Chapter One: Wrapping
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Author's Note: For amusewithaview, who wanted fluff—and then went on to blow me out of the water with an Edward/Buffy series
in the making. Curse you! I SHALL defeat you!
...seriously, though, when do I get more? *greedy*
Chapter One: Wrapping
The huge, iron shears, a piece of ragged cloth caught in the angle of edges, clattered onto the table.
Buffy watched mournfully as the gash in her finger welled a bright, red drop of blood.
"Nice, Slayer," she muttered to herself. "Way to really get the hang of the sharp and pointy."
Buffy glared down at the piles of bright cloth on the table, and then at the iron shears on top of them.
When informed that there was no place in Edoras where she could find such an outlandish and needlessly frivolous thing as paper made solely for the use of wrapping
things, Buffy had been stumped. How did they give presents if they didn't wrap them?
"You simply give them," Eowyn had told her archly, still flushed from the outrageously wasteful suggestion of paper for wrapping
, "as you would give any other thing."
"That's no fun," Buffy had tried to protest, but another scathing glance from Eowyn had been enough to shut her up about it. She hadn't dared bring up the subject of colored
paper; Eowyn had looked ready to blow an artery as it was.
Still, Buffy had refused to give in. Christmas was—well, actually, Christmas was Yule here, but to her
at least Christmas was still Christmas, and she was going to do things right, even if she was the only one who knew what the right thing was!
Ignoring the absolutely totalitarian tone of her Christmas cheer, Buffy had set about finding something to wrap her presents with.
After turning Edoras upside-down—and enduring an almost supernaturally boring speech on extravagance from Eowyn—Buffy had come to the conclusion that the closest, not to mention only
, alternative to wrapping paper was cloth. Nothing else was as easily obtained or cut, or came in any other color but brown.
Getting cloth from the cloth traders turned out to be much easier than talking to Eowyn about paper. She bought her fill of reds, greens, and yellows—teeth-achingly overpriced, but she was in too far to back out now—and went to the dressmakers for some fancy thread, which cost Buffy her other eyetooth. Then, armed with borrowed shears (graciously lent to her free of charge by the same dressmakers), Buffy had scurried away to an unused corner of Meduseld with a window for light and a door for privacy to wrap her presents.
Only to be defeated by shears.
Buffy scowled. She had not
spent two months getting these things together to be cast down from her Christmas throne by some stupid oversized scissors! Sticking the finger in her mouth, Buffy reached again for the shears.
Halfway through, she hit a snag. Eowyn's present was wrapped. Theodred's and Theoden's presents, however, were bulkier and took up more cloth than Buffy had bargained on. Measuring the cloth she had left against them, it was with sheer chagrin that Buffy found that she didn't have enough to stretch between both of them and the third, last gift she had sitting off to the side. There simply wasn't enough. No matter how she folded the cloth and laid it out, she didn't have enough to cover all three things.
Buffy stared down at Eomer's gift, and sighed.
Well...maybe if she cut this
particular way... Frowning, Buffy placed one hand down to keep everything straight and, shears in the other, put the blade to the cloth.
Buffy yelped, the shears slipped, and she flinched as a slice was taken out of her palm.
Embarrassed and irritated, Buffy turned to give whoever had interrupted her a piece of her mind about knocking.
Eomer stood in the door.
Buffy stopped, mouth half-open. Embarrassment swallowed up irritation.
"Isenwyrhta," said Eomer stiffly, "the King commands your presence."
She closed her mouth.
Eomer stood rigidly, halfway inside the small guardroom. He had gone without armor that day, dressed casually in tunic and leggings, his hair loose down his back. His eyes were fixed on the window above Buffy's head, his face set in that inflexible expression he always wore when talking to her.
Buffy knew Eomer couldn't stand her. What she couldn't figure out was why. Eowyn had said that it was just her brother's way, to be standoffish with strangers, but Buffy had been in Edoras for nearly a year and that excuse was wearing thin. Eowyn liked her well enough, and the King liked her—she somehow doubted he would have appointed her the Isenwyrhta if he didn't. His son, Theodred, practically wouldn't leave her alone.
Eomer didn't even like to look at her.
He wouldn't say her name. He always called her Isenwyrhta, her official title, and before that had referred to her as Elpeodiga
, "foreigner," rather than use her name, despite Eowyn's and his uncle's frowns.
Buffy spent a lot of her time wishing she knew why.
Eomer glanced at her, looking away again instantly when he saw her looking at him. A corner of his eye seemed to twitch, as if he winced.
"The King, Isenwyrhta," he said through gritted teeth.
The pale light from the window shone on his hair, burnished it into a fiery gold. Buffy tried to ignore the way her heart clenched.
"Coming," she muttered, and turned back to the table to push everything under the cloth she had left.
She'd forgotten about the cut, which had apparently been deeper than she'd thought. When she reached over the green cloth she'd been attempting to wrap Theodred's gift in, she left behind a long, dark smear of blood that instantly soaked everything.
Buffy snatched her hand back, crying out, but it was too late. The green cloth was destroyed.
Disappointment flooded her. Buffy bit her lip, would have cursed a blue streak if she hadn't been caught by the shoulder and shoved forcibly around.
Her leg hit the edge of the table. Buffy's breath caught in her throat.
Eomer stood almost against her, his hand on her shoulder. His expression was one of alarm.
She watched him look at the cloth, at the stain. She watched him see her hand, watched him see the blood dripping from the cut in her palm.
His hand gripped her shoulder.
"They slipped," said Buffy, and her voice for some reason came out shaken. She tried to clear her throat. "The shears...they slipped."
He looked at the piles of cloth, the red, green, and yellow. "What do you do here, Isenwyrhta?"
Eomer looked at her, then, and his grasp on her shoulder tightened.
Buffy coughed. "I'm wrapping presents."
There was a moment where Buffy stood there, uncomfortable, bleeding from the hand, and Eomer stood there with his hand on her shoulder looking like he was trying to translate what she'd said into something he understood. He and his sister really did look a lot alike, sometimes.
When she felt she couldn't take the awkwardness anymore, Buffy offered a feeble, "It's tradition. Where I come from, I mean. You wrap your Christmas—I mean, Yule
—you wrap your Yule presents before you give them to people. It makes...it makes it more...more fun."
Buffy shut up. Eomer was looking at her.
He was looking at her.
His touch became gentler. Something changed in the shape of his mouth. His face, his face had... Had his eyes always been that, that...?
Eomer lifted her hand, the one she had cut. He held it to the light from the window, and she stared at the blood dripping from it.
"Ach, Isenwyrhta," he said quietly. "What do you do here?"
He took the green cloth, tore a strip from it with a casual flex of muscle. Folding it over, he tied it around her hand, tight and close, making a bandage of her wrapping paper.
Buffy closed her eyes.
His breathing was...off. She heard the difference in it, the difference between normal, calm breathing, with all its idiosyncrasies, and the unnatural evenness of someone forcing his breath to remain steady. She smelled on him the tang of sweat, that particular smell that was a man who spent most of his life on horseback. She smelled the steel he wore, that he carried, smelled the thick wool he wore against the wind.
And beneath it all, there was him.
He adjusted the bandage a last time, and then his hands stilled. He did not let go of her hand, but he also did not do anything else. She heard him swallow, heard the hitch in his breathing.
She felt his eyes on her.
Buffy opened her eyes, and was slightly shocked at how close he was standing. Her gaze was level with the point of his shirt where it began to open up towards the collar.
His fingers found the one of hers that had been bleeding earlier.
She watched him look at it. The blood had been wiped away, but the cut was still there, glistening deeper in with fresh, new blood. It was almost as if she'd pricked her finger on a needle.
Eomer's eyes had darkened. He looked at the finger, at where she'd cut herself with a pair of clunky scissors, and then, without looking at her face, he put that finger to his mouth.
Buffy gasped, but under her breath, through her nose, without opening her mouth. She felt his lips close on her flesh, felt his tongue against the lacerated skin. His face pressed to her hand as if he kissed her fingers, his cheek to her bandaged palm, and she felt through the cloth the roughness of his beard, the texture of his skin.
"Eomer," she whispered, and her voice also seemed strange to her.
He pulled her hand back down, away from his mouth, and she didn't think she imagined that he pressed her finger to his lips before he did.
"Buffy," he said, the name unfamiliar and awkward on his tongue, and he said it like she had once heard people say their prayers. He faced her, and he was closer than he'd ever been before, so close that she could have breathed him in if she'd tried to. His eyes went to the table behind her, to something lying there, and she realized that the gift she'd meant to give him, that sheathe worked with the insignia of his rank, family, and clan, was lying out in the open.
A light flared in his eyes. She watched, dazed, as he began to look at her, began to step closer, their bodies nearly pressed against each other—
—and he stopped. His brows came together.
He was looking at something. He was staring at it.
His hand constricted around hers.
"Isenwyrhta," he said then, and his voice was stiff and empty. "Forgive me."
He moved back. He released her hand.
Buffy inhaled sharply. Eomer was standing again at the door, as far away from her as he could get while still in the small room. His face was pale, his eyes angry and averted.
"Forgive me, Isenwyrhta," he said, the words scraped out as if he choked on them. "I have come too close to you."
"The King, Isenwyrhta," he said again, and his voice was flat and civil, the way it always was, had always been, when he talked to her.
Buffy listened to him go, his steps on the stone floor. She bit her lip and made a fist with the hand that he had bandaged, hiding the finger he had kissed.
She had thought he didn't like her.
She had been so certain
Her heart ached painfully in her chest.
Buffy turned, and the first thing that caught her eye, the first thing she saw, was the belt she'd made to give Theodred, the belt worked with the Sun and the Horse, the prince's personal emblems, lying coiled beside the sheathe she'd made Eomer.
Theodred, who wouldn't leave her alone.
Theodred, who was Eomer's cousin and future King.
Theodred, whom Eomer honored above all others.