Respite and Solace.

The Anger of Confusion.

The room was dark. Large, dark, and dusty. Cold, too, when the fire wasn't lit.

Right now, it wasn't. As a consequence, you could have used Nyx's fingers to cool the wine.

"Are you sure –?" she asked, glancing almost nervously at the limp figure in the armchair. Restraining the girl and then dumping her in a freezing room had not been on the agenda.

"We can't help it," Dassie said, wearily. "We'll light the fire; she won't lose anything. Anyway, it's the only way we're going to keep her quiet long enough for her to listen."

"I still don't think –"

"I know. Believe me, I know."

Nyx laughed, sad and soft. "Funny how it's all changed, isn't it?"

It's all changed. We're running, and she's running, and everything's been chucked into confusion. Even if she comes back now – what would happen? What is happening? I don't know – apart from her running, everything's strange.

Shaking off her momentary lapse of concentration, she nodded, walking over to the wood heap and looking for the kindling while Dassie found a threadbare blanket to drape over Tango's recumbant form. Nobody had used this tiny apartment for a long time – she'd have been surprised if anyone knew it was there – and, as a consequence, the logs were coated in dust. They'd already cleaned out the kitchen and bedroom – if beating out dirt and chasing away insects, spiders, and mice counted as cleaning – but hadn't had time to sort out the living room.

Rather absentmindedly, she found herself wondering who had lived here before. It couldn't have been the Mysterious Somebody, for all that he was the only person in HQ who'd been known to have an apartment. They were still in Headquarters; of that much Nyx was certain. So somebody had lived here, stocked the log pile, cooked meals and eaten...alone. Possibly alone.

It made no sense. Still, she wasn't about to ask questions. The place was...useful. They needed it, at least until everything else got sorted out.

She wasn't sure if she'd want to go back even then.

It took six minutes to get the grate satisfactorily clean. It took three minutes to chase away the large brown spiders that scuttled out of the chimney, partly because she could see the fangs and wasn't keen on getting bitten (the spiders, for their part, were not keen on getting squashed). A further five minutes were required to locate the matches, and another two to ensure that the fire had taken properly. By that time, Nyx was filthy, the floor had patches of flattened arachnid on it, the corner was dirtier than ever, and Dassie had vanished into the kitchen, ostendibly to make supper.

She went in herself, trailing dust. "Smells good. What is it?"

"Rice. Hopefully."

"You are no good at this."

"What, cooking? No, I haven't had much practice." He turned to look at her and raised an eyebrow. "And neither have you, as far as I recall."

"Hey, I can at least boil an egg. Other stuff, too, if it's simple." She smiled. "Not many options if you get hungry in the middle of Mirkwood."

"So you take a stove with you?"

"No, you take a kettle. Or I did. Sometimes. Before everything went..." She sighed.

There was a flare of reddish light from the doorway, and they both heard the crackle of the fire. From the darkened room, the smell of hot pine and woodsmoke drifted, lazily. It was a strong, heady smell, but strangely dry.

Nyx glanced at the stove. "Dassie, you'll burn it if you leave it on."

"Oh –" He took it off, nearly burning himself, and found a couple of plates.

Plain rice, boiled nearly dry, is not the most enjoyable of meals, even when eaten with large helpings of smoked fish. Still, it was nice.

Not nice because of the food, but because of the trust, the shared laughter, the secret glances across the table, and the simplicity. They didn't have to bother about the world outside; that would take care of itself. If, in the end, they lost friends – well, it wasn't as if they had many friends to lose, and there was nothing they could do in any case. They were alone, alone together – and if it wasn't perfect, it was still wonderful.

Wonderful can take on many different forms – quiet intimacy by a fire, sweeping beauty early in the day, the scatter of stars late at night...many forms, and one of them the kind that they shared now.

Talk and laughter. Sated hunger and slaked thirst. Rest after a hard day. Peace.

And, after eating, it was time to sleep. In the living room, the fire still flared, as though fighting the air itself. Tango was still asleep, but her lips had taken on a faint blue tinge. Dassie studied her for a moment before shaking his head and walking on.

Only one bed, but who cared? They curled up together under the blanket, warm and tired.

It was enough.

– –

She woke up, and it was cold.

Only it shouldn't be cold. She could feel the heat of a fire beating on her cheek. Her body was warmer whaere she'd curled up.

Tango frowned slightly, and opened her eyes.

She recognised the room, faintly. She wasn't by any means sure of her location. Nyx and that boy with her had dragged her through last night.

It was shortly after that that she suspected she'd been whacked over the head.

There was a reason for that, of course – with her refusal to listen...

But she still didn't like it.

Tango looked around properly, her neck stiff, and winced as flashes of pain erupted from the base of her skull. The cramped muscles didn't want to move, especially not with the blow they'd taken last night. She tried to relax, waiting for the pain to pass.

Across the room, the small fire crackled. It had been going for around six hours, Tango judged, and would probably go out in about thirty minutes.

That probably wouldn't be a good thing. She was already cold; part of her stiffness was due to the chill, as opposed to prolonged stillness in a bad position. When the fire went out, she'd become even colder.

She found her eyes fixing on the flames, as though mesmorised. The deep orange glow of the embers and the red heat at the edge of the cooling logs highlighted the butter-yellow flames that slid over them, seeming to not quite touch what they burned.

Drifting, unanchored, destructive by being what they were. Rather like herself.

The flames rose and fell –the quiet glow glittered in Tango's eyes as she stared intently at it. She needed something to focus on while she thought, and the fire was excellent for that.

Slowly, the flames began to drop, holding closer to the logs.

I wonder why I'm here? Shouldn't they have taken me to the cells, if I'm under arrest? Or are they also in trouble, and keeping me for bargaining with? No, surely Nyx at least would know that that's useless. I hope she does, anyway.

Either way, it's bad for me. I can't exactly think of a harmless reason for them to be after me.

She heard voices.

Her head lifted, turning to face the door that the sound had come from behind. It had sounded familiar, but she hadn't been able to make out what was said.

She couldn't now that she was trying, for that matter.

For a moment, Tango was tempted to call out, but resisted. She didn't have anything to say, and besides, they'd come through when they wanted to. She didn't want their attention too soon, though.

The sound of muffled laughter reached her. She still couldn't hear what they were saying, but their affection for each other was clear in their voices.

She felt an unexpected pang at the sound. They had each other; she, a convicted criminal, lied about and a fugtive, had nobody. Whyever they were here, even if no-one else would support them, they were together.

She was alone. It wasn't that she was desperate for love; at times, she'd practically gone out of her way to avoid it. But a friend would have been nice; someone who wouldn't condemn her, who would help her when she was ready to give up. Someone to talk to.

The door opened, the hinges squeaking. Tango, startled from her musings, looked up toward it.

Nyx walked through, her face turned to her friend, who came slightly behind her and to her side, laughing at something. Tango saw the broad smile on her face. It didn't seem fair to her. She, driven by circumstances she couldn't control and by the lies and cruelty of her enemies, was tied, with no comfort and no peace. Nyx and her friend, who had joined the group and probably knew all about what was happening, were happy. What justice was that?

It wasn't. It wasn't in any sense of the word.

She glared at the girl as she walked through, and Nyx saw it as she turned toward the chair.

Tango had never seen anyone's mood change so fast. As soon as Nyx saw her expression, her face shut down. The smile vanished. The laughter in her eyes was doused, and doors seemed to slam shut. Her face became almost schooled; emotionless, but for the tiny flash of hurt that echoed for a moment in her gaze. Tango saw it, and felt some cruel satisfaction.

"Morning, Tango," Nyx said flatly.

"If you insist, Nightingale," Tango all but spat.

Nyx looked at her. "I'm no traitor."

Tango's only response was a scornful glower. Nyx seemed to be determined to create the fantasy that she'd done the right thing by switching sides; that she was, in fact, not to blame. Tango wasn't about to hold with that; Nyx could accept what she'd done, and would.

"I'm not," Nyx repeated, gazing quietly at Tango.

"If you think that denying it will do any good, will change the truth –"

"Shut up." The man, who'd been quiet, now spoke up from the doorway.

"What would you know about it?" Tango snapped, after a momentary pause.

"Shut up. Shut up and stop talking to her like that. You've no right to judge when you don't know all the facts. I don't suppose you're in the mood to let her explain?"

Tango glared at him, but there wasn't as much power in it. As far as she was concerned, any Assassin who joined the DIS was a traitor regardless of circumstance, but while she was under their care, in their power, and around them, she might as well hear what they had to tell her. Though it wouldn't change her opinion one bit.

"She's a traitor," she said flatly. "She left us, left off killing 'Sues, to go join the one Department that has a hand in creating them. That's betrayal. That's turning turncoat. You want me to forgive her?"

Here Nyx tried to speak, but Tango cut her off. "We found out, me and Blue, and you think we'd have told? We were deliberately not telling, and then you split us up and lied to Immy about me and hurt us. You hurt everyone. You hurt me; you planted that poison and tried to kill me, or you got Carreg to do it...and then you got the wrong person, you killed Echo! You're evil, and you think that when she went over to you – when she agreed to hurt and kill and imprison innocent people who used to trust her – she wasn't betraying us? Do you expect me to accept that?"

Nyx took a step back, struggling to keep the mask in place. Her face was pale with shock. She took another step, another, until she was stumbling backwards, and then she turned and hurried into the room that wasn't a bedroom, hiding her face.

Tango suddenly wondered if she should have said all that; dismissed the thought.

"Congratulations," the man said bitterly, following Nyx out.


Dassie walked into the kitchen to find Nyx perched on a chair, crying quietly.

"Oh –Nyx."

He walked over to her, sat down, and gntly pulled her into his arms, tucking her head under his chin. He patted her back, rocking her slowly. Her sobs were quiet, but they tore at him.

"Sh, Nyx, it's all right –sh, come on, you know it's not true. She just doesn't understand. You're not –"

"I am!" Nyx said, a tiny wail in her voice. "I am! I transferred to –"

"It wasn't your fault. It was an accident. Anyway, you tried to get out, didn't you?" He stroked her hair, feeling the ridges of the braids beneath his fingers. "You did your best. It's not as if you liked it." Nyx sniffled against him. "Does that make it any better?"

"Of course it does, nitwit!" He smiled at her, hoping she could see it.

Nyx raised her head to look at him, her face wet with tears and her eyes slightly reddened. "But –"

"No buts." He kissed her forehead, then her lips, bringing her chin up with a finger.

"You're no traitor," he repeated, staring intently into her eyes.

She studied him for a few seconds, then nodded and buried her head in his shoulder again. He sighed, and wrapped his arms more firmly around her. She wasn't shivering any more, but she was tense. Too tense.

He was relieved when she sat up and pushed him gently away, standing and going to check the cupboard. She didn't seem about to break down any more, at least.

"What do you want?" she asked over her shoulder. "Dubious sausages, suspicious eggs, cheese, or, er..." She frowned at the shelf. "...muffins?"

"Muffins sounds nice."

Nyx flipped the packet on to the table and began looking for the butter.

"Any ideas on how to go about persuading her?"

Dassie thought. "Not unless she's willing to listen. Of course, an in-depth explination would take far too long...if she was even prepared to hear it."

"Hmm." Nyx looked thoughtful. "You know, I think the real problem is that she's convinced we're going to hurt her. Not trust per se."

He snorted quietly. "Yes, well, she does have a point, Nyx."

Nyx sighed, but Dassie was busy thinking over what she'd just said.

Hurt her...pain. She thinks we're going to cause her pain.

We need to get rid of that idea.

How? What's the opposite of pain?

He sat still, hardly baring to breathe. No. It was ridiculous. It would never...they could never...

And yet...

"Nyx," he said as casually as he dared, "how would you feel about sharing?"

Chapter three: Seduction for Persuasion.

Warning: The next chapter contains descriptive sex and mild hysteria thereof. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.