Disclaimer: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and all its associated characters and concepts belong to a whole bunch of people who aren't me, including but not limited to Guillermo del Toro, who is pretty much God. I'm making no profit and intend no disrespect, so please don't sue me.
Author's Note/Warnings: As in 'Unbroken', this story presumes a very unpleasant, abusive relationship between Nuada and Nuala. It also delves into some of the difficulties that might be had by a person who has lived most of her life in an abusive, co-dependent relationship trying to learn how to survive on her own, have a healthier relationship, and, on top of that, be an authority figure. I don't want to give myself too much credit for too much depth, the fic really only skims the surface (no pun intended) of those topics, but if that's going to be traumatic for you, skip this one.
"Hello, brother," Nuala says quietly; her guards stand tense and wary at her back. For a moment Nuada just watches her. This close, it's harder to resist the pull of his mind on hers; what she can usually repress to a faint buzzing, like the sound of voices in another room, is now all too comprehensible. He's simmeringly furious, and frustrated, and afraid and ashamed of that – but above all bored, restless to the point of insanity.
She sits down on a plush, stuffed chair – like everything else in the room, it contains no wood, metal, or hard plastic, nothing that could be turned into a weapon - and sets her bag on the floor in front of her. "You seem well," she says quietly; compared to his state when he was first brought here, he does.
"Will someone open a window?" Nuada yells, looking upward toward the mirrored glass of the observation dome in the ceiling, clearly not speaking to her. Nuala flinches slightly at the abruptness of his outburst. "It suddenly smells like a dock in here." His gaze swings downward, capturing hers. "Do you know what a dock smells of, sister?"
She is mute, hands clenching in her skirt.
"Fish, and whores," Nuada concludes darkly, then flings his head back once more and spreads his arms in an imploring gesture, like a priest offering homage to his gods. "Will you not open a window?" he bellows, his voice full of exaggerated pathos; then his eyes are on her face once more, and he's abruptly leaning forward out of his chair and grinning. "They never open a window," he confides.
They're twelve stories underground.
"I've brought you books, and fruit," Nuala responds quietly, outwardly ignoring the way his mind seems to scrabble and clutch at the edges of hers, searching greedily for scraps of memory. He's disgusted by her – he's disgusted by himself, for that matter, by his own needy desperation. Nuala just focuses on not screaming as she parcels out bits she doesn't mind sharing. The crunch of frozen gravel under her feet, the smell of snow outside and of dozens of different things cooking in the "food court" of the humans' enclosed marketplace. The feel of moist soil sifting through her fingers as she tends the fledgling garden in her newly-built greenhouse. The feel of water – she pulls back sharply.
"Why so coy, sister dear?" Nuada sneers. "Do you think I don't know what you do, and with what?"
"In another season I will have fruits from my own trees and vines," Nuala persists with trembling calm, reaching down into her bag, "but for now, these are human grown but free of poisons." She holds out a ripe plum. "They have markets that sell only such things; I've tasted their wares, and there is no stench of unnatural death on them. They aren't as sweet as fairy grown, but -"
He snatches the fruit away and hurls it into the far wall. It explodes with a wet, obscene-sounding pop, rivulets of dark juice and splatters of flesh dribbling down the blank white paint.
Nuala hears her guards leaping instantaneously closer, hears the whisper of unsheathed blades and the shifting of their armor, metal and leather, as they take a more pointedly defensive posture to either side of her. Nuada pays neither them nor the ruined fruit any attention, not even turning his head as drips the color of burgundy wine seep into the beige carpet. His eyes are all for Nuala, darkly challenging.
"- but they are very rich," she continues on determinedly, voice grown faint. "More sustaining, I think, than our own crops." Her hands shake as she sets the rest of the foodstuffs out on the Styrofoam table beside her chair; it is painted to look like a dark wood, but it smells of chemicals not found in nature and its color is shallow and dull. It wobbles under the weight of two apples and a bunch of grapes, making a whispery dry sound where it shifts against the carpet, too light to settle in. "I know how you enjoy boysenberries, but I could find none today. I'll keep looking," she promises quietly, eyes downcast as she retrieves a small stack of paperbacks next.
"I did find dandelion wine, in their markets," she offers as she sets the books on the table, next to the fruit, "but I can't bring you a bottle. Perhaps I could bring you a paper cup full?"
The books are a seemingly random collection of fiction and reference, memoir and scholarly treatise. All struck her as somehow bright and exemplary, showcasing some aspect of that which is purest and best in the human world.
"What of our markets, sister?" Nuada demands, "Or don't you deign to tread the streets of your own kingdom anymore?"
"The trolls' markets are thriving as they have not in centuries," Nuala offers warily, afraid that this comparatively benign shift in topic is only a baited noose, ready to ensnare her. "More and more of them are opening to the human population daily, and for the moment, the exchange in currency is very much in our favor. Elven silks are becoming -"
"Does it hold you down, under the water?" Nuada interrupts. "Is that what appeals?"
" – ever more sought by . . " she trails into silence as his words register, comprehension creeping cold and skittering up her spine, followed by a flood of nauseous heat, her face going red. She draws in a shuddering breath, trying to steady herself.
"You come here with your petty offerings and your superiority and your stench, the reek of that thing in your mind," Nuada presses on darkly, "and you pretend you want the link between us severed, you pretend to resist me, but I know you. You don't like to resist, do you? You like to be helpless, overpowered, not responsible. It would only have to forget itself a moment and drag you down – do you make it forget itself, sister? Do you-"
"Your Highness?" one the guards interrupts sharply, tone full of righteous indignation and the promise of violence. It makes Nuala jump.
"Test it," Nuada hisses. "Go on. You want to. Order him to run me through." He spreads his arms wide.
Nuala says nothing, only retrieves her bag from the floor with deliberate calm but shaking hands, then walks with measured steps to the vault-like door. "I'm finished here," she speaks into the intercom; her voice sounds half-strangled and strange to her own ears, but steadier than she'd managed on her last visit.
"Stay away longer this time," Nuada says at her back. "The stench on you lingers for days; it had only just faded."
The door opens with a heavy clang, bracketed by grim-faced, armed agents on the other side. Nuala flees.
Nuala pauses and backs up a few steps; Agent Myers comes flying down the corridor she had just passed.
"Sorry," he says, a little breathlessly, as he skids to a halt. "Social visit, day off, I deserve twenty lashes for this, I know, but -"
"What is it?" Nuala asks, smiling a bit in spite of herself. It was An- no. Hellboy, she corrects herself - however ridiculous that sounds to her, she has a unique appreciation for the right of all creatures to define themselves in their own terms. It was Hellboy who suggested John Myers as the perfect human liaison to the Elven court, and he wasn't wrong.
"You need to respond to this," Myers says, and hands her a newspaper article. Colorado Senator Introduces Bill Banning Human Employment of Fey, reads the headline.
"Here's a copy of the bill itself," he adds, plopping it down on top of the article she'd automatically begun to read. Apparently the Senator from Colorado was – publicly, at least – concerned with the fact that her subjects did not pay taxes to his government. "Read it first, then read it second, then read it third, and then you can read that gasbag spouting off to the press about how he's the great defender of humanity, 'cause trust me, if you read the press release first, you're going to be too pissed off to think clearly," Myers suggests. "And there are some nasty little turns of phrase in that piece of legislation."
"Such as?" Nuala asks distractedly, flipping pages and just skimming, feeling exhaustion already beginning to creep up on her at all the circular references and here-to-fores.
"Such as a binding legal definition of "Fey" and "Human" that could be used as precedent to exclude you from all protection of human law," Myers replies; his tone is level, but Nuala can still feel the indignation behind it. She focuses on that as her stomach twists and her mind wants so very, very badly to scurry away. They want us not to exist. But not all of them; not Myers. Not the guards on Nuada's cell with their looks of mingled pity and respect. Not so many of them at all, really, but she has to deliberately make herself remember that.
"Do you have other commitments this afternoon?" Nuala asks Myers soberly.
"Nothing that I can't put off," he says, "but you want savvier legal counsel than me on this one."
"Suggest someone," Nuala responds.
He thinks hard a moment, then says, "Dietrich. Selma Dietrich. Hot-shot lawyer type, she's worked for a few environmental advocacy groups, she's made a few pro-Fey statements, I'm about nine-tenths positive she's going to be sympathetic, and she's press friendly." He pauses. "How're the royal coffers looking these days, though – 'cause her time is not going to be cheap."
Nuala thinks wistfully on the plans she had for what funds are at her disposal - the establishment of a real court, a place bright and alive and shining that the humans could visit and be awed, not frightened. A place where things brought to the edge of extinction might begin to thrive again. A beacon. "Elven silks are ever more in demand," Nuala says, and feels a bitter, childish pleasure at the chance to finish her earlier thought. "We're prospering."
But Elven silks are woven from cast-off pixie cocoons, and there will only be silks so long as there are breeding pixies, Nuala thinks. It has been a long, long time since the population of beings who could afford such luxury has outpaced the ability of the weavers to find raw material, but that is rapidly turning on its head – and where will that lead? She can imagine the price of silk rising yet higher, but she can also imagine pupating pixies boiled alive out of impatience.
"I'll make calls," says Myers. "In the mean time, you need to make a statement for the press, right now. Five minutes ago, actually."
"I should be . . disappointed?" Nuala suggests, though she hates the deceitfulness inherent in the question. She is not so naïve that the need for such political maneuvering is a surprise to her, but she hates it never the less.
Man had been created with a hole in his heart, said legend, but Nuala is beginning to believe legend was wrong. Man was not made that way, but rather something had burrowed inside him, a little worm that gnawed and writhed, and that worm is named power, and it is nibbling now inside her. She wants to be part of the making of a better world, a world not built on fear and manipulation and greed, but she has to start from the world that is and she is finding that those are the only tools she has with which to build.
She hopes that something good can still grow from such poison soil, but fears that she knows better.
"That'd work," Myers agrees, though tentatively, still considering. "You need a real press secretary, you know – but I think if you come across as just saddened by our pettiness, yeah, that'd be good. Be non-scary, but be – you know, that whole summer queen, good witch of the north thing. Do that."
Do that, not be that, but she can still feel the hollowness in her chest expanding.
It is so late into the night as to be technically the next day by the time Nuala reaches Abraham's home within the Bureau. She has retained the services of a sharp-faced, bright-eyed human woman who wants a written copy of Fey law, in its entirety, on her desk within the week – Myers suggests that Nuala look at this as an excellent opportunity to provide more of her people with gainful employment. There has never been a written copy of Fey law; it's debatable if Fey law exists, separate from the edicts of its ruling monarchs. Still, there are things understood, cultural mores known to all whose breaking would bring swift punishment – this, Ms. Selma Dietrich, Esquire assures Nuala, is good enough.
Elven scholars are already at work as Nuala closes the door to the poolroom behind her, finding something soothing in the way it echoes. Her guards remain outside. The scents of the world below cling to her, out of place here beside the constant whir of the filters that keep Abraham's water breathable. The lights are still on, telling her that he is still awake; she's grateful for the prospect of his company but a bit regretful of the brightness, her eyes aching and her head wanting to throb. Between the BPRD and her own ramshackle, scattered court and then back again, were the inevitable meetings with the press.
Nuala tries very hard to think of them as the cultural descendants of bards, but they remind her more of starving tooth fairies, devouring everything in their path.
There was once an observation dome over Abraham's tank, similar to the one in her brother's cell, but the glass there has long since been painted over, allowing him – and now her – privacy. There is only a little bit of ground before the room gives way to a vast expanse of water; Nuala sheds her clothing quickly, trying not to think of Nuada's complaints about her stench. There's no literal truth to his insult, of course, but at the same time she knows what he means – her clothes, her hair, her very skin seems to catch some lingering aura of everything she has walked past in the course of the day, so that by this still hour she feels as though she carries a whispering, muttering, needy and clinging world on her back. She feels stretched thin, used up, those residual shadows more real than herself.
The water beckons, shimmering white and still.
Does it hold you down, under the water? Is that what appeals?
No, Nuala tells herself firmly, but can't deny the way the water's unbroken surface makes her think of oblivion, and fondly.
There are stairs down into the tank, and Nuala takes them slowly, looking down, watching herself disappearing into the blank, still paleness of the overhead lights reflected off the water. It is cool, but not unpleasantly so. Soft ripples radiate out from her, making water lilies jostle into one another.
When she first came here the tank was just that, a tank, a cell, empty and sterile, and Abraham read his books through the windows. It is not so now. Beneath the water dark, verdant shapes sway, and the sight of those shadows makes her smile. Abraham's home is full of living things now, plants floating on the surface and plants in glazed and sculpted pots on the bottom, green things floating in between. Though they are not visible from the surface, she knows there are new curtains on the windows into the library – replicated panels from 'The Hunt of the Unicorn', stitched in experimental fibers that seem to be tolerating their constant submersion quite well, at least for the moment.
Chains wound with wires dangle from the ceiling above her disappear down into the gloaming stillness of the water, descending to a random variety of depths; at their ends are glowing globes of engraved glass. Some are shallow enough for the light to rise to the surface, while some just vanish. Something vine-like has grown thick and stubborn over the switch that used to control the glaring floodlights along the far wall. It took very little exposure to human culture for Nuala to decide she hated those lights; they belonged in a surgery, a laboratory – not a home. That they never bothered Abraham bothered her.
She's descended into the water up to her chest now, her arms spread out and her hands resting lightly on the slight tension of the water's surface. She can feel him, in . . . the study, as he calls the alcove that adjoins the library; he's using his newly-developed, entirely waterproof computer, still enough of a novelty to be a source of constant glee. He's making use of the internet, which is itself a concept that still startles and unnerves her – strikes her as a mechanical sort of telepathy, and she can't understand the distinctions humans insist on drawing between science and magic. He's researching . . . Nuala closes her eyes, fingers spreading wider across the water . . and he realizes she's there.
There is no verbal greeting, just a brush of awareness, shimmering over the taut surface of the water. He's researching poltergeist phenomena on something called wikipedia, he shows her – an interesting thread of knowledge that he lets her track down on her own as he begins copying relevant bits of text and bookmarking potentially useful links, undisturbed by the idea of her exploring freely in his memories, his understanding.
The completeness of his trust is both wonderful and petrifying, far more alien than aquatic houses or internet research, proposals in the Senate and the weight of the world, or – oh, or books being continuously written by anyone who wishes to contribute, even as they are also being read.
Wiki sounds like it belongs in an incantation and the entire concept strikes her as a nigh-religious exercise of faith in the power of knowledge and truth to assert itself. Abraham's response to her thoughts on the subject is something she can only conceptualize as the mental equivalent of a tilt of the head and a glint to the eye; he's fascinated every time she thinks something he would never have considered on his own, childishly eager to trace the paths her mind has taken to reach those conclusions.
It is an exercise of faith on her part that she lets him, while every instinct she has screams at her that she's making too much mental noise. She doesn't know how not to be terrified at the knowledge that she's knocking the intricate, orderly patterns of his thoughts all off kilter. The urge to go still and silent under scrutiny is very like the impulse to breathe, but she cannot bear the sadness or the frustrated rage it inspires in him when she does.
It remains an effort of tremulous will to hold on to her own perceptions and interpretations – to continue to think, aware of his attention – but she's learning, and not only for Abraham's sake.
On the periphery of the thoughts he is so carefully exploring is her awareness of her physical state and surroundings, and thus he knows she hasn't brought her own breathing apparatus. It is custom designed and really very comfortable, but still not the same as the absence of anything at all on her skin, and he understands even as she feels his pang of disappointment. I'll retrieve it in a little while, Nuala promises, even as she very deliberately forces herself to turn, to move, to feel the water swirling against her skin, while he's so conspicuously there within her head. She lets herself fall, slowly, back into the water.
It catches and cradles her and for a moment she sinks before she corrects her posture, head tilted, back arched, and floats. She lets her hands dangle loosely at her sides, not swimming, just drifting. Lilypads brush past her hair, and with a bit of effort she can ignore the mechanical hum of the filters and the ever-present buzzing of electricity, and of worry, and of Nuada still there at the edge of her mind, and of how much she hates the fact that she is still afraid – not of Abraham, but of everything, of openly existing at all. She lets her head fill with the feel of the water around her – here, where she can only touch the surface if she wishes to breath on her own, here is the most peace and safety she has ever known.
He rises up through the water below her, appearing at her back and taking her dangling hands in his. A soft, cool kiss touches the back of her neck, making her shiver and then sag, falling against him. With the tension gone from her body she no longer floats, and he shifts so that her head rests on his shoulder, just out of the water.
"Hello," he says, quite unnecessarily, and the silliness of it makes her smile.
"Hello," Nuala whispers back, and for a moment, just lets him hold her up.