She looks ill, her narrow, pale frame cutting a bony shadow across the small yard in the hazy morning light; yet, her smile comes easy. He notices the way her laughter bubbles up from within her, not a giggle-no, certainly not that- but something else that is feminine and light, dark and rich at the same time. It is him that amuses her, with his obvious surprise at the comfort with which she seems to find herself behind the trigger of a gun. Surprise laced with just the slightest hint of jealousy, though he would never admit that to anyone—not even her.

But none of that matters when he observes the spark of pride in her eyes with her quick success; his chest fills with something that feels like pride and admiration, yet so much stronger than either emotion combined. It twists his stomach into a knot and he finds himself using every ounce of his energy to not take the two quick steps towards her; to not press himself against her back; to not move his hands up to her neck; to not glide his fingertips across the bare skin there, feeling every heartbeat, every hitch of her breath; to not burry his nose into her hair and inhale every inch of her scent…

He settles for allowing her to reach around his body, removing the bullets from his belt and reloading the gun herself, once again pleased with the calmness she has about her as she pushes each round into the barrel.

"I feel I owe you for this. What can I teach you?"

He gives her a half smile, as she really owes him nothing. Teaching her how to protect herself gives him more peace of mind and that is gift enough.

But he answers with, "Just about any of the social graces for a start." Her eyebrows lift in his direction, her mouth trying to repress a smile, yet her amusement frees itself in a puff of air from her lips.

"Well that's a long list. There's the painstaking ritual of serving tea, tedious decorum at balls, meaningless social banter…"

He thinks she says more but he has stopped listening. He made his decision.


"Dancing?" She turns back to him, her turn for surprise. He knows he's made the right choice by the amusement lighting her face. Any hint of fragility that possessed her features even moments before is now replaced with happy excitement—an eager teacher for an eager student.


"It's the opposite of homicide," she lifts her chin confidently towards him. "Always look in your opponent's eyes." She may not always know exactly what to do for a great many situations, but in this she knows that she is more than capable.

He fidgets uncomfortably, not knowing what to do with his body, where to put his hands. He seems to be uncomfortable with her proximity already.

"And then?"

"Proceed gently. Take my waist," she commands, though her voice is barely above a whisper. He nods his understanding, but it takes him a moment to permit his fingers to smooth across her waistline. Too low, though she finds herself simply readjusting his hand, no admonishment, just calm amusement, her eyes never leaving his.

Her hands wrap themselves around his sturdy frame, one resting on his hard bicep, the other nestled in palm of his solid hand. For the first time in what feels like forever, she feels light, able to forget (even if it is just for a few minutes) that there are horrors lying in wait just outside the door. For now, she is able to forget everything but the calming reassurance she finds within herself, when she feels how nervous and unsure he is. His eyes leave hers, assessing their joined hands, his foot placement, the exact spot where his hand his burning a warm hole through her dress…

"Eyes up here, Mr. Chandler." He obeys instantly, his black eyes locking with her crystal blue ones. It is in that moment that she realizes that he trusts her implicitly. If she asked him to jump into the ocean and forget how to swim, he would. It makes her heart want to burst with both affection and terror.

She begins to rock them slowly back and forth, smiling broadly at him, completely enamored and amused with the amount of control she possess over him in this moment.

"And one, two, three. One, two three. One, two, three. One, two, three…"


They practice most days, in the evenings after dinner, when there is a quiet stillness to the moor and both are able to at least pretend that it is only the two of them left in the world. He did not pick up the waltz as quickly as she did target shooting, but he is determined and patient and that is something she cannot help but admire.

But it is when she happens to glance outside one morning, the steady chopping of the axe having silenced after a heavy thud, that she witnesses his arms wrapped around nothing more than the cold, damp morning air of the moor. Perhaps it is the ghost of Joan, appreciatively helping the man who so willingly destroyed the memory of her murder; the man who so willingly protects her Little Scorpion. The absurd image of Joan dancing with him makes her smile as she continues to observe him quietly from the safety of the house.


She is struck by how much better he has become, no longer nervous and clumsy, now fully leading her around the room, his hand strong and sure against her waist, his eyes focused intently on her own. She cannot suppress her proud grin, her cheeks seeming to ache from the force of it, but she does not care. And as he leads her out into a spin, her hair and skirts swirling around her and laughter on her lips, she thinks that the pupil may have surpassed the teacher. As they stare at each other for a moment, their hands still joined as he gives her a little bow, she realizes that she does not mind in the slightest. She only wants to see this man succeed, thrilled by the satisfaction written across his face.

Their focus on one another is only broken when the raging storm crashes its way inside the small cottage, breaking through the outer shell of the cocoon they have wrapped themselves up in, shattering their momentary peace.


The fire happened suddenly. He thinks it entirely likely that it was a lightning strike, but he presumes it is not out of the realm of possibility that it could have also been started by something (or someone) else. She has doused some of the flames with water as he smothers the rest with his jacket but, as he throws the chair that is engulfed in flames outside into the storm, he realizes that she has frozen in place. She is drenched from head to toe, a mix of rain water and ash smeared across her skin, her hair limp and sticky against her face and neck. Her breathing matches his—fast and heavy, though everything else, from the smoldering embers of the fire to the pounding winds and rain of the storm, seem to have stopped. Time itself has become quiescent, waiting for them to make a move.

"I love storms. Primordial. Every bit of civilization gone, everything true coming out."

"Let it."

He makes a move towards her, once again unsure of himself, unsure of what exactly it is she wants him to do. She has instructed him well in dancing, yet in this she has left him with no knowledge. Likewise, she is completely capable of pulling the trigger of a gun, yet she finds herself unable to take this shot, her body immobile. It is the eye contact he warned her about.

"You don't fear it?"

"Not now."

He watches her for another moment, noting the intensity of the hunger trapped within her gaze. His instincts react for him. Perhaps it is the wolf, perhaps it is him, he doesn't know nor does he actually care. Because when his hands wrap themselves around her waist, lifting her to his height and his lips making contact with hers for the first time, he realizes that this was exactly where he was meant to be.

His arms crush her against his chest, feeling the need to bring her into himself; have her use his body as a shield against the devil as she hides herself between his ribcage and his heart. He thinks she must feel the same way as she claws at his face, needing to pull him ever closer, her tongue pushing its way into his mouth, tasting as much as she can, for she desperately wants every part of him she can get. It is in that moment that she realizes that she needs him like she needs the air—her very survival depends on it.

This realization makes her pull away, though only just enough to gasp for air and to look at him properly. Her hands stay at his cheeks, thumbs pushing too hard against his skin as she struggles to regain control over the war raging within her. In the darkness she can just make out the glint of his eyes, like the smoldering remains of the fire beneath their feet. His gaze is honest and unyielding. But that is not what gives her pause. What stops her is the love she reads on his face. Her thumb moves across his cheek bone, she assumes in the hopes of wiping the love away. The touch only solidifies its presence.

What terrifies her the most is that she loves him just as much. She loves this man, so uncivilized in so many ways, yet so genuine in everything he does; this man who would give his own life to protect her, would gladly give her his soul if she asked him to; this man who is the only thing (living or dead) capable of chasing away her daemons, tearing apart her fears, happily replacing them with security and laughter, something she always thought would be impossible for her.

She finds herself pulling him back in to her, though slower this time, more calculated and less feral. She aches to feel the burn of his lips against her cold, wet skin and for the first time she finds herself grateful for the darkness. He cannot see the desperation, the sheer need in her gaze. And even she cannot tell if her face is wet from the rage of the storm, or the strength of her tears. Yes, she is grateful in this moment to be able to hide inside the familiarity of the night.

Their lips make contact for another brief moment, their breathes mingling for an instant before she remembers—remembers what happens when she loves beautiful things, remembers the ruin of her family, the asylum; she remembers the possession the last time she lost control, when she let Him in, invading her mind to the point of madness. She remembers vividly begging for death… Now she wants nothing more than to cling to life, to this man before her who offers her everything…


She shoves him away, pushing against his chest with everything she has. She must get him away; get him away from the danger that comes from loving her. Her love is cursed in the same way that her soul is cursed, and she refuses to lead him down the path to hell that she is destined for.


They do not speak of it again. Not until he returns to the cottage, having witnessed the darkness that lives within her unleashed on Sir Hawkes.

"I know what I've done."

"Do you? Do you know what it's like to walk with someone's body hanging around your neck for the rest of your goddamned life? Do you know what that is little girl?"

She gives him a hard stare, her jaw set and her teeth pressed tight. She tastes blood.

"You'll never get your soul back. Not ever." He grips her arms roughly, his fingers digging into her skin. She's sure they will leave bruises. "D'ya understand that?"

Her lip trembles ever so slightly. She tells herself that maybe he does not notice, though she is sure that he does. She feels the hot burning in her throat and the threat of tears stinging at her eyes. She will not give him that satisfaction.

"Yes," her voice is stronger than she thought it would be—stronger than she actually feels. If she is honest with herself, the only thing she wants now is to burry herself in him, surrounding herself entirely with his essence in the hope that maybe it will help her forget again, help her forget the evil that lies within her soul.

"I don't believe you." His grip loosens slightly, though his hands remain on her, forcing her to remain exactly where she is, to confront him.

"You have no idea what lies inside my heart, Mr. Chandler. You do not know the darkness that lives there."

"Just as you presume to know every dark secret of mine." She notes the tension in his jaw. He is withholding himself from her.

"You are not honest with me. Why should I be honest with you?"

"Do you want me to be honest with you?"

"Yes." This time he believes her.

His grip tightens around her shoulders and she finds herself being pushed back until she hits the door with a thud. The weathered wood pricks at the bare skin of her arms, while the rushes of cold air through the cracks in the door force a shudder down her spine.

"My soul is just as cursed as yours." Her gaze remains unflinching, her blue eyes remaining icy and distant. "I have the blood of thousands of innocent drenching my soul to the point that I am drowning in it. And this is something that I can't escape, not ever. While you, on the other hand, have made choice after choice, blackening your heart further and further-"

"You know nothing of my torment," she hisses, flexing her arms against his sturdy palms. She tenses, like a cat ready to pounce at any moment. He crowds her against the door in response, using his size to his advantage, consuming all the space around her until there is nothing left but him.

"I've seen the very darkest depths of your soul, Miss Ives. I have seen the evil the Devil brings outta you." He lowers his head to ear, his warm breath caressing across her skin. "I've seen some of the darkest hells this world has to offer, so if you are looking to scare me off with your magic tricks and talk of your damned soul, I suggest ya think again."

Their stares collide, fire and ice clashing for dominance. He forces her hand.

His mouth is rough against hers, taking what he wants, not bothering to ask for permission. She readily accepts him, her fingers clawing at his neck, already leaving small blood marks across his pale skin. If this is indeed the road they will go down, she will mark him as hers. She feels his sharp inhalation at the sudden wound, but if he cares, he does not bother to show it. His response is to push his tongue into her mouth, dueling with hers for a domination that they both know neither will be able to fully achieve.

Before she even realizes it, his hands have found their way to the buttons at the back of her dress. His fingers are not nimble and, for all his admirable patience, she feels his frustration in the relentless tugging at her back. With a heave of release, his calloused hands make first contact with her back as the top buttons rip from the black silk. His lower lip is captured between her teeth and she does not release him until she tastes blood.

He rips himself off her, only pulling away far enough to see her; her eyes are bright and wild, her lips tinged with his blood. She is his dark goddess. She smiles at him.

"Not what you were expecting, Mr. Chandler?" He rips his coat from his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor as he lifts her legs around his waist, pushing her upper back against the door and grating her skin against the wood. His mouth latches to her neck and sucks hard. He knows the game she is playing and he will gladly mark her in return. She gasps when his sharp teeth make contact, though not enough to break the skin.

"You'll have to do better, Vanessa," his voice somewhere between a whisper and a growl.

He pulls her away from the door, as her fingers work their way down the back of his jumper, beneath his shirt. Her talons digging into the hard muscle they find there and drag their way across his skin. He feels the warm rush of blood to his back. He gracelessly releases his hold on her in front of the fireplace, its heat seeping into his bones. Too hot.

His jumper and shirt come off in one movement and he feels the warm stickiness of blood graze the back of his hands. He doubts he will ever be able to completely remove the blood from the shirt. As the fabric falls to the floor, his attention shifts. She is no longer attacking him, the only sound in the room from the crackle and pop of the fire.

She is staring at him, taking in the full plane of his bare chest. With a shaky hand, she closes the distance between her fingers and his skin, running the bloody tips of her fingers across the light dusting of hair. He is taken slightly by surprise by the gentleness of her touch and the intensity of her gaze. She traces three long scars that run diagonally across his chest, following them down to a series of puckered marks that form the rough outline of a half circle just above his hip. Her eyes dart back to his, wide and questioning.

"One of those things that hurt us," he whispers in answer.

Her breath is hard and shaky and she inhales, unaware that she had even been holding her breath, but she pulls him to her, all anger and spite having abruptly drained from her. It is replaced with the ache she felt that previous night, to be close to him, to be consumed entirely by him. She pulls him to her, wrapping herself around him in an attempt to pull him in. Her lips and breath are searing against his skin as she trails across his collarbone.

He is certain that she purrs when his fingers move up her neck and into her hair, massaging her scalp and cradling her skull. It takes him no effort in the slightest to pull her mouth away from his chest and up to his lips, kissing her in such a way that it makes his head spin. He notes her reaction too—her eyes half open, her body melting into his touch.

When they finally break apart, both are breathing heavily, but before either have a moment to catch their breath, he turns her around, her back to him, his fingers brushing her hair across her shoulder, giving him better access to the back of her dress. In the flicker of the firelight, it is still difficult for him to make out the black silk buttons against the black silk of the dress, but with each button he releases, more of her pale skin revealed.

He stopes when he reaches the brand.

Her body tenses, waiting for him to say something, do something, anything.

"One of those things that hurt us," her voice is husky and cracked and she barely recognizes it as her own. She swallows the hard lump that has formed in her throat, biting her lip to contain herself.

"They will never hurt you again," he ghosts across her shoulder, sliding his fingertips beneath the shoulders of her dress. He smiles wickedly against her skin when he hears the soft ruffle of the fabric hitting the floor. "No undergarments, Miss Ives?"

Her hand reaches back, clutching a fistful of his hair and pulling his head to her neck. "We're alone here, Mr. Chandler. Why bother?"

He chuckles deep and throaty against her jaw and the vibration shoots a hot trail straight to her core. "Stay," he commands, capturing her ear lobe between his teeth for a brief moment.

She complies, though her will is tested when he feels the rush of cold air behind her when his body pulls away from hers. She hears the distinct rustle of fabric and the thud of boots on wood, both making her skin prick with anticipation. Her discomfort is only momentary however. His hands grasp her hips, holding her in place and she lets out something between a moan and a whimper when she feels his hot, wet tongue on the bare skin of her back, his lips just grazing across the dead flesh of her brand. She has never allowed anyone to even look at her blackened skin, let alone touch it, and she finds herself fixed by the amount of sensation he is giving her.

As his mouth continues to caress her skin, she takes hold of his hand, moving it across her hip and lower, forcing his fingers between her legs in a desperate attempt to both relieve her torment and feel more. He touches her eagerly, exploring the very essence of her, pulling her into him as close as possible.

She growls when he slips his first digit in, quickly followed by a second. It is the most alluring sound he has ever heard and he makes it his goal to force it from her again. And he does, wrenching her closer and closer to the edge while she grinds against his hand.

Just when she believes her torment to be endless, he jerks his hand away, causing her to hiss with displeasure. Her body is thrumming from his ministrations, every nerve ending so acute that she feels she may actually kill him.

She spins on her heel. "Why did you—" but she is cut off midsentence by the image of him. He is completely nude, kneeling before her. His hands rest on his muscular thighs, his erection hard and proud in front of him. Her tongue eases across her mouth, her lips suddenly too dry, and he smirks darkly up at her. She requires no invitation.

Her hand reaches out, searching for any sort of stability, which he gladly acquiesces. He assists her in joining him on the floor, now acutely aware of the heat of the fire as it competes with the heat radiating from his body. She looks at their joined hands, his body, everywhere but his stare.

Flashes of her time with Dorian haunt her; the absolute peak of pleasure eclipsed by the scratching, the clawing of the thing inside her, listening to His taunts echoing inside her skull. Her breath hitches, panic quickly setting in. She cannot let Him in again. Not ever.

"Vanessa," she eases her gaze up to his with the gentle sound of her name. "Do you trust me?"

She feels his rough hand slide across her jaw, cradling it. She can distinctly make out the recent callouses from his work with the axe, chopping down the hideous tree. For her. Ridding her of that which she despises most of all. And then there is the dryness between his thumb and forefinger from the constant chaffing from the handle of his revolver; the revolver with which he taught her how to defend herself, with which he would have gladly killed Hawkes if she had not beaten him to it, had not poisoned her own soul with more death…

Her brow furrows and she swallows hard, steadying herself. His eyes are dark and often times hard to read, but the more she looks at him, the more she buries herself into his warm, protective gaze, the more she aches to be a part of him; the more she aches to have him buried as deep as possible within her, regardless of her fears. His stare is hungry. Hungry for her, the knowledge making her blood pound through her veins that much faster.


That is all he needs. He pulls her flush against him, wrapping his arms around her body, his large hands supporting her backside as he thrusts into her for the first time. He growls into her hair, feral sounding, and it makes her smile wide like a Cheshire cat. She feels so completely full, her entire being becoming engulfed by this singular man. She cannot recall ever having felt it.

She gives him a moment to collect himself before she impatiently rolls her hips against his, urging him to move. She is granted a low groan.

"Fuck, Vanessa," he sounds pained, and she is sure that he is trying control himself, wanting her to have the dominance. The very sound of her name from his lips, like a hiss, causes more wet heat to pool between her thighs.

"Please," she begs, clenching herself around him. She has never begged before, for anything, and she is surprised that this is what leads her to it. Still, he stays, frustratingly. Her hands slither across his back, making stinging contact with his still open and bloody marks, while her teeth sink into his shoulder.

He lets out a cry accompanied by a thrust, which she meets head on. He pulls out and back in, agonizingly slow for another handful of moments before her nails sink into his skin, leaving small, crescent shaped marks on his arms.

"Harder," she breathes, her voice dark and rasping against his cheek. He complies, holding her against his body as he violently pushes into her. One hand cradles her back while the other slides between the fire of their bodies to touch her as he moves faster and harder. She screams at the contact, throwing her head back and digging into his shoulders for support.

And that is when she feels it, just beneath the surface of the searing fire at her core, there is a distinct and familiar scratching.

"My darkling," His voice rolls through her, attempting to consume her.

Her eyes snap open, meeting his in an eruption of lust and panic. She does not have to tell him what is wrong.

Immediately he lays her down across the floor, covering her with his body. He is her shield. He does not stop touching or thrusting into her, instead focusing his efforts entirely on her.

"Always look in your opponent's eyes," his voice steady, but desperate.

Her eyes never leave his, though she feels the clawing becoming stronger, digging into her heart as He attempts to tear his way into her mind.

"I feel him," she whispers and she finds herself bombarded with a heady mix of passion and fear, tears forcing themselves from the corners of her eyes of their own accord.

"No, Vanessa. You feel me," he thrusts roughly into her, his urgency making him feral, the wolf pushing further into his consciousness, sensing the danger to her soul. "Focus on me."

And she does, focusing entirely on his movements, his touch, his kiss, his very presence. Everything that makes him who he is, she latches on to.

The heat within her grows hotter and she grinds against him in frenzied movements, trying to release herself by jumping from the edge while simultaneously working to stay with him. Yet she continues to feel the daemon tearing at her, attempting to break through.

"I will have you, my darkling. I will rip you to pieces if I must."

"Ethan," she pleads, gripping any part of him she can reach, using him to anchor herself to what little semblance of reality she has left.

"Stay with me, Vanessa." His voice is hard and determined. He will not let her go. Not again.

Finally, everything coalesces. The fire built within her explodes into a million, Earth-shattering pieces as He screams into her, mauling anything He can get to.

And she screams, everything turning to white as the darkness and ecstasy within her collide into something beyond pleasure and beyond pain. She feels her body tense, back arching off the floor, though she cannot discern who or what she is, only the white.


He struggles to catch his breath, fighting the stifling feeling of having run for days.

"Vanessa?" his voice hoarse with the effort of speaking. She is breathing and he feels and hears her heart pounding away in her chest, yet he is unsure as to who she will be when she opens her eyes. "Vanessa, can you hear me?"

He strokes her forehead, pushing her hair, now damp with sweat, out of her face. "Vanessa?"

She lets out a soft groan, her eyelashes slowly rising, revealing the icy crystal orbs beneath. "Ethan?"

The relief he finds rushing through him is not quite like anything he has ever felt before, completely all-encompassing, and he finds himself grinning from ear to ear like a school boy given a sweet. Her eyes are bright, and clear, and so very her that he finds himself kissing every inch of skin he can reach.

He is not even sure how it happened, but before he knows it, they are both laughing and grinning like fools, touching every part of each other they can. When their lips meet again, it is not rushed or harsh or angry, but filled with laughter and passion, and (dare he even think it?) love.

"Thank you, Mr. Chandler," she says softly, pulling gently on his hair and stroking the stubble of his chin.

"Still on formalities are we?" he cocks an eyebrow at her. They both try to suppress a laugh; both fail miserably.

She leans in to kiss him again and his heart fills so entirely full that he thinks it might simply stop beating from the exertion of loving this singular woman.

"Ethan, my darling" she corrects herself against his lips.

"Much better," he sighs, nuzzling against her neck, breathing her in, committing every last cell of her to memory. "I told you I'd protect you. I told you there was a reason we had claws," he tells her after a silence.

"Mmmmm, yes, perhaps you were right."

"Damn right I'm right," he smiles into her neck, his tongue darting out to sample the skin just beneath her ear. She lets out a small whimper. He adores the sound.

"Don't do that," she admonishes him, swatting him away.

"Why not? I wanna taste your skin." He looks up at her, a smile dancing across her face, and he is sure it is because he sounds like a petulant child being told to go to his room.

"If you keep doing that, I will want you again, and I think it is safe to assume that we could both use a break." There is amusement in her voice and he knows that she is right.

"Fine," he rolls off her in a huff and this time she laughs outright. "But just so you know, I'm gonna remember that spot for later." He rolls his head to the side to look at her while she glances at him sideways.

"I look forward to it," her Cheshire cat grin spreading across her face.