One - Mt. Doom, Alternate Universe

Author: Ash
Disclaimer: Just borrowing these characters because Tolkien's world is so inspiring and wonderful and well, they just won't leave my mind! This story is just me working out what might have happened at Mt. Doom.
Category: Mt. Doom, alternate universe


He was still standing...on the edge, feeling the searing updraft against his face like bellows feeding a fire. It smote his face, blistered his skin and burned orange fire behind his eyelids. How long had he been here? What was he waiting for? He was gasping in molten air. The fire was everything.

Gradually, he became aware of someone else...another presence with him, colder and closer than the fire. He could not see it as he opened his gritty eyes- could not see much of what he expected to see, just watery flames and distant, ashen walls. He knew his eyes were too weak and unequipped to see the reality of whatever was about to happen. He closed them. He'd learned long ago not to trust what they saw.

It was important, the standing here, the way he was waiting. And he knew that he was here to do something, but the heat from the flames had driven everything but death from his mind. Was he still alive? He must be, if he could still feel this much pain. But how much longer could he last? He was determined to find out.

Then there was a sudden cold touch on his agonized skin, a blissfully delicate touch that hovered above his cheek. His eyes opened and saw nothing, but he gasped as it caressed him gently. His eyes slowly closed again as the icy finger glided down his throat and into the fabric of his shirt, lightly pulling and teasing at it.

A breath of cold air blew over him, severing the greedy flames from his body for an instant. He was lost in the lingering sensation of healing, cooled skin. He shuddered in relief even as the heat smote him again, his now bared chest blazing raw. He gritted his teeth in agony, the flames all the worse for the brief respite. Why didn't they just consume him?

Then another breath of chill air touched him and the raw skin quivered under its touch. Icy fingers grasped his shoulders and the almost unbearable pleasure bore him down to the ground. The cold touch slid over the seared skin of his chest, down the clenched muscles of his stomach and still further down until the startling path was clear to him. Fear overcame the haze in his mind and he grasped at the air- and caught something.

He caught- not flame, but flesh- one cold, soft hand within his own. Suddenly, the heat and pain fled from his body. He kept his eyes closed for a blessed moment before opening them cautiously. There was a dizzying moment of fading flames and darkness. Then slowly, the soft glow of his surroundings came into focus, bringing a long-dead memory blooming back to life.

Frodo choked back a sob. It was his bedroom in Bag End, in the small hours of the morning, with moonlight streaming full through the window as it did during the long winter months. He drank it in with wonder and felt his body ease slowly against the softness of his bed. All of his muscles had been clenched so hard that they ached.

"What is it, Frodo?" He froze- suddenly feeling the faint breath of a smile on his cheek and the slight incline of his mattress. "Did I startle you?" There was soft, incredibly soft skin nestled close against his arm and he turned to trace the moonlight as it smoothed over the curves and planes of a very female body next to him. Slowly, her hand pulled free of where he held it and she shifted against him. Rising up out of the shadows of his pillow was a beautiful, familiar face. Frodo started.

"Posey Pondsorrel!" She stared at him and then her lovely features slid upward in a playful smile, the brown eyes curving into laughing half-moons.

"You haven't called me that in a long while, silly hobbit. You must have been treading deep paths in your dreams tonight."

Had he been dreaming? It seemed so- a painful dream about something of great importance. Or so it had seemed at the time. Dreams are often like that...mazes of meandering thought that draw you through barren wastelands of wondering to stand before fiery chasms of contemplation. It can be so difficult to-

"Frodo, what's wrong?" Frodo blinked and looked over at Posey blankly. For a moment, he had seen the wastelands and the chasm, and tasted ashes on his tongue.

"I don't know." Something felt wrong, terribly wrong. The effort to make his mind work logically was almost painful. Perhaps he was ill. A light touch on his forehead arrested his thoughts. Posey had shifted even closer and Frodo was excruciatingly aware of her unclothed state. He stopped her hand on his chest. "Posey- no." He pushed her hand off and sat up. His shirt fell completely open and he pulled it closed, disconcerted. "I must apologize for whatever circumstances led to this... situation." Posey sat up and pulled away from him. "This is not..." Frodo began to button his shirt, searching for the right word. He could not find it. His mind moved wearily, as if there were a great burden upon it.

"Why are you speaking like that? I only wanted you." Her voice was confused, innocent. Frodo turned to see her slowly pulling the sheet up to cover herself. Blond curls tangled over hunched shoulders; the brown eyes no longer smiled in the moonlight. He wanted to study her response and why it didn't seem to fit with the situation, but found himself lingering over the wetness of her delicate mouth, the curve of her bare shoulders and the smooth, golden thighs that peeked out from beneath the sheets.

"Good heavens," he murmured, finally wrenching his eyes away. "You should go, Posey."

"Go where?" she whispered.

"To your home," he added with quiet resolution. "You family must be concerned by your absence."

"Home?" Frodo looked over at the outrage in Posey's voice. "Who do you take me for, some servant lass who's seduced her way into your bed?" Her round cheeks flushed angrily. "I am your wife, Frodo! I will not be ordered out of my own bedroom."

The room tilted dizzily and Frodo put a steadying hand out on the bed beside him. Married? How was it possible? He heard the small angry huffs of breath Posey made as she got off the bed. Frodo stood and took a few steps away. He couldn't think so close to her. He had memories of Posey Pondsorrel, of course, from back almost as far as he could-

Frodo froze. He couldn't find them- the memories. Instead, a vile, blank darkness lay in his mind. There should be parties and laughter and good things. And Posey. His memories had been burned into black ashes by the-

"Oh, I'd like to see what my father would do if I came home crying tonight." Frodo jerked around to see Posey tying her robe shut and muttering to herself angrily. "He'd be back up here before you could say `jack rabbit.'"

Frodo watched her a moment, breathing easier now that she was now covered. "Something is wrong with me," he whispered, not really meaning to say it out loud.

She stopped moving and stared at him. "I think you may be right. What is it, Frodo? What's happened?"

"I can't remember." His gaze searched the room as if for clues. "There's so much I can't remember. And I'm forgetting something very important. I think."

"It was just a dream, Frodo, whatever it was." Posey walked closer, her arms tucked around herself tightly. "Just forget about it and come back to bed. Maybe it will make more sense in the morning."

"A dream," he repeated, trying to make it seem right. But it didn't. His mind went back to the puzzle. What was it that he'd forgotten? Then like a ray of sunshine, a thought burst through the dark, heavy haze in his mind. It was a name. "Sam. Where is Sam?"

Posey's delicate brow wrinkled. "Samwise Gamgee? You're worried about Sam?" Posey walked the few remaining steps over to Frodo with a small smile on her half-moonlit face. "He's fine. He's home with his wife, hopefully not giving her fifty gray hairs the way you are me, dear heart."

"His wife?" Frodo said faintly.

"Yes, you ninny!" Her smile faltered a bit, but she went on. "He's been married over a year now and he and Rosie are perfectly suited for each other. Of course, little Frodo might be keeping them up a little bit at night just now, but I don't think Sam's bothered by that. I've never seen a man take to fathering the way he has." Frodo took a step back, barely managing to stay upright. Posey's eyes remained on him. "You don't look as if you remembered any of that."

"I don't." A film of tears covered his eyes. It was all gone. He loved Sam; he knew it, but he couldn't even picture his face.

"Next you'll be telling me that you don't remember our wedding, either." Frodo stared at her, unable to deny it. Her face crumpled. "How could you forget? It's only been six months. What is wrong with you, Frodo? I don't like you like this." Her eyes pleaded with him until he could hardly stand it. He turned away and strode out into the dark hallway. "Where are you going?"

"There have to be papers, records of all of this," he said as he walked, mostly to himself. With every step he became more confident. If he was married to Posey, there should be proof. The feeling of wrongness was beginning to saturate his mind. Frodo shook his head slightly and turned to enter the study at Bag End. It was awash in filtered moonlight, facing the same direction as Frodo's bedroom. The familiar furnishings and the sweet smell of old books comforted him a bit. He turned to his desk in the corner but stopped up short, staring at a strange but recognizable shape against the wall. He tried to pull the word from his sluggish mind.

"A cradle," he finally whispered. Frodo walked towards it as if in a trance. The strong, clean lines of the dark wood were expertly shaped, and a name came blessedly easily to his mind. He smiled.

"Sam carved it for the baby," Posey interjected into his thoughts. "He brought it over two days ago." Frodo's smile widened. Of course it had been Sam. Then he froze. He turned to the small, still figure behind him in the doorway.

"The baby?"

"Yes, we're going to have a little one. Probably at the end of Autumn." Frodo couldn't breathe. "You used to be happy about that, though I hardly know what to expect from you now." He walked to Posey without actually feeling the ground under his feet and stopped just in front of her.

"You're child?"

Posey's mouth pursed in a grim line and sparkling tears swam in her eyes. "Yes. Our child." Posey slid one hand gently over her stomach and down beneath it, pulling the fabric of her silken robe taut. Frodo could now see that she was rounded with child. He reached out but paused. She looked up at him and nodded.

He licked his dry lips and reached out to slowly place his right hand over the soft roundness of her belly. Heat warmed him under the thin fabric- and life. It felt more real than anything he'd felt in a long time. There was no movement under his hand, but life was blossoming there- his child- his son, or daughter. No- he suddenly knew- it was his son.

An image filled his mind- a red-cheeked, pudgy child with bright blue eyes that smiled in half-moons from under a fistful of black curls. His son. Frodo felt wetness bathe his cheeks. His arms ached to hold him. The image burned itself deep within the darkness of his mind, bringing new hope to him. All would not be lost. No matter what happened now. Life would go on, in the form of his son. Frodo closed his eyes and breathed in the first hope-filled breath he'd taken in a long time. It made him weary, blessedly weary.

"Frodo, where is your wedding ring?" Frodo blinked his eyes open to see Posey frowning down at his hand as it rested on her belly. "Why did you take it off, Frodo?"

He raised his right hand and stared at it. "I don't know. I don't remember. Wait-" He slipped his hand inside his shirt to feel cold metal strung within a warm band of precious gold. Frodo frowned. He lifted the chain over his head and held the ring in his hand.

"Silly hobbit, were you that afraid that you might lose it?"

Frodo nodded slowly. Yes, he had felt that it should not be lost. The price would be too high, too- "Well, put it on now, you ninny. Your hand looks all wrong without it."

Frodo unclasped the chain and slid the ring off. It felt light as a feather and warm against his skin, but it was the beauty of the ring that held his attention. He turned it in his fingers lightly, watching the moonlight shift and spin over its surface. It was rich with color and importance and everything else seemed dull in the blanched room. He held the ring in front of the third finger on his right hand, the finger that was said to be bound to the heart by direct bloodflow. And there it would bind him to Posey and to his child, his unborn son. A smile touched his lips and he moved to slide the band on. Then he paused. His hand pulled away.

"Why aren't you putting it on, Frodo?" Posey was across the room now, her tone and eye full of surprise. She was so far away. Had he moved? "Don't you love me? I am a part of you, a part you cannot deny."

"I know. I know you are," he said quickly, feeling her words resonate deeply inside him. "I'm putting it on right now." He moved his hand again toward the Ring, this time feeling an opposition already in place. He struggled against it- against himself, he suddenly understood- resenting the reticence that seemed to spring from nothing he understood. How could he want to put it on so desperately and yet not want to put it on at the same time?

A strange murmur began in his mind- snatches of foreign words that chanted ever louder around him. The rhythm began to pound through his body like a drumbeat. And with each vibration, ripples of thirst, hunger, and pain passed through him. Each beat put him back in that world- the ashes, the fire, the chasm and the fall- the not-real world.

No! There was only Bag End around him. The fire was not real. He ignored the pain. And yet- somehow that world held the key to his questions, to all that he had forgotten. Frodo closed his eyes in a desperate attempt to hold the twin realities in his mind- the one visible, the other, a phantom.

"Frodo!" With an audible snap, his thought converged again, and he was back in Bag End- looking at Posey. Her face was pale with grief. "That is why you took it off. You don't want me anymore. It wasn't because you were afraid of losing it. Oh, what will I tell our child?" Guilt flooded Frodo. He only wanted his wife, his son- his home. Once more he lifted the ring, setting his jaw. This time, he would put it on. Again a whisper came to him, and he steeled himself against it.

But this time soft, gentle words met his ear. Though he tried, his ravaged mind could not comprehend them. They seemed to repeat themselves several times as he listened in wonder to words as clear as crystal and as pure as starshine. So foreign was this beauty to him that he found himself weeping without knowing why. But finally, one of the smallest, brightest words drifted down as slowly and gently as a feather and he found that he knew it.


Frodo felt his mind clear. He shuddered as the grip of desperation and folly left him. "Sam," he whispered through the heat growing around him. "He came with me. He carried me." Frodo swallowed painfully. "I cannot put it on," he whispered. This was the something he had forgotten. This was what was wrong- the One Ring still in his grasp. His misery was thrust back upon him and there was heat and pain and thirst without end.

The world around him cracked in two, in a blinding, deafening, crimson flash that quaked the rock under his feet. Then he was thrust into sweaty, choking darkness. Frodo was struggling to simply regain his senses. A vortex of winds started to howl, grasping and pulling at him. He curved his body around the Ring and held onto it with all the strength left to him. His gaze was drawn upwards to where the darkness was slowly being swallowed- swallowed by a raging wheel of flame.

Frodo could not draw his burning eyes away. His gaze passed in the dark rim of the inner circle, where all of life was being drawn in, then passed through the flames of the middle where it was consumed and sent out of the fiery flares of the outer circle, sent out to do his will. Frodo, driven to his knees, whispered the one name his memory still held. "Oh. Sam."

Then a voice, sweet like a breath out of the past, came wafting to him on a gentle breeze. "Frodo, it's okay." As it blew by, the image of the wheel was wiped away. He blinked. It was all gone - in an instant. He was in Bag End and there was Posey still in the doorway. Frodo sucked in a deep, steadying breath and stood wearily. There was that feeling again. He was forgetting something. His gaze went back to Posey. She was lit all around by sumptuous, draping moonlight highlighting her form under the thin robe. Frodo stood transfixed, at a loss to understand the delicious sight of her.

"It's alright- you don't have to put the ring on." She smiled and walked to him slowly. One hand slid along the belt of her robe, untying it as she walked. Frodo's mouth went dry. Posey held her arms back and let the fabric slide down her shoulders, baring the rounded curves of her golden body dripping with moonlight. He'd never seen anything more beautiful and awakening desire flooded him. "I know you belong to me. Just come be with me and you'll remember it all- the wedding, our first nights together, even Sam's wedding and his son being born." Posey stood before him, sliding one hand up his arm and laying it to rest on the hand that was closed tight in a fist. "Our child needs his father, Frodo. You know that better than anyone."

Frodo's heart clenched at her words, but was overrun by extreme need pulsating through every vein in his body. It terrified him. He was thirsty and she was water. He was starving, and she was food. She was home, safety, promise and hope to him. She was his life and...precious to him. He blinked. Wait- he was forgetting something.

"No, Frodo, no," Posey breathed and laid a small, cool hand on his chest. "Don't try to remember without me. There are only dark memories that way. You have to let me help you. If you want, I can take the Ring, and hold it for you until you decide what you want to do. Then your hands will be free for...other things."

The Ring. Yes, he remembered It. He opened his fist, looked back down at the ring and hated it. He could not put It on. That was all he knew. And he could not cast It from his hand. But, he looked up at the beautiful face before him- all he need do is allow her to hold it for him And then memories- of home, of love and- he choked back a sob- Sam. A Sam not-starving, not-thirsting and pained as he suddenly saw him in his mind- but whole and happy.

Grief, need, desire, love and duty surged within him, all melding into a tide of want that was still somehow held in check by an iron will. Fierce emotion battled fiercer determination. Frodo was suspended in turmoil, locked in a maddening circle of reason and need- suspended and motionless. Posey's small, soft hands crept over his own as if she was completely unaware of the travail of his soul. His hand was trembling. She slipped her fingers inside his. He felt like he was coming apart.

"I need water," he found himself saying to her breathlessly.

"I know." She looked up with reassurance, then turned her attention back to his hand.

"I'm hungry."

She nodded. "There is plenty to eat here." She didn't understand.

He stared at her, his gaze capturing all the beauty of her face. "I think I'm going to die," he added quietly.

"You are safe with me." She looked up and her gaze pierced his own. The strength in her eyes startled him. "I will keep you alive, as long as you keep me." Frodo watched numbly as she pulled on It gently in his hand. The Ring seemed reluctant to leave. It was heavy, or was it just that his grip had tightened once again? The scent of gardenias and warm skin enveloped Frodo.

"Love, let it go," she whispered. "And then you shall have me for your own, and the whole world besides." The words nearly cut away his breath and his desire came collapsing down upon him. The whole world? Frodo jerked away his hand, but it was already empty. The Ring was gone.

"Posey?" He looked up and saw her standing far away again, the Ring in her hand. A glow seemed to come from her body, from the inside. It grew brighter and brighter until Frodo wanted to shield his eyes. But he couldn't. He wanted to go to her, to be with her, but he was frozen, as still as if he had been turned to stone. He watched her for an eternity, his longing never ceasing.


Frodo twitched. An earthy, gruff voice had broken the spell- Sam! He wanted to call, to answer Sam, but the force held him still. Posey's eyes were no longer on Frodo. They rested on Sam, somewhere behind Frodo, in what he now knew had to be the real world though he could not yet see it. A dark, oily dread grew in his stomach. Posey's bright glory had intensified until it outshone the moon, with rays as bright and hot as the sun, and as red as the Eye of Sauron. She was no longer a hobbit; a fiery messenger of doom was raised up before him, holding the One Ring. The blinding fury of her stare burned away the room around him until it was empty space filled with searing heat.

Frodo senses reeled. His feet were suddenly only inches from the edge of the stone pathway, where empty space leapt off at a dizzying height. But away from him, drifting above the fires, was the terrible spectre of his temptations. Could Sam see her? Then her gaze turned on him and pierced him through as if he were made of clay. Invisible steel bands held a cry of pain in his chest. She spoke, and as she spoke, Frodo felt his own mouth move.

"I have come,' she said. And it was like his own voice had spoken, but yet unlike his voice. The words were large, swollen with pride and power as they cast themselves over the flames and echoed up through the hollow ceiling. "But I do not choose now to do what I came to do." Panic choked Frodo. "I will not do this deed."

In his hand there was a tiny pinprick of ice. Frodo opened his left hand in horror. The fires of Mt. Doom lay before his feet and the accursed Ring still glinted in his hand! It was too late-

"The Ring is mine!" And as she moved, his hands shifted and cold metal slipped over flaming skin.

Frodo disappeared.


It was cold as ice and time passed as slowly as death. He could no longer feel his finger. And the cold was in his hand now, winding through sinew and around bone, changing the flesh in its path. Changing it into what? His hyper senses gave him ample information, documenting each small particle of his body as it froze bloodless, but he still didn't know to what form he had been changed. A numbness was spreading behind the cold. Tendrils of ice cast out within him, finding purchase in tendons and veins- and heart. A small, slithering tentacle continued to wind its way up his spine, brushing against his mind. Frodo shuddered. The cold began to creep through his mind. Then with a ripping shriek, the icy cords pulled tight within him and his head jerked back in agony. The pain began to fade almost immediately. But in its place was- nothing. He couldn't feel anything. There was no pain or fear, no doubts or questions. He did not think he was breathing. Was he dead?

He opened his eyes, or at least, he knew that he must have because he could see that he was still standing- still at the Crack of Doom. The fire was there, raging before him harmlessly, casting no shadow of warmth on his frigid body. He smiled at its impotence. All the things that had terrified him made no sense now. Why had he been afraid to take the Ring? Boromir had been right. It was power in its very essence. Sauron could never stand up against its might, not when wielded by One who understood its strength, its deviousness, its ability to dominate-

No! With a grinding snap, Frodo jerked his thoughts back to himself. I do not want to dominate-

The cords whipped tight within him again and strained until his mind...broke. Numbness filled him again.

After a long interlude, he opened his eyes again. No time had passed. Time seemed to have no identity to him now. It was useless, used by mortals who measured their paths by the lessening of their powers, who counted their waning years and waited for death or ultimate weariness. But Frodo would not wane. His very being created life, sustained it, furthered it and birthed it. In this very cave, he could create endless variations on any theme he chose. What would be an appropriate venue in which to unfold his domination?

No, domination was not the word. He would not dominate, he would create. Yes, he would create beautiful things. He cast his mind outwards and suddenly, the conical shape of the mountain came into his thinking. He was not alone. Two creatures behind him, one plotting with murderous thoughts. The horrible, vile creature that had betrayed him almost to death once, that suffered him, the Ringbearer, to face horrors and humiliations that-

Gollum! Another grinding snap to bring his mind back. The Ring- from me if-

His mind convulsed and grew still. The very air seemed his own- his possession. It whispered to him, of smells, of movement, of lustful thoughts and greedy hands still behind him. There was rage in the heat and there were tears as well. Tears? A slight shift of thought and he perceived the small form dwarfed by the immensity and power surrounding him. He was drifting back to consciousness, holding by a skein of willpower and...emotion that defined him. But he would not last.

It was the other creature that Frodo watched with interest. The very driving hate of it was fascinating. It moved fast, or so it thought. The wrigglings of its mind were so simple and so carnivorous- easily understood and easily thwarted. As it sped faster in its attempt to overcome, Frodo eased one simple step to the side- and its thoughts went careening toward the emptiness. Flames wrapped themselves around its bony form and licked it to ash. Frodo watched with satisfaction.

The Ring is Mine.

A jump- a scream of movement and then his thought broke in two, pierced in flame and shattered. Every thought reflected red flame; every part of his body knew what death was.


The Red Eye blistered its form in his being, holding him in place and in torment easily, as easily had Frodo had sent Gollum to his death. A wriggling fly, a senseless worm held before the gaping beak of a omnipotent hawk. He was nothing.

The fiery Eye of Sauron melted the ice around his soul and Frodo felt fear again- blinding, paralyzing fear. He latched on it, fed it and felt it and gripped it. It was real. It was him. Deep shuddering breaths entered his frame. With it came pain, but he instantly knew what to do. The Ring was still his and he could try to bend it to his will. He would not last long, but maybe it would be long enough.

Gathering all the force of his mind, he thrust outward against the fiery will of Sauron. The touch of it was evil, and black hate slid over him like a wave. He felt himself failing, falling into hot hate.

Almost immediately, an influx of frigid, frenzied energy soaked through him again, painfully. But it helped. His heart grew cool and his thoughts calmed. Around him, there was a cocoon of imperturbable air and Sauron's will could not pierce it- not yet. Nothing could touch him. Not as long as he held out, as long as the Ring was his. Barad-dûr was still far away, though Sauron's minions grew nearer every second. Frodo felt the fortress of rock around him, the power filling him without effort and the coldness pervading his thoughts. He rested, watching the cool blue of the Ring's power enveloping him.

Eventually, he whispered into the stillness around him. "Posey, are you still there?"

"Of course I am. We are One, you and I."

He closed his eyes, and trembled. "Yes, so we are."

"I feel you burning for me."

Frodo shook his head minutely. "Not yet." He licked his lips. "Not yet." He opened his eyes, not surprised to see her before him again, the familiar face beautiful even in desperation.

"No! Frodo- no! You cannot do it. We are one!"

He suddenly wished he could allow the freezing numbness to take his heart again. It would be so much easier. "But there is no other way."

Her brown eyes were inflamed. "You- will- burn."

Did she think to shock him? "Of course. But even more to the point- so will you."

"NO! I will not burn." She backed away from him with a hissing whisper. "I will melt and scatter into endless, powerless dust. But you-" her voice rose until it throbbed in the air around him. "Your skin will blister and bubble and burn and blacken inch by inch. You will die an excruciating death." Frodo swallowed hard. "And a long one, for extending life is one of my greatest gifts."

"You cannot give gifts. You can only give mockery."

"Life is a gift, imbecile!" She slowly drew forward again. Then she reached out her golden hands. "Live and I will be everything to you, give everything to you. But if you are bent on death, I will be your worst enemy."

"You already are."

The silence that followed gave Frodo ample time to feel the approach of the Nazgul, as he felt everything near to him. They were only five leagues away, flying fast. There was a black storm approaching, and beyond that, an even darker battle being fought. If Frodo was to help them, he must hurry.

Then a sultry whisper brought his mind back. "Yes, your friends go to welcome death without you. The rumor of your death has undone the strongest of them. Think of the pain they will endure if you foolishly throw away the very thing they are fighting for."

Frodo quailed, feeling the truth of her words. He could reach out with his mind and see how Aragorn fought calmly, Anduril flaming brilliantly as it struck down orc after orc. But even further could Frodo see, into the darkness of Aragorn's heart, where a black pall had settled. Nearby Legolas and Gimli stood together, fighting stoutly, but without hope. And Pippin, already buried under a crushing weight, torn by grief, the least of his companions able to bear such pain. And Gandalf- Gandalf? Frodo was stunned to realize he yet lived. Yes, Gandalf the White fought there, grief nearly rending his heart in two, waiting for the music that would signal the beginning of the end. Frodo saw their minds, all of them. He saw the damage that the deceitful words of the Messenger had done.

But he knew that the failure- his failure- was the true source of the blackness of their despair. And only by fulfilling his Quest could he give them hope again. He pulled his mind back from the fields, past the screaming Nazgul and back to fire and flames and a small cocoon of peace. Back to It. She had failed to tempt him. He would move forward with his plan.

"Very well. I see you are willing to give them more pain," she whispered in a tone he did not understand. "But will you also give unending pain to the one who will be forced to watch you die- your Sam?" A cry rose from Frodo. The words tore at his heart. He had almost forgotten-

"No. NO!" He stretched out his hand and broke through the fiery circle that pressed in and contained his power. The brilliant blue light shot forth, lifting a small, almost weightless burden. Frodo ignored the pleas and railings from the failing figure in his grasp, suddenly realizing that he had been hearing the choked whisper for some time now.

"Take it off, Master. Please, take it off."
"Oh Sam. My dearest Sam, I am sorry." The words tore his heart again on the way out, so deep was his regret. Farther and farther outward he extended his reach, past the Ephel Duath and the endless muck of the Dead Marshes. He didn't allow his mind to dwell on their hopeless journey, but instead sped his dearest friend to Lothlorien, to Galadriel who awaited their arrival.

As they neared, her power relented, allowing him to pass into her territory as far as Cerin Amroth, the beautiful green mound under the blue sky. Galadriel and her court waited there for them with bowed heads, but Frodo knew her mind. His Ring held dominion over hers but her spirit bristled underneath. Yes, he could use the throbbing power at his command to overthrow her and take her land, but there was no desire in him to do it. He desired only an end to come, and come quickly.

She wondered at his mind and bowed yet again before his presence. "I would have not had you take this road, Frodo-Lord, but I dared not intervene more than I did. We all await your command." This time there was no bristling, no divided mind in her. She knew now where his path lay.

Frodo turned his mind to his friend, now laying dirty and broken and still, cradled within his power. Above them, the great trees of Lorien swayed and bowed in an endless murmuring song. "Farewell, Sam. May your song be told all the long years of your life, and forever afterwards. And may they all understand how great your role was in the downfall in the Lord of the Rings."

"It shall be so, Frodo."

Frodo didn't acknowledge her words. He swept gentle thoughts over Sam's form, and smiled to see him now clean and mended again. It would take time and food and water to heal him completely, but the blood, cuts and bruises were gone. Frodo wished he could take the painful memories as well. He sighed one final breath of love and regret over Sam's still form, and then withdrew. He contracted his power, past the battle, the Nazgul approaching Orodruin and the circle of flame that hemmed him in.

He was doomed- trapped by Sauron, and now- alone. Posey was silent. "Sam will not have to watch me now. He will be alright."

"He will never be alright," Posey spat out. "Not without you." Fresh tears of futility filled Frodo's eyes, one of which could drown all the fish of the sea. Who could turn back time? Who could heal a heart? That was the only power he desired now, and it was the only one he did not have.

"And yet, he will have to do without me." He took a deep breath and dried away his tears. "Come, Posey, the vultures draw near. It is time to die."

She took his hand and froze him to the bone. Her chill hatred spread through his body like venom. With it came a flood- a flood of the images he had been denied for so long. Memories tumbled over one another as they were restored to him- a last temptation from the Ring.

He saw Pippin as a child, then a tweenager, now crushed and helpless, needing healing from Frodo's hand. Merry was in pain in Minas Tirith, and the memory of his twentieth birthday party and one night of happy mischief in the warren of Brandybuck Hall filled Frodo's mind. He recalled Aragorn's gentle words and flaming sword, and his nobility and the many kindnesses that had warmed Frodo's heart. Then he heard Legolas' song at the beautiful Nimrodel and saw the elanor on the grass before they came to the city of the Galadrim. And he saw Gandalf- their first meeting in the woods on the edge of Hobbiton, his gray beard standing out like a flag of sheep's wool to the very young Frodo. The wonder in his mind came back so easily at the twinkle in Gandalf's eyes. And Bilbo, welcoming him to Bag End for the first time, then celebrating their next birthday together and the joy of hearing more details to his stories by the firelight. Bilbo again, now old and needing him, feebly waiting by the fire in Rivendell, for someone who would never return. Finally images of Sam- reciting his poem at the foot of the Trolls, standing solidly to defend Frodo before the keen eyes of Faramir, and lending his warm, comforting presence to Frodo on the very Stairs of Cirith Ungol, talking of stories and legends to ease their troubled minds.

But those memories did not tempt Frodo.

They strengthened him.

He would save them. He would do this deed for them, that their lives would not be lived out under the dominion of evil. He held them all firmly in his mind. They were his weapon, staving off the last raging screams of the One Ring in his mind. They helped him take those last, those hardest steps toward doom. Without hesitation, Frodo stepped off the precipice and hurtled into searing heat. The burning fall seemed to take an eternity...

And a last blast of power went forth from his hand, blistering through the red flames of Sauron and the crowding Nazgul. It arched over mountains, resting half of its power over the Pellenor. A cloud of blue flame seared the sky and held there, hovering. The battle halted, but of all, only Gandalf began to hope again. He cried aloud that the tide would soon turn and all should wait on the fate of evil. And as a last dark scream of evil sundered the sky, the dark hordes of orcs and men fell into disarray. A gentle blue rain began to fall. Gandalf wept silently and all paused to look up in wonder.

In Rivendell, a dream came to Bilbo. It seemed that he stood in the rolling hills of the Shire, looking for Frodo. For some reason, Frodo had hidden, as he used to when he was just a child come to visit. Bilbo smiled, and called to him. He could feel Frodo's joy all around, as if it would burst upon him the second he was discovered. Bilbo was just about to call out that he was too old for hide and seek when a shadow fell over him. He looked up in confusion. A strange cloud had invaded his dreams. Slow and mild was the storm that came to blow over him, but he found that he was weeping with the blue rain, wet and bedraggled, in a beautiful field of forget-me-nots.

And in Lorien, there also a gentle rain fell over the green land. It healed all it touched, and no one wondered when the greater part of it gathered around him who had borne the Ringbearer.

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