Rating: PG-13 (just language and an adult concept or two, nothing naughty)
Characters/Pairings: Abe, Manning, Liz, offspring-of-Liz-and-Hellboy; reference to Abe/Nuala and Hellboy/Liz.
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 Notes/Summary: Occurs sometime after Going On and Keep Thee Only. Not all sacrifices are big, end-of-the-world, die-for-a-cause decisions; sometimes they're harder.
"You wished to see me?"
"Ah, Agent Sapien." Manning glanced up from his desk as Abe appeared in the doorway. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing at the chair in front of his desk while keeping his eyes on the papers in front of him – papers he didn't seem to be actually reading so much as shuffling. That didn't bode particularly well.
Abe took the indicated seat, wincing when his hands settled, unthinking, on the arms of the chair – the emotions of the chair's previous occupants ranged from nauseously nervous through to almost homicidally furious, but there was little that was pleasant to be found there. Abe flinched back with a hastily repressed shudder, fingers curling in on themselves; it was tempting, if rather pointless, to want to wipe them on his pants – the gesture was only symbolically satisfying and did little to blur the impressions garnered, but he'd learned over the years that humans found it offensive. He folded his hands in his lap instead.
"See, there's, ah -" Manning began, and paused to clear his throat, still diligently rearranging file-folders and newspaper clippings. His eyes darted briefly up to Abe's face, then back down to his own too-busy hands. "There's a situation, here, Agent Sapien, that, ah -"
Abe waited, cognizant of adding a thin veneer of impatience to the chair's patina.
Manning paused, newspaper clipping in hand. 'US Gov't Agent In Bed With Fey – Literally', read the headline. Abe was familiar with the rest of the editorial – it had appeared in the New York Times three days ago. The Elven aristocracy had not been particularly amused with their queen's sexual proclivities being the subject of public speculation (public being the key word – Abe had shaken enough hands to know that private speculation and rumor were a different thing entirely).
"See, this is -" Manning gestured down at the article in apparent distaste before finally looking up, meeting and holding Abe's gaze. "We can't have this."
"I see," Abe said carefully.
"And you know," Manning went on, fixing him with an emphatically pointing finger, "it's not just us. Not just the human side of things. How many, er – attempts -"
"Three, so far this month, though I'm not convinced that Lamia didn't just want something different for dinner," Abe responded dryly. Three assassination attempts, against himself – unamused as the Elven nobility were at the idea of human pundits criticizing their queen's choice of consort, a significant percentage were no more pleased at Abe's presence in their court themselves, and their means of expressing that displeasure tended to be a bit more . . pointed . . than even the most vitriolic of editorials.
Nuala wanted to assign him his own Royal Guard, but that would have made field work rather difficult – which was, Abe suspected, where this conversation was going.
"See, we can't have that," Manning repeated, spreading his hands in a gesture of frustration before letting them slap down on the desk. The newspaper clipping fluttered. "We just can't have that. It's an unfair risk to the rest of your team."
Abe just nodded; he had no argument. That had occurred to him roughly three attacks ago, when Agent Slate had suffered a bite to the leg that was likely to be permanently disabling despite the best efforts of both human and Elvish medicine – and the fact was that without shaking hands with everyone from the healer herself through to the pageboy who'd collected the herbs and the blacksmith who'd minted the cauldron, Abe couldn't actually swear that Slate had gotten the best of Elvish medicine.
Which was no particular condemnation of Elves – on Nuala's one visit to the BPRD infirmary, immediate following the confrontation over the Golden Army, Abe had found a reason to bump into every single doctor, nurse and technician who had any reason to touch her, and he'd made a discreet (fictional) complaint that a certain neurologist hadn't washed his hands (he'd been thinking a little too long on what a waste it was that they were losing the opportunity to dissect her if she lived).
"You wish me to resign," Abe said, because it was clearly going to take Manning another half-hour to gather the gumption to fire him.
"I don't want that," Manning insisted. "I mean, you're -" he shuffled through the contents of the top of his desk again, and came up with a thick manila folder. "This is mostly commendations. I'm aware of that. I know I haven't always been, ah – I mean, this job, it's a challenge to me. You understand that."
He sounded very certain that Abe did, in fact, understand and forgive. Abe momentarily wished he could think of some extremely witty, pseudo-affectionate, potentially obscene nickname for the other man – something equivalent to "fish stick" – but came up blank. It was doubtful Manning would appreciate the jab anyhow.
"I understand," Abe said instead, solemnly.
"Right. Right. I knew you would," Manning nodded. "You're a good guy."
This was said in a tone usually reserved for such things as conferring knighthood, and full of the underlying implication of its unlikelihood. Abe just nodded and clutched his folded hands tighter.
"We're not throwing you out in the street, you know," Manning hastened to add, as if it had just occurred to him that Abe might have been thinking such a thing. "We just can't have you in the field. You've got your choice of positions in R&D, or Forensics – I haven't released this information, that you're being reassigned underground, to anybody, because, well, because I'd be just -" he gestured expansively, "you wouldn't be able to find this desk, with all the requests I'd get, with – every single lab is going to want you. You've got your pick."
"I see," Abe replied noncommittally.
"Comes with a raise in pay, too, it's -" More shuffling, eventually resulting in the brandishing of a single sheet of copy paper full of lopsided text that looked as though it had been through a fax too many times. "L-2, if you go to Forensic Pathology, which is – that's probably closest to what you do in the field, yeah? Touching stuff and – you know, that."
"Yes. That," Abe agreed dryly, and opted not to point out that his perceptions – useful as they were in the field - were unlikely to hold up in a court of law. Of course, most of the cases handled by the BPRD would never see a courtroom.
Which was one of the things Nuala was trying to change, which was in turn one of the things that had caused the author of a certain editorial to feel his superiority and entitlement were being trampled on.
Maybe in a few years the testimony of a psychic with a proven track record would be admissible in a human court.
"So – Forensics?" Manning asked hopefully.
"I'd like to think on it," Abe replied.
"Right – sure. Take your time. Big decision, so – you get back to me, alright?" Manning said, standing. Abe stood as well, relieved to vacate the emotionally-charged chair.
"Thank you," Abe said, with a nod of his head. He did not offer to shake hands.
"So what's new in the world outside?" Liz asked, more than a bit wistfully, stepping aside to let Abe in the door. She walked with her hands pressed to her lower back, her eyes tight and her forehead seeming caught in a perpetual grimace no matter what the rest of her face might be doing. At the moment it was attempting to form a welcoming smile.
"Absolutely nothing," Abe replied dryly, glancing around hopefully for a chair not occupied by something feline; he received several slit-pupilled glares and opted to remain standing. "I'm considering a change of profession," he announced.
"Yeah?" Liz called over her shoulder, wandering into her kitchenette. Her movements were slow and cautious, as if she didn't trust her own balance. "You wouldn't consider "nanny", would you? Want something to drink?"
"No, thank you," he demurred with a wave of his hand. "You still haven't found suitable childcare?"
"Well, I do," Liz replied sourly, head buried in the refrigerator, one hand braced on the door. Her knuckles were white. "I want a beer. I want a beer so damned bad." She emerged – straightening slowly, carefully, her eyes going even tighter and still clutching the doorjam - with an individual-serving carton of orange juice. She impaled it on its provided straw with what looked like more force than necessary, then began sucking it down with an expression of utmost determination.
"Only a few more weeks, isn't it?" Abe asked carefully.
"Yep," Liz replied tersely, releasing the straw with a pop and tossing the apparently already empty carton into an overflowing trash can full of its fellows. "And nope. Something about half-demon babies that might be able to set you on fire, it just doesn't have all the best and brightest lining up."
She said it in a tone of dry humor, but Abe could still sense the underlying fear and uncertainty beneath her glib assessment of the situation.
"Probably I'm gonna have to stay home with them, at least until we know more what they'll be like," she went on, making her way awkwardly back into the main living area and all but collapsing into Red's usual chair – she didn't bother to shoo the cat currently occupying it away, apparently trusting it would know enough to flee for its life, which it did. "So that's gonna be my new profession for a little while." Her hands curved protectively around her stomach despite her disgruntled tone. "And hey, look -" she lifted a foot; it shook. "I'm already barefoot." She wiggled her toes. "But not in the kitchen at the moment. Damn, missed my perfect metaphor opportunity." She let her foot drop.
Abe crept tentatively closer to her chair, crouching down beside it and settling his hands on its arm; unlike the chair in Manning's office, this one exuded an overwhelming aura of carefree contentment. He wished Liz could feel it; she stared straight ahead at the currently blank television screens.
"We'll figure it out," she ground out, voice gravelly and determined and on the verge of tears. Then she turned to Abe, her smile lopsided and her eyes very liquid and her forehead still caught in that perpetual tense grimace. "Man, I'm losing it," she said in a strained voice, shaking her head a little. "Y'know today's the first day in weeks the cats actually came out? Red was having to feed them under the bed for a while there, 'cause they got so used to me exploding every five minutes."
She glanced over his shoulder at something – presumably something feline. "I'm actually kinda attached to the little hairballs," she sighed. "Wouldn't want to hurt them. Don't tell Red."
"Of course," Abe agreed dryly, then, "You know, pyrokinesis is generally thought to be a completely recessive trait, and given that Red isn't even human, it's unlikely in the extreme that he'd possess the chromosomal make-up necessary for the two of you to produce pyrokinetic offspring."
Liz's gaze focused back on his face, caught somewhere between incredulous and amused.
"I am terrible at offering comfort, and should never attempt it again," Abe said flatly.
"You mean well," Liz allowed, breaking into a tolerant little grin. Then she winced, and glanced down at her belly. "So what's this about you getting a new job?" Her hands rubbed anxious circles low on her stomach.
"It seems that my connection to the Elven court, and the objections of certain factions of the Elven court to the aforementioned, makes me unsuitable for fieldwork with the BPRD. I compromise my team," Abe explained.
"That's bullshit!" Liz exclaimed immediately. "After everything you've -"
"No, no, it's really entirely reasonable," Abe interrupted, and laid a placating hand on her arm. "I appre-" But he cut off mid-syllable at what he felt from her.
"Liz?" he asked, voice rising in alarm to a most undignified pitch.
"Don't say it," she snapped.
"You are . . in pain," Abe pointed out.
"I said not to fucking saying it," she practically growled, eyes scrunching closed and lips pressing into a hard line. "I'm fine."
"Yes," Abe allowed carefully, "I think you are. I sense nothing amiss. But you're also in the first stages of labor."
"No, I'm not," Liz insisted, eyes still tightly shut, hands clutching her belly.
"I really think you are."
"I'm only thirty-four weeks," Liz ground out between clenched teeth, "And Red is in fucking Cleveland checking out some stupid hell-portal thing, and I am not in labor."
"Twins often come early," Abe pointed out, wincing along with her as another wave of pain rolled through her lower body. It was still fairly mild, tolerable, but he could sense the changes taking place.
"They're not supposed to be this early," she argued. "The doctor said I had another two or three weeks easy. He said so. Red wouldn't have gone if he hadn't said so."
"Viability is -"
"Shut up, Abe," Liz snapped, ducking her head and drawing her knees up, drawing in around her belly. "Just shut up." There was a long, tense pause; then she said, in a very small voice, "Get Red here."
"Hello, Trevor," Abe said quietly to the tiny, wrinkled, faintly golden-orange creature in his arms. Trevor blinked wide yellow eyes up at him – not the amber color that Nuala's were, but close enough to make Abe feel a visceral sort of pang at the sight of them housed in this small, new face. Despite his early arrival, this first twin, at least, seemed to be quite developmentally well-prepared for the outside world. Abe could only guess that this was owed to the demonic side of his heritage.
"This must all be very strange to you."
Trevor merely stared.
"Your sister ought to be along momentarily," Abe went on, "But in the mean time, your father was uncertain of your flammability once outside of your mother, and thus we're going to wait outside here while your sibling makes her appearance. Once your mother calms down I expect she's going to want you both back."
"So we have only a moment to become acquainted, it seems. I'm your Uncle Abraham, and I've known both of your parents a very, very long time. They're good people. I hope you'll have patience with them. This is all very strange to them, too, you know."
Trevor waved a hand in Abe's general direction and burbled.
"Yes, well, I suppose you'll do the best you can," Abe allowed, tilting his head. "That's really the best anyone can do – a good thing to remember, though I don't suppose you'll remember it. Your neurologic development is insufficient to the formation of conscious long-term memory, isn't it?"
Trevor yawned, and then became fascinated with the discovery that he could stick his tongue out.
"Still, if you can manage to form any sort of impression at all, it's a good thing to keep in mind – you can only do the best you can. Everyone here is trying. Can you remember that, Trevor? We're none of us exactly perfect around here, but we're all doing the best we can."