Disclaimer: Still don't own any of the Hellboy characters; not making any money off any of this.

Summary: Events before the BPRD team travels to Louisiana .

Author's Note:

Just so everyone knows, this story will be ten chapters long, and it's a three-story arc with "Alone Time" being the first story and another story after this one, which is tentatively titled "Tears of Blood." Please pardon the delay in posting this chapter. For the past couple of months I've been stalked & the person who was stalking me broke into my home while I was there sleeping & stole my purse. I've been more than a little upset. Anyway, here it is. I hope the next chapter won't take nearly so long.

apenamee, epalladino, & Cassiopeia1979–thanks for the reviews! Hope you keep reading and enjoying.

Reptilian Goddess–I'm glad you like the way I'm writing Joanna. I do have a John/Liz story in the works right now that might see the light of day in a few weeks (maybe). John is OOC, but that's explained in the story.

Reya Guardian of Azrath–nothing like reviews to keep writers writing!

fallen-angel147–as you no doubt read in the author's note, there's much more to come.

Chapter 3–Big Empty

Seth Garrett was waiting for Joanna at the front gate of the BPRD building that Saturday, astride the Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle that she'd had to leave in New York after the raid. She'd given him some story about an ongoing investigation at the waste-management plant, which he clearly didn't believe, but she didn't have the energy for a more compelling lie. When he saw her walking down the drive toward him, he pulled off his helmet and waved to her. "Hey, Jo," he called as the gate rattled open. "How's the arm doing?"

"It's okay. It's healing." Once again she'd ditched the sling. "Thanks for bringing my bike back. You know it's my baby."

"Hey, nothing but door-to-door service for our rising stars here in the FBI. So where did you want to go for lunch?"

"There's a pretty decent Chinese place downtown. How about that?"

He nodded. "Been a while since I had Chinese. Hop on."

She did, mostly because she knew several security cameras were aimed straight at her and that Hellboy might somehow be watching. Even though she missed driving her bike, it was just better not to give him reason to lecture her about her health. The arm didn't even hurt that much now unless she strained it, but she thought that argument wouldn't hold much water with him. Garrett handed over her own helmet, a lookalike for the one Peter Fonda had worn in Easy Rider, and she slipped it on before he turned the motorcycle around and roared off toward downtown Newark.

Conversation was impossible while riding, so Joanna directed him to the restaurant with hand signals and the occasional shouted comment. It took a few minutes to find a parking place, and she wondered how she was going to talk about what was happening to her with him. After she had graduated from the Academy they had gotten friendlier, but no hint of the romantic had ever crept in. Garrett had been more of a father figure to her, in fact more of a father than her own had been. Uncle David had raised her from the age of ten, and she had loved him, but a distance had always existed between them because of what had happened to her mother in Louisiana. She thought he'd blamed her for it, to some degree, but neither of them ever discussed it. Not discussing things was a hallmark of her family.

The hostess had seated them at a banquette with red leather seats and the waitress had taken their drink orders before he mentioned the raid. "We still don't know why Tsai's uncle took a shot at you, Jo. We've interrogated everyone else who was inside the house and they're just as confused as we are. And somehow I don't believe they're lying. Are you sure you don't have any ideas?"

"Not a one," she told him. But she reminded herself to have Uncle David call the asylum in Baton Rouge to make sure her father was still there. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to look into whether he had some way of contacting the outside world. How would he have known she was with the FBI, much less that she would be part of the Tsai raid and present him with a convenient opportunity to attack her? Maybe she could ask Clay to do it. She'd be more comfortable with no one knowing, but there was no way she could deal with her father while on a mission. Still, she couldn't handle the feelings of helplessness and anger that welled up. She had to do something.

"So what's going on besides that?"

"Nothing. Why?" He just stared at her. She glanced down at the table and smiled a little. "Is it that obvious?"

"Probably only to someone who really knows you." He fell silent as their waitress returned with two bottles of Tsingtao, the Chinese beer that he favored. When she left, he continued. "Is it the job? I could imagine something getting to you at the BPRD."

"Cannot confirm or deny, etcetera, but it isn't the job." Joanna sighed. "I just don't want you to think any less of me for this." Of course she couldn't tell him anything about Hellboy, but an edited version of the truth might do. She had to speak to someone about this, and, although she loved Liz, she was too close to Hellboy to be objective.

"Jo, you know what I think of you isn't going to change. So out with it."

She took a drag on the bottle of beer before she spoke. "I've gotten involved with someone I work with. It's completely unprofessional and I should be thrown out of the FBI. It's disgraceful."

"You always have been too hard on yourself. We don't encourage workplace romances, but these things happen. We're only human." Then the waitress returned with their orders and Joanna stayed quiet for a few moments, moving her sweet and sour chicken around on the plate. "Tell me what's going on."

"Because of where I work, I can't be really detailed about anything, but the guy I've gotten involved with is sort of my partner."

"Sort of?"

"He's this lone wolf character, likes to do everything himself. The infuriating part is that he really can do everything himself. When I first got assigned to him, I don't think he could stand the sight of me. He didn't need me at all as a partner–still doesn't, really–and I did ask for a transfer once, but our superior talked me out of it." Once again she wondered what had been in Professor Broom's mind. Was this what he had wanted, or would he have been horrified and disgusted? "We worked things out to some degree, so I stayed, but things changed."

"What happened?"

"To make a long story short, we decided to fool around. It's against my better judgment because I know it will affect his fieldwork, but I just couldn't keep saying no." She stopped to take a breath. How could she communicate Hellboy to Garrett when she couldn't talk about him? And she couldn't tell him the reason she had finally said yes.

Three days ago, when Hellboy had asked her if she wanted him to be alone forever, she hadn't been shielding herself from him, and her damned empathy had given her a straight line right into his heart, the depths of loneliness, the longing he felt for her. The feelings had been so strong it had been all she could do to hold on to her composure, but after that her justifications for saying no seemed so flimsy and unworthy that it felt right to abandon her resistance. But the knowledge that she was endangering him still tore at her. She told herself she should resign, but deep down she knew she was too selfish to give him up completely, the way Manning would insist upon if she left the BPRD. So she held herself balanced on a knife edge, reciting her mantra of 'If it affects his fieldwork, it stops.' The upcoming mission would be the real test.

"As I remember, they used to call you Ice Princess at the Academy because you turned down every guy there. Except for Gavin Sands, of course. So I guess you two are officially quits now?"

"Yeah." She hated being reminded of Gavin. It had been a mistake from the word go, but she had been lonely and he had seemed like a nice enough guy, one of her classmates at Quantico who understood what she was going through. Thank God she would never see him again. The last she'd heard, he'd been assigned to the Chicago office, and he could stay there for all she cared. "Although as far as I was concerned, we were quits as soon as we graduated."

He laughed. "What's so special about this new one?"

Joanna bit back a laugh herself. "You would really have to meet him yourself to understand that. He's arrogant and bad-tempered and tactless, but underneath that he's a very sweet guy who doesn't have much experience with women."

"Hardly sounds like your usual type."

That remark would have gotten a warning look and a blistering reply had it been anyone besides Garrett who made it. "I didn't know I had a usual type, but I do see what you mean."

"Think you've lost control, right? You're not acting like a textbook FBI agent? Breaking the rules a little, are we?"

"That's not helping, Seth."

"The hell it isn't. I think this is the best news I've heard about you in quite a while. Ever since the day I met you at Quantico I've been worried about you. You armor yourself in the rules and stifle your emotions as much as you can. That isn't living. If this guy breaks down your walls, you should stay with him, no matter if you're working together or not. You need that, Jo." He set the half-empty beer bottle down and looked her in the eye. "Take the chance. If it goes badly, fine. We all make mistakes. But I don't think this is one."

Joanna set her own bottle, still three-quarters full, carefully down on the table. "Not exactly what I was expecting to hear."

"I won't help you beat yourself up. Is it so hard to go with the flow?"

"Actually, yes, it is." But she laughed when she said it.

The rest of the meal went by without incident, until Garrett looked at his watch and informed her that he had to pick up his rental car and start back to New York. He gave her a brief hug before he got in the rented Saturn. "And you're going to introduce me to your mystery man, sooner or later."

"Probably later," she told him. Much later, she told herself as she climbed back on her motorcycle and took off for BPRD headquarters. The freedom of movement on the bike helped calm her, but her mind kept circling around. What would that meeting look like? He was a nice man with an open mind who cared about her, but how would he react to the fact that she was having sex with a demon? Not well, she thought.

Joanna had been inside the main building for less than five minutes when Clay found her. "Red's looking for you."

"What for?"

He shook his head. "Didn't say, but he didn't like your being gone."

Her temper flared at that. "So what? I am entitled to a day off around here every so often. I am a field operative, not a personal servant."

Clay held up his hands. "Take it easy, Myers. Nobody said you were. I think he's just worried about you. You know he can't express these things very well."

Just as suddenly as it had come, her anger drained away, leaving her empty and a little tired. "I'll go down to his quarters and check in."

She started to move past him, but he put his arm in front of her. "Just one question, and I won't mention it again. Do you know what you're doing?"

When she looked at him, Joanna's stomach dropped. He knew, or at least strongly suspected, what had happened between her and Hellboy. How had he figured things out? But she reminded herself Clay wasn't an ex-Secret Service agent and BPRD veteran for his good looks and charm. "I have no idea. I'm playing this by ear."

"Then I'm sorry, Myers. Hope things work out."

"Me too." Straightening her shoulders under her black leather biker's jacket, she headed for Hellboy's quarters.

Her arm had healed enough so that she didn't need help to open the door any more, but doing it still gave her more twinges of pain than she'd admit. Cats surged around her feet and a chorus of mews greeted her as she stepped through and closed the heavy steel door behind her. Hellboy stood on the other side of the room, wearing only a pair of jeans and doing bicep curls with a dumbbell that probably weighed more than she did. A lot like the first time she met him, only now she knew just how those six-pack abs felt beneath her hands and she had personal experience of what was under those jeans. Joanna's mouth went dry at the thought as she set her helmet down on the table. "Hi."

"Hi yourself," he replied. His golden eyes followed her as she took off the biker jacket, its chains jingling as she dropped it over the back of the couch, and moved toward one of the VCRs. Underneath she wore a blue silk tank top that intensified the color of her eyes. "Where have you been?"

"Having lunch with Seth Garrett. He was bringing me my motorcycle today. I think I might have mentioned it. Do you want to watch a movie?" Her fingers drifted over the videos as she looked for something she hadn't seen in a while. One thing you could say about Hellboy–he was a big movie fan. She'd have to convince him to get a DVD player sometime. Maybe Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He was a fan of the genre.

"He's the one that got you shot, right?" The rough edge of his voice told her what he thought of that.

"Well, he did request that I go on the raid. It was my own fault, though. I let my guard down when I thought they had Tsai." Should she say anything about the voice she'd heard? No; if she did, she'd have to explain everything about her past, and she wasn't up to that right now. She could handle it alone.

"Not everything is your fault, Myers." She heard the resounding smash of the dumbbell hitting the floor but didn't turn around. Warmth began pooling in her lower regions. This was the first time she and Hellboy had been alone together since they made their deal. The next day he had insisted to Manning that Clay bring him his meals until her arm healed, and none of her arguments had moved the Director. Her hand paused on the videos, then continued over them as she tried to seem casual. Why was his effect on her so intense? She'd been with two other men in her life, but neither of them had aroused her with so little effort. He hadn't even touched her yet and she was getting turned on. When he stopped behind her, she felt the heat radiating off his body before the stone hand covered her stomach. "Do I need to be worried about him?"

She leaned back against him. "Worried how?" Even she heard the breathlessness in her voice.

His lips touched her neck, so she tilted her head to give him easier access. His mouth moved from her shoulder to her ear, and he whispered, "Does he want you too?"

"No. He's just a friend." Joanna's eyelids drifted closed as he captured the skin of her throat and began to suck. Shivers of pleasure darted through her, as well as the random thought that she'd have to cover that up with foundation tomorrow. Her knees went a little weak, but he was holding her up with his stone hand.

Hellboy's mouth returned to her ear. "Do you want him?"

"God, no." The words left her in a sigh. "I don't want anyone except you."

"Good to know." His left hand dropped to the waistband of her jeans and began unfastening them, while his stone hand stroked up and down her thigh. She had thought, before they'd become intimate, that the touch of his right hand would be painful, or at least uncomfortable, but his gentleness with it surprised her. After all, she'd seen him use it to punch out an SUV, but now it played over her as lightly as his breath on her neck.

An unexpected movement at her back startled her as her tank top began moving upward. "Hellboy, is that your tail?"

"Yeah. Raise your arms." She obeyed, the silk top sliding over her head until he shook it off, leaving her in a dark blue satin bra. Then he curled his tail around her bare waist and she moaned at the touch. "I like your underwear, Myers."

"Stop calling me Myers when we're doing this." But the issue didn't seem very important as the heat from him almost burned against her bare back and his hand slid into her now-unzipped jeans. Her hips rocked back against him as his hand cupped her.

"Take off your pretty underwear, Joanna." His baritone vibrated throughout her body. For a second she actually thought she might faint. She reached around to the clasp of her bra and unhooked it, sliding the straps down her shoulders. He pushed her jeans down her legs until they dropped to her feet, but left her panties where they were. Pressing his fingers against the silk, he began rubbing in circles around her clit and she cried out with the pleasure. She felt a tremor go through him before he said, "Damn, it feels like it's been forever."

"Three–three days," she stammered.

"We shouldn't wait this long again. Makes us both tense." His hand slid away from her. She almost moaned at the loss of contact. "Take off your panties."

Joanna turned around in his arms, difficult with his tail so securely wrapped around her, but she needed to look at him. "Kiss me first."

He brought his head down to her and their mouths met. She was surprised anew that his lips were soft, but thought deserted her pretty quickly as she lost herself in the contact with him, their tongues caressing, entwining, their bare upper bodies pressed together. When they broke the kiss, both of them were gasping. "Now take them off." His voice was a rough purr.

Pushing her sneakers off, she kicked away her jeans and slid off her panties. Hellboy's tail left her waist and slid over her hip, then down the length of her leg. He smiled. "As beautiful as I remember. You want the couch or the bed?"

"The bed. I want to lie down with you."

He lifted her in his arms and carried her over to his bed, flicking the blanket back with a quick motion of his tail before laying her down. Turning her head a little, she noticed the pictures taped to his headboard for the first time. Professor Broom, Clay, Abe–and herself. She didn't even want to think about the implications of that. "Where did you get the picture?"

"Liz." He cut off any further talk on her part by unfastening his jeans and taking them off. The sight of him hit her like a punch in the stomach. Once again she couldn't help but stare. He might not be what anyone would call beautiful, but he was a perfect physical specimen. She reached up for him, but he pushed her hands away. "We're going to go a little slower this time. I didn't get to touch you as much as I wanted." She almost gasped, but held it in. If he thought last time wasn't enough touching...His voice surprised her. "Move over. I want to lie down with you, too."

She did, and he stretched out next to her, propping himself up on one elbow to look down at her. Hellboy let his eyes roam, then bent and placed a kiss on the thin white line running from the outside corner of her lower lip to the tip of her chin. "How did you get that?"

Instinctively she slammed her mental shields into place, even though he lacked Abe's power to read her mind, and tried to control the stiffening of her muscles. Joanna doubted Hellboy had missed her sudden tension, but she could do nothing except try to bluff her way out of it. She didn't want to lie to him, but she wouldn't tell him everything yet, especially not right now. "Childhood accident," she murmured. As far as it went, it was the truth.

He seemed content with that for the moment, dropping kisses all over her face until she relaxed. Then he drew back and traced the lines of her face with his index finger. "And you wonder why I want to protect you."

"I can take care of myself."

"Never said you couldn't, Girl Scout. I just want to help you do that, from time to time." His touch moved from her face to her neck, then over her upper chest, where he paused at the now-fading bruise. "I don't want that to happen to you again. What would I do if I lost you?"

She put her hand against his cheek. "You won't lose me. But if you did, you'd survive. We rarely die just because someone we care about did." Damn–she'd almost stuck the word 'love' in there. The last thing Hellboy needed was to decide he loved her because they were intimate now. And she couldn't love him because–well, because she was who she was and so she just couldn't. His keeper. How would he look at her if he knew the truth? She never wanted to see that look of disgust, so she would never tell him. It was a kindness not to.

"No. We just want to die." His mouth came down on hers, hard and possessive, and a thrill of need shot through her. Joanna turned on her side so she could press the length of her body against him and returned the kiss equally hard. When he released her mouth, he whispered, "Father gave you to me. I am not going to lose you."

"I said you won't. And I don't know that he'd approve of this."

"Kinda old-fashioned of you, wanting to ask my father's permission first. Shouldn't it be me doing that?"

God, God, God. Why couldn't they stay off the subject? "I wasn't talking about getting your hand in marriage. I was talking about what he'd think of you having sex with me. I admit I didn't know him very well, but he might have thought you deserved somebody better than me."

"She doesn't exist." His hand closed around her breast and he rested his head against her upper chest, his lips brushing the edge of her breast. His breath touched her skin and a wave of goosebumps followed it. Joanna felt the stump of his right horn digging into her collarbone, but somehow it wasn't unpleasant. She had wanted to touch them for a long time, to see what they felt like, but Hellboy was far too sensitive about them to allow that. If he took such offense at her looking at them, she didn't want to think about what he'd do if she actually touched them. They didn't have any sensation, anyway, as his continued use of the sander on them proved. She settled for tracing the outline of his pointed ear with her index finger, which brought a soft growl from him.

He shifted and his lips locked onto her nipple. The furnace heat of his mouth made her groan and try to push more of her breast into his mouth. His fingers toyed with her other nipple and she began writhing against him. Hellboy trailed kisses down her stomach, then slid his hand between her thighs and pushed them apart. He began making tiny circles around her clit again and she lost the thread of her thoughts. Then thought deserted her completely as he exerted more pressure on her clit and waves of pleasure burned her from head to foot. Her hips arched up toward him, silently pleading for more. She managed to open her eyes and the expression on his face hypnotized her–the intensity of his concentration, the clear fascination with her body and its responses. Then every muscle in her body stiffened as the release took her and she stuffed a fist into her mouth to stifle her scream.

He wrapped his hand around her wrist and pulled it away. "Don't do that. I like to hear you. It excites me."

"I doubt if it would excite everybody else working here." She allowed him to pull her on top of him and bring her face down until their mouths locked in a deep, passionate kiss. Her lips clung to his as she lifted her head, the hint of a smile curving them. "Got something to show you, Hellboy."

"Will I like it?" His lips twitched with the grin he was trying to suppress.

"I'm almost sure you will. Just lie back and relax." He did what she said, folding his arms behind his head and watching her as she planted a series of tiny kisses over his chest, here and there lapping with her tongue like a kitten. Joanna didn't know how well he felt that, considering the toughness of his skin, but he seemed to enjoy watching her do it. His lower body displayed its enthusiasm, anyway. She shook her head and let her long hair trail over his chest and stomach, and this he did seem to feel, because he drew in his breath sharply and started to reach for her. "No, no," she murmured, pushing his hands away until he replaced them behind his head. "We haven't even gotten to the really good part."

"Why do I get the idea this is going to test my patience?"

"Who knows?" Joanna said before nipping lightly at his abdominal muscles. He hissed in response and arched against her. A new wave of arousal washed over her. It was so difficult not to give in, do what she wanted and just straddle him, fuck his brains out, but that would be too official, too serious, so she settled for what she'd wanted to do the first time she'd touched him.

She moved her head until her hair swirled around his cock, brushing it over and over like silk blown by the wind, then she pushed her hair back and leaned forward to run her tongue up its length. His whole body jerked at the sensation.

"Take it easy." She brushed her lips against its head, the tip of her tongue darting out for a quick flick. Hellboy's thigh muscles tensed under her hands. The feeling of him, the iron of muscle under his skin, and knowing that this was because of her, because of what she was doing to him, excited her to the depths of her soul.

"Are you sure you want to–"

"Yes." Lightly she moved her fingers along his length. God, but he was big. Gripping him with her right hand, she took him into her mouth and was rewarded by a growl of pleasure that went right through her, from the crown of her head to her toes. For just a second she wondered if he could make her come just by growling, then pushed that thought aside to concentrate on what she was doing. She couldn't take all of him in her mouth, so she wrapped her hand around the shaft and made a few preliminary up-and-down movements, which he seemed to like, if his sounds were any indication. Joanna circled her tongue around the head several times, until his hips moved in rhythmic jerks, then she settled down.

He groaned and ran his normal hand through her hair, pushing it away from her face. "I want to see you...want to watch you doing that. God!"

She slid her mouth off him, but kept her grip. It twitched in her hand and she rubbed her thumb along the underside. Her blue eyes met his golden ones. "Feel good, Hellboy?"

"God, yes. Don't stop."

He wouldn't be able to last much longer, but teasing him would make it more intense. "Are you sure you want me to finish this?" But Joanna saw he was beyond any wisecracks or snappy comebacks, on fire with his need, and decided to finish it. "Don't worry. I promise I won't stop until you do." A drop of white fluid had appeared on the tip, and she licked at it, along with the next one and the one after that. By now his groaning had escalated to near-roars and his right hand had clenched into a fist so hard she heard the stone of his fingers scraping together. Aching herself, she took as much of his cock into her mouth as she could without gagging and began sucking hard, moving with the rhythm of his hips. His left hand fisted in her hair and his body bucked up, trying to drive himself further into her mouth, but her hand around the base of his cock kept him from choking her with it. Joanna looked up at his face. He was looking straight at her when his eyes clamped shut and his entire body tensed as he climaxed, shouting her name. I'm your first, she thought with no small degree of satisfaction. First kiss, first hand job, first blow job. When had she gotten possessive of him? The thought disturbed her, so she remained silent as he opened his arms to her and she curled up next to him in his big bed.

"It was a test of patience," he murmured against her hair.

Joanna rubbed her hand over his chest and pulled a thin blanket over them. "Wake me up before Clay's due with your next meal." She knew he didn't like that, but he respected her wishes for now. As the afterglow dimmed, her worries about the upcoming mission returned. What if he did protect her too much and forgot about the mission? How could she stand to break things off, or, worse, leave him? But she would have to if that happened. She fell asleep with her worries intact.

The BPRD team had borrowed a Chinook transport helicopter from an airbase in New Jersey and, except for a refueling stop in Tennessee, they'd been in the air all day. The mansion near Carrefour that they were renting had a very large clearing adjacent to it that would serve as a natural landing pad, so theoretically the helicopter could come and go without attracting much notice from the townsfolk. Branches of the Special Forces held training exercises in the swamp sometimes, so observers might dismiss it.

The chopper's blades beat loudly enough to drown out conversation, so Joanna was spared the burden of small talk with Manning, Liz, Clay, or any of the other BPRD agents who crowded the helicopter. Silence suited her better, anyway, plus it gave her more time to think.

Abe and Hellboy traveled the way they usually did on missions, in a couple of crates so that they could be moved from the Chinook to the house without any snoopers taking notice. Joanna wished for a moment that Hellboy were sitting next to her, even if she couldn't speak to him. When he was near her she felt calmer, and the closer they got to Carrefour the more anxiety clogged her throat. She closed her eyes and tried to meditate for a few minutes, then gave up. The only subject of thought that soothed her even a little was Hellboy. In the days before they left for Louisiana she'd spent as much time with him as she could and had started eating her meals with him in his room, but she still refused to spend the night there. That would be a commitment she wasn't sure she was ready to make, and leading him on wouldn't be fair to him. The idea that she might break his heart was intolerable. So they kept up the fiction of a purely professional relationship, although Clay had figured out the truth and she was sure Liz suspected. How long before it was common knowledge all over the Bureau? If they broke up, or possibly as soon as he found out, the Director would either fire her or transfer her, and she would never see Hellboy again. How long would he miss her before moving on to someone else?

Joanna held no illusions about herself. She was attractive, but not the beauty that Liz was. She was smart, excepting her involvement with Hellboy, but no genius. The one thing she did take pride in was her fighting skills. Martial arts had been the sole outlet for her pain and fury when she had first come to live with Uncle David in Coeur d'Alene, and she had kept up her studies faithfully. She held a black belt now, and with her Quantico training, she thought there weren't a lot of people who could take her hand-to-hand. The other things, the psychic disciplines, she brushed aside as necessary, nothing more. They kept her father out of her dreams and out of her mind. Until the Tsai raid, she'd had no contact with him in over twenty years.

Thinking of him gave her chills. She hit the send button on the modified walkie-talkie the team used and said, "Red? This is Girl Scout."

He answered at once. "Everything okay up there?"

Joanna sensed he wanted to know if she was all right. Something relaxed inside her. "Fine. Just checking on you."

He chuckled, sending a thrill of memory through her that she hoped no one noticed. Just a fleeting thought of his hands on her, his voice whispering in her ear as she writhed with pleasure, was enough to arouse her. Hellboy would not want to stay away from her for the duration of the mission, she knew. Although she didn't like the idea any better than he did, she couldn't think of a way for them to be together without getting caught. "I'd be more comfortable up front with the rest of you, but I'm used to it. Nothing to worry about."

"We should reach Carrefour in about an hour."

"Thanks for the update, Girl Scout. Give a yell if you need anything."

"Will do. Girl Scout out."

Talking to him calmed her enough so she could meditate. When she heard a crackle over the walkie-talkie and opened her eyes, they were ten minutes away from Carrefour. Abe's voice reached her ear. "Blue here. Have the pilot fly over the town before we set down at the mansion."

Manning signaled for the whole team to listen. ""Why do you want to do that? That'll compromise our security setup."

A long moment of dead air followed. "I feel something very strange coming from the direction of Carrefour, even stranger than the last time I was here. Please alter course so I can get a better idea of what's going on."

The Director didn't like it, but he moved into the cockpit and had a short conversation with the pilot. Joanna felt adrenalin beginning to pump through her system. Whenever Abe sensed something, that meant trouble was close by. Unconsciously she checked the Browning in its shoulder holster. Bullets didn't often kill paranormal menaces, but sometimes they did slow a monster down. All the other agents aboard the Chinook started making their own battle preparations. She hoped none of them would die but knew it was a forlorn hope. We're the cannon fodder, she thought, the distractions that clear the way for Hellboy and Abe and Liz to take the creatures out. The Bureau goes through us like a rock star goes through groupies. How many other agents had she seen die since she got here? Too many to count in missions she retained only the vaguest memories of, all the monsters blending together into a seamless tapestry of horror. It was one reason she kept to herself. Making attachments was too painful when the person who'd become your friend got eaten by some other-dimensional carnivore. She had to do her job, no matter what Hellboy or Manning said: protect him if Clay couldn't and serve as a distraction. Whether she lived or died could not be a mission concern.

When they reached Carrefour, the pilot put the chopper into a slow banking turn and made a wide circle over the town. Joanna saw Manning put his walkie-talkie to his ear and listen carefully before speaking to the entire team. "From what the pilot can see," he began, "the town is deserted. Nobody home. We're going to land in the town square and have a look around. Red, you and Blue can come out when we're sure the area is secured and no civilians are around. Any questions?"

Joanna had a few. Manning's plan seemed much too high-risk for her tastes. Landing in the middle of town–standard operating procedure was to land outside town and send three fire teams to sweep Carrefour for survivors before showing a big agency presence. If the danger was mundane, like drug dealers or some dangerous cult, if they landed in town they'd be sitting ducks for automatic weapons fire. And if it was paranormal, as Abe's reaction indicated, the sitting ducks thing still applied. "Are we sure it isn't a mundane attack, like poison gas?" That would be perfect: everyone dropping like cockroaches because they stepped into a low-hanging cloud of sarin gas or its like.

"If the attack had been a conventional one, we'd see dead bodies in the streets, crashed cars, maybe dead animals. There's none of that. Carrefour looks perfectly in order, except that there's not a person around, living or dead, it seems. Any other questions?"

She hesitated, then remained silent. Manning knew too much about her for her comfort and could betray her past at any given moment. While Joanna didn't think he was as much of an asshole as Hellboy did, she did not trust him enough to take a chance on angering him and the whole business coming out.

None of the other agents had any questions. Liz looked a bit nervous, which was understandable. This would be the first real mission she'd been on since the whole Rasputin affair. I may only be an observer on this one, but I'll make sure she doesn't get hurt. Not like in Russia. Joanna trusted Clay to protect Hellboy when she couldn't. His face was set in the familiar Bureau deadpan as he checked his sidearm, taking a moment to whisper something to Liz that apparently comforted her. Couldn't be anything happening there, could it? She made a mental note to talk to Liz later.

Then the chopper began its descent into Carrefour. She tried to control her breathing. No guarantee that they'd be attacked as soon as they landed. No guarantee of immediate danger at all. But her body wasn't reassured and continued to prepare for a fight as the Chinook set down