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Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes

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“Hello. I am Abraham Van Helsing. I am to be your roommate. It is good to meet you.”

 

Abraham practiced those words over and over again as he looked down at the jostling floor of his carriage. He had done well at English in primary school in Rotterdam, but there was a big difference between passing tests and speaking with a native.

 

He had learned that first hand when he met his coach driver. His R’s were strange and he used a lot of new words and he talked so goddamned fast . When he had gone to Denmark on summer holiday, the people there had figured out that he wasn’t fluent, and had kept quiet. This fellow, however, had gone on talking as if they were having a philosophical debate. The English were a strange people. Abraham didn’t know if he’d ever understand them.

 

“Hello. I am Abraham Van Helsing. I am to be your roommate. It is good to meet you.”

“Oi! Mister Van Holland, we’re pullin’ up to Oxford now!”

 

Abraham looked out the window. The man was right. He could see the dormitories now, old and grand and imposing. He swallowed. This was to be his home for the next four years, more, if all went well. He thought of Rotterdam, and his mother and sisters and dogs. He wondered if, in this moment, they missed him as much as he did them.

 

The carriage came to a stop. The coach hand opened the door. Abraham bowed his head curtly.

 

“Thank you for the journey, sir.”

 

The man laughed.

 

“Bowing to me! Like I was the Queen or summat! Good luck, kid.”

 

And with that, Abraham was left alone. He took a deep breath, and walked toward the future.

 

---

 

“I am to be your roommate. It is good to meet you.”

The man --boy?-- in front of him smiled.

 

“So, you’re the continental chap I’m rooming with. What are you studying?”

 

He was tall, taller than Abraham, with dark hair and eyes filled with laughter. He looked utterly comfortable in this place, his coat already thrown over a chair, leaning on the bed frame.

 

“Medicine.”

The boy, for he couldn’t have been more than seventeen, smiled.

 

“Why, I’m in for medicine too. Cecil Seward, nice to make your acquaintance.”

 

He reached out his hand. Abraham hesitated for a moment, and then took it.

 

“It is good to be acquainting you too, Cecil.”

 

Cecil laughed. For some reason, it reminded him of his dog, Lars. Cecil was a lot like a dog, actually. Abraham liked him.

 

“Your English needs a bit of work, mate.”

 

He had skipped a few lessons when he was a child. To be fair, there were a lot more interesting books in his father’s library. Werewolves were a lot more fun than confusing verb conjugation.

 

“It’s alright, though, I can help you out with that. I’m practically fluent.”

Abraham smiled at him. It felt a little out of character, but he didn’t really mind.

 

---

 

Abraham loved his classes. He really did. His professors talked a little fast for his taste, but most of the medical terms were in Latin, and he loved Latin. It was the language of the Bible, the language of divine perfection. It made sense, a mystery he didn’t have to solve.

 

When he wasn’t studying or writing or in the operating theater, he was in his room, sometimes with Cecil.

 

Cecil had lots of friends. Armies of friends. At times it seemed like he knew every man in the school. He spent a lot of nights out of their room, and would come back smelling like beer and cigar smoke. Abraham didn’t mind that as much. It was the nights he stayed in that really caused problems.

 

Cecil slept with the window open. Every night. Even when it was cold and raining, and all the warmth from the fire was sucked out of the room. It made absolutely no sense to Abraham. The sounds of the night were so loud in the air, and he shivered under his blankets. And maybe there was another reason he hated that open window. Maybe there was some primordial, pagan, little boy part of him that feared that evil spirits would be let in. That the shadows of the night would finally come and get him.

 

Either way, he wanted it closed. It’s just, he wasn’t quite brave enough to make an issue of it. Yet.

Despite all the talk, he really didn’t hate Cecil. Not at all. When he wasn’t off with his friends or snoring into his pillow, he was very amicable.

 

He helped Abraham with his English whenever he could find the time. The lessons would go something like this:

 

“Van Helsing! What do you call a thing with keys that plays music?”

“A… piano?”

“Right on it, chap! Now, what do you call the animal I ride on the weekends?”

 

“A horse.”

“Wrong. The correct answer is: your mum.”

 

Most lessons ended with Abraham throwing a book in Cecil’s general direction.

 

But today, Seward sat down on the bed and smiled at him.

 

“Van Helsing, tell me a story.”

 

“What?”

 

“Tell me a story. From Holland. If you don’t know a word, just ask me what it is.”

This was… new.

 

“What story.”

 

“One you know, and you feel like telling.”

 

He didn’t think of Holland much. He forced himself not to. He was prone to terrible homesickness. Some days he would go along as if he had never left, as if this was his home. But then he would see something or feel something that reminded him that he was so, so far away from anyone and everything he loved and his breath would get caught in his chest and he would miss it so much. Maybe that’s why he hated the damned window.

Right then, however, he let himself remember.

 

“My Oma - grandmother - tell me this ghost story, when I was a child.”

 

Cecil’s eyes lit up.

 

Abraham swallowed, and continued on.

 

“There was a woman, she said, long ago, who loved a man. She was, how do you call it, when you have much money?”

 

“Wealthy.”

 

“Yes. She was wealthy and he was not. Her mother and father said she could not marry him. If she did, they would take away everything, and leave her on her own. She loved the man, and he was a good man, kind and honest, but she was not brave enough. She married the man her parents gave to her, and she was wealthy and entertained. But she still loved the man, and she would never stop loving him. The day she knew that he married another woman, she broke. She cut up her arms and bled, bled all over her beautiful dress, bled until she died. But, she could not face God. She wandered the world, trying to save young lovers from her mistakes. But she could do nothing. It was the lover's’ job to decide if they were brave enough to love.”

 

Abraham hadn’t realized it until then, but he was crying. Just a little. He looked up at Cecil. His eyes were wide and, maybe it was the light, but they looked a bit wet as well. They sat there in silence for a few moments.

 

“Well,” Cecil said, breaking the quiet, “your grandma must be a barrel of laughs.”

Abraham smiled.

 

“Yes. She is. She is still alive in Holland, knitting gloves and hitting people with spoons.”

 

That made Cecil laugh. Abraham realized that that was the most he has said to anyone since he’d been in England. It was new, but not in a bad way.

 

That night, the window stayed open, but Cecil left a candle burning on the side of his bed. They both slept through the night.

 

---

 

They talked even more after that, about things that weren't English lessons. Abraham didn't know much of English politics, but Cecil would rant on and on about the Whigs and how they were ruining the country. They would talk about medicine, new treatments using electricity and narcotics. Mostly, however, they talked about religion.

 

“I thought Catholics liked to party.”

 

Abraham looked up from his anatomy textbook.

 

“The Spanish, the French. Even some of the Germans. And yet here you sit, reading your bible and doing your coursework.”

 

“I thought the English were supposed to be puritans.”

 

“Ha! Not since Cromwell, my good man.”

 

Abraham looked him in the eyes.

 

“Titus 2:7 - Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

 

Cecil smiled.

 

“Come out with me tonight. Into town.”

 

Abraham opens his mouth as if to turn him down.

 

“Your books and your bible will be there when you get back, I promise.”

 

He sat for a moment, in thought. He had a lot of work to do, but, just at that moment, the light filtered into the room, and hit Seward’s face just so, and he was beautiful. Cecil was always beautiful. That was a fact, a constant, like the sun rising every day, like living things dying. There was hope in his eyes.

 

“...Alright.”

 

After all, what's the worst that could happen?

 

---

 

Cecil’s breath was heavy on Abraham’s neck, but not nearly as heavy as heavy as the full weight of his unconscious body leaning on his shoulders as they walked back to their dorm.

 

He looked at his watch.

 

“3:47”

 

They had been out since ten o’clock. It had been a very full night.

 

“V’n ‘elsin’. Abraham.”

 

Seward was muttering, coming back to reality. He had only had 4 pints of lager, across three different pubs, but he was already a drunken mess. Abraham thanked his Dutch alcohol tolerance.

 

“Abraham!”

 

Cecil stood up on his own feet.

 

“Cecil. Can you walk on your own?”

 

“Of course!”

 

He took a step, and pitched dangerously forward.

 

Abraham caught him by his collar and pulled him back into his arms.

 

“...On second thought, maybe not. It's alright though. I have you to hold me, don't I, Van Helsing?”

 

For a moment, they looked at each other in the pale moonlight. A part of Abraham thought that Cecil would kiss him. Another part of him thought that wouldn't be so bad. Maybe his alcohol tolerance wasn't as good as he'd thought.

 

They turned away, and they walked back to their room in silence.

 

---

 

It was a Saturday when he finally plucked up the courage.

 

The weather had turned even colder and rainier, which Abraham hadn't thought possible. He was going to die of chill if the window wasn't closed.

 

He stood up. He had decided against making notecards, but he had his speech planned out in his head.

 

“Cecil.”

 

Seward looked up from his book.

 

“I have an issue I would like to take up with you.”

 

Cecil had a bemused look on his face.

 

“Shoot”

 

“Every night, you open the window to sleep. It keeps me up all night and I want it to be closed.”

 

“But I can't sleep with the window closed, Abraham. It gets far too hot and stuffy.”

 

“I need it closed, Seward.”

 

Cecil changed tactics.

 

“Come, Abraham, you're a strapping young man, you need fresh air!”

 

Abraham didn't know what “strapping” meant, but it sounded dangerously close to a compliment. This was no time for blushing. He had a mission.

 

“If you don't close the window I will glue it shut myself.”

 

“You want it closed all day! Van Helsing, you’d suffocate!”

 

Abraham set his jaw.

 

“Better to be safe than to suff- suffo- suffica-”

 

“Suffocate, but safe against what? We're on the third floor.”

 

Damn. He'd been caught.

 

“There are some things in the night that do not follow the rules of man.”

 

Seward looked at him for a long moment. Then, he rolled his eyes.

 

“Catholics.”

 

The window was shut that night. For some reason, he still couldn't sleep.

 

---

 

Cecil had an army of friends, but somehow, Abraham began to outrank them all.

 

They would go out together, to tea houses and read their books quietly in plush chairs, to pubs on ill-advised partying endeavors, and on walks down the bank of the river, early in the morning while the world was still asleep.

 

He learned more about Cecil. He had 2 brothers and a sister, and lived in a posh suburb of London.

 

He wanted to become a psychiatrist, to help people. Seward loved people, truly and deeply. Abraham didn't mind people; they scared him, sometimes, but he knew they were mostly kind and decent. Cecil, on the other hand, was crazy about people.

 

In turn, Abraham shared more of himself. Just a glimpse into his life, but it was more than he'd let anyone in before. He talked about God, and his father’s ghost, and of Holland.

 

The English lessons were long over, but Abraham had begun to teach Cecil some Dutch.

 

“Happiness - gelukzaligheid”

 

“Come on!”

 

“I had to learn prescription my first day her e, gelukzaligheid

 

“Happiness. Guela-zeehki-hide.”

 

“...close enough. Next: mijn lul.”

 

“Abraham you know I don't know.”

 

“It’s something you like to sit on.”

 

“Oh! My chair! An arm chair?”

 

“Nope. The correct answer is: my penis.”

 

Cecil’s eyes went wide. He sat there, staring for a second, as if in shock. Then, he started laughing harder than Abraham had ever seen him laugh. He was doubled over, laughing so hard he cried.

 

“Van *laugh* Helsing- Van Helsing that was *laugh* that was the first dirty joke- no- the first joke you’ve ever told me.”

“So… that was… good?”

 

He sounded earnest, but when Seward looked up, Abraham was grinning.

 

“You shit.”

 

They laughed together, smiling at one another’s stupidity.

 

---

 

Before Abraham knew it, all his papers had been turned it, all his finals were completed, and it was time to go back to Holland for summer holiday.

 

Before they left on their respective trains, Abraham and Cecil shook hands.

 

“It's been good to meet you, Van Helsing. See you in September.”

 

“Goodbye, Cecil.”

 

Then, without warning, Cecil pulled him for a hug. Abraham was never a hugger, and his normal reaction would be to shrink away, but for some reason, he didn't.

 

As his carriage rumbled away from Oxford, he felt a pang of homesickness. Well, how about that.

 

---

 

The summer was long, and tedious. He read, and wrote, and walked his dogs through the woods, but he missed school. He missed having something to do every day, a purpose. He missed Cecil.

 

The last week of the holiday, his Oma came to visit them.  

 

“Abraham! My boy! Back from England!”

 

She grabbed his face, and he tried not to smile.

 

“Hello Oma.”

 

She looked at him, examining him with her ex-ray eyes.

 

“Child… are you ill?”

 

“No, Oma, I am well.”

 

She looked into his eyes.

 

His mother spoke up.

 

“Mama, I have your room ready.”

 

His grandmother went upstairs, but Abraham could still feel her eyes on him.

 

Soon, they sate down to dinner, and he talked about school. There were some things he left out, because they were slightly illegal, or involved human corpses, but he had a lot to say. He was never the type to keep secrets.

 

However, he didn't say much about Cecil. There was something about their relationship that felt personal. Private.

 

All through the meal however, his Oma still had that look on her face. That look like she was trying to figure something out.

 

After dinner, his mother went out of the room to talk to the servants.

 

There was an awkward silence, his grandma staring at him, and him squirming like an insect under a microscope.

 

“AHA!”

 

Abraham was startled nearly out of his seat. She rushed over to where he was sitting, as much as an eighty year old woman could rush anywhere.

 

“Abraham, I figured it out: you’re in love.”

 

Abraham flushed, equally embarrassed, confused and frightened.

 

“I’m- I don’t- There isn’t-”

 

“No, my boy, stop arguing. I know a lovesick young man when I see one. I’m sure of it.”

He thought of what she could mean; had she finally snapped?

 

“Oma. Grootmoeder . I am not in love.”

She smiled sadly.

 

“Think on it, my dear. Just… give it some thought.”

 

---

 

Abraham thought on it, alright. He thought on it all night that night, and the next night, and the next. He thought on it every moment his mind wasn’t otherwise preoccupied. He asked himself the same question, again and again.

 

He got the same answer every time. It was Cecil, of course, always Cecil. Cecil’s eyes and his laugh and arms his idiotic sense of humor. How had he not realised sooner? But then he would shake his head and start all over again. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t.

 

The rest of his summer holiday was spent shoving these thoughts down, only to have them rise back up again.

---

 

As he rode down the road to Oxford, Abraham wanted to be sentimental. He wanted to think on how he had grown and changed in the last year. He wanted to be philosophical. Instead, he just fretted over his Grandmother’s words. There was a hot lump of anxiety in his gut. He wanted to crawl into a ball, to jump out of the carriage and run back to Rotterdam, but he didn’t. He settled for looking out of the window pensively.

 

Sooner than he thought possible, he was standing in front of their bedroom door. After a few moments, he opened it and stepped inside. Then he saw Cecil, and time stopped.

 

He was standing there, just as Abraham had left him, except, he was taller now, and broader. His hair had grown out. He looked like a man. He looked-

 

He looked beautiful, and handsome, and when he met Abraham’s eyes they were sparkling and it all clicked into place. He was in love, totally and unabashedly. As his Oma had always said “in love, there is truth,” and God be damned if this wasn't the truest thing he'd ever felt.  

 

Abraham had never been the kind to act without thinking, but in that moment, he moved on instinct. He walked up to Cecil, before he could say anything, and kissed him, square on the mouth.

 

Seward seized up, shocked. Abraham stepped back, terrified. He had just kissed Cecil . What had he been thinking? This could ruin everything, this was madness.

 

They stood there, staring at each other. Finally, Cecil stepped forward and Abraham flinched, preparing to be hit, and then. And then, Cecil kissed him.

 

---

 

That year flew by, stolen kisses and long nights, studying and drinking, flying so high, higher than possible. They didn’t talk, but Abraham didn’t mind. He had Cecil, had him in every way he could’ve wanted. So what if they didn’t say I love you. So what if he say Cecil flirting with girls at bars. So what if some nights Cecil wouldn’t look him in the eyes and stayed out past dawn. That smile was his, all his. Cecil loved him, he was sure of it.

 

Sure, they fought-

 

“Abraham, you need to sleep.”

 

“Cecil, this paper is important.”

 

“It isn’t due until next month!”

“You don’t understand! If I don’t get this degree, I can never get my doctorate, and if I don’t have that I won’t be able to do real, important work!’

 

“What, so not like psychiatry?”

 

“Cecil… you know what I mean. I need to cure people. I need to save lives!”

 

“What are you fighting for, Abraham? Because it isn’t for people. What is it, you think that saving people will clean you of your sins?”

 

“Don’t talk to me about sin, Cecil. We don’t talk about sins.”

 

“I’m… I’m sorry, Van Helsing. Just, get some sleep, alright? I… care about you.”

 

“Don’t talk about sin.”

 

-but everyone does.

 

---

 

They had been doing this thing for two years, when that summer rolled around. Abraham wasn’t expecting any letters, he knew they would only put the both of them in unnecessary danger

 

Still, he could not contain the warmth that filled his heart when he got a letter from Cecil’s address. He opened it, and found a small blue card.

 

“You are cordially invited to the wedding of Cecil James Seward and Emily Catherine Addington.”

 

And then, his world fell apart.

 

---

 

His mother’s safe was easy to crack: his father’s birthday. After he got the money, all he had to do was buy the tickets for the boat train, and in 30 minutes he was on his way to Hampstead. There had to be an explanation. Maybe this was a cruel practical joke, or his parents had sent out the cards without his consent, or maybe or maybe. He had to give Cecil a chance to explain himself.

 

He slept fitfully on the train, and arrived the next morning. As he rode in the carriage to Cecil’s house, he had no speech planned. He didn’t think about what he would say or do. His brain was clouded by blind hope, and behind that rage, and then fear, dark and bottomless.

 

The maid took his coat and then went to fetch Cecil. Abraham stood in the middle of the grand foyer, crossing his arms like a child. There were tears in his eyes, but he would not let them escape. Cecil walked down the staircase.

 

“Van Helsing! It’s wonderful to see yo-”

“Explain, Cecil. I didn’t cross the channel to make small talk.”

 

Cecil kept smiling, but his eyes lost their spark.

 

“I assume you got the letter.”

Abraham nodded.

 

“Abraham… you’re my best friend, you really are, but,” He lowered his voice. “this was just some fooling around in Uni. We had to grow up eventually. We have to get married at some point.”

 

“Fooling… around?”

 

“Come on, Van Helsing, you understand. And she’s a hell of a girl.”

 

That was the last straw. Abraham turned and ran out the door. Cecil called after him, but he didn’t look back. He was running, getting on the first train away from England and never coming back.

 

---

 

It was bright and sunny, that day, unusual for England at that time of year. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. As Van Helsing looked out the window of his coach, he took stock of the countryside, and was reminded of the deserts of Afghanistan. A lot had changed since he had last been here.

 

When he got to the cemetery, the weather turned from pleasant to wholly inappropriate. Of all the days of the year, the English rains chose to stay away on a funeral.

 

He saw Cecil. It had been ten years, but he looked infinitely older. He was gazing down into the buggy next to him, no doubt holding the baby -- his baby. Cecil looked up, and caught sight of Van Helsing. He looked so utterly crushed; any feelings of resentment that Abraham could’ve held were washed away. He walked over to him.

 

“Van Helsing…”

 

“Seward.”

 

They stood there, in silence. Abraham felt helpless. Cecil looked like a corpse.

 

“So, what is her name.”

 

“What?”

 

“Your daughter, Cecil, what is her name?”

 

A small, broken smile crossed Seward’s face.

 

“Lucy. Her name is Lucy.”

 

Van Helsing smiled in return.

 

“After your mother.”

 

Seward nodded. Van Helsing looked down into the stroller. She was so impossibly small, sleeping there in a thick bundle of blankets. She was pale and tiny. Abraham felt an intense urge to protect her from any and everything that could harm her.

 

“She is beautiful.”

 

“Yes,” Cecil agreed, with tears in his voice “she certainly is.”

 

And so, they stood together, while Lucy’s mother was lowered into the ground.

 

---

 

They sat together that night, in Cecil’s father’s house, drinking and smoking cigars.

 

They both had so much to say to one another, so many secrets and apologies and arguments, but instead, they sat in silence, each trying to read the other’s mind.

 

Van Helsing, not for the first time, wondered what he was doing here. This man had broken his heart, and not spoken to him for ten years. This man was nothing to him but a bad memory, to be buried in wine and regret, and yet. And yet, when he got that letter, he had hopped on the first train to London to be by his side. Why?

 

“She was wonderful, you know.” Cecil broke the silence.

 

“She really was an amazing woman, Emily. Beautiful and smart and witty. You two would’ve gotten on.”

 

Van Helsing didn’t know what to say to that.

 

“And,” Seward said, his voice shaky but warm, “all she wanted in this world was to be a mother. But, she had problems getting pregnant. We tried and tried for years, without luck, and then -- Lucy came along.”


There were tears running down his face now. Abraham moved closer, but did not touch him. He did not know if he could.

 

“And oh, she would’ve been such a wonderful mother. She was so kind.”

 

Van Helsing put his arms around Cecil and pulled him close. Seward cried into his shirt.

 

“I- I don’t know how to be a father, Abraham, I can b-barely take care of myself. She deserves better than me.”

 

“Shhhhh, lieveling, it will be alright.”

 

Cecil sat up, looking into his eyes.

 

“I can’t do this alone, Van Helsing.”

 

And with that, Abraham realised what he had to do,

 

“You will not have to, Cecil.”

 

“What?”

 

“I said,” he took a deep breath, “you will not have to do this alone. I have two younger sisters, I raised them as much as my mother did. I will stay with you here.”

 

Cecil’s eyes were wide.

 

“You can’t, Van Helsing, your work!”

 

“Diseases will still be obscure when I get get back, Cecil.”

 

“But, Abraham, after all that I have put you through-”

 

Van Helsing cut him off.

“This is for Lucy, not you.”

 

That was a lie, but only a small one.

 

---

 

They ended up renting an apartment outside of London. It wasn’t as large as the Seward estate, but it had none of the ghosts.

 

Abraham had been afraid that it would be a nightmare to live with Seward, all longing gazes and heated conversations, but raising a child was time consuming. They had a nursemaid to feed her, a cook, and a woman to do the cleaning, but other than that, it was all them. Lucy was learning to sleep through the night, but it was a slow process. Getting up at 3 in the morning to change her diaper was not fun, but listening to her cry herself back to sleep was Hell on Earth.

Lucy was a wonderful baby. She was a little smaller than normal, and she had a cough that just wouldn’t go away, but she was an angel. Abraham loved her more than anything.

 

And Cecil, Cecil was getting better. He was smiling more, and there was blood in his cheeks again. There was still a shade over his eyes, but he worked through it.

 

That’s not to say that things weren’t awkward. When Lucy was asleep, and they sat in the parlor, Abraham’s emotions were a mess. He was a grown man now, but Cecil made him feel like he was 18 again.

 

“Do you hate me, Van Helsing?”

 

Abraham looked at Seward, surprised at his bluntness. He took a moment to think over the question.

 

“I did, once. After the wedding, I hated you more than I’d ever hated anything. That hatred pushed me away -- I threw myself into my studies. I got my masters and my doctorate. I traveled Europe. I went to Berlin, and, well, threw myself into other endeavors. I did all that running, but I could never escape you. So, no, I don’t hate you, Seward, not anymore. I’ve learned too much about myself to hate you.”

 

There was a moment of silence, as Seward mulled over that answer.

 

“I- I’m sorry, Van Helsing. I don’t regret marrying Emily, because I loved her, and without her we wouldn’t have Lucy, but… I tossed you aside. I disregarded your feelings, and I made it seem like I cared about you less than I really did. For that, I am sorry.”

 

Before Abraham could reply, a cry came from Lucy’s bedroom. They shared a smile, and went to work.

 

---

 

Lucy was two years old, when he figured it out. She had moved on from simple “daddy’ and “papa” (which had slightly confused the servants) to simple sentences. She was so bright already, bargaining with them to get out of naps and eat more sweets. Abraham would read from the Bible to her every night, and, though she sometimes asked a lot of questions, he didn’t mind. He loved it when she asked “Why.” Everyone should.

 

One of these nights, right as Abraham was getting the Bible from the shelf, Seward stopped him.

 

“How about you tell a different story tonight. One from Holland.”

 

Abraham gave him a quizzical look. Most of the stories he had told Seward had been of Vampires and Werewolves and Ghosts, ones his Oma had told him. He had mostly just used them to scare Cecil into sleeping in the same bed with him. But, that was a long time ago.

 

“Well, if you won’t, I will.”

 

Seward sat down on the armchair, looking down at Lucy.

 

“Once, there was a young lady who lived in a grand house. She was smart, and beautiful, and thought that no man could ever be good enough for her. Her parents would bring suitors from all around, dukes and barons and princes, but she turned them all away. However, one day, a young soldier stepped into her chamber, and, upon seeing her, promptly tripped over his own feet and fell on his face. She laughed and laughed, laughed so hard that she fell out of her chair. Then, the soldier began to laugh as well. They lay there, on the floor, laughing on and on at one another’s ridiculousness. He helped her up, and introduced himself. In the end, she married the soldier with the kind eyes, and they lived happily ever after.”

 

Abraham stood there shocked. That was -- if a bit dramatized -- the story of how his grandparents met. He had told it to Seward only once, when they were both drunk and young. The fact that he remembered it in such detail. Christ, Abraham loved him.

 

Wait… Goddammit.

 

---

 

Being in love with Cecil James Seward was very easy. He was like the dawn, or a good dream. Not being loved back, on the other hand, was quite the opposite.

 

This problem was only exacerbated by their living situation. They were parents to a child, eating together and sleeping just a room apart. It was as if they were some kind of family. Seward would go off to work at his practice, and Abraham would spend time with Lucy and read. It was so close to everything he’d ever wanted, and still so far.

 

There were quiet moments, when he would see Cecil staring at him, or smile at him over the morning paper, that he could almost convince himself that Seward loved him. But then he would refuse to touch him, and avert his gaze, and he knew he could never have that.

 

There had been something off about that whole day. Seward had been snippy, and Lucy’s stomach was acting up again. They had gotten into a fight about new forms of antibiotics (“ It's the 20th Century, Cecil, if there’s a way to make her better we should use it!” “I’m not prescribing my daughter all this new-aged poppycock”) and Van Helsing just wanted to go to sleep. After Lucy was put to bed, Seward called him into his office.

 

“Van Helsing, I… you do not have to stay here, if you wish to go.”

Abraham was shocked.

 

“I know we had a rough today, Cecil, but that does not-”

 

“That’s not what I mean, Van Helsing. I know you told me you don’t hate me, but if it being around me is too much for you, I do not blame you.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I know you despise me, Van Helsing, and I don’t blame you.”

 

“Seward, I don’t hate you!”

 

“Then why are you so upset lately?’

 

“It’s because I love you, you ass!”

 

Abraham’s hand went to his mouth. Cecil’s eyes grew wide.

 

“Wait, I didn’t-”

 

And then, Cecil kissed him, and all he could think was “ Finally .”

 

Cecil’s hands were on the back of his neck and Abraham’s arms were around his waist and it was like they were 18 again in the best way.

 

The maid chose that moment to open the door to the office. She had forgotten her purse.

 

---

 

Lucy was sad, and confused, but it couldn’t be avoided. Cecil’s medical career was at stake. The maid was a loyal girl, but, talk like that spread fast. The train back to Holland left in 2 hours.

 

They stood in the lounge, not knowing what to say to one another. Abraham could feel the tears in his eyes, but he would not let himself cry.

 

“Lucy has grown so tall.”

 

Cecil nodded. Van Helsing could tell that he was emotional as well.

 

“She is hearty. You have raised her well, Cecil.”

 

“No. We have raised her well.”

“Yes. I suppose we have.”

 

After a brief moment of silence, Seward went in for a hug. They embraced, both knowing full well that it might be their last.

 

Cecil pulled back, and looked into Abraham’s eyes.

 

“I thank you, Van Helsing, for you have rendered me a great service.”

 

Abraham smiled sadly.

 

“And what is that?”

 

“Letting you love me.”

 

The bell rang, and it was time for him to go.

 

---

 

It seemed to Abraham as though Abraham’s life was defined by driving down roads to see Cecil Seward. Sure, now it was in a car and not a horse-drawn carriage, and he was an old man now.

 

There was a thick fog of dread over his brain. The supreme cosmic irony of Lucy, his Lucy, being threatened by the thing he’d spent his whole life fighting. Of course, Cecil had thought the wounds caused by a safety pin, but, he was never too quick on the uptake.

 

Cecil… It had been 20 years since he’d last seen him in person. They were not the hormonal, emotionally frustrated boys of their youth, but they weren’t the domestic couple they had been when raising Lucy. They were simply old friends. Good friends.

 

He pulled up to the manor house, large, but not like the ones of the past. Times were changing.

 

He chatted with the maid, and made his way down the halls. Then, she opened the doors to the lounge, and he saw him. Cecil was an old man now, with grey hair and glasses, but there was still laughter in his eyes. Seward took his hand.

 

“Van Helsing. It was good of you to come.”

 

He smiled.

 

“Were it only a patient of yours, instead of your daughter, I would’ve come. You once rendered me a service.”