Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
The Devil In Her
Deslea R. Judd
Pairing: Vera Claythorne/Philip Lombard
Word Count: 840
Summary: After the love and before the fall.
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
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Love has always been her downfall.
It brings out the worst in her. It always has. It makes her hungry and greedy and makes her grind her scruples beneath her heel with a smile.
Not that Philip Lombard counts as love. Affinity, though, and she thinks that affinity might mean more to her than love at this point.
Love cannot look on her. Affinity can.
She thinks this as she stares up at the hook on the ceiling, taking a slow, lazy draw on her cigarette. The marble of the hearth is cold on her thighs. They'd slid to the floor in a heap after he'd taken her there against the wall, and since then they've been sitting there in a companionable silence.
Philip is beside her, smoking too, lost in whatever thoughts occupy his mind, and that is a fascinating topic of its own. Vera has spent the last however-many years mining her own mind, turning herself inside out, trying to understand herself. She envies Philip's unshakable self-acceptance, but she can't even begin to imagine what might be left of his mind. Devouring herself has become a horrid obsession, and as much as she longs to be free of it, she can't conceive of a version of herself where it is gone.
Mind you, until today, she had not been able to conceive of a scenario where someone could look on her, knowing what she had done, and want her anyway. Hugo only wanted the Vera who was good. Others have wanted her since, but not knowing what she had done.
Philip, though. Philip craves things that are true and real. He mocks her when she pretends to be good, and honours and respects her when she is herself.
It's extraordinary, really. It isn't how the world is supposed to go. But then, neither is she. The poets, the philosophers, the clergy all say that love is meant to make us more. Love is the door to our better selves. For Vera, it is the door to her purest self, but that is the self that has all convention and discipline stripped away. Love makes her less, not more, and that is the ugly truth of it.
Except Philip doesn't see her as less. He sees her as more.
"What are you thinking?" she wonders presently.
A smile curls around his lips. "I'm thinking that I never thought I would find someone like me."
She turns her head against the wall to look at him. "I'm not like you. I regret. You don't."
"No, you don't, Vera. You wish it had gone your way, and maybe you wish you could have done it without hurting anyone. I believe you, when you say you pitied the mother. But you'd do it all the same again if it had worked out, wouldn't you?"
She looks away. "Yes, I suppose I would."
"There are plenty of women who are simply cretins, you know. Women who enjoy hurting others, people who like to play with people like kittens with string. You're not like them. You're not good, but you're not evil either. You just don't shrink from what needs to be done. You don't expect anyone to look after you, and you don't look after them at the expense of yourself either. That isn't evil. It's justice. It's nature."
It's like poetry, the way he says it, the kind of poetry that understands her. A kind of poetry that sees her as something wild and beautiful. She can barely fathom who and what he is, but oh, in that moment she loves him. She loves him for looking at her and not turning away.
"Come to bed, Philip," she says in a low voice. Touched by him and trying not to let it show.
He shoots her a look, but he gets to his feet and follows.
The narrow bed forces them together again, in a way that is welcome. He silences her ever-racing mind with kisses, slower than before, and strong, sure hands travelling over her skin. He fills her, over and over, blotting it all out - the fear, the recriminations, the loss, the hook and the way Hugo would see her hung on it if he could. He fills her with life, pulsing inside her, and when she comes at last, it's like rising up out of water and gulping fresh air.
Hugo would see her dead. Philip would see her live.
They love each other a little, she thinks, at least as much as two strangers can. Maybe they could love more than that, if they live to try. He is her perfect complement, the devil in him a match for the devil in her. He will not conquer her, would never think to try, but he will match her move for move and keep her in perfect balance. He is peace and harmony for her. He is one of her kind. Perhaps the only one there ever was.
Maybe, with him, it could be beautiful after all.