Now the blue eyes squinted sleepily at him. "Have you been awake all night?"
"I could not waste a moment for sleep." The darker man's grin refuted the disapproving shake of his head. "Do not concern yourself; I will still be able to march."
"I will never worry about your stamina." Aragorn pushed hair from his eyes as he rolled onto his back, still smiling. Boromir flung himself over the relaxed body before a loud growl from his stomach startled them both to laughter. "Nor your appetite. We should eat and finish our business here so that we make good time before nightfall."
They rose, washed and dressed in comfortable silence, pleased to find that their newly clean clothes had dried in the night before the fire. The inn had only stale bread and watery stew to offer for breakfast, but the broth was hot and softened the seeded crust. It did not take long to find traders, and in the tiny village, no one asked how two men of the wild came by rare treasures to barter. They had taken their supplies and headed out of the valley before the sun cleared the highest peak.
"What are you humming?" Aragorn asked as they traversed a bubbling stream, climbing with ease in the cool morning air.
Boromir gave a start; he had not realized that he was giving voice to the cheery martial music playing in his head. It had been a very long time since he felt such carefree joy. He flung an arm around his companion's shoulders. "It is a song of Gondor. We sang it as we marched."
"You will have to teach me the songs of Gondor. It has been many long years since I served your grandfather, and I do not remember them all."
"I will teach you anything I know."
They both paused in their steps, and Aragorn turned. "Boromir, you seem like a different man since we set out from the Fellowship, and I do not think it is only my company."
The warrior had started to smile, but at the earnest look on the other's face, he paused, dropping his arm. "What do you mean?"
"Tell me truly, do you still think of taking the Ring to Minas Tirith?"
In the clear air, staring into concerned eyes, Boromir answered with words that were true at that moment. "No. No longer. I serve the Fellowship with you."
Aragorn smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes. "Sometimes you have worried me, Boromir. I had thought...but no matter. I would never wish to fight you."
"Because you know you could not win," the younger man grinned, breaking the somber mood, and they began to boast of their most daring feats. To Boromir, Aragorn seemed less humble, more at ease with his birthright. He wondered suddenly whether Isildur's heir had heard the call of the Ring as well.
But he did not ask. Instead he listened as his friend told stories of his youth at Rivendell, how he had met Arwen, their reunion at Lothlórien, her father's efforts to keep them apart, and the many quests upon which he had embarked to serve his legacy without trying to claim it.
"Aragorn, they say that the age of the elves is ending. Perhaps you may earn your birthright only by accepting it."
"I had not thought to hear such words from you. You said that Gondor had no need of a king."
"The throne still stands in the great castle. For all of my life, it has been empty. I could fill the Steward's chair like my father before me, and I would give my life for my city. But my men fight and die to defend the borders of our lands, and if indeed men will rule the next Age, Gondor must have more than a Steward. She needs a champion of her past and future."
Aragorn stood very still, staring at Boromir gravely, and the younger man knew that the Ranger had craved his acceptance even more than his love. "You have conquered your doubts about me with greater ease than I," Aragorn said quietly.
"I know now what manner of man you are. I know you to be a great warrior and a great leader. You do not claim to be fearless but you face your doubts. This makes you stronger than a man who does not know enough to be afraid. You know that I want what is best for Gondor, and I know that Gondor needs you."
Aragorn blinked and turned to the horizon, but his lowered lashes failed to hide how much Boromir's words had moved him. "Be it so or not, I could not rule without a Steward," he said. "If it should come to pass that I ascend that high seat, I will always have you beside me." The son of Arathorn extended his right hand in a formal gesture; the son of Denethor clasped it with his own. "Let us march together, my brother."
Though this bond of family offered more lasting hope than any endearment, Boromir wondered whether it signaled an ending as well as a beginning, for he knew their affections could not continue once they resumed their journey with the Fellowship. Yet at dusk, when they stopped to rest at the entrance to a mountain cave, Aragorn lay beside Boromir under his worn cape and reached out an arm in welcome.
When they caught up with their companions the next day, in cold gray weather without any sun, their moods had shifted. The Ranger had fallen silent, answering questions politely but curtly, while Boromir felt agitated and quarreled over trivial matters like the best way to clear brambles. His enjoyment of the cheerful greetings he received from Merry and Pippin was tempered by the knowledge that he and Aragorn might never again share the familiarity of the past day. Gandalf seemed pleased with the provisions they had brought, but as they spoke their concerns about blistered feet and windburn, it became clear that the journey high into the snows would be difficult for all of them.
Though exhausted from the long climb, Boromir found rest elusive. Long after the others slept, a hand closed on his shoulder. He turned to find Aragorn slipping silently behind him. The depth of his gratitude made Boromir weak with shame. He rolled over, hid his face in the other man's tunic, and fell quickly into a deep, dreamless sleep.
So it went as they climbed the mountains. Aragorn continued to share blankets with Boromir, and under cover of darkness they sometimes shared furtive pleasure as well. But by morning the Ranger had always moved away. And they quarreled, about the route, the need for fire, the rate at which they consumed food, and the dangers of the mountain to the others. Boromir itched to make for the Gap of Rohan, while Aragorn seemed inclined to go through the Mines of Moria, though Gandalf ruled against both proposals and insisted on climbing Caradhras.
Then came the day when Frodo, sliding down a snowbank, lost his treasure in the snow. Boromir picked it up. The Ring held him entranced, whispering his name with clear intent, promising strength, the safety of Minas Tirith, long life to rival the line of Numenor. He did not notice that Aragorn's knuckles had whitened on his sword until after he had handed the band of gold over to the Ringbearer, when he reached awkwardly to unsettle the snow from Frodo's hair. He saw at first only the eyes of his beloved, darkened with unexpected ferocity.
Though they barely spoke for the rest of the day, Aragorn came to him in the night, his breathing harsh and his muscles knotted with tension. The initial, brutal contact that left bruises on Boromir's wrists and blood on his lips gave way to shocking tenderness, with Aragorn's hands and lips soothing the injuries they had caused. Boromir could feel him shaking.
While the sky remained dark, he woke alone. A clouded moon had risen which lit the landscape with ghostly fog and shadows. Rising, Boromir put a hand on the slick, icy wall and followed footsteps in the snow until he found Aragorn behind the rocks that guarded the entrance of the cave where they sheltered. The Ranger sat grimly sharpening his sword.
"You are still angry with me?" Boromir asked.
Aragorn turned his head slowly, his face unreadable in the eerie light. "Why should I be angry?"
"You thought I would take the Ring from Frodo."
The older man looked away again. "I was not angry. You were not yourself, Boromir. I was frightened for you."
"And you blame me for that." His voice sounded as bleak as he felt in spirit. "Or perhaps you are just ashamed of me."
Aragorn glanced back at him. "I am not ashamed."
"Then why do you leave?"
"I could not sleep. I did not want to wake you with my troubles."
"Every night before first light you pull further away from me. I understand that you do not want the others to know, but you barely give me your friendship in the day. You are more intimate with Frodo!" Boromir heard the jealousy in his own voice, and Aragorn glanced around as if afraid that he would wake the others. "You want silence even here, where there is no one to hear us."
"We must all be as brothers. Not all the others would understand. If they thought that I cherished you above the rest..."
"You need not fear that anyone suspects that! As soon as we come face to face, you treat me not as a brother but your rival for Gondor."
In the dimness, Aragorn's eyes were as dark as they had been earlier when he stood gripping the hilt of his sword. Stepping forward, he put his hands on Boromir's shoulders. "I am sorry. I thought that you did not want the others to know. I know many of the men of Minas Tirith would not accept such a thing. I did not wish to make you dwell on it if you found it shameful."
"I feel shame only when you turn from me." Though he had drawn strength from his anger a moment before, the Steward's son felt his control slipping with his rage. "I know you think I am weak. I hear the call of the Ring. I struggle with the will of my father. I had hoped I had proved my worth as a soldier, but perhaps my eagerness to be with you has made you doubt my manhood as well."
Aragorn slid his hands from Boromir's shoulders around his back, pulling the younger man against him. "I do not think you are weak," he whispered. "You have given your life to defending Gondor, and you are the finest soldier I know." Boromir tasted blood on his lip where the Ranger had bitten it earlier. "Forgive me. This morning when you held the Ring, or rather when the Ring held you in its power, I was afraid that I might have to attack you. I do not doubt my strength, but I was not certain that I was strong enough to do that, not to you."
"You would have done what you felt was needed," Boromir assured him.
"If the others had not been there, I would have tried to reach you with words from my heart. But I did not know whether you might scorn me if I spoke them aloud."
For an instant Boromir saw Aragorn not as others saw him, but as he saw himself -- an exile and wanderer, not a king. He returned the embrace, fierce with relief. "Aragorn, I love you. Have I not told you so, in every way I could find to reveal it?"
Aragorn pulled back, weary lines circling his eyes. "Yet your heart is divided as mine. I have sworn my life to protect the Ringbearer, but I would also keep you safe. If it is my destiny to reach Gondor, I would have you at my side. I can resist the power of the Ring for that, but can you, Boromir? What if you had to choose?"
Boromir heard an echo of the voice that had spoken to him when he picked up the Ring, and found that he could not answer even when Aragorn took him back into his arms.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.