The Acceptable Sacrifice
He was not surprised to see Gandalf - not at first, at least. He awoke feeling calm, free of pain, soothed, his mind clear. All was comfortable about him, and the air was filled with the sounds and scents of sweetness of life, of fecundity, of growing things and the beauty of the Creator. To see Gandalf standing over him was precisely what he'd hoped for - for his first greeting in the place beyond Arda to be from him. He smiled - he knew he smiled. The sacrifice had been consummated and had been accepted; and Gandalf had smiled back, a smile of relief which gave him his first conscious hint he wasn't dead after all.
Then he'd tried to sit up, and realized he lay upon a bed, that his hand was bandaged, and that it hurt as he tried to put his weight on it; and that there was a familiar ache in his left shoulder as he flexed it. His smile slipped slightly.
Gandalf reached behind him and with one arm pulled him up to sit, leaning him back against hastily rearranged pillows. He turned and from under a draped cloth took up a mug - a rather battered metal mug similar to those they'd drunk from all during their quest. It was filled with water - plain, sweet, clean water. Oh, it was so good, after so long of having either nothing or the polluted drink from the cisterns along the orc roads. He sipped thankfully, then allowed himself to lie back against the pillows looking at the wizard, and examined him. "You aren't the same," he said as Gandalf returned the mug to the table between the two beds, as he again set the cloth over it to keep out insects.
Gandalf laughed. "Not the same? Of course not! None of us is the same, Frodo. It's done - the quest is fulfilled."
The memories were beginning to return, and part of the happiness he had felt fell away. "I'm not the one who did it - Sam is the hero - or even Gollum."
Gandalf sat gently on the side of the bed beside him. "All three of you," he said quietly, covering the maimed hand with his own, "were needed to see it done, Frodo. Only you could have brought It there. Only Sam could have supported you there. Only Gollum could have brought It into the fire."
He shook his head. "I ought to have done it, Gandalf. I ought to have leapt in myself with It."
The wizard shook his head. "You, Frodo? You are but a mortal, and that was not wrought by a mortal. There it would most likely have taken even me. It knew your heart, Frodo Baggins - It knew you intended to destroy yourself to destroy It. There where Its power was strongest, do you really believe It would have allowed that?"
The Hobbit sought to turn the subject. "How are you here, Gandalf?"
Gandalf sighed. Frodo's behavior disturbed him. However, he decided to answer the question. "I was sent back, Frodo. I was sent to Middle Earth in the beginning to teach the Free Peoples to stand against Sauron - that was my sole purpose. That need continued, and I was sent back to fulfill it." His expression softened again into his beautiful smile. "And so it is that I was able to be the one to greet you when at last you awakened." Frodo reached out, and the Wizard gathered him into his embrace, felt the tears of mixed relief and regret against the breast of his white robes.
Oh, Iorhael, even you were not immune to Its power. You do not understand yet, do you? Iluvatar does not rejoice in burnt offerings, but in living sacrifices.
Troubled, the Wizard caressed the dark curls.