Author’s Note: I know that Buffy jumped the portal in May 2001 and 9-11 happened in September, but for these purposes let’s just say she jumped the portal after 9-11, ok?
Without, Part 12
It was after midnight when they finally arrived back in Manhattan. After returning the car (thank God for businesses being open 24-hours in the Big Apple), they headed for Corinne’s dorm. “We’ll have to make it quick,” she said glumly. “I have no doubt that between Iris and Ives, they’ve called the cops. May have already changed the lock on me.”
Her euphoria had only lasted until they were heading back to the city and Buffy and Legolas had fallen asleep in the back seat. Neither Corinne nor Haldir being the chatty type, she’d driven in silence, which had given her plenty of opportunity to stew over the mess her life had become. Sometimes she felt the consoling brush of his mind against her, a fleeting whisper of comfort, but most of the time he seemed lost in his own thoughts, and left her alone. He’s got his own issues to deal with, Corinne reminded herself.
Creeping as silently as they could, they packed anything she’d left in the room (which, as she’d already brought most of it to Lórien, wasn’t too much) and tiptoed out again. Corinne gave her dorm one last, lingering glance before shutting the door. The quiet snick of the lock was apparently enough to signal their presence, because Sandra opened her door and stared at them.
“Corinne,” she said, “what the hell is going on?”
“Um, nothing?” Corinne replied nervously.
Sandra crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently. “There were cops here asking about you, and Iris called like forty times.” She peered at the elves and Buffy. “This has to do with you guys, doesn’t it?”
“You got us,” Buffy said cheerfully. “We cause trouble wherever we go. It’s a gift. Well, that and the death.”
Corinne took a deep breath and counted to ten. “We have to go. Please don’t tell anyone you’ve seen us?”
Sandra grudgingly agreed, and Corinne surprised her with a brief hug before allowing Haldir to tug her away. Outside, the city was still bustling but in that darkly thrilling way that cities have. In spite of her general sense of gloom, she felt her pulse race and felt the urge to throw back her head and laugh in exhilaration. It was nighttime in Manhattan, and she was, marginally at least, ‘on the lam’. Anything was possible.
As it happened, however, and somewhat to her disappointment, nothing exciting occurred. They walked a few blocks to a modest hotel, Corinne extracted from her overused wallet a credit card to pay for a room with two beds, and they went to sleep. Neither couple complained about the lack of privacy, as all were exhausted by the day’s events to be much interested in the other besides their function as bed-warmer and cuddle-provider.
The next morning, Buffy and Legolas decided to venture out alone in pursuit of breakfast, leaving the other two alone to research contact information for her friends in California.
“Dammit,” Corinne muttered from her perch at the desk, where she was glaring at her laptop’s monitor. “This isn’t making any sense at all.” Haldir raised a brow at her from where he lounged on their bed. “None of the people on Buffy’s list are showing up on the white pages sites.”
So far, she’d had no luck whatsoever, and decided to simply try typing “Willow Rosenberg” into a search engine. What she found in the results made her gasp. “It’s an obituary,” she said in amazement. “Willow is dead, has been for years.”
“Dead?” Haldir sat up, suddenly on full alert. “That is impossible. I saw her through the portal, with my own eyes, when Dawn came to Arda.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she said, typing in name after name, and coming up with the same results: Alexander Harris, Daniel Osborne, Cordelia Chase.
“Something’s not right here,” Corinne said at last. “This obituary says Buffy died when she was fifteen, as a student at Hemery High in Los Angeles. This is all wrong.”
They had no time to consider the issue further, however, because the woman in question chose that moment to fling open the door and run in, Legolas close on her heels and bearing a large paper sack. “Did they rebuild them?”
“What?” Corinne sat back in the chair and pushed her glasses up on top of her head. Buffy was all windblown, with bright spots of colour on her cheeks, and her eyes were apprehensive. “Rebuild what?”
“The Twin Towers. Did they rebuild them?”
Corinne frowned. “Why would they rebuild them? Is there something wrong with them?”
Buffy was quiet a very, very long time. She took the sack from Legolas, who was watching his wife with concern, and began carefully, almost ceremoniously, arranging bagels and styrofoam coffee cups on the desk. She even laid out napkins and spoons and packets of sugar and those tiny plastic buckets of half-and-half. Then she began stacking the half-and-half into little pyramids and Corinne lost her patience.
“Buffy!” she yelled. “What is wrong with you?”
“We went for a little walk around, came to a park, climbed a tree. From the top of the tree, we had a pretty good view of downtown.” Buffy put down the creamers and turned wide eyes to Corinne. “Did anything happen, that you might recall, to the Twin Towers in 2001?”
The other woman huffed out a breath as she thought. “No. Nothing. Why?”
“Then, Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more. Because back on Earth—my Earth-- terrorists crashed planes into them, and they collapsed. There was a big hole in the skyline where they used to be. But they’re still up, and in one piece, here… if they haven’t been attacked, then we’re not on my Earth.”
Corinne stared in horror, and then comprehension dawned on her face. She nodded. “That makes more sense, then.”
“Not much is making sense anymore,” Buffy complained, and drained half of one cup of coffee in a single gulp.
“Look,” Corinne said, and turned the laptop so Buffy could read it. There, on the screen, was the obituary of one Elizabeth Anne Summers, 1981 – 1996.
“1996?” Buffy breathed. “That would mean… that in this dimension, I died instead of Merrick, that I never went to Sunnydale.” She looked at the others in turn. “It also means that I never met Giles. He won’t know me here, won’t trust me… hell, in this world, I’ve been dead for almost ten years.” In frustration, she slammed her fist down on the table, making the bagels and coffee jump.
“I believe that is the least of our worries at this time,” Legolas murmured, and they turned to see him standing with his ear pressed to the door. “They come for us; quickly, gather our things,” he told Buffy, who leapt up and began cramming everything she could into the monstrous duffelbag.
“How could they find us so quickly?” Haldir asked Corinne as she shut off the laptop and began packing their breakfast back into the paper sack.
“Traced the credit card,” she said breathlessly. “Dammit, I should have thought of that. I’m no good at this criminal evasion stuff. What the hell are we going to go?” She dashed to the window and flung open the drapes; there was a tiny balcony, barely large enough for a single person to stand on, and they were seven stories up. “You three could do some crazy Tarzan maneuver, I’m sure, but I’m screwed,” she stated plainly, shoulders slumping in defeat.
“Not necessarily,” Haldir replied smoothly, and held up the linen packet that was the cartouche as a knock came at the door. It was already starting to glow.
“Management, open up,” said a man’s voice. “We’ve got the police here.”
Corinne looked around the room. The duffelbag was bulging and could not be zipped, but everything was in it; Buffy grasped its handles in one hand and Legolas’ arm in the other. “I won’t even need the incantation,” she muttered, pulling the linen off. “I really, really, really want us to be back in Arda, in Lórien, in Haldir’s talan,” she said, and obediently, the cartouche began to glow.
The police were banging on the door now, and there was the scrape of a key in the lock. “Hold tight, everyone,” Corinne instructed, clutching at Haldir as she wrapped her fingers around Aker’s little golden figure. The light flared brightly until they were forced to close their eyes against it, and they could hear the slam as the door was finally opened forcefully and the shouts of the police as their quarry simply vanished into thin air.
The last sound they heard, however, was of a gunshot.
“Let me get this straight,” Corinne said, her voice shaking as Buffy and Legolas tended to the new hole in Haldir’s upper arm. “You couldn’t just leave the bagels and coffee, and when you reached out for the bag, they shot you?”
“I am very hungry,” he replied simply. “We have paid for them, there was no reason to leave them there.” And he took a big bite of his pumpernickel bagel with extra cream cheese, managing to smirk even as he chewed.
“Uh, Haldir, maybe you better just shut up,” Buffy said, eyeing the way Corinne was clenching and unclenching her fists as she paced the sitting room of his talan.
“Better yet, Oscar, toss me one of those bad boys,” said a voice from the doorway, and all four turned to see Dawn leaning against the jamb, surveying them with a mixture of amusement and displeasure. “I find myself somewhat peckish after a panicked five-day ride with no sleep, ” she continued pointedly.
Buffy went pale and Legolas took a step backward. Haldir lobbed a bagel at her head—hard—which she caught effortlessly with one hand before coming forward. Corinne just watched with interest.
“So, Boromir and Mercas and I were in Minas Tirith visiting Faramir and Eowyn when we learned my sister and her husband were nowhere to be found, in all of Ithilien,” Dawn began conversationally, her manner nonchalant but her tone hard enough to break a diamond off of. She bit deeply into the bagel and continued while she chewed. “You can imagine the delight with which this news was received. So much delight, in fact, that the king himself has led a search party for them. He went west to Rohan, and Boromir and I came north. Woo, Elessar’s gonna be so happy to learn that his trip all the way to Edoras was for nothing…”
“Dawnie…” Buffy began, looking shame-faced, but her sister cut her off.
“Do you realize that he’s so worked up about the two of you going missing, Buffy, that Arwen went with him to hold him together?” All pretense at pleasantry was dropped; Dawn was, plainly put, incensed.. “And Gimli’s been having nightmares that you’ve been captured and tortured by orcs.”
“Gimli…” Legolas murmured sorrowfully, and Dawn rounded on him.
“You’re over two thousand frickin’ years old! How could you not think to even leave a note?” she demanded before turning back to Buffy. “We got here yesterday, only to find you used the very thing that’s caused all the trouble to return to Earth and EAT BAGELS.”
“Well,” Buffy said in a small voice, “That’s not all we’ve been doing.”
“Certainly not,” Corinne piped up indignantly, feeling compelled to defend her new friends. “We also went shopping.”
There was an ominous silence while Dawn took another vicious bite of thickly-buttered blueberry bagel, glaring at them the whole while. “Shopping,” she repeated flatly.
“We stole books from an institution of learning, and were chased by a woman who is most certainly not Finnish,” Legolas said, smiling hopefully. Then his face fell as he recalled the consequences of those actions. “But then she roused the authorities on us.”
“I was shot,” Haldir said, and help up his now-bandaged arm as proof. “It hurts,” he added a moment later.
“And we all went skinny-dipping in the ocean as my career went down in flames,” Corinne mentioned with more that a trace of self-pity.
“I like to think of it more as ‘a blaze of glory’,” Buffy told her with a sympathetic pat on the arm before turning to Dawn, all big hazel eyes and trembling pink lips. “We’re really, very, very sorry,” Buffy said, looking downright pathetic, “A world of sorry, Dawnie. Galadriel said Haldir was in trouble, and we just didn’t think.”
Dawn crammed the last quarter of the bagel in her mouth and brushed off her hands as she glowered at them, her face lumpy. When she could speak again, she said, “I’m gonna let Boromir deal with you. He’s even more pissed off than I am.” And grabbing one of the coffees, she stomped out.
Not thirty seconds later, Boromir entered the talan. “Greetings,” he said calmly, his gaze flicking over all of them to rest on Corinne. “I am Boromir of Gondor, husband to Dawn,” he said by way of introduction, bowing briefly.
“Corinne of New York,” she replied, trying (and failing) to curtsey. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” he said gravely. “It is my understanding that you are the reason for all the excitement, Lady Corinne.”
“Well, yeah, but not on purpose,” she hedged. “It’s all been one big, crazy mistake. I’m really sorry.”
“Please do not be,” Boromir replied with a broad smile, surprising them all. “I am in your debt, for providing me with a reason to leave Minas Ithil. If I had to spend one more day listening to farmers gripe about how many more acres their neighbours had received than them, I would have run mad.”
Taking a step closer, he whispered conspiratorially, “And do not believe what Dawn says about Elessar being upset. He is just as thrilled as I to have a reason to leave behind his tiresome duties and travel once more. Arwen is with him so they may adventure together, and I expect them here within the next week, as Galadriel has told her granddaughter to join us in this fair city.”
“But how close to Dawn’s telling is Gimli, truly?” Legolas asked with no small amount of trepidation. If the dwarf were truly angered, there would indeed be hell to pay.
“He is somewhat anxious, for it is not his elf-friend’s way to simply leave without a trace—“ here Boromir permitted a bit of reproach to enter his voice, and Legolas bowed his head accordingly, “—but he too was most pleased to have a reason to come see the fair elf-witch once more.”
At this point, Corinne tuned out of the conversation, preferring to submerge herself in more thoughts of gloom. Though she’d had been able to tamp down her increasing panic over the events of the preceding day, it was fast rising to a level she could no longer ignore or control. Their trip to New York had not only been a complete wash-out as far as learning more about the cartouche, but her entire life had been wrecked as well. She was jobless, and couldn’t even live in her dorm any longer.
As this realization dawned upon her she whimpered, “I’m homeless. A vagrant. I’m going to have to get a sign that reads, ‘Will teach socio-anthropology for food’. Then the guys who clean your windshield are going to beat me up, and I’ll end up a crack ho in Hell’s Kitchen who holds out on her pimp.”
Before she could get up a good head of steam on the pathos, however, Buffy sighed. “Could you be any more of a drama queen?” Standing, she slapped her hands onto her hips and gave Corinne a fierce glare for good measure. “As if we’d ever let anything like that happen to you!”
Corinne blinked, and then said with her usual eloquence, “Huh?”
Buffy sighed again. “We’re not going to just turn you out into the wild, you know. I’m sure there’s plenty you could do in Gondor.”
“I don’t want to go to Gondor!” Corinne exclaimed, furious tears streaming down her face.. “This isn’t my world! I want to go back to New York, to my dorm, to my life! I want everything as it was before it all went straight to hell!”
“We all want things we can’t have!” Buffy shouted back. “Do you think I wanted to come here? That I wanted to be separated from my sister, my friends, my home? I didn’t! But I couldn’t change it, and I learned to accept it and move on! And now I have a great life! And—what are you doing?” For Corinne was heeding her not at all, instead rummaging through her purse and then her pockets for something. “Oh, no you don’t,” Buffy said grimly as the other woman held up the cartouche. It was already starting to glow.
Buffy grabbed a paper napkin from the bagel sack and snatched the cartouche from Corinne, looking like she’d prefer nothing more than to pelt the other woman with it. Corinne rounded on her, fists clenched and eyes snapping with anger, and opened her mouth to speak.
Haldir stood at this point, and by force of personality alone drew the attention of everyone else in the room. “Everyone depart,” he commanded. “Not you,” he said to Corinne, who was almost out the door. Reluctantly, she returned. Grasping her shoulders, he pushed her gently into a chair and drew up another to face her. “This wound pains me, and all the shouting has made me surly,” he informed her, “so do not interrupt me, or you will not like the consequences.”
Corinne opened her mouth again to speak, and Haldir quirked a brow, waiting. Wisely, she decided to remain silent. “Excellent choice,” was the last Buffy could hear him say as Boromir closed the door behind himself.
Tilting his head to the side, Boromir gazed at his sister-in-law a long moment. “I am glad you are safe,” he said at last. “Though it would not have inconvenienced you much to tell at least one person you were coming here.”
“Argh!” Buffy groaned, ire still up from dealing with Corinne, and descended the stairs to the ground. “Enough with the guilt, already. The point has been delivered, received, and is currently lodged right between my eyes, ok?”
An odd whistling noise could be heard from somewhere to the left; Legolas looked thoughtful, and caught the axe in mid-air just before it would have embedded itself into his shining golden head. “Friend Gimli,” he said calmly, “I fear you have misplaced your weapon.”
The dwarf rounded an especially large mallorn and stomped toward them. “Gimli son of Glóin never misplaces his weapon,” he growled with great menace. “Nor do I miss, as well you know, accursed elf.” He turned to Buffy. “Be you glad I have just the one axe, Dagnir, else you’d have been plucking one from the air as well.” He would have continued his tirade then, but Buffy hugged and kissed him (she was aiming for his cheek, but with so much hair she just figured anywhere on the beard was close enough) and he quite lost his train of thought. “Hmph,” he settled for saying, and snatched his axe back from Legolas.
“How’re the renovations coming?” she asked him, linking arms with him as they walked toward Galadriel’s and Celeborn’s talan.
Gimli heaved a huge sigh. “They are why I am not more angry at you,” he admitted, “for those dwarves are indeed hard to cope with, and long do the days seem after battling with them to follow plans.”
“Be of good cheer!” Legolas suggested from where he walked with Boromir behind them, “for after you complete repairs in Minas Tirith, there is all of Osgiliath to mend!” Then he made a noise suspiciously like a giggle as he scampered out of Gimli’s reach, and the two of them commenced a rousing game of ‘tag’ through the trees of Lothlórien.
“Geez, and they say we humans are immature,” Buffy pretended to complain to Boromir. “So, how pissed is Dawn, really?”
He grinned. “She is considerably calmer than when we arrived here and learned of the situation. I believe she is more angry that you did not think to consult with her before going to Corinne’s world, and put yourselves in grave danger… have you forgotten her training with Giles?”
“Oh, crap,” Buffy replied, slapping her forehead as they rounded a curve in the path. Even after a year, she still tended to think of her sister as ‘little Dawnie’ instead of a grown woman with a research career before she’d given it all up to join Buffy in Middle-Earth. “I did forget, completely. She must know all about this Weshem-ib thingy!”
“Yeah, I do,” Dawn said from her seat at the base of the steps leading up to Galadriel’s talan. She’d finished the coffee long ago and had proceeded to peel the styrofoam cup into little white puffy shreds. Standing, she jammed the cup’s remains into her pocket. “When are you going to accept that I’m an adult now, Buffy? I’m married, I have a son. What else will it take, grey hair and wrinkles?”
“I doubt even that would work,” Buffy replied, and hugged her. “I’m sorry, Dawn. I really am.”
Dawn sighed. “All right, you’re forgiven. This time. And only because you were smart and brought me a present.”
“Present?” Buffy looked a little panicked until she remembered something. “Present! Yeah! Sure did! Of course I did! I wouldn’t forget my Dawnie, nope, not me.” She craned her head around, looking for her husband. “I’ll just go find Legolas and get your… er… present.” And she darted off in the direction she’d last seen him and Gimli.
and Boromir just exchanged a look over Buffy’s head. “She so did not get
me a present,” she said as he put his arm around her waist.
”But watching her pretend she has is present enough, is it not, sweet?” he asked with a grin, and kissed her forehead.