Title: Fear of Fire; Chapter One: Propositions

Author: Blossomwitch

Pairing: Aragorn/Faramir

Rating: G this chapter, will increase

Summary: (series) After the war Aragorn helps Faramir to overcome his fear of fire and they make some pleasant discoveries along the way. (chapter) Aragorn makes an interesting revelation and suggestion to his Steward.

Feedback: Please! smiles winningly

A/N: This is book-canon but slightly AU, takes place shortly after Aragorn's wedding. I feel it only fair to warn that this is a love story and while there may indeed be hot steamy sex, it won't be until the very end. However, if you're interested in any aspect of the Aragorn/Faramir relationship that takes place outside the bedroom, I invite you to read on! Thank you Stephanie and Monica for generous beta. :)

Fear of Flames

Chapter One: Propositions

Faramir glanced up from his reading at the sound of a heavy boot tread, inwardly cursing whoever owned it. He had thought that on such a fine day everyone would be outside and he might be allowed a few moment's peace in the library. "Hello?" he called warily.

The owner of the boots came into view from behind a row of bookshelves. It was the last person Faramir would have expected. Hastily he grabbed up the books that had been resting on his lap and jumped to his feet.

Aragorn made a dismissive gesture with his hands, but Faramir remained standing. Aragorn moved forward and leaned against the small table covered with Faramir's selections. "Do you spend all your free time here, Faramir?" Aragorn asked conversationally.

"Not all, my Lord," Faramir replied, frowning.

"I meant no criticism," Aragorn said quickly, sensing his Steward's unease. "It was a joke." He sighed. "I hope I am not interrupting you in anything."

Faramir quickly shook his head. "Nothing important." He waited uneasily, wondering why Aragorn had apparently sought him out.

"I wondered if you would be willing to take a walk with me," Aragorn continued conversationally. "There is something I would like to talk to you about but--" he looked around quickly-- "in private."

"Just give me a minute to put these books back and I'll be happy to accompany you," Faramir assured him, quickly moving to return the volumes of poetry he had borrowed to their shelves. Aragorn moved to help him. Faramir awkwardly murmured his thanks and tried to hurry the process. It had been more than a month since the King had returned victorious from Mordor and Faramir had yet to get used to the casual, friendly manner his lord adopted with him--he doubted if he ever would. He would have been far more at ease if Aragorn had treated him with stiff formality, like his father always had. Or if the much older and wiser man had treated Faramir like a pupil, as Mithrandir has always done--anything but this sense of companionship. Faramir was unused to having friends.

Aragorn increased Faramir's discomfort by putting a companionable arm around his shoulders as they left the library. The king guided the conversation onto general topics--the weather, the rebuilding efforts, the well being of common acquaintances--even as he steered his steward through the hallways to some unknown destination. Faramir was content to follow Aragorn's lead in both areas, falling into step with him and trying to give polite answers. Despite it being the first of the really beautiful days of summer, there were several people about in the palace. Everyone who saw them bowed and politely moved out of the way.

"I do wish they wouldn't do that," Aragorn said softly at one point as two older women curtsied and moved to the side of the hallway.

"But everyone is overjoyed to have a king once again," Faramir replied, unable to fathom what Aragorn found objectionable in their behavior. "It is an honor and a pleasure for us to give you the proper respect."

Aragorn gave him half a smile. "And I am trying to accept that, Faramir. But it doesn't change the fact that I've spent most of my life as a ranger in the north country. As such I find being bowed and catered to a little disconcerting," he confided.

Faramir had no experience to compare this too; he had been the Steward's son all his life and rarely was uncomfortable with a polite acknowledgement of his presence, though he had never taken offense at its absence. "You must get used to it, then," he offered instead.

Aragorn nodded meditatively. "You are right, of course." And he was silent for the remainder of their walk, leaving Faramir to wonder if he had somehow given offense.

It did not take Faramir too long to figure out where their destination was. Aragorn was headed towards the King's private gardens, attached to the royal quarters and completely solitary--you could not enter without the King or Queen's express permission. The guard who ensured its privacy nodded politely to them as they went through.

Faramir looked around as they went in. The gardens, like everything else in Minas Tirith, had been neglected over past years as every effort was bent towards keeping the Shadow at bay. Weeds choked the beds, trees had gone unpruned, and what flowers still grew did so haphazardly, without order or structure to where they had survived. But Faramir suspected that with an Elf-Queen on the way, Aragorn's gardens would soon rival any on Middle-Earth.

Aragorn gestured for Faramir to seat himself on a stone bench. Faramir did so, careful of the ivy creeping in around it. Aragorn propped one foot on the bench and remained standing. He rubbed his forehead tiredly, as though now that he had Faramir here he didn't know how to begin. Faramir waited apprehensively.

"Forgive me for ambushing you and dragging you away from your tasks like that," Aragorn finally said. "I have been meaning to speak to you privately for some time now, but there never seems to be a good time. If I am not surrounded by people demanding my attention, then you are. I can never catch you alone. Sometimes I think you do it deliberately."

Aragorn smiled, and Faramir gathered that this was supposed to be a joke. He smiled weakly back--actually, Aragorn had not hit far from the mark. There was something about him that made Faramir want to talk as he had never talked to anyone before in his life--to pour out his soul to this wise and gentle king. He wanted to ask about Boromir's death, and to tell about his father's; wanted to confess to someone the awful dreams he had been having. And he wanted to tell about the terrible fear that seized him whenever he had to pass the hearth fire in the great hall, so like a bonfire--how he could no longer so much as light a candle without trembling.

Something about Aragorn's face and smile drew these impulses out of Faramir, and so Faramir built a wall of people between them. He tried to avoid personal conversations like they were engaged in now to remove himself from temptation. It would not be right to lay his burdens at the feet of a man who had already done so much for him, and who had so many other burdens already. Aragorn was a good man, and Faramir knew if he realized how distressed Faramir still was, he would worry. Faramir couldn't allow the king to worry on his account.

"At any rate, what I have to say simply has to be said in private, where no one can overhear us," Aragorn continued. He paused, again seeming to have difficulty finding the right words. "And I am relying on your discretion."

"Of course, my liege," Faramir assured him promptly. "I would never repeat anything you said to me."

"I know you would not," Aragorn replied absently. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Faramir, my relationship with the Queen is not normal."

If Faramir had been expecting something, this was certainly not it. "How so?" he ventured cautiously, when it became apparent he was supposed to speak.

Aragorn exhaled softly. He sat down on the bench, to Faramir's great relief--it had been awkward to be seated while the king remained standing. "I have not always known who I was," he stated. "I was raised in Imladris by Lord Elrond who treated me as a foster-son--it was not until I was a man that he took me aside and told me of my true heritage. He did so for many reasons, not the least of which was the gathering darkness. For many days I thought of nothing but that--of how I could use this heritage against the Shadow, of whether I should assert my claim or not, and how to do it. But after a while other things began to come to my mind, and one of them was this: that if I was indeed the heir of Isildur, and the last of my bloodline, then it was my duty to continue the line--in short, to have children.

"Most people wouldn't have considered this to be a big realization, but to me it was. It was because I had just recently come to another realization about myself--that the fairer sex held no allure for me. I was attracted to men." He had been looking away from Faramir as he spoke, but now he turned and held his Steward's eye, as if to impart the seriousness of what came next. "This has always been true of me, and it is to this day."

Faramir's head reeled. The Queen--she was giving up her immortality for a man who did not, who could not, love her? "And what of the Queen, my lord?" he stammered.

Aragorn smiled fondly. "Ah, the Queen. Well, I had just become friends with Arwen at that time, as she had been in Lorien for most of my childhood. There was something about her that I inherently trusted, and I poured out my heart to her those weeks. I must confess I looked on her then as something of a grandmother," Aragorn said, blushing slightly--as any man would have making such a confession about his wife. "She was so much older than I, and so much wiser. Like Mithrandir. Between the two of them they set me on my course, and I shall ever be grateful. And when I spoke to Arwen about my fears of marrying and having children, she set me straight there too. She asked me just exactly what it was about the idea that frightened me, and it forced me to think. I told her that I was afraid of harming a great lady by harnessing her into marriage with a man who didn't love her, and I told her I was afraid of being without love myself, kept from pursuing my passions by a jealous wife."

"And what did she do?" Faramir asked.

"She laughed," Aragorn replied with a grin. "She laughed for a long time, and when she got control of herself she told me the answer was simple: marry somebody in the same boat. Get married to a woman who was attracted to women, and then we could raise children together and seek our loves elsewhere."

Faramir's head swam again, but Aragorn smiled and quickly reassured him. "Nay, Faramir, the Queen is not such a woman. Let me explain. At first it seemed a good plan, but then I fretted to Arwen that there might be no such lady of suitable rank when the time came for me to marry. I had to be married to somebody with the proper lineage to be a Queen of Gondor. Arwen grew solemn, and agreed with me that this might pose a problem. And it was several years later that she came up with the solution.

"I had been abroad, and it was at a chance meeting in Lorien when she came to me, her eyes shining. 'Aragorn,' she said, 'I have found a solution to our problem. I will marry you. No one can object to my lineage as being too low for the Queen of Gondor. And though I love you dearly, it is a brotherly love and I have no desire to possess you alone, or keep you from finding a true mate. I will be able to give you the heirs you seek, and when your life is over I will sail over the sea and find a love of my own.'

"There was no swaying her. So that is how it came to be, Faramir. We fabricated the story of our love and of her great sacrifice to present to the masses. I knew that I could never acknowledge openly what I was. You know as well as I that for a man to love another man is not generally smiled on." Faramir nodded vigorously--oh yes, he knew this very well. "Very few people would understand. Such preferences may be tolerated in a guard or a soldier, but in the King it must remain hidden." Aragorn paused. "And in the Steward, as well."

Faramir went cold--was he that obvious? He took a few deep breaths to try to calm himself. Aragorn was of Numenorean blood and he had been raised by elves, it was natural that he was able to sense things Faramir prayed others could not. Then, before Faramir could sink too deeply into his panic, he realized Aragorn was smiling at him compassionately. "Boromir told me," he said gently. "In Lorien. When he found out about me. You are not obvious, Faramir. In fact, had Boromir not told me I never would have known."

Faramir took a large gulp of air. "You scared me," he sighed.

"I am sorry," Aragorn said contritely. "And I am sorry for burdening you with such a long story, but I thought it best that you know."

"No, no, I'm glad you told me," Faramir assured him hastily. "And I'm honored with your confidence," he added a bit more formally.

"There is more."

"Sire?" How much more complicated could this story get? Faramir wondered.

"I told you that story so that I could make a suggestion," Aragorn said. He was fidgeting with the hem of his tunic and looking extremely nervous again. "It's a very forward suggestion, and I hope that you'll forgive me for making it. After all, we have only known each other a few months--but I think it could be a great help to you, and I feel I can trust you. And I have to tell you that, whether you decide to take this suggestion or not, it is even more important that you keep private what I will tell you next than what I just told you about myself and Arwen."

Faramir nodded solemnly. Aragorn took a deep breath. "I know a lady," he began. "A lady who is like you and me, loving only her own sex. She is a lady of high breeding, whom I could have and probably would have married had it not been that Arwen and I had announced our engagement long ago, and to throw it aside would be suspect. Yet I wish it were not so. This lady has struggled against what she is for a long time, against that and the other invisible bars around her, and I fear for her. She must not return to Edoras." Aragorn stopped short, suddenly realizing he had said too much, then smiled a relaxed smile. "I speak of the Lady Eowyn of Rohan, if you had not already surmised. Has she ever spoken to you of aught of this?"

Faramir shook his head wonderingly. He had become rather close, he thought, with Lady Eowyn while they were confined in the Houses of Healing together, but nothing like this had ever come up. Nor, if it had, was he certain he would have had the confidence to reveal his own preferences to her. And she was certainly good at hiding it. "How did you come to know this, my lord?"

"Theoden," Aragorn replied. "While in Rohan on the quest, Eowyn gave every appearance of having fallen in love with me. Theoden pulled me aside to warn me that it was not so, and to tell me of her predicament. She is so desperate for freedom, to be away from her difficult roles and the over-protectiveness of her brother that she would do anything--even throw herself into a marriage with a man she did not love--to escape."

Aragorn paused, looking at Faramir as if he expected the steward to speak. When Faramir remained silent, the king continued hesitantly. "It should not be too difficult to see what I am proposing," he said. "I know you are fond of Eowyn, and she of you. Both of you have a need to marry and have children, especially now that you are the last of your bloodline as I am of mine." Faramir hid his little flinch of pain at this reminder. "And you are of roughly equal rank with one another. Most importantly, you will each be free to find a real love someday. I know you will be able to give Eowyn the freedom she craves, and--" He broke off abruptly, something shadowing his eyes. "And perhaps she will be able to offer you some solace as well," he concluded.

Faramir understood by this last statement that he had not been hiding his anguish from the King as well as he had hoped. "It is a wonderful idea, my lord," he said. "If everything is as you say, then I believe Eowyn and I could--be of great use to each other."

Aragorn nodded enthusiastically, looking relieved. "Do not decide all at once," he cautioned. "Take a few days to think about it. If you can find no objections then I suggest you approach her--cautiously, for she is still grieving." Aragorn looked like he was going to say more, but stopped himself. He went on in a different vein. "I'm glad you're not angry with me for making such a bold suggestion."

Faramir shook his head, appalled that the King could believe Faramir would be angry with him for offering such good advice--for taking the time, indeed, to care for his and Eowyn's happiness at all. "It was very kind of you," he said aloud, "to take the time to devise such a solution for the Lady Eowyn and myself."

Aragorn shook his head. "Nay, the solution was already there. I merely brought it to your attention."

A thought struck Faramir. "Does Eomer know? About Eowyn?"

"I do not know, though I believe he does," Aragorn said. "You will have to ask Eowyn what you should say when you apply to him for her hand."

Faramir marveled at the way Aragorn seemed able to read his mind. "Yes, sire."

They settled into an uncomfortable silence--uncomfortable, at least, for Faramir. Aragorn was seemingly at ease, looking meditatively out into the gardens. Faramir tried not to fidget and waited politely to be dismissed.

"Faramir." Aragorn suddenly broke the silence that had been filled only by the occasional birdsong. He turned to look at Faramir. "You must let me know if there is anything I can do for you."

Faramir was completely nonplussed. "Sire?"

"I worry about you," Aragorn said fondly. "You are alone too much of the time. You must let me be your friend."

Faramir went hot all over. This wasn't happening, it just wasn't happening! He had fought too hard to put a wall up between him and Aragorn, to prevent just this sort of occurance. "It isn't my place, sire," Faramir stammered. "To be your friend."

Aragorn turned tired eyes on him. "Then whose place is it?" he asked sadly. "You are the closest in rank to me within the city. If you feel yourself so far removed from me as to be unable to see me as a man, but only as a king, then who am I to turn to for companionship?"

Guilt washed over Faramir. He had been thinking only of his own discomfort; it had not occurred to him that the King might be lonely, but it should have. "I had not seen it that way," he admitted.

"I know you haven't," Aragorn said with a smile. "I suggest you start to. And I also suggest you get rid of the I'm-not-worthy attitude and let me be your friend, Faramir. For I will not give up until you do. You will find out that I can be very persistent and annoying when I want something badly."

Faramir smiled weakly. How could the King want friendship with him this badly? "I surrender," he offered.

Aragorn smiled broadly. "Good! Now go think about what I've said, and if you find everything in order you can go seek out your lady," he said, adding a suggestive waggle of the eyebrows.

Faramir grinned back, one of the first real smiles to cross his face in days. He rose and bowed, preparing to depart--but Aragorn also sprang to his feet and caught Faramir halfway through the bow. "You do not have to do that in private, Faramir," he said seriously.

Faramir grimaced. "If you wish. I'll try to break the habit."

Aragorn nodded, his eyes not leaving Faramir's face. All traces of levity were gone. Faramir waited uncomfortably to be released. "Faramir," Aragorn breathed, "you must trust me. You must come to me if you need or want help. I can see you being eaten away, slowly consumed from the inside out, and it pains me greater than I can say. Lady Eowyn is not the only one still living with the shadow of their grief." Aragorn gripped Faramir's arm firmly. "Talk to me. Let me help you. If there is need, I am here for you."

Not trusting his voice to remain steady, Faramir nodded, once. Aragorn held him for a minute more, searching his face to see if Faramir had taken his words to heart. Whatever he found there apparently satisfied him, for he pulled the younger man into a loose embrace. Faramir returned it out of habit. This close, he could smell the musky scent of herbs that always followed the king around so much better than he usually could. Without realizing he was doing so he tightened his arms around Aragorn slightly, breathing in the comforting scent. He had not felt this loved, this cared for since Boromir--

Faramir pulled away hastily, away from the dangerous comfort that was causing him to feel too much. He nodded his head in deference to Aragorn, mindful that he had been forbidden to bow, and beat a hasty retreat before the tears could start to fall.