Aragorn could only marvel at still being able to walk, for it felt as though what strength he had left after the battle he had given to the wounded. The chill of exhaustion was settling in his very bones, and he pulled his battered cloak close around himself as the small company headed out of the Houses of Healing.
The wards had been his first destination upon entering Minas Tirith, but alas not the last, for there remained some matters he had to see to before finally retiring for a few hours of sleep.
"Where is the Lord of the City?" Aragorn asked wearily.
"I believe he is already waiting for you," Gandalf replied softly with a nod of his head.
And indeed, when he followed the wizard's gesture with his eyes, Aragorn saw a tall noble-looking man approaching them. He was clad as a warrior, and his dented armour and blood-darkened clothes displayed signs of recent trials, although he himself seemed unharmed except for a barely noticeable limp. He was obviously weary, and his face was stern almost to the point of grimness - and no wonder, for him being introduced as the Lord of Minas Tirith could mean one thing only.
Aragorn bid farewell to Gandalf, Prince Imrahil and the new King of Rohan, arranging to meet with them first thing the following morning to hold counsel. They would all be housed in the City, while he would be retiring to his tent outside the tall walls - as soon as he settled some things with the acting Steward.
While Aragorn had been talking to his companions, the Gondorian lord had stood at a respectful distance, but now the young man came up to him as swiftly as his leg allowed. During the battle, he had seen Aragorn's standard several times, and had even glimpsed the man's figure, yet had been unable to make it to him. And when afterwards what remained of the Gondorian host had returned to the City, he had had many exigent matters to settle, yet had ever yearned to find this famed stranger everyone was whispering about.
Nevertheless, now that they finally met, he looked Aragorn keenly and questioningly in the face, as though searching for a sign, for some final confirmation - and the sharp, inquisitive intensity of this gaze almost made Aragorn start, as though the man had actually touched him. But in a moment the warrior's clear eyes grew calm and certain. He gave Aragorn a deep earnest bow, and said in a voice both dignified and humble: "My lord." Then he hesitated a little, wondering what exactly he should add to the title, but Aragorn raised his hand briefly.
"That will be enough for now, Lord... Faramir, I gather?"
"Yes, your lordship."
Aragorn nodded and sighed. "So I take it the old Steward has fallen? I have not seen him among the wounded, so..."
"Yes, indeed," Faramir lowered his head, and a shadow of pain passed across his pale face, but in a minute he collected himself and stood tall and proud again. "His death, bless the Valar, was quick, and we had brought him straight to the Tower Hall, where King Theoden of Rohan also lies."
"Such tidings are indeed grievous to hear," Aragorn said in sombre sadness, bowing his head in sympathy. At length he sighed, "Alas, with the passing of a lord what cares he was burdened with do not disappear as well, but must be dealt with by those remaining. So, as you are now in charge of the City..." he trailed off thoughtfully, thinking where to start, and Faramir took the opportunity to get a word in.
"Not any longer, lord, for rightfully this place belongs first to you, and then to my wounded brother, whose return we had been greatly hoping for. However..." he hesitated, as though about to say something inappropriately ambitious, "I would be most grateful to have some of my duties preserved, if I may, for what can better help a man forget his sorrow than hard work?"
But then cut himself off in embarrassment. "Pray forgive me, lord, I am forgetting myself. You are weary and likely hungry as well, and I am just standing here complaining of my woes." A faint blush had appeared on his cheeks, and Aragorn was staggered by how unconquerably sweet it looked on this stern manly face, and found it positively impossible not to be instantly won over by a man capable of such unspoilt, almost innocent naturality of bearing. Yet in his unaffectedness Faramir still knew his manners: "Let us not linger out in the cold. Come with me, lord, I shall give you a full account of the state of the arts, but what needs be discussed we may as well discuss in what comfort can be obtained at this dire hour. Alas, I cannot offer you much, not the proper reception you deserve - but a friendly hearth, some hot food and good wine, and then a soft bed I can surely promise."
"Nay, Faramir," Aragorn said firmly, albeit a bit regretfully. "Your invitation is a most tempting one, of course, but..." he sighed, seeing genuine puzzlement and worry appear in the man's face. "But for the time being I do not deem it right to enter this city as my own. I do not wish to claim anything I have not proven myself worthy of. Yes, I shall ride to war as King, yet not until complete victory is achieved in this struggle should I become King. And today I had come only for the purpose of giving my aid to those who needed it," he nodded back towards the infirmary. "By the way, I notice you are wounded as well," he added with a nod towards Faramir's leg, which the man was obviously trying not to put too much weight on even when standing still. "Perhaps I should -"
But Faramir shook his head hurriedly. "Nay, your lordship, do not trouble yourself over it. It is not even a wound," he waved his hand dismissively, "just an old injury I disturbed today. I assure you, it won't impair the quality of my service."
Aragorn grinned softly. "I see... Well, you have your wish then: all your duties are still yours. Now, if everything is generally in order and there is nothing of utmost urgency you require my counsel on, I would depart to my camp, for," he smiled wearily and moved his shoulders to ward off the chill, "this day has been a long one."
Faramir nodded, yet his brows furrowed in dismay. "My lord," he began carefully, "naturally, you shall do as you wish, but may I please beg you to reconsider? At least out of pity for me, for, being the lord of this city as you desire me to be, how could I bear it if one who had brought us deliverance should depart to sleep on bare ground out in the battlefield? If you won't stay as our lord, then maybe you would at least stay as my guest?"
Aragorn looked at him thoughtfully, and it stirred something inside him to see that all the man's courtesy was coming from veritable respect and that his concern was absolutely sincere, as was the hope in his clear eyes that Aragorn would accept the invitation. It felt a little personal somehow, and Aragorn liked it.
"Very well," he said with a smile, also realizing that the idea of a hot supper in such pleasant company, and then a night spent in a real bed was not such a repelling idea at all. After all, it was in everybody's best interest to have him rested and full of strength. "But let us not turn this supper into a big gathering, I have had enough crowds for today."
"Yes, of course," Faramir agreed seriously, then added: "Lord Aragorn."
Quietly Faramir led him up the streets to the First Circle. At this level the City was undamaged, and as dusk had already settled, the streets were empty. Thus they saw no derelict buildings or woeful faces, and it could have seemed there had been no assault at all, were it not for the particular smell of fear, death and destruction hovering even this high in the air, and for the forlorn, tense atmosphere of apprehensive expectation. Yes, the battle was won, but the war was yet to be fought.
And Aragorn felt the stiffness in his shoulders finally relax only when they entered the young lord's private quarters, his drawing room quite modestly furnished yet warm and welcoming, a fire in the hearth already whispering contentedly to itself, filling the high-windowed chamber with a homely glow.
He declined Faramir's offer to use his bath quarters, for he had already refreshed himself at the wards, and instead settled into one of the deep comfortable chairs at the table and stretched out his long legs, taking a goblet of wine Faramir's esquire had filled for him.
Faramir nodded. "Then if you would excuse me," he spread his arms, indicating his somewhat tattered state. "I shall rejoin you in a moment, your lordship."
And he passed to the adjacent chamber, apparently his bedroom. The door was ajar, and Aragorn heard the splash of water as Faramir washed his face and hands, and then caught a glimpse of the man as his esquire helped him out of the scratched and dimpled armour. Although the servant touched him most gingerly and cautiously, on more than one occasion Faramir had started and sucked his teeth, and a great relief was visible in his very posture when all the plates and the shirt of mail were finally off.
Aragorn was well aware of how extremely indecent and rather dishonourable it was, yet could not help shifting in his seat a little to get a better view as Faramir proceeded to pull his stained rumpled tunic off over his head, for a moment revealing a beautifully sculpted masculine back, strong but lithe and svelte, the only fault in its perfection being two large dark bruises tainting the pale skin on his shoulder and the right side of his waist. But then he said something to the esquire and moved out of the field of Aragorn's vision, making the Ranger realize he had been holding his breath looking at the young lord. He grinned ironically to himself, only now coming to understand that the instant liking he had taken to the man was in truth based on more than merely the appreciation of Faramir's pleasant, considerate conduct or the sympathy for his loss.
Were it for the fragrant pale-coloured wine Aragorn had drunk, or for the equally unsobering notion of being only paces away from the magnetic combination of an attractive half-undressed young man and a bed, his previous fatigue had rather dissipated, giving way to a pleasant tingling of vague excitement, of some inexplicable expectation. He well remembered this feeling from his adolescent years, when he had been but an ordinary lad, for some reason fortunate to have been sheltered in the home of an Elven-lord. He would often be overcome with this enchanting state of anticipation as he wandered alone through the dusky forest on warm summer evenings - an ungrounded yet absolute conviction that something wonderful and unimaginable would one day happen to him.
And this sensation only intensified when presently the Lord of Minas Tirith joined him at the table.
Faramir had changed into a fresh tunic of rich midnight-blue, trimmed at the collar and hem with a pattern in silver. It covered his arms only to the elbows, thus showing that underneath he wore a cream-coloured narrow-sleeved undershirt, which nicely outlined the shape of his strong forearms. Aragorn could not help noticing how flattering this outfit was to the young man's pale complexion and ebony hair - but then again, he would probably look good in anything... or without anything. At once the Ranger found himself wondering about the scent of the man's skin: both right now, if Aragorn were to suddenly get up and come to press his nose into the crook of his neck - and also when Faramir was aroused. Would the redolence of Faramir's desire drive Aragorn to a loss of all civility just like he thought it would? Would Faramir actually want that? Suddenly it occurred to him that the man might actually have a lover, perhaps someone he had feelings for - not necessarily a man, by the way. But there was no telling, and of course he could not quite steer the conversation in that direction...
He studied Faramir very carefully, for as long as was possible without making the man uncomfortable. Indeed, he was every bit as lovely as Boromir had described him - even more, perhaps, for instead of a gentle open-hearted boy Aragorn saw a grown man who had somehow preserved this earnestness and sincerity. For if in a boy such qualities could be seen as more or less a tribute to his youth and the innocent optimism of the inexperienced, then in a man they hinted at some special fundamental quality of the heart.
Aragorn had always loved this combination of outward beauty and freshness with inner maturity - maturity that shone through the sadness in the eyes. But up to that point he had only encountered it in Elves, and was now staggered by how enchantingly gorgeous it looked in a Man. He was one of a kind, apparently: Aragorn had met all of the young lord's closest male relatives, and none of them had anything remotely similar to his exceptional appeal. Admittedly, Faramir's brother had his own rather unignorable allure, yet it was neither so enchantingly exquisite, nor so staggeringly obvious. With Boromir it had taken Aragorn quite a while to come to fully appreciate the man's attractiveness - with Faramir, on the other hand, one evening was all it took for the Ranger to completely succumb to his charm.
Yet nothing in the expression of Faramir's face, or the tone of his voice, or the words he spoke gave Aragorn any clues as to whether the young lord even acknowledged him as a sexual being. No, there was none of his brother's haughtiness or aloofness in his bearing, he was perfectly amiable and approachable - yet also perfectly even and proper. Not a single lingering glance, not one suggestive gesture, not a sign of excitement or nervousness. He seemed so annoyingly calm and at ease.
Aragorn on the other hand - despite the rather unhurried pace of the supper and the perfectly general conversation - felt exceptionally excited. A sensation of heightened awareness filled him, and he noticed the smallest nuances in Faramir's tone and facial expression. And the Ranger had a feeling that behind his host's balanced and courtly manner there was some other universe, something quite different from what the world saw of this man, something utterly private - and he found himself yearning to be invited into that privacy.
Aragorn was very conscious of himself, too. Never had he been given to affectation, yet now he very much wished that every gesture he made appear smooth and graceful, and every pose relaxed and dignified, and most of all, that everything he said sound either wise and meaningful, or funny and witty. And when Faramir had suddenly laughed at some remark of his - a laugh startlingly clear and merry for such a seemingly serious man, Aragorn felt the mirth resonate in his own ribcage, and heat rise to his face.
The supper was eaten and the table cleaned, except for the remaining bottle of wine and the ornate silver goblets, and Faramir dismissed his esquire for the night.
All the matters of importance had been talked over, all the appropriate things had already been said. For a while the two men sat silently, now and again sipping absently on the cool fragrant drink, letting their bodies rest and their minds wander at ease. But eventually Faramir felt the evening was drawing to an end, and soon he would have to bid his new lord good night. And it made him uneasy and wistful, for he did not wish to stay alone with his thoughts - and he knew feeling thus was not entirely mature, and was ashamed of it, which only intensified his unease.
With a nod to Aragorn, he stood up as though to stretch, whereas in fact he was simply beginning to feel restless. Were he alone, he would have paced around the room, following the path he had long since treaded out on the carpet. Yet propriety allowed him no such freedom, and instead he came up to the tall narrow window to stare absently into the night.
Aragorn soon moved to his side, and at once saw how tense the younger man's face was.
"Your heart is heavy," he said gently, certain that Faramir, unlike Boromir, would not get defensive upon having such a thing said to him on the first evening of their acquaintance.
Indeed, Faramir merely nodded, suppressing a sigh.
For a while they stood silently, looking at the night city below, and Faramir fought to contain his weariness. Yet he well sensed Aragorn's genuine sympathy, and the Northerner was obviously expecting him to speak - and the possibility of finally unburdening himself to someone promised such blissful relief...
"I remember," he began softly, as though talking rather to himself, "when we were children, Father would often take Boromir to stand by his side like this, overlooking the City from his chamber. He would put his hand on my brother's shoulder and teach him about responsibility," Faramir smiled softly. "From a very early age, he told Boromir about being strong, and honourable, and setting examples - about how little freedom a high lord actually has, about making decisions, about always being accountable...
"Always, he would say, keep your mind sharp, your conscience clean and your heart cool - and then everything will come to the best possible end. Always strive to do what is right and proper... Father had long schooled him on being an apt leader for our people. And thus my brother has turned out: a proud and wilful lord - without fault, fear or doubt. If only a little hot of temper," he acknowledged with lenient fondness, "but that only adds him charm, I suppose, for otherwise he would have been too perfect. Yes, and it does nothing but help him in what he is best at - warfare. I can only imagine how vexed he is over not being here, when there is finally a proper war to make. It comes naturally to him, battle is his element and he basks in it," Faramir paused to heave a weary heart-felt sigh, and shifted uncomfortably. "Not so for me though - everything I heard Father say to my brother must have gone out of my other ear...
"I always fear. For all the people in my care, for our beautiful lands, for our very way of life. Getting slain... I fear that also: not so much the death itself - a warrior of my age is bound to be used to the idea already... but rather what it would do to the men under my command if I am stricken down in the middle of battle. This blasted tension never leaves me..." he sighed again and rubbed the back of his neck with both hands, the place where the stiffness was the strongest.
"I hope this confession of mine does not disappoint you too much, my lord. I assure you, your desire to have me ride by your side at the head of our host when we set out I see as a great honour. And I shall fight with all my strength, I am no coward in combat."
"You are no coward at all, Faramir," Aragorn interrupted him softly. "It is normal to fear. I fear all the time also - for everything and everyone I hold dear. There are people I love whose fate depends on the outcome of our struggle - on the outcome of my particular struggle. I well know the burden you speak of. And the brother you hold in such high regard, he knows it also, I am sure, although of course you know him by far better than I do. But he fears for you, and for Gondor, if only you do not see it, for he had been taught so well to appear impeccable in everything."
Faramir nodded a little absently, and Aragorn realized that instead of all his rationalizing, a simple word of reassurance would have fared much better.
"Let your worries rest for tonight, Faramir. We shall do all we can, there is still a chance," he said soothingly and with as much conviction as he could bring forth.
The young man nodded gravely and sighed, yet his face had softened - and, following an impulse, Aragorn laid a hand on his shoulder. Faramir almost gasped in surprise, for the gesture was far more personal than lords in Gondor typically exchanged with their subjects - and it both startled and delighted him to have Aragorn treat him like a friend. He breathed out wearily and lowered his head, accepting the comforting touch, and Aragorn saw that on top of sorrow, anxiety and the weight of responsibility, Faramir was also burdened by an immense, crushing loneliness. It made the Ranger grin ironically, for in that instant he experienced that overpowering emotion Boromir had tried to describe to him. Piercing, disarming tenderness.
And very acutely he remembered how long it was since he himself had been touched with warmth and care, how long since he had let himself relax and forget about all his worries and duties - for the simple comfort of revelling in mutual sympathy and understanding. Yes, for some reason he felt this man would understand him better than any other, as though there was some natural affinity between them.
Faramir, too, could have used some relaxation. For many months now he had carried on chiefly thanks to his willpower and sense of duty. In fact, he found himself terribly temped to finally let go and rest a little. And when he sensed this softness and kindness in his new lord, the temptation had become overpowering, and his exhaustion took over for a second, darkening out his vision and making him sway.
But he did not fall, for Aragorn supported him and pulled him into a snug yet careful embrace, cautious not to cause any discomfort to Faramir's bruised body. "Come here," he murmured as though to a child, "come to me... It shall pass, it shall all pass..."
Faramir leant against him without thinking, aware of nothing but the dependable safety and welcoming warmth about him. He closed his eyes and let his body bask in the cosy reassurance of feeling another body's life and energy; and slowly strength sipped back into him, and he was no longer faint, but merely very, very relaxed and comfortable.
He inhaled deeply, and a gentle dreamy smile appeared on his lips. He tilted his face, brushing his nose along the curve of Aragorn's neck, not noticing he skimmed the man's skin with his lips as well. He went on slowly and languidly, seemingly unaware of his own actions, pushing away the Ranger's dark locks with his cheek, nudging and nuzzling him softly, as though searching for something. The older man, for his part, had been fighting a losing battle to retain at least a small measure of self-control from the very moment Faramir had leant against him. And when Faramir's hot breath tickled him behind the ear, Aragorn felt his consciousness unravel completely.
Faramir smiled dazedly as he felt the air around them become thick and molten; and it did nothing to bring him back to reality when the hold of the strong arms around him tightened, pressing him firmly against the strength and heat of Aragorn's body. Nor did it stir him to any degree of alertness when he felt a mouth blindly seeking his: parted, disoriented lips grasping at his skin, grazing over his throat, his jaw, his cheekbone... gently prodding and coaxing him to turn his face, to help them in their quest, to meet them midway and open up...
And he complied without thinking.
The most fleeting contact, a feather-light touch and the feeling of the other's warm breath against your lips.
But that contact, instantly -
A single spark falling on the dry foliage of a quiet forest is often enough to get the wildfire raging.
At once Aragorn saw the other side of his respectful, modest host, and was irrevocably reaffirmed in his surmise that there was more to this boy than met the eye. Yes, the youth with the merry twinkle in his eyes was still somewhere around.
His kiss was confident almost to the point of playfulness. Lips hot and pliant, but also alert and evasive, luring Aragorn ever further and deeper with their maddeningly arousing volatility, stoking up his hunger, quickly turning him from a cautious explorer into a pursuer, a merciless hunter. Tongue daring yet mischievous, one second inviting Aragorn into the heat of Faramir's mouth, the next pushing him out quite impolitely, alternating long thorough caresses with quick teasing licks and prods. Were they unclothed, he would have gladly punished this naughtiness with a sound smack on the man's gorgeously round behind - or perhaps not, for, just like Boromir had said, this kiss was sweet - unbelievably so...
And a mere kiss from him was enough to show just what an eager, adventurous and uninhibited lover this man would make. How deliciously easy is made to imagine Faramir with a passion-contorted face, soft raven hair in a mess, damp tresses plastered to his forehead, wringing fistfuls of sheets, unabashedly moaning - and then triumphantly screaming - his pleasure as Aragorn took him forcefully from behind. Or from any other angle, no matter... Or perhaps Aragorn would choose to first find release at the man's mouth - yes, this mouth would definitely be adept at giving pleasure, what with its daring clever tongue and full sensual lips.
He understood, too, that everything Boromir had told him about memories being but sweet souvenirs of the past, had been either a convenient self-delusion, or more likely one big load of outright bullshit. How could anyone in their right mind possibly fail to want this man in the most carnal, indecent way?
But then, although nothing had changed, Faramir drew away, and Aragorn let him, for he felt at once it was not a part of the game, not a playful sort of indecision.
"I am sorry... my lord," Faramir murmured, and breathless and blushed as he was, he averted his face in genuine abashed embarrassment, his deferential manner returning. "I should not have..."
"It is quite all right," Aragorn murmured just as quietly, his fingers gently moving on the man's waist. "Do not worry, I won't think poorly of you for offering me intimacy within hours of meeting me. Nor would I think poorly of you if you were to ask me to postpone the logical conclusion of this little... exchange," he was unable to withhold a wistful sigh. "I understand, to you it may seem a disrespect to the fallen to be seeking pleasure and joy amid all the loss; not to mention your body is obviously quite battered..." he paused, waiting for Faramir's reaction. But the man stood still with a lowered face, and only his difficult breathing and the tension in his back beneath Aragorn's fingers betrayed his unease. Softly, Aragorn went on: "I only beg you not to apologize, young lord. I do not mind your advances in the least, and perhaps later..."
At last, Faramir shook his head and, taking a step back, slid out of the Ranger's embrace. "But you would mind, Lord Aragorn, if you knew the reason behind these advances."
Aragorn frowned, the fire in his eyes just as strong, only colder now. "Well, and what is the reason?"
Faramir smiled to himself and shook his head again. "Nay, please, let us leave the matter: my explanation would only offend you, for you would not understand."
The older man raised his chin. "Perhaps I would, give it a try."
Faramir shrugged leniently.
"You have come up the River, my lord, and although you have been through much gore and labour afterwards, amid the odour of battle and the scent of healing herbs, I can still smell the marine breeze on you."
Aragorn lifted an eyebrow. "So it was the sea scent and not I that you were drawn to?"
Faramir crossed his arms in discomfort. "Well, no, not entirely - but it was certainly what made me actually... do what I did. It is... a personal thing. For me, that fragrance shall forever be associated with salvation beyond all reasonable hope - with a fresh breath of new life, and with the sweetness of a kiss," he smiled sadly and lowered his face. "And I would not deem it fair towards you to..." he trailed off, raising his eyebrows meaningfully and making an accompanying gesture with his hand. "I am sorry things have coincided like this."
"I see," Aragorn nodded thoughtfully. "Well, in that case, young lord, I also have something to tell you. But we had better sit down and pour us some more wine."
Please proceed to Chapter 3.
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Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Title: Oxygen. Chapter 2
Author: December [email]
Details: Standalone | NC-17 | *slash* | 27k | 06/29/10
Characters: Faramir, Boromir, Aragorn
Pairings: Faramir/Boromir, Faramir/Aragorn
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