Equinoxium II: The Fading: Chapter 1
Legalese: The television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and all related characters and material, as well as all things Lord of the Rings belong to a lot of important people. I am not one of these people. I claim ownership solely of the story idea - no profit will be made by this.
Author's Note: This is the sequel to Equinoxium, and I'm afraid that none of it will make sense unless you've read the previous story. As always, it is a Buffy-character-centric story, and it picks up some time after the first installment. Just a reminder that when it comes to everything LoTR, this story takes place after the events of Return of the King, the third book in the Lord of the Ring series. As I've read all of the books, I'll be trying to stick as close to canon as I can. However Tolkien leaves many things very vague which allows me to 'stray' a bit to fit things into my own interpretation.
In addition, I want to give a huge thank you to my amazing new husband. I'm not sure if I would have made the switch back over from avid fanfiction reader to writer were it not for his enthusiastic support. He's a stalwart fan of all things Joss Whedon, and manages to share in all of my other fiction obsessions. He also makes me print out each and every chapter so that he can beta them with red pen in hand.
Lastly, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone who took the time to ford their way through Equinoxium sometime over the past five years - and in some cases, reading through it multiple times. It was thanks to your continued interest that this sequel has finally left the ground and has made it back into my life. A fair warning - this story is very much a Work In Progress. My husband encouraged me to post this long-finished first chapter as a teaser of sorts, but I won't start posting in earnest until more of the story is complete. I've learned my lesson with past projects and I'm going to try and avoid leaving you hanging for months at a time in between updates. But let me know what you think of this first chapter. Your interest is, as always, my main motivation. Thank you!
Brief Description: BtVS/LoTR/Angel – "Didn't you know? There's no such thing as happy endings for heroes. Hard choices will always have to be made, even after the fight is over. The best we can hope for is the ability to find peace with what we've done and what we have left when the dust finally settles."
Rating: M for Language, Violent Content, Nudity, and Sex. Yes, you heard right. Sex - but not of the graphic variety. Merely on the PG-13 scale for I just can't do smut. :)
Equinoxium II: The Fading
The grass was so thick that it felt like a mossy cushion beneath the pads of her bare feet. She was unable to resist the soft allure, and so she locked her knees and rocked from heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe. Her toes, long and nimble like small fingers, curled and dug and nosed their way amongst the long blades, seeking but never finding the cool dirt hidden beneath.
A small laugh escaped her - as sudden and gentle as the wind that brushed feather-light fingers against cheeks that were bronzed by the sun. But the sound of her laughter startled her, and she lifted her hazel eyes to find a world suffused with golden light. Large, majestic trees stood sentry over her small clearing, stretching as far as her eyes could see. Their softly swaying canopies filtered the sunlight so far above and serenaded her with nature's symphony. Before her stood her mother's house, uprooted from Revello Drive and seamlessly blended with the forest. Tree trunks surged up from the roof, branches slipped through windows and walls, and the glass glowed with amber light.
The light distracted her, mesmerized her, and when she finally pulled herself away it was to find that the clearing, once quiet and empty, was now alive with sound and movement.
Faramir and Xander stepped out the front door, arms laden with brightly wrapped toys and games, and were promptly met by a chattering, ragtag group of children: humans, elves, and those somewhere in-between.
Éowyn was sitting in a wicker rocking chair, young and beautiful and cradling Boromir to her chest, while Willow and Tara tried to tickle a smile from the infant.
Finduilas led her siblings in a game of tag, Eldarion joining the motley crew with Gimli roaring and chasing after the young prince, much to the screaming delight of all the children.
Aragorn, Arwen, Giles and Angel lounged on a blanket, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a plate of lembas between them.
The twin sons of Elrond were helping her mother set a picnic table for lunch, but Mirdan and Anya kept interrupting with questions.
Legolas and Dawn were perched on a branch that grew out of the second story of the house, smiling and laughing as Legolas tried to show her sister how to string his bow.
Faith, Thoron, Kendra, Merry, Andrew, Pippin, Spike, Riley - even her father.
Everyone was there. Everyone was together. Everyone was happy - and Buffy felt that happiness as it infused her with a comforting warmth that spread through her body like a heady rush. She had the ground beneath her, the sky above her, and her friends around her. In this moment, Buffy wanted for nothing, and would never want again as she went to take that first step forward towards bliss - towards happiness -
- and couldn't.
"Didn't you know? There's no such thing as happy endings for heroes."
Buffy turned from the sun-dappled clearing and looked towards herself with eyes that were suddenly shadowed. It was like looking in a mirror, for this Buffy, too, was dressed in summer pastels from the coral skirt to the white cotton top, her blonde hair pulled up in a pony tail and her skin freshly scrubbed. When Buffy lifted a hand to brush a strand of hair from her face, so did this double. When Buffy looked back towards her friends and family, from the corner of her eye she saw that so, too, did this double. "Why not?" she asked, hating the question and already knowing the answer. After all, this alter-Buffy was still Buffy. It was her own question that she asked, and her own question that she answered.
"Because unlike in stories, while the guy may get the girl and the villain may be defeated, in this life, in this world, there's still no happily ever after for people like us. For heroes. For champions. Hard choices will always have to be made, even after the fight is over, and the consequences will always be felt. The best that we can hope for is the ability to find peace and acceptance with what we've done and the choices we've made, and most importantly, with what we have left when the dust finally settles."
"And if we can't?" Buffy asked, but this time she didn't bother waiting for her alter-Buffy to answer a question to which she already knew the answer. Instead, she looked once more at the scene that was spread before her. She took one last moment to soak up the peace, the serenity, and the happiness. There was love here. Warmth. Contentment. She breathed it in - soaked it up.
And then she closed her eyes and turned away.
"We have no choice."
It was the wind that woke her from the dream that continually haunted her nights, the taste of tears heavy upon her lips. With a sigh and a cat-like stretch, she shifted upon the soft mattress, luxuriating in the feel of the cool sheets against her bare skin as the spring breeze caught her sleep-matted hair and tickled it against her nose. Instinctively she reached a hand to her side, searching for the elusive warmth that had been pressed against her nearly every night for the past ninety years, only to find the bed empty and cold beside her.
A frown flitting across features untouched by age, Buffy opened her heavy eyes and stared for a moment at the fine weaving of the canopy overhead before pushing herself forward, the bedclothes pooling around her naked form. Her sharp sight diligently searched the moonlit talan before finally alighting on the softly glowing outline that stood as still as a statue beyond the parted curtains of the open balcony, so many feet above the forest floor below.
Frown deepening, Buffy pushed away the tangled sheets and blankets and slid from the high bed, the cool night air caressing her naked flesh and causing her to shiver with cold before she slipped on an oversized shirt that lay strewn over a nearby chair. Small arms wrapping around herself for added warmth, she then moved silently towards the wood-elf, her bare feet padding over wood worn smooth with decades of use.
She knew that he was aware of her movements, and yet he didn't turn as she parted the gossamer-thin curtain and crossed the distance to him, her body molding against his back as she wrapped her arms around his slender waist, her face nuzzling the pale skin. He leaned into her touch, then, and she felt his arms encircle her own as the quiet night washed over her. Even now, so many years since she had first come to live in these woods, the sounds of the shifting trees and the movements of the night animals sounded so strange and foreign to her, even as she knew that these noises were what comforted the battered soul of the elf to which she was bound.
They were alone now in these woods, and had been for many decades. Ever since the War of the Ring, the elves had long been leaving these shores for the promise of the Undying Lands. The time of the Elves was over, and the time of Men had begun with the victory of that great battle. For numbered years the war with the Dark-Elves, the Mornedhel, had delayed the passing of many an elf, but once the last battle had been fought, and the final dark-elf destroyed, they found their reason for delay to be gone, and with nothing left to tie them to these shores the elves began to depart in greater waves. Soon, only she and her wood-elf were left in the vibrant woods of Ithilien - the beautifully-wrought talans long empty, the many walkways abandoned, and year by year the forest retook what was hers, forever encroaching with twisting vines and heavy boughs. Even Círdan the Shipwright was gone from these shores, having finally set sail to Valinor with the twin sons of Elrond nearly one year past.
It was amazing how one year used to seem as an eternity when she was young. How could it be that there was once a time when being dead for five months had seemed an entire lifetime? Now she knew the true meaning of time, for this winter had marked her one hundred and thirty-sixth birthday. One hundred and thirty-six years. Decades had come and gone, and despite the many battles and hardships, gray hairs had never crept into her long blonde tresses, lines had never come to her smooth features, and age had yet to bow her strong back. She was no elf, and yet she seemed to have been gifted with the life span of the eldar.
As if her longevity had been a gift from the Powers That Be for the many years of service that she had given them, or for the many sacrifices she had made during her tenure as Slayer. With a mental shake of her head, Buffy knew without doubt that they were not the reason for her long life. Instead, she continued to believe that it was the power that coursed through her veins that made her the way that she was. It was the power of the Slayer that gave her long life.
She was not invincible. No, never that. Yet if her blood gave her the power to heal the bodies of creatures long bent and twisted, then surely it gave her the power to heal herself - to even heal herself from the effects of age. She had never before heard of an old slayer - most, if not all, never made it beyond their first few years of being called. Perhaps if they hadn't been destroyed so young, perhaps if there was nothing left to fight... perhaps they would live for eternity.
It was a thought that she had long ago come to accept with no little trepidation. It had taken her first death at the hands of the Master for her to overcome youth's belief that death was a far-off villain, and yet it had still taken sending Angel to Hell for her to completely understand, and moreover, accept the fact that she would not live forever. More than likely, she wouldn't even live to see her high school graduation. But then graduation had come, and so she had been forced to revise her earlier estimations.
If she lived to see twenty, then she would be content. And yet her twentieth birthday had come and gone, but before she had a chance to congratulate herself too much on that small accomplishment, death had finally come to claim her as its own. Glory had failed to defeat her. Life had defeated her, and in doing so, she forfeited its cruel gift and gladly accepted her death.
But death was not to be hers.
Her friends tore her out of heaven. They pulled her back into the violent world she had denied, and yet after a year of mourning that which had been taken, Buffy had learned to embrace the second chance that she had been given. But from that point on she no longer lived with expectations. No longer did she pick an age and say, Here. If I reach this age then life is good and I can die in peace. Death had already taken her twice before, and while the first time she was the one to turn away, the second was meant to last. But death had reluctantly spit her back and Buffy then lived each day with the understanding that she was on borrowed time - and that someday she would have to repay that debt in full.
Then again, she had been wrong before.
One hundred and fourteen years later and Buffy couldn't help but think that maybe Death, bookie extraordinaire, had somehow allowed this one great debt to slip through his fingers. Maybe for good this time. Not that she had been that willing and eager to accept this seeming gift of longevity. She had been burned too many times before, and so she had been cautious - even when her heart had been hopelessly lost to the one person that had never left her side in this new world.
For twenty-four years Buffy ignored the way her body thrummed when he was beside her. For twenty-four years she pretended not to see the way his eyes would soften when their gazes met. For twenty-four years she resisted the desire to let her hand linger upon his own. If she faltered even once, she knew that she would be lost for eternity - and eternity was all that he had. For twenty-four years she told herself that she did this to protect herself, as well as him, for she knew well from her relationship with Angel that loving a mortal is much different than being in love with a mortal. She would find years of happiness with him before selfishly taking that happiness to her grave, while he in turn would be left to mourn her for the rest of eternity. And eternity, as she was coming to understand, was a very, very long time.
It took twenty-four years for her to understand that her reasons were nothing more than the actions of a woman who was desperately trying to shield her heart from a pain that may never come, but which was still well-remembered. She had been hurt too many times before, and so she had seized upon this brave and noble excuse to keep him at bay. But after twenty-four years her longevity was impossible to ignore, her cowardly excuses shown for what they were, and with his next friendly embrace, Buffy didn't break away in her usual manner. Instead she had stayed in those strong, familiar arms, and as her eyes met his she saw that he had known. He had long known of his love for her, and of her love for him, but in his love he had waited patiently for her to overcome her fears and finally accept the happiness that was theirs to take. He had time, after all. They both did.
It was only too bad that even the greatest of happiness could always be marred by the greatest of sadness.
"Legolas?" Buffy murmured as she finally broke the comfortable silence that had fallen between them. It was a silence that could stretch from morning to night, uninterrupted save by the sound of the wind through the great trees, and by the many small animals and wild beasts that populated the woods of their empty home.
With a sigh that spoke of the troubled thoughts that took him from their bed, the tall elf turned ever so slightly and pulled her around until she was pressed against his chest, her head finding the spot she knew so well as her body molded itself against his hard planes. Her arms snaked around his naked torso and she felt his warmth seep into her chilled body as he enveloped her against him. Yet while she felt his lips brush against the crown of her head, the kiss soft and tender and speaking of the great love he held for her, she felt her worry deepen.
"You are cold," he murmured, his musical voice a low murmur against the curve of her ear as his hot breath eased the chill away.
"Not any more," she argued as her heart fluttered uneasily in her chest. While his warmth comforted her, there was a heaviness in him that dragged him down from the heady heights in which he walked and talked and lived and loved, and into the somber world of mortals. Ninety years was a long time to spend with someone, and over the years she had learned to read him, not from the inscrutable mask that he and his kind so often wore, but from the way that he held her, the way he kissed her, or even the way he made love to her. "Legolas, what's wrong?" she asked, pulling away just enough to look up into his shadowed eyes - eyes that were somber and still, and filled with so much pain that her heart ached for whatever melancholy had stolen him from their bed.
For a moment he held her gaze before slowly turning away to stare into the quiet night. But his eyes didn't see the woods of their home, and instead he seemed to look beyond the trees that had thrived beneath the loving touch of the eldar that had lived under his guidance, past the surging river Anduin that divided the woods from the open plains of the Pelennor Fields, and to the very gates of Minas Tirith that would be gleaming white beneath the bright light of the many stars. It was then, and only then that Buffy noticed the dimness of the wood-elf's naturally luminescent skin - and without a word, she understood that which had roused the elf from his sleep.
"Aragorn?" she murmured, the name of the elf's closest mortal friend causing a shudder to wrack his thin frame and tears to spring to her eyes. She had been gifted one hundred and thirty-six years, and one hundred and fourteen of those years had been spent in Middle-earth. Sunnydale and all of the friends that she had been forced to leave behind were as much a part of her now as they had ever been. While she had trouble remembering every detail of life with them, she could still remember her mom's smile, Giles' touch, Xander's laugh and Willow's bubbling voice, and the feel of Dawn being held in her arms. She remembered well the love of Angel and Spike and Riley, Anya's cutting wit and Tara's uncompromising warmth. Faith, the Potentials, and even Andrew. She remembered them all, and each day she mourned their inevitable passing. But Middle-earth was her home now, and its inhabitants her people... her friends. Death had ignored her, but he had not been so forgiving to the ones she loved.
Thoron had died a brave death in the battle with the mornedhel many a decade past, and in doing so had saved her life and the lives of many other elven warriors. And yet his death was the last death to violence that she had mourned, for the others all went with the slow, inevitable march of time. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, valiant warrior and long-distant elven kin, died in his sleep only twenty-eight years after her arrival in Middle-earth, eighty-six years ago, when he was ninety-nine. Next was King Éomer of Rohan - handsome, jovial Éomer who was so close with Gimli. He died fifty-seven years ago, when he was ninety-three years old - wrinkled and gray and so very happy. His wife, the beautiful Queen Lothíriel, survived him by six years before succumbing to death's inevitable pull at the age of ninety-seven, Merry and Pippin following the year after. Even the son of Éomer and Lothíriel, little Elfwine, born three years after her arrival in Middle-earth, was dead. He died only fifteen years ago, aged ninety-six, and Rohan was now ruled by his son - a man she barely knew. Rohan was dead to her, and to Legolas as well.
Faramir, Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor, and one of Legolas' closest friends, also lived on for so many happy years. When Faramir died, nearly thirty-eight years ago, he had already lived longer than most men not gifted with the ancient ancestry of the elves. One hundred and twenty years old... and still she knew that Legolas was crushed by what to him was such a fleeting life. At the time of Faramir's death, Buffy had still been mourning the passing of his wife, Éowyn, who had died five years earlier, when she was one hundred and three - and together they had mourned their close friends. Even Finduilas and Boromir the Second, a daughter and son of the steward, the two that Buffy knew best, were both dead and gone. Both children had lived long and full lives, with children of their own to fill the halls of Emyn Arnen with laughter. Barahir, Boromir's son, and grandson to Faramir and Éowyn, still lived on, and now carried the title of Steward - but even the grandson of their close friends was eighty this year, and his son was preparing to take on his father's mantle.
Buffy was mortal, barely prepared to live past her teens, and yet she had already seen the lives and deaths of three generations of families that she had much loved. The grief and pain were crippling at times, but even she could see that it was that much worse for Legolas. To mortals, time dulled and eased the pain of memories both good and bad, but to elves each memory remained as sharp as the day they were crafted. Each day Legolas felt anew the grief of each lost friend, and each day she was forced to watch as his soul became more burdened. It was for this reason that Buffy knew most elven-kind never formed close, lasting friendships with mortals. Their lives were far too fleeting and the pain too gripping for those who would live to see eternity. And yet Legolas was different. During the six hundred and eighty-one years of his life he had profited from that difference, reveling in friendships that were so unique to his kind... and now he paid the price. And he paid dearly.
Legolas' soul was consumed by grief, and Buffy knew that it was only her love for him, and the continued presence of Gimli, Aragorn and Arwen, that prevented him from fading from this life and to the Halls of Mandos. It was only in death or in the Undying Lands that he would finally find his peace - and Buffy was desperate to hold him to this life as long as humanly possible. He was all that she had, and longevity or not, she couldn't imagine a place in this world for her if not by his side.
But now that time was coming.
She didn't realize that she was shaking until Legolas tightened his hold on her small frame, holding her to him and offering her what comfort he could even as he drew the same from her tight embrace, the tears trailing unabashedly down her cold cheeks. Aragorn had celebrated his two hundred and tenth birthday just a few months past, and for someone who was not blessed with immortality, the king of the Reunited Kingdom had weathered his long years very well. Buffy had thought that he looked his usual handsome, charming self, but Legolas had later confided that he had been troubled by the white that marked his friend's ebony locks, and by the deep lines that cut his weathered face. Only then had Buffy seen what Legolas could not admit: Aragorn looked tired. It took just one look to Arwen's pale, pensive features to see her fears confirmed.
Suddenly Elrohir and Elladan's departure the year before began to make sense. The twins had finally chosen the gift of immortality, as was their right, and had departed just the year before. At the time, Buffy hadn't been able to understand why they would leave then, when they could still have what time remained with their sister and brother-in-law. By choosing the path of immortality they had forever forsaken their time with Aragorn and Arwen. Never again would they see them, in this life or after, for their paths were now irrevocably severed. Only then, though, had she understood that the twins had already foreseen that the end was near, and so they chose to leave with their memories undiminished by sadness or loss. Buffy envied them that respite.
She didn't ask how Legolas knew, for the bond between elf and ranger was one that she had never questioned. It was deep and long, and it stretched the distance from the quiet woods of the now-deserted elvish colony to where Aragorn ruled as Elessar over a people that loved him. The two could go weeks, and sometimes even months without seeing one another, but each time they were reunited, it was as though no time had passed at all. It was the same with Gimli, who still resided in the caves of Aglarond. The bond between the three was unbreakable.... to everything but death.
"When do we leave?" she asked, breaking the stillness with a voice that sounded hollow to her ears.
"Not until dawn's first light," he returned, his eyes slowly, reluctantly turning from the forest and the vision of Minas Tirith that lay hidden so many miles to the west. "We will have time enough for goodbyes if we ride hard and fast through the morning. Gimli will already be there, waiting for us," he returned with a certainty she didn't understand but respected nonetheless.
Heart breaking anew, Buffy slipped her arms free and captured Legolas' face between her hands, hazel eyes meeting blue. "I love you," she whispered with a fervor that spoke of their shared anguish, and then pulled his head down until their lips met in a kiss that was at first comfort and love before turning into the hurried passion of two hearts in pain. Her tears mingled with his own as she pulled back long enough to lead him into the airy confines of their room, the tall, graceful elf so lost even amongst their things. Without thought she quickly shed the borrowed shirt that she had worn, and then with the greatest care she relieved him of his breeches before pressing him back onto their bed.
She knew his heart as though it was her own, and thus his pain was theirs to share. They made love with a tenderness that she had never before known with another, slowly at first, and then with building desperation as they sought to reassure themselves that Death, indomitable foe that he was, could not claim them. Not here, not now. Though he took the ones that they loved, their love remained strong and untouched by his darkness.
Many times that night and into the easing of the darkness into light, Buffy moved against the elf that had somehow become her world. And then later, when his breathing had finally eased and his eyes became lost to waking dreams, Buffy kissed his tears away and held his head against her breast, knowing that he found comfort in the steady beat of her heart. Gently she ran her fingers through his silken locks, her legs twined with his and their bedclothes tangled around their naked forms.
"Amin mela lle," she whispered, pressing a soft kiss against the crown of his pale locks. "I love you," she repeated, knowing that she could never say it enough. Not ever.
To Be Continued