She doesn't expect him.
It's obvious the moment Vanessa's aware of him in the room, and the look of surprise on her face, her ever-innocent eyes wide, bring a smile to Stanton's lips. It's the barest of tugs at first, a twitch of muscles as he takes in the sight of her face illuminated by her amulet. She's not expecting him, but she should have been.
She should at least have not been surprised to see him, if anything.
"Hi," Vanessa finally says, watching him as he takes a seat on the edge of her desk.
She's wary, but not for the reasons she should be. That's good. He likes that change in her, likes someone seeing him and not being afraid. A stillness ripples through Stanton as he takes that thought in and lets it roll over and over in his mind until he can't stand it.
Since when has he cared whether or not someone sees him as a monster? It's what he is. What he's chosen to be. What he embraced.
Her eyes are still wide and blue and innocent, and he can't understand how she carries that when he knows her.
Vanessa Cleveland is not innocent.
Her teeth sink into her lip, and his gaze flickers to the movement. She catches it, because he's not subtle. He's not trying to be. A heat spreads along her cheeks, painting her pink. "Don't look at me like that."
Stanton sighs, flicking his bangs out of his face. "How am I looking at you?"
"Like there's something wrong with me."
She wraps her arms around herself, a frown tugging at her mouth.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Stanton doesn't know why he says those words, offering for her to spill her soul at his feet when it wouldn't take but a second to know all of her secrets anyway. But he resists. He lets her come to him instead and pretends that this is what it's about.
That he doesn't care about her.
That he isn't worried about how she's dealing with everything that Hector has taught her about herself.
Her bottom lip wobbles, and he wonders if she'll cry. Those eyes go glassy, but she holds it in. Stays silent. Stares at him like she's begging for him to take it all out of her head so that she doesn't have to talk about it. So that she can forget. So that she can go back to being just some normal, boring human girl crushed under peer pressure.
"I killed him," she finally says.
His shoulders lift in a shrug. "You did."
"I wanted to save him," she whispers.
"Not everyone wants to be saved."
The look she gives him is so sharp, he almost loses the breath in his lungs. It's like she can see into his soul now, if he even has one left. If he does, she's looking at it. It's a talent.
"Why?" It sounds like the question a kid would ask, every curious, unable to accept the answers. But there's bitterness to her tone and rage brimming under her skin as she takes a step closer to him. Her hands are balled up into fists. "Why don't they want to be saved? Why wouldn't Hector want to be free of his shackles?" Another step, and he can smell her now. Soft like jasmine and honey, probably from her shampoo, the shower that came from post-show. "Why don't you want to be free?"
It's not about him. It's not even about Hector. "Why do you want to be free?"
She stops just in front of him, shocked that he's figured her out so easily.
He doesn't know why; she's not that complicated for him to figure out.
Her lip wobbles again, but she still doesn't cry. He can feel her grief now, like a wave throwing to drown her if she doesn't make for high ground. "I don't want to be like him."
"You're not, Vanessa." Stanton reaches his hand out, twisting a blonde curl around his finger. It's still wet. "You care too much to be like him."
I wanted to, though," she admits in the smallest of whispers. "I wanted to go with him and be given the freedom he promised. You have no idea, Stanton." She closes her eyes and sighs heavily. "It felt good."
"Which part, dea?"
"I don't know." Her eyes open again, still innocent.
How does she even manage to do that?
With a sigh, he wraps his arms around her, tugging her closer so that she can bury her face in his chest. So that he doesn't have to look at those eyes anymore as she tells him how much she loved the taste of chaos she got.
How much more he could give her.
He's glad she killed Hector. Not because she's safer now, because the world is a little bit safer, but because he is a selfish monster. Vanessa is… Special to him. Not his, because he cannot own the wild, but tethered.
By her kindness, by his obsession.
She breaks then, those tears she kept so tightly locked up spilling over. Her sobs are loud, piercing, as he feels every inch of her soul crack and repair itself over and over with each sound.
His hand goes to her hair, stroking it. The other rests at the small of her back, fingers splayed along the bare skin exposed there. She's warm and soft and smells tempting. She's hope and despair and wild and innocent.
"Don't leave," she mutters into his shoulder, face moving up. Her breath brushes against his neck.
She's inviting danger, as she always does. With him, with Toby, with Hector, with Catty. She is attracted to what lives in the darkness because she is one of them, too.
"Are you giving me orders now?" he asks in a low voice, practically a purr.
A shudder runs through her body, vibrating against him. He bites back a groan.
"I'm begging you." Her voice is soft, tired, but she's sure. He can feel that from her.
"Playing with fire, Vanessa," Stanton warns her.
"I just need someone who understands."
And somehow, he's the one playing with fire. He's the one who holds her all night, curled in her bed, her fingers wrapped in his shirt. She drools, he finds out after she falls asleep.
It's oddly endearing.