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Sean’s hand is warm on my hip, his breath stirring the hair at the back of my neck. It’s the deepest part of the night, and someone else is curled up against my chest, warm and naked. I open my eyes in shock. Who the fuck . . . ?

But waking can’t be true because of the impossibility of who’s lying with me.

I’ve never been able to tell whether these encounters are real or not. Logic says no, but, bloody hell, I’ve personally seen crazier. So I keep my voice low, just in case, not wanting to wake Sean.

“What are you doing here?”

Éomer raises his head, his dark eyes troubled. Looking at him is like looking at a slightly distorted mirror. Our eyes are nearly the same, but everything else is off. He hasn’t aged nearly as fast as I have and tonight he looks far too young for the responsibilities he carries.

Fuck, his very existence still plays with my head.

He stares at me, not answering. The sheets have slid low on my hips and he covers Sean’s hand with his. “You are happy.”

I try to not tense, knowing he’s touching Sean, hating it like bloody well nothing else on this earth. Sean and I’ve had our battles with jealousy, made worse by the shifting. The morning when he came back from Boromir spending the night with Faramir was a bad one. If had been anyone else but Faramir, whom I respect, I would have really lost it. As it was I dragged him to bed, fucking him over and over, marking him, trying to claim him for good and all as mine. Afterwards, seeing the bites I’d left on him and other things, I crumbled again, but he understood and pulled me out of the darkness.

We talked for a long time and got past it, but dream or not, I hate like hell to see anyone else with their hands on him. But Éomer needs something from me, that’s bloody obvious, so I try to keep my tension out of my voice as I answer the question he didn’t ask.

“Yes, I am. He’s the peace of my soul.”

My visitor nods, “He is a good man.”

“What is it, Éomer? What brings you here?” I can’t remember the last time I talked to him . . . surely Théodred hasn’t died yet?

“I seek reassurance. More and more Orcs cross my demesne and every time I lose Riders. In the West, Théo’s Riders fight the Wildmen. We are beset from both sides and our losses are mounting.”

The Prince is still alive then, but I’m not sure when exactly he’s talking about. “What do you want to know?”

His brow furrows, this clearly is not an easy thing for him to ask. “My éored bears heavy losses . . . we seem to be singled out, a target. If I am gone, who will help Théodred preserve our people?”

I researched this long ago, so I know what Saruman’s strategy is. “Right, you’re an item that Saruman needs to tick off his list of things to do to conquer Rohan. He wants you gone and it doesn’t matter to him how you’re removed.”

Prison for Éomer, death for his lover.

He’s nodding, no doubt thinking of ways to ensure his own safety. I know from personal experience that he worries about that only as far as it concerns keeping his people safe. I don’t know if his mind is capable of taking the next step, of making the connection and I’m afraid to tell him for fear of tipping the delicate balance of events.

“If I am on this list you speak of, then how much more would Saruman desire to remove my cousin, who rules Rohan in all but name?”

Steps completed. Fuck. “You know the answer to that better than I.”

He nods. “I will send warning, but no doubt Théodred has already discerned this strategy as well. I thank you.”

No doubt he had, but a fuck load of good it did him. “You would have gotten that by yourself. Was that the reassurance you needed?”

He looks young again, almost frightened. I wonder how much sleep he gets, constantly beset by Saruman’s forces.

“I told you once that I do not wish the burden of knowing. I am not as strong as Faramir, to be able to hold that and not collapse under the weight of it. I do not wish to know for myself . . . but for Rohan, do you fear for the Riddermark?”

I smile, comfortable with that one. “No, your people will prosper and grow strong, that much is certain and clearly written. Follow your heart and it will happen.”

Perhaps that’s too much, perhaps he would have made a different choice when he found the three hunters, or at other places when he could have altered events. But I think I didn’t tell him anything that he wouldn’t’ve done anyway.

He looks easier then and he threads his hand through my hair, fingers moving, almost a lover’s caress. My eyes grow heavy and close. When I realise what’s happened, I tear myself out of sleep, sitting up in bed, ignoring Sean’s sleepy protest.

We’re alone again, just the two of us. Sean’s watching me curiously and I smile at him, leaning down to kiss him, a kiss that soon turns hungry. As I sink into his heat, I’m thinking how glad I am that he and I don’t have a difficult destiny in front of us. Quite an ordinary one, but I’m more than satisfied with that.

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horseboykarl

February 2011

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