Disclaimer: Not mine, borrowing from Prof etc. . .

Author's Notes: Clairon's bash at slash! I have read a lot of slash lately and decided to have a go myself. This did not turn out as I thought it would when I started – guess I'm just a repressed Brit after all. Adult themes are discussed here and relationships between men. If you don't like the thought of it please do not read. I do not wish to offend.

Thanks: Raksha and athelas63 for their support.

Dedication: This story is dedicated to Rory MacDonald and Calum MacDonald; two great bards of our time . . .

Part 1 now and Part 2 will arrive shortly when RL allows!

Only the Brave

Part 1 – Duty

"That which does not destroy us, makes us stronger."

Nietzche

Forest of Ithilien

YEAR 82 (Fourth Age)

Aragorn shivered. The dank day was slowly fading into a wet night. As if to underline his dreary mood a drip of rainwater made its way down the curve of his nose to drip lazily from its tip. He pulled his cloak and hood closer about his head. Glancing about he noted that, even in foul weather such as this, when the grey mists of Ithilien hung over the trees and the lazy autumn rain drizzled through the fading green leaves, this country was still beautiful.

Behind him he heard one of his soldiers gasp in awe. On any day save this one the King knew he too would not fail to be amazed by the majestic splendour of the newly rebuilt Minas Ithil which rose out of the trees before him like a vision of perfection.

On any day save this one. . . on this day the acknowledgement of what had been created in this place was too painful for the King, for he remembered how this land had been after the war and he well knew the energy and emotion that had been discharged into this place to transform it. On this day the suffering behind the creation of such grandeur weighed heavily on the King's guilty heart.

Aragorn sighed deeply. He had received the dreaded summons earlier that morning and his heart had quaked. Bidding his Queen a hasty farewell, she had watched with moist eyes as he left Minas Tirith immediately with only a small guard. They had pushed their horses hard throughout the ride and now the welcoming sight of the city of the moon greeted them.

Throughout the journey memories had thundered through Aragorn's mind, memories that had focused on the reason why he made this reckless ride. . . Lord Faramir.

Faramir, his Steward; the man who had not only had the vision to dream of the city before him but also the determination to make his aspiration reality. A man with precious little happiness in his own life, yet who had found the strength to rise above his suffering and build something as truly beautiful as Minas Ithil. Aragorn found himself pondering, not for the first time, the quality of his Steward.

But things had not always been thus. As he rode onwards towards the shimmering gates of the city, Aragorn contemplated all those years past. At the very beginning of his reign, Aragorn had worried that his choice of Steward had been suspect. He had agonised that the young man whose eyes were deep with bottomless sorrow would ever fulfil the expectations he held. Although Faramir had always been attentive and committed there was something disconcerting about him. Concern soon turned to fascination as Aragorn watched the new Steward struggle both with his own personal despair and his newly appointed role. Aragorn had not been able to find fault in the Steward's performance; Faramir had a quick and eager mind, quickly gauging his new responsibilities and throwing himself into his work. It had taken the new King some time to realise the source of his continuing concern was not related to Faramir's role. Instead he slowly came to realise that it was something in the young man's stare, something in the way those eyes found his, challenging and suggestive and in the way that, once their eyes met the Steward would hold the stare briefly before looking away shyly. Aragorn had dwelt long enough in the world of Men to ascertain the depths of Faramir's desire.

As he made his way through the wet Ithilien forest, Aragorn remembered speaking to Gandalf of his concerns for the young Steward. Gandalf had smiled grimly and said, "Faramir is the most resolute Man I have known in a long time. Do not mistake the strategy he uses to overcome personal turmoil for that of submission; he will forsake his duty for naught. Denethor taught him that, if little else. Faramir's demons are many but they make him strong. Gondor has ever been his mistress and ever will be – he has spent his lifetime suffering is silence for her. He has built his inner walls with such durability to ensure it remains that way."

Gandalf had hesitated then, his own penetrating stare judging the King. They had been friends for many years and the wise old wizard knowing of the emotions that played within Aragorn sensed the attraction beginning to flicker. "I see that although your words do not ask it, there is more you wish to know, Aragorn. You wish to know of Faramir's life, of his loves and passions. You have always been attracted by the neediness of another and you sense the scent of Faramir's want is strong. But I caution you; you are a king now and your responsibilities are many. And if that simple fact does not move you, muse on this; Faramir has suffered much; he suffers still behind his walls. Imagine a dam; with only but a small crack, very quickly the water that swirls behind it will bring the whole edifice crashing down. The deep currents of passion in Faramir's soul are thus controlled. Think very carefully before you proceed, for if you allow him even the smallest breach in the barrage of his conscience you risk all."

The King had noted the warning of the wizard but had still been unable to quell the fascination for the Steward he had saved from death. Mindful of the risk, however, he contented himself with supporting Faramir as best he could while watching the young man from afar and trying to learn of his past as subtly as possible.

The present pulled Aragorn from his thoughts as his horse's hooves clattered up the cobbles of the new city. Through the gate they went and through the now deserted market place, up to the administrative centre of the city and onwards. Aragorn pulled his horse to a halt as Faramir's son, Elboron, rushed from the comfort of his father's dwelling out into the drizzle.

"How fares he?" Aragorn asked as he slid from the saddle.

"He lingers for only one reason, my King," Elboron said, reaching out to hold the horse's bridle. "You have yet to give him permission to leave." The words were said with no trace of bitterness by the son who had inherited so many of his father's characteristics, although thankfully not all. To Elboron it was a simple fact; his father's duty was not yet done, therefore Faramir would not yet depart.

Aragorn, unwilling to meet the younger man's eye, nodded towards the building. "Take me to him," he ordered.

Elboron bowed slightly. "Of course, Sire," he said. "I will arrange for refreshment to be served for you."

"For my men," Aragorn said. "For me I wish to see my Steward now."

As they walked briskly through the house, Aragorn's mind again returned to Faramir. It was over eighty years since he had first met his Steward but he remembered the intimacy of the moment when he had recalled Faramir from his fevered state in the Houses of Healing as if it had happened but minutes before.

The Numenorean blood which ran so strongly in their veins had kept both men strong when others of their age had been confined to their dotage. As Elboron explained the circumstances of what had befallen Faramir, Aragorn came to see that it was because of his good health that Faramir now ailed. The Steward still rode every morning and the day before he had taken out his Rohan steed as was his habit. Some miles into the woods of Ithilien, the skittish horse had lost a shoe, thrown its rider and Faramir had landed heavily.

As they reached the door to Faramir's room, Elboron hesitated in his tale. He turned to regard his King. "The damage was done when he fell, Sire," he said. "Luckily Tobir was with him and able to bring him home. If he had ridden alone, I know not when we may have found him. His body is broken beyond repair but he lingers for you."

Aragorn took a deep breath and nodded as the son of the Steward fought to retain his composure.

"There is much internal damage . . . Tobir stays with him . . . I have sent word to my sisters . . . but he asks for only you . . ."

There was a catch in Elboron's voice as he stopped, no longer a young man himself, he gulped in air. Aragorn had been so consumed by his own pain that he had forgotten that this man, who tried so hard to keep his control and yet crumbled before him, was speaking of his own father. Aragorn moved to embrace him.

"Bron," Aragorn whispered softly. "You are doing all you can."

Elboron sighed sadly. "It is not enough. I do not want to lose him, Sire. I cannot face a world denied of his light."

Aragorn squeezed the man to him affectionately. There was the trace of closeness, an intimacy shared once and now almost forgotten. The lingering strength of the memory of that long ago touch was enough to comfort both men.

"You are a Hurin," Aragorn said, his voice soft with sympathy. "You will endure."

Elboron gulped once more but his shuddering ceased and he quietened at his King's touch.

The room was dark but the familiar scent of athelas assailed Aragorn's senses as he moved slowly towards the bed. Sitting beside it was a handsome young man who clutched the hand of the figure who lay there.

As Aragorn moved forward the man's head turned and bright eyes looked up catching the King in the intensity of their grey stare.

"Peace, Tobir," Aragorn murmured resting a comforting hand on the broad shoulders. "I would speak with my Steward," he continued.

Tobir opened his mouth to respond but a long sigh from the bed stopped him. They both turned to see cobalt blue eyes regarding them unflinchingly.

"You came," Faramir breathed, his voice hoarse and weak.

Aragorn smiled, "Of course," he said as he moved forwards. "I promised you a long time ago that I would."

Tobir hesitated a moment but then surrendered his place.

From the doorway Elboron said, "Come Tobir, you need to eat a little. Give the old boys time to speak."

The Steward's son placed an arm around the younger man's shoulders as he retreated to the door. It closed with a gentle click.

"You caused much gossip the first time you brought Tobir to court," Aragorn said his eyes twinkling with mischief as he made himself comfortable on the seat so recently vacated by the beautiful young man. "He is younger than your grandchildren!"

Faramir let out a noise which could have been a lecherous chuckle. "A man can live alone for only a finite time. Sooner or later we all succumb to our primitive urges, Sire," he said. His voice though strained was surprisingly strong. "Does he remind you of any one?"

Aragorn snorted. "Black hair, grey eyes, Ranger from the north. . . I don't think so," he teased.

Faramir sighed. "I would hate to be remembered as lacking discretion," he replied echoing Aragorn's mischief.

The King smiled warmly. "My Faramir," he whispered. "How different things could have been."

Faramir shook his head; his strength seemed to have rallied a little. "You honour me too highly, Sire," he responded. "The untouched fruit is always the most alluring since the promise of its sweetness is not tainted by the tasting."

Aragorn reached out and clasped the pale hand that had lain lifelessly on the blanket since Tobir had released it. The hand was cold and yet the long fingers held an elegance that even the wrinkling of time could not wither. This was the hand of an archer. Aragorn gazed at it wistfully and ran his own fingers along each digit gently.

"Nothing on this earth could be sweeter," he muttered as, not for the first time, he found himself wondering what it would be like to be lovingly caressed by such a hand.

"You will never know," Faramir said sadly as he read his King's thoughts in that uncanny way of his. "I cannot move it, nor the rest of my body. Eowyn has her revenge at last. I should never have ridden another Rohan mare."

"Eowyn would wish you no harm, Faramir," Aragorn heard himself retort as he noted the uncharacteristic acrimony in the other's words, he continued, "So we can talk frankly of what is important? You are finally letting down your walls."

"I tried so hard to be everything Eowyn wanted and it took a long time for me to truly understand that she wanted nothing I could be." Faramir looked away from his King's eyes for the first time since his liege had entered the room. Aragorn felt an instant cold which was extenuated by the Steward's tone as Faramir muttered, "Maybe my walls served no purpose."

"They helped you to achieve all you have," Aragorn replied.

"They helped me ignore the fact that my marriage was a disaster!"

"It served its purpose," Aragorn ventured. "It gave you Elboron and the girls."

"Aye," Faramir's voice was suddenly flat. "But they were the only happiness. Poor Eowyn, I should have let her go back to Edoras but I thought it was our duty to both Gondor and Rohan. I made it harder for her than I should have."

Aragorn reached up and laid his hand on Faramir's forehead. He was hot, his skin was pale as aged parchment and just as fragile. The Steward's voice was becoming quieter as if his energy was dissipating once more. With a quiver of his heart, Aragorn felt the fear then Elboron had voiced earlier. Selfishly he desperately wanted to keep Faramir beside him forever. Fighting back the anguish he tried to stay calm.

"This serves no purpose, Faramir," he said gently. "It cannot be changed. You are weak, you must rest. How do you feel?"

"I feel nothing," Faramir responded dully. "Ironic is it not that one as famed for his control as I, should end like this? I am unable to relieve myself without aid, let alone wash. Thankfully I will not last long thus but this punishment is hard enough to bear."

"Punishment?" Aragorn repeated. "You, of all men I know deserve no punishment."

Faramir's eyes came back to his then, staring with a questioning intensity. "To have desired the deed is as bad as doing it," he said softly.

"If the deed to which you refer is what I think it is then it would take my consent as well as your own," Aragorn said. "And I would deserve greater punishment than you for, but for your restraint, I would have done it."

"Do you know Eowyn believed that my secret love was for Boromir. She often asked me how she could compete with a ghost." Faramir looked away, his eyes moistening. "I never told her the truth."

"What truth? That you felt attracted to your King?" Aragorn asked. "For that is all you are guilty of, Faramir. You never once acted on your feelings, never allowed yourself the pleasure as others have." He gently stroked an unruly strand of grey hair which hung into Faramir's eyes. Into his mind came the vision of Faramir as he had last seen him; unbowed and tall at Council in the White City just a few weeks before, dressed in blue formal robes that matched his eyes – Tobir's doing no doubt for the Steward never took much interest in his own appearance – he had been a distinguished figure, made more attractive by the fact that youth and innocence had been replaced by experience and confidence. At that moment Aragorn had felt the familiar clenching of his loins; he had still lusted after his Steward. "The pleasure I would have willingly given you," he finished, mouth dry with the memory.

Faramir gulped hard and Aragorn saw the vulnerability flash in his eye. He quivered at the memory of the same lapse of control that had revealed the emotion simmering behind Faramir's inner walls all those years before. . . . .

Flashback

Minas Tirith

YEAR 1 (Fourth Age)

It had been a long, tedious Council and Aragorn found his gaze wondering to the windows of the chamber. Outside the day had dwindled into night and still the useless bags of wind he had inherited as his councillors spouted. He fought to contain the sigh of boredom that tried to escape from his lips. Surely there were better things a King should do then endure such as this!

It was said that Denethor had ruled these men with an iron hand. It was not difficult to see why for Aragorn idly wondered if they possessed a spine between them!

As if to challenge his thought a raised voice pulled his attention back to the Council table. A minor lord was standing, gesticulating wildly, his face scarlet with fury as a barrage of abuse tumbled from his mouth. Backbone at last? Aragorn mused or more likely a painful attack of wind!

However he found his attention caught by the reaction of the subject of the abuse. Faramir, the young Lord Steward, sat in his chair, taut as a bow string, absorbing the insults. Now this is interesting, Aragorn thought, for his fascination for the young man had done naught but grow the more he learned of his past.

Faramir was talking now, his words measured and emotionless, directing the blustering lord back to the facts. His voice, although quiet, evidenced command and respect. Aragorn noted the performance with relish; every time the lord argued his voice and temper rising frenziedly higher, Faramir cut him down, not with words of anger or spite but with calculation and fact. The King remembered that although Faramir appeared a young man he had a pedigree of command; the cub of Denethor, he had spent many years as the Captain of the elite Ithilien Rangers, and was no stranger to conflict and surviving the experience. Still it was a powerful exhibition of control that Aragorn allowed to continue longer than he should purely because he enjoyed the performance of his Steward. He saw now the reason why Gandalf rated this man and he felt mesmerised by him. The King's mouth went dry, his palms sweaty and his stomach knotted – he knew the signs well enough; he wanted this man!

Finally the minor lord stopped shouting, eyes wide with fury he turned to regard his King for support. Aragorn realised that all eyes had focused on him in the suddenly silent and oppressive room. The Steward too looked at his King but Aragorn read in his look so much more than just a hope of mediation on the problem.

Aragorn snorted softly. "Gentleman," he began. "It has been a long session and I pray you let us break now. We will reconvene tomorrow morning. But before you leave I must re-iterate my Steward's words; he speaks for me in all things."

It was worth the muttering from the agitated lord to feel the fleeting flash of gratitude in Faramir's eyes. Beyond the warmth was more and, as their eyes met, Aragorn read the simmering emotion, revealed as the Steward's control momentarily lapsed.

He signalled Faramir to wait, which he did patiently as the others left the room.

A tingle of excitement ran through every sinew of the King's body. He felt suddenly so much more alive than he had for a long time. The monotony of the Kingship had trapped him in this City for too long. He needed to feel free and if he could not feel the wind in his hair, what better than the fingers of a new lover?

Aragorn's eyes went automatically to his Steward's slim, elegant fingers as they fastened the satchel before him. Again, his throat was dry as the heat of longing rumbled through him. Hanging on tenuously to his control Aragorn forced himself to sit calmly, displaying nothing of his emotion.

"Faramir," he said finally, working on his voice to keep it even.

Faramir's head lifted and his eyes, promising rapture, fixed on his King. Aragorn's stomach turned over. "Is all well?"

Faramir nodded. "Yes, my King," he responded in such a tight lipped manner that Aragorn knew, even if it was not, he would not bother to disclose the issue to his King.

Aragorn sighed. How to approach this? Was he reading the signs wrongly? Faramir's eyes had betrayed him but his want was buried so deep. Did he even realise the message he was sending to his King? And if he did not, or if Aragorn was reading it wrongly, what damage would such disclosure have on their still developing alliance? Gandalf's warning was still strong in Aragorn's mind but stronger still was the wanting that burned into his conscience, pushing all diffidence away.

Aragorn stared at his Steward, trying to find some clue in the way the younger man held himself. There was none; for Faramir had closed himself once more. He sat now tense and ready, his handsome face waiting under an impassive mask. Again, Aragorn reminded himself he was no innocent, this son of Denethor. Faramir had spent all of his young adulthood as a soldier, more than that he had been commander of a desperate unit, operating behind enemy lines under supreme strain. He must be very aware of the passions that ruled men. How Aragorn wished that his delicate enquiries had found some evidence that such passion burned within Faramir too; some fact that he could use to his advantage now. But although all reports of the Captain of the Ithilien Rangers had revealed his unwavering concern for his men, not one had shown he had ever taken that concern to a more physical level. Faramir, it seemed was a model and most pure leader of men.

And yet the signs were there! The argument raged within Aragorn. Was he alone in seeing the dark, repressed desires that swirled within his Steward deeper than the black waters of the Anduin? No, he knew he was not, and Gandalf had hinted as much when they spoke.

Aragorn had never dallied this long over an approach. It was his way to see what he wanted and take it and he was never denied. But something caused him to hesitate over this young man before him, even though the desire to reach out to him was building uncontrollably within.

"Faramir," he began again, suddenly seeing a way into the discussion. "Know you of the old tradition of bondsmen?"

Faramir nodded uncertainly. "Indeed, my King," he said.

Of course he did! Aragorn knew well that Faramir was a scholar but for the War of the Ring and his undeniable duty to Gondor, he would have spent his entire life cloistered in the Minas Tirith libraries learning the history of this and every other realm.

"What think you of it?" Aragorn asked, trying to keep his question neutral.

Faramir shifted on his seat. Was that the soft colour of embarrassment shading his cheek or just a trick of the light? Whatever its source Aragorn found it made the man before him even more captivating.

"It served a function," Faramir responded non-committedly, his eyes dropping to the table and his fingers fiddling with the strap of his document bag.

"Would it surprise you to know that amongst the Dunedain, I have my own bondsmen?" Aragorn said it in a soft voice. He leaned forward to catch every delicious moment of Faramir's reaction.

The younger man gulped as his eyes widened. He stopped fidgeting and sat completely still for a whole heart beat. His voice, when it came, was almost normal but not quite. "Yes," he said. "It would."

Faramir's intense eyes searched those of the King to see if there was any trace of irony there. Aragorn worked hard at keeping his expression open and honest while his whole being quaked at the beautiful creature before him.

"It is a tradition that I have found most beneficial but also most pleasurable," Aragorn said. He reached across the table and placed his hands on Faramir's. "It would please me if you would consider such a step."

"Me?" Faramir could no longer control his voice. His eyes flashed as he looked down at his hands enveloped by those of his King and his head dropped forward onto his chest.

Curses flew through Aragorn's mind. This was not the reaction he had planned and definitely not the one he had wanted. Eru take these southern men, and the devastating confines of Gondorian society! Gandalf had warned him and yet, as ever he had listened to his loins! Now he had damaged the fragile, vulnerable man before him.

Faramir let out one stifled groan. But as he lifted his head, Aragorn was amazed to see the impassive mask had returned to cover his features. The Steward gently pulled away his hands and stood.

"My Lord," Faramir began with great dignity. "You do me great honour but alas I am not worthy of such treatment."

Lust overtook Aragorn then as he beheld this contrite, humble figure before him. He bounded around the table, took Faramir in his arms and embraced him tightly.

"Faramir, never say it!" he whispered. "You are more worthy than all others. It would be so much less than you deserve!"

Faramir shivered at his touch and thrust his head into his King's chest as if searching for long sought affection there. Aragorn closed his eyes, ran his hand through Faramir's hair and breathed in the scent of sweet honey. Pulling the hot body more closely to him, he was eager to quench the passion that now roared through his veins.

At such an exposed moment he was completely unprepared for the vision that lurched into his head, dazzlingly vivid in its force. Aragorn saw Faramir before him, naked and in chains at his feet. But this was no dungeon; instead Aragorn recognised his own bed chamber. And Faramir was smiling, his body slippery with sweat and other bodily juices, his tongue running wantonly across his reddened lips and his manacled arms raised pleading towards his King. But it was the eyes that held Aragorn's attention, no longer were they bright with intelligence; instead they were wild, and marked by a complete lack of control. Here was a creature that at once attracted and repelled Aragorn with its lust and shamelessness. He knew instantly that this Faramir would do anything to please his King. There were no walls anymore; his barriers had completely collapsed. And Aragorn saw the warning; here was the thing that Faramir would become. Gandalf's words came back to him once more.

And yet, Aragorn also knew that he would take such a future, part of him would even relish it, for a decadent and debauched creature such as this was the thing of his most wild dreams. But even as the thought blossomed in his mind, he felt the shivering body before him disengage and move away. The fiery heat within him went out and the vision shattered like glass.

Aragorn opened his eyes to see Faramir standing before him, slightly breathless and his hair dishevelled. Questions thundered through Aragorn just as his passion had done seconds earlier. Had Faramir seen what he had? Had they shared the vision of the future? And if he had, would Faramir agree that the price of pleasure was worth paying? But such questions, like the passions before, Aragorn knew, would likely remain unanswered.

Faramir fell to his knees before him. His head bowed. "I thank you, my King," his voice halting but growing in strength as he continued. "You have ever shown me support when I am not worthy. I cannot, however, accept your kind honour. If you feel I am therefore compromised in my position, I shall, of course, resign the Stewardship. The decision I yours."

Aragorn stepped forward and ignoring Faramir's flinch, gathered him back up into his embrace. "Faramir, I think no less of you that you should say no. I would not force anything on you."

Faramir nodded, his head slowly coming up to reveal the pain in his eyes.

Aragorn understood its source instantly. "Neither will I mention this day again. But you in turn must agree that you will come to me whenever you feel the need or you must call me to you. For I will always be there for you."

Faramir gulped. "Thank you, Sire," he said. "I mean you no dishonour; the fault is mine and no others. And I do swear that one day I will explain why it can never be between us how you desire it."

Aragorn sighed. "So be it," he said. He bent forward once more and planted a long kiss on lips that tasted sweeter than wine. "The first and the last," he muttered softly. "Until you bid me otherwise, Faramir."

Faramir accepted the kiss but not the enquiring tongue that tried to enter his mouth. He pulled away and bowed quickly.

"Thank you, Sire," he muttered as he left the room speedily.

End of flashback

Minas Ithil

YEAR 82 (Fourth Age)

Aragorn leaned forward over the bed and planted a shameless kiss on Faramir's lips. This time his Steward did not deny him, instead he allowed the King's tongue entrance. It ravished around Faramir's mouth brutally as if to satisfy all the years of frustration.

Grudgingly as he realised Faramir could no longer respond to his touch, Aragorn pulled away finally. "Oh Faramir," he said softly. "What have we missed?

"We have missed nothing, my King," Faramir replied firmly. "It is only now that my body is devoid of reaction that I am safe enough to let you in. I could never have done it if it were not so."

"One thing I must know Faramir," Aragorn said. "That day all those years ago, did you share the vision?"

Faramir's smile had the quality of another world. "Aye," he said dreamily. "I shared that with you, at least."

Aragorn's eyes widened. "Then how did you find the strength to turn from it?"

TBC