Obligatory disclaimer: Dark Horse and Mr. Mignola own all, save for my own original characters.
"How are you doing?"
The words, spoken in hushed tones, caused Torie to shiver involuntarily and goosebumps to pepper her skin; her lips to curved into a ghost of a smile. Her eyes lit up and she silently appraised the man before her. Dressed in a custom tailored charcoal gray suit with a cobalt blue shirt and silver gray tie, it took all of Torie's flagging energy not to let out a low wolf whistle in appreciation. Broad shoulders and a narrow waist made the suit hang perfectly. Even the difference in sleeves between the right arm and left was nearly negated due to the excellent work of the tailor. Under Torie's heavy gaze, he fidgeted; despite his discomfort, Torie could not help herself, biting her bottom lip to let him know just how good she thought he looked.
There were very few times that Hellboy was grateful for his red skin, but here in the throng of peoples, he was so glad that the blush heating his cheeks was lost in the existing crimson. Especially considering the folks I'm rubbing elbows with tonight...
Hellboy's presence intimidated some of the party attendees, so the woman that Torie had been speaking with quickly scurried off at the approach of the half-demon, mumbling something about being parched and needing water. As Torie accepted the outstretched arm for a hug and squeezed Hellboy briefly in return, she sighed slowly. The party was nothing if not a success – and gabbing with the crowd was the key to making her latest venture take off into the spotlight.
But for the moment, it was just so much easier to lean into Hellboy, letting his body support her.
"I can't breathe, but otherwise fine," she whispered, her cheek against his jacket before she turned her face into the material, relishing the solid mass behind it.
Figuring that was the case, as the room was packed to suffocating, Hellboy whispered, conspiratorially, "Then follow me – I have an idea."
Torie smiled in relief as her left hand was quickly enveloped by Hellboy's massive stone right hand hand, his actions careful and calculated so as to not bruise her fingers with its strength. There was comfort and love in the simple gesture, something few would imagine such an oversize appendage could manage. She squeezed his fingers and smiled up at him, confident he could carve out a little quiet amid the chaos.
"I would follow you anywhere. Lead the way," she whispered, not wanting to bring attention to their departure, for Torie was sure that the ranks would close in around them if anyone smelled something was afoot – literally.
Hellboy bobbed and weaved through the crowd, using his size to shoulder his way through, nodding his head in acknowledgment when someone would greet him... or smile in return if someone waved. But he never slowed his pace. It was obvious that people wanted to speak with Torie, but Hellboy had found that if you did not speed up or slow down a walking pace, then people would rarely force someone to halt to have a conversation; the change in tempo caused people to stop others in their tracks. He also noticed when he looked back to check on her that Torie never maintained eye contact with anyone, lest that anyone try to latch on to their slow-moving exodus.
But they were able to successfully extract themselves from the pack of peoples, and once exited from the hotel ballroom, Hellboy led them down the hallway, rounded a corner, and with a flick of his wrist – and a careful glance back towards the direction of the party – he opened a door to a small conference room and ushered Torie in ahead of him. Hellboy double-checked to make sure no party guests had followed in their wake and once the coast was clear, closed himself in the room with Torie, the door latching with a soft click.
When Hellboy turned to face the room proper, with soft moonlight illuminating the room from the massive wall of windows on the opposite side of the room, he saw that Torie had collapsed into an office chair by the balcony window. She rolled her head from side to side in a futile attempt to loosen knots in her screaming muscles. The lights of the city twinkled, captivating Torie's attention. As Hellboy maneuvered his bulk around the conference room table, he smiled slightly as the outside lights bathed her face in a soft glow, highlighting Torie's skin, casting the rest of her in shadow.
In the ballroom, she looked like a Valkyrie. But at that moment, in the quiet, Torie looked vulnerable.
The event they were attending was a book launch party for Torie. She had been approached by a publishing house to write her autobiography, something Torie found immensely flattering, but felt would actually be very boring to readers. Instead, she countered with a book outlining several of the women she had met in her journeys. In compromise, the book was written from Torie's point of view with information provided on how she met the women, in addition to the chapter-long biography of each woman's life.
The next night would be a party for many of the residents of women's shelters in New York, where Torie's best friend and business associate, Monica, ran an office that housed several outreach groups for Torie's efforts, as well as residents from the woman's shelter Torie worked at in Fairfield. Everyone involved in the behind-the-scenes for the current event eagerly anticipated the next evening, where there was less pressure to be 'on' and a better chance of cutting loose and having fun.
But in just a half hour's time or so, in addition to the book launch, Torie was making an announcement of her own – it was the first time that Torie and Hellboy were taking their romance public, officially. Oh, there had been much speculation, especially after their cross-country trip all that time back, but since they never spoke to the media, no definitive statement was ever made one way of the other. The dedication of the book – To my Sam, always there... for which I'm ever grateful – was no surprise, it was almost mundane in its wording. But the speculation of just who Sam was by the press, who had received advanced copies, was almost shocking.
So Torie and Hellboy felt putting rumors to bed was the best course of action, even if it meant that tonight some of the spotlight would be less on the women Torie wrote of and more on a well established relationship. But there plans in the works to get the focus back on track – which involved the relationship to immediately go underground, allowing the book to shine.
With a quiet cough, Hellboy took up position leaning against the wall, just on the edge of where the windows kissed the room. Staring out into the sparkling lights of New York City, he wistfully wished that they could escape into the night... despite knowing that he could never get lost in a crowd. But it's a nice dream, old man. Smiling down at Torie, he whispered, "You have got to be exhausted, babe."
Torie heaved a sigh and turned back to look out the glass doors she sat in front of, the lights of the city whispering promises of comfort and anonymity. It is so tempting... But there were people counting on her. Running away would not offer any comfort for more than a few fleeting moments.
Quirking an eyebrow, she shook her head ruefully. "I am – I won't lie. But this is a good exhaustion. It's helping people; it's what I want to do. Need to do. However, I owe you a big thank you for this." Torie spread her arms to indicate the room they were in, the chair she was in spinning lazily from the action. "If only for a few minutes – because as you well know my absence, and yours, will be noticed sooner rather than later – it is nice to not be 'on.' It is nice just to be with you. I just... I just wish there was more us-time. I miss you. I miss us."
The two month book tour that was to commence in a handful of days hung unspoken between them. Combined with the year of writing and re-writing of the book, along with all of the long term assignments Hellboy had been charged with leading, the relationship between them had evolved – or regressed – to what it was in the beginning... random moments of dinners, romantic weekends and an upgraded long distance phone plan. But instead of seeing the book tour as an extension of their time apart, Hellboy opted to see it as the final stretch of their endurance challenge.
This is what she was born to do. Changing the world for the better. Same as you. Even if there are those who say otherwise...
Bah. Don't get sucked into that. Not now. Not ever. Just focus on the good. And being missed by a pretty girl – who loves you – is a first class problem.
Resisting the urge to scuff his shoe against the carpet in pleasure, Hellboy instead nodded towards the sliding glass door before them. "Torie, for as long as you'll have me, there will be an us. Together or apart, there is us. And whatever time you'll give me, I'll be grateful for. But... Dammit! This is becoming rather maudlin. So you know, the door to the balcony opens. Let's get some fresh air."
Torie squelched the urge to sigh again. Sam had been awfully grateful for her companionship of late, something that she found equally frustrating as well as endearing. And as quickly as his gratitude would appear, he'd just as promptly change the subject. So, like always, Torie reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it tightly before using him for leverage, rolling the chair she was in to close the distance between them. Resting her forehead against the cool pane of the window, she then turned her head and looked up at her love, replying, "But someone from the party might see us. We should get back before we're missed."
Starting to rise out of her seat, Torie was immediately restrained by Hellboy with a gentle hand on her shoulder. Her hand instinctively tried to cover his scarlet, oversized right hand with her own. "Let them fret. Fuck, let them see you out on the balcony! You need some air. The night is gorgeous. You are gorgeous. I want to have this moment with you. Honestly, if I had more than a few of said moment, I'd show you how gorgeous I think you are." He then softened his words with a smile as he slid the door open, gently tugging the chair Torie sat in out onto the balcony.
Dropping her gaze as she felt her cheeks darken, Torie wondered – as she often did – how she ended up with the most considerate, and yet abrupt, male on the planet. Despite the chaos that seemed to encircle their lives, Sam always tried to get back to the time when life actually stood still and they were able to find normalcy. Torie found it very sweet... and very impossible.
She immediately thought back to when they went on their cross-country road trip, their attempt to encapsulate themselves while traveling amongst the masses – which only served to magnify their celebrity. There was no way that Hellboy could ever go out incognito and their attempts to participate as one of the masses – rather than with the masses – made for a very exhausting trip.
Although we had fun. Except for the raising of Mom and Dad. Raised everyone in the cemetery – but them. Of course.
Hellboy interrupted Torie's thoughts by asking, "You're feet are killing you, aren't they?"
Shaking her head in the negative, as well as to clear her musings, she replied, "They're fine."
Hellboy scoffed. Of course Torie would deny any discomfort. You should have known better than to ask. Doing his best to cover a chuckle, he growled, "Kick one up here – I'll give you a club rub." He held out his left hand, expectantly.
What on earth is he talking about?
"A what?" Torie felt completely stupid, especially when Hellboy began to laugh.
"A club rub. Just give me your damn foot so I can give it a massage."
Not needing to be told again, Torie slipped both feet from her shoes and cautiously extended her right foot towards Sam. Once his thumbs, dexterous and nimble despite their size, started rolling along the curve of her arch, Torie released the breath she had been holding. Why on earth has he been holding out on me? This feels damn good!
"Thank you," Torie whispered, as relief flooded from her toes and wound its way throughout her body. Her feet felt detached, floating above her. Even her bones felt soft and pliable. The idea of standing up and giving a speech suddenly didn't seem so impossible, even though Torie wasn't sure if she could support her weight at that moment. I might end up in a puddle on the floor!
Hellboy just smiled in response, but his tail swished a pattern lazily through the air that showed his contentment. He mused that life didn't get much better – not with a gal reclining back in a chair, her bare leg extended towards him, causing the skirt of her silver wrap dress... which covered her curves perfectly... to ride up and open slightly on the side, revealing a sliver of thigh. Her brown hair was pinned up into several small, loose hairbuns, framing her head like an angel. Although Torie's heavy lidded gaze was anything but pure. Running his thumb along the arch of Torie's foot, Hellboy's chest swelled in contentment as she involuntarily rolled her hips in response and a purr rumbled in her throat. A few moments slipped past before he spoke.
"You know, in this light, you have a face like a Renoir painting – all soft and glowy."
Stunned by the compliment, Torie said the first thing that popped into her head. "Where did that come from?" And no sooner than the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. The soft, glowy look on Hellboy's own face instantly disappeared.
Gently, but emphatically, Hellboy set down Torie's foot. His tail sliced through the air, making figure eights, and his yellow eyes turned amber as hurt clouded his features. "Whaddya mean? I can be sensitive." His voice was low and deep, skating across her skin and burrowing into her insides, making Torie shiver. There was a complexity to his tone, something that made Torie feel ashamed – ashamed for her comment and ashamed for forgetting all that Hellboy carried around, both emotionally as well as mentally. Physically, he was more than fine.
Torie stood, then wrapped her arms around his waist, not quite making it all the way around, resting her head against Hellboy's torso. Turning her head to look up the wide expanse between their faces, she said, "I'm not disputing that. And I appreciate the sentiment. I've just... never heard anything like that before." Torie hated how her voice went quiet, but Hellboy's heart swelled at the sound.
The forceful tone of Hellboy's response, as well as the tightening of his arms around her, make Torie smile against the fabric of his shirt. Until that moment, when the warmth of his arms encircled her and the scent of tobacco, bourbon and Irish Spring, as well as sinful thoughts, filled her nostrils, Torie had no idea just how tired she was. She closed her eyes and sighed wistfully.
But the moment couldn't last forever. "I need to go back. My absence has to have been noticed by now," she murmured as she tilted her head back to look up at Hellboy, a concerned frown puckering her brows.
Shaking his head slowly, he whispered, "Not yet."
Torie's brow furrowed deeper and she took a step back, releasing her arms from their embrace. She may be the guest of honor for the evening, but she was also the entertainment! There was no way the crowd would forgive her for making them wait. But instead of raising a ruckus, Torie patiently waited for an explanation.
Clearing his throat and scratching an imaginary itch behind his ear, Hellboy looked down at his girlfriend, wondering – once again – how he had managed to meet and date a gal like Torie. It's been a long time since I met her and Lance in the park... "Before we go back in... just a moment. That's all I'm asking. Then I'll personally escort you right up onto the stage. Please...?"
Her curiosity piqued, Torie slowly nodded her head in agreement. It wasn't often that he looked earnest – an expression she found rather charming when it appeared.
Without a word, Hellboy took her left hand in his right, pausing a moment to turn her hand one way, then the other, as the moonlight reflected off the ring on her fourth finger. He then traced his fingertips across her knuckles, over the dorsal side of her hand, around her wrist, before twining their fingers together as palm met palm. Torie's hand, so small on its own, was completely dwarfed by what some called the Right Hand of Doom.
She doesn't even flinch.
Anastasia was not so... demon-blind, old man. She did care about what people thought.
Bah. Apples and oranges. Not fair to Torie. Either one of them, actually. Different times. Different circumstances.
Then, impulsively, he smiled – a grin so wide that it was nearly blinding in the dark room. Placing her left hand on his shoulder, then watching her slide it down to a more comfortable position by his elbow, Hellboy marveled at how the fingers on his right hand nearly spanned Torie's waist as he placed his hand on her hip. He then took her right hand in his left and started humming.
Almost instantly, Torie recognized the melody from Tom Waits' Jersey Girl. The song that played when we... transitioned over from friends to... more. She shook her head affectionately and laughed. He wasn't often spontaneous, so when Hellboy acted freely, rather than considering all angles of a situation, Torie allowed herself to get swept up in his impulse.
"Dancing..." she murmured, shaking her head in amusement. Of course they were dancing! They weren't about to back out into the throng of bodies wanting to hear about the book; about her past, present and future adventures; about them! There was all the time in the world to two-step around the conference room!
Seeing Torie's hesitation, Hellboy whispered conspiratorially, "Care to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"
Torie swallowed hard. She knew that Sam rarely made reference to his heritage, usually only making vague references to the differences between himself and the world he protected. So when he made himself vulnerable like that, in an effort to sway Torie into having what Sam perceived as a good time that she wouldn't ordinarily have, her heart lurched. Shaking her head emphatically, Torie said, "No."
Hellboy instinctively stiffened his back, but relaxed his arms, allowing Torie to easily step out of them if she wanted to. Doing his best to keep his voice even, Hellboy replied, "No?" He was pleased that there was no waver in his tone. He just knew he wasn't able to school his features to not reflect the hurt Torie's one word response created.
"No," Torie repeated. After a pause, she then smiled and winked. "But I will trip the light fantastic with you."
Hellboy stilled his feet, his tail lashing through the air as he squinted one golden eye shut. His lips were pursed in thought as he digested Torie's retort. How does she do it? Always the right answer. Shaking his head in amusement, laughter suddenly spilled past his lips, loosening the knot in his throat. Feeling lighter than air, a feeling he rarely felt, Hellboy picked her up and spun Torie around, her dress skirt fanning out, as Torie's arms went around Hellboy's neck and her own laughter mixed with his.
"Thank you," he whispered against her ear.
"Thank you," she whispered back.
A/N: Thank you all so much for your patience and support. I fully release how long a lapse in the story there has been and for that, I apologize. I hope to write at a higher volume in the future, but since I am not certain that my wish will come to fruition, I want to take the time now and let you all to know how much you mean to me. And while I don't plan on disappearing into the ether, my plot bunnies are tumbling through some original ideas that I'd like to work into something publishable.
Your kind words - and even those who read and don't comment - push me harder than you know.
When you get a moment, go check out the amazing epalladino and all of her writing, if you have not done so already. Her writing is simply without peer and I use her Also, I found a gem of a story, Hellboy: The Desperate Kingdom of Love, by princessebee and highly suggest that you check it out and give her some love.
And, without a doubt, go to your local comic book store and pick up some Hellboy. :)