There was something about that place between sleep and awake that left the mind more willing to accept. A thought, a sound, anything could influence the dream-state, allowing the brain to work through and make sense of the input. While awake a chill could be blamed on an open vent, but the sleeping mind wrapped around it, picked it apart, and created a whole new story for the source.
It was in that no-man's land where anything could happen that Wynonna found herself. She was comfortable, floating, with no chill to be felt. For the first time in what she was certain was forever she felt at peace and safe, even if her mind couldn't quite deliver why she shouldn't feel safe.
Peace never lasted long, though, at least not in her household. A loud, giggling squeal accompanied a bounce at the foot of the bed, followed immediately by another as Plucky the coonhound followed Alice Holliday into the middle of her parents that had been trying to sleep just a little longer. No such luck there.
"Alice, honey, just five more minutes?" Doc grumbled from the bed next to Wynonna, that deep southern drawl even more pronounced half-asleep.
"No!" the little girl shouted, giggling loudly. "Plucky, get 'im!"
"Oh no," Wynonna yelled, pulling the covers up over her head. "Plucky, you drool on me and you're gonna be an outside mutt from now on!"
Alice giggled and Wynonna's own smile was hidden beneath the comforter as the excitable dog barked loudly and tried to rouse the man also trying to hide under the sheets now, following the commands of the only master in the house, and that definitely wasn't either of them.
Wynonna shot her husband a glare. "Get your own hiding spot, coward."
"Get up! Get up! Get up!" the little girl chanted, jumping on the bed between her parents and both Wynonna and Doc gave simultaneously, throwing the comforter back and startling Plucky off the bed.
Doc dove for their giggling daughter and she squirmed as his arms wrapped around her and he pulled her back down into the bed with them. Wynonna dove to help, grabbing at flailing legs and Alice could barely breathe as hard as she was laughing and fighting. Finally she stilled and Wynonna's blue eyes flickered up to look at Doc who had her in a bear hold. "Now, little one, what could have possibly been goin' through your mind to come in here at -" He looked to Wynonna.
She risked a glance at the clock and shuddered. "Six AM."
"- Six AM to wake up your lovin' momma and papa?"
Alice was still giggling and gasping and giggling some more, but she'd stopped squirming now and and Wynonna let go of her legs and returned to her own pillow to look her daughter in those big blue eyes that looked so much like her daddy's. She found that her own smile hadn't faded either.
"It'smabirthday," Alice managed.
"What? No," Doc teased from behind her.
"Can't be. I was there. I know," Wynonna joined in.
"Me too!" Alice giggled.
"Yeah, you remember it, kiddo?"
The only answer was a laugh and the little girl buried herself down in the sheets.
"Okay," Doc said and kissed the back of her head, "if it's really your birthday, how old are you?"
"Okay, that's going to go on forever," Wynonna laughed and leaned forward and kissed the little girl on the forehead. "We're not supposed to meet Aunt Waverly and Nicole for another couple of hours, but if you can get them to wake up…."
And Alice was gone just like that, bounding off the bed and into the closet.
Doc sat up a little. "What's she goin' for?"
"Ain't it locked?"
"She knows the code."
"Our five year old knows the code to your phone?"
"Don't look at me. I gave up changing it. Waves won't be mad. She can't tell that kid no."
Alice returned to the bedroom with Wynonna's cell phone pressed to her ear. "Gracie too?"
"No, baby, she'll come with Aunt Willa and Uncle Robert for the party."
The five-year-old's face crunched up and a tantrum was imminent with the news that her favourite - and only, at least for a few more months - cousin wouldn't be at breakfast with them, but it dissipated and was instantly replaced with a bright smile. "Auntie Waverly! Mornin'! You wanna go to breakfast?"
Wynonna watched her disappear out the bedroom door and around the corner with her phone. There was no use in telling her to stop. She'd have to call Waverly after they got up and clear up the details. She knew that Alice's right now and Wynonna and Doc's right now were two very different right now's.
"Grace feelin' better?" Doc asked as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Didn't you say she's been sick?"
"Yeah, she's better. Willa just didn't want to have her out all day. Especially with needing to get everything decorated. She talked about just her coming but you know how that would end up."
"With Grace there," Doc chuckled. "It would indeed. That little girl knows what she wants 'n how to get it. You need anythin' last second for the party?"
Wynonna flashed him a flirty smile before standing, rounding the bed, and wrapping her arms around his neck. Her husband grinned under his thick mustache as she tipped up and kissed him, her voice low in his ear after they broke. "Cake, balloons, streamers, and the pinata?"
Doc pulled back immediately. "You said you were ready for this."
"I am! I got the bananas and the ice cream!" Wynonna defended. "And I've got a killer playlist for the party."
"Oh, well then…"
"I'll pick it up," he assured her and kissed her forehead. "Have a good breakfast with the girls."
"Don't get distracted by the glitter."
He shot her an amused look before sauntering off towards the shower, tugging his t-shirt off halfway there and damn it all if they did not have time for those sorts of distractions today.
The alarm was blaring off somewhere to his right and he reached a hand out clumsily for it, finally cracking is eyes open to find himself staring up at the ceiling above the bed, everything a little blurry. He found the offending source of the noise, slamming his open palm down against the clock hard once, twice, and it finally stopped screaming at him on the third try. Blissful silence met him and he soaked it in for a long moment, hoping that the sound wouldn't wake the little girl sleeping in the room next to theirs.
"I thought you said you turned it off last night," a sleepy voice muttered next to him and Robert turned back towards her, close enough that he could make out her drowsy form in the early morning light even without his glasses. Willa's dark blonde hair was half covering her face where she lay buried down into her pillow, almost as if it would ward off the need to get up and get moving for the day.
"Apparently not," her husband grumbled, shifting down deeper under the covers against his better judgement. He could see the little smirk playing across her features as his hand wandered under the sheets, fingers ghosting over her hip as he carefully wrapped an arm around her waist and scooted her closer to him.
By the time she got there, she was grinning at him. "Hey."
"Hey," he greeted back, voice low and raspy. She seemed to like it well enough as she leaned in, her own hand finding the edge of his t-shirt and he felt her cold fingers tease at bare skin beneath it as she pressed her lips against his. It turned into a hell of a good morning as he felt her sitting up, moving him so that he was on his back and she was leaned over him, the same blond hair falling all around both of them now. Robert sank back against the pillow as he felt her hand slide up, palm pressed against one side of his face, and she leaned into the kiss.
"Mama, Kitty threw up."
Blue eyes popped open and Willa immediately shifted off of him, trying to play it as cool as any mother could when their four-year-old walked in when they shouldn't have. "What, sweetie?" she asked, and Robert reached for his glasses on the bedside table.
"Kitty threw up," Grace repeated, looking very put out that she had to repeat herself. The four-year-old crossed her arms and stuck her lower lip out just a little. She looked a sight with her thick, light brown hair sticking out in all directions, even her bangs, from under the hood of her purple panda pj's, the bottoms just a little too long so they nearly covered up her favourite new slippers that Willa had sworn she would never wear when she'd begged for them in the store. Those had unicorns on them. She had told her daddy that the pandas and the unicorns were friends one day and it was all he'd been able to do to keep a straight face.
Willa fell back against her pillow, reaching over to pat Robert as she did. "Your turn."
"Pretty sure I got the last one." He could almost feel the glare building there and he let a teasing grin stretch slowly as he leaned over her and pressed a quick kiss to her lips. "But I wouldn't dream of asking a pregnant woman to clean up after the cat. I'm not a monster."
She hummed and chuckled, but never actually agreed as he shifted out of bed and his bare feet hit the cold wood floors. A chill ran through him as he stood and Grace was waiting for him, ready to show him exactly what he needed to do and to supervise. Together they got it cleaned up, Grace's real job to keep the cat out of the middle of it, and after they'd gotten it all taken care of and thrown away he scooped her up, feeling her melt sleepily against him. No one was an early riser in the Svane household.
"Do you want breakfast or do you want to go back to bed?" he asked her, and for just a moment he thought maybe she'd already fall asleep with the way she was draped over his shoulder.
"Cinnamon toast?" came the delayed reply.
"Cinnamon toast," she corrected and Robert chuckled, reaching up to bury his long fingers in her hair and ruffle it a little.
"Whatever the little angel wants," he answered and pressed a kiss to the side of her head as he carried her into the kitchen.
Robert set her down on the counter, careful to watch that she was steady before moving towards the coffee pot to fill it with ground beans and set it to go. He glanced over to see a pair of hazel eyes just like her mother's watching him and he offered her a wink as he dug through the cupboards for the sugar and the cinnamon. He found both and moved back to the counter next to her, those eyes watching every step, and he set it down while reaching for the bread.
"Yeah, Angel?" He glanced over and saw the most serious look that a four-year-old could manage.
"I wanna go to the books."
Robert snorted a short laugh at the request. He'd been expecting something much more daunting. "We're going to Alice's birthday party today. What do you say we go to the library tomorrow?"
She set her tiny jaw, thinking on the proposal for a long moment before she finally nodded. "Can Alice come?"
"Ah… Alice doesn't like the library as much as you do, Angel."
And that was that. Robert put together their breakfast and Grace helped, offering tips on more cinnamon and more sugar all the way through. Once it had met her approval he popped it into the oven and turned to find Willa standing at the kitchen entrance and smiling at him. He quirked a hesitant smile of his own. "What….?"
"It's just funny, is all. I remember being a freshman in high school and every girl knew Doc Holliday. I guess he was Hank back then, but we all knew him. Then there was this idiot that he made friends with and damn if he wasn't the biggest dork I'd ever seen."
Grace giggled and looked at him. "You were a dork, Daddy."
"I was…. studious," he corrected, pressing a kiss to her cheek before checking to make sure he wasn't burning the toast in the oven.
"You were a dork. Don't lie to your kid," Willa teased. "I wouldn't have given you a second glance then."
"Mm. You grew up… maybe I did too. I'm glad we did."
He reached for the mit and opened the oven door, pulling the cookie sheet from it and setting the newly toasted sugar and cinnamon coated bread on top to cool. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Also glad you finally worked up the nerve to ask me out when you came back to Purgatory. I thought Doc was gonna break your arm as hard as he twisted it."
"Any reason we're taking a trip down memory lane?" Robert chuckled.
"Just enjoying the scenery," she answered, her eyebrow jumping suggestively.
Robert chuckled and grabbed for the plates from the cupboard before turning and lifting Grace from her seat and to the floor. "You want to take your own plate?"
"Yeah," she answered, glancing over to her mother. "Am I gonna have a little brother or little sister?"
It was Willa's turn to crack a smile. "We don't know yet, honey. We should in a couple of days when I go to the doctor."
"Will you tell me?"
"I think it's a little brother. I always wanted a little brother. Since I was two."
"Did you now?" Willa laughed and grabbed her own plate, kissing the cook on the cheek as she moved past. "You know what today is, Grace?"
"Alice's birthday," Grace answered without missing a beat, but immediately stuffed nearly half the slice of toast into her mouth.
Robert leaned back in his chair as he watched his girls, Willa smiling and shaking her head while Grace knew that she'd made her mother smile. It hadn't always been this simple, but he loved it, and he wouldn't change it for anything.
"Hey?" Willa called softly, touching his hand and he blinked owlishly at her from behind his rimmed glasses, startled out of his thoughts. "What's on your mind?"
"Just how lucky I am," he murmured, taking her hand and bending to press a kiss to her knuckles.
"Charmer," she said with a grin.
"Don't make it untrue."
"Mm." She stood and leaned down to press a quick kiss to his lips and he felt the rush of wanting more. "You have that meeting at the school, don't you? You'll be done by two?"
"If we're not done by noon there'll be a riot. Should be at the bar in time to help you decorate."
"Are you going to talk to what's-his-name? The one Jeremy likes? You know he's never going to ask him out himself."
Robert snorted. "You keep thinking I'm going to play matchmaker right after giving me hell on how long it took me to ask you out."
"Mama's scary," Grace piped up from her place, cinnamon and sugar everywhere.
"You bet I am," Willa answered and kissed the top of her head. "I'm an Earp, and your daddy knows it." She offered him a wink. "Love you."
He kissed her, this time letting it linger just shy of receiving a complaint from their daughter before breaking it off to get ready to go down to the high school before their niece's party.
"Are you sure she said this diner?" Nicole asked drowsily.
Waverly grinned, giving her sleepy girlfriend a gentle nudge. "It's the only one in town. Drink your coffee. It'll help."
She received a grumbling response and Waverly smiled. Well, not everyone could pop out of bed that quickly.
Hazel eyes flickered over to see a bounding newly-turned-five-year-old aiming right for her and Waverly grinned as she stood from the table to scoop the little girl up and spin her around. "Hey, birthday girl! Look at you up bright and early. You didn't get that from your mom, did you?"
Wynonna shot her younger sister an irritable look and Waverly just grinned widely at her. "No Willa this morning?"
"At this hour? You're lucky I'm here."
"Aunt Willa's coming to the party," Alice explained. "Gracie's been sick."
"Oh no, she didn't tell me that."
"Hard to get ahold of you some days," Wynonna said with a smirk and took a seat next to Nicole so that Alice could sit next to Waverly. The redhead seemed to have stirred out of her sleepy daze enough to greet the birthday girl, though, and currently had her wrapped up in a big hug and pressed a kiss to her dark hair.
"I wanna sit here," Alice told her aunt, pointing at the seat that Waverly was returning to next to Nicole and the third Earp sister lifted one fair eyebrow.
"Do I even get a please?"
"Please? I wanna sit next to both of you."
"It's her birthday, Waves. Don't give her a hard time," Nicole teased and offered a wink to Alice whose grin couldn't get any bigger.
"Ooooookay," Waverly teased and moved over one seat next to her sister.
Alice crawled up into the seat with a satisfied grin on her face and refused the booster seat but readily accepted the kid's menu with the crayons and the birthday crown that the waiter gave her. "Can I have a candle in my pancakes?"
"I think we can make that happen," he answered and took the orders and handed Wynonna what looked like a cup of much needed coffee.
"So what theme do you have for the party this year?" Waverly asked.
"Cowboy-princess," Alice said firmly and at the glance Wynonna shrugged.
"The kid gets what she wants. Only turn five once, but you would know that if you'd looked at your invite."
There was mischief dancing in her sister's eyes and Waverly opened her mouth in her own defence, but Nicole jumped in. "She's been stretched pretty thin lately. Between the BBD and gearing up the campaign even I've barely seen her."
"You know, I thought I'd get a break when I put down all seventy-six Revenants in two years. I mean, c'mon, right?" Waverly laughed.
Wynonna quirked an eyebrow, a small smirk playing at her lips. "No rest for the Earp Heir, even after she breaks the family curse, but don't you dare blame it on the BBD. I have to listen to Dolls gripe day in and day out how we haven't seen you at HQ since you decided to run for mayor."
"He said you guys had it covered!"
"And we do. We're good. Right, Nicole?"
"Totally. You just focus on the campaign and let Wynonna, Dolls, Jeremy, and me take care of the paranormal," Nicole agreed.
"Okay," Waverly murmured, wondering if maybe her focus had been a little too much on setting up the campaign and too little on the job that she truly loved. She had been the first Earp Heir that wasn't the first born, but apparently Peacemaker had known exactly what it was doing when it chose her. It had taken two years, but she - along with the others - had broken the curse. All seventy-six of the demons had been sent back to hell, freeing she and her family from the curse from that day on. There were still demons, still paranormal activity, but nothing that had a definite need of the Earp Heir and she had retired Peacemaker to try to focus on bettering the place they lived in.
"Dad would be so proud of you, Baby Girl," Wynonna said, pulling her out of her thoughts. "He always knew you could do it."
"I miss him," Waverly murmured, not quite able to keep the sadness out of her voice. She cleared her voice. "Is Mom coming to the party?"
"Yeah, she's supposed to be in for the day, but I bet if her angel asked that she'd be willing to stay till tomorrow."
"Grandma's not staying?" Alice asked, immediately looking up from her colouring job.
Waverly leaned over conspiratorially. "I bet we can convince her if we work together. What do you say?"
"Yeah! Double team her!"
Waverly choked the coffee she'd just tried to take a sip from and laughed. "You are definitely Wynonna's daughter."
"We're raising her right, you mean," her sister grinned.
"Wouldn't have her any other way."
Breakfast came and Alice's attention was on the sparkling candle that their waiter had gotten for them. It fizzed and popped until she finally managed to blow it out, cheers erupting from around the table and leaving her with a very satisfied look on her face before diving into the stack of pancakes.
Willa was opening Shorty's late that day, the bar reserved for a certain cowboy-princess themed birthday party for the entire afternoon. It had been a tradition that had started with Gus when she'd owned the bar and that Willa had continued when Gus had retired and moved out of Purgatory, leaving the bar to the eldest Earp sister. Every year since Alice had been born the family banded together to decorate and throw a big party. They'd upped it to two parties a year when Grace had been born, and soon enough they'd have a third. If Wynonna wasn't careful, Doc was going to start getting ideas about adding a fourth kid to the Earp clan. Funny, no one questioned that they were, very much, the Earps, no matter what names were taken as they added to their family.
"Look, Mama!" Alice cheered as she tore free of Wynonna's grip to run into the room filled with balloons, streamers, and a whole set of pink cowboy hats, pink spurs on pink boots, and even pink toy guns on the table in the corner.
Grace looked like she'd already gotten into hers and had added a purple tutu for whatever reason had taken over her attention in that moment. She caught sight of her cousin and Alice tried to pick the tall little girl up to spin her around as they giggled and cheered like they didn't see each other a few times each week.
"What do you think?" Willa asked as she crossed the bar, drying her hands off on a rag and motioning to the room.
"I think that if Doc and Robert made you lift a finger I'm going to make both of them regret it."
Willa cracked a grin. "Nah, they've been good. Had to keep your husband out of my stores though. All these years later and I don't know if he's the best or the worst influence."
"You're just pissed you can't drink for at least another four months." She waited for her sister to shrug noncommittally before flashing a grin of her own. "And Robert never would have worked up the courage to even ask you out, much less marry you if it weren't for Doc," Wynonna pointed out, looking over to where the two old friends were seated at one of the tables and Robert offered a quick wave of greeting.
"We were just talking about that this morning," Willa mused. "I know you didn't like him at first-"
"He gets on my last nerve, and I know that the sneaky bastard does it on purpose. He puts on that innocent good guy act pretty well, but I know better." She shrugged, a smile tugging as her daughter and her niece started swinging each other around in a very excitable game of ring-around-the-rosy. "But he's grown on me. Family."
"Family," the older Earp sister agreed as both little girls toppled over giggling shrilly. "And Robert is a good guy. The best."
"So, how did I do?" Doc asked as he sauntered over, motioning to the streamers and balloons and interrupting before the two sisters could continue the old joke that had lost most of its venom on Wynonna's end. She hadn't trusted the dark haired man that they had met at this very bar. To be fair, Wynonna didn't trust anyone when she first met them. It was one of of her many charming qualities Doc always teased.
"You got the cake, right?"
"Smart man. Knew I married right."
He flashed her that grin of his and leaned in for a kiss. Wynonna felt his arm snake around her back as he dipped her down and he didn't let her go even as she started laughing at his antics.
"Mama, can I open presents?" Alice asked from off to the side.
"Once everyone gets here," Wynonna answered, finally tilted back up onto her feet and she took a playful swing at her husband.
Alice made a face at her but Grace had hold of her hand, dragging her over to the boots and hats waiting on the table, all too eager to help the birthday girl dress for the party.
As tiara adorned hats and bright pink boots were donned, the party guests started trickling in, bringing presents and joining the members already there. There were familiar faces like Dolls and Jeremy and those that weren't around nearly as much as they once had been, like Aunt Gus and Michelle Earp who had made special trips into Purgatory for Alice's fifth birthday. Waverly swept in a few minutes after Nicole who had been happy to see that her predecessor in the sheriff's office had managed to break from his retirement fishing just long enough to make an appearance at the little girl's birthday party. Wynonna certainly didn't remember Nedley being such a good sport when she had been a kid, but he took a knee so that Alice could fit him with a pretty pink hat with extra glitter dumped on it courtesy of she and Grace's artistic additions. Dolls just barely missed the same as he shuffled over to where Doc and Robert were leaning against the bar chatting with Waverly and Nicole, but Jeremy was pulled into the newly decided on game of Earp Heir in which, somehow, both girls were the Heir and that made Jeremy the Revenant. They chased him around, giggling and trying to corner him with their little plastic, pink toy guns.
It was perfect, she realized as she wandered over to join the group at the bar, Doc handing her a beer. She couldn't have dreamt up a better scenario if she'd tried. Everyone was happy and safe. It was more than she ever thought possible growing up under the shadow of the Earp Curse, but there they were, and their children never had to worry about having that rest on their shoulders.
"Uncle Robert, Uncle Robert, you're next!" Alice called.
"Next what?" Robert asked, lifting one dark eyebrow over his own drink.
"Rev'nant!" the little girl said and pointed her little toy pistol at him, making shooting sounds as she did.
He didn't move, and Wynonna thought that he might have actually gone a little pale for just half a beat. It was so quick that she never would have seen it if she hadn't been staring right at him, and it certainly didn't seem like anyone else noticed the very brief change in demeanor.
"Okay, we're good," Jeremy huffed from across the room and the girls were on him immediately, much more interest in a target that was willing to run rather than stand there staring at them.
"Hey," Wynonna murmured, drawing Robert's blue gaze over to her, "you okay?"
"'Course," he answered, his voice a little rougher than usual. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You looked spooked. Just making sure."
He gave her one of his small, tilted smiles and sipped at his beer. "Never been a big fan of guns."
"Boy, did you grow in the wrong town," she chuckled.
"We don't know what happened with Robert," Doc laughed as he slapped the other man on the back. "Always been a little off."
"You're one to talk, Hank."
The boys kept at it back and forth and Wynonna smiled as she listened to their lighthearted bickering, but something tugged at the edges of her mind. She wasn't sure what it was, necessarily, but something had been off, even unfamiliar, in Robert's eyes moments before. It was nothing. It had to be nothing. What else could it be?
"Wynonna, isn't it time for presents?" Jeremy called from across the room, his voice a little desperate now that he'd been caught by two very determined Earp girls.
"Presents!" Alice cheered and bounded towards them without waiting for the go ahead. Thankfully Michelle was close enough to scoop the little birthday girl up and set her in her lap so that she could open the presents in the order they were intended. Any worry, any strangeness was lost to the sound of Alice's laughter and the peace that the family had found.
Notes: This story popped into my head a couple of nights ago and a little under 48 hours and nearly 5K words later, here we go. Major thank you to Kimmins and SetMeAtopThePyre for bouncing around so many of the ideas with me and helping me work through some of the snags.
I'm really excited for this one. If all goes as planned, there should be some fun twists and turns. I'd love to hear what you think so far :)