She had never meant for it to happen, and later she would wonder what had possessed her. But on the eve of battle, lying in a small tent as a storm raged outside, all the fear and despair that she had kept hidden from others, and herself, came to the surface. She tried to fight it, keep it hidden from her companion sharing the tent, but in the end the tears won.
She felt his hand upon her shoulder. "My lady?" he asked.
She turned away, not wanting him to see her weakness. She wanted to tell him she was fine, but the despair in her heart choked her words.
She felt his hand on her head, stroking her hair like her mother had when she was a child waking from a bad dream. She regretted bringing him then. She knew that she would die in the coming battle, but now she realized he would die with her. Tomorrow this newfound friend would die and it was her doing.
"I'm sorry I brought you into this," she finally managed to whisper. He pulled his hand away. She turned towards him. In the dark she could barely see his face.
"Why, my lady?" He sounded a bit angry, probably expecting that she, too, was doubting his ability.
"Because we are going to die tomorrow, you and I," she said. "I can accept it for myself, but I regret that you will die with me."
"My lady, please..." He fumbled for her hand and took it, squeezing it. "If we are to die, then I am proud to die with you. It is my choice to make. But you cannot give up hope. Don't give up on life just yet."
She raised her hand, finding his face in the dark. His skin was hot against her cold palm. "I no longer have hope," she said. "I feel as if I'm already dead." She felt his tears and envied his people's ability to show their feelings easily. She felt her own tears start again, but this time she didn't stop them.
He lay next to her, pulling her to him. His arms went around her shoulders and she lay her head on his chest. She clung to him, clung to his warmth and lost herself in the beating of his heart. He was so full of life and in his arms she felt the stirrings of hope, that perhaps they would survive the coming day.
When he started to pull away, she held him close. "No. Please..." She shifted until they were face to face. She could feel his breath on her cheek. "Stay with me."
"My lady," he whispered, "it isn't right. We shouldn't even be sharing a tent."
She made the decision then, that she would wonder about later. All she knew was that she needed him more than anything at that moment. He gave her hope, was keeping her alive. She closed the short distance between their faces and kissed him. He tasted of pipe-weed.
He pulled away. "My lady...?"
"I need you," she said, pleading. "I need you to make me feel alive. Please."
She touched his cheek. She kissed him again and this time he responded.
The Fields of Pelennor lay before them, a gulf of yellow and green before the dark line of their enemy. But she felt no despair, because she had hope. She was alive.
She pulled her arm tighter around her companion and he squeezed her hand in return. The morning had been far less awkward than she had imagined it would be. There had been some initial embarrassment as they searched for clothing in the light of dawn, fully visible to each other for the first time. Then the absurdity of it struck them, that after their intimate night they would be embarrassed by nakedness, and they laughed. They were at ease then and talked. She thanked him for healing her despair. They vowed to remain friends if they survived the war, even promised to name children after each other.
He had given her hope and she would do whatever she could to repay him. She would do whatever she could to keep him alive.
"Whatever happens, stay with me. I will look after you."
Mid-Year's Day, 1419
"He has asked me to marry him."
They sat in a secluded garden of Minas Tirith, away from the celebrations of the King's coronation. He looked away from her for a moment, then turned to her and spoke.
"Did you accept?"
"Good," he said, perhaps a bit too quickly. "I wish only for you to be happy and he is a good man." He looked away again and she took his hand.
"Are you sure?"
He looked back at her and smiled. "I admit a little jealousy and a bit of a broken heart. But, truly, I am happy for you."
She didn't think he was telling the truth. She could see it in his eyes.
He looked down at their entwined fingers. "Have you told him?"
"Yes. I felt it was only fair to tell him that his wife would not be a maiden. But he says he understands, that we are apt to do things we may regret later in time of war. He doesn't know it was you. He didn't want to know."
"Do you regret it?" he asked.
"No." She kissed him then, a gentle kiss of friendship. "You are a dear friend, Meriadoc Brandybuck."
He squeezed her hand. "You are a dear friend, Éowyn of Rohan."