Kate looked up at the dim whump-whump of an incoming Osprey. Vibrations reached her, this deep in the complex, thrumming up through her boots and through the cast on her right arm. She ran a hand through her blonde bob, feeling the crackle of static electricity that meant she'd left some of it standing straight up.
"Team one, safe return," Foster said at the second workstation.
Abe came in, smudges of dust and ash across his green skin, his jacket unzipped to allow freedom to the delicate fins at his neck. The rest of his gear was neatly squared away, as meticulously impenetrable as his expression. He stepped easily over the wires crisscrossing the floor between the bulky old consoles. Almost six months now in the Colorado base; they had plenty of practice.
"How did it go?" Kate asked, though she'd been getting Foster's updates from the on-site reports.
"There were barely a dozen," Abe said. "Either they've gone into hiding or we took out a lot of the frog population when Liz destroyed Katha-hem." Some members of the Bureau would have said 'we destroyed it,' but Abe always assigned credit carefully. Kate hadn't been taking note long enough to know if he was so conscientious for everyone or if it was a special consideration reserved for Liz Sherman.
"Not to jump on the pessimistic option, but…" She trailed off. Abe seemed out of focus, though it was hard to tell on a guy whose eyes were just flat, featureless blue. He looked well-prepared and dangerous, standing there in the grey B.P.R.D. field gear, but Kate remembered Rhode Island.
He said eventually, "Yes."
"You really ready for field work?" she said kindly.
"I shouldn't have left."
"Abe, that attitude isn't doing anyone any good, least of all Roger. The only difference you would have made is that we would have buried you with Roger and had a lot less left to bury."
"Maybe," Abe said stonily. "Have there been any new developments here?"
Kate decided to take this diversionary tactic as a sign that Abe respected and feared her authority – at least the threat that she might push him for answers. She wished she could say she hadn't worried this much about the mental health of her graduate students. She shrugged. "Sydney Leach transferred in a few weeks ago. He came by to ask me about fraternization regs. There's one for the list of things I didn't expect to do as field director. I'm going to have to appoint some kind of chair of social events. Everyone is in residence here."
Abe sat down at his old work station. "Two weeks and he's asking about fraternization?"
"Don't tell anybody, but I think he has a crush on Liz." Kate started ruffling through her stack of papers. "I have some paperwork for you from Washington. Bear with me, I'm not really familiar with what they're talking about. Have you heard of PESPA?"
"Is this on the list of things you didn't expect as field director?"
Kate snorted. "No, paperwork was definitely on the list."
She handed him a thick manila envelope. A cover sheet was clipped to the front along with a post-it note. The title of the cover sheet said, 'Notification of Qualification for Peabody Extranormal Self-Protection Act.'
"I don't know what this is," Abe said. The unexpected confusion softened his expression.
"Look, I know how stupid this sounds, but – there's the info packet. There's a help number, except I think it goes to us. I'm reading up on it. Liz is on the list; she qualified in '76."
"Liz," Abe repeated.
Kate said deadpan, "You want me to introduce you?"
The notice came in shortly after 0300: frogs outside of Como Bluff, Wyoming.
Abe arrived mismatched in a white polo shirt over bike shorts, damp and barefoot from his sleep-tank. The control room was half empty, a mix of night-shift and newly-woken personnel bent over PCs sitting on Cold War era consoles. The big TVs set into the walls looked impressive, but they had poorer picture resolution than an ipod. Jim Sheely manned the main station, holding a hand of cards like he'd forgotten about them. The rest of the deck sat abandoned on top of a console a few feet away. Abe spotted another hand resting safely in the breast pocket of Perino's shirt.
"How many?" asked Chavez from the on-call team. Abe's skin prickled. The last plague of frogs had brought with it a monster the size of a mountain, illuminated from within and venting a gas that had mutated an entire platoon into its own image. "They aren't going to try anything like — like that thing, are they?"
"Katha-hem," Abe said, and stopped, suddenly distracted.
Liz stood in the doorway, looking wrecked. Her scarlet hair hung tangled to to the shoulders of her field jacket. She wore a tactical vest unbuckled and askew over field pants and stocking feet, boots hanging from her fist by the laces. The rings under her eyes touched something in Abe's chest, and to his embarrassment, he thought of Edith. Liz had effectively been raised to military service, even if that service was highly irregular; she shouldn't look like that from an early wake-up call.
A lull hit the conversation. No one looked so directly at Liz, but after a moment someone said with more confidence, "They won't try that again."
"Liz," Abe said, and then awkwardly, "Are you on call?"
"Yeah," Liz said distantly. "In an hour."
She closed her eyes, tilting suddenly towards the chest-high console at her other side. Fear stopped him cold, but she only came to rest with her cheek on her folded arm. Her eyes blinked open, brows drawing into a frown. There was Abe's hand – locked around her arm above the elbow where he reached out to steady her, almost accidentally.
"What, no naps?"
"I'm sorry, I thought – are you alright? Is anything wrong?" Obviously something was wrong, but he didn't know. Roger's death had brought the world abruptly back into focus, too late.
"You first," Liz said, cool.
Abe stopped. He was going to say – what, my name is Langdon, and I don't belong here?
"We've got a team heading out for recon in Ontario at 0400," Kate said, wearing a fleece-lined jacket over pajamas. "Can you get them moved up and send them out?"
"Can do," Jim said. "Sherman, you're up."
"Got it," Liz said, shaking off Abe's hand and walking away.
"I could put my gear on," Abe said.
"No, you're not on this rotation," Kate said, her eyes on Jim's screen. Abe wondered how her undergrads at NYU had fared against her iron fist. She added more kindly, "I want to keep everybody rested," and through what must have been an admirable act of will, did not look at Liz.
A few feet from the door, Liz stumbled. He saw her look down, chuffing a laugh that was overcome by a yawn. She'd stepped shoeless into one of his own wet footprints, shiny in the overhead lights. Abe remembered waking up on a stretcher in New Jersey on his way to a helicopter where a medic could officially pronounce him dead. He'd seen Liz, turned away behind Kate and Johann. She'd looked a lot like she did now, actually, red-eyed and barely hanging on.
"Rested?" Abe repeated.
"She's been asleep the last twelve hours," Kate said. "This is a good as its going to get."
In desperation, Abe followed Liz, the air cool against his wet feet.
Abe swung into the transport chopper pretty much as it was taking off. Liz woke up from a doze with Chavez jostling her, clearing out of the next seat. Abe had dressed classic Abe, bike shorts and a tac vest. At least he'd put on shoes, not always a guarantee.
Liz had been seventeen when she met Abe Sapien, newly woken and newly named from his suspended animation. He'd been barefoot and dripping, water beading on too-smooth skin, and Liz had thought, "Wow, he just got out of that tube." (No, the pool, Abe had said quietly.) After growing up with the sound of HB's cloven hooves in the halls, she'd felt a sting of disappointment to see Abe's normal, boring feet – just a little long and seaweed green. Abe showed up in witness reports as 'the little guy' because he was standing next to the two-legged ox that was Hellboy, but Abe was 6'2" if he was an inch and muscled like a swimmer with a swimmer's shoulders. Liz liked swimmers.
Liz tilted her head back and said, "We're going to Wyoming, you know."
"I'm built to swim without a wetsuit. I'll live." He settled in, a line of warmth on her side even through her jacket. Liz noticed body heat a lot more than other people. Her coffee never chilled; her laptops were always overheating.
She rolled her eyes. "Built? That's new."
Abe grimaced, looked down at his hands. As if she didn't know there was something up there – and she didn't because he wouldn't tell her. And hadn't that been infuriating, for Abe to suddenly be asking after her problems.
Abe pulled a wrinkled pamphlet out of a pocket of his tactical vest. "Kate notified me; I'm required to select a Peabody advocate. She said you might know more."
Liz gave him a baffled look. She had a sudden, visceral image of a shiny silver detonator, and also one of her fist in Manning's face. "A Peabody advocate – ? Are you a danger to yourself or others?"
Abe tightened up against her. "What?"
"The Bureau can restrict your rights if you pose a paranormal threat and claim guardianship of paranormal minors – hey there, that's me. In the 70s, a Nevada politician lost a son to a La Llorona manifestion. He had enough ESP to be ghost-bait. When she made it to the Senate, she was into a lot of B.P.R.D. business. She drafted a bill in '74 to protect the rights of us dangerous extranormals. "
Abe looked at the pamphlet. " I didn't know it existed."
"Like I said, you're not dangerous. Though you probably could have used an advocate a few times there, huh? …Abe?"
"I was thinking of the wendigo."
"To get him an advocate, a judge would have to rule that he qualifies as 'of human origin'. Here," she unfolded the pamphlet, running her finger along the appropriate quotation. Abe, who'd been relaxing against her, went rock solid all over again. He was looking down at that pamphlet and not even blinking. Liz looked again at the phrase under her finger and said, "Son of a bitch."
"I see why I didn't previously rate protection," Abe said evenly.
"I want to know why the hell they wised up now."
Abe said nothing.
"Oh," Liz said, struck by understanding. "This is that death dream and the trip to New England." She added sarcastically, "At least I know what you're not telling me now. That's an improvement."
"Your advocate was good to you?"
"She was a nice lady, really nostalgic. She didn't like the idea of time passing, but, you know, she had parents. I stayed with her, the first time I left the bureau."
"Sydney Leach has a crush on you," Abe said abruptly.
Sydney had come to see her in the hospital that time when Liz was dying of nothing. She had missed Bud Waller's funeral, but if Sydney was still in Romania, so had he. At the time, Liz hadn't cared. Sydney would say, "Feeling better today?" and Liz would forget to answer for a whole two minutes. All the fire had burned out of her into Roger. She didn't have any desire left. In a strange, disinterested way the world seemed both beautiful and blank. It was all complicated; it was all just atoms.
Afterwards, Liz hadn't remembered many people at the hospital. For months, she'd thought Abe had gone home with Clark and Waller's remains. But one day in Connecticut, Abe had bent forward for the salt shaker, and out of the blue, she'd had an image in her head to go with the curve of his spine. Just a flash of white on green.
The nurse had wanted her to eat. He'd said, wheedling, "He's very upset," and he hadn't been talking about Sydney or Manning or HB. He'd been talking about the shape of a rigid, seaweed green back just visible on the other side of the glass. Abe had one hand over his face, the other covered by a white arm cast. He'd been there a long time. She just hadn't thought he was worth noticing.
And right there, well, that was a statement on how far gone she'd been, wasn't it.
Liz squinted up at Abe incredulously. "Uh, well, I have that effect on rookies."
Abe looked affronted. "You do?"
"Yes, I – what the hell do I care?" Liz snapped. "You know that you're human? This isn't biology. It doesn't matter what you're made of. What did they think you were – were you in the fucking 'Guy We Could Stick a Bomb in' category? I will roast anybody who thinks they could put a bomb in you."
She couldn't move her arm. Abe had one hand around her wrist, fingers long like his feet and marked with natural patterns of dark green on green. It looked blurry.
"It's alright, Liz," Abe said. His voice always seemed to have more echo in it than regular people, like a baritone in a concert hall.
She dropped her head to his shoulder and realized then that her cheeks were wet. "It is not alright," she muttered.
"It's not the worst the Bureau has ever done to me." But he turned her hand over and threaded his fingers through hers.
"You're right, that does make me feel better," Liz said, thick with sarcasm. Abe ran his fingers absently over the little pamphlet and unbelievably, his mouth twitched, almost a smile. Liz huffed.
She left her head on his shoulder, her hand in his, and she slept all the way to Como Bluff with the steady thrum of the chopper in the background.