Warning: canon character death
A/N: I have followed neither the books nor the movie slavishly, but some dialogue is quoted or paraphrased closely from the film version of "The Fellowship of the Ring."
At the conclusion of a meeting of the Council of Elrond, dinner was announced. As politeness dictated, the guests rose and lined up in order of their rank to proceed into the dining room. First went Gandalf; no-one disputed that, for though few guessed exactly what the Wizards were, it was apparent that they were of a higher Order.
Normally, the Elves, being First-Born, would have gone next, but since they were the hosts, they held back to last. Instead, Elrond told Frodo gravely that as the newly-appointed Ring-Bearer, he took precedence, and Frodo (with Sam, who would not be separated from him) went anxiously to the front of the line.
"Oi, aren't we going to get any dinner?" came a plaintive comment from behind a potted plant.
Frodo rolled his eyes and giggled slightly. "Come on then!" he said, and Merry and Pippin appeared, not the least abashed, and followed Frodo into the dining room.
There had been some subterranean grumbling from a few of the Dwarven delegation at the elevation of the Hobbits, but Gloin shook his head at them firmly. Now he led the Children of Aule, the next race to have been awakened, to the doorway, his son Gimli only a pace behind him, and the rest of their doughty delegation in train.
At last it was the turn of the Second-Born, the Men. Aragorn and Boromir strode to the door and with a mighty thud of broad shoulders, collided and stuck for a fraction of a second. Boromir glared. Aragorn stepped back and with courtesy that was just a little too pointed gestured to Boromir to precede him.
The Elves watched, troubled.
The faint scrabbling noise came again in the black silence of Moria. Aragorn stirred, and then conferred in an undertone with Gandalf, who nodded his approval. Moving as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the slumbering hobbits and snoring dwarf, Aragorn touched Boromir lightly on the shoulder to awaken him from his doze.
"There is a noise we must investigate," the Ranger whispered.
Boromir was a good soldier, whatever else. He did not waste time carping about the upstart's assumption of command in this matter. He merely listened, and when he heard the rattling echoing its way down Moria's dark corridors, he pulled himself to his feet and followed Aragorn.
They paused outside a closed door. There was some sort of living creature beyond, or perhaps many, but Boromir could not tell what. Bigger than rats, that was for certain. He gently tried the door-handle and it gave way. The door creaked open a scant inch, and the noise behind it suddenly stopped.
Breath coming faster, and heart pounding, Boromir felt Aragorn's warning hand on his wrist, cautioning him to pause as clearly as if the Ranger had shouted "Wait!" For several long minutes the two of them stood frozen on either side of the doorway, listening for the now silent creatures. Boromir had time to plan his next move, and he did so in high excitement. Let the censorious Fellowship believe that he only acted for glory; Boromir knew what he had to do. He knew his own heart, and in his sober moments he knew that his lust for the Ring had weakened him, had unfitted him to lead this Quest, as he had once vaingloriously looked to do. The Man beside him, whom he continued to pretend to despise, had despite all odds gained his respect and his admiration. The Ranger had proven himself as a born leader, one who could command not just the obedience but the love of those who followed. He was valuable. He was irreplaceable. Boromir knew what he had to do.
The noises resumed, getting louder as the creatures came closer to the door.
"I will go first," whispered Aragorn. "Now!"
But it was Boromir's strong shoulders that blasted the door wide open; Boromir's sword that flailed in the blackness; Boromir who planted himself firmly between Aragorn and the foe, and Boromir whose face and arms took the brunt of the attack, before the three giant bats screamed their way out into the corridors and disappeared into nothingness.
Boromir braced himself for the coming reprimand, but there was none. Aragorn's hands found his shoulders, and then felt their way up to the trickles of moisture on his left temple and cheek. "Your face is bleeding," said the Ranger. "Are you injured elsewhere?" Boromir felt some piece of cloth being held to the stinging wounds.
"Are you hurt?" he asked in return. That was of paramount importance.
"Nay, I am well," replied Aragorn a little impatiently. "Come, let us return to Gandalf, so he can give us some light to tend you by." But neither of them moved for a moment, and Aragorn's hand remained in a warrior's clasp upon Boromir's shoulder. "Why did you do that?" he asked, and there it was, the reprimand, though gentle beyond belief.
Boromir could not have answered that question even under torture. "I just did," he said. Though he could not see so much as an inch he somehow felt Aragorn's appraising glance turn upon him. The hand squeezed his shoulder hard, and then let go.
A little further back in the hallway, from where he had silently placed himself to give assistance if necessary, Legolas' keen eyes saw what others could not, and he wondered at the oddity of Men.
With a cry of rage, Aragorn felled the murderous Lurtz and sped to where Boromir lay pierced by arrows at the foot of a tree.
"Frodo - where is Frodo?" gasped Boromir.
"I let him go," responded Aragorn. "The Ring is out of our reach now, Boromir." In his eyes, Boromir read Aragorn's understanding of the overwhelming temptation that had so nearly sullied his last hours. The Ranger leaned over and put Boromir's sword into his grasp; he would die a warrior, pure of purpose, after all.
Aragorn's hand lingered near Boromir's face, seeing death there, and seeing also Boromir's knowledge of that death. Trying to cheer them both a little, he smiled weakly and joked, "Always it seems you must push through the doorway before me, my friend."
But Boromir did not wish to joke. "I was wrong," he said briefly, for words hurt. "Every time, I was wrong."
Aragorn shook his head in denial. "You die bravely, with great honour. And I swear to you I will not let your city, your people fail."
"Our city.. our people," Boromir forced out. He raised a trembling gauntleted hand to Aragorn's shoulder. "Had I leave to live on, I would follow you, oh yes, I would follow you, my brother, my captain… my King." His hand fell away and the breath left his lips.
Aragorn leaned forward and reverently pressed a valedictory kiss to those dry, quiet lips. Then he sat back, dropped his face into his hands, and wept bitterly.
And Legolas, standing a little way apart, observed and marvelled at the brief and imperfect lives of Men, and, despite that brevity and imperfection, how deeply they grieve.