Title: Touching Shadows
Disclaimer: Don't own any of them.
Spoilers: S7 for BTVS, before FOTK for LOTR.
Summary: They were there, waiting in the shadows. If only she could reach them . . .
Note: Thanks to Houses, for the beta.
Dedication: To Cinnamongrrl, for all her help with Lady Of The Rings.
My sides hurt. I pressed my hands against my ribs and felt my own blood seeping through the material of my dress. The cuts were deep, but not that deep. I would not die as a result of my injuries, but I had this feeling that death still lurked on the horizon.
I stood on shaky legs and looked down below me. There was a battle ensuing on the ground, but I could not place the combatants as they collided. I felt as if I should know them, but I just couldn't find their names. I didn't know why they were fighting and I didn't know why I was standing atop this tower watching them.
What was this place? I have seen it before, many times, and yet I could never understand what it was. Had I been here before? Was this nothing more than a memory? It was too terrible to be a memory. It had the quality of a nightmare, but there was a haunting familiarity to it all. The wind was blowing fiercely, causing my hair to whip about my face and block my vision. Lightning and thunder crashed all around me and I saw some of the most ghastly creatures that I had ever seen. My eyes caught a glimpse of a large airborne creature not too far from the tower and my heart almost stopped when I recognized it to be a dragon. All of it was so frightening, and yet none of it scared me as much as what I knew would come next.
She had made her appearance at last. I remembered her face, the hazel eyes that caught my attention and made my heart ache for some reason. She appeared almost like an angel with her fair hair flying about her head. She had a look of utmost urgency on her face, and when she reached for me I went to her without a second thought.
"Dawn, you're going to have to be strong," she told me. I frowned and looked at her closely. Her eyes never wavered from mine and her face was set with a determined expression. "What's coming will come, and there is no stopping it. All you can do is be strong. You have to be strong Dawnie. Others are going to need your strength by the end."
Her words confused me and left an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. She released me and pressed a gentle kiss to my forehead. I wanted to ask her so many things; I wanted her to explain so much more, but she was already moving past me. I turned to watch her go, horror filling my body when I realized that she was heading for the edge of the tower. I screamed when she leaped into the air and plummeted down to the ground. I shut my eyes and turned away from the sight as tears ran down my face.
I fell to my knees and covered my face with my hands. I cried for that woman I did not know, but that I felt love for all the same. I cried for a long time, until the awful vision faded away and I woke up in my bed with my tearstained pillow clutched to my chest.
"They haunt you."
I sighed and turned to face my aunt. She stood in the entrance to the courtyard and watched me with concerned eyes. I smiled at my old aunt and motioned for her to join me. She did, though her face did not lose its worried expression. She moved briskly over the lawns and joined me on the stone bench I had been seated on since after breakfast. She wore the simple white dress she always wore, with an apron wrapped loosely around her waist. She smelled of various herbs and spices, which told me she had just been in the supply room. No doubt someone had called my behaviour to her attention and she had hurried over here as fast as she could. No one understood, or hated, my moods as much as my dear aunt.
"Aunt Ioreth, good morning,” I greeted her.
"Good morning, dear niece," she replied as she raised a hand to stroke my hair. "I was told that you were sulking about the gardens, again, and so I came to see what troubles you. It only took one look for me to know what it is. There is only one thing that can make you so forlorn. You had one of those blasted dreams again, haven't you?"
"Oh aunt, how well you know me," I said softly. "Can you really tell just by looking?"
"Yes," she insisted. "I have had years of practice. Do not forget it was I who raised you since you were but a child. These dreams have plagued you for just as long. What terrors did they show you this time?"
"No terrors they have not shown me before," I admitted. "I am sorry for worrying everyone over these silly dreams. But you are right; they do haunt me, though I do not understand why. And the woman . . . it’s always the same woman, aunt. I feel like I know her, there are times when I feel like I love her, though nothing good ever comes of her visitations. I just wish I knew where these visions came from."
"Perhaps they come from you," my aunt suggested. "I know that I often do not see things as clearly as others do, but even I have noticed. The times are dark, my dear girl. Smoke arises from Mount Doom once more, and the Guard moves about the city with a mission. But it is not what goes on in the city that bothers you, is it niece? You worry for those who are not within the walls of the city."
I laughed bitterly and shook my head. "Aunt, you are far more observant than anyone knows."
"And you are more crafty than anyone knows," she said as she gave me a sharp look. "You are avoiding talking about him."
"I am not," I insisted stubbornly. "And there is nothing to talk about anyway. I have not heard from him in days."
"He is busy," my aunt offered.
"I know that," I said firmly. "I know he has duties, and I am not complaining-"
"But you worry," she finished for me.
"I am entitled to my worry," I responded dully. "You cannot say that I am not."
"And I did not say that," my aunt said. "But I am saying that perhaps these dreams have returned because you worry."
"Or maybe they're a warning," I countered. "They always feel that way. And the things that she tells me . . ."
I trailed off, and my aunt was silent for a moment. I looked down into the waters of the fountain next to my bench and was surprised to find myself looking so pale. The dreams were taking their toll on me, and the circles forming under my eyes could attest to that.
"He will be back soon," my aunt assured me quietly.
I shook my head and forced back my tears. "But he will not stay for long. He never does."
Another night, and another dream. I was climbing my way out of a hole in the ground. I struggled to hoist myself upwards by grabbing roots and finding footholds in the dirt wall. I slipped about halfway up and she extended a hand to steady me. I knew she was there, though I did not look at her, and I carried on with the confidence that she would watch me. We reached the top and I squirmed my way over dewy green grass until my feet were clear of the hole.
She helped me to my feet, and I leaned on her just a bit as I fought to catch my breath. She smiled and motioned for me to follow her. I did and we walked a few steps before coming to a stop before a large mound of red and orange flowers. The flowers were beautiful, and they had a calming effect on me. I felt happy as I looked at those flowers with my head resting on her shoulder.
"It's hard for you to love people like us," she said suddenly. I frowned, though I did not ask who she was referring to. I knew, though I did not want to admit it.
"You should have fallen for someone different, someone not like us," she continued. "I wonder if it's your curse or something, but then I stop myself. I don't want to think like that, it's too negative. And all I've ever wanted is for you to be happy Dawnie."
"I am happy," I protested. She gave me a look. "Well, I am happy most of the time."
"A part of me thinks that I would hurt him for causing you sadness, but another part of me knows that it would be entirely too hypocritical. He's like me, he has a duty. And it's too hard to love someone with a duty."
"I imagine it is hard for the person with duty, as well," I replied.
"It is," she said firmly. "But not so much as it is for those they leave behind. It's just a difference of how we perceive things. When we go into battle, you're left wondering if you'll ever see us again. It makes you worry, makes you sad, and a part of you just wants to beg us not to go. But we always go, we have to keep fighting.”
"Because your duty keeps you from your love," I finished for her.
"No, that's not it at all," she corrected me. "Our love is what drives us to perform our duty. You worry as we go into battle, you worry for our safety. And when we leave, you think that your love was not enough. But when we go, we go with a picture of you in our minds. We do our duty for you, because we know that if we fail, bad times would fall upon you. If we stayed and did not fight, we wouldn't be doing our best to save you from what's coming. If we die, our death will hurt you, we know that. But we also know that you will remain alive, and though that hurt lingers, you have a bright and safe future ahead of you. One day, you will forget the hurt and just be happy, like we've always wanted."
"And what if I say that your sacrifice is not wanted?" I asked her. "What if I told you that I would die the second I heard of your death?"
"Then I would say you were lying," she replied evenly. "Dawnie, I know it's tough for you to hear, but it isn't just for you that we sacrifice. You're a big part of it, but there are others. We love you, we love our family, we love our friends, we love our land, and we love our people. We couldn't, we wouldn't stand by and let any of these things come to harm. You know this, I think you accepted it a long time ago. And I know you would never throw away our sacrifice by ending the life we fought so fiercely to preserve for you."
"But it would be so hard," I started to say.
"Life is often difficult," she said. "Giles used to tell us that all the time. I don't suppose you remember; I think remembering too much is against the rules. But just because life is hard doesn't mean that life isn't worth it. You're going to have a wonderful life. You'll have love and children and be happy until your last breath."
"But I will not have it with him," I whispered tearfully. She was silent for a moment and then turned to hug me.
"I'm sorry Dawnie."
Weeks have passed and still they come. I draw comfort and pain from them at the same time. The dreams were pushing me to accept a reality that I did not want to acknowledge, but at the same time they brought me time with her. And I wanted to cherish every moment I had with her, because I knew she would not always be there. The dreams came to me at random. I could often go days, months, even years, without having a single one. She came only when she thought I had need of her, and she could never stay for long. When this dark time finally passed, she would go with it. And I would not dream of her again for some time.
I passed my time working with my aunt and the other healers in the houses, and spent whatever spare moments I had in the gardens. My aunt, though she worried, decided that it would be best to leave to my thoughts for a time. I was glad for it, because I needed time to reflect. The gardens were wonderful for that. A person could sit on a bench, surrounded by lush greenery and the pleasant perfumes of flowers, and just think. I would often spend my time gazing at my reflection in the nearby fountains. I would compare myself to that woman in my dreams, who was far more beautiful than I was but who resembled me all the same. Though our hair was different, and I was much taller, we had the same nose. Our mouths were different, but the shape of our faces were the same as well. We were similar in little ways, and different in many other. If I had had a sister, I believe she would have looked just like the woman who spoke to me in my dreams.
It was on such a day that he came to find me. I had heard that he returned to the city, but I did not seek him out as I usually did. I remained at the Healing Houses despite all my aunt's proddings. I knew that he would come find me when he had the time, and he did. I did not hear him approach, perhaps because I was too deep in thought to be fully aware of my surroundings or because he could move so silently and so swiftly when the mood struck him. I did not know he had joined me until I saw his reflection in the fountain's waters. He smiled warmly at me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"It has been a long time," he said simply.
"I was busy," I replied a bit too harshly. "You understand, I hope?"
He heaved a great sigh and sat himself down beside. "You are angry with me. Again. I wonder, am I ever in your good graces?"
"Sometimes I wonder that myself," I said coldly. "What can I do for you today, my lord?"
"You could look at me," he answered calmly. "I have been wanting to see your face for some time."
"I am only one level down," I reminded him. "If the desire was so strong, you could have come down."
"Iorena," he spoke my name clearly and with force. "You are angry with me, I understand. If you wish for me to go, you only have to ask."
I sat silently, not trusting myself to keep my calm. I kept my gaze on my reflection in the fountain as I thought back to the dream from last night. She spoke truthfully, and the truth was hurtful. I did not have to look at him to know why he had come down today. He had come to say goodbye, yet again. It made me angry to know that she was right, to know that he would not stay even if I asked him, to know that I loved him so and yet I could not be with him because of his duty.
"I do not desire for you to leave," I said, trying to hold back tears of sadness and frustration. "You know the problem is quite the opposite. You have come to tell me of your departure. You did not even stay a week this time."
"I know," he said apologetically. "But you must understand, my father has asked this of me. There is to be a council in Rivendell on the matter of the enemy. I have to go."
"Faramir could go," I retorted stubbornly.
"Faramir is still in the field," he reminded me. "And if he should go to Rivendell, then I must take up his position in the field. It is my duty-"
"I hate that word!" I snapped suddenly. I stood quickly and walked a short distance from him, my arms wrapped around my waist. "I know that it means so much to you, but I despise that word! It takes so much from me."
"Iorena," he called me. "Iorena, look at me."
I did not wish to face him. He walked up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulder. He turned me around slowly, tilting my face upwards when I cast my eyes downwards. I had no choice at this point but to look him in the eyes. I felt my heart melt the second I saw his handsome face. The desire to run my hand over his cheek, through his hair, and to press a kiss to his lips overcame me. He knew it, the mischievous smile on his face told me that much. He leaned forward and kissed me gently. The hairs of his beard tickled my face, but I did not care. For that one moment, I did not care about anything else other than this wonderful man. But when he pulled away, the worries and the anger came rushing back.
"I love you," he whispered to me. "Do you not believe me when I say it?"
"I do believe you," I replied. "I know that you love me, as I love you. And yet, you leave me tomorrow, again."
"You know I must do as my father asks," he said. "I have responsibilities, not only to him, but to Gondor as well. I must go."
"If I asked you to stay, would you think less of me?" I asked him softly.
"No," he answered truthfully as he trailed his hand over my long brown hair. "But I could not say yes. I am sorry, but I must go."
"Do not be sorry," I sighed. "It is my fault for making such a fuss. You do not belong to me solely. I cannot dictate where you can or cannot go. I realize I must accept it, but I never knew that it would be this hard."
He smiled at me broadly, pulling me close for an embrace. "When I return, I will make you my wife," he promised me. "I will tell my father; I will make the preparations; I will ride out with Faramir to shout the news out across the city. I will let everyone know that Boromir, son of Denethor is to wed the lovely Iorena, daughter of Iorath."
"And niece of Ioreth," I reminded him. "You should not leave that out. Aunt would have fits."
"I shall recite your entire lineage back to the First Age, if that is what you desire," he agreed happily. "Though that would make the news spreader slower. I might finish alerting the city by the time our son weds."
"We are going to have a son?" I asked with a raised eyebrow. "Will we not have a daughter?"
"We will," he assured me. "We will have seven of each."
"Why seven?" I asked with a giggle.
"It is my favourite number," he replied easily.
"I would be horribly fat by the end of it," I warned him.
"You could never be anything but perfect," he assured me.
"You use such flattering words in hopes that I will forget my anger," I accused him.
"Is it working?"
I smiled and shook my head. "Unfortunately, yes."
"Love, do not be so serious," he teased me, pressing a kiss to my forehead. "It is only a council. I will return as quickly as I can."
My smile faltered and I laid my head against his shoulder. "Promise?" I asked, my voice breaking.
"I promise," he said firmly. I closed my eyes as he held me close and willed my heart to believe him.
"Good does triumph over evil. Eventually."
I blinked and turned my gaze from the large hole in the ground to find her standing next to me. She looked horrible with dirt smeared over her face, blood trickling down from a scar above her right eye, and blood staining her shirt. And yet she walked tall and proud, even giving me a smile as she came to stand next to me.
"This is what we fight for Dawnie," she told me. "To see that evil is stopped and so that the world can go on because it's something worth fighting for."
"I know," I replied softly. "You taught me that."
"So, you've started to remember?"
"A bit," I confessed. "It has been going on for far too long. I cannot just think of this as a mere dream my mind has created. There's something more behind it all."
"Have you figured out what that is, exactly?" she asked.
I was silent for a moment as I thought it over. "Once, when I was but training in the Healing Houses, Mithrandir came by to chat with some of his old friends, including the House Warden. I ran into him by accident, and though I rushed to apologize, he assured me that it was quite okay. And then he did the strangest thing. He pushed my hair away from my eyes and gazed at me intently. He seemed to be searching for something, and once he found it, he gave me a gentle smile. He told me that I was a beautiful youth with even more beautiful old soul. Aunt thought he meant that I was mature for my age, but I was never sure. One can never be too sure with Mithrandir, but I always imagined his words held much more significance than my aunt believed. I suppose now I understand what he means. An old soul for certain, for I know I have lived out this life with you before I ever opened my eyes in Middle Earth."
"Give the girl a cigar," she smiled and then frowned. "On second thought, no cigars. They're bad for you. Very bad, you hear me?"
I laughed at bit at her warning, my mirth leaving me as I looked down upon that large crater before me. "It still does not make it easy."
"And nothing ever will," she replied seriously. "Losing people is a risk we run all the time, and though it never gets any easier, it doesn't mean that we should stop living all together. There's far too much left of life to enjoy."
"You want some sort of a promise from me?" I asked suddenly. "That is what you are striving for, is it not?"
"You know me so well," she said with a small smile. "And yeah, I do want you to promise me something. It was the same thing I made you promise me before. Do you remember?"
"I do," I nodded. "You want me to promise that I will go on living, though sometimes living in this world is the hardest thing to do. You want me to promise that I will try to find happiness, that I will survive the darkness that is coming and make something of my life. That is what you want."
"It's what I've always wanted," she replied tearfully. "It's what I always want, no matter where you are or in what form, I will always wish you happiness Dawn. I love you, little sister."
"And I love you, big sister," I said without ever taking my eyes away from the crater. I tilted my head downwards and let it come to a rest on the side of hers. She wrapped one arm around me and I returned the favour. We stood there, holding each other as we gazed upon this large gaping hole in the earth, and for one moment, I knew something like peace. But that feeling would not remain for long.
"He is not coming back, is he?" I asked, my voice breaking as I asked the question that had plagued me for many days.
"No," she replied apologetically. "No, he won't. I'm sorry, honey."
The tears flowed freely then and she hugged me tightly and murmured soft soothing words in my ear. But even she could not drive away the sorrow I felt at that moment. I felt her presence recede and for the second time in one month, I awoke crying in my bed.
He set off the next morning, seated atop his horse with pride and determination. I had seen him after he had bade his father farewell, and I kissed him for what I knew would be the last time. Tears had come again and he chided my gently for my display.
"It is only a council," he said to me again. "I will return to you."
His words made my heart break all at once, though I covered it quickly and smiled through my pain. He left me with a smile on his face and a promise on his lips, both which I knew I would never see again. As he rode through the city, I made my way to the walls of the sixth level, my aunt right behind me. I saw him leave the protection of the city walls and ride out towards Rivendell. I watched him for a long time, until it was past midday and he was nothing more than a tiny speck in the distance.
"Come on dear," my aunt prodded me. "He will be back shortly, I promise you that."
I felt cold right down to my bones. I turned away from the wall and walked back down towards the Healing Houses with my aunt at my side. "Aunt," I finally told her. "You should not make promises you cannot keep."
"Whatever do you mean, dear?" she asked me, her brows knitted together in confusion. "He will return."
"No, aunt," I replied as the tears began to flow again. "No, he will not return. Not ever."