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“By Mandos’ teeth,” Boromir swears quietly to himself. He hadn’t even seen where the orc arrow came from, but it is neatly embedded in his bicep nonetheless. It hurts, although he doesn’t feel the tell-tale dizziness that usually comes with it when the arrow has been poisoned. Just his luck then, caught in the wilderness as he is, a good walk away from where the Fellowship has made camp tonight, in order to collect both firewood and his thoughts. Boromir scrambles behind the nearest cover, a tall rock, before looking down at his arm again. He grits his teeth and breaks off the arrow’s shaft, howling in pain at the sudden painful jolt.

Where there is an arrow, there are usually orcs and so he tries to calm his frantic breathing and far-too-rapid heartbeat, listening as to where they could be hiding. He doesn’t hear anything, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there – the orcs have grown cunning over the past few years, some of them capable of creeping across the terrain with almost unnatural silence, and he isn’t an elf or dwarf, doesn’t possess their fine hearing.

It is a decision taken in a single split second, but with an almost defiant growl he takes off one of his gloves, stuffs it between his teeth before pushing the arrow through and pulling it out on the other side in one single, agonizing motion. Pain races through him, makes his skin break out in goosebumps and nausea rise in his throat. He closes his eyes, breathing heavily, desperately trying to regain control over his body’s reactions. The orcs could be on him at any moment after all.

It takes him longer than he would’ve liked; but finally, when he opens his eyes again, the ground has stopped tilting. He pushes up the sleeve of his tunic and ties some rough strips of fabric around his arm, promising himself he’ll look after it later. For now, he should get back to the rest of the Fellowship. Boromir has just managed to heave himself up to his feet, wobbling only a little, when he can hear it – the unmistakeable sounds of approaching orcs, sniffing the air, following the scent of his blood. He presses his back against the rock he has been hiding behind, reading himself for an ambush. The element of surprise is the best weapon he has at his disposal right now – especially since he cannot be sure just how many there are of them.

He waits for the first orc to walk up and brings his sword around with all the force he can muster, ignoring the screaming of the wound in his arm. It hits its throat at just the right angle and the orc falls. The one running behind his fallen comrade shrieks and Boromir steps away from the rock, falling into a fighting stance. He knows that the rush of the fight won’t last long; he will have to dispatch those orcs quickly before the pain and blood loss make him overly tired.

He crosses blades with the second orc when an audible thunk sounds out behind him. Boromir steps out of the way of an incoming slash from the orc’s weapon, twirling around to strike at the other one that must surely be coming up behind him. Except, there is nothing to strike at, just empty air. Boromir sees the corpse on the ground too late, stumbles over it and hits the earth hard, right on the arrow wound. A scream rips its way out of his lungs together with the rest of the air in it, and for a moment the pain is so all-encompassing he sees nothing but black. This is the end, he thinks. There goes Boromir, son of Gondor, felled by an arrow and an inconveniently placed corpse on the ground.

Except, the deadly slash doesn’t come. Boromir opens his eyes to see the orc in front of him fall to the ground, an arrow embedded in its throat. There is a loud yell next to him, accompanied by a deeper bellow, and Aragorn and Gimli burst out from behind the rock, their blades meeting those of the last two orcs who seem to be at least as surprised by their sudden arrival as Boromir is. It isn’t even really a fight at this point – the dwarf and the ranger dispatch their two foes with ease.

Aragorn turns around, casts a glance at Boromir, brows knitting together in worry when he sees him half-buried underneath a dead orc.

“Are you injured?” he asks. Boromir shakes his head. He has no desire to disclose his injury to the Fellowship now, not wanting to slow them down.

“No. Just very surprised, is all. How are you here?”

“Legolas heard something unusual, so we decided to patrol the perimeter, make sure that nothing unsavoury was getting close to the camp. Found a group of orcs and killed them, before realising that there were more in the area and following your tracks, trying to make sure you were safe. These should have been the last ones, though.” As he speaks, he leans down to clean the orcish blood of his sword, before offering Boromir a hand to pull him up.

“I have been exceedingly lucky then. Thank you. All of you.” Boromir takes the offered hand with his uninjured side and lets himself be drawing up to his feet. Their touch lingers perhaps a mite longer than strictly necessary, but if either Legolas or Gimli notice, they do not comment on it.

“Not to worry, laddie. We’d be a poor Fellowship if we let you get cut down by orcs so easily!” Gimli reaches up and pats him on the arm. Boromir tries not to flinch when Gimli’s fingers only barely miss the arrow wound.

They make their way back to camp quickly enough, returning amidst some relieved sighs and worried looks from the hobbits. Gandalf’s gaze travels over the four of them, stopping only briefly when it alights on Boromir. He wonders whether the old wizard has an inkling of the wound he is hiding – he wouldn’t put it past him to have already picked up on it with whatever strange additional senses a wizard might have. For now, Gandalf remains quiet, however, saying nothing to him or his companions.

Boromir cleans out the wound during his first watch that night, when he can be sure that everyone is asleep. It takes all his strength to keep quiet and not wake any of his slumbering companions, but somehow he manages, sighing in relief when he has bandaged it up properly this time. It should probably be stitched shut, but he can hardly do so on his own, so he has to make do with what he has. It’s good enough for now.

He has just tightened the bandage and slipped back into his clothing when there is a soft rustle behind him, accompanied by a familiar smell. Boromir feels the corners of his mouth turn up involuntarily.

“Your watch isn’t for another hour at least,” he says, without turning around. He pats the space on the log next to him with his uninjured arm.

Aragorn leaps nimbly across the log and seats himself, his pipe in hand.

“I didn’t think you would mind the company,” he says, taking a drag from it and inhaling the sweet smoke.

“I don’t.” Boromir sighs. At least Aragorn hasn’t seen him look after his wound. Or at least he hopes he doesn’t. He might have gotten to know the ranger far more intimately than he’d wagered before, but there is still plenty left for him to find out, spaces of Aragorn’s mind that he certainly isn’t privy to. It makes him think of Faramir and how quickly his brother has always been able to figure out everyone he is talking to. Boromir has never quite mastered his little brother’s ability to read and empathise with people within moments, although he does well enough with his own soldiers.

They sit in silence for a while, Aragorn smoking his pipe and both of them watching the stars and listening to the sounds around them for anything that might mean them harm. Their shoulders are touching, and Boromir finds himself enjoying the warmth from the man next to him. A small part of him wishes that this part of their journey would never end, that these nights, these stolen moments of relative peace would last forever. Here, at least, neither of them has to be pretend – they aren’t King and Heir of the Stewart, or stalwart members of the Fellowship, with the hopes of all free folk in Middle-earth resting on their shoulders. They are just themselves – two men, weary from years of battle and war, who have found comfort and softness where they had least expected it.

“Now that we know that these lands are crawling with more orcs than we’d thought, perhaps we should be more careful,” Aragorn finally says. He turns his pipe in his hands, not looking up at Boromir.

“You can say it.” Boromir’s voice is dry. “You mean me, specifically.”

Aragorn clears his throat, but he doesn’t deny it.

“It wasn’t meant as an accusation,” he pushes out. “You are…you have a tendency to wander alone, and far from camp. I do not want to see you get hurt. When we heard the orcs and knew you were out there alone…one arrow alone is enough to fell even the mightiest of warriors.”

For a moment Boromir thinks that Aragorn knows about the wound, but he has given no other sign, and so he chalks it up to coincidence. He doesn’t know how to explain to him that, sometimes the company and especially the closeness to the Ring are stifling him, that he needs time to breathe, to think, to sort out the confusing mess of feelings inside his chest whenever he thinks of Aragorn, the burden they have been tasked to carry, and the likely end that they journey is going to have.

“I will be more careful in the future,” he promises instead. It is worth it, at least for the tiny sigh of relief that escapes Aragorn’s lips. “Does that mean you were worried about me?” he continues to tease.

“Of course I was.” For all his reluctance when it comes to voicing his feelings, Aragorn can be remarkably direct when he does decide to speak out. “Why would I not be?” He reaches out, very deliberately placing his fingers over Boromir’s. His gaze softens when he looks at him.

“You are not as replaceable as you think, Boromir. Not to any of us. Not to me, certainly.”

Boromir swallows through his suddenly dry throat. Aragorn isn’t the first man that he has shared a bed with, or even found deeper words for. He is, however, the first man, who has been patient rather than pushing, who gives and takes in equal measure, and is most assuredly drawn to Boromir himself rather than just his name and position. Boromir doesn’t quite know how to deal with it.

“Thank you,” he says, fingers moving over Aragorn’s. “I promise I will take more care in the future. For everyone’s sake.” Aragorn smiles at that and Boromir moves in to kiss him – it is so much easier to express what he wants to say that way, rather than having to dig around for words within himself that won’t just quite come. Aragorn hums something under his breath and leans in, the taste of pipeweed still sharp on his lips and tongue.

*

The wound does not get better.

At first, Boromir blames it on the constant movement – even if he had managed to stitch it shut, it would have likely pulled back open again from the roughness of their travels. But he soon discovers that the edges of the wound are becoming red and inflamed, sending tendrils of pain down to his hand and up to his shoulder, until his entire arms aches, no matter what he is doing.

He manages to hide it reasonably well at first but is also perfectly aware that time is running out for him to find a solution to his problem. He has seen more than one of his soldiers lose a limb to infection and gangrene and the window of opportunity to be healed is small and rapidly closing. And still – he is unwilling to reveal his pain to anybody, lest they think him weak and not worthy their companionship. He has seen the way Frodo looks at him, hand clenched around the Ring. Thinking about the Ring makes him his reconsider his position in the Fellowship over and over – they might discard him, if he doesn’t take care, for what good is a wounded warrior? So he grits his teeth and he endures, hoping against his better judgement that the issue will miraculously resolve itself.

It doesn’t, of course.

Instead, his steps begin to falter even a few hours into the day, and every task that requires even modest use of his arm suddenly becomes an exercise in enduring pain. He can see the worry in Aragorn’s gaze, the slight frown in his brow when he looks at him, but for now Aragorn doesn’t ask, respects his privacy.

It isn’t until the next night that Boromir is no longer able to hide what is going on. Once again, he has taken the first watch, using the time to try and wash out the wound as best as he can, away from prying eyes. This time, he is so focused on the pain and the simple effort of trying to breathe that he doesn’t hear Aragorn’s steps approaching through the dark.

“Boromir.” Aragorn’s voice is soft enough not to wake any of the others, but Boromir’s head whips around nonetheless, sheer panic suffusing him. Aragorn cannot know. He cannot see. He doesn’t know what to say and so he just looks at him, illuminated by the moonlight as he walks towards Boromir and reaches out towards where he has bared his arm and shoulder to deal with the wound. Boromir flinches back before Aragorn even touches him, and the faintest expression of hurt travels across Aragorn’s face.

“Let me see,” he says.

“I’m fine.” Boromir has to clear his throat several times before he can bring out the words. It is ridiculous, really. He shouldn’t be this worried. Or this afraid. And yet, when he looks at Aragorn, seeing nothing but care and worry reflected in his expression, his chest clenches painfully.

“You are clearly not. How long has this been going on for? Why didn’t you say anything?” Aragorn kneels down in front of him. This time, Boromir forces himself to hold still when Aragorn reaches out.

“A few days. The orc attack. I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a burden on the Fellowship.” The words trickle out of him, slowly but steadily.

“A burden?” Aragorn frowns. His touch is as light as possible, but as soon as he begins to prod the inflamed skin around the wound, Boromir flinches again, this time in pain. “How could you possibly be a burden?”

“I can see the way they are looking at me,” Boromir murmurs, grinding his teeth when Aragorn examines the wound. He wishes he would stop, both the examination and the conversation. “Especially Frodo.”

Aragorn withdraws his hands, a deep crease on his forehead. He doesn’t look angry, however, just confused and worried.

“We’ll need to flush this and stitch it,” he says, gesturing to Boromir’s arm. “I should still have some dried athelas to help, although fresh would be better. With some luck, we’ll still be able to save the arm.” Boromir nods, waits for him to move away to fetch what he needs. At least the moonlight is bright enough that they won’t have to return to the vicinity of the fire, risk others seeing him like this.

Aragorn doesn’t rise, however, only stares at the wound and then back up at Boromir’s face, down at his hands, into the landscape. He is obviously searching for words.

“Frodo is cautious around everyone these days,” he finally says, carefully. “I do not believe that your paranoia is just you talking, however. The Ring influences all of our thoughts.”

“You believe it’s just the Ring?” Boromir snorts, but Aragorn’s face remains entirely serious. He sighs, rubs his face, fully aware of the weight of Aragorn’s gaze on him. “I wish it were.”

No, his feelings of inadequacy, his desperate longing to actually live up to the person that his father sees in him are far, far older than the travels of this Fellowship. If he could only convince them that the Ring should go to Gondor, for them to make use of, to finally save the people who slowly keep dying under the shadowy arm of the advancing darkness…Boromir shakes his head. These are not thoughts he should voice out loud.

Aragorn reaches out and takes his face between his hands, bends forward to press his lips against Boromir’s forehead before bringing their faces closer together.

“Do not believe in everything the darkness tells you,” he whispers. “Even if its calling might seem alluring and its reasoning oh-so sensible. We’ve all heard it. You are stronger than this, son of Gondor.”

Boromir closes his eyes and breathes in Aragorn’s scent, sweaty and musky from the toils on the road. He probably doesn’t smell much better himself, he muses. He wishes it was as easy as taking Aragorn’s words and burying them inside his heart, plant them where all his self-doubt and hatred lies, and watch them blossom there in their stead.

Instead of words, Boromir chooses to reply with a kiss, catching Aragorn’s lips with his own as softly as he can. Aragorn’s fingers trail over his beard, move down to cup his neck as he sinks into the kiss and once again he wishes that they could stay like this forever, frozen in a moment of time that is free from worry or fear.

Aragorn smiles a little when they part again.

“We’ll have to patch up your wound first,” he says. “Give me a moment.” Boromir nods, still finding himself unable to speak. He watches Aragorn as he steps back in between the sleeping members of the Fellowship, steps soft and light, and rummages in his pack for some medical supplies.

“Ready?” he asks, when he returns and has prepared everything.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Boromir grimaces. Aragorn sighs a little and offers him a small cup.

“Here, drink some of this. It’ll help with the pain and the infection.” Boromir does as he is told, steeling himself against the pain when Aragorn finally begins the arduous task of draining, washing, stitching and binding the wound. He muffles his shouts against the leather of Aragorn’s jerkin, the fingers of his healthy hand clenched around the other’s knee. Aragorn is as kind and gentle as he can be, but he is also thorough, which is ultimately the most important when it comes to the goal of letting Boromir keep his arm.

After the wound has been drained and flushed thoroughly, Boromir can feel a hand on the back of his neck, the cool and calming pressure of fingers running through his hair and along his scalp. Aragorn doesn’t say a single word, but he pauses until Boromir’s ragged breathing has calmed somewhat, never letting up in his gentle ministrations.

Aragorn presses a soft kiss into his hair before he finally stops.

“Good to go on?” he asks. Boromir just nods. Aragorn is careful when he stitches up the wound and liberally applies more athelas to it. There is an almost hypnotic quality to his hands, a touch both cooling and healing, and Boromir isn’t sure whether it’s just the medicine or Aragorn’s touch itself, but already the pain in his arm has lessened back to bearable levels. He rolls his shoulder experimentally when Aragorn has finished wrapping the bandages around it and is surprised to find that the motion doesn’t make him want to curl up in agony.

“Thank you,” he says, looking up Aragorn. What a marvel the man in front of me is, he thinks. Of all the things he had expected to find on his journey north, this hadn’t been it. Aragorn gives him a quick smile.

“You can go to bed,” he offers. “I’ll take the next watch.”

Boromir shakes his head. His bedroll does indeed sound tempting, but the urge to stay here, close to Aragorn, and take a few deep breaths to soothe his ragged nerves is even bigger. Aragorn doesn’t push him, only settles down on the log and relights his pipe after cleaning up the contents of his medical kit. He offers some pipeweed to Boromir, who takes it with a thankful nod.

They sit in silence, the smoke from their pipes rising into the air until Boromir feels his eyes grow heavy. He leans against Aragorn’s shoulder and barely notices the other’s arm snake around his waist before he falls asleep.