Disclaimer: As much as I would love for it to belong to me... it doesn't. Let's move on.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed my first story. All of the nice things you guys had to say about it only encouraged me to write this faster (and it turned out better, I think). I hope it doesn't disappoint!
Love sought is good, but given unsought is better
- William Shakespeare
There had been a period in his life when he felt, with an inexplicable sort of certainly, that the only beauty he would ever be afforded was the cool, polished sheen of his silver stake as it lodged itself into the graying undead flesh of a vampire, of the high whining of his Tojo blades, hissing dangerously as they spun. He deserved no better; his past sins so horrendous they were forgotten to him, kept hidden somewhere in the recesses of his mind, remaining buried until enough blades had glistened red with blood, enough Bless me, Father, for I have sinned 's had been uttered, to atone for his past. The whirring of his Tojo blades was to become a low, persistent chant, like those performed daily in the spacious halls of the Vatican, and he was to listen and hear only the promise of absolution. That, he was taught, was all the beauty he could ever come to expect.
Some part of Gabriel Van Helsing had never accepted that. And it was that same part of him that found something so… poetic in watching Anna's sleeping form lying next to his that he felt his chest ache in a not altogether unpleasant manner.
He closed his eyes, imprinting the image of her chocolate curls fanned out on her pillow, eyes shut peacefully, crimson lips slightly parted, to his memory, a process that had, in the past few days, become a comforting ritual to the monster slayer. The mattress groaned slightly underneath him as he shifted closer to her, reaching over to brush away the few tendrils of hair that fell into her face, the dark ringlets fluttering with her every soft exhale. She murmured incoherently in her sleep, her lips curling up into a small smile in response to Van Helsing's touch, and the low, sleepy tone of her voice made Van Helsing's breath catch in his throat.
"Some say you are a murderer, Mr. Van Helsing. Others say you are a holy man. Which is it?"
He exhaled deeply, a foreign sense of contentment settling over him, and it occurred to Van Helsing he'd never felt like this. Never before had he ever possessed the luxury of letting himself feel anything other than the pressure of the job. He'd never had anyone tug on his heartstrings quite like the gypsy princess slumbering next to him, and Van Helsing found he rather liked the feeling.
"It's a bit of both, I think"
Despite what he'd said to her then (and, God, had she been breathtaking, the unbridled passion for her family, for her task, burning behind hazel eyes had ignited something within himself that first day), Van Helsing had never truly considered himself a religious man. But now, looking on Anna's slim form, her blankets following the soft rise and fall of her chest, her bare shoulders illuminated, bathed in an almost ethereal glow from the clean moonlight filtering through her windows, he felt as though he was experiencing an epiphany, and somehow all of his doubts of God, of His ultimate purpose for him, bled away. If He had made this vision lying next to him, Van Helsing had no reason for distrust.
Van Helsing had fought in His name, had hidden himself into inexistence for His benefit. He remained buried away in the bowels of the Vatican, called upon whenever they needed a church-sanctioned assassin to carry out God's dirty work as penance for sins long forgotten. They preached absolution easily enough, but they made damn sure to wash themselves clean every time he returned with blood on his hands. They'd made him into a one-man crusade, and Van Helsing had been forced to live without relief from the reflexive bitterness bubbling inside him. He could not remember a day without the familiar pang of resentment throbbing in his chest, years dulling, yet never alleviating, the ache.
What a lifetime of prayers and blind faith had not accomplished, Anna healed in a week. And Van Helsing liked to think that being here, settling next to her in the lull of sleep, cocooned in the thick sheets, could make him a pious man.
He slid his arms around her, enclosing her in a loose embrace, wary of the bandages still wrapped around her middle, protecting wounds he himself had caused her not even a week ago. He scowled darkly, and memories of her laying limp in his arms, head arched back in a way he had thought impossible, swam into his line of vision, both unbidden and unwelcome. He pushed the thought forcibly from his mind, a low growl reverberating in the back of his throat, instead choosing to focus on the warmth that radiated throughout his body from her form pressed up against his.
The feeling of her lithe figure stirring slightly so close to him very nearly quelled the sharp pang of quilt that had knotted itself in Van Helsing's stomach upon remembering that night. He don't know what he would have done had Anna died by his hands, and he bristled, recalling the slick, oily feeling of the werewolf venom surging through him, the dangerous mix of raw rage and power consuming him.
She stirred again in her sleep, and Van Helsing tugged the covers up around her shoulders, his hands lingering on the cool porcelain skin of her collarbone, fingers gently trailing up the stately column of her neck before resting at the base of her chin, the pad of his thumb brushing against her lower lip. Still fast asleep, Anna subconsciously turned her head towards him, Van Helsing's palm now cupping her face. Her arms began to untangle from the sheets as she rolled closer to him, reaching out to rest her hands on his chest, unknowingly fingering the soft material of his cotton shirt. She smiled lazily, still serene in her slumber, her brow furrowed slightly, lips forming a thoughtful pout, and suddenly Van Helsing got the impression that the she was reaching out with both fingers and feelings alike.
He caught one of her hands with his own and marveled at how naturally their hands fit clasped together.
Anna sighed contentedly, her eyelids fluttering as the welcome sensation of Van Helsing's fingers twined with hers gently coaxed her from the foggy haze of slumber. She stretched, her back bending to form a slight arc, before a tiny yawn escaped her and she rolled over onto her stomach, the blankets slipping down to pool around her waist. Van Helsing released her hand in favor of resting his palms on the small of her back. Anna, only half awake, made a small noise of pleasure as she felt his hands glide up and down her back, skilled fingers nimbly applying pressure to her sore muscles, pressing into her back for only just a moment before their touch became, once again, no more than a whisper against her skin. She reached out to prop herself against her pillow, arms wrapping comfortably around it, hugging it to her chest. Van Helsing merely smiled and continued his ministrations.
She looked up at him, hazel eyes still lidded with sleep meeting his dark ones from underneath a veil of her tousled hair. No words were spoken between them, the room silent save for Anna's soft noises of encouragement. The moment seemed to drag on, neither Anna nor Van Helsing wanting the fragile moment to shatter, until Anna pushed herself slowly off the mattress, eyes now level with Van Helsing's questioning gaze. The Gypsy Princess merely shook her head at him in an almost playful manner, lips forming a coy smile; the gesture was teasing, affectionate, and yet this was the most vulnerable he'd ever seen her. The realization was a startling one: Van Helsing had, at first, been acquainted with only the warrior side of Anna. Strong, beautiful, fierce. Now she was offering him the princess beneath the soldier; the delicate, softer side of the fiery spirit he'd come to care for. And he found himself just as captivated by the Anna lying beside him now as he was by the stubborn Anna who stood defiantly on the edge of the well, demanding he reveal to her his face. He felt as if he should say something, but Anna moved just then and in the moonlight reached down to pull the blankets up, covering them both before burying her nose into the hollow of his neck. Her soft breaths were warm against his skin, and he closed his eyes, lazily enjoying the feeling. His arms snaked around her back, pulling her carefully back down onto the mattress and she complied, molding her body to fit against his.
Van Helsing ducked his head, intending only to press a chaste kiss on her hairline, but she tipped her head up expectantly and he could not resist but comply, kissing her instead softly on her waiting hips. She smiled drowsily when he pulled back, his lips hovering over her own. Her eyes closed as she mumbled a quiet "Goodnight" before settling back into a comfortable position, curled into his embrace. And as he watched her once again slip into a peaceful slumber, Van Helsing found himself feeling content in a way he never had before. It was…what he had always been missing, he decided, before he, too, closed his eyes, letting sleep overtake him.
He would wake in the morning to find this night to be the first of many uninterrupted by his hellish nightmares. And, he knew, he would always have Anna, soft and warm in his arms, to thank for that.
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