Wynonna gasped free of the strangulating dark and emerged in her childhood bedroom, thrashing and swearing, kicking off her sheets like they were trying to kill her. She struggled against the ropes on her wrists but could only find her own shaking hands. There was no crushing weight on top of her, no harsh grit under her palms, just the fuzzy null blue of her moonlit walls.
She wasn’t bound. She wasn’t gagged. Her bed was her bed and not a shallow, sandy grave. There was no horseshoe of hooded men standing above her, heaving shovelfuls of dirt that beat bruises into her chest and stomach.
Wynonna had been dreaming; now Wynonna was awake. It was a real sonofabitch of a nightmare, but just a nightmare all the same.
She rolled her heavy legs off the edge of her bed and managed to sit upright. She wiped her clammy palms against her knees, then balled them into fists of resolution. She sat up straight as she took a deep breath—then sunk forward bonelessly the moment she let it loose. In the dream she’d been as angry as she was frightened, but she couldn’t remember the specifics now, just that her curses were dulled by the dirty gag in her mouth. She wished she still had a grip on the anger. This hollow panic was much worse.
Peacemaker was right there on her nightstand, but the whiskey bottle was empty. Her eyes felt gritty but at least they were free from tears.
“It’s fine, I’m fine,” she told the dark. “Everything’s… everything’s fine.”
Even after she sat there a moment and her vision adjusted to the murky night, each inhale felt stuffy, almost sticky. The air wasn’t hot, but she was hot. She felt like she was burning up. Her door and windows had all been closed, entombing her in the stale, sweaty room. At least that explained why the air—like the heavy dirt—still felt like it was choking her. More importantly it gave her hope that this was a problem she could solve.
She half-walked, half-stumbled to the nearest window, then wedged it up with the palm of her hand and some leverage of her hip. She sighed and drank in the cold night air like a dog out the side of a car. The winter breeze was the best damned thing she’d ever felt, and she greeted it with a “Shitting-god-damn,” as she sunk right down to her knees. It wasn’t dignified to collapse like that, but she didn’t care—she couldn’t stay up—and anyway there was nobody here to judge.
Her lungs still ached from straining to breathe. The rest of her ached from the fight for her life, struggling against imaginary bonds, kicking at phantoms. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead to the cold of her windowsill. Then she sighed and blinked up into the night, letting her eyes adjust for a second time.
For years when Wynonna saw this dark landscape, it meant she was still in a nightmare, not the waking escape. It was all so achingly familiar. The past few days had been unseasonably warm, so there was no snow anywhere, just dead and dying grass as far as the eye could see. She could pick out the driveway, and there was the truck… and then there was the barn.
Its outline was strangely lit, almost glimmering, and it didn’t look like the moonlight. A faint glow leaked from all its seams and streamed across the yard like an anti-shadow. That was a light from in there, probably a lantern. It seemed Wynonna wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping.
She tore her gaze away from the dimly illuminated barn and then turned to sit on her floor, staring at the empty bed behind her. It wasn’t a grave, but watching it warily in the dark, she saw a very strong resemblance. Climbing back into bed alone felt impossible: she might as well start pulling the dirt down around herself.
One moment Wynonna was sitting there, breathing, rubbing her unbound wrists.
Then she was biting her lower lip.
Then she was on her way out the door.
After all, she needed fresh air, and air didn’t get much fresher than open prairie at ass o-clock at night.
The breeze was cool on her exposed skin, which honestly right now was most of her. She wore just an oversized t-shirt and barely-sized shorts and a gauzy, moth-bitten sweater she’d grabbed off the banister as she passed the stairs. This kind of weather, it was hard to feel comfortable no matter what you wore; she pulled it tightly around herself, but hadn’t bothered to put on shoes. The chill of dew jolted was a shock to the system; it was winter, after all. It made no sense, what she was doing. She could almost hear Daddy’s voice ringing in her ears: I know you’re not going in there barefoot, Wynonna.
Wynonna’d gone twenty-seven years without stepping on a nail and tonight she’d just have to let that luck ride. With that whole mess of demons slobbering for Earp blood, the thought of dying of tetanus felt almost… quaint? Cute? Optimistic, even. It sure beat getting entombed by hell spawn.
She shook her head without meaning to. The heavy rustle of hair reminded her that she was probably a mess—probably more of a mess than usual. She ran her still-clammy hands through her hair and tried to wind the tendrils back in, make it look a little less like she’d fist-fought a sweaty tornado. Then she swiped a thumb under both her eyes to clear their undersides of yesterday’s mascara. She was strangely proud that she hadn’t been crying and would be damned if old make-up made it look like she was.
Her head was still racing when she made it to the barn. When she raised her hand to knock on the door pale light streamed across it, dancing with motes and pollen. So strange how that’s what almost convinced her to turn around and march back inside.
It would have been smart, it would have been sane, but… Wynonna’s fight-or-flight mechanism had always been a goddamn wreck. Five minutes ago she’d begged for escape from a shallow grave, and now all she wanted was to bury herself under the heavy weight of somebody, anybody else.
Wynonna took a good, long breath. She knocked on the door a couple of times, but only when she was already pulling the door open. It was less about being polite and more about not getting herself shot.
“It’s me,” she called, then weakly clarified: “Wynonna.” The door swung outwards with only light resistance against her hand and she stepped into the dimly illuminated space.
Instinct drew her eyes to the glimmer of a gun that Doc was already uncocking. He was upright in bed in a thin white tank top with flannel blankets pooled around his waist. He held a now-closed book, for some reason. Though his pistol was no longer leveled, he still looked tense as a coiled rattlesnake—or maybe a guard dog awaiting command.
“Somethin’ the matter?” he asked her intently.
Demons. He meant demons.
“No, nope, uh, nothing like that.” She tried to keep her eyes from bugging out and pointed the world’s most casual wave back toward the house. “Just saw the light on through my window.”
“I see.” The light, wary undercurrent to his words almost made Wynonna wish there were demons outside. “I hope it did not wake you.”
She flashed a tense, fakey-feeling smile, pulled the shrug extra tightly around herself and started walking over. “Already up.”
“Bad dreams?” Doc teased.
When she wasn’t fast enough to keep from flinching, all the humor went right out of his eyes. She watched it happen, grimaced, and turned away like she’d been slapped. Damn him for seeing right through her. Damn herself for letting that private shit be seen. Damn that shallow grave, and the guys in the robes, and all her whiskey for running out.
“Don’t ask me if I want to talk about it, because I don’t,” she warned, knowing the jokiness of her voice was stretched too thin to effectively cover all the rest. She turned to close the door behind her and took extra care to make sure it didn’t squeak, which was a weird thing to focus on because it had never done so in her memory. It just gave her a private moment to make a face and then scrub it before turning around again.
“Well,” Doc began, then let it hang in the air. He watched her movements carefully but did her the kindness of letting it go. “If you are in here for a mug of warm milk... I regret to tell you this barn is now disused for livestock.”
She grimaced. “Yeah, that never worked for me.”
“Me either,” he admitted. “I’ve had better luck with whiskey, but as you can see, I’ve run bone-dry.”
He gave a little wave which she followed with her eyes; sure enough she wasn’t the only one with an empty bottle on her nightstand. Well, for her it was a nightstand, but for him it was an upturned crate. She assumed (or invented) an invitation to come closer and she took him up on it, pulling the sweater even tighter as she commiserated, “Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around these days.” The tragic lack of whiskey was the main thing they in common; that and the awful mess of it all.
She looked over his other belongings she got closer: the lantern, his tobacco tin, his hat, his other gun. The rest of his stuff was strewn on the other crates and tables, but not anywhere with existing purpose—the workbench for instance was totally empty. She traced it with her fingers as she passed. His boots were tidy and ridiculous in a neat pair by the foot of the bed.
She’d called this Doc’s ‘nest,’ his ‘manger’ and his ‘man cave,’ but none of the nicknames had bothered him, so none of them had stuck. It had all looked like a half-assed joke by daylight but now three things dawned on her at once: this small collection of old-timey objects was Doc’s entire life; she was extremely an asshole for just barging in here; and she was nonetheless still hot enough to swindle some slack she didn’t really deserve.
Wynonna leaned back against the workbench and uncrossed her arms to rest both hands on its edge behind her. The sweater drifted open like theater curtains, leaving just the t-shirt, and she watched his eyes sweep sideways across whatever stupid slogan was written across her tits.
“We’ll have to make a liquor run in the morning,” she told him off-handedly.
“In the morning,” he repeated, but he made that same word much more about the morning’s distance than its proximity. God, she could taste the way he said it; it washed the sour taste of fear from her mouth. The way Doc placed his gun on the table beside the bottle, it felt like punctuation.
Wynonna bit her lower lip and turned to wipe some dust off the workbench with her fingertip. Then she pretended an interest in the result. That was her M.O., after all. That was just classic barn-carer Wynonna Earp.
There was only so much barn-caring she could pretend to do, and she became acutely aware that she didn't have a second topic to mention. Remembering that random book in his lap felt like a gift from the universe. Wynonna cast a long sideways look back at it. She was close enough now to see a single finger dipped between the pages—a makeshift bookmark he’d kept with one hand while holding a gun in the other.
“Waverly give you homework?” she asked.
He pursed his lips as though scandalized by the suggestion. “I am an educated man with a lot of catching up to do.”
Doc tilted his head with a hidden smile, reluctant to throw over one Earp to please the other. His loyalty to Waverly was at once both charming and… rude, honestly. Super uncalled-for. He was supposed to like her just a little bit better, deep down, to be just a little farther in her corner; she’d pulled his hair as they fucked in a muddy field, and if that wasn’t enough to earn her an edge in the sisterly favoritism game just this once then she didn’t stand much of a chance otherwise. It was totally unfair.
He made no attempt to secure the book as Wynonna reached over to snatch it from his hands, then danced back out of reach. It felt like turnabout for him stealing Peacemaker that first day they’d met, except he’d had a real interest in Peacemaker, and she was mostly just interested in taking his things. She tilted her head like she was going to read the title, but she was never going to read the title. It was bound in dusty red cloth, unembossed, so she’d have to actually check out the title page. That wasn’t worth the squint in the lantern-light. She clicked her tongue as she flipped uncarefully through it.
“She won’t be happy if you ruin the binding.”
“Why would she give you books if she didn’t want me to mess with them? That just doesn’t make any sense.”
His soft laugh emboldened her, so she shut the book and waved it like a warning.
“See, that’s your mistake. If you read the one, she’s going to keep expecting you to do it. And, y’know, reading in dim light like this? It’s really hard on the eyes.”
“Nothing in this barn is hard on the eyes.”
“Don’t change the subject,” she said, fighting a smile.
“I do not rightly know the subject… unless.” He made a big show of looking thoughtful, like he would never dream of his suspicions except in the face of extraordinary evidence. “It may just be a trick of the light, but I swear I see a certain gleam in your eye. Am I to believe I have some part to play in all this?”
As he gestured to his seated body, Doc was the absolute picture of innocence; a newborn angel unaccustomed to the sins and follies of womankind. Wynonna had once been too blinded by gunsmoke and legend to really see just what a brat Doc Holliday could be, but now she beheld him in all his bratty glory, and… god forgive her, she still wanted to bang him. She wanted to bang him even more.
She put down the book and crossed her arms, but even so was creeping closer. She tried her best to sound unimpressed. “You can believe whatever you want.”
“I believe that you are barefoot and lonesome,” he drawled, a knowing squint taking up at the edges of his eyes. “I believe that you took my book away because you like the way I turn your pages.”
Wynonna didn’t say anything, but was just now crossing into arm’s reach, and he tracked her movement like a sunflower to the sun.
“And I believe your little sister would not have granted me space in the barn if she—”
Wynonna interrupted him with a held-up hand: “Waverly offered. I granted.”
“And I truly appreciate the kind—and unselfinterested—willingness to keep me close by.”
She tilted her head, looking down at him. “You know, you said this barn didn’t have any livestock, but I’m still finding a ton of bullshit.”
“Beautiful, and such a poetical way with words!”
“Yeah, that’s what it says on the men’s room wall.” Wynonna walked a couple of fingers up the strap of his tank top, absently, like ants climbing up a soda straw. Her knees were touching the side of the bed, but this was the first time that she touched him. “Now, if you’re done busting my ass for doing something nice for you…”
Doc’s lips twitched into a savvy smile as her wandering fingers found his jaw.
“...d’you know any good rhymes for ‘cut-up and miss me’?”
Wynonna guessed he must’ve, because he managed to shut up long enough for Wynonna to take his face in her hands and plant a kiss against his self-satisfied mouth.
She felt him hesitate a moment and then she felt that tension leave him. She hadn’t known a man could melt upward, but yeah, he melted up to meet her. Doc’s lips were soft and his mustache was as vexing as the rest of him. The stubble felt different than the last time she’d held his face like this; it made sense, it was twelve-some hours further from his last shave. That single venturing kiss lingered on like that a moment, and then suddenly—as though on some unspoken signal—the world tilted forward and they were all over each other again.
Her shirt was soft on her lower back when he got his hands in the hem of it and wound it tight, pulled her flush to the edge of the bed. She tilted open his mouth and chased the ghost of whiskey against his tongue. A noise of assent rumbled through him, beckoning. It felt like a private lapse from a dangerous man and there she was to pry at the crack in his armor.
Just like that, there went her distant, low-simmering fear that it wouldn’t be the same, that they’d fall into the second-hookup paradox where they’d done all they needed to do the first time, left only fumes in their wake. This felt like the opposite. This felt like they’d burned it in.
Doc matter-of-factly threw back the flannels and slid back, making room for her. Wynonna climbed up without hesitation. The straw mattress had more give than she would have expected, but she managed to stay plausibly upright and balanced. She breached the space he’d left for her and instead climbed all the way over, palming his shoulder pushing him down ‘til he had a lap and ever so gracefully straddling it. She didn’t know if that surprised him because she left him no time to make a face.
“See?” she insisted against his mouth, “Flattery won’t get you anywhere with me.”
He gave a low laugh. “I am more interested in where you have gotten yourself.”
Doc was a perversely talented kisser, as effortlessly and obnoxiously good as when playing (or shooting) cards. He was warm, capable… he had those steady hands. They skimmed up her bare legs to skim the pajama shorts and settle around her waist. Her thin old shirt did nothing to diffuse the perfect, needy pressure of his palms.
She felt him pull away long enough to glance toward the now-neglected middle of the bed. Leaving room was a miscalculation he rectified without warning, lifting them both up bodily and dropping down closer to the center. It wasn’t even seductive—logistics, more than anything—but there was a whole lot of pelvic locomotion and good lord she was starting to feel better already.
Freed now from the ragged grip of her nightmare, this was a far easier to be Wynonna to be: easy confidence, easy instinct. She tugged off her sweater with a sorority-car-wash wriggle and tossed it by the head of the bed. Doc’s eyes glimmered with appreciation and Wynonna drank up the attention like nectar. It warmed her right up, put the pink back in her cheeks. Every inch where she touched him crackled with uneven intimacy and suspense. They’d done some very bad things together but they’d never actually seen each other naked, and Wynonna looked very good naked. She just refused to be the only one.
His thin tank top was riding up from all her manhandling, and he let her pull it off of him, rolling those broad shoulders for her as he tugged it over his head. It was a crime how he hid those muscles in his usual bulky layers, and she felt pressed to catalog them while they were free and visible. He had a brawler’s build more than anything else and the wear-and-tear of his former life had made a lacework of his chest.
She splayed her fingers below his navel and walked her hands very slowly upward. He made a play for the hem of her shirt and she brushed his hand away like a bug. He fixed her with as sulky look but forgot to keep it up as she resettled her weight across his lap. She didn't mind the straw at all; it didn't have the bounce of a mattress but when she eased him down, he stayed there.
Doc picked up her right hand when she made it halfway up his chest, briefly pretended an interest in her peeling black nail polish, then drew it back far enough to kiss it. It reminded her of their first proper introduction and she knew that it was meant to. It was a gentleman’s greeting gone profoundly wicked; as the moment passed, the grip grew stronger instead of loosened. The kisses started drifting up her wrist, then the vulnerable skin of her inner arm.
She chuckled breathily when she realized his game. He wasn’t sitting up to close the distance—he was pulling her down on top of him, slowly but ungently, inch by inch until she was looming over him.
She assumed he wanted to make out some more but he kept maneuvering her until her mouth was out of range of his own, and the same time he was shimmying his body down beneath her. He released her arm when they were no longer rightly aligned, holding her gently by the ribcage instead and perusing the thin cotton between her breasts. His breath ghosted her solar plexus, her collarbone… her shirt catching here and there against on the tip of his nose, the brush of his mustache. It was soft, ticklish, maddening.
He gently cupped one breast in his palm and kissed its inner edge. She could feel his breath ghosting through the cotton and her gut thumped in anticipation, but he left the nipple alone—that fucker—and meandered upward until he hit the skin past the neckline of the t-shirt, making landfall on her bare neck opposite of the arm to which he’d paid all the attention.
After all those moments with the shirt between them, it was overwhelming to get his mouth on her bare skin for real. Every huff of breath and slip of his tongue made her feel like sinking down into him and skittering away all at once. He kept pulling at her shirt make more room on her neck, brushing away her long, messy hair and helping himself to extra inches of skin.
As her hand skimmed helplessly up against the flannel sheets, she brushed something unexpected with her pinky. It looked like... glasses? Reading glasses, the wiry old-fashioned kind. Honest-to-god spectacles. She thought, abstractly, that she needed to make fun of him.
At that exact moment Doc palmed one of her tits over the shirt as he lunged for the tenderest part her neck. Instead of mockery Wynonna loosed a lightly pornographic moan and dropped the glasses… somewhere. She didn’t care. He took her sound as encouragement and he was certainly right to feel encouraged.
Their tryst out in field had been… fast. No judgment whatsoever on his prowess; they were stone’s throw away from a public road and anyway, it’s what she’d wanted. She had told him, repeatedly and rudely, that it was what she wanted. She just hadn’t really considered what he could get up to if given a little time.
Trouble. He could get up to some trouble. She was the one who still had a shirt on but she felt more naked than naked, and she had to hold out an arm to brace herself against the wall of the barn. She knew that he’d caught her doing it because she felt him laugh against her neck, and felt it double when he chased that laugh with ferocious suction and pressure. A little bit of teeth.
“Ah, ah, no marks,” she snapped, “Not where anybody can see.”
Doc froze immediately. She didn’t realize til after that she sounded like an asshole, and he gave the frosty chuckle of the conspicuously not-insulted.
“Now we wouldn’t want that, would we,” he drawled. His breath chilled the slickness of her neck. “I can stick to the more remote locales, if you wish.”
“I do wish,” she told him saucily, settling back to meet his eyes.
For a moment he seemed to be weighing her request… and then.
She’d lost track of his other hand until she felt it flickering between her thighs and then the whole damn hand, taking a sudden and confident hold of her with a seismic kind of vigor she felt in every fiber of her being.
“Oh, sonofabitch,” she swore, rapturously, which only emboldened him further, teasing at the middle seam of those poor little killjoy pajama pants. After all the good work he’d just put in, she glimmered on the knife’s edge of getting off just from this, and both of them knew it. She collected herself just enough to threaten, “I am so going to make you regret this.”
“In a minute, darlin’,” he drawled, a smug little smile neatly tucked behind his mustache.
She went to make some kind of menacing gesture but ended up just resting her hand across his cheek. Kind of diagonally, kind of just to hold herself up as he stroked her. He looked up into her eyes like a betting man with everything riding on this particular hand. His expression was insufferable, but his hand was… very sufferable.
The indignity of the thing aside, oh, she was so, so tempted to chase that feeling. It took her every ounce of self-determination to collect herself back from the ragged edge. She screwed her face, gave a hiss of consternation and smacked his hand back into the open, hard enough that the sound hung in the air and he had to shake off the sting.
As Doc nursed his extremely well-deserved wound, she shook off the petty would-be petit mort with a full-body shudder of resolution—the same way she might shake off getting touched by a spider. “You are a dead man, you just don’t know it yet.”
“I am sorry,” he drawled, but did not look sorry; he looked luminous. “Was that rude of me? Should I have knocked first before making myself at home?”
“I knocked!” she protested, but her voice was half an octave too high for effective outrage and he just seemed to find it funny. Wynonna might have found it funny, too, except she felt too much like a cartoon character trying to swim her way back up a waterfall.
“Hey!” She lurched forward to try and pinch his love handles, but his reflexes were too good for it. That just made him happier. The sheer cuteness of it all was enraging, and she fumed, “I will not be laughed at by a man who wears vests.”
“This coming from a woman who’s wearing a clown.”
That would be a weird fucking thing to bluff about. Wynonna dug for a snappy comeback and realized that she didn’t have one. She glanced down just long enough to confirm which shirt this was, and: yep, the clown one. Black line art on a sky blue background. Shorty’s gave them away free for years because they didn’t sell; while it was a cherished piece of local history, it was also pretty horrifying. She almost had to commend his determination to grope her down the barrel of a clown’s gaze.
"To be fair…” she led her sentence the still-menacing finger, but soon it drooped like the rest of her. “I didn’t know I was wearing this,” she admitted, “In hindsight I would not have worn this."
Doc’s fingers had crept under the hem without her noticing and now were lightly pulling at its edges. “A regrettable oversight with a clear solution.”
"Nuh-uh-uh!” She slapped him away. “Hands where I can see 'em, cowboy."
Doc flashed her his palms to pantomime surrender—no harm, no foul—and faked a big old sigh. He looked for all the world like he was at the absolute end of his rope. “Well it seems that I cannot do anything right,” he said theatrically. “Why don’t you tell me what you do want me to do for you?”
“Ha,” she began haughtily, because he didn’t need the encouragement. “Well, there is one thing that comes to mind.”
“Oh, there is, is there?”
“Yeah, and I’m not even gonna make you guess.” She leaned in and laced her fingers through his, since his hands had conveniently wilted from the show of surrender.
She did this just lightly, just enough to push them back until they hit flannel behind his head. Doc looked up with her with the sure-footed wickedness of a man who thought he knew exactly what she was up to. She was pretty sure that he did not. She leaned in close—she wanted him to feel her breath on his cheek—and said, “I want you to say, ‘Wynonna, I’m sorry I touched your hair.”
She pulled back just far enough to watch the confusion play across his face, because that was the whole point and she wasn’t going to miss it. He glanced between her face and her hair, and wiggled the fingers she still had pinned to the bed as a show that was unlikely to happen.
She chuckled like it was all just an embarrassing little misunderstanding.
“Oh, sorry! No, not yet,” she said. She kissed his chin, then collarbone, and even without moving any further she could feel him tracking that downward momentum. “You’ll know when.”
He put two and two together when she strung together a chain of kisses down his chest. She didn’t stop to look up at his face, just felt it in his belly when he drawled, “I see.”
“Yeah, thought you might,” she said.
Wynonna liked his solid chest, she liked his abs and she liked his hips, which was hard to predict under layers of clothes; she liked their sharpness and their softness. His body felt lived-in in a way that always wound her up just a little. He wasn’t the oldest guy she’d ever been with—well, yes he was, but the books said he died at 36 and that felt about right. The books hadn’t mentioned the spray of birthmarks on his stomach which she hadn’t noticed in the prior hurry, or that even immortal guys could be ticklish with a light brush of lips beneath the belly button. Wynonna shimmied down onto her knees at the very end of the bed and hummed against his pelvic bone.
Doc made a big show of lacing his hands behind his head, which was the most bullshit macho move imaginable, but in fairness she’d goaded him into it and she lived for that kind of implicit dare. The gesture said make me, and she was for sure gonna make him. That wasn’t even in question. This dipshit’s world was getting rocked. He’d chosen the wrong bluff to call.
So without any further showmanship, she yanked down off his twenty-first century boxers, and freed his ample... twentieth century… twentieth?
What century was Doc from, again? Twentieth? Nineteenth? She couldn’t remember.
She hadn’t dragged herself out here barefoot to give Doc Holliday a math job.