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He is displeased. But then, he rarely ever is pleased with me. I stand there before him nonetheless, report with an even voice as to my day outside with the Rangers, a day he had graciously agreed to bestow upon me although he thought I was too young to be commanding men on my own. My elder brother, as always, had been my advocate.

"Faramir will do splendidly, Father," Boromir had said. "I too commanded soldiers at fifteen. He is not too young."

"You were different. Are different," the Steward replied, but at last he agreed to let me have a chance to prove myself.

And I returned late.

I believed that even my father would find my reason for it just, for one of my men found peculiar prints on the ground, and I, fearing they might have been imprinted by orc foes, ordered to track them. They led us some way down the Anduin and were gone, and we made haste for Minas Tirith.

The Steward listens to my account, his graying eyebrows drawn together, until I finish and fall silent. I know I have done ill in his eyes, for the gleam of ire in them is not strange to me.

"Irresponsible, worthless fool," he hisses. His breath releases as the breath of a dragon. "Have you not a shred of common judgment? You have put the men’s lives in danger for nothing more than a chance to skirmish!"

I cannot bear to look upon his face any longer, and my eyes drop to the floor.

"Command men, you say? You merit commanding not even stable-boys!" His voice is harsh, and it echoes in the throne chamber around me. It makes me want to wrap myself up in my arms and shelter myself until the storm of his wrath ebb, but there are others present as well – Madril and some soldiers – and I dare not show any sign of my feelings.

Now the faceless voice in my ears says, trembling with anger, "why can you not be more like Boromir?"

Be like Boromir. The brave, vital, noble Boromir. I envy him not for being better than I. How could I ever equal him?

There is silence, and I raise my gaze to see my father is awaiting my reply.

"I can only be myself, my lord," I say quietly.

His blow is swift and hard as he slaps my face with the back of one hand. My head is thrown aside and I feel a crisp line of stinging pain across my cheek, where his ring had cut the skin.

"And growing more impudent by the hour, it seems!"

I turn my head back slowly, but keep my gaze lowered. I see his garment moving with his breaths.

"Leave my sight."

I bow and exit as fast as I can without appearing undignified to the soldiers. As soon as I cover some length from the doors of the chamber I pause to touch my burning face. There are faint traces of blood on my fingers, but most of it is already clotting over the cut on my cheek. I lower my hand quickly as my name is called from behind me. Madril approaches me.

"Would you require anything, my lord?" He asks. His voice and eyes are kind and fatherly, but it is not he whose compassion I yearn.

"No. Thank you."

He bows slightly and I turn to leave. I wander through the halls for some time before I find myself on a wide sill of a window that had been mostly shut by bricks, leaving a narrow slit, like a firing loophole. When I sit there I am concealed almost entirely by a large pillar. This spot is known to me of old, for I have sought its solitude not once in past days.

The stone is cool against my skin as I lean my temple to it and look out the window. The gates of Minas Tirith are seven hundred feet below me, and the Pelennor is an ocean of darkness beyond them, dotted with the tiny twinkling lights of villages. In the distance lies Osgiliath, like a constellation among many lone stars.

I watch the night outside, losing all track of time and place, until the shuffle of feet and a voice alert me.

"Faramir?"

There is a torch somewhere behind the pillar. Now it is being moved, taken from its place and brought around to where I am seated. I blink at the sudden light, and Boromir takes it back some and sets it up in a cauldron on the pillar so it shines comfortably.

I sit with my knees drawn to my chest, and I now draw them closer to allow some room for my brother to sit down on the sill. He is quiet at first, and so I return my gaze to the window.

"Beredir said you did very well today," he says at last. "That you had a natural sense for captaincy and that the men followed you as if they had for years."

I shrug. A ranger’s opinion versus the Steward’s.

"Care to tell me what is wrong?" He asks. I shrug again. I wish to be left alone, but Boromir is persistent.

"What did Father say to you?"

I close my eyes as a sudden shiver ripples through me.

Boromir’s voice is gentle. "Tell me, Faramir."

And I do. He leans a bit toward me to catch my words, for I utter them with much effort. I do not look at him as I speak; my eyes wander along the lines of the city walls beneath.

"And then?" He asks as I reach the Steward’s question to me and my reply.

"And then this," I turn my head away from the wall to give him view of my right cheek. The mark on it had not yet darkened fully, but it is ugly nonetheless, I deem. Boromir gasps quietly and I lean my temple against the stone once more, concealing the bruise from him.

Boromir’s lips press together. I hear rage trembling his voice. "I shall take some words with him."

"No!" I am alarmed by this. He looks at me, and his fury seems to ebb some. He knows well who will suffer if indeed the Steward is angered. He sighs.

"Very well."

I feel a need to encourage him, having denied him a way to aid me. "T’is not so bad," I say, trying to sound casual. "And I will stay out of his way for awhile."

The light of the torch plays on his handsome features. "You do not have to take this, Faramir."

"Is that so?" Does he really not understand? "And what am I to do, Boromir? Challenge him to a duel? Seek shelter at Dol Amroth? Climb to the top of the Tower of Ecthelion and throw myself-"

Suddenly I see his stunned expression and realize that last sentence had escaped my lips. I did not intend for him to hear this.

"Do not speak of such things," he says. His breath is heavy, his eyes shocked.

A strange feeling washes over me and I say, "will it not be better for all if I did? Climb to the top-"

"No!" Boromir seizes me, his hands tightening on my forearms. "Do not speak of it! Never! Did you hear?!"

He is scared, and his terror frightens me immensely. I drop my eyes. "Forgive me, my lord," I mumble. "I spoke hastily."

Boromir pulls me into his embrace, quickly, as if fearing I will vapor before his eyes unless held in place. "Nay, I am the one to be sorry. Forgive me, brother."

My body is stiff against his, but then I let go and start to tremble. I lean my head on my brother’s shoulder. "I try so hard," my words come shredded in between sobs. "And I always fail. Why can I do nothing right?"

"You do fine, you do fine, little brother," Boromir says, very softly.

"I am worthless, just as he says."

"No, you are not," Boromir hugs me tighter as a new onset of sobs shake my form. He rocks me slightly, and I am vaguely remembered of our mother by this. It makes me cry harder, and Boromir patiently holds me until my pain and frustration are cried out.

At long last my weeping subsides. I break off, straighten up and wipe the tears off my cheeks. "I am sorry," I whisper, suddenly ashamed of my feebleness and of the way I had scared him.

"For what? All is well," Boromir tries to sound light. "We better tend to that bruise."

"Leave it," I feel a sliver of steel in my words, and swiftly soften my voice. "Leave it. It will be fine." I give my elder brother a smile, but it is weak and soon wanes.

Boromir studies my face, and I find my eyes are dropping again.

"Did you mean it, Faramir?" He asks, his voice small and trembling. "About-" he cuts himself off sharply, as if the mere mentioning of my former words is disastrous. "Did you?" He repeats.

Yes, I want to say. Yes, I did mean it, I did mean to do it. Every time my father’s strokes bruised my body and his words bruised my heart I wished to be where there would be no pain anymore, only long, slow sleep.

But as I look upon my brother’s distressed face I cannot bring myself to speak my heart. I smile at him. "Nay, I did not. I knew not what I was saying."

He returns a smile, but cautiously, and concern still lies in his eyes. "That is well," he says and stands up. "Come, we shall find some supper for you."

Food is far from my mind, but I too rise to my feet. As I do, my gaze drifts to the narrow window with its view of nightly abyss, and for a moment I am lost there again.

"No," I hear my brother’s voice and his hand touch my face, turning it away from the window.

His eyes are fierce in the light of the torch, and in them I see his care, his fear, his love. A wave of fondness washes over me. My brother. My protector. He will not let me sink down that dark path.

I do not wish for the long, slow sleep anymore.

"Supper sounds good," I say. Boromir smiles.