Frodo stood at the edge of the ancient forge, at the edge of the projection over the bright lava, magic and heat wafting from below in buffeting waves. "THROW IT!" shouted Samwise Gamgee, from the back by the door, held up by Sméagol who himself was barely able to stand against the roar of both forces.
But Frodo did not respond, or throw the ring into the fire. Instead, he stood, transfixed, looking at his burden, dangling from the chain which had kept it around his neck for these so many months.
"THROW IT!" Samwise shouted again, as he tried to stumble his way forward, broken ankle or no.
Sméagol shook his head at the hobbit, a quiet no, and took his support away, gently. The gardener sank to the ground and the creature once known as Gollum crept forward.
Frodo's head sank, as he stared at the ring, its will burrowing into his brain. He heard nothing but the whispers of its power in the roars around him, seducing him, enticing him, promising nothing and everything until the end of time itself, until...
"We know," said Sméagol, his old, broken voice piercing the buffer around the hobbit's mind. He put his hand, gently, on Frodo's back. "I know."
Frodo started, startled, and almost turned his head. "I... my... the ring, it's..."
"It's everything," interjected the oldest of the River Folk. "The precious, it's everything you want, it's everything you ever needed."
"Yes," whispered the entranced halfling.
"It's everything that is, it's everything that ever was. It's all we'll ever want or need."
"Yes," said Frodo, free hand moving towards the chain.
"And it lies," snarled Sméagol, and the hobbit's hand stopped.
"It lies to us, the precious," he said, still snarling. "It always has. It always will. The precious lies. The precious... is false."
The exhausted Ringbearer shook in place, the sane parts of his mind grabbing onto Sméagol's words, desperately, a lifeline, a projection on the side of a cliff he felt himself cascading down, and he held onto those words, tight.
Quietly, the old monster said, "Frodo. Please. Bagginses. Please. It lies. I know.
"Free us both. Let it go."
Frodo Baggins's hand shook, spasmed, and the ring and the chain were cast forward, past the edge of the rock, falling, clinking, against the rock, then down, down unimpeded except for the air of the great chasm, until it hit, hard, landing against the molten rock below. As the ring's inscription glowed ever more brightly, Frodo screamed, howling with the ring as it grew brighter and brighter, absorbing as much and more power and energy than it could ever handle, and as the ring, at last, melted away, all at once, Frodo collapsed, as did Sméagol, sobbing again for his lost precious, until the mountain itself began to shake and erupt, spikes of lava shooting out of the ancient forge's source, splashing against the walls of the chamber.
Samwise dragged himself forward on his broken ankle, grabbing at his Frodo, shouting, "COME ON, FRODO! WE HAVE TO LEAVE!" Frodo looked up in confusion, dazed, broken, but not completely gone, and nodded.
"Help me with Sméagol!" he shouted, driven beyond exhaustion, fraying, as outside, Sauron panicked in his tower, grabbing uselessly at the last strands of the magic which had let him wedge his way back into Middle Earth, one filament at a time, unceasing even as his tower collapsed around him, and he disappeared into the blankness of oblivion.
"Sméagol! Get up!" shouted Samwise. "C'mon! We have to go!" The small, bent, hobbit-like creature looked up, his eyes thick with water, his sobs turning to almost a kind of laughter as he nodded.
"Hobbitses get out! Sméagol will help!" and the three of them dragged themselves and each other outside and upwards, to a long, hard projection of stone, as the rock they'd stood on collapsed behind them and the lava surged forth, covering the mountain, sending fumes and fury and fire all around - but the outcropping they'd chosen by chance kept constant, as the three of them lay panting, exhausted, on the ground, awaiting death.
"It's done," said Frodo, coughing, barely conscious in the bad air. "We did it."
"That we did, Mr. Baggins," said Samwise, pain now the only thing keeping his mind alert, and even that slowly giving way to exhaustion.
"That we did, hobbitses," said Sméagol, smiling a little as the world faded to grey. "That... we did."
Sméagol aged quickly, even faster than Bilbo, once freed of the Ring. Within a a few weeks of returning to the shire, the old creature could no longer walk, and Frodo and Samwise took turns wheeling him around the village, in a special shaded carriage, but more often at night, which the old River Folker preferred. Even now, the sun was often hard to bear, but he'd liked it, as best he could remember, and tried to like it again. He still fished, but now, with a line and hook, like he had all too many years before, and he would still devour his catches right out of the water, insisting this was the "bestest" way of eating, and no one wanted to argue. Samwise still called him "Stinky," of course, and Sméagol never would call Samwise anything but "fat hobbitses," but then, both did so with affection, and a little bit of a smile earned from shared experiences of the worst the world could ever have to offer.
The Hobbit children were a little afraid, at first, of the old creature, but it did not take very much time for Sméagol to discover that they loved riddle games almost as much as he did, and eventually, they came 'round. He dug deep into his memory to find the old riddles of his own childhood, and his own adulthood, before he was taken by the Ring; the many years in the caves had given him time to come up with more than a few of his own riddles as well, and if they didn't all make sense, well, they made sense enough to him, and the younger children in particular found those the funniest.
When he died, and it did not take really oh so very long for him to die, much of the village came out for the funeral. While they did not understand, not really, they knew - as Samwise and Frodo had told them all, repeatedly - that the sad, ugly creature had saved both of their kin, and helped save all of Middle Earth, and while Frodo may be something of an adventurer, and therefore - like most Bagginses, now - a little suspect in Hobbit minds, no one held any such reservations about the stout and dependable Samwise Gamgee. And - all agreed - anyone who saved the life of Samwise Gamgee deserved a good bit of honouring and respect at the end, no matter what else they might've done along the way.
And so they buried him, in the way of the hobbits, overlooking water, in the way of the River Folk, a special addition made to the graveyard just for him, with a stone memorial most unlike a ring or anything shaped like it, because why anyone would curse his grave with a reminder of his torment was a very good question indeed. Instead, it was carved with a frieze of the fall of Sauron's Tower, the end of the tyrant that would be, the end - the victory - he'd help bring about, in the great War of the Ring, a memorial to survival and redemption and triumph over great evil against the very, very longest of odds.
"Gandalf told me, he thought hobbits were unlikely heroes," Frodo said to Samwise, as the service ended, delaying a moment, as the people of Hobbiton turned back towards town. "But that heroes can come from surprising places." He rubbed at the wound from the black blade - it still hurt, at times. "And he knew - somehow, Gandalf knew - that he'd have a part to play, at the end."
"Who can even know what wizards think," said Sam. "Or how. Or why. But you were right about Stinky." He took a deep breath, and exhaled. "S'far as I'm concerned, that's still the most surprising thing I've ever seen, or ever will see."
Frodo smiled, if a bit wanly. "I certainly hope so, Samwise Gamgee."
"So do I, Mr. Baggins," the gardener laughed. "C'mon - there's a wake waitin' for us at the pub. Let's go."
Frodo nodded. It was time. "Rest well, Sméagol," he said, placing the last of the flowers onto the grave. "Rest well."