Thrice Returned

by Nefertiti

Summary: When Gandalf becomes despondent about eventually losing Frodo, Arwen steps in with a plan.

Author's note: Book-based. The action takes place within the first two weeks of July, 3019, during the time Frodo and the other hobbits are living together with Gandalf in a house in Minas Tirith.

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

This series takes its name from my sequel to Poncing Ponies' lovely story, "Twice Given." 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 9: The White Tree

One sunny July morning, not long after the royal wedding, Frodo and Gandalf were sitting on a bench in the courtyard where the White Tree was resplendent in its green and silver foliage. It was one of the wizard's favorite spots, for the Tree was the most concrete reminder in Middle-earth of his immeasurably distant home and the joys of ages past. He was staring at it with an abstracted smile.

Frodo was leaning slightly against his arm, and he glanced up occasionally at his lover. He was delighted to be with him, but he knew that the wizard was capable of sitting there for hours on end, staring at the tree. That sort of contemplation appealed to the hobbit little more than had reading the thick volumes in Elrond's library. Finally he broke the long silence. "I ... I had a dream last night, Gandalf."

Quickly the wizard looked down at him with a little frown. "I'm sorry, I didn't notice. You should have woken me up."

"No, I didn't need to. Just waking up and feeling your body next to mine was enough. So warm, with your beard lying on top of my arm. It was enough."

"What was the dream about?"

"Well, I had not dreamt about you leaving me for a few weeks. But it was one of those where you walk away into the darkness to fight some horrible foe and just never come back." As Gandalf put his arm around Frodo's shoulders, he felt the hobbit shudder at the memory of the nightmare. Frodo went on, "Gandalf, you must never leave me again. You have disappeared twice now-first Saruman and then the Balrog took you. I don't worry so much about it as I used to ... still ... you didn't intend to disappear either time-but it happened."

Gandalf smiled down at him. "Silly hobbit! Why would I ever disappear now? Between the two of us, we have managed to eradicate all the great forces that could possibly keep us apart. I dealt with Saruman and the Balrog, and you, my pet, eliminated the worst foe of all." He paused and suddenly chuckled softly. "Come to think of it, I am now the most powerful being in Middle-earth."

Frodo was taken aback, and his eyes widened briefly. The wizard smiled and kissed him lightly on the nose. "But I don't think I'll need all that power to do what I want most: To make you happy."

Frodo threw his arms around Gandalf's waist. "And I want to make you happy."

"It is too late for that, my dear Frodo. You have already done so. Apart from giving me your love, you have lifted a burden that has been weighing on me for over two thousand years now." He beamed at the hobbit.

"Two thousand years?"

"Yes, just a bit over that."

"You've always said you were hundreds of years old."

"Well, if you put enough hundreds together, you end up with thousands, don't you? But I suppose I did not want to intimidate you too much. And perhaps I thought it made me sound so much younger and more attractive to you ."

Frodo smiled. "I've always insisted that you aren't an old man-but I guess I was wrong. You really are old!"

Gandalf laughed along with the hobbit, but then looked at him more thoughtfully. As he had sat by Frodo's bed those five long first days in Ithilien, he had realized that now that the Ring was gone, he would have to tell the hobbit something about himself-his true nature and whence he came. Frodo would have to know a bit more when it came time to write his book. And perhaps knowing more about his lover would ease the hobbit's fears and finally rid him of those nightmares. Gandalf hesitated. How to begin?

"You have perhaps been a bit impatient, my darling hobbit, with my love for this tree. You would understand better, though, if I told you that its lineage goes back very far. It is descended from Telpirion, one of the two glorious Trees of Valinor. Even hobbits have heard of those, I believe."

"Well, I know that they were the original source of all light in the world and that they were destroyed by the rebellious god who became the Dark Lord of the First Age of Middle-earth," Frodo said, eager to demonstrate to Gandalf that he did know something about the past.

"Exactly. It was the great tragedy of the ancient world, the loss of their light. It was saved to some extent when one blossom from each was taken, and those were made into the sun and the moon. Still, the light we see today is a diminished version of what existed before. How well I remember the beauty of that radiance, before evil entered Valinor."

Frodo looked at Gandalf almost with alarm. "How can you remember that? It happened much, much more than two thousand years ago. I know Elrond is very old and can remember even as far back as the First Age-but you must be younger than he is."

Gandalf sighed. "In one sense, yes, I am younger. That is, my life here in Middle-earth, as the person you know as Gandalf, has gone on for roughly two thousand years. But I had existed long before that began. I ... I am not exactly an old man or even a wizard, though that is the closest word in the Common Tongue for the role I have played here."

Frodo stared at him. "I wondered how even a wizard could come back from death. So what are you?" He looked a bit dubious, as if he were not sure that he really wanted to find out.

"You know also, do you not, that there is a creator god who made the universe and the other gods, and that they gave form and life to Arda?"

Frodo's heart was pounding faster. He simply nodded.

"Well, there is an order of beings beneath the gods, called Maiar. I ... well, I am one of those beings, a Maia. I was sent here, along with four others, to aid Middle-earth in the struggle against the Dark Lord. We all arrived here embodied as old men. Now that my task is done, I eventually shall leave Middle-earth and return to my home in Valinor... no, no, just a moment. That will not be until after your death, my darling hobbit, I assure you. You will have me with you for all of your life."

Frodo stared at him, awestruck and a bit appalled. At last he asked in a small voice, "So you're a ... a kind of god?"

"Not exactly. I and those of my order are aides to the gods-their emissaries, their ... servants or messengers, if you will. We are of the same type, to be sure, but less powerful. We did not participate in the creation of Arda, for example-but we help to guide its existence and destiny. That is why the Istari were sent-as guides for the free peoples of Middle-earth in its dark days. You mentioned that evil came to the Uttermost West. Sauron himself was originally a Maia and aided the first Dark Lord. Thus the great evil that arose in Middle-earth in this age ultimately has its origin in the troubles of Valinor, and the gods felt it only right that they should aid in fighting it."

Frodo looked stunned. At last he said, "That explains how you were able to know so much. Did you even know that Gollum would destroy the Ring?"

"No, Frodo, I knew no more about the future of the Ring than I told you. You see, while in Middle-earth I have acted on the promptings of my heart. I conceive ideas, and I act on them if I feel that they seem right to me-whether they appear to make sense or not. It was a silly notion to send Bilbo off to help fight the dragon-and later it certainly seemed very strange to me that I should fall in love with a hobbit. Yet look how well both have turned out. I guide others, but I myself am guided in a way that I do not fully understand. Nevertheless, I trust these feelings of rightness. Or indeed, my feelings of something being wrong. It was that sense of wrongness that led me to investigate the Ring after Bilbo's birthday. And I wish now I had heeded my nagging uneasiness about Saruman! But as to Gollum, all I knew was that it was right that he should be spared, that he should live out his destiny in regard to the Ring-though what that destiny was, I did not know."

They sat in silence for a while. Frodo kept looking at Gandalf out of the corner of his eye with a little frown.

The wizard pretended not to notice, then looked up at the midday sun. "And now, enough of staring at this Tree, as you have probably been thinking, my darling hobbit. I am still in a human body, and I want my lunch. Let us go."

That afternoon, the two were sitting in bed, after having made love. Gandalf had just woken up from a short nap. Frodo was beginning to think that it was time they took each other in their arms and began the long, languid climb to another blissful release. But Gandalf seemed unusually quiet and pensive. To try and draw him out of that mood, Frodo took the wizard's hand and said, "Maybe your being a Maia explains why you are so very good in bed, old fellow."

Gandalf laughed briefly. "That has nothing to do with it, young fellow. As I've told you, two thousand years has allowed me to build up quite a lot of experience. And I think I bring considerable, oh, let us say, enthusiasm to such activities. There is nothing superhuman about it." He paused thoughtfully. "At least I don't think so."

Gandalf did not seem inclined to display that enthusiasm again, however, and Frodo took another tack. "You once mentioned that you had fantasies about us. I told you my fantasies long ago-and you made them come true in ways that were more wonderful than anything I could have imagined. But in all this time you have never told me about yours. Why don't you tell me now?"

Gandalf smiled down at him and thought for a moment. "All right, I'll tell you my favorite. When I first visited Lórien, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, I discovered the attractions of making love on a flet. Pardon? Oh, yes, well, obviously with beautiful Elves. You must remember, though, that this was very long ago. At any rate, I find it absolutely lovely to be naked on a platform in the open air, high up in the forest canopy. The wind blows the branches around you, and the sunlight filtering through the yellow leaves turns your partner's skin golden-and of course there is that wonderful sense of time standing still as you pleasure each other, and it seems as if you can go on forever. From the time when I fell in love with you, I have wished that I could take you to Lórien and then spirit you away to a place deep in the woods, far from everyone. I could spend a whole day just giving you joy and taking delight in your body. It would be so different from being together in your quiet, cozy rooms at Bag End, or even in the tame little fields and woods of the Shire. Of course, when we set out on the Quest, I hoped to arrange such a day once we got through Moria. True, winter is obviously not the ideal season for such activities-but I would have found a way. It never happened, but perhaps some day we shall go there together and make my fantasy come true."

Frodo sighed and ran his hand idly across Gandalf's chest under his beard. "It does sound wonderful. I hope we can. What else have you fantasized?"

At this, the dreamy little smile that had remained on Gandalf's face as he talked of Lórien suddenly vanished, and he frowned sadly. There was a long silence, and it was not merely one of contentment and peace. Frodo felt Gandalf's body tense, and he looked up to find that the wizard had tears in his eyes.

"Gandalf! What? What is it?" He sat up and stared worriedly at his lover.

Gandalf sighed deeply and hesitated. "My dearest fantasy about you is to have you with me forever. You will have me all of your life-I promise you that. But to me, our time together will come to seem like a fleeting moment. For so long I was drawn away from you by the dangers we faced, and my main thought was always to snatch what days or weeks I could with you. Later, naturally, I was concerned simply that you survive, and still later, that you should recover from your journey. Now our fears seem to lie all in the past, not the future, and we can be together almost constantly. And yet this great happiness has brought with it an equally great dread of its end." He gathered Frodo up against himself and hugged him very tightly, kissing his neck softly.

Frodo pulled his arms loose and wrapped them around Gandalf's neck. "I wish I were an Elf, for your sake. Not so I'd be more beautiful," he added with a shaky smile, "but so we would be together forever. But I'm not. You once told me that I was foolish to have fallen in love with a wandering wizard. But I'm afraid it was even worse for you to fall in love with a hobbit. When you think about it, roughly half my life is over already."

At that, Gandalf pressed his face hard against Frodo's neck and began to cry, almost silently, but intensely. Frodo was startled. He had occasionally seen Gandalf misty-eyed, though usually with tears of joy. But the wizard had never actually wept before, and he went on for a long time, without speaking. Frodo could not think of any way to comfort his lover. There was no reassurance, no cheery prediction that the hobbit could offer him. He could only hug Gandalf and stroke his hair and wait through the long minutes until the wizard gradually stopped crying.

At last Gandalf let Frodo go and sat back, sighing. "I'm sorry, Frodo. I should not cast a pall over what should be a joyous time for us both. But telling you about myself this morning suddenly made our eventual separation vividly real to me. We should seize each precious moment, I suppose, and yet the very act of doing so reminds me of how dreadfully soon those moments will run their course." He sat, lost in thought, staring at the blanket.

During the next few days, Gandalf remained sad and distracted, though occasionally Frodo was able to coax him into a long walk or lure him into bed-though they made love less often than usual. Frodo was so accustomed to Gandalf being cheerful and ready for banter that he had no idea how to deal with this new melancholy

One morning he awoke late and found that Gandalf had already risen and gone out. He was not in any of the other rooms of the house, and when Frodo asked the other hobbits if they had seen the wizard, they looked at each other and then shrugged. With a pang it occurred to Frodo that this was the first time since their reunion in Ithilien that Gandalf had left him without explaining where he was going. The hobbit did not feel any of the old sense of panic about his lover's possible disappearance, and the wizard was probably right to think that he did not need such coddling now. Still, it saddened him to think that Gandalf had become so distracted by his gloomy thoughts that he would go out without a word or a note.

By now Frodo was beginning to be seriously worried about Gandalf's melancholy. Clearly it was not a passing mood, and he had still not thought of any way to coax the wizard out of it. He decided to try and find Gandalf, but when he went to the courtyard of the White Tree, his usual bench was empty. Frodo sat on it for a while himself, trying to think of where else he might look. Perhaps Gandalf had gone to the palace to advise Aragorn about some important matter. He debated whether he should disturb such a discussion, then decided that he could at least inquire if Gandalf was with the king. As he walked along the colonnade surrounding the fountain, he passed through a door and into a second, smaller courtyard with a flourishing garden, full of the bright blooms of mid-summer. As he stopped to smell the scented air, a soft voice hailed him, and he saw that Arwen was there alone, gathering flowers in a basket. She smiled in greeting, and he did his best to smile in return.

"You are looking healthier and more robust with each passing day, Ringbearer" she said, "Is there anything more you desire that we could provide for you?"

"Thank you, my Lady. Right now I'm looking for Gandalf, and I thought he might be here in the palace with Aragorn. King Elessar, I should say."

"No, I am afraid that they went riding out from the City earlier. Is something worrying you? You look so sad."

"Well, yes, but it's not really I that is sad. It's Gandalf, and I must admit that I am worried about him."

Arwen nodded. "Elessar and I were just saying last night that Mithrandir seemed unusually pensive lately. Come, tell me about it." She placed her basket on the grass and led Frodo to a small bower nearby where they could sit out of the hot late-morning sun. At her urging, the hobbit described the conversation that had ended with the wizard's weeping and the lingering unhappiness that he saw in his lover. Frodo concluded, "I understand why Gandalf feels as he does, but I have neither the wisdom nor the knowledge to help him. I cannot promise to live longer, which I suppose is what he wants. All I can do is to be with him as much as possible for all of my life. But perhaps you, my Lady, having been an immortal yourself, might suggest something to me that could comfort him."

Arwen replied slowly. "Perhaps I could speak to him, Frodo. I have faced somewhat the same sadness mingling with my love for many years now, and he knows that. He might tell me something that would give me a clue as to how we might help him. We have known each other nearly my entire life, since he arrived in Middle-earth only a few years after I was born. I have always loved him as a sort of second father, and I know he is very fond of me. It would give me great pleasure to be able to aid him-and you."

Frodo agreed to this gratefully. "Often now he goes to sit and contemplate the White Tree-for hours on end, at times. You would probably be able to speak to him more privately there than in a house bustling with hobbits. Surely he will come there later today or tomorrow." Arwen nodded and watched the slight figure as he went out the way he had come.

That afternoon, Arwen found the wizard sitting alone on the bench, staring solemnly at the foliage of the White Tree, with an unfilled pipe clenched in his teeth. She halted uncertainly in the shadow of the colonnade that surrounded the court. Immediately Gandalf looked up and smiled. As if noticing for the first time the pipe in his mouth, he removed it and tucked it away in a pocket.

"Am I interrupting you, Mithrandir?" she asked softly.

"Not at all, my dear. Quite the contrary, I welcome an interruption of my gloomy, pointless thoughts. I suppose I have still not got out of the habit of worrying since for so long I spent my time trying to decide what I should do next to further the Quest. Treebeard has occasionally criticized me-in a friendly way, of course-for being so concerned about the future. But what choice did I have in those days? Now, though, I wish I could ignore the future." He slid to one end of the bench to make room for her.

Arwen moved to sit by Gandalf. "Yet you still have real worries--mostly involving Frodo, I suspect."

The wizard's smile vanished, and he looked into the splashing waters of the fountain. "Naturally I worry about the effects of the Quest upon him, but I believe that the terror and hardship are slowly releasing their hold on his mind. It is such a joy at last to be able to help him, as I could not during the worst parts of his journey."

"You love him very much, do you not?"

Gandalf turned and looked at her quizzically. "Of course! I assumed that the way the two of us behave, even when we are with others, would have made that tiresomely apparent. I remember that on the evening of our first day together, Bilbo remarked that we were not very good company any more, and I am afraid that is true even now."

Arwen smiled fondly. "Hardly! It is obvious, however, that you are completely devoted to him, and he simply adores you. And I must say, he is utterly charming and lovely, even after all his hardships and sufferings. I got to know him a little at Rivendell, of course, and now meeting him again, I quite understand why even an Istar would be entranced by him."

Gandalf's face lit up as he listened to this description of his lover. "Indeed. Looked at objectively, an Istar falling in love with a hobbit sounds bizarre-and yet, when I am with him, it seems like the most natural thing in the world."

Arwen nodded. "Still, I fear that, despite his progress, his physical and mental hurts will never be fully healed."

"Yes. There are no means in Middle-earth to wash away all the evil that was perpetrated by Sauron. I expected that and accepted it as I pursued the Quest. Yet it is particularly sad that lingering evil should so afflict the one who destroyed the Ring."

They sat silently for a short while, and then Arwen turned to Gandalf again. "But you are saddened also by the fact that you will have him to aid and love for such a short time."

Gandalf closed his eyes, and a little frown of distress briefly crossed his face. He sighed and turned to Arwen, shrugging. "He is a mortal. You, my dear, know all too well what that means when one has the fortune-good or bad I am not quite sure-to fall in love with one. Between Elf and Man it has happened on rare occasions, and great joy and great sadness have both resulted. Even in one case a Maia fell in love with an immortal. Melian took on human form to marry the great Elven king Thingol. She would have been, what ... your great-great paternal grandmother. Well, your own heritage, with its combination of Maia, Elf, and Man, suggests just how complicated the whole thing can get! But even in that case, Melian eventually abandoned her human embodiment and returned to Valinor, facing eternal separation from her daughter. And between Maia and mortal, there has never been such love-until now. You at least had a choice, and you made it. I do not have that same choice. I can never become mortal."

He paused and shook his head. "I know that I should try and treasure the time we have together, but I cannot seem fully to do so. Frodo remarked the other day that about half his life is over, and it suddenly and wrenchingly brought home to me how excruciating it will be to lose him. I realized how little of his life I have shared with him since we learned of each other's love. That was nearly eighteen years ago, and I have been with him perhaps a total of seven or eight months since then. So much joy in so little time! And though we shall be together for much longer stretches now, I cannot wholly rejoice in that thought.

"And of course I still long to go back to Valinor-to shed this ancient body and become again what I really am. Yet I could never bring myself to leave while he is alive-and the prospect of his approaching death appalls me. I can fully enjoy neither my time with him nor the prospect of returning home."

"Would you stay, as I shall, if you could become mortal?"

Gandalf thought for a long while and spoke with difficulty when he finally replied. "I do not believe that I would. I have a place in the universe which I cannot abandon for any personal desire, however great. Ironically, it was because I was placed in this Man's body to undertake my labors that I was able to fall in love with Frodo to begin with. Romantically in love, that is. Maiar have great love for many of the things in this physical world-but this! Romantic love is something very different. I have thought long and often about how that love was linked to my burden. I concluded that I was meant to love Frodo as a means of inducing me to protect and guide him as devotedly as I possibly could. As things turned out, I look back and think that I was right. And yet, now that my burden has been laid aside, I cannot help but wonder why I now must suffer the grief of watching him grow old and die."

He stopped abruptly, unable to go on as he fought tears. Arwen herself was nearly weeping as she listened to the wizard. She placed her hand on his shoulder for a short while before standing and departing silently.

The next morning, Arwen took Aragorn to visit Galadriel. They sat on a covered porch of the house she shared with Celeborn, facing the east. The two listened without comment as Arwen related her conversations with Frodo and the wizard. As she finished, Galadriel shook her head. Aragorn leaned upon his elbow, staring over the railing at the distant mountains surrounding Mordor.

"It pains me greatly," he finally said, "that I should gain so much while the two who accomplished the most should face this terrible dilemma. For Frodo, I suppose, the prospect is less wrenching. Being mortal, he is accustomed to the idea that he will die eventually, and I know that he deeply feels what a privilege it will be to have Gandalf with him all his life. It is Gandalf who must face the reality of eternal grief after experiencing a love which must for him, I suppose, seem brief indeed. He has preserved what could be preserved, as he would say, and he has crowned me and passed on the care of Middle-earth to my line. We prosper in the wake of what he has accomplished, yet he has little reward for all his long labors."

Galadriel smiled sadly. "I must admit, I feel much as you do. You both know that the gods have finally forgiven my ancient part in the rebellion against them and will permit me to return to Eldamar. But what I have not told you, Elessar, is that their forgiveness resulted largely from my aid to the Ringbearer and my refusal of his offer to give the Ring to me-and I strongly suspect that Mithrandir may have pled my case to the gods. Thus I too have been rewarded for my much smaller part in this great struggle."

Arwen frowned. "I'm sure he tries to think of his time with Frodo as reward enough--and yet clearly he has not been able to accept that idea, and I sense that he never will. Their impending parting may forever shadow his joy in loving Frodo." She looked down into her lap. "Of course my father faces a similar dilemma, and our separation must occur soon. But I at least made the deliberate choice of mortality for my love." She took Aragorn's hand. "As he said, Mithrandir does not have that choice. But I think I may have discovered a solution to this great problem."

The other two looked hopefully at her.

Arwen took a deep breath, then continued. "My idea may be outlandish or even impossible. You, my Grandmother, can judge better than I. But I simply cannot believe that the Valar would intend for these two to end this way: for the one who organized the struggle against Sauron to be torn from the one he loves-especially when that lover is the one who carried through the Quest. If they were meant to do these things, as Mithrandir puts it, surely something else was meant ultimately to happen to them."

"But what?" Aragorn asked.

Arwen looked away from the other two, across the broad fields of the Pelennor. "My idea is that the same thing could happen for them as happened for me-but in reverse. A mortal who loves an immortal could be offered a choice to leave Middle-earth in order to be with his love. Frodo could, perhaps, take my place on the Last Ship-his rightful and natural place beside Mithrandir."

There was a long silence. Finally Galadriel spoke. "No mortal has ever been allowed to live in the Uttermost West. That does not mean, however, that I think your idea holds no merit. No mortal save Beren has ever accomplished what Frodo has, playing such a crucial role in defeating the great Enemy. Beren was given a special privilege to rejoin his love-albeit in a very different way from what you propose. My heart suggests that this might be one of those extraordinarily exceptional circumstances that arise when the great ages of the world end and begin anew."

Arwen stared at her, breathing hard. "Then you think that there is even a faint possibility that my idea might bear fruit?"

Galadriel thought again before replying, "It seems good and right that something along the lines you have described should happen--for surely we all agree that Mithrandir can only be truly happy now if he can be with Frodo. The situation's very uniqueness, however, makes it difficult to imagine how it could be accomplished. For in all of Middle-earth, only Mithrandir himself has the power and authority to allow it. And yet it clearly has not occurred to him. Perhaps that implies that it is impossible."

Aragorn shook his head thoughtfully. "Not necessarily. After long journeys with him, I have come to know him well, and I believe that Mithrandir simply expects no reward. During his life in Middle-earth he has had so little and asked for so few things. At first I was quite surprised when he accepted Theoden King's offer of a gift as a reward for his cure. When he chose Shadowfax, I realized that he did so out of need, to help him in his struggles. But think how little he owns: his clothes, a blanket, a staff, a sword, a bit of money for expenses, his fireworks-making equipment and supplies, and a few oddments for camping. Even his pastime of making fireworks aims at giving pleasure for others-and once he uses them, he has them no longer! And think, too, of how much he has had to resist during his stay here: the Ring itself, the desire to settle down and lead a comfortable life-both temptations to which Saruman ultimately succumbed. Perhaps in important matters like this, his instinct remains to resist the things that he wants. No, I believe that it simply does not occur to him that he could ask for Frodo as a companion in the West, or that the gods would probably allow him that dispensation willingly-"

Galadriel interrupted, "Even gladly, I should think, for Olorin has always been greatly beloved of the gods-more than he realizes. Yes, Aragorn, I can easily imagine Mithrandir agonizing over whether it would be right for him, in effect, to reward himself by granting Frodo this boon, and especially because doing so would go against the absolute strictures against mortals sailing West. Despite his enormous love for Frodo, he would probably deny himself the joy of his companionship if he felt that he was doing something that would offend the gods."

Arwen shook her head firmly. "How could such a love as his for Frodo ever offend Elbereth? She most of all would rejoice to see Mithrandir happy. But he cannot realize that unless the idea comes into his own heart."

Aragorn said thoughtfully, "I remember that long ago, on one of our early journeys together I asked him why he had never established a home for himself, as the other Istari had-at least, the two I knew of. He seemed disapproving of their actions and he said that he was not allowed to. He did not mind, he said, indulging in the simple pleasures of Middle-earth-good food and drink, convivial company, smoking, little toys like fireworks-but that he never wanted the slightest power over land or people. Something about him belonging to all of Middle-earth but none of Middle-earth belonging to him. I think he meant it as a kind of joke, but it is profoundly true, I think."

Galadriel nodded, "It was that lack of desire for power that led him to refuse my proposal that he head the White Council. I have always felt that he took his mandate a bit too far in that case-though how could he have known in those days what Saruman would become?"

Aragorn replied, "Precisely, and we must not allow him to take that mandate too far again. To please no one but his own sense of duty he would give up Frodo! Can he not see that such self-sacrifice is no longer necessary?"

Arwen took his hand. "You are right, and my plan would permit Mithrandir to take Frodo with him and not feel that he was acting selfishly or trying to assert too great a power. Do you remember, my love, how you told me about Sam and Merry and Pippin forming a little conspiracy of three to help Frodo against his wishes? I think we three should form another, for Mithrandir's sake."

The others stared at her expectantly, and she went on, glancing back and forth at their faces, trying to gauge their reactions as she spoke. "As we all know, Frodo is hurt in mind and body, beyond the healing powers he could find here in Middle-earth. Yet such healing might be found in Eldamar, and he certainly deserves a chance for that. Let us present that idea to Mithrandir as the reason for sending him across the Sea." She looked at her companions with a touch of mischief, "Would it not be unkind of Mithrandir to deny Frodo that opportunity for healing ... after all that he has been through?"

Aragorn turned to Galadriel. "A wise lady who clearly takes after her grandmother."

Galadriel moved to sit beside Arwen and embrace her. "You are right, my dear. That must be what the gods intend. They have put this thought into your heart. I cannot but believe that Elbereth herself-and Manwe too, no doubt-would approve."

Arwen smiled with relief. "I am so glad that you both believe my scheme might work. The first step, I assume, would be to propose the idea to Mithrandir."

Galadriel agreed. "Of course. Only he could approve it. And I think you are the one to do that, my dear."

Arwen went on. "Assuming that he does approve-and we must not let him decide against it-we could put it in the same terms to Frodo. That we-I, I suppose it would have to be-I am offering him this boon in hopes of his healing. I think he would understand, at least a little, for Mithrandir has told him something of his own nature and of whither he will eventually return. I shall go to Mithrandir at once."

Arwen was unable to find Gandalf, either in the house or in the courtyard. The next morning, however, she visited the courtyard again, and he was seated as before, contemplating the fountain and the White Tree. He greeted her warmly, and she sat beside him to explain her idea. She concluded, "Would it even be possible, Mithrandir, for Frodo to go over the Sea to find the healing he needs?" She watched him closely, determined to counter any objections he might raise.

Gandalf had stared at her in growing surprise as she spoke, and now he shifted his eyes to the Tree again, trying to assimilate her words. Finally he turned back to her with a sad, fond smile. "I see what you are trying to do, my dear, and I am very grateful, more than I could ever express."

Arwen looked at him, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to look puzzled. Gandalf went on. "Really, Arwen, did you think that I abandoned all my wisdom when I finished my tasks in Middle-earth? Obviously you are offering me an excuse to take Frodo with me when I depart over the Sea. It is extraordinarily sweet of you. I know you will believe me when I say that nothing could make me happier, but-"

Arwen gave up any attempt to convince him that her idea was simply to help Frodo. She said earnestly, "Then do it, for whatever reason-for his sake and for your own!"

He sighed. "Surely you of all people should realize what a dereliction of my trust that would be. I can hardly expect one of the most basic premises of Arda's existence to be suspended because I fell in love with a pretty little hobbit. After all, immense changes in the world itself took place and an age of Middle-earth ended when the gods had to physically separate the mortal and immortal lands. Numenor foundered after an attempt by mortals to invade the Uttermost West, and the Sea was bent to prevent its happening again. Only one mortal has ever been permitted to set foot on Eldamar-your grandfather, Earendil. And as you well know, the gods decided that he could be allowed neither to stay there nor to return to Middle-earth. Even now he sails the skies in his ship, shut out forever from the bounds of the world. No, the Ban of the Valar, its stricture against mortals dwelling in the Undying Lands, has always been absolute. That I should seek to violate that profound principle ... it would be an unheard-of exception." He shrugged and shook his head.

Arwen gazed at him with a touch of exasperation. "Mithrandir, what you and he have accomplished is also an extraordinary exception. Only one other time in the history of Arda has an Enemy so evil and powerful been defeated. As you say, a great exception to the principle of mortality was made then, too."

"But even then a mortal was not allowed into the Uttermost West. Luthien and Beren were permitted to live again, but they did so here in Middle-earth."

"No doubt, but here a Maia is involved, not an Elf. And that reminds me that in bringing about the downfall of Sauron, you yourself defeated two other foes who also came from the ranks of the Maiar-the Balrog and Saruman. Along with Frodo, you have accomplished something that has never happened before. You have finally rid Middle-earth of the last of the evil that Morgoth brought with him into his exile. Even Beren and Luthien could not do that! Can you really believe that anyone would consider you greedy or presumptuous to want to take your love with you? A single little hobbit going to Eldamar is hardly the same thing as the attempted invasion by hordes of Numenorean men. And, after all, as you pointed out to me, the gods themselves made it possible, even perhaps necessary, for you to fall in love with Frodo. Indeed, everyone comments on how Elf-like he is in his beauty and spirit. If the gods gave you a beautiful lover, how could they object to your wanting to keep him with you?"

Gandalf sat for a long moment staring at her. Finally he sighed and looked down. "Possibly you are right. I should think this over-"

"No! You have thought and thought and still not come to the right conclusion. Elessar and my grandmother both agree with me. Will you not trust Galadriel's judgment, if you doubt mine? She knows far more about these matters than I do, since she herself is Firstborn and once lived in Eldamar. Believe us, all three of us: you could take Frodo with you."

Gandalf just sat gasping for a while. Finally a hesitant, bemused little smile appeared on his face, and he finally looked up at her again. "I could, couldn't I?"

"Of course. Whom would it serve to leave him behind? Absolutely no one."

Gandalf stared into her eyes and struggled to speak. Finally he simply nodded.

Arwen threw her arms around him. "Thank goodness! Otherwise I would have thought that you did lose your wisdom somewhere along the road."

Gandalf looked a bit dazed and said, "I suppose I should take Bilbo as well."

Arwen laughed, partly from nervous relief. "Oh, so after all that fuss you are already planning to take another? What next, all of Frodo's cousins?"

"No, my dear, of course not. It's just that Bilbo was a Ringbearer, and I have long realized that he took much deep, lingering hurt as well. One can hardly offer healing to one Ringbearer and deny it to another."

"True. It is sweet of you to think of that, Mithrandir. I'm afraid I was simply concerned with your and Frodo's happiness."

Gandalf cleared his throat, then leaned over and kissed her forehead. "You have indeed made me profoundly happy. I hope you have some idea of how grateful I am to you."

She stood and looked down at him. "I think I do. In a way, Frodo's departure with you will make my own decision easier to bear. I shall know that you and he are experiencing the joys that Aragorn and I do-but with less of the sadness that must follow."

Gandalf stared up at her. "But that implies ... Arwen, do you seriously think the gods would grant Frodo immortality as well as entry into the West? Could he in effect become ..." A strange little smile played about his lips as he concluded, "... a beautiful-if small--Elf?"

"Well, it is against the basic principles of the world for mortals to live there, isn't it? Mithrandir ... Olorin, my grandmother says that the gods love you more than you know." She kissed his cheek and with a hint of fond teasing in her voice concluded, "Try asking them!" She turned to go, then faced him once more. "I shall tell Frodo about all this, if you do not mind. I shall put it in the same terms that I used initially to you-that he is being granted this boon for his healing. Indeed, I want to give him a gift that I think may help him, a little anyway. After that, I shall leave it to you to explain your future together."

Gandalf nodded, still looking a bit dazed. When Arwen glanced back from the colonnade, he was gazing again at the White Tree.

The wizard remained there for nearly an hour, then slowly walked out and through the streets of the city. He wanted to give Arwen plenty of time to summon Frodo and talk with him. And he wanted Frodo to have some time to himself, to think. After all, the hobbit had been confronted with many strange and overwhelming new ideas lately. As Gandalf went, cheerful townspeople greeted him occasionally as they went about their business, and he stopped to have a few words with some of them.

Finally it was time for dinner, and the wizard returned to the house just as the hobbits were preparing to begin their meal. He joined them, sitting beside Frodo as usual. The hobbit was wearing a white gem on a silver chain, and Gandalf recognized it as an Elven healing jewel. Looking into his lover's eyes, the wizard could see that he was puzzled and thoughtful, and suddenly he wished they could be alone. He longed to take Frodo in his arms and answer his questions. He tried to join in the animated conversation among the other three hobbits, and they managed to have a fairly lively meal despite Frodo's failure to join in with more than an occasional word or two.

At last dinner ended, and Gandalf and Frodo retired to their room. The sun was approaching the horizon, and Frodo moved to the window. Stretching slightly, he could rest his folded arms on the sill, and he placed his chin on his arms. Gandalf stood in the door watching him for a short time, seeing the glow of the coming sunset tint his lovely face. Then he crossed and leaned down to place his own forearms on the sill. Silently they watched as the orange sun sank below the White Mountain range stretching into the distance. The pair looked in each other's eyes.

The wizard smiled. "This is the first sunset I have been able to watch with unadulterated joy for a very long time, my darling Frodo."

"Then it's true," Frodo said in wonder. "At first I did not completely understand what Arwen meant-but, the ship that I would take ... you would be on it, too, wouldn't you? It means we could be together for a long time, but you would be able to return soon to your home, as you long to do. Did you know what she was going to tell me? Was it your idea?"

Gandalf raised his eyebrows. "Yes, I knew, but I'm afraid it was her idea, not mine. Not that I would not want to take you with me, my sweet hobbit! You know how I would long for such a thing. But I simply did not think it possible. Arwen convinced me to the contrary. Your accomplishment was so stupendous that the gods would want to offer you the physical healing that only Elven medicine could provide-and I hope they are also offering my love as a means of healing your mind and heart. It occurred to me then that I was resisting the idea of your sailing with me much as I had resisted my attraction to you years ago. Once I gave in to that attraction, I realized that it was right, and I assure you, my pet, I have never regretted it or felt guilty about it. And now, the more I think about this, the more I realize that Arwen's idea is also right. How could putting aside the great good that I found in you be my duty? You are the very opposite of the Ring to me; you are the emblem of all the good things I sought to protect in Middle-earth. I once called you a treasure that I found here. Now I believe you are a treasure that I shall not have to lose."

He was silent for a time, and Frodo took his hand. The wizard went on, "I must tell you, Frodo, that Arwen even suggested to me that you might be granted immortality. And perhaps she is right about that as well. The gods might give you that ultimate boon, for my sake. Well, at least partly for my sake. And undoubtedly also because you so merit it, " He watched as the hobbit looked away and breathed hard, overwhelmed at the idea.

Gandalf spoke quietly, "Immortality is not entirely a joyous thing, much though many fear death. The Elves call death "the Gift of Men," and hobbits are, after all, only small Men. Perhaps it is selfish of me to want you to be granted immortality. You must consider well what it would mean to live forever-or until the end of the world, when everything will change in ways that I cannot describe to you. I can only say that I would do my best to make unending life bearable to you-wait, I know you would say it could never be unbearable with me, but it is not that simple. Ultimately it is difficult for me, as a Maia, to conceive of what mortality means to a being. At any rate, Frodo, you have a long time to ponder that idea, and I shall not ask you for an answer until we reach the Uttermost West."

"I will ponder it, Gandalf. Do you know when we shall take the ship across the Sea?"

"Not precisely. A few years hence, perhaps. The peace is won, but we must ensure that it is strong and that the Fourth Age will be less troubled by dark forces than the Third Age was."

"Aragorn says that we shall set out for home in seven days."

"Did he? Good! It is time, alas, for our Fellowship to begin to disband and return to normal life-those that can. Normal life is, after all, what we fought for."

The dusk was fading, and although it was high summer, a chill wind from the snowy mountain peaks had begun to blow. They closed the window and moved to light the fire and lamps. Then the wizard sat in his chair by the hearth and beckoned Frodo onto his lap. The hobbit nestled against him, and Gandalf held him and stroked his back.

"I know that I have been less attentive than usual to you recently ... especially in one way. I want to make that up to you." The wizard's lips moved over the hobbit's forehead, and he slipped his fingers between the buttons of Frodo's shirt, very softly tickling and rubbing the hard little peak that instantly formed. The hobbit barely moved, but Gandalf heard his breath grow slow and deep and his slack mouth utter tiny moans and whimpers. The wizard tilted his head to one side to look into Frodo's face. Sensing this, Frodo opened his blue eyes, dimmed with pleasure, and looked up at him.

Gandalf whispered, "I love your face when you're aroused. It mirrors my own desires, and as if through a clear glass it shows me how much you want me. I could never tire of this, Frodo, as long as the world lasts. As you told me that first night, I shall love you and want you forever."

Frodo sat up and faced him, tears in his eyes. He opened his shirt, and as the wizard pinched both tiny pink nubs, Frodo whispered, "Oh, Gandalf!"

"What, my sweet? Tell me what you want."

"Take me. Overwhelm me with pleasure, to match the joy that I feel. Do you remember how you went so deeply into me our first night?"

"Of course I do."

"After that you only took me that hard a few times, when you were going to leave me. I ... I loved it when you did that. Now I want it when we know we shall be together. I want that intensity, so that at the end I feel the ecstasy flood through my body. You have not gone inside me at all since ... well, since Rivendell, that night in the Hall of Fire."

"True, so you are not used to it any more. Shouldn't we go more cautiously tonight?"

"I'll tell you if it hurts me. Try it. I know you want to. I can feel it under me. You're harder than that iron poker over there."

"I must admit, my dear hobbit, you scarcely exaggerate ... all right, I cannot deny you anything you want."


"No, tonight, you silly thing. Do you think I'd agree to give you your own way all the time?"

He lifted Frodo, pressing his mouth hungrily against the hobbit's and tasting him deeply as Frodo put his arms around the wizard's neck and pulled himself harder into the kiss. Gandalf crossed to the bed and stood Frodo on it. As rapidly as he could, the wizard stripped the small body, tonguing the chest and belly as he undid the hobbit's laces and pushed the trousers down around his ankles. Gripping Frodo's buttocks until his fingers sank deeply into the flesh, he pulled the hobbit's cock abruptly into his mouth. It was nearly erect already, and Frodo was soon fully rampant. "Careful! Not so soon!" the hobbit squeaked.

Gandalf immediately let him go and moved onto his knees on the bed, embracing Frodo's naked body, licking and sucking his nipples as he stroked the delicate, upright shaft. The hobbit jerked and moaned, quickly giving up his vain attempts to find the wizard's shirt buttons under the beard but managing to step out of his trousers. He stood writhing and gasping as the wizard's beard tickled and rasped against his body. He held Gandalf's head against his chest as he panted raggedly. "Gandalf, take me, take me, take me," he murmured with growing desperation, twisting slightly with impatience as the wizard flicked his nipples hard with the tip of his tongue.

Finally Gandalf rose and guided Frodo to the elaborate wooden headboard of the bed. Frodo gripped it and faced the wall, as Gandalf undid his own trousers and moved close up behind the hobbit. He paused, breathing hard, and muttered, "Why are hobbits so short?"

Frodo gasped slightly with laughter as Gandalf looked exasperatedly around. "Why don't I just get down onto my hands and knees?" he asked.

"Because you want me to go deep, and I think it would be easier this way. That low chest against the wall might do it. Here, come along." Quickly he got down from the bed and slid the chest against the high footboard. Frodo stepped up on it and grasped the solid edge of the carved wood.

"Isn't that a bit too high?"

"Well, not if you spread your feet apart. Mmm, yes. Most inviting. Now, where was I?"

He moved close behind Frodo and passed his hands rapidly over the hobbit's body as he kissed the back of his neck. Frodo turned his head and managed to stick his tongue out far enough for the wizard eagerly to lick it with his own. Gandalf groaned and pressed his throbbing cock between Frodo's upper thighs, thrusting and rubbing it along the hobbit's cleft and pressing at his balls from behind. Panting, the wizard dropped to his knees and kissed the hobbit's buttocks, biting softly as Frodo jerked and threw his head back. He froze as he felt Gandalf part the cheeks gently. "Oh, yes, oh, yes," he whispered, quickly and repeatedly, and then the warm tongue touched his puckered opening. He took a deep gulp of air, holding it for a moment before letting it out in a long, blissful moan. He trembled as the wizard kissed and licked him gently, humming with arousal and kneading his buttocks.

At last Gandalf stood and pressed against Frodo's back, reciting his spell quickly. "Oh, yes," Frodo whispered again, as his anus relaxed and opened to the wizard. Gandalf pushed the tip of his erection inside, then stopped, partly to savor the incredible tightness that he had missed for so long and partly to gauge Frodo's reaction. The hobbit uttered a series of fast little moans. "Keep going," he finally gasped. Slowly Gandalf thrust a few times, then stopped and waited a moment to avoid finishing immediately. Frodo sensed this and waited, licking his lips and panting. Then Gandalf resumed, his hands stroking the hobbit's shaft and bottom. "Is that far enough?" he whispered. "I don't think I can last much longer if I go deeper in."

Frodo gasped in disappointment. "A little further, please," he begged. Gandalf circled his chest with one arm, hugging the hobbit tightly against himself.

"Spread your legs a bit more," he whispered, and Frodo complied, feeling the wizard's cock pressing and rubbing his prostate while Gandalf thrust as hard as he could without spilling into the hobbit. Frodo began to whimper and pant through clenched teeth. "Now!" he almost shouted, and he gripped the footboard as the wizard pumped harder, almost lifting the hobbit's body from the trunk with each stroke. At once Gandalf lost control, groaning as his hand clenched tightly around Frodo's shaft. He continued to thrust over and over as the hobbit's face crinkled into a tight grimace. Utter bliss swept over him, and he sent streams of cum against the carved wood. Sharp fillips of ecstasy continued to make them utter soft, diminishing moans at increasing intervals, until they finally relaxed somewhat. They remained standing, however, with Frodo still gripping the board. The wizard swayed slightly as he leaned forward over him, still hugging the hobbit's damp back against his stomach. Gandalf shook his head slightly and reached out to steady himself, gripping the footboard next to Frodo's smaller hand.

As his breathing began to slow, Gandalf bent his knees briefly to pull out of Frodo, but the pair remained standing, reluctant to separate their bodies.

Gandalf laughed softly. "Am I holding you up, or are you holding me up?"

"I think only this footboard is preventing us both from falling." As he felt Gandalf rest somewhat more heavily upon him, Frodo gasped, "Don't fall asleep like this! We'll collapse."

Gandalf answered weakly. "I'm not likely to fall asleep while my head is spinning like this. Faint, quite possibly. Fall asleep, no."

Frodo laughed softly. "Well, that's even worse. If you're capable of moving, could you get us onto the bed? I'm afraid if I let go I'll topple onto the floor."

Slowly Gandalf straightened up. "Ah, it's passing. Here, I think ..."

Somehow he managed to maneuver them both around to the side of the bed and up onto the mattress. They fell into the pillows propped against the headboard.

Gandalf looked at Frodo with a slight smile and raised his eyebrows. "Was that intense enough for you, young fellow? If not, you'd better find yourself a younger wizard. I don't think I could cope with anything more extreme than that."

Frodo turned his head to look blissfully up at him. "That was exactly what I had in mind, old fellow. I'll admit, I also felt a bit dizzy there for a while. Yes, I think I'll keep the wizard I've got."

"Good. Because I could definitely imagine doing this with you forever."

"Forever," Frodo sighed happily.

Gandalf's eyelids were drooping. "Yes, I felt quite giddy for a moment. In a pleasant way, I must say. Very pleasant. Very, very ... pleasant ..."

Frodo grinned and nudged his arm, and the wizard's eyes opened slightly.

The hobbit said, "We should wash before we go to sleep."

"Does it involve moving?"


"Out of the question." Frodo nudged his arm harder, and the wizard sighed. "Must we?"

"I think so. Besides, you're sitting on top of the covers. I could not get you tucked in unless you get up."

Gandalf groaned.

Frodo pushed on his arm more insistently. "Oh, make an effort. It's not like you're some 3000-year-old codger. You're a strapping fellow of a mere 2000. Up you get!"

Gandalf frowned resentfully at him. "Oh, all right!"

They cautiously moved off the bed. Finding that they could stand up reasonably well, they quickly washed, straightened the rumpled covers, and collapsed onto the bed once more. They sat drowsily enjoying the lingering bliss in their bodies. At last Gandalf looked down at Frodo with a fond smile. "Do you know, my darling hobbit, I think we deserve each other."

TBC in "Thrice Returned #10: August Sun over Isengard"

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