by Milly of Isengard

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Gandalf/Saruman

Disclaimer: no bread made, of course. Saru belongs to me (I wish) everybody else JRR's.

Warnings: strong slash / angst / violence / torture (halfling and otherwise)

Summary: Gandalf goes alone to Isengard in an attempt to parlay Saruman into surrendering - or failing that, to at least bring him back alive. It goes badly, and Gandalf falls prey to his former friend. To make it even worse, the halflings Merry and Pippin are captured and brought to Orthanc.

Chapter 16 - Beyond All Hope

Mithrandir reached over with the Staff, and made a slight motion- the shackles fell off, and Curunír dropped - Mithrandir caught his limp form before he reached the ground.

No more, Mithrandir thought wearily.

No more pain, Curumo. Though you may long for it now, in your dark and twisted dreams, no more.

This is where it ends. For your sake, as well as all others.

Curunír lay before him, eyes closed- before he could open them again, Mithrandir aimed his Staff directly at his heart.

This is the only way, now, he thought sorrowfully.

You are too far gone, too deeply corrupted, and this is the only mercy I am able to give you now.

May the Valar give you compassion, and may you accept healing from them, as you will not from me.

He was about to summon all his energy into one last, fatal culmination, that would stop the heart instantly, and bring swift release.

He was surrounded by a great white light, as he gathered the power in the Staff.

Time to return home, now, Curumo.

And then Curunír opened his eyes, suddenly, and they widened in terror, as he realized what was about to happen.

"No!" he cried out, and Mithrandir felt his resolve slip away, as his eyes locked with Curunír's.

"No! Gandalf! No!"

Curunír tried to move, but he was pinned, as if in the grip of some invisible restraint.

"Olorín - please!"

Please? Gandalf could not believe his ears. Had he just said- 'please'??

Gandalf had never heard him say that word- ever.

And all his Will drained away, and the moment had come and gone.

And his heart overtook his mind and resolve, and he groaned inwardly, defeated, and took the Staff away from Curunír's heart.

Curunír used the very last shreds of his own Power, and drew Gandalf down to him, without words, and they embraced in a graceful agony of passion, and the last extremity of hope.

Mithrandir felt his emotions rise, and then the anger began to well up in him, yet again, at all that Curunír had done -murderer, madman, tormenter, monster!!

But Curunír never lost his cunning, and his craft, even now, on the brink of total madness, and he slipped his arms around Gandalf's neck, and whispered lies - utter, blasphemous lies - into his ear:

"Forgive me, Olorín, forgive me, I do beg you, forgive me my evil!"

It was all deceit, and merely a ploy to save his own life.

And Mithrandir knew it, in his heart, and yet he could not deny him, all the same.

"Forgive you, Curumo? Do you truly desire that? Or do you only wish to retain your life here, despite the murder and the madness?"

"I plead your mercy, I plead your compassion - I say this in all truth, my Olorín!"

Lies, all lies.

Mithrandir suddenly grasped him in a mighty and magical hold, and replied:

"Then, my Curumo, my dearest Curumo - if you speak the truth and not more deception - you will take the cure for your illness, and swallow the antidote for your poison! Do you, indeed, wish to be saved? Then so it shall be!"

And he began to radiate blinding Light, and the pure Power of love and holiness from within began to flood into Curunír - he gasped in pain, but this pain was a purifying pain, burning out and destroying the wickedness within him -

-and Mithrandir held him immobile, relentless.

And the evil in his soul screamed in bitter torture, even as it was made pure again by the Light, and in mortal agony, was the disease and infection of Sauron torn from Curunír, as he resisted desperately.

For miles around Isengard, there was a strange glow in the air- it changed from red to white, and then back again-

The world spun around the Tower, as the two Istari manifested the very essence of the Universe itself.

A deafening rumble began to sound from within the Tower, and as the Istari turned, slowly spinning in mid-air, the fabric of time and space began to protest, at the chaotic magic.

And in his own Tower, Sauron the Black seethed in unholy madness at the loss of his great servant.

They were locked together, two slowly writhing shapes, really only white blurs now, and if there had been anyone to see, they would have beheld a single dazzling shape - aglow with blinding radiance.

The energy being released, and then yet built up again, was of a nature not seen in Middle Earth since its creation- primal force - raw power of matter itself - far beyond anything even Sauron had ever played with - and as Mithrandir slowly realized what was occurring, the room was already bathed in an eerie white light - and the walls were humming - and cracking! - with the great overload of power.

Curumo suddenly seemed to become a living rainbow of light, and looking at Mithrandir in an ecstatic rapture, whispered sharply -" You - have - released - me!" - and there was no more madness on his face, no more delirium -and it was only the truth he spoke now, and the lies were no more.

And Mithrandir held him close, rejoicing, but even as they embraced in the triumph of the moment, Orthanc itself began to sway sickeningly, rocking slowly back and forth -

Mithrandir strove then, deeply alarmed, to diminish the energy in the room - indeed, it permeated the whole of Isengard- to bring it back down to a less dangerous level, and then Curunír lunged against him again, and for the very last time - and the release came in visible and spectacular waves of colored light - far beyond ecstasy- this was far too primal and ancient an energy for any mortal terms-

And Mithrandir felt it come as well, though by this time he was desperately trying to control the unleashed Power - his mind swam crazily, and then, he too began to drown and fall into the primeval Ocean -vast energies, too vast for even an Istar to survive - and they truly became One, dissolving into a single brilliant Light.

It was too much - beyond anything that could be endured by the material world - and as their spirits and bodies alike melded together, there was an ear-splitting roar, and a flash of light, and an explosion of cataclysmic energy rose up from the base of Orthanc.

Miles away, the riders stopped their pace and wheeled back around - to their stunned and horrified surprise, they beheld a vast white cloud, rising from the direction they had left hours ago- Isengard!

"Gandalf!", Aragorn cried out, in fear and grief, and they could do naught but watch now, as the gigantic cloud rose far above in the distance, and spread out, as in the semblance of a great tree.

Legolas cried out in horror and fear, and his voice was lost in the tremendous roar.

Merry and Pippin screamed, with one voice, and clung to one another in fright.

"We must go back!" Merry shouted above the din, "Something - horrible - has happened!"

Legolas and Aragorn exchanged stricken looks, and then Aragorn said gently:

"No - no- we must trust that Gandalf knows what he is doing. We must- we must - " - and then his words drifted away, and he turned from them, so they would not see the tears in his eyes.

The hobbits began to weep openly now, and Legolas held them closely, but he could not speak, for his throat was closed with grief as well.

They rode to Rivendell in silence.

Overhead, scores of crebain flew noisily, in terrified confusion.

A pall had settled over the land, and the sun was now blood red, hidden behind a strange mist.

At Barad-Dur, Sauron howled in rage, and cursed the names of all.

Saruman the Wise- gone!

His greatest ally on Middle Earth- his willing servant!

But it was over, now.

He would no longer have the brilliant mind of the White Istar to conjure strategies.

The black fist clenched in fury, cheated of one of its own.