Title: An Unexpected Destiny

Author: Fianna (with lots of help by Julie)

Rating: R for violence and mild sexual situations.

Disclaimer: Tolkien (his estate rather) owns the characters of LOTR, I borrow them only for pleasure.

UNEXPECTED DESTINY

CHAPTER THREE: Lorién

She slept fitfully, tossing on the hard ground, aware of the elf only footsteps away. Her mother slept deeply, one of exhaustion, of illness as yet, and Ciren was jealous, wishing only to fall into such oblivion instead of the chaotic dreams she had instead.

Dreams where the elf was prominent, her heart racing as he drew closer, both from fear and desire. Dreams of being rejected, lashed at for being tainted, seeing the elves laughing at her, turning their backs. She woke weeping silently.

He was standing at the edge of the river, the sunlight behind them just over the horizon, the rays turning the long mane of his hair to a golden sheen. He was fully dressed, his cloak replaced around his shoulders, hers folded neatly over his arm.

"Why do you weep?" he said quietly when she sat up.

"It's nothing," Ciren muttered, shivering in the cool air. He held out her cloak, challenging her with his eyes to refuse. She rose to her feet and reached for it, slipping it from his fingers jerkily to toss it around her shoulders.

"I apologize for last night. My mind is as yet unsettled."

She wanted to know why, but did not ask, lowering her lashes to watch him turn back to the river.

"Must I fear you?"

"Nay, I will not touch you again."

She felt deflated somewhat, her blood was already rushing through her veins at being so close to him, remembering the feel of his body against her, and now his lips. She shivered, earning a concerned glance from him.

"Have you taken a chill?"

She shook her head, backing up a bit, wary of the hand that had reached out. "No, I'm fine. Just cool, thank you."

He nodded faintly. "We must leave soon. The way is yet far, another three days and then one along the base of the mountains."

She wanted to weep; her feet ached already.

"I can relieve your ills, if you but accept it."

"If I need you, I will ask," Ciren responded dryly.

He nodded faintly again and touched his brow. "Do not be stubborn." He withdrew, moving to his mare to gather their things. Ciren shivered again, pulling her gaze from the elf with a sigh.

He had kept as far from her as he could. The days had passed infinitely slowly, his awareness of her like a flame in his mind, refusing to be tendered, flaring to life whenever she drew closer. He could smell her scent, a clean crisp smell of the sun, the wind off the sea. Her eyes changed from blue to grey without reason, it seemed, wide when they fell on him, narrowed against the wind that pushed them back as they crossed the deep chasm through the mountains.

Mirium was weakening, the toll of the journey heavy on her heart. He worried he would not get her to Elterion before her weakness grew so great they could not save her.

Ciren had grown silent, no longer complaining, no longer sullen as she had been. He did not know why, but thanked the Valar for one less worry.

She watched him, intently at times, from beneath her dark lashes, unaware what the look did to him. He withdrew then, putting as much space between them as he could, unable to be sure his control would not fail him yet again.

When they reached the hills above Lorién, he was overjoyed, his heart full, the love for the golden boughs below him so strong he felt like weeping. It was the same each time he left, the same each time he returned. He would never leave her until he was called to the West.

He could only hope that would be long in the future.

Ciren appeared beside him, wrapped in her cloak and his, for he had seen her shivering. "Is that it?"

He glanced at her, lifting a brow at her question. "Aye."

She let out a deep breath. "It's beautiful, Haldir."

He nodded, drawing back a step. "Indeed. We will be within her borders by nightfall."

She watched him return to Mirium without expression, her lips pursed in thought.

The wood did not seem terribly imposing from outside. Ciren studied the great boughs over her head as they walked, noting the trees were those with which she was familiar: Oak, Ash, some Cherry. Trees she knew, plants that every forest had. Why then, did everyone seem so fearful of the elven realm? All the stories told of the Lady of Light, of fearful elves that never let anyone go once they crossed the borders, how evil the wood itself was, swallowing up the unwary soul who stumbled inside.

She scoffed at the stories, finding the forest nothing like the nightmares she had been told, unmoved by the shadows of the forest floor, hardly nervous of the elf leading them at all.

Until he looked back, ducking beneath the reins of his mare, his eyes bright with mischief.

She frowned, about to remark on his amusement, but then realized she was surrounded by elves.

She froze, clutching the edges of her cloak tightly around her, facing not one but four tall blond haired creatures dressed so closely in the tones of the forest she had not seen them at all.

They stared at her, at Mirium, curiously, moving closer, hardly a step from her, all fair haired and handsome, while Haldir moved back to speak to one alone.

"She is fair enough," one of the elves said with a grin.

"Silver hair, might be Elterion's," another mused in amusement.

"Her mother is as fair as a rose in Galadriel's garden," a third commented, but his eyes held Ciren's intently, filled with something she was afraid to name.

Mirium watched them all calmly, her face wreathed in smiles, eyes overly bright.

Ciren drew her cloak tighter, suddenly extremely uncomfortable beneath all the scrutiny. Haldir suddenly appeared beside her astride another white mare, and leaned down to offer his hand.

"We shall move faster by horse, your mother tires even now."

The elves stepped back, saluting Haldir with a touch to their brows, if with no restraint on the looks they continued to give Ciren. She looked up at Haldir, noting his impatience, aware the elves noted it as well and were amused.

He lifted her up behind him with a faint grunt of annoyance, and kicked the mare gently forward, drawing Mirium behind them. In moments, they were once again alone in the forest, hidden beneath the trees overhead that no longer looked familiar.

It took most of the day to enter deep into the wood, finally crossing a swift and icy stream to enter an area that was more like the tales she had heard. It was thick with trees that stood far over her head, filtered here and there with the more familiar oaks and maple, dwarfed though by the taller ones, with boughs heavy with golden leaves. The lower floor of the wood was littered with smaller versions of the strange trees, giving her a chance to see their unique shape. Mellyrn, trees grown only here, and a treasured part of the forest it was said. She could imagine why, they were spectacular.

The shadows were deep, her nerves growing tauter with each step, even as she clung unconsciously to the elf in front of her.

Mirium seemed oblivious to it all, her eyes growing glassy, her seat on the horse beginning to waver. Haldir seemed to look back as much as forward until finally he dismounted so swiftly she was startled, able to reach Mirium just as she fainted, sliding off the horse into his arms.

Ciren would have climbed off the mare, but Haldir commanded her to stay, placing Mirium back on her horse and leaping up behind her.

"We must hurry," he said with a growl to the horse beneath him. He let go of her mare's reins and urged his animal forward. It leaped through the trees, and it was all Ciren could do to keep up with the elf, hanging on for dear life as her own horse followed as well as she could.

The walls of the elven city appeared suddenly, one moment part of the forest and then suddenly there. Haldir rode through the gates without hardly slowing, calling to one of the elves, and then dismounted gracefully before the horse had completely stopped. He pulled Mirium off to bundle her into his arms, his face grim. Mirium only moaned, a rag doll in the elf's arms.

Ciren slid off the mare, stumbled in her haste, and found a hand on her elbow, holding her back from following Haldir.

"You must wait here," the elf at her side said quietly, his voice heavily accented, melodic, a drawl that sounded faintly like Haldir's.

"That's my mother," Ciren declared, jerking her elbow free. "I will go where she is!"

The elf sighed, his lips curved faintly. His eyes twinkled at her, deep blue, almond shaped in high cheekbones. "I feared you would insist. Haldir will not be pleased."

Ciren scowled at him. He was not as tall as Haldir, slimmer, with darker blond hair. "How do you know he won't be pleased? We just arrived." She glanced at the path Haldir had taken impatiently.

"Trust me, I know when Haldir is displeased," the elf remarked dryly. "Would you not prefer to change, perhaps to bathe, eat?"

She looked at the elf, the mention of bathing bringing a flush to her cheeks that lifted the elf's brow curiously. "I want to see my mother."

He bowed deeply, his hair slipping down over his shoulder. "As you wish."

It took them a few moments, climbing a number of stairs, crossing walkways filled with curious eyes. The elves bowed graciously when they passed, she was sure for the elf at her side, for he seemed to hold some rank.

They arrived at an area marked with flowing silver flags of white, with a few low silk tents. The elf led to one of the tents that had the door tied open, and then gestured for her to go in.

The light was quite bright inside, lit by several covered candles, plus the light that filtered in through the tent itself. Haldir stood in the corner, his arms folded while Mirium lay on a low cot, her hand grasped tightly in the hands of another elf, while yet another stood over her, watching them closely.

Haldir looked up when she entered with a frown and moved quickly to her side, catching her arm to hold her against him when she would have rushed forward.

"Give her a moment."

Mirium lay quietly, her breathing shallow and labored, but she smiled at the elf at her side.

"It's been a long time, Elterion," she whispered, her eyes moving over the elf's face as if memorizing his features.

Elterion smiled, lifting her hand to his lips. "I have waited as I said I would, Mirium."

She closed her eyes, a sob escaping her lips, only to be gathered into his arms, weeping. "I did not ever think I would see you again. My father would not allow me to see you, and then the lies that he told. . . I am so sorry."

He held her close until her weeping stopped and she fell into a restless sleep, brought on Ciren was sure, by the elf standing over her. The healer pressed her back into the pillows, brushing her forehead much like Haldir had done, and then spoke quietly to Elterion. He rose with a nod and then turned toward Haldir and Ciren, his face grave, his eyes settling on her intently.

Her father. Ciren could not imagine it, nor hardly believe the tall creature staring at her could be the father she'd always wanted, hated, and missed since she was old enough to remember such things.

"I had hoped to meet you where the sun is bright, not in a gloomy tent of a healer," he said quietly, ignoring the annoyed snort of the elf behind him. He smiled faintly and waved a hand toward the door. "Haldir, if you would be so kind?"

Ciren found herself led outside. Elterion followed a moment later, releasing the ties that held the door open to the tent so that the panels fell closed. He stood for a moment, his long hair tied back behind his head, dressed in a long robe of mossy green, and then finally turned to face Ciren.

"What did you do to my mother?" Ciren demanded.

Elterion lifted a brow, silver nearly, with a glance at Haldir. "I have done nothing but greet her as I would, for one who was taken from me long ago. She is merely sleeping. The healers will do as they can tomorrow, but for now she simply needs to rest."

Ciren sniffed. "There is little you can do. She has been ill for some time." She didn't want to say Mirium had nearly given up, and pushed the horrible thought away.

"Oh the contrary, I think we can do much to improve her health. But there is more that we, you and I, need to speak of," the elf declared softly.

Ciren felt Haldir release her elbow and a flush of panic engulf her. She was alone, she didn't want to talk to this elf, she wasn't ready to acknowledge the ties that bound them, for even now she could hardly accept it, did not want to accept it, fearing only this was only a dream, that she'd wake to find them once again cold and hungry, her mother near death.

She whirled around to look up at Haldir, the only anchor she had at the moment, unwilling as she was to use him, she threw her arms around his waist and burrowed deep into his chest, pressing her face against the warm texture of his tunic, aware instantly of his stiffness, the muscles rigid beneath her cheek.

His arms, however, did encircle her, if briefly, an acknowledgement of her need. "Perhaps after she has rested as well, Elterion, the journey has been difficult."

She heard the other elf grunt faintly, the rustle of his robes as he moved away. Haldir pushed her back from his chest gently, his lips curved into a frown, his brows creased beneath the silver hair.

"He will not harm you."

Ciren gathered herself, moving further back from the tantalizing warmth of the elf, aware suddenly that Elterion had not argued at all, but had accepted Haldir's command instantly. The elf that had brought her to the tent stood patiently beside the walkway, arms folded over his 

chest, dressed much as Haldir was in a tunic and leggings, grey and brown, and a long cloak of that indeterminate color like the one she had worn of Haldir's.

She realized suddenly it was a uniform of sorts, not identical, but similar, something that would blend into the wood, the forest. Many of the other elves she had passed had worn nothing like it at all, but rather the long robes as Elterion had done, heavy or light, embroidered richly or simply, but far different from the more rugged and earthy clothing the two elves beside her wore.

She stared at Haldir and then at the other curiously. "I gather he is one of your … elves," she said a bit lamely, unable to conjure the word to describe them. What had her mother called Haldir, March Warden?

Haldir smiled fondly at the elf. "My brother Rumil," he said with a wave. "He is one of my wardens. Should you need anything, you have only to ask, but I will also place a warden at your disposal. Rumil will take you to your talan, where you can rest as well."

She nodded, pulling her cloak tight as Rumil bowed before her. Brother? She glanced between them quickly as he drew her down the walkway. Brother? She had a difficult time seeing Haldir as a young person, with brothers.

"He is not so bad," Rumil was saying at her elbow, guiding her effortlessly through the maze she would come to know as Caras Galadhon.

"Who?" Ciren asked, her thoughts on Haldir.

"Elterion," Rumil replied, his lips twitching faintly when she looked up at him.

"Oh," Ciren said with an effort to push Haldir from her mind. "I suppose. I have no wish to know him."

The elf clicked his tongue in exasperation, his fingers tight on her elbow. "You are stubborn, indeed. But given time, perhaps you will change your mind."

How much time did they expect her to take? Her future was so muddled she refused to dwell on it, fearing the worst. She would take it a moment at a time. Right now, her mother was sleeping fairly restfully. That was a good thing.

The elf led her up a long series of stairs that wound around one of the largest trees she had ever seen, grey barked and smooth, one of the mighty Mellyrn she had seen earlier. They cradled the city high in their canopy, the lights of the buildings twinkling in the shadowy green depths, rays of light spilling through the gaps in an ethereal dance of dust motes and floating bits of cotton, leaves and things she could not name.

Mystical, mysterious, even the elves as they passed them seemed distant, untouchable. Ciren continued up the stairs, noting that many of the elves bowed to Rumil as he passed.

"You must be highly ranked," she said, after one particular elf bowed low, his robes sweeping behind him as he turned out of their way.

"I am a warden," Rumil replied, his voice melodic, yet it held an undercurrent of steel she found somewhat unsettling. "We are the guardians of the wood, and of the Galadhrim. We have earned the respect of those who do not fight."

Ciren nodded. "I see."

Rumil chuckled softly. "Do you? Haldir is the March Warden, our leader. He stands only below Celeborn and the Lady herself."

Ciren blinked, startled. "Why would they endanger someone so important by sending him out into Arda then?"

Rumil laughed, his fingers drawing her back along his side when she stopped to stare at him. "Haldir can well take care of himself. Besides, there are few of our realm so willing to travel and learn the ways of the outsiders. It is only by his prodding that I can speak to you so well."

She had to admit Rumil's grasp of her tongue was not as keen as Haldir's, who spoke with hardly any accent at all.

"So do you have any other family? Sisters, your mother and father, do they live here as well?"

Rumil shook his head, stopping beside a small building nearly wrapped with branches, tucked deep into their embrace. He pulled open the door and then ushered her inside.

"Our parents left for the West long ago, when Orophin and I were very young. Haldir has raised us since we were elflings. There are no more."

She didn't comment, turning instead to look at the small room he had brought her to. It was not large, but open; the surrounding branches seemed to shield her from the outside forest, their leaves whispering in the soft breeze. Airy, sheer curtains hung along most of the walls, shivering in the wind, some of them lifting up to flap quietly and then settled back to lie against the wall. A low bed curved along the wall full of pillows and cozy linens. Several small tables littered the area, and a chair sat beside one window invitingly, with a lamp and tray of food beside it.

Rumil let her go, and went to the tray, picking up a grape to pop it into his mouth. "Eat, drink, take a nap. You may do as you like." He smiled, placing a hand over his heart. "I will be outside should you need me, until later this evening."

He strode to the door, pausing at her wide eyes.

"So I am a prisoner to be watched?"

He frowned, turning from the door. "Nay, hardly that. Only new to Caras Galadhon, and unaware of where things may be. You do Haldir a disservice if you think he meant to harm you in any way."

She blushed, turning away, sure the elf could not know of the tension between Haldir and her.

When she looked back over her shoulder, Rumil was watching her intently, an odd smile on his face. "I will be just outside should you need me," he reminded her, pulling the door open. "For anything," he added with a wink, and then shut the door.

What had he meant by that, she wondered a bit uneasily, sitting down in the chair. She poured a small glass of water and then stared out the window. Haldir had brothers, had lost his parents at an early age, and was an elf of extremely high rank.

She shivered.

Haldir paced the floor of his talan, hands clasped behind his back, a frown creasing his brows.

"Was that wise putting Rumil as her first guard?" Orophin asked quietly, his nose behind one of the books of poetry Haldir owned, his fine brows lifted in amusement.

"He is not a guard," Haldir responded dryly. "Merely …"

"What?" Orophin continued lazily, turning a page in the book. "She is not one of us, so she merits a guard, no matter that Elterion sits with her mother constantly with such a fierce expression even the healers fear to go near." The warden watched Haldir pace, his gaze measured, calculating.

"She is here on Galadriel's behalf," Haldir countered coolly. "I posted Rumil there only in case she should need something."

"One of the elven servers would have sufficed for that," Orophin suggested mildly.

Haldir stopped pacing to laugh briefly. "Orophin, brother, that would be the worst thing I could do. I have no doubt what must run through her mind even now."

"A challenge then," the warden smirked. "I see."

Haldir turned toward Orophin, his brows lifted in annoyance. "You see what?"

The elf rose to his feet, placing Haldir's book back in its place. "Why nothing at all, Haldir. I think I shall retire for the evening, perhaps garner a lady to converse with quietly." Orophin reached for the door, but Haldir caught his wrist, turning him to face him.

"You will leave her be."

Orophin lifted a brow innocently. "Who, brother?"

"You know who. Leave her alone, she does not trust the elves as it is."

Orophin snorted softly in amusement. "You have not been able to convince her that our intentions are good? What have you been doing on this journey, March Warden?"

"I have done what I could," Haldir ground out between clenched teeth. "You will not undo what I have done so far."

Orophin grinned, jerking free of Haldir's grip. "I will be interested to see what you have done," he said, and touching his forehead, Orophin slipped out of the door.

Haldir glared at the empty room and then folded himself into a chair with a groan.

He lay awake, unable to fall into reverie, his mind swirling with thoughts he should not have been thinking.

The moon was full, the light glancing off the edges of the window beside his bed, sending shadows deep across his room even as it lit the talan brightly.

Had she settled, he wondered. He had not spoken to Rumil. Nor had he checked to make sure Orophin had done as he asked and left the woman be.

Finding her had been his only mission, bringing her back had been Galadriel's wish yet she would have accepted his decision if he had not, trusting him completely.

He had not expected his emotions to become tangled into his duty at all.

Haldir sat up with a growl, tossing his pillow onto the floor. It would do no good to go to the girl, she was not for him to take, nor dally with.

He did not care that her blood was not fully elven, nor that she was young, but he could not add to the confusion Ciren was already facing, her fear of what might yet come.

His body did not seem to agree, rising at the thought of her, his blood flowing hot.

He would swim, he decided, to cool his thoughts and blood.

An hour later, he stood shaking off the drops of water clinging to his hair, shoving the sodden mass behind his shoulder. Dressed only in his leggings, he strode back along the narrow paths of the undergrowth, lit dimly with a few lanterns along the way, more for decoration than light.

He had passed beneath several of the main walkways, past the healing areas, and nearer to the guest quarters when he realized where his feet had taken him.

With a curse, he turned around, but froze, cocking his head carefully. Someone was weeping, softly, as if not to be heard.

He ran up the stairs, leaping them two at a time, silently. The first landing lay in shadow, the arched braces flaring high overhead, with a small area set aside for seating, covered in vines.

A private place among the well traveled paths.

Haldir pushed aside a low hanging vine. "What do you do here?"

Ciren sat up, wiping her hand across her cheek rapidly and then stood trembling, blinking in the dim light.

Haldir reached out, grasping her wrist to pull her closer, aware of the fear that made her body stiff, struggling in his grasp. "Be still, it is I, Haldir."

She quieted instantly, but did not relax. "Let me go."

"Nay, I would ask how you evaded my warden?"

"So I am a prisoner," Ciren whispered. Her breathing was heavy, her body trembling under his hands.

"Nay you are not," he declared coolly. "But you should not be wandering the paths at night."

"I was trying to find my mother," she said.

"At this time of night?" Haldir replied irritably. "She is doing well, have they not told you?"

Ciren shivered violently, drawing her cloak closer around her body. "They did, your brother did, but I had a dream she was calling to me, weeping. I could not find her, Haldir. She needs me and I can't find her." She began to weep again, racking sobs that she struggled to control.

Haldir pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her tightly, expressly aware of her touch against his bare skin, her breath that tickled his chest. "She is well, sleeping deeply, Ciren. Trust me."

"Have I little choice?" she demanded in a tear-filled voice. "You control our future. Once your Lady understands how I am tainted, she will cast me out, just like my grandfather."

Haldir wanted to shake her, but gripped her arms firmly instead, forcing her to look at him. "We will not cast you out; your blood is not tainted."

"Would you accept a half blood," she declared her eyes wide, rose petal lips parted, waiting.

Haldir stared at the moist lips, his body reacting instantly, his breath shallow suddenly. With effort, he pulled his gaze from her mouth to her eyes, his grip on her arms tight. "Would you wish it?" he whispered harshly, struggling to control his own desire. "I think not."

He let her go, putting some space between them.

She stared at him, trembling visibly, fingers tangled in the cloak she'd worn, gripping it tight to her chest. "Not true," she replied in a low voice. "You touch me in ways I have not experienced. I do not know if what I feel is my own or something you have spelled over me."

He studied her intently. "I have no need to use magic," he declared, measuring her, anticipating her reaction to his words.

He was not disappointed, for her eyes widened further, her fingers nearly white on the cloak. He drew a step closer, aware of her deep intake of breath. "You are but an innocent," he whispered, turning to lean closer, his lips nearly brushing her ear. "You have no idea what it is you want."

She stood stiffly, her chin high as she watched him. "No? I don't suppose I do, but I am not a fool. Whatever it is, you feel much the same."

He nearly laughed, for it was true. "Indeed, you think so?"

Her lips grew flat, her eyes accusing. "If not, then why did you kiss me?"

Because he had wanted to, then and now, and had lost his control. It would not happen again. He only smiled wolfishly. "Perhaps to test the waters to see if, indeed, my first thoughts of you were true or not."

Her eyes opened wide, her lips parted indignantly, and then her hand flew out, her palm cracking hard against his cheek, a blow he could have caught but did not.

He deserved the slap, but still gritted his teeth, slowly turning his head back to face her. "Deserved," he stated coldly. "Forgive me."

"I have no idea your motives, March Warden. On one hand you have rescued my mother and I from hell, yet you fling me into a world just as terrible. I do not thank you for what you have done, and can only hope my mother will find some happiness for the short time that she has left. Good night." Ciren shoved past him, hurrying up the stairs without looking back.

Haldir could only watch her flight, knowing their lives had become tangled far worse than he could have imagined.

Ciren moved as slowly as she could, fighting the fierce urge to flee, to run pell mell from the elf, trying hard to block out the images that coursed through her mind. She swept up the steps, unwilling to look back to see if he watched, unwilling to admit the elf frightened her and tantalized her more every time she saw him.

Here in his element he seemed even more intimidating, surrounded by the things he knew well, whereas she was floundering in a sea of uncertainty and fear.

She was drowning, unable to grasp hold of anything, swept into a churning violent torrent from which she could not break free.

She reached the top of the stair, her vision blurred, her hand still tingling from the force of her blow against Haldir's cheek, unable to get the image of him from her mind, the expression of surprise and anger, the smoldering grey of his eyes filled with both fury and something more.

She refused to name the emotion, refused to acknowledge what he might be feeling. It was too painful, too debased for her to think about. It was obvious he had not believed her, thought she was the lowest kind of woman, to sell herself to men like those in her village. The idea horrified her, for as poor as they had been, she had always held herself better than that, willing to do the most degrading of work, but never that. Never!

So to know Haldir thought such things of her hurt, almost more than the derision flung on her from her grandfather, his accusations of her inferiority, her taint. None would want her, he had told her often enough, as a child and later, unknown to her mother, as a young woman.

Perhaps he had been right, perhaps not.

Haldir wanted her, he could lie and say not; she knew passion when she saw it, felt it on her lips when he'd kissed her, knew it instinctively through the very touch of his fingers.

Yet he was fighting it, horrified by his attraction?

She had to assume it was so.

She didn't hear the footsteps rushing toward her from behind, her mind so fraught with her despair. Didn't sense the elf at all, nor his determination, unaware of the strength of will guiding his steps.

Only when he was right behind her, her hand reaching the handle of her door did she sense him. And only because he reached out his arm in front of her, blocking her way inside.

She froze, heart pounding at his nearness, cursing the rush of warmth that he incited, even in her anger with him.

He breathed heavily, as if he'd run a long distance, fingers curved against the wooden door.

"My words were meant to hurt, but were untrue."

She knew it was an apology, or the beginnings of one. Would she accept it?

"Why?" she whispered, biting her lip to keep it from trembling.

He exhaled noisily, and then grasped the handle to the door, flinging it open to push her inside, following closely. The door shut with a resounding click, locking her inside with Haldir.

"Because you rise to the bait so well, it proves to me you are not, more than anything else."

"I don't understand," Ciren complained, watching the elf move around the small room like a caged cat. She swallowed, aware of the sense of power he held checked, the frustration exposed only briefly in the grey eyes, hidden by the long lashes when he turned away to stare out the window.

"You are too young to understand, to know the power of desire, what it can and cannot do."

"Do you fear it?" she asked bravely.

He sent her a feral smile over his shoulder. "Always."

"Why did you come? Why take us into your lands when it will only cause more heartache?"

"It was not meant to," he said, leaning against the frame of the window, his fingers white against the wood.

"No? You did not mean any harm, did not mean to uproot what stability we had, for what?"

He turned around, his face suddenly expressionless, controlled. "For what? Have you forgotten your mother?"

Ciren snorted. "Of course not, but she lived for thirty years with the pain, a few more would have had little more effect."

"So you would not give her a chance at some happiness?"

Ciren felt the blood drain from her face. "Of course I want that, but will she have it?"

Haldir met her gaze unblinkingly. "Yes. Elterion hovers about her even now, unwilling to move from her side. He loves her truly, Ciren."

It was a blow perhaps, that her mother would find her happiness so late. Ciren sank down on the bed, unaware of the heated glance from the elf. "I cannot give her less."

"You do not believe we can heal her."

Ciren looked up, her eyes blurred. "Can you?"

"Aye. She will not die tomorrow, Ciren, but live many more years."

The tension between them was still there, a wire of energy connecting her to the elf. "And what of me?"

Haldir gave another of his wolfish smiles, if a bit less potent this time. "You are the reason I came for you." His eyes were dark, shadowed by the window behind him, his lips curved mockingly.

"Me?"

"It is because Galadriel saw you that we knew Mirium was still alive, much to Elterion's shock. He'd been told she died long ago."

Ciren didn't doubt it. "Why would she see me? I am unimportant."

Haldir snorted softly. "On the contrary, you have elven blood. All children of the firstborn are important as there are so few."

She blinked, and found Haldir closer. "Your words contradict much of your actions."

He smiled ferociously, a wolf in sheep's clothing. "Aye, my heart wars with my duty."

"You were leaving; you never meant to take me with you."

"A mistake had I done so."

She wanted to flee again, his proximity to her, on the bed, was too much. She rose to her feet, moved a step and found him there, blocking her way.

"What do you want from me," Ciren hissed, trembling as his hands dropped to her arms. He leaned toward her, his intention clear. Like a rabbit caught in the gaze of the wolf, she froze, unable to bolt, unable to move muscles stiff with fear, but beneath that was the desire he'd spoken of. That rush of heat that went right to her hips, the very center of her being.

She fought the fear, fought the involuntary reaction to his nearness. She was angry that he exuded such a powerful need she was nearly swallowed by it, by her own that rose to meet his.

He was going to kiss her again, his lips hovered just inches from hers, his eyes closed, the lashes dark against his cheeks, his mouth curved just enough to hint at a smile.

"Say no and I will leave," he whispered.

She trembled in his grasp, closed her eyes as his mouth pressed against her neck, slid up to her jaw and then breathed against her ear. "I can teach you many things, Ciren. Desire, pleasure you cannot imagine, but offer you little more."

She struggled to open her eyes, her heart pounding, her throat tight against the assault of his lips once again. "Why would I expect you to give me more than that? You don't even know me."

He gave a throaty laugh, but then the sound faded away as he slid an arm behind her back, catching her chin in one hand. "You are not as innocent as you seem."

"But I am not what you thought either," she declared in a thick voice. It had been a long time ago, a fumbling encounter that left her rather disgusted. Few wanted to bother her, not with the taint hanging over her, her grandfather's hatred. Few were interested, most only wanted to see what she was.

Haldir released her, stepping back but not far, keeping her within his reach. "My words were more a result of my attraction, which I have tried to suppress."

She blinked, and would have turned away but for his grip on her arm. He stood there, his eyes darkly grey, heated, his expression unreadable other than the desire in his eyes. "Don't bother," she hissed. "I need not your pity."

A slim brow lifted, and she saw a trace of irritation crease his brow. "Stop it. If I pitied you it would be only because you have been kept from your elven blood."

His fingers were like iron. How many times had he touched her like this, controlling, angry, fierce. She couldn't deny that he excited her, even in his anger.

He studied her, hand gripping her wrist, wreathed in a ray of moonlight that turned his hair nearly blue, naked to the waist, dressed only in his leggings. A fact she had tried to ignore since she had first encountered him this evening. His chest heaved faintly, his free hand was curled over his thigh, close yet distant. What would it take to break his reserve, to snap his control?

Did she want to break it, or did she want him to leave her, alone and rejected once again.

She pulled her wrist tentatively, testing his will, fingers clenched tight. Would he release her, step back?

He did not. He resisted her retreat with a dangerous smile. "You really do not want that."

She blinked slowly, holding her breath as he lifted her wrist, stepping closer at the same time as his lips pressed on the inside of her arm, tickling the sensitive skin, electrifying the nerves in her whole body.

"What is your answer, Ciren?"

She struggled to breathe, the room hot suddenly, closed in. Haldir's eyes were hooded, waiting for her answer. She'd been attracted to him since the first time he'd touched her, in the inn. His protectiveness had surprised her, much as the awareness she had of him at that instant, of the power he had had, the challenge he'd presented not only to Fen, but to all the men in the pub.

No one had been willing to cross the elf.

Would Fen have broken off his advances had she pressed him further? She honestly had to wonder. She'd pushed him, goaded him into his display, finally tired of the insults, the men's looks that said she was lower than low.

But Haldir was not looking at her with derision, or repugnance. He was staring at her with eyes on fire. She lifted her chin, terrified suddenly that he might yet retreat, tiring of her reluctance. She inhaled a wobbly breath and reached out to brush the tips of her fingers against the smooth skin of his chest. She kept her eyes on her fingers, knowing they trembled as she touched him, felt his muscles contract at the contact.

"Do you really want to do this?" she whispered, swallowing the nerves that made her lightheaded and her knees weak. Or was it simply his touch, the look he gave her as he smiled, pulling her closer until she was against his chest, her hand splayed against his fair skin, his arm braced behind her back, holding her tightly against his body.

"I have wanted to do this since I first saw you," he admitted, his voice a whisper against her ear, his lips warm, hungry.

"Ye t you meant to walk away," she reminded him, gasping as his fingers began to trace a wayward path up her ribs in a languorous movement that made her want to sit down, no lie down with him… She shuddered at the thought, hardly able to believe he was here.

"I was a fool, unpredictably jealous that you might be willing to offer yourself to others." He kissed her forehead, his hand tangling into her hair, loosening the tie that had held it back.

"But…" his hand covered her mouth, palm against her lips, his face inches from hers.

"No buts, I was wrong. I intend to make amends." His smile was wicked. "However I can."

He seemed very familiar with her dress, unlacing the elven over-gown easily, his fingers deft and quick. She could get no more than a few steps from him before he caught her, either by the wrist or the arm, once by the waist to drag her near, his lips claiming hers until she was breathless, wilting, struggling to keep her feet.

Her gown had fluttered to the floor ages ago, the cloak long forgotten, what was left did little to shield any modesty she might have had left.

She didn't think the bed was meant for two, but found it didn't matter. Pillows littered the floor in a hasty impatience that flung a couple nearly out the window. She nearly laughed at her own eagerness, tugging the laces of his leggings, aware of what was hidden beneath, curious and quite intent on finding out what was there.

She was not disappointed.

It was there, his weapon… she nearly giggled, aware his brow lifted in question, but decided it would do.

He allowed her little time to stare, for within an instant she was on her back, his mouth crushing hers in a kiss that seemed to go on forever, while his fingers roamed areas she didn't know had feelings, igniting and enflaming her body until she was quivering jumble of nerves and wants, her body fully engulfed by her desire.

He'd wanted her…

From the moment he'd seen her. The thought lay forcefully in her mind, even as he sent her into gasping, arching waves of pleasure.

He'd taunted her, laughed at her, yet she would take him again, would show him she could match his arrogance.

The future that had seemed so dim suddenly was brighter. He would not find it so easy to dismiss her, she thought distantly. Tangling her fingers into his hair, she brought his mouth to hers, pressed her body tightly against his. He felt heavy, yet she knew he was not putting his full weight upon her. The air seemed to shimmer with tension, her heart fluttering madly, his breathing ragged to the point she was sure he was nearing the end of his control, probing, teasing, ready to finish what they had begun.

She twisted her fingers further into the long silver locks of his hair, answering the tease with pain, impatience, to which he laughed, prying her fingers free of the strands.

"Patience," he whispered, kissing her throat. He smiled wickedly, and then shifted, pulling her over him as he lay back, his hair splayed out onto the pillow as she sat up.

"I have more than you think," Ciren murmured. "However, I don't feel like waiting much longer." She shook out her hair, covering her nearly to the hips, and then leaned forward to brush his chest with her lips.

His fingers slid into her hair, rigid as she pressed kisses over his skin, but not for long. For all his mocking laughter, he was as impatient as she, growling softly when she slid against his hips. Her body felt flushed, his fingers nearly burning her skin. One movement would complete their union.

She hesitated, trembling with the want, on fire, yet cold, chilled as she squeezed her eyes shut.

Perhaps this was wrong, she thought suddenly. Perhaps…

He must have read her mind, felt her pull back both mentally and physically. With a hiss he twisted, shoving her hard onto her back, his mouth crushing hers in a bruising kiss she knew would leave her lips swollen if not bruised, and then he was there, thrusting so deeply she felt it against her spine. Her body contracted, her legs hugged his hips, she arched against him in a shuddering wave of pleasure.

She was not sure how long they loved, but knew it was late, near morning when they were through, the moonlight still bright, but diminishing. She watched the wind ruffle the curtains, wide-awake, heart still beating madly, while he lay behind her, his arm thrown carelessly around her waist, the other tucked beneath his head.

She hoped he slept, only to remember the elves did not necessarily sleep. Was he awake then? He seemed relaxed, so she assumed he was not quite aware, which gave her time to think.

Their attraction had been volatile; she had to admit with a faint smile. He both annoyed and intrigued her; his lovemaking had been exquisite, assured, and confident. She could not complain compared to her brief encounters.

It still surprised her that he had truly wanted her. She shivered at the thought and he murmured something indistinct against her hair, his arm tightening around her waist.

She still didn't know what the future held for her. She had to trust Haldir that they would help her mother. A tear slid down her cheek, melting into her hair as she considered what her mother now had to look forward to, what she had wanted so deeply, for so long.

Elterion. The handsome elf who did not seem to harbor any resentment for Mirium's departure, for not telling him of Ciren. She struggled to think of him as her father, but could not. The image of such a person was too dim, too distant to capture. She had no idea what the term truly meant.

And just why had Galadriel, Haldir's liege, looked for her in the first place?

Questions that would be answered at some point.

A moth hovered near the window, wings fluttering, catching the light, white velvet against the blue of the early morning sky.

"A good omen to start the day," Haldir murmured against her hair. His hand pressed her stomach and then slid along her hip to her ribs in a slow caress. "You have been thinking far too deeply."

Her breath caught at his touch, her eyes closed to savor the feel of his fingers as they grazed her skin. "Why is the moth a good omen?"

"Mmm, they represent good cheer, a light in the darkness, much like a firefly at the day's waning."

The words were melodic, his voice husky with sleep, content.

Perhaps, she thought hazily, her future was not so dim.

The end.