This one was written for LaFemmeDarla for Yuletide 2009. I figured I'd share it here too. The more, the merrier!
This is comicverse, and takes place shortly after the "Conqueror Worm" story, after Hellboy decides to take an indefinite leave of absence from the Bureau.
It wasn't really that Kate Corrigan didn't have friends. She had many acquaintances and pals from her olden teaching days at NYU, teachers and students and colleagues she maintained correspondences with; and she had more than enough friends here at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, people for which she would lay down her life without a moment's hesitation, people who kept her happy and sane throughout the madness that could sometimes be the Bureau.
No, she didn't lack for friends, and yet she couldn't deny that there was a very large, lonely hole in her life right now. A large, demon-shaped hole, to be precise.
She understood Hellboy's reasons for taking a leave of absence from the Bureau (And that's what she kept telling herself-- it was a leave of absence, and not a departure, because the latter implied he would never walk the halls of the Bureau again. So the irrational part of Kate's usual quite-rational brain kept repeating that it was nothing more than a temporary leave of absence.) There were some things that a person needed to work out alone, and those things tended to grow exponentially when you were an otherworldly creature with a destiny involving crowns of the Apocalypse and Right Hands of Doom. Some things you couldn't quite wrap your mind around without a little effort.
Hellboy needed the break, away from bureaucracy, away from government entities, away from the problems of the Bureau, away from distractions. He needed the time to reflect, to research, to figure things out.
Kate understood all that. She understood it perfectly, and yet she keenly felt the sting of Hellboy's absence.
She was lonely now without him. She'd barely noticed, but over the years, he'd become her closest friend, and-- dare she think so-- the closest thing she'd had to a meaningful relationship. She'd dated enough in her youth, but nobody had ever inspired the same love she felt for Hellboy.
It was late now; Kate's office at the Bureau seemed echoingly silent. She'd had trouble sleeping lately, so she had opted to stick around and get some work done, which had turned into an impromptu trip down memory lane as she'd begun digging through old case files and boxes full of yellowing reports.
She'd found an old box full of photographs - she kept meaning to organize them, scan them, or at least put them in albums, but, well, it seemed like there was always something happening that took precedence-- and she now sat on the floor of her office, cross-legged like a kid playing with toys, digging through the old photos and smiling to herself.
Most were just photographic documents from past missions, snapshots of sites that she'd planned on visiting again, objects and artifacts that she'd planned on researching further. A good number of the photos, however, were personal shots taken during mission downtimes. They could have been anyone's vacation shots from anywhere in the world, if it weren't for the large red demon with the crooked half-smile in all of them.
A photograph resting on top of the pile caught Kate's eye, and she smiled as she freed it from the box.
Hellboy never really smiled as wide as he could-- too many people thought he looked downright terrifying with he tried smiling to the full width of his ability. On the photograph in her hand, however, he was smiling, wide as could be, teeth starkly white against the red skin. He was wearing a parka and had one arm around an equally parka-clad Kate, and the other around agent D'Alfonso. The then-young agent was smiling sheepishly at the camera, tufts of snow still lining the furred hood around his face.
Kate remembered that day. She and Hellboy had taken the rookie agent out with them on a visit to one of Kate's colleagues in the Northwest Territories up in Canada. D'Alfonso was young, wide-eyed and still utterly thrilled with his new position within the Bureau, and aching to see some of the really weird stuff he'd heard so much about.
They disembarked the van, and the moments his hooves crunched on the snow, Hellboy put on a dead-serious façade, looking out onto the snow-covered ground and trees like a great hunter. D'Alfonso immediately began staring out, wondering what caught the famous agent Hellboy's attention.
"Hm," Hellboy said, with the growl that was worth a thousand words.
"What do you see?" D'Alfonso whispered, practically bounding with excitement. "What are we looking at?"
"Could be trouble."
"Oh my God. What is it?"
"Snow wasps," Hellboy said. "They build hives under the snow. I can smell them. Tackled them back in 1974; could be dangerous."
Not one to be fooled, D'Alfonso's face fell. "Very funny. My brother once tried to tell me all about snow snakes when he took me skiing for the first time. Ha ha, getting a rise out of the new guy."
Hellboy didn't smile often; but Kate could read him like a book, and knew the tell-tale twinkle of mischief in his eyes. She couldn't resist, putting on her most no-nonsense face and taking D'Alfonso aside while Hellboy continued to stare out at the snowy landscape.
"Listen... " she said. "I understand you're new to the Bureau, but you're going to learn pretty quick that there are things around that sound pretty ridiculous, but are real nonetheless. So when Hellboy says something might be trouble… you listen. Got it?"
She tried not to grin as D'Alfonso's eyes went wide and he nodded. And then she tried not to laugh as Hellboy cried out, "Ah, crap! I just stepped on a nest of snow wasps! Hit the ground!" And so D'Alfonso yelped and executed a truly spectacular face-plant into the snow, flailing his arms against his perceived assailants.
There was a low rumble that had nothing to do with snow wasps attacking, and everything to do with Hellboy chuckling. He waited until D'Alfonso peeked up from beneath the safety of his parka hood before extending a hand to the terrified agent.
"Unless of course," Kate continued, as Hellboy helped D'Alfonso back to his feet, helping him brush the snow off his parka with a good-natured grin. "He's talking about snow wasps. Can't be trusted for a second about those."
D'Alfonso chuckled weakly, and by the time they'd boarded the plane to head back to the Bureau, had cheerfully laughed off the prank.
Back in her empty room in the Connecticut Bureau, Kate laughed to herself until she was wiping away a tear that wasn't entirely due to the laughter. Oh God, how she missed those days. Sometimes she forgot how much fun they'd had in the olden days of the Bureau, before things got so complicated. She carefully sat the photograph aside; something told her she would need the laugh again in the near future.
A leave of absence. That was all. She had to believe Hellboy would one day come back, and when he did, she would soundly berate him for leaving her sad and lonely for so long.
Roger was not so good with words. It was a funny thing, being at once the oldest, and the youngest member of the BPRD. His body may have been crafted five centuries ago but as far as his awareness of the world went—everything was still as bright and new as if he was a young child.
Others may have found that comparison insulting; Roger thought it was rather nice, that it felt comfortable and safe. Despite the dark things that had happened—battling his Homunculus brother, awakening for a second time after the catastrophic first time, facing the Worm—he still enjoyed being awake and aware of the world, learning about everything around him. He loved his friends and he loved the Bureau.
Most of all, he loved Hellboy.
The idea of a family was a little foreign to Roger. Certainly, there had been the alchemist who created him, along with his "brother"—brother in blood only (well, maybe not blood—brother in design, then.) But even that was miles away from the idea of a conventional family. Sometimes, he felt sad that he had never been a child, like a real man, who had grown up with a mother and father, and with an older brother who could have been his mentor, and shown him all the right things in life.
And then, he remembered that he didn't need to long for a brother or a father, because he had Hellboy.
As a byproduct of his creation, Roger could absorb and release energy. Sometimes he wondered if he could absorb feelings the same way he absorbed energy; when he was around Hellboy, he felt as though he wanted to be just like him, like a little boy absorbing knowledge and experience from a big brother, modeling everything in his life after this grander person.
He felt, very much, as though Hellboy had been his big brother, his mentor, the big guy who looked out for him. Roger knew he could easily take care of himself, but it was the idea of someone like Hellboy who wanted him to be okay that made him happy.
And he, in turn, wanted nothing more than to be just like Hellboy. He was a strange man too, like Roger, maybe someone made with purpose, not just born randomly like other men. Hellboy understood him, and maybe that was why he liked to look out for Roger so much. And to Roger, it felt like his longing for a family, for a father or a big brother, was always fulfilled when Hellboy was around.
And now, he felt empty. It had taken him a while to put a word to how he was feeling, and that seemed the perfect way to describe it. He felt empty.
He wondered about mourning, about losing a loved one. It seemed like it must hurt very much, the idea that you would never again be able to see a person you loved, that you would never had the chance to speak with them again and do all the things that made you happy. It probably felt very much like Roger was feeling now: empty. Like everything had suddenly gone quiet, like when everyone in a room suddenly stopped talking or just left without saying a word.
Except, Roger tried to remind himself, Hellboy wasn't dead. He was still out there, probably fighting other worms and creatures, or maybe he was sitting just like Roger was sitting, thinking about how he felt empty without his friends. No, Hellboy wasn't dead. But Roger still felt empty without him.
So what would Hellboy probably want Roger to keep doing? Even feeling bad, Hellboy would have continued on, protecting his friends, fighting anyone or anything that would want to hurt them.
And so, that's what Roger now resolved to do, because that's what Hellboy had taught him, no matter how empty he might be feeling.
The things Abe Sapien had faced in his life would terrify most people. Creatures from the dark, dangerous depths of the Earth, strange and ancient magic, and even the very worst that humanity, enhanced or otherwise, had to offer. He had been gravelly injured, faced death, felt pain so great he would have welcomed death. Barely anything in his career with the Bureau had ever truly frightened him.
Now that Hellboy was gone, he felt truly scared.
It wasn't Hellboy's first leave of absence from the Bureau; he'd chosen to depart once, decades ago, to travel with Anastasia. Abe had been young then, inexperienced and unsure of himself, anxious at the idea of being without his surrogate brother. But that departure had been with a purpose, and as scared as he was at the loss of his friend, Abe knew Hellboy had planned on returning. And he had returned, two years later.
But this was different. This was final. This was not a leave of absence to travel, to go off on a lengthy mission. This was Hellboy quitting. Leaving. Forever. And the thought truly and completely terrified him.
He hadn't had the chance to say good-bye; Hellboy had asked Kate to transmit his farewells, and ever since she'd come by his room, shared the news, and offered to talk if he ever felt lonely, Abe had sat, unmoving, an unopened book in his lap, struggling to deal with the news. It was just as well that Kate had delivered the message; Abe wasn't sure how he would have reacted to hearing it from Hellboy himself.
He probably would have felt much like he felt now; anxious, restless, and utterly scared.
It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling, and Abe still vividly remembered the last time he had felt so frightened: opening his eyes for the first time, struggling to see through the murky waters of his tube, struggling to understand what he was seeing and feeling. Strange men looked back at him, just as bewildered. Bewildered enough to begin sticking large needles into his veins, hooking him up to strange, painful machinery to test how his body worked, pumping him full of drugs that left him dizzy and nauseated and confused and completely terrified of what was happening to him.
He'd never forgotten that terror; he'd woken up from nightmares years later, heart pounding and adrenaline pumping, feeling as scared as he did in the days with the Bureau scientists and their tests.
Back then, and still to the day, the only thing that never frightened him was Hellboy. It was Hellboy who had hauled him out of the tank for the first time, and amusingly enough, in a room of normal human men, it was the big red demon who scared him the least, the only whose hand he did not recoil from.
After all, it was Hellboy who had first spoken to him as though he were more than just a strange specimen in a jar. Hellboy who had touched him without the intent to inject him with something. And suddenly, the fear disappeared, and stayed away so long as he knew Hellboy was close by, to be the brother, the mentor, the leader to their odd little pack. Hellboy's presence had always left Abe feeling comfortable, and most importantly, safe.
And now, as he sat alone, the decades-old anxiety was rushing back. Who would lead everyone now? He worried about Liz and Roger; Hellboy seemed to have a comforting effect on them as well. Who would fulfill that purpose in their lives now?
Like he had for all the other 'enhanced' agents, Hellboy had been a brother, the big red guy who seemed able to make sense of everything, especially when nothing made sense. Abe could easily ignore any fear he had as long as he was around Hellboy.
And now? Abe sighed; he would survive, he would continue on, for the sake of his duty to the Bureau and to his friends. He would not dare do any less. Though he would never dare admit it, not even to Hellboy himself; but with the big guy gone, the very same big guy who had plucked him from the depths of his terror so many years ago, Abe felt nothing more than scared.
Liz Sherman's mind was going a mile a minute as she struggled to fold another piece of clothing; her hands were shaking, and she desperately needed a cigarette, berating herself for choosing the worst possible time to quit. She finally gave up on trying to fold the sweater and stuffed it unceremoniously into the duffel bag on her bed.
Her room was a mess, and she paid it no mind; she had practically turned it upside-down, throwing pieces of clothes and shoes and a toothbrush and whatever else seemed important, packing her things away like a criminal about to abscond in the middle of the night. Maybe she wasn't a criminal, but she sure felt like one sometimes. Maybe that explained why she always felt the need to run, even from those she loved.
But now she had a reason. She told herself she had a reason. Hellboy was gone, and without him, she was completely and utterly lost.
It wasn't like she had nothing else going for her at the Bureau. She would miss Abe like crazy, and felt terribly about leaving him; and she would miss Kate too, and it wrenched her heart to be leaving Roger, especially at a time when he needed all the friends he could get. But the Bureau had never felt right without Hellboy, and truth be told, she always felt like her own life, and her sometimes-tenuous grasp on her sanity, was just a little bit better when he was around.
The zipper on the side pocket of the duffel bag got caught as Liz tried to open it; she pulled, cursed, then let the bag go, fighting the urge to throw the hairbrush in her hand across the room. What she really felt, in times of high stress such as this, was the destructive urge of her innate fire prickling just below the surface of her skin. She hated the feeling more than anything; she had learned to take a step back, take a deep breath, try to slow her pulse and will the fire back down, but it always felt like nothing more than a temporary solution, like trying to stave off a fatal heart attack.
When she had come to the Bureau as a frightened eleven-year-old, Liz had dreamed of being taken to a teacher, a master, someone who knew exactly where her fire had come from, and who could tell her how to control it. She had envisioned training sessions, lots of ancient books to read, but as it turned out, the Bureau had no more clue what to do with her powers than she did. The people who were supposed to be wise and all-knowing in occult matters still looked on her with fear in their eyes.
Except for Hellboy.
He was the closest thing to a teacher she had ever gotten. The first one who, since the terrible accident with her uncontrollable fire, had strolled up to her like she was a normal little girl, smiled at her, not a care in the world, and handed her a lollipop. She hadn't cared about the candy; instead, she'd leapt into his arms and clung to him like a lifeline, sobbing long and hard into that massive red chest while he held her, giving her all the time she needed.
He hadn't been able to teach her how to control her powers. But he had been able to teach her that being different wasn't always a bad thing, and that even though people would always look at people like them with fear in their eyes, it didn't mean there was anything to be scared of.
The zipper finally gave after a good firm tug. She stuffed the hairbrush, her toothbrush, and a half-empty tube of toothpaste into the pocket. She was packing light; earlier that day, after being informed by Kate of Hellboy's sudden resignation from the Bureau, she had stood there in shock for several long moments, then gone straight to her room. She hadn't had a destination in mind as she tossed the well-worn duffel bag onto her bed, only the overwhelming desire to run, to get away.
It was only a few hours later, after she'd taken a few good breaths to calm her nerves and quell the rising fire, that she decided on a destination: Agartha. It was something she and Hellboy had discussed, years ago, bored after a mission in South America and one of those comforting times where they discussed her powers with casual ease. Hellboy had brought up the monks of Agartha, and Liz had mentally filed it away for future reference.
The bag packed, she zipped it shut and hoisted it over her shoulder, grabbing her Bureau identification and passport from her bedside table. She was going to miss her room, and she was going to miss the Bureau, and her friends there.
Hellboy had been her mentor, her rock. Despite all the crises she had faced while at the Bureau, Liz knew she would be fine as long as Hellboy stood by. Deep down, she had never let go of the idea that if she really needed it, he would let her bury her face in his chest and cry her heart out like she had, so many years ago.
But now that he was gone, she felt hopeless, aimless. She felt lost.
Liz shut the door to her room as she left, and struggled not to look back.