So, here we go, it is official. I am queen of the wacky AUs. To the lovely @atearsarahjane I present the lesbian topless fencing AU. It was inspired by the late 19th duel amongst the European aristocracy where the women did go bare-chested to prevent infection. I’ve set it in some sort of 19th century western town though because why not??? (btw I know like nothing about fencing or westerns. I’m using a lot of artistic license here.)
There is only one way out of this, Serena decides. Her scoundrel of a husband drank himself blind last night in the saloon, but not before challenging the town’s doctor to a duel. Edward can barely walk, mind laden with ale and the duel was set for sunrise this morning. Serena has not slept for fretting. Duels must be honoured. It is the law of the town. Or the men and their families are branded as cowards and hounded out of the town into the unforgiving dust of the desert where not even a plant survives.
Law, however, also dictates that if a woman were challenged by a man her lawful partner could take her place as representative. Serena sees no law forbidding the opposite practice and so, she sets off towards the river at the edge of town. The townspeople wash dead bodies with it’s water. So many of late, that the law has changed: a duel of pistols is forbidden. Serena places a hand on the rapier she slipped into the belt at her waist and waits by the river. The sky lightens from black to blue. Just when an orange glow begins to suffuse the horizon a silhouette appears. The silhouette of a woman. It is Berenice Wolfe. The doctor’s wife.
When she approaches Serena, it is clear from the crease of her brow that she too expected a male opponent. Bernie’s husband, after receiving the challenge for the duel, told Bernie he would refuse the drunken man’s words. He had enough people to stitch up. He didn’t need to add Edward Campbell to his list. What a petty and needless exercise! So he brushed the whole thing off - he was the town’s doctor, a respected and learned man. He had no need to reaffirm his authority through duels. Bernie disagreed. Law was law. And she did not want to suffer the consequences of her husband’s folly, so - knowing he would never permit his wife to fight on his behalf - Bernie sneaked out the house.
She would see to the duel, settle the score and be back before her husband realised she was gone. It seemed that the woman opposite her had the same idea. Shock is slowly fading from her features and the woman clears her throat.
“Serena Campbell,” she introduces herself.
“Bernie Dunn,” is the assured reply.
“Strip to your waist.”
“Strip to your waist. Otherwise, small strips of cloth may become trapped in the wound, increasing the risk of an infection.”
“And how do you know it is I who will be wounded?”
“I don’t. But I know you are not a fool.”
“I have called the deputy Sheriff. They should be here soon to oversee.”
“That I play fair?”
“No,” Serena smirks devilishly. “That I.”
When she arrives Jac Naylor is unperturbed at the sight of two women preparing to duel. She has heard of such duels in the past and agrees with Bernie’s recommendation to prevent sepsis. As with female duels, she asserts, the fight will be until the first draw of blood.
The women disrobe. Bernie takes her time to fold her clothes in a pile on the ground, but Serena just tosses her shirt on the dusty ground and when Bernie looks up, the other woman is waiting to draw her sword, one hand on her hip. The deputy sheriff orders them to draw their swords, and as she does, Bernie’s eyes trace Serena’s body, the scattering of freckles on shoulders, the jut of collarbones, the fullness of breasts, the small swell of her stomach. Her skin is dappled with light from the rising sun.
Before Bernie knows it, Jac has ordered the start of the duel and Serena, with a feint and thrust of her sword, has Bernie stumbling backwards, has her on her back on the floor within seconds. Bernie just blocks the next thrust, aimed at her left arm. It seems the woman does not want to injure her seriously, striking not for her exposed torso or chest.
“Wait.” Bernie pants, breathless from the fall. “Why are we doing this?”
Serena doesn’t withdraw her sword, locked with Bernie’s, in case this is simply a tactic on the woman’s behalf to outwit her, but Serena raises an eyebrow curiously and regards her opponent. The rise and fall of her flushed chest, her slim waist, her slight curves.
“I believe Ms Naylor explained the rules succinctly,” Serena levels at Bernie.
“But why are we doing this? This is our husband’s fight.”
“Then why did you take his place?”
“My husband does not believe in violence for violence’s sake, but I know the law. I know, sometimes, there is no arguing with it. One must only try to manage and minimize the conflict.”
“Spoken by a true soldier.”
“I am not a soldier.”
“But I know you fought in the war, Ms Wolfe. I heard. A fight like this should be nothing for you. And as the doctor’s wife, you have oversaw many duels between men.”
“But we are not men.” There is a sparkle in Bernie’s eyes and a grin on her lips. It gives her away.
“You would let me win? Surrender this quick?” Serena asks, unimpressed by her opponent’s plan. “Were you ever going to truly fight?”
Bernie takes her chance and rolls to her side, springs to her feet and advances with a thrust of her sword.
“I will,” she says, between the sound of their swords clashing, “if necessary, but … you look like a … reasonable woman.”
“Competitive,” Serena corrects as they fight.
“Handsome,” Bernie adds and uses Serena’s slight pause - she did hear Bernie Wolfe right? - to repay Serena’s earlier assault. Serena is soon on her back on the floor, her sword tumbling from her hand and Bernie Wolfe’s above her. But instead of the strike of metal that Serena expects, Bernie reaches out her hand to help Serena up. “Why should we risk our skin to save our husbands”.
Serena grows even more suspicious of this women’s intent.
“What is your game?”
“No game,” Bernie assures, putting her rapier back in its holster. She nods to Serena’s position on the floor. “We are equals now.”
Serena accepts Bernie’s hand.
“The duel is not officially over,” Jac reminds them. “If you have not drawn –”
Bernie touches the back of her head with her fingers – a cut from the uneven ground when she fell earlier. She shows Jac the blood on her fingertip. “Who needs swords?” Bernie shrugs and smiles, before turning back to Serena.
“My eyes are up here, Ms Wolfe.”
“I owe you a drink,” she tells Serena. “Dusk. The Crimson Drop.” And with the name of the saloon, Bernie picks up her clothes from the ground and – still bare-chested – swaggers off.
Serena tells herself that she owes Bernie Wolfe nothing. That the duel – if it even was a duel, at least Jac said the score was settled – is over. Serena has no other business with Berenice Wolfe.
So, of course, she goes.
Is already sipping a drink, perched on a barstool when Bernie enters The Crimson Drop. Both of them are fully clothed this time. And so, what if Serena changed her dress this morning to her finer red one? It was dusty from the duel. It wasn’t a bad choice, going the way Bernie’s eyes land on her chest when she sits opposite Serena with two drinks. She pushes one of them to Serena.
“Good,” Serena smiles. “I had just finished this one. But,” she takes the drink and stands up. “I am afraid we need to move.” She offers her hand to Bernie. “Come on. Bring your drink.”
A brawl between two men Serena had been watching begins to erupt. As more men join in and the yelling rises and the seconds count down to the first strike of skin on skin, Serena leads Bernie behind the bar countertop and sits against the back of it on the floor. She winks at the bartender and he just shakes his head with a smile.
“Are you on … intimate terms with him?” Bernie asks.
Jealously coils in Bernie’s stomach and as the brawl escalates behind her and Serena, as glasses smash and tables overturn and blood spills, Bernie leans in to the woman next to and kisses her. Fierce first, like the start of their duel. Two opponents battling for advantage. And then, when Serena drags Bernie to the back rooms of the saloon and up the stair and onto a bed, two equals matching each other pace for pace.