He looks over the cliff and he sees nothing. The cool weight of the Evenstar cuts into his fingers, but it makes no impression. His pain is too great.
Their journey to Helm's Deep is subdued; too many empty saddles remind them of their losses, of the losses sure to come. He rides in a daze, his mind elsewhere, senses stretching to their very limits in an attempt to pick up sight or sound of Aragorn, but there is nothing.
Gimli tries to comfort him, but it will not serve. He will not be comforted.
Long has he lived under the leaves in Middle-earth, and he has grieved when friends were lost, but never has the pain of loss weighed on him so.
The sting of Gandalf's passing into Shadow was eased by their time in Lórien; his grief was deep, but as with Boromir, at least Gandalf's death was not in vain. Gandalf's fall had saved the lives of the rest of the Fellowship; Boromir had died defending Merry and Pippin, regaining his honor in his valiant defense of the hobbits.
Aragorn's death is senseless, a waste, the end of hope. All that is left now is desolation deeper than sorrow, and despairing wishes for Frodo, wherever in the wilderness he may be.
They arrive at Helm's Deep, but he heeds not his surroundings, still wrapped in the cocoon of his sorrow. Again Gimli tries to comfort him, but he shakes him off. There will time enough later, should they survive whatever battle looms, to take consolation in the dwarf's solid warmth and gentle love. For now, he must be alone, must delve deep into these feelings that threaten to unman him.
He hears Éowyn before he sees her, jagged breathing and boots on the stone floor. She trails wan sunlight, her hair a soft gold frame for her face, pale and cold as a late winter's dawn. She is unaware of his presence until he touches her arm. She is shivering, tense, and he knows -- she bears the same sorrow as he. Though her acquaintance with Aragorn was so much shorter in length than his, it has marked her just as profoundly.
"Tell me," she demands, her voice full of tears she will not shed in his presence. "Tell me what happened."
He pulls her into the circle of his arms; she seems as cold and delicate as hoarfrost, but her body is warm and strong against his. He rests his chin upon her head and finds himself stroking her hair. "It was the Warg riders. He fell over a cliff. He is with the river now."
"Oh." She sniffs, and raises her face to his. "You loved him, too."
He closes his eyes against this truth. Warrior, friend, brother -- he would have followed Aragorn anywhere, loved him all down the days of his long life.
This loss is greater than he can bear.
He feels the soft touch of her lips on his cheek, then the corner of his mouth, amazed at the liberties she's taking in their shared grief. But his arms tighten around her and his lips seek the heat of her mouth.
She tastes of honey mead and the cool rush of air over open fields. She tastes of life in the face of death, and it overwhelms him. For how can any live through such sorrow, such despair, and still taste of sweet life and hope?
She breaks the kiss and searches his eyes with her own; he kisses her again -- forehead, eyelids as they flutter closed under his lips, the smooth curve of her cheek. Her arms tighten around his neck, her hands tangle in his hair, and her breath on his skin sends shivers down his spine.
He rests his head in the crook of her neck. Their golden hair mingles, gleaming in the dim light, and for a moment he wonders where he ends and she begins.
A madness is on him -- a madness of grief.
Now he understands why the race of Man so often fails to live up to its potential. The overwhelming sorrow he feels at Aragorn's loss threatens to reduce him to a mere shadow of himself.
He has lived many long years, and he fears little that walks on the earth or under it, but this gnawing horror in the pit of his belly terrifies him. He clings more tightly to Éowyn; she is the only real thing in this world at the moment.
"How," his voice is an unsteady, hoarse whisper, "how do you stand this?"
She cups his cheek, her eyes bright with unshed tears. Wise she is, and full of woe. "Because we must," she says.
"That is no answer."
"It is the only one I have to give," she replies. Her thumb caresses his lower lip, and she kisses him again. "Hope is lost, my lord, but we carry on even in the face of despair. We must, or honor is lost ere the battle has begun."
They are alive in their sorrow, and somehow, they must go on.
Another kiss, chaste for all the warmth it provides. They cling to each other, finding in each other life, grief and newly minted friendship to fight off the cold isolation of death.