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The Wyrm and the Maiden Fair

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Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

Before she died, Jenny’s mum used to tell her fairy tales. Some she’d gotten from her own mum way back when she was a little girl herself, some she’d snuck readings of from the library in the house where she worked. Some Jenny thinks she made up all on her own.

Jenny’s not sure where her mum got the story of the clever maiden who wore ten shifts to bed, removing each one only as the dragon peeled back a layer of skin, until what lay before her was not a ferocious beast waiting to devour her whole but a handsome and noble prince professing love and marriage. She’s not sure, til she finds the book in Vastra’s library.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

Sometimes, it’s like a fairy tale, her and Vastra.

She marvels at the miracle of it, that the daughter of a chambermaid and footman has become a dragon’s princess.

She used to wonder, as a child, why the princesses never ran away or fought the dragons themselves.

Kissing Vastra, moving beneath her lover in the dark, she knows.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

Jenny’s been Vastra’s maid since Vastra rescued her from a roving gang and Jenny ran after her to thank her. Tugging on the lady’s sleeve to catch her attention, she’d accidentally ripped it loose where it’d been cut in the fight. At the sight of the scales, glinting emerald and jasper in the lamplight, she’d stumbled back, eyes wide, raising her hands in a defensive position. But she didn’t run, and she didn’t scream.

Vastra had offered her a job on the spot.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

Jenny’s been Vastra’s princess since that night in the library, a year and a half later, when she found the book. She’d been so engrossed in reading that she didn’t hear Vastra come up behind her quiet as a whisper, had no inkling she was there until a green hand covered hers where it lay on the book’s spine, another coming to rest on her waist.

It would be another month until Jenny would steal a kiss, but it was that moment in the library that everything changed.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

There is no Saint George, but there are knights, occasionally. Jon the baker’s boy and Dick the footman-in-training and Colin the strapping soldier. They joust at Jenny, try to catch her eye. Vastra’s too regal to sulk; she becomes high and above it instead, pretending to be amused at the men’s efforts. But she touches Jenny more often: a squeeze of her waist, a grip of her shoulder, an arm through hers. A thousand and one reminders: you are mine.

Jenny knows Vastra’s been trained to take pleasure in angles and edges and blades. Knows her lady warrior can’t always admit to wanting someone who is soft and pink and sometimes yielding.

So she doesn’t make her dragon say a word, only takes her arm and pulls her to bed and shows her why no knight can steal her away.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

As Vastra’s maid, she cleans the house, makes sure the pantry stays stocked with tea and biscuits to serve the clients, makes sure the larder is stocked with smoked hams and sides of beef for when Vastra has gone too long without a kill, sets up rat traps in case Vastra wants a snack. She serves the tea and biscuits, writes up a report of every case, sends out the bills and deposits the money in the bank. She washes and presses every item of her lady’s clothing, polishes her swords, and heats up water bottles so that Vastra does not catch her death in bed on the chill London nights.

Vastra gives her a room in the house and pays her a more than fair wage. She even gives her days off, but Jenny never takes them.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

As Vastra’s princess, she reads through all the books in the library. She researches cases, tracking down journalists and policeman. She teaches herself shorthand and takes notes. She trains with the swords every day, and with staffs, and with her bare hands and feet. She keeps a tunic and trousers at the ready in case Vastra needs a sparring partner, remembers that Vastra likes three tablespoons of cows’ blood in her tea, and climbs into Vastra’s bed at night, pushing the water bottles to the side, and keeps her lover warm.

Vastra gives her smiles and praise and kisses and her arms around her at night, oranges and pineapples and other expensive fruits from far away, silks and velvets that she knows will feel wonderful against the human’s more sensitive skin. But to Jenny all those things pale next to the greatest thing Vastra has given her:

Purpose.

Together, they will defeat all the monsters that the fairy tales could never have dreamed of.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

It—them—what they have…it is not easy.

Some of Vastra’s scales are sharp, can catch and scratch and scrape against skin. Her teeth are made for tearing muscle from bone, not love bites; her tongue is an offensive weapon. If her hands grip too tight her claws can draw blood.

They learn each other’s bodies; relearn their own. Discover the press of thighs and knees, the push of the heel of the palm. They are careful, so careful; they find ways to move slow, to make cautious experimentation erotic, drawing out every wary moment to be tender and tantalizing.

Vastra lies between Jenny’s legs and slides her tongue along her lover’s neck, the tip curling over her ear. Jenny strokes Vastra’s head with her hands and Vastra’s thigh with the sole of her foot, memorizing where the scales are adamantine and unreceptive and where they become softer and more responsive, where a touch makes her dragon shiver and gasp.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

One night after a sparring session, Jenny unbuckles her breastplate and comes to bed to find that Vastra has clipped her claws.

“They’ll grow back,” Vastra says, brusque and sheepish, when Jenny protests, worried about her dragon’s safety. “Besides, I can defend myself quite handily without them. Don’t turn down a present, dear, it’s gauche.”

There are so many things Jenny wants to say, all of them pushing to bubble out of her throat at once. But what if it’s not enough to defend yourself? What if there’s a situation you haven’t accounted for? What if you die and it’s my fault and--

“And if anything should go wrong, I’ll have you to defend me.”

Jenny looks up sharply, but her mistress is not mocking her. There is nothing in her wide and lovely eldritch eyes but trust, and pride, and love.

No one but Vastra has ever looked at her like that, and so she pushes down her fears and the whispering voice that always accompanies them, saying she is no princess, no equal, nothing but a coarse and common plaything her mistress will one day tire of. She pushes it away, and comes to bed.

Maiden, maiden, take off your shift.
Dragon, dragon, take off your skin.

And they lived happily ever after.