Taking Leave of Hope

The city of Minas Tirith was settling down for the night; the streets, so recently the site of so much war and bloodshed, were now quiet. Outside the ruined gates, the tents of their allies spotted the Pellenor fields like ugly brown daisies. Aside from the occasional under-aged boy running messages from tent to tent, all was quiet there too. Everyone was settling in for one last night's rest before the Lords of the West would march away with most of the army and assail the Black Gate. A seemingly impossible mission, yet their only reasonable course of action, given the circumstances.

Inside the city, the generally accepted captain of the Lords of the West had yet to find his rest. He had spent much of the day organizing the march, helping the lords of the various factions communicate with each other, trying to assess which parts of the army should remain to defend Minas Tirith and which men should be sent to their doom at the Black Gate. In the brief spare moments left to him he had taken fruitless counsel with Gandalf, the two discussing at great length something they could do absolutely nothing about. The fate of Frodo and Sam was long since out of their hands, yet they could not help but reach out after it with grasping fingers anyway.

Now it was night and even the energetic wizard had taken gone to his bed, but Aragorn had one task that was still undone. He had literally put it off for as long as possible, and now he must deliver the message.

Aragorn walked the by-now familiar paths to the Houses of Healing without drawing much notice either from the guards or the few citizens still about. He had, after all, spent most of his life as a ranger, and could avoid being seen when he wished. But he could also make himself quite recognizable when there was need, and so neither the healer nor the guards outside it challenger his right to enter into the Steward's room.

Aragorn felt a pang of guilt when he found Faramir curled up on his side, deeply asleep, his breathing low and heavy. The moonlight drifting in through the window made the young man look even paler than was his wont, and for a moment Aragorn was at war with himself. He could hardly bear to wake Faramir; not when the young man had finally put aside his physical and emotional pain for long enough to find sleep. Surely Faramir needed his rest more than any comfort Aragorn might bring to him?

That was the most frustrating part of what Aragorn must do. He had no idea whether he would bring comfort, or sorrow, to the man who was now his steward. There was even the agonizing possibility that he had garbled the message, and it would mean nothing to Faramir. Aragorn could not bear to raise the young man's hopes only to have them dashed again in incomprehension.

But Aragorn did not really have a choice. As much as he wished to let Faramir rest, he had given his word. He knelt by the Steward's bed and reached to gently shake Faramir's shoulder. "Faramir," he said softly. "Faramir, wake up."

Faramir did not stir, which only added to Aragorn's sense of guilt. He should not have spent so much of his time with Gandalf; he should have come to Faramir when it was still light and he might have caught the young man awake. But there was no help for it now; Aragorn knew full well that it was likely he would not return from the Black Gate, and he was honor-bound to deliver the message. Steeling himself, he shook Faramir again and spoke in a louder, more commanding tone. "Faramir. Faramir, awaken."

Faramir moaned softly once, still half-asleep, then his eyes came suddenly open. It took him no time at all to recognize the man kneeling beside him. "My Lord Aragorn," he said, his voice slurred with sleep.

"Forgive me for awakening you, Faramir," Aragorn said contritely.

"No, 'tis no matter," Faramir said, fighting back drowsiness. He raised his hands to scrub sleep sand away from his eyes, then raised himself slightly on the bed so he was reclining against the headboard in a near-sitting position. "Is aught amiss?"

"No," Aragorn replied, sitting on the side of the bed. "Unless you count my foolishness in not coming to you earlier when you might have been awake."

"It is no matter," Faramir said again, more firmly. "What might I do for my lord?"

Aragorn hid his wince at the strictly formal wording, and how easily it flowed off of Faramir's tongue. He must have been raised to speak this way all his life. Aragorn wondered if Faramir would be uncomfortable if Aragorn asked to be called by his first name. Probably he would. Aragorn decided to compromise by letting the "my lord" go for now but by keeping his own language and mannerisms casual. "I only wish you to listen to me for a while."

Faramir nodded his compliance. Aragorn took a deep breath. There was no way to soften what he needed to do, so he began without further preamble. "Faramir, I was there when your brother died."

Faramir's eyes changed. Aragorn couldn't have said how it happened, but they seemed to become darker, larger. As if they were expanding to be able to hold more pain. "I had been given to understand so," Faramir said quietly. He drew another breath, but then bit his lip.

Aragorn could guess what Faramir wanted to know, and he did his best to offer some comfort with his answer.

"He did die valiantly, Faramir," he said. "I know it is no consolation, no reprieve from your grief, yet I would have you know that your brother was valiant to the end. He died defending his companions from certain death or torment. He was unable to defend himself from the Uruk archer who slew him, because he fought so many alone." Faramir's eyes filled with tears; he made no sound. "I knew him for only a short time, but I could guess that this was the manner in which he would have chosen to die."

"I think it was his second choice," Faramir said, conquering his tears enough to speak. "I think any man, if given the choice, would choose to die warm in his own bed, with his children and grandchildren gathered nearby. But being denied that, this was indeed how Boromir would have wished to meet his end." Faramir's voice wavered slightly, but he plunged stoically on. "I thank you, my Lord, for finding the time to tell me this."

"I would not have awakened you merely to tell you this," Aragorn said quickly. "Many could have said as much. What I have to say--what I must do, that is, is different. Before he died, your brother asked me to give you a message."

Faramir's features grew more alert than Aragorn had yet seen them. "What is it?" he asked quickly, formality vanishing from his voice to be replaced with need.

"I am not sure I have got it right," Aragorn cautioned. "I did not understand it, but then I doubt I was meant to. Still it may mean nothing to you," he continued, fearful of disappointing Faramir. He was not sure how much more pain the young man could stand.

"Please," Faramir implored, his tone heartbreaking. "Please try."

"Very well. Boromir asked me to do this." Slowly, so as not to alarm his steward, Aragorn reached out and took hold of one of Faramir's hands. He drew the arm towards him and turned it so the palm was up. Holding Faramir's hand in one of his, he took his other hand and gently stroked his fingers, twice, along Faramir's palm and up the paler skin of the underside of his arm.

Faramir gasped. His eyes went wide, and for a moment he simply sat there, his mouth open, frozen with shock. Then, without warning, he burst into tears.

It was so sudden that the young man sat there for a moment, bereft of comfort, while Aragorn's mind caught up with events. As soon as it did he moved forward and firmly pulled Faramir to him, gently angling the younger man's head onto his own shoulder. He wrapped his arms tightly around the frame made slight by illness. Faramir did not resist, but rather sank into the proffered comfort, weeping his heart out onto Aragorn's sleeve.

Aragorn could sense these were not bitter tears, but cleansing ones. "You understand," he said, relief flooding his voice.

Faramir nodded against his neck. They did not speak again for many moments; Aragorn rocked Faramir back and forth gently, stroking his hair like he would a frightened child's and acting as though he had all the time in the world to wait for Faramir to get under control, instead of the brief moments he really did have. He tried to let Faramir know silently, by the touch of his skin or by resting his chin on the younger man's head that it was okay for Faramir to cry as long as he needed to.

Gradually Faramir's frantic weeping began to still, not with the sharp jerking motions of someone reigning in yet more tears, but with a calm, natural rhythm to it. Aragorn still held him tightly, and waited for Faramir to be the one to pull away.

The younger man did after a moment, wiping his eyes before he met Aragorn's gaze. "Thank you," he whispered, a wealth of meaning in that one phrase.

Aragorn could not come up with the words to express how glad he was to have given Faramir a chance to grieve, so he nodded his head.

"It was--"

"You don't have to tell me, Faramir," Aragorn interrupted quickly.

Faramir nodded. "I know." He continued in a wistful tone. "It was how we used to say 'I love you' to one another. When we couldn't say it aloud. He was just saying 'I love you' one last time."

Faramir dissolved into tears again halfway through the last sentence, and Aragorn immediately pulled him back into his embrace. He was not surprised to find himself crying along with the younger man. He was not really weeping for Boromir, nor even for Faramir--he was weeping for everything, everything he had endured in the past weeks and months without a moment to spare for tears.

He wept for Boromir, but he also wept for leaving Haldir on the ground with only a hand clasped to the chest to say farewell; he wept for the pain and torment Merry and Pippin had gone through; he wept for Theoden King dying underneath his horse and for Eowyn still in despair; he wept for Denethor's madness. He wept for his helplessness to protect those he loved, to protect any of them, and most of all the two he had allowed to go alone into Mordor.

It was a blessed relief to share these tears with Faramir. Aragorn clung to the young man desperately, wanting the moment to last. It was as though the entire world had shrunk to this tiny room, and nothing mattered but being here with Faramir. Aragorn seized the feeling with both hands, desperate to put off leaving for a moment. Because when he left this room he would have to go to his tent and sleep, and when he awoke there would be no further delays.

Finally, though, it was time to go and Aragorn knew it. Faramir needed sleep to heal, much more than he needed the comfort of a man who was also selfishly taking his own comfort, keeping Faramir awake up past the time when the younger man needed Aragorn. Aragorn drew back cautiously, and Faramir allowed him to move. They shared a sad smile.

"I wish I could have known you," Aragorn said slowly, sorrowfully. "I wish we could have become friends. I hope you know I consider it my good fortune to have held you, Faramir, even for this short time."

Fear filled Faramir's eyes. "Then you do not expect us to meet again?" he asked quietly.

Aragorn shook his head. "I will not offer you false hope, Faramir. I go to my doom. You must stay and hold this city for as long as you can."

"I will," Faramir said somberly, holding Aragorn's eyes with his own. "I will hold it for the return of the king."

Aragorn could think of nothing to say to this declaration of hope. "Sleep," he finally instructed in a whisper.

Faramir nodded once. He lay back down on the bed, curling onto his side as he had been when Aragorn found him. Aragorn lingered; pulling the covers up, tucking them around Faramir's shoulders, and smoothing them needlessly again and again until it was more like he was gently stroking Faramir's arm than anything else. He could not bear to leave this place, or this man, behind him.

Faramir's eyes had fallen shut. Aragorn could not tell whether Faramir was still awake or not. He realized with fresh guilt how truly tired his Steward must be. Sighing softly, he allowed himself to lean forward and press a kiss to Faramir's forehead before leaving.

Faramir's eyelids fluttered open at the contact. He met Aragorn's eyes, and the older man knew Faramir had not been asleep. "Come back," Faramir whispered, simply. "Come back."

"I cannot promise that, Faramir," Aragorn said softly back. "I know not what will come."

Faramir's eyes were dark and haunted. "Pretend," he said wistfully. "Say it anyway. I won't hold you to the promise. I want to pretend everything will be all right, just for tonight."

Aragorn forced down a fresh round of tears and forbade his voice from cracking. "It will be all right, Faramir," he said firmly.

"Then you'll come back?"

"I will. I promise you. And I expect to see you here when I do. Healthy," Aragorn added with a broken smile. "Promise me that."

Faramir returned the smile half-heartedly. He knew exactly what kind of promises they were making. "I promise," he whispered.

Unsure why he was still unable to leave, Aragorn moved to embrace Faramir again. Faramir went contentedly into his embrace, arms wound loosely around Aragorn's shoulders. Aragorn rubbed his cheek against Faramir's; the younger man murmured something, but it was too drowsy and slurred with sleep for Aragorn to make out what he had said. Swallowing painfully, Aragorn gently lowered Faramir onto the mattress. The steward's arms slipped easily from around his neck; he had fallen asleep.

"I will come back, Faramir," Aragorn vowed one last time to the silent room. Then he stood, feeling the weight of his own weariness settle heavily into his bones. He departed the Houses of Healing and walked swiftly through the darkened streets, leaving all promises behind him, and went to ready himself for what was to come.

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