Constance raised an eyebrow. "Last time, elf-boy, we were hiding under a table. This time, we're going to have to host the thing."
Dafydd shrugged. "Look at it this way – how bad can it get?"
Constance closed her eyes briefly in thought, and then suggested, "Orgies."
"Can't happen," Dafydd pointed out. "You can only dare one person to do something, possibly with or to another. But you wouldn't be able to arrange an orgy."
Constance raised an eyebrow. "I think that's close enough to count; it's not like anyone from Technical Errors will be there to nitpick my vocabulary."
"Well, so what?" Dafydd countered. "I don't recall you being the person most concerned about modesty in the PPC."
Constance rolled her eyes. "Sometimes you can be so dense. It's not being dared to 'do things' with you I'm worried about, Dafydd."
"… ah." The elf considered. "I'm sure it won't come to that."
"It had better not, is all I'm saying," Constance muttered. That was agreement, though, and they both knew it. Now, Dafydd thought, all we have to do is arrange some guests.
Selene leant against the wall. "You're joking, right?"
"Why would I be?" Dafydd asked in genuine bewilderment. "You enjoyed yourself when we did it after Woodsprite."
"I got blind drunk when we did it after Woodsprite," Selene corrected, "and as I recall, you contrived to vanish after about thirty seconds."
"Yes, well." Dafydd, realising that the conversation had turned to his disadvantage, proceeded to ignore that fact. "Still, it'll be better this time, it's only people we know."
"Really?" The vampire straightened up. "Who, then?"
"Er, at the moment? Me… and Constance. And Steve, assuming she can persuade him, which she probably will."
"Not asking the rest of the Department, then?" Selene asked. Dafydd stared at her for a moment.
"You're… right. I'm stupid. I'll get onto them after I've finished talking to, well, you."
"Don't forget Terri," the woman put in. Dafydd nodded. The archivist had been invaluable to DOGA's efforts, so she deserved to be invited.
"Is that an agreement, then?"
Selene sighed. "I suppose so. Just make sure there's enough alcohol there, you hear?"
Steve Dimond span around in a fashion that was meant to convey his readiness to deal with any attackers, but actually meant he ended up banging a knee against the console and falling onto a bean bag. Looking up, he saw a very familiar face. "… Constance?"
Constance grinned and waved. "Hello."
"… aren't you gone?" the confused Assassin asked. His ex-partner frowned.
"Is that all I get? I come here to invite you to a party, and you just ask why I'm not gone? Really, Steve."
"A… party?" Pulling himself to his feet, Steve did his best not to look completely baffled. "Er…"
"Dafydd and I," Constance clarified. "We planned to do it right after the honeymoon, but the SO roped us into helping sort out HQ. So we put it off, but now…"
"Oh." Steve considered. He was tempted to just say yes – who would turn down an invitation to a party, after all? – but he did still have some self-preservation instincts, and remembered who he was talking to. "What sort of party?" he inquired.
"Oh, just a small one," Constance said airily. "Dafydd's asking Selene, and you can bring along a few friends of your own – your sister, maybe."
"Sisters," Steve corrected absently, although persuading Ontic to come to anything would likely be an uphill struggle. There were more important things to think about, though. "What's actually going to be going on at this party, Constance?"
"Oh, you know, food, alcohol, a few games… well, one game…"
Steve sighed. "Constance."
"Truth or Dare," the woman admitted.
Steve thought it over. Truth or Dare was fairly popular among the Agents of the PPC – actually, he recalled, Constance had been fairly unusual in that she hadn't liked it that much – but was usually played by large groups of near-strangers. A small group… "All right, then," he agreed.
Constance blinked. "That's it?"
Steve shrugged. "I don't see why not. Nothing wrong with a game of-"
"Steve," a voice called from the RC's side room, "what's going on out there?"
Steve looked mortified, Constance merely curious. "Er, nothing," the Agent called back. "Just… just Constance coming to visit."
"Really?" The door opened, and a woman stepped out, towelling her hair dry. "Sorry to interrupt," she said, nodding to Constance.
"Oh, sorry." The woman put the towel down, revealing her strikingly red hair, and held out a hand. "Tango Dioxide. You might have heard of me?"
Ignoring the hand, Constance nodded slowly. "You're that woman who… let's see. Killed some people, ran away, came back, got arrested, and then helped Steve save the PPC." Steve winced, but Tango merely nodded calmly.
"Actually, I only killed one, and he was a spy for the DIS. He'd also tried to kill me, which I think justifies my actions, but…"
"Oh, I agree," Constance said blithely. "I have no problems with it, I was just making sure." She paused for a second, and then went on. "So, are you two…?"
Tango raised an eyebrow and looked at Steve, who coughed, lowering his head to hide his eyes. Constance grinned widely. "You are! Well, then, Steve, bring her along as well as your sisters. The more the merrier, you know?" With a last giggle and a cheerful wave, she sauntered out the door, leaving it open just long enough to hear Tango's inevitable question:
"Bring me along to what?"
"So, you coming?"
Dafydd stood in the doorway of RC #7216 – Agent Louise had flatly refused to let him come any further – and devoutly hoped for a yes. Takua and Jareth, DOGA's other Agent team, had turned down the invitation out of hand. Dafydd didn't particularly mind, having as he did certain issues with the Uruk-Hai Agent, but having the entire department – former partner excluded – refuse to come would be quite a blow.
He didn't get a yes, or a no, either. Instead, he got a long-suffering sigh from Lou, who turned and walked towards the other end of the room without another word. Raising an eyebrow, Dafydd looked at Narto, who shrugged.
"She's probably going to glare at the ceiling and mutter, 'This is your fault, isn't it?'," the red-haired Agent explained. "She does that every so often."
"I… see." Dafydd blinked. "Any particular reason?"
"Yes," Narto admitted, "but I don't know what it is. She's explained it, but… I don't know, it's a bit fuzzy."
"I see," Dafydd said again. "So does that mean she's not coming?"
"Oh, she probably will," Narto said. "She usually does. And she'd make me come, too, except… well, I have no problems with it, so I'll be coming anyway."
Dafydd nodded thoughtfully. "It's not that I want to change your mind or anything, but… Constance is asking Steve Dimond to come. She said she'd let him bring his family, which means…"
"Ontic, yes," Narto acknowledged. "I… think that'll be okay."
"Are you sure?" Dafydd asked, surprised. "I mean, from what I heard, she… uh…"
"Killed my sister," Narto Telyan supplied. "She's… different now, though."
"I heard that, too," Dafydd said, "but still, don't you…?"
"What happened, happened," Narto said calmly. "We've all come to terms with that. It won't cause any problems."
Dafydd might have been inclined to push the point some more, but at that point Louise came back over. "All right, then," she said sourly, "we'll be there. But don't expect me to enjoy it."
Dafydd nodded, and then caught Narto's eye. The tilt of the elf's head perfectly conveyed the question of whether that would be the case. The man shook his head slightly, mouthing the word alcohol. Dafydd smiled, then took a step back.
"Well, I'll see you at the party, then. I'll let you know when it is nearer the time."
"Sorry." Steve looked downcast. "I just thought…"
Elanor shook her head fondly. "I don't mean me, Steve. I'd be delighted to come, I've been needing an excuse to get out of WhatThe for the past week. I meant… well, Ontic."
"Wouldn't she want to?" Steve asked. "I thought she was okay since, you know, whatever it was she did."
"She is, mostly," Elanor confirmed. "There's a few things she might not like, but you say it's all people we know?"
"People Constance or Dafydd know," Steve corrected. Elanor nodded.
"It should be okay, then. The thing is, though, she's under observation from Medical."
Steve's eyebrows shot up. "They have enough people for that?"
"It's been a month, Steve," Elanor pointed out in a mildly amused tone.
Steve nodded quickly. "I know, but still, there were a lot of nasty injuries."
Elanor shrugged. "That's as may be, but they found someone for this. Guy named Dassie."
Elanor's head tilted to one side. "You know him?"
"We ran into him and Salamander during the invasion, remember? I nearly shot him. Rumour has it he left after the Reorganisation, and then came back with Nyx Nightingale, the woman who organised the resistance against the Cats last month. I was wondering what had happened to him."
"He joined Medical, apparently." Elanor nodded thoughtfully. "So he's new?"
"New to Medical, at least," Steve confirmed. "You're thinking we should ask him to let her come?"
"I'm thinking we should ask Nyx," his sister countered. "Now that you reminded me, I seem to remember rumours that the two of them were… involved."
"Involved with what?"
"Oh." Steve thought about it for a moment. "I guess, after that long out in the worlds together, it's pretty likely. So we ask Agent Nightingale to get her lover to let our sister come to a party?"
"Something like that," Elanor agreed dryly. "Something like that."
Ex-Agent Dafydd leant against the doorframe and coughed politely. Within the room there was a scuffling sound, and then a muffled voice called, "Just a minute." Dafydd waited.
After the minute had passed, and several more besides, one of the filing cabinets rocked gently where it stood, and the desk beside it shook, dislodging a few sheets of paper. A hand shot out from the dark space beneath the table, catching the documents before they hit the floor. Terri Ryan crawled out into the light, black uniform and dark skin seeming to spawn from the shadows, and stood up, placing the papers – and one extra from her other hand – back on the desktop.
Turning, the DOGA archivist recognised Dafydd with no perceptible surprise. "Do you know how much of a mess you left this place?" she demanded. "I've had to reorganise practically everything, and some of those reports you filed…" She shuddered, absently brushing a spot of dust from her shoulder. "Still, I'm handling it," she added. "Did you want something?"
"To invite you to a party," Dafydd said dryly. Terri grimaced.
"You think I have time to go off to a party?" She waved a hand at the room around her. "You see all this? It's going to take me years to get through. I dunno how you accumulated so much junk in, what, two or three years, but…"
"Is taking a day out really going to affect it, though?" Dafydd asked reasonably. "I promise it'll be the last time you'll see me – it's a sort of celebration of Constance and I leaving the PPC."
"Be a better celebration if you took this lot with you," Terri muttered, but then shook her head. "All right," she said, "I'll think about it. When is it?"
"Er… we don't know yet," Dafydd admitted. "We have to gather up all the guests, and-"
"I don't need it to the minute," Terri interrupted, "just give me a guess. Tomorrow? Next week? The day before Ragnarok?"
"Probably two, three days from now," Dafydd said. He hoped everything would be ready by then, but if not, well, Terri would cope.
The Archivist snorted. "Sure. And what sort of party is it? I don't want to wear jeans to a formal ball or anything."
"Truth or Dare," Dafydd replied. "You can wear anything you like, then."
"Yeah, right," Terri said vaguely. "Look, I'll come when it happens, if you give me a couple of hours warning. Right now, though, I'm busy, so get lost." With no more parting words than that, she walked off around a stack – heap – of papers and out of sight.
"… so we thought, my sister and I, I mean, that as you've had such a time of it lately, what with the finding that Agent and the, you know, saving everyone and all, and the coming back, and so on, we thought that you might like a chance to wind down, so we-"
Nyx held up a hand. The young man standing in front of her stopped babbling and started breathing again. "Do I even know you?" Nyx asked.
The other Agent blinked. "Well, not as such, but-"
"Right, right, you said. So… why is it I'd want to come to this party you just told me about three times?"
"Um." The Agent – Steve, Nyx recalled – looked thoughtful. "Alcohol?" he suggested.
Nyx sighed. It was tempting, to be sure – being on the run had left her unable to get hold of any drink other than water and fruit juice most of the time, and she'd reacquired a taste for alcohol during her stay in Lake Town – but she could get drunk by herself. "Let me ask a different question, then. Why do you really want me to come?"
Steve opened his mouth to begin his babbling monologue again, but saw her expression and closed it again. A few seconds of thought later, he mumbled, "Dassie."
Nyx frowned. "Dassie?"
"'s right," Steve said reluctantly. "He's your… I mean, you and he… it's like…"
"I know that," Nyx said irritably. "I mean, why do you want him to come?"
Steve sighed. "Because he's been assigned to observe our sister. If he doesn't come, she can't."
Nyx blinked. "Wait… Ontic is your sister?"
"As in, loony Ontic of the DIS?"
"She's a lot better now," Steve assured her hastily. Nyx nodded.
"So Das' tells me." The woman closed her eyes momentarily, and then nodded. "We'll be there."
"… really?" Steve stared, then shook himself. "Well… great! I'll go tell Elanor…"
"One more thing," Nyx said as Steve backed towards the door. "What's this party really for?"
"Huh? Oh." Steve looked embarrassed. "It's a farewell do for my ex-partner. Sorry, didn't I mention?"
"Truth or Dare?"
Elanor nodded. "Yep."
"And you're inviting me?"
"Well, you are my partner."
Mortic Wentway nodded thoughtfully. "True. But seriously, Ellie…"
Elanor sighed. "All right, then." She turned to leave the RC, although Mort couldn't guess where.
Turning back, Elanor raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Who did you say it was a party for?"
Elanor frowned. "Steve's partner – Constance, isn't it? – and her husband, uh… Dafydd."
Mortic stared. "Dafydd. As in, Dafydd Illian. As in, Maglor Fëanorion under a different name."
Elanor shrugged. "I dunno. How many Dafydds are there in the PPC?"
"I've never met another," Mortic said. "Well, that certainly changes things… I'll come."
His partner blinked. "Why?"
"You complaining?" He grinned. "I recruited the guy, a long time ago. Had a few chats with him since then. I heard he died not too long before the war, so I'm interested in finding out how he managed to get out of it. And finally," he finished, "I'm just too curious for my own good."
"You do want to come really."
Dassie's brow wrinkled. "Nyx," he said, "I've just gotten back into working, and now you expect me to stop for some… game?"
"Not to stop," Nyx assured him. "I told you, your patient will be there. You'll need to be watching anyway, I'm just asking you to join in."
"Join in," Dassie repeated flatly.
"Join in with a game that involves ritual humiliation on a par with what Nendil used to do while the DIS was at its height?"
Nyx winced. "In all fairness… no."
"No." She sighed. "Nendil tended more towards the physical violence, and less towards – assuming Agent minds haven't changed too much in however long –"
"Seven years," Dassie supplied effortlessly.
"Thanks. If Agent minds haven't changed too much in the past seven years, we'll be in for less violence and more public humiliation."
"Oh, he liked that, too," Dassie said softly. Nyx shivered.
"Not that public. There's only about ten people going."
Dassie shook his head slowly. "I can't believe I'm doing this."
"But you'll come?"
"I'll come," the man agreed. "Whether I'll come out again sane…"
The woman curled up on the sofa didn't move, but her voice, muffled, said, "Yes?"
Elanor exchanged a glance with her brother. "Ontic, could you sit up?"
The woman sighed, and levered herself into a sitting position. Leaving her hair in front of her face, she said, "Yes?" again, in the exact same tone.
Elanor bit her lip. "Um."
"Ontic," Steve asked gently, "is something wrong?"
Ontic waved a hand vaguely. "No more than usual. The past is… the past, but it's still my past. You know?"
"Have you thought of doing something to help you forget? Even for a time?"
The bedraggled brown hair dropped back from her face as Ontic raised her head. "Steve," she said calmly, "what are you planning?"
"Me?" Steve shrugged. "Personally, nothing. Want a drink?"
"Already had one," the woman said, pointing at an empty bottle on the – deactivated – console. "You trying to get me drunk?"
"Well, it would be amusing," Elanor said, "but no. Not specifically."
"There's a party," Steve explained. "You're invited."
Ontic raised an eyebrow. "Tell me."
They did. The details caused a raised eyebrow or two, and the list of guests provoked a half-serious 'You're trying to get me killed, aren't you?', but at the end of the explanation, Ontic nodded. "All right."
Steve smiled. "Thank you, Ontic."
Elanor still looked uncomfortable. "Sis…"
"Can you not wear… that?"
Ontic looked down at her loose, comfortable outfit, dark grey with a light grey stripe bisecting the sweatshirt. "What's wrong with it?"
"It's, uh…" Elanor shook her head slightly. "Well, the colours are a bit drab."
"In HQ?" Ontic countered. "This is practically Technicolor."
"Still," Elanor said, "could you please pick something a bit… brighter?"
Ontic rolled her eyes. "Only for you, El. Only for you."
"Only the one."
Dafydd looked up from his list at the last reply. It hadn't been Constance's voice, but rather Selene's. The vampire had just stepped into the large room – actually, the former temple to GreyLadyBast, still not reopened since the Goddess quit – and was standing by the door, looking at the two hosts. "Hi," the elf said. "Glad you could make it."
"Nice dress," Constance added from over by the refreshment table.
"You think so?" Selene asked, looking down at the sleek, dark red garment. "I've not had a chance to wear it since coming here."
"It's good," Constance confirmed. "Very you. Goes well with the cape."
Constance grinned. "Don't even try," she said. "It's just a normal skirt and top. I could wear it on a mission and not be out of place."
"By which she means, it's black," Dafydd put in.
"And yours isn't," Selene pointed out. "Why not?"
Dafydd shrugged. "Never really get a chance to wear anything from back home," he said vaguely.
Dafydd nodded gravely, and was about to make a further comment when there was a cough from by the door. "This the right place, then?" Terri Ryan asked.
Dafydd looked up. "Yes, it… you look different."
Terri grinned, teeth bright against her dark face. "It's the hair," she informed him. "I usually have it in a bun…?"
"It's very, uh… long," Dafydd said. "Matches your dress…"
Constance walked over and tapped her husband on the shoulder. "No getting seduced by the secretary, okay?"
"I wouldn't!" Dafydd exclaimed, and then looked hurriedly at Terri. "It's not that you're not, uh…" He trailed off as both Terri and Constance burst out laughing, and then glowered at the two in turn. "That was not nice, ladies."
"I did nothing," Selene pointed out, and then, when Dafydd looked over to her with a grateful expression, grinned and added, "If you want to come over to my RC for some… comfort once your wife's finished tormenting you, feel free."
Dafydd sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "I hate you all," he announced to the room at large.
"That's not very nice," said a male voice from by the door. "After all this time, too!"
Dafydd's head snapped around. "Mortic? Mortic Wentway?"
"And company," the blonde woman beside him said. "You'd be Dafydd Illian, then?"
"Um, yes… who are you?" Dafydd asked. "And what are either of you doing here?"
"This is Elanor Laison, my partner," Mortic said, "and-"
"And she's my sister," said a semi-familiar voice as Steve Dimond, Constance's former partner, walked in with a red-haired woman.
"Steve, you came!" Constance exclaimed, running over and hugging the man. "And you brought Tango!" She stepped back slightly and looked the pair up and down. "You could have dressed for the occasion, though," she complained. "You make me feel overdressed."
"Me, too," Tango said ruefully, gesturing at her own long green dress. "I tried to persuade him, but…"
"Hey, Mort's dressed casually," Steve pointed out. "Casually for him, I mean, even with the cloak. And so's my sister."
Dafydd raised an eyebrow. "Yellow dresses are not casual," he pointed out, "not even with matching slippers."
"Not me," Elanor said, and nodded at the door where three more people were waiting. The man of the group was wearing a PPC uniform suitable for the Medical department, while of the two women, the black-haired one wore clothes similar to Dafydd's, and the other, a dark grey tracksuit with a bright blue stripe across the jumper.
Dafydd frowned. "Aren't you…?"
"Ontic, yes," the woman agreed. "I'm under observation, which is why Dassie's here and theoretically on-duty. Nyx, she's his girlfriend."
"I assume this is all your fault," Dafydd said, glancing at Constance. "I mean, do either of us know these people?"
"I've met Elanor a couple of times," Constance said, "but… no."
"Lovely," the elf growled. "Well, come on in, join the throng."
"There's a throng?" Nyx asked, stepping through the door into the large grey room. "You mean those two?"
Dafydd looked over his shoulder to find that Selene and Terri had already started on the buffet, and were now chatting quietly near the table. "Yes, I do," he said. "Come in and get started on the food, before they eat it all."
"Can't argue with that," Mortic said cheerfully, taking Elanor's hand and wandering in that direction. By twos and threes – actually, one two and one three – the others joined them, leaving Dafydd and Constance alone by the door.
"That everyone, then?" Constance asked after a few moments, looking over at their nine guests. Dafydd shook his head.
"Those two newbies in DOGA – Narto and Louise – aren't here yet."
"Oh, them." Constance frowned. "From what you said, Louise didn't sound too enthusiastic about it."
"Call me Lou," a woman's voice said, and two Agents in full uniform walked in. Constance raised an eyebrow, but Dafydd spoke first.
"Why the uniforms?"
"We just got back from a mission," Narto replied. "Got in, saw the time, had to dash over. Anyway," he added, glancing at the crowd, "it's not like there's any dress code."
As Steve in his jeans was currently talking to Terri in her flowing dress, neither of the ex-PPCers could really argue that fact. Fortunately, Lou broke the silence for them. "I hear there's alcohol in the room," she said, looking significantly at the refreshment tables. At Constance's nod, she smiled grimly. "Good. I'm going to need it."
"Okay," Dafydd said, cutting through the chatter, "has anyone invited anyone else? No? Good." He crossed to the door, kicked away the replica of the Most Holy Hat that was holding it open, and swung it closed. There was a soft click as he turned the key, and that, dear readers, is where we will leave them.
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