Summary: Faramir and Boromir return home. Denethor welcomes them in his usual way.
A broad smile was on both of the brother's faces as the doors to the White Hall opened for them and then closed behind them. The sound of cheering could still be heard in the background, but it was dulled by the thick walls of the Citadel.
Denethor did not sit on his throne, but walked forward, beaming, until he stood before his two sons. "Boromir and Faramir reporting for duty, my lord," Boromir said happily, all memory of the last evil weeks in captivity gone, as the two brothers kneeled before their lord and father.
"Great joy it gives me to greet you again, my son," Denethor replied, and he brought Boromir to his feet. Faramir followed suit, unsure if he should continue to kneel or rise.
And then it happened. Denethor embraced his elder son tightly, whispering happy phrases into his ears, and Boromir grasped his father just as tightly, clinging on to Denethor, seeking support and love and compassion. The Haradrim were brutal captors, and to hold both the sons of Denethor in their cruel hands – they had not been merciful. Boromir craved comfort and stability, and Denethor was more than happy to provide such necessities.
Faramir watched them, the smile still plastered on his face, but the meaning and joy behind it gone, disappeared even as the other men's smiles grew wider. Could he not spare him one glance? Tell him that he too was welcomed home? The Haradrim did more than hurt them with their swords and their irons – they too know of the relationship between the younger son and his father, and used that to their advantage to hurt the brothers.
And had he not served his father well? They received no information from his lips: no knowledge of Gondor's defenses, no locations of Ranger hideouts, no strategies of war. And it was he who had planned and executed their escape, he who had saved his brother's life, he who had sacrificed his own health for the sake of distraction. Even now his arm was in a sling to ensure that his shoulder was not injured further. Perhaps it was arrogance, perhaps it was pride, but he knew that he had done well. And it would have meant everything to him for Denethor to acknowledge that.
He watched them, silent, still, until at last the embrace was broken, and Denethor turned to him. The smile remained on his face, and there were tears in his eyes. Faramir's smile suddenly regained its meaning, as Denethor spoke his name with such – such joy. Kneeling once more, Faramir was raised up to his feet by his father, and he could practically feel the love shining from his own eyes into his father's. And Denethor bent his son's head forward, and kissed him on the forehead, and then released his hold on Faramir.
When Faramir lifted his head, the smile was gone. He could not even maintain the falseness of his own smile. Denethor wrapped his one arm around Boromir, and took the hand of Faramir that was not in the sling, and sighed happily. "My sons," he said, "I am overjoyed to see you both safe and well here once more."
Squeezing Boromir harder again, he continued. "Come, sup with me, and we will speak of these last few weeks." Boromir nodded eagerly at his father, and both men then looked at Faramir.
His eyes were dead – dull, devoid of any feeling. Faramir could see the confusion on both men's face at his sudden fall into depression, but… it meant nothing. He slipped his hand out of his father's, and spoke quietly, heavily. "If you will forgive me, Father, my shoulder troubles me, and I had hoped to see the Healers so that I can return to active duty as quickly as possible."
Boromir looked at him for a moment, for he had never mentioned the wound before. Denethor showed some concern in his eyes, but more consternation at the interruption of his planned celebrations. But Faramir did not care. The room had become stifling, hot, the air thick with unhappiness and pain. He turned his flat eyes to his father, waiting for a response.
"Yes, of course, Faramir. I hope you find the healing you seek."
Silently, he laughed without mirth. Then he bowed to his father and brother, and left the Hall. The air was pure and crisp, slightly chilly. But it was the cold of his heart that sent shivers down his spine. The far green forests of Ithilien, of his home, were barely visible from where he stood, but he could still see them.
The longing of his heart to be under the trees, away from this cold stone, was almost overpowering, and he could feel his chest constrict as he thought of the smell of the forest, the taste of the fresh streams, the brightness of the sun, the feel of the damp stone he slept on, the sound of the birds during the summer.
Was it wrong that he pledged his allegiance not to his father, not to Minas Tirith, but to the Rangers who had become the only family to him?
Desire to be with them, to be with those who cared for him, overwhelmed him, and he cried out to Ithilien to come and rescue him and take him home.