I saw The Wolf Man , the remake with Sir Anthony "BAMF" Hopkins, whose performance was worth the price of admission alone. As a fan a werewolf lore, I was excited to see the film and particularly interested that it was a (reasonably good) adaptation of the 1941 screenplay. Fun, gore-filled times ensued.
However. There was a moment, nay, several moments where I began constructing fic for a ship that does not exist. Nobody in their right mind would look at the protagonist's love interest, Gwen Conliffe, and the disbelieving-eventually-bitten-the-cycle-r
You know, post-movie fic where she stays in the ruined manor for some reason and he's there too, and she kind of hates him and God and everybody, and he's changing into a wolf but locks himself up to keep the villagers safe, and she doesn't love him enough to kill him to break the curse, and he knows that but sometimes when the moon is waxing, he can smell her, like on his clothes and in the house, and he doesn't want to think about what that means for them.
On a interesting note, this is not the most obscure ship I've ever written. My Ivanhoe fanfic would have to win that prize, only to be challenged by the Tudors AU I'm plotting where the Duke of Buckingham marries Catherine of Aragon.
Like I said, a different breed.
Who am I kidding?
In the Midst of Wolves
"To look into the eyes of a wolf is to see your own soul - hope you like what you see."
Inspector Francis Aberline looks away from the scene before him, the body of Lawrence Talbot cradled in Gwendolyn Conliffe’s arms. The blood on his skin is drying quickly, too quickly, and the throb of the monster’s teeth in his shoulder is already fading. He looks away from the crowd of men and their useless guns, their voices rushing together like the falls before them. He looks away from stink of death and tears and scorched powder, the glow of the burning mansion in the distance.
He looks up.
The moon looks back, cold and pitiless and full.
The sickness comes before the dawn, fever dreams and spasms wracking his body. He thrashes in his rented bed at the inn and wakes to find his arms bound with strips of cloth. He could loosen them if he tried. He doesn’t.
Time slips and ebbs around him. Cool hands smooth wet flannels over his face, his arms. A cup is lifted to his mouth, then taken away. He sleeps, deep in dreams of London rooftops and harsh moors, and sleeps and sleeps. He thinks he sees Miss Conliffe seated beside him, her face lovely and grim in the lantern-light. He wonders if she has her gun full of silver at the ready, sighting his heart down the barrel.
It is days before he’s well enough to walk, more before he speaks. He staggers to a desk in the dull light of dawn and pens letters. To Scotland Yard, to his partner’s wife and brother, to his elderly aunt in Sussex, the only family he has left. To his wife. He doesn’t make it back to bed, but when he wakes in a heap on the floor, there is a blanket over him and the letters are gone.
The next day, she comes for him. “Get up,” she says, no warmth in her voice or her touch. She lifts him up and out of bed. She wrinkles her nose. “You smell appalling and the innkeeper won’t keep you any longer.” She tossed his effects into his valise, her movements brisk and efficient. He sways on the bed, perilously close to slipping back into darkness, but she levers him up and onto his feet. He is bare-chested and unshaven, and if he could muster the energy, he would feel ashamed. But Miss Conliffe slings his greatcoat over his shoulders and pulls it tight around him.
He mutters about money to pay the bill and she looks at him as if he’s said something particularly stupid. “They don’t want your money, Inspector,” she says as she guides him to the stairs. “They don’t want anything of yours. They just want you gone.” There’s a carriage outside waiting for them. He leans heavily against the wheels while she sorts the luggage. A child passes him and makes a sign with her tiny fingers, horns to ward off the devil. Clever child, he thinks and climbs up after Miss Conliffe.
The front of the manor is completely gone, consumed in flame, leaving nothing but the black bones of a house and the lingering smell of ash. No effort has been made to clear the rubble. Trees lie charred and broken around the estate. A flock of black birds leaps into the air when the carriage arrives. Ravens, perhaps, or crows. Carrion animals.
In the end, the house’s age saved it. Much of the north wing was too damp to burn and escaped with only singes to speak of. It is in the north wing that Miss Conliffe installs him, herself in a room down the dank corridor, and it is there that Inspector Francis Aberline, noted officer of the New Scotland Yard, finds himself. He considers going back to London, to a loveless marriage and the surety of dismissal. He considers the straight razor in his shaving kit, a clean line across his throat to end his dilemma. A moment later, Miss Conliffe knocks and announces through the door that supper will be served in what remains of the dining room in half an hour.
They eat together, cold mutton and cheese, brown bread and beer. He falls on his food like a starving man, like a choice, like a –
Gwen wonders why she’s damned, what she could have possibly done to make God hate her so. First Ben, then Lawrence. Sir John. Everything she’s touched, every man she’s loved. And now this Inspector, this raw-boned policeman who seems the latest in the long line of damned men she’s nursed. She’s tempted to pray, to beg forgiveness and mercy from the Almighty, but surely Heaven is otherwise occupied and cannot be bothered with Blackmoor.
Instead she recalls her books, sifts the fact from the legend and lore. Silver burns them, blood excites them, the moon owns them. The night Lawrence died, the night hope went out of her, the moon was full. It will be full again in a week. She keeps the pistol on her always now, tied to her leg with a scrap of leather. Without hope, faith, or love, Gwen has found herself to be eminently practical.
The Inspector healed well, the wounds on his shoulder closing with eerie speed. He’s stronger, too, lifting ruined furniture and debris out of the way without a hint of pain. He’s talking to her more now in that long, drawling tone, asking about where the money is coming from and what her plans are. As if he doesn’t understand that she cannot run from this place, that she is cursed as surely as he.
“I sold my shop,” she tells him finally, desperate for his days of silent delirium. “My uncle bought it at a rather competitive price and invested a large block of it. I’m also entitled to a portion of the shop’s profits every quarter.” She smiles across the wreckage of the table. “You see, Inspector, I am a woman of independent means.” His embarrassed air buys her another night of quiet.
Four days until the moon is full.
She finds the room on the final day.
When evening falls, she takes the Inspector by the hand and leads him into the mausoleum. He is docile, resigned, and Gwen does nothing to assuage his fear. She leads him down into the cell and lights the candles. When he sees the chair, he nearly weeps, with gratitude or despair, Gwen cannot tell and busies herself readying the restraints.
She binds him to the hellish chair with unfeeling roughness, ignoring his grunts of discomfort. When she is finished, she feels she should say something, anything to this man condemned. But nothing comes, so she leans forward and presses the softest of kisses to his forehead. He closes his eyes beneath her lips and sighs, low and afraid. She bars the doors behind her.
She sits up all night with a loaded shotgun, two silver rounds at the ready, for him and for her.
There are no words for the pain. None at all.
He is a man by morning. Barely a man, trembling and bleeding where the cuffs cut at his flesh, but no longer given over to the beast. Miss Conliffe returns for him at daybreak and helps him limp back to the house. Waiting in his room is a jug of water and a plate of beef steak, so rare it bleeds when he rips at it with his teeth. He washes and binds his wrists and ankles with gauze, then descends to find her daintily embroidering a handkerchief, surrounded by the blackened remains of a damned lineage. And in that moment, he adores her.
It becomes a habit, a month of near normalcy followed by a waking nightmare locked in that room. Aberline didn’t expect to survive another night after the creature bit him, let alone another month. But one month slips away, then another, and another. The weather turns against them and Miss Conliffe returns from town with heavy woolens and thick quilts for their beds.
He dares not venture beyond the grounds. The fact of the Talbots’ deaths helped restore order to the village, but the rumor of the beast persists. Only Miss Conliffe makes the day trip for food and supplies. She says the villagers tolerate her, indulge her, a grief-stricken woman without family or connections. A pitiable creature chained to her heartache. Aberline cannot imagine anyone pitying the tower of strength contained within that woman. He’s dealt with the hard-edged knowledge of street whores and the sweet stupidity of polished ladies, but never has he known a creature like Miss Conliffe. Given the chance, she would shock them all.
He writes. He writes a fantastical story about a man and the moon and a monster. He sends it to a publisher he knew in his life before. He uses a false name.
They adore it. After the excitement in London, the populace is hungry for tales of the horrible, the grotesque, the impossible. The publishers pay him handsomely for the manuscript and send money for the copies sold. They send him a volume, a striking red-bound book entitled The Man-Wolf of Exmoor. He burns the pages one at time while Miss Conliffe darns her petticoats. She never mentions it.
With the extra money, Miss Conliffe is able to hire men from the village to make basic repairs. They protest loudly about not setting one blessed foot on those grounds, begging your pardon, miss, but it’s been a poor harvest and desperation always wins, in the end. Soon, fires are no longer a luxury and food becomes more varied. Aberline tastes wine for the first time in ages and the novelty of it makes his head spin. It’s then that he notices it.
The strength was easily to feel. Aberline, while never a slothful man, could nearly outrun the remaining horses now. His senses were heightened, making the song of every bird a symphony and the glitter of frost on a window pane a masterpiece. Tonight the wine is a cacophony of flavors and textures. And then he smells her.
Miss Conliffe. Gwendolyn. Her skin, her hair, everything conspires against him. The rough soap she washes with. The dust on her skirts. The tang of sweat at her temples. The heavy, drugging scent from between her legs. She’s sipping at her wine and staring into the fire, and Aberline closes his eyes and breathes her in. He wants to bury his face in her stomach. He wants to leave the room without a second thought. He wants to drag her to the hearth and use her like a whore.
“More?” She offers the bottle to him, the liquid within dark and bittersweet.
They finish the wine together.
The Inspector stares at her. Gwen can feel him, sometimes, looking at her from doorways and around corners. He stares, not like Ben or Lawrence. Not even like Sir John, Gwen remembers with a shudder, although that, perhaps, is the closest comparison.
It’s worst in the days before the full moon. He prowls the grounds, restless, the black hound Samson at his heels. Their conversation, never frequent at its best, dwindles to grunts and sharp looks. The food she brings to the table never satisfies and he eats without pause, without tasting. He stares. He’s waiting for something, Gwen knows. But not the beast; that will come without fail. Something else.
She stops pinning up her hair first, then discards the bustle pads. Her sleeves are perpetually turned back. She wears a half apron, its hem a ragged edge against the black of her skirts. There is no chaperone to reprimand her, no peers to gossip behind her back. The villagers could care less about her attire and Samson keeps his own counsel. But the Inspector stares and Gwen feels stripped down to skin and nerves by his gaze.
It’s February, Gwen thinks. Maybe March. The weather is damp and cold, and what’s left of the house groans with the wind. She cannot sleep, her candle extinguished hours ago when reading failed to lull her mind to silence. Samson stirs in the hall outside and then barks, the sound painfully loud in the dark. She gets up, not bothering to find a robe or a lantern.
The moonlight streams through the corridor and Gwen experiences the familiar jolt of panic, the fear of miscalculation. But the moon is days away from fullness and what little relief she has left comforts her. A noise from the Inspector’s room startles her. Creaking floorboards and then silence.
The dreams are getting worse. She’s in all of them now, pale and warm and ready for him. It’s difficult to tell in the dreams what he wants from her. Aberline has never had to struggle with his carnal desires. His wife was as accommodating as could be expected from a woman of breeding and his work on the Ripper case precluded street women as an option for him. But he wants now, he aches with it. Tonight at supper he imagined yoking her head backward and taking his teeth to her throat, to tear or to taste, he wasn’t sure.
In his dream, she is beneath him, back arched and legs apart, the picture of abandon. He wakes moaning in the half-light from the window. He paces the room once, twice, hoping the chill of the floor will soothe him.
Then she enters.
She doesn’t bother knocking.
He’s standing at the window, his hair mussed from troubled sleep. He is unclothed. There is hair on his chest, she notes, and his thighs, and it seems she does have enough shame left to blush. He stands perfectly still and stares at her, and she knows then, knows what part of the beast is here already.
She knows because she feels it, the too-tight pull behind her navel, the flash of prickling heat up her arms, down her back. She bites her lower lip, tugs it into her mouth, worries at it.
He’s breathing like he’s about to change, clenching his hands to fists at his side. His eyes are too bright in the gloom, lit from within. Gwen can see herself in them. He hasn’t moved.
If Gwen still believed in a world where men and beasts were separate, she would have left the room that instant. But there is no difference between the two, none at all, and Gwen reaches up and pushes her nightgown off her shoulders.
He comes to her, sickened by his appetite, but determined to slake it nonetheless. The nightgown tears easily in his hands and he flings her back onto the bed—
— his hands clutch at her hips, her breasts, her thighs, and she gasps into his mouth, his beard strange against her cheeks, and she twines her fingers –
— she scratches through his beard, and he groans, fists his hands in her hair, and feels her go soft and lax under him, like permission, like an offering –
—he kisses her there, and it should feel filthy and shameful, and it does, but it only strings her higher—
—the thought that he should warn her about the pain flickers through his mind, and is gone—
—and oh God, it hurts, it hurts, but she wants it all the same—
—and the cursed world narrows to his teeth on her skin, and her nails on his shoulders—
—and she rocks up and up to meet him until he bays and shudders and falls.
He sleeps, dreamless, in her arms.
Gwen thinks if she loved him, she would kill him now. Put a bullet to his chest and end this before another moonrise.
But she doesn’t love him and this isn’t love, and that isn’t what she wanted anyway.
He stirs, pressing his face hard against her neck. His breath is warm and steady on her skin.
She is almost certain this is not love.
Aberline straps himself into the chair this month.
Gwen stands in the ruined hall, the burnt carcasses of Talbot trophies under her feet. She empties the powder from the silver bullets one by one.
In the distance, a wolf howls at the moon, high and lonely and pure.