One Path Splits Into Seven
A/N: Okay, so finally it’s here. I know, I know, it took a while, but that’s only cause this chapter has about half of the exposition I wanted to get out during the previous twenty-nine chapters. It just didn’t work out that way. I guess there’s some kind of poetry though in the fact that the thirtieth chapter is over thirty typed single-spaced pages long, that the final chapter is the longest of the story. Just a note or two before we get there.
A note on canon. I have hinted in previous chapters and do so in this chapter the Saruman is already working against the White Council and with Sauron. I want to note that, even though in my story this is true, canonically Saruman doesn’t become a traitor until the year three thousand. In this chapter, it is September of 2984.
Oh, and at some point in the next few months, I’m gonna go back and revise some of the chapters. You don’t have to go back and read them, it’s basically for future readers’ benefit. Originally, this story was suppose to take place over a time span of ten years. In the editing process I found that ten years didn’t really make sense, so it was whittled down to five. As such, some of the dates in previous chapters don’t make sense. Like, I think in one chapter it says the twins had been in Lórien for a year and in the next it says three months. Things like that. The official timeline is at the bottom of the story as a last note.
Buffy couldn’t shake the ominous chills. They had followed her ever since she had awoken to hear Galadriel’s voice in her head. Then the chills grew deeper, longer, colder throughout the long trek across the mountains to her literal home away from home.
The message that both she and Faith had received had been pretty straightforward. Come home
. They had done so and without much comment. Aragorn had, of course, followed unquestioningly. It had been hard, but not one of the three of them had spoken a word about what the message could mean. Perhaps because they all knew. If Galadriel was willing to exhaust her power for days to contact someone as they had been contacted, it could only be bad. Very bad.
Now they were close, mere steps from the city hidden within the Golden Wood, and she was nothing short of terrified.
“I don’t like this,” Faith muttered as she subtly closed the distance between her and Buffy.
Buffy nodded, letting her gaze continue to sweep over the city. To the casual observer, everything would seem completely in order. But a slight mist hung in the air of the city, something Buffy had never seen inside the gates. And she knew her life was about to be consumed in that gloom. “You’re telling me.”
Buffy crossed through the gates of Lórien, into the city she called home, and for the first time ever within those gates, she felt cold. No one was there to meet them. Some of those passing made polite bows, but continued on. It was the most unsettled she could ever remember feeling.
Beside her, she felt Faith shift even closer. She did not comment or make any effort to move away. The other Slayer’s presence was comforting. She felt Aragorn behind her as well. He was radiating tension. Some of her fear was alleviated then, for it felt rather nice to be worried for.
Suddenly, she knew why she felt so cold. Because the all-seeing eyes of the Elven Lady that claimed to be her mother were looking straight at her. The Elven Lady was standing on one of the flets up above, watching the trio push onwards into the city. Buffy met Galadriel’s eyes. And she saw fear.
With a bit of effort, Buffy tore her eyes away from the Elven Lady and turned just before the large mass of her younger sister barreled into her. For a moment she just stood there, a bit stunned, as her sister attempted to hug her to death. Then she finally regained her senses and wrapped her arms around the girl she had not seen in three years. As she stood there just holding her little sister close, all of her foreboding slipped away as if it had never been.
“Dawn…” she murmured into her sister’s shoulder as the relief swept over her. What she had feared most of all in her heart, though she did not allow herself to even think of the possibility, was for her little sister’s safety. Yet she was there strong, alive, and, by the looks of it, fine. As were Willow, Xander, Spike, and Giles, for they all followed close behind Dawn. They looked just as well as Dawn, except they seemed to be a little mussed and sweaty. Buffy recognized instantly why as she saw an inflated deer stomach lying on the ground a few feet away, Spike’s answer for an improvised soccer ball.
“Goddess, I missed you so much!” Dawn whispered emotionally as she pulled away slightly.
Buffy looked at the familiar face of her little sister, smiling as she saw every detail was just as she remembered. “I missed you, too.”
Xander leaned in between the girls to give Buffy a quick peck on the head before turning and enveloping Faith in a quick hug. “Faith, it’s good to have you…well, I guess not home, but here, at least.”
“Thanks, Xand,” Faith said with a smile as she returned the hug. “I missed you guys, too.”
“What’s wrong?” Buffy asked Dawn as she pulled away further to let the others greet Buffy without letting go of Buffy’s arm.
Dawn patted the arm she wrapped around her own. “You should rest before we get into all that.”
Buffy scowled as she greeted Giles with a one-armed hug. “Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like this?”
The older man simply smiled and shook his head. “Because you won’t.”
Willow was practically bouncing up and down, giddy with excitement at the return of Buffy and Faith. “So tell us, what’s it like beyond the tree line?”
“Weird, Red,” Faith replied with a laugh as Spike reached around Willow’s shoulders and planted his hands down firmly in an attempt to subdue her slightly. Faith shook her head as she looked them all over. “God, you guys haven’t changed a bit.”
Xander snorted and pushed his lengthening hair behind his ears. “That’s a relief.”
Faith‘s grin began to widen, then suddenly stopped. She gave Willow and Xander both a strange look before turning to Giles. “Wait a sec. You really haven’t changed.”
“You guys have, sorta,” Dawn said as she examined her sister closely. She grinned slyly as she wrapped a finger around a stand of Buffy’s hair. “No longer blonde?”
“Funny,” Buffy nearly growled as she knocked the lock from Dawn’s hand. It was almost heartbreakingly light brown. She preferred to think of it as dirty blonde, so she could still claim blondeness. But no one would let her get away with it. Just like Willow wasn’t much of a striking redhead anymore. They had all given way to their natural, dull hair colors. Well, except for Dawn, who had always had a gorgeous shade of shiny brown hair. And Xander and Faith, their dark shades were natural. And spike, damn him, his natural hair color was even better than the peroxide, the shade Buffy would kill for. The only thought that comforted her was that she knew Giles should be going gray any day now, though for some reason the only gray that had come in at all were the patches he‘d had before they had fallen to Lórien.
Buffy shook off her line of thought and turned Dawn towards her to get a better look at the now twenty-one-year-old. “God, look at you,” she murmured as she seriously went about studying her sister. Dawn rose magnificently to the challenge, standing straight and smiling as her sister looked her over. Dawn was paler that was for certain. Her hair was longer and the highlights had been cut out. Her eyes were a bit different. But there wasn’t much else different. Her face hadn’t changed as she matured. She was the same height. Her weight was a little better than it had been in Sunnydale, more muscle had been built living in the woods but…but she was exactly the same as she had been when Buffy had left three years ago. No…Dawn was exactly the same as she had been when they had fallen into Lórien…over five years ago. “You’ve…not grown at all.”
Buffy stared at her sister, who was now shooting her a strange look. But she couldn’t shake it. She stared at her sister, knowing that the girls had not changed, had not aged. “Why are you still sixteen?”
The way Faith was staring at Giles, Willow, and Xander now made sense to Buffy. She saw it too, had seen it first. “It’s the truth,” the dark-haired Slayer defended Buffy as she motioned to the group. “You guys are exactly the same as you were when we left. You haven’t grown, you haven’t aged. Well, your hair is longer and your eyes are…deeper and you’re all pasty white, but…you’re the same.”
“Buffy, Faith, that’s…it’s…” Xander trailed off as he looked closely at Faith, eyes widening as he just stared.
“Impossible,” Willow breathed as she gazed around the group.
“You haven’t aged either,” Giles murmured as he brushed a piece of hair out of Buffy’s face. “Underneath the layers of strife, you’re the same, too.”
And Buffy could suddenly see it as they glanced around at one another. Dawn was almost completely the same as she had been in Sunnydale. All of them. The only changes, the only
changes were in hair and complexion. It could have been written off with Willow, Xander, Faith, and herself. The slight aging between twenty-two and twenty-seven. They could easily just be aging gracefully. But Spike…she had actually been looking forward to watching Spike age a bit. But he was just as she had always known him to be. Almost as if he were still a vampire and not mortal. And Giles…he was still in his prime. He wasn’t showing any signs of aging five years, especially since those five years should have brought with them many changes.
“It’s not just since we left,” Spike broke the silence. “It’s since we came here.”
“How is this possible?” Xander muttered.
Suddenly Aragorn was at Buffy‘s side, a concerned look on his face. She had almost forgotten he was there, hanging back a bit though to let the family have it‘s reunion. What a sight they must have been, circled, shocked, and silent. “What is wrong?”
Willow looked up at the Ranger, offering no form of greeting and instead going right to the heart of the matter. “We haven’t aged.”
Aragorn blinked, momentarily confused, before looking them all over. He then shook his head and gave them a puzzled look. “You all look as if you are still in your prime. Shouldn’t you be?”
Buffy rolled her eyes and fought the urge to sigh. “No, we…Strider, we’re not of the race of Men. We’re not like the Númenoreans. We don’t live to be two hundred and something, we barely make one.”
Willow nodded. “Humans come of age around eighteen, grow into full-adulthood by thirty, are mid-aged at forty-five, and reach old age by sixty.”
Aragorn blinked and looked them over again. This time he frowned. “You should have aged a great deal then, were you human.”
“We’re not human?” Dawn asked, panicked at Aragorn’s unintentional implication.
Then there was Arwen.
She gracefully flew over the lawns until she reached the group, a bright smile on her face. “Aragorn! Eirien! Rossell! You have returned!”
Galadriel followed her granddaughter much more composed-looking than Buffy had seen her on the flet above. She immediately took in the air of the group and set to the problem without worrying on greetings. “What is wrong?”
Aragorn opened his mouth, most likely to offer some sort of formal apology, but Buffy was momentarily sick of the conventions of Elven society. “We aren’t aging.”
For some reason, Arwen and Galadriel were less shocked than Buffy expected them to be. Instead, they both seemed to be worried. “Aren’t aging?” Arwen repeated solemnly, her bright cheerfulness gone.
“I never noticed before, but it’s true,” Xander said with a nod. “Over five years…I’m nearly twenty-eight…and I look like I did when I was twenty-two.”
Faith stepped forward and motioned to Giles. “Giles, you should be what? Sixty?”
Giles shot the Slayer a withering glance. “I am fifty-four, Faith.”
Aragorn blinked. “Fifty-four, and a lifespan shorter than that of even lesser Men?”
Dawn nodded, a fearful light settling in her eyes. “Giles should be old and fuzzy.”
Giles turned his gaze to Dawn. She gave him a small smile. “But you’re still forty-nine. A youthful forty-nine might I add.”
“Dawn would have been the most noticeable,” Buffy offered, trying to turn Giles attention back to the matter at hand. “She was sixteen when we fell here. Should be twenty-one at least. She’s still a kid.”
Dawn sighed and shrugged. “I never thought about it. I guess like the whole not seeing how you age unless you aren’t looking everyday.”
Spike cocked his head as he pulled out his pipe, his answer for anything nerve-wracking. “I’m not used to aging, so I’ve not paid attention.”
Galadriel shared a look with her granddaughter before turning to the group. “You are sure you have not aged since you fell?”
“Well…maybe a little,” Buffy conceded, though she knew even that much wasn’t true. “We should all definitely look older.”
“Come with me.”
With that, Galadriel was gone. Without a second thought, they all followed.
Willow followed Galadriel to the glen with the Mirror, her sense of foreboding multiplying with each step. They arrived quickly and silently. Galadriel made no move to fill the Mirror, which Willow found odd. She had always filled it in the past.
Galadriel nodded to Arwen, who motioned them close. Then Galadriel stepped in front of Willow.
“Eryniel, may I?” the Elven lady asked lowly as she cupped her hands just in front of Willow’s face.
Willow didn‘t understand, but she knew she trusted Galadriel with her life. “Of course.”
Willow stood straight and tall as Galadriel slid her hands forward to cup Willow‘s jaw. Behind her, Willow felt Aragorn, Spike, and Xander pressing in. Faith, Giles, and Arwen came up on her left and Buffy and Dawn mirrored them on her right.
“This may feel…a little odd,” Galadriel whispered.
The world suddenly flashed around Willow, then sped away as she started to sink, back down deep within herself. She felt as if she were plummeting at an impossible speed down into some abyss. She screwed her eyes shut and opened her mouth to either scream or throw up, she wasn’t exactly sure. But she had no mouth to open, no stomach to empty. And then, suddenly as the fall had started it stopped.
She opened her eyes, a little dizzy, but feeling overall fine. “Whoa. Okay, that was weird. And kinda floaty.”
She stumbled backwards a bit and was caught quickly by Spike. “Okay, lots floaty.”
“Is she high?” Xander asked as he appeared by her side, concerned.
Willow shook her head as the world spun around her. “No, no, no…head rush.”
“Okay,” Buffy drawled as she glanced from Willow to Galadriel, who was looking at Willow with an expression of great pity. “Right. What was that? What happened?”
Willow blinked as she thought to the flash, to what she had seen. It all made sense, of course. It had just been a matter of time before it happened. “They’re fighting.”
Spike glanced down at the redhead he was supporting. “Who’s fighting?”
“The little cells,” Willow replied as she tried to right herself. The world was settling back down again and they needed her to explain. She was the brains of the group. She was Miss Science. She could help them understand. She pointed to Spike’s hand where it steadied her, pointed to the blue vein visible in his wrist. “Right there.”
“Maybe someone who isn’t…floaty?” Giles suggested, giving Galadriel a pointed look.
Galadriel glanced at him before turning to share a look with Arwen. “Na…sui adar’lín cenn…a gostannem.”
(It is…as your father saw…and we feared.)
Willow fought the urge to roll her eyes. She was several millennia younger than the Lady of the Golden Wood, but even she knew that a comment like that one would do nothing but cause a panic. And she was right.
Dawn was the one who reacted first, her young heart having been through so much pain lately, Willow was surprised she wasn‘t a completely paranoid freak. She turned large eyes to Arwen. “What is it?”
Arwen sighed and turned her own sad eyes to Dawn. “We feared this might come to pass.”
“Did you, now?” Spike quipped as he jostled Willow up to stand on her own.
Galadriel gave one deep solemn nod. “Elrond foresaw this doom when he first looked upon Eirien, Rossell, and Erniethan.”
Faith narrowed her eyes at this. “Doom?”
Arwen nodded. “You will live uncertainly in these lands…especially having spent so much time with our people.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
Galadriel reached over and caught Dawn‘s arm in her hand. She raised it and held it out, palm up, so that they all could see the pulse in her wrist. “The blood in your veins is not purely of any single race. There are many different bloods within you, all of you. In any other being produced by the mixing of races, the war is fought when they are being formed. The war is over when they come into the world. The bloods within have claimed pieces of yourselves, have influenced your formation already.”
“Genetics,” Willow said, putting out a term she knew they’d be able to follow more easily.
“In you the war was dormant when you are born,” Galadriel continued as she released Dawn’s arm. “There was no fight.”
“That’s not scientifically possible,” Buffy replied firm in her logic. “Genetics and DNA, even I know it doesn’t work like that. And that’s saying a lot.”
Galadriel cocked her head in a small conceding nod. “Call it what you will, but we are simply telling you what is.”
Spike shrugged as he stepped past Willow so he was closer to Galadriel. “Well, I personally never cared much for science, so I’ll buy it. What does this mean for us?”
Arwen was the one that answered. “In your realm, everyone is like this, everyone having this blood-war waged. Your blood does not feel the pull of like blood to it. But here, in Lórien…”
Arwen trailed off, as if unwilling to finish. So Willow did it for her. “There exists the pull of like blood.”
Galadriel inclined her head slightly. “Your Elven blood, empowered by the call of the Elven blood that surrounds it, has gained dominance.”
This caused everyone to stop. Willow almost smiled as she saw the realization dawn on her friends‘ faces, as they began to understand.
“We,” Xander started slowly as he looked up at Galadriel and Arwen in shock. “We’re turning into Elves?”
Galadriel smiled slightly then shook her head. “No. I doubt that anything could turn you fully Elvish. But you will begin to feel Elf-like effects. Longer life. Enhanced senses. You might even grow an inch or two.”
“It’s impossible,” Giles at last concluded.
He was right, or at least he should have been. Willow remembered enough of science to know that. But for some reason, this time Giles was very wrong. “No, it’s not,” she told him, knowing he would trust her conclusions. “I saw it. It’s happening, just like they say.”
The air left Faith quickly in an empty laugh. Then she planted her hands on her hips and looked up at Arwen. “What about us? B and I haven’t been among Elves for a long time. We’ve been with…”
Faith turned to motion to Aragorn, who had been standing silently just outside the circle letting the events play out. But Faith stopped when she laid eyes on him.
He gave her a rueful smile. “You, dear Rossell, have been with a Dúnadan. With a lifespan of thrice that of lesser Men, you would age little in five years.”
Galadriel turned to Buffy and cupped her hands in front of her face as she had done earlier with Willow. “Eirien, come.”
Buffy looked from Galadriel‘s eyes to her hands to Willow, then back up to Galadriel. “Uh, I really don’t want to float.”
Galadriel gave her a small smile. “I do not have to pull you own with me to see. You shall not feel a thing.”
Buffy hesitated a moment longer, then nodded. Willow watched as Galadriel slid her hands around Buffy‘s face, then closed her eyes in concentration.
After a moment of silence, Galadriel spoke. “Your Elven blood gained dominance while you were with us. You have no blood of Númenor in you, dear Dagnirulun. And having no other like pull, your Elven blood remains in control.”
Galadriel opened her eyes and smiled at Buffy. Buffy just looked stunned. “Oh.”
Then the Elven lady turned to Faith. “Rossell?”
Faith swallowed thickly, then nodded and squeezed her eyes shut. Galadriel gently closed her eyes and cupped Faith’s face in her hands. “Ah…the blood of Númenor is battling for control with your Elven nature. But your Elven blood is far more powerful than that of the Westernesse. The blood feud will prolong you as well in this way, having two long-lived bloods fighting for dominance.”
Faith opened her eyes slowly and evenly held Galadriel‘s gaze. “How long?”
Galadriel hesitated momentarily, then let her hands fall from Faith’s face. “For you, remaining as you are…four hundred.”
Xander snapped his head around. “Four hundred years
Galadriel nodded, giving Faith a sympathetic look. “At the very least. Perhaps, a great deal longer.”
Faith barely even blinked as she took it all in. She just glanced around at the rest of the Gang. “What about them?”
“For the rest of you as you are…I cannot be sure,” Galadriel admitted slowly. “I’d say at least six hundred. Perhaps as much as a thousand.”
Buffy sat down on the ground as her legs gave out from underneath her. Dawn just gaped at Galadriel, mouth wide open. Giles’s expression became closed and Willow could practically see his mind working as he began to calculate what this would mean for them. Spike didn’t seem much bothered, though Willow could only guess what his emotions were. Xander was just frozen in place. Willow herself was a bit surprised at the large number, though she had known it would be big.
“So…” Dawn whispered, her voice rough with emotion. “Forever and a day.”
Arwen shook her head. “No, you will not become Immortals.”
“A thousand years might as well be forever,” Giles muttered under his breath. “The entire known civilized history of our race was only a few thousand years.”
Willow glanced up. Galadriel seem to understand their grief. Arwen was sympathetic as well. But the eyes that held the most sadness for them were Aragorn‘s. For only he could truly understand mortality and the denial of death.
Willow turned to Buffy, who was still on the ground at her feet. “So…welcome home.”
Buffy was content. She had a belly full of delicious delicacies that Willow had practically force fed her at the feast they‘d had in honor of their return. She was with her little sister, blissfully walking in the golden evening through their home. And she was actively ignoring everything Galadriel and Arwen had revealed earlier that afternoon. Life, in short, was good. “I think that was quite possibly the best meal I’ve had in my entire life.”
“Quite possibly?” Dawn repeated in a playfully mocking tone. “When did you turn into Giles?”
Buffy shrugged as she leaned slightly against her sister. “Around the same time we started to become part-Elves.”
Dawn snorted and shook her head. “Our lives suck.”
“Yep,” Buffy agreed, looking around her surroundings. Wherever she went in Middle-Earth, whatever wonders she saw, the glowing city of the Galadhrim was her favorite. It was the most beautiful to her eyes. And she was happy to be back, for however long she was blessed to be back.
“So, tell me,” Dawn said softly, breaking her from her reverie. “What’s it like? Out there?”
Buffy smiled as she looked at her ever-changing younger sister. Though her body was the same, it was her spirit that was different. “I can’t believe that in five years you actually stayed in one place.”
Dawn shrugged dismissively, though her cheeks burned red. It was true, Dawn had always been a wanderer. But for some odd reason, she was content to stay in Lórien. “Where else is there to go?”
Buffy chuckled lowly. “Okay, I’ll give you that.”
“Come on,” Dawn said turning to walk slightly sideways so that she could face her sister. “You have to tell me.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Why is that?”
“You owe me,” Dawn pointed out. “Only letters since you been gone. I like how that whole ‘I’ll see you at least once a year’ thing turned out.”
Buffy felt her face burn. But no matter how she tried to rationalize it in her mind, Dawn was right. She had left over three years ago and had not been back since. “Well, we tried, really. It just didn’t turn out that way.”
Dawn didn‘t look convinced. “Uh huh.”
Buffy didn‘t blame her. She wasn‘t exactly sure if she was convinced herself. “At least I wrote.”
“But never in any detail,” Dawn said with a sigh. “All I got were names, nothing about what it was like.”
Buffy gave in. “Okay, well, we spent most of our time among the Dúnedain. There are some great people up there. You should really meet Aragorn’s mom.”
Dawn nodded. “You wrote about her. What’s her name again?”
“Gilraen the Fair, daughter of Dí
rhael,” Buffy said with a smile as she brought her memories of the lady up to the front of her mind. She had known about her for a long time, of course Aragorn had a mother. But he had only just introduced Buffy and Faith and Spike to Gilraen shortly before Spike left.
“The Fair?” Dawn repeated curiously.
“She’s very beautiful,” Buffy said, meaning every word. It was a bit of an understatement, though. Gilraen was gorgeous, and not just in looks. “And her spirit…you’d like her. She reminds me of Mom.”
Dawn smiled softly. “Then I know I’d like her.”
“She really means a lot to Aragorn,” Buffy said as Dawn and she fell back into step side by side. “She lives in Rivendell, but she said something to Faith that makes her think that Gilraen will go back to live with the Dúnedain. Aragorn doesn’t want that and I can’t say I blame him. The Dúnedain are a good and noble people, but they live hard lives. The Rangers are one thing, but living in Eriador is a challenge no matter where you are. Except perhaps the Shire, but Hobbits are very other-people-phobic. I’ve been through the roads twice and still haven’t seen a Shire Hobbit, though there were some in Bree.
“Bree’s a really nice town. Kinda reminds me of something out of the 1800s. Spike was really at home there. I think he kinda hopes we settle there or somewhere else in Bree-land. I guess it’s familiar to him and that comforts him. It wouldn’t really be so bad to live there. The people are mostly of Men, we’d blend okay. And there’s lots of things we could do. You know, shops, or maybe run a farm outside the city. It would be nice, just the seven of us. There’s lots of things to do, lots of nice people. There’s this bar-slash-inn, The Prancing Pony, it’s great. The family that runs it is really nice. Rutherford, he’s a sweetie, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. And his grandson, Barly, well, he’s a cutie too. Well, not cute-hot, cute-sweet. He has a bit of a crush on me cause I went and saved his life from some Orcs outside of Bree once, though he doesn’t like Spike and Faith. Absolutely hates Strider, or, uh, Aragorn.
“Stupid about the name thing, huh? Why can’t people pick a name and stick with it. I mean, short nick names I understand, but whole new names are weird. Halbarad hates it, thinks it’s ridiculous, too. I wrote about him, he…Dawn?”
It suddenly became clear to Buffy that her sister was no longer hanging on her every word. Instead, Dawn was staring back behind them in the direction they had just come. And she was very pale. And getting paler. As if she were scared. “Dawnie? Is something wrong? Dawn?”
Dawn suddenly turned to her, grabbed her hand, and started to pull her down a different path. “Let’s go to Cerin Amroth to watch the sunset.”
Buffy pulled her hand out of her sister‘s, giving Dawn a confused look. “Dawn? Hate to break it to you, but the sun has pretty much set. It‘ll be well past dark before we can get to Cerin Amroth.”
“Then we’ll go stargazing,” Dawn tried again, grabbing once more for Buffy’s hand.
Buffy‘s slayer reflexes were too quick and she easily shifted out of Dawn‘s reach. “Stargazing? Dawnie, I’m tired. Why can’t we finish our walk around the city?”
“Come on,” she urged, trying for a playful tone though Buffy could see her sister’s desperation beginning to come out. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at her sister. She might have missed the past three years, but Buffy knew her sister very well. And what she knew of Dawn made her instantly suspicious. “Dawn, why do you suddenly want to get away from here? What are you hiding?”
“Yes, Meluiell, what could you possibly be hiding?”
Both girls turned at the dry remark to find an Elf standing directly behind them. Buffy recognized the elf instantly as one of Arwen’s brothers. Elladan, she thought, for he had sat next to his sister at the feast.
With Elladan was Faith, who seemed content to be back in Lórien, and Xander, who seemed suddenly very uneasy. He glanced from Elladan to Dawn before giving Buffy a small smile. “Hey, Buff.”
Buffy nodded her greetings. “Hey, Xander, Faith, Elladan. Wanna join us?”
Xander’s panicky smile seemed to become forcefully wider.
“Buffy, this isn’t Elladan,” Dawn said softly beside her. “It’s Elrohir.”
Buffy blinked as she looked back up at the Elf. She had not met Elrohir before at the dinner as he had been patrolling the forest with Orophin and Rúmil. She had known that he and his brother were twins, but she would have bet her life that the Elf before her was Elladan. “Whoa.”
Faith gave her a look that told Buffy she was in complete agreement. “Yeah.”
“Sorry,” Buffy told Elrohir, though she could already see it wasn’t necessary.
“You need not apologize,” he dismissed with a smile. “Even our own family oft times finds it difficult to tell my brother and I apart.”
Buffy nodded, agreeing whole-heartedly with his point. She was quickly beginning to see that no matter how long she knew the twins that, short of tattooing their names on their foreheads, she would never be able to tell them apart.
Then a strange thought struck her and she turned to her sister. “How did you do it?”
Dawn glanced up at her and opened her mouth to reply, but was cut short by Elrohir. “Meluiell has become very adept at sensing my presence.”
Dawn gave the elf an icy look. “You’re the one that’s been avoiding me.”
Elrohir looked down at Dawn and they held each other‘s gaze for a long, uncomfortable moment before he turned to Buffy and offered a small bow. “So this is the famed Eirien Dagnirulun. I have heard much about you.”
Buffy smiled as she bowed back to the son of Elrond. “Strider spoke of you and your brother lots. And I’ve heard that you two and Xander make quite the interesting little group.”
Elrohir smiled widely in amusement and brought a hand up to clap Xander on the shoulder. “I must admit, Rowinn’s friendship is one that I greatly value.”
Xander threw Elrohir a sardonic grin. “Love you, too, Elrohir.”
“It’s great to finally meet you,” Buffy continued, smiling widely at the Elf, knowing that she was going to like him.
“It is my distinct pleasure,” Elrohir replied regally. “I hope to one day hear some tales from your past. I have heard many an intriguing rumor.”
Buffy nodded and sighed. “Just wish there was time now. My luck you guys would be leaving just as I got here.”
Buffy looked over to see Dawn staring at the Elf in front of her and was surprised at the vast array of emotions playing out on her sister’s face. First their was shock, then sadness, then betrayal, then anger, then back to shock.
Faith gave Dawn a good-natured slug on the shoulder. “Hey, brat, didn’t you listen to anything at dinner?”
Dawn didn‘t take her eyes off of Elrohir. He, in-turn, gazed down at her with a cold, unreadable expression.
Faith‘s smile faltered as she started to notice the tension. Xander was watching the pair anxiously while shooting Buffy random nervous grins. Buffy was beginning to understand that something was going on here, something that she instinctively knew she wouldn’t like.
When Elrohir spoke to answer Buffy, he never took his eyes off Dawn. “My father has requested that Elladan and I return to Imladris,” he said in an emotionless, formal tone. “We leave tomorrow.”
Dawn‘s face turned to stone. “Well,” she said shortly. “Goodbye, then.”
With that, Dawn turned and stormed off in the direction of Haldir‘s.
Buffy watched her go, confused and surprised. Faith was just confused. But Xander, once Dawn was out of sight, became angry. He turned to the Elf at his side and slugged him in the arm, not-so-good-naturedly. “You didn’t tell her?”
Elrohir gave Xander a withering glare as he replied acidly, “Since when do I need to report my comings and goings to your sister?”
Xander didn‘t back down and Buffy watched in growing confusion as her friend squared off with the testy Elf, glaring at him as if he were a naughty two-year-old. “Elrohir, I thought you were going to try harder.”
This seemed to try at Elrohir‘s patience, for he gave Xander a cold look. “She was the one that chose to turn away from this.”
Xander raised his hands to the sky and growled his frustration before turning to follow the Elf. “Jarnel took us all in.”
Elrohir stopped and spun around defensively. “Even so.”
“She is twenty-one-years-old,” Xander pointed out calmly. “You are twenty-one-hundred-years-old.”
“I am twenty-eight-hundred,” the Elf corrected automatically.
Xander rolled his eyes. “Whatever! Okay, you’re just making it look worse on you. My point is that she has a right to act a little bit childish. You don’t. this is really hard for her. I thought you would at least try. Instead you haven‘t spoken since before.”
Buffy did not like this one little bit. “Xander, what is going on?”
Xander either didn‘t hear her or ignored her. Instead, he just gazed at Elrohir earnestly. “Is this where you want this to end?”
“Rowinn…” the Elf started in a pained tone, then stopped. He glanced down at the ground for a moment and Buffy recognized the signs of a heartbroken man. Which she knew she did not like.
Elrohir regained control of his emotions and looked back up at Xander, stoic mask back in place. “This concerns you not.”
“Bullshit,” Xander snapped automatically.
“If you insist,” Elrohir growled. Then he turned and hurried away, though Buffy noted he went in the same direction Dawn had.
Xander humped in frustration as he turned back to Faith and Buffy. “You know, Dawn’s right. He is arrogant.”
Without a moment‘s hesitation, Buffy latched a hand onto Xander‘s arm in a vice-like grip and turned him forcefully so that he was eye-to-eye with her. “Why does it look like my little sister is having a lover’s quarrel with an Elf?”
Xander stared down at Buffy in horror as if just remembering she was there. “I, uh…I should go this way--”
Buffy tightened her grip and moved to counter Xander‘s desperate move to retreat. “No, no, no, no, no. You’re staying right here and answering my question.”
Xander looked down at Buffy, then sighed in defeat. “I…I can’t tell you.”
“Can’t?” Faith repeated as she joined the interrogation, looking more than a little curious herself.
Xander nodded. “Dawn made us all swear--”
Buffy released her grip in Xander‘s arm and stepped closer to him, crossing her arms in front of her as she glared him down. “Does Dawn have the strength to rip your arms off and then beat you to death with the bloody stubs?”
Xander‘s eyes widened, but he still shook his head. “She’ll kill me. She only just started to really forgive me and I had to almost get myself killed to do it.”
This was even more news to Buffy‘s ears. Whatever she and Faith had missed, it had been huge. “What the hell happened?!”
Xander shook his head again, this time more firmly. “She has to be the one to tell you.”
Buffy stared at Xander for a moment as she weighted her options. Then, coming to a conclusion, she nodded. “Fine.”
Then she turned in the direction that her sister and the Elf had gone and started to after them. Faith followed her without a word.
Xander‘s eyes went wide as he scrambled after her. “Whoa. Where are we going?”
Buffy threw him a look. “To ask Dawn what the hell is going on.”
Xander rubbed his sore arm as he followed miserably. “Oh, she’s gonna kill me.”
Dawn hurried down the path, wanting to put as much distance between her and that damnable Elf as possible. But he was too quick, she knew that the moment she felt him turn to follow her.
She grimaced at the sound of his strained and frustrated voice. He was angry. She‘d just as soon let him be. It was easier if her were angry. It was then that it was easy to hate him.
“Leave me alone!” she yelled over her shoulder without breaking stride.
She passed a couple of familiar Elves as she hurried along and noted with humor that they turned and headed the other way. Even though the last few months had seen an uncomfortable silence fall between Dawn and Elrohir, the Galadhrim seemed to be more wary of them than they had been before. While most were uncomfortable to be around one of them, almost everyone was loathe to be around both of them. Dawn understood what they feared more with each passing day. The motherload of all fights, the big one that she knew was coming.
He was right behind her. She cursed the Elves and their light and swift feet as she whirled around to face him. “Oh, now
you wanna talk?!”
Elrohir stopped just short of barreling into her, face red from either exertion or his emotions. Dawn figured it was the latter since he was a damn, dirty Elf. “Yes.”
Dawn planted herself in front of him, hands on her hips as she regarded him coolly. “Fine.”
She rolled her eyes, exasperated. “Well?”
“I did not know for certain until today,” he explained to her calmly.
That wasn‘t even about to fly with her. “But you suspected for a while.”
She watched the muscles of his jaw tense as his anger grew. “I did not have reason to believe you would be bothered.”
“I’m not bothered!” she said firmly and turned to leave.
He blocked her, holding out his arms in a sign of surrender. “Meluiell, please. Peace.”
“Peace?” she repeated in disbelief. “You‘re leaving and you didn‘t tell me!”
“I did not believe you would care! For two months we have not even spoken a word! That was your doing!”
“Agh!” Dawn screamed in frustration as she rounded on him. It was true, they hadn‘t spoken since Jarnel had come to Lórien. Elrohir was angry at her about the Man and accepting his courtship offer, had been acting like she had cheated on him. “You made it perfectly clear to me that you want nothing to do with me! What right do you think you have to get jealous if I do a little harmless flirting?!”
“Harmless?” Elrohir repeated in disbelief. “That Man nearly killed your brother!”
Dawn could have sworn she saw red in that moment. “So let Xander get pissy, you have no right!”
“I have every right,” he growled lowly as he glared at her furiously.
“And what right is that?” she asked as she crossed her arms in front of her. “You told me you did not want me in your life. I‘m trying to respect that wish.”
She turned to go, but was suddenly stopped as he grabbed her. He turned her towards him, looking down at her intensely. “And what do you want from me?”
Dawn felt it then, just as she always did when he got to close. The connection, slipping in between them, trying to grab hold.
“Tell me, Meluiell,” he demanded of her. “What do you want?
It was bubbling between them, hot and electrifying and coursing through her and into him then back again.
“Do you want me to leave?” he asked, his voice as hard as stone.
And even though it called to her, she felt the confusion and resentment and all the hurt and pain insider her grounding her to the world.
“Do you want me to stay?” he pressed on, though his tone became as soft as the niphredil on Cerin Amroth.
She almost wanted to just give in, let the connection take her, but she couldn’t be sure.
Then his tone took an icy edge as he asked, “Do you want me to have never existed in the first place?”
The fear of the unknown, of the connection, of everything between them, it kept her from going.
“Do you want me with you?” he whispered, tone burning with an ardor long suppressed.
She shivered as she felt the passion call to her, warring and mixing with the swirl of emotions inside.
“What do you want, Dawn?” he asked, this time pleadingly, as if begging her for an answer. “What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know,” she protested as it all started to become too much.
“Yes, you do,” he pushed, his voice everywhere, even in her head. “Tell me. Tell me what you want.”
And suddenly, she did know what she wanted.
“I want it to end!” she shouted at him as she pushed him away, feeling relieved and powerful and good for the first time in months for having just finally admitting it. “I want it over! Done! I want it to end!”
But when she looked up at Elrohir, all the warm strong feelings surging through her turned to ice in an instant. He was looking at her as if she’d just killed him. It was all there, in his eyes. And she knew in that moment she might as well have killed him.
Then that stony mask he hid behind was back. “And so it has.”
His soft, simple words shattered a part inside of her, a part she had not known existed until it was too late. And the fear she felt in that moment made every other fear she had ever experienced pale in comparison.
“Elrohir…” she started weakly even though she knew it was too late. She had made her last terrible mistake.
“I bear you no ill will,” he said calmly in that even voice two millennia of life had given him.
She felt like she was breaking. Her breath was choppy and there was a sick burning pain in her stomach. “Wait…”
He nodded formally to her, one of goodbye. “I wish you joy, Meluiell, truly I do. Namárië, min’ní
(Farewell, my One.)
Then he turned and very calmly started to walk away. And she could only watch in open-mouthed horror as he did.
The world seemed to stop with him gone. And she just stood there, feeling the pain.
“Is this what I’m not going to like?”
Dawn looked up to find her sister standing a few feet away, fuming in all her Slayer glory. Faith and Xander were just behind her, both lo0oking extremely uncomfortable about being there.
Dawn sighed. She knew she didn‘t really have the strength to deal with Buffy, not that night. “Buffy--”
“Dawn, what are you thinking?” Buffy broke into her tirade angrily. “Haven’t you learned anything from all of our mistakes?”
Faith and Xander both shot Buffy annoyed looks at this comment.
“You know, B, we can’t throw stones,” Faith pointed out. “If Little Sister wants to get her kicks from Elrohir, let her.”
Buffy turned her glare to Faith at this. “She’s too young--”
“Oh, bullshit, Buffy,” Dawn snapped as her pain turned to anger inside of her. “I’m fucking twenty-one! By the time you were twenty-one, you’d screwed Angel, Parker, Riley, and
Spike and you’d died twice. I’m the legal age to do just about every restricted thing back home. I’m old enough to do whatever the hell I want!”
Buffy scoffed and looked at Dawn as if she were a petulant toddler. “You still act like a child.”
Dawn was so fed up with her sister at that moment that she almost wished she hadn‘t come back. “You’d like to think so wouldn’t you? Face it, Buffy, it was your decision to leave, your decision not to come back and while you were gone, I grew up! Just because you missed it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
Buffy stood still and silent for several moments, just staring at Dawn with this painfully hard look on her face. And Dawn knew then she had found her mark for the second time in about ten minutes. And Buffy was hurting over it.
But that didn’t mean she would let go of anything. “Even still,” the blonde Slayer continued slowly in a much more calm but strained toned. “If it was some kind of physical arrangement, that would be one thing. But getting emotionally involved with an immortal is the worst
mistake you could ever make.”
Dawn suddenly wanted to be fourteen again, because that hellish year seemed so much simpler to all of this. At least then, she hadn‘t felt like she was slowly being smothered to death in the inside.
“Don’t you think I know that?” she asked Buffy as she gave into the weariness inside her and let the mask that hid her emotions drop. “How many illustrations of that point do I need to see before I know how bad that path can be?”
Buffy seemed torn. Dawn could see that while she was heartbroken at the sight of Dawn‘s sudden pain, she was still clinging to her anger and frustration at the situation. “Then why in god’s name would you choose an Elf?”
“Choose?” Dawn repeated, the word tearing at her heart like a jagged stone. “Like I had a choice!”
“There’s always a choice!” Buffy said hotly as she took a step towards Dawn.
“Buffy, he’s my soul mate!” she finally admitted, not wanting to hear any more of it.
She saw instantly that her sister didn‘t fully understand, because she went right back to reasoning with her. “Dawn, I understand how deeply you feel--”
“No, Buffy, I mean he’s my One!” she clarified, hating the words as she said them. “As in Elvish soul mates! We’ve had maybe three civil conversations in the two years we’ve known each other, much less become involved!”
This revelation caused Buffy to freeze as she took all of this in. Behind her, Faith started shooting her and Xander shocked and confused looks. Xander just gazed at Dawn with a sad look on his face and she could almost feel him willing her to not break.
“I don’t understand,” Buffy said simply even though Dawn could practically see the anger going up out of her sister as comprehension slowly came to her.
“Buffy, I know you heard about the concept of two Elves finding one another and being Meant,” Dawn said wearily anyways, wanting her sister to know what was going on as quickly as possible so she could be her big sister for her.
Buffy nodded slowly. “Yeah, of course I have.”
“And you know it isn’t really limited to Elves,” Xander added lowly, so Dawn didn’t have to become even more torn up explaining everything. “It can be between two Elves or an Elf and a Man. I guess theoretically it could be between an Elf and a Dwarf or an Elf and a Hobbit, too.”
“An Elf and an Orc,” Faith muttered as she started to pace, giving Dawn odd looks every few moments.
“Eew.” Dawn made a face as she considered the possibility even while she was thankful to Faith for not really jumping into the conversation.
Buffy just stared at her sister, expression some strange mixture of fear, sadness, disbelief, and regret. “You…it’s impossible. You can’t be the soul mate of an Elf. You don’t belong to this dimension. A soul from one dimension can’t be the soul mate of a soul from a different dimension.”
“Well, tell that to fate, cause she didn’t get the memo,” Dawn growled mostly to herself.
Buffy hesitated for a moment, seeming unsure of it all. “Are you sure you’re Meant?”
“Yeah,” Dawn replied wearily. “Pretty damn sure.”
Then she looked up at her sister and knew it was time to just give in and admit it all. “I don’t even like him, Buffy,” she started miserably. “I don’t like him, but I love him. For no reason. I loved him from the moment I saw him, and I don’t know why. And this stupid thing, this weird connection, I can feel when he’s near and I know what he’s feeling and why and how he thinks and…oh, god.”
She broke then. Everything crashed down and she “I feel empty. I’ve always been empty and I didn’t know it. And I know he can fill the void, my body knows it, but…I don’t want this stupid thing, it’s so forced and I can’t know if it’s me, my choice, or this connection.
She froze, arms wrapped around herself tightly as the tears coursed down her cheek. “I don’t want to lose myself to this.”
Arms were around her and Buffy was suddenly holding her close as she had when she was younger. “Baby…”
Dawn just clutched at Buffy desperately as the pair sank to the ground. She let all her emotions come forward, let all the feelings she had been working against for over a year surge through her as she took shelter in her big sister‘s comforting embrace as she had for as long as she could remember. “Buffy, I’m so confused.”
Buffy just held her close, hands running up and down her back soothingly as she started to cry. “Why didn’t you send for me?” she asked gently,
“There’s nothing you can do,” Dawn admitted to both Buffy and herself even though she found herself burrowing deeper into the safety of her sister. “I have to work this out myself.”
“At least now you have a long time to work it out.”
Dawn let a giggle slip at this comment, a giggle that somehow became a sob as reality and the present became clearer at the thought of the future. “I don’t want him to go,” she whispered, knowing it was the truth.
She had told him she wanted it to end. But she didn’t mean she wanted him gone. She just wanted so desperately for the confusion to end. She wanted to know what was going on. She wanted to know whether or not she
, not that she loved her soul mate. And he thought she meant him and now he was going to go away thinking that. And she was never going to see him again. She would never know…know what he wanted.
Buffy tucked a stray strand Dawn‘s hair back behind her ear in a familiar soothing gesture. “I think it’s best that he does.”
Dawn could almost feel her heart breaking even though she found herself nodding. “I know.”
Faith felt awkward and emotionally drained after having witnessed what had passed between Buffy and Dawn. But the evening was far from over. They gathered in Celeborn’s study as they had always done in the past. Everyone looked up as a bathed and refreshed Faith walked in, the last to arrive.
Dawn and Buffy were there, Dawn much calmer now that she had had time to get her emotion’s under control. They sat together in the far corner of the room. Xander and Willow sat close to the Summers girls in seats against the adjoining wall, both appearing to be looking forward to the coming conversation as much as one looked forward to a trip to the dentist. The twins were with their sister at the opposite side of the room, seated on a bench waiting patiently. Giles was leaning against the doorframe cleaning his glasses. Spike was on a settee against the wall opposite of where Buffy and Dawn were sitting. Aragorn was off to the side by himself. Celeborn and Galadriel stood in center of the room
Galadriel smiled at Faith as she entered the room. “Sit. We have much to discuss.”
Faith hesitated before taking a seat next to Spike. He looked over at her as she sat down, expression grim. Faith looked from him to the somber Galadriel, concern at its peak. “So, what’s all this about?”
“Two months ago,” Celeborn began slowly, as if choosing his words carefully, “we were approached by a young Man of Mirkwood. He asked for our help with Dol Guldor. He told us that Sauron was more active there than he had been for a great many years.”
“We sent with him a group to look upon the fortress and verify his claim,” Galadriel continued. “Haldir led this party. With him went Elladan and Elrohir. Also with them was Orophin and Rowinn.”
Celborn turned to look at Xander as he said, “There he faced his most mighty task.”
“The Dark Lord knows you are here,” Galadriel said frankly. “He knows what you are. He knows your hearts and minds. He knows how to break you.”
Faith looked around the room hesitantly, looking for more. But it was obvious that everyone, right down to Aragorn, had known this and was waiting for their responses with guarded expressions. Faith let out a breath and shrugged. “Well, yay, then. Gotta admit, I was getting kinda tired of keeping up the act for the baddies. So, do we know how he’s going to try and kill us?”
“He does not wish you dead,” Arwen cut in, voice low and grave.
“He wants us…” Willow tried to explain anxiously, “wants us to join him.”
Faith wasn‘t so much surprised or even terrified at these words than she was amused. She raised a doubtful brow as she fought the urge to smile. “And, uh, how, pray tell, does he even hope to accomplish that?”
Galadriel was not as amused as Faith. “The Seven are not lost.”
These words, however, caused Faith to more than blink. She knew what they were talking about, years of study under Arwen had seen to that. ‘Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone
’. The Seven Ring of Power, given to the Dwarves by Sauron the Deceiver thousands of years ago in an attempt to subvert them and bring them under his dominion. Many attributed the failure of the Rings to seduce the Dwarves to the race’s hardiness. Faith, who had met only three Dwarves in her travels, figured it had less to do with hardiness and more to do with stubbornness.
Since the whole conquering the Dwarves thing was such a big failure, Sauron had made a pretty decent effort to get them back. But by most counts he only had two in his possession, at best three. All the others were thought to have been eaten by dragons. It would figure that this assumption was right, though. It was an assumption that played in their favor, so of course it was wrong.
She shot a look over at Buffy to find her sister Slayer looking to her with the same kind of suspicious hesitancy that she had. Buffy turned to Galadriel, expression questioning. “The Seven?”
Galadriel was still for a moment before nodding. “The Dark Lord has them all.”
Faith was frustrated with this information. Bad enough Sauron had the Nine under his command, but the Seven…well, it was what it was and she couldn’t really do anything about it. And all wasn’t completely lost, for they had the biggest advantage in the charade of all. The One.
Buffy seemed to be having the same thought, because after a moment‘s consideration, she shrugged. “Matters little. He has to have the One and that he’s not getting.”
“He has recrafted the Seven,” Celeborn pressed on, giving both Buffy and Faith hard looks. “They have been remolded for new bearers.”
Faith’s breath caught as she considered these words. The Rings of Power had taken the Elves a very long time to make, four hundred years to be precise. Each one had been made deliberately, with long thought of the bearers. The Seven had been made specifically for the Dwarves. For the Rings to have been remolded was a huge deal. It would mean Sauron had found a new target, a new people he wanted under his dominion, a people of strength and…
And then it hit her. Giles, Willow, Xander, Dawn, Spike, Buffy, herself. Seven. Seven rings…for seven Scoobies.
Faith stood as the thought settled in her mind. “If you’re suggesting--”
“He will try and make the Chosen of Sunnydale the bearers of the Seven,” Celeborn cut her off, shooting her a firm look. “You will all have to face this test.”
Buffy barely even blinked as she calmly took this all in. Then she looked up at Xander. “Is that what you did? You were tested?”
Xander licked his lips as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. And then he nodded. “He thought I was the weakest link. He thought he could get us all if I fell. It’s hard. Tempting. Even now. They’ve been remade to fit us
. Every detail.”
Buffy shared a look with Faith before moving to embrace her old friend. “Xander…”
Xander sighed as he returned the hug, then moved back so that he could meet the blonde‘s gaze. “I wanted to, Buffy. I really wanted it. With every fiber. It took everything I had and then some to look away.”
“In one way he picked the best one to go after,” Dawn said as she looked at the man in front of her adoringly. “You are the heart, Xand. If he got you, we all would
“But in every other way, he picked the worst,” Buffy continued with a smile as she sat down in the empty seat at Xander‘s right. “Of all of us, hyena possessions barred, you’re the one that hasn’t ever really screwed up. You‘re, like, the purest of all of us.”
“Rowinn Meldirin,” Galadriel said as she smiled at Xander warmly, face glowing with pride.
Willow reached over and squeezed Xander’s hand affectionately. “Thank the Valar for Anya and the Mirror.”
“The Mirror?” Faith repeated as the people in the know lost her once again.
“Xander was sent a message via the Mirror shortly before he left for Dol Guldor,” Giles explained.
“It was a message from Anya,” Xander said softly. “She wanted me to see what would happen if I failed. Give me an incentive not to let that happen.”
Faith frowned, not liking where this could go. “What did you see?”
Xander looked up at Faith before shaking his head firmly. “No. You don’t want to know.”
Buffy blinked in surprise. “Was it that bad?”
Xander looked over his shoulder at the gathered Elves before nodding. “Let’s just say that few if any people in this room would live through it.”
Faith looked where Xander had, and was surprised to see Galadriel, Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Arwen, and Aragorn seemed unaffected by this news, as if resolved in the knowledge that they would die if the Scoobies fell. And Faith knew that they would be her first logical strike.
“Jesus Christ,” she muttered, running her hands over her thighs nervously.
“It couldn’t be that bad,” Buffy denied in a small voice.
Xander looked down for a moment before leaning in so he could speak lowly, as if it would do any good with the Elves and their super-hearing. “Don’t you see? If we fall, that’s it. We know where It is. They’ll never be able to ready themselves to fight against us.”
Faith‘s eyes widened as she realized what Xander was talking about. The Ring. “Shit.”
“What do we do?” Buffy asked breathlessly.
“We trust you, Eirien,” Celeborn was quick to reassure. “With more than our lives. We are trusting you with the fate of this world. I believe you all to be good people. Noble, brave, true.”
“We trust you not to succumb,” Galadriel reaffirmed her husband’s statement of trust. “You will choose the nobler road. And you will aid us in our victory.”
“I think…” Faith began, but was unable to find the trust in herself that these Elves put in her. “I don’t know.”
“We trust you,” Galadriel repeated firmly. “And in token of our trust…I have shared with your family something I could not before. That day the second portal opened, something did come through.”
Buffy frowned. “But you said--”
“I know what I said,” Galadriel cut Buffy off, a look of guilt on her face. “But this is what is. I do not know what it was, but I do believe it was a living being.”
“A being?” Faith repeated, confused.
Dawn nodded. “It could have been from anywhere.”
Xander looked at the ground a moment before he raised his gaze to meet first Buffy‘s, then Faith‘s. “I was shown one of the New Watcher’s Council polos in Dol Guldor.”
“Another person from our world?” Buffy breathed as the possibilities hit her. “But they would have fallen right on top of Dawn.”
“They were taken away,” Galadriel said softly. “I do not know where or by what.”
“Is there any way we can find out?” Faith asked, this new twist pounding in her head.
“I have tried,” Galadriel told the two Slayers. “Gandalf tried. Elrond tried. Saruman the White tried. Eryniel has tried. Meluiell has tried. But none of us were successful.”
“There’s nothing more we can do?” Buffy asked, eyes pleading for an option.
Galadriel looked so guilty at her own limitations in that moment. “No.”
“It’s most likely too late now, anyways,” Willow said bitterly. “They did all they could in the beginning, and that was two years ago. Whatever Sauron wanted, he got. Once he had what he wanted, I doubt he kept…the source around much longer.”
Buffy sighed. “So not only does he know who we are, he could possibly know all about us.”
“Eldahini,” Faith found herself muttering darkly.
Xander’s eyes snapped up to her and watched her knowingly. “So, you’ve heard that too, huh?”
Faith snorted and almost smiled when she heard Buffy do the exact same thing. She had almost been physically ill when she‘d heard the first of the ‘legends’ of the Eldahini. It had taken her a moment to place the familiar tale of a woman warrior who was so committed to the destruction of her enemies that she had followed a mortal enemy into the land of nightmares in order to rescue the loved one he held hostage. But then she remembered her ordeal with Angel, Angelus, and Orpheus.
The legends ran one of two ways: they were either completely distorted to make the Eldahini sound like the most horrifying of evils, or they were just as skewed making the Eldahini sound like heroes straight out of a fairytale. Faith wasn’t sure which way she would rather be viewed, but she did know that if the stories had to be known, she would rather people knew the truth. But there was no stopping the stories, not without revealing herself as the subject of them. As was, even though there were names associated with the tales, she, Buffy, and Spike hadn’t been connected. And it wasn’t likely that they would be. Though there was a dark and light version of every story, the heroic ones were gaining in popularity. People, it seemed, needed the comforting thought of a hero to wrap themselves in as the Shadow grew darker around Middle-Earth. Faith’s reputation in Bree was tied with Strider’s, which was far from heroic. Not dark, but not heroic either.
“The tales of the Eldahini originate in Mordor,“ Willow explained to Faith and Buffy. “He does know everything about us. He sent people out into the world with stories about us, probably trying to smoke us out.”
“Those stories don’t use our names, though,” Buffy pointed out. “They use the names the Elves gave us.”
“Which means there’s a spy,” Dawn continued her sister’s thought. “Here, Rivendell, the Rangers, or Orthanc. Those are the only places people know about all of us. Someone from one of those four places sold us out.”
Faith didn’t like the thought. Even though there were four possibilities, only friends knew about them in those places. Or people she thought were friends. She had been the betrayer on many occasions in times past. She didn’t care to be the one that was betrayed. She looked up at Celeborn, furious at the thought of such a betrayal. “Is there any way to be sure who?”
“I doubt it,” the Elf Lord answered frankly. “Most likely the traitor is either from Imladris or among the Rangers. It was probably someone who passed through long ago.”
Buffy sighed. “Is there anyway to narrow down who Sauron might have from the stories that are circulating?”
“We’ve already tried,” Dawn said as she glanced down at her hands. “Assuming that this person was from a time within a few years of us falling through, there are still several possibilities. Most of them worse the one before.”
Xander was the one who listed those names. “Possibilities like Angel, Wesley, Cordelia, Robin, Rona, Kennedy, Andrew, Vi, Caridad, Fred, Gunn.”
Faith closed her eyes at the thought of any one of the people she cared about in Sauron’s clutches. It made her physically sick.
“It could be one of the new Watcher recruits,” Willow continued mechanically after Xander’s voice trailed off. “Someone that studied about us if they‘re from later on. It just depends.”
“But it‘s someone,” Dawn completed the thought sadly.
Buffy set her jaw, determined. “Whether they‘re dead or not, we have to keep looking. Until we know for sure.”
“I’m already at the Mirror twice a day trying,” Dawn told her sister. “Willow is trying to write a new location spell. Xander and Spike have gone out half a dozen times taking Orcs prisoner, interrogating them. When you leave again, Spike already has a list of people to contact. We are trying, Buffy.”
Faith wasn’t anymore happy with their limitations than Buffy was. But they weren’t as powerful as the legends of the Eldahini would suggest, and she best of everyone knew that. She looked up at Galadriel, unsure, and asked, “So what happens now?”
“Now, I believe, the time has come to discuss you taking your places in this world,” Galadriel replied in her serious voice. “Somewhat more permanent places.”
“I thought it might be,” Giles murmured wryly.
“But…where?” Willow asked, a hint of fear in her voice. “How? What?”
“It is for you to decide,” Celeborn admitted reluctantly. “But I would be lying if I said I do not hope you will choose to remain in Lórien.”
Galadriel gave them an encouraging smile. “Even if you do not, you will forever have a home within these borders so long as any here endure.”
“I vote Bree-land,” Spike put in instantly. “We live as the Bree-folk, get a farm or some such in Staddle. We would be near all the main roads, could fight with the Dúnedain, be close enough to Rivendell if the Elves need us, and still live close to our own ways, minus a few hundred years of technology.”
Giles listened to the suggestion carefully and paused for a moment while he thought it over before shaking his head. “I think that probably would have been the best choice before all of this stuff came out. But in Staddle, we’d be far from allies and out in the open. Besides, I think after a few hundred years, the Bree-folk wouldn’t be able to pass us off as even some of the Dúnedain. I don’t know how much of an option it is now.”
Buffy shot the slightly disappointed former vampire a sympathetic half-grin. “Sorry, Spike. We know you like Bree-land.”
“My vote is still in Gondor,” Faith suggested. “I think we would fair better there than anywhere else. Plus, it’s South, so, you know, more of a California climate.”
“Same reasons exist not to go to Gondor same as Bree,” Xander pointed out. “Actually, we’d be way farther away from allies, much closer to the Enemy, and not be able to pass ourselves off as pure Dúnedain there.”
“Imladris is open to you,” Elladan suggested lightly, though Faith knew better.
“Oh, goody, more Elves,” Dawn muttered sarcastically.
Arwen’s eyes slid over to the younger Summers. “Pardon me?”
Dawn reddened slightly and threw Arwen a nervous smile. “No offense.”
“Rivendell has a smallish population of Mortals, though. And there’s a lot of traffic in and out.”
“I want to stay here,” Willow suddenly argued.
Faith flinched. As much as she loved Lórien, she didn‘t want to spend her days hiding in the trees, especially if she had four hundred years worth of days left. “Will--”
“I know I should,” Willow cut her off gently. “I just feel that I have so much I can still learn from Galadriel. Yeah, sure, I’ve got the basics of Elven magic down pat. I can even do some intermediate spell work. But given a decade or two, I could probably kick ass in the advanced column.”
Giles shifted slightly so that instead of leaning against the doorframe he was now standing tall in front of them. “Something we need to keep in mind with this.”
Xander turned to Giles and raised a brow at the older man‘s grave tone. “What would that be, G-man?”
“We will live to see the War,” he replied simply.
With those seven simple words, Faith felt the air go out of her. She was frozen. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything as she started to recall Xander, Willow, and Giles’s warnings. Stories of a large scale war that would span the entirety of Middle-Earth, a war of apocalyptic proportions. A war that could conceivably be even worse than the war with the First.
She looked up to see the Elves watching them reservedly. Everyone else seemed to be taking in this revelation in stride, as if they had already realized it. Well, everyone except for Buffy, who seemed to be having some kind of massive stroke.
“Come, Estel,” Celeborn said suddenly to Aragorn. “A room has been prepared for you. Tonight we will feast and you might all rest in peace.”
Galadriel waited for Celeborn, Aragorn, Arwen, Elladan, and Elrohir to leave before turning to follow. She paused momentarily at the door on her way out and looked back at them. “We will leave you to your decisions.”
Buffy Summers felt like she had been smacked. Really. She felt exactly like Glory had taken Olaf the Troll God’s Hammer and beaten her about the head with it. It was not a happy feeling.
She had known for several hours at that point that she would most probably live for another six hundred to one thousand years. But never in those hours had she really taken just a second to process what that might mean for her future. She had been so concerned with ignoring the information that she had ignored one of the biggest consequences: that living six hundred more years would definitely mean that she’d be good to go in the twenty-five to fifty years it would take for Middle-Earth’s war to end all wars to come about.
“Oh, shit,” Faith muttered and raised a hand to rub her eyes. Apparently, someone was beating her about the head too.
Buffy glanced around at her friends. It was clear by their expressions that there had been varying degrees of the realization of this fact amongst them. From the full-out knowing and planning phase Giles seemed to be in to Buffy’s shocked never-considered-it mindset. Faith seemed to be with her. Spike was closer to where Giles was. Willow had an expression that said she had realized but didn’t really want to think about it. Xander seemed somewhere between that and the place where if he thought about it he might have a panic attack. Dawn seemed to be in the middle of suppressing said panic attack.
“We’re not even sure that it’s gonna happen soon,” Dawn reasoned as she appeared to successfully quell her fear for the moment. “I mean, hell, it could be hundreds of years off.”
Giles gave her a look that plainly said he knew she knew better. “Aragorn plays his part, you know that.”
Buffy flinched as Dawn sighed in submission. Yeah, they all knew Aragorn played a part with the Fellowship. A fact that worried her like no other, as Aragorn was a good friend and all. But the denial would have been nice.
“I checked up with Gandalf on a few things, as well,” Spike added as he considered them gravely. “Bloke by the name of Baggins is living in the Shire, starting to get on in years. A few years ago, his cousin or nephew or some such up and drowned. Had a kid that ole Bilbo‘s considering taking into his care. A boy. Called Frodo Baggins.”
Xander closed his eyes and shook his head. “When that kid comes of age is when it’ll start.”
“So we basically have about…what?” Spike asked Xander, a calculating gleam in his eye. “Ten, twenty years?”
It was Willow that answered. “No, Hobbits are long lived. Their equivalent of eighteen is thirty-something. So we have more like thirty to forty years.”
“So, we’ll live to see the finding of the Ring,” Dawn murmured as she looked out the window to the gleaming twilight of Caras Galadhon. “And the cloud of darkness that descends upon this realm because of It.”
“We’ll probably all still be as young as we are now,” Xander added, bemused.
Faith snorted. “Unless something happens.”
“Nothing will happen,” Willow replied bitterly. “That’s our luck. We’ll all be fine and healthy to see hell come down upon this earth. And nothing is certain, we don’t know what will happen…who will die…who will suffer fate worse than death. If Sauron will gain dominion.”
Buffy shook her head, not being able to take it. “I can’t do it.”
“Buffy…” Giles started, his tone one that was gearing up for a lecture.
“I can’t,” she cut him off sharply. “I could live with the thought that…that I’d be an old woman…probably hiding out in Rivendell or Bree…pretending that nothing was happening, that we were all okay…I can’t fight against Mordor.”
“You don’t have to,” Giles said with a sympathetic and look in his eye. “None of us do.”
Buffy almost laughed. “Right. Because I’ve proven in the past how well I can deal with walking away from a battle.”
Dawn sighed and looked up at them. “Do you think…do you think that it will be as bad as we fear? Sauron is withered and his power is failed. It would be hard for a group to battle their way into Mordor, yes, but I don’t understand how it might be as bad as all this.”
Willow raised an eyebrow. “Say the name of the Dark Lord and the Dark Land again. And just feel.”
“Sauron…” Dawn began, then trailed off as she closed her eyes and shivered.
“And the Dark Land?” Willow prodded knowingly.
Dawn sat back in her seat and crossed her arms in front of her defensively. “I don’t feel like it.”
Spike nodded once. “His strength is returning.”
“Then let’s do it now,” Faith said suddenly, rising from her seat. “Now, before his full-strength has returned or he’s had time to organize everything. We do it now, we don’t wait for him to strike, we strike.”
“Faith…” Willow started, but was cut off as Xander stood and gave Faith a dark look.
“That’s not an option,” he said in a voice that hardly left any room for discussion.
Faith blinked in surprise at his resolve. “Why?”
“So many things must happen first,” Giles pointed out. “Things that can’t happen for years.”
“Like what?” Faith asked doubtingly. She didn‘t wait for an answer before continuing, “We get Gandalf and the twins and Haldir and his brothers and Aragorn, and we go. All of us. We go now and get it done.”
“And risk failure?” Xander spat at her. “You think you could really handle what the Ring is all about?”
“Faith,” Spike reasoned more gently, “you’ve spent more time with Aragorn than any of us. You really he is ready to be king? Because I‘m here to tell you, ducks, he has some growing up to do, strange as it sounds.”
“We all have darkness in us,” Dawn said lowly. “Could we withstand the…”
“Lust,” Xander finished in a whisper as he sank back down to his seat.
“I never thought I’d see the day when you guys admitted you couldn’t do something,” Faith admitted as she flopped back down in her seat.
“Do you know you can survive Sauron after the few years we’ve been here?” Xander asked as he stared at his hands, voice little more than a rough whisper. “Do you know what would happen if you were to fail? Are you willing to take that chance?”
He suddenly looked up and around at them, meeting each and everyone of their eyes as he said with conviction, “I’m not. I saw the where failure will lead. And trust me when I say it is not something we want to happen.”
“I want to go home,” Willow muttered under her breath.
“We can’t go home,” Buffy repeated the mantra she had been giving for the past three years as she threw Willow a firm but gentle look. “Accept it.”
Willow sighed and nodded in concession before looking up at Giles. “So what do we do?”
Giles reached up and adjusted his glasses as he prepared himself for the speech they all knew was coming. They weren‘t disappointed. “We learn. We prepare. We know what might come, so we make ourselves ready. We also simply survive. Live life for there is no guarantee what might come next. We have the time to see that we are strong when the Shadow rears its head. And we will be.”
Giles looked down at them all from where he stood They sat in the room
“My strength is my power as the Slayer,” Buffy began slowly. She looked up at her friends, met their gazes and was confident in her choice. “I need to continue to learn to hone that power against evil here. I’m a Ranger. I will continue as a Ranger.”
Buffy looked to her left to Faith, not surprised by her fellow Slayer’s decision. Faith nodded solemnly, her mind made up. “ I’m a Ranger. It’s who I am now. But it’s not who Strider is supposed to be.”
Buffy blinked as she realized what Faith was saying, the choice she was making. She was going to be a Ranger, yes, but she was saying she wouldn’t necessarily be a Ranger with Buffy. Buffy was almost surprised at the disappointment she felt at Faith’s decision, but she also saw the wisdom in it. Aragorn needed someone to help him no matter what that meant. Faith was the best choice for that role.
“I will go with Aragorn,” Faith reaffirmed to the group. “See that he survives. My mission is to see him crowned king.”
Spike nodded and slouched in his chair to rest his elbows on his knees. He clasped his hands as he regarded the two slayers seriously. “We’ve got a good thing going, the four of us. No need to break it up now.”
Buffy smiled. While Faith would be Aragorn‘s partner, Spike would be hers. And they would work together as often as they could, probably most of the time. She smiled at the two. “We should stay together.”
“I’m staying here,” Willow announced suddenly. Everyone turned to her, not necessarily surprised at the witch’s decision, but a little sad to hear the first definitive split off from the group.
Giles frowned as he regarded Willow carefully. “Are you sure, Willow?”
Willow hesitated a moment, then nodded, resolved. “Everyday I learn even more from Galadriel. The more I learn, the more useful I can be. Especially now, since it looks like we’ll probably make it to see the Ring. Everyone is here is really nervous about it. Almost scared.”
“The Elves are old enough to remember what it was like the first time Sauron was in power,” Xander pointed out to his friend as he reached around to rest and arm around her shoulders. “It was a freak accident the guy didn’t win.”
Dawn snorted. “Well, Gandalf wasn’t around last time, and he’s more than a bit nervous as well.”
Buffy smiled and nudged her sister’s knee with her own. “What do you think of him?”
Dawn glanced over at her sister and returned her smile. “He’s really nice. Like a wise old grandpa.”
Buffy nodded. “I gotta talk to him. Miss the old man.”
“He’ll not be here for very much longer,” Giles informed Buffy as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “He’s going with the twins back to Imladris tomorrow morning.”
“And I’ll be going with them,” Xander added very not slyly.
Willow turned sharply to look at her oldest friend, surprised at this sudden turn of events. “To Rivendell?”
Xander didn‘t look up at any of them, instead staring very firmly down at his shoe as he shrugged.
“Why?” Spike asked, just as surprised as the rest of them, which Buffy found odd since they shared a room and all.
Dawn regarded Xander calmly, as if she had expected some sort of radical announcement from him. “Where did this come from?”
“Like Giles said,” Xander replied slowly, finally looking up at his friends. “We need to prepare. I’ve learned all I can patrolling borders and hiding in the trees. Haldir’s given me the title of Marchwarden and he doesn’t do that lightly. I need to move on from here. Learn the ways of the outside world if I’m going to fight for it.”
“And you’re friends with the twins,” Faith pointed out with a smile.
Xander shrugged again. “Doesn’t hurt. I’ve been talking with them about it for a while now. Lord Elrond needs the aid and Elrohir and Elladan want me to come with them. The Orcs are becoming bolder. They’re venturing further and further from the mountains. It’s starting to become dangerous, especially for the parties traveling West to the Havens. I was going to tell them no, but…with all this blood stuff…this is it. This is my time to move on.”
Giles nodded reluctantly, then stood to regard the group. “This decision to make for Imladris comes at an odd time…because I will be heading that way as well.”
Buffy blinked in surprise. “Giles?”
“I’ve been exchanging correspondence with Lord Elrond for years now,” Giles explained calmly. “He has invited me to come and learn myself in the ways of his house and the ways of the outside world. I also have plans with Gandalf to visit Isengard with him. He seems to think this Saruman chap might be able to help us. And I want to go to Minas Tirith at some point. The libraries there are said to be…extensive.”
Willow gave him a half-hearted smile. “Always the student, huh?”
He raised an eyebrow at the witch. “Well, I guess one might say knowledge is my power.”
“Super Librarian,” Xander was quick to quip.
Buffy nodded as she looked around at the group before her gaze finally came to Dawn. “Where will you go?”
Dawn licked her lips and sighed. “I’ve, uh…I’ve talked with Arwen before…about heading to Imladris. She seems to think we’d all be safer there. Probably true since it’s farther West and all. But she doesn’t want to leave until the last minute. I think that…when her father sends for her…I might go there. It’ll probably be a few years. Give me time to learn a little more from Galadriel and Haldir. But it would be a bigger step towards the Mortals out there.”
Buffy took this in silently for a moment before sighing. “We’re separating.”
Dawn gave her an ‘I-told-you-so’ look. “I told you it would happen. You didn’t believe me.”
“I didn’t want to believe you,” Buffy admitted.
“We all have our part to play,” Willow offered. “This time, our parts aren’t in the same places.”
“Children, listen,” Giles said firmly, calling all of their attention to him. “We were thrust into this world against our wills, well, most of our wills, and we have had to make the best of it. We have found places here, places where we will be able to fulfill our purposes. Yes, these places take us far from one another, but we are still family. Never believe otherwise.”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed with a sly grin. “We’re the Eldahini.”
“We’re the Scooby Gang,” Buffy corrected.
“And we’ll always be a few days ride from one another,” Willow said hopefully. “We’ll see each other often.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah.”
“Come on,” Spike said as he pushed himself to his feet. “I can almost hear Celeborn pacing. Better tell them our decisions.”
Willow Rosenberg giggled and shook her head. “Xander, come on, it’s not that bad.”
Dawn had to bite her lip not to burst out laughing as well. It was the most insane thing she had ever seen. Everyone was staring, astounded and amused. And she meant everyone. The poor stallion Galadriel and Celeborn had given Xander was even staring at him. And Xander was trying with all his might to throw himself up on the horse. Mostly he fell back down. A couple times he went up and over. It was even worse than Buffy had been her first time, though she now sat atop Shit with practiced ease.
Xander, disheveled and exhausted-looking whirled around to shoot the laughing redhead a furious glare. “Yes, it is! I’d like to see you do this, Miss A-Horse-Bit-Me-When-I-Was-Little.”
Elladan and Elrohir were watching Xander try to mount his stallion with more than a little trepidation in their eyes. Dawn didn‘t blame them. They had offered and were taking Xander under their protection for the foreseeable future and thus were responsible for him during the ride to Imladris. It would be a hell of a couple of months.
“Rowinn,” Elladan started carefully as Xander once again made a grab at the chestnut colored stallion, “how is it that you have dwelled in Middle-Earth for seven years and have not become proficient with a horse?”
“This is only the second time I’ve left, isn’t it?” Xander murmured laboriously as he pushed himself up. “And the first time, we were on foot.”
“Come, Rowinn, the night is passing,” Haldir pointed out impatiently as he stepped forward once again to come to Dawn’s equestrian-challenged family’s aid. “Dawn approaches!”
Xander whirled around, confused. “Dawn‘s right over there.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Xander, he meant the
“Oh,” Xander muttered as his face reddened further, already red from the exertion put forth into mounting the horse. “Right.”
“On three,” Haldir told the young man as he gabbed hold of Xander on one side and the twins took position further around.
Dawn turned away from the struggle of getting Xander on a horse to face Buffy. She along with Aragorn, Spike, and Faith had already said their goodbyes. They only waited now for Xander. The plan was for the four of them to accompany Gandalf, Giles, Xander, and the twins out of Lothlórien and north. From there, Aragorn, Buffy, Spike, and Faith would turn east to work out some dealings Aragorn needed to make with the Men of Lake-town, while the others would continue to the High Pass and then to Rivendell.
Dawn looked up at her sister, wondering what more could be said. “What?”
“If you change your mind about getting out of this place, send me a line,” Buffy said simply.
Dawn smiled and nodded. “Will do.”
“Buffy, come on!”
The sisters turned to see Xander had been effectively tied to the horse and that the group was now waiting on the blonde Slayer.
Dawn smiled at her sister. Buffy returned it sadly. “Namárië.”
“I refuse to say goodbye,” Dawn told Buffy, before glancing up to regard the group as a whole. “Goodbye means gone. You guys aren’t gone, just a little out of reach.”
Giles smiled at the youngest Summers and nodded his agreement. “True, Dawn. We will meet again.”
Willow came up and wrapped an arm around Dawn‘s shoulders, grinning brightly at the rest of their family. “And it better be soon.”
Xander nodded at his oldest friend reassuringly. “It will be.”
“Rupert, Alexander, come.”
Gandalf was not by any means a patient man. Dawn rolled her eyes and nodded to them. “See ya later.”
Giles grabbed the reigns of Xander‘s horse and together they headed for the gates.
“That’s our cue,” Faith called to Buffy.
Buffy nodded at her sister-slayer then turned to her actual sister. She hesitated. “Dawn--”
“Just go” Dawn said firmly. “I don’t like goodbyes.”
“Later, Nibblet,” Spike called as he turned his own horse.
“We’ll be back to see you soon,” Buffy’s words echoed as she rode out the gates. “We’ll come back soon, I promise.”
And with that, they went.
Willow and Dawn stared after them until long after the other elves had gone back to their daily business. Eventually, Willow sighed. “Come on, Dawnie. Let’s go find Arwen.”
Dawn nodded as the redhead’s presence faded behind her. She wrapped her arms around herself, chilled now that Willow had retreated up to the talan. After a few moments of lingering she turned, ready to start a new chapter in her own life. She started down the main path into the city, turning off to the side to the path that led to Haldir’s. she needed to talk to someone, and her old friend was always there for her, that she knew. Plus his patrol didn’t start for another couple of hours, leaving them plenty of time to find something sweet to eat--
Dawn turned to cut across a particular brushy area, a shortcut she always used that would have saved her ten minutes walking around. And she was immediately blocked by a figure.
She looked up, startled. And she was even more stunned to see who she saw. “Elrohir?”
She had watched him leave almost twenty minutes before, but there he was, alone and horseless, as if he had been waiting for her. He motioned her to be calm and quiet as he pulled her even further from the main paths and into a solitary corner of the city.
He stopped in the middle of the brush and turned her so that she was backed against a mallorn trunk facing him. She gazed up at him, not understanding what he was trying to prove. Then he stepped closer, so close they were almost touching, in a clear invasion of her personal space.
Dawn was too shocked for words as Elrohir stood before her, so close the heat was practically radiating between them. She took a long deep breath as she fought the connection that once again started to come alive between them, fighting against it until it was buried in her subconscious…where it belonged.
Elrohir watched her do this without a word. When she finally was composed enough to speak with him she looked up to shoot him an annoyed glare. But the expression on his face was far from any other expression she had ever seen on him. It was not arrogant, or angry, or impatient, or mean-spirited, or spiteful, or pained, or hurt, or anything in between. It was slightly amused, patient, kind, happy, calm, mostly wondrous, with a small bit a fire fueling it. He used her temporary hesitation at seeing this and reached out with both of his bare hands and placed them gently on her bare forearms. It was an intentional move, for they had not touched so since the day they had met on Cerin Amroth. There had always been something between them, always, be it a glove or clothing or a person. But now they were there in a patch of brush along the border of the city, skin to skin.
The reaction was instantaneous, just as it had that day they had met. It was burning electric, complete and whole, longing, lust, perfection. She gasped as it worked its way through her, arms shifting to grasp desperately at Elrohir’s own bare arms. When she did it was like she had closed a circuit and everything inside her intensified as the rest of the world fell away, leaving only him, her, and the connection fervently burning between them.
He stepped even closer again until he was practically on top of her. She trembled as his larger frame enveloped hers and fought the urge to just collapse into him. He smirked and leaned down slightly so that their faces were merely inches apart.
“You have six hundred years of life left in this body,” he murmured softly, his voice silky and passionate and confident and knowing, a calm and warming tone that she so loved. “A finite time in my infinite world.”
She gazed up at him as the connection thrived between them. “Elrohir, I--”
“Listen, Meluiell,” he cut her off gently but firmly. “You will listen. Thirty years it took my sister to deal with her emotions concerning Estel, thirty years to know her heart. I will give you half the span of your human lifetime to know your heart. Fifty years, for I need the time as well.”
Dawn could hardly believe what she was hearing, what Elrohir seemed to be saying. She knew she couldn’t have understood him correctly. She knew it wasn’t possible. But it was happening all the same.
Elrohir chose that moment to release his grip on her arms. She almost cried out, not wanting the intense feelings inside to fade. But she instantly realized with relief that they didn’t fade, but seemed to grow stronger. She looked up at him in confusion and saw in his eyes a barely contained joy burning within them. And she understood. He had offered her the feelings. She had not only accepted them, but admitted to herself, and through the connection to him, that she wanted the feelings, wanted him. She knew then that this really was the beginning of a new chapter, one that would apparently last fifty years if what he was saying was true.
She leaned forward into him slightly and he took the invitation, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her flush against him. Her hands moved up to grasp his shoulders as his free hand moved up to cup her neck. He smiled down at her, looking straight into her eyes, offering her a glimpse into his soul. “What you feel now, it is not knowledge for you. This is the connection, this is lust. It is a first step, just the first down a path of many. You still have much to work through before you know. But whatever you may think you know, you shall know this, child. Everyday of these fifty years I will long for you. I love you, Dawn.”
Her breath was coming shallowly and she was dizzy. She didn‘t know why. She heard the words and almost couldn’t believe them, but looking into his eyes, into his soul, she saw the truth in him. And the fact that he used her real name and not the one Haldir had given her, the meaning was not lost upon her. She didn‘t know what to say, how to reply to such a shocking revelation. She opened her mouth, but there were no words. She could feel the burning of tears in her eyes, for she was indeed moved to them, but for the life of her, she could not find the words.
“Shh,” he soothed softly, lightly tracing the line of her jaw with his thumb. “Don’t. Do not say what you do not know. I know you are frightened.”
She shook her head forcefully, for that she knew. “I’m not scared of you--”
“No,” Elrohir agreed with her, smile broadening. “I know you do not fear me. But you do fear this. You are young and innocent. And the pain of your sister, her experience with her love…it weighs heavy on you. You need this time. That is why I leave you.”
She blinked quickly, feeling a great swell of sadness as she remembered that he was leaving, had actually already left. His smile faltered momentarily as he felt the impending loss as well, but he shook his head. “Nothing can harm you here, Dawn, or I would not go,” he explained. “I will always protect you. Protecting you now means protecting your family abroad.”
She nodded, again not able to find the words to express what she felt. Instead she let the connection speak for her, something she knew he would understand better.
He did. His arm tightened around her and his hand came up to rest on her cheek. She felt his love surrounding her, could see it in his eyes. “You are so young,” he murmured as he simply gazed on her. “So beautiful. Wise. Powerful.”
The kiss she had hoped would come came. She didn‘t know who started it and she didn‘t care. Her eyes slid shut and she raised her arms to wrap around his neck, to hold him close as he held her. It was soft and it was completing. She felt safe and loved and free as his lips moved against hers. He was there, with her, and she knew he was supposed to be, would always be if she would just let him. He was to be her shelter, her protector, her lover.
It slowly grew momentum, more wild, more desperate. And though her lungs began to burn, she didn’t want it to end. For she knew the moment they broke apart that he would leave her and her fifty years of solitude would begin. And though she agreed with him that they desperately needed the time apart, she knew she didn’t want it. But the end came.
He released her, gasping as he did. She kept her eyes closed as he slowly slid away, not able to bear watching him go again.
“Fifty years,” he whispered in her ear. “Then I will come fore you, wherever you may be.”
With the wind he was gone. She was alone when she opened her eyes. And she almost would have believed she had dreamed it, if not for the elanor he had somehow placed in her hands.
She sighed. It was going to be a long fifty years.
June, 2979, Fall to Lórien, Chapter One
July, 2979, Arrival of Arwen Undomiel, Chapter Seven
Circa September 1, 2979, The Scooby Gang is fostered by Celeborn and Galadriel, Chapter Ten
June, 2980, Arrival of Aragorn, Chapter Eleven
Circa June 21, 2981, Buffy, Spike, and Faith leave Lórien with Aragorn, Chapter Fourteen
Circa July 18, 2981, Buffy, Spike, and Faith meet Gandalf the Grey, Chapter Fifteen
Circa July 20, 2981, Buffy, Spike, and Faith arrive in Rivendell for the first time and meet Lord Elrond, Chapter Sixteen
Circa June 21, 2982, Arrival of Elladan and Elrohir, Chapter Eighteen
Circa August 1, 2983, Buffy, Spike, and Faith are fully inducted as Rangers of the North, Chapter Nineteen
Halloween, 2983, Sauron opens a Portal through Dawn, Chapters Twenty through Twenty-Three
December, 2983, Spike returns to Lórien, Chapter Twenty-Four
April, 2984, Elladan first hears the Tales of the Eldahini, Chapter Twenty-Five
July, 2984, Xander is given a glimpse of the future by Anya via the Mirror, Chapter Twenty-Six
August, 2984, Xander goes with Elladan, Elrohir, Haldir, Orophin, and Jarnel to Dol Guldor, Chapters Twenty-Seven through Twenty-Eight
October, 2984, Buffy and Faith return to Lórien; The End, Chapter Thirty
A/N: That’s it! Nuvalmet Lain is finished! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please, don’t forget to leave a final REVIEW
of the story.
The sequel is now up! Look for it here:
And no, it’s not set fifty years later. That would be too easy. Instead, it is set seventeen years later.