Beta: Jennifer M (Shapedfromsin)
Chapter 1 - Tick
Aragorn leaned his head back against the cold, uneven stone. The company had been forced to stop and he had chosen to rest in the harshest spot the lovely, green glade had to offer. He had picked the spot the same way he chose everything else in his life. With his heart. And his heart was not interested in allowing him comfort.
His mind was wiser. His mind knew that he was not at fault for what had happened. But his heart, the heart that expected him to protect all things good in this world. That heart was filled with self-blame.
He protected his eyes from the low-riding sun and turned his vision inside himself. Gandalf. Aragorn’s mind winced at the thought of his name. Gandalf… was gone. Never did he think to live in a world without Mithrandur. He looked around the lush woodland just outside Lorien and the feeling inside of him stayed as cold and barren as the slopes of Carahdras.
It was a crueler world now, he thought bleakly. A world less worthy to be saved. He shook his head to fling such thoughts from his head, even though he knew they would remain in his heart. There could be no distractions now.
You must be the leader, he told himself. You must carry out what he began. The Ring must go forth; the Bearer must be protected. In war there are losses. His fingers closed around the Evenstar gleaming at his throat. Grievous losses, he thought.
He gathered himself and rose smoothly to his feet, irritation puckering his brow. No distractions. Just delays. Where in the Realm of Dwarves and Dragons was Haldir? How long could it possibly take to get permission for them to cross into Lothlorien? Celeborn was no fool. He must know that they had to get through for the quest to be successful. He couldn’t want the alternative. And surely Galadriel knew that Elrond was behind them. He sighed. Not letting them in made no sense.
He looked around for his companions to see how the wait was affecting them. The Hobbits sat together, Sam, Merry and Pippin huddled around Frodo, tears in their eyes and on their faces. Gimli and Legolas stood close by them, staring blankly in different directions. Only Boromir was on the move.
Aragorn’s eyes narrowed as he watched the man prowl the site, his shoulders hunched, the hands at his sides clenching and unclenching as if grasping at something. Aragorn thought he knew what that something could be. Not the Ring, he felt, despite what happened up on the mountain. No, this time Boromir was grasping at the same thing Aragorn longed to grasp. What they all wanted to grasp. The hand of Mithrandur. Boromir was a soldier like Aragorn. He would not like to lose.
A flush of liking, almost of affection, toward Boromir arose in him at the thought. It was times like this that the big man’s ways teased at Aragorn. Getting to know Boromir was rather like getting to know a side of himself of which he’d always been ashamed. Aragorn had lived with Elves all his life. He’d always felt deficient next to his lovely, graceful Rivendell kin. The Rangers were men, but they tended to work alone. Boromir was the first man Aragorn had been exposed to for any real length of time, and he was finding it intriguing to associate with another human. Maybe knowing Boromir would help him understand a bit more why Arwen loved him as she did.
Arwen. As ever the thought of her name sent a cyclone of love, pride, and need twisting through him. He wondered if he had lost her. He doubted it. Arwen did what she thought best and although it was possible that her father’s desire that she go, coupled with Aragorn’s encouragement, could have swayed her, it was equally possible that if he managed to encompass this quest she would be there at journey’s end waiting for him still. He didn’t know which ending he hoped for more. Whichever would be better for her, he thought; he knew which would be better for him.
He closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment to miss her fiercely. She too loved Mithrandur. She too would miss him. The pain in his heart doubled and felt unendurable.
He reopened his eyes and Boromir ranged past him again, this time muttering to himself.
“... so useless.”
The words drifted back from him as he passed. He stopped just beyond Aragorn as if he felt his regard. The Ranger watched the blond head tilt then an emerald glitter flashed his way and disappeared.
“Useless, Aragorn, that’s how I feel,” he said, with his head turned away as if ashamed. “How could one so vital to our task have been lost.”
Boromir’s words touched off more pain, but beneath it there was again that glow of affection as the warrior confirmed Aragorn’s suspicions of what he was feeling.
“Not all of Gondor -or Middle Earth itself- could have saved him,” he told the man, wishing his own heart could hear his words. Again the green eyes flicked at him and again the head turned away, but Aragorn was rewarded by a decrease in the restless movement of the man’s hands. He watched as the tousled head slowly turned his way yet a third time, and Aragorn read hesitation in the eyes of the normally self-assured man.
“I couldn’t have let Frodo go out onto the bridge, eh Aragorn? He . . . I . . . we couldn’t have saved him . . . could we?”
Aragorn felt a jab of compassion. No wonder the man seemed so restless. “No, Boromir.” He leaned forward in his eagerness to convince the man. “It was too dangerous. You did well. You did what I could not. You speak of your uselessness when I couldn’t move. I was lost until you called to me. You pulled me back from the brink as well as Frodo, my friend.”
Boromir looked surprised and momentarily gratified at the last word. Then the anxious, harried look returned and he wandered off to pace anew. Aragorn pursed his lips and leaned his hip against the rock behind him. Evidently there was more bothering Boromir than his words alone could ease.
Suddenly Boromir stopped pacing and sat down near the Hobbits, looking over at Frodo uncertainly. Aragorn’s lips tightened as his protective instincts were aroused and he edged closer to the little group. Then he saw Haldir returning. He turned toward the Elf, searching his face as he approached. But Haldir’s face was remote, and his eyes were hooded. Aragorn could not read him at all.
And he still wouldn’t let them go any further. Aragorn argued with him, noticing out of the corner of his eye, Boromir speak briefly to Frodo then get up and wander off into another part of the wood. Frodo stared after him in grateful surprise. Aragorn wondered what Boromir had said to him. Then Haldir distracted him again as he addressed the entire group.
“Come with me,” he said and led them a short way on into a more open area. There he stopped. “You are to rest here for the remainder of the night.” His chill voice hung in the chill air. “In the morning we will see,” his eyes gleamed as a rapier-glance of distaste flicked out toward Gimli, then with a blink, his face was impassive again, “if you may enter Lothlorien to meet with the Lord and Lady.”
From across the clearing Aragorn saw Legolas roll his shoulders forward and take a protective step closer to Gimli. Hmm, he thought with a hidden smile, it seemed not all of Elvendom was anti-dwarf these days.
Haldir continued. “I will leave you now to return at first light.” He nodded reverently to Legolas who had spoken to him earlier with friendliness. Now he merely watched him steadily. For a moment Haldir looked uncertain, then his expression grew cold again. “Farewell,” he said and with a golden flick of hair, he was gone.
The Hobbits, all but Frodo, got up and with Gimli and Legolas, began to set up camp. Frodo still sat, curled, his head resting on his knees. Aragorn walked over to him.
“Frodo?” he said, squatting down in front of him. The Hobbit lifted his head and looked at him somberly. “What did Boromir say to you before he left?”
The sadness softened a bit in Frodo’s face. “He said that Gandalf’s fall was not my fault. He told me not to carry the weight of the dead.”
Aragorn’s heart warmed even more to the other man. “He’s right,” he said and put his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, rubbing it bracingly. Frodo regarded him blankly.
Aragorn stood up and watched in concern as Frodo’s head sank back onto his knees. He looked so small and tense. Aragorn shivered at the sight of him. He needed a fire, he realized suddenly. They all did. He cursed himself for not building one before this. He wondered if Boromir could have gone after firewood, then realized the man did not know they had moved. He threw together some wood that lay around in the clearing then headed off into the brush to find the other man. He wanted to tell him the news and get more wood, in case that wasn’t why he had disappeared.
He padded silently through the scrub in the direction he had seen Boromir go, gathering small twigs and mosses for tender as he went. In a short time, the trees thinned and he came upon a clearing that was made by a sheet of still, dark water. Aragorn gasped. Boromir was there, spotlighted by the full moon, naked, thigh-deep in water, splashing his chest and lower parts generously with liquid.
Admiration flared in Aragorn’s eyes as he watched the man. Anyone who could nonchalantly spatter water that Aragorn /knew/ was colder than Haldir’s welcome to Gimli on his tenderest parts earned Aragorn’s respect. Aragorn did not like cold water. He would rather just stay dirty. And since Arwen was not there, that would not be a problem. He turned to leave the man to his rugged cleansing. He would get the fire going back at camp, then find Boromir again.
The softly breathed words floated over the water freezing Aragorn in his turn. He twisted back and squatted down again. Was Frodo out here too then? His eyes explored the area, his ears searching for any sound. No. He wasn’t anywhere that Aragorn could detect. So why had Boromir spoken his name? He waited in his crouch, hoping for something more to explain the mystery, but Boromir waded out of the water, stripping moisture from his limbs with his hands and flinging droplets everywhere as he shook out his hair. Aragorn rose from his cover, his movement attracting Boromir’s attention.
“Aragorn,” he said absently. “What news?”
Aragorn nodded to the man and resolved to keep a tight eye on him. He might be growing to like Boromir, but he wasn’t going to let him get in the way of the mission of the Fellowship.
The moon had set by the time Aragorn’s watch ended, and in the intense darkness that comes just before dawn, the only light available was that of the banked and smoldering fire. Using that and his night sight Aragorn found his way to Legolas who awoke at a feather-touch, gathering his bow to take his turn on watch. Aragorn did his usual scout around the fire, checking on the sleepers. All he could see of Frodo was one dark curl peeking out of his blanket. The other Hobbits lay in a row beside him, hairy feet sticking out in the night air. Gimli snored loudly into his beard and Boromir… was nowhere to be found. Reflexively, Aragorn glanced back at the bundle that contained Frodo, again taking in that lone curl.
So. Where could he be and why? It couldn’t have been just to relieve himself. He had been gone far too long for that.
Although he knew the soldier could take care of himself, Aragorn decided to find him anyway. He must have left during Gimli’s watch because no one had stirred during his. That meant he’d been gone for at least two hours. Perhaps he needed someone to talk to and Aragorn could get some answers. He lit a small torch and stole softly to Legolas’s side.
“Aragorn?” Legolas nodded to him as he approached.
“Boromir is not with the others,” he replied.
“Yes, I heard him go, just before Gimli’s watch ended.”
“Hm,” Aragorn scowled. “I wonder why I did not.”
Legolas grinned. “Age perhaps?”
Aragorn glared at the smiling Elf and did not answer. Legolas swallowed his amusement.
“Perhaps Boromir prefers to sleep deeper among the trees.”
“Without a blanket? He is no Elf to ignore the cold of the night. I’m going to go look for him.”
“You fear he’s in danger?” He looked meaningfully at Aragorn. “Or do you fear he /is/ a danger?”
Aragorn’s eyes flew up to meet the shrewd glance of the Elf. “I heard him, at the pool tonight . . . ” he told Legolas. “He spoke Frodo’s name.”
“Frodo’s name? Ah, Carahdras. The Ring again?”
“That is my fear.”
“And you would know.”
“Good hunting, my friend,” Legolas smiled. Aragorn turned and disappeared into the brush.
He found Boromir in the first place he looked. At the pool, leaning against a tree. Aragorn carefully chose a twig and stepped on it to announce his presence. At first Boromir didn’t even seem to hear. Then as Aragorn began to move again, he spoke.
“The Elf is on duty, so you must be the Ranger,” he said quietly without turning. “If you wish to bathe, I could go.”
“Smoke?” Aragorn was filling his pipe. He ignored the bath offer. Boromir waved his hand to decline. Uninvited, Aragorn then sat down next to him and used the torch to light his pipe. He jabbed the end of the brand in the mud and looked over at the flickering profile of his companion. He sucked on the end of his pipe wishing he could suck what he wanted from Boromir as easily. Boromir looked at him unemotionally. Aragorn smiled at him in determination and asked him silently, Why did you say his name?
“What brings you here, Ranger, if not to bathe?” Boromir asked.
“I came out for a smoke. I didn’t expect anyone else would be out at this hour.”
Boromir shook his head and laughed. “I’m certain you noticed I was gone Ranger, and came out to find me.”
Aragorn drew on his pipe once again. “Perhaps,” he acknowledged. They sat quietly for several minutes then Boromir made a move to rise saying, “In the morning then.” Aragorn placed his hand on his shoulder to prevent him from rising intending to try to talk to the man when his attention was caught unexpectedly.
In the light of the flickering torch Aragorn had seen a small movement under the fringe of hair on Boromir’s forehead, right along the hairline. A tick! A tick was about to escape into the denser locks of hair to disappear forever. Aragorn’s desire to draw out Boromir was lost in his determination to get that tick. Aragorn did /not/ like ticks.
“Hold Boromir,” he said turning toward him in determination. He left one hand on the man’s shoulder and slid the fingers of the other into Boromir’s hair right behind the escaping bug. He could feel the little vermin running, just ahead of the tips of his fingers, but he couldn’t quite catch up to it. He closed his eyes and focused all of his concentration onto his task, his breath quickening, his lips parting slightly in his preoccupation.
Meanwhile, Boromir was having a host of feelings about the events unfolding by the quiet pool. His initial feeling was one of triumph. He had expected to be missed from the campsite. Had intended to be. Had intended to be followed out to the water’s edge. Had intended it to be Aragorn. Had intended him to stop him from leaving. Boromir had enticed Aragorn out here to talk. Boromir wanted the Ring to go to Minas Tirith and he wanted Aragorn to be the first one he convinced. He figured if he could persuade him, then Aragorn would take care of the others.
However, after the Ranger’s hand fell on his shoulder, events seemed to get away from Boromir. At the first introduction of Aragorn’s fingers into his hair, Boromir started heavily despite Aragorn’s command to sit still. He turned his head to stare at the Ranger and saw Aragorn, leaning forward, his eyes closed, his lips slightly parted. Boromir’s eyes widened in shock.
Aragorn’s brows snapped together when he felt Boromir’s head turn. The movement had almost made him lose track of the tick. However in his eager rush to recapture its trail, he managed, in a happy accident, to place his fingers directly on the creature and in excitement, gripped it tightly between his thumb and forefinger. But his crow of triumph never got past his lips as a sudden hard pressure on his face and chest bowled him over into the grass. His eyes flew open, wondering what in Mordor was going on and found Boromir on top of him kissing him passionately. He wrenched his mouth to one side, breaking the kiss, barely managing in his surprise to hang on to his tiny prisoner. Meanwhile, Boromir was looking at him in astonished delight.
“I never expected… I wouldn’t have thought…” the man stopped and blushed. “I... I didn’t think that you could ever feel about me the way… well the way I feel about you…” He turned his head away. “I wanted you from the first when I saw you seated there at Rivendell, looking so remote and untouchable. I thought of you so much that night, but I knew... well... I thought... then, that you were not like me. That I had no chance. And I saw your Elf-princess and I was in despair. But then the next day when the Elf said… that you were who you are… well, I must still have been hoping... because I felt such pain. As if I had lost the world. And I said those things because I was angry and... Oh! I don’t know what I’m saying.” He laughed and moved in to kiss Aragorn again.
Aragorn’s eyes opened wide as Boromir’s lips sealed themselves to his. He allowed the kiss, uncertain of how to expose this embarrassing misunderstanding without alienating the man. And also because his attention was being distracted by where Boromir was putting his hands.
Aragorn wriggled around trying to defend the sensitive areas that were being ruthlessly explored by the hands of the Gondorian, while maintaining his hold on the struggling tick he still held between his fingers. Boromir’s lips moved distractingly on top of his, and then a tongue was probing his mouth, softly, ardently.
Then Boromir stretched himself atop the other man, using his weight to push him down onto his back, grinding his crotch seductively into him. To the Ranger’s alarm, he felt a growing hardness in the other man’s breeches. It was well past time to call a halt to this, Aragorn thought in panic.
One of Boromir’s hands had somehow found its way into his tunic and was stroking and rubbing his chest in a most disturbing manner and the kiss was finally broken off, but in favor of licking and biting Aragorn’s neck. Aragorn felt unable to cope with such a multi-leveled attack and looked around in desperation, trying to find a distraction. He looked to the East and saw the first streaks of morning sunlight.
“Boromir!” He gasped, as he felt yet another hand at the strings of his breeches. How many hands could the beshadowed man have, he wondered, as he used his body to try to gently throw the other man off of him.
“Yes,” Boromir breathed, evidently enjoying the feeling of Aragorn’s movements beneath him. “What is it you wish? Tell me and I’ll…”
“Dawn,” Aragorn broke in hastily, panting in his desire to escape. “It is dawn. The Company… the others will be looking for us. We must stop.”
“By Sauron’s hand,” Boromir swore. “What cruel timing.” He paused and then as if unable to stop himself, dipped his head for another kiss.
Suddenly over Boromir’s shoulder, Aragorn saw the astounded blue-eyed stare of Legolas. He caught the Elf’s eye with his own and saw him start, drop his gaze and begin to turn away. Aragorn’s eyes widened and his hands began to wave in an agitated signal behind the head of the man who was busily exploring his mouth again with his tongue. Legolas paused and Aragorn then began making come hither motions with his hands. To Aragorn’s helpless rage, Legolas began to smile, then to grin, and was starting to shake in silent laughter when Boromir finally released the man. The Elf ducked out of sight as the two men scrambled to their feet.
Boromir looked ruefully at Aragorn and executed a little squatting step as if encouraging his excitement to subside. Aragorn could feel himself looking wildly at the other man and was trying to school his features into a nonchalant expression when Boromir leaned forward /again/ to brush his lips in a lightly sucking kiss.
“Until later,” he murmured softly into Aragorn’s mouth.
/Later!/ Aragorn thought in horror.
He whirled at Legolas’s call.
“Did you find Boromir?” Legolas asked grinning. “The Elves are back and the company is ready to depart.”
Boromir turned toward Legolas and behind him, Aragorn rolled his eyes at Legolas, irritated with his amusement. Legolas ignored him and inclined his head for Boromir to go before him then fell into step beside Aragorn. Aragorn tried to outstrip the amused Elf, but had to slow down again as he would have run over Boromir just ahead of them. He chose to ignore the laughter on his friend’s face and strode along behind Boromir wondering what in Middle Earth he was going to do about “later.” Legolas leaned over and whispered in barely contained glee, “Discover anything new from Boromir, Aragorn?”
Aragorn glared and marched on past him. As he left, he lifted his fingers to look at the tick he still held between them.
“ ‘It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing,’ ” he quoted ironically to himself, crushing the little beast between the tips of his fingers then wiped them clean on his breeches.
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