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The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

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Wynonna pulled back far enough to sweep her hair over one shoulder; from the satisfied smirk that tugged at Doc’s lips, he thought it was a show for his benefit. Sure, whatever revved his engine. Whatever kept him rapt and blushing with that wolfish look in his eye.

She pressed a few teasing kisses along his length, just to remind him who was in charge… maybe to remind herself. Out there in the air again, her neck still prickled from where he’d kissed her, just like those ‘remote locales’ he’d riled up kept vying for her attention. She tucked her knees just a little tighter and got down to goddamned business, sinking her mouth around him and relishing the grumble of his surprise. She liked the smell of him, the taste, the compliant flex of his thighs. She liked the way she could hear his honeyed accent even when he was just sighing. She even liked the douchey grandstanding of hands laced behind his head.

There were a lot of things that Wynonna didn’t know for sure. She didn’t really how to be the Heir. She didn’t know how to drift back to sleep after a nightmare, how to build a bed out of scrap wood, or to survive an intimate silence. What she did know was to brush her hair out of the way before she went down on somebody and how to fix her neck so it didn’t get a crick in it, even as the hay settled into a lopsided angle and forced her left hand to brace on the side of the bed. And her right hand was busy and getting busier, working a slow and steady counterpoint to the suction of her mouth.

Doc’s body was a thing out of time. He slept in hay, showered in hose water, smoked like a chimney, and sweat whiskey from his every pore—and beneath all that he still smelled (and tasted) a little like cool, damp stone. He’d stopped growing older in his thirties but he wore those years all the same.

Even if he’d never come clean about who he really was… on some level she felt like she would’ve put it together. She would’ve sensed the history—the goddamn vintage of him. It had been a hundred years since cowboy bordellos but from the way he luxuriated against the sheets she still would’ve known he’d owned one.

God, she was into it.

It was kind of fucked up how much she was into it, that he was both ‘her’ Doc and ‘that’ Doc and she could suck the both of them off at once. It was like tumbling headfirst into a world made sense for a minute—a weird kind of cosmic blowjob sense. It was them in the woods, them in a barn with lantern light licking at all his edges, and her at all his middle. It was the thundering promise of everything to follow.

She caught some movement out of the corner of her eye, a dark blip of movement she couldn’t account for. She tried not to pay it much attention but got curious when her periphery stayed darkened. Doc had plucked up his hat from the table and was holding it against his face. It shaded, but did not conceal, the blissed-out smile tugging at the edges of his lips.

It was adorable. He was fucking adorable and she was not prepared for it.

God, he looked so young like that, like a wriggling teenager pressing his face up into that stupid hat of his. Wynonna had done that to him. She was doing it to him now.

She hadn’t known her heart was on a hook but it must’ve been—she got that now—because she could feel the universe yank when she saw him doing it. Like, irregardless of everything else, she’d decided just now to also have a crush on him. Because of this. Mid-blowjob.

One of Doc’s eyes wedged open and he peered curiously down at her, eyebrow peaking. He knew better than to get pushy or even impatient, but he was certainly… curious… to know why she’d stopped.

She wasn't about to try and explain, so instead she slapped the inside of his thigh. “Hey,” she said, voice low and raspy, “Hats off in the presence of a lady.”

“My goodness, is there a lady somewhere in this barn?”

She pursed her lips in a half-hearted attempt to look proper. It might’ve been more convincing if not for where they’d just been. Her first instinct had been to argue; instead she just squinted thoughtfully. “Now that you mention it... no, there is not.”

“Well thank heavens,” he exclaimed, “I would hate to think there was some kind of misunder-st-ah—!”

No misunderstandings; he now understood her perfectly. If he got to impugn her maidenly virtue then she got to have a little fun with it. It was a weight-readjusting, straw poking up at her knees, look-ma-no-hands, chasing his tenderest places with an unrelenting force kinda fun. Everything that she did for him earned her something back; a shift against the sheets, a twitch of his knee, a stuttering little gasp.

“Jesus, woman,” he said, falteringly. She’d shaken something loose inside of him. She could feel him coming unspooled and that was gratifying, delicious, a little retaliatory. Spitefulness gave Wynonna a certain killer edge in the fellatio game even when she barely liked the guy. Wynonna more than barely liked Doc.

Sure enough a moment later she could feel his hand cupping the back of her head, probably without him even noticing. His fingers flexed bluntly against her scalp, cradled her head, gently tangled in the mess of her hair. It felt so good to be touched again that it took her a while to realize what that meant—that she’d won their little bet. Ever the gracious victor, Wynonna took the time for a little victory lap with a lot of tongue.

When she was satisfied that her point was made, pulled off with a lurid pop and looked up at him with the cutest, most amply-dimpled smile she could muster. It took him a long moment to realize she was not simply catching her breath. He peered down at her, almost beside himself with puzzlement, and then the shit-eating delight in her smile clued him in.

He rolled his eyes and he laughed, a big breathy belly laugh that flushed his cheeks even further, and by way of acknowledgement... he tipped his hat. That motherfucker.

Wynonna pushed herself up from him and stretched up towards the head of the bed. She extended her arm just far enough to flip the hat off by its brim, so it tumbled to the bed beside them. He responded not at all to the loss of it—was meeting her eyes one second and still meeting them the next. She was left in bed with a pink-cheeked, sweaty-haired cowboy whose smirking mouth really needed kissing.

She bit her lower lip and then started climbing up to meet him; she’d left him too lazy to do anything more than lift up his hand, so his fingers skimmed her side as she skimmed up his body. He didn’t move the hand, she moved; he was just that confident he knew where she was going and how she would do it. She felt that long unbroken line skimming all the way down the side of her body, and the hotness of it made her regret that still wearing clothes.

It was like she was the record and his fingertips were the needle, and while she didn’t play old-timey music, her victory-slash-revenge was deafening.

The perch over him was precarious, looming; she could feel his naked hips on the inside of her knees. Doc didn’t say anything, he just reached out that same hand and—she could tell he was going to fuck up her hair on purpose as a joke, so caught him by the wrist, and the mirth in his eyes confirmed her suspicions. With reflexes like Doc’s, if his hand got caught, it’s because he wanted it caught.

Now that his hand was hostage, she dragged two of his fingers against her mouth and pressed her luck. “Say I’m hilarious,” she demanded.

Doc pursed his lips in the way that meant he was concealing affection. He was definitely considering his options. She was expecting him to try and weasel out of it using some hokey Doc-ism or another; she was not expecting him to surge upward like a wall of naked muscle, scoop her into the air as she kicked and cackled, and dump her on her back onto the bed, honest-to-god squealing as she fell. She was left staring up at him wide-eyed and breathless for the half a second until he swung back on top of her.

“I’m hilarious,” he ever-so-obediently declared, and ducked in with a searing kiss that absorbed all of her giddy laughter. The thrill of being kissed again left her cackling all the more. Doc was not at all squeamish from where her mouth had been; she coaxed his mouth open from underneath, messily, needily, and he loved it. Her heart was racing from the mid-air spin and the thunderous rush of getting tossed around. She dropped her hands around his narrow waist, crowing in delight as she pulled him closer.

He was good about keeping his weight off her but she arched her back ‘til they were mostly touching anyway. At this point the cling of her pajamas felt filthier than if they were both naked. That was fine. That was good. She skimmed one hand to grab at his bare ass, gloating over all that acreage, and could feel his facial expression—not quite, but nearly annoyance—drawing up between them like a storm cloud.

Doc started pulling back onto his knees, then paused when he realized she was just gonna follow him up with her own flexible body. No reason for her to make it easy, right?

He gently but insistently pried her off of him and kept a hand between her breasts so she had no choice but to stay down. Their mouths made a lurid noise as the suction broke, and he looked as pink and breathless as if he'd surfaced from the ocean. He was nonetheless motivated to remember his original purpose, and illustrated it with a gesture down her body. “I can’t help but notice a certain... discrepancy in our attire.”

“Aw, Doc. You feeling underdressed?”

“You are overdressed,” he corrected, “and he is leering at me something awful.” Doc dropped his baleful gaze to the clown.

“It’s ‘cause you’re so handsome,” she told him, sugar-sweet.

He tilted his head in acknowledgement that yes, she was correct.

She lifted a hand to touch his cheek, and at the exact moment he got comfortable resting against her, she pushed his face back to make space between them. Then she maneuvered him sideways so he was facing one of the walls instead of her.

She watched the smile knit onto his lips in profile, and he stayed facing to the wall because that’s where she put him and he knew what was about to happen. He didn't even cheat, a least not so long as she was watching. It felt good to know he was frozen in place exclusively by the desire to please her, or... at least the desire not to piss her off.

Wynonna pulled off her shirt with a little more showmanship than was strictly necessary given it was just his peripheral vision. She tossed it so it hung over his face and then fell back against the flannel sheets. Doc had to disentangle himself from the shirt, so she had a moment of preparatory time, which she used to fan out her hair a little, like she was posing for a picture.

The shirt to the face had voided their deal so he turned back without being beckoned, and he caught her at the tail end of the arrangement—all her vanity and artifice on naked display—but her tits were also on naked display and they made an excellent distraction. Toplessness was Wynonna's cherished friend and faithful ally; Doc looked thrilled to finally get acquainted.

“Yeah,” she preened, “the gun is really my third most memorable feature.”

“Mm,” Doc insisted, “I should say fifth, after your smile, and your scintillating personality.”

She tucked an arm behind her head and reveling in the stretch of her lower back. “And here I thought you only wanted me for my body.”

“It does not hurt,” Doc joked, but the way he looked down at her… it was almost like it did. Hurt, that was. She’d thought he was going to be all over her but instead he just took it all in with an appreciation so heavy that it verged on horror.

She knew that look the moment she saw it. It was the look that meant she was gonna get away with it. Whatever it was this time, whatever the crime, whatever the con, whatever she needed some poor sap to do for her… that look was carte blanche for her bad behavior, and coming from Doc it both thrilled her and scared her shitless.

He tilted his head to one side and told her, “My, but you are beautiful.”

“You’re so too bad yourself.”

“Not like you,” he said, and his voice… his eyes...

Her gaze flicked up to the rafters above her so she felt, rather than watched, Doc drawing his hands down her hips. He skimmed them with his fingers and drew his thumbs across the elastic band of her shorts. She knew without looking that he made a very pretty picture too, warmly lit and fishing for permission she couldn’t bring herself to give him just yet.

When the room got too quiet all the sensations from her dream returned. The moment she ran out of distractions she could still feel the gag in her mouth, like if she kept trying to swallow it was gonna rot down there.

Wynonna wasn’t going to let it rot. She was going to use it.

“You know,” she said, “In that nightmare I had, they were burying me alive.”

“Sounds awful.”

“Not why I mentioned it.” When she finally met his eyes again, maybe her eyes were shining, and maybe she looked a little bit vulnerable a little bit on purpose. Maybe she let a careful little uptick hang at the end of her voice as she asked him, “Dig me up?”

She didn’t make it a question because she was unsure he’d do it; she made it a question because she knew what asking would do to him. It wasn’t really fair to use him like that, but Wynonna she didn’t crave righteousness the way she craved relief, and it sure was a relief when he tugged her hips roughly so her body slid toward him and a sigh tumbled out of her unbidden.

As his hands pried busily at her shorts, his mouth skimmed the same maddening path down her breasts they had before—this time against her exposed skin. Without any other way to support his weight those kisses were nearly load-bearing. For all her forbidding him to leave her with marks, the scrub of his mustache was probably doing a number on chest and she didn’t care, she couldn’t care. Her hand drifted up til it hit the wall; she'd just hold on to that a minute.

Doc tugged at her shorts and her good-for-nothing thong as though they were a single garment. It worked for a bit, and then it got complicated; their legs were all tangled together so he had to deftly reunite her knees and reverse-cat’s-cradle her undressed. The rough of his palms felt good as hell and she watched him work with unhelpful interest. He paused, met her eyes, and pressed a kiss to one knee, with an amount of tongue not traditionally commensurate with knee kissing. It should not have been hot but was hot enough to set her squirming in retribution.

She shimmied one foot out from a leg-hole before he could stop her, but he balled his fist in the rest of the fabric so she had no choice but to let him draw it off her himself. He working his lips from her calf to her ankle until he could yank them over her flexing, unhelpful foot. He was more mannerly than she had been and threw the garments aside instead of directly at her. With the ravenous way his eyes raked over her, covering any of it was the last thing he wanted to do.

That he was still holding her calf would make it convenient to kick him in the head if he tried to go down on her in this state. That is exactly what she’d do if the tables were turned, and it was a hell of a turnabout because when left to her own nocturnal devices she was usually pretty damn keen on that prospect. Wynonna stretched two fingers to hook in the stubble of the base of his jaw, keeping him facing upward. It was an invitation to climb back up her and it did not rhyme with ‘miss me.’

So Doc regarded her nakedness with only a passing bite to his lower lip and allowed her to beckon him back up until their mouths were nearly at a level. It jostled loose all the butterflies her stomach when she felt his the taper of his hipbones against her thighs. She could sense the weight of him, now, and the answering pressure of the sheets beneath her, clinging to her sweaty skin.

He captured her lower lip between his and then kissed her properly. She knocked her knees on either side of his naked body, clumsily and on purpose. When she kissed him back, she slid up her hands between them so they grazed his neck, the tops of his shoulders; whatever those particular muscles that peeked out from under his collar when she was watching from across a room—and he reached for something far away—

He drew the backs of his fingers along the side of her hip. It tickled every one of her nerves; it set her mind spinning off like a kaleidoscope.

She barely even noticed when she murmured, “Doc—”, so it took her a moment to realize why he’d hesitated, why he was even now awaiting her instruction.

“I didn’t mean stop,” she told him, “I was just saying your name.”

“Ah,” he said. He leaned in until his breath was warm on her ear, and his voice went low as a secret: “That is not my name, but it will do between friends.”

Friends, friends, friends. He thought that was hilarious. Intimacy was hilarious. Playing with live grenades was hilarious. She didn’t want to play anymore; she cradled the back of his head, pulled him closer.

“My friend told me his name was ‘Hank,’” she teased weakly, “So who are you, exactly...?”

She dug her heel in the back of his calf, because she wanted her answer by way of demonstration. He slid one hand down her hip until he found underside of her thigh. She gasped in anticipation, he grabbed a big, rough handful of her ass, and finally pressed inside her with one strong, slick, confident thrust.

The both of them exhaled at once, almost harmonized with it. Doc shifted his weight onto his forearms and all that glorious potential unfolded inside her. Her eyes flickered open and all she saw was the light against the slanted barn ceiling. It drifted into and out of focus as he thrust over and over into the molten mess of her. Her nails were stubs but still found some purchase in the sweat-glossed skin of his shoulders. His thrusts were steady but he was growing wilder; she liked that and he knew she liked it.

Goddamn, but there was just this... correctness to the way they fit together. It was almost immaterial to how good it felt (although it felt pretty fucking good). This was a different thing, a comfortable thing, a looking-for-something and finding-it-where-it-was-supposed-to-be kinda thing. She didn’t get that often; she never put shit where it belonged.

A lot about this was different than last time—she hadn’t bullied her way on top, they were romantically lit instead of flinching against broad daylight, there weren’t any rocks to skim the skin from her knee—but that one ridiculous feeling was the same, and it surprised her all the same, because she’d told herself she imagined it the first time. She was pretty famously not objective about the flaws of men who were otherwise good in bed. She’d told herself it was that same kind of blind spot. It was good sex Wynonna. Good sex Wynonna was not to be trusted.

It’s just… the sex… it was really good. She was glad that she’d come out here. She was glad that she’d picked him.

Her hands had been cradling his neck and she dropped one down to settle in the center of his chest, lingering against his sweaty skin as he moved above and inside her. It was that same idle curiosity that drove somebody to swipe condensation off their beer bottle. The impulse felt just like that to her, it was just a part of him that needed touching.

Doc’s hair was long enough to be a nuisance at this angle and it was starting to bother him, so he spared one hand to try and swipe it back. His bangs fell back right back in place not a moment later and she had a front row seat for the petulant face he made. She laughed directly in his face. He grimaced down at her, and she so, so indulgently lifted her hands to push the hair back behind his ears. It did not help and Wynonna was solving no problems, it was just lovely tricky work to keep her fingers from jumping, richter-scale style, every time he fucked into her.

He humored her a moment before ducking down to lick the sweet self-congratulation directly out of her mouth. He must have thought that level of brattiness meant he was not doing his job, because he slipped down an arm to catch under one of her knees and married an upward tug of her leg with an especially percussive thrust that left her gasping.

“Oh, there we go,” he drawled.

“Shut up,” she told him, but it sounded like someone else was saying it. It sounded like some other woman whose voice had just carried there on the wind.

He pushed himself back ‘til he was upright, kneeling, and chasing a faster rhythm. The tight grip on her hips was half to hold her and half to humor her; it was a little harder than it had to be, though not quite as hard as she would have preferred in this state. And there was his hair right back in his eyes and then tossed it back with a flick of his neck, and because it was upright, it stayed. She knew it was mostly gravity but it did it for her all the same. Him up there, letting loose with vigor. Her down there on the flannel, shaking off all that graveyard dirt.

She sunk back, gladly, and she let herself be angled. Her head rolled back so when she opened her eyes it was the planks of the near wall upside-down in the fading light. Nothing much to see; she closed her eyes and tried to float. She mind letting the blood rush to her head as he made the most of all his new breathing room, and gave herself over to galvanizing rush of warmth and friction.

She felt the back of her hand against her mouth, blotting out the desperate noises that she couldn't rightly judge the volume of. She hoped he was good at carpentry because he’d built this bed and those joins were audibly struggling against all this enthusiasm.

Actually, forget that; he was good enough lover she hoped he was a terrible carpenter. She hoped they broke the goddamn thing, hoped it split beyond repair. She’d live with the two of them getting caught if it meant they got to break a bed. Oh, she was in love with him. No she wasn’t. Yes, she was.

Wynonna stretched her arm to the side, found his hat, crumpled it blindly in her hand. Texture felt good, rough wool felt good, and, damn. He really was far gone if she didn’t tell her to knock it off.

She raised a hand to skim his arm; Doc loosed a helpless, carnal moan that she felt as much as heard. She felt it all over even afterward. She felt the sound in the soles of her feet.

A perfect, transcendent warmth was building in the soreness of her thighs. It bloomed to her edges like spilled red wine through a linen napkin. That sensation was slow, but the one which danced across her clit, the slippery silver-feeling hum—that was fast. She counted both her hands up by her head so apparently that was him. Good man. She’d done it herself the last time, and god bless him, he’d paid attention. Close attention, getting closer…

In the end the bed didn’t break, Wynonna broke first. She shattered incandescently against his hand and for that perfect, shimmering moment—and a couple of perfect moments after—she was free of all the crushing weight that always followed her around. She wasn’t in bed, she wasn’t anywhere and she wasn’t cursed; it was just her apart from all of it. It was just her and the cool night air licking the sweat off her skin.

Doc crashed her party a moment later and it was sweet and she forgave him. He sounded very human when he came; and, sure, he was one, but anybody who had to declare himself human as often as he did was clearly on the cusp of being something else entirely.

She wrapped her legs around him as he worked his way through it, kissed his brow through all that messy hair, let her hands dance soothingly across his back until he shuddered with finality and sunk down on top of her. Even against the fabric, his breath was blotted warmly against the side of her neck, her hair, the vulnerable skin just under her ear.

When Doc stirred a moment later, she shuddered with another brisk little frisson of an orgasm, totally unexpectedly; her legs tensed around him and he—always the gentleman—waited on her leisure. She supposed he deserved the prideful huff of air through his moustache.

In time, he gently extricated himself and she let her hands drop limply to the blankets. She hadn’t realized the effort of holding them up around him; they felt like they weighed a million pounds.

The mattress rippled and tilted with the weight of him collapsing beside her. With the rafters out already out of focus she figured she might as well close her eyes; it was actually brighter in there when she did. She liked to think the flashes were a free fireworks show to honor celebrate her amazing choices, but it was probably also the blood rushing back to her head.

“Huh,” Wynonna breathed, eyes watering. The barn had gone awful quiet now that they’d finished making a racket. Now that the bedframe had stopped its complaints, the loudest sounds were their breathing.

She drew up her voice like she was about to say something else, but thank god she didn’t have to learn what, because Doc said, “Hoo, well, Goddamn,” and that just about summed it up.

She stretched her arms above her, luxuriating; one of them hit something small, smooth and cool—all kinds of fiddly bits—and when she laughed in recognition of the glasses she had dropped before. She could feel him lazily rousing next to her. She wrapped her fingers around the spectacles and drew them up and over until they hovered above him.

“I believe these bad boys belong to you,” she said, and dropped the glasses onto his chest. She didn't bother to open her eyes but she could hear the infinitesimal crunch of the hay and assumed that was a glance downward.

“That they do,” he acknowledged. “Must’ve dropped ‘em as you were barging in.”

“I think you mean seductively barging.”

“I cannot argue with results.” The warmth of his voice made her bite her lower lip. She couldn't resist looking over.

Of course Doc was already looking at her. Gazing. She didn’t understand the way he was with eye contact; he could just… do it… and keep it going forever, those big blue eyes like laser beams boring holes in the hearts of unsuspecting women. Occasionally into the hearts of women who suspected and were susceptible nonetheless.

He just looked so profoundly satisfied with himself, his crooked smile half-hidden behind his mustache. He was just so sure that this was fine, and no amount of dumb shit she stacked on top of him would make him feel any different.

The moment drew on until she could hardly stand the feel of the smile on her lips, and she turned to face the ceiling again; it was much more dignified to aim her smirk overhead.

“I don’t mind if you smoke,” she told him.

He squinted one eye over at her. “You sure?”

“Just don’t burn down the barn.”

“Now, that is ridiculous,” Doc said assuredly. “I do not burn down barns by accident.”

He rolled back to face his crowded nightstand, and she heard the glasses clink against something else. Her gaze meandered; he had a cute ass. She liked his ass. She liked the whole long line of his body, although… the more she looked, the more she noticed that a thin murky line running down the side of his ribs. It moved as he moved, so it wasn't a shadow; it was a scar.

As he worked to light the cigarette—cigarillo, whatever—she found that for whatever reason, she couldn’t look away.

She hadn’t meant to ask, but he caught her looking when he glanced back.

“Ah,” he said in recognition. He raised an arm as though to double-check the placement of the scar, as though it was the type of mark one could possibly lose track of; maybe he just needed to look it over from time to time. He sunk against the pillow and elaborated, “That was Wyatt’s handiwork.”

Wynonna’s eyes widened.

“What? No! Not like that,” he exclaimed. That sounded almost like real annoyance, although he settled down immediately. “No, the wound itself came courtesy of a bandit with a machete, who… pretend some malady by the side of a road. Now, I knew it was a trap unwary for travelers, but of course Wyatt insisted that we stop.”

“Of course.”

Doc gave a quiet, private chuckle around his cigarillo. “I very nearly died of my wounds,” he told her, “but on the other hand, I did win the argument.”

She felt strangely lonely as he narrated—like he was re-watching a scene to which she had no access and was strangely resistant to imagining herself. Instead she made ‘gimme’ fingers for the cigarillo, and he blinked at her in frankly patronizing surprise, but handed it over.

“So, what,” she asked, “Are we gonna run into this guy?”

“As a revenant?” Doc spent a surprisingly long time turning it over in his head. “No, I am fairly sure I finished him off myself. Wyatt’s chief involvement in the matter was to patch me up. Best he could, in a cave, with me barking out instructions not... altogether politely.” He gave a small, private smile. “Well, he did his best. In any case I have rarely heard such varied and colorful language, and that from a man who rarely swore.”

She couldn’t account for the bitter edge at the back of her throat, but at least Doc hadn’t sensed it. She didn’t know why she’d started to fake a smile; his weird nostalgic streak aside, it wasn’t really a smiling kind of story. She felt like he was on the verge of noticing, and covered by passing the cigarillo back, laying back to stare at the ceiling.

He laid back, too. He didn’t keep the story going; somehow the silence only felt worse.

“Didn’t swear, didn’t drink, totally un-chill about suturing a chest wound...” she pursed her lips, gently teasing, “Wyatt sounds kind of like a goodie-two-shoes.”

Doc laughed quietly, but all she could hear was reluctance, unwillingness to cede her any ground even versus a man who’d been in the ground for a hundred and thirty years. She had no real right to be touchy about it, nobody liked shit-talking their dead best friend, but... she was looking for something a little more than the total quiet that followed.

Wynonna felt an awful question bubbling up inside her. “I am really nothing like him, am I?”

That knocked the air right out of him in one misshapen puff. “Where is this coming from?”

“It’s a simple question, Doc.”

“How exactly is that a simple question?”

Wynonna willed herself to look over, to desperately wanted him to contradict her—to insist upon all their heroic similarities—but saw immediately that it wasn’t going to happen. Instead Doc’s face had slid into regret, like knew the truth would only discourage her, and he’d reached for a trusty bag of platitudes only to find it empty.

Wynonna rolled to face the ceiling again. She felt like she’d been dunked in ice water except at least when you were underwater there was no danger of being talked to. Now that she’d seen that look on his face, she didn’t want to hear whatever excuses he’d finally manage to put together.

He opened with, “You’re both strong,” and that was lame as hell, but he touched her arm when she rolled her eyes. “You are merely… affixed toward a different kind of challenge.”

“Bullshit,” she snapped. “It’s a pretty symmetrical challenge. That’s the entire point.”

“But that is not so!” he exclaimed.

That was a lot more energy than she’d expected. Her whole face went tight and skeptical.

Doc slowly resolved himself to something eventually curled to face her, admitting, “Now, I have from time to time done some thinking on the nature of the trials before you.” The speed with which his words ran together suggested ‘time to time’ was a dramatic understatement. “Y’see, the seventy-seven were mortal when first we faced them. Dastardly perhaps, but unequipped with the supernatural powers they seem to have… accumulated. Not all of ‘em met their ends by Peacemaker, either.”

She found herself unable to say anything, so he used the pause to offer the cigarillo again. He was looking at her like she was supposed to be… what? Excited? Grateful for his perspective, here?

When she didn’t take his offer, he nudged, “So as you can see, your task is altogether…”

“Harder,” she interrupted. “The word you’re looking for is ‘harder.’”

“The word I’m looking for is 'different,'” he corrected, gently. “Requiring a certain degree of… flexibility, which I judge you to possess.”

She grimaced. “Yeah, that's on the men’s room wall, too.”

She reached up for her turn on the cigarillo again and he straight-up pretended not to see her; he turned and set the cigarillo back on an ashtray even though it wasn’t spent. Wynonna had the sense it was mostly because he didn’t like watching her do it, what with her delicate mortal lungs. It was patronizing but also kind of dumb and sweet, in that way he got away with (even when she was sulking) because he was centuries old.

Doc got in close--close enough that it took some guts, given she was still pretty mad--and he carefully then reached over to take her hands in this. She couldn’t keep the ‘the-fuck-are-you-doing?’ look from blooming across her face; he regarded this with quiet, pissy patience. He did not often act in sweetness and was unused to having his sweetness rebuffed. Still, his eyebrows bid wordlessly for her trust, and she did trust him, so even in skepticism she turned to face him.

“The worst things that I have done in life… some were my own moral weakness, but... others just needed to be done, and that was the nature of our partnership. I would step in so Wyatt could look the other way.” His voice was low and matter-of-fact, seemingly unladen by regrets. “But you, in the short time that I have known you… you do not look the other way. All the darkness that you find, all that you kill… all that is killed in your name. You look it in the eye. Learn from it. To make it a part of you, make yourself stronger.”

“Stronger,” she echoed, and her voice sounded frayed. “It doesn’t feel that way sometimes.”

“How lucky it is that feeling strong and being strong are two entirely different things.”

A sad little joke felt like her last defense against crying. “But wouldn’t it be nice, though?”

“What would folk like us do with nice?” He gave her an affectionate smile. “For what it’s worth, I know that if his choices…”

She smirked and held up a hand to shop him. “You know what, Doc? Each day I’m gonna need you to choose between going to town on me sexually, or sharing regrets from dear grand-papá. Because I really can’t handle you switching between the two.”

“Well now, if I’d known it was as easy as decidin’...”

She rolled her eyes but let him pull her a little closer.

“I do believe that you can succeed,” he told her, softly, like that was somehow a secret. “I have never believed it more.”

Wynonna felt self-doubt worrying at her lower lip. She did believe him; she did not presently believe he was unbiased. Those were not the eyes of an unbiased man. “That’s just the endorphins messing with your head.”

“Who are they?” he joked, cupping her cheek and leaning even closer to whisper, “I’ll kill ‘em.”

She smiled, but only for a moment, because Doc didn’t stop there and instead pressed an uncharacteristically tender kiss to Wynonna’s lips.

Her sulky defensiveness crumpled at the softness of it all, and the moment that the wall fell away he embraced her even tighter. She wrapped her arms around his neck and let him reassure her using his every available surface. His hand skimmed her lower back so smoothly that she could feel the ridges of the inside of his ring.

The kiss dragged on for a moment later than expected, and then another moment. Another. She wanted to pull back her arms but they’d left no space for them to fit between them. She’d had no plans for round two and had formulated no exit strategies.

Her laugh was jittery as she pulled far enough to ask him, “What’s happening here, exactly? Are you trying to double seduce me?”

His nudged the side of her face with his nose; his laugh was warm and effervescent, and she wouldn’t have believed him sober if she hadn’t seen the empty bottle. “Unfortunately, I am spent. Though... if you have appetites yet unmet, I would surely find tools for the job.”

“I think I’m good for now, thanks,” she said breathlessly. The man had game, she had to give him that.

This was the moment where she’d break free, laughing, and he’d laugh too, and they’d start fishing out each other’s clothes from the wreckage of the sheets. She willed her limbs to start doing it, and she willed him to realize that it was about to happen. The inertia in her limbs had begun as laziness, but now became paralysis. The thing was that Doc didn’t realize. She was frozen in place to just feel him not realizing that she was about to leave. Wynonna leaving was the only sane possibility.

She realized too late that he’d come untethered to the possible.

“Well, seeing as you are… good...” He reached up with one hand to brush some hair away from her eyes, but it lingered there against her face. They were very close; their knees were touching. It made no sense that those calloused fingers could be so soft on her cheek. “Maybe you could get some sleep after all?”

His eyes were shining, full of promise, and under the weight of his gaze and his hand she seemed to fracture into two very different Wynonnas: one of whom melted into him utterly and one who lost her entire shit at even the hint of promises. Of course that was the one who won. It wasn’t even a fair fight. She fought dirty, she’d come armed with memories of all her past mistakes, and all that remained was to try and soften the blow. The hand she’d once raised to stroke his chest was the hand that nudged him away.

Doc recognized immediately that he had made a mistake. The romantic stupor faded from his eyes, as he calculated how best to walk it back. “I did not mean it had to be out here,” he clarified. “Your hair was merely in your eyes.”

She sniffed in resolution and rolled onto her back. “Yeah, that happens sometimes. Makes it hard to see.”

It wouldn’t have been so bad except she could picture it, clearly, the world where those rafters were lit by cool morning light, and she did not doubt that she’d wake up swearing but she also did not doubt he could coax her back into bed. It would be nice for a while until it wasn’t. She’d already had one nightmare tonight, and she couldn’t give in to imagining one where she tore him apart.

“Wynonna,” he began with feeling—

That’s when she sat up and started searching. That was her answer; that was what she did with feelings. Her intentions were clear, but she couldn’t stop herself from murmuring, “I should really get back. I’ve been out here a while.”

She hated feeling like she had to run. She hated it especially in a quiet room; she couldn’t even pretend it was coming from anywhere but her. Wynonna found her shirt first, which was lucky from a practical perspective but awful from every other one. She hated this shirt. The problem with t-shirts that could laugh at her was that more often than not she really deserved it.

Doc sucked air through his lower lip, and when she glanced back she could see actual worry settling across him. Not wounded pride, but the genuine fear that he’d hurt her. “I’d hate to think that somehow I—”

“It isn’t you, Doc,” she insisted, because even with all her doubts it was important to her that he knew that. “You are who you are. You never pretend to be anybody different.” She’d meant it to reassure him, but there was a darkness in his eyes around the word pretend that left her wondering if she’d made a mistake. It was gone in a moment and she didn’t have the heart to make sure.

“Well, I may try,” Doc said, “But you always seem to see right through, don’t you.” She had the awful sense that he privately thought this was another superpower she’d inherited. It wasn’t his fault, it really wasn’t, but she could not handle watching someone struggle to not hold something against her.

The force with which she pulled the flannel shorts made them snap in the air. They’d gone all cold and stale and it was an awful feeling. Putting them on wasn’t something she would’ve wished on her worst enemy and she literally sent her worst enemies to hell.

Doc was sitting up now, watching her, and his gaze felt heavy against her back. She could sense the frustration from here. He didn’t like feeling helpless. Well, tough shit. She didn’t like making people feel helpless, but here they were.

When she reached backward for the sweater he was already holding it up for her, a shapeless mass hanging off his hand like a funeral shroud. His hold on it was loose until the end, when she kept pulling and it didn’t give. He still had the final corner and he was holding it fast. The cost of its return was looking up at him. The most frustrating thing was knowing he did not mean it to frustrate her. She could have the sweater, sure, but he would not accept the pretense that he was not there, nor allow her to convince herself she was all out here alone.

She pursed her lips with an annoyance she did not feel, pulling the sweater over her shoulders but looking--if not at him--then at least more generally in his direction. Close enough that he could lean over and fill the space where her gaze was pointed, lure her back with his handsome concern.

“If you tell me what you’re so afraid of, I can tell you it will not happen.”

“You can’t know that.”

“No ma’am,” he acknowledged, “but turns out I can say it all the same.”

“You really want to know?”

“Hit me.”

She pressed her lips together and tried to piece together the words. It was like trying to chase down the cold, darting pain in her chest.

“I’m not afraid that I can’t pull it off,” she began, “I’m afraid that I won’t. That I have the best shot of anybody, and I’ll still miss, and it’ll be my fault. Because... I’ve played my cards wrong. Because I’ve started fucking around on the tightrope.”

He opened his mouth, and she rolled right over him. “Let me finish, Doc.” She swallowed around a lump in her throat. “If I have any shot at this, I’m going to need your help. I’m gonna keep asking, and I’m gonna keep... taking… and I’m afraid… I can’t guarantee that I’ll deserve it.”

“Deserve it?”

“What I take,” she told him. “Whatever it is I take. Because it’s always something.”

“Well, you can’t take what’s freely given,” he said. But they both knew that you could. That it was the easiest and most elegant way, if you were any good.

Her heartbeat wobbled like a broken engine—she thought of when he’d taken her hand and put it to his chest at the shooting range. The heartbeat meant you were human, and they were certainly that, but somehow he was open and unafraid. That wasn’t her. She didn’t know how. Doc wasn’t asking her to figure it out.

“I do not have much, but if any of it can help you break this curse… far as I’m concerned it’s already yours, and I’m just the keeper it ‘til it can be of use.”

She exhaled, not believing him. “You say that now…”

“I do say it, and I do mean it.” He squinted up at her. “Do you know what you are?”

“An incredibly needy landlord?”

“Ha. Well, be that as it may.” He reached over and caught at the corner of her sweater and pulled her just a little closer—not all the way, but close enough. “You were the rope that got me out, and even if you are the rope that hangs me... Well.” He nodded, almost to himself. “I reckon it will have been worth it.”

He meant it. She could see right into him and she knew that he meant what he said.

Her chest fluttered; she tried to keep the smile from her lips, looked away from him. “Now who’s got the poetical way with words?”

“You are sweet, but that was always me.”

Her mouth fell open in soft indignation.

“I wouldn’t worry,” he teased. “You are good at other things.”

Wynonna rolled her eyes, but she was smiling; it was the kind of smile that would’ve broke into a grin if she weren’t too determined not to reward his misbehavior. She tugged her sweater out of his hands as though she thought he’d get up to no good. That was the joke, after all. That was the game they played. They both pretended he was the fox in the henhouse, but the both of them were foxes, and both of them knew it well.

“You comin’ or goin’, Wynonna?” Doc asked, but they both already knew the answer. He’d known before he said the words; he said them to tell her that going was okay.

“Just passing through,” she replied. “‘Night, Doc.”

“You sleep well, now,” he said. Even in its bittersweetness his voice was thick with self-congratulation, and the warmth of it—the rightness of it—left no room for any kind of regrets.

She’d had it in her head that his eyes were blue, and most of the time it was true, but they were really just pale enough to pick up whatever light was around them. Soon enough the light would change, but right now it meant they were gold.

He waited a beat, then lifted up a hand without breaking her gaze—and when she looked over, that poor exhausted thong of hers hanging was his fingertips. She pursed her lips, snatched it off his hands and shoved them in the back elastic of her shorts, because it wasn’t like they had pockets. It was not the most dignified solution but it was a solution nonetheless.

The floor felt cold against her feet and the straw clung more than it had on the long walk out. Not her most dignified walk of shame, though to be fair, not exactly the worst. She tugged the sweater tightly around her, very aware and perversely pleased that this meant strangling a clown.

She was already pushing the door open when the golden light faded in front of her. He’d waited ‘til she made it to the door before he turned off the light. It made the flat stretch of scrub in front of her look brighter by contrast. She was very careful closing the door. It still did not squeak and it had never squeaked.

It felt like she didn’t get to make a lot of choices in her life. Still, whatever the nightmares that had set tonight in motion, she’d chosen to come out here and she’d chosen not to stay. It wasn’t quite a crossroads. It was that open stretch just a short while past, the confidence that came not from having chosen perfectly but having chosen, period, and being not the sort of person to turn around again.

There was a road that began with her still in Doc’s arms when he put out that lamp. It would have been a good road, but it was not the road she’d taken. Part of her said not ever, and part of her said, not yet.

She crossed her arms and started on her way. Probably wasn’t gonna get much sleep but nobody could say he hadn’t tried.

It was almost morning, anyway; out there in her family’s hills, the winter sun was beginning to rise.