A/N 11/30/04: I've reposted this chapter after discovering that most of it was missing. I suspect it was eaten in the recent problems the site had -- I recommend you check your stories to make sure they're uncorrupted.

A/N: This grew out of discussions with sg1scribe concerning Eomer's love life. ;) Most of the time, we assume that Eomer and Lothiriel were in love before they married, but I've recently been intrigued by the idea of what it would have been like for them to have married for more pragmatic reasons, and then found love -- and specifically, what a wedding night would be like under those circumstances.
Beginnings (Lothiriel)

"There." Beril straightened the sleeve of the robe and stepped back. "Surely there has never been a lovelier bride awaiting her wedding night in Meduseld."

Lothiriel suppressed a grimace at the words and managed a smile for the elderly woman. "Thank you." She looked down, touched the white silk robe and gown. Embroidered with small flowers, it had been a gift from Éowyn and was truly lovely.

The smile became a little more genuine as she remembered her new sister-in-law's excitement when she'd presented the gift. She was quite fond of Éowyn, had appreciated the thoughtfulness behind the gesture. Then she gave into a sigh. Éowyn's enthusiasm had been tied to the memory of her own wedding night – that had been apparent from the woman's soft smile when she'd given it to Lothiriel to open.

But Éowyn had forgotten – or not been thinking – that Lothiriel's wedding night would be a very different experience. Éowyn had gone into the bed of a man who was hopelessly in love with her.

"He's a good man, Rie." Beril's voice was soft.

Lothiriel looked over at her, smiled again. The woman had been her nurse and attendant from a very early age, had really been a mother to her after her own mother had died. She had refused to even consider staying in Dol Amroth when Lothiriel had left for Rohan, and now that Lothiriel was in her new home, trying to make sense of strange customs, her gratitude for the other woman's loyalty and company had only increased.

"I know."

Beril looked like she wanted to say something else, then hesitated.

Lothiriel smiled again, reached over and squeezed the other woman's hand. "I'll be fine. You're right. He's a good man, and nerves are normal. I know that." She walked toward the door, opened it, motioned. "Go on – you should go back to the celebration in the hall. I'm sure the king will be here any moment."

The words caused her stomach to twitch again, but she kept the smile. She was a queen now, and there were certain things expected of her. One was that she was no longer quite so free to show her emotions, even to her closest friends. Including nerves.

Beril gave her a long look, then nodded. "I'll see you in the morning, then."

With that, she was gone, and Lothiriel had a moment of panic, of wanting to call her back, of having Beril present as a buffer when Éomer came to claim his conjugal rights.

She suppressed it. She was being silly. Women survived this all the time. Turning, she walked across the room, sat and stared into the fire. It might be easier if it weren't Éomer, she admitted.

He had been nothing but kind and respectful to her, but he made her nervous. He was a very ...powerful man. It was a personal power, not linked to his identity as king, and he wore it like he wore his skin.

Before he was anything else, even king, he was a warrior. Direct, focused...aggressive. She knew he'd never expected to rule, had assumed he'd spend his life as Third Marshal. And now that he was king, he approached it the same way he'd managed his eored, with an almost grim determination.

She had never seen him smile.

And yet...she had seen his concern for his people, his kindness to those who served in the hall, his deep love for his sister.

Those glimpses into his personality had figured heavily into why she'd agreed to the marriage. She'd wanted to wed, had wanted a family, had wanted more from her life than staying in Dol Amroth would have given her.

There were so few single men left after the wars, even fewer who her father would have allowed her to marry.

None, really.

Apart from her longing for children, not marrying wouldn't have been a horrible fate – she would have just continued to dwell in Dol Amroth, filling the roles she had filled for a long time. But eventually her father would die and the rule of the princedom would fall to her eldest brother; eventually her sister-in-law would rightly take over many of those roles Lothiriel had filled since the death of her mother. And while loved by her brothers and welcome in the home of her birth, she would have progressively felt more and more useless.

So when the discussions about a possible union between her and Éomer had begun – started and encouraged by Éowyn and Faramir – she'd been receptive to it, despite the lack of love she'd always hoped and assumed would be part of her marriage.

She'd married him because she saw a man she respected and admired, and could possibly come to love.

But she was much less clear on why he had entered into the marriage.

And now he would shortly be coming to claim his conjugal rights. She didn't consider herself a particularly nervous woman – a calm personality had been necessary in the role she'd filled at Dol Amroth, would be more so as Queen of the Mark. But currently, faced with the thought of a grim, determined man coming to bed her, nerves were the order of the moment.

She jumped when the knock came, startled that it came from the door between her chamber and the king's bedroom rather than the door into the hall. Well, of course. The fact that she'd been focused on the door into the hall was another indication of how apprehensive she actually was.

She stood, smoothed the robe, took a deep breath. "Come," she said, and grimaced that the nerves were apparent in her voice.

Éomer, King of the Mark, stepped through the door, and what had been small anxious twitchings in her stomach became more pronounced.

Despite the nerves, her breath caught in pleasure at the sight of him. Visually, he was the most compelling man she'd ever met – more so, even, than Faramir or her brothers. She'd been aware of that attractiveness every time she'd seen him, but now, with him standing in her chamber, it was overwhelming.

The green velvet tunic he wore was richly embroidered with gold, and made an appealing background for his coloring – his eyes were dark in the candlelight, and his hair, shining gold and unbound, hung much longer than the norm for Gondorian men.

He was surveying her in the same manner and his eyes darkened even more as his gaze moved down her body.

Conscious that the robe and gown revealed more than they covered, the nerves flashed back, but were mixed with an unfamiliar heat as his eyes lingered on her breasts and hips.

She swallowed, and saw his gaze sharpen, fix on her face.

"How are you?" His voice was soft, slightly husky.

She had to clear her throat before answering. "I'm fine."

His expression settled into a frown, and he started toward her. Involuntarily, she took a step back, and he halted, the frown deepening.

Annoyed with herself for the show of nerves, Lothiriel was about to return the question when he reached out and ran his hands down her arms to her fingers.

"You're trembling." He was still frowning, but now was close enough for her to see puzzlement in his eyes as well. "Are you afraid of me?"

Embarrassed that she'd allowed him to see her apprehension, she tried unsuccessfully to pull her hands away.

"Lothiriel – answer me." His voice was quiet and firm, and though the frown was still present, there was now an unreadable expression in his eyes as well. "Why do you tremble?"

"No, I'm not afraid of you. Just nervous." Her voice came out more sharply than she'd intended. "It's normal, actually, for a woman to be a little nervous on her wedding night."

"I see." He released her hands, stepped back.

She wondered just what it was he was seeing.

"I do not recall Éowyn being nervous about her wedding night."

His voice was tight. This was not a good start, Lothiriel reflected. "You were not actually present when she...went to Faramir, but it was different for your sister," she finally said quietly.

He was still frowning, obviously confused. Could he really be so dense?

"Éomer..." she stopped, confused as well. What words to use? Her own cheeks heated with embarrassment. It hadn't occurred to her that they'd talk about what they were going to do. "What takes place between a man and woman is always pleasurable for the man. It is not always so for the woman," she finally said bluntly. "It also requires a woman to be particularly...vulnerable," she continued more quietly. "That is only increased when there is little knowledge or trust between them."

She couldn't believe she was being so direct with him and part of her was simply mortified. But given what would shortly occur between the two of them...

The frown had faded, had been replaced with a frozen, formal expression. His cheeks were now also red. Embarrassment at not having guessed what she might be feeling? Or anger that she'd spoken so bluntly? If it was the latter, they were in trouble. She would not survive long in a marriage where she could not speak her mind.

"I see," he said again, in a stiff, measured tone of voice. "Perhaps we should delay the consummation of our marriage, then, until you are more..." he paused before finishing. "Comfortable with me."

She gaped at him. "What?"

"I would not have you start our union feeling vulnerable. We can wait until you feel you know me better." His voice was still tight, his eyes unreadable.

Startled by the suggestion, it took a moment for her to find her voice. She glanced at the bed, and knowing she was blushing again, said, "The servants would notice if the linen is not ...soiled. They would talk, there would be speculation that all is not well between us."

Obviously frustrated, he rubbed the back of his neck, then closed the distance between them and once more reached for her hands. When he spoke, his voice was again very quiet, his eyes intent on her. "As king and queen, the needs of the Mark will frequently take precedence over our own desires. But that does not mean you and your needs are not a priority for me." He released her left hand, reached up and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Our lives will frequently be the topic of gossip; it is the way of the court. I will not allow the threat of such to rush us into this," he nodded toward the bed, "if you would be better served by us waiting."

She stared at him, unable to look away. His eyes were dark with determination...and a hint of disappointment that made her stomach jump again, but not with nerves.

"Lothiriel, I know we don't know each other well, but I believe we can have a good marriage. I will not risk that by rushing you this evening."

Cupping her cheek, he leaned down and brushed her lips with a light kiss before releasing her other hand and stepping back. "We will wait," he said simply.

He was nearly back to the door before she found her voice.


He glanced back at her, a questioning look on his face.

The nerves of earlier were gone, chased away by his words, by his unexpected consideration of her. But heat once again flooded her face as she struggled to get the words out.

"What if I don't want to wait?"

He raised an eyebrow, glanced toward the bed. "To consummate our marriage?"

Mute with embarrassment, she nodded.

He stalked back over to her. "Why?"

Her stomach flipped. How to explain? "There are many ways of coming to know someone," she finally said. "Your concern for me...is reassuring."

He stared at her for a long moment, before bringing his hand up to cup her cheek. "I will always be concerned for you," he said quietly. Then he took her hand.

Expecting him to lead her to the bed, she firmly suppressed the nerves which wanted to reappear. But he went in the opposite direction, guiding her instead to the bench on the other side of the room, in front of her dressing table, where he motioned for her to sit.

"Would you mind if I unbind your hair?"

Surprised, she glanced up at him, then shook her head. Her hair had been up in a complicated arrangement for the wedding ceremony, and although she'd unpinned some of it, most of it still hung in a long dark braid down her back.

He settled on the bench behind her, and appreciating that he was trying to help her relax, she attempted to force the tension from her body. But it was nearly impossible when he was so close to her, when she could feel the heat from his body. Could smell his scent, clean and male.

"Your hair is such a lovely color."

She laughed softly. "It seems very ordinary to me. I am quite envious of Éowyn's hair, as well as many of the Rohirrim women. So bright, so gold. It must be a cheering sight in winter when the sun is absent."

She felt him pick up the bottom of the braid, begin to remove the ribbon. "I suppose it is, but do not underestimate the beauty of the night," he said quietly. "Yours is such a lovely, rich color."

The ribbon dropped beside them, and he moved to begin unweaving the braid. Almost immediately, the back of his fingers brushed against her lower back. So thin was the silk of the gown and robe that it might as well been absent, and the light touch gave her goose bumps. Odd, when it wasn't cold she was feeling, but heat. She had never guessed that that area on her lower back could be so ...sensitive.

He worked his way up her back, and every few moments his fingers would brush against her spine again. Perhaps it was because despite having grown up in a household of men, she had no memory of her fathers or brothers ever unbraiding her hair. Or perhaps it was due to the thin nature of the silk. Whatever the reason, his repeated touch there was making it difficult for her to take a deep breath.

He reached the top of the braid, and spread the hair out, running his hands down her back, and Lothiriel couldn't help a sigh of pleasure.

"Hand me your brush."

She did so, reaching over to the dressing table. And became aware that her breasts felt abnormally sensitive, too. Odd when he hadn't touched her there. She stifled another blush at the thought, handed the brush back.

He took it, began to pull it through her hair, and some of the tension eased from her. She'd always loved having her hair brushed, had always found it relaxing. And he knew how to do it, without tugging too hard on her head. It seemed a peculiar skill for him to have; she suspected he had not been as reluctant to brush Éowyn's hair as her brothers had hers.

As if he read her mind, he commented, "Éowyn was wild with grief when our mother died, and for awhile would allow no one but me to approach her, not even our uncle."

Lothiriel knew what it was like to lose her mother at a young age, and a lump came into her throat at the thought of Éowyn's grief. At least Lothiriel had still had her father as well as her brothers.

"She was fortunate to have you."

He continued pulling the brush through her hair with steady strokes, but it was a long moment before he spoke. "I was fortunate to have her, too," he said. "She steadied me. Gave me something else to focus on besides my own loss."

Silence fell, and Lothiriel gave herself over to the simple pleasure of having her hair brushed. Although she was still aware of him on every possible level, she felt herself relaxing into his touch.

Then he laid the brush down, and slid his hands beneath the mass of hair at her neck before shifting it to fall over her right shoulder.

All the tension came back, and then some, when he brushed his lips against the exposed skin where her neck met her shoulder.

He slid his hand up, cupped her head, then turned her to face him. His eyes were dark, intense, as he gazed at her. The hand slipped to her neck, and he tugged her closer, then leaned down. And kissed her.

He'd kissed her twice before – at their wedding that afternoon, and earlier, when he'd started to leave the room. This kiss started as those had – a light brushing of his lips against hers.

Then the pressure of his lips increased, and she understood he wanted her to open her mouth to him. A little unnerved, she did so, and felt his tongue lightly trace her lips before slipping in, touching hers. He tasted of the wine they'd had with the wedding supper, and a little of the cake, as well. A sweet combination.

His hand slid down her back, his arm wrapped around her. Pulled her closer to him even as he deepened the kiss.

She wasn't sure how to respond to him, wasn't sure what he wanted back from her. But it was easy enough to follow his lead, to begin tentatively exploring his mouth. She was barely aware of her hand creeping up to rest on his shoulder, then to slide around to the back of his neck. But he was obviously aware of it, and responded with a growl of pleasure.

When he lifted his head, they were both out of breath. Lothiriel rested her head against his chest, allowed her hand to slide back down. What was happening? Where had her nerves gone? She didn't know this man – despite being wedded to him – but was finding it shamelessly easy to respond to his kisses.

Maybe it was as simple as what she'd told him earlier – there are many ways of coming to know someone, and what she'd discovered about him in the past hour was that he might not love her, but was nonetheless solicitous of her, of her needs.

There were worse beginnings to a relationship.

And she enjoyed his kisses.

He tilted her head back up, and their eyes met. What he saw in hers must have reassured him because he resumed kissing her. But this time he slipped his hands around to rub slow circles on her on her back. It seemed like it should have been relaxing. It wasn't.

The next time he lifted his head, it was to slide his lips across her cheek where he nuzzled against her hair, gently bit her earlobe.

Lothiriel shivered in response, and heard humor in his voice when he asked, "Cold?"

She choked back a laugh in response, then went still when she realized his left hand was no longer on her back but was resting on her hip.

Éomer raised his head again, looked down at her as he slipped the hand inside the robe. He lingered there, still on her hip but between the gown and the robe, for a long moment while he gave her a steady look. Then he slowly slid his hand up until it rested just below the swell of her breast. She swallowed, a mix of nerves and anticipation, but kept her eyes on his.

The tension between them built until she thought she'd scream if he didn't touch her.

When he finally did, it was with the same light touch he'd used on her back. His hand cupped her breast, its warmth burning through the silk, and she caught her breath at the sensation. He squeezed gently, while continuing to study her face for a response.

In answer, she shifted, gave him better access, and he rewarded her by lightly brushing his thumb across her beaded nipple. She squirmed, and he leaned down, began kissing her again.

It was so hard to concentrate. It seemed important that she keep her head, be aware of what was happening, what was going on between them. But with his lips demanding a response from her mouth as his hand continued to pleasure her breast, her ability to think was completely muddled. Then he slid his right hand around, gave her other breast the same treatment, and all thoughts fled. She heard with some astonishment a moan of pleasure escape herself.

It turned to a sound of annoyance when one of his hands slid away, to rest for a moment between her breasts, over her heart – a heart that was beating so fast it must surely sound as if the horses were escaping from the stables.

He lifted his head, gazed down at her again, his eyes going even darker. He turned his hand over, brushed across her nipple with his knuckle, then again over her heart.

And smiled in response to what he felt there, that fast beat. A hesitant smile of simple pleasure that she was enjoying being with him, enjoying his touch. She would never have used the word shy to describe him, but that was how his smile struck her, and for the first time it occurred to her that there could be some vulnerability for him in this act as well, if of a different kind.

The smile delighted her more than the caress. It changed his face, made him seem younger, more open. More human. And she realized that it mattered to her, a great deal, that she had caused that smile.

In response, she slid her hand up to rest over his heart. And gave him her own smile when she felt his heart beating as fast as hers. He squeezed her breast again, very gently pinched the nipple, and resumed kissing her.

The next time he lifted his head, he took a breath and then buried his face in her neck. "You smell good," he murmured, and the sensation of his lips moving against her throat caused another shudder to move through her.

In all of her anxious thoughts about this night, this possibility – that he would be so apparently focused on her pleasure, or that she would enjoy his touch quite so much – had not entered her mind. She tilted her head to give him better access, but instead of continuing his exploration, he suddenly pulled away from her and stood up. He held out his hand to her, a neutral expression on his face – an expression belied by the intense look in his eyes.

She took his hand, stood.

He glanced at the bed, then back to her. "Lothiriel ," his voice was soft. "Are you sure?"

She gave him an incredulous look, then simply nodded. She appreciated his confirming it was what she wanted, but her entire body was now humming, and she wanted to know what came next. She might not be in love with him, as she'd once hoped to be with the man she'd spend her wedding night with, but she liked and respected him. More, she was coming to trust him. Yes, she was sure.

He nodded, squeezed her hand, and led her to the bed. Then he turned toward her, and released her hand to slip his fingers beneath the shoulders of the robe. He nudged it off of her, and she felt it slide down her body.

He bent to kiss her neck again, and she realized he was getting ready to slip her gown off in the same manner. She drew away slightly, gave him a mock frown. "This is nice," she said with a tug of his tunic, "but I do not wish to be the only unclothed one in the room."

He smiled at that before stepping back and pulling off his tunic, then the soft undershirt he wore beneath it. Lothiriel suppressed another noise of pleasure when his bare chest came into view.

A broad, muscular chest – much more so than her brothers – with a light sprinkling of hair. Her gaze moved down to his flat stomach, noted the beginning of a line of darker, thicker hair which disappeared into the top of his hose. She was distracted from both his chest and the hair when her eyes slipped further down, focused on the visible bulge in his crotch. Her heart took another wild leap and began pounding again, with that odd mix of nerves and anticipation.

She wanted to touch him there, wanted to know what he looked liked, but did not quite dare. Instead, she brought her eyes back up, and closing the distance between them, rested her hands on his chest, began to explore.

Hard muscles, smooth skin. Then her fingers brushed lightly over one of his nipples, and he jumped. She glanced up at him, noted the tension in his face. Was he as sensitive as she was there? Apparently. She brushed the nub again, used her free hand to give the same treatment to the other one.

After a moment, though, he groaned and reached up, moved her hands away, down, around his waist, then pulled her to him and kissed her again.

Her breasts came to rest against his chest, only the one remaining layer of thin silk between them, and the sensation as she rubbed against him made her wish she'd not denied him when he'd tried to remove her gown.

His hands were on her back again, pulling her even closer to him, until there was no space at all between their bodies. She could feel that bulge now, pressing into her stomach.

Experimentally, she rubbed against it, and Éomer broke the kiss with a groan, buried his face in her neck. "You're trying to drive me mad, aren't you?" he asked in a strangled tone, his voice choked with laughter.

She laughed in response, amazed that she could do so with him. But in the midst of these intimate explorations of each other, it somehow felt very natural, and very, very good to be able to be so relaxed with him.

He stepped back again, and this time when he moved to slip her gown off, she allowed him to do so, despite the blush she knew was rising all over her body. As his gaze traveled down her length, she had to fight the desire to try and cover herself, and her hands jerked more than once as she suppressed that instinct.

Taking her hands in his, he squeezed them. "You're so lovely," he finally said softly, before releasing one of them to lift her chin with his fingers, caught her gaze. "Completely captivating."

Once more, he drew her back to him, and again she felt that shock of pleasure move through her when her breasts brushed against his chest.

He kissed her again, brought one hand up to cup her breast, and she gave a soft moan at the feeling of his rough, calloused hand gently squeezing her, a coarse thumb rubbing back and forth across her nipple.

Leaving off kissing her, her trailed his mouth across her cheek and down her throat, and she squirmed, guessing where he was headed. But she could never have imagined how it would feel when he touched her nipple with his tongue, then took her breast into his mouth. Began to suck. She gasped, arched against him, felt him gently bite her, then soothe her with his tongue.

Her body flooded with heat, and she ached in ways and places she'd never imagined aching. Once again, she squirmed against him, against that bulge, rubbed herself against his leg. On some level, the response embarrassed her, but she simply didn't care. He apparently didn't either, based on his growled response to her frantic movements.

Then he lifted his head, stepped back from her, and Lothiriel made a sound of dismay – which turned to a squeak of shock when he suddenly bent and lifted her into his arms before turning and placing her carefully on the bed.

He stepped back, his eyes locked on hers as he bent once more and stripped off his hose before straightening to stand before her. It was a proud stance, but there was a hint of vulnerability in his eyes as he waited for her gaze to drift down. She'd not grown up with three brothers without catching an occasional quick look at their bodies, nor without understanding the priority men placed on one part of their anatomy in particular.

He was much bigger than what she remembered seeing during those occasional glimpses of her brothers, at least at the moment, and she swallowed, nerves coming to the forefront again. How could this possibly work?

She forced the nerves aside, glanced back up at his eyes, noted the guarded look he was giving her. Curiosity got the better of her, and she reached out, shyly touched him, felt him jerk in response. She liked knowing that she could affect him that way, and stroked him again, a little more boldly.

He groaned, then moved her hand temporarily in order to settle into the bed. Once beside her, he again placed her hand on him, encouraged her to resume her exploration of him.

She did so, was unable to decide what amazed her more – the way he felt against her hand, or the sounds of pained pleasure coming from him.

He suddenly swore and rolled away from her, leaving Lothiriel confused and uncertain. What had she done? Had she hurt him in some way? She shrank back from him a little, to the other side of the bed.

A long moment passed, and she was about to question him when he rolled back over, and looked at her, an embarrassed expression on his face. Reaching out, he touched her cheek. "I'm sorry."

"I don't understand." She felt heat come into her face as well. "Did I hurt you?"

He choked with laughter even as his face went another shade darker. He shook his head. "Just the opposite, in fact. If you had continued touching me in that manner, this would have been over before we properly got started." His expression turned wry. "Do you understand?"

Her gaze slid down his body, then back up, and despite her embarrassment, she could not quite suppress a smile of delight as she said, "I'm sorry."

"I'm not." His voice was husky. He reached for her, pulled her close to him. "But I think we'll focus on you for a while."

The words sent a renewed rush of desire through her, desire which was only intensified as he leaned down and gently kissed her while beginning once again to caress her breasts.

His lips slipped down her throat toward her breasts again, but this time he teased her sensitive skin by rubbing his beard against her. She was distracted from that sensation almost immediately, though, by a new awareness as he trailed his hand down her torso, lingering for a moment on her hip before sliding down her thigh.

And then back up.

"Will you open for me?" he asked softly, and with her heart pounding, she willingly moved her legs apart.

His eyes still on her, he began a careful exploration of the sensitive juncture of her legs. She jumped a little at his first touch, and he soothed her by murmuring soft, indistinguishable words without his eyes ever leaving hers. Gradually she relaxed, began to enjoy his touch.

Then he brushed up a little higher, against a place that had her gasping and arching against his hand. He repeated the movement, sometimes as the lightest of touches, sometimes more firmly, and then lowered his head once more to kiss, nuzzle, and suckle at her breasts, and Lothiriel was lost, unable to form even the simplest of thoughts.

She knew when he eased a finger inside her, though, but marveled only that what she had thought might be one of the oddest touches from him was instead, very welcome, as her body responded to the rough rasp of his calluses on sensitive flesh.

He slipped a second finger in to join the first, and it was a tighter fit, which was both a little more uncomfortable and a greater pleasure. His hand began to move again, slipping in and out of her while his thumb continued to tease the place above, and she once again lost awareness of everything except the pleasure he was bringing her.

Tension was building inside her, a powerful drive toward something she didn't completely understand. What she did understand was that at some point she'd made the decision to trust Éomer to get her there, that she'd stopped thinking about who they were and what they were doing, was focused only on reaching that place of pleasure.

She reached it quite suddenly, a point where every muscle in her body clenched tight and then released, and the sensation of that release was like nothing she'd ever imagined. She stiffened against him, heard herself give a soft cry before relaxing back onto the bed, completely undone, her muscles useless. Catching her breath was her first priority.

Éomer leaned down and gently kissed her, then laid his forehead on her shoulder. His hand was still resting in and against her.

Gradually, as sense came back, she realized that as relaxed as she was, he wasn't. He was still next to her, his body hard and tense. He was out of breath too, and it took a moment to figure out why – he was still controlling himself, his desires.

Lifting a hand that still trembled, she touched his shoulder. "Éomer?"

He looked up at her, his eyes dark and gleaming, and she tugged on his arm. It felt silly, but she didn't know how else to show him that having had her pleasure, she wanted him to find his, wanted to know she'd given back to him what he'd given to her.

When he didn't move immediately, she started to slip her hand down his body, but he stopped her. Brought her fingers up to his mouth, kissed them.

Then eased over onto her, settled between her legs. She shifted, parted them further, gave him more room, her eyes never leaving his.

Braced on his arms, he began to slip into her, and she could tell from the tension running through him how hard it was for him to go slow, to be careful, to allow her body time to adjust to his size and length.

The further he advanced, the greater the discomfort, and she had to keep reminding herself to relax, knowing instinctively that tensing would make it more difficult. Then he reached a point where it seemed as if he were blocked, and she felt him struggling to control himself, to continue to go slow.

She took a deep breath, and tucked her face into his shoulder, forced herself to relax. "Don't stop," she murmured in his ear.

With an exclamation that was half sigh, half groan, he obeyed, sliding in deeply and completely. Lothiriel ignored the discomfort, focused on reminding herself of the pleasure he'd given her earlier, the knowledge that this would get easier, and, after a moment, the wonder of being joined in such an intimate fashion with another human being.

She wrapped her arms around him, tried to draw him closer to her. He was still for a moment, then pulled partially out before thrusting back in, and she shifted again, wanting him to brush against that spot which had brought her pleasure earlier. Began to see the possibilities of how it might work, of how they might both find that amazing release in this act.

But not this time. After only a few more thrusts, he suddenly groaned and shuddered, and partially collapsed against her. His arms barely keeping him from completely crushing her. He was breathing hard, his face in her neck.

She stroked his back, breathed in the scent of him, and tried to sort out what had just happened. She'd been afraid of feeling vulnerable – how could you not, with a grown man in and on top of you? But his concern for her had banished those feelings before they'd even started, while at the same time she'd become aware that there was vulnerability for him in it as well.

And mostly she was conscious of the feeling of being so connected with him. It occurred to her that she really didn't know what love was. She'd only seen it from a distance, in her parents' marriage, in the relationship between the King and Queen of Gondor, of what she'd seen of Faramir and Éowyn's relationship. Perhaps it was different for all of them – maybe what love was varied from person to person and couple to couple.

What she knew was that Éomer had shown her she was safe with him, that she could trust him, at least in this. That together, they could find pleasure and even joy in this most basic of interactions.

Except for Beril, she had been very aware of being alone in Rohan. She'd left behind the only life she'd known, had traveled many leagues to a place of foreign customs and strange behaviors in order to start a new life. But this man, now joined to her so intimately, was the reason she'd made that choice, had taken that risk. And tonight, he'd proven that she had not been wrong to do so.

She wasn't alone, but was rather part of something very specific. She would have a role beyond just what the Rohirrim people saw in their queen, a role that would grow out of her connection with the king. It started with this very basic physical joining, but if they were careful – and had he not already shown how careful he would be with her? – that connection could grow into something lovely and strong. Something which would make a difference – not just for the two of them, but for Rohan.

He suddenly shifted, lifted himself off of her. "I'm sorry. I'm crushing you." He rolled to the side, flung his arm over his eyes.

Just that quickly, the warm glow of a moment earlier, of the pleasure she'd taken in being joined with him, faded. She was cold, and felt ...exposed, and suddenly understood how tenuous that intimacy could be.

As the sudden shock of the separation faded, tears wanted to come, and she pushed them back, angry at herself. Why on earth should she be feeling so ...abandoned? All he'd done was roll away from her, and if his soft breathing was any indication, was now asleep.

But she'd somehow not expected that they'd go so quickly from the intimacy of that joining to being separate human beings again. Foolish of her not to have done so, though it underscored what friends had said about the link for women between the physical and emotional – a link men didn't necessarily feel.

Though love might eventually grow between them, he didn't yet love her. He'd been kind, and considerate toward her, had made it clear that he felt responsible for her. But he didn't love her, wasn't feeling the intimacy she'd been feeling. She frowned. Did that mean she loved him? No. Not necessarily. Women and men were just different, that was all.

Regardless, it was foolish of her not to have realized sooner that he would be feeling something very different than she was.

And then a new thought came, chilled her. In all likelihood, he'd get up soon, go to his own bed. Edoras was set up for this room, her chamber, to be either a sitting room or a separate bedchamber. If the two of them came truly to love, chose to spend all their nights together, it would become a sitting room for her, but until then, it would allow them some distance, some space. The chance to sleep alone rather than with someone you barely knew.

But on this night, she found the idea of being left alone in the bed nearly unbearable. She might not love him, might not be loved by him, but after their shared intimacy, after being joined with him in such a fashion and becoming aware of what their relationship could be, of his very physical reminder that she wasn't alone in Rohan, his leaving her to return to his bed would be crushing.

He wouldn't go if she asked him to stay, of course, no matter what his own preference might be. He'd made it clear that her needs would take precedence. But she didn't want him to stay unless he wanted to, unless he, too, wanted to maintain that connection between them. And based on his current position on the other side of the bed, he didn't seem to want to.

She took a deep, quiet breath, forced back the ache. Reminded herself again that she was being foolish, that he'd already given her so much more than she'd dared hope for out of this night. And they had time, time to take things slowly in terms of their relationship. If he did get up and leave, she'd concentrate on the good things that had come out of this evening, would wait to see what the future brought.

Needing to comfort herself in some fashion, though, she rolled over on her side – her preferred sleeping position – her back to him, and curled up, her arms around herself. Then could not help but inch a little closer to him, to the warmth of his body, even if it was against her back.

Then she closed her eyes, tried to sleep.

She was still awake sometime later, though, when she felt him shift. Tension came back as she waited for that moment he'd get up, leave the bed.

Instead, she felt him roll over, towards her. "Lothiriel ?" his voice was very soft and she didn't reply immediately, was trying to brace herself for his telling her he was returning to his own room. Odd that it was only now that she felt so vulnerable.

Then she felt his hand on her shoulder, heard a muttered complaint. "You're cold."

There was more movement from behind her, though she couldn't tell what he was doing – until in one action, he tugged the covers up from where they'd been shoved at the foot of the bed, and pulled her back against him, into his arms, and covered them both with the soft furs.

He cuddled her to him, his front pressed against her back, his arm draped around her waist. Then she felt him press a kiss onto her shoulder, and sigh before relaxing back into sleep. He seemed to have no trouble at all finding sleep.

And now, tucked warm against his body, sheltered by both the fur and his arms, she found it easy to drift off to sleep herself.