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What Might Have Been

Jay and Acacia drew some odd looks from most of the people going about their business in Headquarters. This was unsurprising—very few people left the Bad Slash Department covered in silvery blood.

Jay whistled as she walked down the hall, stopping only to throw off the occasional:

"Hi, Macy! How's Steve!"

"Good afternoon, George, how's the God-Mod Department?"

and, because Jay was in fact a flake,

"Monkeys have feet!"

Acacia walked several steps in front of Jay, possibly trying to pretend they were not partners. This was difficult, because they were both covered in the same kind of blood and both wearing the insignia of a potted cactus, which was the logo of the Department of Mary Sues. (Presumably there was some reason for this, but neither of them had ever heard it.)

"Acacia—you're trying to ignore me again."

Acacia kept walking.

"They do!"

Acacia didn't ask.

"You're walking past Makes-Things' lab."

"We were going Upstairs, remember?" said Acacia, either momentarily forgetting that she was ignoring Jay or else demonstrating once again that she had all the self-control of a deranged magpie.

The world went dark as a blue, blood-sodden pelt was dropped on her head.

"Then YOU carry this!" came Jay's voice, muffled.

"Okay, okay, we'll set up the lamp first," said Acacia darkly, pulling the thing off her. "You didn't need to put it on my head, you know."

Jay blinked at her. "No. I didn't. This makes a difference?"

"Yes," said Acacia, opening Makes-Things' door without bothering to knock.

There was a clatter. Jay thought for a moment, knelt, and looked under a lab table. "Really. Is that necessary? We just want to borrow something."

"Really?" The voice sounded hopeful.

"Really. Your full-spectrum lamp—and about twenty-five square feet of floor space."

"Oh, good. It's in the back," the shadows under the lab table said. "It's nice to see you back to normal, Jay, really."

"Right. It's nice to—ah—see you, too." The two women quickly set up the lamp and skin, and then left, trying to spare the inventor's nerves.

"So, now we're going Upstairs... which way's the elevators?" wondered Acacia, trying surreptitiously to squeeze some of the blood out of her hair but only succeeding in spreading it more evenly.

"Got a compass?"

"No."

"I THINK it's this way."

"You think?"

"It's a bit of a maze, unless you haven't noticed," Jay said calmly. "The elevators are at the center, which is at the inner end of any given wing. So I think it's this way."

"So, it's not a maze if I didn't notice?" said Acacia, who was always prepared to point out minor errors in grammar when she wasn't busy being prepared to do rather more painful things.

"Exactly. But you did, so we've got a ways to wander." Jay sniffed. "It's easier when it's just me."

Acacia ignored this last sentence. "Look, there they are," she said. "Is that it?"

They hurried forward, and what Acacia had seen did indeed turn out to be the elevators. Jay pressed the up button, getting unicorn blood on it of course (the Headquarters janitors intensely disliked Jay and Acacia), and they both stepped inside the elevator, which was empty.

Jay swayed as the elevator shot upward, her ears popping. Acacia stood solidly in the dead center. There was a stomach-wrenching moment of deceleration, and then everything stopped moving. The doors opened quietly onto a long, gray hall.

Acacia stepped out without hesitating, but then looked around, unsure of where to go next.

"Hmm. You look nice with silver hair, Acy," said Jay, apropos of nothing. She walked straight forward, trailing her fingers childishly along the wall.

"I'm going to need a bath after this," muttered Acacia, following in Jay's footsteps.

"Mmm-hmm." There was a gray door set at the end of the hall. The low lighting made it difficult to see the difference, but they managed not to walk face first into it. Jay looked at Acacia and shrugged. "There's only one way to go, really."

Acacia smiled faintly, opened the door, and stepped inside.

And you cannot knock why? I realize we lack a knocker, but the resonance is really rather pleasant, and I seriously doubt it would damage your knuckles.

Acacia considered this for a moment. "Who said I couldn't knock? I just don't generally bother. Do you want me to go back and knock this time?"

The room was fairly large, and still the same eye-straining, depth-distorting shade of gray. A few yards from the door, a large metallic desk marked the distance; behind it sat a sunflower, clad impeccably in a sensible suit. So pleasant. Really. And what, pray tell, have you come to brighten my day with?

"We're complaining," said Acacia, apparently unmoved by the slightly surreal surroundings. "We just got sent off on a mission right when I'd got to sleep."

"Actually, you'd been asleep for—" Jay began helpfully, before Acacia kicked her in the shin.

"We don't get paid enough for this, is what I'm saying. And is it all that hard to hire a few more assassins?"

We hire. And we hire. And many go insane, and then we have to hire more. If it bothers you so much, I suggest you recruit.

"I didn't know you had a problem with insane assassins," said Acacia. "Why are we still working here, then?"

It should be apparent by now that Acacia had the gift of selective deafness.

You have not yet run through the halls screaming "Mr. Rogers! Mr. Rogers!" and wielding a flamethrower. RECRUIT.

"Oh, yeah... I remember that guy with the flamethrower..." said Acacia, ignoring the sunflower's last sentence. "Anyway, we still don't get paid enough."

"We don't get vacations, either," Jay chimed in. "Maybe we could recruit if we had more time."

"Ooh," said Acacia, nodding appreciatively and wondering why that hadn't occurred to her.

Vacations... IF you can find new recruits, we can let you take your time in the word worlds. You can be—it waved a tendril—extras.

This was rather less than Acacia had been hoping for, but something told her it was all she was getting. She turned to Jay anyway, and said "What do you think?"

Jay's eyes were glowing—Acacia remembered too late that her somewhat neurotic partner was a born sight seer. She snapped out of it, though.

"And a raise."

Twist my fronds, why don't you?

Jay made a step towards the desk.

Sarcasm! Sarcasm! That was sarcasm!

Acacia was trying not to laugh.

"A raise, all right?" Jay smiled. Some things are just harder to refuse when a smiling psycho assassin covered in blood is asking them.

It will be. Now GO AWAY!

Even Jay and Acacia could tell when not to push their luck. They headed for the door, neglecting to close it behind them.

Jay turned. There was no door. "Aww. I think we scared it."

"Good," said Acacia unfeelingly. "Now come on, I want to wash off this blood."

"It's sort of nice." Jay said, absentmindedly braiding her silver-stained hair. "It doesn't smell... well, it does, but it's that nice copper..."

"You can go around with bloody hair if you like," said Acacia, "but I'm taking a bath."

"I need to change. It's making my clothes stiff." Jay frowned. "I'll meet you back at the response center, all right?"

**

About an hour later, a much cleaner and somewhat (but only slightly) more relaxed Acacia wandered back to the MS control center.

"'Ello, Jay," she said, collapsing into her chair.

Jay, who'd surprisingly cleaned herself off, smiled through the forest of improvised braids falling across her face. "Hullo. You look like you're feeling better."

"Quite," said Acacia. "And hopefully there won't be any more missions just two hours apart, like—"

[BEEEEEEEEP!]

"I swear they do that just to spite me!"

"Narrative laws of comedy?" Jay suggested. "What do we have today?"

"It's on your screen too," Acacia pointed out. "But... oh, good grief. Another one with two of them in it."

"And they both join the Fellowship—" Jay cocked her head. "Eleven Riders against the Eleven Walkers again?"

"I'm not being Ringwraiths again. Remember what happened last time we tried it? And these are both archers. Even the one that's a hobbit. Gods know where she got the right size of a bow."

Jay bit her lip. "I'm tired of being orcs. But if that's the only thing we can be..."

"You can be a Wraith if you like. I want a bow," said Acacia with an air of finality.

Jay sighed, and shrugged. "Orcs again, then. Or..." she brightened. "Goblins! We can get them in Moria! We can be goblins. There's umm... uh, the author, she..." Jay edged behind the console, "messed with Boromir."

"Who doesn't?" said Acacia sourly, hitting a few buttons rather harder than necessary.

"You're going to break it again—"

"Shut up."

Jay hopped through the portal after Acacia. "Ooh. Rivendell. Purty. I just don't get tired of this place."

"Good," said Acacia.

Jay smiled, and looked around. "It's a while before the Council. We can wander."

"All right," said Acacia. "Where were you thinking of going?" She considered this for a moment. "As if I couldn't guess."

"That's not FAIR. " Jay smiled. "Let's go watch people arrive! I'd like a picture of Gloin."

Acacia shrugged. "Whatever floats your oyster."

Jay was already moving, climbing into one of the intricate stone watchpoints. "I thought you didn't like metted mixaphors."

"Well, when other people are using them, of course."

"Aren't we spishul?" Jay started flashing pictures. "Wait a minute—who's she?"

"Probably one of our Mary Sues," said Acacia. She looked at the Words for a moment. "Anirana. Apparently she couldn't think of any better way to make an elf name than to alter one of the Elvish words she got from the soundtrack."

Jay frowned. "I've got my pics. Let's keep tabs on her for a while."

The elves of Rivendell bowed before her, but she said a few words, and they laughed relievedly. "Royalty?" Jay's brow furrowed.

"Wouldn't put it past her."

Anirana climbed into a tower, with the pair close on her heels. They followed her as best they could, staying out of sight.

"It's Elrond!" Jay said quietly.

"Well, of course. The classic hallmark of a Mary Sue in denial is being the daughter of an established canon character."

Jay stared at the tableau, muscles in her jaw twitching. After a moment, she grabbed Acacia and pulled her away down the stairs.

"What'd you do that for?"

Jay smiled manically. "There are two Mary Sues. I'll take this one, you take the other?"

"Okay..." said Acacia warily. "But you didn't answer me."

Jay's smile stayed fixed. "Three guesses. First two don't count."

"Ah."

**

Jay dragged Acacia through Rivendell, shaking off her anger with determined picture taking.

They stopped, and Jay pointed out the garden, where a rather enthusiastic reunion of five hobbits was taking place. "Hmm. I don't remember HER, either." She shook her head. "Boring. Let's go to the Council."

"It's tomorrow."

"No crowd. We should get good seats, then."

"Okay. Well, we've got all day to waste. I must admit, though, this is one of the better places to waste it."

Jay nodded, and pulled out her headphones, turning some music on low.

They wandered around Rivendell, Jay taking pictures occasionally and Acacia periodically checking the Words. After awhile this palled, and they sat down in a slightly out-of-the-way place where neither Mary Sue was likely to see them, playing various card games.

"See your three pebbles, and call."

"Full house, priestesses and threes."

"Straight flush of cups."

"Damn." Jay pushed the pot towards her partner.

Acacia grinned, and piled it onto her increasing heap of pebbles.

Jay sighed. "All right, another hand should wipe me out. Then—" she looked up at the darkening sky. "Sleep? And do you think the elves have anything vaguely caffeinated?"

"Sorry, caffeine did not seem to be a major feature in the story," said Acacia. "I've got sugar, though." She pulled some chocolate out of her gear.

Jay smiled. They didn't usually let her have sugar.

**

Finally, it was time for the Council. Jay and Acacia cast about for a place to rest—and almost tripped over one of two people that could see them.

They scrambled away hurriedly. "What the hells?" demanded Acacia. "Isn't it supposed to be Sam who's hiding in the bushes?"

"Yes," said Jay, her voice somewhat less then chipper.

"If she's stealing his part, I will be upset," muttered Acacia.

They watched the Council unfold. And sure enough—

"Me too!" yelled the little hobbit Mary Sue, running out from the bushes and being greeted with a welcoming smile from Frodo. "I swore to Frodo to stay with him until the Ring is destroyed."

"Gag me with a pitchfork," said Acacia. "Sam's version was better."

"It is hard to separate you two even when one is—"

Jay jammed earphones on, and turned up the volume so high that Acacia could almost make out the words.

The hobbit, Hanae, clearly had to establish that—despite being a superb fighter with many adventures of her own even though hobbits seldom leave their own villages—she was a nice, sweet, polite Shire-lass, so she apologized for "ease dropping."

Jay scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to Acacia. "It's the little things, really, that make it so bad," ran Jay's spidery script.

Acacia nodded, and as Merry, Pippin, and Sam invaded the Council from behind a cement post, scrawled "I'm SURE Rivendell wasn't made of cement."

Jay just drew a "-_-", passed the paper back, and pitched a pebble at the hobbit girl. She jumped.

"Oh, look, the elf-Sue's turned up," Acacia wrote.

Jay underlined her frowny face, and threw a pebble at the elf, too.

"You're going to make the characters suspicious if you keep that up."

Jay shrugged. She was thankfully oblivious to the words spoken by the Council, thanks to the soothing strains of Rammstein, so only Acacia heard Elrond's bastardized "11 companions" line.

She wrote "the Council's over" and showed it to Jay, who finally turned down her headphones. They left the place where the Council had been, following Frodo. Hanae was his second shadow, usurping Sam—until he went to see Bilbo.

"Here and there, a Hobbit's tale," Frodo read, taking up Bilbo's book. Acacia watched bemusedly as Jay walked over to the nearest stone pillar, and began to beat her head methodically against it.

"Oh, gods. Okay, that is going on the charge list," said Acacia.

"That's—" *bang* "not how you spell—" *bang* "mithril, either."

Frodo smiled inanely. "Thank-you for all this Bilbo I'm sure it will be of great use to me—"

"Punctuation," muttered Acacia.

"—but I must go now."

"Okay, did this person even watch the movie?"

"Too—" *bang* "creepy for Her—" *bang* "Sueness, I suppose." Jay staggered back to join her companion. "I'm okay now."

"Maybe I shouldn't have given you that chocolate last night."

"Oh, no, if it were the chocolate I would have jumped out the windows." Jay frowned. "This is painful. Let's get on with it."

They wandered out into Rivendell, and fell in behind the eleven walkers, preparing for their journey.

"Eleven. THAT'S symbolic," Jay muttered.

"I don't think they care."

"If they'd read the books, they'd care. Now the poor Wraiths are outnumbered..."

"We'll get to even the odds soon enough," said Acacia happily.

"We don't have to follow them up the mountain, do we? I'm really not dressed for snow."

"Yes, we do," said Acacia. "My favorite scene happens there and if the Mary Sues screw it up, I want to know so I can beat them up before we kill them later."

Below them, the Fellowship was setting out. "It was dusk. Really. Although you know, I blame Peter Jackson for this one... and any idiot who assumes you can get from Rivendell to Hollin in a day's walk."

"The time of day wasn't really important to the story," said Acacia, who had a surprisingly forgiving attitude toward movie adaptations in general. "It's still the author's fault. There's no excuse for not doing your homework when you're writing."

"And he never showed them leaving. They just ASSUME." The two Protectors shouldered their gear and followed. And then, the worst possible thing happened.

"Gah! Stop singing!" said Acacia. "Particularly that song!" "May It Be" sounded surprisingly bad a capella. Hanae was no Enya.

Jay was clamping her earphones over her ears, following the words desperately. "'Nun liebe kinder, gebt fein acht! Ich bin dis stimmen, austem kissen'—I can't HEAR you, lalalala..."

She ran through the WHOLE SONG. "She must be reading off the CD insert," Acacia mused.

"Give it to me, I must have it, I deserve it, precious trea—oh, sorry, what was that?"

"I was speculating on how she knows all the words," said Acacia. "Looks like they're stopping now. Ooooh! The swordplay lessons... can I borrow your camera?"

"Yes. But I get copies."

"Fine by me," said Acacia, smiling brightly.

Jay handed it over to her. "Remember the Sues can see you—oh, wait. One's staring at the sky, and the other is asleep." She got an unholy grin on her goblinesque face.

Acacia strode down into the midst of the Fellowship. Had she not been a Protector of the canon, it would have made a very strange sight, in addition to very likely getting her hacked, shot, hit with rocks, and probably beheaded too. But no one noticed her, despite the fact that she was taking Polaroids of the swordplay lessons and humming "Never You Mind" to herself.

Jay smiled as Acacia clicked away. Then she climbed up the rocks to where Mary Sue 1, Hanae, was sleeping. Unnoticed by Frodo, whose shoulder the Sue was lying on, she began to work at the hobbit girl's hair.

She stopped in her tender ministrations when she noticed Legolas and Mary Sue 2 noticing the approaching crows. She jumped quickly down from her perch, and tapped Acacia on the shoulder.

"What?"

"They're about to start moving again. And I want my camera."

"Okay," said Acacia reluctantly. "Here."

"You can get the hobbits jumping Boromir. I just want a picture of the birds."

"Okay," Acacia said again.

After the cloud of crows had gone, the Fellowship crept out of their respective hiding places. The Sues, naturally, sported not so much as a grass stain. The pair followed them, now heading up the mountain.

That night, they set camp behind the Fellowship, trying not to be noticed. Jay broke out her leather jacket, and curled in her bag. "Fricken cold."

Acacia, who disliked the cold more than most, was not only curled up in her sleeping bag but seriously considering setting fire to it. She did not, however, complain, as it had been her idea to follow them up the mountain rather than just wait in Moria in the first place.

The next morning, they were actually anxious to get moving again. The Fellowship, it was some comfort, looked equally miserable in the snow (except Legolas, who could walk on it, the little bastard. Oh, and Anirana).

They walked on, Acacia muttering various unflattering things about Legolas, elves in general, and the Mary Sues, until Frodo lost his "placing" (whatever that was) and fell.

Hanae whispered something to Frodo which the assassins didn't catch, but they could make a fairly good guess as to what she'd said when Frodo felt his neck, and found the chain missing.

They watched for awhile...

"Okay. They've screwed it up. Jay, why did you steal my quiver?"

"What quiver?" Jay said, sitting on a mound of snow. "Look, I know she didn't have to play Ms. Exposition, but was it really so bad?"

"Yes!" said Acacia. "And you know perfectly well what quiver. Give it back."

"Oh, look, they're moving again." Jay stood, kicked apart the mound, and pulled out Acacia's quiver.

Acacia glared at her, sighed, looked at the Words for a moment, and said, "We have 'many hours' to go till they hit the storm and decide to turn back, and nothing happens. What say we give it a miss?"

"I say that's one of the better ideas you've had today. We'll have time for lunch, and we can play with the Watcher for a while—"

Acacia glared. "What'll we do with the bodies this time?" she wondered. "We could feed them to the Balrog... I'm sure you'll want pictures of it..."

"It'll have fallen by then," Jay pointed out sadly. "We'll have to get pictures beforehand." She brightened. "No reason we can't just toss them down the crevice, really."

"All right," said Acacia. "Now... is there any reason we can't just portal out of here and back in at the mines? Or would that be cheating?"

"It would. That's no reason not to do it."

"True," said Acacia. "You've got the whatsitcalled, so do it."

Jay flicked the whatsitcalled (otherwise known as a remote activator), and they stepped through the portal, and straight into Moria.

"Bit dark in here," said Acacia after a moment. "Did we bring flashlights?"

There was the sound of Jay rummaging through her pack. "Yep. Here we go." There was a click, and then a string of curses towards all brands of batteries. "Let's just go find a corner and wait. Try not to step on anyone."

There was a thud; Acacia had walked into a wall in the dark. "I think this is the gate, from inside," she said. "Let's just wait off to one side, shall we?"

"Right." They crept along it, and sat down to listen—they could actually hear the Fellowship, surprisingly. "My god, is that Legolas singing?"

"It seems so. And I think we both know who he means by the 'lady fair.' Poor guy. But I wish he'd stop singing."

"If the author wants to make him sing, there were plenty of canonical songs which weren't so goddessawful bad..." Jay sighed, and subsided. They listened for a while as the Fellowship chattered inanely about relationships:

"Oh nothing, I was just remembering what my brother once said to me when I was young." "And what is that?" Pippin asked again. "Women are like museum exhibits, look, never touch," Boromir said, laughing.

"Does that sound like something Faramir would say? I think NOT," Jay sniffed.

"And if Boromir was young, then Faramir would have been even younger, or possibly not born yet," Acacia muttered. "Hardly in a position to give cynical advice."

"She probably thinks she's inventing him." Jay stared at the Words; after all, they were one of the few things she COULD see. "Oh, for the Lady's sake, the author pretends that the door just opened on its own! Screw it! On the count of three—"

They shoved the doors open, then hid. Gandalf's "Let's go while we can!" made them both wince.

"Not only is it based on the movie, the author didn't UNDERSTAND the movie!" Jay hissed.

"I'd recommend charging them now, only both the elves have got their bows out... this is going to be another hard one; we'll have to find a way to get them alone."

"Or distracted." Jay thought for a moment. "Okay, during the fight with the troll... who she's given a sword..."

"It is a grave," said Gandalf suddenly, and Acacia went ballistic.

"You do NOT give Gandalf Boromir's LImmmff!"

"Calm down!" Jay winced. "Ow... ow... stop biting, damnit..."

Acacia stilled, and Jay took her hand away, twining it in her shirt. "Okay. As I was saying. We can grab them in the fight—especially if we don't run up to them like idiots."

Acacia, who was muttering darkly about some of the rather inventive things she would like to do to the author, didn't pay much attention to this.

Meanwhile, the Fellowship had left, ostensibly to start a game of cards. "The hell they would," muttered Jay.

"Want to watch them be attacked by the Watcher?" said Acacia. "Even if the Sues steal the show, it'll still be fun."

In answer, Jay produced her Polaroid.

On cue, Frodo screamed. They watched as things unfolded. But something went amiss: Frodo fell into the water, and the Hobbitian Sue had to fish him out and—of course—give him mouth to mouth. Acacia stared as Jay plodded back into Moria and began to bang her head against the wall.

"I do not think this is the time for such things," said Boromir. This was so exactly what Acacia had been thinking that she stared. Anirana turned up with a rather weak comeback which nevertheless shut him up.

Acacia considered simply tying her up and bringing her live to Luxury to have her skinned.

*thump, thump, THUMP.* Jay came back out, her forehead bruising slightly, looking her usual chipper self.

"Acacia. You look horrible! Cheer up." Jay smiled. "I've got an idea, after all."

"What's the idea?"

"Well, maybe the reason Gandalf could beat the Balrog was because it was busy eating at the time..."

"Live food?" said Acacia hopefully.

"Absolutely!"

"Suits me."

"Wait." Jay reconsidered. "Of course, they'll probably be dead after bouncing off the sides."

"Suits me anyway." Acacia cheered up.

"Come on... get inside, or they'll see you."

"Okay," said Acacia. "At least once they come in there'll be light."

"Yep." Jay smiled. "Gandalf's cool that way."

The Fellowship set off a little way—away from the mines. Then Frodo burst out with "Sting! My sword! Alas, for I have left in the watery depths!" Jay and Acacia just stared at each other.

"I'm not going to check my Analysis Device. I don't even want to know how out of character that was..." Acacia muttered.

Jay blinked. And stared. "Gee. I just almost drowned because of this huge tentacled thing—let me go back into the water and fish for my sword."

The Watcher, still in character, attacked again. "Duh."

Gandalf yelled "In to the mines!" despite the fact that any other direction would have done as well and in fact possibly better (if not as canonically). They entered, and the rocks fell to seal the entrance.

Aragorn, for no obvious reason, called "Run!" so of course they all walked.

Jay snickered. "Very commanding, isn't he?"

"Quite so."

Gandalf led them on through the mines, Jay and Acacia trailing as closely as they dared. Eventually the Fellowship decided to make camp. Anirana and Legolas sat down next to one another, and were approached by Hanae, who wanted them to teach her how to—

"Arch?!" demanded Acacia. "The hells?"

"She wants to be a stonemason," Jay said thoughtfully. "It's a worthwhile trade."

"Oh, look, she's got a hobbit-sized bow. Now where, pray tell, did she get that?"

"'Arts and Crafts for Little Hands' class?"

Jay smiled, using the time to take pictures—out of view of the Sues.

Within an hour, Hanae could add "expert markshobbit" to her list of skills and Acacia could see why so many of the assassins went insane.

Jay, in a moment of semi-sanity and observance, offered Acacia her headphones. "Listen to something. Take your mind off of things."

"Okay," said Acacia, taking out Jay's CD and inserting her Semisonic one.

Finally, Gandalf pointed out the middle corridor. "She took out his funny lines," Jay said with a pout.

"... 'I react like you're ringing a bell'—huh? Oh. Yeah. Anyway, let's go."

The Fellowship walked along the corridor—and straight to Balin's tomb. "Coulda sworn there was this big hall thingy, really," Jay said.

Acacia looked at the Words, and shook her head at the spelling. Gimli was kneeling beside what was, apparently, a "sarcophycus." "Dwarvish is misspelled Egyptian! More secrets of Tolkien," she remarked.

Pippin's knocking over of the dwarf skeleton, however, was true to movieverse canon, except for Gandalf's reproach: "Why don't you just throw yourself down next time and save us the trouble?"

"Close, but no cigar," Jay muttered. Then there was the sound of running feet— "And the drums are WHERE?"

Aragorn took action by ordering Legolas and Boromir to block the door. "So active. Really," Acacia said sarcastically.

Jay just smiled, her goblin-face actually managing to dimple.

"And they left out Boromir's line about the cave troll," Acacia added sulkily.

Chaos ensued. Jay took a few moments to snap pictures, then darted into the fray and grabbed the hobbit girl, ducking random spears.

Acacia smiled nastily at the Mary Sue, and looked at the list of charges she'd written over the time she'd spent on this mission. "Ah. Hanae, it's my duty to inform you—stop her from shouting for help, Jay—that you have been charged with disrupting the canon by joining the Fellowship, interfering with the characters of just about everybody, massacring the English language, stealing Sam's lines, changing the title of Bilbo's book, and being a Mary Sue."

"And being the elf-chippy's friend," Jay added painfully, as the hobbit chewed at her hand. "Take her, Acy, I've got to get the other one."

"Fine by me," said Acacia mildly. She unstrung her bow and used the string to tie Hanae's hands behind her, then tried to find a way to keep her hand over the hobbit's mouth without getting it bitten.

Jay removed her jacket, and used the sleeve to gag her. Acacia nodded gratefully—and Jay darted back in. There was a moment of silence—the cave troll had just skewered Frodo.

Someone up there likes me, she thought. She'd been worried about being noticed by the Elven archer, but she was staring dumbstruck at Frodo... She swung, rage in her eyes, her bow pointed straight at the assassin—but Jay did what she least expected.

She ducked.

"What? They NEVER dummFF! MMMFFF!"

Jay skittered back quickly. "SHUT up, shut up, ow, ow, ow, what, do you file your teeth? OW..."

"You've been getting your hand chewed a lot today, haven't you?" said Acacia.

"I'm going to have this fascinating scar pattern," her partner responded. "Do you have any contagious diseases?" she asked the elf, who stared at her with affronted disdain.

"Anyway, let's go find the Balrog." Acacia considered this statement. "There's a sentence I never thought I'd say..."

"Why NOT? And you haven't charged her yet."

"I thought the hobbit was mine and the elf was yours," said Acacia, "but if I get them both now I'm not objecting. Oh, and because it's big and tough and dangerous."

"That's true."

Jay pinned the elf against the wall.

"Anirana Half-elven... although I'm SURE you don't know that's your last name... I hereby charge you with MUCKING with everyone's characters—disrupting the canon—slapping down Boromir when he was making a good point—massacring the Elvish language—massacring the English language—and being friends with Hanae." She smiled, showing a dazzling array of pointed teeth. "And guess what, chippy? Elrond has ONE daughter." She slammed her against the wall, for good measure, and because she bit less when she was dazed.

"Now we find the Balrog," said Acacia.

The two Mary Sues panicked. "You shut up," Jay said, as the elf thrashed in her arms.

"Just knock her out," said Acacia, who was having an easier time of it with the smaller Mary Sue.

Jay settled for dazing her again. "Off ya go, then." They marched down the hall—pillarless, oddly enough—'til they saw the telltale red glow.

"Okay!" said Acacia brightly. She paused for a moment, thinking. "I wonder how Balrogs eat," she said mildly.

"Osmotic incineration?" Jay ventured, noting the whimpering Sues with pleasure.

"We'll get to find out soon," said Acacia, grinning nastily.

"Perhaps it devours them alive and they flake away inside it?" Jay went on, encouraged by the whining of the gagged prisoners.

"This could be a cryptozoology experiment," said Acacia brightly.

They turned a corner, and the Balrog loomed before them. It cocked its somewhat skull-like head oddly, trying and failing to focus on the two Protectors.

"Get my jacket, please. I don't want that incinerated," Jay requested.

Acacia removed it from Hanae's mouth, and also retrieved her bowstring. "We whack them on the heads hard enough to stun them, then drop them and run, right?"

Jay looked oddly at her. "Do you want to find out how it eats or not?" She grabbed the elf, slammed her sylvan head against the wall several times, and tossed her at the Balrog's feet.

"Not by being eaten, no," said Acacia. "And I didn't mean keep running the whole time, I meant run a ways, stop to watch, then portal out. But your way works," she added, and pitched the hobbit in the Balrog's direction.

It blinked at them, and then gave it up as a wasted effort. Jay's camera flashed away as it [Classified! PPC protected information.]

"Well, that was certainly interesting," said Acacia. "Shall we go back now?"

"Wait," Jay said. As they watched, the mediocre hall around them transformed into the great pillars of the dwarf city. Jay moved behind a pillar, and let the Balrog storm by.

"Fun," said Acacia.

Jay was in seventh heaven. The flash of her camera illuminated the pillars starkly, and a steady "click, click, click" filled the air.

"How many pictures of one room do you need?"

"Preeetty."

Jay finally stopped—to change film. Then she went after the other rooms... and the bridge... and the tomb...

"Think you've got enough pictures by now?" demanded Acacia, who clearly did.

"Hang on," Jay said, carefully taking pictures of the abyss.

"There's nothing down there. It's blackness," Acacia pointed out.

"It's pretty blackness. See the walls? See the complex shades?"

"Shades of black? Black is black."

Jay looked at her oddly. "You're weird."

"I'm weird?"

Jay nodded. "Going home now?"

"Yep."

Jay hit the portal. They stepped through, and into their own command center.

"Home again, home again, jiggity jig..."

"Do you have to say things like that?" said Acacia. "No wonder Upstairs has been having insanity problems." She sat back in her chair. "And if we get another mission within an obscenely short amount of time, we're going up to see that daisy again and I'm setting fire to it."

"Sunflower. That's why they call it the 'Sunflower Official'."

Jay waited a moment.

[BEEEP!]

Acacia snarled. "GET THE MATCHES."

END


[Acacia's A/N: Yes, we've been getting meaner. But face it: they deserved it. Besides, Sam's my second-favorite character. Obligatory thank-you to reviewers goes here. Obligatory begging for more reviews goes here. Special thanks go to mulberry, who pointed this story out to us. And also suggested feeding the Sues to the Balrog, though I think she meant after they were dead. And gave us awards! *shows off her Mithril Cross*]

[Jay's A/N: Most of the oddities in this story—at least Jay's—can be blamed on guys. A friend was told to draw "something with flowers" in art class—he drew a sunflower in a suit. Another friend will honestly, and without provocation, say "Monkeys have FEET!" to anyone he meets. The head banging... well... *shrugs*. We thank you all for the warm and fuzzy reviews, and the wealth of targets.]

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