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
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,
* * *
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
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
"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
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
"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
* * *
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
"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
"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
* * *
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
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
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
"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
"I'd like to freshen up a little. And you?" Boromir says in a
"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
"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
"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
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
He knows his world is perfect, and he belongs there.