In the Darkness Bind Them

by Henrika

Pairing: Gandalf/Sauron, Gandalf/various uruk-hai, Gandalf/Saruman

Rating: NC-17

Summary: AU; Sauron has regained the One Ring and won the war. Gandalf is trapped. Will the Istar be able to resist the Dark Lord's attempts to break him?

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. They belong to J. R. R. Tolkien. I make no money of this.

A/N and warnings: This story is very dark and deals with disturbing matters like graphic violence, graphic rape, torture, humiliation and much more. If this is not your cup of tea, now is probably the time to turn back. You have been warned!

Archiving: My own site, Lord of the Rings - my Gandalf slash fiction and art and Meddling in the Affairs of Wizards (hopefully!) Others, please ask first.

Dedicated to: Nefertiti, for so kindly helping me with beta and suggestions. Without you this story would probably still be in a file somewhere in my PC. Many hugs to you, my dear!

Chapter 18

"Gandalf? Gandalf? Are you awake? You have to drink this."

The gentle, whispering voice of Saruman awakened Gandalf from a foggy, feverish daze, which could be best described as something between sleep and unconsciousness.

Slowly the wounded wizard opened his eyes. His eyesight was blurred, and he could barely see the outlines of Saruman's shape leaning over him. He felt very weak. The pain was still there, but not as strong as before, probably due to the spreading numbness of his body.

"What is it...?" he asked weakly. "Opium...?"

"No, this is helmet flower," Saruman replied. "It will help you fight infections. Now, please drink."

Saruman lifted Gandalf into a half-sitting position and placed the cup at his lips. Slowly the Istar began to drink, and despite his current weakness, he grimaced at the bitter taste of the brew. Helmet flower? The name sounded familiar. After some connecting in his feverish head, he recalled that it was the common name of a poisonous herb, also used for medicine. Helmet flower - or wolfsbane, as it was called in some areas - was indeed used to fight off infections and against fever, but the real question now was where Saruman had gotten some. The plant did not grow everywhere - especially not in Mordor.

"That's it..." Saruman said, allowing Gandalf to slip back underneath the covers when he was finished drinking. His fellow wizard was still alive, but his condition was not improving. A raging fever had taken hold of his body, and a single look in Gandalf's direction was enough to make him realize that it was bad. Gandalf's whole body was trembling, and his skin, where it wasn't cut or burned, had become red and glistening with sweat.

Saruman didn't dare leaving him. He crawled back into bed and once again enveloped Gandalf in his arms. There was no way to deny it any longer. Gandalf was dying. It was probably just a matter of days now. The foul, filthy beasts had hurt him too severely. Saruman had checked on his wounds before he woke up in the morning, and he'd realized that an infection had already started festering in him. Gandalf's torn backside was suppurating, and despite Saruman's attempts to treat the wounds, it did not seem to get better. There was nothing he could do to save Gandalf now. His fellow wizard was doomed to die.

How many times had they raped him? Had all those uruks Saruman had seen entering he cell had their turn with him? Probably, and those were probably not even the only ones. It had already been going on for hours before Saruman arrived.

You will pay for this, Sauron, Saruman thought with Gandalf's limp, feverish head resting on his chest. Somehow, I will make you pay!

Was there really nothing he could do for Gandalf? The herbal medicines did not seem to help; the wizard's injuries were simply too severe. He would die before time could heal him. Then were there any alternatives left?

There was one. The thought flitted through Saruman's mind, but it frightened him so much that he pushed it away almost immediately. He could take the Ring from Sauron and use that to heal his fellow wizard.

The thought of taking the One Ring from his master was something that had often crossed Saruman's mind, even before Gandalf arrived at the fortress, although he had never seriously considered it until now. But now it was Gandalf's only chance.

No, it's too risky, Saruman concluded. What if I fail, and I most likely will. Then I will die as well. Besides, the Ring is treacherous. It's not certain that I could use its power to heal Gandalf. Is there really nothing else?

Saruman knew that Gandalf had been the bearer of Narya, the Elven Ring of Fire. Since it was no longer in Gandalf's possession, Sauron must have taken it. Maybe Narya would contain enough power to heal Gandalf's injuries? It was not the One Ring, but it was a powerful tool, no doubt. Círdan had known that when he gave Narya to Gandalf.

Of course, Saruman did not know where Sauron had put the Elven Ring, or even if he had it, but it was unlikely that the Dark Lord would simply throw away one of the great Elven rings. No, he had to have it. Somewhere.

It is worth a try, Saruman decided. If it can save Gandalf's life, it really is.

But he was running out of time, and he knew it. Soon even Narya would not be enough to save Gandalf. Maybe it was only a matter of hours.

Carefully Saruman disentangled himself from Gandalf's seemingly unconscious body and made sure he was thoroughly covered by the blankets. He still had that horrible, body-racking fever that caused his slender body to shake like a leaf in the wind. Saruman rested his hand on Gandalf's forehead for a split second, realizing that what he felt for Gandalf was more than pity.

I must not think of that now, he admonished himself. What I am to do requires absolute focus. I mustn't let my feelings take over. Then I am doomed to fail.

Saruman felt bad about leaving Gandalf alone, but it had to be done. Despite his current infirmity, Gandalf was relatively safe here, at least from the Dark Lord and his minions. Sauron had probably not even gone down to check on him yet, so there was no way for him to know where Gandalf really was.

Saruman dressed in his ordinary black robe, stockings and felt boots before he went to his drawers to get the dagger. It was much like the one he'd given to Gandalf: a crude, black object with a rusty, serrated blade, made for and by an uruk-hai. Saruman kept it in his chamber in case he would need to defend himself against any possible intruders that wanted to hurt him. Since Sauron had burst in a few nights ago and ordered the uruk to rape him, Saruman had not felt safe even in his own bedchamber.

Of course, he had not seriously considered using it...until now. The wizard found it easy to hide the weapon in the sleeve of his robe. He didn't even want to think about his odds. All he could think of was a way to save Gandalf.

"I will be back soon..." he whispered to the unconscious form of Gandalf that lay shaking in the bed. "Try to cope..."

Saruman then left the room, knowing that if he did not succeed now, chances were good that he'd never come back at all.

"Who is it?" Sauron snapped when he heard knocking on his door at this hour. It was way too early for any of his servants to bring him breakfast, and he could think of no reason why anyone would dare to come here without being summoned.

There was a pause before an answer came: "It is Saruman. May I enter?"

Saruman! Sauron absently gritted his teeth. How dare that filthy little snake beg entrance to his private quarters?! Instead of yelling at his visitor to disappear immediately, Sauron decided to let him in just so he could punish him for his audacity.

"What do you want, you pathetic filth?" the Dark Lord snarled when he opened the door. Sauron's eyes were practically blazing again. Saruman felt like running away. His fear of Sauron had not disappeared over one night, but instead of fleeing, he stood his ground and bravely faced the Dark Lord's burning gaze.

"I only want to talk," Saruman replied in a low voice, but he did not bow to Sauron, nor did he take a humble approach.

"I don't believe I have anything to say to you. If it concerns Olórin, I definitely haven't. You may go."

Sauron attempted to pull the door shut, but Saruman stepped in the way and stopped him. He knew that such an act would undoubtedly shock Sauron, since he obviously believed Saruman to be subdued. And he was right.

The look on the Dark Lord's face was a comic mixture of surprise, fury and dismay. He was so dumbfounded that he didn't even stop Saruman when the Istar pushed his way past him into his most private chamber. No one had ever entered here without permission! No one!

"Curumo! Get out of here before I remove that simple head of yours from your shoulders!" Sauron roared when he started coming to his senses. "Did you hear me?!"

When Saruman showed no signs of obeying, he reached the wizard with three long strides and reached out his huge talon hand to grab Saruman's hair and tear his throat out with the other. Sauron had wanted an excuse to dispose of Saruman for a long time, and now he finally had one.

But something happened that Sauron could never have predicted. Suddenly there was a dagger in Saruman's hand, and though he held the wizard's hair in a vice-like grip, there was no time to stop the knife from reaching him. Sharp jolts of intense pain shot through his arm when the blade penetrated his left shoulder, and he was forced to release his hold on Saruman's hair.

Sauron's eyes widened. The dagger was pulled out of him as swiftly as it had come, and Saruman struck again, despite Sauron's attempt to raise his uninjured arm as a shield to parry the blow. This time the blade cut through his palm and he shrieked with the sudden and unexpected pain it caused. Enraged, he aimed a blow at the wizard and managed to hit Saruman across the jaw. The Istar fell backwards, giving a gurgling sound.

Saruman's eyes were darkening, but in panic he thought he mustn't faint now. He landed heavily on the floor but not before taking Sauron with him in his fall. A large hand immediately grabbed his ankle and began pulling him backward. Furiously kicking and screaming he tried to free himself from the grip. This was exactly the kind of situation he had wanted to avoid getting into. A wrestling match against the Dark Lord himself could only end badly for the fallen wizard, and at this moment his future looked anything but bright.

Sauron released Saruman's ankles only to grab his thighs with the same brute strength. His claw-like nails dug into the wizard's meagre flesh, and Saruman screamed. Sauron was over him now, and he could see that the injuries he had inflicted upon the Dark Lord were already healing.

The Dark Lord grabbed a fistful of Saruman's hair and jerked the wizard's head back. Saruman grimaced, trying to push Sauron away, but to no avail. Sauron was too heavy and too strong, and Saruman knew he was losing this fight. Still, he was proud of himself for having managed to hurt Sauron. The Dark Lord deserved to know what pain was, even if the pain he felt now only was a fraction of everything he had caused Gandalf, Saruman, and so many others.

Saruman practically waited for Sauron to snap his neck or cut his throat with his predatory claws when it suddenly occurred to him that he was still holding the dagger. Sauron had apparently not noticed it, because he made no attempts to remove it from his hand. The wizard slashed again with no real aim this time; if only it hurt Sauron he would be pleased.

This time the blade cut into Sauron's forearm. Howling, Sauron pulled his arm away, and Saruman was not slow to take advantage of the situation. He could see the Ring on Sauron's finger. The shiny, smooth golden surface gleamed wickedly in the dim light from the torches, and the wizard suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to claim it.

Take the Ring, save Gandalf... It would all be so easy, once he got the One Ring...

Sauron could never have predicted the outcome of this confrontation. The wizard slashed once more when he withdrew his injured hand, and this time Saruman's intentions were crystal clear.

With a surprised expression the Dark Lord watched his right middle- and ring finger fall to the ground next to them, and before he even realized he'd lost the Ring it was already too late to reclaim it. The Istar quickly pried it off the severed finger and pushed the now weakened Dark Lord away, quickly scrambling to his feet.

For a moment Saruman actually believed he would faint. He had done it! He had the Ring! And Sauron lay on the ground, cradling his bleeding, maimed hand to his chest. The look on his face was still a mix of surprise, shock and disbelief. Apparently he didn't quite understand how things could have gone as they did.

Sauron desperately tried to think of a quick way out of this nightmare. How could he have been so stupid? First Olórin, and now Curumo as well! Where Olórin had failed, the worthless snake had in fact succeeded. Saruman had the Ring. Sauron wanted to lunge at the Istar and wrench the Ring from his hands, but he knew that would be unwise. Saruman knew a lot about power and certainly already knew how to use the One Ring to his advantage. For the first time ever Sauron realized that he was at a disadvantage against the wizard, whom he had enjoyed abusing and humiliating so much.

His maimed hand hurt very much. Being embodied had many advantages, but there were also disadvantages, and physical pain was one of them. When the Ring had been taken from him he could no longer regenerate faster than anyone else, and that was something he got to experience now. The wounds weren't lethal, but they were painful nonetheless.

"Give me back my Ring!" Sauron snarled from the floor, trying to make his command sound as threatening and menacing as possible.

"I think not!" Saruman hissed back, clenching his fist around the small golden object of power. "I will make sure you will never touch this Ring again!"

"You fool!" Sauron sputtered scornfully. "Do you think you have any chance? The One Ring answers only to me! You cannot use it!"

Saruman, despite the urge to put on the Ring and claim it for himself, knew that Sauron was right. He might be able to bend it to his will for a certain period, but ultimately the Ring would betray him.

In his head, he could see vivid images in of himself on the Dark Throne after having destroyed Sauron, with Gandalf as his willing pleasure slave, crawling at his feet, begging to please him. He would no longer be Saruman the wizard, but Lord Curumo. It would be so easy... All he had to do was put the Ring on his finger and say it was his.

"No!" the wizard cried, forcing the images from his head. Gandalf. He must save Gandalf. He had to make Sauron tell him where he could find Narya.

The urge to simply kill the Dark Lord's physical body was so tempting. Saruman knew that if he cut Sauron's throat now, he wouldn't be able to heal himself without the Ring.

"Where is Narya, Sauron?" he asked sternly and tried not to think of what he could use the Ring for.


"The Elven Ring of Fire! You know it! Gandalf is badly hurt. He is dying. You have taken Narya from him. Where is it?!"

"Give me one reason why I should tell you that!" the Dark Lord sneered.

"If you don't, I will kill you!" Saruman threatened, lifting the dagger over his shoulder.

"Simpleton! You cannot kill me! If this body dies, I will still live on! Haven't you learned anything? Your only chance, Curumo, is to give the Ring back this instant and earn yourself a quick death!"

Saruman kicked the Dark Lord in the ribs, causing Sauron to fall over, gasping for breath.

"Wrong answer!" he snarled, grabbing a fistful of Sauron's dark hair and putting the uruk dagger to his throat. "Maybe I cannot kill your spirit by killing your body, but the simplest way out of this is to tell me the truth. Which is it, Sauron? Tell me where Narya is."


Saruman pressed the blade closer to Sauron's throat so that the saw-toothed edges dug into his skin, causing red marks to appear.

"Try me!" the wizard threatened, hoping that Sauron would take him seriously. He had to get Narya!

Sauron's eyes met Saruman's. The Dark Lord's eyes were filled with defiance and hatred, but his obvious disadvantage prohibited him from acting as he wanted.

"I will cut your throat!" Saruman said, tugging at Sauron's hair.

He waited for an answer, but Sauron refused to open his mouth. The Dark Lord tried to appear unaffected, but the slight twitching in his facial muscles revealed his true feelings.

"This is my last warning!" Saruman said, applying more pressure to the dagger, and finally a tiny red droplet of blood started trickling down Sauron's throat. The Dark Lord swallowed.

"Alright," he said after a short moment of pondering. "The Ring of Fire is over there."

He nodded at a partially hidden cupboard standing in one of the corners.

Saruman threw a quick glance in that direction. He could see the cupboard, covered in the shadows, and realized that it was the logical place to keep something valuable. Not that he believed Sauron would ever use Narya. It was just something he wanted to preserve, like some rare antique.

The Istar knew he couldn't just leave the Dark Lord unsupervised while going across the chamber to get the Elven Ring. Sauron wouldn't hesitate to attack him from behind, and despite the injuries, Sauron's body was still powerful. No, his only option right now was to chain him. It would take some extra time, and Gandalf needed Narya as swiftly as possible, yet Saruman didn't think it was worth risking everything for a few extra minutes. If Sauron got the Ring back now, everything would be lost.

It didn't take him long to find a steel collar and manacles, which Sauron had apparently used for some sadistic game with a prisoner not too long ago. Knowing it could have been Gandalf made Saruman even angrier, though Sauron also used other prisoners to sate his twisted needs.

"You couldn't imagine this collar would ever be put around your neck, did you, Sauron?" he asked spitefully as he attached the chain to a loop in the wall. "Of course you could not. This will be a unique experience for you, then."

Sauron didn't answer but simply gazed at him with fairly neutral blue eyes. Saruman couldn't interpret his countenance, and that made him slightly nervous. Self-control was something Sauron had learned to well during his time in Middle-earth. He mustn't make any mistakes now.

When Sauron was collared and manacled and well-bound to the wall, Saruman began to feel safe. Without the Ring Sauron would not be strong enough to break the bonds. There was no reason to be afraid anymore.

Saruman's heart was still pounding when he approached the cupboard to claim Narya. Sauron had to be telling the truth. Saruman couldn't afford to lose more precious time torturing the true answer out of Sauron. This had to be it.

The cupboard was locked. Saruman tried to tear the lock away, but it didn't work, since the cupboard was obviously made to keep unauthorized people out. The lock could be opened with a key, and only that.

A spiteful laughter began to sound from Sauron's direction, and Saruman spun around, spitting, "Where is the key, Sauron? This is not the time for your games! Tell me! Where is it?!"

"Poor little Mithrandir... You know, he might be dying from you as we speak. Why so anxious to save him? He betrayed you, Curumo. He broke your staff and drove you out of your own keep. Why bother saving him? He will only turn on you and destroy you!"

"Shut your mouth!" Saruman snapped. "Now, tell me where the key is. I will not ask you again."

Sauron smiled, despite the pulsating pain in his shoulder and right hand. "The key is in my robes."

"Give it to me!"


"Because I will kill you if you do not!" Saruman threatened, and he was serious. Sauron deserved to die, but he must not kill him before he knew that Narya really was where the Dark Lord had claimed it to be.

"Toss me the key!" he ordered, approaching Sauron with the dagger raised over his shoulder.

"I cannot do that, my hands are bound," Sauron replied with a malicious glint in his eyes.

"Then tell me where it is."

"Why save him, Curumo? Why? Do you want him as your pleasure slave? Trust me, that is not wise. He will betray you the first chance he gets."

Saruman didn't answer. He knew that he shouldn't listen at all; Sauron had tried to turn him against Gandalf before, and while he had almost succeeded that time, he would not do so now. The Dark Lord was malicious and cunning. He mustn't forget that.

"I have no plans to take your seat," he simply said and started to search through Sauron's pockets. "Nothing you say can make me act differently in this."

He found a small, brass key in Sauron's left pocket. "Is this it?" he asked sharply and put the dagger to Sauron's throat, just to make it clear he was not going to tolerate anything but the truth.

"Yes, it is," Sauron replied.

Saruman got up and more or less ran toward the cupboard to look for Narya. And it came out that Sauron had not been lying this time. There he kept the Elven Ring of Fire, made of gold with a red stone, plus the other two Elven rings, Vilya and Nenya, formerly worn by Elrond and Galadriel. Saruman scooped them all up and put them in his pocket. He had no idea what to do with the other two rings, but leaving them within Sauron's reach was no option.

Sauron's scornful laughter sounded again. "Remember what I told you, Curumo, when Olórin has betrayed you and stripped you of everything! You will regret this then. Trust my words!"

Despite the time it took, Saruman tore a piece from Sauron's sheet to gag the insidious Dark Lord with. The urge to kill him was stronger than ever, but somehow Saruman knew that he should consult Gandalf before doing something so drastic. Gandalf was not very keen on killing anybody needlessly, not even Sauron.

At least he can't talk now, Saruman thought when he had stuffed the rag into Sauron's mouth. That alone was a great relief.

Before he left, he also made sure to lock the door to Sauron's private chamber, so that no servant would accidentally stumble in and find his Lord bound and gagged, at least within the current day.

Saruman's greatest fear was finding Gandalf dead when he returned to his chamber, bearing the One Ring and the three Elven rings in his pockets. For if Gandalf was dead, no ring - no matter how powerful - could bring him back.

Carefully Saruman touched the little lump under the thick blankets. "Gandalf?" he whispered. "Gandalf, I'm here now. Are you awake?"

There was no reply, but at least Gandalf was still warm and when Saruman checked for a pulse, he found one, though it was even faster and weaker than before. Gandalf didn't have much time left.

Saruman gathered his fellow wizard's limp, warm hand in his own and rubbed it reassuringly.

"Gandalf... You are going to get well now. I have brought you Narya. See?"

Saruman took out the Elven ring from his pocket and put it on Gandalf's middle finger. The wizard's hands had become so meagre during his time as a prisoner that Narya was now too large for him and threatened to fall off.

Taking Gandalf's loose-limbed body in his arms, Saruman climbed into the bed, praying that the power of the Elven ring would be enough to heal its bearer. Currently Gandalf was so hot that his head was almost burning Saruman's chest, although there was a layer of clothing between them now. Knowing that survival was impossible once the fever got past a certain point, he hoped Gandalf had not yet reached it.

The White Wizard waited. Time would tell if Narya could help Gandalf. After a couple of hours his eyelids began to fall shut despite his stubborn attempts to stay awake. The fight with Sauron, Gandalf's illness, and everything else that had happened lately had completely exhausted Saruman, and his body and mind craved a few good hours of sleep.

Gandalf's warm body no longer felt uncomfortable but instead like a pleasantly warm, living quilt draped over him.

When Gandalf woke up he was feeling dizzy and light-headed but remarkably better than the last time he had been awake. The pain in his body had faded, and the fever had at least dropped, if not vanished completely.

Slowly the newly awakened wizard lifted his head from Saruman's chest. His fellow wizard was still sleeping soundly, and judging from his features, he needed it. Gandalf himself was naked, but Saruman had come to bed fully clothed. At first Gandalf believed it to be morning, but the position of the sun - whose light he could see through the small window in this chamber - revealed that it was late afternoon or evening.

Gandalf moaned, trying to recall what had happened. His short-term memories were all blurred, and he could only remember bits and pieces from here and there.

His moan had been faint, but it was still enough to wake Saruman, who had not let his guard drop, even in sleep. His dark eyes widened when he found himself staring into Gandalf's blue orbs, and awestruck, he realized his plan had worked.

"Gandalf?" he asked uncertainly, not quite able to judge his fellow wizard's condition.

"Saruman..." Gandalf murmured, rubbing his temples. "What happened...?"

"Look at your right hand," Saruman replied with a small smile.

Gandalf looked down and believed his mind was playing tricks on him when he saw the golden ring with the red stone on his finger. Narya! How could this be?

Noticing the partly terrified, partly awe-struck expression on his fellow Istar's face, Saruman decided to be honest and tell Gandalf the truth at once.

"Yes, Gandalf, that is your Ring of Fire. I took it from Sauron and used its power to heal your injuries. Sauron is defeated, more or less. I have the One Ring now."

Again, Saruman stuck his hand into his pocket, and this time he drew out the One Ring and held it visible to Gandalf in his open palm.

Gandalf gasped. He almost thought he'd pass out again. "How...?" was all he got out.

Saruman sighed wearily. "It is a long story, but to make it short, I managed to cut it off his hand, as Isildur did all those years ago, and here it is now. I also managed to make him give me Vilya and Nenya."

To Gandalf it all sounded unbelievable. He would never have believed it if not the proof had lain right before his eyes. The One Ring was now in Saruman's possession.

"Saruman..." he said carefully, grabbing the wizard's forearm. "You haven't...claimed the Ring, or have you?"

"No," Saruman said, shaking his head. "I do not wish to take Sauron's place."

"We have to destroy it!" Gandalf exclaimed. "You know that! Fight its call. The Ring must be cast into Mount Doom. You mustn't give in to it."

"Gandalf," Saruman said reassuringly, grabbing Gandalf's shoulders and holding him at arm's length. "Don't worry. The Ring hasn't taken me...yet, anyway. You should be resting. You are still weak. I can see that."

Gandalf knew that he was still weak, but resting was the last thing on his mind. He couldn't even relax with the One Ring so close, in Saruman's hand. He had not forgotten that the call of the Ring was what seduced his fellow wizard into evil not too long ago, and the Ring now being in Saruman's possession was a very discomforting thought.

"We must take it to the mountain of fire," Gandalf persisted. "We must destroy it before it destroys us both. Give me the Ring, Saruman. I can resist it better than you can."

"Gandalf!" Saruman exclaimed, and quickly put the Ring back into his pocket. "You were near death only hours ago! You are not fit to leave Barad-dûr yet for some days. Sauron is secured. There is no hurry."

"It is not Sauron's physical shape that worries me," Gandalf said quietly. "It's that...object. It only answers to him. We must not succumb to it."

"I can resist it," Saruman claimed, slightly discouraged by Gandalf's disbelief in him. "Have I not saved you? I got you out of the dungeons, I tended to you, and I even went to battle Sauron to save your life, and now you doubt me? Gandalf? Do you consider me that weak?"

Gandalf's face softened, and he realized he had perhaps been a bit too hasty in his speech. He had done a good job resisting its call, considering how close to it he had been throughout the Fellowship's journey from Rivendell to Moria. Vivid images of his puny Hobbit-friend, carrying the Ring on a golden chain around his neck brought tears to his eyes.

Poor, innocent Frodo... The Hobbit had died for the quest, and now all hope lay with him and Saruman.

Saruman placed a gentle arm around Gandalf's trembling shoulders when he noticed they began to shake and hugged his fellow wizard close.

"I know I betrayed your trust, but I am begging you, my friend; trust me now. I can do this. I will not use the Ring. When you are better, we will do as you said and take the Ring to the mountain of fire. But relax, Gandalf. You need to recover your strength, for it will not be an easy task."

Gandalf regarded Saruman with his tear-filled eyes. "I know. And I sent one little Hobbit to do it."

"I am sorry about your Halfling-friend," Saruman said truthfully. "I know that he was dear to you."

"He was..."

"You will not disappoint him. We will succeed, Gandalf. Trust me."

"I trust you, my friend."

The two Istari embraced tightly before withdrawing to regard each other gravely. Saruman put a hand under Gandalf's chin and lifted his head and looked deep into his eyes.

"I have almost forgotten... How are you feeling?" he asked and let his eyes wander over Gandalf's naked body. His body was still covered by scars, but that was all that was left of the open wounds and burn marks that covered him only hours ago. The swelling on his right temple had also gone down, leaving only a faint, purple welt.

"I feel... much better," Gandalf replied and glanced down at Narya, still in place on his right middle finger. "How did you manage to get it?"

"I forced Sauron to tell me. He refused at first, but when I threatened to cut his throat, he changed his mind." The wizard smiled. "I would have killed him, but I wanted to ask for your advice before making a choice of that gravity."

"Where is he now?"

"In his chamber, shackled to the wall. He is wounded, so I doubt he'll break free anytime soon. And stuck in that body, he cannot do much without his Ring."

Gandalf nodded thoughtfully. "Still, we must not wait too long. The sooner we destroy the Ring, the better. Killing Sauron's body will not kill his spirit. If the Ring survives, so does he."

"And if we destroy the Ring?"

Gandalf pondered the question for a while, because he had no real answer to give. "I believe... If his physical shape lives, he will survive but remain tied to it. I cannot be sure, though. We will know once the Ring is destroyed."

"And if we slay him after we have destroyed the Ring? Will he die, then?"

Gandalf regarded Saruman gravely. "That is not for us to decide. Sauron is a Maia, as we are. We must leave that decision to Manwë. I know you want revenge on him, but it is not your choice to make."

Saruman smiled ruefully. "I knew you would say that, or something like it."

Gandalf smiled back. "You know me too well, my dear friend."

"I know you feel better, but may I check your backside? I want to make sure the bleeding has stopped."

Gandalf complied without question and allowed Saruman to examine his abused but healing opening. Gentle, casual fingers brushed along his crease, and despite the gentleness, Gandalf shuddered. The awful memory of the uruks assaulting him in every possible way came over him like a huge wave of crude oil, and right then he wondered if he'd ever be able to make love again without thinking about it.

Gandalf's anus was not the torn, gaping hole it had been yesterday, and Saruman was relieved to state that it seemed to be healing perfectly. There was still scar tissue, old and new, but Gandalf was healing amazingly well. Narya had truly done miracles with him.

"It looks good," he stated and allowed Gandalf to close his legs. "You will be fully healed within the next few days, I am sure."

Gandalf gave a weak smile. "We will destroy the Ring. That is our only choice."

Saruman nodded, but he dreaded the fact that such a mission could cost them their lives as well.