Vanessa had collapsed once the spell was completed. She lay on the floor beside the book, and wondered what the Cut-Wife would think of her now. She doubted the old woman would have anything nice to say, she never did. But just maybe she’d brought the old woman’s soul some peace.
Soon Vanessa started to shiver, and pushed herself up. She closed the spell book carefully, and set it back on the shelf where it belonged. The cooking fire had died down, so she went and built it up to warm the small cottage. She pulled one of the chairs away from the table to sit next to the fire and waited for her protector to come home.
Tilting her head to the side in thought, Vanessa realized she had no fear about the inevitable confrontation. She knew he would be angry, she knew he wouldn’t approve of her actions at all, but that didn’t matter, because he was devoted to her. He wouldn’t leave her, he wouldn’t harm her, and he’d stand beside her, no matter what she became.
She heard his footsteps outside, and rushed to open the door. The second their eyes met, she could feel
his displeasure, and it made her shiver. He walked past her into the house, and she shut the door behind them. He moved slowly, put his gun and hat on the kitchen table, sat down in the chair beside the fire, and finally looked up at her.
“You were going to kill him,” Vanessa said with certainty.
“I did kill him,” Ethan corrected.
“The dogs attacked, but before his life had drained away, I put a bullet between his eyes.”
“No,” she whispered, not wanting to believe it. “That can’t be true,” she muttered, but even as she said it, she knew he hadn’t lied.
“I just saved you from being a murderess, and you don’t want to believe it?” he snapped. “I suppose that’s what you learned here, isn’t it? From your nice old lady friend. How to kill babies. How to kill men. How to lose your soul piece by piece.”
“You had no right,” she said.
He stood abruptly and walked up to her until they were less than a foot apart.
“I had every right.” He glared down at her. “Do you know what it is to walk with someone’s body tied around your neck for the rest of your God damn life? Do you know what that is little girl? Let me tell you about it. First time is hard. I’m sure you cried a bit, when you thought you’d killed him, didn’t you? Don’t worry that will pass. Second time is easier. Third time you don’t blink.” She tried to step away, but he put his hands on her and held her still. “Then it’s all just repetition. You don’t cry anymore. You don’t even remember when you used to cry. You’re alive, and they’re dead. So fuck them!” He gave her a little shake.
“Stop it!” She wasn’t sure if she was asking him to stop the words, the shaking, or both.
He stopped shaking, but didn’t let go. “If I’d let you kill him, you never would have gotten your soul back. Not ever. Do you understand that?”
She looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes.”
He shook his head. “No you don’t; not really. But that’s okay, because that’s what I’m here for. You will not lose your soul on my watch, Vanessa.”
He pulled her back to the chair, sat down, and tossed her across his lap.
“Ah!” she cried in surprise, and her hands shot out to catch her fall as her stomach landed on his thighs
His left arm wrapped around her waist, while his right hand slammed down across her backside.
“Mr. Chandler! Have you lost your mind?!” She tried to push herself off his lap and failed.
“No, I’m thinking quite clearly.” His hand went up and down, jerking her body forward with each harsh smack.
“What exactly are you trying to accomplish by using brute force against me?”
“I’m going to help you cleanse your soul. You’re going to show remorse, and then beg forgiveness from your God for letting the darkness inside you take hold. Before this night is done you’ll be committed to walking the path of righteousness, because I’m not letting you up until I’m certain that your soul is out of danger.”
She was stunned into silence. Of all the things she could have imagined him saying, saving her soul would have never crossed her mind. She felt him pushing her skirt up. “Mr. Chandler!” she exclaimed with dismay. She should be scandalized that he was seeing her bloomers, but he’d already seen her in her pajamas, so she supposed this wasn’t any worse.
When his callused hand slapped down across her backside with only one thin layer of cotton covering it, she yelped loudly.
“Pray,” he demanded as he spanked.
The words came automatically to her. She’d said them all so very many times over the past couple of years; the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Contrition, Morning Offering, and Apostle’s Creed to name a few. She’d begged them, she’d yelled them, she’d whispered them, and she’d desperately clung to them while the darkness scurried around inside her trying to push its way to the center of her thoughts.
Now as the words of the Lord’s Prayer came out of her mouth in Latin, she didn’t really think about the words themselves, because she was too busy trying to deal with the bursts of pain that happened every time his hand landed.
Once she’d recited the whole thing, she turned her head to look back at his profile, hoping to see some kind of acknowledgement that she’d done as he asked.
“Again,” he demanded while keeping his focus on her behind. His hand fell again and again like a metronome.
The words came out of her with along with some gasps and hisses. Once she’d completed it a second time, she again paused, expecting some kind of reaction from Ethan.
“With sincerity,” he said.
The pain was beginning to be intolerable, and Vanessa squirmed in his hold. “Please stop, Mr. Chandler! Let me up, and we’ll pray together. Please!”
His hand continued to slap against her bottom as he said. “I won’t be sullying your prayers by adding my voice to yours. I already belong to the night. You don’t, and you never will. So you’re going to say it again and again, until you fucking mean what you say.”
She hadn’t fully understood his commitment to her until that very moment, and something shifted inside her. She didn’t feel remorse for wanting Sir Geoffrey dead, but she did
feel remorse for trying to cause his death, because in doing so she’d turned her back on God. Ethan’s faith in her helped her reclaim some of the dedication she used to feel towards her savior. She clasped her hands together on the floor, lacing her fingers, and then leaned her forehead on them. She closed her eyes, and focused on the words she was saying as she started the prayer again. The same words she’d been devoutly reciting since she could talk. The pain dropped into the background and tears of relief started running down her fingers as she felt the light inside her building back up with each word. The darkness was forced back down into the corner of her subconscious where it always lay in wait. She started the prayer again and again without being asked, and each repetition helped absolve her of the sins she’d committed that day.
Vanessa’s words eventually became whispers, and soon they stopped all together. She had no idea how many times she repeated the prayer, she had no idea how long she’d been hanging across Ethan’s lap, and she had no idea when he’d stopped spanking her. Her entire backside throbbed and burned, but the sharp pain had dulled.
After several seconds of silence, she unclasped her hands, wiped her face a couple of times, and looked back over her shoulder at him. He still appeared quite stern, and she shuddered with apprehension.
“You will never try to take a human life again, Vanessa, no matter how vile, repugnant, and deserving of death that human may be. Never again.”
She nodded rapidly and agreed. “Never again.”
He smoothed her skirt back down over her backside, took his arm off her waist, and tugged at her arm to get her upright. She started to stand, but he pulled her back down to sit in his lap instead.
She thought about protesting, because it was highly improper, but when he pulled her into a solid hug, she couldn’t find it in herself to utter a disagreement. The spent several quiet moments simply holding each other and finding mutual comfort in the touch.
Eventually he broke the silence. “How did you do it?”
Without pulling the side of her face off his chest, she pointed behind her at the shelf. “The spell book.”
“Burn it,” he said. He patted her back and helped her to stand.
“Burn it?” she asked, looking into his eyes. “But it has…”
“No. You’re going to toss it in the fire and watch it burn.” He put his hand on her hip and gave her a little push towards the shelf. “Right now.”
Her eyes darted between him and the book a couple of times, before she stepped up to the shelf. She could practically hear the book screaming at her to protect it. She lifted it, and cradled it to her chest, not wanting to let it go.
She hadn’t heard him move, but he was suddenly directly behind her. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “You’re stronger than the darkness inside you, you’re stronger than the woman who used to own this cottage, and you’re stronger than this book.”
She turned to look up at him, and knew he believed the words he’d just said. With a small nod of agreement, she walked to the fire, and threw the book in as quickly as possible, before it could influence her against that course of action.
He put a hand on her shoulder, and pulled her into his arms. They stood together and watched the flames envelop the book. The cover popped, sizzled, and hissed as it burned, as if protesting its death. They watched it until the book had become a smoldering pile of ash.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Ethan said, “Did you save any supper?”
Finding the question funnier than it actually was, Vanessa laughed out loud. “I did,” she said, and went to get him a plate. She handed it to him, and then got herself one as well.
He sat down to eat, but when he saw her looking at her chair with distaste he stood back up with his plate and started to eat.
“You can sit Mr. Chandler,” she said.
He shook his head. “Not if you can’t sit with me.”
They smiled at each other while they ate standing up.
Once they’d eaten their fill, Vanessa said, “I should clean up,” and moved towards the wash basin.
He stopped her with a hand to her shoulder, and then took the empty plates out of her hands. “That can wait until morning. It’s been an emotional and draining day for you. You should go to bed.”
She looked up at the loft and shivered. Her dreams were often unpredictable and after today, she knew there would be no peaceful sleep to be had.
He took her hand in his and said, “I’ll sleep beside you.”
Opening her eyes wide, she started to shake her head.
“Fully clothed,” he added, “to protect you from any darkness that tries to invade your dreams.”
She knew she should say no, but the words that came out of her mouth were, “All right.”
That night she fell asleep with her head pressed against his chest, and found enough solace in his presence to easily keep the darkness at bay.
Penny Dreadful Screencaps courtesy of GenreCaps