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End To Innocence, An: 12. Darkness Falls
Horrified, Maggie watched the approach of the winged beasts. From high in the eastern sky they came, first in a ragged formation, then breaking away in spirals to ride the unwelcoming wind down towards the besieged city and the Pelennor. Her heart froze as one of them turned towards the point where she and Michael crouched on the wall of the First Circle, and she watched, mesmerized, as it drew near. Finally, with a cry, she tore her eyes away from its black form and buried her head in her arms, feeling the air give way at its touch as it passed overhead, circled back, and passed over again on its way to join its brethren over the armies on the fields. Half blind with unnameable grief, she reached desperately towards Michael, who cowered beside her, and at her touch he jerked away, then grabbed her arm and pulled her close.
For long moments, the two of them huddled there, holding each other tightly. His scent was so like his brother's that he seemed almost as familiar to her as Greg himself, and with her eyes closed she buried her face in the curve of his neck, clinging to that fragrance as though to a board in a turbulent sea, her lungs gasping for air. She felt Michael's breathing too, labored and uneven, and somewhere in the shadow that had passed over her came the realization that he would hyperventilate - they both would, if they didn't control it. "Michael," she gasped, "slow it down, just breathe," as much to herself as to him, "concentrate on that. In on four, out on four," and forcing her mind to stillness, she breathed in, slowly, breathed out, slowly, and slowly he came to match her breath. "Good," she whispered, "that's it, just like training, nice, and deep, and steady." Her heartbeat began to slow then as well, and she could feel Michael's muscles begin to relax beneath her hands, though they both still trembled.
Above and away they heard the screech of the Black Riders, around them the cries of men who gave in to the fear, and of those who looked to their weapons. From further down the wall came the crack of a rifle, then another, and she eased her head up and looked to see Gus standing on the highest level of the wall, rifle raised to his shoulder and sighted towards the sky. He would make an easy target for the enemy below. "Shit," she muttered, and Michael followed her gaze.
"Gus," he murmured, and raising her rifle Maggie turned back to the Pelennor as Michael knelt forward. "Gus!" he barked, "get down!"
Eyes flickering over the field, Maggie looked for any who would rise and draw on the rifleman, but saw none. It seemed the enemy's forces were as terrorized by the Riders as they were, at least for now. She didn't want to count on them staying that way.
"Gus!" Michael shouted again, "Down! Get your ass over here!"
"I'm guessing he's one of the ones without the radio?" Maggie said shakily.
"He never needs it," said Michael. "He's a fuckin' rock - never out of place, always where you need him, even if you didn't tell him. Chip says he'll be squad leader as soon as a spot opens up - if he lives that long." A few seconds later, Maggie heard footsteps and turned to see the tall man approach, now keeping below the lip of the battlements.
"What the hell did you think you were doing, standing up there like that?" Michael said angrily.
"Sorry, Mike," said Gus. "I kinda lost it for a minute - but what the fuck are those things?"
"Black Riders," said Maggie, facing him. "I don't know what they are, but they're evil fucks and they scare the piss out of everyone they meet."
"Ya' can't fuckin' shoot 'em down!" he said, his voice sharp. "I swear to god I - wait a minute," and his gaze narrowed on Maggie. "I know you! Hey!" and his scowl turned to a smile, then to confusion. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Michael took a breath, still pale. "Gus, meet Maggie," he said. "Maggie, Gus."
Gus grinned, if only briefly. "Hey, the lady we're here to help out!" he said. "If I'd known it was you, I'd'a worn my better hat! So what do you mean 'black riders are evil'? Should I be offended?"
Maggie forced a laugh that would have been genuine if she hadn't still been trying to gather the wits that the Rider had stolen from her. "Naw, babe, you know you're sweet like coffee, and twice as hot," she said with as much of a smile as she could muster. "These things are - hell, I don't know what they are."
"Man, they're freakazoids, that's what they fuckin' are." Gus looked up, then out over the fields where the riders circled. He sighted and aimed, tracking one of the riders, and fired, three times in quick succession. The reports echoed off the walls, but the Rider didn't falter. "I fuckin' hit him, I know I did," he muttered. "At least two of those shots hit home, and he's still sittin' up."
"Try that thing he's riding, that dragon thing or whatever it is."
Both Maggie and Gus then turned and brought their rifles to their shoulders. Maggie sighted through the scope, the rider's mount coming into the crosshairs, and tracking its flight she squeezed off two shots, saw the beast jerk, heard its scream, but its flight seemed unaffected. She fired again, struck again, and again, the beast didn't fall. It did, however, turn towards the City. "Aw, shit," she muttered, sudden terror leaping back to her throat at having gotten the dread thing's attention.
"Come to daddy, baby," said Gus, rising halfway from his knees and still sighting on the Rider's beast. Maggie felt her fear growing as it drew nearer, and she fought the urge to drop her weapon and run. Beside her, Michael rose to a half-crouch and brought his weapon to bear on the beast as well, and Maggie turned her eyes and her rifle to the field, scanning it for any threat to the men beside her. None came, and then the report of the rifle to her right, and Michael's carbine to her left, and the screech of the winged mount as it jerked, then turned and wheeled higher into the sky and off to the east, out of range.
"What does it take to kill those things?" Michael asked. "We both fuckin' hit it - what the hell?"
"They're damned big," said Gus, lowering his weapon and dropping back to a low crouch. "Maybe that's it."
Michael shook his head, kneeling again and lowering the carbine. "Maybe so, or - I don't know. Maybe they can't be - "
"Don't say it, man," said Gus, holding up a hand. "Everything that lives can be killed. Depend on it."
"Fine," said Maggie bitterly, "but I'm not getting close enough to get another fuckin' shot off." Angry at herself for being unable to master her fear, she started removing the body armor Chip had given her, which had become unbearable in the suffocating stillness of the day, thinking only of getting away from the wall, just for a while.
"Hey, girl," said Gus, his hand suddenly on her shoulder. "It's all right - you're all right. They're just big bats."
She raised her eyes to his and knew her face betrayed her shock and anger. "'Bats'? Didn't you feel that?"
He turned his gaze away. "Yeah, I felt something all right. Why else do you think I popped my fool head up over the wall?" He hesitated, then turned back to her. "But it's just fear, baby," he said quietly. "You can get used to fear. And at least this fear is something I can take a shot at." His gaze was steady, and his eyes were hard. She wondered that she hadn't seen this in him the many times they'd met, wondered that she'd never thought about what he had to face. She remembered him telling her once, he was half African-American, half Iranian, and that wherever he went, either the police stopped him for being black, or the DHS stopped him for being Middle Eastern. He'd told her about a week he'd spent in jail once, for having been caught without his citizenship card on him. "And there's nothing you can do," he'd said. "Just gotta say 'yes sir' and 'no sir' and be sure you talk like they do, and hope whatever lawyer they give you knows his ass from a hole in the ground and doesn't hate people who look like you. Keep your back to the wall when you're in there, and pray to God you get out."
"Besides," he went on now, a smile ghosting about his lips, "Who's gonna look out for these bastards if I don't keep it together?"
"You?" Michael said, raising his eyebrows and failing to suppress a teasing grin, though he was still pale. "Jumping up there like a recruit to take potshots at overgrown bats? You're going to look out for us?"
Maggie smiled as the two men began a litany of one-upmanship about the times they'd saved their squad from one doom or another. Searching for spare ammunition in the pockets of the vest she'd removed, she slipped some into the pouch she wore on her belt, then reshouldered the rifle and planted a kiss on first Michael's cheek, then Gus'. "I'm going to go have a look around," she said. "Y'all keep the enemy outside 'till I get back."
"And after," said Michael, swatting her on the rump as she passed him.
She made her way through the streets of the City, trying to fight off a black depression that had come on her after she'd left her comrades. It was as though every hurt she'd ever felt, every betrayal, every slight, had come back to fill the void where their conversation had been, and she spared a glance backwards to see the two men, side by side, gazing out through arrow slits at the Pelennor. She briefly considered going back to them, but couldn't bring herself to return. She felt that if she went back, they would put up with her, but she couldn't quite believe in their friendship, even though she knew she had it. It didn't make sense, but there it was. She thought of Mira, and Greg, Jack, Paul, thought of going to find them. Thought of finding Janet, even, in the Houses of Healing, but she couldn't convince herself to do it, felt only fear at the thought of facing them, and she walked on, aimlessly following the street upwards, wrapped in a fog of grief without a cause she could find except the Riders. And knowing what the cause was didn't help.
The street wound through the City, and each time one of the Riders passed overhead she had to stop and shrink back against the wall, ashamed, but unable to help herself. It was slow going. As she turned finally to go through the Fifth Gate she had to dance backwards to avoid running into Imrahil, who put out his hands to steady her. "Lady," he said, "How fare you? I saw the quick work your soldiers made of those catapults."
She tried to smile. "Yeah, they did great. Enemy didn't get a shot off."
"They are powerful weapons," he said, "and your people wield them with skill."
"Thank you," she replied.
"Whither go you?" he asked, then ducked his head to look into her lowered eyes. "And so downcast?"
She felt tears start to come and bit the inside of her cheek hard, to stop them. "It's nothing."
"The Riders," said Imrahil softly, "they bring despair, I know." He paused, then continued, "I go now to find the wizard, and review the troops. The wizard's presence is a balm, and we would try to lift their spirits. Would you come?"
Her smile was almost imperceptible. "I don't think I could lift anyone's spirits," she said, "and I'd probably undo all your good work. I'm going to go change clothes, I think, and maybe try to sleep before things start up again. I've not slept much."
"'Tis a well-conceived plan," he said. "I think the Enemy will not attack for some hours yet, perhaps not 'till middle night."
Suddenly remembering Denethor, she glanced up at Imrahil and said, "I'm not going to be arrested if I go up to the Citadel, do you think?"
Imrahil shook his head. "The Lord Steward watched the battle from above, if battle it can be called. You have won his grudging respect, and I do not think he will harm you, at least for the moment." His gaze darkened. "My lady," he said, and she heard hesitation in his voice, and met his eyes. "You - you have arrived in so grim an hour," he went on, "and it grieves me. You must think the Steward cruel indeed, and Gondor in the hands of a madman."
Maggie didn't know how to respond, unwilling to agree, but unable to lie to him, so she said nothing.
He understood her silence, and smiled softly. "My sister's husband was not always so," he said. "He has been, perhaps, distant," and he shook his head once, "from his youngest most of all. But he has not been cruel, no moreso than any father might be who raised two sons without the gentling influence of his lady."
"So what happened?" asked Maggie.
Imrahil turned his gaze upwards to the White Tower. "I know not," he said. "Only rumor."
She almost asked him if it was about a seeing stone, remembering the fears Boromir had expressed to his brother, and the anger in his voice when he'd confronted Denethor, but stopped herself, unsure whether Boromir would want his uncle to know.
Imrahil turned back to her. "Denethor has been always a good man, and a good Steward. Perhaps a ... difficult father, but this madness that has come on him," and Imrahil paused, and put a hand briefly to his eyes. Finally he looked at her. "I hope you will one day know the Steward who has ruled Gondor for these thirty-five years past, and with a stern hand but a fair one."
"I hope so too," she said, wishing somehow to ease whatever pain Imrahil clearly felt, but with no idea how to do it. After a moment she said, "Why do you tell me this?"
He smiled slightly then, and said, "You are fond of Boromir. Denethor is his father. Is that not reason enough? Go now," he said, his hand on her shoulder, "rest. I must find Gandalf before he despairs of my coming and sees to the troops without me."
Finally she reached the Sixth Gate, and as she came through it she saw Boromir leaving the Houses of Healing. She called out to him, and he turned, and came towards her. "How's Faramir?" she asked when he was close.
"Unchanged," he said, "which, I remind myself, means also that he is no worse." He kissed her cheek, and her heart sank. "I would that Aragorn would come," he said. "He has a healer's touch, as I learned to my relief when he cleaned the poison from my wound at Amon Hen," and Maggie thought there was the smallest smile when he said that, a trace of his better humor. "My brother needs his hand," he said, taking her arm, and together they walked towards the arched tunnel that led to the Citadel. "Where do you go?" he asked.
"I wanted to get cleaned up, change clothes, maybe nap," she said as they passed into the torchlit tunnel. "Imrahil doesn't think the fighting'll start for a while yet, and I'm just really tired." She wanted to hold him, wanted him to take her in his arms, kiss her properly. She wanted to ask him to come with her, make love to her while there was time, but she paled at the thought he might refuse, might have realized how insane their affair was, or have grown tired of her already. So instead, she said, "What about you?"
"My father has summoned me," he said. "I know not why."
She nodded as they stepped out into the dim haze of the afternoon, feeling as though there were a mile of cold air between them, despite that he touched her. "Well, good luck with that," she said, knowing she sounded indifferent but unable to do otherwise without fear of breaking down into tears.
He turned to her then, frowning, and opened his mouth to speak, but Denethor's voice reached them before he could.
"My son, and his valiant lady," said Denethor as he approached, and Maggie couldn't tell whether she heard sarcasm in his voice or not, and without thinking she took a step back. "The weapons you brought are great indeed," he went on. "Never have I seen such destruction accomplished so swiftly."
"And with no losses," said Boromir. "Two of my lady's companions were wounded, but we lost no soldiers, and the Enemy had not the chance to fire even one of those engines against us."
Denethor nodded, gazing at them both thoughtfully, and Maggie saw his eyes flicker over the weapons she carried - Desire and Despair at her hips, and the rifle slung over her shoulder. "Come," he said suddenly. "I would have words with you both."
Boromir hesitated. "The lady is weary, my lord," he said. "She has slept little in two days, and I would -"
"I would have her come with us now, Captain," said Denethor, his gaze darkening. "There will be time enough for rest later."
Boromir inclined his head, and Maggie followed the two men towards the Tower of Ecthelion. The air was cool when they entered the shadowy throne room, the lanterns lit against the darkness of the day. Maggie felt that if the sun didn't break through soon, the depression that the Riders brought would be redundant. Behind them, the door swung closed, and the room fell into even deeper shadow.
Statues lined the edges of the chamber, leading to a low staircase. On the bottom step was the Steward's chair, and at the top, the throne of Gondor gleamed in the glow from the lanterns. Denethor walked towards the steps, but Boromir and Maggie held back, the Steward's footsteps echoing in the stillness. After a time, he turned to face them. "My son has told me the King returns," he said. "The King," and his tone was thoughtful. "Yet this king is no more than a Ranger, raised by the Elves, tarrying in northern lands while his people fight the darkness that threatens from the east." His eyes were bright, and he stood beside the Steward's chair, one hand resting on the carven back. "I would have locked you in the darkest dungeon of Minas Tirith for your treason against me, Boromir," he said, his voice soft and full of menace, "but for this king you say comes."
Boromir frowned. "I misunderstand you, my lord," he said.
"You misunderstand me," Denethor repeated, stepping forward with an almost feline grace to approach his son. Maggie shuddered involuntarily. "You misunderstand me?" he said again. "This," and he spread his arms wide to the room. "This is your birthright, my son. This is yours. Accept it. Take it."
Boromir shook his head. "My lord, the Stewards but hold Gondor in trust, until the King returns. I need not tell you this, who have been in all ways the - "
"Do not think to flatter me out of a mood, Boromir," Denethor said sharply. "I know this king of whom you speak - I knew him in my youth, when he served my father, though he called himself then Thorongil. Yet he spoke nothing of kingship. This is the man to whom you would give Gondor? One who will not stay with her, nor return in her time of need until she is too weakened to resist him if she would?"
Boromir started. "My lord, I - would not dispute you, but Aragorn is a man of only middle years. This cannot be so."
"It is so," said Denethor. "The palantír shows many things, not all meant for my eyes, and yet I see. Nine days ago, in the palantír, I saw the man I knew as Thorongil struggle with the might of Sauron, and though sore pressed, he did not falter. Who could this be but the man you would call King?"
Boromir shook his head, frowning. "But Aragorn has no palantír, my lord! You could not see him through a crystal he does not posses - you are mistaken."
Denethor turned on him then and said sharply, "I am your lord and your father, Boromir! I am not a fool to be deluded by visions in a glass! In this I am not mistaken. Thorongil would steal our lands from us," and his voice became an angry snarl, "would steal your heritage! I will not allow it, and I will not trade words with you over it! The palantír of Orthanc is in the hands of one who would come only now, when we are at our weakest point, and would take our people from us - this cannot be allowed!"
Boromir's eyes widened at the mention of the black tower of Isengard. "Orthanc," he murmured, and Maggie felt him falter. "Oh, it cannot be. It cannot be."
Maggie frowned. "I don't understand," she said. "What - I don't understand."
Denethor smiled then, and in a graceful step he was in front of her, his hand flickering out to caress her face. His icy grey eyes, so like Boromir's, yet so cold, caught hers and she froze, feeling his gaze as the gaze of a predator. In a flash of memory she recalled a day not so very long ago, at home, when she'd gone with Stephen to see a small traveling circus that had passed through New Washington. She'd left him watching a magician, had left to walk around the circus, just to lose her thoughts in the warm summer air, and had come unawares upon a cage with a tiger in it. The beast had turned its head at the sound of her approach, and when she raised her eyes it had been gazing into them, and all the hair on the back of her neck had stood up as she saw herself prey in its steady regard. She gazed into those eyes again now.
"My child," said Denethor gently, but with a blade beneath, "of course you do not understand. How could you?"
"Orthanc," Boromir said softly, turning to her. "That is the tower of Isengard. The palantír dwelt there, with Saruman. Aragorn - Aragorn could have come to posses it."
Shaking her head, Maggie said, "But still - if Thorongil served under your grandfather, he'd have to be -" and she turned to Denethor then, "he'd have to be your age, sir, at least," she said. "I don't see how Aragorn could be Thorongil."
"The blood of Númenor is all but undimmed in him," said Denethor. "It grants him a life longer than that of other men. Too long, some might say," and his tone was as dark as the shadows of the lamplit room.
Boromir turned then, walked unsteadily to the base of one of the statues and leaned against it. "So he was here," he murmured. "In Gondor, so long ago, and he never...." He didn't finish, but turned and gazed unseeing into the middle distance.
"Yes, Boromir," said Denethor, his tone becoming eager. "You see now why this cannot be allowed? What king would come to his country, serve her in secret and then depart, only to return at her darkest hour when she cannot but surrender to him?"
Boromir shook his head. "I cannot accept this," he said. "I must speak with Aragorn before I can know what path to choose."
"You would speak with him?" Denethor spat. "Speak with this traitor who has abandoned whatever claim he might have had to the throne by his long years of hiding?"
"Yes!" Boromir shouted, rounding on his father. "Yes, I would speak with him! Is that so much to ask, my lord? to speak with the man whose throne you would have me take?"
"By rights the throne is yours," said Denethor, his voice harsh.
"Not yours, my lord?" Boromir asked softly. "Why should not the Steward take the throne, if any but the rightful king would do so?"
Denethor shook his head, scowling. "Because I would cast off this burden," he said, "and pass it to you, who are my strength. My jewel. My strong right hand."
"I do not wish it," Boromir answered firmly, his eyes dark, his mouth a grim line.
Smiling, Denethor said, "Do you not, my son? Do you not...? You, who have spent your life learning to govern our people? who have spent your life, and your blood, and the blood of your men, protecting and serving Gondor?" He crossed to where Boromir stood, and slid his hand around the back of his son's neck, pulling him close. "I know what is in your heart, my jewel," he said, his voice barely above a whisper, but it carried through the still air like the toll of a bell. "I know you, my son, my love, and I know you do want this, as much as ever I have."
A moment passed, and another, and Maggie felt stranded, unable to move or speak. Finally, Boromir pulled sharply from his father's grasp and in long strides reached the Steward's chair, gripped it as a drowning man grips a spar. "This is all I have wanted," he said harshly. "The Steward's chair, and to be the Steward that my father has been."
"You are a fool," said Denethor with a growl. "Here in your very bed lies the means both to deliver you the throne, and to make Gondor the mightiest of powers, and you would refuse it!" At Boromir's startled look Denethor sighed. "Have I been wrong, for so many years? Should I have nurtured Faramir? for surely he would have had the wisdom, if not the courage, to use these weapons!"
"We do use them, my lord," said Boromir, his confusion evident in his voice.
"Aye, to fight an enemy which slavers at the gates!" Denethor replied, his voice almost a shout. "But by all the Gods, surely you see that there are dangers apart from that! Dangers which can be defeated, quickly, and with ease, by these astonishing weapons your bedmate brings us!" He turned to Maggie. "And you," he said, and she took a step back. "You would wish to be the whore of a Steward? Or would you be the lady of the King? You have used these weapons in your own world and here, and you know for yourself the advantage they will give an army or a single man. You, surely, see the wisdom of defending our lands against a usurper?"
She blinked, and opened her mouth, but found no words.
"I am surrounded by weaklings!" Denethor snarled. "A son who stands witless while a usurper would steal his throne, and his harlot, who cannot even speak when asked a simple question!"
Maggie started to answer, but Boromir was suddenly between them and she resisted the urge to place her hands on him, to feel his strong body, borrow some of that strength if she could. She wanted him between her and his father. "You will not speak this way to her again," Boromir said, his voice low and hard, his eyes narrowed.
"Ah-ho," Denethor said with a quick smile. "So there is at least something you will defend. Perhaps if I put your woman between Gondor and your king, you would defend her then?" The gleam in Denethor's eyes was unsettling, and before Boromir could make an answer Denethor had reached out with quick hand to snatch at Maggie's arm and pull her to him. Startled, she was unresisting, knowing that from where she was, she could easily escape his grip, but there was an icy pit in her stomach, and she knew he could feel her trembling. He trailed a finger down her cheek, and she saw Boromir's eyes narrow further. "Perhaps," said Denethor, "I should consider the love you have for this woman, and offer you a trade - her life, for the death of your would-be king."
"Hey!" said Maggie, suddenly angry, and she wrenched herself out of his grasp and leapt back just as Boromir reached for her. Denethor lashed out then, and the sound as he struck his son's face echoed through the cavernous chamber.
Boromir reeled, caught off his guard by the unexpected attack, but his father struck him again, a heavy backhanded blow, and Boromir staggered and fell to his knees. Denethor stood over his stricken son and reached down to tangle his fist in the dark hair, forcing Boromir's head back at a hard angle, facing him. "I warned you once," said Denethor, his voice all menace and steel, "and you defied me. But know this. You will take the throne, or I will see your bitch and your brother dead, and you and your 'king' imprisoned for treason. Consider it." And with that, the Steward turned and strode out of the chamber.
Maggie's gaze was fixed on Boromir, who knelt unmoving where he'd fallen. She could see the angry redness where his father's hand had struck, could see two cuts where rings had laid open his skin. She stepped forward and dropped to her knees beside him, unshouldered the rifle and placed it on the floor, then reached up to touch the wound, to see how bad it was, but he pushed her away. She waited, shaking, unsure whether to flee or to stay. Boromir remained motionless, and she could see lamplight glittering on tears that had begun to track down his cheeks. His eyes were wide.
Finally, he sat back, and in a low voice, said, "He will do it." He lowered his head to his hands. "I do not know my father," he said. "This is not the man who raised me, this is not the man whose love Faramir strives so hard to win." He turned haunted eyes to Maggie. "He has the power," he said. "He will do it. He will kill you, he will kill Faramir, and he will plunge our lands into civil war. I cannot - I cannot let him. I must - " but he stopped then, and she heard him choke back a sob.
"Boromir," she said, "what if you - could you talk to - "
He turned to her and she flinched away from the sudden anger in his eyes. "Talk? To whom?" his words clipped and hard. "I would speak with my brother, but he lies senseless in the Houses of Healing, and I fear only the king's touch can wake him. To my uncle?" He gave a short bark of derision. "I would bring him to ruin with me, whichever folly I chose. And Aragorn," he said, his voice bitter. He rose suddenly and strode across the room, then up the steps to stand at the foot of the empty throne, and she followed, uncertain, only as far as the first stair. "Aragorn? or Thorongil?" he said sharply, but with almost a cry beneath his tone. "Why did he forsake us? Why did he abandon his people?" He spun to face her. "How can I give over the rule of Gondor to one who cares so little for her? and how can I not give over the throne to the rightful king? Yet if I surrender it, Denethor will kill you, he will kill his own youngest son, he will have Aragorn arrested, and one war against enemies from without will be joined by a second civil war, which is ill-afforded even in the best of times."
Still uncertain, she went to him, up the shallow steps, and this time when she reached up to touch his face, he let her. Tenderly she probed the cuts, and he didn't flinch. "They're not deep," she said, turning her eyes to his, and she caught her breath suddenly at the storm she saw there. Tears still wet his cheeks, but his eyes - his eyes were his father's. Before she realized he'd moved, his hand was on her wrist and she froze, caught again in the gaze of a tiger. She held her breath as he brought his other hand up, his fingers tracing the line of her lips, stroking over her throat, fluttering along her collarbone beneath the shirt she wore, her skin sparking where he touched her. "Would you be the whore of a Steward," he whispered, "or would you be the Queen?" His hand slipped around her throat, his thumb caressing her skin.
"I'd be whatever you'd have me be," she said, trembling at his touch, "as long as you'd have me."
He smiled then, a predatory smile, and brought his mouth softly to hers. She met him, opened her lips to receive him, her wrist still held in the vise of his hand. His teeth caught at her mouth, and he pulled her arm behind her, trapping the other there as well so he held her fast with one hand. His other hand he brought to her face, his gaze flickering over her skin, following where his fingers touched. He gripped her jaw then, and turned her face from his, and with lips and teeth and tongue he played along her throat, nipped her ear, wringing soft moans from her. She felt her breath in her lungs, felt her blood pounding in her veins, her heart high, and she wondered at the change in him, wondered whether this was his passion for her, or his anger at his father, and whether she cared. Her body arched towards him.
How often had he held her like this? His passions met hers completely, and were the mirror of hers. As she longed for his strength, he yearned for her surrender, and she had given it to him eagerly. First, on the road from Isengard, and since then each night that they had shared passion. Sometimes tender, sometimes playful, sometimes rough and strident, but always, always with this: his power, her surrender. She craved it as she craved to be held in his arms, craved to feel his strength possessing her. She had years since stopped caring why she needed this, stopped worrying that maybe there was something wrong with it, with her. She was strong, she knew it. She took care of herself. Maybe that was why - maybe it was nothing more than wishing to be taken care of. Wishing not to make the decisions, not to always have to use the strength she cultivated and prized. Not to have to win.
Strength, and vulnerability; power, and surrender. And always she'd had to give up one, until Boromir. Always she had given up surrender, because always she'd found lovers who wanted only that, or only the other. She knew which one she couldn't live without.
Until Boromir, who wanted both. She could still hear his voice... so strong in battle, so quick to command...so soft and yielding in affection. She'd known in that moment, when those words had slipped like the breath of life from his lips.
He moved his hand from her jaw to her hair, pulled her forward and turned her so that she was pressed hard against the arm of the throne. It dug into her and she made a sound, but he only smiled. "Oh, I think you shall be my whore," he said gently, "for you shall do as I please, when I please, and I shall reward you for it." She felt a shiver, and ached for his touch, but he let go of her then, and said, "Place your hands on the arm of the throne, and do not move."
She obeyed. When he spoke to her in that tone, with that gaze, she obeyed. And she wondered how she had ever lived without this submission, this yielding, and she wondered if she started to see why he desired it so. She had never considered it before, had only accepted it as a gift she treasured, but now.... She remembered the look in his father's eyes. There had been cold brutality there, yes, but beneath it, strength, and a will of iron. The confidence that comes from long years commanding others, of power over others. And such power, she knew, would either fulfill the soul of the one who wielded it, and bring strength to all around him, or would eat at him until he was destroyed, and with him all that he loved. Or all that she loved.
She had worked, so hard, never to have that power, for she knew it would destroy her. She could use it, when she had to, but she rarely desired it. Her lover, though, wielded it with grace, and strength, and compassion. He was a man who was at his finest when he was in command. Any could tell who saw the way his men revered him, this was not Denethor in his madness, this was Boromir in his strength. And now, Boromir in his despair, caught between powers he could not contain, his own strength chained by their conflict. She felt her throat tighten with tears, wishing she could bear the pain for him that his father had inflicted, that Aragorn brought, and Faramir's illness, or that she could find a way to loose the bonds he'd been trapped in - Denethor, and Aragorn; father, and Steward, and king. How could they have done this to him, she wondered. Did they know what tiger they had caged? did they see the blood on the bars?
He stepped back, watching her, and she felt his eyes on her as he circled the seat of kings, felt his hand in her hair once more as he stepped in front of her again. He leaned forward and kissed her cheeks, then her lips, and then reached down to unfasten the lacing of her shirt. She trembled at his gaze - hard, and possessive, as if she were a particularly lovely mount he'd purchased at great price, and she thrilled at his touch. "Raise your arms," he said. She did, and he drew the shirt off over her head, baring her skin to the cool of the chamber.
"If someone should find us here," she said softly, her voice breaking.
"There are none to see," he replied. "No servants are here at this hour," and then he paused. "There is my father, I suppose," he said thoughtfully, and smiled that predatory smile. "But if he would have me claim the throne, surely he would not fault me for using it now for both our pleasure. Place your hands on the arm, sweet, or suffer my wrath," his voice soft, his gaze almost teasing, but only almost. Once again, she obeyed. He knelt down before her, and lifting each foot, one after the other he gently drew her boots off, then stood again, unbuckled her gun belt and removed it, placing it carefully on the fourth step down. With deft fingers he unfastened the laces of her breeches, his fingers slipping between the leather and her skin, making her shiver.
She gripped the arm of the throne and glanced towards the door of the chamber. "Eyes on me," he said softly, and she faced him. "You will not concern yourself with who may enter this chamber," he said. "I have told you we will not be disturbed, and if you do not trust me on that score, you should hardly have trusted me this far with your body." With a few swift movements he stripped the breeches off, and she was bared before him, her skin prickling, feeling more vulnerable and exposed than she could recall ever feeling. "You are a beauty," he said then, his eyes traveling over her body. "My love, you are a beauty." His voice was tender, and he held her there with his eyes alone and stood before her, his armor gleaming dully in the lamplight, his sword at his side. He caught her face in his hand then and forced her to meet his gaze. "Do you trust me?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, without hesitation. It was true, but she also knew that hesitation might mean disaster. She knew this mood, but she wasn't sure what was beneath it now. His father lost to madness, his brother to illness, his king to mistrust on both their sides - she couldn't have him wonder if she were abandoning him too. For without trust, what was there?
He reached into his cloak, and she heard the sound of a blade being drawn. She forced herself not to flinch as he raised the knife before her eyes, and lamplight flickered on the edge. "A gift from my brother," he said, turning it. "Lovely, is it not?"
It was. A single-bladed hunting knife, it was long, the back of it sharply curved, the hilt wrapped in black, and on the blade were etched leaves in the same pattern that graced the collar and cuffs of the shirt she'd worn. "Yes," she said, her voice a whisper. Her skin felt electric beneath his gaze, as he watched her past the blade of the knife. He'd pressed a knife to her once before, waking her by lazily tracing curves on her back in the twilight, their second evening of travel from Isengard, and she'd found the sensation pleasant. But this knife, gleaming in the lamplight, this was altogether different. This was not a gentle awakening, this was a measure of her will.
Carefully, gently, he drew the knife over her stomach, pressing with the dull back of the tip, but the chill of it on her flesh caused her to shiver, her skin shuddering involuntarily beneath its touch. Mesmerized by the beauty of the blade, she raised one hand, touched her fingertips lightly to the steel, following it as he traced the slow, delicate pattern. Her pale skin, the gleaming knife, his beloved hand holding it, and without thinking she slipped her fingers beneath it, brought it to her lips and kissed his hand, then turned the blade back towards him, watched as he let her guide the knife. She pressed the cool flat of the blade against his unmarked cheek, and felt him press into it, a smile on his lips, his eyes on her. She followed the blade with her mouth, tracing a path of kisses and steel, her fingers resting on his until she leaned back, ever so slightly, and bared her own throat, drawing the edge back to herself. A low sound rose in him, almost a purr, and he pressed gently, so gently. She could feel her heartbeat against the metal.
He leaned close, his breath in her ear, his blade poised over her pulse. "Your wizard lies sleeping and does not wake," he whispered, "and my father is lost to madness. He would kill you. He would kill his son. He would be a regicide, or make me one." She felt his lips on her then, soft lips followed by teeth, biting, nipping, and she drew a breath, her desire for him a crystalline blade of her own, cutting through everything else. His other hand slid over her hip, and he pulled her to him, the leather of his gear digging into her flesh. "He would take from me everything I love, including my honour. And here are you and I. Shall I take you, now, bent over the throne I can neither accept nor refuse?" he whispered, his breath warm. "What would you have me do?"
She gasped as he pressed against her, and she was caught between the throne and her lover as surely as he was caught between the Steward and the king. But if she told him to stand down, he would, she knew, so while she was caught, she was not truly trapped. Not as he was. "I would have you move Faramir to someplace safer than the Houses of Healing," she said at last, her voice scarcely above a whisper, "and then do what is best for Gondor."
He laughed, a soft sound, but she heard tears in it. "You know the right things to say," he replied, moving the knife gently over her skin. "Would that I knew the answer." His eyes followed the blade, and her eyes followed his until he returned his gaze to hers, to find her watching him. "Do I frighten you, my lady?" he asked, his voice thick.
She shook her head. "You would," she said. "You would terrify me if I didn't know what kind of man you are."
Smiling slightly, he answered, "What kind of man am I?"
She let go the throne then and pulled him to her, kissed him, long, softly, her velvet tongue and gentle teeth claiming him, though he held the knife to her throat. "A noble man," she whispered, "an honorable man. A good man."
He stroked her hair back from her face. "Nothing has changed," he said quietly, and the tears that had threatened were now in his eyes, though his voice was steady. "My father is still mad, and murderous. Aragorn still comes with the Rohirrim," and he paused, moving the blade from her throat and sheathing it, "or so we hope, but what trap has the Steward laid? My brother still rests unconscious in the Houses of Healing, and your wizard as well. I cannot send you home. And the Enemy still waits outside the Gate, and tortures us from within."
"And I still love you," she said. "For whatever that's worth."
He kissed her cheek, and whispered, "You love a traitor, then, for there is naught I can do now that is not treason."
She caught his face in both her hands and forced him to look at her. "You will find your way through this, Boromir. You will." He opened his mouth to speak but she drew him to her and kissed him before he could. "You are the strength of Gondor," she said when she released him. "You have the strength of Gondor within you, the strength of this city's white stone, and the tenderness of her gardens." Struck by a thought, she said quickly, quietly, "Don't doubt yourself. Your father can't win if you don't surrender, and he can't break you if you - if you bend," and she hesitated, caught in his open gaze. "There's strength in not fighting, too," she said finally.
Their eyes met for a long moment, and she felt his nearness like an electrical storm, sparks chasing over her skin.
"You tremble," he whispered at last.
"For your touch, my love," she replied.
He stepped suddenly back and she caught herself against the throne, unbalanced by the disappearance of his weight, and quickly he'd unbuckled his swordbelt and dropped it, kicking it away. He reached for her then, tangled his fist in her hair and pulled her head back as he caught her to him, muffling her sudden cry with his kiss, claiming her, leaving her breathless. With a quick movement he toppled her over and brought them to the floor beside the throne, one hand cradling her head, the other reaching out to grip the nearest immobile thing - the leg of the throne that they lay beside. She wrapped her legs around him, heedless of the leather bruising her thighs, and with deft fingers he unlaced his breeches and she felt him press for entrance. She cried out as he buried himself in her and she met each thrust, pulling him close with one hand and flailing with the other for something to brace herself against his onslaught. She found his hand on the throne, and she gripped it, twining her fingers in his.
Pressing hard kisses to his lips, his throat, she felt her sudden climax approaching and threw her head back, then buried her face in his neck, fastening her teeth on his skin as she lost herself utterly in his smell, his taste, the hardness of him pounding into her, filling her, his own breathing ragged as he tried to stifle his cries. Beyond word, beyond thought, she knew only him, until finally she spasmed around his cock, and with a powerful thrust she felt his answering climax within her and she cried out his name. She felt him stiffen, felt him jerk as he spilled his seed, and she clutched at him, pulling him into her as far as she could, whispering his name over and over, showering small, tender kisses on his skin. His weight was comforting, holding her in place, holding her earthbound, his cloak draped over their bodies like a blanket.
They lay like that for a long moment, breath coming heavy and hard, and she thought that if she tried to stand, she'd fall. She felt tears welling in her throat, but couldn't tell whether from love, or fear, or the darkness that waited, or simply the joy of having him in her. He had not unsheathed himself, and she kept her legs around his waist, pulling him close, one hand stroking his hair, the other on the throne, their fingers entwined. Finally, his breathing slowed, and he raised up on one arm and gazed at her. Tears shone in his eyes, the tracks from those shed earlier still visible on his face. An angry bruise already rose where his father had struck him. He kissed her softly.
"Strength in yielding, my love?" he said, a faint smile on his lips. "You would have me yield to both these men? How can I?"
She shook her head. "Not yield to them, love. But...," and she hesitated, not sure how to explain it. "If your father and Aragorn have something to fight, they will. If you simply stand, knowing your own strength, maybe there's nothing there for them to fight."
Suddenly there was small sound from within the chamber, and Maggie gasped. Boromir turned his face towards the door and pulled his cloak further around them, and a soft voice said, "Your pardon, Lord."
"What is it, Beran?" he asked. His lieutenant.
Beran hesitated, then said, "You are needed. The attack begins."
He made a noise, shook his head. "Await me outside," he said.
"Yes, lord." Soft footsteps, and the door opening, shutting.
"Damn," said Maggie, feeling a hot blush flood her cheeks.
"Beran is discreet," said Boromir. "I have all his loyalty, and he my faith. Come, we cannot linger, much as I would wish to."
They dressed quickly, buckling on their various weapons, and Boromir started for the door, then paused.
"You have not met my lieutenant," he said. "Would you wish for me to send him away, or would you face him as my mistress?"
She hesitated, startled. "Well," she said, "where I'm from, this kind of thing isn't really a big deal - though I can count on one hand the number of times I've been walked in on. What would you prefer?"
He shrugged. "I dislike secrecy," he said. "And Beran is a comrade. A friend, for all he answers to me."
"Do you think he'd be embarrassed?"
He smiled slightly. "I think he would not."
With a laugh, she crossed the room to join him. "So, he's caught you before, huh?"
"Nay, lady," he said with an mild expression. "Why, I was innocent as a lamb 'ere I met you."
"Well, I'll corrupt you," she said, and kissed his ear. He started forward then, but she stopped him with a hand on his arm, and he turned a questioning gaze on her. "Boromir," she said, suddenly serious. "You have to see to your men, I have to get to my people." She drew him suddenly into a fierce embrace, and he held her hard. "Stay alive," she whispered. "Okay?"
His eyes shining, but not now with tears, he put his hands on her face and kissed her softly, for a long moment. "I shall. We both shall, for from whom shall I learn strength in surrender, if not you?"
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