It's been six months since John Myers was exiled to Antarctica. Five months since the whole, as Liz called it, 'Golden Army Fuck-up.' Four since Manning was replaced by Colonel Samantha Carter, who convinced Hellboy, Liz and Abe to rejoin the BPRD. Three since Abe had figured out death didn't have to be permanent for elves and resurrected Nuala. Which meant resurrecting her sociopathic brother, as well.
Apparently, death fixed crazy, though. Sort of. At least, he wasn't hell-bent on the destruction of the whole human race anymore. According to Abe, anyway. Of course, he was just happy rebirth had mitigated the twin bond so Nuala didn't need to go to the infirmary every time Nuada got a paper cut.
Two months since Liz had finally managed to get everyone on the same page and have John reassigned to the team.
Unfortunately, the FBI moved at a much slower pace and he was only now, finally, walking into the familiar halls he missed more than he'd ever expected to.
The first faces he saw were a repentant Hellboy and a glowing, happy Liz. When John had first gotten the news that HB had requested him back, he'd assumed Liz had finally brow-beaten him into submission but the big guy seemed genuinely happy to see him.
"Welcome back, John." Liz scooped him into a hug, her baby bump, not nearly as ungainly as she made it sound in her letters.
Then a heavy red hand landed on his shoulder in a friendly, if painful, squeeze. "Yeah, good to have you back, Myers. Sorry about the bottom-of-the planet thing. I actually kind of missed you. Nobody else gets the candy right."
"Thanks." He said dryly but patted Hellboy back. "I'm glad to be back. I'll forgive you for Antarctica just as soon as I warm up."
The booming laugh made him feel at home like nothing else could have.
"Well, the Colonel and the rest of the team are in the conference room waiting to meet you, so let's get a move on."
The reverent way the big guy hovered around Liz, giant hand carefully curving over her rounded belly, made him rethink the effort Liz had gone to on his behalf. He doubted she'd had to do more than raise an eyebrow to get her own way. It was also obvious even that much hadn't been necessary, though. Whatever ridiculous jealousy Hellboy had felt six months ago was gone. The two of them had settled into each other. The bond solid and strong and HB was secure enough to know John was no threat for Liz's affection.
His own twinge of envy caught John by surprise. Not that he wanted Liz that way. He just wanted that connection, that sense of belonging to another human being. Or, well, as close as one could get at the BPRD. For awhile, in the lonely cubicle they called a room in Antarctica, his body had battle the cold with hot, desperate dreams of an all-encompassing lover. One who wrapped John in a cocoon of belonging. But the insomnia had returned to chase those dreams away, leaving him lonely and exhausted once more.
John saw Abe first and greeted him with a warm handshake and a quick hug. "It is pleasant to have you back, John. I have missed you." He turned to the pretty blond next to him, with not quite human features that did nothing to take away from her serene beauty. "May I introduce Nuala, my, uh, my..."
"Girlfriend, Abe. The word you're looking for is girlfriend." Hellboy boomed with amusement.
John was pretty sure the deep green tinge that over took Abe's cheeks was his version of a blush. Nuala, however, continued to smile softly, inclined her head and offered a delicate hand.
"That's Colonel Carter." HB continued the introductions with a broad wink. "She's smarter, nicer and prettier than Manning."
"I'd be flattered, Hellboy but I've heard the way you talk about Manning. A slug would fit those qualifications." The Colonel offered John a brisk handshake as she smiled with an ironic twist of her lips. "It's nice to have you here. General O'Neill had good things to say about your time in Antarctica."
"Thank you, sir. It's good to be back."
A soft sound of movement from the corner drew John's attention.
"Tall, broody and silent over there is Nuada." Hellboy motioned with offhand disdain. Then added. "Nuala's twin."
As if he needed that pointed out. The siblings were nearly identical. Except that Nuada was definitely all male. And he had a hard-edge sense of sheathed violence around him, where his sister seemed all soft, curvy grace. The amber eyes didn't blink while the elven prince appraised John with an aloof stare.
"He doesn't talk to anyone except Nuala but Abe says he's not a threat anymore. And he pinky swore not to try to unleash mechanized apocalyptic robots or stampeding plant gods on the world anymore." Hellboy's self-amused smirk shifted into a thoughtful frown. "Of course, the fact that he spends all his time in the botany lab and the nursery makes me a little concerned about that last one."
"Red," Liz growled and Hellboy held up his hands in surrender.
"Anyway, there's cake." He waved toward the table where a large, three-tiered cake sat. Of course, the thick chocolate frosting had definite impressions of sausage sized fingers smeared through it. Everyone looked back at HB. "What?"
With a resigned shrug, Liz cut the cake and started passing out plates until everyone had at least one piece. The laughter and conversation filled the room. But even as he reconnected with his old friends and got to know Nuala and Colonel Carter, he couldn't help noticing the way Nuada stayed silent and watchful in the corner.
As much as he tried not to, John couldn't help the way his eyes occasionally strayed toward the gorgeous elf standing statue-still and pensive in the corner. His posture remained alert and stiff whether Nuada was smiling tightly at his sister or sneering at Hellboy or rubbing a soft cloth over the tip of a nasty looking spear. Or looking at John like he was a puzzle that needed to be solved.
It took John two weeks back at the BPRD before he realized he was being stalked.
Or, well, maybe stalked wasn't the best word. Watched. A lot.
At first, it was a vague sensation, like eyes on the back of his neck. He dismissed it as a side effect of being back in civilization after so long in the sparsely populated base at the bottom of the world.
Hellboy had joked that Nuada spent all of his time with the plants and that was true. He split his time between the botany lab, the nursery, the greenhouse and hydroponics. The botanists were in awe of his ability to nurture rare and exotic plants no one had been able to grow outside of their natural habitat. Terrestrial and non. Dr. Brown still spoke with soft reverence about his ability to keep the Centauri spider plant not only alive but thriving
Every time John looked up from a meal in the mess hall, though, he'd find otherworldly amber eyes looking at him with an unwavering gaze. At first, he tried to brush it off as coincidence. But how often could the elf choose to eat at the exact same time as John? And coincidently choose a seat that gave him an uninterrupted view?
Every time he walked out of an office, the training room, his quarters, whatever, the elf was there. Not skulking in the shadows. Not staring or deliberately looking away. Definitely not talking. Just walking by. Or coming out of the room opposite. Casual and relaxed.
So, yeah, it took him awhile to consider the possibility he was being stalked by someone from the Otherworld.
This was hard to ignore.
This was a blue tinged plant with spike-like white flowers overflowing half of the twin bed in his quarters. The quarters which he'd locked when he'd left for his meeting with Colonel Carter and unlocked when he'd returned, two minutes before.
Which meant someone had broken in, left him a plant that he was pretty sure wasn't terrestrial and locked up after himself. A sound outside the door he'd left open had him turning abruptly, body priming for action with a surge of adrenaline that shot through him like a caffeine bullet. Still, he knew who he'd see walking unobtrusively by before he even managed to focus.
Nuada. For the first time, the elven warrior paused and looked directly at John. Those amber-gold eyes held him spell bound for a long, breathless minute. Then the elf inclined his head a tiny fraction, the first acknowledgment he'd given John that he actually saw the agent, despite all the times the elf stared at him. Before he could be sure, however, Nuada was moving on at his usual, aggressive, purposeful stride.
Then he was gone and John found himself blinking, wondering if he'd really seen anyone, or if too long in Antarctica had him hallucinating.
Deciding to deal with the plant later, John backed out of his room, carefully closing and locking the door behind him. Like it would do any good.
John found Nuala alone in what use to be Broom's study.
"John. How nice to see you. Sit, please. Would you like some tea?" Her smile, as always, was warm, welcoming and genuine when she waved toward the tea service.
"No, thanks." He settled into a comfortable chair and tried to figure out how to ask a question when he wasn't sure what answers he was looking for. Or if he really wanted the answers at all.
"I wanted to talk to you about your brother."
She froze, looking worried and wary before her usual serenity descended and she reached for her own teacup.
"I see. He isn't... He seems to like it here. I did not think there were any problems."
Her hand trembled a little as she raised the cup to take a sip and John felt like a complete jackass for worrying her.
"No. No problem," he hurried to reassure her. "It's just, he's around. A lot."
Her forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Colonel Carter has asked us to keep our presence in your world somewhat of a secret. We do not venture out often if the team is not required. It is a small compound. We cannot help but be around a lot. There aren't many places for us to go."
"That's... true." John admitted, pressing his fingers into the base of his neck. He really didn't know how to explain his concerns without using the word stalking. And he really wasn't ready to do that yet. Instead, he blurted out, "He left me a plant."
That got her attention. Carefully setting down the delicate cup, she folded her hands on the table and leaned forward. "What kind of plant?"
"Bluish leaves. White flowers that look like knives. Huge."
"He left you an Ullskyn bush?" Eyebrows both arched, her calm composure marred with surprise.
"I guess, yes. Why would he give me a plant?"
"I... cannot say. You would have to ask my brother. We are not as close as we once were." Leaning back, she picked up her tea again and sipped it slowly. Melancholy dropped over her like a veil and John squirmed in his seat feeling guilty even though he had no idea what he'd done to cause it.
"We once shared everything, you know. Nuada and I."
"I... heard." He decided not to tell her about the drunken rambling letter he had received from Abe shortly after the 'Golden Army Fuck-up'. He knew Nuala had killed herself in order to stop her brother because their twin bond was so strong it reached into the physical.
"When we were in the Time-Between, I dreamt of Abe. I knew then that he was my beayn-anym-ceile and grieved that I had realized it too late."
John wondered if a conversation with the elf was ever going to make sense. Instead he asked, "What is a beayn-anym-ceile?"
"It is a soul-mate. The other half of my being. In normal circumstances, I would have recognized him immediately. But the bond I had with Nuada was too strong and clouded everything else. When we were reborn, Death took away all but a pale echo of my bond with my brother. But he gave me Abe."
Her free hand curved around the locket nestled on a thin chain at her throat.
"I had hoped that Nuada, too, would find his beayn-anym-ceile now that our bond was no longer clouding his senses." She took another sip of her tea, tears sparking in her eyes. "But he, at least, has found pleasure in his plants and a purpose, of sorts, here at the BPRD that allowed him to begin making recompense for his actions. He has been content..."
Abe rushed into the room and moved directly to Nuada's side, cutting off whatever else she was going to say about her brother.
"Are you alright, my love? I could feel your distress." Glaring at John, Abe gathered her in his arms as if he might have to protect her from a physical attack. John sat back in his chair and carefully spread his empty hands palms down on the table to show he was no threat.
"Yes. Fine. We were just talking about Nuada." A tremulous smile ghosted across Nuala's lips and Abe eased a bit, offering her an understanding smile.
"Of course," The smile fell off, though when he glanced sternly in John's direction. "If you'll excuse us?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry," he said to Abe, then redirected his focus back to Nuala. "I am sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I know." She looked like she would say more but Abe was back to fussing over her and, after another minute of silence, John figured it was better to leave them alone.
A few days later, they went on their first mission as a whole team, minus a protesting Liz. Of course, it had to be a damp, pitch-black basement of a Park Avenue high rise where something had been eating the resident pets. Something with long sleek tentacles that slithered through the darkness, carefully avoiding their flashlights.
It was stealthy and fast for its size, sliding through the shadows of the dark basement. John and Hellboy were paired up covering one side of the huge maze of storerooms. Nuala, Abe and Colonel Carter worked together on the other side. Nuada stalked the darkness in between on his own.
In the twist and turns of the short hallways, John stopped abruptly when he realized he was alone. Somehow he'd lost track of the big guy. A soft sound in the darkness tweaked the primitive part of his brain and slithered down his spine. Cold fear drenched his skin and he gripped his weapon tighter, moving carefully backward in the direction he'd come from.
Before he'd taken half a dozen steps, a dark shadowy limb whipped out of the darkness, knocking his flashlight and gun from his hands. Then another wrapped around his waist. More came from everywhere and nowhere. Pinning his legs, his shoulders, cutting off air as it twined around his throat. His hands beat against the slick, rubbery flesh but bounced off without causing any damage.
In his ear, John could hear Hellboy shouting, demanding his position, his status, anything, over and over. Growing more frantic with each growled command. But he couldn't respond as he dangled in the air, losing oxygen and consciousness with every convulsive tightening of the limbs holding him.
Then a high, ear-ripping screech filled the air around him. The tentacles all went slack at once, dropping him hard to the cement floor. The shriek continued but the sound of flesh ripping and tearing nearby slowly silenced it.
When something touched him again, John struggled until he realized they were hands. Slow, gentle hands carefully moving over him checking for wounds and injuries while he lay there gulping for breath.
"Fine," John eventually managed to get roughened words past the gasping breaths. "I'm fine. Bruises. That's it."
The hands slowed and stopped, one resting on his waist, bare skin touching bare skin where his shirt had rucked up in the struggle. The other hand brushed the sweat soak hair back from his face, then stroked down his cheek to rest along his jaw.
Hellboy's heavy footsteps running towards them finally made John force his eyes open in the dark. He caught a quick impression of pale. Pale hair, pale skin, white clothes. Then soothing hands were gone and his savior disappeared back into the dark.
"Myers. What the fuck? What happened?" Hellboy dropped down beside him then shined his flashlight over the corpse of the squid-thing. Its body was the size of a large grizzly with at least a dozen tentacles flowing in all directions.
"That thing. Got me." Air was coming easier but his body still didn't seem to want to exchange oxygen for words. "Someone saved me. Nuada, I think."
"Elf-boy? Where is he now?"
John shook his head but another screech reverberated through the basement, answering the big guy's question.
"There are more of those things?"
The pain-filled sound cut off abruptly.
"Not anymore," John murmured, laughing a little from the adrenaline dump and the relief of being alive.
Medical had insisted on keeping John overnight, though he only had some contusions and a sore throat. He headed immediately for breakfast at the mess, eager to see his team and get the lowdown on exactly what had happened after Hellboy carried him out of the basement and handed him over to the medic. If he was eager to see Nuada, especially, well, he needed to thank the elf for saving his life.
"They were Chionag." Carter explained over eggs and pastries. "Normally they prefer dark, swampy areas but they seek out areas of dense population for their centennial breeding period. It was a good thing we rooted them out before they could spawn. One clutch would have eaten its way through Manhattan in a matter of weeks."
John shuddered at the thought of dozens of them loose in the city. He reached up and carefully touched the healing bruise. For a second, he could still feel the slippery sinew cutting off his air.
"There was a whole nest of 'em." HB said as he dug into his second breakfast. "Nuada got three before I got back, but I got the last two."
He stabbed his steak as if demonstrating.
At the mention of the elf, John looked up automatically. Nuada was in his usual spot, staring at John. Again. Still. Whatever. The elf seemed closer than usual. Watching his every move like he was some clumsy damsel ready to fall into distress at a moment's notice and need rescuing.
When John stared back instead of looking down at his food like he usually did, Nuada's eyes widened. Then his expression... shifted. It was the first time John had seen the elf with anything other than the implacable, stoic mask. He had no idea what the tightened lips, clenched jaw and lowered eyes meant.
Then Nuada nodded once at him, stood up and walked out of the mess hall. Only when he felt his eyes relaxed in surprise did John realize he'd been glaring at the elf the whole time.
"Fuck." He dropped his fork onto his plate and headed for the door with no idea what he was going to do or say when he caught up with Nuada.
Apologize? Demand answers? Thank him? Tell him to stay the fuck away?
When John finally tracked him down, they were in an empty corridor near an old hydroponic lab only the elf ever used anymore.
The straight back stiffened then slowly turned to face him. His face had slipped back into unreadable indifference and his stance was relaxed, while still poised for anything.
"I... uh... thanks. For killing the squid-thing. For saving me." It wasn't want John wanted to say but it was a start. All it got him, though, was another unblinking, barely there nod.
"This has to stop," he growled in frustration, stepping into the elf's space without thinking about the consequences.
It got him a slow blink and an inclined head that did not look back up at him before Nuada turned to go. John felt a flutter of panic. Somehow, he knew if the elf walked away now, whatever was going on, it was over. And he didn't want it to be over. Whatever the whys, he'd grown use to it. He wanted more.
"No," John said, hand grabbing Nuada's shoulder before he could get away. "I meant the stalking with the silent treatment. If you're going to follow me around, the least you can do is tell me why. I have no idea if you want to hit on me or kill me."
"Neither." The voice was deep and smooth and rolled through John like a caress. "I have no wish to hurt you, John Myers. I would not hit you or kill you."
He had to swallow tight at the vehemence and the liquid heat in the gold eyes. He thought about correcting the misinterpretation. Instead he just asked what he really wanted to know. "Why, then?"
Nuada smiled, a flashing of teeth that was wild and sweet and made John breathless even before the hands came up to gently cup his jaw. When the elf's mouth closed over his, he moaned and swayed into the hard body. Lips devoured him, hot, wicked tongue plundered him and all he could do was twist his hands into soft fabric and hold on. Offer himself into the kiss and try to hold his own.
When Nuada finally lifted his head and allowed John to catch his breath, the smile was still there but softer. Hopeful.
"I am courting you, John Myers."
His brain was still foggy with passion. His body was tight and hard with need.
"I knew you the moment I saw you. I dreamt of you in the Time-Between. I knew you were my beayn-anym-ceile. But humans do not seem to understand soul-mates so I was trying to... intrigue you. I only seemed to worry you, though."
"Not worry, exactly. Confuse." Then the rest of what Nuada said caught up to him. "Wait. Dreams? It was you? I... you were in my dreams? You kept me warm and..."
Made him feel safe, loved, connected. All the things he hadn't had since his uncle died and he'd become a true orphan, completely alone in the world.
The smile widened. "You remember? Abe only kept bits from his dream-time with Nuala."
"Yeah," his voice cracked and he stepped into the warm body, sighing and relaxing when arms tightened and he was pulled in close. "Yeah, I remember."
"So, I may continue to court you?"
John laughed tilting his head back to look up at Nuada. "Sure, why not? Just no more plants, okay? I think I need you to come rescue the one you already gave me, as it is."
Nuada chuckled and nuzzled his lips against the soft skin of John's neck, making him shiver.
"Or I could just come back to your room and show you how to take care of it."
The words whispered across his ear and he shivered. It was crazy. He knew it was crazy but he wanted it.
"Yeah. Okay. Yeah, let's go."