Title: By Evening's Last Light
Author: Amy Fortuna (amyfortuna@yahoo.com)
Rating: R
Pairing: Aragorn/Frodo
Summary: A conversation turns into something more. Schmoopy, very.
Notes: This is based on the books, but imagined with the faces of the movie. Also, a response to the mithril coat challenge. :)

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"If by life or death I can save you, I will." The words echoed in Frodo's mind, time and time again as he recalled Aragorn's sudden gentle smile.

"It was Strider that saved us," his own words flew back to him on the wings of thought. "I have become very fond of him." A quick blush at the memory, even as he had blushed then. "He is dear to me."

"And he is. He is," Frodo thought, his heart welling up with deep emotion that could not quite be expressed.

Turning in the boat, he watched the Man in question. His hair flowed out behind him, and his face was lit up with the last light of the dying sun. Aragorn was, and there was no other word for it, beautiful. Looking at him took away, for a moment, the burden of the Ring, and the pangs of grief for Gandalf that were still all too new.

So Frodo watched him for as long as possible, until the sun set behind them to the West, and they made camp.

Legolas moved about on feet that seemed made of air, and Gimli followed behind him, both of them gathering wood for their small fire. Merry, Pippin, and Sam were securing the boats, and dragging luggage to shore. Boromir had stepped away into the trees on some errand of his own. Aragorn simply sat on a large rock, looking out across the River in the twilight. Frodo, sighing, walked over and sat down beside him.

"What are you doing, Strider?" he asked, simply to make conversation.

Aragorn turned to look at him. "If you stay very still, you can feel the vibrations of the earth under the feet of travellers. I am trying to see if I can tell who or what else is in this land."

"No one's supposed to be here, right?" Frodo asked. "This is a land under no one's domain, as far as I know."

"You are right, Frodo," Aragorn said. "These are the Brown Lands and are desolate. I do not know what deviltry of the Enemy destroyed this land that must have been fair, once upon a time. But for now, the only footsteps I hear are our own."

A sudden splash from the river made them both look up. It was too dark to tell what was out there, but Frodo saw, just before night dropped over them, eyes peering over the water.

Aragorn simply sighed. "But enemies do not need to tread the green earth to follow us," he said.

There was silence as they listened intently for a while. Frodo, feeling the chill of the air, moved close to the heat of Aragorn's body, and Aragorn, with a quiet smile, just put an arm around him, and said nothing.

Here, Frodo could be at peace. He felt perfectly safe with this Man. Far from the unease Frodo felt whenever he looked on Boromir, Aragorn inspired nothing but trust and hope.

For a moment, the terrible burden of the Ring was gone, and Frodo was a simple hobbit again, far from home, a little frightened, and feeling deeply grieved.

"Do not die for me, Aragorn," he whispered. "The Quest has already lost too much to death."

"It is not my desire to die, Frodo," Aragorn whispered back. "Nor was it Gandalf's. But I will do as I must to protect and aid you, as he did. If that means death for me, so be it."

Frodo shook his head. "You shall not die!" he said. "You have not fulfilled your destiny, and the land of Gondor needs you."

Aragorn smiled. "The land of Gondor has its Stewards. My destiny is bound up with yours. Gondor will not fail if I am not her king. Gondor will fail if the Quest fails."

"The Quest must not fail," Frodo said. "Yet every day it looks more hopeless."

"We do without hope if we must," Aragorn said, with another grim smile. "We may only do what we know is right."

Frodo could hear Aragorn's heart pounding steadily as he rested his head against Aragorn's side. Strength and wisdom and courage were bound up in this Man, this beautiful one.

"I frightened you, did I not?" Aragorn asked, after a few moments. "In the Prancing Pony. You were terrified of me."

"Yes," Frodo confessed.

"I am sorry, Frodo," Aragorn said. "I am not myself without fear, and your vanishing trick seemed to me as though you knew not what you carried, though Gandalf told me that indeed you did know. I was afraid for you, afraid that you were making light of the very thing that would seal your doom. I was afraid that even I could not save you, foolish children as you seemed."

"We have all grown wiser since then," Frodo said.

"Indeed," Aragorn said. "I thought I knew much about hobbits -- for how many years have I watched your borders now? -- but you and your companions have surprised me. More to you than meets the eye, Gandalf said, and then he spoke not of mithril coats."

Frodo laughed though the pang of grief that seized him at the mention of Gandalf's name. "Did that surprise you as well?"

"Yes," Aragorn laughed, pulling Frodo closer. "I knew not that hobbits had such beautiful skin. Are you wearing it now?"

"Yes," Frodo answered. "I am."

"And your bruises have healed?"

"There is some slight pain yet, but I believe, yes, mostly. The Elven healers are skilled indeed."

"I should look at you once more," Aragorn mused. "Simply to ensure that all is healing as it should."

Frodo slipped out from under Aragorn's arm, and knelt before him. "If you wish," he said.

Aragorn glanced keenly around. Merry and Pippin were making the fire, as Gimli commented. The Elf was standing still, deep in meditation of some kind, listening to the wind and the last birds of the evening. Boromir was helping Sam unpack his cooking gear. All of them were quiet even in their relief at being settled for the night.

"Not here in the open," Aragorn said. "Come with me." Taking Frodo's hand, he slipped into the trees, not far, just enough for privacy. No one noticed them leave.

"Now," Aragorn said, "let's remove your tunic."

Frodo unbuttoned his shirt, feeling less self-conscious than he had when Bilbo had asked him to put the mailshirt on. This was Aragorn, who was not drawn to the temptation of the Ring, but simply desired to protect and comfort Frodo. The Ring hung loose from its chain around his neck, but Aragorn did not so much as glance at it, instead kneeling before him, and putting gentle pressure on the wound through the mailshirt.

"Does that hurt?" he whispered.

"No," Frodo said, then as Aragorn moved on, "yes, a little."

Aragorn stopped moving, a hand on Frodo's side, and Frodo looked up to find him simply staring, not at the Ring, but at Frodo himself. They were at almost eye level when Aragorn knelt.

"Frodo," Aragorn said, in kind of a choked gasp. "Oh Frodo." And then the world fell to blissful pieces as Aragorn drew him close and kissed him.

Aragorn's mouth was *bigger* than his, was the first and rather prosaic thing that Frodo noticed about the kiss. Then he realized that only made it easier for him to get lost in the wonder of it.

It was a long kiss, and a slow one, gentle as Aragorn always was. The metal shirt clinked lightly between them as they embraced, and the darkness of the trees shut them in. Aragorn pulled him further into his arms, falling slowly back to a sitting position against the trunk of a tree.

Frodo was overwhelmed, lovingly. Aragorn's arms and legs around him, he was wrapped deep in the Man who cared nothing for the Ring or power, who instead cared only about love and hope.

Joy spread through Frodo's body with every touch, as Aragorn ran light fingers over the mithril coat, letting the feather-light metal ripple against Frodo's body. Gasping, Frodo threw his head back and let the sensations overtake him, lost on a sea of wonder.

As he came back to Middle-earth, he heard Aragorn's gentle words against his skin. "I would have never spoken of this to you, but oh Frodo, oh Frodo, you are so beautiful when you look at me like I am your everything."

"I am?" Frodo asked. Then "I do?"

"Yes, and yes," Aragorn said with a smile in his voice.

For a few moments, they were simply lost in the joy of those words, then Aragorn said "Come, it's best if we returned. They will be wondering." Letting go of Frodo, Aragorn picked up the discarded tunic -- the only garment of Frodo's that had been taken off, and gave it back to him.

"But you --" Frodo said, overcome by the swiftness of the moments.

Aragorn laid a finger over his lips. "All I desire is to hold and touch you. That is enough for me. In life or death, my Frodo."

"In life or death, Aragorn," Frodo replied.

"Then that is all we need to know," Aragorn said, standing up. "Come, let us return."

Frodo smiled, took the hand that Aragorn extended, and together they walked back to the camp.

END