Disclaimer: Not, of course, mine. I am visiting Middle-earth for a while but promise I will return Tolkien's characters to him, without making any profit.

Notes: Spoilers from 'The Pyre of Denethor' onwards. This is an AU starting from the premise that Gandalf persuaded Denethor not to commit suicide in Rath Dínen. Instead, Denethor survives and is forced to face Aragorn's claim to the throne. There's a lot of backstory in this relating to Aragorn's history of service in Gondor under the name Thorongil - my own story telling that tale is archived here also. Denethor disliked Thorongil intensely due to the latter's favourable position with Ecthelion, the then Steward and Denethor's father.

I've written quite a lot of this but it is unfinished, so there'll be a rash of chapters for a couple of days and then probably nothing for ages. Bear with me. Comments very much appreciated - this is a work in progress, things can change!


Gandalf lifted Faramir up and turned to leave the Silent Street. Denethor hesitated, his gaze torn between his feverish son and the oil-soaked bed.

"Come, my lord Steward," the wizard entreated. "Your City has not yet fallen, and your son is not yet dead. Do not abandon hope until there truly is none left."

Pippin waited at Gandalf's side, the tension strung so tight he felt as if he could have lifted his sword and sliced through it.

Then Denethor moved, striding past Gandalf. "The Houses of Healing!" he commanded, and the wizard looked at Pippin with a glint in his eye. The hobbit ran after them, and the Silent Street became noiseless once more.

I: The Houses of Healing

"There are three who I have not been able to help much," the Warden said, as Aragorn and the sons of Elrond entered the Houses with Gandalf and Imrahil. "The Lady of Rohan, and the young perian, and the lord Faramir. We have healed their physical hurts, but they wake not."

"The Black Breath," said Aragorn. "Elladan, if you will, go and find me some athelas, and I shall see what help they need. Is anyone sitting with the patients?" he asked.

The Warden nodded. "Aye; the other perian with Master Meriadoc, and the King of Rohan with his sister, and our Steward with Faramir."

Aragorn sighed. "And now is not the time for confrontation," he muttered to himself. "Show me to the Lady Éowyn first, Master."

Elladan, with a swift look backwards at his foster-brother, departed in search of athelas, and the rest followed Aragorn to Éowyn and then Merry, who slept with clammy brows and shallow breaths. The few dry leaves of athelas came - Elladan hissing curses under his breath about the inefficiency of the healers - and gently the sleepers were wakened. Aragorn spoke soothing words to them and left, as Éomer and Pippin rejoiced.

"Now for Faramir," he said.

The room was dark and silent when Aragorn entered after knocking and receiving a curt, "Come in!" He made out the bed and a single dark figure bent over it. "My lord Steward," he said, bowing, and swiftly made his way to the bed. Faramir was moving restlessly, and Aragorn put the bowl of sweet-scented water down and laved the ill man's brow. Glancing across at Denethor, he saw the Steward's eyes were bent on his son's hand, clasped between his own. Aragorn took Faramir's other hand and said, "Faramir! Faramir, come back!"

Faramir stirred in the bed, and moaned, and Aragorn repeated his call. The sick man moved again, and then his eyes opened, clear and alert. "My lord, you called," he said, "I come. What ..."

Aragorn stilled him with a touch. "Rest now," he said, "and sleep. Your father is here."

Faramir turned his head, and Aragorn thought Denethor's lips broke in a smile. "My son," he breathed.

"Father, forgive me," Faramir said, his voice low. Aragorn picked up the bowl and made to withdraw, but a word from Denethor halted him.

"Wait. Open the blinds a little."

Putting the bowl down, Aragorn silently opened the blinds so that some of the new sunshine entered the dim room. He bent, picked the bowl up once more, bowed, and made it to the door before Denethor spoke again.

"You. Turn around."

Slowly, Aragorn turned, and found the Steward had stood. His son seemed to have relapsed into a normal sleep. Denethor's deep eyes were fixed on Aragorn, boring into him, and there was a moment's silence. Finally, Denethor said, "You?" his tone dark and angry.

Aragorn said nothing, and held his ground and the Steward's gaze.

"Thorongil. I hoped you were dead," Denethor said.

"My lord, this is neither the time nor the place," Aragorn returned, keeping his tone deliberately neutral. "There are others I must tend, and I need sleep for I am weary. Your son needs you now."

Denethor half-turned his head towards Faramir. "My son ..." he murmured, and then looked back at Aragorn. "Aye. He does need me. And the City? Does she still need me - Thorongil?"

"More than ever," said Aragorn. "I am camped outside the gates, my lord Steward. I bid you goodnight." He bowed again, and retreated before Denethor could say anything more.

Outside the door he found Imrahil pacing, and the prince turned to him. "How does he fare, my lord? You were longer with him than with the others."

"He sleeps a natural sleep," Aragorn reassured him. "He is safe from harm, though his recovery will be long. Where are Elladan and Elrohir?"

Imrahil pointed him in the right direction, and Aragorn hurried away.