Disclaimer: It's. Not. Mine.

Wow, has it been a while since I've posted (or even written) anything...but this one's been gathering dust on my computer for a good couple of months now, so I figured with midterms over now would be a good time to brush it off. I don't see this particular piece ending as a one-shot, but then again, I don't have any real inspiration right now for a following chapter. Either way, it's time this bad boy got off my hard-drive and posted on here.

A quick aside, however; I've had three exams within the last twenty-four hours, and I'm running a little low on energy, so please excuse any spelling mistakes, etc. I did proof-read it, but I tend to gloss over things quite easily. Furthermore, if the Latin is wrong, I apologize; I'm relying on a friend who's grasp of the language has become a bit rusty. Translated, Gravis sarcina should mean "Heavy Burden".

"Come riding with me?"

His request was simple, if not his implications. Although she had not known him long, something wise within her knew that Van Helsing was hardly the kind of man who afforded himself simple leisures. And it was in examining this thought that she came to the realization that his request was not one of only a ride.

Van Helsing, seeing the flicker of recognition spark within her eyes, hastily added, "Your horses grow restless." He offered her a quiet sort of smile and Anna, for her part, knew he would not allow himself to say anything more.

"They are not the only ones" she laughed softly, propping herself to a sitting position under the sheets of her bed. A fleeting smile passed over her lips despite the sharp wrench of pain in her chest, a response to her sudden movement; when Carl had ordered her to a full month of bed rest, he was adamant his regimen be carried out properly, and although her sore ribs now were still causing discomfort, muscles, aching from disuse, were crying out to forgo the last two weeks of rest under the friar's watchful care.

"Anna" Van Helsing spoke, drawing the princess out of her reverie, "Carl has gone to town, and I hardly expect him to return shortly given his intended company." His grin returned, filled with a dangerous charm and the promise of mischief, and Anna felt the muscles in her stomach simultaneously tighten and loosen. It was a strange feeling, she decided as Van Helsing abandoned his place in her doorframe to perch with a gentleness she hadn't expected from him on the edge of her bed, having both her family avenged and Van Helsing smile at her like that.

Van Helsing sat facing her, a hand sliding smoothly over the top of her sheets until it encased her own, before trailing up her naked arm. She ignored the fluttering sensation his fingers on her skin caused her as best she could, although she could not keep completely the husky timber he elicited from her voice. "Has he gone to see Tom, then?" She smiled, knowing that the lovable friar had found a fast friend in the local blacksmith. Tom was a sturdy man, thickly built, easily dwarfing Carl, but they both shared a certain fondness for what others viewed as 'unstable inventions'.

His fingers had discarded their trail along her arm, now playfully curling a lock of her dark hair. Van Helsing, however, spoke casually, as if he did not realize the lack of focus his deft fingers tangled around an errant curl caused the princess: "Oh, no, not today. His wife is still quite upset over their last…breakthrough." Van Helsing and Anna shared a small smile, each remembering the damage the pair's latest invention had caused Tom's kitchen, and the ear-lasing his wife had seen fit to give them both. "No, today Carl wished to visit his pretty barmaid again, and who was I to keep him? Naturally I assured him I would watch over you in his stead." His voice grew softer as he finished, and Anna couldn't help but lean into the monster slayer's touch even as she grimaced ruefully:

"That man has the eyes of a hawk. He sees me the moment I attempt to set foot out of this bed."

The plush mattress beneath them groaned as Van Helsing shifted, brushing his lips against the smooth skin of her collarbone, ad she could feel him form his next words, whispers against her skin, as he spoke them. "He is not here now, Anna." His eyes locked with hers. "You feel well?"

Anna closed her eyes as he pulled away, relishing the last traces of his breath on her skin, before opening them to see Van Helsing look as imploringly at her as she believed possible. She found herself forming the words before she could help it, "Well enough, I suppose…"

"Then come riding with me" he smiled, and whatever she was about to say trailed off, disappearing into the air between them. His lips returned to her neck, feathering light kisses along her jaw, and Anna fumbled with the covers, pushing them down around her to allow Van Helsing to slide closer. He complied easily, slipping one hand behind her to skim faintly along her back and Anna allowed herself a moment to marvel at how gentle of a man Van Helsing was before her mind drifted off, imagining other ways she and Van Helsing might better spend an afternoon without the constant surveillance of a certain friar. A trip to the stables did not seem to hold the appeal it had only moments before.

Van Helsing, she noted, seemed to be thinking along similar lines; his hands began creeping under the hem of her simple night-shirt, slitting delicately over sensitive skin and the clean, plain linen of the bandages still wrapped around her torso. He faltered for a moment upon feeling the fabric, but she refused to allow him to dwell on it, dipping her head to seize his lips in a hungry kiss. He did not hesitate to return the ardor she showed him, and very quickly, she noticed, he resumed his gentle ministrations.

His hands traveled further, reaching around to graze the small of her back, and Anna let out a breathless gasp, melting into his touch. Van Helsing, however, misinterpreted the sudden noise, and, fearing he had hurt the gypsy princess in some way, immediately pulled away from her, concern marring his features.

She reached out, as if to draw him to her; "I'm fine. Look, I'm –" but his eyes had come to rest on a stretch of skin where her shirt had ridden up. She was covered in bruises.

His hand moved to lift the fabric of her shirt higher, to better see the damage he had inflicted upon her, but she quickly swatted his hand away, and although the gesture held no malice, Van Helsing suddenly found himself struggling to keep his temper from flaring.

"Let me see, Anna" he said, his voice distinctly serious.

She refused him, eyes boring into his. "No." Her tone was as stern and unwavering as his.

"I did that to you." His hand reached out once more, cautiously, but Anna caught it with her own quickly, slim fingers pressing into the back of his hand.

"It matters not."

"I did that to you," he repeated stonily, his anger beginning to emerge as he tore his hand from her grip, ignoring the look of hurt that came unbidden to her face, "and I will see what I have done." His mouth was set in a grim line, his feature seeming harder, sharper, than they had been only minutes earlier. His eyes were narrowed with a furious determination, although Anna noticed also the bags under them. She realized with a start that he hadn't been sleeping well, troubled as he was by the idea he'd hurt her.

Still, she knew, seeing what terrible strength he'd crushed her with as the wolf would do little to alleviate him of that guilt. Viewing the marks would only cement for him the fact that he had, knowingly of not, caused them. Decision made, Anna spoke, hoping to distract him as she slowly lowered her shirt to cover the skin, "You haven't the right."

But he would not be dissuaded. "Haven't I?" he asked callously, and this time it was his hand that closed over her, none-too-gently, tugging the fabric out of her grasp. She waited for him to release her hands, unspeaking, shocked when instead he lifted her shirt further, stopping just before the point of indecency, carefully peeling away the bandages Carl had so meticulously applied. "Though the skin is yours the marks you carry are mine," he spoke as he worked, tightening his grip on her, "and I have every right to see them." His voice was harsh, bordering on a cruelty Anna hadn't know him to possess.

The last strip of linen came away then, and an unreadable expression came on to Van Helsing's face as he saw what he'd done. Her skin was mottled with vicious bruises, black and purple and appearing as fresh as the day she'd received them. A series of thick gashes ran diagonally across the length of her abdomen; the ragged parallel lines tearing into her skin were just now beginning to heal properly. He traced one, from start to finish, his finger ghosting along the wound. So involved in the realization that it was by his own hands, claws, she had suffered such wounds, Van Helsing did not hear her sharp intake of breath.

"Enough!" she cried, prying her hand from his, hastily pushing them away. Van Helsing met her gaze, startled by her sudden outburst. Carefully, she lowered the shirt over her injuries, before speaking. "Van Helsing… Gabriel," she began, tentative and unsure how to go on, "I do not blame you for this."

He stood abruptly, eyes colder than she'd ever seen them. "And yet the blame rests squarely upon my shoulders."

Painstakingly, Anna rose to a kneeling position on the mattress, wincing as her injuries protested, so she was level with the monster slayer. He made no move to help her, although sorrow was clearly evident behind the forced emptiness of his expression. She placed her hands on the front of his chest, willing him to cease thinking on the events of that night. Anna knew he felt she might have died by his own actions (they both knew she very nearly had); that looking at her now he would see only what he might have lost. Why wouldn't he fight that? For some reason he refused to let her serve as anything but a reminder of his actions. He could not see past his guilt, now that he'd seen what he'd done.

"I'm here" she whispered, drawing closer to him. "It's okay, I'm still here."

And Van Helsing looked her straight in the eye, his voice strained and weary, and said, "That's not enough."