Frodo collapsed on the ground, his shoulders heaving, his body gasping. "I can't- I can't-" he cried, voice drained as he gasped for breath. He couldn't breathe, the dust in the air weighed heavily on his fragile body.

Sam rushed to Frodo's side and fell to his knees, frantic. He ran his hand soothingly along Frodo's back, he could feel him shaking, gasping, no air was getting in him. "Come on Mr. Frodo, just be calm! Come, now, breathe slow, like me." Sam demonstated slow relaxed sighs. "Come, breathe with me, in, out, in, out."

Frodo coughed and doubled over, weezing, gasping. "Can't- can't-"

Sam spun around and rumaged through his pack, making a good mess of things, his hand finally came around the canteen. He tore off the cork and pressed it to Frodo's lips. "Come now, drink for your Sam."

Frodo took in a few sips and gasped once more. His body began to tremble, slowly breathing, in, out, in, out. "Tha- thank you- S-" He was caught by another coughing fit then settled. "Sam."

Sam nodded shakily and pressed the canteen to his lips again. Frodo took in the water his body so greatly needed, his parched throat screaming for it. He looked up at Sam's weary face as he drank. He saw Sam's eyes stare at the canteen longingly.

Frodo pushed the canteen away, "Drink- Sam-"

Sam just corked the canteen and closed his eyes as if he could not bear to watch his hands put it back in the pack. "I've had some, sir."

Frodo was too out of his wits to answer. The ring gripped his mind so tightly dragging him in and out of terrible dreams. Darkness pulling him ever downward into the depths of despair. A soothing voice numbing him, steeling him of all defenses all his will.

*Just put it on. Slip on the ring. And all of this pain, all of this suffering will be done.*

"No," Frodo whispered.

"Sir?" Sam lifted Frodo to his feet, his body swayed.

*Don't listen to him. He'll bring you back. Bring you back to reality where all there is is pain and your suffering.*

Frodo did not answer either voice. He started walking as if it were an instinct, something pressing him forward, pushing him ever on his quest. Sam followed uneasily, constantly catching Frodo as he slipped. Sam himself did not feel well. His throat was tight and his insides burning. Water, just a sip, but- No! Frodo needed that water more. He could survive, he had to, for Frodo, he had to help him through this. Sam fought thirst and hunger, darkness and despair, exhaustion and hopelessness. Sam could feel his own mind slipping in and out of consciousness, his eyes unfocussed as the world blurred. Water, just a sip, just a little to keep him alive, his body working- No! He fought the urge for just one sip again. How long could he go? Forever if he must. Frodo needed him.

Frodo slipped again, falling to his knees, "I'm sorry Sam."

"Come, Mr. Frodo, your Sam is here."

"It's so dark, Sam. All I need to do- just- just put it on- just-"

Sam saw Frodo's hands tremble, slowly inching towards his neck. He took Frodo's shaking hands in his, the left was deathly cold. He chaffed them trying to bring warmth back into them or stop their shaking, he prevailed in neither. "Shh, alls well, sir. It's alright your Sam is here."

Frodo smiled, "Good dear Sam, I do not deserve you. You can go back. Go on, you do not deserve to stay here, in darkness with this foolish old hobbit, go on back to your Rose. You'll be happy together you know, with little Elanor and- and-"

"Shh, Mr. Frodo, I can't go back, not now. We're here now, and we've still got something to do. The quest isn't finished yet, sir, and I will see you through this."

Frodo groaned as if to protest the thought of going on, "I can't go on, Sam. This is where I lay down the quest. I can't go on. I can't- can't- the ring's call- calling-"

Sam coughed, his parched throat screaming, "N-now, sir, there sir, come now your Sam will help you."

Sam lifted Frodo and leaned him heavily on his side. Frodo's head drooped to rest upon his breast. Sam slung his arm around his shoulders and gripped Frodo about the waist. "Come now, sir, just one step at a time, walk with me."

Sam coughed again but began the journey with strong steps. Supporting his master, light and thin as a willow wand. Sam frowned, "The second we get out of this I'll be sure to feed him up right, get him fatter than he ever was before. I'll get him nice and healthy, better than he was, he was always unnaturally thin for a hobbit." Sam tried to think of the days in Bag-End, drawing open the curtains to let the sun shine in, bright and warm. The sun, he could remember the sun, so long ago, but he could still feel it. Warming his face, beating down on his back as he worked in the gardens. Sam could almost see Bag-End, it was just infront of him, just to walk a little more and you'd be right upon the round, green door. Sam smiled deliriously, almost there, just a little more and he'd be cooking big breakfasts that always made Frodo's face light up in such a way. Sam smiled but was caught by another bout of dry coughing that shook Frodo, dragging Sam back to the harsh reality that was Mordor.

Sam grumbled at his own hallucinations, blaming it on his sleepy, weary mind. The world looked as if it were underwater, was he drowning? Sam's stomach tightened at the thought of water trying to drive it from his mind. But he could see it, all around him, water. The world rippled as if it were just a reflection in a stream and Sam trudged on. He coughed again. The coughs shook his whole body and he could feel his throat scratch until it was raw and then a light salty taste of blood coated his tongue. He tasted it a moment. A liquid! Any liquid! Then he spat foolishly and ignored the rest of the salty blood swallowing it down with a great burning in his raw throat. He coughed again, and again and he forced down the blood but there was nothing else. No sweat or tears or saliva, there was nothing left in his dry body. No water for days and days! He coughed in agony, this time more violently.

Frodo groaned at the disturbance in Sam's stride. Sam tried hard to regain composure but it only brought back another cough that made his throat scratch and bleed all the more. He could go on. Just a little while longer. Frodo needed the water more than him. And the trip back to the stream was gruelling. They needed to keep on the trail. More trips for water would just delay them. Sam gringed at the salty taste that coated his mouth. No he did not need water. He could- he would! go on without it! It was for Frodo, not him.

Sam paused for a moment, his legs almost giving way. He gritted his teeth, determined to go on, he wasn't going to let his master down even if it meant his own death. And that was what he was dragging himself to, thirsty and exhausted, each step left a piece of him behind. Sam was falling apart but he could barely notice, too blind was his devotion to his master. He could go on, he must go on, he would go on.

Frodo murmerred but Sam took it as another dream haunting him and did not question him. Just on and on, he must go on, nothing should stop him, nothing should delay him, he must go on. Frodo murmerred a little more clearly now, "Not- well- Sam-"

"I know you're not well, sir, but just a little while further." They couldn't stop now. They were nearing Mount Doom with every step. Sam winced at the pain each step sent through his body. On and on, he must go on. He feared what would become of him if he stopped, he would never find the strength to go on.

"You- Sam- not well-" Frodo slurred.

"Fine, sir," Sam rasped, his voice drained.

Frodo made feeble attempts to lift his head but he was too weak, "Rest- Sam- you- sick-"

"I can go on," Sam lied.

"Carry you- if- I could- Sam- too- too- weak- need help- Sam- you- you need- "

"Shh, Mr. Frodo, don't waste your energy."

Frodo tried to protest again. Even in his own weakness he could tell there was something terribly wrong with Sam. His steps were getting weaker, he knew that his dear friend could collapse dead any second. Every step was spelling his doom. He needed water, he needed food, he needed rest. Frodo tried again but his head just lolled and he fell out of consciousness once more. And there was the Ring! Ahh only the Ring! That sweet soothing thing that dragged him away and tempted him. Showed him peace and power. Every time it got a hold of him he wondered why he ever fought it in the first place. Frodo smiled and laughed to himself dileriously.

"Yes- precious-" he muttered. Sam was too incoherent to notice, focussing on taking step after step and forcing back his own thirst.

*Look how weak he is! Is this where you place your hope, Frodo? Look how weak!*

"Weak- precious-" Frodo slurred and Sam pretended to hear, nodding slowly.

*He will die, Frodo. And then there is just us. Just us and I can take you away*

"Die?" Frodo finally began to grasp the words he heard and his smile faded. "No," he whispered horsely.

*Oh of course not, master. Yes master Frodo. He doesn't have to is what I meant. You can save him.*

"I know what you meant. And I know your tricks. Now be gone with you!" Frodo's thoughts raged against the venom of the Ring. He finally became aware of Sam again who seemed to have fallen asleep on his feet. He fought for consciousness long enough to wake Sam. But it seemed all too impossible. If he had thought he defeated the Ring, he was wrong. Quickly, like a snake, it struck him and bit into him releasing its venom once more to course through his veins and his mind made a feeble cry of protest as his head lolled again.