Boromir had reached his limit.

He was a soldier after all...not some mediator or diplomat. The Steward's Heir should no longer be expected to act as buffer between father and brother. Yet here he was again, checking on Faramir after a particularly unpleasant scene with Denethor.

Who knew why the man could not abide his younger son? Since the death of their mother some twenty years ago, the Steward focused more and more on what he perceived to be Faramir's faults. Denethor dismissed or simply ignored his son's many talents and triumphs.

Today had been no exception.

Faramir had a military mind that even Boromir could not match. For this reason, he was the perfect choice as Captain of the Ithilien Rangers. Still, the younger man was not considered exceptional with large, heavy weapons. One day, the Arms Master recommended that Faramir train with Boromir, hoping that daily practice with a beloved brother would improve the younger's sword skills. Since the Ranger Captain and a small company of his men were to be in Minas Tirith for some weeks: recruiting, re-supplying, being looked after at the Houses of Healing, the brothers agreed that it would be time well spent.

Surprisingly, Faramir's skills had little need of improvement. Granted, he did not have Boromir's brute strength, but his lighter frame and innate grace allowed him to maneuver with greater speed and agility. The two brothers were actually quite well matched, making the mock fights challenging and enjoyable.

Boromir had thought to ask the Arms Master why the unnecessary training had been suggested. He prudently decided against it, fearing that the pleasurable time spent with his younger brother would come to an end. He looked forward to these momentary breaks from duty and felt sure that his brother did also. The hours spent teasing, laughing and guessing the other's next move harked back to their happy days of childhood. Boromir's goal was never to best Faramir in these duels, but rather to make the young man smile as he did long ago.

Faramir's eyes glittered with sky blue mirth, for he had just slapped Boromir's rump with the flat of his practice blade. Their teacher snerked when Boromir glared back at his sibling, all the while rubbing his offended backside.

"You are getting rather 'cheeky' little brother," Boromir sniffed imperiously desperately trying to hide his own grin.

Faramir and the Arms Master burst into gales of laughter, "And you are positively comedic big brother! I fear you are in the wrong profession, Sir. Court Jester would suit you better. What say you, Bori?"

"I say my eldest would do well not to heed the natterings of a fool."

It was as though light and air were drawn from the small training yard, stifling and smothering all under a sneer of contempt. These days, whenever Denethor appeared, a hushed pall of wretchedness always followed. Boromir and the Arms Master quickly dropped to a knee before the Steward. With regret both saw the hard won delight drain from Faramir's face as he too turned and dropped to a knee before his father.

"Forgive this fool his natterings, Sir. I only meant to give my brother some respite from his burdensome duties. Alas, it lasted but a brief moment."

Boromir cringed at the traded barbs. Again, he was caught in the eye of the storm. Why did these two always have to do this? Father and brother expected him to choose see the error of the other's ways. But to do so, to choose one over the other, would only result in someone he loved getting hurt. Instead, Boromir tried to joke, cajole, soothe or change the subject. Ultimately, no one was pleased...least of all, himself.

Just once he wished Denethor would listen when told that his youngest son was worthy of a father's respect and love. Boromir equally wished that Faramir would stop antagonizing their father. His younger brother seemed to relish flaunting his preference for peaceful pursuits, in Denethor's face, much to the man's chagrin. Though he would never tell them so, Boromir sometimes wished he could wash his hands of duty, of responsibility, of both his father and brother. That fleeting thought never failed to chill him with guilt, it did so now.

"Father! Well met, Sir. I am glad you have come to see us practice. Faramir has improved much," Boromir greeted with false cheer as he and the Arms Master stood up, "he is almost better with the sword than I."

He ignored the icy glare both father and brother gave each other. Faramir stood, sheathed the practice sword and viciously pulled off his gloves. Silently he stalked passed his father to where the water bucket hung.

"Perhaps your brother is right. Court Jester may be a better calling for you. Since you are fond of saying the most laughable things."

Faramir stiffened and hesitated to drink, finally letting the cup drop back into the bucket.

"Father, must you?" Boromir hissed.

But the Steward ignored his Heir and addressed the Arms Master instead, "Is it true? Has any of the Captain-General's natural talent rubbed off?"

Not wanting their teacher to be placed in an awkward situation, Faramir answered instead.

"Perhaps a little, my Lord, but rest assured not enough that you should feel the need to praise me in any way."

"Even if you were to exhibit a noteworthy amount of improvement, it matters not. You simply do not possess Boromir's desire to serve his Country and people. Your pursuits are more idle, Sir," Denethor sneered the last distastefully, then turned back to his favorite child.

Faramir's countenance darkened instantly. The rage building in the young man could not be missed. Without conscious knowledge, his hand twitched on the hilt of his sheathed sword. Boromir warily shifted, as did the Arms Master. Denethor continued to blithely ignore Faramir.

After a moment, Faramir rolled his tense shoulder and straightened. His icy demeanor was unnerving.

"Ah! Thank you for reminding me, my lord. I do indeed have a most urgent appointment in the Library. Upon his last visit, Mithrandir asked that I search the ancient texts for references to..."

The older man responded with lightening speed, hurling accusations and spitting fury at Faramir.

"How dare you! Wizard's Pupil is too kindly a name for you, Sir! Traitor! Suits you better! Aye, you heard me! For treachery against the ruling Steward is likely what you both plot! See, my Heir, how your ungrateful brother parades his fealty and affection for that Istari!"

Boromir and the Arms Master were aghast. Though Denethor and Faramir often argued, neither had ever gone so far as to accuse the other of conspiracy or insurrection. Astonishingly, when Boromir looked over at his brother, he did not see a beloved sibling hurt by the allegations. Instead, to his own anger and disappointment, the warrior saw a mean-spirited stranger, smirking and gloating with satisfaction at having unhinged Denethor to such an extent.

Before Faramir could offer another biting retort, that was sure to enrage their father even more, Boromir sprang into action. Quickly, stepping past Denethor, he stood almost nose to nose with Faramir, making sure to block brother and father's view of each other. His own temper now seething, Boromir gripped Faramir's wrist, intent on causing pain.

"That is more than enough out of you, Captain," he spat, "you make me ashamed, Sir."

A fleeting expression of regret played along Faramir's features. But then it was gone, replaced by the almost blank, emotionless face that, in its subtle way, was able to convey disdain and contempt. The look was usually reserved for their father.

"Have a care, my lord...that look matters not to me."

Boromir continued to whisper as he tightened and twisted the grip on his brother's wrist emphasizing the point.

"What matters is that you apologize to our father immediately. Say that you were overtired, that you are unwell, that something did not agree with you at break of fast. I do not care. Just do it or find yourself, at the very least, confined to your quarters, pending investigation of the Steward's charge of treason!"

With difficulty Boromir kept his gaze hard chips of jade. No matter how much he wanted to soothe, the Captain-General made no gesture that would allow Faramir to think his behavior was condoned or acceptable. Again, the younger man's face flickered a myriad of feelings, testament to his inner turmoil. Shame, embarrassment, sorrow, and to Boromir's growing alarm...anger...resentment...even perhaps, hatred.

But through the years, Faramir had learned well to school his emotions and expertly dropped his mask of indifference back into place. Without looking at his brother again, Faramir wrenched his wrist away and moved towards their father.

He began in a more solicitous tone, "Father, I have no wish to cause strife between you and your Favorite. Please accept my deepest apologies for this ungracious behavior. I shall endeavor in future to be your most dutiful and humble servant."

Faramir bowed his head submissively after speaking. Denethor seemed to contemplate the young man's words. Boromir held his breath, waiting for their father's response.

"Hmmmmphf...very well," Denethor waved a hand at his youngest dismissively.

Boromir breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, pending disaster averted.

"Thank you, Sir. May I take my leave?"

"Yes...go...get out of my sight."

Faramir turned to leave but stopped abruptly.

"Father, believe otherwise if you wish, but I have always pledged my fealty to you and no other. I am equally committed to protecting and serving Gondor and our people. And in my own way, I feel that I do. I am sorry it is not enough. My Lords."

Without looking back, Faramir continued towards the Citadel, disappearing into the shadows.

"He shall never be you, my best beloved."

The sentiment made Boromir feel ill.

Boromir hesitated before gently knocking on Faramir's door. When no response came he frowned and bit his lip nervously. Finally, he tested the handle, hoping not to find it locked against him. To his slight surprise and great relief the door swung open.

Stepping inside the rooms, it became clear that Faramir was in his bathing chamber. Boromir waited by the window, only turning when his brother entered. The younger man had changed into fresh leggings and shirt.

"Was there something more you wanted from me, my lord?"

Boromir felt his earlier anger prickling again.

"Why the sudden formality between us, brother?"

Faramir shrugged and moved toward his bed where a fresh tunic was laid out.

"Was it not my Superior Officer speaking to me earlier? I was ordered to apologize on pain of facing charges of treason."

"You are angry with me and yet you deliberately upset our father and took satisfaction in doing so?!"

"Were you not just as angry at me and did not your father deliberately berate me and enjoy it?!"

"He is your father as well, Faramir and he does love you."

Faramir's dismissive hand gesture was so like Denethor's. He pulled on the tunic and smoothed it into place as he snickered cheerlessly.

"He loves me? Try to say it with more conviction, my lord. As for being my father...well... I suppose he could not help but contribute his seed, beyond that..."

The slap across his face was hard enough to make Faramir's head whip to the side. Stumbling back, he reached trembling fingers to his cheek. Oh yes, that would definitely leave a mark. Finding the courage to look at Boromir, he saw the warrior's ashen face gaping in horror. As his brother stepped closer to comfort, Faramir quickly dodged out of reach. In a voice devoid of emotion, Faramir began.

"This was to be expected someday, was it not? I know how difficult it has been for you all these years. I have seen your resentment and anger building. I think you have had enough of standing between Denethor and I. I think we have all had enough."

With as much control as he could muster, Faramir grabbed his cloak and a small book from the stand by his bed. He could not bring himself to look at Boromir again. With deliberate steps Faramir headed for the door.

"You are your father's son, and that is as it should be."

It hurt to hear himself likened to Denethor. But even more painful was the idea of losing Faramir. The great warrior panicked, when he saw his brother moving away.

"And what, you believe that avoiding me is a better idea? That burying your nose in that book is more appropriate? If father could see that you were truly devoted to being a soldier, you would have his favorable opinion in time."

"That is not worthy of you, Sir. Have I not been a devoted Captain? You know perfectly well I shall never have the Steward's favorable opinion. It is already given to you."

Determined, Faramir stepped closer to Boromir and rolled up his sleeve.

"I have tried, truly. Through the years, I have tried to do his bidding and always fell short. For love of you, I tried to keep my tongue in check. You love your father and he loves you. I have no wish to sully that. It was enough that I, at least, had your good opinion and love."

Faramir held his wrist up for Boromir to see. Tears of disgrace glinted in the warrior's eyes as he tried to look away from the dark finger shaped bruises.

"Today was proof that you could hate me. And yes, to my own shame, I have been resentful and angry with you. But today, for the first time, Boromir, I truly hated you, as well."

Faramir grabbed Boromir by the shoulders and gave him a shake.

"I do believe staying away from you is for the best. There will be less opportunity for this seed of discontent between us to grow. Denethor will have his favorite son all to himself. When he sees you no longer side with me in any way, you shall know the full measure of his devotion. Hopefully, I will be ignored even further. In this way, perhaps we all may finally have some measure of peace."

Faramir let go of Boromir and stepped back. The older man was too stunned to speak.

Holding the book aloft, the younger man continued, "Today, I lost the one thing I cherish most. Please, do not begrudge me this last comfort."

Faramir bowed deeply, and as calmly as he could, walked to the door.

"Now, forgive me for I must go, Sir. I have a prior engagement that I am bound by honor to keep. May I take my leave?"

Boromir gave his reluctant consent. After Faramir was gone he staggered towards his brother's bed. Falling to his knees, the eldest keened his sorrow into the sheets that held Faramir's comforting smell.

Faramir managed to stumble a short distance down the corridor towards a familiar alcove. Through the years, he had often hid in its cloaking darkness. Crumpling to the cold stone floor, the youngest cried his grief into the bruises caused by Boromir.

He did not join them for the evening meal. The Steward was surprised that his eldest did not know where the youngest was. In fact, he had to tell Boromir that Faramir dined with the Rangers tonight. It did not escape Denethor's notice that his son's meal was hardly touched.

Much later, Boromir once again stood in front of his brother's door. He frowned and bit his lip nervously. Hesitantly, he tried the handle. To his utter despair it was locked.