Word Count: 3490
Summary: The early days of Vastra and Jenny's relationship, as they get to know each other, and fall somewhat awkwardly in love.
Hairy Apes and Stubborn Lizards
People think it must be an ugly thing, holding a scaled creature close. But the thing about scales is that they’re not ugly, or slimey, or anything like that. Vastra isn’t an amphibian – she’s not like a toad who secrets mucus and poison and everything vile. She’s a reptile. A big, intelligent, bipedal lizard. And her scales are smooth and soft to the touch. Never sticky, rarely grimey, they seem to repel even the soot that is ever-present in London’s night air – she’ll come in and out of the smog glistening and clean and smelling of nothing but the talc she uses to keep tiny parasites from getting into the creases between her scales.
Jenny grew up, one of eight, in a set of four rooms containing two other families of equal size to her own. There was one toilet, outside, serving the entire building, and next to it one pump for water – no washing room, nothing so luxurious as a bath. It was always damp, even in the height of summer, and it always, always smelled. The smell of other bodies: other sweating, secreting human beings; was ever-present. Jenny didn’t mind, as such – she had far worse things to worry about than the stink of poverty that hovered like a cloud over her entire childhood – but it was the first thing she noticed about Madam Vastra, upon meeting her. Before seeing the odd shape of the face behind the veil, the slightly unnatural height and gate, before wondering at the stilted accent or the gloved hands in July, she noticed that Vastra didn’t smell.
Reptiles do not sweat.
Vastra admits an increasing fascination for Jenny’s hair. A few months after first employing her, when the human seems to have grown truly comfortable in her company, Vastra asks if she might touch it.
Jenny looks bemused by the request.
“Because – my people do not have hair.” Even to her own ears this sounds like an odd excuse.
Jenny quirks an eyebrow. “My people don’t have scales, neither. Can I touch yours?”
“If you would like,” Vastra draws up a sleeve and proffers her arm. Jenny seems startled by Vastra’s willingness to offer herself up for examination, but Vastra has a healthy respect for scientific curiosity. She wishes to encourage Jenny’s – she is already aware that the girl is far more intelligent than she perhaps realises.
Jenny tentatively lays her fingers on Vastra’s wrist, and then runs them slowly up and down her forearm. She catches somewhere sensitive and the scales twitch, muscles beneath tensing and relaxing.
“They’re smoother than I thought they’d be,” she offers, after a moment. “Not like anything I’ve really felt before, though.”
“No. Do you want to see my hair now?”
She dips her head, and lets Vastra gently take a few strands between her thumb and forefinger, feeling how surprisingly soft it is – she had expected it to be more like fur, thicker, greasier. But it’s fine and silky. Not like anything Vastra has really felt before.
Vastra agrees to train Jenny to defend herself after the girl nearly gets herself killed following Vastra into a highly dangerous confrontation with a group of smugglers on the London docks because Vastra has forgotten her muffler.
“I didn’t want you to get so cold again, like you did last time,” Jenny mumbles, as Vastra carries her back through the streets of London at a run, feeling the blood running through her maid’s hair, spattering the white collar of her blouse.
“You will be very lucky if I ever let you out of my sight again,” Vastra informs her, sharply, some hours later, when Jenny awakens in bed with her head bandaged and a terrible ache behind her eyes.
“Suits me,” Jenny replies, groggily, then blushes, inspite of herself. Vastra has never seen a human blush before – it’s rather endearing – but she doesn’t realise what it means until the following week, when she calls Jenny into her bathroom because she has dropped her soap out of the tub.
Jenny is appalled, because Vastra is entirely unclothed, and goes the approximate colour of an over-ripe strawberry.
“It isn’t decent!” She tells Vastra.
“Oh, don’t be so primitive,” Vastra rolls her eyes. “And fetch me the soap.”
“It’s not – primitive, it’s proper,” Jenny retorts, “a girl’s got to have standards. Fetch your own soap!”
And she stamps out of the room.
hat is also, coincidentally, the first day that Jenny bests her during a sparring match. She darts and twists and then Vastra slices her, accidentally catches her wrist, and Jenny cries out and turns away, clutching the wounded limbs. Immediately full of guilt Vastra drops her sword and goes to her, only to find the butt of Jenny’s katana catching her under her ankles, tripping her onto her back – Jenny pounces, sword raised, straddles Vastra’s waist and presses the point of her sword up under the Silurian’s chin.
Vastra is both impressed and amused by the human’s gaul. “I yield, I yield!”
Jenny looks hugely pleased with herself, flushed with triumph, her grin impish. Vastra laughs.
“And you’re an ancient lizard,” Jenny prods her. “I still got you, didn’t I?”
“Very well done, my dear.”
Jenny smiles, sucking the cut on her wrist.
“Did I really catch you?” Vastra is alarmed, spotting the blood.
“Oh, it’s only a scratch.”
Vastra reaches for the offending limb, examining the cut. “I’m sorry, my dear.”
“You worry about me too much.” Jenny gently withdraws her hand, “come on, I’ll make us some tea.”
She sees Jenny with her hair down for the first time in the middle of the night – they have been roused by a knock at the door from Scotland yard, and Jenny, sleepy and tousled, stumbles out of her room in her night dress, dark hair tumbling past her shoulders as she wraps herself in a thick shawl.
“Who on earth calls at this ungodly hour?” She grumbles, for she is very frequently bad tempered when tired (they have that in common). “What decent, civilised creature would ever think to wake anyone at three in the bloody morning? I tell you, someone had better have been murdered…”
“What – is your hair doing?” Vastra asks, fascinated. She had had no idea that Jenny had quite so much of it, or that it was capable of curling and tumbling and flying everywhere quite like that. It’s… unexpectedly attractive. “How did it get that way?”
Jenny gives her a funny look. “I was sleeping – hardly gonna stay perfectly coifed whilst I’m sleeping, is it?” She opens the door to glare at the two policemen standing on their doorstep.
Someone has not, in fact, been murdered, but a very expensive diamond has been stolen, so Jenny begrudgingly allows in two policemen and goes to the kitchen to make them tea. The men are sheepish and flustered by the sight of Jenny, in just her night gown and her shawl with her hair down and her big, dark eyes. They sit in the living room and do a great deal of throat clearing and shuffling of their hands and feet.
Vastra had not realised, until that night, that Jenny must be quite pretty, by human standards. Mammals all look so similar to her, with their soft, obscenely vulnerable flesh and round, flat faces and unseemly amounts of hair, that it’s been difficult for her to gauge by what standards they judge each other’s appearances. She knows Jenny from other humans, now, of course, but she cannot even really tell individuals whom she doesn’t know apart – she supposes Jenny, if confronted with a society of Silurians, would have similar difficulties.
The policemen, particularly the younger one, are distracted by Jenny, wide-eyed, unsure of whether or not to look at her, as she serves them tea in her bedclothes, for all she is quite decently shrouded in her shawl and slippers, and retreats, relieved, to her bed afterwards. When Vastra steps outside the drawing room to retrieve a map and a notebook, she hears them discussing her maid in hushed tones (Silurians have far better hearing than most humans – it’s advantageous, in her line of work).
“Bit of a looker, don’t you think?”
“I’m a married man, Henry.”
“Nah but she’s very pretty, even if she’s a skinny little thing.”
“Yes, yes, I suppose.”
“Very – very nice legs.”
“Stay on task, Henry, for goodness sake, lad.”
Henry pays rather closer attention to Jenny throughout the course of the case than Vastra likes. Now that she’s looking for it, she’s noticing that a lot of young men react like this to Jenny – the boy who delivers their milk, the window cleaner, the butcher’s son. Jenny, for her part, pays absolutely no attention to any of them, or if she does it is to roll her eyes in dismissal. But Vastra still considers that it must be more than likely that her maid will eventually find a human mate. It is the way of these things, even if Jenny says she would not like to leave Vastra’s service for anything – like most living organisms, she will be drawn to another of her kind, eventually, and the desire to be with that person will outweigh the desire to learn the katana or solve crimes.
She begins to consider the inevitable arrival of that day with dread.
Anatomically, they are not so very different – this, Jenny knows. Vastra does not have breasts in the same way that Jenny does, nor does she have the same wide hips that human females do, though there is a slight curve to her there that a male Silurian would not have (this Jenny knows, too, because Vastra has books explaining such things in her study).
But Vastra does have very well developed pectoral muscles, which, in the right dress, are suggestive of breasts, although she does not have nipples, or a belly button, both of which are unsettling abscences. They are such clear indicators of Vastra’s belonging to something other than the human race. It may be silly, but Jenny sometimes forgets that her employer isn’t human. She doesn’t see the scales or the tip of that long, lizard tongue quite so much anymore as she once did – she sees another person, who likes honey in her tea at precisely eleven in the morning and who gets crotchety when she’s tired and enjoys cross word puzzles.
She’s not quite sure what’s between Vastra’s legs, but it doesn’t look too far removed from what’s between her own, at least, and sometimes when she touches herself there she tries to imagine what it must feel like for the Silurian to do the same.
After their first winter, as London begins to warm again, Vastra begins to itch. She returns home one evening almost frantic, ripping at the collar of her blouse to get at a particular spot on her shoulder.
“I am shedding!” She hisses, “I cannot believe I am shedding!”
“Shedding?” Jenny asks, alarmed. “Oh – ma’am – don’t – you’ll pull the buttons off, let me – ”
She helps Vastra free of the blouse, and sees that, yes, her employer is shedding patches of scales all over her back and shoulders. They are coming off in clumps, dry and pale, like flakes of dead skin, and beneath most are simply patches of new, shiny scales, but beneath others there is raw flesh – the spot that Vastra is scratching is actually bleeding (red blood, Jenny is relieved to see).
“You’re hurting yourself, stop that!” Jenny bats her hands away.
“This is a child’s malady!” Vastra snaps, “only the juveniles of my species shed regularly – it is not meant to happen as we grow older – this is ridiculous!”
“Is there anything that could have brought it on?” Jenny asks, anxiously examining the flaking spots, “it looks – very uncomfortable…”
“It itches,” Vastra hisses, “and sometimes it is brought on by stress or by – quick changes in an environment. Ah – it itches!”
“Stop that!” Jenny catches her hands again, “I’ll get you some camomile lotion – they put that on me when I got the chicken pox when I was little, helped the itching a lot. But you must stop scratching, or I’ll have to tape up your hands before you rip your skin to shreds!”
Vastra is an entirely impossible patient, and spends the next week complaining loudly enough that half of London must know of her misery. She is only quiet when Jenny bathes her, rubbing camomile lotion into the raw patches of flesh. Then she lies quite still, with her eyes closed, as Jenny gently sponges dried blood and a clear, yellow-ish fluid that crusts on the shedding scales away from the affected areas. Jenny has never seen her employer so meek.
“Thank you, my dear.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am,” Jenny replies, “is there anything else you’d like?”
“Why don’t you sit with me a while?” Vastra sighs, “the housework can wait, and I should enjoy the company.”
She sits quietly by Vastra’s bed, and holds her hand, feels the cool, smooth scales beneath her fingertips.
“Does it hurt terribly, ma’am? The shedding?”
“Oh, not so very badly – it’s an irritation, more than anything,” Vastra opens one blue eye, smiles, ruefully. “A frustration.”
“Because it’s a child’s malady?”
“Your babies shed, then? Silurian babies?”
“Our young shed very frequently, yes, as they are growing,” Vastra tells her.
“You’re not sickening, are you?” Jenny asks. “It’s not a sign there’s something else – very wrong?”
“This? No – no,” Vastra shakes her head, closes her eyes again. “It must be a reaction to the sudden rise in temperature we are experiencing. I do hope it’s not to become a regular occurance, every time we have a change in the season… Are you tired, Jenny? Would you like to lie down?”
“Lie down, ma’am?”
“Next to me, if you should like.”
Jenny blinks, a little surprise. But she would like that, yes, she would like that very much.
Vastra has been aware of her burgeoning sexual desire for Jenny for some months. At first, it alarms her – for isn’t it perverse, to desire an ape? What on earth would her dead sisters say about something so obscene?
But, slowly, she grows to accept the situation as the natural consequence of being isolated from her own people for so long. Jenny is now one of a very few true friends that she has left, and the only one who is with her on a constant basis – it is natural, given her own proclivities, that she should desire a deeper level of companionship as she gets to know the human female better, especially as Jenny so consistently proves herself admirable in every way.
But it is not until the realisation that Jenny is highly physically attractive to her own species that the extent of Vastra’s own desire becomes clear to her, for, she must to admit to herself, she is greatly and despairingly jealous.
Vastra knows herself to be of reasonable attractiveness, amongst her fellow Silurians. She is of about the ideal height and build for a female: tall, muscular, athletic, with good square shoulders and proportionally long legs. A warrior’s body, indicating her to be both in peak physical condition and of a good age – neither adolescent nor elderly. Her scales are an excellent shade of green, clear and healthy, and not prone to attracting the parasites that can sometimes cause build-ups of tiny white sand-like growths around the mouths and eyes of other Silurians with an unfortunate genetic predisposition toward the condition. Her eyes are a little smaller and paler than is quite ideal (most Silurian’s favour dark eyes – they are, admittedly, more adept for seeing in the dark and quicker to adjust to daylight than the rarer, blue-eyed mutation that Vastra possesses), but her nose and cheekbones are well-proportioned, as are the bone ridges protruding from her head.
But what on earth does any of that matter to a human like Jenny, for whom the standards of beauty are so entirely different?
Besides there being the added complication of their shared sex, of course. It is not at all customary for members of the same sex to become lovers amongst humans, at least not in 19th century London (Vastra is given to understand that the social acceptability of such pairings varies by location and era – this the Doctor has told her). It must happen, for it appears that rates of bi and homosexuality run at about the same rate of incidence among humans as they do in Silurians, but humans have such a primitive system of belief about sexual intimacy and reproduction, that Vastra worries that Jenny would, at best, simply be confused by any such proposition from her employer – at worst, she might actually find the idea frightening.
Even if Jenny is capable of returning her affections, would she ever consider a reptile for a mate? When she is quite clearly more than capable of attracting a partner from among her own kind?
The situation appears entirely impossible. She resigns herself to admiring Jenny quietly, from afar.
“Hello,” says the man who comes to the door whilst Madame Vastra is out one evening. “I’ve come to see – Madame Vastra, is what she’s calling herself these days, isn’t it? Tall, scaley, bit imposing – her. I’ve come to see her.”
Jenny eyes the man suspisciously. “Have you got an appointment?”
“Yes,” the man declares. “But I’m early. By – about a month. The old TARDIS isn’t feeling very precise at the moment. Can I come in?”
He smiles appealingly. Jenny decides that he probably isn’t a threat – there’s nowhere he could be concealing a weapon and he’s very skinny. She could kill him if she had to, there’s a sword behind the door just in case.
“You dark horse!” The Doctor is sitting in Vastra’s living room, drinking the tea that Jenny has just served him, when Vastra arrives home one afternoon that summer. “Gone and got yourself a nice house and a career and a girlfriend and everything without telling me! Marvelous!”
“What are you doing here?” Vastra immediately feels a flutter of nervous anticipation. The Doctor always brings trouble.
“Oh, I just wanted to check that you were alright,” the Doctor shrugs, “you know. But you are, which is good, so I thought I’d stay for tea. Jenny made me some – she’s nice, I like her.”
“So do I,” Vastra replies. “We’re not lovers, Doctor.”
“What? No, of course we’re not – oh, you mean Jenny? You’re not – with her?”
“Are you sure?”
“Very sure, Doctor.”
“Hmm,” he considers, “well, perhaps it hasn’t happened yet. I’m sure you two were having quite a lot of sex the last time I checked, though.”
That’s the trouble with being friends with someone who exists outside of the usual temporality of space and time. He does tend to spoil the endings of things.
“I suppose I must look rather hideous, to a mammal,” Vastra remarks, as Jenny bathes the last patches of shedding scales on her mistress’s back. The condition has mostly cleared up, but it’s generally advisable to keep bathing the affected areas until they are fully healed.
“Ma’am?” Jenny seems momentarily confused, “no, ma’am – I… think you’re quite beautiful.”
Vastra says nothing to that, because she can’t think of anything appropriate.
“I mean, you’re not – quite,” Jenny flounders, “you’re not human, but that doesn’t mean you’re – will you be wanting anything else tonight, ma’am, or can I leave you for now?”
Jenny’s flustered. It’s charming. Vastra, for the first time, truly begins to hope.
It happens in the back of a carriage – the first kiss. Jenny surprises herself (and Vastra) and just does it, like that, like it’s nothing.
They are going after a gang of rather dangerous bank robbers and given that last week Jenny was very nearly scalped by a man smuggling opium, they are a little more aware than usual of the fragile nature of their lives. And as the carriage stops and they are about to get out, to chase bad men down dark allies with swords, Jenny hesitates.
“Are you frightened, my dear?” Vastra asks.
“No,” Jenny replies, “not of them.”
Then she takes Vastra’s face in her hands and kisses her, just gently, almost chastely. Her mouth is very warm and soft.
“Just,” she says, after, in the space where they are both taking deep breaths and Vastra is trying to form a dignified response, “just afraid of perhaps if I were to die, without doing that, what a terrible shame it would be.”
“Yes,” Vastra agrees, after a moment, “that would be a shame.”
It’s a very good job that they have dangerous men to chase, or she would be quite at a loss for what to do next.