Title: The Problem with Portals
Genre: AtS/LotR Crossover.
Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own these characters. Fred and the Angel Investigations crew belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Lord of the Rings belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Distribution: please ask
Author's Notes: For Angel, this takes place mid season three, after "Fredless" and "Billy," but before "Waiting in the Wings." For "Lord of the Rings," this story takes place shortly after the Fellowship left Lothlorien.
Thanks to: My beta Sin, and to Shaz, for making sure the Haldir/Lothlorien parts were true to LotR.
She'd known it was going to be a bad day when her clock radio woke her up to Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas song. There was just something evil about sing rodents, especially when Halloween was barely over. For a brief moment she'd considered turning off her alarm and just staying in bed. Nothing bad could happen to her in her own bed, right? Unless, of course, her friends were possessed again and tried to kill her.
Not going there, she told herself. She'd gotten up, because staying in bed led to thinking, and thinking led to worrying, and worrying led to fear and anxiety and panic...
Breathe, she told herself. She had to remember to breathe. Inhaling, not panicking. She wasn't in Pylea anymore. She didn't have to be afraid. She could leave her room and everything would be okay.
The day was doomed from the start. The heel of her new shoe had broken and her best physics book had disappeared - not literally in front of her eyes disappeared, but it was still missing. She'd thought a taco could make her feel better, but her favorite taco stand had closed because of a fire. Fred tried to take it all in stride. She could do this. She was a human being, not a slave or a cow. She didn't have to skulk in the shadows like an animal. She could live like a normal person. She could.
Then came the portal.
The giant, sucking hole of dimension-traversing evil.
Out of nowhere it appeared and pulled her in, forcefully sweeping her off her feet and sending her tumbling, head over heels, into the abyss.
"Not again," she wailed as the lights of Los Angeles became a distant memory.
Slowly, Fred regained consciousness.
Leaves. She was lying on leaves. And the last time she'd done that she'd been in... Pylea! No. Not possible. She couldn't have gone back to that nightmare. She sat up suddenly, ignoring the protest from her sore muscles, and carefully scanned her surroundings. She was in a forest of some kind - an old one, with huge trees climbing to the sky. "Definitely not Los Angeles," she muttered, getting to her feet.
Fred groaned as her body's aches became even more pronounced. No telling how long she'd been lying there on the ground. Again, she scrutinized the forest for signs of inhabitants. Nothing there. She sighed with relief. "Well, there's no one around to enslave me, so, not the worst thing that could happen."
Maybe this wasn't a parallel dimension, but somewhere else on her earth. All she'd need to do was get a cab, or a plane or something and she'd be home for dinner, right?
Okay, wishful thinking. A girl could dream, couldn't she?
She heard a faint rustling in the distance, and spun around, looking for a green-skinned demon - or any other monster, for that matter - out to get her. "I'm nobody's cow!" she reassured herself emphatically.
The woods were silent once more. No one there. She breathed a sigh of relief. While she didn't relish the idea of being alone in a forest in the middle of God-only-knows-where with no food or water or shelter, it was still better than being enslaved, which was what had happened the last time she was sucked through a portal.
Nothing good ever came of a portal.
She turned back around and screamed. In front of her was a group of men with bows and arrows - all pointed at her. They were all tall and blonde, wearing draping brown cloaks, and yep...all armed with pointy weapons. "This is not good," she murmured. They didn't look evil, but Fred knew better than to judge a book by its cover - especially when the cover was threatening to skewer her with sharp arrows.
One man stepped forward. Maybe they weren't going to shoot first and ask questions later. He approached cautiously, as if she were the dangerous one. Little did he know. She was the wimpy one. She didn't have the combat skills of Angel, or Gunn, or even Cordelia ... even if she weren't unarmed and outnumbered, which she was.
She met his gaze, and was unable to look away. He had so much depth and wisdom in his eyes. In a way, it was like what she saw when she looked in Angel's eyes - that his physical appearance of youth was just an illusion, that he'd seen so much pain and suffering in his life. Not that she thought the blond man was a vampire. He didn't really have that vampy vibe.
Reluctantly, she tore herself away from his stare. She hoped he didn't kill her. He was too cute to be her executioner.
Haldir stared at the girl in front of him. He did not know how a human would have come to be here in their woods - and dressed so strangely. Her clothing was like nothing he'd ever seen before. Her trousers were made of a thick blue fabric, sewn with exquisitely neat stitching. Her bright red shirt lacked sleeves. Strangest of all, on her feet were white shoes made of leather, with odd markings on them.
He finished his perusal to find her watching him. In her eyes he saw fear, and something else that hinted that this girl had been through much already.
Fred nearly shrank back under his intense gaze. Was he going to say something or just stare at her all day?
"You are trespassing in the realm of the Lady of Light," he finally said. "What is your name and your purpose here?"
Fred was trying to stay calm, to not be afraid when everything in her was screaming to run away. Her breath was coming faster and faster until she thought she'd hyperventilate. Slow down and breathe, she told herself. And explain. They can't know you're not a threat if you don't explain.
"I'm Fred. Winnifred Burkle. And I don't know why I'm here. In fact, I don't even know where here is. All I wanted to do was get a taco, but there was the fire, so I couldn't, and I was on my way home and then this portal appeared and sucked me in. Did I mention how much I hate portals? And suddenly I'm here in the woods and I don't know where I am." She stopped to take in a deep breath. "I'm having a really bad day."
Perplexing. Her words appeared to be that of the tongue of Men, but strangely so, to the point where he could not fully comprehend her meaning.
"Are you going to make me your slave?" she asked hesitantly.
What manner of creature was she? Was she indeed one from the race of Men, or something more sinister? Orcs were getting ever closer to the borders of Lothlorien, and while she was clearly not an Orc, Sauron's spies could be anywhere...anyone...even this seemingly innocent girl. Then, her final words registered in his mind. What horrible sort of place was she from where her first thought was of slavery?
"Where do you hail from? And what language is it that you speak?"
"Hail?" Okay. Unusual, old-fashioned speech patterns, but ... English. English was good, even if he didn't seem to completely understand her, because she'd hate to be stuck in a parallel dimension where she didn't understand anyone. Not that it was much better to be stuck in a parallel dimension where she *did* understand everyone.
Suddenly realizing the blond man was waiting for her to answer the question, Fred got increasingly nervous. "Uh... Texas, originally, but now I live in Los Angeles..." He kept staring. "California. Los Angeles, California? I moved there to study physics, but then I got accidentally sucked into a portal to Pylea, which, in case you haven't heard of it, is this awful demon dimension where they enslave humans and call them cows, and force them to do awful things. Have I told you how much I hate portals? Bad things always happened when you go through a portal."
Acutely conscious that she was babbling, Fred tried to stop, but her heart was pounding, her thoughts were racing...Breathe, she told herself. Just breathe. They hadn't killed her yet. Maybe she'd be okay.
She looked them over as they stared at her, still motionless. Suddenly she stopped cold. These blonde men weren't human. They looked fairly human-like, except... pointy ears. They had pointy ears. That couldn't be good. Non-humans were rarely good. Aside from a few good ones like Angel and Lorne, they tried to eat you, or enslave you, or control you with their evil powers.
She was at the mercy of armed, pointy-eared whatever-they-were in the middle of a forest in a strange dimension. She knew she should have stayed in bed. Tears started welling up in her eyes. She was sore, and tired, and all she wanted was to go home. Fred started sniffling. Why did things always happen to her? Wesley and Gunn never got accidentally sucked into a parallel dimension. But she did - twice. Way unfair.
"My lady," Haldir began. He gestured to his men, instructing them to lower their weapons. She looked so fragile, so small and delicate, and her tears touched his heart. If she truly were a lost traveler, perhaps the Lady Galadriel could return her to her people.
Where were these places she spoke of? Cal-i-for-ni-a? El-ay? Certainly nowhere here in Middle Earth. Perhaps she were a sorceress, with great magic that had brought her from distant lands. Though if she possessed such a power, she would likely not be crying in the middle of the forest. She would simply send herself home.
Fred sank to the ground. She was lost, again. And this time, Angel wasn't around to save her. No one was. This place was real, not just a storybook... how much longer until the monsters came and made her do things? Made her be...? She didn't think she could live through it again. "I just want to go home," she cried.
"My lady," he repeated, slipping one hand under her elbow and helping her to her feet.
She looked so lost, so forlorn. He no longer doubted the sincerity of her distress. He did not believe that she could be a threat to the safety of his people. Slowly, Haldir pulled her closer, his arms coming up around her to hold her as she cried. He stroked her hair, whispering softly and soothingly in the language of the elves.
Fred clung to the strange man. Non-human or not, he was comforting. She didn't even know what he was saying, but somehow it seemed to calm her weary spirit. Slowly, her sobs stopped, and she turned to look up at him.
"I am Haldir, of Lothlorien," he said.
"You're not going to kill me?"
"No, little one. You are safe here. I do not believe that you are a danger to my people."
"I'm not dangerous," she shook her head. "I can't even kill bugs. Well, unless they're giant bugs trying to eat my friends, and then I might be able to try..."
"Come," he took her arm and began leading her through the forest. "The Lady Galadriel has powerful magic. If you truly did fall through a portal from another world, she may be able to aid you in returning to your home."
Home. Good. Fred prayed that the blond man - Haldir, his name was - was right, and that she did have hope of returning to L.A. The forest was pretty and all, but all she wanted was to go home.
They made their way through the woods towards some sort of glow. Was the glowy-ness the city? They'd been walking forever. She'd almost forgotten what it was to be in a world without modern transportation. Next time she was sucked into a portal - and she was sure there would be a next time - she hoped it would be an alternate dimension with cars... or at least a bicycle. Her feet hurt. Weren't they there yet?
Fred followed Haldir through a passageway between two trees...then stopped suddenly, awed by the beauty around her. The city was built right into the trees, as if it were a natural part of the towering trunks. Lights glistened from above, bathing the whole area in an ethereal glow. Spiral staircases wound up to the sky, and at the top of the largest tree was ... something so alien to her that she didn't have words to describe it. An enclosed platform, covered by something that looked like a large, intricately woven gazebo. It was stunning... beyond words.
"Wow," Fred exclaimed, staring up at the city in awe. "It's so beautiful."
Haldir smiled. Though he did not understand why, it was important that this girl appreciated the splendor of his home.
"I really am in a different world," she said, mouth gaping open. She turned in a circle, head tilted back to look up at the radiant city.
"Come, my lady." He took hold of her hand, gently pulling her towards the staircase. "Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel await."
Fred let herself be pulled up the stairs behind the nice pointy-eared man, still unable to tear her eyes away from the magnificence of the radiant city. She forced herself to concentrate on the task ahead. If this lady could send her back to L.A., she really wanted to meet her. Sure, this place wasn't a hell dimension, and no one had tried to make her their slave - yet - but she wanted to go home. She wanted to go back to her room at the Hyperion, curl up in her bed and pretend today had never happened.
Haldir watched the lone figure curled up near the edge of the platform. She looked so small, so frail, so vulnerable. She hadn't moved from that location since Lady Galadriel had regretfully told their visitor that she did not know of a means to reopen the portal and send Lady Fred back to Elay. Before his eyes, the girl seemed to shrink inside herself.
Fred's shoulders shook with each sob, her cries echoing through the darkness. His heart hurt to see her in such agony, though he knew not what to do to relieve her pain.
She was stuck. Trapped. Forever. Here in this place called Middle Earth. She hated it, the helplessness, the hopelessness she felt, separated forever from everyone and everything she cared about. She'd barely adjusted to being back in her own world. Only just recently stopped scribbling on her walls when she got nervous or scared. Now, she was stuck here, in a city that didn't even have walls.
Could be worse. That's what she had to keep telling herself. At least she wasn't in Pylea. As far as parallel dimensions went, this one wasn't too bad. The people were nice, at least. And they'd told her she would be their guest in the Elven city as long as she wished. Not so bad. But not home.
She'd never go home again. Never feel her parents' arms around her, never see Angel's smile. She'd never see Wesley, Cordy or Gunn ever again. In such a short time, they'd come to feel like family. And now her family was ripped apart once more.
She heard him come up behind her, somehow knew without looking that it was Haldir, the man -- no, Elf, she corrected herself - who had guided her to Lothlorien. He sat down next to her, not speaking, but simply being there.
The gentle touch of his hand on her shoulder was Fred's undoing. Unable to control her tears, she buried her head in his chest and sobbed. He held her close, murmuring softly in Elvish. Even though she couldn't understand what he was saying, she felt comforted by his words.
Finally, the tears stopped, though she couldn't bring herself to move from his arms. She felt embarrassed, clinging to a strange Elf - twice in one day, no less -- but she didn't have anything else to hold onto. He was the first person who had spoken to her, and his kindness had touched her heart.
Haldir had no idea how lucky he was, she thought. He'd never been ripped from his home, sent tumbling through space to a strange world. How could he understand her heartache?
"Once upon a time, there was a girl who grew up in Texas," she began. "In a beautiful place with parents who loved her very much."
Haldir was captivated by her melodious voice, rich with emotion as it carried through the air. She began with 'Once upon a time,' as if her story were a legend of old, but he sensed her true meaning was quite personal.
"All she wanted was to learn, to study physics with professors and scientists, and okay, maybe discover something for herself that no one had ever thought of before. Become a great physicist, win a Nobel Prize..." She smiled faintly as her words trailed off.
Though all her words were not familiar, he understood her meaning. She had learned to be a scholar, likely until this portal she had spoken of had taken her from her home.
"She was at the library one night when a big sucking vortex opened in front of her and pulled her in. She landed in Pylea - not a pleasant place. There are these green-skinned demons, and they treat all human beings as "cows" - slaves, with no rights, no choices, no life. It was awful. She finally escaped from the Pyleans but there really wasn't anywhere else to go, so she ended up living in a cave, all alone for so long until she didn't know what was real anymore. She started to believe that she'd spent her whole life in Pylea, and that her memories of home were just imaginative fantasies of a crazy slave."
Fred was silent for a moment, lost in contemplation of those horrible days. How could someone so young, so seemingly fragile have lived through such things? She must have had extraordinary strength and courage just to have survived.
"I was so scared that home wasn't real...that I was going crazy and it was all a dream." Fred shuddered involuntarily, grateful that she'd held onto her sanity for so long. She hadn't even noticed that she'd changed from 'she' to 'I.'
"Then one day a handsome man came from my home dimension, and he saved me. He hadn't come just to rescue me, but he did it anyway. Brought me back. She blinked away the tears that had begun welling up again. I thought everything would be okay then, but it wasn't. I didn't know how to live in my world anymore. Everything was so bright and loud and different from what I remembered. I spent months hiding in my room, like I'd never left the cave. But slowly, with the help of my friends, I started adjusting to being back home."
Her eyes brightened as she talked of home. "L.A. is such a great place - lots of libraries and museums, and you're never far away from a taco stand. Okay, the city is crawling with vampires, demons, and other monsters, but overall, not so bad."
Fred began breathing heavily, anxiety increasing as she thought of the events that occurred immediately before she left. "This afternoon I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when another big sucking portal opened and dragged me in. I couldn't run, I couldn't scream. Didn't have a way to fight it. I landed here, in Middle Earth, which isn't such a bad place, don't get me wrong. This is just about the most beautiful place I've ever seen, and you all have been really nice ... but it's not home."
Haldir didn't have words to express his sympathy for the pain that was so evident in her voice. He merely held her closer, as if to absorb her pain into himself.
"But I can't go home. There's no way for me to get back. I'm stuck here, with a bunch of strange Elves, starting my life over...again. Did I tell you how much I hate portals? Because I do. They're big, evil sucking things that ruin your life." She stopped, seemingly defeated, and sighed. "I just want to go home."
"Do not lose hope, my lady," he began. "For not even the Lady of Light knows all things. Your future has not yet been revealed. Whether you return to your home of Elay or remain in Middle Earth, be not disheartened, for you are among friends wherever you go." He put one finger under her chin, lifting her head up to look into her eyes. "You are safe here. And you are not alone."
Fred smiled, despite her gloomy mood. He was really nice, not to mention really cute. If she was stuck in a parallel dimension, there were worse places to be than in an ethereal city, being watched over by an attractive elf. Her heart lightened, just a little. Maybe all hope wasn't lost. Maybe she could be okay after all.