Rating: R, for some very adult concepts.
Characters/Pairings: Nuala, Nuada, Abe/Nuala . . . . original character. Very tiny original character. ;)
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.
Summary: Takes place six months or so after 'Going On'; Nuala is still reaching for equilibrium.
Author's Notes/Warnings: . . insert general Nuada-and-Nuala-are-fucked-up spiel here. If you've been following this series thus far, this is nothing worse, but it does deal heavily with very unhealthy familial relationships. This will also make more or less no sense unless you've read "Unbroken" and "Surfacing".
If you think you saw another story by this same name, by me, that began in a remarkably similar fashion - you're right. I decided after posting that I really disliked that first version, so I re-wrote it. Hopefully this new version is an improvement. :)
Nuala wakes, and just like that, knows.
For a long moment, she just lays very, very still, sprawled there beside Abraham's tank in her cocoon of blankets, one hand flung out over the edge. Her fingertips trail in the water.
She doesn't begin her nights here this way; he protests if she tries. Her nails split and peel from too frequent submersion. She is not a creature of the water, however much she'd like to be, any more than he is a creature of the land.
But he stays sometimes in her bed regardless, at court, and sometimes wakes dry and coughing.
Only sometimes; it has a tendency to rain when he stays – inside, on them. This sets him scowling too, but it's a warm rain, not unpleasant for her, and she really can't help it. She's asleep when it occurs, after all.
It does worry her somewhat, that rain, and its subconscious invocation – she knows that not everything lurking inside her mind is so pleasant. So far, though, it's the only bit of magic she's ever wrought asleep. That, she likes very much, though not without a pang of guilt. She can't help being both pleased and regretful that, stripped of all restraint or inhibition, what she dreams – what she desires most of all possible things - is just rain. Just for both of them to breathe.
And when she sleeps here, she wakes with one hand in the water, no matter how she lays herself down to start. Some things are not rational. Some things have a will of their own, Nuala thinks, a little dazed, her thoughts full of her dream-stuff rain, and her painful, plodding negotiations with the human government, and her brother, still there at the back of her mind – so faint now, like a sound just barely within the range of hearing, a low whine that never, ever stops.
There is nosense, no reason that she can see, to anything – no overarching purpose, no logic to the workings of the world.
Why should such a frivolous miracle as her rain be allowed, she thinks, while so much else in the world perishes for want of just such simple things? Water, shelter. Peace. The words to craft a lasting peace. Does she want rain more than wisdom, her lover beside her more than the safety and well-being of her people? And what sort of gods, what sort of universe, would listen to the somnolent whisperings of her subconscious with a keener ear than they seem willing to lend her waking prayers?
Abraham still sleeps; he has drifted up toward the surface, close to her, not quite within reach but nearly. She knows he began the night at a greater depth - intentionally out of reach, so perhaps her hands would not try to find their own way to him, and she might not spend the day with fingertips cracking.
Nuala pulls her hand hastily from the water, lest he hear her thoughts and wake. She rolls onto her back, tangling herself in lush and heavy blankets. She can still feel the floor through them. She stares at the ceiling – at the opaquely painted observation dome.
Things can change, she reminds herself firmly, staring at that peeling paint, covered and recovered dozens of times now. A scientific curiosity can become a respected colleague; that is no small shift in perspective. It ought to make her hopeful, but it just makes her weary and frightened, all those layers of paint. So much effort, so much good intention, over and over and over, and yet the glass is still there beneath it all and the paint doesn't adhere well in the constant humidity.
It's not ever going to be done. She doesn't need peeled paint to tell her this; Nuada is still there, in the back of her head.
I could make you go away.
Out of nowhere comes a snatch of memory; Nuada leans over their father's shoulder, speaking urgently in his ear. Father's wooden fingers curl. Nuala stands to the side; she thinks her hands were folded, but she's not sure. She can only be sure that she was silent, and she can remember the feel of her father's shoulder under Nuada's hand, how the sharp frailty of the bones shook him, both enraged and disgusted him – made him desperate. Build us this army, father. There is no other way. We must.
She said nothing.
Nuala cannot remember a time before war, which means the war began before they did. It means there was a time - far back and then farther, down the dim tunnel of her half-borrowed recollections, and she can't quite reach it – there was a time when it was not his fault, nor hers.
She can remember Nuada's threat in absolute, crystalline clarity, every aspect of that moment sharp in her mind centuries later – I could make you go away. I could just be both of us.
Father would never even know.
And if that was one moment, a measurable increment of time, then that means there was a time before it. They were children then, but not infants. There was a time before.
Someone ran fearlessly on bare feet, chased thistledown, coughed at the tickling bitterness of dandelion wine, goblet enormous in small hands and father smiling indulgently. Someone, but she doesn't know who. There is no his and hers to those glimpses, just incoherent bits of color and taste and sound – so were they, both of them, happy then? Was she?
She doesn't even know if those bits and pieces happiness actually came before, or if they're his, and after. Everything before is faded, turned foreign and formless as a half-remembered dream, so that she has no sense of what went wrong, or when, or why. She can't remember ever even wondering why – she can only remember I could make you go away. Why didn't matter, at the time.
It matters now.
That was a long time before the Golden Army. She was a terrified, bewildered child, then, but that must mean that he was only a child too. It doesn't seem possible. The Nuada in her memory who made that threat was a mad, terrible, cataclysmic force. A god. Gods are never children.
But they were. They must have been. She remembers . . . remembers . . . just flashes of green and sun, too ephemeral to hold.
She collects these bits of memory in wobbling little stacks of dreams and nightmares, and she has come to expect that every so often they will come crashing down around her. It's frighteningly easy to become accustomed to her own instability – and easier yet to hide it. She's good, very good, at hiding.
It is her first instinct, when overwhelmed – hide. Draw away.
Go limp and let it close over you. Don't fight.
It's almost too easy to slip away, with Abraham sleeping. She leaves her guards there by the door, winces at the effortlessness of evading BPRD security. Nuala contemplates the human lawmakers' panicked attempts to regulate Fey use of Glamour and how little they understand, as she walks their streets – unseen, unheard. She doesn't know where she goes, but eventually she is drawn back underground, through tunnels bright and roaring, then dank and dripping, and the city growls over top of her head.
She finds the place before she knows she is seeking it; a little alcove beneath the street, tucked away. A fire, enchanted, still burns fitfully against the bare stone, all its tinder long since gone. The walls are crudely carved, the light is warm, there are pots and jars of things, dishes, shelves. Weapons, covered in a mouldering dust now, but clearly cared for once – the entirety of the place was cared for, once. It surprises her.
This place was Nuada's – his home.
He had a home, in his exile. A home.
The train thunders past, a beast of light and sound that makes this whole small world vibrate, but Nuala barely flinches, looking at a knife and fork, set neatly on a slab of rock, washed, tidied, put away with care.
He slept on the floor; the blankets are still there, the edges folded over. A larger, less tidy huddle of blankets rests in an alcove a little ways off, farther from the fire – of course. His friend, Wink, would have stayed here from time to time. Trolls like the damp, the cold.
He had a home. He had a friend.
There are books stacked up high and deep into the wall, she sees ( he remembers) – she drifts to them on weightless feet, pulled as if in a dream to run her fingers over their cracking spines; whatever charm he'd used to keep them whole for the duration of his residence here, it has not endured as well as the fire. They're molding, his journals, his favorite tales, the words of their long-dead gods and the diaries of past kings – all the things he kept close to him, all the words he fed to the fire in his chest. She's afraid to pull them out and open their pages, afraid they may crumble to dust. Nuala retreats back to the center of the room; the train has long since passed, but the place still feels disturbed, uneasy. She wants to reach out a hand too sooth and settle it, as if the sense of refuge she feels here is a living thing, a skittish animal.
It has been nearly a year since her brother's defeat, her coronation, the end of the world. The thirteenth moon is waxing somewhere on the other side of the earth; it is light up there, above the grumbling pavement that is her ceiling here. A year. Nuala thought she had found some measure of peace with this, with him; she can hardly even hear him anymore. Her visits are less frequent, his taunts less pointed, his eyes more hollow and her remorse less sharp. The grief fades. She thought she had moved pasted rage, thought she had even begun to understand his rage and to forgive him, her broken brother, child of a long-dead war.
She was, she realizes, so very, very wrong.
He had a home.
Nuala suddenly does not understand, does not accept, does not forgive and does not want the wall she has so carefully built between them – does not want to be martyr, queen, philosopher, sane and good and pure.
She stalks to the bookshelf, all the barriers she's built between them crumbling, pulls a journal loose in a cloud of pungent dust and flings it open between her hands. She's panting; the ground is rumbling with the approach of another train.
Poetry; he wrote poetry. She remembers him writing this, snatches of it that wove itself into the amorphous shadows of her dreams as she lay in a sumptuous bed in the hall of their father – the shrouded, shame-filled hall of their dying father. It was not, never, a home.
Nuala doesn't know if the sound she makes is a scream or a snarl; she tears the book in half, rips it along the spine, and flings out onto the tracks.
The train quakes and shrieks past, and Nuada is there in her mind.
Why? she demands.
To free –
No! There are no forms, no true allegory to what they can do to one another within their shared mind, and so what she does is not to slap him - but he reels back. You were free! You WERE free!
So angry, sister – frustration, perhaps? Images, bent and twisted and lewd, fly mocking through her mind.
She sweeps an arm across the table before the fire, sending jars and pots and knife and fork flying. There is shattering, shards of glass tinkling all around her.
It is enough to still him; enough to cause him a pang of angry regret. He does miss this place; he did love it, in his way.
Why? she demands again.
Because mankind is a cancer upon the earth!
Liar, she accuses in their mind, the two syllables as blunt and harsh as a blow. Liar, deceiver, betrayer! Murderer!
She doesn't have to call up the image of their father – it is there in both their minds, the feel of a blade catching on bone remembered in the sinews of her clenching hand as much as his. What is his is hers, except not this – this place never was. She never had such a place.
What would you have had me do? he demands.
Live! she flings back. I would have had you just live! I would have had you allow me a life!
He had to die, he retorts, hard and sharp. You cannot lie to me, sister, I know that you see that. You understand as well as I do that he was killing us all. He was killing you – you were ready to die –
- to stop you! For you! Because of you! What did it matter if I died?
His despair poisoned –
Liar! Nuala screams. 'I could make you go away. I could just be both of us. Father would never even know.'
I never did it!
You didn't have to!
Because he'd poisoned you with his weakness, his – his –
Shame? Nuala suggests. What shamed him, brother?
Should I have just let that weakness seep from you to me, then? Should I have laid down and died too? Should all our people suffer, fade, die - because our father had no will to fight and you had no mind of your own? Everything you touched wormed its way into you! Did it matter if it was he or I or your simple-minded ladies in waiting or the goblin who brought you your soup? What were you, sister, but clay for anyone to mould? What were you but a millstone about my neck? You should have been mine, not father's, not anyone else's but mine, the other half of me, and so I kept you!
I never felt that in you.
Of course you didn't, Nuala replies, quieter now, icy calm. That was the entire purpose of the threat, wasn't it?
He has no immediate retort to that, and she turns, letting her attention drift a little away from him, back to the room around her. Her gaze lands on his collection of weaponry, and she makes her way carefully on strange feet to the hooks on the walls that hold swords – many of them, swords like her father's (feel the impact up her arm as blade plunges into flesh, catches, falls, twists) guard carried.
They're unbalanced, Nuada supplies cautiously. All of them, but differently. Poorly made.
You (I) didn't want to become accustomed to just one flawed blade, Nuala completes the thought.
I killed them to take their blades.
When there were so few of us.
I had to; I needed the blades for practice.
So that you could kill them?
Nuala selects one at random and takes it off the wall; it is heavy in her hand. Practice for the day I'd have to kill my father.
The blade feels familiar in her hand; her muscles quiver in readiness, as though she has not been stagnating hundreds of years, as though this place could have been hers. Battles roar in her ears – is it the train? Nuala doesn't turn around to find out; she brings the blade up, movements hushed and precise, full of contained fury.
I never touched a blade, she reminds him. My balance would be different from yours. My memory, my perception, it might mar yours. It might unbalance you.
She slashes down, whirls, pivots. Her body knows this; the balance is not so different after all. Broken glass crunches beneath her feet.
What would you have had me do? he snarls once more.
Thrust, parry, turn, leap. It is different in skirts; they swirl out around her, heavy things. She is encumbered as he was not, but it pleases her, it pleases her very much that she lands neatly despite this.
Nothing. A vicious thrust, twist, swing in a wide, whistling arc. Anything. I don't know. Just tell me why.
I've told you –
No! Slash down, pivot, and up again. Not why you killed him. Not why you felt you must control me absolutely. Not why you wanted that cursed army made. I know those things.
Tell me why it wasn't enough, Nuala demands, going abruptly still, blade held erect before her. She spins slowly, taking in the room in its entirety. Tell me why this – she begins again, swinging the blade down, turning clumsily on legs that have begun to shake – wasn't enough.
He doesn't understand, she can tell.
Tell me! she shouts in their mind, stumbling but still trying, reaching for the half-remembered sense of rightness she knows he found in this. Tell me why it wasn't good enough for you to live! Tell me why you craved so much blood! Tell me why it wasn't enough to block me from your mind - tell me why you needed me cowering and half dead! Tell me why you put your hand on his shoulder and felt the weakness in his bones and you didn't want an indestructible army nearly so badly as you wanted to close your hand and feel the bones snap!
Tell me why it was his fault that he was old and sick and alone, grieving our mother, tell me how you could love him so much and be so revolted! Tell me why!
I cannot tell you what I do not understand myself!
NO! You must! It was you – your fault - you must tell me WHY! Nuala shrieks, whirling, slashing, crashing into the table and crying. Her arms tremble and her fingers go weak, slippery on the hilt, and she can't breath. He was ashamed of you! He was afraid of you! He built that army for you and he wanted us all to die because of you, because you made him a monster -
Stop, stop -
- you made him make monsters and you hated peace, he hated that he'd made a monster, he loved you and he hated you and he hated himself and it was your fault!
It was all your fault, everything, all of it! Father and our people fading and the humans slaughtered and coming here and hiding and sickening and dying and you had this! You were whole and powerful, you had a home and you had a friend, while you left us all to die of your poison! You broke us and you left us to die, and that wasn't even enough!
Stop! I never did! Please-
The humans' greed is a speck to your lust for destruction! You killed our entire world and it wasn't enough! Tell me why it couldn't just be enough! Tell me why you couldn't just stay gone, why you had to stick a blade into his heart –
- please sister -
- he was already dead, you had already killed him, and I hate you – I hate you, and I still love you, and I can never be rid of you! You are the other half of me and I don't understand! Tell me why! Tell me what went wrong, tell me what is wrong inside of you, tell me WHY -
- and the barrier she's so carefully crafted over months and months comes slamming down between them, at his will this time. The blade drops from her hands, clatters to the stone as her legs give way and she just lets herself fall, an inelegant heap of skirts, striking knees and elbows hard enough for bruises. She doesn't care. She curls on her side and sobs, knees drawn up, hands clutching her sides, all of her wrapped in a protective knot around her belly.
Nuala hobbles back to the BPRD, her mind her own again – Nuada is quieter than he has ever been, and she feels blank inside, empty, as though she has been drained of something she carried so long she no longer felt its weight. She feels its absence now, and at the same time feels as though she's freed it into the air and it hovers, lurking, around every corner. She is terrified in a hollow sort of way at what she could have done – she cannot ask so much of her body, not now. It is well, though – she knows. It is well.
It will be well. She repeats this over and over in her mind. It will be well because she will make it so. The world can change. Some things cannot be mended, she acknowledges shakily, but some things . . some things can.
Abraham greets her in the library, pulls her into his arms in a rush of relief and annoyance and confusion and love – so much love it overflows her, poor vessel that she is, so that she bursts again into tears.
"I saw, touching the blanket, that you wished to be alone," he says. "Your guards think you're still asleep in there – unless you came back in past them, of course, in which case I suspect they're going to be very displeased with me."
"I didn't come past them," Nuala shakes her head, scrubs at her eyes.
"There was something else there – a reason for your wish for solitude," Abraham says, leaning back to look into her face, hands running soothingly up and down her arms. "Something . . that you wished to hide." He's trying to be fair, not to be hurt, but he's also gleaned that this is no small thing that she's hidden from him.
"I was afraid," she says – it seems like too simple an explanation, but it feels like truth. Maybe it is that simple.
"I know. Is there anything I can do?"
"Here," she says softly, reaching up to take one of his hands and pressing it low on her belly – where a piece of a broken crown used to be held.
"You're – you're -" Abraham splutters, eyes darting up and down from her face to his hand and back again, his thoughts knocked all asunder – an ecstatic jumble, bright and terrified.
"You're a father," Nuala whispers.