Fan Fiction

About A Boy
by Amp-Muse (Hemlock Trinity)
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7
Hellboy and the BPRD are the property of Dark Horse Comics and Mike Mignola.
-Art by Joe.-

"It's weird out there, man."
-George Bush Sr.

About A Boy
By, Amp

He could tell this was going to be an interesting mission.

And by interesting, it meant long, arduous and possibly painful.

As a rule, the paranormal investigator detested cars. Honestly, he detested most machines, but motor vehicles in particular grated upon his nerves. His co-workers had accused him often of being a Luddite, but he'd always taken it with a trademark craggy smirk. He could vividly recall a time when some of the Bureau's agents had tried to teach him how to drive - sometimes he could still hear their screams lingering in the corners of his dreams, flavored with the arid, dusty breezes of New Mexico. Whatever the case might have been, he shifted his considerable bulk in his seat, hunkered in the back of the van, and flicked amber eyes to the sheet of paper in hand giving the ins and outs the Bureau could come up with for him.

There had been reports of spontaneous combustion they had managed to trace back to a tech support service in the locale, but the cases had been few and far between and there wasn't really enough evidence to link them up with what was going on in Miscellaneous. Truth be told, spontaneous combustion cases were the least of the Bureau's troubles these days, so the whole affair had been put on the back burner with a dozen other supernatural soups. Miscellaneous. He chuckled softly under his breath. What a name for a town. But the incidents coupled with the recent events occurring on All Saints Day were definitely enough to catch the attention of the higher ups. Reports of a devil that burned and possessed were surfacing, and the psychics under the Bureau's employ got all worked up when they did their preliminary scans and probing. He wrinkled his nose a bit. You could always count on a mixed bag when it came to psychics. Some of them were fine enough, but the agent couldn't even conjure a number for the psychics he'd met that were utter drama queens. Oh, my trauma! Oh, my tragic life! Oh, my simultaneous gift and curse!

Please.

Nothing wrong with them, he'd figured that a good, swift smack to the back of the head wouldn't cure.

But that was neither here nor there.

The fact of the matter was this could prove to be a very serious case. With the sightings, the burnings and all the static the brain voodoo practitioners were picking up, the Bureau found it only appropriate to send in their most seasoned field agent. As the van slowed to a stop he rose, coat rattling with the countless charms, trinkets and holy symbols that he'd collected over the years and had used to save his skin on more than a few occasions. Giving his driver a nod as the vehicle creaked in relief over the lifting of his four-hundred plus pound payload, the investigator considered his options.

The information on this case was frustratingly short on details, save the fact the tech heads had traced the support calls and various computer hoopajoo (he'd never really bothered to learn the various nuances of stupid boxes. Luddite sensibility rearing its head) to this address and the psychic feedback his co-workers had been getting was strongest here. But that was fine. He'd gone in on cases with less to work with before. It just made it a little difficult to think of how to approach the situation.

A demon working tech support - admittedly, he'd heard that one before. Not as often as one would think, but it did crop up occasionally.

Pausing a moment on the stoop of the house, he made a slight face.

Some people in the Bureau would argue against the direct approach. They preferred the whole clandestine deal - all black ops and men creeping in the night or arriving in black helicopters wearing alien-looking face-masks and wielding equipment better suited to a Ridley Scott film.

The agent was of the opinion that they'd watched a good deal too many of the aforementioned movies, and they needed to remove their heads from their firmly secured positions in their more delicate nether regions.

Oh well. No need to be a bear about all of this.

Clearing his throat and shifting his weight slightly to one hoof, Hellboy flexed a stony knuckle and tapped it politely against the door.

"In the gathering storm comes a tall, handsome man in a dusty black coat with a red right hand."
--Nick Cave

For Crystal, Saturday mornings were a time of ritual that bordered upon religious. You could set a watch by her routine, if you so felt the inclination, and Sam, who was usually the only one awake downstairs in the kitchen at the time and unoccupied with matters of half-melted bed sheets, had done just that on one occasion. Leaning back slightly in his chair and lifting coffee (black) to his lips, the rabbit witnessed Crystal begin her weekly breakfast preparation, descending upon the pantry like a pajama-clad ninja of early morning consumables.

The reigning Queen of Cute in the household, Crystal's nigh saccharine sense of style extended to her night wear. Today she was clad in her kitty pajamas and floppy mouse slippers - a staple in adorable sleep wear, to be sure. One thing, Sam reflected as the young woman moved with the grace and precision of a martial arts practitioner in the making of her toast and pouring of her cereal, which was really peculiar, was the fact that Crystal seemed impervious to bed head. It was a subtle but strange phenomenon that had occurred to Sam through the haze of a tequila sunrise. The strangest things stuck out in the throes of a hangover, really.

The newest occupant of the house moved unseen but heard somewhere above Sam's head. Wally, they had found, on occasion still liked to wear his wolf form. It was a part of him, he'd explained, that while he was not particularly proud of, he could not ignore completely. Something deep within him still stirred in feral ways and could be satiated, at least partially, by assuming his physical wolven aspect. This mildly unnerved the resident rabbit, but he was willing to let it slide for the time being. Besides, it delighted Crystal to no end to have a giant, living stuffed animal to cuddle with at night.

The young woman was now whisking out of the kitchen, carrying a tray laden with juice, milk, tea, cereal and toast. Sam casually checked his watch - a truly impressive three minutes, and just in time for her cartoons. Old Faithful, eat your heart out. As the television flipped on, Sam felt a tug of some unidentifiable emotion at his being. It was the same every week when he heard the theme song of his old television show cue up. A bittersweet sort of feeling welled up in him like a bubble - far from overwhelming, but still there and still aching. He wasn't one easily ruffled, and considering that the last years he spent on his world were under the oppressive rule of a despot, homesickness wasn't something that troubled him very often. But that didn't mean he didn't miss the people. Sometimes he wished there was a way that he could tell them...let them know that he was all right, just sort of out on a sabbatical of sorts. They probably thought he was dead or pulled into some awful other-dimension, and sometimes that bothered him. Just sometimes.

It was at this time that a bleary-eyed Wally trundled down the steps, clad in his furrier suit. The wolf was met by an enthusiastic greeting from his paramour which was returned with a low but pleasant rumbling from somewhere in the back of his throat before he collapsed into a warm pile of wolf-bulk at her side.

Wolves, especially great big ones like Wally, beat the heck out of bean bag chairs.

Jack wouldn't be joining the group until a good deal later into the morning. While it was true that he had cut back a lot on his slacker tendencies and wasn't getting out of bed as late as noon anymore, it was rare to see him up and about before ten o'clock. The clip-clopping of hooves against the stairs leading down to the basement, however, heralded the ascension of what could possibly be the domicile's most unique resident.

"There has got to be something to coat or wash these things with to protect against the acid," Sandra grumbled in a defeated tone as she emerged from the basement with an armful of ratty, holey bed sheets.

Sam raised one bushy eyebrow and a half-smirk cocked upon his lips.

Sandra. Now there was an interesting little package. Changed into a demon by the mishap of an absent-minded magician, the girl was now clawed, horned, and covered head to hoof in stripes. This was to say nothing of her additional eye, sharp teeth, tail and outrageous hair. She was at once terrifying and beautiful, at least in Sam's eyes. Granted, she wasn't beautiful in the way a human woman would be - rather, hers was the sort of beauty one might find in a force of nature. And, oh boy, Sam had seen her in "force of nature mode" before, too. In fact, it hadn't been too long ago that she'd become upset enough to go berserk. Then she was like a forest fire - something to be admired at a distance, but never approached.

"Coffee in the pot," Sam said, taking another drink of his own.

Dropping the pile of sheets onto the floor, the girl gave Sam a nod of appreciation and went to pour herself a mug. It was the only thing she could really consume these days, so it was a small wonder that the house was always stocked with the best sort that could be purchased currently. Sandra had actually become something of a connoisseur of coffee, and Crystal enthusiastically bought to please her growing palette.

"I'm just glad summer's over," Sandra commented as she filled her mug. "I think I might able to cut the sheet buying down to just once...maybe twice a week." This was a lie, of course, and Sandra knew it. She didn't sweat because of the heat - at least not anymore. She sweated because of the nightmares. They assailed her at night, now, unrelenting. On a good night, her dreams would just be bizarre, but on a night like last night...well...

"You expecting someone?"

"Hm?" Sandra blinked up at Sam through her reverie. The rabbit gestured to the front door and the polite tap-tap-tapping that was coming from it. Frowning, the girl in demon's clothing got to her hooves. Her breath shortened a bit as she recalled times when an unexpected visitor had paid the group a call. He'd often haunted her dreams, Broadshoulders, and she was not in the mood to deal with him today. Did he know that she and Crystal had managed to escape the alternate dimension they were hurled into the last time he paid them a visit? Did he have another plan to get rid of the "demonic menace" that haunted the town of Miscellaneous? Did he...

Whoa, whoa, slow down girl. No use jumping to the land of worst possible scenarios. Allowing her hackles to settle a bit, Sandra nodded wordlessly to Crystal, who got up from her pillow/boyfriend and padded quietly to the front door, peering through the peep hole.

There was a pregnant moment of silence in which Crystal was utterly motionless. Only after another knock rattled the silence did the girl make a noise.

"Sandra?" she said in a bleat of a voice as she turned her ashen, wide-eyed face to her roommate. "Do you know if Jack forgot to pay any outstanding bills this month?"

* * *

There is nothing quite like being pushed out of bed to be woken in the morning. There is no time when a person is more vulnerable than when they are snug beneath their sheets, wandering the planes of some sleepy dreamscape, completely oblivious to the reality of what is going on in their room. That is why it is so disconcerting when this state of bliss is torn from one's mind as they are made aware of their body and surroundings again in a most rude way - warm blankets and bed ripped out from under them, a split second hanging in the air warped by confusion before crashing unceremoniously onto the hard floor below.

And then there's waking by burning, which is, oh, roughly ten times worse than that.

"YEEEEEEEEEEEEARGH!"

The air tore with the roar of flames, pierced sharply by Jack's screams of agony. His vision seemed to boil over and his body was in a state of excruciating pain before it seemed to divorce his mind from itself entirely. Ah, that singular moment in which no pain was felt. It would fade soon, but for now he savored it in the way one might savor a fine chardonnay.

"WHAT. DID. YOU. DO!?"

As Jack's senses began to re-gather themselves and his tongue re-formed in his mouth, the wizard let out a few dry hacks before replying to the incensed shape of Sandra. "What?" he choked.

"There's a big red guy out on the front porch, Jack," Sandra hissed, the air practically sizzling at the edges of her words. "Sam, Wally and Crystal don't know anything about him, and I know I didn't invite him over for coffee and doughnuts, so that kinda leaves you as the one with the explanation. So, who is he, Jack? You summon any big, red guys out of big, red guy dimensions lately?"

The resident pervert scuttled backwards towards his door stammering out apologies and I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about's even as Sandra advanced on him, crouched low as if to pounce at any moment. He couldn't really blame her for being particularly high strung lately, to be honest. I mean, the whole becoming human for a single night only to have it be ripped away thing, the crisis with Crystal's abduction, fighting were-wolves, having her wing bitten off, to say nothing of the newest household resident (however temporary.) Sandra had a right to be a little short-tempered. But apparently, and most unfortunately for Jack, this newest development appeared to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, and the magician could already feel the hairs on the backs of his arms beginning to singe again. So, he did the only sensible thing he could think of at the moment.

He ran screaming into the hallway.

Sam sighed as he heard the chaos ensue in another part of the house, the screams of Jack and war cries of Sandra being protested against by a frantic Crystal. Wally, unsure of what to do about the situation, lost his senses entirely for a moment and began to howl in the way your dog might if you are squawking out a particularly dissonant tune on a harmonica. He came to an instant later but found himself unable to do much besides chime in with Crystal's protests in a stammering manner from time to time before breaking down into whimpers.

Some people's children.

Setting down his coffee, the inter-dimensional rabbit refugee got to his feet and walked, massaging his fuzzy temples, through the din raging through the living room and various other parts of the house. He came to the door, cleared his throat, and opened it.

The entire house froze.

"Hi. Anything I can do for you?"

There is a point in one's job where one does something so often it simply becomes subconscious - occurring without even thinking about it. For an agent of the BPRD, this is generally flashing your badge and stating your name and affiliation. What Hellboy had meant to say was, "'Morning. Agent Hellboy, Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense." What came out, however, upon being answered by an anthropomorphic rabbit and peering inside to find a distressed-looking young blonde woman, a gigantic and equally distressed looking wolf with mismatched eyes, and a smoldering young man who looked like he was about to be on the receiving end of a very nasty handshake from a creature that defied description, sounded much more like the following.

"The Bureau is going to have a field day with this one."

"What is this? The Real World - White-Wolf?"
-The Author

"So, are you going to just stand there staring, or are you going to come in and let us know what this is all about? 'cause we're letting the heat out, buddy."

This seemed to snap Hellboy back to the current decade and he blinked the shock from his eyes, straightening and clearing his throat. "Ah, yeah. Agent Hellboy, Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense." The paranormal investigator stepped inside, pocketing his badge as he did so. "I'm here about the reports of demonic residence in the town of Miscellaneous and other supernatural activity our agents have been picking up from this locale." Taking a look around the room again, he allowed a very slight grin to prick at the edge of his mouth through his fading shock. "Guess the ruckus has been coming from you guys."

Hellboy was by nature a stubborn individual. He had faced down a giant homunculus with delusions of god-hood. He had spent a Christmas underground in England to help save the soul of a young woman, fighting a huge rat monster in the process. He had been eaten by a perfectly enormous iron maiden/Hecate snake beast, defied ancient gods to prevent himself from falling to a fate he would rather not even think about and lived to tell about it.

Pausing a moment, Hellboy reflected on the fact that there were a lot of giant monsters to fight in his line of work. Couldn't the buggers be of a reasonable size now and then? I mean, honestly, coming across a swamp monster of, say, a humble three and a half feet would be a really refreshing change of pace!

But even he had to admit that with a giant wolf...most likely a werewolf...an anthropomorphic rabbit, what was clearly a man under supernatural influence judging by the rapid healing of his burn wounds, and what would appear to be the Miscellaneous demon, if things started to get hairy, he might be in over his head. And that was to say nothing of the young blonde woman. In his experience, it was always the most unassuming, gentle-looking ones that ended up being the most trouble. Any of these things individually or even paired together he could probably handle, but all of them at once? He had a lot of anti-supernatural knick knacks on his person at the moment, but those only went so far. This was a situation that had to be handled with finesse and eloquence.

Two things Hellboy was regretfully short on. This was going to be tough.

"Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense?" Jack coughed out once his various vocalizing organs had regenerated themselves. The little lizard part of his brain that had begun to calm once Sandra had halted in her attacks began to perk up again. He'd already messed up badly when he'd allowed the werewolves to slip into Miscellaneous because of his negligence to erect the proper wards. Had he already dropped the ball again?

"Basically, we go to places where there's paranormal activity, especially the sort that can be a threat to people's health and well being, and do what we can to resolve any problems that might be roosting there. Ghosts, monsters, vampires, possession, faeries - you name it, the BPRD has probably dealt with it at some point."

He could feel the room tensing up.

"Look, I don't mean you guys any harm as long as you're not hurting anyone," Hellboy added quickly. "I know that reports can be exaggerated. The Bureau knows, too. So, I'm here to get to the bottom of things in the quickest, most painless way possible. I think the best way we can do that is to talk. I need to get a little information from everyone here."

The tension began to dispel, but an air of unease still rippled through the group. "What do you want to know?" Crystal ventured softly.

Hellboy shrugged and nodded to the group. "Just tell me about yourselves. Who you are, where you're from and...how you ended up in such an interesting living situation."

Sam frowned and eyed the paranormal investigator. "And if we don't feel like divulging this?"

"Well, that's your choice," Hellboy said with a nod. "But it would be a lot easier for everyone involved if you cooperate. We may even be able to help you. Trust me, when you get television shows airing about how there's a demon in town, it's going to attract people trying to make a name for themselves or curiosity seekers. While it's true that most of these people are harmless enough, occasionally you get the genuine article or some jerk whose playing with toys they have no right to have their hands on. The BPRD could help you with that - do what it can to keep you safe. I get the feeling from looking around at the current residents that you all have seen a bit of action already."

What Hellboy knew but didn't vocalize was the fact that, if they chose, the BPRD could monitor the motley crew without their permission or notice. In a case like this, the Bureau really wouldn't have much of a choice but to keep tabs on the situation. There were countless files and monitors on psychics, monsters and various other people and beings whose supernatural inclinations were simply too powerful to ignore for their own health as well as the health of those in their living vicinity.

"Point," Jack mumbled.

The paranormal investigator did his best not to let his eyes stray to Sandra too often. Encountering demons was a very rare occurrence for the BPRD. Angry ghosts and monsters, certainly, but genuine demons - they generally presented very big problems. He recalled a time not too long ago when a BPRD agent had had to deal with a demonic possession mistaken for the activity of a poltergeist.

Hellboy could still hear the words of the agent's eulogy rattling around his skull sometimes.

Fortunately, another team had managed to nullify the problem before the demon managed to use the body of the little girl it had possessed to fully manifest into this world. Thank God for pyrokinetics, he thought with a fond, inward grin.

"Like I said, our main concern is for the safety of everyone involved. All I need to know from you folks is what, exactly, has gone on here to bring things to their current situation. We can decide what we're going to do about it from there; if anything."

"Can we have time to consider?" Wally inquired.

"Of course," Hellboy said with a nod. "But I need to leave here with a definitive answer and, if you feel like talking, the information that the Bureau wants."

While Hellboy seemed to content himself with the occasional furtive glance in Sandra's direction, he seemed oblivious to the fact three vivid violet eyes seemed unable to tear themselves from his hulking shape. Sandra's breath was shallow in her lungs and she could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Emotions fought with themselves for her attention to the point where she found herself unable to straighten out her very thoughts. She had seen demons before. At least what she thought were demons - creatures that clung to her and called her sister when she was nearly sent to what might be Hell or some horrible, infernal dimension very much like it. While the creatures she glimpsed while there were much more like herself than the fellow before her, Sandra could still feel exuding from him the same kind of "vibe." It was, admittedly, much more subdued and nuanced in ways that the creatures she encountered previously were not, but what was really throwing her for a loop was the presence of a particular scent - that of his soul.

What was the most staggering aspect of this smell was really its variety. Here the sharp-sweet fragrance of cherry blossoms, and there a salty spike of ocean spray accentuated with dark, dank and piney secrets granted from black forests whose wisdom has long since been sawn away -- and yet under all of this smoldered something sulfurous and better forgotten, begging questions too-eager tongues always ask.

A soul's scent is often a combination of the owner's personality, traits and habits as well as where they have been and what they have done. Their deeds blended with their persona to express...to those possessing the proper olfactory functions...who they really are.

And, focusing a bit, she noted the hint of maple syrup.

Huh.

He was going on about something or other to the rest of her roommates, but Sandra's head was so abuzz with half-felt emotion and quarter-formed thought that it faded off like the droning of insects. Only when she felt all eyes suddenly turn to her and the sound of her name came clear to pierce the static did she snap out of her funk.

"Well, Sandra?"

The girl shook her head a bit and she turned to Jack, who was looking at her expectantly.

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Sandra didn't even bother to look up at the gazes she could already feel upon her. This was really starting to get on her nerves. It was like every decision on the house depended on her approval. Like when it was being decided whether or not Wally would be staying in the house. It was almost as if they were...afraid of her disapproval or something. Frightened they might incur her wrath or some such nonsense. Never happened before the whole transformation occurred. It struck something of a bitter chord with the girl and she couldn't help but feel an ounce more alienated, an inch more secluded because of it. Maybe it just stung more because it was from her friends. Whatever.

Pushing it aside, though, she found her own gaze meeting that of their visitor's and inside she felt a kind of comfort that she hadn't in a long time. It was slight, sure, but there was a sensation of kinship - of knowing that she might not be as alone as she previously believed. Hope had dimmed so much as of late, even this faint glimmering brought considerable warmth to Sandra.

The thought that it might be false, though, left a sour tang in the back of her throat.

"All right," Sandra murmured softly, lacing her lithe fingers together and lowering her eyelids. "We'll talk. But there's something I need to know about."

"Yeah?"

Sandra's voice lowered a bit. "You."

Hellboy raised one prominent brow. "Is that all?"

Sandra nodded, her distance being replaced slowly by focus.

"Well, okay."

Letting out a soft exhale, Sandra gave a sidelong glance to Crystal. "Get some coffee ready."

"I like my coffee like I like my women - in a plastic cup!"
- Eddie Izzard

"Cream and sugar, Mr. Hellboy?" Crystal asked in a chipper tone.

It was pretty amusing, really, how quickly Hellboy changed from an operative sent from a government agency to investigate them to just someone dropping by for a bit of morning coffee for Crystal. He assumed it was just her nature - she seemed like a very sweet young lady.

He was really glad that she didn't rip her skin off and turn out to be some beastly, slimy creature composed primarily of tentacles and mouths. Things tended to get complicated when that happened.

"I'm fine with black, thanks."

The girl nodded with a smile, filling the hefty mug she had selected for their guest. The tension had, for the most part, dissolved in the room, which Hellboy was thankful for. As the group settled in on various chairs, sofas and werewolves, the claret-skinned paranormal investigator cleared his throat lightly, leaning back and flexing his fingers a bit around the coffee mug's handle. Glancing about the little congregation, he was met with eyes polished in curiosity, anxiety, eagerness and, in the case of the rabbit, wariness veiled thinly with feigned disinterest. "So," Hellboy said, casually cracking the ice, "what do you want to know? Where do you want me to start?"

The Bureau generally disliked Hellboy getting too chatty about the goings on in his job. Not that they could really do much about it aside from giving him a slap on the wrist. He knew there were things that he really ought to keep his mouth shut about, and he did - he wasn't stupid. But when it came to his life? That was his own business, work place be damned. His life didn't belong to them to be locked away in some file under high security, visited only by officials in sharp, black suits and ties who made official sounding noises and managed lives and bank accounts. It was his. And he could share it a he saw fit.

Besides, it was a killer conversation starter at parties to toss out an anecdote about fighting cannibalistic, flying, Japanese head monsters.

"The beginning," Sandra said softly. Her heart hammered and it was all she could do to keep the eagerness from creeping into her voice. A hundred questions fought for her tongue, but she kept them still, maintaining the calmest, most unruffled facade she could muster. It was no easy task, but she managed. Anything unanswered she could always probe for later.

Hellboy took a long sip off of his coffee, being sure not to sear his tongue. "Well," he began, "my first memories are of a New Mexico Air Force base, but things start off a bit earlier than that. It was December 23, 1944 in East Bromwich, England. A medium by the name of Cynthia Eden Jones and some other members of the British Paranormal Society had picked up some feedback from a ruined church and the US government had reason to believe it had to do with Nazi activity."

"Nazis?" Jack echoed, raising his eyebrows.

Nodding, the paranormal investigator continued, "The Nazis were getting desperate in the last few days of the war. They started turning the paranormal means of strengthening their cause, but they weren't too successful. Not a lot of people know about it - kind of a novel footnote in history at the very most for the majority." An impish grin crossed his features briefly, "Wasn't a dark and stormy night or anything, but I heard I made a pretty interesting entrance. The government was certain my appearance was due to Nazi activity, but Lady Cynthia was convinced it had more to do with some ghosts and weird vibes that haunted the ruins of the church. Whatever the case was, little baby me appeared in a ball of fire that night. You can still see the scorch marks on the floor if you go there, actually.

"Anyway, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm adopted me and took me to an Air Force base in New Mexico where I grew up really fast. In '52, I joined the BPRD and-"

"In 1952?" Jack interjected, somewhat skeptically. Sandra shot him a glare of irritation, but he didn't seem to notice. "I thought you said you'd showed up as a baby in 1944."

Hellboy shrugged. "I also said I grew up really fast."

There was a long moment of silence as this settled in, blunt answer as it was, before their visitor cleared his throat and continued.

"Since then I've had a pretty interesting time on the job. Being a paranormal investigator tends to be, though. I've been around the world taking care of everything from giant vampire cats to haunted scarecrows. Things were more or less wine and roses until a few years ago when things started to get weird." Only someone in his line of work, Hellboy reflected with an inward smirk, could consider the things that occurred up until that point less than weird. "Trevor Bruttenholm came back from a ten month expedition to the Arctic a little less than..." Hellboy paused a moment, feeling a phantom stab of pain to his heart before shaking his head. "He was killed in his home by a frog monster." This got slightly less astonished looks than the fellow expected which mildly amused him. "A team headed by myself went out to investigate the house and remaining family of the Cavendish men who went with Professor Bruttenholm on his expedition. Well, long story short, we ran into Rasputin...y'know, the Russian mad monk who just had a big problem with kicking the bucket. And, as we saw that night, his dip in the Neva River didn't faze him as much as the reports would have you believe. So, he starts going off on this tangent about destiny and destruction and how he summoned me to this world to bring about its end. Yadda, yadda, yadda."

Hellboy stopped a moment and glanced about at the small cluster of faces, some a bit ashen, and coughed a little with a sheepish smile. "Sorry. You run into this sort of thing and, well...kinda starts to be old hat, y'know? Anyway, we have problems seeing eye-to-eye, me and this guy, so we have a few words and it gets nasty. Right before I finish up, he gives me the whole, 'Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can imagine' bit - essentially tells me if I do away with him, I'll never know where I came from or who I am. I didn't really care. I mean, I already knew who I was, and didn't give a damn about where I came from."

"Then," Sandra said slowly, "you weren't summoned from Hell?"

"I don't know," Hellboy admitted with a shrug of his massive shoulders. "If I was, I can't remember it."

"And," Sandra continued, a touch of what was almost disappointment in her voice, "you weren't human before, then."

An observant pair of eyes would notice the very slight change in posture, the subtlest of glints in Hellboy's amber orbs at the comment. Sam took it in with a measure of calculating curiosity. It was something to dissemble.

"No," Hellboy said rather flatly. "I don't honestly know where I was summoned from. After the incident at Cavendish Hall, though, I did take a trip back to the church where I appeared in '44. I slept there and dreamed of an old witch on her deathbed trying to repent her life of sin. In the end, though, she was taken away by a demon. My guess is that that is what Lady Cynthia was initially drawn to - that awful event." Hellboy's lips drew into a hard line as he remembered that night. It hadn't been easy for him, and even if his life was to share as he saw fit, there were also pieces of it that he'd rather keep to himself. Catching himself and giving the group a smart aleck smirk, the investigator leaned back to sip at his coffee and said, "Other than that, I like long walks on the beach, moonlit picnics and my turn ons include-"

"Okay, we get the picture," Sam said with a wave of his hand. "So, let's get this straight - you were possibly summoned by Nazis and Rasputin from Hell or another dimension or some such crap to help them take over the world, instead fell into the hands of a paranormal investigator who was later killed by frog monsters and now work for the spook squad of your government to route out paranormal threats to civilians, bringing you to us."

"In a nutshell," their visitor said, finishing off his coffee.

"Anyone else feel like they need a cigarette?" Sam muttered under his breath.

"Is there anything else you want to know about me?"

"Not right now," Sandra said with a shake of her head. Her coffee remained untouched and cold before her. She couldn't help but feel some disappointment she couldn't quite place. What was it that she was hoping for, anyway? That another poor sap had been on the business end of a transformation spell? C'mon, Sandra, there's not exactly a help group for stuff like that. "I...are there other people like you?"

"At the bureau? Well..." Hellboy mulled over it a moment. "No one that's red with a big stone arm, no. We've got...some interesting characters there, though."

"All right," Sandra sighed gently, doing her best not to look too crestfallen. Still, she thought, even if he wasn't suffering from the exact same circumstances she was, he was still like her. She hunkered into her seat a little and fixed her gaze with Hellboy's. "Guess it's our turn."

They crowd and shove, they rush and clatter,
They hiss and whirl, they pull and chatter,
They sputter, stink and burn and flare!
A real witch-element, I swear!

- Mephistopheles, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust

The nighttime air was chill teased with the promise of coming warmth - April's flirtatious mingling with the coming May. She felt the heat of the bonfire against her naked flesh its subtle searing an intoxicating counterpoint to the earthy, green aromas thickened the air and gave her undulating body sweet, spring caresses. The others around her were also in the throes of celebration. Some danced, as she did, others sang, drank and made love to anyone who ventured into their great circle of festivities, their celebration hall a canopy of trees crowned with the tenderest of new foliage

And she danced about the bonfire like a leaf in the wind.

The fire fascinated her. Perhaps more than any of the others with her that night, flame held an almost hypnotic power over the girl. Hot and wild it was the element of passion and feeling, encompassing both destruction and cleansing, death and resurrection. The sensual flicker of light and heat playing across the entourage could keep them warm or just as easily swallow them whole, if it chose. Things seemed to take on a life of their own at times like these. Even the trees and the air felt vibrant with waking dreams, fluttering foliage given tongues by late April zephyrs. Stars burned freezing above them, chill, pallid light mingling with the more chaotic illumination of the flames.

A sound like chains seemed to break above the revelry, and for a moment gave the girl pause. Spinning a bit more slowly on one foot, she tossed her head back in a glorious riot of her russet hair and watched, stunned, as the stars seemed to wink out, one after another. The moon dimmed, sickly yellow above them, the fire seeming to roar with a greater ferocity as it did. The merriment in the air died with the starlight, and the collective seemed to hold their breath as the flames grew fiercer, tongues of blue and white mingling with the flickering orange, the cold, metallic clatter of shifting links punctuating the roaring fire.

And looking up, she saw it.

The creature was very like a horse, but the girl had never seen a horse so huge. Its eyes blazed like a pair of smoldering embers, its hide glistened with oils, its nostrils flared, red-rimmed and trailing sulfurous smoke, and where its hooves rested, the earth spoiled beneath them. But what truly caught her attention were its adornments. Neither reins nor bit nor saddle did it wear. Instead, it was draped with a great many chains, rough forged links trailing off of its back, down its sides and all tangled throughout its main and tail. Each chain ended in a wickedly barbed hook, and when it moved the whole of its iron burden rasped and clinked together in an awful din that made the festivities of the witches seem melodious as a choir.

So entranced with this sudden apparition was she that the young woman did not even see the creature's master emerge.

His doorway was made of flames, his features looking as though they were crafted of heat haze and smoke at first but gradually solidifying as the bonfire thundered towards an inferno. As the heat began to grow uncomfortable against her bare flesh, the girl turned and her eyes widened at the figure just stepping out of the waning fire; and yet seeming no less like the inferno in a way. He towered over her, broad shoulders still licked with flame, skin colored like the pulsing heat of a bed of coals and etched with spirals as though from a marquist's tool, a great pair of sweeping horns rising from his knotted brow, resting above two blood-red eyes that were fixed upon her as surely as a hawk's upon a field mouse.

After a long moment, he took her hand, dainty and white against his massive fingers and said, "My lady, please. Do not stop for my sake; indeed, please continue."

And she smiled.


Sandra drew in a long breath and hesitated, eyes downcast and thoughtful as she traced the odd black and white thread that ran now through the tapestry of their lives. It was strange looking back on it now. So much had happened since they'd moved in. Looking at it relatively, only a rather small amount of time had passed, but Sandra felt it as a lead weight upon her shoulders; upon all of them, really. Miscellaneous had changed them in such ways, and as she began to speak, these changes were only brought out in sharper relief against the soft and comparably shadowless background of their former selves.

"It started with the book." The lips of the demonic girl seemed to move on their own as her mind lingered upon the emotional age she had gained since her change.

"Tomie," Jack put in.

"Right," Sandra huffed, casting a violet gaze half exasperated, half amused in the wizard's direction. "We'd all just moved into the house. I don't know if you know how it is, really, but for us it was exciting, you know? Living together on our own in a house - not a cramped little apartment that most people are age are crammed into. It was a real big step. So, I come home from work one day and I find out that Jack and Crystal had found this boo-Tomie," Sandra caught herself before Jack could correct her. "Well, Jack being Jack, he decided to play around with it."

"Him."

The girl cast her roommate the "hairy eyeball" and set her teeth. "Look, do you wanna tell this?" she growled.

Jack shrank back into his seat a little and Crystal cleared her throat. "We were just curious," the blonde said in an almost apologetic voice. "I mean, it's not every day you run across a tome of ancient magic."

Hellboy refrained from saying something along the lines of 'speak for yourself' and simply nodded. To be honest, their story didn't sound too unlike others he had heard before. Somebody gets a hold of an ancient relic and decides to play with it for a while to see what'll happen. And no good ever came from it.

"And, well, we had an incident with a...er...summoning," Crystal murmured, casting her eyes down. She still felt guilty and rather stupid for giving the tiny demon lord that Jack had inadvertently summoned her blood, empowering him. "Anyway, we summoned a little demon and we didn't mean to, but he was little at the time and we didn't think he'd be much trouble, really, so anyway, he said he wanted blood and I thought it'd be really cruel not to give it to him because I didn't know what demons ate and I thought that even though he's a demon, starving wouldn't be good and I only gave him a little bit but then things went all flame-y and smoky and chaotic and then -"

Crystal's words ran together like wax sliding down a candle into a lump of alphabetic nonsense gathering over Hellboy's brain. He held up one stony hand with a sheepish smile when he chipped a bit of it away. "Okay, so, you accidentally summoned a demon into the world and things got a little out of hand. Right."

"We managed to get rid of it," Jack added. "It's just that when we were done, I sort of...slammed the book shut."

"There was a whole chapter on do's and don'ts, but Jack didn't look at it too thoroughly," Crystal added helpfully.

"Anyway," Jack continued, "it let out a random burst of magical energy, and...well...when the light faded and the smoke cleared..."

"I was like this," Sandra murmured.

The room quieted uncomfortably, guilt seeming to still the tongues of brother and sister. "We tried to find someone to help me," Sandra sighed, "but we had some problems on that front. We got in contact with a demon hunter, essentially, and that bastard almost killed me."

Hellboy drew in a deep breath and gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry to hear it." The investigator held the distinction of being regarded as human, and as such any demonic hunters who might have had their eye on him were usually deterred by that fact.

"Not as sorry as I was," Sandra said with a humorless laugh. "For a while there, I thought that maybe I'd found someone who could cure me."

"There's no cure in that book?"

Guilt bit into Jack for a moment and he clutched Tomie a little tighter. "No. I've looked through Tomie more times than I can conjure a number for and I still can't find any clues."

"All right," Hellboy said, seeming to consider something before nodding to Sam and Wally. "That explains Sandra's current state. How about you two?"

"Rabbit refugee from a planet enslaved by a psychotic, cybernetic despot only recently removed," Sam said casually, folding his white-gloved fingers over one knee.

That earned him a very blank look from the group's guest before he finally nodded his horn-stumped head and turned his attention to Wally.

"Werewolf," Wally said with a little shrug of his massive, furry shoulders. "A little while ago, I was approached by a woman named Doyenne who told me...interesting things. I wanted to live a life free of care and worry, and she said she could give it to me. It turned out she was a werewolf and she wanted me to be a part of her pack. I accepted, and, well...we eventually came to Miscellaneous, where I met everyone after Doyenne tried to recruit Crystal into the pack."

"You wanted to live a life free of care and worry," Hellboy said slowly, "so you decided to become a werewolf?" In his experience, none of the were-creatures Hellboy had ever run across seemed particularly carefree.

Wally bobbed his shaggy head. "I guess...well, I'm not sure how to put this." A few thoughts flashed behind Wally's mismatched eyes before he met Hellboy's amber gaze again. "Wolves don't have a past or a future. We just are. It's like living your whole life 'in the moment' - a whole life that doesn't have yesterday or tomorrow to worry about, just the glory of the 'now.' And you're with family the whole time. Really close family that'd do anything for you, even die for you. I guess it was that appeal of never having to worry about the future or let the past weigh you down along with having a family that'd care for you like that that really cinched it for me. Things didn't really turn out the way I thought they would, though. I guess I was just too human for it." He then broke out into an expression that Hellboy thought was probably a smile. It made him shudder a little on the inside. "But then I met Crystal and everybody and things have been great!"

Considering this, Hellboy nodded and looked deep in thought. A pregnant moment of silence swelled in the space between them before he finally raised a brow and said, "Are you folks able to leave town for any amount of time in the near future?"

"Maybe," Sandra said cautiously. "Why do you ask?"

"Because, if it's all right with you," Hellboy said, "I'd like to invite you all to come down to the bureau."

"What happens to a dream deferred?"
- Langston Hughes, A Dream Deferred

Sandra lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling. He'd left some hours earlier, giving them a calling card and a kind, lopsided smile. It seemed he had decided that, for the time being at least, the group was harmless enough. Which left Sandra where she was, studying the ceiling again. It was a habit she found herself practicing with less frequency than before - when she had first become a demon, between fits of acidic tears, she had spent her time locked in her room, becoming familiar with the walls. She absorbed details about her dwelling that had escaped her previously - the nooks and crannies that the dust preferred to settle in, patterns on the borders of her posters that she had not examined closely before, birds that visited the tree outside of her window very, very early in the morning, the intricate filigree that her isolation wove about the cage she -

Oh, now she was sounding like an angst-ridden high-schooler. Let's nip that right in the bud.

Still, it was something she couldn't ignore. Sandra was an exile in her own world, a refugee from a spoiled life whose future didn't seem to hold a road that led home. She wanted to believe that Jack would find a cure for her in Tomie, but that fact alone broke her heart to pieces. She wanted to believe. There was no longer any true faith behind his efforts; no unshakable belief that Jack would indeed find a cure. Not terribly long ago by chronological reckoning, not a day went by that Sandra didn't wake up with a hope in her heart that there was some page that Jack had overlooked and her dearly missed human shape would be restored to her. The whole thing would be something to laugh about later or, if the notion struck her and fate permitted, perhaps a fairy tale she'd weave for her children to send them to sleep.

She'd actually toyed with the idea of writing a children's book based on everything that had gone on in the household. It would make, she fancied in a mirth layered with dark irony, an interesting tale to tell and under the right hands it might be properly outfitted to find a home snug between the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Hunter S. Thompson. Sandra actually had a fat little book of fairy tales that she'd kept since before she knew how to read. When she'd gotten it, the girl wasn't sure - but it was a worn memento of her childhood, it's once bright red cover now a rich, rusty color, gold stamped lettering making it seem more of an antique volume than it probably was. But it was a treasure house of stories, and what made it special to her was that it contained stories in it whose endings weren't yet sweetened by the age of political correctness and coddling parents. Somewhere along the line, people seemed to forget that one of the purposes of fairy tales was to tell children to behave - usually through putting the fear of God into them by having naughty children and people meet their ends in truly gruesome fashions. They were written in the days when fairies weren't happy little butterfly-winged young girls and mermaids who cut their tongues out didn't always live happily ever after with their princes. Some place in the smear of time, the people in charge of such things decided that happy endings were guaranteed - that the bittersweet and certainly not the tragic were no longer acceptable. Maybe that was even a bigger departure, Sandra reflected, from reality than the original tales themselves were.

She thought of the Beast.

Sighing and shaking her head, the girl sat up and got to her hooves, and decided that the angst in the room was getting a bit thick for her. Maybe the air was a little clearer downstairs.

* * *

"I find your lack of pants disturbing."

"Hey, that was pretty good! I'm Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Pants."

"I am altering the pants. Pray that I don't alter them any further."

"No, I don't think he likes pants at all. No, I don't like pants, either."

Nothing, Crystal had found, quite took the edge off of any given stressful situation like a good game of Pants Wars. The rules were simple, something that she and her brother had been doing since they were young. Pop in your copy of any of the original Star Wars trilogy and simply replace random words with the word 'pants'. Somehow, Yoda saying "Always in pants is future" lent itself to hilarity. And hilarity, Crystal felt, was something sorely missing as of late. The past few months had been nothing but stress for the group; but especially for Sandra. Halloween in particular had affected the girl, although it had only been showing recently. Truth be told, she'd only had until now to show it. There'd been so much crammed into such a small space of time that it seemed there wasn't room enough for the girl trapped in a demon's body to feel much of anything - she was always caught up in what was occurring. There had been a brief time for reflection, and in it Crystal saw what had happened on Halloween taking its toll on Sandra. Something in her was broken, or at the very least fractured and the cheerful young woman wasn't sure what could be done to repair it. She saw it in the way Sandra had held, shoulders and head marginally slumped; something gone out of her eyes. While the time she spent talking about what would happen when she became human again had been growing smaller over the course of her transformative state, it had now ceased altogether. The hope she had held onto had waned.

It wasn't for a lack of effort on Jack's part, though. Crystal caught sight of him sometimes, when she was at least partly certain he did not notice her. He sang with spirits and listened to groups of gauzy nymphs who lived, unknowingly to the more solid residents, in the lampshades and shadowy corners of the house. She'd seen him sitting perfectly still in the center of complicated diagrams with blank, black eyes and knew he was parting dimensional veils to peer into places she was certain she might only glimpse in some of her wilder dreams. While some of these things were done for the sake of doing them or for furthering his knowledge, the girl knew that the majority of Jack's work was done for Sandra's benefit. Guilt drove him - it was making him a scholar, though he probably didn't notice or else didn't like to admit it. She remembered, with a smile, the promise his first grade teacher had made that he wasn't likely to finish grammar school without extensive time in summer school and remedial classes. No one really had very high expectations for Jack, and all the potential he had had gone completely unnoticed. Now, unwittingly, the boy who was thought to be held back in remedial classes from his youth into the early years of eternity had opened his mind to the miracles of magic like a flower to the sun. It made Crystal wonder, sometimes, if Jack was exceptionally exceptional or if everyone had the same potential inside of them and lacked only inspiration and drive to realize it.

She also wondered why it was that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream made with vanilla and a tube of Tollhouse always tasted nicer than the stuff that you got pre-made - and whether or not the better taste was worth the added effort.

"You okay?"

Crystal blinked away her reverie and looked at Jack, for a moment without comprehension before digging her toe into the carpet. "Jack," she said softly, "what do you think about the offer?"

The magician paused, taken a little off guard by the question. It was one he had been trying to forget about, if only for a little while. Sobering considerably, he chewed his lower lip and observed his feet for a moment, seeming to hope some answer could be found in his Converse. After a long pause he finally shook his head slightly and said, "I can't say it doesn't tempt me. I mean, if they're an organization that deals in paranormal activity it would stand to reason they'd have more books for me to look at. Something might even have a spell to undo what was done to Sandra. Hell, even a hint would be helpful at this point." The young man sighed, leaning back in his seat and resting his hands, open palms facing upward in an almost pleading manner, upon his knees. "Everything I've done...all the things and un-things I've seen...and I'm not any closer to finding anything to cure her or even lessen the effect."

He had also thought he had become much more of an authority on demonology. Jack had to admit, though, that this new fellow threw him for something of a loop. Every time it seemed like he'd gotten something under his thumb, it slipped out to spit in his face. Seemed no matter how much he thought he knew, how ready he thought he was for anything, the inevitable x-factor cropped up to cheerfully give him the finger.

Responsibility.

He'd already sacrificed much in its name. Didn't he used to have friends he hung out with or a life that indulged in the mundane? It was all distant and fuzzy in his memories. Sort of like a dust bunny, he mused. But all of that was in the past now. His life wasn't really his own anymore. Rather, it felt as though it was a thing strung out across many promises and obligations he held to both the living and the dead. As if his problem concerning Sandra wasn't enough, he had a world to change; had to live for the dead and their incomplete purpose. It was an immense weight to carry and while it didn't happen often, in some of Jack's quieter, private moments, he felt every ounce to an almost crushing point. All those names and friends and loves falling through the ether like the bounty of an insubstantial sterling storm. Sometimes they strayed so close to him in his dreams he could swear he could almost touch them.

There was a certain kind of morbid comfort in the whole affair, though. Now Jack didn't have to wonder what he'd do with is life. He already knew. He would never be one of those forty-year-olds who wake up in their retail-job lives and panic over what their indecision had wrought. He would never have to agonize over whether or not he was getting the most out of a degree that his parents paid for. There would always be a purpose for him - a reason to his existence.

So young, most of them had been, and such an ambitious journey on which to embark. Stemming the tide of banality in the world was an immense task, true, but it was a very worthy one and would do a great service to humanity. Dreams were dying. Jack had seen them.

Some time earlier...

The pathways that go between worlds and dimensions vary and differ. Some are broad and magnesium bright, traversed by a thousand thousand things. Most are not unlike regular roadways, and still others are dim and no thicker than thread. They come in a multitude of colors, some white veins piercing the blackness of a void, others bi-frost highways winding through ghostly surroundings, some are paved with gold or secrets that tickle the bottom of one's shoeless stride. They all lead some place, even if that place is nowhere - which is a rather large and sometimes dull area. Walking down a pathway might take one to a place where all lost things eventually go - erasers and jewelry, virginity and innocence and things you swore the space between your desk and the wall swallowed up. There are a great many left socks there as well. One might unwittingly stumble into a musical composition, jostled about momentarily by the vibrant energies ringing through the notes. The possibility is even there that one could step into a comic book world they'd only seen on pages and wonder if the ideas of the artist on their home planet had created the substance these places were made of and controlled the fates of their denizens, or if the artist was somehow able to subconsciously tap into the goings-on and translate them into issues released monthly.

Jack loved to explore these paths. The worlds he'd been to and the travelers traversing them were fascinating. While some pathways were stationary, it seemed to be the nature of many to change, shifting constantly into different shapes and sizes and sometimes disappearing altogether. There was little point in mapping them - such things' natures seem to rebel against that sort of ensnarement, so Jack didn't bother. He could feel his way through the highways and byways relying on his own senses. It was on a day where he'd found a road he had never traveled before, but one that looked well trodden, dull and gray and sullen. Upon it was waylaid a little group of travelers.

The young magician approached them, bits of his plaid cloak flickering like a living thing about him. Coming closer he saw it was a trio, the three of them seeming to be pausing for a break, sitting about what appeared to be an ornately carved wooden casket with brass handles. One was an enormous fellow, all bound in muscle and wearing a leopard-spotted singlet that reminded Jack of a strong man usually found in a carnival, another was a delicate young woman dressed in a ballerina's tutu and silk dance shoes who looked so fragile the sorcerer was almost afraid of thinking at her too hard for fear of fracturing the girl, and the last was a man wearing smart, expensive looking suit and a noble, commanding attitude that made one want to stand up a little straighter and filled them with a sense of pride - small stars sparked around him every now and then in red, white and blue. A melancholy pall hung over them, the gentleman in the suit nobly and solemnly expressing his sorrow in the subtle expressions he wore, the girl heartbreaking in her beauty even as tears lingered upon her lashes, and the strong man's simple face showing his sorrow in a frank, almost child-like way, the fellow sometimes rubbing his eyes with one massive hand.

"Hello," Jack ventured quietly as he stopped a few feet away from them. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting anything, but, would you three care for any help?"

The three looked upon the magician without any alarm, the girl rising with liquid grace and giving a fluid curtsey as the men both got to their feet. "Just carrying a friend to his final resting place, son, but if you could help us we would be most appreciative," said the suited man with a curt nod which Jack returned with a slight bow of his head. And with that, each took up a handle (the strong man had been carrying two before this) and resumed their journey down the path. Some might have been wary of this, but Jack had helped with other travelers along the path and sensed in the trio no malice. It made for a bit of an awkward burden - the strong man much taller than the others and the lady a good deal smaller (how she could carry her part and walk pointe Jack was unable to discern.) The quartet traveled in silence for some time, their newest companion unsure it was appropriate to speak up at such a time.

"How far have you been traveling?" the magician asked at length.

"We've been at it for a while now," the suited man said. "The more dearly beloved one is, the longer the path."

Jack nodded in grim understanding.

"It's been a long time coming," the ballet dancer said softly. "It happened little by little and we could all see it, but we tried to keep hope." The strong man let out a more pronounced sniffle and rubbed at his eyes, earning him a sympathetic look from the girl.

"It's more well trodden now than it used to be," the man in the suit commented. "Sign of the times."

"Where are you all from?" Jack inquired.

"Here and there," the ballerina replied. "We live all over the place, really. I'm from London."

"Baltimore, Maryland," the man said crisply.

"We aren't really certain where the strong man comes from," the young woman explained. "He doesn't say much."

Nothing else was exchanged between them as they continued, Jack feeling a certain air of solemnity needing to be maintained that his curiosity would easily break. The journey was somewhat longer than even the sorcerer was expecting, but they managed and soon a world began to fade in around them. It's different depending on what road you take how a world comes into place. Sometimes you walk down a staircase from the very top of the sky to the earth below sometimes you step through a door into a room, sometimes you climb up out of a hole in the earth. This world came to life around them like a drab painting - all the lines and borders appearing in a ghostly fashion followed by color, shadow and details, the smell and the sound coming in last of all. It was a lonely, open place under an overcast sky and all about them was the smell of tilled earth. But it was not the rich, inviting scent of freshly turned soil that one finds in a garden where little seeds are planted in regular rows. This garden's rows were, instead, decidedly less cheerful.

All around as far as they eye could see, there was wave after wave of headstones.

Jack the Plaid felt something turn in his gut and his heart gave a sudden, knife-like jerk within his chest. "What," he gasped, feeling the breath taken quite from him, "is this place?"

The ballerina turned to him with her sad, dark eyes. "This is the cemetery where dreams go when they die."

The human shook his head slowly, his grip nearly faltering as he continued. There was an awful, hollow sensation that welled up inside of him. "No..." He looked about at the uncountable graves, crosses, markers, mausoleums, plaques and statues. "Not this many," the young man whispered.

"Where did you think we went when we become broken and shuffled off?" the suited man said. "We're just as alive as the people that make us. And we're just as mortal if we go unfulfilled."

And looking on them, Jack could see it - the fragility of the three. Not just in their build, either, but in their very essence. He was distracted before, but now with his focus brought to a most grinding point, the young man realized how translucent the ballet dancer was, saw how the glory of the man in the suit was somewhat faded, noted that the strong man's muscles weren't quite as magnificent as they were at first glance. It was as if the substance they were formed from was somewhat worn out and battered. Not in the way a well-loved toy is, but rather in the way a colorful poster is if bleached out by the sun or a vase glued back together after it's been broken; whole again, but possibly leaky with the cracks showing through upon closer examination.

"Every dream that never reached fruition rests here. We aren't flesh and blood, but that doesn't mean we're not real." The ballerina sighed as the group of them neared a prepared gravesite. "We just need different sustenance. Sometimes we rest easy sometimes we become ghosts and haunt our makers. It's difficult to say from dreamer to dreamer and dream to dream. Sometimes it depends on how long the fall was and how dramatic the impact."

"Generally, we do not go out with a bang, but a whimper," the man in the suit said quietly. "Little pieces of us lost over the years until all that's left is frame work and a matter of time."

Whispery attendants aided them in lowering their burden into its final resting place, though Jack could still feel its weight upon his shoulders and perhaps more keenly upon his heart. They stood for a moment, silent and reflective, respecting the dead thing that rested in the box, the shell that had once been something more, and the greater spirit that it had once housed. Presently they spoke; each word rang inside of the plaid wizard as though his head were a great, frozen bell.

"We're gathered here today to mourn the passing of a true friend and marvelous dream," the man said. "You represented in a more literal sense what we all embody metaphorically; you were the wish to explore the stars. For the heart you sent soaring, we can only hope that though you never reached the heights you aspired to, the view from where you came to your apex was most magnificent. Your good service in days now passed has earned you an easy rest as you turn into memories. In your name will we endeavor for without us, what will the dreamers do? And without them, what chance does the world have? Let us become the stairs they climb on the way to the place where the stars become the things they can walk upon instead distant objects to look at with longing."

The ballet dancer and strong man nodded in silent accord, the latter stepping forward and producing a flower in his great, thick fingers, white petals gleaming immaculately before falling to join the casket below. The entire thing was watched in numbness by Jack, and the wizard thought he recalled someone asking if he cared to go with them for tea and cake afterwards before he declined and woke in his usual meditation place, weeping for a reason he couldn't remember. It came back to him later, trickling in through the edges of his mind.

Like a dream.

Dawn, Lord, Nerve.

The Magi-Net.

They'd all wanted the world to be filled with wonder again, and as a revolutionary in that army of awe, Jack's first priority was to get away with it. As far as he was concerned, he was going to get away with it so spectacularly they'd have to re-name him Scott Free. He would not let their dream die. Nor would he let Sandra's. She still had a future to live for. A normal, human life that was becoming further and further away these days. How translucent and frail, he wondered, was her dream?

There was that weight again.

"I've dedicated myself to finding a way to help Sandra," Jack said carefully in a voice that was a fractionally paler than the one he spoke with moments ago. "And if this guy can offer me a better chance to do that, then I can't ignore it. But at the same time, getting involved with a government agency doesn't exactly thrill me."

"Jack," Crystal said quietly, "I don't know if we really have a say in that particular matter anymore. Whether or not we like it, this BPRD knows about us."

Somewhere in the background, Han Solo whooped triumphantly and signaled Luke to go in for the kill shot.

Neither liked to admit it, but Crystal was right. They'd both heavily suspected that if he chose, Hellboy and his crew could do whatever they damn well pleased. The magician of the pair had been quietly cursing his ineptitude at keeping their whole situation hush-hush.

"It's just something," Jack said, letting his posture slump a little, "we'll all have to decide together."

And as the Death Star exploded fantastically on the television screen, Jack silently made up his mind.

Sandra descended into the kitchen. Where her room had become something strange to her, not quite as severe as a prison, but certainly a locking-away place, the kitchen was a comforting area. She wasn't sure why, but she liked kitchens. It wasn't that she was a particularly good cook, although she'd sometimes make something to occupy herself or just for fun, but a lot of the things that happen in kitchens put a sort of warm stillness in her.

They weren't just for cooking and baking, although there were plenty of good times to be had making cookies and brownies and holiday meals. Those sorts of things were wonderful because the kitchen could bring so many people together. People, very often, that you saw only at these times whose rare presences brought a paradoxical air of mystery and familiarity. Children whose growth was marked in gingerbread and Easter egg hunts. Aunts and uncles from corners of the world only made real by their stories and the awkward moments with cousins and relations who seemed to drain all the conversational material right out of the air. These things were lost to her - airy and gauzy.

Kitchens were where she brought freshly caught frogs to hold for a little while inside of empty mayonnaise jars with sticks and leaves in them until she realized they were an impractical pet and better suited for the outside. She would sometimes do the same with caterpillars or little crickets or potato bugs. What was it, Sandra pondered as she began to measure out coffee grounds that fascinated children with putting things in jars, keeping them for a little while and letting them go?

Wrinkling her nose, she also wondered why she was being so nostalgic tonight. It was an odd reaction to the government operative's visit but admittedly it was preferable to the angst she was allowing to creep into her mind from earlier.

Little things in jars.

It was strange, reflecting on it now, but it had never really occurred to her to be afraid of a government agency. Mostly this was because she'd never really had time to be. After all, when you have demon hunters, werewolves and alternate dimensions to worry about, who has time to be afraid of a little thing like a government organization looking to rope you in and figure out what makes you tick?

Am I that vain?

Was that it? Really? Was it vanity that kept her locked up?

Sam had proved to her rather conclusively that people were extraordinarily good at excusing the things they saw but couldn't explain. Hellboy had similarly demonstrated that walking outdoors without the benefit of a disguise had not brought immediate doom falling from the skies. And even though she had disguised herself and hidden away, that had hardly stopped the people that had come after Sandra in the recent past.

Would going without invite that much more trouble?

"Hey."

Sandra started a little out of her reverie.

Sam was leaning in the doorway, doing a rather furry version of James Dean and raising an eyebrow. "You going to just sit there and space or do you wanna talk about this?"

The girl-turned-demon flushed and gestured Sam over with a wave of one hand. "Sorry," she mumbled as he took a seat at the table. "I've just been kind of...well...thoughtful since this morning."

"Yeah, I know." He said this with a pointed look at her, half of his mouth quirking upward. It wasn't a grin or a smirk, exactly - there was no mirth in it. Granted, the times where Sam was mirthful were pretty few and far between. But it was telling, and Sandra knew it. This is because Sandra and Sam are, but for a dimensional divide, the same person. So, when Sam says, 'Yeah, I know' it is not in the same way that a friend or relative might say it; sympathetically or perhaps as a result of an observation. He says it because on a fundamental, subtle level, he has felt it. Whether or not he had caught all the subtle nuance, Sandra wasn't sure. Usually the level of clarity with which they felt one another's thoughts was directly proportionate to the intensity of a feeling that one or the other was experiencing at the time.

Probably the most profound time that this happened was when Sandra, Crystal and Jack had visited the home world of Sam Sprinkles and the rabbit in question had slit his throat. He had done this to snap Sandra out of a berserker rage that she had flown into, and while it had indeed accomplished its intended goal, it had an unforeseen side effect upon the two. It was not unlike unclasping one's hand around a garden hose one had been previously strangling. The flow of thought and memory between them had opened fully and their identities had blurred around the edges, merging together so it was impossible to tell one from the other. When they had re-established their egotistical boundaries, there was an undeniable chink that had been left behind. Through it the two could still, on some level, feel a less dramatic version of that initial merge.

Sandra, to Sam, felt like a dark cloud hanging perpetually in the eaves of his skull; usually melancholy with the occasional silver lining or rumbling and flashing of light within.

To Sandra, Sam felt like a tiny little noir film tucked directly into her brain; something that would be right at home in a Frank Miller comic.

"So," she said.

"So," he echoed.

"I don't really know what to do about all of this."

"Well, what do you want, Sandra?"

"I want everyone to be safe."

"Yeah, okay, fair enough. But how about we drop the self-sacrificial number and let you be selfish for a little while. What do you want, Sandra?"

"Lord, Sam, you know that. What the Hell do you think Jack has been working on since the day he did this to me? I want to be me again. I feel like a stranger in my own house. Any room I want to be in changes the minute I set foot into it, no matter who's there. It stops being whatever it was and whoever was there and just becomes a room with me in it. All the little things I thought were a nuisance when I was still human...now that I'm without them it's more terrifying than I could have imagined it being. I mean, menstruation, for the love 'a God. Whoever thought I'd be so freaked out over not having my period anymore? But I am. And everything about me's just...painful or uninviting. I feel sharp all over, and it's not just the exterior. It's bleeding in at the edges; seeping inside. I don't even notice anything has changed until I react to something in a new way and it's...scary. One of these days I'm afraid that I'll stop being me altogether and I won't even realize it."

Sam took it all in, fingers steepled in front of him as he hunched a bit over the table and listened. "I think maybe you just don't want to be scared anymore."

Sandra's face contorted as she stared at Sam through all three eyes, not quite sure how to take this. There was a part of her that wanted to be mad at him, and another that acknowledged there was something to the statement. She pursed her lips as the rabbit eyed her back and then continued.

"You're describing the way you're existing right now like it's a progressive illness. It's like Jack's transformation spell the initial infection and the catalyst for more profound changes to come. Okay, fine. Now, I know you don't like thinking about it, but let's say, for the sake of argument, that Jack can't find a way to reverse what he did."

Sandra's stomach lurched at the words.

"Yeah, I know, I know, but bear with me here," Sam said placatingly. "The chances of Jack finding a way to clean up after himself become significantly higher if he's introduced to a larger library of magic. But think about how long this BPRD has been around by our morning visitor's description - maybe a little more than sixty years or so? Whatever they have is probably going to be a drop in the bucket compared to everything that's available out there that they simply haven't obtained or translated yet. There's a really good chance that we won't find anything useful even if we do go there as far as reversing the physical transformation goes. I'm going to go ahead and say it'll probably be a goddamned miracle if we do.

"What there's a better chance of us accomplishing," Sam continued, "is a kind of therapy or coping system for you. You say the whole 'demon on the outside, soft and nougaty on the inside' thing is starting to falter. All things considered, you haven't been this way for very long. Now, the big red guy, on the other hand? He's been like that since, what, the forties? And he seems like an all right guy. Maybe if they can't help you with reversing the physical, they can at least help to stabilize the mental."

"So," Sandra said slowly, "you think we should do this?"

"I think," Sam said, "that if we take them up on the offer now that we'll have a greater degree of control over what happens with it."

The violet-haired demon bobbed her head, eyes distant.

"Well. I guess we'll all have a lot to talk about in the morning."

*

Upstairs, stretched out on the rug beside Crystal's bed, Wally slept soundly, legs spasming every now and again in response to his dreams. He hunted down slow rabbits and deer, stole and ate steaks off a thousand neglected tables, and chased frisbees that sailed over an endless beach whose sole existence was for the benefit of him catching them forever. Mostly, though, he did a lot of tumbling through verdant fields with the girl that he loved who would tell him so and scratch his belly.