It wasn’t until nightfall that they stopped for good and set up camp. The ride to Mandos Hall the next day would take only a few hours – they were incredibly close but too exhausted to continue on. Even though Buffy would have loved to go see the Valar now because she would pay anything to get away from under Finrod’s scrutinizing gaze.
Buffy went through her duties mechanically – tethering the horses, setting up the bedrolls – and Finrod prepared dinner.
“We will arrive there by lunch tomorrow,” Finrod announced once they began eating dinner later on. His tone was unsure; he knew that Buffy was upset with him.
“Mmm-hmm.” Buffy chewed some smoked venison and stared into the fire.
“Buffy, we should talk. I know I’ve made you upset—” Finrod began in a docile tone.
“—Upset? No, I’m fine,” Buffy contradicted in a false bright voice. She was so insanely embarrassed at how she had thrown herself at Finrod that she wanted desperately to forget this had ever even happened.
“Buffy,” Finrod said pointedly. “If you were fine then you would be looking into my eyes right now.”
She did turn to look at him but she didn’t look into his eyes. Everyone knew that elves of certain lineages possessed special abilities. Celebrían had described that her mother Galadriel could read thoughts and have visions; while Celebrían could not read thoughts she did have visions. Buffy knew this because Celebrían would sometimes have visions about her daughter Arwen and cry, because she knew Arwen would become sundered from Valinor – but how, Buffy did not know.
So it made sense that if Galadriel had powers her older brother might too. Finrod swore he wasn’t anything special but she wasn’t going to look into his eyes and let him read her, no sirree.
Which got her thinking, by the way, of how crazy she was to have a crush on Finrod, the brother of Galadriel, Celebrían’s uncle. God, these elvish weird generational things were weird. Celebrían was like her mother. See, it was just bad news to like her ‘mother’s’ uncle.
Except…Buffy did. And honestly, she really didn’t care that he was Celebrían’s uncle. It wasn’t like he was an old looking creepy kind of uncle – he looked twenty-five, tops.
Noticing her refusal to look at him, Finrod sighed. “I’m going to tell you a story.”
Buffy’s ears naturally perked up; her curiosity was insatiable.
“When I lived in Middle-Earth, I often visited the House of Bëor. There was a mortal there that I befriended, a woman named Andreth by her people and called Saelind by the elves.”
Something cold and painful crawled into Buffy’s stomach and she turned away quickly. The last thing she wanted to hear about was Finrod’s ex-girlfriend.
“My brother, Aegnor,” Finrod continued cautiously. “He…He fell in love with her, and her with him.” Finrod sighed and Buffy looked over just in time for him to make eye contact. “Their love was beautiful but cursed – for how can an elf love a mortal? Time passes our kind so quickly, and too soon for mortals. Aegnor knew this and he never married her, knowing that it would be best if she married her own kind.”
Buffy crumbled under his words, her shoulders hunching, as she painfully recalled a very similar conversation she once had with Angel. That memory was almost twenty years old yet still frighteningly sharp as glass. Hugging her knees to her chest, Buffy bowed her head as she considered his words, pushing to fight against the immediate sadness that the words spilled into her soul.
Finally, she spoke back to Finrod in a managed and calm voice. “And what ever happened to Aegnor? And Andreth?”
Finrod’s eyes were drawn to the starry night, difficult to see over the bright light of the campfire. “Aegnor died along with my brother Angrod in the Battle of Sudden Flame. Andreth died in that battle as well, during a siege on her city,” Finrod replied in clipped, hollow tones. Speaking of his lost family members was painful and would be, until Lord Námo saw it fit to return his brothers to him in this life.
Pursing her lips, Buffy stared at him angrily. “And the moral of the story is…? You leave the person you love, immortal or not, and you still die. So why not live with each other for as long as you can and be happy?” Buffy honestly wasn’t sure if her anger was purely directed at just Finrod anymore – she wished, understanding herself better as an adult years later, she could have gone back in time and told Angel off for leaving her for ‘her own good’.
“It’s not so simple, Buffy!” Finrod retorted, his jaw tightened. “When elves die, we go through Mandos’ Halls and eventually awaken again. Humans? They are gone. Forever gone. I have no idea what even happens to their fëa after death. I just know that I—that my brother would never see Andreth again, had he taken that path. Can you even imagine how long an after-life could be without the one you love?”
Taken aback, Buffy watched him with wide eyes. Finrod, like most elves, spoke directly but never in long ranting, rambling ways like just now.
“Right, and I bet that Andreth loved that she was spurned from an elf she was in love with, just because he was a coward!” Buffy shouted as she jumped to her feet.
“How dare you?” Finrod questioned in a quiet rage as he stood to his feet to stare at her. “You are speaking of things that you cannot even understand.”
“Oh, I think I understand,” Buffy snapped as she propped her hands on her waist. She took several angry steps towards Finrod, noticing how still he had gone. “Your brother was scared – just like you. Which is ridiculous, because it was just a kiss, and god knows it’s not like I’m asking to get married or anything!”
Immediately Buffy pressed her lips together. She hadn’t expected to be so forward but it had just spilled out.
Finrod cocked his head to the side and stared at her, his face completely unreadable – it was like that was a secret elven power thing because elves had amazing stoic abilities.
“It matters to me,” Finrod confessed quietly. “I would rather we keep our relationship the way it is, Buffy. Before either of us head down a road that will only bring sorrow. Your mortality notwithstanding, you are not from this world and I suspect you will eventually find a way back home. Let us keep it simple.”
Buffy bit her lip, at once both overjoyed that she hadn’t been misinterpreting all the little signs over the years, but also devastated that he didn’t want to explore anything further.
There was a part of her, a very small logical part that she rarely listened to, that told her Finrod was right. Hooking up with immortals was one thing but falling in love was another. They should just remain friends.
Unfortunately for Buffy, in matters of love she never listened to logical-her.
“I don’t care,” Buffy said stubbornly as she marched up to him and laid a hand on his chest. “I live in the now. And now, I want you.”
He started to protest, his eyebrows drawing together and lips pursing to speak, but Buffy silenced him. “You’re the only one who gets the ‘slayer’ side of me and the need to hunt. You’re one of the few people I can joke with and honestly feel like myself around, without worrying about sounding like the ‘weird human’.” Buffy told him with a wry smile. “You…you make Valinor feel like home.”
“Buffy,” Finrod protested as she tilted her head up and licked her lips, readying herself for him. “That is the very problem. You live in the now. I…well, I have many years of ‘now’ and will continue to do so for a very long time.” He tenderly smoothed her hair past her ears. “I cannot…I cannot bear the thought of someday losing you.”
Buffy cupped his cheek, mirroring their positions from earlier today. “Then don’t. Don’t think. Just feel.”
Grey eyes turned stormy, gazing at her intently. Heat radiated from his body, making her flush. Finrod gently grabbed her shoulders as if he was going to pull her against him…but then he stepped away.
“We have a long day tomorrow, Buffy. You must rest in order to prepare for Lord Námo.” Without another word or glance in her direction, Finrod laid down on his bedroll and turned away from her.
Frustrated, Buffy was tempted – sorely tempted – to run over to him and kick him until he actually gave her a proper reason and stopped being a coward.
God! What was wrong with her? She was an idiot, that’s what. Cursed to fall for the idiots who happened to have immortal life spans.
Angry and hurt, Buffy set off away from camp. This land was open plains to the east and woods to the south. Needing to burn off her excess energy, Buffy set off for the woods. She just needed to walk…no, she needed to run.
The leather soles of her boots were quiet against the forest floor. The only sound was her lithe body cutting through the air, causing wind to stir the leaves and small branches of trees. Inhaling through her nose and exhaling through her mouth, Buffy sought to calm her mind using the mediation techniques that both Giles and the elves had taught her.
Finrod had taught her meditation.
Her memory flashed back to that day, not too long ago.
“Buffy,” Finrod chuckled. “The intent of meditation is to relax.”
Buffy couldn’t help it. She was feeling all squirrely from being cooped up in the palace for the last week. It had been raining every day – whoever had said Valinor was perfect was so totally wrong, because crops still needed rain and thus there was a good deal of stupid wet rain that sometimes hindered her hunting outings. If she didn’t hate the thought of going out camping in this dreary weather, Buffy would have left already.
“I’m sorry,” she whined slightly. Letting out a huff of air, Buffy dropped her arms to the cool floor of that palace’s training room; the same place that Finrod and her held their second sparring match. Cross-legged, Buffy rolled her shoulders and tried to get some of her energy out. “I just can’t focus.”
“I know,” Finrod said calmly – but Buffy would be damned if she didn’t see a glint of humor in his placid grey eyes. “That is why I chose today to begin your training. It is imperative that meditation can be reached even in the most turbulent conditions.”
“Blah.” Buffy frowned. “Can’t we do something fun? Your dad promised to have his chef work on figuring out how to make chocolate ice cream for me. Let’s go check on that!” she grinned.
“You are the worst student that I have ever had,” Finrod commented drolly.
“Yup,” Buffy smirked. “That’s why you love me.”
A smile tugged on Finrod’s lips but he sought to mask it. “Here. I will assist you.”
Finrod stepped behind her and sat down. His legs spread, stretched out on either side of her body, and he began to gently massage her shoulders.
“Mmmm,” Buffy groaned in pleasure. “Good, good.”
“Just relax,” Finrod commanded softly as his deft hands travelled from her shoulders to massaging each of her arms. Shivers ran through Buffy as he moved to rub circles into her back, running his hands up and down.
After perhaps twenty minutes of this massage, Finrod whispered, his lips near her ear. “Now are you more calm?”
Buffy shivered once more at the feel of his warm breath tickling her ear.
And that was when it happened – that had been when she realized she was falling for him, her new friend, mentor, guide.
Buffy halted, the force of her movement sending her collapsing on the ground. Instantly she berated herself for being so silly. Here she was, her heart breaking all over again, and she was running in the dark in a strange forest like a fool.
Sniffling, Buffy forced herself to stop. She had to get a grip on herself. After hearing the stories about Lord Námo, she really doubted he was nice to crybaby girls – unless they had an awesome singing voice like Lúthien and could compel him to be nice…and since Buffy’s voice was pretty much the worse sound in Arda (seriously, this is what people told her here. It was like every single dang elf could sing so she was instantly a freak for not being able to), she didn’t think Námo would like her.
Buffy’s hand fished around the ground looking for some fallen leaves so she could wipe away her tears, when a handkerchief floated into her hand. It was a dark twilight blue with silver stars stitched around the edges. Scooting backwards in surprise, Buffy realized she wasn’t alone.
A woman stood near her, cloaked in shadows. Hair as silver as the shining moon framed a fair face that glowed with ethereal power, as if she were a ghost – or an angel. A gentle expression sat upon her face and her dark eyes glittered with unshed tears. She was gorgeous, greater in beauty than any elf met in Valinor, but there was an aura of sadness surrounding her.
Buffy’s throat closed – she was intimidated into silence by the presence of this unknown person. Her fingers clutched the handkerchief and slowly, afraid to even move lest this vision evaporate into thin air, Buffy wiped her eyes free from tears.
The woman gave Buffy a kindly smile. She knelt in the grass across from Buffy and gently trailed down Buffy’s jaw, her touch sending goosebumps flashing across Buffy’s arm.
“So much sorrow,” the woman lamented. She spoke Quenya but it was sounded archaic – it took Buffy’s mind a few moments to properly translate. “Too much sorrow for such a young mortal.”
The woman’s touch brought up a well of feelings from Buffy’s innermost being and she found herself crying again. But this time, she wasn’t just crying about Finrod – she wept for Dawn, for Giles, for Willow and Xander, for Tara and Spike, for her mother who was taken too soon, the father that seemed to forget she even existed, for Faith who was once an innocent, for Kendra who never should have been killed, even for Kendra’s murderer who had been tortured at the hands of Angelus and forcibly turned. Buffy wept for them all, finding compassion for even her most deadly of foes.
Buffy felt the woman’s arms wrap around her and soon their tears mingled together.
Eventually, Buffy cried herself to sleep from exhaustion. But she could have sworn she heard the woman say one more thing, but she was so tired and it didn’t make sense, so she forgot it immediately.
“I told my brother you were an innocent. Have hope, young Slayer. For all that serve will be rewarded.”
When Buffy woke up the next morning her back was killing her. Wincing, she rolled off the exposed tree root and gingerly got up, stretching her arms. Her back cracked and she grunted in satisfaction. While she was stretching, her hand touched something soft. Glancing down in puzzlement, Buffy picked up a dark blue handkerchief with silver stars dancing around the edges.
Last night was kind of hazy…she remembered running and then crying….and then the woman.
Buffy sat up straight as the memory hit her. Rubbing her eyes – which were still sore from all that crying – Buffy pondered on how that woman had been able to make her feel all that. That level of compassion…Buffy had even felt bad for Drusilla and even Glory.
“Weird,” she muttered with a shake of her head.
As she got up and began walking – and then jogging – back to where their camp was, Buffy thought on the mysterious woman. It was clear she was more than an elf – which meant she had to be one of the Valar.
Buffy wracked her mind trying to figure out who it was. She had trouble keeping all of the Valar straight since she didn’t really revere them like the elves did. Let’s see…Varda lived with Manwë and was top dog of all the goddess ladies… Vairë was the one married to Námo and since she would be seeing her soon, Buffy doubted it was her… Yavanna was all about plants, not people so it wasn’t her…
Then Buffy remembered – Nienna. The Vala of Mercy. The one who had helped Celebrían with her healing.
Swallowing heavily, Buffy tried to make peace with the fact that she just met a real honest-to-goodness god-person.
As soon as she exited the woods, she felt Finrod’s eyes on her.
“I was worried,” he expressed with furrowed brows.
Somehow, Buffy’s heart hurt less when she saw him. She had cried all she was able to, and now felt like maybe it was time to move forward. The logic-y part of her brain was winning out when it came to Finrod – she understood his reluctance, even if she didn’t like it. He was right. It would be cruel for them to deepen their bonds only to endure heartbreak upon death.
She smiled sadly. Maybe, she thought, this was growing up. Whatever Nienna had done last night, it had eased her heart and her mind.
“No big,” Buffy shrugged. Her eyes twinkled. “I was just, ya know, hanging out with one of the Valar. That’s all.”
“Wait. Truly?” Finrod asked in surprise. He nearly dropped the bag of supplies he was tying onto Arod’s back.
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded, a wistful expression on her face. “It was Nienna.” Buffy held out the gifted handkerchief. “She gave me this.”
Finrod came over and gazed at it in awe. “May I?”
Buffy nodded and handed it to him.
Reverence shone on his face and he fingered the fine fabric, disbelieving that it could be real. “By the sea and the stars.” He smiled at her. “Buffy, you have been given a great blessing. Nienna is one of the Aratar, the highest order of the Valar, and the sister of Námo. If she had granted you a token of good favor, then perhaps today will go well for you.”
He handed the handkerchief back and Buffy tucked it into her pants pocket, not wanting for it to leave her person. She gave her friend an earnest smile, feeling peace settle within her soul. “Maybe you’re right.”