This Van Helsing story is slash fan fiction. It contains adult concepts, sensuality and explicit sexual situations between men.
If you're underage or offended by such things, you have been warned not to read the fiction.

This was written for Pati, based on her story plot wish. :)

Sins of the Father

Cousin Shelley

Carl could have wept with relief when the sun finally rose. He'd been awake for what felt like hours, unable to even toss and turn because every movement hurt so much. He carefully rolled, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed to put his feet on the floor, so that all of his weight remained on his left leg and side.

Still, even such careful movement hurt enough to bring tears to his eyes. He pulled his long sleeping gown, the only thing he wore, off over his head. Then he began trying to remove Father Moreland’s rosary. The priest had tied it tightly around the top of his right leg, in the groove where his thigh met his body.

The easiest way to remove it would be to loosen it where it was tied, but it was twisted and knotted so that it dug deeply into the tender flesh of his inner thigh, and pressed equally deeply against his testicle. His attempt to shift anything there caused him to gasp in pain. He'd had to act normally within the church for hours yesterday wearing it this way.

He tried to get his finger underneath it in the front, which only managed to tighten it elsewhere, causing more pain. It was made of some type of stiff cord and glass, the beads large and sharp. A few rivulets of dried blood striped his leg.

He considered cutting it off, but feared what the Father might make him do next should he destroy it. So he braced himself for the pain and began working at the knot. It took several minutes, because he paused frequently when the pain became too much. Frustrated, he was almost brought to tears at the thought of not being able to get it off and showing up to see the Father with it still in place. The idea of the Father leaving it on him longer, or of him actually having to remove it for Carl, was enough to turn his stomach and make him more able and determined to inflict this pain upon himself.

It had been bad enough being touched there when the Father had tied it on.

Two more days. Father Moreland would be gone in two days, and Carl hung onto that knowledge. He'd be free of him and his "lessons" and have a few days to heal and compose himself before Van Helsing returned from the mission he was on. Carl could put all this behind him, and Van Helsing would never know. Van Helsing coming back--that's what Carl concentrated on beyond all else, that's what allowed him to get through the last week of escalating pain, and what would let him make it through the next two days, no matter what the Father had in store for him.

And Carl was sure he knew what was yet to come.

Finally, Carl managed to work the knot free. He cleaned the blood from his leg with a wet cloth, then daubed at the scratches and gouges that now ringed the top of his thigh, hissing as he cleaned the deeper ones on his inner thigh and the side of his sac.

He donned a robe, telling himself only two more days.

Carl jerked at a knock on his door, and was even more startled to see the door already open when he turned. "Van Helsing!" He smiled broadly, happy to see his friend looking in good shape. Sometimes he came back from missions looking as if he'd personally wrestled with the devil, and barely prevailed. This morning, he looked all in one piece, if a bit tired. "You're back early," Carl said, his smile fading as the implications of that slowly dawned on him.

"I am, and glad to be back," Van Helsing said, putting a hand on Carl's shoulder and stepping forward.

When Carl didn't move immediately, Van Helsing cocked an eyebrow. "Aren't you happy to see me, Carl?" he said in a teasing tone, though his brow wrinkled even as he smiled.

"Oh yes, yes, of course I am. C--come in, Van Helsing." Carl moved aside and gestured to the chair at the end of the bed, his heart beating faster as the man sat on the bed instead and then stretched out, still grinning.

"Since you haven't even made it yet, I'll just rest here a minute. And how are you? If you don't mind me saying so, Carl, you look as tired as I feel."

Carl felt faint as Van Helsing put his hat on the small table next to the bed, on top of the rosary Carl had just peeled from his leg. "I am a bit tired, Van Helsing. I'm sure I'll sleep better tonight, though, just knowing you’re back." Carl walked over to the bed and looked down at him, realizing with horror that the blood-tinged water still sat in the bowl on the table. "It's wonderful to see you, but I have a long list of things I have to finish this morning. Come with me to the lab? You can catch me up on everything while I work."

Van Helsing's smile faded a little. "No, I came here first, so I should really go check in with the Cardinal. Maybe get a little sleep. I'll find you this afternoon when you're less busy."

'No!" Carl said too quickly. "I mean, I won't be available this afternoon either. I have an appointment I can't miss. In fact, Van Helsing, I'm going to be running almost every minute for the next two days or so. Except when I’m in the lab, of course."

Carl knew by the look on Van Helsing's face that the man was surprised at being put off this way. He wasn't used to such things from Carl, who was always eager to spend time with his friend when he returned, and would often wriggle out of other responsibilities to do so.

He knew he'd managed to hurt him by seeming so unwilling and unable to do so for two whole days. But he had no choice. What if the Father did something to him like he had the night before, with the rosary? There was no way Carl could sit and talk with Van Helsing and appear normal. He might be able to fool the entirety of Rome, but he didn’t think he could keep his pain from Van Helsing; the man knew him too well. He always stood too near, looked at Carl more closely than anyone else. And above all, no matter what happened, he couldn't let Van Helsing suspect what was going on.

Van Helsing rose. “If I can manage to stay awake when Jinette's finished with me, I’ll come by the lab. You’re more important than a little sleep, after all.” Van Helsing took Carl’s shoulders. “I’ve missed you.”

Carl felt examined by that look, and now more than ever he wanted to embrace the man and tell him how much he’d missed him, too. Hold on to him and not let go, take that final small step they’d both managed to almost but never quite take. The urge to do so now was strong, but foolish. Not now, at least not for two more days, he told himself.

“I’ve missed you, too,” Carl said, but stepped away as nonchalantly as he could. “And you know how impatient the Cardinal can be.”

Van Helsing nodded, an expression Carl couldn’t place passing across his features, then he turned to leave. He snapped his fingers, turned quickly and passed Carl once again, to stand in front of the little table. “Forgot my hat.” He grabbed it, placed it on his head, and nodded to Carl before walking out. “I’ll see you in the lab, later.”

Carl slumped down onto his bed after Van Helsing walked out.

"What?" Cardinal Jinette hadn’t really been paying attention, expecting the reason Van Helsing had demanded to see him this minute was just one more complaint about how the Order didn't stand behind him, didn't protect him, didn't do enough to help him. He’d tried to explain that Van Helsing could fill him in after breakfast, thinking his response to Van Helsing’s protests would have been a practiced one--The Order does all that it can, my son, the rest is up to you. A response he hated to give, but had no choice but to do so.

This, though, this had jolted him to awareness: "Carl's hurting himself."

"What do you mean?"

“I mean," Van Helsing said with exaggerated slowness, "that he's hurting himself. I don't know much about these things, but could it be some sort of self-imposed penance for some sin? Given Carl, probably an imagined sin, at that. You've got to do something."

Jinette considered for a moment. He'd seen men whip themselves, fast for unreasonable amounts of time, spend hours kneeling, all to purge themselves of some sin they'd committed or some sin they merely thought about committing. Carl, though, didn't seem the type to do such a thing. The sin, or the penance.

"And what makes you think this?"

“I was about to knock when I heard him. He sounded as if he were in distress or pain . . . and I know I shouldn’t have, but I opened the door a little. He was too intent on what he was doing to notice.”

“No, you shouldn’t have done that,” he said sternly. His voice softened. “But, what did you see?”

“I caught a glimpse of his back as he was dressing. I think he’s . . . flogging himself. And . . . there’s more.”

Jinette forgot about breakfast.

Father Moreland dropped a handful of small stones in front of Carl, and another small pile a couple of feet in front of it. "Hands and knees."

Carl obeyed without question. That was the quickest way to get it over with. He winced as his the stones pressed into his kneecaps and palms, but made no other sounds or movements. Naked, he shivered.

"Good. Begin."

Carl began whispering prayers in Latin, and the Father walked in circles around him, nodding his head, and every few minutes he used a light lash on Carl's bare back. Carl hissed each time, but at least this didn’t break the skin, there was no blood to deal with. Only small welts.

As usual, the longer Carl chanted, the lower the lashes fell, until the focus was his buttocks, and the Father ranted about the sins of lust and perversion. Carl couldn't help but yelp when the lash made contact with the raw skin at the top of his thigh.

"Ah, you see, your sins of lust give you away, Carl. I'm trying so hard to help you."

The lash was exchanged for a wooden paddle. Hard smacks across Carl's backside and thighs punctuated his prayers, and finally the pain and the relentlessness with which the Father hit him had Carl unable to hold back tears, though he didn't pause in his litany.

Finally, the Father stopped, and touched Carl's burning backside with his bare hand. "You see, Carl? Those are tears of penitence, think of them as sin dripping away from you. You’re being cleansed."

Carl nodded, and silently prayed that this would be the end of today's session. Just let him put his robe back on and go.

"Stand, my son."

Carl did so, and the Father brushed away a few stones that stuck to the flesh of Carl's hands and knees. "You've done so well, Carl, I'm confident that you will be purified before I must leave Rome. And I know what helped you make this breakthrough today. It was the constant reminder of the evil lust within, so we will continue this. Come here."

He walked to a chair, and Carl followed, his legs heavy because he knew that he was in for the same kind of pain he'd endured the day before, possibly worse, and he wasn't sure how he was going to be able to stand it.

Two more days.

Carl walked carefully down the hallway, trying to keep his left leg as far away from his right as he could while appearing normal. It was difficult, but if he forgot himself the pain that flared in his groin was enough to make him stop where he stood. The Father had fastened the rosary around his other thigh so that it pressed against his sac, exactly as he had the day before. A reminder, he said, of the lust that builds there.

How he would have liked to slap the old man down, tell him it was his own lust he was trying to do something with, not Carl's. But he could not.

The rapt look on the man's face had chilled Carl. He'd applied a cream to the wounds left on the other leg, taking special care to apply it liberally on his inner thigh and the side of his testicles. When he'd finished putting the medication on Carl's wounds, and tying the rosary around his other thigh, he'd actually ran the backs of his fingers down Carl's penis, almost reverently, Carl thought.

"This is where the sin hides, Carl, the sin that can send you to hell."

Then he'd stood and walked behind Carl. His hand brushed against Carl's sore backside. "And this . . . this will condemn you. The lust within you, Carl, I'm going to free you from it. Tonight, we will deal with this. I will risk my soul to see to it that this path to damnation will tempt you no further."

Then he told him to go back to his room and pray and return later that night. Carl swallowed his protest at coming back so soon; instead, he did his best to appear willing and penitent.

By the time he'd gone back to his room, despair had settled over him. Yesterday he'd managed time in the lab despite the pain. Today, he wasn't sure he could pull it off, especially not knowing what the Father had in store for him. And especially since Van Helsing was likely to show up there this evening, not having come earlier when Carl had expected him.

Carl suspected, of course, what would happen before Moreland left. All this was building to the Father actually taking Carl in some way, under the guise of helping free him of his sin. Carl knew that tonight Moreland would take liberties with him he had not yet taken. The thought of two days of that twisted Carl’s stomach.

Fine, he thought, fine! Just let's get it over with, so I can forget this and move on.

But he knew it wasn't going to be that easy.

Carl decided to risk disobedience to make the next few hours more bearable. He pulled off his robe to make it easier to move. Then he tore an old cloth into strips and wrapped them carefully around the outside of the rosary. Though it made the pain around his thigh a little more intense, at least his sac was protected from the rubbing of the sharp glass and the large knot. Now, at least, he could walk and move more normally.

Now he might be able to make it. He pulled his robe back on.


Carl spun to see Van Helsing standing in the doorway. At first he was too stunned to move or speak, but when he found his voice he all but yelled, "Why didn't you knock?"

“I did."

Carl knew it was a lie. Panic twisted his stomach at the possibilities--how much had Van Helsing seen? He tried to compose himself.

"I didn't hear you, you shouldn't have just come in."

He took Carl's arm as he tried to hurry past him out of the room. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I have to go to the lab."

Van Helsing hauled Carl backward by his arm and shut the door behind him.

"Look at me, Carl."

Carl did, trying to keep his expression neutral.

"What are you doing?"

Carl stared at him, his quick mind trying to figure out what would be the best approach now. Anger? Fear? Indignance? He thought maybe one of those would work, but he settled on begging.

"Van Helsing, please. Just pretend you saw nothing, and never speak of it. I promise you, it's all right, it's nothing."

"Carl, what I saw was something. Right now, tell me what's going on."

"I know you trust me, Gabriel." Carl's use of the man's given name was no accident. "Trust me with this--everything is fine."

Van Helsing released his arm, as if acquiescing to Carl's wish. Carl nodded and whispered, "thank you," before taking a careful step to go around Van Helsing once more. "It means a great deal to me that--"

Before Carl could finish his sentence Van Helsing spun and grabbed Carl around the midsection to hold him still while he pulled up his robe to expose him from the waist down.

"No!" Carl shouted, and used his elbow to try to strike at the man to free himself, but his movements made him gasp in pain.

Van Helsing held him there for only a moment longer, and Carl could have sworn he heard the man's teeth grind together.

"Van Helsing . . . please . . . ." Carl whispered.

Van Helsing hissed "Carl" between his teeth. He gingerly touched the bandage to pull it away to see what was beneath it, but Carl's whimper of pain as he did so caused him to let go of him completely.

"Oh God, please, Van Helsing, just go, please!” He did not turn to look at the hunter; he was still trying to deal with the pain all the movement had caused.

"Carl, I’ll be as careful as I can."

"No," Carl whispered.

"We're fixing this now."

Carl finally managed to turn and look at him, fighting tears. "Van Helsing, I can't. You don't understand."

"Explain it to me." He reached for Carl's arm, but Carl pulled back.

"You can't understand!" he shouted, nearing hysteria. "Please just go. I promise you, everything is fine."


"It's coming off soon, very soon, please, I'm begging you. If you are my friend, Van Helsing, you will walk out that door right now and leave me alone."

Carl was nearing hysteria, so much so that he was disturbed by his own voice. Van Helsing allowed Carl to move away from him, around him, to the bed where Carl stood facing the wall. “If you are my friend, you will leave right now, it’s that simple,” he said, his voice thick. Carl held his breath as the seconds passed.

He wept when he heard the door close behind him. He wept because he was in such pain, because he had scared his friend, and hurt him. Because he was so ashamed. He had never wanted Van Helsing to know what was happening.

At least there were only two days left before the Father would leave. And then Carl could come up with some sort of explanation to satisfy Van Helsing, he would beg apology, and everything would be fine. It had to be.

He managed to lie down for a while, but he did not rest. He found if he put his pillow under his knee it kept pressure off the back of his thigh and made it slightly more comfortable. He stayed in his room, did not leave to eat or pray or do anything he was supposed to do. He wondered briefly why no one came to see why he hadn’t come out, but then he realized that usually when Van Helsing was back, the others were accustomed to him not always being where he should.

As he tried to rest, he cursed himself again for not realizing the danger of that one question the Father that had asked him, the one that had undone him. If only he could go back and do it differently.

Moreland had known all about the Order, of course, though he wasn't directly involved in its operation. Carl had been introduced to him on his first day there, and had been happy to show the Father his weapons, and answer any questions he had.

Carl felt a little uncomfortable around him, but no more so than he did any new person in his lab. Father Moreland was polite, even complimentary, as he seemed quite impressed with Carl's work. Then the priest moved on to speak with someone else, and Carl hadn't thought about him again until he went to confess.

Carl had felt guilty about his lack of confession since returning from Transylvania. Of course, there were the deceptions that he could not confess for fear of the consequences--how they had let Frankenstein's creation live, and how Van Helsing had been infected by the werewolf's curse. While everything Carl had been taught told him he needed to confess these things, Carl knew that the confessional was not as sacred in practice as it was in theory. No doubt, there would be a hunt for the monster, and who knows what they might do to Van Helsing, based on what Carl spoke in so-called confidence to a priest.

Carl made his peace with his inability to confess these things. He'd confessed the deceptions in prayer directly to God, and explained in detail his reasons for the lies. Once he'd said it all aloud this way, his guilt had disappeared. He felt satisfied with these decisions.

There was one event that Carl had not confessed that still bothered him, though. The night spent with a woman in Transylvania was something he could confess without causing problems for anyone else. The only consequences would be for him, and even those would likely be mild.

Yet, Carl had not confessed. Not for fear of what the priest hearing his confession might say or do. He wasn't even sure why he had not. He hadn't even told Van Helsing of the encounter. He'd managed to relay the story of the attack on the villagers and then told him about the painting that came to life the next morning all without ever mentioning that someone was with him.

Father Moreland gave him the chance to confess this to a stranger, something Carl was much more comfortable doing than telling someone he would see often. So Carl took the opportunity to finally confess about that night.

"Did you enjoy it?"

The question took Carl by surprise. "Well . . . yes."

"You were nervous? Because you had never lain with a woman?"


"Is she the only one, Carl?"


"You did not fornicate with other women?"


"Other men?"

"No." After a pause of about three seconds, Carl realized his mistake. He had answered so casually, as if the question had been a reasonable one.

"Of course not!" he added, but he knew it was too late, his shock had clearly been an afterthought.

A long silence stretched between them, and then Moreland absolved Carl. And told him that he wanted Carl to come to him later that afternoon, because they had some things to discuss.

Carl sensed they would not be discussing his work for the Order. His stomach knotted with dread, but he could not place exactly what made him so uneasy about the idea of discussing it. As soon as he went to see Moreland as he'd been instructed and the man spoke, he understood his uneasiness.

"I have watched you with him, with Van Helsing."

Carl looked at him as innocently as possible, praying that he was not about to hear what he expected.

"Have you lain with him, Carl?"


"Does he know that you want to?" Moreland raised a hand as Carl shook his head slightly. "Before you deny it, Carl, and compound your sins, I know that you do. I have seen the way you look at him, the way you act around him."

Carl could deny it, but that would only make things worse. His easy answer of the question in the confessional, and now Moreland's insistence that he could see Carl's want for Van Helsing . . . the man simply knew.

But he didn't know that Carl felt so much more for the man than just physical lust. And that, Carl would not share with him. He would not spoil it by allowing this priest to even suspect.

"Have you told him of your desire?"

"I have not," he said, defeated.

Moreland put a hand on Carl's shoulder. "Good. Then this can all be fixed, Carl. This temptation must be taken from your path. I will arrange it so that you do not see him again."


"No? This can only lead to more sin, Carl. You must be kept apart to help keep you from falling, surely you understand that?"

Carl knew he would fall to his knees and beg this man, if he had to. "Please, it's not necessary. He doesn't know, and . . . and I've resisted all this time, and will continue to. Please."

Moreland sighed and looked at Carl with a compassionate expression. "Perhaps," he said, and paused as if lost in thought. "Perhaps, if you let me help you, let me guide you from this warped desire, then there would be no need to tell anyone or take any other action. Do you agree to accept my spiritual guidance?" His face grew stern. "Without question?"

If he agreed to this, Moreland could do anything. And from the way the hair stood up on the back of Carl's neck, he suspected the man would take full advantage of Carl's willingness to be guided.

But what choice did he have?

"Yes, Father. I will."

Moreland nodded gravely. "Very good. Then you can be saved. And your friend will never need know of your perversion."

Carl hung his head.

And he hung his head now at how stupid he'd been. A more carefully considered answer to a single question . . . and perhaps none of this would be happening.

When it was time to meet with Father Moreland again, Carl could barely make himself sit up and rise, the pain was so insistent. The dread of what was about to happen also kept him from wanting to move. But what might happen if he should disobey . . . and it would be all his fault.

Van Helsing had barely been able to stand the wait. He had to be careful--he was stealthy, but Carl was smart and knew him well. If Carl suspected he was being followed, Van Helsing might never find out what was going on.

It was only by dumb luck so far that he’d seen the bloody water on Carl’s table and the stripes on Carl’s back. He could barely stand thinking that he may have known nothing about this if he hadn’t come back early and opened the door without invitation.

But he had, and by God he was going to find out what was happening. And whatever it was, he was going to fix it.

When he had been in Carl’s room, confronting him, he wanted to drag Carl to the bed, push him down and remove whatever was around his thigh, but he knew it would only cause him more pain. He had to bite back his anger, anger that had no focus, no target, to make sure it wasn't directed at Carl inadvertently.

It had hurt so much to watch Carl inch his way back around him to stand by his bed, tell him if he was Carl’s friend, he would go. And even though he knew staying and pressing the issue would only upset Carl further, it had hurt worst of all to actually walk out the door. Now, all he wanted to do was stop Carl from hurting, so he followed.

Carl stood before Father Moreland again and removed his robe, as instructed. The walk had been sheer torture, as had been the removal of the strips of cloth he'd put in place earlier to cushion his skin as much as possible. The only thing helping him now was the knowledge that soon this would all be over.

The Father regarded him with a stern expression. He rose from his chair and scattered small stones once again in front of Carl. "Kneel, my son, and you may remove it."

Carl did so, pain flaring with both the movement of kneeling, and his attempts to remove the rosary, but he was determined to do it himself. He feared the Father would insist on doing it for him if he took too long. The hateful man was probably hoping for Carl to have to ask him for help, so despite the pain he worked quickly. He bit the inside of his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood.

"Very good, very good," the Father whispered. "You have done so well, Carl. So very well." He put a hand on Carl's shoulder and gave a gentle push, directing Carl to lower himself as before, hands and knees.

"What you have endured was necessary. Pain purges the soul. . . ."

He launched into another sermon about pain and suffering and sin, one that Carl barely listened to, as he was too intent on watching the man’s feet to see where he was. He felt fingers touch his lower back. Carl flinched and squeezed his eyes shut.

"God’s will is for you to be free of this temptation. And this will tempt you Carl, but you must not take pleasure in it. It will remind you of the evil--"

"Get the hell away from him!" The doors burst inward and Van Helsing launched himself at the priest.

Van Helsing had listened through the door at first, but he couldn't hear anything but a muffled voice. And he couldn't appear as if he were trying to eavesdrop, should someone walk by, which made things more difficult.

Yet, no one did come by, a fact which he noted. This entire area appeared empty at this time of day. Carl must have known that. Carl, or whomever was in there with Carl. Hearing another voice made it difficult to keep from barging in. It had been bad enough thinking Carl was hurting himself, but to know that another was taking part in some way . . . .

Van Helsing opened the door just enough to peer through with one eye. He opened it so slowly and carefully, probably as carefully as he'd ever done anything in his life. He had to find out what was happening.

When Carl obediently stood naked in front of the priest, Van Helsing was barely able to stand his ground. The only thing that kept him from bursting in right then was that Carl was removing the bonds from around his thigh.

Carl wasn't protesting, he was obeying without question. Had he and this man agreed on these things? If Carl wanted this, truly wanted to hurt himself for some sin he thought he had committed, Van Helsing knew he had no right to interfere. Carl had the right to make such a choice, he supposed, and Carl had asked him to walk away and forget what he had seen. But choice or not, the idea of Carl hurting was just too much for Van Helsing. How could he stand by and allow them to do this?

But then he saw what the priest was doing, saw the way Carl watched nervously, and instinctively he knew that Carl was not willing, no matter how submissive he appeared. Carl was not hurting himself--the priest was hurting him. When the priest walked behind Carl and laid a hand on Carl's lower back, fingers sliding down to touch him, Van Helsing saw the flinch, he saw the way Carl's body recoiled from the touch. Van Helsing heard the priest clearly say "God’s will." Van Helsing decided he didn't care if God himself had carved in stone that this must be done, that bastard was not going to touch Carl again.

He slammed through the doors and in an instant he had Moreland by the throat. "What the hell are you doing?" he ground out through clenched teeth, more a growl than a question.

Carl's head snapped at the sound, and he wanted to cry with relief and shame when he saw Van Helsing. A Van Helsing enraged like he'd not seen him before. He sprang to his feet and grabbed the man's arm.

"Let him go, Van Helsing, stop!" He truly feared the hunter might choke him to death right then and there.

Van Helsing had a tight grip on Moreland, and was shaking him every few words. "What do you think you're doing? How dare you touch him!" and some things Carl couldn't make out completely because of the way Van Helsing grunted out the words.

When Van Helsing did release the priest, it was only because he pushed him backwards into a chair. The priest clutched at his throat and gasped for air.

Van Helsing picked up Carl's robe and handed it to him, then clutched his shoulders and examined his face as if to make sure he was all right. He didn't speak, but simply let go of Carl and turned back to the priest. He grabbed up the bag sitting next to the chair and dumped it on the ground, another growl escaping him.

Stones, bizarre-looking rosaries, two different types of floggers, oil, and things, their purpose obvious by their size and shape, that Carl gaped at. His stomach lurched as Van Helsing clawed into the front of the priest’s shirt and lifted him.

"Van Helsing," Carl said, the panic back in his voice.

Van Helsing loosened his grip on the man, but did not release him. "It's all right Carl. I’m not going to hurt him. Are you all right?"

Carl stared blankly back at him, knowing that if Van Helsing said he wouldn't hurt Moreland, he wouldn't. But that he wanted to was obvious in his eyes. "Y-yes. I'm fine. Please, just--"

"No. I'm not walking way again. Go back to your room, Carl. It's time for you to trust me now. Go on."

Carl ran, despite the pain.

Carl paced back and forth in his room, trying to tell himself that everything would be fine. But how could it be? Van Helsing had seen, he knew. How could Carl even look him in the eyes again? What if he never had the chance? Moreland could tell Jinette anything!

Not much time had passed when he heard a light tap on his door. "Van Helsing?” he said, though he did not go near the door.

Van Helsing came in and closed the door behind him. Before he could ask if Carl was all right, if he’d tended to the wounds on his leg, anything, Carl spoke quickly.

"I'm so sorry you saw that."

All the way to Carl's room, Van Helsing tried to figure out how to get Carl to talk to him about this, to find out how the hell any of this happened. And he did that while trying not to think about what might have happened if he hadn't been here. He couldn't think about it too hard, what the man would have done, even though he knew exactly what that priest would have done had he not stopped him.

Once Carl had gone, Van Helsing made the Father aware that he understood exactly what was going on. The old priest had protested at first, claiming that he was purging Carl of his sin, helping him, but he gave up those pleas quickly when Van Helsing wondered aloud just how torturing and then fucking Carl was supposed to be God’s will.

The priest's eyes had changed then. He knew he wasn't talking to some acolyte who might be swayed by talk of sin and mysteries. He knew he’d been caught.

"You liked seeing him suffer, you wanted him, and you thought that cloaking it in some kind of religious charity would make it all right. You bastard . . . ."

He had then literally dragged the man by his collar to Jinette, not caring who saw them in the hallway. When he explained to Jinette what he'd seen, the Cardinal had been as enraged as Van Helsing, but had managed not to physically attack the priest. Though just barely, Van Helsing suspected.

Jinette assured him that the Father would be stripped of his station, and that Carl would never have to see him again, and that he would be unable to do this to anyone else. Van Helsing had rushed away then, needing to see Carl, make sure he was all right, and let him know that Moreland would never hurt him or anyone else again.

He had expected Carl's greeting to be apprehensive, but to hear Carl apologize for him having witnessed?

Van Helsing finally found his voice again. “Sorry I saw? Carl . . . he would have . . . he . . . ." He couldn't even continue for a moment. "Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you hide it and let him . . . do this . . . . you don't have any sin that needs to be purged through torture, for God's sake, Carl." He stepped forward and put his hands on Carl's upper arms. "Don't you realize that he was hurting you because he enjoyed it, nothing more?"

Carl's fear almost made him want to run from the room when Van Helsing had stared at him silently. But now, Carl pulled away from him. He wanted to explain that he was grateful, he was touched at what Van Helsing had done. But by interfering, he’d set wheels in motion that could crush them all. "Of course I know that! But, I told you to forget what you saw, Van Helsing, I told you to trust me. You should have listened to me."

"How can you say that? You think I could stand by and watch him hurt you, watch him--"

"You don't know what you've done," Carl said, almost sobbing now. He wrung his hands, and his body trembled.

"I stopped him, Carl, that's what I've done. Just calm down." He reached for Carl again, and managed a confused "wha--?" when Carl stepped away.

"No, you have no idea, you should not have interfered, this is . . . this is awful . . . ." Carl wondered if Van Helsing would leave with him right then if he asked, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

"Carl, I don't expect or want gratitude, but I do expect you to understand . . . I had every right to interfere. He was hurting you, dammit, how could you expect me to let that go on?"

"It was only two more days, only two and it would have been over, and none of this . . . " None of the horrible events of the day would have taken place, events which he knew might cause him to never be able to see Van Helsing again.

"Let me get this straight. You're upset with me for stopping him?”

Carl could tell by the look on the man's face that he was genuinely upset and confused. He looked as if he could barely believe what he was hearing.

“Carl . . . why? Did you really . . . did you want what he was going to do?”

Carl’s chest pinched and he could barely draw a breath. That was too much, that Van Helsing even considered that Carl had wanted any of that. The look he gave Van Helsing caused the man to raise his hands and start to apologize, but it was too late. He advanced on the hunter and slammed his hands against the broad chest hard enough to cause him to stumble backwards.

"Out! Get away from me!”

"Carl! I'm--"

"Get out!" He pushed him again, slamming Van Helsing's back against the door. "Out!" Carl shoved and pulled, throwing his whole body into pushing Van Helsing away from the door enough to open it, and then shoved him through.

Carl fell against the closed door, forehead and palms against the wood, too emotionally exhausted even to cry.

"You said what?" Jinette noted that as he shouted the words, Van Helsing flinched backwards. It was an uncharacteristic move for him, but Jinette supposed the shock of seeing him rise up as if he were going to fly into him right over his desk, caused the brave hunter to involuntarily jerk back. Jinette found himself pleased that he could get such a reaction.

“How dare you. If you ever speak to him that way again . . . ." But it was an empty threat, and Jinette knew it. Van Helsing didn’t know anything, not now, not when he said those words, and the Cardinal knew if he'd known anything of Carl's past, he would never have spoken so.

"What aren't you telling me? I demand--"

"You can do no such thing. What you said to Carl . . . you most likely wounded him deeper than you can imagine." He raised a hand at Van Helsing's look. "And I cannot explain it to you. Only Carl can do that, it's not my place."

Van Helsing stood and slammed his palms down on the desk. "Can you explain why he would let that priest hurt him for days while I was gone and tell no one? Because that’s what I need to understand."

Jinette thought he may have understood Carl's reasoning, as misguided as it had been. He wasn't sure he could explain it to Van Helsing without violating Carl's privacy. Yet, he would try. “Most likely because he believed the Father would send him away if he protested or turn all of us against him."

Van Helsing frowned. "Why would he believe that? All he had to do was tell you that he was threatened, hurt, tell me, and we would have stopped it."

"Yes, we would have stopped it. But for Carl, the fear of being blamed outweighed the suffering the father inflicted up on him."

"I don't understand how that can be. Surely he knows that we would never let--"

"Van Helsing, I have explained it to you as best I can." Jinette said impatiently, dismissing him and the subject. "I thank you for helping Carl as you did. I will be forever grateful to you for that, even though the way you did it, and the things you said . . . .” Jinette sighed. “Right now, the best thing for Carl is for you to stay away from him, and let him deal with this in his own way. I will talk to him, of course."

"Stay away from him? Surely that's the worst thing I could do."

Jinette actually felt sorry for Van Helsing then, at the look on the man’s face at the idea of staying away from Carl. "He threw you out of his room, Van Helsing, after you said something to him that, if we were speaking of anyone but Carl, could very well be unforgivable. Give into his wishes for at least a little while and stay away."

Van Helsing did not see Carl for four weeks, the longest month of his life. He remained at the Vatican for three days in which he did what Jinette asked, and stayed away from Carl. Then Jinette sent him across Italy in search of a vampire.

Van Helsing had at first refused to go, but Jinette, with his mysterious talk of knowing what was right for Carl in this situation, had convinced him it might be best. When he got back, he went straight to Carl's room. He could no longer just wait and see, he needed to talk to Carl, apologize, beg forgiveness for what he'd said, just make sure his friend was all right.

He ached to see him, even more than he usually did when returning from a mission. Carl answered the door quite quickly, and even smiled. "Van Helsing," he said softly. "I'm glad to see you in one piece." He did not open the door the rest of the way, or offer to let the man in, which broke Van Helsing's heart. Usually the door was thrown wide when Carl saw it was him.

"May I come in?"

"Oh, of course," Carl said, opening the door and retreating to sit on the bed. "I wasn't sure you would want to. I'm glad you do."

"I do, Carl, of course I do." Van Helsing deliberated for only a moment before he sat next to Carl on the bed, rather than in the chair. "Carl, I'm so sorry. Please, please forgive me for what I did and said, I never meant to hurt you. You know me. I’m not a man of words. I act. I react.”

Carl placed a hand on top of Van Helsing's where it rested on the man's thigh. "I know, it's all right. I'm sorry for pushing you, and yelling. I was just . . . well, you saw how I was."

Van Helsing turned his hand beneath Carl's and clasped it tightly. "When I said that--"

"No, no, Van Helsing, let's not rehash it. You couldn't have known. I shouldn't have reacted that way."

"Couldn't have known . . . what?" Now, maybe, he would find out what was wrong.

Carl was so happy to see Van Helsing at his door, he wanted to embrace him. But he feared that the time for following that urge had long ago passed. If only, he thought, I had acted on this long ago, despite my fears. Things would be so different now.

Van Helsing’s hand felt good in his, something he’d feared he would not feel again. When Van Helsing pointedly asked what he couldn’t have known, Carl's eyes widened a bit, even though he'd been expecting such a question. Jinette had discussed it with Carl many times while the man was gone, telling him of the things Van Helsing said, his questions and concerns. And the Cardinal had urged Carl to explain everything to his friend rather than make him suffer with wondering.

Carl had agreed it would be best, but it was still difficult. Only Jinette knew everything, and Carl had hoped to always keep it that way. But now, it was better to tell Van Helsing rather than have him always wonder why Carl allowed what he had. Which was something that Jinette had finally made him understand--what Carl had allowed would make little sense to someone who didn’t know about Carl’s past. And that was what led the man to ask if Carl had wanted the punishments the priest had doled out. It made sense to Carl now. With some distance, he could see Van Helsing reasonably reaching that conclusion.

The least he could do was try to explain his real motives, now that Carl himself understood them, to the person to whom he felt closer than any other. Carl took a deep breath and began, without letting go of Van Helsing’s hand.

"I'm an only child, you know, but my mother has four siblings, so I have many cousins, and there were always at least a few around, aunts and uncles, like one huge family instead of several small ones. My uncle Phillip spent a lot of time at our house, maybe because he had no wife or children of his own, because my father was gone and my mother was alone . . . I don't know."

Carl paused before taking another deep breath and continuing.

"Phillip spent a lot of time with me. He taught me so much, things a father would teach a son, I suppose. He was always there, helping me, guiding me, even disciplining me like a father would."

Carl looked at Van Helsing and smiled. "And I needed discipline from time to time, make no mistake."

"I'm sure you did," Van Helsing said softly, giving Carl a smile of his own.

Carl looked back at the floor. "As I grew older, I noticed that I was disciplined much more than my cousins, even though I didn't do any more wrong than they did. There were frequent long lectures from Phillip while I sat on his lap, and then he'd spank me to make sure I didn't forget what I'd done wrong. The spankings never really hurt, which was also strange, I came to realize, because when mother spanked, well, she spanked. But each blow of his hand was more a . . . pat, than anything.”

Carl cleared his throat and looked at Van Helsing. "But he never really hurt me," he said. "Not one time. He never hurt me." He looked away again.

"As I got older, I got spanked more often, over his lap, trousers down. And then he'd act as if he'd hit me too hard, so he'd . . . rub there, apologizing but explaining that though I was his favorite of all the children, he couldn’t spoil me and risk me growing up to be a degenerate."

Carl paused again, squinting as if lost in a memory.

"One day, after I was spanked for some offense I hadn't committed, he kept apologizing and rubbing my rear end as if he'd really hurt me, though he hadn't. And he talked about how I was getting older, and there were so many new things he could teach me. Things a man should know, he said. When I stood and went to pull up my trousers he stopped me, and pulled me forward to sit on his lap, bare-bottomed . . . straddling his thighs. I was embarrassed and I started to feel scared, but this was Phillip. He'd always been so good to me. He loved me. And I—I loved him. Much . . . like a father.”

Carl swallowed hard and then rubbed a hand down his face. His words came fast as if he couldn’t wait to get them out of his mouth. "He bared himself, then put my hand there, holding his over the top so I couldn’t let go. Then he touched me like that. I didn’t want him to, I swear I didn’t.”

"I know, Carl, it's all right," Van Helsing said, squeezing Carl’s hand between both of his own.

"I started to pull away from him because it--it just felt wrong, and he pulled me back, telling me it was all right. He lifted me and pulled me forward, kissed me. I couldn’t breathe with his mouth over mine and when I felt him . . . I felt him press against me, I panicked . . . and somehow I managed to get away from him."

Carl didn't speak for a moment and he was grateful that Van Helsing didn't either. He looked at the man. "I did--I got away from him, so really, I was all right. But in my fear, trying to get free of him, I scratched the side of his face and neck. And I just remember how . . . how hurt he looked, sitting there. As if I'd betrayed him. I didn't mean to hurt him, I was just frightened, and . . . I ran. Once I'd calmed down a bit, which . . . took a while, I went to my mother. I didn’t know what else to do. But he'd . . . .Phillip was already there. She was cleaning the scratches, and demanded an explanation."

Tears streamed down Carl’s face. "I told her. And she smacked me across the face for telling such horrible lies. He had already told her that he’d caught me touching one of my cousins, and that I’d scratched him while trying to escape a punishment for it. She wanted to beat me, but she was so hysterical, so disgusted, that she was afraid she would truly hurt me, so she let him decide what to do. Phillip acted very upset and disappointed that I would ever say such a thing about him. He sent me to bed.

"And as he hugged my mother, both of them in tears at how I could have done and said such horrible things, he looked at me over her shoulder. And I knew . . . he had me. He could do whatever he wanted, and it wouldn't matter. She would never believe anything I said about him again."

Carl sniffed, and wiped at his face, still gripping Van Helsing's hand hard.

"He came to my room later. I thought he was going to do it all again, and I remember fearing that kiss more than anything, being unable to breathe beneath it, but he only hugged me and begged forgiveness. Not for what he’d done, or what he’d accused me of, just . . . that he’d frightened me. He promised that next time it wouldn’t be scary, that it would be good. I’d like it. I knew that the next time I was alone with him, what he was going to do. And there was nothing I could do, no one I could tell, to protect me."

Carl looked away again. "That night, I left. It wasn’t long before I resorted to stealing just to eat, though a few people had allowed me to do some chores around their farms for food. I hadn't eaten in at least two days when I met the Cardinal. I was begging for food, and I realized he'd noticed me. I ran, afraid somehow he would know this horrible thing, and condemn me. Like he might tell God, or something."

Carl laughed a little at the idea. "He chased me and caught me--he was thin back then, you know. He talked to me for a while, fed me, tried to talk me into going home. I was exhausted and scared, and I finally told him why I couldn’t go home. He brought me here, and I've been here ever since."

Neither man spoke for a while. Finally, Van Helsing broke the silence, and reached up to wipe a tear from Carl’s cheek with his finger. "I'm so sorry, Carl."

"Of course, you didn't know. It's all right."

"Still, I had no right to say what I did, and I'm sorry. I just couldn't understand why you didn't go to Jinette the first time Father Moreland hurt you."

"I wanted to, but I was afraid. He could have done anything, sent me away . . . anything."

"I understand now. I'm so sorry that you thought I wouldn't believe you."

Carl turned and grasped Van Helsing’s hand in both of his own, squeezing tightly. "Oh no, Van Helsing. I knew you would take my side. No matter what anyone else thought."

"Then why did you hide it from me?"

"Because no matter what you believed, if the others believed him they might have turned on you and sent you away, or worse. He . . . all of this started, because he said he saw . . . ."  Carl swallowed hard, and decided that he'd come this far, so what was a little further? "He saw the way I looked at you, and acted around you, and at first was intent on separating us for good because of that." He paused for a moment, and then explained that he'd been in confession with the priest, without telling Van Helsing specifically what he was confessing, and the man had pressed the issue of his relationship with Van Helsing.

"If it had just been punishment I'd have been facing if they thought I was lying, I still would have told. But the idea of being sent away, or you being sent away from here . . . .”

Again, there was a long silence, and finally Carl scooted a little closer to Van Helsing and let himself lean against him. After a moment, Carl’s head tilted to the side and came to rest lightly on the man's shoulder.

Van Helsing put his arm around Carl and held tight. Carl's biggest fear had been one of them being sent away, unable to see the other again. He swallowed the lump in his throat, and rested his head on top of Carl's. They stayed like that for a long time.

Eventually, Carl sighed and stood, but Van Helsing stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Carl." He pulled Carl close to him, and tried to find a way to say what he wanted to say without possibly frightening him. "No one will ever send you away from me, I want you to know that. We belong together.” Finally, he had given voice to what he had felt for so long, even though the thought was still incomplete. "Your friendship means everything to me, and I think you feel the same way. You're the most important thing in my life. No one can get in the way of that. No one will."

Carl smiled and embraced him, uncharacteristically silent. Van Helsing held him tightly, and when they parted, he wanted nothing more than to kiss Carl’s face where tears had streaked the skin. But he feared that such a gesture would be the last thing Carl would want. So he’d cupped his cheek and used his thumb to wipe away the dampness, then he kissed Carl’s forehead before they parted, and things seemed to return to the way they had been between them.

A few months passed, with each day seeing Carl in better spirits. At first, though, despite Van Helsing's and Jinette's reassurances that everything was fine, Carl still feared being sent away, or to one day find that Van Helsing had been told to leave.

Or that Father Moreland was back, beckoning Carl to meet him.

He had dreams like that sometimes, dreams about the Father hurting him, without Van Helsing to save him this time. Sometimes he dreamed of Phillip, too, only he didn't get away from him. And Phillip always morphed into the priest at some point, or one would speak with the other's voice.

He had those dreams less now, though, and he was finally able to believe that the whole nightmare was really over. He was having a rare, pleasant dream when he woke for some reason, and at first flinched upon seeing someone in his room.

"It's me, Carl, I'm sorry," Van Helsing whispered. The man sat in a chair next to Carl's bed.

"What are you doing?" Carl asked.

"I just wanted to be here," Van Helsing replied honestly. He had been having dreams, too, and the one he’d had tonight had prompted him to check on Carl.

He'd found Carl sleeping peacefully, but had been unable to leave. He was beautiful when he was asleep. He was beautiful all the time, but he looked so peaceful and content when at rest. He had enjoyed sitting there watching Carl sleep for the better part of an hour, and guiltily his thoughts strayed to other things one could do in a bed besides sleep.

"How long have you been sitting there?"

"Not long," he lied.

"Are you going back to bed . . . soon?"

"No." He only realized how it sounded once it was out.


Carl didn't say or do anything for a few moments, and then he scooted over onto his side the inch or so he had between himself and the wall. He held the blankets up in invitation.

Van Helsing hesitated only briefly before joining Carl in the bed. They lay there, facing one another, neither knowing what he should do next. Finally, Van Helsing sighed and reached up to touch Carl's face. He wanted to wrap his arms around the man, but after hearing what Carl had been through, he worried he might frighten him. So he lay a hand against the man's cheek, and then slid it down to his neck. "The idea of you being frightened, hurt, by anyone . . . ."

Carl nodded, closed his eyes and covered the hand on his neck with his own. Carl moved forward and wrapped his arm around Van Helsing, pulling them tighter together. Their noses touched.

"Carl," he whispered, almost a question in itself. When Carl didn't move away, Van Helsing tilted his head slightly and pressed his lips against Carl's. He kept it brief, remembering the description of the unwanted kiss years ago.

They stayed this way through the night, if one shifted during sleep and roused the other, they kissed and pulled each other back into an embrace before finding sleep again. Both slept more peacefully than they had in the last few months.

After that night, it became a ritual, unspoken between them, like so much of their relationship. Van Helsing came to Carl’s room at bedtime and they tangled together this way, Carl in a long sleeping gown, Van Helsing in a loose shirt and pants, just as they had been the first night they’d spent together. Carl merely lifted the blankets, Van Helsing crawled in, and they held each other and kissed, and slept.

Carl adjusted the flame beneath a container of blue gelatinous liquid, not wanting to heat it too quickly and destroy its properties. He hoped that once heated to a precise temperature and then cooled slowly, it would form a grease that would not gum up or dry, just what he needed to lubricate the inner mechanisms of many of his weapons so they'd require much less maintenance and repair.

He'd come close to ruining it several times because he was distracted. A priest Carl did not know well stood several feet away, looking at the Gatling gun. He'd met the man before, but he'd never spent so much time in the lab. Carl had spoken to him only briefly a few times in the past few months, and he seemed friendly and smart, genuinely interested in the goings-on below the Vatican though apparently his contribution to the Order was only research.

Carl did not feel threatened by this priest, not specifically, but he felt uncomfortable at having him here. So he kept a close eye on the priest, Father Guillermo, he remembered  his name was. Carl was aware of his movements, without watching him directly. Then, as he looked up from his work, Van Helsing waved at him from the stairs, and Carl smiled.

His attention on Van Helsing, Carl's eye had picked up Father Guillermo's movement in the way that one sees dozens of things every moment and the brain files them away as insignificant. Only when the Father appeared next to Carl did his mind connect the man's movements with his appearance here. And the sudden feeling of someone, a priest, standing so close, so unexpectedly, startled Carl so that the hand that had just been adjusting the flame jerked, bumping the entire apparatus and splashing some of its contents over Carl's hand.

Carl hissed and jerked his hand away, cradling it in his other. Father Guillermo said "oh!" and reached toward Carl, perhaps about to take his arm and look at Carl's hand. But before he could touch Carl, Carl pulled his arm in and stepped back. "No, it's all right."

He sidestepped, heading for the forge and the cooling bucket kept there, but Van Helsing was immediately behind him. "Carl, are you all right?" He took Carl's arm and lifted it to look at his hand, putting his beneath Carl's to cradle it, but Carl gasped and pulled it away.

"No, no, it's nothing," he said, and rushed around Van Helsing to put his hand into the water.

Van Helsing followed, and the moment after Carl plunged his hand into the water, Van Helsing put a hand on his shoulder. "Carl? How badly--"

Carl jerked his shoulder away from Van Helsing's hand and stepped away, only glancing at him for a moment before looking down at the bucket. In the brief glance, he could see that Van Helsing was surprised, and confused, by the way Carl was acting.

Carl was surprised, himself.

"It's really all right, very minor," he blurted. "I have something I can put on it in my room, it's nothing. I'll see you later, Van Helsing."

He didn't look up at the man, and hated the way it sounded like he was dismissing him, though in truth, that's exactly what he was doing. He wanted him to go, and he couldn't even explain with all these people around, many of them looking his way because of the commotion.

He stared down at the bucket and tried to slow his breathing. He heard Van Helsing softly say, "All right."

Carl looked up again once Van Helsing was gone. He waved off Father Guillermo, saying it really was nothing to worry about. And it wasn't. Yes, his hand was burned, a large spot on the back and a few smaller spots on his palm and fingers. The liquid wasn't at the goal temperature yet, so it wasn't hot enough to do real damage. Even if the skin blistered, that would be minimal, though you wouldn't know it from the pain.

Once the worst had passed, Carl wrapped his hand in a wet towel and hurried to his room to apply a salve he had for that purpose that soothed much of the pain of minor burns within a few moments.

Van Helsing rose from the chair when Carl entered. He'd clearly gone directly to Carl's room after the lab. He'd already found the salve and opened it, had a clean cloth there ready to cover it.

Carl swallowed hard. "Oh, I'm sorry."

"Come here."

Carl did. Van Helsing lifted Carl's wrapped hand gingerly. "May I see it now?"

Carl nodded, and when Van Helsing had unwrapped his hand and it was clear he intended to apply the salve, Carl said, "You're not angry?"

"Why should I be angry, Carl? You only recoiled from my touch, and sent me away right after I arrived." He softened his words with a smile. "I'm not angry, but I think you overreacted."

"I did, I did, I'm sorry. But . . . what if someone saw?"

As he carefully tended Carl's hand, said, "Saw me looking at your injured hand, and putting my hand on your shoulder while asking if you were all right? Scandalous."

Carl watched Van Helsing carefully wrap his hand, his throat tight with emotion. "It does seem foolish now, but at the time all I could think of was how Father Moreland didn't see much more than that, and he knew."

"No, Carl, he didn't know with certainty until he manipulated you into telling him. No one down there would have thought anything suspicious. They know we're close friends, they know we care about one another. My concern for you, and the way we might talk together and touch one another in front of them, in friendship, won't even raise an eyebrow."

Carl looked up at him, still unsure but feeling silly over the way he'd treated Van Helsing. He sighed. "Maybe you're right."

"I am right, it's just difficult for you to see, given recent events. I took your injured hand, and touched your shoulder. If you had, say, cut your face, I'd have probably put my hand under your chin to look. And still, that would not seem suspicious to anyone down there."

Van Helsing moved closer, and reached out to touch Carl's face, stroking his cheek with fingers and palm. "That would be a very different touch than this, for example."

Carl leaned his face into the touch, and returned Van Helsing's slight smile.

"And examining your hand," Van Helsing continued, "is a very different gesture than this." He lifted Carl's injured hand and carefully kissed the bandaged palm, then pressed a firm kiss to the inside of Carl's wrist.

"Very different," Carl whispered.

Van Helsing continued to gently hold Carl's hand, his thumb making small circles over Carl's inner wrist, just below the bandage. "I promise I'll never do either of those things in front of other people. But I can't promise never to show friendship or caring, through words or actions. I don't think you should be uncomfortable with that, Carl."

"I suppose it'll be all right. As long as you don't, say, kiss me full on the mouth. Or anything like that."

Van Helsing chuckled. "You mean, like this?"

When they broke for air, Carl sucked in a deep breath and said, "Yes, like that. Can't do that in the lab."

"No," Van Helsing said, catching his own breath. "And I probably shouldn't do this." He put an arm around Carl's waist and bent him back as he kissed Carl's neck.

"Oh no," Carl squeaked, "not that either." He was giggling by the time Van Helsing stood him straight again. "And I suppose I shouldn't put my hands in your hair, not in front of the monks?" Carl's bandaged hand rested against the side of Van Helsing's neck, while he sank his other fingers into the dark wavy hair. He combed it back and leaned up and forward to kiss the man's ear, pushing back as he did so.

Van Helsing stepped backwards, following Carl's lead until he came against the bed and was forced to sit, pulling Carl down onto his lap as he dropped.

Carl lightly kissed the shell of Van Helsing's ear, his earlobe, and was on his was down the man's neck before he realized the position he was in, straddling Van Helsing's lap, exactly as Phillip had pulled him down onto his lap years before.

Carl also realized that he might not have thought anything of it at all if Van Helsing hadn't suddenly stiffened and pushed lightly against Carl, urging him to rise up off his legs. "Carl, I'm sorry," Van Helsing said, shifting, probably thinking Carl would want to get off of him quickly.

But Carl grabbed his shoulders and shook his head. "No, it's all right," he said, astonished. "Because it's you . . . it's all right."

Van Helsing's hands rubbed up and down Carl's back as Carl's arms went around Van Helsing's neck. Carl embraced him, and pressed even closer, half-expecting to feel the urge to move away. But the urge never came. He buried his face in Van Helsing's neck, and they sat there together, not moving, for a long time.



"Yes?" Carl looked up at him from the lab table, and Van Helsing got the sense that Carl hadn't known he was there until he spoke. He looked at Carl for a moment, and then put a hand on his shoulder. Van Helsing looked around the lab and at the empty table in front of Carl. Maybe he was just quietly trying to figure out a problem with one of his experiments? "Concentrating on a problem? You looked deep in thought."

Carl blinked a few times and Van Helsing could tell he'd either been crying or was trying not to. "I was."

"What about?"

"Nothing, really. Did you . . . need . . . ?"

"I don’t need anything. I just stopped in to see you--you've been down here for hours."

"Oh." Carl looked at the table.

Carl had been doing so well, especially over the last few weeks. This was all wrong. "Carl, let's go back to your room or mine, and talk. Have you eaten lately?"

"No, I just want to sit here."

"It about time to sleep, isn't it?" Van Helsing felt a shiver of alarm when Carl said nothing. "Carl, tell me what's wrong."

Carl sighed. "I was just thinking . . . ." He looked up at Van Helsing with big, wet eyes . "I was just wondering . . . why. Why me?"

Van Helsing kneading his shoulder gently. "I don't know, Carl . . . it just happened."

"I don't think so," Carl said. "Maybe if it had happened once. But two of them? Why?" he asked, his voice starting to sound a little shaky. "What about me made both of them--"

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. What about you? I don't like the sound of that. It's them, Carl. Their fault. Nothing you did--"

"That's not entirely true, and you know it!" Carl's voice was harsh, though his demeanor didn't change at all. If anything, he seemed to shrink in on himself a little more. "It's because they saw something in me . . . less than a man."

"Really?" Van Helsing said, struggling to keep his voice soft. "How could Phillip have determined this when you were still just a boy, Carl?"

"They both saw that I was . . . soft. And weak." A single tear fell.

Van Helsing let go of Carl's shoulder because he was afraid if he did not, he'd shake Carl and scare him. Carl didn't even look up when he let go of his shoulder, and that tore it. He stomped away, the few people in the lab moving quickly out of his way and watching with curiosity as he charged here and there, grabbing weapons. Weapons he would have liked to use to slowly tear Phillip and Moreland apart, but he didn't have that luxury.

He put his armload down on the table in front of Carl and went back for more. Finally, when about 8 completely deadly implements were laid out in front of Carl, Van Helsing stopped next to him again.

Carl looked at the equipment in front of him only briefly, before turning his eyes downward again.

"Look at me!" When Carl didn't, Van Helsing put his fingers under Carl's chin and snapped his face up. "Look at me, dammit. See this?" With his other hand he held up Carl's crossbow. "This saved our lives many times in Transylvania. Without this, we would have been picked off by the vampires in, oh, about five minutes, if they'd been having a bad day. I wonder who made this? Oh, wait a minute, it was you!"

He tossed the crossbow aside and picked up another weapon, this one an axe that was small enough to be portable but weighted skillfully enough to be useful, and had a spike that could be sent shooting out of the handle at the flick of a switch. "This one saved my life, both by giving me something to make a shelter with, and by dispatching a particularly nasty beastie, as you'd call it, all in the same night. Who made this marvel? You!" He went on angrily through three more weapons and the grappling gun, explaining how they'd saved his life, snapping Carl's face up each time he tried to look away.

Finally, Carl tried to stand to get away but Van Helsing grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back down, a little more roughly than he'd intended. "And this one," he said, as he picked up a tojo, "I can't count how many times I would be dead if not for this one. Crafted by your two hands and that magnificent brain of yours. Do you think a weak man could do this? Do you really? Make something this deadly, and this beautiful?" He fingered the sigils on the blade.

"Van Helsing, please." Carl wiped at his wet face with the back of his hand.

"Please what, Carl? Let you sit and stew in your own self pity? No. You have every right to be upset, angry, furious about what happened to you. But I am not going to let you sit here and say these things about yourself. I'm not going to let you believe them. No weak man would ever even be able to dream about the things you achieve, Carl."

Carl looked at him, tears flowing steadily. And it completely infuriated Van Helsing that he could see in Carl's expression that he didn't really believe it. He grabbed Carl's shoulders.

"Soft? I've seen you scold children for their bad behavior, and then sneak them a piece of candy, and spend far more time helping people than could ever be expected of any one man. You're soft where you're supposed to be, Carl. And strong everywhere else. Do you think a weak boy could have run away from the only home he ever knew, and somehow survived? Do you think a weak man could have overcome all that happened and become the top inventor for the Order? Could a weak man save countless lives? My life?"

He stopped and took a deep breath, and then shook his head, stopping Carl before he could speak. "You think you're less than a man? Why, Carl?" He bent over a little and spoke very softly. "Because you love me? Because you want my touch? Is that what you're thinking makes you soft?"

Carl looked at him and shook his head but he shrugged at the same time.

Van Helsing slapped his hand down on the table, drawing everyone's stare again. Let them stare, he thought. He knew they couldn’t hear him.

Carl looked at the others and shook his head. "Everyone--"

"Am I less than a man, Carl," he hissed "because I feel that way about you?"


"Why not? What's the difference? What gives you the right to take what's between us and use it to hurt yourself? What gives you that right, Carl?" It broke his heart to see that Carl looked like he might crumble any moment. Van Helsing put a hand on each side of Carl's head, his own composure almost gone. In a breaking voice, he said, "How dare you, Carl. How dare you say such things about someone I love."

His own lips trembled as he looked down at Carl. They looked at each other this way for only a few seconds before Carl let out a sob and then threw himself into Van Helsing's arms, everyone else in the lab apparently forgotten. Van Helsing held Carl tightly as he wept, not caring about any of them either.

He sensed movement and looked up enough to see the handful of monks filing out of the lab, then saw Jinette on the stairs, motioning for them to go. He and Jinette shared a long look, then the Cardinal seemed to nod before he followed the others out.

After several minutes, Carl calmed down, though he did not let go. "I'm--I'm sorry, Van Helsing. I . . . "

"You don't have to say anything or explain, Carl. It's all right." He rocked the man a little. "Let's go to your room and get some sleep?"

Carl nodded against his chest, and they walked together to Carl's room. They removed their shoes and Carl removed his robe, leaving on his shirt and trousers, then positioned himself with his head on Van Helsing's chest.

"So . . . it's just a coincidence that it happened to me . . . twice?"

"Pretty much."


"But what? That's not possible?" Van Helsing sighed and stroked Carl's hair. "They both saw something they wanted to try to control, or possess. It doesn't say anything about you, except that you had the misfortune of encountering two such vile people. Deep down, Carl, I think you know this. And after some time passes, you'll see it as clearly as I do. Trust me, Carl."

"I do."

Carl picked at his fingernail, smoothed his robe, sat straighter in the chair and then tried to get comfortable, patted down the back of his hair, and fidgeted in every way possible. He'd been in Jinette's office dozens of times before, but the terror he felt at the conversation he knew was coming made him extra antsy.

Carl had always liked to hear the Cardinal talk. He loved the sound of his accent and the way he would slow down when deadly serious, and then speed up, talking almost impossibly fast at other times. The Cardinal spoke slowly now.

"I understand your fear, given your history, Carl. To an extent. But I am still alarmed that you could not see past it to come to me," Jinette said. "Do not think I will be upset at your answer, but I would like to know why. Was it because you did not trust me to take your side? You did not trust me to protect you?"

"Oh no, Your Eminence, it wasn't that." Jinette had saved Carl's life and knew all the details about Phillip. In fact, until Carl had told Van Helsing, Jinette had been the only one who knew. "I know you would have protected me, if I had come to you."

"Then, Carl, this begs the question, why didn't you?" Jinette leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled in front of his chin. They'd had many conversations since Van Helsing had stopped Moreland, but Jinette had not yet been clear on what exactly Carl had been so afraid of in the idea of telling Jinette.

"Because . . . he would have . . . ." Carl looked down and fiddled with his robe, then looked up at him, wondering if he would be ruining his life if he told the truth. Ruining his and Van Helsing's life. The truth, the one that he could not say in a confessional, ate at him. And he wasn't sure he could live without telling someone.

"Your Eminence, do you believe . . . it can be a sin to love someone?" Carl had a hard time meeting his eyes, but when the man didn't speak, Carl looked up at him nervously.

Jinette's eyes narrowed slightly but he didn't otherwise move. "How can loving someone be a sin, Carl?"

"But it can be . . . if it's not the right person, can't it? If a man . . . and . . . another man . . . ." Carl was holding his hands together so tightly, his fingers were going numb.

Jinette felt pity on Carl the moment he'd walked in his office. He'd never seen Carl look so nervous, and Carl had had plenty of reason to be nervous on previous trips before the Cardinal through the years. But apparently he knew they had come to the point in their recent ongoing discussion where Jinette wanted to get to the bottom of why Carl didn't trust him, of all people, to protect him.

He understood why Carl hadn't told even Van Helsing. Because he feared Van Helsing might be taken from him somehow just as his mother was, once he'd told her of what had been done to him. But Jinette knew his history. Why he couldn't have confided in him, the Cardinal desperately wanted to find out.

And now that Carl had raised the question of a man loving another man, he though for a moment Carl was referring to the fact that both those who had hurt him were men. But Carl would not refer to that as love, surely. "Speak plainly, Carl." He suspected, of course, but had to hear it from Carl's own mouth. "Nothing you say to me in this room today will harm you . . . or anyone else, I promise you that."

Carl looked up at him and said, "I'm talking about myself . . . and Van Helsing."

The Cardinal stood and walked over to a window, clasping his hands behind his back. He looked out at the gray clouds and the light rain that fell, and sighed. All the Church and most of society would condemn them both for this. And as an officer of the Church, his duty . . . .

"You're disgusted," Carl said in a small voice.

Jinette turned to look at him. "No, little one," he said, using a term that he'd used when Carl had come there as a boy. He rarely used it now--but today it slipped out on its own. "I am not disgusted. Only a little surprised." He paused for a moment, looking at Carl's defeated demeanor and still not sure what was happening inside his head. "I still do not understand how this kept you from telling me about what was happening."

Carl looked at his lap as he spoke, and explained about his confession, how Moreland had known of his desire for Van Helsing, and how he feared that knowledge could be used against them. "But it's more than lust, Your Eminence, I swear. He had no idea how we really feel--"

"I know. I have been in your company many times when you are together, Carl. I know. So you thought Moreland would reveal to me your secret. And I would condemn you for it."

Carl nodded. "It was a possibility."

"Yes, it was. Officially, the Church would condemn this. It would be called an abomination. You know this."

Carl's voice was barely a whisper. "Yes." He looked up with those same, frightened blue eyes Jinette remembered from so many years ago. "Do you think I'm this way . . . because of what happened to me as a boy?"

Jinette walked back to his desk and sat. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The Church overlooked these matters more often that he was willing to explain to Carl. Jinette was no fool. He'd expected as much long before he'd raised up through the ranks to his current station. The Church, more than a place to honor and worship God and do His works on earth, was a den of ambitious men. And ambitious men had a way of bending rules, and Scripture, to suit their purposes. And a way of justifying wrongs to do the same. The Church had overlooked far worse than what Carl was confessing to him right now, for far less noble reasons.

When Jinette opened his eyes again, he knew the course of action he would take. "In all truth, I do not know. But, Carl, does it matter? You are what you are, regardless of the cause for it, yes?"

Carl nodded, and hung his head. "But what should I do?"

Jinette took another deep breath and slowly exhaled. "If you stole something now, or murdered someone, would you feel guilt?"

"Of course," Carl said, looking up at him with a slight frown.

"Why? Because God tells you that the things you have done are wrong? Or because you know they are wrong?"


"But are they not the same thing, Carl?" Some corners of the Church would want him excommunicated for daring to suggest a thing like this, he knew. At this moment, he didn't care. "Let me ask you now, do you feel guilt for this love you speak of? The same guilt you would feel if you did something wrong, like theft, or murder?"

"No. I feel guilt because . . . ."

"Because you believe you are supposed to."

Carl sat straighter. "Yes."

"Not because, deep down, you feel you have done something wrong?" Jinette leaned forward and put his elbows on the desk. "It all comes down to whether you trust yourself, Carl. If you did something truly abominable, do you think you would not recognize it as such? I believe you would."

Carl stood and approached Jinette's desk. "Your Eminence, are you saying that it's all right--"

"I am saying no such thing! Carl, you know I cannot condone this. I only wish for you to see that you have the power, and furthermore the obligation, to condone or condemn it yourself. It is your conscience you must deal with, Carl, not mine. It is between you and your God, not you and me . . . or you and the Church. That is what I'm saying."

Carl wrung his hands. "But you wouldn't tell me that if you thought I was putting my soul--or Van Helsing's--in danger. I know you wouldn't! You would be furious, and you would demand--"

"I would send you each to opposite ends of the earth."

Carl started to speak, but his voice caught. He hurried around the side of the desk and dropped to one knee, then kissed the Cardinal's ring as it was presented. After a moment, he managed, "Thank you, Your Eminence."

Before Carl could rise, Jinette put his hand on top of Carl's head. "What you have told me here today, Carl . . . I do not know these things. We did not have this conversation. Do you understand?"

Carl nodded, wide-eyed.

"And I expect to never be put in a position where I am faced with this knowledge again."

"I understand, Your Eminence. Thank you, so much."

"Go in peace, Carl." He watched Carl scurry from his office, and was tempted to yell after him to stay away from the lab until he'd calmed down. But in the end, he merely let him go and then slumped in his chair a bit, wondering if he had done the right thing. He had not lied. If he thought this feeling Carl had could risk his immortal soul, he would keep them apart no matter how much Carl might hate him for it. But Jinette no more believed that than he believed in the righteousness of slavery, the justice of debtor's prisons or the rape and murder of children--all things mentioned quite casually in the same Scripture that forbade men from lying together as man and woman.

Perhaps it was the Order that made him doubt so many things that the rest of the Church and often the world thought was right. He supposed most people, when faced with the idea that monsters were real and that the night held more darkness than they could ever imagine, might start to view things differently, too.

Jinette looked up at the mural on his ceiling and its ornate, gilded border, and his throat tightened as he said a silent prayer that he'd made the right choice. He asked that if he had led Carl astray, that he be the one to bear the consequence. And after a few minutes, because Jinette trusted himself and his God far more than he would ever trust a cabal of power-hungry men who waved God's banner when it suited them, he felt at peace with it.

Carl didn't feel very well, as he had been plagued with bad dreams the night before. Van Helsing was tired, too. Each time Carl flinched or made noise, he snapped awake. Van Helsing had told him that he didn't know how Carl managed to avoid nightmares at all, so one night so far didn't seem too terrible. He hoped it didn't continue, for Carl's sake.

Because they were both tired, they were on Carl's cot in the middle of the day, Carl snuggled up to his side, occasionally putting his head on Van Helsing's shoulder or chest. They talked about a variety of things.

"Carl, would you call me Gabriel? At least some of the time? And not just when you're angry about something."

Carl looked up at him. "Of course. I would have already, but it didn’t seem right."

"You don't like the name, do you?"

"I love the name. It's an angel's name, after all. But no one has ever called you Gabriel. Save one. And I didn't know how you would feel about it."

Van Helsing rubbed Carl's back lightly. He knew Carl referred to Dracula. "I want you to. I like the way you say it."

Carl smiled at him and put his ear over Van Helsing's heart. After a few minutes, he wondered aloud what they'd do if he had nightmares again, and Van Helsing suggested that he could go and kill both men so that Carl would know he couldn't be hurt again.

Carl raised his head and looked at him. "Gabriel," he whispered.

"I know. But dammit, Carl, I can think it."

Carl smiled and shoved him a little. "You cursed again!"

"So? You do it all the time, at random. I have a valid reason."

Carl sighed when the man stroked his hair. "But it doesn't sound right coming from you."

Van Helsing laughed and had a hard time stopping. "And it does when coming from you? 'The hell be damned I am?' Oh, Carl."

Carl laughed softly, too. "But I've gotten better with practice."

After a few moments, Van Helsing asked, "Why do you curse, Carl? It obviously just doesn't come naturally to you like it does to others. You put out a lot of effort. Why do it at all?"

Carl raised his face and put his chin on the man's chest. "Because I'm not supposed to." He smiled broadly. "I've led a very sheltered life." He looked at Van Helsing's expression of disbelief, and quickly added, "Well, after coming here, at least. I suppose it's a bit of . . . rebellion. Curiosity about how it feels to do it. Besides, no one really seems to mind." He swallowed and chewed his lip for a moment. "That reminds me of something I wanted to tell you."

He pulled himself up so that he faced Van Helsing and leaned on his elbow. "I did something in Transylvania out of that same curiosity, and I didn't tell you about it. I spent the night with a woman."

Van Helsing only stared at him for a moment. Then he said, "When on earth did you find time for that?"

Carl explained about how he'd met the woman while protecting her from one of Dracula's progeny that had meant to take her off . "And she asked me how she could repay me . . . and just how many opportunities like that is someone like me going to get? The next morning, I told you about that, the clue from the painting."

"Oh, yes, I remember. Why didn't you tell me about her?" Van Helsing reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind Carl's ear, only for it to spring back out again.

"I'm not sure. I think I might have been embarrassed. You see, I wanted . . . I'd have rather . . . been with you. But I badly wanted to know what it was like to be with someone in that way, and, well, there you have it. I enjoyed it, and at least some of that was because, even though I'm still just a friar, I knew I wasn't supposed to be doing it."

Van Helsing nodded. "And what about us, Carl?"

"Oh, I don't have an interest in being with a woman again, I--"

"That's not what I meant. I'm asking . . . are you sure this isn't something that you really want to do because you know . . you're not supposed to? Like the woman, or cursing?"

"No, it's completely different! It . . . ." He was almost at a loss how to explain that difference. He combed his fingers through Van Helsing's dark curls. "Those things are just acts. I can choose to do them, or not. If I had to take vows tomorrow to cement my place within the Church, and one was that I could never curse again, I could take that vow and never be terribly bothered. I could vow never to lay with a woman, and I'd be fine."

He kissed Van Helsing softly, and whispered, "But if I had to vow that I would no longer love you, I couldn't take that vow. How I feel about you is not an option."

Van Helsing sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. "Nor is it, for me."

Carl stared at Van Helsing until the man opened his eyes, nervous to ask the question but no longer able to keep from it. "What about God?"

Van Helsing hand went to Carl's cheek, soothing him. "What does God think of us?"

"Yes. Because as you said, we are not supposed to."

"I know. And I've thought about that, Carl, I really have. The Left Hand of God business. I can sense evil. If this were truly something evil in the eyes of God, I have to have faith that I would know it."

Carl felt relief rush through him at how similar this was to what the Cardinal had told him. He had been relieved to hear Jinette say it, but not knowing what Van Helsing thought had bothered him. Now he felt he had his answer, not just from them, but from God. He nodded. "Yes, we would," he said. "We would both know it."

They kissed again and Carl put his head on Van Helsing's chest. After several minutes of silence, Carl spoke in a sleepy voice. "But in all seriousness, Van Helsing, it really doesn't sound right when you curse. Just leave that to me."

After a few weeks, one of the soft, almost innocent kisses they shared at night became something more. Van Helsing pressed a kiss to Carl’s lips, and when he pulled back, Carl sought him out, kissing him more firmly, surprising and pleasing Van Helsing. He let Carl control the kiss, but he parted his lips slightly and let his tongue flick out against Carl's, the gasp it pulled from the friar going straight to his groin.

When he felt hardness pressing against his own between them, he whispered Carl and rolled his hips forward, rubbing them together.

He paused, gauging Carl's reaction, wanting to do nothing that might frighten or upset him. When he felt Carl pushing back, and the kiss deepened, Van Helsing sighed. He felt Carl pushing himself forward more insistently, and even though he seemed eager, Van Helsing looked at him, giving him time to stop what he was doing if he wanted.

In answer, Carl reached up and wove his fingers into Van Helsing's hair, pulling him back into another kiss, this one deeper than before. Van Helsing gave in to it and wrapped his arms around Carl, no longer able to resist even if he wanted.

Carl pressed his hips forward, moving them slightly back and forth, rubbing them together through the cloth. Carl whimpered as his pleasure built, his hand moving down from Van Helsing's back to cup his backside, grinding them together with more force. Carl spilled himself moments before Van Helsing's breath hitched and he found his pleasure, as well.

As their movements and their breathing slowed, they still kissed, just lazily exploring each other’s mouths. Van Helsing would have liked to touch Carl, slide a hand up underneath his sleeping gown and feel him. But he would not do such a thing without Carl's explicit permission. Perhaps that was too similar to what his uncle had done to him when he was a child. Perhaps Carl would never want to be touched that way.

Van Helsing would give him whatever he wanted, and never push for anything more. He cared for Carl too much to risk hurting him anymore than he already had.

"Are you all right?” was all Van Helsing said.

"Yes.” Carl kissed him again, and then they curled against each other and slept.

When Carl woke, he carefully climbed over Van Helsing, poured some water from a pitcher into the bowl that waited, and wet a rag. Van Helsing grumbled and moaned a little as Carl crawled over him, but now appeared to have settled back into sleep, for which Carl was grateful.

Quickly, with his back to the man, Carl washed. He winced as he wiped at the stiffened hairs on his lower stomach, but he continued until he was clean, casting glances at Van Helsing over his shoulder from time to time, to make sure the man was still asleep.

On the last glance, when he'd finished washing and was about to dress, Carl gasped as he saw that Van Helsing was wide awake and watching him with a little smile.

"How long have you been awake?" Carl asked.

"A few minutes. Wonderful way to wake up." He reached for Carl's wrist. "Turn around?"

Carl looked at him a moment more before he let Van Helsing pull his arm enough to turn him. He stood, facing the man, totally naked . . . and vulnerable. It made Carl nervous at first, but the look Van Helsing was giving him was enough to keep him from feeling embarrassed.

Van Helsing looked at him for a moment, then released Carl’s wrist. Carl hastily threw a robe over his head. He dumped his water into a pot kept in the room for that purpose and poured fresh water for Van Helsing.

But Van Helsing decided to try something else. Carl had always been the one naked and manipulated. Perhaps if he were dressed while Van Helsing were naked, he would feel less nervous and insecure.

Van Helsing stood and stretched, and quickly stripped off his clothing, smiling at the look of shock on Carl's face, but noting that Carl never looked away from him. Carl's blue eyes looked him up and down, more than once, and Van Helsing simply stood there and let him look all he wanted, enjoying the admiration clear on Carl's face.Then he turned and washed himself, as Carl had, but was still able to feel Carl's eyes on him from behind.

By the time he was finished, and was about to dry himself, he felt more than heard Carl approaching him. When hands touched his waist, Van Helsing closed his eyes. His hands wanted to cover Carl's, pull them around him, but he resisted the urge, letting Carl do what he wanted, or nothing at all.

Van Helsing breathed deeply when Carl's hands slid around his waist and Carl embraced him from behind, pressing the length of their bodies together. He let his hands loosely cover Carl's then, just to encourage him. Carl's hands slid up his chest and agile fingers combed through the thick hair, exploring and learning his body.

Van Helsing could feel Carl's hardness pressing against him from behind. His breathing sped up and he let his head roll back on his shoulders a little, letting the feel of Carl touching him so tentatively take him over.

He felt Carl nuzzling him, pushing his hair aside, kissing his neck.


The whisper brought Van Helsing, already aroused, to full hardness. He wanted to slide Carl's hand down to wrap around him, but didn't dare. Yet, as if knowing exactly what he needed, he felt Carl's hand slowly descend, the fingers moving as it went, feeling every groove of muscle, every contour.

When the gentle hand gripped him, Van Helsing gasped. “Carl.” He thrust gently, kept his movements smooth and fairly slow until need forced him to move faster. Carl intuitively moved with him, touching him so perfectly, that Van Helsing could do little but let himself be pleasured. He came with a muffled grunt, careful not too be too loud and possibly catch the attention of anyone passing in the hall.

Just as the spasms subsided, Carl’s hand released him and the warmth of his body disappeared from Van Helsing’s back. Van Helsing turned, and somehow managed to grab Carl’s arm before he reached the door.

Carl didn’t try to pull away. He merely stopped.


Carl reluctantly turned his head to look at Van Helsing. “I—I—“

“It’s all right,” he said, releasing Carl’s arm, but stroking his hand down the length of it to take his hand. He decided to try to distract Carl from his tension, if only for a moment. “Where would you go like that?” he asked, nodding his head at the impressive mound at the front of Carl’s robe.

Carl laughed a little. “I don’t know. I’m sorry I reacted that way.”

“No, don’t apologize, it’s all right. That was wonderful.” He squeezed Carl’s hand and stepped closer, aware of his own nakedness and not caring. “I hope I didn’t . . . scare you?”

“No,” Carl said, but didn’t sound confident. “Not exactly. I mean, I’m not scared of you.”

“But I’m all that’s here, Carl,” he said, as he put a comforting hand on the back of Carl’s neck and kneaded gently. “No one else.”

“I know that, Van Helsing. I’m more afraid of thinking of something at the wrong time, how I might react.” He looked at the hunter with big eyes. “I want you,” he said, matter-of-factly, “I want this, but I’m afraid that when you touch me, it’ll remind me, and I won’t be able to.”

Van Helsing sighed with relief. He’d hoped this was what was wrong, and not that Carl had changed his mind, or been afraid of something he’d done. He felt a shiver ladder its way up his back, too, hearing that Carl wanted him.

He smiled, and moved closer, taking a chance by leaning forward and kissing Carl softly, pleased that Carl returned the kiss, no resistance.

He stroked Carl’s jaw with his thumb. “I see. I want to touch you, Carl. But more than that, I want you to not be afraid. So tell me, what do you think we can do to make you not be afraid of this?”

“That’s just it, I’m not sure.”

“Should I dress? Perhaps now is not--?”

“No. No, I don’t--I’m tired of feeling this way. I’ve wanted this for so long, already.” Carl’s free hand touched Van Helsing’s chest.

Van Helsing’s hand covered Carl’s. “All right. Then perhaps if I don’t touch you at all,” he suggested. “At least, not in a way either of them ever did.” He spoke the last softly, wishing as he said it that it was not necessary, but he wanted to distinguish the difference in Carl’s mind.

He liked the look of hope and desire on Carl’s face. And he hoped it pleased Carl even more that he wouldn’t even have to be naked, which might make him feel too vulnerable.

Van Helsing kissed Carl, and whispered, “If you want me to stop, please don’t run away. Just tell me.” Another kiss after Carl nodded, and then Van Helsing lowered himself to his knees. He grinned at the look on Carl’s face as he did so, and then he picked up the bottom of his robe and lifted it slowly. “If I do something that makes you uncomfortable . . . .”

Carl nodded again, and that was the last Van Helsing saw of his face as he leaned forward and dipped underneath the dark robe. He heard Carl’s gasp, though, and he paused, giving Carl a moment to adjust to this and make sure Carl didn’t want him to stop before he’d started.

When no protest came, Van Helsing leaned forward and rubbed his cheek against Carl’s thigh, his warm breath ghosting over Carl’s sex. He knew neither of Carl’s tormentors had ever touched him in quite this way, and he hoped that the distinction made it possible.

He inhaled Carl’s scent deeply, making a soft sound of approval that he intended for Carl to hear, before he moved in, his lips brushing against Carl’s shaft. The flesh jumped as Carl flexed against the sensation, encouraging Van Helsing. He licked down the length, swirled his tongue around the head and then sucked Carl in.

He smiled around the flesh as Carl’s whole body twitched and he whimpered with pleasure, a hand resting on top of Van Helsing’s head, through the robe.

As Van Helsing pleasured Carl in this way, he brushed the backs of his knuckles up and down the tops of Carl’s thighs. He stroked his hip. He let a hand slide up Carl’s stomach. Each time his hand moved, Carl shuddered slightly, so Van Helsing concentrated on that same movement for a time, to let Carl grow used to it.

As Carl neared climax, Van Helsing got lost in sensation for a moment, he stroked up the backs of Carl’s thighs to cup him perfectly in each hand and squeeze.

As he did so, Carl’s body jerked and he froze. Van Helsing did the same, angry with himself for his slip. But Carl didn’t pull away, he simply held still, his ragged breathing seeming to come as much from excitement as apprehension.

Van Helsing moved first, letting his mouth continue on Carl’s sex, more slowly than it had been, but firm and insistent. Then he let his hand merely hold Carl’s backside. Slowly, Carl began moving again, his hips thrusting forward, his hand moving atop the robe where it draped over Van Helsing’s head. Encouraged by this, Van Helsing applied gentle pressure with his hands, cupping him more firmly, hoping it was not too similar to the way he’d been touched before.

Van Helsing heard Carl whisper, “Oh God,” and suddenly cool air buffeted his face as the robe was whipped away and tossed aside. His eyes met Carl’s, and he moaned at the desire he saw there.

He kneaded Carl’s buttocks more firmly now, his mouth keeping a rhythm designed to bring Carl over the edge. As Carl combed his fingers through Van Helsing’s mussed hair, Van Helsing purposefully kept looking up at him, knowing that it was giving Carl pleasure to watch him this way. It took only seconds, then Carl’s soft cries thrilled Van Helsing.

Carl gently urged him to stand, then he pulled Van Helsing forward so their bodies pressed together, and kissed him. Carl was so glad they had not waited, that he had not let his fear keep them from this. As he tasted himself in the kiss, he tightened his arms around the man, moaning softly.

He was also glad that he had overcome his shyness at the last moment and removed his robe. He'd wanted so badly to see, to watch Van Helsing doing what he'd done, that finally the desire had overwhelmed his nervousness. And the sight of the man, on his knees in front of Carl, using his mouth that way, and then looking up at Carl as he did so, that was worth fighting any fear, real or imagined, and then some.

"Thank you," Carl said, for lack of anything that seemed more appropriate.

"Anytime," Van Helsing whispered.

They kissed a little longer, standing there in each other's arms, and then with unspoken assent they parted and dressed.

As Carl went about his day, he found himself grateful, more than once, for the low table in front of him. Just thinking of how Van Helsing felt, smelled, tasted, was enough to arouse him. And remembering in detail what the man had done to him that morning, as unwise as it probably was, helped pass the hours.

He couldn't fully concentrate on anything before him, no project captured his attention, no prospects excited him today. None, except the day ending and Carl spending the night alone with Van Helsing again.

Carl was still afraid. Still worried that suddenly he'd feel the way he felt when Phillip or the Father had been lording over him, and ruin the moment. He didn't want to look foolish in front of Van Helsing. Even though he was sure the man would understand, he still didn't want to have to feel that way.

Carl was stuck on that thought, hoping that no matter what happened, he wouldn't feel the way those men made him feel, when he saw Father Moreland in his lab.

He sucked in a breath, his spine stiffened, and he felt that familiar fear, the knot, the roiling in the center of his stomach. He couldn't move for a moment.

How could this be, when Jinette knew what the man had done? After Van Helsing had told him everything, Jinette had promised to make sure Moreland was finished within the Church.

A Buddhist monk was showing Moreland some contraption he'd been working on. Moreland's back was to Carl, but his head was turned so that Carl could see a sliver of his profile. Had Carl ever hated a face so much? At least Phillip had cared for him. Moreland's actions had all been about his own gratification.

Carl gasped as the thought he’d just had assaulted him with its wrongness. How, all these years, after all the introspection, could he have still believed that Phillip cared for him? He still believed his uncle loved him. He still believed the man wasn’t like Moreland, not at all.

Even though he'd done things he should never have done, and would have done so much more had Carl not left. He'd tarnished Carl's memories of his childhood, had frightened Carl and confused him so often, none worse than the last time. He’d allowed Carl's own mother to practically disown him, let her think her own son was a liar, making up a horrible story about her beloved brother to spare himself punishment.

Phillip couldn't have truly loved him, Carl realized, not and let him suffer so.

Carl felt something give inside him, a physical hitch of breath, a vibration that seemed to resonate for a long time, setting his whole body on edge. That's when Carl's fear, a constant companion since he was a child, seemed to shrink just the tiniest bit. And then it was devoured by his anger.

Anger at himself for not standing up to the Father in the first place. Once he’d realized that only an irrational fear had kept him from it, that he or Van Helsing would not have been sent away, he’d been so angry with himself. He felt that fresh now, along with anger at Jinette for not keeping his promise. How was it possible for this man to step foot here at all, let alone in Carl's lab. Invading Carl's private space this way.

Anger at Father Moreland, using God to manipulate Carl (and how many others before him?) for his own vile purposes. And the worst anger of all was directed at his uncle Phillip, a red hot rage that quickly overtook the rest.These two men, these liars, were with him every day. Had kept him hiding from the world, and from happiness with Van Helsing for so long.

And now Father Moreland was in Carl's lab, his sanctuary, invading his most cherished space. He had no right, they had no right, NO RIGHT!

Carl's paralysis ended as he spoke those words aloud, no right, without even realizing he’d done so. He raced over to Moreland, grabbed the old priest roughly by the arm and spun him, fully intending to order him out of the lab, away from everyone there. He was even prepared to go so far as to announce what kind of a true priest he was in front of all present, even if it embarrassed him to reveal what happened. Anything to get him out of there.

But when he spun the man, impossibly, it wasn’t Father Moreland. A priest he didn't know looked at him wide-eyed, more shocked than angry. "Wha--?”

The Buddhist monk who had been showing him around, shouted, "What’s wrong with you?”

Carl gaped and let go of the priest's arm. From the back it had been him, the glimpse of his profile, he'd been so sure. He didn't even feel relieved, he'd been so worked up, so ready to finally confront him. He thought he felt disappointed.

"Oh, Father, I'm--I'm so sorry, forgive me. Did I hurt you?" he said, his voice small and trembling.

The priest took a deep breath. “Well, I’ll say you startled a few years off of me," he said and then gave Carl a small, kind smile. "But, no harm done. Are you all right?" The Father's hand reached for Carl's arm, but Carl lurched away, drawing stares from all sides of the lab now.

"Fine, I'm fine, I don't know what--I'm sorry, forgive me." He ran out of the lab, gulping for air all the way back to his room.

Van Helsing came to Carl’s room earlier than usual that night. Carl didn’t get up—he’d been in bed for a while—but merely told him to come in. Van Helsing wasted no time getting into bed with Carl and immediately pulling him close, his cheek against Carl’s hair.

“I suppose you’ve heard?” Carl said.

“I went to the lab to keep you company for a while. A few men came up to me to see if you were all right. Are you?”

“I am.”

“Good.” Van Helsing rubbed Carl’s back. “Carl, I saw him. There is a likeness.”

Carl nodded.

“Do you mind me asking what you were going to do?”

“I don’t know. Shout at him, make him leave. Tell him . . . he had no right. In the end, I just felt foolish.”

“You’re not.”

Carl said nothing.

Van Helsing sighed. “I could start telling you what you are, but you’ll just disagree with everything I say, except perhaps ‘mad genius.’ I know you too well.”

“Do you?” Carl asked, raising up enough to look at Van Helsing. “That’s quite an accomplishment, since it seems I’m just starting to know myself.” In answer to Van Helsing’s puzzled look, Carl continued. “Phillip did not love me.”

Van Helsing frowned, clearly confused. “Carl—“

“No, listen, I had this revelation today, it came to me, Van Helsing, when I thought I saw Moreland in my lab. I was so . . . angry, all of a sudden, and then with startling clarity I realized it. I’ve been protecting myself from the pain of that truth by thinking that my uncle was not like Moreland, because at least he loved me.”

Carl lowered himself again, breathed deeply for a moment. “But he didn’t. Did he?”

“Carl, I can’t pretend to know what he thought.”

“Nor can I. But I know that whatever he felt for me was wrong, warped. What he might have believed to be love does not resemble the love that normal people feel for one another. It’s nothing like . . . " Carl raised his face again to look at him, " . . . like how we feel about each other.”

Van Helsing reached up to stroke his fingers down Carl’s cheek. “No, it’s nothing like that.” They kissed briefly, and then Carl resumed his position against the man.

“Even after he did what he did, I loved him, Van Helsing. I had always loved him, like a son might love a father. I held on to that, I had to love him, because he had never really hurt me . . . and now I know that I don’t have to love him anymore. He’s not worthy of that.” Carl swallowed hard. “Never was.”

“No.” Van Helsing whispered.

Neither man spoke for several minutes, they simply held each other. Then Carl took a shuddering breath.

“You know, I have always been smart. I’m not being boastful, it’s simply true. People in my family always brought broken things to me, asked me to fix things, make things, read to them, explain something. Carl will fix it, Carl can figure it out. And I’ve always been confident in my intelligence. Too confident, probably. But that was the only thing I was ever so sure about.”

Carl cleared his throat and tightened his hold around Van Helsing. “I always felt awkward, even ugly compared to some of my cousins who were very attractive, if not terribly bright. Everyone has his own gifts, I suppose.”

Van Helsing rubbed his back.

“I was very shy around other people because I felt so out of place. And the only time that subsided was when, well, when I was with Phillip. Because for a long time before things went wrong, he built me up. Made me feel so good about myself. Special. Of course he told me I was smart, a quick learner, that sort of thing, but . . . sometimes he’d stand behind me and make me look in a mirror. And he’d call me—" Carl’s voice broke then, and he paused to regain control. “He’d call me . . . his beautiful boy. He said it all the time. He’d lift my chin and look at me, smile, beam at me and say it. And I—I liked hearing it,” Carl blurted out, shame burning within him. “I even started to believe it, just because he said it. It hurt to realize that it meant something so different than I thought.”

Van Helsing stayed silent, but he comforted Carl with his hands, and even his entire body, cradling Carl against him as much as possible.

“He was really no better than Moreland, was he?”

“No, Carl. I don’t believe he was. I think he was much worse,” Van Helsing said softly. After a moment, he added, “And he had no idea how special and beautiful you really are.”

Silence settled over them then, not broken until the next morning when they rose.

Carl had worked up his courage for some time, and he felt he was ready. Every night, sleeping against Van Helsing, made him more comfortable and more confident.

And for the last several nights Van Helsing had been naked, which, while pleasant, made it difficult for Carl to keep doing nothing more than he had been doing. Van Helsing slept naked at Carl’s suggestion, one Carl was extremely happy that he made, not just because a naked Van Helsing was a wonderful thing, but for the sake of the man’s comfort, too.

Van Helsing had fidgeted so badly one night, it prompted Carl to ask what was wrong.

"I'm not used to being dressed unless I’m sleeping on the ground, that's all."

"Well, I suppose now there’s no need for you to be. Not really."

"You won't be uncomfortable?" Van Helsing asked, combing Carl's hair back from his forehead with his fingers.

"I don't know, to be honest. But we can try. I'll keep this on, just in case.” And then Carl had simply started unfastening Van Helsing's clothing, helping him undress.

Carl found he loved being able to put his hand on the man's bare chest, put his cheek there. Let his hand glide down a naked hip or thigh. And more than once, he’d initiated their further closeness by rubbing Van Helsing’s stomach, and then lower, until they were both in a state of need once again.

Carl loved the things they did together, but waking up pressed against Van Helsing’s bare skin every day was quickly making Carl want so much more. He wanted to feel their bare skin touching everywhere, not just his hand and cheek

Each day, once Carl came fully awake he touched Van Helsing freely, touched him everywhere. Sometimes he stroked him to release while rubbing himself against the man's hip, sometimes they rubbed together until they both came. Once, Van Helsing used his mouth on Carl again, and Carl had him turn in the bed so he could try it on Van Helsing at the same time. Carl sighed, thinking of that, how close it was to what he truly wanted.

Last night, Carl had pushed Van Helsing's hand from his stomach down to his groin. "I want you to touch me," he whispered. Van Helsing had not touched him yet, not with his hand, only his mouth, but Carl was sure he could handle it. Wanted it. Even needed it.

And oh, how he had needed it. He stroked Van Helsing at the same time, and it had been wonderful, no thoughts drifting to how he hadn't wanted to be touched there before. And now, he was ready for more. He wasn't sure if he'd make it through without having a bad memory, or a moment of panic, but he was determined to try. He suspected that once they began, he'd be so overwhelmed by Van Helsing’s nearness that any such problems could be overcome.

Neither Phillip nor Father Moreland could hurt him now, and he didn't want to let them ruin what he had with Van Helsing. He refused to give them that control over him any longer.

So when Van Helsing arrived that night, undressed and got into bed, Carl pressed himself tightly against him, kissed him, and whispered, "I have oil."

He was already trembling slightly, both with excitement and nervousness. Van Helsing's sudden intake of breath excited him even more, as did the deep kiss the man gave him. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I want you so much," he said, cupping Van Helsing and kneading gently. "I know I'm nervous, but that won't change until we do this. I can't help that."

"I know, Carl. I was just thinking, maybe it would be easier, better for you, if the first time we do this . . . so you can see that there’s truly nothing to fear . . . you take me."

Carl didn't know what to say for a moment. That was certainly something he'd never expected. Not that he didn't like the idea, he loved the idea, but somehow he'd never thought that was an option.

"You'd let me do that?"

"Let you? Oh, Carl." He laughed, his hand squeezing the back of Carl's neck. "I don’t think you understand something. I want you, in every way. I can't wait to be inside you, I ache for that." He kissed Carl. "But there are certain pleasures in being the one taken, I want you to see that."

He stroked down Carl's back, his hand easing up the sleeping gown Carl wore on its way back up. "Unless, you’d really rather not?" Van Helsing smiled, as if he knew the answer.

Carl didn't answer, instead he kissed him, long and slow, letting his hands drift over the man's body. Van Helsing finally whispered, "oil?" and Carl pulled the tiny jar out from underneath the bed.

"Is there any certain way, I mean, how . . . ."

Van Helsing pulled out the stopper. "Hold out your hand." He dribbled some onto Carl's fingers.

"What if I hurt you?"

"You won't."

"But what if I--"

"Carl," Van Helsing said softly, "you'll do fine. Start with what you know."

Start with what he knew, he could do that. He stroked his oiled hand over Van Helsing's erection, encouraged by the way the man pushed up into the touch. He stroked him gently for a moment, sliding down stroke and gently knead his sac, before letting his fingers dip lower. "Should you roll over? Or is this all right?"

"This is fine," Van Helsing said, his voice thick. "I want to watch you."

Carl nodded and swallowed hard as Van Helsing bent his knees and shifted his hips a little upward. Carl let his fingers slide back, until he felt the tiny pucker, amazed the heat centered there. Watching Van Helsing for any sign he was doing it wrong, he stroked over the opening, circled it, teased it, thoroughly oiling the skin in the process.

Van Helsing's breath was coming faster now, and he moved his hips slightly, pressing against Carl's fingertip. But Carl was still worried about hurting him, so he gently rubbed the area for a long time, until finally Van Helsing whispered, "Please, Carl, you're driving me mad."

So Carl had pressed inside, letting Van Helsing guide him, the man often encouraging him. "That's it, Carl." Urging him to add another, assuring him that he would not cause him pain. After a while, Van Helsing told him to crook his fingers a little. He did so, and was rewarded with a low growl as Van Helsing arched slightly into the touch. "Yes, right there," he whispered. So Carl wiggled his fingers inside him, fluttering them against that spot often.

When Van Helsing grasped his own arousal, Carl pushed his hand away and did it himself, finally unable to resist leaning over and brushing his face against the man's hardness, then using his mouth as he had once before.

He loved the way Van Helsing reacted to his every touch. He followed instructions, moving his fingers to loosen him up enough for Carl to take him without pain. Carl ached to be inside him, and was about to say so, when Van Helsing put his hand on Carl's head and pushed him gently away.

"You need to stop now," he said breathlessly, smiling, "or it'll be over before we begin. Come here," he added.

Reluctantly, Carl removed his fingers before lowering himself on top of Van Helsing. They kissed for a long time, rubbing themselves slowly together, when Van Helsing asked for the oil.

He poured some into his hand and then touched Carl tentatively. Carl made a low sound and shifted forward, slicking himself.

"I want you now,” Van Helsing said.

Carl nodded and kissed him, the oiled hand making him want Van Helsing even more. He positioned himself between Van Helsing's legs, then placed the tip of his sex against the man's body.

"Tell me if I go too fast or do something wrong, I—“

"You're fine, Carl, just relax.”

Carl slowly took him, pausing often and then moving again at Van Helsing’s urging. No panic overwhelmed him, no fear. He let Van Helsing shift them, and was rewarded with watching the pleasure on the man’s face, feeling him squeeze around Carl’s sex. Close to release, Carl closed his eyes and bit his bottom lip.

Again, he moved Van Helsing’s hand and stroked the man himself, and when he came he cried out wordlessly, his mouth quickly finding Van Helsing’s, muffling both their shouts. Carl thought they kissed until the sweat began drying on their skin, chilling them, prompting Van Helsing to pull the covers up over them.

“You’re sure I didn’t hurt you?” Carl asked as he snuggled into their position.

“You did lean on my hair once, that pulled a bit.” Van Helsing laughed as Carl let out an exasperated sigh and slapped his stomach. Then he pulled Carl up enough to kiss him. “You were perfect, Carl, I swear.”

Father Guillermo was wandering around again, but he seemed to take a special interest in some of Carl's creations. Yet he never approached Carl to ask about them. Small wonder, Carl thought, since I acted a bit touched last time he walked up to me, and I now have a reputation for assaulting random priests.

Carl still felt a bit uncomfortable at the idea of having him nearby. He suspected that he would have such feelings for a long time with new people, new priests, thanks to Father Moreland. And he decided that the best way to overcome those feelings was to be as friendly and helpful to this man as possible, so that when nothing untoward happened, he could set those thoughts aside. That was his hope, at least.

And he'd also rather the man not think of him as a jumpy fool. He supposed it would be harder for Guillermo to see his genius for what it was if he jumped every time someone walked up to him.

So, in an effort to seem as normal and accommodating as possible, Carl approached him and started telling him about the mechanism that powered his tojos. Several minutes later, when Guillermo clapped Carl on the shoulder as he complimented him, Carl managed to only flinch a little at first. And as the hand remained there a few seconds longer than he would have liked, he kept himself from pulling away from the touch. He considered it a personal victory.

Later, when Van Helsing came to the lab to help him adjust the sight on a device Carl had created that allowed the user to shoot a tunnel of fire at whatever threatened, Carl went to put his hand on Van Helsing's arm . . . and couldn't do it. He looked around to see who might be watching, and when it appeared that no one at all was paying attention to them, he managed it. He held his arm there while he talked to him and gave him instruction, and returned the smile Van Helsing gave him as the man seemed to realize exactly what step Carl was taking.

Carl made a point of touching him in ways he might have before Moreland came. He hated that now he had to deliberately do it, instead of doing it without thinking like before. But he felt it was important to do it, so that one day it wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Van Helsing, in turn, touched Carl in the same ways he would have at any other time. A hand on the shoulder, a nudge, a clap on the back. Carl was glad that this bothered him less each time, and soon he stopped looking around to see if anyone noticed.

Several days passed, and Carl was working alone in the lab on a device that would store glycerin and explode it according to a timer he hoped would work on the same principle as a watch spring. He was only in the prototype stage and as he held the round orb up and looked at a flame through it, just considering how everything would fit, he saw Van Helsing approaching.

"Ah, Van Helsing, I was just about to finish up for the night I--"

Van Helsing snatched the orb from Carl's hand. "What have you got there?"

Carl reached for it and Van Helsing held it up, just out of his reach. It was a familiar pattern, usually ending with Carl clinging to him and practically climbing him to no avail, so that Van Helsing would finally give in and give it back.

He reached for it a few times without making too much contact, but then knowing that they were absolutely alone in the lab and that even if someone walked in they were shielded behind Carl's workstation, Carl smiled sweetly at Van Helsing for a moment. And then grabbed his crotch.

Van Helsing made a noise that was uncharacteristic for him. It was usually Carl who did the squeaking. Carl snatched the object back as Van Helsing's arm instinctively lowered, and quickly put it back in the case he'd already designed for it.

"Carl!" he hissed.

"Well, I have to fight back somehow, don't I?" he said in his most affronted tone. "It was that or kick you in the shin." He put his hand on Van Helsing's arm and didn't say anything for a moment. When he felt himself start to blush, he patted the tabletop. "Now sit down and let me tell you what it will do when it's finished."

Van Helsing obediently hopped up on the table, and Carl began explaining his theory and plans for the glycerin orb. While listening, Van Helsing would occasionally pick a small object up from the table and examine it. And Carl would pluck it from his hands with a small sigh, put it back, and then continue without missing a word. It was familiar and pleasant. And normal, he thought happily.

Only a few more days passed before Carl knew with certainty he was ready. In that time, he’d taken Van Helsing again, among other things. And he’d spent the whole day barely able to think of anything else but knowing what it was like to be beneath Van Helsing.

Carl lifted the covers, as usual, to invite Van Helsing in. He loved the man’s reaction to finding Carl waiting for him, naked. The hunter's mouth dropped open a little and he didn't move for a few seconds.

Then he started to get into the bed, stopped and looked at Carl for a moment before asking, "Should I . . . take off my clothes?"

Carl laughed. "It's not a requirement, but I think it'll be more fun if you do." He knew Van Helsing's hesitation stemmed from his concern, and that touched him deeply.

Van Helsing cocked an eyebrow, yanked the pillow from underneath Carl and threw it back down on top of his face. "Cheeky." Then he shed his clothes and crawled in next to Carl.

Which quickly became 'on top' of Carl, because Carl grabbed him and hauled him over, with no resistance, of course. They kissed, and Carl slid his hands over Van Helsing's back and buttocks, finally cupping his rear and pulling him in tighter, making his desire clear.

"You're sure?" Van Helsing asked, his stare intense.

Carl pulled him down for another kiss as he whispered, "Yes." They explored each other for a long time with their mouths and hands, and finally Van Helsing rolled them both so they were on their sides facing each other. Then he oiled his fingers. He stroked Carl's sex, his touch careful and slow, and Carl knew his gaze was searching for any sign he should stop. He kissed Carl before stroking him lower, over and behind his sac, and then he slid his finger further, stopping when his fingertip covered Carl's opening.

Carl flinched at the touch, his hands tightening on the back of Van Helsing's neck. "Wait," he whispered, needing a moment to center himself. "No, don't stop,” he said, when Van Helsing moved his hand away. “Just wait.” He watched the man's face to remind himself who had touched him so intimately, to try to keep the other faces away.

"Carl, you don't have to--"

"No, Van Helsing. I know I don't have to. I want to. I just need a little time." He leaned up and kissed him.

"All right."

When Carl nodded, Van Helsing stroked Carl's thigh, his buttock and then slowing worked his fingers toward Carl's crease to touch him there again.

Carl still tensed when he felt a slick fingertip slide over his entrance, but not as much as he had before. He clung to Van Helsing, and never stopped looking at him, afraid if he did he'd find himself in another time, when he was younger and more vulnerable, and not in control of his fate.

The finger ghosted over the delicate skin, and Carl felt like it took a long time before his muscles stopped tensing each time the touch hovered there. When he did stop tensing, Van Helsing’s touch became firm, more a massage of the opening than a light, barely-there touch.

Van Helsing kissed down Carl’s neck and chest, then moved down so that he could kiss Carl’s hipbones, his upper thighs. Carl watching him intently, anticipation of what Van Helsing was going to do make him even more aroused. And he needed to keep looking at the man, not just to drive the other faces from his mind, but because every time Van Helsing looked up and caught Carl’s gaze it sent a bolt of heat through Carl’s body.

Van Helsing licked up Carl’s length and lowered his mouth onto the shaft, giving Carl pleasure in a familiar way. Carl felt the man’s hand shift beneath him, and now his palm seemed to cup Carl’s backside, almost supporting him, as Van Helsing’s thumb touched him, rubbing, applying pressure, stroking.

Carl found that when the pressure stopped, when Van Helsing’s thumb didn’t touch him there, he wanted the feeling back. He arched a little and pushed down, searching for it, rewarded with the firm push that now caused his breath to catch.

“Relax now, Carl. This will feel strange,” Van Helsing whispered, looking up at Carl. Carl watched as Van Helsing covered the head of him with his mouth, then moved lower, and he felt the man’s thumb push inside him.

It was strange, just as Van Helsing said, and his muscles tensed involuntarily to stop the intrusion. “I’m sorry,” he said, thinking he had already failed before they’d even started.

“That’s natural, Carl, it’s all right.” Van Helsing kissed his lower stomach, soothing Carl, his thumb still inside but not moving. “Just relax, that was the hardest part.” He smiled up at Carl.

Carl nodded, still feeling embarrassed at having what he thought were so many problems so early. He felt Van Helsing’s thumb push deeper inside him, and he tensed again, but the movement didn’t stop, yet it didn’t hurt, either.

“Are you all right?” Van Helsing whispered before he kissed the head of Carl’s shaft again.

Carl felt the man’s thumb wiggling gently inside him, so different that anything he’d ever felt, yet not painful, barely even scary now. “Yes.” The thumb began moving in and out, slowly and gently, as Van Helsing pleasured Carl with his mouth again. Then he felt the hand move and the thumb withdraw, and a gentle pressing against his opening. He tensed for just a moment, preventing the intrusion at first, but then relaxed.

“A little more, Carl.”

Carl moaned softly as he felt himself opened again, and felt himself entered much further, this time by Van Helsing’s long fingers. He found himself tensing to stop their advance a few times, and then relaxed so they could slide deeper. Finally, when they were in completely, Carl felt a sense of achievement at having allowed this without panicking. And he marveled at Van Helsing’s patience with him.

The fingers inside him moved, and the pleasure he felt right now with Van Helsing’s tongue beneath the head of his sex seemed to splash over his entire groin, from the inside out. He moaned wordlessly, then whispered the man’s name as he arched, trying to get the fingers within to do that again.

They obliged, and soon Carl could do little more than writhe in building pleasure. As the fingers slowly pumped in and out of him, twisting and wriggling, his own fingers twined through Van Helsing’s hair. When he felt himself opened even more, the stretch only slightly uncomfortable, Carl didn’t tense this time, he pushed against the pressure and accepted the added thickness.

“Carl, oh,” Van Helsing groaned.

The hands and mouth left him at once, leaving Carl panting for a moment, and then Van Helsing was above him, the man’s hardness hot against his lower stomach. Van Helsing reached up and retrieved the oil from the small table and gave it to Carl, who poured it into his own hand, then dropped the jar onto the floor next to the bed, spilling it and not caring.

Van Helsing’s eyes pressed shut and he hissed as Carl stroked him, slicking the flesh, then they kissed, both men hungry for it, neither holding back. When they broke for air, Van Helsing paused and looked down at Carl questioningly, but Carl was relieved when the question didn’t come. He was ready; he’d never be more ready than he was right now.

Carl shook, and now he was sure it was mostly normal nervousness and excitement, not from fear of what was happening, or fear of looking foolish. He breathed deeply, letting Van Helsing’s hand soothe him where the man stroked his thigh and his buttock, lifting and spreading Carl to push himself against his opening.

This felt different, so much larger than before, but Carl wanted this and offered no resistance. His muscles tightened a little after the initial entry, but then he relaxed. There was still no pain, but it felt strange again only because he felt so much more filled than before.

Van Helsing massaged Carl’s buttock as he pressed into him, and once he was fully inside he lowered himself and kissed Carl again. He put his hand under Carl’s thigh, urging him to put his leg over Van Helsing, so Carl wrapped his legs around the man’s waist and gripped him tightly this way, his inner muscles squeezing at the same time, causing Van Helsing to blow out a breath.

“Carl,” he whispered. “Oh, yes.” He kissed Carl’s neck, sucked on his earlobe, still not moving within him. “I’m afraid . . . this won’t take long.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Carl answered, his fingers groping at Van Helsing’s back as the man began moving, withdrawing only an inch or two before pushing forward again. Before long, Carl’s muscles relaxed further, and he felt a tension building low in his body. Van Helsing’s strokes were longer, more sure, until each stroke was his full length, his speed increasing. They were together, completely, and Carl had never felt anything so right in his life.

As that place inside him was nudged over and over, Carl pulled at Van Helsing, pulled him down as Carl arched himself up. It seemed impossible to get close enough to the man, or to feel him within deeply enough. Then Van Helsing shifted and Carl felt himself stroked in time with their movements, a touch he almost hadn’t even needed, but it added just the right sensation. His body tensed, his back bowed just as Van Helsing thrust deeply and seemed to pause, the muscles under Carl’s hands hard as steel.

Crrrrl.” Van Helsing’s body seemed to snap, his back bending as he came.

Carl followed Van Helsing over the edge the moment he heard his name growled out with such passion, and felt the pressure against his neck, the pull of the man’s lips and tongue as he found his own pleasure.

When their bodies begun to calm, Van Helsing looked down at Carl, and again Carl didn’t want to hear the question, so he answered it first. “No, you didn’t hurt me, either, Van Helsing. You were—" He was about to say perfect, but Van Helsing kissed him before he could speak.

Later, before sleep found either of them, Carl kissed Van Helsing’s chest.

“Thank you for being so patient.”

“Well, it was worth the wait.”

“I’m serious, Van Helsing.”

“So am I, Carl.” He rubbed the man’s back. “It wasn’t easy, because I wanted you so much, for so long. And I’m not the most patient—“

“I know you’re not, hardly ever.”

“All right, Carl,” Van Helsing said, feigning hurt. Then he laughed softly.

Carl looked up at him, completely serious now. “You’re a man of action, not words, you like to say that about yourself. Yet you’ve done so right through all this, as if you understand what I’m feeling. I don’t know what I would do without you, Van Helsing.”

Van Helsing sighed and stroked Carl’s jaw. “Anything I’ve done right through this, I think I learned from you.”


“Remember when I came here?”

Carl had been there for him from the beginning, first tending his wounds, horrible as they were, and then talking to him, helping him understand the way things worked, helping him understand his place. Just helping him.

A day came when not knowing who he was, or what he had done, overwhelmed Van Helsing. He wasn’t sure of the church’s insistence that he had been sent here to pay penance for his sins, he doubted everything they said, and feared the worst, both of his past, and his future.

As he sat on his bed, uncharacteristic tears falling off his chin, Carl had simply listened to him and let him say whatever he needed to say. And then Carl had put a hand on his shoulder, and somehow made everything all right.

“Do you trust me, Van Helsing?”

“Yes.” In fact, Carl was the only one he did trust.

“Then promise me right now that if I give you a command, you will follow it. Just one, and no more. Promise me.”

Van Helsing wasn’t sure why he did, but he said, “I promise.”

Carl had smiled at him so sweetly, obviously pleased, before his expression grew sober again. “All right. Van Helsing, suppose you were a bad man. A thief. A rapist. A murderer. Perhaps you hurt someone, killed them. Killed many. Imagine the worst things you possibly can, and imagine that in your life, you have done those things.”

Van Helsing only stared at him in disbelief. Was Carl trying to make him feel even worse? What kind of promise had he foolishly made?

“Now . . . do you remember doing any such horrible things? Do you, right now as you sit here before me, want to do such things? Do you feel capable of it?”

Van Helsing had only shook his head.

“Then, right now, you are a good man. And tomorrow, you can be as good a man as you choose. Whatever happened to you before, whatever you did, whatever kind of man you were, and we do not even know what kind of man that was, I should remind you . . . you are a good man today.”

Carl had stepped forward then, and Van Helsing let his forehead fall against Carl’s chest, more tears coming if for no other reason than the kindness his new friend was showing him. Carl’s hand cradled the back of his neck, and squeezed gently.

“My command is this, Van Helsing,” Carl whispered. “No matter how bad you might have been in the past, if you cannot remember it today . . . I will not allow you to suffer for it.”

“And if I remember, Carl, and find that I have done horrible things?”

Carl’s voice had broken then as he rubbed the man’s neck. “I’m not convinced you have, Van Helsing, not convinced at all. But if so, the good man you are today having such memories, that would be suffering enough.” Van Helsing had wept then, openly, and the close friendship they had formed before became something different from that very moment.

As he looked at Carl now, his throat tightened with emotion. “You were patient with me, and kind to me, when everyone else here looked at me as if I were some kind of devil in the flesh.”

Carl shook his head. “They were just frightened of you. I never was.”

“Why not, Carl? I’ve never understood that.”

Carl pulled himself up so that he was face to face with Van Helsing. “I’m not like you, I know. I can’t sense evil the way you can. But the first time I looked into your eyes, with absolute certainty, I sensed the lack of it.”

Van Helsing knew that Jinette had sent them on this mission more to get them both away from Rome for a while than any great sense of urgency. Fact-finding missions weren't his usual assignments. By the time Van Helsing arrived somewhere, he had the facts already. Find something, and kill it.

Carl wasn't sent on information gathering quests either. Van Helsing supposed that the Order had more important work for its creative geniuses. He patted his horse's side and looked over at Carl, who rode next to him. Van Helsing felt a sense of pride in his friend's genius, and he knew that word wasn't an exaggeration. Carl was brilliant.

And he was beautiful. Never more than now, now that he seemed to have put those who hurt him behind him, and let himself finally get close to Van Helsing. And now that he rode just a bit stiffly.

Van Helsing smiled when Carl caught him staring and asked what he was gawking at.

"You. You look uncomfortable." Van Helsing's smile widened.

Carl blushed. "Only a little." Then he started to smile, too.

"A little tender today, are we? I’m sorry, Carl, I didn't know we'd have to ride the next day."

"Neither did I," Carl said. "But it wouldn't have mattered, if I had."

Pleased, Van Helsing answered only with a look. They rode, as slowly and gently as possible, in silence for a while. Van Helsing noticed that Carl seemed to be concentrating intently on something, and he didn't think Carl should be in that much pain to be too distracted to talk. The quiet was disconcerting.

"Carl, are you hurting that much? We can stop."

Carl looked up as if caught. "Oh, no, no, Van Helsing, I'm fine, only a little sore. Not enough to keep me from . . . anything," he said, with an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows.

Van Helsing laughed, but Carl’s humor had seemed forced. "Then what's wrong? Normally you're trying to hold a conversation when we're rushing somewhere at a full gallop. Today, snails could pass us, and you’ve barely talked. Are you all right?"

Carl's smile faded. "I'm fine. I was just lost in thought." When Van Helsing continued to look at him, unwilling to let that end it, Carl said, "About Phillip."

Van Helsing nodded, his expression neutral, but he felt concerned that Carl should be thinking of him at all, especially right now.

"I finally, truly know he was no better than Moreland. He used me, and could not have truly cared for me, not having done what he did."

"Right," Van Helsing said, his voice uncertain.

"But I can't help but feel a little fondness when I think of him."

Van Helsing pulled his horse to a stop, staring wide-eyed at Carl. He turned the horse and came up alongside Carl so that they faced one another.

"Carl, I don't understand. I know he was your uncle, and you loved him, but—"

Carl put up his hand. "Wait, Van Helsing, I know what you're thinking. He took my childhood. He ruined . . . everything. The way I felt about other people, the way I viewed the world, my relationship with my mother . . . he took the love I felt for him and twisted it, manipulated me . . . I know these things. I don’t feel this way because he was my uncle."

Carl looked into Van Helsing's eyes. "I guess, it’s more gratefulness, than fondness, really, when I think about it. It’s just . . . if he hadn't done those things, Van Helsing, I would not be here. I would not know you."

Van Helsing closed his eyes briefly and then grabbed the front of Carl's robes, pulling Carl forward as he leaned over and kissed him. 'I see what you mean," he whispered, before kissing him again. "So, should we make camp here?"

"Seems as good a place as any."

"Yes. Are you hungry?" Van Helsing asked as he dismounted his horse.

"Not right now." Carl led both horses and tied them to nearby trees.

"Good, then once we set everything up, eating can wait."

Carl began quickly unpacking one of the saddlebags. "I know I said that earlier I could do anything, but do you really think . . . ?”

“Since you're sore?" Van Helsing asked as he wrapped his arms around Carl from behind and kissed the side of his neck.

"Well, yes,” Carl breathed, leaning back against the man.

"I think it might be a bit uncomfortable for you, yes, so we shouldn't." He bit gently on Carl's earlobe then made a path down his neck again.

"Oh," Carl said, disappointment clear in his voice.

"But, I'm not sore," Van Helsing whispered as he cupped Carl in front, then spun Carl to kiss him again.

They sat up their camp quickly, both of them making jokes about how neither had moved so fast in a very long time. Much later, as they looked up at the stars, sated, Van Helsing spoke softly.

"What you said earlier, Carl, about being grateful? Well, as much as it pains me to not remember my life, whatever it was, whatever happened to me, I'm grateful for it. If only because it brought me to you."

Carl pressed closer and kissed him, sighing as it ended. "I haven't given up hope, you know. I'm convinced the Church knows more than it admits, and that one day we'll be able to find out about your past. I believe that."

"I know you do. But where I was, what happened to me before you, Carl, it just doesn't matter anymore." He stroked his hand down Carl's hair, looking at Dracula's ring as he did so. "None of it really matters. Does it?"

Carl kissed his chest. "No. None of it."

They stayed like that for a long time, until both stomachs growled in protest of a delayed dinner.

Carl looked up at Van Helsing, squinting. "Am I supposed to have been so moved by what you said that I'll volunteer to get up naked, and sore, I might add, in the bitter cold, and fetch us something to eat?”

Van Helsing laughed. Carl’s tone made it clear that he had every intention of getting up, he just had to pretend to be unhappy about it first, as was his way. "Yes, that was the plan all along, say something sweet and get you to do my bidding. After all, I may be sore now, too, more recently so than you. In fact, I may not be able to walk properly, Carl, not for some time.”

Carl smirked and set about getting up and getting some food.

Van Helsing watched Carl rustle around for a moment, then he looked at his ring in the firelight, hating it and yet unwilling to part with it. His hand would seem bare without it . . . wrong somehow. But he meant what he said. It no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered now happened to be naked, jumping around in the cold, scrambling through their packs, shivering and muttering under his breath. Van Helsing knew now that Carl's past and his meant nothing until the moment they intersected, bringing each man to the other.

Whatever Dracula had to do with that, whatever he himself had done in a former life, or this one, to bring him to this point in time, Van Helsing found he truly was grateful for it.

When Carl's cool body slid in next to his warm one, Van Helsing grunted and grabbed Carl, rubbing his hands down the man’s arms and back to warm him. Van Helsing wrapped an arm around Carl's waist, and they ate in companionable silence for a while. As much as he would have liked to stay just as they were all night, skin against skin, Van Helsing knew that would be foolish.

"Going to be too cold to sleep like this." But he also knew, the way Carl pressed close against him, the young man's breath warming his cheek, that sleep could wait, at least for a while.