A/N: My first LotR story. This takes place during RotK, just before Faramir rides out to attack Osgiliath. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this. Damn.
"You wish now that our places had been exchanged? That I had died and Boromir had lived?"
"Yes, I wish that."
Faramir wiped at his damp eyes, pooled with unshed tears, and leaned his head wearily against the White Tree of Gondor, which he had claimed as a temporary backrest. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes in attempt to calm his racing emotions and stop those harsh words from spinning through his head. He was so angry, and at the same time, his heart ached in a way words couldn't describe. He didn't think he could take one more rejection from his father, or his will and his pride would crumble to pieces.
The fall of Osgiliath had been foreseen, it had been expected, and yet Denethor refused to do anything about it. Now, when the city was taken and men lay dead at the hands of orcs, the Steward took none of the blame. Instead, all the guilt and responsibility was given to Faramir, who had tried his absolute hardest to stop the assault, but in the end, had enough concern for the lives of his men to pull back.
Angrily rubbing at his eyes again, Faramir stood and paced the courtyard, looking out towards Osgiliath. His father wouldn't be pleased unless the city was retaken, this he knew. Leading his troops in an attack on the city would mean leading them to their deaths, as well as his own death. Osgiliath was a lost cause, but he had to attack none the less.
Sighing, he leaned against one of the stone walls, Denethor's words replaying over and over again in his mind. He had let his father down so many times, and he knew this time would be no different. He did not have enough men to take down the orcs that ran rampant through the now captured city. His own life was no concern of his; if earning his father's praise meant brining about his end, so be it. But the lives of his men...they had wives, children, families. He didn't know if he could bring himself to tearing those families apart, just for the sake of one man and his crazy ideas.
But that one man is the Steward, Faramir thought angrily, picking up a rock and twirling it in his hands. I do not have the choice to spare the lives of these men. I must lead them to death, and I must be the cause of their wives' heartbreak and children's sorrow. I must inflict pain upon them, while having to endure my own pain. I must die, they must die, because of one arrogant, foolish, mad, self-centered man...
"Who I cannot bring myself to hate," Faramir whispered, bringing his arm back and throwing the rock as far as he could over the stone wall, watching it get shrink as it sailed towards the ground. He closed his eyes again. He wanted so badly to be able to return to Denethor with the city of Osgiliath retaken, to be able to gain his father's love freely. It's all he ever wanted, but was it fair to take the lives of his brothers, his men, for his own selfish wish?
"Damn it all!" he yelled, pounding his fist against the wall angrily. He slammed his back against the stone and sank to the ground, resting his head in his hands. He needed time to think, but time was running out, and an attack had to be planned. How does one go about planning a siege on a city that cannot be retaken? How do you go into battle knowing that nothing will be gained by your efforts, and human lives are the sacrifice that must be given for no reward?
"Sulking again, are we, little brother?"
The corners of Faramir's mouth twitched into a small smile at the sound of that voice. This was the person he needed to get him through this, the only person that had ever really understood him. The only person who could give him confidence when confidence was thin, and the only one who knew exactly what to say at times like these.
He needed his older brother more than anything right now, and Boromir was always there when he was needed.
"I am not sulking," Faramir said, looking up into his brother's eyes, sparkling and carefree as they had been in the days of their childhood. "I am merely thinking, although I would not expect you to recognize the gesture, as you do so little of it."
Boromir laughed, his voice happier and lighter than it had been in years. "I would not hesitate to insult you if you did not appear so distressed. Come, Faramir, tell me what troubles you so."
"It is nothing," Faramir said, pushing himself to his feet as Boromir looked at him skeptically. He knew the older man read right through him. "I am fine."
"Then why those tears?" Boromir asked softly. "I saw you moments ago by the tree, and it appeared to me that you were upset about something."
Faramir's cheeks flushed a light red, embarrassed at the fact that his brother had seen him crying. He never wanted to show Boromir his weaknesses, and he felt foolish for letting himself get so emotional.
"Was father being difficult again?" Boromir asked, and when Faramir nodded, he sighed, leaning against the wall. "How many times have I told you, Faramir? Do not let him get to you."
"How can I not when he is ranting and raving about impossible, absurd things that simply cannot be done?" Faramir said, exasperated as he followed his brother's actions and rested his arms against the wall, looking out at the fallen city again. "Osgiliath is lost, it cannot be retaken. I know that, but he seems to be blinded by something that will not let him see the truth clearly."
"His own madness, perhaps?" Boromir said, and Faramir shot him a withering look. "I know, I know, I must not say such things about the Steward."
"You must not say such things about our father," Faramir replied. "He has shown nothing but love for you, Boromir. You should be grateful for that."
"How can I be grateful when he treats you as he does?" Boromir asked, and Faramir felt his heart swell with love for his brother. "I refuse to accept the reasons he gives for treating you poorly, and I refuse to accept his praise so long as he gives you none. You deserve much more."
"I do not deserve any of it," Faramir said, his shoulders slumping hopelessly. "You held Osgiliath intact for so long, and I have let it fall. Father is right in his accusations. I am not worth his praise."
"No, you are worth so much more," Boromir said, looking at his brother with sympathetic eyes. "Why do you doubt yourself so? Father is blinded, as you said, so why do you keep on trying to earn his approval?"
"Wouldn't you?" the younger brother asked, his voice strained and pain filled. "I still love him, Boromir, even though he's never shown me anything but hatred and the back of his hand against my cheek. I cannot hate him, even though I want to. I want to hate him, and at the same time, I want so badly for him to love me that it hurts."
Faramir felt his eyes fill again, and he looked away quickly, attempting to rub the tears away before they fell. One solitary tear was all that leaked from his eyes, making its way down his check and leaving a lonely path on his skin.
"Faramir, look at me," Boromir said softly, waiting until he held his younger brother's gaze before speaking again. "I do not know if this will be of any comfort to you, but I can tell you with full honesty that I love you enough for the both of us."
"What have I ever done to deserve your affection?" Faramir asked, and Boromir looked at him as if he was absurd.
"You are much more than you give yourself credit for," Boromir said, and when Faramir opened his mouth to protest, he held up a hand to stop him. "Look at your men, Faramir. They admire you, they love you. They would follow you to any lengths because you respect them and have earned their respect in return. They look to you because you are their leader, and they trust you. You are more than their captain, you are their friend."
Faramir smiled at his brother's words, but his heart was still troubled. "If I am all the things you say I am, why does father not realize this?"
"Because father is a raving lunatic," Boromir said, smiling as he earned a laugh from his brother. "He must be if he does not see your true strengths."
"You've shown me so much kindness, I do no know how to thank you for the comfort you've given me," Faramir said, wanting to embrace his brother but knowing that he could not. He studied his brother's face, no longer lined with worry and scars, but delicate and unmarred as it had been so long ago. "Why do you come to me now?"
"Because you need me," Boromir said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. "And because you asked me to be here."
"I did?" Faramir asked, and Boromir nodded.
"In your mind, you asked me to answer your unanswered questions. You may not have realized it, but subconsciously, you called for me."
"Then you are not really here, standing before me?" Faramir asked, and the older man shook his head sadly.
"Part of my spirit lives inside you still," Boromir said, speaking as if he were explaining it to a child. "Your memory of me creates the image you see standing before you, the image you want to see. You didn't want to see me as I was before I died. You wanted to see me as I was years ago, when we were still young and careless."
"I just want you to be happy again," Faramir said.
"I am happy," Boromir said, assuring his younger brother the best he could. "I am free from the call of the One Ring and all the destruction and pain that comes with it. I died protecting those I care about, and now I reside in Mandos' Halls, where my spirit can rest in peace."
Faramir nodded, understanding as he looked at Boromir's image in front of him. "How can I still speak to you, if you reside in the Halls?"
"Because as your brother, I have a duty to be there whenever you need me," Boromir said. "As much as I want to help you, though, you cannot keep calling on me. I am dead, Faramir, and you must accept that. If you keep speaking to me, you will cause only more pain for yourself when you realize I am not with you anymore."
"I understand," Faramir whispered, looking at his brother with shining eyes. "May I ask one more favor of you though?"
"Of course," Boromir said, and the younger man took a deep breath, as if preparing himself for some challenge.
"May I see you once as you were just before you died?" he asked. "I need some kind of closure, and this is the only way I can think of getting it."
Boromir smiled and nodded, and suddenly, his face changed before Faramir's eyes. Worry lines and scars covered his once smooth features, and a beard appeared on his chin, messy and unshaven from long days in the wild. His hair was longer, dirtier, and his eyes became darker with years of stress and fatigue. Then, to the younger man's horror, three holes appeared in his tunic, the size of arrows, and fresh blood spilled from them. Blood also came from the corner of Boromir's mouth, dripping from his chin to the stone floor. Faramir's heart clenched in pity as he reached out to touch the wounds, drawing back his hand as Boromir took a step backwards.
"You cannot touch me," Boromir said, watching Faramir's hand as it shook. "I am only an image, you know this."
"I know," Faramir said, his voice barely audible. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome," the older man said, looking out towards Osgiliath again. "I must go now. Please, think about your actions before you go out and do something you will regret."
"Like what?" Faramir asked, and Boromir smiled once more.
"Like get yourself killed," he said. "I do not except to see you in the Halls anytime soon. There is no place reserved for you yet."
Faramir nodded, watching as Boromir's form started to grow lighter, more transparent, as if it were disappearing.
"Your men love you, Faramir, remember that," Boromir said, the blood from his wounds starting to grow paler and thinner, disappearing as well. "And remember that I will always admire you."
"You admire me?" Faramir asked in disbelief. "You are older, wiser, more experienced. Why should you admire me?"
Boromir's smile was soft, warm, like it had always been. "Because you are my intelligent, noble, kindhearted, wonderful baby brother who is more of a man than I ever was, and always the man that I wanted to be."
Faramir's eyes filled with tears at these words. "If it's any consolation," he said, his voice shaking with emotion, "you were always the one I looked up to. You were the man I wanted to be."
"I have to go now," Boromir said, and Faramir saw a hint a tears in his brother's eyes as well. "I love you, little brother, remember that."
"I will," Faramir said, watching Boromir's form grow thinner and thinner, until it was barely visible. "I love you, too."
"You have the knowledge, Faramir," Boromir's voice was the only thing that remained, ringing like a bell in Faramir's ears. "I know you'll make the right decision."
"I'm sorry, Boromir," Faramir spoke softly, looking where his brother's image had been standing seconds ago. A drop of crimson blood still stood out against the grey stone. "I'm sorry, but I must do this for myself."
With his brother's words fresh in his mind, and his father's words of earlier still spinning through the back of his head, Faramir prepared his troops for one last attack on Osgiliath. He would make his father proud, now that he knew his brother already was. He would try one last time for Denethor's affection, knowing that he already had all of Boromir's.
Really, those were the only things he'd ever wanted.