Apology: Sorry for the huge delay in posting this. It was never my intention to leave this story incomplete. First, I had a huge writer's block, and then life and a new job got in the way. In addition, I ran into the issue of writing a huge ongoing story based on my ideas of the past and future implications of the 2004 Hellboy movie – both before the release of Hellboy: The Golden Army in 2008 and the future developments in Mike Mignola's Hellboy series and the B.P.R.D spin-off series.

Hellboy's future life as I present it in this "Liz Sherman" chapter is not canonical to either del Toro's second Hellboy film or the subsequent developments of the character of Hellboy in the comics. Rather than trying to overhaul this story to be more canonical to the 2008 Golden Army and/or the course of Hellboy's future life in the comics, I'm sticking with all of the ideas that I've been developing in this chapter. One of the most important of these ideas is the examination of Hellboy as a character who eventually outlives everyone he ever loved – and he is not a guy who suffers loss easily.

Author's note: This follows three days after Part Eighteen, and two days before Hellboy's birthday on 12/23/1994. This won't make sense if you haven't read at least from Part Seventeen. The photograph mentioned in this story first appears in my first Hellboy story Father's Day Gifts.

Chapter Six: Liz Sherman

Fear of Fire: A Tale of Trust and LovePart Nineteen

It was just after eight in the evening as Hellboy walked into the large library that also functioned as Trevor Broom's office. Rather than finding his father there, he found Liz sitting on the floor in front of the aquarium that took up a large portion of one wall. She was conversing with the blue-skinned, black swim trunk clad fish-man who called that vast aquarium his own.

Hellboy was glad to see how close Liz was becoming to Abe, who had over the decades since 1978 not only become Hellboy's first real partner, but also almost like a brother to him.

Going over to them, Hellboy lowered his bulk to the floor and sat on the red carpeting next to Liz.

"Where's Pop? Isn't it a bit early for him to stop working?"

"He was a little tired tonight," came Abe's reply over the rather tinny-sounding speakers that allowed him to converse while under water. Before he could say anything further, Liz interrupted him.

"Don't do that, Abe." She pushed her short-cut dark hair back from her forehead; a sure sign to Hellboy that she was troubled. "I think I upset him."

"Upset him? How?" Hellboy shifted on the floor to look more closely at Liz.

Liz shrugged. "I just came in to thank him for that party he had for my birthday the other day and the Polaroid camera that he gave me as a gift. We then got to talking about what he was planning for your birthday on Friday."

Hellboy looked from Liz to Abe who was now nonchalantly swimming back and forth in his aquarium, and then back to Liz. "Talking about my birthday's not going to upset him."

As Liz ran her hand through her hair again, Hellboy couldn't help noticing how nicely the black sweat suit she wore flattered her figure. Since the nineteen-year-old girl's return to the Bureau, she had definitely put on some needed weight. Living on the streets and then in that mental hospital had not encouraged Liz to eat well enough.

While these thoughts passed through his mind, Liz stopped fussing with her hair. She buried the fingers of that hand deep into the thick, soft pile of the carpeting she was sitting on. Hellboy knew this often calmed her down when she was too upset.

She looked up at Hellboy again. "You know I've always been curious about the Professor's birthday. He celebrates everybody else's birthday, but no one ever does anything for his. I don't even know when it is. The one time I tried to ask you about it, you just changed the subject."

By this time, Liz's hand was threatening to pull the pile out of the carpet. Just barely noticing that Abe had swum off into the private section of his aquarium, Hellboy took this hand into his left hand.

"C'mon Lizzie, you don't need to make a hole in the rug. I'm sure that whatever you said couldn't have been that bad. He just doesn't like to talk about his birthday. I remember asking Father about his birthday back when I was a little kid. He didn't say much. I didn't even find out when it was until I was much older."

When Hellboy held Liz's hand as he was doing now, she would sometimes pull it away after a shorter amount of time than he would like. This time she kept her hand in his much larger one and this made him feel all warm inside, even though her hands always felt a bit cold to him.

Moving closer on the floor to lean into him, Liz stared into the now apparently empty aquarium. Hellboy, following her gaze, noticed how the depths of the water and the polished surface of the reinforced glass reflected back the illumination from the desk lamps and the library's central fireplace. They sat together for a long time, contemplating in silence these glimmers of silver, blue, and gold.

Liz broke this silence first. "I didn't really even have the chance to say that much to the Professor. The next thing I knew, he claimed to be 'a touch weary' and walked out before I realized that the question I was asking bothered him. Abe wasn't exactly lying before, but I knew this 'weariness' was related to my bringing up his birthday. I didn't mean to be rude, but …"

"No, my dear, I was the one who was rude."

Hellboy felt Liz start in surprise at this unexpected interruption. Hellboy, for his part, knew that for an elderly man with a limp who had to walk with the assistance of a cane, Trevor Broom could move very quietly when he chose.

Gently squeezing Liz's hand, which he was still holding, Hellboy got up from the floor, helping her to stand with him. Feeling a bit shy that she was caught sitting with Hellboy like that, Liz pulled away from him. "Professor, I thought you went to bed."

Trevor Broom, as he leaned on his cane, did not look at all sleepy to Hellboy. "I decided I needed to think for a while and, therefore, sat up instead of retiring. It wasn't long before I realized that I needed to apologize to you for my earlier precipitous exit and I hoped to find you still here."

Hellboy could see that Liz was becoming even more self-conscious than before. "Professor, there's no need to apologize. Maybe I upset you without meaning to, but I still upset you."

"Come, Liz, I feel a little cold. Let's sit closer to the fire." Broom limped toward a collection of comfortable leather couches that were to the left of that side of the round fireplace.

Hellboy, now feeling a bit of a third wheel in this conversation, turned to leave them alone.

"No, Son, I would like you to join us."

Broom indicated for Liz to sit down next to him on the couch, and Hellboy sat on the opposite end so that Liz was the middle of the three. Liz felt the couch sag slightly as Hellboy eased himself down.

Broom took Liz's hand. "I had a very difficult young adulthood after my two younger sisters died on my eleventh birthday after a sudden illness. My parent's relationship with each other and their relationship with me did not survive this devastating loss. Thank God, I had always been close to my paternal Grandfather, and he was essentially the man who raised me.

Everything I became, indeed the very man I am now, I totally owe to him. Yet, my Grandfather was also bereaved by the loss of his only granddaughters, and found it difficult to celebrate my birthday – even though he did not take his grief out on me in the way that my parents did."

He briefly closed his eyes and a lone tear worked its way down his left cheek. Hellboy shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he saw his father take a deep breath to bring his emotions under control.

"I have suffered other painful losses on the day that marks the date of my birth," Broom went on, "including the death of my dear Grandfather and the death of the only woman I ever loved. I still find it excessively difficult to celebrate or to even merely acknowledge my birthday. The only birthday I care to celebrate is the day that Hellboy jumped down into my arms, and allowed me to pass along the love and caring that my Grandfather bestowed on me."

Hellboy knew most of this information already, but had never heard the usually reticent Professor express himself quite so openly about these past bereavements that had so tainted his connection to the date of his birth.

Liz threw her arms around Broom. "Professor, I'm so very sorry that I reminded you of a day that you find so painful." Both Hellboy and Broom knew that Liz also had very painful memories connected to her own birthday, and that she had struggled to enjoy the little party that Broom had thrown for her.

Hellboy had been wondering for several days why his father wished Liz to celebrate her own birthday when his father so clearly understood the pain of birthday-related memories from his own personal experience. He figured that his father had his reasons, but still …

Just as if Trevor Broom knew what Hellboy was thinking he said, "My dear, I'm so glad that you were able to control any pyrokinetic manifestations or other negative emotions that could have occurred when I gave you that little birthday party here the other day. I'm very proud of the control you manifested, and wish that I myself had your strength."

Liz pulled back from the hug that she was still giving him. "Professor, if I have any strength at all, it's because you helped me to find it, and I love the camera that you gave me so that I can record permanent memories of the best times and best people in my life."

Liz got back up from the couch. "I'll be back in just a minute."

She returned with her camera and one of the B.P.R.D. agents that she found in a nearby staff room getting a cup of coffee.

"I want a picture of us together, H.B. – you, me, and the Professor."

Hellboy groaned, "Jeez, Liz, I hate having my picture taken. Why don't you just get a picture of Pop and you? He's the one who's really helping you anyway. I'm just along for the ride."

"No, H.B.," said Liz, touching his left arm, "I want all three of us in the picture. You've both been helping me in ways that I'll never be able to repay, and I want to be able to remember the two people in my life who are giving me a new reason to live, and a new hope that I wasn't just born to be an instrument of death and destruction to all who encounter me."

Part of Hellboy wanted to smile at what Liz just disclosed, the other part just wanted to get the stupid picture-taking over with – if it wasn't Liz asking, there was no way he'd pose for any picture.

Liz gave her new Polaroid camera to the agent and the three of them posed in front of the central fireplace below the huge portrait of an angel, a proud Trevor Boom in the center with his beloved son and new "daughter" standing on either side of him.

Two days later it was Hellboy's 50th birthday. He, Trevor Broom, and Liz were in his room watching one of the many seasonal TV broadcasts of the Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Liz was really starting to feel that she herself had a wonderful life, and Hellboy and his father were very pleased with her newly gained confidence in her ability to control the manifestation of her pyrokinetic powers.

Hellboy had told Liz that he didn't need any further gifts from her beyond her presence in his life, so he was curious at the relatively large flat wrapped package that she had brought to his "party."

As the three of them were munching on popcorn and Baby Ruth bars after the end of the film, Liz pulled the package out from behind Hellboy's old leather car-seat couch.

"Professor, I hope you don't mind that I have a birthday present for you. I think you'll like it."

Trevor Broom, unwrapping the package, found that Liz had framed an enlargement of the Polaroid picture of the three of them posed in front of his fireplace in a beautiful sterling silver frame.

"Liz, my dear, I …" Broom broke off, speechless at the beauty of this portrait – the closest thing he ever had to a "family picture" beyond two old battered framed photographs: one of him with a group of American soldiers on a freezing, wet island off the coast of Scotland with a tiny newly "born" Hellboy sitting at his feet; and another of him holding a four-year old Hellboy in his arms back when he was stationed with Hellboy on a secret military base in a desert area of New Mexico.

"I will cherish this beautiful gift for the rest of my life," he finally was able to say, "I so wish that I could have shown this to my Grandfather. I think he would have approved of what I did with the life that his love had given to me."

That portrait did indeed sit on Trevor Broom's desk in his office for the rest of his life, and beyond.

Even though Hellboy had balked at posing for this picture, he found its pride of place on his father's desk a source of comfort in the days, months, and years after Trevor Broom's murder at the beginning of November of 2004.

December 23, 2178:

Hellboy walked into his late father's former office. He wondered what he had managed to do with that picture of him with his father and Liz after she had died a century before on this same day. He pulled open several of the bottom drawers of the desk until he located an ancient photograph in a tarnished silver frame shoved under an extremely old box of almost desiccated Baby Ruth candy bars.

The frame was bent, the glass was cracked, and the now faded photograph was almost ripped apart – if not quite destroyed. Hellboy barely recalled how he had tried to destroy this cherished photograph when he had found out about the death of Liz – all alone in a cancer hospice that he had been too much of a cowardly fool to bear to be with her at the time of her death.

Yet, his love for this photograph and his love for the two people with him in the picture was too strong for him to have the strength to completely destroy it. But he had tried to shove his painful memories into the drawer along with the battered and twisted framed portrait.

Trevor Broom had been so proud of this gift from Liz, so proud of his "son" and "daughter" standing with him. Hellboy wondered what his father would think of him now a man who had left his father's side when he had needed him the most, a man who had left his wife to die alone.

A part of Hellboy had always feared that his father was disappointed in him; that Liz hated him for his abandonment of his terminally ill wife – but another part of him knew that they both had always forgiven him for his many faults because they knew how much he loved them.

And Hellboy knew that in order to rescue his immortal soul from the clutches of Hell, he had to rediscover this great love – and restore the memories he had been suppressing for close to a century.

Thanks for reading. More to come …