VanHelsing had been traveling for days and was weary of unfamiliar beds and bad food. His last mission had been a "success" – the trolls had been defeated though he had taken a beating in the process. His ribs ached from a glancing blow caused by one troll's club and he had nasty cut on one arm from a roll across rocky ground. He was looking forward to a hot bath and decent food. And time with a certain smug friar but he tried not to think about that.
Gabriel found himself thinking about Carl more and more in the months since he first met him. At first he found the friar annoyingly clever and full of his own self-worth but with more time spent together he found that to be a disguise Carl used to hide his loneliness. This was something that Gabriel could understand as he too worked hard to hide his own sense of isolation and depression. He found himself coming to the lab to check up on any useful weapons Carl might have for him of course. At first, talk was of work. "Tell me about the monsters you face" or "what kinds of conditions do you find yourself in out in the field?" In time, these stories went from clinical discussions to the sharing of stories both humorous and exciting. Then one night Van Helsing slipped and confessed his difficulties with killing monsters that became human again in death. And Carl listened and offered his sympathy and support. It was the first time that Van Helsing felt he had a friend in this world.
After that, Van Helsing made a point of seeking Carl out upon his return to the Vatican. While Carl still chided him about never returning his weapons in an undamaged state, he always stopped what he was doing to listen to Gabriel's tale of his latest mission. And once, when Gabriel came back with a terrible gash in his side, Carl helped him up to his room and tended to him for three days, grumbling all the while about Van Helsing and his careless ways. Carl, for all his griping and teasing, was the first person to really care about him. To everyone else, he was just a tool to be used to fight evil. Carl was the only person who ever bothered to ask how he was. His friendship was the one bright light in Van Helsing's world and he prized it more then anything.
He thought about the book in his saddlebag that he had picked up in Austria and smiled at the thought of Carl's face when he saw the rare collection of Pythagoras' writings. He enjoyed finding things on his journeys that he knew Carl would like. It made him feel like Carl was sharing in his world in a strange kind of way. He wished Carl would come out on missions with him more often but unless the mission was particularly complicated, he was expected to handle it himself; a pity because on the rare times that he could drag Carl from his lab, the job was so much more bearable. Carl would complain the whole trip there but once the mission was in full swing, Carl would settle in and get down to the business of protecting Van Helsing's back. And when it was over, Carl would see him back to whatever place they had set up shop and see to it that Van Helsing had a good meal and some rest. It wasn't that he wanted to be fussed over but sometimes it was nice to know that after a really hard day, someone was there to see you warm and comfortable. And now he less then an hour away from the Vatican and he couldn't wait to get there and to Carl…
Van Helsing had cabled to say he'd be back today. Carl found himself a bit distracted as he puttered around his lab. After burning himself for the third time he decided that perhaps it was time for a break. The problem with being a genius with access to unstable chemicals is that distraction could prove rather dangerous. He could still see the scorch mark on one wall from a time a number of months ago when he got the news that Van Helsing had been badly injured while fighting some particularly nasty gargoyles. He shuddered remembering how bad Van Helsing looked when he limped into his lab. He was barely on his feet and white as a ghost. Carl has spent three hellish days caring for the wounded Hunter. He prayed he never went through another incident like that one again.
Leaving the lab, Carl found himself wandering up to the west tower. It afforded him a view of the plaza that Van Helsing enteri upon his arrival. He had been doing this more and more often lately – waiting and watching for Gabriel's return. Gabriel… Carl only called him that in his own thoughts for he would never wanted Van Helsing to know how much Carl cared for him. He knew he shouldn't be so attached. After all, being a Hunter was dangerous work and there was always a chance that even someone as good as Van Helsing could fall to one of monsters he fought. But Carl couldn't help himself – there was something about him that seemed to draw Carl in. In wasn't about his looks, though certainly Gabriel was no hardship to look upon. Carl loved the way Gabriel's eyes would twinkle as he teased Carl about one thing or another. Carl always pretended to be annoyed by his teasing but secretly he squirreled away every word to be taken out late at night and revisited when Carl was lonely or sad. He looked forward to hearing all about Van Helsing's latest adventures. He knew it was hard on Gabriel being out in the field alone. He wished Cardinal Jinette would let him go out with Van Helsing more often but Jinette said that Van Helsing was perfectly capable of handling things by himself. So Carl stayed behind in his lab and fretted until word came in that Gabriel was on his way back to him.
Carl looked out the window of the tower and heaved a heavy sigh. Where was he? Surely he should be here by now! Carl began to pace back and forth as he pictured all the many disasters that could have fallen Van Helsing on his trip back. With a frustrated groan, he collapsed down onto a bench and dropped his head into his hands. Why did he let Van Helsing do this to him? The Hunter was no doubt just fine and would come to Carl with that cocky grin of this that never failed to make Carl's heart speed up. And as always, Carl would forgive him all the days of worry. Then would be the hug that Carl looked forward to most of all.
Carl knew he should feel guilty for allowing the hugs. After all, they were both men and men shouldn't share such intimate contact. But Carl didn't care because hugging Gabriel was the highlight of his life. Gabriel's hugs were strong and warm and made Carl feel safe, happy and very much appreciated. And when Carl was being honest, just a little bit aroused. But Carl pushed that rather unwelcome thought away and resumed his pacing. Where was that dratted man anyway?
Van Helsing rode into the plaza, his mood lightening with the knowledge that he would soon be with Carl. His ribs were killing him and he was looking forward to Carl's tender ministrations. Carl, for all his clumsiness, had very gentle hands when it came to tending to his wounds and he enjoyed the feeling of the friar's hands on his body. Gabriel had a slight tinge of guilt when he thought about that but pushed it aside with the justification that there was nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional friendly touch. That his body's responses were a little more then just friendly was something that Van Helsing refused to look at too closely. He needed Carl to keep him sane and he wasn't going to allow anything to take that away from him. As he reached the stairs of the Vatican a groom came forward to take his horse. Taking his saddlebags, Van Helsing strode through the Vatican until he came to the Chapel where he knew Cardinal Jinette was waiting.
Carl spotted Van Helsing as he rode into the plaza and strained to see the Hunter clearly. "He looks healthy enough, Praise God" And with that silent prayer Carl scurried away down the stairs and back to his lab to await Van Helsing. He's need to have something to show Gabriel so it wouldn't look like he's been hanging around waiting for his arrival.
Cardinal Jinette was his usual charming self. "So what did you destroy this time?" "Nothing but the trolls. Quite an uneventful trip actually. Should have sent Carl with me, he could have improved his field skills…" Van Helsing attempted to wheedle. Cardinal Jinette was immune to such attempts. "Carl is just fine where he is. He's got enough bad habits without picking up any of yours". And with that statement, Jinette triggered the secret door that lead to the Order's Headquarters.
Carl was at his table desperately attempting to look like he was working. He had seen Van Helsing the minute he walked into the lab but didn't want appear like he was even aware of the Hunters presence. Cool, collected Carl – that was the game. But even as he bent his head over the various bits of metal in front of him, he was still hyper aware of the handsome, dark haired man working his way over to him. He could feel his heart beginning to race and he took a steadying breath to calm himself. "This was just Gabriel, back from a mission. No big deal Carl. Pull yourself together." Carl picked up a metal cog and attempted to look like a genius inventor.
Van Helsing saw Carl bent over a table playing with some bits and pieces. His hair was sticking out in those little wings that made Gabriel's hands just itch to run his hands through it to smooth it out. That a part of him also wondered if Carl's hair was as soft as it looked was completely ignored. He was finally here with Carl and he refused to let anything spoil the reunion. As he reached the table, he leaned over and snatched a piece of metal off the table. "You know, I think you were playing with these before I left. Haven't you figured out what to do with them yet?" And then Van Helsing indulged himself by patting Carl on the head. Yep it was as soft as he thought. It was all he could do to pull his hand away.
"Very funny, Van Helsing. For the record, that was a different set of metal workings. This is for a new and improved grappling hook gun. The one you have loses accuracy after 300 yards. I'm looking to increase the accuracy to 500 yards". But even as he said this, Carl was clearing off his worktable and Van Helsing settled himself down on the bench. He let out a small groan as his ribs gave a particularly nasty twinge. Carl immediately stopped what he was doing.
"Are you hurt? You are hurt aren't you? Damn it why didn't you say anything? You are always such a stubborn wretch. Come on, let's get you up to your room and I'll take a look at you. You know you should really learn to take more care. You aren't invincible you know…" Carl continued on this vein as he dragged the Hunter after him.
Van Helsing listened to Carl's rant with a smile on his face. "Ah, its good to be home…"