The young Asian man pulled back from the console, wiping his brow and replacing his glasses. "I think it's done."
"You sure?" Jay asked. "I don't want a repeat of the last mission..."
"There won't be one," Makes-Things assured her.
"Better not." She raised her eyebrows. "Now skedaddle. And don't wake Acacia—"
Acacia sat suddenly upright, looked around, recognized the alarm, and began methodically cursing things, beginning with Upstairs and continuing through loud noises, Mary Sues, and lack of clearly-defined time in Headquarters all the way to not being a heavy enough sleeper to sleep through a major natural disaster.
Makes-Things' eyes widened to dinner-plate size, and he rushed out of the room.
Jay, a seasoned veteran of ignoring Acacia's curses, looked at the readout. "Wow. Couple of complaints on this one."
"... damn stupid idea, not to make—what are you on about?"
"The alarm. And good morning to you." Jay scanned the words. "Oooooooooooooh my. Oh, deary, dear... have a look."
Acacia headed over to Jay's seat with bad grace, and grumbled as she looked at the readout. "Oh, gods, two of them this time?" She groaned. "Well, at least neither of them falls in love with Legolas... it's a small blessing..."
Jay smiled. "A blue unicorn. Hmm. You a virgin?"
"Rather personal information, don't you think?"
Jay rolled her eyes. "I am. And that's a useful thing to be when hunting unicorns, or haven't you heard?"
"It's still a personal question," said Acacia sulkily.
Jay dropped into a Scottish accent. "Oh, fer the love of Pete!"
"Channeling Shrek, are we?"
"Ooooooooom..." Jay said. "I get a sense of... greeeeeen."
"Stop that," said Acacia. "It's not cheering me up, if that's what you're trying to do. And what are we supposed to do about it, anyway? How do we get there—I don't want a repeat of last time!"
Jay's eyes widened. "Deja vu. Guess what? It be fixed."
"Oh." Acacia considered this for a moment, and added, "Good."
"If you'd like to finish your nap, of course, it's no skin off my teeth."
"There's no skin ON your teeth," said Acacia, who was not in the mood to deal with metaphors. "And I've already said I get the next few Mary Sues. But if we keep having to do these missions just hours apart, I'm complaining to Upstairs. We need to get paid more for this, for a start."
"Seconded, thirded, and written in stone." Jay hit some buttons... she was getting REALLY GOOD at this. Depressingly so. Too much practice. "Lessgo. Our sleeping things are dry, so you can crash when we get there."
"Good," said Acacia vaguely. "We're arriving a good bit before the Sue needs killing, right?"
"Yeah... not a major break in canon, except her existence." Jay considered. "And the fact that she's quarter elf, human, hobbit, and nymph, and I KNOW Tolkien never wrote any such thing as a nymph. And the fact that Merry and Pippin have gotten all the way TO Isengard before the second one shows up... and various other things, like a total lack of Gollum..." Jay blinked. "Screw it. Those are ALL major breaks in canon. But you can certainly afford a nap." Or NO one will be able to stand you.
"Arright," said Acacia, stepping through the portal.
Several hours later, near the borders of Mordor, despite the fact that this would not be most people's choice of rest spot, someone was just waking up.
"Good—" Jay looked at the sky— "afternoonish. Feeling better?"
"I hate magical jetlag," complained Acacia. "But yeah. Where are the Mary Sues right now?"
"One's heading this way with Frodo and Sam... and you don't want to know what she's been doing with Frodo—" Jay checked the words. "And one's in Isengard, where—" she snickered— "the orcs took Merry and Pippin. Heh. Sure."
"Ah. It's movieverse, right?"
"OOOOOH yes. About as bad as the last one."
"At least it's after the Breaking," Acacia said. "We don't have to worry about the more dangerous canonical characters trying to kill us."
"Very true." Jay grinned. "Unicorn-girl is screwed. It's her own fault..."
"They going to come by here?"
"Yup. And I've timed it so she'll be 'cornish. Getting them to stop won't be easy, though."
"A unicorn," Acacia mused. "I think this is going to be one of those missions where we keep souvenirs. I claim the horn."
"I want the pelt. You'll have to be careful—you put a unicorn's horn with poison, it'll turn black."
"Okay..." said Acacia. She considered. "What're you going to use it for, anyway?"
"We could use a throw rug."
Acacia grinned, and the effect, on an orcish face, was more than a little unnerving. "Fun."
"Here, I've got a way to stop them." Jay dug in her pack and produced... nothing. "Here."
"Er... there's nothing there, Jay," Acacia said mildly.
"Someone has a short memory. But, hey, it's your turn to feel like an idiot. Sit down, and chill." Jay went through the motions of stringing something across the trees, going back and forth. "Now, wait."
After a while a unicorn ("Blue," said Acacia, shaking her head. "Flipping blue. Aren't they supposed to be white or something? And it clashes with her eyes. AND her horn."), a clearly-bewitched Frodo, and Sam came through the trees. The unicorn suddenly stopped, thrashing around as if caught in something...
"Ah," said Acacia, suddenly understanding. "That invisible yarn you got last time." Jay nodded. "Very good. Now do you trust your partner?"
"Sure. Um..." Acacia was obviously trying to remember something. "I don't know much about unicorns. If they're immune to poison or it needs some special kind of thing to kill them, tell me now, before I have to go charge her, 'kay?"
"You're going to charge her? WHY? Didn't you ever read any unicorn hunt stories?"
Jay sat on a convenient rock, and waited. The unicorn, now unencumbered by the hobbits (flung off as she'd thrashed) came meekly and laid her head in Jay's lap. "We don't have to charge her, she's a lamb... well, I suppose we do. Arrow through the head should do her, though."
"All right," said Acacia, taking aim. "Aislinn, it is my duty to inform you that you have been charged with disrupting the canon by being a member of a nonexistent species, interfering with the characters of—mainly Frodo, and Sam as well; and being a Mary Sue. Jay, move, or I'll be shooting you in the leg."
Jay tied some yarn to the unicorn's head, and leashed it to the tree. Then, she went over to the hobbits, still stuck in her web, and relieved them of their weapons. "Go for it."
Acacia smiled grimly, and fired. The arrow swished cleanly through the eye, killing the unicorn stone dead.
Acacia beamed. Jay, however, was looking troubled.
"Acacia, did you bring a hacksaw? I know I didn't."
"We can get one from Headquarters before we go after the other one," Acacia said unconcernedly. "Don't you think you should let the hobbits out now?"
Jay turned. The two halflings were looking quite confused, and Frodo more than a little disgusted. "Poor things." She slowly and methodically untangled her yarn, rolling carefully back into its ball.
"Now, let's deal with this whatsitcalled—"
"And then go get the other one."
"Righty, then." Jay sniffed. "She claims to be a 'watcher'—which I doubt, because she has no tentacles. Nor does she look like Anthony Stewart Head..."
"I wonder why Little Miss Sweetness And Light would want to be associated in any way with canonical monsters?" Acacia asked rhetorically. "Come on, let's get back."
Jay hit the remote portal button. "What, the idea of footing it all the way to Isengard doesn't appeal to you? Shock. Shock, I say!"
In less than a minute, they were emerging at the gates of Isengard. "You know?" said Jay. "It's really gorgeous—just a pity about the trees." Acacia winced as Jay's Polaroid was produced.
"We've had a picture session here already, Jay," said Acacia wearily. "We're here to get the other one. Branwyn, I think... yes."
"Uh-huh." Jay drooped. "But it's been changed for this Sue... she's apparently written in a dungeon and torture chamber—that could be photogenic, you know." Jay smiled brightly, with not a hint of sarcasm in her face. She was truly testing her friend's eye-rolling capacity.
Acacia gave her friend an odd look. "If you like pictures of Pippin being poked with—" she looked at the words and burst out laughing— "cars, apparently."
Jay scanned the words for a moment, and burst out laughing as well. "Hot rod poker? I'm impressed. And no bondage pictures, although Pippin is rather cute, in a puckish way..."
"Remind me again," said Acacia, "why we were assigned to be partners."
"Something about stabilizing me and curbing your bloodthirsty tendencies? And something about you imitating Teatime, but I don't see what four-o-clock has to do with anything..."
Acacia had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Anyway. Let's go find this Branwyn person. And ask her some very serious questions about why there are suddenly hot rods in Middle-earth."
Jay made an abortive attempt not to giggle, and started towards Orthanc. "Look, I didn't mean Pippin was cute as in sexually attractive—just... he brings out the maternal in me."
"I have an idea. Drop the subject."
"Now if it was Elrond..."
Pippin and Merry were strung up in chains, in Orthanc's suddenly existent dungeon.
Merry shuddered. "Pippin?" he asked.
"Over here," Pippin said from next to him. "You okay?"
"Fine—we have to get out of here."
"I know—but these chains are unbreakable."
"That's what you think," a female voice said.
A young willowy woman with blue hair slipped out of the shadows, and the chains dissolved in her hands. Then she led them away.
"Having canon characters tortured just so you can play hurt/comfort should be a flogging offense," Jay said grimly.
"It's a killing offense," said Acacia happily. "Although causing intense pain beforehand is tempting."
"You usually do," said Jay. "Look at those two. They aren't energetic enough to protect her from a cotton ball." It was true—and now Jay's maternal instinct (usually reserved for tentacled, scaled, and webfooted creatures) was in full swing.
"Only because it is tempting," said Acacia defensively. "And yeah... these are hobbits, they're supposed to recover quickly."
Jay stepped out in front of the cell door.
"More orcs! They'll try to recapture you!" Blue-hair gasped, moving to protect Merry and Pippin.
"Ah. No. Not really."
"It's you we want, actually," said another orc, this one holding a strung longbow. "Now... gods, I hate these little legalities..." Her voice became rather more monotone, as if she were reciting. "Branwyn Luck, it is my duty to inform you that you have been charged with disrupting the canon by being a member of a nonexistent species—whatever species you are, I'm sure it was never in the canon—interfering with the characters of Saruman and Merry and Pippin, causing events to eventuate for no apparent reason just so you can rescue and comfort the characters involved, and being a Mary Sue."
The other orc turned to look at her. "Events to eventuate...?"
Acacia ignored this. "So. Any last words that aren't meant to be tear-jerking or sentimental?"
"You can do whatever you want to with me... but I'll never let you hurt these two!"
Jay raised an eyebrow. "I thought we'd gone over that? Acy, shoot her."
"Fine by me," said Acacia, and fired. Branwyn didn't even try to dodge.
Jay hefted the body. "I'm afraid to feed this one to anything. It might be poisonous." Merry and Pippin started to flicker, and disappeared entirely, now canonically safe in the woods.
"I think we should get out of here," said Acacia. "Really quickly. We've got rid of the non-canons, and this room isn't canonical. I imagine it will be disappearing soon."
"Yep. Well, we've got pictures to remember it by..." They bounced back to Headquarters long enough to swipe a hacksaw from Makes-Things, and then went back to the corpse of the unicorn.
"Any ideas for what to use it for?" said Acacia brightly, sawing away industriously at the base of the Mary Sue's horn.
"The horn?" Jay asked, wondering who could she could get to skin the thing for her.
"Well... it has healing powers, which would be nice if we run into another Amazonian Sue... it reacts to poison, so you could use it to test your arrows and such..."
"Fair enough. Hah! Got it off." She held up the golden horn triumphantly, then stashed it in her pack. "All right, all yours," she added, pushing the dead equine's head off her lap and standing up.
"Do you think I could get someone canonical to skin it?"
"Who were you thinking of asking?" Acacia wondered. "I'll say this about being Protectors, though, we won't need to pay them. Can't, even; money mysteriously turning up would be a breach of canon."
"Any Rangers in the area? No, there aren't." Jay frowned. "I'll think of something."
"Well, you're carrying it, if we're bringing it anywhere," said Acacia.
"Naturally." Jay consulted the words. "I think we're about done, anyway. Know anyone at HQ who's good with a skinning knife?"
Acacia considered this. "Luxury, in the Department of Bad Slash, I think."
"Oh, good." Jay brightened. "If nothing else, it'll be fun to dump it on her floor and see her reaction."
"Oh, yes," said Acacia, grinning unpleasantly.
"You know it scares me when you get that look," Jay said, a little warily.
"Who cares?" said Acacia. "Come on, back to Headquarters with us. You do know the way to the Department of Bad Slash, right?"
Jay nodded. "It used to get boring between Sue reports. I spent a lot of time wandering around." She winced. "Then a few movies came out..."
"And then the fanfic explosion?" Acacia shrugged. "I wouldn't know, I wasn't hired till after there were movies, remember?"
"It was nice in the old days. A few Harry Potter Sues, some for various TV shows—but they were few and far between." She shook her head. "But this, this is bad."
"Oh well. Come on, let's find Lux."
Jay opened the portal and dragged the equine cadaver through with a grunt.
The room in which they arrived was not any part of the Department of Mary Sues. Two people looked up and blinked. "Merry Christmas," Jay said, dropping her burden on the floor.
"Oooh! My muse!" the blonde girl exclaimed, and got out her taxidermy tools. Her rather punkish partner (blue hair, piercings, and all), just stared.
"HANG ON!" yelled Jay as Lux attached the pump to begin draining its blood. "I want that thing skinned."
"No! My skin!"
Acacia raised an eyebrow. "Hey, we killed it."
"Yes, but I'm a starving artist, and I neeeed it!" Luxury said with a pout. Her partner (among other things) Sean rolled his eyes indulgently.
"Don't," said Jay, less than maturely.
"And you've got a good job HERE. You're not starving," Acacia pointed out somewhat more maturely.
"My skin," Jay said.
"No, MY skin! You'll have to take it over my dead body!" Luxury, with a stunning shift of mood, lunged at Jay, meaning to tackle her.
Jay sidestepped clumsily, letting Lux plunge into Acacia.
"THANK you," Acacia yelped.
Jay bit her lip. "Please skin it for me? Pretty please, Luxish? I'll knit you a pair of invisible gloves—"
"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" Lux interrupted Jay with a squeal of delight. "Okay, I'll—waiiit... are they invisible gloves or invisible gloves?"
Jay fumbled in her pack, and produced a pair of knitting needles that were apparently empty. "Here. Feel." She thrust what looked like nothing, but FELT like a half-finished scarf into Luxury's hands.
"Joy!" Lux squealed. "Though I'd prefer some invisible panties and jeans, so I can mess with my boyfriend..." She giggled. Sean gulped.
"If you WANT to wear wool around your nether regions, that's your choice," said Jay dubiously. "And I don't have enough invisible yarn for jeans."
Luxury pouted again. "Foo."
"You can have the head," Acacia offered.
"Oooh... nah... the head is ruined." Luxury pointed to the arrow hole in the eye, and the hacksawed horn.
"It's still a nice stub, and you can replace the eyes."
"Nah... I'd rather have the horn powder, thanks. I'll just take an invisible scrunchie." Luxury proceeded to take out her skinner's knife and began tearing the skin off the unicorn. "Why do you want it, anyway?"
"Throw rug," Jay said cheerfully. "And, come to think of it, the head would look nice mounted on OUR wall."
Luxury rolled her eyes—and then got an odd expression.
"Your wall, in the plural??" Luxury giggled manically.
"What...?" Jay blinked.
"You said 'your wall,' in the plural, implying you and Acacia..." Lux continued to giggle, slicing the skin off.
"We're partners," Acacia said, wide-eyed. "We share a response center! Mind out of the gutter!"
"Ooooooh, partners... I getcha..." Lux winked at Jay knowingly.
"Oh, puhlease—" Jay flipped out a photo album, letting the long string of Elrond pictures drape across the bench. Acacia produced her much smaller reel of Boromir pictures. (If you could carry sound clips around with you, however...)
Lux peered intently at the pictures, her silver-bloodied hands smearing over them. "Sweet!"
Jay sniffed and wiped it off quickly.
Lux looked proudly at Acacia and Jay as she handed the bloody, slimy, messy pelt of the unicorn to them.
"All done! Invisible scrunchie please!" Luxury smiled curtly, as she took out her handy-dandy chainsaw.
"How do we clean this?" Jay asked. "And it'll take some time to knit. Patience."
"You set it in the sun for a few hours, face up."
"What sun?" said Acacia. "No one ever got around to making the outside of this place. There is no sun."
"There's a full-spectrum lamp in Makes-Things' lab," Jay pointed out. "Should do the trick."
Luxury nodded quietly, revving up her handy-dandy chainsaw. She sawed through bones and necrotic flesh with ease, and took the lopped-off head to her workbench.
"Ick. Taxidermic stuff." Acacia shuddered. "You can have the corpse... JAY will be back for the head, later." She practically dragged her partner out the door.
"Now we go complain to Upstairs about getting paid more?" suggested Acacia. "Before they send us on another mission five minutes after we sit down?"
"We're both a little bloody." Jay looked down at her stained clothing. "More than a little, really. And we've still got the skin." They looked at each other.
"Good," they declared together, and marched away.
[Jay's A/N: Okay, it was fun. A two-fer. And HQ needs a throw rug... some chatchkas, you know? We'll see what Acacia does with the horn. We really appreciate the reviews we've gotten, and the suggestions. Amazingly, nothing flamish as of yet... maybe we discouraged them. (Hah!) Keep well, all!]
[Acacia's A/N: Okay, thank you to all our reviewers—too many to list them all, even if I suddenly decided to adopt the habit of doing so. Thanks go again to Joan, who pointed out this fic, too. And yes, Lux has a sick mind. She's a real person we already knew who wouldn't stop bugging us till we gave her a part.
Bit of an opinion poll: Want to see more of Headquarters? In particular, our little "discussion" with Upstairs? Tell us in your review! As always, flames will be laughed at. (I'm secretly looking forward to getting some, just so I can laugh at them. Well, not so secretly now.) Also thank you Lobelia Sackville-Baggins for recommending this fic as well, if indeed this was the one you had in mind. Jay thinks so. And arynetrek, we have nothing against Led Zeppelin, but the harp wasn't what they had in mind when writing music. Anyway, insert obligatory review plea here, and see you next chapter!]