Obligatory Disclaimer: Dark Horse and Mr. Mignola own all, save for my own original characters. A special thank you to Guillermo del Toro for bringing this wonderful character to my attention.
A/N: This is the first fanfiction that I ever wrote and I held it back all this time for various reasons. Time went by and I forgot about it. But with the release of the movie rapidly approaching and tickets to a Tom Waits concert firmly in hand (Who also happens to be Hellboy's favorite musician, too… I found that information /somewhere/ on the internet… I love the internet…), I brought the story back out and revamped it a little. Obviously, the introduction is quite lengthy, just like this author's note, so I do appreciate your patience. I also thank you for stopping by to visit.
Torie struggled to keep her balance on the icy sidewalk while also trying to evenly distribute the weight of her two overstuffed tote bags, each digging into a shoulder. It was a losing battle as she half walked, half skidded her way home.
The time was well past midnight and to say that she left the office much later than anticipated was an understatement. Grateful that her position at the women's shelter allowed her to bring her dog to work for nights like this – when it was bitterly cold and the night air was eerily silent, save for the few random sounds that were just random enough to be jarring – Torie made herself take several deep breaths to clear her mind and drive away scary thoughts. In fact, she forced herself to think about her dog and the impact he had on her clients. On the days she didn't bring Lancelot, most of the women were not as receptive to Torie's suggestions. Just having the dog nearby acted as a bridge of communication between the women.
But right now, Torie was just plain grateful for the canine companionship. Despite his pale fur, soulful brown eyes and ever-wagging tail, Lance could be a fierce warrior when provoked. If any bad guys decided to tangle with Torie or her dog, they would soon learn that they had underestimated both of them. But there were never any bad guys this late at night; they were all otherwise engaged in other activities… or asleep. Or there had not been any yet. It was just Torie's overactive imagination kicking into overdrive. Especially going past the city park – with its trees full of bare limbs reaching for the sky and the empty, black voids where playing fields materialized during the day – which gave her the creeps.
Torie muttered oaths to no one in particular as she worked at rebalancing herself on the icy pavement yet again and, in the process, dropped Lance's leash. As he was taught, Lance immediately dropped into a sit, but looked at his mistress beseechingly to pick up the leash.
After she regained her steadiness, Torie smiled and said, "Kinda cold on your butt, huh?"
Dark brown eyes looked back into her own, pleading to be allowed to stand.
With a chuckle, Torie carefully reached for the nylon leash, but was taken aback when Lance immediately stood before her fingers touched the fabric. The hairs on his back stood up in a ridge and his ears began to constantly swivel, listening to sounds that only he could hear. He only broke the rules when he felt his mistress was being threatened.
"What is it, boy?" Torie whispered. A low growl was his response and before Torie could react, Lance bounded off into the black inkiness of the park.
A wave of dismay washed over Torie. The darkness, and what lay in it, scared her more than anything else. It was the fear of the unknown. And now she was going to have to go face her fears head on. "Aw crap!" Torie said to herself, before taking a deep breath and following her dog into the darkness.
A nearly full moon hung in the sky and snow still hugged the earth, so Torie was able to follow her dog's tracks easily. He cut and wove through the open areas and made his way to the heavily wooded lot on the far side of the park. A walking trail wound its way through the woods, with benches and exercise stations staggered throughout its length.
Torie's feet made soft thudding sounds against the pavement, as the snow has already melted away from the asphalt in most areas. But the only pounding that Torie heard was her heartbeat pulsing in her ears and she was positive that it was loud enough for any of the creatures lurking in the dark, laying in wait, to find her. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Why did Lance have to take off like this? Who knows what nasties came out after dark?
Every so often, Torie would see a flash of blond, so she knew that she was going the right way despite the lack of snow on the pavement. Soon, the pathway curved off the left, but the dense trees kept her from seeing much around the bend.
As she made the turn, one of Torie's bags slid off her shoulder, threatening to send her flying as her balance was thrown off. Turning her gaze away from the path before her for a fraction of a second to look down towards her fallen bag, Torie tried to quickly right its balance without slowing her pace. When she looked back up, Torie couldn't believe the sight before her and stopped immediately in her tracks, sliding slightly on a patch of black ice.
On the park bench before her sat the indescribable. A large, crimson red man – with circular stumps of what looked to be horns on his forehead, inky black sideburns, a 'soul patch' under his bottom lip and hair pulled back in a samurai 'do, wearing a leather duster over a black shirt and black leather pants that ended above the toe tops of motorcycle boots – had his right arm, which was nearly three times the size of his other, slung casually on the bench back. He held a can of beer in his free hand and wore a scowl on his face. His eyes, golden and angry, were fixed on Lance, who was growling and in an aggressive stance.
"Please! Don't hurt my dog!" she begged, fearing to creep closer, but wanting her dog safely back by her side.
The golden eyes tore away from the dog to the woman on the path. Torie shivered, both out of cold and fear. But she held his gaze, refusing to allow him to see how afraid she truly was.
He had to give her props for that. Most women wouldn't make eye contact under better circumstances. However, he was royally pissed at himself for failing to hear her come up on him. He was trained better than that; he knew better than to let anyone approach him unaware. But he had an angry dog growling in front of him and who knew if the canine was going to attack. It would be ugly if the dog launched at him in front of the girl. Gone were the days when he could have explained to the canine that they should be friends, not enemies. "Lady, it's me who should be asking you to have your dog not hurt me!"
Torie's mouth opened to speak. Then closed it. Then opened it again. She turned her head, tilted her chin and looked at him out of the corner of her eye, completely befuddled. "Uhm, wait a minute! You… understood me?"
He furrowed his brow in frustration as he regarded the woman before him. She was young. If he had to guess, he'd put her in her early twenties. Her pale skin was illuminated by the moonlight and her brown eyes looked almost black. Her hair, wavy and brown, spilled out from under a gray skullcap. Spilling out like root beer. He knew that she was scared of him, but she was also very curious. He smiled as he answered her question.
"You know, it was pretty dumb to say anything to me if you didn't expect me to understand. Besides, it's not like you were speaking some foreign language. Although I do understand some Spanish. Not much, but some. Mostly the food-related words. And some of the dead languages, but they don't do much good in situations like this. But English? Give me some credit!"
Torie stopped feeling quite so tense and allowed herself to absorb the surreal situation she was in. He was being sarcastic with her, but he also hadn't moved off the bench. Somehow, the situation seemed as normal as it did absurd. Why was she not running away? "This is crazy! I have to have been working WAY too many hours for this to even enter into my imagination. If I close my eyes, count to three and then open them, you won't be there."
"Lady, believe you me, with a mug like mine, I've tried that trick once or twice before. It just don't work," he said, rubbing his chin. With that, he took a long pull on his beer, shook it when it was empty and reached for another.
Her eyes narrowing in disbelief, Torie sucked in a breath. "You mean, this is all real? You're sitting here in front of me as real as my teeth are chattering here in the cold?" Her voice was low and incredulous.
It was everything he could do to not roll his eyes. Such drama… And all he wanted was a little peace and quiet. Instead, he did roll his shoulders and crack his neck to ease some of the tension that had coiled at the base of his neck. "Well, if you stopped talking for a sec, I might be able to tell you if your teeth were chattering or not. Otherwise, I'll tell ya that I'm as real as your dog growling at me."
Torie scurried forward and grabbed her dog's leash and pulled the canine back a few steps to the asphalt path. It was all too much for her to take in. She considered just walking away and pretending that this interaction never happened, but for as unthreatening as he seemed there was the reality that, for all intents and purposes, a demon was sitting right before her. With a quick breath, Torie spit out, "So, who are you?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Just some shmo looking for some peace and quiet," he said, pointedly. Seeing that she was looking for more, he amended, "Hellboy. Maybe you've read about me in the newspaper or seen me on the evening news?"
Shaking her head slowly, Torie furrowed her brow in confusion. What on earth was he talking about? "I'm afraid not. I'm usually too tired or I'm not in the mood be sad. There is rarely any good that makes the airwaves and I see enough sad in my line of work. But now I'm sorry I missed you. What would I have seen there?"
He chuckled. "Oh, you know. The usual. Saving the world before bedtime." He was pleased that Torie smiled slightly and caught his pop culture reference, even though it was a few years behind the times. But when am I not? "Tell you the truth, I'm just a guy who's trying to do his best in making the world a better place, but hardly ever gets the credit or thank you I deserve. Not bitter, just telling the truth." He took a pull on his beer, swallowing several times before setting the bottle down on his leg, and saw Torie nodding her head in agreement. He shrugged his shoulders again. "And you are?"
Torie was quite taken aback at the nature of the conversation and how he turned it back on her, despite how comfortable she felt talking to him. She felt her emotions see-sawing back and forth between being at ease around the... man and being on guard. Torie then narrowed her eyes and replied rather guardedly, "Wha-? Why… Why do you want to know?"
Hellboy shook his head and smacked his left hand against his forehead, the sound echoing in the darkness. It didn't escape his notice that the woman watched his hand arc up to his face. He hated it when people noticed his horn stumps. Hellboy filed them down to fit in better, to make them less obvious, but there was no masking their presence. A sigh slipped through his lips. He looked down at the dog sitting before him and then looked up at the woman standing before him. It was obvious she was cold, for she was holding the edges of her coat tightly to her frame. He could see that it was slightly worn and needed to be replaced a winter or two ago. A few flakes had drifted from the trees into her dark hair after a breeze had broken them from their moorings. Her pale skin was turning a soft shade of pink. And she stood before him, no longer afraid, but defiant.
"Because I told you my name. I just thought it would be nice to know yours. You know, trying to make polite conversation. Seeing as you're still here even though you found your dog."
Pursing her lips at the irritation creeping into his voice, Torie still wasn't sure that what she was seeing was real. But on the off chance that this wasn't her imagination going out of control, Torie ‑figured she should be nice. A white cloud of breath escaped her mouth as she first sighed and then answered, "Torie."
"Well, Torie, I think you should just pick up your bags, collect your dog and head on back home. Just pretend that you never saw me."
A small sarcastic laugh sprung out from Torie's lips. "What? How do I know that you won't follow me home and…" She scrambled to think of an appropriate threat that wouldn't give him any ideas, but finished lamely with, "And eat me in my sleep?"
Hellboy groaned and rolled his head back in defeat, his gaze staring up at the heavens. She thought he was a monster. And in a way, she was right. But there was no way to explain that he was one of the good guys. He looked at her again, his brow furrowed in frustration. "So what are you going to do, stand there and stare at me until daylight? I can guarantee that you lucked out in finding me on this park bench rather than some of the city's more undesirable element. You know, here's a bit of unsolicited advice. Leave your dog at home and start taking the bus places. It's not safe for a woman to be out walking alone. That dog is not going to save you when you are facing the wrong end of a gun. Or, better yet, buy a car. Freaky people can still bother you at bus stops. And if you generally come home this late at night, the buses will have stopped running. So on your next day off, look into getting a car. In the meantime, go home and get some sleep. Unless staring at me is too entertaining for you to give up."
Feeling the blood drain from her cheeks, Torie narrowed her eyes at the lecture she just received. But she knew he was right, in part. But there were reasons for her actions. Reasons that were none of his business.
He interrupted her sulking and asked again, "Are you going to stand there and watch me until daybreak?"
Torie bit her bottom lip and pulled her coat tighter around her. "No. I don't know. It's just that I've never come across a…" Hellboy winced as the inevitable term monster or demon sprung from her lips. "Anyone quite like you."
Hellboy took a quick pull of his beer. She hadn't called him a monster. She hadn't called him a demon. She had treated him with some respect. Although it took her a moment to search for the right word. But he could understand her fear. It wasn't like he didn't know he painted an imposing image. But it also wasn't like he didn't go out all the time. However, he had to acknowledge a lot of stares come his way when he walked down busy streets. So he went to certain areas more than others.
"So if you're staying, you want a beer?" he asked.
"A beer?" A brow arched in confusion.
"Yeah, it's cold out here. Alcohol might warm you up."
"Is that why you're drinking?"
"Uhm… no. Love me the taste of some good beer."
Torie eyed the Budweiser in his hand. "That's not what I would call good beer."
"Oh? The King of Beers isn't good enough for you? And what do you consider to be of your caliber?"
Pausing a moment to consider an answer, Torie then shrugged good-naturedly and smiled tentatively. "Depends on what mood I'm in. I'm not the biggest beer drinker, but I generally drink micro-brews if I'm drinking beer. Sometimes I feel like drinking something foreign. I try to avoid the mass-produced stuff. Seems like it's, I don't know, missing something."
Hellboy snorted and shook his head. "Yeah, well, it's a little harder for me to shop." With his schedule of late, either he stopped working well after most grocery or liquor stores closed… or he was out of the country. And he had had drunk enough foreign beers in his life to start his own Strassenfest; he liked the simplicity of the American mass-produced beer. Hellboy shook his head and reached for another beer after polishing off the one in his hand.
Torie realized that she had hurt his feelings. She wasn't sure how he had acquired anything on his person: the leather pants he wore were custom tailored, as was his coat; there were bulges under his coat, along his waistline, that she figured were either gadgets, weapons, or both; and the beers he was drinking couldn't have been lifted. Or could they?
"So we're at an impasse. You won't go home because you're afraid of me and I just don't feel like going home quite yet because I want some privacy." Torie caught the emphasis he put on the last two words.
Considering her words, Torie realized that she was hesitating in going home. Not because she was afraid of the… man before her, but because she was enjoying the conversation. "I'm not afraid of you. I mean, I was. But you seem…almost… nice."
His white teeth glinted in the moonlight as a huge smile broke on his face. "Almost nice? Lady, I'm damn nice."
Torie felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth. Here was someone, something, who was as lost and lonely as she was.
"You're right, you know. I was butt ass tired when I left work and it's only getting worse. I should go home. It's late. I would say that the boogeyman comes out at night, but I may have just met him and he doesn't seem so bad." Torie ended her words with a smile to take out some of the sting. "And who knows? You still could very well be a figment of my imagination."
All Hellboy had wanted was some time alone after the job he had earlier in the day, but now, at the thought of Torie leaving, he realized just how little he wanted solitude and, in fact, wanted the company. Once she left, Hellboy already knew he'd feel a pang of regret tinged with loneliness.
"If you're not afraid of me, then let me escort you home. Or at least part of the way. If you believe in what you see before you, then you'll believe in the boogeyman. And he isn't as friendly as I am. Some scary creatures can come out at night."
"Worse than you?" Torie teased, but then immediately felt regret. Having spoken before she thought, Torie realized after the words left her mouth that he might not have found her amusing… or even know that she was joking. Geez, what I wouldn't give to take that back.
Hellboy swallowed hard. His heart even skipped a beat. Was it possible? Could it be? Was she actually… joking with him? Most people, especially women, didn't exactly warm up to him so making friends was generally a slow process. But here was a woman who was putting herself out there and trying to trust him. Or at least be sociable.
He smiled as he answered her question. "Oh, don't make me choose…" Hellboy winked to soften his words and after a moment, Torie's laugh sounded like church bells in the cold night air.
Torie bent to pick up her bags and motioned for Lance to get ready to follow her. When she stood, Torie responded, "Maybe someday I can try turning you on to some higher caliber beer. I'd offer to now, but you were wanting some solitude. Let me give you that. No need to walk me home – unless you're just looking for something to do. Otherwise, enjoy what's left of your night."
Rising from the bench, Hellboy shook his head. "I meant what I said; it's not safe for you to be out here by yourself. And actually, it's damn cold, Lady. And only getting colder. Maybe I could take a rain check on the beer and beg for a cup of coffee?"
Her lips curved upwards. "Only if you call me Torie. And all I have is powered cream."
"That's okay, I take it black." A pause. "Torie."
When she smiled at his acknowledgement of her name, Hellboy's arm hesitantly crept closer and closed the distance between them, cautiously reaching towards her. Torie looked up into his eyes, golden, more yellow than brown, but flecked with bits of amber, green and… kindness. However, his seven feet of height was an imposing presence next to her and Torie held her breath as she watched his left hand come closer. With a gentle touch, he slid the two bags off her right shoulder and slid them up onto his own. He then turned back to the bench and picked up the remains of his six-pack. "Ready?"
"Yeah. I suppose I am." Torie teased. "And thank you. They get heavy."
Pretending that the weight was almost too much to bear, Hellboy mock-staggered to the side for a step or two before asking, "Is all this work?"
Torie nodded her head and kicked at the snow in her path, sighing in frustration. "I'm so lucky in some ways. It's a great job. I get to do good deeds. I get to take my dog to work with me. But it's never ending. Just when you think you've made a dent, you get slammed with too many cases to count. It's like chipping away at an iceberg with a spoon."
Hellboy raised a brow and looked at the woman beside him out of the corner of his eye. And to think, only a few hours ago he was beating the crap out of gaggle of goblins. "Sounds a lot like me and my job."
"Yes, this 'saving the world before bedtime' job. What is it that you do?"
Hellboy reached into an inside coat pocket and pulled out a cigar. He bit off an end, spit the discarded part into a snowbank and planted the cigar between his lips. He knew he was buying time in answering, but he didn't care. He finally got his wish come true and intended on savoring the moment; how often had he wanted to find someone to talk to who had no idea of what he did or even who he was?
Hellboy felt, for the first time in a very long time, normal.
In an outside coat pocket, he found a matchbook, released a match from its base and struck it against his right forearm. The flame glowed bright in the dark night. Even Torie stopped and looked at it, enraptured at the minimal warmth it projected. He held the flame against the end of his cigar, took a deep breath and watched the tobacco glow. With a flick of his fingers, Hellboy launched the match into a snowbank where it extinguished with an audible hiss.
Hellboy took a deep puff, considering his words. It was a well-known fact what he did and whom he worked for, but since this woman seemed oblivious to his fame, for now he wanted a barrier between his real life and this… alterna-reality, no matter how fleeting it might last. "I do what I can to make the world a safe place. It's been one of those nights where you want to forget what happened, so maybe some other time I'll get into it all. But just be glad I'm one of the good guys. Because there are lots of bad guys out there that are scarier looking than I am."
Torie resumed walking, trying to think of something that was appropriate without being inconsiderate of his feelings. "Bad guys," she repeated softly. "Don't I know it. I'm the programs coordinator for a women's shelter and I've seen it all. I'm going to guess that you deal with beings much... broader in scope than I do, but I can't imagine it gets much worse than what my girls have been through."
Hellboy swallowed hard. He hated the thought of women or children hurt, regardless of their species. Although in dealing with the dark and lovelies out in the world, the females were generally the meanest and nastiest. He looked down at the woman walking beside him and asked, "Girls? You're but a girl yourself."
Torie motioned that they were turning left down the next street. "You are so sweet. I'm almost thirty." Hellboy nearly did a double take at the revelation of her age, for she looked so young and… innocent. "Lost both my parents a couple of years ago. I may not be old, but I feel ancient. These feet have walked many a mile trying to serve my fellow passengers on this planet. And without family, it gets tougher and tougher to fight the good fight."
Nodding in agreement, Hellboy slowed his steps and took another long drag of his cigar. "I never had a mother, but I lost my father not too long ago. We didn't always see eye to eye, but he meant the world to me. He taught me all of my morals and that faith is as important as facts..."
"Wait! I don't mean to be rude, but you… believe in… God?" Torie asked, incredulously, stopping in her tracks and turning to face the red creature beside her in complete disbelief.
Hellboy looked to the heavens and smiled at the irony, for a church steeple rose up into the night, a black silhouette against the navy blue sky. The timing could not have been more perfect. "Of course. Don't you?"
But before Torie could reply, Hellboy took a deep breath so he could plow on. He swallowed hard before speaking, unsure if he wanted to go down the path before him, but knew that there was no other option. "Lady… Torie… Some say I'm a demon. I'm sure you somehow categorized me in some way or another when you first saw me. Maybe even now. I, myself, don't really know about that. I'm a firm believer in people being judged for who they are on the inside rather than what they are on the outside. Call me a bleeding heart, but as far as one's faith… It's all in what you believe. And I found that it's just as easy to believe as disbelieve. And, sometimes, all you can do is have faith because there'll be times when you don't have anything else. Besides, I personally know that the boogeyman exists, so believing in God isn't that far of a reach."
Torie was quiet as she digested his words. "I don't know what to say. 'I'm sorry' seems so… trite."
"No sorries, okay? I just appreciate the offer of coffee and the conversation that goes with it. Now, let's get a move on; I'm freezing."
Silently, Torie started walking again, glad that Hellboy fell in step next to her. Both were quiet for several long moments as they passed by the combined areas of businesses and residential homes. A few snowflakes defiantly fell from the heavens. Torie interrupted the silence by changing the subject. "Did you know that snow is considered a mineral?"
Hellboy had been taking a drag on his cigar so he didn't answer right away. Instead, he looked up and watched a few flakes tumble around each other on their way down to earth. For some reason, he felt a sense of camaraderie with his fellow comrade of the night, despite her occasional doubts about his… character. "I can tell you're a gal who is a font of useless information. And let me tell you, I love useless information."
Torie ducked her head in embarrassment and smiled shyly, then continued walking. She felt, rather than saw, Hellboy's presence beside her. It was as if he radiated warmth on the cold winter night. And warmth to Torie, at that moment, meant hope. Knowing what an odd a picture as they made, Torie was nonetheless grateful for the company on the way home.