Without, Part 6
The next morning Corinne awoke feeling wonderful except for a slight soreness in her belly, and a fierce desire to start learning everything she could about this strange new world. She was a little alarmed at the former until she realized it was the same ache she’d felt after wishing herself back in New York. Chalking it up to simply being away from Haldir, she dressed (someone had brought her immense duffelbag to the talan and left it inside the door) in an outfit vastly more conservative than yesterday’s, or so she thought: jeans and a crisp white shirt. Bundling her hair on her head in a messy bun, applying the barest trace of cosmetics, and sticking her glasses on her nose, she grabbed up a notebook and a fistful of pens before exiting Haldir’s home.
Once outside, she remembered she had no idea whatsoever where to find Galadriel and Celeborn, and when she asked a passing elf he only stared in confusion. Must not speak English, she guessed, and frowned.
“Are you looking for the Lady?” asked a soft voice behind her, and Corinne whipped around to find a beautiful elleth standing there, smiling. “I am Tatharë, Rúmil’s betrothed.”
“Hi, Tatharë,” Corinne replied, holding out her hand to shake. Tatharë put her left into it, instead of grasping it with the right, and they ended up holding hands awkwardly until Corinne disengaged them gently. Gotta remember they don’t do that, she scolded herself. “I was looking for Celeborn, actually.
“I will show you,” replied Tatharë, and led the way through the labyrinthine pathways between the trees.
“Do you know where Haldir might be?” Corinne asked, eyes wide as she gazed around the elven city.
Tatharë smiled. “It is my understanding that he was… out of sorts this morn, and has ordered the wardens under his command to a double session of training on the archery field.” She glanced at her companion, brows lifted delicately in inquiry. Corinne had a good idea exactly why Haldir might be grumpy, but didn’t think she should explain it, and just smiled back.
“It is here,” Tatharë said at last, gesturing at an immense tree, and Corinne thanked her before starting up the winding stairs to the first level of the abode. She knocked, but there was no answer. “Celeborn?” she called into the room, poking her head through the door, only too late recognizing the sounds from the next room for what they were. “Oh, hell.”
There was a muffled exclamation, then the rustling of fabric, and Galadriel emerged from the other room to practically skip toward the door. She patted her hair back into order as she tugged her floaty dress back on. “No, no,” she assured Corinne when the woman turned and made to bolt away, “do not worry, you interrupted nothing.”
“Nothing?” Celeborn mock-growled as he followed his wife, his silvery hair distinctly mussed and his elegant robes all askew. “You were not calling it ‘nothing’ a moment ago…” He fell silent at an arch look from Galadriel, and turned to Corinne. “You wished to see me?”
“Um, yes,” she replied, feeling like a complete idiot. “I was wondering if you wanted to teach me about elven culture, if we could arrange for lessons.”
“Lessons?” Celeborn looked as if all his birthdays had come at once, and Galadriel groaned.
“You know not what you ask,” the elf-witch told their guest warningly.
Corinne blasted her biggest, most ingratiating smile at Celeborn, who seemed somewhat taken aback by the force of it. “I’d like to start with a socio-historical summary, combined with learning your language, if that’s all right with you,” she said. “The history will have to be all verbal at first, until I can read your writing enough to study from books.” She looked worried for a moment. “You do have books, don’t you? Yours isn’t an oral tradition, is it?”
“I have books,” Celeborn assured her gravely. “Many, many books. May I show them to you?”
Corinne sucked in a breath. “Please,” she whispered, taking the arm he held out to her and allowing him to lead her toward his library.
That left Galadriel alone in the vestibule. “Ought I to be worried about the two of them?” she asked herself dryly before her smile faded. She was aware of how close the girl and Haldir had come last night to joining, and though she could not discern what exactly the danger was, one thing was clear: that talisman was pushing them to behave in ways unlike their true natures, and seemed unduly influential in getting them to consummate their relationship. Therefore, that very thing must be avoided.
Glancing in a mirror to make sure she didn’t look too disheveled—it wouldn’t do for the Golden Lady to appear in public like she’d just been tumbled, no matter how true it was—she made her way down to her private glade. She allowed her mind to clear and focused on reaching out to a particular person, though she was hundreds of miles away. The familiar feel of the woman’s conscious was like a warm hug, and Galadriel couldn’t help but smile. How she missed her dear friend! “Buffy,” she called out mentally, “Attend me.”
There was a moment of disorientation—Buffy had never quite gotten accustomed to telepathic communication—before happiness and warmth flowed back along the link toward Galadriel.
“Hi!” she chirped into Galadriel’s head. “How’s everything going? Just wanting to complain about Celeborn again? What’d he do this time?”
Galadriel laughed; she couldn’t help it. “Celeborn has been behaving himself quite nicely,” she informed Buffy. “It is Haldir who is causing trouble this time.”
She could feel Buffy’s skepticism. “Haldir? No way. I can’t believe he’s being naughty.” Pause. “Ok, scrap that. I can imagine him being naughty. What’s he up to?”
Galadriel felt it easier to just communicate her memories and knowledge of the situation with Corinne rather than explain them. When she was done, Buffy was silent a long moment. Then, “It’ll take us a week to get to Lórien. We’ll leave tomorrow.”
“That is not necessary—“ Galadriel demurred, not wanting to subject Buffy and her husband to a lengthy trip, but was interrupted.
“Sounds to me like you’ve got someone—from my world, no less—who’s been dropped through a portal into Arda. Who better to deal with the issue, than someone who’s both been there and done that? Besides,” Buffy continued. “Been getting kinda antsy around here, totally wouldn’t mind a road trip. We haven’t been out of Ithilien since Dawn had the baby, and I’m so bored I might have to start reading or some other equally dire hobby.”
“Dire indeed,” Galadriel said with a laugh. “We cannot allow such a fate to befall you, Buffy, so I will see you in a sen’night’s time.”
There were many things that Corinne was confused about in her life. Foremost of them, of course, was the matter of Haldir; more secondary was her presence in Arda at all. Magic simply wasn’t supposed to be. She was an academic; she and her colleagues dealt with facts, dry and empirical. How was she supposed to explain this to her faculty advisor?
“Sorry I didn’t hand in that status essay on my thesis, Professor Ives, but you know that gold thingy you had me get from the creepy guy? Made me bleed like a stuck pig to pay for it? Well, seems that it sent me to an alternate dimension, and I fell in love with an elf. Yeah, an elf. Yes, he lives in a tree. No, he doesn’t bake cookies.”
There were also the less pressing issues of her dissertation, finding the money for tuition and books and room and board, and the all-important purchase of designer originals at discount prices. Dealing with her parents figured somewhere in there too. So, there was lots of weirdness and puzzlement floating around Corinne’s head.
But there was one thing in her life that shone with the perfect clarity of crystal: she positively adored Celeborn.
The elf was an absolute demon when it came to knowledge—both the acquisition and dissemination of it. He was clearly thrilled to have an audience eager to soak up what he knew, and even more delighted than that, if possible, to hear about her world. He peppered her with questions as often as she did him, and never showed irritation when she interrupted him to explain a point, or go further into an issue.
And it wasn’t just historical facts that he was so enthusiastic about, either—he segued more often than not into the philosophy of life, love, war, peace, death, sex, and anything else they could think of. He had an excellent, wry sense of humour that made her run the gamut between a mere twitch of the lips to uproarious laughter.
They were up all night.
Galadriel came to the library at one point, scolding them in her serene way to keep their voices down. They invited her to join them, but she just rolled her eyes and left them to it. Haldir stomped in an hour before dawn, fuming that Corinne had deserted him, but they just blinked owlishly at him, and he had thrown up his hands in exasperation and stomped right back out again.
It was well into the morning when they finally admitted their exhaustion, and Celeborn showed her to the door. “I will expect you this afternoon for your first language lesson?” he asked, and she nodded blearily.
“After I sleep for at least a few hours,” she promised, and left. It wasn’t long, however, before she realized she had no idea where she was going. Haldir had been pretty pissed off that last time she’d seen him; would he let her crash at his place?
Tatharë appeared once more, and guided her back to Haldir’s talan. He was sitting at a table with his brothers, eating a meal, and Corinne considered delaying her sleep for some food but the thought of that heavenly bed decided for her. “Hi, sweetie,” she murmured and brushed a kiss over Haldir’s forehead, completely oblivious to the glare he was leveling at her with the force of a forest fire. Her head was still whirling over the concept that people who’d made ancient history thousands of years ago were still alive. Gotta meet Glorfindel, she thought. Gotta learn more about that Balrog-thingy. Gotta—
“Huh?” she said eloquently, stopping in her tracks when Haldir stood and folded his arms over his chest. “What?”
“This is unacceptable,” he told her, his voice low and rumbly. “You cannot spend all night with Celeborn and then stumble in at breakfast.”
Corinne peered up at him. Even angry, he looked delicious. “Ok,” she agreed, sliding her arms around his waist and dropping her head to his chest, nuzzling her face against him. “Can I go to sleep now?” The gusty sigh he heaved made loose tendrils of her hair blow crazily around her face. Taking her shoulders, he put her away from him, turned her around, and steered her toward the bedroom. She was vaguely aware of the expressions of shock on the faces of his brothers and Tatharë, and wondered why—hadn’t they ever seen a sleepy person before?
“We must talk.”
Crap, she thought. That sounded serious. And she was so tired, and had to return for Sindarin lessons in just a few hours… “Can’t it wait until tonight?” she asked, wincing at the whine in her voice.
Shutting the door behind them, he turned to stare at her. “I fear not.” In the brilliant sunlight flooding the room, he looked sinfully beautiful, and memories of his body against hers as she writhed in ecstasy the previous night flooded back to her.
“Are you sure?” Corinne asked, stepping close to him again and sliding her hands up his chest to lock behind his beck. This time, her voice was low and sultry, a tone she’d never heard from herself before. “I’ve been aching for you all night.” Did those words just come from me? she asked herself, more than a little amazed at how she seemed to have no control over her mouth whatsoever.
“Stop saying things like that,” Haldir growled. His hands were clenched very hard—indeed, his entire body seemed tense like a cat poised to spring. “You must stop.”
“I can’t,” Corinne protested, eyes heavy-lidded as she tilted her head back to gaze at him. “I want to touch you, I need to taste you.” She thought of his flesh against her tongue and barely caught a moan from escaping. Would he taste salty, or sweet? Oh, the possibilities…
“You must stop,” he rasped, grabbing her shoulders to give her a firm shake. “Please.” His face was so intent, so pleading, that a sense of guilt cut through the haze of lust that had gripped her. “There is much you do not know about elfkind, that I must explain to you.”
Taking a deep breath, she nodded and pulled back, knitting her fingers together to keep from reaching out for him. “Ok,” she said. “Explain away.”
Haldir stepped to the other side of the room, hands clasped behind his back as he stared at the dappling of sunlight on the floor. “Elves do not share their bodies with another on a whim,” he began. “It is an act of deep friendship or love, not to be taken lightly.” He looked up at her, his gaze piercing even in the waning light. “I do not think you realize how extraordinary is my longing for you, Corinne. It usually takes many days for desire to develop in an elf, and even then, it is not something that possesses us so fiercely. We… are often accused of being somewhat bland lovers.”
Corinne’s skepticism was evident, and made him smile. “Truly, doll-nîn. I do not lie. Affection for us is ever a matter of the mind and soul, rarely of the body. That is why we must be careful, you and I. For this—whatever is between us—is not typical. It is something that must be watched, and studied.”
“Studied?” She couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Both actions seemed appropriate for the weirdness of this conversation. ”Studied?”
“There is much evil in the world,” he told her gravely. “What if what we feel is the result of some dark plot?”
Ok, so laughing it would be. “A nefarious plan?” she asked, biting her lip when he nodded. “And it couldn’t be that you’re just the tiniest bit paranoid, hm?”
“What is paranoid?”
“When you believe that dangers exist when they don’t. A delusion of persecution.”
“You are saying that I am delusional?” He seemed deeply offended by this. “My perception has been valued by Galadriel and Celeborn since the Second Age. I am not known to deceive myself or others, even without intent.”
“I’m not calling you a liar,” Corinne protested.
“Are you not? If not a liar, then a madman. Which of the two is preferable? You will forgive me, I trust, if I am not complimented by either possibility?”
She sighed, feeling the last of her patience begin to ebb. “Is it possible you’re thinking entirely too much about this whole thing?”
“It is far more likely,” Haldir replied stiffly. “that you are thinking entirely too little about this ‘whole thing’.” His emphasis of the phrase dripped with distaste for her flippancy.
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Haldir,” she said impatiently.
“What is a cigar?” he demanded, mystified.
“It’s symbolic,” Corinne tried to clarify. “It just means that sometimes there’s no special significance to a thing, that it is just what it appears to be.”
“Then why did you not merely say so?” He was starting to look distinctly grumpy. “And you still have not explained what a cigar is.”
“Argh!” she howled, throwing up her hands. “It doesn’t matter what a cigar is!”
“Then why did you mention it?” Haldir was yelling now, and frowning fiercely. It did not, however, startle Corinne in the least to feel a powerful corresponding throb of arousal in her pelvic area. It gave her pause; perhaps he had a point. This attraction she felt for him was in direct opposition to any concept of logic. Angry, yelling elves weren’t supposed to be sexy.
Corinne had never been a particularly sexual person, and certainly wasn’t shallow—desiring a man simply because of his looks was a distasteful notion. If she were to be honest—and she certainly tried to be, most of the time at least—she would have to admit that she really didn’t know Haldir enough to be in love with him, even as every cell in her body seemed to have grown a mouth with which to scream her adoration. The memory of how she’d cried out her love for Haldir the previous night during orgasm made her blush furiously.
He huffed out an impatient breath, and she realized that she hadn’t answered him. “Haldir—“ she began, but he interrupted.
“Why are you leaving me in two weeks?” he asked, suddenly on a new topic. “Do you think to amuse yourself with me a short while and then return to your life as if naught has passed between us?” He took a step closer to her. “Because if that is your intention, you should know that I will not allow that to happen.”
Corinne was sure her heart was banging so hard it would lurch right from her chest. “How… would you stop it?” she asked faintly.
“I will make you love me so much it would kill you to be apart from me,” Haldir purred, coming still nearer, his grey eyes glimmering in the sunlight. “Real love, Corinne. Not some magically-induced thing that we have no restraint over. I do not trust it, and do not like feeling my control slip away from me.”
“I would never just amuse myself with you, Haldir,” Corinne whispered once she had the use of her larynx again. “There’s no way I could go back and pretend that nothing’s happened between us.” His large, calloused hand came up to cup her cheek, and she pressed into him, soaking in his warmth. “And I’m sorry for what I said before… I don’t think you’re paranoid. You’re way smarter than me, and stronger too, for being able to suspect it instead of just giving in to it.”
A smirk found its way to his beautifully shaped lips as he stepped back and resumed pacing. “I am not so sure it is the preferable choice, this resistance I have.” he drawled. “Only the discipline of millennia is preventing me from throwing you down and sheathing myself in your body.”
“Eep,” Corinne murmured, helpless to pull away from his mesmerizing silver gaze as a wave of yearning swept through her. “Oh, stop.”
“Stop?” he inquired, his voice silken in the deepening shadows. “Do you really want me to stop?”
“Yes,” she whimpered most unconvincingly, feeling her knees weaken as he stalked, pantherish, toward her. “Haldir, please.”
“Yesss,” he said slowly. “You say my name, and beg. I like that.” Threading his hand into her ruddy hair, he tilted her head back with just a smidgen more force than strictly necessary. “Will you beg as my tongue finds your core?” He leaned forward and darted his tongue into her ear, mimicking the action he’d described.
Corinne’s eyes nearly crossed at the pleasure of that, and she grabbed a fistful of his cornsilk hair. “What are you doing?” she hissed. “You just got done telling me this was a bad idea. Is this payback for before?”
Haldir tilted his head to one side and smiled. “Do you not know me well enough yet to know the answer to that question?” Her eyes widened at the realization that he was pointing out, in a surprisingly vicious way, that they did not in fact know each other at all. Who’d have thought him capable of such ferocity?
Not her. Corinne crossed her arms over her chest to hide the diamond-hard points of her breasts. “All right, I get the point. You didn’t have to drive it home with a sledgehammer.”