The sun is bright the day he leaves; the air is cold, but the sun reflects off the white walls and leaves them glistening in the morning air. He could turn back, he knows. Only Boromir knows this is not just a hunting trip, and he would keep his confidence. Boromir had told him not to go. He loves Boromir with all his heart, but there is only one person that could make him stay, and Denethor will hardly note his absence.
The city is cold and beautiful and Faramir—no longer a boy, but at seventeen barely a man—turns west.
It is autumn, turning into winter, and the chill bites at his skin as metal clashes with metal. He’s tracked these men for three days of rain, losing their tracks more than once, the image of the slaughtered villagers they left behind seared in his mind.
From his left comes another, and there’s more here than he tracked—too many—but he swings and parries, the wet mud slick beneath his feet.
He’s down on one knee, lifting his blade to block another swing, his left arm bleeding at his side, when an arrow pierces the air. He does not realize, quite yet, the knife that slid along his ribs.
And then there is darkness.
A cool cloth pressed to his cheek, and his eyes flutter open. Dark eyes examine him thoroughly, a worried tilt to her mouth.
“Where am I?” he grates out.
“Still a day’s ride from Rivendell,” she says. “I was worried the fever would not break, but you’ve been fortunate.”
His eyes narrow as he moves to sit up, his hand going to his side with a gasp. “You were there,” he says. “You’re an elf,” he adds, surprised, his eyes flicking up to her ears, images of elves arriving and the thieves turning to flee flashing in his mind.
“Is it normally the practice of Rangers to take on a whole band of ruffians on your own?” she asks, suppressing a smile.
He starts to laugh, and then abruptly chokes it off as his wounds flare with pain. “I thought I had it quite in hand,” he says with an easy grin. “Your arrival was most welcome,” he adds more seriously.
She smiles back gently, and then cups his cheek with slender fingers.
“You must rest.”
Rivendell hums against his skin, an almost ache of peacefulness. For all that he has lived mostly in the wilds of the north these last nine years, it takes him by surprise, this longing.
“You are better,” she says, following him out to the balcony. Her dress clings lightly to her, her hair tumbles down her shoulders.
“Yes,” he says. His fingers curl around the wood for a moment, and then he lets go.
“My name is Arwen,” she says. “And you are Faramir, are you not?” He has not gone by that name in almost a decade, and the shock of hearing it again keeps him silent. She extends her hand, her skin pale in the soft sunlight. “Come,” she says.
They walk through corridors and silent hallways until they step out onto grass. The air is perfumed with flowers, the running water nearby soothing. She does not tell him where they’re going, and he does not ask, content to follow her, her fingers warm against his.
She takes him to a clearing. The trees stretch up tall around them, but the sky is blue above, and he sits next to her in the thick grass.
“You are far from Gondor,” she says at last.
“Gondor is well-served by my brother,” he says. “My duty lies elsewhere.”
“You do not need to prove your valor, Faramir of Gondor,” she says, and he wishes that were enough to make it true.
He stays a fortnight, and for that time they do not leave each other’s sides. He kisses her hand as he bids his goodbye. She orders he stay safe.
He returns to Gondor, but not as the prodigal son.
A common ranger walks the halls of Minas Tirith; there are too many people and too much noise and too much stone between him and the earth and the sky and the trees.
Boromir finds him. Boromir has always been able to find him, to pick him out of a crowd.
“Brother!” he says, shock and delight mingling in his voice. “I knew you were still alive, I knew you’d come back someday!” But even as Boromir hugs him, he knows; Faramir’s eyes are too sad and even this quiet calm in his face is not enough to reassure him. “You are staying, are you not?”
Faramir shakes his head. No. No. Brother, I cannot return until I know why I left.
The following spring, Faramir returns to Rivendell. Arwen teaches him Sindarin as they walk beneath the stars; he tells her of his travels in the north. There is a warmth to Rivendell’s beauty that he never found in Minas Tirith; there is a warmth in Arwen’s smile.
Something unravels within himself; threads loosen and tension eases and Faramir thinks he could find a way to be at peace. But he has a duty.
He rides north when summer arrives.
It’s three years later when he returns.
New scars decorate his skin, but his eyes are clear when they meet hers.
“Tell me, Faramir of Gondor, have you found what you sought?” she asks, her voice light, her eyes solemn.
He can feel the wind against his skin and the sharp scent of pine trees. He can breathe without feeling weighed down by failure, think without his father’s voice loud in his ears. He does not know what he has found, but he feels the better for it. He came because he could not stay away. He came because he has proven his valor to Faramir, if no one else, and he needs no other approval.
“Yes,” he says. “I found you, did I not?”
His eyes are gentle as he awaits her response. He is uncertain, but this is the gift of serenity; he can leap now that his ankles are no longer weighted down. He has always wanted to try to fly.
She steps forward and leans up and brushes her fingers against his cheek.
“You have come a very long way,” she says. “Show me that valor I know exists.”
He leans in and kisses her, his fingers settling on her waist, tugging her closer. She smiles against his mouth, and Faramir comes home at last.