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in the witching hour

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The summer night wind pulls at Lucy’s skirt as she is marched down the path, escorted by a pair of Pilgrim’s Progress extras in their black hats and high starched collars, a sea of eerie earthbound stars twinkling to every side. Of course they’re not actually stars, they’re torches, clutched by the fearful populace of Salem gathered on Gallows Hill, and the rope strung from an old tree where five days ago, on July 19, 1692, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, and Rebecca Nurse were hanged. There will be another round of hangings in about a month, Lucy recalls, until the trials burn themselves out as quickly as they’ve started, in October. This still all seems rather academic to her. She wasn’t expecting to it to come this far, but she isn’t that concerned. She’ll get out of this.

Admittedly, she’s not certain how, and she would like to have a few more options. She’s been separated from the boys, and she isn’t sure they know where she is, which is alarming. She isn’t sure she can pull the H.H. Holmes oracle trick to stop them – Holmes, psychotic as he was, was still only one man. This is a mob. Not to mention, that will serve as proof positive of witchcraft, and good luck fighting her way through all of them alone. Lucy’s contributions to the team are not of the brute-force and multiple-weapons variety. For the first time, her stomach turns over in genuine apprehension. Where are Wyatt and Rufus?

(She thinks for half a minute that the most effective one of them here would be Flynn, but there’s no way he’s coming.)

A low, ugly murmur is starting to rise by the time Lucy and her guards reach the hanging tree, and they come to a halt. Cotton Mather, looking more smug and punchable than ever, is standing nearby in his vicar’s stock, swelled with pride, ready to preside over another essential measure in saving the souls of Salem’s impressionable citizens. Lucy has a generous view of the past, for the most part. Knows that it’s always more complicated than simplistic pictures would like to paint it. Given the modern world’s irrational beliefs and panics and scapegoating, she’s not even about to point too many fingers at the ability of the Salemites to convince themselves that these women are witches, servants of Satan, and their existence depends on killing them immediately. But the faces watching her are huddled and hard and blank with hatred. Parents clutch their children close. There are kids here? Probably a vital moral lesson for them or something. The hell. Never mind the historical relevancy and comparative morality and whatever else. These people have problems.

Peter Puritan, on her left side, steps forward and makes a flourish at Mather. “Behold Goodwife Preston,” he booms. Too bad community theater isn’t a thing in seventeenth-century New England, he would be great at it. “The Court of Oyer and Terminer has judged beyond all doubt that this woman is guilty of the abominable sin of witchcraft, and – ”

“You haven’t tried me!” Lucy says loudly, earning scathing and shocked looks. “You’ve – this is a miscarriage of justice, it’s – ”

This is pathetic. Of course it’s a miscarriage of justice, and there are still at least two months until anyone gives a shit about it. “I want to speak to Colonel Nathaniel Saltonstall,” Lucy plunges on. “I – I know him, he – ”

“Silence, witch!” Paul Puritan, from the other side, looks as if he’s aiming a blow at her, which Lucy instinctively ducks. Her heart is starting to pound. All right, this is cutting it too close. She’s more than ready for Wyatt and Rufus to turn up on whatever improvised rescue mission they’ve definitely contrived, and her eyes sweep the crowd, in case they’re pulling the Will Turner trick (though a hat with a fancy feather would definitely stick out). The trials do arrest a few men for being accomplices. Are they across town in some other jail?

Is nobody coming?

Lucy starts looking around, wondering if there’s a plank she can grab or anything else to improvise as a weapon. But while she’s doing this, she’s losing time as Mather reads out whatever canned indictment Rittenhouse must have provided him with – is this the point, she doesn’t think her own mother will actually let her get killed, are they going to swoop in as convenient saviors as the last moment? Is it possible that even Rittenhouse doesn’t know where she is? If she’s relying on them to pull her ass out of this –

“Remove your mob cap, witch,” Peter Puritan orders her. “Do you have any last confession or recantation of your heretical views, before you face the proper punishment for your crime?”

“I’m not a witch.” Lucy’s voice isn’t as loud as she wants. “None of them are witches! You’re killing innocent women, you – ”

Unfortunately, true as this is, everyone sees the defense of accused and executed witches as, well, proof of witchcraft. There’s a maddeningly circular illogic to this entire thing, and the gasp that this utterance provokes is followed by a shout. “HANG THE WITCH!”

Oh, please, Lucy thinks frantically. You’ve got to be kidding me. Come on, past. I’m literally fighting to save your entire existence. Do me a solid.

The past does not, in fact, do her a solid. The shout spreads, quick as poison, and in that, Lucy can feel the final dam break. Peter Puritan reaches for the strings of her cap – she will be literally exposed before the crowd, die bare-headed and stripped of her shame and modesty – and Lucy twists away, even as he pulls at the knots and jerks it off. Her hair tumbles out, as Paul Puritan grabs her and pushes her toward the hanging noose. Lucy kicks and snaps, trying to head-butt him, and feels her ear scrape as he jerks the rough hemp down around her neck. She stumbles on a loose board, briefly terrifying her that she’ll hang herself by accident like a clumsy idiot. The crowd is literally baying for her blood, Cotton Mather’s eyes are two piggy black sparks, and chasing Rittenhouse has made her believe in one kind of evil, but this is altogether another – she is actually going to die, and –


Her heart stops for a full beat in her chest, as the bellow rings out across the rising tide of madness and momentarily halts even Peter and Paul in their tracks. Her eyes sweep across the crowd, looking desperately for Wyatt, even as she doesn’t think that sounds like Wyatt. But how – but how –

Garcia Flynn punches down a final minion trying to stop him and bulls into the middle of the mob like a runaway locomotive, charging across the ground and toward the gallows. Peter and Paul recollect themselves sufficiently from their shock to try to grab him, which is a very bad idea. Flynn decks Peter with one punch and judo-throws Paul, sending him somersaulting off the gallows with a squelchy noise. His violence is economic and brutal and effortless, almost mesmerizing – Lucy has seen it many times, of course, but usually as something she has to stop or redirect or otherwise prevent from its fullest potential. Now, for the first time she can remember, it is entirely focused on her – not as its target, but its purpose. For a wild moment, it feels like Flynn is some strange avatar of her own rage, the way she would fight if she wasn’t a five-foot-five history professor who had never handled a gun in her life until she shot Jesse James. How is he here. How is he – how is he here?

Right now, Lucy doesn’t care. Flynn reaches her in the next instant and practically wrenches the noose off her neck, scraping her ear again, and she stumbles forward, clutching hold of his waistcoat. The Salemites have been briefly and totally stunned by what looks like the wrathful materialization of the Devil Himself to pluck one of his concubines from the brink, and Lucy’s historian’s brain has a moment of wondering if this is going to make the trials even worse. Causes and consequences, short-and-long-term effects, all the shit she can’t stop thinking about even when her own life is at stake – but God, she was scared, she’s only realizing just now how much, and Flynn – and Flynn –

She can’t bring herself to let go of him, even as Flynn half-wraps her in his jacket and hauls her toward the edge of the gallows. But at this point, Cotton Mather has – unfortunately – recovered himself. “DEVIL!” he booms. “I DEFY THEE, SATAN! I DEFY THEE!”

Despite everything, Flynn has almost a sardonic grin on his face, just visible in the flickering torchlight, as if even this isn’t the worst thing he has been called. Mather raises his missal, bellowing what sounds like something intended to make Flynn vanish in a puff of brimstone, but which does nothing of the sort, because of course not. The Salemites are confused and terrified to see their vaunted spiritual leader so utterly overmatched, and Lucy’s ankle twists under her as Flynn drags her off the gallows. Mather takes a step, as if realizing that God has left him out to dry on this one and it’s time for more physical weapons. He grabs for the truncheon at Peter Puritan’s belt. “Prince of Lies! I will not allow you to – ”

Flynn, keeping hold of Lucy with one arm, plunges his free hand into his leather jacket, removes a gun, and shoots Cotton Goddamn Mather in the head. It sounds like thunder.

Mather goes down hard, as Lucy screams and muffles it in her hand. Mather is one of history’s most unpleasant racist and misogynistic jackasses, it’s not like this is a terrible loss, and maybe with the intellectual architect of the witch trials gone, Salem will come to its senses. Or it will become convinced that he was completely right all along, with Lucifer himself in their midst, and double down. Lucy isn’t sure if Mather’s dead – Flynn didn’t get a clean hit, just a glancing one – and they have no time to be sure. Flynn throws her over his shoulder, and runs, fittingly, like the devil.

He doesn’t stop until they’re well away, somewhere deep in Salem Woods, also known as the Witches’ Wood, and the noise and shout and total disorder of Gallows Hill has faded to a distant, dreamy clamor. Flynn stumbles to a halt, pulls Lucy down, and practically throws her against the nearest tree. She has never seen his face look like this. “Are you – did they – ”

“Stop,” Lucy chokes out. “Stop, Flynn. Flynn. Flynn! Garcia! I’m fine. I’m fine!”

This is more or less the truth – aside from her scraped ear, twisted ankle, and hammering heart, she’s physically undamaged, thanks to his timely intervention, but the mental shock is going to take longer to set in. His hands are practically bruising her shoulders, he belatedly realizes it, and loosens them a fraction. His dark hair is tousled, there’s an abrasion on his cheek, and his knuckles are scraped. He has clearly been fighting the entire town to get to her.

Lucy, to say the least, has no idea how to react to this. It says something about how successfully he has convinced her that he hates the sight of her and will never forgive her that she ranked Rittenhouse a more likely rescuer than him. But it’s him here, face frantic in the moonlight, still completely unable to put up a pretense or façade. “Lucy,” he says again, barely more coherently. “I – Lucy. I thought – ” He stops. Straining madly for his usual brusque dismissal, he says, “How could you be so foolish as to – ”

“It’s my fault that the place literally known for murdering slightly strange innocent women was about to murder me, a slightly strange innocent woman?” Lucy flares. She cannot believe him. He has hauled her bodily from certain death and badly wounded or killed Cotton Mather in doing it, and now of course he’s going to be a dick about it. “If you actually think so, I’m happy to walk back there and let them finish the job!”

This of course is a bluff, as she’s going nowhere near them, but it turns Flynn’s face a sick white. His grip tightens convulsively on her, her toes practically dangling off the ground, and she shoves at him until he puts her down. They stare at each other for a crackling moment. She wants to ask him where Wyatt and Rufus are, but the words get stuck. He looks disheveled and frantic and still not quite able to look away from her face. He half-raises his hand as if to touch it, remembers himself, and stops. His chest heaves. Quieter, he says, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Lucy opens her mouth, to shoot back any of the obvious rejoinders about how she is not going to have much choice in their present line of work, and besides, it’s a considerable shock to hear he gives a shit. Once again, the words don’t make it that far. It is not only the fear and adrenaline of the near-hanging and dramatic rescue that is making her heart keep up its present pace. His face is quite close to hers, and it wouldn’t be hard. To just step up, and –

(Lucy feels something for Wyatt beyond any doubt. Something warm and alluring and tender, something she could see turning into something more, a foundation to build on, a home to come to, strong and sweet and real. She always has.)

(Lucy also feels something for Flynn beyond any doubt. Something raw and dark and hungry, something she can’t see turning into anything but the crash of a devouring sea that would take her and drown her, pull her under. This is nothing to build on, cannot move forward, strikes like lightning and burns, burns, burns. She always has.)

The witch and the Devil in the woods at midnight, Lucy thinks. It is almost surreal, the way the crickets shirr, the starlight is sharp and cold, and in the distance, men who want to kill them chant like Moria drums. Is she not a witch? She knows their future, she’s traveled here from it, she has seen and done things that defy explanation in her own time, not merely those. They have wanted to kill her for it, but something else is surging in her now. She wants that power, in a way. And the fear. That moment when Flynn was decking Peter Puritan, when she felt it as if it was her arm, as if he was her and she was him and both of them were two strange halves of a twisted and torn-apart creature –

Lucy boosts herself on her tiptoes, grabs Flynn by the mostly-undone cravat, and kisses him.

It’s not like kissing Wyatt. That is generous, easy, gentle, knowing she will be caught when she jumps over the edge. This is flinging herself into the abyss without a rope, with no idea what kind of reaction it will provoke. Flynn could do literally anything, and as a rule in his life, has. But this Lucy, the Lucy who’s so fucking furious at her mother she can’t breathe, who has spent every waking moment sacrificing for everyone else, who wants to be the one to do the reckless, idiotic thing for once, doesn’t care. This is a dangerous man, and she isn’t about to romanticize or underestimate that. But if nothing else – if there’s anything she’s taking away from her recent near-death experience – she is also a dangerous woman.

Flynn, for his part, is too floored to do anything at all. His hands windmill feebly in the air, and he remains briefly inert against her, until Lucy wonders if she’s completely mistaken and there isn’t whatever there is between them, whatever she thought there was. His mouth is a hard seam of granite, grim and ungenerous and guarded like a castle wall, just like the rest of him. Just then, for that instant, it feels like kissing a statue.

In the next, it doesn’t. His hands clamp onto her face, pulling her head up almost hard enough to strain her neck – well, he’s a full foot taller than she is, something’s got to give, something has to bridge the distance, in more ways than one. He kisses like he punches: he takes no prisoners, he doesn’t waste time on peripheral targets, and it feels liable to knock you out if you run into it too hard. Her hands come up, clutching his wrists, as their noses mash and their teeth scrape and they bite each other’s lips, too used to conflict to come easily into convergence. Lucy isn’t even sure she is enjoying it, exactly. Just that she can’t stop.

It’s Flynn who breaks the kiss (if such a polite, sweet-sounding word can be used to dignify the proceedings) after a gasping, gulping moment. He clearly thinks the insanity of the Salemites must be contagious. “Lucy – ”

Oddly enjoyable as it is to hear her name in his mouth like that, the way his accent sometimes thickens in moments of heightened emotion, Lucy Preston rarely gets the chance to outright do stupid things, and she doesn’t feel like losing this one. She takes a step, grabbing his lapels, her loosened hair falling around her face, dark shadows on the paleness. She feels a little demonic herself, breathing enchantment, whispering spells, and it’s an even more enjoyable feeling, the tremor that runs through him, the knowledge that she could break that desperate self-control with not much more than a flick. Witches are known to have sex with the devil, after all. It’s one of the major features by which you can identify them. How, God knows, but Lucy isn’t really interested in the logistics. Just this. Her monster.

(He’s not, he’s not a monster, she hasn’t thought that for a long time now, and yet. She hungers. She hungers.)

(Perhaps the monster is her.)

(She doesn’t altogether mind.)

They stare at each other for a dazzled moment longer, and then Lucy’s grip changes, turns possessive, as she pulls him closer again. Flynn resists for a valiant split-second longer, and then she can feel him snap. They are two people with, to say the least, a volatile history, who have had some sort of connection from the start and whose chemistry has always been undeniable, who have been spending a lot of time (at least on someone’s Garbage Lord part) insisting they hate each other now. Of course it was going to become inevitable.

Flynn kisses her ferociously, hand curling behind her head, fingers brushing her scraped ear, but Lucy doesn’t care. Her arms tangle around his neck, they overbalance, and slide down the trunk of the tree into the soft moss at the bottom. Flynn comes down heavily on top of Lucy, catching his weight on an elbow just in time, as well as tangling in her skirts. It’s a wonder anyone gets to the actual fornication part around here, given the amount of clothing, but Lucy happens to know that Puritans hump like rabbits. Don’t let the buttoned-up religious zealot image fool you. This – sneaking off for a tryst in the woods, in the ditches, in the fields, anywhere away from the white clapboard house and the judgment of the church – is far from uncommon. And all of that is alarming, if it’s what they’re doing, but it appears they are.

Breathless and entangled, Flynn sprawled between her legs, his head resting almost on her chest, they struggle to sit up halfway, still kissing, grunting and whimpering between breaths, as he rakes her bottom lip with his teeth. Lucy wrestles him to a better angle, as he puts down one hand to brace himself and strokes her neck with the other, running his callused thumb up the hollow of her throat and onto her cheek, half-tender despite the heat of their kiss. His eyelashes flutter. The look on his face is unspeakable. This is probably the first time he’s kissed anyone since his wife died. Lucy wonders if he’s seeing the ghost of a dead woman in her face – or if he’s not.

It still doesn’t matter. His mouth leaves one more long, hungry brand on hers, then breaks off, venturing down her chin, the underside of her jaw, as he tugs aside the torn white collar. Lucy shudders from head to toe, even as his free hand has successfully made it under the skirts and is running up the slim line of her thigh. As much clothing as Puritans wear on top, they wear less below. Lucy has made it a policy of retaining her own underwear, but aside from a petticoat, there’s not much in Flynn’s way.

She shifts position, crawling onto his lap, shucking his heavy coat and hearing a thump as it hits the ground with his gun still inside. She may regret that if they are abruptly caught by the Puritans, but then, public indecency would definitely get them arrested, so Flynn will be punching someone anyway. This is insane, this is insane, this is insane, and for a moment, Lucy wonders if she’s actually being bewitched, that the moon is rising in Salem Wood on a seventeenth-century summer night and she’s fallen sideways out of reality. But that is her life every day now. This is something still more.

It doesn’t take long until Lucy’s skirts are hiked up around her hips, Flynn’s trousers have been unbuttoned, and if either of them are going to stop this before it goes past the point of no return, it has to be now. But Flynn’s hand has almost reached the top of her thigh, and Lucy is going to lose her mind if they don’t, and this is going to solve nothing at all and will probably result in their relationship being even more fraught. But it still doesn’t matter. Nothing does except him, and them, and this. She pushes Flynn onto his back, hooks her panties off her ankle, and picks her skirts up. Their eyes meet, in a moment of silent question. It’s not entirely clear who’s asking who.

Flynn gives half a jerky nod, hands already reaching for her hips, pulling her closer, as Lucy straddles him, knees pressing into the soft loam on either side of his thighs. The first intimate brush is practically maddening, and she reaches down, taking hold of him in her hand, stroking tip and shaft with her thumb. Then she shifts, guides him in the darkness, and slides him slowly into her, hard and hot and solid. Her fingers slip on him and her, this raw and elemental communion, like druids coupling in the shadow of a standing stone. This ritual, this old magic of man and woman, has been practiced for thousands upon thousands of years.

Lucy utters a faint whimper in her throat as she settles fully onto him, opening her hips, feeling him sliding deeper and deeper until their bodies are entirely given to the other. She leans forward, breath catching, as she rolls her hips, then plants her hands on his shoulders as she thrusts. He reaches up to grab her wrists, meeting her halfway with a thrust of his own, hard enough to send something haywire inside her. She sees sparks. She gulps and swears, eyes closed, sweat beading in her hair and rolling down the back of her neck. Hitches herself up, drags herself against him, and bends down almost on all fours, riding out the long shudder of frisson and friction. He grips her harder. Her head comes down close to his as she fucks him thoroughly, her hair hanging in his face. He snarls and lunges for her mouth.

As they kiss again, Flynn comes up beneath her like a cyclone, flips them over, and catches hold of her hands, pushing them over her head, as he thrusts into her practically to the back of her spine. One of his hands pulls loose from hers and gets hold of her thigh instead, pushing it wider. Every time Lucy thinks the next stroke can’t keep coming, can’t be more intense, it is, rutting and jerking. Her free hand claws at him, searching for purchase in this mad, mad universe, when she fears she has been tipped off the edge and it is a very long way down. Bunch and burst and buck, her back pressed down into the loam, Flynn’s hips coiling and loosening for a final, wracking heave. He has given up on any feeble denial whatsoever that he does not want to do exactly this. He mounts her once more, strong and lithe and ruthless as a tiger, and then starts to lose it altogether.

Lucy isn’t sure if she orgasms, so much as she reaches a point where her body simply cannot take a single instant more of sensation and stimulation and breathless need, the system overloads, has to call a halt and start again. Her mouth is open, head thrown back on the leaves, gasping fruitlessly, her body shaking and blazing. It’s like standing too close to an open bonfire, not so much soft and pleasurable as searing and primal. She thinks that perhaps, the Salemites have gotten their wish. She has, in fact, been burned alive.

It is a very long moment until either of them can even think about moving. Flynn is still inside her, pulsing and softening, until he jerks out of her abruptly enough to make her feel bereft. He sits back on his knees, pulling his trousers up and fumbling with the buttons. Lucy lies where she is, still not quite able to move, as he steals a brief, shamefaced look at her and reaches out to pull down her skirts, as if hiding the evidence will deny it ever happened. His hands are shaking, faintly but relentlessly. He wipes his mouth .“Lucy,” he says hoarsely, the first thing either of them have managed since this madness started. “We should go.”

Slowly, head rushing as she does, Lucy sits up. She can’t quite get enough air, due to a combination of the obvious and never having gotten around to taking her corset off. Her thighs are slick and her mouth feels wet and swollen. She is going to have bruises.

“Lucy.” He remains hunched where he is. “Lucy, did I hurt you?”

Garcia Flynn, as far as she knows, has never asked that question to anyone before. Lucy doesn’t know how to answer. He didn’t, and he did, and she feels like the white-hot anvil in the forge, and she isn’t sure her knees can bear her weight. She feels both possessed and cleansed. God, where does she even start to understand this.

(Maybe she doesn’t have to. Maybe it just is.)

Flynn is still looking at her. Waiting.

Lucy reaches up to touch his face, cupping her fingers around his jaw. He turns his head almost reflexively, as if to kiss her palm, and to hide his eyes. She can feel a wetness that is not sweat. He shudders with the weight of all the tears he is not remotely about to shed. But despite himself, a few more slip out. He shakes again. He doesn’t make a sound.

Lucy leans forward and kisses his cheek, softly and chastely after the carnal heat and fury of their coupling, and tastes the salt on her lips. Then she puts her other hand out, and allows him to help her up. They grasp at each other once they’re back on their feet, struggling to steady each other. He looks at her again. His expression is indescribable.

It’s a strange feeling to know you own a dangerous man’s soul, but Lucy Preston will be gentle.

“Come on, Garcia,” she whispers. “Let’s go home.”