Thrice Returned

by Nefertiti

Summary: After a nine-year absence, Gandalf appears at Bag End to reveal what he has learned about the Ring-and to renew his romance with Frodo.

Disclaimer: I own no rights and expect no income.

Author's note: This story is book-based and begins on April 12, 3018, with Gandalf's arrival at Bag End, as described in Ch. 2 of FotR. It spans the two and a half months he spends with Frodo before setting out in late June on the journey that will end with his imprisonment by Saruman in Orthanc. That departure occurs in Ch. 3, "Three Is Company."

This series began with a sequel to Poncing Ponies' lovely story, "Twice Given"; my thanks to her for welcoming a sequel by another hand and being so encouraging and helpful. Many thanks also to Elanor for betaing, encouragement, wonderful suggestions, and engrossing wizard-slash discussions.

Part 3: A Long-Expected Return

That evening, as Sam was walking home and twilight was fading, there came the once familiar tap on the study window.

Frodo welcomed his old friend with surprise and great delight. They looked hard at one another.

"All well, eh?" said Gandalf. "You look the same as ever, Frodo!"

"So do you," Frodo replied; but secretly he thought that Gandalf looked older and more careworn. (FOTR, "The Shadow of the Past")

Frodo stared after the wizard as he walked into the sitting room. He was baffled and hurt. Gandalf had been gone for nine years and yet had not embraced or kissed him. With a worried little frown on his face, he followed Gandalf into the warm room, where a fire was burning to chase away the spring chill. The wizard dropped heavily into a chair and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. His head dropped onto the back of the chair, and Frodo realized that he must be exhausted. He moved over to stand in front of the chair, looking at Gandalf uncertainly. Gandalf rolled his head slightly to the side, blinked at him, and smiled.

"I'm sorry, Frodo, but I am terribly tired. I rode long and far today-farther than I should have, but I was so anxious to see you again and I could not bear the thought of stopping at an inn only a few hours' journey from here. My horse is undoubtedly thinking unkind thoughts about me as a result! And then walking from the village and up the Hill, it hit me how very weary I am. Well, at any rate, come here, my darling hobbit!"

He sat up slightly and held his arms open. Frodo broke into tears of joy as he climbed into the wizard's lap to find himself in a fierce embrace. He threw his arms around Gandalf, burying his face in the wizard's beard and neck. They remained still a long time, and then Gandalf pushed Frodo away slightly, holding his head between his hands and looking slowly at his face, ending with his brimming eyes, then joined his lips with Frodo's for a leisurely, gentle kiss. At last Frodo pulled back to stare at the wizard's face with relief and exasperation warring in his mind. Gandalf brushed the tears from his cheeks. "It has been so long-" the hobbit began, but Gandalf interrupted.

"I am all too aware of it, my dear Frodo. But it could not be helped-"

"But, Gandalf--"

"I hope you at least received my letters."

"Yes, I did get some letters from you quite a while back, but I was beginning to get really worried. There has been nothing at all for over a year and a half! I have been imagining all sorts of dreadful things. If I could only know you were safe, the waiting would not be nearly so bad." Frodo looked down into his lap, his lip trembling.

Gandalf said firmly, "Frodo! I told you that I would not always be able to return, and I told you that I would not often be able to send letters." He smiled slightly. "You are spoiled here in the Shire, having a fine postal system. You should be proud-it's the best in Middle-earth. Unfortunately, most places do not have one. Outside these borders, I am usually dependent on finding someone reliable traveling this way who can pass on a message to someone else and so on until it reaches someone who might be going to the Shire. As I told you so long ago, however, no matter how long I am gone or how seldom you receive letters, I love you very much and wish I could be here with you far more often." He put his fingers under Frodo's chin and raised the hobbit's face to his, looking anxiously into his eyes. Frodo struggled to produce a smile.

"I hope none of my letters went astray. I do have a friend who lives far east of here, but he often travels this way and puts letters into the post for me. How many did you receive?"


"Yes, that would be about right. There cannot have been more than two or three that went astray. Better than I would have expected."

Frodo sighed. "I'm glad you at least wrote those. I have read them over so many times."

Gandalf smiled sadly. "You kept them all, did you?"

"Of course! They're right here." Frodo scrambled down from Gandalf's lap and fetched a little leather folder from a nearby table, clambering back into the wizard's chair.

"See, neatly preserved-except for all the blots from my tears."

Gandalf leafed through the sheets, then gave Frodo a bemused look. "There are no blots here at all."

Frodo smiled reluctantly. "Well, there would be if I didn't always have a handkerchief about me."

Gandalf stared at him sympathetically. "Do you really cry over my letters, Frodo?"

Frodo swallowed and replied very quietly, "Sometimes."

Gandalf closed his eyes with a sigh and hugged the hobbit tightly to himself, rocking slightly as if comforting a child. Finally he released his hold on Frodo. "And after all that you still love me, my sweet hobbit?"

Frodo's serious blue eyes stared at him in surprise. "Well, of course!"

Gandalf brushed the hobbit's hair back off his forehead. "You should be glad, really, that the Shire is so far from where I usually must be. Its isolation is what has allowed you and all these charming hobbits to live this simple, safe life. And that is what drew me here to begin with, many years ago."

He took Frodo by the shoulders and looked into his eyes steadily. "Frodo, listen to me. I would rather keep you safe and lonely than be with you more often and put you, along with the rest of Middle-earth, at risk. Can't you understand that?"

Frodo stared at him forlornly and said in a small voice, "Yes ... I'm sorry, Gandalf. It's just that it's so hard to wait."

"I know, but by holding onto your love for me and waiting, you help me a great deal, you know."


"Every day that I am gone, I think about you-here in this protected part of the world-and it helps me to go on and do what I must. But I fear that it may no longer be possible to keep the Shire safe. The situation in the world outside is getting far worse. I have learned things that lead me strongly to suspect that events are building to a crisis-and that you, alas, may well be involved in them. The only bright spot is that it may be possible that we will not need to be apart for quite such long stretches from now on. I simply do not know anything for certain yet." Frodo looked at him with a puzzled expression. Gandalf said, "Well, it is complicated, and I shall tell you later. But right now, what of the fabled hobbit hospitality?"

"Of course, you must be hungry and thirsty as well as tired. Or did you have dinner on the way?"

"No, only lunch, and that quite early. I could use some supper and a bit of good Shire wine."

Frodo climbed down. "I'm afraid I have nothing special to give you. I ate long ago, and I didn't know you were coming, obviously. I certainly don't have any ... what was it, cold chicken and pickles?"

Gandalf smiled. "Yes, but whatever you have will be fine. You know I like all sorts of Shire food, even the simplest. And may I help myself to the wine, which I presume is kept in the same place?"

"No, don't get up, I'll fetch you a glass. There is still a bit of the Old Winyards left, you will be glad to know."

"Indeed! ... Thank you, Frodo." He took an appreciative sip, then rested his head on the back of the chair with his eyes closed.

"Would you like to move into the kitchen, or shall I bring your supper in here?"

"Here, if you don't mind. It will be a considerable effort to move, and I shan't attempt it until I am off to bed-with a nice warm bath before, if it is convenient."

"Of course. You know it takes almost no time to fill the tub. But surely we can talk before you retire - just a little. You must tell me why you've been gone so long." He hesitated. "I was almost starting to think that ..." He looked down with an embarrassed little smile. "Well, that maybe all those beautiful Elves had made you forget an ordinary little hobbit."

Gandalf gave him a fond smile. "Not all the beautiful Elves in Middle-earth could do that. And you are hardly 'ordinary,' though I suspect that now you are fishing for compliments." He took Frodo's hand and studied it for a moment. "But seriously, my dearest hobbit, don't you think I have such thoughts about you? I realize that nine years is a large portion of your young life. Sometimes I think how foolish it was of you to fall in love with me-and I must admit that there are days when I wonder if my absence will be too much for you to bear and you will ... will finally become disgusted with me and sensibly find someone here in the Shire, some attractive, reliable hobbit who can be with you all the time. As I rode here, I wondered just a tiny bit whether I would find you still living here alone-No, wait! I know that you love me, but ... well, camping alone in a forest far from here, it is all too easy to fear that your love could eventually be stretched to the breaking point."

Frodo shook his head anxiously at intervals during this speech, and he was again fighting tears by its end. "Gandalf! No! Don't ever think that! I'd wait no matter how long it took!"

Gandalf looked at him silently for a moment, then murmured, "That is wonderful to hear, Frodo." They looked at each other somberly for a moment, and then Gandalf cleared his throat. "Now, what about this supper I hear so much about and see so little of? Once I've disposed of that, yes, a bit of chat and an after-dinner pipe might not be too strenuous. Just don't be surprised if I nod off in the middle of it."

Within twenty minutes Frodo returned with a tray bearing plates of eggs, bread, dried fruit, and a small tart. He had thought the wizard might have dozed off, but the wine seemed to have revived Gandalf a bit. The hobbit moved a small table within Gandalf's reach and set the tray on it. Once he had everything arranged, he climbed again into the wizard's lap and sat leaning against him and reaching up to touch or kiss him occasionally. Gandalf put one arm around him and endeavored to eat with the other.

After a few minutes he remarked, "You are making this remarkably difficult, my dear hobbit, but don't you dare move." He kissed Frodo's forehead, then returned to his meal.

When Gandalf was finished, Frodo stoked the fire, then came back to rejoin the wizard in his chair, kneeling and resting one knee between Gandalf's legs and the other beside his thigh. He leaned his body against the wizard's, putting his arms around his neck and nuzzling into his beard as he so loved to do. Gandalf softly stroked his back and shoulders.

Eventually Frodo pressed his mouth against the wizard's, and the gentle kiss went on and on, with neither willing to break it. At last Frodo ran his tongue insistently against Gandalf's closed mouth, moving his hips slightly against his body. The wizard drew back, looking into Frodo's eyes with a little smile. "You mustn't get your hopes up tonight, Frodo. I am simply too tired. I assure you, if I were not ..." He stroked the hobbit's cheek.

Frodo smiled, trying to hide his disappointment. His contact with the wizard's body was making him harden rapidly, however-especially as he remembered the times he and Gandalf had made love nearby, on the rug in front of the fireplace. He moved back slightly and shifted uneasily as his trousers tightened around his erection. Gandalf could see this, as well as the hobbit pressing his lips together and trying to breathe normally, willing his arousal to recede. He made as if to climb down from the wizard's lap, but Gandalf pulled him against his body once more. "I suppose, though, that it would not take much effort for me to pleasure you, my darling hobbit-as long as you do not expect anything too lively."

Frodo was panting slightly, and he looked pleadingly into the wizard's face, then rested his head on Gandalf's shoulder, moving his body rhythmically against the wizard's side. He whispered, "Oh, yes, Gandalf ... please ... I know you're exhausted-but it wouldn't take long, I promise!"

Gandalf smiled. "Yes, as an expert on fireworks, I should say you have a very short fuse tonight ... Oh, fine! Now you have me making silly puns. At any rate, show me what you want, Frodo."

Frodo took the wizard's hand and gently kissed it on the back and on the palm, then pulled it down to his bulging trousers. Gandalf stroked his erection gently, turning his head to watch the pleasure passing over the face lying so close to his own. The hobbit looked dazed, with his mouth slightly open and gasping each time the wizard's fingers fondled the length of his shaft. His eyes were pressed shut.

"Look at me, Frodo," Gandalf whispered, and Frodo managed to open his eyes languorously and stare into the wizard's, whimpering softly with bliss. Gandalf looked lovingly at him for a while, then ran the tip of his tongue around Frodo's slack lips, slowly, delving slightly inside as the hobbit opened wider and flicked his own tongue against Gandalf's. Both reached at the same time to untie Frodo's trouser-laces and laughed briefly as their hands bumped each other.

"I'll do it," Frodo murmured, "just keep going!"

As the hobbit unlaced his trousers, Gandalf caressed his erection again then slipped his hand down inside the loose cloth. He found the slender, straight cock upright, moist with heat and oozing drops at the tip. He pulled and stroked it, rubbing his thumb over the tiny slit on the end, massaging the precum over the velvety surface. Frodo's head lolled on his shoulder, and his eyes closed in bliss. "Look at me," Gandalf said again. Frodo's blue eyes were glazed with approaching ecstasy. "Gandalf ... yes, yes ..." he whispered.

The wizard removed his hand suddenly, and Frodo squeaked in disappointment, but Gandalf had only reached to pick up his napkin from the table. He pushed it loosely down inside the gaping trousers to cover the tip of Frodo's throbbing erection, before he resumed stroking, now faster and harder. The wizard's other hand, which had been cupping the hobbit's buttocks, slipped down between his legs and began to gently massage the back of his testicles. Frodo jerked and thrust against Gandalf's hand, gently at first, then hard as he buried his face in the wizard's shoulder, muffling his loud groans as the bursts of pleasure coursed through him.

Gandalf pulled Frodo closer and feathered swift kisses across his cheeks and mouth as the hobbit gradually stopped panting and focused his eyes again. The wizard carefully squeezed the napkin into a ball and removed it from Frodo's trousers. "I think I managed to save us from a rather sticky aftermath," he said.

Frodo felt inside his trousers, then laced them up loosely. "Yes, not a drop missed. Neatly done!" He sighed contentedly. "That was absolutely, marvelously, splendidly wonderful. But I'm the one that's supposed to be welcoming you. Are you sure you don't want me to-"

"It's very tempting, young fellow ... but I really do not feel like it-for once! Though your simple meal and excellent wine have woken me up a bit. But if looking into your beautiful eyes and having you in my arms did not arouse me-then absolutely nothing could tonight. But I assure you, I very much enjoyed watching you come for me. I feel spectacularly welcomed! I shall be content for now to talk and hold you for a while. It is so good to be back. And then I shall be off to bed, to sleep, mind you-though with you in my arms. Tomorrow I shall make love to you in every room in Bag End if you like!"

Frodo laughed. "That's big talk, my dearest wizard! I may hold you to that, and there are a great many rooms in this hole."

Gandalf frowned. "Yes ... well, I stick by my offer, but maybe you should give me a few days to accomplish it."

"Gladly! But you will be staying for more than a few days this time-say you will! You must!"

Gandalf replied, "To some extent it depends on what we decide about the things I've come to discuss with you. But I think it's quite possible that I would be able to stay with you for a while. Perhaps, given that the weather is so pleasant, I can move my horse from the village stable. You own that little field across the road, don't you?"

Frodo smiled. Anything that made it seem as if the wizard was settling in at Bag End was welcome. "Yes, and of course you can put her there."

"Oh, the lovely mare that Elrond has been letting me use for years decided she was getting too old for such long trips. We talked it over and agreed that I would only ride her over short distances around Rivendell-though I must say, when I'm there, I like to get away from horseback riding for a while."

Frodo looked at him skeptically. "Can you really talk to horses-or, that is, can you understand them when they talk back?"

Gandalf gave a little snort. "I'd be a poor wizard if I couldn't."

Frodo stared at him. Ordinarily Gandalf behaved so little like a magical being that it rather took him aback when the wizard referred to his special powers so offhandedly.

Gandalf resumed, "Elrond loaned me another horse, a spirited young stallion who thought himself ready for any amount of long journeying. Rather boasted about it, I must say. I rode him long and hard these past few days, but now he will get a chance at a rest."

He pulled out his pipe, and Frodo handed him the pipeweed jar. "It's wonderful to be able to smoke again. I ran out of pipeweed months ago, and I was only able to replenish my supply in Bree. But this stuff is much better, from the smell of it."

Frodo watched him carefully fill the pipe. "You can have bushel baskets of it if you'll only stay with me for a while." He knew he should not nag Gandalf about his long absences, but he could not help asking, "Why do you have to do all this hard and dangerous work? Aren't there other people, powerful people, who could take over sometimes? I know Bilbo told me that you helped defeat the Necromancer, and your work is very important, but do you always have to do it? I have missed you so much!"

Gandalf sighed. "It's your own fault, Frodo, for falling in love with a wizard. Very foolish of you. With all these beautiful hobbit lads and lasses close to home, you pick a wandering greybeard who neglects you shamefully. Absolutely shamefully." He pulled Frodo close and kissed him lightly about the mouth and cheeks again.

Frodo twisted away. "Don't try to distract me-unless you're prepared to follow up on those kisses with something more exciting. I thought not. Well, all right, it's partly my fault, I'll grant you. Guilty as charged, I did fall in love with a wizard, knowing what it meant. At least the last time you stayed away for nine years, you had the excuse that you were vainly fighting your overwhelming, highly sensible attraction to me-don't tickle me! I refuse to be distracted from my question: Why doesn't someone else do some of this wandering and researching and ... and whatever else it is that you do. You once said there were other wizards-just what do they do in all this?"

"All right, I'll give you a straightforward answer-although I cannot tell you everything. There are other people working along with me-others among the Wise. And they do what they can, very important things. But mostly they are defending their own domains, and even that is getting harder and harder. Someone has to hold them together to our plans, which is a large part of what I do. And yes, there are other wizards, though I am not sure where they all are. One, my cousin Radagast, has, I'm afraid, retired to a rather solitary life in Mirkwood, and although he contributes some help now and then, he is not as active as I had hoped. Sometimes I envy him that simple existence. Of course, it would take a hobbit to make it really pleasant, and he, poor fellow, doesn't have one." He ruffled Frodo's hair. "And there is another wizard who works with us against the Necromancer, and he did play an important part in helping to chase him out of his stronghold 76 years ago. I am not without help, my dear Frodo, but things are getting much worse, I fear, and we shall need all our combined power and more." He again leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes.

Frodo had begun during this speech to wonder whether he should have brought up the subject. He still did not really understand how all these people fit together, and yet it was clearer than ever that Gandalf's departures meant more than loneliness for them both. The situation in the outside world sounded very dangerous. "Is ... is there going to be another war, like the Battle of Five Armies?" That was the only war he knew much about, since it had been one of Bilbo's favorite tales.

"Alas, almost certainly there is, and much worse. Indeed, there are already skirmishes beginning far south of here. The Dark Lord, or the Necromancer, as you have known him, has secretly been rebuilding his domain and his military might. Our efforts long ago, in which Bilbo played a small but important part, unfortunately did not rid the world of our great Enemy. And now ..." He was silent for a moment, looking with a worried expression into the fire, then at Frodo. " ... now I have discovered things that make me realize I cannot hide you here and expect that you will remain isolated and safe from the terrible events that I fear will unfold." He paused again, pulling Frodo to himself and hugging the hobbit.

"Why, Gandalf, what have you discovered?"

"It may sound hard to believe, Frodo, but the Ring that Bilbo found long ago and gave to you is linked to these terrible events going on far away. It is not just some little magical trinket that helps its owner disappear and avoid relatives or play pranks on friends. Unless I am greatly mistaken, it is vastly powerful and has been central in many of the great events in the history of Middle-earth."

"I don't understand."

"No. As I said, it will take a lot of explaining. In fact, I think we should put that off until tomorrow. Such matters are best left until daylight. The shadows are too deep now, even in your little sitting room. Besides, I am simply too tired to give you a coherent account of such complex matters."

Reluctantly Frodo climbed off his lap, going to prepare a bath for Gandalf and then to put the wizard to bed.

Gandalf was having an exquisite dream. He was sitting in a large, well-furnished room, something like the one he had in Rivendell. A beautiful Elf had come wordlessly to him, knelt before him, and pulled out his member, licking and caressing it until he was moaning and writhing in delight. As he drifted awake, he realized that he was in his room at Bag End-but the wonderful glow of pleasure in his nether regions was not fading along with the dream. Quite the contrary, it was increasing, and he lay for a moment reveling in the sensation of having a warm, delicate tongue sliding insistently over his throbbing length. Being careful not to move any part of his body below his waist, the wizard raised his head and shoulders and saw a hobbit-sized bump under the covers, moving slightly as the tongue flicked here and there. He grinned and flung aside the covers to find Frodo diligently stroking and licking his very upright member.

Despite his ragged breathing, Gandalf gasped out, "Aren't you smothered?"

Frodo continued moving his hands along the shaft as he grinned at the wizard. "Not yet! I haven't been down here long, and I've got the light spring blankets on the bed. And I had a strong feeling that you would wake up very soon. You had a morning erection, and when I woke up and saw it pushing up the covers like a tent-pole-well, I couldn't pass that up! So I crept under to get reacquainted with a very dear old friend. He seems quite happy about my visit." His blue eyes sparkled as he applied tongue and lips to the side of the cock's tip, kissing it wetly.

"He is indeed," Gandalf sighed happily, lying back and closing his eyes.

"Oh, no, my dear wizard! It's your turn to look at me," Frodo commanded, pausing only briefly in his licking and kissing and not at all in his stroking.

"Mmmm, gladly," Gandalf murmured, dragging Frodo's pillow over onto his own and propping his head against it to gaze at the hobbit pleasuring him so happily. "Frodo, you do have the most wicked little grin. I guess you are glad to see me back."

Frodo chuckled, sending little puffs of air over the wet shaft and making Gandalf flinch at the teasing sensation this created. At last he could not keep his eyes open any longer, and he grimaced. Frodo saw this and stroked the shaft faster and harder, and the wizard sucked in his breath sharply as the hobbit licked his balls. "Frodo ... I'm almost ..." he rasped, and Frodo moved to clasp his lips over the tip. Hot, thick liquid instantly filled his mouth, and he eagerly gulped it down, continuing to pump and squeeze with his hands.

As Gandalf's climax receded, he lay back against the sheet and smiled lazily at Frodo as the hobbit moved up to sit beside him. Frodo licked his lips with exaggerated delight and murmured, "I had completely forgotten what you taste like my dear wizard. But it's hardly surprising. It's been nine years, after all!" He looked accusingly at Gandalf, who resolutely closed his eyes and ignored him. Frodo said more softly, "Well, now I remember, but you can give me more reminders in the days to come-many days, I hope. In the meantime, would you like breakfast in bed?"

Gandalf yawned. "Yes, that sounds lovely, but ... maybe ... maybe I'll just go back to sleep for a while." Frodo smiled at this familiar habit-though Gandalf seldom slept after sex early in the morning.

Frodo kissed the tip of his nose. Gandalf smiled drowsily at him, then nestled into the pillows. "Yes, do have a sleep, and I'll bring breakfast in to you." There was no response. "Well, I did wake him up early," Frodo thought cheerfully, "why shouldn't he sleep a bit longer? He'll need all his energy later on-if I have anything to say about it! In the meantime, breakfast." He pulled his clothes on loosely and made his way to the kitchen.

He fixed some breakfast for himself and took his time eating it, thinking of all the lovely things he and the wizard could do during the unusually fine spring days the Shire was experiencing. Hearing a noise outside, he went to open the round green door wide and waved as he saw Sam getting out his tools to work in the garden. Then he returned to the kitchen and put together a tray for the wizard. As he entered the guest room, Gandalf was just yawning and waking up again.

"Eggs again, I'm afraid. It's a good thing you like them. I'll have to lay in more supplies and do some cooking today."

"I never object to eggs. Here, put the tray on my lap and sit beside me."

As Gandalf ate, Frodo leaned against him, occasionally taking a bit of food and holding it up to the wizard's mouth. This held up the meal somewhat, but both found it very agreeable.

Frodo waggled his eyebrows at Gandalf. "Now, we're even, and we can go about this in a more leisurely fashion." From Gandalf's expression, the hobbit knew that he did not have to explain what "this" was. "I hope you haven't forgotten your very convenient little preparatory spell by having been gone so long."

Gandalf chuckled. "That is one spell I shall never forget! Though, really, Frodo, I'm hardly such an incompetent wizard that I wouldn't have a few others that would probably work just as well."

Frodo sat silently for a moment, then said, "Well, despite how long you've had to be away, we've given each other so much joy in this bed-and elsewhere. Looking back, I still can't believe I got up the nerve to kiss you that day."

Gandalf smiled down at him. "Yes, I was anything but encouraging, wasn't I? But how could I turn down a hobbit birthday present-especially from such a deliciously pretty hobbit?"

"Luckily, you couldn't, and here we are."

The wizard finished his meal, got up, and stretched. "This has been a lovely way to end such a long separation, my dearest hobbit. But... it is time to face reality. Could you light a fire in the sitting room? I'll join you there in a few minutes."

Frodo had turned to leave, but he paused. "Do you think we need a fire? It's shaping up to be a warm day, for April at least. Sam is already at work in his shirtsleeves."

Gandalf looked at him with a surprisingly somber expression. "Yes, I'm afraid we do need a fire, Frodo." He sighed. "I'll be with you shortly."

That morning Gandalf made the final test by tossing the Ring into Frodo's little fireplace. Once the hobbit had seen the fiery writing that appeared on it, Gandalf told him about the Ring, its history, and the dangers that they faced. Terrified as he was by all these revelations, Frodo realized that at least he now better understood the wizard's comings and goings over the years. His main consolation was that Gandalf had promised to help him bear his Burden. Surely that meant that at last he would be able to travel with the wizard and to see places outside the Shire-even Rivendell and the Elves. If he had Gandalf with him, he thought, he could face up to almost any danger.

They were largely silent over lunch as Frodo struggled to absorb all that he had been told. Afterward, hoping to banish their worries for while, they retired to Gandalf's room. They made love, beginning passionately and quickly, and then prolonging their final build in a more leisurely fashion. Afterwards, Gandalf drifted off to sleep. Rather than the usual few minutes of post-coital slumber, however, he napped for over an hour. Frodo realized that his lover was still tired from the prolonged travel of the previous day and patiently waited, resting against his side and stroking his beard occasionally.

At last the wizard opened his eyes and smiled at seeing Frodo looking up at him. He pulled the hobbit to him and kissed him, delving his tongue slowly and thoroughly into his mouth. Then he nibbled at Frodo's ear and whispered, "I want to taste you, Frodo. I want you to come in my mouth."

Frodo felt a little shiver pass through him and looked at Gandalf with a provocative little grin. "I don't think I'm quite ready yet, but if you want me to come in your mouth, my darling wizard-then make me ready," he challenged.

Gandalf grinned in return and considered for a moment. "I've said on a number of occasions that I wanted to kiss you absolutely all over your body. I never got around to it, but it still sounds like a wonderful idea. I would wager a considerable sum that by the time I was finished, you would be begging me to take you into my mouth."

Frodo said teasingly, "I'd definitely like to see that. Can you really reduce me to such desperation?"

"It's the sort of challenge I'd like to try and meet, at any rate."

"It might take a long time. Don't forget what you did for me last night, added on to what just happened."

"Hardly. But we have a long time, my dearest hobbit. What better way to spend the afternoon than in thoroughly reacquainting myself with your beautiful body by tasting every bit of it? Besides, you're so small, it won't take as long as it ordinarily would."

"Ordinarily! Have you kissed someone all over before?"

"Frodo!" Gandalf said reproachfully. "You shouldn't ask such questions. Aren't you afraid you won't like the answer?"

Frodo pouted-quite delightfully, Gandalf thought. "Maybe. But have you?"

"Well ... let us just say, if I did wager that that would be a good way of making you beg for release ... I would have good reason to think I would win. Now, none of that! You asked! Twice!"

Gandalf started with Frodo's head, moving his lips over the curly hair and pressing lightly. His attentions to the hobbit's face, neck, and ears made him squirm slowly in delight. As Gandalf moved slowly down Frodo's body, he reached the relaxed, smooth pink nipples.

"Of course, there are some parts of your body I want to kiss more than others," he murmured, licking and sucking at them gently as they hardened. As his mouth lingered, Frodo closed his eyes and hummed with a faint sense of reviving arousal. "Why do you like playing with my nipples so much?"

Gandalf paused and looked back and forth between them thoughtfully. "I have no idea. Let me see if I can figure it out." Slowly and with thoughtful expression he flicked the tip of his tongue across each tiny peak in turn, then paused and looked at them with a puzzled expression. "No, still no clue." Frodo laughed as the wizard sucked and kissed them a bit longer, then looked into the hobbit's face. "It's quite a mystery."

Slowly his lips explored Frodo's chest and stomach, teasing gently and moving on, pausing at spots that he knew were especially sensitive.

Frodo lay basking in pleasure and the slow build of arousal. "I have missed this so much over the years."

Gandalf paused and looked briefly up at Frodo. "How did you occupy yourself all that time, if you don't mind telling me?" He lowered his lips to the hobbit's body once more as Frodo began to speak.

"Well, for a start, I tried not to sit at home by myself, pining for you. I could not have borne that for long. I traveled in the Shire, visiting relatives I had not seen in a long time-the relatives I like, of course, and there are really quite a few of those. And I went to the Green Dragon many an evening, to hear silly gossip passed round and chewed over. It was quite pleasant, really, though occasionally I found myself suddenly picturing you coming in the door, all travel-stained and suddenly overjoyed to find me unexpectedly sitting there. You'd want me so badly that you'd carry me off to one of the private dining rooms and take me passionately. Sometimes it was all so vivid that I actually felt dizzy. Once the Gaffer accused me of being drunk. But I wasn't-except with the thought of you."

Gandalf paused again in his kissing, but this time he did not speak or glance at Frodo's face before resuming.

"Sometimes one of my friends or cousins would come over and sit by me in the corner and try to, get something started, as we used to. I think they suspected about you and me, after I rather suddenly dropped out of circulation as soon as you arrived for Bilbo's party, and of course they talked behind our backs after his disappearance. But then when you were gone so long, I guess they thought that was over. I suppose I was a little tempted, since it's obviously hard to get along without that sort of thing. But I knew if I gave in, I'd just be thinking of you the whole time and be more miserable than ever, not to mention feeling guilty. So I just took care of it myself, once I got home and in bed. Mmmmmm ... that feels wonderful. Well, I won't have to do that for a while, anyway."

The wonderful sensation arose from Gandalf's lips and tongue exploring the insides of Frodo's thighs, then working a bit more quickly down one leg.

"Are you even going to kiss my feet, Gandalf?"

"Well, they appear to be reasonably clean, and if I kissed your curly head, I can certainly cope with your furry little toes." He proved it by nibbling at each of them with his lips. Then he began to kiss up the other leg, lightly stroking the inner thighs and the backs of Frodo's knees with his fingers. Glancing upward he saw that Frodo's penis, which had been lying against his thigh, was now beginning to rise slightly, and he grinned with a hint of triumph. The hobbit bit his lower lip in anticipation and watched as the wizard slowly moved over him.

Gandalf skirted around the half-hard cock as he reached Frodo's hips, and then he gently turned the hobbit onto his stomach. His mouth moved slowly over the firm buttocks, now with the lips barely brushing the skin, now biting gently. Frodo felt his erection press down into the mattress and he dug his fingers into the sheet. Gandalf parted his buttocks slightly and inched his tongue down the cleft until it reached the tiny opening and lingered, flicking teasingly against the puckered hole. Frodo jerked at first, then found himself struggling to stay still, panting rapidly and shallowly as the unfamiliar, exquisite sensation made his whole body quiver. After a short time his erection became almost painful.

"Please, Gandalf, now! Take me in your mouth! I can't wait!" he said in a strangled voice.

He heard a soft chuckle, and the wizard said, "But I haven't finished here. Don't you want me to kiss all over your back as well?"

"Later! Please, please, I'm completely ready for you!"

Gandalf rolled him over onto his back again. "I should have made that wager. Well, I'll continue that another time, then. Ah, yes, here's one important part I neglected on the first pass."

He kissed the tip of Frodo's erection, then circled the shaft with a slightly open mouth, wetly kissing downward until he reached the balls and gave them the same treatment. By now Frodo was twisting his hips, trying vainly to maneuver the head closer to the wizard's lips. "Gandalf, suck me, please! You wanted me to come in your mouth! Let me!"

The wizard finally raised his head and descended onto Frodo's member, taking it all inside in one swift movement that made Frodo grimace and groan loudly. Gandalf held the hobbit's hips firmly to prevent his involuntarily thrusting into his throat, and he moved slowly up and down the shaft. Withdrawing his mouth for a moment, he moistened his long middle finger and slipped it slowly inside Frodo. Frodo gurgled as Gandalf resumed sucking, his lips and tongue moving quickly and insistently as he stroked the most sensitive spot inside the hobbit. He pressed Frodo's belly down with his free hand as the hobbit began to thrash and whimper, at last moaning repeatedly as his cock sent warm jets into Gandalf's throat. Gradually his spasms drew further apart and finally vanished as the wizard ran his tongue up the sensitive ridge of his shaft.

Frodo lay, blissfully drained, as Gandalf slid up alongside him and laid his neck on the hobbit's outstretched arm. Frodo opened his eyes and stroked the wizard's cheek. "Well! that certainly makes up for a lot!"

Gandalf asked hopefully, "For a few months of my absence, perhaps?"

Frodo pretended to consider this seriously, then nodded with a thoughtful little frown. "Perhaps."

"Then I might hope to work off my debt to you eventually?"

Frodo just grinned.

Gandalf lay happily watching the afterglow registered on the face so close to his own. After a contented silence, Frodo asked, "Did you ever figure out why you find my nipples so fascinating?"

Gandalf laughed softly, touching each of them with a delicate fingertip. "No. But I am a diligent researcher, and I vow to pursue this vital question with considerable care. I suspect that the answer would have to be based on a great deal of evidence. If I ever come up with interesting conclusions, I shall share my discovery with you."

They were silent for a short while, and Gandalf's smile slowly faded as he gazed at Frodo's face and body. Frodo noticed and stared at him with his eyebrows raised inquiringly. "What's wrong, Gandalf?"

"I ..." The wizard sighed.

"What? Please tell me!"

"You are so very beautiful, Frodo."

Puzzled, Frodo smiled at him lovingly but received no answering smile. He waited.

"Frodo ... it may seem odd, but I must confess that when I first arrived last night, I actually hoped to see you looking at least a bit older. It would have told against my fears about the Ring. Seeing your beautiful blue eyes as luminous as ever, your skin smooth and glowing and untouched by time, I hardly needed to test the Ring in your fireplace-though I did, of course, to absolutely confirm my suspicions. Such worries about the Ring, I think, so occupied my tired mind that I even neglected to embrace you at first. And yet ... at the same time I could not help being delighted to see you thus, exactly the same lovely hobbit I had left so long ago. And that is the terrible irony that we now face. Assuming that the Ring can eventually be destroyed, you will once again display the outward signs of age. Not suddenly, to be sure, but inevitably."

Frodo tried with only partial success to laugh. "Well, I'm afraid I am in trouble then. I remember the first day we ever made love, you said you couldn't love me for my mind, so it must be for my beauty."

"I'm not sure that's quite what I said, but I was teasing you, you silly hobbit! You know I shall not love you any the less if-when you begin to age normally. It's simply that one regrets to see beauty of any sort fade." He laughed suddenly. "Of course, years from now your wrinkles would be a constant reminder of our triumph over the Dark Lord, so I suppose that I should look forward to them."

"Well, I shan't mind looking older if you'll always love me."

"Do not fear on that account, Frodo." He narrowed his eyes and glanced with a speculative smile along the hobbit's relaxed, naked body. "Then again, it's certainly a great incentive to take as much advantage of this beauty as I possibly can while you still have it." He looked back mischievously into Frodo's face and met an answering grin.

"By all means. I can set you some more challenges and hope you meet them as well as you did that one." They leaned together for a long, gentle kiss. Finally Frodo took a deep breath. "Well, I must get up and fix us some supper before we can carry through all these big plans. Speaking of which, we've managed the sitting room and your bedroom. You still owe me quite a few other rooms of this hobbit hole."

"Give me time, my dear hobbit, just give me time!"

After that, the wizard settled in with Frodo, and to the hobbit's utter delight, he showed no signs of leaving. When Frodo reluctantly asked Gandalf whether he would have to go off on some mission soon, the wizard replied, "Right now I think I can do the most good here, watching over you. I must make some short trips to gather news-but my sources are close enough that I should be able to return to you within days. We have a bit of precious time."

The wizard's longest absence was in May, when he said he was meeting an old friend away to the south. He returned, apparently reassured, and Frodo secretly dared to look forward to a beautiful summer spent with Gandalf.

They made love often, sometimes quickly and passionately, sometimes spending lazy afternoons talking and caressing for hours before finally building up to mutual release. Although they did not make love in literally every room in Bag End-which in some cases would not have been very comfortable--their tally quickly surpassed the number of rooms in the hole. They almost never spoke of the Ring, though Gandalf early on instructed Frodo always to put it someplace safe and secret before they made love. He did not have to explain why-Frodo had seen how upset he had been when the hobbit offered him the Ring. He had no clear idea how the Ring's pull might work upon the wizard, but it was best not to take any chances.

Despite their worries, it was the most joyous time of Frodo's life since that first idyllic week leading up to Bilbo's party. Gandalf had never stayed with him so long. The weeks stretched into months, and the hobbit dared to hope that his lover would remain at Bag End until the planned departure date in September and even go with him and Sam. Maybe Sam would not have to go at all, and he would be alone with Gandalf on the road.

This peaceful life lulled his fears somewhat, and he felt less terrified of the Ring and those hunting it. Maybe once they arrived in Rivendell, he could turn the Ring over to someone else, someone better suited to carry it into danger. Then he could go back to his quiet life, anticipating Gandalf's visits and far from the troubles of the outer world. Secretly he held on to his fantasy that, after the Ring was destroyed, Gandalf would be free to stay for long stretches of time like this one-or even to move in and finally feel at home in Bag End. He tried not to think about the wizard's remark, years ago, that he had a home somewhere else-so far away that it was apparently not even in Middle-earth. A tiny nagging fear occasionally intruded into his thoughts: perhaps someday Gandalf would leave Middle-earth altogether. He could only hope that the wizard would at least stay with him all his life. It would be such a short time compared to Gandalf's own lifespan-however long that would be. Surely the wizard could spare it-would spare it, for him.

Just as Frodo was beginning to assume Gandalf really would stay all summer, however, the wizard dashed his hopes by announcing one evening in late June that he was off again the next morning. "Only for a short while, I hope," he said. "But I am going down beyond the southern borders to get some news, if I can. I have been idle longer than I should.

He spoke lightly, but it seemed to Frodo that he looked rather worried. "Has anything happened?" he asked.

"Well, no; but I have heard something that has made me anxious and needs looking into. If I think it necessary after all for you to get off at once, I shall come back immediately, or at least send word. In the meanwhile, stick to your plan; but be more careful than ever, especially of the Ring. Let me impress on you once more: Don't use it!"

The pair rose before dawn the next morning, and Frodo fed Gandalf breakfast in the kitchen. They did not talk much, for each was saddened at the thought that Gandalf's hopes of getting back in "a short while" might prove far too optimistic. He had said similar things before trips that stretched into long months or even years.

Gandalf looked at the hobbit's sad face and said, "I am sorry, Frodo. I know separations are worse for the person who stays at home, going through the daily routine and not knowing when the other will return. It must be maddening." Frodo smiled wanly in response.

At last Gandalf was ready to leave. He put on his cloak and hat, picked up his staff, and slung his small bag over his shoulder. They said all their farewells, with lingering embraces, and Frodo walked sadly beside the wizard and swung the great round door open. A beautiful summer day was dawning, the sort of day when they would have wandered through the nearby countryside and woods for hours-with Gandalf entertaining the hobbit by striking up conversations with the various animals they met. And, as they often had, they might well have found some secluded forest clearing where they could pleasure each other without fear of discovery.

Now, however, Frodo watched as the wizard stood looking out at the neat yard and the horse tied to the gate, waiting for him. He seemed unable to take the first steps over the threshold and out onto the road that, as Bilbo always said, went ever on to so many distant places. Finally Gandalf moved as if to step out, but he stopped and looked at Frodo again. The hobbit was trying to keep back his tears, but he looked as if he was about to fail in his efforts.

"This becomes more difficult each time," Gandalf sighed.

Suddenly the wizard leaned his staff on the wall beside the door and dropped to his knees. He embraced Frodo, cupping one hand behind the hobbit's head and pulling it forward to kiss him. Frodo at first assumed that this was simply one final kiss to cap the many they had shared that morning. But Gandalf quickly deepened it, thrusting his tongue far inside Frodo's mouth and moving it insistently until the hobbit began to suck and lick it in response. Without breaking the kiss, Gandalf slipped his bag off his shoulder, and it and his hat dropped to the floor. Frodo was confused, but as Gandalf began to moan softly and pull the hobbit's shirt out of his trousers and to stroke his back and knead his bottom, he realized that the wizard intended to take him right there on the floor. The suddenness and passion of it seemed odd, but Frodo welcomed it eagerly. To have the wizard stay even a bit longer, especially in a mood that promised swift and intense pleasure, was an unexpected delight.

Frodo put his hands on Gandalf's shoulders to steady himself, panting and squirming as the wizard tongued his neck and unbuttoned his shirt, rubbing his fingertips over the hobbit's stiffening nipples. Dimly Frodo realized that the door was still standing wide open and they were fully visible from the road. Awkwardly Frodo twisted in Gandalf's arms and stretched his hand toward the knob.

Gandalf gripped him more tightly and murmured next to his ear, "No! ... let me hold you, Frodo! I want to feel you against me!"

"Gandalf ... oh! ... but the ... the door's open!" He gave a breathy little laugh as Gandalf's tongue tickled his ear. He could feel Gandalf's cock against his knees, completely erect already. With an effort he pulled slightly away from the wizard and swung the door closed. Breathing hard, Gandalf took advantage of this brief pause to shed his cloak and unlace his trousers, freeing his erection, then pulling Frodo to himself again. He nuzzled the hobbit's shirt open with his face and sucked at Frodo's nipples, tonguing them insistently. One arm went around Frodo's knees, the other around his torso, and he quickly lowered the hobbit onto his back on the large rug just inside the door. Frodo moaned, holding the wizard's head against his chest. "Oh! ... oh, yes! ... Oh, Gandalf, don't stop!" Gasping for air, Frodo thought giddily, "It's a good thing I cleaned this rug recently!" He felt Gandalf's fingers undo his trouser-laces and slip inside, pulling on the rapidly stiffening shaft. The wizard took Frodo's ear entirely into his mouth, licking and sucking it hungrily. Frodo jerked and began to thrust upward against Gandalf's palm.

Gandalf released his ear and whispered into it, "I need you, Frodo! I want to go inside you one last time!"

Frodo was writhing with arousal by this point, and he murmured, "Do it, Gandalf! I want it too!"

Gandalf rose slightly and pulled Frodo's trousers down, but he seemed in such a great hurry that he could not wait to remove them entirely. As he got them just below Frodo's buttocks, the cloth bunched up around the hobbit's thighs. Gandalf pushed Frodo's bent legs upward until the cleft of his ass was revealed and the wizard could maneuver his erection against the tiny puckered entrance. He murmured his spell quickly through gritted teeth, and Frodo sighed in anticipation and spread his bent legs as far apart as he could, welcoming Gandalf's leaking tip as it pushed inside him.

Despite the initial rush, Gandalf set a fairly slow pace once he was inside the hobbit, as if he were trying to delay his departure and prolong the brief time they had left. Frodo moaned with each thrust, trying and failing to wrap his legs around the wizard's waist, defeated by the cloth stretched between his thighs. Gandalf pinched his nipples with one hand and with the other managed to reach under the bunched trousers to find and stroke the hobbit's erection. Finally, after savoring Frodo's tight, moist heat for a long time, Gandalf pumped faster, and soon Frodo was groaning and writhing as his cock erupted in the wizard's hand and creamy spurts fell over his chest and belly. Gandalf stiffened and gasped, digging his cock quickly and shallowly into Frodo until his own ecstasy hit him, and his loud groans mingled with Frodo's softening ones until the last flickers of pleasure died. Gandalf pulled out and sat back on his heels with bent head as he panted. Frodo lowered his feet to the floor and lay still, his eyes closed, completely relaxed and satisfied.

Finally Gandalf got up and began fastening and straightening his clothes, and Frodo, after lying for a few moments with a contented smile and looking up at him, did the same. As Gandalf watched Frodo awkwardly struggling to get his pants back up over his hips, he thought, as he so often did, how small and innocent and vulnerable and beautiful the hobbit was. As always, he felt a great desire to protect his lover. Then suddenly the conviction came into his mind that, if he accepted the hobbit's earlier offer to give him the Ring, it would be much better for Frodo. The wizard would achieve what he had desperately wanted: to allow Frodo to remain naïve, uninvolved, safe in the Shire. Surely he had been wrong. Frodo could not be meant to have the Ring-not with that lovely face, that fragile, delectable body. Gandalf knew that he himself would be strong enough to take the Ring to Mordor. If he did it quickly enough, it would not have time to gain a hold on him. He was more powerful than any but a few others in Middle-earth. Surely he could resist the Ring for the course of the journey. He could clearly picture Frodo's relief and gratitude if he agreed to take the burden from him. He could also picture Frodo waiting for him when he returned triumphantly from his quest, welcoming him into his warm bed and eager to reward the wizard in all sorts of delightful ways. And then Gandalf would be able to stay with him longer, he felt sure-as long as he wanted. His eyes went to the gold chain as Frodo managed to do up his trouser-laces and belt. It would be so simple. He nearly reached out his hand to it.

But glancing up into Frodo's blue eyes and his loving smile, Gandalf suddenly realized that the hobbit would hate him if he took the Ring. And the Ring would gain control of the wizard, sooner or later, certainly long before he reached Mt. Doom. It would not work. How could he possibly have thought it would? With a pang of fear, Gandalf realized that the Ring had put these thoughts into his head. It had been tempting him. Frodo had been wearing it as they made love. Even worse, he thought, the Ring might actually have lured him to take Frodo as he had, in a sudden burst of lust, precisely so that it could draw close to him and work upon his mind. Surely not that, he comforted himself. He had taken Frodo with the same passionate fervor that morning seventeen years before, when he faced his first separation from his beloved hobbit-when suspicions about the Ring were just beginning really to trouble him.. He shut his eyes tight and turned away from the hobbit, still trying to assess what had just happened.

Frodo looked doubtfully at him. "What's wrong?"

Gandalf turned back to him and smiled. "Nothing! Just a bit dizzy. I guess I stood up too quickly after that vigorous farewell, my dear hobbit." He put on his cloak and picked up his hat, bag, and staff, then faced the door as Frodo opened it again.

Gandalf cupped Frodo's chin with his hand and smiled. "I had better get outside that door before those big eyes pull me back yet again!" He stared into Frodo's face, which still glowed with bliss. That was how he wanted to remember Frodo-until he could return and cause that delighted, satisfied look again. He stepped across the threshold. "I may be back any day," he said. "At the very latest I shall come back for the farewell party. I think after all you may need my company on the Road."

Frodo stood watching and waving as Gandalf rode off down the Hill. Sad though the hobbit was at Gandalf's departure, the wizard's revelation that he might come along on the journey to Rivendell had sent a surge of joy through him. If it happened, it would be one of his fantasies come true. Maybe the others would as well.

TBC in "Thrice Returned #4: Full Moon over Isengard"

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