CHOICES, Haldir/Elladan, (1/4)
Disclaimer: Tolkein's. Not mine.
Beta: Jayed & Agie
Author's Notes: Written for Ardour in August fanfic exchange. Request was for: "If it comes to that..." Angst, death, happy ending in Valinor, self sacrifice.
Warnings: Character death, angst
Summary: On the journey to Valinor, Haldir recalls life on Arda.
Oaths. His entire existence had been ruled by them, and ruined by them. His oath to his Lady. Elladan's oath to his brother. His oath to Elladan. He would not be forsworn. He still had his honour; for all that it was worth.
Honour was the only thing that had kept him on these shores. His pride was gone, along with his joy and passion. He was still as competent and formidable as he had always been but it no longer held any meaning for him. He was a warden without a wood to protect, a Galadhel without a lady to serve, an elf without a mate to love. By all these he had defined his purpose. What was he without them? He was nothing.
Haldir watched the dark-haired peredhel run his hand along the smooth grain of the taffrail, looking back out over the ocean. This was the last they would ever see of Arda. He was not sad to see it vanishing into the distance. The land that had once been his home had brought him nothing but pain in the end. Valinor would not ease his torment, though at long last he would be free of the oath that had bound him to the peredhel line. As soon as they reached their destination he planned to leave. He would put as much distance between the two of them as possible, for he could no longer stand to be near him.
Just looking at him brought a sharp, constricting spasm to the dull, lingering ache that had resided in his chest these long, lonely years. His breath caught painfully as those cool, grey eyes turned upon him, regarding him with a detached aloofness that was so unlike the warm, mischievous glint he longed to see.
Once it was he who turned from them. He remembered all too clearly the day that had changed…
The first time Haldir ever laid eyes on the twin sons of Elrond he hadn't been terribly impressed. They were coltish, ungainly, gangly youths, brimming with an enthusiasm that far exceeded their experience. Time had done little to alter this viewpoint. With each subsequent visit, their presence sent ever more ripples of chaos careening through the tranquillity of the Golden Wood. They were, in Haldir's not-so-humble opinion, disruption personified.
In the mornings they invaded the training grounds, challenging any and all to match them with bow or blade. Either would do. In the afternoons he would invariably find himself clearing up after the havoc they had caused with their own particular brand of mischief: path markers that had been swapped about, leading visitors in circles; or strategically placed furs that caused hunters to waste their arrows. On one particular occasion all the Galadhrim's grey cloaks that had been sent to be laundered were found with large targets painted on their backs. Haldir had been less than impressed.
As for the evenings – they were the worst! The pair cut a swathe through the unmarried population of Lothlorien, seducing elleth and ellon alike with their potent good looks, winning personalities and significant status. It was the latter that prevented Haldir from retaliating. He was only a warden, after all, and it was not his place to chastise the Lady Galadriel's grandsons. He contented himself with steering clear of the pair, lest he do something he might later regret.
His indignation was perhaps understandable when, upon their return to the Golden Wood after an interval of several decades, the Lady had assigned him to personally escort them through the borders and settle them into their rarely used yet excessively luxurious guest talan.
The pair strode ahead of him, far too engrossed with their conversation to pay him the slightest heed. They had no need for an escort; they had been here enough times to know their way around as well as any native. It galled him to be relegated to such a ceremonial duty when he would be of much greater use out on the borders. He ground his teeth in frustration, rankled by their flippant disregard of his presence. He may not be able to boast any noble blood, but what status he did have he had earned with sweat and blood and tears. What had these two whippersnappers ever done?
"Something on your mind, Haldir?" One of the twins had turned to regard him, quicksilver eyes weighing him up as if he were horseflesh at market.
Haldir met his gaze boldly. "Nothing I'd care to share."
Rather than being offended at his surly tone, the peredhel merely smiled, and Haldir found his attention snared by the sensuous, pink lips quirking at the corner. He tore his eyes away from the sight, glaring at the pair.
The brothers shared an amused look. "Elrohir is going to visit some old friends. I'm afraid it's just you and me from this point on, Warden."
That must be Elladan, then. "The Lady wishes to greet you this evening." Haldir narrowed his eyes accusingly at the one he now knew to be Elrohir.
"I will be there! There is plenty of time to… ah… catch up before then." Elrohir grinned cheekily and turned to his brother. "Have fun, tôr! I know I will!"
Haldir could only watch as the younger twin disappeared into the trees, eager to renew past acquaintances.
"You have younger brothers as well, so I'm told?"
"I do," came Haldir's clipped reply. If Elladan was put off by Hadir's reticence, however, he did not show it.
The dark-haired peredhel only smirked, a very mischievous and very wicked smirk at that. "Twas Elrohir that told me."
Haldir grunted noncommittally in reply. What was that supposed to mean?
Elladan moved off, still smiling, and he fell into step beside him. The peredhel had grown into adulthood gracefully, he grudgingly admitted. Where he was once lanky, he was now tall and powerfully built. Where there was once awkwardness, there was now confidence and poise. A warrior's form, like his own… and yet, not. Elladan was broader in the chest and the line of his jaw more sharply cut – testaments to his half-elven heritage. Haldir should have found these features strange, unnatural even, but in Elladan the two worlds merged flawlessly, strikingly. He was both elf and man. He was well named indeed.
"We have never talked, Warden. Why is that?"
Elladan's question interrupted Haldir's musings. "I am often away on duty. Our paths rarely cross."
"They have crossed now. We should avail ourselves of this opportunity."
"Opportunity?" Haldir raised a scornful brow.
"Your skills are highly esteemed. I have long desired to test them for myself."
"Regretfully, I must decline. I have duties to attend to this afternoon."
"No you don't." Elladan replied lightly. "Elrohir and I decided to give you the afternoon off."
"We decided not to create any work for you on this visit, as amusing as it is to watch you fume."
"You… decided not to…" Haldir halted abruptly, staring at Elladan with furious disbelief. "You watch me?"
"Of course. You are most entertaining… in many ways. I must admit it has been difficult devising new methods of keeping you within the borders."
"Are you trying to tell me that all those ridiculous stunts you pull are for my benefit?" Haldir's voice was deceptively calm, in stark contrast to the bright anger in his eyes and the reflexive tightening of his fists.
"That's about the long and short of it. Though I'd say they're more for my benefit than yours," Elladan replied with a chuckle.
Haldir could not honestly say what came over him next. An ugly rage uncoiled swiftly in his gut, swelled up to his chest, and out to his limbs with all the destructive force of a forest fire. In that moment, Haldir forgot all about station and rank and propriety. All he saw was a cheeky little upstart with the gall, the sheer audacity, to confess such disrespect to his face with nary a hint of apology!
Teeth bared in a feral snarl he lashed out, a satisfying pain flaring up his fist and into his arm. Elladan's head snapped back with an audible crack. Haldir caught the surprise in his grey eyes as the peredhel was spun, stumbling, to his knees.
Elladan raised a shaky hand to his mouth, coughed, and spat. The small spot of blood seemed out of place against the cool green grass.
For a heartbeat the scene froze into utter stillness. The warden was tense, horrified. He had struck his Lady's grandson! What punishment would be sufficient for his offence?
"Well…" Elladan began after a moment's awkward silence, working his jaw as he stood, "I suppose I deserved that."
Haldir did not reply; his pride would not allow him to make the apologies decorum demanded. He met Elladan's eyes with a defiant thrust of his chin.
Haldir's actions only seemed to amuse Elladan for, despite the savage split in his lip, the peredhel grinned easily. "Ah, Haldir. You did not let me finish and I am growing tired of pussyfooting around. Do you not want to know why I visit the training grounds every morning? Do you not want to know why Elrohir and I plan our mischief in such a way that it is always you who has to stay behind and fix it?"
"Yes, pray tell, exactly how have I offended you to such an extent that you make my life unbearable each time you visit?"
"You have not offended me, irksome though you may be. In fact, it's safe to say the opposite is true. You…" Here Elladan paused and, though he could not be certain, Haldir fancied he saw that smile falter. "You please me, Haldir. You please me greatly and I would like to get to know you."
Haldir blinked. "What?"
"I would like to get to know you." Elladan repeated seriously. "Come, spend this afternoon with me."
"I will not! I am not the least bit interested in getting to know you!"
"Would you prefer the alternative? I'm not entirely out of ideas to keep you occupied yet."
"Wouldn't I?" Elladan chuckled. "It's your choice Haldir. Either you spend the afternoon with me or I find some other way to keep you entertained. What say you?"
Haldir scowled. So Elladan wanted his company, did he? He could oblige the impertinent whelp just this once, he supposed. After all, it should only take one afternoon to convince the young peredhel of the grave mistake he was making. All he had to do was be his usual charming self. Elladan would have his tail tucked between his legs by nightfall.