Title: Crooked Heart

Author: CinnamonGrrl

Purpose: Secret Santa fic for Deanie

Disclaimer: I own nothing but an ’89 Caddy Eldorado with a broken tape deck, and you’re welcome to it. The verses are from the poem As I Walked Out One Evening by W. H. Auden.



Crooked Heart


O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With all your crooked heart.


Faith felt fury rise in her as she stared out the window, watching the procession wend its inexorable way toward Edoras. With the usual absolute control she had over her body, she could track the welling of the fury from its origin deep in her belly as it travelled upwards to her chest, where it manifested as a vice wrapped round her heart and lungs, squeezing without mercy. Onward and upward it squirmed, this powerful rage of hers, to lodge in her throat and tighten her larynx, thickening it past the point of speech.


Her wrath dried her mouth, gritted her teeth, clenched her jaw as well as her fists as they gripped the windowsill, and it was only when it reached her eyes, bringing swift hot tears that made her vision blur, that she had to admit that perhaps the fury had just a little bit of hurt in it, as well. How had it come down to this? How had Faith, Vampire Slayer and Prisoner 44286 of the California Institution for Women, managed to become a woman who cried over a man?


It had started well over a year ago, she realized. An old guy, dressed all in white, had simply appeared in her prison cell and asked her if she’d like to join him in an epic battle to save the population of an entire world. He’d smiled sagely at her, as if he’d just known she’d say yes. She’d figured he was just another of those interesting little hallucinations she got sometimes when she was really feeling isolated, forgotten, abandoned, vulnerable... or when they had that mysterious grey meat on Thursdays. Either one, really. As hallucinations went, this one was pretty good—she’d give herself full marks for creativity and detail. The guy was very realistic with the sharp grey eyes and the beard and the shiny sword, and was nothing she would have expected from the depths of her own mind.


Faith, being the sensible girl she was, had of course told the hallucination to go fuck himself, and to do it quickly, if he didn’t mind. Her roommate was a light sleeper as well as a raving asshole, and Faith had no doubt the bitch would be awake and screeching for the guards within the minute if there wasn’t complete silence. The last thing she needed was to have to explain that, once again, she was talking to her imaginary friends and no, she really didn’t need yet another battery of psychiatric tests, but thanks for asking. Then she’d rolled over to face the wall, presenting him with her back, and hoped that this would be the end of her psychosis, at least for the night. She hadn’t expected him to heave a weary sigh, grab her by the scruff of her neck, and poof out of existence with her in reluctant, struggling, cussing tow.


They’d reappeared in the middle of a huge prairie, with nothing but rolling plains of grass as far as the eye (even a Slayer eye) could see. “This world needs you,” the man had intoned, interrupting her barrage of obscenity and fixing a beady eye on her before whistling and summoning an horse which he introduced as Shadowfax. With the oddest feeling that the horse was fully able to understand what they were saying—that, in fact, that he was smarter than both she and the geezer combined—Faith had uneasily greeted Shadowfax and a little later, thanked him for permitting her to ride on his back.


Gandalf was the old guy’s name, she learned, and it was his duty to bring help to the forces at Helm’s Deep. “We are in a struggle for the fate of all Middle-Earth,” he told her gravely, steely gaze resolute. “We need strong warriors, stalwart fighters who do not fear death, but know how to skirt it and come to victory.”


Faith tried to convince him he had the wrong girl—when had she ever known victory? Victorious people don’t end up in prison, as a general rule—but he would not be dissuaded, nor would he send her back to California. “Your destiny lies here, Slayer,” he informed her, and that was that. She’d tried simply running away from him, but even her supernatural speed was no match against that horse.


When Gandalf had tried to subdue her, she’d struggled but he was amazingly spry and strong for someone his age and somehow managed to trip her, kneel on her kidneys, and tie her wrists behind her back whilst wrestling her back onto Shadowfax, slinging her face-down over the horse’s back. It was very embarrassing, and Faith’s face had burned with a combination of shame and anger as the wizard spoke a few words and they were in motion once more.


They rode for a day, and Gandalf eventually allowed her to sit upright before him, although he kept her hands tied behind her back. Finally, a dark shape moving across the plains in the distance caught her attention. “Riders of the Mark,” Gandalf said, a smile of grim satisfaction crossing his lined, wise face. He spurred Shadowfax into a gallop, and in just a few minutes they were drawing near to the battalion of mounted warriors. “Éomer, son of Éomund!” he cried.


One man in particular, with a distinctive helm, came forward to meet them. “Gandalf!” he replied, his deep voice striking a chord within Faith. He swept the helm from his head, revealing a long cascade of dark-gold hair, a handsome face, and shrewd hazel eyes, and Faith had felt a corresponding throb in her belly. Wicked, she thought, amazed that she could get turned on so quickly just by looking at him.


His gaze travelled over her briefly, curiosity warring with disbelief, and she felt awkward and ugly in her institutional orange jumpsuit but still met his eyes challengingly. Just because he’s a hottie doesn’t mean I’m gonna back down, Faith thought rebelliously. No man gets one over on me.


“This is the great warrior you went to fetch?” the hottie inquired, a strong thread of amusement in his voice. “How can we trust her, if you had to bind her to make her join us?”


Faith tossed her hair; she’d be damned if she’d let the geezer reply for her. “He didn’t have to tie me up,” she replied lightly. “I just like it.”


Éomer looked at her once more; as his men snickered at her response, eyeing her impertinent manner and outthrust breasts, the expression on his face remained unchanged but something in his eyes flickered, a living green-gold flame of awareness. She met his gaze boldly and felt that little kick of arousal crank up a notch.


“Now that you have her, we must make haste, Gandalf,” Éomer said at last, gaze still locked on her. “Helm’s Deep lies to the south—“ he pointed in that direction “—and if we ride hard, we will make it by dawn.”


“Dawn on the fifth day,” Gandalf murmured, more to himself than anyone else, and nodded firmly before patting Shadowfax’s neck. That seemed all the Meara needed to spring forward, and once more they were doing that half-galloping, half-flying stride that ate up the ground so swiftly.


O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.


They stopped for a meal and scant few hours’ rest; Faith was untied and allowed some privacy by a stream. She peed for what felt like days, then stripped completely nude and marched into the stream, hissing as the chill water surrounded her goosebump-laded limbs. Staring down at her rippling reflection, Faith realized that against all odds not only was she still alive, but she was free again.


“Never expected to make it this long,” Faith murmured. Death had always loomed over her, first as the Slayer, then as a prisoner in a system that practically required you to fight for your life. She felt almost like a new person, there in that stream, washed of all that had gone before and presented with a new skin, a new world, a whole new chance to start over. In that moment, she understood what Angel was always yapping about when he spoke of ‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’. Oh, and ‘wonderment’—she was in awe that in spite of all she’d done, in spite of betraying her allies and her sacred calling, she’d been given that grace, that forgiveness, in the form of a chance to redeem herself here. “Sure as hell don’t deserve it.”


Then, “Ugh. What I wouldn’t give for some lipstick.” All this introspection was making her feel more naked than she actually was, and longed for the shielding properties cosmetics had always given her. With a thick line of eyeliner, a heavy coat of mascara, and some nice dark lipstick Faith thought she just might be able to conquer the world. Though no one was there, she bit her lips until they were red and pinched her cheeks, bringing some dearly needed colour to her face. Feeling more herself, she washed as best should could without any soap and made for the shore, feet slipping a little on the water-smoothed stones beneath them.


Combing chilled fingers through the dark wet tangles of her hair, she heard footsteps approaching over the crest of the hill that separated her from the men. It could have been any of them; she should have covered herself, but she was loath to put on that hated orange jumpsuit, and the slim chance that it could be Éomer also stilled her hand from reaching for the garment...


It was him. The setting sun behind him haloed his tall, broad-shouldered figure, gilding his hair and limning his form with fire, and Faith felt her mouth go dry as a bolt of longing shot through her. It had been years since she’d been with a man, and that man had been Xander. Her mouth twitched in amusement as she remembered his clumsy, eager fumblings, and a shaft of unexpected tenderness pierced her, quickly and ruthlessly suppressed.


“I have brought you new clothing,” Éomer said, the rumble of his voice sending a shiver deep into her bones as she turned slowly to face him. In the knee-deep water, the only thing shielding her from his perusal was her hair, grown nearly to her waist these last years of incarceration, and the coy placement of her hands. They both knew it was more for effect than modesty, and he casually dropped the bundle of clothes on a rock. “But you will not be needing it for a while,” he added, and tugged his tunic off over his head.


It was clear he thought himself in control of the situation. Faith thought it best to clear up that little misconception early on, and quick as a flash darted from the stream to knock him face-down to the ground, arms pinned inside his tunic. He struggled, muttering about dire consequences, until he felt the wet slide of her nude body over his bare back, and then fell silent so abruptly that Faith couldn’t help but laugh.


“Like that, do you, horse-boy?” she purred into his ear after pulling a hank of golden hair away from his ear. She gave the lobe a firm nibble, sucking on it whilst pressing her breasts against his muscled back, then came up on her knees so she could flip him over. Arms still caught in his tunic, he was forced to lay there, staring up at her as she straddled his waist. Against her backside Faith could feel the insistent rise of his arousal, and rubbed herself enticingly against it.


When he didn’t answer, she gave his nipple a vicious pinch. “Like that, horse-boy?” she repeated softly, eyes glowing in the moonlight streaming down over them.


“Yes,” he answered, just as softly, the deepness of his voice vibrating into her very soul. Slowly she dropped herself to sit on his belly, letting him feel the brush against his skin of her pubic hair, damp not just from her recent bath. Faith leaned forward, raking her short nails down his torso, exploring the ridges and hollows that made his body so different from hers, before lowering herself so their chests were aligned, her breasts flattening against him and nipples abraded by the dusting of light brown hair that arrowed down to his abdomen. Shifting slightly, she rubbed herself against him, unable to stifle a moan at the contact. It had been far, far too long since she’d been with a man. There was plenty of girl-on-girl action to be had in prison, but most of those girls weren’t exactly prime pickings, and Faith’s vehicle of choice for fun had always been the cock.


Raising herself up a bit, she nuzzled her nose against the crisp little beard he sported on his chin before claiming his mouth in a searing kiss. His lips parted immediately for her onslaught, and his tongue came to war with hers almost before she was ready for it.  Dimly, Faith realized he was struggling with his bonds; the fabric of his tunic creaked in anticipation of tearing and she pulled away to sit casually astride him, her hands reaching to still his movements. “You want to end the fun so soon?” she asked with a pretty pout. “I’m disappointed, we were just getting started.”


With a mighty tug the tunic rent down the centre, freeing his arms. Immediately, Éomer reached up to grasp Faith and haul her back down to him. “Disappointed?” he demanded. “That shall never be a word you use regarding me.” Threading one hand into her hair and spreading his wide palm over the small of her back, he locked her in place as he came to ravish her mouth once more.


But Faith wasn’t entirely pleased with this turn of events; she clamped her mouth shut and would not open until he pressed his thumb into her cheek, forcing her lips to part. Then he was kissing her again, wet and hot, and she couldn’t quite find it in herself to spite them both just for the sake of domination. Time for that later, she thought hazily, and sighed against his mouth as his fingers curled around her butt cheek, their tips stroking in feathery little touches against the swollen, sensitive opening to her body.


Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.


Éomer rolled them then, so he was on top, and tore his mouth from hers to latch onto her nipple. Still between her legs, he ground himself against her, the thin layer of his trousers an infuriating barrier between them. He pulled on the sensitive flesh with his teeth, then laved the tiny hurt before nipping it once more, just enough to make her whimper.


Faith closed her eyes against the purple-blue sky above, closed them against the stars that twinkled and the moon that gleamed, and revelled in the sensations that coursed through her. His weight on her was heavy; he was a large man, large and strong from a lifetime of riding, swordplay, and wearing armour. After days upon days of riding and fighting, his hair was tangled and it snagged on her palms, rough from cheap prison soap, but still she smoothed them repeatedly down his back as the feel of him could be absorbed somehow into her own skin.


The press of his erection against her was like a hot iron bar, and she squirmed repeatedly against it but he seemed preoccupied with other things—his mouth travelled over her body, licking and kissing and she could have sworn he was also sniffing her, too. “Hurry,” she murmured, writhing against Éomer once more. “I want... I want...”


“What it is you want?” he asked, voice slow and deep as the night that cloaked them. “Tell me, and I might give it to you.”


Faith snorted in a completely unladylike display of humour, and flipped them over so she was on top once more. “I want you,” she said, and tore his trousers off. His arousal sprang free, long and so thick so wanted to cry for joy. “Yes,” she hissed, taking it in hand and giving it one firm stroke before moving to place it so she could slide down, but now it was Éomer’s turn to spin them.


Once more looming above Faith, his hair tumbling over his shoulders to pool with her own dark locks on the now-matted grasses lining the stream’s banks, he leant on his elbows so he could frame her face with his big hands, holding her head immobile. In the moonlight, her eyes were enormous and starlit, enchanting and utterly beguiling in their naked need for him, but she had no way of knowing that. She was entirely caught up in staring up at him, shadowed and mysterious in the darkness. “Éomer—“ she began, but he caught her bottom lip between his teeth and tugged.


“Hush,” he commanded. “No words now.” Blinking, her body throbbing with longing, she actually obeyed and waited, looking into his eyes until she thought she could see the bottom of his soul. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he slipped himself into her until he was thoroughly seated, until she was sure he they were fused for eternity. But she was wrong; he withdrew, and both frowned at the sense of loss the withdrawl brought them, until he slid in once more. Full, replete, whole, Faith tilted back her head, and smiled into the night.


It went considerably faster from there. Once they’d had a taste of the heaven that was his body lost in hers, there was no stopping them. Faith wrapped arms and legs around his, clasping him so tightly to her that all he could do was thrust in an abbreviated hunching motion. He didn’t seem to mind overmuch; his arms had come to enclose her until they were cocooned in each others’ limbs.


Release came upon them almost as a surprise; so intent upon it were they that when the moment finally arrived, each seemed shocked, whether at the intensity or the length, one could not be sure. Once more their gazes latched, locked irrevocably on each other, brown meeting hazel until the shuddering was over, the waves of pleasure had receded, and they had remembered once more that breathing was a good thing.


Éomer made as if to remove himself from her, but she tightened arms and legs around him, preventing his departure. “No,” she entreated, “stay.” So he stayed, shifting to his side so he wasn’t crushing her petite frame.


“Tell me about yourself,” Faith said lazily, head on his chest and finger tracing circles around his nipple. “Are you married?”


“Betrothed,” Éomer replied idly, stroking a hand down the lush skin of her back before palming one of her buttocks and squeezing experimentally, as if testing for ripeness. “You?”


“Nah,” she replied. “Wasn’t in much of a position to hook up with the guys where I was.”


He lifted a brow at the ambiguity of what she had said, and the implication of what she had not. “You have been with other women?”


“Sure,” Faith replied breezily. “Any port in a storm, huh?” She eyed him speculatively. “Speaking of which... you’re a big strong warrior, I bet you spend a lot of time with other men. Ever taken port in any of those storms?”


He smirked at her. “There has been the odd occasion where need overrode prudence, yes,” he conceded. “But it is not to my preference.”


“Like your lovers a little more squishy, do ya?” she asked playfully, cupping a breast and offering it to him with a saucy grin. He duly leant over and captured the nipple in his mouth, rolling it between lips and tongue before giving it a not-so-gentle bite. With a delighted squeal, Faith pushed him onto his back and sank onto him, feeling his penis thicken and harden within her. “Oh, that’s gotta be the best feeling, ever,” she sighed happily.


“Indeed it is,” Éomer agreed, hands clasping her hips and holding her steady for his single hard thrust upward, “but I fear our time here has come to an end.”


Faith frowned in displeasure, then frowned deeper in disbelief when he lifted her off him and stood. “What, because we’ve been out here for an hour and the others are going to start worrying?”


“I doubt they are worrying much,” he commented, discarded his ruined trousers and taking up the ones he’d brought for her. “They none of them had any doubt as to what we would do the moment I began to climb this hill.” He smirked again. “No, we are stopping because it is fully dark by now, and there happen to be thousands of orcs within mere hours of walking. It is foolish to remain here, unclad and vulnerable.”


“Orcs,” Faith mused as she stood and took the clean tunic he held out to her, pulling it absently over her head. “Tell me more about them.” And as they returned to camp, he did. They paid no mind to the raised brows and lascivious glances her bare legs received, and indeed after Éomer had finished explaining the situation to Faith, seemed content to retire to opposite sides of the hastily erected camp for their scant few hours of sleep.


The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.


The next morning she was provided with a full set of clothing, light armour, and weapons. A horse was offered to her but Faith had never learned to ride and refused firmly, much to Éomer’s ill-hidden amusement. “Still, you show great promise,” he murmured for her ears only, obviously remembering how she’d handled a different sort of steed the previous evening.


Gandalf, newly arrived from yet another mission to gain allies for their side, hoisted her up onto Shadowfax behind him and off they flew toward the fortress of Helm’s Deep. “You are ready?” he asked her. “’Twill be bloody and foul. ‘Twill be carnage.”


“That’s how I prefer my carnage,” she told him with a jaunty smile, “bloody and foul.” She chanced a look at Éomer. He too had a look of exhilaration on his face, exhilaration and a determination that promised the orcs weren’t going to have a good day.  They were almost there when the dark shape on the horizon took form, and Faith recognized it as a forest. It looked very out of place, rising up as it did all dark and foreboding and ominous, with waves of fury and violence emanating so fiercely that Faith was taken aback.


“The trees,” she said. “They’re...” Gandalf waited patiently for her to finish. “They’re really pissed off.”


“Indeed,” the wizard agreed with a satisfied and unsurprised grin, seeming to find nothing unusual about her statement. “As well they should be.”


Faith didn’t even bother trying to unpack that statement. She had a feeling she didn’t really want to know anyway, and instead concentrated on the anticipation she felt. At that moment, speeding over the prairie with a sword strapped to her side after a night of spectacular sex with a hottie, free at last of her cell, she was as happy as she could ever remember being.


I’m a simple girl, with simple needs, she thought wryly. I don’t need much to keep me happy. Then, of course, she had to spoil it by wondering what would happen after this was all over. Would she have to return to prison? Would she be sent back to live out her youth in orange jumpsuits, with tattooed women groping at her, women she turned to out of desperation and loneliness? Would she ever get to see Éomer again, after this battle?


They crested the steep ravine with the sunrise, and Faith felt the warming rays of the sun on her back as they hurtled down toward where the attacking hordes flailed in confusion. The thought of returning to her old life, her ‘real’ life, was a disheartening one and she felt her previous elation dip. I think too much, she muttered to herself in disgust, vowing never to allow herself to do so again.


And with that, she leapt from Shadowfax and flung herself into the fray.


The day passed as a blur of maiming and killing, blood and triumph. Gandalf and the Rohirrim fought their way in; another group of mounted warriors fought their way out. When the two groups were able to meet in the middle amidst much cheering and whooping in victory, Faith allowed herself to wind down from battle-readiness and partake of the manic joy that surrounded her. This hadn’t been her fight; she couldn’t care less about what had been accomplished that day. It meant nothing to her. But she was as susceptible as the next guy to getting a happy, and found herself punching the air and hooting along with the rest of them, rejoicing in their shared conquest.


A rough hand grabbed her arm, yanked her toward an armoured body. Faith was just about to snap the guy’s neck when she recognized the distinctive helm he wore, and a slow smile spread across her dirt- and blood-streaked face. “Éomer,” she breathed, leaning into him.


“Faith,” he replied, his tone hard, unyielding. It didn’t fool her; she knew he wasn’t angry, far from it. Obediently, she followed him through the ranks, past the demolished wall and the celebrating throngs that clogged the doorway to the fortress. A guy with loads of manly stubble, flanked by a short hairy guy and a gorgeous blond twinkie, tried to address Éomer, but the Lord of the Mark would not be distracted, waving absently at them as he dragged Faith along behind him.


Through a great hall they went, down a narrow corridor. Éomer kicked open a door with a boot-shod foot and staggered into the small room, his mouth coming down hard on Faith’s. She briefly remembered a cheesy movie she’d seen once, the strains of ‘Oh Sweet Mystery of Life, At Last I’ve Found You” trilling through her head at the realization that this was a man who became as turned on as she after a battle or a night of slaying. She kissed him back, hard.


Scarcely bothering to undress, they shifted aside whatever was keeping them from each other. Faith clawed his armour and trousers open, allowing the silky length of his cock to fall into her hand. Éomer wrenched down her leggings to expose the round curves of her backside before shoving her face-first against the wall, grasping her hips in his mail-gauntleted hands, and thrusting deeply into her.


They allowed themselves a moment of relief, a moment to relish the sensation, before beginning to move. Éomer pressed her hard against the wall, battering at her with his arousal, hips pummelling her into the rough stone. Faith’s nipples were impossibly hard, chafing deliciously against the coarse linen of her tunic under the leather armour she wore, and though she’d vowed not to make a sound, a whimper escaped her lips.


Éomer looped one arm around her waist, drawing her even closer, and with the other hand roughly turned her head so he could kiss her, ravishing her in his passion. The scent of blood and sweat and death swirled around them, but they were alive and unharmed and it was all too much, too much and then the world broke into pieces that fell tinkling to the ground at their feet.


Faith was dimly aware of shouting something as she came, but she couldn’t be sure what, exactly, until Éomer disengaged himself from her and stepped back on shaky legs.


“Love?” he asked, putting his garments to rights with fingers that still trembled. His gaze was bright, more green than gold at that moment, and Faith felt something clench within her at what she had unwittingly revealed—her heart, she supposed. Fear slammed into her, fear and years of memories of betrayals and pain.


“Love?” she repeated carelessly, fastening her leggings and cocking a hip to one side. “What’s that?” The gold slid back into his eyes then, and Faith felt like she’d just lost something important, but wasn’t quite sure what it was.


“I would not know,” Éomer replied, his deep voice even and very grave. “Come, we must return. My uncle will want to speak with me.” And he led the way from the room. There was a different set to his shoulders, as if he were holding them more rigidly than he would usually. Faith told herself it was just his armour.


O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you have missed.


Things went rapidly from there. They rode hard to a city called Edoras, where Éomer lived with his uncle the king, Theoden, and sister Éowyn. The woman had rushed down from the castle on the hill to greet her returning loved ones,  and Faith had felt like weeping. Éowyn reminded Faith strongly of Buffy, all blonde and beautiful and deceptively fragile-looking, but most of all, she belonged. Here, surrounded by her family and friends, glowing with joy at their safe return, Éowyn was a part of a world that claimed her as an important part of it, and which she claimed with equal possession. Faith had never been claimed by anyone or anything, and felt at that moment even more of an outsider, an interloper, than she had back in Sunnydale.


Faith slid from Shadowfax and began to trudge away, not sure where she was going but determined not to be present when someone remembered her and wanted to make introductions. She found a quiet corner of a stable, stripped off her armour, washed in the trough, then burrowed into the hay and fell asleep.


All too soon, her slumber was interrupted—by a tiny little man with a mullet. “You must be the one they’re all looking for,” he said with a grin so chipper Faith had to clench her fists to keep from clocking him just on principle. “Faith, is it?” At her grudging nod, he grinned. “You must be starved, it’s half-two. We had luncheon an hour ago, and tea’s not for another hour!” He said it like waiting another hour to eat was likely to kill him, and held out a packet, peeling back a corner of the linen cloth to reveal buttered bread, a slab of cheese, and an apple.


Faith snatched it from him and began to eat greedily, looking up only when she’d demolished half of everything. “Thanks,” she mumbled, mouth full. “You’re... short.”


“I’m a Hobbit,” he said as if that explained everything, and beamed at her. “Name’s Merry,” he told her, “and we’d best get to the castle, else Gandalf’s likely to take Gimli’s axe to every stick of furniture in the place.” He took the cloth back and led her from the stables. “Do you know, he’s had everyone searching for you for hours?”


Faith felt the frisson of hope within her wither once more. It had been Gandalf missing her, not Éomer. “Oh?” she asked flatly, gaze locked on the ground before her as she trudged after Merry. Inside, Theoden, Éomer, Éowyn and the grubby guy with his pet Dwarf and Elf watched as Gandalf, furious that she’d gone AWOL, told her in measured tones through gritted teeth how unforgivable it was for her to absent herself from his presence. Apparently, she was on special loan to him and he was responsible for her.


“I’m like a library book,” she said, laughing humourlessly. “And you don’t want to pay the full fine if I’m returned damaged, huh?” Blank stares of incomprehension all round, and then Éowyn came forward.


“No more tonight, I beg you, Gandalf,” she said in her cool little voice, and to Faith’s shock, took her hand. “Faith needs a bath, and more rest, and some food.” She led Faith away to a pretty and sweet-smelling room where she was dunked immediately into a tub of steaming water and fed whilst her hair was washed and body was scrubbed.


Bossy like Buffy too, Faith thought glumly, staring at her toes peeking out of the water on the other side of the tub as the other woman kept up a steady stream of conversation. “Can’t you go away now?” she asked plaintively.


But Éowyn only laughed. “Indeed not,” she replied, not at all insulted, and that was that. An hour later, Faith reappeared in the great hall but the men were in the middle of an argument about how the mangy-looking one wanted to take some dangerous path. Dead people seemed to be involved, somehow. Even Éowyn measured in on the issue (foursquare against it, for the record) but Faith couldn’t care less. She ate, she drank, she even managed to scare up a smile to soften her refusal when one brave soul asked her to join in the dancing, and as soon as possible hied herself to the room Éowyn had informed her would be hers. She undressed, ran a comb through her now-clean hair, and lay in bed, staring at the darkened ceiling and watching the shadows cast by the single flickering candle.


When Éomer came to her that night, she was neither surprised nor dismayed, and they proceeded to methodically destroy her room. First the door; it came off a hinge when Faith slammed him into it. Then the chair; she’d been bouncing on his lap so enthusiastically that its aged legs simply couldn’t bear the strain. And finally the bed itself; they fell onto it, and the ropes holding the mattress were just not up to the task of supporting their weight and hearty activity. With a thrumming sound, they snapped and the mattress and its occupants fell to the floor with a crash.


“Sorry,” Éomer gasped.


“Don’t care,” she gasped back, reaching for his butt to pull him deeper within her. “Don’t stop.” In reply, he trust almost viciously into her. She moaned in rapture. “Don’t ever stop.”


Two days later, it was time to leave for Minas Tirith. On the road, it was harder to find private moments, but they managed. Faith couldn’t seem to get enough of him, of the salt tang of his skin or the bitter flavour of his semen on those rare occasions she could bear to let him spend in her mouth instead of her body. For his part, he always seemed to want to touch her. It was disconcerting; Faith wasn’t accustomed to physical proximity and especially not to non-violent touching, but having sex with Éomer was one long delicious grope after another—palms gliding over skin, fingertips exploring sensitive regions, nose nuzzled into musky hollows, lips and tongue brushed everywhere imaginable, seeking out every texture and taste they could.


Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

Then they arrived at what Gandalf called the White City, and all hell broke loose. There was a horrific, day-long battle, and when it was over, Theoden was dead. Not only that, but Éowyn had snuck into the mass of fighting men with Merry and managed to kill the biggest bad of them all, but both she and the Hobbit had become seriously ill in the process.


There was little time to worry about them; the mangy guy turned out to be the future king of Gondor (which they were apparently in now) and he led them all to the gates of Mordor. Mordor was like the Watts of Middle-Earth, apparently: filthy, dangerous, and an all-round bad place to be if you weren’t in the right gang, which in this case seemed to consist of misshapen nasty-smelling creatures with terminal halitosis. Faith took great enjoyment in killing them, these orcs, but not as much as she took in celebrating her success with Éomer after the battle was won and they snuck some alone-time behind an outcropping of rock.


Faith was aware that the Prince of Dol Amroth fought beside them, and also that he was the father of Éomer’s fiancée. Éomer had never mentioned his feelings for Lothiriel of Dol Amroth to her, but he sure didn’t seem to have any scruples about banging Faith into oblivion, and she couldn’t bring herself to ask as asking was a most unFaithlike think to do, she thought. He believed she was in it for the sex: let him. Better this way; no entanglements, at least on his part. Then, when he married this Lothiriel, Faith could ride away and he’d never be the wiser.


That she loved Éomer, or at least felt as close as a broken thing like her could come to love, would be her secret alone.


The war was over. The Rohirrim would soon depart with Theoden’s body, intent on burial, and Faith found herself getting ready for the journey as well even though there was no legitimate reason for her to return Edoras, now that there was no more fighting to be done. Gandalf had tried repeatedly to bring her back to ‘her’ world, to no avail. Faith didn’t even bother to scrape up a pretense of disappointment; why go back, when her world was here now?


The Prince of Dol Amroth travelled with them as well; she often caught his assessing gaze on her and felt a rare moment of shame each time. It was fairly obvious what she was: the king’s whore, good enough to screw but not enough to marry, the cow you didn’t buy because the milk was being given away hand over fist, and with interest to boot.


One night, Éomer was overlong in coming to her and she retraced her steps back to the main part of camp, looking for him. As she approached, she heard his familiar voice, deep and thrilling, speak with another man: the Prince.


“Do you still wish for this alliance between our realms, Éomer King?” the Prince asked, his tone measured. “For I will not have my daughter shamed and dishonoured by the presence of your leman.”


“She is not my leman,” Éomer responded swiftly. “She is...” His voice trailed off uncertainly. “I am not sure what she is,” he said at last. “She is a warrior equal to you or I, equal to Elessar himself, and worthy of respect for that alone. I will not have you slander her.”


“I meant no disrespect,” the Prince replied, but it was clear he thought little of the woman who was usurping his daughter’s rightly place. “Surely you understand my position?”


Éomer sighed, and it was a weary sound. He was a young man still, too young to have the burdens thrust upon him that this war had brought. He had lost his cousin, his uncle, and nearly his sister in the past two months, and now held a role he’d never thought would be his. “I do,” he said at last. “I understand it, and agree with it.”


Faith knew what that meant, and stuffed her fist into her mouth to stifle the rogue sob that threatened to burst from her. She turned, uncaring if anyone heard her clumsy, crashing footsteps as she ran away. It was night, and the lands of the Westfold were far from safe, no matter that Sauron was defeated—bands of orcs and Uruk-hai still roamed free and terrorized the countryside. Éomer had commented what a chore it would be to rid his kingdom of their scourge once he was back in the land of his birth and could rule properly.


Biting back a whimper, Faith heard Éomer calling her name and tucked herself between two big boulders with bated breath, knowing that he’d never be able to find her in the pitch-darkness. This had been a mistake, going back to Rohan with the rest of them. Once he’d given up searching for her, Faith snuck into camp and untied the horse she’d finally learned to ride. Leading it quietly out of earshot before mounting, she wheeled around and headed back to Minas Tirith.


A messenger arrived a day after she did, saying that the warrior Faith had disappeared during their journey and did they know of her location? Aragorn/Elessar smirked at her over his cup of mead—they’d become grudging friends during their travels and battles together—and scribbled a hasty reply that, yes, Faith was safe and sound under the protection of the reunited kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, blah blah blah.


A few weeks after that, whilst training with him and a few of his soldiers (and kicking their collective asses, she’d like to add) she became aware of an odd and unpleasant tingling in her abdomen. Elessar had nearly taken her head off when she went stock-still, then slowly covered her belly with her hand.


“Something’s... wrong,” she told him, lifting wide, pained eyes to his, and then collapsed, blood beginning to stain her trousers a bright, obscene crimson.


Faith miscarried Éomer’s child that night. She cursed herself for not remembering that her Depo shot would have run out sometime between the battles of Pelennor Fields and the Morannon Gate, thus making all that celebratory sex quite risky.


It could have been any of a hundred times, she mused numbly as she squirmed in her bed in the house of healing, trying to find a position around the wadding between her legs that wasn’t completely uncomfortable. It’s for the best, she told herself, even as her heart felt like it was breaking. It’s stupid to be upset about losing something you didn’t even know you had, she insisted, and refused to cry.


It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.


A month later, Faith had even almost convinced herself of these things when word came that Éomer’s wedding was to proceed as planned, and they were all invited. Elessar took one look at her face and told her she could stay in Minas Tirith if she wanted.


“Like hell,” she told him, and that was that. She’d be damned if she let him think she was beaten—hadn’t her  relationship with Éomer been all about struggling for dominance? Faith took a deep breath and knew she would die before letting him think she was a coward. And she’d die before she’d let him marry another women without letting him see one last time what he was giving up—she wouldn’t make it easy for him to commit himself to this Lothiriel bitch.


He’ll have to go through me, first, she thought grimly when the time came, months later, to prepare for the journey, and packed her best gown. It wasn’t the leather pants she’d favoured back in Sunnydale and before, but as she was fond of saying, any port in a storm. In this world the sexy women wear long dresses, so I will too. I know how to play the game, and I’m going to win it.


They made for Rohan. Éowyn, now married to Faramir, was herself expecting their first child, and Faith avoided her at all costs—usually not a difficult thing to do, as they lived in Minas Ithil, several days’ journey to the east, but now nearly impossible as they travelled together. Éowyn tried several times to engage Faith in conversation but Faith just smiled vacantly and slipped away, murmuring some excuse or another. In the past year, she’d somehow learned a bit of diplomacy, but more importantly, that it could be used for her own purposes.


As far as she was concerned, Éowyn had two strikes against her: one, she was pregnant, and Faith’s own loss was still too fresh for her to be comfortable around other expecting women; and two, she was Éomer’s sister, with the same golden hair and same strong chin and proud carriage and long stride, and it caused a nearly physical pain to look at her.


They arrived in Edoras. Faith lifted her head and rode into that city, eyes latching immediately on the tall figure at the top of the stairs leading to the castle: Éomer. Her chest felt like it was seizing, like a car whose oil hadn’t been changed in years, and she had a moment’s panicked urge to turn her horse around and flee back to the city but Elessar shot a warning glance in her direction. It said, “Don’t spoil my entrance; wait until this is over to spaz out.” Or at least Faith fancied it did, and just  because Elessar had been good to her, vowed to hold off on the spazzing until she was in the privacy of her own room.


Easier said than done, as most things are... Éomer’s eyes blazed green when she stepped boldly up to him, hips swinging and breasts swaying seductively. “Congratulations,” she said, shaking his hand briskly and smiling up into his face. I dare you to marry her now, she thought.


He did not smile back. “I thank you,” he replied, a note in his voice that made her ache. He missed me, Faith thought, but without the gloating she thought really should have been there. He missed me, and I hate that he was hurting. Then he turned away from her to greet the next person in line, and Faith gasped at the shock of pain that caused her. Cold bastard.


And now, hours later, she stood at the window and watched the Prince of Dol Amroth lead his daughter toward her new home, banners waving in the breeze, their colour stark and striking against the hard, bright blue of the sky. Faith felt the rage build in her until it crested and broke her resolve; she folded her hands over her now-empty abdomen and let the scalding tears come, let them course down her face and drip off her chin.


She cried as they approached, cried as they dismounted, cried as they climbed the stairs. Then Lothiriel, lovely and enchanting and oh-so-proper Lothiriel, placed her tiny hand in Éomer’s, and Faith cried some more. How could he go through with this? she wondered irrationally. Did he know about their lost baby? Would he even care?


Éomer led Lothiriel inside, and Faith left the window to flop onto the bed. The action made the ropes squeak, and she recalled another time she’d been a danger to the bed’s structure. I can’t seem to stop remembering, she thought numbly. Why can’t I stop remembering?


“This sucks,” she said aloud, quite distinctly. But the room was empty and there was no one there to hear.


And it did suck, quite badly. That evening’s meal was nothing short of torture as Éomer spoke and laughed and danced with Lothiriel, and she fled the hall as soon as decently possible. The next morning she discussed with Elessar the possibility of returning to Minas Tirith without attending the nuptuals.


“No,” he said, to her surprise. “You have come here for a wedding, and a wedding you shall attend.”


Faith briefly contemplated punching his lights out; it would be vastly satisfying but she really wasn’t in the mood to get her ass kicked, and even Slayers have their limitations against vast numbers of armed soldiers. She settled for telling him to go fuck himself, but since he only stared in bafflement, wondering what she meant, it wasn’t very satisfying as far as insults went.


I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.


On the third day after their arrival in Edoras, several strange things seemed to have happened. Firstly, Éomer and Elessar were observed having an animated (some said ‘heated’) discussion, after which Éomer looked rather stunned and Elessar, smug. Then Éomer was said to have been behind closed doors with Lothiriel and her father, after which the latter two emerged with expressions of great displeasure on their noble faces. Éomer, on the other hand, had a spring to his step that had been visibly absent since he’d been halfway back to Rohan from Gondor, several months ago.


Lastly, he was seen striding with purpose aplenty around the castle, obviously searching for someone in particular. His fair mood swiftly wound down, however, as the day wore on and he was unable to find he (or she) whom he sought.


“Where have you been?” Éomer demanded from his seat on the edge of Faith’s bed when she finally returned.


Blinking, Faith took a deep breath to compose herself. After a few days of avoiding him, to have him in her room in all his tall, hot, blond glory was close to overwhelming. “Went for a ride with the new boyfriend,” she said casually, punctuating her words with a lewd thrust of the hips.


He was on his feet in a second, grasping her arms and shaking her. “Do not lie to me,” he ground out. “Do not.”


“You’ll let go if you don’t want me to break my foot off your ass,” Faith snapped, head wobbling back and forth from the force of Éomer’s shaking. With a swift move, she brought her hands up and easily forced him to release her. Stumbling back, she glared fiercely at him. “What do you want?”


The fight seemed to go out of him, then, and it made Faith unaccountably sad to see him stand before her so dejected. “Why did you not send word you had lost our child?” he asked simply.


Elessar! She’d beat the crap out of the blabbing weasel later, she promised herself. But now, she had to deal with this, and she didn’t think she could. “I... don’t know,” Faith replied at last. “It was such a shock, I didn’t know I was pregnant, and then suddenly I wasn’t, and...” she spread her hands wide in a gesture of supplication. “I don’t know.”


Éomer’s green-gold gaze, shrewd as ever, surveyed her. “Still you lie to me,” he said angrily, slashing his hand through the air as he turned away to stare, as she had done only yesterday, out the window. “You lie to me, you run from me, and yet I cannot rid myself of this longing for you.” He bowed his head in defeat. “Will you not tell me the truth, just this once?”


In the face of his misery, against her will, Faith found herself speaking. “I was ashamed,” she admitted, voice low and gritty as if the words were being dragged from her. “I was embarrassed that I... that my body wasn’t able to keep our baby. And I didn’t want to do anything to... bother you, now that you’re getting married.”


He turned to stare at her, incredulity plain on his handsome face. “Bother me?” he demanded. “You have done nothing but bother me from the moment we have met. I was kept awake nights wondering how you were able to do it so very well.”


“Well,” Faith said, tilting her head to the side and smirking in a show of spirit, “there’s bothering, and then there’s bothering.”


“That’s it,” Éomer muttered, and in a flash had picked her up and flung her onto the bed. “’Tis now the time for me to show you how things are to be.” He began undressing.


Shoving back the hair that had fallen into her face, Faith glared up at him. “Look,” she began, trying to be reasonable. “I’m all for nooky on the side, but if you think I’m gonna live in your castle and watch you marry Lothiriel, and have kids with her, and have everyone treat me like shit because I’m your whore, you’ve... got... another...“


He stood before her dappled golden in the late afternoon sunlight, completely and gloriously nude, and her voice failed her. “That’s so not fair,” she whimpered.


“Since when have we ever played fair?” Éomer murmured, and began crawling up the bed toward her with dark blond hair spilling over his shoulders and eyes bright from both mischief and lust. “Why should we start now?” Sitting back on his heels, he grabbed her ankles and slid his hands up her legs, pushing the skirt of her gown up as well to reveal the smooth, creamy skin of her slender thighs.


“Ah,” he breathed, rubbing his palms over her, digging his fingers in a little to test the resiliency of her flesh, “how I have missed touching you.”


Faith whimpered again before finding her pride. “No,” she said. “Not when you’re marrying Lothiriel tomorrow.”


“There is no tomorrow,” he replied seductively, a half-smile curving his lips. “Only today.”


“That’s what I thought before I was sent up the river,” she snapped, pushing him away from her to sprawl inelegantly on his backside across the bed. “Forget it.”


Éomer sighed. “It would seem the time has come for me to tell the truth, as well.”


“What?” Faith demanded, pausing in the act of hauling herself off the bed and straightening her hopelessly rumpled skirts. “You’re lying too?” She frowned and planted her hands on her hips. “Doesn’t anyone tell the truth around here?”


He shot her a glance that plainly said, “You should talk” and shifted so he lay on his side, head propped on his hand. “I am no longer to marry Lothiriel,” Éomer told her. “I told her several hours ago. She.. was not happy."


Faith stared at him, bug-eyed and fish-mouthed. “You what?” He opened his mouth to reply but she began to wave her arms around. "You told her what? Are you insane, or just stupid?”


Éomer blinked. “This is not the response from you I had expected.” It was clear that he’d been hoping for a somewhat more pleased and amorous reaction.


Faith rolled her eyes impatiently. “What if the Prince decides he’s all insulted, now? What then?”


He just smiled. “I happen to have the acquaintance of a very skilled warrior,” Éomer replied. “I have no doubts that she could defeat all his finest men.” Their eyes locked; he stared at her, and once again she had the impression they were seeing to the depths of the other’s soul. “I love you,” he told her softly. “Leave off with the lies and pretense; there is no longer a need for them.”


Faith felt something wobble within her, something hard and jagged and nasty, something that had been within her for so long she’d thought it part of herself. It was a lifetime of disappointment, she realized, of pain and anger and fear, and it had been pressing against her heart for so long that that organ had gone crooked, almost unrecognizable for what it was.


Éomer smiled at her, just a tiny smile, a little shaky and a lot scared, and Faith felt her crooked heart give a ragged beat once, then twice, as the dents filled in and the creases smoothed out. “Elessar promised me a wedding,” she said, amazed to realize that strange emotion filling her was shyness, and looked up at him from beneath lowered lashes as she began to pull her gown over her head. “If Lothiriel won’t be in it, I guess you’ll just have to make do with me.”


“I think I can be made to suffice myself with you,” Éomer agreed readily, grabbing her hand in his and pulling her onto the bed beside him. He greedily eyed the silhouette of her dark nipples through the sheer silk of her shift before tracing one with his tongue.


“Glad to hear it,” Faith gasped, and flipped him to his back, straddling his hips and grinding herself in the familiar motion they both favoured. Her hand came out to grip him, to stroke his arousal before pushing her shift aside to clear the path for him.


“As am I,” he replied, and flipped them once more. Sadly, they were at that point out of bedspace and crashed to the floor, but not so sadly, it placed him in the perfect position to slip himself within her welcoming body.


“No, ow, splinters,” she protested weakly as he began a sinuous thrusting that started to scoot them across the floor.


“Stone floor,” Éomer moaned, burying his face against her neck and inhaling her scent, nuzzling his nose behind her ear and suckling her earlobe.


“Never mind, then,” said Faith, wrapping her legs around his slim hips and trapping him there. “Never did get to have a ride with my boyfriend,” she told him suggestively.


“Best to correct that grievous oversight,” he commented, and flipped them a last time.


Coming up on her knees, Faith guided his hands to her silk-covered breasts and rode him rhythmically, stirring her hips in little circles. “Yeah,” she agreed, eyes beginning to glaze. “Grievous.” Throwing her head back, she gave herself up to the lightning-bright pleasure spiraling through her. “Totally grievous.”