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Lost Beloved

As it turned out, Brent was not very impressed by Amy's plan for the wolves. By the end of her explanation, he was staring at her with something near to malice.

Amy glanced up to see his reaction, but quickly glanced down again. "Or, some colour you like," she finished.

"I just want to know one thing, before I start saying things. One thing. You are serious?" he said, staring at her forehead as though doubtful of anything behind it.

"Well, yes, of course," Amy replied, slightly defensive, but mostly nervous. "I, at least, wouldn't mind a bit of extra money. Perhaps your paycheck has a few more zeros on it than mine does, but-"

"After working here for a decent while, most people get rich. You never get out long enough to spend anything. But then most go crazy and everything they have is confiscated by Downstairs again. - Have you read your contract? Wish I was the lawyer that wrote that thing up. - Which is not the point. " He paused. "The point was what again?"

"Wolves." Amy shrugged. "Or something concerning them."

"Right." He glared at her again, but whatever he was about to say was interrupted by a loud:

[BEEEEEEEEEP!]

Amy jumped and squealed in surprise, but Brent just calmly walked towards the display. It looked like it had been salvaged off a computer from the eighties. His face didn't soften; he just aimed the glare towards the screen.

Encouraged by this shift in his anger, Amy crept closer to him until she was facing the screen as well, but she still couldn't quite make out the words. This probably had more to do with the beige glare of the screen than any need for glasses. Amy squinted. Until now, she had thought only books yellowed with age.

"Oh, look," Brent said. "Her daddy wants her to marry someone she doesn't love, so she runs away. Haven't heard that one before. You?"

"Very original," Amy deadpanned, tilting her head. She thought the glow might disappear if she looked at a different angle.

Brent glanced at her, losing the scowl long enough to scoff. "You don't really want to read that. It hurts the eyes."

"A new screen might help," Amy said. She took a step forward. If anything, it made things worse.

"Nah, this one's good luck. We both started on the same day. It's aged slightly better, what would you say?"

Amy wondered just how long Brent had been working for the PPC. He took a step backwards until he was standing next to her, and gazed thoughtfully at the words. "You know what might make it readable? Nothing, really. But paragraphs wouldn't hurt."

She gave up on the text. Her eyes were beginning to tear. Brent took something lying on one of the consoles and turned it on. "Hey! Yeah, it's Brent again," he said into it. "Look, we've got another screamer. Just kick the doors until they open - I'm hiding the key inside." There was a pause, and then Brent snorted into the phone. "If you can't find it, you've got less brain cells than the average Sue. It's big, it's bay, it's got four legs... You know, generally a horse." He threw the object back on the controls. Amy, blinking at the spots in her vision, saw it was a surprisingly normal-looking phone.

Brent pushed at the console's buttons, and a portal appeared in front of them. "I don't want it to stay in here until we get back," he said, gesturing at the dead horse that was spread across the room. "It's hard to air these rooms out when something rots in them, you know."

Amy didn't, nor did she have any intention of finding out. She grabbed her pink and yellow duffel bag which, besides being the smallest one she owned, was the only one not currently underneath the horse. She had already dumped her clothes out of it, and as she had nothing else to put in it, it just hung limply at her side. She took a breath to prepare herself, and stepped through the portal.

Brent was just behind her. His human features were gone, replaced by those of an orc. Amy knew she was in an equally unattractive guise, but she could deal with it. It was easier when she had some warning. The world around her felt dense and somewhat suffocating, results of the lack of paragraphs.

"Where are we?" she asked Brent.

"Mirkwood," he said. "Legolas left his One-True-Love behind so he could go save the world."

"Couldn't we follow him?"

"You wish. Me too, if anyone cares. But it's canon there until they get near Lothlórien." He swept an arm in a wide gesture. "This-a-way."

Amy followed several steps behind Brent. He wasn't dawdling this time, and Amy took this as a sign she didn't need to worry. As she stomped along, she dug in her pocket for the booklet that had been handed to her by a daisy in a pinstriped suit, who also happened to be the Director of Personnel. It had given out new assignments to the members of her now nonexistent division fairly randomly, and passed around the large white pamphlets as an afterthought. Her sheet had said useful things like Brent, and LotR, and had even included a curious smudge that Amy had deciphered as Room 1010. The booklet was titled, How To Bond With Your New Partner, with, or at least convince them not to kill you until the duty's done, as a rather lengthy subtitle. The remaining space on the cover was used up by a picture of two smiling people shaking hands. You had to look closely to notice the tight set of their teeth and the somewhat manic glint in their eyes.

Brent came to a stop, and Amy barely avoided running into him. She shoved the book back in her pocket, pretty sure this was the type of situation it was designed to help her avoid. They hid behind a large tree, and Brent took out his binoculars. He handed them to her.

"They should be straight ahead," Brent said.

"They? Plural?" Amy asked.

"One for each of us. Look for yourself."

Amy glanced down at the binoculars. "Do you think I'm stupid?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?" Brent said, all innocence. "'Cause I will."

Amy looked balefully at him. "I'm not blinding myself."

"Whatever. But someone has to look around us."

"You do it." She tried passing them to him, but he backed away.

"Hah. Right," he said. "Besides, you touched them last."

Amy debated chucking them at his head. She might have, but the chances were, considering her athletic ability, that they would have ended up somewhere behind her. Which meant that not only would she still be the one who had "touched them last," she would also have to find them.

"The book doesn't say anything about not killing your partner," she growled to herself. If Brent heard her, it didn't stop him from grinning. She squinted and raised the binoculars to her face.

All she saw was blackness, so she unclenched her eyes slightly. There were plants, bushes, some sky... and an Elf-maiden sitting under an exceptionally lovely tree. The plants around it were leaning away from it, as though they found it distasteful. "I think I've found her," Amy said. "At least she doesn't glow."

Brent started pulling on the binoculars, but Amy wouldn't give them up. "Ow. Hey! You had your chance. If you wanted to look at her so badly, you shouldn't have - Wait, someone else is coming."

A second Elf walked up to the tree and started talking to the first. "She's saying something... I'm not sure what... Now the first one is talking. Sore me... Sorry? I think she's apologizing for something...."

"She's been hiding since lunch," Brent explained.

Amy took the binoculars away from her eyes to look at Brent. "How do you know?"

He pointed at something in front of him: the sky, as far as Amy could tell. She noticed his eyes were somewhat unfocused, and realized he was looking at the words.

"Oh," she said, glancing at them herself. Brent took the opportunity to snatch the binoculars.

"Talk what they do, okay?" he told her.

Amy, who was rubbing the plastic burn from her hand, did not bother to decipher his order. She was imagining taking the booklet from her pocket and bludgeoning him to death with it.

"Read the quotations," he translated. "I want to know what they're saying."

Amy sneered at the back of his head. She opened and shut her mouth a few times, mimicking, but he never turned around to see her. Amy was secretly glad.

"Fine," she said. "Elf One says, 'Oh, there you are.' Elf Two says, 'Yes. By the way, what's that?' Elf One: 'Why, I do believe there are two orcs sitting behind that tree over there.' Elf Two replies, 'Let's go kill them.' Elf One says, 'Works for me -'"

"Funny. Ha, Ha," Brent cut her off. "Really."

Amy sighed and looked at the words. "The newcomer, Leniya, says, 'Vinyala! You might want to hear this! Your Legolas sends greetings and his love from the shores of Rivendell...' Funny. Last I heard, Rivendell was a city, not a lake. Then she continues, 'Let us find rest and -'" Amy suddenly broke off. "I'm not reading this."

"They're leaving anyway," Brent said. He put the binoculars in his bag.

"They won't be back until tomorrow," Amy said, looking at the words. "And Legolas writes her a letter. Yick. Can we skip that?"

"Middle-earth Postal Service," Brent mused. "Through sleet, snow, and reign of evil overlords...."

"'...Most importantly pray for the cause!'" Amy read, forgetting she had resolved not to repeat the words out loud. "Pray to what? Elves don't have organized religion!"

"What about the Valar?" Brent pointed out.

"No, that's different. Besides," she grumbled, mostly to herself, "they don't listen." Brent stared at her strangely, but she didn't tell him about her wish to see him electrocuted. "Legolas wouldn't write that."

He snorted, a habit Amy was beginning to find very annoying. "That's news?" He put an arm around her shoulder, and when Amy jumped away, he snorted again. "They're off at wherever they went. Don't you want to take a wander around the digs of Legolas's dad? Mirkwood's pretty, well, woodsy this time of year."

"You're a tour guide now?"

"I," he said, "am a man of many skills. Come on."

Amy shrugged and followed. Brent was talking with disgusted reminiscence about one assignment where the fellowship had somehow ended up in Mirkwood after leaving Moria. They took Legolas's little sister with them when they left.

"I really hope it wasn't a Legolas romance," Amy remarked.

"Yeah, well, no, but I wouldn't have been surprised. Grossed out, yeah. But surprised.... If you're into nausea, you should see what's going on between Elrond's sons in some fic." He shook his head. "I'll take you to meet the freaks that deal with Bad Slash."

"Or not," she suggested, sounding slightly ill.

"Or that."

They were getting deeper into the forest, and Amy could hear murmurs of music on the breeze. She had never heard Elvish music before and, although she was sure saying it would make Brent hate her again, she could understand why so many people wanted to be part of this universe badly enough to ruin it. Badly was right, she thought, remembering the words. She glanced at her partner, who was walking beside her with a business-like look on his Orcish face. After so many assignments like this, perhaps one became blind to the beauty of the world they were protecting.

Amy frowned at the deep direction her thoughts were taking. The slightly-louder music echoed inside her brain, and the sweet perfume of the flowers was making her content and sleepy.

She paused, and sniffed at the air. The rather familiar scent of the flowers. She studied the underbrush and recognized a small golden bloom.

"I don't believe it!" she said, startling Brent, who had continued ahead of her.

"What's it now," he called back.

"Elanor," she hissed, "do not belong in Mirkwood."

Brent was beside her in a few strides, helping her stare at the tiny plant. "You know, if I ever bothered to have thoughts about you, the word pedantic might be part of them." Amy didn't say anything for a few seconds. "Pedantic means-"

"I know what it means," she said. "I just didn't think you did." She stalked off, leaving Brent to follow, whistling a shrill tune that clashed against the soft voices of distant Elves. She was paying a little more attention to the vegetation, and it wasn't long before she howled, "And those are mallorn trees! Mirkwood is not a forest of mallorn! There shouldn't be any."

"Want to borrow a chainsaw?" Brent said. He whistled louder, and then stopped abruptly. He looked around as if noticing the setting for the first time. "You know, I figured, maybe you should learn the way through here, see the dungeons, steal the food, buy the iron-on logo, whatever. But you can't learn much like this. We might as well be touring Lórien. Want to jump?"

Amy didn't understand. She was worried it would be the permanent state of things. Before she could say, "Huh?" or some equally intelligent thing, he pulled out his remote activator, opened a portal, and stepped through.

It was dark, but they were, as far as Amy could tell, in the exact same spot. She was basing that conclusion on the fact that there were trees nearby. She walked over to Brent, who was hiding in the bushes and looking at a lone Elf, male this time, standing between some flowers.

"Don't tell me - he's a May Sue too?" Amy muttered. The way he was staring blankly ahead of him, however, made her doubt it.

Brent pulled a limp silver thing out of his pack. "Hold," he said, balancing it in her hand. It wasn't actually limp, but it folded in the middle where there was a huge crack in the metal. Amy recalled guiltily the chocolate eggs, none of which she ended up eating. Brent had confiscated the few that made in back to headquarters. She had, after all, put them in his bag.

He took out a roll of duct-tape, and wrapped a few layers of it around the middle of the thing. Then he hit it until it turned on.

"Amy, Character Analysis Device. C. A. D., whoever." He pointed it at the Elf.

[Nurhithion. Elf-male. Non canon. Bit Character.] Its words were almost hidden beneath static.

Amy sighed. "Great. So we have to destroy him. When?"

"After the Father-Daughter talking bit. Otherwise Viny, here, doesn't have reason to run after Prince Leggy."

Vinyala approached her father, who suddenly blinked and gained animation. He told her how Legolas had been gone for almost ten days, and she ought to get on with her life.

"Don't Elves usually have thousands of years to waste pining?" Amy asked, quietly, so that the non canons didn't hear.

"Not this one," Brent said, nodding towards his bow.

"What kind of name is Dunkano, anyway?" she said.

Brent shrugged. "Maybe she was thinking of Dunk-a-roos at the time. Or, you know, Dunkin' Doughnuts or whatever."

Amy glanced at him. "Haven't you ever heard of a rhetorical question?"

"Actually, yeah," Brent said, as thoughtfully as he could manage. "Once, when I was in grade school, we had this teacher-"

"Okay, okay. I get it."

Brent grinned at her and made to continue, but then he frowned, noticing something. "She made a pact with herself to marry Legolas? Shouldn't she make a pact with Legolas for something like that?"

"That's how it usually works," Amy said. The world around her lost clarity as she looked at the text beyond it. "Oh, and she's going to changer the stars? Right. She thinks she's Elbereth now."

Brent blinked at her several times. "Humour me, okay? Who's in charge of the Valar?"

"Manwë. Unless you mean Il-"

"Fine. Which one does stuff with water?"

"Er, Ulmo?"

"Yeah, alright, and what one, I don't know, uh, plants things? There's one that grew trees, right?"

"Yes, actually. It's, um...." Amy's forehead furrowed in thought. "Nirvana isn't... everyone put it, but - Yavanna! Am I right?"

"Uh huh, maybe." Brent shook his head. "Why do you know this? I've been working here for way too long and I've never felt the need to know this."

Amy stared down at the ground. "It was... on a test," she admitted.

Brent didn't look convinced. "I never took a test like that," he said. "You're saying with the peopling problem, Downstairs is getting more picky?"

Amy glanced up at him, and then resumed studying her shoes. The Orcish footwear looked filthy and uncomfortable but, other than that, not much like black boots she wore with her uniform. When Brent didn't stop staring in her direction, she shrugged lamely.

He snorted. "Whatever. Anyway, Vinyala went to somewhere else. Let's get Nurh... Nurhit... that Elf." He grappled with his bag. "Here, hold." He passed her the Character Analysis device and, taking advantage of his other hand, managed to pull a small vial from the pack.

"What's that?"

"Poison," he said. He held it at arm's length, and Amy took a step back. Brent carefully spilled a small amount of liquid on a tiny dart. He fitted it into a hollow wooden tube.

"Why don't you just shoot him with an arrow?" Amy asked.

"No worries - the blowgun is canon enough. I nabbed it off the Wild Men near Gondor."

Amy pursed her lips, uncertain. "And the poison?"

He grinned at her, black lips pulled over uneven teeth. "Mine. Not so much a poison as a shock enough to stop his heart before the Elvish immune system can do anything."

Amy took another step away from him, envisioning what it would do to a human immune system. "You didn't answer my question."

"We don't want anyone running around shouting war or murder or whatever. Besides, it gets boring, doing the same thing every day. Variety keeps the straightjackets away, or so they say." He looked rather proud of his improvised poetry.

She watched as Brent aimed, getting ready to murder the Elf. He wasn't a difficult target. After Vinyala had left, he reverted to staring blankly at the tree in front of him. He puffed into the tube, and a second later Nurhithion collapsed onto the forest floor. Brent spent the next minute wiping his weapon and putting the poison away.

Amy noticed someone else walking slowly towards the dead bit character. She aimed the analysis device at him, but it didn't tell her anything. As she squinted into the static, she recognized a Friends rerun on the display. Chandler and Rachel were scratching at something on the floor.

She whacked it, and the image was replaced with text.

[Random Elf.]

"Oh. Helpful," she muttered.

The Random Elf stared at the body. Apparently, the concept of poisoned darts didn't occur to him, because he shouted, "Alas, Wise Nurhithion has died of grief," and ran off.

The Mary Sues weren't going to leave until night, and it was difficult to follow someone if you went before them. Brent ran off during an awkward pause, claiming to be hungry, and she took out the booklet again.

Try getting to know your partner through conversation. Here are some topics to avoid:

The rest of the pages were filled with a list of such topics, ranging from deceased family members to the weather to blue cheese salad. Amy flipped through the booklet to the end.

Please realize that this list is not inclusive, and that the PPC takes no responsibility for a lack in judgement leading to your death or maiming. Thank you.

Amy thought the lack of judgement was probably on their part. She hadn't assigned herself to Brent.

The agent in question came towards her. He was empty handed, Amy saw with disappointment. She was hungry too. "Did I miss anything?" he whispered hopefully.

She gestured to where Leniya, the other Sue, was waiting in the bushes. She pounced at Vinyala, and Amy strained to hear their conversation.

The first thing she made out was Vinyala's affronted, "Why in the heavens are you dressed like me?"

"This is a designer original, you bitch," Brent mimicked, and Amy snickered a little too loudly. The two Elves glanced in her direction for a moment, but then went back to their discussion. Amy sighed quietly in relief, ignoring her partner's glare.

The bad grammar made it difficult to understand the conversation, but Amy caught that they were headed to Lothlórien to catch Legolas. She glanced back over the words. "How do they know where he went," she asked, not reading the answer.

"Mary Sue powers?" Brent suggested. "You should write that down."

"I did the charges last time," Amy said. "Why don't you write it?"

"Seniority," he said, and then stuck out his tongue, apparently for contrast.

"You know," Amy remarked, "I bet I can guess what happened to your last partner."

If Amy had bothered to actually read the booklet the flower had helpfully given her, she would have known that she had just broached Forbidden Topic number six. In an organization where the average sanity expectancy barely reaches a year of active duty, casual conversations about previous co-workers were responsible for slightly more intradepartmental incidents than Yo Momma jokes.

Brent's face, which had been grinning in victory, suddenly paled with an emotion Amy couldn't read on an orc. It quickly settled into an angry scowl. "Shut," he growled. "Up."

"Okay," Amy whimpered.

That settled, Brent stomped off after the Sues, and Amy kept a safe following distance behind him.

The morning was eerily silent, and not just because the agents weren't speaking to each other. Other than the wind in the misplaced trees, there weren't any noises Amy expected from a forest. No high pitched melody of birds and crickets; no baritone lament of frogs. The buzzing of insects was also missing, but Amy wasn't very upset about that. A glance at the words explained the situation: every creature of Middle-earth had somehow gotten advance warning of Vinyala and Leniya's inane quest and, wisely in Amy's opinion, stayed far, far away.

Except for a couple of orcs, following morosely behind the two Elves. Amy was particularly sullen. The words had also informed her it would take at least a week to reach any destination, and, as Brent had possession of the portal's controls, she wasn't about to go anywhere. Possibly ever, she mused to herself, and kicked an unfortunate rock into a likewise unfortunate tree. She tried to picture a life marooned in the forest, but none of her imaginings lasted very long before she died of hunger. Amy had nothing but an empty duffel bag and the gun Brent had given her, but even the firearm wouldn't help much with every potential meal avoiding her current location. Against all company policy, she wished there had been a more severe geography warp. It wasn't like the Sues weren't going to be killed anyway.

Just before midday, Brent waited for Amy to catch up, but she almost ended up wandering past him, blinded as she was by hunger-induced flashes. She had eaten a couple hamburgers back at headquarters, but that was it. He dangled a couple ration packets tantalizingly in front of her, and sunlight bounced off the silver packets onto her retinas.

"Ding, ding - Lunchtime!"

"Gaah," Amy responded. Brent threw one at her, and it bounced off her forehead and landed neatly in her outstretched hand. Amy squinted at it, trying to figure out how it opened. The silver packaging was the next evolution of shrink-wrap, so the useful seams and upturned corners were cruel illusions.

Brent grabbed it from her with a sigh. "It's a good thing I'm here," he said. "It's scary what would happen to you otherwise."

Amy suspected she had something profound to say to that comment, but in her current state it came out as, "Ungh." Brent tossed the packet into the air and clapped both hands around it when it fell. When he handed it back to Amy she discovered that his maneuver had both opened it and transformed the contents into something mushy and brown she wasn't sure was edible.

It was the best thing she had ever tasted.

Actually, that was a lie. It was disgusting, and she would have been certain it was inspired by Brent's sense of humour, except he seemed to be not-enjoying it as much as she was. Lunchtime conversation consisted of Brent insulting her in a way that meant he wasn't mad at her anymore, except on general principles. Amy still wasn't sure what these principles were, or even what she had done to cause his earlier anger, so consoled herself with visions of storming Downstairs and demanding a transfer.

"Yuck," Brent concluded when they had finished eating.

Amy crumpled her wrapper and stuck it in her bag. "Why are they so awful?" she said.

"So we won't want to eat them," Brent explained. If there was a logic in that, Amy couldn't find it.

"Do we really want to follow them for a week," she said.

"Nope." He put his empty packet in Amy's bag, and took the remote portal activator from his own. When the portal opened, Amy ran through first, still not completely trusting her partner not to abandon her.

It was suddenly night. The two Elves were camping at a river Amy assumed was Celebrant and seemed deep in a conversation she had no desire to overhear. Their pale skin flushed by the gentle warmth of the flame, despite the fact there were no working toilets to be found (Much to Amy's distress).

Brent pointed at something. "Over there."

Amy looked. At first she didn't see much, her eyes still adjusting to the darkness, but soon she made out shapes tending to their own campsite. "The Fellowship?" she asked in disgusted unsurprise.

"Eight days out of Rivendell," Brent said.

Amy nodded, and then frowned. "The Sues had been walking for a week... and the letter took three days to get there...." She tapped her right thumb along the fingers of her left hand until she ran out of digits. She glanced at Brent. "Poor temporal management?"

"Poor counting skills," he corrected. "And also poor geography."

The two parties should have been close enough to see each other, thanks to the strange route the Sues had taken. Logically, they should have ended up on the eastern side of the Golden Woods, but logic was seldom something one encountered when working for the PPC.

Although it was obviously very late, and even the Fellowship had settled for a noncanonical rest, Amy was not tired. Due to portal-lag, her body was convinced it was early afternoon. Brent, obviously better adjusted to time changes, was soon snoring loudly behind a rock. Amy wandered around for a bit, poking at the vegetation, and eventually even looked at the words for lack of anything better to do.

She immediately became confused. Legolas and the remaining members of the fellowship that had left Rivendell but eight days ago, she read, were camping along the same river as the Mirkwood travelers. Only a distance of 9 leagues behind them. Gandalf the Grey had fallen at the bridge after trying to banish an ancient Balrog. Amy tried to figure out where the sentence fragment was supposed to fit. She decided, as the camps were so close, it referred to where Gandalf had tried to banish the Balrog.

She blinked, realizing what she had read. Tried, not succeeded. She shuddered at the thought of a Balrog loose somewhere in the night. Amy had learned to be afraid of creatures made of shadows and flame. Very, very afraid.

After a deep breath, she continued reading. The elf was too busy grieving to notice his surroundings, even for an elf, Legolas is more observant then his kindred. But his eyes were blind to the campsite in front of them, for he would have seen the yellowish glow of his lover’s fire.

Blindness, she thought to herself, the sixth stage of grief and, possibly, the most useful. She shut her own eyes, blocking out the text. Maybe she wasn't mourning, but the bad grammar was at least depressing.

Amy leaned against the other side of Brent's rock and stared at the stars. It was going to be a long night.

Amy was woken by an odd thud that was more felt than heard. In fact, she realized as there was another one, it wasn't really heard at all. Thud. Except as maybe an echo through her cranium. Thud.

Amy opened her eyes - and quickly shut them again when she saw a pebble heading towards her face. Thud. When she opened them again, she saw Brent grinning down at her. "Guess what," he said. "It's morning."

She groaned. He bent down to grab another pebble. "I'm up," she muttered, pulling herself to her feet. "I'm up."

There was a thud as the small rock connected with her forehead anyway. "I hate you," she mumbled with as much venom she could muster over her usual morning bewilderment. Brent didn't seem very frightened.

They walked towards the Woods. The Sue's campsite was well camouflaged, except for the most obvious part: the remnants of their fire. "Okay," said Amy. "It's final. They're idiots."

"Oh, no, you misunderstand," Brent told her. The soft calm in his voice was suggestive of sarcasm. "This is a 'twist of fate.'"

Amy kicked at the ashes. "Like... a lemon twist?"

"Or, you know, a convenient one," answered Brent, who didn't believe in rhetorical questions.

Amy glanced at where the canon characters were supposed to be, and was rather taken back at what she saw. There had been eight last night, but now dozens of figures littered the area. "Um, Brent?"

"What now?" She pointed, and Brent rolled his eyes. "Don't you ever look at the words? It's a 'fellowships camp.' Some sort of convention. There'll be T-shirts, a couple speeches...."

"How can people do this for a year and stay sane?" Amy said, but she said it quietly, so Brent wouldn't hear her and feel compelled to respond.

"...So we can stay here until our Pining Prince to comes whining along, or we can hurry and watch one of the Sues get horribly injured," Brent was saying.

"How horrible," Amy remarked.

"What I said."

"Let's go."

They caught up to the Sues as Leniya was cuddling with Haldir in a display of OOC-ness. "I take it there's disturbing backstory I'm glad I missed?" Amy said.

"Or, the girl works fast," Brent countered.

"It appears to me, that the last word I received from Mirkwood is one from King Thranduil saying that two of his most precious friends to Prince Legolas had run away into the wild," said Haldir.

"Huh?" Amy said.

"There are more dangerous things that orcs roaming about," Haldir continued.

"Seriously, huh?"

"Quiet," said Brent. "You'll miss the sudden warrior part."

As if on cue, Leniya and Vinyala, who had left Mirkwood with food and drink, became weighed down with expensive weaponry.

"And if you say, 'huh,' again," Brent said, "I'll hurt you."

Amy stared after the Elves. "What?"

The three Elves seemed nervous about something as they walked, and Amy looked at the words. They could hear nothing, all was silent, no birds, beasts, or other noises could be heard.

"And now this bothers them?" Amy said to herself. It was as if everything else in nature knew something dreadful was approaching, the words continued, and Amy smiled in agreement. "I wonder," she said, staring at the Sues, "what that could be."

"I have way more excuse to be crazy than you," said Brent, "and do you see me talking to myself?"

"If I don't respond," Amy pointed out, "the answer would be yes."

He smirked at her. "Too late."

A swarm of orcs jumped out of a plothole and attacked the Elves. It was, Amy mused, a good thing the Sues had just decided to become awesome fighters. There were a lot of opponents, but the three Elves didn't seem to be having much trouble. Then Leniya was shot in the shoulder, and she staggered and fell, landing near the two PPC agents.

Amy and Brent had been stationary, watching the fight with annoyance, but to Leniya they looked like what they were, which was two orcs out to kill her. She stabbed at them with her white handled, filigreed knife. Amy yelped and jumped backwards, searching in her bag for her weapon. Haldir gave a sharp whistle and five Elves, who had evidently not noticed the orcs until just then, jumped into the fray. They beat the remaining Orcish army into a retreat while Haldir and Vinyala went after the two near their friend.

"Proportionate," Brent muttered while pulling out his bow.

Haldir stared strangely at Leniya, who seemed to be jabbing at some imaginary foe. Vinyala glared at him. "There are two, and she is injured, if you claim to love her, you would assist," she said in a customary run-on sentence.

At Vinyala's words the two orcs became visible. An unusually short one with an odd pack was cowering behind a larger one who was evading Leniya's blade. "You know," said the large one while dodging, "there was so much-" He leapt over a blow aimed at his calf. "-more I wanted to-" He jumped to the right. "-make fun of. But since we're-" He ducked an arrow Haldir had aimed at his head. "-all gathered-" Vinyala swung at his abdomen, and he rolled under her arm, grabbed the knife, and held it to Leniya's throat. "Could you pay a little attention here!"

The two free Elves backed off. "Do not harm her, take me in her stead, Leniya is my best friend and if she should be killed, there is no reason for me to live," Vinyala wailed.

"There's no reason for you to live at all," Brent corrected.

"I would not expect mercy of an orc," Haldir spat.

Brent sighed. "We're not getting anywhere."

"We should have been Elves. Next time, let's be Elves," said Amy, much to the confusion of the actual Elves.

"Maybe," Brent said. "Do you have the charges?"

"Yep." Amy waved a silver wrapper at him, causing Haldir and the Sues to wince as light bounced off it into their eyes.

"Then read them already. I wanted to kill them for the part where horses have embedded nameplates, but I'll settle for leaving."

"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Vinyala and Leniya, it is my duty to charge you-"

"You're doing it wrong," Brent interrupted. "Not that I care, but you're supposed to charge them separately."

"Fine." Amy forced her deep breath through her teeth. "Vinyala, it is my duty to charge you, in front of this witness, for disrupting the canon by-" She glanced at the dull side of the wrapper, where she had scratched a charge list. "-rather obsessive gardening, blatant ESP-ish insight, evacuating Mirkwood's animal population, altering the geography, bad math resulting in a temporal distortion, developing instant warrior skills and weaponry, setting a Balrog free to ravage Middle-earth, thus making Gandalf's pseudo-sacrifice pointless, causing your lust object to act so out of character it's sickening, and bad grammar." She paused. "And also for instating new marriage rites and having godly ambitions."

Amy turned to the other Sue. "Leniya, ditto. Except maybe for that last part."

"Any last words?" Brent said.

Vinyala glanced down at herself, and found she was covered in blood from the battle. "Eww."

"Well said. Which one do you want?" he asked Amy.

"Huh?"

"You kill one, I kill one. Which. One. Do. You. Want?"

Amy shrugged. "I really don't care."

Brent shot a bolt at a tree. As the tree happened to be behind Vinyala, the Elf fell to the ground dead before it reached its target.

"So, uh, I guess I'll take Leniya, then." Amy pointed the gun at her head, which Brent was steadying for her. The two remaining Elves were screaming at them, but the Sue wasn't struggling much anymore, on account of the blood loss.

"Well?" prompted Brent.

Amy gripped her wrist to steady her aim. The truth was, she had never actually killed before. She hadn't even fired a gun. Leniya deserved to be dead, she reminded herself. And she had been put through various psychological tests that said she was capable.

She pulled the trigger, but it didn't give.

Amy checked the safety, which was off. She tried again, but nothing happened. She was tempted to look up the barrel to see if something was stuck, but she had seen far to many Roadrunner cartoons as a child to actually do it.

She looked at Brent, and saw the assassin was fighting to hold back laughter. "What?" she demanded.

"You," he explained, pausing to snigger. "You're so..." he waved an arm to indicate what he thought she was, and Leniya tried unsuccessfully to escape. "You thought it was a gun," he said and then started laughing.

Amy studied the firearm. She did feel pretty stupid. Guns weren't exactly canon on Middle-earth, and so she had no more right to use one than Leniya had to make Haldir fall in love with her. "What is it?"

"Dwarvish abstract art," Brent said. He giggled. "I took it off a Sue some years ago."

Amy glared. "Funny."

"Oh, yeah."

Haldir had, apparently, had enough of the crazy orcs. He started moving into an attack. Leniya kicked Brent in the shin, drawing his attention again. He glanced at the knife he was holding to her neck, smirked at her, and pressed harder.

Haldir stopped advancing. He stared at Leniya's body in disgust, and then at Brent in confusion. Shaking his head, he walked deeper into the forest.

Brent pocketed the knife. He opened a portal and carried his newest victim through, leaving Amy to do the same with Vinyala. As a former Elf, the Sue was lighter than Amy expected, but Amy was not adept at carrying anything that didn't come with a canvas strap. It was with much grunting and bending backwards that she got the corpse to the other side.

"Moria again?" she asked Brent.

He shrugged. "How many places are there to dump them?"

"More than one."

"Moria's easiest," Brent said.

"Moria's boring."

He dumped the remainder of Leniya into the abyss and turned to Amy with a tolerant smile. "Tell you what," he said. "You can come up with some new and exciting graveyard every mission."

Amy slid Vinyala's body into the pit. "Deal."

"Good."

"Fine."

The first thing Amy noticed when they got back to headquarters was actually an absence. The absence in question belonged to a very large, very dead horse that had taken up most of the room. She ran to her abused duffel bags. They seemed slightly flattened, but all right. In the centre of the room was a folded piece of paper. Amy opened it.

Thank you so much for the horse, the note read in patently sarcastic ink. I am so sorry you couldn't make it, and I'll make so sure you're invited next time.

It wasn't signed. Amy passed it to Brent. "What do you make of this?" she asked.

Brent read it. "I'm so glad she appreciated my gift," he said, grinning.

Amy was past the point where she cared whether she understood or not. She gathered the clothes that were scattered over the floor and checked them for bloodstains. Brent opened the door to the bathroom, but something growled and leapt at him.

"Oh," he said, "right." He turned and glared at Amy.

"It was a good plan," she said.

"Oh," he said, "right. Because people who get paid to kill pink wolves will, obviously, want to buy them as pets?"

"There might be a better one," she admitted.

He stared at her a moment. "And I've just thought of it."

"Can you explain it one more time?"

Brent was standing next to the bathroom door, holding the knob. Amy was standing in the middle of the room, holding a long wooden stick. It was, Brent explained, made for killing vampires, but it could just as easily be used for killing wolves.

"They're hungry, right? I let them out, and they run for you," he started. "Then I distract them. I'm bigger and other good stuff, so they'll run for me. And you poke them with the stick."

"I don't think this is going to work," Amy muttered.

"Ready?" asked Brent.

"No."

"Too bad." Brent threw open the door, and two huge, hungry wolves with big teeth leapt out at him. The black one threw back its head and howled at the lone fluorescent light, making the room shake with its anger at being confined for so long.

Brent made a squeaking noise, jumped into the bathroom, and locked the door behind him. Perhaps this was how he had planned to distract them. Or, Amy supposed, not. In any case, the wolves were still fixated on her, which meant it was up to her to figure something out. She dropped the stick and ran screaming towards the door. The wolves, barking and gnashing their teeth, followed in huge leaps. She managed to turn the knob and open it, and then they were upon her. And then, just as quickly, they were gone. Amy crawled to the doorway and watched them run down the hall, yipping and snapping at each other.

The bathroom door creaked open, and half of Brent's face emerged. "So," he said, "that worked out well."

"There are wolves," Amy growled, "loose in headquarters."

"There are worse things than wolves loose in headquarters. They're not in our quarters now, which makes them not our problem anymore."

"And you tried to kill me!"

"The wolves tried to kill you. Difference." He shut the door again, and there was nothing left for Amy to do but push her stuff to one side of the room and start composing her transfer request on a scrap piece of paper. There was lots to complain about: mental abuse... attempted murder.... As her mind grew more tired, she realized the letter was becoming something else entirely. It was a charge list.

Brent's charge list, and he lived in a world where guns were fair play. She smiled at him as he came out of the bathroom and collapsed on a rotting old couch in a corner. There must have been something disturbing in her smile, because he turned away from her before he fell asleep.

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