Not auspiscious in the slightest. Vastra is swearing in Silurian and Jenny is a screaming, bloody mess on the ground, covered in gutter slime and Lord knows what other filth, bare foot, trembling with fear and a little drunk on the whiskey she’s been sipping in a vain attempt to keep warm all night.
Such is the trouble with life as a match girl. As a child, Jenny harboured strong suspicions that she was special, in some way that marked her apart from her vast array of siblings and the huddled masses among which they lived in the slums of London. Life took every care to disabuse her of this notion by the time she hit puberty, however, and as her parents died and her siblings slowly joined them in the grave or disappeared into the churning quagmire of the city, she was left alone, creeping closer and closer to prostitution or the workhouse.
There is nothing special about a match girl, nothing at all. They are ten a penny and cheaper than whores to fuck; they are slight and small and vulnerable and no one notices when they disappear from the frosty streets, no one cries on their unmarked, pauper’s graves.
Jenny fights the man who tries to rob her of her pennies more out of instinct than of any conscious decision to not let him kill her. She has been stood on a street corner half the night slowly losing the feeling in her bare feet, and she needs only another tuppence before she can afford a bed and a loaf of bread on which to live for the next few days and she is absolutely damned if anyone is taking that distant ray of hope away from her.
She kicks him to get him away from her and she runs, but he has a hold of her shawl and she trips. The thin bones in her ankle twist and it’s perhaps the worst pain she’s ever felt and now she’s certain that the man will kill her and take her money, or perhaps just take the money, but he might as well kill her anyway, for she will starve to death before she can make enough for food and shelter again.
She lands in the gutter, screaming, full of rage and terror, and glares at the man who means to end her life, because if he is going to murder her he will know that she is Jenny Flint, and she is special, even if she is only a matchgirl. He has a knife, but the hand it’s in is suddenly snatched away from him by something that might be a whip or a rope (or a long, reptilian tongue), and then Vastra arrives.
She is in a terrible temper, because she has been thrown out of a nice respectable establishment before finishing her tea after some of the other patrons complained about her unseemly appearance, and so she is in no mood to tolerate thieves and bullies and murderers. To this end, she throws the man into a wall twice, for good measure, curses him in every one of the Silurian languages and then in English, Mandarin and French, then kicks him in his genital area until he is still. She feels a little better, but for the fact that the matchgirl is making such an awful racket.
She tells the matchgirl to hush, but she does so in Silurian and, to the uninitiated (and slightly drunk or terrified) most Silurian languages sound almost entirely like the sounds made by ravenous animals right before they decide to eat their unsuspecting pray. Jenny is not in the least bit comforted, and is also angry, because her ankle hurts and she is covered in mud and there is an enormous reptile probably about to eat her and when oh when did this night go so entirely wrong?
Vastra, beginning to understand that she is frightening the human, calms herself enough to remember to speak English, and addresses her in somewhat calmer tones, with the phrase she has learned is, amongst the English, the most singularly comforting available:
“Would you, perhaps, like a cup of tea?”
Jenny manages to quieten down, and gets a hold of herself, assessing the enormous reptile and the unconscious mugger and her general state of undress. “I can’t get up. I’ve done something funny to my ankle.”
Vastra helps her up, and Jenny stares and stares, even though it’s rude (she’s covered in mud and this woman has probably just seen up her skirt, the time for conventional manners has passed).
“Is it a skin condition?” She asks, hopping, inelegantly.
“No,” Vastra replies. “I’m an intelligent reptile from a civilisation that long predates your own. If one might call this a civilisation which I… hesitate to.”
Jenny is fairly sure that that’s meant to be an insult, but she’s tired and freezing. “You said something about tea?”
“Yes, yes, I live just along here.”
She takes Jenny home, to her rooms above a tea seller on the docks, and makes her tea, and orders up a bath and a meal and a new pair of shoes, and the matchgirl sleeps in Vastra’s bed and Vastra does not sleep (she doesn’t need to, really) but when she arrives back from fetching Jenny’s new shoes in the morning, she finds the girl scrubbing the hearth and mending the curtains and examining one of Vastra’s shirts, which has lost half a sleeve.
“What did you do to this?” She asks, “it looks like it’s been – chewed.”
“There was an enormous squid from outer space,” says Vastra, and Jenny decides that she does not wish to hear anymore than that.
“I could fix this,” she says, “I am good with a needle if you – if you need mending and such. Although I suppose you must have a tailor…”
“No,” Vastra replies, handing over the new shoes, “I do not. You may fix the shirt. Will you require cloth?”
It’s the owner of the establishment, a Mrs Bumstead, who does it first – remarks to Vastra: “Got yourself a maid, then?”
And Vastra doesn’t think to disagree. Humans seem to like paying other humans to do elementary things like sewing and scrubbing for them, and now she lives amongst them, she supposes she must at least attempt to adopt the custom. Not least because she absolutely cannot be bothered with sewing and scrubbing herself, and Jenny seems content enough to do it for her. (She is – it most definitely out-does matchselling as a way to make a living. Partly because Vastra has no idea how much to pay a maid so pays her far too much and buys her new clothes and gives her free board to boot).
Vastra is already starting to make a handsome living as a detective and consultant for Scotland Yard, so some weeks later, they move into new, substantially larger lodgings on Paternoster Row, and Jenny thinks that perhaps, just perhaps, there really is something special about her, little Jenny Flint, the match girl from the slums of London, to have got so lucky. There is certainly something special about Madame Vastra, who is good and strong and noble and rights wrongs and punishes villains and defends the vulnerable, like the men there are all those songs about, but scalier.
She keeps the house for her new mistress, and makes her meals and stokes her fires (for Vastra hates the cold) and they get along very well, all told.
Vastra very nearly dies, twice, before she agrees to let Jenny dress her properly for London’s damp, cold, winter nights. She is used to the sophisticated, bio-engineered fabrics of her own people which are light and easy to move in and adjust to a Silurian’s internal temperature according to need; she does not want to be entangled in scarves and shawls and cloaks and gloves. It is cumbersome, she must learn an entirely new way of moving and fighting from within her heavy, woolen armour.
But she does nearly die, twice, simply because she’s cold, and finally must admit the need for extra layers. She has no wish to wake up for a third time, in bed, with Jenny sobbing over her because she has stopped breathing for a full ten minutes.
Jenny dresses her. She’s good at such things – she had four younger brothers and six sisters to practice on as a child (most of them are dead now; she’s not sure where the others are. William’s in the navy somewhere, Johnny went to America; she tries not to think about any of them). She has got Vastra a good cloak and an assortment of veils and hats, although there is the technical difficulty of how to affix anything to Vastra’s head when she has no hair to pin things to. Eventually, Jenny works out something technical and efficient with a system of laces and ribbons that does very well, and Vastra begrudgingly resigns herself to life inside cloaks and coats and mufflers.
But then, in her haste to get after a gang of diamond smugglers, she forgets her muffler, and Jenny, efficient and concerned because the memory of Vastra collapsing on the hearth and not breathing and her long tongue lulling out of her mouth looking a deathly shade of blue is still fresh in her mind, follows after her with the article of clothing in question.
It ends badly. Vastra hoists Jenny out of the way with her tongue before she can be killed, but not before Jenny has staggered over, bleeding from her head. When Scotland Yard has arrested most of the gang (Vastra has quietly eaten the others – she was hungry, and angry because Jenny is bleeding, so she ate them)Vastra carries Jenny home. Jenny is mumbling about how she didn’t want her to get cold, groggily wrapping the muffler that created such trouble around her mistress’s neck.
“You are far too determined to be good at your job,” Vastra informs her. She can feel the warm blood in Jenny’s hair, the bright stain on the collar of her blouse. Poor little thing. She feels small and warm and vulnerable in Vastra’s arms, her face turned up, eyes big in the dark.
“You ought to teach me to use a sword,” Jenny says, “then we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Jenny has been eyeing Vastra’s swords for months. She’s fascinated, mostly by the way they make Vastra look tall and elegant and dangerous (which is to say, highly attractive), and she sort of hopes that they’ll make her look like that too. She’s never felt especially elegant, has Jenny.
But she’s now growing distracted by the solid presence of Vastra’s arms and her shoulder beneath Jenny’s cheek. It all feels very cosy, even though her head aches something fierce and the night is still cold.
“I could defend myself,” she persists, “and bring you hats.”
“That would be rather useful.”
“I thought so.”
Vastra tends to Jenny’s wound, in the kitchen, with the maid bent forward in a chair, Vastra gently picking through her hair to examine the cut. The maid is very brave about it – flinches only once, when Vastra applies a little alcohol (primitive, yes, but effective), and doesn’t make another sound. Her little shoulders draw together under her blouse, and Vastra tries to imagine her wielding a sword… she is quite well-muscled, for a human, it comes from scrubbing floors and such. She probably has the relative strength and flexibility required. But would she have the stamina? The speed?
More to the point, does Vastra wish to risk her in such dangerous situations as might require a weapon in the first place?
She has little choice, of course. Jenny goes on strike until Vastra gives in, and Vastra is not at all accustomed to doing her own cooking.
Vastra comes home bleeding because someone has half hacked off her arm. Jenny is rather proud of herself for not fainting at the sight of it. She grits her teeth, puts a pot of water on to boil and shreds the second best linens for bandages.
Vastra assures her that she will be fine, as long as she is kept clear of infection – Silurians heal far more quickly than humans do – and Jenny thinks Vastra far too calm for someone who has almost lost an arm. She spends the evening, after dressing the wound, scrubbing heavy red blood out of carpets and curtains and table clothes and Vastra’s third best cape and blouse.
The real difficulty comes of the fact that Vastra now only has use of one arm, and absolutely cannot do anything for herself for the next two weeks.
Vastra does not take well to the situation.
Jenny is a little startled to discover that Vastra does not have nipples, or a belly button. This she discovers when helping Vastra bathe, despite trying to keep her eyes politely averted. She washes Vastra’s back and helps her dry off after, easing blood and soot from deep emerald scales and absently admiring the swirling pattern they make across her shoulders. Vastra’s head is covered in pleasing geometric ridges and thin bands of skin stretched between them, which, Vastra has informed her, evolved as a method by which to efficiently absorb and disperse heat. She goes to wash them but Vastra immediately goes rigid, ducks her head so abruptly that water sloshes out of the bathtub and soaks the hem of Jenny’s skirt.
“Don’t touch there, girl, for goodness sake!”
Jenny’s somewhat startled – not necessarily by the tone, for Vastra is snappish whenever she’s cold, and it’s England and the middle of winter, so Vastra is always cold – but she had thought she was beginning to know her mistress well enough to predict what will and won’t set her off.
“Sorry, ma’am,” she offers, and then realises that what is wrong with the situation is that Vastra actually looks embarrassed.
“It is not done,” the Silurian begins, her tone clipped, “to touch the crests of another individual with whom one is not… intimately acquainted.”
It takes a moment for Jenny to realise that she has, in essence, just groped her employer, and then she drops the sponge with a yelp, approximately as mortified as that time she entered a room in which her parents were vigorously copulating against a wall.
After that, Vastra manages to bathe herself.
It’s horrible, the first time they truly quarrel.
Jenny has been in Vastra’s employ for a full year, almost to the day, and, though Vastra sometimes snaps or chides and Jenny rolls her eyes at Vastra’s back a little more than a maid, mindful of her place, ought to, they have never had any serious disagreements before.
Jenny is now so efficient with a katana that she rarely leaves the house without it, strapped to her leg, well-hidden beneath the heavy folds of her skirt. In fact, Vastra has just presented her with her own, as an early Christmas present. (It is their first Christmas, as well as their first argument). It is inscribed with Jenny’s name and with a number of words in Silurian, to the general sentiment of efficacy in battle and thoroughly smiting one’s enemies. It’s so shiny and beautiful that Jenny actually gets a bit teary when she opens it, to the hideous embarassment of all involved.
She names it Scorpion, having seen pictures of the insect’s wicked tail and actual specimens preserved in the British Museum, which Vastra finds a little bemusing (Silurians do not consider inanimate objects of death worthy of names, exactly. They value them as tools, not friends.) But she is used to Jenny being altogether very human, so she doesn’t say anything, and that evening they go to a lecture on evolution and survival of the fittest by Mr Thomas Huxley.
Jenny has been very excited by Mr Darwin’s book and by all the debate it has stirred. Vastra finds the entire thing at best farcical, for yes, well done poor Apes, for having spelled out, in the crudest possible of terms, the barest bricks of your own existence. She has said as much a few times now, and Jenny has bristled, once or twice, but one does not argue with one’s mistress. For all it’s been a year in which she has done nothing but grow closer to her employer, occasional accidental groping aside, she still does not entirely trust that she will not, one day, end up back on the streets. So she hasn’t truly pushed or tested Vastra with the extremes of her own temper (which is not mild – no, Jenny Flint is many things, but she is not mild-tempered at all).
Then Vastra starts giggling so loudly in the middle of Mr Huxley’s lecture that they are asked to leave, and Jenny’s frustration begins to get the best of her.
“Why must you always be so rude?” She demands, feeling rather cross, now, actually. They are stood in the courtyard outside the lecture hall, and it’s very cold and frosty and clear and it would be pretty but Jenny is concentrating too hard on her annoyance to notice.
“I’m sorry, my dear, but that man is being entirely ridiculous,” Madame Vastra waves her hands about and pulls back her veil, inhaling the cold air and yawning widely. The cold makes her sleepy. “The idea that humanity is the pinnacle of evolution’s process…”
Jenny is in no mood to be called anyone’s ‘dear’. She scowls. “Well, aren’t we?”
“Of course not!” Vastra is far too amused for Jenny’s liking. “My dear, this – London, England, this world full of peasants and poverty and disease, I mean – you haven’t even mastered the power of electricity yet – ”
“So?” Jenny demands, “did your people have Shakespeare? Or Milton? Or – or – Plato?” (She’s surprisingly well read, for a matchgirl. There was a well-meaning Sunday school teacher who, noting Jenny Flint’s intelligence, and determined to save the child’s grubby little soul, taught her proper letters using a bible. But Jenny was more interested in the fairies in Mr Shakespeare’s plays than the endless lists of men who begat men who begat men in the Old Testament, and made a habit of stealing books from wherever she could find them).
“We have as much poetry and drama as yourselves do – far more besides, the Silurians were around longer than humanity has been, I assure you,” Vastra shrugs, “we have all of these things, they are not unique to your own species, Jenny, and we have far more. Medicines so effective that no one ever dies of sickness, systems of governance that do not distinguish between some antiquated binary notion of male or female, technology that makes travel from one side of the globe to another possible in the blink of an eye. And were my people to awaken now, en-masse, they would wipe humanity from the face of the globe like the vermin we treated you apes as at the height of our civilisation, and take back our home.”
Jenny is, for a moment, stunned – and Vastra blinks at her, for she still sometimes struggles to read human expressions.
Then Jenny does a perfectly extraordinary thing, and puffs up like a bird, to almost twice her size, full of venom and more righteous indignation than Vastra has ever found located in one small body before. It would be both a little magnificent and highly amusing were it not that all of Jenny’s long-withheld venom is being aimed directly at her employer’s face.
“Apes?! Apes?!” Jenny balls her hands into fists and wheels back as if she’s been struck, “is that all we are to you? Not people who think and feel as well as you – you said it yourself, your lot has just been around longer than us, that’s all, who’s to say we won’t get everything you had one day and more, maybe even more, because my people wouldn’t go wiping out a whole other people just because they were in our way – ”
At that, Vastra has to laugh, sharply. “Oh, my dear, do you really know nothing about what happened when that bastion of human morality, Christopher Columbas, discovered the Americas? Or when James Cook landed in Australia? Do you not see, even now, your own great Britain carving the African and Indian continents apart for gold and spices and human slaves?”
“And I suppose just wiping us all out, every one of us, is the preferable solution, then?” Jenny demands, “like – what was it you called us – vermin? Rats to be driven out and poisoned?”
“It was our planet first, Jenny!”
“Well it’s not yours anymore!” Jenny retorts, “it’s ours! Last I checked we won it, fair and square, we didn’t squirrel away and hide from whatever it was got you all so scared – we survived it, we went on, we inherited the earth you abandoned – we lived where you Silurians didn’t have the courage to stay and from where I’m standing that makes us the ones with right to stay here now!”
Vastra is aware, now, that she really has upset Jenny, but she’s rather more flustered than she expected to be under these circumstances and can’t think clearly enough to gather up what it is she’s said that was so offensive. Vastra has only spoken the truth: what are the humans, if not lesser-evolved interlopers? And what is Jenny suggesting about Vastra’s own right to live amongst them?
They stand in the court yard, with the lecture hall aglow behind them, and it’s quiet and cold and Vastra suddenly feels very, very lonely, because Jenny is looking at her for the first time as if she they have nothing in common.
“So I’m just an ape to you, is it?” Jenny asks, her voice high and trembling. “I see. I see. Well, this ape’s going home.”
And she turns and stomps away.
It’s a rather grand, emotional departure, spoiled somewhat by the fact that Jenny is not carrying money for a cab or a key to the house (she does have both, usually, but she had had no reason to bring either when out with Vastra before). And of course it begins to rain heavy, icey slush and by the time she gets back she is soaked through and shivering and still has to wait a full half an hour before Vastra arrives and lets her in.
They do not speak again for a while. It’s very odd. Jenny gets a cold, which only adds to her general misery. She lays aside her brand new, beautiful katana, hides it under her bed, because every time she looks at it now she has a terrible temptation to cry. For a full five days, all she ever says to Vastra is to ask, stiffly, when she wants her meals.
As it turns out, they are both very stubborn, and easily able to hold their grievances for protracted periods of awkward silence. It is not conducive to a speedy recovery from what should be a relatively minor schism, easily mended by a mutual acknowledgement that neither of them was entirely right or wrong and really, the world is too big and life too short to disrupt the companionable nature of their association over a petty squabble.
But they begin, in a slow, stutter-stop sort of way, inevitably, to right themselves after a while. When Jenny has a sneezing fit, Vastra silently proffers a handkerchief, which Jenny accepts. When Vastra, whose arm still gives her a little trouble every now and again, struggles with a tea cup and drops it, Jenny helps her, quickly, unthinkingly, because it has become a part of who she is, to take care of her mistress, even when she’s angry with her.
“Thank you, Jenny.”
“That’s alright, ma’am.” Jenny says it warmly, forgetting, momentarily, that they’ve fallen out. “Shall I get you another?”
“Yes – please.”
It is Vastra’s slight hesitation that reminds her. The Silurian is even less sure of how to smooth things over than she is.
She makes Vastra tea, and is angry and outraged and humiliated and frustrated and resentful all over again and stirs the tea rather too aggressively and burns herself. Vastra hears her swearing, and comes into the kitchen.
“You are not, you know,” Vastra tells her maid, as Jenny sucks her fingers and glowers.
“Not what?” Jenny’s mouth is full of fingers, the words sulky and muffled.
“An ape,” Vastra says, watching her closely, to make sure she has got the right thing to say. “You are not an ape. That is not what I – meant to say.”
“What did you mean to say, then?”
That you are lovely and I would like to kiss you but that I am afraid that that would be something akin to bestiality for at least one us, Vastra thinks, but doesn’t say it. She’s a little shyer than she looks, is Vastra – she’s better at killing things than she is seducing them. And she has at least a vague notion that to voice any sentiment in that direction would only further complicate the situation anyway.
“I’m sure I don’t recall,” she says, instead, and attempts an appealing smile.
“You trying to apologise?” Jenny asks, after a moment, removing her fingers from her mouth.
“If you’d like.”
“No – ma’am, the point is, it’s if you would like,” Jenny insists, “that’s how apologies work for us apes, okay? Someone decides that they are sorry and they’d like to make up and move on and then the other party agrees, generally speaking, and then they do.”
“Make up and move on.”
“Oh,” Vastra considers, “yes, I would like to do that. Make up and move on. Please.”
Jenny considers this attempted reconciliation somewhat sceptically. But Vastra looks so… hopeful, that it seems mean to try to tell her that really, she’s still not quite got it right. It occurs to her for the first time that Vastra is, in many ways, the more vulnerable of the pair of them – the foreigner, the fish (lizard) out of water. Her better nature prevails.
“Yes, alright, fine,” she flaps her hands, inexplicably ashamed. “Alright. Let’s be friends again. Let’s always be friends, ma’am. We shouldn’t bicker.”
“No, it’s unpleasant,” Vastra agrees. “I don’t like it at all.”
They always bicker, though – it’s rather a fixture of their relationship. It’s what happens when two stubborn and proud individuals end up in close proximity, emotionally entangled, physically ensnared and altogether utterly in love with each other. They learn to live with it.
There are several, actually, depending on what counts.
There is the very, very first, when Vastra recovers from a terrible cold and Jenny (who is sleep deprived, having sat by her mistress all night, and a little drunk again, having gone back to the whiskey to keep her warm), is so relieved that she kisses Vastra’s temple and/or one of her boney crest things, momentarily forgetting that to do so is a far more overtly sexual action than she intends, making Vastra laugh and shake her off, self-conscious and flustered.
There is the time when Jenny, by some fluke, gets word that her brother William is, in fact, still alive in the navy, and cries for the first time in several years. Vastra, unsure whether to offer comfort or not, kisses the top of her head. Jenny clings to her and giggles and weeps.
But of course, there’s something of a difference between those clumsy, fumbling intimacies and the deliberate, stomach-churning press of one mouth to another and all the accompanying implications of such an action.
There are a few near misses. Jenny considers it, more than once, in the summer of her second year employment under Madame Vastra. She has taken a peculiar but determined fancy to the Silurian, even though she’s blunt and insensitive and still sometimes calls her an ape and is altogether greener and scalier and more female than anyone Jenny has ever taken a fancy to before. She knows perfectly well that she shouldn’t feel such things for another woman, but there’s no man on earth who can be so interesting as her mistress, and besides, Jenny has noticed how very blue Vastra’s eyes are. They are wide and blue – and somehow that’s… charming? They don’t fit with the rest of her. They’re so human, and by far the most expressive part of her face, and somehow Vastra looks like she should have dark eyes – monsters all have dark eyes in books, don’t they? So those big, intelligent, gentle blue eyes don’t fit, and they’re charming and they’re pretty and they are what make Jenny think, for the first time, that she’d like to kiss Vastra quite a lot, actually.
That and the fact that Vastra’s snub nose is actually quite appealing. Jenny takes to tapping it during sparring matches with the tip of her practice sword (Vastra tolerates this with varying degrees of patience).
And Vastra suspects that she can feel Jenny considering kissing her and wishes to encourage this consideration greatly but she’s also really rather helpless around her maid, these days. It’s terribly undignified – Vastra is one hundred and three years old and a scientist and a warrior and highly reputable London detective. She really oughtn’t to be getting tongue tied or snappish every time a hairy ape from Finchley starts singing in the bath.
But she likes Jenny’s hair, which gets everywhere and which she chews and braids and knots depending on her mood, and she likes Jenny’s pale little freckles and her impish grin and her dimples (by all of space and time her dimples). These are all things that Silurians do not have, and Silurians are not great singers, either – theirs is a species more inclined toward a bit of military chanting – which just makes them all the more intriguing.
They spend about a three month period in that agonising (if absurd) state where they are both absolutely, totally aware of what’s going on but are simultaneously paralysed, and so neither of them says a word about it to the other. Those close to the pair of them, however, note that they have suddenly and for no clear reason at all totally ceased to bicker. They are both very, very careful to be very, very polite to each other at all times. Which is very strange indeed.
So when it finally happens – the kiss, the first real, deliberate one – there’s been rather a lot of buildup, which makes it all entirely anticlimactic.
In the back of a carriage, at night, just before midsummer (not long before Jenny’s birthday), Jenny takes her heart in both hands and crushes her mouth to Vastra’s and it’s awful and embarrassing and clumsy and there’s too much nose and teeth and she’s shaking quite a lot. Then she jumps out of the carriage and chases after the bank robbers they are pursuing, before Vastra can really react.
Vastra thinks that that was a very odd thing for Jenny to do and also now she’s rather over-excited and has to take a deep breath before going after her maid (and the bank robbers).
Some hours later, at dawn, after Vastra has eaten two bank robbers, dropped another in the Thames and handed the rest over to Scotland Yard, she arrives home. Jenny has been refusing to look her in the eye since the incident in the carriage, and the maid immediately disappears into her rooms. Vastra decides that she is probably better to wash the blood off her scales and brush her teeth before going after her, and so it is not until well after breakfast that she encounters Jenny in the drawing room, pretending to dust the mantelpiece.
There is a rather uncomfortable pause.
“Well,” says Jenny.
“So,” says Vastra.
Another pause, and then Vastra decides that for goodness sake this is all entirely ridiculous, and crosses the space between them and takes Jenny in her arms and kisses her, in the manner suggested by many romance novelists to be the most effective. (Vastra, much to her own shame, has developed a bit of a habit for human romance novels. Jenny reads them all the time – penny dreadfuls and the like – and she started lending them to Vastra and now somehow Vastra has more than Jenny does, although she keeps them hidden under her bed because she’d never hear the end of it if Jenny ever found them).
This kiss is substantially better than the first, though. Jenny makes a sound in the back of her throat like a startled child and throws her arms around Vastra’s neck and Vastra thinks – goodness, how very endearing, and holds her close, and feels her soft and warm Jenny’s mouth is. Her long, thin fingers have found the lesser crests on the back of Vastra’s head and the touch of her hands there is… inspiring, to say the least.
They come apart, but not entirely.
“Oh,” whispers Jenny. Her tongue feels a little odd. She has let it touch Vastra’s lips and they are not like a human’s lips at all.
“Well,” Vastra replies, just as quietly.
Jenny manages a quick, tentative smile, then wraps her arms around Vastra, suddenly full of affection. “How long have you been waiting to do that, you daft old lizard?”
“If I am not allowed to call you an ape you are certainly not allowed to call me a lizard, Jenny.”
“You call me an ape all the time! You called me that yesterday!”
“I did not!”
“You did so.”
It’s comforting, to be able to talk to each other as they always do, even in this new, unfamiliar territory.
“It would be alright, wouldn’t it? If I were to kiss you more often?” Vastra ventures, after a moment – she says it mostly to Jenny’s hair, resting her cheek on the top of her maid’s head.
“Oh yes,” Jenny agrees, warmly. “It would be perfectly alright.”
“Good,” says Vastra.
“Excellent,” Jenny nods.
It’s surprising how little things change after that, except that it shouldn’t be. They have, Jenny realises, been living as if they are a married couple for quite some time already. Now they go about their day as normal, except that in the evening instead of sitting quietly, side by side in Vastra’s library in front of the fire, they huddle together.
Vastra grows drowsy with a warm, sleepy human in her lap, and Jenny hums softly to herself as the night draws in around them, fingering the collar of Vastra’s blouse and kissing the smooth, clean scales at her throat. They spend a lot of time kissing in the evenings – it’s a more pleasant activity that Vastra remembers it being, but then, the last time she kissed anyone was several hundred thousand years ago (at least), so perhaps kissing anyone would be good fun by now.
It must have a substantial amount to do with who she’s kissing though. She’s fairly certain that this wouldn’t be half so fun without Jenny, who giggles and flirts and plays with her hair and lays her head in Vastra’s lap and runs her long, pale fingers along Vastra’s arms and neck.
“I do love you, ma’am,” Jenny tells her, some months later, resting her head in the crook of Vastra’s arm.
They have had rather a long day (a murder and a spate of kidnappings, the perpetrator now arrested thanks to their efforts), and have retreated to the quiet comfort of the library – Vastra is reading the latest offering by Mr Dickens, Jenny is falling asleep.
“You really must stop calling me that,” Vastra tells her, smoothing a lock of hair out of Jenny’s dark eyes, as the maid yawns. “I am hardly just your employer anymore.”
“Well, but you are my mistress, in a manner of speaking.” Jenny smiles to herself, scratching absently at one arm. “Besides, it’s only – ” another yawn, “ – keeping up appearances. Reckon those boys at Scotland Yard would have a fit if they knew about us…”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Vastra considers, “they seem to have taken so many of the other facts of my existence rather in their stride.”
“True,” Jenny concedes, yawns a third time then shifts about, burying her face in Vastra’s chest.
Vastra continues stroking her hair. “Oughtn’t you to go to bed, my dear? You’re half asleep.”
“Nah,” Jenny waves a hand, “I’m – I’m fine.”
“I shan’t be carrying you up the stairs again, you know.”
“Stubborn lizard.” Jenny glances up at Vastra, touches her little snub nose with a fingertip.
She wants to ask to stay with Vastra – they haven’t, yet, shared a bed, at least not quite in that way. There’s been some… exploration, here and there, but nothing substantial. It’s a question of time. They live quite ridiculously busy lives and there hasn’t been a night in the last six weeks that hasn’t ended with Jenny practically unconscious in Vastra’s arms, too exhausted to move, let alone make love. And that’d be even more anticlimactic than their first real kiss, to make a start and then fall asleep in the middle of it.
It must be special, Jenny is determined, and ‘special’ means having enough energy to carry on for longer than a half hour or so without getting drowsy.
It’s Christmas, and no one has been murdered and nothing has been stolen and everything is blessedly, gloriously quiet, and by the dim light cast by the fire embers and the little candles round the Christmas tree, Vastra is undressing Jenny Flint, and Jenny Flint is happier than she can remember being in a very, very long time.
Vastra is so gentle, and careful and kind. No one ever sees any of this part of who she is but Jenny, and Jenny rather likes that. It’s like having a secret.
“Are you alright?” Vastra asks, softly, against Jenny’s neck, as she goes seeking with her spare hand, stroking beneath Jenny’s underskirts. “You will tell me if you aren’t?”
“Yes,” Jenny murmurs, though she’s not really making a reply – just a general utterance of pleasure, warm and pure, closing her eyes and leaning into the sensation with a sigh.
Vastra laughs, and turns Jenny’s face toward her to kiss it, over and over. “Precious girl…”
“Do you love me?” Jenny asks, not out of any real doubt but because she likes to hear Vastra say it.
“More than anything on this earth,” Vastra replies, “I love you, I love you, I – ”
“Oh!” Jenny stiffens – Vastra’s thumb has just found somewhere very interesting indeed. “Goodness!”
The exclamation makes Vastra laugh and Jenny joins in, feeling giddy.
They must learn each other very precisely – neither is, of course, like anything the other has ever encountered before. Vastra is rather taken by Jenny’s nipples, which are sensitive and soft but react totally of their own accord when touched. They are only a shade or two darker than the rest of Jenny’s skin, and Jenny bites her lip and curls her toes when Vastra puts her mouth to one.
Vastra is lean and muscular, without breasts or a belly button, and her skin does not sweat as Jenny’s does, but it grows so hot to the touch with desire that it almost burns and – Jenny discovers, much to her wonder – it changes colour. Not all over, but in patterns: the scales ripple from green to yellow to orange to scarlet as Vastra grows excited. The boney crests on her head change and so do all the scales marking the length of her spine, tracing the routes of main arteries and veins beneath her skin, lapping her hips and groin. Suddenly she’s threaded with a myriad of colours that are every shade of warm, some of which Jenny cannot even put names to. It’s utterly glorious looking.
“Isn’t that something,” she murmurs, running her fingers along the deep red scales, watching them change colour beneath her fingertips, “oh, my darling, you’re a perfect marvel, you really are…”
“Do you think?” Vastra examines herself, “it’s only my chromatophore cells – when my people were little more than lizards, we seem to have evolved them as a means of signalling certain things to each other…”
“Such as?” Jenny continues to stroke the deep, crimson swirl touching the edge of Vastra’s groin.
“Oh – the usual things… danger, pregnancy…”
“Excitement?” Jenny has dipped her head to kiss where she has been stroking, working closer to the soft groove between Vastra’s thighs.
Jenny giggles, and Vastra gasps and shivers as Jenny puts her tongue to altogether more interesting use than she ever has before.
It’s not proper, Jenny knows – not at all – what they do on the floor of the library by the light of the Christmas tree. Not lady-like, and certainly not something they should be indulging in before they are married. But it’s lovely, all the same.
That’s to say nothing of Vastra’s tongue, of course. Jenny is reduced to such pleasure by it that she is hardly able to move after, breathless and covered in a fine sheen of sweat (which Vastra rather likes the taste of, these days). They have relocated to a sofa, Jenny nestled against Vastra’s chest, still a little breath-taken.
“How’d I get so lucky?” She asks, sleepy and sated, “to end up with a lady like you?”
“I ask myself the same question every day,” Vastra replies, rather tender now, leaning over her to draw a blanket about the pair of them.
Jenny smiles, yawning. “That’s nice.”