In the brief time it took Nicole to intervene Doc acquired a bloody lip but his opponent gained a black eye, bruised ribs, and quite possibly a dislocated knee.
Since Nicole had seen who had thrown the first punch, she was not sympathetic to the more injured party's complaints, and was sceptical of the man's cries that Doc had been cheating.
Nicole shooed away the onlookers to other parts of the bar. She summoned medical attention, got the injured man seated with a glass of water, and retrieved all of the money from his side of the table, plus what was in the pot, and made sure he took ownership of it.
When Nedley and a paramedic arrived, Nicole steered Doc by the elbow out into the bright afternoon sunshine.
"Were you cheating?"
He affected hurt pride. "I am a gentleman. I have no need to resort to under-handedness."
"Yes or no."
Doc shook his head. "No, Officer Haught. My opponent was a poor player with little experience of the game and no expertise in the art of bluffing. He lost due to a combination of bad luck of the draw and his distinct lack of talent in playing even a half-decent hand."
Nicole considered him. "Then he'll probably not want to take matters further." Nedley would discourage him anyway, and since she had seen him start the violence and would attest to it, he would only be making a rod for his own back.
Doc shrugged as if potentially being charged with a crime was of no concern. She supposed after being imprisoned down a well for a hundred years a modern jail held no fear.
What would happen if Nicole arrested him anyway, a man who did not exist in this century because he had been declared dead decades ago? Wynonna would happen, for one thing, and the might of the Black Badge division – or at least the threat of the division. It wasn't as if Dolls was around; Wynonna was making plans to rescue him but all of them, Doc, Waverly, Nicole, had at various times shut down her schemes as being too vague, too ridiculous, and too fucking insane.
Dolls had welcomed her to the division but with his arrest coming soon afterwards he'd obviously not had chance to file the paperwork, and so Nicole remained a deputy, her allegiances torn, honorary Black Badge holder and sworn police officer alike.
"You're bleeding," Nicole said. Doc took a cloth handkerchief – of course he had a cloth handkerchief to go with the waistcoat and the hat – and folded it with care. "I thought you were immortal."
There was a lot of weirdness in Purgatory and it wasn't going away, though the forms it took varied. Doc, though, was an up-close and personal weirdness, a family friend to the Earps. More than that for Wynonna, Nicole gathered. And speaking as someone who was "more than that" with Waverly, Nicole was curious about him and what his presence in their lives meant for them.
"Immortal is perhaps not the precise word to use," Doc allowed, pressing the cloth to his lip. "I am ageless, and I cannot get sick, but I can be hurt. I can be killed."
Nicole frowned. That put a new perspective on things. She'd thought him invulnerable and that this invulnerability lessened his heroism. She had been wrong.
"I heal pretty quick, mind," Doc said. "Something to with regeneration of the cells, or so Agent Dolls hypothesized. He wanted to hand me over to Black Badge's science division, see if they could find out what made me tick." There was no rancour in his tone.
Nicole stared at him. "But he didn't."
"No. Events took an interesting turn and we discovered we had something in common. A desire to protect Wynonna at all costs. So Dolls found someone else to satiate his employer's thirst for supernatural experimentation."
That a shared affection had made them friends rather than fiercer enemies was a surprise. Yet when Nicole took a second to imagine it she knew that if Waverly was in danger, she too would side with even her worst enemy, if it was necessary to save her.
"So you don't actually know the limits of your own body."
Doc gave another shrug. He examined the cloth, stained with his blood. His lip had ceased haemorrhaging as promised. Yet Nicole caught the shadow that crossed his gaze.
She understood why. History recorded that Doc Holliday had died from TB. History was almost right. How many bloody handkerchiefs had he seen as his lungs failed and his strength ebbed? Did he still fear that the witch had lied and he might one day succumb to the disease once more? In his position, Nicole was sure she would.
"I only asked to be made whole," Doc said. "And that so I could stand at Wyatt's side. When the witch offered eternal longevity I foolish accepted. This ageless life has been as much curse as blessing. Decades in the darkness. Everyone I knew dead and gone."
Nicole tipped her head. "You have Wynonna," she said gently.
"For now," Doc said. "Until she chooses someone else. Or until she dies, hopefully years from now, but eventually all mortals must meet their end. And I will be alone once more."
The thought was horrifying. He'd adapted rapidly to the modern world, though there was some charming occasional puzzlement at a technology he'd not yet come across or a cultural reference that went over his head. But to keep that constant adaption up over the centuries, to watch everything change, to lose everyone he loved, over and over. It sounded like another kind of hell to Nicole.
Yet he could die, and Nicole wondered how long he would want to walk the world alone before making another choice. A choice like the one that vampire had made when he walked into the sunlight in the terribly cheesy yet somehow moving film she and Waverly watched last week, snuggled up together on the couch.
But that was the future, unknown and unwritten for any of them. Right now she focussed on the more immediate concern. She heard the bitterness when he spoke of Wynonna choosing someone else.
"You are not alone right now," Nicole said. "You have us. Not just Wynonna, but Waverly, and me. You shouldn't borrow trouble from tomorrow, my grandfather always said."
"Wise words," Doc said. "Are you trying to lift my sprits? Because a glass of something alcoholic will always be appreciated in that regard."
The introspection was gone and he was back to his nonchalant self. Nicole sighed.
"By my count you owe me three drinks."
"I did not realise you were counting."
"I am," Nicole said primly. "Though if you're truly a gentleman, I should not have to."
He laughed. "Touché, Officer Haught."
"Nicole," she said. "I'm off duty so not only can you call me Nicole but you may buy me one of those drinks."
The paramedic escorted the gambler out past them and to the ambulance. Nedley joined them.
"They want to check out his knee," he said, "but he's not pressing charges. Try and stay out of trouble, Doc? Now I have paperwork to do and I hate paperwork."
Nedley left, Doc touching his hat in a goodbye gesture.
This was probably the best opportunity to breach a sensitive subject with him, and so Nicole bit the bullet. "Can I ask you something?"
Doc nodded. "I reserve the right to answer it or not, truthfully or otherwise."
"Of course. It's just – Wynonna is the Earp heir," Nicole said. "And Waverly has spent her whole life researching revenants. You lived this story once already, alongside Wyatt himself. Even Dolls is something different, from what you've told us. And I'm just me. No special powers, no special insight, no special training."
"I'm not hearing a question," Doc said, but not unkindly.
"I want to be useful, but I'm not an Earp or a gunslinger. I worry that I'm not up to the task. Do you think I am?" There, it was done. She'd tried broaching the subject with Waverly but Waverly had become so upset, ranting about bloodlines and shit and proven my worth haven't I? that it taken Nicole a good ten minutes to soothe her. She'd hit a nerve but Waverly wasn't ready to talk about why, which meant Nicole couldn't talk about her own issues either.
Wynonna never took anything much seriously. Nicole had tentatively raised the subject with her and Wynonna had given what she clearly thought was a motivational speech about Nicole's mind, body, and marksmanship. Then she'd wondered if it was possible to say markswomanship. Then she looked it up on Wikipedia, got side-tracked, spotted an internet advert for tacos, and declared it was lunchtime.
Doc however had listened without judgement and would speak his mind honestly, or so she believed.
"I can tell you yes," Doc said at last. "But it won't do much good. You need to believe it for yourself. I can remind you of how you were essential when BoBo poisoned the townsfolk, or tell you how impressed I was when you didn't even blink at the idea of revenants when I told you of them. I can tell you yes, and I will, truthfully say so. But only you can quiet the voice of doubt. I rather suggest punching it in its slimy mouth, personally, but your response may vary."
The idea of punching the metaphorical voice made her smile.
"Sometimes enough liquor will send it to sleep, and on that note, allow me to buy you one of the beverages I am in debt to you for," Doc said. He crooked his arm and Nicole took it so that he could lead her back to the bar.
"Thank you," she said.
A few minutes later, sitting at a table with a bottle of whisky and two glasses, Nicole mused, "So this is our life now, liquor to fight our metaphorical demons and Wynonna to fight the actual ones."
"Is it truly so awful, Nicole?"
She shook her head. So long as she had Waverly and a sense of purpose, she could survive almost anything. "Just different. I'm still adjusting." To so many things.
Doc chuckled. "Aren't we all," he agreed before downing another shot. "Aren't we all."