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Their company seems smaller, now that they have a safe place to rest. Of course there’s Gandalf’s passing, which Aragorn doesn’t like to think on longer than he has to, but it’s more than that. Legolas is often off to speak with his people, and the halflings have mostly gathered together, Sam sometimes wondering about in awe and Frodo adoringly at his heels, or the other way around. Gimli tends to depart with Legolas, something Aragorn would’ve never foreseen. He expected, at least, to keep Boromir by his side. On the first few nights in Lothlórien, he had his wish, and the two men slept tight together under attractive awnings and the softly glowing lights.

But something’s changed since then, and Boromir’s gone from laying his bed roll nearly on top of Aragorn’s to as far across their lodgings as possible, until one night, he simply doesn’t come back. If it were anyone else in the company, Aragorn would attribute it to the majesty of their surroundings, but he doubts Boromir is out sightseeing. It’s half wonder and half worry that urges him to follow, or perhaps a tiny bit of loneliness. He’s slept alone too long, and as the quest brought them closer, he’s enjoyed having a handsome man to lie with. Boromir’s absence is sorer than he might guess.

His trail, for the most part, isn’t difficult to find. It’s a fair country, with grass that springs right back after footfalls, but it’s used to the trampling of light-footed elves and not broad, thick-booted men. Aragorn doesn’t have to wander far before he can smell the raw musk of his companion, so different from the floral scents all around them. He can practically hear the heavy breath. He finds Boromir not far from their encampment, sitting at the base of a tree with his eyes far in the distance. The trees are tall and lithe here, but enough to obscure the view back where they came. He glances up when Aragorn arrives, speaking to his skill.

There’s a certain reservation in Boromir’s eyes. Aragorn comes to perch in front of him all the same, kneeling down in the hopes that this will be quick and they can return to the rest they deserve. But Boromir doesn’t stir, and Aragorn has to ask, quiet to suit the hush of early night, “What is wrong?” When Boromir merely looks aside, Aragorn’s breath hitches, guessing unpleasantly to add, “What has happened between us?”

Boromir’s mouth opens instantly, but he doesn’t have words ready. It takes him a moment to close it, then try again, “Reconsider. Come to Gondor.”

Aragorn frowns. He’d known of that disagreement but didn’t think it like this; this feels like something more. As much as he’d like to promise that he’d follow Boromir right to the throne of Minas Tirith, he can only say, “I am not sure I can, but you know my decision is not yet final.”

Boromir breathes out in a sort of weary resignation, glancing away again. It seems a strange thing for a warrior to pout over, but Aragorn has no better explanation. He wants Boromir to look back at him, so he can search Boromir’s handsome face, but it doesn’t happen without his aid. He has to reach forward and slip his fingers along Boromir’s jaw, his palm coming to rest against Boromir’s warm cheek. There’s a slight scratch of stubble along his calloused skin, his pulse beating faster for it—it’s been too long since he enjoyed the touch of another. But this is for something else, and it works. Boromir admits, “It isn’t that.”

“What, then?”

Now that they’re talking, Aragorn tries to move his hand away, but Boromir’s quickly rises to capture it. Neither of them wear gloves in Lórien’s comforting air, so it’s just the overlap of soft skin. Boromir’s fingers curl around his, holding them in place. Boromir licks his lips, clearly thinking, and slowly answers, “I... do not wish to miss an opportunity.”

Aragorn’s brows knit together. “I don’t understand.” Boromir looks like he might laugh, but sadly, or bitterly.

Instead, he sighs. He straightens, and he clutches Aragorn’s hand tighter as if for support, then lets his eyes meet Aragorn’s, and he carefully explains, “It seems much of our customs have changed since you last learned of them. Otherwise, you would know what you inherit on your return. More than the throne and rule is yours to take, though it must seem a small thing in comparison. I was surprised, and perhaps, unbeknownst to even myself, disappointed, when you did not claim this thing. Then relieved before nervous when it became clear that you did not know.”

“You speak in riddles,” Aragorn murmurs, more than curious. He must betray his own ignorance in his eyes: he has no idea what Boromir speaks of.

Boromir sucks in a breath and quietly says, “The steward’s heir is promised to Isildur’s. By right, I am already yours, but when you step into your land, that becomes binding, and all your subjects already know it so.”

Boromir lets Aragorn’s hand fall, and Aragorn’s too stunned to do anything but let it lie in Boromir’s lap. He stares at his companion, uncomprehending, though he can see no lie on Boromir’s face and wouldn’t expect it. Things have changed indeed if it’s true, though when he’s finished his pure shock, he supposes he could understand—it’s a way of strengthening, perhaps, the steward’s tie to the throne. He’s not sure what he would’ve done if he’d known from the start.

He’s not sure he understands what Boromir wants done. He’s young and beautiful and strong—he could easily find another. Aragorn’s free, for now, and meant to stay so, though temptation still eats at his mind often. To make sure it means what he thinks, Aragorn numbly repeats, “Promised?”

“Promised. Married. It never occurred to me that it would happen in my lifetime,” Boromir mutters. “And then I went to Rivendell and learned I would belong to some strange Ranger of whom I knew no great deeds.”

Though it’s a very serious subject, Aragorn can’t help but snort, “That would explain your initial wariness of me.” ‘Wariness’ might be the polite term.

Boromir doesn’t laugh. His face stays grave, and he insists, “I was wrong, Aragorn. I’ve come to respect you a great deal and even...” he pauses, hesitates, but still manages to say, “desire you.” Aragorn says nothing, his own thoughts and heart racing quickly, so Boromir continues, “For a time, I even looked forward to our betrothal. I assumed you would come to Gondor, reclaim the throne and claim me, even if only for a side dalliance, or perhaps a friend whose bed you might chance to share.”

It speaks to the gravity of this indeed that Boromir, son of Denethor, would refer to himself so simply as a side dalliance. Aragorn notes, “You make it sound as though I have no say in this.”

“Neither of us do,” Boromir mutters, shaking his head once. “Though you will be king, and you can do with me what you like. It is more a ritual than a true marriage: an offering. You will be free to take other wives, if you wish, or have anyone you choose...”

“And you? The steward of Gondor will have no heir?”

“I have a brother,” Boromir replies calmly, which doesn’t answer the bulk of what Aragorn was asking in the slightest.

With a heavy sigh, Aragorn sits down properly, shuffling closer, though their words are hushed and they’re alone. He murmurs, “I wish I had known this,” though in truth, he has no idea what he would’ve done with the information. He isn’t the sort that wants to own his lovers. The thought of Boromir lying with him, as more than just the friend he is, is certainly pleasing, but it might come at too high a price.

Boromir says, “I am sorry I did not tell you. You had a right to know. But at first, I did not want to be owned by a stranger, and then it was my own feelings that worried me and stayed my tongue.”

Boromir’s feelings don’t seem to have played much into this tradition, if it can be called that. Aragorn grunts, “It doesn’t seem fair to you.”

“So I thought,” Boromir returns quietly, “until I came to know you better, and learned that your partnership, even if shared, even if occasional or for mere duty’s sake, would be worth more than any other I could hope to meet.” There it is again: the idea that Aragorn would take Boromir simply because he could. The notion is vaguely troublesome and far from true.

And Aragorn isn’t sure how to say that, so he shows it instead. He leans forward, closing the tiny distance between them, to press his lips to Boromir’s. His nose bumps gently against Boromir’s, his face tilting to the side, the scruff of their beards dragging together. Their first kiss is only chaste, but when Aragorn pulls back, he’s learned what he needed to. He liked it, and there’s a sudden light in Boromir’s eyes.

Someday, Aragorn had thought to marry Arwen, if he couldn’t convince her to keep her immortality. But that’s a path for the future, and perhaps she wouldn’t mind sharing; Boromir doesn’t seem particularly troubled by it. Aragorn would have to convince him that the openness was equal, and that Boromir could love whom he wished, too. There seems no reason that then, or at least, for now, they can’t enjoy one another. He’s grown too fond of Boromir, and temptation, comfort, companionship, seems a foolish thing to resist with all the darkness they have so soon before them.

Still, he admits, “I cannot promise to go to Gondor on this first journey. But I do promise that I deeply wish to go there someday, and when I do, I hope to stand beside my prince.”

For the first time this night, a smile stretches across Boromir’s face. It’s genuine and reaches his eyes. He looks more beautiful for it; he smiles too little for a man of such worth. He murmurs, “You bring joy to me.” And then he pauses, glancing down at Aragorn’s mouth, before asking, “Must I wait until then for another kiss?”

Aragorn chuckles, even as he presses forward. He reaches to run his fingers through Boromir’s long hair, fisting and holding tight, his lips parting to find Boromir ready for him. When his tongue slips inside the warm cavern of Boromir’s mouth, Boromir’s tongue rises to meet him, and Aragorn kisses harder, fuller, pushing Boromir back against the tree and delighted to feel Boromir’s strength pushing back. There’s a force between them, a strange similarity and equality that’s oddly new, refreshing. He doesn’t have to be careful with his teeth, nor is Boromir careful with his, and their kisses wind quickly into a fierce battle of their tongues, until Aragorn is breathing hard and pulling back only to eye his prize. He’s learned what he wants, and he’ll take it.

Wet-lipped, Boromir asks, husky and nearly in a growl, “May I share your bedroll tonight?”

A part of Aragorn thinks to tease, push Boromir back and ask more of these traditions—surely there’s much more, if there’s news this shocking, that Aragorn will need to know. But Boromir has become too irresistible, now watching Aragorn with a passion, a hunger, that they’ll need in the coming days. Aragorn rises only to kiss Boromir’s forehead, and then to slip his hand into his prince’s, off to claim another of his inheritances, this the greatest yet.