AUTHOR'S NOTE: This isn't one of my worst fanfics. It was written on a dare in 2002 as a knee-jerk reaction to the plethora of sickening Mary-Sue/self-insertion stories that proliferated after "Fellowship of the Ring" was released that December. Actually, they've been around in all fandoms a lot longer than that, but they seem especially numerous right now. Some people might enjoy this story and the female lead, but I'm not among them, even though I wrote it. This kind of OFC just isn't my cuppa. She's too perfect, too unbelievably precious, and boring. I didn't even keep a copy of this one on my computer; I had to go retrieve it from the discussion list I originally posted it to. Perhaps its worth lies only in seeing how horribly I wrote back then.


The treason of Saruman had shaken my faith."
-- Gandalf, FOTR

Carefully setting aside her harp, which protested the abandonment by catching a string on her sleeve and vibrating its disapproval, Nuala let her sharp gaze wander out over the gathering. Hobbits mingled with Elves mingled with dwarves in the Hall of Fire, but of the Wizard Gandalf, ever known to Nuala as Mithrandir, there was no sign. One particular Elven warrior was also missing from the party: one who stood tall and straight, with long fine hair of shining silver much like Nuala's own; the one whose strength, loyalty, and bow had long ago been sworn to Mithrandir; the one of whom it was said, "Find the Elf and you will find the Wizard."

Rising from her place in the minstrel's gallery, Nuala gathered both harp and robes.

"Are your songs all done this night, then?" asked Anilmandra, her blue eyes narrowing in suspicion, "or do you seek a different audience, both lesser and greater, to sing to?"

"I am done singing," she said quietly, locking gazes with the other Elf and daring her to comment further.

The girl made no answer, only pursed her lips together and sniffed. Nuala continued on her way as the musicians began another selection. Bracing the harp on her hip, she made her way out through the back cloisters, moving swiftly over the uneven tiles and pointedly avoiding anyone else who might delay her. /I know that Anilmandra thinks Mithrandir is old and all but senile. Thinks that Elrond humors the wizard's ominous dark moods, his warnings of doom. Others do too, I'm sure./

She made her way quickly to the wizard's rooms, laying a hand on the door and tilting her head to listen for voices on the other side. There were none, and the hewn door gave easily under her hand. The rooms were dark, the fire cold; he'd not been here in some time. Setting the harp safely out of the way at the foot of his bed, she gathered one of his spare
cloaks and sped on with her search.

Nuala soon left behind the warmth of the gathering and the flickering torches. Running lightly in her bare feet, she passed the iron gates long overgrown and overthrown with ivy, the entrance to Elrond's private garden. She caught a movement from the corner of her eye a moment before Legolas appeared beside her, all solemnity and silence. He was but a head taller than she, and the cool autumn breeze teased his hair to mingle it with hers. His hand lightly cupped her elbow, guided her quickly from the leaf-strewn main path and into the shadows. /Guarding and protecting, always./

"Is he here?" she whispered.

A brief nod. "He has been here since the end of our last meeting within the house of Elrond," came the low answer. "He is alone too much with his thoughts, m'lady."

"I've told you so many times, as you've told me, so that I expected to find nothing else this night. He's been as he is since before we were born, Legolas. Will you let me pass to speak with him?"

His smile was crooked and thin--all she had ever gotten from this Elf, but for him it was the equivalent of a broad grin stretched across a hobbit's face. "Always, Nuala."

She squeezed his fingers before sketching a brief bow. "My thanks."

She left him then, standing watch with blue eyes bright for mischief, with all the wisdom, fearlessness and strength he had to offer. Her feet moved soundlessly over the dry leaves, the branches of the trees seemed to move aside for her. Magic was abroad in the night, but Nuala did not make the mistake of thinking it was Mithrandir's; more than likely, it was the doing of the tall, slender Elf she'd just left, for he had forest magic of his own when he wished to make use of it.

Moonlight directed her gaze to the base of a tree wrapped in shadow, as Mithrandir was often wrapped in his cloak. She sensed more than saw him, sitting there in solitary stillness. He'd lost his hat somewhere along the way and was brooding, always brooding, with his booted feet braced against the ground and his knees supporting his forearms. His dark eyes shone bright in the moonlight, almost as bright as his long, silver beard.

Pacing right up to him, Nuala leaned over to brace her hands on his knees and knelt between them. "Almost, you look as if you're part of that tree."

"A sour dryad I'd make," came the low rumble of his voice. Beyond that, the wizard didn't move. "Any tree with half intelligence would chew me up and spit me out."

"You taught me to climb trees. They never spit me out."

A large hand reached out to gather a fistful of her hair. Bringing it to his face, Mithrandir rubbed his bearded cheek against it. "No tree would dare."

She laughed softly. "Why? Because I'm a sweet Elf?"

He raised an eyebrow that glowed pale blue in the moonlight. "Lady, I have known you mischievous, curious and bold. Never have I known you to be anything approaching.... sweet."

Leaning forward, she slid her hands up his chest and beneath his long beard. He lowered his legs to accommodate her and she took full advantage of it. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she slid closer, stretched, and settled comfortably across the wizard's lap. His fingers slid across her hip.

"All muscle and sinew you are," he murmured, "like a cat. Almost, I expect you to begin purring."

"Miow. You were missed at supper and during song, Mithrandir," she murmured, otherwise ignoring his comment and pressing a nuzzled kiss to his cheek. "We see so little of you anyway. What thoughts weigh so heavily upon your mind that you would neglect the companionship of both your beloved hobbits and the Elves of Rivendell?"

He finger-combed his way through her waist-length silver-blond hair, bringing each thick strand up to catch the moonbeams, only to sift it through his fingers and release it back into the night. Years ago, he'd bid her kneel before him, had washed her hair in a mixture of rare herbs and incantations, had seen it sun-dried on stones and combed out by his own hands. Most solemnly, he'd bid her to never cut it. From what the glorious mane was telling him now, she had obeyed him.

"I am sick of shadows, Nuala, yet they grow ever thicker," he said. "You have been in attendance at Elrond's Councils, as always seated behind his screen and acting as his scribe. Your parchments will find a home in his library after the Fellowship has gone. You know what has been said; how then can you ask what weighs upon my mind?"

"I ask because there are many shadows with many names. Some are called Sauron, some are called the Ring, and some are called Gollum. Today you revealed that a great light named Saruman -- a light that I know we have all trusted for a very long time, and one you called friend -- has been swallowed by the shadows."

A sigh finished in a groan as Mithrandir bowed his head.

Untangling his fingers from her hair, Nuala took his heavy hand, braced it across her palm. Deliberately, she traced the paper-thin skin, the prominent veins across the back of his hand.

"I feel your pain at his betrayal, and I know that you worry as the shadows grow longer and Sauron's power grows stronger. But you must rest for the journey ahead, Mithrandir, else you will begin to believe your own Glamour."

He raised his head and summoned a small smile. "So what would you have me do? Cast a spell to put myself to sleep? Bid that the sun wake me when I have rested enough to forget the evil touching this land?... A land that I am sworn to protect with all that I am?"

She continued tracing the delicate skin. "I would have you follow me and do as I bid, if only for this night out of all the nights that we have known each other."

He scowled. "What if what you bid is what I have, in the past, forbidden to happen between us?"

She tilted her head and considered. "Part of me wishes you might weaken in that regard, but I know you will always have strength to refuse me. And so, will you come with me?"

His fingers wrapped around hers, swallowing them within their warmth. "I will come with you." His eyes twinkled. "For now."

She led him softly back into the house of Elrond. Legolas followed discretely behind; almost, Nuala could feel his curiosity about where they were going. Had she been younger and less certain of her place in Mithrandir's life, the Elf's presence would have mocked her. As it was, she understood his presence, knew it to be necessary, and knew also the comfort it brought; Legolas would never betray Mithrandir as had Saruman.

The stone stairway wound deep down into the foundations of the house, with the air growing warmer and more humid with every level reached. The hot spring was deserted this time of night, with Elves and visitors tucked safely inside their beds. Turning at the stone edge of the spring, Nuala held one of Mithrandir's hands between hers and knelt before him.

"I offer Elven water and my hands to bathe you, lord wizard. I offer my touch and comfort for the care of your body and soul, if you will have it."

"Nuala -- "

"Please," she whispered, her gaze pleading with the wariness in his eyes, "let me do this thing for you. Let me love you."

Closing his eyes, the wizard swallowed hard, but nodded.

Sighing, she released his hand and reached for the buckles of his boots. Raising one foot and then the other, he allowed her to remove and set them aside. And then her hands were at his waist, releasing the knot-work of his rough-made belt. Rising to her feet, Nuala slid the fur-lined cloak from his broad shoulders, let it drop to the ground. His dark eyes watched her gather his robes in her hands, preparing to sweep them over his head.

"I remember the first time you confronted me about the Glamour," he said, his low voice rough. "You never believed it, did you?"

"How can I believe what is one thing in the Seen world, and quite another in the Unseen world?" She was standing so close to him, she could feel his breath on her cheek. "The Powers sent you to the Firstborn, to us, and bade you take this form," she whispered. "They also blessed me to see... a little beyond it."

His fingers stroked her cheek. "You were so young, so brazen to confront a wizard."

"I confronted you only with the truth, Mithrandir."

"And do you remember what you said to me that day, having grown only as tall as my waist and standing with your hands on your hips and a scowl on your little face?"

Nuala nodded. "'I do not think that you are as old as you want us to believe,'" she quoted herself from that long-ago day. "I still do not," she challenged. Lifting his robes, she swept them over his head and let them drop to the side.

Stepping back, she watched the Glamour fall away. By Powerful decree, he was forced to maintain it every day he walked Middle Earth -- nearly 2,000 years to date -- unless someone was clear-sighted enough to see through it and honest of heart, or tactless enough, to challenge him regarding it.

Of all the beings to walk beside Mithrandir, only Legolas and Nuala had ever been tactless enough.

The wizard stood before her now, naked and transformed to a more honest image. Nuala wasn't foolish enough to believe that what she saw was even yet truly as he was, for wizards -- even those that loved one -- were seldom actually as they appeared. Still, Nuala was well-pleased with the transformation, pleased as the years melted off of him. His long white hair and sweeping silver beard became shorter and darker, albeit streaked with gray; the lines of his face smoothed and grew less troubled by the burdens he bore; his brows grew less bushy, darker and more defined. Only the dark eyes beneath did not change; they were still bright, watchful coals that could leap to anger or possessiveness without warning. The broad shoulders straightened, his musculature thickened. And then, he opened his arms.

Nuala needed no further invitation. Throwing herself against his broad chest, she drank in the never-changing scent of him, the feel of his back beneath her fingers, the press of his lips on the top of her head.

"My sweet Nuala... forever stealing what moments she can from The Powers and a tired old wizard."

"Can you blame me? I love you," she whispered against his warmth. "I think that I have always loved you."

His hands caressed her back, his lips found hers when she raised her head. "As I love you."

His hands were working her robe up now, were burrowing beneath the soft fabric to pull it over her head and lead her, as naked as he was himself, into the steaming water. Cleaning and caressing, each tended the other, until Nuala smiled and led the wizard prune-shriveled from the water. Wrapping him in his cloak, she refused his invitation to join him beneath its folds. Leading him back up the stairs, she headed for his rooms.

Legolas followed, of course; they could hear the Elf-warrior padding quietly somewhere behind them because he wished them to hear it. Mithrandir preceded Nuala into the room. While pressing closed the door, she caught a glimpse of someone melding into the shadows. Smiling to herself, she wondered if Legolas had yearned to join someone in the springs himself. /Perhaps one day, I'll gather courage enough to ask him.... and probably be shot clean through for my efforts at prying into his privacy./

She turned to discover that the wizard had already discarded cloak for another robe and was handing her something to cover her own nakedness. A simple gesture from him brought the fire to blazing life, and Nuala snatched up the comb and brush Mithrandir had brought with him before he could claim them himself.

"Will you sing for me?" he asked, settling down in the furs before the fire and opening his arms once again.

Shaking her head, she knelt behind him to begin combing the tangles from his mane. Though his beard had grown shorter, his hair had not. "You need touching, not songs, tonight."

They sat in silence while she worked, with Mithrandir making only the occasional grunt as Nuala encountered and wrestled with particularly recalcitrant tangles. Eventually set free of their domination, the wizard then took back his brush and comb, bade his companion stretch out on the fur. Using a bit of magic, he gently unsnarled her long hair, then spread it to dry across his lap.

"I've battled Sauron for two thousand years, you know? No matter the outcome, this journey may be my last, the end of my labors." He spoke quietly, stroking her hair even as he kept his gaze locked on the flames.

She swallowed against the lump in her throat, knowing how much it cost him to speak those words, and how much trust he held to let her hear them. She was certain that he would never admit such a thing to his companions within the Fellowship.

"Part of me wants to beg you to stay," she admitted, "to let others carry the burden to its conclusion. But I know that's not what you were made for."

He shifted his gaze to hers then, as tears filled her eyes. One long finger came up to trace the track of a tear. "Nuala...."

"You were made to guard this world, and all of the creatures in it. I'm just a creature in that world who's been allowed to love you." She swallowed against the pain that would block her worlds, and tried to smile through her tears. Reaching up, she caressed his beard. "The coming journey makes what little time we have to share all the more precious."

"Yes," he whispered, leaning into her touch.

Rolling over, she knelt before him and slid her hand inside his robe. Settling it just so over his rib cage, she caressed his nipple with her fingers, felt his heart beating beneath her palm. Her tears fell freely now; she ignored them. "Take my heart and our touching with you, Mithrandir. If you do not come back to me, know that I will come to you in the Blessed Realms. Whether you want me or not, I will come to you."

She had held to him, and only to him, from the moment she'd become aware of the need deep within her to choose a mate and lie with him. Time and again, Mithrandir had stood fast against the choosing which was her Elven right, had refused the holding and the offering despite Nuala's many tears and pleadings.

"You will *not* tie yourself to me, to one of the Istari," he'd thundered, standing over her with dark eyes blazing and staff upraised. Shrinking back, she'd both feared and wanted him even more in that moment. "With our joining would come an immortal bonding, and that cannot happen. I am of the Chosen, Nuala, sent for a purpose to serve only that purpose. I cannot stay with you."

From somewhere deep within her had come the strength to stand against him. Drawing herself up, she hand lain a shaking hand on his staff to instantly quell the storm he'd summoned, to quiet the fear and denial that had been behind his bellowing. The power he'd summoned in an effort to intimidate her had faded, until the air grew heavy and thick with silence. Mithrandir had blinked and stared, first at the small hand on the staff, taming his magic and his wrath, and then at the small Elf who dared to challenge him.

"If you will not have me, then I will have no one," she had said simply, and walked away.

Thereafter, he'd wrapped the symbolic distance and age of his Glamour around him and departed Rivendell. Nuala hadn't seen Mithrandir again for ten years, and when he finally did returned, he was more stern and gruff than she'd ever known him to be. This newest Glamour hadn't worked, however; she still loved him, even when he was evil, and she told him so.

"You left me with too many good memories for me to believe your nastiness," she proclaimed with a smirk. "And you still have to use Elrond's archives, so you can't avoid me forever."

She had him there, for Elrond's library was vast and all of it was her domain. It was her duty to tend the tomes, to preserve them carefully, for no matter the Elves were immortal, their books were not without a bit of help. As Elrond's archivist, Nuala was aware of all that went on in Rivendell; as his personal scribe she was privy to every secret the Wizard Gandalf brought to his ears. So much a part of the books was Nuala that Mithrandir could not think of Elrond's reading room without seeing her there as well. And see her, he did, each time he came to familiarize himself with the goings-on that had been going on in Rivendell during his absence, or when he came looking for a bit of esoteria related to the Ring or the history of... whatever he was researching at the time.

"You're doomed," she'd proclaimed from her desk with deep delight, steepling her fingers and calmly watching the play of emotions over his face. It was all too easy to follow his train of thought when he realized that she had been right, he simply could not avoid her.

He'd laughed outright then, had given up being nasty to lunge behind the desk and sweep her into a hug that had all but crushed her ribs.

"You are always so quiet, I constantly wonder what you are thinking," he confessed a little later, when the summer sun was pouring through the windows, bathing the library in dust motes and gold and forcing an old wizard to abandon his researches for a bit of romantic speculation.

"I am thinking that if we cannot be together in this world, then perhaps you will permit it when your duty is done," she ventured quietly, not certain if Mithrandir's good mood would hold in the face of such heartfelt confidences. "Perhaps you will consider our togetherness when this existence is over and we are dwelling together in the Blessed Realms?"

He'd thought a long moment before replying, "Perhaps."

He was seated halfway across the room, ensconced at one of Elrond's calligraphy tables with several books and parchment notes scattered about, but with his reply and the caress and promise in his eyes, Nuala had still felt his touch.

"Then I will hold to that, and cease annoying you by asking for what we cannot have," she had said solemnly before returning to her work.

Hold to it, she had. Feeling the wizard's tension after this conversation, she realized that Mithrandir was denying himself as well as her. She thrilled to realize his desire which somehow made it both easier and harder for her to wait for him. The road that he was required to travel through the shadows went ever on, and he often left her behind. But always, before, Mithrandir had returned to her. Now, he was admitting that he might not.

His hand covered Nuala's where it lay over his heart. "If you find that you still want me when we reach the Blessed Realms," he rumbled softly, his chest vibrating beneath her hand, "I promise you now that we will be together. I'll not refuse you there."

"I will always want you," she whispered.

He took her to bed then, pulling her close against him and letting her feel his need. Lying naked in his arms, she stroked his chest and kept quiet her own thoughts. It was no use thought; a wizard could hear that which wasn't spoken, and Nuala had no doubt, afterward, that her lover knew exactly what she needed to hear. Later, she knew that Mithrandir had said the words knowing that he likely would not be returning. Otherwise, he probably never would have spoken them, for he was still Istari, and his purpose was still before him.

"You belong to me," came the low voice close to her ear. His fingers teased the tip of that ear. "It does not take a physical act to make you mine, my Nuala."

She shivered at the possessiveness in his voice. Setting it close to her heart, she stored the details of the moment -- the heat of his body against hers, his lips moving on her forehead, his fingers caressing the inside of her wrist. Rising up on her elbow, she traced his eyebrows, his crooked nose, his lips. He was what he was; perhaps there were certain things that wizards getting ready to walk their last road needed to hear as well.

"In the morning, you will don your robes, take up your staff and weight yourself once again with the Glamour of your order," she murmured. "Once more, you will become Gandalf the Gray and distance yourself from me. You will work long and hard to see Sauron and his Ring destroyed, and to deliver the Fellowship safely home."

"If there is strength in me to do so."

She smiled. "There is that and more within you. From the moment I saw you, you showed brighter than Saruman."

He snorted in disbelief. "You have never seen Saruman."

"I have," Nuala contradicted. "Many years ago, when I was first assigned to the archives, he came to search Elrond's books."

A dark eyebrow arched. "I didn't know that."

"At the time, it wasn't important, though I am sure that the date is recorded somewhere. Even then, there was something dark about him. Something... arrogant and hoardsome, like a great dragon who doesn't share well, who wants all of the treasure for itself. The light and the warmth within you has only grown deeper and purer, while the White has only muddied himself. You will triumph over the darkness, my wizard."

"Your wizard, am I?"

She frowned. "Didn't you just say so? For if I am yours, then you are mine. But for tonight, I think that you are less a wizard and more a man in need of touching and holding, with no little bit of caring."

"Even though tomorrow you will wake alone?" he ventured, regret shuttering his eyes for a moment as he smoothed her hair out of his beard.

Lying down once more, Nuala rested her head on his shoulder and snuggled closer. "As long as you are in the world, Mithrandir... some world... I will never be alone."


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