On goes the show! I do not own LOTR or any songs by Shakira.
Brown eyes in an unfamiliar face glanced at her curiously. Her jaw dropped. It wasn't him.
Elladan laughed in bewilderment at her strange behavior and pulled her into a hug even as she gaped at the man across the room. "What are you doing? Trying another of those techniques on me? We can practice a bit later if you wish." He released her and turned to Pippin, clasping his hand.
"We were hide-" began Pippin.
"-I dropped something!" squeaked Nicole suddenly. The other two stopped and fixed her with odd looks. "Pippin was helping me look for it, on the ground" She pointed.
Pippin and Elladan turned to look where she had been kneeling a moment before. "I don't see anything," said Elladan slowly looking back up at her. She felt him scrutinizing her face and forced a smile onto her lips. "It's great to see you again." she said in what she thought was a normal tone.
He frowned. 'Damn! Must not have been convincing enough."
She turned and was promptly enveloped in another set of arms. "Elrohir, Hi" she said weakly, forcing a smile onto her face. What she really wanted was to go hide somewhere until her heart stopped pounding in her ribcage. She swallowed as a shiver of loathing shook her. 'It's not him. It's not him.'
He held her at arm's length. "Did I startle you?" he asked in confusion. As always, the keenness of his grey eyes cut into hers.
"No brother" answered Elladan from behind him. "You smell like a troll. I told you to take a bath before, but you never listen. Now Nicole here, who is much too polite to say anything, is in a difficult situation." He leaned around his brother. "I know she is a terrible liar." His words were light, but the look in his eyes told Nicole she'd been found out. She glanced around looking for an excuse to be somewhere else, but the curious smiles of the men around her were all she saw. No one was in distress. No one needed her attention.
"You are perfectly right Elladan" answered his older twin. "I believe I will take Nicole to this room over here so she may tell me the truth without worrying about hurting your feelings, for it is surely you who smells like an ogre."
Pippin glanced between all the elves and then leaned towards Elladan who was closest and sniffed. Elladan glanced down with a barely suppressed smile as Pippin leaned back and shrugged. "Elves must have great noses. I thought that was strictly a hobbit trait. I don't smell anything."
"Perhaps your sense of smell is keener towards food" Elrohir said lightly as he nodded at his brother over Nicole's head. The younger twin easily steered Pippin towards Merry's room.
The hobbit nodded. "Rightly so. Food is very important to us hobbits. But I have a good nose for other things as well." His voice faded as they moved away and soon she was left with her overly perceptive friend.
Nicole found herself steered into an empty room by an arm about her shoulders. Elrohir turned her so they were facing one another. She ducked her head. Now that the initial fear had worn off she felt embarrassment stain her cheeks pink. When it became clear she wouldn't speak first he did.
"Come. You will tell me why you are afraid."
"I'm not... not anymore anyway."
"Is someone here hurting you?"
"No!" she vehemently responded. This conversation was beyond uncomfortable. Elrohir had a sixth sense regarding psychological stress. Did he know what had happened? Resolutely she avoided eye contact. He would have to pry the truth out of her. This whole situation was reminding her too much of that creepy educational video they had to watch in grade school about how certain 'touches' were inappropriate.
"Alright then." he released her and crossed his arms. "What was that back there?"
"I thought I saw someone I knew."
"And I didn't much care for him." There was the understatement of the year. If she ever really saw him again she'd… she'd, what? Hide and act like a pathetic victim?
A sharp pain between her eyes made her flinch. "Ouch! What the hell Elrohir. Aren't you supposed to be a gentle healer?"
"Healing can be a painful process."
"OK nurse ratchet. Hey!"
Elrohir lowered his hand. Nicole rubbed her forehead irritably and scowled.
He smirked. "Glorfindel was right. Pain does give you better focus." Then the smile was covered like a cloud over a ray of sun, leaving Nicole to wonder if she'd imagined the expression.
She jumped a little at the sharp command and looked awkwardly down at their feet. "I thought I saw the one who... captured me... and held me d-" She swallowed her next words with a shudder. "Held me captive in Saruman's tower." she finished.
"And it was not him?"
"No" she whispered.
"Good, Then I will not have to kill anyone today."
Nicole looked up, amusement bubbling through her negative emotions. "Thank you, though I think you would've had some competition."
He raised an eyebrow. "Have you told anyone else about your captivity?"
She scrubbed a toe at a crack in the stone beneath her feet. "Mostly...Legolas wanted me to open up to him, and I told him a lot but," she sighed, "He already feels like it's somehow his fault. I don't like adding more on his plate you know."
Elrohir raised a brow. "I am sure he has been a confidant to many others before."
She spoke softly to her feet. "C'mon Elrohir, you know it's different. He's different with me."
A thoughtful silence followed her statement. "Hm, well then you should tell me."
Nicole looked up. She'd been expecting this. "From the beginning, then."
"I felt a strange sense of watchfulness for days before anything happened. I figured it was just the crowd that took Merry and Pippin you know. I didn't think they'd go for me separately."
"It makes sense to me."
Nicole glanced up with her eyebrows furrowed. "It does?"
Elladan folded his arms. "Of course. Saruman thought you were some sort of secret weapon. It is only rational to separate his interests."
"He didn't want to put all his eggs in one basket?"
"An apt term." Elladan nodded.
Nicole blinked and sighed. "Well anyways… They hit me with a dart after the fellowship scattered in the woods."
"The man from my world and Maufundt."
"Mau...fundt" Elrohir repeated with a wrinkled upper lip, as if the very sound of the name offended him.
"She is an Uruk that worked for-"
"Orcs are slaves."
Nicole shook her head. "Not this one. She is different. I can't put my finger on exactly how..."
Elrohir narrowed his eyes doubtfully, but finally shook his head. "It is not important. What about this man you speak of?"
"He is from my world, he is a weapon maker and a... chemist" Nicole nearly curled her lip in disgust, 'Yeah, he's probably the inventor of rohypnol. I could see that.'
"I can see why Saruman would find him useful then."
"Yeah... he would."
Elrohir's steady gaze continued as he shifted his weight. "What happened when you reached the tower?"
"I was hoping we could skip over that bit."
"Ok!" Nicole threw her hands up. "Saruman was very interested in where I came from. He ah... interrogated me. I managed to avoid giving him any dangerous information... just barely."
"That is all?" Silence followed this statement. He sighed in exasperation.
She swallowed. Just thinking about it brought back the spinning sensation. "Yes," she answered faintly.
"So Saruman, The wisest and most cunning of all the Istari went through all the trouble of hunting you down to ask you a few questions. Did he serve tea and ask for some recipes as well?"
Nicole giggled manically. Never mind that Saruman had served tea. Before today she'd never heard Elrohir speak so many words together when the subject wasn't healing. Suddenly something about this situation struck her as utterly hilarious.
"Nicole do I need to remind you of my age and occupation?"
"No thank you." If someone had asked her a year ago what she'd be doing. This would never have been on the table.
She continued laughing silently until her shoulders shook and she had to wipe tears from her eyes.
"Are you done?" came Elrohir's irritated voice.
"Do you want it?"
"The cookie recipe" She snorted and continued laughing until she doubled over.
"Alright. You leave me no choice." Distantly she heard the scrape of wood against the stone floor.
All it took was a gentle push to tip her backwards into the chair. "Akk!" she squawked. Her laughter ceased until she made eye contact. Elrohir looked dead serious.
With a look of sadness he leaned forward. She sat back in her chair to avoid him, but he was quick and deliberate as he took her face in his hands. He whispered some words she didn't quite catch and then she felt a terrible pressure at her temples.
She opened her eyes to see the black stone walls, floor, and ceiling of her cell. Elrohir was there across from her watching her silently.
"What? Why am I back here?" She recoiled. "Did I ever leave? How did they catch you? We have to escape-" Her heart jumped into a pounding run and she fought to control her breathing.
"Relax, Nicole." Elrohir moved closer. "I entered your mind, because you would not speak to me. I cannot help you if you will not-"
"Why! What the hell! I don't want to explore here! There is a reason I don't want to talk about it alright! I thought I was going to die here and you're just going to force me to recall all the torture I endured. Wake me up now!"
"So Saruman tortured you… I am sorry." His sorrowful eyes looked across the room at something.
Nicole turned and saw… herself laying bonelessly against the back of the couch. The white robes and hunched form of Saruman blocked her partially from view, but she instinctually recognized the scene
Her breath caught as she stared wide eyed. A sensation of nausea rose up. "Please don't Elrohir. I can't see that, go through that again." she whispered.
"Then tell me."
"Alright. I will speak." She glanced around him. "Can we sit? I don't want to fall. I feel sick." Indeed the room spun as if she had just stepped off a monster roller coaster after eating a nice greasy hamburger. She closed her eyes and when she opened them they were back in the healing halls. She let out a breath of relief. Elrohir had been gentler than the wizard.
Elladan took a step back and sat in a chair facing her.
After he settled, she raised her eyes. 'Keep it general, keep it broad and maybe I won't vomit on my dear friend.' She took a steadying breath and looked down at her trembling hands.
"He rifled through my memories," she mumbled.
"Rifled?" repeated Elrohir in confusion.
Her lips twisted at the irony of using that particular word. She shook her head to clear it. "Oh er, he looked through them, against my will. Ever since, I have been having nightmares about it."
Elrohir clenched his jaw briefly, but that was all the sign of agitation Nicole could detect.
His voice continued, measured and warm, "and have you been noticing anything else strange... like hearing voices or having urges to do things against your character?"
"No... I" Nicole began her denial automatically before stopping suddenly. The urge to fling herself off a high place might count as out of character. The dreams of hot breath and choking fingers kept persisting as well. Absently, she rubbed at her throat to dispel the sensation. And just a moment ago... but that was just a memory surfacing. "I haven't heard any voices." she finished. "Why do you ask?"
"When someone digs through your memories it disorders the mind and can cause delusions."
"Well thanks for the words of encouragement." said Nicole wryly as she crossed her arms tightly across her chest and looked away. "I may be a bit paranoid, but I'm not delusional."
"Then you are lucky." said Elrohir. "I have seen people lose their sanity from the interrogation of a blundering intruder."
She met his eyes boldly. "Like with Gollum and Sauron."
Elrohir tensed at the name.
Nicole noticed and raised an eyebrow. "I'm not going to call him anything else stupid like 'He-who-must-not-be-named" Inwardly, she chuckled at her private joke. Even nausea couldn't keep her inappropriate sense of humor at bay.
"I did not say you should," he responded tersely. "Are you finished trying to distract me from expecting an answer?"
"Right." Nicole said, chagrinned. "Sauron was not involved, and Saruman is many things, but blundering isn't one of them... Contrary to popular belief I am quite sane." she responded.
His face was doubtful. "Are you sure I should not look to see what damage he may have-"
"No!" She cleared her throat and spoke more softly. "Thank you. I'd like to keep my mind private. Besides, the last time someone looked I lost my lunch." She chuckled darkly and shook her head.
His eyebrows scrunched in concern. "I am sorry my friend. I did not mean to disturb you. I am merely worried."
Nicole nodded mutely.
He continued to pepper her with questions until she felt as if she'd just had a psychiatric evaluation.
"There you are! Gah! More elves. Nicole, Legolas is looking for you."
Nicole sighed with relief at the sight of the dwarf in the doorway. "Gimli, I am an elf too." she said with false offense as she planted one fist on her hip.
"So you are, but you are the least… Elvish elf that I have ever met."
She raised an eyebrow. "Thanks... I think."
"I look no more Gimli. I have found her." The aforementioned elf said gallantly as he appeared in the doorway behind his shorter friend.
"I found her elf! You're just stealing her away."
They both chuckled.
"Yes he is!" Nicole scrambled forward to take Legolas' arm. She steered him from the room before Elrohir could grill her any further. She felt her friend's heavy gaze on her back as they exited and let out a breath of relief once they were out of sight. A glance upward at Legolas showed him smiling down at her with a trace of confusion on his face. Before he could start asking Nicole what they'd been talking about she launched into conversation.
"How's Merry doing?"
"He is mending well, though he is disappointed to not be a part of the…" Legolas hesitated.
"Storming of Mordor?" supplied Nicole helpfully.
His features twisted into a solemn expression. "Yes. That."
"Heh" Nicole shook her head. "Most of the time I feel an affinity with hobbits, but that sentiment is just beyond me. I have no desire to charge headlong into enemy territory."
"What makes you think that is what others wish?" He said softly.
Nicole gave him a sidelong glance as they walked. "It is necessary and there is a chance for deeds of valor. Which I imagine is the reason Merry is so upset." She shrugged. "It is Pippin's turn now." Furtively, she watched him, while pretending to be occupied studying the tapestries they passed. Absently, her fingers traced the muscles of his arm, one hand settled into the crook of his elbow where she could feel his strong pulse. "Yours too. I have no doubt that a great many of the enemy will fall under your knives and arrows." Hmm… she could just see him holding the tension on his bow with practiced ease, just as he had in the clearing when the hounds had set upon them. What a sight…
He tensed beside her. "If given the chance, I'd rather…" He stopped and laid his hand over hers firmly, stilling the caress of her fingers. "Spend my last days with you." He looked pointedly down at her hand with dark eyes.
Oh… what had she just been doing? Heat suffused her face as the meaning of his words sunk in. He wanted to, "Hmm… well" she murmured, tilting her head forward to watch her feet. Feet were safe. When she looked at them she didn't see hair like black silk she wanted to run her fingers through or the curve of a smile she wished to taste. Not to mention the feel of his powerful heart she could fall asleep listening to after they'd-
Nicole blinked as a late ray of sun shone in her eyes. They stepped into the failing light of the courtyard. Then the sun was hidden when the coolness of the trees' shadows blocked it from view.
'Take your claws off him girl. What's wrong with you?' A small voice of reason said at the back of her brain. 'This is not the plan. No diddling around until everything is settled.'
She released his arm with great difficulty. It was hard when she felt like she'd just let go of her life raft. She certainly felt adrift now as she swayed back against the trunk of a nearby tree. She shook her head to clear it. 'Has my brain been hijacked?' Immediately, the uncomfortable heat resurged in her palms and began climbing. She stared at her hands in confusion.
It took several more moments before she could speak. What had he said last? Oh… yeah. "I would like that as well, but I can't go and you can't stay here… Besides Your last days should be spent travelling Middle Earth, seeing the Glittering caves, and Fanghorn."
Legolas blinked. "But… there is no time"
"Sure there is" she responded as she rubbed her arms and looked around. Anywhere but at him. The courtyard was filled with orderly rows of trees a few years past the sapling stage. Their branches provided some shade, but the leaves were yet small and not thick enough to completely obscure them from above. Not that she noticed. The heat filled her chest. It was not unlike taking a shot of hard liquor. She swallowed and rubbed at her throat.
"Truly?" There was an odd note to his voice and she glanced at him quickly. His eyes were wide and hopeful.
She stared at him in admiration. They were the color of the open Caribbean waters, clear, warm and deep. She almost imagined she could see to the bottom if she stared long enough. He was beautiful. What she would give to be on a deserted island with him right now. Nowhere to go. They'd just-
She blinked. "What?"
Frantically, she tried to remember the conversation they'd been having before her daydreaming had been interrupted, but to no avail. What should she do? The first notes of a favorite song of hers was just within grasp. She could sing. Then he would have to listen instead of asking her questions. It was as good an idea as any. Her words came out low and husky.
"Take off all of your skin, and brave when you are free.
Shake off all of your sins, and give them to me.
Closer. Pull me in tight. I wanna be yours wanna be your hero."
"Nicole!" called Pippin loudly from the entrance of the healing hall. Nicole jumped and inwardly cursed the young hobbit for disturbing her equilibrium once again. She aimed a death glare at the oblivious halfling as he walked hurriedly over to her and Legolas. His shining armor really did look well on him. Too bad she was gonna bury him in it. How could one person have such awkward timing? His face was so earnest as he drew closer that she couldn't hang on to her irritation, which was ironically annoying. She heaved a sigh. "Damn hobbits" slipped out with the breath. She shot a glance at Legolas to see him pursing his lips as laughter danced behind his eyes.
"It's not funny," mumbled Nicole sullenly to her feet as she crunched a dry leaf from last year under her boot. Now her whole body burned and tingled. The sensation was infuriating. She just wanted… well. She didn't know what, but it wasn't talking to an annoying hobbit with the mentality of a teenager.
The clank of Pippin's armor stopped as he stood before them.
"I just wanted to check on you Nicole, since you were acting so strangely earlier," he began.
Nicole looked up sharply. Mentally, she willed the hobbit to stop talking, but taking the hint was never Pippin's strong point and he continued. She shifted uncomfortably and rolled her shoulders. 'Get to the point!' she thought impatiently.
"Elladan wouldn't tell me what it was about. No one ever does. I don't know why. So did you find what you were looking for?" he asked brightly.
"Huh?" she said in a display of eloquence, as her mind went blank. "No I…" She made the mistake of glancing at Legolas to see he regarded her with an unreadable expression. Her heart did a little flip-flop in her chest. "I, it was… I left it in my room."
"Oh, Alright then!" Pippin smiled brightly, but then his brows creased. "But you didn't leave the healer's after that happened. Are you sure that is where you left it? What did you lose anyway?"
Nicole bit the inside of her cheek. Pippin chose this moment to be observant? What the hell! Now she saw why Gandalf wanted to knock his head with his staff.
"Don't you have citadel guard stuff to be doing?" she said brusquely. "I don't feel like playing twenty questions right now." 'Yeah, I'd rather strip my clothes off and jump into a glacier lake. That way I'd be numb.' She rubbed her shin with the heel the opposite foot but it did nothing to ease the strange sensation.
Pippin blinked as he caught her tone. A brief expression of hurt crossed his features. Nicole instantly felt guilty. She didn't usually go around kicking puppies and that is what this felt like.
She closed her eyes and shifted uncomfortably. A wisp of loose hair brushed her cheek and she shivered. "Sorry-" she began.
"-I was just worried and I could tell Elladan was too," he cut in with none of the cheerfulness from before. He turned to Legolas.
"Maybe you can get it out of her, since she's your…" he gestured into the air with a hand, "whatever you two are." Then, he turned and marched away with as much dignity as he could manage. She opened her eyes briefly to see he was doing a fair job of it. "What the hell!" she said to herself, fighting not to squirm when she knew Legolas would notice. 'Now I'm snapping at hobbits like a bitter old witch and I'm being attacked by invisible fire ants.'
A heavy silence fell over the two remaining. His eyes were burning into the side of her face. 'I will not be speaking first!' She'd stuck both her feet in her mouth in less than five minutes and wasn't ready for a repeat. Plus, whenever she made eye contact, she was drawn in like a tractor beam. She had to get away from him. 'Don't show fear, or he'll sense it. You never run away from a predator or they'll instinctually chase you.'
She spoke up with a soft wavering voice. "I'll just… see if Anya needs me or something." Slowly, she turned and walked further into the shade of the trees, but with each step she took it was nigh impossible to take another. "Damn it all!" she muttered and sprang into a run.
She hadn't gotten more than a few steps before she was caught around the waist. Such was her momentum that her feet flew out from under her. "No, no, no. Let go." She whispered frantically as she half-heartedly pushed at his arm.
"Not yet. Why are you running?" came his bewildered voice in her ear. "What was Pippin talking about? Why are the twins worried for you?"
His words were lost on her. The tingling and stinging was gone. She moaned in relief as she relaxed against him. It was hot still, but she was counting her blessings.
At the odd sound he spun her around and held her at arm's length. The sudden movement was too much for her nonexistent equilibrium and she stumbled sideways, forcing him to support her weight against him. He held her for a moment in surprise and worry. "Nicole?"
"God, you smell amazing." She mumbled against his neck.
"Yes you've established that" With an embarrassed huff, he propped her up against one of the surrounding trees and released her. Immediately, the pain returned. She grasped at the bark under her fingers until pieces of it crumbled off the trunk.
"Are you going to speak?" came his slightly breathless query.
"No" she mumbled.
He sighed again. And then she felt the most amazing thing. Cool fingers slid across the right side of her face as his palm came to rest there. "You worry me. Are you ill?"
"Thank you." She said in an exhale as she clasped the hand to her face and nuzzled at it much like a cat. If she could purr she would. His skin on hers felt divine.
He stared, mouth agape in utter confusion. His face was burning. "For what? Nicole are you-" He sucked in a breath.
She'd just pressed a searing kiss into his palm. He should have questioned her behavior. It was so different than anything he'd witnessed, at least while awake. But instead he drew close enough to see her eyes were darker than he'd ever seen before, unfocused and fevered. The dark of her pupils pushed ribbons of blue, green, and burning amber to the edge of her iris.
"Beautiful" he whispered.
"Yes" she responded in equal volume. Those eyes focused now on his with an unfamiliar intensity. She was hot under his hand. He told himself he was concerned… but his worry was fast being replaced by something else. A desire he had pushed back since before her capture. She was well… obviously he was worried over nothing. For an undetermined length of time they stood a hairsbreadth apart. Until her breath washed over him in softly sung words.
"I wanna be yours wanna be your hero. And my heart beats. Like the empires of the world unite. We are alive. And the stars make love to the universe."
She grasped the front of his shirt. 'Make love? What is she…?" he swallowed and closed his eyes. 'It is only a song. Question her about why the twins are worried for her. Yes. That's what I need to do.'
A hot breath in his ear continued the melody. "You'll be my wildfire every single night. We are alive. And you touch me, and Im like, and I'm like, and Im like..."
She sang out what could only be described as a howl of passion. He felt the siren call all the way down to his toes. With a small movement of his captured wrist he turned her face and silenced her mouth with his.
She wasted no time in deepening the kiss. To Legolas it was as if he'd stepped into the summer sun from the caves of his father's home. The warmth wreathed around him, filled him. Her hands tangled in his hair and her nails scraped lightly at his scalp. He moaned into her mouth and pulled her flush. Better than his wildest dreams. The feel of her against him. The shirt she wore hid the narrowness of her waist and how it flared into her hips. He would trace every curve. He longed to do it without any barriers.
The heat hadn't subsided, but it no longer burned everywhere. That sensation was now confined low in her stomach. But where she touched him she felt blissfully, wonderfully, cool. She wanted to dive into him and relieve the pressure, but she couldn't get the angle she wanted. She pulled at his shoulders until she was even with his taller form. Rough tree bark dug into her back. Strangely, the sensation which should have been uncomfortable opened up something else in her. The light of her feä burned brightly behind her eyes. It was reaching forward seeking something. She could feel it rising up where his hands touched her, where his chest pressed into her own. But there was an irritating smothering sensation...ah yes. She broke their kiss to take a regretfully necessary breath.
"Is this real?" came his roughened voice in her ear. "I've dreamt of it so many times."
Her soft sigh tickled his ear as her head lolled to the side. Unable to help himself he traced the graceful line of her neck with his mouth, settling on the point where her heart fluttered under his lips.
"Legolas, please" she pleaded in a hushed voice. "My love."
"Anything" he murmured as he trailed his nose along her jawline ending at her perfect leaf shaped ear. He'd admired it for such a long time. He'd always wanted to… He pressed a soft kiss at the tip. At her intake of breath, he persisted, tracing its outline. Everything he wanted…
"Oh god!" She gasped, "Please, just…" She lapsed into English and he was shocked into stillness. He understood. She asked him to, to take her. There was no mistaking her meaning, not when she said it like that. It was her wandering hands that woke him from the spell, even as the feelings they evoked made him want to lay her on the ground to do exactly as she asked. "We should talk." He reached back and moved her hands to a more appropriate height.
"No" She took a fistful of his tunic and tugged his surprised face back to hers. She should have been embarrassed at her aggressive behavior, but all she felt was the hot silk of his mouth and the overwhelming desire to wrap herself around him and never let go.
She was strong, he marveled as her arms wrapped in a vicelike grip behind his neck. He could overpower her, but he did not want to escape. Every part of her was insistent, her hands in his hair, her lips… her tongue. Oh Eru, she made his resistance crumble with one twist of that beloved appendage. Where did she learn to…
Her hips shifted against his and with a jolt of pleasure he realized the position they were in.
Her long legs were wrapped around his hips and her back was pushed against an obliging tree. One of his hands supported this position dangerously close to the swell of her bottom and the other braced a sturdy branch. She had somehow managed to pull his tunic free of his belt.
'How, in Eru's name had they...?'
"Hmm Nicole, perhaps we should- Elbereth!" He cried as she pulled his earlobe lightly through her teeth in retribution. He clenched his jaw and prayed for restraint. This side of her had been unknown to him. She burned hot as a forge.
His entire being rebelled as he forced himself to unhook her legs and lower her feet to the ground. Still holding her close, he tucked her head beneath his chin, his mind still whirling. He hadn't expected… well any of it.
After several moments of ragged breathing he finally was able to form words again. "What are we doing Melamin."
"Huh?" The confusion in her voice made him chuckle. The way she sounded… it was as if she'd just woken from a dream.
"That is all you have to say? You wished to marry me here in the courtyard only moments ago."
Nicole blinked, slowly pulling her thoughts together. She groaned suddenly. A hand covered her mouth.
Legolas leaned back in concern to examine her features. "Do not think that I object my love, but I would not want more than just God as our witness… And I would like more time to enjoy…" he trailed off at her stricken look. "What is wrong?"
"Everything. I can't believe I… just. I am so sorry Legolas."
Cold seeped into his heart. "What?"
"I… don't know why I attacked you like that. What is wrong with me?" Alarm filled her voice suddenly as she pushed at his chest.
His arms dropped numbly to his sides and he stood still as a statue staring at her wide panicked eyes.
"I shouldn't have said that." She repeated softly to herself, but he heard her just as if she was shouting. Then she turned and ran.
"Wait!" he called helplessly. She shouldn't have said what? Doubt filled his gut like lead. He sank down against the same tree they had kissed under and covered his face. 'Did she yet grieve and this kiss was as the one she had shared with Boromir?' Like a flame to dry tinder jealousy flared to life. If the man hadn't already been dead… He shook his head in an attempt to rid himself of the vengeful thought but it was no use. He streaked from the courtyard like one of his arrows loosed from a bow.
As she fled the courtyard the strange burning was finally fading away. In its wake she felt a sense of shame so deep she was sure she'd never find her way out. Her rapid steps slowed and she was hardly aware of where she headed. When she looked up she realized she had circled around the winding halls and re-entered on the far end of the courtyard. Beside her, a row of high hedges separated part of the space into a small garden, presumably for the patients of the healing houses to sit and enjoy the weather on sunny days. It was mostly bare, but attractive stone benches and a small trickling stream wound its way through a little bed of stones under a small footbridge. Nicole crossed the bridge with faltering steps and sank down onto the bench at the far corner. Her head fell into her hands.
'How could I? I did the exact opposite of what I had planned. I couldn't stop myself.' Disgust at her behavior filled her to the brim, bringing tears to her eyes. But even though she was horrified, the worst part was replaying the events in her mind brought back the longing, and the wonderful, terrible burning that had gotten her into trouble to begin with. 'Damn! I need a drink! Something strong to knock my ass out. What would I do if Legolas decides to approach me about what happened? Oh god! The sound of his voice.' She'd seen his eyes a split second before she bolted. He was hurt. She'd done that to him. Nicole rubbed at her chest. Even now she imagined she could feel his betrayal and confusion. If she wasn't so horribly mortified she would beg for forgiveness on her knees. As things were now, she wanted to crawl into a hole and be forgotten for a while.
"Lady Elf?" came a quiet cool voice. Nicole looked up sharply to see a young woman with flowing golden hair before her. She wore a pale shift of a patient in the healing wing. Her right arm was in a sling of matching linen. Eyes of a cool blue assessed Nicole in a distant way, but when the elleth met them a hint of warmth entered her gaze.
"Eowyn" she mumbled to herself in recognition. When the woman's stance stiffened. Nicole cleared her throat. "Sorry, Lady Eowyn. I... I am not myself at the moment. Please sit." She gestured beside her and wiped at her eyes. She hadn't had much to do with caring for the injured woman. Once her arm had been set and Aragorn had called to her spirit, there was little else to do. She offered a weak smile and was disconcerted that her expression was being scrutinized quite closely.
"I had never met an elf before a few weeks ago. I imagined that they would be lofty creatures who had little need for tears."
Nicole let out a bitter laugh. "On the contrary, we spend years and years crying our losses. We have many lifetimes to accrue them, or so I hear. And I... have found that some of us are as fallible as any man in matters of the heart."
"So you and Lord Legolas have had a lover's quarrel?"
Nicole's face burned. "Yeah, something like that." She glanced at the girl. "You remember his name?"
"It is my duty as shield maiden to honor all of our guests. I cannot do this without remembering names."
"Right." Nicole blinked at her owlishly. Examining Eowyn close up, Nicole decided she couldn't be older than 18. Her confidence and poise were even more remarkable than when Nicole had supposed her to be in her 20's.
They sat quietly for a few moments. Nicole couldn't be sure, but she felt that Eowyn was trying to be helpful in a way, though she couldn't have had much experience with... ah... the activities Nicole had just participated in. Her flush renewed at the thought of discussing any details with someone so young. For god's sake at her age Nicole giggled during sex ed. class. Maybe she could discuss it in more general terms. She let out a sigh. Might as well give it a shot. What could go wrong…
"Have you ever... done something you couldn't help, but felt guilty about it later?"
Eowyn leaned back with narrowed eyes. "I do not regret riding with my brothers-in-arms"
"Of course not" said Nicole hastily, "But maybe some other time." She watched Eowyn as she fell into deep thought. They sat in silence for a while until finally she spoke.
"My cousin Eothred was once pursued by a girl. She was brought to our home as a ward of the palace. My uncle thought to arrange a marriage between them. I hated the idea of him being forced to marry anyone, let alone a foreigner. He rallied against it for years. My uncle wished her to learn our ways so she would be a good queen, so we were often placed together. I am ashamed to admit I disliked her greatly. She was meek and delicate and kind. I was... harsh with her and she finally begged to be sent home. The arrangement was called off.
Nicole's eyebrows creased. "How old were you?"
"I was 10 years old."
"So young!" she shook her head. "Children can be very cruel. I did things I still feel guilty about when I was that age." To herself she mumbled. "I thought I had grown out of the habit."
She looked down at her hands, "It is wrong to abuse those who are weaker than yourself."
Nicole nodded in agreement. "Yes, but what harm did you cause."
"If I had not interfered, by cousin would have children in line for the throne, and I would have someone to remind me of him. We were very good friends."
"Ah, I understand now." said Nicole sadly.
"And you? What did you do?"
"Oh, I did a lot of stupid things as a child. Everyone does."
"So this is where your tears come from? A childhood mistake?" A golden eyebrow arched high above her sharp eyes.
Nicole would have laughed. She hadn't expected Eowyn to call her on her bull… of course in retrospect she should have, given all she had heard of the remarkable young woman.
"No…" she shook her head ruefully. "Your first assumption was correct." A resurgence of embarrassment and regret threatened to overwhelm her again and her next words were decidedly strangled "I hurt him, with...my actions and my words. I thought I had more control of my feelings, but I just couldn't stop myself." Her face flushed, "and then after he stopped me from... going too far, I, I denied it all and ran." She glanced nervously over at Eowyn. "Now I don't know what to do."
"Did you mean the things you did and said?"
"I... No, yes" Nicole shrugged helplessly. More tears trailed down her face and she ignored them. Eowyn had already seen anyway.
"I think you do know." She peered at Nicole through the growing darkness. "But you are afraid."
"There are many things to fear in these times." said Nicole sadly. "Thank you for speaking with me Eowyn. I'm sorry for burdening you while you are trying to recover."
"It is no trouble. Speaking helps me forget that the walls of the tower feel as if they are closing in on me."
Nicole swallowed. "I certainly understand that feeling" She shook her head.
"Do you? Elves are not burdened by the aging of their bodies. They can go on to fight battle after battle."
"And they can die in war just as men do." responded the elleth bitterly. "In many ways they are more fragile than men. Grief can steal away our lives just as easily as a blade."
"I understand your fear now." Eowyn sat back.
"You do?" asked Nicole with surprise.
"Yes." Eowyn gestured with her good hand. "You fear he will fall in battle and you will succumb to grief."
Nicole released a breath and turned her face away so her expression wouldn't reveal any falsehood. "You are very perceptive Lady Eowyn."
Softly the words that seemed so fitting to the situation slipped past her lips. This song normally was quite an upbeat rhythm, but her heartache changed it into one of longing.
"Lucky you were born that far away so, we could both make fun of distance. Lucky that I love a foreign land for the fact of your existence. Baby I would climb the Andes solely, to count the scars upon your body. Can't you see… I'm at your feet. Whenever, wherever, we're meant to be together."
Damn it all. She loved him. It was already too late. Whatever happened now she was in for the long run.
Eowyn sat quietly part way through the song, then stood and rested a comforting hand on Nicole's shoulder briefly before leaving her alone on the stone bench. The elf finished her aching words and departed on silent feet back to her room.
Legolas drew and fired again, splitting the last arrow down the middle just as he had the one before it.
"Pray aim off center a bit, or you will wreck all our ammunition with your skill." Came a voice out of the dark.
Legolas spun to face the voice. "Who speaks?!" Maybe Aragorn was right. The words did sound a bit warg-ish. The newcomer backed away hastily with hands raised.
"I am sorry to have startled you," said the man. "I assumed you would hear me because you are one of the fair folk."
Legolas eyed the man "It is unwise to approach one of our kind under cover of darkness."
"I apologize, I did not realize…" he trailed off as he noted the elf's countenance pale.
"Boromir," he said with eyes wide.
"My brother." Responded the man. "Would you care to lower your weapon? Your arms do not appear as steady as before. I would prefer not to die, for all there is little hope for any of us."
Legolas realized then that he still had his bow drawn, and indeed in his shock, his arms had developed a slight tremor. Hastily, he lowered the weapon and stood tall, covering his surprise with a mask of indifference.
"Ah, Lord Faramir. I apologize. I was distracted and mistook you for your brother."
"I am surprised, considering you saw him perish."
"No," responded Legolas, feeling guilty at the sadness in the man's voice. "I did not. That event could be recalled by Merry or Pippin of the Shire." He shifted uncomfortably. "I came upon him after… and we sent him off in dignity along the river."
"I thank you for honoring him."
"It was no trouble. He fought bravely," responded the elf. He had said these words more times than he cared to do. At least this time they weren't for an elf of the greenwood, just a mortal. Instantly, after this thought occurred he felt guilty. Nicole would have disagreed with that sentiment. An image of her heated gaze filled his mind and he closed his eyes. What did her opinion matter now? She would only ever pine after a memory of a man she would never see again, a man who greatly resembled this one's brother. She would never feel for him what he felt…
"Master Elf?" the words cut into his morose thoughts.
Legolas lifted his eyes. "What is it you require?" he said coldly.
Faramir watched him with a gaze much keener than his brother's ever was. Now that he had a moment to examine the man, he realized they were very different. Their colorations were similar, but Faramir was built more like an elf, lighter in frame and voice.
"Nothing. I cannot rest as the healers have demanded and am looking for solace in watching others train while I am unable." He moved to sit on a rough-hewn bench. As he sat he released a tired sigh and leaned forward to perch his elbows on his knees. "Will you sit?" he said amicably.
"I thank you no." said the Elf. He noted now that there were dark circles under the stewards eyes. He'd lost his father and brother in short order, and now must be feeling the weight of his mantle very heavily indeed. Legolas could sympathize with that possibility. He'd had a nightmare before where his parents sailed and left him with the responsibility of ruling Greenwood. Fortunately, father was as stubborn as a dragon. As long as his mother was at his side he would never give in to his desire to sail.
They stared at one another for a moment in awkward silence.
"I find I am to owe you thanks," said Faramir.
Legolas raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
"It was your betrothed was it not, who saved me from the dark sleep of the witch king?" He sat up a little straighter and rested his hand on his chin. "I recall some of it, as if through a fog. She was brave and forceful. A true credit to your people."
"Was she? Perhaps she was feeling sentimental and you resemble a loved one. She seems to have a fondness for the men of your family."
Faramir's eyes widened in surprise, and Legolas wished he'd bitten his tongue and offered a meaningless pittance instead.
"That statement reeks of bitterness." He responded, his eye's narrowing. "I see I have touched upon a sore subject."
Legolas turned his face away.
"I would not normally offer advice to one who is many times older than my grandfather, but I owe her my life and I would see her happy. Whatever bitterness is between you, she deserves to be heard. Anyone can see she is pure and good. She has been very diligent in seeing me well." He paused to examine the elf's dour profile.
Jealousy flared to life at his words. Legolas aimed a burning glare at his feet. She hadn't mentioned Faramir except in passing. Doubt filled him. Did she favor this man now that Boromir was gone? Legolas' hands clenched until his knuckles became white.
"-but that is all. There was never a hint of anything more… and I think you know it." He shook his head. "As for my brother I cannot say. You would know better than I. But she does not appear to be grieving." He met the elf's now astonished eyes. "In fact, she speaks of you often in very affectionate terms."
He blinked in surprise at this statement and then realized his mistake. Faramir was watching him closely and had seen his rather obvious display.
The man shook his head. "I see you doubt her." He stood. "I am tired. I think I will return to my bed." He turned away and began walking.
Numbly, Legolas watched him move away. After a few paces he stopped and turned his head to speak over his shoulder. "You owe her to hear her side of whatever quarrel you have had. I know your distance will cause her great pain."
By the time Nicole found her way back to her room it was late. Without comment Echon passed her a sleepy Anya and made a show of leaping off the side of the balcony. Nicole would have rolled her eyes if she had the energy. His room was one balcony over. What a ham.
"Hmm" she answered distractedly.
"Can you tell me a story?"
She blinked. "Ahh OK. Let me think of one." Anya looked up at her innocently, and she felt her troubled heart relax a little. Even if… even if Legolas never forgave her, she still had this child's admiration. She wasn't a total loss. How to begin?
"Once upon a time in a land far, far, away there was a... mm a
"A Princess?" supplied Anya helpfully.
"Yeah, and she was the best at everything in the kingdom. She was intelligent, beautiful, and a great warrior, but her heart was cruel and bitter."
And as Nicole went about telling a sort of reverse Beauty and the Beast, she moved over to the table and sat. She shifted the girl in her arms and poured a cup of tea. She had just picked up the cup-
"This story sounds familiar" came a masculine voice at the door.
Nicole dropped it onto the table and bit back a curse as tea sloshed over the sides.
"Oh, it's you," she muttered. "You frightened me."
"Do go on" he said in a cool disinterested tone. "The princess was beautiful and cruel."
Nicole watched him warily, her face flushed. So he was angry. That was better than sad, she supposed. 'I don't think I could handle tears. It would break my heart.' Just the thought of it made her chest ache. Absently, she rubbed at her shirt over her traitorous heart. How to respond?
"Yes, but I may have exaggerated when I said she was a great warrior. She only wished she was... And she was prone to ah... fits of of inappropriate behavior. Though rarely."
His eyes narrowed.
On second thought, she'd prefer if he didn't glare at her. She felt like a bug he was about to step on.
"This is a strange story." chirped Anya. "You should sit Lord Legolas. You are so very tall. It will be better to listen in a chair." She turned her large liquid eyes to the tall elf lord.
"Of course." he said stiffly as he sat across from them at the small table.
Nicole continued on, her voice faltering in nervousness. She was hyper-aware of the elf across from her, but she dared not make eye contact or she would burst into tears, or giggle nervously, or run from the room. All of those things would be inappropriate in this instance.
"You should drink some water. Your throat is dry," said Anya pointing to a jug.
"Thank you, but I hate wasting a good tea, even if it is cold." Nicole reached for her abandoned cup.
"But it's not good to drink too much. You should let it run its course before having more. Besides it works better when it's fresh."
Nicole blinked. "What are you talking about, Anya?"
Nicole felt a weight drop into her stomach. Her mind went blank as she stared at the girl. Anya turned on her lap to smile up at Nicole. "Do you feel stronger yet?"
A sensation of worry crept into Nicole's heart. As she had been doing a lot lately her eyes sought out the ones across the table. A crack had appeared in Legolas armor of anger, "You are ill? Why did you not say anything?" His voice seemed to fluctuate, as if he didn't know if he should be angry or concerned.
Nicole stared blankly at him. Then her eyes widened and she jumped up, plopping Anya on the table in front of her. She fixed the girl with as stern a look as she could muster when faced with so much cuteness.
"You fed me medicine." Her voice came out steadier than it had all evening. Shocking really, considering her mental state.
Anya's eyes widened. "Yes. You said you wanted to be stronger so I put it in your tea."
Nicole took a calming breath. This had to be a joke. If it was it was terrible, and she was not going to laugh. "What, exactly, did you put in it?"
To Nicole's horror the little girl raised a petite finger to point behind her at the box Galadriel had given her.
Nicole covered her eyes with a hand. "This cannot be happening."
Well... It won't take three guesses to know what Anya's been up to when no one was looking. Children are darling no?