Thrice Returned, Part 8: Lamb Pie

by Nefertiti

Summary: Gandalf helps Frodo to cope with the memories of the Quest and their separation.

Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to these characters; this story is offered purely for the enjoyment of fans

Author's note: Book-based. This story begins near the end of Book Six, Chapter IV of The Return of the King, at the line "Then the others also departed, and Frodo and Sam went to their beds and slept."

This series takes its name from my sequel to Poncing Ponies' lovely story, "Twice Given" (and the lamb-pie reference will be difficult to appreciate for those who have not read that story). As always, my thanks to her for welcoming a sequel by another hand and being so encouraging. Many thanks also to Elanor for betaing, encouragement, wonderful suggestions, and engrossing wizard-slash discussions. Without her, this series would most likely never have developed past being a sequel.

Part 8: Lamb Pie

On the first night after his awakening and reunion with Gandalf in Ithilien, Frodo returned to the little clearing and slept in the same bed beside Sam's. Again the wizard sat by him all through the night as the hobbit gripped his hand. Despite this, Frodo suffered through nightmares three times, once so agonizingly that Gandalf had to wake and comfort him. When he asked what Frodo had dreamt about, the hobbit glanced up into his eyes, sighed, and simply whispered, "Losing you."

The wizard stared at him with concern. "You have had many such dreams?"

"Yes. Nearly every time I have fallen asleep, since we left Lórien." Gandalf moved to sit on the edge of the bed and gathered Frodo into a close embrace, and the hobbit continued softly into his ear, "Sam told me that he often heard me say your name in my sleep. It is always you being attacked by horrible creatures-not just the Balrog but sometimes Orcs, sometimes wolves, and worst of all, sometimes the Black Riders. Each time I see them challenge you, and even though I try to stop you, you move away from me to fight with them. And as you go further, I call for you, and you look back--but darkness suddenly swallows you up-like a door closing out all hope and leaving me alone."

The wizard did not press him further but sat stroking his hair for a long time before Frodo drifted off again. Gandalf laid him gently down again, tucking him in and moving to resume his patient vigilance in the chair.

Although most of the soldiers were sleeping in the open, the leaders each had a tent. The second night, Gandalf arranged for Sam to join the other young hobbits, and he led Frodo to his own tent, with two comfortable-looking cots pushed side by side. "Not exactly a 'real' bed," the hobbit muttered, "but it will certainly do." There was also a chair, and a small desk. Gandalf sat down in the chair and opened his arms, and the hobbit climbed up to sit across the wizard's lap. Gandalf pulled him into a series of long, soft kisses. At intervals, Frodo made tiny whimpering noises of joy and nuzzled into Gandalf's beard. Neither tried to deepen the kisses, realizing without words that it was too soon for more.

"What will happen now?" the hobbit finally asked.

"We shall stay here in Ithilien while the last of Sauron's forces are brought under control. That will also allow you and Sam to recuperate a bit before the journey to Minas Tirith. There we shall live together in a house in the palace area, and you will be able to heal further in mind and body. You can tell me anything you want to about what happened to you-and you can ask me for anything you want, my dear hobbit. I am utterly yours."

"That's exactly what I do want-just you!"

"I hope that that will be enough, Frodo. You have been through so much. Still, no matter what those beautiful blue eyes have seen, they shine as entrancingly as ever."

Frodo moved his fingers over Gandalf's face, slowly. "I don't think I'll ever get enough of kissing you and touching you. To know that you're real, you're alive, you're with me." Suddenly he frowned and stroked the wizard's eyebrows. "I thought you looked different, and now I see why. Your beard is shorter, and your eyebrows aren't as bushy. They still curl out and sweep to the side quite elegantly, but they're smaller. Why?"

"I'm afraid I lost portions of my beard and eyebrows in my battle with the Balrog. Burned away, you see. They're growing back nicely, but it will take a while for them to be as they were before. Do you like them better this way?"

"No! I want your eyebrows the way they were. They were so wonderful-like little wings."

Gandalf glanced away for a moment, then smiled at Frodo. "Well, at least I won't need them quite as much as I did before."

"What do you mean, 'need' them?"

"Well, my eyebrows have come in quite handy from time to time when I had to intimidate people-not that I do that often or enjoy it when I do. Well, not always, anyway. Still, when you're trying to galvanize reluctant-and sometimes slow-witted-leaders into cooperating against Sauron, a dose of intimidation is sometimes unavoidable. Ask Gimli to give you a full account of our visit to Theoden in Rohan! I even had to summon up a thunderbolt in that case-just to get his attention, you understand. The eyebrows certainly did their part in the conversation that followed." He chuckled.

"How do you intimidate people with your eyebrows?"

The wizard wiped the smile from his face, drew his brows together into a fierce frown, and flared his nostrils. Frodo flinched. "I can imagine that that would work. I hope you never get really angry with me. I should shrivel up immediately."

Gandalf yawned and gave Frodo quick kiss. "I doubt I shall ever have reason to be angry with you. Annoyed, yes-but angry? Hardly. And you may go on kissing and touching me as much as you want, but preferably tomorrow. I for one am getting sleepy. Aren't you? You look quite weary. Why not go to bed now?"

Frodo did not reply to this but sat in abstracted silence for a little while. "Gandalf, I thought that I could never experience anything more wonderful than back in the Shire, when you first admitted that you loved me. But this is even better-to have you back." He began to cry against the wizard's shoulder, whether in joy or sudden sadness Gandalf could not tell. He realized that as the hobbit's physical strength gradually returned, his terrible memories were beginning to haunt him more.

The wizard held him for long minutes, until he was quiet again. Frodo was looking extremely tired, but when Gandalf tried to remove the hobbit's arms from around his neck, he shook his head and clung tighter. Over and over he seemed to be about to fall asleep, yet his eyes kept snapping open, and he stared at Gandalf until his lids drooped again. At last the wizard decided not to try to put Frodo to bed.

"Would you like to hold my hand and try to sleep just a little, Frodo?" he whispered. Frodo nodded and drew his arms down to take the wizard's long, thin hand between his own small ones, pressing it to his chest. Leaning against Gandalf, he soon drifted off. The wizard cradled the small body against his own, noting with relief how it finally relaxed. Frodo's chest slowly rose and fell against his, and the soft breathing deepened. Despite having slept little during long nights spent by Frodo's bedside, Gandalf sat for nearly an hour taking pleasure in simply feeling the hobbit in his arms again. "Little wings," he murmured. Then gradually he too fell asleep, and they remained in the chair. All that night the hobbit lay nestled against the wizard, apparently without dreaming.

The next morning, they rose, and Gandalf poured some water in the basin so that Frodo could wash. He noticed, however, as he unbuttoned his own shirt, that the hobbit seemed reluctant to undress. He was looking at the ground with a worried frown and glancing at Gandalf out of the corner of his eye. "What's wrong, Frodo?" he asked softly.

Frodo hesitated. "I'm . . . well, I'm so thin and bruised, I don't want you to see me."

Gandalf slowly continued to undress and made an effort to speak matter-of-factly. "My dear hobbit, I saw you naked when Aragorn and I were tending to your injuries. I am well aware of what you obviously suffered and how you look. You need not feel shy."

Thus encouraged, Frodo shed his clothes and scrubbed his face at the basin. Gandalf surveyed his emaciated body. "You have begun to mend, Frodo. Your bruises are starting to fade. But you are, as you say, terribly thin. I remember that wonderful day in Bag End, when I was so concerned merely because you had skipped lunch! And now you have endured so much and nearly died of hunger and thirst. I think a banquet every night is in order. I want those ribs to disappear under a layer of proper hobbit padding."

Frodo dried his face and turned, his smile disappearing as he stared at the wizard. "You say that I'm thin, Gandalf, but you've lost a great deal of weight as well-more even than I realized from sitting against you. And you were already quite slender-unlike me! What happened?"

Gandalf hesitated. "That came about as a result of my fall in Moria. Someday I shall tell you that story, but not so soon, and not on such a beautiful morning. Believe it or not, I have actually gained back a fair amount of weight since then. Let us get dressed now, and be off to breakfast-a large one that will do us both good."

Over the next weeks, Gandalf devoted all his time to Frodo, watching for signs of recovery or relapse. At first he talked only of pleasant things-avoiding for now asking the hobbit for any details of his sufferings during the Quest. He realized that Frodo's mood varied considerably, and the hobbit often fell into reveries from which Gandalf could arouse him only with difficulty. Frodo also was very reluctant to let the wizard out of his sight, and at night he continued to jolt out of dreadful nightmares about the journey to Mordor and about losing his lover. Gandalf took care never to leave Frodo's presence without explaining where he was going and when he would return.

The camp tended to be noisy and bustling, and the two often went for long walks in the woods to be alone. Occasionally they came upon burned and scarred areas where battles had been fought, but the April weather was rapidly bringing out a new growth to cover these grim reminders. They discovered a favorite clearing on a hillside where they could look out over the River to the distant White Mountains.

As the days passed, Frodo seemed less moody and quiet, and Gandalf felt that they could begin to probe the past a bit. One day, upon reaching their clearing, the wizard sat with his back against a tree trunk. Frodo leaned back between his bent knees and rested against Gandalf's chest and stomach, with the wizard's arms draped over his shoulders.

"Frodo, Sam has told me much about your dreadful journey to Mordor-the Dead Marshes, the Black Gate, the meeting with Faramir. I am so glad, by the way, that you and Sam met him-an admirable young man, don't you think? Sam also told me about the terrible struggle with the spider and your capture. The poor fellow wept when he described losing you. And of course he told of his joy at finding you in your cell at Cirith Ungol. He did not know fully, however, what happened to you there, and he says you never told him. It is terribly difficult for you, I know, my dearest hobbit, and I dread to ask this, but . . . if I am to help you with your dreadful memories, I'm afraid I must." Gandalf hugged him harder and struggled to master his voice. "Did the Orcs . . . Did they rape you, Frodo?" He heard a tiny moan next to his ear and held his breath.

"No. But I thought they would."

Gandalf hugged Frodo tightly and rubbed his cheek against the side of the hobbit's head, rocking him slightly, so relieved that he could not speak for a few moments. "I suspected and hoped that they had not. When Aragorn first examined your injuries, he found no damage to you that would indicate it. But there are other things they could have done to you or made you do that would leave few traces. I could never have forgiven myself if you had suffered that-however much I was convinced that you were meant to be the Ringbearer. My darling Frodo, do you want to tell me what did happen in the tower?"

Frodo answered slowly, "When the spider's venom wore off and I woke up, I was completely confused and didn't understand where I was or what had happened. The Orcs said awful things to me and gloated and looked at me. They said they would do things to me. But they only searched me and left me naked. The leaders kept them back-I think because I was supposed to be sent to the Dark Tower unharmed. But they would have done it, I'm sure, if it weren't for that. As they stripped me . . . well, the ones who did that put their hands on me as if they wanted to take me, but still they didn't. One of them told me that it would happen to me when I got to the Tower of the Dark Lord-that he would let Orcs do that to torment me, and he would watch and laugh. But then they went away and left me alone. I thought I would never see Sam again. But . . . I'm afraid even worse for me was thinking that the Enemy had taken the Ring from me-because naturally that's what I believed had happened. I went back and forth between being upset because I couldn't bear having the Ring taken from me and because I had failed you and the rest of Middle-earth. And both those ideas were equally unbearable to me. But fortunately it was not too long before I heard Sam's voice, and he came and found me."

Gandalf cleared his throat. "Yes, Sam is quite a hero in my eyes, as you can imagine. I told him so, of course. He was a bit flustered. I'm certainly glad I decided to send him with you on the Quest rather than turn him into a spotted toad. By the way, I was quite taken aback when you made that absurd threat on my behalf, back in Bag End. Spotted toad, indeed!"

Frodo looked up with a trace of a grin. "Well, you could have, couldn't you?"

Gandalf shrugged. "Of course, but it is hardly the sort of magic I like to practice, you know. More a silly hobbit's notion of what a wizard might do. Sam did not know me very well in those days, or he would not have been so frightened."

"Gandalf, I just said it to make him keep our secret. I didn't think you'd really do it."

"Well, thank you for that high opinion, anyway."

"No, your specialty runs more toward turning me into a very happy hobbit."

"I am glad to hear that you think so. I intend to go on doing so for all the rest of your life." He sighed. "Well, my dear Frodo, dreadful though your hardships in Mordor were, I keep reminding myself that they could have been even worse. Here you are, horribly thin and bruised and burdened with terrible memories-but you are my brave, resilient hobbit. The bruises will heal. I shall fatten you up with all sorts of lovely treats. And perhaps I can help create some new memories that will make the old ones fade a bit."

Frodo turned in Gandalf's arms, raising his face and inviting a long, tender kiss. Then the hobbit settled back against his lover, but he again seemed sad and pensive. Finally he spoke softly.

"The worst thing, though, was losing you. I'm surprised I was able to keep going at all. After we emerged from the East Gate of Moria, and we had cried and rested a bit, my mind was numb. I couldn't stop thinking, 'It's impossible. He can't be gone. He'll come back somehow.' I imagined all sorts of impossible ways that you could have survived-that you had escaped, too, and were following us. When we moved on to Lórien, I kept looking back thinking I'd see you, hurrying along to catch up to us. Then that night, on the flet, it finally became real to me and I realized that you would never be there. If it had not been for Lórien and Galadriel, I'm not sure I could have kept my promise to you. They cushioned my grief, somehow. She seemed to understand how awful it was that you had died, and the Elves made up laments that comforted me a little. But at the same time, it tore at my heart because Lórien was exactly the kind of place you had loved most-and I thought many times how much I would have loved to be there with you, because of all the mallorns and the flowers and the beauty and timelessness of it all."

Gandalf buried his nose in Frodo's curls. "Perhaps someday you and I shall be able to go there together. You're right, it is the place I love best in Middle-earth-a certain hobbit-hole excepted."

"Our stay there must have been about a month, we reckoned later, although while we were there, we did not have any sense of how much time was passing. And during that stay I struggled to think of how I could go on without you and fulfill my promise to you in Moria. I decided to do what you had said, to trust in Aragorn and just cling to that promise and go on. If I could just carry through your mission, I would remain faithful to you-sort of the way a lover remains faithful. Only I wasn't tempted to love another person. I was tempted over and over to abandon the Quest-or later to seize the Ring for my own. Either way, I would have betrayed you just as much. I kept thinking that once I had done what you wanted with the Ring, then I could give in to grief." His voice became very quiet. "I wished that I would die at Mt. Doom, after the Ring went into the fire. It's odd in light of what happened, but I even thought about jumping into the Abyss with it. But of course I wanted Sam to survive, and he simply would not let me succumb to despair. I don't know where he gets all his optimism, but he never quite gave up, no matter how bad things were. But of course, he hadn't lost all that he loved in the world."

"Don't cry, Frodo, it is all over now. We have each other again. And we're even in a beautiful forest together, though not one quite as wonderful as Lórien."

"Hold me, Gandalf! Tight!"

Frodo twisted and pressed himself against Gandalf, kissing his neck wetly and squirming slightly.

Gandalf took his shoulders and held him away, looking earnestly into his eyes. "Frodo, you are too weak for us to resume our lovemaking yet. I know you want comforting, but let me just hold you for now. And this time I'm not going to let you talk me into it, as you did that night in Rivendell. You are obviously not nearly as robust now as you were then."

"All right, I won't try. You're probably right. But you do still want me, don't you? My body, I mean. That is, when you became Gandalf the White, you didn't, um, become too lofty and ethereal and above all that sort of thing? You still . . ."

Gandalf laughed. "Oh, yes! I have a real body, with the same desires-and I am far from being above all that sort of thing. And I most definitely still want you. But, Frodo, I can wait, any amount of time. I shall let you decide when you are ready."

Frodo smiled and nodded, then waggled his eyebrows and asked suggestively, "Do you have some sort of . . . special powers now?"

"None, I'm afraid, that would lift you to blissful, delirious heights of ecstasy unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Though you will be delighted to learn that I have gained the ability to recover my erection and make love about forty times a day."

Frodo stared at him open-mouthed for a moment, then realized that the wizard was trying rather unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. He punched his lover lightly in the chest. "Gandalf! For a moment I thought you were serious. Well, I think forty times would be a bit much, even when I am completely well again."

"Happily, you seem to be much better already, my dear hobbit. Food and rest and security have helped immeasurably. I can almost imagine you as your old self, back in Bag End."

"Yes, where I used to tease you about being an old man and not able to keep up with a young fellow like me."

Gandalf pretended to be indignant. "I seem to recall I did quite well by you in those days, Frodo Baggins."

"Oh, you did. I would hardly have teased you otherwise. But now I feel a bit old and tired myself, and you, my dear, elderly wizard, are the one waiting for me so that we can make love again. In fact, you say I'm better, but my eyes are still so sunken and I'm so scrawny, I'm worried that you won't want me after all. You don't seem ever to get at all hard when you're holding me."

The wizard laughed. "On the contrary, I have simply been extremely successful at concealing the fact when it has happened. I assure you, you look quite appealing to me. If you were a little stronger, I'd scoop you up and carry you off to bed right now, as you used to claim I did in Rivendell."

Frodo grinned. "Well, I almost feel as if I could . . ."

"Almost. Well, nevertheless, we'll wait a bit longer."

"All right, but you said I could decide when. You did, Gandalf!"

Gandalf nodded.

Frodo leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Soon."

Eventually the great military campaign against the Dark Lord was completed, and the great army made its way back to Minas Tirith for the coronation of the King. Frodo was thrilled to be asked to help with the actual crowning, especially along with Gandalf.

Afterward they went up through the burned and broken parts of the City into the better-preserved upper levels. There, as Gandalf had said, the hobbits and wizard entered a large house adjacent to the palace where they would live during their stay in Minas Tirith. Gandalf took Frodo's hand as they explored the rooms, ending in the one which they would share. It was large and airy, and its window faced the West. There was a single elegant, large bed, with high, beautifully carved head- and footboards, a small table near the window, chairs, chests and cabinets, lovely old hangings on the walls, and all the necessary comforts.

As they unpacked and settled in, Gandalf watched Frodo. The hobbit looked pale and tired as he moved about the room. "Frodo, this has been a long day. You have plenty of time for a nap before dinner. I shall sit by the bed or lie beside you if you wish."

"I think I shall sleep a little. But you need not sit here if you have other things you should do. I seem to have largely got past fearing that you might be a dream. You are blessedly real!" He hugged Gandalf around the waist and pressed his head against the wizard's stomach. Gandalf stroked his hair.

"Frodo, we shall be living here for some time. And although I have other things to do, they are not particularly pressing and should not take up much of my days. I shall always be ready to listen to anything you want to tell me, or to hold you, or to walk and show you the beauties of the city. I would love to take you riding on Shadowfax into the countryside. Long ago I told you that I wanted to keep you in the Shire, safe and happy. Well, circumstances intervened, to say the least. But now there is nothing else that is remotely as important to me as seeing you well and happy again. That is now my Quest."

"But you're such an important person, can it be that you really don't have lots of things to do?"

Gandalf laughed. "Yes. After all these years, I am finished! You, more than any one else, made that possible. Now, although I shall certainly give counsel to Aragorn and others as the Fourth Age begins, I am largely a wizard of leisure." But if you feel comfortable being alone, I shall go and perhaps take a pipe with the others by the hearth." And he went out, noting with pleasure how peaceful Frodo looked as he lay with closed eyes.

Despite all of Gandalf's best efforts, however, Frodo had bad stretches. He would become listless and withdrawn, and Gandalf could tell that his mind was reliving the journey through Mordor-or worse, yearning for the vanished Ring. Nothing he could do seemed completely to banish such thoughts. One day, the pair was standing hand in hand high on the walls of Minas Tirith, looking out over the Pelennor. Gandalf told of how he had stood on that very spot on the day of the great battle, when he had witnessed from afar Theoden dying and the killing of the Witch King. The sun was shining, and the labor of repair and rebuilding was going on everywhere, but Frodo seemed to pay little attention to anything around him. The hobbit at intervals pressed the back of the wizard's hand to his cheek.

That night at dinner, Frodo's mood had not lightened, and he sat silent as the younger hobbits bickered and joked. Gandalf followed their conversation with a tolerant smile and intervened at one point when too many bread-rolls began to fly back and forth. At intervals, however, he glanced at Frodo and received only brief, cheerless smiles in return.

The arrival of a bowl of fruit and a platter of cheese created a rare interval of silence, as the hobbits began to eat again. Gandalf took slices of the richest cheese, one for Frodo and one for himself. He prodded the side of the hobbit's stomach with his finger and shook his head. "No. Still not enough padding." Frodo smiled a little more brightly and nibbled at the crumbly slice.

Gandalf glanced around, then said, "I'm afraid Bilbo is going to be a bit disappointed with his nephew when we return to Rivendell."

Frodo stared up at him, baffled. "Why, because I'm so thin?"

"No, because you promised him that you would take copious notes and be ready to write a sequel to his book-and I don't see any signs of your doing so."

Pippin chimed in, "Yes, I said Frodo should be locked up in a tower to write it all down, and it's been weeks and he hasn't even started. Gandalf is too tender-hearted to lock him up, that's the problem." Merry and Pippin grinned at the wizard, and Frodo looked up at him with a more cheerful expression than he had worn all day.

Sam, who had barely smiled at this, suddenly spoke. "I think you're right, Master-sorry, you're right, Gandalf. One thing that came into my head during the worst of the times in Mordor was that we were part of a story that goes far, far back into the mists of time. Like what you were telling me the other day about the giant spider and how there were lots of spiders like that thousands of years ago, in the First Age. It should all be written down."

Frodo looked up again at Gandalf. "It's true. Sam said that several times when we were in Mordor. It comforted us both, I think, to have a sense that we were not quite as alone as we felt-that we were involved in something huge and immensely worth struggling for."

Gandalf frowned thoughtfully. "Yes, and it would be good for the people of the Fourth Age to know that this enormous struggle occurred. But the project would be much harder if you wait until you get home. The tale of your adventures would best be told if you knew what others were doing elsewhere at the same time. I'm afraid the members of the Fellowship will never be assembled in one place again, so you should take advantage of our stay here. Aragorn and I could tell you part of what went on, and a bit of the history behind it. You should have Legolas and Gimli tell you their own tales more fully, while you still have them to hand. I'm sure Pippin and Merry would be willing to help. They played important parts in the War of the Ring."

Both hobbits beamed and held their heads up higher.

The wizard went on, "I scolded both of them about how little they knew about the wide world, but they have finally begun to take an interest in this fascinating continent-rather to my surprise but certainly to my delight. Coming to Rohan and Gondor have given them more vivid lessons than any Shire schoolteacher could. Even Sam, though he went with you, probably could tell you things about that journey that you don't know."

Sam nodded earnestly. "And I could take over writing, if Frodo felt too tired."

A little smile appeared on Frodo's face as he listened. "You're right. I had vaguely been thinking that I should start to make some notes. But I didn't want to face some of those memories. Still, if the rest of you could help me, I'm sure it would be wonderful. I'll start in the morning."

Merry said thoughtfully, "There's so much to be told, though. Maybe we all could help, not just by taking notes, but even by doing some writing of our own."

Sam nodded again. "That's right, Frodo. Mr. Bilbo's book is long enough, and he didn't have half the adventures that all the members of the Fellowship did."

Pippin said, "Well, I should write up everything that happened to me here in Minas Tirith. The people I met, and the Steward's death, and how Gandalf saved Lord Faramir-"

Gandalf interrupted. "With a great deal of help from you, my dear Pippin."

Pippin blushed with pleasure. "Some, I suppose. At any rate, I could write that part."

Frodo noticed the adoring look that Pippin cast at the wizard and wondered with some amusement if his young cousin might have a little crush on Gandalf. He had heard vaguely that Pippin had done something terrible and that the wizard had been stern but ultimately kind, bringing him to Minas Tirith on Shadowfax. He would have to ask Gandalf about that. Despite teasing the wizard a bit, Pippin seemed very devoted to him, now that he thought about it. Poor fellow, he said to himself.

Merry swallowed a somewhat large mouthful of cheese he had been struggling with and announced, "I'm the only one that rode with the Rohirrim. I could write about that. And the ents-"

Pippin snorted. "I wanted to write about the ents. And the attack on Isengard! And-"

"And finding the pipeweed. Everyone here knows how important that was."

Gandalf stood up, murmuring "What have I unleashed?"

Frodo began to feel a bit overwhelmed as he listened to the other hobbits' eager and increasingly loud argument about who was to write what. He glanced at Gandalf, who was sidling quietly toward the door. The wizard gave a tiny shrug, as if to say, "You're on your own," and went out. He paused in the hallway, hearing the babble of raised voices even through the thick wood panels. He stood staring at the floor and smiling for a little while, listening with amusement, then murmured "Hobbits," shook his head, and went out to take a long walk.

Late the next morning, Frodo went into his and Gandalf's room to find a stack of paper and a pile of pens next to a beautiful inkwell on the table by the window. He went over and ran his hand over the cool, smooth, and very blank sheet on top. "How do I begin?" he asked the wizard, who was sitting by the table, smoking his pipe and reading.

"Well, I think we should start simply. Suppose we sit opposite each other, and I can tell you a few things, and you can write them down." The hobbit nodded, sat down, and arranged the writing materials. He looked up expectantly at the wizard.

Gandalf shifted his chair closer to the table and settled into it again. He assumed a thoughtful expression. "What would be a good starting point? Let me see. How about: 'beautiful Elves I have known'? A long and fascinating chapter that would make."

Frodo frowned at him. "Stop it! You're the one who suggested this!"

Gandalf laughed and began to tell him stories of Rivendell, of meetings of the White Council, of plans made to drive Sauron out of Dol Guldur over sixty years earlier-things that Frodo already knew a little about, from Bilbo-as a way of easing him into the writing. By the time he was finished for the day, the hobbit's hand was sore and he had amassed a respectable stack of notes. He had also found the stories absorbing and looked forward to hearing more.

Over the next days, Gandalf was gratified at the patience and enthusiasm Frodo displayed for his new task. The other Fellowship members' interest in the project did not flag, and one or more would often join Frodo's note-taking sessions. Late one afternoon, while visiting the hobbits, Gimli asked Gandalf why he had picked Bilbo to go with the thirteen dwarves on the Quest of Erebor. Gandalf's tale held them all enthralled, and he answered their questions at length while Frodo scribbled furiously. As Gandalf had suspected when he proposed the project to begin with, the writing and conversations helped Frodo to put aside his dreadful memories, and the hobbit slept better and seemed more consistently cheerful.

On one of these long, quiet afternoons, Frodo and Gandalf were alone in their room, and Frodo put down his pen. He hesitated, then said, "Gandalf . . . there's one bit of our tale that you've never told me, and maybe you don't want to. How did you die, and what was it like, and how did you come back to life? And what happened after that?"

Gandalf sat looking at the bare table for a while. "It is not easy for me to talk about the Balrog itself or of what happened to me as I fought it. I shall tell you only a bit about that, and then more about my rescue and recuperation. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not, Gandalf. I don't want to upset you." Frodo picked up the pen again, nervously, fearing what he about to hear but determined to find out whatever he could about his lover's ordeals.

"Well, of the Balrog, let me just say that we fell a long way, to a place where his fire was extinguished and we were in utter darkness. It was terrifying to be lost, without sight, in cold and wet and slime-and having all the time to fight a powerful and merciless creature. Ordinarily my sense of direction is perfect, but there I lost all orientation. Eight days that hideous battle went on-endless days. I had . . . I had been burned by his fire during the fall, and I was in pain the entire time." He paused and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. Frodo's eyes brimmed with tears. Gandalf opened his eyes and saw this. He struggled to smile. "Don't cry, my dearest Frodo. It is long since over.

"At any rate, I gathered that I must have been winning, for he suddenly fled, dragging me up the Endless Stair to the pinnacle of the mountain. Two more ghastly days it took, so evenly matched were we. But light and air were my elements-and they finally gave me the advantage. One final blow beyond the many I had dealt him finally killed him. A joyless sense of triumph filled me as the huge, dark cloud, its flames fading, slowly fell away from me. I had conquered, but I had taken too much hurt from him to survive. I collapsed in the snow and died."

Frodo stretched across the table to squeeze Gandalf's hand. "What was it like?"

'That would be very hard to explain, Frodo. Fifteen days my body lay there, while my spirit was elsewhere. It was horribly galling to believe that I had failed in my mission. So I thought, at any rate-though no one knew that a Balrog had survived since the First Age, secreted and silent. But I was made to realize that I had not failed, and I was given a second chance and sent back, as I told you, to continue my struggle. In order to do that, I was endowed with greater power, since now I had to deal with Saruman and Sauron both."

"Did . . . did you think about me?"

"You never left my mind, Frodo. At first, when I felt I had failed, I also felt that I had betrayed you."

"But you saved us. We could never have fought off the Balrog alone, even all eight of us. I just wish it hadn't taken you with it."

Gandalf was silent for a moment. "Someone had to rid the world of it. Imagine it emerging from the Mines, descending upon Lórien . . . as it might well have, if it had succeeded in wiping out the Fellowship."

"Yes, all the Elves there were horrified when they heard about the Balrog. Gandalf, what happened after you were sent back?"

"Well, I was in desperate need of rescue and healing, for my return to life found me still lying on the frigid mountain peak. It was so cold that I fortunately was numb to the pain of my burns. After I struggled and gasped to fill my lungs for the first time, I gradually realized my plight. I could lift my head enough to see how horribly damaged my body was and also that the doorway beside me had entirely collapsed. I had nothing, I could not move, and I was utterly alone."

By this point Frodo was in tears again, and Gandalf stood and moved around the table, lifting him and sitting in his chair, kissing him and murmuring soft words into his ear until the hobbit recovered somewhat. He had given up all pretense of taking notes.

"Fortunately Galadriel sensed when I regained my life. She sent Gwaihir to search for me, and it took him three days to survey that huge mountain range and spot me lying there. I was on my back staring upward, and I saw him as a tiny dot at first. As he wheeled downward, I was terrified that despite his keen vision he would pass by me. I could not move to signal him nor cry out-my throat was utterly parched and swollen. But as he descended toward me, I realized that I was saved.

"I must say, Galadriel thinks of everything. She had placed a small phial of water on a chain around Gwaihir's neck, and he let it slip to the ground beside me. Not surprisingly, my hands had suffered the most from the flames, but eventually I managed to catch the flask between my forearms and maneuver it up to my mouth, and I was able to draw the stopper with my teeth. That bit of water wet my mouth enough for me to utter a heartfelt 'Gwaihir!'

"He asked if I was prepared to have him lift me. Though I was still a bit dazed, I remembered one crucial thing. 'Can you see a sword lying anywhere nearby?' I asked.

"'There is one wedged between some rocks, just behind your head.'

I was glad, for I would have hated to lose that beautiful and historic blade. My staff, I remembered, had shattered on the Bridge, and everything else had burned. 'I don't suppose you can carry me and the sword at the same time,' I said uncertainly.

"'No, but I promise you that I shall return and bring it to you.'

"I thanked him and braced myself as he lifted me up and bore me toward Lórien. You have remarked on how thin I am, Frodo. By that point I had not had food or drink for about 26 days! Granted, I was dead for 15 of those days-but still! Gwaihir described it in his poetic way: 'The sun shines through you.' Well, that gives you some idea.

"I think I passed out from shock, for the next thing I remember was feeling water trickling down my throat. Gwaihir had delivered me to a large flet, open on one side, and a small group of Elven healers were clustered around me. I was in a bed near a fireplace, which was slowly warming me. I jerked awake at the feel of that water and gulped at it. Then I turned my head and saw Galadriel and Celeborn to my left. They were clearly appalled by my terrible injuries, but Galadriel has considerable powers as a healer. There was a cabinet full of medicines and bandages nearby.

"My joy in seeing Galadriel and Celeborn, however, was immediately replaced by terrible anxiety. During the three days on the mountainside, my mind had returned to you and the others. I gasped out, 'The Fellowship! What can you tell me of them? Did they escape?'

They both hastened to reassure me, no doubt to keep me from moving in my agitation. 'They are well!' Galadriel said quickly, and Celeborn added, 'Yes, Aragorn led them directly here after they escaped from the East Gate.'

"'All eight?'

"Galadriel smiled for the first time. 'All eight are fine.'

"I closed my eyes with relief. Celeborn explained that you all had come to receive healing and rest and counsel. I thought of the Fellowship, and especially you, of course, forced to go on into dangers that I had never intended for you to face without me. I was trying desperately to get a grasp on the length of time that had passed and what you all had done since we parted. "'When did they leave?' I asked.

"I think Galadriel wanted not to tell me, and she tried to signal Celeborn not to do so-but too late. He said, 'They left only yesterday morning.'

"'Yesterday!' I gasped, for I had assumed that you were far away by that time. My sole thought was to follow you immediately, and I even forgot my helpless state, foolishly trying to sit up. The moment I rose slightly from the pillow, however, the pain, which I had nearly forgotten in my anxiety for news of you, went stabbing through me. Galadriel's main assistant handed her a small, dark bottle, which she held to my lips. I did not accept it at once, being dazed by the agony.

"'It will ease your pain,' she said in a firm voice that calmed me a bit. She lifted the bottle, and after choking slightly, I managed to get a few sips down. I lay gritting my teeth, but within a couple of minutes I felt the pain draining away."

Frodo hugged the wizard. "Gandalf, stop! I can't bear to think of you suffering so much. I'm sorry I asked you about all this." Gandalf pressed Frodo's head against his beard.

"Hush, Frodo. You have heard the worst, for Galadriel made certain that I never felt such agony again. Let me go on and tell you of how I recovered. The tonic made me quite drowsy as it worked, and Galadriel leaned in to speak distinctly to me.

"'I shall give you the rest in a moment. But first we must try to get a little food into you. You cannot begin to heal without something in your stomach.' With the pain easing, I realized that I was indeed ravenously hungry, and I watched eagerly as she picked up a small pottery bowl and a spoon. 'It's a simple custard, so it should not challenge your stomach too much, and it will make a tiny start on putting some flesh back on you.' I gulped each spoonful-she could scarcely feed me fast enough. After the little bowl was empty she continued, 'I'm afraid that must do for now. But soon I hope to offer you a lavish banquet with the finest wine that Lórien can provide. Now I shall give you the remainder. It will send you into a deep sleep, and we can dress your wounds.'

"I was very sleepy, but I was also still worried. "'How long will the healing take?' I asked, ever mindful of the possibility of finding you.

"She thought briefly, then finally said uncertainly, 'Perhaps a week. Let us plan that banquet for seven days from tonight.'

"A week seemed like an eternity with you going ever further from me-yet it would require an enormous effort on her part to heal me that fast, and I could but nod gratefully to her. She was about to put the bottle to my lips again when Celeborn stopped her with a touch and leaned over me.

"'Forgive me, Mithrandir, for troubling you with a question when you are in such a state-but for the safety of us all, we must know: What became of the Balrog?'

"I woke up just a bit at that and assumed an expression of surprise and annoyance as I looked up at him and said in what I hoped was an indignant tone, 'Dead, of course!' I glanced at Galadriel and added, 'What a question!' It was far from the wittiest remark I had ever come up with, but Celeborn and Galadriel were so taken aback that I was capable of even such a feeble attempt at humor that they laughed-as much from relief as from amusement, no doubt.

"Galadriel held up the little bottle with a smile. 'I take it this is working?'

"'That is wonderful stuff!' I said very sincerely, for by that point I was feeling almost no pain at all, and indeed it had given me just the hint of a pleasantly giddy sensation. I drank the rest and very quickly fell into a deep slumber.

"I slept for over 25 hours. To my relief, the first thing that I saw when I awoke was Glamdring, conspicuously propped against a chair nearby. Galadriel and Celeborn were seated by a fire on the other side of the room. Celeborn was carving something. An impressive little cabinet containing a cooking plate and stuffed with supplies had been set up by the head of the bed. One wall was partially open to the surrounding foliage, and it was an altogether beautiful sickroom.

"'Good afternoon,' I croaked, for my throat was again parched.

"They greeted me, and Galadriel gave me a glass of water and asked how I was feeling.

"I think I said something not terribly bright like, 'I can't seem to wake up,' for I still had to struggle to keep my eyes open.

"'Yes, Celeborn was just suggesting that I gave you too large a dose of the painkiller. But you seemed to be sleeping peacefully and naturally. Are you in pain?'

"'My hands sting somewhat. Otherwise, no.'

"'Good. In that case, we shall give you some food.'

"She prepared an omelet for me-she of course also knows how much I love eggs. I was even more ravenous than the afternoon before, or at least I was less distracted by pain. My head was slowly clearing, and I remarked, 'I must say, it seems unfair that, considering how seldom I can visit you, I should have to spend most of my time here asleep or in a daze. I can't talk intelligently with you!'

"'Well, as the days pass you will need less of the tonic, and we shall have time to talk before you leave. We would like to receive some counsel, and I suspect you would as well.'

"'Yes, all my plans have been knocked completely off course, and I must rethink them. What are you up to over there, Celeborn?' I asked between bites of omelet, which Galadriel was feeding me, my hands being bound up in thick bandages. He held up what he had been working on, and I saw that it was a new staff for me, made of a graceful ash branch.

"'You are in need of an entirely new set of clothes and equipment-except for your sword, of course,' he remarked. 'Galadriel's women are at work on the garments, and I have tackled this.'

"My host and hostess tried everything to hasten my healing-delicious food, Elven music, flowers, fresh air, and of course skilled medical treatment. It would have been wonderfully relaxing, had I not been almost constantly worried about you and the others. Naturally the news that Boromir seemed excessively interested in the Ring did nothing to calm my fears, but I could only trust to Aragorn to protect you. I realized that with every passing day my chances of catching up to and accompanying you diminished drastically.

"After talking with Galadriel and Celeborn, I began to think that might be for the best, despite my extreme reluctance to have you go off without my guidance and protection. Galadriel believed that it was too risky for me to be subjected to the temptation of the Ring for such a long period and under increasingly trying circumstances. After what had happened that last night with you in Moria, I could hardly disagree. In her opinion, once I was in Mordor, I would be all too aware of what I could do to defeat Sauron if I seized the Ring. I must admit, I had long worried about that myself. In some ways, you might be safer without me. You would know far less about how to wield the Ring and hence perhaps be less tempted by it."

Frodo smiled ruefully. "Yes, I finally realized that the reason everyone thought I would make the ideal Ringbearer is because I am weak and ignorant."

"Well . . . not exactly, but something like that. But you know I have always believed in native hobbit strength and resilience. And sometimes it is a good thing not to have great power and knowledge. If I had wanted those qualities, I could have entrusted the Ring to Saruman-but I don't think that would have been a good idea! Besides, you are not really weak and ignorant. When you first got the Ring, you were unpretentious and secluded, yes. Still, I obviously found you enormously attractive long before I had the faintest notion that you would become the Ringbearer. Given a choice between you and Saruman, powerful and wise as he is, which did I want?"

Frodo rubbed his head against the wizard's arm. "After all this time, I am still amazed that you did want me above all others. It would have made more sense, I would think, for you and Saruman to become lovers-long ago, I mean, before he became corrupt."

Gandalf hesitated, stung by a sudden memory of Saruman's mouth and hands on him, but he forced himself to respond lightly, "It never occurred to me! I had admired him, but I must say I had never liked him much.

"Getting back to the Ring, though. Obviously you did learn a little about how to use it. When you made Gollum swear his oath of loyalty on the Ring, you drew upon its power-more so, I think, than anyone ever has since Isildur's time. Neither Gollum nor Bilbo ever did much with it except make themselves disappear. I fear that your use of the Ring then made you more vulnerable to its power later on.

"Still, your control of Gollum worked brilliantly in the end. By telling Gollum that he would be cast into the fire himself if he tried to take the Ring, you presumably forced the Ring to make that very thing come about. It had to keep its part of that bargain, which you, as its current owner, had made. Unfortunately for the Ring, Gollum happened to have it in his hand when it cast him into the abyss! So you see, in a sense you did actually destroy the Ring, though you presumably had no such intention when you made Gollum swear his oath."

Frodo blinked in surprise. "I suppose so. But at the time, I just wanted to do what you would have done-to give him another chance to recover fro the effects of the Ring. His treachery doomed him." He sighed. "What happened after you healed in Lórien?"

"As Galadriel predicted, it took a week. Each day I needed less of the tonic and regained a bit of movement and flexibility. One eventful day I could hold a spoon-rather clumsily, but I managed to eat a little on my own. The next day I took a few steps. But at the end of the week, Celeborn and Galadriel presented me with my new staff and white clothes, which I thought quite splendid."

"They are very beautiful."

"Yes, and on my last night there we had a splendid banquet, as promised. The next morning I set out to follow the Fellowship, going on foot toward Fangorn Forest. During that journey I sensed when you put on the Ring atop Amon Hen. It was foolish, my dear hobbit, but I realize that Boromir's betrayal left you little choice. Happily, you heard me when I spoke to your mind from afar, and you removed the Ring just in time."

"So that was you speaking to me?"

"Yes, of course. I hope you don't mind that I was a bit sharp with you-but it was an extremely perilous situation. After that, I struggled with Sauron for some time-something I had never done before. An exhausting experience."

"But I used the Ring again to slip away in one of the boats, and you didn't speak to me then."

"Well, I was vaguely aware of what you were doing, but that happened during the most intense part of my battle of wills with the Dark Lord, and thus he was already distracted from you. Afterward I was so weary that I simply wandered about Fangorn Forest for four days. By then I had decided not to follow you. Galadriel, Celeborn, and I agreed that my best course would be to guide Rohan in its struggle against Saruman and then to go to the aid of Gondor. The better we fared militarily, the more the Dark Lord's Eye and his forces would be drawn away from Mordor-and the greater your chances would be. Luckily, that strategy worked. If Sauron had resisted my distractions and arrayed even a small circle of guards around Mt. Doom, you would never have got close to it."

"Why didn't he do that anyway-just in case, even though most of his troops would go elsewhere? He had so many soldiers."

"Because, as I said at the Council, it would never enter Sauron's mind that anyone could ever wish to destroy the Ring. Even when I dealt with the Mouth of Sauron outside the Black Gate, the Dark Lord seemed to think that you were only a spy that I had foolishly sent into Mordor-one clue that perhaps he did not really have you-or the Ring. Yes, until you put on the Ring in the Cracks of Doom, Sauron was completely unaware of our intent. That, I find, is one of the great weaknesses of treacherous beings like him: they cannot imagine the situations and viewpoints and motives of others. They judge everyone by their own beliefs and desires. I cannot really understand such minds-but fortunately I can quite readily imagine their situations and viewpoints and motives."

Frodo nestled against the wizard, and they were both silent for a long while. Finally Frodo said, "I hadn't realized what you went through, Gandalf. I just thought that you died quickly and must have come back to life soon after. But what happened to you was so horrific-you must have suffered more than I did."

"Perhaps in some ways. Certainly the pain and fear during the struggle with the Balrog were terrible and went on for what seemed like an eternity. But I was never subject to the kinds of doubts and temptations that you underwent, my pet. Of course, after my death, I felt, as I said, that I had failed, abandoning you and throwing the leadership of the struggle against Sauron to Aragorn, even though he was not quite ready for it. But you must remember that after my return, I had one tremendous advantage that allayed my suffering considerably: I knew that you were alive, and hence I was never as close to despair as you were. I gained news of you in Lórien and later from Aragorn and the others and still later from Faramir. I greatly regretted not being able to let you know that I was alive as well, for I knew your grief would add to your Burden."

"Yes, when you spoke to my mind those few times, I thought it was some sort of vision or waking dream. It helped me, for in some way I felt that you were contacting me from some place or realm I could not imagine, beyond death."

"My dearest Frodo, long ago in Bag End, I promised to help you bear your Burden, and I like to believe that I continued to do so from afar."

"You did, Gandalf. We kept our promises to each other."

Gandalf often took Frodo out to explore the city and its surroundings. He watched the hobbit's injuries continue slowly to heal and his body to fill out slightly. When they caressed, he felt Frodo's kisses gradually becoming more probing and his movements against his body more sensual. Clearly Frodo's desire was reviving, and the wizard found it increasingly difficult to contain and conceal his own reactions to such contact. He was determined that Frodo should not feel any sort of pressure to resume their more intimate relationship, and yet he sensed that the hobbit still felt a little unsure of his own attractiveness. He wanted somehow to signal Frodo that he would welcome physical love if it were offered. At last he hit upon a plan.

While living in the house with the others, Frodo and Gandalf had usually taken their meals in a large dining room along with the other hobbits, often joined by Gimli and Legolas. Frequently they all dined instead in the palace with Aragorn. One early afternoon, however, as Frodo was sitting in their bedroom at the table by the window, writing up some of his own experiences, Gandalf entered carrying a tray.

"I thought we could have lunch on our own here, by the window," Gandalf remarked, setting the tray on the edge of the table. The hobbit moved his notes aside, and Gandalf began to disperse its contents and create two place settings. Frodo pushed a second chair to the table and smiled up at the wizard.

"It has been ages since we've eaten a meal alone. What are we having?"

"Take a look. Why don't you serve the main course?" Gandalf said, removing a cover from a deep baking dish containing a pie and pushing it toward Frodo. "Careful, it's still hot." He began to toss a small salad and divide it into two bowls.

Frodo stared at the pie, picking up a knife and glancing at Gandalf with a questioning look. The wizard watched him without expression as he sliced carefully across the center of the crust. Frodo sniffed and grinned up at Gandalf delightedly. "Is that lamb pie I smell?"

"Indeed it is. A perfect dish, don't you think, for, say, a mid-September or mid-April lunch, with a leisurely, pleasant afternoon following?"

"Perfect," agreed Frodo quietly, his grin fading as he blinked back tears. He managed a little smile. "Are you courting me, Gandalf?"

"Oh, yes, lamb pie is so romantic."

"Well, it is to me."

"Actually, now that you mention it, it is to me as well."

Frodo took a deep breath and concentrated on cutting the pie and serving the pieces onto the two plates. Gandalf poured a glass of red wine for each and sat down opposite the hobbit.

"I had quite a time getting such a thing as lamb pie, what with the war being so recently over and things not yet back to normal. But even Sauron never became powerful enough to disturb the cycle of seasons, and the new spring lambs arrived in the fields and barns of Gondor as usual. And Aragorn aided my little project. I told him just a little about my sentimental reasons for wanting it. I'm sure the local lamb-pie recipes do not hold up in comparison with Bilbo's-but I did the best I could."

"I'm surprised you didn't suggest we sit on the bed to eat it."

Gandalf frowned. "As I recall, I kept finding crumbs in the sheets for days, crushed quite small--no doubt by some vigorous activities that took place there. No, I thought lamb pie served in a bedroom would be close enough."

Frodo took a bite and chewed slowly. "Not bad. Of course, I prefer Bilbo's, but it's quite passable." He extended his hand across the table, and Gandalf took it. "I suppose in a way we are starting over, you and I. Thank you for thinking of this. A little touch of home, and a reminder of the most wonderful day of my life."

Gandalf squeezed his hand. "Mine as well."

Frodo tried to laugh. "Considering how old you are, that's saying something."

"Yes, well, it's still true, you know. And we shall have many, many more wonderful days together."

They raised their glasses to that prediction, and then each took another bite.

Frodo paused. "Gandalf, may I sit on your lap to eat?"

"Of course. Should I feed you as well, like a little child? I shall if you wish."

"You needn't go that far. Here, slide your plate over. There. Better?"


They ate in contented silence for a while, Frodo leaning against Gandalf's chest. "I'm afraid I'm getting crumbs on your clothes instead of on your sheets."

"Oh, it doesn't matter. Scatter them as you will."

After another short silence Frodo looked up at Gandalf. "Do you expect the same thing will happen when we finish this pie as happened that day?"

"If you mean, shall I shy away from you like a startled rabbit and then agonize over whether I should return your kisses, I should say it is very unlikely. If you are referring to what we did after that, well, quite possibly something similar will happen. It is entirely up to you." The wizard laughed. "As indeed it was then! You certainly took charge of things."

"Well, somebody had to! I know, I know, you couldn't seduce your dear friend's adopted son and so on. And such an innocent young chap, too-"


"Well, I suppose you thought I was. And probably you were violating some obscure and ancient wizardly oath . . . May I take the last bit?"

"You may, and being a hobbit, you will probably still be hungry afterward. So I have provided these as well." He removed another cover from a plate with two delicious-smelling little cakes.

"Mmmm. Just the thing to fatten us both up."

"So I thought. I prefer to have something to take hold of when I make love to you, my dear Frodo."

"Well, I wouldn't mind taking hold of one part of you."

Gandalf frowned and pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Good appetite, returning randiness-I think my hobbit is well on the mend." He neglected his own cake to move his lips and tongue over Frodo's neck and ear as he ate. By the time the hobbit licked the last crumbs off his fingers, he was giggling and slowly writhing on Gandalf's lap. The wizard said, "Well, you polished that off quickly enough. Shall we retire to the bed for a . . . rest?"

"No, let's stay here for a while," Frodo said, pushing the plates away and turning to straddle Gandalf's lap. He grinned and slid his arms over the wizard's shoulders, moving in to lick and nibble at his lips. Gandalf put one arm around Frodo's waist and cupped the back of his head with the other, hugging him tightly and restraining himself from deepening the kiss too suddenly. Finally Frodo pulled away with a breathy little laugh. "No, you don't seem to be at all worried about whether you're doing the right thing by kissing me."

"Definitely the right thing. Now shall we go to bed? I'm sorry, my dear hobbit, but it has been so long."

"Well . . . if you don't mind, I'd like to make love the way we did the last time."

"Just . . . rubbing ourselves together, as we did in Moria, you mean?"


"But why?"

"I liked it!"

"I liked it, too, but it was rather . . . simple, shall we say? What was so good about it that you want to do it that way again when we have other options?"

Frodo shrugged and said simply, "I liked doing this." He thrust his hips against Gandalf's stomach a few times as he kissed the wizard's cheek.

"Oh, really? You liked that, did you? I suppose I am the one who gets to do that most of the time. Well . . ."

"I thought I was allowed to decide everything now."

"Is that what I said? Surely not. And there must be a time limit on that, due to expire quite soon." He laughed. "Of course we can do it that way if you wish--but here in this chair, please. I'd prefer not to sit on the floor again, if you don't mind."

"Fine. We want to do it right this time. Light and air and warmth-and we can see each other and actually moan out loud in ecstasy."

"Yes, but if you make too much noise, Sam and Merry and Pippin may hear and be jealous and want me to give them the same pleasure."

"Well, with your new ability to make love forty times a day, you can accommodate them. They're not as beautiful as your beloved Elves, but they're not bad-looking."

Gandalf looked thoughtful. "Four hobbits into forty. Ten times each." He clicked his tongue. "A daunting prospect. No, I think I shall continue to reserve my bed-and chair-for just one hobbit."

Frodo's head was slightly lower than Gandalf's, and the wizard took the hobbit's face between his hands and stared lovingly into his eyes. Then he leaned down and kissed him, gently at first but more deeply as Frodo's mouth pressed eagerly up against his, the delicate little tongue pushing as far as it could go between his lips. Gandalf licked it, swirling his own tongue around it and marveling at how so small a thing could arouse him so much. He wrapped his arms tightly around the hobbit and pressed his bulging trouser-front up between Frodo's thighs and against his crotch.

Ordinarily at this point he would have lifted Frodo and carried him to the bed. Certainly he had suppressed his own desires for so long while tending to Frodo's needs that he yearned to feel the hobbit's body beneath his own and make love to him with a barely bridled intensity. Instead he forced himself to sit still, letting Frodo guide how they proceeded. The hobbit drew himself up and licked and kissed Gandalf's ears, and the wizard gasped as he ran his hands down to squeeze Frodo's buttocks, pressing the fingertips teasingly down into the cleft through the cloth. Frodo began to thrust slowly against Gandalf, and the wizard felt the hobbit's erection press into his stomach. Frodo's eyes had closed in growing pleasure, but now he opened them and looked into Gandalf's. He leaned over to whisper in the wizard's ear, "Oh, Gandalf, I love you so much!"

Too moved to reply, Gandalf turned his head and caught Frodo's mouth with his own, arching his body up against the hobbit's and hugging him tightly. His tongue explored the sweet warmth of Frodo's mouth, and he hummed with arousal. After a few moments Frodo pulled back, panting slowly and deeply. He pushed Gandalf's hands away and sat upright, making tiny rocking movements with his hips and unbuttoning his own shirt. He spread it wide and watched Gandalf's face as he gazed at the hobbit's body. The wizard remembered the first time he had seen that naked body, flawless and glowing with health. His fingers gently traced the new scars and last fading bruises, as well as the still-prominent ribs, and he glanced up into Frodo's face with a sad smile. Then he looked down again, his breath shuddering as he stared at the two little pink mounds, as smooth and delectable as ever. Lightly he touched a finger to each in turn and watched as they puckered quickly, then rubbed them gently. Frodo's mouth fell open and his eyes closed. "Ohhh . . . that feels wonderful. Don't stop!"

Gandalf smiled and pinched the little beads softly. "I remember the first time I touched you here."

Frodo half-opened his eyes and smiled so sweetly that Gandalf felt his breath catch. "You were so happy, so eager. You begged me not to stop then, too." He paused, tweaking the sensitive peaks. "You excited me so much. And you still do. I want to give you such enormous pleasure!" He leaned down to suck and lick Frodo's nipples hungrily as the hobbit groaned with growing abandon. Dimly he felt Frodo opening his shirt, then jerked as the hobbit reached down inside with both hands and pinched Gandalf's nipples gently. His fingers squeezed harder as the wizard moaned over and over against his chest. Frodo could feel Gandalf's rock-hard member straining upward under his buttocks.

Rubbing his cheek against Frodo's chest, Gandalf gasped brokenly, "I . . . Frodo . . . please!" The wizard was trembling as he resisted his strong desire to lower the hobbit to the floor and take him. Frodo reached down and unlaced their trousers, bringing out both erections to lie against each other, pointing upward between their bodies. He began to thrust his cock along Gandalf's shaft. Its rough, swollen veins rubbed against the hobbit's length, and he gulped with desire. Gandalf was utterly enthralled as he watched Frodo's bliss slowly mount and felt the insistent pressure along his own member.

The wizard intended to delay his own climax until after Frodo's, thinking that the hobbit might take longer than usual in his slightly weakened condition. With Frodo determining the pace of the thrusting, moving progressively harder and faster, however, Gandalf felt himself losing control. He pressed his head into the back of the chair as Frodo rubbed his erection even faster up and down the wizard's. Gandalf abandoned the hopeless effort to contain himself and grasped Frodo's cheeks, pulling his hips harder against his aching length. The hobbit abruptly slid his hand down between them to grip the end of Gandalf's cock, pulling and squeezing it hard. This sudden additional pleasure sent Gandalf over the edge, and he clenched his teeth and raised his hips to meet Frodo's thrusts as ribbons of his hot come draped across both their bodies. "Oh, Frodo!" he gasped, continuing to push his erection up and down the slickness on the hobbit's belly to prolong the last shivers of bliss. Very soon, Frodo stiffened and began to groan loudly as Gandalf continued to pull the hobbit's hips against himself. More streams of heat splashed against their bodies. As Frodo's pleasure slowly faded, the wizard hugged him tightly. They sat almost motionless until both had recovered sufficiently to talk.

"Well, you were right, my sweet hobbit, this is a very pleasant way to make love-though being able to see each other enhances it a great deal-to say nothing of the fact that your enticing chest is not encased in a coat of mail."

Frodo replied by throwing his arms around Gandalf's neck and resting his head on the wizard's shoulder. Gandalf smiled lazily and settled lower in the chair, drifting into a brief nap. Frodo smiled contentedly. He was not sure yet about all the changes his lover had undergone in his transformation, but he was happy to find that the White wizard napped briefly after lovemaking, just as the Grey one had. The fewer changes, the better. Everything had been so wonderful before. It seemed as if it could be again.

Without realizing that he was echoing Gandalf's own actions on their first night together in Ithilien, Frodo lay in quiet joy, feeling and listening to the wizard's breathing as he slept. Suddenly it occurred to him that it had been-how long? at least an hour-since any memory of Mordor or any worrisome thought at all had crossed his mind. Even weeks after the Quest had ended, sad or terrifying memories had been invading it frequently, and so many things were still reminding him of horrible moments during the journey to the Cracks of Doom. At least for now he felt at peace. He also realized that he now seldom felt a sense of panic when the wizard was not in sight, as he often had in Ithilien. The bliss lingering in his body now was certainly not a dream.

A few minutes later the wizard stirred and opened his eyes. Frodo kissed his cheek and sat up to face him again, grinning as the afterglow continued to suffuse him. Then he glanced down and realized that their chests and bellies were sticky with congealing semen. The hobbit reached backward to snatch a napkin off the table, wiping most of it off and smiling a little as he recalled having done much the same thing the very first time he had pleasured Gandalf. From the wizard's expression, Frodo suspected that he was recalling the same thing.

Gandalf stroked his cheek. "Yes, you are definitely the same eager, enthusiastic hobbit I loved so much before." He paused. "I am so glad, Frodo, that you have not changed in this at least . . . that your experiences have not made you . . . less able to enjoy making love with me. My darling hobbit, you are so . . ." He broke off and laughed with quiet irony. "I was about to say that you are so precious to me-but I think that would be a poor word to use under the circumstances. A pity-it is a word that would apply well to how I feel about you. I shall say instead that you are a treasure beyond anything I ever expected to discover in Middle-earth. I shall love you as long as I have you and beyond."

Frodo looked down for a short while, then back up at the wizard. "I'm glad, too, Gandalf. I'm glad this didn't disappoint you-no, wait, I know you didn't mean that exactly. What I mean is that I'm glad nothing has ever happened that could change my feelings about you in any way-except to make me so. . . relieved and grateful to have you back. I want us always to have this joy together-whatever bad memories I may have. But making love with you doesn't bring back any bad memories. It only takes them away."

Gandalf went on stroking Frodo's cheek for a long time, then finally made an effort and smiled at him. "In that case, my dear hobbit, we should make love as often as possible-even if it's not forty times a day."

Frodo grinned. "Definitely, my dear wizard. Maybe in a little while we can go to bed, as you wanted. I haven't exactly forgotten what it feels like to have my cock inside your expert mouth---but I would appreciate a reminder anyway. But first, I see you never ate your cake- and no, I'm not trying to get it for myself! I just want to fatten you up a bit. He stretched backward again and brought the small plate to rest against Gandalf's beard, then broke off a piece and held it up to the wizard's lips. As Gandalf chewed, Frodo softly kissed his cheeks, then straightened up to feed him another bite. When the entire thing was gone, Frodo leaned over and flicked his tongue over the wizard's ear.

Gandalf took the plate from him and sat up straighter, depositing it on the table and hugging the hobbit. The wizard licked his lips slowly. "And now, from one tasty little morsel to another."

Frodo giggled and held on tightly as the wizard stood up and carried him off to bed.

TBC in "Thrice Returned #9: The White Tree"

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