Gabriel is drawn to the sun as if by gravity. He lingers in it, filthy and exhausted after long and moonless nights spent tracking monsters through back alleys and sewers, and when the light touches him he can feel the tense ache of strained muscle and raw skin ease.
Always he returns faithfully to the Vatican, where he placidly allows well meaning monks to tend to his wounds. Gabriel allows no one to touch his back and shoulders; it has for as long as he can remember felt like some kind of deep violation.
He only vaguely remembers his first few months spent in this place, sick and screaming, out of his mind with pain, his body struggling feebly with blood and shock to heal deep, ugly wounds. Someone had torn great chunks of flesh from his shoulders, down his back in strange curving lines on either side of his spine. They had touched him then, all of them, monks and doctors and once or twice the Cardinal himself. Running their fingers along the the curves of his shoulders, pressing their hands against his back, probling those hideous wounds, until he had screamed and spat and cursed in a language that none present could identify and that he no longer remembered. The memory of it rings hollow in his ears like a distant and long forgotten song.
When you are dying, the Cardinal says, in a fond and fatherly sort of way, you speak to God. He hears the prayers of the dying the clearest of all.
And Gabriel wonders why one must dying to talk to God, or why God is only listening at that one desperate frightened point, but he does not question. This man and his Holy Order have given him Place and Purpose, and without purpose, Gabriel feels, there is nothing else.
Gabriel cannot listen to the choirs of feverishly devoted men that sing all through Vatican City's high reaches. The sound of their voices vibrates dischordant, an assault, he feels, against sacred words and intentions. Iudex crederis esse venturus, they sing, and when they reach Ave Maria he is driven to make his exit, because the old Latin curves strangely in his ears and the desire to speak the words in time is too strong. He has no desire to call attention to himself as such.
The past beyond the years he has spent in service here is dark and blank; he remembers little before that painful, delerious haze, only his name, which he does not often share. They call him Van Helsing in this place, a name that is familiar but in a borrowed sense. He has been called this before, but it does not fully belong to him. His given name he guards almost jealously, as the last solid remnant of the man he might once have been. It is a strong name, a sacred one, and at times he wonders if he is truly worthy enough to carry it. He has never recieved an answer.
When the Holy Order first decided that their strange foundling would be suited to the task of hunting evil, they gave him swords to train with, the traditional weapon of a holy knight. But Gabriel's body remembered swords; his senses rejected every keenly forged blade given him as "unworthy", no matter how fine or how sincerely blessed. Gabriel could not fathom to what standard, exactly, he was holding the weapons, but he quickly developed a preference and an ability for firearms to avoid further complication.
It is Carl who outfits his expeditions. The 20th Century is nearly upon us! the friar exclaims with breathless excitment, scurrying about the laboratory with that peculiar half-shuffle of his, as Gabriel looks on in fond amusement. We must- don't touch that, it's very dangerous, I swear someday you'll blow your own face off, Van Helsing- we must equip ourselves as necessary! The times are changing and our enemies are changing as well!
Am I supposed to trust the words of a man who habitually blows up his own workspace at least three times a week? Gabriel calls back, his tone laced with the same sort of affectionate cruelty usually employed by siblings.
Yes, Carl says fiercely, dropping a heavy book on his workbench and fixing Gabriel with his most ferocious glare, which affords Gabriel his first genuine laugh in nearly two weeks.
Gabriel trusts no one because no one seems worth trusting, not even those few he might consider friends. Instead, he strives to understand the value of the people around him, what purpose they serve in the grand scheme, the giant living, breathing beast that is the Holy Order. The monks and the priests there, who glare at him when he tracks mud through sacred hallways, who have tended his wounds and mended his clothing, forged his weapons and given him food. Carl, who despite his verbal abuse and his fondness for chemical explosives is a genuinely brilliant man, and not bad as far as possible friends go. The Cardinal, who always seems to be there, just over his shoulder and brimming with holy wisdom.
You have been given a gift, my son, says the Cardinal, his eyes alight with fervor for God and the Order's cause. Your gift is one for vanquishing terrible evil. You must use it to atone for what you have done, if you ever wish to remember yourself.
The Cardinal is of the opinion that Gabriel's lost memory is the result of some great and unspeakable sin, committed in the midst of an obviously sordid past. In his existance before this one Gabriel was a murderer, or a thief, or any number of other and even more horrible possibilities.
Gabriel cannot remember doing anything wrong.
Often it is dawn by the time he finds time to attempt sleep, and he fights the urge to get back on his feet. Instead he lies on his back, watching the smoky shifting of weak morning light through the street-level window set high into the wall, and he imagines there is a voice in his ear, bidding him to the edge of a distant forest, to come to the river to watch the sun's return, to stop, to stay, to return.
At last the day comes that they show him the painted portrait of a man who is shaped too interestingly to be conventionally handsome when he is still. He looks the sort who is attractive in motion, not frozen in paint and staring out at the viewer, but talking, shouting, laughing, impatient, distracted and glancing away. The potential for beauty remains in his eyes, the only part of the portrait that seems to contain any semblance of life.
Those eyes are fixed on Gabriel.
This man is labeled dangerous, evil, wicked, and all Gabriel can think is that these eyes have been on him before.