The grey pebbled shore was hot beneath the brothers' feet and they quickly splashed into the shallow reaches of the river. From there they pushed out into the still, deep pool that gathered here in the river's bend. As he led the way Boromir glanced around, half-curiously, half-contemptuously. It was so small - three or four good strokes would take him from end to end - but it had seemed such an ocean when he was taking his first splashing strokes here. Not much else had changed, save that all was overgrown - a vine of orange flowers even scrambling across Mother's seat. Boromir glanced down at his brother and, realising that the water was already beginning to lap at his chest, stopped. Faramir wobbled a little, even in the slow current of the pool, and looked uneasy.

"Right," said Boromir, confidently. "Give me your hands, Fari."

As he took the hands stretched out trustingly towards him a rush of fiercely protective love for this small brother shook Boromir. At 12 he was tall and solidly built but at seven Faramir was small and chicken-bone thin. Sometimes something about him - the sharp-edged line of his shoulders, the way he watched wide-eyed when their father shouted, the wisps of blond hair which fell untidily over his tunic's collar, his valiant efforts to be as old as his big brother or the lisp which still occasionally tripped him over an 'r' - would catch and tear at the older boy's heart. Shamed by something so unmanly, Boromir would respond with a gruff bullying. He did so now. With no more than a quick 'Remember what I told you' he jerked his brother forward by his hands. Scared, Faramir did not do what he had been told - relax into the water so as to end up floating - but jerked his arms in towards his body. He wound up clinging to his brother's hands with his face a good hand span away from the water and legs barely off the ground. Frustrated, Boromir pushed his brother roughly back up to his feet.

"Craven! Claimed you to want to learn to swim! Go back to your bath, baby!"

"I do! I wasn't ready."

With a snort calculated to indicate impatience and scorn Boromir held out his hands again. Five more times they tried it - with Faramir's face staying clear of the water each time and Boromir regretting more and more the waste of a rare holiday from his tutor. Angrily he remonstrated with Faramir - there was nothing to fear from the water, it would not hurt him and wasn't he, Boromir, here to keep him safe? Faramir nodded acceptance of everything he said and promised with shaking lips to really do it this time - but still pulled away from the water as Boromir tried to help him float. Finally, Boromir took action - and simply dragged his brother down into the water. Faramir kicked out frantically and struggled in panic to free his hands. With a shake of his head, Boromir let go of him. How could Faramir see the water as such an enemy?

'Yow!" One of Faramir's frantically flailing hands hit Boromir and scraped sharp scratches down his chest. Boromir swore and hit out in return, buffeting his brother on the shoulder. Gasping and coughing for breath Faramir managed to struggle to his feet and tried to run to the safety of the bank. He kept slipping and falling, though. His wet hair plastered itself across his face and half-blinded him, the river's pebbly bottom shifted treacherously under his inexperienced feet and fear and humiliation shook him with sobs even as he gasped for breath. Watching him, Boromir's heart twisted. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

His own lips trembled as he remembered the learning to swim he had wanted to replicate for Faramir. In his memory those afternoons shone with the same gold that shimmered from the dragonflies' wings as they swooped over the pool. He remembered the warmth of the sun, the cool softness of the water that caressed and cradled him - and he remembered the gentle hands of his mother keeping him safe. She had loved the water too and, as he gained in skills, they would play together: racing, diving for strangely shaped pebbles and swooping over and under each other until they were dizzy. Sometimes even Father would leave his work early and come down to applaud his heir's progress. As he got older, Faramir would splash in the shallow water at the edge of the river or sit solemnly building towers of sticky mud; sometimes they would take him out into the deep water with them where he would cling to his mother and laugh as his brother created waves and fountains for him. Then the pains had come to Mother and they came less often to the river, and usually she would only sit on the bench and watch. Finally, after the wasting had begun, the river became too far for Mother to walk. When spring had returned after the dark winter of her death Boromir had returned to the river - but now he swam down near the pier with the older boys and the old swimming hole had been left to the dragonflies. Faramir still splashed in the shallows.

With a few quick strides, Boromir was through the water to where Faramir was struggling once more to his feet.

"Fari." he said, pulling him up to his feet and holding him. "I'm sorry."

Faramir snuffled and leant against his brother. With guilt Boromir saw the red mark where he had hit him and he rubbed it gently.

"I'm sorry," he said again.

Faramir wiped his nose on his hand. "Don't wanna swim any more, Bowwi."

"Yes, you do," Boromir said with a return of his usual confidence, as an idea began to form.

Faramir shook his head stubbornly and pulled away a little from his brother. Boromir tidied the tangles of hair off his face then clapped him bracingly on the back and repeated, "Of course you do! You'll be able to go swimming with me in the river - and Father will let you go out in the boats!"

Faramir hunched away from the touch, staring unhappily at the water. He was shivering and Boromir moved closer and put an arm around him. The smaller boy looked up at Boromir.

"I'm sc...scared," he stumbled out. "Please don't make me."

Boromir caught his breath in painful recognition - he knew that wide-eyed look and stumbling voice. He saw them when Father stood over Faramir and shouted at him. It always made Boromir boil with a frustrated protectiveness towards his little brother - to see that fear directed towards himself was more than he could bear. He turned away for a moment, hands balled into fists at his side, until he heard another shaky gulp from behind him. He took a deep breath and turned around slowly, then crouched down in the water so he no longer stood above little Faramir. He made his voice soothing, the way he did when he tucked Faramir back into bed after a dark dream.

"It's all right, smallest one," his tongue stumbled for a moment over the old, almost forgotten, pet name, "I know you are scared - but you'll be a brave soldier for Gondor, won't you?"

His brother gave a deeply reluctant nod. Boromir smiled in relief and patted him on the back.

"Good! Now, watch - we are going to do it differently. You won't even need to put your face in the water."

Boromir let go of his brother and let himself tip back into a graceful float. The silky water cushioned him in a lover's hold and, above, the brightness of the sky blazed down its benison of warmth and comfort. Peace sang in his veins, as it always did when he was in the river. It was with reluctance that he scrunched forward and stood up.

"See, Fari - that is how easy it is. Come now, lean back. Yes, put out your arms. try and push your belly, head down - right down - oh, Faramir!"

As his head lifted up his body sank and in a spluttering of panic Faramir jerked to his feet. Boromir sighed in exasperation but bit back the chiding words that rose to this tongue. Patience wasn't his strength but, somewhere in his memories of the gentle-voiced mother who was never disappointed in him, he found an inexhaustible supply that afternoon. Again and again, Faramir shivered, stiffened and sank to emerge spluttering - but now that his brother was encouraging him his natural gritty determination took over and he would not give up. In fact it was Boromir who, after increasingly worried glances at the sky, said,

"Come on, brat, we must stop now. If we stay we shall be late to dinner."

"No," said Faramir, with great decision, before adding coaxingly, "Just one more, Bori? I almost did it."

With another worried glance at the sky - perhaps if they ran? - Boromir acquiesced. "One more."

Grey eyes fixed on Boromir, the little boy took the biggest breath he could manage and slowly leaned back into the water. Arms spread out wide, bony chest puffed full of air he hung for a desperate moment in the water before the inevitable sinking and panicked flailing. With yet another sigh Boromir helped him to his feet.

"How many times do I have to tell you to put your stupid head back?" he demanded, looking down impatiently at the eyes that were fixed, half- ashamedly, on him. Suddenly Boromir stiffened and grabbing Faramir, who had started to wade reluctantly to the bank, pulled his brother back towards the chest-high water. Heedless of both the sinking sun and of his father's likely wrath were they not punctual to the dinner table Boromir firmly turned his brother away from him.

"Come - one more time. No," - as Faramir tried to turn around - "just there. I'm right behind you."

Shivering violently in the chilling water Faramir did as he was bid - and, just as Boromir had foreseen, rather than trying to keep his head up Faramir tipped his head back to see his brother behind. Long seconds passed, broken only by the dusk's soft chorus of frogs and birds, and then the brothers exchanged identical grins of awed triumph.

In a swirl of water, Faramir jumped to his feet. "I floated! I did, Bori, didn't I?"

With a smile as wide as his own Boromir scooped him into a bear hug that both would normally have scorned as unmanly.

"Oh you did, Fari! You certainly did!" He set him down. "Now, one more time - but this time you are going to kick."

With another giant gulp of breath, Faramir let himself tumble backwards into the water and then added an enthusiastic but ungainly kick. His bent- leg kick splashed him up and down as much as it moved him forwards but still he slowly stuttered forward, like a cart on ice-slicked cobbles. Finally, he reached Boromir, - who had backed into the shallows - and, with a bump into his brother, stopped. Boromir hugged him again and, with a break in his voice that foreshadowed his growing maturity, gruffly praised him.

"See - you swam! I told you that I could teach you!"

"So I do still have sons," cut in a cool voice from the bank.

Boromir jerked around in dismay. A tall figure watched them from the shadowed bank.

"You were missed from the dinner table," their father added, still in that cool, calm voice that could make even the Captain of the Guard look uncomfortable.

It lacked, though, that bite of ice that could freeze your words in your mouth and Boromir took comfort in that. He hated to see the way Faramir shrank beneath that tone. Before he could frame words to make excuse, however, Boromir was rendered speechless by Faramir suddenly pulling away from him and splashing through the water to his father, crying out,

"I swam! I swam, Father! Boromir taught me."

Faramir! He rarely uttered more than a yes or no in their father's presence! Breaking free from his shocked stillness Boromir lurched forward and followed him from the water as though to protect him. There was no need though he saw in amazement - Father had stopped Faramir an arm's length away from him to avoid being besmirched by muddy river water, but the gaze he bent on him was unwontedly approving.

"Yes, I saw, my son. Your mother would have been proud of you - she loved the water." He turned his attention to Boromir. "The child is like ice - I do expect more sense from you, Boromir. Quickly, dress yourself and gather your brother's things."

It was the mildest of reproofs from Father and, even as Boromir scrambled to do as he was bid, his father took off his own cloak and wrapped it round his smallest son. Picking up the boy, he waited for Boromir to pull on his own clothes and collect the scattered garments of his brother then dropped a hand on his shoulder when he joined them so they walked back together through the firefly-glimmered dusk.

At the time Boromir accepted the unlooked for mildness in his father in the way he accepted the many vagaries of adults' moods - as simply the fortunes of war - but in later years he sometimes looked back and wondered. Was it finding courage in the son he was inclined to despise? Leadership in the son where he always sought it? Or was it because that crook of the river held memories as golden as a dragonfly's wings for him too?


Author's Note: Thanks to Altariel, Rachel, Nessime, Tay and Nic for feedback and encouragement.