Chapter 2 - Regaining Control
Over the next week, Van Helsing received no end of sly comments relating to what he ignorantly wore all the way from Lichtenstein. Not only were there hints of amusement in everyone's eyes to haunt him, there was theCardinal's suspicion in his vague report of the werewolf. This suspicion constantly drove Jinette to innocently asking questions with hidden probes.
Van Helsing had outlined the intentions of Von Schliemann as best he could, but the ensuing details of how he dealt with Haustier were a little sketchy. As no special windows had been shattered, Van Helsing surmised he would get away clean. However, the earlier patchy report on the Dracula mission - cleverly collaborated by Carl - was more than enough to awaken Cardinal Jinette's growing concern.
The Cardinal even opted to seek Carl out in his laboratory and ask after Van Helsing - who never took the time between missions to venture outside the Vatican.
"I suspect he is hiding in embarrassment," Carl answered absently, eyes locked on whatever it was lying on the bench in front of him.
The Cardinal examined some of the latest contraptions in what bordered on alarm. He cleared his throat and continued his queries, "Have you noticed anything unusual about Van Helsing since his return from Balzers?"
"Apart from shame?" snickered Carl for a moment, then stirred into thoughtfulness. "He is rather withdrawn - more so than usual, I mean. It seems he is trying to keep himself under control."
Jinette nodded, pensive. "Very good. I want you to keep an eye on him."
As the Cardinal became a wisp around the corner, Carl set aside his equipment, frowning. Now that he remembered it, Van Helsing was being very odd. Odd for a nightmare haunted monster hunter, that is.
Van Helsing was in neighbouring Rome. He was sitting quietly among the rooves of a small residential side of the city, trying to collect his thoughts. For a week now, he had been coming here to breathe deeply, free of Vatican City - even though it was not that far away geographically. The events of Balzers plagued him constantly and here was the only place he could find solace.
He had discovered that anger shed a gold tint into his eyes and that, when further pressed, his skin would begin to itch relentlessly. Every night he come here, shedding his boots and cloak, practising. Van Helsing knew he was not cured. The despair slammed into him with brutal force as he thought, not for the first time,
Anna died for nothing.
Van Helsing drew in a breath, refusing to let the pain draw the beast out of him.
"No," he commanded it, holding down the werewolf as hard as he could.
He knew that pain and anger was the key to his transformations. He also knew it would be very dangerous for his continued safety for the slightest moment of either to have him break out in fur. When grief or fury swamped him, he wanted to be able to deal with it.
Van Helsing dredged every memory he could of Anna Valerious to his mind and let it overflow into his heart. The itching began in his hands and feet, signalling failure of control. The hunter pictured the flesh that encompassed him, not the fur that shouldn't.
Suddenly, his mind was filled with that painful image...holding her lifeless body in his arms, the shed fur sprinkled at his feet. Van Helsing refused to be panicked in the face of losing control. He opened his eyes and coolly explored the massive paws that his hands had become. He was not completely transformed, but he could feel his ears had shifted up his scalp somewhat.
A quick look in the nearby propped up mirror confirmed this. Van Helsing marvelled at how vicious his features were, half transformed. He closed his eyes and envisioned his humanity. He hunted this kind, he was separate from them. Monsters, beasts. He was human. Different. Upon checking his reflection again, he was satisfied at finding a full human staring back at him.
"Let's try that again," Van Helsing spoke to the beast inside him calmly. "This time, you will not win."
It was incredibly early in the morning when Van Helsing returned to the Vatican. He walked through the deserted underground, feeling less trapped by the monotonous familiarity than was usual. The satisfaction of holding back the beast while engulfed in grief was enough to satiate him for today.
He was surprised to find Carl in full swing, peering through those awkward magnifying goggles keenly. Van Helsing smiled to himself. Maybe he shouldn't be so surprised. Perhaps Carl had always woken at this time if the inspiration struck him.
"It's three in the morning," Van Helsing supplied when the friar searched for an implement of time. "You should be sleeping or praying or something."
Carl leapt a foot in the air. He scowled. "I'm a friar, dammit, I can do what I want. And what's your excuse for being awake?"
Van Helsing smirked. "Did you have a nightmare, Carl?"
"I don't have to answer that," snapped Carl, a vague shade of pink painting his face. "But while you're here, tell me what you think of this."
The inventor brandished a pistol from a dual set. It looked very much like the ones the hunter already carried, but a quick inspection proved first observations otherwise. Carl beamed. "You're always complaining about the dismal range of your pistols. Not as much power as your shotgun, but the range is fairly equal now."
"Hmm," Van Helsing muttered, trying hard not to look impressed.
The friar stabbed a finger at his chest. "At least give me the praise I deserve!"
"Humility is a good value, even for a friar," Van Helsing countered sweetly. "Why don't we trade? I'll give you a compliment if you pretend you never saw me."
Carl crossed his arms. "Only if you tell me where your mysterious wanderings take you."
"Rome," the hunter replied simply.
"Be more specific."
"Wedged in between a few rooves."
"That wasn't part of the deal," Van Helsing pointed out. "You only wanted to know where I went. Alright, Carl, the new pistols are very good. Your ingenuity never fails to amaze me."
Carl looked pleased. "Really?"
"Now you can forget I was ever here - and that I ever said that."
"Oh, that's difficult," Carl bit his lip, a twinkle in his eyes.
Van Helsing gave a deep throated growl which robbed Carl of his bravado. The friar raised his hands in a peace gesture. "Now, if you weren't cured of the werewolf curse I might then be frightened."
The tremor in his voice suggested otherwise.
If only he knew, Van Helsing thought bitterly as he walked away, feeling his eyes heat up, knowing they were turning gold.
"Wedged in between rooves in Rome?" the Cardinal repeated, far from impressed. "That is all you managed to procure? I'd more like to know what time he came in last night, what he was doing, that sort of thing."
He had once again caught Carl at his most vague - in the laboratory. The friar looked up and merely shrugged. "How would I know? I sleep and I work. I pray, too," He added hastily.
As Jinette walked away, Carl dared to make a quick face at him before returning to his latest invention.
Van Helsing thought he was making progress. He mastered his grief and anger well, never once letting the beast out involuntarily. He could now transform at will, but not because of dredging up painful memories. It seemed he had made some sort of pact with the beast. In return for control, he wouldfree thebeast out for a few glorious minutes.
He came to enjoy the freedom that came with it. He could hear and smell so acutely - even without taking the wolf form. This would be a great asset when on missions, he decided. Van Helsing allowed himself a few moments of rest, looking up at the sky.
"I wonder," he mused aloud, "if I could transform different parts separately."
Abandoning the rest, Van Helsing stared at his hands and willed them into paws. It was easy enough - apart from his eyes, it was the first thing that changed in the transformation. He watched the claws shrink into pink fingers again. He focused on his ears. It was hard at first, but finally - he could tell by keeping his eyes trained on the mirror - the ears perched amongst his black hair without his hands changing.
Van Helsing was startled by how exhausted he felt. He yawned. "Let's call it a nig...day."
Van Helsing's body forced him to sleep from the time he returned to the Vatican to early afternoon. Unimpressed by how time got away from him, the summons to see Jinette only dampened his mood even more. He ignored the summons and crawled back into bed - something he never did.
He lay there, feeling at ease. Perhaps sleeping in wasn't so bad after all.
"I deserve it," Van Helsing muttered into his pillow.
He still felt the hangover of success. He felt confident that he could use the...curse...for good, use it in his hunt for monsters and beasts. Van Helsing smiled to himself - a werewolf hunting werewolves! Now that was an amusing thought. He was then shocked by how flippant he was handling this.
Again, he said softly, "I deserve it."
The weight of the curse had darkened him for too long. Now he felt...free. Light. And he wanted to holler his success around the Vatican. Van Helsing sighed. The whole place would probably come after him with loads of silver.
Not that silver harms me much in human form, he reflected, snorting.
Who could he tell then? No one was the safest option. No one needed to know whatsoever. He didn't trust anyone terribly much and betrayal could be fatal here. The Vatican wouldn't just slap him on the wrist and say "now wasn't that naughty, you're a werewolf". They'd first demand how he was bitten, draw out how Anna Valerious died, then kill him.
"Hm, fun," Van Helsing commented, pulling himself out of bed, "I'd leave enough fur for them to be sweeping the floors for months."
He caught sight of the new pistols lying on the small table in his room. Carl had been in at one point, then. The friar had been spending more time awake than usual. Well, usual for a rabid inventor, that is. Van Helsing briefly wondered if his joke about Carl having nightmares wasn't too far from the truth.
This made him remember Lichtenstein. The only thing that had linked him to his sanity then...was Carl. Van Helsing paused as he holstered the pistols. He owed it to Carl, really - the friar had indirectly saved him that night.
"Oh no," he remarked dryly, sarcastically. "I made a friend."
He had to admit it. Carl wasn't just that blustering friar. Over the whole Transylvanian mission, he had become a friend. Van Helsing promised that after whatever blasteddeed Cardinal Jinette wanted him carry out, he would tell Carl the true story about Lichtenstein.
Van Helsing sighed. Just like any other week doing God's bidding...and like they say, if God gives you lemons, go make lemonade. So if God makes you a werewolf and doesn't have someone shoot you, use your powers well.