Author’s note: Sometimes when I get bored at work these odd story ideas pop into my head. Some of them start to take root and cry out to be written. This one actually popped into my head as an image. Since I’m hopeless as an artist, I had to find a way to turn that image into a story. Think of this story as the attack of the angst and fluff plot bunnies.
Warning: This is rated ‘T’ (13 and older) for a reason. There are some vague references here to the sexual life of the main characters, but outside of plenty of kissing nothing will be explicit. For those of you who have been following my fic Hellboy’s Family there is some connection here to that ongoing story. I’m writing this while having a bit of writer’s block on that one. I’ve had too many ideas that are overwhelming the Abe Sapien chapter I’ve been working on. I need to get this story out of my system before forging ahead on that one. I hope you all enjoy this one in the meantime.
Family Portrait: Chapter One: Hellboy’s Birthday
Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
Newark, New Jersey
Monday, December 23, 2024
Today was Hellboy’s eightieth birthday.
When he had looked in the mirror that morning the face that looked out at him was almost exactly the same face he had seen ever since he had been around fifteen years old. He never seemed to age once he grew to his full height. The only real difference were the many scars he had collected over decades of employment as a monster hunter and paranormal investigator.
Elizabeth Sherman, his wife of almost twenty years, was a lot closer to fifty than she once was. Her shoulder-length raven-black hair was starting to show some strands of gray and her flawlessly smooth, china-pale complexion was now also beginning to show signs of aging.
Unlike the first years of their relationship, Hellboy was now a more openly known, if sometimes feared, member of American society. He and the other non-human members of the FBI Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense were still not completely accorded the same rights as the American public they protected. But, at least, the federal government no longer treated these non-human agents as nothing more than virtual prisoners of the organization they were employed by.
Hellboy was now able to move more freely in the Newark, New York, and Boston locations that had become very dear to him during the decades that he had lived in secret as the adopted son of Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm, the late founding director of the Bureau Hellboy had always called ‘home’. This also meant he had more of a chance to meet new people and, possibly, make new human friends.
What Hellboy did not realize was that Liz, as she grew older, occasionally worried that he would someday meet a younger woman whom he would find more attractive than his aging wife. She felt more than guilty at harboring this anxiety; Hellboy was extremely loyal to those who loved him.
The reality was one that Liz in her insecurity could not see. She could never be anything other than beautiful in her bright red, oversized husband’s golden-yellow eyes. If she had been willing to confide this secret doubt to him, he would have done everything in his power to make that perfectly clear. After all he had once shown himself much more than willing to literally go to Hell and back to save her—even at a time when he thought she was in love with someone else.
Hellboy never admitted this to anyone, but he had been feeling out of sorts the closer his eightieth birthday came. Twenty years before, when Hellboy was just short of his sixtieth birthday, Trevor Broom had been murdered in that enormous library of books that also functioned as his office.
Hellboy usually avoided entering Broom’s former office on either Halloween or on November 1st—dates that were connected to this devastating event. But for some reason he had felt compelled to enter this huge office on the first day of November in the year 2024, the eightieth year since Trevor Broom had decided to adopt a cute, red-skinned infant demon as his son.
Hellboy wanted to try to remember as clearly as possible what his adoptive father had been like. He was starting to find it more difficult than usual to bring details of him to mind. This bothered Hellboy even more than he wanted to admit—even to himself. He had a phenomenally strong capacity for memory and, until this newly developed difficulty, had often been able to bring his long-dead father to mind so strongly it was as if he were still truly there with him.
Abe Sapien, the fish-man who still used the large aquarium that took up one of the walls in this office, was more than surprised to see Hellboy enter on the evening of November 1st. Abe managed to catch enough of Hellboy’s disconsolate mood to think it might be better to leave him alone. He quietly swam off into the inner part of the aquarium that connected to his private quarters.
Hellboy, who still dressed in the basic black shirt and leather pants that he had worn since age ten, heard a slight splash of water as he walked in. He was grateful for his friend’s consideration of his privacy. At first he just wandered around the office that was barely used anymore. It was mainly kept as a repository of the extensive collection of works on the paranormal put together by Broom during his tenure as director of the BPRD and also as a shrine to his memory.
An empty shrine—that is what it felt like that evening to Hellboy. He stared up at the portrait of Trevor Broom that had been placed in the office in the months after his murder. It was located over the fireplace in the center of the office where there had once been a large painting of an angel.
Hellboy sat down in one of the leather chairs in the office specially designed for his massive frame and continued to stare at this portrait. After a while he turned away from it and sat silent with his right elbow on his knee and his chin propped up in his huge, stone-like right hand.
“God,” he mumbled aloud, “How I hate that damn picture. Everyone always said how much it looks like him. But it’s not like him at all; not one single bit. Makes him look like the CEO of some stupid board of directors.”
He closed his eyes and tried to conjure up any memory of his father or feeling of his presence; his tail gently moved back and forth with the effort of his concentration. Faintly, so faintly as to be almost inaudible, he heard a voice speak.
“Remember what I promised you on your fifth birthday; I will always love you: Even if you lose me, you will never lose my love.”
Suddenly Hellboy jumped up and stomped back out of the office feeling even worse than when he had entered. These increasingly vague memories were just not enough anymore and he felt nothing but a huge, empty hole inside—a hole that used to be filled with the essence of Trevor Broom.
Hellboy knew he needed to do something to cheer himself up and decided to throw a huge party for his eightieth birthday. He invited all of his closest friends and colleagues.
Everyone who could make the party was in fancy evening dress. Both Hellboy and fish-man Abe Sapien were resplendent in specially designed tuxedos; Hellboy’s was deep black, Abe’s dark gray.
Hellboy really tried to enjoy himself that evening and for a while he did manage to forget his troubles.
Liz looked absolutely stunning. She was wearing a brand-new dress and Hellboy had been somewhat surprised with the deviation from her usual classic-black evening dress. She had been very happy when he commented on how beautiful she looked in this three-quarter sleeved, scarlet-red dress.
But at one point during the evening as Hellboy looked around the Manhattan restaurant where the party was now in full swing, what jumped into his mind was a memory of the only huge party like this that Trevor Broom had ever managed to throw for his adopted son. It had been a Halloween party.
When this party had been given over forty years before, Hellboy’s existence had been kept a strict secret from the general public. It was for this reason the party had been given as a costume party. The guest of honor had definitely had the time of his life at that party. He had certainly impressed the wait staff with his interesting red costume with its large tan leather trench coat.
But the memory of that earlier party brought along a baggage of more unpleasant memories with it.
Memories of a huge argument with Trevor Broom over the testing on the newly discovered fish-man dubbed Abraham Sapien; arguments that had eventually ended with Hellboy calling his adoptive father a bastard and Broom then being unable to attend the party himself. There were also other memories of the many friends and colleagues who had attended that party who had now passed on.
Hellboy looked around the room at the people attending his eightieth birthday party and sighed. Kate Corrigan was the only person there who had both known Hellboy during his younger years in Boston and had also known Trevor Broom well. She was now in her early seventies and carried her years well. She looked beautiful in a shimmering, silver-blue evening dress, her dark blond hair cut short in a style that flattered her silvering hair.
But Hellboy knew she now suffered from atrial fibrillation and had been hospitalized several times because of this heart condition. Not surprising in a woman who had lost her father in her younger years due to heart failure. Hellboy wondered how long it would be before Kate died as well leaving him bereft of the last of his oldest friends and the only woman he had ever made love to before Liz.
Hellboy sighed again and went to fetch a mug of beer from the bar. He took the beer and retreated alone to a table in a far corner of the room where the party was being held. As he sat staring into his drink, he wondered if it might not be better to stop caring so much for the humans he had always considered his friends and family.
“Wouldn’t be so upset when they died, then,” he muttered to himself.
In an effort to shake off his growing despondency he got up from the table and went to find Liz, who had been troubled by Hellboy’s sudden more somber mood, but was nervous about asking the reason.
Hellboy took Liz out onto the dance floor again. As he held her close for a slow, romantic dance he couldn’t help noticing the signs of aging in this woman he loved more than anything else in the world.
As the dance came to an end he kissed her wistfully on the cheek and then quickly walked away from the dance floor leaving Liz standing alone. She came to her own conclusions for this sudden abandonment of her and grabbing a glass of white wine retreated to a table apart from every one.
Except for the occasional dance with Hellboy, Kate had been spending most of the evening dancing in the slender, but strong arms of fish-man Abe Sapien. They had become a lot closer to each other in the years after Kate had realized that her on again/off again romance with Hellboy was finally coming to an end. She had always known that Hellboy would someday meet the true love of his life. When she had met Liz for the first time she recognized right away that Liz was the one.
Kate had found the contrast between the always impetuous and fiery Hellboy and the calm, cool, and collected Abe an intriguing one. She had certainly found pleasure in discovering that Abe had his own strong passions concealed beneath the serene exterior he always presented to people.
As Abe and Kate ended a romantic waltz they had both noted an interchange between Hellboy and Liz at the end of this dance that ended with each of them grimly sitting alone at tables on totally opposite sides of the room. Although both Liz and Hellboy could be temperamental, they seldom argued or fought—especially not in public. This unexpected split disconcerted those who had noticed.
Abe rarely drank alcoholic beverages beyond the occasional glass of wine served with an excellent Italian meal, but had decided to join Kate in enjoying a glass of the fantastic champagne that was being served. They found a table where they could sit with their drinks and converse in private.
Kate saw Abe turn an eye toward Hellboy as he sat morosely staring into a mug of beer. She nudged his arm gesturing toward Liz sitting alone on the other side of the room, sadly nursing a glass of wine.
“Trouble in paradise do you think?” she whispered.
“I’m not certain,” Abe whispered back, “Hellboy has not been disposed to confide in me recently, but I have noticed that he has been rather glum of late. While it may be related to difficulties with Liz, I am more inclined to think that Hellboy’s despondent mood is related to something else.”
Abe leaned his head closer to Kate and spoke even more quietly, “This year, for the first time in the two decades since Professor Broom’s death, Hellboy entered his former office on the anniversary of the date of his murder. I will never admit this to Red, but I eavesdropped on part of his time there. He was evidently very distraught about something related to the Professor.”
Kate thought over what Abe had just admitted to her. “Look, I’m going to go talk to Liz. Why don’t you go see if you can get Hellboy to talk to you? I’m not completely convinced it’s all just related to memories of Trevor’s death. I think there’s some more recent trouble brewing here as well.”
Taking their drinks with them they both got up from the table.
As Abe drew closer to where Hellboy was sitting he could hear him mumbling something to himself as he took a drink from his beer and then sat staring at the mug still in his hand.
“Do you usually sit conversing with your beer in such a gloomy manner at birthday parties, Red, or is it just your own birthday that receives this special treatment?”
Hellboy looked up into the dark-blue eyes of his long-time friend and partner. He then looked away as he took another huge quaff of his beer and then placed the mug back down on the table.
“Go away, Abe. Just leave me alone, why don’t you?”
Abe had made himself just a little bit giddy by indulging in a second glass of champagne. Taking a sip from the glass held in his left hand, he flopped down in a chair at the table where Hellboy was seated.
“Nope. Not going to leave you alone. Frankly, with you sitting all alone on one side of the room and Liz all by herself on the other, people here are beginning to think that you two are having an argument. So, I will listen very quietly and very patiently while you tell me what is really bothering you enough to make you cry into your beer.”
“I’m not crying,” growled Hellboy, “I’m just trying to drink my beer in peace.”
Abe reached out with a blue-green, webbed forefinger and touched Hellboy’s left cheek.
“Then you seem to have developed a leak. Maybe you should have that checked out.”
Hellboy impatiently swatted Abe’s hand away with his normal-sized left hand, causing some of the champagne in the glass Abe still held to slosh out onto his tuxedo.
Hellboy, trying to blink away the traitorous tears that insisted on falling, stood up from the table and grabbed up his mug of beer.
“Just leave me the hell alone, Blue. I don’t want to talk about it.” He started to turn away.
“Don’t want to talk about what, Red?” Abe had also stood up from his seat.
Hellboy slammed his mug of beer back down on the table with a crash that made several nearby heads turn. Hellboy collapsed back down in the seat he had just risen from and watched some beer slowly dribble out from a crack that had developed down the side of the mug.
“Jesus, Abe, you’re just as persistent as Pop used to be when he wanted to pry something out of me. That’s what he liked to call it: ‘persistent’. I still say he was a damn stubborn man when he thought he needed to know something; and you can be just as bad. Why can’t you let it go?”
Abe had also sat back down at the table, but, before he could even reply, Hellboy had a very clear, if extremely brief series of memories of Trevor Broom. But the memories were unpleasant ones.
In the years between 2002 and Broom’s murder in 2004, Broom’s relationship with Hellboy, which had already exhibited some small cracks, started to definitely unravel, if never completely falling apart; this was mainly due to Hellboy being incapable of dealing with the instabilities of a developing relationship with his BPRD colleague Elizabeth Sherman. Liz had become increasingly emotionally unstable due to her inability to control her fire-making abilities. She finally decided she wanted nothing more to do with Hellboy or with the Bureau she no longer wished to work for.
However, Hellboy also suffered feelings of anger toward Trevor Broom himself and jealousy toward the possibility of Liz developing an attraction toward another BPRD agent. These were just a few of the reasons why in the last months of his adoptive father’s life they were barely speaking to one another.
At that time, all of this chaos of emotions just left Hellboy with a huge baggage of guilt when Trevor Broom was murdered in a way Hellboy was convinced he could have prevented. It had been hard for Hellboy to get beyond the pain of that guilt and to bring back to mind the close bond of affection he had shared with his adoptive father over the six decades of their life together. These more painful memories of Broom’s last months were not exactly the memories of his adoptive father Hellboy had been trying to encourage in his visit to Broom’s office on the twentieth anniversary of his death.
Blinking away more tears that threatened to fall, Hellboy looked up at Abe. “Humans; they get sick, or get old, or get killed. It doesn’t really matter which. They still end up dying on you and you’re left all alone. But what can I do? Outside of you, most of my closest friends are human.”
Hellboy picked up his cracked mug and watched the beer that slowly dribbled out. He placed it gently back down on the table and stood up.
“You know, Blue, this damn moping isn’t really doing me much good. Think I’m going to grab a hold of my wife and take her for another spin around the dance floor. Get a hold of Kate and we’ll enjoy the rest of this party together.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Abe said as he stood up and smiled at his old friend. He still wasn’t convinced that Hellboy had completely admitted to what was bothering him, but Hellboy was right that dancing was better than moping.
While Abe had gone to talk with Hellboy, Kate walked to where Liz was seated. However, by the time she had made her way across the room Liz had already gotten up from the table to fetch another glass of wine. When she arrived back she found Kate already sitting at the table waiting for her.
Kate decided a direct approach would be better. “So, Liz, why don’t you tell me why you’re sitting all by yourself over here drinking glass after glass of wine while our huge, red birthday boy is all alone on the other side looking like he’s lost his best friend.”
Liz shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked down at the glass of wine sitting in front of her. She picked it up and took a long, slow drink from it before answering. “H.B. and I have been dancing most of the evening and we’re just a little tired. That’s all.”
Kate shook her head. “It looks more like you two are having a fight. What gives?”
Liz, who until then had been looking down at her glass of wine, looked up. “Isn’t it obvious, Kate? He’s bored with me. I’m not getting any younger, you know. But he’s too nice to come right out and tell me that he’d rather be with someone younger.”
Kate just stared at Liz for a few seconds. “Bored with you? Hellboy? Are you kidding or something? He’s been worshipping the very ground you walk on for decades.”
Liz shrugged, “Look, I know you had a relationship with Hellboy at one time. It doesn’t bother me any and I’m glad you two remained friends.”
She picked up her glass of wine and drained it before continuing, “Forgive my bluntness, Kate, but at the time he was with you he didn’t have much of a chance to meet new people. Now he does and I’m afraid he wishes he could drop me for someone younger. He dropped you when I came along, didn’t he? But he married me in this whole big Catholic ceremony and he’s just too much his father’s son to cheat on me; so I’m afraid he feels stuck with me now.”
This admission of Liz’s insecurity in Hellboy’s affections surprised Kate. She stood up. “Wait here, Liz, I’ll be right back. I think I need a stronger drink than this champagne.”
Kate came back in a few minutes with a large whiskey and soda and a fresh glass of white wine. As she sat down she handed the glass of wine to Liz. Kate took a long drink while she watched Liz toy with the new glass of wine and take a little sip from it.
Kate set her glass back down on the table. “Liz, I think you’ve misunderstood the nature of my relationship with Hellboy. Remember, I’ve known him ever since I was a little girl and our relationship has shifted through a lot of different phases over the years. Yes, I was the first woman that Hellboy made love to and, yes, he did shift from me to you; but it had nothing to do with my age and everything to do with the fact that he had fallen in love with you.”
Liz sat silent during Kate’s speech, still nervously toying with her glass. Kate reached out and touched her hand. “Frankly, Liz, Hellboy was never in love with me in the first place. We were just really good friends who made love once in a while. By the time of Trevor’s death we were pretty much back to the brother/sister relationship we had in the beginning. Believe me, no one knows Hellboy better than I do. He only ever loved one woman and that woman is you; that woman will always only be you no matter how much older you get.”
Taking a drink from the glass in her hand, Liz looked at it while she spoke. “Then what has been his problem recently, Kate? He hardly makes love to me anymore. The way he looks at me, or, sometimes, avoids looking at me…” She took another drink of wine and left the statement incomplete.
“I’m not sure what the problem is, Liz. He certainly hasn’t been confiding in me or in Abe recently. However, Abe has noticed things that make him believe that it’s something about Trevor’s death. Although why it should wait all these years to manifest is beyond me.”
Kate took another drink from her whiskey and soda, “I think your concerns are coming out of your own fears of aging, Liz. Do you really believe that Hellboy has fallen out of love with you?”
Liz licked the end of a forefinger and ran it around the rim of her wine glass causing a high-pitched, bell-like sound—almost like a glass harmonica. She listened for a while to the sound she was creating before answering the question. “I’m not exactly sure what to think, Kate. Sometimes he seems just as much in love with me as ever, but other times… Well, like I said, I’m not sure.”
“Not sure about what, Liz?” came a deep voice. She looked up and found Hellboy smiling down at her.
Liz forced herself to smile back, “Nothing in particular, H.B. Just girl-talk.” She wondered how much Hellboy had overheard. She hoped it wasn’t much, suddenly feeling her doubts a little disloyal.
Abe had come up to the table as well and whispered something into Kate’s ear that made her smile up at him. She got up from her seat and taking his arm followed him onto the dance floor.
Hellboy held his left hand out to Liz, who was still seated. “I think they’ve got the right idea, Liz. Care to join me for a few more spins around the floor before they kick us out of this joint?”
Liz stood up and threw her arms around Hellboy’s neck. “Kiss me first?” she whispered.
Hellboy drew her up for a lingering, passionate kiss that seemed to Liz to last almost forever and left her gasping for breath at the end. He hadn’t kissed her like that in months. Trembling with desire, she pulled his head down for another lingering kiss. When Liz finally came up for air, Hellboy grabbed her right hand in his left and took Liz onto the dance floor, joining Abe and Kate.
By the end of the party, most of the others had forgotten that Liz and Hellboy had ever appeared to suffer some sort of rift. Hellboy spent the rest of the night dancing with Liz, nuzzling and kissing her in a way that reminded her of the party at the Bureau after their wedding.
It was just a little after midnight when Hellboy and Liz returned to the Bureau. The BPRD agent who drove the large black sedan had learned the hard way not to pay any attention to what the couple he was escorting had been doing in the back seat. For Liz the evening that had seemed headed for a kind of personal nightmare had turned into a dream come true. She hoped Hellboy felt the same way.
Later, in the wee hours of the morning, Liz awoke in their pickup-truck bed wrapped up in the embrace of her still sleeping husband. All of the fancy clothes they had been wearing earlier were strewn about the cement floor of the room. Liz reached up and gently touched Hellboy’s face. The soft snoring that had been coming from him ceased and his eyes opened. As he sleepily looked down at the woman he held in his arms, his embrace tightened and he pulled her up for a brief, gentle kiss.
It had been a very cold December that year. Even though Liz had the ability to create fire, she had never gotten along well with cold weather. As Liz snuggled closer into the warmth of Hellboy’s embrace she felt better, more contented, than she had in weeks. Maybe Kate was right, maybe her concerns over Hellboy’s reaction to her aging were mostly generated from her own fears.
Liz wrapped her right arm around Hellboy’s neck and relaxing her head onto his chest listened to his steady heartbeat until she fell asleep again. A few minutes later Hellboy drifted back into sleep, feeling happier than he had felt in a long time.
Sometime toward dawn, Hellboy awoke again. He spent several long, contented moments just gazing at the woman asleep in his arms—the woman who would always be beautiful to him. He gently kissed the top of her head and took in the slight scent of flowers that came from her use of some kind of botanical hair-preparation gel.
Hellboy always had a very sharp sense of smell. He appreciated that none of the important people in his life indulged in colognes, perfumes, or other strong-scented products.
But he always loved the light scents that clung to both Kate and Liz—mainly deriving from natural, fruit- or botanical-based soaps and shampoos. He thought of Kate’s hair; her hair always smelled like peaches in his memories of their times together. Liz always smelled like a beautiful garden whenever they made love. Fish-man Abe Sapien seemed to smell like an ocean breeze.
As Hellboy pleasantly relaxed into this reverie, memories of Trevor Broom going all the way back to his childhood came into his mind; memories in which Broom always smelled slightly of the clothes detergents and soaps he specially imported from England. This memory of his father was as pleasant as his earlier memories of him had been unpleasant.
But, as pleasant as these memories of Trevor Broom were, they were still devastatingly brief. As he gently held Liz in his arms, he was unfortunately reminded of another body he had once held in his arms—a body that had been stone cold in death. This was one memory of Trevor Broom that Hellboy distinctly did not want to remember.
Hellboy’s pleasantly happy mood faded completely. Gently disentangling himself from Liz’s embrace, he got up from the bed. Looking back down at his still sleeping wife, he again noticed how much older she looked than when he had married her. Getting dressed in a large black sweat suit, still bare-footed, he pushed open the large metal door to their room and walked out into the hallway beyond feeling completely bereft and empty inside.
Next: Chapter Two: A Present on Christmas Eve
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