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One Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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It starts with John intermittently sneezing his way through an entire mission, one day, to the degree that his coworkers move past their endless ‘bless you’s and into palpably irritated, long-suffering silences.  After a few more days like this, he is calling it maybe a bit of a sniffle, likely a bit of post-nasal drip.  It’s really not all too much of an issue, as a good number of agents are prone to having allergies, and although his own symptoms don’t typically crop up (one huge boon of working at the South Pole), he figures it’s probably just an odd reaction to something he encountered out in the field.

 

Another plus of living in Antarctica— the main one, really— is no longer being around in New Jersey to possibly trigger part of a doomsday prophecy that had been intercepted right after the mess with Rasputin & Co.  As a result, he and Liz had both been advised to spend an exact calendar year elsewhere while the clock ran down on the very relevant prognostication.  The last John had heard, the pyrokinetic woman was headed to a BPRD branch somewhere in southeast Asia, where she could receive specialized training for her unique abilities.

 

God knows he, himself, would definitely not mind a more temperate climate, as he’s also been fighting an implacable chill for days on end.  And it really takes an inordinate amount of focus to avoid sneezing on anyone, at this point— especially when it comes to the stoic elf prince with a serious case of resting bitch face.  The guy is aggressively attractive and very much out of his league, so he has no desire to make his mild crush even more pathetically unrequitable by misting the elven prince with pathogen-laden spittle.

 

Anyway, a week later, John can admit that he is glad to be off rotation for one of the immediate response teams.  Riding a desk is never very fun, but weeks on end of field work eventually add up to mandatory time not doing field work.  Again, something that he is thankful for, as at this point, his coworkers are in serious danger of not only being sneezed on but being in attendance of the World’s Most Persistent Cough Olympics, where one John Myers (USA) is guaranteed to take the gold.

 

After catching the side eye from several coworkers, John A.) ups his dosage for daytime cough suppressants, B.) does the same for the nighttime ones, and C.) actually takes a few sick days, finally.  The two sick days are useful for catching up with a bit of extra paperwork he’s had on the back-burner for ages, and even for shooting off a couple of emails to the other members of Hellboy’s team, but not much happens in the way of him feeling any better.

 

If anything, giving himself time to languish in bed all day seems to sap any of the reserves of energy he’s been dredging to keep himself going while at work.  Perhaps a very small part of the lack of energy has to do with his distinct, prolonged lack of an appetite.  (No matter— when financial aid had gotten tight, he’d survived on less in some semesters while working on his undergrad at U. Penn.  Doing the same now should be no problem for him, he figures.)

 

Four hours into his first shift back, John realizes that he likely figured wrong. His coughing is down to a level that is manageable, but it’s also not quite ideal that his vision half-greys out every other time he does actually start to hack up a lung.

 

A voice near his messier-than-usual workstation eventually draws his gaze up to meet that of an agent he is vaguely familiar with— Kipling, he thinks. Having missed her initial question, he raises his eyebrows and makes an inquiring noise, hoping she won’t be offended at having to repeat herself.

 

“I came over to ask about how to write part of a report on last week’s mission with those snowsquatches, but now I’m not sure I should ask you anything, since you kind of look like you might conk out right there on your desk at any moment.”

 

John barely has time to process her words and feel indignant about them before she’s leaning forward and peering concernedly at his face— which, geez, he knows he’s pretty pale right now, but that doesn’t make him a spectacle, surely.

 

“Should you even be back at work, Myers?” she continues. “I can go tell the boss you weren’t feeling too good, still, and punched out, if you want.”

 

Mildly insulted at the suggestion he should just head back to his quarters or that he’s of not much use, John consciously straightens up in his seat and does his level best to look as casually not-sick as possible. No way is Agent Johnathan C. Myers going to punk out and leave work early because of a little headcold.

 

Popping another throat-soothing lozenge and suppressing a wince at the unappetizingly strong flavors of menthol and honey, he clears his throat and waves Kipling closer with a weak smile.

 

“Go home early? Not a chance— we’ve gotta get you up to speed on those two new mandatory subsections to field and case reports, still.”

 

Kipling pulls up a chair, her attention fully refocused on a copy of a report of John’s that he has pulled out to use as an example.

 

“Step one,” he says drily, “is to not call those guys ‘snowsquatches’. Nicknames and colloquial terms will get you some major stink-eye from both your team’s SSA and NonHuman Resources when they catch wind. So let’s start completely from scratch…”

 

* 

 

Next Day

 

Prince Nuada Silverlance’s three-year stint at the Bureau of Paranormal Defense has so far been mostly unremarkable, so far as he is concerned.  Yes, he has encountered several beings he has not seen in several hundred years, but that is about as much excitement as there is to be found.  Even the rescue missions and ‘dangerous’ investigations he participates in cannot hold a flame to any of his past experiences.  Having fought in a war— and therefore countless deadly battles— means that defeating the rotating threat of the week (rogue tundra giants, rabid wolf-stags, scheming ice fae, etc.) is nothing of real interest.

 

With only two years more of this tedious volunteer-work with the BPRD, Nuada’s gaze is firmly affixed on the day he will finally have served the last bit of his restitution to his father’s court. His mind is solely stayed on his imminent, long-awaited return to his place in Bethmoora’s royal family.

 

Until one day, it isn’t.

 

Uncharacteristically, the prince is unable to recall when exactly he first began to… take an interest in the ‘New Guy’.  The young agent had arrived at the extremely remote Antarctic base due to an emergency transfer.  The ‘emergency’ label was apparently attached due to a particularly credible portion of a potentially apocalyptic prophecy that had been delivered to Anung Un Rama— or rather ‘Hellboy’ as he insisted on being called.

 

After the near-apocalypse that the strange demon and his associates had managed to avert— something that Nuada is sure he would have had no trouble quickly waylaying, himself— the BPRD hadn’t wished to take any more chances.  It had been an easy choice to ship off two of their operatives in order not to risk triggering a sequence of highly specific requisites.

 

Or so he has managed to gather from the scared-looking bookkeeper with whom he had made a simple inquiry on the subject.  It is only as he walks away from the encounter feeling triumphant (and perhaps a bit smug) does Nuada comprehend that he perhaps has a bit of a… mild ‘fascination’ with the mundane human.

 

Armed with fresh knowledge about an inexplicable new quirk in his own behavior, the prince is quick to realize that he has been shifting around his early morning training schedule in order for his crossing paths with Agent Myers to become far more likely.

 

(He also may or may not know which of the appallingly over-sweetened faux dairy additives the man prefers in his typical cup of coffee.  Nuada surmises this is because he has such experience in observing enemy combatants and their habits, and that this age-old habit has simply bled over into his current, more uneventful existence. It is somewhat telling that he could not, even under threat of death, relay similar information about any of his fellow team members, though.)

 

With not much else to do for the final four days of a rare break from active duty, Nuada resolves to further analyse the subject of his recent attention.

 

Special Agent John Myers seems to generally reside in the good graces of his coworkers, typically being willing to mentor others in several areas whenever possible.  The man is obviously a bit green behind the ears, yes, but becomes less and less so with each mission he takes on.  Missions that Nuada finds himself pleased to sometimes also be assigned to— on a purely professional level, of course.

 

Perhaps his greatest professional flaw is a streak of absent-mindedness that is rare, but persistent and ill-timed.  Occasionally, the Bethmooran prince will spot him fumbling about, searching for office implements he has already tucked away somewhere nearby, or scrambling up and bolting out of sight with just enough time to get to a meeting. He absolutely does not come dangerously close to labeling either of these things as ‘endearing’.  (Nor does he come close to outright admitting he finds the younger male’s form and features to be rather appealing, aesthetically.)

 

There are not hours enough in the day for him to enumerate the folly of cultivating any sort of regard beyond a professional one towards a member of the BPRD, much less a human one.  Reasons one through five are dedicated solely to exactly how smug both his father and his sister would be if he, the exiled prince ordered to repent because of transgressions and prejudice against the human race, finally returned home with a human Intended on his arm.  The very thought raises his hackles and his ire equally, so he has been sure to keep his physical distance from the young man as often as possible, even if his gaze rarely strays all too far.

 

However, all thoughts of staying nobly (and necessarily) aloof from the inexplicably intriguing BPRD agent fly straight out the window one day, at around half past noon.  Agent Myers has been on a rotation of shifts for roughly a fortnight that are not particularly conducive to Nuada’s furtive observation of his favourite subject, so he has missed out on a number of health-related developments.

 

He is aware that humans have a tendency to take ill far more often than many other races, but he has ascertained that more often than not, they tend to recover without much fuss in not too long.  Therefore, when he’d initially found out that the other male was under the weather, some time ago, he had not been too worried, as the base’s store of medical supplies and its medical facilities are more than adequate to ensure a speedy recovery.

 

Today, though, he is rapidly moving from ‘not too worried’ to ‘increasingly alarmed’.  The first clue is the litany of concerned coworkers inquiring amongst one another exactly why Myers has shown back up and how he is even standing upright.  Loitering by the public kitchenette without a sight line to the other’s desk-space is impeding his observation, so Nuada relocates to stand near the doorway to a random office and quickly finds himself on edge at what he glimpses.

 

The young agent is seated, thankfully, based on the paperlike colour of his skin, and his somewhat unfocused eyes are fever-bright as he does a rather poor job of pretending he has any idea what is happening with the thick sheaf of papers before him.  When he turns his head to hack powerfully into the crook of his elbow, he shakes with the force of the prolonged, painful-sounding jag of coughs.

 

Before Nuada even knows what he intends to do, precisely, he is determinedly striding across the spacious work floor, target in clear sight. In the meantime, Myers pushes himself up, swaying precariously for a few seconds before righting himself with a quiet ‘woah’.

 

When his near-anxiety ratchets up another level at this latest display, Nuada stops for a moment, as he debates exactly what he is doing, and what exactly he intends to say to Joh— Agent Myers.  He has been all but agonizing over their inevitable first official introduction and conversation for so long, now, it seems impossible to make the kind of impeccable first impression he has been hoping to make.  Perhaps, he thinks to himself, several minutes to regroup and straighten himself out— both mentally and physically— are in order, here.

 

And then Myers sneezes so hard he knocks himself off balance, and Nuada is utilizing his preternatural speed to move into his space and support his listing, overwarm body.  He looks at the man’s nearby fellow employees and speaks tightly to them, walking his new ward towards a large doorway.

 

“If anyone comes looking for him,” he says, momentarily glancing at a gaggle of openly staring agents, “let them know he left early.”

 

With a hand at John’s back—and it is alarming to see that the flushed man still seems so dazed— he pushes open a door to a discreet exit hallway.  He is rapidly becoming incensed at the entire situation on Myers’ behalf: not only are the man’s coworkers worthless, but every last one is too cowardly to simply escort their ailing compatriot to the medical wing.

 

Nuada sets his face and does his best to recall the exact location of his goal—a place he has only been aware of in passing— wishing as he often does for Mr. Wink’s helpful presence for navigating.

 

*

 

John is perplexed.

 

The very last thing he remembers is standing up to grab a cup of tea— ideally one suffused with a decent amount of honey to soothe his sore, torn up throat— and then sneezing.  Hard.

 

Hard enough to disorient him and send black spots dancing across his vision, and push the pressure headache behind his eyes to increase to hardly bearable levels.  When his head clears a bit, he becomes aware that he is being led, resolutely, in the general direction of the medical wing.

 

What is going on?’ he wonders, glancing around blearily, and peering over at the unique, but familiar, set of apparel his companion is sporting before tilting his head back up to stare at the face of his stalwart escort.

 

“Prince Duada?” he croaks.

 

The intimidating elf’s expression is a grim one, something only emphasized by the way he barely turns to glance at him.  He does deign to respond verbally, though, going straight into a diatribe that makes it sound like he’s been having a one-sided conversation for quite some time, if only internally.

 

“This is the last straw— you are going to see this facility’s medic, immediately.”

 

John considers the very real possibility that he might have accidentally swapped his Dayquil and Nyquil around, this morning, as almost nothing that is happening makes a modicum of sense.  All the same, though, his legs manage to carry him forward, somehow, in spite of their feeling barely there.  (It certainly doesn’t hurt that the steadying hand at his lower back slides over to wrap more securely around his waist when his shuffling steps nearly result in a stumble.)

 

“Whuh?...” he eventually replies, muzzily.

 

The prince quietly huffs, even as John sniffles futilely, perpetually hoping for his sinuses to miraculously decongest one of these times. (And probably not charming the literal prince that is walking beside him.)

 

“Whoever taught you to care for yourself did an appalling job,” notes the Bethmooran potentate.

 

“Mm,” John muses aloud, no longer quite up to filtering his thoughts before they tumble right out of his mouth. “Wasn’d really adybody to teach me after Mom lebft.”

 

They turn a corner and Nuada’s already firm grip tightens slightly before loosening again to something almost gentle.

 

“Well, then I shall simply have to tutor you.”

 

Elves must be inherently aware of how to perfectly time a conversation’s conclusion, because the next moment, they are before the doors to the infirmary.

 

They step into the well-lit room and things go a bit blurry after that.

 

*

 

The next thing John knows, he is waking up in a bed with the conspicuous and strange weight of an I.V. line in his wrist.  In addition, his thoughts are far easier to sort through and his head isn’t pounding like it has been for what must be a straight week or so.  Admittedly, he still feels like a stiff breeze might knock him over, with how drained he feels, but it’s almost definitely an improvement over his recent state.

 

The somewhat lethargic young agent has just raised his bed to an angle that allows him to remain comfortably upright when the doctor— the only one among a medical staff of four— walks in from an adjoining room and pins him with an unimpressed look.  She fixes him with gimlet eyes set in a preternaturally young face that, along with a prominent blue tint to her jet-black hair, belies her mixed supernatural heritage.

 

“You,” she says, raising an eyebrow and grabbing his chart before sitting on a tall stool she drags to his side, “are a mess. Underfed, underwatered, and sick as a dog, when you came in two days ago.”

 

Two days ago?

 

“That is, you presented with a fairly severe case of the flu whose symptoms were exacerbated by dehydration and malnourishment.  You are extremely lucky your young man brought you in when he did— another few days and we likely would have had to arrange emergency transportation for you to another facility.”

 

John’s eyes have been steadily widening as the physician speaks, truly not having realized exactly how sick he had been.

 

“Holy shit…”

 

“Indeed. So how about next time, when you don’t feel better after several weeks of being under the weather, you make an appointment with your doctor, hm?”

 

John sheepishly agrees, thankful that he seems to be too wiped out to even blush, as he tends to when he gets flustered, which he definitely is at the moment.

 

From there, he is only subjected to a little more scolding for not taking care of himself properly, before the doctor lets him know when he will be eating his meals that day as well as when they will be releasing him (early tomorrow morning, accompanied by a mandatory week of leave and a substantial amount of medication).

 

With a gusty exhalation which ends in a raspy wheeze— but at least doesn’t erupt into a series of coughs— John tilts his head back and closes his eyes, glad to finally have a moment to catch up to everything and reflect on the weird whirlwind events.  One of the last things Dr. Amé had said before departing was that Prince Nuada had asked to be kept up to date on John’s condition, and would likely stop by in the late afternoon, after returning from time spent covering a combat training workshop.

 

Apparently, he’s not that sick, after all, since he can just feel his face heating up in a familiar way at both the thought of the visit and at the slew of hazy memories that immediately preceded his admission to medical care.

 

Had that whole embarrassing trip through the base’s back hallways actually happened?  The unbelievably handsome (and now undeniably noble) Bethmooran elf had actually intervened on behalf of a random agent’s health?

 

Well, according to the doctor, he had unbelievably and inexplicably done just that.  And all John could do was trudge along and exist as a congested, swooning mess, likely saying all kinds of weird stuff.

 

A distant dream of someday impressing the other man with his admittedly limited prowess on a field mission like he’s always hoped dies a sad, quiet death.

 

The wan-looking BPRD agent groans and facepalms mightily.  Seconds later, he resolves to issue an apology to the poor prince, even in the face of his remaining mortification over this whole matter. (He will, of course, express his heartfelt and slightly starry-eyed thanks, too, despite his burgeoning nerves over the imminent visit, since the fever has yet to burn away his sense of propriety.)

 

Running a hand through his limp mop of hair, he reclines the bed, again, and decides to get in a little nap before the late morning turns into the late afternoon.

 

*

 

Elsewhere on base, Nuada enters his quarters and sheds his elf-made outerwear, which consists of an innocuous mid-length cloak whose hood is generously lined and trimmed with fur.  His kind is fairly resistant to extreme temperatures, so there is no need for much else when it comes to keeping warm, even in the frigid climate at the southern pole.

 

After carefully setting his sword and lance down atop a short chest of drawers, he moves over to the trifling porthole that the humans dare refer to as a ‘window’ and sits down near the place on the floor where the bright sunlight projects itself in a slightly oblong square.  The warrior prince arranges himself in a cross-legged position he tends to favor for meditation and leans over to slide open the bottom drawer of the bureau close by, grabbing several items before righting himself in order to place them down in front of himself.

 

First, he unfurls the tightly rolled up centuries-old, hand-woven rug and positions it so that every beam of light is on some part of the circular mat.  Next, he opens up the small glass jar that Healer Amé had given to him just this morning at his request and upends its loamy contents right in the middle of the patch of brilliant sunshine.  For a few seconds, he spreads the negligible handful or so of local, Antarctic soil around more evenly, before reaching for the very last item: a tiny pouch that has nearly always been on his person since early childhood.

 

From within the little satchel, he removes a dozen or so seeds of a few varieties and drops them within the perimeter made by dirt and sunlight.  With a deep inhalation, he sits back with his eyes closed for a meditative minute, calling forth a gift he has not had much use for in ages.

 

When the time is right, he opens his eyes and holds his earth-stained hands over the rug without blocking any beams of light.  Within moments there is a miniature forest of seedlings, and then a few seconds later, verdant sprouts are rapidly climbing upward.  The process continues smoothly, and within a minute, there is a veritable flower garden in the corner of his room.

 

As he sets about gathering, trimming, and hand-tying a diverse collection of greenery interspersed with vibrant blossoms, he achieves a unique sort of inner peace that has been rare for quite some time.

 

When the bouquet is complete, it is a cleanly constructed, but vivid, display of plant species that will be mostly familiar to its recipient: there are roses, peonies, gardenia, and the like.  There are also several flowers and plants that are native (and exclusive) to his homeland that are specifically elf-cultivated peppered throughout to add a unique touch.

 

Time passes quietly as he tidies up his space a bit, waffling over exactly what to do with the remaining bits of vegetation.  The issue is tabled for later when he catches the hour by way of the tiny clock mounted on a nearby wall, which reveals it is nearing the window of time he had set out for his afternoon trip to the medical wing.

 

Within another minute or two, the exiled member of the Bethmooran royal family has his quarters spotless, again, and begins to don a set of casual clothing for which he has rare occasion to wear, as most of his errands at the BPRD are spent with the likelihood of entering into battle.  With his bouquet in hand, and the eponymous silver lance at his back, he quietly closes the heavy door behind him and heads toward the hospital wing at a comfortable pace. He allows the quiet, rhythmic sound of his steps to lull him into a crystal-clear state of mind as he traverses some of the lesser-used corridors he tends to favour.

 

Nuada has heard that, similar to most elves, humans often benefit from the presence of flora while ill or recovering from injury.  Thus, the freshly made collection of flowers he has fashioned for the ailing young agent that has so effortlessly captured his interest.

 

If the gift also happens to be easily construed as a courting favour, well…. who’s to say he would disavow anyone— much less Myers, himself— of the notion.

 

Human life is fragile, after all, as Nuada has just been reminded, and he is very much finished with watching a certain one progress only from afar.