It would have been dishonest to deny he had been watching Boromir.
He had been, from the moment he'd arrived at Elrond's house. This is a man of Gondor, Aragorn had thought, and everything he'd seen since had confirmed his views. Boromir was tall, proud, and devoted to his homeland, and it made Aragorn wish to be a better king.
"Tell me of Gondor," he said.
Boromir looked up. He had been eating without stopping since his arrival, and Aragorn felt bad to disturb him. He knew his journey had been a long and hard one, but he could not keep his distance. He wanted to know all he could about the man who would one day be one of his subjects and the land he came from. Aragorn had, of course, been there before, but it had been many years, and he had heard Denethor ruled differently than his father had.
"What is your interest?" Boromir barely paused in his meal. "I have been on the road the last hundred days and ten and am hungry."
"Forgive me." Aragorn bowed his head. "I am a Ranger of the north, called Strider, but my father talked often of Gondor and the great city where the stewards ruled. I had heard tell that you were the steward's son and so wished to see you."
Boromir relaxed at this. "What to say of Gondor to a man who has not seen it?"
"I have seen a bit of it," Aragorn clarified. "But I would hear more, from the lips of her son."
It might have been his imagination, but there seemed to be a faint flush to Boromir's cheeks. "Then I will tell everything until you grow weary of my talk. Though you must forgive me if I continue to eat."
"I will bring you as much food and drink as you can stomach if you will continue."
And this was how they passed the evening, Aragorn listening intently as Boromir held forth on a range of topics, from the history Aragorn already knew to the current structure of Gondor's military, including Boromir's own recent deeds.
"You are very brave, Boromir of Gondor."
"Brave!" Boromir tossed aside a chicken bone. "What is bravery? I do what must be done. My people are threatened! You must understand that, Ranger."
"I do," Aragorn said gravely. "It is why I wished to understand Gondor's plight before our Council sits tomorrow."
"Well, there you have it. We have been in this fight since the beginning, and I was at Osgiliath. I have seen the Enemy's strength as few, if any, here have."
Aragorn could not resist posing a correction. "I think you speak too hastily."
"Mayhaps, but I had not heard of danger in your lands. The Dark Lord hardly threatens Bree."
Aragorn smirked. "There was danger enough in Bree." Part of him felt guilty lying to Boromir, even if it was a lie of omission rather than freely-spoken falsehoods; another part of him enjoyed falling back into the guise of Strider. "If we do not stop the enemy before he takes Gondor, there is no hope for the land of my birth."
"Very well. We will refuse no help, though Gondor could stand alone if need be." He drained his mug of ale. "But that talk waits for the Council on the morrow. For now, I would sleep. It has been an age since I had a proper bed."
"A hundred days and ten." Aragorn smiled. "I did not forget."
Boromir rose, his own smile brightening his once-sober face. "A good thing, too. We will have more words, Strider, and I look forward to them."
Aragorn watched him go and felt something long-dormant stir within him. He would enjoy spending more time with Boromir, especially if what he had taken for flirting truly was flirting.
"So that is the steward's son."
Aragorn lifted his head to see his foster father. "Aye. A fine specimen of my people."
Elrond inclined his head. "Be careful, my son. His inclinations may be in line with yours, but he thinks you naught but a Ranger."
"I will not prolong the deception more than it needs to be." He paused. "He is of my realm, and I would be honest with him."
"It is not for Boromir of Gondor that I worry."
"You need not worry for me, Father."
Elrond smiled. "I do that but rarely. But the stewards have become comfortable in your rightful place than you perhaps realize."
"I will need them. They know more of Gondor than I. This Boromir will serve as my steward after his father is gone, and he must be courted as an ally." Aragorn rose. "I bid you good night, Father. I would take the air before I retire."
Aragorn walked the paths of Rivendell, fearing it would be for the last time. After the journey from Bree, he was even more conscious of the power and reach of the Enemy. Boromir had told him much of the defense of Gondor, and it put fear in him to know that his lands was so threatened while Aragorn had been away.
I did not abandon it, he had to remind himself. It is in good hands with Denethor, even if he did not love me as his father did. That has no bearing on the ability to rule effectively.
He paced some more, hoping that the night air and the waterfall would calm him, as they had when he was a child. He had never been so troubled by his own destiny. He remembered declaring how exactly he would take his crown when he learned of his rights, as Elladan and Elrohir teased him. He had thought nothing at the time of the stewards and the rest of his subjects, only the nebulous ideas of honor and glory and taking his throne to the acclaim of all.
Now that it was more concrete, he longed to talk again with Boromir, but he knew he must hold back for now. All would be revealed in time.
Aragorn slept little, though he enjoyed the company of the Hobbits and Arwen in the hall into the night. It reminded him of how he would finally need to leave the last homely house and face that which he had always known he'd have to. When would he again sit with the people he loved, engaged in nothing more stressful than creating a new song? Would it ever happen again? It would certainly never be the same again, and he relished one last night, tried to burn into his brain the reasons he was fighting—the chance to again recapture the cozy feeling of home.
His masquerade as Strider the Ranger did not last long. He revealed himself at the Council, amidst Boromir's doubting words.
"I feel all a fool," Boromir said to him, after the Council and the feast that followed. He had joined Aragorn on what he thought of as his spot, the bridge behind the waterfall to which Arwen had often brought him as a child. His foster sister had taught him to love this land, the closet thing he'd ever known to a home. He knew Gondor from his travels, but it had not been home for Thorongil, not like Rivendell was home for Estel.
"You should not feel a fool," Aragorn told him. "I did not do it to make you feel foolish. I have had many names, and Strider is just one of them. It wears like an old familiar cloak, while Aragorn is a tight new doublet. Thorongil I also was, if you have heard your father tell of him."
Boromir laughed, a clear sound like a mountain stream. "How vexed he will be when you come to Minas Tirith! He has spoken of Thorongil, aye."
"I did believe he might have suspected who I was." Aragorn's palm curled about the bridge's railing, the ancient oak worn smooth by countless hands doing just that. "I do not wish to usurp you, Boromir, I wish to acknowledge your family's years of service. You have seen Gondor through many dark days when my line could not. I wish to learn from you."
"Learn what I have told you, then." Boromir's manner was not that of a man talking to his king, though Aragorn did not believe there was doubt in him any longer that Aragorn truly was his king. "Gondor needs help. Gondor needs the Ring."
"The Ring is the last thing Gondor needs," Aragorn said, and that was the last they spoke of it, though they spent an hour more on the bridge, talking chiefly of Rivendell and Aragorn's love for it. Boromir listened intently, though there were times his thoughts seemed very far away indeed.
Aragorn could not read Boromir's manner to him for the first part of the journey. It became ever more apparent to him that he was a good man, adamant in his convictions, and the Hobbits made him merry.
And when they were alone, the attraction of that first night burned still, its embers unextinguished by the mountain winds.
They could do nothing, as exhausted as they were by the enemy's pursuit, but it was enough to be near each other, talking of their lives. Aragorn shared stories with Boromir, especially those of his time as Thorongil. Boromir found his father's presence in these old reminiscences much amusing.
But more than that, Aragorn liked to hear Boromir talk of Minas Tirith. He did so reverently, his love for the place palpable. He shared everything, from anecdotes of favorite guardsmen, to the view from his rooms. It deepened Aragorn's longing for the place and his longing for peace. It also deepened his longing for Boromir.
"Do you think we will survive this?"
The voice came unexpectedly from the dark on the coldest night of their journey yet. The Hobbits were all huddled together; only Legolas and Gandalf seemed not to feel the cold, and Gimli pretended not to, keeping watch with one gloved hand on his axe.
Aragorn turned in his bedroll. "The Enemy is strong, you know this as well as I do. More perhaps. But we are stronger. We have the very best on our side. There will be tales told of this Age and those who won the peace."
Boromir moved closer and Aragorn showed this was wanted by closing the distance between them. His body was a warm, welcome presence against the chill of the night. Aragorn knew he would not sleep; he would lie awake until Gimli came to wake him to keep watch.
"When you say it, I half believe it."
Boromir's manner toward him had not changed since finding out who he was. The last thing he wanted was to lose the Boromir of the first night, the one he'd first been drawn to. It did not seem in Boromir's nature to bow and scrape, but he was glad for it nonetheless.
"When I say it, I half believe it, too. I imagine the songs that will be sung… Brave Frodo the Ring-bearer, the wise wizard, elf and dwarf made friends."
"Aragorn the king." Boromir's gray eyes were shining like beacons in the full moonlight.
"And Boromir of Gondor, the steward's son, his greatest ally."
Boromir gave a mirthless laugh. "You increase my greatness out of its proportion."
"I think you are greater than you think." Aragorn reached out gingerly and brushed Boromir's hair back from his face.
"I fear for Gondor."
"And that is why we are here. For Gondor." His fingertips moved down to Boromir's unshaven cheeks. "Gondor depends on us."
Boromir moved forward first, his lips finding Aragorn's even in the dark. Their first kiss was chaste, hesitant, the second one more heated. They were conscious of the Company all around them, but there was nothing wrong with sharing kisses here in the dark.
Aragorn still did not sleep, but as Boromir dozed in his arms, he felt a new resolve. Boromir and Gondor were his reasons for fighting on. A king, after all would need a consort.
It was with many pleasant imaginings to pass the time that he relieved Gimli from his watch. Perhaps it was necessary to have something to look forward to other than the nebulous future of taking his rightful throne. Being with Boromir made him feel more connected to Gondor than the reforged sword he drew from its scabbard to examine in the moonlight. The doings of distant, dead kings and heroes may as well have been an imagined tale if not for the proof here, but Boromir was real, very much so. For all that the young Aragorn had called himself a king in front of his foster brothers, Boromir made him feel like one. When he took his throne, it would be with Boromir at his side.
If he would assent to marriage.
The loss of Gandalf cast a pall over the Company that hovered more than the dark clouds above their heads on Caradhras.
"I did not know him as you did, and my father spoke suspiciously of him, but I am sorry, for you trusted him so."
These were the first words Boromir had spoken since they had stepped out into the light, such as it was. The others were somber, only quiet conversations passing privately between them. Aragorn was glad for Boromir's presence, for he did not know if the others would have spoken so to him. Without Gandalf, they all seemed to look to him for guidance, but Aragorn did not know, as Gandalf seemed to, what was the best course of action. He knew that the Ring must be destroyed, of course, and the Enemy defeated, but he lacked Gandalf's wisdom. To have Boromir at his side was gratifying.
"I know not how to proceed," he confessed.
"As we were." Boromir's hand slid into his and squeezed. It sent a wave of warmth through him as though Boromir had embraced him. "We must continue on and Gandalf may be avenged. Time is running out, and we must not tarry. Gandalf would not have wanted it."
"Of course." Aragorn released his breath, his chest still feeling tight as though he still held it.
With Boromir holding his hand, Aragorn found he could rally the Company and put one foot in front of the other. If any of their companions noted that they held hands, they did not speak of it.
Lothlorien lay ahead of them and with it, the promise of some respite. Aragorn longed for a rest, in the hopes that it would show him what to do. Boromir was his capable second through all of this, reassuring the Hobbits, though he deferred to Legolas when it came time to speak with the elves.
"We will go to Minas Tirith," Boromir said. "I will make the way for you and ease your introduction to my father."
"I know not what I would do without you, Boromir," Aragorn murmured. They had walked away from the pavilion where the Company was housed, and Aragorn for once felt at peace. The green and the trees all around them seemed to shield them from the outside world and from prying eyes. The change in the nature of their relationship seemed to have been obvious to all; he could see it in the looks of the others, but he had not yet asked Boromir if he would wed him when he gained his throne. It seemed a premature request.
Boromir, though, seemed to know exactly what to do. He walked Lothlorien with a confidence Aragorn had not expected of him, as one born there and comfortable with the ways of elves.
Aragorn soon saw why this was—Boromir was leading them somewhere. They had not been walking long before they came upon a clearing. There was a pavilion there and in it, Aragorn saw, with a rising heat in his stomach, a bed.
"This is a private place," Boromir said, taking Aragorn's face in his hands and kissing him. "I asked where something such as this might be found." A faint blush tinged his cheeks. "There was little privacy where we lay with the others… I thought if you were willing, we could make use of this spot."
"I am more than willing." Aragorn returned his kiss, giving over to Boromir's touch. For just this moment, he could forget how he struggled with the burden of kingship and what was to be done next. All that was before him was Boromir, no more, no less, and the love that lay between them.
"Boromir," he began, "I—"
"Speak not," Boromir said, kissing his mouth once more. "Unless it is to tell me what you do or do not wish for me to do. For just now, we are alone together, and I would do what I have long thought of doing."
The stirring within him had returned, and Aragorn felt his arousal grow as it had not through their journey in the mountains when all they had done was exchange nearly-chaste kisses.
"Aragorn, Aragorn." Boromir was stroking his hair, his lips showering his face with kisses. "My king."
Aragorn shivered to hear him say this. He did not feel like a king, but Boromir's earnest confidence was enough to almost make him.
"Show me," he murmured, hearing his voice shake. "Show me what it was you thought of on those long cold nights."
Boromir laughed, the sound Aragorn loved to hear and had longed for since Gandalf's loss had silenced everyone. "I shall."
His brushed Aragorn's hair back, fingertips ghosting on his neck. He slowly removed Aragorn's clothes; Aragorn closed his eyes and allowed this. What better time than this, he thought, when we may never get another chance? When we leave this place, one of us may be lost. If Gandalf can be, none are safe.
Once they were both without clothes and had moved onto the bed, they spoke less, though they did not leave off all talk. Boromir seemed to have a kiss for every part of him and something to say to praise it.
"You are magnificent," he murmured. "I look forward to the day we enter Minas Tirith with you declared the rightful king."
"And you will be by my side," Aragorn said, stroking Boromir's hair as Boromir nipped at the sensitive skin of his stomach. "My steward. My first and most loyal subject. My consort."
Boromir lifted his head. "Is that what you with, my king?"
"That is all I wish."
"Then let this be a preview of what is to come." His mouth moved then to Aragorn's cock and it was as if the world had fallen entirely away. To be raised among elves had meant Aragorn had viewed such things as meant only for the deepest-forged bonds. He knew that was not the way of it among Men, but it still meant that even with the Rangers he had never given over to the touch of another, though he had thought often of it. He had reasoned he was waiting for the one with whom he would share his throne. Now, with Boromir, he wanted nothing more but Boromir's hands, his mouth, his cock.
Boromir seemed to understand without being told, his mouth gentle and teasing as he sucked, giving Aragorn only a fraction of a taste of the pleasure that could be gotten out this act.
"My king, Aragorn, tell me what I shall do. Shall I make you come with my mouth here? Or shall I take you? I am yours to command."
Aragorn could barely draw breath to speak his desires. He knew what he wanted—Boromir inside of him, to feel him move there, to have him spill his seed inside his king. In this manner, he would take what he could of Boromir.
"You will take me," he said. "That is what I would have you do, Boromir."
Aragorn might have lacked personal experience, but he was not totally ignorant of what two men did in bed. He had heard enough talk—or overheard enough Rangers doing more than talking in their tents of a night. He knew what was coming when Boromir urged him to turn over, and he positioned himself such that he could support his own weight.
Boromir ran a reverent hand over his arse. It was even more exciting, somehow, to know that Boromir had anticipated this development, had somehow procured the necessary supplies. He closed his eyes as Boromir's oiled fingers entered him, teasing him, and then gasped unwittingly as they passed a spot deep inside him. Boromir kissed him once more and then moved his body into position, the weight of his arousal enticing against Aragorn's arse.
Aragorn turned his head to again meet Boromir's lips as Boromir settled into place, his thighs a comforting weight around Aragorn's hips. He moved inside slowly, carefully, murmuring into Aragorn's ear words of encouragement, praise, and love. Their joining seemed to fill Aragorn, and for those moments they spoke not at all. There was no sound but that of their flesh meeting, Boromir's stifled grunts and Aragorn's own raspy breathing.
"Boromir," he managed. That one word seemed to be what was needed for Boromir to spend himself. Aragorn groaned as he felt that which he had longed for, Boromir's seed filling him. Moments later, Boromir's hand on his own cock brought his own end.
"How did you like that, my king?" Boromir asked, pressing a kiss to the back of Aragorn's neck. They lay without speaking, Boromir behind him, with his arms around him, much as their coupling had been.
"I liked it well." Aragorn smiled and turned in his arms so he faced him. He wished to look upon the face of his betrothed. "I am much pleased by the lengths you took to make it happen."
"Anything for you, my king." Boromir kissed him. "We may pass the night here before returning to our companions. I think we will not be missed."
Aragorn smiled, wondering what he had told the others to keep them from being sought out by curious Hobbits.
They remained that way until the dawn, sleeping until the gray light touched them. They made love again in that dim half-awake world, before rising reluctantly and returning to the rest of the Fellowship.
Boromir kept hold of Aragorn's hand as they walked, and before they joined the others, he said, "Do not worry, Aragorn. I know what must be done so that we may prevail." He kissed Aragorn firmly before he could ask what this was and turned away to call out laughingly to Pippin who was hurrying to admonish them for nearly missing breakfast.
"The worst sin for Hobbitkind," Boromir said, and whatever he might have been about to say was gone. Aragorn thought not of it. Not until later.
Aragorn ran through the wood so fast he could hardly draw breath. He could not afford to stop for even a moment to catch his breath. He ought to have known this would happen, that this would be Boromir's solution to the question of what they must do.
The absence of Boromir and Frodo, both, had put fear in his heart as soon as he had noticed. He had been a fool to have been blinded by his esteem for Boromir and all that had followed it. How many times had Boromir told him with confidence that they would prevail? That Gondor would be saved? He had foolishly thought it must be something else, for he had not thought Boromir capable of taking the Ring from Frodo by force.
"Boromir!" he cried, once he could draw breath. "Boromir!"
The trees about him blended together and he could not tell where they might have gone. He had no choice but to run.
He was drawing closer to the river when he heard the shouts. They were there, and Aragorn burst from the trees, not even know what he shouted. Boromir and Frodo both looked at him in surprised alarm, and Frodo vanished just as Aragorn seized Boromir around the middle and slammed into the ground with him.
Both were rendered breathless; the first thing Aragorn said upon regaining the air was "Frodo!"
He did not know if the Hobbit was still there, but a shuffle in the brush gave him hope. "Frodo, go and join the others. We will be along…" He could not say shortly for he knew not what would happen next. "We will be along. Go."
The footsteps might have been his imagination; it was difficult to hear over the roar of the river, and the crashing of a small form through the brush might have been an animal. At least he was reasonably sure they were alone.
He now became conscious of the fact that he lay on top of Boromir, his arms still locked around his waist. Boromir's face was pressed into the rock and he was sobbing.
"Shh," he soothed, pressing his lips to the back of Boromir's hair. "Hush, Boromir. It is only me."
"Leave me," Boromir said. "I have failed you. Leave me and go to Frodo."
"Worry not for Frodo. I have told him to go to the others, and they will see to him." He would have to hope he had been heard. "You have not failed me. Anything but."
"You saw what I did. I tried—tried to take it. For myself, I tried to take it."
"For Gondor you tried to take it." Aragorn sat up and took Boromir properly in his arms. "I cannot blame your intentions." He sighed, pressing his face into Boromir's hair. "The Ring has taken a greater toll on mightier men than you."
"I cannot serve you, having done this. I cannot…"
"No, Boromir." He kissed his temple, his forehead, his lips. "You serve me best."
He did not know how much time passed as he held Boromir as he wept. There was no other sound but the river and the wind in the treetops. It allowed Aragorn to center himself.
"What will you do with me now?" Boromir asked.
"The only thing I could do with you." He tilted Boromir's tear-stained face up and kissed it. "Keep you at my side because you care for Gondor and for me."
"But what can I do from here?"
"Fight, as you have been, and know that none are immune from the Ring's pull."
Boromir was silent for a moment. "Then it must be destroyed. We must take it to the Fire and I will fight Frodo's way clear for him if I must." Boromir flung his arms about Aragorn then and squeezed him tightly. "But he will never forgive me."
"Indeed, he may not." Aragorn returned Boromir's embrace. "He may not."
"And he will be right not to." Boromir rose. "Let us go to them."
Aragorn took his hand and stood, though he did not begin to head back down the hill. Instead, he caught Boromir's mouth in a rough kiss, his teeth catching Boromir's lip.
He had thought at first this might come as an unwelcome advance, but Boromir responded in kind, allowing Aragorn to press him back against a tree. This was unlike their lovemaking in Lothlorien, all fast, rough and desperate.
The only manner of clothes-removal they undertook was to unlace each other's breeches, and that might have only been because it was the only one they had time for. Their hands moved frantically on each other's cocks before Aragorn pressed Boromir back against the tree with another bruising kiss. His hips worked against Boromir's, and while he knew in the back of his mind that this was rough, Boromir appeared to welcome it.
Their climax was messy, and Boromir slumped back against the tree, Aragorn leaning nearly all on him.
"I do hope this has shown you, Boromir," Aragorn kissed his forehead, "that I still do esteem you. Indeed, love you. Naught has changed."
Boromir gave a great, hitching breath. "I love you, too. But I cannot be your consort."
"Do not say that," Aragorn said quietly. "If you no longer wish to marry me, I will not force you, but I do not see how I cannot still marry you."
Boromir was silent. "Then I will do all in my power to still be worthy of marrying you."
Aragorn caught Boromir's hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed it. "Do as you will, Boromir. I will be with you, no matter what."
Boromir embraced him once more, his breath shuddering once more with a repressed sob. "Aragorn."
"Come now." Aragorn kissed him. "Let us go and make sure Frodo is safe."
They found him with the others at the boats, though he edged far from Boromir when he saw him, to obvious pain in Boromir's eyes.
"Frodo, you have naught to fear right now," Aragorn told him. "Boromir has become yet another victim of the Ring."
"I am sorry," Boromir began, but he stopped himself. He obviously seemed to know that an effusive apology would not be welcome. He dropped to one knee. "I will come no closer, but consider me to be your most devoted servant, and I will die for you to see the Ring into the Fire if necessary."
"I should hope it will not come to that," Frodo said quietly, from behind Sam.
Legolas and Gimli were casting Aragorn suspicious looks; they would have to be told in more detail later. Sam in particular was looking ill at Boromir, and the other Hobbits appeared skeptical too. Aragorn wondered what could be done to restore the peace of their Company, but that could not be his concern now.
"Frodo, we will hear your decision now," he said patiently, lowering himself as Boromir had so as not to intimidate the Hobbit by his height.
"I will go to Mordor," Frodo said quietly.
"And we will all go with you," Aragorn said. "Unless any one of us does not wish to."
No one spoke.
"Come now." A burden was curiously lifted from his shoulders now; he had not known how to proceed before, but the way was now cleared. "We will remain a Fellowship of nine, and thus will we see the Ring to its destruction."
"You make it sound very easy," Gimli said.
Aragorn laughed. "I do not believe it is so. But I do believe that the nine of us together can better enact this plan than one Hobbit alone."
"I would have gone with Mr. Frodo had no one else been willing," Sam spoke up quickly.
"Two Hobbits, then." Aragorn smiled.
There was still a tension among the party as they again gained the boats, and Boromir cast Aragorn a way look.
The way ahead was all but certain, but Aragorn could see one thing in his mind's eye: a white city and the chance to make his promise to Boromir a reality. Naught would change, he had told him, and he had to honor that. Boromir would be his husband at the end of this, and there would be an end to it. The crowns for two waited.