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Garden Tending

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The King’s Palace was in dire need of cleaning, and much of the Citadel’s staff had been diverted to the task. It was said that in the centuries following King Eärnur’s departure, the Stewards had made a good show of keeping the king’s residences clean, but over time it had become nothing more than a cursory task on some seneschal's yearly checklist–and even that had been deemed an unnecessary use of resources in recent years.

Faramir had spent much of his childhood secretly wandering these halls, pretending they were a lost dwarven kingdom or a dragon’s horde or the ruins of Gondolin. Now, the gold piles and rocky walls of his youth had been unveiled to reveal the dusty old furniture beneath. Artisans hunched over chairs and tables, working to restore what was salvageable and making sketches of what was not. Servants polished the same candlesticks over and over again as they whispered excitedly about the man who would soon be inhabiting these rooms. Faramir could not fault them; it seemed that every task in this city now took twice as long as it once did, with how eager people were to chatter about all that had transpired.

And though there were far more significant topics to discuss, Faramir also knew that he had become a popular subject of that chatter, as had the woman now walking beside him. It was largely due to all the gossip, good-natured though it might have been, that he’d brought her here in the first place. The House of the Stewards had several guest apartments, all in far better condition than the rooms of the palace, and under normal circumstances, it would have been perfectly acceptable to invite such a distinguished visitor to stay there; but Faramir had been the one to make his intentions clear a week ago, upon a wall in broad daylight for all the city to see. He could only blame himself for his misfortune.

Éowyn was happy to blame him, too.

“Surely,” she said, “Lord Aragorn would prefer to arrive at his new home without guests to worry about.” She stepped over a crate of rusted door hinges.

“On the contrary,” Faramir replied, “he has sent word that he will be housing all the members of the Ringbearer’s Fellowship here, as well as the King of Rohan. He even mentioned you by name.”

They both paused to allow a pair of workers to pass by, carrying an armoire whose wood had been warped by water damage. Éowyn quirked an eyebrow. “How very generous of him.”

He offered her a quick smile before leading her towards the broad staircase at the other end of the entrance hall. They had to ascend it at its edge, as the moth-eaten carpet was currently being removed.

“And are you sure this place will be habitable when the king returns?”

“We have several weeks and many eager volunteers. I am optimistic.”

“Of that there can be no doubt.”

Her tone was wry, but she was smiling as she spoke, and the sight made Faramir’s heart leap into his throat.

It was quieter upstairs; the bed chambers had been the first rooms to be cleaned, but although most of the dust and dilapidated furniture had been cleared away, there was still much work to be done. Murmurs drifted towards them from the northern corridor straight ahead, where the king's grand apartments resided, and servants bustled between the rooms carrying fresh linens and pillows. But to the left of the stairs, the eastern wing was silent. One room at the far end of that hall had already been prepared, at Faramir’s request.

“I hope you will find these rooms to your liking, my Lady,” he said, just loud enough for his voice to carry a ways down the hall.

“I am sure that I will.” Éowyn’s voice nearly matched his own, though hers was neutral to the point of parody. She clasped her hands behind her back as she stared at the door Faramir had led them to. When she spoke again, it was in that same neutral tone, but she lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “Though I cannot help but feel that I am being punished.”

Faramir frowned. “Punished?”

She pivoted on her heel to face him, as primly and sharply as any soldier during drills. “Are there not several guest rooms in the Steward’s house?”

He spared a glance down the hall, which was blissfully empty. He, too, lowered his voice. “There are some in the city who would not consider it proper, given our… circumstances.”

Her eyelids fluttered shut before he could see her roll her eyes. “And why should it not be proper for me to acquaint myself with a house that will one day be my own? And if you are worried about propriety, I must remind you that our circumstances are only common knowledge because you, sir, could not contain yourself.”

It was a well-struck blow, but Faramir was not ready to concede the fight just yet. He propped his forearm up against the doorframe, just above her head. He leaned in close, so that the breath of his whisper would hit hot against her ear. “I do not recall you objecting at the time.”

He was rewarded with the sight of goosebumps rising along her pale neck. “No,” she said before drawing in what seemed to be a steadying breath. He’d not moved away, and he could see her pulse pounding very near to his lips. “But I might have, had I known you would afterwards be so…” She swallowed, then lifted her face to meet his gaze; he had to jerk his head back so their noses did not collide. “Restrained in your affections.”

Faramir winced. He could blame his many responsibilities as Steward; all the preparations for the coronation, researching how a coronation had even been done, and overseeing repairs throughout the city had taken up nearly all his waking hours recently. But Éowyn had been by his side through most of it, and he could have easily found reason to excuse them both from their tasks, draw her down some dark corridor, into some dark closet, and have her up against the wall. The temptation had been overwhelming. If things had been different, maybe he would’ve given in. If he was younger, if he was still the second, less-scrutinized son of the Steward, if she was a few steps further from the throne of Rohan–

If he did not love her so desperately–

Even now, so near to her, looking down at her defiant face, he felt like a starving man before a feast. But his famine, he now realized, was entirely self-imposed. He’d learned that well enough yesterday, when they’d passed each other in an empty hallway in the Citadel; as he’d bent to kiss her cheek, he was met instead with a fist clenched in his shirt and a series of quick, reckless kisses against his throat. Then, she’d straightened his tunic and continued on her way to whatever errand she’d found for herself, a basket perched against her hip and her head held high.

Forcing the memory down with a hard swallow, he took her hand and ran his thumb across her knuckles. He lifted her hand to his lips and pressed featherlight kisses over her fading scars. “I am sorry. Truly. I have only kept my distance in an attempt to show some propriety. I have no desire for you to become the subject of any illicit rumors. And I hope you know that my heart and my body have fought my choice at every turn.” An understatement, if anything: every muscle strained towards her like branches reaching towards sunlight. It took all his willpower not to push her against the door and set upon her like some wild animal.

Éowyn let out a haggard sigh, but there was fondness in her eyes, and if not understanding then at least a desire to find it. “And I hope you know that you need not make such efforts for me. I am not some fragile maiden who needs to be protected from whispering courtiers.” At his raised eyebrow, a splotchy blush spread over her face, and she quickly amended, “Well, perhaps I am one of those things, but that does not mean I am sheltered. And even if I was, I know you, and I trust you.”

“And what of your brother? Should the King of Rohan return to find that you have been staying in my home unsupervised–”

“Then he may bring any objections to me directly, and then he will learn that it was done at my insistence.”

“It may not appear so, even at your word.” Éowyn cocked her head and frowned. Glancing down the hallway to confirm that they were still alone, Faramir rotated her hand to kiss the inside of her wrist. He murmured against her skin, “Already there are rumors. It is said that the winds of fortune blow cold upon the House of Húrin. The new Steward seeks to reestablish his prestige by seducing a foreign princess.”

A shaky smile tugged at her lips, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see the fingers of her free hand drumming against her stomach. "Surely no one with any sense could believe such rumors." Her brows twitched as she met his gaze. “Have people truly been saying that?”

He released her hand and shrugged, trying to put on an air of indifference. “An elderly baron from Anfalas, one who does not travel far outside his own realm. Most would put little stock in his word.” The well-intentioned servant who had passed this information to Faramir (after having received it from a Citadel guard) claimed that the baron had been swiftly admonished by others present. But those assurances had done little to ease his mind. With the coming of the king, Faramir would be happy to fade into obscurity in the woods of Ithilien, caring not for what anyone but his wife might think of him. But the idea that anyone would think of Éowyn as someone who could be seduced made his blood run cold. And he certainly did not want the king of Rohan and all his subjects to think of Faramir as that sort of scoundrel. “But your brother does not know me. Neither does my own king, for that matter.”

“Merry knows you; I shall have him vouch for you.” She jutted her chin out and folded her arms over her chest. “And I hope that everyone involved might know me enough to trust that I am not so naïve as that.”

He brushed his knuckles against that proud chin and along her jaw. “Only a fool would think it so,” he said. “In the meantime, I would beg you to think of my own reputation among your people, whose good opinion I do dearly hope to win, even though I am taking from them their greatest treasure.” He released a soft sigh, and with it the tension that had crept up his shoulders, and he let his voice lighten. “Besides, they may not look it yet, but these rooms are far more prestigious than my own.”

With that, he turned the knob on the door, but when he pushed it open, it got stuck before it could even leave the doorframe. It did not budge until he finally threw his shoulder against it.

The room beyond was relatively clean, but with nearly all the furniture gone and the white marble walls bare, it was anything but cozy. A single couch, which Faramir recognized as part of a set from the Citadel library, had been placed in the center of the sitting room. Through the doorway on the other side of the room, he could see a plain bed topped by unadorned pillows that must have been newly and hastily sewed.

Faramir blew out a long breath as he surveyed the room. “I could have more furnishings brought in,” he said. There were plenty of rooms in the House of the Stewards that could be cleaned out, though he tried not to think much on why.

“That won’t be necessary,” Éowyn replied. “After all, I have had to make due with far worse before.” Her eyes remained cast down onto the freshly-polished floor, made of tiles that formed a faded but remarkably well-preserved mosaic of the ship Vingilot; but she did not seem to be admiring its artistry.

He approached her and took hold of her chin, and for a moment he was afraid of what he would see when he tilted her face up to meet his gaze. But he did not find that same sort of sadness that had shrouded her when they’d first met. In fact, her pursed lips and knitted brows spoke more to annoyance than anything else. But it was the whisper of disappointment in her eyes that shattered what shreds remained of his resolve. It was one thing to deprive himself of something he desired, but to deprive her was simply intolerable.

Faramir pressed a lingering kiss to her temple, and with his lips hovering just above her skin, he said, “I chose these rooms for you. Would you like to see why?”

Her eyes widened briefly, and then she nodded.

He took her hand and led her to a pair of windowed doors. Though their hinges creaked in protest, these doors gave way easier than the last, and he drew Éowyn out to the small balcony beyond. Off of the balcony was a narrow stone staircase leading into a small courtyard garden below. Two Citadel groundskeepers milled about at its edges, scratching their chins as they puzzled over the tangle of greenery laid before them.

The many gardens and courtyards within the Palace walls had endured the same neglect as the interior. Faramir had asked the groundskeepers to do minimal maintenance here, to trim and create walkways and to only destroy plants that seemed hazardous to their neighbors. It was one thing to fill a house with temporary furniture and to remove linens that could not be touched without disintegrating; but killing off trees and flowering vines that reached two storeys tall was a more permanent decision that he felt would be best left to the palace’s own master.

Besides, the overgrown garden had the wild sort of beauty that could be found in the clearings of Ithilien, or in the hills above Dol Amroth. It was a selfish thing, but Faramir was loath to strip these grounds bare unless his king ordered it done. The twisting vines of jasmine that had overtaken most of the columns had a scent strong enough to reach his own rooms on the other side of the garden wall. Mounds of some southern plant had crept into the emptied fountain in the center; in only a few weeks they would be bursting with clusters of powder-blue flowers, the sort that his brother would have to hastily pick from Faramir’s hair before dinner. He hoped the king would not miss a specimen or two; Faramir’s own little garden had also been sorely neglected in recent years.

Perhaps not for much longer, he thought as he returned his attention to the woman at his side. “This garden may not look very impressive,” he said, nudging her with his elbow as he nodded towards the far corner of the yard. “But on the other side of those columns, there is an alcove with a bust of the Steward Húrin, my ancestor. Perhaps you would like to study it later.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You chose these rooms for me because you thought I might appreciate a statue of your ancestor.”

He choked back a laugh as he lowered his voice. “No, but you may appreciate what is behind the statue.”

Her other brow shot up. “And what exactly is that?”

He kissed her hand and murmured, “It’s best appreciated after dark, I think.” Then he bowed and went inside, and the entire time he wore what he was sure must have been an insufferable grin.

Éowyn was certain she’d made it clear to him that she had no interest in riddles, and yet here she was, at half past nine in the evening, standing with her arms crossed in front of a bust of Faramir’s ancestor.

She chewed her lip as she glared into the blank eyes of the marble sculpture. Steward Húrin did not seem to share any features with Faramir; they might’ve had the same dark hair and grey eyes, but any paint on the marble had long since faded away. Those white, pupil-less eyes divulged nothing of why Faramir had sent her down here.

He had said to look behind the statue, but the back of the bust and its pedestal were as bare and uninteresting as the front. The curved alcove behind the bust’s pedestal featured only a wall of tangled ivy so long that it pooled in mounds upon the stone floor.

Éowyn stuck her toe beneath the leaves on the ground, shoving them aside, tearing them in some places out of the cracks in the stone that they’d dug themselves into. When that revealed nothing, she stuck her hand through the curtain of ivy hanging before the wall, but there seemed to be nothing there but more wall.

But it was not the same stone as the rest. Running her fingertips over the surface, she felt the tiny ripples of wood grain.

She pushed the ivy aside–no small feat, as it was many layers thick–and found, at the very center of the alcove, a narrow wooden door. It was only when she reached for the iron latch that she realized the door was already slightly ajar.

An invitation.

Éowyn’s arm, still weak from injury and disuse, began to tremble beneath the weight of all those vines. Something shivered through her stomach, like a swarm of winged insects trying to escape.

She opened the door enough to let her slip inside, where she found a corridor of grey, unpolished stone. There were no adornments but for some lit torches at regular intervals along the wall. Her heart hammered against her chest, tugging her down the path. The corridor was short enough that she could clearly see the door at the other end, twin to the one she’d just passed. About halfway through, she began to hear, beneath the crackling torches and the pounding blood in her ears, music.

She did not recognize the melody–in fact, she wasn’t sure if it was any sort of song at all, but rather the clumsy, intermittent strumming of lute strings, like the musician was testing different chords in search of the one he needed.

Éowyn drifted down the remainder of the corridor as if carried upon the sound waves. This door had also been left ajar, and warm candlelight poured through into the corridor. Peering inside, she saw thick wooden shelves stuffed full of books and scrolls. The idle plucking of the lute strings continued. She wondered if he could hear her breathing.

She pushed the door open and stepped inside.

He sat in a plush chair in the corner of the small room, the lute resting in his lap. His dark hair was unbound, and he wore only trousers and a plain linen shirt. It was the sight of his bare feet propped up on a table that somehow struck her as so private, so intimate, that she knew she’d found her way to his personal chambers.

No, not found: he’d led her here.

Faramir set the lute aside and stood, his lips slightly parted as he gazed at her.

“You came,” he said. As if he’d doubted she would.

She could only stare back at him. Her stomach shuddered, and even if she knew what to say, she didn’t trust herself to get any words out.

“I was not sure if you would.” He laced his fingers together, only to then release them to scratch at his short-cropped beard. His words were quicker and more careless than any she’d ever heard from him. “I worried that perhaps I was too cryptic, or that you may have been too tired, or–”

His nervous babbling proved too much for Éowyn’s composure, and like boiling water overflowing a pot, she burst out laughing.

She immediately clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound, but she was already shaking with it, and she soon doubled over, clutching her stomach with her other arm.

Something shifted in his expression as he watched her, a fire sparking in his eyes. He reached her in two long strides. With one hand, he took her wrist and pulled her hand from her mouth, and with the other, he seized the back of her head and kissed her.

Her laughter continued even against his lips, even as he backed her against the wall and pinned her there with his hips.

He pulled away long enough to mutter, “I must ask something of you.”

“What?” Her response was little more than a gasp, breathless from her mirth, from the air he’d stolen from her.

His breath came out in heavy pants, and his grey eyes were nearly black as they met hers. He still held tight to her wrist, and he pressed it against the wall beside her as he laced their fingers together. His other hand drew slowly across her scalp, sending a shiver down her spine. “Never hide your laugh from me. Any sounds you wish to make, any words you wish to say, I want to hear them all.”

She’d done it without thinking; the laughter had been so strange a sensation, so loud a noise that it had been pure instinct to try to stifle it. A sound like that drew attention. It was not proper in the grim hall she’d called home. But she was not there anymore. And the grin that split her face now was real, it was wild and blissful as her laughter had been, and it was for him, but it was also for herself. And when she dug her fingers into his hair and pulled him closer, that was for herself, too.

He broke the kiss far earlier than she would’ve liked, tilting his head with a lopsided smile. “But why were you laughing at me?”

Éowyn idly traced the outline of his ear, and watched with delight as his eyelashes fluttered closed and he leaned into the touch. “I think it was shock more than anything. You spent the past week barely willing to touch me, only to now lure me into your home. I would have expected a man of this country to be more…” She bit her lip.

“Reserved?”

“Prudish.”

The short laugh that escaped him shuddered through her where their chests met. His hand left hers against the wall, and his fingertips ran slowly up her arm until they reached her neck. He whispered into her ear, “Let me see if I can disavow you of that notion.”

Faramir’s touch was light as a breeze, hot as his breath upon her skin; it tickled her and caused her shoulder to twitch up, left her feeling so giddy that it seemed his body pressing her to the wall was the only thing keeping her from floating away.

“And I was happy,” she blurted out. He lifted his head to meet her gaze and then went still, his hands resting against either side of her face. She opened her mouth to speak, but could only let out a wordless breath, all rational thought lost beneath the intensity of his eyes. Still he waited for her to find her words: because he wanted to hear her, he’d said. Joy clashed with disbelief in her fluttering stomach. After a lifetime of stifling demands, he’d asked her for so little, and only things she was all too willing to grant. “I was happy,” she said again, softer, her fingers tangling in the hairs at the back of his head. “It has been so rare for me to be given something that I want.”

He pressed his cheek to hers and drew in a long breath. “Then I shall have to make up for lost time.”

His voice was so soft, so tender, that it caught her quite off-guard when she felt his teeth scrape her earlobe.

She sucked in a sharp gasp and reflexively tightened her grip on his hair. A low sound rumbled in his throat. His work on her ear was relentless, teeth and tongue drawing her into his mouth, and she arched her back away from the wall. He took hold of her thigh and drew it up to his hip, then trailed kisses down her neck, leaving goosebumps in his wake.

Éowyn gripped his shoulders to try to steady herself. With how badly she trembled, she feared she would collapse if Faramir stepped away.

He brushed his nose against her cheek before placing a soft, chaste kiss there. “Are you all right?”

Her nod was shaky. “I want this. I want…” She hated how tremulous her voice sounded. She hated the thought of being some simpering maiden trembling in the arms of a more experienced lover; but that was exactly how she felt. Even her teeth were chattering. It was not as though she was so sheltered that she’d never been in a similar embrace before; she’d exchanged plenty of clumsy kisses with boys in the stables of Edoras as a teenager, but those had been rushed, fleeting, and never to be repeated. This was different. Faramir’s lips lingered, his touch was agonizingly slow. This was the rest of her life. She ached for it.

Éowyn threw her arms around his neck and kissed him so fiercely that he stumbled back. She felt him plant his legs before lifting her off the ground, pressing one hand to her back as the other arm supported her bottom. She wrapped her legs around his waist and plunged her tongue into his mouth; the low groan he let out sent a tremor down her spine.

Faramir swung her around, and she found herself placed upon a table. He stepped back for a moment and rubbed at his shoulder, rotating his arm like one who was preparing to throw a punch. Too late, she remembered his injury, but even as she opened her mouth to apologize, he surged forward, a fire burning in his eyes. He set upon her throat with frantic, open-mouthed kisses, not unlike the ones she’d given him in an empty hallway the day before. She threw back her head to give him better access, and once again she wrapped her legs around his waist. She yanked him closer, and their hips collided, and she let out a gasp at the stiffness that pressed against her.

With an agonized moan, he pulled away from her, but before she could protest, he snatched her wrist and rasped, “Not here.”

She hopped down from the table and let him lead her out of the room. The hallway beyond was smaller than she would’ve expected, narrower than the expansive corridors of the King’s Palace, though it seemed to be made of the same white marble streaked with wisps of grey. She did not give her surroundings much notice otherwise, focused as she was on the fingers twined with her own, on the outline of his waist that she could just barely see through his loose, thin shirt. But then she caught sight of greenery between columns on her left. She came to a halt and pulled Faramir back towards her.

The little garden was open to the sky above. Moonlight shone upon the glossy leaves of an unkempt bush at Éowyn’s feet, making its fragrant white flowers seem to glow. A small tree with velvety silver leaves stood in one corner with its twisting branches overhanging a patch of bluebells. The plants seemed to have begun at the edges of the garden, but they’d all grown so wild that only a circle of grass remained at the center, and even that had been threaded with clover and dandelions.

Stepping behind her, Faramir wrapped an arm around her waist and the other around her shoulders. He kissed her neck and said, “I once had aspirations of tending to this garden myself; and I did, for a while. But as you can see, I have done a poor job lately.” He kissed her again, just below her ear.

Éowyn smiled and sighed as she melted back into his chest, taking stock of all the plants whose names she could not even guess: jagged star-shaped weeds jutting up from the grass, the woody vines dotted by bright green buds that stretched like gnarled fingers up the columns. “I think it’s beautiful.” She turned in his arms and placed her hands upon his chest. “It just needs some attention.”

The fabric of his shirt was so thin that she could feel his heart thundering beneath her hand. She let her fingers drift up to the laces at the collar of his shirt, to the bare skin beneath. A soft breath escaped her parted lips. She stood on her toes and kissed him slowly, savoring the taste of him, gasping against his mouth as he tightened his grip on her.

She pulled away only far enough to watch his face as she dropped her hands to his waist and slipped them beneath his shirt. She had to know, even through the airy haze of her desire, that he truly wanted this. Oh, she could tell well enough what his body wanted, but she knew Faramir did not wish to be ruled by anything but his mind and his heart. When she touched the warm skin of his stomach, she felt the tremor that raced through him, and when his hand wrapped around her wrist, her heart seized–until, in one swift motion, he tossed the shirt over his head and onto the ground.

Faramir did not give her time to appreciate the sight before he yanked her close and kissed her; so she instead observed him with her hands, the soft line of hair at his stomach, the wiry muscles of his arms, more scars than she could count amidst the dizzying feel of his tongue against hers.

His searing touch trailed like fire down her spine until he gripped her hips. He dipped his head to her neck, and when she felt the scrape of tongue and teeth on her collarbone, she could not help the moan that escaped her. Her skirts lifted, and she raised her arms to help him pull her dress and shift all at once over her head. His fingertips hovered over the skin of her waist like some ephemeral fabric remained between them.

“Faramir,” she breathed, and she put her hands over his and pressed them down upon her skin, dragging them slowly up her belly.

His eyes never left hers, gazing at her with brows drawn and lips parted, like he was seeing something miraculous. He barely moved, but she could feel his fingers trembling against her, his erratic breaths hot against her face.

Éowyn leaned forward to press their brows together. “Are you well, my lord?” she whispered.

“Forgive me.” Faramir’s voice was strained, soft amidst his gasping breaths. He brushed his nose against hers. “It is not often one looks into his future and sees such bliss.”

She felt another laugh bubble up within her, and this time she held tight to his arms and did not try to smother it. She let it burst forth, clear and graceless, and her heart soared to see how he grinned in response.

And then he was still no more, but pressed fiery kisses across her shoulder as his hands drifted up to her chest. His thumb grazed over her nipple, lightly, teasingly, and Éowyn did not know how he managed to be so deliberate with his touches while nipping at the tender flesh of her neck, when she could do no more than gasp and dig her nails into his back.

He went to his knees before her, trailing his lips down her stomach as he descended. She thought to join him on the ground–she was not sure how much longer her trembling legs could support her–but a hand at the back of her thigh held her in place. She felt his breath just above where a fire raged, and when he slipped a finger between her folds, she let out a gasp that was nearly a cry.

As she grabbed his hair, seeking to anchor herself even as her toes curled into the dirt, she looked down to find him smiling at her. She dearly wanted to kiss those smiling lips, but then they disappeared between her thighs, and at the hot scrape of his tongue against her core, she lost all coherent thought, and her grip on his hair tightened as she bent nearly double over him. His other hand traveled up her thigh, squeezing as he went, until he threw her leg over his shoulder–his injured shoulder, she managed to recall above the ecstasy coursing through her, but when she opened her mouth to protest, all that left her was a low moan.

The sound spurred him on, and she felt his fingernails digging into her flesh. Slowly, he pushed a finger inside her, and with a cry she bucked towards him. He took her reckless movements in stride, his head and his hand following her rolling hips with all the grace of a rider mastering a wild horse. Pressure built inside her, and she was sure she would collapse if he kept going.

“Wait,” she panted. He jerked back, pulling his finger from her, and she whimpered at the loss of him.

“What is it?” The panic, the worry in his voice made her heart clench, but she could not find words of her own. She dropped to her knees with such force that her teeth clattered, and she pressed a kiss to the wrinkle between his furrowed brows before tugging at the ties of his breeches.

“You need not–” Faramir cut himself off with a groan as she wrapped her hand around him.

“I would not deprive you of the same pleasure you’ve given me.” She was surprised by the raspiness of her own voice, at the boldness of her own hand as she ran her thumb across his velvet-soft tip.

A strange swell of pride rose in her chest as she watched the tendons of his jaw flex and heard the growl rumbling in his throat. But then he managed to focus his gaze on her again and said, “Watching you is pleasure enough.” And his fingers were on her again, sliding through the slickness of her core, only now his pace was relentless. Her free hand gripped the back of his neck, and her own movements lost any sense of rhythm. She knew only the throbbing between her legs, knew that even with the thrill his nimble fingers gave her, she could have more. She needed more.

She nudged herself forward until their hips met, and she could press his stiffness right below where his fingers worked her, and he let out a strangled gasp. She rocked her hips, dragging herself along his length, nearly sobbing at how close he was to where she so ached.

“Will you make me beg?” And she did not care how desperate and tremulous her voice sounded. She knew he would not think less of her for it.

Faramir cupped her cheek and pressed a bruising kiss to her lips. “Never, my love.” His mouth barely brushed hers when he murmured, “Unless you wish me to.”

Éowyn laughed. But she would not make herself be patient tonight. Instead, she lay back on the cool grass.

His chest heaved with the great breath he took as he gazed down at her, running his hands slowly down her thighs. She thought she caught a slight shake of his head, as if in disbelief. He reached between them, and once again his finger slipped inside her, and she threw her head back and lifted her hips and oh, it was almost enough. His keen, dark eyes watched her face as he pushed another finger inside.

“More,” she said, or tried to: it came out as little more than a whimper.

A smile tugged at the corner of his lips, and at last he lowered himself atop her, his long black hair mingling with hers in the grass. He pulled his hand away, agonizingly slow, and moved it to her thigh as he planted his other arm beside her head. He pressed his brow against hers, kissed her, and then he was in her, and she was stretched, and she was full, and she was whole.

Her mouth formed a wordless “Oh” as she grasped his shoulders, but Faramir was still as a statue, letting her adjust to the feel of him. It was too much, it was exactly enough, and arching her back she pressed her chest to his, desperate for more of him, for every bit of him that she could reach.

He buried his face in the crook of her neck, and she felt his hot, shuddering breaths against her skin and wondered if it was as overwhelming for him as it was for her. When she lifted her hips to take in more of him, he muttered something that might’ve been her name, only he spoke it with all the reverence of a prayer.

Then he moved his hips, thrusting long and slow, and Éowyn’s fingers tangled through his hair. He kept a steady pace, even as his breaths grew more erratic, as the kisses he pressed to her neck devolved into savage nips and a lapping tongue. Éowyn could do little more than receive each thrust with increasingly feral moans, especially when he once again reached his hand between where their bodies met. She clenched her fist in his hair, and his movements grew quicker and harder. Then he moaned her name, and she did not know if her eyes were open or closed, but all she saw was stars, and all she could do was scream, and she gave no thought to how loud she was.

He sucked in a sharp breath and lifted his head, and he grasped her by the waist and pounded his hips into hers until he stilled, and with a shudder and a groan he collapsed onto her.

Éowyn stroked his hair as their sweat-slicked chests heaved against each other. Between the weight of him and the way her muscles had all gone limp, she thought she might sink into the earth–she was, at the very least, in real danger of falling asleep.

After a few haggard breaths, Faramir rose up on his elbows and gazed at her. Smiling, he plucked a leaf from her hair.

“It is a lovely garden,” she managed to say before the laughter overtook her. It was a giggle, really, the sort that she would’ve once scoffed at to hear from anyone else, would’ve been mortified to hear coming from herself. Now she could only wonder at how her limbs could feel so heavy while her heart felt so light she thought it might drift away.

Faramir gently kissed the corners of her smiling lips. “The gardens we make together will be even lovelier.”