Author's note: This follows directly after Part Twelve, but will be returning to the 2178 time period of Part One. Reminder: The 1994 part of this is taking place in the days before Easter. 'Lee', the FBI liaison Tom Manning replaced is an original character of mine. A long-time member of Congress, he is now a retired Senator. In his connection to the BPRD, he is only referred to by his codename. Martha Wilson and Robert Patterson are also original characters of mine that have appeared in several of my earlier Hellboy writings.
Chapter Six: Liz Sherman
Fear of Fire: A Tale of Trust and Love--Part Thirteen
It was after midnight when Hellboy and the agents accompanying him returned to Newark. Now that Hellboy was more reassured that Trevor Broom would recover from his heart attack, the crushing anxiety that had filled his heart faded; but the guilt he had been feeling grew by leaps and bounds.
Knowing that sleep would come with difficulty, if at all, Hellboy asked to be able to return to his father's office rather than being made to stay in his own room. Assuming the possibility that Abe and Kate were still waiting there for his return, he would much rather be with them than remain alone with nothing but his pet cats and his guilt for company.
As Hellboy made this request of Tom Manning, he couldn't help comparing him to 'Lee', the FBI liaison Manning had replaced. Both were large, balding men of above average height. Both handled themselves well when faced with media queries dealing with the officially non-existent Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and its just as officially non-existent chief monster hunter.
Yet, at this point, the comparisons had to stop. 'Lee' had only the highest respect for Trevor Broom and had thought of Hellboy as a kind of surrogate nephew; he was also a highly placed politician who, at many points in his long association with Trevor Broom, had been able to use his position to smooth over frictions between the BPRD and the FBI. Tom Manning, as Director of FBI Special Operations, wasn't much more than a bureaucrat whose dealings with the BPRD had a definite personal agenda.
Hellboy watched as Tom Manning took a drag on his ubiquitous cigar and slowly blew out the smoke. Standing silent for a long moment, Manning then shrugged. "Do as you please, Hellboy," he said, "Just remember one very important thing; Trevor is chief director of this Bureau and we in the FBI hold him completely responsible for your actions."
Manning took another slow drag on his cigar, "Now, mind you, I happen to like Trevor and I'm just as glad as the next man that his health is improving; but it's a damn good thing he's so ill right now or he'd be called in to Washington so fast it'd make his head spin."
Abruptly dropping his offhand manner, Manning pointed his long cigar in Hellboy's face and growled, "Don't make things any worse for him than they already are." Turning on his heel, he walked away. The implied threat hung in the air like the cloud of cigar smoke that trailed after him.
Well aware of how his actions had contributed to the situation, Hellboy was more in need of a lecture from a man who respected and cared for him than the bullying he generally received from Manning. Wishing that 'Lee' had never had to retire, Hellboy showed an unusual restraint and just stood there; when he really wanted nothing more than to grab Manning and stuff those words down his throat.
Hellboy's anger quickly dissipated as he entered Trevor Broom's office and saw those who were waiting for his return. Not only were Kate and Abe there, as he had expected, but Robert Patterson, the retired chief surgeon from the Bureau adjunct headquarters in Boston. He was fast asleep on one of the leather couches near the central fireplace. Seated next to him was Martha Wilson Patterson, the former head nurse of the Boston facility who had married Robert after her own retirement.
Martha had her head on Robert's shoulder and was staring pensively into the fire. As elderly as Robert and Martha now were, Hellboy realized that he should not have been surprised to see them. The Boston facility had been the first official Bureau headquarters after the move from New Mexico. When the main headquarters had relocated to Newark, Robert and Martha continued on for decades as important personnel in the still-utilized Boston facility. They had also maintained a close personal relationship with Trevor Broom and Hellboy that long abided after their retirements from the Bureau.
In addition, as both father and son had occasion to receive treatment in the Medical Facility in Boston, Martha and Robert were still kept informed of any emergencies or other personal crises that arose. Hellboy felt an additional twinge of guilt as he began to understand that his unofficial trip to Portland could also have ramifications for others.
Martha looked up as Hellboy walked in. Having a tendency to dress in outfits that reflected her former military career, she had on a dark-blue blouse and skirt. In many ways, she looked very similar to how she had looked when Hellboy first met her in November of 1951; but her once long, dark hair, still pulled into a bun, was almost completely white.
She usually had an affectionate greeting for him, as he had, ever since his younger years in Boston, been almost as a son to one who never had children of her own. This time, he found nothing but sadness and concern etched into her features.
Martha stayed seated, but Kate and Abe arose and moved toward him. Kate's expression was very similar to Martha's and even Abe appeared anxious in spite of his generally inexpressive countenance.
Of the three, it was Kate who spoke first, "Hellboy, how is Trevor? We heard that he woke up and had spoken with you; but not much more than that."
Since his arrival back to the Bureau, Hellboy had already answered similar inquiries from almost every agent he encountered. Obviously, the secretive and overly officious Tom Manning had only given out minimal information as to Trevor Broom's current state of health. Hellboy found it comforting that so many seemed to be just as worried about Trevor Broom as he was.
"Doctor Matthews thinks he's getting strong enough to move to our own Medical Wing; maybe by Saturday afternoon, I guess that's tomorrow by now."
"Thank God," Kate sighed, "That is good news."
As she spoke, Hellboy sank into the largest nearby chair, beginning to realize how very tired he was.
"It's certainly a relief to know that Trevor's condition is improving," Martha gave Hellboy a smile as she stood up from the couch where she was seated, "Let's get some sleep now. I'm sure everything will look even better after we've gotten some rest."
Kate reached out and gave Martha a hug, "It's good to see you and Bob again, Marty; even under these circumstances." As she started to leave, she touched Hellboy's shoulder. "I'll see you later."
"Katie, have they got you set up with a room and everything?" It suddenly occurred to Hellboy that Kate had packed up all of her belongings early Wednesday morning and departed the Bureau with no intention of returning any time soon.
"Don't worry about me," Kate said with a grin, "They've already given me a room, and I remembered that security still had some personal effects of mine in storage. So, I'll be okay for a few days."
Hellboy nodded and Kate turned and went out of the office. As Martha moved away to wake the still sleeping Robert, Abe crouched down to look closer at Hellboy, who was still sitting in the chair.
"You okay, Red? It's not that I'm intentionally reading your thoughts, but..."
"Yeah, I guess I still 'broadcast far and wide' when I'm upset," Hellboy said with a little chuckle, recalling the first really big argument he had with Abe back when the fish-man first came to the Bureau almost sixteen years before.
Heaving himself up from the not very comfortable chair, Hellboy stretched. "I'll be okay, Blue, especially as soon as Pop comes home. I just wish I could stop worrying about Liz."
"Don't tell anyone this, Red," Abe said softly, hoping Martha wouldn't overhear, "The other day I attempted to 'read' where Liz had run off to. I know the Professor has made it clear that she has the right to go where she chooses with no interference or pressure from us; yet, I sense that he's just as worried about her as you are. I can't help being concerned myself; the only thing she ever really seemed to learn during her training here was how to avoid being found when she didn't want to be."
"Believe me, I know," Hellboy sighed, "Thanks for trying, Blue." Pawing through several pockets of his leather coat, Hellboy drew out a cigar; then reluctantly stuffed it back in when he remembered that Trevor Broom really disliked him 'smelling up' his office. "Go on and get some sleep. I'll be fine."
As Abe moved toward the spiral staircase at the rear of the office to depart for his private quarters, Hellboy went over to where Martha was again sitting next to Robert on the couch.
She looked up at Hellboy, "I almost hate having to wake Robert, he's been sleeping so poorly of late; but he would be better off in a real bed."
Hellboy reached down and gently touched Martha's cheek with his left hand. "You both would've been better off if you hadn't needed to drop everything and come here. I hope you guys didn't drive."
"No, the Bureau facility in Boston arranged for a private jet to fly us to Newark," Martha said with a barely stifled yawn, "Bob and I still have some friends there, if you know what I mean."
As Martha rose again from the couch, Hellboy reached down with his left arm and pulled her up into a tight embrace, briefly burying his face in her shoulder before letting go of her again. "C'mon, Marty; let's get Bob to bed. I'll bet you I can lift him up from the couch without waking him."
It always amazed Martha how gentle Hellboy could be with that enormous right hand of his; the fruits, she was sure, of the patient upbringing he had received from Trevor Broom. Even though Hellboy almost never expressed in words his feelings for the man who had raised him, Martha had always understood how close the two were. That was the most disconcerting thing to her about this whole recent affair; how any person alive could mean enough to Hellboy to draw him away from his father's side when they were out in the field together.
With Martha's assistance, Hellboy gently lifted the still sleeping Robert Patterson from the couch. "He's lost weight, hasn't he, Marty? Has Bob been sick recently?"
Giving Hellboy a sad, little smile, Martha shook her head. "The doctors can't figure out what's wrong. It's probably just old age catching up with him, you know."
Hellboy nodded. "All right, then, just lead the way to you guy's room."
Ten minutes later, Martha and Hellboy finished tucking a slumbering Robert Patterson into the bed after Martha had pulled off his belt and shoes. Stooping down, Hellboy planted a kiss on Martha's cheek and then turned and left without saying another word.
Once back out in the corridor, he started to make for his own quarters; but then turned and eventually made his way to the chapel in the Medical Wing. He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting in silent thought at the feet of the statue of the Virgin Mary when Martha Wilson walked up to him.
"You really do need to talk, don't you, H.B.?" she said with a little grin. "I can always tell."
Looking up at her, he gave a shrug. "C'mon, Marty, you must be almost as tired out as Bob and..."
She lowered herself onto the floor next to him, "I'm never too tired to be there for my favorite boy. And don't try to tell me that you don't need to talk; I know you far too well for that guff."
Hellboy watched as Martha tucked her legs up under her and adjusted her skirt. Looking away again, he picked at the carpet with the fingers of his left hand. This was a nervous action Hellboy had performed in the past during other conversations with Martha, either in the small chapel in the Boston facility or here in this larger chapel in Newark; a sure sign to her of how troubled he really was.
"Where do you want me to start," he finally said, still picking at the rug, "With the idiocy of running off to look for Liz and leaving Father open to an attack that almost killed him? Or with spending so much time worrying about Liz that I've finally driven Katie away?"
He stopped picking at the rug and looked up at Martha. "I'm not dense, you know. No matter how much Katie goes on about it being time for her to 'move on', and maybe it is, I know its Liz that's the real problem between us."
Heaving a huge sigh, Hellboy went back to picking at the rug. Martha watched in silence for a while, before wrapping her right arm as far around his shoulders as she could.
Slightly resisting this at first, Hellboy eventually scrunched down and leaned his head on her shoulder. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I really don't. I used to be so sure that I was in love with Katie. Now, I'm just not sure about anything anymore; especially not after leaving Pop in the lurch like that."
Hellboy raised his head again, passing his left hand over his face. "No, I take some of that back. There're still some things I'm sure of. For one thing, Katie's still the best friend a guy could have. And I'm still sure I have the best father any guy's ever had, but..." he trailed off, shaking his head.
"But what, Hellboy?" Martha said, as he pulled slightly away from her embrace, "As far as I can tell, the one common denominator in all of what you're saying seems to be this Liz. Kate and Abe told me a few things while you were still at the hospital visiting Trevor and..."
Hellboy immediately bristled at what he believed was being suggested. "Look, Marty; don't go there. Whatever's happened is not Liz's fault and don't let anyone else tell you it is."
Martha shook her head. "I didn't say that it was, dear; and Kate and Abe didn't suggest that either. It's just that I'm surprised at how wound up you've gotten yourself over her."
"Yeah, but Liz isn't even nineteen yet," Hellboy sighed, "Back before Kate turned nineteen, even if I could only write letters, at least I knew she had her mother to take care of her and 'Lee' managed to keep in touch. Kate's all grown up now and I trust her to take care of herself. I'll sure miss her when she leaves; but I know I won't have to worry. With Liz, it's different. Jeez, I even worry when I'm right there to help her. You can't imagine what its like not knowing where she is."
The last time Martha remembered Hellboy getting quite this 'wound up', as she called it, was almost sixteen years earlier when he thought he was falling in love with Kate Corrigan. Now, he was even more voluble than he had been then; something surprising in a being that usually had difficulty putting what he felt into words. As Hellboy went on, Martha knew that something had really changed.
"You know, back when Katie was nineteen, I still looked on her as my 'little sister'. I would have died a million deaths for her, but I never would've thought of it as being 'in love'. Then Kate 'growed up to be a pretty one', as you put it back in '78; and I was sure I'd fallen in love for good, even though Kate kept telling me that I wasn't really in love with her and someday I'd know the difference."
He fell silent for a long moment, picking at the rug again. "Now there's Liz," he added in a low voice, "Except for worrying about her all the time, I'm not sure what I feel; but it's sure as hell different than what I used to feel for Katie when she was nineteen. I'll tell you what; instead of worrying about Liz, I'd rather go back to thinking I was in love with Kate. At least what I had with her was predictable."
In spite of the distraught being sitting in front of her, Martha couldn't help giving a little chuckle. Hellboy's head snapped up and he glared down at the elderly woman seated next to him on the floor of the chapel. "I almost got Father killed chasing after Liz. I don't see what's so funny about that."
Martha gave Hellboy a wry smile. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean for it to come out that way. It's just that being in love is seldom predictable."
Hellboy's irritation with Martha faded as quickly as it had arisen, leaving him filled with a completely unidentifiable emotion. "In love?" he echoed softy; he then leaned in closer. "I know you're not talking about Kate. You really think I'm in love with Liz, don't you." It was only half a question.
"I think you might be, H.B." Martha gently touched his shoulder. "But only you can tell for sure."
"How can I be sure that I'm in love with Liz, when I'm so damn confused about everything else?" Hellboy muttered, "I used to be so sure that Katie and I would always be lovers; so sure that I would always be there to protect my father." He hesitated; and then spoke so low that Martha almost couldn't hear him, "I used to be sure that my father would always trust me."
Martha again pulled Hellboy into her arms. "H.B., I've known both you and Trevor for a long time, and can see how well you love and trust each other. Yet, even if the trust between you will never totally be lost, it can, far too easily, be temporarily misplaced."
Once again, Hellboy tried to force back tears; but it didn't work. For the first time since he had shed one lone tear as the Holy Thursday Mass started, he wept as he hadn't wept since that time in 1959 when he was sure his father was dying from cancer. And just as he had then, he buried his face in Martha's shoulder and allowed her to hold him tight as they sat together on the floor of the chapel.
The fact that it was now Good Friday made Hellboy feel even worse as he had to admit to himself that, given the chance, he would again take off to find Liz; regardless of consequences. He pulled Martha closer to him with his left arm as he wept even harder--feeling worse than any Judas for even considering betraying his father's trust in that manner a second time.
The place where Hellboy found himself sitting was pitch black and very cold. The tears that had been running down his cheeks were still there, but the woman that had held him in her arms was gone.
"Marty," Hellboy called out, "Marty, where did you go? Please, come back, please."
His voice echoed as if in a vast cavern, and yet the place seemed small and airless. He felt like he was suffocating and the darkness seemed to become even deeper and colder.
"Welcome back, my son; my favorite son."
Hellboy had heard this cold, dark voice before and hoped never to hear it again. Gasping for breath, he struggled to pull into his lungs enough of the non-existent air to speak. "You keep calling me son," he finally managed to rasp out, "but I'm not your son and I never will be."
"Soon, my son, very soon, you will remember no family but me."
Hellboy dragged himself up and sought a way out of this tomblike room. Groping blindly until he found what felt like a door, he battered it open with his huge stone-like right hand. Light suddenly dispelled the darkness and a rush of air filled his lungs. "I remember everyone I ever loved and everything I ever did," he said, his voice gaining strength, "and no one can take that away from me."
"Not even you," he growled, as he turned away from that terrible presence. A menacing power seized him from behind; but tearing himself away, he crashed to the floor of the room beyond the doorway.
Opening his eyes, Hellboy found himself lying on the cement floor of his former private quarters. Propped up against the table in front of him was the huge portrait that Malachy, the often-irritating avatar of Michael the Archangel, had dragged out from its place of concealment.
"Aw, goddamn," he groaned, "I must've fallen asleep or something. Those were sure weird dreams."
"Were they dreams, H.B.?" Hellboy saw a young, dark-haired woman standing before him; one who had died an elderly cancer victim 175 years earlier, yet looked as young as when they first met. Martha Wilson took him by his left hand and helped him up from the floor. "Come; there is more that must be remembered," she said--as she again drew him through the framed portrait into his past.
More to come...
Author's afterword: Sorry this update has been so long in coming. Part of the delay has to do with general busyness and part to do with the emotional difficulty of this chapter. At times, I was literally only able to produce around a paragraph a day. Thanks to all who have been reading this and leaving such great reviews and/or making it a favorite. Also, thanks to those who reviewed the little fics I posted recently in order to break my writer's block.
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