A/N: I would like to thank Deandra for betaing this chapter and Lialathuveril for commenting on it, and both of them for being able to endure multiple versions of it.

- - -

Despite the odd look the guard gave her, Lothiriel was very happy as she approached the steps leading to Meduseld's terrace. It was so good to be coming home, and indubitably, this was her home now. And she would see Elfwine again; she'd missed him terribly, even more than she'd expected to, to the point of tears. But with the king away in battle, it would have been inexcusable for her to take Rohan's only heir into danger for her personal comfort.

And now the king was back from battle: the flag flying over Edoras indicated that Eomer had returned earlier than anyone had expected. She was very glad, for she had so much to tell him. Reaching the top of the steps she saw him standing on the far side of the terrace, facing away from her, and her heart leapt. "Eomer!" she called, lifting up her skirts and running across the stones. "Eomer!" But his back remained immobile. Her steps slowed. "Eomer?"

Finally he turned to face her, and she nearly flinched away from the anger in his gaze. The smile slid off of her face. What was wrong?

"If you have returned for your things, my lady, they are packed," he said, and his cold voice was like a physical blow.

She stared at him incredulously, feeling as if the ground had tumbled out from under her feet. Finally she found voice to ask, "You are sending me away... my lord?"

"Sending?" His mouth curled into a smile that had nothing in it of mirth. "You chose to go, of your own free will."

Lothiriel nearly pinched herself to make sure she was not having a nightmare. Her bewilderment grew. "But I did not think you would mind, I..." Her voice trailed off at the look on his face.

"You did not think I would mind?" he repeated, biting off each word as if it pained him. His eyes blazed with cold fury.

"I... no," she said, meeting his eyes squarely, so confused that his expression barely bothered her. "If you'd been here, I would have asked you if you wanted to come with me." His face went completely blank. "Was I wrong? Tell me what I have done!" She stepped towards him.

He stared at her, and she sensed the same merciless confusion that was preying on her mind. A faint crease appeared between his brows. Finally he said, "Where have you been?"

She blinked, taken aback. "Minas Tirith, of course. I--"

"Minas Tirith?" He seemed even more startled by her answer than she'd been by his question. "Why?"

Realization began to dawn for Lothiriel. "Because Tiriel wrote to me and said my mother had fallen off of her horse," she said. "And I was afraid she was dying, but it was all a misunderstanding." She closed her eyes for a moment as the line of text that had sent her galloping to Gondor in a desperate, needless bid to be in time to say goodbye floated in her vision. "Did you not read my letter?"

"What letter?"The anger had faded from Eomer's gaze, and now he just looked as bemused as she felt.

"The letter I left on your desk, by the stack of papers. I did not think you would return before I did, but I left it just in case."

"There is no stack of papers on my desk," Eomer said, and then his expression took on the stillness of sudden realization. He closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them again, said in a low voice, "The courier took the stack to Gondor. He must have thought your letter was part of it."

"Oh," Lothiriel said, and frowned. "But I told Elfhelm and Herefara where I was going. Did they not tell you, either?"

Eomer's face went blank again. "Elfhelm and Herefara left the same day you did." His voice was expressionless.

Finally, everything fell into place. "Then you did not know where I was," Lothiriel said, understanding and faint horror coming simultaneously and belatedly.

But Eomer's next words destroyed her comprehension as he shook his head. "I... thought you were in Dol Amroth," he said, the words seeming to come reluctantly. "For good."

She stared at him, feeling poleaxed. "You thought I left you," she said finally. "I have stayed here through isolation, pain and heartbreak, and you thought I left you?" Her voice cracked. "Do you know nothing of me? Why?"

"Because no one knew where you were," he said tiredly. "Because you took your dowry--"

"My dowry is in my winter trunk!"

He looked confused. "But the chest is gone."

"Yes, I took it because it was the smallest one I had. But I told you in the letter." She added, "Did no one find the dowry when they were packing my possessions?" She couldn't keep the anger and bitterness out of her voice. "Did you not even look?"

"I could not bear to go through your things." He had turned away from her, staring out over the city, and his voice was so low she barely heard it. She started to respond, but the slump of his shoulders, showing a defeat that she had never seen in him before, silenced her. "I am sorry," he said. "I... assumed based on the information I had. Obviously I should not have trusted my own judgment, or that of my advisors. I am sorry."

Lothiriel was quiet for a moment, and she felt her anger fade away at the hollow tone of his voice and the dark circles under his eyes, to be replaced by concern and self-recrimination. Would I not have thought the same thing in his position?

She could not bear to see him so demoralized. "Eomer," she said, slowly going to him. He did not look at her. "Eomer, I would never leave you."

"Honor would keep you here," he said after a moment, turning back to her.

"Honor," she agreed. "And love."

His head snapped up. "For Elfwine."

She took one last step forward, so he had to look at her. "And for you."

His gaze was fixed on hers, and she met it without blinking, willing him to see into her heart and discover the love there for him. "You mean that," he said softly.

"Truly," she whispered. "I do." His hand came up to cup her cheek, and she could not look away from his eyes as he gazed at her. He leaned forward, and then stopped, and she lifted her face up to his. The first brush of his lips across hers was just that, a brush; but then she slid her arms around his neck and their lips met again. With the part of her mind that was not occupied with the gentle pressure of his warm mouth on hers, she felt him pull her closer; the feeling of being in his arms, their bodies snug together, as they slowly kissed, was the most wonderful thing she had ever experienced. After a while she was aware only of his touch, and his smell, and the sensation of his body and mouth against hers, and the feeling of overwhelming love in her heart.

It was a long, long time before they pulled apart.

-

Finally, eons later, their lips slowly separated. Lothiriel rested back on the flats of her feet and looked up into her love's eyes. She thought his heart was as full as hers was; she realized her cheeks were wet. Gently Eomer wiped the tears away, and then leaned forward to softly kiss her again. Then he lightly traced the lines of her face; the happiness-- No. Joy-- in his eyes erased the painful memory of his slump-shouldered defeat. Slowly he smiled, a smile full of wonder, and she smiled back. They didn't need words.

The sharp wind cut through her dress and she shivered. "Shall we go inside?" Eomer asked.

Lothiriel shook her head. "I want to see Elfwine." She'd found one piece of her heart, there on the terrace; now she needed her son.

"He's at Mistress Aeryn's, still." Lothiriel nodded; she'd taken him there herself, along with most of his clothes, not knowing how long she'd be gone. Eomer offered her his arm, and when she took it with a smile for the familiar gesture, tucked her hand into his.

At Mistress Aeryn's home, the eyes of Elfwine's guard widened when he saw the two of them, and then his face snapped into impassivity and he bowed deeply. Lothiriel wondered, with a sense of nagging worry, just how far the story of her supposed desertion had spread, but now was not the time to dwell on it. She had Eomer, and she would soon have Elfwine. That was all that mattered.

At Eomer's knock, Aeryn opened the door to her cottage and curtsied. If she was surprised to see Lothiriel, she did not show it. "The Prince is sleeping, Majesty, Highness," she said, standing back so they could enter. "I was just about to wake him to see if he was hungry." She started to put her son down so she could get Elfwine, but Lothiriel lifted him from the cradle by the fire; he shifted in his sleep but did not wake. "I will be in the back room," Aeryn said, and curtsied again before retreating behind the closed door.

Lothiriel sat on the bench by the hearth and cradled him in her arms, feeling a happiness beyond reason at holding him again. How I have missed my family! Eomer sat next to her, and she shifted closer, leaning into him; he put his arm around her waist and reached up to touch Elfwine's head with his other hand. With her forefinger, Lothiriel lightly traced her son's features, marveling all over again at how wonderful he was. She kissed his scant golden hair, smelled his special scent and whispered to him, though he could not hear her; it seemed like he'd grown beyond belief while she was gone. "I don't think I ever want to leave either of you again," she said softly, and felt Eomer's arm tighten around her.

At that moment Elfwine woke, and his eyes focused on her face for the first time. He smiled and gurgled happily, and she smiled back, overcome with joy. But then his face screwed up into a frown and he started to cry; he was hungry. She tried to nurse him, but her milk was very low. She'd nursed Finduilas, Eowyn's daughter, on a regular basis, but that had ended a week ago. Elfwine refused to suckle, and turned his head from side to side when she tried to guide him to her other breast.

She sighed. "I'll have to leave him with Aeryn," she said reluctantly, stroking Elfwine's hair again. She didn't want to give him up so soon, but he was insistent; so she stood and straightened her dress, and knocked on the back door.

"I must leave Elfwine with you," she told Aeryn when the wet nurse opened the door. "I... I don't have enough milk for him." Unwillingly, she handed Elfwine back, letting her hands linger on him for a moment. Then she made herself step back, and saw sympathetic understanding in the other woman's eyes. "I want to thank you," she added. "I could not have left him if I had not known he would be in such good care."

"You're welcome, Your Highness," Aeryn said. "I enjoy having him. He's much less trouble than my Hama." Then she asked, "Did you find your family well?"

In her rush to get out of Edoras before the incoming herds trapped her there another day, Lothiriel had told Aeryn only that she was going to her family. Belatedly she realized that this would have seemed support for the idea of her desertion. "Yes, thank you," she said. Elfwine was still fussing, so she thanked Aeryn again and let the woman close the door to nurse.

Eomer was waiting where she had left him, and she walked into his arms and felt them close around her, leaning against his chest. "Will you be all right?" he asked gently.

She nodded. "Yes," she said. "I just... I missed him. I still do." She swallowed at the memory of the first two nights on the road to Minas Tirith, when she'd cried herself to sleep from Elfwine's absence. "I missed you," she whispered, and added, "very much," reaching up to touch his cheek.

His eyes were dark and tender as he looked down at her. "I missed you," he replied. "Very much." Gently, he cupped the side of her face with his hand. "Oh, Lothiriel..." His voice was suddenly low and rough with emotion.

"I know," she whispered. She tightened her arms around him, and his mouth came down on hers in a sensation that she was quickly becoming very happily accustomed to. She shifted closer to him, moving her arms up as his hand cradled the nape of her neck, pulling her closer still. In the intensity of his kiss she felt stark need, and the shadow of remembered despair. Willingly she returned his kiss with just as much fervency, not just because she wanted to soothe away his troubling memories but because it felt so good.

A sound startled her into breaking away, and she felt her cheeks burn with the heat of a thousand suns as she saw Aeryn closing the door to the back room again. "Forgive me, I did not mean to disturb you," she said, and her face was almost solemn, with only a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I was just going to ask if you wanted me to bring Elfwine to the Great Hall after he nursed, so you could have him until it was time for him to sleep?"

"Yes," Lothiriel agreed. "Please." Aeryn had already started to nurse Elfwine, and he was over her shoulder now, with a shawl around her chest to preserve her modesty. The sight of her son in another woman's arms prompted a surge of unreasonable jealousy, and she had to choke it down. Eomer somehow guessed what she was feeling, for he gently touched her elbow, but the sensation only made her blush fiercely again.

"You may stay as long as you like," Aeryn said, and there was definite laughter lurking in her voice now. "I won't interrupt you again."

"No thank you," Lothiriel said. "We'll go now." Aeryn curtsied, her cheeks beginning to dimple from suppressed mirth, and closed the door again. Lothiriel looked over at Eomer; he stepped closer, and met her eyes, and she saw chagrined amusement in his gaze, too. Gently he kissed her on the forehead, and she laughed softly.

"Shall we go?" he asked. She nodded; now that the initial rush of euphoria had worn off, she realized she was hungry, cold, tired, and dirty from traveling.

"Please," she said, and took his arm again.

As they mounted the steps, she realized that the doorwards would have witnessed their reunion-- all of it-- and resigned herself to the story being all over Edoras by morning. Still, there were worse things she could be gossiped about than kissing her husband. Like leaving him.

Inside, the Great Hall was warm and noisy as the servants cleared the remains of the evening meal. Meduseld had dined early that day, she thought; the sun was just then setting. A few nobles still sat in the corner, and looked up when they entered, but significantly, they did not look surprised. The news spread quickly. Of course; not only would the news of her escort's approach have caused a stir, but everyone who had seen her between the stables and the terrace would have remarked on it.

She and Eomer walked to one end of one of the long tables, and he sent a servant for some supper; as she was sitting down, one of the noblewomen approached and curtsied. It was Lady Cynwyn. "Welcome back, Your Highness," she said. "It is good to see you again." Her eyes flickered briefly over to Eomer, and Lothiriel thought she detected a hint of coldness in the other woman's expression, but it was gone too quickly for her to be sure.

"Thank you," she said. "It is very good to be back. How is your daughter?"

"Perfectly well, now," Lady Cynwyn answered. "She has all her strength back."

Lothiriel smiled. "I am glad to hear it." Lady Cynwyn curtsied again, and went back to the other nobles.

Soon people began to drift in and out, and she knew it was to see her, but for the most part they let her eat in peace. But there was still much she and Eomer had to talk about-- she had heard nothing of the northern campaign-- and for a while her bites were intermittent. After that subject was exhausted, she applied herself to her stew for a few moments; then he said, "Tell me of Minas Tirith."

She swallowed. "Mother had gone there to see Amrothos," she said, "for he was... unhappy." Eomer nodded; he knew how her brother's crippling leg injury sometimes caused him to despair. "She was staying with them, and so did I." She told him briefly of the pleasure she had taken in being reunited with that part of her family, whom she had not seen in over a year. "I also spent time with Eowyn."

"How is she?" Eomer asked quickly.

Lothiriel hesitated. "You know Finduilas is still sickly, and under the care of the healers." Eomer nodded again. "Eowyn cannot return to Ithilien because of it, and she has the depression that comes to some women after birth. She was lonely and she missed Faramir very much." Eomer looked worried, and stared into the fire. "I introduced her to Tiriel," she told him. "Somehow they had never met. I think the friendship of another woman will help when Faramir goes back to Ithilien, if she cannot go with him." The tight lines on Eomer's face eased as he heard this; Eowyn had spent little time in Minas Tirith, and consequently had few good friends there. "She spent most of the time with us, until Faramir returned. I think we made her happier." Eomer took her hand in silent gratitude, and she twined her fingers with his.

After a few moments someone called Eomer away, and her friends continued to welcome her back. Lady Eambreth sat down across from her, but they had barely exchanged greetings when one of her orphans came running up, covered from head to toe in mud. "Elwyn sent me to tell you that the geese are loose again," he-- she? it was impossible to tell-- gasped.

"Oh dear," Lady Eambreth said, and exchanged a wry look with Lothiriel as she stood. "I'd better go."

"Wait," Lothiriel said hastily. "Am I imagining things, or are some of the women unhappy with the king?"

"You are not mistaken," Lady Eambreth said. "Your ladies have been furious with him for believing you had left him. We did not know where you were, either, but we knew you would be back." Then the orphan began to tug on her hand, and with a quick apology she was gone.

But the subject stayed on Lothiriel's mind. When Eomer returned, she quietly asked him, "What happens now?"

"What do you mean?"

"Will there be..." she hesitated. "Repercussions, from the rumors and my absence?"

"Your explanation will be heard, and it will be believed and understood," he said. "Rohirrim are honest, and you are their queen. They will not doubt your word."

"But if they do?" she asked. "There are some here who still do not like having a Gondorian queen."

"Then the escort will confirm your story," he said. "Don't worry."

Lothiriel shook her head. "I can't help thinking that this will cause trouble sometime," she said quietly.

"Those who would use this to stir up trouble are inclined to make trouble anyway," Eomer said, and his mouth tightened. "If they would publicly doubt your word, and that of your escort, and my belief in you, and the word of Eowyn and your family, then I am more concerned about their stance on other matters than this. And they will not be believed." Lothiriel was still uneasy, and it must have shown on her face. "Think of those who have greeted you," Eomer said. "Have any of them expressed disbelief, or greeted you with reticence?"

"No," she said. "But these are my friends, my partisans."

Eomer smiled. "Lothiriel, most of Edoras are your partisans. You are their queen, and very much well liked." She let this final reassurance ease her worries; time enough for them if-- as she hoped it would not-- the subject ever arose as a matter of contention. Let me not have jeopardized Rohan's peace with my thoughtlessness. "Lothiriel?" he asked, and she looked up again. "If anyone does say anything of the sort to you, tell me." His smile was gone, and she did not think he had noticed that his hand was clenched tightly around his ale mug.

Eomer was called away again, to speak to a man in messenger's garb, and as he did so Lady Celgwyn sat down at the table. Lothiriel wondered if she had waited for just such an occasion so she would not have to speak to Eomer. "Welcome home," the other woman said with a faint smile.

"It is, very much so," Lothiriel murmured. "I am so glad to be back. Minas Tirith was nice, but in some ways it was lacking." She'd been startled to find herself homesick for Edoras, even when she was surrounded by the family she had so desperately missed.

"We are glad you are back, too," Lady Celgwyn said, but Lothiriel saw the hint of dryness in her voice and the quick flicker of her eyes towards Eomer.

"Lady Celgwyn, please don't be angry with him on my behalf," she said. "He has been through enough."

"What he has been through has been of his own making," Lady Celgwyn said. "For someone usually so sensible, he's been remarkably foolish. Anyone with eyes should have known you were coming back."

"There was much to indicate otherwise," Lothiriel said softly. "Neither of us were blameless. Do not hold it against him."

There was a short pause, then Lady Celgwyn said, "For your sake, then, I will not."

"Thank you."

Lady Celgwyn then inquired about her trip to Minas Tirith. "You found your family well, then?"

"Not... completely," Lothiriel said, thinking of Amrothos's dejection and Eowyn's melancholy. "But they will be better in time, I hope."

"And you found Elfwine well?"

"He is well, although..." Lothiriel sighed. "My milk has nearly dried up. I would very much like to nurse him again."

"Ask Brinweld for a tea of fenugreek and thistle," Lady Celgwyn said. "That will help. But it will be hard work," she warned. "You will have to be patient to get him to suckle again."

"I am willing to be patient," Lothiriel promised.

Lady Celgwyn told her the news from Edoras-- the orphanage prospered; there had been a fire in the western part of the city two days prior, but it had been quickly extinguished; Lady Eambreth and Leofwine were to be married on Litha, the longest day of the year; Lady Robrym was pregnant after seven years of thinking herself barren-- and after a few more moments, left, saying she would see her the next day. Shortly after, Eomer returned. "I am sorry," he said. "Messages came in from Helm's Deep."

"Is all well there?"

"Yes. They've destroyed the wargs and are trying to strengthen the barriers for the lower pastures now."

"Wargs?" Lothiriel asked, but just then the great doors opened again and a man in the livery of Dol Amroth hastened in. He looked battered and weatherbeaten, and in his hand he held a leather message pouch. The man strode quickly up the room to Eomer, dropped on one knee before him, and offered the pouch.

"Your Majesty," he said, his face serious. Then he glanced up, and saw Lothiriel. His eyes widened. "Lady Lothiriel!"

Confused, she looked to Eomer for an explanation. "My counselors wrote to Dol Amroth when they discovered you were missing," he said. "Imrahil did not respond, and I thought he was... protecting you. I wrote again to make sure you had gotten there safely."

"My father was in Minas Tirith with us," she said. "He had gotten Tiriel's letter, too. He left a few days before I did."

Eomer blinked, and then closed his eyes, looking faintly appalled. "This could not have happened more unfortunately if it had been orchestrated," he muttered. Lothiriel took his hand, and he opened his eyes again. "Was Prince Imrahil alarmed at the messages?"

"No, Your Majesty," the messenger said, "but he was puzzled, as he believed her to be in Minas Tirith."

"I will write to him now and explain everything," Lothiriel said. "The message can return with you, if you are willing." The courier nodded his assent, and she instructed a nearby servant to see that he got a hot substantial meal, a bath, and a place to sleep; she knew that among the Rohirrim she did not have to tell anyone to have his horse cared for. Then she and Eomer rose and left the hall.

It was startling to enter the solar and find her trunks against the wall, and for a moment she stopped, silent. Eomer's touch on her shoulder was compassionate, but almost hesitant, and when she looked up again, he was watching her. "Are you angry?" he asked.

She swallowed. "No," she said. "Why should I be? You told me my things were packed. I just did not... expect to find them so." She touched the tops of the trunks, then opened one. There among her winter clothes were the woven sacks she had placed inside before she had left.

Eomer came up behind her. "Your dowry," he said quietly.

Lothiriel sighed. "I was very careless," she murmured. "Will you forgive me?"

But Eomer shook his head. "You left me a letter where you expected I would find it," he said. "You told members of my Council where you were going--"

"I would have told more," she explained, "but I thought they would tell those who needed to know, and I was afraid that if I was trapped in Edoras for another day I might be... too late." She swallowed again. The whole way to Minas Tirith her thoughts had been preoccupied by the thought of her mother dying. When she had walked into Amrothos and Tiriel's courtyard and found her mother standing there, obviously well and healthy, she had nearly collapsed from shock and relief.

Eomer took her hand, as if he knew what she was thinking. "You had nothing to do with your father's not answering my message," he went on, "and your dowry was here the entire time."

"I could have borrowed a different trunk, at least," she said. But she'd not thought it necessary after explaining in her letter to Eomer why she had taken her dower chest and where her dowry was.

Eomer took her other hand. "I forgive you," he said. "Will you forgive me for doubting you?"

"Of course," she said. "But you had--" He kissed her, and ended the subject.

-

Later that night, after she had written to her father, bathed away the travel dust and seen Elfwine again, Lothiriel lay cradled in Eomer's arms, her head resting back against his chest as it had that cold night so many weeks before. His body heat radiated through his shirt and her thin nightgown to warm her, and she felt the slow rise and fall of his breathing as if it were her own body. It was too trivial to say she was happy; but there was a profound sense of rightness with the world, and she was deeply, humbly thankful.

"Eomer?" she whispered.

"Yes?" His breath warmed the back of her neck.

"Did I tell you yet that I love you?" She turned in his arms to face him.

"Yes," he said, gently stroking her cheek with one rough thumb. "But miracles can bear repeating."

"I love you," she said again, and his lips curved up into a smile, and he shifted forward to gently kiss her.

"I love you," he whispered when they pulled apart, and after a moment she leaned her head against his chest and listened to his strong heartbeat. His arms tightened around her, and Lothiriel made a quiet little noise of contentment.

"I realized I loved you in Minas Tirith," she said after a few moments. "It was when Faramir came back unexpectedly from Ithilien, and surprised Eowyn; and watching her, seeing how happy she was, I realized... if I were to see you that moment, I would feel the same way." The logs in the hearth crackled sharply, startling her for a moment. "And I knew then it wasn't just respect or friendship I felt for you. It had to be love." She tried to hold back her tears as she went from tender memory to guilt. "I'm so sorry. I've been so blind in this."

"Lothiriel..."

But she kept speaking, her voice uneven. "I did not recognize what I felt for you as love." She shook her head. "I loved you when you rode out of Edoras to fight the orcs and I wondered if I would ever see you again. I loved you when I broke both our hearts by telling you I did not. I may have even loved you when you asked me why I married you, and I was too afraid to ask the same of you, because in my heart I couldn't bear to hear what you would say."

"Lothiriel," Eomer whispered, "I am the last person who will accuse you of being foolish." Gently, he kissed her, and then pulled her close again. "Let it go," he murmured. Slowly, she nodded again.

After a few moments, she asked, "Why did you ask me to marry you?"

Eomer was silent for a while, tracing gentle patterns on her arm. "You seemed kind," he said at last. "And calming. The sort of woman I wanted by my side."

Lothiriel half-smiled at the irony. "You wanted to marry me because you thought I was kind, and I accepted because I thought you were honorable," she said. "What a tangle we could have made of things." She shook her head. "What a tangle we nearly did make of things."

"All that is past now," he murmured.

She nodded, and sank down into the pillow, becoming still as she observed his face. His gaze was attentive and serious as he watched her watch him, and she wondered why his eyes had never caught her attention like that before. "We have the rest of our lives," she said finally. "Together." Slowly, hesitantly, she leaned forward and kissed him. "I love you," she whispered, and turned so she could rest her head back against his chest once more.

"And I love you." The undercurrent of his voice made her face flush with warmth, and his lips brushed the nape of her neck, and then the base, and she shivered.

"Eomer..." she said reluctantly as his caresses continued to travel down the curve of her shoulder. "I don't have the lennis yet."

He gently tugged aside her nightgown to kiss the edge of her shoulder. "I know," he said, and she felt his smile against her skin. "Don't worry."

Worry was not what I had in mind, she thought, and felt her face heat further. The feel of his mouth on her bare skin produced a melting warmth in the pit of her stomach, and she knew he must be feeling something similar. She wondered if sense would be able to prevail over sensation… But then he pressed his lips lightly to the top of her head, and she lay back, and let her eyes drift close.

"Was our wedding night so bad for you?" he asked a few moments later.

It took her a moment to rouse her brain out of its pleased stupor to answer. "It was painful," she admitted. "I was sore afterwards." She felt an almost imperceptible change in Eomer's body; he did not tense, but some of the relaxation left him. "But more than that I was... ashamed." She turned to face him. "You were a stranger, and I'd lain with you," she said, gently tracing the lines of his face. "We'd reduced something that was about love to politics and breeding."

He breathed out slowly, a long, silent sigh. "I knew it was awkward, and I thought we could wait until we knew each other better to try for children, but I did not realize... I'm sorry," he said. "I did not even think until it was too late... I'm sorry."

"It's all right," she said, touching his face again. And it was. On the way back from Minas Tirith she'd realized that the way her heart sped up whenever he looked at her a certain way meant she'd gotten over her wedding night a long time ago. Maybe they should talk to men about the marriage bed instead of women, she thought ruefully. It might save a nervous bride a worse time than mine.

Eomer caught the hand that was tracing his cheekbones and lifted it to his lips, and then leaned forward to kiss her again. In the gentleness, the tenderness, she felt a silent apology. "I should never have hurt you," he murmured when they shifted apart.

"Eomer," she said, catching his gaze. "It's all right." And then, because she still saw the shadow of self-recrimination in his eyes, she added, "Let it go." He smiled a little, and nodded.

"It will be better next time," he said. "I swear it to you."

"I believe you," she said. "I trust you." She settled against him again, and closed her eyes.

But sleep would not come; she was still too alert from the events of the day. Evidently Eomer felt the same way, for she felt him shift against her, and looked at him as he sat up. "I want to show you something," he explained. Thinking they were going somewhere, she glanced around for her robe as she stood, but he shook his head and led her over to the window.

She looked out and then back at him as he sat on the stone ledge. "Look," he said, pointing up, and she sat down beside him and looked. The night was clear, and there was no moon; the only light came from the brilliant stars. "There's Leod and Felarof," Eomer said, tracing a shape with his forefinger, "and Bema the Hunter."

Lothiriel squinted at this last one. "Where?" He took her hand and guided it so she could see the pattern, the streaming hair and the upraised horn. Then he pointed out the sheaf of wheat and the bucket of mead, and the sword and the plowshare, and the harp and the hare. "That one was always my sister's favorite," he said, gesturing, and Lothiriel focused her eyes, trying to discern a recognizable pattern in the bright dots.

"It's a shield-maiden," she guessed.

Eomer laughed. "Yes."

By now she had settled against his chest, and his arm was wrapped around her waist. "When I was little," she said after a moment, "my father would sometimes let my brothers take his cutter out into the bay to spend the night. It was a great treat when they would take me with them, and we would lie on the deck and they would teach me the stars."

"I used to watch the stars when I was on campaign with the eored," he said. "Whenever I had trouble sleeping, I would look up at them, and I would know that there was one thing the Enemy could never defile."

"They're beautiful," she murmured, feeling her eyelids beginning to droop. "Thank you for showing them to me."

"I could cope during the day," he said suddenly, a moment later. "I could keep myself so busy that I didn't have time to think. But at night... at night I couldn't sleep, and I would stare out at the stars and wonder where you were. If I would ever see you again." Lothiriel felt her throat constrict. "And how I would live the rest of my life without love."

"Eomer--" Her eyes filled with tears.

"No, please don't cry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to upset you. Don't you see? You haven't gone. You've fixed all that." He touched her hair. "You've healed all my hurts."

She nearly cried in earnest then, from emotion and happiness and the overwhelming events of the last month, but deep breaths kept more than a few drops of moisture from rolling down her cheeks. "Thank you for that," she said softly.

"Do you remember what we were at the beginning?" Eomer asked a bit later, his voice a rumble against her back. Lothiriel nodded sleepily, and was filled with a fresh sense of wonder. A year ago this man had been a stranger to her, and she had pictured long grey years of an awkward relationship. But now... now she never wanted to be parted from him.

"I never thought we would get here from there," she said.

"Nor I." His voice was suddenly husky. "Nor I."

"But we did," she whispered, feeling her eyes drifting close.

She felt him nod. "We did." His lips brushed the top of her head.

"I love you," she said one last time, and then Lothiriel lay back in her husband's arms, happy and content.

Reconcile v. 1. To reestablish a close relationship between. 2. To settle or resolve. 3. To bring oneself to accept. 4. To make compatible or consistent.

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A/N: So, there you have it. Thank you to all of you for staying with the story to the end. I hope it satisfied.

In addition to the thanks owed for this chapter, I would also like to thank JadeSabre and Finduilas88, and again Deandra and especially Lialathuveril, for their comments, criticisms, questions, suggestions, encouragement, patience, threatened death by Nazgul steed if I did not keep writing, willingness to hold long early-morning conversations about the story, and concussions rendered to my main character. This story would not be the same without them. For one thing, it would not be done yet.

The stories of most of the characters introduced in Reconciliation will be continued in Tales of the Orphanage, to be posted soon. I am relatively sure that I will be staying in fanfiction and in this fandom, and my next Eomer/Lothiriel scenario will be Fugitive, to be written after I take a break to work on original fiction and reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I am also trying to compile a playlist for this story. A small part of it can be found at imeem dot com by a search for Reconciliation; if I ever complete it, I will post it here. I would like to note in passing that the dancing at the end of chapter 20 was inspired by a disco song and the phrase "Do the wave for Boromir the Disco King".

That's it! Thank you, and good night.