Author’s Note: Smut! Angst! And a cliffhanger! What more could you ask for? Oh, ok, if you insist. And Thranduil too.
Without, Part 18
The rest of the week passed, for Corinne, in a confused haze of despair and frustration, laughter and study. The impending date of the severance of her bond with Haldir preyed almost constantly on her mind, and Radagast had forbidden even the half-arsed fornication she and Haldir had employed to alleviate the symptoms of their separation, so she was constantly either sore or uncomfortably close to him once more—the buffer zone they’d managed to create with their nights of pleasure was abruptly gone.
Why was she uncomfortable to be close to him, you may well ask? It was because, with the moment of freedom close at hand, she had started to think about how things would be after it was all over. Clearly, she could not return to New York—there was nothing waiting for her there except, perhaps, an indictment. Haldir had sworn that she had a home with him always, but would he still mean it afterwards? And could she live in the same place as he, knowing him so intimately—body and soul, in every way possible-- and yet forbidden to do anything but cherish what memories she might be able to clasp to her heart?
Corinne knew Haldir well enough to be sure he would want nothing to do with her beside friendship, once they were back to normal. He would return to his former demeanor, that of stern and forbidding Guardian of the Golden Wood, who thought little of love and sex and romance. And she, she would once more become the mousy scholar, valued for her mind but not her heart. The embarrassment of seeing him, knowing how his skin tasted and the sounds he made when he came, would be unbearable for her.
With a sigh, she realized she’d made a decision. She’d either take up Elessar and Arwen on their beautifully phrased invitation to join them in Minas Tirith, or else go to Minas Ithil with Dawn and Boromir… the idea of having all of Orthanc’s massive library to peruse made her fingertips itch to feel the heavy vellum pages, made her nose twitch to smell the ancient leather covers. It pained her deeply to have to leave behind long, familiar years of studying Egypt, but at the same time she couldn’t be more pleased: dealing with Aker had rather turned her off the whole thing, and Middle-Earth was brimming with millennia of cultures still unstudied and unexplored.
She’d spent the bulk of the week, when she could persuade Haldir to bear Thranduil’s presence, interviewing Mirkwood’s king about his realm. A fascinating and complex elf, Thranduil was more than pleased to lounge in a chair in the garden, allowing the damselflies to alight on his hair and shoulders, and expound on his views of life, death, and everything in between. Corinne doubted he was telling her anything resembling the truth but duly wrote notes on all he said.
When Haldir could take no more, she sought out Gimli and plied him with questions on the Dwarven peoples, to his immense delight. Many times Buffy and Legolas would join them, and then Orophin would take a seat (Rúmil and Tatharë having left for the palace of Mirkwood already, to visit her family), and suddenly Elessar and Arwen and Boromir and Dawn were there as well, all vying to tell the tallest tale. Stories of the Fellowship, many featuring four greatly-missed Hobbits, were a running favourite. Someone would procure brimming cups of ale for them all, and before she knew it, it was a party.
Like all kickin’ parties, of course, there had to be a sour person who called the cops and ruined it all. In their case, it was “one of those thrice-damned kittens!” as Gimli called them—it had scampered away in a huff after the Dwarf refused to allow it to snuggle in his luxuriant beard to fetch Radagast, who came as if on winged feet to break up the fun. The wizard seemed to have a congenital dislike for joy of any sort, and indeed seemed to be, as Dawn called him, “the world’s best cure for happiness”.
He was an excellent cook, though, so they tried not to get on his nerves too much.
Destroying the cartouche, he had explained, would eliminate any possibility of her returning to her world. Corinne had accepted that without too much fuss. He had also warned that breaking it would cause not only a dangerous burst of energy, but quite possibly a tidal wave of blood as it released the sacrifice of millennia of people paying for its powers with their blood. “Yay,” she said, not very happily at all.
Nights, she would lay in Haldir’s arms, safely dressed in cotton pajamas, awake far into the night as she thought of the future. Sometimes they would talk in hushed murmurs as the lone candle flickered its golden light on the crude plank walls of their room; sometimes they would merely think to each other, minds touching in an infinitely intimate caress few others had ever enjoying in all of Arda’s long history.
And sometimes they were just silent in the darkness, reveling in the feel of warmth against warmth, body against body. Delighting in the sound of soft breaths, of the barely-there thud of heartbeats, of the faint rustle of crisp sheets as legs shifted, of the whisper of tree branches blown about by the wind as it moaned a dirge on the other side of their window.
She felt closer to him at those times than when she shared her body with him, closer even than when he had shared his mind with her. At those times, she could pretend that they weren’t separated by race and world and appearance. He wasn’t an elf; she wasn’t a woman; they were just Haldir and Corinne, and they loved each other. It was just that simple, at least for a little while.
Like all things, however, it couldn’t last.
It was early, when she woke, on the morning they were to break the cartouche. The first thing she was aware of was the divine scent of Haldir’s hair as a lock of it lay, smooth and shining, across her nose. The second thing she realized was that he lay half-across her, his face buried against her neck and his arm tightly wrapped around her. The third, and infinitely most disturbing factor was that sometime during the night his leggings had vanished, and her own nightshirt was rucked up around her waist, thus providing no barrier at all to her traitorous body, which immediately began to rebel against her mind in wanting to couple with him.
Trying to breath deeply and evenly, so she didn’t disturb his Reverie, Corinne fought to ignore the pooling of heat at her core, tried to disregard the slow, sweet tingle of desire flowing through her limbs. Most of all, she aspired to keep her legs from parting, but it was a sadly futile battle—they spread entirely of their own accord and raised to wrap around his narrow waist.
Immediately, two things happened. One: Haldir hardened instantly against her, and why wouldn’t he? She was warm, and wet, and her woman’s hair was soft against his sensitive flesh. Two: he snapped awake and stared down at her, an inscrutable expression on his face. Then slowly, so slowly, his hand came between their bodies to find her, leaning on one elbow so he could watch his ministrations to her.
Corinne looked too, and felt lust scald up her torso at the sight of his hand cupping her pubic mound, long fingers slipping down to tease and rub. Expert from so many hours of making love to her, Haldir’s archery-calloused fingertips found her easily, grazing lightly here, harder there, until her own hands clasped his wrist and made his fingers slip inside her, bringing her to the verge with almost embarrassing speed, hips rising insistently to meet them.
A wave of love overcame her. “More,” she breathed, eyes closed in bliss. "Oh, please... I need more... I need you..."
Haldir removed his hand, but instead of replacing it with his mouth as he’d always done before, she felt instead the weight of his body press onto her. A moment’s trepidation danced through her mind, but was swiftly replaced by a single thought: “Surrender… surrender to him…” It didn’t sound like Haldir, nor even her own thoughts, but it certainly expressed everything she longed to do. It felt like coming home, this acceptance of his body on hers, and once more her thighs gripped around his hips tightly.
She felt the head of his shaft nudge up against her entrance, and opened her mind to him as she had opened her body. Love pulsed within him, strong and sweet, but there was a part of him that flared brightly, white-hot and primal and untamed. It was this part, she was sure, that made him thrust forward and impale her in a single smooth motion. She gave a long, low moan and heard it echoed in Haldir’s voice. Watching his face closely, she saw his eyes widen as he slid in to the hilt, breath catching at the perfection of it.
He shifted, sinking even deeper within her, to pin her hands over her head. Corinne felt vulnerable this way, exposed and at his mercy, but met his pewter gaze, and knew her trust in him blazed from her own eyes. “I love you,” she said, quite clearly.
“And I you,” he replied, withdrawing only to drive into her once more, sending shock-waves of pleasure thrilling through her. “With my last breath, I will love you.”
Tears came to her eyes at this declaration of his devotion, of his commitment to her. They would be together, now… forever together. An image wavered into her mind’s eye, an image of a small, chubby infant with dark hair and pewter eyes. Oh, to have Haldir’s child… a living symbol of their love for each other, living proof that obstacles like race and world could be overcome.
But no, that wasn’t right… it was hard to think, with him undulating against her and the desire crashing over her like salty ocean waves, but once she could recall their origins, of how they’d met, her memories of the cartouche and all it represented came back to her like bitter gorge. “Surrender to him…” came the thought again, and this time she knew it wasn’t his mind-voice speaking to her.
“No,” she gasped. “Haldir, you must stop.” In reply, he pushed her nightshirt up to expose her breasts and began to suckle at her rosy nipples. Hands free, she threaded her hands in his silken hair, clasping him tightly to her one last moment before pushing him away. “Haldir!” she cried into his pointed ear, then repeated it mentally, trying to get his attention, to make him cease even as her pelvis met his in a quickening cadence. “You must stop, please Haldir. You must stop.”
His eyes were wild as they met hers, and his mind was feral and uncontrolled, utterly unlike the Haldir she knew. “Surrender to me,” he gritted out between clenched teeth.
This isn’t him, Corinne realized, panicked, and felt the last of her desire fade away as she tried desperately to figure a way to stop him. Scrabbling her hand to the side, she felt cold metal against the back of her fingers and wrapped them around the stout iron candlestick on the low table by the bed.
“Forgive me,” she whispered, weeping freely, and had time only to register Haldir’s look of puzzlement before she brought it down on his head. He fell unconscious at once, slumping heavily over her, and she had to push hard to wriggle free from under him. Once on her feet, she smoothed her nightshirt down over her hips with shaking hands before making her way around the bed to the door.
She hadn’t taken three steps before a hand clamped around her wrist, wheeling her around, and Corinne gasped to see the rage twisting Haldir’s beloved face as he levered himself off the bed, blood staining his silver-gilt hair an obscene crimson.
“You shall not thwart me,” he said, and his voice was deeper, echoing somehow in the tiny room. “Surrender to me!”
“This isn’t you!” Corinne protested hoarsely, struggling against his chest as he pulled her closer. Realizing he—whoever was possessing Haldir’s body—meant to rape her, she began to fight in earnest. “Buffy!” she managed to scream before his hand came down over her mouth, and even then she kicked out with her legs, sending the table flying with a crash, and jolting the bed frame noisily across the floor.
The door banged open then, revealing Buffy with Elessar right behind her. Her face grim, Buffy strode into the room and grabbed Haldir by the scruff of the neck, flinging him away from Corinne as Elessar scooped the woman up, cradling her close as she sobbed against his shoulder. Dawn lurched into the room, Boromir and Orophin hot on her heels.
“It’s not him,” Corinne repeated brokenly. “It wasn’t him.”
Haldir grinned up at them from where he was sprawled across the floor, wiping a trickle of blood from his split lip. “On the contrary,” he purred. “It’s always been me.”
Buffy sighed, feeling much older than her thirty-nine years. “Sorry about this, Hal,” she told him, and clocked him right in the face. Predictably, he fell unconscious, and she motioned to Orophin and Boromir to put him back on the bed. “We have to end this, right now, before he wakes up,” she said, her gaze soft on Corinne’s tear-streaked face. “Where’s Radagast?”
“I am here,” said the wizard, entering the room. His gaze, when it fell on Corinne’s huddled figure in Elessar’s arms, was almost compassionate. “Are you well enough to do this?” he asked her gently.
She pulled free and dug the heels of her hands into her eyes, scrubbing hard. “Yes,” she said, her voice muffled. “I have to be.” She gathered up some clothing—jeans, sneakers, cotton henley, underwear—and left the room. Dawn immediately swooped on her, guiding her with an arm around shaking shoulders toward her and Boromir’s room to change, the latter following close behind, his face grave.
Ten minutes later, Haldir was still unconscious (but, thanks to his brother, now clothed), sprawled across the two trees of the mosaic floor in the garden. Around him in a circle stood the others, all dressed as if going into battle: Buffy had both a sword and a hatchet thrust into her belt, while Legolas’ usual favourites, his long white knives and bow, were strapped to his back. Andúril’s hilt gleamed at Elessar’s side, and Gimli fingered the haft of his axe expectantly. Boromir rested his hands on the edge of his big round shield, gazing down at the mosaic’s tiles as if they could answer a particularly difficult question for him, and at his side Dawn gripped her much-loved pike with nervous hands.
Orophin stepped forward then, and rearranged his brother’s limbs into a more comfortable position, so his legs were straight and his hands neatly folded on his chest.
“His eyes are closed,” Corinne murmured. She was past being upset, and now her predominant emotion was switching back and forth with startling speed between confused, numb, and angry. “He looks dead.”
Radagast, who’d been waving his staff in complicated patterns to begin the ritual, shot her a dirty look, and she shut up. At his gesture, she stepped forward and shimmery golden threads began to flow from his staff to spiral around her, weaving into and around each other until she was surrounded by a sparkling web of light that would protect the others from the release of power contained in the golden artifact. With one last, anguished glance of longing toward Haldir’s still form at her feet, Corinne held the cartouche out in a trembling hand.
“Netjer, kai-imakhu,” she said, willing some force into her shaky voice. “Wep em wawet merut ibi.” It began to glow as she spoke the incantation. “Hem-weshem-ib.” The cartouche burnished a deeper red with each word she spoke, pulsing like the beat of a heart. “Nehktet, nehktet…” Corinne closed her eyes against finalizing what would sever her connection with Haldir, but forged on. “Nehktet,” she finished.
In her palm, the cartouche was blazing with vermilion light, so vivid she could barely look at it, and had to shield her eyes with her other hand. “I want, more than anything, for this cartouche to be broken.” A breeze began to blow within the cocoon of energy wrapped around her, rapidly picking up speed as she spoke, whipping her hair around her face, but she was too afraid to stop in the middle. “I wish for its power to be ended, for its hold over Haldir, and me, and anyone else, to be over.”
The wind rushed around her faster and faster, deafening her, and the light grew so dazzling she was blind from the glare. She felt exhausted, like every last ounce of strength had been sucked from her. “I wish for this cartouche to break!” she mumbled one last time as a wave of fatigue overcame her and her eyes drifted closed.
Outside Corinne’s enclosure, Buffy and the others watched in horrified fascination as her body suspended limply in midair, head hanging back on her neck like a flower on a broken stem. There was a muffled explosion from within, and the cartouche cracked into two pieces in her hand. Gouts of thick crimson fluid began to spout from its raw ends, swiftly pooling at the bottom of the egg-shaped container around her.
Haldir came awake at that moment, and Buffy rushed forward to help him up. “What is happening?” he asked dazedly, leaning heavily against her. “What is that light?”
“It’s Corinne,” she replied, watching his face carefully, expecting some sort of bizarre reaction.
He did not disappoint. “I see no cerin,” he replied muzzily, rubbing his forehead. Then he looked past her and sprang to his feet, eyes wide as memories crashed back upon him. “Corinne!” he shouted, hands flat against the cocoon as he strove to communicate with her, but she was deeply unconscious. “She will perish!” he said to the others who stood watching. “She will drown! The blood, there is too much of it!”
Already, the blood spilling from the cartouche was rising over her knees, showing no end in sight, nor was Corinne displaying any indication of awakening. He began to claw at the cocoon, but its gossamer threads held fast and only undulated around his hands. Orophin came to him, handing him one of his own long daggers, and together the brothers began to hack their way to her.
“Um, they’ve got a point, “ Dawn ventured to Radagast. “The blood’s getting deep in there… isn’t it time to let her out?”
The wizard sliced her a sideways glance. “I have been trying for the past few minutes,” he admitted crossly. “Whatever power fuels the cartouche, it is interfering with my own. I cannot break down the shield I created around her.”
Buffy blinked in surprise only for a moment, and then her weapons were out as she joined Haldir and Orophin in trying to open the cocoon. After a moment, Elessar and Boromir added their swords to the effort, Andúril the only blade having any success at all against the tough golden fibres, and even then only a little. And meanwhile, the blood continued to rise.
It lapped gently at the base of her throat, then higher, as their blows grew more frantic. When Corinne’s mouth and nose were finally beneath the level of the sticky fluid, Haldir let out a wild cry of anguish and pounded with his bare fists, to no avail. As he watched with desperate eyes, the top of her head became submerged, a few bubbles blooping obscenely above.
He fell to his knees, defeated, and dropped his head in his hands. “I have failed her,” he whispered. “As if my trespass this morning were not foul enough. I have failed again.”
Buffy knelt beside him, pulling his hands away from his face. “It wasn’t your fault,” she told him sternly. “Not this morning, and not now. You—“
An excited noise from Boromir interrupted her, and both her and Haldir’s heads snapped up to see that the blood was receding once more. Leaping to their feet, they watched eagerly as the level fell, their joy swiftly turning to confusion when Corinne did not reappear.
“Maybe she’s sitting on the ground?” Dawn suggested uncertainly as the blood continued to vanish and yet no human figure was revealed. But still the blood continued to fall, and still there was no Corinne. Finally the only blood left was whatever residue clung to the golden threads of the cocoon, and the fragmented halves of the cartouche lay forlornly on the ground within them.
Wherever the blood had gone, it had taken Corinne along. With a fearsome cry, Haldir snatched Dawn’s pike (ignoring her indignant yell of protest) and calmly, coolly, launched into an all-out attack on the thing.
“Er—“ Radagast said hesitantly, “I think I can dismantle it now,” but Buffy held up her hand as she watched her friend viciously jab the deadly point over and over into the fibrous web that glimmered golden even as its threads began to shred under his assault. His face was blank, an expressionless mask of lethal intent that had struck great terror into the heart of many an orcish foe over the centuries, and the others were very glad indeed that they were not his opponent at this moment.
“Let him do it,” she said. She sighed, lacing her fingers with those of Legolas as he came to stand beside her, and met his gaze with her own anxious one. “This is not of the good.”
Holy One, exalted reverend one,
Open the way to my deepest desire.
I subject myself to the testing of the heart.
Bring me success, bring me victory.
cerin = mound, hill, heap