Someone was speaking. It was still dark in his room, but someone was there, speaking to him.
He grunted, tugged his blankets up higher around his shoulders, and rolled onto his side.
This must be a dream, he thought. No sane person would have come to his room in the middle of the night wanting to speak to him, and certainly not when it was so cold.
Why was it cold? He had three blankets to keep the chill away. Against his will, he clawed his way back to consciousness to try to solve this problem. It did not take him long to realise that he was no longer snuggled deep under his blankets. Someone had tugged them away.
"Faramir," he said, voice tight and low, "if you do not relinquish those blankets, you are going to suffer dearly for it."
"You don't really mean that."
Boromir sat up. Indeed, this was no sane person he was dealing with, but his brother. He could now make out Faramir's form, standing at the edge of the bed with a bundle in his arms. "But I do," Boromir sighed softly, and ran a hand through his hair. "I mean it from the bottom of my heart, that I am going to do something drastic if you do not let me get back to sleep."
"Faramir, whatever it is, I am sure it will still be there in the morning." Boromir was not whining. He was many long years past whining. Faramir should have been many long years past coming to his room in the middle of the night.
As that thought crossed his mind, a low thunderclap sounded and lightning briefly illuminated the room. Boromir was able to see Faramir for an instant. He chuckled suddenly. "My dear brother," he said teasingly, "you never were able to sleep through a storm."
"And you could sleep through the very end of the world," Faramir retorted. Apparently, Boromir had struck a nerve and Faramir was not in the mood to be teased. "If it has escaped your notice, however, I overcame that fear ten years ago."
"Good. Go back to bed." Boromir reached out and took hold of the blankets he so dearly missed. He feared for a moment that Faramir was not going to let go, but the worry was unfounded, so he lay back down and closed his eyes, warm and comfortable. He knew instantly, however, that slumber would elude him, because he had never been able to sleep when Faramir was distressed. When Faramir was distressed, the only person he would turn to was Boromir.
Boromir had reason to believe this was going to be a very long night.
He sat up again and peered up at Faramir through the dark. The rain outside was getting heavier. Faramir was sighing softly, but waited patiently for Boromir to ask finally, "What is it?"
"I...I wish to speak with you," his brother replied, sitting cautiously at the foot of the bed. Pillows shifted as Boromir turned with a grunt to face him.
"Yes, I had guessed as much. Speak quickly. It has already been a very long day."
Yet Faramir did not say anything else for a time. He worried at a loose thread in one of the blankets, twirling it around his finger and trying to push it down into the weave. Watching the small gesture in the flickering light from the storm drove Boromir nearly mad with exhaustion. Growling, he caught the younger man's wrist, then glanced up in surprise.
"Your skin is like ice!"
"I am very cold," Faramir admitted. Quickly Boromir pulled back the blankets and tugged his brother beneath them. For several minutes they lay quietly side by side, as they had on stormy nights when they were children and Faramir had sought the comfort of Boromir's presence to quell his terror. Then Faramir's head turned.
"Our father wants to send me away from Minas Tirith," he said. "I have heard him plotting to keep you here, to betroth you to our cousin Lothíriel. But he wants to send me to Rohan, if Theoden will have me as consort for his niece."
By the time Faramir had finished speaking, Boromir no longer felt fatigued. He had spent most of the day in meetings with Denethor, who had not spoken a word of such plans to him, but it would not be unlike their father to withhold such information until such time as he chose to share it.
Of the many distressing implications of Faramir's report, Boromir seized first upon the matter that he could most likely control. "I am not going to marry Lothíriel. Does our father now doubt even the loyalty of Imrahil, that he would seek such an alliance?"
"Our father doubts everyone but you." Faramir's voice sounded sad, yet not bitter. "He believes that I weaken you by my very presence. He pretends that he wants to build an alliance with Rohan, but he wants only to be rid of me from this city."
Boromir scowled. "If he wants an alliance with Rohan, perhaps he can talk Lothíriel into a marriage with Eomer -- or with Théodred, if the prince is not already promised to a shield-maiden of the Rohirrim. Theoden King has long sought an alliance with Gondor. Do not worry yourself. I will not let him send you so far away."
"Can you be so certain that he will give you what you want?"
"Father has never refused me anything."
Faramir looked away and was silent. Boromir frowned up at the dark ceiling. It appeared that his brother doubted him. This gave him pause; it was rare that Faramir doubted him, and he could never be entirely certain what to do when the younger man was in such a dark mood. After a moment, he turned onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow. "Do you remember..."
"I do not wish to hear stories." Faramir's voice was pained.
His plan had obviously failed miserably, so Boromir chose a new tactic. "When we were younger, I used to tickle you into submission."
"I am no longer a child. Otherwise he would not speak of having me married off to get me out from under foot."
Another silence stretched between them. Finally Boromir asked, "What do you wish me to do? I have already promised you that I will not allow father to send you away."
Faramir said nothing. Though they could not clearly see each other's faces, Boromir resolutely reached out and gently took hold of Faramir's chin, turning his head so that they could look at each other. "Pouting is unbecoming of you."
Faramir was indignant. "I am not pouting."
Something buried deep inside made Boromir's thumb itch to brush over his brother's mouth, to give him proof that he knew better. But such a gesture was inappropriate, and he pushed the desire aside -- though he could clearly see in his mind's eye the way Faramir looked when he reminded Boromir that he was not a child. He was keenly aware of the way it irked Faramir when he was teased, but so long as Boromir was able to make light of a situation, it kept him from dwelling on the places his thoughts had been straying.
He quickly pulled his attention back, realising that Faramir had been speaking as his thoughts had been wandering. "Yes?"
"Where are you?" Faramir sounded frustrated, and with good cause.
"You said..." Boromir tried to remember the younger man's exact phrase. "He believes that you weaken me by your very presence. Were those the words?"
"Those were his words, or very nearly." Faramir waited for a response, but when he received none, he continued in a low voice, "When you are here, he wants all your attention focused on the Stewardship, not spending time with your little brother. He finds me to be a distraction to you."
"I believe he said 'temptation.'"
For a moment, Boromir could not fathom how his father could utter such a thing. Then he imagined his father coming into his room now, finding the two of them huddled together under his blankets when they should have been asleep in their own bedchambers, how the mind of Denethor would interpret their closeness. Suddenly he could not lie beside his brother for another moment. Sitting up, he reached for his robe.
"Come, let us go down to the kitchen. Since I cannot sleep, I find that I am famished."
Faramir rose on his elbows to stare at him for a long moment, his eyes round and strange in the dimness. Boromir could see his lips purse in puzzlement as his hair fell around his face. Again he felt an urge to touch his brother, to brush the hair back from his eyes and run a fingertip over that troubled countenance -- then just as suddenly he was struck by the compulsion to move away.
"Come. Let us see if there is any bread left from supper." Without looking back, he rose and pulled the protective robe around himself.
While Faramir slid from the bed and wrapped one of the blankets around his shoulders, Boromir lit a candle, knowing that it would put Faramir more at ease as they wandered the halls with the storm raging outside. He glanced at his brother a few times and allowed his thoughts a few moments to linger upon the way the candlelight flickered over Faramir's features. His brother caught his gaze, looking at him sidelong, but neither said anything.
At the bottom of the stairs that led to the kitchen, Faramir bumped his shoulder against Boromir's. "You are distracted," he murmured, and gave a little smile, before he moved past to push open one of the doors. Faramir turned back to him, shooting him a quick look of annoyance. "I thought you were hungry."
It took a moment for Boromir to realise that he was still standing at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh. I am," he said, feeling colour rise to his cheeks.
"Then come find something to eat."
The kitchen was dark and silent save for the occasional boom of thunder beyond the walls. Boromir lit one of the lamps, casting a faint golden glow on the pantry in the corner and the large empty table in the centre of the room. The air smelled faintly of rising bread, stewed meat and an elusive, sweet spice, but the larder was empty and the breadbox contained only crusts, awaiting fresh loaves in the morning. The embers in the hearth did not burn brightly enough even to heat water, and Boromir did not wish to expend the energy to get a fire burning.
Faramir had gone directly to the pantry and was rummaging among bottles of oil and spice. "What are you hoping to find?" Boromir asked.
"Something sweet," his brother's muffled voice floated back to him. "Bring the light. I am afraid the cooks have thrown out the honey-cakes."
"I am sure they used the pieces to feed the hens." It was impossible to withhold a smile at the image of his little brother hunting for sweets in the kitchen in the middle of the night. Faramir had never been able to resist such things, on cold stormy nights or in the heat of summer afternoons. "Shall we sneak down to the lake to see whether there are berries growing in the bushes nearby?"
"Do not mock me, or I will send you to find them for me." The younger man turned from the dark cupboard, stepping into the light, and Boromir had a sudden vision of him as he had looked the last time they went swimming together, caught in the late summer sun, no longer his baby brother but a man coming into his strength -- despite their closeness, in some ways a stranger.
There were aspects of himself that Boromir had never dared to explain to his brother. It was not right that he should be so focused on how handsome his brother had become over the past few years, nor that he should seek out Faramir's company just so that he could watch the way his brother moved. He glanced up but was unable to hold the younger man's gaze when Faramir handed him a biscuit.
Their father was right. This handsome young man was temptation. Boromir took the snack and turned to the table. He perched on the edge, watching Faramir as he bit into his own biscuit.
"Stale," Faramir sighed.
"You could have satisfied your sweet tooth in the afternoon."
"Come, Boromir!" Faramir chuckled and joined Boromir on the table. He took the blanket and draped it over both their shoulders. "You have lost your sense of adventure."
Faramir laughed again then rested his head on Boromir's shoulder. "Raiding the kitchen used to be great adventure for us. Remember, we would always worry that we would get caught."
"And both times were your fault."
"Not the way I recall it."
"Then there must be something wrong with your memory." Boromir tilted his head to peer down at Faramir's face. His brother's eyes were closed, and the lines of his face were much more relaxed than they had been. For the first time Boromir noticed that there were dark circles under Faramir's eyes. He reached around and pulled the blanket up a little more snugly on Faramir's shoulder. "Have you not been sleeping well?" he asked softly.
Faramir shook his head. "I never sleep as soundly as I should when you are away," he admitted. "Do you sleep so well, when you are camped with the armies?"
During the last campaign, Boromir had hardly slept at all. The assaults against Gondor were more frequent and more brutal, and resentment had begun to rise against the Steward...and against his son, though none would say so in his presence. He had found his only respite when he briefly shared his tent with a dark-haired young soldier from Osgiliath, but he could not say so to Faramir.
"Let me take you back to your room," he entreated, but his brother only pressed closer, tugging the blanket tighter. "You will be warmer, and more comfortable."
"Will you stay with me?"
It had been so simple to agree, when they were children. But it was impossible to pretend that that low, throaty voice in his ear was that of a child. "Faramir, I am tired too. I would like to go to my own room and sleep without anyone coming in to steal my blankets."
"Then I would rather stay here," Faramir sighed, wrapping an arm around Boromir under the blanket.
Against his better judgement, or perhaps just to spite it, Boromir let his own arm steal down around Faramir's back. This caused his brother to make a sound rather akin to that of a cat purring, and Boromir let his madness get the better of him as he kissed the top of Faramir's head. Faramir must have washed his hair that day, as it smelled sweet. Boromir sighed. "You are impossible," he said.
"I know, but you let me." There was a smile in Faramir's voice. "You have spoiled me terribly."
"I know," Boromir replied, with a note of sadness in his voice that he knew Faramir would not believe for even an instant. "But...you let me."
"Of course I do." Faramir muffled a yawn against Boromir's shoulder. "How am I to resist the charm of my own brother?"
Boromir all but leapt from the table. "Come, Faramir," he said, more harshly than he would have liked, "I am taking you to bed. You are exhausted and need sleep."
"Why are you so eager to be rid of me?" Faramir's eyes were wide, his expression injured.
Instantly Boromir regretted his words and tone. "Faramir, I --" He paused, and watched Faramir for a moment. His brother merely stared back, continuing to look miserable, sitting with the blanket hanging off his slumped shoulders.
Boromir sighed and cursed his weakness. "I am not trying to be rid of you." He approached Faramir again, standing before his brother, but not daring to touch what he desired most. "I only worry." His hand lifted and brushed the hair from Faramir's face, but despite his longing, he did not touch the softness of skin nor did his eyes look anywhere but into Faramir's eyes.
Frowning, his frustration once more visibly bubbling to the surface, Faramir reached up and took hold of Boromir's wrist. He did not notice that Boromir held his breath, did not see how the other hand clenched at Boromir's side. "My dear brother," Faramir said softly, "you are not my keeper. There is no reason for you to concern yourself. You do not have to shoo me off to bed." The corners of Faramir's mouth quirked into a smile. "And even if you did, I would not run along like a good little boy."
"Someone should give you a spanking," Boromir growled, attempting to return the easy humour, wishing that his heart would not hammer so. He felt the pulse in his wrist surge against Faramir's grip and thought that surely his brother would notice, but Faramir only laughed and leaped off the table.
"I have found your wits at last," said the younger man. With a wicked grin, he dragged the blanket above his head and threw it over Boromir's, covering them both. "You see, I am no longer afraid of the dark!" And he began to tickle his defenceless brother, who could not find Faramir's hands to hold them still.
"Stop," choked Boromir breathlessly as Faramir attacked his sides, making him writhe and dance in place. He was afraid of those fingers, of where they might wander, and could think of only one way to defend himself: he began to tickle Faramir back. His hands remembered from childhood all the spots that made his brother collapse in giggles, all the sensitive places that would make him cry out. Soon the blanket had slipped to the floor, but Boromir and Faramir had not stopped their assault on one another.
"Enough, enough!" Faramir cried at last, climbing back onto the table to escape. Boromir scooped up the blanket from the floor and tossed it over his brother, blinding him, then continued to tickle him, laughing wickedly at Faramir's protests. Suddenly a hand reached out and grasped the front of his robe, pulling him forward. Faramir sat up, wrapping his legs around Boromir's back to trap him against the table. His free hand came to rest flat against Boromir's chest. "Peace!"
It took several moments for Boromir to catch his breath, for his heart was pounding from the laughter and the chase. By the time he had gulped enough air to regain control over his breathing, he realised that his brother's face was much too close, smiling warmly inches from his own. Faramir's hand crept up his collarbone to rest against his shoulder. Boromir started to struggle, but strong thighs held him tight against the edge of the table and against Faramir's upper body.
"You cannot escape so easily," Faramir intoned, and leaned forward to kiss Boromir as he stood helpless before him. When Boromir only stood as he had been, Faramir eased his grip on the robe and lifted his hand to run his fingers through Boromir's hair. "Boromir," he whispered, "kiss me." His lips moved against Boromir's once more, but still Boromir did not respond. "Please," he entreated, "please kiss me."
A shudder ran through Boromir's body as he lifted his hands to frame the younger man's face. He caught Faramir's lower lip between his teeth, and shuddered again at the tiny moan this caused. He gasped his brother's name, taking his mouth in a kiss that was more tender than he wanted, that held back from the desperate need welling inside him. His hands dropped to Faramir's shoulders, applying gentle pressure until Faramir yielded, allowing himself to be pushed back onto the table.
His heart renewing its frantic pace, Boromir followed his brother down, knelt over him, and noticed for the first time how Faramir's eyes were filled with adoration. He spoke Faramir's name again, reverentially, hardly daring to believe this was not a dream as he bent his head to taste the lips that had tempted him for so long. This mouth was sweeter than any other he had tasted, sweeter than he had the words to describe. The world could fall into oblivion, burn up in flames, but Boromir would not care -- his beloved Faramir lay beneath him, his mouth eager for more kisses, his body arching up as Boromir's hand began to seek for soft flesh.
"Let me touch you," said Faramir breathlessly. His fingers were making short work of Boromir's robe. "I have dreamt of the heat of your skin."
"You move too quickly, Faramir." Boromir caught his brother's hands and held them still.
Faramir laughed. "Too quickly? I have waited too long! Please, take off your robe."
"And love you here?"
"Yes!" Faramir pulled his hands free and twined his arms around Boromir's neck. "Anywhere, as long as I can have you. Mere moments ago, you seemed eager enough to have me on my back on this table."
Boromir moaned softly, a sound of both frustration and desire, and ducked his head to nuzzle at Faramir's throat. "I was not thinking clearly."
As Faramir's head tipped back, his arms slipped down Boromir's back to grasp his hips. The low, throaty voice that Boromir found so difficult to resist dripped honey when Faramir spoke again. "Love me now. You have never denied me anything -- I see no reason for you to start tonight."
"I can think of many reasons." Hands balling into fists, Boromir pushed himself up on his elbows, avoiding Faramir's eyes. He imagined instead the fury on the face of Denethor were he to find his sons so entwined. "Do you know what our father would do to us if we were discovered? What he would do to you?"
Faramir's arms sagged against Boromir's sides, but his voice was defiant. "He will send me away whether we are discovered or not."
"If we are discovered, he will not send you away. He will kill you. He would consider that fitting punishment for both of us." The fever that had been surging through Boromir's veins turned to panic, and he used that surge of fear to push away from his brother, tugging his robe tightly around himself. "Come. We cannot stay here."
Faramir sat up slowly, bringing the blanket with him. He slid from the table with his eyes fixed on Boromir and bright colour on his cheekbones that might have been from passion or from shame. "Will you let me come to your room?" He held his chin high, but his voice quavered.
Afraid that his brother would refuse to leave the kitchen if he did not agree, Boromir nodded once. He did not look at Faramir as the younger man folded the blanket over his arm, holding it carefully in front of him. Boromir's arousal had faded when he thought of the likely consequences of their moment of indiscretion, but he held the candle high, hoping his form could not be seen in the dark hallways as they crept in silence back to his room.
Boromir's thoughts raced, outpacing his measured steps, making his hands tremble with conflicting joy and despair. His precious brother shared his forbidden desire, so much so that he had admitted it to Boromir, who would have kept his feelings hidden forever rather than risk losing the one person whose absence he could never bear. Faramir was right that Boromir could deny him nothing; if he wished it, Boromir would take him to bed and give him all the love that threatened to overrun his reason.
But what would be the cost? Even if he were able to stall his father's plans to wed his sons to courtly women, he would have to take a wife if he hoped to become Steward. And Faramir would be expected to marry as well. The idea distressed Boromir, just as it had earlier when Faramir had revealed Denethor's scheme. What jealousy and suffering might their bond cause them later? He wondered whether Faramir had ever been with a woman, then considered that perhaps his brother had been with other men. Faramir had not kissed him like a youth unfamiliar with his own desires.
Halting in front of his door, Boromir turned and lowered the candle to meet his brother's burning gaze. This was not the timid boy he had expected to come to him during a thunderstorm, but a man of abundant strength and passion, who did not wait for Boromir to invite him inside but placed his own hand on the latch. "Here we are," Faramir murmured in a voice filled with husky promise, and pushed open the door.
With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Faramir took Boromir by the elbow, tugged him into the room and firmly closed the door behind them. He took the candle from Boromir and used it to light another candle that sat on the small table near the bed before setting it down. After turning the blanket back, he went to Boromir, reaching for his hand.
Boromir slowly shook his head. "We should not do this."
"Come to bed."
That voice would haunt his dreams, if he managed to sleep at all. "Please, Faramir. Listen to me. If we go any further, we cannot turn back."
"Do you think that has escaped me? I have spent many long nights alone in my bed, thinking of you, and the unspeakable things I would do with you, if only I could." Faramir turned away, staring down at Boromir's bed. "And I know full well that once we have been together, everything will change. We will live our passion in secret, fearful of discovery, dreading the day when you must take a wife for the good of Gondor. Even now, the jealousy eats away at me." Faramir gave a short, bitter laugh. "How ridiculous is that? I do not know who this woman will be, and already I despise her."
Boromir squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then pressed against Faramir's back, wrapping his arms around his brother. He said, "No matter what may come to pass, no one will be as dear to me as you are."
"Words are not always enough to silence my fears."
"That is just one more reason for you to go back to your room."
"I will not. I cannot survive a lifetime knowing that I almost had you. Remembering only the brief moments we have shared so far tonight would drive me mad with longing."
So far. So far tonight, Boromir had nearly lost his mind. He knew he should send Faramir away, force them both to think about what all this meant, but he could not form words. Perhaps, he thought, his mind was indeed gone already, because all he could do was brush Faramir's hair aside and press a little kiss to the side of his neck. Faramir began to turn, but he was held still.
Madness, indeed -- Boromir was lost. "Tell me what you long for," he managed to say, his voice no more than a whisper into Faramir's ear.
"You. Your touch." Faramir was breathless, and he shifted restlessly in Boromir's embrace. Boromir smiled against his neck.
"I touch you now. Is that not enough?"
"You will drive me mad if you continue to torment me so."
Boromir clucked his tongue as his hands worked loose the sash at Faramir's waist and pushed the robe open. "I would see one of us retain some of his sanity," he murmured, "so I shall not torment you." The very tip of his tongue trailed along Faramir's neck. "Much."
Gasping softly, Faramir moved to pull off his robe completely, but his hands were taken in a firm grasp. "Be still," Boromir commanded. He placed the younger man's arms down by his sides, then let his own hands slip into the open robe, stroking Faramir's sides almost lazily. "What else do you long for?"
"This." Faramir, it seemed, had had enough of talk. He spun, locked both hands behind Boromir's neck and tugged none too gently, kissing him without the restraint he had shown earlier in the kitchen. The movement propelled them both toward the bed, making Boromir wonder when Faramir had grown so strong. He realised with a guilty jolt that he sometimes saw his brother as their father did, when Faramir was not at all weak. He might not match Boromir's skill with a blade -- there were few in all of Gondor who could, not even Denethor in his prime -- but the muscles in Faramir's chest and belly were solid and powerful, and his arms kept Boromir clutched firmly to him as he pushed him onto the blankets.
Down Boromir went, his robe falling open as they tumbled together, feverish from the press of hot skin. Indeed, he realised, his brother was no virgin; his fingers were far too skilled, his control too secure. This awareness awoke an unexpected envy. "Who," he growled, "was it that taught you this?"
"It does not matter. There has never been anyone in my heart but you." Faramir pulled back suddenly, and from his stricken look, Boromir could see that he was afraid he had upset him. "Are you angry with me?"
"Of course not." Though resentment still nagged at Boromir, he also felt relief that his brother understood exactly what he was offering. "I would not have you bound to my desires..."
"But that is what I want!" Faramir interrupted. "You are always afraid of corrupting me. For so long I did not dare tell you what I wanted -- I thought that even if you shared my feelings, you would feel honour-bound to push me away. Then I learned of our father's plans and I grew selfish." His brother pulled Boromir into a kiss, not practised but desperate, and their hands and mouths quickly began to stray. "Please. Love me. Make me yours."
Boromir had no more words, no strength to resist even if he willed it, which he could not. He pushed Faramir's robe from his shoulders and slid against him, the chill of the night forgotten. Faramir cried out and trembled, close to surrender, and Boromir knew that he had spoken truly: no matter whom he had been with, he had kept his heart for his brother.