Disclaimer: As always, I admit to owning nothing.
This came decidedly more melancholy than I'd anticipated when writing this, although I hadn't planned on writing this at all, so I suppose it all worked itself out. It's been a while since my last Van Helsing posting, and though I'm still trying to work on finishing up on "Gravis Sarcina" it's slow going considering my unfounded aversion to writing multi-chaptered works. So with that said, I hope this isn't too depressing (the beginning, at least...I don't know what got into me), I hope you all like it, and here's wishing everyone a happy holiday.
Reviews make the best presents, by the way... a not so subtle hint, huh?
There had never been a time in her life when Christmas had been something to revel in; she likes to think now that there was, perhaps sometime before she lost her mother, and there would be thick wax candles in the windows and food and noise in the manor, but she knows it not to be true. It was too long ago, and what few memories she has are faded and blurry. And she cannot even begin to remember a time when her father's work did not consume him. She had loved him dearly, loves him still, and he did her, but she supposes Dracula did not observe the holiday and so after he and his men found a suitable pine –strong and sturdy- to decorate the hall, neither did the King of the Gypsies.
It fell upon her and Velkan, then, to string up the tree their father had bought them, unable, really, to give his children anything else. They were always very careful with the glass ornaments which seemed to twist and move in her tiny palms, as if alive, delighted to be once again in view of someone instead of buried in a forgotten chest. The light hit them sometimes in a way that made Anna lose her breath; there would be colors, reds and greens and the deepest purples, fragmented on the wall and when she was very young she once begged Velkan to catch them for her, though he never managed to. She couldn't understand why then, but she knew now and cried because he'd have done it for her if he could.
The cold from outside seeped through the thick glass of the window to the pads of her fingers, and she pressed them harder onto the pane. She wanted to see the smudges her fingers would leave, marking the glass, and there was something almost morbid about the thought though she couldn't figure out what. It was dark, the sky seemed to stretch over the landscape, scraping the edges of the mountains in the distance, and settling over the roofs of sleepy homes below her. She wondered, not for the first time, how the manor, her manor now, must look, looming over everything like a great hulking shadow, and pressed her forehead to the glass to quell the thought. There were lights in the village below, and music and laughter like she'd always imagined Christmas to be. At least her people could be festive. She doesn't know if she has it in her. She'd never had it before. Christmas for her had never been different from the rest of the year; her mother –there is no soft way to say it- dead, her father off with his men, hunting a beast that would elude him until it cost him his life, her brother trying to placate her but ultimately unable to hide his yearning to follow his father's shadow. Anna was alone. And it was in watching the snow fall in a panicked flurry outside her window that she forgot she wasn't really.
She closed her eyes, savoring the gruffness of his voice. In a way it reminded her of her father's, deep and solid, but her father's wasn't as warm as his was now. The thought made her skin warm.
"Anna…" he ventured again, moving silently into her room. She couldn't hear his footfalls, but she could feel him behind her, and didn't jump when large hands came to rest gently on her shaking shoulders. "Are you cold?"
She nodded mutely, wiping away the last of her tears with the back of her hand. She was furious with herself now for letting him see this. She had stopped sobbing before he'd come in at least, had pressed her hands to her mouth as hard as she could to smother the sharp hiccups of breath, but she still hated that Van Helsing had seen her cry. It made her feel broken.
He sat wordlessly next to her on the sill, drawing her to him. Her back pressed against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her frame, circling them around her waist. She found herself clutching for his hands with her own as she calmed, listening to every rise and fall of his breath, trying to match her own to his. Van Helsing's hands were large and calloused, but heated as they enveloped her cold ones. His lips were brushing against her ear now, placing feather-light kisses on her skin as he tried to quiet her. He could have asked her to talk about it, or commented on the trails her tears had left down her cheeks, but instead he just said "I've never had a Christmas before, you know" and Anna felt her breath catch, her heart swelling in gratitude and something that felt sinisterly like love.
They had dragged Carl out that morning, when the sky was still bright and crisp and the wind made your cheeks and nose red, to find a tree. Neither of the men had questioned her when she refused to look at any that were within a 100-yard radius of the manor, insisting to go further and further into the forest. They all knew it would be harder to carry back, but Van Helsing had known it was important to Anna and Carl had known he wasn't really going to be carrying the thing anyway. It was Van Helsing who found one, tall and strong and perfect, and they made quick work of it before heading back towards the manor, Anna's heart a little bit lighter. The snow made everything so white; it hung off of branches and fell from the trees. It covered the ground they walked, letting them mark it with their footprints. Anna loved it.
There was fire in the fireplace. Carl had seen to it, prodding the logs gently until the flames leapt and danced, and there was holly in the doorways and the scent of pine hung heavy in the air like she'd always imagined. She'd found the chest of ornaments, dusty and discolored with disuse, but the trinkets inside still shone like she remembered, and they'd all hung them together with Carl's energetic singing –he all but howled what should have been familiar carols but Anna found herself enjoying the friar's raucous voice- and Van Helsing's broad palm against the flat of her back when she reached for a particularly high bough.
Oh God. She'd felt so safe and sad at the same time, and Anna couldn't have explained it if she tried. So she'd escaped up here with the warm drink Carl had made her and Van Helsing's questioning gaze on her back.
"I think I'm beginning to enjoy the tradition." His voice broke her out of her reverie, and she settled against him as he continued. "I like the tree"-his hands danced up her arm-"I like the snow"-her skin was turning to gooseflesh, sensitive and cold-"I like the lights"-she shivered and he scooped her up into him, turning her in his embrace until she was facing him. "It's just missing one thing" he finished, resting his chin on top of her as she ducked her head to fit in the hollow of his neck between his jaw and his shoulder.
Her voice came out more vulnerable than she'd intended, almost a whisper. "What's missing?" She didn't raise her head to look at him.
He let out a moaning sigh, as if she were prying the information from him, not responding for a moment. His fingers gently traced the outline of her ears, skimming over her skin before burying themselves in her thick hair. Despite her mood, he felt rather than heard Anna purr, a contented sort of noise from the back of her throat, moving closer to him, arms twining around his broad torso when he tugged lightly on a dark curl.
"What's missing?" she asked again, her tone more insistent, but still far softer than he'd ever get used to hearing. She shifted her head slightly, and he felt her faint breath warm against his skin.
He continued as though he had not heard her. "I've lived my life, what bits I can remember of it, in a Church, and yet this will be my first Christmas." His chuckle was low and deep, vibrating through her as he spoke. "Everything there was so ornamental, to rich, really, to be celebrated. All ceramic and gold, and they would burn a sickly sweet incense, without fail. Not that I was ever really there to be part of it. Christmas night was a night like any other, and I had a job to do." Van Helsing's sentence was laced with thinly disguised regret, but something within Anna stirred at the familiar sentiments. "Regardless, I saw how they observed the holiday. Everything was much to gilded for my taste, I must admit." It was like he was speaking to himself, rather than for the Princess' benefit, but they both knew that wasn't true. "I much prefer this Christmas. It's more real."
She didn't speak, unsure of how to respond to such a raw statement. Rather, she reached an arm around him, reaching for the spiced cider resting on her dresser that she'd bought up with her. Her fingers closed around the thick mug, feeling the heat of the drink even through the ceramic. She bought it to her lips, taking a cautious sip, feeling uncharacteristically small with Van Helsing's dancing eyes watching her.
His hands were on her waist now, palms pushing gently into her sides, and it shot a pleasant tingle through her. Wordlessly, Anna set aside her drink once more so she could move closer to him, laying a hand over his heart, fingering the heavy woolen sweater he'd donned, letting it scratch agreeably against her fingertips. "Gabriel?" she asked once more, hesitant. "What is it missing?"
Had she looked, Anna might have seen the very corners of Van Helsing's mouth twitch up in a knowing smirk, so quickly that a moment later one would have sworn it never happened. But she didn't look and so missed the gesture. "You should have seen Carl" he began, trying a different approach, letting his fingers trail across her back as he spoke. "Nearly caught himself ablaze on one of your candles. Flapping his arms around like a frenzied chicken, his robes flying everywhere. He thought he'd caught on fire." Anna felt the beginnings of a smile creep onto her lips. "Squawking and prancing around, trying to put it out. He wasn't even singed but you would never have been able to tell by all the fuss he was making."
She didn't see the point of his story, but Anna found herself smiling fondly at the bumbling friar's antics, surprised when Van Helsing caught her chin between two fingers suddenly, wearing a warm smile of his own. "There it is" he whispered, waiting for her to meet his gaze. Her brow furrowed in silent question, prompting him to elaborate. "What was missing." It took her another moment to realize he'd meant her smile. She felt herself blushing, prettily, he thought, and when he said "Now I have everything I could need" she thought maybe between the two of them they could make this holiday work.
When she leaned in to kiss him, murmuring "Happy Christmas" against his lips, she tasted of mulled cider.