Gabriel had never been so happy to see a couch in his life. As soon as he stumbled through the icy barrier, it was the first thing his mind screamed out for. His limbs were tired and stiff, and his skin stung from the cuts on his arms and face. Anna took his arm and gently helped him to lie down in the den. Once she was sure that he was settled, she hurried out of the room.
The sun was just beginning to rise over Vaseria and Gabriel wondered if today would be different – would it be sunny for a change? Would the people sense something different now that Dracula was gone? Was this the beginning of a new start"
Carl fell into a chair opposite Gabriel, clutching a thick book, and sighed. "Not bad, eh?"
Gabriel smiled and paused. After a moment, he decided to be serious. "Thank you Carl, for killing Jacob and helping Anna. You were great."
"It was my pleasure," Carl smiled proudly, "always ready to help."
"You braved a lot for us tonight – I am grateful," Gabriel smiled warmly.
"True," Carl said proudly, "I did. Getting chased by those hideous things and covered in that horrible green concoction, I would have to agree with you. Not to mention that savage vampire you left me to fight."
"Jacob? You could handle him."
"Hmmm, well at least I got this," Carl patted the book in his lap proudly.
Gabriel cocked an eyebrow. "What is it?"
"This, my friend, is the entire history of Anna's family." Carl said, propping the book up so Van Helsing could see the title, "El Historia de Valerious - found it in Dracula's library."
"So that's where you disappeared to when we were leaving?"
"Carl, we were worried. Anna thought- Anna!" Gabriel sat up and looked around.
"Anna?" he called.
"I'm here, love," a velvety voice came from behind him. Gabriel strained to look.
Anna stood behind the chair on which he lay, clutching a basket of bandages and ointment bottles. She smiled and Gabriel's body flushed with warmth.
"Anna! Are you ok? You've been through a lot - you should be sitting down!" He moved to get up but Anna leaned over and kissed him, stopping his voice. She pushed him back onto the couch.
"Shh," she whispered, "I'm fine. You need to rest."
She kissed him again then straightened up. Her hand immediately went to her middle and Gabriel did not miss the strained look of pain that flashed across her face.
Anna went over to Carl. "Ok, Carl. Let me see what I can do about those slashes on your back."
Gabriel's eyes dashed to Anna's shoulders, to the deep cuts across her own back and the blood seeping into her shirt. Concern flushed Gabriel's body.
"Anna, I don't think you should be-"
"No Gabriel," Anna interrupted him, she turned to face him. "You two have healed me countless times, saved my life. It is time I helped you."
"But Anna, I love you, you don't have to do this when you've been through as much as we have, if not more..."
"Exactly," Anna smiled and touched his cheek. "I love you too. I help because I choose to." She winked and turned back to Carl. Again Gabriel saw her cringe but this time, he understood. She needed to do this, despite her own injuries.
Anna worked quickly on Carl's wounds, eager to get to Gabriel. Her head and ribs were aching and her back was on fire where Jacob slashed her. She longed to fall into Gabriel's arms but knew she had to do this. It was her turn to do the healing.
"Ow!" Carl whined, pulling away from the disinfectant-soaked swab she was pressing to his back.
Gabriel chuckled. "You're moaning like a child, old friend."
"Well, it stings, damn it!" Carl said indignantly.
"Still cursing too? No wonder it's so sore," Gabriel joked.
Carl cast a scathing look at him then cringed as Anna applied the swab once more.
"There," Anna said, stepping back from Gabriel to examine the bandage she had fixed around his arm. "Finished."
Gabriel glanced from his arm to Anna. She was pale and already, large, nasty-looking bruises were forming on her porcelain skin. He grasped her hand and felt her trembling.
He tugged on her arm so she sat on the couch beside him.
"Now you, princess," he said in a smooth voice.
Anna looked hesitant and smiled evasively. "I'm fine love - just need some rest." She said dismissively.
Gabriel put his hand across her back, where Jacob cut her, and she instantly flinched in pain, sucking in a breath through clenched teeth.
"Don't seem fine to me." Gabriel said knowingly. He knew she was trying to be strong and independent: she didn't want to always be the one who needed to be cared for, but he'd learnt when to call her bluff long ago.
"Come on, let me take a look." He gazed deep into Anna's eyes, and soon, she sighed submissively.
"If you must." She shrugged and turned her back to Gabriel.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Anna moved to get up but Gabriel put his hand on her shoulder. "Carl?"
"Oh, all right then. I'll get it." Carl grumbled and got up, leaving the room.
Gabriel turned his attention back to his fiancée. Gently, Gabriel pulled the back of Anna's blood-soaked shirt down to the top of her corset and winced at the damage. Jacob's claws had dug deep. Gabriel shuddered to think what Anna's ribs would be like.
"What's wrong?" Anna sensed his trouble.
"I'm surprised Jacob was able to hurt you like this, love. Best we check your ribs before I start bandaging."
He nuzzled the back of Anna's neck and she giggled and turned to face him. She looked up into his eyes. "You haven't held me since we left Castle Dracula, hold me now," she said, leaning into Gabriel. His warm arms enveloped her and she closed her eyes. Already it felt as if the pounding in her head was easing. All that Anna had been feeling, had been keeping inside herself was suddenly released. She was free – free to live as she liked and to love Gabriel - illimitably. Anna allowed her whole body to relax. The warmth and comfort emanating from Gabriel were captivating and her mind began to wonder. Her body was battle weary and weak from the fever. Soon she forgot her pain and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Gabriel didn't want to let Anna go. She had been right: he hadn't held her since they killed Dracula and his body had been craving her warmth. In the back of his mind, he knew he would have to release her sooner or later- he had to if he wanted to check her injuries. For now, though, he was happy to just have her in his arms. He thought back to Castle Dracula. He'd been truly terrified when he stumbled into the throne room to see Anna in Dracula's clutches. And when Dracula kissed her! Never had he felt such rage. Still, they had overcome. He glanced down at Anna's hand, which rested on his shoulder. The engagement ring shone back at him and his heart flushed with anticipation. There was so much to come, and Gabriel suspected he would enjoy every moment of it.
Carl entered the room once more and Gabriel looked up at him.
"Who was it?"
Carl looked to the door. Theresa stuck her head in and smiled at Van Helsing.
"Good morning Mr Van Helsing." The old woman said as she stepped into the room. "I came to see how Princess Anna is." She moved around the couch and her eyes fell on Anna where she lay against Gabriel.
"God! What happened?" Theresa gasped, noticing Anna's back.
Gabriel glanced down at Anna and quickly put a finger to his lips. Anna had fallen asleep and he would be damned before this nosey woman woke her up.
"Shh. She's asleep!" he whispered harshly.
Theresa nodded and took a few steps closer. "What happened to her, Mr Van Helsing?"
Gabriel paused for a moment, unsure of what to say. He decided to be blunt.
"She killed Dracula last night," he said.
Theresa did a double take. "Sir?"
Gabriel nodded in confirmation. "Yes. She finally did it."
Anna awoke to soft voices. She felt warmth and softness around her and realised she was once more in her bed. Strange, she thought, how I always awake in bed after a major battle against Dracula. She kept her eyes closed, content to just listen to the voices.
One was Gabriel's.
"You know, Dracula used Jacob like a puppet. He never intended to give Anna to him."
The second voice was Carl's, "I almost pity him – he died fighting for a liar."
Silence for a moment. Then Gabriel's soft voice once more, "Did you find anything interesting in Historia?"
"Indeed," Carl. "It confirms exactly what Dracula said. Anna's ancestor, Anya, was a distant cousin of Dracula's. She was engaged to a certain Sir Van Helsing, a knight, but was murdered before the two could marry. Dracula was found dead only three days after Anya. It's all right here! There's a picture of her too. The resemblance between her and the princess is, well, disturbing."
"I wonder why Dracula had that book. I would have expected to find it here. Why would he want the history of the family he despised?"
"Perhaps," Carl again, "he didn't want it for himself, he just didn't want somebody else to have it."
"Hmmm." Silence followed and Anna sensed eyes upon herself.
"She's fine, Van Helsing, just resting."
"I know Carl."
"Well, I'd better be getting to bed, goodnight. Or perhaps good day would be more suitable? Either way – adieu!"
Footsteps, then a load bang.
"Carl? I doubt the cardinal would appreciate that?" Anna could hear the amusement in Gabriel's voice. She smiled to herself; little about Carl had changed.
Carl grumbled something about his status as a friar then the door creaked shut.
Anna felt a bump on the mattress next to her and opened her eyes. Gabriel was beside her in his sleeping pants, pulling the duvet up over both of them.. Anna noticed the bandage she had fixed on his arm was still firmly in place and smiled to herself. Moving slightly, she felt a thick bandage around her middle and grimaced as a dull ache ran through her ribs.
Gabriel turned to face her. "Hello angel," he whispered gently, "feeling better?"
"Why did you let me sleep?" Anna whispered back.
"You needed it. Besides, when you hear how badly Jacob hurt your ribs, you'll be glad you slept through it. I hope you don't mind that I changed you into your night dress?"
Anna smiled mischievously, "Why, Mr Van Helsing, if we are to be married, I would expect you to see a lot more of me." She winked and Gabriel chuckled.
He looked over her face – the soft chocolate hair, the crimson lips, the smooth skin – and smiled. "I love you – so much," he whispered, running his fingers through her hair.
Anna smiled back and pulled his arms around her, needing his warmth. "I love you too." She said, "but now we face an even greater challenge than Dracula."
Gabriel frowned, "What's that, love?"
"Planning a wedding."
Gabriel smiled and nuzzled her neck. "Well, I'm sure we'll be able to manage that. Especially if we do it-"
A/N THANK YOU, o wonderful readers who have stuck with me – your reviews are the reason this story made it to the end!
I WISH YOU ALL RED M'nMs FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES!
I will be writing a sequel, see keep your eyes open. And…. If you have any suggestions or things you'd like to see, now's definitely the time to tell me as I'm planning the next story.
Well, farewell for now.
Luv and hugs to you all
x x x x x