Waverly’s pushing a spoon under Wynonna’s nose. It’s dinnertime, but they don’t do regular dinner at the Homestead. Not normally. They do nachos and Chinese takeout and bubblegum sake and sometimes Waverly convinces Wynonna to eat an apple or something.
Wynonna looks up from the spoon to meet Waverly’s eyes. “Why?”
“It’s for the chili cook-off,” Waverly says. “Come on. I tried a new recipe.”
Wynonna wasn’t aware that Waverly had an old recipe for chili, but she tries it. It’s — not good. Undercooked beans, watery broth. The seasoning is both weird and underpowering.
“It’s interesting,” she says. Be diplomatic, Earp. “Why didn’t you cook the beans?” Well, not my worst attempt.
“I did cook them, silly.” Waverly’s still looking expectant. “It’s made with dried beans, not those nasty canned ones with all the salt.”
All the salt and flavor, Wynonna thinks.
“So… why are you cooking?”
Waverly’s practically vibrating with excitement, all five feet, four inches of her. “You’re looking at the new Chair of the Annual Purgatory Chili Cook-off Committee.”
“Oh.” Wynonna’s not sure how to react to that. Also, it seems like the chair of a chili cook-off should be able to cook, but….
“It’s a big deal,” Waverly says. She sounds hurt. “It’s the first chili cook-off since 2005.”
“Really?” Wynonna remembers 2005. The food poisoning outbreak. Half the town spent a day curled up on their bathroom floor, wishing for the sweet release of death. “They stopped having it after that?”
“Well….” Waverly’s trying not to smile. “The people who got sick were all the people who tried Judge Cryderman’s chili, and he kind of took that personally.”
“So he was really petty enough to stop everyone else from making chili, just because he didn’t know how to process elk meat without giving half the town food poisoning?” Wynonna thinks for a moment. Yeah, Cryderman was exactly that petty.
Waverly still looks expectant. “So? What did you think of the chili?”
“Interesting,” Wynonna says, again. She can’t think of anything nicer to say. “Definitely interesting.”
Waverly’s face falls. “Damn. Back to the drawing board.”
“So why’d Gus stick you with organizing the chili cook-off?” Wynonna slides a beer out of the fridge — it’s five o’clock somewhere, and that somewhere is Purgatory, and damn, it’s been a long day. She and Dolls spent all day trying to track down rumors about some new group of Revenants, running drugs, trying to take on Bobo’s mantle.
“Gus didn’t stick me with this.” Waverly’s staring down into her stockpot, like the power of her mind can make the beans cook properly. “She passed on the torch. It’s a legacy.”
Wynonna’s mouth twists, involuntarily. She knows a few things about family legacies.
Purgatory, December 2004
Every Sunday that Wynonna’s not in juvie or a psych ward, her uncle Curtis drives out to pick her up for family dinner.
This week Wynonna’s staying with a local foster family. She’s been with the Martins before. The first time she landed there, Mrs. Martin hugged her and told Wynonna to call her Mom — “This is your family now,” she said, with tears glistening in her eyes.
Wynonna knows about fake families, and knows that they last until the first time you tell your new mom that there’s a Revenant trying to kill you. Until the first time you wake up in the middle of the night, screaming. Then there’s a few weeks of bargaining, while they get you intensive psychotherapy, and then there’s an awkward conversation with the social worker. We have to think about the other kids.
Which — yeah. Bouncing Wynonna because they have to think about the other kid? That makes the fake families exactly like Wynonna’s real family.
Uncle Curtis tries, though. That’s why he drives out to pick her up for Sunday dinner. It’s the one time Wynonna gets to see Waverly, most weeks.
“So you’re back with the Martins,” Uncle Curtis says, now. They’re driving along one of the back roads, but he doesn’t look over at her. It’s easier for Wynonna to talk to him when they’re driving. When they don’t have to make eye contact.
Wynonna’s only back with the Martins now because there wasn’t a bed for her elsewhere, and the social worker lied through her teeth and told them that Wynonna’s been doing better these days. She’s not. She’s just learned to hide it better.
“They still don’t believe in Revenants,” Wynonna says.
Uncle Curtis is quiet, next to her.
“Not that I’m talking about that,” Wynonna says, just in case Curtis is going to mention this to Gus. “Revenants. Not real. The psych ward really cleared that up for me.”
When they get to the ranch, it’s already dark, but the lights on the outside of the house are shining, trying to push back the night.
“Wynonna!” As soon as Wynonna’s inside the door, Waverly’s hugging her, arms around her stomach like a sister-seeking missile. “How are you? Where are you living now? Madison says that you got arrested for shoplifting but Chrissy says it was for drinking in public and Chrissy says she should know because her dad works at the Sheriff’s office.”
“I have not been arrested,” Wynonna mumbles. This week. She hugs Waverly back. She’s getting taller — her head’s almost up to Wynonna’s chin now, and it feels like she grows bigger every week.
“Come on in,” Gus says, from the kitchen.
Waverly hugs Wynonna tighter for a moment, and then lets her go and races ahead of her.
The kitchen smells like Gus’s cooking, rich and spicy, and for a moment Wynonna’s overcome with a wave of homesickness before she swallows, fights it down. Gus used to share recipes with Wynonna’s mom, and sometimes —
“Chili tonight,” Gus says, and she’s talking about the soup pot on the stove, not the weather. Wynonna nods and sits down at the table, keeping her face carefully blank.
There’s cornbread, and chili, and salad, and Waverly chattering through the meal. There’s the warmth of the fire. The cold and dark of the Purgatory winter are outside the windows, but inside, it’d be just another happy family, if Wynonna could only let herself forget that at the end of the meal, Uncle Curtis is going to drive her back to the Martins, with the other kids nobody wanted.
Purgatory, Present Day
A few days later, Wynonna and Dolls arrive at the Black Badge offices after a long day of taking readings around town with some instrument Dolls got from the Black Badge people. When they get in the office door, Waverly’s set up a Crock Pot. Doc’s standing next to it, holding a plastic bowl. He’s got a dubious expression on his face.
“You’re here!” Waverly’s face lights up when she sees Wynonna. “Here, try this. It’s new and improved.”
She dishes up two bowls and hands them over before Wynonna can even take her coat off.
“Why the office dinner, baby girl?” Wynonna asks, setting the bowl down on the table.
“Subliminal advertising,” Waverly says proudly. “The delicious scent of chili wafting through the halls will get people in the chili mood, and then — BAM! They hit my posters.”
She holds up a poster. It’s printed on florescent paper, but it’s not bad: a cartoon chili pot and a few lines about bringing back Purgatory’s most beloved tradition, followed by some info on signing up to enter the contest.
“Looks good,” Wynonna says.
She’s not sure why Waverly’s wasting time on advertising. By the time February rolls around in Purgatory, most people would gnaw their own arm off to have something to do other than hide from the snow. A chili cook-off’s an excuse to get out of the house, get together with friends. Maybe get some food poisoning from Judge Cryderman’s questionable meats. Small town things.
Wynonna pulls her coat off and picks up the bowl. “Why is this the wrong color?”
“Your sister has decided to experiment with chicken,” Doc says. The droop of his mustache says he’s not impressed.
“It’s a green chili,” Waverly says, and while she talks about white beans and magical healing powers, Wynonna tries it.
“Not bad,” she says, trying to make it sound like she’s impressed. She’s not. Waverly’s learned to cook the beans through by now (or she’s started using canned), but the chicken’s stringy and the broth’s watery.
Waverly tries to hand Dolls a bowl, but he shakes his head. “Sorry. We’ve got to get these updates into the model.”
“Down to business,” Wynonna mumbles, through a mouthful of beans.
Dolls has been like that since they got him back from Black Badge.
Or more accurately, since he got himself back from Black Badge. Once they got Waverly back from the influence of the thing at the boundary, Wynonna and Waverly and Dolls and Nicole spent a week planning the perfect Dolls heist, using scraps of information from conspiracy theorists’ blog posts and what little Dolls told Wynonna about the larger Black Badge operation. And then he strolled in, in mid-January, like he hadn’t been gone at all. Looked around the place and asked why nobody had cleaned.
“We were trying to get you back,” Wynonna said. “We had other priorities.”
He didn’t look impressed.
He’s been all work since then. Back to no-play-Dolls, just like he was when he first moved to Purgatory.
Wynonna doesn’t let herself think about that kiss at the Solstice. She tries to tell herself it doesn’t hurt.
Wynonna and Dolls run down rumors that fade away, rumors that always eventually turn into something someone said this one time. Doc’s lost most of his Revenant connections since Bobo got sent back to hell and he started working for Black Badge openly. There’s still a few Revenants Doc was friends with, back when, but most of them aren’t exactly willing to sign up to help Team Send Me To Hell.
Waverly’s spending time with Nicole and researching all the things, as she likes to describe it.
One of those things is chili, to judge by the Amazon packages the mail truck drops off at their mailbox.
“From Taos to Terlingua: My Life in Chilis,” Wynonna reads, from one of the covers.
“The reviews said it was really helpful,” Waverly says.
Wynonna flips through the other books. Chili Matters: How A Bean Stew Helped Save My Marriage And Remake My Life. Chili Cookoffs: for Dummies.
“You’re not a dummy,” Wynonna says, dropping the yellow and black book back on the Homestead’s kitchen table.
Waverly smiles, crooked. “There’s always something else to learn.”
“Didn’t you work in food service?” Shorty’s didn’t do the best food, but their chili wasn’t terrible.
“Strictly beverage distribution,” Waverly says. She stacks the books up on a couple chili cookbooks she’s also ordered. “How are things at Black Badge?”
“Ugh,” Wynonna says. “Bad. Don’t remind me.”
“So there is another Del Rey in town?”
“Not as far as we can tell.” Wynonna drags her finger on the table, sketching a rough map of the Ghost River Triangle, and then looks up. “More like it’s been two weeks since the last time we tracked one of the bastards down.”
“So….” Waverly’s not exactly meeting Wynonna’s eyes. “You and Dolls?”
“Dolls seems fine,” Wynonna says.
It’s true. Just maybe not all of the truth.
Waverly’s holding chili meetings for the people involved in the cook-off.
The day of the first meeting, Wynonna wraps up her Black Badge work early. It’s more data entry. She and Dolls have been driving across the Ghost River Triangle with his little instrument-box for hours. Once they’re back, Wynonna feeds the readings into a GIS program Black Badge has developed, and then Dolls glares at the maps they create. So far, nothing interesting’s shown up, which means lots of glaring.
“Dolls? You coming to Waverly’s meeting?”
Dolls just shakes his head, without looking up from the computer. Wynonna sighs and pushes her chair back. Still all-work, no-play, I-don’t-date Deputy Marshall Dolls. She’d go over there and try to get the old Dolls back if she wasn’t afraid of how he’d react. (Afraid he’d say no.)
She lets herself imagine Dolls saying yes while she wanders down to the Purgatory Sheriff’s Department bullpen. Nicole’s been roped into helping Waverly too; maybe they can commiserate while they wait for the meeting to start.
Nicole’s not there, but there’s a few other officers around who Wynonna nods to. Black Badge has reached an uneasy détente with regular Purgatory law enforcement after what happened at the Solstice.
There’s also a teenage girl handcuffed to one of the desks.
Wynonna’s been there enough times. “What are you in for?” she asks the girl.
The girl glares at her. “Fuck off.”
“Nice,” Wynonna says. “Way to win friends and influence people.” She sits down at the desk and picks up a folder, keeping the contents tilted away from the girl, who’s trying not to be obvious about looking.
“Shoplifting?” Wynonna asks. “Really?”
“Shut up,” the girl says. “I don’t have to talk to you. My mom says —”
The name is spoke in a clipped voice that sends shivers down Wynonna’s spine. She knows who she’s going to see before she turns around.
“Get away from her,” Mrs. Martin says, when Wynonna turns to look at her.
Wynonna feels that familiar spike of anxiety in her stomach, the one she always gets when she sees someone like Judge Cryderman or one of the other adults who kept her trapped in her juvie-and-psych-ward merry-go-round before she finally got out of Purgatory.
But this is now, and Wynonna reminds herself to breathe. None of these people have power over her. Not now.
Mrs. Martin hasn’t aged well. She’s got streaks of white in her hair, and her mouth is pinched into a squinchy cat-butt shape.
“I’m a Deputy Marshall,” Wynonna snaps, before remembering that Mrs. Martin’s probably heard. It’s a small town.
Nicole appears in the doorway. “We’re done processing Jamie, Mrs. Martin,” she says. She walks past Wynonna to take the cuffs off Jamie’s wrist. “You can take her home now.”
Mrs. Martin’s lips go thinner than Wynonna’s seen them before. “I certainly will. Come along, Jamie.”
Wynonna watches them go before turning to Nicole. “She’s still taking in kids?”
“I don’t know about that,” Nicole says, “but Jamie’s hers.”
Jamie. Wynonna thinks — yeah, she thinks there was one of the younger kids who was named something like that. She only sort of remembers the other kids at that house.
She wants to feel like it’s what Mrs. Martin deserves, getting a kid who’s a screw-up, after all the hours she spent telling Wynonna that her bad blood was showing, that she’d never amount to anything. But mostly, Wynonna feels sorry for Jamie, who probably has to listen to worse from her mom than Wynonna ever had to, and who doesn’t even get a part-time family on Sunday evenings. Wynonna’s been there. It’s not easy.
And based on the file, someone really needs to teach the kid how to shoplift properly.
“You coming to the meeting?” Nicole asks, and Wynonna groans and lets herself get dragged along. Nicole spends the walk through the building to the meeting telling Wynonna all about Waverly’s ideas, which would be fine if Wynonna hadn’t already heard them from Waverly (twice). So much for commiseration.
“So what’s speeder?” Wynonna asks, once Nicole’s paused to take a breath.
“What?” Nicole glances over at her. “Where’d you hear about that?”
“Jamie’s file.” Wynonna raises her hands. “Don’t shoot me. I’m law enforcement. I’ve got clearance.” Actually she’s not sure if she does, or if there even is such a thing, but it seems like she should have.
Nicole sighs. “It’s a drug,” she says. “I mean, we think it is.”
Weird. Wynonna’s about to ask for more information, but then Waverly bounces into the meeting room.
They have the first planning meeting, and the second planning meeting, and Waverly spends a couple hours holed up with Dolls, discussing methods for detecting poisons both normal and supernatural. Black Badge has rapid detection options for poisons and supernatural tampering of all sorts, and after what happened at the Solstice party, Waverly isn’t taking any chances.
“It’s as much about the 2005 cook-off,” Waverly says, earnestly. She’s peering down into an instrument Dolls got them from Black Badge. “This one’s clean,” she says.
Dolls takes the sample back and hands Waverly another Dixie cup of soup. “Try this one.”
Waverly squints into the instrument again while Wynonna lets her mind drift. She’s doubting that any Revenant would try to poison chili — it’s not their style. A champagne tower, now that has some class. But chili?
Doc’s hanging back by the windows, looking out over Main Street. Wynonna still hasn’t figured out what he’s looking for.
“What happened in 2005?” Doc asks.
“Food poisoning,” Wynonna says.
Waverly looks up from the instruments. “They never proved that,” she says.
“It was Cryderman,” Wynonna says. “You know what he was like. Sloppy hunter. Probably left that elk to hang in a shed for a month. One warm day and bam, food poisoning city.”
“Maybe,” Waverly says, but she doesn’t sound convinced. She looks back down at the chili sample through the instrument and then looks over at Dolls. “You should consider licensing this for food inspections,” she says, handing the chili sample back to him. “And this one has unsafe levels of something bacterial.”
“E. coli,” Dolls says. “We can’t license this for general use because it runs on demonic energy.”
“Really?” Waverly looks up from the chili sample she’s testing. “Black Badge uses that stuff?”
“Black Badge uses anything it finds useful,” Dolls says. His voice is even.
“This is our Chilis of the World section,” Waverly says. “These won’t be judged. It’s just exhibition chili.”
“Exhibition chili.” Wynonna nods. “Right.” Apparently that’s a thing. She’s going to take Waverly’s word for it.
They’re doing the walk-through of the Purgatory justice center’s main event hall, which is being set up with folding tables and folding chairs. Volunteers from the high school are setting them up, and Wynonna notices Jamie and a girl she doesn’t recognize hauling a table across the room. Waverly’s brought in tablecloths, long red-and-white checkerboard cloths that hang down over the sides of the tables.
“Dolls is bringing posole,” Waverly says. “And I’m making a traditional Tunisian chickpea stew.”
Wynonna hopes the people of Purgatory won’t hold Waverly’s interpretation of lablabi against Tunisia. “Right. And over there?”
“We have two divisions for competition chili,” Waverly says seriously. “Chili without beans, and chili with beans. I wanted to do a third category, for vegetarian chili, but we didn’t get enough sign-ups, so those are in with the bean-and-meat chilis.”
“Then we have two sets of judging for each category. We’ve got judges coming in for the judged chili, and then everyone who wants to can fill out a tasting ballot for each chili they try for the People’s Choice chili.”
“You might want to watch the name,” Wynonna says. “I hear the People’s Choice Awards are super-litigious.”
Waverly scrunches her nose up at Wynonna and then keeps going. Apparently there’s going to be a Test Your Chili Knowledge booth with a chili questionnaire, and a chili taste-test booth run by the woman who’s running the diner now — she’s making five chilis with different ingredients missing, and challenging people to guess which ingredient is missing from each version.
“Do you really need all this crap?” Wynonna asks, once they’ve done a circuit. She’s always thought the point of an event like this was for people to show off their chili recipes. Moving beyond that seems unnecessary.
“It’s for the town,” Waverly says, cheerfully. “It’s going to be the best chili cook-off ever!”
Wynonna shakes her head. “You just jinxed yourself.”
“Oh, hush up.” Waverly stops by a table and checks the extension cords, which are being laid down to power the many Crock-Pots being brought to the event to keep the chili warm. “It’s going to be amazing.”
Wynonna keeps following. Waverly straightens a couple tablecloths and directs one of the Purgatory High volunteers to move a couple of the tables. She’s got this thing planned out like Dolls plans out an op.
“Anyway,” Waverly says. “It can’t possibly go worse than 2005, right?”
Purgatory, February 2005
Wynonna spent all of last summer picking up roadkill by the side of the road, and she’d still rather be doing that as community service than helping out at her aunt’s Chili Cook-Off.
She’s still staying with the Martins, two months on, even though she’s heard Mrs. Martin calling the social worker to demand that they find another placement for her. As Wynonna carries folding chairs, she finds herself wondering. Does Mrs. Martin know that being forced to help at her aunt’s event is the worst punishment she could have devised? Or was she telling the truth — is this actually meant to be a reward for good behavior?
It has to be punishment, Wynonna decides. She jams her finger into one of the chairs while trying to pry it open — ouch.
Wynonna sucks on her finger. It still hurts.
Gus is up at the front of the room, checking things off on a clipboard. Waverly’s there beside her, only up to Gus’s shoulder, but looking at the checklist too.
Wynonna shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t have to. If it weren’t for the social worker and Mrs. Martin and —
The judge walks in, carrying a fancy Crock-Pot. Of course he is, Wynonna thinks.
The smug bastard sets up his Crock-Pot on one of the front tables. Yeah, Wynonna thinks, it’s easy enough to win when you’re a judge and everyone has to bow to you.
She watches Gus, who’s not sucking up to Cryderman, not exactly, but… she’s being nice. Gus isn’t nice to most folks. She’s honest, which can be the same thing, but usually isn’t when Gus is talking to Wynonna.
Waverly runs up beside Gus and hugs her while Gus shows Cryderman where to put his chili. “We’ll watch over it,” Gus says.
“That’s good,” Cryderman says. He puts the chili down on the bare table and adjusts it, fussy-like. “This is a slow-cooked elk chili. It needs a long braising period before it’s really at its peak.”
He fusses with the Crock-Pot for a bit longer and then turns to leave.
That’s when he spots Wynonna. But he doesn’t say anything, just narrows his eyes. Glares at her. And then walks away.
Purgatory, Present Day
Even Dolls isn’t immune to Waverly’s enthusiasm, which is why he’s gotten stuck with bringing posole and helping with the pre-cook-off security sweeps.
Waverly hasn’t asked Wynonna to bring a chili.
It’s not like Wynonna wanted to bring one. It’s not like she wanted Waverly to twist her arm into making soup for the town and anyway, it’s not like anyone in the town would eat it.
But still. It would have been nice to have had something to say no to.
Chili aside, Wynonna’s been roped into joining Dolls for the security sweeps while Waverly runs little samples of each chili through the Black Badge system.
The weather’s scuzzy outside, spitting down snow showers, but the hall is warm and steamy with the smell of chili. Even though only the competitors have been allowed in, the room’s busy. Dolls has to ask people to move so he can run the mirror-on-a-stick along under the cheerful tablecloths covering the tables.
“You really think we need to do that?” Wynonna asks. “It’s a chili cook-off, not a presidential motorcade.”
“It’s in the security plan,” Dolls says.
They go on to the next table, where Mrs. Martin and several women from one of the local churches are presiding over their Crock-Pots. Wynonna hangs back and lets Dolls be the one to ask them to step aside.
Mrs. Martin glares at Wynonna, but she doesn’t say anything about Dolls and his security sweep. None of them do. After the Solstice, maybe this seems normal.
It shouldn’t, Wynonna thinks, fiercely. This shouldn’t be normal.
“Why is it in the security plan?” Wynonna asks. “Do you really think we’re going to find —”
“There,” Dolls says. His voice is tense and quiet. “Look.”
Wynonna looks down at the mirror, and then at Dolls. He nods, and she bends down to carefully look up under the table. Make sure the mirror’s telling them the truth.
There’s a backpack duct-taped to the underside of the folding table. Wynonna doesn’t hear anything, doesn’t see any lights, but —
“You think —”
“We don’t make any assumptions.” Dolls pulls the mirror out from under the table, carefully, and takes the radio off his hip. “Haught?”
Nicole’s voice crackles over the radio. “Here.”
“We need to clear the hall. Quietly.”
Nicole’s voice crackles off, but not before Wynonna hears Waverly saying “But why?”
“Stay here,” Dolls says, and Wynonna’s left standing by the table, uncertainly.
Waverly’s voice comes over the speakers. “It’s time for the judge’s recessional!” she announces. If Wynonna hadn’t been to all of the planning meetings, it’d sound like something they planned instead of the oh-shit moment it really is.
The room starts emptying out. Waverly and Nicole are arguing with a couple of townsfolk who don’t want to leave their chili entries alone with the judges.
“It’s completely procedure,” Waverly says, cheerful and charming the way only Waverly can be. “The sooner we get the judges in for their preview, the sooner we can get you folks your blue ribbons!”
“Finally,” Nicole says, coming up to Wynonna and Dolls as Waverly walks the last of the competitors to the door. “What do we have?”
“Backpack under the table,” Wynonna says. Her heart’s racing.
Dolls comes back with a black bag — what Wynonna’s started thinking of as the Black Badge black bag. He slings it down to the ground and gets down to lie under the table.
“We can lift the table,” Wynonna says.
“Need to make sure there isn’t a mercury switch.” Dolls reaches out and grabs something from the bag. There’s a humming sound from under the table, and then he pulls himself back out. “It’s not a bomb.”
“How do you know that fast?” Nicole asks.
“Black Badge,” Dolls says. “Get those pots off the table, please.”
Nicole and Wynonna move the Crock-Pots to the next table over. As soon as they’re off, Dolls lifts the table, like it’s easy, turning it up on one side to expose the backpack.
Waverly comes up behind them. “What's going on? Why did we have to —” She looks at the table. “Wait, what the hell is that?”
“That is what we are attempting to find out,” Dolls says quietly. He takes a light out and starts running it over the bag. Wynonna’s seen him run it over a normal surface and make it light up with fingerprints, but if there are fingerprints on the bag, they’re not showing.
Dolls runs another check with a little instrument, and then starts carefully peeling the duct tape holding the bag to the bottom of the table. He pries it away from the table carefully and then sets it on the floor.
“Let’s see what’s inside.” He checks it again before he starts unzipping, slowly.
The backpack is stuffed full of packages of dried herbs.
“Seasoning mix?” Wynonna leans forward to grab a package.
Dolls grabs her hand before she can touch it, and Wynonna feels an inconvenient flutter in her stomach. “Fingerprints,” he says, low.
Wynonna pulls her hand back, and Dolls runs the light over the inside of the bag. Still no prints.
“So it’s not just seasoning mix for the chili competition,” Waverly says.
“Yeah, generally people don’t need to hide that kind of thing under the table in a bag,” Wynonna says. Also, there’s enough herbs in that bag to season a hundred pots of chili. At least.
Waverly shrugs. “You’d be surprised at the kind of things that happen.”
Nicole’s been staying back, but now she steps forward. “Can I see one of those?”
Dolls shrugs and tosses her one of the bags. “Knock yourself out.”
Nicole studies the outside of the bag before cracking the seal and wafting the scent towards herself.
“Shit,” she says. “I know what this is.”
“Oh?” Dolls takes the bag back from her.
“It’s speeder.” Her lips are pressed into a tight line. “And it’s enough to poison every bowl of chili at this competition.”
The next question is whether to send everyone home. Waverly’s tests say the chili’s not poisoned — yet. But there’s still the question of why the drugs are there.
“We weren’t even sure it was a drug at first,” Nicole tells Wynonna. Dolls has them standing guard. He’s taken the packages of speeder from the backpack and restuffed it with Waverly’s extra chili cook-off flyers.
“Yeah?” Wynonna’s not taking her eyes off the table.
“It doesn’t test as anything,” Nicole says. “Just some herbs. Not even interesting ones. But the way people treat it….”
“Dolls can probably help with that,” Wynonna says. More Black Badge weirdness that Dolls probably won’t share with her.
Outside the windows of the hall, the snow’s starting to fall faster. It’s coming down in big flakes now, and the wind’s picked up. Wynonna can track the gusts by the density of the snow in the light from the windows.
The chili cook-off is in full swing, and Wynonna and Nicole try to look unobtrusive while Dolls circulates with one of his Black Badge scanners. So far they haven’t spotted any Revenants around, although your typical Revenant generally manages to stay under cover at this sort of thing.
Once the judges have made their full circle of the competition chilis, Waverly breaks off from the group and comes over to Wynonna and Nicole.
“I’ve got a list,” she says. Her clipboard has a couple chili judging forms on top, but she flips them around to reveal a hand-written list on the notepad underneath. “Everyone who might want to poison the chili and destroy my life’s work.”
Wynonna leans over her shoulder to read. Revenant(s). Champ Hardy. Chrissy Nedley. Whoever poisoned the chili back in 2005.
“Not a very long list,” Nicole says.
Waverly compresses her lips. “I’m working on it.”
Nicole runs her finger down the page. “2005 was food poisoning, wasn’t it?”
“That’s what everyone thought,” Waverly says. “Only Judge Cryderman made Aunt Gus and me try his chili before the cook-off opened, and neither of us got sick.”
Wynonna’s not sure how to say this. Her stomach’s sinking, because there’s a lot of stuff in her past that she’d rather Waverly never found out about, and the 2005 Chili Cook-Off is pretty high up that list. But if Waverly starts investigating 2005, it’s just going to waste Waverly’s time, and she’s going to figure it out in the end anyway. Wynonna has a lot of respect for Waverly’s ability to dig in and not let go of something.
“You can take the person who poisoned the chili in 2005 off the list,” Wynonna says.
Purgatory, February 2005
Most of the store owners in Purgatory know Wynonna well enough not to sell her certain things. Spray paint, for one. Sharpie markers. Pseudoephedrine (which is insulting, because Wynonna’s never gotten into cooking drugs. Using, sometimes, maybe, but it’s not like she hasn’t got standards).
Wynonna figures laxatives are another thing the good people of Purgatory will probably be unwilling to sell her, so she cuts out the drug-denying middlemen and uses her shoplifting skills to lift a few boxes here and a few boxes there. By the time she’s run through the discount store and the pharmacy and the grocery store out at the edge of town, she’s got enough laxatives to make the 2005 Purgatory Chili Cook-Off into part of town history.
She’s been given a mandatory volunteering shift during the Chili Cook-Off competition, breaking down tables and helping clean up. When she gets there — early — it’s just before the doors open.
Gus and Waverly are standing with Cryderman in front of his obnoxious Crock-Pot. When Wynonna looks closer, she sees that he’s brought a stuffed elk head in and hung it on the wall behind his station.
He’s practically asking to have his chili poisoned, Wynonna tells herself. And when she thinks about being in his courtroom — some of the things he said about her — about her family —
Wynonna breathes deep and thinks of the laxatives. She has to stay hidden. Bursting out and screaming at him is not the way to go here, even if it is her first instinct.
Finally, after what feels like forever but probably isn’t more than five minutes, Gus and Waverly head off to talk to some of the other competitors.
Wynonna keeps watching until Cryderman goes to talk to someone else. Trying to talk down their chili, Wynonna figures.
She walks in casually, like she’s part of the team. She’s already got the laxatives prepared, out of their packaging, and it’s the work of a moment to dump them into Cryderman’s chili and stir until everything dissolves.
Purgatory, Present Day
“It was you?” Waverly breathes, looking at Wynonna. “You poisoned Cryderman’s chili?”
Wynonna shifts uncomfortably. She’s not sure if she can explain, even now. “Look,” she starts, “nobody died, okay? I wouldn’t have done anything like that.”
“The entire town thought they had food poisoning!” Waverly shakes her head. “Gus had to give up running the Cook-Off.”
“I didn’t know that,” Wynonna says. “It was a long time ago and I was —”
“Guys,” Nicole says. She’s keeping her voice down. “Looks like someone’s checking.”
Waverly gives Wynonna a look that says this isn’t over, but she stops talking. They stand there casually, like they’re just looking around the room. Not like they’re watching for someone to pick up a dangerous package.
While they watch, Jamie Martin comes up to her mother, asks a question, and then ducks under the table. When she comes back up, she looks worried. Terrified, even.
Dolls stares across the table at Jamie. “So you want to tell us what’s going on?”
Nicole and Wynonna brought Jamie back to the Black Badge offices for questioning. Doc stayed to keep an eye on Mrs. Martin, just in case someone else comes to check.
Waverly’s still in full Cook-Off mode, now that everything’s running as it was supposed to. Minus Jamie.
“I don’t know anything,” Jamie says. “That backpack isn’t even mine.”
Dolls glances up at Wynonna, raises one eyebrow. It’s not a lot to read off of, but Wynonna’s known Dolls for long enough to understand. You want a turn?
“This is serious,” Wynonna says. She steps up next to Jamie, up in her space. “You’re running drugs for some very scary guys. Do you know the kind of things they might do to you?”
Jamie looks away. “My mom told me about you,” she says.
“Yeah? She tell you I’m here to take out Purgatory’s trash?”
“She said you were incompetent and the Sheriff must have been drinking if he put you on the force.”
Wynonna lets the surge of anger wash through herself and takes a deep breath. It’s not Jamie she’s angry at. It’s Jamie’s mom, Mrs. Martin, and attacking Jamie won’t solve anything.
“Joke’s on her,” Wynonna says, instead. “Nedley didn’t want me on the force. That’s all down to Dolls here. You’re in trouble with the special police.”
There’s a gust of wind outside, and snow slams into the window. The glass rattles in the frame.
Jamie jumps and looks over to the window. “Was… was that in the forecast?”
“We’re not here for the weather,” Dolls says, steadily. “Tell us about the speeder. Why do you have it?”
“It’s just herbs,” Jamie says.
“So it is your backpack.” Dolls leans back in his chair. “Tell us everything.”
“I’m….” Jamie looks over towards the window again. She seems scared of something. “Look, it’s not drugs, okay? Not really.”
Dolls leans forward. “Jamie, do any of your friends wear glasses? Or take medicine?”
Jamie tears her eyes away from the window. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Wynonna’s confused too, but she leans back against the wall and lets Dolls get on with it.
“What you had in your backpack is a type of drug for people with a special condition,” Dolls says. “It helps them control certain side-effects. But if you give it to other people, people who don’t have that condition, it can make them feel different — jittery, or maybe like they’ve got lots of energy. Kind of like how someone who doesn’t need glasses will see all blurry when they try someone’s glasses on, or how someone who doesn’t need a medicine gets sick when they take someone else’s.”
Speeder, Wynonna thinks. The name makes sense. But what condition is Dolls talking about?
“Now, those people?” Dolls is leaning forward now. “The ones you’ve been carrying the speeder for? They’ve got that condition. They might be selling off some of the speeder to your friends for money, but they’re keeping most of it for themselves. And the reason they need it is that they are some very scary dudes.”
“I know that,” Jamie says. She’s pressed back against the back of the chair she’s sitting in. “But you can’t protect me from them.”
Wynonna pats Peacemaker, on her hip. “I’m the only person who can protect you from them.”
Jamie looks up. “You can’t,” she says, bluntly.
Wynonna’s about to ask Jamie what she means, but just then Waverly knocks on the door to the Black Badge Division’s office.
“We got a problem,” Waverly says.
Dolls and Wynonna leave Jamie handcuffed to one of the chairs before joining Waverly in the hallway. Wynonna could pick the handcuffs with a paperclip if someone left her in that position, but then Wynonna figures anyone with Jamie’s terrible shoplifting record probably hasn’t figured out the basics yet.
“The weather’s getting really bad,” Waverly says.
“So?” Wynonna shrugs. That’s just part of living in Purgatory in the winter. Weather gets bad, you put chains or studs on your tires, and you carry on with life. “People can decide when they need to leave. All the judging’s done now, right?”
“Not like, leave early bad,” Waverly says. She looks nervous. “Look, just come look out the window.”
Wynonna lets Waverly lead her over to the window at the end of the hallway.
Outside, it’s a near white-out. Wynonna can just make out the light of the street lamp across the street. The snow’s drifting over the cars parked along the street, up to the level of the hoods.
“It’s really bad out there,” Waverly says. “And it wasn’t in the forecast.”
“Jamie seemed nervous about the weather,” Wynonna says, slowly.
“So?” Waverly peers out the window. There’s a gust of wind, and the snow swirls up in a great swell of white.
“So she’s been running speeder for the Revenants,” Wynonna says. “And does this look like natural weather for you? Or like maybe one of the Revenants decided to try some encouragement?”
“Give it up,” Wynonna says, walking back into the Black Badge offices. “We know you’re working for the person who’s controlling the weather.”
Dolls looks over at Wynonna like she’s got three heads. Wynonna doesn’t meet his eyes, just keeps staring at Jamie. It’s the stare she learned from Gus. The stare that says You’re going to tell me everything and you’re going to do it now.
Jamie looks up at Wynonna with an expression that might be respect. “How did you know?”
Once she starts talking, Jamie spills everything. How she met Merv. How he asked her to go pick something up from a friend of his, not far away, just on the other side of the Ghost River, outside the Big City.
“Outside the Ghost River Triangle,” Wynonna says to Dolls, and he gives her a flat look that says he’s not stupid, thanks.
“They didn’t sell any at first,” Jamie says, nervously. “But then they needed money or something? I don’t know. I told them I didn’t want to do that, but then one of them raised his hands and this big storm came, and a tornado took out the shed behind the house they were hiding in. They said they’d do the same thing to my mom’s house if I didn’t keep helping them.”
“Do you know where they are now?” Dolls asks. “Where are they hiding?”
Jamie scrunches back her her seat, like maybe she can sink down into the floor if she just tries hard enough. “They’re here,” she says. She nods towards window, towards the weather outside. “I missed the drop. They’re here, and they’re looking for me.”
Dolls tells Waverly to evacuate the Chili Cook-Off, but when they try to send people home, they realize it’s too late. The snow’s turned downtown Purgatory into a blizzard zone.
The people of Purgatory might not admit certain things to themselves, but they know a shelter-in-place order for unspecified supernatural shit when they hear one. They follow Waverly without complaining when she, Nicole, and some of Purgatory’s regular officers go down to evacuate the main hall and direct people to the courtroom upstairs.
“The door of that courtroom is thick enough to stop bullets,” Nicole says, grimly. They’re arming themselves in the Black Badge armory.
“Bullets aren’t the problem,” Dolls says, as the wind and snow rattle the window frames. Wynonna looks over. How much wind can the courthouse take? Windows might start blowing in if it gets much worse. And if the winds get high enough… Wynonna thinks about the shed the Revenant took out and swallows. Surely raising a tornado is a summer thing. She hopes.
Doc stays with Jamie, locked in the Black Badge offices, and Dolls and Wynonna go down to the first floor, to the hallway outside the Chili Cook-Off.
There’s an uneasy silence between them. Wynonna tries not to feel it. She wonders if she should get them each a bowl of Dolls’ posole. She didn’t get a chance to try it before the whole backpack-full-of-speeder incident got going. Waverly probably left the chili pots plugged in.
She’s about to suggest it when the front doors to the justice center swing open with a cold wind that blows snowflakes across the faded brown and green municipal tiles.
The Revenant who sweeps in brings the storm with him, and for a moment Wynonna’s view is blanked out by a stinging icy grit against her eyes.
“Jamie!” His voice grates against Wynonna’s ears. “Come out, you little pig.”
Wynonna feels a sharp feeling of joy. This is what she’s here for. Not feeling confused about the past. Not feeling like she’s not part of Waverly and Nicole’s life, not worrying about Dolls. She doesn’t need any of that. She’s here for the chase, and for the moment when a demon gets sent back to hell.
She’s here to protect Jamie. To protect Waverly. To protect all of them.
She steps out into the hallway, ignoring Dolls behind her. “You’re not getting your hands on her,” she says. She raises Peacemaker to the Revenant’s face.
“Ah.” The Revenant turns to face her. “And what will you do about me?”
“Send you back to hell,” Wynonna says. “Make your peace.”
Or she tries to say it. There’s a gust of unnatural wind, and Wynonna’s tumbling down the hallway in a spray of snow before everything goes white.
Wynonna wakes up on a hard, tiled surface. She aches all over.
When she sits up, she sees the walls of the morgue. She’s on one of the hard tile autopsy tables.
Oh shit. Shit shit shit.
“What the hell is going on?” She tries to move her legs — blessed motion. They hurt but at least she’s not going to have to crawl again. “Was I dead?” She thinks of Doc, of the way he’s irrevocably linked to the Stone Witch, and her heart’s in her throat. “Did someone bring me back?”
It takes Wynonna a moment to place the voice. Dolls.
She swings her legs over the lip of the morgue table and starts squishing and stretching her toes, trying to get the feeling back. “Was I —”
“You weren’t dead,” Dolls says. He looks out the crack of the door again and then holsters his gun before coming over to you. “I just needed a place to put you down.”
Wynonna rubs a hand over her eyes. “What the hell happened?”
“You didn’t think, Earp,” Dolls says. “What is it with you and walking out in front of Revenants? And those ones are on speeder. They’re super-charged.”
Wynonna stays quiet and lets Dolls take her chin his his hand. His fingers are strong as he feels her head over, finding every place where it hurts and examining it with gentle fingertips.
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” he says, and bends down to look into her eyes.
“Yeah,” Wynonna says, and she’s not sure if she’s got a cracked rib or if it’s just Dolls being this close that makes her breathless.
She’s hoping he’s going to lean in, but instead, he shakes his hand and lets her chin go. “You can’t use Peacemaker on them if you’re not awake,” he says. “Or if you get yourself killed.”
“How long was I out for?” Wynonna asks. “Did Waverly —”
“They’re still hunting for Jamie,” Dolls says, shortly. “You weren’t out for long.”
Wynonna tries to hop down from the autopsy table. She stumbles when her foot hits the ground — something not quite right there, but she ignores it and stands up, one hand on the cold tile of the table.
Dolls goes back to the doorway.
Wynonna shifts her weight between her feet and tries to think of something to say.
“Why did you leave?”
She’s surprised to hear the words leaving her mouth. “I mean. I know you didn’t want to leave. Um. We had a plan to get you back.”
In the light from the cracked door, she can see one end of Dolls’ mouth quirk up. “I didn’t want to leave.”
“But you did,” Wynonna says, her voice breaking. “I don’t mean when you got taken by Black Badge. I mean when you got back.”
Dolls stays in the doorway. He’s silent, and Wynonna figures that’s it — that’s the answer she gets. Silence. It’s a shit answer but it’s not the first time someone’s decided she’s too much trouble. Too much work. Too much of an Earp.
“You want to know how I know about the speeder?”
Dolls doesn’t turn back towards her when he speaks. Wynonna stays quiet. Her hand’s on Peacemaker.
“It’s because I use it myself,” Dolls says.
Wynonna’s mouth is dry. “What do you mean?”
“You didn’t wonder?” Dolls turns back to her, and for a moment Wynonna thinks she saw his eyes flash with a light that has nothing to do with the morgue’s crappy overhead lights. “Where Black Badge recruited from? I’m no different from them, Wynonna. Only Black Badge gives me my speeder. Keeps me under control. Helps me keep the monster inside.”
But Dolls isn’t a Revenant, Wynonna thinks. She’s seen him cross the boundary.
“Nobody who kisses the way you did at the Solstice is a monster,” she says.
Dolls’ voice is rough. “I shouldn’t have kissed you at all.”
“You shouldn’t have stopped,” Wynonna says. “I mean, okay, you got kidnapped, I accept that excuse. But….” She trails off. “You came back, but you didn’t, you know?”
She’s holding her breath, waiting for him to answer, but instead he waves his hand. One of the hand signals he gave her to memorize. It means slow down.
She’s seen him use that one a lot.
“Maybe I don’t want to,” Wynonna says, angry now. “Maybe —”
“There are Revenants outside,” Dolls says. “Get back.”
When Dolls stops talking, Wynonna can just hear them, their boots clomping on the hallway outside.
Wynonna pulls Peacemaker, its weight familiar and comforting in her hand. She crouches behind the autopsy table, ignoring the sting in her foot, while Dolls slides along the wall.
The Revenants are just outside the door when Dolls throws a scalpel from one of the drawers onto the floor.
The voice they hear is the lead Revenant’s growl. “Is the little piggy inside?”
“You can’t hide from us forever,” another Revenant says.
They open the door, and Dolls is exploding from behind it and giving Wynonna the hand signal that means take the left one. She shoots the Revenant on the left with Peacemaker, right between the eyes, and Dolls explodes across the gaping hole of hellfire in the morgue floor to tackle the other Revenant, rolling with him onto the floor and keeping him from getting his gun.
“Wynonna!” The air’s filled with snow, suddenly, and Wynonna can’t see where it came from. “Shoot him! Now!”
There’s a feeling that comes over Wynonna, when she’s got Peacemaker trained on a Revenant. A sense of rightness. Of purpose.
She doesn’t feel it now. She can’t see well enough in the swirling wind and snow to aim. And Dolls is with the Revenant. And she is not getting Peacemaker anywhere near Dolls if there’s even a chance —
“Keep talking, Dolls,” she says. “I don’t want to shoot you.”
She hears Dolls grunt and then there’s a noise like someone’s head breaking against a hard tile floor. The snow turns into vapor in the air, and Wynonna pushes forward to see the Revenant, sprawled against the floor.
“What did you —”
“Shoot him,” Dolls says, breathless as he gets to his feet. “Now, before he wakes back up.”
Wynonna draws down on the Revenant, pulls the trigger. As she and Dolls watch, he's pulled into a firey hellpit in the floor of the morgue.
There’s no time to stop and admire the hellfire, though, because Wynonna hears running footsteps from the hallway. She pushes past Dolls to run down the hall, up the stairs, following the heavy sound of the final Revenant’s boots.
We can’t let him get away, she thinks, he’s just going to go after Jamie when we’re not around.
And she’s not going to let that happen.
She bursts into the main hallway of the justice center. The Revenant’s almost at the door, almost out, and it’s —
“Stop right there.”
Waverly’s voice is loud in the empty hallway.
The Revenant doesn’t stop running, zigging and zagging from side to side so Wynonna can’t get a clean shot.
There’s a concussive thump from a gun, and it's not Peacemaker. The Revenant stumbles and falls as Wynonna runs down the hallway.
“Nice shooting, baby girl,” Wynonna says, hitching her breath as she makes it to Waverly’s side. Waverly has her gun drawn on the Revenant, who’s clutching his knee.
Waverly’s hands are steady. “Nobody gets to mess with my Chili Cook-Off.”
When Wynonna gets back to the Black Badge offices, Jamie runs up and hugs her around her waist.
“Thank you,” Jamie says, into Wynonna’s shoulder.
Wynonna’s not sure what to say.
“Now don’t you go getting yourself in more trouble,” Doc says.
He’s leaning back against one of the windows. Outside, the snow’s stopped, and there are people out on the street trying to shovel their cars out. A snowplow runs by, scraping over the asphalt and pushing enormous snowbanks up in front of the cars.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Jamie said. She steps back but she’s not meeting Wynonna’s eyes.
And honestly? Wynonna gets that. Getting into a situation where you know what you’re doing isn’t working but you’re not sure how to change it. Where you’re not sure of what you can do, but what’s going on around you makes you so angry you end up doing stupid shit.
Like poisoning a Chili Cook-Off, maybe.
“Just ask for help next time,” Wynonna says.
Doc raises one eyebrow. “Next time?”
“Right,” Wynonna says. “There shouldn’t be a next time. Stay in school. Stay away from supernatural trouble. Um. Don’t do drugs? I think that one’s in there.” She’s not sure what else to say. She’s Wynonna Earp, not McGruff the Crime Dog.
Doc smiles. “I should be getting this little lady back to her mother.”
“Thanks,” Jamie says, again. She looks up at Wynonna, shyly. And then she’s gone.
Outside, the truck is piled under what Wynonna figures is approximately a metric assload of snow. It’s up to Wynonna’s knees, and she shivers when it touches her skin through the holes in her jeans.
“Ugh,” she says. The snow in the morgue melted away when the Dolls knocked the Revenant out. It seems wildly unfair that the snow outdoors didn’t melt too.
She steps carefully up to the truck’s door. It’s just above the level of the snow, so she can open the door without needing to shovel. She climbs in and starts digging around the back for the emergency shovel that Waverly got her last month. Waverly Earp, always thinking ahead.
Wynonna throws the shovel out the door and jumps down after it. It’s going to be a long night before she can get on the road, and she hopes Waverly remembered to call their plow guy to get the dirt road down to the Homestead cleared.
She starts shoveling out around the front of the truck, where the plow’s pushed up a ridge of slushy, heavy snow. Her breath comes out in a cloud under the parking lot lights.
“You need a hand with that, Deputy?”
It’s Dolls, standing on the other side of the snow ridge left by the plow.
“What are you going to do?” Wynonna asks. “Pick up the truck and shake the snow off?”
Dolls smiles, maybe. “Funny.”
“They say that’s my best feature,” Wynonna says. “That and the big-ass gun.”
She keeps shoveling. Dolls watches her, quiet, and then comes up and takes the shovel from her hands.
Wynonna lets him. He starts shoveling. His breath steams under the light, just like hers.
“So,” she says, turning away to grab the snow broom from the truck. “Speeder.”
He keeps shoveling. “Something like it, anyway. Black Badge actually uses an elixir. Same idea, though.”
Wynonna hops up on the running board to try to push the snow from the roof to the far side of the truck. “Black Badge gets all the cool toys.”
Dolls finishes clearing the heavy, slushy snow from the front of the truck and starts shoveling along the sides, where Wynonna’s boots have already compacted the snow into the pavement.
“So this elixir,” Wynonna asks. She hops down and swings the door shut. “What is it, exactly?”
“Top-secret,” Dolls says, in his I-could-tell-you-but-then-you’d-be-executed-for-treason voice.
Wynonna wrinkles her nose. “I mean what it does.”
“Keeps me like this,” Dolls says. “Normal. Well, sort of.”
“So Black Badge… made you like this?”
“I was born like this.” He doesn’t turn to look at her. Just keeps shoveling the snow from under Wynonna’s tires. “Black Badge just made it possible for me to stay human.”
“They control the elixir I’m on,” Dolls says. “Lucado’s out of the way now — and don’t ask what favors I pulled in to make that happen. You don’t want to know. But Black Badge still controls the cure. If they cut me off —”
“We’ll find another way,” Wynonna says. She tosses the snow broom back in the car and goes up to Dolls, crowding up into his space, the way she’s fantasized about doing since he kissed her at the Solstice.
“There might not be one.” He’s looking down at her, though. His eyes are dark.
“So we make a way,” Wynonna says, frustrated. He hasn’t learned anything about Earps if he thinks that’s enough to make her give up. “Look. I — I suck at this emotion crap, you know that, but I really like you, Dolls. I really really do.”
“Yeah?” He raises a hand up to Wynonna’s cheek. The air is cold, but his fingers are warm.
“Yeah.” Wynonna meets his eyes, and then leans in.
It’s not the kiss they had at the Solstice, full of need and immediacy. Instead, Dolls is hesitant, just brushing her lips at first before she throws an arm around his shoulders and pulls him down.
Dolls lets the shovel fall and wraps his other arm around her. Wynonna kisses back, wanting this to be the start of something. Wanting this to be a promise.
The Homestead’s warm and fragrant with the smell of chili.
Wynonna doesn’t normally go inside the Purgatory town supermarket. It’s out on the edge of town and she usually avoids the memories going inside brings up. Memories of shopping with her mother, before she left.
But she’ll do a lot for Waverly, and tonight, she wanted Waverly to come home to the best chili possible. Which meant the supermarket, for supplies. The canned beans are in the same aisle Wynonna remembers. She even found a blue and white box with the same cornbread mix their mother used to buy.
“Wynonna!” Waverly comes inside, shedding her hat and her gloves. “What happened? Did we get attacked by a Revenant who’s trying out for Top Chef?”
“Hah,” Wynonna says. “Funny. My sister’s funny.”
Waverly hangs her coat up on the hook and unwinds the scarf from around her neck. It’s snowing out, just a dusting, and Wynonna can see the flakes in Waverly’s hair, resting on her braid.
“So… do I need to be worried about poison?” Waverly asks.
“That was years ago,” Wynonna says. “I’ve changed.”
Because she totally has. She even went out to talk to Gus, the day after Waverly’s Chili Cook-Off, to explain everything from back in 2005 and apologize and — well, Gus didn’t understand, but then Wynonna wasn’t expecting her to. “Not the stupidest thing you did back then,” Gus said, instead, and gave Wynonna a hug so hard her ribs felt like they were going to crack.
“It’s still not normal,” Waverly says now. She slides into one of the kitchen chairs. “Wait. Are you buttering me up for something?”
“Is it so weird to want to make dinner for my sister?” Wynonna asks.
“When it’s you? Yes.”
“I just thought you needed some real Earp chili,” Wynonna says. She cuts the flame under the pot and starts dishing the chili up. The cornbread is already on the table. She had to make it in a dented muffin tin, because they don’t have an 8 by 8 pan. Smells fine, though.
She even remembered to buy green onions and sour cream. Not really necessary, but their mother always used to remember. Wynonna dishes up a second bowl for herself and then dresses both of them, dollop of sour cream in the center, chopped green onions on the top.
She even remembers these bowls. Two of them survived, that time the Homestead got shot up.
“Eat up,” Wynonna says, putting the bowls down on the table. She pulls a couple beers out of the fridge and sits down.
Waverly takes a spoonful and then closes her eyes. “This is….”
“It’s Earp chili,” Wynonna says.
“It’s amazing,” Waverly says, like she means it. “What’s in this?”
Wynonna takes her own spoonful before she answers. It’s smoky and smooth and tastes like home. Like the chili their momma used to make.
“It’s an old family recipe,” she says. “Full of good things.”
“Good things?” Waverly’s talking through another spoonful. “Because it tastes like —”
“Fine,” Wynonna says. “It’s full of chopped bacon and canned beans. And salt. Happy?”
Waverly smiles. “It tastes like my sister makes amazing chili.” She takes one of the corn muffins and breaks it open to dip it in the chili. “You need to write this recipe down.”
Wynonna smiles. Outside, the night is snowy, and full of Revenants, and Purgatory’s only kept safe by a part-monster working for an even more monstrous organization, a girl with a big-ass gun, her little sister, and their great-great-grandaddy's undead best friend.
But tonight, they’re inside. They’re safe. They’re eating Earp chili.
And there’s nowhere else Wynonna would rather be.