a/n: Hey everyone!  Trilliah again!  :) Sorry it took me so long to get this chap up.  *winces*  I tend to be bad about that, huh?  I'm trying to do better, really I am!  Anyway, here 'tis, as promised: the last part of Cirith Ungul.  I had a wonderful time writing it with Mish, and I hope you guys have enjoyed reading it.  Thank you for your reviews!  Bon voyage!

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"You cursed peaching sneakthief!  You can't do your job, and you can't even stick by your own folk.  Go to your filthy Shriekers, and may they freeze the flesh off you!  If the enemy doesn't get them first.  They've done in Number One, I've heard, and I hope it's true!"

          Frodo sat frozen, hidden from the sight of the Orc as he screamed at his companion, who loped away across the barren landscape, headed back towards the tower.  The other Orc soon stood, grumbling, and hurried away; then, and only then, did Frodo breath easily.

Next to him, Sam sat back with a barely audible sigh of relief.  He glanced at Frodo, placing one hand over his chest as if to calm his heart.  Frodo closed his eyes, listening to his own heart pounding in his chest.  That was too close…those orcs had very nearly discovered them.  He opened his eyes again and cast his gaze heavenward.  Even though he couldn't see the stars, he took great comfort in knowing they were up there, somewhere, above the stifling cover of black dust and shadow.  It seemed someone had been watching out for them.

It was two days now since they'd escaped the tower.  Frodo'd had to abandon his orc-mail; he was just too weak, and the weight of the ring was more than enough.  He almost smiled as he recalled Sam's words when he'd admitted how much the weight had been dragging him down.

*"Bless you!  I'd carry you on my back, if I could.  Let it go then!"*

Frodo had smiled then, knowing Sam really *would* have carried him, if he'd asked it.  Almost unconsciously he slid a little closer to his friend.  Sam glanced at him, eyes wide in wonder.

"Well, I call that neat as neat," he breathed, finally breaking the silence.  "If this nice friendliness would spread about in Mordor, half our trouble would be over."

"Quietly, Sam," Frodo whispered.  "There may be others about.  We evidently had a very narrow escape, and the hunt was hotter on our tracks than we guessed."  He shuddered at the prospect of being captured again—he couldn't have borne it, he simply *couldn't* have.  And this time Sam wouldn't be able to come to his rescue.  After a moment he spoke again. "But that is the spirit of Mordor, Sam; and it has spread to every corner of it.  Orcs have always behaved like that, or so all tales say, when they are on their own.  But you can't get much hope out of it.  They hate us far more, altogether and all the time.  If those two had seen us, they would have dropped all their quarrel until we were dead."

          Sam sighed and nodded.  After a moment of silence, he said, "Did you hear what they said about that gobbler, Mr. Frodo?  I told you Gollum wasn't dead yet, didn't I?"

Frodo looked at him.  "Yes, I remember.  And I wondered how you knew."  He shifted and settled back against the boulder they sat beneath.  "Well, come now!  I think we had better not move out from here again, until it has gone quite dark.  So you shall tell me how you know, and all about what happened.  If you can do it quietly."  He gave his friend a wry look, knowing how worked up he could get at times, and what it did to the volume of his voice.

Sam looked sheepish.  "I'll try, but when I think of that stinker I get so hot I could shout."

          Frodo smiled, and took Sam's hand in his own.  "Try, then, Sam," he said.  "For I must admit I am quite curious.  I didn't know what had become of me, or of…of you."  He choked a moment as he remembered his fears in the tower, but quickly regained control over his emotions.  Sam *had* rescued him; he'd not abandoned him, or been hurt himself, so why was Frodo still getting so worked up over what the tower Orc had sneered at him?

          *He apparently didn't care for you that much anyway, the way he left you lying there on the ground like that…*

          He shook his head harshly to clear it of the voice.  Sam glanced at him, concern written on his features, but Frodo smiled again.  "Pay me no mind, Sam," he said.  "Come, tell me what happened."

          Sam nodded, breaking Frodo's gaze and staring at their interlocked fingers instead.  "What's the last thing as you remember, sir?" he said.  "That might be the best way to start."

          Frodo frowned, recalling.  "I remember…the tunnel.  That horrid web…sting cutting through the threads.  We were free, weren't we?  I was running to the pass…and then you weren't there, and I…I didn't know what had happened to you, and I wanted to go back and find you but then I heard your voice, and…the next thing I knew, there was a searing pain in my neck, and I was out cold.  Then I awoke in the tower, surrounded by orcs."

          Sam nodded.  "It were that Stinker, Gollum," he gritted.  "He betrayed us.  He was with *her*, somehow; they're alike in some way, I think, and he led us right to her."

          Frodo frowned.  "Her?"

          Sam nodded again.  "Shelob.  That great creature who laid that web.  I don't very well know how she got ahead of me; there are more ways out of her lair than we knew, I reckon.  Anyhow, I yelled at you to look out, but before I could do anything else I was attacked from behind."

          Frodo frowned.  "Gollum?" he sighed.

          Sam nodded, and Frodo's gaze followed Sam's, staring at their clasped hands.  He had certainly made quite the mistake, deciding to trust in that slinking—

          "He attacked me," Sam said again, "and I didn't get to you in time.  By the time I'd fought him off and he'd scampered away, I was so worked up over him I nearly followed when he ran.  Then I remembered you, and I returned as quick as I could, on my honor, sir, but…I was too late.  She'd stung you, and bound you tight.  Had I been but a few moments later I believe she would've had you in her lair, and all would have been lost.  As it happened…it were a very near thing."

          Frodo frowned.  "But Shelob, Sam.  How did you get me away from her?"

          Frodo was surprised when Sam blushed.  "I…well, I attacked her," he said, shrugging. 

Frodo stared at him.  "You…*attacked* her?"

          Sam nodded, his blush deepening.  "Aye, sir," he said.  "I know it was a might foolish of me, but…what else was there to do?  Though it was mostly a piece of luck that I was able to reach Sting, and that I had the Star-glass; she didn't care for them none, make no mistake."

          Frodo was still staring, his jaw slack.  "You…*attacked* her?" he asked again.

          Sam looked up, perplexed at Frodo's amazement.  "Well…aye," he said.  "Mr. Frodo, what are you on about, if you don't mind my asking?"

          Frodo shook himself.  "I…oh, I…Sam, must you even *ask*?  Listen to you!  You *attacked* that brute?  And you won?  How?"

          Sam shrugged one shoulder.  "Well, sir, like I said, it was mostly the work of the elves as did it," he said, unable to meet Frodo's gaze for his embarrassment.  "She didn't like Sting none, to be sure.  She tried to crush me, but I held up the blade and she…well, pinned herself on it.  How do you like that, now?  Then the lady's Star-glass did the rest; it hurt her eyes to look upon, being such a fair thing as it was, and her being so foul.  She retreated.  I don't know where she went, nor did I care to follow.  You…"

          He broke off abruptly.  Frodo glanced at him, concern growing at the sudden pallor of his skin and the shallowness of his breathing.  "Sam?"

          Sam drew a deep shaking breath.  "You…you were bound in that horrible web," he whispered, his gaze never leaving the ground.  "She'd put her poison into you, and you were so still…so pale and quiet.  I freed you, but you wouldn't move, and you didn't answer me, and I…I…"

          Frodo was alarmed when he realized Sam was weeping quietly.  "Sam?" he cried softly, concern filling him abruptly.  He drew Sam's other hand into his own and held them tightly.  "Sam, what is it?"

          Sam raised his face but closed his eyes, tears still slipping silently from behind his eyelids.  "You were still," he said, his voice suddenly flat.  "You were so still, Frodo; so pale, unresponsive.  I called to you, again and again, but you didn't move, and you were so cold, and I couldn't feel your heart…Frodo…I believed you were dead."

          Frodo gasped, stunned, the revelation taking it's time to sink in, even as Sam continued to speak.  "I didn't know what to do," he was saying.  "I knew what I should do, but…oh, Frodo, it was hard," he whispered, anguished.  "I didn't want to go on, not without you.  I…I couldn't bear just *leaving* you there, but I didn't know what else I *could* do and you were…you…" he broke down then, his face crumpling as he bowed his head and shook with silent sobs.

          Frodo gathered him into his arms immediately.  Together, they wept silently for some minutes, unable to do anything else.  Frodo could not help the swelling of joy within him.  *He *does* care, he does, he does…he didn't abandon me, he did what he thought was right, and it *was* right, at that, if I had died he *would* have had to go on…*

          When they'd regained control, Frodo drew away.  "I didn't know," he whispered.  "They said…the orc who questioned me, he knew about you, knew I hadn't been alone.  They said…" he broke off suddenly, pain swelling again at the mere thought of what the orc had told him.

          Sam tilted his head.  "Said what, Frodo?"

          Frodo closed his eyes and leaned against his friend, resting his head on Sam's shoulder.  Sam drew a comforting arm about Frodo's shoulders, and after a moment Frodo found his voice again.  "They said it was obvious my companion hadn't…cared for me, the way he left me…left me lying on the ground like that," he whispered. 

          Sam stiffened.  "Surely you didn't believe them." 

          Frodo gulped.  "Oh, Sam, I didn't want to, but…but I didn't know, I wasn't sure…you were gone, but they hadn't taken you themselves, that was certain…I was afraid," he finished in a whisper.  "Afraid for you, afraid for Middle Earth…and afraid they were right."

          Sam released him suddenly and drew around to face him, placing strong hands on either of Frodo's shoulders.  "Look at me," he said, his voice quiet and very serious, and Frodo raised his eyes.  "I want you to forget right now everything that orc told you.  He was trying to hurt you, and a job he did of it, to be certain.  But sir…what he said, it's just not true, not any of it.  So don't you believe it.  I love you, Frodo; and nothing can change that.  I wouldn't have left you if I hadn't been so certain…"

          Frodo reached out with a trembling hand to brush at Sam's tears.  Sam leaned his cheek into Frodo's palm, eyes closing as his brows drew together, his expression one of quiet dismay.  "Oh, Sam," Frodo whispered, not knowing what else to say. 

          "But I did leave you," Sam whispered back.  "I can't say as that ain't true enough.  But I never would have, if…if I…"

          Frodo drew Sam's head to his shoulder.  "I know," he whispered.  For several long moments they sat in silence, until Sam's anguished voice reached Frodo's ears, sounding as though he were talking to himself though he addressed Frodo.

          "I left you…I did.  I promised I wouldn't and I did, and you were tortured for my stupidity.  Oh, Frodo…I'm so sorry, but I didn't know what to do!  What else could I have done?"

          Frodo took Sam's hand in his own.  "Plenty," he whispered, but when he saw Sam flinch he hurried to explain.  "You could have left me for good," he said.  "You could have left me to them and taken the ring yourself.  Or you could have claimed It."

          Sam looked up suddenly, protest clear on his face.  "Oh, sir…no!  I couldn't have left you, sir, I'm nothing without you!  And I *couldn't* have done this on my own."

          Frodo smiled slightly.  "You still could have claimed It, Sam," he whispered.  "There are many who would have."

          Sam shook his head vehemently.  "No, sir, begging your pardon, sir, but I *couldn't* have.  It's not worth that, sir.  You're so much more important to me than that…that *thing*…" he waved his hand at Frodo's breast, where the ring lay hidden under the folds of Frodo's orc-tunic. 

Frodo gave him a shaky smile.  "Oh, Sam…thank you," he whispered, tightening his grip around Sam's shoulders.  For several long moments they were silent, until Frodo suddenly began to chuckle lightly.  Sam looked up at him, curious.  Frodo smiled at him.  "I suppose I was right, Sam," he said quietly. 

Sam tilted his head.  "About what?"

          "I said by the end of this journey you'd be a wizard or a warrior.  And such a warrior you've become!  I still can't believe you *attacked*—"

          Sam shook his head.  "And we're back to this again, are we?" he asked, his tone lightly mocking.  Frodo grinned and shook his head.  "I'm sorry, Sam, I'm just…quite in awe, I must say."

          Sam smiled, but did not blush.  Instead he placed a hand on his master's shoulder.  "I'd do it again, sir," he said quietly.  "Any time."

          Frodo smiled gratefully at him.  "I know, Sam," he whispered.  "I know."

          And, finally, he did.