Disclaimer: I don't own a thing.  All Tolkien.

Note: Since this is set in Valinor, that means Valinorean names will be used.  And that also means Gandalf isn't the old wizard we know in Lord of the Rings, but rather, the Maia Olórin.  If you didn't know.  And while we're at it, Saruman is Curumo and Radagast is Aiwendil.  So yeah.  I think that's it.  You can read now.  XD

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            The sound of a woman weeping was the first thing he heard after he passed under the arch and into the area of Lórien tended by his sister.  He was no stranger to this sound, and he was used to hearing it come from this woman.  They all were.  Few ever heard anything else from her anymore.  Valinor had once been filled with her joyful laughter and magical singing, but no more.  She found delight in something else, and when it was taken from her, she lost all her will to live.  Even now, four thousand years later, her grief had lessened little.

            And I do not think my passing will aid her recovery, he thought as he made his way along a stone path leading toward the center of the garden and the source of the sound.  The branches of willow trees hung low, their leaves brushing against his face as he walked.  A bird was singing in the distance.  Or it may have been Estë; he could not be certain.  The Lady of Lórien was fond of birds; she often took the form of one herself.  Birds were such liberating, carefree creatures.  He could think of more than one person who might do well to spend an afternoon as a bird.

            Two women were underneath a tree in the middle of the garden.  One of them was sitting on a marble bench.  She was clad in a grey cloak with the hood over her head.  It concealed her face, but a few strands of her dark red hair were visible.  The second was kneeling on the ground, her dark head resting in the lap of the first.  It was she who was weeping, trembling, dying anew every day.  The woman in grey was stroking her companion's hair and humming softly.  Though neither of them looked up, he was certain at least she knew he was there.

            She did not take any notice of him until he sat down next to her on the bench, and all she did then was acknowledge his presence with a brief tilt of her head in his direction.  Moments later, the second woman fell silent, and she lifted her head.  A hint of comfort flickered in the depths of her sad eyes for a moment, and she said his name.

            "Melian," he said in reply, smiling at her.

            She did not smile back, and nor did he expect her to.  With a sigh that was soft, and yet heavy with sorrow, she stood up and began smoothing out some of the wrinkles in her gown that came from kneeling.  "I will take my leave of you now," she said to the other woman.  "I thank you for your time."

            "No, Melian," he said before the woman could reply.  He stood and continued.  "I will leave.  I am sure Nienna has already heard what I wished to tell her."

            Melian shook her head and gazed defiantly at her brother.  "Do not be a fool, Olórin.  I have all the time there is in the world.  You do not."  She left them without another word and soon disappeared among the low-hanging branches of the willow trees.

            He sighed and sat down again.  He and Nienna did not look at each other, nor did they speak for several minutes.  It was Nienna who eventually broke the silence, removing her hood as she began to speak.  "Would it please you to know that this was one of her better days?"

            A bittersweet smile crossed his face, and he began rubbing his temples with his hand.  Melian's best days were long behind her, but Nienna was correct; she was not as grieved today as she normally was.  Perhaps she was finally learning to let go.  Up until now, he had not understood why it was taking her so long.  He was able to view his sister's grief with different eyes, now that he was faced with a situation with similar aspects.  He would not be losing anything like what Melian had lost, but that did not mean it was easy.

            "I must ask your forgiveness," Olórin said.  "Námo told me that you were here, but had I known you were consoling Melian, I would not have come."

            The corners of her mouth twitched upward, and she tucked a loose section of her hair behind her ear.  "You need not ask forgiveness, my friend," she said.  "There is enough pain in this world without the added burden of needless guilt."

            Oh, Nienna, he thought.  Nienna, Nienna, Nienna.  He was a Maia of Manwë and Varda himself, but  spent much time with Nienna, learning from her and coming to understand the ways of mercy and compassion.  The relationship they formed over the long years was one of great trust, friendship, and respect.  He felt deeply honored whenever she referred to him as her friend; him, great among the Maiar, but still only a Maia.  And she – not just a Vala, but one of the Aratar – this great queen considered him her friend.  How long and lonely would these years apart from her be!

            The words he spoke to Melian came back to him.  I am sure Nienna has already heard what I wished to tell her.  Had she?  She had not yet mentioned it.  Perhaps she was waiting for him to do so.  "You…"

            She turned her head toward him, and he looked away immediately so as not to meet her gaze.  Then he took a deep breath and attempted to continue.  "You have heard, have you not?"

            She nodded.  "Yes," she said.  "Manwë came to me yesterday and asked if I would agree to him sending you as a messenger to Middle-earth."

            He was startled by this information.  Why would Manwë ask for her approval?  "What did you say?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on his hands.

            "The truth," Nienna answered.  "That you would be a valuable addition to our cause, that you are wise and benign, and that you will always remain faithful no matter what evils may come your way."

            Faithful, he repeated to himself.  I will not let you down, my lady, my most beloved Nienna.  I swear I will always be true, to our cause, to Valinor, to the light.  And to you.

            A hand on his cheek brought him out of his thoughts, and small gasp escaped his lips.  "Will you not look upon me, Olórin?" she asked, gently turning his face toward her.

            He could not resist her touch, and he believed she knew that.  She had a power over him that he could not explain; one that emerged soon after they became friends and had only grown stronger since then.  Maybe it was because he didn't want to resist her.

            Olórin turned his head and resisted the urge to divert his unworthy eyes from the sight of her.  Never before had he dared to look directly at Nienna.  She was as beautiful as Varda herself in his heart and mind, with her dark red hair, smooth, pale skin, and sad eyes deeper than the ocean.  He could lose himself in those eyes, just as a mariner could be lost at sea.  A pang struck his heart as he thought about the voyage he would soon be taking.  Every stroke of the oar, every puff of wind in the sails, every wave splashing against side of the ship, every breath of rich, salty air would remind him of Nienna.  Did Manwë know this?  Was that why he came to her?  To see if he would be able to leave her behind?

            Would he?

            "Oh, Olórin," she said, having not removed her hand from his face.  "You are a light in a dark world.  You will save so many."

            He wanted to say something, anything, but the power of speech had left him.  He would probably be able to if she took her hand away, but he would rather be speechless for the rest of his life than have her do that.

            Eventually, she did pull her hand back, her fingertips lingering on his face for a moment before her skin lost contact with his.  "Who else is to be sent?" she asked.

            He successfully swallowed the nervous feeling that prevented him from speaking, but it left his mouth dry.  "Oromë sends Alatar, and Aulë, Curumo," he answered.  "Curumo leaves tonight, and I, tomorrow morning at dawn.  Aiwendil has been added at the request of Yavanna, and I believe Alatar wishes to take Pallando.  They may not leave for several days yet."

            Nienna nodded and folded her hands in her lap again.  "They are good choices."

            After knowing Nienna all the time that he had, Olórin could tell in her voice when she was not speaking from her whole heart.  This was one of those times.  "You fear for them," he observed.

            She nodded, and tears came to her eyes.  "You are indeed wise, Olórin," she said.  She made no move to brush the tears aside as they fell down her face.  "I fear for Curumo most of all.  Sauron too was one of Aulë's people, and mighty; nearly counted among the Valar.  He would know what to say and do to Curumo to lure him into following darkness."

            He had been fearing this possibility ever since it was announced that Curumo would be going to Middle-earth.  "Perhaps it would be better if Aulë was not to send one of his people."

            "No," Nienna said, shaking her head.  "The decisions of Aulë are not ours to judge.  He would not send Curumo if he did not believe in him."

            She was right, as usual.  Aulë clearly trusted Curumo with this task,  so he would, too, if only for her sake.  Curumo was wise; there was no question about that.  But would he have enough strength to resist Sauron?  Would any of them?  Olórin sighed and looked at his hands.  He knew Sauron, long ago, when he was the pride of Aulë and before he turned to Melkor.  Did any shred of the Sauron of old remain?  It was unlikely; Melkor would not have held him in such high regard if it did.  But there is always a chance, Nienna once told him.  Nienna, who had vouched for Melkor when he looked to the Valar for pardon.  If she could show compassion to those who deserved none, then he could seek for a remnant of the Sauron he was when the world first formed.

            "I have something for you, Olórin," Nienna said, placing her hand on his arm in an attempt to draw his eyes back to her.  It worked.  With her other hand, she took one of his, and he felt something materialize between their palms.  When she let go, he looked at the object in his hand and gasped.

            "Nienna…," he said, staring at it in awe, unable to say anything else.

            It was a cloudy white crystal, neither large nor small, and would not have looked important to someone who did not know what it was.  He, however, did, and also he knew its value was hardly less than that of the Silmarils themselves.  After the War of Wrath, the Valar knew they needed more to protect their land lest another great evil should rise in Sauron.  They did not know how much power Sauron could accumulate, so Aulë went into the heart of the world, and with the very flames of the Secret Fire, forged eight stones for the eight Aratar.  Four were named after the Moon in four different languages to symbolize unity among the forces of light, and the other four were named after the Sun, also in different languages.  Nienna's was named Anor, the Sindarin word for the Sun.  The full power of these stones was unknown; only one had ever been used since their creation – Rána, wielded by Ulmo, to sink the isle of Númenor after the treason of its people.  Olórin was not sure if such a powerful item would be allowed to be in his hands.

            "Manwë was going to give you Isil to aid your journey, but I asked him to let me give you Anor instead," Nienna said.  "Besides, your powers have always been more closely associated with fire.  Should you need to use it, you will be able to do more than you could have with Isil."

            He did not know what to say.  He was honored that she would trust him with such a valuable object, but would he know when and where to use it?  Why did he not trust himself as much as they did?  Furthermore, he did not need anything more to remind her of him; he would miss her enough as it was.

            Olórin took Nienna's hand and pressed Anor back into it.  "I cannot accept this," he said, summoning up the courage to look into her eyes.  "It is beyond my skill to wield.  I would do more harm than good."

            She shook her head and gave the crystal back to him.  "I am now more sure than ever that you must take it," she said.  "By refusing, you have shown me what I have always known: that you can properly judge your limits and have the wisdom to know where you should not go."  Then she smiled.  "And you do have the skill to wield the flame of Anor.  It would not have been offered if you did not."

            The crystal was light and warm to the touch.  A glow emanated from its center for a few moments, and then faded.  Olórin looked at it for a few moments, and then at Nienna.  It was so rare to see a smile on her face, and it only made her more beautiful.  They were not even parted yet, and already, his heart ached.

            "I cannot thank you enough for this gift, Nienna," he said, placing Anor safely in a pouch around his waist.  "I will try to become what you expect of me."

            She replied, but it was too soft for him to hear.

            "Forgive me, but I did not hear you," he said.

            She straightened, looked into his eyes, placed her hands on top his, and said clearly, "You achieved that long ago."  She smiled again, but this smile was more serious than before.  "Remember what you have learned," she said.  "Let not the world take your eyes away from your task."

            "I will remember," he promised, nodding his head.

            "And patience, Olórin," she reminded him.  "Patience… has never been your most notable quality."

            He smiled, knowing how true that was.  "Yes, Nienna."

            They spent the next few moments sitting in silence on the bench hand in hand underneath the willow tree, listening to the leaves and branches sway back and forth and brush against each other in the warm, gentle breeze, likely the breath of Irmo himself.  Olórin doubted there was anything like this place in Middle-earth.  But then again, every place was like a barren wasteland when compared to Lórien.  Someday, he would return here, and Melian would be laughing and singing again, and Nienna would be smiling…

            Eventually, Nienna pulled her hands away from him and rose to her feet.  "I must return to my halls," she said.  "Already have I lingered too long here."

            "Will I see you again before I depart?" Olórin asked, an intensity to his voice that was not normally there; an intensity that came from fear that this would be their last meeting for Eru knew how long.

            "Yes," she said.  "You depart from Alqualondë at dawn, is that correct?"

            He nodded.

            "Nothing could keep me from it."

            Olórin was dizzy from his emotions.  There was so much he wanted to say to her; how he had enjoyed the long years they spent together, how greatly he valued what he learned from her, how much he would miss her when he passed into the mortal lands.  It did not help that she had given him Anor; now there was even more to remind him of her.  And there was no guarantee that he would return.  Would he meet his death in Middle-earth, and have his spirit pass into the Timeless Halls of Ilúvatar until everything in and of the world faded into nothing?  When all had ended, would he then find the strength to say –

            "I love you," he suddenly blurted out.

            Nienna peered at him, an expression of mixed shock and amusement on her face.  "What?"

            "I love you," he said again, more confidently than before.  "I was afraid I would never find the courage to tell you, but since I will be leaving tomorrow and may never return, I decided I may as well.  Now I will no longer have to live with either keeping this secret or the pain from looking at you every day and knowing you this love will not be returned."

            He turned and began to walk away, trying to ignore the stinging in his eyes.  He did not get far, though, when Nienna spoke words that brought him to an abrupt halt: "And how do you know it is not returned?"

            Olórin turned around slowly, unable to believe what he had just heard.  "Nienna?"

            "The one I gave you was not the only reason Manwë came to me yesterday," she said, stepping toward him.  "There was another."

            She proceeded to tell him that after Manwë asked her opinion as to whether or not he would be a good choice to send as a messenger of Valinor, he asked for confirmation of something he had long suspected: whether or not she was in love with him.  She was cautious at first, but the conviction in her voice grew with ever word.  "I suspected Manwë knew your heart as well," she said, "but he would say nothing out of respect for your privacy.  In return, he promised to say nothing of my love for you, but advised me to speak of it before the end of the world.  Many long years have I loved you, Olórin, and had I ever imagined that you would love me too, I would never have put you through this."

            Never before in all his long life had Olórin been less sure of what to do next.  It was no surprise to him that he loved her, but that she should love him back?  "How can this be?" he stammered, staring at her in disbelief.  "You are so much greater than I.  How can you love someone whose worth will never be a fraction of yours?"

            "Listen to your words," Nienna said.  "You have answered your own question."

            He did not understand, and so she explained.  "You have deemed yourself unworthy, therefore you could not comprehend the idea that I might love you.  And I in turn anticipated that you would take that path, and made an effort to conceal my thoughts from your sight."

            "And yet Manwë saw through both of us."

            She nodded and glanced at the grass near her feet.  "Yes, he did," she said.  "But he is more farsighted than us all, and there is little that escapes his awareness."  She looked up again and into his eyes.  "I love you, Olórin."

            He had a question, and was almost too afraid to ask it, but then realized that everything else was at stake; why not add one more thing to the ever-growing list?  "What happens now?"

            Nienna looked away from him, and he saw the familiar sparkle of tears in her eyes.  "I know not," she confessed.  "I would not dare keep you here on my account; not when you have been appointed to so great a task."

            She loved him.  Something he had thought impossible for so long had come true.  The last thing he wanted now was to leave Valinor, to leave her.  "No," he said.  "They can send another in my place – Eönwë, perhaps, or Ilmarë.  Ask, and I shall stay."

            "No, Olórin; you must be the one to go," she insisted.  "You were the one chosen, and have not Eönwë and Ilmarë ones they love and remain for as well?"  She took his hands in hers, and they gazed longingly at each other while the breeze wove its way through the trees.  "Return to me when you may.  I will be waiting."

            They both leaned toward the other, and their lips met halfway in a gentle kiss.  They could have easily remained there as they were until the Dagor Dagorath, but the shadow of duty's call lingered overhead as always.  With one final promise to see each other before his ship left the next morning, they parted, and the branches of the willow trees waved their farewell.

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Gandalf/Nienna.  I'm out to convert the world.  Beware.  :o)