The explosion rockets Waverly out of sleep. She’s out of bed and halfway across the room, bare feet on cold hardwood and the whole deal before her brain catches up, and she stands there, blinking in the mid-morning sun with her quilt wrapped around her shoulders and her braid askew.
As Waverly’s mind slowly ticks along toward alertness, maybe it wasn’t an explosion after all. She heard the noise, jolted her from the middle of a dream about chasing Revenants and being cornered while trying to sneak into Shorty’s, and she hears it now in the echoes of her mind, but — don’t explosions, well, make things explode? The homestead is still standing, the glass of water and the tiny sprig of lavender Waverly keeps by her bed not even jostled, and none of the windows in her room have broken and there’s no plaster dust on the floor. Maybe the sound came from the dream after all.
“Wynonna?” Waverly calls out, cautiously. Wynonna still crashes on that stupid uncomfortable bench half the time, which means she’ll have heard anything strange go down.
A long pause, several pattering heartbeats’ worth, and then —
“Shit!” Wynonna yelps from the vicinity of the kitchen, and that answers that. “Shit, Wave, no, it’s fine, I just — eggs, microwave — apparently they explode, who knew?”
Waverly tugs the quilt around her more securely and pads out to the kitchen. “Uh, everyone?” she says. She can smell it now, burnt eggs and a hint of plastic curling underneath; feels the bite of cold winter air from the window Wynonna has flung open to try to air the kitchen out. “What were you doing microwaving eggs?”
Her sister stands in front of the microwave in dark jeans and a t-shirt. She spins around when Waverly crosses the threshold and holds out a bowl, face drawn in a theatrical pout. It looks empty until Waverly peers closer and spots the bits of white and yellow and fragments of brown shell. The rest of the eggs spackle the interior of the microwave, and between the mess and Wynonna’s disappointed face Waverly has to work hard to stifle her laugh.
“Seriously,” Waverly says, reaching out and taking the bowl. “We have a perfectly good frying pan.”
“Look, fire and me, we don’t get along so well — or maybe too well.” Wynonna shrugs one shoulder. “Plus, microwaves are quick, I thought the whole point is you’re supposed to be able to cook anything in them nowadays. I swear I read about poached eggs made without a stove.”
“You have to crack them into a bowl and stir them up first,” Waverly says absently. She scrapes the bowl into the garbage, bends down under the sink to grab a rag as Wynonna sighs and plucks the scouring sponge from the sink. “There’s too much pressure otherwise, and anyway, you’re only supposed to use low heat and check on them every —“
She stops halfway into an unneeded info-dump when she catches Wynonna’s tiny smile. “Well, anyway.” Waverly tosses her braid over her shoulder. “Seriously, why were you making eggs? I thought you were a coffee until noon sort of person.”
Wynonna ignores her for a minute, working on a stubborn mess of egg in the back corner of the microwave. “Thought I’d make you something,” she says, half a mumble. “I know how much losing Shorty’s got to you, and while I’m not going to cry about you finally tossing Champ the Chump onto the curb, breakups still suck, so.” She shrugs. “I thought, I dunno, eggs and toast and fruit, even I can handle that. So much for my cheering you up with my superb culinary skills.”
Waverly stops, turns to look at her, but of course Wynonna immediately busies herself with a loose thread at the hem of her shirt because that’s more important than eye contact after an admission of doing something nice. Waverly can’t remember the last time Wynonna actually sat down to breakfast as opposed to rolling out the door with her coffee and nabbing one or five of the sheriff office’s communal donut box.
A burst of affection hits Waverly, unexpected and warm, like walking past the bakery when the first morning loaves come out of the oven and the scent of bread wafts out the window. It doesn’t make up for the years apart or the prickle of jealousy every time Wynonna picks up Peacemaker and the gun responds to her command, but life is made of little kindnesses to cover the big hurts, right? Wynonna is here and she’s trying, and that puts her above most people right there.
Waverly smiles, wider when Wynonna responds with a grimace. “You put the coffee on, I’ll make the eggs,” she says. “I’ll go to the store this afternoon, and tomorrow I’ll teach you how to poach them properly. Maybe we’ll even get you up to making Eggs Benedict one day!”
“Calm down there, sparky, one step at a time.” Wynonna tosses a scoop of coffee grounds onto the filter in a dismissive gesture, but she pauses on the way to the fridge to drop a kiss on the top of Waverly’s head.
Later Wynonna heads off to work, both hands clutched around her travel mug like it contains the elixir of life instead of cheap instant, breath puffing in the winter air. Waverly stays behind, leaning against the doorway and rubbing her hands over her upper arms. As Wynonna disappears over the hill, Waverly shakes herself and steps back inside, giving the door an extra kick to close it against the wind that likes to howl over the field.
“Well,” Waverly says to herself, crossing her arms and staring back into the kitchen and the pile of dishes in the sink. “It’s morning, you’re awake, and you’re unemployed. What now?”
The cheque from Gus still sits in Waverly’s drawer, hidden in a box underneath her socks. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate the gesture, it’s — well, it’s amazing, it gives her the freedom to go where she wants, do what she wants, except what does that mean? Swimming in oceans and eating phallic sea creatures and mountain climbing and drag racing are all great, but what about the every day? Waverly has worked at Shorty’s since she was thirteen years old, only allowed to wait tables before 6pm and not touch the alcohol. Now she’s supposed to — what?
Well. Dishes first. Waverly spends a minute at the sink, hands pressed to the counter, standing on tip-toes with her weight on her arms and staring out the window, before she shakes herself and turns on the tap. The water sputters out from the faucet in hammer-like bursts, brown with flakes of mud and gunk from the tank, and Waverly jerks back and wrenches the valve closed.
“Great.” She’ll have to call someone in to look at it, and pay extra for the inconvenience and superstition of crossing the threshold of the Earp homestead. “Today started out so great, too.”
No water means no shower means no long, relaxing soak to burn off the morning chill and the last of her post-nightmare jitters. Waverly huffs a sigh at the sink, then heads back to her room to dress. Maybe there will be a creepy Revenant causing trouble and Dolls will need her to research, which will definitely keep her mind off things.
And maybe, if she happens to swing by the sheriff’s office on the way to the Black Bade division, she’ll run into a certain pretty deputy and be able to steal a few kisses in a not entirely unprofessional manner. Maybe there are some perks to being temporarily not living at Shorty’s after all.
Waverly grins. Today is looking up already.
By the time Waverly reaches the sheriff’s office, unfortunately, that little balloon of optimism has shrivelled and sunk behind the sofa to slowly deflate over the rest of the winter. A crow took a dive-bomb at her head halfway down the field, nearly causing Waverly to fall flat on her face; she stepped in a puddle next to the sidewalk when crossing into town; a car even ran the stop sign, making Waverly have to dash to avoid it and twist her ankle on a patch of ice.
A group of kids hanging out in front of the convenience store snickers. “Very graceful, 10/10!” one of them calls out.
Waverly is not going to debase herself by shouting back at a teenager, no thank you, but she does shoot them an icy glare as she stomps past on her way to the sheriff’s office.
“Ouch,” Nicole says, tossing down a file folder onto the desk when Waverly slams the front door closed behind her. “Someone’s having a bad morning.”
“Better after seeing you,” Waverly tosses back, smiling in spite of herself. The words leave her mouth without thinking — it’s not her fault, all right, she’s new to this, with Champ that sort of comment wouldn’t raise any eyebrows and they didn’t break up that long ago — and Waverly’s eyes go wide, but fortunately none of the other officers are within earshot.
Nicole winks, a mere flicker of one eyelid, but it’s enough to sent Waverly’s heart skittering. This — whatever this is, whatever they are, is new, still flutteringly fresh and spontaneous and terrifying, and Waverly can’t tell if it’s good or bad that she really wants to vault the desk and kiss Nicole right there in the office.
But no, no, that would be crazy, they haven’t talked about going public yet or what that would mean in a town like Purgatory that still puts “the” before most races and religions, and anyway, Waverly kind of likes that it’s still new. Everything is unpredictable and spontaneous, a whole new part of her life without a proper script to follow, and Waverly can’t wait.
She smiles at Nicole, unwinds her scarf and heads for Dolls’ office, at least a little more recharged.
Dolls has a pile of papers spread over his desk, standing behind with both hands splayed flat against the wood in a show of macho authority that Wynonna likes to roll her eyes at. Wynonna has expressed her disdain for the entire display by slouching even more dramatically than usual, leaning forward with her elbows on the table and her donut showering powdered frosting on the documents.
“Earp,” Dolls says, exasperated but without taking his eyes away from his work. “There are half a dozen flat surfaces in this office; please feel free to use any one of them to get your donut mess on. Better yet, there are plates in the kitchenette.”
Wynonna catches Waverly’s gaze, raises both eyebrows and widens her eyes in her usual ‘look at this guy’ reaction. Waverly lets her own eyes flick to the ceiling for a second in solidarity with her sister, but she needs to be on Dolls’ good side today. “Hi Dolls,” Waverly chirps, and she stays well away from his work to avoid any accusations of interfering with his setup. She’d twirl her hair if she thought it would work, like when she angles for tips down at Shorty’s, but Waverly can imagine the reaction. Hilarious, mind, but not today. “Any research you need today?”
Dolls glances at her, and he doesn’t smile but he also doesn’t not smile, and that’s about as good as it gets. “Actually, yes. We’ve got reports of a new drug on the streets here in Purgatory, and we’re looking to get it shut down before it becomes a problem.”
Waverly blinks. “I mean, not that I’m going to argue that keeping the streets clean isn’t important, but are we sure that’s Black Badge material?” Wynonna’s expression is closed off, serious even with the smear of icing at the corner of her mouth, and Dolls has that muscle jumping in the corner of his jaw. “This isn’t a normal happy-times kind of drug, is it.”
“No.” Dolls slides a piece of paper toward her. “On the surface it looks like it is, all the highs with none of the comedown, except for two things. One, it looks like if you take it, you end up dead — unless you already were. And two, from what we can tell it’s being manufactured right here in Purgatory.”
Waverly thumbs through the list of reported incidents: the usual drunk and disorderly, but with the addition of rages, accompanied by super-strength and — some witnesses swear — glowing red eyes. “Lovely.” Waverly hands the file back. “So we have super-heroin for Revenants.”
“More like meth,” Dolls corrects her, in that offhand way he does without really paying attention. “Heroin addicts aren’t that much trouble unless they’re out of drugs and looking for more. Here we’ve got destruction of property, aggression, street fights, and here and there actual assault. No murder yet, but we’d rather stop it before it gets there.”
“Right.” Waverly wipes her hands on her jeans. Suddenly the office feels chilly, and she would regret wearing a crop top except that she does this to herself on the regular. She crosses her arms over her stomach and tries not to glance at Wynonna. It’s been years since Wynonna was caught with drugs, and she’s been clean — hasn’t she? — for a while now, but still. “So what do you need me for?”
“From what we can tell the drug is made for Revenants, though the dealers aren’t exactly picky about who buys it as long as they’re paying.” Dolls taps one finger on a thick manila folder. “We have reason to believe that Bobo or one of his men are behind this, but we really can’t just go charging into the trailer park without a warrant, and after last time nobody is falling over backwards to give me one. I need any kind of intel you’ve got on the Seventy-Seven, anyone who might have been a chemist or an apothecary or whatever back in the day. Any kind of freaky medicine science. Got anything come to mind?”
“Not offhand, but give me a few hours and I’m sure I’ll come up with something,” Waverly says. This is perfect, exactly the kind of research that will take most of the day and keep her occupied — let her forget about Bobo and his crew inside Shorty’s, touching everything and getting their stupid Revenant germs all over it. She doesn’t bother asking for any of Dolls’ case files; she’s got everything she needs for research, and Dolls guards his files like they’re his murder-filled babies. “What are you two going to do?”
Wynonna wipes her mouth with a napkin, crumples it and tosses it toward the trash can in a valiant but futile attempt to dunk. “We’re going to see if we can track down where it’s coming from, build up enough of a case to get a warrant.” Dolls shoots her a look, and Wynonna angles her head down, clasps both hands behind her back and stares up at him through her lashes in such a parody of innocence that Waverly has to turn a giggle into a cough. “I promise I’ll be good, I’ll wait for evidence and won’t shoot anyone or anything.”
Dolls slits her a look but doesn’t comment, and Waverly clears her throat. “Call me if any new info comes up,” she says. “I’ll let you know as soon as you find anything.”
Wynonna shoots her a salute that she turns into a two-fingered gun-to-temple gesture behind Dolls’ back, and Waverly grins.
On the way out she runs into Nicole, Stetson riding low on her forehead and her gun and walkie-talkie on her hip. “Looking good, officer,” Waverly says. “Very … official.”
Nicole tips her hat. “Got a call about a disturbance down by the auto shop, probably one of the boys trying to gouge the wrong customer. Heading over to stop it before anyone does anything stupid.” Nedley’s in his office, the door open and desk visible from the hall, and so Nicole keeps her distance, but even so Waverly’s heartbeat skips. “Maybe I can meet you tonight after my shift, since you’re not working the graveyard at Shorty’s.”
Waverly swallows. “Maybe,” she says, keeping it light. Casual. This is how friends and colleagues talk to each other, right? Nothing suspicious here. “You’ve got my number.”
She flees before she can do something entirely stupid like stand on tiptoes and kiss Nicole in front of everyone, and the warmth of her girlfriend’s dimpled grin keeps the chill away all the way back to the homestead.
Even though Waverly steps in that stupid puddle again on the way back.
Waverly works through the rest of the morning, combing through piles of newspapers with the microfiche machine she snagged when the library made the switch over to digital. She clears off a space on her bedroom wall for a mess of index cards, clippings and photos, since being able to see everything laid out in front of her helps no matter what Wynonna might say about scrapbooking and walls of crazy.
She takes a break to make herself a sandwich and pour herself a glass of wine since the water still isn’t working, then sits back and munches while staring at the piles of biographies and pages of scrawled notes. This isn’t a serial killer with a centuries-old MO, is the problem; anyone creating a new breed of street drugs might have medical experience back in Wyatt’s day, but they’ll have had to pick up most of it in the last few generations. It’s not like Waverly can check the records for an 1800s meth lab.
Waverly pulls herself out of it again around dusk, when the last of the red glow from the sunset leaves a bloody splash across the blue-grey snow. Waverly pushes the pages away with an irritated gust of breath and stands up, stretching her hands over her head and twisting back and forth as the joints in her spine let out a series of alarming pops. A whole day of research and she’s no closer to finding the Revenant than she was this morning, but at least it kept her occupied.
A quick glance at the clock tells her that Nicole’s shift ended a few minutes ago, and Waverly smiles at the empty room. A good meal with her pretty girlfriend — girlfriend! — is a perfect way to end off a day full of petty frustrations and lack of progress. It’s amazing, really, how much Nicole’s smile and the brush of her fingers against Waverly’s cheek can turn the most rotten mood around.
Waverly laughs out loud, presses the backs of her hands to her face to feel the hot flush. Realistically this phase will fade, routine will replace dizzying rush of feelings and each kiss will stop feeling like a crazy impulse, but not yet. Right now the pattern of freckles at the nape of Nicole’s neck when Waverly sweeps her hair out of the way still makes her stomach flip.
It would be a lot more romantic if Waverly could shower before dinner, but she forgot to call the plumber in the depths of her research fugue and now it’s too late to get anyone in tonight — assuming she could convince anyone to come out to the homestead at all. Tomorrow she’ll ask around, but for now Waverly braids her hair around the crown of her head instead and hopes Nicole won’t judge her.
Nicole said she’d call — or, well, Waverly invited her to, that’s close enough right — but the sun sets and the phone still doesn’t ring. Waverly plops down on the couch with an album of articles and photographs in her lap to give herself something to do while she waits. The clock on the wall ticks, each click seeming louder and louder in the silent homestead until Waverly swears the actual walls are resonating with it.
Still no Nicole. It’s not like that’s strange, she’s a cop and cops work late, Waverly knows that. Nicole even told her that’s the reason why she didn’t bother dating much through her early twenties, that most people couldn’t deal with the long hours and the cancelled plans last minute. Still, usually she calls if she’s not going to make a meeting on time.
“I could go down to the station and see what’s up, you know, casual,” Waverly says to herself, and to the sparrow on the windowsill outside that’s giving her an unnecessarily judgemental eyeball. “Nothing wrong with that. Maybe I’ll pick up some takeout and we can eat it at the desk, if she’s stuck doing paperwork.” Maybe offering Nedley some of the leftovers will even butter him up enough to let Nicole off for the rest of the night.
Waverly is leafing through the pile of takeout menus by the fridge when the front door bangs open and Wynonna bursts in, knocking the fresh snow from her boots. Waverly leaps to her feet, and she almost reaches for the gun over the door because that’s Wynonna’s shit-has-gone-south face.
“What happened?” Waverly bursts out.
“I don’t suppose you’ve found our guy yet?” Wynonna asks, voice tight. Waverly shakes her head, eyes wide, and Wynonna waves a hand. “No, it’s all right, I’m not — we wouldn’t have gotten there in time anyway. There was another attack, M.E. says probably this morning, a few hours before anybody called it in. Clawed up a few people down at the auto shop, including the cop who went to investigate the — what?”
Wynonna stops as Waverly stumbles back a step. “Hey, baby girl, what’s wrong?” Wynonna asks. “I’m sorry, should I not talk about the actual gory parts, I’m never sure —”
“I killed a stripper with a pair of scissors, remember?” Waverly says, waving off the concern. The split second of indignation gives her a moment’s respite before the terror comes crashing back. “Who was attacked? The police officer, who was it?”
“Oh.” Wynonna blinks. Waverly didn’t quite shout it, but it was a near thing. Even now she must look half-Revenant herself, eyes blazing and posture tense. “It was Officer Haught, I guess she went to investigate the first disturbance and —”
“Is she dead?” Waverly prides herself for being able to get the words out, panic clenching her throat so tight she can barely breathe, let alone speak. “Wynonna! Is she dead!”
Wynonna’s giving Waverly a full on alarmed face now, looking at her sidelong as she angles her body away. “No, she’s in critical care, but one of the guys from the auto shop didn’t make it. Wave —”
“Excuse me.” Waverly brushes past, knocking her shoulder against Wynonna’s arm in her hurry, and grabs her coat from the rack by the door, shoves her feet into her boots so fast she nearly topples. “I’ve got to go.”
“Wave —” Wynonna calls after her, voice full of confusion, but the door slams shut behind Waverly and cuts off the rest.
It’s a long run to the hospital, and most of it blurs in Waverly’s mind. It’s darkness and cars honking and the blinding lights of the lobby, the nurse’s stare when Waverly practically jumps over the counter to get at the records herself.
“I’m sorry, but we only allow family to see patients in critical care,” the nurse says, with the tone of someone who is not making this speech for the first time.
Waverly grits her teeth. “She’s new in town, she has no family in Purgatory!” she spits out. “Please, I need to see her, even for a few minutes — please!”
“I’m sorry,” the nurse says again, firmly. “You can wait in the lounge over there and I will have someone come get you when she’s allowed visitors, but if you can’t calm down I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
For a wild second Waverly almost tries playing the girlfriend card, but sanity holds her back. That’s not likely to get her any favours here in Purgatory, and for all she knows it wouldn’t actually help legally unless they were actually married or something. Instead she zombie-walks to lounge and drops down into one of the uncomfortable beige chairs and pulls her knees up to her chest.
Waverly’s mind drifts as she waits, playing a sickening reel of imagined disaster footage of the incident — the Revenant, foaming and furious; Nicole, cool and professional, trying to talk him down before reaching for her gun; the attack, nails raking her face and teeth at her throat, blood spurting from the wounds and pooling on the floor when she collapses — interspersed with memories of Nicole’s smile, her laugh, the press of her fingers to Waverly’s hips. Waverly digs her forehead into the heels of her hands, rocking back and forth and whispering words that are somewhere between plea, prayer and complete nonsense.
“Hey.” Wynonna sits down on the chair next to her, her arm settling across Waverly’s shoulders. “Hey, baby girl, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were that close or I would’ve called you sooner —”
“It’s fine.” Waverly could explain, now would be the perfect time, but she can’t dredge up the energy for a confession. The blind panic has spent itself and now there’s nothing but worry, cold and wide and forever like the expanse of the salt flats out at the edge of the Triangle. “I just, she’ll be okay, right?”
Wynonna pauses. “Yeah,” she says finally, and Waverly laughs, harsh and ragged, because her sister, for all her reputation, has always been a terrible liar. “Yeah, Waves, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
Waverly lets Wynonna pull her in against her side, tuck her head under her chin, and she squeezes her eyes shut and focuses on the slow beat of Wynonna’s heart.
An explosion wakes her. Waverly flings herself to her feet, or tries, but Wynonna’s arms are tight around her and she can’t — no, that’s not Wynonna at all, it’s a blanket. Her blanket, the pink quilt she keeps on her bed, and that’s the homestead’s wooden floors beneath her bare feet, not the white and grey hospital linoleum.
She’s not at the hospital at all. She’s home.
No hospital. No Nicole, pale and unconscious in a hospital bed, stuck full of tubes and who knows what while the doctors operate on her. A dream, just a dream. Waverly drops her face into her hands and almost bursts into tears right there in the middle of her bedroom, the relief slamming into her so hard it hurts.
“Shit!” Wynonna shouts from the kitchen. “Shit, Wave, no, it’s fine, I just — eggs, microwave — apparently they explode, who knew?”
“Everyone?” Waverly calls back without thinking, but then she stops dead. The shiver of deja vu walks a finger down her spine, and she wraps the quilt around her shoulders. “Wynonna, did you say you just exploded eggs?”
She runs into the kitchen, where Wynonna stands in front of the microwave holding a bowl and staring at it mournfully. “We have a perfectly good frying pan,” Waverly points out. The words echo oddly in her head, and she shakes it to try to clear her mind.
“Look, fire and me, we don’t get along so well — or maybe too well.” Wynonna shrugs, one shouldered. The strange feeling at the back of Waverly’s mind intensifies. “Plus, microwaves are quick, I thought the whole point is you’re supposed to be able to cook anything in them nowadays. I swear I read about poached eggs made without a stove.”
Wynonna stops, gives Waverly a long look. “Hey, you look spooked, you okay?”
“No, I —” Waverly gropes for a chair at the kitchen table, pulls it out and drops into it, still wrapped in her quilt. “I just had a really weird dream, that’s all.”
“Well, nothing cures a bad dream like breakfast,” Wynonna says, gesturing with the empty bowl and a wry expression. “Look, I’m sorry the eggs exploded, I was trying to make you something. I know how much losing Shorty’s got to you, and while I’m not going to cry about you finally tossing Champ the Chump onto the curb, breakups still suck, so.”
“It’s okay,” Waverly says. A phrase niggles at her, and she decides to chase the feeling and go with it. “I’ll let you cheer me up with your superb culinary skills.”
Wynonna straightens, face somewhere between startled and pleased. “That’s exactly what I was going to say,” she says. “But maybe let’s try cereal. You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah.” Waverly lets out a long breath. The dream is already fading into confusion, drifting and loosening in the morning sun the way clouds that look like rabbits never keep their shape as they move across the sky. “Yeah, I’m fine. Cereal sounds great.”