Denethor rose from his chair and tried to stretch his back, wincing slightly in the effort. Hours of sitting hunched over the desk made him rather stiff, and he decided to move a bit.
He was suddenly aware of a pair of grey eyes looking from a small coach in the corner.
"What, Faramir?" he asked, rubbing his cold hands together. It was funny that they should be cold, for the fire was cracking merrily, and it was rather warm in the office.
"Sorry, Father… nothing," his son said and sniffled, then rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.
Denethor crossed the room and put his hands to the boy's brow. It was still a trifle too warm for his liking.
"I am fine, Father," Faramir said reproachfully, ducking his head from the touch.
Denethor smiled inwardly. Gone were the days when he could stroke his children's heads without getting an indignant hiss in return. He was glad, for that showed growing up. Every child grew up quickly these days… and his sons had to, being what they were. Still, he could not repress a feeling of loss. He, being who he was, had been denied much more than common parents, who could read their children stories before they went to bed, or take them out riding as they pleased, or listen to their small and bigger woes…
He was brought out of his reverie by another sniffle. Faramir was fumbling with his clothing, looking for a kerchief. Denethor sighed and handed him his own.
"Thank you," Faramir said, handing the piece of linen back after he had thoroughly blown his nose.
Denethor cocked his head at him.
"Are you implying we should share it?" he said, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
The boy flushed scarlet, then smiled hesitantly too.
"No, of course not," he admitted. "Sorry, Father."
Denethor smiled and returned to the desk.
"Do you have much left there?" he heard Faramir's voice from behind, followed by a loud sneeze.
The boy was just past a bad cold, which had put him to bed for a week. The fever was almost gone, but he still had a runny nose, and Denethor had been recently forced to listen to soft sniffles, sneezes, and laboured breathing; normally, that would have made him mad after an hour, but he had been literally buried under paperwork of late, and had barely seen his son when the latter was in bed. He did feel for the poor boy, confined to his chamber, too weak to even read, with only one window to look at, and even that was of small comfort, for it had been raining heavily for that whole week. So, when Faramir stuck his head in the doorway and asked if he could sit in the office with his book, Denethor did not have the heart to turn him away. Much as he disliked the accompaniment of his sniffles.
"Heaps," he sighed, returning to the desk. "They just seem to come all at once. For a whole week, there can be nothing at all, and then you get this."
He went on with the papers, then almost felt Faramir's eyes on himself again. Denethor looked at him, but the boy instantly returned to his book, rubbing his red nose one more time. He seemed rather sleepy, Denethor noticed.
"You should be in bed, Faramir," he said. "I would see you in a better state than this, and to be well again, you need your sleep."
Sleepy grey eyes looked at him again, refusing to close.
"I shall wait until you finish, Father," Faramir said stubbornly. "You look tired too."
Denethor could not help laughing softly. That seemed to annoy his son, and the Steward explained, "This is precisely what your Mother would say, Faramir. With her, that was the surest way of them all to get me to the bedchamber."
No sooner the words left his mouth, he wondered at himself. Strange as it might have seemed, there was no familiar pang in his chest, just a wave of warmth as he remembered Finduilas's innocent tricks. Even his frozen hands felt better.
He left the desk, deciding to leave the work until later, and went to sit beside his son.
"Do you remember her, Faramir?" he asked, trying to look him in the eye.
"No… not really," the boy said sadly. "I remember that she used to draw pictures for us… and once I fell and grazed both my knees, and she put something so stinging on them! And she sang lullabies to me…"
He blushed, embarrassed, no doubt, with the childishness of the memories, but his father seemed interested rather than amused.
"Is that all?" Denethor pressed.
Faramir sighed miserably.
"I…I cannot remember her face," he confessed. "It just slips away. Oh, I know there are portraits of her, but…I think she was different. When I look at the pictures, I just cannot believe that the face is my mother's."
Denethor shuddered slightly at his words. He himself had the same feeling at times: the proud beauty looking down from the canvas was a far cry from his warm and loving wife. It was almost frightening that his son should feel the same.
"And there was something blue. Dark blue," Faramir said unexpectedly.
"I beg your pardon?" Denethor started.
He had to wait a bit for the answer, as Faramir took to blowing his poor nose again. When finished, he said, "I do not know why, but I always think of the colour blue when someone mentions Mother… like some garment. F-father? Did I say something wrong?"
Denethor could only shake his head and press a hand to his brow.
He replied after a while, "It is all right, son. It is just that you seem to remember some things about her. Your mother had a cloak, dark blue with silver stars. I gave it to her, and it was a very… special gift."
He swallowed painfully, but found somewhere a tremulous smile for his son.
Quite unexpectedly, the boy's eyes filled with tears.
"I am sorry, Father," he whispered, and this time the sniffle had nothing to do with his cold.
Denethor grew alarmed. "Now, now, what is that?"
He reached his hand to Faramir's cheek, but the boy shook his head and wiped his eyes with annoyance.
"I…I had better go, Father," he said. "I really need to be in bed, you are right, and you too. Will you…"
Denethor smiled, moved by his son's concern.
"Yes, Faramir, I promise I shall not stay up late. But – I thought I was the father here!" he added teasingly, attempting to lighten the mood.
However, the effort was lost.
"I am sorry…" Faramir said helplessly, clutching the book to his chest.
He rose from the coach, then, quite unexpectedly and awkwardly, took Denethor's hand and brought it to his lips. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes again.
"Sorry…" he repeated, and was gone in seconds, leaving his father rather at a loss what to do, given the number of apologies he had just got from his son, and not quite knowing the reason for them.
Actually, this was planned as a one-shot, but then I decided that I'd rather have shorter chapters. Please review!