Hello, and welcome to my evil lair… *jumps* Of course not! It's just a short little fic, designed to see a part of the Fellowship's journey through a different set of eyes, for once. It was written frantically at 2am when the idea popped into my head, so be nice. By the way, they're not mine, *darn!* even if I think about them night and day... Enough of my ranting, on to the story!

A Night of Worry

A chill breeze blew through the trees surrounding the campsite. Gandalf looked up contemplatively, hearing a soft, haunting melody carried on the wind. It sounded familiar, yet he could not place it.

He turned his gaze on his sleeping companions. The Hobbits were in a pile, with Frodo a little apart. Gimli had claimed a large rock for a pillow, while Boromir had decided to make use of his spare cloak. Legolas had disappeared into a nearby beech after completing the last watch.

The haunting melody came back again, this time with soft footsteps.

"Aragorn?"

The footsteps stopped, the music slowly dying out. A small rustle came from behind the Istari as the Ranger came through the foliage and seated himself beside his friend. "Hello, Gandalf."

"What were you singing, my friend?"

"Do you know of the Lay of Leithian?"

"Ahh, yes. 'Tis a sad tale."

"Aye."

The old Wizard watched the Man carefully after his sigh, noting the slump in normally proud shoulders, the shadows over the silver eyes and the lines cutting deep into his forehead. "What is amiss, my friend?"

Another sigh, this time more audible and less felt. "I… am not quite sure." He looked up, meeting Gandalf's eyes. "Many things, really. I feel… out of place here, though I do not fully understand why. I know that both mine and Frodo's fates are bound to the One Ring, but why I must travel with it is… unclear… to me. I am unused to travelling in a group this large, and it causes me to be uneasy. I am constantly on watch, whether officially or no. I am still weary from my last journeys, Gandalf. I was not yet ready to set out on this quest ere we departed, and it has done nothing to ally my fears, only intensified them.

"I fear that the Evenstar will sail, and I fear what Lord Elrond will do should she stay. I fear also for the scattered remnants of my people of the North and what will become of them while I undertake yet another great journey abroad. I fear for the Hobbits, when they will lose their innocence and find that the world is not so bright as they believe it to be.

"Frodo I worry over, especially. You know that his wound has not healed, Gandalf, and I suspect that it will never do so, that he will always be marred by its malice. My heart would take this burden from him, if it could, for it brings great pain to him, yet I know I cannot. I fear he will not last the journey, even if we should break into Mordor and reach the very mountain itself." He paused for a moment.

"You have much weighing on you, Aragorn."

"The whole of Arda depends on my fate – and Frodo's." The Man looked back to his hands, folded in his lap.

"Yet that is not all."

"No." A long silence, then: "Gandalf, you know that I do not like the path we are treading, and you know well why. I have told you this before, but I will say it again – do not go into the Mines of Moria! I have seen what lurks there, and I know that there are things hidden there that should remain so. But that is not all I have Seen." A haunted look came into his eyes. "I have foreseen your fall, should you lead us through Moria. And putting aside my own grief and despair at the knowledge, I do not know if I can lead the Company to safety, should what I have Seen come to pass." His voice grew ever softer as he spoke, and it was now a mere shadow of a whisper on the breeze. "I do not know that I would be able to go on, if you fall, my friend. Let alone to lead others in your stead. Elf I may not be, but fade I still may. For you have ever been a friend, and even a father, to me. You have brought tidings of hope when all else had despaired, and kept my faith alive long enough to prevail over many a foe.

"Ai, Mithrandir! Why must you take this path? There are other ways we might take. Moria is not the only way to cross the mountains!"

"But it is the safest. The pass of Caradhras is already snowed in, Aragorn. The Gap of Rohan is too far south, and too open to be crossed in stealth. It is much too close to Isenguard, especially with Saruman's treachery against the Council."

Aragorn shook his head in denial.

"You know this to be true, whether you want to admit it or not. Moria is the only path open to us."

"It cannot be. Middle-earth cannot afford to lose you, Mithrandir!" A plaintive note came into the Man's voice. "I cannot afford to lose you. I have already been the cause of too many deaths. I do not need yours on my heart, as well."

"Aragorn." Gandalf clasped the Ranger's hand. "Aragorn, look at me." He forced the Man's head up, caught and held his gaze. "Aragorn, you will not cause my death. You cannot blame yourself for things which are out of your control. This is one of them. Should I fall, then I will do so for a reason, and not because of a mistake on your part. You have told me your fears, my friend, but you have forgotten one. You fear that you will never take the kingship, and you fear that you will find yourself trapped in it should you regain your place." A small smile touched Gandalf's lips. "Yes, I know of this one. You fear that you will be trapped, and also that all your friends will leave you, in one way or another. It takes much time and effort to gain your trust, you know, you stubborn Ranger! And it takes very little time for someone to die. That is what you fear most, I think. And it is why you agonize over this.

"Yes, Aragorn, I know my death will come sooner rather than later, but it is not just yet. And should my time come, you need to let go of whatever guilt you feel and concentrate on what you are doing. Regardless of my death, Frodo needs to get the Ring to Mount Doom. Promise me that whatever happens, you will see this through."

Tracks of tears trailed down the Ranger's face, and his eyes glinted in the starlight. "I promise, Gandalf. I will get the Ringbearer to Mount Doom, should you fall."

***TBC... but only if you review!

Read and review, please! Feedback is always an amazing motivation to post more chapters, you know! *hint, hint* I'll give you lots and lots of things to contemplate, I promise… but only if you review! It's not hard, and it'll only take a minute or two. Honest, you don't have to be a member of the site to tell an author what you think. You don't even have to leave your name: I'll be just as happy with an "anonymous" reviewer as with a named one. Truly, it's the fact that people read it that keeps the authors going…