It was like sitting in a summer rain cloud. Gray, and warm.
Carl blinked dizzily, somewhat disoriented as he looked carefully – because of his aching head – around. Ah, I'm dreaming, he thought fuzzily, quite relieved at the prospect of still being alive.
A soft peal of laughter echoed in the space around him. He blinked. "Gabriel?"
A warmly glowing light yielded the familiar figure of his friend, dressed in loose-fitting gray pants and shirt. He'd never seen the hunter in anything quite like it, giving him an impression of both comfort and aloofness.
"Carl." The other man smiled a little. "How are you feeling?"
"Relatively fine," the friar answered, curiosity overcoming his headache. He moved to the hunter's side, aware for the first time of his physical presence in this place, glancing down momentarily and seeing familiar brown robes. "Where are we?"
Gabriel shrugged, with a mysterious smile. "In between," he answered lightly.
"In between . . ."
"Life and death. This is as close as I could come to you, for now, and vice versa."
"You're dead?" The note of alarm, the sudden tensing of features, had Gabriel raising a brow in surprise.
"After a fashion," he slowly responded, looking carefully at Carl.
The expected explosion was not long in coming. "You're dead? You let him kill you?"
"Yes," the hunter admitted, catching the other completely off guard. Carl's mouth opened and shut soundlessly, as he stared, flabbergasted.
"I'm dreaming," Carl stated decisively as soon as he got his breath back. He continued, refusing to look at his friend. "It's the only logical explanation for this idiocy."
Gabriel quirked a brow at him, and said softly, "Be that as it may –"
"Why?" The demand was furious, and completely justified, from Carl's view.
Gabriel took a step forward, holding his hands out placatingly. "It was the only way to truly destroy the Spear," he quietly answered. "Besides, I am one of the sons of God. Death is not the same for me as it is for you."
"Destroy the Spear?" Carl questioned. He could hear his own urgency.
"Time eventually takes its hold on all things," Gabriel answered, careful to fully explain. "But the Spear was, by its nature, edged to the outside of the effects of Time. It couldn't have been destroyed by anything other than a greater power than that which created it."
"The Power of God," Carl nodded in understanding.
"So why . . . all this?" Carl flapped a hand impatiently at his surroundings.
"I needed the Spear, and to call upon the Power of God. There was only one way to ensure that I had both Beelzebul and the Spear where I wanted them when that happened."
Carl shook his head. "Did it work?" he asked instead.
"What do you think?" the hunter returned.
Carl snarled – the man could be damn enigmatic when he felt like it. He heaved a breath, before closing his eyes and counting to ten. Markedly calmer after that, he opened his eyes and queried, almost serenely, "Now what?"
Gabriel turned and seemed to study a patch of cloud, and puzzled, Carl directed his gaze alongside the hunter's. He gasped as the mist surrounding them seemed to clear, and they looked down on the inside of the chapel.
It was as if nothing had ever happened. The stone altar was unbroken on the dais, the wooden pews neatly lined up. There was no trace of the piles of rubble, or crack marks chronicling each impact with wall or floor. The only things even slightly out of place were the myriad bodies strewn along the walls, members of the Order all.
"None were harmed," Gabriel spoke into the silence. Carl released a breath he had been unaware of holding. "They are waking now."
Incredibly, some of the men were stirring. Beside a form that looked suspiciously like his own – Carl was incredibly grateful that its face was turned away – a large redheaded man was shifting, grunting as he opened his eyes. "The incident has already been dimmed in their minds," Gabriel continued softly. "They will not forget, but the memory will not be seared into their souls."
"You were protecting us," Carl guessed, and the silence was confirmation enough for him.
"They will be able to go on with their lives, now," Gabriel spoke as if Carl had said nothing. "Soon, it will be almost like a dream, but one they will remember with full clarity if ever the need arises."
"And will it?"
Gabriel shrugged in answer to the query. "The future of man lies in each person's choices. I do not know the outcome."
"So, that's a 'maybe'?" Carl ventured, somewhat tartly.
Gabriel grinned. "That's a 'maybe'."
"But – why are you telling me this, if it's as good as forgotten?"
Gabriel sobered. "Because, for a few in this room, this event will never be able to be completely dismissed from awareness."
"And – I'm one of those?" Carl wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect.
"One of several."
"Oh?" The friar's curiosity was evident, and brought another smile to Gabriel's face.
"Patience," he returned. "You'll see."
"You could just tell me now," he grumbled good-naturedly.
"There's not enough time," Gabriel pointed out reasonably.
And with sudden rising panic, Carl realized that he was right. He could see his own form stirring in the room below, could feel a strange tugging at his essence, and knew it was almost time to –
"Wait!" he called, realizing suddenly that he was fading away. Gabriel focused his attention on the other man. "Will I see you again?" he pleaded.
Gabriel smiled. "What do you think?"
A moment's pause, only, before the confident response. " 'Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?'"
"Hebrews 1:14," Gabriel softly acknowledged the scripture, his smile a gentle thing. "Just so."
"So you will return?"
"In a while. Sleep, Carl."
Carl opened one eye, carefully, and then squeezed it shut. The light, faint as it was, was almost blinding. "Urg," he huffed, shifting himself over and hitting something soft.
"Whazzat?" came a groggy, familiar voice.
Carl groaned again. Of all people, why – "Gaspar," he grunted.
"I know. It's Carl." The speaker had more success opening his eyes this time, and decided to gather his strength before attempting to sit.
"Carl. What happened?" Gaspar again.
Biting back the grumpy, automatic, 'How should I know?', Carl gave the question some serious thought. "We won," he managed, using the wall to prop himself up. He took a good look around the room, noting that many of the members of the Order had wobbled to their feet, or managed to pull themselves more or less upright on the pews.
"Thank God," Gaspar rasped, and Carl turned his head toward the movement he could just discern out of the corner of his eye. Gaspar was helping Michael up. The two leant, exhausted, against the wall.
"I hope that –"
The main doors burst open at that moment, and the remaining members of the Order, with the obvious exception of Jinette, streamed in. "Taddeo. What in all the hells-"
"I'm not a fool, Gaspar," the healer responded tartly. "One of your men managed to make it back to the Basilica, and let us know that it was over but you were all in terrible shape. Not hurt, he told us, just somehow exhausted." Taddeo gave Carl a searching glance, taking in the blood crusting his lip and lower face, and smeared down the front of his robe. "Perhaps he was being a bit liberal in his definition of 'fine'," the healer mused.
Carl swiped an arm over his lower face, and under his nose, wincing at the pull of dried gore on his skin.
Taddeo started directing the men with him to assist the members of the Order. Gaspar, insisting that he needed no help, resisted. But he froze in mid-protest, getting his first good look at the chapel. "Wait!" he gasped, staring wildly around. "It – it doesn't look as if anything -"
"I know," Carl returned, placing a hand on the other man's arm, attempting to calm him.
"But where – where's the body?" Gaspar hissed in an undertone. "Where's Van Helsing?"
Carl opened his mouth, searching for an explanation, but couldn't come up with anything even remotely plausible, and so settled for a shrug. "He'll turn up," he said at last.
Gaspar gave him a queer look, and so Carl pulled gently at his arm, urging the recalcitrant man to follow Taddeo, for Michael's sake. Remembering the youth, Gaspar was distraught to find him pale and shaking, but resisting departure from the chapel until Gaspar and Carl accompanied him.
Taddeo's infirmary was nowhere near large enough to accommodate the weary, inexplicably drained men, and so all were escorted to their quarters while the healers patrolled the halls.
A good, long sleep had all on their feet again, and to Carl's surprise very little was said about the incident. When those who had not been there asked, they received vaguely satisfactory answers, but if anyone besides Carl and Gaspar fully remembered the details – and Carl suspected there must be more – no one was saying anything. But Van Helsing's initials were kept up on the large slate assignment board, for no reason anyone cared to mention.
After their speedy recovery, routine returned to the Holy City faster than Carl had believed possible. The catacombs were a site of dedicated sweat and toil, repairs being made quickly to get the inventors and weapon-smiths back to work. The Vatican had been somewhat cut off, for the time being, from its other field agents, who were reporting in and requesting information in a frenzy, fearful of an attack on their home base. Despite the speed at which the Order's base of operations was being rebuilt, much had been lost in the way of valuable experiments and equipment – much that would be difficult to replace.
So the work was plentiful enough to keep Carl's mind and body occupied. The only time he was able to ruminate on the disappearance of his friend was between the moments of awareness and sleep, at night, before he was overcome by exhaustion.
It was nine days after the incident, when Carl thought he spied something out of the corner of his eye while hurrying through the central arena of the Holy City. A familiar figure, dressed discreetly in black, was making its way towards the steps of the Basilica. Turning, hardly daring to believe it, he rushed past the worshippers congregating before the Apostolic Palace, following the tall figure.
"Gabriel!" he called, sure of the identity of the stranger.
The man turned, and the hunter's familiar face smiled at him. "Carl," he replied with a grin, grasping the other's arm in a strong grip.
They moved out of the way of the groups of people, pressing into the shadows near the wall.
Carl searched for something to say, a proper welcome for his friend, but unbidden his greatest worry spilled from his lips. "Is it truly over?"
Gabriel's smile faded a little, his eyes turning inward. "It never is," he murmured quietly. Carl stilled, staring hard at the Destroyer, who blinked and smiled. "But if you mean the business with the Spear – yes. The Spear is destroyed."
"And – the creature?"
Gabriel shrugged. "Beelzebul can't be destroyed – not yet. But he has returned to his master, and is confined there by his own doing. Should he reappear on Earth, I would know instantly. And then nothing would stay my hand." The grim words should have made Carl feel uneasy, but instead they brought to him a feeling of security, and he breathed a silent sigh.
"And – are you returning to the Order?" Carl asked, a little hesitantly. The Order had needed Van Helsing, as one able to do what most could not. He had no idea, however, if his fellows were prepared to deal with the being that now nonchalantly leant against the wall next to him. He could see the humanity, but he could also see the . . . otherness . . . within his friend. He wondered if this new sight would ever truly fade.
"Yes," Gabriel answered, and the compassion in his eyes seemed to answer more than just Carl's spoken questions.
The Destroyer pushed off the wall and began to walk toward the main entrance to the Basilica. The friar was driven to inquire, overcome by his own curiosity as he walked alongside. "So . . . how long, exactly, have you been – you know, here?"
"Since the time of man began," Gabriel answered, and Carl knew he was aware that it was not an answer at all.
Feigning indignation, and working hard to keep the smile from his lips, he asked, "Well, how long do you think you'll be sticking around, then?"
"I thought you knew your catechism, Carl," the hunter gently teased. At his friend's confused look, he began to quietly recite, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and all that is Seen and Unseen."
"And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord," Carl picked up the prayer, his intonation just above a whisper. "Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was persecuted under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again, in fulfillment of the scriptures. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."
At that point, he was sidetracked by Gabriel's satisfied nod. "What?" he barely managed to squeak out. "Until – the second coming?" Shock pervaded his tone.
Gabriel paused at the door to the Basilica. "My duty on this Earth is to obey the will of God. I am bound here, until my brother returns to fulfill the prophecy."
"Your – brother?" Carl gaped.
Gabriel smiled, a little. "Yes," he said quietly.
Of all the memories that he had reacquired, it was clear that this was both the dearest to the Destroyer and the most unexpected to the friar. "Ah," Carl managed as they slipped through the ornate doors. "And – you remember, now?"
The one word was filled with indescribable emotion. Sorrow wrapped in joy, pain and hope intermingled with every other type of delight and grief imaginable. It was overwhelming in its extremes, but it brought smiles to the faces of both men.
PERDITOR is the sequel to this fic. See my Bio for more info.
Sorry for the excessive delay. Unlike the rest of this story, this chapter just didn't want to come, and I held off until exams eased up. Thank you for sticking with me throughout the length of this fic (wow, 4 months shy of a year! I can't believe it's done!). The undying support of my reviewers, as well as the occasional, much-needed prods to get my butt moving, have been sincerely appreciated. I hope that you decide to stick around for the sequel!