Disclaimer: Unfortunately, Frodo and Gandalf don't belong to me, and neither do any other people, places or things mentioned in this story. Luckily for them, they belong to the marvelous imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien and also to New Line Cinema.

Frodo's eyes slowly opened on a mist of leaves and branches far above, glittering in the sunlight. Sunlight? But there had been heat, and dirt, and death pounding its hateful rhythm in his heart. What had happened? Sam. Where was Sam? He swivelled desperately to either side and relaxed when he saw his friend resting on a bed adjacent to his own. They were both safe. But how? The weight of the world seemed to have dropped on his eyes, but questions were bubbling madly in his mind and preventing him from succumbing to his exhaustion. "Where am I?" he asked the trees, not expecting an answer but unable to keep silent any longer.

"Do you not recognize this place?" came a voice from behind him, a voice so familiar that he could not turn around to face it. It was tearing at his mind and his heart, a voice so beloved and long-missed that it seemed to stem from a memory dreamt and forgotten long ago. Disbelief and joy were warring for his face and limbs, and he began to tremble unconsciously. 'It cannot be possible.....'

He was forced into belief, however, when a great luminescence slid past and settled itself softly in front of him. Frodo gasped for breath, tears rolling as he took in the onslaught of familiar images clothed in new life: those were Gandalf's hands, but they were no longer gnarled and coarse, and they were emerging from a silky white light in place of shabby grey fabric. The hair, the beard..... this same bright torture, but yet reminiscent of the old wizard's flowing grey head. He braced himself and raised his wide eyes to the face. His lips quivered in a shock that was yet not unprepared. The magic of the Istari had wiped away many traces of age and pain in the skin that had always been old, but the lines lingered around his eyes and mouth, for which Frodo was very grateful. In them he saw the humor and life of his old friend, and he forced his struggling joy into a small smile, fighting two battles at once as the poison of his grief and helplessness flowed from him in a bitter tide that seemingly had no end. Through a fresh wave of tears he greedily absorbed the sparkle in the keen blue eyes and the immortal glow of emotion that had fought its way out of the depths of the wizard's being at the sight of the toil-ravaged innocence before him. Suddenly Frodo remembered Gandalf in the context of the quest, and with difficulty he managed to drive words out through the confines of his throat. "Gollum saved me. I fell; Gandalf, I fell to darkness! I could not do it without you."

The kind eyes moved to pierce the layers of guilt and aftershock surrounding the shaking hobbit. "I am very sorry, Frodo, that it was necessary to keep you in ignorance of my return. If the Dark Lord had found you and seen into your mind, he would have seen me, and that would have been disastrous for all of us. But you were not without me, Frodo. My thoughts and protection have been with you. Did you not hear my voice calling to you on Amon Hen, when you were open to the Eye itself?"

"You! You brought me to reason; you forced me to take off the ring!"

"You judged rightly that the Ring should be beyond the reach of those who would be tempted by its offers of power. Indeed, throughout the entire journey you have not strayed in the slightest from the best course, even without my guidance. I can assure you that any expectations I held at the outset have been baffled by your courage, Frodo." Frodo was once again without words, and could only weep in silence while pondering these. They were wise words, without doubt, since they came from Gandalf, but shame and guilt still plagued him, and the wizard saw it. "Frodo." Frodo looked up hopefully; independent of the changes that had wrought such unlooked-for beauty in the wizard's face, the comfort and reassurance of their understanding remained as of old, and Frodo's tears grew to ceaseless sobs as he realized how starved he had been for this companionship. "Is it possible that you suffer more by our reunion than at our separation?"

Frodo laughed until tears threatened once more. "It's a different kind of pain, Gandalf. I'd only just managed to convince myself that you were gone forever. And now, it's so much to believe; that the world is safe and you are alive..... one or the other I could possibly admit, but both together are too wonderful to be true."

"Yet both you see before you now," Gandalf answered, smiling. "And as for incredulity, I am afraid I am burdened with my share. I am as relieved and unmanned to see you here, alive, as you are me, although no more than I was at the mouth of Mount Doom."

"You were there, Gandalf?" Frodo exclaimed. "Why didn't I see you? Where were you?"

"Merciful heavens," laughed Gandalf, "and I thought I should never on this earth find another such as Pippin for questions. Yes, I was there. Everything became clear to me the moment the Ring had been destroyed, and I swiftly made for the mountain. As to why you did not see me, you were quite understandably occupied with other matters. And I was in the sky, riding on the back of Gwaihir the Windlord. He had already brought me twice from the brink of despair to the place where I was needed; I had every confidence he would do so again, and he did not fail me."

"I should like to thank him," said Frodo fervently. "I owe him much. Your life, as well as my own," he clarified shyly.

"You will see all of them soon," Gandalf confirmed. "The king, most of all, is eager for your company."

"Aragorn! He is king, then. I am so glad. If he looks after his subjects half as well as he has us hobbits, then he shall be a great blessing and light of hope for the people of Gondor."

"So it seems," answered Gandalf. "But tell me, Frodo, what of you? Do you wish to return to the Shire? Or....." Hesitation skewed his warm, deep tones, and Frodo stared in confusion, tears lingering on in the absence of his sobs. The wizard continued in a low, musing voice: "I would not wish to be parted with you so soon, but my task is complete and I must not stay. And yet I cannot ask....."

Fear like the chill of a Morgul blade sank heavily into Frodo's chest. "Ask of me what you will, Gandalf," he demanded quickly, hoping to halt the tide of ice roaring in his ears. "Wherever you must go, I follow. I will not say farewell even once more, for I no longer have the strength." Rivers of devotion and terror soared over his control when he saw the brightness in the wizard's eyes that followed these words, and with a cry he launched himself into the shining embrace that was softer and gentler than the old one, although the familiar scent of pipeweed lingered and brought forth the impression that he was finally home once more.