Carl knew he hadn't slept well. The man's bedroll had been a few feet away from Carl's, yet every time Van Helsing had shifted, sighed or grunted Carl was instantly awake as if someone had shouted. Once Van Helsing settled down again and his breathing became even, Carl slept, only to wake a short while later when the man became restless again.
Carl knew what disturbed Van Helsing's sleep. Memories of Anna, or more accurately, memories of her death. Carl had been pulled from sleep by such memories, too, from time to time. But no one had the right to lose sleep over her more than Van Helsing. And Carl had no idea what to do about it.
So Van Helsing was irritable and impatient. Even more than normal, Carl thought, with a little smile.
The usually graceful, able hunter had tripped on a fallen branch, slipped on a wet stone while crossing a creek, managing to drench himself and splash Carl, had almost fallen off his horse, and managed to lose (lose? Carl had cried in disbelief) his grappling gun.
And this was all in the course of one morning. Again, Carl smiled secretly to himself thinking that normally it would take him a solid week to make this many blunders.
A short while ago, they'd stop to have a bite to eat and should have already headed out by now, but Van Helsing was having some trouble with one of his saddlebags. He'd somehow torn the strapping, and couldn't get it re-secured to the horse. Carl had attempted to explain to him the best way to accomplish this, but Van Helsing had silenced him with a look.
The bag had fallen off three times now. Carl knew this because he counted, and suppressed a giggle each time the hunter's exasperated sigh followed the thud of the bag hitting the ground.
Of course, Carl faced the other direction so Van Helsing couldn't see him smile.
And when the bag fell again and Van Helsing emitted a tiny growl of aggravation, Carl simply couldn't hold himself back any longer. He turned, attempted not to look amused, and in his most solicitous voice, he asked, "Want some help?"
Van Helsing's glare only made Carl press his lips together and raise his eyebrows before turning and facing the other direction again, pretending great interest in a knotty old tree. Finally, Van Helsing made a soft sound of satisfaction, and Carl turned to see the man walking away from the horse.
When the bag thudded to the ground, Van Helsing spun. "Shit!" He instantly looked at Carl and pressed his eyes shut as if his head ached.
Carl's eyes widened and his mouth fell open.
Carl took a few slow breaths. "But you shouldn't--"
Van Helsing's eyes opened. "Carl, I'm warning--"
"But you're always telling ME not to--"
Carl stopped on his own this time, thanks to Van Helsing's hand motion, the way he sliced his hand back and forth across his throat as if he might saw his own head off.. "Shhhh! Just SHUSH!"
Carl's mouth opened wider to form a word anyway, but he closed it again when Van Helsing's finger stabbed the air in his direction. "I mean it, Carl. Don't you say it. Don't."
Carl held his lips tightly together, and he tried very hard to keep them in a straight line, but he was failing.
"Don’t smile! Don't laugh, don't say anything. It's your fault, after all. I'm picking up your bad habits."
Carl stared at him for a moment, then crossed himself, slowly and with much exaggeration, following the gesture with a carefully enunciated "for-give me." Though Van Helsing took a few steps away, and turned, arms crossed, Carl kept peering at him as he moved to the horse and attempted to tie the saddlebag in place. He mumbled to himself, his voice growing louder as he talked. "Would that you should pick up some of my good ones. Like not being so bossy, and domineering. A little patience goes a long way, too. And speaking more words than you grunt would also be nice!"
This bantering back and forth had become a habit with them, it seemed, one that Carl was more than happy to have. Especially since the only thing he knew to do was to keep Van Helsing's mind off the unpleasant things they'd just experienced, and if sniping at the man, joking with him, being teased or even scolded by him, were what it took to help him, Carl was glad to do it. Carl even enjoyed it, more than he probably should.
So when he turned away from the horse, task completed, he gave the poorly tied knot he'd made no more than three seconds before it gave, and he timed his exasperated "damn it!" to come just a perfect beat after the sound of the saddlebag hitting the ground again. The silence lasted about as long as he expected.
And when he heard Van Helsing's hearty laugh, and felt the man clap him on the shoulder, his bad mood having at least been put away for a while, Carl decided it might yet be a pretty good day.