It was very dark.
Boromir remembered the orcs, and he remembered the arrows. He had a vague sense of his hands, one clutching the horn, the other clutching his broken sword. He was aware of nothing else.
"The hobbits," he said, through parched lips. It hurt to breathe.
"Don't try to talk." It was Aragorn, though his voice sounded very far away.
"The hobb—" Boromir tried again, but the pain in his chest was becoming unbearable.
"I know." Cool hands touched his brow. "Legolas and Gimli are with them. They are safe."
Boromir let out a great breath for he could no longer hold it in. "My king, I—"
"Your king is telling you not to talk. There will be time for talking later."
Boromir doubted this; he felt very sure his time was near to ending. "I was… tempted. I tried to take the Ring from Frodo. That is why he disappeared."
"Say no more of it," Aragorn said. Cool hands pressed to Boromir's forehead. He felt strangely calm. "We will have the time later."
Boromir tried to speak further; he was not quite sure Aragorn was entirely aware of the severity of the situation. There would be no more time.
As Boromir slipped into darkness, the last thing he registered was Aragorn's low voice muttering words he could not make out.
"Will he live?" It was Gimli who came, as Legolas and the hobbits hung back and watched with grave faces.
"Yes." That was the only thing of which Aragorn was confident. Boromir slept, his dark hair spread out over Aragorn's rolled-up cloak which served for his pillow. What he was not confident of was what kind of life it would be.
Boromir was asleep or dead. He couldn't be sure. It felt very much like being asleep, but he'd never been dead.
And then, he opened his eyes.
It was night. He could faintly hear the wind rustling the tops of the trees. The company was asleep around him, though he could see a dark shape hunched before the fire. He could tell without going closer that this was Aragorn.
Boromir didn't know how Aragorn could have known this without turning around, but there was no point in continuing to lie on the ground. He sat up, only to fall back. "How long was I asleep?" His head felt fuzzy and odd, as he'd been asleep for a very long time.
Aragorn smiled. "Just over a day. You needed the rest." There was something in his eyes that Boromir couldn't quite read, but he was too tired to question it.
"Then we are behind. Frodo and Sam—"
"I know." Aragorn frowned ruefully. Boromir was flooded with sympathetic regret. "Plans change. We can no longer aid Frodo directly, but he has Sam, and no one is more reliable. The only thing we can do is ensure to the best of our abilities that they are unhindered by the enemy." He touched the back of Boromir's hand tentatively, only the barest tracing of his finger. Despite the light touch, Boromir felt a jolt of electricity.
"We will go to Gondor," Aragorn said.
"But—" Boromir again tried to push himself up.
"We will gather support there. Your father…"
"Will aid us." Exhausted by his efforts, Boromir lowered himself back on his back. "When will we leave?"
"When you are well."
"The morrow." He could not stand the idea of slowing the party, not when he had been the cause of the loss of two of their number, not when his people could be in danger.
"We shall see." Aragorn touched his forehead again, and Boromir thought there must be some truth to the old rumors of magic, for he slipped into a peaceful and dreamless sleep.
They left at dawn the next morning, walking again. Aragorn was unsurprised at Boromir's newfound haleness, and if Boromir himself was unnerved, he did not remark on it. Gimli and the hobbits noticed nothing and passed the first hours of their walk along the river laughing and japing with Boromir, their relief at his survival an evident balm to the loss of Frodo and Sam.
"Are you worried about the others?" Legolas asked.
Aragorn looked up. He had been lost in thought entirely, his gaze on the bank for any signs that the missing hobbits had passed that way, though it was obvious they had taken a boat.
"Of course I am. But there is naught we can do at this juncture." His eyes were set firmly on Boromir's back covered by its gray cloak. He hoped he would not notice the extent of the holes in his clothes, as he had not been able to mend them.
"And of Boromir?"
Aragorn was unprepared for this, though he ought not to have been. "I am glad Boromir is still with us," he said diplomatically.
But Legolas would not be brushed off. "Tell me, Aragorn, what exactly you did."
Aragorn laughed. "If you are asking me, I would say you know already."
"Then at least tell him."
Aragorn's stomach churned at the thought. It had been a decision borne out of desperation and impulse—selfishness, if he was truly honest. He had not wished to lose another member of their company after Gandalf.
And he had not wanted to lose Boromir.
It would be dishonest not to tell him, and as much as the prospect made him quake more than facing an army of orcs, he must do it or he would not be able to face himself.
He approached Boromir that evening when they camped for the night. They had walked south all day along the wood and now paused in a dry bed, where they might chance to light a fire. Conversation was subdued, but they ate a simple meal of caught fish. Aragorn took the first watch, and Boromir sat up with him, propped against the sandy rise of the old bank, wrapped in his cloak.
They were silent for a long time. Aragorn took out his pipe but did not light it. Behind him, the fire burned low to embers.
"The river once flowed here," Boromir said.
"Aye." Aragorn shifted so they faced each other, though Boromir's face was entirely in shadow. "I cannot say when, but it must once have been mighty, to carve so deep a channel."
"Before the time of Men perhaps."
Boromir tightened his cloak around himself, though the night was not cold. Too close he came to the land of the dead, Aragorn thought. That will put a chill on him.
Boromir sighed. "I fear sometimes that we draw near to the end of the time of Men. What if it is too late for Gondor?"
"I do not believe we are. I won't believe that until they come for me at the last." He got up and went to sit beside Boromir. "And you will be by my side, if that happens."
"I do not know how. I feel as though I should have died back there."
Aragorn paused. Now was the time. How could he always have such an easy time weaving words, but now what he had to say was like frayed thread he could make no work from?
Boromir looked up. "What happened?"
"I used… an old magic, of elven provenance. I bound you to this life so that you did not slip fully away."
"Fully?" Boromir's face was drawn, as though he knew what was coming.
"You were dead or nearly so when I found you. The line is murky and there is little point in the details. You are alive now. Had I not done this, you would not be."
"There is more."
"Yes. There is more." Aragorn reached out his hand, and Boromir took it wordlessly. "I bound you to me. That is how you still live."
"What does that mean?"
"You live because I live." Aragorn could not say the rest; he felt his emotion cloud his voice. "Your life is bound to mine—in a way, we share the same life."
Boromir's shoulders slumped, but not in a way that looked defeated. He merely looked as though his suspicions had been confirmed. "So I live until you die?"
"Or I live until you die. You are not using my life. Our lives are shared."
"That explains why I feel something. When I touch you."
"I feel it, too." Aragorn squeezed his hand and received an answering squeeze in return. "But there is more."
"What more can there be?"
Everything, Aragorn thought. I have not told you the chief part of it. "It is an elven magic. You know that elves marry once and only once in a lifetime? This was how they sealed their bonds, though few take the step in this age."
"What do you mean?"
"It is marriage."
Boromir jerked back in surprise, losing his grip on Aragorn's hand. "Marriage?"
"Aye." Aragorn hung his head in shame. Boromir's reaction told him all he had needed to hear. This would not end well for them. Not for the son of Gondor's steward, nor for the king himself, who had a consort who rejected the union before he even had his crown. "Boromir, trust me that I thought only of your life. We need not call it marriage; that is what the elves call it, but we are Men and—"
"I don't mind."
The words from Boromir's mouth were far more than Aragorn had ever expected.
"I don't mind," Boromir repeated. "I never anticipated marrying someone of my own choosing. My father would have picked for me, surely, and I could only hope he chose someone with whom my inclinations were compatible."
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "Are our inclinations compatible?"
"Yes. But as you say, we need not call it marriage. I say only that you need not call it that because of me. My father will surely be happy."
At this juncture, Boromir rolled onto his side, still propped up on the earthen wall and pulled his cloak over his face. He must have known Aragorn could sense he only pretended sleep, as Aragorn knew his own wakefulness was not concealed from the man who shared his soul.
As they pushed on towards Minas Tirith, Boromir comforted himself with thoughts that he would soon be home. He longed to see Faramir and their father, though he knew not how he would introduce his predicament to Denethor.
The journey was made easier by the hobbits' curiosity to see the white city, and he regaled them with tales of its splendor, which kept one foot moving in front of the other. At the head of the party, Aragorn did not look back at him, though he would sometimes consult with Legolas or Gimli.
They did not talk again that night or the next day, until Minas Tirith appeared on the horizon.
"I leave it to you whether to tell your father," Aragorn said, appearing silently beside him.
"I will." It could not be avoided, as Boromir saw it. He was going to marry Aragorn—was, in some respect, already married to him. He would have to present this to his father as a fait accompli, though he would still object to it.
This thought was not as unwelcome as he supposed it once might have been. He'd long been watching Aragorn—one could not deny that he was handsome, a good and noble man, fit to be king.
Whether or not Boromir was fit to be his husband was another matter.
At the city gates, the guards welcomed him with open arms. It seemed his long absence had sparked rumors of his death. How near the truth they are, he thought, but he merely laughed and introduced his companions.
Aragorn stopped him before he could speak his name, however.
"Strider," he said, reaching out his hand to the men Boromir had known all his life. "A Ranger of the North." He did not meet the questioning gaze of the other members of the Fellowship.
"Come," said one of the guards. "His Lordship will like to know of your arrival."
Boromir's stomach churned as they climbed higher and higher. He could not say how his father would react to any of the news he had to share.
His father greeted them from his throne, as he always did, though something seemed change about him. Boromir could not name it.
"I have returned, Father," he said, bowing. "With allies to aid in the city's defense."
"I am sure you have a tale to tell," Denethor of Gondor said. "Let us hear it over supper."
"I will tell him when we eat," Boromir told Aragorn in a low voice as they dispersed to change for their meal.
"As you desire. I defer to you on this matter, as I have no one to tell."
Boromir had to admit he was surprised. "You don't?"
"Of course I will tell my friends, here in the Fellowship and among the Rangers and the Elves. But I break no oath or other commitment by wedding you. I think your position is the most difficult one here, steward's son."
Boromir stopped. The hallway that he had known all his life suddenly felt unfamiliar. "You mean to do this."
Aragorn's eyes were serious. "I mean to do it if you are willing."
Boromir gave him a rueful smile. "I little like that I must announce my betrothal to my father under these circumstances. But—" he added when he saw Aragorn's face, so grave. "It is not to do with the partner I must take. That is the least dissatisfactory aspect of this."
"Are you certain?"
"I could not be more so." Boromir kissed him. It had not taken much planning, but what planning did a kiss require? Aragorn's lips were soft against his, after he got over his initial surprise and Boromir considered himself pleased to have bested his wise king at something.
After a time, Boromir found himself bested, for Aragorn had him pressed against the stone wall of the corridor, their kiss witnessed by the woven eyes of ancestors Faramir could probably name who dwelt in tapestries along the wall.
"We will tell your father," Aragorn said, pulling back with what looked like intense effort. "Are you willing to tell your father you are betrothed to Strider the Ranger? I would like more time—the enemy has plots within plots, and I know not how to proceed."
Aragorn thought a moment. His father would not be satisfied that Boromir had gone off on his grand journey only to return betrothed to a mere Ranger. But Boromir would not have objected, had he met a Ranger worthy of his betrothal.
"I am," he said.
Aragorn kissed his mouth firmly, with a brusqueness he was coming to treasure. "Then that is what we shall do. I will tell Legolas and Gimli."
True to Boromir's suspicions, Denethor was not happy. Naturally, he said nothing at the meal, but afterward, he summoned Boromir to his private chambers.
"This, Boromir?" he said. "This is what you return with? A dwarf, an elf, a ranger, and two hobbits?" He said hobbits as though he still had his doubts as to their existence, despite having just dined with two of their kind. "And nothing else? No great tool or weapon to use against the enemy?"
"Allies are some of the greatest tools we could have! I have been in many battles with these men and would trust them all completely."
"And how can they be trusted to defend our home? How do you know a Ranger from the north won't turn tail when tasked with defending another man's home?"
"Because—" Boromir immediately began to answer that it was Aragorn's rightful home as well, that the king would defend his lands, but he could not say that. Instead, he gave the nearest answer he could to the truth. "We are going to be married."
"So you mean to throw your future away, too, if you are to have a future?"
An ache buried itself deep in Boromir's chest. He couldn't very well make an impassioned case for his marriage to Aragorn when he wasn't sold on the prospect either. "I am going to have a future with him," he said. "That is what we are all fighting for."
As he walked back to his room, Boromir wished Faramir was not away. Faramir would understand.
Or perhaps he wished he was away with Faramir, in the thick of the fighting, where no one would judge his commitment to Gondor's safety.
Aragorn met him in the passage. Boromir found he was not surprised. Aragorn's goings and comings were rarely a surprise to him now.
"I'm sending Legolas and Gimli onward," he said in a low voice. "I've received word of a development that will be of great benefit to our cause. They ride for Edoras in the morning."
Aragorn pressed his hand to Boromir's shoulder and he tried to ignore the shock of warmth that spread through his body at the touch. Now was not the time to be silly—he little understood why he was suddenly being silly over Aragorn.
He pushed Boromir into his room. "Gandalf is returned to us. He is here, though he dare not come into the city. Legolas has gone to meet him."
"Gandalf? But how?"
"I daresay there is more to Gandalf than we ever truly knew. He is not the same Gandalf we knew, at any rate. That much I have gathered. I mean to slip out and speak with him tonight, and then, he, Legolas, and Gimli will go."
Boromir nodded, taking all this in silently. "Rohan must come to Gondor's aid, even if my father doubts it."
"That is what out friends will set out to learn." Aragorn paused and for the first time, Boromir saw the crease in his brows. Aragorn, who Boromir had always assumed knew what he was doing, looked unsure of himself.
"You could tell him who you are," he said slowly. "My father."
Aragorn shook his head. "Not yet. The time will come." He kissed Boromir then, and it was the same full-body jolt he'd experienced earlier. "For now, he will just have to accept his son as the betrothed of some scrubby Ranger he encountered in his travels."
Boromir smiled. He'd wondered often throughout the day why precisely he'd gone along with the ruse—he trusted Aragorn's judgement, even if he didn't understand it, of course—but perhaps a small part of him enjoyed the idea of having the freedom to marry someone he'd met in his travels and fallen in love with.
He cupped Aragorn's face and kissed him gently, wanting to do this as much as possible. If they were bound to be wed and the matter was out of their control, he was determined to enjoy it.
It seemed Aragorn had the same thought, for he responded in kind, and it was some time before Aragorn excused himself for his own bed.
The departure of Legolas and Gimli in the night did little to reassure Denethor as to their intentions.
"How can you know they weren't spies for the enemy?" his father asked him.
"Because I know them."
His father waved his hand dismissively. "One can know a man and still not know him."
Aragorn was his very most charming when they ate with Denethor, and Boromir dearly hoped this would do something to improve their relationship. Surely the steward would understand when Aragorn revealed himself and would bless their union.
"He's been much about the city," Denethor continued, "at every level, meeting with the guards."
"I know. I introduced him to them."
His father frowned, and Boromir realized with an unpleasant shock that he had never seen that expression on his father's face directed at him. Directed at others who had not lived up to expectations, yes, but not at Boromir.
"He is going to help us," he insisted. "With our defenses, with everything. We have friends seeking allies and other friends who seek to undermine the enemy in other ways, but Ara—Strider and I are here. Where we are meant to be."
"Where you are meant to be. Not him."
Boromir's mouth opened. How he longed to tell his father the truth, but he could not betray Aragorn's confidence. "He saved my life," he said at last. "I was dying, dead, and he… he brought me back and bound me again to life."
His father's brows knit. "And that is why you think you love him."
"It is what made me know I love him." The words slipped from his mouth before he could stop himself. This would do nothing to change his father's mind, he could see, and he braced himself for rejection. But it was the truth, even if he'd just realized it himself.
"Boromir, I admire your loyalty in not wanting to betray me." Aragorn stepped easily into the room; Boromir winced, wondering how long he'd been there. The bond had told him he was drawing closer but had not revealed the precise moment he entered the room. "But I think the time for that has come." He drew his sword, making Denethor cringe, but Aragorn held Andúril across his palms and knelt before Denethor so that he might examine it. "This is the sword reforged, which once was broken and once called Narsil."
Denethor stared wide-eyed. "Impossible."
"You may hold it," Aragorn said. "Cut me down if its authenticity satisfies you not."
Denethor took it in his hands and Boromir reached for his own blade. But his father did not move to slay Aragorn.
"How came you by it?" he asked simply.
"It was given to me because it is mine."
"This is the sword your brother dreamed of," Denethor murmured. "It was what I sent you after, for the defense of Gondor."
"And I have brought it." Boromir's hand left the pommel of this sword; he did not think his father had seen he was prepared to draw it in Aragorn's defense, but his betrothed did. "It and its bearer will keep us safe. The king is returned and is my betrothed."
Denethor's stare was still blank, his gaze fixed only on the sword. "It is true."
"Of course it's true," Boromir said. "I told you all along that I brought him here to keep us safe."
His father said nothing; he simply handed the sword back to Aragorn and left the room.
Boromir could spare no time for his father's feelings. His duty was to his city. He trusted Legolas and Gimli, and of course, Gandalf. He trusted Frodo and Sam, and Aragorn assured him they still lived, that the Ring did not seem to have fallen into Sauron's grasp.
All he could do was continue to soldier on and make sure Minas Tirith was defended.
He had little time to spend with Aragorn during this time, and he missed him more than he'd expected. It seemed a distant prospect, that the war would eventually end, and they could be married.
He jumped, startled at having been interrupted in the armory. "Father."
His father came slowly, looking older than Boromir had ever thought of him before. "I thought you might come for me, but I see you do not need me."
"I thought you wanted nothing to do with us."
"And so you sought to defend the city in my absence."
"We all must do as we must. Faramir is out there fighting. I am here, at my home, at the side of my king. Where I belong."
Denethor looked away. "And so you have the right of it."
"Boromir!" There was a clattering from the hall and Pippin came in, barely keeping to his feet in his haste. "They are coming, Aragorn says—"
"All right, Pippin, thank you. I will be down shortly."
The young hobbit took one searching look at Denethor, but said nothing before turning and running back the way he'd come.
"Now is the time, then." Nothing else bore saying. "Father, I—"
His father touched his shoulder. "Not now. Go. Do what you must. When you are finished, when it is over, then we will talk."
Boromir knew that might never happen. Still, he did not say this. He bowed and kissed his father's ring. "I will try to bring glory to Gondor."
"Try to keep yourself safe as you do."
Boromir was barely conscious of what he did next. He knew where Aragorn was—the pulse that beat within him like a second heart marked Aragorn's position, and he went straight to him.
He greeted him with a kiss. "Are you ready?"
"Yes." He knew what was at stake here, and to give himself further strength, he pulled Boromir into one last, deep kiss. If they died here, they would do so together.
"I cannot say we will prevail," Aragorn said, pressing one last kiss to Boromir's brow. Perhaps he had trouble letting go in the end, too. "But we have right on our side, and our hope is not gone."
"Aye. Our hope is not gone."
That would have to sustain them.
As a boy, Aragorn had not understood why it should not be an easy thing to take his throne. Now that he was a man, who had been years at it, he wondered at how easy it actually had been. His kingship had seemed secondary to the defeat of the enemy and the destruction of the Ring. He had never known for sure that Frodo lived, but he'd felt very strongly that he would know if the hobbits had failed.
Legolas and Gimli had done what was charged with them, bringing countless allies spilling over the plain to turn the tide of battle at what seemed to be the very last moment. Aragorn would have to meet them later, the riders who had fought and lost their kin for a cause whose champion they had not even met.
But Aragorn's first priority was his own people, seeing to the dead and injured in the hazy aftermath of battle. He saw his friends, was reassured that all who had fought at Pelennor Fields, who had helped to bring the Ring from Rivendell to nearer to its end, had lived. Pippin and Merry were with Gandalf, discussing their adventures since they'd been parted. Legolas and Gimli sat together, too, comparing their respective scores.
The one he sought sat a little ways off, with a younger man Aragorn had never seen before but who was instantly identifiable as his brother. The resemblance was unmistakable.
"So it is you," Aragorn said, as he drew nearer, "you who dreams of broken swords."
The young man looked up, with eyes startlingly like Boromir's. "Yes, and it is a good thing my father sent Boromir instead of me, for then you would only be meeting your betrothed now."
Aragorn felt himself flush, to his surprise. "I am pleased to meet you now, brother."
Faramir rose and clasped his hand. "I had a dream when I was out with my men riding. I dreamt a torch went out but that it was lit by another. They burned together. Does this mean something to you?"
Aragorn and Boromir exchanged glances. "Yes," Aragorn said. "It does."
The wedding could not be held immediately, however much they might want that. Aragorn longed to have it finished, to have Boromir crowned beside him. But a royal wedding demanded preparations and Aragorn was told by no less authority than Pippin Took that they only got one wedding and thus a party was required.
Not that they would ever have dreamed of holding their wedding before their Fellowship was again whole.
The crowning of a king in Gondor, not to mention his wedding, required the revival of ancient ceremonies, old promises that the king must swear to his people and his consort.
The night before the wedding, Aragorn sought the air. The stars glittered peacefully over the city and from his balcony he relished the future that lay before them, a future without fear.
"Have you a moment to spare?"
Aragorn turned. Denethor was making his way toward him, though he held himself at a distance as though afraid of Aragorn dismissing him. They had not spoken to each other since the battle, though Aragorn had seen Denethor spending every spare moment with his sons.
"Of course, my lord." Aragorn bowed low. "May I have the honor of calling you Father?"
There was a pause as the steward made his way to the balcony. "You may. If I may have the honor of calling you son."
"Of course. Though we will not be formally linked until tomorrow, I see not why we should not begin now."
Denethor's smile was rueful. "I would also apologize for doubting you. Both your identity and your commitment to my son."
"I bear you no ill for that. You cared for Boromir's welfare and did not want him bound to life to a man you did not know and trust."
"But I ought to have trusted his judgement." He shook his head.
"Many great men erred in judgement when under the enemy's pall. Denethor of Gondor, I absolve you, if that is what you wish."
Denethor said nothing. Aragorn hoped his words would be taken in good faith.
The sun was all but blinding on the white stone as Aragorn stepped out to where his groom was waiting. The assemblage knelt before the king and he tried to keep his strides even as he made his way to where Boromir stood, beside his father and brother.
The ceremony seemed secondary to what had linked them already for so long, since the day Aragorn had delved deep into unknown and forbidden magic and pulled Boromir back into this life.
He grasped his hand, relishing its warmth and its pulse of life.
Boromir spoke his vows first, pledging himself to Aragorn as his king and husband. As he watched him, Aragorn wondered at how it was possible to love a person so much, and what good fortune he'd had to become bound to someone he loved like that, or to love someone he was already bound to. He was not sure which it was, precisely, but he didn't think it mattered. Where the bond ended and love began he could little tell.
He was barely conscious of the words he himself spoke, so much had put into memorizing them, and the song he sang in honor of Boromir brought a blush to his husband's cheeks, which he sought to hide by kissing Aragorn firmly. He had pledged to honor him as husband, bondmate, steward's son, and consort. So much was he to him that each merited listing.
As they left together, hand in hand, only one thing mattered, that which they could not put to words. There were no words to describe the depths of the bond, but it did not matter. It was theirs and they understood it without speaking.