I don't own any part of LOTR and I'm certainly making no money from this, but I'm more grateful to Mr. Tolkien than I can say for creating such a rich world that so many people want to engage with it themselves. [See previous chapters for other disclaimers and notes.]

An End To Innocence

Chapter Twenty: Sunlight and Rain

"You don't understand, I'm not used to this!"

"I do understand. Do you think I have never been injured and bed-ridden in all my years of fighting the Shadow?"

Maggie pouted for a moment, then realized what she was doing and schooled her expression to one of more dignified irritation. "But come on," she said. "My wrist is better - it wasn't even a sprain! Couldn't I use a crutch or something?"

Boromir nodded at her left hand and she obediently held it out for inspection. His fingers on her wrist were warm and gentle, but firm, probing the small bones and tendons in her wrist, pushing hard on the heel of her hand, bending it backwards, forwards, testing. She winced when he pressed on the bandage that covered the cut on her palm, and he caught her gaze. "This will make using a crutch difficult."

"But not impossible. It's closed up," she said hopefully, "just sore. And look, the cut's way up here. If I put my weight on the heel...." She demonstrated. "Even the healer said it was okay."

He shot her an amused but wary glance. "Did he say you were well enough to be up?" he asked.

She shrugged, and murmured, "He didn't say I wasn't."

Chuckling softly he patted her hand and released it. "I will see what I can do," he said. "But I make no promises - if the healer tells me you should remain in bed, you shall."

So it was that some time later Maggie was learning to walk with the aid of a crutch, her right arm in a sling, her left leg heavily bandaged. She felt as though it had been a month since she'd moved from her pallet, and the spring day into which she emerged from the hospital tent was a shock. She stood outside the tent and looked around at the Field of Cormallen. There was no sign of the men and women who had come with Chip to fight in this strange place; after the battle, they'd taken the trucks and headed back to Minas Tirith with their wounded. They would have Janet send them home, and Michael would return later to talk with Gandalf about Sorrow.

Fourteen of them, including Chip, were buried on the field.

Michael had wanted to take their dead home, but even with their own world in disarray, so many dead of such clearly unnatural causes would have gotten the attention of even the most overworked and underpaid authorities. Instead they lay with the Gondorian and Rohirric soldiers they'd fought beside.

Michael had come to see her before they'd gone. "We lost a lot of good people, Maggie," he'd said, sitting beside her, his chin in his hand.

"I know," she'd said. "I'm sorry."

He'd nodded, and after a moment had said, "Chip gave me command before he died. Whole fucking thing's mine again, only without Chip this time." He sighed and shook his head, then went on. "I've still got Gus, so that's good. Cassandra, too, and Tina." He paused, taking a breath. "I'm glad Tank was too hurt to come - he's got experience, I'd hate to have lost him."

Maggie hadn't known what to say, so she'd stayed silent.

"The deal's still good," Michael said finally. "You wanna come home, the farm's there, you can live there as long as you want." He'd caught her gaze then, and had said, "I'd rather you came back to New Washington again, though. We could use you. Even if we get rid of Sorrow, there's a lot of work to do."

"I know," she'd said, and glanced away.

After a moment he'd said, "The body armor did a pretty good job."


"Yeah. Most of the injuries are relatively minor. The ones who died mostly died from head and neck trauma." He was quiet again, then said, "It's real different fighting like that than fighting at home."

She'd nodded. "Yeah, it really is."

A long silence had passed, too familiar to be awkward, and he'd risen, and said, "You can come back with us now if you want. Mira'll want to see you."

She'd shaken her head. "Not now," she'd said. "I'll see you when you get back."

He'd hesitated, then nodded. "Right then. Well, take care of yourself. I've got to sort out some things at home, but I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Three maybe."

"Sure thing," she'd said. "I'll look for you."

And he'd gone.

Now she stood in the sunlight and watched the activity going on all around, and wondered where she belonged.

Pippin found her sitting on a broad stone in the late afternoon sunlight near the Steward's pavilion.

"Maggie!" he said brightly, and she turned at the sound of his voice.

"Hey there," she said with a smile.

"I heard you made it through the battle," he said, coming to sit beside her, "but they said nothing of you being wrapped up like a parcel. Should you be out of bed?"

She chuckled softly. "Well, that's not clear. I made it this far, but I thought I'd rest a while before trying to get back. How are you? I heard you killed a troll."

Pippin made a sound. "And almost myself in the process."

"Never the less," she said, "a troll. No mean feat. And Mister Baggins and Mister Gamgee - we've got a lot to thank them for, too. They're awake, I heard."

"There's been such a fuss over them," said Pippin genially. "I think they're quite flustered by it. Sam especially." He glanced at her sideways and grinned. "And if he heard you call him 'Mister Gamgee' he'd blush as red as ever you please."

"Well," she said with a smile and a shrug, "we've not been introduced yet, so I can hardly be on a first name basis with them."

"But you must meet them soon. I've told them all about you."

Startled, she turned to him. "You have?"

"Of course!" he replied, matching her startled expression. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, no reason I guess," she said. "I just never thought of myself as particularly interesting, especially in comparison to what they've done."

"You know," said Pippin, "I think they like being distracted from the memory of what they've done."

She nodded. "Yeah, I guess they would. Hey," she said after a moment, "do you know if Boromir - I mean - have - "

"Have they seen him?" asked Pippin. "They have, only this very afternoon."

She hesitated, then said cautiously, "How'd it go?"

Pippin smiled. "You must promise not to say I told you," but he continued without waiting for her promise. "They wept, the two of them, Frodo and Boromir both," and his voice was gentle. "I wish you could have seen. You know, Frodo understood about the Ring."

"Did he?" she asked.

Pippin nodded. "At the end, you know, he put it on. Took it for his own, just as Boromir tried to do. It was Gollum who saved us all. He bit right through Frodo's finger and fell into the pit." Pippin's voice wavered, and he drew a deep shuddering breath.

Maggie touched his shoulder briefly, and quick caress. "But Frodo's still with us," she said. "And Sam. They made it out."

"Yes," he said, "yes they did," and he looked at her and smiled. "And I think Frodo and Boromir - well, I think they'll be friends."

Maggie smiled. "I'm glad."

"I am too," Pippin said. "I think Sam will come 'round in time as well."

Glancing at him, Maggie said, "Sam's not much on Boromir?"

"Sam is overprotective of Frodo," Pippin replied.

"Well," she said, "I can understand. I feel that way about some folks."

Pippin laughed. "That you do," he said, "or you'd have stayed in the City as you were asked." He patted her arm as she shot him an amused and irritated glance. "They'll be all right in the end," he went on. "I think it's more important that Frodo and Boromir understand each other."

"Why is that?"

"Well," said Pippin, "I think it might help them both. Both having been under the spell of that thing, you know. I think they're the only ones alive who have been."

Maggie nodded, then raised her face towards the sun, her eyes closed. "It's hard to believe everything's over," she said. "It was so dark for so long, and now...."

"Yes," said Pippin. "Though for us Shirefolk it's more like things returning to normal after a terrible storm. This is more what we're used to, this peace."

"Is it?" she said, turning to him. "I'm glad for you."

After a moment, Pippin said softly, "It isn't what you're used to, is it," and it wasn't a question.

"No," she replied, shaking her head. "No, it isn't."

"Well, maybe now that the last battle is done here, Gandalf might be able to help you."

"I hope so," she said, and her voice turned bitter. "Almost half our people died at the Black Gate, trying to help this world. I really, really fucking hope so."

He took her hand in his. "Maggie," he said gently. "I'm so sorry. All my friends live, and yours - you lost so many."

She shrugged and in a rough voice said, "I hardly knew most of them, I don't know why I'm -" but she stopped then and clasped his hand tightly. After a long time she said, "They knew what they were doing," and bit her lip against the tears that threatened. "They weren't innocents - they were big boys and girls. They knew what they were doing."

"Makes it no easier, though, does it."

She was quiet for a time, then said, "I couldn't tell you, Pippin. I've never known anyone who died innocent. I don't know what that's like."

He didn't answer, and long minutes passed in silence. Finally Pippin turned slightly and slipped his arm around her shoulders. After a while, he said softly, "The Riders of Rohan sing songs for their dead. In Gondor, they say memorials and build grand houses for them. What do your people do?"

She shrugged. "We bury them in the ground, or burn them and scatter the ashes. Here, we buried them."

He nodded, and said, "Will you build a memorial?"

"I hadn't thought that far," she said, then went on, "I guess at home they'll have a memorial service. I don't know what we'll do here. Right now, their mound is marked with an M16 and the flag of United North America."

"That's your kingdom, like Gondor?"

She smiled. "Only we don't have kings."

"Do you miss it?" he asked, and she glanced at him.

"From what I've told you about it, would you miss it?"

He paused, considering, then said, "If it were my home, well, yes. I suppose I would."

She nodded. "Well," she said, "I suppose I do."

Boromir came to her late in the day, finding her seated outside the tent where her pallet lay. "You just missed Pippin," she said. "He's gone to find Merry and Frodo and Sam."

Boromir sat down beside her. "I must leave for Minas Tirith in the morning," he said. "There is much to be done there, and," he hesitated. "I am more needed there than here."

"Oh," she said. "Well, okay. Um," and she shot him a curious glance. "Have you decided? What to do about - about Aragorn?"

"I believe so," he replied. "I shall confer with Faramir first, but," and he hesitated. After a time he said, "I believe his claim is sound, and though his line was rejected when last it was tried, that would be only an excuse to reject an unworthy claimant, not a reason to reject a worthy one."

Maggie waited quietly to see if he would continue. The sounds of the evening were a comforting music in the background, and in the distance she could hear the muted voice of the Anduin as it flowed southwards.

"And he is worthy," said Boromir at last. "He did not abandon Gondor when any might have. He would have died on the Morannon before he let our people fall." He paused, stroking a lock of hair back from Maggie's face. "What I told you before, as we rode from Isengard, was true then and remains so. My oath binds me, and my heart bids me accept him. He is worthy."

Maggie took his hand in hers and kissed it, then leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheek, then his mouth. "Was it a hard decision, finally?" she asked after a moment.

He smiled gently and replied, "No, it was a far easier decision than I had supposed it would be." He looked up, away towards the rising moon. "In his youth he served Gondor," he said, "and though he knew he would die, he stood at the Black Gate and challenged Sauron, for Gondor. For Gondor and the West alone, not for his own glory, for he had no promise that he would ever claim the throne, nor any live to remember the deed." He laughed then and said, "And if that had not been enough, he stood between you and your murderers, and saved your life. How could I refuse him after that?"

She chuckled and squeezed his hand. "Well," she said, "have you told him yet?"

Still smiling, he shook his head. "Nay, I have not," he said. "For there is protocol to be observed. He must come to the Gate, and I must ask the Men of Gondor if they will have him be their king. Were I to tell Aragorn beforehand, it would spoil the surprise. Particularly if the Men of Gondor were to refuse."

Startled, she looked at him. "Do you think they would?"

"Oh, no," said Boromir firmly, shaking his head. "No, they shall accept him."

She nodded, and they sat in companionable silence for a time. Finally, Maggie said, "So, you're going back to Minas Tirith tomorrow."

"Yes," he said.

"Am I coming with you?" she asked, and he met her gaze, amusement in his eyes.

"Now you ask? I had thought you would tell me, sweet."

She frowned and punched him lightly on his shoulder. "Gimme a break," she said. "I'm trying, here."

He laughed and ruffled her hair affectionately. "You are, you are," he said. "But no, I do not think you can sit a horse well enough, with your injuries. But know that I shall miss you every moment," he said, pulling her close to him and kissing her cheek. "Perhaps when the healers say you are ready, you might return with one of the wagons that travels between here and the City."

Smiling, she pressed into his touch. "I like that idea. So how early do you have to leave?" she asked.

"Oh, not too early. I shall see you 'ere I go."

"I guess it'd be a bad idea for me to stay with you tonight, huh?" she asked. "Even just to sleep?"

He hesitated, then said regretfully, "I fear so, sweet. 'Tis one thing to share my bed when we are in the Citadel, or riding with an army to certain doom, but something else here on the open field, with the healers, and the celebrations, and all those who ride between Cormallen and the City. Now doom is past, people have time for gossip."

She sighed, then said, "I understand," leaning gently against him. "And I'll miss you too."

It was raining when she woke. She lay in the dim quiet, listening to the sounds of the people sleeping around her - soft breathing, soft movements. She wondered if any of them were awake. There had been talk, initially, of putting her in a separate tent, but the demands of propriety had been outweighed by the demands of their resources, so a sheet had been hung between her bed and the beds of the men with whom she shared the tent. She was glad she hadn't been put someplace apart. As much time as she'd spent in bed, she thought she'd have gone out of her mind if she hadn't had at least the sounds of other people around her, even if most of them were too shy, or too concerned with appearances, to engage her in conversation.

She watched the shadows ripple over the sheet that parted her from the others, luminous grey-white in the approaching dawn, and smiled to herself to remember how difficult she'd always found it at home to wake up in the mornings. There, she would stay up until long past midnight, sometimes until dawn broke, and would sleep past noon if she could. Now it seemed she could hardly sleep past sunrise.

Rain drummed on the heavy fabric of the tent. Idly she touched the bandage on her shoulder, then stretched her good arm behind her head, her fingers curling in towards her palm. Her mind drifted over half-formed thoughts and snippets of conversations, and beneath them she felt the strange pull of this place struggling with the pull of home. It was always like this in the early hours, when she had nothing to keep her mind at bay, and wasn't yet awake enough to push the hard choices back beneath the surface of her thoughts. Tears would well and subside, and her heart would ache first with the thought of staying, and then with the thought of leaving.

She had unbidden fantasies of Boromir coming home with her. As if watching a movie in her mind, she would see him with her in her apartment, waking with her, would see the aghast reactions of the people she had to deal with there as he brought his command to bear on them, aghast but compliant in the face of his determination and will. She would smile to herself to imagine him dressed in jeans and tee-shirt, eyeing the cars suspiciously, considering whether or not he was willing to ride in one; would smile more gently to imagine him sitting on the steps of her building, conferring with the cat who, she was sure, would adore him on sight.

She found it difficult to believe how strongly the longing for home would sometimes strike her. She didn't understand how it could be that she could miss so deeply a place that was so hard, so difficult, so heartbreaking. She'd given it up, or had thought she had, when she gave the farm to Chip, but now - now she longed for home, and she longed for Boromir to go there with her, and help her. Help them.

But she knew it was impossible. His brother, his father, and now his king, all were here, and beneath and surrounding it all was Gondor. He would never leave Gondor, and she would never ask him to. She wanted everything - her love, her home, her life; and this home, this life.

No one could have everything.

Dawn had broken as she'd lain there thinking, and trying not to think. Pale, watery light filtered into the tent, and she could hear people stirring outside, getting ready for the day. Footsteps approached, and she saw the heavy silhouette of Boromir outlined against the grey-white morning as he entered the tent. She smiled as he came and knelt beside her bed, leaned over and kissed her, cool rainwater on her skin.

"Good morning," she murmured.

He smiled. "Wet morning," he replied. "A poor day for traveling, but not so poor that I must wait for the morrow."

"Can I talk you into waiting anyway?" she asked with a soft smile, and he shook his head.

"Nay, sweet, I must see to my duties, and they take me home."

A sudden ache clutched Maggie's heart, and she turned her face away, trying to compose herself before the tears that threatened could emerge. His hand on her cheek turned her to him, though, and to his worried expression.

"What is it?" he asked. "Have I said something amiss? I shall be there when you arrive, sweet, you know that. It will not be long."

"It's not that," she whispered, shaking her head. "It's - duty. And home." But her voice broke and she didn't continue.

She didn't need to. "Ah," he said. "Home." There was a long silence, his fingers stroking her face. "You have your duties as well, love, I know that," he said at last. "Any of them that I can face with you, I will, but please, make no final decisions until we can - until we can make them together."

She nodded, turning her face to his hand and kissing his fingers. "I won't," she murmured. "Listen, you should go," she said, meeting his gaze at last. "You've got a long ride ahead of you."

He hesitated, then leaned in again and kissed her gently. "I do love you, you know," he said.

She smiled. "I love you too."

"I shall see you in the White City," he said as he stood, and with a last, soft caress of her face, he turned and went out again, the curtain of the tent door falling shut behind him, his shadow on the fabric turning hazy, and then gone.

After a time she sat up and slipped into the tunic that lay at the foot of the bed, and pulled on the loose trousers she'd taken to wearing since her injury. Leggings were too snug over the bandages, and skirts too cumbersome. The trousers were baggy and comfortable, and she slid her feet into her boots before taking the crutch and rising. As quietly as she could she limped outside to stand under the canopy of the tent. Above, the sky was pewter-bright. The field was turning marshy, rain running off the tents and pavilions, coming down in silvery sheets and soaking the people who hurried back and forth from one shelter to another. She stood there, leaning on the crutch, feeling her breath in her lungs and the slow hot track of uncertain tears on her face, and watched the rain come down from the brightening sky.

It had only been days since Boromir's departure, but to Maggie it felt like weeks. She was getting around better, and was chafing to be doing something, yet she was still unable to walk without a crutch, and her right arm was weak and painful to use, so she spent most of her time with one or more of the Hobbits. Pippin had apparently taken it upon himself to see that she didn't get too lonely, and often, just as she was starting to feel bereft, she'd glance up at the sound of his voice calling to her, and would see him coming across the field with Merry in tow, or he'd take her by the hand and insist she join him with Frodo, Sam, and Merry at table, or in a game of chess, or in some conversation beneath the shade of a pavilion.

But she was still uncomfortable around Frodo and Sam. Pippin had introduced them the very day that Boromir had left for Minas Tirith, and she'd already been feeling lost and uncertain; she couldn't tell if Frodo's reserve was something she should take personally or not, and Sam seemed to always follow his master's lead.

And now here they were, she and Frodo. Merry and Pippin had wanted to spend the afternoon fishing, and when Sam had left on an errand he'd asked Maggie if she'd stay with Frodo, who had drifted into an untroubled sleep. She'd agreed, of course, having nothing else to do, and had sat in the cool of the tent, half-dozing herself, until she heard him stirring. She sat up in her chair, and when he opened his eyes, she smiled at him.

"Where's Sam?" he asked, and she told him. He nodded, and said, "Well, I suppose I should wait for him. He'll fret so if he comes back and finds me gone."

There was an awkward silence for a time, and finally Maggie had said, "So, tell me about the Shire."

A simple question, she thought. One that would draw him out, and leave her off the hook for doing much of the talking herself.

But his quick smile was followed just as quickly by a soft shadow crossing his face, and he murmured, almost to himself, "The Shire... I do miss it. But I wonder if it will ever be my Shire again."

He didn't continue, and after a moment she asked gently, "What do you mean?"

He gave a little laugh, and looked at her with eyes that were much too old. "Do you ever feel," he said thoughtfully, "that you've gone far too far away from home to ever find your way back, even if you go there and live there the rest of your days?"

Feeling her heart clench, she glanced away and nodded. "Yes, I do."

"Then you know what I mean," he said, then took her hand in his and held it gently while he talked about Bag-end, and Hobbiton, and Bilbo, and about Samwise and his Gaffer, and all the families and homes of the Shire, but that sense of longing and distance never seemed to leave his voice, all the time he talked.

"Oh, my lady," he said with a sigh at last. "All the things I've done, the things I've seen. And my - my failures. I do not think that I can ever go home again, truly."

She shook her head, her brow furrowing. "Failures, Mister Baggins," she began, and he chuckled and said, "Call me Frodo, please, and I shall call you Maggie?" She smiled, and nodded, and said, "Yes, I'd like that. But Frodo, you and Boromir both talk about these terrible failures, and I - I don't understand." He didn't answer, but didn't let go of her hand, so she continued, "I know it's not my place, and I know I can never know what you went through, but -" and she hesitated, then said softly, "maybe you put it on at the end, but no one else could have gotten it there."

"And if not for Gollum," said Frodo, but he didn't finish the thought.

"If not for Gollum," said Maggie, "Sam would have saved you." She turned to face him more fully, taking both his hands in hers. "Frodo," she said, and he met her gaze. "Only you could have gotten the Ring to Mount Doom. Sam got there because of you. Hell," she said, "so did Gollum. And if Gollum hadn't done what he did, Sam would have found a way, but you didn't fail. You didn't." She shook her head again and glanced away, then back at the Ringbearer's drawn face, wishing she could say anything that would take that sense of sadness away from him. "I know it doesn't help," she said. "I know it doesn't make anything better, but you didn't fail. You won. You just needed a little help."

He laughed softly and squeezed her hands. "I claimed the Ring, and when Gollum tore it from me and Sam needed me to rise, I despaired."

"But then you rose," she whispered. "And you went with him."

"Aye, you did," came Sam's voice from the doorway to the tent, and they both looked up. He entered and sat down on Frodo's other side, his eyes flickering once over Maggie before turning to Frodo. "Come now, Mister Frodo," he said, and Maggie felt suddenly uncertain, as though she'd intruded, and gently reclaimed her hands when Sam placed his on Frodo's. "You mustn't talk like that," he said. "All's well now, and we'll be going home soon. Back to Bag-end, where you can rest."

Maggie sat quietly as the two of them talked, and felt a bitter shroud blanket her heart as Sam spoke gently of going home, and of the peace they would find there. She didn't know that Frodo was going to find peace anywhere, and she didn't know that she would, either. She couldn't imagine what home would feel like. Could she go back there? Could she go home? And if she did, what then?

She knew, though. Sam's and Frodo's voices drifted over her, and she leaned back and closed her eyes. If they could get rid of Sorrow, that wouldn't undo his work of the last 90 years. Their world was so damaged, she didn't know if it could be rebuilt. If it could, it would still be the work of decades - maybe more years than it had taken to wreck it. And she was one person.

One person.

One tired, heartsore person. And she would be alone.

'Not alone,' she thought irritably to herself. Mira would be there, and Jack, and Paul, and Greg. Michael and his group, and this Mr. Coleman who'd sold them the weapons they'd taken to the Black Gate - he seemed to have some interest.

But no one would be there at three in the morning. In the darkest part of her nights, she'd be alone.

Her world didn't need her that badly.