After 'Protector of the Ringbearer'
Jay and Acacia, still covered in unicorn blood, wandered almost aimlessly through the corridors of the Department of Bad Slash. They were aiming for Makes-Things' laboratory (if you asked Jay), or Upstairs (if you asked Acacia, who wasn't carrying a blood-soaked blue pelt), but either way, there was no need to hurry.
"Do you ever-?" Acacia began.
"Yep!" Jay exclaimed. "All the time, and twice on Sundays. What about you?"
Acacia stared at her. "I almost dread to ask this, but… what are you talking about?"
Jay blinked. "Me? What are you talking about?"
"But I asked first."
"But I answered first," Jay pointed out. "So it's your turn."
"… what I was about to say was, do you ever think about what Lux said?"
"What, invisible scrunchies?"
"No." Acacia made an uncertain gesture with one hand. "Relationships."
"Well, I think about them, sure," Jay said, shrugging. "Hard not to, when every time I turn round I see Mary and the Sues deciding Legolas would make a good trophy-boyfriend."
Acacia grimaced. "It's not that I love my job," she muttered, "but compared to the alternative…"
"But no, I meant in the… personal sense."
"All relationships are personal," Jay pointed out seriously, "and I take Mary-Sues very personally." She glanced at her friend. "Why – are you asking me out?"
Acacia spluttered. "Not in a million worlds!" she exclaimed. "I was just… I don't know, making conversation? It's a thing normal people do."
"Ah, well, there's your problem," Jay told her. "We're not normal." She threw her partner a wink, then pursed her lips and began to whistle.
Early in 'Why Am I Here?'
The PPC cafeteria was bustling, as always, but in a strange way, that made it a more private environment than the corridors outside. With everyone occupied by their own conversations and food, why would they bother to eavesdrop?
"I didn't think you meant chocolate pizza," Acacia complained as the Assassins found an empty table. "And with cheese and everything…"
"I don't know why not," Jay shrugged. "You asked about chocolate, I gave you a list ending in 'pizza'. What's so tricky about that?"
"Maybe the part where it defies all sanity?" Acacia suggested. Jay looked thoughtful.
"Sanity… SANity… sanITy… no, I don't think they serve that here."
"Hush, you," Acacia said, throwing a chip in her general direction. Then, remembering Jay's literal-mindedness, she amended herself: "I mean, hush about the pizza."
"What else is there to talk about?" Jay asked. "Food and missions is all I can come up with. Do you want to chat about Emma and Kivan?"
"I'd prefer to forget all about them," Acacia shuddered. "At least Ranger's okay…"
"I think he'll do well with Robyn," Jay agreed around a mouthful of tuna salad. "They can balance each other out."
"That seems to be the Flowers' general plan," Acacia agreed. "Sort of like throwing you and me together."
"A bit," Jay agreed. "Although that doesn't work in the case of our dear slashbunnies."
Acacia shuddered. "Didn't you say Lux joined because of Sean?"
"It's a bit more complicated than that," Jay said, "but yep. I suppose it's a good trick if you can pull it off…"
"What, being partners with your 'partner'?" Acacia snorted. "Having seen what they get up to, I'd think it's more likely to get you killed."
"Not everyone is like Sean and Lux," Jay pointed out. "Some people are capable of restraining themselves in the field. And it would be a pleasant way to spend downtime back in HQ…"
"I suppose it could be," Acacia agreed, putting a slight emphasis on 'could'. "But on the other hand, we don't actually get any downtime…"
Jay waved a hand. "Details, sliated," she said. "I wasn't talking about us anyway – was I?"
"You mean other people do get free time?" Acacia demanded. "Oh, we definitely need to have another word with that Flower…"
During 'Vacation at OFUM'
It was the last night of what the Assassins would ever after term their 'well-deserved rest' (often followed by 'and we deserve another'). All the drama of the first few days was behind them, and for the end of their vacation they had simply been resting.
Now it was almost midnight, and silence had finally fallen over OFUM. The last fangirl screams (Morgoth and Sauron were holding a 'Which form of torture is most evil?' contest) had died away, and aside from some muffled snores from the rest of the corridor, all was quiet. Acacia turned restlessly in her bed, trying to get comfortable. It had taken her all week to get halfway used to pillows and sheets again – just in time for her to give them up.
There was a soft creak from the far side of her bedroom, and Acacia's eyes snapped open. She reached instinctively for her pack, but it wasn't there. Then her hand went to the dagger on her belt – which was also absent. As was the belt. In fact, all she had on was an extremely comfortable, but not very defensive, nightdress.
"I warn you," she hissed into the darkness, "I'm skilled in over seven forms of martial arts."
There was a moment of silence, and then, "No you're not," replied Jay. "Every time you try to kick someone you end up flat on your back."
Acacia relaxed – not that she was going to let her partner know that. "What are you doing?" she whispered. "I could have killed you!"
"With what, your teeth?" Jay asked, and lit a candle. Holding it carefully away from the flannel of her pyjamas, she walked across the room and perched on the edge of Acacia's bed.
"But really, what are you doing?" Acacia asked, sitting up on her pillow. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Not really," Jay admitted. "Too many years in HQ – my internal clock is permanently set to 'elephant'. But I can't sleep."
"So you decided to disturb me?" Acacia demanded. "I was having the most lovely dream…"
"Not the way you were moving around, you weren't," Jay retorted. "You were either having as much trouble as I was, or you had company. And since I can't really imagine Boromir sneaking up here…"
"You needn't take that disapproving tone with me," Acacia snapped. "I'm not the only one with certain… tastes. If Elrond were to come up here…"
Jay shivered and ran a hand through her hair. "Unfair," she said. "I wouldn't actually touch him – probably."
"I bet you would." Acacia smirked at her friend's discomfort. "If he knocked on your door right now, you would be all, 'Yes, your Lordship, please come in, your Lordship, the bed is right this way…'"
Jay sniffed and tossed her hair. "The fact that your mind dwells permanently in the gutter has no bearing on mine," she said, and then grinned. "Besides, the beds here are quite-"
"Soft, and warm, and very very big," Acacia joined in. "They are, aren't they? Do you think the staff did that deliberately? To keep at least some of the students from chasing after canons?"
"It's not all the rooms, though," Jay confided. "Lina and the other students have narrow little bunk-type things."
"Oh, so they're trying to keep us from jumping the teachers," Acacia snorted. "Who were they expecting us to pair off with? Each other?"
Jay laughed, but there was a hint of tension in it. "Ridiculous," she said. "What will they think of next?"
"Yeah… exactly." Acacia looked over at her friend. Not even aware that she was doing it, she pulled her knees up and hugged them to her chest. "That said, it seems like almost a shame to miss out on these truly wonderful beds."
"Yes…" Jay glanced at her, looked away again. "Which is why we should try to get to sleep."
"Sleep. Yes. That's exactly what I meant." Acacia ran a hand through her hair, echoing Jay's earlier motion. "Because tomorrow we have to go back to HQ."
"Right," Jay agreed. "And these beds are very good for sleeping on."
"Definitely." Acacia paused for a long, tense moment. "'night, Jay."
During 'All Souls Night'
Acacia woke in darkness. The trees rustled around her as she lay curled up under her blankets, and behind one shivering leaf she caught glimpses of a single bright star.
She glanced across at Jay's bedroll, and was surprised to see it empty. Was there something happening in the Words tonight? A quick glance proved there wasn't – nothing until the dawn departure. So where was Jay? Acacia considered going back to sleep and dealing with it in the morning, but on the other hand, if something was wrong… grumbling, she pulled herself out of bed and went looking.
It wasn't a very long search. Jay was sitting on the ground, just out of sight of one of Rivendell's covered walkways. At first Acacia thought she was asleep, but as the shorter Assassin approached, Jay's eyes twitched slightly.
Acacia reached her friend's side and knelt down. "You look cold," she said.
Jay didn't reply.
Acacia sighed. It wasn't often she had to be the cheerful one, but this was clearly one of those times. "I'll go and get you a blanket," she offered.
Jay didn't move a muscle, including those of her jaw, but nevertheless managed to grind out, "Don't bother."
"All right." Acacia looked around for a minute, then shrugged and tugged her jacket off. She draped it carefully over her friend's shoulders, already shivering slightly in the night air – apparently, Uruk-Hai weren't cold resistant.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked quietly.
"No," Jay growled again. "No point."
"Something to eat, then? I think I have half a chocolate bar squirreled away."
"No." Acacia swallowed hard – this was bad. If even chocolate couldn't get through to her…
"Well, what can I do?"
"Nothing," Jay replied, still staring straight again.
Acacia chose to take the fact that she hadn't been told to go away yet as a positive. "That's ridiculous," she chided. "There must be something. Seriously, do you want a hug?"
Finally, Jay turned her head slightly, making eye contact for the first time. Acacia recoiled slightly at the intensity of that gaze, and at the sight of her partner's swollen, tear-streaked eyes.
"Is that a serious offer?" Jay asked, her voice still almost entirely flat. Almost – but there was perhaps a hint of incredulity in it.
Acacia thought for a moment. "I suppose it is," she said, shrugging. "If it would help."
Jay's shoulders slumped. "I doubt it," she said.
Acacia rolled her eyes. "Don't be so stubbornly literal," she admonished, and wrapped her arms around her friend. After a few moments, Jay relaxed slightly, leaning in against Acacia. Acacia held her friend tightly.
Some time later, she realised Jay was crying.
Later still, she realised she had stopped.
Finally, Acacia patted Jay awkwardly on the back and shifted slightly. Taking the hint, Jay pulled away, sitting back up.
"There's still a fair while until dawn," Acacia said softly. "I'm heading back to bed. You coming?"
"To your bed?" Jay asked, with just the faintest hint of a twinkle in her eye.
Acacia coughed. "I meant to your own…"
"Ah." Jay thought about this for a minute, then shook her head slightly. "I think I'll stay put. It gives me a chance to… think."
"Okay. I… okay." Carefully, Acacia got to her feet. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Yeah," Jay said, her eyes already fixed on the horizon. "See you."
After 'The Maiden'
Jay sat in the waiting room and fretted. She would have preferred to be knitting – having her needles and yarn in her hands always helped her calm down – but unfortunately racing her partner to Medical hadn't left much time for gathering up luxuries.
As she waited, Jay watched the to and fro of agents, nurses and Flowers with an almost obsessive focus. After all, if she was occupying herself wondering what exactly Dafydd Illian had done that had left him with no hair, or why Morgan was trying to sneak Captain Kirk into the department, she had less time to worry about Acacia.
Not (she told herself hastily) that there was any need to be concerned for her partner. An arrow in the flesh was probably quite painful, granted, but it wasn't as though it was anywhere near a vital organ. At most, it would leave her with a small scar, a hilarious story to tell, and an inability to sit down for the next couple of weeks.
But despite that, Jay fretted. She worried that Acacia was going to blame her – she should, after all, have realised that an arrow in an Entwife would stay an arrow when she turned back to human – or, conversely, that Acy would blame herself. She considered worrying about poison, but dismissed the idea – Legolas would never use such an Orcish tactic (unlike certain PPC agents… Jay stayed far away from that notion).
Finally, after what seemed like about ten minutes – because it was, and because Jay didn't get on well with figures of speech – the door swung open and a black-haired woman came out.
Jay frowned at her. "You are not Acacia," she pointed out.
"I never said I was," the nurse said mildly. "Constance Sims. I'm the one your partner's been swearing at for the past however long."
"Ten minutes," Jay said absently. "She's still going? That's probably a good sign."
"Only if you're out of the room," Constance grumbled. "But the arrow has been successfully extracted, and she's basically ready to go."
Jay blinked. "Go?"
"To your Response Centre?" Constance frowned. "You are 'that red-haired maniac who calls herself my partner', yes?"
"That's me," Jay said cheerfully. "Jay Thorntree."
"You're shorter than I expected," Constance said with a shrug. "Your reports play up the 'tall' aspect so much-"
"Do not," Jay said, pouting. "We say I'm taller. Not tall."
"I'm not sure that's right," Constance said, "but regardless, I have places to be. Are you going to take Acacia off my hands?"
"I thought she'd stay here for a while," Jay said dubiously. "I mean, she's been injured, right?"
"It's only a flesh wound," Constance countered. "'Tis but a scratch. And other such quotes."
"Yes, but surely the trauma – she gets time off for this, right?"
Constance laughed, then stopped abruptly. "You're not joking? By the One, you've worked here how long? Your console's probably beeping already." She glanced at her wrist, which was bare, but bore tan lines that suggested she usually wore a watch. "So's mine, for that matter, hint hint."
"All right, fine." Jay looked towards the room again. "But you're sure she's going to be all right?"
"Absolutely," Constance confirmed. "It was a completely minor wound. Good grief, the way you're going on about this, you'd think the two of you were dating or something." She frowned. "Wait – are you? Because I'm not trying to be insensitive-"
"No," said Jay firmly, and then for good measure, "no no no no-no no. Just partners. Definitely. In conclusion: partners."
"If you say so," Constance said dubiously. "But really, I've got to go – Steve will kill me if he has to go on another mission by himself."
Jay raised her voice. "And I have to drag my oh-so-fragile partner back to our RC – since she's incapable of looking after herself."
"Jaaaaaay!" Acacia's voice echoed from inside the room. "I heard that!"
After 'Broken Doll'
Ancient Rome was a lonely place.
That wasn't what you expected to hear. It was, after all, the largest city in the world at the time – the centre of empire, the heart of Europe, a bustling hive of a million people from all walks of life. But in the midst of all that life, Acacia Byrd was lonely.
It wasn't so bad during the day, when her bizarrely generous PPC pension (the Clover had told her firmly that her retirement would actually lower wages in the rest of HQ by a noticeable amount, so that was a good thing to feel guilty about) and her fledgling jewellery stall meant she could mingle with the crowds, eat at the finest inns (up to a point), and even occasionally be invited to banquets. But when the night fell, and she returned to her apartment in the insula… then it was lonely.
It was funny, in a way. She'd only lived in PPC HQ for a couple of years, but in that time she'd gotten used to always having another person around. She woke up in the night expecting to hear soft snores, to see another bedroll spread out beside hers, and it took a few moments before she remembered that she didn't even have a bedroll any more, let alone a partner.
And she missed it. Oh, not the butchering of canon, the horror of seeing her favourite characters turned into pod people – that, she was glad to give up. But she missed the excitement of missions, the thrill of the chase, the challenge of outwitting the latest Sue – and most of all she missed Jay.
She tried not to think about it, tried to settle into her new life, but every day she found herself thinking about what she would say if Jay were there. All the little comments, the sly reflections on everyday life, which she no longer had anyone to share with. And all the things she never had said…
Sighing, Acacia doused her oil lamp and climbed into her bed. Yet again, she was having to get used to pillows – and she wasn't at all sure she wanted to. What use was a comfortable bed if there was no-one to—
A noise startled Acacia awake, though she hadn't been aware she'd fallen asleep. In the dim light seeping through the shutters, she saw a figure by the window. Then, just as she was tensing up, ready to lunge for her dagger, a familiar voice spoke:
"You," it growled, "never said goodbye."
Acacia's mouth worked silently for several seconds before she was able to squeak out a response. "Jay?"
"That was very rude," Jay went on, not moving from the window. "I could have been very upset. In fact, I was."
"The SO – he said they were finding you a new partner. One who was better suited to you, he told me. Said you and I had just worked each other up."
Acacia couldn't see anything, but she could picture Jay's eyebrow rising, a studied imitation of Lord Elrond. "He persuaded you to leave?" she asked dangerously.
"No," Acacia admitted, "I'd already decided. I think he was trying to make me feel better…" She paused, swallowed, and went on. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I just… needed to get out."
There was a sigh, and for the first time Jay's voice returned to its normal register. "I understand," she said. "I'm wearing pretty thin myself. I don't think I'll leave quite yet, but… it's only a matter of time." There was the distinct sound of her drumming her fingers on the windowsill. "Can we talk?"
"We are talking," Acacia pointed out.
"Oh, very me, well done." Jay shook her head in the darkness. "I meant properly. There are… some things I never said. I think we should sit down over a cup of coffee, or whatever you drink here."
"Wine, mostly," Acacia supplied, sitting up slightly. Then a thought crossed her mind, and she clutched the blanket to her chest. "Slight problem – I'm not exactly dressed."
"Ah." There was a pause, and then Jay asked, "Do you want me to wait outside?"
Acacia felt her heart beating faster, a warm flush rising on her face. "Well," she said, before she could lose the confidence to do so, "if you'd rather stay-"
There was a soft sound from Jay's direction that could have been a gasp, a whimper, or just a sandal scraping on the floor. "I think," Jay said at last, in a voice so tense Acacia thought she could have walked on it (if she'd been able to tightrope walk, which was one of the many talents she didn't possess), "I think I might do." She paused for a moment. "Where did you say that wine was? I rather suspect we're going to need it…"
Disclaimer: The Protectors of the Plot Continuum, and the characters of Jay and Acacia, are the creations of Jay and Acacia. OFUM is the creation of Miss Cam. All canonical elements are the property of their respective creators. This story is defined as ‘canon-friendly agentshipping’ - for the purposes of continuity, all non-shippy elements are deemed to have happened, while the shippy components are possible (‘canon-friendly’), but not determined to be either canonical or uncanonical.