Title: Perfect World
Author: Juxian Tang
Summary: Alternative Universe. Years later Boromir returns from the dead but not everyone is ready to welcome him.
This story is for Carla Jane
It is one of the bad days. The shadows that are always present in the corners of the twilight room are not thick and sluggish as usual - but fast and flitting, hungry and ready to pounce at any moment. Gareth sees these shadows dart over his uncle's face, turning his grey eyes into the pits of ink-black darkness.
The silence is frail and ringing, having a sound of its own. Gareth's father uses his fork and knife with extreme precision, dividing food on his plate into unbelievably neat portions, but barely puts anything into his mouth. He doesn't look up but his eyelids tremble unceasingly as if it takes him an effort to keep himself from looking.
Atanar, the only one who isn't affected by the atmosphere, fidgets on his high chair and dangles his foot in the air with boredom. Gareth feels almost envious to his little brother for his ignorance. He tries to focus on the taste of what he's eating but it's hopeless, it tastes like nothing.
Uncle Boromir's plate is empty but it is to be expected. His hair is falling over his face, strands dull and tangled. On a good day his hair looks shiny and smooth, neatly falling to his shoulders but not now. His hand shakes a little as he raises it and pulls another strand over his eyes. His gaze is distant, strange and hazy, and it seems he doesn't see the cozy, warmly lit room in front of him but something dark and wrong and haunting.
Gareth has been seeing signs of it coming for days by now; but there was nothing he could do, just like his father could do nothing, and he would have done if only he could, Gareth knows it. Gareth can be only seven but there are things he understands very clearly, without having to ask questions or waiting for explanations. He knows there is nothing his father wants more desperately than 'it' never coming again. And he knows that every time it passes, his father hopes, despite everything, that it was the last time. Even if uncle Boromir doesn't hope for it.
Boromir's hands, with strong long fingers and heavy veins, are playing with a fruit knife. It is a flicker of gold in the shadows, and Gareth feels almost bound to looking at it. And at the next moment, with the same absentminded, casual motion, the blade goes into Boromir's hand, into the heel of his palm. Boromir doesn't flinch. Nothing changes in his face but the knife keeps sawing, going deeper, and trickles of quick, scarlet blood start dripping onto the dark wood of the table.
Gareth's father whips his head up, and there is a momentary grimace of distress on his face.
"Boromir," he says with reproach. It seems the anguish in his voice reaches his brother, even when nothing else does, and Boromir drops the knife on the plate with a clattering sound. His look is almost helpless. Gareth can see spreading edges of the wound, red and gaping, the palm opened almost to the bone. He's nearly used to the things like that, they don't rattle him any more like in the beginning.
Besides, he must not show that it upsets him, he thinks, because it might upset his father even more. Atanar looks at the red rivulets with his mouth slightly opened and the expression of total fascination. He's just recently discovered mortality of things and is morbidly intrigued with everything gory and damaged, can look at a dead bird for hours.
"Now you certainly made this dinner more pleasant for us all," Gareth's father says with a chuckle. Gareth knows he does it deliberately, keeping his voice light as if it is some kind of a joke, nothing serious - even if his face is pale and his lips quiver and compress tightly.
"Faramir..." Boromir says as if in surprise - as if finding himself not where he expected to be. He looks at the running blood blankly. "I'm sorry."
"And shouldn't you be?" Faramir sighs but there is gentleness in his voice. He gets up from his place and pulls out a big white handkerchief. Boromir looks at his face with almost childish fascination as Faramir takes his hand and wraps it in a white cloth.
Gareth can see that his father's touches are as light and gentle as when he cleans and wraps the cut and bruises he and Atanar get - and even gentler, as if he's afraid that his movements might scare his brother off. Uncle Boromir looks at him through the messy, uncombed strands of hair, his eyes with expanded pupils almost entirely black. The haziness in them steps away but only slightly.
"Here," Faramir says and cradles the wrapped hand in his palms for a moment. "That's better, isn't it?"
"Yes," Boromir says in a small, obedient voice. "That's better."
But Gareth knows it isn't better - and won't be for days yet, until 'it' passes, as inevitably as it comes. And before that there will be a locked room in the end of the corridor where Gareth and Atanar are forbidden to go, and even so he still will hear screaming from there, and wild clanking of chains. And in the end his father will stay there with Boromir for days, coming only now and then, nearly reeling with exhaustion, his face ashen. And the shadows will be strong and alive and hungrier than ever. And later Gareth will see the strips of raw skin on uncle Boromir's wrists, the traces that will stay even after everything is over and he will be smiling a happy, relieved, easy smile.
* * *
Gareth remembers the time when the world consisted only of his mother, his father and him. His mother was so fair that her hair seemed to change color with the light that fell on it, golden in the sun and silver in the dusk. Her hands were callused, almost as much as Gareth's father's, and very hot when she cupped them around Gareth's cheeks and looked into his eyes, sitting on the floor with him.
They lived in Ithilien then, and everything around was green and bright, and even rocks of the mountains seemed alive. Gareth remembered how his feet got tangled in the soft, clingy grass as he toddled after Bergil who laughed and called back for him.
Then Atanar appeared, first as a small, red, screaming creature that his mother pressed to her chest and his father eyed with pride and happiness that Gareth couldn't understand. He considered his little brother rather boring; Bergil was much more fun, big and strong and knowing so many stories.
But his mother used to take Gareth on her lap and let Gareth hold his brother's pudgy but very tenacious fingers, and finally Atanar became a part of his world as well, and Gareth accepted it. He even admitted that, when Atanar started walking and it was possible to take him along, he was not so bad to have around.
"You see," he heard his mother saying to his father once, "I told you they'd get along. I bet your brother didn't fall in love with you instantly either."
"Aye, I was told he said I looked like a toad." There was a slightly rueful smile in his father's eyes and voice. "And squealed like a cat."
His mother laughed, and then grew serious again, saying so quietly that Gareth barely could discern the words and hardly understood their meaning:
"Don't worry, I know you won't make a mistake like your father. You're quite capable of loving as many of them as there will be."
And Gareth's father smiled, and his mother took his hand and put it onto her belly, and they both had that strange expression of conspiracy and connection between them.
Their house was light, the windows huge and open for the better part of the year, the wind making the curtains fly in and out. Gareth remembered watching his mother from one of these windows as she and his father sparred in the yard, swords clanking and his mother's breath coming in loud gasps.
Gareth thinks shadows appeared for the first time when his father started coming down in the morning with black circles around his eyes and looking ill and unhappy, and the motions of his hands became twitchy and imprecise as if he didn't know what he touched and why.
"Dreams," Gareth heard his mother say. "Dreams," Beregond and his wife, Ignia, whispered to each other and shared a strange look, half-disbelieving, half-desperate. Bergil only shrugged and didn't want to explain anything, no matter how many times Gareth asked.
Then one day his father left, and a small frown set between his mother's eyebrows as she stood on the porch and looked at the path leading through the mountains. And she spent many days like that, looking and waiting, and there was something strange in her gaze, something anxious and unsure. She'd never looked unsure before, Gareth thought.
But she wasn't on the porch on that sunset when Gareth's father came back bringing another man on his horse. The man looked wild and strange and his hair, brown and grey, reached far past his shoulders. His pale hand with dirty, broken fingernails clutched on Faramir's cloak and, when he dismounted, the flaps of the cloak parted, and Gareth saw tattered, almost falling apart rags of his clothes.
He remembered a sharp intake of breath Beregond took when seeing the man, and Ignia started crying, and his father was pale as death and his lips twitched a little as if he was not sure what he wanted to do, smile or cry, as he held his arm around the newcomer with an almost defiant protective gesture.
"Mordor," Gareth heard a hushed conversation of adults, and: "Six years." And, exhausted with Gareth's nagging, Bergil finally gushed in a quick, hot whisper:
"Don't you know? It's your father's brother. Everyone thought he was dead but he wasn't. Or maybe he was. And came back. Some say it's a bad sign, something bad is coming with him. Someone has to pay for it."
There was something strained in his mother's eyes since then, and the little frown was never gone from her forehead. She didn't talk much, and her palms that still cupped around Gareth's cheeks were getting colder with every day.
And once his father, his eyes glittering feverishly and a ringing note of rejoicing in his voice, said to her:
"But what could I do? Just leave him there?"
And she answered, her eyes just as flashing as his but not with joy:
"Why do you ask me now? You've already done everything."
The newcomer's name was Boromir. Gareth saw him again a few days later, his long hair cropped shorter and his clothes neat and decorated with the White Tree. He looked at Gareth and Atanar and then smiled, his smile bright and so much like Faramir's, and squatted to be on the same level with Atanar, and asked him something about his pony, and the games he played, and Gareth listened apprehensively at first. But later something about Boromir started getting into his heart.
Boromir was as good with sword and as good a rider as their father; and he never turned Atanar or Gareth down when they wanted to tell him something. And sometimes in his father's eyes turned to Boromir Gareth saw an expression that he'd only seen directed at him and Atanar before: as if they were something impossibly valuable to him. As if he was afraid to look away because this valuable thing could be stolen once he didn't look.
* * *
Ignia told them they were going to have a brother or a sister very soon. Gareth thought it had to be the reason why his mother seldom left her room any more. At first he wasn't sure he liked the thought of another little, yelling creature but then decided generously that Atanar might as well find out what it was to be a big brother.
Only everything went wrong. He remembered Bergil taking them for a long walk, and then for a dinner at Beregond's place, and when they finally went back home, already after dark, there were strange people there and strange smells. The door of his mother's bedroom opened and a woman rushed out with a bundle of bloodied sheets in her hands, and for a moment Gareth heard a quiet, feeble moan that made him feel as if something turned into a stone and dropped in his chest when he realized it was the voice of his mother.
There was no brother or sister. In the morning their father came to their room, his face under wildly messed hair looking old and pale, and his hands were freezing cold, and he hugged them with desperate passion, as if something was trying to wrench them out of his arms. And Gareth knew, knew even though no one had told him, that his world dwindled instead of expanding, and now there were only three of them.
Then uncle Boromir walked in, his steps surprisingly quiet for someone so big and angular, and his strong arms wrapped around their father and both of them, holding them tightly, and it was when his father, his face buried against Gareth's collarbone, let out short, painful sobs. Boromir's eyes, dark- grey and sad, met Gareth's gaze over Faramir's shoulder, and Gareth clenched his fists hard enough to draw blood, struggling with his tears and failing eventually.
Everything changed. He wanted his mother back. No one has ever left his world before.
* * *
His mother was so pale and her face so small under the golden band holding her hair. The armor covered her chest, shining dully, and a sword lay at her side in the coffin.
"Shieldmaiden," Gareth heard, and: "Wraithbane." And hundreds of people he'd never seen before stood around her grave, tears running on their cheeks.
And two days later, in the big hall of their house, mother's brother, uncle Eomer, his face red with wine and anger, yelled at Gareth's father.
"The Dark Rider couldn't kill her but you managed it! You paid with her life for the abomination you brought with you! From the land of the dead - and now she's gone there in his stead."
"It was not an exchange!" His father's voice was harsh but there was something akin to panic in his eyes. "There was never any price to pay, you know nothing what you're talking about..."
"I know what I need to know - you ruined her. You ruined her by bringing this dead man with you, you murderer!"
They left Ithilien. Gareth said good-byes to Bergil who suddenly broke in tears and repeated again and again: "Why, why can't you stay?"
"It is only temporary," Ignia said but hesitation in her eyes did nothing to comfort Bergil and reassure Gareth. "The land will always belong to your father and to you after him. It's just that now too many people see things that are not true. Besides," she added softly, "maybe the place where he's grown up will be better for Boromir."
And so they left, Gareth and Atanar in the carts and Faramir and Boromir on the horses, and Bergil, whose father stayed in Faramir's stead, followed them with his eyes and waved till the hills hid him from Gareth's view.
* * *
Minas Tirith was huge. Scary and beautiful from afar, and a labyrinth of stone streets inside, and as they entered it and rode level after level, Gareth was sure he would never find his way in it. There were people in the streets, and they stared and said something to each other, and Gareth saw the tension of his father's shoulders while Boromir seemed oblivious to them, looking around eagerly.
Gareth missed everything terribly first days. He missed his mother, the thought of leaving her behind, in the cold earth, never seeing her again was simply unbearable sometimes. He was too old to weep and call for her as Atanar did, even if it sometimes seemed to him it would make things better if he could do it.
He missed Bergil, and he missed grass, and everything seemed unknown and hostile to him - at least till Boromir found them huddled in their room and took them outside, showed them places and secret passages.
"Not so much changed here, after all," he said thoughtfully, pushing his hair away from his face, and his gaze, distant, for once wasn't as disturbed as it sometimes could be. "It's almost strange how little changed."
It was Boromir they mostly saw during those first weeks when their father was taking up his new responsibilities in the city and came home shivering with tiredness and almost had no strength for more than a weak smile to Gareth and Atanar.
Their quarters were in the tower, not far from the King's. The Queen invited them from time to time to play with her son, The Little One, as he was usually called. He was twice younger than Atanar, big and silent, with very serious dark blue eyes.
The Queen was beautiful, and gentle, and her palms as she cupped them around Gareth's cheeks were soft and cool, so unlike his mother's. And the King, who Gareth saw a few times, was tall and beautiful, and there was something sad in his eyes as he looked at Gareth and his brother.
* * *
As weeks go by, things start settling down. The city doesn't look so intimidating to Gareth any more. At least he knows the tower and its surroundings quite well, has explored almost everything there. His father seems to handle his position well and doesn't look so exhausted any more. He again reads to Gareth and Atanar, and wrestles with them, and listens to what they tell him.
Uncle Boromir works under their father's command. Gareth knows their father insisted on it being the other way round but he probably knows himself it is not possible. Not with bad days coming so regularly. When 'it' happens, there is no going out, no carrying out his duties, just the locked room and unceasing shadows coming closer and closer.
On good days Boromir teaches them sword fighting, and wrestling, and helps Gareth mount the horse for the first time, and he smiles easily, and his face despite his hair being half- grey seems very young in its fascination.
Sometimes they sit on the carpet at the fireplace, listening to a story Boromir tells them. And then Gareth sees his father look at them, and there is gentleness, and pride, and sadness in his eyes. And Gareth's heart clenches, because he knows what maybe no one else knows. His father is afraid; afraid that something in his world gets broken again, someone of them will leave like Gareth's mother left - and then he wouldn't be able to bear it.
His father is fragile in this fear, even more fragile than little Atanar, than Boromir with the shadows always so close. And Gareth feels wrenching pity and vows to never leave, to protect this world that his father has built for himself and for them and that makes him happy.
* * *
"Don't you touch him," the nursemaid says, her bottom lip sticking out. Gareth lets The Little One out of his arms and looks up at her. Her face is crumpled as if she's eaten something sour and there is no mirth in her eyes. She isn't joking, she means it. "You filthy brat."
She says it in a hiss, the words feeling like a slap, and something tightens in Gareth's chest.
"What is it, Madine?" The Little One's mentor looks at her in surprise. "What did the boy do to you?"
"Filthy, filthy," she mutters, the word leaving her lips with sparkles of spittle. "Who knows what he can pick up at home, what he sees there. I wouldn't let him come up to our Prince for a hundred steps."
"Careful," the man says pointing at Gareth who stands with his fists clenched, fury bubbling in him. He doesn't understand everything that happens, just that this woman is saying something terribly unfair. "Their father is the Steward, after all. You'll be in trouble if they complain."
Sometimes grown-ups talk in his presence as if he's deaf or dumb, Gareth knows it. He really wants to find the right words, to answer them, but he doesn't know what to say. Blood pounds in his ears.
"Unnatural," the woman cuts the man short. "I don't know why the King allows it in our city. This evil, the man who was dead... and just to think that the Steward himself brings this danger onto us! But then there always were rumors they were closer than brothers should be..."
"Maybe it's just rumors," the man says warily.
"His own brother... What are you staring at?" she snaps, looking at Gareth. "Leave, both of you, it's time for the Prince to have a nap."
"It's not the children's fault, even if their father and uncle..." the man starts.
"Whatever," the woman huffs.
The Little One looks up at Gareth with his serious, very attentive eyes and suddenly reaches his arms up and makes an insistent, loud noise, demanding to be picked up.
* * *
The boy is older than Gareth, tall and lanky and dressed in a heavily embroidered tunic and velvet pants. His father is an important man at the court, Gareth knows, he's seen him several times from afar but it is the first time he sees him so close. The boy's hand lies with a possessive gesture on the flank of the grey stallion - as if the horse is his property. And it is not so - Aster belongs to the King's stables but Gareth has a permission to feed him and sometimes ride, under someone's supervision. He isn't going to ride him now, he has a history lesson in half an hour. But Atanar picked a few carrots and sugar cubes in the kitchen, and Gareth let himself be persuaded that it was as good time as any to feed Aster.
The boy looks down his nose at Gareth and keeps talking with his company of friends. But when Atanar comes up with sugar in his palm and tries to bring it to the horse's soft lips, he suddenly pushes Atanar away.
"The horse doesn't need your stupid treats."
Atanar looks up, his huge eyelashes flopping up and down, and says, as it is his habit recently:
"Shut your mouth, you little worm." "You better shut yours," Gareth steps forward, his eyes burning and his fists clenched. One of the boy's companions whispers something in the boy's ear.
"Steward's?" The boy's thin, as if plucked out eyebrows rise. "Ah so. My father says it's the biggest mistake of our King to allow these perverts in his service at all, still less let them live here! They would burn at the stake even twenty years ago."
Gareth doesn't know what 'perverts' means, just that it's something very vile. Like 'cowards', maybe? Or 'evil spirit' - he heard this word once or twice, thrown at Boromir from the crowd, and Gareth's father flinched while Boromir's shoulders just stiffened. Or maybe it's something like 'murderer', as uncle Eomer called their father...
Gareth flings himself at the boy, all claws and teeth and fists. He even forgets those clever moves that Boromir taught him last month. There is only fury in him, animal-like and uncontrollable.
* * *
Later there is a long explanation with the boy's father who seethes and recounts: "Boosted lip... both eyes blackened..." He demands an apology but Gareth only looks at him from under disheveled hair and sucks blood from his cut lip.
When the man finally leaves, father and uncle tend Gareth's scratches and bruises. His father looks stern and stops Boromir when he says in excitement: "The boy is thirteen, just think about it, brother. Nearly twice his age!"
"Don't give him a notion that he's done something he should be proud of," his father says but his hands cleaning Gareth's split knuckles never fail to be gentle. "Will you explain finally what it was all about?" he asks.
"About nothing," Gareth repeats and sends Atanar a threatening look forbidding saying a word. His father sighs.
"Come on, brother, don't pry," Boromir says.
* * *
It is a bright spring day as his father and Boromir mount their horses. Atanar holds the reins, nearly hanging on them, looking up at Boromir and chanting:
"When will you come back? When will you come back? I don't want you to go..."
Gareth is older, he doesn't allow himself to behave as childishly but he feels deserted and lonely. He knows it won't be long, two days at most, and there is nothing dangerous in this trip, no orcs prowling around as it had been before he was born. But there is some fear in him of being left behind, the fear that he doesn't want to admit but that still makes him feel very down.
He bites his lip and digs the ground with the toe of his boot.
"Look, Faramir..." Boromir says softly, biting a strand of his longish hair. His eyes are light and laughing and there are almost no shadows in them. "Why can't we..."
"We can't," Faramir answers sharply, even before he finishes. Gareth starts wiggling in his place, despite himself. Boromir shakes his head and says again:
"Don't even think."
Gareth grows really restless now because he knows - or thinks he knows - what they're talking about. Can it be? Can uncle Boromir really suggest... but their father won't agree... but if uncle Boromir insists... Gareth knows their father can never, never deny him anything.
"What harm can it do?"
"Gareth cannot miss his lessons," Faramir says strictly, and Gareth feels as if the air is whooshed out of him. Boromir looks at him, a smile wandering on his lips, then at Faramir, and then he reaches and pulls Atanar up to the saddle.
"Then we can take Atanar," he says, "he doesn't have any lessons."
And Gareth feels as if his world is falling apart, despair overflowing him. Life can't be so unfair, it just can't be. In one split second he already can see them - his father, Boromir and Atanar - leaving, and him staying alone, with his lessons, and the world is empty and cold around him.
Then he feels his father's gaze on himself and raises his head. His lips tremble but he tells himself he must not cry, he's not a baby, and somehow he manages to keep tears from leaking out.
"Oh dear," his father says softly and leans down to him. "Come here, Igareth. Come."
He takes his father's hand, still not quite out of the chasm of his despair - and only when he's taken up into the saddle and feels his father's hard chest against his back, Gareth finally believes his luck.
"It was not very noble of you, Boromir," Faramir says with reproach. Boromir just laughs.
"I knew you wouldn't bear seeing one of them miserable, brother," he says, spurring the horse.
The wind is sharp blowing in Gareth's face but his back feels so warm, protected with his father's chest. The white stones of the streets flit under them with frightening speed. He can see people stop and look at them.
"Hello people," Atanar shrieks excitedly and waves like mad. Some smile and wave back at him. As they ride out of the gates, Gareth settles against his father and feels warm and comfortable and happy.
* * *
When their tasks are done, they stop on the green clearing. The grass is soft, young and green and looks exactly as Gareth remembers it from Ithilien, even if his feet don't get tangled in it any more. After the better half of the day in the saddle he's quite sore - he didn't know it would be like that - but he'd better bite off his tongue than complain.
They eat, and Atanar nods off with a piece of cheese squeezed in his hand. When he slumps against Boromir's side, Boromir chuckles and puts him down, wrapping him in his cloak carefully. Atanar smacks his lips but doesn't wake up.
Gareth himself feels very full and tired, and contented. His eyelids grow heavy as he listens to the gentle rustle of the nearby stream.
"I'd like to freshen up a little. And you?" Boromir says in a hushed voice.
"The water must be icy," Faramir answers. Dozing off, Gareth hears Boromir get up, his leather armor rustling faintly. Gareth's eyes break open to see him walk to the brook and remove his breastplate, then pull off the shirt.
In the bright light of the spring sun scars stand out on his chest and back sharply. Scars are not new for Gareth - his father has quite a few of them, from a dart of a Nazgul, and the King had to save his life after that (Gareth loves this story), and some faint white scars criss-crossing his back - his mother said once it was his grandfather's cane that left them... for Gareth it's difficult to imagine, their father never hit him, even when he took Atanar for a walk and they got lost and townsmen only brought them back after dark.
Boromir's scars are different, looking jagged and disfiguring, as if the wounds they cover are chasms to another world. Bergil's words come back to Gareth, almost forgotten: "Everyone thought he was dead..."
He watches with sleepy eyes as Boromir scoops handfuls of water, splashing on his face and chest. The muscles roll under the pale skin, shifting the scars. Next to him, Gareth hears a barely audible intake of breath of his father, and then Faramir gets up and walks up to his brother.
Boromir turns back and smiles, and Faramir's arms wrap around him, from behind, pulling Boromir to his chest.
They stand like that, his father still clothed and Boromir shirtless, Faramir's arms around him, and even from his place Gareth can see how tightly his arms are clutched - hugging, cradling his brother. And his father's face is buried in Boromir's hair, and there is no word they say, no sound they make. Gareth falls asleep with them still standing like that, close and quiet.
* * *
He always knew that there were dreams. Special dreams that his father had, and his grandfather before him, and it was going on in the family of Stewards generation after generation - past, present or future revealed to them.
Yet when it comes to him, he isn't prepared at all. What he sees, he knows somehow, is something that already happened - and it is something so frightening that Gareth feels as if his heart rends under the pressure and bleeds, and he can't stand it any longer, it's killing him.
His dream about greed and pride and a horrible mistake, and breaking of the vow, and desperate attempts to make up for it. He hears swords clashing, and terrible pain pierces his body again and again until he falls, falls into the darkness.
But the darkness is not the end, and it is worst of all. There is scarlet flame, and pain again, and horrible faces look down at him. And he wants it to be over, to be free but he knows he doesn't deserve it. There is no way to go, and then he retreats deeper into his mind, and it shreds, and shadows come but the terrible scarlet flame never goes away...
Gareth screams, his arms flailing, getting caught in the blanket, and he thinks it is chains that hold him, like the chains in his dream - or is it the chains he sometimes needs now, to keep him from harming himself... Scream gets caught in his throat, chokes him. There is no air but he still screams, soundlessly, and then it is all gone.
* * *
He comes round to a cool wet cloth sliding over his face. The room is lit with warm, orange light of candles. Gareth's head lies on his father's lap and his hand pushes away Gareth's hair from his face. Uncle Boromir runs the wet cloth over his forehead. On the other bed Atanar sits hugging his knees and staring at Gareth with fascinated owlish eyes.
Gareth takes a convulsive breath and clutches on something closest to him, which happens to be Boromir's hand. There are no abrasions from the chains on Boromir's wrists now, it's been nearly a month and a half since the last time 'it' happened. But Gareth remembers it too well. He remembers how the darkness and the fire were so close to him in his dream and he had nowhere to run from them but to madness.
Boromir doesn't stop wiping his face, and the thumb of his hand strokes Gareth's hand softly.
As he lies there and breathes, the dream seems to step away from him little by little, fading, becoming almost unreal. But when Gareth meets Boromir's eyes, dark in the dim room, he understands that Boromir knows what he saw.
"So, it started," Gareth's father says, and his palm caressing Gareth's head is so gentle.
"It won't be so bad after a while," Boromir says, "you know it. The first time is the most difficult."
"I just hoped," Faramir says, "that he'll have a little more time."
Gareth meets Boromir's eyes - the eyes that sometimes are so laughing and bright - and so hazy, alien and suffering on other days; and he knows that whatever it is, he won't ever forget what he saw.
The edge of Boromir's hand curls against Gareth's cheek, and it's warm and careful, and as pacifying as his father's fingers combing his hair.
He feels so warm between those hands, and as he looks up, he sees his father and his uncle look at each other - and there is silent, wordless but oh-so-strong connection between them.
* * *
Sometimes it seems to Gareth that the whole world consists only of four of them - his father, uncle Boromir, Gareth and Atanar, and it is so perfectly symmetrical this way, just as it has to be. And they can live their whole life not needing anyone else, seeing their reflections in each other's eyes.
But sometimes it seems to him the world is even smaller, separating his father and Boromir from everyone else, and it is for them that no one else exists. And he, Gareth, is standing on the verge of this world, pressing his palms to the glass wall and trying to reach them and failing.
* * *
It is an early morning, the sun blinding bright pouring through the tall windows of the arcade. Atanar's bare feet are a distant padding along the corridor. He has advantage over Gareth, and the bursts of his laughter reach Gareth from afar.
"Quiet, you silly baby," he mutters, "everyone's still asleep."
He doesn't get in time. Atanar pushes the heavy door with both hands - and runs into their father's bedroom.
"You're wake, you're wake, I know you are..."
Gareth is on the threshold of the room when Atanar is already inside. The curtains are drawn together, and there is only a thin strip of light breaking in, with dancing particles of dust in it. Their father raises his disheveled head from the pillow, his eyes puffy with sleep.
"Atanar, what hap..."
"He's just come to keep us company," Boromir says lazily, turning onto his back. His eyes are sleepy but lucid, the shadows in them so distant they seem almost completely gone. He stretches and pushes longish strands of brown-grey hair away from his eyes. "Come here, little man."
Atanar jumps onto the bed and crawls to straddle Boromir's chest.
"So, have you waken everyone on your way?" Boromir asks and bounces him a little, making Atanar giggle.
Gareth leans against the doorjamb, drawing up one of his feet - the stone floor is cold. He smiles; his father smiles as well, looking through the messy strands of hair at his brother. His gaze is tender and warm and protective, and there is something vulnerable in it that it makes Gareth feel a little sad.
"Can you imagine either of us barging into our father's bedroom?" Boromir asks turning to Faramir.
"Only in a fit of idiocy," Faramir says softly. Boromir snorts and tickles Atanar.
Faramir looks at Gareth, and there is gentleness and smile in his gaze.
"Igareth," he says, "don't you want to come here? Your feet must be icy."
Doesn't he want to? Gareth climbs into the bed, hastily, and his feet are frozen, indeed, and his father wraps him into the blanket and takes his feet into his palms. And now Gareth feels very warm, in this sleepy, crumpled bed, leaning against his father's chest, with his father's chin resting on the top of his head.
Atanar shrieks, trying to escape the tickling, and falls into the hollow between Boromir and Faramir. Gareth hears his father chuckle. And Boromir looks at his brother, the expression in his eyes suddenly intense to the point of desperation. Faramir reaches his hand, and Boromir takes it - and then brings it to his lips, kissing the palm. It's such a brief gesture, Gareth can almost think he imagined it. But then Boromir keeps holding his brother's hand, his gaze never leaving Faramir's face.
Atanar, laughing, tries to climb over Boromir again, and their hands part, and Gareth feels his father hug him, and he is warm and comfortable.
He knows his world is perfect, and he belongs there.
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