Author’s note: Sorry this update has taken so long. Between choir rehearsals and doctor’s appointments, I haven’t had much time. Reminder: This follows after Part Eight, but will eventually be returning to the 2178 time period of Part One.

Chapter Six: Liz Sherman

Fear of Fire: A Tale of Trust and LovePart Nine

That evening, Liz, along with Trevor Broom and Hellboy, was seated on an old leather-covered car seat that Hellboy used for a sofa. They spent most of the time after they had eaten supper together watching Charlie Chaplin short films and eating popcorn, Baby Ruth bars, and drinking Coca-Cola.

Hellboy couldn’t help watching Liz’s face as she laughed at these classic silent films. In his opinion, she looked so much more relaxed; and he liked how she looked in her black jeans, comfortable-fitting black sweater, and brown-leather sandals. One of Hellboy’s pet cats, a coal-back one, had curled up in her lap and she was absent-mindedly stroking it as she watched the film.

After reaching the end of the third of four planned shorts, Broom, who had relaxed to the extent of loosening his tie and taking off his jacket, stood up and stretched as he pulled the jacket back on. “Being closer to eighty than I once was, I’m afraid I don’t do well with lack of sleep; which commodity we all were a bit short of last night. I’ll leave you two alone to watch the last film.”

Hellboy nodded, getting up from the couch to shove open the metal door to his room for his father. Liz arose from the couch as well, “Professor, thank you for making me feel welcome in spite of the chaos I inflicted last night. Should I return for tonight to the facility in the Medical Wing where I was located earlier today?”

“Yes, that is the safest place until we construct more secure quarters for you. Son, please make sure Ms. Sherman finds her way back to the Medical Wing when she is ready. This place is such a maze; it’s too easy for new personnel to get lost.”

Broom turned toward Liz, drawing her into an unexpected hug. Bending his head, he left a gentle kiss on her cheek. “Sleep well, my dear. Remember we are here to help you. Things may not seem easy; but we will teach you to control this ability and to overcome any difficulties that may arise from it.”

Liz laid her cheek against his wool vest. “Thank you,” Hellboy barely heard her whisper, “but I’m still worried I might…”

Trevor Broom raised her head so that he could look into her dark eyes; his own light-brown eyes slightly obscured by his wire-rimmed spectacles. “Don’t be. I believe the Bureau is quite capable of learning to deal with whatever you might throw at us; it’s what we do.”

Hellboy, who was always uncomfortable with heightened emotions, turned away to fuss with his VCR as he exchanged the tape in the machine for another. He then looked back toward Trevor Broom and Liz just as Broom finished speaking. “Yeah, Liz, Pop’s right. We can help, but you have to trust us.”

Nodding, Liz dropped her arms to her side and looked away briefly. After a moment, she looked back up at Broom and Hellboy, who had moved to stand next to his father. “I’ll try,” she sighed.

Broom smiled, “Good; that’s all I ask of you.” Touching Liz’s cheek briefly with his right hand, he then took up the cane that he had left propped near the door. “Good night, Son; this has certainly turned out to be an interesting birthday celebration.”

“Yeah, Pop, it sure has,” said Hellboy, as Broom limped through the doorway into the corridor beyond.

Liz watched thoughtfully as Trevor Broom slowly made his way down the long corridor. Her view of him was cut off as Hellboy, using his left hand, grabbed a hold of a large metal bar on the inside of his massive door and dragged it closed. Liz glanced up at him as he did this; an expression on her face that he couldn’t quite read.

Beginning to wonder if Liz was nervous of being alone with him, he was about to ask if she wanted to return to her quarters in the Medical Wing rather than watch another Chaplin short; when she seated herself again on his couch. Kicking off her sandals, she tucked her bare feet up under her.

Hellboy sat next to her and picked up the remote control. “No, wait; not yet,” Liz said, interrupting him as he was about to start the next film. “Tell me about him; the Professor, I mean,” she continued when he had turned toward her, “He seems like such a patient man.”

To her surprise, Hellboy burst out laughing. “I’ll agree with you there, Liz; but I’m not sure he would. Way back, when I’d just turned six, I did something that really annoyed him. I think that was the first time I ever remember him totally losing his temper with me. After launching into what he would’ve called an ‘outburst’, he threw himself into a chair and groaned, ‘Oh, good lord, this is what I get for praying for patience.’ I wasn’t sure what to do; so, I just stood there staring at him.”

Hellboy shook his head. “After a while, he looked up and said, ‘Son, I’m not by nature a patient man. However, the divine father has ways of teaching us patience, especially those of us who are parents.’ After that, he sent me to my room. When he came by a little later for the talk I usually got when I’d done something bad, he was the same quiet, patient guy he always was. I never forgot what he said that day about patience, even though at the time I didn’t really understand what was going on.”

Liz sighed as Hellboy ceased speaking. “You’re very lucky to have someone like that, H.B.”

“Don’t I know it,” he nodded, “There’s not many guys who’d know what to do with a six-year-old kid who was already taller than he was; a kid with a huge stone hand he could barely control.”

“My own father wasn’t that patient,” Liz went on, “I know he loved me, but he just didn’t know how to deal with my, um, episodes.” She looked away, attempting to hide the fact that a few tears were starting to fall. “First I destroyed their marriage; then I destroyed their lives. My parents would have been much better off if I’d never been born.”

Reaching out with his left hand, Hellboy turned Liz’s face back toward him. “Liz, I know how you feel. I said something kinda like that when I was five years old. Even back then, I could see my father had problems just because he had me. He made it more than clear he would never agree with the idea that he would be better off without me. I’m sure your parents felt the same about you.”

“I like how can you be so sure of what my parents felt,” Liz snapped, “After all, it’s my fault that they’re not around to feel something, about me or anything else.” Liz pulled away from his hand. “You say you know how I feel. I doubt that, Hellboy; I really do.”

“Liz, I didn’t …” Hellboy found that he couldn’t continue. This unexpected turn in their conversation dismayed him and he was afraid of digging himself into a deeper hole than he was already in.

“No, of course you didn’t, H.B. The problem is me; it’s always me.” As Liz spoke, Hellboy couldn’t help but reach out to her. Carefully wrapping his huge right hand around her shoulder, he allowed Liz to bury her face in his chest. The idea of watching another Chaplin film was completely forgotten as she sobbed herself to sleep in his arms.

After she had drifted off, Hellboy first considered carrying her out to her quarters in the Medical Wing. But she seemed to be sleeping so peacefully that he decided to sit there just a little longer.

Hellboy slowly awoke from a sleep that he hadn’t meant to take.

Almost totally disoriented, he found himself lying on the mattress that was set up in the back of his old red pickup truck. In the dim illumination of a few lights, he could see that his many TV sets were now silent and dark and he was completely alone. At first wondering where the sleeping Liz had disappeared to, he then recalled that more than a century had passed since that birthday he watched Charlie Chaplin movies with Trevor Broom and a seventeen-year-old Liz.

As all the memories he had been trying to keep at bay since the day that Liz died swept through his mind and heart, he sat up and looked around him. As he did this, a cat unexpectedly jumped into his lap and began to purr, kneading its claws into his leather pants. But unlike the cat that had appeared earlier and metamorphosed into the angelic Malachy, this cat was completely black.

Almost without his own volition, Hellboy reached down and started to pet the cat; which stretched into his hand and purred even louder. Closing his eyes as he contentedly stroked the cat, Hellboy found himself beyond wondering where this other cat had come from.

Relaxing to the point of almost drifting off once more, he opened his eyes again as he came to realize that the figure in his lap was no longer a cat. To his amazement, it was Liz. She was dressed in the same black jeans and loose sweater as that first evening she had wept herself to sleep in his arms; but she was older, closer in age to the earliest years of their marriage. Filled with an emotion that was beyond words, even beyond love, Hellboy pulled her up into a long, yearningly passionate kiss.

Pulling away as that kiss ended, Liz shook her head. “I’ve been waiting far too long for this, H.B. How could you strive so hard to forget me? It’s almost as bad as not being loved at all; as bad as lying in that hospice knowing that you couldn’t bear to see me, even the few times you came to visit.”

Burying his face in her hair, he sobbed, as he hadn’t done since the day Death snatched her away.

“I’m sorry, Lizzie,” he finally gasped, “I can’t; I just can’t.”

Liz laid her head on his chest, “You’ll have to, H.B., or you’ll never be able to move on.”

“I don’t want to move on, Liz; not without you,” he held her closer, wishing that she could just let him delight in her unexpected presence; instead of asking for something that he couldn’t find in himself.

Liz raised her head again. Still dressed exactly the same, she now looked as elderly as she did before entering the hospice where she passed away of the disease that insisted on separating them forever. And yet, Liz, no matter how old she appeared, looked as beautiful in his eyes as she had on the morning of their wedding. As he tenderly stroked her snow-white hair, she kissed his cheek.

“Oh, H.B., you never deal well with grief,” she almost laughed.

“No, I don’t,” he agreed, “but, at least, I did have you, Abe, and everyone else to help me back then; back when Pop was murdered. Then when you were gone, all I really had left was Abe and he tried to help me; but I just couldn’t deal with it. Now he’s gone too and I don’t have anyone left.”

“You need to let people get close to you again, H.B. If you don’t, you’ll be nothing more than an empty shell of the man I once loved; the man I still love. Do you think I stopped loving you just because my heart stopped beating?”

As Hellboy bent his head down and kissed ‘his Lizzie’ once again, a single tear rolled down his cheek. “I’m not sure what I think,” he said after that second kiss had come to an end, “all I know is that I’m so damn lonely I could scream.”

Liz slid off his lap and sat next to him on the tailgate end of the truck that had served for so many decades as their marital bed. “Of course you’re lonely, H.B. You’ve been walling yourself up in a Hell of your own creation. Whenever anyone tries to get close, you add another brick to that wall and if you don’t knock it down now, you’ll be trapped inside forever; then you will truly be lost to me and anyone else who’s ever loved you.”

She laid a hand on his arm. “When you were young, you were there for a man who desperately needed a child of his own to love. When you were a teen, you were there for a girl who needed comfort in her hour of grief. When she was older, you were there when she needed a friend to make love to her. You were there for another unique being when he needed a brother. And then you were there for me, a young adult who was sorely in need of a family and who became an adult woman who needed a man to love her and be loved by her; a man who had no fear of her fire.”

As Liz was speaking, Hellboy tried to pull away from her; but she turned his face back toward her and forced him to look deep into her eyes. “Don’t you remember how rewarding it was when we adopted and raised young children who had special needs that only we could deal with? Can’t you see that you still have so much more to offer if only you would allow people to get close to you again?”

Hellboy gathered Liz into his arms again. “God, Lizzie, I’m not sure I’m strong enough to do what you’re asking of me.”

“Please try, H.B.” Liz looked up into his eyes, lovingly brushing away the tears that insisted on sliding down his cheeks. “Please. If you can’t do this for yourself, do it for me; do it for your father; do it for ‘your Katie’; do it for Abe. None of us can ever truly be happy when you’re this miserable.”

Hellboy leaned forward and kissed her forehead, before turning away with a huge sigh.

“Lizzie, I’m so tired of being hurt. Nothing ever lasts; everyone dies except me.”

Standing up, Liz pulled Hellboy into her arms. “I had a dreadful fear of my own powers of destruction; what I was really afraid of was myself and my need to love and be loved. You have a fear of the death of those you love; what you’re truly afraid of is living life to the fullest. In the midst of life, there is always death, H.B. Yet, in the midst of death there is always the promise of new life to come. Only the person who can’t see this is truly dead.”

Closing his eyes, Hellboy held Liz close to his chest; trying to forever imprint in his memory the very feel of her body in his arms, something he thought he would never experience again.

“I’ll try,” he finally said.

“Good; that’s all I ask of you.” Liz’s voice was now faint, as if coming from many miles away.

Opening his eyes again, Hellboy found that he was standing alone in an empty room.

Hellboy slowly awoke from a sleep that he hadn’t meant to take. Almost totally disoriented, he found himself sitting on his couch, Liz still fast asleep in his arms. Bits and pieces of a very strange dream rattled around in his head, but he couldn’t quite remember what had been so disturbing about it.

Lightly shaking Liz awake, he smiled as she stared around her; almost looking as disoriented as he had just felt himself.

“C’mon kid, we better get you to bed.” Hellboy helped Liz up from the couch. He moved to a cabinet near his bath facilities, brought out a clean handkerchief, and handed it to her. “You can’t be a guy raised by a British man and not have a drawer full of clean hankies,” he said with a grin.

Liz took the handkerchief, dried her still wet eyes, and blew her nose. She then nervously twisted the little square of cambric in her hands, avoiding looking at him. “Guess I ruined your birthday, H.B. You wanted to watch another movie and got stuck with taking care of me instead.”

“You needed someone to care, Liz,” he grinned as he rescued the handkerchief from her hands before she tore it apart, “and that’s more important to me than any movie.”

Tentatively, Liz reached out and touched his stone-like right hand. “You look so big and scary, H.B.; but you’ve been nothing but kind and patient with me.”

Hellboy shoved open his huge door to escort her out to the Medical Wing. “I was lucky enough, Liz, to be raised by an impatient man who treated me with nothing but patience and kindness. It’s nice to be able to pass that favor along.”

More to come…

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