Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.

They said that the Dwarves had fostered a child of Men.

Faramir had never heard of such a thing. There were the old stories, the lays that spoke of Elves who reared the orphaned children of Edain heroes, but no one had ever heard of the Dwarves bringing up a Man as a son. They were too guarded, too protective of their ways and their secrets, too clannish to take anything but blood as their kin. At least, that was what was said.

The Elves had known nothing of it. The Dwarves had kept the matter to themselves, and those gathered at the Last Homely House only heard of it by way of the riders dispatched to meet the strangers who had come into the territory of the Bruiinen. They had returned with the news that the Dwarves were come, and with a child of Men among them. Faramir would remember the expressions on Lord Elrond's and Lord Glorfindel's faces for the rest of his life.

The riders, when asked to describe the Man they spoke of, could not, having not seen the Man himself at all but only a few of his particular belongings, such as a sword, a bow, and a few pieces of armor, all too long and light to be dwarven gear. They had been laid out on a cloth at Gloin son of Groin's feet when the Elves were received by him, being inspected by several Dwarves with their various tools. When questioned, Gloin had answered straightforwardly that they were for his fosterling.

All they could say for certain was that this Man must be a young one, perhaps hardly more than a child, for the armor they had seen would not have fit the shoulders of a grown man.

Then, for the two days it took for the Dwarves to finally approach Karningul, no one could talk of anything else. Elrond's sons, Elrohir and Elladan, even put off their journeying to stay and catch a glimpse of the foster child of Gloin son of Groin, and talk of fostering naturally brought about the retelling of the old tales, such as those of Turin Turambar and his cousin Tuor, the ancestors of Elrond Peredhil himself, and the house was filled with talk of children and rearing and the unplumbed depths of dwarvish peculiarities. Faramir heard more of elven lineage and elvish opinions on Dwarves in two days than he had ever heard before in his life, or ever really wanted to. Boromir would have been bored out of his wits.

Faramir spent more of his time thinking of the fighting that was bound to be happening all along the shores of the Anduin. The tension in the house that he had keenly felt since first coming to Karningul was somewhat softened by the intriguing news of the Dwarves' foster, but he himself was largely untouched by it. He was distracted by thoughts of the war at home, of the dream that haunted him even now, echoing in his sleep like the splash of water in a well, and by his own growing worries. His mind turned frequently to his own Rangers, now under Mablung's command, and he chided himself for being such a nursemaid. Boromir had promised to keep an eye on them for him, and, too, Mablung was as capable as Faramir had ever been. Likely they had already driven the Orcs back into Mordor and were raising cups of wine, laughing at the thought of Faramir whiling away his time listening to Elves gossip about Dwarves.

The longer Faramir remained at Karningul, the more uneasy he grew. It was an imprecise, vague feeling, as if he had forgotten or misplaced something trifling but important, some small thing that he would later deeply regret. The feeling nagged at him, constantly in the back of his thoughts and rushing forward to grip him at strange moments. It put him in mind of that time in Ithilien when his patrol, stalking a group of Orcs raiding toward the South, had come afoul of an ambush. He remembered the moment as intensely, as clearly as if it were happening even then¾ the sudden, still hush of the wood, the moment of cold, helpless understanding, and then the orcish arrow thumping into his shoulder, the shrieks of the black shapes charging out of the undergrowth.

He felt now exactly as he had then: off-balance, uncertain, and with a growing awareness of everything being somehow wrong.

Perhaps he had been more affected by his last words to his father and brother than he had thought. He had had to fight hard to be sent in place of Boromir, but for once in his life had refused to back down at his brother's request, so certain he had been that the dream was meant for him. He had convinced their father by arguing that Minas Tirith could much more afford the absence of the Captain of Rangers than that of the Captain-General of all her armies. Their father had still been reluctant, yet not quite able to hide from them his relief at keeping his firstborn nearer to home. The brothers themselves had not exchanged harsher words, but Faramir had felt the coolness in Boromir's behavior toward him, and it seemed that his older brother had wanted to come more than Faramir had believed.

Faramir wondered what sort of Man was the kind to be raised by Dwarves and taken for one of their own. He only knew of that particular people what he had heard—grim, severe, lovers of honor and courage and gold, a terrible foe and the truest friend, in the field either a rock at your back or a hammer at your throat, a warrior culture where an oath was inviolate and an oathbreaker the most hated of any kind of wrongdoer. They were a tough, unyielding people, bred by the mountains in which they dwelled, and it was fearsome to think of any child being raised by such measures.

A child of Men would have to be stalwart indeed to be reared by Dwarves, and especially by a Dwarf so renowned as Gloin son of Groin, kinsman of Thorin Oakenshield. Had his parents been known to them, that on their deaths they had seen fit to take in the bereaved son? Or was he a foundling, who by some act of courage or resoluteness had impressed them enough to take him into their house?

Raised by Dwarves, how would such a child react to those of his own race? Faramir realized that, being the only representative of Men in Imladris at the time, much attention would be paid to his own behavior with regards to the fosterling. He was the son of the Steward of Gondor and this was a man of unknown birth who had been fostered by a Dwarf who could, in his own right, be called a lord. He had never heard of such a thing. What were the rules of conduct?

After some thought, Faramir concluded that the only thing to do was to behave with the utmost courtesy and as if he were meeting the younger son of a lord. It would be safer to err on the side of too much respect than too little. In the former case, all anyone would do was laugh at him; he did not want to think about what could happen in the latter.

Perhaps it was a good thing that he had pressed his case, and been sent instead of Boromir.

The morning of the third day was cool and gray, brisk with northerly winds. Faramir had just been sitting down to break fast with several of the other occupants of the House when a horn blew, high and clarion, from the gates. Lord Elrond and his children, who had been in attendance, rose immediately, and Faramir and the rest of the household stood and followed as they made their way outside into the courtyard.

The Dwarves had come.

They marched out of the woods in an orderly procession, not quite a column for being fewer in numbers. Each Dwarf marched fully suited for battle, their mail and helms shining in the dull light, and each bore his arms and his pack as if he were going provisioned into war. They looked formidable from even half a mile away, their long beards braided and bristling and tucked into their belts to avoid tangling with their legs, their armored and cloaked shoulders of such width that Faramir, himself not a small man, felt almost boyish.

The watchers, however, stared not at the Dwarves who strode up the road, nor at how they came as if prepared to do battle.

They stared at the one, taller figure, marching easily in the middle.

Faramir realized that this figure must indeed be a child, for he was not much taller than his fosters. He was mailed and armed as the Dwarves were, but with the addition of a thick, hooded cloak. The lack of a beard and his build, almost girlishly slight next to his companions, marked him out though his face could not be seen, and he stood only a head or so higher than the Dwarf in front of him. Despite that, the axe he carried on his shoulder was as large and thickly made as any Dwarf's weapon, his pack as large and stuffed, and he kept pace with them effortlessly, his soldierly, relentless march much resembling his fosters'.

The Elves murmured among themselves. Faramir watched, a high regard beginning to grow in his breast as he watched the poor child, who couldn't have been more than half the size and muscle of the smallest Dwarf there, keep time with everyone else under an equal share of kit and gear. He wondered how many grown Men could truthfully say they would do the same.

The dwarven contingent made their inexorable way to the gate of Imladris, where they passed through unimpeded and unchallenged. Once inside, they were met by Lord Elrond, who waited with his children to greet his guests.

Those who had gone atop the wall to watch them come now went back below, to make their own greetings to the Dwarves and also to have a good look. Faramir hung back, feeling more than conspicuous as the only Man there, and made a decided effort not to be at the front of the crowd.

The Dwarves were not relaxing. Rather they had only slung their weapons over their backs, now that they were behind walls, and their vigilance was somewhat explained by the scars and dents that many of their shields bore, proof of long travel not entirely peaceful. Many of them wore the face guards that the Dwarves were renowned for making, the masks that were attached to the fronts of their helms and that lowered to fully cover their faces. One or two of them even had a long, tapering shield that hinged at the chin, a steel covering for their beards, a thing Faramir had never seen before and found very unusual. They were beautifully fashioned, rippling and curling and even cast into braids, as if to imitate the real beards they protected.

The boy stood between two Dwarves, and his stance was as guarded and alert as his companions'. Closer up, he was even smaller than Faramir had formerly thought, perhaps only the height of his own shoulder. The cloak had been thrown back, and concealing his entire head was a winged helm. Attached at the neck was a coif of steel that slid under his cloak and protected his neck, and it went all the way around to also cover the vulnerable throat.

The face guard the boy wore was obviously crafted specifically for him, for it fit perfectly, but with blocky, square-cast features, stylized beyond individual character. The eye holes were bare slits, so that only the luckiest of dagger thrusts would have even a chance of penetrating, and Faramir was aghast at how blind those slits must render the child. Beneath the mask was the coif, which rested against a shirt of steel rings, belted at the waist. From the belt hung a sword, the hilt of which could be seen under the cloak.

The boy said nothing, but merely waited for the two Dwarves at his side to finish muttering together. His head did not turn, he did not move even slightly, and Faramir recognized in his motionless form the kind of rigid self-discipline he had previously only encountered in the Guard of the Tower, a stillness born of an immediate and wary preparedness to do violence.

"I give you welcome, Gloin son of Groin," Lord Elrond was saying gravely. "Long have you traveled."

Gloin stepped forward, helmed still, and he was the oldest and most finely fitted of the Dwarves, his arms and armor chased with gold and silver, with a piece shimmering beneath his cloak that Faramir was prepared to believe could be fabled mithril.

"Our thanks for your welcome," said Gloin, and his voice was as gruff as a bear's. "I have here some of my kinsmen, my son, and my foster child. We greet you as our host."

The Dwarves and the boy bowed, dwarven bows that were more like military cuts than a gesture of grace.

Lord Elrond's eyes were unfathomable as they came to rest on the child, his expression of nothing more than mild curiosity. "I had not heard you had fostered a son."

Then Gloin did a strange thing. He looked long at the Elf-lord, a perplexed expression on his face, and asked, in a wondering tone, "A son?"

There was a moment where no one knew quite what to say, and then one of the Dwarves, a younger, well-dressed red-beard who bore a strong resemblance to Gloin, began to laugh.

Suddenly all the Dwarves were laughing, low, rumbling noises like the falling and grinding of rocks. Gloin himself was shaking his head, grinning to show the gold in his teeth.

The boy looked from one Dwarf to another, and made no sound. The movement of his head spoke of confusion, of looking for some sign of interpretation.

Faramir felt a tightening of his jaw. The Elves were glancing at each other, raising their brows.

"Forgive me if I am mistaken," said Lord Elrond stiffly. "I had thought this child was your foster son."

"Nay, nay," said Gloin, still grinning. The other Dwarves ground to a silence. "You had the half of it. This child is my foster, but certainly not my son."

He turned, then, to the boy, and nodded. The boy shrugged, reached up, and began detaching the coif from the helm.

Faramir did not believe what he was seeing even when the last part of the coif had come off and he saw the small, slender neck against the heavy chain. He heard Elrohir's hiss, he saw the way Lady Arwen's lips parted, and then the boy was releasing the catch that held his face guard in place and was lifting it up, the morning light falling on pale skin.

He saw a small, firm chin. He saw a small, heart-shaped face, a budding, pink mouth. A fringe of dark lashes bordered eyes greener than the heart of the Ithilien spring.

The boy was not a boy, but a girl, and it was a girl standing there in her Dwarf-wrought armor, a girl who bore the axe on her back and a sword on her belt.

The foster child of Gloin son of Groin was a girl.

"My daughter," said Gloin, and his voice ached with pride. "She who is called Bodvildr Gloinal, the Draugnir."

The girl looked at Gloin, then, and the set of her lips was as dwarvenly stubborn as any expression Faramir had ever seen.

Gloin grunted, then sighed. "Buffy," he growled reluctantly.

The daughter of Gloin Groinul, called Bodvildr Gloinal called the Draugnir called Buffy, looked up, then, and met Faramir's eyes.

And everything seemed to fall into place.