Look After Him

by Uluithiel

Date completed: 10/06/02

Disclaimer: characters and premise not mine; writing mine.

Feedback: please, please, please.

Author's note: I had read several G/F stories and was unsure why they seemed to bother me. This is why.


September 19, 1401 (in the Shire reckoning) Bag End, The Shire

"Gandalf?"

The wizard turned, propping himself on an elbow to look into Bilbo's face. The comely features were grave, and a furrow was etched between the brows that Gandalf had not seen before on that much-loved countenance. "Yes, my dear? What is troubling you?"

"It's Frodo. And ... well, and the Ring. I'm not easy in my mind."

"Nor I in mine," thought Gandalf, but he did not say it aloud. "Tell me," he urged.

Bilbo sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. It was not lost on Gandalf that the hobbit did not want to face him while speaking of this matter. "Tell me," he said again, very tenderly.

Bilbo turned back, and Gandalf was surprised to see tears trembling in his eyes. "I don't think I can do it," whispered Bilbo.

"Do what?" asked the wizard, though he was afraid he knew. His hand stroked up Bilbo's tense back, resting encouragingly on the small shoulder.

"Give It up. Oh!" Bilbo wrenched himself from under his lover's hand and paced the room wildly, the firelight warming his skin to bronze. "It's in my mind all the time, Gandalf. I don't feel right when I don't have it with me. I used to leave it in a drawer in the pantry, but I can't do that anymore. I can't seem to leave the hole without having it in my pocket. It's singing to me. I don't understand the words, but I can't get them out of my head."

"Ash nazg ...," murmured the wizard, then stopped, aghast. "How long has this been going on, Bilbo?" he asked. His voice was sharper than he had intended, and Bilbo turned to him in surprise.

"Only a few weeks," he replied. "Just since I made the decision to go, and to leave Bag End to Frodo."

"Bag End ... and the Ring," said Gandalf.

"Yes." Bilbo sat back down on the bed and pressed Gandalf's hand to his lips. "What is happening to me, Gandalf?" he murmured against the warm palm. "I feel like I'm being torn in two."

Gandalf sat up against the bolsters and pulled the hobbit into his arms. Bilbo's head sank gratefully onto the wizard's breast, where he could hear the beloved voice rumbling against the slow, strong heartbeat.

"I've been afraid of something like this," said Gandalf. "You know I've never been comfortable about that Ring of yours. I don't know what it portends, but ... well, I'm just troubled. I fear It has more hold on you than either of us had dreamed, my dear Bilbo. It does seem to have some unwholesome power. Certainly It ensnared Gollum."

Bilbo sprang up again, staring at Gandalf with wide, frightened eyes. "Gollum! How can you compare me to him, how can you?" he cried pitiably. "I found It! I didn't hurt him, I didn't hurt anyone! I found It! I didn't know It was his! If I'd known I would have ..." His voice broke, and he sank back down beside Gandalf. "No, I wouldn't. From the moment I saw It, I wanted It. And now, It has truly become very precious to me, and ..." his voice trailed off as he realized what he was saying, and he dropped his head in his hands.

"Shhhh, shhhh," soothed Gandalf. "I can help you with this, you know. Magical rings are - well, magical. Often they attach themselves to their bearers. But I can help you with this. Shhhh, shhhh."

"But that's not all!" cried the hobbit wretchedly. "Frodo!"

He didn't need to say any more. Both he and Gandalf loved the young hobbit dearly. The idea of passing this object to him was disquieting to both of them. "How can I go away and leave him, bequeathing this thing that is wrapping its tendrils round my mind? How can I pass this on to him?"

Gandalf did not answer for a long time, so long that Bilbo stirred and looked up into his face. "Gandalf?"

"The Ring," mused the wizard. "I wonder... but no. My mind is quite made up. You, my dearest, cannot hold this thing any longer. Indeed, I am afraid that some of your fear for Frodo is your desire to hold It longer yourself. Is that not so?" Bilbo's averted gaze was all the answer required. "My very dear hobbit, there are forces at work besides the will of evil. I cannot believe that it was the Ring's intent for you to find It, yet find It you did. And now your - shall we call it retirement?" A light twinkled behind the blue in the wizard's ageless eyes. "Your retirement comes at just the right time. No, Bilbo, the Ring must go to Frodo."

"But I am worried about him," said Bilbo. "You will look after him, won't you? After all," he added softly, nestling into Gandalf's shoulder and letting his fingers play in the grey tangle of beard, "he's the only son you and I will ever have, you know."

Gandalf felt his breath catch in his throat. Swiftly he rolled onto Bilbo, trapping the hobbit between his elbows, thrusting his long fingers into the silky curls - once nutmeg, now salted with grey. He kissed him - softly at first, then with rising passion. Bilbo's arms curved up around the wizard's back, marveling as always at its breadth. To the world Gandalf showed the grey hair, gnarled fingers, and bent frame of an old man. But Bilbo had loved the wizard thus for fifty years, and the Gandalf he knew was not an old man. Yet he still reveled in the transformation, the strength blazing suddenly like white light, and it aroused him as much today as it had the first time they bedded. He felt, as always, very small under that stalwart frame, but his mouth slanted across Gandalf's to deepen the kiss, and his body arched up to meet him. Their tongues met as equals, and Bilbo didn't feel small anymore.


"Bilbo?"

The hobbit was curled deep into the warmth of the coverlets and Gandalf's body. "Hmmmm?" he hummed against the other's throat.

"Can we talk about Frodo again?"

Bilbo laughed throatily. "We can try, my darling," he said, with a wicked grin.

Gandalf returned the grin, then erased it with a kiss. "Truly, though, we must talk about Frodo. You're right, he's the only son we have, and I will ever be grateful to you for giving me a son. Sometimes I'm ashamed of how thankful I am that you adopted him - it seems cruel that our happiness came from his being orphaned. Yet there it is. For right or for wrong, he is our son, my dearest, and we are responsible for him. He'll miss you very much, you know."

"I know." Bilbo's voice was low. "I think he'd come with me if I asked him. But that wouldn't be right. Frodo is still in love with the Shire, the woods and little rivers. Whereas I - I want to wander the paths of Mirkwood again. I want to see the Lonely Mountain etched against the sky at the end of the Long Lake. I want to hear the Elves singing, and I want to work on my book. Eleventy-one isn't so old you know!"

"Yes, I know," said Gandalf, his eyes warming. "And it will be very nice having you at Rivendell. I love the Shire, but it is a long journey. I am in Rivendell often, and there are many soft beds in the House of Elrond." Bilbo bit his neck. "Ow! Now stop, dearest. We were talking about Frodo."

Bilbo swung his leg over the wizard's body and sat, straddling his waist, so he could look directly into Gandalf's face. "Is Frodo in danger? Is the Ring a threat? Am I putting him in peril by leaving it to him?"

"I don't know, I don't know, and I don't know," replied Gandalf testily. "Do you think I would withhold it from you if I knew more about that Ring?"

"Yes," said Bilbo flatly.

Gandalf had to laugh. "Too true, I cannot speak of all that I know, even to you, dearheart. But I swear to you, I will not withhold information that bears on Frodo's safety. Yet I also feel torn in two. I have a responsibility to Frodo, but even that cannot supercede the responsibility I bear for the future of Middle-earth. May the Valar protect me from having to choose between them."

Bilbo said nothing. At length he rose from the bed. Brushing a light kiss on Gandalf's lips, he murmured "I know, my dearest Gandalf, I know. Let me get us some tea."

'Tea," for a hobbit, most definitely does not refer to a mere beverage. Three quarters of an hour later the two were again tucked companionably in the bed, but now the coverlet was strewn with dishes, and the sheets gritty with crumbs.

"What did you mean, you have a responsibility to Middle-earth?" and, seeing the bushy eyebrows beginning to draw together, Bilbo hastily added, "I'm not prying, you know. I have always known there is much you cannot discuss with me, and quite frankly I'm just as happy that way. I've had enough to do with orcs and wars and dragons to last a lifetime. I'm quite content to leave those problems to you! But we were talking about Frodo - or trying to," he said with an impish glance, "and I need some reassurance that he'll be alright."

"Well then you'll have to consult Galadriel and her mirror," growled the wizard, "and much good may it do you. Do you expect me to foretell the future, like some cheap conjurer in a hobbit party-skit? Of course I cannot reassure you, I cannot reassure myself." He sighed deeply. "My heart tells me that this Ring is important in our lives, but more than that I cannot see. All I can promise you is that I will look into the matter most carefully, and I will keep an eye on Frodo. Two eyes, whenever I can spare them." He turned toward Bilbo, an oddly beseeching look in the deep eyes that were usually so confident. "That's all I can do," he whispered.

"Shhh, shhh," murmured Bilbo. Now his arms were the stronger, and he gathered Gandalf to his heart. "I'm sorry, dearheart. I pressed you, I had no right to do that. Shhh, shhh. It will be all right. Just look after him, my darling, that's all I ask. Just ... . look after him."

End