The moment Aragorn examined his leg, Faramir understood that the venom was poisonous. He had not seen the snake curled beneath the log where they sat to rest, and had barely felt the pain of the bite, which he did not even recognize as such until he saw the slithering movement in the leaves as the creature uncoiled and fled. But there were two distinct puncture marks in the leather of his breeches, and as Aragorn's warm fingers and breath traveled over reddened, swollen skin, their sudden faltering and stillness warned Faramir to be afraid.
"Forgive me," Aragorn murmured, not meeting Faramir's eyes. He lunged forward, and before Faramir could grasp what he intended, the King's lips and tongue pressed against his skin. Faramir felt sudden hard suction -- a sharp, pinching tug that, for all its discomfort, sent a spike of pleasure into his groin. Then Aragorn's mouth was gone, spitting into his own hand, so that the King could look at the mixture of blood and oily fluid.
"I need herbs," he said, looking up, his eyes dark and serious as he explained what Faramir already knew: "This bite may be deadly if we do not draw the poison out."
Thus ended Faramir's plan to pull the King away from his responsibilities for a few hours, to enjoy the cooler air and rich fragrance of the summer woods, so different from the city where damaged sewers and corrupted food stores had left the heavy stench of rot in the air. Since the war, Faramir had not been able to abide that odor for long periods, and though it did not trouble him in Ithilien, he knew that it must have penetrated even the King's petal-strewn private rooms. Indeed, Aragorn had seemed happy all morning as they rode and traipsed beneath the trees, though they had been speaking of work that needed to be done, repairs and new buildings and harvest and planting to be attended.
The snake had ruined their peace, though Faramir thought it was well that he, not Aragorn, had been bitten. The Steward was less panicked about his own health than he would have been about that of the King, and he was confident that Aragorn could save him, as Aragorn had already done, before, from a far greater menace. When he looked at the King's troubled expression, he felt no fear, only a great rush of caring and affection.
Aragorn was already moving, his knife out, hunting among the low brush and berry-laden shrubs on the forest floor. "If you feel well enough to move, find twigs, for I will need fire," he called, and Faramir quickly began to search among the vines and ferns on the ground, hoping that there were no more snakes nearby. Though it was a warm day even beneath the trees, he felt unexpectedly chilly, and the prospect of a fire was suddenly welcome.
When he returned, Aragorn's hands were filled with plants, kingsfoil and yarrow, chamomile, thistles, chickweed and a variety of mushroom that Faramir had always heard to be a deadly poison. Aragorn dropped the collection in Faramir's lap and set off again, this time in search of larger logs for a fire, though first he pressed a hand to Faramir's clammy forehead and placed a mint leaf against his lips, assuring him that it would settle his stomach. Faramir could feel the impression of those strong, solid fingers against his face while Aragorn was gone, and clung to the sensation to ward off dizziness and the urge to be sick.
By the time Aragorn returned once more, Faramir was shivering, shaking slightly and desperate to lie down. Aragorn helped him stumble to a bed of moss, pulled off his own vest and placed it under Faramir's head, saying, "Rest your body, but do not fall asleep. We should speak of battles or travels, something that will keep your mind alert."
"Then let us speak of beautiful women and harvest revels," Faramir replied, which made the King laugh as he sparked the twigs until they burned, then crushed petals between two stones and scooped the mixture into a hollow rock where he dripped water over it from the flask he carried. "Aragorn...where did you learn to treat snakebites? In Eriador?"
"In Rivendell." Aragorn smiled at him. "Bites are not lethal to Elves, but they can be painful nonetheless. And you know that I lived in Gondor when your grandfather was here. I have seen this kind of bite before."
"That antidote you are making..." asked Faramir, curling up slightly as a fit of shivers made him tremble. "Is it to be spread on the wound?"
"No, I am afraid it is to be swallowed," Aragorn answered with a grimace as he cut a sliver from the mushroom and crushed it with the other ingredients. "Keep the mint nearby, for I have been told that the taste is less than appetizing."
"That toadstool is not more poisonous than the snake?"
"If you ate the whole thing, it would kill you," agreed Aragorn. "But I am planning only to give you enough to drive the poison from your body. I'm sorry to say that that will not be pleasant. And...there will be effects afterwards."
"What sort of effects?" At that, Aragorn hesitated, which made Faramir uneasy. He had seen the King set broken bones and touch horrific wounds, so he knew that the man was not squeamish. "Will it be very painful?" he pressed.
"No," said Aragorn, with an odd, faint hint of laughter in his voice. "It will not be painful at all. In fact most men say that it is quite pleasurable." This must be one of the mushrooms that caused visions, then; Faramir had read of them, though he had never sought out the dangerous seductions they offered.
"I am going to put a poultice on the bite, so that it does not begin to fester," Aragorn continued. "But we must get the poison out of you first."
Without another word, he pulled Faramir to a sitting position, placed the flask of water beside him on the ground, and handed him the concave rock filled with pasty, charred plant material. Faramir licked at it, flinched at the bitter taste, then closed his eyes and gulped down the entire mixture as quickly as he could. His tongue burned and his head swam. "I'm all right," he said to Aragorn when the King took the stone from him, tossed it aside and caught him around the shoulders, but a moment later his stomach twisted and he was violently ill, until he thought he must have heaved his stomach out along with the poison.
"Come lie down," Aragorn urged, dragging Faramir's limp form around to the fire and settling him on his side. Seeing that Faramir was still shivering, Aragorn draped his vest across his Steward and pulled off his shirt, putting it between Faramir's face and the brush on the ground. The shirt smelled like Aragorn, Faramir thought as he leaned into it gratefully, woods and smoke and sweat and herbs.
The King's fingers pressed his own and he squeezed back, thinking it was comfort offered before he discovered that Aragorn had pressed leaves into his palm: more mint. "Wait a few minutes," Aragorn advised, spilling water from the flask onto a loose bit of shirt and wiping Faramir's face with it. "Don't drink this yet either," he said, putting the flask down. "Give your stomach a few minutes to settle. Are you still cold?"
Faramir discovered that he was not. In fact, his cheeks felt flushed, and there was a strange warmth in the pit of his belly, beneath the muscles still cramped from retching; he felt lightheaded and fuzzy, as if he were not lying on hard ground but floating somewhere soft, and Aragorn's outline glowed faintly as he tamped down the fire, which was making his shirtless chest gleam with a sheen of moisture. He was terribly beautiful, thought Faramir, so elemental, flame and water and stone and wind...
The King cocked his head, and Faramir realized that he was staring dreamily. "Mushroom," he muttered, embarrassed, feeling the heat in his face turn his cheeks even darker red. His leg ached painfully where the snake had bitten him, but the throbbing did not contain itself in that one spot; it was spreading up his thigh, into his groin, pulsing with the same energy that was working its way through his insides, warm waves ending in little crests of pleasure.
Aragorn smiled apologetically and returned to sit beside him, holding kingsfoil and some kind of thick root that Faramir did not immediately recognize. "I need to see your leg again," he said, and Faramir realized that the hole he had sliced in the leather to see the wound would not suffice. Putting the mint in his mouth to chew, he fumbled at the laces of his breeches.
"Here, let me do that," Aragorn offered quietly, and Faramir wondered why the light touch of the King's fingers tugging aside his sweaty clothing should feel so enjoyable...so desirable. His cock swelled, his nipples tightened and his eyes lifted to Aragorn's but the other man was carefully avoiding his gaze.
When Faramir's breeches were halfway to his knees, he reached to grab Aragorn by the wrist, forcing the King to look at him. The blue-gray eyes seemed wary, uncomfortable. "I would like the water," Faramir whispered, and then, when Aragorn turned to give it to him: "Is this what you mean by the mushroom's effects?"
Aragorn nodded shortly, though he seemed relieved that Faramir had put a name to his body's response. "It does not always happen, but the toadstools can be quite stimulating," he said with a wry smile. "Sometimes more stimulating than you might like."
Faramir thought, distantly, that he should feel humiliated, lying so aroused and passive with Aragorn's fingers barely brushing the inflamed, feverish skin of his thigh. Yet he felt only excitement and a slow, lingering pleasure swelling throughout his body that made him feel like he was floating. He wanted to pull Aragorn to him, to tell him that he did like it and that he was grateful. He wondered, too, how Aragorn knew so much about the mushroom's effects, and whether he would like to share the feeling...
Blinking, Faramir reminded himself that he was the Steward of Gondor and the shirtless man now using his skills as a Ranger was in fact his King. "How soon will it wear off?"
"An hour, perhaps. You will be able to ride before it gets dark." Aragorn touched his leg with something on his fingers that at first felt cool, then burned, and Faramir bit his lip, groaning as his hips thrust thoughtlessly toward Aragorn. He started to apologize, but Aragorn shook his head. "I must touch you, and I know that you cannot help your reactions. Please do not be ashamed. I know that now this all probably feels dreamlike, but you will remember everything."
"Do you promise?" The words were out of Faramir's mouth before he could stop them, before he was aware of thinking them, and as Aragorn looked at him, startled, Faramir found himself reaching to touch the bared skin, the thick strong muscle in the arm and chest, furrowing the thick wiry hair running down Aragorn's belly into his breeches, brushing the flat of his palm over the bulge he had not known was swelling there...
Aragorn breathed in sharply, and whispered, "Stop," catching Faramir's hand. "You must let me heal your leg. And you will be sorry later if I do not stop you."
"Why should I be sorry?" Now that he knew what Aragorn was feeling, Faramir ached all over for his touch. He was sorry only not to have those hands on his face, his chest, pushing between his thighs, stroking him...
A careful shrug. "For one thing, I am a man."
"I had noticed," Faramir said with mock gravity. "I spent many years as a Captain of Gondor. Do you think I have no experience of men?" As the words fell from his lips, he wondered what there was in the mushroom that had loosened his tongue so shamelessly, but he could not call them back, nor stop others from coming. "And you, you served in Gondor's armies as well. The vices of soldiers cannot be unknown to you..."
"No, they are not." Aragorn's face was unreadable. "But we are no longer soldiers. You are the Steward of Gondor, and you have a wife."
Though he grunted at the sudden pain of the poultice Aragorn was putting on his leg, Faramir felt a wide smile push across his face when Aragorn's fingers fluttered uncertainly at the sound, brushing his cock. "My wife," he grinned, "is hardly in a position to lecture me."
The look Aragorn gave him was appalled, disapproving -- the first glare he had turned on Faramir all day, despite having had to hold his Steward's head while he was sick and now having to contend with his lusts. "I did not mean that I would ever betray her, nor lie to her," Faramir added quickly. "You know me better than that, even with this toadstool challenging my decency. I meant only that Eowyn understands all too well how it feels to be in love with you."
A sudden tremor went through Faramir's leg. A moment later he realized that it was not his own injured muscle that had quavered, but Aragorn's hand on him. "You are not in love with me," Aragorn said quietly. "You are drunk on poison, and it will pass. And then you will be sorry that you have said this, and, perhaps, ashamed."
"I think that you are wrong." Taking the older man's hand in his own, Faramir pressed it to his chest. "What I feel here cannot be forced by any toadstool, or every lovesick youth would comb the forest for them. Perhaps the mushroom has compromised my speech and my modesty, but not my heart." Aragorn's eyes were lowered, but his lashes fluttered, and Faramir continued, "My King, I think you fear that you will be sorry, not I, and that you will feel shame." When there was no reply, he pressed, "You have the same desires that I do, do you not?"
For a long, long moment Aragorn said nothing, and neither moved nor seemed to breathe. Then he nodded once, shortly, and said, "Lie still, so I may bind this wound."
Faramir did as he was told, though his heart was racing, and though the edges of his vision were still filled with rainbows and he still felt as though he was rising on a cloud of steam off the ground, he did not think that it was only the mushroom making his blood sing. Aragorn's hands were tender and loving on his skin, caressing him more than was necessary to press herbs into the snakebite. Feeling his breath coming fast and urgent, he gulped water and chewed on another mint leaf and tried to think of distractions -- battle tactics and fencing postures -- but he ached with longing, and he could not hold back quiet moans.
When Aragorn had finished tying a strip of cloth from Faramir's shirt around the injury, he leaned down on an elbow to rest beside him. "How do you feel?" asked the King.
"I love you," Faramir said ardently, lacing his fingers through Aragorn's as he rolled to press close to him, feeling as though the air shimmered between them everywhere they touched. Aragorn ducked his head, but not before Faramir saw the smile threatening in the corners of his mouth.
"What I meant to ask was whether your leg was in pain and if you are still feeling strangely because of the mushroom. It sounds to me as though the answer is yes."
"Oh, no, I am not in any pain," Faramir said quickly, grinning back the moment Aragorn looked up at him. Nothing separated them but his own tugged-up shirt and Aragorn's breeches, and a brief shifting of his hips confirmed for Faramir that the King was still responding to him, or at least to his fervor. "And I am not feeling strangely. Feeling more acutely, perhaps, but not out of the ordinary." He tugged the hand holding Aragorn's to his lips and kissed the knuckles. "Please let me show you. You wanted to heal me -- put your hands on me, and let me put my hands on you. Please."
Still Aragorn did not respond, and Faramir felt a sudden chill. "Is it...you reminded me to think of my wife, but I did not think to ask about yours." The King's eyes rose away from his glancing off in the distance above his head, and through the elation in his blood, Faramir was suddenly, painfully ashamed. "I am sorry," he whispered. "I meant no disrespect, to her or to you. Forgive me, my lord. You were right about the toadstool, and the humiliation."
A laugh unexpectedly interrupted Faramir's apology. He glanced up to see Aragorn smiling at him, as flushed as himself, but with no trace of smugness. "My Queen would not be in the least surprised, nor distressed," Aragorn admitted. "She would tell me...to heal you. To hold you, if that is what you want." Staring straight at Faramir, Aragorn let his smile fade. "Are you certain that this is what you want? Once done, it can never be undone."
"I will not want it to be undone!" Faramir exclaimed, tugging Aragorn against him by stretching their clasped hands to the side. The ring on Aragorn's finger caught his eye: a pair of serpents intertwined, one devouring, the other upholding. "The punctures from the fangs will scar me, will they not? I want to be able to look at the mark on my leg and think of you, with me, like this."
Gently Aragorn retrieved his hand and pushed Faramir's hair back from his face, behind his ear, to study him. Faramir felt dizzy, and yet it was a familiar feeling. He did not think that it was only the mushroom filling him with light.
"Please," he begged again, and saw an echo in Aragorn's face, and trembled in joy when Aragorn caught his fingers again to guide them to his face, at last leaning forward to kiss him.
"You smell like mint," Aragorn whispered against his lips, smiling.
"You smell like medicine, and I would have it no other way," Faramir whispered back.
The first time was quick and frantic, as the King put his healing hands on Faramir and alleviated his suffering almost at once, then let his Steward return the favor, using his seed to smooth the feel of his weather-roughened fingers. But the potent mushroom in his blood made Faramir recover rapidly, and he soon discovered from Aragorn that snakebite salve had other uses and could ease other potential sore spots.
After the third time, Aragorn worried aloud that he would not be able to ride if they continued, but he laughed and nodded when Faramir insisted that he must then owe him. "I think the poison must be gone from your blood, for you to have such vigor," he teased.
"Next time you can eat the toadstool," Faramir retorted. "For I shall not need it."
They rose and made a weak attempt to straighten their clothing, for the sun was moving low in the sky, and they both knew that they should leave the woods. As they stepped among the trees, Aragorn whispered something in Elvish, and Faramir turned, limping -- though too replete with pleasure to care -- with an eyebrow raised in silent question.
"I was speaking to the snake," the King explained.
"Were you cursing the poor creature?" asked Faramir. "For it did no lasting harm."
"Of course not," Aragorn replied with a smile. "I was thanking it."
Faramir opened his mouth in outrage, but the sound that came out was laughter.