Author’s note: The attack of the angst and fluff plot bunnies continues. For those of you reading this fic who have not read my ongoing fic Hellboy’s Family, you may wish to. The story here is mainly connected to Chapters Four and Five of that story. However, this story can be read independently. For those of you only familiar with the movie Kate Corrigan’s character derives from the original Mignola Hellboy comics, as does the December birthday for Hellboy.
Warning: Please heed the ‘T’ (13 or older) rating. Some of what is below is sexually suggestive, but it will never become graphic.
Family Portrait: Chapter Two: A Present on Christmas Eve
Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
Newark, New Jersey
Tuesday, December 24, 2024
For a long time Liz warmly drifted in pleasant dreams. But, at one point, these beautiful visions were disturbed by the fact she now felt chilly. The lower half of her was still covered by the blanket Hellboy had pulled over them after their earlier passion. But she realized, even before she opened her eyes, that the loving embrace she had been sleeping in was gone.
In recent months making love with Hellboy had often seemed merely perfunctory to Liz. It had become infrequent and so brief, when it finally did occur, as to be almost over before it had started. Sometimes she would awaken afterward to find herself cold and completely alone in the red pickup truck that had been turned into a bed. Hellboy would disappear somewhere in the huge maze of the Bureau main headquarters and would never return for the rest of the night. Liz had given up trying to figure out where he had been going. He never volunteered the information and she never asked.
What happened after his birthday party had seemed so different at first. Liz had been both pleased and surprised to find when she had awoken in the wee hours that she had remained in Hellboy’s arms while they slept; it reminded her of when they had first married. Now she once again felt bereft and empty at being left alone with no word.
Liz was unable to go back to sleep. She climbed out of the bed and went to find her dark-blue dressing gown. She then went around the room retrieving and hanging up all of their fancy clothing from the night before. She found that Hellboy’s tuxedo was pretty much intact, but her beautiful scarlet dress had been somewhat damaged by Hellboy’s earlier impatient eagerness.
This was also a somewhat painful reminder of the early years of their marriage; years that at the moment seemed to Liz like some far distant past. The damage to her new dress was easily repairable, but she found herself hating the dress that Hellboy had so admired the night before.
Unlike Kate Corrigan, who had become a little broader over the years, Liz had always remained exactly the same petite size. She had worn the same dependable black evening dress for special occasions for years. However, when Liz had found out about Hellboy’s plans to have a birthday party, she had surprised Kate by suggesting that they go out shopping together and buy new dresses.
Liz stood contemplating the rumpled scarlet dress she had just picked up from the floor. For a while it had seemed to her that this new dress had wrought some sort of miracle; she had felt that she again looked beautiful in her husband’s eyes. Liz sighed; it was a miracle that seemed not to have lasted very long. She sadly balled the dress up and threw it down the waste disposal chute.
After putting on a pair of shoes, she pulled a long winter coat on over her dressing gown. She knew this would probably be nothing more than a frustrating waste of time, but she again felt compelled to go out and look for Hellboy on the roof over the entranceway to the Bureau main headquarters.
There had been a time, just after they had been married, when Hellboy would sometimes disappear in the middle of the night. At that point in time he was still filled with grief and guilt over Trevor Broom’s recent death. Liz would often find him standing on the entranceway roof—on the very same spot where he had stood when he watched the other agents and Bureau officials carry out his father’s coffin, heading for a funeral the FBI blocked him from attending.
Before this devastating event, this spot on the roof had once been a favorite place to sit when he wanted to ponder anything or just relax alone. It was a place he had shared with only the very most significant people in his life. Before Liz Sherman came along the only people who had regularly joined him there were Trevor Broom and Kate Corrigan; even Abe Sapien seldom came there.
While working through the immense grief and guilt of Trevor Broom’s death, Hellboy found himself again drawn to this spot on the roof to ponder things and, especially, to reminisce about Broom. When, more recently, Hellboy had taken to disappearing almost every time they made love, this spot on the roof had been the first place that Liz thought to look for him.
Liz sighed as she walked out into the hallway; she doubted she would actually find Hellboy. Every time she tried to look for him recently she had failed to find him, not even on the roof. She began to wonder if it might not be better to just pack up and leave; to give Hellboy her permission to find someone younger than she was. She was so firmly convinced this was what he truly wished for.
Megan O’Flaherty looked around the small studio apartment in Dublin where she now resided.
Even though the apartment was very tiny and the furniture merely functional, to her eyes everything looked radiantly beautiful. One of the main reasons for this was that after years of blindness and recent months of major operations and rehabilitation she had totally regained her sight. All things, no matter how mundane or ugly, looked miraculous to her.
She went and looked for about the hundredth time at her reflection in the mirror over a chest of drawers. She only just barely recalled how she had looked before a childhood accident had robbed her of her sight. As she gazed at herself, she saw a petite twenty-four year old woman dressed in jeans and plaid shirt with long red hair pulled into a braid and a face with a smattering of freckles.
Megan had only one regret; so often one must sacrifice something to gain something else.
As she was musing on these thoughts there came a knock at the door.
Upon answering, she found that her unknown visitor was a somewhat elderly English-looking gentleman dressed in an oddly old-fashioned three-piece dark brown suit.
“May I speak with you, Ms. O’Flaherty? I have heard from various sources that you paint quite unique portraits and would like to commission one of these from you. I am afraid that my information may have been incorrect, however; I had heard that you were blind.”
Megan held up her hand, “Sir, I am afraid I can no longer create the portraits you are speaking of. Yes, I was once blind, but have regained my sight recently. When this occurred I lost my unique ability. I am truly sorry this has happened, but I’m not certain I regret giving this ability up in exchange for my sight.”
The gentleman she was speaking with mysteriously gave Megan the impression of being at a great distance even though he was standing right in front of her.
Megan smiled at him, “However, I would like to tell you the story of my most unique portrait. Please come in and I will make us a pot of tea. May I ask your name?”
The man returned her smile as he entered and sat at the small table she indicated.
“You may call me Trevor.” He looked more closely at the young woman. “Would it frighten you inordinately to know that I am no longer among the living?”
Megan looked at Trevor again and then shrugged, “You don’t seem to be that frightening for a ghost,” she said as she went to the little kitchenette to prepare the tea. “Can you still eat and drink?”
“I am not really a ghost at all, Ms. O’Flaherty. I am merely a man with unfinished business—a man who would find it very satisfactory to have a good cup of Irish tea; it has been such a long time.”
Megan was soon seated with the mysterious gentleman drinking cups of excellent Irish tea with fresh cream. She had also set a tray of homemade scones on the table. Trevor appeared to enjoy everything immensely. “These are quite excellent scones. I recall having very similar scones when I was younger. Is the recipe one handed down in your family?”
“Yes, Trevor, it is a family recipe. In fact my family and my great-grandmother’s scones will be connected to the story I am about to relate.”
She poured Trevor another cup of tea while she continued speaking. “I once resided in my youth in a small village in another, more rural, area of Ireland. I was sent to this village to live with my paternal grandmother and great-grandmother after my parents had been killed in the same car accident that robbed me of my sight. My ability to create unique works of art was discovered in my teenage years. Soon, many people began to come to me for these portraits which I created for them by smearing and flinging different colored oil paints onto a blank canvas.”
“Indeed,” murmured Trevor, “What do the people then see when they view these ‘portraits’ they have commissioned from you?”
“They claim, if they look at the paintings for long enough, to be able to see their loved ones who have passed on. According to reports the experience is so visceral it is as if these loved ones were truly alive again. I don’t know where this gift came from or why I lost the gift when I regained my sight.”
Trevor sighed, “Yes, I heard some unique things about these portraits and had wished to commission one as a gift for my son. He is still finding it so hard to be without me, even after all these years.”
“Trevor, I am truly sorry that I am unable to do this for you. But this is why I wanted to speak with you about the one portrait I have never sold. This was the only painting I ever did that was not commissioned by anyone. It was one of my largest canvases.”
Megan poured them each another cup of tea and passed Trevor another scone. “I told no one about the portrait until I had finished it. The day after I finished, I felt that I had to show it to my great-grandmother. She claimed to definitely be able to see something in this portrait.”
Megan took a long drink from her cup of tea. “My great-grandmother then proceeded to tell me the strangest story about a large, red creature who had arrived to the village in 1959 and saved her baby, my grandmother Alice, from the clutches of a bunch of the ‘wee folk’. She claimed to be able to see a portrait of this creature in my painting, together with a human male; she assumed this man was the one the boy mentioned as his adoptive father.”
Trevor leaned forward, very eager to hear more of this story Megan was relating.
“It was obvious that Gram had very fond memories of this creature. ‘If you can believe it, Megan,’ she said to me, ‘that poor boy, no matter how large, was only fourteen years old. He was sent to get my Alice back from those little men. The boy never told me his name, but he did tell me how worried he was about the man he called ‘Father’, who was deathly ill at the time with some kind of cancer. After he rescued Alice, I sent him home with tea, scones, and soda bread for his father. His odd appearance frightened me at first, but I will never forget how kind and gentle he was with Alice, or how grieved he was over his father’s illness. This boy is definitely the one I see in your portrait.’ Gram asked me never to mention her story to Grandmother Alice, who recalled nothing of this incident. When I asked Gram what I should do with the portrait, she told me to keep it with me because someday the one who commissioned it would arrive to claim it.”
Trevor passed his right hand over his face, “Let me think; I am afraid that sometimes I am beginning to forget details of my previous life. O’Flaherty, O’Flaherty… Yes, now that I think of it that was the name: Margaret O’Flaherty. It was in 1959 that my son was sent by the Bureau to work on what he always called ‘that fairy changeling thing’. As for his name, he is called ‘Hellboy’; not the most auspicious name I could have chosen, but it is too late to change it now.”
He passed his hand over his face again, “I am afraid my time is growing short. I would first like to thank you for your hospitality. I realize why these scones tasted so familiar; they are very similar to the scones my son brought to my hospital room when he returned from Ireland in 1959.”
Trevor took a last drink of his tea and stood up. “Please, I would like to see this portrait now.”
Feeling oddly tense, more with anticipation rather than fear, Megan arose from the table and going to the single large closet in her small apartment drew out something very large and flat wrapped up in a sheet. She unwound this sheet and, still keeping the back of the painting toward Trevor, looked at something she hadn’t seen since she had placed it in the closet.
“Funny,” Megan muttered, more to herself than Trevor, “I know I covered this canvas with paint, but it appears as utterly blank to me as a bare, unused canvas.”
She looked up and spoke louder, “Trevor, it might be better if you sat down before you view it; some people claim the first sight of these portraits gives them vertigo.”
Trevor drew the chair he had been sitting in earlier closer to where Megan had just propped up the framed canvas. He sat and contemplated the random splotches of bright colors. Eventually these began to revolve and spin in a dizzying way before finally coalescing into shapes that he could discern. Megan heard him draw in his breath sharply.
Megan moved closer, “Do you see anything, Trevor?”
“Yes, oh yes,” he said in a very low voice, “I see a young man—an injured, wet, and dirty young man; a young man who, regardless of the pain he is in, is the happiest man in the world because the one he will raise as his own son has just leapt into his arms.”
Trevor buried his face in his hands for a long time. When he looked up again, Megan could see his eyes were filled with tears as he spoke again.
“I can also see a little, red face with innocent golden eyes and tiny horns; a supposed demon from Hell who became the gift of Heaven for a lonely man. I will give anything you ask for this portrait.”
Megan placed a hand on Trevor’s shoulder, “The price was paid in full by your son in 1959; I can demand nothing further.”
Trevor stood again, grasped Megan’s hand and kissed it. “I can never thank you enough for your generosity and kindness. A few questions before I go. Is the image I saw the same as the one your great-grandmother saw? Will my son see the same image I see now?”
Megan continued to hold on to Trevor’s hand as she shook her head. “Each person will see the image that most resonates with them. Gram saw your son as she remembered him; he was looking very happy and standing next to a man she assumed was the father he had spoken of. The image you yourself saw was the first time you met the one who became as a son to you. However, these images never remain static. They will shift to what the person viewing it most needs to see. Let me warn you that many will only see random shapes in this portrait. And there will be some who should be able to see images that will only see utter darkness; these are the ones who have allowed either grief or fear to totally empty their hearts of the love they once felt.”
Trevor let go of Megan’s hand and sadly turned away. “This is what I fear for my son,” he whispered.
Blinking back tears, he turned back; there was a question he felt compelled to ask. “May I inquire on which date the accident occurred that both robbed you of your sight and left you orphaned?”
Trevor was sorry he had asked this as he watched Megan’s eyes also fill with tears. “This is a date I will never be able to forget even though I recall nothing of the accident; it was November 1st, 2004.”
“That was the day on which my own life was taken from me,” Trevor revealed to Megan’s surprise; leaving both of them even more amazed at the mysterious ways of the universe.
“Are your grandmother and great-grandmother still living?” Trevor inquired when they both had regained their composure.
Megan nodded, “Gram is in her early nineties and Grandmother Alice is in her mid-sixties. They enjoy the quiet of rural life too much to want to join me in Dublin. They still live in the village where your son came in 1959. Also, Gram feels that to move away from there would rob her of a connection to the most significant event of her life. To this day she still treasures the letters that both you and your son wrote thanking her for the food she sent you.”
Trevor leaned forward and embraced Megan closely. “Greet your great-grandmother for me when you see her again. I wish I could go and visit her myself. But the time I have been granted is very brief and my son needs me; I must go to him before I lose him forever. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the great gift of this portrait.”
Megan hugged Trevor back and whispered in his ear, “Don’t thank me; it is your great love for your son that brought this portrait into being and his love for you that paid for it. I hope it brings both of you all you need and desire.”
It was very early in the morning, on the day after his eightieth birthday, that Hellboy numbly wandered the multitudinous, branching underground corridors of the BPRD main headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. He felt nothing more inside his heart than an empty despair.
Because the day after Hellboy’s birthday was Christmas Eve it had always been a day of very special sharing when Trevor Broom was still alive. This day was of more personal significance for them than even Christmas Day itself. From Hellboy’s youngest years they would always spend Christmas Eve together; putting up decorations, setting up the Christmas tree and Nativity figurines, and reading the nativity accounts from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The day would eventually culminate in father and son attending Christmas Midnight Mass in the Bureau facility chapel.
Even after Trevor Broom’s unexpected demise, Hellboy always felt a deep and continuing connection to the man who had loved him more than any father. He had many regrets for things that he wished he had handled differently when his adoptive father had still been alive. The deepest of these regrets was that he had never expressed in words how profound his love had truly been for this man.
Every year since Broom’s murder, Hellboy would spend Christmas Eve with Liz, Abe, and his other friends decorating his father’s former office and trimming a large Christmas tree. He would later take Liz to attend Midnight Mass in the large chapel in the Medical Wing. After this Hellboy would spend time alone on the roof. He would bring his adoptive father to mind and speak to him of the love he still felt. It was memories of this that made Liz wish to look for Hellboy on the roof one more time.
At one point during his aimless travels Hellboy blindly walked past two BPRD agents, Bill Grant and Sam Walters, who often worked the late shift. They had recently returned from dealing with a minor occurrence of paranormal activity.
“Jeez, there goes Big Red again, Sam,” said Bill, “This is the second time I’ve seen him this morning. I swear every time I come off some job early in the morning I see him pacing the halls. From what I heard, Red had a really great birthday party last night. You’d think he’d still be in bed sleeping it off; not wandering around like the Flying Dutchman looking for his ghost ship.”
Sam shrugged, “I heard from Smitty that H.B. and Liz had some sort of argument during the party. But after a while they made it up and were all over each other like two teenagers in love. Smit was the agent who drove them back to headquarters. He tells me that H.B. practically poked his eyes out with his stone hand for taking too much notice of what he was doing with Liz in the back seat.”
Bill shrugged, “Maybe they had another fight and she threw him out, or something. C’mon, Walters, let’s find a break-room with a fresh pot of coffee going and grab a cup before hitting the sack.” Bill and Sam, still rather curious about Hellboy’s odd behavior, continued on down the corridor.
Hellboy eventually made his way into the main corridor of the Medical Wing. He came out of the daze he was in to find that he was standing in front of the entrance to the chapel. He hadn’t been there since the Easter Vigil mass that had been conducted by Father Tom Hartley, a consultant for the BPRD who also handled the Sunday and holiday services for this chapel.
Trevor Broom may have raised his adopted son in his own Catholic faith, but Hellboy had not regularly attended services since he had been around eight or nine years old. He mainly found things of a religious nature to be somewhat dull. Yet, at the same time, his own personal faith and spirituality were deep and intensely felt.
There was no one in the chapel when Hellboy pulled open the door and walked in. The quiet peace that he always found in the slightly darkened chapel calmed him. It helped to fill the black void that had been attempting to engulf his heart.
Trevor Broom had placed this chapel in the Medical Wing of the new BPRD headquarters in Newark, New Jersey after they had moved there permanently in 1961. It was a much larger chapel than the one that Hellboy had become familiar with in the previous headquarters in Boston.
This time Broom had made certain that special seating was installed in the rear of the chapel that could support Hellboy’s weight. It was no longer necessary for him to sit on the floor whenever he attended Mass. Yet, unless Hellboy had been attending Mass with Broom or, after his death, Liz Sherman, he always sat on the floor near the statue of the Virgin Mary when he was in the chapel.
Hellboy had been worried over Broom’s hospitalization for cancer after he returned from his trip to Ireland in 1959. He had few people he could turn to for the kind of support and guidance he needed when Broom often became unavailable during this lengthy hospitalization. At that time, Hellboy became very close to a small group of people who became almost like family to him, especially the head nurse Martha Wilson and, later, the chief surgeon Robert Patterson. However, at times, they could be unavailable as well due to the busy nature of their schedules.
For the first and only time in his life, Hellboy turned to a ritual of daily prayer. Because of Trevor Broom’s own personal devotion to the rosary, this was the type of prayer that first suggested itself to Hellboy. It was also at this time he first became acquainted with the eight-year-old Katie Corrigan, whose father was also hospitalized in the BPRD facility at that same time as Broom. Through his newly developed friendship with Katie, Hellboy discovered something very profound: showing compassion to another child in pain was the best way to grapple with his own fear and grief.
Sixty-five years later Hellboy was again grappling with fear and grief; coming to the chapel to sit at the feet of the statue of the Virgin was an almost unconscious act on his part. He began to feel something stirring inside his heart in the place of that bleak emptiness that had so overwhelmed him earlier. At one point he suddenly recalled that it was Christmas Eve and thought of how much he had to accomplish if he wanted to get everything in his father’s former office ready before the next day.
As Hellboy went to stand up to leave, he became somewhat dizzy and sat back down on the floor. He came to realize that he was really very hungry and had no idea how long he had been sitting there. In fact, he could hardly remember anything of what he had been doing before he found himself standing before the door of the chapel.
This disconcerted him; first he had started having trouble remembering things from years ago, now he couldn’t even recall what had occurred that morning. Something wasn’t right, but Hellboy couldn’t quite pinpoint what that something was.
He tried to stand again and found himself even more unable. He started to wonder if it might not be a good idea to try to crawl out into the main corridor of the Medical Wing to get help.
Hellboy closed his eyes for what he thought was just a moment, but then he must have fallen asleep. The next thing he knew there was this young woman kneeling next to him, touching his cheek, and asking him if he was feeling okay.
He sat up; somewhat perplexed at finding he had been lying on the floor of the chapel. The young woman was not someone he recognized. She didn’t have on a uniform, so she was probably not a nurse; but he was still dizzy and found it hard to focus on the young woman at all.
“Hey, sorry, lady. Didn’t mean to startle you,” he managed to say. The young woman, who was obviously stronger than her size made her appear, helped him to get up from the floor.
When he tried to look at her she still seemed slightly out of focus. The only thing he could really make out was that the flowing outfit she was wearing seemed mostly to be a light shade of blue.
“Thanks for the help, lady. I must have fallen asleep or something.” The young woman held up her left hand to silence him and then placed it on his chest.
“Tell me, why did you allow such cold darkness to fill your heart? You should beware of what you wish for on your birthday; it just might come true.”
Hellboy blinked, “Did I wish for something bad? All I wanted was to feel good again.”
“Come and sit with me a moment,” the young women led Hellboy to the rear of the chapel. She sat down in the chair that for so many decades Trevor Broom used to sit in when he attended Mass. Hellboy sat in that much larger chair designed for him that stood to its right. He wondered what this woman wanted and why he still couldn’t quite make out what she looked like.
“Love can sometimes be a very strange thing,” she said after they sat down. “So many think that it should only bring joy and happiness in its wake. But, unfortunately, love can also be accompanied by pain and sorrow. If we attempt to drive the pain from our hearts, we may find that we also drive out the love as well. Last night you began to think you would feel less pain when your human friends died if you cared less for them, is that not true?”
Hellboy could only nod, wondering again where this woman had come from.
“Remember this, a heart is meant to be filled; if we do not fill it with love, it will end up being filled with something else. No pain feels worse than the ache of an empty heart. That is why many people attempt to fill that emptiness with things that do not really satisfy. You yourself have a peril that your human friends do not; if you allow yourself to become emptied of love there is a great pit of darkness waiting to fill you. Twice, already, this darkness has imperiled you: once in 1978 and again in 2004. This demonic entity that wishes to possess you will always be waiting for an opportunity to enter you. Only if you keep your heart filled with love will you have the strength to protect yourself.”
Hellboy closed his eyes and bowed his head, remaining silent. “But it hurts so much when the people you love die,” he finally said in a very small voice.
“Believe me, I know. But is it not even worse to anticipate grief before the loss has occurred and forget how to experience the joy now in this present moment? Go to your wife, she needs you.”
Hellboy raised his head to look at the woman who had been speaking to him, but she was gone. He looked around, wondering how she had managed to get up and walk out so quickly.
Looking back down at the chair she had just vacated, he saw that there was a small book left on the seat. Picking it up to look at it, he saw that it was entitled A Child’s Garland of the Rosary. He opened the book, turned to the dedication page, and read the inscription there:
To the son God in His wisdom has given me:
Pray always, Love always
Your loving Father,
Hellboy looked more closely at the book in surprise. His father had given him this as a gift for his seventh birthday. But, at the time, Hellboy had found praying an extremely boring pastime. He had eventually misplaced the book somewhere in the welter of junk in his room and never saw it again. He couldn’t believe that some seventy years later he was now holding that same book in his hands.
Still curious, he shoved the small book in the pocket of his sweatpants and went out of the chapel.
Hellboy returned to their room, but went right back out when he found Liz was not there. He still hadn’t eaten, showered, or dressed; but he felt the desperate need to see Liz right then and there. He had been unsettled by the words of the mysterious woman in the chapel.
There was a large living room/rec room that had been installed fifteen years before for the various agents of the BPRD. There they could relax, eat, listen to music, watch video entertainments, or just enjoy the company of their peers. Liz often liked to hang out there when she wasn’t in their room or doing research in Broom’s office about one or another of their operations. However, when Hellboy looked in there he was informed that no one had seen Liz all morning.
When he checked in Broom’s office all he found there was one very hung-over fish-man floating head down in the aquarium, legs and arms crossed. Abe looked a lot more green than usual. He also had not seen Liz that day. But, then again, Hellboy thought to himself, Abe couldn’t see much of anything.
All Hellboy could get out of him was a vow that Kate Corrigan would never get him to drink that much champagne ever again. Somehow she had managed to filch an entire bottle of it from the party and sneak it back to the Bureau. To Abe, at the time, it had seemed like so much fun to keep drinking the stuff while kissing Kate and trying to undress her. He had quite a job figuring out all of fastenings on her new dress with webbed fingers that unexpectedly seemed a lot clumsier than usual.
Not that Abe had been able to explain much of this to Hellboy; all he could mostly do was groan. Even though Hellboy did not like seeing his friend in such pain, somehow this served as a reminder of just how fun his birthday party had really turned out to be. Hellboy felt a lot more light-hearted than he had felt all morning as he went back out into the hallway.
Because of how much Liz hated cold weather, the last place Hellboy finally thought of looking was on the entranceway roof. It had been cold enough recently, but an increase in wind-chill was making the temperature seem even colder that morning. Hellboy wasn’t too keen on cold weather himself, having been raised as a young child in New Mexico where winter temperatures were much more mild.
He returned to their room before continuing the search. He got dressed in his warmest clothes, pulled on some boots over his cloven hooves, and put on his big tan leather coat. Before leaving the room he retrieved the mysteriously re-discovered child’s rosary book from the pocket where he had placed it and put it into one of the interior pockets of the coat he was now wearing. Climbing up a series of fire-exit stairs he eventually came out on to the roof that overhung the entranceway.
At first as he walked out onto the roof he didn’t see anyone. But Elizabeth Sherman had spent a significant portion of her teenage years living on the streets; she knew how to make herself as insignificant looking as possible. This was the reason why the BPRD security guards never noticed how long she had been sitting on the roof in the freezing wind that was blowing over its flat surface.
Hellboy finally did see Liz; but the coat she was wearing made her look more like a big, black cat curled up into a shivering ball than the wife he had been searching for. He knelt down beside her.
“Hey, Liz, what on earth do you think you’re doing out here? You could freeze to death.” He felt so stupid, but that was all he could think to say.
She never looked up when he spoke. “Would you even care?” she finally muttered.
“Would I even…?” Hellboy repeated in a low voice, still kneeling at her side.
“Of course I care!” he said in a much louder voice. “How could you even think I wouldn’t?”
At this Liz looked up at him. She could see the concern deep in his golden eyes—eyes that never lied.
“I’m sorry, H.B. Of course you care. That’s not what our problem is.”
Hellboy stood up again, reaching down to help her to her feet. “C’mon, Lizzie, can’t we go back in and talk about whatever this problem is someplace where we won’t freeze our asses off?”
Liz, acquiescing to the gentle plea in his voice, attempted to stand. But she found that she was now so cold and hungry it was difficult to do so. Hellboy was even more concerned at this weakness than he had been before. He wondered how long Liz had been sitting on the roof in subzero winds.
Hellboy stripped off his big leather coat and wrapped Liz in it. Picking her up into his arms, he maneuvered the fire-escape door open and carried her back into the building.
Liz burrowed deeper into the folds of the coat Hellboy had wrapped around her. She was enjoying the feeling of warmth spreading through her as he carried her in his arms. However, she also dreaded the confrontation she knew would be coming. She had tried so very hard in recent weeks to hide from Hellboy her growing insecurity in their relationship.
Hellboy had been very hurt by her remark about him not caring. Liz knew the statement had been an unfair one; from the very first time they met he had always cared deeply, even before he found himself in love with her. Now she would have to bring all of her anxieties out into the open and she wasn’t sure she was ready to find out what was really troubling him recently.
“I think I can walk now, H.B.” Liz said after he had carried her down several stairwells. Hellboy just buried his face in her hair and held her closer. He kept her in his arms until he finally descended by a combination of stairs and platform elevators to the office where he had earlier left a hung-over Abe.
Pushing the right-hand golden oak door open with his foot he carried Liz inside. He placed her, still wrapped up in his coat, into one of the huge leather chairs. Without a word, he proceeded to build up the fire using logs from the ample supply of wood always stacked up to the left of the fireplace.
Hellboy noted that Abe was no longer to be seen in his aquarium. He found out later that Kate had finally talked Abe into letting her take him for some very black coffee. Hellboy went to the rear of the office and came back with several large flat cushions he had removed from sofas located there. He arranged the cushions on the floor in front of the now roaring fireplace.
Liz watched him as he was doing this. There seemed something very different about him. Outside of his indignation over her accusation of not caring, he had seemed uncharacteristically quiet, almost pensive. When he completed what he was doing, he lifted Liz from the chair and placed her on some of the cushions. The warmth from the fireplace felt so good that all she wanted to do was go to sleep.
Hellboy, however, was concerned about Liz becoming over-heated. He knelt on the floor beside her and gently removed both his coat and the black coat she had been wearing. He noted for the first time that all she was wearing underneath was a very pretty, but rather thin, dark-blue dressing gown.
He returned to the rear of the office and came back with a large olive-green blanket, which he used to cover Liz up as she laid down on the cushions. Sitting cross-legged next to her on one of the other cushions, he watched her staring into the brightly burning fire. Neither of them had spoken since entering the office.
Hellboy knew they needed to talk; he also knew they needed to eat—but right then he wanted nothing more than to gather Liz into his arms and watch the fire with her. She made no objection when he reached out and drew her, still wrapped up in the blanket, to sit in his lap and rest her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his huge right hand gently around her waist.
They sat together, silently contemplating the fire, for a long time. A warm satisfaction began to fill Hellboy as he softly stroked Liz’s dark hair with his left hand. He eventually took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up for a long-lasting, tender kiss. The deep-seated joy that came with this kiss banished the last of the bleak emptiness that had driven him away from her earlier that morning.
Liz was the first to pull away from that kiss; it had filled her with delight, but her feelings were still confused and agitated. Almost without volition on her part, she buried her face in his shoulder and began to weep, almost hysterically.
Rather than trying to get her to talk to him when she was that distraught, Hellboy held Liz tightly in his arms and went back to stroking her hair until she had wept herself out. After a long while the sobs finally dwindled down to a few sniffles. Hellboy felt the tension that had filled Liz’s body relax in his arms and came to the eventual realization that she had fallen asleep. He shifted his weight on the cushions, lying down with her in his arms, and joined her in sleep in front of the fire.
Liz had never been a heavy eater, but Hellboy required huge amounts of food every day to support his massive frame. When he was very angry, upset, or grieving he did have a tendency to lose his appetite and had been known during certain times in his life to go for days on end without food. When the crisis was over or the grief dealt with his appetite would usually return with a vengeance.
This was what happened as he later awoke in front of the fire and found that Liz was still sleeping in his arms. He peered up at a beautiful oak wall clock, one that Trevor Broom had brought with him when he moved from England, and noted that the time was almost noon. He just had to get up and find something to eat or he would faint. But he didn’t want to leave Liz alone right now. He still wasn’t quite sure what was wrong, but he knew that he had to stay with her.
Hellboy stood up from the floor without waking Liz. Going to a large wooden desk, he used a relatively new communications device to contact the main kitchen and have food sent to the office. Trevor Broom had always insisted on keeping his office a bit on the old-fashioned side, but Hellboy knew where to look for all sorts of fancy equipment that had been specially installed. Some of this had been installed after Broom’s death, but Hellboy insisted on honoring his father’s unexpressed wishes and pretty much kept the original look of the office.
Liz awoke some time later to the more than appetizing smells of French toast, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and coffee. Knowing Liz’s predilection for what she considered healthier foods, Hellboy had also had the kitchen include some fruit, nuts, and granola.
He had even rooted around in the office and located his father’s old teapot, kettle, and a still-fresh supply of imported loose-leaf tea. He was now busy heating water on a kettle hob in the fireplace so that Liz could have tea instead of coffee. The breakfast was laid out on a table for two that was now sitting to the left of where she was lying on the cushions.
It amused Liz to lie there and watch Hellboy expertly fuss with the kettle and teapot; it made him look so domestic. Even though no words had yet been shared between them dealing with troublesome recent events, Hellboy’s quiet comfort while she wept earlier had done much toward calming her.
Liz quietly got up from the floor, snuck up behind Hellboy, and kissed his cheek before he realized that she was there. “Where did you learn to make tea like that, H.B.?”
Rather than answering right away, Hellboy turned from spooning out the correct amount of tea to grab Liz into a deep kiss that to her exploring tongue tasted like maple syrup and the egginess of French toast. Returning to his tea preparations, he soon had a pot of English breakfast tea brewing.
As he was doing this, Hellboy smiled at being visited by another pleasant memory of Trevor Broom. “Pop told me how to make a pot of tea back when he was in the hospital in ’59. I had brought back some really great tea from a trip to Ireland. But I didn’t want to keep bothering the main kitchen every time I wanted to bring him a pot of that tea and the Medical Wing kitchen was hopeless; so I started doing it myself. I brought him tea almost every day, sometimes twice, and he really loved it.”
He brought the pot of tea to the table and sat down to continue eating the breakfast he had started while Liz was still sleeping. “C’mon and eat something, Liz. I’m sure you’re as starved as I am.”
Liz drank some of the surprisingly good tea Hellboy had prepared. Then she fixed herself a bowl of the granola and added some of the fruit and nuts along with a little of the fat-free milk sent from the kitchen. She ate a few spoonfuls of it; but then she proceeded to aimlessly stir it around in her bowl.
She wished she could understand these drastic mood swings of hers; first she would be firmly convinced of Hellboy’s continuing love for her and then just as firmly convinced that he was noticing, to her detriment, that she was getting older and wishing he wasn’t stuck with an aging wife. This uncertainty was driving her crazy, but she was afraid to come right out and ask him how he really felt.
Hellboy was apparently paying no attention to anything more than the huge amounts of pancakes, bacon, French toast, and sausage he was quickly wolfing down. But he had actually noticed, more than once or twice, that Liz was barely consuming any food at all. He had learned a lot from Trevor Broom over the decades of their relationship about the virtue of patience. Liz was more than aware that he had been quite patient with her over the last several hours—but he was not his father and his patience had definite limits. And Liz was aware that she was quickly reaching those limits.
Hellboy finally threw his fork down. “Jesus, Liz, why don’t you just tell me what’s been bothering you instead of sitting there playing around with your food?”
Liz knew it would be better just to answer the question than to risk the huge argument that would ensue if she kept trying to evade it; but she still was afraid. She very deliberately munched on a few more spoonfuls of her cereal and took another slow drink from her tea before she spoke. “I just don’t feel all that well, H.B. What I’d really like to do right now is to go back to the room for a few minutes to take a shower and get dressed. Then maybe I’ll feel more up to eating, okay?”
Hellboy shrugged and picked up his fork again, “I guess so. Just tell me one thing before you leave: why ever did you go out on the roof this morning on such a cold day as this?”
“I was looking for you,” came the soft answer.
“Looking for me?” Hellboy grunted, throwing down his fork again. “Well, wasn’t it kind of obvious I wasn’t there? Why didn’t you come back in instead of sitting out there for hours freezing yourself to death? Do you have any idea at all how long I was going round and round looking for you this morning? It was like you just disappeared or something. The roof was the last place I thought of looking because it was so damn cold out today. What in the hell were you thinking of?”
The next thing he knew, he had to duck a bowl of half-eaten cereal that had been flung at his head.
“Me?” Liz shouted, “What was I thinking of? You’re the one who disappears every damn time we make love like I’ve got some disease. I’m the one who’s been wasting a lot of my mornings looking round and round for you. But for a while there last night, Red, just for a while, I actually thought things were going to change. But when I woke up this morning you were gone—just like always. And so, stupid me, I went looking for you again.” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
Hellboy by this time had gotten up from his own chair to kneel by Liz and put his arms around her.
“I just can’t sleep sometimes, Lizzie. You should have told me it was bothering you. It’s nothing to do with you, not really. At least nothing we can do much of anything about.”
Liz pulled away from him. “But there is something we can do about it, Hellboy; or, at least, there’s something I can do. You really want to know why I stayed out on the roof so long? Because I knew that if I came back in I would pack up my bags and leave. I just wasn’t ready to do that yet, but maybe it would be the best thing. You shouldn’t have to feel so trapped.”
Hellboy, who was still kneeling on the floor next to her chair, looked up into Liz’s tear-streaked face. Usually pale, even in anger, she looked somewhat flushed. “Trapped? Who said I felt trapped, Liz?”
“Maybe ‘trapped’ is too strong a word, H.B.,” she said after a moment, wiping the tears from her eyes. “But I’m getting older; it’s not something I can ignore anymore. It’s just a fact of life that wishing things were different won’t make go away. And I know you’ve been noticing it; don’t try to deny it—I can see it in your eyes every time you look at me.”
Hellboy took her hand. “Yeah, you’re right; I’ve been noticing it.” To her ears he sounded so dejected.
Liz leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Twenty years ago you made certain promises to me, and I know you meant them. But I’m going to keep getting older and older and older while you will always stay young, H.B. And if you think it would make you happier to find someone younger, I won’t hold you to those old promises.” It was a huge relief to finally get these words out, even if they cost her a world of pain to speak them.
Hellboy, who was still holding her hand, stared at Liz for a moment. “Is that what you thought was bothering me, that I wanted someone younger and felt trapped because of my promises to you?”
Tears falling again, she looked away and nodded.
He stood up and pulled her into his embrace. “I know I don’t say this often enough; hell, I probably don’t say it at all. So let me say it now: I love you, Elizabeth Sherman, with all my heart. I love you more than life itself, more than love itself. When I promised ‘until death do us part’ I meant that for always—not just for twenty years. I don’t want someone younger; I want you, Liz—only you.”
She looked up into his eyes and saw exactly the same depth of love that she had seen in Moscow over twenty years before—that time he had knelt by the empty shell of her body and whispered words of love that had called her soul back from the cold, dark pit into which it had been banished.
Hellboy softly kissed her forehead, “I am bothered that you’re getting older, Liz; but it’s not the ‘getting older’ part that’s the problem. It’s because each day that goes by is one day closer to that day you’ll die and leave me. Just like Pop died and left me. I am so afraid of the day that is coming when every one I ever loved will be gone while I just live on and on.”
Tears that had been stifled for longer than Hellboy could remember by that horrible soul-crushing emptiness welled up in his eyes. “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to let the fear of that day drive me away from you—while you are still right here to be loved. Can you ever forgive me?”
Liz felt both elated by his continuing devotion and guilty that she could ever have doubted it. She could again only nod as she wept even harder than she did before. Hellboy tenderly used his left hand to brush away her tears.
Then pulling her closer, he seized her lips in an eagerly fervent, all-consuming, kiss.
As she ecstatically returned Hellboy’s fervor, Liz was filled with exactly the same passionate yearnings that had so overwhelmed her in Moscow all those years before. And just like that very first kiss, her explosive desires broke the bounds of control that she had learned with so much effort over the years.
Fire exploded out from her to soar overhead and surround them both in flames of brilliant, flickering blue. Their urgent kiss deepened even further, as they both reveled in the blazing, ardent fire that only added further passion to their already boundless love. Liz was once again more than grateful that the one she loved more than anything else in this world was impervious to her fire.
One small corner of Liz’s mind was able to keep rein on this manifestation of her incandescent power. Before anything was kindled in the surrounding environment, the flames were sucked back into their secret place in the core of her being. Panting heavily, both from the effort of this control and the breathtaking passions welling up inside of her, Liz slumped into Hellboy’s arms in a dead faint.
“Lizzie!” Hellboy immediately switched from passionate lover to concerned husband. He eased her back down onto the cushions in front of the now dwindling fire. Kneeling hastily down beside her he checked her pulse, which seemed a little too fast. He brushed her hair back from her forehead as her eyes opened again. “Jeez, Liz, don’t scare me like that! Are you okay?”
“Yes, I think so,” she said as he helped her sit up. “You know, I wasn’t really lying before when I said I wasn’t feeling all that well. I haven’t felt completely well for several weeks now. I haven’t thought too much about it, but maybe I’m due for a visit to my friendly neighborhood gynecologist.”
“You don’t think you’re really sick do you, Lizzie?” Hellboy’s heart was now filled with anxiety rather than his earlier fervent desire. He helped her up from the floor.
“No, Red, not really,” Liz said as she stood up again. “It’s probably one of those things that happens to women when they get to be around fifty. Maybe even something that could make me more touchy than usual, too.”
She sat back down at the table where they had been eating earlier. “Right now I think I should eat a little more; that is if I have any cereal left after having heaved my bowl at your poor head.”
Hellboy, looking closer at the mess of cereal and broken ceramic all over the floor, collapsed down into his chair at the table and roared with laughter. All it took was one look at his face for Liz to join him and soon they were both laughing almost uncontrollably. It felt really, really good to laugh that hard; neither of them could recall having laughed like that in months.
“I’ll have the kitchen send us up a second breakfast,” Hellboy said when he could finally catch his breath, “I’m afraid my food’s stone cold.”
“And there’s certainly not much left to mine,” Liz managed to gasp out between the bursts of laughter she was still finding hard to control.
Hellboy got up from his seat and put in a call to the main kitchen for a second cart of food to be sent to the office. The kitchen staff merely assumed that Hellboy had been hungrier than usual that day.
He returned to the table and retrieved the teapot. “I’ll make a fresh pot of tea while we’re waiting. Right now, I wouldn’t mind a good cup of tea myself. Used to drink it with Pop sometimes when we made it up after a big fight.”
Somehow this second pot of tea tasted even better to Liz than the first one did. Being blissfully happy did have a tendency to change your perceptions of things. The second delivery of food arrived from the main kitchen around twenty minutes later.
Liz curled up in Hellboy’s lap and they proceeded to feed each other in much the same way as they had done the first week after they were married. After that ‘honeymoon’ period had been over they seldom ate breakfast together. Until recently, Liz was usually the one who arose earlier leaving Hellboy snoring until late in the morning surrounded by a bevy of his pet cats who would immediately take over Liz’s still warm spot in their bed.
Outside of a lot of kissing in between bites of food, there was little communication between them while they ate. They both began to wonder if they shouldn’t fight a tiny little bit every once in a while just to have the fun of making up and eating breakfast together.
Liz soon ate her fill of both her own cereal and some of Hellboy’s French toast and bacon. After having a final cup of the more than excellent tea Hellboy had prepared, she fell asleep in his lap. Hellboy kissed the top of her head as it rested on his chest, his stone hand cradling her close. He then quietly continued eating his own breakfast, more than used to feeding himself using only his normal-sized left hand; his stone-like right hand was more than useless for wielding a knife and fork.
Just as he was finishing eating, Kate Corrigan and Abe Sapien wandered into the office; they were both drinking large mugs of black coffee. Kate was wearing a large red bathrobe that Hellboy had given her many years before and Abe was dressed in his usual tight-fitting black shirt and shorts. His blue-green skin had returned to a more normal shade and he was absently rubbing at his head.
Hellboy thought that if the fish-man actually had any hair it would probably be standing on end by now. He tried to suppress his amusement, but it didn’t do much good. Abe could still read his friend too well even without prying into his thoughts.
Abe glared at Hellboy, “Don’t laugh at me like that, Red. At least Kate was right about the black coffee; I may not particularly care for coffee, but it really is helping this wretched headache.”
Kate, in the meantime, had been taking in the mess all over the carpet behind where Hellboy was sitting. “Had an accident earlier, Hellboy?”
“I said something pretty stupid,” he said, speaking low so as not to wake Liz, “and almost ended up wearing Liz’s breakfast. Don’t really blame her; I can be pretty dense sometimes.”
He smiled and kissed the top of Liz’s head again. “We made it up, though.”
Abe scuffed his bare, three-toed webbed foot at a very lightly scorched patch on the carpet. “So, Red, did the argument become pretty intense?”
Hellboy smile became broader, “That’s from the making up part, Blue.”
“Well, it looks like you’re going to have your work cut out for you if you’re going to get this office decorated for Christmas, Hellboy,” laughed Kate. “Come and get a hold of us when you’re ready to get started.” Kate and Abe climbed up the spiral staircase in the rear of the office and descended down into Abe’s private quarters.
Hellboy took a final drink from his mug of coffee before lifting Liz into his arms and standing up from his seat. She mumbled something, but never quite woke up. He carried her out into the hallway, bringing her eventually to their private quarters. Shooing away about fifteen of his pet cats, he laid Liz down on the mattress in the back of the pickup truck and covered her with a blanket.
Standing and looking at her in much the same way as he had before dawn, he was still struck by the fact of her aging. But instead of his earlier terror at that aging, he was engulfed by a deep and abiding love. He was certain this love would always be there; whether his wife aged another day or another fifty years. Reaching down, he briefly touched his left hand to her cheek before turning and walking back out of their room.
Returning to the office, he fetched his tan coat and put it on. He went back out and made his way into the Medical Wing, returning to the chapel where he had been earlier that morning. It was no longer empty as it had been at that earlier time. Father Tom Hartley and some off-schedule nurses were now decorating the chapel for the Christmas Midnight Mass the priest would be conducting later.
“Need any help, Father Tom?” Hellboy asked as he walked in.
“Nope. Got everything under control,” the priest grunted as he arranged some red poinsettias around the altar. “How’re things coming along in your father’s office?”
Hellboy shrugged, “I’m a bit late decorating it this year. If you guys are free in a couple of hours, come around. I might need the help.”
Walking over to the statue of the Virgin, Hellboy knelt in silent prayer. After a time, he stood up and looked more closely at the statue, which portrayed a young woman in flowing blue-and-white robes. He brought out the child’s rosary book from the inner pocket of his coat. “Thank you,” he whispered.
A few minutes later, he walked out of the chapel contemplating this rosary book that had so mysteriously re-appeared. A very vivid memory of his seventh birthday when he had received this book as a gift from Trevor Broom sprang up. He began to wonder how things in his life might have gone differently if he had paid more attention at the time to the religious instruction Broom had been trying to impart; instead of waiting for times of personal crisis to drive him into it.
Before making his way back to their quarters to join Liz in her nap, he contacted maintenance to go into the office and clean up the food and other mess left over from his very late and very interesting breakfast. But, as he later continued on his way, he came to a halt in front of the door to his late father’s private quarters. He could swear he just then heard someone moving around in the room.
This was the one room in the Bureau facilities where Hellboy never had the fortitude to enter after Trevor Broom’s death. He had reluctantly allowed Tom Manning, the FBI liaison at that time, to enter the room after the murder to remove papers, books, and other items Manning deemed necessary for the continued functioning of the Bureau.
Upon Hellboy’s insistence, the rest of the items in the room had been kept exactly the way Broom left them that last evening of his life. Manning locked the door after he had removed what he thought important, gave the key to Hellboy, and the door had never been opened again. In fact, this door was the only one that had gone untouched when newly developed electronic coded locks had been installed on all interior doors ten years after Broom’s death.
Hellboy quickly returned to their quarters and found that Liz was still napping. Working quietly, so as not to disturb her, he retrieved his belt and holstered his huge gun, the Samaritan. Digging around in the pouches of the belt, he eventually found a metal key and returned to Broom’s quarters.
Attempting to open the door using this key, Hellboy struggled with a lock that was stiff from disuse. He was concerned that the key would snap off short in his left hand before the door unlocked. Finally, the lock disengaged with a loud scraping sound and he turned the knob to the door. Pulling out the Samaritan with his left hand, he slowly pushed the door open with his huge stone hand and looked in.
The room at first appeared to be empty and Hellboy had expected it to be dark. But a small lamp on the desk in the room was lit. He could just barely make out a dark brown jacket and silk tie neatly draped over the back of a large armchair on the other side of the room from the desk.
Hellboy’s heart skipped a beat when he saw these items of clothing. Broom had been wearing them the last time Hellboy had seen him alive. When Broom had been discovered in his office later that evening having been stabbed to death, he was still basically dressed the same as before; but more casually, having removed the jacket and tie. He had probably been intending to hang them up when he retired to bed for the night.
“Never had the chance,” Hellboy muttered to himself, blinking back tears.
As he cautiously ventured further into the room, gun still in hand, Hellboy could see that some man was seated at the desk. Just as he was planning on angrily confronting this intruder, the man stood up and stepped forward into the small pool of light shed by the desk lamp. Hellboy was totally astonished at the unexpected apparition of Trevor Broom that now stood before him.
“Oh, shit,” Hellboy groaned, lowering his gun and closing his eyes, “Just what I needed right now.”
After Broom’s murder, it hadn’t been too hard for Hellboy to accept still being able to feel a strong sense of his presence or swearing that he could still hear Broom speaking to him. He merely assumed that these experiences, no matter how real they had seemed when they occurred, were driven by his own grief and vivid memories of Trevor Broom.
Hellboy could sense that this new apparition was neither like these experiences of Broom’s presence nor the mere appearance of some kind of ghost—but that only left him with the idea of an extremely vivid hallucination. He was in no mood to interact with a figment of his own imagination generated by his recently intensified yearnings for the man who had raised him so many decades before.
“Go away,” he finally said, turning away with eyes still closed. “I can’t deal with this; just go away.”
He felt a hand on his shoulder. “I have been waiting for such a long time, Son. Please don’t drive me away like this. Unfortunately, I only have a very brief period of time left and can’t afford to wait, as I once did, for you to be willing to speak with me.”
Opening his eyes again, Hellboy re-holstered the Samaritan. “Pop, you’re still a stubborn man, you know that?” Smiling sadly, he turned back toward this uncannily realistic apparition of his late father. “I once swore to myself that I would do everything I could to make up for the stupid things I did before you were killed. Whether you’re real or not doesn’t matter; anything you want, I’ll always do.”
Broom smiled back at Hellboy, “Actually, there isn’t really much that I wanted from you, Son. I had some unfinished business to take care of and had been granted a limited amount of life force borrowed from the great universe to accomplish it. I have completed my task to the best of my ability, but could not abide leaving again without seeing you one more time.”
Broom reached out and touched Hellboy’s face, brushing away the tears that were more and more impossible for Hellboy to hold back. At this loving touch of his father’s hand, Hellboy came to the vast realization that it was this very touch that he had been pining for all these past weeks. He listened with a kind of awe to this long-missed, cherished voice speaking to him.
“I have been here for several weeks, attempting to contact you. But it was very difficult to get through that barrier of darkness surrounding you. I expended much of the life force that was granted me in breaking you free from that entity attempting to possess you; it was the same entity that tried to take you from me in 1978. I have little idea of why I was finally successful today; I think I may have had other help. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I now have very little time left to be with you.”
Looking at Broom closer, Hellboy found it somewhat difficult to discern exactly what he looked like. Broom looked as young as Hellboy remembered him from his childhood and, yet, at the same time, as elderly as he had appeared the last time Hellboy had seen him as he lay dead on the floor of his office. He was basically dressed exactly as he had been that night he had been murdered.
Filled with nothing but an ocean of love for this man who had been both father and mother to him for almost sixty years, Hellboy still could not speak aloud of this love. The word ‘love’ was the same word he used to describe how he felt about his favorite foods or even how he felt about Liz; it seemed far too small a word to describe what he felt for this man he called ‘Father’.
Trevor Broom was the man who had adopted as his own son an infant creature originally conjured up solely as a vehicle for doom and destruction. He had raised him in his own Catholic faith, taught him the meaning and power of love, and guided him to freely choose his destiny as one committed to protecting all of humanity. What words could ever be adequate to describe how he felt for this man?
While all of this was quickly passing through his mind and heart, Hellboy came to notice that Broom began to look rather drained. Assisting him to the large armchair, he helped him to sit down and then curled up on the floor at his feet looking up at him.
Broom rested a hand on Hellboy’s left shoulder and massaged the tension out of it. Hellboy took this hand into his normal-sized left hand and gently caressed it; as he did this he thought of a very memorable day in 1959 when Broom had warned him, that no matter how much longer he lived, Hellboy would never be ready to let him go. Broom had been right, Hellboy hadn’t been ready in November of 2004 and he still wasn’t ready twenty years later to let Broom go a second time.
Raising himself up onto his knees, in much the same way as he had done in Broom’s hospital room in 1959, Hellboy threw his arms around Broom and held him close; still paying attention, as he had been taught, to what he did with his huge right hand.
Just then something happened to Hellboy that was even more remarkable than anything else that had occurred on this strange day. He never was quite sure if Trevor Broom had suddenly grown a lot larger or that he, himself, had shrunk smaller; but as Broom returned Hellboy’s embrace he reached down and pulled him up into his lap as he used to do when his adopted son had been much, much smaller than his current seven-foot size.
Closing his eyes and relaxing into this longed-for embrace, Hellboy laid his head on his father’s chest and listened to his steadily beating heart; the heart that he knew forever beat only in love for him. Both father and son heaved a huge sigh of contentment and long sat together in a peaceful silence.
Even though Hellboy had been speaking very little before, it was he that first broke this silence. “Father, how can this be possible?”
Broom kissed Hellboy’s forehead, “Son, for those who love anything is possible.”
Hellboy raised his head and looked into Broom’s young/old face. “I wish things had been different, Father. I wish I had said that I loved you, but I never did; not once that I can remember.”
Broom held Hellboy closer, “No, you never did. But every day of our life together you told me of your love in all the ways that had nothing to do with words.”
Hellboy reached up and touched Broom’s face, “But it’s not the same as if I had said something.”
Broom smiled, “No, Son, it’s not the same; but it was sufficient. I knew you loved me; what more does a father really need than to know that his son loves him?”
As Hellboy laid his head back down on Broom’s chest again, he turned his face into his father’s wool vest and wept for the loss that he knew was coming. He could feel the certainty that this wonderfully unexpected time of togetherness would soon be coming to an end. Afraid he would never experience Broom’s presence this intensely ever again, he wept even harder.
Very softly, Broom began to speak again. Hellboy stopped weeping to hear him, raising his head again to listen more closely.
“Son, don’t let your heart be so troubled. Remember the fourteenth chapter of John; the words of Jesus there are mine to you as well. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Broom gently wiped away Hellboy’s tears, “Someday we will be together in this place, never to be separated again; this I promise you.”
If this passage from the Gospel of John was meant to be comforting, Hellboy found little comfort in it.
“Father, you’ve never yet broken a promise to me. But it doesn’t look like I’m going to die from old age, or at least not for a very, very long time. So, I’m kind of stuck here unless I get killed or commit suicide; not sure I’d want either. Maybe the only real way out is to destroy the entire world as I was originally created to do, but I just plain refuse to do that; no matter what happens to me. And that wouldn’t get me to this place you’re telling me about, anyway. But if I just keep on living and living, when will I ever see you again?”
Broom drew Hellboy’s head back down to his chest again. “Son, remember my love. I have never yet allowed anything to keep us apart. I have always been with you in some form or another and I always will be. This world will, indeed, someday come to its end; but this end will be in God’s own time and according to God’s own will and plan; not that of men or other creatures opposed to the Good. Await the will of Heaven, Son, and you will certainly see me again. I know this; I have seen it.”
As Broom ceased speaking, Hellboy could again hear the beating of his heart; but it was no longer as strong or as steady as it had been previously. He felt Broom’s chest heave as he attempted to take in a deeper breath, but found it a struggle.
“Son, my time now grows exceedingly short.” Broom now spoke very slowly and often stopped for breath between phrases. “I must leave you very soon, but would like to speak to you of one thing further. I know you dislike, as I do myself, that portrait of me that was installed in the office after my death. I have now discarded that picture and left in its place a portrait that is more to my liking.
Broom ceased speaking for a moment and then resumed even more weakly than before.
“You may find that you see nothing in this portrait at first. Keep on contemplating it and this will change; especially if you continue to recall my love for you and your love for me. I hope you find as much comfort in this portrait as I have; may it become a sign to you of my continuing presence.”
Hellboy clung even more tightly onto Broom; he swore he could feel the last of the life force draining out from him. Broom leaned forward and kissed the top of Hellboy’s head one last time.
“Son, I am so grateful for these moments I have been granted to hold you in my arms once more. But my time has come again and I wish you to leave me now. I have little idea of what exactly is going to occur and I would rather you not witness it.”
“No, Father, please don’t make me go,” Hellboy almost sobbed, “I’ve never forgiven myself for leaving you alone that night; never. And I will never leave you alone again, if I can help it. If Death insists on taking you away from me a second time, he’ll have to drag you out of my arms to get you.”
Broom smiled weakly at this. “And you called me stubborn. Unfortunately, Death will never take ‘no’ for an answer, Son, no matter how tightly you cling to me. Remember that in the end it will not be Death who has the final word. Until the time of the coming of that Kingdom, I must bid you farewell.”
Having no energy left to speak or act further, Broom closed his eyes and collapsed into Hellboy’s embracing arms. Broom’s second time on Earth, if brief, was filled in its final moments with nothing except the sense of his son’s great love.
Death soon came for Trevor Broom and Hellboy clung to his father as desperately as he had promised. But Death finally won that battle, leaving Hellboy with little more than a dark brown vest clutched tightly in his arms—and the memory of one last vivid encounter with a very special man.
Just about the same time as Hellboy’s obstinate struggle against Death, Liz had awakened from her nap. To all appearances, Hellboy had never joined her for her nap as she had expected he might. Noticing that his gun and utility belt were gone, she wondered if she had slept through an alarm that had sent him out on a job and whether he was back yet or not.
She got up out of the bed and went to see what was going on in the office where she had eaten breakfast with Hellboy earlier. As she walked down the hallway, she did not notice at the time that the door to Trevor Broom’s former private quarters was partially open.
Upon arriving to the office, she was astounded to see how beautifully decorated the whole place was, complete with a huge Christmas tree. In fact all these decorations looked brand-new. Liz wondered when Hellboy had found time to purchase so many new ornaments and why he hadn’t woken her up to help decorate.
She noticed the abstract painting now hanging over the fireplace where the portrait of Trevor Broom had been hanging just hours before. Knowing how much Hellboy hated that portrait, she assumed that he had made this switch when he decorated the office. This weirdly beautiful painting almost looked like something familiar, but she could not quite make it out, and wondered where Hellboy had obtained it. Looking at the picture too long was starting to make her dizzy, so she turned away.
Since there was no one in the office, Liz decided to go back to the room to shower and dress in what she wanted to wear later for Midnight Mass. But as she started back toward their private quarters she then noticed, to her surprise, that the door to Trevor Broom’s former quarters was standing ajar. Filled with curiosity, she pushed the door further open and looked through.
In the dim light cast from the desk lamp Liz was shocked to make out Hellboy crumpled to the floor in front of the large armchair. She wondered what had driven him into this room that he had totally avoided for over twenty years, never even permitting the door to be opened by others. As she entered the room, he seemed to be totally unaware of her presence and she could hear him muttering to himself under his breath.
Kneeling next to him, she placed a hand on his shoulder. She noticed as she did so that his eyes were closed and he was doggedly clutching something to his chest. At her touch he curled around this object even closer and screwed his eyes more tightly shut.
“Go away! You can’t take him! I won’t let you; so just go away!” Startled by this vehement cry, Liz shook his shoulder; wondering if he was asleep and in the middle of some nightmare.
At this Hellboy sat up, blinking away tears as he finally recognized her. “Father was here, Liz; I know it sounds impossible, but he was really here and we talked about so many things.”
Hellboy groaned as he stood up from the floor; to Liz’s ears the groan sounded halfway between a sob and a laugh. “Death came to take him away again and I tried so hard to stop him. Pop was right; Death was more stubborn than I was. I just couldn’t hold on to Pop tight enough.”
Liz could now see what Hellboy was holding. It appeared to be the wool vest that matched the jacket draped over the back of the chair. She knew that to be impossible; the bloodstained items of clothing removed during the autopsy of Trevor Broom’s body had been discarded after they had no longer been needed in evidence to the murder. Broom had owned a lot of wool vests, but only one had been part of the matching three-piece suit he had worn the day he died.
Hellboy examined the battered-looking vest he was holding, noting for the first time the bloodstains on the back of the vest and the small tear toward the top where Kroenen had stabbed Trevor Broom from behind. Liz saw some tears roll down his cheeks. But he then unexpectedly smiled, carefully folding up the vest and draping it over the back of the chair next to the jacket.
Without another word Hellboy turned to leave the room and a still-curious Liz followed him. As he went to re-lock the door she heard him whisper, “Farewell, Father, until we meet again.”
Hellboy held a casual supper in the beautifully decorated office for all his friends and colleagues that could attend, just the same as he always did on Christmas Eve. Everyone admired the gorgeous decorations, praising Hellboy for his wonderful taste and the rapidity with which he single-handedly got everything in place. He just smiled, shrugged, and admitted that he had no idea where all of these crystalline ornaments had come from.
Another item of interest was the odd painting now hanging over the fireplace. Hellboy claimed it as a gift from one who was very dear to him, but would prefer at that time to remain anonymous. Every once in a while during the party he would look up at it.
If this was the ‘portrait’ that his father had spoken of earlier, he was somewhat confused. All it seemed to be was random splotches of paint. Yet, he did prefer it to that god-awful portrait of Trevor Broom. There was something weirdly evocative in the tendency of the random swirls to almost coalesce into familiar shapes.
Abe Sapien was seated on the other side of the room with Kate. He was drinking non-alcoholic eggnog and munching on his favorite rotten eggs.
He got up, eggnog in hand, and joined Hellboy in contemplating this picture. “That has to be the most beautiful portrait of you and Professor Broom as anyone could paint. It looks quite realistic.”
Hellboy, whose own eggnog had plenty of whiskey in it, looked oddly at Abe. “You mean you actually see something in that weird picture? It hardly looks like anything at all to me.”
“Kate sees a portrait of you two as well, but sees a different image than I do. From what she describes it is just as beautiful and just as realistic as what I see. From other comments we have overheard, obviously many like you see only random swirls. Can’t you tell me where it came from?”
Hellboy, who had still been closely staring at the picture, turned to Abe and nodded. Putting an arm around his friend’s shoulder, he drew him into a quiet corner apart from the others.
“It was Father, Abe. He was waiting for me in his private quarters. We sat together for a long time, just like we used to do before I turned six and suddenly got taller than he was. I know I sound crazy, but we talked about all sorts of things. He told me that he hated that old portrait of him just as much as I did and had left this other portrait in its place. Father says I’m supposed to keep on looking at it until I can see the picture. Maybe I need to be alone without all this fuss.”
Abe had seen too many weird things in his career with the BPRD to disbelieve Hellboy. Managing to return to help the son he loved so well; it was exactly the kind of thing that the Professor Broom he had always cared for and remembered so fondly would do.
“Follow the Professor’s advice, Red. The results should be very rewarding.”
Hellboy and Abe went to join Liz and Kate, who were also discussing the odd portrait.
“Tell me, Blue, does it make you dizzy to look at it for too long?” Hellboy said as they walked together across the room.
“It did at first, Red, but once it settled into an actual image the vertigo went away.”
Hellboy sighed and then laughed, “I’ll just have to sit down, look at it for a long time, and see what happens. Leave it to Pop to give me something interesting that’s a bit of a puzzle as well. He always did like giving me gifts that were supposed to make me think.”
They found Kate comforting Liz who was somewhat distraught and yet also seemed glad at the same time. When Hellboy walked up, Kate slipped away and he sat down next to Liz taking her into his arms. “Something wrong, Lizzie?”
“That’s one hell of a strange picture you’ve got up there, H.B.,” she sniffled. “You should warn people that they might see things they don’t expect. And stop calling me ‘Lizzie’, you know I never really liked that; makes me feel like some little kid again.”
“But that’s just it, kid,” Hellboy said smiling, “Sometimes I’m reminded of the very first time I met you, back in Chicago when you were eleven; back before you ended up joining the Bureau when you were seventeen, before I fell in love with you. It just happens.”
Smiling back, Liz looked at the portrait again, “Strange; at first I couldn’t see much in that picture at all. Then it started to look kind of like a picture of you and your father. But all of a sudden it turned to a picture of my parents, back before all the trouble started—before it all went up in flames when I was eleven. It was scary at first, but then it was kind of nice to see them again looking so happy. Then the picture went back to being one of you and Professor Broom.”
She leaned forward, “Red, your father left this for you today, didn’t he?”
He just nodded and then looked at the time. “Well, we better head out to the chapel. That medical staff choir is going to sing some Christmas music about an hour before Mass and I’d like to hear it.”
As they were starting to leave for the chapel, someone from maintenance, who had a package wrapped up in brown paper, stopped Liz. “Ms. Sherman, the waste disposal system rejected as a possible error a red dress that a member of my staff recognized as yours. We figured that you may have disposed of it by accident.”
Smiling, Liz accepted the package. “You’re right; it was an accident. Thanks for taking care of it.” Turning to Hellboy, Liz took his arm. “Let’s run this back to the room before we go to the concert.”
Later, after a very beautiful concert and even more beautiful Midnight Mass, Hellboy found himself back in the office alone contemplating that interesting portrait.
He eventually saw many different images in it. Most showed him together with Trevor Broom.
Some of these images, when he was very young, were probably more from Broom’s memories than his own. It was interesting to see himself more from Broom’s point of view; he looked so much more handsome than he ever thought of himself as looking.
“But, then again, Son,” he heard a quiet voice in his head, “You always looked like that to me.”
With further contemplation of this portrait, Hellboy came to see other people he had loved and lost; but the primary images always returned to Trevor Broom. Hellboy came to recognize this portrait for what it truly was: a magical window into his past that was really a glimpse of that Heaven he hoped to someday reach, just as his father had promised. As Trevor Broom had earlier said about a love that went unspoken—it may not be exactly the same, but it was sufficient.
Just before dawn on Christmas Day, Hellboy joined Liz in their bed and dreamt of a young man who fed him Baby Ruth candy bars. Hellboy had always loved chocolate—almost as much as he loved the father who gave it to him.
Passage from the Gospel of John: New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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