The Road to Isengard

by Nefertiti

Pairing: Series, Mithrandir (Gandalf)/Saruman; this chapter, Mithrandir/Legolas (established relationship)

Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: The characters and world of Middle-earth belong to their copyright holders; this series is offered free of charge for the pleasure of fans.

Author's note: Book-canon. The action takes place in 1637, shortly after a great plague has swept through the areas south and west of the Misty Mountains. Much of this series is based upon hints provided by appendices A and B, as well as parts of the Unfinished Tales.

Many thanks to Elanor for her advice and beta job and to Sarah for encouragement.

Chapter 3

Dol Guldur, Southern Mirkwood, 2063 TA

The sun was almost directly overhead, and Gandalf realized that he would have to move on. He had been standing under a tree, poised and listening carefully, for several minutes. No suspect noise had reached him, and yet there was a heavy sense of tension and menace in this part of the forest.

He had been hiking cautiously toward Dol Guldur for days, and he knew from the many maps in Lothlórien and Rivendell that he was probably within a few minutes walk of being able to see the great clearing in which it stood. Early the previous morning, he had encountered a small band of orcs patrolling the forest. They had fled before he could even draw his sword, but he had no doubt that they had alerted those in the Tower to his approach. He constantly expected to hear hostile troops rushing toward him, but there was nothing. Probably they had set up some sort of an ambush and were awaiting him. After the orcs had run toward Dol Guldur, he had considered turning back. Gandalf had known all along that going alone to investigate the increasingly powerful evil that dwelt there would be perilous and terrifying, but the reality was worse than he could have imagined-and he was not even within sight of the Tower yet. Still, he had hardly been confident enough to think that he had any real chance of reaching the Tower without detection. He had undertaken this mission even though he would almost certainly to have to defend himself. He could hardly turn back now, not having been attacked or even threatened.

Since the unsatisfactory meeting with the Elvish leaders among the Wise three years earlier, he had become more and more impatient with their delays in doing anything about the growing danger in southern Mirkwood. Saruman had opined that an investigative foray into the area was simply too dangerous without the protection of at least a small band of soldiers. Finally it had become apparent that the Elvish plans made at Rivendell would come to little. Gandalf had decided to see whether he could at least get close enough to Dol Guldur to gain some evidence to support his claim that the power lurking there was indeed Sauron. He had set out at once, before his courage failed him and fear induced him to find excuses not to carry through the attempt. He had not spoken to anyone of what he was up to, though he had prudently sent messages via birds to Radagast, Saruman, and Galadriel. If he did not come back, they would at least know what had happened to him.

Slowly the Wizard edged forward, stopping at intervals to listen, and occasionally seeing movements in the distance that might herald attack. In each case the cause proved to be innocent, and he went on. As he moved nearer to the Tower, the sense of evil flowing forth from it was almost palpable. Though it was nearly noon, the shadows under the trees were deep as late twilight, and above the forest canopy heavy clouds hung sullenly. There was no physical obstruction, and yet he had to force himself to take each step, hindered by both fear and the horror in the very atmosphere. Despite his slow progress, he was panting, feeling himself incapable of filling his lungs.

Finally he saw a slightly brighter area ahead: the vast open plain dominated by the Tower. The edifice was made of huge, charcoal-grey diorite blocks, hammered flat to a matt surface that reflected nothing. Gandalf had never seen so tall a construction. It dwarfed the towers of Minas Morgul and Minas Anor. If Sauron's secondary dwelling is so huge, he thought with a sinking heart, what must Barad-dûr be like? Fell birds circled the pinnacle, but there was no other sign of life. The Istar hesitated long before stepping out from under the relative protection of the trees. He crept toward the stairs up to the great double leaves of the front door. Still no challenge or threat appeared, and he mounted them and stood before the thick panels. He pictured the space beyond the door as full of orcs, poised, eager to seize him and drag him into Sauron's presence. Although he pressed his ear against the wood for a minute, there was no telltale scuffling or whispering.

Gandalf pondered whether he should risk trying to get inside the Tower. Surely the stillness and desertion of the area around it masked a plan to lure him to do just that. Once inside he would be even more vulnerable than he was now. He should accept defeat and hasten away, his mission unaccomplished. He really should, and yet it was galling to have come so far and endured so much only to turn tail, returning empty-handed to Lothlórien. He was about to descend the stairs, but paused. He suddenly chuckled quietly. Something had just occurred to him that he might possibly have thought of earlier, had he not been so confident of his own claims. Perhaps the evil presence in Dol Guldur simply wasn't Sauron after all. Maybe it was a Nazgul, as the Elves had believed for hundreds of years. And if it was, perhaps it had already departed, bound for Mordor or the East. Certainly it seemed implausible that a tower full of soldiers could be quite so deathly silent.

Despite his better judgment, Gandalf pushed at the doors, but naturally they did not budge. He stepped back slightly and drew himself up. Indeed, had there been any present to witness his actions, they would have sworn that he grew distinctly taller. He pressed the tip of his staff firmly against the door and recited the most powerful door-opening spell that he knew. At once there was a grinding sound and hideously high-pitched squeaking as the internal parts of the great lock moved, and when it stopped, he pushed again on the doors. They swung ponderously open, and the dim outer light that shown in revealed that the hallway within was empty. The ease of it all seemed ominous. Surely if Sauron wanted him kept out, there would have been an equally strong closing spell on the door that he probably would not have been able to break. The whole thing reeked of being a trap. He stood long to get up his nerve before he stepped across the threshold and lit up the tip of his staff, stopping yet again to listen carefully.

Once inside, he could scarcely breathe for the miasma of evil that lingered there. The sense of malice and fear and pain nauseated him briefly, and he paused, leaning heavily on his staff and panting more deeply than ever. Gradually he became somewhat accustomed to the atmosphere within the Tower, and he was able to stand upright. Making a brief tour of the ground floor, he discovered that there was little of importance there. A circular hallway that ran around inside the tower walls contained merely numerous storerooms and, at the back, a great kitchen. Everywhere there were signs of a hasty departure, with objects dropped or knocked over. In the kitchen there were damp patches in the huge stone sink, and shriveled or spoiled food lay about.

In one corner of the kitchen the Wizard found a door leading to a stairway. At the bottom was utter darkness. The dungeons, he realized with a pang of horror and pity. Quite probably there were prisoners down in that ghastly cellar, but he saw no point in freeing them until he had thoroughly explored the Tower and determined that there was no lingering danger. The general appearance of desertion might be deceptive indeed.

He found another stairway, this time leading upward. At its top was a large set of rooms, obviously used by Sauron himself. The entire area was dim, since the windows were covered with heavy drapes. He jerked one open. By the filtered sunlight that entered, he could see that these rooms were luxuriously appointed, though the design of the furniture was ponderous and hideous, lavishly and ostentatiously decorated with clumsily cut semi-precious stones. Large archways connected all the rooms, to the extent that they almost formed parts of one open dwelling space. There were no doors to shut the rooms off, one from another. Sauron's personal taste, perhaps, or a design stemming from his fear of treacherous, stealthy intruders. Yes, he has regained much of his physical form by now, Gandalf thought grimly. He has the needs of the flesh. There were used plates on the dining table, an unmade bed visible in the darkness of a corner, and a great desk and chair placed at the very center of the room. Again, the place bore every indication of having been abandoned quickly.

Curious, Gandalf walked around the desk to see whether there might be some documents overlooked in the haste of departure. The thing was so tall as to be level with his chest. The drawers contained nothing useful. As he moved away from the desk, he realized with a shock that a piece of parchment had been affixed with an orcish dagger to the leather of the back of the chair and that his own name was scrawled in large letters across the top edge. The signature at the bottom bore another very familiar name.

With a grimace of disgust, he approached it. He had never had any indication that Sauron knew of him, let alone knew that name by which most people now called him. That the Enemy would wish to communicate with him so directly both frightened and intrigued him. The text of the letter was written in haste, and it was in the detestable Black Tongue. He forced himself to read it-though not aloud. It rambled, yet the Wizard sensed that Sauron had wished he had time to write more-to taunt and insult his foe at even greater length. The essential news was that the Dark Lord had fled. "My time has not yet come," he conceded succinctly, but he vowed to return and to claim his rightful place as lord over all of Middle-earth. Most of the text consisted of further boasts about his future triumphs, vicious threats about what he would someday do to Gandalf, filthy claims about the Wizard's sexual practices, denigrating statements about his intelligence--or lack thereof--and random insults. Reluctantly the Istar pulled the sheet free, handling it as little as possible. It was the best and most portable evidence of Sauron's presence that he could carry back. He looked around until he found a bit of cloth, folded the letter within it, and put the parcel into his small bag.

Slowly he went up the Tower, finding rooms containing equipment suggesting that vile experiments were conducted there. Near the top the space was all designed for defensive purposes, with great heaps of stones and spears and huge cauldrons for boiling oil or lead to pour upon invaders. The entire place was deserted. He went back down and explored the keep, around which the barracks of the orcish soldiers were built. The rooms stank, and there was dung scattered about that had not yet completely dried. He estimated that the inhabitants had departed the previous day, almost certainly after being warned of his approach by the band of orcs which he had encountered. For a moment he stood in the center of the keep's paved yard, breathing the slightly less foul air in the open and letting some of the tension drain from him now that he was sure that the danger was past.

Soon he quickly returned to the kitchen and lit up his staff once more at the top of the cellar stairs. There seemed to be a fog of misery hanging in the air as he descended, and he unfastened the bolt on the outside of the first of a row of doors. As he opened it, he was glad to see that a narrow, high slit allowed a tiny bit of light in. Being alone in such a place was bad enough, but complete darkness would be enough to drive a prisoner mad, he thought grimly. The Man within cowered for a moment and then greeted him with pitiful eagerness and gratitude. There were half a dozen others, each alone in a cell. They were emaciated, dirty, and blanched with lack of sunlight.

The Wizard helped them up to the grim kitchen and found enough unspoiled food to put together a hodgepodge of a meal for them. All were disoriented and weak. The one captured most recently told the Wizard that they were Men of Gondor, seized by orcs marching north and brought here. So far this group had not been tortured. Possibly there was nothing Sauron wanted to bother finding out from them-or more likely he had been waiting until they were worn down through sheer terror, isolation, and privation. Naturally the departing troops had simply left them to starve. There had been quite a few others, the Man said, but they had succumbed to disease or been tortured to death or perhaps found the means to end their own misery.

Much though they all longed to leave the hateful Tower, none of the freed prisoners was fit to travel. Having lived so long in the bowels of that dreadful place, simply coming up into the kitchen brought some relief to their spirits. Nevertheless, Gandalf did not want to spend any more time inside Dol Guldur than he had to, and he wanted to take the Men outside it. With the help of the healthier members of the group, he moved some beds from the orcs' barracks out under the branches of the trees nearest the Tower. The Wizard tried various spells to ward off the debilitating effects of the Men's long captivity. During the plague of 1636, he had explored the healing powers of Narya, his Elvish Ring. He called upon his memories of that time, and it seemed that his use of the Ring helped cheer and heal the Men.

Though still near to the Tower, the prisoners throve in the unaccustomed open air. They cooked and slept there, venturing occasionally back to fetch supplies from the ground level of Dol Guldur. There was no apparent source of water except for the pump by the huge kitchen sink, and as the Men grew stronger, they all took turns carrying buckets of it out to where they were camping. No matter how hard the work or primitive the living conditions, they gloried at being able to fend for themselves and eat comparatively well and breathe what seemed to them clean air.

Gandalf rejoiced at seeing how they progressed. He also took the occasion to search the Tower more thoroughly, but to no avail. Sauron would hardly leave anything helpful behind. On the fourth day, the group found themselves fit enough to leave the environs of Dol Guldur. Carrying what provisions they could, they set out toward the west and moved as fast as they could manage. When they reached the western bank of the Anduin, the group of Men shed many tears in thanking the Wizard for his aid. He praised them for their fortitude and urged them to tell the Steward in Minas Tirith of Sauron's flight. They then turned south on the long journey to reach their homes. After parting from them, Gandalf was able to walk more quickly, and he soon reached the outskirts of the Golden Wood.

Upon arriving at Caras Galadhon, the Grey Istar wearily started the long walk up the broad stairway. One of the Elves who had escorted him from the border went on ahead to announce his arrival, and the others waited below for the messenger to return so that they could hike back to their post.

To Gandalf's surprise and delight, as he continued up the great airy staircase and reached the lowest of the huge talons that made up the Lord and Lady's city, Saruman came hurriedly down the stairs. He paused briefly upon seeing the Grey Istar and then moved forward to embrace him tightly. After a few seconds he pulled away to arm's length, gripping Gandalf's shoulders and examining him intently. Finally a relieved smile appeared on his face. "I came to Lothlórien as quickly as I possibly could after receiving your message, Gandalf. I have a spent a miserable time here, waiting for news of you. I was convinced that that news could only be bad. It was a mad thing to attempt, especially alone! But now here you are, safe and sound. I take it that you thought better of your foolhardy scheme and turned back. I am so glad!"

Gandalf reached up and loosely grasped the other Istar's forearms. "Thank you for your welcome and concern, my dear friend. I kept hoping as I made my way back that I would find you here. No, I am afraid that I continued on my foolhardy course and did not turn back-though I felt like it many times along the way, I assure you! I reached Dol Guldur, but it was deserted. Sauron had got wind of my approach and fled, along with all his troops. The only people I found were some wretched prisoners, who are now on their way to their homes in Gondor."

Saruman stared at him in astonishment during this speech. He released Gandalf's shoulders and looked down, a little frown on his face, trying to assimilate this news. At last he gazed at his companion again with a dawning smile. "Unbelievable! And you were right, after all, then. It was Sauron. But why did he flee?"

Gandalf chuckled. "Yes, we were right--"

Saramun shook his head dismissively. "I supported your belief that it was Sauron, but you were the one who had already come to that conclusion."

"Be that as it may, it was he, and he fled. And why? It was simply because, as we suspected, he had not yet regained his full power. I have a letter from him. I would rather not handle it more than necessary, so I shall not bring it out until I can show it to you and Galadriel and Celeborn all at once. Then I shall turn it over to them to preserve in a safe place."

"As you will, but I still do not fully understand Sauron's motives."

"I doubt we ever shall, and I am afraid the letter will not enlighten us much beyond what I have just told you. We shall discuss it thoroughly at dinner-to which I am looking forward very much. Our diet while camping near the Tower was... let us say, a bit primitive. Right now I shall go straight to my room. I need a nap and a wash before dinner, and then I shall answer all your questions and those of our host and hostess as best I can."

"Yes, of course." They moved up the stairs together. As they walked, Saruman said, "And I am eager to hear about your journey and how you discovered all this-but I shan't interrogate you now. Rest, and then we will celebrate your courage at dinner and hear the tales of your adventures."

The two Istari dined in a small private room with Galadriel and Celeborn that evening. Gandalf had slept for a couple of hours and felt refreshed and ready to tell them as much as they wanted to know. During the meal Gandalf recounted the full story. The Lord and Lady were astounded at his account, and Saruman felt his earlier amazement grow as he learned that his fellow Wizard had explored the entire tower.

Afterwards the group lingered at the table as the others asked Gandalf questions. These were few, however, since the Wizard's account had been so thorough. The other three perused Sauron's defiant letter with disgust, and Celeborn shut it away in a drawer until a more secure storage place could be arranged. Even after he had done so, all four remained aware of the foul document's disquieting presence in the room.

Having arrived in a safe and welcoming place after such dangers and hardships, Gandalf was finally able to relax. He felt positively ebullient and remarked, "I still find it quite overwhelming to think that Sauron would consider me so threatening. I had not even realized that he knew who I was! That he should decide not to fight and rather flee at my approach ... me alone." He shook his head. "I have done a great many dangerous things in my time, but nothing that seemed as risky as going to the Tower."

Galadriel smiled fondly at him. "I am very happy that you have finally recognized something of the extent of your own power. True, it amazes me as well that Sauron should have fled, but, given that he did, I am not surprised that you would be the one to frighten him so. I should add that your wise claim was vindicated: you were right about the identity of the menace in Dol Guldur, as were you, Saruman," she said graciously. "We others were all wrong. I hope we shall not make that mistake again. Indeed, Gandalf, I am sure we shall pay very close attention to your opinions from now on! We are very grateful to you, and I know the others of the Wise will be as well, once they hear this news."

Gandalf stared thoughtfully at her as she spoke but then shrugged and changed the subject. "Well, delighted as I am at Sauron's flight, I cannot help but be somewhat disappointed. My point in going there was to gather evidence that we should attack the Tower. Instead, I have helped to make that impossible. But even though he has fled, his threats to return are not idle boasting. His departure will lead only to a respite, not a resolution. I must admit, though, a respite, if it lasts a substantial time, might be extremely helpful. It would allow Gondor's strength to grow-and that of the Dwarves of Erebor, for that matter, and various other peoples of Middle-earth." He gazed at the table for a moment as the three of them watched him. Finally he looked up and surveyed their faces with a smile. "No, I cannot be really upset at the way things have turned out. And yes, objectively speaking, I think you are right, Galadriel. I have had a rare chance to take the measure of my ability to oppose him.

"Of course, when he returns, he will be more powerful, of that we may be sure. But he has flaws, imperfections that we may someday exploit against him. We should not think of him as invincible. I realize that now. The only time that I have come even near to him, he fled! He is capable of fear. We must not miss a chance to exploit any such weakness we detect in him to our advantage."

Celeborn said, "Indeed. Well, I imagine that you will resume your travels soon, but we hope we can persuade you to stay awhile with us. And when you go, Galadriel and I will undertake to monitor Dol Guldur, with Radagast's help."

As the other three discussed how that might be done, Saruman studied Gandalf. He had early on learned to greatly respect his fellow Istar, but even so he had considerably underestimated him. Not only was he wise and diligent and determined, as Saruman knew well, but he turned out to be extraordinarily brave and powerful-more so than the White Istar could ever have guessed. For the first time it occurred to him that perhaps Gandalf possessed some or all of these qualities in greater degree than he did himself. Saruman had felt a little left out of the conversation, as the Lord and Lady praised the Grey Wizard in such glowing terms. True, Galadriel had credited him with being right about the inhabitant of Dol Guldur-but it was Gandalf who had done something about it, and in a spectacularly successful manner. He had to admit to himself that the Grey Istar deserved all the praise he was receiving. Perhaps someday Saruman would have an opportunity to accomplish such a feat as Gandalf had. In the meantime, he realized that just as he admired his fellow Wizard more than ever, he desired him more than ever.

Eventually, as the group left the private dining room and wished each other good night, Saruman touched Gandalf's arm to detain him. "It is early yet, and your valiant deed deserves further celebration. If you are not too tired, would you care to come to my room for a little while? I shall ask for some wine to be brought, and we can relax now that your journey is over."

"That sounds wonderful! I did manage to get a nap, and I must confess, I am still a bit too elated about the whole affair to feel at all sleepy. It's not so much the praise at dinner, though the three of you were very kind. It's just that this was the biggest thing I've accomplished since I arrived in Middle-earth. And when I went, I had no idea that it could possibly turn out the way it did. Truly, I just hoped to gather information there. Well, enough of all that. Yes, thank you, I'd enjoy a little wine and some conversation."

They were soon sitting on a padded wooden settee before a small fire, with a jug of cool wine and two elegant Elvish goblets on a low table before them. They slowly sipped it as they talked. Saruman asked for further details of the Grey Istar's adventure, and Gandalf enthralled him with some anecdotes about things he had seen and done. Saruman noticed that the other Wizard avoided describing his own courageous deeds but concentrated on objective descriptions of the Tower and what he had experienced there.

In this way they sat far into the evening. After a short while Saruman began to watch nervously for any sign that his fellow Istar was restless and anxious to get away, perhaps to join a lover. Saruman didn't know whether Gandalf in fact regularly slept with anyone in Caras Galadhon, but since he had two Elves as lovers elsewhere, it would not be surprising if he had another here. But the Grey Wizard sat comfortably for nearly two hours and showed no signs of wanting to leave. He had moved on to chatting about his own travel plans and inquiring about Saruman's: "I am surprised that, given your preference for the company of Men you have explored so little in the areas to the west of the Misty Mountains. True, there are portions still left unpopulated by the great plague, but there are many villages and farms in Dunland-and much land for new populations to move into, if they like. If you go far enough north and west, there are more settlements of Men, and eventually you come to the land of the Hobbits, who are, in effect, simply very short Men. No doubt they are of a more placid temperament, on the whole-and that is all to the good ... unless someday they need to defend themselves. Then, I fear, they would be at a considerable disadvantage, and we might have to step in to aid them." He fell silent.

By now the White Istar had got to a point where he was barely listening, absorbed as he was in watching Gandalf's lips pressing at intervals against the rim of his goblet. He vaguely noted the term "Hobbits," which Gandalf had used on one or two previous occasions, but he really could not get interested in people apparently too small and unadventurous to be of any help in their cause. His attention was almost entirely centered on the temptation to embrace the Grey Wizard-to make his desire known at last and bring an end to his longings, for better or worse. Saruman's cock was swelling slightly at the warmth of the Grey Wizard's body so close to his.

As Gandalf took another sip of wine and briefly ran the tip of his tongue over his upper lip, Saruman's self-control snapped. When his fellow Istar straightened up from replacing his goblet on the low table before them, Saruman suddenly slid an arm around his shoulders, cupped the far side of his head with his other hand, and turned it toward himself until he could lean forward to press his lips against Gandalf's. The sensation of finally having that soft, warm mouth against his own both excited him and pulled him back to reality. Surely he would be rebuffed, and he already dreaded the humiliation of it. He drew back and stared into Gandalf's face, trying to hide his trepidation.

The Grey Wizard's expression was one of utter surprise, yet quickly a slight, puzzled smile appeared as well. Soon it widened to a smile of pure delight, and Gandalf relaxed his head down onto the white-clad arm resting behind him atop the bench's back. With a little sigh of anticipation, he offered his mouth, lips slightly parted. At once Saruman kissed him again, far less tentatively. Soon he leaned his body more firmly against Gandalf's and pushed his tongue's tip between the welcoming lips. A tiny moan escaped him as the other Wizard's tongue moved confidently, circling and caressing his own. His arousal soaring, Saruman suddenly thrust his tongue further and pressed his mouth down harder onto Gandalf's in a rough, demanding invasion.

To his alarm, Gandalf pushed on his chest and drew back, scrutinizing his face with a furrowed brow. Saruman forced himself not to look away and tried again to prepare for rejection, berating himself for being far too aggressive in the last part of that kiss. Gandalf did not reproach him, however, but looked very intently into the other Istar's eyes. "Saruman ... you're not doing this only because...?" He glanced at the jug and goblets on the table.

The White Istar was flushed with excitement. Startled by Gandalf's unexpected question and very relieved at not being rejected, he said a little too heartily, "No!" He forced himself to say more calmly, " No, I assure you, Gandalf, I am not drunk. I have long wanted to do this. It's just that, now ..." He also glanced at the jug, shrugging with an embarrassed smile.

"Really?" Gandalf said with another grin, now a slightly teasing one. "So the wine has simply given you the courage to do something that you wanted to do anyway. Is that it?"

Still embarrassed but increasingly elated that Gandalf had not rebuffed him, Saruman nodded. The Grey Istar chuckled slightly and once more tilted his head and leaned on the White Istar's arm, squirming slightly closer and putting one hand behind Saruman's neck to pull their mouths together again. This time Gandalf's tongue quickly slid between his lips. With a louder moan of desire, Saruman responded, embracing Gandalf and sucking hungrily at the probing tongue. He felt the other Wizard's free hand sliding down to rub against his thin shirt until the fingers found and gently pinched a nipple. It grew high and taut as Saruman flinched in pleasure and shifted to allow greater access. Gandalf's adept hands and mouth were exciting him every bit as much as he had dreamed they could, and without thinking he slid down on the bench slightly, trying to pull his friend much more firmly against himself.

By this point, although Gandalf was rapidly becoming aroused, he was also increasingly aware that in this awkward twisting position, the hard edge of the bench pressed a little painfully against his thigh. Reluctantly he pulled his mouth free, eliciting another moan, this time of disappointment. Saruman's eyes flew open, already glazed with arousal. Gandalf said hoarsely, "I think it would be a good idea to move someplace more comfortable, don't you?" He tilted his head briefly to indicate the large bed on the other side of the room.

Saruman looked dazed. This was happening so easily-after all his fears. "Yes... yes, if you are willing ..." He still could not believe that his spontaneous, foolish kiss had actually been welcomed and returned with such enthusiasm.

Gandalf laughed softly. "Do I seem unwilling? If you doubt my intentions, well ..." He grasped Saruman's hand and brought it firmly against his crotch.

The White Istar felt a swelling, half-hard erection within the trousers, and he gasped and stroked it slowly, feeling it increase in length and girth and heat under his fingers. Gandalf's eyes slid shut, and he parted his thighs and relaxed against the back of the bench, savoring the thorough exploration of his throbbing member. Saruman whispered, "That indeed seems decisive." He gazed raptly into his fellow wizard's face and remembered how often and for how long he had yearned to see just such an expression of wanton surrender there. He suppressed an eager moan and went on, "I . . . I just did not realize that you would want . . ."

Gandalf's eyes opened halfway to look at Saruman curiously. "Why not? I think you know that I do not abstain from such pleasures."

"Of course! It's just ... you already have some very attractive partners."

Gandalf's eyes opened wider in surprise. "True enough, but you're attractive yourself. You're quite a handsome fellow-more so than I am! Surely you have had your share of lovers over the years."

"Oh, yes. But never until now the one that I really wanted."

Gandalf's smile faded, and he looked solemnly into Saruman's eyes for a moment, his puzzlement making his arousal recede slightly. "Why didn't you say something or at least hint at it in some fashion?"

"I . . ." Finally the White Wizard shrugged again and shook his head ruefully. Gandalf leaned forward and nibbled at his neck and ear, sliding his fingers slowly up the inside of his fellow Istar's thigh until he felt the swelling length through the trousers. He chuckled as Saruman squirmed with pleasure.

"Now will you let me into your bed, or do I need to give you another glass to get your courage up?"

"Hardly! Yes, let's go. Except ..." He gulped as questing fingers again found his taut nipple through the cloth of his shirt and teased at it.

"Except what?" Gandalf whispered, tickling the ear with his tongue.

"Except I don't want you to stop what you're doing, even for an instant!" Saruman said with a brief gasp of laughter.

"That desperate, are we? Well, I'm afraid I'll have to pause for more than an instant, but you'll be glad that I did." Gandalf pulled away from Saruman, and his fellow Istar reluctantly opened his eyes and sat up straighter. Before he could begin to rise, however, he was surprised to see Gandalf casually pull a small cushion from behind himself and toss it down onto the floor in front of the other Wizard, rising to stand before Saruman. Gandalf moved the little table aside with his foot, carefully so as not to spill the wine, and knelt on the cushion, smiling mischievously up at Saruman as he pushed his knees wide and began to unlace his trouser-front. The White Istar panted raggedly at feeling the skillful fingers brushing provocatively against his aching length as they pulled the laces loose.

Finally Saruman's erection jutted forth from the cloth bunched beneath it. It was long and thick and pink, with just a hint of veins roughening its surface. It was also glistening slightly in the firelight, moist with the heat that Saruman's desire had generated while it was trapped within his heavy trouser-front. Gandalf ran his fingers down it as he smilingly admired it, delving under the heavy testicle sac below to lift it out as well. He shook his head. "Now I know why people are tempted to make bad puns about my 'long staff,'" he remarked with a teasing glance into Saruman's face. "I almost made one myself. I'll have to be careful, or I suspect that this will be over all too soon," he added with a grin.

With that Gandalf pressed his pursed lips onto the tip and sucked gently as he swirled his tongue over the little dome, tickling the slit and laving the velvety skin. His fingers slowly slid over the shaft, exploring it thoroughly. He drew back to examine it as he held it up along Saruman's lower belly and then leaned forward to lap at the testicle sac, probing the balls with the tip of his tongue and then sucking at each slowly and tantalizingly. The White Wizard watched in suspense, torn between need and the desire for this to go on for hours. Gandalf glanced up at him and smiled as he let the shaft spring upright again. He grasped the base firmly with one hand and lowered his mouth onto it until the entire crown was enclosed in a wet heat that made Saruman whimper and squeeze his eyes tightly shut. Licking the ridge on the underside and rubbing it with his tongue, Gandalf gradually sank further until half of the straining erection was in his mouth. Caressing the balls with his free hand, he began to move up and down, his lips tight, his tongue flicking back and forth.

Saruman wanted to show his delight in such pleasure, and he tentatively reached out to stroke Gandalf's fluffy white mane. The other Istar looked up at him and smiled again as best he could around the thick shaft in his mouth. "Please," Saruman said in a small, strained voice, and at once Gandalf's hand tightened on the cock, pumping the lower part faster as he continued to suck the top. Saruman's breathing became a series of uneven, shuddering gasps as he neared fulfillment. His new lover tantalized him for awhile, repeatedly easing up as he sensed that Saruman was on the brink. The White Istar uttered whimpers of frustration each time this happened, but he also gloried in the continuation of the exquisite sensations as Gandalf skillfully resumed driving him upward.

Ultimately the Grey Wizard increased the pace, sucking hard and fondling Saruman's balls until the Istar grimaced and rolled his head back onto the bench, groaning as spasms of pleasure seized him. Gandalf easily swallowed the gushes of hot cream that softly struck the back of his mouth, careful not to stop until the last flickers of pleasure faded. He continued to gently lick and caress the slowly shrinking member as Saruman slumped, panting, his eyes closed.

Gandalf sat back on his heels and tossed the cushion back onto the bench. His own erection was urging him to hurry the White Istar off to bed, but he forced himself to be patient as Saruman recovered a little.

At last he opened his eyes and looked at Gandalf with a dazed, blissful smile. "That was wonderful, overwhelmingly wonderful," he murmured. Intensely grateful and eager to please Gandalf in turn, Saruman sat up and embraced the Grey Istar kneeling before him.

"Yes, you seemed to enjoy it. I'm glad," Gandalf murmured, pulling back briefly to look into his eyes. He leaned in and kissed Saruman hard, pushing his tongue in eagerly. The White Istar could taste his own come in that kiss, but although he ordinarily would have found that disgusting, to experience it in Gandalf's mouth actually thrilled him. His companion withdrew to inquire, "Now do you think you can bear to move to that bed?"

Saruman nodded and shed his trousers as he stood up. He quickly doffed his shirt as well as he followed the Grey Istar, who climbed onto the large bed. Gandalf pushed the pillows into a heap and relaxed back into them, spreading his bent legs. Saruman could clearly see the large bulge in the other Istar's trouser-front. He licked his lips nervously. It was not a sex act that he had performed often, and he suddenly realized that Gandalf would probably think him quite unskilled. He had never particularly enjoyed performing it either. He wished they could instead try penetration, but his own recent climax made that less logical than what the other Wizard clearly expected.

Saruman got up onto the bed and sat on folded knees between his lover's feet. "I . . . I don't know how to do this very well," he admitted, deciding it would be better if the other Wizard's expectations were not too high.

Gandalf looked up with a tiny frown of concern. "Don't you like the idea? We could-"

"No, no! With you I do," Saruman said, and he realized that it was the truth. He had longed to see and to feel Gandalf's cock, and suddenly he wanted to take as much of it as he could into his mouth, to run his tongue over it and explore it. Above all he dreaded disappointing the other Wizard by shying away from something that he wanted.

Gandalf grinned. "Good! Well, you seemed to be watching me quite closely just now, up until the end, anyway. Perhaps you learned something. And really, it can be quite a pleasant thing to do." He glanced down at his own straining trouser-laces. "Shall I take it out, or would you like to do that as well?"

In response Saruman edged forward on his knees until he was kneeling between Gandalf's legs. Trying to hide his nervousness, he stroked the bulge slowly. Gandalf uttered a soft moan, his hips shifting on the mattress as he pushed upward against the caressing fingers. Thus encouraged, the White Istar undid the knot and loosened the laces until he could pull the cloth outward. Gandalf's fully rampant member popped out and swayed slightly. High, rough veins meandered along the thick shaft, and the whole thing was a beautiful purple color. "It's quite large," Saruman murmured.

Gandalf was obviously pleased, but he shrugged and said, "No more so than yours. Or Radagast's. It would seem that all the Istari must be quite well-endowed."

Saruman froze upon hearing Gandalf refer so casually to his sexual liaison with the Brown Wizard. Well, obviously the other Istar remembered that Saruman knew about that long relationship. There was no reason for him to be secretive about it. But why did he have to mention it?

Gandalf saw his hesitation and said, "Oh, I thought you were just complimenting me, but do you mean that ... well, that it's too big for you to want to put in your mouth-since you're not accustomed to it. Really, you could just use your hand, and perhaps lick it--"

"No!" Saruman said. "That's not it at all. I did just mean it as a compliment. I do want to put it in my mouth." The White Istar struggled to purge Radagast from his mind as he reached forward and ran his hand lightly up over the loose skin of the shaft and onto the large, velvety head. He would have to do this reasonably well, or he could not hope to hold the affection of the Grey Wizard and make him forget those past lovers. Still, the thrill of touching Gandalf so intimately and pleasuring him soon drove away all jealous thoughts.

His caresses were so tentative that Gandalf raised himself on his elbows and said, "Really, if you're not enjoying this, we could do something else."

"No! I just ... I don't know what you would like."

Gandalf smiled and settled back. "This is partly about what you would like. Play with it as you wish, and I'm sure I will find it most pleasurable."

His words banished much of Saruman's nervousness, and he slid down to recline on his elbow, his face near the upright member. He pulled it toward himself and began to lick it, languorously feeling it all over with his tongue. Gandalf had closed his eyes-probably to avoid making him feel self-conscious, the White Istar thought with a surge of affection. He grasped the erection and slowly stroked it, running his fingers over the top each time his hand reached it. His mouth lowered to explore the other Wizard's testicle sac. He sucked in little patches of the loose skin and rolled the balls around with his tongue.

Gandalf moved his feet all the way up until they touched his buttocks, giving Saruman better access. The White Istar responded by moving down to lick the back of the testicles, poking them with his tongue at intervals. All during this, Gandalf's soft gasps and moans indicated that Saruman was doing reasonably well, and he relaxed further and began to concentrate more on the joy of exploring his lover so thoroughly. He raised his head and slid his tongue's tip teasingly over the soft skin of the inner thighs. Gandalf squirmed and whispered, "Yes," and the White Wizard continued his licking, moving slowly and discovering the extent of this particularly sensitive area.

Eventually he moved back to the balls, but as he did, he noticed the small, dusky depression that was all he could see of Gandalf's opening in the soft lamp-light. He felt his own cock stir slightly at the thought of taking his lover, and he brushed his forefinger over the puckered entrance. Gandalf jerked, and Saruman tickled more firmly, returning to licking the testicles as he did so. As he dug his tongue into the soft area where the base of the shaft met the sac, the Grey Istar groaned sharply. "Now, please, now," he said in a strained voice.

Saruman edged his elbow closer to the other Wizard's body and pulled the erection toward himself until he could suck on its tip. He pumped it firmly and increased the speed as his mouth moved up and down, taking more in each time until he could go no further. His lips and hand tightened, and he caressed the balls with a feathery touch. The back of one shoulder rested against Gandalf's bent leg, and he could feel it trembling in the build to impending ecstasy. Within seconds the Grey Istar erupted into Saruman's mouth, his back arching up and his hands clutching the bedclothes frantically. Saruman found that swallowing the warm spurts came naturally, and his last worry vanished as he continued to suck and prolong Gandalf's pleasure. Gradually it ended, and Saruman withdrew, licking the tip free of any lingering drops of seed and feeling the first hints of the member's softening.

Gandalf relaxed blissfully into the pillows, pulling one behind his head to prop it upright. He looked jubilantly at the White Istar. "That was marvelous! Now confess--you were just trying to lower my expectations so that I'd be thrilled when you gave me such exquisite pleasure."

Saruman knelt with his hands on his knees, panting slightly from his efforts. "No, honestly, I'm sure I have never done it that well before. Not nearly so well. I guess you did indeed teach me something-"

"Or just inspired you."

Saruman reached down and gently stroked Gandalf's shrinking member. He wondered how long it would be before it could be rampant once more. "Yes, that too. I really did enjoy 'playing' with it."

The Grey Istar leaned forward to gently urge Saruman to come and sit beside him. As they lolled side by side on the pillows, they kissed and caressed languidly for a time. Finally Gandalf stroked his lover's head and remarked, "I wish I could have seen your hair and beard when they were completely black. To be sure, they are wonderful still, with streaks of white, but you must have been a very striking sight, with such very dark hair against your white clothing. At least, so I have been told. I realize that you have had many worries and troubles during your journeys-enough that it would not be surprising if you had far more white mingled in than you do. I don't mean to imply that you aren't beautiful, for I have always considered you a very handsome Man."

Saruman ran his fingers through the other Istar's thick mane. "Has your own hair always been white?"

"Yes, since I first arrived. Never a bit of color in it."

"Well, that is beautiful, too. So pure in its whiteness! And though you may have been given the appearance of great age, you are certainly lively enough. In fact, I hope that soon you will be able to demonstrate your youthful vigor even more forcefully." He slid his hand under Gandalf's beard. The Grey Istar was still wearing his shirt. Saruman undid the top button and reached inside to feel the smooth, slightly damp skin just below the other Wizard's throat. Gandalf brushed his own beard aside to uncover the entire shirt-front. The White Istar opened another button and leaned in to place soft, wet kisses across the chest. Gandalf was breathing more deeply by now, and the room was otherwise so silent that Saruman could hear the tiny, moist sounds of his own lips moving and briefly clinging. Once he had opened enough buttons that he could spread the shirt wide, he found a smooth, brown disk with a tiny rise in the middle. He licked it, and at once Gandalf groaned sharply. Saruman withdrew to watch as the nipple contracted, and a round, high nub rose. With a faint whimper, he surrounded it with his open mouth, flicking his tongue over it and sucking at intervals.

Soon Gandalf was writhing under him, involuntarily thrusting his hips up to meet Saruman's, his heels pushing against the mattress. Saruman licked his own thumb and finger and pinched the other nipple as he continued to tickle the first with his tongue. He enjoyed having his own nipples caressed, but Gandalf's seemed extraordinarily sensitive to the slightest touch. Saruman could feel his own cock swelling further, and Gandalf's was at least half engorged. Their members rubbed against each other until they were both hard and leaking. Gandalf pushed his lover away slightly. "I'm feeling quite vigorous at the moment. Do you prefer to be on the top or bottom?"

Saruman hesitated for an instant. He usually preferred to take his partners, but he knew that if he did so now, he would constantly worry about hurting Gandalf. Better leave that for another time, when he was more confident. At least-if there was another time. "Either is fine," he whispered. "If you like, go inside me tonight."

"Either is fine with me, too," Gandalf said softly, "and I would love to take you." He sat up and looked around. "Do you have something to ease the way? I usually carry a little ointment in my cloak, but that is in my room."

Saruman got out of bed and crossed to a chest of drawers against the far wall. He picked up a jar that was sitting on it and pulled some handkerchiefs out of a drawer. Quickly he returned, handed them to Gandalf, and climbed onto the bed. He lay down, his shoulders and head somewhat elevated. Gandalf tugged a pillow from the heap and slipped it under Saruman's hips. The White Istar's erection had diminished slightly during all this, but Gandalf's hand soon remedied that. "Are you ready?" Gandalf murmured. Saruman nodded and strove to relax as his lover's cream-covered fingers rubbed and gently prodded at his tiny hole. Soon one entered him, paused, and continued until he felt a sudden jolt of ecstasy that made his whole body twitch. The exquisite sensations went on as Gandalf added a second finger and gradually loosened him.

The Grey Istar coated his thick purple organ thoroughly, glancing down and seeing that Saruman's entrance was loose enough to gape slightly. He put down the jar and placed the tip of his member against the opening. The ring of flesh yielded reluctantly and gripped him hard. He pushed as slowly as he could. Soon the thickest part suddenly went through and a small part of the shaft quickly followed. He halted, sliding his flat hands over Saruman's thighs and knees, waiting for him to adjust to being so stretched.

After a short while the White Istar whispered, "Go ahead," and Gandalf began to rock his hips, driving himself inward. Soon he again reached the pleasure point, and Saruman writhed, wrapping his legs around his partner's thighs and lifting himself enough to intensify the dizzying sensations that Gandalf's thrusting was causing. The Grey Istar grasped his iron-hard shaft and pumped it in an easy rhythm. They had both come recently enough that they could prolong this joining, and Gandalf held back, rubbing along the front of Saruman's tight passage and feeling its moist, hot grip until he was nearly lightheaded with arousal. "So close!" Saruman said at one point, and Gandalf eased back perceptibly, answering, "But not yet."

At last Gandalf too felt himself driven to the brink and unable to will himself to lessen the sensations yet again. He clenched his teeth and fought to control his climax, which threatened to surge over him at any second. He could not thrust harder, but he gripped Saruman's shaft more tightly and pumped it rapidly. Almost immediately Saruman let out a loud, hoarse groan and jerked repeatedly as spurts of semen burst upward and fell onto his chest and belly. As Gandalf had hoped, the spasming channel drove him the last tiny way upward, and he echoed his partner's groan, pushing deeply inward and then thrusting with short, fast strokes until he had drained himself into the White Istar. He put his hands on Saruman's knees to hold himself upright as the room spun around him.

After a long minute in which they savored the spread of the tingling aftermath through their lower bodies, Gandalf grasped the handkerchiefs and wiped them both as he withdrew. Tossing them on the tile floor, he crawled up and turned, collapsing beside Saruman into the heap of pillows.

Saruman rose to sit propped next to the Grey Istar, and they pulled the blankets partly up so that their sweaty bodies would not feel the slight chill of the night air. Gandalf leaned against the taller Wizard and rested his cheek on his shoulder. For a few moments there was a blissful silence before Gandalf said, "This was so wonderful! I'm extremely glad I accepted your invitation to sit with you awhile here."

Saruman strove not to imagine how he would feel now if Gandalf hadn't accepted. "So am I," he murmured.

"It's odd. I almost feel as if I were getting some sort of reward for what I did at Dol Guldur."

Saruman's smile faded. "But it wasn't-- I mean, I would have wanted to do this with you whatever the circumstances of our meeting here. I didn't--

"Of course not. It was just a silly notion. Never mind. I think I'm still feeling a little giddy, after finally arriving here, and all the praise at dinner, and then topped off with such marvelous lovemaking." He lifted his face toward Saruman, who leaned in for a leisurely kiss.

The White Istar sat up, smiled, and gave a tiny shrug. "On the other hand, I'm glad you find everything we've just done as good enough to be considered a reward. You truly enjoyed it, then?" He knew he shouldn't keep asking, but he was still overwhelmed with all that had happened. It hardly seemed real, much though his satiated body testified that it was very real indeed.

"Of course!" Gandalf replied. He yawned. "It was such a lovely surprise to begin with, and it just kept getting better after that. Now I feel completely happy and relaxed." With that he slipped further down under the blankets and snuggled up against Saruman's side as his eyelids drooped. The White Istar sat perfectly still, not wanting to disturb his lover and make him move away. He was tired but not sleepy, and he knew he couldn't drift off immediately, as Gandalf was doing.

Suddenly he had a thought and put a hand on his lover's shoulder to rouse him before he fell fast asleep. He paused, thinking how the content, drowsy look on the Grey Istar's face as his eyes slid shut was also something that he had often fantasized about. Reluctantly he shook Gandalf's shoulder.

The Grey Wizard pulled himself up and brushed his lips over those of his new lover. "Again?! I'm afraid I shall have trouble keeping up with you."

Saruman noted with a small thrill of delight how easily Gandalf was teasing him. He chuckled and replied, "No, I am quite finished for now. I feel exactly as marvelous as you obviously do! But what I wanted to ask is, do you really want to spend the whole night here? Might it not be noticed in the morning-and gossiped about?"

Gandalf grinned and yawned again. "Oh, I suspect that it will be! But what of it? Those who are interested in such things will be pleased that we have brought a little novelty into this isolated community. But I don't think anyone would be shocked to know that we had shared such pleasures. They certainly wouldn't tease us about it or respect us the less for it. In fact, it strikes me now that there are probably some who assume we have been lovers for years." Gandalf lowered himself again and closed his eyes.

Saruman had initially been thinking of Gandalf's reputation and standing in the opinion of the Wise and the others of Galadriel's household. Despite the Grey Istar's reassurances, however, he realized that he also did not want them knowing that he himself had engaged in such activities-even if they did not mention it. Saruman wasn't at all convinced that everyone would continue to respect them as much if this relationship became known. He hesitated, but he suspected that he would not be able to persuade Gandalf to leave without seeming foolish in the other Istar's eyes. He had such a different attitude about such matters! Besides, it would certainly be wonderful to sleep beside his lover, reveling in their new intimacy. And if they awoke early enough, perhaps Gandalf could return to his own room unnoticed by anyone. With that comforting thought, he edged down and lay touching Gandalf only very slightly. The bliss lingering in his body soon relaxed him, and he joined the Grey Istar in slumber.

Saruman's satiated exhaustion made him sleep soundly all night. He was used to sleeping alone, however, and shortly after dawn he started awake when his companion turned over. His brief shock quickly faded. He settled onto his side to look at Gandalf, who was still peacefully asleep, also on his side and facing him. After staring at the other Wizard for a long while in the dim light, Saruman could not resist inching gently closer to him. Although the White Istar did not touch his lover, Gandalf stirred without opening his eyes. He reached out and groped until he found Saruman's hand, grasping it loosely.

They both lay still again as Saruman gazed at Gandalf's hand, a surge of joy flooding his mind. No, not joy, or not just joy. Love, intense and pure.

Quickly, though, his dazed, adoring smile faded as it occurred to him to wonder whether Gandalf knew whose hand he had just reached out for. If only the other Wizard had uttered his name at the same time!

Maybe he still would. Cautiously Saruman whispered, "Gandalf," but his lover neither moved nor spoke. He whispered a little more loudly, "Gandalf," but still to no effect. He lay silently again, trying to recover the initial joy at the other Wizard's gesture, but his doubt remained. In Gandalf's dreams, did he think he was with someone else? With Radagast, perhaps? Saruman silently cursed the Brown Istar, who had lain with Gandalf long before he had. It shouldn't matter. He and the Grey Istar had both had lovers before. It was only natural, over the thousand years and more that they had been in Middle-earth. But how often with Radagast, and for how many of those years? he wondered. And how recently? And there was Erestor as well and Legolas and perhaps others of whom he was unaware.

Finally Gandalf's eyes fluttered open. At once he smiled happily at seeing Saruman, betraying no trace of surprise or disappointment at finding himself next to the White Wizard. Saruman's deep joy returned, and he squeezed Gandalf's hand as he returned his smile.

"Good morning," Gandalf murmured drowsily.

"Good morning."

Gandalf glanced at the dawn light seeping through the curtains. "I see that the grey dawn has come. Do you really want me to sneak along the halls like a thief in the night and return to my own bed?" he asked with an affectionate, mocking chuckle. "Or may I go on lying here feeling very happy to have just slept with an extraordinary Man whom I greatly admire?"

Brushing aside the thought that it really would be more sensible if Gandalf did leave now, Saruman slowly shook his head. At the moment he was too overjoyed to worry about others' opinions. He pulled the Grey Istar's hand toward himself to kiss it.

Gandalf yawned and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "Good! In a little while, we could go and have a bath together in one of those lovely big wooden tubs. At this hour few if any should be occupied." He grinned at Saruman as he woke up more fully. "I'll wash your back if you'll wash mine." He stretched his neck to kiss the other Istar briefly.

This was perfect. Utterly perfect. Saruman felt impelled to tell Gandalf how much he loved him. This had all happened so suddenly, however, that he felt he should not push it any further, not yet. Gandalf admired him and was very happy to have slept with him. They were lovers! The White Istar just replied softly, "That sounds fair." He reached out and stroked the thick white hair on the side of Gandalf's head, and the other Wizard briefly turned his face to kiss the palm of the caressing hand. Saruman's hand faltered and then resumed stroking. Yes, utterly perfect-for now. He pulled Gandalf closer, pressing his chin atop the other Istar's snowy hair. Gandalf contentedly nuzzled into his beard and then stilled.

Saruman thought how ironic it was that he had suggested that Gandalf leave. Right now he didn't want either of them to move-not for hours. During his difficult travels, he had often yearned to return to Valinor. Now, after the disappointment of Pallando and Alatar's defection from their cause, after several love affairs that had ultimately failed to satisfy, after so many difficulties and setbacks, he had what he desired. For once he did not need to think of the past or future. Middle-earth had become a hospitable place-even a joyous one.

All too soon Gandalf sat up. "Well, shall we?" he asked.

Saruman nodded, and they rose and stretched. As Gandalf began to pull his clothes on, he said, "I shall go to my room for my towel and comb and so on and be back shortly."

Saruman paused. "Your room. But if we are not going to keep our, um ... well, all this a secret, you will move in here with me, won't you?"

Gandalf looked startled, and Saruman immediately berated himself for having spoken too quickly. Obviously after only one night Gandalf would not be ready for that.

Gandalf glanced around. "Well . . . this room is rather small for two. Not that I own many things, but I do have books and notes spread out on the big table in my room, and it is very convenient to work there. I think it would make more sense for me to stay there." He smiled. "I no doubt shall spend my nights here or invite you to join me there. But after all, I should have a private, quiet place to get some naps. I think I'm going to need them if I'm to be able to satisfy such a randy fellow."

Saruman knew well that this was just flattery, but it was affectionately said, and it pleased him more than he let on, almost making up for Gandalf's refusal to share his room. He merely chuckled softly and shook his head in mock exasperation at the teasing.

Once Gandalf was dressed, he moved against Saruman and initiated a soft, leisurely kiss. Finally, drawing back, he said, "I shall return shortly." He crossed to the door but paused, one hand on the knob, the other raised to shake a finger sternly at Saruman as he said, "Now, I won't have to ply you with wine to lure you into bed again, will I?"

Saruman gave a little snort of surprised laughter. "You neither plied me with wine nor lured me into bed last night."

Gandalf waggled his eyebrows. "Well, had I but known that it would work, I might have!"

Saruman smiled at him uncertainly. How he wished that were true! "Would you really?"

Gandalf's grin softened to a slight smile. "Well, of course, I would never use wine to get someone into bed. Still, it's a pity I didn't know earlier that you were interested. We could have done this sooner." He opened the door and went out.

Saruman stood staring at the door for a while after it closed. Yes, perfect. True, he had been a bit precipitate in asking Gandalf to move in with him, but eventually... After a brief reflection, however, his joy again receded as he realized that he had no place to invite Gandalf to when the time was right, no place where they could live together. Spending a week or two in the same guest room in Minas Tirith or one of the Elven enclaves was hardly the same thing. They would soon be traveling again, and it seemed inevitable that they would often be apart for long stretches. Saruman found himself thinking of Gandalf's other lovers as "past," but he reminded himself that that was probably too much to hope for-yet. No, wonderful though their new relationship was emotionally, there were some practical obstacles to overcome before the whole thing became truly perfect. He remained gazing abstractedly until he heard Gandalf's footsteps approaching the door and turned quickly to pick up his own bath items.

A short time later, the two Istari were sitting and holding hands in a large wooden tub with a submerged bench running around the interior. The water reached nearly to their chests. Silence had fallen between them, and the warm water had made Saruman drowsy to the point where he was nodding and dozing. Gandalf reflected on how very long it has been since a friendship had developed into love in this way. In each prior case, he had sensed it coming. This time Saruman's abrupt kiss had taken him entirely by surprise. For a short time he thought back over his various meetings with the White Istar and tried to think how he might have inadvertently discouraged him from initiating such a relationship. Nothing came to mind. It was hard to imagine such a commanding figure as Saruman being shy, but maybe in sexual matters he was.

No matter, though. How splendid! That he and Saruman should be the only Istari really actively working toward the goal was unfortunate-but now they could offer each other such support and joy in addition to their professional relationship and close friendship. He hoped that they could devise ways to meet more often. This new development brought with it unaccustomed difficulties. Saruman was not like his other lovers. The two Elves almost never left their homes, and Radagast could predictably be found in or near his Mirkwood dwelling. He and Saruman could use the bird messengers from time to time, but one or the other might be engaged in work so important that it could not be interrupted for a personal meeting. Saruman tended to prefer the southern realms, which left the vast northern regions for Gandalf to visit. Minas Anor would continue to be a good spot to converge on during their travels. They always got much work done when they were there. Now they could get a lot of other things done, he thought with a grin. Despite the White Istar's lack of confidence in his lovemaking abilities, he really was very good in bed.

Gandalf felt a little less cheerful when it occurred to him that one place where they would inevitably meet occasionally was Rivendell. That and Lothlórien were really the only convenient locations for the Wise to gather for councils. The Grey Havens were so far away. Yes, the situation at Rivendell could become quite tangled. Saruman already knew about Erestor, and of course Gandalf would tell the Elf about the changed situation when next they were together. But if Saruman came to Rivendell ... Alternate nights spent with each seemed silly and unviable, but choosing one over the other as a nightly companion throughout the visit would badly hurt the feelings of the other. And all three sleeping alone to avoid jealous conflicts would just camouflage the problem without solving it. Perhaps if he spent a romantic week with Saruman in an inn while they were on their way to Elrond's home, the White Istar would accept his spending his nights there with Erestor. He resolved to mention the dilemma to Saruman before their next journey to Rivendell. Perhaps his wisdom could yield a solution. Gandalf wiped the trace of an anxious frown from his face as his companion stirred.

Saruman's eyes opened, and he sat more upright. With a tender smile he murmured, "You offered to wash my back."