In the near dark, Van Helsing ran.
He didn't know why he ran, whether he was running from something or towards it, but he knew he must keep going. Stopping was unthinkable; he felt the night would fall in and crush him, or worse, it would swallow someone he cared for, someone he should protect at all costs. He couldn't produce a face or a name. Yet the thought of this person being lost, especially because of him, filled him with a sickening despair.
He raced into a castle he hadn't seen until he was at the door. Van Helsing found only an emptied laboratory. The dread that clutched him grew.
"Hello, Gabriel." Dracula drew the words out slowly, taunting him. "Looking for . . . something?"
"Van Helsing!" Carl's voice. Carl, that was his name. "Van Helsing!" the words came again, from behind him, above him, everywhere. He spun, then turned back to Dracula, ready to advance and get some answers.
Dracula held Carl in front of him by a hand on his throat and an arm around his waist. Carl's blue eyes widened and he shook his head when Gabriel moved forward to help him.
"No," Carl shouted. "Run!"
Dracula took a step back, dragging Carl with him.
Van Helsing stepped forward. "I won't leave you."
"You should listen to other people sometimes, Gabriel. You never have been good at that." Dracula smiled. "You should have run. Then you would not have to see this." His mouth opened impossibly wide, and his teeth extended.
Carl motioned for him to go. "Run, Van Helsing, please!"
But Van Helsing wasn't Van Helsing anymore, not completely. He felt Gabriel shatter into bits and fall away as he lunged for the men, the wolf he became knocking Carl away from Dracula and then turning on the vampire, ready to kill. But Dracula was gone, and all Van Helsing could hear was a mocking laugh echoing in the large chamber.
He turned toward Carl, who whispered, "Van Helsing?" with a quaver in his voice.
Van Helsing tried to assert himself, his human self, but the wolf's thoughts were louder, harder, and were in control of his limbs. No matter how hard he tried to tell himself that this was Carl, his friend, his . . . Carl. Carl. Run. RUN! run carl . . . man manblood heat bloodtearbreakripbloodbonemuscle
The screams were sweet, as sweet as the warm blood in his mouth, the crunch of bone and the wet, slick tear of muscle and sinew.
Dracula laughed behind him, said words the wolf couldn't understand. He was too caught up in his feast to turn. He tore at the body as if he were starving breakripchew bloodman tearbloodheatman . . . man . . . heat . . . man? Carl? no no no NONONO
Dracula's laugh throbbed in his ears. As Van Helsing looked down at his hands, red and sticky Carl he gagged and retched and finally managed to scream.
He snapped out of the dream with Carl shaking him, shouting for him to wake up. Carl, alive, with worry creasing his brow. Alive and whole and here, and Van Helsing sat up and grabbed him, hugged him tight. He could smell something cooking, rabbit or squirrel, but closer than that he could smell Carl, that familiar, comforting scent . . . no, his scent was . . . wrong. The smell was pain and fear and sorrow, and traces of blood.
Van Helsing pulled back, holding Carl by the shoulders. Carl's eyes weren't their usual blue, but wrong reddish-gold. Wounds on the side of Carl's neck steadily leaked blood, soaking the collar and hood of his robe. Carl pressed the handle of a silver stake into Van Helsing's hand.
"Please, Gabriel, it hurts . . . don't let me . . . turn."
Carl leaned over him, pressing his body against the silver. "Please, my friend . . . I was going to do it for you." Carl covered Gabriel's hand with his own and pushed the man's finger against the switch, springing the deadly end into his chest.
Gabriel jerked as Carl screamed. He watched the odd light fade from his eyes, leaving only blue, before his body crumpled to ash. Gabriel was left clutching an empty robe. He screamed and woke, alone next to the fire, meat burning on the spit, someone else who should be there . . . who? And where? He jumped up and looked for someone.
In the near dark, Van Helsing ran.
He didn't know why he ran, whether he was running from something or towards it, but he knew he must keep going. He couldn't produce a face or a name, but the thought of this person being lost, especially because of him, filled him with a sickening despair.
Van Helsing realized someone ran steadily in front of him. He must have been slowly gaining ground on this person for some time. He'd been unable to make out the figure in the dark until he'd pulled within only a few feet. He knew instinctively this was the person he feared would come to harm. He pumped his legs and willed himself to go faster, tried to physically propel himself forward, but the runner stayed just out of reach.
"Stop, please!" Van Helsing's words were drowned out by a wild animal's call. And yet the runner stopped so suddenly Van Helsing nearly collided into the brown-cloaked back. The loose hood fell revealing the back of a man's head. Van Helsing could hear the gasps for air, could see the tremors that gave away his terror. He wondered what could have terrified him so.
"Who are you? Why do you run?" Animal sounds drowned out Van Helsing's words as if the creature were closer now than before. The man flinched but did not turn, and Van Helsing tried to walk around the stranger, to see his face. Panic prickled his skin when his legs wouldn't move--as if they'd been instantly set in stone. He wanted to put his hand on the man's shoulder to comfort him, to show that he was there to watch over him, but he feared such a touch would startle him and he'd bolt. He tried to repeat his questions, and was again drowned out by the guttural sounds of a wild beast.
The man flinched again, but still didn't turn. Van Helsing needed to reassure him in as soothing and non-threatening a way as he could. Feeling slightly awkward, yet determined to get through to him, he reached out and gently stroked his hand down the man's hair.
When Van Helsing withdrew his hand, the man spun as if grabbed and twirled by an unseen force. Van Helsing's eyes locked with his, and he felt a strange mixture of relief and dread as he recognized the face. But there seemed to be no recognition in the man's eyes. There seemed to be nothing in them but terror. And pain.
"What is it, what's wrong?" Van Helsing's chest tightened as he realized the growl emanating from his own throat sounded nothing like his intended questions.
The man pitched forward and Van Helsing caught him with wet, black paws. Pieces of flesh and gore stuck to the fur, and to the claws that ripped through the man's cloak.
He felt the darkness fall in around the man, even as he clutched him protectively against his body. "No, no, no, no, no, no," he screamed into the dark, but the wild ululation he produced sounded like hopelessness to his own ears. As he felt the open wound where the back of the man's head had been, he rocked the body, helpless to stop his claws from biting deep into flesh.
Van Helsing screamed the man's name over and over, but his uncooperative throat wouldn't form the familiar word: Carl.
"Van Helsing!" Carl held the thrashing man by the shoulders, at once trying to wake him and keep him from hurting himself. Carl had been turning a rabbit over the fire, and the awful sound Van Helsing made startled him so that he jerked the spit loose and dropped the entire thing into the flames. The mournful wail rattled him to his bones and scared him for his friend's sake.
Van Helsing's eyes opened wider than Carl thought they were ever meant to. Carl winced as fingers dug into his upper arms.
"Carl? Real, dear God, please be real, pleaseplease . . . ."
"Of course, I'm real, why--" The remark Carl almost made caught in his throat as he took in the full desperation of the man clinging to him. The look in his eyes scared Carl out of his sarcasm. He spoke gently, as if to a frightened child. "Yes, Van Helsing, I'm real."
Van Helsing grabbed Carl's face and turned his head from side to side before pulling him into a tight embrace and immediately . . . smelling him? He rocked slightly, mumbling something Carl couldn't understand.
"Van Helsing, it's all right. It was just a dream. A nightmare." He patted Van Helsing's back. "It's all right now."
Van Helsing only squeezed Carl tighter and twisted his hands in the back of his robe. Carl felt a hand touch the back of his head, the fingers probing in his hair, before returning to his back. He swallowed the urge to ask if he was properly ripe.
"It's all right, only a nightmare." When Van Helsing showed no signs of letting go, or even loosening the grip he had around Carl's back, Carl turned his face so that he was talking directly into Van Helsing's ear. "Gabriel, it's all right now," he said softly, trying to reassure his friend. "Gabriel."
Van Helsing let go and leaned back. He stared into Carl's eyes. It was a penetrating gaze that made Carl feel oddly exposed, almost made him want to look away, but he stared back just as deeply. Go ahead and see for yourself, he thought. I'm hiding nothing from you.
Van Helsing took a shuddering breath and said, "You're all right."
"Yes, I'm fine," Carl said, though he realized it hadn't been a question. Van Helsing still watched him, a look on his face as if he expected Carl to explode or sprout vegetables out of his ears, and Carl thought for a moment he was going to be grabbed and manhandled again. "Can't say that for our dinner, I'm afraid. Gave me quite a start, so no complaints about my cooking." He looked in the direction of their now blackened meal.
Van Helsing flopped back down and threw his arm over his eyes.
Carl had hoped to at least get a tiny smile or a smirk of annoyance out of his remark. "Oh well, I'm not terribly hungry. You?" When no answer came, he said, "Van Helsing, you should talk about--"
"No. Not now."
Carl sighed. "Very well. Later, then? But if you change your mind . . . ."
Neither man spoke for a few minutes. Carl decided he should try to save the rabbit from the flames, but the moment he moved to stand, Van Helsing sat up. "Carl?"
Carl put his hand on his friend's arm. "I'm here. It's all right."
Van Helsing dropped back as if the air outweighed him.
Carl rubbed Van Helsing's arm. I'm here, he thought. Right here. But I wonder where exactly you are?
He'd noticed that each night since Transylvania, Van Helsing's nightmares had grown worse. They'd gone back to Rome, ready to rest and heal. At first Van Helsing was merely a restless sleeper waking once or twice a night as if startled. Then he would wake with shouts or cries of alarm, and after several days of that asked Carl if they could go. Find him some mission, some non-essential thing they could go and do just to be away from others. They'd camped here at Van Helsing's request, and had been here for a few days. It had seemed as if Van Helsing's sleep had been improving.
Carl opted to sit there, his hand still on his friend's arm, until the smell of burning meat finally prompted him to take care of their ruined dinner. Neither man ate, and later that evening as they both looked up at the sky, unable to sleep, Van Helsing finally broke the silence.
"I killed her, Carl," Van Helsing said, almost too softly for Carl to hear. "I would have killed you."
"But you didn't. All you did was grab my arm and stop me from killing you."
"The antidote was already in my body. But if she hadn't been able to do it, and you had run at me with that stake . . . you would not have succeeded."
"I had to try. You asked me, to so I had to try."
"That's not what I mean. You would not have succeeded because I would have turned, and . . . . "
"Gabriel, I know. But it wasn't you. It was the wolf."
"Carl! You're not listening to me." Gabriel sat up. "When I ran at Anna, yes, the wolf wanted to kill her. But I was in there, I realized what was going to happen before it did, but the wolf was stronger and I was . . . pushed aside. God, Carl, the wolf would have turned on you and ripped you to shreds, and I wouldn't have been able to stop it. And when I changed back-- " His voice caught.
Finally understanding Gabriel's meaning, Carl sat up and then sat on his knees to face his friend. "I'm so sorry that it almost happened. But it didn't. Didn't happen, Gabriel."
Van Helsing sighed and regarded Carl with a pained expression. "I know that. But when I close my eyes--it does." He reached for Carl, his hands coming to rest naturally on Carl's forearms as if he were about to pull him into an embrace, or slide his hands down to grasp Carl's. "These nightmares started the very day . . . ." They both knew well what day. The day he didn't turn back into a human in time to keep the wolf from killing Anna. "And they've gotten worse each night. And in them, over and over, in some way or another . . . I kill you."
Carl didn't know what to say to that, or how to reassure his friend. If it were a live beastie chasing Van Helsing, they could stake it or stab it or douse it in holy water, but how do you fight someone's dreams?
"The full moon's only a day away, Carl. And I can sense something coming, something wrong. I'm scared," he said, the last words barely a whisper.
Carl swallowed hard, his friend's admission of fear enough to terrify him the way nothing else could. Then he embraced him and did his best to dispel that fear, even though he was worried. "Oh, Van Helsing, there's nothing to be scared of. They're just dreams, illusions, your own worry and . . . guilt . . . eating at you while you sleep." He held tight, and sighed a little when the man's arms came around him, holding just as tightly.
"But what if it's more than that, Carl? I don't know what to do. I'm not used to being afraid."
Carl let himself stroke his hand down Van Helsing's hair. "It's all right, I've spent years in that state. It's not so bad--you get used to it." He smiled a little when he felt the slight shake of Van Helsing's body, heard the soft chuckle.
"I'm serious, Carl."
Neither man spoke for a few moments, they simply remained as they were, Carl's hand occasionally cupping the back of Van Helsing's head then stroking down his hair. Van Helsing's hand occasionally did the same to Carl. Finally, Carl pulled back and looked him as seriously as he knew how to.
"It's not just the dreams, then. You sense something more."
Van Helsing nodded and lowered himself onto his back. "It's like I can sense . . . impending doom."
"You think you're going to kill me?"
"No, what scares me . . . is that I don't know what scares me."
"Do you think you're going to turn back into a werewolf?" Carl asked suddenly, excited that he might have hit upon it. "Could that be your whole problem? Fear and worry that the curse hasn't been lifted?"
Van Helsing shook his head. "No, I know what it felt like when the werewolf was growing in me, and what it felt like once the antidote had taken effect. It doesn't feel that way anymore. Not exactly."
"Well, it was an idea."
"Yes, and a good one." Van Helsing smiled and put his hand on Carl's arm."Come here," he said, pulling and urging the man to lie next to him, which Carl did without complaint. Van Helsing rolled onto his side and embraced Carl. After a moment, he said, "I didn’t want to sit up again."
Carl said, "I don't mind," and then wished he hadn't said it quite so quickly.
"No? Then stay here, would you? Maybe . . . maybe it'll help." Van Helsing pulled the blanket up over them.
Though they weren't touching beneath the blanket, Carl could feel Van Helsing's body heat radiating against and around him, and wished they'd always slept like this during cool nights. He wished they always slept like this, closer than this, every night, but that was something he'd promised himself to stop thinking about. This closeness made that damnably impossible.
To distract himself from those thoughts, he had to think very hard about other things. Eventually, he thought about how Van Helsing said this didn't feel like the werewolf growing within him. Carl whispered, "What did you mean 'not exactly?'" But Van Helsing was asleep, breathing steadily and peacefully, and Carl didn't have the heart to wake him
The next day was much like the few before. They woke, ate, washed up a bit and spent their time talking or in a companionable silence. It was after lunch before Carl realized he'd meant to ask what about Van Helsing's mention that he didn't feel exactly like before. He'd intended to ask that morning, but had woken and realized he'd been pressed against Van Helsing and was hard because of it. That had distracted him from thinking of much else.
"What did you mean when you said 'not exactly.' You don't feel like you did with the wolf inside you. Not exactly?"
Van Helsing sat next to Carl on a folded blanket on the ground. His arms were wrapped around his knees. "I feel strange, but not in the same way."
"I would think feeling strange might be normal, given that you turned into a werewolf and everything."
"You're probably right."
Carl pulled his own knees up and leaned back against the log behind them. "I mean, how are we supposed to know what you should feel like? What's normal? So feeling strange I don't think is anything alarming, do you?"
"No, which is why I didn't say anything before. I suspect I'll feel strange for some time."
Carl nodded and looked at his knees. "When we go back, I can run some experiments on your blood, small samples of tissue, that sort of thing. Maybe we'll see something that can help us understand the wolf."
Van Helsing nodded. They sat quietly for a long time, then talked of other things like the short sword Carl had been working on for Van Helsing. Perfect for decapitation, he said, and weighted to put far more power behind it than its size might hint at.
As the day wore on, Carl noticed a change coming over Van Helsing. He grew impatient about things that normally didn't bother him. The horse was too loud, the bugs (few that they were) bothered him, and he kept finding fault with things Carl did. Don't leave this in the open, Carl. Why did you not put this back in your bag? Carl! What were you thinking?
"What were you thinking, Van Helsing. You're the one who left it there," Carl pointed out, finally fed up with the constant criticism that was so unlike his friend.
"I did not."
"You most certainly did." Carl smiled as he turned, meaning to tease him about being a possibly very old man and having a dodgy memory, but the glare his friend gave him made his teeth press together. Van Helsing stared at him as if were furious, then turned away. Carl wanted to ask what was wrong, why was he so angry, but given that look he didn't dare. He would ask later, and hopefully they could talk.
Later that evening, after some hard bread and salted fish, and a little bit of wine Carl had palmed, God forgive him, Carl was ready to broach the subject. Van Helsing had hardly eaten, taken only a sip of Carl's wine, and had little to say. He stared into the fire as if it might hold all the answers.
"Sun's almost down," he said to Carl, before Carl could work up the nerve to ask questions.
They sat a while longer, the dark surrounding them with only the fire lighting the area. Van Helsing fidgeted, always his fingers rubbing together, running them through his hair, scratching his neck.
Carl laughed and held a hand out, gesturing. "You go first."
A rough hand clamped around his wrist. "Something's wrong." Van Helsing doubled over, shouting in pain. He released Carl's wrist to put both arms around his middle.
"Oh, God!" Carl hopped up and rifled through his pack for something to help with pain, or perhaps nausea. He didn't know which.
Van Helsing rolled, holding his stomach, his face a grimace of pain. By the time Carl was at his side, Van Helsing's shirt was drenched with sweat. Carl wet a handkerchief and wiped his face, frantic that he didn't know what to do.
"I want it off," Van Helsing growled, smacking his own chest with his palm.
Clouds drifted away, revealing a bright, round moon through the trees.
"My skin." He screamed through clenched jaws, his teeth bared, his eyes squeezed shut at first then opened wide. Carl lurched away from him out of instinct, but then moved back in. He put his hands on the man's shoulders and tried to hold him still.
"I'm on fire!" Van Helsing shouted, clawing at his chest and stomach so violently that Carl grabbed his hands to keep him from harming himself. That didn't stop Van Helsing, who kept raking at himself with their clasped hands.
Carl pulled hard. "Stop it, Van Helsing. You'll hurt yourself." When that didn't work, Carl cried, "You'll hurt me."
Van Helsing's hands stopped, though he growled in frustration. "Get away from me. Go . . . I don't want to hurt you." His eyes widened, and he shook his head. "Go, Carl, please!"
Carl knew what he was thinking, because Carl thought it, too. His dreams of killing . . . .
"No. You had nightmares. You're not turning!"
Van Helsing screamed again, the sound echoing through the woods. Carl wiped the sweat from Van Helsing's face because he didn't know what else to do. The air around them grew darker as a cloud blocked the moonshine. Almost instantly Van Helsing slumped, panting.
"Carl, please, get far away from me, in case you're wrong?"
"I'm not," Carl said, with a confidence he didn't entirely feel. He held to Van Helsing as the man struggled to get up. "Maybe you shouldn't?"
Van Helsing stood, despite Carl's hands trying to prevent it. They ended up standing close together, Carl's hands on his upper arms and Van Helsing's hands on Carl's shoulders. Carl patted him. "Pain medication? Something for stomach cramps? I don't have much with me, but--"
Van Helsing shoved Carl backwards, knocking him off his feet onto his rear end. "Go. I'm not asking, Carl. Get away." He took deep breaths in through his nose. He cried out, his whole body tensing as the clouds slowly revealed the moon. He pulled at his shirt, ripping it open easily. But Carl noted he looked otherwise the same, aside from being drenched and trembling. He wasn't changing.
He got up and advanced on Van Helsing, reaching for his arms again. "I'm not going anywhere."
Van Helsing shoved him back, harder, knocking him down again. "You run, dammit."
Carl was stopped by the curse word--something he liked to indulge in but Van Helsing never did--then rose and moved toward him again. This time when he was violently shoved, he reacted and balanced himself to keep from falling. He raced for Van Helsing and threw himself at him, wrapped his arms around him and pressed the side of his face hard against the man's chest, determined not to be shoved so easily again.
"I'm not going. Unless you're going to pummel me, I suggest you'd better damn well deal with it!" He could feel the tremors going through Van Helsing's muscles. He said a silent prayer that he was right, and that he wasn't about to be torn apart by a wolf. Van Helsing's body jerked as a cramp hit him, and his arms went around Carl, holding him tight as if for support.
"Lie down," Carl whispered, trying to pull him down, thinking maybe that would be easier. But the moon disappeared again, and Van Helsing's body lurched as if it had been pulled taut before and only just released. He slumped forward, his arms tightening around Carl. Carl rubbed his back, saying, "It's all right. Maybe we can get you somewhere hidden. If the moonlight is blocked, maybe it won't be so bad?"
Van Helsing's body started to tense as the moon peeked through a cloud. Carl squeezed tighter, offering support, for lack of anything better to do. Van Helsing groaned, but patted his back. "Don't need to. Getting easier."
Carl looked up at the sky and the round, gray eye watching them and causing his friend so much pain. He wished he could darken the moon, shoot it with one of his weapons, snuff it out like a candle flame. He prayed for clouds, even if it meant a night of pouring rain. At least now they knew Van Helsing wasn't turning again. He was just suffering, for reasons Carl wasn't clear about.
Van Helsing gently pushed Carl back enough to loosen his hold. "I'm all right. It hurts, but . . . it's manageable." He still trembled, the hair around his face dripped with sweat, but he was clearly handling it.
Carl's hands rested on Van Helsing's waist. "Perhaps it's like an illness, and you're burning the last of it away now?" For all Carl knew, this might happen every full moon. He didn't suggest that.
"Perhaps," Van Helsing said, then clenched his teeth against some sort of pain.
Carl urged him to sit on the ground, where at least he could rest more easily when the moon disappeared. "I still think we should find sort of cover. If it doesn't happen when the moon is obscured, then if you're away from the light completely you might be all right."
"I don't want to hide from it, Carl," he admitted. "I . . . want it."
Carl knew then what was going on, or at least he had a pretty good theory. "It's like a drug. A drug that coursed through your system that's now leaving it, and your body's protesting. It's like . . . an addiction."
"How do we fix that?" Van Helsing asked.
"It . . . runs its course." He patted Van Helsing's shoulder. "Perhaps the worst is over now."
Carl sat next to him and put an arm protectively around his shoulders. He swallowed hard when Van Helsing leaned against him and dropped his head to Carl's shoulder, sighing.
Carl sniffed."Don't ask me to go anymore?"
A few hours passed this way. Each time the moon shone down on him, Van Helsing was clearly distressed, though it was less intense each time, for which Carl was grateful. He suspected that this cycle of the moon, perhaps even just this night, would be all of it. He hoped.
Then, as the moon reached the center of the sky, Van Helsing stood, staring up at it, his arms held out to the side a little as if he were welcoming it.
"Van Helsing?" Carl asked, standing to check on his friend.
"I need it, Carl. I need . . . something." He put both hands on his chest and made a sound between a whimper and a growl. His hands moved down until he cupped his groin, kneading in a way that Carl imagined would be painful. Then his head snapped to the side.
The look Van Helsing gave him then forced Carl to sidestep, every instinct telling him to move away. Van Helsing had him in a second, and pulled Carl hard against him. The man rutted against him, his groin smashing against Carl's hip. Carl knew he'd be bruised there in the morning, the way Van Helsing reared back and slammed into him. Carl let go and allowed Van Helsing to move him, guessing he'd be hurt less if he didn't resist.
After only a few seconds, Van Helsing shouted, pulling Carl in tightly enough that Carl cried out from the tight grip on his arm. Then the man slumped and collapsed, panting. The moon shone down on him steadily now, no clouds to shut it out for a while, not even any trees to diffuse it since it hung directly overhead.
"Gabriel?" Carl asked, approaching carefully. What had just happened had been . . . unexpected. But what of it? He'd have a bruised hip and arm, and no harm was really done. He could barely believe what had happened, in fact, and wished he understood why. Still, he couldn't stop trembling.
He knelt next to Van Helsing and put a hand on his chest. The heartbeat was surprisingly slow and steady, the skin and hair damp with sweat. Van Helsing's hand came up to cover Carl's.
"I . . . I just need . . . help me, Carl."
"What can I do? Tell me what I can do to help you." Carl wiped Van Helsing's forehead, noting that the man didn't even seem to know what he'd just done. Carl felt frustrated that there wasn't some potion or weapon that would fix this now. This was like some sort of drug reaction--maybe a drug to cause an opposite effect would counteract it, but he wasn't sure he had anything appropriate with him, and now was not the time for experiments.
Van Helsing's hand pressed on Carl's a little harder, then he shook his head, pulling away. "I'm so hot, I can't stand this . . . ." He clawed at the fastenings of his trousers until they gave way and pushed them down his legs, tearing them off and tossing them. He flopped back where he'd been, a hand on his chest and the other on his stomach.
Carl tried not to look as uncomfortable as he felt. Van Helsing was laid out naked in front of him, his skin glistening with a light sheen of sweat. And the man was moving his hands over his chest and stomach, restless and trembling. He was hard, his sex pointing up his stomach. Carl could barely stop staring at him. He'd never seen another man's erect penis, only his own, and this was within reach. Carl wanted to reach out and touch him, just to feel the skin on his stomach, feel how hard he was, see if the skin felt the way he imagined.
Van Helsing tossed his head from side to side, rubbing his skin too hard for Carl's liking. He was about to say something or touch the back of his hand, when Van Helsing's fingers slid down his sex, the tips disappearing in his dark thatch of hair. Van Helsing gripped himself and pulled in a way Carl thought had to be painful, but Van Helsing's moan wasn't a pained one. His large hand encircled him and he stroked, hard. Carl swallowed, coughed, and moved to stand. Fingers clamped around his wrist. Van Helsing let go of his sex, as if he'd only just realized what he was doing.
"Put your hand back on my chest, Carl? I . . . I want to know you're here."
Van Helsing's voice was soft and uncertain. Carl nodded and put his hand back on Van Helsing's chest. The man took a deep breath and sighed. He released Carl's hand and put his palms back on his chest and stomach. Within a few seconds, Van Helsing's hand was on top of Carl's. He hoped the touch brought the man comfort, but he still seemed so restless.
Van Helsing pushed on his hand. Pushed it down. It slid down his chest to his stomach.
Van Helsing pushed Carl's hand down until it reached his groin. Carl gasped and tried to pull his hand away, but Van Helsing held it, pressing it hard onto him.
"Gabriel," Carl hissed, but Van Helsing rubbed Carl's hand over his sex, holding it tight enough that Carl's knuckles ached with the pressure. He could feel the heat of Van Helsing's sex, the way it twitched up against his hand and seemed alive on its own. The skin was soft, softer than he'd expected. He couldn't free his hand, so he relaxed it. Van Helsing's grip eased up seconds after, though he held Carl's hand in place, pushing himself up against it.
"Please," he mumbled, then said some things or made some sounds Carl couldn't make out as words. The fire would go completely out soon, but the moonlight lit up Van Helsing's face. He looked at Carl, then rolled onto his side to face him, pushing his groin against the palm of Carl's hand with more force.
Carl gave in and did what Van Helsing had done earlier. He took the sex in his hand and gently stroked. Van Helsing made a soft sound of pleasure, rocking his hips so that he moved in Carl's grip. His hand clamped around Carl's to tighten it as he thrust forward.
"Easy," Carl said, squeezing and sliding his fist over the flesh more forcefully. Van Helsing groaned and released his hand. He let Carl do this, only bucking his hips forward impatiently a few more times. Carl stroked him, taking in every detail of how the man felt and looked. Doing this felt so wrong, especially under these circumstances, yet it was . . . thrilling. He was grateful for the robe that hopefully hid his state.
Van Helsing rolled forward even more and sat up, coming face to face with Carl. He sniffed, then dropped his face into Carl's lap, inhaling deeply. He looked up at Carl then, a look that made Carl's skin prickle with gooseflesh.
"Can smell you," Van Helsing whispered.
Carl's hand stilled. "Van Hel--"
Van Helsing grabbed Carl's robe with both hands and pulled, at the same time Carl released him and tried to push away. Carl ended up on his stomach trying to scrabble away, his fingers digging into the ground for purchase and leaving little furrows as Van Helsing pulled him back by his ankles.
"No, Van Helsing! Please!"
Carl fought to keep him from pushing his robe up, but there was nothing he could do. The thin fabric of his trousers gave easily under Van Helsing's frantic hands. Not like this. Please, God, not like this! Carl was flipped onto his back, his softening sex exposed with Van Helsing pushing his robe up in front.
"Gabriel, please listen to me. Ah." He grunted as Gabriel's mouth found his sex, and he felt the man's tongue laving the tip. Van Helsing's lips and tongue were everywhere, his hands holding Carl's hips. He wasn't gently by any means, but Carl took some comfort in the fact that he hadn't really hurt him. He licked Carl's sex, his entire groin area, sniffing as he did so. Carl was flipped onto his stomach, Van Helsing's mouth and tongue immediately back between his legs.
"No! Gabriel, I--I'll admit I've thought about touching you before--many times--" He felt a finger pushing against him, and heaved his body so that he rolled over onto his back away from the intrusion. "I've wanted you, God help me I have, but not like this. Please don't hurt me."
Those words stopped Van Helsing for a moment, but then he grabbed Carl's ankles and started to turn, to flip him, but Carl kicked out. "Not like that," he insisted. The look Van Helsing gave him made Carl's heart pound in his ears. Van Helsing meant to have him. Carl knew he could fight, and probably end up hurt. Or he could give in and perhaps come out of it unscathed.
It wasn't like he hadn't thought about this, only under different circumstances. He'd even imagined Van Helsing, so overcome with want for him, sweeping him off his feet one day in the lab, or in the chapel--anywhere, when no one was around--and taking him then and there. Show him what physical love was. But because he loved Carl so much. Not because of an evil creature inside him.
"You can't hurt me," Carl said, to be clear. "You have to take it easy." Van Helsing moved forward, his hand going between Carl's legs, fingers pressing against him. "You can't! You have to . . . ." He motioned at the pan he'd fried their dinner in. With a lurch he moved to the side enough to dip his fingers into the congealing fat. He reached down and smeared it over Van Helsing's sex, then reached between his own legs, held his breath, and pressed, a finger pushing in. He groaned, not sure he could do this.
Carl had just gotten a finger inside himself when Van Helsing groaned, "I need . . . just let me . . . ." He hooked his hands under Carl's thighs and lifted them, pushing them up and apart.
When Carl felt Van Helsing's sex pressing against him, he shouted, "Please go slowly!" He whimpered and bit his lip when Van Helsing's cockhead pushed through and the man didn't stop. "Slow, slow, please!" He tried to squeeze himself close to stop him, but that only hurt worse. He slapped Van Helsing's arm hard in a bit of panic. "Don't hurt me." He panted, then sucked in a deep breath when the slap seemed to get through and Van Helsing paused.
Van Helsing's hips kept moving, though, little twitches forward and back so that Carl couldn't completely relax or get used to the feeling. When the man groaned and tossed his head back, Carl braced himself knowing that he'd probably gotten all the patience he was going to get. He tried to relax his muscles, but still cried out when Van Helsing thrust, burying himself the rest of the way in one move.
If he could just hold still . . . .
"Please, Gabriel," he whispered, and wrapped his arms and trembling legs around the man to hold him tightly for a moment in the hopes of being able to bear this. It worked, and at least by the time Van Helsing started grunting and thrusting, Carl had gotten used to the intrusion. It still hurt, but not as much as he'd imagined it would. In fact, after a few moments, he started to harden again, some thrusts sending a little tickling of pleasure through his insides.
Once the shock of the whole situation started to fade, he became more aware of Van Helsing's body above him, the man's breath on his face, the feel of him pushing inside and withdrawing. He felt the bunched muscles in Van Helsing's back and neck, the way his hips moved and his back arched.
Carl had just reached a fully hard state when Van Helsing groaned and bucked against him hard, making him wince, then collapsed atop him. The man was heavy, but Carl could breathe. He lay there, waiting, telling himself that if the worst had passed, everything would be all right.
Van Helsing didn't move much at first. He groaned and pushed his hips in a way that kept him from leaving Carl's body. Carl felt the man's lips brushing his neck. After several minutes, Carl found his thighs starting to ache and wished he could put them down. When he tried, Van Helsing moved until he was on his knees between Carl's legs. He grasped a thigh in each hand and pulled them back, which pulled Carl hard against him and kept them joined.
"Carl . . . I can't . . . ." Van Helsing's voice shook as he moved, withdrawing just a little from Carl's body and pushing back in, either still hard or hard again. He thrust quickly, lifting Carl's hips off the ground and pumping into him.
Carl hissed at the sting of the initial movement, but then cried out in pleasure as the man's big hand pressed down on cock, rubbing it between his palm and Carl's stomach as he bucked into him. Between that and the pleasant feeling deep inside him, Carl throbbed in need with Van Helsing's every movement.
Too soon, the man's hand left him. Van Helsing wrapped his arms around Carl's legs to pump into him with more force and speed. He tossed his head back and shouted, pressed forward hard and deep that it forced a small shout from Carl, one both of pleasure and of pain. Van Helsing slumped, panting.
Carl's hole throbbed uncomfortably, but despite that he wished Van Helsing would touch him again, continue what he'd started. Carl's hand moved down to cover himself. He felt embarrassed at first, but the feeling was so nice he forgot that quickly. He took himself in hand and stroked, and realized it would only take seconds. His muscles spasmed, making the throbbing in his bottom more intense, and instantly drawing Van Helsing's attention. The man groaned and pushed forward, then shoved Carl's hand away and began stroking him far harder than Carl had been touching himself. It was almost painful and certainly jarring, but it quickly brought Carl over the edge. He shouted, his back arching, the sting in his bottom mixing with the pleasure in a way he'd never imagined. Van Helsing gasped and arched his back, making the pressure in Carl's bottom more than Carl thought he'd have been able to stand.
Then Carl's body was empty, the throbbing even worse, as Van Helsing moved to lap at his cock and stomach, licking away his release. He was so rough as he did it, his tongue and mouth pressing against Carl's now especially sensitive cock, that Carl tried to pull away at times even though it felt good, too. Van Helsing's hands clamped onto his hips and held him in place.
Finally, Van Helsing was done. He scooted up besides Carl and collapsed next to him with a grunt, his eyes closed. Carl pulled his robe down to cover himself and lay there looking at the man, both wanting to weep and to wrap his arms around him. The fever started shortly after that, with violent chills that made Van Helsing's teeth clack together, and a few times, convulsions that did cause Carl to break down out of both fear for his friend and helplessness.
Van Helsing sometimes hallucinated Dracula there, coming to destroy them both. He tried to get up and fight him many times, but couldn't balance well enough to get past his knees. He never seemed to realize that he was both naked and ill, so Carl spent a great deal of time pushing him back down and trying to convince him to rest.
The vomiting started just before the fever broke. He held Van Helsing's hair back as best he could while his friend retched until there was nothing left inside him. Finally, Van Helsing was able to sip water without his stomach forcing it right back up. When it seemed the fever and the hallucinations were gone for good, Carl pulled a blanket over him.
"Maybe you'll leave this on now?" he asked softly. He pushed damp hair back from Van Helsing's forehead.
Van Helsing's hand shot out from beneath the blanket to grab Carl's arm, but the grip was gentle, almost as if he were too weak to squeeze. "Carl?"
Van Helsing closed his eyes and lay still. Carl sighed and lay next to him, the man's hand still on his arm. "First you tell me to run, now you don't want me more than a few inches away," he whispered, just to hear his own voice and feel a little less alone. He listened to Van Helsing's steady breathing and finally let a few tears fall. Carl couldn't help wondering how the night might have been if he had run, and Van Helsing had chased.
Carl woke, the day well into the afternoon. The first thing he became aware of was soreness--his hips, one arm and his bottom were sore enough to be distracting. The second thing he noticed was the brain-itching sense of being watched. He opened his eyes to find Van Helsing sitting near him, staring at him. Van Helsing was dressed, his hair wet.
"You've been to the river," Carl said. He supposed it was an odd way to start out the conversation, but that's what came to him.
"Carl, I--" Van Helsing ran a hand over his face. "God, I'm so sorry."
"It's all right." Carl looked up at the sky, wondering if it really was. Then almost instantly realizing that yes, it was. Or at least it would be.
"I hurt you."
"Not that much."
"I know. But everything's all right now." Or will be soon.
"Can you for--"
"There's nothing to forgive, Gabriel. You weren't exactly in control of yourself." He carefully sat up, trying hard not to wince at the soreness beneath him, and patted Van Helsing's knee."It's not your fault."
Van Helsing grabbed his hand and squeezed. Carl noticed the tears in his eyes.
"Gabriel, are you feeling all right now?"
"You're asking if I'm all right? What a wonder you are," he said with a laugh. He sniffed. "Yes, thanks to you, Carl. Only because you took such good care of me."
"Well, I tried." Neither man said anything for a few minutes, but Van Helsing still held onto Carl's hand. Finally, Carl started to stand, unable to keep from wincing. "I'm going to the river."
Van Helsing stood to help Carl. "Want me to come with you? Will you be all right by yourself?"
"I promise I'll be fine." He smiled at Van Helsing, a smile that felt and surely looked genuine, and made his way to the river, promising not to take too long. The water was cold and bracing, and felt good on his bottom. He took more time than he should have after promising to hurry, but it felt good to be alone to think, away from Van Helsing's scrutiny.
He guessed it was over after the symptoms Van Helsing had, but was a little worried, nonetheless. If Van Helsing took him again, it would be excruciating. He knew he could bear it, but he didn't look forward to it. Still, everything in Carl told him that when Van Helsing's fever had broken and he finally slept, there was a finality to it. It felt over. At least, the curse seemed to be so. Between them . . . .
He knew the man was upset at what had happened and worried about him. Carl had been upset, as well, but not at what had happened so much as the way it had. He would explain this, and that should put him at ease. At least, if Van Helsing were truly bothered by Carl's revelation of his desire, now would not be the time to hold it against him.
Carl felt optimistic about it, given what had happened last night. The wolf caused it, Carl knew this, but wolves didn't weep with worry over hurting someone, and they didn't squeeze your hand or rub your back the way Van Helsing had as he'd walked away toward the river. They didn't look at you the way Van Helsing had, with a look that made Carl want to throw himself into the man's arms.
Why hadn't he done just that? he wondered, then sighed. Because he had been hurt and scared, and no matter how wonderful the end result of all that, the feelings of pain and confusion took a little time to fade. But they would, he knew. He imagined he could feel them fading every minute. One day very soon, they would be gone. He longed for that day.
Carl sensed a new beginning for him and Gabriel. Though he'd often claimed he wasn't a field man, this was one adventure he was looking forward to.
By the time Carl got back, Van Helsing had boiled some coffee and pulled food out of their packs, and argued with himself at least ten times about going after Carl to make sure he was all right. He had almost lost that argument and headed for the river, when Carl returned. Van Helsing presented him with a plate of breakfast.
"Thank you, Van Helsing," Carl said, sounding pleasantly surprised. It was no wonder, Van Helsing thought, since Carl usually covered the camp duties.
"You're welcome. Come here." Van Helsing slowly embraced him, squeezing him tightly. "I want to take care of you for a while." And he meant to. He'd tend to Carl's needs throughout the day, whatever they may be, and barely let him lift a finger.
Carl ate while Van Helsing picked at the little bit he'd put on his plate. He was hardly hungry, not with the knot in his stomach. A knot of not knowing that only seemed to be growing. Carl seemed all right--surprisingly so--and Van Helsing couldn't stop thinking of the things he'd said when he'd been caught up with his needs. It was also easier to think on those things that on hearing his friend's terrified voice shouting don't hurt me, please. He squeezed his eyes shut.
They sat next to each other, their backs against a log. They'd slept most of the day, so the sun was already dropping in the sky. Dark was only a little over an hour away.
Carl broke the silence. "How do you feel? Strange, still?"
"Not much. Just tired, Carl. The feeling I had, the sense of doom, it's gone." Van Helsing found he either had trouble looking at Carl, or he looked too long. How could he have been unable to stop from hurting him?
"And has been replaced with guilt, it seems." Carl reached over and put his hand on Van Helsing's. "Don't. Nothing was your fault."
Van Helsing smiled a little and shook his head. Carl always could sense his moods. Then his smile disappeared. "Like when I choked you, and your neck was ringed with bruises for days. Not my fault--I know. You've told me. But I still hurt you. God, your throat--"
"Healed. And what happened last night . . . that will heal, too. Is already healing, in many ways. Yes, I wish things had happened differently, but there's really no harm done. I wish . . . I wish you and I had done that before. Differently." Carl straightened his back and cleared his throat, but his expression was soft as he tilted his head. "By mutual agreement."
Van Helsing smiled and looked down, wondering what he'd done to deserve Carl in his life. He blinked rapidly and took a deep breath. When he looked back up at Carl, he nodded. "I wish it had been slow. And you had chosen the time and place."
Carl's eyes shone a little, and that made Van Helsing happy. "Someday soon, Gabriel, I will."
Van Helsing stroked Carl's hair. "You will. Absolutely, you will." He swallowed hard and gave a heaving sigh, smiling all the while. "So we're all right?"
Carl nodded. "Of course. Always."
Van Helsing held Carl's hands between both of his. They sat in silence until the full moon rose in the sky. He could feel Carl watching him, probably concerned about what might happen, but he only felt mildly restless as the moon shone down on them. One wolf howled in the distance, quickly joined by another.
"Do you think I'll ever hear that and not be haunted by the faint desire I have to shed my skin and run with them?"
"I don't know." Carl put a hand on Van Helsing's chest. "I hope so. Until then, I guess it's a good thing you have me to remind you of who you are."
He put a finger beneath Carl's chin and leaned down enough to kiss him for the first time. Carl's breath hitched, an innocent gasp that Van Helsing cherished. When the soft lips beneath his opened, a pleasant shiver raced through Van Helsing, one he knew would forever quiet the urges of the wolf he'd been.
Van Helsing put an arm around Carl's shoulders and pulled him close. "And where I belong."