Author’s Note: If you’re interested in seeing the Long Island shoreline, visit http://www.skypic.com/long.htm. This chapter dedicated to Angela, who was in a car accident. Feel better soon, hunny!
Review, please? Pretty please, with whipped cream and elves on top?
Without, Part 11
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Crammed inside her tiny carrell with Buffy, who was accomodatingly holding an increasingly-tall stack of books, Corinne grimaced. It had to be Iris, the grouchier of the Anthropology Department’s secretaries, who would come in on a Monday (when the department was usually closed) and pester them. She’d hoped coming in this early in the morning would allow them to avoid everyone, but success was not to be hers that day.
“We are Finnish,” Haldir informed the woman calmly, as if that explained everything. Corinne clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing, and Buffy bit her lip.
“Finnish.” Iris didn’t seem very impressed by the information, and Corinne could almost see the woman cocking her hip to one side, all attitude. “Why are you here, then, and not in Finland?”
The elves had no answer for that, of course, and so avoided the question entirely by asking one of their own. “Are you Finnish as well?” Haldir inquired pleasantly.
A long, protracted moment of silence met his question, as Iris was black and therefore extremely unlikely to be of Scandinavian descent. “No,” she said faintly, as if wondering if these two men might be dangerous in their obvious insanity. “No, I’m not Finnish.”
“Alas,” Legolas replied, polite as always. “For I am sure you would make an excellent Finn.”
“Alas,” Iris repeated, sounding very much in shock. Corinne decided to take pity on her, even as she realized she had to explain to them exactly why it was she and Buffy were telling people they were Finnish.
“Hi, Iris,” she said cheerfully, pushing her way out of the carrell. “It’s just me and some friends.”
Iris, always one to recover quickly, said, “You’re not supposed to have unauthorized people back here.” She ran a gimlet eye over the stack of books Buffy was emerging with from the carrell. “What are you going to do with those? Does Professor Ives know you’re taking them?”
“Well, that’s the other reason we’re here,” Corinne said with what she hoped was a charming smile. “I need his phone number on the Island.”
Iris folded her arms over her ample chest and surveyed the little group before her. She seemed to find them lacking in some way, because she finally said, “No way. You know he don’t want to be disturbed during the summer.”
“Yeah, I know, but this is important,” Corinne replied, a note of pleading creeping into her voice. “He sent me on an errand, and something’s gone horribly wrong, and I have to talk to him.”
“Can’t help you,” Iris said flatly. “And you haven’t turned in your outline for that Intro course you’re teaching this fall.”
“Course outline,” Corinne said, looking like a deer caught in headlights. “On it. You’ll have it by Wednesday.” She gazed anxiously at Iris. “You sure you won’t let us have Ives’ phone number?”
“Should we render her unconscious, and search for the information we need?” Haldir asked silently.
Corinne considered the suggestion; it would certainly be a nice bit of fun after years of dealing with the difficult woman. “No, that would be wrong.” she replied at last, not seeming entirely convinced of that. “Ok, then,” she said aloud, and motioned for the others to load up with the books and follow her out.
“You can’t take those with you without permission!” Iris declared, coming after them.
“Run!” Corinne urged. “We need them!” And she bolted down the hallway, the others close on her heels as Iris huffed and puffed in pursuit. “Don’t bother with the elevator,” she said over her shoulder, shoving open the door to the stairs.
“Thank Elbereth,” Legolas muttered under his breath. Down and down they spiralled until they emerged into the lobby just as the elevator dinged. Dashing outside, they dodged pedestrians, phone booths, fire hydrants, vagrants, and Buffy’s desire for an Italian ice (“Oooh, watermelon!”) until they found themselves outside the downtown offices of Rent-A-Wreck.
“Why are we renting a wreck?” Buffy asked as Corinne entered the store. “I’m not sure I want to get in a car with you.”
Corinne grabbed a form and began filling in the lines. “We have to speak with Professor Ives. If we can’t call him, we’ll have to see him in person. Mass Transit doesn’t go to Orient Point without, like, five changes, and there’s no stop at all at Cutchogue—we’d still have to rent a car, or walk for miles and miles.”
“This does not seem like a wise course of action,” Legolas grumbled. Beside him, Haldir bore an almost-identical scowl.
Handing over the form to the attendant with her driver’s license and credit card, she smiled winningly. “Turn those frowns upside down, guys. We’re gonna see the ocean!”
“The ocean?” Legolas whispered, groping blindly for Buffy’s hand. “With gulls and sand and…?”
“And waves, and saltwater, and, ooh! Taffy, mmm,” Buffy was nearly hopping up and down with excitement. “Maybe we can stop and have some seafood somewhere.”
Ok, that was Legolas and Buffy won over, but Haldir just stared at Corinne. She batted her eyelashes at him and whispered to his mind, “The beach, Haldir. Sex on the beach. Remember?” Indeed he did, she realized when his eyes darkened and that indefinable current tightened between them. She held out her hand; the attendant slapped the keys to their car into Corinne’s palm. “Shall we be off?”
A few hours later, Corinne turned off the main street of the picturesque little town of Cutchogue. In the back seat, Legolas had begun hanging his head out the window about an hour before, and with his hair blowing in the breeze he strongly reminded her of a Golden Retriever only too happy to be out for a ride with his master. Buffy was snuggled up against his side, grinning widely and teasing him, which he ignored completely.
For his part, Haldir looked perfectly relaxed, slouched back in his seat with elbow propped out the window. If not for the ear-tips revealed by the wind gusting through the car (Legolas had insisted on having all of them open, the better to breathe the increasingly briny air) he would have looked as if he’d been in automobiles all his life.
Consulting the slip of paper in her hand one last time, Corinne pulled to a stop before a small house. Its cedar shingles had long since been weathered to a silvery-grey, and its blue shutters had faded to a similar hue, making the abode seem like nothing more than a boxy piece of driftwood. Masses of rosebushes, left to fend for themselves, had tangled with each other until they formed a nearly impenetrable barrier from the curb to the front door. The effect was both organic, guaranteed to delight Legolas, and inhospitable, guaranteed to delight Haldir. Corinne was just wondering how to breech the barrier of thorns to reach the front door when it was opened and a familiar face peered out.
“Iris called,” Professor Timothy Ives said without preamble. “I’ve been expecting you.” Beckoning them to come around to the back and gesturing to a narrow path skirting the side of the house, he shut the door. Obeying, they walked the path single-file, Buffy murmuring in comfort when Legolas whimpered at the first sight of the pounding surf at the end of the back yard.
At the rear of the house was a screened porch, and the door squeaked loudly when Ives pushed it open for them. He was a short man, deeply tanned from his time at the shore, barrel chest and bandy-legs revealed by his half-unbuttoned Madras shirt and battered khaki shorts. It looked as if he hadn’t shaved once since the last day of classes back in May.
“May… may I go to the water?” Legolas requested, his voice trembling. His cheeks were flushed, his eyes bright with unshed tears. Corinne had kind of thought it was funny, the way he became all ecstatic at the idea of the sea, but seeing how deeply affected he was touched her in spite of herself. As did the expression on Buffy’s face: it seemed to be saying, without words, “Say yes, because if you don’t you’re in for a world of deep hurting.”
“Of course,” Ives replied fortunately. “Enjoy.”
Legolas started out swiftly, but seemed to falter when the grass underfoot faded to creamy-gold sand. Buffy kicked off her daisy-bedecked shoes and he did likewise, his eyes fluttering closed in joy at the first touch of the warm, silky grains beneath his feet. She took his hand and urged him forward, hand over her eyes to shield them from the glare of the sun. At the very edge of the water, at the first touch of it against his toes, Legolas flung back his head and let out a single, sharp exclamation.
Looking back at Haldir, Corinne saw his usually impassive face had gentled, and he watched his fellow elf with a profound sympathy, if not exactly comprehension. “You don’t feel the same?” she asked in thought.
“I do not,” he confirmed likewise, “for my place in with Lórien, always with Lórien. But I am alone of my people in that.” She sensed a weary sort of acceptance in him, as well as a profound grief and loneliness before irritation and anger flowed through their link and, like a gate clanging shut, his mind snapped shut to her. Blinking, she saw he was glaring at her, and that Ives was watching them, forehead crinkled in puzzlement.
“Sorry,” she said to her professor, and entered the screened porch, Haldir right behind her. Inside was a conglomeration of mismatched furniture, all chosen for comfort rather than appearance, and it was cool and shadowy compared to the bright summer day outside. She dropped onto the dilapidated wicker loveseat, not surprised when Haldir sat beside her.
“So,” Ives said by way of introduction, ensconcing himself in a brightly patterned papasan chair and crossing his ankle over his knee. “What could possibly be so important that you’d steal books from the department and drive all the way out here?”
Corinne withdrew the cartouche from the recesses of her purse for the second time in as many days. “This,” she replied, and peeled back the linen. Ives leaned forward, elbows on knees, to study it a moment. He watched the sunlight glance off the richly figured surface of the gold, turning Aker’s two manes into living flame, and then he reached out a hand to trace the shapes
“No!” Corinne exclaimed, snatching her hand back and hurriedly wrapping the linen around it once more. “Don’t touch it.”
His gaze turned from speculative to shrewd, and he leaned back once more, reaching for a half-full beverage on the table at his side. “And why shouldn’t I touch it, Corinne?”
“Because it’s got some sort of weird mojo on it,” she snapped, feeling like he was mocking her. And, well, he was—if the glint in his eyes was anything to go by—and that put her in a distinctly bad mood. “I don’t even know how to begin explaining what’s happened since I bought it at that shop you told me about.” Haldir opened his mind to her again, and feeling her agitation, soothed her. She let her hand find his, and under one of the folds of her skirt, clasped it tightly, grateful for his strength.
“You should probably begin at the beginning,” Ives said, and motioned to the pitcher and some glasses. “Iced tea?”
An hour later, Legolas and Buffy had finally been able to drag themselves away from the water and joined them, ignoring Ives’ grimace when they tromped in, shaking sand free from wet feet and thirstily gulping their own iced tea.
“So,” Ives began, “You’re telling me that you made a half-assed wish, and the cartouche sent you to some medieval world where there are elves and various other fantastical creatures, and you and… Haldir, here, have some bond that makes you… keep in close proximity to each other, or suffer extreme discomfort?” Corinne and Haldir nodded solemnly. He turned to the other two. “And how are you two effected by the cartouche?”
“Not at all,” Buffy answered, brushing another pound of sand off her ankles. “We’re the moral support. Oh, and the muscle, if it’s needed.” Ives stared at her, obviously disbelieving such a short, slender woman with such a sweet smile could be much ‘muscle’. She just smiled all the more sweetly.
“You don’t seem too medieval to me, Miss Summers,” Ives told her.
“That’d be because I’m not,” she replied cheerily. “Born in 1981, sent to Middle-Earth in 2001.”
“You’re aging well,” he commented. “You don’t look a day over twenty.”
“Well, aren’t you the sweetie!” she replied, delighted. “I’m 39, actually, but if you think I’m well-preserved, ask Pissy Elf over there how old he is.”
Ives raised his eyebrows over the nickname but turned toward Haldir, who muttered a rude word under his breath and left the porch to stand at the end of the grass and stare out over the water. “Was it something I said?” Ives murmured.
“He’s just been in a bad mood these last few centuries,” Buffy answered, then tucked her finally sand-free legs under her and snuggled against Legolas’ side. “What can you do to help him and Corinne? ‘Cause they’re both pretty unhappy about this whole sitch.”
“Well,” Ives said slowly, “I’m not sure what can be done. Even were I to accept that you’re telling me the truth—which I’m not persuaded of, by the way—I don’t know much more than Corinne does about the whole thing. My field of expertise is Greek stele featuring hoplites,” he explained apologetically. “Have you tried speaking to the whoever sold you the cartouche?”
“I would, if he were still there,” Corinne replied, a sour note entering her voice. “If nothing else convinces you, maybe that will. We went there yesterday, and it’s not an antiquities dealer any more, it’s a sari shop. The owner insisted they’d been there over thirty years.”
Ives frowned. “8080 East 59th Street is a sari shop?” he asked, incredulous. “For thirty years?” He seemed aghast. “But.. I’ve been getting stele there since I came to New York, back in ’73.” He stood abruptly and fetched a cordless phone and an aged notebook, bulging with scraps of paper and takeaway restaurant menus. Flipping through it, he apparently found the number he wanted and dialed with his thumb, leaning against the wall as he scrutinized the page before him. The shrill sound of a voice on the other end of the line carried throughout the porch, the rhythm of its Indian accent clear even over the waves on the shore in the distance.
“I’m sorry, I must have dialed the wrong number…” Ives began, and then got the most peculiar expression on his face. For a moment, it went utterly blank before a spasm of pain shook him and he dropped the phone from nerveless fingers. Corinne stood, about to go to him, when she heard a strange humming. Alarmed, she wrenched open her purse and found that the cartouche was glowing so brightly that even the linen around it seemed to be made of pure white light.
“Shit,” she muttered, just as Ives blinked and seemed to recover himself.
“You!” he said, voice incensed. “Iris called, said you’ve gone crazy!”
“Professor—“ Corinne said slowly, trying to calm him, but there was a wild light in his eyes.
“No! Get out!” he cried, and started toward her; but in his anxiety he didn’t look where he was going, and tripped over the phone he’d dropped, landing hard on hands and knees. “Get out!”
Stunned, Corinne allowed Buffy to drag her out of the porch while Legolas collected Haldir. “Professor Ives,” she tried again, but he was still railing against her as he lurched to his feet. Haldir ran to her, grabbing her hand and pulling her after him, and the four dashed back to the car.
Behind the steering wheel, she stared out the windshield a long moment. What the hell had happened? One moment her advisor, the person who could make or break her career, been perfectly fine and the next he was treating her as a pariah. A loony pariah, no less. Had ordered her, almost frothing at the mouth, out of his house, and even now was running toward them, yelling and waving his arms.
“Hurry,” Haldir urged. It broke into her baffled wonderings and, fumbling with the keys, she started the car. Flooring the gas pedal, they screeched away from the curb. Corinne drove blindly, not even aware of where she was going, only following where Buffy told her to turn until it was nearly dark and there was nowhere left to go.
“Turn the car off,” was Buffy’s last instruction, and so she did. Blinking, she looked around. In the twin beams of the headlights, all she could see were some sand dunes and waving grasses. “We’re… at a beach?” she said slowly.
“Yeah,” Buffy replied, opening her door. “Followed the signs. I figured it would be a good place to calm down, go over what just happened back there.”
Haldir came around to the driver’s side and pulled Corinne out, tugging her gently to follow Buffy and Legolas. The sand rose in a slight hillock before sloping down to the water’s edge, and he sat on the crest, pulling her down next to him and wrapping an arm around her waist. She dropped her head to his shoulder and allowed her panic and horror to flow, unchecked, through her mind.
What would this mean for her? All she’d ever wanted was to study, to learn, to prove herself, and to teach what she knew to others. In her whole life, it was the only goal she’d ever held that meant anything to her. And now it looked as if it were all crumbling. Everything she’d ever hoped for, everything she’d pursued and striven and sweated for—all gone, and in the merest whisper of a moment.
She felt a gentle nudge within her mind, and knew Haldir was there with her, offering comfort in that way just as he did with his arms around her. “I know of something that will ease you,” he said, his voice rumbling in his chest against her ear.
“What’s that?” she asked, sniffing, and realized she’d started to cry.
“Look you there,” he replied, nodding toward the water. Corinne lifted her head to see that Legolas had shucked every stitch of his clothing and was now frolicking, naked as the long-ago day he’d been born, in the waves while Buffy laughed helplessly at his joyful antics. As she watched, Legolas dove into an oncoming wave as nimbly as a seal, and when he surfaced he slicked back the long torrent of his pale hair and sent his wife a grin that was pure sex-on-a-stick.
Buffy’s resultant gulp was visible even in the dark, even at that distance, even to Corinne’s mortal eyesight, and she couldn’t stifle a laugh as Buffy yanked off the sundress and tossed it on top of the discarded pink daisy shoes to run, clad only in her panties, to the water. Legolas grabbed her just as a wave crashed into them, and for a moment the moonlit spray surrounded them like a silvery halo.
Corinne hazarded a glance up at Haldir; he was watching his friends with a peculiar expression; not quite envy, not quite happiness, and yet both at the same time. “We cannot allow them to have all the enjoyment,” he told her gravely, and she knew he knew she was watching him. Then he stood and held out his hand to help her up.
Slowly, deliberately, Haldir removed his clothing and then stared at her until she did the same and, like Buffy, stood wearing only her knickers. “I see Dagnir is not the only one with a fondness for pink daisies,” he commented as he stared appreciatively at her undergarments. Then he threw her over his shoulder before striding down to the ocean.
Corinne would have protested if she hadn’t been so distracted by the sight of his marvelous peach of an ass right in front of her face, and couldn’t resist giving a bite to one of the firm, ivory-pale cheeks. If the feel of his rounded flesh between her teeth hadn’t been reward enough, then his most unGuardianlike squeal of surprise certainly was.
Of course, then he dumped her right in the water and stood there, hands on hips, smirking down at her when she resurfaced, sputtering and threatening dire consequences. To the side, Buffy and Legolas laughed, their arms around each other and hair hanging in salty, sandy ropes around their smiling faces. Then Haldir grabbed her hand and hauled her upright a second time, enclosing her in his embrace as another wave came forward to kiss the shore, and Corinne thought that even if everything was going straight to hell, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing, after all, if it meant she could have this moment with him, with them all.