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04 November 2016 | 11924 words | Work in Progress
Title: All Colours are Born of Grey
With: Aragorn, Éowyn
Warnings: angst, somewhat AU, hurt-comfort themes, implied het relationship.
Summary: Simple and utterly harmless is how it was at the start. Awkward, maybe, but surely harmless.
Notes: ‘Somewhat AU’ in this case means that although nothing in this story contradicts facts explicitly stated in the Book, the events develop not in the way even the slashier-minded reader would generally assume.
Every night begins with him being embarrassed – ashamed, even – practically begging the King not to.
But not once does Aragorn heed – and not that, in his heart of hearts, does he truly wish his lord would.
And so every night – and this has been going on for what, about two weeks now? Although it is already difficult for him to imagine his life consisting of something else, it must be so indeed, starting from the very day of his return from that surreal journey to Rohan, the emerald plains of which he hopes to never again be forced to behold. So, yes, every night the Lord of Gondor firmly shuts the door to the Steward’s chambers, sealing the wall between them and the world out there. The world that knows not only no mercy – no justice at all, so it seems.
Grieved, burdened, uncertain – they are united as though specifically by virtue of their common guilt. And what offence, really, is the little comfort they allow themselves in the face of their eternal, irreversible culpability?
Of course, they say ‘it is not your fault’ to each other many a time before the bleakness of dawn begins to leak through the curtains – but what can words change? As fallen leaves cannot be glued back on their tree, so appeasing statements cannot reverse the truth. And only in the gut of night, when there is only the warmth and the breathing of a living person by his side does it feel that somehow there is still place for peace on his plate.
“My lord,” he says when three weeks have passed, and he does not look Aragorn in the face, for fear of seeing that Aragorn would actually agree with him, “I hear folk are starting to wonder.”
“Let them wonder,” Aragorn says simply, with the serene unaffectedness of one whose conscience is clean.
“But…” this time Faramir does look up, “what of the Queen?”
A shadow of a wince passes over the older man’s lean face, as though a recurrent headache has just threatened a comeback.
“Ah, she…” he only utters, and gives a slight dismissive shrug as though to assure Faramir that this, although an understandable concern, is in fact in no way related to their situation.
Yet Faramir cannot see how it could possibly not be most directly related – besides, he does not wish his personal pain to cause conflict in the lives of others. His sentiments must clearly enough show in his face, for Aragorn sighs and crosses his arms.
“Well, it would be fairly sound to allow that, just as you have pointed out, she too could have heard I spend my nights outside my bed,” he says too levelly for the levelness to sound fully natural.
And so Faramir asks no more, for the screaming contradiction between the dryness of his liege’s tone and the inconceivable message in the actual words is a clear enough warning to not tread on this ground, may as he be bewildered by the message itself.
Then comes that night. Strictly speaking, it is little different from all the previous ones. Just one small nuance. And maybe he becomes aware of it only because he has happened to wake up at this particular point in time.
Just as before, they lie together under the same vast fur-lined cover as though they are blood kin, only now in his sleep the King has shifted to him so that their bodies are, in fact, touching. He has always been very mindful of his sire’s personal space, especially since Aragorn has taken to sharing his sheets, and by day to be this close would have deeply embarrassed him – it would have embarrassed him even by evening as they were getting ready for sleep to merely imagine that they might come this close. But right now, when his propriety sensor is pacified by the darkness, and the slowness of the sleeping King’s breath, and the deep warmth that has seeped, it feels, into his very bones, he is unsettled not at all. In fact, ‘touching’ is somewhat of an under-statement: Aragorn has sidled up to him from behind and is hugging him around the middle, and maybe the top half of Faramir’s sleeping garments has hiked up, or maybe the King’s hand has crawled under it – somehow it does not seem important now – Aragorn’s firm dry palm is pressed right to the nakedness of his belly.
Faramir smiles – quite likely for the first time since that day.
For a fleeting moment he feels guilty of his quiet joy – how dare he be happy in a time like this?! But he is weary of guilt, especially as he knows there will be no end of it – and this is such an innocent little light in the muted dimness of his days. To be held like this, in this protective, older-brotherly way… As though Aragorn senses a boy in him, a boy alone but too stubborn and cautious to accept this comfort in his waking hours – and therefore it has to be given him when he does not see… Faramir’s smile broadens at this thought.
When was the last time he had felt so wanted and welcome?
I am tired, she had said. More than once she had. He should have heard. How could have he possibly not heard?
But that is somewhat beside his current point.
I am tired, she had said. She could not have given him this, for she had no strength for it, no warmth left to share when she did not even have enough for herself.
But Aragorn… With Aragorn’s tough, sinewy arm wrapped over his waist, and the man’s bony ankle hooked over his shin, he cannot quite bring himself to hold on to the term ‘King’, even in thought. So Aragorn, yes, Aragorn has enough to share – needs to share, in fact, for he too, of course, asks himself these same questions – how could have he not seen, how could have he not begun to worry in time? And that strange comment about the Lady Arwen… Implying that only through hearsay would she learn where her husband abides by night – which in turn would imply that she does not even anticipate him to be where the logic of marriage would suggest… Does this mean then, that just as Faramir has no one else whose warmth to feel and sleeping breath to hear, so does his friend?
His lord, he corrects himself before he slips back into slumber.
And then the next night Aragorn does not come.
It is only in that purposeless hour, as he sits on the edge of his bed at a loss what to do with himself, that Faramir realises how presumptuous he had been in his earlier resolve to tell his sire this very evening that now there definitely is no longer need for any concern – and therefore no longer need for the visits. For he had felt so fully grounded, so soundly tied to this earth the previous night – although of course he would not have explicitly referred to that in his speech – that it was bound to be quite beyond doubt that at least on his behalf there would no pining or withering. He was safe from that fate.
This was why they were doing it, was it not? So that Faramir would not fall prey to the same stealthy, proditory menace. So that Lord Aragorn would keep an eye on him and through that be comforted himself in knowing his Steward is well – reasonably well, of course, as much as could be hoped for for a man in his circumstances.
But if that were so, if that were the full and only truth, why is he not come tonight?
Steward Faramir lies atop his bed, atop the unwrinkled fur-lined blanket, fully clothed and shod, thinking this thought, well into the night. It should not be so important, he understands, for of course any man, and the King tenfold so, is called on by many a matter and cannot be reasonably expected to be available every minute his company might be desired – and yet… Besides, the memory, the sensation of that hand under his shirt, of the long fingers resting so habitually on the plain of his abdomen – it is never far from the top of his mind, and as time passes it intertwines tighter and tighter with the first thought, and somehow he comes to be quite certain that his lord, too, knows of what has transpired and its significance – although what significance can there conceivably be to it…? Likely it is simply that he is so starved for corporal human contact, so unused to feeling against his skin a hand that is not cold and languid, that a normal healthy touch startles his perception so – or is there truly something else to it?
His day, exactly like those preceding it, passes in some dream-like haze, like visions, like scenes from a story many times reread, familiar and in that familiarity distant and boring. Until she died he had not been remotely aware of the existence of so many shades of grey: the grey of the empty palace halls, the grey of the overcast sky, the grey of the dusty windowpanes, the grey of daylight, the grey of his own skin. Her absence is like a hole, a pit, an ulcer that sucks all the juices out of what remains of his living days, leaving behind only the hollow, dry husks and shells of the once meaningful things. It is only by night that his senses awaken and with them returns the proper saturation of colours. And the brightest colour is, of course, the brilliant grey of his King’s eyes.
Because now, after twenty four hours of waiting and not knowing, twenty four hours wasted and crossed out of Faramir’s preordained and ever-dwindling measure of time, Aragorn is finally come again.
As though there had never been this little lapse, this accidental misstep in the rhythmic pace of their comforting exchange. Or perhaps not exactly so.
“I am sorry,” Aragorn says somewhat sternly as he sits down on his side of the mattress, with his back to Faramir. “About last night. That I left you.”
“Please,” Faramir objects warmly. “I am not ill, your majesty. There is no need for a constant vigil at my bedside.”
“That may be,” Aragorn agrees, pulls off his royal tunic and reaches for the plain night-shirt. “And my apology is, I suppose, more for the reasons of my not coming than for the actual not being here.”
“Then I assume it was not the marital duty that withheld you?” Faramir asks, standing still even though he too should be changing, but he cannot simultaneously engage himself in something else when asking a question of this sort – a question he knows he really should not be asking…
Aragorn goes still too, his gown forgotten and left limp in his lap – and Faramir sees all the thews in his bare back flex and stiffen, as though it is not a harmless combination of words but a ray of arrows that has been loosened on the man and he longs to be cased in armour and not naked skin.
Yet Faramir presents no apology for his insensitivity, for from some cue he cannot quite define even to himself he knows that the King needs him to bring this up.
“No indeed,” Aragorn says at last. His voice is stern and worn, yet free of resentment, and Faramir knows he has made no mistake.
The King offers no explanation, however, but neither does the visible tension seep out of his tissues.
And strangely Faramir wants to smile for the second time since that day, for it feels like a lungful of fresh spring air, like an eyeful of sunlit new greens – to have his thought occupied with someone else’s sorrow and not his own.
One thing he has come to appreciate about grief is that it makes things simpler: it justifies everything and allows to overlook the rules of courtesy. Justifies a level of trust that would otherwise be deemed naïve and childish, justifies a degree of openness that would otherwise be embarrassing, justifies the King sitting half-naked in his bedroom, ready to tell him what it is nobody’s business to know.
“You ache,” Faramir says quietly and very gently, “but I do not understand.” And he is not bothered by addressing his liege so familiarly, by actually standing above his sitting king. Again, there is little need for decorum in the face of pain.
Aragorn shifts on the bed and turns with his whole body, but pauses midway and ends up at a perpendicular to his Steward, so that Faramir is looking at him but he is looking at the wall.
“Huh,” he says. Slowly his brow creases into a frown. “Mind if I harass you with a tactless question?” Aragorn asks of the wall.
“That would only seem fair, sire, seeing as I was the one to introduce the practice,” Faramir replies, pursing back a smile.
“Can you imagine yourself ever being with a woman again?” Aragorn asks, unapologetic. “With… another woman?”
“No,” Faramir says simply, without thinking. But all of a sudden he remembers the hand, the warm hand on his belly, and feels himself blush and his thoughts rush, although this is beside the point, altogether beside the point. To get himself together more than anything else, he adds, “Not as of right now, I cannot – and frankly I cannot envision how that could ever change with time. It… is not a question of time, I think not. I could not be with another lady without thinking of her.”
Aragorn nods, as though receiving an expected confirmation. “Another tactless question then,” he says grimly. “Do you think you will miss it?”
“Well,” Faramir grins softly: there is little ambiguity as to what the King is speaking of. “It is a sweet thing, one certainly cannot deny that. But…” he sighs with a shrug, “I don’t expect it being gone will weigh on me overmuch.”
“No?” Aragorn looks up as he asks this, and Faramir sees confusion in his eyes, as though the man is searching for direction.
“I…” suddenly Faramir wants to sit down beside him, to take him by the hand. He is startled by the impulse and does not follow it, for he knows that to this question his king desires a verbal answer, something that will help him make sense of things.
“You see, my lord,” Faramir begins slowly, “I had, not unlike you, had quite some years on my own before taking a wife, and so I’d been rather accustomed to not having it to the full, to never being truly sated,” he shrugs again. “That is the way things are for an unwed man: there is always either too much risk or too little time. I could never truly relax into it, and often I would feel guilty afterwards, so I did not seek it much. It is, I suppose, akin to how Master Pippin had explained to me about the hobbit fashion: if you walk unshod all the time, you do not notice the ground is cold.” He wonders if he should stop at this, but Aragorn is listening keenly, more so than before, and so Faramir continues. “I’ll admit, I did expect it to change with marriage, I thought this is when the ‘good times’ begin, that I would do nothing all day but make love to her – then we would have supper, and make love again. And with Éowyn,” he pauses, for it is difficult for him to pronounce her name, because the name sounds just a before, but she is not here, and somehow his mind refuses to get around the paradox.
Faramir exhales and takes a new breath. “We’d had our good times indeed, especially in the beginning – but not as I had imagined. Apparently,” he cannot stop himself from grinning, “apparently I am just one of those men who can never have enough. I did not know until I had the chance to find out, but so it must be. Perhaps it is the toll of the seasons that my passion had had to be subdued – and likewise for her, she had had too many years without affection and tenderness. It were them that she sought of me above all, and my greatest joy was to make her happy – and as for my hunger, well, I figured since satisfying it was not truly viable, it be best it be kept out of the picture altogether.”
Aragorn keeps eyeing him, and Faramir does not like the look of the man’s face. Is it disbelief? Disappointment? Or rather disappointment with himself?
“And you… were happy with that?” Aragorn enquires at last, with a crack in his voice, and Faramir sees his fingers curl in his lap.
“Maybe I was just fortunate enough to never have known anything better,” Faramir says carefully, “but I love her, and to my best knowledge I was happy.”
Aragorn draws a sharp breath – then another one, and another, and Faramir’s eyes round as he realises what is happening. But before he can say a word, the King abruplty stands up, and his fair noble face is dark.
“I can’t,” he states adamantly, cutting through the air with his words. “If you could, then I should too – but I can’t.” He shakes his head slowly, and his nostrils begin to flare. The degree of hurt and anger in his eyes is unbearable to behold.
“I am so sorry,” Faramir whispers.
Aragorn averts his face to the wall once again, to glare at it instead of the man. “You must forgive me,” he utters bitterly. “My woes are nothing compared to yours, and you are too good a lad to be subjected to any of this in the first place.”
To Faramir’s horror, the man swerves around and heads for the door.
“Wait!” Faramir calls, and his tone is so imperative he himself falls silent in shock, and Aragorn stops dead in his tracks.
Cautiously, seconds tiptoe by.
A minute falls away. Then another.
Faramir takes a breath.
“Don’t go,” he calls. “Please.”
The King replies without turning. “I am not certain it would prove to serve for the benefit of either of us should I do as you ask.”
Yet he does not take another step for the exit – not just yet, and Faramir ventures on.
“Then how, my lord, would it be for the worse were you to linger?”
“I do not know,” Aragorn answers nervously. “I have taken it upon myself to help you, my boy, and for that you may think me the stronger. But know that the portion of my life that bears on making sense to me is progressively withering, and I am afraid I can no longer count on knowing what to expect even of myself.”
“Well, that much is fine by me, if this be the cause of your lordship’s concern – seeing as being made sense to is hardly something that befalls me all too often these days,” Faramir points out. “And no, I shan’t imply that I hold any keys or answers that I could share with you, much as I wish that I did. But maybe – maybe…”
“Yes…?” Aragorn turns his head just an inch, as though to hear better.
“Maybe that’s alright?” Faramir entreats, spreading his hands in supplication even though his king cannot see him. “Maybe clarity is more than can be found in a time like this? Maybe that one can give solace and be blessed with some in return – maybe that is enough?”
At this Aragorn finally faces him – and the expression he bears, Faramir realises with a jolt, is that of fear.
“Enough?” the man echoes, and swallows. “You would never guess how much so it indeed is for me. I had thought you needed me—”
“And I do,” Faramir asserts passionately.
“Nay, you do not. You are not going to die, Faramir – you know that,” Aragorn states as one weary of pretence. “And I know that. Yet still I come to you. Because…” his fingers curl.
“Does the ‘because’ matter?” Faramir counters before the King can finish. “Or did I misunderstand your meaning and you in fact do have elsewhere to go for rest and comfort?”
To the Steward’s immense relief, his lord, albeit looking quite defeated as he does this, slowly returns to his former place, sits down exactly as before his attempted retreat – and only then gives his answer.
“Again, I do not know. I am a man married to one I had always desired – so the answer to your question ought to be beyond obvious. And yet it is not – for it is you, you, Faramir, I look forward, look forward through the whole damn day, to staying in private with, to sharing an unguarded word with, it is only you I could tell of what eats at me, no one else.”
“You have told me no such thing, your majesty.”
“Then let me set that aright,” Aragorn suggests sternly. “I do not sleep with my wife. Never have. There. How is that for a confession?”
“Don’t bother,” Aragorn says. “Not that there’s a correct thing to reply to that. Not that there’s anything to be done about that at all – ’tis a settled deal.”
“But…” Faramir searches for the polite way to put the inevitable question, then asks only, “Why?”
“Ah, see, I might have been a little self-indulgent in how I phrased it. ’Tis not that I don’t, but rather…”
“Yes.” Aragorn runs his fingers through his dark hair. “The naked truth of a Man’s body, especially that of a Man in need…” he grins ruefully. “The life my lady had led had left her unprepared for it. What Elven boys she may have chanced to inadvertently glance are far less uncomely beneath their clothes.”
Faramir blinks at his King’s back.
“I beg pardon – but what…?!”
“Do not take me wrong – there is great love between us,” Aragorn pronounces passionately, gently, almost dreamily, as a devout worshipper sensing the existence of his deity about to be doubted. “But this she could not step over – and who would blame her, if she had not known?”
But then he puffs his cheeks and lets himself fall backwards on the bed. The mattress springs under the weight of a tall warrior and gently prods him back up, but he remains splayed and unmoving.
“And sometimes it all feels fake. Just like that. Fake. A trickster’s gold. How can I say that? How can I be so ungrateful? ’Tis such a small thing, is it not? Is it not shallow to become fixated on it? And yet I cannot shake off the feeling that this isn’t my life. That I’m being mocked – not by her, of course not, but—” he waves his hand in the air.
“I understand,” Faramir nods.
“Aye, I reckon you do,” Aragorn muses thoughtfully. “But what now? Maybe I am just a naive idealist – but isn’t this supposed to be the part where everyone lives happily ever after?”
“Sure is,” Faramir attests with a snort.
“Tell me then – who is happy?”
“What of the Queen…?” Faramir inquires with caution.
“Oh,” Aragorn hums pensively. “I would think so. She tells me so herself nigh every day, without my asking. And once I did ask, and she said, aye, ’tis all exactly as she’d wanted. Being with me brings her peace and joy, I see that clearly – only to her… It is different, the degree of meaning a gesture has. She can sit beside me for any length of time, stroking my hand, or resting her cheek against my shoulder, and there is such quiet bliss written in her face…”
“Does the lady know…?”
“In part, yes. After a few months, I tried…” suddenly Aragorn looks ashamed, so ashamed that Faramir’s chest aches for him. “I sat her down and tried to reason her into it. Gently, of course, I never forced…” he passes his hand over his forehead. “She was… I will never forgive myself for the look in her eyes. I have not returned to the matter since, for obviously it is out of the question, and I may as well keep my would-haves to myself, for how is this her fault? If anything, only my ignorance is to blame. As it turns out, ’tis not an uncommon practice among her folk – have you never wondered how it is they have so few children in unions thousands of years old…?”
“Yet nonetheless, there are children,” Faramir indicates in a voice as tactful as he can muster.
“Ah, yes, we are seeing to that. No fear for the state of Gondor, my friend. See, I have been administered this little bowl which I am to fill on the propitious days of the moon, and – ah, just how pathetic is this?” Aragorn laughs.
“It is not—”
“Oh, please. I know some men resort to this practice, to dealing with their own tension, before they take a wife – just appreciate the irony of starting after you wed.”
Faramir’s brows go up. “You hadn’t—”
“Imagine that,” Aragorn confirms with another hollow laugh. “It seemed a disloyalty to my lady. Pretty much everything seemed a disloyalty to my lady. She was, in my eyes, perfection itself – not because I loved her and my vision was clouded, but because she was perfect – in the cosmic, absolute sense. Like. No. Other. And how I yearned to be worthy of her, to justify the price at which she would have to purchase a lifetime by my side, how much I burned to be faultless for her. Unlike all other men, whose women are likewise not without flaw, I did not see myself as having the luxury to ‘be only human’, even if only in thought. I had awaited the day for sixty-seven years – ’tis a long time, and I won’t say I’d never erred.”
He looks up, back at Faramir standing behind him, and grins at seeing the disbelieving confusion his last words have brought to his steward’s features.
“See? Even you have come to expect better of me. True enough,” the King admits, “the prospect of another’s love had never threatened to lure me off my path, for the love for my lady had safely locked my heart – not so my loins, however. Isn’t it funny how the desire of heart and the desire of the loins are not always prerequisites for each other? I never had welcomed these urges, they disgusted me; furthermore, I was horrified that my body was capable of lusting for something I would never actually want to commit. And yet…” he lets out a long exhalation. “I could not altogether rid myself of it. I… still can’t.”
“My lord,” Faramir begins gently. “But following this line of thought, do you not reckon your lady deserves a little better than a man who is made miserable by her company? Or do you think that such as she is, if indeed you were given permission to consummate your bond, it would serve to your joy? For you sound to me as a man who hungers for true ardour – and if our fair Queen had that in her, surely she would have bestowed the gift upon you already?”
Aragorn frowns stubbornly – not entirely unlike Boromir used to when outreasoned.
“If everything is as you say, then all has been in vain from the very onset – how can I accept that? This was the meaning of my entire life, Faramir, my heart’s only desire – don’t take it personally, but the prospect of becoming King of Gondor, in and of itself, did not exactly give me the chills. Mayhap,” he concedes, “I am being a fool grasping on to a convicted illusion, but ’tis easier for me to think that the fault is with me, even if it cannot be fixed.”
“My goodness, sire, fault?” Faramir asks, thinking that also not unlike his beloved brother at times, the mighty King Elessar is beginning to test his capacity to digest absurdity.
“See, Faramir, I can throw away my pipe so that my breath would be clear of the smoke, and I can scrape my stubble clean off so that my skin would be smooth like an Elven-boy’s – but the rest,” Aragorn gestured down along the length of his body, “is made the way it is made, and not a thing there is to be done about that.”
Faramir can no longer suppress himself: he is appalled like he has not been for a long, long while – and this is very refreshing. Outrage is such an alive emotion. On an impulse, he bends forth to stand on all fours above his lying liege.
“The rest is very beautiful,” he declares hotly – and when, startled, Aragorn once more looks up at him, upside-down as they are to each other, adds just as hotly: “As is your face. You are, all over, one of the most beautiful men I have ever laid eyes upon. And if the Lady in three thousand years has not learnt what is to be found beneath a man’s codpiece…”
Coming back to himself as one slapped, Faramir trails off. “I… am sorry, your lordship,” he utters tightly, overcome with a different kind of heat this time, “that was… unkind.”
“Well, I’d say,” Aragorn agrees in amusement – and lets out a hale, merry snort.
Faramir makes to move back, away, to resume an appropriate distance – but Aragorn catches him on the forearm and keeps him in place.
“But do you mean it – what you said?” the lord questions, his voice for some reason a notch hoarse, but his eyes alight with a sharp brightness.
The younger man feels a sudden constriction in his chest. The firm grasp on his arm is so warm, too warm to be possible to stop being aware of… It is as though at the point of contact of their bodies, there is mead seeping through his skin into his very blood, and he catches himself growing light-headed.
“My lord, pray forgive me my forwardness, this conversation is not headed in a proper—”
“This conversation has long not been headed in a proper direction,” Aragorn agrees amiably. Then in a flash his face grows strict and proud, and much as he is lying on Faramir’s bed more undressed than not, Faramir is at once reminded why he had accepted this man as his sire without a second of peradventure.
“Answer me!” Aragorn orders in a voice as quiet as it is imperative. “Did you mean it?”
Faramir squares his shoulders and replies in kind, for albeit a vassal he is a lord, too, and not one without dignity. “I believe we have lived side by side long enough, my king, for you to have seen proof I am not in the habit of speaking without meaning what I say.”
Some string too deep inside him is pulled when he feels his liege’s fingers tremble on his arm, and he can say no more.
“Well, that’s a change of heart,” Aragorn pronounces a last, with a cough. In this moment he more than ever reminds Faramir of Boromir – Boromir who too would get hoarse and wary when his hidden vulnerabilities were threatened with exposure. “Just the night before last you were disinclined to have me stay – and now this,” Aragorn observes in grim wonder. “I…” he closes his eyes and slowly, very slowly exhales.
He makes to say something else, but does not. Faramir waits, and to his dismay sees the King’s face turn grave, closed.
“I should go now,” Aragorn says curtly. “I should have gone long before. It was indecent of me to brandish my woes at you to begin with – and even more so to subject you to this kind of attentions. You,” he tears his hand away, with such visible reluctance as though it hurts his flesh to break the contact. “You are confused now, grieving, it would be…”
Faramir reaches out and touches him on the face, gently, frames the King’s cheek with his fingertips. There has been more than enough talk for one night.
Aragorn stares at him aghast.
Faramir registers the light-headedness return, twice the stronger, but keeps his hand in place. Boldness is a virtue, he has been taught this as a warrior.
“’Tis is a strange thing, is it not?” Aragorn murmurs cautiously as slowly he raises his own hand to bring it over Faramir’s. The touch is uncertain, skittish, and he holds Faramir’s gaze with his own, as though thus he can prevent the younger man from entertaining second thoughts.
Faramir offers him an unsmiling grin.
“My wife died a strange death,” he says. “All my closest blood-kin did, come to think of it. Am I then in a position to not even give a chance to an offer of what might be a new beginning on account of it coming in strange circumstances?”
“A chance…?” Aragorn echoes him as though from a distance. “Well, fair enough, I reckon.”
“Nay, I worded that poorly—”
“No, ’tis better thus,” Aragorn closes his eyes again. “’Tis, quite likely, how it should be,” he speaks thoughtfully, his palm sliding over the back of Faramir’s hand and up the man’s forearm. “That two should begin not with a pledge and a troth, but with naught more than hope in heart and caution in step.”
And at that, with a conclusive decisiveness Aragorn slides out from under his steward’s hovering form, and heads for the one candelabra keeping the room alight.
“If you would undress and lie down,” he says in a tone that makes certain Faramir will not forget that he is in the presence of the King – a king kind and patient, but king nonetheless.
“My lord?” Faramir cannot keep his voice entirely level.
“I apologise if this is somewhat – how did you put it? – forward, but I want you to know for certain – straight away,” Aragorn turns to him before snuffing out the last candle. “I cannot take it, Faramir, to have my hopes rise again – for naught. You have known many, but I have known none, to me it… it has…” he swallows. “If you do not desire this after all, then tell me now – we’ll be done with it once and for all, and leave it at that.”
“Will you not let me see?” Faramir calls, pulling his collar open as he has been asked to. He hears urgency in his own voice, but decides it is maybe for the best.
Aragorn hesitates, his fingers pausing mere inches from the flame. His gaze follows the ministrations of Faramir’s hands, takes in the freshly exposed triangle of the young man’s chest, the chiselled rectangular elevation of a warrior’s pectorals so different, no doubt, from the white roundness of his wife’s maiden breasts he is not allowed to touch. There is longing in the King’s eyes, but also sadness, wistfulness even, and it occurs to Faramir that perhaps his lord is thinking that maybe if he had taken care of the candles back on that festive midsummer’s night when all the City had been filled with lights and music and garlands of field flowers, if he had thawed her with the heat of his love before her sight could decide for her, maybe then things would have taken another course.
Aragorn’s gaze returns to his face. “You look so lovely with a blush,” the King says softly, and again there is sadness, as though this loveliness is not for his eyes to behold. “But no. Mayhap some other time – but tonight, let the darkness guide your hand.”
His touch glides over the lean tautness of Aragorn’s breast muscle, his fingertips probe the softness of the small nipple that tightens and hardens as though with apprehension. So he repeats the caress, again and again until he feels the King, ever so subtly, press himself into his hand.
How has it come to this?
What will this come to?
Is he doing the royal family a favour, trying to give the Queen a happier husband?
Is he doing himself any favour at all?
He lets the questions slip away into the surrounding blackness, where they belong. He feels the other shiver above him, and a puff of warmth caresses his cheek as the King’s breath hastens. He turns his face towards it, half-expecting, half-hoping Aragorn would erase the distance between their mouths – but the man does not, for he is waiting.
And so Faramir continues with his task. For his part, he believes he could skip the introductions, but he knows his lord will not accept an answer that is not supported with hard data.
He wishes, though, that he were not so limited in methods, and the wish itself strikes him as curious in its oddness, seeing as a mere hour ago he had not detected any probability whatsoever of finding himself yearning, and yearning so clearly and consciously, for a taste of his king’s skin, for the feel of the man’s clavicle as he would try to enfold it with a kiss – for the scratch of the dark stubble against the softness of his wandering lips. Let alone for the gasp the King would no doubt fail to withhold were Faramir to pull that distrustful nipple into his mouth. But he has already gathered that even more so than everlasting loneliness his lord dreads profanity, and he has to allow the possibility that to someone of Aragorn’s history even a lick to the throat may come across as quite vulgar indeed. Furthermore and more to the point, it would be unfair on Aragorn to start bestowing such pleasurable little promises before providing the man with a reliable assurance. For now, he must make do with his hands, and not allow himself too much even at that.
There is a vastness and a sweep to the plains of Aragorn’s body, to the steely span of his shoulders, to the way the long muscles of his back stretch on and fall away beneath Faramir’s palms. This is not a matter of merely height or girth – there is freedom and scale to the very make of the King’s body, there is inner, bone-deep iron strength, reticent and uncompromising, like unto that of a tree growing atop a field hill in proud solitude.
This man is all as though made to leap only, to heave, to swing a deadly, double-edged weight, to withstand, endure, and conquer. His is a practical, applied beauty – there is no place on him for pretty bits, no parts catering to the leisurely purpose of pleasing the eye, nothing to cushion the self-effacing zeal of a ravenous lover, and what modest curves he does sport are all spiced with a bony angularity. He is made for action, and just maybe, he is also made for stoic patience in the face of a bigger purpose, for staying the course with his gaze fixed unblinking on the ultimate aim. What he has not been tailored for is lingering – suspended, tethered, without direction, without logic, as a sleek battle-ship forgotten in harbour sways, and nods, and rocks with the sempiternal, self-absorbed waves without moving an inch from the place of its timeless confinement.
Bizarre, outlandish thoughts begin to flicker through Faramir’s mind. Is this how it was, how he had felt to his unfortunate Éowyn – too big, too long, too tough, too hard, all fire and sparks, no place to cosy up against, to find peace?
Would have she, perhaps, fared better in the care of the tender Queen?
As his hand slides across the long road to the King’s lower back, the bumpy valley of Aragorn’s spine lying between two solid ranges of muscle, Faramir sees his wife resting her head on Lady Arwen’s chest, a quiet smile upon her white face. Thick strands of their unbraided hair fall together, like lustrous ropes of sunshine and midnight, like a complete solar eclipse.
Have they, all of them, made a mistake?
Lazily he speculates if this is an old family friend, auntie Madness, come to pay him an exploratory visit, to try and ease herself in between the links of his reason like he heard she does, building connections between assorted bits of nonsensical randomness, immersing her helpless host into one of those absurdist dreams that easily make perfect sense so long as they are being dreamt. When she packs up and leaves, he might well regret his choices – but tonight all his concerns swirl away and dissolve like sugar in hot tea, and his fingers slide lower still.
The Princess of Rohan had never been the sort of woman whose backside would stretch a dress taut, and Faramir had never minded – he had often felt he could fit all of it into the palm of one hand, which somehow had endeared him almost to tears.
And likewise learning the shape of Aragorn’s lower body by blind feel, he is filled foremost with affection and gratitude, desire remaining in the background as a welcome side-effect. This with him is a mature man, not a young woman, and there is even less rounded voluptuousness in his king’s behind than what little had been in his wife’s, and somehow he likes this. It seems to him he can feel the history of his beloved friend, his beloved king, in the man’s make, the many decades of toil and lonesome pilgrimage, cold rock his armchair and hard ground his bed, icy stream his bath and empty sky his roof. Decades of carrying a full load on his back, of practices that temper muscle and bone as a forger tempers battle steel, as loyalty to a dream tempers the spirit. No, Faramir would not wish for the perky flesh of a light-hearted youth instead, for the flawless curves that bear no meaning, for a body that has known nothing but ready pleasures.
His fingertips lick over the underside of the man’s buttocks – so lightly, barely skimming over skin – but Aragorn gasps, and jolts, and much as there remains a safe measure of space between their naked bodies, for a moment, before it is hastily withdrawn, Faramir feels a hot nudge to the stomach. The realisation takes a moment, for of course this had never happened with her.
Aragorn is panting above him, and although he utters no sound, Faramir hears his lord’s shame, if only in his difficult breath. The young man reaches up to touch him on the face, to reassure, but the King turns away, shuddering.
So Faramir makes to settle this elsewise, to affirm his acceptance – furthermore, his willingness – in a most unambiguous manner. Yet with no warning at all, Aragorn bats away his grasping fingers, so precisely as though the King can actually see his aim.
Faramir knows better than to insist – and so as to assure his lord of his complete obedience, of his respect for the King’s perfectly understandable sensitivity, he altogether takes his touch away and lies back on the sheets.
This is a long journey, and long journeys can seldom be made in one go.
Now that his hands rest idle on the linens, he comes back to himself a little to grow aware of how tense and flushed he himself is, of his head spinning and a droplet of sweat sliding down his temple, of a hot dryness burning in his gut – and also of the scent of his own desire rising as steam from his skin. He marvels how the King cannot smell it on him, how there is still place for doubt.
Faramir shuts his eyes.
He cannot be certain that he has not erred in his judgement, going too far too soon – but once an arrow is shot, there is no altering its flight, and knowing Aragorn, they might not get a second chance at all.
“If you do not let me,” Faramir reasons quietly, “we will never know what might have been.”
He does not know whether it is the rational grain in his words, or something else, the very sound of his voice perhaps – but slowly, the King nods.
He feels Aragorn grow into his hand, and it is a sensation as exciting as it is strange. His light touch is as though changing the actual composition of the other man’s flesh, crystallising all traces of the soft and the supple out of it, making it like unto star-metal awaiting rebirth at the hands of a talented Elven-smith.
It is fascinating how quickly everything in him rises to the task, how his palm begins to glow with the warmth of the strokes only yet to come. How could he, how could have he lain for all these nights by Aragorn’s side and not become mesmerised by the possibility, so real, so easy, so within reach? But he is yet capable of reminding himself that his errand is, in fact, only tangent to this beguiling prospect, and that were he to give ground to the mood of the moment and without further ado set to speeding things to their logical conclusion, it would abridge what fragile trust he has managed to earn.
With one final brush of his finger-pads bidding an interim goodbye to where he is determined to return before long, Faramir quests lower – to complete what had been implicitly asked of him, to acquaint himself with every angle of his lord’s unfortunate innocence, without arbitrarily assigning precedence to one part over the other.
In the crease of the groin his skin is so untoughened, so shiveringly tender, and it is impossible to understand how it can coexist in such close proximity with the lean rigidness of the long muscles of the thigh. When Faramir moves down over the thigh, the feel is even and sleek, but no sooner than he turns back his progress is halted by the many little hairs curling up against his palm. He enjoys the notion, and somehow it amuses him to think that the exact same effect would take place if he were to rub his own leg. He repeats the little play, and it is just a tad bit scratchy, and he finds that very earthy and cosy.
It is a stark, exquisite contrast when he cups from beneath the more delicate components of his lord’s masculine manifest. They weigh roundly into his hand, so sensitive, full, such unreasonably fine skin. He is reminded, as though from far away, of how her breasts used to weigh into his hands when she would bow over him.
The reminiscence brings sadness, but that of a gentle, diluted sort, for it is sweetened with the new purpose her passing has given him, ironic as that in itself may be. Once again he tells himself not to dismiss the possibility of soon parting with his sanity, for it all seems to be coming together now, a warped, uncanny sense emerging from the messy tangle of grief, secret woes and broken dreams, the little individual tragedies arranging themselves into graceful shimmering constellations upon the inner sky of his mind.
So be it, he thinks. He is tired of analysing, of driving his thought at the pointless pursuit of the clever and obvious solution that would prevent what has already come to pass. So be it if there is some bigger meaning to this – so be it if there is not.
Aragorn has not uttered another word, and aside from the involuntary jolts he makes when his steward wanders across the more finely-wired spots, it seems he is grimly bent on remaining an unintrusive observer to his own premiere, patiently enduring whatever new ideas strike the younger lord’s fancy.
Faramir no longer trusts himself to judge whether this is a good sign or not. He fondles the hard curve of the King’s hip-bone – sweetly, acutely aware of how good it feels to be lying like this with Aragorn, so close, so engrossed, so safe in their private little universe where all the threads are coming to fit together at last. And to that end, he is drawn, inexorably, to return to where it is the hottest and hardest of all, and he has ceased to care whether the permission is being granted to him through weariness, desire, or hope, through love or fear. He simply shifts his hand sideways, and a primitive test as it is, it works, for the King is swift to match this slight movement with one of his own, just as faint – but it is enough.
As though without any conscious intention on his behalf, Faramir’s fingers close into the simplest, most harmonious of shapes, a snug and familiar hold. A perfect circle. Perfect intimacy.
The King sighs.
As for the Steward, he does not want it to end, wants it to never end. He does not even move, for he wants to set this moment in amber, to keep it unchanged till the end of his days. For this is not about body parts and lustful caresses, this is not about pleasure or pity – this is about a sensation of such startling kinship that he dreads to as much as inhale lest he spoil it.
And so it is not he, it is Aragorn who takes the reverie a step further, who asks for it with his hips clearer than he ever could in any of the spoken languages of Middle-earth.
Faramir knows the guard will not be let down, even now, especially now, knows Aragorn will not be coaxed to relax onto his steward and lie atop him – but the distance is intolerable, and so with his other hand he grasps, and hoists himself up, and hides his face on the older man’s shoulder, and it is strong and solid against his cheek. He is clinging, hanging on Aragorn for support, and he can feel the strain in Aragorn’s frame, and his own nose is positively squashed against the bone of his lord’s ribs. But he is filled to the brim with this dear, kindred scent, and as it expands his lungs he hears it call to something good and ancient in the depths of his memory, and he forgets all about bodily comfort. And what does comfort matter, for they are floating, and the tide is gentle, and what can a man afloat do but row – slowly, thoughtfully, for it is so intuitive, so little physical effort, like conducting a symphony with the sole motion of his wrist.
He wishes to never strike shore, to sail, and sail, off into the bright radiant blue, away from here, away from anywhere at all. He sees blazing sunsets and rosy sunrises, he sees whipped creamy clouds stacking up into castles and swimming lazily through the transparent air far above, he sees the golden glow of late evening reflected across the infinite seas. And selfishly he veers off the course, and lets his fingers dally – but dally they can in one direction only, for fleetly they seek out the most elaborate, most complex part, that where the long stretch of straight curves over into bluntness, where it seems there is no skin at all, only the flawlessly polished feel of thin expensive satin. He recognises the geometry from his own make, knows what every subtle dent and curve is for – but he has never noticed how streamlined all this intricacy is, how tastefully designed, how cleverly symmetrical. Captivating, and he cannot withdraw. A wetness marks his fingertips and he understands he should, really should stop, but instead he goes on, for he also knows just where a nonexistent graze with the pad of the thumb would be utterly—
“Ah, Faramir, not so—” the King whispers, panicked, but before he can even tear himself away, only a startled, strangled sound escapes his parted lips, and it is all over.
It touches Faramir very deeply, more deeply than he had made to prepare himself for, that his leader and saviour has bodily reactions as those of a young boy, unspoilt, unpractised, sincere. That this man, who rules the land with a steady hand, with wisdom and composure, whose head is adorned with thin threads of noble mithril, cannot help but unravel at the teasing caress of an unwary hand.
It is not how it should be, not how it should be at all, and the injustice overfills the young lord with such sharp, bitter tenderness that his throat goes tight and sore. Before he knows it, there are tears rolling down his cheek bones and into his ears, and dimly he realises these are the first he has managed to shed since she has gone. He lies limp, sweaty and undone, abruptly thrown ashore, back upon the sticky sheets, back into the thick darkness of his rooms. His head is spinning, and he is not certain that his legs would hold him if he were to try and stand. But in his mind there is a swept, empty clarity, and in his heart a clean, fresh lightness, like cool water flowing, and, without asking whether he would have it, a smile makes itself at home upon his lips.
But then, a dull, winded groan falls onto him, and he feels shallow aftershock tremors scatter through Aragorn’s frame. So he raises his hand to run it over the man’s hair, to move a dampened strand from his temple – and Aragorn bows his head, tucks into the curve of Faramir’s neck.
Shamefaced he may be, but the old ranger is not about to flee. Maybe only because he is too tired, too disoriented to go.
Faramir’s hands overflow with caresses, and his mouth with kisses, and all of his body with the desire to hold, and cherish, and give joy, to show acceptance with his every gesture, with every fibre of his every limb. Instead he closes his eyes and focuses all his thought on drawing the air deep into his breast. It is not the time for sweet abandon, not just yet, and so he should steady himself – and just maybe, with the sheer steadiness of his own breathing, he could also calm his king. To lose oneself in another’s arms for the first time, what was it like? An altogether different state of being, this much he can fathom, yet he cannot properly relate, and it is not a question of years that have passed, for how could this compare to anything he has ever known. There is no point of reference in his system of coordinates against which to set his lord’s story, and he cannot aspire to understand, he can only wait.
And maybe he can also try and beckon Aragorn closer still.
This is not fair play, surely not, for Aragorn’s defences are low and he is taking advantage, pulling him down, lower, nearer. This may not be fair play, but he believes it is justified, for in Faramir’s eyes, nothing works to underscore his lord’s vulnerability like this clumsy spread-legged, bent-over stance he has assumed atop his younger companion, and the cold sheen of moisture that is settling like evening dew on his fever-hot skin. Both of these can be easily remedied, by far more easily than the insecurity that lies within.
So as Aragorn gives in and slowly, awkwardly lowers himself onto Faramir, Faramir grasps for the rumpled blanket and, tugging and pulling with one hand, careful not to nudge the other man in the ribs, manages to haul the heavy cover over the King’s back and at least part of their legs.
Satisfied, he slinks his arm across Aragorn’s shoulders, and whispers, “’Tis alright.” It is best to offer only the simplest of reassurances in a time like this. “You are spent… ’tis alright… everything can wait till later… let yourself rest…”
It is almost too warm, and much more comfortable, and it is exactly then that another matter brings itself to his attention. In any other circumstances surely it would have borne no import at all, but tonight is precisely an exception from all foreseeable normality. With a pang of unease Faramir realises something should be done about his other hand, the one now trapped between their bellies, still quite unequivocally holding the King by the manhood. He had chosen not to pull it away earlier, and struggled with the blanket one-handed, so if he were to withdraw it now when he has no actual purpose for it, the withdrawal will in itself become the purpose.
The King says nothing, does nothing, and Faramir is left to his own devices. If he is careful, if he is very patient, if he takes his fingers away one by one, and counts to ten dozen in between, it will pass unnoticed. The fingers, however, clearly do not take this logic on board, as they remain where they are, safekeeping the precious warmth until he feels the last of the stiffness seep away – and even after that he does not, cannot let go.
As it shrunk, his grasp had tightened with it, and he is now positively holding on for dear life – which would be quite amusing if he were not so desperate for a solution. This is not an end of the world sort of predicament, and that it should be so difficult only goes to show how much out of shape he has fallen in these past few weeks. Naturally, tomorrow he will arrive at the most tactful way to resolve the situation – but he has not been given until tomorrow.
It would be quite obliging indeed if Aragorn were to pull away all off his own accord, or altogether fall asleep – so that Faramir could… Before he can chastise himself for feeble-heartedness, Faramir sees suddenly that it is not the pulling away as such that bothers him, but rather the even more sensitive question of what he will then do with what he has got a full handful of – the slippery, viscous aftermath of the brief enjoyment Aragorn has found in his bed.
And at this, funnily enough, he has no more experience than his king.
He had understood the reasons and never took it personally when the women he had known, the ones before his marriage, attended to things. Too much unnecessary trouble, in every sense of the word, could come their way if they did not. Judging they knew best, simply by virtue of being female, he never tried to participate in the procedures – and after Éowyn it had become even less of an issue, seeing as children were not an unwelcome prospect. For that matter, in all his life he never had much interest of whichever sort in the bodily products that come as a natural accompaniment of disrobed interactions with the opposite gender.
Some men, he heard, like to implement these things into their love play, perceiving romantic or erotic symbolism therein, while others shun them as offensive to the senses or, worse, impingent upon the veil of sacredness that should enshroud the act of intimacy. Faramir did neither. He would wash himself afterwards, which seemed like the obvious thing to do, of no more metaphorical significance than wiping the mouth after a meal – and that would be the end of it.
Adventurousness and variety had never become his pursuits in the private area of life, even if only because as a young man, he had been too preoccupied with the moral dubiousness of the behaviour to further aggravate that preoccupation by exploring the less travelled roads – whereas as a married one… Mayhap if they had been given more time, if things were allowed to evolve… But as it was, his love had been young, and easily pleased, and maybe, in part, cautious.
As a result of all of which, on this dark night they will have to pave a new path – not only Aragorn, but he, too. For whatever had been, had not ended too well, for anyone, and it seems to him now that at least for his part, the sorrow that followed has as though separated him from his previous ways, cut through him in a fashion that allows to reassemble anew, differently – the more differently, the better.
His eyes only half-open, he eases his arm out from between them. This time, he will appreciate what has been given to him.
As the minutes passed, it had grown sticky rather than slippery, but with one broad, generous swipe of his hand, he smears it all across his face – and there is something wondrously heathen about this, something full of the deepest, most sacral of meanings. He tilts his head back as he paints this ritual mask across his features, as he drinks in the scent, as it tickles the inside of his nose and descends down his throat into his spine.
Some rational grain in him insists he should be overcome with emotion now, with something dark and stifling and burning, with shame for enjoying what has happened, for enjoying so earnestly what they have done, what he has just done, a bereaved inconsolable husband as he is supposed to be. So quick to turn a new leaf, so hungry for second chances. But the more he rakes himself for remorse, the more he produces of something else, a confusion so thick and pleasant that it is far too tempting to give up on trying to think his way through it. Such a strange thing, all of this.
And with this thought, Faramir dips a finger into his mouth.
The taste of sweat, tears, blood he knows all too well. Intense but straightforward, unequivocal like primary colours – blood is red, sorrow is blue. Simple alchemic components of all earthly things – water, salt, metal.
He knows not what to expect, however, from the thick turbid syrup of a man’s pleasure. The scent is deep, heady, with an inciting, provocative note – yet carries no warning. And so the explosive sharpness upon his tongue takes Faramir aback, catches the breath in his throat.
But even more so than that, Faramir is astounded by the complexity. No more than he could assign one hue to the shimmering iridescence of translucent pixie wings, one shade to the ancient jewel-sheen of dragon skin – or one name only to his King Elessar Telcontar, Elfstone the Strider, Envinyatar the Healer, Estel the Hope – no more so could he put one name on the essence of Aragorn’s ardour.
He tastes to Faramir like a song. A fierce melody that unfolds, evolves, pulses with life. Claims him, spreads through him, and sweeps him away – on a wild journey through strange uncharted realms, full of savage magic, rough but wondrous. As it melts away at last, dissolves into silence, it rings on in him still, like the sweet after-burn of hard liquor.
Such stark, feral beauty. He wants to tell Aragorn this, to share his joy and wonderment – but he is embarrassed. Afraid it will come out profane, dirty tavern banter. He wonders whether his little stealthy foray has even been noticed. Maybe it be best it is not, maybe he has gone too far.
Beside him, Aragorn stirs, props himself up, and Faramir can feel the man turn his face towards him in the dark.
So much for escaping a weathered ranger’s notice.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Did you…? Did you just…?”
“I did, my lord,” he admits matter-of-factly. Might as well own it.
To his relief, Aragorn’s primary reaction is puzzlement more so than bewilderment.
“I may betray my lack of worldliness here, forgive me if so,” the king begins carefully, “but do tell me, is this the done thing? Am I missing something…”
“Do you mind?” Faramir is quick to ask.
“Well, it…” the question seems to confuse Aragorn further. “It’s not so much that, and if that’s what one does, then I suppose… But it does seem…”
“It does seem –” Faramir is about to call him lord again, but all at once this persistent formality of address feels in poor taste, no longer fitting. So he catches himself and finishes, “Aragorn, what does it seem?”
“Isn’t it…” The king rakes for the appropriate term, and at last offers, “Isn’t it awful?”
His tone is clearly intended as humours, light-hearted, almost as though he is not quite committed to this choice of vocabulary. But his voice trips and cracks, and the last word tumbles forth like a granite boulder down a mountain-side.
Isn’t it awful.
They both hold still in the wake of it crashing past.
“Aragorn,” Faramir whispers in gentle reproach, and reaches to stroke the king’s cheek, his neck, his taut arm, with the tips of his fingers, so lightly. To convey how completely non-awful, how un-awful, how exquisite, how delightful everything in him is. He feels the man tense up, ready to shy away from his touch. “Aragorn, please don’t speak so. The only thing awful is that you would imagine to call yourself that.”
“But surely the taste?”
“And what of it? ‘Tis how we are made, you and I both. Not exactly marmalade, true that,” he concedes, “but then again if one were after marmalade, one needn’t go to all this trouble. Besides, one would also need toast, and toast in bed is a sure path to swift regret.”
“Faramir, don’t give me that,” Aragorn says very seriously. “Why in the world do people do this? One would think a towel?”
“Who is to know what people do? If the great library has a section on this, I’m afraid we have yet to find it. I am equipped with little other than my own experience, and one man’s tale can hardly be a reliable yard-stick.”
“This is not standard practice then?” Aragorn insists, with growing agitation.
“Please,” Faramir puts his hand squarely on the man’s shoulder. “Please, I did not mean to upset you. If it will ease your mind, I shall go and wash. But I wouldn’t say…” he takes a vast breath, o how to explain. “I don’t believe in standard practice, that it necessarily exists – nor that it should. Some pleasures would be more common than others, I’m sure – but that’s not to say we should be obligated to grant prevalence a say in how to do certain things, if at all.”
“Then why did you?”
“I wanted to,” he says simply. “It feels good, and right, and true to be with you, and this is you, and everything about you I love.”
Aragorn shifts a little closer.
“Is that so?” he murmurs, playful almost, as though he is only asking for the pleasure of hearing Faramir say it again.
“It is,” Faramir confirms. “And I think it must have always been so, only I did not know to see it.”
He feels Aragorn’s hand sidle up to his cheek, practising a caress, tentative, exploring. In all their nakedness, Aragorn is yet to lay hands on him, and Faramir inhales deeply, closes his eyes. He can feel his own coarse texture against the back of the man’s hand, the sand-papery beginning of a stubble, and he knows the old ranger must feel it, too. Just as he wonders if the man would mind, Aragorn’s hand opens and the fingers slowly follow the line of Faramir’s jaw, by some unseen string pulling him to arch into the touch.
“When I think of hope,” Faramir needs to explain, while he still can, before his mind abdicates, before he melts. “When I think of light, when I think of kindness, of laughter, and joy, and quiet companionship, of grace, humility, and high nobility… Of everything I have ever longed for in the nigh-forty years of my life… When I think of tomorrow and the rest of my days – in my mind’s eye, ‘tis always you that I see. When in my duty I come across a thing of beauty or wonder, ever my first thought is, I wish Aragorn saw this, I should tell him. And when I ache with my own pain, it cuts nothing like when I ache with yours.”
“But I am your king,” Aragorn offers as if for the sake of the argument, shifting closer still. “Surely, any good lord would have a measure of devotion to his king.”
“There is that, yes,” Faramir agrees. “Indeed we must all have that in very good measure for such a very fine king.” He smiles, and as though riding on the crease and the dimple of his smile, Aragorn’s hand glides to brush the corner of his mouth. He feels the man’s knuckles go over his lips, and he opens up, lets Aragorn feel the softness of his mouth. “Let fealty be my excuse for why I did not know sooner.”
“You need no excuse,” Aragorn breathes into his ear, “I did not know sooner either.”
Faramir turns to him, feels the tips of their noses touch in the darkness, feels the sweet heat of Aragorn’s uneven breath on his lips, feels himself tremble.
As excitement and trepidation swell in him like a tide, as he is about to drown in the glory and the unknown, no less avoidable than the impending rise of the blazing sun, he wants to say more. So much more, all that he feels, all that he understands now, all that he yearns to give. Think fast, for he is running out of words. Or else there are no words big enough, pure enough, brave enough.
Aragorn’s hands are in Faramir’s hair, on his neck, down the chest, over the ribs, so daring all of a sudden. His touch is like liquid sunshine, joy incarnate, a revelation, a call to rise. The hands of a King, Faramir remembers, as the man sets his warm palm low in the curve of his waist, both a question and a claim.
You have brought me back. I am yours. I always was.
“Please,” he whispers. “Make love to me,” as hungrily Aragorn seals their mouths together.
To be continued…
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Thank the author
The following people read the story, enjoyed it, and would like to thank the author: alecia , ebbingnight