Many thanks to Hanarobi for a quick and thorough beta reading, fixing my comma and tense problems and making me slow down some parts.

NC-17 F/A slash, this is a prequel to "As Middle Earth Turns," my Frodo/Aragorn mpreg soap opera. To refresh memories, early in that story, Sam recalls how difficult it was to get Frodo and Aragorn to recognize they were in love. This tells Aragorn's side of the story.

And, for Bunny, it includes some of the "courtship details" that made Sam blush.

The story takes place shortly before Aragorn's coronation, while they are still living in a camp outside Minas Tirith.

Courtship
by Laura Mason

Aragorn woke before dawn in the dark familiarity of their tent. Frodo was cuddled next to him, curled into his chest, his head practically covered by the blankets and furs the cool spring nights required.

He tightened his arms slightly around his precious hobbit, burying his face into the soft dark curls. Frodo had come so far in these few months. He was finally gaining some weight, as Merry had pointed out at luncheon yesterday. When they made love last night, Aragorn confirmed it for himself. Frodo's stomach was slightly rounded, though he was still far from the weight of a healthy hobbit.

It was so good to see Frodo recovering. Aragorn's duties and responsibilities were growing more complicated every day. In less than a week he would re-enter the city and be crowned. With so much on his mind, it eased his cares to know he could now leave Frodo with his friends and be assured the hobbit was perfectly safe.

Yesterday, when he'd said as much to Gandalf, the wizard mentioned that Frodo and Sam had started exploring Minas Tirith.

Aragorn had almost stopped breathing at the casual comment, his first thought that Frodo really planned to stay with him and make the city his home. They'd never discussed the future, too busy enjoying the discoveries of the present in each other's arms.

But now that the thought had been planted, Aragorn felt he needed to know. As soon as Frodo woke, they would talk. Aragorn was ready, he knew his own mind and heart. He only needed to know what Frodo wished.

With a sigh, Frodo pulled closer to him, and Aragorn kissed him again, remembered a morning more than two months ago.

***

"The messenger from Rivendell -- did he bring word from Arwen?"

"Sam!" Frodo's weak voice reproached as Aragorn froze, his face stricken. Legolas, sitting in the corner and busily carving, actually dropped his knife. The room was silent until Frodo continued, "It's none of our business. What in Middle Earth has gotten into you today?"

The two hobbits knew exactly what news the messenger brought, since the sheepish elf presently sneaking out the door had told them before Aragorn arrived. But even without Legolas' indiscretion, Aragorn's defeated posture and lengthy silence would have told the tale.

"No, don't reproach him, Frodo." Aragorn picked up the jar, scooped out a quantity of ointment and sat on the edge of Sam's bed. "I have no secrets from either of you. Not after all you've done for me." He began to rub the herbal mixture onto the soles of Sam's much-abused feet, his hands shaking with emotions he did not permit his voice to express.

But of course both hobbits saw, despite being exhausted from last night's feasting. After an unhappy silence, Frodo moved restlessly and said "We won't speak of this again." His face was full of sorrow as he watched Aragorn struggle to compose himself.

But Sam evidently saw more than pity in the look.

"No," Aragorn managed to choke out, but he stopped trying to speak when Sam put a hand on Aragorn's arm, halting the motion of his hands as he wrapped clean bandages around an injured foot.

"Strider, sir, please." Sam looked to Frodo, then back to Aragorn. He lowered his voice. "Take him someplace you can talk together in private. Troubles shared are troubles halved, and it would help him, too."

Aragorn glanced at Frodo's melancholy face, then back to Sam. "You must rest. Will you be comfortable alone?"

"Yes, or you can send back Legolas if you think it best." Aragorn stood and looked at the Ringbearer, so pale and thin in the large bed. Still so beautiful.

"Frodo, it would ease my heart to speak with you, if you are well enough."

Frodo's face lit up, glowing with pleasure. "Oh, Aragorn, if I can help-- I'm fine, not even very tired today. I've been resting so much." Frodo was far from "fine," but Aragorn didn't argue. He wrapped the hobbit in a warm robe, then a thick blanket. "Sam took good care of me, you know," Frodo said with a smile that was sleepily returned from the other bed. He lowered his voice to add, "Sam gave me all the food and water, and carried me. He's the one who truly isn't well yet."

Aragorn bent and picked Frodo up, pulling him against his chest. When they left the tent, Frodo nestled closer to him, covering his face much as he'd done on Caradhras. But now the gesture wasn't for warmth, for the day was sunny and pleasant. Frodo was hiding from the people who wished to see -- and honor -- the Ringbearer.

But if Frodo was subdued, at least he wasn't avoiding the Fellowship -- or Aragorn. Unlike Arwen, who wouldn't face him in person since she'd decided to remain with her people. When he received her letter, Aragorn's first response had been to declare he would immediately ride to Rivendell. But Elrond's messenger told him Arwen had left for the Havens the day the Ring was destroyed. She had already sailed, forsaking him.

"Sam will fully recover, won't he?" The softly-spoken question, almost timid, pulled Aragorn from his thoughts and back to the present.

"Yes, Frodo. Physically Sam is healing faster than you seem to be, though some of his injuries were worse." He headed to the area where the horses were tied, and nodded to the grooms standing there. Two of them rushed off to get Hasufel ready for him.

"Sam is the one who saved us all." Frodo looked up at him pleadingly. "Please don't be offended that he spoke. Hobbits -- well, Gamgees -- don't believe in keeping troubles to yourself."

"Be easy, Frodo. I do understand." Aragorn smile and hugged his friend closer, feeling again the surge of joy that Gandalf had been able to save Frodo and Sam. He would spend the rest of his life repaying his debt to the two hobbits, if he could. He owed them everything, the realization of all his dreams...

Except Arwen. There was no queen to reign by his side now, no love to reward his long years of patience and struggling.

His horse was brought to them, and as Aragorn set Frodo on the saddle, then climbed up behind him, he remembered the black rage that overcame him last night, alone in his tent. He'd actually thought for a moment about how different it could have been, if only he'd taken the Ring from Frodo...

The horror of his thoughts came back to him as they rode together, Frodo so very trusting in his arms, despite his greater strength. He'd earned that trust when he'd controlled himself and refused the Ring at Amon Hen. Just as well he hadn't known, that far-off day, what his future held.

And if his virtue hadn't been rewarded with his heart's desire, well, life wasn't fair. How could he forget that with Frodo in his arms, so courageous and now so very damaged by his selfless actions? The hobbit hadn't acted expecting any reward. There was no one waiting for him back in the Shire.

Perhaps that was just as well, since Gandalf didn't think Frodo would ever recover from the loss of the Ring. The packet from Rivendell had included a message from Elrond about Bilbo, saying his health had rapidly failed since March. Gandalf was drafting a response in which he suggested that the two hobbits should be offered passage West, to heal them. He feared without such a boon they both would be lost to despair and darkness.

"You're very quiet, Aragorn," Frodo noted, sounding almost sleepy but so very normal that Aragorn's heart felt lighter.

"And I brought you out here to speak to you, I know," he chuckled. "Be patient. I want to show you a special place, and we're almost there." Five minutes later they pulled up beside a wall of white rock and a large enclosure.

Frodo looked around eagerly when Aragorn set him on his feet again, waiting impatiently while the man tied Hasufel. "What is this place? It's beautiful."

"This garden belongs to the Healers of Minas Tirith. They grow the herbs here, outside the city, which are used in the House of Healing." Aragorn opened the gate and held it for Frodo.

"Merry told me about..." Frodo's voice trailed off as he moved into the garden. "Oh, it smells so good here."

"Yes." Aragorn led him along the main path.

"Is the fence to keep people out?" Frodo asked, sounding a little scandalized.

"No, merely to keep animals from wandering in and grazing here. There is no lock." He stopped when they reached the large tree that shaded part of the garden. A wooden bench nestled at its base, and Frodo climbed up and settled in with a sigh, looking very content.

"This is so lovely. Sam would... Oh, you must bring him here. He misses his garden, I'm sure of it."

"As soon as I know he won't injure himself trying to see everything -- or start working -- I'll make sure Sam knows he's welcome." He smiled at the hobbit, then crouched down beside him. "Do you... would you mind if I sit beside you, Frodo?"

"Of course not." Frodo moved, making even more room than Aragorn needed. "Did you wish to speak? About her?" There was sorrow in his face, such wonderful empathy in his eyes. Frodo understood heartbreak and loss, Aragorn knew that. But he still couldn't open his heart, not while so many black thoughts swirled in his mind.

"Yes, and no. I have much to ponder, Frodo, and I am comforted merely to be here with you."

A sunny smile, belying the pain in Frodo's eyes, was the answer.

They sat in the warm garden for the rest of the morning, enjoying the still air, the movement of the shadows and sunshine, and the smell of growing things lush with life. At some point Frodo began to lean on Aragorn, and he soon realized the hobbit had fallen asleep. Aragorn put an arm around Frodo and pulled him closer, gently stroking the dusky curls and watching the beautiful face grow peaceful.

As they sat together, Aragorn staring at Frodo, a bird song began in the tree above him. The beauty of it reminded him of his youth, before he knew his destiny. Before he'd met Arwen. He looked away as tears came into his eyes, his heart pierced by the memory of simple happiness and being heart-whole.

When he looked back at Frodo the hobbit's eyes were open, reading Aragorn's emotions. Frodo's face, too was twisted with the memory of things lost forever. Aragorn saw understanding of heartbreak, and a deeper pain, the soul-agony of carrying the Ring. As he stared back at Frodo, Aragorn's hand came up to clasp the hobbit's. They stayed that way, silent, long after the bird flew away.

That afternoon Aragorn knew he loved Frodo Baggins.

But Aragorn had a duty to Gondor which included producing heirs to rule after him. Eowyn still loved him, and she was a worthy and admirable woman. Certainly he would hurt Faramir if he pursued her now, but no one would stop him. Eowyn could be his Queen and bear his children, and he might even come to love her some day.

But Frodo-- how could he be happy without Frodo in his life? He imagined confessing his feelings to Frodo, then asking him to remain in Minas Tirith as his lover. Aragorn could give him the most luxurious house imaginable, full of servants and every comfort. It was a sad thought, and a foolish one. Frodo would not be content to be kept, not even as the consort of the King. He knew the hobbit would prefer a free life in the Shire to such an arrangement.

For the next few weeks, their friends were just as subtle as Sam had been that first morning. Gimli got them both drunk at the next feast, and enlisted Faramir's help with Aragorn while he carried Frodo, leaving them in the same bed in Aragorn's tent. The next day Gimli claimed he'd been drunk, too, and thought he'd left them where they belonged. Then Legolas took them riding to see a waterfall yet somehow lost them, taking both horses. Aragorn had to carry Frodo most of the way back to camp. Gandalf, Merry and Pippin would abruptly remember other duties whenever Aragorn joined their group, leaving him alone with Frodo.

Watching Frodo's reaction to each incident convinced Aragorn his feelings were returned. Yet he delayed, trying to decide what he wanted -- and what duty required. Aragorn didn't admit his feelings to Frodo until the memorable day Sam sent them on a picnic.

***

Aragorn sighed, remembering his feelings as if from a great distance of many years. Yet it was just a few weeks. He wished there were a way to reclaim the days he'd wasted, unhappy and alone, watching Frodo's pain and isolation grow. Love had healed Frodo more than any medicine he'd been given.

The hobbit stirred in his arms, roused by Aragorn's restlessness. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, dearest. It's very early -- go back to sleep," Aragorn whispered.

The silence only lasted a moment before a much less drowsy voice said "What if I don't wish to sleep?" Even as the hobbit spoke, his hand stroked over Aragorn's chest, tangling in the hair before moving to lazily circle a nipple. Aragorn suddenly felt remarkably awake himself, and not only his nipples were becoming erect from the attention of Frodo's hand. He gasped as Frodo licked where his fingers had played, then blew softly on the dusky bud.

"Perhaps I wish to sleep," Aragorn tried to speak crossly, but Frodo's delighted laughter in response told him he'd failed. The hobbit's mirth was checked only when his rosy red mouth moved to suck on the skin over Aragorn's ribs, making the man squirm.

"It won't work, Master Hobbit," he managed to say. "A king is never ticklish--" but his words were cut off with a yelp as Frodo's fingers dug into a sensitive spot on his hip.

"Not King yet," Frodo mumbled, and it was Aragorn's turn to laugh. Then Frodo moved further down his body, turning those beautiful, full lips to caressing Aragorn's rapidly-hardening cock, and the man relaxed into sheer enjoyment.

"Oh my love," Aragorn sighed. "We need to speak..."

"Later," Frodo whispered before turning to explore his lover's body with hands, lips, teeth and tongue. They had done this many nights, and the first night Aragorn's cries of pleasure brought the guard running to their tent. Now he controlled himself by biting his lip as sucking kisses moved up one side of his erection, then paused, lingering at the tip, tongue swiping around and down the shaft.

Aragorn moaned, watching Frodo move down again, kissing and licking until his nose was buried in the rough curls at the base of Aragorn's cock, and his hand came up to squeeze and stroke the head.

Intense eyes looked up at him, appraising. Frodo raised himself, put his mouth over the tip again and slowly took it in, swallowing and sucking, his hands working the base as his tongue played along the shaft. His eyes, dark with lust, never left Aragorn's face, drinking in his every reaction.

Aragorn's hands clutched at their fur bedding, his head falling back as deep groans pushed between his lips. He chanted Frodo's name, no other words available to him as the hobbit lovingly tormented him. Then Frodo abruptly pulled away, leaving Aragorn's arousal wet with saliva in the cool air for a moment, while the hobbit climbed atop the man and positioned himself. Holding the engorged cock steady, Frodo sank down, watching passion transform Aragorn's face.

"Frodo!" he shouted as the sheathe of flame-hot flesh slowly took him in. "Lle naa vanima! A!"

"Yes!" Frodo affirmed as his body relaxed and opened to the intrusion.

Rational thought was lost in the flex of muscles and slam of bodies. Each impact pulled a plea or curse from them. Frodo commanded the man: harder, slower, deeper, faster. And Aragorn's strong arms lifted the lighter body to the perfect angle, hips thrusting up as his hands squeezed tight enough to leave bruises on the hobbit's hips.

Lightning formed between them and the explosion of bliss took them moments apart, Frodo's wail of ecstacy followed by Aragorn's deeper bellow of satisfaction. Taut, frozen muscles held them still while love shuttled between them, poured into and onto the other. Then boneless collapse, Frodo suddenly heavy atop him, softly caressing him, still kissing Aragorn's neck and shoulders.

Aragorn pulled the furs over them and stroked the wet curls at the nape of Frodo's neck, while his other hand moved to cup his bottom and hold him close. Their breathing and heartbeats slowed until they were aligned in peace and rest.

The sun was up when Aragorn woke, Frodo still asleep atop him. He moved carefully, laying Frodo in the warm nest of furs, and rose to wash and dress himself. He knew there was a long day ahead, full of duties, and he wanted to resolve their future before facing it.

A quick trip to the cooking pavilion and Aragorn returned to his tent with fresh rolls, preserved fruit, honey and tea. As usual, the smell of food quickly woke Frodo.

"Good morning," he smiled as the hobbit popped out of bed to quickly wash and pull on his clothes.

"Good morning, Majesty," Frodo saucily answered, and Aragorn swatted at his bottom, then kissed him, just for being as beautiful as the dawn. Frodo smiled and reached for a cup of tea.

They ate slowly, smiles exchanged between bites. This had become their morning routine, Aragorn realized. How many years did he spend where routine was impossible? Ordinariness seemed like one of life's highest blessings.

After Frodo filled the last corner and put down his teacup, Aragorn stood, then moved to the hobbit. He felt very self-conscious as he knelt beside him, but Frodo didn't anticipate anything except their usual affectionate farewell for the day.

"Frodo, I have something to ask you."

"Yes?"

"I feel... it is... I wish to be very clear..." Aragorn wanted to smack his hand on something, or to pace, but he remained still, crouched with the hobbit's eyes on his reddening face. "Do you think we both want the same thing from each other? The same future?"

"I... I don't understand, I'm afraid."

"Frodo, I love you. I hope I've shown that to you every day, in words and by my actions. Your happiness is my joy."

"Oh, I know that. I love you, too, silly man." Frodo kissed his nose with a smile, but Aragorn's face remained very serious.

"I want you with me every day for the rest of my life, Frodo, by my side as consort, advisor, and my only love. And... I wish to be your only love, as well."

"Aragorn--" The hobbit's face seemed to light up with understanding and joy. "Are you asking me to marry you?"

"Yes." An enthusiastic hug was the reply, almost knocking Aragorn off his feet. He returned the embrace, then held Frodo away from him for a moment. "Are you certain, my love? Will you be happy, living here in Gondor, among Men? You fought so long to save your home."

"Sam saved the Shire, but I could never be happy there without you." Loving eyes blazed up at his as a gentle hand softly stroked his jaw. "Yes. I am your mate and I will stay with you always."

"Then I pledge myself to you, Frodo Baggins. I will hold to you and no other, for as long as we both live." A kiss sealed the vow, then Aragorn rose to set aside his private life and become the king.

It was purely chance that his first duty of the day took him near a goldsmith where he could order a set of pledge bracelets. And none of his advisors or friends complained that day when Aragorn smiled inappropriately during a report, or seemed far away during a discussion.

***

That night, in the camp outside Minas Tirith

"Oh! Vanimle sila tiri, melme!"

In the next tent, three hobbits sat bolt upright in their beds, then realized what they'd heard and relaxed back. Sam stuttered, Merry snickered, and Pippin sighed.

"Again? Don't those two ever sleep?" Pippin complained, punching his pillow and flopping back down.

"Frodo!" A long moan carried through the night air.

"I blame you, Sam. Sending them off together as much as you did," Merry laughed. "No good deed goes unpunished, you know." He rolled over, pulling a pillow over his head.

Sam lay down, his back to the others, and smiled to himself as the sounds of the night continued. He was well content, for everyone he loved was right where they belonged.

 

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For those inquiring minds who want to know about Aragorn's elvish sex-talk:

Lle naa vanima = you are beautiful

Vanimle sila tiri, melme = your beauty shines bright, beloved

I don't claim to know a whole lot of Elvish. Anyone who does can tell me I'm incompetent at using an elvish dictionary -- but then give me better phrases. I'll appreciate it!

And, so as not to be accused of skipping the "best parts," (hi, Hanarobi!) the story of the picnic where Aragorn and Frodo first make love has already been told in "As Middle Earth Turns."