(See previous chapter for disclaimer)
Wow. Just wow. It's been quite a while since I first posted, and I'm almost embarrassed to upload the second half after so much time. Real life, unfortunately, reared its ugly head, and coupled with my inability to sit down and write something that sounds right whenever I want to made for finishing this story seem downright impossible. But I finally got my act together and finished, so thank you everyone for the kind reviews, and if you're still out there, here's the final chapter without any further ado!
(Ok, so some further ado: Please forgive any spelling or gramatical errors. It's pretty late where I am right now, and after this is posted I'm sleeping for a good long time. And as always, please review if you're so inclined!)
"I thought I might find you here."
Anna's tone betrayed the carefully contrived look of detached amusement on her face; and even though the sullen monster hunter was nearly halfway through an old bottle of strong whiskey he'd found behind her bar, he was still able to hear the hurt and anger in her tone. He spared her one glance, gripping the thick glass tumbler tightly, before downing what little was left of his drink, reaching for the bottle to top it off once again. When he spoke his voice was rough with both grief and alcohol. "You shouldn't be out of bed, Anna."
"Who was it that wanted to go riding?" she demanded hotly, remaining in the doorway, bracing herself against the thick wooden beam for support. Her side gave a painful twinge –she had hastily rewrapped the bandages as best she could around her wound, but her hands were more skilled with a sword than thin strips of linen. The skin around her gashes was being rubbed raw- but she refused to show her discomfort to Van Helsing. The man was being nothing short of infuriating, and it would be hard enough to talk sense into him, she knew, without a constant reminder of how painful he had made it for her to stand.
His broad shoulders slumped almost unnoticeably at her retort, yet he said nothing and kept his back to her. She let out a frustrated sigh.
"What harm will come from at least looking at me?" Her question did not garner her so much as another shrug from the man at the bar, and so, gritting her teeth against the pain that was sure to come, Anna slowly released her hold on the edge of the doorway, making her way across the large room. Against her best efforts, she let out a hiss of breath as her side throbbed, wobbling on her own feet, unsteady from weeks of bed rest. Strong arms caught her securely around the middle, mindful of her wounds, just as she had been about to fall.
"Carl will kill you if he finds you've been up" was all he said when she looked at him, but there wasn't even a ghost of a smile on his lips.
She pursed her lips seriously, noticing that, for the moment at least, his arms still encircled her waist. "Perhaps the benefits outweigh the risks."
His response was immediate; his hands fell from where they'd been resting on her waist, a comforting weight, and he took a step away from her, allowing her to stand on her own.
She sighed, before reaching out to clutch the crook of his elbow. "Help me to a seat" she asked, resignation clear in her tone. To his credit, Van Helsing did not argue with her, instead drawing her ever so slightly closer to him, his free arm circling around her back. She felt the familiar weight of one broad palm flat against the small of her back, guiding her onto one of the stools lining the bar counter. Her heart fluttered at the contact, hoping it to be a sign that Van Helsing realized how foolish he had been earlier.
One look at him, the lines of his face dark with a layer of stubble, eyes brooding and bleak, and she knew that it wasn't, but she could still feel the heat where his palm had rested.
Once he was sure that she was situated securely on the barstool, he took his place next to her, resting his arms heavily on the counter before him, large hands wrapping around his glass. He drank deeply, and when he was done only the thinnest layer of the dark amber liquid lined the bottom of his glass. Anna watched the ease with which he let the drink slide down his throat, silently wondering how long he had been at this. Her hand crept over the counter to rest on top of his, and his whole body tensed at her touch.
"Gabriel, please…you were not yourself" she implored, her fingers tickling the sides of his palm, curling and uncurling over his skin in soft motions. "I know this."
He turned to look at her, giving no indication he noticed her hand moving over his. He exhaled loudly, and his whole body seemed to slump as the air rushed out of him. He made as if to speak, before reconsidering, rubbing the bridge of his nose with the hand Anna had not yet claimed. Finally, painstakingly, he looked at her, wordlessly begging her to understand even as he spoke. "I was something close enough, Anna. Something…dangerous, even beneath the beast. And I feel it now when I look upon you." He shook his head slowly. "It kills me to see you in pain. Twice over to know that I am capable of causing it even now."
"It was not you, Gabriel."
"Goddamnit, Anna!" He almost snarled at her then –certainly it was the closest he had ever come– and had she any time to fully examine them, Anna would have sworn she'd seen a glint of amber flash in Van Helsing's dark eyes. His face surely looked bestial in that moment, like that of the wolf; lips drawn back and brow drawn down in anger. "How can I make it so you understand? I was the wolf! It is because of me you are confined to your bed, because of me you nearly…"
"Died?" She added with a sharp bark, a spark of anger now invading her as well. "I assure you I have been flirting with Death for many years now, Mr. Van Helsing. That night would have been no different."
"IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AT MY HAND!" he nearly roared, slamming his hands down violently on the top of the counter. The bottle of whiskey, forgotten between the two of them, toppled before falling completely, and dripped down the sides. The stench of alcohol was suddenly thick in the air, and Anna, already light-headed from venturing so far from her room, closed her eyes, forcibly pushing away a sudden spell of dizziness. The last thing Van Helsing needed to see right now was evidence of his attack on her.
But of course, the monster hunter didn't miss the sudden pained expression crossing the princess' face, and as aggressive as he had been a moment before, his voice was now just as concerned. He stood from his seat urgently, cupping her face with one hand, the other hovering near her back in ready support. "Anna…forgive me. I should not have spoken to you so." She dismissed him, weakly raising one hand as if to wave him off, before resting it on his torso, only to be followed by her forehead as she buried her face against him. Hesitantly, as though unsure of his own actions, he lowered his head and placed a gentle kiss on top of her tousled curls, and continued, his voice almost reverent. "It would have been at my hand, Anna, and I could never have forgiven myself for harming you."
She remained silent, breathing in the scent of his thick woolen shirt, of the almost sour whiskey he'd drank, finding the dizziness passing. Anna felt a shudder go through the man holding her; his arms had snaked around her waist once more, holding her close to him, and the movement stirred her against his chest. She twisted her head to look up at him, left speechless when she saw his eyes shine with what she would have sworn were unshed tears. Her eyes bore into his questioningly. Seeing the fierce monster hunter like this was unsettling. He watched her solemnly, and with a striking clarity Anna knew that his next words were the most serious he'd ever uttered.
"I don't know how," he began, voice soft and serious and full of something that sounded sinisterly similar to love, and Anna let her hands trail softly up to the base of his neck, stroking and pressing fingertips gently against his skin, encouraging him to continue, "But somehow, since the moment I first laid eyes upon you, you've become the most important thing in my God-forsaken life" –her hands stilled, faltering– "And I would die were I to lose you." He paused. "Anna, I almost made that happen."
Her brow furrowed, lips forming a silent 'oh' as she leaned back slightly to appraise him. Her hand rose, as if to stroke his cheek. What she did instead was something he hadn't been expecting. She slapped him across the face.
"That was for thinking you failed me" she said, and even though his cheek stung he knew her to be capable of much worse and took that, at least, as a good sign.
And before he could get in so much as a breath he felt her hands reach out, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt and tugging him forcefully to her, before her lips came crashing down on his. The kiss was fueled with passion, her hands roaming up and down his arms, pressing him closer and closer while Van Helsing spun her stool, swiftly trapping her between him and the bar. She tugged at his bottom lip playfully before pulling away, slightly breathless and fully satisfied. His gaze was smoldering, never leaving her lips, and so she leaned in, kissing him softly again. "That was to show you did not."
Van Helsing's very features seemed to brighten, his hands moving to rest on either side of her legs, gripping the seat of the stool loosely. She moved to kiss him once more, eagerly reaching up for him, but at the last second he turned his head, her lips landing instead on the edge of his jaw. She looked at him, question evident in her eyes, and he bowed his head. "You must know, Anna. I feel as though the beast is in me still. It had me then, and wants me still." His voice was laced with regret, she recognized, but not the same conviction it had held earlier in her room. She smiled brazenly.
"If the wolf had you then," she spoke, kissing his jaw again softly, languidly, making a trail from below his ear to the corner of his mouth, "Why can I not have you now?"
He kissed her then with all he had, gathering her up in his arms as their mouths fused together with a heat almost blinding, and Anna's very breath was stolen from her, leaving her panting softly when Van Helsing finally pulled away.
"You have all of me now" he breathed, and Anna laughed and twined her arms around his neck, her smile bright and knowing.
"I think it's time you returned me to my room, Mr. Van Helsing."
Van Helsing was inclined to agree.