Sorry this took so long. I meant to get a chapter up each month, but obviously that hasn't been the case here. In my defense, school has been killer this quarter, leaving very little time for non-academic writing. Many many thanks to my wonderful beta Waverly, whose quarter has been even crazier and busier than mine.
Also, I've been asked about the Middle Earth timeline a few times so here it is for you all. This story takes place sometime between 2060 and 2463 T.A. which Tolkien called the "Watchful Peace." It's about 400 years in which not much happens. The War of the Ring begins in 3018 T.A. which is 540-1000 years after the Watchful Peace. There will be none of the Fellowship members in this story (except obviously Gandalf, and a possible cameo appearance for Legolas, since he *might* be alive at this point). For a slightly wider reference, Arwen was born in 241 T.A. and Celebrian, hr mother, leaves Middle Earth in 2510 T.A.Disclaimer:
Not mine. Tara and her world belong to Joss Whedon, everyone else and Middle Earth are property of the estate of JRR Tolkien.
Gandalf had taken Tara out to the gardens to deliver the news. It was three months since her arrival in Middle-Earth, and though she was still skittish around most of Rivendell's residents she seemed to be finding her way all right. “There is work to be done,” he said. “I am needed elsewhere.”
“B-b-but I need you!” Tara protested.
“No, you don't. Not right now, anyway.” He looked her over. Dresses had been found and altered to fit the young woman, her hair pinned back and soft leather boots on her feet. She looked like a woman of Rivendell. “You have Lord Elrond, Lady Celebrian, their sons... you have everyone here.”
“But—” She took a deep breath and looked down. Don't beg,
she thought to herself. No matter how much you want to.
“I thought this world was at peace.”
“It is, for the moment. But the Dark Power that fell in the East will try to rise again and we must be prepared.”
“Oh,” she said softly. “Will you ever come back?”
“I will,” he assured her. “After a while, I will. We will see each other again, my dear. You needn't worry about that.”
“Alright,” Tara finally said. She glanced up a the wizard's kind face and was reminded in a way of Giles. “Where will you go?”
Gandalf pondered the question for a moment. “Come with me,” he said. “We'll have a little geography lesson and I'll show you.”
Slowly Tara acclimated to the new way of living, without school, bills to pay, indoor plumbing or supermarkets. Meals were eaten en mass, and dinner would be followed by songs and tales in the Hall of Fire. She spent long hours sitting in her window thinking about Sunnydale, about Willow, about the Scoobies. Sometimes Celebrian would join her, sitting nearby with needlework and keeping an eye on the young woman. Most of the time Tara was barely aware of her presence.
Time passed around her, but for months Tara was aware only of herself. It was selfish, maybe, but no one ever called her out on her behavior.
Slowly she became cognizant of the world outside herself. She recognized that Elrond spent most of the day shut into his office with books and ledgers. When he wasn't in his office he was often working with herbs and poultices, treating minor and major wounds that occurred in the valley. Soon Tara noticed the rotation of faces at mealtime—she still did not know most of the names—and out her window watched warriors coming and going on horses. Eventually she realized they were security patrols, keeping the valley safe.
Tara met other inhabitants of Rivendell. She learned names, recognized the faces that went along with them. She spent long hours in the library or in the gardens, reading histories or working with her magic. She realized that while she spent her days doing nothing, everybody else bustled with activity. In the end, she went to Elrond to speak to him about it.
“Everyone has a job here,” she said.
Elrond merely replied, “Yes.”
“Everyone except for me.”
Tara stared at him for a moment. He was sitting calmly at his desk, hands folded over an open ledger. The afternoon sunlight streamed across the floor and sparkled with warmth. When she realized he wasn't going to speak further, she sat in one of the armchairs across from him. “Why am I the only one without a job?”
“Because you have not been ready for one.” Elrond closed his ledger and set it aside. “You went through intense trauma, with your death and waking up here, in such a foreign place. I won't even go into the horrors you experienced in your world. For a person so young, of the race of Men, it is a wonder your mind did not shatter. You needed the time free from responsibilities to recover.”
“Oh,” Tara whispered. She paused. “Will I have a job at some point?”
“Are you ready for one?” Elrond asked. As she thought, he added, “Tara, do you know how long you've been here?”
She looked up. “Um. I-I'm not s-s-sure. A c-c-c-couple m-months?”
He shook his head. “It's been almost a year.”
“What? No, no, that's not possible. I haven't changed that much, I haven't grown, my hair hasn't gotten that much longer...”
“Of course you haven't changed,” he interrupted. “You're dead.”
Tara froze. “Wait, what?”
Elrond sighed. “You died in your world, yes? That was why you were brought here.”
“And when you died, your body shut down. It stopped growing and changing. You will not get any older than you are now, I suspect, no matter how many years you live in this place.”
“Why aren't you surprised? Not even a little?”
He smiled. “When you first arrived, I thought about it. As I said, you died. Since then I've been watching you closely and saw that my hypothesis seemed valid.”
“Oh. I-I hadn't really thought ab-about that.” She let out a little laugh. “Maybe I should have. I mean, I spent two years fighting vampires...”
“I know this is a lot to take in—”
“The suddenly being immortal part isn't actually that shocking,” Tara said, a blank look on her face. “But, a year...” Her voice dropped. “Willow...”
Elrond hesitated. Tara hadn't said much about the people she had known, but she had said the least of all about Willow. He guessed the subject was too raw; whoever Willow was, she seemed very dear to Tara.
She clenched her eyes shut, willed away the tears that wanted to spill over, set her jaw. When she looked back up at Elrond, her face showed only resolve. “I'm ready for a job. I want to contribute.”
Elrond nodded. “Then let's see what you can do.”
As Tara approached her first anniversary of her arrival in Rivendell, she spent long hours working in the stables. She helped clean tack, brush and exercise the animals, mucked out stalls. The work, while exhausting, made Tara feel better. She still lost track of time, finding on occasion that months flew by unannounced and unnoticed, but she felt useful, productive.
Being involved with everyday life also meant she got to know others better than she had. While she didn't become close friends or confidantes with the elves, they managed to become cordial. No one asked probing questions, but light conversation flowed freely. Her body grew stronger from the labor, and the conversations taught her, bit by bit, about the world she now inhabited.
Much time passed. Gandalf visited occasionally, staying long enough to see Tara's progress before leaving again. Each time he offered the same reason for his departure: “There is work to be done.” Still, though, Tara refrained from confiding in anyone the details of her past life. Until, that is, a young mortal boy was brought to the elves.