After the morning's celebrations, some semblance of quiet had returned to the city of Minas Tirith. It was the second year of the reign of King Elessar of the reunited kingdom of Arnor and Gondor, February the twenty-sixth of the year 3021 of the Third Age of the world. It was a day of remembrance and of mirth, yet Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, had retired quite early. He had escorted his wife, the lady Éowyn, to their chambers: she was with child, and the time was drawing near. She had to rest, so he had waited for her to fall asleep in the quiet hours of the afternoon, then had left the room, seeking solace and peace out of doors.
Éomer Éadig, King of Rohan, had encountered his brother-in-law before the fountain, gazing pensively at the sapling of the White Tree. He took in Faramir's weary appearance and without words led him to the privacy of his own quarters. Where they now sat, in comfortable silence.
It was the second anniversary of Boromir's death, and as had been the past year--and would be every year, as King Elessar had instructed--Gondor had honoured the fallen Hero of the War of the Ring. There had been ceremonies, and a beautiful, heartfelt speech from the king. Then the surviving members of the Fellowship alone, plus Faramir, Boromir's younger brother, had climbed the stairs to the topmost level of the White Tower. There had been the Periannath: Frodo the Ringbearer, pale and maybe not so hale as he had assured everyone that he was, and Master Samwise Gamgee beside him; and Meriadoc who was in the escort of Éomer himself, and Peregrin who was in the service of Prince Faramir, all come from the Shire of the Halflings, far away in the North. And there had been Gandalf the White and Legolas Greenleaf who was now Lord of the Elves of Ithilien. With him had come Gimli Elf-friend, Lord of the Dwarves that had come to dwell in the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, in the Mark.
There had been King Elessar, and from far away, seated beside the Queen Undómiel and his sister Éowyn, amidst the royal party, Éomer had seen him turn his gaze northward--to where the Falls of Rauros were, hidden by the great curve of the Anduin--and kneel down on the flagstone floor, his head bent for the longest time, while fair Legolas intoned a mourning chant of wandering winds and falling waters and of loss without end.
When they had come back down, all had seen the tears still gleaming in the king's eyes.
Faramir had taken his seat beside his wife, and disappeared from the party of the royal guests not long after.
Now he was here, in Éomer's rooms. The King of the Mark looked thoughtfully at his friend, seeing how very still and pensive he was. It was true, Faramir usually was quiet and brooding; today, though, it was a mood of a different sort. Éomer could see how much the memory of Boromir affected him--whereas it hadn't been so yesteryear, he reflected, as Faramir had been occupied with the preparations for his own wedding, and the wooing of Éowyn. Now Éowyn would give the Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien his first child, his heir. It was not surprising that Faramir found himself with too much time to brood.
"How was he?" Éomer softly asked, breaking the silence.
Faramir did not look at him, as if the question was one for which he could have no answer, thus Éomer added, "Aragorn spoke of him to me, long ago. Before his crowning."
Éomer's thoughts wandered back to the year before the last, to the first days after the battle of Cormallen and the Passing of the Shadow. The elation, the merrymaking. The sheer happiness in the White City, in all of Gondor. Before Aragorn became Elessar. Before the Lady Arwen Undómiel came to join her betrothed. Beautiful, merry days of a new springtime, full of hope and laughter.
When Aragorn had talked with Éomer of the one in the Fellowship who was no longer.
"He praised him highly," Éomer said, then looked again at Faramir, and was quiet himself for a while. Those days were long passed.
In the end he just said, his voice comforting, "I know he died well."
Finally, Faramir nodded. A small smile played on his lips, though it did not reach his eyes. "Aye," he said. "His death was merciful." And, surprising Éomer greatly, he added, "He died in the arms of the one he loved. What more could a man wish?"
And then Faramir turned his head and studied him. "You look surprised that I know," he calmly stated. "Do not fear to speak your mind to me, kinsman. For I always knew the kind of man my brother was--he never hid the truth of his nature from me." And almost defiantly he added, "I loved him so much more for this."
Éomer reflected on these words. "He was a brave man, the lord Boromir," he said.
"He was valiant," nodded Faramir, somewhat hotly. "I admired him so. He was noble and proud, yet gentle and caring. Though..." Faramir turned his gaze away, allowing Éomer just the briefest glimpse of the shadows lingering there. When he did speak again, his voice was lower. "Father did not look upon this so kindly. Boromir was... he was everything he had wished for in a son." The words should have had bitterness in them, yet to Éomer's mild surprise, they had not. "He had a strong arm and a stout heart. And yet, Father was harsh to him, at times, for he did not understand how Boromir could refuse to marry. I do not remember that they argued on anything but this." Faramir averted his eyes, lost in recollection. "It pained Boromir, to cause such grief to our father--yet I always stood by him. I knew it was right of him, to act so. To be true, first of all, to himself."
Faramir halted then, his eyes seeing something that had happened a long time ago, someone that Éomer had known only briefly, and mostly looked upon from afar--the lord Boromir's name had been renowned amongst the Rohirrim, though seldom he had paid visit to the Riddermark, as he was almost always on the Eastern borders, battling Orcs and Easterlings. And in the rare occasions when he had come to Edoras, as the Captain of the White Guard, he had dealt chiefly with King Théoden's son and heir, Théodred. Éomer sighed, softly. His own captain. Another hero, one much celebrated and mourned in Edoras, and in all the Mark. Another beloved young man who was no more.
"There was a lady," Faramir said in the silence. "Not long ago. Barely a month before Boromir left on his quest--he turned her down. It was the honourable thing to do, and though Father was greatly displeased, I think... I think she was relieved as well. Political marriages." Faramir's voice was sad. "They are oftentimes a necessity--but it should not be so. They should not be allowed."
Éomer was silent.
"Boromir used to say," Faramir went on, "that he would have appointed my firstborn as his heir." And then he said no more, certainly thinking of the child that was about to come into the world. His first child. One that Boromir would never know.
Éomer had noticed that Faramir did not seem at all disturbed by his brother's way of loving--which was, though not all that uncommon, certainly not favourably judged. He searched for something to say that would take Faramir's mind from his sorrow. It was what he had wished to do since seeing him before the White Tree, since seeing how distressed he was.
And while he searched for words, he noted Faramir's blond hair once more. He remembered that Boromir had had blond hair as well. It was a shade darker than his own, but it was odd all the same. Men of Gondor usually had dark hair, as Aragorn had. He had always thought Faramir looked like a Rider of Rohan; as Boromir had. He remembered saying so to Aragorn, upon their very first meeting, in the Downs on the outskirts of Fangorn Forest.
Without thinking, he said, "But you're nothing like your brother. In... this respect." He waited for Faramir to look back at him. "You never..."
Faramir caught his meaning at once.
"No. I never." He sighed, voice still tinged with pain--but something else was in it, too. Éomer found himself listening more closely.
"I loved my brother, with all my heart. Yet I never understood..." Then his hands curled into fists over his knees, and Faramir briefly closed his eyes. When he reopened them, Éomer could see.
He could see.
"I did not understand," Faramir said, words barely a whisper, "till I awakened one day in the Houses of Healing, and I saw the face of my king, looking down at me, his eyes kind and sad. Then..." He took a deep breath. "Then, for the first time, I understood." And here, Faramir lifted his gaze and looked into Éomer's eyes for the first time since they had parted that morning, when Faramir had accompanied his king to the Tower. "I understood my brother. I understood," and his voice went lower still, though it never faltered, "how a man could love another of his kind, with all his soul, and desire to be joined to him in body--to become one with him in soul."
Éomer held his breath.
"May the Valar forgive me," Faramir was saying, "for when my lord Elessar took me into his confidence, telling me with sincerity what he and Boromir had shared--I envied my brother then. I was jealous... of what he had with my king."
Éomer released his breath in a long, soft sigh.
That Faramir had such faith in him as to confide this, made him feel blessed, honoured that this worthy man believed he could entrust his most secret heart to him. He recalled a day, not long after Faramir and Éowyn had been married, he and his brother-in-law meeting before joining the king's army for a battle against rogues out of the scattered armies of Sauron.
"We are kin," he clearly recalled Faramir saying. "I love you dearly, Éomer Éadig. I found another brother in you--and I rejoice."
That, thought Éomer now, had perhaps been the first time he had become aware of Faramir's great heart. Of his courage in admitting things like that--like love.
He had seen where Faramir's true strength dwelt, and had never forgotten.
He got out of his seat and went to kneel before Faramir, who had again averted his eyes, to look into his face. "Brother," he said; and as a charm, Faramir's eyes were drawn to Éomer's by that simple word. "Do not be ashamed of this." Éomer reached out with his hands, covered both of Faramir's, still tightly closed into fists. "It is good, to know such things." He moved his hands, slowly, gently, till he felt Faramir's relaxing under his touch, uncurling, lying pliant.
"It is good, to love," Éomer said. "To be loved."
Faramir was silent. Éomer noted that he was breathing a little faster--but then, it could have been the effort to calm himself.
"I love," at last he said. "I am loved."
Éomer looked at him, intently, but not unkindly. "How long, since you have last lain with your wife?"
Faramir did look mildly shocked at that, but he seemed to recover quickly, Éomer noted with approval.
"Éowyn is with child," he said, by way of explanation.
Éomer just waited.
And sure enough, as he had suspected, Faramir--averting his eyes yet again, but not dislodging Éomer's hands from his--added, flushing a little, "She gave me leave to lie with others, since we... can't. She said it was the custom of her... your people."
"So it is." Éomer still looked at him, calmly. "And... have you?"
Faramir hesitated just the slightest fraction of a moment. "It is not the custom of *my* people." Then he amended, "Not officially."
Éomer kept his silence.
At last, Faramir turned his eyes back to his.
"I love Éowyn. I could never lie with another woman."
Eomer stilled the soothing caress of his hands. "But have you? With... others?"
Faramir took a sharp intake of breath--then he released it. Éomer felt it caress his face, his lips--he fought the urge to lean closer, and instead forced himself to remain still.
"The love of men," Faramir whispered. His hands were made into fists again. "I have never known it."
This time, Éomer closed his hands over his kinsman's fists, gripping them, hard.
"Would you?" he asked, his own voice barely more than a whisper. His heart was singing loudly in his chest, his blood afire with its song. "With me?"
After a time so long it seemed to Éomer as he'd been waiting since the beginning of his life--his whole life, waiting for this--Faramir's hands turned, palms up, opening. Entwining with Éomer's.
In the blessed quiet of the afternoon, Éomer took his time divesting Faramir of his clothing, every so often pausing to bestow light, soothing touches on his kinsman's hands, face, and chest, as he would with a young man who had never experienced the pleasures of love, and not his very own brother-in-law, a married man, soon-to-be father, his elder by eight years.
He supposed, in a way, he was.
He took his time baring neck, shoulders, chest. Honeyed skin, pale skin, covering the hard strength of muscle; strength covering vulnerability, hiding it away from all.
Faramir was letting Éomer bare his vulnerability; Éomer, who better than anyone else knew Faramir's strength, its deepest core.
"Courageous Faramir," Éomer whispered, fingers caressing the side of Faramir's neck, a touch so light, yet Faramir trembled under it, his eyes closing a little, darkening a little. Making Éomer tremble, as well.
When at last Faramir moved to disrobe Éomer of his own garments-- unruly laces dealt with, heavy velvet disposed of--Éomer saw that his brother's hands were steady, and with a smile he finally dared to take him into his arms, bare chest against bare chest, gasping a little, rejoicing in the feeling of Faramir's arms coming around him as well, Faramir's silveren head resting on his shoulder, neither of them moving, just standing there, breathing in the moment.
Then Faramir lifted his head, looking steadfastly into Éomer's eyes, and nodded.
Éomer had need of nothing more. He quietly led him to the bedchamber, where the pale winter sunlight streamed through the arched stone window, and Éomer was glad that it was past noon, that there was light, so he could see this most amazing thing happening, he and his brother together.
He was glad, for night was strange and mysterious, and oftentimes the things that one would freely do at night, would come to regret by daylight.
He led Faramir over to the large bed, in the clear February afternoon, and climbed over the firm mattress, laying back against the pillows and spreading his arms, looking at Faramir all the time.
And Faramir joined him, with no hesitation, taking up his former place in his arms, settling down as if there was nothing odd in this, as if it was their wont to share a bed thus, laying together: and it felt so natural, so quietly right, that Éomer could almost believe it himself.
Or perhaps it was just...
"Éomer," Faramir breathed, warm against the indentation where his neck and shoulder met. "Éomer."
... he had dreamed so long about this, it now felt like home.
Éomer lifted his hands--now it was he, the one trembling--touching the sides of Faramir's face, framing it. Half-lidded, bright blue eyes, made more so by the faint flush on his cheekbones, burned into him.
And it was so much better.
"Faramir," he could only whisper, a murmur of wonderment, of awe. "Dearest Faramir."
Then the time for words was past.
Éomer rolled gently to one side, so as to lie halfway on top of Faramir, breathing in his scent, drinking in the beautiful sight of him, half-divested, flushed, blond hair loose and unruly on the pillow as so many streams of silver, his broad chest heaving with each intake of air, and a trail of fair, silveren hair running down from between his nipples to below the waistband of his leggings. Almost reverently Éomer reached out, brushing that line, saw Faramir's eyes becoming darker still, felt his heartbeat quickening under his palm--thus emboldened, he made his caress steadier, closing his fingertips over one rosy nipple, leaning down to kiss Faramir's neck, feeling his heart there as well, pulsing so fast for his touch.
When Faramir reached out to caress his shoulders, his back, Éomer began to suckle on the tender skin under his lips, eliciting a gasp from Faramir that almost made him give up and speed his pace--but he mustn't, for he wanted to do this right for his friend. He needed to.
He lifted his eyes to see Faramir studying him, a look of wonder in his eyes, a tentative smile on his lips. Yet when Éomer, ever so slowly, lowered his lips to Faramir's, he turned his head away--not much, but enough. Éomer laid his kiss on Faramir's stubbled jaw, ignoring whatever small grief he could have felt at this, for it had been expected; calculated, even.
For kisses were for lovers, and Faramir's kisses were for Éowyn.
And for the one who would never seek them--the one whose lover's kisses would never have again.
So it came to pass that in the gentle light of a February afternoon Éomer Éadig made gentle, caring love to Faramir son of Denethor, and though ghosts lingered around them, the light was enough to keep them at bay, to make them no more than whispers of memories long passed and dreams never fulfilled.
Éomer chuckled at that, and Faramir joined him. They rested thus, side by side, one of Éomer's arms holding Faramir close, his other hand entwined with one of Faramir's. It was peaceful, easy.
"I miss Boromir," said Faramir after a while. "I miss him... so very much."
Éomer held him a little closer still, saying nothing.
"I know Elessar misses him as much."
Éomer closed his eyes. "I know," he whispered. Softly.
Faramir let his head rest on Éomer's shoulder. "Before leaving," he said, slowly, "my brother came to me. He said..." and here Faramir's voice broke, a little, "... he said, 'I go to seek hope.'" Éomer, eyes still closed, wondered if he would be allowed to kiss Faramir's brow, to try and make that sorrow in his voice lesser. It seemed out of place, in some way, now that what they had shared lay behind them. He had no right.
He opened his eyes, turned his head a little, and touched his lips on Faramir's forehead. Lingering.
Faramir sighed, shifting a little closer.
"I never heard his voice again," he stated, quietly. Éomer felt the movement of his lips against his throat, more than heard his words.
So it happened that he could feel Faramir's smile forming; and when he looked down, he saw that this time--this blessed time--that smile shined in Faramir's eyes, too.
"Now I know he found it."
Then Faramir's eyes lifted, and the smile in them was warm, and beautiful, as it reflected Éomer's own smile back at him. "I am glad they had this," Faramir said, lifting their interlaced hands, "together. My brother and my king. I am glad my brother knew this with the man he loved, before the end."
"Bliss," Éomer murmured. Faramir nodded.
"He was very much loved," Éomer said, and felt he too was oddly glad. Happy, almost. He tightened his grip on Faramir's hand. "He still is."
Moments went by. The light had changed, noted Éomer, growing softer, casting slanted shadows on the walls. It had left their bed. Éomer's bed.
"Maybe some day," Faramir said at last, "maybe we will be together again. Beyond this world. All of us. And maybe... maybe Father shall be there, too. And maybe then..." he trailed off, and said no more.
There was no need. Éomer knew what he was thinking.
"It should be so," he nodded.
Faramir took their joined hands to his lips, kissing the back of Éomer's lightly. Tenderly.
"Thank you," was all he said.
Again, Éomer said nothing.
Éomer stayed on the bed even after Faramir had gone. The sun was setting, the shadows lengthening. There was such quiet.
He could almost see them, lingering in the shadows. Figures of fancy, of yearnings never made true, forever just out of reach. His reach. Faramir's reach.
He could almost see, Aragorn and Boromir as they must have been then, on their quest for hope.
Locked so closely together, as to become one. So beautiful, he felt his eyes sting, for they were too bright to look upon, an image of lost perfection.
Of lost bliss.
"They lie together," Éomer whispered to the image. "Your little brother, lord Boromir, and my little sister. They lie together--but there is always another between them. A man they would never admit to one another they desire--a man who had devoted himself to you."
In his youth, Éomer had greatly admired the lord Boromir. He had admired him from afar; maybe he had even loved him--loved his virile beauty and his valour, his fame... The fancy of a young soldier for a living legend, the worship for a great captain.
For what it had been worth, he had loved the lord Boromir.
Then the king had come to him out of the legends of the past, and he was a valiant man, a proud and noble king, who inspired devotion in all just by one glance of his clear grey eyes--and that king, in a moment of friendship and closeness after the last battle, had confided in Éomer.
Confided what the lord Boromir had meant to him.
Éomer had always wondered, afterwards. They said the Kings of the Dúnedain had the blood of the Eldar in them, so they could see farther than common Men. Their gaze could reach the hearts of Men.
He had thought Aragorn had told him out of loneliness--because he had perceived that Éomer had had feelings for Boromir as well, and could understand him.
Now, though, Éomer knew better.
Aragorn had told him that Boromir had been happy--truly happy--for a little while. And had made Éomer's heart lighter.
Merely for this, he would love Aragorn till his last living day. For without this, he could not have done the same for Faramir.
They had mourned Boromir together, that night, Aragorn and Éomer. Before the lady Evenstar came to the White City.
Before Éomer went to visit his sister in the Houses of Healing and met Faramir, Boromir's younger brother.
Faramir was so much like his brother; yet, he was so different. He wedded Éomer's sister, he became kin. Family. His closest friend.
Éomer no longer remembered when he had fallen in love with him.
And it was not a love like he had felt for Boromir--not a distant fancy, this. Because Faramir was there, a man Éomer had actually been able to know--to love.
And so more distant, and unattainable, than Boromir had ever been.
His own sister's husband. The father of her child.
Thus it was that Éomer was left alone, in a cold winter twilight, with his memories and their shadows.
He left the bed, donning again his clothes. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth had offered him the hand of his daughter, that morning before the celebrations. Lothíriel, he believed was the young lady's name.
Political marriages should not be allowed, Faramir had said. Boromir had refused that for himself.
Éomer, though, did not have a loving brother ready to take the task from him. He had, instead, a kingdom in need of an heir.
Twice blessed you are, lord Boromir, he thought to the shadows now no more visible in the growing darkness. For you never had to witness your love with another--and for your love loved you in return, with all his heart. And his love you shall keep, for all eternity.
Faramir had said, maybe someday we all will be together.
Maybe some day, brother mine, my love, Éomer thought. In some other world.
For in this one, it was not to be.
Then he left, in search of the lord Imrahil, as the sun settled down in the West, shrouding the room in darkness. In which shadows would forever dwell.