Dark Night of the Soul: 10. The Downside of Downtime

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10. The Downside of Downtime

It wasn't hard to find Galadriel. Indeed, Giles and Elenya arrived at the great high flet at the same moment as Buffy, Willow and Xander.

Galadriel graced them with a smile then gestured over at a large table in the center of the flet. Upon it was a massive map, much like those in Rivendell, but showing only the lands east of the Misty Mountains. Her finger traced the long line that was the Great River then stopped atop the small, almost circular area signifying Lothlorien. "Here we stand."

She pointed now at a faintly blue area on the easternmost edge of the map. "And here lies the Sea of Rhûn. In days long past, Pallando the Blue made his way there with two others of his order. Long years have gone by since we had word of him, but rumor has him there even now."

"Just rumor?" Willow asked, glaring just a bit at Galadriel.

"Willow's right, that's not much to go on," Buffy said before any unpleasantness took place.

"Alas, Wizards oft keep their comings and goings to themselves," Galadriel replied. "But I have few doubts that Pallando lives upon the shores of the little sea." Why she was so sure, she would not say. Instead, she pointed at the Anduin once more.

"This is the safest course, although even it is fraught with danger. When you leave the eaves of Lothlorien, continue east until the Great River is once again in your sight. Cross it when you can, but be wary of Orcs, and travel south..." As she spoke, Galadriel traced the winding line of the Anduin, stopping at a great series of bends that formed a kind of sideways W in the course of the river. "Until you reach the North Undeep here. The river bends sharply and becomes very swift, which will be the sign to make your way east into the Brown Lands."

Elenya frowned gravely. "I have crossed that blight before. It will not be pleasant, if Orcs still roam it at will."

"Indeed they do," Galadriel replied sadly. "Few realms east of the mountains are yet free of the Dark Lord and his forces. But if you ride with speed and caution, you may avoid their patrols. Orcs do not ride, but only march, and then only by night. If you are pursued or lose your way, always veer north. His grip is lighter in that direction."

"Then just keep going until we hit the sea?" Buffy wondered, leaning forward and tapping the map. "How far is it?"

"Many weeks, even with the swiftest horses," Galadriel said. "Few live who have made the journey. And it has been many years since reliable reports have come to us from those distant waters. I can tell you only what I told Darius before he set out on his quest. Long ago, all this land was the domain of the Kings of Gondor, but it fell from their grip as the Enemy slowly crept back into the world and great danger arose close to the heart of their realm. Petty kings and free towns are the rule now, or so we have heard. Wine and kine are their sole fame."

"Kine?" Xander asked.

"Cattle," Giles explained impatiently. "Please continue, milady."

Galadriel indicated a small dark patch west of the Sea. "Here in the Green Hills, Dwarves of the Ironfist folk long dwelt in their halls of stone. Mayhap they still mine the emeralds and silver there, although I know not for certain. Also unknown is the fate of the Elves of these woods." Here she meant a forested spot along the northern and eastern shores of the Sea of Rhûn. "Long ago, Úmanyar, those who never went West at the call of the Valar, lived under the dark trees. But they were few and that was many centuries ago, and the world has moved on. Still, it is a hope. Pallando would be their ally for his master in the West was ever the friend of our folk. If all else fails, seek out the Úmanyar and their counsel as to where he dwells. Perhaps he has no set home, for he was ever a wanderer. But there, at least, he may be found to roam."

"And he knows a way to help us?"

"I believe so. If not, none in Middle-Earth do," Galadriel said sadly. "But I think you should have a light heart."

[Well, la dee da,] Willow thought sourly. [We're the ones doing all the work. Easy for her to say.]

"I have set my handmaidens, and Celeborn his esquires, to prepare you gear for the long journey. Elrond outfitted you wisely, but it has been a long journey from the Last Homely House to my realm, and your equipment is well-worn. All that you may need will be provided - weapons, armor such as we have, new steeds if you wish, and anything else to be found."

"You are too gracious, Lady," Elenya said, bowing her head.

"It would be churlish indeed to turn aside the Valar's Champion and those she calls friends when they are in such need," Galadriel responded.

The council lasted a while longer, but none of them had many questions for Galadriel. The directions were clear, or at least as clear as she could make them, and there was little else to debate. It was decided they would set out as soon as the new gear was ready, and until that time, they would rest and recover from their travels.

-

Xander woke the day after they'd met with Galadriel. He was alone up on the flet - no Willow, no Giles, no Buffy. He sighed as he proceeded to pull on his boots. He hadn't slept well. Galadriel's little nocturnal pep talk didn't do any sort of pepping. No matter what, he still felt like he was nobody. Maybe Willow had a point - he should just stop complaining about his situation and do something.

Once he'd secured his boots, he headed down the stairs to find something to eat and find out where everyone else had gone. He smiled politely at the few Elves he passed while he strolled along. It was late morning now, and he felt embarrassed about sleeping in. He was a guest of these people; it was kinda rude. Yawning, he rubbed a hand over his hair. [Great. Bad hair month continues.]

His hand dropped to his side and he stopped when he heard Buffy's voice. And her familiar laugh. Xander turned in a full circle until he found the source of the Slayer's voice. His eyes narrowed a little. There she was - bow and arrow in hand, talking with some Elf guy, who appeared to be giving her pointers on how to be more accurate with the weapon.

[Damn, if it isn't tall, dark and broody it's tall, blonde and ... and Elf-y] he thought as he watched Buffy talk to her teacher. His teeth clenched and his hands balled into fists as Mr. I'm Just A Nice Elf Helping This Poor Girl Out put his fingertips on Buffy's shoulder then gestured towards the target with his other hand. Buffy fired her arrow then smiled broadly at him.

"Hey, that worked! Thanks!" she said. She pulled out another arrow, took aim and fired again. The second arrow split the first arrow in half. Buffy lowered her bow, a pleased grin on her face. "That's much better. I was wondering why my aim was off. Never thought to compensate like that. I'm used to a crossbow."

Xander casually sashayed up to the two of them, smiling stiffly at the Elf guy. [Yeah, you just keep pretending there, buddy. I'm onto your game.] He looked over to Buffy. "Hey, Buff. Getting in some target practice, eh?" His gaze shifted to target she'd used for her lessons. "Wow. That's some improvement. I'm impressed."

"Thanks, but I wouldn't have been able to do so well without Firncair's help." She gestured to the Elf who stood quietly while she spoke with Xander. "Elenya said he's one of the best archers in the woods, probably all of Middle-earth. So I figured, hey, who better to learn from?"

Firncair locked his hands together in front of him, his expression remaining ever stoic. "I would not say the whole of Middle-earth," he corrected. "Elenya exaggerates my skill." He did manage a small smile in the Slayer's direction, which didn't get by Xander. "It was no trouble to instruct you, Buffy. You are a quick study. The race of Men is fortunate to have you."

[Keep flappin' your yap, pal,] Xander bitterly thought as his eyes narrowed briefly at Firncair. [I'll make you a quick study of my fist in your perfect Elven face.] He cleared his throat loudly, gaining the attention of both Elf and Slayer.

"So, Buffy, are you done here?" he asked, clasping his hands together. The quicker they could get away from Mr. Smooth Tongued Elf Boy, the better. Buffy always went for that type - the lack of expression, the being too damn old for her and not quite human.

"Oh." Her smile faded and she looked to Firncair. "I don't know. I guess? I suppose you can show me that other stuff later on?"

[Other stuff? Later on?] Xander furrowed his eyebrows in suspicion.

"Certainly. Until then." After picking up his own bow, he bowed slightly to Buffy then headed off in the direction from which Xander had come.

Xander smirked as he watched Firncair leave. [Yeah, keep on walkin', buddy. Don't even turn around.] He slid his gaze over to Buffy who watched the Elf as he left. [Oh great. This is all I need. Just twist the knife, why don't you?] He cleared his throat again then tried to smile when Buffy looked up at him.

"So you were with him all morning?" he asked, trying to be casual. He watched her pick up her quiver of arrows then turn to him. "Just you and Fir Tree, huh? Shooting some arrows and doing ... that kind of thing?"

Buffy frowned a little at him then she started to walk away. "Yes, Xander, that's all we were doing. And it's Firncair." [Jealousy isn't flattering.] Then she remembered how she felt when Xander had his brief crush on Arwen back in Rivendell.

"Firncair, Fir Tree, what's the diff?" he asked as he fell into step beside her. The two of them walked in silence for a minute then he spoke. "Hey, Buffy, I've been meaning to talk to you since Rivendell." He stopped when she did. "About what I said that night - about us. Unfortunately, guys and Orcs have been trying to kill us, Willow's being Weird Girl and all kinds of various other surprises have happened. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you."

[I don't want to have this talk. I'd rather not deal with all this until we're home. If we ever get there.] She finally met his gaze. "I have to meet Elenya, Xander. Maybe I'll see you later on tonight." She pivoted on her heel and quickly walked away from him.

"Dammit," Xander swore under his breath as he slammed an open palm against a nearby tree. He scowled as he leaned back against the trunk, folding his arms across his chest at the same time. "Way to be forward and decisive, Harris." [What's the use? I'm just not the kind of guy she'll go for.] Shaking his head, he sighed heavily and pushed himself away from the tree then headed off to find something to eat.

-

Elenya, along with two tall Elves in green hunting garb, were waiting for Buffy at a glade not far from the edge of the forest city of Caras Galadon. The Slayer greeted her younger counterpart with a smile and a quick good morning.

Buffy nodded in return, then pointed at the pair of spears that were resting against the tree nearest Elenya. Both of the Elves had one, as well as a pair of knives, bows and many arrows, more weaponry than Buffy had ever seen an Elf carrying.

"What's up?

"No. I thought we might go on a hunt today," Elenya replied. She picked up both spears, each longer than she was tall and with heavy steel crossbars at the base of the spearhead, and tossed one to Buffy, who gracefully caught it. "Lord Celeborn says a wild boar has been roaming the forests south of the Celebrant. Moriâth and Areleniel are going on the hunt for it," she said, pointing at the blonde male Elf and the raven-haired lady in turn. "Perhaps we can return some of their hospitality by helping to rid them of those pests," Elenya suggested with a wolfish grin.

Buffy had done her share of hunting since arriving in Middle-Earth, but it still felt a little odd. Especially since they didn't need to do it for food here in Lothlorien - the Elves were happy to provide anything they wanted.

"Come! We can talk a little about our common bond," Elenya said. "Where better to discuss our history than in these ancient woods? And we have been idle too long. I know you must feel the urge to get out and run and hunt."

Buffy shrugged, but found herself grinning a little, too. She was feeling cooped up here - she'd never gone this long without a fight since becoming a Slayer. It felt strange to her. Even if she was glad for a vacation from the violence, it was wrong on some level, a fact that bothered her more than a little. "All right. You're on."

"Excellent." Elenya turned to the Elves and said something in their own language, at which point they both nodded and gracefully ran out of the glade, swiftly disappearing into the trees ahead. "They're going on ahead to scout out our trail. Our part will come later."

"Yay," Buffy said. The spears made it pretty clear what their 'part' would be. But she didn't complain as she followed Elenya out of the glade at a more sedate pace than the two Elves.

The closer they drew to the Celebrant, the thinner the trees grew. Few mallorns rose up from the rocky ground, but many birches and other fair trees Buffy did not recognize. There was a strange scent in the air, a little like lavender, but richer and somehow reminiscent of the ocean.

"Luineleni flowers in bloom," Elenya said, pointing at a thick patch of bright blue and white flowers clustered around the base of a birch tree. "Some say they carry the scent of Valinor."

"Huh." Another thing left behind by history. Buffy sighed a little as she followed Elenya down the grassy slope and across a tall, elegant wooden bridge over the Celebrant. A trail ran a little way into the woods on the south shore of the river, but Elenya soon lead Buffy off it and into deep, thick forest.

Soon, the gentle roar of the river faded into the background and the only sounds were the faint chirping of birds and the more persistent buzzing of bees as they flitted to and fro in search of honey.

"So where'd the Elves go?" Buffy finally asked after they'd left the river a quarter hour or so behind.

"Up ahead," Elenya replied. "They passed this way."

"They did?" Buffy asked dubiously. She couldn't see or hear anything that would make Elenya come to that conclusion.

Sensing her hesitation, Elenya knelt and pointed at a spot of grass. "See? Elves tread lightly, but they still leave tracks if you look closely."

"Still not seeing it," Buffy said after a brief examination of the grass.

"Look closer, Buffy," Elenya insisted. "Here. See how the grass right here is bent at a different angle than the rest?" she asked, waving her hand over a small patch of grass.

Buffy rolled her eyes. Who cared? She was a Vampire Slayer, not the Great White Hunter. But to humor Elenya, she squatted down and stared at the grass. Then she frowned and looked closer, tuning out everything except the few squares inches of green. "Hey, yeah. I do see it. Kinda. Here and over here, right?" she asked Elenya.

"Right." Elenya rose to her feet. "You're learning well. These skills will help you when you return to your own time, I'm sure."

"Yeah, maybe," Buffy said, fairly unconvinced turning into a Girl Scout would do much good finding a vamp back in Sunnydale. "Not so sure vampires leave footprints on asphalt, though. I prefer the classic finding the bad monster and stabbing it until it's dead tactic. Speaking of which, which way to the boar?"

"Further south," Elenya responded. She was about to press the issue further, but Areleniel re-appeared, surprising both Slayers with her silent, even for an Elf, approach.

"The great boar is little more than a mile away," Areleniel said, pointing with one of her long knives. "Moriâth is driving it into the hills abreast of the Silwencelumë, away south of here," she told them. "We should not tarry."

With that, the Elf turned on her heels and ran off again. This time, Buffy was able to track Areleniel for a good ten seconds before the trees swallowed her up. [Okay, maybe Elenya's onto something with the Uber-Slayer deal.] But she couldn't think about that now. This just wasn't the place to concentrate on becoming a better force of destruction, for one thing, and there was Xander, for another.

She shook her head, sighed once then hurried to catch up with Elenya, who was already making good time through the woods.

The three of them, Elf and Slayers, ran for a quarter hour before Areleniel and Elenya came to a sudden stop. An instant later, Buffy heard the same faint crashing sound they did and stopped in turn.

"Is that the boar?" she whispered, then winced. It had to be the boar - no Elf could ever make that much noise.

"Yes," Elenya replied in the barest of whispers, then crouched down and, tightly gripping her spear, listened intently. Areleniel had drawn her bow and nocked an arrow and was peering around with a very non-Elvish (to Buffy) look of fierce concentration upon her face.

The rumbling grew louder and then Buffy could hear a snuffling, squealing sort of noise vaguely like a pig's, but far nastier and wilder.

And then the boar came into view and Buffy realized it was definitely no pig. It was nearly five feet tall at the shoulder, and nearly as wide, and had large ivory tusks with razor-sharp tips.

"Geez!" Buffy muttered when the boar came crashing through the bushes, trampling everything in its path. She noticed a handful of arrows were jutting out of its side, a fact that apparently did not bother the great black boar.

It did, however, hear her comment and turned its vast furry head in her direction.

[Crap.] Buffy and the boar locked gazes for a moment. Time seemed to slow down then it let out a snarling squeal, stamped its feet once and then charged towards Buffy.

A white arrow shot through the air, breaking Buffy's trance. As the arrow thrust itself deep into the boar's shoulder, slowing it not a whit, Buffy broke into action. She took a quick step forward and, bracing herself as best she could, hurled her spear right at the boar.

Elenya groaned and when the spear did little more than glance off the boar's shoulder, Buffy understood why. A boar's hide was strong and thick, and this was no mere youth but a king of its kind, ancient and mighty. Buffy's spear did little more than irritate it, as did the Elvish arrows that were soon raining down upon it.

As the boar surged forward, Elenya met it with a spear thrust. The mithril blade bit deep, but the shaft bent and then snapped from the force of the boar's charge. She cursed and drew her sword, but it was already past her and nearing a startled Buffy.

Areleniel tossed her bow aside and leapt at the boar. Using her knife as a pivot point, the Elf huntress jumped upon its back and stabbed down with another knife. The boar roared in pain as Areleniel began cutting away at the back of its neck, and, rearing up, managed to shake her lose. Areleniel went tumbling away, landed gracefully just in time to get gored in the stomach by the angry boar. She grunted and stabbed at it one last time, then grabbed a low-hanging branch and pulled herself up, hooking her foot under the discarded bow and pulling it up all in the same quicksilver movement.

The boar turned back to Buffy and jumped right at her. With only a handful of seconds to act, Buffy jumped forward, right at the boar, and placed both hands upon its shoulders. Praying desperately, she jumped up and then did a flip, landing right on its back as if she was riding it. Just as the boar began a confused turn, she slammed both hands down upon Areleniel's knife, still jutting out of the great beast's neck. The blade vanished into the fur, then the hilt itself until only the pommel stone was visible amidst the blood and black fur.

The ancient boar let out one last squeal, sank forward onto its knees, then onto its stomach, twitched twice and finally lay still.

Panting, Buffy slid off the boar's carcass and then sat down heavily. "Just... tell me that was the only one," she said as Elenya, Areleniel and, further off, Moriâth approached.

"Are you unhurt?" Areleniel asked even as she and Elenya helped Buffy to her feet.

"Yeah, I'm fine. What about you?" Buffy asked. "That thing hit you pretty bad." Her voice trailed off. The Elf's wounds, visible through her torn tunic, were all but gone. Only a few thin red lines remained of the bloody mess the boar had made of her stomach.

"Elves heal swiftly," Elenya explained. "Much as we do."

Areleniel and Moriâth eyed Buffy with newfound respect, and Elenya bit her lip. Harmless as it was, she still hadn't intended for anybody to know Buffy was also a Slayer. The identities of Buffy and her friends, save as Men from over the mountains, had been kept a secret to all save to Galadriel and Celeborn.

But Moriâth smiled. "The blood of Númenór runs true in you, fair woman of the West," she said to Buffy, misinterpreting Elenya's comment. Areleniel only nodded - she knew the true meaning, having met two Slayers in her long life, but kept her silence.

"Thank you," Buffy said, not really sure what the big deal about Númenór was. Sorta like a Super Atlantis to these people, from what Elenya had told them around the campfire. "So... can we go back to the city now?"

"In a moment," Areleniel murmured. She was examining the body of the boar and, after a moment, let out a soft cry of despair, then held aloft the black shaft of an arrow. "Yrch," she spat, gingerly holding the arrow with two fingers for a moment before casting it down with a shudder. "It reeks of poison. No doubt the beast went mad and they let it go free for sport."

"It could not have wandered far in its madness," Elenya said, frowning suddenly. "Orcs on the borders of Lothlorien?"

"Wanderers in the mountains, no doubt," Moriâth said, but Elenya was unconvinced. She said no more, though, keeping the promise not to discuss their own pursuers with any save Galadriel and Celeborn.

"This is an ill sign," Areleniel murmured. "The Lady should be told of it. Let us return, as Buffy said."

The four hunters swiftly made their way back northward to the heart of the forest realm. Buffy found herself hard pressed to keep up with the Elves until they saw her and Elenya falling back and slowed their pace ever-so-slightly. But at last they returned to the Celebrant and crossed the wooden foot-bridge.

Willow, strolling alone along the backs of the Celebrant, watched as they approached and frowned a little when they ran right past her without so much as a wave. [Figures,] she thought angrily. [Probably off to see the wicked witch of the east with some big secret plan.] She fingered her ring and headed off aimlessly, her mood darker than ever.

As for the others, once they reached Caras Galadhon, they told Galadriel, and Celeborn and Giles, who was their eager pupil in the history of Lothlorien and its people, of their discovery. After some debate, it was decided that the time for the five to depart was soon at hand. It did not seem likely the presence of Orcs so near Lothlorien was mere coincidence, and a speedy departure was the wisest course.

-

The Next Night ...

Xander sat cross-legged on the flet, depressed more than usual as he stared up through the leafy canopy at the star-filled sky. Thanks to his major dumbass behavior about Fir Tree the day before, Buffy hadn't said more than a muttered good morning to him. Even then, it didn't sound like she really meant it. He'd screwed up big time - and the silent treatment killed him more than the not being with her. At least before he still had a friend.

Most of the day, though, he'd hung around in the tree house, wasting time by weaving together flowers into circlets. If the Elves had an abundance of anything, it was flowers. The task took his mind off things, and beyond that, there wasn't much else for him to do to kill time in Lothlorien. Giles chatted with the Elves or Elenya and spent time walking the woods. And Willow ran off God knew where early in the morning.

He lowered his gaze, staring at the large collection of multi-colored flower arrangements before him. Resting his chin on his palm, he sighed heavily. "What'm I going to do?" he wondered aloud. "Well, you're going to continue to be the biggest loser ever, Harris. Not only can you not get and keep a girlfriend, you ruined any shot you had with Buffy."

He scowled a little then rolled his eyes. "Ah, who asked you, anyway?" He sat up straight, picked up a couple more flowers and went back to work.

Buffy bit her lip as she stood on the stairs, just out of sight of Xander, and she lowered her gaze. She couldn't decide if she should go up or not. Never did she have the intention to hurt him, she just wasn't ready for anything ... new. He sounded so ... sad, though, when talking to himself.

Her head lifted and she sighed softly then continued up the stairs. She and Xander met gazes for a moment, and there was a long pause before she offered a "Hello".

"Hey," he replied. He tried to act casual, but the fact she acknowledged his presence gave him some hope. His attention shifted back to his work. "So ... how was the bow and arrow training day with what's his face?" he asked in a low tone.

Buffy set her bow and quiver of arrows down by her particular sleeping area. "It went well. I'm almost disappointed we're going to leave this place in the morning. I'm picking up a lot of useful skills here." She clasped her hands together in front of her as she took a few steps in Xander's direction. She glanced from him to all of the flowers he'd weaved together. [Is that what he's been doing all day?] "What about you? What did you do?"

"You're looking at it," he said with a sweep of the hand at his flowers. "Not a whole lot for a guy like me to get all giddy about in Lothlorien. Not into the history, not into the real fighting stuff, and I haven't a clue what Willow's been doing since this morning. More than likely, it's something I haven't any interest in."

Buffy picked up one of the circlets, her fingers brushed over the soft blue-purple petals then she looked down at the top of his head. He was hunched over, busy with his work. "Look, Xander ... I think ... I think we need to talk about this."

"About what? Are you trying to say something about me because I'm playing with flowers?" he asked as he raised his head so he could look up at her. He lifted an eyebrow. "Is there something wrong with it?"

"No, I'm not talking about the flowers, Xander," she told him. She rolled her eyes, letting out a heavy breath then she kneeled down in front of him. "You know what I mean. About this weird thing between us lately, the uncomfortable deal since that night in Rivendell."

"It's been a 'weird thing' for a lot longer than Rivendell, Buffy," he calmly informed her. He looped one stem around the other, linking them perfectly. "Maybe you never noticed it. Or you didn't want to. But, hey, you're not comfortable with it, so let's just forget about it, okay?" He met her gaze. "You're going to be forever stuck in the past with the memory of what you had with Angel. How can I compete with that guy, anyway? Or with Fir Tree down there?"

Buffy blinked. "Huh? Wait. What are you talking about? You think I have a thing for Firncair?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"No, it's not. I haven't even noticed and I'm supposed to have the thing for him!" She put a hand on his. "Would you stop for a minute, Xander?" She removed her hand when he did as she requested. "I don't have any thing for him. He was showing me some bow and arrow techniques. That's it. And after Angel falling for an ELF is so the last thing I need."

"Well, he's right up your alley," he grumbled, looking away from her.

"Let's get out of the alleys. There is no thing. There never was a thing; there never will be a thing. Are we clear on that now?"

He shrugged. "I guess," was the muttered response.

"Xander, stop dancing around the issue for ONCE, all right?" She sat back on her heels, folded her arms across her chest and stared at him for a moment. "Are you going to be straight with me? No more running interference?"

"I've been straight with you, Buffy. I was so straight with you back in Rivendell and I was even gracious enough to not press the issue," he shortly replied. He tossed aside the half finished circlet, uncrossed his legs and looked her in the eyes. "I tell you something that I haven't said in almost three years, and there's not even a 'Hey, I thought about it and I'll pass, Xander'."

"So now this is my fault?" she shot back, jerking a thumb at herself. "You said, if I recall correctly, that I didn't NEED to say anything! That you just wanted to get it off your chest, in case something happened! I wasn't aware that you wanted a reply. If you did, you should've told me!"

"Okay, let's say I did." He sat forward, eyes narrowing a little. "What would you have said to me that night? Honestly. You can't possibly tear me apart inside anymore than you already have."

The Slayer's shoulders slumped a bit, her features softened as she thought back to that night in Rivendell. Her head said one thing; her heart said another. So many emotions were mixed, she wasn't sure what her answer would've been. Part of herself, she'd discovered, was attracted to him in a 'more than a friend' manner. Then her head reminded her of Angel and how difficult it was for her to have a normal relationship.

"Xander, you know how it was with Angel." She didn't say anything else. She wondered if she meant to say more. It felt so abrupt, even to her.

Xander stared back at her for almost a solid minute. "I hate to be the one to give you the news flash, Buff: I'm not Angel." He stood up then headed down the stairs. At this point, he didn't care if she had a reply for that. Or even what she had to say. Her blaming everything on her relationship with Angel was complete crap, in his opinion. Did she plan to hide behind that for the rest of her life?

"Xander!" Buffy jumped to her feet and stopped at the top of the stairs as he turned to look back up at her. "I know you're not Angel."

"Yay? Am I supposed to be impressed by that?"

"No, I never said you were supposed to be impressed by it. I'm telling you that I know you're not Angel. Xander, it's just not -"

"It's just not what? Not going to work?" He came up a few steps until he was one step below her. "How do you know, Buffy? You're too scared to even try anything anymore. You're all about the job lately. Even before we came here. You've been shutting me out, you've been shutting Giles out and Willow, too."

"I can't expect you to understand -"

"That I don't know what it's like to lose a person I truly cared about? I screwed up a good thing with Cordelia, Buffy. I missed out with Willow and now when I try to take my chance with you, you're pulling away." He paused for a moment. "Do you feel anything for me? Does any small part of you feel for me how I feel for you?"

Her mouth opened then closed just as quickly. She wasn't sure how to respond. Lowering her head, she looked away as her hands kneaded together in front of her. [You do feel something more than what you used to, Buffy.] she thought. [He's right; I AM scared of another commitment.] Her head lifted once more and she met his gaze.

"I do," she quietly replied. "But I'm ... I'm just not ready for anything serious yet."

"Buffy -" He took one of her hands into his, caressing it lightly, in a soothing manner. "I'm not asking you to marry me. Just say that maybe, when you are ready, you'll think about going to a movie or something with me?" He offered her a small smile when she met his gaze once again.

She sighed softly, her breath a bit shaky as she exhaled. Then she nodded. "Sure, Xander," she murmured. "I'll ... I'll think about it. When I'm ready for something like that again," she quickly added. Her gaze shifted to something behind him and she quickly pulled her hand away. "Oh, hey, Will."

Willow stopped on the stairs and eyed the pair. "Hey. So ... what's happening here?" she asked. She her gaze went over to Xander then to Buffy. [Plotting again?]

"Just talking, Will. That's all," Xander told her with a careless shrug.

"Yeah, that's it," Buffy chimed in.

"Oh." She bit her lower lip for a moment then came up a few more steps. "I was just going to get some sleep. We're going to leave in the morning, aren't we?" She couldn't wait to get out of Lothlorien and put some distance between her and Galadriel. The longer they stayed in the woods with the Elves, the more uncomfortable Willow became.

Buffy nodded. "That's the plan. We're supposed to get a big send off in the morning. Elves like doing that kind of stuff, I guess."

"The sooner we leave, the better." She paused and when she saw Xander and Buffy exchange a look, she added, "I just want to go home. I'm sick and tired of the past." She went by Buffy and Xander and onto the flet.

After a soft sigh, Buffy shook her head. "We're going to have to do something about her soon, Xander. We should've done something weeks ago when this first started."

He nodded his agreement. "Come on, let's find Giles. We should have another talk with him about this."

Willow sat at the top of the stairs, just out of Buffy and Xander's sight. She scowled when she overheard what they'd said. Her eyes narrowed a little. The decision had been made. If she expected to survive Middle-earth, she would have to destroy them before they destroyed her. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, and she lightly rocked back and forth, formulating a defensive plan in her mind.

-

Galadriel summoned the five the next morning, which was clearer and brighter than the usual even for Lothlorien. She waited for them on the banks of the Celebrant with a few other Elves in bright garb bearing gifts for the companions, as well as four fresh horses and Aratar, bearing a new saddle.

"The time has come," she told them. "All is ready for you. Here, come forward and accept these gifts. I think they will be useful in the days ahead. For the young Champion, a new bow of our make and many arrows. Not stone, as Elrond's folk used, but tipped with mithril. Rare indeed is the armor they cannot pierce. Use them wisely and only in need. And for more peaceful days," Galadriel paused and held out a silver necklace with a green gem. "Made after the fashion of the Elf-stone of old. Think of Lothlorien and all Middle-Earth when you wear it," Galadriel said as she placed the necklace upon Buffy.

Buffy smiled and slung the bow over her shoulder. The arrows came in a quiver with a belt attached, and rested easily against her hip. "Thank you," she said, touched by the generous gift. From what Elenya had said, mithril was more rare than diamonds, and the necklace was so beautiful. She clutched the tiny green gem and smiled at Galadriel. "Thank you."

For Giles, the Elves had a well-carved quarterstaff made of strong mallorn wood. One end had been sharpened; the other had three strong rings of steel. Upon its length were carved Elven runes. "For walking and fighting alike," Galadriel told Giles. "The words are a song of hope," she added with a twinkle in her eyes.

Xander was given a long white-bladed dagger. As he accepted it, Galadriel pressed a small sky-blue gem with a white core into his hand. "A gift as Elven men give the maidens they love," she whispered swiftly. [It helps to clear the mind of doubt and aids in illumination,] her voice echoed in Xander's mind. "Perhaps you may find a use for it."

Elenya's gift was a new sword, long and slightly curved in the style of the Elves. "It too is forged of mithril," Galadriel said. Elenya bowed deeply and carried the sword with reverence, awed beyond measure by the grace of the Elf Lady.

Finally, Galadriel stepped up to Willow. Elf and girl eyed each other for a long minute then Galadriel held her hand out. Resting upon her palm was a silver ring with a small pearl set on it. "It has no magic, nor any special grace save its beauty. But it would rest lightly and well upon your finger, I think," Galadriel said as she gave it over to Willow. Willow said nothing, but instead took the ring and placed it in her pocket.

"So be it! Travel swiftly and in safety, my friends," Galadriel said in a loud voice. "May you find your homes and all that you seek."

The five travelers mounted their horses and, after saying their farewells, rode eastward under the mallorn trees until they passed out of Lothlorien and onto the last long leg of their great journey.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Net Girl and Sibyl

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/24/02

Original Post: 08/05/02

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