Notes: I'm afraid that I must apologize; I have no excuse for overlooking the discrepancy of Eowyn's literacy in the last chapter. Those who raised the issue are completely right! She could not have read the missive from Eomer if she was illiterate (and also, I realize, why would she be illiterate and not her brother?) I fear my brilliant little idea of having her illiterate and thereby having Faramir teach her was not so brilliant after all. I suppose if I had an editor he/she would have caught that. But I don't--you are my editors.

I don't know if they had blue jays in Middle Earth, but I'm just going to say they did. Why shouldn't they? Enjoy this final chapter, and don't forget to review. :-)

Chapter Twenty: A Life Half Lived

Somehow, the day passed. Faramir could not concentrate on his work, and by mid afternoon he gave up and, grabbing his cloak, brushed past Thailan and left the house. Thailan knew him well enough, now, to know not to ask him what was bothering him—Faramir would speak if he wanted to, and if he didn't it would only cause him pain to reveal the workings of his heart. Thailan simply went back to the work he was doing to help Faramir.

The walk to the Houses of Healing was not long, but Faramir did not go straight there. He had left his house sure of what he was doing and ready to face Eowyn, but as his steps drew him closer, his courage left him. He turned down several side streets until he came upon a small, dark square with an abandoned fountain in the middle. In the shadows along one wall, he sank down and breathed heavily, trying to release all the emotions he knew he could not take with him to the Houses.

He didn't stay long, and forcing himself to breath regularly, he made his way back to the Houses of Healing. He almost turned down another alley, but in a surge of self-loathing he forced himself to walk up to the Houses. If he could face all the shadow and pain of Mordor and survive, he told himself, he could face the Lady of Rohan; he must face the Lady of Rohan. It was for her sake, he reminded himself, not for his. He had to help her. But Eru, what it would cost him.

By the time he had walked through the Houses, smiling and speaking kindly to the healers and patients who greeted him, and entered the bright sunlight of the garden, his heart had slowed somewhat. He breathed the familiar air of the gardens and all of the memories of those days came rushing back to him—the physical pain, plaguing him and reminding him of being left behind; the things he had learned here and come to grips with; the emotions he had struggled against. And, of course, the feeling that these gardens excited in him, reminding him of another person and the love he had found.

He saw her long before she saw him. She stood on the walls, shining in the sunlight like a goddess; her dress was of the most vibrant white he had ever seen. Her hair, which had been bound the last time he had seen her, was now down, flowing over her shoulders and being lifted and swayed by the wind. And he knew, from her stance, that she was searching the fields just as she had done for days and weeks. He wondered how much time she spent there, now that he was not in the Houses with her, and what kinds of thoughts she experienced. He knew they must be dark thoughts, and he suddenly had an insatiable desire to turn those thoughts towards the light.

Just as his steps had been drawn away from the Houses before, now he felt his feet being drawn inadvertently to the wall. His mind, which had been so occupied with questions of what he would say and do when he got to Eowyn, was now thinking of nothing but her. She filled his senses—her whole being radiated something that captured him and drove him on to be by her side. And his heart, yearning so much to be with her and to have her return his love, gave him false encouragement until he almost expected her to turn around and tell him of her newfound love.

When she did turn—after he had climbed the steps of the wall and walked toward her with his steady, firm footsteps—his world came to a grinding stop at her long look. He saw so many emotions in her, but none of them was love. When she had first turned his quick eye saw, just for an instant, something he couldn't understand, but as soon as she really looked at him he saw her grief, her embarrassment, and even some anger. All the emotions were reflected in her clear gray eyes, shining so brightly in her pale, thin face.

"Hello," she finally said, and her voice said everything her face didn't. He watched her blush a little and then lift her chin, apparently resolute on being strong and resilient. Up close she looked even more beautiful to him; she wore a white dress with a gold belt around her hips, and the way the sun glanced off her hair into his eyes startled and surprised him. He noticed, too, that though her face was paler and thinner, there was something about her eyes that bespoke of a clearer understanding of her fate—as if she had finally thought about the truth of her life and, though still unhappy with it, had accepted it.

"Hello," he returned, and as the simple word left his mouth he felt all the hope and peace that had built up over the past few weeks die within him. He was left with an aching sense of loss, and he struggled to find words to cover his sudden grief so that she would not see how much this hurt him. "I—how are you doing?" he finally came out with, and immediately felt stupid.

Eowyn looked at Faramir as he stood before her, and she sensed something in him that she had never seen before. She wasn't sure if it was because he had changed or if she had not been looking closely before, but there was a new depth to his angular jaw and deep eyes that spoke of long suffering and painful triumph. She saw that he had struggled, as he had not before, with the shadow of his past and his new role in life, and had finally overcome it and found some measure of peace. Yet she also saw that something was causing him deep pain, at this very moment. All the emotions she had felt over the last few weeks came to a painful climax in her heart, and she caught her breath as she looked at his lithe body under his cloak, his uniform of Gondor with a broad silver tree over his chest, his dark, windblown hair, and his pained face. The expression of hurt she saw in his eyes was, besides being unfathomable, so attractive she wondered what was wrong with her.

Do I love him? she wondered, and the thought scared her. Stop it! she told herself. There is no question now…I will not be hurt again, and I will not show him this weakness within me. To cover for her pain, she said, "I have been getting by. The weeks have gone slowly, for me, but I imagine they have not been long enough for you."

"No," Faramir said, not sure whether he was agreeing or disagreeing with her. "I—it's been busy," he said. As the words died between them he forced himself to stop this idiotic muttering and pulled his shoulders straighter. "The people are excited and triumphant—their passion for rebuilding will not last long, but it does great good now."

Eowyn nodded, at once relieved and disappointed at his words. Had she wished to find something that hurt him? She didn't understand how she could be that cruel, and yet at his calm words she felt a sense of acute sadness. She had thought, for a moment, that he felt something for her, but as she lowered her head and fingered the edge of her cloak, which lay on the wall, she knew that she was alone in her relief at seeing him. For one reason or another, he did not want to be there. That much she knew, and it caused her to grow distant and cool.

"Are you not chilled?" he asked suddenly, and his gaze fell to her cloak. The rich folds were spread over the rough wall like the flash of a blue jay's tail among the dead sticks of bushes in winter. Faramir's breath caught in his throat as he saw that it was his mother's cloak, and her fingers—so delicate and white—were toying with the silver embroidery around the throat. He looked up, and their eyes met. For a moment he was breathless as she returned his gaze; she saw reflected in his eyes her confusion and wonder and hurt, and she broke the contact by looking down into the city. Her hand dropped to her side.

But the glance had given Faramir new boldness, and he felt a surge of hope burst within him, which he couldn't stop. Something about her look had made him feel suddenly that she was not as cold and forlorn as he supposed, and mindful of his promise to the Warden, he placed his hand on the edge of the cloak. "Eowyn, why do you stay here when your brother has begged you to join him at the field of Cormallen?" His words were bold, yet his voice was soft and breathy, as if he was afraid of her answer.

At his words Eowyn looked up and her lips parted in a moment of panic. Her mind spun, wondering what he could mean by such words? Someone had to have told him about the letter, which meant that the Warden, perhaps, had asked him to come see her. If that was the case, she felt, then Faramir had only come because of a promise he could not break. He was a man of honor, and he no doubt felt that he should help a friend out. She was simply that to him—a friend. And yet her heart would not listen, for she had seen the flash of pain in his eyes and knew that there was more in his heart than her mind would have her believe. Lowering her head, she murmured, "Do you not know?"

He had anticipated any answer but that. He had steadied himself for denials, coolness, accusations, passion, and melancholy. Yet her words—so simple and direct—threw him off balance for a moment. Still, he recalled previous talks in which they had been honest with each other, sometimes painfully so, and he knew that her words came from deep within her heart. Where at another time he might had played it safe and dragged up words and phrases from his years at court to cushion the conversation, he now felt only the direct, honest words of the Captain exit his mouth. His eyes cleared and he said in a soft, steady voice, "There are two reasons, I think, but which one it is I cannot say."

Eowyn had waited for his words, and when she heard them her heart at once dropped and bounded forth. The uncertainty of what his words meant, and if he really did know her reasons, cast a sliver of fear through her, and she snapped at him, "Do not play at riddles! Speak plainly."

Her impatience only seemed to make Faramir more cautious; he suddenly knew that they stood on the edge of a cliff, and one misstep would send them forever crashing to the bottom. He lowered his head, and looking at the delicate silver threads running through the cloak, said, "If you wish, Lady: you refuse to go because only your brother sent for you, and while you are grateful for that you realize you would have to look on Aragorn, Elendil's heir, in his triumph, and you know that would bring you sorrow." He paused for a moment, gathering his shreds of thoughts about him and forcing himself to continue speaking what was in his heart. He had never been so brutally honest with anyone before, and he had the vague feeling that either his words would build the bridge they so desperately needed, or destroy their friendship forever. "Or perhaps it is because I do not go, and you wish to be near me. And maybe it is both of these reasons, and you yourself do not know which it is." Summoning up his heart, filled with love, and his courage, he raised his eyes to look at her face and asked, "Eowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?"

His words died between them as Eowyn stared into his face. She could not believe that he had said them, and she felt them penetrate her soul like a dagger. His face held nothing except tension, and even his eyes were veiled. His words, which had at first elated her, now sent a shock of fear through her veins. He had said nothing about loving her, she suddenly realized. He had only asked if she loved him. Suddenly the relief she had felt at hearing him speak of love turned into dread; was he not simply asking her if she loved him, and whether or not he should be annoyed? To him, no doubt, her love was like that of a schoolgirl's for her teacher, or a maid's for her master. There was no hope in his face, no gleam of returned love—there was only that awful tension and fear.

Eowyn raised her chin, unwilling to be another man's unwanted lover. Her proud spirit would not bear another such rejected admission, and yet she could not deny what was now plain to her, as she watched him breathing quickly in the fragrant air. "I wish to be loved by another," she finally said, stepping back a pace and clasping her hands together to stop them from shaking. "But I want no man's pity."

Her words were harsher than she had intended, and she at once saw the hurt he couldn't hide. It confused her, but he himself raised his chin and continued to look her in the eye. He knew that he could not stop now, and his words flowed forth from the place he had been keeping them for weeks. "That I know," he said, as softly as before, but with a greater sense of impending loss. "You wished for the love of Lord Aragorn, because to you he was great and worthy, and you wanted to have renown and be lifted above all the menial things you had witnessed crawling on the earth. As a great captain seems to a young soldier you thought him admirable. And he is admirable—a Lord among men, and the greatest there now is. Yet when he did not return your love, and gave you only pity, you wished for nothing else, unless to die in battle." He paused and caught his breath, watching her gazing fiercely at the houses below. In a sudden, desperate motion he caught hold of her wrist, saying, "Look at me, Eowyn!"

She looked up at him with tears in her eyes, and as she did so she knew that he could see into her heart. She felt, in that moment, that she had never been more vulnerable, not even with Aragorn, for Faramir knew about her past and her scorned love, as well as the emotions behind it. He knew everything about her, and it even seemed that he knew the workings and motivations of her heart. As she watched his gaze move over her face and felt her own tears wet her cheeks, she knew that if he rejected her now, after knowing everything about her and understanding the thoughts of her heart, she would truly have nothing left to live for.

"Do not scorn pity that is given as a gift," Faramir went on, knowing now that she loved him. Yet instead of feeling joy at that knowledge he felt instead as if he held a delicate bird in his hands and could crush it without wanting to, if he was not careful. He held out his hand, trembling, between them and grasped at the air. "But I do not offer you my pity. You are high and valiant and have won renown for yourself that will not be forgotten, and you are beautiful, I think, beyond the words even of the Elves to tell. And…" he paused, taking a breath and watching her vivid face as he said the next words from the bottom of his heart. "I love you." He rushed on as her eyes grew wide, "Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or need, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, I would still love you." He let his voice drop to just above a whisper as he said the words that meant so much to both of them: "Eowyn, do you not love me?"

The moment stretched between them as taunt as a bowstring when it is drawn, and Faramir felt a range of emotions that he didn't even know he could feel. Eowyn's face was turned up toward him, and for a long moment he could not tell what she was thinking, but suddenly, as when a dreamer awakes and takes a deep breath, Eowyn smiled and drew closer. Her eyes turned to the stones of the tower and she said in a breathless, vibrant voice, "I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun. And look! the Shadow has departed! I will no longer be a shield maiden and vie with the Riders, nor only take joy in songs of slaying. I will be a healer," she went on, her smile growing even wider, "and I will love all things that grow and are not barren." She took a deep breath, and her eyes returned to the still fearful face of Faramir. "No longer do I desire to be a queen," she whispered softly.

And as her words reached his ears and he felt the sun warm his head and shoulders with its graceful light, Faramir felt a rush of joy and such giddy pleasure that he could not stop the laugh that burst through his throat and echoed along the wall. It was a warm, gentle laugh, but it resonated deep within him, starting at his very core and lifting its light into the corners of his mind that were the deepest and darkest and clearing away the shreds of pain and hurt still left there. His eyes met Eowyn's and he felt the years of darkness falling from his shoulders like an old garment being cast off after too much wear. In the moment that he looked into Eowyn's eyes he realized that his laugh had been true and real, and it had come from the joy of being truly loved in return. "That is well," he said, "for I am not a king." He took Eowyn's small hands in his own broad ones and bent his head to say, "But I will marry the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she wishes," he continued, his head turning to look out over the fields where she had so often looked, "let us cross the River and make our home in fair Ithilien, and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes."

His words suddenly caused her to realize that what he said was real, and that she was not living in a dream as she might have thought. His laughter, which still seemed to echo across the wall, brought a smile to her own lips, and she said with humor that he had never seen, "Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor? And would you have your proud folk say of you, 'There goes a Lord who tamed a wild shield maiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?"'

Her words had been said in jest, but he looked at her seriously and pulled her close to himself. "I would," he murmured just before their lips met, and their kiss was warm and tender, alive with all the emotions they had experienced over the past few weeks. The despair they had both felt upon first waking up and being left behind was there, as well as the tentative threads of grasping friendship they had felt, and the ache of confusion and unrequited feelings. And finally, caught up in their breathless kiss, was the well of deep, abiding love that was the result of two souls so perfectly tuned for each other.

As they pulled apart, knowledgeable of the fact that many had seen them and were pointing, Faramir put his hand up to her face and looked deep into her eyes. "I never thought this could happen," he said softly, fearfully.

"Neither did I," she answered, but her words were warm and sure. Her insecurity had fallen away in their kiss, and she slipped her arms around his waist. Pulling herself closer and laying her head against his chest, she asked, "Can you be real, or is this all another dream?"

Faramir drew his arms around her, drinking in the scent of her golden hair and feeling her warm, living body in his arms. "I feel as if I have been living an incomplete life," he murmured, "A life half lived."

Eowyn drew away from him enough to see his face, and in her own eyes there was a look of understanding. "We have both been living half-lives," she said. "But now we will face the future, and whatever pain it will bring, together."

Faramir said nothing, but he pulled her to himself again. The night was over now—the long, cold, painful night of wondering and waiting had ended, and now the dawn had come and was stretching its golden and rose tinged fingers across the sky. The return of the King would change their lives, and even Faramir, with all his insight, could not see what effect it would have on them. The new day would present challenges, both from rebuilding their shattered world and from the lingering affects of the long night, but he knew that whatever happened, he would not be alone. Not anymore.

The End

Notes: Well, here we are at the end. When I started this story I had no idea how long it would be or what exactly I would write about. Thank you for sticking with me and enjoying this story as much as you did. You made it truly wonderful!