Summary: A modern day woman lands a job that is too good to be true at a mysterious toy company, where things are not as they seem. Has she strayed into a dream? Drama; humor. Characters: All the usual Mirkwood suspects and an OFC. Rated PG-13 for innuendo and naughty language. AU. In this chapter, our heroine comes full circle and an announcement is made.
Disclaimer: The characters and the world of Middle-earth belong to JRR Tolkien. I merely borrow them for a time. Lyrics to the Song 'Not Fade Away' belong to Norman Petty and Charles Hardin. I am making no money from this. Beta-reader for this story is IgnobleBard. Le hannon, Bard!
Not Fade Away
Part Ten: A New Leaf
Whoever was it who said that April is the cruelest month? That person was wrong, Mariposa thought, as she stood in the back bedroom office of her third floor apartment. It was as neat as a pin now, unlike the homey clutter of the days she had lived there. This was her last time in the little room, for she had sublet the place furnished to a young divorced mother with two children, whom she had met through one of Aaron's charities, a shelter for battered women.
Her worn furniture and even her computer, old and slow as it was, would be a godsend to the woman starting to rebuild her life. Posey no longer needed any of that. Since their return from the east in late January, she and Glenn had lived in a comfortable suite of rooms in Aaron's huge house in Lake Forest, right next to Hal's quarters. And out above the old stables, with a huge window to let in the north light, was her very own studio, remodeled for her by Aaron as a wedding present. When Posey had thanked him profusely, Aaron had shrugged, his manner almost gruff. "I'm not being generous. I expect a return on my investment. When you're ready, I have the names of several gallery owners who'll be eager to sell your paintings. Don't look at me like that. You've made my old friend very happy, and that's worth more to me than emeralds."
Over the past months she had divided her leisure time between painting and this apartment, transferring out her old life, deciding which of it to leave and which to take with her. In the end, she had taken little, just the photographs of her parents and her books. Cleaning out her hard drive before f-disking it for her new tenant, she had come across the old saved email advertising the Jackrabbit and smiled at the irony as she deleted it. Of all things, that would be the last thing she'd need now, for her new husband was nothing but energetic. Mariposa had learned over the past three months that when an Elf came the earth moved, and the only thing a Mortal could do was hang on and enjoy the ride.
As she turned to survey the room one last time, her gaze strayed to the backyard outside. On the topmost branch of the tree, stood a single newly unfurled leaf. A different leaf. It had been one year to the day, she realized, since she had sat in that room and all had seemed lost. Now, her life had been renewed.
She laid her key on the desk for the new tenant and shut the door behind her.
The Harp was still empty when she arrived. As he had done every time since she had returned from the east, O'Dell nodded to her with a grave courtesy. "Big doings tonight, Mrs. Butler!"
"Yes, big doings indeed." Leaf's game, Quest For The Lonely Mountain, had at long last been completed and put on the market that day. Mariposa had taken the afternoon off to close up her apartment, leaving the rest of the art department behind to sweat out the suspense of the first day's sales figures, but there would be a party that night to celebrate the game's completion and release.
"Sean," Posey asked, "what's up with all the formality since I've gotten back to Chicago? It's just me."
"Ah, but Ms. Mariposa, you're one of them now. I saw it the minute you walked in the door last January."
He winked at her. "I may be a twenty-first century American man, born and raised here. But there's still enough of my fey Gaelic forefathers left in me to recognize when I've been graced with the presence of The Fair Folk." She caught his eye, and there was a twinkle in it. "So what will it be, tonight? Your usual Spritzer?"
She laughed. "Nope, tonight I'm throwing caution to the winds. Make it a Cabernet Sauvignon!"
"You've been hanging around that Randy fellow, haven't you! He has some expensive tastes for a janitor."
"You have no idea," she laughed, taking a sip of her wine. She swiveled her barstool around and leaned back against the bar, shutting her eyes and letting the wine work her mind. She was feeling rather mellow.
Until she heard the door open, and the barstool next to her sighed as someone sat on it. She smelled the odor of stale tobacco right away. Her mellow mood fled, but she kept her eyes shut.
"Hello, Michael. It's Mariposa now, just in case that had slipped your mind." 'It always was,' she wanted to say, but she held her tongue, not wanting to spoil her mood any more than it already was. "So, what brings you here?"
"I saw some of your pictures in a gallery on Francisco Street. Nice. Was that brush painting supposed to be Mount Fuji?" She heard him take out his cigarettes and start to light up; then she heard Sean's pointed approach, and there was the rustle of the package and matches returning to a pocket.
"No. It was a different mountain. You wouldn't be familiar with it."
"I liked the oil painting of those beech trees in the snow next to the river. You have quite an imagination . . . Mariposa."
"That I do. I'm glad to see you've developed an appreciation for art."
He grunted noncommittally. "I met some old friends of yours outside my apartment last week. The tall one, Fitzhugh, I think his name was, asked me to give you his regards. He said he was looking forward to seeing more of you in the future."
Posey could not help an upward twitch of her lips. 'I'll just bet he would!' she thought. She was not surprised that Duncan and his partner had not given up, even though a painstaking examination of the financial records or Rivers Enterprises by both the IRS and the FBI had turned up absolutely nothing and the case against Aaron had been dropped. Those two would be after her boss until the end of their days, and she was not at all shocked to find they had recruited a new spy on their behalf. "You can tell Agent Fitzhugh that the pleasure will be all mine. So how has life been treating you, Michael?"
She heard him sigh. "Not as well as I'd like. Thanks to your boss's lawyers playing hardball, my firm found out about that stock deal I tried to slip past you. I'm not going to be disbarred or anything, but I'm never going to be on the partnership track. What's worse, when Ashleigh realized I wasn't going to make partner, she dumped me like a ton of dirt fill."
Posey stayed silent and sipped her wine. So her name had been Ashleigh, had it? That figured.
"I don't know what I ever saw in her, Hon. I see now that I was an idiot, and I was wondering if you and I could get together, go out to dinner to talk over old times, maybe even give it a try again?"
In the first few months after he left, Posey had often lain awake, telling herself that Michael would come to his senses eventually and come crawling back asking for her forgiveness. Well here it was. He wasn't crawling, exactly, just doing his usual clueless strut, but it was a concession nonetheless. She had him right where she wanted him. The words of an old song ran through Posey's head: "If my love were an earthly knight as he is an Elven-grey, I'd not change my own true love for any knight you have."
True love. She had thought that was Michael, once. The temptation, after all that had happened was to hate him, yet she couldn't. All of his failings had brought her to the place in her life where she met Glenn. She opened her eyes and looked at him dispassionately. She noticed that his expensive suit had begun to hang just the slightest bit on his shoulders, and one of his front teeth was going bad. He was aging, diminishing, and the outside was beginning to match the inside of him. And to think that she would have loved these little imperfections, if only things had been different. If she had not been forced to learn.
She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Michael, but that ship has sailed."
"Sue, we were good together once. We could be again."
He looked so hopeful that she was moved to let him down easily. "Even if that were true, it's impossible. I'm re-married."
"You met him here last fall."
"You have got to be kidding!" he said. "He's . . ."
"Gay," said Glenn who had slipped in quietly and sat down beside them. "I've always been gay, but I'm even gayer now that Mariposa has given me something to be happy about." He put a proprietary arm around his wife and kissed the top of her head.
Posey resisted the urge to give him a surreptitious dig in the ribs. Glenn was enjoying himself far too much. "I can handle this, darling," she said with an edge in her voice.
"All right then. I'll just toddle off and see if I can find some good show tunes on the jukebox. Good to see you again . . . Marshall, was it?"
Michael was glaring as Glenn walked away. "You'd ditch me for that?"
"Unless you've forgotten, you were the one who ditched me, Michael." 'And he's twice the man you ever were or ever will be,' she barely kept herself from adding.
"Well, if you ever come to your senses, you know where to find me," he said, trying to sound angry, but all he could manage was pitiful.
'Right,' Posey thought, as he left the bar. 'I'll file that idea right next to Agent Duncan's business card.'
Michael crossed paths with Linda as he went past the green neon shamrock. She came in and sat down on the seat he had just vacated. "That does not look like a happy man," she observed.
"Maybe if I hung a string of garlic cloves it would keep him away, O'Dell said with a straight face. "What will it be, ladies?"
"Another Cab for me," said Posey.
"Mineral water," Linda said.
"So where's Leif?" Posey said conversationally. The door was opening and shutting frequently now and the bar was filling.
"He and Gary will be along. They had a few last minute sales reports to wait for. I wanted to join the fun right away."
"Couldn't wait to start drinking, eh?" Hey, wait a minute, Posey thought. This was the first time she had ever seen Linda without her traditional boilermaker. What was up with the mineral water? She shot her friend a questioning look. "Linda . . .? Linda!" she almost squealed in delight.
Linda nodded and smiled softly. "Yes. I am."
As if on cue, Leif and Gary came in the door. Gary was grinning from ear to ear and slapping Leif on the back. "This is wonderful news! When?"
Leif shook his head. "There's an excellent chance that the baby and I will share a birthday." He flashed Linda a secret, loving smile before heading on back to the dartboard. He opened it, took out his darts, and, whirling gracefully, he sank a bull's-eye. "An ex-archer never misses his shot," he said with a smirk.
A deep voice came from a corner booth. "Will someone please get Secretariat here a drink to shut him up? All this bragging is . . . unseemly."
"Not to mention making the rest of us envious," said Glenn. He handed Leif a mug of dark ale. "Your horse piss, my lord." Mariposa could see that her husband was already three quarters of the way through his first glass of red.
"I see Aaron has been given the good news," Posey whispered. Randy sat at his usual booth, wearing his custodian's uniform, wine in hand. With him this time was Felice, cuddled tightly under his arm. She had hidden her dark hair under a newsboy's cap and she was wearing a red tee shirt and jeans. Posey stifled a giggle at the tee shirt. On the front, in cirth that would have looked like an abstract design to an outsider, was written the phrase: 'Morben and Proud of It!'
"Aaron and Felice were the first ones we told," Linda whispered back. "He's beside himself with joy, of course. Aaron waited a long time to become a father and an even longer time to become a grandsire."
"And you, Linda?" Posey asked.
Linda merely smiled. "I waited even longer. My life began beside the waters. I lost my first love to the Dark Hunter, and I thought I would never love again. I was among the eldest of a dying People, but for us, Leaf was a renaissance. Now our child will be born beside new waters. I think it all happened for a purpose. And I . . ." she paused and laughed. "I feel young once more."
The bar had filled by now, but the crowd fell silent as Leif held up his hands for attention. "Simmer down, everyone. I have an announcement to make."
Immediately there was a smattering of applause, a few whistles, and a muffled, "Go, Daddy!"
"No, not that!" Leif continued, grinning. "I see most of you already know that piece of news. It's impossible to keep a secret around you lot. No, I am proud to announce that the figures are in for Quest For The Lonely Mountain, and our game has beaten the previous records for first day's sales. The game is a success, folks! That means that we are definitely on to the next project. We'll begin the planning phase next week. Meanwhile, you all have my thanks."
As the applause died away, Leif joined Posey and Linda at the bar. He brushed a gentle hand across Linda's cheek, and she laid her head against his chest.
"I don't suppose you're willing to give me a little preview of the new game," Posey said, emboldened by the Cabernet.
"I don't see why not," he replied. "I am in an unusually mellow mood this evening. Imagine this, Mariposa -- grasslands, mountains, a volcano, and horses this time. Lots and lots of horses. Cities with white towers gleaming in the sun, and a creature of smoke and flame!"
"Will it have wings?" Posey asked. Although she excelled at background art, she had been told she would be doing some character illustration on the next game.
"Wings?" he said with an enigmatic smile. "You don't know how long I've waited to be able to explain this! A Balrog has -- "
He was interrupted by Glenn clearing his throat from his station beside the jukebox. "This next song goes out to an old friend of mine. A fellow who always seemed to take forever to move on to the next stages of his life. This one's for you . . . Gramps!" He hit the play button.
"I wanna tell you how it's gonna be . . .You're gonna give your love to me."
As the music of the Rolling Stones boomed out, Posey could see Randy shaking his head and smiling. Beside him in the booth, Felice was giggling and slapping him on the shoulder.
"I'm gonna love you night and day . . . Love is love and not fade away."
"Told you Randy was a Stones man," Leif laughed. "Excuse me, Posey. We'll finish this conversation next week. Right now, I want to dance with my beautiful wife." He pulled Linda to her feet and out onto the floor.
"Your love for me has got to be real . . . Before you'd have noticed how I feel."
Glenn was beside her now. "Dance with me, gorgeous?"
She nodded, and suddenly she found herself tight in his arms.
"Glenn," she laughed. "If we try to close-dance to one this fast we'll look like we're having sex standing up."
"And the problem with that is . . . what, exactly?" he whispered in her ear. "Look at Leif and Linda. They're not having any trouble."
Posey looked over at the happy couple, who seemed to be off in a world of their own. As usual, they were the epitome of grace. "They still look like they're having sex on their feet," she whispered back. "It's just very aesthetic sex."
"See?" Glenn replied, as if that settled the question.
Posey merely laughed and gave in to it. Glenn just felt and smelled so damned good!
"Love that lasts more than one day . . . Well love is love and not fade away . . ."
She looked past her husband's shoulder to the booth where 'Randy' sat with his wife close beside him. Man, elf -- whatever you called him, here was a being who grabbed life by the balls and would not let go. As if reading her mind, he winked at her, raised his glass of wine in a salute and silently mouthed the words, "Le chaim!"
"Well love is love and not fade away . . . Not fade away . . .
Not fade away . . ."
Author's Notes: And here we leave them. After all I've put them through, this AU was my love letter to the Elvenking and his son, not to mention their faithful butler. Merry be the Greenwood while the world is yet young!
The line, 'If my love were an earthly knight . . .' comes from the Childe Ballad, Tam Lin.
Translation from the Hebrew: Le chaim! : To life!
Translation from Sindarin: Morben: Dark-elf, the equivalent of the Quenya, Moriquendu
Ironically, as I write these words, a very dear friend is seriously ill and most likely passing. So, this story is dedicated to you, Heathen John! Le chaim!