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Title: A King Among Men
Author: Jinni (druscilla@cox.net or jinni@moonlitpaths.com)
Rating: PG13
Pairing: W/Aragorn
Genre: BtVS/LotR Crossover.
Disclaimer: All things BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, et al. All things LotR belong to JRR Tolkien, et al.
Distribution: WLF, WLS, NHA, BMP, Aislin.
Author's Note: Pairing #131 at The Quickie Challenge: http://quickie.moonlitpaths.com
~*~*~

There are those people in this world that you can tell, just by looking at them, that they are not 'normal'.

I don't mean that they are supernatural, though there are those sorts as well. No, these people that I speak of are just different. They set themselves apart from others by their actions, their thoughts, and their words.

He was one of those people.

She didn't know who he was the first time she saw him, paying a visit to a woman she had come slowly to consider her surrogate sister. They were in love. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. I was envious of them. Envious of that feeling that they shared with one another. The way they could just look into each others' eyes and make the rest of the world disappear for just a little while.

That was what I wanted.

'Father' introduced me to this dark haired stranger later that same night; and I knew right away that he wasn't all that 'father' made him out to be. After all, father said that Strider was a ranger, nothing more.

But I felt something different in my soul.

He wasn't just a ranger; for all that his clothes were often dirty and tattered, his hair grimy and unbrushed. He was something more, of that much I was absolutely sure.

I did not question 'father', who was really not my father at all but just an Elf who chose to take in a refugee from another realm that fell, quite literally, from the heavens to his feet. After five years I knew that it was wrong to question him in these things. He was kind, yes, but completely and utterly chauvinistic in his deeds and words. A woman did not question in this world.

And so she did not question, merely accepted what he said, filing it away in the little category of her brain labeled 'not completely true'.

He and I spoke that night, as sister played the part of the gracious hostess to the visiting lords and ladies of the forest realms. I wove for him the tale of my home, the place I would never see again.

He spoke nothing of himself; nothing more than I already knew, anyway. No clues about who he *really* was.

And then he left; leaving me with a warmth in my heart that I knew was unbecoming. He was my 'sister's' intended, and it was not my place to become familiar with him.

Though I did. And he with me.

Far too familiar for who we were. Him, the beloved of my 'sister', and me the one she confided in. Perhaps it was because we all knew that their love was doomed, that we allowed ourselves to become close friends.

But, still, I did not learn of his true nature until that fateful day when the Council was called to order; to determine the fate of the One Ring.

Oh that hateful little ring. Sending out men and hobbits, elves and dwarves, on a mad scurry to the very fiery hells of Mordor, a land I personally hoped to never see.

Yes, it was there, listening off to one side as 'father' delivered a speech I know he spent the entire night before working on, that I learned who Strider truly was.

"That is no mere ranger. . . he is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. . ."

Dear Goddess above.

I could've kissed Legolas at that moment, just for giving me that snatch of information I had been seeking discreetly for more than a year. It wouldn't be the first time I'd kissed that cutie of an elf, for that matter - he was a master of wooing the ladies; even human born lovelies from another realm like myself. Stud master, indeed.

And don't get me started on the whole endurance thing.

But that was beside the point!

I knew who he was now. Not just Strider, the ranger from the woods, beloved of my 'sister' Arwen and one of my truest friends in this place. He was Aragorn, Ilsildur's heir. The one that would, hopefully, one day take the throne of Gondor.

He was a king.

Well, king to be.

It all fell into place at that moment. The way he held his head high, the intelligence that shown so brightly in his eyes. He was no mere ranger, as Legolas had said; this was royalty.

The night before the Fellowship was to leave was the last time I had a chance to speak with that king of a man for years.

"You will be safe, right?"

"As safe as is usual in undertakings such as this."

"Pft!" I snorted softly. "You do little to ease my worried heart."

"Worry not for me, Little Tree. Do you know what is to become of you when the ships sail for Valinor? The time is coming nigh."

Ah.

My own personal heartache brought out into the open by this man that I had come to care about as more than just a friend, despite my inner resolution to do no such thing.

"I -" My breath caught and I turned my head so that he would not see the tears in my eyes. "I will be staying, of course. There is no place there for me. . . as much as 'father' would like there to be. Even he cannot undo the workings of the world. . .He would move Hell and earth if it was possible. . . but it is not."

He smiled then, that sad little smile that was all about inner pain. How he knew so well the words I was speaking. Had Arwen told him yet of her intentions to go with 'father'? Yes, I could see it in his eyes. He carried her pendant still, but no longer had claim to her mortality. He would always love her, just as I would always love both her and 'father' for all they had done for me.

But our time with our loved ones was drawing rapidly to a close.

It was a sad state of affairs for both of us.

"I will make sure that you are taken care of."

I shook my head firmly, feeling that I knew the reason for this sudden offer.

"There is no reason to do say that. I will be alright on my own. . ."

But even as I said the words I did not really believe them. The world outside of Rivendell was something far different from what I had known back home. And I had little skill outside of the pathetically weak magics I had brought with me. Scarcely enough to defend myself.

Still. . . I wouldn't have Aragorn doting on me because I am the kid sister of the woman he loves.

"There are plenty of reasons why I should make sure that you are taken care of, Willow."

Ouch. My given name. He hardly ever used that. A quick glance into his eyes confirmed what I already knew - he was being a Very Serious Man.

"And the fact that you are Arwen's 'little sister' is only a small bit of it all."

He smiled then, just faintly, and laid a gentle kiss on my forehead, walking off before I could say anything else to argue.

Though I didn't have it in me to argue with him by that point. If he wanted to take care of me, then so be it. If he wanted to delude himself into believing that it wasn't because of the connection I had with his ladylove, then I would allow it.

~*~*~

I knew when the final battle came.

Knew when the Ring was destroyed.

There was a party unlike any other in Rivendell that night. And the elves gathered together to sing and dance. This was their farewell party, as much as it was anything else. Their farewell to Middle Earth before they left for the hallowed hills of Valinor.

"You are welcome to stay here, in Rivendell, for all of your days."

I looked up into the eyes of the Lord of this place. Lord Elrond. How he had scared me when I first came here, before I came to call him 'father'.

"Thank you."

"I wish -"

He stopped and I held up a hand, bidding him not to go on. We both knew that he wished I could come along with him. I wanted nothing more than that, too. But there just wasn't a way. I could not live out my days in Valinor and their time here was past. I would be loosing my 'family' for the second time in my life. First those I had known back in Sunnydale, and now the only circle of 'family' I had found in Middle Earth.

"Aragorn has sent word that he wishes for you to come to Gondor, however."

I cast a brief smile his way, thrilled at the news, yet saddened all at the same time.

"He would take care of me for who I am. . . Arwen's baby sister. . .I'd rather stay here and be a burden to no one. The forests are still teeming with food. . . I will be fine."

Elrond gave me a look that clearly said that he thought very little of whether or not I would be 'fine', here alone in an empty city, fending for myself.

"He cares for you. Just as he cared for my daughter. You were close friends. . .rumor has it that he wished for more when the pain of their separation passed."

"Ha!"

Okay, so that was meant to be a jesting laugh, not something so bitter as how I ended up making it sound.

He just raises an eyebrow at me.

"I will miss you child, do an old elf a favor and go to stay in Gondor. I would feel that much the better to know that you are safe within a city."

"He's king now." I whisper softly, my eyes on the ground. "No longer just the ranger I once thought him to be. . . not even the future king of Gondor. . . I mean, he's actually king now. He has better things to do than look after a twenty-five year old woman, my would-be father."

"He does not think of you as a burden or a chore or else he would not send for you."

He grabs my hand and I sigh, meeting those steely gray eyes.

"Please?"

And so my will comes undone. My eyes prick with the sting of tears. I'll miss this man when he's gone. Just as I miss my friends back home. He and his daughter were all I had in this world. . . and now they, too, shall be gone. He wants me to believe in Aragorn, to believe that he cares for me. . .

Well, perhaps he does, as a little sister.

There are worse thing, I suppose.

"Yes, father. I'll go to Gondor."

~*~*~

The White City.

Beautiful.

Breathtaking, even.

I had heard stories, of course.

But stories paled in comparison to the actuality of the place.

The architecture of the elves was beautiful, too; but this was different in its beauty and striking in its contrast. I was taken with it from the moment my horse set foot in the gates, my Elven escort flanking me on either side.

We traveled through the crowded early morning streets, careful to avoid trampling those that were on foot. They looked up at us with only minor glances. Elves were not commonplace, but they weren't a rarity, either. And I was just another human woman on horseback; though I dressed in the style of the elves. Another horse followed behind, laden with a good majority of my belongings. More would be coming before Elrond made his final leave of Rivendell.

I had stopped an hour outside of the city, claiming the need for a break; though really I had just wanted time to freshen up before seeing him again. Long since had I lost hope in ever finding love with Aragorn - he had given all that he had to Arwen; but that did not mean that I wanted to arrive at his castle dressed as though I had been on horseback for weeks.

So I sat here now, winding through the streets closer and closer to him; dressed in an Elven gown that had been designed by my 'sister' herself. One of many that had been made before I left, so that I would have something fine to wear while spending my days traipsing through the castle.

The castle itself was protected by an inner gate, and we were stopped by the guards.

"The Lady Willow is expected by your King."

I nearly laughed aloud.

Lady Willow.

Apparently my name was on 'the list' or something, though, because that was all it took to admit us into the inner gates. Here I dismounted, staring up at the white stone castle, mouth open.

This was to be my home?

"You'll catch a mouthful of bugs if you do that."

"Shush, Domir." I muttered to the elf next to me, giving him a mock glare. "Rivendell is the only place I've ever seen, let me have just a minute of awe-struck gazing, hmm?"

He smirked but wisely held his tongue.

I let my gaze travel over the tight lines and curves of the building, a mixture of both Elvish and Dwarven styles. The stonework was white, almost bleached in appearance, though I knew it had not been treated in that manner. Bleach did not exist here. Not in this realm of existence.

"You approve, my lady?"

My entire body tenses at the sound of his voice, right behind me. I look to the side and see Domir chuckling softly. Stupid elf, letting a king sneak up on me like that.

"Your highness." I murmur, turning and curtseying, eyes to the ground.

"So formal." His voice was chiding, a finger beneath my chin lifting my eyes back up to his face. "There is no need of that between us . . ."

"Isn't there? You're all kingly now, you know. And here I am, still just Willow."

"You were never 'just Willow'." He laughed.

Laughter?

It looked good on him, that smiling laughter that I had never before really gotten an opportunity to see. He had been so sad over Arwen when I last saw him. So sad and lonely. He looked none of that now.

"Who is she?" The words leave my mouth before I can stop them, an accusation. Has he already moved on from my 'sister' completely, as my 'father' hinted before I left? And not even to me, the one who loved him just as much as she had?

"She?"

"Yeah, the one that's making you so happy. You needed a good woman. . . and it seems like you've found one. I've never seen you so happy."

He smiled, bending his head in acknowledgement.

"Would you believe that I only just found this happiness?"

That brought me up short.

"Really? She's new?"

Well, at least that would be a little better. He had only *just* found this woman, whoever she was.

"Mmm." He nodded, taking a step closer to me. I could smell some sort of spicy scent. Did men in this realm where cologne? Nope. That was just the yummy smell that was one hundred percent Aragorn. He gave me another smile and backed up a step, gesturing towards the huge double doors that led into my new home. "Would you like a tour? Your things will be brought to your room."

I nodded, unable to speak, pondering more on this mystery woman who had only recently captured my Aragorn's heart. It was good to see him happy, and I couldn't begrudge that he had found someone who made him that way.

"So . . . tell me about her, this woman that makes you happy? How long have you known her?"

There was that little smile again. The secret one. The one that had first made my heart go flip-flop so long ago.

"Well. . . I have known her for years, to be honest." A guard opened the door as we approached and I was allowed my first glimpse into the castle. "But she only just walked back into my life a few minutes ago."

"Oh, really?" It was noncommittal, of course. Couldn't have him thinking I actually cared about this mystery woman that had just come back. .. into. . .his . . .life?

She. . .

Goddess. . .

I stole a glimpse at the man walking next to me, blushing when his smirking eyes met my own. And from that look I knew one thing very well.

Gondor would definitely be my home for a very, very long time.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, though that look in his eyes says something else, but every Kingdom deserved a Queen.

Queen Willow.

Yeah, that has a nice ring to it.

~*~The End~*~
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The authors own nothing. Joss, UPN, WB, etc. own Buffy, the show, the characters, the places, and the backstory. The authors own any original plots.