Leverage and Momentum
Van Helsing paced. He and Carl had somehow managed to avoid each other all day, and it felt wrong. Unnatural. And he had to admit, it was at least partly intentional. He really didn't know how to act in front of Carl after walking in on him early that morning. He thought he'd managed to act as if he hadn't seen anything, but there was lingering doubt, especially after their brief conversation. How much did Carl know? Van Helsing was afraid that question would hang in the air between them, making things awkward, until he found out the answer. He refused to hide--this was ridiculous.
He jerked open his door, ready to head for the lab and possibly the library in search of Carl. He jumped at the same time Carl hollered.
"Oh! Van Helsing, I was about to knock."
"I was coming to look for you."
"Really?" Carl dropped his voice a little. "Well, here I am." He smiled and bounced on the balls of his feet.
Gabriel nodded his head. "Here you are."
After several seconds, Carl said, "Are you going to invite me in, or should we stand and say nothing in the hallway?"
"Oh, oh, come in."
Carl seated himself on the only chair in the room. "I have a few minutes and decided to get away from the lab for a bit. Some chemical reactions take an intolerably long amount of time." He motioned for Van Helsing to sit on the bed. "Well, come on, sit down and tell me about it. You never did, you know."
Van Helsing sat on the edge of the bed. "Never did what?"
"Tell me about your trip. Sicily, what you found, what you did, that sort."
"Ah, no I didn't, did I?" Van Helsing realized what had felt so odd about the day, aside from the obvious. He'd never had the long post-mission conversation with Carl. He missed that. He relaxed and told Carl all about the churches and how only vandals had been responsible--no evil to vanquish, this time. Just orneriness. He described the buildings to Carl in detail, as well as some of the people he'd met, even one particularly delicious meal he'd had while there. Carl listened intently, asking questions now and then, nodding and 'ahh'-ing, and seeming to file everything away in his remarkable brain.
When Van Helsing finished talking, and Carl had asked all the questions he wanted, a silence descended on them. It wasn't awkward, but Gabriel was afraid of it becoming so given the thoughts rushing through his head. "Tell me, Carl. Did you get the table fixed?"
Carl laughed, a little self-consciously. "No, I didn't fix it. Brother Caleb took care of that, after the requisite amount of moaning and groaning about the consequences of me being allowed within ten feet of anything fast or sharp." Carl laughed harder. "You should have seen his face. . . the chair we destroyed this morning? His."
Van Helsing laughed, too, but didn't let the comment pass without notice. He wiped his eyes. "Wait, wait a minute, Carl. The chair we destroyed? You're the one who dropped the blade. He wasn't too cross, was he?"
Carl hugged himself, trying to get his laughter under control. "I don't think cross is the appropriate word. He finally forgave me. Said accidents do happen, especially when I'm around. And luckily we didn't get hurt."
"At least it was an accident. Did he find out you cut the corner off the table on purpose? I'd like to see his face, in that case." Van Helsing chuckled.
"Well, when I told him what happened with the table, he--" Carl went white. It occurred to him that he'd cut the corner off the table long before Van Helsing showed up--at least, that's what Carl had thought, until now.
When Carl stopped speaking and all the color drained from his face, it hit Van Helsing. He'd just given everything away with an innocent question. He no longer needed to ask anything--Carl knew he was there.
"Carl, I--I'm sorry. I walked in and then was going to try to go back out. . . it was too late and I didn't want you to be embarrassed."
"Oh my God." Carl put a his hand on his forehead and closed his eyes.
"No, don't be upset. I just didn't want you to be--"
"Embarrassed? Ashamed? Humiliated? Van Helsing, will you excuse me? I have some chemicals in the lab that really do need my attention."
Van Helsing rose off the bed and grabbed his arm before he could rush away. "No, Carl, please don't act this way."
"I am so sorry to have embarrassed you, and shamed myself."
"Carl, please, it's not as if it's something every man hasn't done. It's not as if it's something. . . I haven't done. We all haven't done." He swallowed hard. "Many times."
Carl felt his face getting some of its color back, thinking about that. Van Helsing. Many times. "But most don't have witnesses." He avoided Van Helsing's eyes. At least he doesn't know I was thinking about him, Carl thought. Panic surged through him as he wondered if he'd whispered Van Helsing's name in passion while he was having his fantasy. No, he didn't think so.
"True, most don't have witnesses." He patted Carl's shoulder. "But please, don't let it bother you. That's the last thing I would want."
Carl reluctantly nodded, still avoiding Van Helsing's eyes. "I'm sorry you saw what you saw, Van Helsing. Just please, don't think badly of me? Now, now I really do have to go."
Van Helsing squeezed Carl's shoulders and didn't let the man move away. "So for a moment you weren't an inventor, or a friar, or a genius. For a moment, someone caught you being just an ordinary man. How completely awful." He laughed. "Think badly? Of you, Carl? You've always been the best thing about this place."
"W--thank you, Van Helsing." He smiled. "I--that's nice of you to say." He noticed that hands still held his shoulders. Carl reached up and patted his friend's arms. "Chemicals. Lab. Big explosion soon."
"Of course. Be careful, Carl. Try not to destroy too much. Caleb must already be at the end of his rope."
Carl chuckled, then left. Van Helsing leaned against the closed door, almost disbelieving what had just happened. He'd let slip about the table, and things could have gone so wrong. If he hadn't been able to convince Carl everything was all right, he hated to think what might have become of their friendship. He supposed he could have told Carl that he'd done the same thing that very day. But that might have made things worse, having Carl wonder why Van Helsing would feel the need to do so after watching. . . . Then he'd be the one begging Carl not to think badly of him.
He just hadn't been able to get the image of Carl, his head thrown back, his mouth open, face flushed in pleasure, out of his mind. He wondered if he ever would.
Carl was so relieved to be away from Van Helsing that he panted all the way to lab, as if he'd been running. He cursed himself for even going to see him, but he'd felt more and more awkward as the day had gone on and was afraid of letting that get in the way of their friendship. He couldn't bear for something like that to happen, so he'd forced himself to find Van Helsing and try to act as normal as possible. After all, when he went to Van Helsing's room, he'd believed that the man hadn't seen anything and that all of his awkwardness stemmed from his own guilt.
But when Van Helsing asked him about the table and it dawned on Carl just what that meant, he really wanted to turn and run from the room. Van Helsing was there, he'd seen, he'd heard. . . oh God. Despite the man's assurances that he shouldn't let it bother him, Carl didn't know how long it would be before he could see Van Helsing without his face growing hot.
He muttered to himself and motioned with his hands as he walked. How stupid was he to do something like that in the lab, of all places? What if someone else had walked in and seen? He knew it was unlikely, even as he berated himself for it--few men could be as quiet as Van Helsing when he chose to be. At times he could be like a raging bull, but when he wanted stealth. . . . Carl stopped in his tracks as it truly sunk in--Van Helsing had watched him quietly for some time before Carl had. . . indulged himself.
He felt himself flush again, thinking about Van Helsing there, watching, quietly. Carl had never even done that in front of a lover. One had asked him to, but he hadn't felt comfortable enough. He supposed that had been silly of him, but the idea made him feel too vulnerable somehow. Gregorio hadn't minded his reluctance, they'd done plenty of other things, after all. Carl smiled at the memories, and supposed if it hadn't been such a long time since he'd had a lover, he might not have felt the need to do it all, and then none of this would be happening.
How long had it been? Gregorio had been the last, and he left a few years ago, deciding the Order wasn't his true calling after all, and had urged Carl to go with him. Carl was tempted, but his home was here, his lab was here, and so he bid Gregorio a sad farewell. Some months later, Carl became aware that Paul, a very pleasant and attractive fellow friar, was interested in him. But by then Van Helsing had arrived. And whenever Carl thought about touching another, or being touched, Van Helsing's was the only face he could see.
He stood outside the lab, blinking, wondering. Lab. He was at the lab. Oh yes, the lab. Chemicals. He didn't much feel like working, he'd rather go to his room and pull the covers over his head, but he really did have something to check on. And it would serve to get his mind off his own shame, he supposed. He shook his head to clear it, and went to see if anything interesting had happened to his latest experiment while he was away.
Van Helsing couldn't sleep. He stared up at the blackness covering the ceiling and wished he could go back to yesterday and do things differently. Not just to save himself and Carl some awkwardness and embarrassment, but to go back to when things were simpler. When he regarded Carl as his friend, his ally, and not as someone who stirred unfamiliar feelings within him.
He threw an arm over his eyes. Why should he be so attracted to someone like Carl, why couldn't it be someone more like himself? Carl was so smart, inquiring, gentle-minded, good. His head was in the clouds, it seemed, his curiosity and intellectual pursuits occupying most of his waking hours. Carl's sense of humor had on occasion strayed into the debauched, so he obviously knew some things. But that didn't mean he'd actually experienced anything. With another person. Carl read, as he'd pointed out many times.
Van Helsing, on the other hand, was primal. When hungry, he ate heartily. When threatened, he fought viciously. When aroused, he found a willing woman. Or two. And while he was doing these things, he suspected Carl was reading, thinking, analyzing the whys and hows and whens. Van Helsing felt like the lion to Carl's eagle: One firmly on the ground, hunting, killing, mating, while the other soared above, busy with higher ideals, watching the lesser beings below.
Carl. Sex. He'd never thought of the two in the same context before. Carl was a friar, his close friend who spent his days in prayer and at work inventing things to be used to serve God's purpose. Despite the things he'd told Carl earlier about him for a moment being just a man, Van Helsing knew that before that morning he'd never really thought of Carl as just an ordinary man, with an ordinary man's wants and needs.
He found himself wanting to go to the lab. It must be well after midnight, and it was likely that if there was anyone in the lab, it would be Carl alone. Van Helsing showing up at such an hour wasn't an uncommon thing, but how would Carl react now? With some guilt, Van Helsing admitted to himself that the idea of being alone in the lab with Carl, watching him work, remembering what he did and knowing that Carl might be just a little uncomfortable. . . disturbed him and excited him at the same time.
Van Helsing had only vague memories of his life before showing up broken and bloody at the Vatican. None of his flashes of memory involved intimacy with men. And since he'd been taken in by the Order, he had not bedded a man. But he was unable to get the image of Carl, awash in pleasure, out of his mind, making him wonder just how many men he might have touched in the years he couldn't remember.
He grunted as he rolled out of bed, knowing he wasn't going to sleep any time soon, and quickly dressed. Maybe Carl would already be asleep in his room, and Van Helsing would find an empty lab. He hoped for that. And against it.
First, there had been the conversation with Van Helsing. Knowing his friend had watched him earlier, the shame. And now his latest experiment had gone off on a tangent. Ordinarily that's something he would embrace, being a believer that every failure was simply a successful discovery of one more thing that does not work. But after the day he'd had, this particular failure irritated him more than it should. Carl tried to embrace the bright side by thinking that at least it had taken his mind off other things.
Until 'other things' came trouncing down the steps. Van Helsing visited him here often when he couldn't sleep, when he wanted to talk about something at an odd hour. So why should this be any different? Van Helsing seemed to act as if nothing had happened. . . why couldn't Carl? He could, he would, for the sake of their friendship. At least, he'd give it a damned good try. Carl sighed and concentrated on the work before him, hoping nothing more was to be said about the whole uncomfortable situation, and they could resume their usual roles in each other's lives.
Van Helsing descended the steps, already able to see Carl, and suddenly wished he'd somehow asked if it was all right to come in. He could have knocked, or shouted to announce himself. No, this is no good if I start acting differently, he thought. But he made as much noise pounding down the steps as he possibly could.
"No explosions tonight, Carl?"
Carl examined a glass container full of something blue. "No, no explosions tonight." He held the container close to a bright flame, as if trying to see through it, before lifting his eyes to Van Helsing's, his face grim. "Well, not yet."
Van Helsing stopped mid-step. Carl flashed him a mischievous grin.
Van Helsing smiled, relieved at the familiar mood suddenly between them, and joined Carl at the table. "Funny." He snatched the container from Carl, eliciting a 'harrumph,' and turned it in his hand. "Blue goo?"
Carl rolled his eyes. "It was a gel-like substance originally." His finger scratched the surface of the compound to demonstrate. "Sat up like a rock. Quite unexpected! I counted on a thickening effect, perhaps even thinning again as certain elements broke down near the end of the process, but the particles bonded together in a way I hadn't anticipated. You see, the carbon inherent in the. . . my God, I've never seen eyes glaze over quite so quickly. Why do you ask if you're not really interested?" He snatched the container back.
"Maybe I'm hoping if you talk like that long enough I'll be able to sleep."
If anyone else had said that to Carl he'd be put off, but he knew Van Helsing's jibes were never meant to hurt. Carl likened it to a little boy pulling a girl's pigtails in school--an abrasive gesture from someone who often isn't comfortable expressing genuine affection any other way.
"So my talking bores you, does it? Watch yourself or I'll start singing, and your terror will be such that you might never sleep again."
Van Helsing laughed and walked the length of the table, poking at the bits of metal and paper, occasionally picking something up and examining it.
Carl was hunched over, writing. "Nightmare?"
"No, you have to sleep to have a nightmare."
"Ah. Too worried about having a nightmare to sleep?"
Van Helsing looked at the hand-blade Carl had been working on before, now on the table surrounded by a few sketches of its inner workings. He shuffled the sketches around, wanting to touch the weapon, hold it. . . he thought maybe coming here had been a very bad idea.
"Uh, no, no I simply couldn't fall asleep, that's all."
Carl noticed what Van Helsing was doing. "Ah! That's my plan for a release mechanism. A switch on the handle would allow the spinning blade to be hurled at great velocity toward a target." He took the sketch from Van Helsing, pointing at the drawing and explaining his idea.
Van Helsing tried to follow Carl's explanation, but found himself distracted by the proximity of the man. He leaned in a bit so that he made contact with Carl as he looked at the drawing. He found himself watching Carl talk instead. Carl looked at him for approval, a wide smile on his face.
Van Helsing forgot to pretend he'd been looking at the schematics. He watched Carl's wide grin shrink to a small, uncertain one. He knew, at that moment, exactly what he wanted to do to Carl, just how to touch him and where, what he wanted to do with his hands and his mouth. Carl's nearness had sparked something inside him and the ideas that rushed forth felt less like ideas than actual memories.
Carl cleared his throat. "You've got that. . . uh, glazed look again, Van Helsing. If you're going to drop off from boredom where you stand, do at least be sure not to fall on any of my experiments."
If the man before him had been anyone else, Van Helsing thought he would have grabbed him and taken him right then on the table, experiments be damned. He held back only because this was Carl.
"I'm not bored." What in the hell am I doing?
"Well, I think you. . . oh. You're not?"
"No." He picked up the blade, relishing its weight and the feel of the handle. Van Helsing had little in life. His duty, Carl's friendship, but most of all he had control. He maintained control of his body, his thoughts, of every situation--that's how he stayed alive. But in the last 24 hours, he felt himself giving way to desire, and found he no longer wanted to control it. He thought over their conversation in the lab, after. . . . He had to test this, find out if there was a chance. Surely there would be some sign before he went too far, and he would know to exert that control again. He had to know.
He held the blade toward Carl. "Show me where the switch would be." Van Helsing stared at the handle doing his best to look confused.
Carl sighed and touched it with his index finger. "Here seems to be the most practical location."
Van Helsing pinned Carl's finger with his thumb, as if trying out an imagined switch. "Seems a good spot. Easily reached." Now, he thought, he had to do something. Something small--and seemingly insignificant, in case it had to be. Van Helsing brushed his thumb lightly over the top of Carl's trapped finger, not more than half-an-inch in either direction. Barely a movement at all. The biggest thing he'd ever done. Enough.
Carl's only reaction was a slight intake of breath. But it was a reaction. Van Helsing circled slowly behind him.
He reached around Carl, allowing his body to press forward enough so that his chest barely brushed against one side of Carl's back, and pushed the weapon more fully into his friend's hand, again allowing his thumb to caress one of Carl's fingers before pulling away. And then he waited.
Carl didn't move. He barely seemed to breathe. When Van Helsing couldn't take it anymore, he carefully put a hand on Carl's shoulder.
The friar dropped the weapon and spun. "What are you doing, Van Helsing? What--what is this?"
Van Helsing stepped back, ready to make excuses for everything, to sweep it all away as a misunderstanding. But something in Carl's eyes kept him from it. Carl didn't look horrified or disgusted. Or even angry. He saw none of those things on the friar's face. Just confusion, maybe a little fear, and something else he couldn't quite place. "What do you. . . think it is, Carl?"
"I don't--" Carl's voice lost some of its tightness, its volume dropped almost to a whisper. "What are you. . . are you. . . are you trying to. . . ?"
That's when Van Helsing was sure he saw it under the fear and confusion--he was sure he saw hope in Carl's expression. Hope. Wasn't it? It had to be, because he couldn't turn back now. Van Helsing's voice matched Carl's. "Do you. . . want me to?"
He wanted to hear Carl say 'yes,' to hear pleading and want in his voice, but he couldn't wait for it. The look that passed over Carl's face was affirmation enough. Van Helsing grabbed his arms and pressed him backward. Reason stalled him. No, they couldn't do this here. He glanced at the door.
"My room. Yours. Don't care."
Carl nodded, pushed Van Helsing back and headed for the stairs, almost at a gallop. Van Helsing followed, but suddenly knew he'd never make it to any room, he wanted to taste, to touch, now. He grabbed Carl's arm and herded him behind the staircase, out of sight of the door, but close enough to hear someone on the steps.
Before he could back Carl against the wall, Carl spun on him and shoved him against the stone. Carl's fingers twisted in the dark hair as he kissed Gabriel, wasting no time in sucking his tongue into his mouth and pressing their bodies together. Van Helsing was surprised by this aggressiveness but matched it with his own actions, cupping Carl's buttocks through his robes and pulling him in even tighter, moaning into his mouth as he pushed his hips forward.
When Carl finally released Van Helsing's mouth it was only to forge a trail down his jaw, his neck. He sucked at the stubbled Adam's apple and shifted to the side to allow one hand between their bodies and up and under Van Helsing's shirt, his other hand still fisted in Van Helsing's hair. He explored the chest, his fingers combing through the thick hair, brushing over one taut nipple, then the other, before sliding down the muscled belly.
Van Helsing was grateful for the wall behind him as Carl's hand slid down and cupped him through the front of his trousers. He tilted his head up further to give Carl better access as he pressed forward into the hand that now rubbed firmly in rhythm with the sucking mouth and tongue against his throat. Carl's fingers pulled almost painfully at his hair. Carl may read a lot, he thought, but given what Carl's hands and mouth were doing to him right now, Van Helsing decided that on this particular subject Carl must have done more than just peruse old books. The thought of Carl as a skilled lover excited Van Helsing even as he found himself jealous at the idea that he'd touched someone else this same way. Carl's questing fingers quickly distracted him from such thoughts.
"Oh. . . god," he whispered, as he covered Carl's hand with his own and tugged it away. At that, Carl lifted his head but before he could speak, Van Helsing kissed him, turning the tables, then used the hand he held to pull him forward and around until Carl's back pressed tight against him, their joined hands on the friar's chest. Van Helsing's other hand found one side of Carl's neck as his mouth lowered to other and gave the flesh there the same treatment Carl had bestowed on his throat moments ago.
As he felt Carl's head relax back onto his shoulder, Van Helsing pulled away to take in the sight he'd been craving--throat arched, eyes closed, mouth slightly open--Carl completely lost. And knowing he was the cause of it almost brought him over the edge. He whispered, "I want you to do what you did this morning." He felt Carl stiffen.
"What? Van He--I don't think. . . I could. . . . "
Van Helsing moved Carl's hand, sliding it lower, down Carl's chest, down his stomach. "Yes, you can." And then a hoarse whisper in his ear. "Do it for me this time."
He kissed Carl's neck and heard his words, ". . . it was for you. . . last time," before Carl gasped, as the hands moving down his body found their mark. Van Helsing kept his hand on top, encouraging, letting his fingers slide between Carl's to feel the hardness underneath.
When Van Helsing's thumb ever so slightly caressed his finger, Carl almost let himself hope the gesture meant what he wanted it to. Then when Van Helsing moved behind him and pressed the weapon into his hand, allowing the small caress again, Carl did let himself hope. And then. . .
Carl was dead, he was sure of it. Dead and in a heaven of his own design. He must have collapsed, perhaps from some sort of unexpected toxic fumes put off by his last experiment, and the moment Van Helsing stomped down the steps into his lab he was granted his eternal reward.
It was the only reasonable explanation.
Any other theory meant that Van Helsing wanted him. Maybe he hadn't imagined the awkwardness in their conversation after he'd dropped the blade that morning? And Van Helsing had been watching him silently for a short while before Carl had indulged himself, and. . . .
Van Helsing wanted him.
Dead. Dead in his own private heaven. He'd dreamt of touching this man for so long now that when Van Helsing pushed him behind the stairs, Carl couldn't stand the wait anymore. Somewhere in his mind a cautious voice told him that if he did this they could never go back. Their relationship would change forever. What if, for Van Helsing, this was just physical, a need for this one night, never to be again?
But he was too far gone, and God himself flanked by leagues of angels and Cardinal Jinette couldn't have talked Carl out of this moment.
So Carl did what he'd imagined so many times, heedless that this wasn't one of his fantasies. He put everything he had into one kiss, one touch, so if he never got the chance again, at least he would have this.
Carl gave himself so completely over to his desire, that when Van Helsing spun him and urged him to touch himself as he had that morning, he could barely protest. Bad enough he'd done it in front of Van Helsing unawares, but now, consciously? And yet somehow Carl couldn't imagine doing anything but what that familiar voice in his ear told him to.
He thrust forward against his hand, Van Helsing's hand, and then back against the hard body pressed so tightly against him. Carl could easily imagine that it was Van Helsing's hand alone giving him pleasure, much like in his fantasy. For me, Carl, oh yes, for me. Then it was Van Helsing's hand, as Carl's was quickly pushed away.
When Van Helsing's tongue snaked around the rim of his ear and the man's strained voice whispered, "Carl, now, let go," he couldn't do anything but obey.
Van Helsing's hand moved from Carl's neck to the side of his face.
He could feel how close Carl was, as the man's body trembled against his. He'd seen this from afar, but now he was part of it, participating, and he wanted it all. He replaced Carl's hand with his own so he could feel Carl throb under his touch. He wanted to taste him as he lost control--wanted so much more than that. When he whispered let go, he used the fingers he had splayed against Carl's cheek to turn his head. As Carl tensed, Van Helsing took his mouth.
Carl's shout was muffled in the kiss. Van Helsing's groping hand tightened as Carl came, bucked forward once, twice, three times before his movements started to slow. Still Van Helsing kissed him, every sound Carl made lost in the possessive mouth covering his. He rubbed Carl, gently and slowly, wringing from him every last whimper and shudder he could.
Van Helsing broke the kiss so they could both gasp for air. Carl's eyes opened, their blue seeming a shade Van Helsing had never seen before. He felt Carl reaching back, trying to work his hand between their bodies.
Van Helsing shook his head. He caught the searching hand. "No."
"But you're still. . ." Carl turned, a little unsteadily, an almost hurt look on his face. "Why not?"
"Because I want you, Carl. And we can't do that here." He put his hands on Carl's shoulders. "I'll come to your room. If that's all right."
Carl stared for a moment as if in disbelief. "Of course it's all right."
"You go ahead." Van Helsing really doubted anyone would be up, but if someone were awake he'd be sure to notice Van Helsing's aroused state. At the confused look on Carl's face, Van Helsing pulled him forward and kissed him. "I'll follow in a few moments. We can't risk being seen together while I'm like this." He motioned down with his eyes.
"Oh, oh of course, you're right." Carl stepped back.
When Van Helsing heard the friar climb the stairs and then all was quiet, he slumped against the wall, listening to his own breathing and his heart pounding in his chest. He was tempted to relieve himself again then and there--he was sure he would have no trouble becoming aroused again once he reached Carl's room.
But he didn't want to be brought off with a hand. He wanted to be inside Carl, surrounded by him, hanging onto him when it happened. Van Helsing willed himself to relax, and tried to think of anything but Carl, waiting for him. Waiting to have him.
Carl swore the trip from the lab to his room had never seemed longer. He stripped off his robe, the light shirt and trousers he wore underneath, first frowning at the damp patch on the crotch of his pants, and then smiling. The second such pair in one day.
He took a cloth and dipped it into his wash bowl, already shivering in anticipation of the cold water. He wiped the light sheen of sweat from his face, neck and chest before cleaning the quickly drying stickiness from his stomach and groin. After he dried himself, he stood there for a moment, wondering what to do.
It just felt too strange to stand there completely naked and wait for Van Helsing, so he put on a long nightshirt and sat on the edge of his bed. Because I want you, Carl. Those words played over and over in his head all the way from the lab. Dead. Reward. Heaven. Most definitely.
Carl waited, and waited, and eventually started to worry. He thought Van Helsing would have arrived by now. Long before now. What if he'd changed his mind, or regretted what had happened? What if he thought it had been a mistake?
A light knock sounded, and Carl almost swooned with relief. He started to speak, but opted to open the door himself and usher Van Helsing in. Carl noticed he was still clearly aroused, and hoped he hadn't encountered anyone on the way there. "Why are you knocking? You could have just come in."
Van Helsing was already out of his shirt and making quick work of his boots. "I don't know. I always knock. Seemed the thing to do." He realized that when they were barefoot, the height difference between them was much less, and that Carl simply looked taller without the bundle of hood behind his head, giving him an almost hunchbacked appearance.
Carl reached out to touch the muscled chest, his hands gliding over the skin and thick dark hair almost reverently. "What took you so long? I started to think. . . you might have changed your mind." He helped Van Helsing undo his pants.
Van Helsing stepped out of them, then pulled Carl's nightshirt over his head and tossed it in one swift motion. "I wasn't changing my mind. I was waiting for this," he pulled Carl to him and ground his hips forward, "to go away, in case there were any insomniac monks wandering around."
"Didn't seem to work."
"No." He couldn't resist running his hands over Carl's chest. Carl wasn't as wide as Van Helsing, as big or as muscled, but he felt good, felt right, under Van Helsing's hands. He was lean and toned, his chest covered in ginger hair that trailed down his stomach to the thick, slightly darker patch that drew Van Helsing's attention now. He let his hand follow the path of hair down Carl's stomach to rub his palm against Carl's already stiffening flesh.
As Carl moaned at the touch, Van Helsing pushed him toward the bed.
Carl breathed heavily and made tiny noises that sounded strange to his own ears. He had promptly been arranged just as Van Helsing wanted him--on his knees with his hands against the wall at the head of the bed. Van Helsing knelt behind him, much like their position in the lab. Only now he was covering every inch of Carl's back with his hands and his mouth. There was little for Carl to do but relax and enjoy it.
Carl had tried to roll Van Helsing onto his back at first so he could look at him and explore, take him into his mouth--take some time--unlike in the lab. But Van Helsing seemed in such a hurry, and had simply urged Carl into the position he wanted. A slight fear was creeping back into Carl that this was just unrelieved tension from his mission, a simple physical need that once satisfied would be forgotten.
And Van Helsing seemed to prefer Carl facing away from him. This bothered Carl, became a nibble at the back of his mind that Van Helsing might want him this way so he could imagine he was with someone, anyone, else.
Van Helsing's arms wrapped around him, and he could feel the man drop himself lower and under him, and--
"Wait, wait!" Carl pulled away as Van Helsing tried to enter him. "You can't just. . . you have to. . . in that satchel." Carl pointed at a bag he sometimes carried back and forth to the lab. "Small container marked 'glycerin 7.'"
Van Helsing retrieved the bottle, but before he opened it he asked, "I thought you were trying to get the glycerin to explode? Is this safe?"
"Yes, it's safe. That formula is only good as a lubricant." Carl smiled with pride. "It was my first successful batch a few years ago."
Van Helsing coated himself, his fingers. "Successful? Thought you said it was only good as a lubricant."
"It is. But that's what I was aiming for," Carl said, and then Van Helsing's fingers were inside him. He jerked at the sudden intrusion.
Van Helsing stopped and kissed Carl's shoulder blade. "Sorry," he whispered. The fingers moved within Carl, more slowly this time, but only long enough to ensure that he was slick. Then they were gone and he felt Van Helsing pushing himself inside.
Van Helsing felt like he was doing everything wrong. He just wanted Carl, wanted to be inside him, and hadn't even given thought to how they'd go about it. He did want to make this good for both of them, and even though he still worried about hurting the man he was barely able to stop once he'd felt himself slip into Carl's body. Fighting the urge to thrust, he waited to let Carl get used to the intrusion.
After a few moments, Carl pressed back and down, taking a little more of him in. Van Helsing reached around Carl and stroked him as he pressed forward slowly, groaning when he found himself completely surrounded. Again, he waited to move, letting Carl get used to the feeling.
When he felt Carl relax around him, saw the tension in his shoulders start to give way, he experimentally withdrew the smallest bit and pressed forward again. Carl moaned, but clearly not in pain, so he repeated this motion, each time pulling himself out a little farther. Soon his strokes were almost the complete length of him, and Carl was pressing back into each one.
Van Helsing knew he wasn't going to last long. His hand quickened on Carl's erection as his other hand pressed against Carl's chest, pulling his hands away from the wall and urging Carl to lean back against him. He could feel Carl tensing, trying to keep himself balanced.
"I've got you," he whispered. You're mine now. Van Helsing held him tightly, balancing both of them, as he thrust up into Carl almost frantically, almost lifting Carl off his knees each time, all rhythm and gentleness lost to desire. He felt Carl's hands reaching behind, trying to find something to hang onto, before they settled on his hip and buttock. Van Helsing put his mouth against Carl's neck, sucked hard and whimpered against the skin, and then Carl's head flew back onto his shoulder. Van Helsing lifted his head to watch.
Carl moaned Van Helsing's given name. His forehead creased, the veins in his neck stood out, his breaths were quick and shallow. Then he made a choked sound, clearly trying not to shout, as he throbbed in Van Helsing's hand and clenched around him. At the sight of Carl's release, Van Helsing lost control.
He thrust repeatedly as he came, quickly muffling his sounds of pleasure against Carl's neck. Van Helsing stroked him until Carl's trembling subsided, then rubbed small circles around his belly button. When his own spasms slowed, he groaned and pulled himself free of Carl's body, but still held him tightly. He could feel the friar's heart jackrabbit under his hand.
Van Helsing lifted his face again to look at Carl, whose head was still tossed back against his shoulder. His eyes were closed, his mouth was open, and Van Helsing couldn't resist reaching over and kissing him. Carl's eyes opened and he smiled.
Van Helsing lowered them both to the bed. He urged Carl to relax while he looked for something to wipe his hand and the sheet.
"Use my pants, a little more isn't going to matter," Carl said.
When Van Helsing was finished, he looked at Carl with a slight frown, then looked at his clothes, and back at Carl. "Should I go?"
"Go?" Carl sat up. This was what he was afraid of. Van Helsing had just been relieving tension, and now he was done. Done with Carl. "No, not unless you want to."
"What do you want me to do, Carl?"
Carl swallowed thickly. "I--" Oh, all that's damned, just say it. "I'd like you to stay."
"Good. Then I'll stay." Van Helsing smiled and crawled in next to Carl. He pulled him close so that they were facing each other, Carl noted happily, before he said, "What did you mean earlier when you said it was for me last time?"
Carl sighed and decided that now was a little late to be embarrassed. And a little late to turn back. "When you saw me yesterday . . in the lab. . . when I. . . well, I was thinking of you." He swallowed and took a deep breath. "I've wanted you. . . " Go ahead, Carl. Everything has already changed. Say it sayitsayit, ". . . loved you. . . for a very long time, Gabriel."
Van Helsing didn't speak, didn't seem to breathe for several moments. When he did speak, it was barely above a whisper. "How did I not know?"
"I didn't want you to."
When the silence stretched on, Carl took a deep breath. "I didn't know how you would react. I was pretty sure it was one-sided and. . . I didn't want to hurt our friendship. It wasn't worth losing you."
"You wouldn't have lost me, Carl. Nothing could do that." He rubbed Carl's back reassuringly, even as he wondered just how he would have reacted. Before. Before he'd wanted Carl.
Nothing could have changed their friendship, he knew this, though he didn't doubt it would have been. . . strange, knowing that his dearest friend wanted them to be more. But maybe, had he known, it would have helped him see Carl differently long ago. Helped him see not just his friend, the genius inventor, the friar, but the complete man that was Carl. As he saw him now.
And maybe Van Helsing would have wanted him then, too.
Carl fidgeted for a moment, trying to get comfortable. "What do you think you would have done, had I told you?"
"I honestly don't know, Carl. " He wished he could lie and tell Carl he'd have happily fallen into his arms. "But I know you wouldn't have lost me."
"No." He kissed Carl to illustrate his point. "You've wanted me for a long time." It wasn't a question as much as a musing. "And now, you have me."
"And now, I want you."
"So what I would have done before. . . doesn't really matter."
"No. It doesn't."
"Good. Now, Carl, tell me about the carbon in that blue goo that made it do unexpected things, so we can get some sleep."
Carl laughed and shoved him away but Van Helsing pulled him back, laughing himself. They exchanged a few more mumbled words and kisses before they settled against each other and were still.
Carl was sorely disappointed, but not surprised, when he woke alone. He sat on the edge of the bed for a long time, telling himself he'd been foolish to believe that Van Helsing's affections went any deeper than friendship and physical need. Van Helsing said he wanted Carl now. Not that he loved him.
Carl hurried through his morning rituals--clean, dress, pray, eat--and then wondered why he was in such a rush. Was he planning on searching out Van Helsing? And for what? The man knew how he felt. If Van Helsing didn't feel the same about him, what more could he do? He tried to hang on to Van Helsing's certainty that no matter what, Carl wouldn't lose him.
Carl slogged toward the lab. To his surprise, Van Helsing waited for him, his long leather overcoat already on, a large satchel on his shoulder. The other occupants of the room milled about, busy forging and building and experimenting, but Van Helsing stood almost perfectly still next to a worktable. The only movement, his long fingers tracing the seam where a severed corner had been reattached.
Carl didn't even pretend to not be disappointed as he approached. "A mission?"
Van Helsing nodded, a bit sadly, Carl thought, unless it was wishful thinking on his part. "Monaco. A man they believe is changing into some sort of large cat at night, a panther or a leopard, they weren't specific. Three dead so far."
Then they were all business. "Technically a type of were-creature," Carl said to himself as he ensured Van Helsing would have all the proper implements and weapons. When he was finished, he looked at the man, wishing desperately they were alone so he could kiss him once before he left. But not really knowing if Van Helsing would want that. He thought so. He hoped.
"Monaco, Carl. That's not too far," Van Helsing said. "I shouldn't be gone long, if I find him quickly."
Carl nodded and tried to smile a little. "Of course, Van Helsing. Be careful."
"I'll see you soon." Van Helsing squeezed Carl's shoulder, and was gone.
For days Carl analyzed those last few moments in the lab. Van Helsing seemed to be trying to reassure Carl he would back soon. That was new. He had been known to grouse a bit about long journeys, or journeys through less-than-friendly territories, but he'd never used that phrase before, or the tone. I shouldn't be gone long. . . .
But then there was the parting squeeze to Carl's shoulder. That was typically what he always did before he left. Carl had thought for a moment the hand was moving toward his face, but in the last two weeks he decided that was just his imagination giving him what he most wanted.
Carl desperately wished they'd had more time, at least a few more days ideally, before Van Helsing had to leave. Even if it was to find that Van Helsing had wanted him only that one night, at least he would know. And not be forced to wonder while he was away.
Van Helsing had cabled three days ago, and should have already been back. So now Carl wondered when he would arrive and if he was all right, on top of the turmoil he already felt over the night they spent together. To try to keep his mind off such things, he worked late into the night, as usual, most of his time spent on making the hand-blade release switch.
Aside from the two days he'd been forbidden to enter the lab.
Carl had rushed into testing a hastily constructed switch on a just-as-hastily-constructed model. He flung his arm to hurl it toward a target and when nothing happened he turned back to his table to figure out the problem. The blade finally popped free, dropped to the table and rolled across, with Carl shouting a warning at Brother Caleb. Caleb, who didn't look long enough to realize that all he had to do was step out of the way of the slowly rolling blade, assumed he was about to fall victim to one of Carl's lethal weapons gone awry. The portly man turned and ran, hands above his head, shrieking a prayer, and tumbled over a Muslim who had bent over to pick up a spring.
Neither Caleb nor the man he tripped over were seriously injured. Just sore, and perturbed. But it cost Carl two days of progress on his design. And in those two days, he'd gone over every moment he'd spent with Van Helsing, every word, every touch, and nearly gone out of his mind.
Carl sighed and looked at the model he had in pieces in front of him. He'd really hoped to perfect the design before Van Helsing returned, but there was little hope of that now. He might as well go to bed and start fresh tomorrow. Maybe he would actually get some sleep this time, instead of tossing and turning, rolling things over in his mind.
He turned to leave the lab and gasped in surprise. Van Helsing stood at the top of the stairs. Carl smiled instantly. "You're back."
"What are you doing?"
Van Helsing smiled and cocked his head. "Watching you."
Carl's smile faded. "There's nothing to see, I'm finished here." He made his way up the steps and brushed past Van Helsing, who still hadn't moved. "I'm glad you're home safe."
"Glad I'm. . . ?" Van Helsing followed him out of the lab and smirked. "Carl, I'd only been standing there a few moments. You turned just as I was coming down."
"You were being very quiet."
"Meant to surprise you." Van Helsing had trouble keeping up with the friar, despite his longer gait.
"You mean, you meant to catch me."
Van Helsing grabbed him from behind and hugged him tightly. "I mean, I was going to do this."
"Van Helsing! If someone--"
"If someone saw I'd say you were choking and I was trying to save you." He spun Carl. "Then I was going to do this." His hands cupped the back of Carl's head as he kissed him, quickly.
Carl blinked several times and exhaled. "What would you say if someone saw that?"
"Your dear Aunt Ida in Monaco asked me to kiss you for her."
"I don't have an Aunt Ida."
"Stop making this difficult."
Carl pressed his lips into a thin line and turned, once again headed for his room, unsurprised that Van Helsing followed. His mind was set at ease on one point--it seemed their night together was not going to be the only one, unless Van Helsing had gone mad on his trip and that explained why he'd just kissed him in the hall. But, Carl thought, he may just need to relieve stress from the mission. He'll be gone in the morning and that'll be that, and I'll feel just as lost as I have all this time. Until next time he returns from a mission, and wants me again.
And Carl realized, almost disgusted with himself, that he didn't care. He wanted more, yes, but if that was not to be, he would take what he could get. Whenever, however. . . whatever Van Helsing wanted, Carl would give him.
Carl walked into his room first but didn't turn when he heard the door close behind them. "So how was your trip?"
Carl faced him and opened his mouth to speak, but Van Helsing cut him off. "I really was only standing there for a moment, Carl, because I was thinking how glad I was to be back. . . to see you."
Carl sighed and let his expression soften at the look on Van Helsing's face. "You're all right, then? You didn't get scratched or bitten, or injured in some other--"
Van Helsing lunged forward and kissed him.
This time, when Carl tried to roll him onto his back, Van Helsing let him. Carl took his time exploring the body beneath him with his hands and his cheeks and his tongue. When Carl took Van Helsing into his mouth, he thought he would lose himself just from the man's reaction. Van Helsing's fingers tightened in Carl's hair as he bucked off the bed and moaned.
Soon after, the fingers were tightening again to pull Carl away. "Stop. . . I can't. . . "
"Go ahead, it's all right--"
Van Helsing rolled on top. "No, I want you."
This time, Van Helsing moved slower, doing his own explorations of Carl's body, mimicking what was done to him. When he took Carl into his mouth, it was awkward at first, and then instinct or memory or both kicked in, and he soon had Carl in a state of need to match his own.
Carl pulled him up to kiss him, and Van Helsing was stretching him, slowly and easily, and then he was inside and moving, kissing Carl and stroking him in time with his thrusts. Carl's hands were everywhere on him as he moved--on his back, his ass, in his hair--and his legs were wrapped tightly around the man's waist.
Van Helsing kissed Carl's chest, and felt him tense. He lifted his head to watch Carl's face, and was struck to see those blue eyes looking back at him. When Carl gave a soft cry and jerked beneath him without looking away, Van Helsing whispered Carl and felt himself tumble over the edge.
Their mouths were no more than a few inches apart and Van Helsing wanted to kiss him, but Carl's gaze held him in place. When they were both spent, Van Helsing did lean down to kiss him, eyes still open, before he let himself drop next to Carl. He wanted to say something, but had no words that seemed right.
Neither man spoke as Van Helsing wound himself around Carl and they fell asleep, a twist of arms and legs.
"Carl. Carl!" Van Helsing shook him gently.
"Wha?" Carl squinted at him.
"Sorry, but you're snoring's going to disturb people in England. You need to sleep in a different position. Something."
Carl turned his head and squinted at the window, and then sat up. He was still tired, and subtlety was not one of his strong suits this early in the morning. He eyed Van Helsing incredulously. "It's almost daybreak and you're still in my bed."
Van Helsing propped himself up on an elbow, frowning. "If you'd rather I weren't in your bed, Carl, I can go to my own room."
"No! No. I'm glad you're here. I just didn't think you would be." Carl yawned and rubbed his face with both hands.
"You weren't last time, as I recall."
"Last time I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep." Van Helsing sat up at the tone in Carl's voice. "So I took a walk. To think. About what happened, what you said about. . . loving me. Everything. And on my way back here I got cornered by a monk who had just gotten word from Jinette about the trouble in Monaco. By the time I had a chance to come and get you I knew you'd already be on your way to the lab, so I waited for you there."
He took Carl by the shoulders. "If not for that, Carl, I would have been here when you woke up."
"You were coming back?"
"Of course. I was even planning on waking you when I got back."
Carl couldn't help but smile at that, but then his expression darkened. "You still hadn't gotten the mission out of your system?" He could have slapped himself for saying it, but it was out and couldn't be taken back. At least he'd know.
Van Helsing let go of his shoulders. "What?"
At the hurt expression on Van Helsing's face, Carl tried to wave the comment away. "Nothing, nothing, never--"
"My God, Carl. Is that all you think this is to me? A way to get things out of my system?"
Carl could only stare for a moment, again desperately wishing he'd kept his mouth shut. Then he shrugged slightly. "Isn't it?"
Van Helsing sat silently for a moment, examining his hands, before looking at Carl and speaking. "Remember that night, when you'd asked what took me so long to follow you to your room?"
When Carl nodded, Van Helsing continued. "After you left the lab, I tried to distract myself with something. . . unexciting. Anything but the thought of you, here, waiting for me. So I thought of some of your more complicated experiments, the ones you claim make my eyes glaze over. But that made me think of you, explaining them to me. I tried thinking of some of the most horrible creatures I've encountered, which made me think of how I fought and slayed them. All with weapons you created. Then I tried to conjure the taste of some of the worst food I've ever eaten, but that made me think of many meals I've had courtesy of The Order. . . ."
Van Helsing smiled at the slightly confused look on Carl's face. "When I got here, you pointed out that my efforts to make my. . . state less obvious hadn't worked, remember? That's because everything I thought about, everything I tried to distract myself with, everything I know, Carl. . . it all leads me back to you. It always has."
"I was going to wake you that morning to tell you that I have always loved you, Carl. You're my dearest friend."
Carl looked down, nodding. Just as he'd suspected. Friend.
"But now what I feel is. . . different. Bigger, somehow. Better. I can't even explain it, it's just. . . more."
Carl sucked in a breath. "You love me?"
"Yes. I think I do."
Carl pushed Van Helsing down by his shoulders and rolled on top of him, kissing him until Van Helsing needed a breath to speak.
"I was going to wake you that morning to talk about some other things, too. You remember talking?"
"What else did you want to talk about?" Carl kissed his neck.
"A number of things. For instance, clearly, you've done this before. And I was curious. About him."
He looked up. "Which him?"
Van Helsing's eyes widened as he laughed. "God, Carl, all this time I thought you were an innocent. How many hims have there been?"
"Not many. But I'm just a friar, you know, I haven't taken a vow of celibacy." Carl thought for a moment. "Innocent? Does it bother you, not being the first?"
"As much as I liked thinking I might have been, no, it doesn't bother me. As long as I'm the last."
"Well, I don't know. . . " Carl twisted up one side of his mouth as if in deep contemplation.
Van Helsing threw his head back and snorted. "You're terrible."
Carl returned to Van Helsing's neck before another thought struck him. "So you were surprised that I'd been with anyone, ever?" Carl wasn't sure if he should be insulted, or flattered.
"I was surprised, at first." Van Helsing threaded his fingers through Carl's hair and kissed him--a slow, almost tentative kiss--before whispering, "But now I realize that not everyone is as blind as I've been."
They kissed again, deeply and unhurried, and Carl rolled them both so that they were on their sides, facing one another, with one of Carl's legs coming to rest between Van Helsing's. As he was pulled forward by his waist, Carl wrapped his arms around Van Helsing and buried his face against the man's neck. "So, Gabriel," Carl said, as he nuzzled, "tell me all about Monaco."