A/N: Thanks to Linda, Darkover, Sarah, Pearl and Akatsuka for your reviews. This is the last chapter of this story but who knows I may write a sequel. You never know. This thing could almost fit before my story Memories. Anyway on to the conclusion.
The morning sun had climbed high in the sky by the time Faramir opened his eyes the next day. He glanced around the chamber in confusion until he realized he was in his own bed. He frowned trying to recall how he had gotten there. His head still carried a dull ache.
"Damrod helped me get you into bed after you collapsed last night." Aragorn's voice spoke softly from the corner as the king moved into the Steward's line of sight. "How do you feel?"
"As though I had been run over by a company of orcs." Faramir groaned as he struggled to push himself upright. Aragorn threw an arm behind his back to support him. "Forgive me milord."
"Forgive you for what?" Confusion ruled the king's tone.
"I failed you. I was unable to control the palantir and so I did not find the missing stone." The steward stared down at his hands, distress evident in his posture. "My only accomplishment was to force you to use your healing skills on me again." His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Faramir, you did not fail me. You faced your fear and you attempted that which you did not believe you could do. I could not ask for anything more."
"And if the stone were to fall into enemy hands? What then? Evil could gain a foothold in Minas Tirith because of my failure! Perhaps this shows that I am not fit to be your steward."
"Enough, Faramir!" Aragorn spoke sharply, using the abrasive tone to jar the steward from his self-loathing. The prince looked up at him in surprise and he softened his words. "I appointed you steward because I judged that you will carry out the office most faithfully. I do not expect you to be perfect or to never make a mistake. As for the stone, we shall deal with that situation when it arises. Do not berate yourself for matters beyond your control." He regarded the younger man with intensity in his grey eyes.
Faramir shuddered under the look. For a moment, the king reminded him of his father and the disapproval that had shadowed their relationship. He dropped his eyes, ashamed of what the king must see in them.
Aragorn tilted his head abruptly realizing what was going through the other's mind. "Faramir, I know how hard this must be for you, having never lived up to your father's expectations. However, I promise you that I will always treat you with the respect you deserve."
Faramir felt a sudden rush of tears fill his eyes and he quickly tried to blink them away. "Thank you mil…Aragorn."
"You're welcome mellon nin."
Late that night, in the depths of the third watch, Faramir slipped silently down the corridor towards the king's study. He felt strangely compelled to look into the stone once more. He knocked quietly on the door to the study then when only silence answered, pushed the door open. He crossed to the storage room and quickly stole inside. He took a deep breath, focusing all his will on the stone before him. "You will not control me." He muttered fiercely. He placed his palms on either side of the stone, feeling it once again flare to life. Drawing on the same strength that had sustained him during the war, he forced the image of the flames to disappear. He felt himself once again transported to hill above the Mogul Vale. He retraced his steps until he located the palantir still covered in dirt and rocks. He knelt, staring at the orb. It was still flashing with orange and red light, just as it had been before. He closed his eyes focusing his entire being on the task before him. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and grasped the stone with both hands. Once again, pain seared through him burning his hands and exploding behind his eyes. He gritted his teeth and bowed his head trying to force back the agony that threatened to overwhelm him. Slowly he felt the hold of the stone lessening and a wave of weakness took its place. With a gasp, he was suddenly aware of being back in the store room, his entire body shaking from the effort to stay on his feet. This time however he was filled with the knowledge he had so desperately sought. His last conscious thought was of the location of the lost seeing stone.
Aragorn's eyes flew open in the darkness. He sat up wondering what had awakened him. At his side, Arwen slumbered peacefully. The room was silent, yet a feeling of dread consumed him. He shrugged into a simple linen shirt and breeches before slipping out of the bedchamber. As he continued down the hall, he suddenly noticed the study door was slightly ajar. "I thought I left it closed." He thought to himself before a sudden realization gripped him. "Valar, let Faramir be unharmed." The king whispered the prayer on the run as he barged through the opening. Further in, he could just make out the motionless form of his steward lying on the floor. He dropped to his knees, placing his ear over the man's mouth, hoping to hear a whisper of breath. Fear gave way to relief as gentle air brushed his cheek. He felt for the heartbeat in the wrist and frowned slightly at the speed he noted.
"Estel?" Arwen's soft lilt broke into his musing. "What's wrong?"
"It's Faramir. He looked into the palantir again and has collapsed."
"Why on Arda would he look into it without you at his side?" The queen knelt beside her husband, taking the steward's hand in her own. "He's cold."
"I know. I need to get him to his chambers to examine him before his condition worsens."
"I hear footsteps in the hall. I'll see if it is some to help us carry him."
"Fetch a blanket too, my love."
Arwen nodded as she hurried from the room. She returned in short order with two young men who were on their way to relieve the watchmen. They swiftly helped their king bear the sick man to his chamber. Aragorn grew increasingly concerned as Faramir seemed not to respond to anything around him. He remained sitting beside his friend's bedside until the early hours of the morning. He jumped as Beregond slipped inside the room, just as dawn began to streak the sky. He waved off the bow as the other realized the king was still at the prince's bedside.
"How is he?" The captain of the White Guard asked softly, approaching hesitantly.
"I don't know. He seems to be in a natural sleep but he hasn't moved and his heartbeat is still faster than it should be." Aragorn answered in the same tone.
"He's exhausted. He's not had a good night's sleep in the last couple of months. I know he's been dreaming of his father and perhaps of his brother." He flushed under the king's questioning gaze. "Miri... Faramir doesn't know that I've heard him shouting."
"Have you spoken with him?"
"He won't talk to me." Beregond dropped into a chair next to the king. He glanced over at the King, pondering his next statement. "Forgive me if I seem direct, milord, but Faramir has always kept things close. Lord Denethor berated him enough that the only person he really talked to was his brother. When Boromir left for Rivendell, that confidence was gone. Even his commanders in the rangers didn't always know what he was thinking." He shot a sideways look to his liege. "He knows he can trust you in his heart, but after so many years of his father's disapproval, it is difficult for him open up and share his feelings."
"I can certainly understand. Boromir often spoke of his younger brother. There was great love between them." A faint smile crossed the king's tired face.
"Yes there was. If not for his brother, I do not think Faramir would have returned to Minas Tirith as often as he did. He was happier in Ithilien than anywhere else on Arda."
He was interrupted by a sudden whimper from the form on the bed.
"Father! Father!" Faramir began tossing back and forth. His dark hair flipped over his face, the dark strands sticking in the sweat forming on his brow.
Aragorn leapt to his feet, attempting to calm the steward. "Faramir, wake up." His voice was low and compelling. "Faramir, my friend, come back to us." He placed a gentle hand on the prince's brow and one on his shoulder. Beregond came to his other side and took Faramir's hand in his. He didn't speak but his dark eyes were focused on his friend's face. With a gasp, Faramir's eyes flew open and he struggled to sit up against the king's restraining hands. "I have….find….it. Know where…..is." His voice was strangled. "King….depend….on me."
"Faramir, be at peace. I can wait until you rest." The quiet words seemed to capture the sick man's attention.
"Ar..a..gorn?" Faramir focused bleary eyes on the king. "Forgive….me. I had….to try again."
"There is nothing to forgive, mellon nin. You said you know where it is. Are you speaking of the stone?"
Faramir nodded, sending a wave of pain through his head. "It's buried...along the…..the north….ern edge of the Morgul….Vale. It's under a…..mound of dirt and loose rock." He closed his eyes against the agony pounding through his brain. "I can…show…..on a map."
"Show me after you rest." The healer in Aragorn noted the pain etched on the younger man's face. "Stay with him for a moment, Beregond."
Aragorn hurried to his own chambers, quickly retrieving his healer's bag. Fetching some hot water from the kitchen, he brewed together a mixture of healing herbs and just a hint of a sleeping draught. Finally he sweetened the entire mixture with a touch of honey and returned to the steward's bedside. "Drink." He ordered firmly, holding the mug to Faramir's lips. "It won't taste good but it will make you feel better."
Faramir made a face at the bitter taste but obediently drained the cup. Aragorn and Beregond helped to reposition him against the pillows before covering him warmly. His eyes were almost closed before they finished and the guard captain sketched a brow.
"Did you drug him?" He asked with a barely concealed grin.
"Yes. I don't want him getting up until he has truly rested and I don't need his sense of duty interfering with his healing."
Beregond chuckled outright. "Both brothers Hurin carried that trait. One practically had to sit on them to make them stay down long enough to heal properly." He followed the king out into the hall, leaving the steward to his slumber. "How long will he sleep?"
"If he is as weary as you say, he will probably sleep through the night." Aragorn replied. "Now, I have an errand for you. Find Damrod and Anborn. They came in with a patrol the day before yesterday and I have a mission for them."
Beregond bowed. "As you command, my lord. Where shall I bring them?"
"To my study. This is a matter of utmost secrecy and you will not repeat anything which you have heard your prince and I discuss."
Beregond bowed a second time. "Yes my liege."
The king returned to his chambers and splashed cool water over his face. He swiftly exchanged his shirt for a clean one and added a tunic as well.
"Is Faramir any better?" Arwen murmured sleepily from the bed.
"He woke briefly and I put him back to sleep. He's too proud to admit it but he's most weary and probably has a splitting headache as well. I know I had one the night I wrestled with the palantir that Sauraman had." He crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed, idly playing his wife's hair. She shifted so she could look up at him.
"Was he successful in his endeavor?"
Aragorn nodded. "I believe he was. I've sent for Anborn and Damrod since they know that country better than I. If they are willing, I shall send them to retrieve the missing stone."
"Isn't that dangerous for only two men?"
"They are Ithilien rangers, beloved. They do not fear danger and would probably be offended if I suggested that they required assistance." A teasing glint sparkled in Aragorn's eyes.
"And you know this because it is exactly what you would do." Arwen answered with a smirk of her own. Her husband answered her with a quick kiss before departing the bedchamber.
Morning sunlight streamed into the bedchamber sending its warmth across Faramir's face. He slowly woke, stretching as he did so. For the first time in several months, he felt refreshed. Suddenly he bolted upright as he recalled the event of the previous night.
"You look to be greatly improved." Beregond's voice came from the corner. He rose from his seat to sit on the edge of the bed.
"I feel better. How long did I sleep?"
"Just over a full day. The king slipped a sleeping draught in with the herbs he gave you." The captain explained, a twinkle in his grey eyes.
"But the palantir?"
"Do not worry. Damrod and Anborn left yesterday morning. They will find the stone and bring it back."
"But they don't know where it is. I never showed Lord Aragorn where I saw it." Faramir protested.
"Perhaps not, but when he described to them what you saw, they both seemed to know exactly where to go." Beregond shrugged. "They seemed quite sure."
"They're rangers. I trained them to be sure." The steward ran a hand through his raven locks. "I just wish I could have gone with them."
His friend laughed out loud. "Damrod said you would feel this way. Don't worry. They will be back by the first of the next week."
Four days later, the two rangers returned bearing the spoils of their search. Damrod presented the king with a familiar cloth wrapped orb.
"It was precisely where Prince Faramir said it would be, my lord."
"Thank you Damrod." Aragorn answered gravely. He took the sphere with gentle hands turning it over cautiously. He considered the stone for several long moments before handing it to Faramir. "Duty has its price as well as its own reward. Guard it well, mellon nin. Guard it well."