"Dare you go with them, Mithrandir?" the soft voice asked, and the wizard turned.
He smiled slightly, felt his old features wrinkle slightly. The Elf-lord's eyes dark eyes were fixed upon him, outwardly unwavering, but their very calm held something deeper. Something frightened. "I must, Elrond."
Elrond moved smoothly across the library, his strides graceful with the timeless energy of the elves. The lord of Imladris stopped short of the wizard, though, and with a casualness that fooled neither of the library's occupants, gently lifted an ancient scroll and examined it before speaking once more. Gandalf raised one eyebrow, watching his old companion consider Celebrimbor's ancient work, Of the Rings, and wondered if the other would comment upon the significance of its presence on the writing table. Finally, Elrond spoke.
"I realize you care for Frodo, and feel a certain responsibility in this matter, but are the risks outweighed by the potential gain?"
Despite himself, the Maia chuckled. "Of course they are not."
The stricken look Elrond gave him was the closest Gandalf had ever seen the other come to panic. His silence filled the stillness then, but the wizard allowed himself to slowly meet Elrond's eyes even as the burning sensation of the half-elf's worry prickled up his right arm. Slowly, he raised his right hand.
"Of course they are not," Gandalf repeated softly. "You, like so few others, know the purpose of my kind in coming to Middle-Earth. One has fallen, another gone astray, and the other two are not to be found. I alone remain, and my task remains as it has always been: to unite those who would oppose the Dark Lord, and lead those who would follow of their own free will against him."
"I know this, and have ever supported you in your tasks," Elrond replied. "But are there not other considerations?" Out of the corner of his eye, Gandalf watched the other's right fist unconsciously twitch shut.
"You dread the unspeakable."
It was not a question, but still Elrond nodded. Again, their eyes locked, and Gandalf saw how the years suddenly weighed very heavily upon his friend, how for perhaps the first time in all the Ages of men, the Half-Elven was feeling his millennia of existence. The wizard began to open his mouth to respond, but a sudden noise in the doorway made him spin.
"Forgive me," Boromir half-stuttered, and the Captain of Gondor seemed to shrink before the sharp gazes of both an Elf-Lord and an Istar. "I did not know the library was occupied."
"There is nothing to forgive, Son of Gondor," Elrond replied softly, making Gandalf marvel at his flawless self-control. The worry was gone—or, rather, buried deep where none could see it, save one who knew where to look and shared the same fears. The elf nodded graciously to the man. "You are a guest. My home is always open to you."
Boromir blinked, taking a few tentative steps forward. "Thank you."
"Was there something you were looking for?" Elrond continued.
"Well… I was actually looking for that," the man replied, gesturing at the scroll still held in Elrond's left hand.
A perfectly sculpted eyebrow rose. "Indeed?" Somehow, the elf-lord got the word out uncolored by judgment of any kind. "A work upon the Rings of Power?"
"I wanted to know," Boromir replied uneasily. "To understand."
Another cautious step, but before the young man could reach for the scroll, Gandalf plucked it neatly from Elrond's fingers. "There is such a thing as too much knowledge, son of Denethor," he said softly. "I would suggest preparation for our journey, as opposed to studying an ancient piece of parchment."
His voice had been soft; the wizard had seen to that—but he had also let a fire burn in his eyes that he was usually careful to hide, especially in the presence of men. His gaze met Boromir's, and he actually saw the man flinch under its strength. The Steward's son took an uneasy step backwards.
"Of course," he said softly, recovering somewhat as Gandalf let himself relax the sudden pressure he had brought to bear on Boromir. "I thank you for your wisdom."
Oh, Gandalf supposed that the son of Gondor would have phrased it differently—perhaps, as a tactical retreat—but in truth, the young man fled from the wizard's gaze, having discovered a power he had never believed in before. Like his father, he had never thought the wizard to be much more than an old man with parlor tricks stashed up the sleeves of his cloak; now, when faced with something more, he knew not what to do. A slight sigh escaped the wizard; such a display would not help any relationship he had with Boromir, and would not serve the Fellowship well in times where trust became all-important. But it had been necessary, even if regrettable.
Elrond waited until the man's footsteps had long faded from hearing before he spoke. "I fear that one."
"I fear for him," Gandalf agreed softly.
"His interest in the Ring does not bode well, Gandalf!" Almost angrily, Elrond gestured with Celebrimbor's Of the Rings, then stopped himself as he realized he'd nearly lost control.
"Yet he still has a part to play," the wizard responded. "You have seen that, as much as I. And it is yet another reason why I should go. None will take the Ring from Frodo while I accompany him."
Frustration colored the elf's features. "But what of—"
"The unspeakable," Gandalf finished for him, and then proceeded to say what Elrond could not. "You fear one of the Three in Sauron's hands."
In a single motion, the elf cast the scroll aside and stepped close before him. "I fear," Elrond said hoarsely, "a Ring bearer in his hands!"
And I fear what will pass if I do not go, even if it is to death. Gently, Gandalf laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "If we fail, the Three will not matter enough," he said softly, and watched Elrond's face tighten with pain. "You, and Galadriel will hide, as you well should—and as you must—but I cannot. Círdan was right in giving Narya to me. I would relinquish her to your keeping if I could, to guarantee the safety of the Three, but I will need her still."
"I would never ask that of you," Elrond replied softly, glancing downwards, suddenly unable to meet his gaze, and Gandalf understood why. Only a Ringbearer would understand the relationship between a Ring of Power and the one who bore it; such was beyond definition, could not be described in words—but the breaking of the bond meant a breaking of the soul. One could not relinquish a Ring, unless, like Círdan, it had been held only in safe-keeping.
"I know," Gandalf responded. "But I would do it if I could, to ally your fears.
"All I can tell you is this: should the quest fail, the Fellowship break, and the Ring fall again into Sauron's hands, I will not be taken. I may fall, but Narya will be safe. I promise you that. The Dark Lord shall never gain one of the Three, and through one them all, while she is in my keeping."
"I believe you." The reply came barely above a whisper, but Elrond met his eyes once more.
Gandalf smiled gently. "I know."
Elrond laid a hand on his shoulder in return. "I wish you luck, then, Olórin," he said softly, speaking a name which he had never given voice to before, and despite himself, Gandalf felt his heart stir. Knowing the truth of what he was, few would ever dare address him by his true name, but Elrond did, and had, and he squeezed the elf-lord's shoulder gently. They were of a kind, in a way; their bond was thicker and deeper than blood or simple origins could define.
"I think we shall need it," he responded lightly, and felt hope twinkle in his own eyes. "But perhaps we will find it in the most unlikely of places."
"I sincerely hope so, Mithrandir," Elrond said softly. "With all my heart, I do hope."
Author's Note: Thanks for reading. I hope you liked it, although I know it's been done before, but I thought I had a slightly differing view on this. Forgive me for my fascination with the Rings of Power…somehow it always colors my works. Regardless, though, if you liked it or not, please review! It's wonderful to know what people think. Again, thanks for reading.