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i guess that makes you an outlaw, too

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It’s Chrissy’s idea.

“Just an hour,” is her pitch, which she uses for almost everything. “Half, even.”

She bats her eyes, all dressed up already, watching Nicole fold his fresh-cleaned clothes at the couch.

“Waverly’s gonna be there. You’re always saying she’s your favourite employee.”

“Ain’t her boss,” Nicole corrects.

“You own the bar, so.”

“Waverly and I are equals, Chris. And she sees enougha this mug as it is.”

“You cannot spend the first Saturday night off you’ve had in forever on laundry.”

“Nah. I’m gonna order some a’that Japanese ya put me on to. Watch a movie. Go to bed before midnight. Been lookin’ forward to it all week.”

“What about Rosita?”

“What about her?”

“She’ll be there, too.”

“Then Waverly’s gonna have a mighty fine time.”

Chrissy blinks. A neat little distraction.

“Wait, really?”

Nicole shrugs at his sister. “Y’know Rosie…”

Right - flirts with anything on two legs. Little Waves has no hope.”

“Girl can hold her own. Trust me.”

“All the more reason to come along, then. Watch the fireworks.”

“Their business’s their business.”

“What about me, then?”

Nicole stops, in the middle of shaking out his favourite pair of jeans before he can fold them. He looks at his sister.

“You, what?”

“We haven’t seen each other in forever.”

“Chris. We live together.”

“That’s my point!” She sits on the arm of the couch, pouting. She’s got her tight black pants and a sparkly low-cut top on. Bright lipstick. Her hair’s all shiny. “Between you and the bar and me trying to get everything ready at the shop, we haven’t had any sibling time in like, forever.” She pauses, a shy glance at the TV flickering behind him. Says quietly, “I just - I miss my brother, okay? Sue me.”

And, well.

Shoot.

 

////

 

Her name’s Steph Jones. A loose acquaintance of Chrissy’s and someone Nicole’s only met like, the once.

He squints across the lawn. The house is big, and this is… a lotta cars.

Honestly, he didn’t even think anybody liked her that much.

“Ya said it was small,” he mumbles.

Chrissy pops her door open. “This is small.”

Rosita screams when she sees him. He does the hugging and hello-ing and makes a beeline for what he figures’ll be the quietest part of the house.

He finds Waverly. Ever the centre of calm, she is.

“Look who showed,” she says, hands busy pouring one thing into another.

She’s got on a baggy sweater with the sleeves rolled up and a clip in her hair and deep, delightful concentration on her face.

“You makin’ drinks on your night off from makin’ drinks?”

“I’m trying new things.”

“Ain’t we both.”

“You’ll thank me when our customer base doubles.”

“Gosh. Gonna have to hire more people, are we?”

“At least ten more.”

“Well alright, then.”

He rounds the counter, curious, and gets himself a kiss on the cheek for his trouble.

“Hey, mister,” she mutters, all fond, her focus fixed on whatever cocktail she’s perfecting.

“What’s this, then?”

“Not sure yet. Last one tasted like balls.”

“I am less certain of your business plan, I gotta say.”

“Shush,” she mutters, nudging him. “You want something?”

“Ah. Sorta hoping for your finest water…”

“Well the stuff on tap is not a good idea here, trust me. I put a couple bottles of sparkling in the cooler out the back.”

“Knew I was comin’, did you?”

“Knew Chrissy would try. Here.” She swaps tasks, pulls a clear cup from a stack and dumps ice and fruit in it. “Use this and nobody’ll know what it is.”

“Ya do look after me.”

Waverly touches his arm on her way to the fridge, hunting for somethin’. “Someone has to.”

 

////

 

“I saw that.”

Nicole looks up from the cooler, startled by a voice way beside him.

A woman, standing at the other end of the back porch with a half-drunk beer.

Long hair, leather jacket, a quiet challenge in her eyes. All of it, dark. And soft, Nicole thinks. Which is an odd thing to think about a person ya don’t know.

“Oh. Hi.”

The woman smirks. Not a smile, and not not.

Hi,” she mimics. She glances at his cup. She’s caught him filling it with soda water. “Nothing to your liking inside?”

“No,” he says, looking in her eyes proper.

Also dark. Also soft.

“Everythin’ I like’s out here.”

Okay, it’s a smile now.

Heck, that weren’t even deliberate.

Feels good to be on his game when he’s otherwise so off it.

This party is loud, and it is a relief to be outside.

“Helps me keep my dirty little secret,” he adds, emboldened.

The dark-soft woman raises an eyebrow, waiting.

“Bar owner who don’t drink.”

“Ah.” She nods, a confirmation to herself. “I do know a narc when I see one.”

“Ouch. For real?”

“Totally. Wholly and completely. Yeowsers.”

“I look nothin’ like any cop I ever seen.”

“That’s what a cop would say.”

“A cop would ask how many a them you’ve had.”

“While drinking his soda water out of a cute little cup with fruit in it.”

Thanks, Waverly.

“Never got a taste for the other stuff,” he admits.

“Most people don’t. They drink it anyway.”

“I ain’t most people.”

Ain’t you?”

Nicole knows his weakness is smart women with quick mouths and pretty eyes.

Meetin’ one who makes fun of his accent all casual-like is… new.

“No,” he says, kinda hoping she’ll do it again. “I ain’t.”

“Boy, did you come to the wrong party.”

“Yeah?”

“Stephanie Freaking Jones? The worst. A walking skin-sack of nope.”

“She’s got a strange amount-a people celebratin’ her birth, if that’s true.”

“These losers’ll take any excuse they can get for beer pong.”

“Think ya just called yourself a loser.”

Her eyes catch his, amusement simmering.

“Some people,” she starts, “normal people, find free beer to be quite the drawcard in like, ninety-nine percent of possible scenarios.”

“Think ya just called me abnormal.”

“So what if I did?”

“Mighty big talk, comin’ from a loser.”

“That’s the second time you’ve called me a loser, pal.”

“You started it.”

She chuckles. She’s leaning on the porch railing now, right by him.

Wow,” she says. “Just when I was maybe kind of actually starting to think you were doing a good job at the flirting-with-hot-women thing. A little rusty, aren’t we?”

“You tell me. You’re the hot woman.”

She smirks, side-long and sly. “Alright,” she mutters. “That got you a point.”

Behind them, the house party blares on. Somebody’s rigged lights in the living room and every so often something blue or pink flashes over the polished wood his hand’s resting on.

“You ain’t here for the socialising, then?”

The woman sips on her drink. “Nah. Social’s not my thing.”

“Neither, if I’m honest.”

“Hold up, don’t tell me the non-drinking, narc-vibes loner hiding in the backyard isn’t Mr Life Of The Party?”

“I’m just here for my sister.”

One of her eyebrows goes up. A kind of concession he ain’t expect to see.

“They’re good at that, aren’t they.”

“You too?”

“Sounds like we should start a club. The My Sister’s Great At Guilting Me Into Shit Club.”

“Nah, Chrissy’s cool. We work a lot and our schedules don’t line up much. I should be inside with her, really.”

The woman next to him goes still, beer part way to her mouth.

“Wait. You’re… Nedley’s sibling?”

“Last I checked.”

“Huh. Can’t say I see the resemblance.”

“She dyes her hair.”

She gasps, more in awe than the information calls for. “She does not.”

“No,” he says, trying not to laugh. “No, I’m adopted.”

“You - Jesus.” She slugs him in the arm and he winces hard, dramatic. “Asshole.”

“Sorry, m’sorry - Most people round here know. Gotta have fun with it when I can.”

“Well I’m not from around here, so.”

“But your sister is?”

She looks at him. “You’ve really got no idea, do you? Who I am?”

“I really got no idea.”

“This is fun. We’re gonna have fun with this.”

“Are we, now?”

“Two truths and a lie. I’m adopted, too.”

“No, ya ain’t.”

“Oh, as if you can tell.”

“Sure I can. Us adopted kids, we got a sense for it.”

“Bullshit.”

“Waitin’ on those truths…”

“I don’t go to parties much.”

“Supposed ta only do one fib.”

“My name is Annabeth Kirkpatrick The Third.”

“You’re not good at this game, are you?”

“I’m great at all games, and who said that was a lie?”

“Ladies can’t be thirds.”

“Oh, so I’m a lady now, is that right, Rusty?”

Nicole’s turn to smirk.

Rusty.

“I don’t know who ya are,” he says. “But I’d like to.”

She studies him. He keeps himself still, as the object of scrutiny.

“Is that so?” she mutters, eventually.

“You’re someone’s sister. That’s all I got. Whose?”

“I’ll give you a hint. Head inside and find the exact opposite of me.”

Nicole hears self-deprecation in that. A wall of it, through which somethin’ darker’s trying to push through.

“Right,” he says, light enough to push back at it. He hates it, and he don’t even know what it is. “So I’m after a dull, uninterestin’ woman who don’t like beer and knows how to count.”

“More like the nerd cooking up cocktails instead of partying. Human sunshine? A literal angel, walking among the mortals?”

Waverly?

“Bingo.”

“But – I’ve met Willa.”

“Sucks to be you. I’m the other one.”

Nicole thinks back on nearly every conversation he’s had with Waverly Earp. In the few years they’ve known each other, she’s only mentioned someone else a couple times. She left when Waves was younger, only came back a few months ago. They ain’t close, but she wishes they were.

“Wynonna.”

She lifts her beer. “Give the guy a prize.”

“I’m Nicole. Haught.”

He holds his hand out to her, wanting to do it proper.

Her hand is warm, and it goes on longer than it needs to.

“If it’s all the same to you,” Wynonna says, “I think I’ll stick with Rusty.”

 

////

 

She takes him drinkin’.

A spectator sport, in Nicole’s case. He’s used to it.

They sit close together at a tall table by a wall of gig posters and music memorabilia and he rests his chin on his fist and watches her watch a mediocre local band roll through their set.

He tells her he took over Shorty’s a few years ago. She knows.

She tells him she’s a private investigator, and that it’s nothin’ like the movies.

“Lots of divorces,” she says. “Lots of bullshit. But I got an office in town. My name on the door. I share it with this total buzzkill and it’s a shoebox, but whatever.”

They don’t talk much, in general. Nicole’s used to that, too, and used to it being awkward.

He is not used to Wynonna Earp.

She catches him lookin’ and he can’t find it in him to be embarrassed.

“What’re you staring at, all googly-eyed, Haught?”

“You,” he answers.

And he puts his hand on hers, on the tabletop.

Wynonna’s mouth makes a line; she mighta hummed at that, if he could hear it over the music.

With her other hand, she reaches to run her finger down one side of his face. His eyes slip shut like she found a little lever by his ear.

“Whatcha thinking about, then, Haught?”

“Same answer.”

 

////

 

They get kicked out at closing.

Wynonna leans heavy against him, glassy-eyed. Nicole squints at his phone, figurin’ out how far they are from Waverly’s place, or his.

She’s pawing at him, and her face is against his neck.

He’s trying real hard not to enjoy it.

“We can walk,” he tells her. “If ya not too cold.”

Wynonna kisses him.

 

////

 

She’s handsy on the walk, she’s handsy on the stairs, she’s handsy when he props her up in the hall so he can unlock his door. Once they’re in, handsy don’t begin to cover it.

He indulges her – hell, indulges himself.

Wynonna Earp is… real good at kissin’.

He likes the way her tongue feels against his.

Likes the way all of her feels against all of him.

No way does none a this not wake Chrissy.

“C’mon,” he says, a little breathless. “Bedroom’s down here.”

“Yessir,” she responds, saluting, of all things.

He closes his door as quietly as he can and Wynonna flops on the side of the bed, tangled in her jacket and scarf. He helps her out of it and she snags the front of his belt.

Licks her lips, fumbling with his buckle and his buttons.

“Alright, Rusty. Let’s see what you got for me.”

He slips his hand into her hair, just a second.

She is real good at kissin’, and he bets she’s great at a certain many other things.

His zipper comes down and she glances up at him.

He pushes gently at her hands. Extracts himself.

Ain’t nothin’ else for it, is there.

“You want me kneeling, do you, cowboy? That it?”

“I’m gonna get ya some water,” he says, kissin’ her forehead and stepping away. “Don’t go nowhere.”

“Wait, what? You’re – I don’t want water, I want to keep doing what we’re – what we’re doing.”

“We… We ain’t gonna…”

Wynonna blinks. Looks everywhere but at Nicole, processing.

Asks:

“Huh?”

“Earp. We can’t do none of that when you’re all tipsy.”

“I am not tipsy, I’m hammered, thank you.”

“We don’t really know each other.”

“That’s what the drinking’s for.”

“Wouldn’t be proper.”

Proper?

“Just bein’ polite.”

“You’re… You’re serious.” Wynonna runs a hand through her hair. Blows a raspberry outta her mouth, unamused. “Shit,” she mutters. “Shoulda known. That’s your problem. You’re too fuckin’ polite.”

“Please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad, I’m fuckin’ turned on and getting shut down by some idiot.”

That stings, don’t it.

Nicole pulls his belt out of its loops so it don’t clink when he walks.

“Should I be taking advantage instead, ya think?”

“It’s not taking – Dude. We met at a party, we got drunk, we made out, we’re in your bedroom.”

“I had water n' lemonade.”

“What’d you even bring me here for?”

His heart bruises, that she would ask him that.

Before he can respond, another question. Shakier.

“You don’t – Don’t you wanna?”

“No, hey. ‘Course I wanna.”

“Fooled me.”

“Wyn–”

“Y’know what? Now I don’t wanna.” She stands, pulling her jacket back on. Overbalances.

“Careful–”

“Shut up. You had your chance and, ironically, you blew it. Your loss, man. I give incredible head.”

She looks down at herself, one arm stuck in a twisted sleeve. Frowns, heavily.

Nicole sighs.

She’s inebriated and disoriented, and he’s realisin’ he might be the first person in too long to worry more about the woman behind the walls than the woman underneath the clothes.

“Siddown,” he says. “Seriously, sit.”

She does, if only because it helps her get her sleeve sorted out.

He crouches in front of her. Takes her hands in his.

“I didn’t mean to mislead ya. I’m sorry for that.” He kisses her knuckles, the once. Can’t help it. “I am… real interested in doin’ all kindsa things with you. Right now though, I thought we’d just get some sleep.”

Wynonna hums, half-convinced.

“Heard that one before.”

He turns her hands over to kiss her palms. The creases, the light tang of sweat.

She watches like nobody’s ever thought to do it before.

“Not from me, ya ain’t,” he says, nosing at her skin. “Let’s sleep it off. ‘Kay? See how we feel in the mornin’.”

She thinks on that with the smallest of frowns on her face.

Softens, and slips a hand into his hair. Plays with the back in a way that makes his other hairs stand to attention.

“What if, in the mornin’, I feel like I wanna make up for all this wasted time? What then, Rusty?”

“Darlin’. That is kinda what I’m hopin’ for.”

 

////

 

“You’re in a good mood.”

Nicole looks up from his spot on the floor behind the bar. Waverly’s watching him, suspicious.

“Am I?”

“I mean, you’re not generally a Gloomy Gus, but you’re… whistling. While you swap the kegs out.”

“Sorry.”

“I don’t mean stop.”

“Ya don’t have to pretend I’m much good at carryin’ a tune, Waverly.”

“Is there… any particular reason, for the whistling?”

Nicole thinks of Tuesday.

Meeting Wynonna at the cinema.

Making out in the back of the theatre like dopey teenagers.

Taking her home.

Slipping his hand between her legs, when the time felt right for such things.

How red her face got.

How nice her sounds were.

How tight she held onto him throughout.

He decides these are not things he can be divulging to his friend, who happens to be her little sister.

“Just a good weekend,” he says.

And he smiles, like that’ll help sell it.

Waverly don’t buy it, but she don’t push, neither.

He keeps whistlin’.

 

////

 

Tuesday again.

A habit forming.

His room, late, Wynonna on his bed and him on her.

“Gotta be quiet,” he says, sucking on her neck. “Chrissy’ll be home soon.”

“Do not talk about your sister right now.”

“Sorry.”

“You should be.”

“Roll over?” he asks, licking the spot he’d been suckin’ on.

She pulls at his t-shirt, lifting.

“Let me have my fun, Rusty.”

He wriggles, not keen to give up his spot.

“Kinda like to leave it on.”

“Yeah?”

“That okay?”

“Well – yeah, you just - left it on last time. I thought…”

He sits up. Rests his hands on her waist and takes a second to enjoy the sight of her under him, mussed and flushed and lovely. Her bra’s still on, a purple lacey thing. The rest of her is milky, smooth skin. Little dots and creases.

“What?” he tries to joke. “Can’t get enough of me?”

Wynonna doesn’t blink. Doesn’t do anything.

“Hey,” he says, settling on his haunches. “What is it?”

“I’ve never… Shit. I don’t know what to say that won’t be like, shitty. I’m not trying to be shitty.”

“Okay. Say it n’ I’ll be sure to remember that.”

“I just… haven’t met anyone like you, before.”

Nicole knows what she means. Don’t mind her sayin’ it.

These conversations can go either way, is all, and the fun they were just having is… funner.

“Thanks. Ain’t met anyone like you, neither.”

She smacks him in the side.

Haught.”

“Ya wanna talk about gender,” he says, catching her hand before she can whack him again. “That about it?”

“I don’t wanna be an asshole.”

“A key ingredient to not bein’ one, I’ve heard.”

Wynonna sighs, unsatisfied. He gives in, cautiously optimistic.

If she’s Waverly’s sister, he ain’t got many reasons to be all that concerned.

“You’re askin’ questions,” he says, kissing her wrist. “Means a lot to me that you wanna know things.”

“Sure.”

“Guessin’ you’re worried about doin’ the wrong thing?”

“Guess so.”

He settles forward again, his pelvis against her. He’s packing today, and the feeling of his soft dick between them might help make his point.

Wynonna wriggles, like she feels it and likes it.

“Ya did good the other night. If ya recall.”

“That was different.”

“How?”

“Because we – we were so wound up we barely took our clothes off.”

“I don’t always do that, anyways.”

“And I didn’t even touch you. You touched you.”

“Nothin’ wrong with that.”

Obviously, but…”

She starts playing with the leg of his boxer briefs, fiddlin’ with the hem.

He spends time takin’ in all the little freckles or pimples or spots on her cheeks, her shoulders, her arms. Memorisin’ her patterns.

“Waves talks about you non-stop, y’know.”

“Thought we wasn’t allowed to talk about our sisters.”

“I tried calling and stuff, before I came back. She’d tell me about her books or Rosita or this super great guy she works for.”

“With,” he corrects. “Be lost without her.”

“Felt like I knew you, when I met you. I would not have nailed the pronouns stuff otherwise.”

“She never mentioned you much, to tell you the truth.”

“Nothing much worth saying, dude.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.”

She looks away, unable to hear it, or not wanting to.

“You’re a real Prince Charming, aren’t you,” she mumbles, to the wall.

“Thought I was rusty.”

“You’re both. It’s… I don’t hate it.”

“I’m glad.”

Wynonna kisses him, slower and then not, and they resume, or at least press pause on the… pause.

They remove her bra together. He kisses her belly.

“Okay?” he checks, hovering over freshly-revealed skin.

She nods. “My nipples can be sensitive.”

“Ya tell me when you’ve had enough, darlin’.”

“I – I go after what I want,” she goes on, breathy and playing with his hair while he works. “Nobody gives you anything unless you go after it, y’know? That, uh, goes for the people I sleep with, too. Hook-ups or whatever.”

“I gathered,” he mumbles, mouthing happily at her breasts. “I like it. Guess’m the same.”

“It just – It doesn’t mean I don’t give a shit about… what the other person wants, too. Or like, what they need.”

“Honey, I hope ya can tell I am definitely doin’ what I want.”

“You know what I’m saying, you big jerk.”

“Don’t think ya really said anythin’.”

She groans, clutching his head.

“Would you just tell me stuff about yourself, please? Dragging it out like it’s your special talent, Jesus fuck.”

Nicole chuckles, his unease gone, now. “Alright, alright.” He kisses her nipple one more time and lays down on her, hands tucked under her shoulders. “Yes. I like to leave my shirt on durin’ sex, most a the time.”

“Right,” she says, lookin’ relieved to have the info. “Okay. That’s – Whatever.”

“Underwear, too. If I’m not wearin’ one a them briefs harnesses.”

“Is this all… because you’re uncomfortable?”

“It’s because it makes me comfortable.”

“Right,” she says, again.

“I ain’t all that bothered by my boobs, generally. Just better not to be reminded of ‘em.”

“Shit, I’ve been – I’ve had my hands – uh. There.”

“Don’t mind that so much. I wear a binder a lot. Sometimes tape.”

Wynonna bites her lip, apologetic.

“Pretend I don’t read half as many books as Waverly does?”

Easy, ain’t it, to sometimes forget the bubble we live in.

Nicole kisses Wynonna’s chest again, ‘cause of how much she’s tryin’, and shifts enough to lift his shirt and show off the bottom of the binder he’s got on.

“Kinda like a sports bra. Keeps everythin’ in place. Makes me flat.”

Her head tilts, taking it in.

“Flat, huh?”

“Makes me feel good. Not all non-binary people bind, though. And some bind but they ain’t non-binary.”

“Non-binary. That’s like, not a guy or a girl, right?”

“It’s different things to different people. So, depends.”

She plays with his hair a second, watching him.

“What’s it to you?”

“Well, I… Ya already know that. Doncha?”

“Waverly’s not that chatty.”

“Ya call me dude a lot.”

“I call everybody dude.”

“Oh.”

Nicole focuses on the feelin’ of her fingers in his hair.

He knows that for every person who sees him like he sees himself, there’s plenty who don’t.

Makes it more special, he supposes, that this woman here’s up for bein’ corrected.

“That’s it, though,” he tells her. “Dude. Guy. And ‘cause a the accent, I do get cowboy a lot.”

“You don’t like cowboy?”

“I like cowboy when a pretty lady says it.”

“Good to know, cowboy.”

“Sorry, I said pretty, so–”

Hey.”

He chuckles with his tongue stuck out between his teeth at her, and she tickles him, and he fends her off, and they wrestle until they’ve switched places.

Her weight on his legs is heaven.

So is the view of her above him, half-naked and shiny-eyed and pockmarked with his little love bites.

Love?

Ahem.

“Ya all done with ya Nicole Haught Education now?”

“Maybe. I’m – Thanks.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Shit. I’m the shittiest student ever. Ask anybody I went to high school with. Or, you can’t, ‘cause I never went.”

“That’s unsurprisin’, somehow.”

“You’re – You’re gonna have to repeat whole whacks of all that for me, Haught. Like. Remind me, and stuff.”

“Ya mean ya didn’t learn in five minutes what it took me years to get a handle on?”

She rolls her eyes, plants her hand over his face. Pushes.

“You’re fine,” he chuckles, nipping at her fingers. “Jus’ think of me as a guy, and remember I ain’t a man. And that I definitely ain’t a woman. No offense.”

Wynonna shrugs. “It’s not for everyone.”

Nicole hopes the warmth blooming in his chest can trickle, at least a little, out through his fingertips and into her skin.

“I do have one more question.”

“M’ready.”

“What’s happening… here?”

Her hand drifts from his stomach down to his crotch. Stops short of the bulge there.

“Ah. That.”

“I mean… I know what it feels like.”

She presses her hand into him, testing.

Ain’t nothin’ shut him up quite like that.

“It’s – It’s what it feels like,” he coughs, holding her hand still while his face flushes with heat. Wynonna looks confused, and he remembers he weren’t packing the first time they got off together.

“A strap-on?”

“No. Uh, sometimes. This is a packer. Technically.”

“You don’t have to get technical on me, Haught. I wanna know. If you – y’know.”

“It’s… just my dick. When I wear it it’s just part a me. Like I said, I’m just – a guy, and all.”

“Hm.” Her fingertips trace the shape of him through his underwear, careful. Careful and interested. “Can I expect this dick to make a regular appearance?”

“Sort of. For sex, yeah. But even when I don’t wear it, I still have a dick. It just looks different.”

More tracing.

More pressure, too, if he ain’t mistaken.

“Never thought of it like that. Guess you can call it whatever you want, huh?”

“Yeah. Anything can be anything.”

“There’s a scary concept.”

“S’kinda awesome, actually.”

Her hand shifts, and his hips shift into her hand.

Ain’t even deliberate.

Shit.

The cheekiest grin he’s ever seen writes itself on Wynonna’s face.

“You like this, huh, Rusty?”

“Kinda have a thing for my dick gettin’ played with, yeah.”

“That’s really fuckin’ sexy,” she breathes. “Shit.”

She dips to lick a stripe up his briefs, slow. Plants a kiss on the end of him. Makes sure to look him right in the eyes the whole time.

“Jesus. Earp.”

“You can feel that?”

“Feel it. See it. Gonna get killed by it.”

“Alright,” she says, reaching into his fly to fish him out. “I can definitely work with this.”

 

////

 

At some point, Wynonna comes into the bar.

Says she’s looking for Waverly.

Which is funny, seeing as how she’s lookin’ at Nicole when she says it.

“Let her finish early,” he says. “She made a plan a some kind with Rosie.”

“Figures,” is her response.

Then she sits at the bar stool right in front of him. Toys with a coaster.

And with him.

Somethin’ about lookin’ at her hands…

Makes him all hot under the collar, it does.

“And what about you?” she asks.

“Me what?”

“When do you get off?”

He clears his throat. Knows his face must resemble a tomato.

“Whenever I want.”

 

////

 

“I think – Shit, sorry, think m’gonna…”

Nicole grunts, pushing into her a little harder.

He’s gonna pop any damn second.

“One minute,” Wynonna cackles, squeezing his hips. “That was like one minute.”

They’re on the tiny couch in her tiny office, a tiny box behind the frozen yoghurt place next to the post office.

He visited.

Brought coffee and donuts.

Now he’s huffin’ into her shoulder, pushing pushing pushing.

Guess she has that effect.

“Come here, Haught, come–”

She lies back, legs and arms wrapping him up while his knees press into the cushions and his hips press into her.

“We could do this somewhere more – more comfy, yanno,” he grunts, trying not to squash her or blow his load so soon.

“Where’s your sense of adventure, cowboy?”

Doesn’t take long after that.

He clutches at her, releasing and tryna keep his moanin’ to a minimum.

“That’s it,” she whispers, and he can’t seem to stop movin’. “Shit, you’ve got a good dick.”

Nicole pants, head spinnin’.

Needs to get a handle on things, he knows. Ain’t yet done here.

“Can – Can I touch you?”

“Like you have to ask right now.”

“That a yes?”

Haught.”

Whatever, breathin’ takes priority anyways.

Can’t do much of anything if he passes out first.

With more oxygen in his brain, he realises Wynonna’s gone still. Her fingers are on his neck. She’d been holding on, bracing for him to thrust into her some more. Now she’s just… staring.

“What?”

She swallows. He watches it happen.

He starts to wonder if he ain’t done the wrong thing somehow.

“Ya alright? We can stop, or–”

The hand by his neck tightens, tugging. Her mouth is open and soft, and so is the way she rubs her nose against his when she’s done with her kiss.

“I’m fine,” she whispers. “It’s fine.”

He kisses her back, just to be sure.

She don’t let it last long this time.

“Gonna give me my orgasm now, ya selfish bastard?”

“Ya gonna stop distractin’ me and let me, woman?”

She smiles, which makes him feel like he’s won somethin’.

He slips a hand between their bodies and finds the swollen spot that makes her tremble.

When it’s done, he folds over her, sucks on her breasts.

“That was – fuck.” She arches into his mouth and his enthusiasm, before pushing gently at his head. He takes the hint, leaving her be with a parting kiss to her nipple. “Shit,” she sighs, staring at the ceiling. “Why was that so hot?”

He smiles into her skin, mouthing innocently at her collarbone. Thinks about tellin’ her something about trans boys knowin’ what they’re doin’, but he don’t wanna gloat.

When he sits up, he catches sight of the clock hangin’ on the wall above her.

Been here ten minutes, he has.

“Shit.”

“What?” she mutters, eyes closed.

“Didn’t mean to… rush all that. Or make it happen in your place of work.”

She chuckles again, unbothered.

“Quick game’s a good game, Rusty.”

“It is not.”

“I dunno. It’s all about the points, isn’t it? Score. Touchdown. You get me.”

“Sounds like you been playin’ with some unimpressive teammates.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you just came in like, two minutes.”

“Consider it a compliment?”

“I consider myself irresistible.”

“Yeah,” he sighs, finding equilibrium. “Your fault, for bein’ so darn beautiful.”

She adjusts herself. He’s still inside her, so he feels it.

Now the blood’s stopped pounding in his ears, his wits come back to him.

He pulls out slow, gets to tucking himself back in. He’s all sticky. Musta known somethin’ when he felt like packing hard that morning.

“I, uh. I brought ya donuts.”

“Think you brought me a lot more than that, dude.”

Wynonna’s wrestling her leather pants and her underwear up from her knees with her legs stretched out.

“Was gonna ask ya to dinner.”

“And you skipped to dessert. Hell of a guy, you are.”

“Would you?”

“Would I what?”

“Have dinner with me?”

She’s rearrangin’ her hair when she looks at him.

“Like, tonight?”

“Sure.”

“I… can’t. I have a thing.”

“Tomorrow night?”

“I have a lot of things. This week. And next.”

She goes over to her desk, starts huntin’ through the pile a crap on it.

“It’s just a meal,” he says. “No pressure.”

“I know.”

“Doesn’t seem like ya do.”

“You–” She wipes at her face with an empty chuckle. “Dude, you just railed me with your boots on in the middle of the afternoon. What’re you worried about dinner for?”

“Ain’t rail anybody,” he says, knowing that weren’t her point. “I just - I thought ya wanted–”

She grabs her jacket, her bag. She’s on her way out, suddenly.

“Haught, chill. You didn’t do anything I didn’t enjoy, okay? I just, remembered I have this…”

He catches her eye. Both of ‘em.

Green or grey or blue. Depends on the light.

She is more than one colour and more than one thing.

He’s learned that much already.

“A thing. Yeah. Okay.”

She nods.

He’s still fuzzy from the whole encounter, but he knows a red flag when it gets dressed quick and bolts.

“I’ll call you?” he asks, optimistic and stupid.

“You better take the donuts,” is her response. “They’ll go stale.”

 

////

 

He calls, ‘cause he said he would.

She don’t answer, and he supposes she never promised to.

He spends an afternoon checking stock and sharing space with Waverly.

Eventually, he can’t help himself.

“What’s the deal with your sister?”

Waverly stops, her hand and a rag stuffed into a pint glass.

“Willa?”

“No, uh…”

“Oh.” Waverly gets back into her task. And stops again. “Oh.”

Nicole pulls his empty crate off the bar top, set on reloading it upstairs and bringing it back down and nothin’ at all else.

“Never mind.”

“Wait! Wait-” Waverly snags the handle on the other side of the crate, pulling him back. “You can’t just – We are absolutely – Nicole Haught!”

“Waves…”

“Do you have a thing for Wynonna?”

“No.”

“You do.”

“I gotta keep doing the–”

“No, stay, come on, come here.”

Waverly tugs gently on the crate and Nicole goes with it.

He does wanna talk.

He does not wanna make a big thing of it.

What a pickle.

“I’m only teasing,” Waverly says, reaching to rest her other hand on the bar top between them. “I’m sorry, seriously. You surprised me, that’s all. We can talk. Let’s talk.”

He sighs. Plops himself on a barstool, petulant.

Which fits, since Waverly’s lookin’ at him like a person might look at a child proudly holding up the first tooth they ever had fall out.

“Don’t.”

“I’m sorry, this is just… When’d you even meet? Here, right?”

He takes a breath, bracing.

“Steph’s party, kinda?”

Waverly cocks her head. “That was… weeks ago.”

Nicole shrugs. Waverly’s face doubles down on its impressed kinda adoration.

“You sneaky – You’ve caught feelings, haven’t you?”

“No, I – Maybe. Sorta.”

She squeals.

He groans.

“Ain’t like it’s the first time I ever had feelings.”

“Yeah, but, my sister?”

“She’s amazing, alright? She’s… kind. And fun.”

“She is amazing. And so are you. What I don’t understand is, why am I only hearing about this now? Oh, my god, forget I asked that. She’s her. And you’re you.”

“I didn’t wanna pressure her. It’s casual.”

“You poor bastard.”

“You ain’t answering my question,” he whines. “Why ain’t you answering my question?”

“Your – oh, right. Her deal. Jeez, I don’t know. She’s single, I think? That’s a stupid thing to lead with. Sorry. She drinks too much. Um. She’s… hard on herself. What do you want to know?”

He groans again. Rests his head on the bar.

Somethin’ I don’t already.

 

////

 

He tries makin’ history repeat itself.

Visits her at work.

Coffee. Donuts.

She ain’t there, this time.

Ain't anywhere, it feels like.

 

////

 

And then she is, like she were never gone.

He steps into his office and flicks the light switch and bam.

In fairness, it’s only been a few days.

Just… felt longer.

She startles, and so does he.

“Wyn?”

“Haught. What the – God.” She runs a hand through her hair. Takes a breath. “Scared the crap outta me.”

She’s sittin’ behind his desk, facing the shelving rack on the other side of the room. Napkins and glasses and such.

The bar was packed earlier. Nicole’s worked late pulling beers with the girls, thoughts drowned out by the talking and the music and the game on the TV. Rosita locked the door twenty minutes ago.

When’d she even get in here?

“What’re ya sittin’ in the dark for?”

“Can’t a girl sit in the dark by herself?”

He ain’t sure what to say to that, so he keeps quiet.

“Forget it. This was – You’ve got shit on and I’m–”

“No, it’s – It’s alright, you can… Gimme a second.”

She does, and he dumps the day’s takings in the safe, like he came up here to do in the first place.

When he’s done, he flicks his desk lamp on and the room light off. Leans by her side and waits for her to say somethin’. Pretends it ain’t a little weird seeing Wynonna Earp in his old leather desk chair.

She’s pale, except for the darkness under her eyes.

“Ya alright?” he asks, when it’s clear he needs to get the ball rolling.

“Fine.”

“Okay.”

“Thought I’d come see what all the fuss is about.”

“Ya been here before.”

“Not in your office, I haven’t. It’s cute. Homey. Very cowboy.”

“It’s full a stock.”

“Yeah, whiskey up to the ceiling. Yeehaw.”

He looks around the room, imagining it through her eyes.

“Mine’s bigger n’ yours.”

“Them’s fighting words, mister. You got any sauce to go with that hot dog?”

“Don’ tempt me, now.”

She smiles, a small and tired thing. Rubs her cheek. Sighs.

He rests a hand on her shoulder and squeezes, and she lets him.

She finds one of his pens and fidgets with it, and he lets her.

Wait.

“What happened to your hand?”

“My – Oh.”

He reaches for her right hand, careful about it.

“It’s nothing. Less than nothing.”

“Don’t look like nothin’. Ouch, Earp.”

She shrugs, like she can’t feel the dark bruising dusting her knuckles.

“Can ya make a fist for me?”

“Rusty. We should lock the door before you ask such questions.”

“Wynonna.”

She tries. Manages, barely. Winces.

“C’mon,” he says, pulling her up. “There’s ice downstairs.”

“No, I – It’s fine. Really, look. Mike Tyson, eat your heart out.”

“Still need ice, darlin’.”

“Haught, I don’t – I don’t want Waverly to see me.”

He softens.

‘Course she don’t.

“She left already,” he says. “It’s just Rosita, and she won’t say nothin’.”

That does it.

Wynonna follows him downstairs, lets him get her set up on a bar stool.

Rosita is there. She raises an eyebrow all of half a second. Nicole shakes his head, and his face must give the game away.

She takes her handbag off its hook, car keys out of a pocket. Nods in the direction of the carpark and disappears.

When he wraps ice in a clean dish rag and approaches Wynonna with it, her legs part enough for him to stand between, and she leans her forehead on his chest.

“Weird day,” she mumbles.

“I figured.”

He holds her hand between his and the ice.

“Anythin’ you wanna talk about?”

She shakes her head, and he kisses the top of it.

“Alright,” he says. “Then we won’t.”

 

////

 

Chrissy’s still up when they get home.

World’s full a witnesses, today.

She stares at them when they come in, when Nicole squeezes Wynonna’s good hand and nudges her toward his room, when he goes over to Chrissy’s spot on the couch and tells her not to make a big deal.

She thumps him in the leg.

“You brought a girl home,” she whispers.

“Shut up,” he whispers back.

The girl in question’s shedding layers and muttering curses at her hand when he shuts his door behind himself. She’s in her underwear already. He hands her one of his old sweatshirts to sleep in. Softest one he’s got.

Wynonna looks at it, and him.

“You don’t wanna…”

“What?”

“Sex?”

“You – Ain’t you tired?”

“We can be tired and do sex.”

“We don’t always have to do sex, Earp.”

He busies himself folding his jeans, leaves them on his dresser. Peels off his shirt and his binder and stretches his arms above his head.

Wynonna hasn’t moved.

He hooks a thumb over his shoulder.

“I mean, I can go rub one out in the bathroom, if you wanna come and–”

“Oh, go fuck yourself.”

She shoves at him and he grabs her waist, pulls her in to kiss her neck. Her arms are between them, hands floating. She glances at his bare chest.

“Can I, uh…”

“You can touch, if that’s what ya mean. I’d have put a shirt on otherwise.”

“Ehm… Any requests?”

“Nah. Jus’ remember I’m me, and all that.”

She palms over his nipple a moment, and then her thumb’s stroking under his lip with this… look in her eye.

“What?”

Wynonna kisses him. Real slow and nice, it is.

“I always remember who you are,” she whispers. “Always.”

“Good.” He kisses her bruised knuckles. “Go get into bed. I’ll be just a minute.”

He fetches water and finds her curled up on her side in the middle of the bed at his return. He leaves the glasses on his nightstand, switches the lamp off and tucks himself in behind her under the covers.

“’Kay?”

When she nods, he noses at the space between her shoulders.

Settles, ready for sleep.

He’s exhausted, and she feels amazin’ in his arms.

“Make ya breakfast in the mornin’,” he mumbles. “The Haught House Specialty.”

“Waverly ever tell you about our daddy?”

Not got much to do with breakfast, does it.

“Uh…”

He thinks back on the few times Waverly’s mentioned anything about her family, her parents, her childhood.

He wasn’t good for much, she’d said. He wasn’t good at all.

“Some,” Nicole says. “Enough.”

Wynonna sighs, and he feels every bit of it.

“Had this job. Marriage drama. What’s new, right? Somebody hires me ‘cause they think somebody’s cheating, I find out they are, I get paid, they get divorced. Rinse and repeat.”

“That’s a real shame.”

“Happens.”

He noses at her back again, waiting.

“Today was… more of the same. Except I told this guy I don’t think what his wife’s doing counts as cheating if he’s gonna beat her whenever he doesn’t get his own damn way.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. Figured that part out later than I would’ve liked. I’d have bought her and her boyfriend the first bus ticket out of town and told Mister Man to take a fucking hike.”

“What did you do?”

“Hated him. Hit him. Got out before his single brain cell could remind him he’s bigger than me and he could do anything more.”

Nicole starts to sit up.

“More?”

Wynonna holds his arms, keeping him in place. “Stand down, Clint Eastwood. It was a bunch of boring yelling. Blah, blah, bitch, blah. Hot air and noise and… nothing I haven’t heard before, anyway.”

“Still ain’t nice,” he grumbles.

“I can handle not nice, dude.”

“I know, but ya shouldn’t have to. Nobody should have to.”

She’s silent a minute.

Then she rolls over.

Wriggles into his bare front with her cool hands against his stomach and her head tucked under his chin. He can feel her breath on his collarbones. Her eyelashes on his skin.

“I’m okay,” she whispers.

Somethin’ about it makes him hold her even tighter.

“Yeah,” he says. “Ya always will be, with me.”

 

////

 

The Haught House Specialty is pancakes. Pancakes and bacon and eggs.

Except, he ain’t got no bacon, and he only got one egg.

Of all the mornings for Chrissy to have eaten the last of all the good breakfast food, for him to have not restocked anything – it’s this one.

“I got bread,” he calls, hearing Wynonna getting dressed down the hall. “And uh, jelly. I think.”

“Bread and jelly?”

“I ain’t got butter, but there’s this olive oil spread that I–”

“You don’t have butter?”

He winces.

Wynonna’s got a funny look on her face, stood in his bedroom doorway with one arm in that leather jacket and her boots unzipped.

“Who doesn’t have butter? Waverly’s vegan and even she has butter. Calls it Guest Butter.”

“I don’t have a lotta guests?”

“Clearly.”

“I jus’ don’t buy it, unless I’m baking a thing or whatever. Chrissy don’t eat it, neither. You can’t really tell if you use the-”

“What’s your beef with butter?”

He leans on the counter, wary now and uncertain why.

Her line of questionin’ is… odd.

“It’s bad for you?”

“So’s a lot of things.”

“Don’t buy those either, I guess. There’s a diner down the road that’s–”

“You don’t have to take me to a diner. Jesus.”

Nicole stalls in the middle of the kitchen, uncertain now about more than one thing.

He thinks she might be irritated.

Is this really as bad as all that?

“I wanted to make ya pancakes,” he says. “We still can. Just need to go to the store. You can come with me, pick ya favourite ingredients.”

“This really is a thing with you, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“This. Now. The whole trying-to-provide breakfast bit.”

“You don’t wanna have breakfast?”

“We’ve never had breakfast before.”

“Ya never stayed the night before.”

“First donuts, and then dinner, and now it’s breakfast. Do you have a feeding-me fetish I need to know about?”

“Gotta eat, don’t ya?”

“Sure. If I want to. When I feel like it.”

He watches her zip her boots, flexing her sore hand. Thinks about getting her an ice pack out the freezer and ain’t sure how that’d be received in the present moment.

Which.

No.

“I do things,” he tells her.

Wynonna’s face says, Elaborate, Haught.

“For people. I do things for people. With people. People I care about. Wanna look after. Spend time with. So yeah. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Anythin’. If I can. If ya want. I’m interested in that.”

“Interested?”

“Ain’t you? With me?”

She thinks about it for too long.

“I ain’t doing food with anybody else,” he adds.

To fill space.

Jesus, Haught.

“Some people eat all kindsa things with all kindsa people, like, simultaenously,” Wynonna says. “No need to go choosing one person to – It doesn’t have to be a whole thing, to some people. It’s just food.”

“I know that.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. It just ain’t for me. I prefer to… dance with the one who brung me. Y’know?”

“Hold up, are we talking about fine dining experiences, or junior prom?”

“Earp.”

“In either scenario, would there be butter involved? No butter’s kind of a dealbreaker for me.”

“Come on, now–”

You come on. God. I was gonna ask for a coffee but now I’m worried you’ve got a diamond ring hidden in the pot.”

That irks him.

He knows it ain’t anything he’s doin’. That a lotta people – a lotta men, from what he can tell – have taught her to be suspicious of any kinda conversation quite like this one.

He’s just a little tired of bein’ lumped in with all that when he ain’t done a darn thing to deserve it.

“Ain’t asking you to have my babies or nothin’. Shit.”

“You are asking for something, though, aren’t you?”

“I’m allowed to. Aren’t I allowed to?”

“No. It’s not part of the - the deal.”

“We don’t got a deal. We ain’t talked about anythin’.”

“We absolutely have a deal, genius, it’s the deal of meeting some rando at a shitty party and leaving together. That deal.”

“Is that really what you think we been doin’?”

“Look, I get it,” she says, in a way that tells him she doesn’t, can’t, won’t. “Casual’s not your style. Wild choice, for someone who wears so much flannel, but I’m not gonna turn this into a notes session.”

“If ya sat down, we could–”

“Whatever you’ve got in your head, I’m sorry, man, but I’ve got other things in mine, and we are so not on the same page. Consider this a bullet dodged.”

She pulls her jacket on like it’s a full stop at the end of a sentence.

Like that’s all there is to it.

“So that’s it. You’re too gutless to even have the conversation I’m tryna have.”

“Oh, good! Mr Self-Righteous has come out to play!”

“Self- Why would say somethin’ like that?”

“You’re fucking with me, right? God, you’d be such a nightmare if you weren’t so good with your dick.”

“Don’t be crass, God damn it!”

It’s loud.

Too loud.

He did not mean for it to be so loud but everythin’s just so noisy right now.

Wynonna stops. Stares. Snatches her bag off the bench, fire and thunder and hell.

“I am crass. Read the fuckin’ memo, cowboy.”

The door slamming makes everything rattle.

He don’t really feel it.

 

////

 

“You did something.”

Nicole looks up from his papers. Squints bleary-eyed through his reading glasses.

It’s late. Or early. He don’t know.

“Did what?”

“Beats me,” Chrissy says, dropping into the only dining chair that hasn’t got stuff from the bar piled on it. “But my best guess is it’s lady troubles. You tell me, baby brother.”

“We’re the same age.”

“You’re paying invoices. You only pay invoices when you’re in a funk over something you’ve done. Or think you’ve done. Or not done. Etcetera.”

“I’m a business owner, Chris. I pay invoices when invoices need payin’.”

“And you’re home.”

“Yep.”

“On a Friday night. For the second Friday night in a row.”

“Keepin’ track, are ya?”

“You’re avoiding something.”

“What could I possibly be doin’ that for?”

Because Waverly.

Because Wynonna.

Because I ain’t figured out what the hell I’m supposed to say yet, or if there’s anything to say at all, and how to say it right, or none of it.

And I miss her.

And tellin’ her that sure ain’t the way to do this kinda thing with this kinda woman.

A well-manicured hand drops itself onto the balancing sheets he’d been faffing with, fingers spread. “Seriously, Cole. If something’s eating you…”

“M’fine,” he mumbles, pushing her out the way. “Really.”

He can feel her concern without needing to see it. That earnest little frown she does when he gets like this and she wants to help.

“It’s lady troubles,” she says, convinced. “I’ve decided it’s lady troubles, and if it’s lady troubles then I just want you to know that you deserve to be happy.”

“Chris.”

“You deserve someone as awesome as you are who sees how awesome you are. That’s all I’m saying.”

“I’m insufferable,” he mutters. “One a me’s enough.”

“Who’s going around telling you you’re insufferable?

He sighs, like this is the worst part.

And it might be.

How’s he ever gonna convince somebody like Wynonna how perfect he thinks she is, if she’s all hung up on how perfect he thinks he is?

“She called me self-righteous,” he mumbles.

“Aw. Sweetie.”

“What? What?”

She makes a face.

At him.

An if the shoe fits face.

“It’s probably just more like righteous, but…”

“Oh, come on.”

“Seriously, Cole. You’re like, a really good person. You try so hard to be good. You don’t compromise, you don’t cut corners, you expect yourself to be better than like, everybody. You put so much pressure on yourself.”

He frowns at his paperwork.

She’s right, he knows.

He thinks it might be some kinda gender thing, not that he could ever explain that to her.

Like if you’re gonna carve out a corner in the murky world of masculinity all for yourself, ya damn well better do a nicer job of it than a lotta other people did before you joined in.

Least he can do, given the state of the world and all.

Chrissy’s right twice.

Hell of a lotta pressure, thinkin’ that way.

“It’s just part of who you are,” Chrissy says. “It’s not some… horrible flaw. Heck, it’s one of the things I love most about you. But like, maybe people who don’t know you that well…”

“That well, what?”

“Cole, you weigh your cereal every morning before you eat it.”

“It helps get the most outta the box!”

“It can be intimidating. Especially to a person who thinks they could never do it themselves.”

Knowing full well she’s cracked his noggin right open, Chrissy ruffles his hair and leaves him to his mindless starin’.

Well. Shit.

 

////

 

“Think I did something.”

“Jeez, Cole. You look like hell.”

“Not the kinda conversation I’m lookin’ for, Waves.”

She pushes the register closed, focusing.

“Sorry. Uh. What did you do?”

“Think I did.”

“Think you did.”

“With your… With Wynonna.”

“Oh. Oh.”

He grimaces, aware he’s opening himself up to the Little Sister Marine Corps.

“This – Oh my God.” She claps both hands either side a her face, and she’s… relieved? “This explains so much.”

“It does?”

“She’s been Queen Cranky Pants for days now.”

“She has?”

Yes, oh, my God. I was this close to telling her to go sleep on somebody else’s couch but of course. She’s mad at herself.”

“No, it’s – Ain’t you listenin’? It’s me.”

“You’re cute, but I know you both well enough to know that it takes two, and you’re both hopeless.”

“Hey.”

“Whatever you did, I bet she did it, too. Or started it. Or contributed, in some other way. Am I wrong?”

He shrugs. Mumbles somethin’ incoherent at her.

“Cole,” Waverly says, gentle and serious now. “Hey. What happened?”

“I guess I… spooked her. Or somethin’.”

Waverly rolls her eyes, switching to wiping the bar down. “It doesn’t take a lot.”

“I was only–”

“Don’t tell me, don’t tell me. You started talking about your feelings.”

God dang it.

“No.”

“Are you sure?

“It was more – She was – We were talking about eating together and I said I wanted to eat with her and not anybody else.”

“Wow.”

“Wow what?”

“You made her feel special.”

“She is special.”

“She hates being told she’s special. She’s not used to hearing it, and she doesn’t think she can pull it off.”

“The hell’s that mean?”

“It means don’t tell her she’s special unless you have all the exits covered.”

Nicole groans, rubbing at his face.

Frustratin’, to think the woman mighta taken it better if he’d whammed, bammed, and thankyou, ma’amed his way through.

For once, he wishes it were more his style.

No harm in it, like he’d told Wynonna. Lotsa people get by on it. He was young once.

It helps when the woman in question ain’t more beautiful than the first sunrise of a new season.

When you’ve tasted fresh fruit and sweet candy and her, and there’s no doubt which one you’d starve without.

When you’ve felt her hands on your skin and the stilling of a turning world, all at the same damn time, like one causes the other.

Maybe he just ain’t wired to hold on to somebody like Wynonna Earp.

Maybe the point of women like Wynonna Earp is they ain’t the type to keep still, and she’s been sent to him so he can finally learn how to let go.

 

////

 

He don’t sleep much.

It probably weren’t anybody’s intention to stick tricky words on a loop in his mind but after the conversations he’s been havin’ lately, well.

Here he is.

Mulling.

The imprint of Wynonna Earp is still in his bed and his room and his big, stupid heart.

He don’t hate it.

He might even love it, a little bit.

He mulls on that, and falls asleep hugging the pillow that smells most like her.

 

////

 

He visits her at work.

No coffee. No donuts.

Takes his gloves off in the stairwell and stands in front of her door wringing them in his hands.

When he knocks, it takes so long he almost thinks she ain’t there.

But she is.

Lookin’ tired, again.

Lord, does he wanna just take her face and hold her and curl up somewhere.

“Hey,” he says.

Surprises him that he manages that much.

“Hey,” she responds.

That surprises him, too.

“Can I show you somethin’?”

Wynonna looks at his hands. Past him, into the hall.

“It’s outside,” he adds. “If you can… come with me.”

“I have a meeting soon. Client thing.”

“Another divorce, huh?”

“Lost dog.”

“Whoa. Ya’ve hit the big time.”

She doesn’t answer. She’s still lookin’, though.

“Only take a minute,” he says. “Please?”

Once they’re out in the parking lot he starts havin’ second thoughts.

Or like, twenny-ninth thoughts, if he’s bein’ accurate.

She’s gonna think he’s insane, he’s decided. No two ways about it.

“Car’s over here. It’s, uh. In there.”

“Am I gonna be an amber alert in the morning, or…”

“No, I – you’ll see.”

The tail lights flash when Nicole unlocks it. He figures it’s best to rip off this particular band-aid. Pops the trunk and lifts it. Steps aside.

Wynonna watches him. He can tell she’s curious, searchin’ his face for clues.

Sees the point where she shelves that and peers into the trunk and has what might be some teeny kinda stroke.

He waits.

Hands in his jacket pockets, breath clouding in front of his face.

Waits and waits and waits.

Wynonna’s attention goes from the contents of his trunk, to him, and back.

She points.

“Butter.”

Yep.

She thinks he’s a few posts short of a fence.

“Butter,” he agrees.

“A… shit-ton of it.”

“Bought out the whole store.”

“But you don’t eat butter.”

“Yeah. It’s bad for you. Ain’t changin’ my mind on that.”

“Ever heard of everything in moderation?

“Maybe I ain’t much for moderation when it comes to things I enjoy.”

He stands next to her. The elbows of their jackets – denim and leather – brush together.

“Think some people find it kinda irritatin’,” he muses.

She rubs at her nose, already turnin’ pink in the cold.

“But why?

“‘Cause they think I’m bein’ judgemental by stickin’ to what I believe in, I think. Or like I think I’m better than them. Which I do not.”

“Haught. Why is there so much butter in your trunk that if you hit a milk truck you’d have a lifetime supply of cake?”

He takes a breath.

Can’t back out now.

“I would eat a big bowl of butter, every day, three square meals of the stuff, for you, if that’s what you wanted.”

“Gross, why would I ask you to do that?”

“I dunno, but I’d do it, alright? Because I-”

He stops himself.

It startles her, even so.

They both know what he was gonna say.

Ain’t even that he don’t wanna say it. He just figures she needs him to go easy, this time.

“I think you’re amazing,” he says, instead. “You’re smart, you’re tough, you give me shit. I could fall real hard for you if I ain’t careful. I might’ve already started to. And I know that’s a lot,” he adds, watching for any sign she might book it across the parking lot. “I get it. All I’m hopin’ for is, maybe I could be that kinda person to you, too. If you’d give us a chance. To, you know. Find out. Slow and steady, or however you wanna play it.”

Wynonna looks at the butter, and Nicole, and the butter again.

“And what if I already know?”

Oh.

Well, then.

“Yeah?”

“Hard to say.”

“You mean like, hard to know, or like, hard to tell me?”

“Both?”

She looks like he feels. Maybe happy. Maybe terrified.

“Okay. Hey, that’s okay.” He reaches for her. Rests his hands on her waist and a kiss on her forehead. Her skin’s cool. “You take all the time you need, baby, and you tell me when you’re ready.”

Wynonna holds onto the front of his jacket. When she sighs, he feels the warm air on his chin.

“You came outta nowhere,” she says, quiet. “Totally fuckin’ blindsided me.”

“I can relate.”

“I’m not good at this. Any of it.”

“Really? Ya seem like such a natural.”

“And he’s got jokes, again.”

“You don’t gotta worry. I can carry us through - I’m great at everythin’.”

He has no point of reference, and yet he can feel her tryin’ not to smile.

Her arms are around his waist, now.

She is warm and she is solid.

“You’re like, perfect. Do you know that?”

She says it like it’s a thing she’s been tryna say since she caught him drinkin’ soda water at a party for some girl nobody likes.

Darned if he don’t owe Chrissy a dinner.

“Didn’t ya hear all of what I said about the butter? I got no integrity. Pretty lady asks me to do somethin’ and bam – I fold.”

“We both know you were going for a stupid romantic gesture, Rusty.”

“More like an apology.”

She pulls back to raise an eyebrow at him. A gesture he’s startin’ to recognise.

“I was an ass to you.”

“Haught…”

“No, serious. I said somethin’ that scared you, which is allowed, and when you got scared you got angry, which is also allowed – no, hush, I ain’t done - and then I got my hackles up and it set ya off some more. Instead of bein’ adults about the whole thing, we goofed. We both goofed.”

“Goofed?”

Goofed.”

“I didn’t mean to disrespect your dick.”

That makes him laugh – she sounds so sincere about it, too.

“Shut up, I can be serious, too. I – I crossed a line. You are perfect. To me. Like, every part of you. If I ever make you think otherwise… that’s on me. Not you.”

He runs his fingertip down her nose, overwhelmed.

“Well, alright, then.”

Well, alright, then.

Heck, did he miss her pokin’ fun.

She kisses his finger. Nearly misses, jerks away to avoid gettin’ poked in the eye.

“What was that?” he asks her, bemused.

“You stuck your finger in my face!”

“I was bein’ cute.”

“I know,” she says, catching his palm and planting a proper, deliberate kiss on it. “You’re sweet. And warm, shit.” She tucks herself under the folds of his jacket, shivering.

He hums. Remembers.

“One more thing?”

“If you’ve got a mountain of maple syrup on the back seat this is gonna be a whole different conversation, Rusty.”

“I shouted at you.”

He can’t look at her when he says it.

Shame pulls him into the pavement.

A hand under his chin stops him from truly goin’ under.

“Cole.”

“No, I – I raised my voice, and that’s–”

“Dude, seriously. I did it first. More than you did. I’ll probably do it again, like, today. We’re square.”

He wants to take the concession, and finds that he can’t.

Somethin’ about corners, and niceness, and doin’ the least you can for the world with whatever you got to work in it with.

“I know,” he says, to show he’s listenin’. “But it just – I’m not saying I’m better than anybody or nothin’, I just don’t accept it. For me. As an option. And I don’t want you to, neither. You’ve had enough people yellin’ at ya. Ain’t who I am. Ain’t what you deserve.”

She strokes his cheek. Kisses him with her hand on his face in a way he don’t think she’s ever done before.

“Just so we’re clear on the plan,” she says, and she sniffles a bit, which could be the cold air, “next time you yell at me, I’ll kick you in the ass so hard your balls’ll fall off. Sound good?”

“There won’t be a next time. I’m gonna try real hard. And I’m sorry.”

She kisses him again.

He holds her waist, holds her close. Lets his tongue do the work in a different kinda way.

When they come apart, he tucks some hair behind her ear, and she looks back at the trunk.

And whistles, low and impressed.

“The whole store?”

“Think I gave the lady at the checkout a scare.”

Her laughter returns, shaking him, too. “Shit, Haught.”

“Spent two-hundred-and-thirty dollars.”

Louder laughter, into his jacket sleeve. “Shit, Haught! Okay, next time you do anything like this, you have to take me with you. Would’ve paid to see it.”

“Ya in luck. Plan is to go right back and return it, if you’re up for a road trip.”

“What? No. This is my gift. You’re not giving it back.”

“Wynonna, this is like, forty-two packets of butter.”

“You don’t seem to understand how many pancakes you’re gonna be making me from here-on out.”

“Don’t I?”

“Nope. It’s gonna be every single morning.”

“Jeez. You gonna be around every mornin’?”

“Every other morning. To start. If you’re lucky.”

She noses at his cheek, which is nice, other than-

“Shoot, darlin’. Ya nose is a little icicle.”

“Well, some annoyingly wonderful moron dragged me outside to be a massive goofball and it’s fuckin’ cold today.”

“Annoyingly wonderful, is he?”

“Don’t tell him. He'll get a big head about it.”

He cups her face in his gloved hands. Kisses the tip of her nose.

Doesn’t miss the way her eyes close at the gesture.

“Alright,” he says. “Just between us, then."