Unfinished plots, still a happy reader
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End To Innocence, An: 18. Neither One Nor The Other
"I know." She took his hand in hers and kissed his fingers gently. She wanted to tell him she'd be all right, not to worry, but hollow promises always sounded to her like lies.
"I fear for you," he said.
"I know," she repeated. "I'm afraid too, for both of us. For all of us." She kissed his fingers again.
"You have sacrificed so much already," he said, stroking her hair back from her face. "Please do not sacrifice more for us. For me. Stay here, and give me someone to return to."
"That's not playing fair," she said gently. "And it won't work. You have everything to come back to, you don't need me here for that." He started to speak, but she stopped him with a finger to his lips. "Don't fight me on this anymore, Boromir, please," she said, meeting his gaze and holding it. "You'll break my heart, and you still won't stop me."
He cupped her cheek in his hand, and she leaned into his touch. "Why are you so determined?" he asked.
She was quiet for a long time, thinking about it. Finally, she spoke.
"When I was about twenty-four or twenty-five," she began, "my mom told me about something that happened when she was small. A terrible thing that happened." She paused, remembering her mother, remembering the sun on her mother's hair, and her blue eyes. "A terrible disaster," she went on after a moment, "that killed thousands of people. And she told me that while it was happening - because it wasn't instantaneous, people had time to get reporters there, and rescue personnel, and to think about it - she was listening to reports from the scene, and they were talking to a woman who was trying to get to where the disaster had happened." Maggie hesitated, remembering, tears coming to her eyes. Her voice was thick when she continued. "They were talking to this woman, who was crying, and they were asking her why she wanted to get there, why she wanted to go into this terrible destruction, and she said her husband was inside. She said," and Maggie's voice broke. "She said, 'what if he's hurt and I can't help him? What if he's dying and I can't hold his hand?'" Her breath hitched in her throat, and she said, "I think that she would have given anything just to be able to touch him, just to be able to be with him, whatever had happened, even if it was just to hold his hand while he died. Anything. Anything to be with him."
She paused, and reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes, biting her lip and trying push the memory away to where it always lived in the back of her mind. "I wish I could tell you it was some noble reason, like, 'because it's the right thing to do' or something," she said, not looking at him, "but the truth is, that's it. When that woman's husband left that morning, no one could have imagined how the day would end. But I know how this might end. And I really, honestly would rather risk dying than ever have to think of -" but she couldn't follow the thought to its conclusion. She took a deep breath, and let Boromir pull her into the circle of his arms.
"I wish I knew whether her husband had lived," she said softly. "My mom never knew."
He held her to his chest, his arms around her, stroking her hair, and they lay like that for a long time.
When she started towards the Houses of Healing, plush dog in hand, the sun was just casting its rays over the walls of the City. Boromir had left their bed before the sun was up, and Maggie had dozed, lingering in the warmth left by his body. He had said he would meet her on the field if they did not encounter each other at the Houses of Healing, where they both had people to see, and so here she was, feeling - as usual - slightly out of place. Her clothing set her apart again, no longer in the leather leggings and tunic but in her own jeans and boots, cotton shirt. She wore her leather coat less as protection against the slight chill in the air than as armor against her own fear, and she pulled it close, inhaling the familiar scent. The Glocks and her body armor were still in her chambers, but within the coat she carried the small pistol she'd taken from her bedside table, and The Way Of The Samurai was stowed in one of the pockets. She shivered slightly with the knowledge of what she'd chosen to do - ride willingly towards death when home waited only a flicker of reality away. She wondered again how she had come to lose her sense of self-preservation so fully.
Then she smiled to herself and said softly, quoting, "'The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.'" She chuckled. "'Insane and desperate.' Hell yes. Make decisions within the space of seven breaths, be determined, and advance.' Let's hear it for the Hagakure." She entered the Houses of Healing still smiling to herself.
By now she knew the way without asking, and soon was at Faramir's door. It was slightly ajar, and voices came from inside.
"...troubled by her stubbornness?"
"No," Boromir said cautiously, and Maggie froze at his tone. "Or, perhaps. Faramir, I do not intend to lose her, but.... I am unsure how to... to manage her."
She took a breath.
Faramir laughed. "Manage her? She is neither one nor the other, is she, Boromir?"
"She is both," Boromir responded with a chuckle. "The woman obeys me, Faramir," he said, "but the warrior, the warrior does not, and it is the warrior who must."
"She has spirit."
"You sound like our Rohirric friends discussing a skittish mount."
Three more breaths, feeling more panicky than she had when she realized they were riding into certain death - because certain death was days away and this was on the other side of a door - and she tapped softly. Faramir answered, "Come."
She slipped inside.
"Maggie," Faramir said with a smile. "Come and sit."
She glanced from one to the other, and could tell that they wondered how much she had heard. "I brought you a present," she said to Faramir, holding up the dog, and handing it to him as she reached the bedside.
His eyes widened and a smile spread across his face. "A noble animal," he said, and held it to his face, inhaling softly.
Maggie and Boromir both laughed, and she felt some of her tension ease, if only slightly, at the sound their voices made together. "That's almost exactly your brother's reaction when I gave him his," she said.
Faramir grinned. "They are not wrong who say we are much alike," he said, glancing at Boromir and settling the dog in his lap.
Boromir stood and took Maggie's hand, drawing her toward the chair he was vacating. "I must see to my men," he said as she sat, then he leaned down and kissed her cheek, his hand lingering a moment too long on her hair, a gentle caress. "On the field, then, Maggie. Do not tarry overlong."
"I'll be there," she replied softly.
Boromir turned then and embraced Faramir, whispered something in his ear. Faramir smiled, and said something softly back. Then, "Return to me, brother," and he gripped Boromir's hand firmly.
Boromir smiled. "Only death could keep me from you, and I do not intend to die." With a quick nod to each of them, he turned and was out the door, his footsteps echoing away down the hall.
After a moment Faramir said, "Boromir tells me you ride with the army after all. I will be sorry not to have your company here," and he cast an inscrutable gaze across her.
She shifted slightly, not meeting his eyes. "I have to, Faramir," she said. "Every time I think about not going, I get this image of him lying there on the battlefield hurt, needing someone and no one there."
Faramir nodded. "I was a grown man with men of my own to command before I stopped seeing that same image every time my brother rode out of the City."
"Then you understand."
"Not entirely," he said, and glanced at her. "I think there is something more here than the love you bear my brother."
She frowned, and hesitated. Had she spent so much time with Faramir that he could talk to her about this? "Like what?" she asked warily.
Stroking the plush ears of the dog, he said gently, "I see something in your eyes when you look at Boromir that is not ... simple affection." He paused, and when she didn't answer, he went on, "Some months ago, one of my men became lost in Ithilien. We had been tracking the movements of the Enemy, and a sudden storm came. He became separated from his comrades, and was injured in the storm. Disoriented and hurt, he lost himself in the forest, and for three days we could not find him, nor he us. The eyes he turned on me when I found him at last are the eyes you turn on Boromir. As though you have been lost, and have longed for a captain, and have found one. Or have been found."
"And? Is there something wrong with that?" she asked softly, still not looking at Faramir.
"No," he replied, "for Boromir is a fine captain, and he does love you. But he is your lover, and your captain, and he told you to stay, and yet you ride with the army. I question it."
"You're not really in a - " but she bit back the rest of the retort. Given what she had heard, it seemed he was indeed in a position to know. Still not looking at him, she felt his gaze on her. "He's not my captain," she muttered. "I haven't signed anything."
Faramir chuckled. "Oh, but he is, lady, that is clear. He both is, and is not, and I fear things will become difficult if that remains so."
"Why?" she asked, scowling. "Why can't I just - do what seems right to me?"
"An army is not built of a thousand men each doing as he sees fit," he replied, "and lovers are not meant to command each other's lives. Yet, you are both soldier and lover to him."
"I just - I - " and she stood and paced to the window, then turned slightly to look at him. He watched her calmly, his eyes never leaving her face. "I don't know how to do anything else," she said finally. "I can't stay."
Faramir nodded. "That much I do understand," he replied. "But if you and my brother both return from this war, and if, in the end, we are victorious and you choose to remain here rather than return with your people, I would have you think carefully about the nature of things between Boromir and yourself. You cannot be his lover and his soldier for long."
She turned to him and crossed her arms. "And how is this your business anyway?"
"What concerns Gondor concerns me," he answered, unperturbed. "Boromir is our Captain-General, the Captain of the Tower Guard, and if the king maintains the position, he will be Steward." Faramir smiled wryly. "He is Steward until the king is crowned. It concerns me."
Maggie brought a hand to her face and turned back to the window. The morning was growing later, and soon the army would ride for Mordor. Chip and Paul were seeing to the vehicles, Tank and Mira organizing squads, though Tank would not be going with them. Boromir and Imrahil and, she supposed, Aragorn were all doing whatever it was commanders here did before riding off to hopeless battle.
"Right then," she murmured finally. "Right."
"Maggie," said Faramir softly. "Come here."
She turned, and he gestured to the edge of the bed. "Come here, sit."
She did, and he took her hand.
"This is all so new for you," he said. "So different from what you are accustomed to." He shook his head, his gaze searching her face. "In your world, you can lead or follow as you please. You can command or step back from it as suits you. Not so, here."
"How do you know what I'm used to?" she asked irritably, trying to reclaim her hand, but he did not release her, and he chuckled, stroking her wrist soothingly.
"There are many of your people here in the Houses of Healing," he said. "And they are not shy, nor reticent. I have learned much."
Startled, she almost laughed. "Yeah, well," she replied, "they're not - they're - " and she hesitated. "Okay," she said finally. "You're right. They're right. It's different."
He nodded. "I would not want those differences to come between you and my brother."
"Or between your brother and himself," she said.
Faramir smiled. "You are also perceptive."
"Do you think he's unsure of me?"
"Not of you," he answered. "Not of your affection, nor of his. But of his command of you? Perhaps."
"Do you mean of whether he should," she asked, "or whether he does?"
He looked at her and his fingers stilled on her wrist. "Both."
She hesitated. Boromir doubted her, and she learned it from eavesdropping and from his brother. "Ah," she said with a nod, and when she pulled away this time he let her.
"Maggie," Faramir said softly, and touched her chin, turned her to face him. "What you and my brother share brings you both strength, and I am glad of that. But I think you fear losing too much of yourself. You desire his command in one arena, yet refuse it in the one in which he must demand it. It is a difficult balance, yet it is one you must strike. Maggie," he said when she didn't answer. "Do not fear losing yourself. You will not."
Irritated, she said, "How do you know?"
He paused, then shrugged. "I suppose I do not know," he answered, "but I believe it. You have a strong mind, and a strong will, or you would not be here. Boromir will not subsume you, but you must learn to trust him."
She started. "Trust him?" she said sharply. "I do trust him. I trust him more than I've ever trusted anyone."
Faramir held her gaze for a long moment, long enough that she felt herself wanting to shy away from him, but before she did, his eyes softened, though his tone when he spoke was firm. "You will obey him in the field, Maggie."
After a moment, she replied, "Not if he tells me to stay here. But anything else, yes."
Faramir made a sound, and sat back. "You cannot pick and choose, do you not yet understand that?"
"No," she said sharply, "I don't."
"You do," he replied sharply, "you only refuse to accept it." She started to stand up, but he took her hand in his and with a strength that surprised her he pulled her back down, and again turned her to face him. For a long moment his eyes searched hers, and if she could have torn her gaze from his she would have. Finally, his expression softened and he said, "Then since you will go, I shall endeavour to be glad that my brother has one as stubborn and devoted as you at his back. Do not let him fall."
"If I do," she replied, "it'll be because I fell first."
She met Mira on the field as the olive-skinned woman was returning to the city, Tank beside her, using a cane but with his arm still around his companion. Mira leaned in to kiss Maggie's cheek when they met, and said to Tank, "Go on up. I'll meet you."
Tank nodded, then grinned at Maggie and said, "Helluva world this is. Wish I was coming with you."
As his footsteps receded, Mira turned to Maggie and said, "I'm staying here with Tank. Paul too. If things get bad, if your army loses and things get bad, Janet'll send us home."
Maggie nodded and said, "That's good, that's good," even though her heart clenched. "I don't want you to get hurt, Mira." She fixed her eyes on the other woman's and said, "You know I love you, right?"
"I love you too," Mira replied, and her eyes were wet with unshed tears. "I just don't understand."
"I know. I - maybe when I get back I'll be able to explain it better."
"You'd just better get back."
Neither the men nor the horses seemed pleased with the low growl of the vehicles, but since the horses seemed somewhat more skittish than the men, Chip kept the trucks and HumVees well away from the cavalry. In the trucks rode the thirty men and women who had agreed to come on this venture, and Maggie was surprised that so many had turned up. Chip had laughed when she mentioned that to him, and said only, "Have some faith, Mags."
She didn't want to ask him what she should have faith in.
Chip had made Gus squad leader in Tank's place, and Michael his own second in command, as he had once been Michael's. Michael seemed pleased with the changed roles, and had fallen into it quickly. Maggie walked beside him for a time, the two of them keeping pace with one of the armored trucks. Finally, Maggie said, "So, isn't it weird, being Chip's second when he used to be yours?"
Michael shrugged. "Chip's a good man, and I trained him. He knows what he's doing."
"Yeah," Maggie said, nodding, "but I mean, is that all? it's just whether he's good?"
Michael glanced at her. "What are you getting at, babe?"
"I'm not sure," she said, frowning. "It's just - how do you go from being in charge to not being in charge and not feel weird about it?"
He laughed. "You just do, y'know? I mean, if you trust someone to lead you, then what does it matter whether you're doing the leading or they are?"
"Not everyone thinks that way," she said.
"No?" He slipped an arm around her shoulder and hugged her briefly. "You're thinking about your Captain guy, aren't you? Is he giving you trouble?" Michael glanced at her with a quick grin. "Want me to kick his ass?"
She chuckled, and shook her head. "More his brother, really. He thinks there might be trouble because Boromir is used to being in charge and - well, it's just not clear where the lines are between the two of us."
"'Cause you're used to being in charge of you, and here you're sort of in charge of you and sort of not?"
"Mm. You got it." She leaned down and plucked a blade of grass, turned it between her fingers as they walked. "It's like I'm - like an adjunct. Not one of his soldiers and not one of Chip's, but not really a free agent either."
Michael chuckled. "You're a splinter cell," he said, and she punched him lightly in the arm. "Have you talked to him about it?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Not really. Not exactly. In so many words."
"Good," he said, and laughed at her startled expression. "Guys hate talking about this shit! Come on, you just - just be who you are." He hugged her again quickly, then with a quick ruff of her hair dropped his arm. "Just be who you are and it'll all come out right. Trust me."
They walked together in silence a while longer, Maggie trying to get used to the strange sound and smell of the trucks, which had seemed normal enough at home but surreal and out of place in the landscape around them. After a long time, Michael said, "Do you trust him?"
She looked at him. "Of course I do."
"I mean to lead you."
Maggie didn't answer at first, thinking. And the more she thought, the more she realized, she didn't know. If she trusted him to lead her, why was she here?
And if she didn't, why was she here?
"Goddamn it," she muttered.
"You don't know, do you." It wasn't a question. "Y'know," he said, "that's okay. You don't have to know. You just have to do. And you're doing."
"What I'm doing could get me killed. Could get you killed, could get all y'all's people killed."
"Ah, no," Michael replied, waggling his finger at her. "No. You're responsible for you, not for us. You didn't hold a gun to anyone's head. You provided an opportunity. We took it. And not exactly for free, either, Miss 'I've got a farm and I'm living in fucking New Washington.'"
She chuckled. "Okay, fair enough."
"So they're thinking six days to get there, right?"
"More or less."
"And then we kick ass, loot the city or the castle or whatever it is, and haul our happy butts back home, yes?"
"Something like that," she said with a wary smile. "I'm not sure about the looting part."
"Eh, we'll figure it out. First order of business is to kick some ass." He glanced at her, then smiled. "Don't worry, Chip didn't lie about our chances of winning. We figure the trucks'll outrun the bastard enemy, though, so even if we lose, we can still kick it back to Minas Tirith and home. Always know your escape route," he said. "Never go into a place you don't know how to get out of. We're good. We'll be fine."
It was nearly midday before they got close enough to really see it, but when the sun emerged from behind the clouds it lit the scene before them with a silvery flame, and two dozen outworlders who walked beside the trucks stopped in their tracks, shading their eyes and gaping.
The trucks crawled to a stop and the men and women inside clambered out, while around them the army marched on, oblivious.
"What the hell is that?"
Maggie stood beside Michael and Chip, Chip's troops gathering around them, the murmur of their voices rising.
"That's not what we're supposed to attack, is it?"
"Geez - six days, fuckwit. No, it isn't. But what the hell is it?"
Maggie shook her head. "It must be Osgiliath."
"Osgiliath. Boromir told me about it. It used to be the capital, but they abandoned it a long time ago except as an outpost."
The rays of the late morning sun sparkled on the stones of the city that lay before them, a white jewel in the green and brown landscape. Domed towers rose into the sky, gold and silver glittering on them but no more brightly than the white stones themselves, and far to the east the lowering clouds that brooded over Mordor seemed stark and forbidding, as though they reached out heavy-fingered hands to grasp it.
"Damn. I thought Minas Tirith was the prettiest thing ever. Why'd they abandon it?"
"I can't remember," she answered. "Something about five hundred years ago it was over-run by orcs, and the guy Boromir's named for took it back, but I guess it was," she hesitated. "Ruined, or too dangerous or something. Then about six months ago the enemy took the eastern half of the city."
A restless murmur. "Think they're still there?"
Someone laughed, and said, "They won't be for long."
But nothing moved in the white city except the army, and after the soldiers and cavalry had crossed, one by one the trucks rumbled over the rebuilt bridge into East Osgiliath. Around them, voices of the Gondorian and Rohirric soldiers muttered about the state of the place. Crude drawings and words in a language Maggie had never seen were scrawled on the walls, and detritus and offal littered the broad thoroughfare and the streets leading off it.
"Be nice to come back here and clean it up," said Chip at one point, walking beside Maggie.
"Yeah," she said, nodding, looking around. "It makes me think of home."
He chuckled, and she grinned. "Yeah, except at home you have to get a permit to wash someone else's building."
Some five miles past Osgiliath the army stopped, and Maggie stayed with Michael while their small company set up camp. She had watched the horsemen ride off to the east and had felt her stomach lurch wondering where they were going. She wanted Boromir beside her. Wanted at least to know where he was. Instead, she wandered and listened to the conversations of the people around her, overheard their mild confusion about where exactly they were. "So is it earth?" she heard one low voice mutter to another, "or something else?" and the other voice answered, "Earth or something else, I don't know or care. I want to do our job, get home, get paid, and get to work on that asshole in ash town."
Puzzled, Maggie sought out Chip. "What's ash town?" she asked.
"Hmm?" He glanced up from the rifle he had partially disassembled on the ground. "Oh, that's Black City. Some of the guys started calling it that after our first little foray, 'cause the whole thing is fucking covered in this sooty black ash. It's why it looks black from a distance."
"Where's the ash come from?"
Chip shrugged. "Not sure. Smells strange, though. Not like something burned. Sort of," and he hesitated, frowning, groping for a word. "Sort of musty, and metallic," he said at last. "Like old books and rusty iron."
Another day and night passed before Maggie saw Boromir. She rose at dawn on their third day out from Minas Tirith, along with the rest of the army, and as she was pulling on her boots she felt a shadow fall over her. Looking up, she saw him silhouetted against the sky, and with a smile she zipped her boots and stood. "Hiya," she said.
He kissed her cheek, then took her hand and led her a little ways away. "I dislike being so far from you as we get closer to Mordor," he said quietly.
She nodded. "Yeah, I was trying to figure out how I could invite myself along to ride with y'all at the front, but I didn't want to be presumptuous."
He laughed, a short sharp sound. "You presumed enough to come, why not a step more?" She cast him a wary glance but he was looking towards where Chip had the hood of one of the trucks up and was examining something. "Your people would not take it amiss?" he asked.
She glanced towards their small encampment and shrugged. "They're really more Chip's people than mine. Most of mine are in Minas Tirith or back home, except for Michael, and he's really Chip's too." She looked back at Boromir. "I'm sort of betwixt and between," she said. "I'm not their people, I'm not your solider, I'm just here."
"You may not be one of Gondor's soldiers," he answered, catching her gaze and holding it, "but you must needs be placed, and I shall place you with me. Go and gather your things."
She hesitated. "Won't someone think it's weird, me being with you? I mean, will it upset anything?"
"It is for no one else to judge," he said.
"Yeah, but they will anyway," she replied.
He took a breath. "It is not your place to question my decisions where it regards my command," he said quietly, but there was steel in his tone, and she hesitated, surprised. His eyes searched her face. "Maggie," he said softly, "an army is made of commanders and those they command. There is no place for you if you are neither, and I will not be parted from you now that danger looms ever closer. My men will not question me, and I have no superiors in this company - only allies and soldiers. Aragorn is not yet king, Imrahil is Prince of Dol Amroth and subject to the Steward, Éomer is ally and friend, but does not command me. So you see?" he said with a small smile. "All that is well. But I should not have to explain my every request to you before you will comply." She opened her mouth to answer but he stopped her with a finger to her lips. "Go," he said, "and gather your things."
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