2. A Safe Place
Chapter 2 - A Safe Place
Marisol didn't ask him what meat was in the stew that he finally served; all that mattered to her was that it was hot and actually as tasty as it smelled. That he served more bread with it was even more appreciated. And there was tea that this time tasted as tea ought, filling in any empty spaces in her tummy with extra warmth. She sat up in bed and somehow managed not to be dizzy as she ate, with the lower half of her body remaining hidden beneath one blanket while the top blanket was drawn around her shoulders and the over-large leather shirt.
Mac had dragged the little stool back next to the bed so that they ate their meal together, and his eyebrows rose as he watched her use the end of the bread to find and soak up every last morsel of the stew from the wooden bowl. "When was the last time you ate?" he asked with the beginnings of a grin.
She shrugged. "A real meal? A few days ago," she replied. "One of the churches had a soup kitchen last Sunday."
"And nothing since then?" He was scowling again, but she was getting used to his not liking some of what she had to tell. In a way, it made her feel warm to see someone genuinely distressed at the things she'd been through to survive. So many people out here seemed to not care at all…
"Nothing hot." She sipped at the remainder of her tea, making it last. "Mostly I get food from the dumpsters behind the Chinese restaurant, and sometimes from the garbage cans near…"
"Nevermind. I do not wish to know more." He held up a very large and oddly scarred hand.
"How did that happen?" she asked, nodding at the hand. "It looks like you were burned."
"I was, a very long time ago," he replied quietly.
He shook his head and tucked his hand back into his lap. "No."
Marisol heard the unspoken demand to drop the subject and complied. At a loss for anything to say, she sat quietly, cradling her mug of tea and studying the man in front of her. His face was flawless; and if he had been a woman, Marisol would have easily thought him beautiful. His eyes were a clear grey that almost seemed to glow with an inner light at times, with expressive dark brows arching delicately over them. His jaw was square, strong, and his face clean-shaven without even a hint of stubble. His lips were well-defined, his teeth straight and white. And his hair was straight as a pin and hung in an ebon curtain down his back and flowed like water with his every movement.
"What do you see?" he asked in a soft voice, and Marisol blushed at the thought that she'd been caught staring.
"Nothing," she offered first, and then at the look of skepticism, amended, "I was just thinking that you don't look much like a Mac."
"I do not?" His lips quirked. "How so?"
She found herself rising to the amused challenge in his eyes. "Mac is a very ordinary name, and you aren't."
"I am not… what?"
"Ordinary." She let herself smile at him. "Definitely not Mac material."
He let loose a chuckle and then gathered her bowl and his together. "If the truth be told, most people cannot pronounce my name properly. I have found that Mac is a quick and easy substitute."
"What is your name then?" Marisol tipped her head.
"Maca…" She wrinkled her nose.
"…laurë," he finished for her.
"What kind of name is that?"
He blinked at her. "It is mine." He rose and carried the bowls over to the squat bucket that sat on the other side of the hearth.
Marisol opened her mouth to apologize, but was silenced by a roar of wind and snap of what sounded like branches in the storm outside that made her shiver just from the suggestion. Instead, she slipped back down and threw the blanket that had been around her shoulders over the bed again and snuggled down. "Is California always like this at this time of year?"
"Not always, but winter storms from the north are often this way," he replied, settling to his haunches and obviously rinsing the bowls and the carved wooden spoons. "It is a miserable night." The light from the hearth accentuated the planes of his face, throwing his eyes into shadow. He tucked the rinsed bowls up onto the shelf and extinguished the nearby candle with a simple tap of a forefinger. "You should rest now," he directed as he once more checked the drying clothing and then bent to shove another piece of wood into the fire.
"Um…" she began as he tapped yet another candle out, "where are you going to sleep?" All of a sudden, she realized that she was in the one and only bed in the place. If he was going to lie down anywhere, it was probably going to be with her, and that didn't sound like a good idea, no matter how good looking he was.
"Here," he replied, pulling the one cushioned chair a little closer to the fire, sat down and stretched out his very long legs. "Good night, little one."
She breathed out a long sigh of relief. At least at the moment, it would seem her luck had brought her into the keeping of an honorable man, rather than one who would rather use her and throw her aside. He had certainly had ample opportunity to live up to her worst fears by now. She bit back a retort at being called "little one" all the time. If all it would cost her to have a roof over her head, hot food in her stomach, and perhaps even a protector against the likes of Crazy Larry for a while was to be called "little one," she could swallow her pride.
"Good night, Macalaurë." She knew she hadn't said his name properly.
He noticed, but his chuckle told her he didn't mind much. "Mac is easier to say," he told her again.
"I like the sound of Macalaurë," she told him with a yawn. "I don't know why, but it suits you."
"Then I shall take the time to teach you to say it properly in the morning," he murmured back. "Sleep well, Marisol."
What was he doing?
For the better part of the last three millennia, he had steered clear of all Mortals and their fleeting woes and travails as much as possible. After all those centuries of deliberate indifference to the comings and goings of men and women of all classes and circumstances, what in the name of all the Powers in Arda had possessed him to break with that now?
A single glance at the so very young face, relaxed into sleep on his pillow, was all the answer he needed. Were she not Mortal, she would have been a lovely elleth, with long, dark hair swirling about her face like a soft cloud. Her straight nose, delicate lips like a rosebud poised to bloom, and creamy skin held few hints of the coarse mortality that would all too soon take the roses from her cheeks and smoothness of her skin. With a jolt, he realized that Carnistir's daughter had looked much like this little one…
For the first time in centuries, he allowed himself to remember Eirien and her smile, her quick and sparkling laugh, her ability to turn her dour father's glares into indulgent smiles. That enchanting laugh and quick wit had turned his head so completely that had she not been so closely related, he would have spoken to her father for permission to court her. As it was, he had enjoyed being a favorite uncle instead and made every possible excuse to come to visit. Eirien was one of the very few faces who inhabited his memories that both cheered him and made his grief more acute.
Had she perished in the tumult that had torn her home apart and sunk it beneath the waves, or had she fled east in time only to take ship when the ban was lifted? Or had the deaths of her parents – Carnistir's slaughter in Doriath and then the fading of her mother – made her fade as well; and if so, had she been released from Mandos' Halls yet? He'd been so busy following Maitimo in those bitter, latter days, and raising the children whom his actions had orphaned, that he'd lost track of her; and now…
Had she found someone in the Ages since last he'd seen her, someone who could fill her heart as it so deserved to be filled? Did they treat her well, or did they still see her as nothing but the child of a Kinslayer, touched by and tainted past all redemption by an Oath that should never have been made?
And, as ever happened whenever he made the mistake of allowing his mind to retrace its way back to those glorious and cursed days and those who had touched his heart, the grief and remorse was crippling. Tears began to spill down his face, and he had to bite the inside of cheeks to keep his sobs from becoming audible and disturbing the rest of the Mortal child he'd given refuge to.
He knew better than this. Keeping his attention merely on the acts that kept him alive and separate from those who had so filled the world on this side of the Sundering Sea had become a shield that he could depend on. Carefully refraining from remembering his life among his own people, among his own family, was something that he knew better than to abandon with such ease. It allowed him to serve this eternity in exile – the only proper punishment for the obscenities in which he had been an active and willing participant – without losing his sanity. He moved among these Mortals, worked with them when the need arose, and yet kept himself completely separate from them.
Until now, evidently.
He settled his arms across his chest, as if they would guard his heart better than mithril and steel armor had, and examined exactly what had moved him to throw away centuries worth of established behavior. This child was not Eirien; he knew this. But as much as he tried, he simply couldn't harden his heart to the point that he regretted his actions. He couldn't have just left her to the tender mercies of that lunatic he'd chased away. What had she called him? Crazy Larry?
The man would have raped her while she lay in the stream, unconscious. He'd known Mortals to do that or worse. He'd walked away often enough, knowing that such things were likely to happen and unwilling to involve himself with Mortals enough to interfere with their fates. But no, this time he couldn't have just left her there, to suffer that kind of abuse; he simply wasn't that impervious to the sufferings of the Second-born when they wore the face of one he cared for.
And now, not only had he stepped in and altered her future, but he'd offered her the sanctuary of his personal retreat as well. He'd thrown out hundreds of years of managing to live alone quite nicely, thank you, in a misplaced fit of social conscience because a Mortal child reminded him of another child of his own people from long ago. He glowered at himself, certain that his long exile was starting to rob him of his sanity at last.
It would be very difficult, dwelling as close to each other as would be necessary in a one-room cabin, to avoid her discovering exactly what – and who – he was. He was running an incredible risk here.
He twisted and gazed over his shoulder at the sleeping girl in his bed and his gaze softened again; his heart thumped hard with yearning. Would it be so bad to allow himself to have a little company after all this time? After all, it would only be for the few days it would take until he had managed to figure out some way to get her back to her people, wherever they might be. If he were cautious, it might work. A brief respite from the desperate loneliness wouldn't be out of line, would it?
He tucked his chin and deliberately closed his eyes. The morning would come soon enough; and something told him that he wouldn't be able to just laze about whenever he felt like it anymore. He had a guest, and an injured one at that. He was responsible for the wellbeing of someone again, for the first time in longer than he wanted to think about.
It felt… good.
A loud snapping and a crash brought Marisol up out of a sound sleep with a cry of fright and dismay. She hadn't intended on sleeping so deeply that she lost all awareness of her surroundings and of the strangers she was surrounded by, but the hot meal and the warm, comfortable bed had proven hard to resist. "Peace," came out of the darkness at her, in a voice low and musical. "The storm is tearing at the branches of the trees that surround us, and one bounced off our roof on its way to the ground. We are safe, however, and our cabin secure."
It took a very long and terrifying moment for her sleep-clouded mind to process the voice, as well as the fact that she was warm and dry and actually quite comfortable. Finally she remembered where she was and whom she was with. "Mac?" she squeaked.
"Aye." There was the sound of movement, and then a flare of sparks from the hearth as another log was added to the bed of coals. "Go back to sleep, little one. All is well."
As the coals ignited the latest log, and the darkness retreated just a little, Marisol could make out the silhouette of a tall, long-haired person still seated in the chair he'd placed before the fire, the rack of drying clothes a misshapen blob next to him. Another horrific gust of wind rustled the trees outside and made her duck back down into her covers. "You're sure?"
"This cabin has weathered many such storms. Sleep." The long legs stretched out toward the fire again.
"Are you sure you're comfortable there?"
She saw him glance over his shoulder and heard him chuckle. "I have slept in many places far less comfortable. Besides, I believe your sense of security right now comes from my keeping my distance in the dark, does it not?"
Was she that easy to understand? "I suppose. But…"
"But nothing, little one. I need not recline to rest, nor do you need to sacrifice your sense of security for my comfort. Go back to sleep; it is hours before dawn yet."
He really was a strange one! "I don't understand," she mumbled to herself as she pulled the blankets close up under her chin. Trevor wouldn't have hesitated to climb into bed with her, and most of the men she'd met since finding herself stranded and abandoned in this small, coastal area would have been more than willing to take advantage of even the slightest hint of willingness. But Mac – Macalaurë – wasn't interested?
She blinked suddenly. Of course! Hadn't Trevor told her that often times the best looking guys in California were gay? "You're gay?" she asked softly.
"In a storm like this, it is fairly difficult to be very merry," he rumbled back at her.
Was he teasing her? "I meant, you like guys then? Is that why?"
"I like many people," he replied slowly, his tone starting to sound confused. "Why what?"
"I mean… You haven't tried to..." Oh! Would mentioning what she feared give him ideas he hadn't been entertaining before then? "Nevermind."
"Is that what you have been expecting me to do?" Marisol saw those long legs pulled back in, and then he was standing. "The others you have been with lately would no doubt have attempted it long since, especially considering your state of undress beneath those blankets." He walked toward her slowly and then crouched down next to the bed. "Have you been waiting for me to take you by force when you would not give in to me freely?"
Terrified, for he looked so much more threatening and huge in the darkness, when all she could see was his shape, Marisol closed her eyes and whimpered. She should have kept her mouth shut! Her horror trebled when she felt a very gentle touch at the side of her face, as if a single finger were tracing the line of her jaw.
"You are safe, child, for no matter what you might otherwise believe of me, I am no rapist. And no, to answer your question, I do not prefer males in my bed; frankly, it has been a very long time since I have even thought of such things." She held very still, for his huge hand had begun tracing back the hair from her face. "You remind me very much of others I have known: two little ones long ago who had seen far too much for their tender years who came into my care for a time just as accidentally, and a young woman whom I cared for very much. I could never harm you, anymore than I could any of them."
The large hand stroked her head one more time, and then Marisol heard him rising from his crouch again. "Sleep. You are safe, and warm, and dry; and I will allow none to threaten your slumber this night." She opened her eyes to see that his bulk had moved away from her again, headed back to the chair that sat before the hearth. He stretched an arm upwards and lifted down the harp that she knew hung there before finding his seat. His fingers touched the strings very softly, and suddenly the tiny cabin was filled with harmony and melodies that soothed in ways that nothing else could have.
Almost giddy with relief and the sudden release of her terrors, Marisol relaxed back into her pillow as Mac began to hum with his playing, a gentle and sad melody she had never heard before. She didn't even notice when her eyes slipped closed and she surrendered to the peace of the music.
The moment he knew from the depth and regularity of her breathing that she had returned to her slumber, his fingers stilled on the strings of his harp and his humming fell away.
She had been afraid of him, afraid that he was preparing to do to her as that lunatic – that 'Crazy Larry' – had intended. The terror that had been in her eyes when he had come close after hearing what she had been expecting and dreading had been like a kick in the stomach. Then again, considering the little pieces of her story that he'd managed to glean to this point – not to mention the circumstances under which she had come into his care to begin with – he supposed he shouldn't be surprised. He'd heard enough of the dangers of being a runaway or homeless from the discarded newspapers or the occasional radio news broadcast to know some of what she'd faced. And when she had awakened for the first time, she had been naked beneath the covers; no matter the reason, it was no wonder she hadn't trusted him at first, or wondered about his intentions.
What was worse now, however, what made him shudder to himself in both disgust and horror, was that the idea that slipping into the bed with her was still so very tempting. It had been so long since he'd even wanted to be close to another person in that way, and she looked so much like Eirien without the family ties that stood in the way! The chance to hold even a diminished surrogate to his heart, to try to soothe her fears, had been almost more than he could resist.
But she wasn't Eirien, he reminded himself sternly. Her name was Marisol – a pretty name in its own right, as he had told her – and she was Mortal. Her life would be like a bright moment in a very long day to him, and too soon she would begin to age, to sag, to tire, to wither. And, Mortal or not, she deserved better than him; and he didn't deserve her at all.
He sighed and rose to put the harp back into its place. It was late, and just having to be sociable was tiring. He needed his sleep; hopefully the storm would die down enough not to keep dropping branches on the cabin and waking him up and frightening Eir… Marisol.
The child's name was Marisol.
Marisol slowly awoke to the sounds of stirring, and then watched with wide eyes as Mac – Macalaurë, she reminded herself – pawed through her clothing on the rack, his face in the dim light showing little of his mood. Whatever else, he must have found them dry, for he gathered them over an arm and brought them to the foot of the bed. When he saw her awake, however, his face split into a wide grin. "Good morning, Miss Big Eyes. I thought you would appreciate having your own clothing to wear again when you awoke."
Marisol pushed herself up onto an elbow. "Is it still raining?"
"Not as hard as it did in the night, but it is still very wet out." He turned away. "I believe you will be warmer in your own clothing as well, so you will not have to continue to huddle beneath blankets."
Her nose wrinkled slightly at the stiffness of the fire-dried fabric. Still, she couldn't complain much, because they were probably cleaner now than before she had fallen into the stream. She checked the back of the trousers and was surprised to see no dirt or grass stains. "I thought these would be filthy," she said softly, running a thoughtful hand across the fabric.
"They were, and your jacket too," Mac said with a shrug. "I rinsed the worst of it away from both before I hung them up to dry."
He said it so very nonchalantly, but Marisol had to swallow back a huge lump in her throat. "You didn't have to," she whispered. Not even Trevor had cared for her enough to actually do anything for her that hadn't ultimately been to his own benefit.
"It was no problem," he answered, parking himself in the chair before the fire after making certain he was turned away from the bed. "I was certain, however, that you would prefer not to have to put on dirty clothes."
"Thank you!" Marisol had drawn her clothes beneath her blankets and thrown the covers over her head so that she could dress in private. Suddenly, stiffer fabric was not an issue. The panties and bra still felt as if they had just come from in front of the fire, and she ran her fingers over the soft leather of the shirt after she'd pulled it off. "And thank you for loaning me your shirt."
"It was the least I could do." She heard more stirring from beyond her tented blanket. "I am going out to survey the damage to the roof from the storm. I have left tea and some bread on the table for you when you are ready to face the world. I shall return shortly."
She had barely opened her mouth to reply when she heard the door open to admit sounds of dripping rain and then close again. She drew back the top of the blanket to see that she had indeed been left alone in the cabin. She finished pulling her tank top over her bra, and then the turtleneck sweater over that before twisting her legs off the bed to put on the heavy denim. The packed dirt floor of the cabin was cold, and she pulled on her stockings and wriggled her toes in glee at the return of warmth to her feet.
Finally feeling ready to face the morning, she rose and tried hard to pull the covers of the bed back together properly. The leather shirt she folded carefully and put at the foot of the bed, just where Macalaurë had left her clothing, and moved to the table to investigate the fare that had been provided for her. She sank down onto one of the stools as she sipped at her tea and closed her eyes in rapture. She had never once thought that having something hot and bracing to drink first thing in the morning was a luxury, but after months of waking up and staying hungry, the tea and bread – along with a tiny helping of honey from a small, squat pot in the middle of the table – felt like a feast. And best of all, it didn't have that leftover garbage taste to it.
The door burst open, and a cloaked and hooded and dripping Macalaurë pushed in with his arms full. "Can you close the door for me, little one?" Marisol hurried over to shut out the chilled wind that had whistled in behind him, noting that the drizzle might be light, but it was also steady. She turned just in time to watch him unburden himself of an armful of wood, all cut to a length that would fit in the hearth, into the wooden box.
"Our roof took a direct hit, and I may have to replace some of the tar paper during the next dry period," he said, untying the straps at his throat that held the long garment and then moving to hang it on the back of the door. "But I believe we were lucky, and shouldn't have too many leaks in the meanwhile." He eyed her, the few crumbs on the wooden plate where the bread had been, and nodded. "Feel better with something in your stomach?"
"Thank you for breakfast." Marisol returned to her stool and the half-finished mug of tea. "I don't know how I'm ever going to thank you for…"
"Yes, well, that is a discussion that needs to happen, now, does it not?" Macalaurë retrieved a mug from where it had been hidden near one leg of the cushioned chair that had been his bed the night before, and moved to pull another squat piece of pottery from the very top of the shelf on the wall. "All that we settled between us last night was that you are welcome to stay here for as long as you have need. However, as you can see, I was not prepared for a guest." He put a pinch of dry leaf in the bottom of his mug and used a length of blackened cloth to shield his hand while pouring steaming water from the kettle that had been hanging over the fire.
"I don't mind sleeping on the floor in front of the fi…"
"No. That will not do." Macalaurë's head shook firmly. "Depending on how long it takes to earn you the coin to take you back to your people, either I shall continue to rest in that…" He gestured at the chair. "…or I shall build another bed. Both are simple enough solutions." He walked back to the table and dropped with easy grace onto the other stool. "So the question that needs an answer is how much coin will be needed."
Marisol busied herself with studying the mug in front of her. "I don't know," she admitted at last. "Trevor bought the tickets…"
"This Trevor, he is a relative?"
She shook her head.
Macalaurë sighed. "You were to wed him?"
"No. He was a guy that I met back home and thought I'd fallen in love with." Her fingers toyed with the rim of her mug. "He told me that with a voice like mine, it would be easy to get a record contract, and talked me into coming with him to California. But once we got here…" She fell silent.
He was a patient listener, she could tell, and she had his interest. "Once you got here…" he prompted when the silence grew.
"Things didn't work out the way he'd planned," she finished lamely. She had no intention of telling him how Trevor had even promised her that if she slept with first this one and then that, they would let her use the recording studio for that all-important demo – only for this reason or that, the recording dates never happened, but Trevor had money again for a while. Or that she'd tried to follow him when he up and left her in a shabby hotel room in San Francisco, only to run out of money when she hit this place. "By then, I was here, and he was gone, and so was the money. No singing contract, no anything. I was stuck."
She glanced up and saw that his grey eyes were watching her intently. "I know I was stupid. I should never have listened to him – don't you think I haven't wished a million times that I'd just been content…"
"I have heard similar tales," he said, finally releasing her from his gaze and taking a long sip of his tea. "Not all of them have happy endings. I believe, before I found you in the stream last night, you were well on your way to one of those unhappy endings yourself."
She remembered running from Crazy Larry, nodded and shuddered, swiping at her face to knock away the tears that threatened. "I've tried to get work, I really have…"
"It is difficult to get work if you have no permanent place of residence." He nodded at her. "I know, or rather, I have heard such was the case." He leaned on the table with both elbows, cradling his mug in his large hands, and thought for a moment. "I know a few of the business owners in the area. How willing are you to work?"
Marisol's head came up immediately. "I would do anything…"
"No matter what?" Macalaurë interrupted sharply.
She met his gaze. "I don't want to be homeless forever. I have to start somewhere."
"I will ask you again what I asked you last night: if you had the coin, would you want to go back to your people?"
"Want to go home? Yes," she answered without hesitation. "But as I told you last night, I don't know how welcome I would be. And right now, it is snowing very hard back there, Macalaurë. If I'm not welcome, I'll freeze."
"That reminds me that I must teach you how to say my name properly today sometime," he said with a grimace. "As for the other, perhaps it would be a good idea for you to make an effort to contact your people and see if a welcome would be forthcoming before you travel. I can certainly provide the loan of ample coin for a postage stamp, and any answer can be delivered to you in care of General Delivery. But while you await that answer, if you are sincere in wishing a job, you will come with me into town once it stops raining. I have done favors for several there which might provide openings for one willing to do anything, as you said."
"I don't want to end up out there again." Marisol's hand gestured toward the door. "And I don't like having to beg for money or dig through garbage for food anymore."
His face creased in an expression of disgust. "I do not blame you. Then we will head to town when the rain stops, and see what we can find."
"I still don't know how I'm ever going to thank you," she said, stubbornly returning to an earlier thought. "You're the first person in a long time to just give me a decent break."
Mac put out a hand as if to touch her, then withdrew it and rose quickly, taking her mug with him. "Everyone should get at least one chance to go home, to make amends," he muttered softly and then raised his voice. "More tea?"
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.