Slash With Care
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From the Other River Bank: 3. Speaking in Obscurity
In the west, the sun had dipped below the horizon, leaving the sky awash in fire, it seemed. The air remained hot and thick as glass, though a light breeze blew occasionally, coyly hinting at relief without ever lingering long enough or strongly enough to fulfill its promise. Boromir and Faramir sat still in their alcove, watching the crepuscular splendor fade slowly into night, and the Ephel Duath--hazy, looming shapes in the twilight--seemed almost peaceful for once, as if even Mordor were grateful for a respite from the humid day. Sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest and his back wedged into the corner, Boromir gave a soft sigh and raked the fingers of one hand through his hair, dragging it back out of his face. Beside him, Faramir sat very still, legs crossed and feet tucked up under himself so he could hold the book comfortably in his lap as he read. But as the light had grown increasingly feeble, Faramir had stopped reading, and now they sat in comfortable silence, as if awaiting a sign. Stars began to glitter ever so faintly in the sky, appearing first in the deeper night overhead and spreading outward erratically, pinwheeling across the sky. Faramir gazed up at them, leaning back against the wall, and Boromir smiled slightly, letting his eyes wander over him under the cover of darkness, while bits and snatches of Silvaríel's poetry ran through his mind.
It is an odd thing, to love another so well, and yet know that there are depths to him that I shall never be able to plumb, Boromir thought. Listening to his brother read, and then discuss, the work of this obscure poet of Arnor had been illuminating. He had always known that his brother read avidly all that he could find, and he supposed that if he thought about it, Faramir's love of poetry was only too logical. But I have never listened to him talk about it before, not like this. I have never let him talk to me about it before. Which struck him as a failure on his part, for ere that afternoon, he had never truly realized how very vital was this pursuit to his brother. He knew of Faramir's interests, of course, but there was a vast difference between knowing a thing with his head and feeling the truth of that knowledge in his heart. Boromir knew himself sufficiently well to recognize that intellectual comprehension stood a poor second to knowledge that he could touch, that he could feel in his bones. And until that afternoon, he had never managed to penetrate Faramir's aesthetic sensibility. It was as if he had spent his days trying to see through a high-set window: he could see the light that spilled out, but the source of that radiance had remained invisible and inaccessible to one earthbound. But as his brother had read, Boromir had listened intently to the telling change in the timbre and quality of Faramir's voice that bespoke some internal, private, yet irrepressible, transformation or transmutation. And as the words had poured over him, he had wished that this strangely eager Faramir might find in him the inspiration for that ecstatic tone. Alas, I know too well that that will never be!
And so, as the slow afternoon wore away, he had found himself trying to follow where his brother led, not so much in the words that they exchanged about Silvaríel's poetry but in the feeling that Faramir evinced. I would know what it is that touches him this deeply, and what these words work in him, Boromir thought longingly. He would know, because that might be as close as he could ever come to touching that elusive part of Faramir's soul where dwelt the capacity to love to excess. Something draws him on, and I know not what precisely. Perhaps I find this poet too unsettling to fathom Faramir's attraction to her. There is a darkness to her words, and an ambiguity to that darkness, he thought, trying to sort out his troubled response to Silvaríel. In her strangely shaped staves, undeniably powerful and piercing, there was yet an undercurrent--Or an undertone, rather!--that, while inviting one to fall more deeply under the poem's spell, threatened to go too deep. A man could drown in this, Boromir thought. I know not how, but I know that it is possible--I can feel it!
"Boromir? Are you well?" Faramir's concerned voice plucked him from his reflections.
"Mmm? Why do you ask?"
In the last light of the dying day, Boromir caught the glitter of his brother's eyes as Faramir cocked his head at him silently a moment ere he replied, "The manner of your staring: I have never seen you look at me so before! As if you were troubled ." At which point, Boromir realized that he had, indeed, been staring, and he shook his head sharply, feeling his heart race. How much did he glean from that lapse? he wondered as he strove to regain himself.
"Troubled is an apt word," he muttered, holding as close to the truth as he dared, for he could feel Faramir's scrutiny as a physical thing. "I know not what to make of some of these verses, nor of your own fascination with them." He paused, seeking the such words as could convey one meaning without betraying another. "There is a darkness in them that I like not, for I cannot see its source."
Faramir was silent, seeming to consider this, but he did not take his eyes from his brother. Indeed, he went so long without speaking that Boromir began to fear that his brother had recognized his dissembling. But then, "Strange that you should say that! That is why I return to her in time of trouble, to remind myself that even blind night is not wholly evil." Faramir sighed softly. "Otherwise, I would agree with you, for it is too easy to forget that ere ever there was day, all of Arda lay under the stars. Even darkness has its purposes."
"Where it lies, there hide things best left unseen," Boromir replied, by way of uneasy criticism.
"Aye, but not all that it conceals is ill, and without it there are no revelations," Faramir countered.
"Is that why you read Silvaríel?"
"I read her poems because they are beautiful. And because, as I said, I find some comfort in her words, strange though that may seem. Sometimes I fear the darkness that is within me, as well, and I need to be reminded that such is a part of all of Mankind," his brother replied, running a fingertip down the opened page before him. Then more softly, "Sometimes one needs to believe that confusion has its purpose too."
Boromir considered these words a moment, and then asked archly, "Do you speak now of that dream again?" A nod in the gloom came as answer, and he blew out a perplexed sigh. "Is that why you came here yourself?"
"Even as you did, to escape trouble. I still know nothing, Boromir, though not for want of searching all the morning and much of the afternoon! And I know I shall not sleep much tonight, for it plagues me even in waking life," Faramir said, pressing thumb and forefinger against tired eyes.
"Have you spoken to a physician?" Boromir asked, and was not surprised when his brother shook his head, 'no.' "Have you slept at all since the night of Osgiliath?" Another negative shake of the head, and Boromir hissed. "Well and good that you test your endurance, Faramir, but is this not too much? Soon enough, you will be needed again, and your judgment cannot be impaired by exhaustion. If nothing else, Denethor will take it as a sign of weakness, if you appear before him muddled by weariness."
"Denethor! He needs me little, and we both know it. His errand boy am I, and only if there are no others to do the running," Faramir replied, disgruntled. "He shall not send for me, unless he sends for us both for he does not trust my words unless he knows first your thoughts on any matter."
"Tell me, whom did he summon this morning to tell of Osgiliath again? Not I! Not that my tale would have differed from yours, but he does not care to ask. Your word is sufficient for him." Faramir sighed and lowered his hand from his face, leaning his head back against the smooth tower wall ere he turned slightly to gaze at Boromir's silhouette. "I am sorry, Boromir, but though I do not grudge you that trust that you have, 'tis hard to have dangled before me what I want most but may never have: Father's good will!"
"I understand," Boromir managed, resisting the urge to grab his brother and shake him. Or else embrace him, as he might have when they had been still boys. But if he did that, he would be sorely tempted to kiss him. And so he did nothing, only let the ache of longing wash through him as he wondered: How does he manage to strike ever squarely upon truth without ever intending or realizing it? To have his desire dangled before him, indeed! He fears Father's cruelty for its reasonableness, but does he begin to imagine his own unintentional cruelty, which otherwise would be kindness? Ah, Faramir, if only you knew how well I understand your pain! And to his surprise, he felt Faramir fumble for his hand in the darkness and squeeze gently. Then his brother sighed, softly and with feeling, ere he released him again. In another world, it might have been much, but Boromir bit his lip and reminded himself sternly that that gesture meant absolutely nothing to Faramir, except that he was grateful for Boromir's support.
"Once again, you ought not to let me complain to you like this. It becomes a habit!"
"It has always been a habit between us," Boromir responded, attempting with a shrug to recast his composure. "And why should it not? Whatever your Silvaríel writes, some secrets can kill us if we hold onto them too long."
"I hope I have none of those," Faramir replied. And I know that I have too many of them! Boromir thought. "Or rather, that I shall release them ere they wound too deep!" A pause, then, "What of you, brother?"
"What of me?"
Another silence, then Faramir laughed softly and, seeming somewhat embarrassed, said, "A foolish question, I suppose, for I have never known you to keep secrets."
"This from the man who spilled ink across Father's desk once, and spent the better part of the rest of the day hiding beneath my bed!" Boromir parried, trying to inject a touch of levity into their conversation and turn aside from matters that touched him too closely. "I recall keeping that a secret."
His brother laughed and gave him a playful shove, and then had to dodge the jab at his ribs that came as answer. "And I recall that it was you who said we should creep into the study to play. And had you not insisted on chasing me, I would never have tried to dive between the desk and the chair, so the ink atop the former would have been safe enough!" Faramir shook his head. "You had as much stake in keeping that quiet as did I."
"Not that it helped, for Denethor had but to look at me sternly for a moment, and he knew what had happened," Boromir said. "But I did not tell him who broke Mother's clock!"
"No, you did not. But as you said, Father discovered the guilty party in spite of your silence," Faramir replied. "And once he had, you confessed that you had known it was me, so you did very poorly on both occasions to keep the secret secret!"
"Is it my fault that we have Denethor for a father?"
"Alas, if it is, I am as much to blame for that as are you," Faramir chuckled, and then shook his head. "He slapped me for that ink in any case, and the harder for having been a coward not to face him immediately! After the clock incident, I found it better to simply tell him and let him spend his anger quickly, ere it had time to build and brood for very long. The bruising was not so bad that way," he added.
"I tried to intervene on your behalf, but I fear an eleven year-old boy has little sway with his father at such times."
"And I thank you for it, but I likely deserved a slap," Faramir replied, amused.
"Well, Father thrashed me for my part in it, too," Boromir replied. "He thought I set a bad example by encouraging you to hide or by keeping secret your misdeeds. As the elder of us, I was to keep you honest. Thus my fault was the graver, or so he said then, and deserved a harsher punishment."
"Perhaps there are some benefits to being ever overlooked," his brother replied sympathetically.
"Perhaps," Boromir allowed generously, and shook his head for the boy he had been. For the children we both were once. Life was much simpler then. "I say it only to remind you that you did not suffer alone."
"I never have," Faramir said softly, sobering again. "You have stood ever at my side in all my trials, or else just before me. Why do you choose that post, Boromir? Why, when you know full well that there is no end to the hurt this world can inflict?"
"Because you are my brother," Boromir replied. And then, after a heartbeat's hesitation: "Because I love you." So he said, and was surprised at how much it hurt to say that, and know that his brother would not--could not possibly--begin to realize how true were those words, or how deep his feelings ran. But at least I had the chance to tell him, even if I dare not say all that is in my heart.
"I know," Faramir replied, and as they stood to return to the Citadel, continued, "I know it well, for I love you, too." He laid a hand upon his brother's shoulder and walked beside him as they descended, and Boromir did not speak as they went, unable to trust his voice to answer.
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