir? Or ill?”
“Speak up, brother,” admonished the other when Haldir said nothing. “We are concerned for the welfare of the woman who could make you show emotion in public. Such a prize must be guarded, for her worth is beyond mithril.”
Against her, Haldir sighed and slowly placed her back on the ground. “Corinne, these are my brothers, Rúmil,” he indicated the one on the left, “and Orophin.”
“it’s… er… nice to meet you,” Corinne told them, putting out her right hand for them to shake. Both seemed perplexed as to what they might do with her hand, so she reached out and clasped their hands in greeting.
“Aha,” said Rúmil. “Just so.” And he pumped her hand vigourously, and at length, until she gently disentangled herself. “So, you are Corinne.” His eyes flicked for the barest moment at her chest before returning to her face, and Corinne swore she could feel Haldir swell with anger. She tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow, hand resting on his forearm, and squeezed reassuringly. Immediately, he resided, and she marveled at the power they seemed to have in comforting the other.
“I’ve heard my name has an… interesting meaning here,” she said lightly. “For your own health, how about we forget that?”
Orophin hid a laugh behind his hand; Rúmil simply nodded gravely and bit his lip. “Permit me to show you our talan?” he offered, and Corinne exchanged Haldir’s arm for his brother’s. The brothers’ home was nearly as grand as that of the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien; it was spacious, with beautiful carving around the windows and doors, and furniture that was both graceful and comfortable-looking.
“Ooohh,” she murmured, and pulled away from Rúmil to sink onto a magnificent daybed. Each end sloped gently back, and the back of it was, instead of a flat panel, a series of intricately figured vines that curled and wove around each other as if alive. The mattress of it was simply divine, somehow managing to be both soft and firm at the same time. Corinne allowed herself to fall backward on it, and almost immediately felt as if someone had conked her on the head. “This thing is evil,” she muttered. “How are you supposed to stay awake?”
“You are not,” Haldir replied dryly, “for that is not the purpose of a bed, doll-nîn.”
“Just the one purpose, then, Haldir?” Corinne asked, propping herself up one elbow to look at him. He stood in the doorway, shoulder leaning against the frame as Orophin and Rúmil watched them with great interest.
“It would be best if you left us now,” Haldir said softly to his brothers. Rúmil opened his mouth as if to speak but seemed to change his mind and shut it with an audible click, and Orophin grabbed his arm and hauled him from the room. “So, you approve of my bed?”
“This is your bedroom?” Corinne asked, her voice a bit squeaky as her throat was suddenly quite dry. “Rúmil didn’t say…” Her words trailed off because Haldir had begun taking his clothes off. “…whose it was,” she finished in a whisper. “Oh, God.” She gaped stupidly at him as each inch of velvety skin was revealed, positive she was dribbling down her chin by the time he stood nude before her. Feeling weak as a tidal wave of sheer lust washed over her, she flopped back and stared at the ceiling. Oh, good, she thought when she realized there was carving there, too. Something to distract me so I don’t break the poor thing by raping him.
“Do you not wish to undress for sleep as well, Corinne?” Haldir asked. There was a hint of smugness to his tone, as if he knew exactly what he was doing to her, and she felt a little surge of anger begin to replace the desire.
“I don’t like being teased,” she told him, eyes slitted. “Galadriel said we can’t do it, so don’t saunter around the place like Mister Gorgeous Sex God. And we haven’t spoken yet about why you keep running hot and cold on me.”
He looked as if he couldn’t decide whether to be angry or confused. He seemed to figure out her meaning, however, because he said, “My emotions are very uneven since I met you yesterday. I am not accustomed to feeling so strongly, so quickly, about much of anything. Especially about loving. I am… inexperienced… in such matters.” Haldir gave a bark of laughter.
“I don’t know any more about it than you do,” Corinne conceded, and flung an arm over her eyes, suddenly feeling exhausted. “I’m not used to it either, you know. Until yesterday, my life consisted of one thing: my studies. That’s all I wanted, all I needed. It was perfect. I had my studies, the undergrad class I taught, my dissertation, and once-a-month booze binges with the other lonely-hearts in the department. It wasn’t exciting, but it was satisfying, and it was my choice. My choices have been taken from me now, Haldir.”
“Mine as well… these emotions rage within me, and I cannot seem to rein them in.” Haldir seemed very displeased indeed at this.
“Me neither,” Corinne admitted. “It scares me a little. It’s all so foreign.” She turned her head to stare wearily at him. “Add to that you acting all pissy, and I just don’t know what to do.”
“Pissy is out-of-sorts?” he asked, and she nodded. His nudity seemingly forgotten (at least by him), Haldir came to sit on the edge of the divan beside her. “I do not mean to be…that,” he told her.
“Apology accepted,” she said sleepily, grinning when he frowned.
“I did not apologize,” Haldir grumbled.
“Don’t care,” Corinne replied. “Tired now.” She stood and wiggled out of her clothes and boots while he slipped under the covers. He tugged on her hand so she tumbled into the bed beside him. At the feel of his silken body against hers, each sighed deeply, and Corinne could feel the insistent press of his arousal against her. Immediately, her nipples peaked and a wave of heat roiled within her abdomen, moving swiftly down to centre between her legs.
“This is going to be impossible, isn’t it?” she asked, pillowing her face against the smooth cap of muscle on his shoulder. Her hand was wandering all over his chest entirely against her brain’s will, and she couldn’t seem to stop rubbing her leg up and down his. For his part, Haldir was stroking her hair and caressing her arm, her thigh, anywhere he could reach while thrusting his erection in little circles against the soft flesh of her belly and hip. It would take entirely too little effort to roll to her back, for Haldir to cover her with his body, for her legs to slide part and around him as he pushed inside her…
“Maybe we shouldn’t sleep in the same bed,” Corinne gasped, her hands flexing convulsively on him as lust swept through her. She looked up at him, and was undone by the fierce gleam of desire in his eyes. “Haldir…”
He growled, the sound doing devastating things to her fragile thread of control, and captured her mouth with his. Corinne moaned in relief, kissing him back with furor, hands everywhere at once. His were busy as well; he palmed her breast, hefting its weight in his hand as talented fingers worried the nipple. She pushed one of her legs between his, and curled the other around his hip, the better to press her aching centre against his long, lean thigh.
“Elbereth,” Haldir gasped when he realized what that wet heat was on his skin. “Perhaps you are correct,” he said, trailing his mouth down her throat and chest to take her nipple between his teeth, nibbling gently and then not-too-gently. Corinne threaded her fingers in his cornsilk hair and undulated against him.
“No,” she moaned. “I was delusional. Ignore what I said, just don’t stop doing… oh, God… that.” The pleasure of his hands and mouth, and her movements against him, had begun to spiral tighter within her, and she reached down to clasp his buttock and pull him closer. The feel of the firm, springy flesh in her hand was her undoing, and with a shout she came, flinging her head back as sensation burst through her, great waves of it, over and over. “Haldir… I love you!” she cried, unable to stifle the words that had been on the tip of her tongue since the moment they’d met.
Haldir went very still. A female had never said those words to him; the closest any had come to it was Buffy, asking why she did not love him. He felt his control rapidly evaporating and knew that if he didn’t get away from Corinne he was going to take her, over and over, all night long. It is not real, he admonished himself even as joy swelled within him. She does not mean it. The thought allowed him to regain a measure of restraint and he gently disentangled himself from her.
“You’re leaving?” she croaked, her voice husky from having shouted so loudly. “You’re leaving me?”
“Never leaving you,” he murmured. “Never. But if I remain here tonight…” Haldir left the sentence unfinished; there was no need to complete it. “Can you not see how my hands are shaking?” He held them out, and indeed there was a fine tremor to them. He dug through a chest and came up with a robe of fine linen in pale grey. “You may sleep here; Rúmil can share with Orophin and I will take his bed.” He gave her a chaste kiss on the forehead and strode from the room before the sight of her, sprawled over his bed, limbs dewy with perspiration from coming so hard, undid his resolve. He drew on the robe as he went, and it fluttered like a banner behind him, revealing his randy profile.
Her feeling of repletion was marred a little by his absence, but fatigue was catching up with a vengeance. Corinne curled up in the hollow his body had made in the mattress and soaked up the faint heat and scent he’d left. Sleep came quickly.