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the absence of violence

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“the gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it.”

Richard Siken, Crush

In their room, they wait for Jack. He’s late.

Vane seems less annoyed than she is. He’s leaned against the table, carving a mango.

His knife is sharp. His thumb slides along the meat.

He eats, and doesn’t offer her any. It’s his. He doesn’t share. She doesn’t either.

She’s slouched against the wall, her hat pulled low. Her jaw is tight. The room is too warm. A fly is buzzing at the window, bumping the glass.

Finally Vane glances up, notices her watching him. He looks her up and down. Reading her. She lets him. The heat makes her insane.

He slides off the table, then, leaves the mango and the knife behind.

Vane doesn’t smell like her or Jack.

Anne doesn’t register what Jack smells like anymore. She remembers, vaguely, from the beginning, something milky and sweet about him. She has no idea what she smells like. She wonders if they've started to smell the same.

Vane smells different. Like dark tobacco and animal. Leather and warm body and hair.

She’s grown used to the smell of him. She associates it with sitting near him in the tavern, watching him shut down a conversation without saying anything at all. To seeing him haul himself up from the water at night, dripping, his face black, his knife between his teeth, always boarding first, before her, before anyone. To waking afraid and feeling him there, nearby, and sleeping again. The smell of him makes her-

He gets close and she shoves him. Hard.

He moves with it, but lingers, to see if that’s what she really wants.

More than anyone she’s ever met he seems to understand this. The push and pull in her mind. That she wants to see if he’ll stop. That she hurts the things that she wants.

He cleans his sticky hand with his mouth, but knows better than to use it. The other is available. The one that was holding the knife.

She grabs it and pulls it to her, down between her legs, and he steps forward into her space then, easy, grips her warmly over her pants.

Anne hasn’t had many men.

There was James and the other pigs. She doesn’t think about them. There’s Jack, who’s glad to spend hours on her, pulling her clothes open inch by inch, kissing the skin he finds there. He likes to try things. To experiment. 

Vane just knows. The way he moves. The way he touches her. He’s done it a hundred times before, with people who aren't her. He knows.

There’s something comforting about being with him, for the simple fact that he knows. That he can show her things she can do to her own body, and she shows him things she’s already figured out, and he observes what she does with dark-eyed patience. Learning.

He squeezes her firmly. His hand is big enough to cup all of her. His fingers press the fabric of her pants up, dip into her. He rubs her with the heel of his hand. It's rough. It makes her pulse. The strength in his grip, the muscle in his wrist. When he pulls back, her pants feel cold and slick. They stick uncomfortably to her body.

Her heart is thudding. She feels crazy, but not afraid. He glances at her face, and when he doesn’t see what would make him stop, they look at each other while he opens her pants. He doesn’t need to look down to do it. He can do it with one hand.

His fingers slide warmly against her. Parting her. Feeling all of her. 

He always touches her like this first. Assessing how wet she is, how much work he needs to do. She lets him. She knows he’ll figure it out, maybe better than she could. Her body baffles her. She hates to deal with it.

She’s farther than she’d thought, because he steps forward between her boots, slides two fingers up inside her.

His thumb slips on her. The backs of his knuckles notch against her. It feels good. Now that he’s in she feels it, the aching twist between her hips that makes her want to curl up, kick, fuck.

She adjusts, clenches on his fingers tight enough to make them slide out a bit, just to feel it. He pushes them back in and let’s her do it again. She grinds her teeth, pushes a shaky breath from her nose. It’s good.

Her heart is rabbiting. She looks up at him. She’s almost angry. More.

He uses the back of his wrist to nudge her thighs farther apart and rubs her. He starts fucking her with his fingers.

Her pants aren’t loose. They hold him tight against her. It makes it feel like they’re doing it secret in a way she likes. It lets her shift to grind on his hand too, off-time. He allows it, but doesn’t change his rhythm at all. She likes that too.

His fingers work inside of her and she thinks of the way they rip and tear in battle. The way he slides them in Jack’s mouth when they’re fucking him.

She takes hold of his arm. He’s close to her, his head tilted, his breath at her neck. She wants to climb the fucking wall. She wants him deeper.

He’s not like other men. She doesn’t have to perform. To say “yes,” to ask for more, to tell him with words what should be obvious from her body—that she’s close, she wants to come. His eyes track the way her abdomen flexes, the heave of her chest, and he just knows. And when she’s too far gone to keep a hold on herself he won’t change up the pace, won’t try some new fucking thing. Jack knows her body like no-one else, but Vane learns. He’s good at learning.

When it coils up inside her she shoves her forehead against his shoulder. She has the urge to bite him. She wants to bite him over his clothes, to make him bleed, but she’s never put her mouth on him. She can’t. She pushes her nose deep in his shoulder, wide-eyed, and resists the urge.

When she comes her eyes slide shut. She grips at him. He lets her. He locks his wrist and pushes deep, how she likes, and one of her hands grabs his hair and twists. He lets her do that too. Her mouth is open over his shoulder. Her teeth barely touching.

When her hand drifts from his hair to his face, he catches her wrist.

He doesn’t like to be touched there. Not by her, not by Jack. There isn’t any real anger in it, but he corrects her, firmly. She doesn’t mind that either. It’s nice to have rules. The rules are easy with him, because he makes them easy to know.

And his body is solid and pliant and accepting enough when she leans all of herself forward against him, her fingers holding his coat.

The smell of him is stronger here, under his hair. She can feel he’s hard. He doesn’t try to hide it. She doesn’t mind. She knows she’ll get to watch him fuck Jack later. She looks forward to it.

His thumb is still rubbing her, lighter now. It’s too much. It makes her want to squirm. It lights nerves up her lower back. Her body is taut as a wire. She wants, badly, to bite him. If he doesn’t stop, he might make her come again. She can't tell if she wants to.

He makes her want things that don't make sense. Later, she wants Jack’s face pressed in her neck again, like she helps him to bear it, the way Vane fucks him so hard. She’ll be wet when Jack slides down to eat her out after, Vane’s hand in his hair, holding it back so she can see his face, how Jack is so out of it, the way Vane can make him be.

She can get Jack there sometimes, but he goes easier for Vane. Jack can get what he wants. Anne can trust that he won’t be hurt. She doesn't know what Vane gets. Only that he likes to sleep near them, be near them. That he wants them, when they ask.

Nothing about sex seems to phase or repulse him. Sometimes Jack has to stop for reasons that aren’t clear. He breathes “Wait, Chaz,” his face red and uncertain, and Vane waits, until Jack's frown eases and he pulls him close again. She likes to watch him with Jack. He handles him easy, though he doesn’t always know what he’s doing. She knows he doesn’t like Jack for his cock. She doesn’t either. They make it work.

She wonders if Jack knows how Vane looks at him. He seems oblivious. He seemed to think it was just his nature, when Vane was too rough in the beginning, when he moved too fast. She didn’t kill Vane then because she understood. He only did what he'd known himself. He watched her with Jack, and he learned.

Her body, though, he’s always understood. He knows, so there’s no drama about it. He knows that for her, sex can be an exercise in working off an itch in her heart that makes her insane, that sex can be an alternative to twisting something in her hands until she hears a snap and break. He understands.

That right now, she can suddenly be too turned on to stop herself, that she has to shift, ride his hand, awkward and stilted, and he lets her, lets her reach down between them and keep his wrist right there to rub on, not sure if she can come again but in the moment, she can’t stand it. Can’t stand the thought of him not being in her.

He seems to understand. 

His appearance doesn’t turn her on. Not like it does Jack, who looks at his arms and shoulders like he looks at her tits. But then, few men interest Anne. She finds she doesn’t notice them.

Vane is different. She likes to look at him. Watch him. It’s different. She almost wants to look like him. Like he’s her brother, or.

She doesn’t know. Maybe she just likes him. Maybe this is what liking someone feels like. To look at them and think: I want that to be me. That is what I am. She’s had no normal relationships with men. No normal relationships with anyone.

She can’t imagine she’s attractive to him either, or she wouldn’t let him do this. It’s different.

In the garden her mother had said, when she was small, that she shouldn’t have touched a baby deer she found. Its mother will reject it. She’ll get near to it and somehow, she’ll know.

It’s like that. The scars on their backs. They’ve both been touched. Somehow, everyone knows. But they recognize each other.

She comes again. It's quieter this time. Her fingers encircle his wrist. He stands very still. Lets her lean all her weight on him.

Behind them, the doorknob creaks and turns.

It’s Jack. He’s in the doorway, sunburnt and tired, and when he sees them he quickly gets himself inside, pulls the door shut behind him.

“Am I interrupting?”

Vane’s head cants back. He's shielding her. Listening. He waits until he feels she’s done twitching, then eases out of her.

He fixes her knife belt straight on her hips, his hand still wet with her. He fastens her pants again, the backs of his fingers braced against her stomach.

“No,” Anne says. Her nose is still pressed against him. She looks at Jack over his shoulder.

Jack’s mouth moves, but no sound comes out. He tries again.

“Are you sure?”

“You’re late,” Vane says. He taps her when she’s good to go.

“I regret that,” Jack replies.

He seems to mean it. Vane moves away and Jack watches her check her knives with a small smile that says, I’m happy for you. Was it good? 

She loves him.

Her gear is in order, but she waits for Vane to sling his sword belt on, then his pistols. She waits for him to go out first. To follow him.