Author's Notes: Woo wee, this is a stinker! I haven't written anything this bad since ... well ... yesterday. (Great way to introduce a new chapter, isn't it?) I decided after much deliberation to end this story with this chapter. I hope it doesn't end to abruptly for everyone.

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Chapter Three – Discovery

Faramir and I did not get far. After the first volley of arrows, the attacks suddenly ceased. I believe they saw that aside from my sword, we were unarmed, making us prime targets for capture. Emerging from the dark coppice, a crowd of twenty Southrons surrounded us, aiming arrows and spears in our direction. I dropped my sword and raised my hands in submission, seeing that most trained their arrows on Faramir, eyes glinting pointedly in my direction.

One man stepped in front of the others. His uniform was slightly different, signifying rank of some sort. A Captain, perhaps. His black eyes moved inquisitively from myself to Faramir, and I prayed he would not notice the family resemblance and use it against us. Fixing his eyes upon my brother, the man spoke with a heavy accent in the Common Tongue. "You are the Captain of this rabble. We have met before."

The men surrounding us laughed, many leering at Faramir's wound. Instantly I understood. The Captain of the Southrons was the one who had wounded Faramir. Realizing this, I immediately felt two things: immense anger that anyone dared touch my little brother; and gratefulness that I had identified the man so that I could rip him to shreds with my bare hands.

"You killed my men," the man continued, jabbing a finger in Faramir's calm face. "I will see that yours die as well. Every last one. You have no claim to this land anymore." The man suddenly struck my brother brutally across the face with the handle of his sword.

Blinded by rage, I roared and leapt to my feet. Arrows trained on me immediately, and the Southron Captain's eyes glittered with interest in my direction. "You are quite protective of this man, I see. And by your uniform, I see you are an officer of Gondor's army," he said to me as he placed his sword against Faramir's throat. "We have seen your mounted troops guarding the road. You will either tell me what plans have been made for Ithilien, or you will watch this man die."

Tears stung my eyes as I stared helplessly at my brother. Faramir's gaze was calm and composed; he shook his head ever so slightly in my direction. I clenched my teeth in frustration, for I knew that a single misplaced word from my mouth could bring about his death. But at the same time, I knew what the right thing to do was—even though it was probably the hardest choice I had ever made. "I will tell you nothing," I answered, "regardless of what you do to either of us."

The men surrounding us laughed. "You would sacrifice this man's life?" the Southron Captain inquired. "You would allow him to die for a few simple details? I am shocked."

"I would," I said, nodding towards my brother. "That man would willingly die for Gondor."

Faramir's eyes glinted at me approvingly, but the Southron Captain did not seem as pleased. He leaned dangerously close to my brother and ran the sword lightly across his throat. A small line of blood ran down Faramir's neck onto his chest. "Did you hear that, young Captain? This man has just pronounced your death sentence. How do you feel about that?"

Faramir's voice was admirably calm. "He chose well."

"Captain," another man said as he gestured in Faramir's direction. "I recognize this man."

I winced when the sword was suddenly pulled away from Faramir's throat. The Southron Captain drew away from us momentarily to converse with the other man in foreign words I could not understand. My brother met my gaze and glanced meaningfully into the woods behind us. What he meant by that, I did not discover until later.

When the Southron Captain returned, he immediately placed the cool edge of his sword at my throat. Faramir tensed and swallowed with difficulty. "Is it true, young Captain, that you are the heir to the Stewardship of Gondor?" the Southron Captain asked.

Both my brother and I were somewhat surprised that the question was directed towards Faramir and not me. My brother winced, watching the blade scrape threateningly down my throat. "You wish the heir dead?" he asked.

"Most assuredly."

Faramir's eyes steeled with resolve. "Then I am he."

My jaw dropped in denial, but before I could protest, the whistling of arrows cut through the night air. The men around us fell dead; regrettably the Southron Captain was one of them. Rangers and soldiers poured out of the woods with a noisy cry. Since we were both unarmed, I grasped Faramir and pulled us both to the ground.

The battle was over in minutes, for I had brought adequate troops to dispel the enemy. All the while, I clutched Faramir protectively to my side, taking in heaving gulps of air, realizing how close we both had come to death. I suppose that technically Faramir had not lied to protect me, for he was indeed in line to inherit the Stewardship, but I was furious nonetheless. Still, I could not blame him for his actions; deep down, I knew I would have done the same in a heartbeat. I hugged him closer and smiled ruefully when I felt him respond in kind.

"I'm going to murder you," I muttered into his hair.

He chuckled weakly in response. "Can I at least have something strong to drink before I die? I'm freezing."

Suddenly remembering that Faramir was shirtless in the cold and drizzling weather, I pulled him into a sitting position and wrapped my heavy cloak around his quaking shoulders. The sounds from the woods told me what was left of the enemy was retreating. Six guards surrounded our prone forms protectively. With numb fingers, I quickly (and quite poorly) finished wrapping Faramir's wounds. I felt tears sting my eyes as I watched him press a bandage to his bleeding neck, realizing I was the one who had brought him out into the woods without protection. Together we rose and surrounded by guards, headed slowly back to the safety of the caves.

"Well, that was certainly enjoyable," Faramir said when we arrived in his makeshift quarters. "Let's not do it again."

"You saved my life back there, little brother," I said, dismissing the guards with a wave of my hand. "More than once, and I thank you for it. You did well."

I watched with curiosity as Faramir absorbed the compliment. He seemed to be caught in an odd place between surprise, pleasure, and refusal of the praise. "You're welcome," he responded slowly after a moment.

"I'm still going to murder you, of course."

"You keep saying that, and yet you fail to follow through with your threat," he answered, crossing his arms over his chest. "I lose faith in you by the minute, Boromir."

"I shall try not to disappoint you, then," I said, laughing. "But duty calls, first and foremost, so your demise will have to wait. I am to bring you back to the City tomorrow. Father will be expecting us."

"Ah, yes," he said without enthusiasm. "To receive my reprimand, I suppose."

I shook my head. "No, Faramir. Father was rather anxious for you. My orders were to bring his son home. Personally, I'm terrified of the consequences should I fail him."

Faramir chuckled. "We shall see, Boromir. Father and I do not always understand one another."

"He loves you, you ingrate," I argued goodheartedly. "You know that."

"I do not doubt that he has love for me," he answered quietly. "Just as I do not doubt that he also disapproves of me."

"You have chosen a certain path in life. We all must."

"Yes, and the path I have chosen is most grievous to him, it seems."

"And to me."

Faramir shook his head. "You speak of my appointment to the Rangers. Father and I have deeper points of conflict."

"And mine are less important than his? This place is a death trap. Surely you can see that after the events of this week—after what happened tonight. The foliage provides cover, not only for the Rangers, but for your enemies as well."

"And what would you have me do? Allow foreigners to march unchecked across our land?"

"We lost this land long ago."

"No, we fled from it," Faramir declared, "and I will not flee. You know I do not like warfare, but if I must I will fight for Gondor, even if it means my death. You, of all people, should understand that. You should not protest my chance to protect the land I love."

I blinked in surprise at his words, for I had not realized he felt so strongly about his duty in Ithilien. This alone was enough to silence any further arguments I might have had. Seeing how unwavering his resolve was, I had to admit to myself that my "little brother" had become quite the Captain, something I had never pinned him for. How mistaken I had been. Deeply ingrained in my heart was a desire to protect Faramir, who I could not help but perceive as so very young; but seeing the man before me, so strong and wise beyond his years, I could not deny him this opportunity—not after all he had just said. He would have my support from that moment on.

"All right, brother. All right," I consented quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder. Noticing Faramir swayed in my grasp, I frowned deeply in concern. "Let us argue no more. You are not well."

I called loudly over my shoulder for a healer to come attempt to repair the mess I had made of Faramir's bandages. When help came, Faramir barely flinched as the wound in his side was treated, and I wondered when he had become so hardened to pain. I recalled that as a child, Faramir would have wailed his anguish to the world. If he had done so now, I would not have thought the worst of him. Having seen the wound in better light, it was evident to me now that a spear of some sort had inflicted it. The wound was small but quite deep, and the skin around it was red and inflamed with the beginnings of an infection.

"It was not poisoned, was it?" I asked the healer, my eyes glued to my brother's side.

"No, Lord Boromir," was the response. "If Captain Faramir had been subjected to the Southron poison, you would know it. He would likely already be dead or very ill indeed."

My eyes lifted slowly to Faramir's weary face. He did not look back at me, but it was obvious from his expression, he knew that I watched him. Biting my tongue, I set about finding some suitable clothes for Faramir, since his own were coated in a thick layer of mud and stained with blood.

Clean clothes were hard to come by since many had been torn up for use as bandages. Locating my horse, I pulled my pack down and removed a set of my own clothes. Knowing they were too big for him, I smiled and imagined how he would swim in them. When I returned, I found the healer had finished dressing Faramir's wounds. With extraordinary predictability, my brother had begun seeing to others. Without a word, I grasped him by the shoulder and led him to the pile of blankets he used as a bed. Surprisingly without much protest, he dropped wearily to the ground.

"The healers will see to your men," I assured him, seeing how troubled his eyes were. "There is nothing you can do now."

"I can help."

"No, you cannot. You are ready to drop. I assume you have not taken rest since the attack?"

He sighed and leaned back onto the blankets. "I admit I took none even before that. We had to keep moving when we discovered we were being tracked. We purposefully kept clear of Henneth Annûn so that it would not be discovered."

"The men have not rested either, then?"

"Most of them, no. I should--"

"Stop fretting, little brother," I said, gently cutting him off. "They will find rest now. We are well-protected."

Faramir nodded slowly. I helped him into the shirt I had brought him, and his eyes were wide and pained with each movement he made. "Do you think you will be able to sleep?" I asked.

"I have been awake for so long, I honestly do not know."

"You do seem nervous," I agreed. "Try to relax. I am here to watch over you."

He suddenly glanced at me with a grave but tender expression. "Thank you, Boromir."

I realized as he spoke the words, he was thanking me for more than one thing. He was thanking me for coming; for loving him enough to give him my opinion but respecting his at the same time; for being there for him and for his men. For a million other unspoken things. I looked down upon him laying there, his face ashen, his eyes closed, and I suddenly felt furious with myself for allowing Faramir to leave Minas Tirith all those months ago, thinking I was angry with him. Thinking himself unthanked, unloved, and unappreciated.

"Little brother?" I asked quietly. He made a low sound in the back of his throat as a response, telling me that he was already asleep. I spoke the words nevertheless. "I'm proud of you."

It did not matter that he was already asleep and did not hear me. I realized in my heart that Faramir already knew, even before I did.

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The end.

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