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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?
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