Guilt overwhelmed Waverly when she saw Nicole lying there, pale, possibly dead. She had noticed Nicole was hiding something from her, but she had done nothing about it.
So even when Nicole sat up, mumbling somewhat coherently, Waverly still sobbed openly on her knees in the tile hallway, holding Nicole close. Crying was a private thing, something to be hidden -- Champ would have scolded her for being such a baby -- but thoughts of embarrassment fell down to nothing.
“What did you do?” Waverly asked viciously, staring up at the astounded security guard, clutching Nicole protectively into, quite accidentally, her boobs. “What did you do?”
The man held up his cowardly hands. “I, I don’t --”
“Easy,” Dr. Navalar said, gesturing for the guard to enter her office and sliding a phone away. “Easy. Let me see.”
Waverly reluctantly allowed someone other than her touch Nicole, gazing warily as the doctor patiently examined Nicole’s responses. The security guard obediently shuffled into Dr. Navalar’s office and out of Waverly’s worries.
“I’m fine,” Nicole grumbled, sounding exhausted.
Dr. Navalar frowned severely. “So it seems you have only fainted.” She cast her eyes to Waverly. “Take her to the dorm to rest. In the morning, we will finish our discussion.”
Nicole immediately began feeble arguments. “I don’t need --”
“Shh,” Waverly hushed. Nicole moved to stand and Waverly helped her up -- good thing, too, because Nicole swayed forward dangerously, bracing herself against the wall and Waverly. “You scared the shit out of me, Nicole.”
Dr. Navalar eyed them before retreating to her office to deal with the guard.
“I’m sorry.” Nicole tried not to lean too much on Waverly as they made their way down the hall. “I can walk on my own, you know.” Nicole insisted quietly.
“I know.” Waverly cast a glance at Nicole. “But you don’t have to.”
“This is the tattoo we found on almost all present in Colorado.” Dolls stood before the boardroom again that morning, indicating the image projected behind him. “We theorize that its use allowed the Beast to influence its prey.” Dolls nodded. “If you see before you the interviews of workers, they all state that the mark is gone, that it faded a day after the events at Colorado. If Nicole truly is a remnant of the Beast, then she would be heralded by this mark.”
“You theorize ,” Lucado sneered.
Dolls snapped, raising his voice. It had been hours of arguments and he had hardly slept at all. “If you have any counter-evidence, by all means, present it to the board!”
Lucado rose from her chair. “I don’t know why you argue so vehemently for a clear danger to this organization. Maybe she has gotten to you, too. Need I remind the board how he was seconds from executing the subject on his own before the Director interfered!” Lucado gestured to the room. “How else to explain such a complete one-eighty of morality?”
“Maybe because my mind is clear enough to not blame an innocent woman for the death of your lover, Jean!” Dolls roared.
“She killed him and you know it to be true!” Lucado took a step forward dangerously, “If you would let go of your biases of the Colorado program, we could have a proper discussion about this murderer .”
“The Colorado Program was a mistake ,” He declared, taking an equal step, facing her down boldly in front of all of his bosses at once. “ Stop taking your mistake out on her. ”
“Enough.” Gurino stood. “Both of you return to your seats. Petty arguments are not worth the life that hangs in the balance.”
“She doesn’t remember, does she?” Lucado asked, a smile widening on her face.
“What?” Dolls asked, freezing in place. “What makes you say that?”
“The reason we haven’t heard her testimony.” Lucado looked to the Director, meeting his gaze head on. “Is because she doesn’t have one. ”
“There’s no evidence of that,” The Director said calmly, “We simply wish to avoid making her relive her trauma.”
“The both of you are terrible liars.” Lucado looked between the two. “How convenient,” Lucado said as she settled into her seat. “That the only one who could tell us for sure if Nicole Haught is dangerous or not… does not even remember .”
“I think we will adjourn for today,” Gurino announced, “Since both of you cannot follow simple instructions. We will all return tomorrow for another round of this, God help us all.”
Nicole was asleep before she hit the mattress, leaving Waverly with a confused riot of feelings.
I’m not letting anything bad happened to her, Waverly silently vowed, I just can’t.
A complete stranger. A complete stranger who loved her, but lied about it because she was worried Waverly would feel controlled or pressured. How could she not compare her to Champ? To Waverly, it had only been a few weeks since she’d seen him last, moments after brushing a kiss on his cheek while peeling his grabby hands from her hips. Besides some hesitant, extremely consensual cuddling, Nicole had never touched her like that. Ever.
Not that she didn’t want her to.
But beyond all of that, Nicole was teaching her something Champ had not. Trusting someone, being with them as a partner: that wasn’t supposed to hurt.
Waverly dressed in their gifted, bland pajamas and crawled into bed. For a moment, she just looked at how different Nicole was in repose: relaxed, innocent. So beautiful that Waverly’s heart ached and she delicately pressed a kiss to Nicole’s temple, unable to resist.
Nicole muttered in her sleep something that sounded like Waverly in a way that made Waverly melt beside her with a sigh, burrowing into Nicole’s arms. Chivalrous, even in sleep, Waverly had to be a little insistent about it before strong arms pulled her all the way in where she fit perfectly.
The familiar sigh that followed and the face nuzzling into her hair were all Waverly needed to fall asleep, completely at peace.
“Well?” Wynonna asked as Dolls stepped into the room, exhausted. “What’s the word from the Council of Villainy?”
Dolls let out a bone-shaking sigh and put his head in his hands. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Wynonna asked harshly, “How is that supposed to help? ‘Sorry, I don’t know whether or not my boss is going to murder my sister’s friend’ --”
“I don’t know!” Dolls shouted, “I have been arguing for days on behalf of your sister! I don’t know whether they’ll extend her the same miracle of gratitude, but I am trying my hardest to defend someone who still arguably might be dangerous .”
“Dangerous?” Wynonna asked, laughing in disbelief, “Nicole can barely throw a punch. What is she going to do against the government? Protest ? Stage a sit in ?”
“There are some things we found that don’t make sense.” Dolls pointed in the vague direction of their rooms. “When we tried to put them in separate rooms that first day, Waverly’s condition crashed . We have reports that someone dreamed of their dead loved one. Another saw something in the forest. Something big , Wynonna.”
“I dream of my mom all the time!” Wynonna countered. “That could be something else, a bear or --”
“And the fact your sister remembers nothing. Not a damn thing. She pretended to recognize me. That doesn’t just happen .”
Wynonna paced. “It could be the trauma. We forget stuff.”
“No. Her memories are gone .” Dolls steadied himself. “And there’s only one person with that kind of access to her mind.”
Wynonna stopped, her face twisting. “You asshole .”
He took a breath. “If the Agency decides Haught is a danger to the general public, I have a duty to obey that order.”
“I guess I was wrong about one thing.” She strode up to him, face to face, almost chest to chest. “You’re a coward , Dolls.”
Wynonna left the room, letting the door slam behind her.
“She’s right, you know,” Doc said over his cigar.
BLACK BADGE HEADQUARTERS, VIRGINIA. 7:55 AM. VALENTINE'S DAY.
Waverly stepped out of the shower the next morning expecting Nicole to be up and about, waiting, but Nicole slept on.
“God damnit,” Waverly said with her hands on her hips over a seductively low towel. Even being loud while getting her clothes and dressing produced no movement except for a deep, rattling snore.
Waverly had never felt this. Not for anyone and definitely not for Champ, who’d she seen naked, or that objectively handsome Perry Crofte, who had stopped by briefly. No. Nothing compared to how Nicole made her feel. Weird, fluttery feelings, hot skin, and racy ideas about where --
Nicole mumbled in her sleep, flopped over, and began to drool.
Sexiest woman Waverly had ever seen.
Waverly went out and brought back breakfast to a Nicole still in a sleepy coma. Sighing, Waverly brushed another kiss to Nicole’s temple and whispered, “I’ll be back later after I talk to the doctor.”
Nicole hummed an acknowledgment.
Outside, Black Badge buzzed with its usual rush. Waverly answered kind smiles and greetings to people she barely recognized but exalted in her presence.
But Waverly had begun to notice those who avoided her, casting distrustful looks and muttering to those beside them. The number had seemed to grow and Waverly hurried to the next building to avoid their judgment.
Dr. Navalar stood as Waverly entered, face grim. “Congratulations.”
Waverly looked up from her grey thoughts as she sat down. “Huh?”
“You are a hero,” Dr. Navalar said in a tone of voice that made Waverly question her thoughts on the matter, “Voted on by the board to receive full status here at Black Badge, should you choose to join us, and have your name on a very nice, rather gaudy plaque.” The doctor smiled, a little patient, a little cruel in a way that made Waverly feel like an unruly child, “You should feel very honored. This is entirely un precedented.”
Waverly blinked. A strange mixture of relief and guilt overlaying mind-numbing shock. Hero. Voted on. Gaudy plaque.
(But Waverly didn’t remember.)
“Your friend is not going to be so lucky.”
Waverly jolted upright. “What?”
Dr. Navalar folded her hands on the desk. “If Nicole has not mentioned, I have the ability to See events in the future. I know the Board will end in a draw.” The way she said it might as well have been guillotine . “The Board is voting on her fate the same way it voted on yours. There will be four votes to pardon, four to execute, and one abstaining.”
“Pardon?” Waverly asked sharply, “Pardon her for what? Being injured? Being a victim ?” Hands clenched, Waverly felt ready to fight an army of werewolves with her new gaudy plaque.
Dr. Navalar raised her hands, “Peace. I am on your side, even though you infuriate me for a reason I do not yet know.” Waverly eased herself back in her seat. “I will explain from the beginning if you will listen. But it will not be easy to acknowledge the darkness that you do not remember experiencing for yourself.”
Waverly tightened her jaw. For all of Nicole’s suggestions otherwise, Dr. Navalar sure was a dick. “Try me.”
Dr Navalar gave her a flat look of appraisal. “Very well.” She pushed forward a folder and flipped it open, scattering papers across the desk. More pictures, this time sketches and various drawings of things that were absolutely not right at all. Things that looked beyond the limits of evolutionary adaptation -- what purpose could such a large mouth have? What purpose for legs long enough to fool those below it with trees?
They reminded her of the drawings Nicole had attempted. Strange shapes that were reminiscent of predators long gone but still present in half-remembered nightmares.
Oh. The answer, plain as day: Adaptations to hunt humans. Waverly could see it now, could feel it in the way she understood that in hearing a cougar she felt the vague fear of centuries behind her.
Those before her were at once devastatingly familiar and completely new.
“Most of these are all dead and gone. We know the Beast may have been the last of its kind, drawn out of hiding in desperation to have some sort of…child or…wife, or heir. It hides its true nature by meddling with perception, even going so far as to disguise itself as other creatures like it.”
More photos. These of victims, which Waverly winced at but refused to turn a blind eye to, strange deformed humans with limbs too long, and teeth too sharp.
“We told you what we know about its bite, but what it did to your friend we know to be unique because the scientists in Colorado -- those under the Beast’s control -- documented every miniscule detail. The Beast targets those with what we call an excess of humanity -- Love. We initially rejected this theory, but have obviously been proven very, very wrong.”
Dr. Navalar produced a blurred, hurried photo, taken in extreme distress, and Waverly felt the world fall away beneath her.
Nicole -- who looked like a fucking puppy for god’s sake! How could this be the same person? -- lunging at a bespectacled man with fangs bared and a clawed hand pulled back, absolute mindless fury contained in a single moment.
“Oh God,” Waverly whispered, looking at the photo with horrified despair at what it had done to her gentle, kind-hearted friend. Waverly fought her tears and lost.
Waverly couldn’t take her eyes from the photo, from the empty eyes of Nicole, filled only with mindless hunger and hate. Her fingers reached toward it, to feel the photograph as real, and she wondered distantly if her memories contained images like this.
“The Beast chose her because of her humanity. We suspect it bit off a little more than it could chew, given the connection between you.” Dr. Navalar watched Waverly brush away her tears with a rare, sympathetic expression. “I will tell you now, the votes to kill her are done out of cruel cowardice.”
“I meant what I said,” Waverly said under her breath, not speaking to the doctor. A mixture of horror and understanding came to her, but also hope. “I meant what I said to her. At the end.” Waverly looked up at the Doctor. “I think I might love her.”
Nicole had not lied to her.
Dr. Navalar put her head in her hands and sighed. She said a brief prayer for patience and mercy before looking up at Waverly. “Are you prepared for the next part?”
“Yes,” Waverly said.
“Your friend has stolen your memories.” Waverly recoiled as if slapped. Dr. Navalar raised a hand to stop her from speaking. “It may not have been intentional . Whatever strange happenings occurred, they still have a hold on her. We highly suspect she may be the psychic equivalent of a thermonuclear bomb, based on witness testimony.”
“You’re...you’re joking.” That was her first instinct -- that none of this was real, that her friend wasn’t in danger, because believing otherwise was impossibly painful -- but the doctor shook her head. “She’s not dangerous! I’ve been -- I’ve been sleeping with her and she’s never, not once --”
Dr. Navalar raised an eyebrow but pressed on. “We do not know what you saw, what you encountered, but we know that whatever you two accomplished -- it has bonded you together and somehow left your friend with the ability to bend perception. Especially yours.”
“No,” Waverly breathed absently, a much more feeble attempt to protect herself from the pain of belief.
“When is the last time you considered your injuries, Waverly?” Dr. Navalar asked, pining her with a stare.
“I can’t, I can’t -- I don’t…” Waverly put her head in her hands, biting back the urge to scream as her world shifted. Monsters realer than ever. Her friend both dangerous and in danger.
Nicole had stolen her memories.
“Why?” Waverly asked, lifting her head from her hands, “Why take my memory? What isn’t she telling me?”
“I do not know,” Dr. Navalar replied, “All I know is that Nicole is hopelessly in love with you and only you can solve what possible secret that Nicole, at all cost, will hide away.”
A growing sense of despair settled in Waverly’s gut. What could be so terrible that Nicole would do something she would never willingly do?
Dr. Navalar put a syringe on the table.
Waverly stared in horror. “Is…is this for…?”
“We must figure this out before she loses control of it all completely,” Dr. Navalar said. “This will put her to sleep. Either you can do it…or we can do it. You have little time to decide.”
“You want to...” Waverly felt disgusted. “Put her under? Capture her?”
“In a way and in a controlled setting.” Dr. Navalar picked it up and offered it formally. “Help all of us. Help you. And help her. We will keep her safe, this I promise.”
It made sense. Yes, logically, it was sound. Have the person Nicole trusted most escort her to a place where she would be safe…if contained. And Waverly had always prided herself on her logic.
But it felt wrong . She couldn’t do this.
Waverly raced to a decision that would risk everything.
Why? Why for a stranger she had just met?
Not a stranger. Nicole. Her Nicole. Hopelessly in love, honest from the start, unyieldingly patient Nicole, who needed her help.
Waverly felt in her heart an unyielding certainty: the doctor’s plan would not work. It would backfire. Waverly’s only choice was to steal Nicole away, take her to some place where she would reveal the secret on her own terms. To gain Nicole’s trust organically instead of betraying her and throwing her in a cage for something that wasn’t even her fault.
The plan made her sick to her stomach. Distrust tried to crawl onto her face but Waverly fought it down. Dr. Navalar was not her ally. Not really. If she was willing to throw Nicole in a cage, then she had her priorities in a bad order.
If Nicole hadn’t been lying, and Waverly was the hero…
Then it was time to act like it.
Waverly thought fast and decided upon her secret weapon: Appearing completely harmless.
“If you say it will help her…I’ll do it,” Waverly said with exhausted acceptance, brushing away tears and folding in on herself.
“It will,” the doctor vowed, “I am fond of Nicole. There is a valid reason the Beast sought her so desperately.” She pointed to the syringe. “There is enough there to put her out safely. Any part of the body will do. Trust me, we have spent millions to research a syringe usable on the large and unstable whether human or not.”
Waverly took it in her hands, felt the object of betrayal, and nodded. “Okay.”
They both stood, the conversation concluded.
Teary-eyed and distraught, the perfect image of innocence, Waverly hugged Dr. Navalar. “Thank you.”
The doctor bought it, sighing in relief with her stance easing. “You are --” The air rushed out of the doctor’s lungs and she stepped back, hand flying to her neck as Waverly stepped back out of her reach.
Waverly retreated further, mouth open as the doctor stumbled, leaning on the desk, fixing her with a dangerous glare while pulling the syringe from her throat. “Now I know why I never liked you,” Her breath misted the air and with a mixture of awe and despair, the doctor fell to her knees, already half unconscious.
Waverly stared at the limp body that covered half the floor, eyes wide. Holy shit. Holy shit. Waverly knelt and made sure she didn’t kill the woman -- yes, she’s alive -- but she had just -- Jesus! Christ! Shitballs!
Focus! Hero time -- Money. Money was the second thing Waverly needed. She pawed through the doctor’s pockets, wincing, before pulling out a wallet.
“I’m super sorry about this,” Waverly said as she robbed the unconscious doctor, “I promise I’ll pay you back somehow. But you said this was super, super dangerous so maybe I get like, a pass? Or something? If this works?” Waverly frowned. “You can have my plaque?”
The doctor failed to respond.
Waverly found it: a federally issued black credit card that had no limit and some car keys. Freedom .
A thought struck her before she left and Waverly snatched a pad of paper and a pen.
Hey! Stole your money, your car, and assaulted you, but I promise I’m solving that problem you told me about in a way that’s not dumb!
Hopefully, this all works out and you won’t be super mad about it!
Very sorry!! I will make it up to you!!
Now for the next part of her plan:
She was going to ask Nicole on a date.
TO: Waverly Earp
FROM: The Director
See me at your earliest convenience, which is now.
- The Director
Waverly ignored it.
It wasn’t smart. But what was she going to say? Sorry, going on a date?
There were more pressing matters like reaching Nicole yesterday and ignoring the people following her and the others offering harsh glances.
Do they know already? No, preposterous. She’d set an “OUT TO LUNCH” sign outside Dr. Navalar’s door.
Next, Waverly called the one person who could still ruin everything.
“Hey Wynonna, don’t ask any questions, but me and Nicole are going off base for today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a few days, actually, but we’ll be nearby. I need you to not ask any of the questions you’re about to ask, thanks!”
Wynonna’s “Hey, you --” was cut off as Waverly hustled across the lawn to the dorms, thoughts racing a mile a minute and fingers dancing.
“OK Google, what’s some good places for a date in Washington, D.C.?”
The walk gave her time to think about the details and make some reservations. She would take Nicole off base, into public where she couldn’t be murdered, and in the process gain Nicole’s trust. Then, somewhere safe, she’d finally ask the question:
Why did you steal my memories?
The question brought a wave of anger with it that Waverly had to take a moment in the reflection of a window suppressing. Calm. She could yell at Nicole when she wasn’t considered a thermonuclear bomb.
Waverly slowed down in the hall to their room, trying to steady her breathing. She smoothed down her hair and undid a few more buttons of her henley.
What if Nicole said no?
Hopelessly in love with you, Dr. Navalar had said. But that person Nicole loved was gone . The Waverly that was here was a hollow imposter with none of the memories that tied them together. How could she convince Nicole to give her a chance to make new ones?
But a fierce flare of confidence ripped through her. She was the Beast-Slayer, monster fighter extraordinaire. Her memories might be gone but she wasn’t.
The door opened, stealing away Waverly’s thoughts. Nicole, face torn with concern, filled the doorway.
“Wave, what’s wrong?” Her eyes searched and Waverly could tell Nicole was physically holding herself back from hugging her. “Are you okay?” A pause. Quieter, “Do you remember?”
“I…” Waverly shook her head. How did she know? Did I make a sound? “No, but…”
Nicole’s face fell while Waverly hesitated.
If I don’t do this, they’ll throw her in a cage.
“Go out with me,” Waverly blurted.
Nicole softened, that was the only word for it, the way her limbs relaxed and her face eased, her eyes holding such affection and grief -- “Oh, Wave,” she breathed with such regret that Waverly knew she might say no, not when you don’t remember me --
“Please,” Waverly said desperately, “I know I don’t remember, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop.” Nicole’s eyes shone in the dim light of the hallway. Waverly’s voice steadied. “I want to make new ones with you.”
Pure happiness dawned on Nicole’s face, a slow smile creeping into existence with hesitance. “Really?”
Caged. Treated like an animal.
“Yes,” Waverly said, smiling through her tears.
Nicole beamed like a full moon, wide and beautiful, and Waverly knew Dr. Navalar had told her the truth in at least one area. “I would absolutely love to.”
Waverly surged forward and crashed into Nicole, bringing their lips together a bit too hurriedly, -- an almost miss -- but Waverly held Nicole’s face close and brought them together again properly. The sense of deja vu made Waverly gasp, hot and desperate, tightening her fingers in soft red hair lest she float away. Butterflies rioted as Nicole settled her hands on low on Waverly’s hips and brought them closer together while kissing her like every moment that they hadn’t, Nicole had thought of nothing else.
They broke apart, Waverly trying to reign in the desire to climb Nicole like a tree with harsh mental reminders of the mission.
Nicole rested their foreheads together to catch her breath, that smile still creeping up like the moon. “Wave, I -- Can we go slow?” Nicole amended at Waverly’s confused frown, a small embarrassed laugh hitting the small space between them, “I was actually going to ask you out after you got your memories back.” Nicole grew distracted, thumb tracing Waverly’s lips like she was convincing herself not to meet them again. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait?”
“Yes!” Waverly said a bit too fast, “I mean… Yes.” Waverly smiled now that her plan was in motion. “The doctor even agreed and gave us her keys. How amazing is that?”
“Really?” Nicole grinned. “You always know how to charm ’em, Wave.”
TO: The Director
FROM: Waverly Earp
Sorry! Going on a date!
Waverly bounced her leg, nerves making her antsy as she drove them up the winding, too-long-to-make-sense road that eventually lead off base. She almost jumped as gentle fingers laid themselves across her other thigh, easing her.
Nicole blushed, preparing to pull back, but Waverly caught her hand and held it. Like a date. A real date. Not a mission. Well -- the date was the mission.
Waverly struggled with that last part. She wanted to reach over and shake Nicole, yell in her face, demand answers. But she couldn’t.
The man at the gate looked over their IDs with a bored expression. “Yuh, y’alls go on through,” he said, before buzzing the gate open. His accent made it a little more like ‘go on thruh. ’
Waverly laughed with wild relief at not being stopped, tossing a look at a beaming Nicole holding back cackles, “Yuh,” Waverly mocked good-naturedly, giggling. “Y’alls go on thruh .”
Nicole threw back her head and laughed, before looking back and screwing up her face with effort. “ Yuh ,” she said with absolute perfect mimicry, “ Y’alls go on thruh. ”
Waverly’s mouth fell open. What the fuck. What the fuck. What the -- Nicole tilted her head, confused at Waverly’s reaction, so Waverly laughed nervously to cover for it. Holy shit, did she not even notice what the fuck she just did?
What the fuck!
“You’re pretty good at that,” Waverly said, glancing between Nicole and the road. A sudden spike of a headache made Waverly wince and almost let go of Nicole’s hand. Almost.
Nicole snorted and rolled her eyes. “Hardly. Appalachian is hard. ”
She doesn’t know!
“Anyway,” Waverly said, dropping Nicole's hand to crank the heat up slightly. “It’s going to be, uh, a drive. So.” She took Nicole's hand again, entwining their fingers. “Can you tell me the story again?”
“Of course, Wave.” Nicole gave Waverly a small, reassuring smile, and the pressure in Waverly’s head began to recede.
Waverly listened for it -- because she couldn’t very well watch, could she? -- for any variations or lies, any obstructions, but nothing in particular stood out except for the brief moments Nicole shifted and scratched at her pant leg as if soothing a phantom pain.
As soon as they took the turn off of Nowhere onto Langley, it was like civilization popped out of… well, nowhere. Somehow they’d been deep in the woods, but when Waverly craned her head to see and her GPS began to work, there wasn’t anything there.
Spooky. Like magic.
“I just can’t remember those parts, in-between,” Nicole said dismally, gazing out the window. “I wish I could.”
“Nicole,” Waverly tried her best to not prod too indelicately, “Is it possible, in theory, hypothetically. Just as a possibility …”
“Wave,” Nicole said, squeezing her hand. “You can always ask me anything.”
Waverly began to sweat. She wanted to know. She needed to know. But the question couldn’t get past her throat. Her eyes were drawn away from the road, out to the Potomac River that wound lazily next to them. The city of Washington, D.C., rose behind it. Even now she could spy landmarks.
She could feel the tension in her shoulders, the way the leather on the wheel cracked under her fingers, the way cold seemed to seep into her skin.
Waverly felt like Pandora, given the gift of curiosity. Except this time she knew Nicole was omitting something from her story, had stolen her memories. Could it be the source of the nightmares that made Nicole scream at night? The Not Yet, Waverly, I’ll tell you later.
Did Nicole have any idea of what she was doing?
“You’re cured, right?” Waverly asked, unable to tear her eyes from the road.
Nicole became serious, squeezing Waverly’s thigh in reassurance. “Wave. Of course .”
“UNABLE TO CONNECT TO GPS.”
Nicole beamed, happiness and awe sinking into her voice, “Whatever you did cured me. I thought I’d have to live like that, but I don’t.”
Waverly still felt this strange tension that did not ease and couldn’t let her arms relax. Nicole noticed, she always did, and went into further detail.
“When I…” Nicole swallowed. “I could feel it. It was so cold. I… I was cold. You complained about it often.” Nicole smiled distantly. “And my heart was so fast… I’m still not sure if it’s been damaged, but the doctors cleared me. I can eat normal things again. Meat sorta makes me ill. I’m fine, Waverly.”
Realization dawned as Waverly could feel that Nicole was telling the truth.
Nicole had no idea what was happening. It was entirely possible that Nicole had no idea she had stolen Waverly’s memories and no idea that she was causing subtle changes in the world around them.
Jesus -- Nicole still believed with her whole heart that she was human. A suspicion crawled into Waverly’s mind and settled down: The evidence otherwise was slipping from Nicole’s mind. Talk about cognitive bias.
Waverly tossed a reassuring smile toward Nicole as terrible dread settled in her stomach. “That’s good.”
Silence reigned for most of their drive down the highway as Waverly wrestled her worries under control. The most important objective was to give Nicole a fantastic date. Everything else came in distant second.
They drove into Washington, D.C., a brief moment of awe falling between them as they gazed in equal shock at normal, everyday people existing.
“Weren’t you a history student?” Nicole asked, gazing upon the distant Lincoln Memorial. She looked back to Waverly, trying to ease the tension with a change of topic. “Know any neat facts?”
Waverly blushed, ducking her head briefly. “All right. Did you know the Nacotchtank people lived here first?”
Nicole leaned over, propping her head awkwardly on the middle console to stare dreamily at Waverly. “You already know your brain turns me on,” Nicole said seductively with a dramatic eye flutter, “Tell me more. ”
For the first time that day (Oh, but it would not be the last!), Waverly laughed free and loud. Thankful for stopped traffic, she stole Nicole’s act with a kiss that made Nicole’s face turn red.
WASHINGTON, DC. 11:45 AM
“YOU HAVE ARRIVED.”
“Uh, Waves,” Nicole said as Waverly unbuckled her seat, “This is the Jefferson .”
The Jefferson, a high-end five star hotel that loomed over uptown Washington, D.C., greeted the pair with its historic beauty. Some of the oldest and most expensive of housing made up the ostentatious part of town around them where cars parked on the street were worth more than both kidneys.
The air might as well smell like money instead of car exhaust.
“Yep!” Waverly said brightly as the concierge skipped over to them. The deafening buzz of the city welcomed them as they left the safety of the car for the unseasonably warm February day.
“Welcome, Agents!” The concierge bowed ever so slightly, obviously flustered as he waved over the valet. “Please, allow us to take your car. Everything is ready for your stay tonight.”
Nicole stared at the man as if he was speaking Greek and Waverly covered for her easily, smiling politely and charming him instantly. “Thank you, Paul. I’m sure it’s perfect.”
“Nothing but the best for the Bureau!” He said, a line of sweat on his brow betraying his nerves as the valet took a second too long taking the car away. “Please, do you need anything else, recommendations? A taxi?”
“ Waverly, ” Nicole hissed, horrified, but Waverly only smiled wider at the man and patted Nicole’s hand.
“No, we can walk. Thank you both.”
Paul nodded rapidly. “Of course, of course, you need only call. You need only call. Have a fabulous Valentine’s day, agents.”
They made it a few steps before Nicole lost it.
“Waverly, you can’t let them believe we’re FBI -- This is a felony!” Nicole whispered fiercely as Waverly lead her away up the sidewalk. The city moved sluggishly in February with scant passersby, Locals caught up in getting to work or their own dates, not overhearing mentions of felony behavior.
“Don’t we have a history of those things?”
“I mean…” Nicole huffed. “I guess .”
Waverly gave Nicole a quick peck on the cheek and enjoyed how adorably Nicole reacted with a blush and shy dip of her head. This date stuff was easier than she thought.
“Let’s go shopping for some clothes that don’t scream Federal Agent.” Waverly took Nicole’s hand and let it hang between them as if it was meant to be there. “Totally normal date stuff. No monsters.”
Nicole began to relax, much to Waverly’s delight. She settled herself and offered Waverly a small smile. “Okay.”
“No, you’re not doing it right,” Waverly teased, bumping into Nicole playfully, eliciting a laugh. “‘It’s ‘okay, babe.’ Because I’m a babe, you’re my girlfriend , and we’re on a date . ”
Waverly had said the ‘g’ word.
Waverly held her breath as the silence between them lingered. Three minutes in the city and she’d already fucked it up somehow. Nicole hadn’t said a word. Fuck. The mission was blown.
Waverly didn’t take her eyes off the city around them, pointedly not looking at Nicole.
“May I kiss you?”
Much to the annoyance of a man with a briefcase, Waverly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, taken completely by surprise. Nicole stood patiently waiting for her answer, an apology on her lips, but Waverly tugged them out of the way of foot traffic until Nicole was basically pressing her up against a brick wall.
When Waverly replied with a quiet, breathy, “yes” she had expected something hard, possessive, hungry, but Nicole wasn’t anything like that.
Nicole gently lifted Waverly’s chin with one finger, eyes searching for any sign of distress, before kissing Waverly softly. Nothing that she had expected but everything that she had imagined, Waverly felt the small gesture all the way down to her toes. Nicole gave her a warm fuzzy feeling and kissed her like she meant something.
This was a kiss to write home about.
Nicole is very good at this kissing stuff. If this date goes well, I think I might be the only person in the world to fall in love with the same person twice.
Everything imperfect about it made it perfect. Butterflies, stars, the whole shebang, even a marching band was going around in circles under Waverly’s sternum. She half expected cupid to just be hanging out in a nearby tree with an extremely satisfied look on his dumb baby face.
Waverly tried holding onto the front of Nicole’s shirt to make it last longer, but Nicole pulled back with a goofy grin that was almost as good a use for her mouth. Their foreheads met and Nicole laughed in soft disbelief.
Strangers only spared glances, having decided that two FBI agents making out certainly wasn’t any of their business.
“I’d love to be your girlfriend, if you want,” Nicole whispered over the city, opening her eyes and looking at Waverly with such unbridled joy that she blushed with equal parts guilt and something else.
Waverly bit her lip, searching vainly for words. Nicole blushed furiously and made to pull back, taking it as a no, “Sorry, I just -- “
“Hey.” Waverly tugged on the front of her shirt, stopping her. “I liked that. I’m just a little…speechless.” Waverly dipped her head, embarrassed. “I’m not used to being asked,” she admitted, barely audible over the sound of the city.
“We can stop at any point, Wave,” Nicole said seriously, “We can just go as friends, or go back. It’s always your choice.”
Waverly playfully pushed Nicole’s shoulder. “ I asked you out and no, you don’t get off that easy.” She turned serious. “You know it’s the same for you, right?” Waverly traced her thumb against Nicole’s cheek. “Whatever happened, Nicole. If you get too anxious or panicked or whatever it is, I understand. That’s more important to me than any of what I planned. Okay?”
Nicole’s smile turned warm. “I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit anxious being around…” Nicole glanced both ways and lowered her voice. “After everything that happened. But I really, really like this. Thank you.”
“You’re wel --” Waverly blinked and caught a strange light in Nicole’s eyes that caused goosebumps to prickle up her skin. It’s hard to grasp the terrifying nature of the uncanny valley, but Waverly grasped it hard as her brain simply refused to say anything but
This is wrong!
Make it stop!
Make it go away!
Nicole leaned forward, hand brushing Waverly’s hair out of the way, lips nearing the shell of her ear. The breath that ghosted across her flesh was cold. Far too cold.
Absolute terror seized her spine and Waverly couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. She simply stood there, shaking in place like a leaf on the verge of falling, as Nicole’s face hovered just out of her vision.
“Please help me,” Nicole whispered frost in her ear.
A small, weak noise managed to escape Waverly’s lungs and she held her breath, staying so very quiet and still that this frightening thing might ignore her helplessness and leave.
Rational thought returned and Waverly realized she had to say something, anything--
“I will,” Waverly whispered hoarsely. She swallowed, trying to look at the shape in the corner of her eye. “I will, I promise. ”
It seemed to sigh in her ear in response, the frigid air brushing over the delicate, fatal parts of her neck in a reminder of how utterly vulnerable she was.
Waverly shut her eyes, taking in breath after shaky breath, almost openly gasping for air. The oppressive dread eased and Waverly opened her eyes to ones filled with concern.
“Are you okay, Waverly?” Nicole asked softly, eyes searching for a cause, some way to help.
Waverly slowly registered the pain that had been present in the desperate plea.
I think part of you just asked me for help in the most terrifying way possible , Waverly thought. She blinked rapidly, trying to re-orient herself. At least… I think it was you.
“I...I thought I forgot where the store was but I know where it is now,” Waverly said, trying to ease her shaking. She pointed. “Look! Doesn’t it look like a painting at this distance?”
Nicole frowned but obliged, looking to the distant Capitol skyline. “It sure does.”
It took a few minutes to finally remove the last remaining shiver in her step. Nicole, ever perceptive, reassured her silently of her presence, somehow sensing words wouldn’t be enough right now.
It only took so long because Waverly wanted it to be someone else.
Yes. She wanted Nicole to be possessed.
Option B, that her friend was trapped inside of herself , that was infinitely worse.
But damn her stupid smart brain for putting all the pieces together already. She knew now that Nicole had not only taken her memories -- but taken parts of herself along with them! -- and hidden them away somehow. The unimaginable pain she could hear in Nicole’s voice…some part of Nicole knew why this had all happened and needed Waverly to figure it out.
The only question that remained was why , and the only way to answer the question remained the same: Complete the mission. Remain in public places until later tonight where, in private, in a safe place, Waverly would ask for the truth.
So when Nicole offered a reassuring squeeze of the hand, Waverly gave her a bright smile in return, pressed her lips to a warm cheek, and commented on what a beautiful day it was for a date.
“Agents!” sang the attendant at the ridiculously high-end fashion boutique. “How can we be of service?”
Nicole winced at how obvious they were. Waverly raised the black card and the attendant nearly fell over himself in approaching, while others who had noticed also dropped what they were doing.
“We need some casual clothing for a nice night on the town, then some evening dresses for dinner at the Jefferson.”
Nicole’s jaw had lost function.
“Of course, of course,” the man said, leading the pair inside. Two others flanked Nicole, ushering her in through her dumbfounded trance, “Anything, anything. Perfection for you two tonight, that is what it will be.”
People pushing and prodding at her made her sweat, Nicole found. It irritated her beyond belief. Some memory stored away burned with the proximity of the attendants as they bickered back and forth. She wanted to push them away and leave.
But Waverly smiled at her from across the store and Nicole forced herself to relax and grin back. This was for a date, in public, where she was safe and human.
A date with Waverly.
Awe filled Nicole and she barely noticed the people around her shoving clothing in her hands and pushing her toward changing rooms. Nobody else got to date Waverly Earp tonight. Just her, right now, on Valentine’s day. She felt like a teenager again.
(Except Waverly didn’t remember.)
Guilt hit her like a two-by-four. But Nicole had made it clear that it was to be slow, stopped at any time, and Waverly’s choice. Each minute they spent together, Nicole felt more and more hope that Waverly might stay, even when she remembered…
So loud! Everything was so loud, inside and out. The dark around her seemed physical. Her limbs were far too large and thinking made things hard.
But the small, frail thing before her, she knew it was important, she knew she must reach it before The Other did. The Other hungered beyond all reckoning, but she would NOT ALLOW it to win, she would die before doing so! she would protect -
the light of the fire illuminated Waverly’s face
clearly, and Nicole saw the one thing she could not, under any circumstances,
Waverly was afraid
Nicole woke up on the floor of the changing room, breathing hard. She edged to the wall and pushed against it, slowly climbing to her feet and to reality. The full mirror across from her reflected only her terrified, human face. She peered into it, even leaning against it, inspecting herself for something. Anything.
Nicole checked her phone: only a minute had passed.
“Everything all right in there?”
“Yes!” Nicole called, regulating her breathing. Confusion crept inside. What had she been so concerned about? Nicole shook her head and looked over the not-too-horrible selections the attendants had gifted her.
The dress they chose was beautiful beyond belief. Shades of purple that would do well matched with gold, but it was too restricting. Nicole felt trapped in it. She couldn’t sprint in these heels.
She poked her head out at the attendants. “Do you have a suit?”
“Yes, of course.”
“One that I can move in and some shoes I can, if needed, run in?”
The attendants shared a look, but nodded. “Yes, we’ll see.”
A few minutes later the suit arrived with the tailor.
The process took inside of an hour, but the tailor was an expert in the area. “What, you think you are the first to ask for something like that in Washington, D.C.? I do this for the CIA, the FBI, the NSA. You are maybe the thousandth to ask.”
“Oh,” Nicole said.
The suit fell away and they threw more clothes at her.
Nicole found herself facing down three attendants eyeing her with growing horror.
“I mean no disrespect at all,” Nicole said, keeping her commentary on just how bizarre their selection was inside. “But I really just -- don’t you stock jeans ?”
One of them looked faint.
“I have to walk around outside,” Nicole insisted, “Please. Just give me something simple. Something casual.”
It was work finally convincing them to relinquish their tanktop and jean selection. Nicole waved off her hair being messed with and settled for a ponytail.
“You almost look like a lesbian,” the tailor commented dryly as Nicole put on a plaid button up. “She will love it.”
Nicole waited for Waverly, watching at the clock tick by. Not out of impatience. She just loved to see time move forward steadily, at even beats, with the inevitability she saw as safety. She knew where she was. She knew what time it was. And she knew who she was.
It brought comfort to her heart to repeat it all over and over. Washington D.C. One fifteen PM. Nicole Haught, Search and Rescue.
She watched tourists pass and wondered at each person, what they’d do if they knew. The man in the suit -- what does he worry about? The woman pushing a stroller -- how close had she come to the supernatural and not noticed?
They did not know of the boy who fell from the cliff, of the truth of the forests around them, of the Beast. They were all so vulnerable.
“Hi,” Waverly interrupted like a ray of sun.
Nicole’s head snapped up and her heart stopped. Waverly walked up to her, wearing a blue blouse with cranes on it that did something to Nicole that she couldn’t quite describe. It was tied up, revealing the smooth planes of Waverly’s midriff. Jeans and the cutest hat Nicole had ever seen brought it all together so well that Nicole could hardly breathe.
She’s my date, Nicole thought in wonder , I get to go to dinner with her tonight.
I can’t fuck this up. She deserves the best.
“You’re stunning,” Nicole said, at last, to ease the worry on Waverly’s face. “I can’t believe I get to hold your hand.”
“If you’re lucky, you can do more than that,” Waverly said, tiptoeing to peck Nicole on the cheek. Again, Nicole found herself off-balance and uncharacteristically shy. Waverly had that effect and she doubted it would ever pass. “I’m taking you for cookies and cocoa, then we’re going to go ice-skating.”
They had the rest of their clothing sent to the Jefferson -- apparently a thing, but almost anything was possible when you had a black credit card, Waverly discovered.
Later, Waverly had herself tucked under Nicole’s arm on a bench near The National Gallery of Art.
They had stopped briefly to capture a photo together at the Washington Monument, sharing quiet observations of those they passed on a stroll through the National Mall. They spoke of nothing at all, simply being together, snapping photos and stealing chaste kisses, blending in perfectly with the couples around them.
Gradually, Waverly could feel Nicole relax further into it under her hands, letting herself enjoy the fresh air and normalcy. The moments where Nicole would tense as if to run and take a few moments to center herself became fewer and far between. Waverly’s heart grew with every smile she could tease onto Nicole’s face, every laugh she could lift from her lungs.
Though the day had only gotten warmer, they still decided to get cookies and cocoa in the quiet garden cafe among the outdoor exhibits, not far from the skating rink.
(Also the AMOR sculpture where Waverly had tried to sneak in some tongue but Nicole put a stop to that quickly; laughing low in a way that made Waverly hotter than the taste of Nicole’s mouth.)
She dreamed of doing this again and again and again, in different places. Venice. Athens. London. The place Nicole called home. Any place and any time in the future, when the pain that hid behind Nicole’s eyes was gone and the hesitant, ever-present anxiety of the mission dissipated.
“May I ask you something?” Nicole broke their comfortable silence, “About your plans.”
Waverly braced herself and nodded.
“Where will you go?” Nicole asked quietly. “Is there anyone for you in Purgatory?”
“My aunt,” Waverly said between bites, “Not related.” She turned her head, a soft look on her face as her eyes mapped Nicole’s profile. “Curtis was my uncle, but he’s passed. Gus, she raised me. She was as much a mother as she could be.” Waverly reached over to tangle her fingers with Nicole’s, who set her cocoa aside. “She’s going to love you.”
Nicole felt winded at the implications of a future. To be so certain she had none, then to survive, then for Waverly to stay with her -- the universe kept on being far too kind.
Nicole lifted Waverly’s hand and kissed it. “I’d be honored to meet the woman who raised you.”
Waverly got that look in her eyes, the distant one that Nicole couldn’t place. It held some emotion that eluded her definitions. Waverly leaned forward and kissed her then, stealing Nicole’s breath and her buzzing thoughts for a moment of pure bliss.
Insistent. A little less than appropriate. It warmed Nicole more than the cocoa she could taste on Waverly’s lips, the brush of a tongue making Nicole jolt and pull back slightly.
“Slow, right,” Waverly said apologetically.
Nicole nodded, unable to trust herself to speak.
“What about you?” Waverly asked, “Who’s waiting for you?”
Dull pain whispered in Nicole’s heart. She took a long drink of cocoa to gather her thoughts. “My dad…I told you about him, but you don’t remember. He died hunting…” Nicole took a breath, lowering her voice, “the Beast. I don’t have any other family, but…” A smile snuck up on her. “My boss Nedley. He always believed I was alive. And his daughter, Chrissy, a good friend. I’d love to see them again.” Nicole looked at Waverly, eyes shining with tears. “They’ll love you, almost as much as I do.”
Waverly leaned over, cuddling closer. Silence descended without awkwardness. Nicole drew patterns on Waverly’s back, expecting no answer.
“Thank you for coming with me today,” Waverly said quietly.
Nicole kissed the top of Waverly’s head. “Anytime, baby.”
“Oh, I do like that.” Waverly laughed.
Nicole beamed at Waverly like that laugh was music. She sipped her cocoa then frowned. “Why is this cold? It was so hot a second --”
Waverly panicked and snatched it from Nicole. “Must be a mistake.”
Nicole tilted her head at Waverly, lips pressed together. “Oh. A mistake.” And the incident seemed to slide from her mind, leaving Waverly with a cold cocoa and very large worries.
They skated together just a few meters from the Cocoa place. Sometimes, the light would catch Nicole’s hair just so and Waverly would just have to pull out her phone and capture it.
“Did you know the Director is a werewolf?” Waverly said out of nowhere as they cruised around the circle, dozens of other couples too caught up in each other to listen. Cute pop songs about love serenaded them.
“I didn’t,” Nicole said, focusing on her balance.
“There’s all sorts of werewolf advocacy programs that run through Black Badge. The supernatural community is larger than Black Badge, did you know that? It’s like a whole hidden world.”
“Non-humans face a lot of stigma, obviously. But it’s changing fast and --”
“Waverly,” Nicole said, stopping her adorable rambling with dimples , “Is this your way of asking if I’m a werewolf?”
“I’m just -- I’m just saying, you know.” Waverly patted Nicole’s arm. “If you were a werewolf, I’d be okay with it.”
“Well, I’m not.” Nicole tried to smile and frown at the same time, unable to be sure if she should be offended or flattered.
“I know you’re not, but I’m just saying, if you were --”
“Hey.” Nicole put a hand on Waverly’s, stopping her again with a reassuring smile that did more to stop Waverly by driving her speechless. Again. “That’s very nice of you, thank you.”
Waverly couldn’t help it. “I mean, if you were any type of non-human, I’d be okay with it.”
Nicole frowned contemplatively. “I don’t think I’d be okay with it. I think I’d do anything to be human again.”
Waverly slipped and almost face planted.
Nicole caught her easily. “Easy, baby. I thought you were the expert here.”
“Yeah, well,” Waverly thought fast as Nicole’s brow tightened with concern. She kissed Nicole’s cheek again. “Gotcha.”
They drifted around the National Gallery of Art, taking in the beauty around them with almost silent reverence. Sometimes, Waverly would stop Nicole and take a photo of her in the light, trying to capture this image of her happy, forever.
“Perfect. We have to come back for the cherry blossoms, though. And with my new camera.” Waverly skipped up to Nicole, showing off the photo.
“Absolutely. You got me good, Earp.” Waverly stole Nicole’s grin with a quick, chaste kiss. This time, Nicole managed a smoother recovery this time. “When did you first get into photography?”
Waverly’s smile faded and she looked around the atrium, distracting herself with the marble pillars. Nicole remained close, not oppressively so, and waited silently.
“I started taking photographs to send to my sister,” Waverly admitted, “I got into it after I saw I was good at it. But I…” Waverly took a deep breath. “I wanted to show her the good things about home.”
Nicole gently took Waverly’s hand, a silent reminder.
“I was always hoping if I took the best picture, she’d...” Waverly stopped, unable to keep going. Her mouth didn’t get the memo and moved soundlessly as tears threatened. Jesus. Crying on the first date. Waverly brushed away tears, fiercely embarrassed.
But Nicole only hugged her, trying to offer solace to a pain she couldn’t imagine.
“I thought she’d change her mind and come back,” Waverly whispered into the secrecy of Nicole’s embrace.
“She did,” Nicole said, “She did, Waves.”
Waverly cried harder for a few moments before pulling back, wiping at her eyes and sniffling. “God, I’m so sorry. I cried all over you on the first date and I’m ruining it.”
Nicole smiled, brushing tears away with her thumbs. “Wave. There’s no possible way you could ever ruin this.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Nicole chased the statement with a kiss that made Waverly’s mind stutter to a stop.“I know this is your date, but there’s someplace I wanted to take you,” Nicole whispered, “May I?”
Waverly, who had carefully planned every second, decided: well, fuck it.
Waverly smiled, freedom feeling strange in her lungs. “Sure.”
THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, WASHINGTON D.C. 3:19 PM
“Thoughts?” Nicole asked, turning from the sign.
Waverly responded by jumping up and down, hands fanning herself, making loud, excited noises she’d never expect herself to make. She jumped into Nicole’s arms and Nicole spun her like a cliche -- just one of those perfect moments that Waverly deserved.
“You’ve never been? Seriously?” Nicole frowned at the offense of the universe.
“Never had someone to go with.” Waverly shook her head, beaming, and hugged Nicole hard.
How to summarize the happiest Waverly had ever been? For the next two hours, Waverly felt free in a way she hadn’t remembered feeling in a very long time. The exhilaration of being with a partner in public, not being afraid to be absolute goofballs together, that was perfect. Nicole not only listened to the work Waverly had put in to her studies, she was also interested.
Waverly’s camera roll grew.
Nicole, standing with a hunch, face in a goofy recreation of the neanderthal exhibit.
Nicole, a butterfly landing on her face, making her eyes go cross.
Waverly in front of the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton -- “Come on, Wave! You have to. It’s a rite of passage .” -- with a brilliant smile and outstretched arms.
The pair of them goofing off in the kid’s exhibits, challenging each other to higher and higher scores.
And dozens more of them simply being together.
The Hope Diamond stood glittering before them.
“You know, now that I know all of this supernatural stuff is real, I wonder if it really is cursed,” Waverly mused, circling the glass case.
“If it is, that’s one thing we have in common,” Nicole said quietly.
“What did you say?” Waverly said, spinning on her heel. “Nicole -- What did you say ?”
Nicole frowned adorably. “I said that it probably is cursed, given what we know now.” She tilted her head. “Are you okay, Waverly?”
Waverly, absolutely not okay, smiled and took Nicole’s hand. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s nothing,” Nicole agreed.
The moment that Waverly realized her feelings, Nicole was looking somewhere else and making a face.
“What are you doing?” Waverly asked, laughter in her voice as Nicole pulled her lips down with her fingers.
Nicole pointed. “Look.” Waverly turned to see a baby giggling and clapping from a stroller, his guardians distracted by the whale exhibit, Nicole now lifting her whole face. Positively thrilled, the baby hollered and pointed at the entertainment.
“I --” Waverly shut her mouth on the words.
I love you.
Nicole kept making faces, unaware of Waverly’s maelstrom of gay panic.
Before she could comment further, Waverly caught sight of very obvious government agents approaching, clean suits and frowns giving them away like loud neon signs.
“Come on,” Waverly said, tugging Nicole from the exhibit.
Waverly pulled open a service closet and shoved Nicole inside.
“I need to talk to you,” Waverly said seriously.
Nicole, absolutely baffled, “Wha--”
“Not you!” Waverly insisted, “The other you.” Waverly leaned closer. “At least, I hope it’s you. It is you, right?”
Nicole narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about?”
Waverly grabbed Nicole by the collar and pulled her close. “Do you trust me?”
“Yeah?” Nicole said, as if the answer was obvious but she was just a little bit worried Waverly was off her rocker.
“Okay.” Waverly reached up between them and tugged the light cord, drowning them both in darkness. “Stay quiet.”
It started with the dull pounding behind her eyes that made Waverly have to shut her eyes, leaning her head forward, desperate to ease the sharp ache. She rested against Nicole’s flannel and felt the stir of cold air.
“We’re running out of time,” Waverly whispered, “And I need to know if this is working .”
“No moon rises,” Nicole breathed in her ear, “Tonight, I am dangerous.”
Waverly furrowed her brow. “So you really aren’t a werewolf.” Nicole’s hand tightened ever so slightly. “Sorry. I know this is serious. But I can’t believe that there’s no way to solve this that isn’t a cage.”
“It is too late.”
“No,” Waverly said adamantly,“I’m going to show you that life is possible beyond what happened, Nicole.” Waverly pulled Nicole closer by the lapels of her flanel, lowering her voice to dangerous levels. “So I’m going to take you to a nice dinner and you’re gonna like it.”
Waverly pulled out her phone. “Now wait a second while I make a very angry phone call.” She dialed and got a response in one ring.
“You impetuous little girl, do you not realize what you have done?” Dr. Navalar hissed.
“This little girl saved your Agency!” Waverly said fiercely, the fire within her well and truly lit, “And I am about to do it again . So if you try to stop me, I will make a scene. I have a very loud scream and I know Krav Maga. You’re going to watch while I have a nice date with my spooky girlfriend and defuse the bomb you’re so worried about. Understand?”
“Understand?” Waverly asked sharply.
“ There you are!” Dr. Navalar said, palpable joy in her voice, “There is the hero we thought to be hiding. Go. My agents are called off for now. The vote is not yet done. You have until tonight, Waverly Earp. We will be watching.”
The line went dead, leaving Waverly vaguely annoyed. Still, victory in hand, Waverly proudly pushed open the door and lead a very confused Nicole into the hallway. She blinked at Waverly. “What were we just doing?”
“We were just…” It hurt to lie to Nicole, but hadn’t she done the same? “Fooling around in a service closet,” Waverly said, hoping her theory held true.
“Oh, that makes sense,” Nicole said agreeably and promptly forgot anything else, an adorable furrow on her brow as her brain did terrible, terrible things to patch the damage that made Waverly’s heart sick.
Please forgive me.
“It was really good,” Waverly insisted. At least she could help Nicole’s brain make it nice . “I behaved myself, but it was really, really good. And safe. Comfortable. Because I like you a lot and things are happy.”
Nicole smiled soft like new snow, leaving the memory behind her.
Waverly, slightly ill and eager to leave lest any agents not get the memo, led them back to the hotel.
THE JEFFERSON, WASHINGTON D.C. 5:15 PM
Waverly flicked on the room light and furiously blushed.
The hotel staff were absolutely certain that she and Nicole were having sex tonight. Rose petals covered the bed sheets. Wine bottles perched next to candles that were sure to be lit while the pair were down for dinner. Whoever was in charge of decor only loved one color: red.
They didn’t move from the doorway, both paused in mutual embarrassment and horror.
Thankfully, Waverly’s phone rang. “It’s Wynonna,” Waverly said with a frown, “How about you change while I answer this?”
Nicole nodded rapidly, apparently not trusting herself to speak, and retreated to the bathroom.
“Hey, baby girl. Why is everyone saying your name in a way that sounds really, really pissed off?”
“I may have broken a bunch of American laws,” Waverly said, peeking out the window. Were there that many black, nondescript cars there before? “You should be proud.”
“Well, it looks like I’m on guard duty, Ms. President. Are you seriously on a date?”
Waverly smiled unintentionally, “Yeah.” She bit her lip, glancing over her shoulder at the door.
A long pause. “Is she good to you?”
“Yeah.” Waverly felt it in her soul. “Really good, actually. Like, fantastic --”
“Ew. No details, please.”
“Well we haven’t actually had sex yet --”
“Please. Mercy. I do not want this right now, thank you.” Wynonna took a breath as if bracing herself. “I just want to know she’s not like…” Wynonna paused.
“She’s nothing like him,” Waverly said fiercely.
The door opened and Nicole stepped out of the bathroom, adjusting her cuff.
Waverly stopped, mouth open. “I gotta go,” she said distractedly, barely remembering to hang up.
Nicole was wearing a suit.
The suit fit her perfectly and -- true to tradition -- her shirt had almost too many buttons undone. Nicole looked almost divine under the hotel light as she fiddled with her cuffs and tilted her head curiously at Waverly.
Sweet. Baby. Jesus. Waverly had never felt so utterly attracted to someone before. She wanted nothing more than to take that suit off with her teeth if necessary. Holy shit.
“Wave?” Nicole asked, concerned, “Are you okay?”
Waverly shook her head, taking a few steps forward. She even did a circle around Nicole, just looking and admiring the way the suit perfectly hugged her body. She ended her circle by staring Nicole in the face, realization on her face. “I am so gay,” Waverly admitted.
“Okay?” Nicole said nervously.
“Can we skip dinner?” Waverly asked, half-seriously.
“Waverly,” Nicole breathed in admonishment and surprise as she ducked her head with a furious blush, completely taken aback by Waverly’s extremely obvious intent.
“Slow, right,” Waverly sighed wistfully. “I should go change,” she said, full of regret. “You don’t, though. And you wear that someday in the future so I can take it off you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole said with a low voice, some of that sexy confidence Waverly knew lay hidden under all that had happened surfacing. Waverly fiddled with Nicole’s jacket, unable to take her hands off her.
“Wait in the atrium,” Waverly whispered. Nicole tilted her head, confused. “Trust me. Or you’ll make us late.”
Oh, that’s just not fair! Nicole thought as Waverly appeared in a gorgeous green dress that made her look like a mermaid and left so much skin bare, hugging the rest in a way that made Nicole try hard not to groan in agony.
Waverly had made her wait here , in front of all these people , so Nicole wouldn’t pin Waverly to a wall and make them late. Nicole ached to destroy whatever had obstructed Waverly’s memory. Damn it for the fact that Nicole could not strip Waverly out of that dress and show her just how much she burned.
All of Nicole’s willpower held her back. Barely.
The sly smile on Waverly’s face told Nicole her thoughts were blindingly obvious. Waverly draped her arms around Nicole’s shoulders, pressing the most infuriatingly chaste kiss to eager lips.
“Waverly Earp,” Nicole said in that low way of hers, filling it with all the affection she felt in her soul, “You are a vision. ”
“Mmmm.” Waverly gave Nicole a private, seductive smile. “Now you know how I feel, seeing you in a suit.”
“Oh, Waverly.” Nicole traced Waverly’s jaw, leaning forward to whisper into her ear as a flush ran up Waverly’s face, “This is how I always feel.”
Nicole could hear the quiet hitch of breath and the subtle gasp that left Waverly’s lips. “We’re going to be late,” Waverly said hurriedly, trying in vain to hide her reaction, pulling Nicole off to the restaurant.
Nicole had done this before, so why was she so nervous?
Waverly had thankfully secured them a quiet, intimate table at the corner that must have cost an arm and a leg. The menu had no prices. Nicole had done this before as a kid, though her memories were vague.
Her skin felt hot and sticky under the suit.
“Are you okay?” Waverly asked over the candles. “You look a little pale.”
Nicole smiled weakly. “We gingers always do. It’s fine.”
It wasn’t fine, but Nicole forced it down. She ignored the feeling of her hands gripping the fork hard enough to bend it, how easy it had been to break things, how she just wanted to tear into the tablecloth just for the sake of destruction.
Too hot. Nicole shrugged off her jacket and wiped sweat from her brow.
Waverly looked concerned but lifted the menu. “You have to try the crab. If you go to Maryland, you try the crab …”
“...splendid morning at the Capitol...”
The scrape of a fork against a plate.
“...Every time we come here, it’s undercooked...”
The sound the waiter’s shoes made on the floor.
“...Heard from your sister lately?...”
A man clearing his throat.
“...Cost him his job by the docks...”
“...Stop ordering rare, dumbass…”
The rattling inhale of her own lungs.
“...I slept with your friend…”
The blood pounding in her ears. Nicole could see her pulse in the back of her eyes as she closed them, held them, crushed them shut. Stop thinking about the screams of frightened people, the dark feeling of being utterly lost, the hopelessness of --
The shatter of the glass in her hand and the shocked gasps that followed.
Nicole opened her eyes and saw people staring. She could feel their gazes like the sweat crawling down her back. In jerky, inaccurate movements, Nicole stood without looking at Waverly and fled.
Dizzy and borderline delirious, Nicole stumbled her way into the bathroom. Other women were by the mirrors, chatting. Please leave, Nicole thought.
They did, looking frightened, but Nicole barely registered that fact as she made her way to the sink. She held a death grip on the marble, shaking, trying to maintain control. God, what if she lost it? What if she just totally, completely lost it? Just turned into a raving mad woman, screaming about monsters in the woods, telling people about this secret they were ignoring, what she had seen! How was she supposed to sit at a dinner and pretend that she didn’t see people die?
Deep end? What deep end? Nicole had flown right past it. Just completely nuts to think she could possibly be here at a nice dinner with her girlfriend after all that had happened. Being lost in the woods. Being something else. Seeing things no one should ever see.
Footsteps behind her. Nicole managed to turn on the sink, feel the water run over her shaking hands, before Waverly’s soft touch at her side drew her attention.
“Nicole,” Waverly said distantly, “Breathe, baby.” Gentle hands rolled up her sleeves and a cold towel pressed against her neck. “Panic attack?”
“We saw people die, Waves,” Nicole whispered, shutting her eyes, leaning her weight against the wall, numb fingers trying to get at her collar.
“Hey, let me help,” Waverly’s voice came clearer. Somebody else’s fingers at her neck, unbuttoning. Blessed cold air. The tightness in Nicole’s throat eased and she tilted her head back, a sigh freed from her lungs.
“Shh, don’t,” Waverly insisted, cool fingers still tracing comforting patterns on her throat. “Just breathe.” Seconds passed like minutes as Nicole breathed in, out. “We could go to some little sandwich place or go back to the room, or…”
“No.” Nicole shook her head and lifted it, looking at Waverly, beautiful and perfect. “I… I want to do this. I just need a minute.” Her breathing eased to normal levels and she shut her eyes again, feeling the weight of everything that had happened press against her.
“Baby.” Waverly urged Nicole to lean on her, holding her close. “It’s over. It’s done.” Nicole relaxed muscle by muscle as Waverly softly ran her hand over her shuddering back. “We won. We’re going to have a nice dinner because fuck the Beast,” she whispered into Nicole’s ear, “We won and then we’re going to cuddle tonight after watching a romantic movie.”
Nicole let out a low chuckle at Waverly’s language as the adrenaline faded and left behind a dull, ill feeling. But Waverly smelled so good and when Nicole turned her head to kiss Waverly’s neck delicately, lips trailing up a pulse that stuttered and quickened, she tasted even better .
A throat cleared. They both froze like deer in headlights as an elderly woman shuffled past them, tutting her disapproval. As the stall door slammed, Waverly started giggling and Nicole felt it wash over her like rain.
The pair returned to the table. A kind waiter had already gotten rid of the glass and no heads turned for longer than usual, soothing Waverly’s worries that maybe some of them weren’t actually civilians. They conversation started on easy topics as Waverly tried her best to distract Nicole from her nerves.
“I was a bartender before,” Waverly admitted with a duck of her head, ashamed, “Just a small town nobody.”
“Hey.” Nicole leaned forward, dimple appearing. “That 'small-town nobody' saved the damn world, as far as I’m concerned. And as far as a certain government agency is very concerned.”
Waverly blushed further, but the waiter appeared before she could respond. “Ladies.” He took their orders with a polite poker face and left to fetch wine.
“No crab?” Waverly asked, having ordered some delicious sounding seafood dish.
“Maybe sometime in the future I could stand something fishy,” Nicole said, frowning deeply, “But I don’t think I’ll be able to eat meat again. Ever.”
Waverly snuck her hand across the table, tangling their fingers together. Nicole offered a thankful squeeze. The waiter returned, presenting their wine before leaving them to wait.
Nicole watched with an eyebrow raised as Waverly took a rather large sip.
“One glass, I promise,” Waverly said, mouth curling upward. “You’ll have to wait to meet Drunk Waverly. She’s very, very handsy.”
Nicole laughed and the atmosphere cleared.
Fate is cruel, but bureaucracy is crueler.
The final vote had yet to be cast. The entire boardroom held an awkward standstill, the shuffle of papers still underlining the lack of voices.
The tired-looking man adjusted his red tie and set down his votes. “Abstain.”
Dolls rarely felt surprised, but he was thunderstruck. Lucado had sharpened her stance, mouth open to comment, but nothing came out.
The Director read the votes in a voice resurrected by utter shock:
“Four to spare. Four to execute. We have reached indecision.”
The boardroom erupted in a sea of outraged voices speaking at once.
“You spineless son of a bitch --”
“She’s a human being!”
“Kill it now --”
But the neutral man’s expression remained devoid of emotion. Both sides merely became even more enraged, seats abandoned in favor of stabbing fingers and accusing shouts, all illusion of decorum discarded. Democracy had failed. It was time for anarchy.
“Gentlemen, please! ” The Director shouted, “We must hold order at the very least!”
But howling chaos unleashed itself upon the boardroom. Employees began storming out of the room and vowing to act out their own decision. Discreet text messages began filtering one by one, each caused by distrust -- if we do not act, they will - - and causing the greatest bureaucratic standstill in the agency since Colorado.
Orders raced their way around Headquarters and beyond into D.C., causing everyone from security to custodians to agents posing as civilians to pause and check their phones for their codes.
Capture Nicole Haught, Lethal Force Authorized.
Protect Nicole Haught At All Expense.
Some received both. Others received one or the other. All in all, a whole lot of shit happened all at once with the sound of a hundred plus phones going off.
The soothing background of violins shattered into the sound of text alerts and dropping utensils. Waverly sat up, going rigid, eyes wild, seafood forgotten. Nicole gripped her hand tight as her eyes scanned the room. Mutters of confusion faded to silence.
One by one, the patrons around them lifted their gazes and settled on the pair.
Waverly gave a trembling smile and wave. “Can…” Waverly swallowed. “Can we help you with something?”
Their eyes slid to each other, assessing. It was a middle-aged woman in a far too tight dress who broke the stillness by slamming a plate into the temple of the man next to her, then all hell broke loose. Couples who had once been chatting amicably were now wrestling tasers and knives from each other’s hands, some even falling to the floor in the brawl.
A gun went off, snapping Waverly out of her shock and her seat. She grabbed Nicole’s hand and tugged the absolutely shell-shocked woman into the hallway, sprinting in heels.
They ran until they found the empty elevators in the back of the hotel. Waverly pressed the up button far too many times.
Men skidded into the hallway, pointed, then frowned in a way that said Very Not Nice Things Were Coming. Their sole focus was Nicole. They discounted the woman in the dress as a threat.
Waverly grabbed a nearby decorative table and slammed it into the leader with panicked strength, sending him tripping backward over his partner. Another managed to reach Nicole.
“Hands off my girlfriend, shitbucket!” Waverly hissed before slamming her forearm into his throat. He stumbled back, eyes wide, clawing at his windpipe.
Waverly grabbed Nicole by her suit and pulled her into the elevator. She slapped the button a couple dozen times.
“Halt!” An agent appeared, blocking the elevator doors with his gun drawn.
“Nicole!” Waverly said urgently, unable to accept defeat. “Do something!”
Nicole did something. She grabbed the arm holding the gun, pulling it forward to seize the man by his throat and throw him out of the elevator into the wall with a dull thud.
“I don’t like guns,” Nicole said before the doors closed and the elevator began to move. Her body relaxed slowly and she shook her head to dispel the confusion.
“He changed his mind,” Waverly said. Nicole nodded, rubbing her face.
They scrambled down the empty hallways toward their room, frantically listening for any sounds of pursuit. None appeared.
The door locked securely and Waverly backed away from it, thoughts going a mile a minute. Nicole held her head and groaned out her panic as she paced the center of the room.
Waverly’s headache intensified. The room seemed to distort in subtle ways, her vision going blurry and unfocused, vertigo sending her almost tumbling to the floor.
Thermonuclear bomb .
“Nicole.” Waverly stumbled to Nicole, gently taking her wrists, pulling rigid hands from her face. “Look at me.”
Nicole, eyes wide, pain obvious, met her gaze with pure terror. “I can’t. I can’t, Waverly.”
“You can,” Waverly said, heart breaking into tiny shards as tears fell freely from Nicole’s sad brown eyes, “You can, Nicole. I --” Waverly felt for words. “Whatever it is, Nicole. You have me. Okay? You have me.”
“Waverly,” Nicole said, anguished, “You should be free .”
“I am free,” Waverly said, tightening her grip to enforce her words, “I am free with you .”
Nicole had not lied. Waverly had told the truth during the moment she couldn’t remember.
Waverly shook with the truth of it all. Falling in love. Twice.
“You give me the freedom in my life I’ve always wanted, Nicole.” Waverly took Nicole’s face in her hands, gently soothing over wet cheeks, “I love you and I’m not leaving you.”
Nicole looked at her and Waverly remembered.
A curtain pulled back in her head, revealing the horror she had endured. The horror she had conquered . The fear that had been her constant companion returned as a dull whisper in her mind, the steel she forged into her spine cracking with the heat of being back in normal life -- she had just been on a date! After witnessing such things no one should, after destroying what might have been an ancient being that had existed before humanity!
She had gone ice-skating!
She had survived the Beast !
She needed therapy!
(Good lord, her ribs hurt like a bitch!)
Waverly had lived beyond it, had experienced sunshine that she had felt certain she would never witness again, and she had Nicole --
“I’m so sorry, Waverly,” Nicole said desperately, “I was so afraid . I shouldn’t -- I didn’t mean --”
“Why?” Waverly asked, voice rising, “ Why did you take them, Nicole?”
“I saw you,” Nicole explained, tears running down her face, “I saw you and…and you were afraid of me. When It cursed me...I panicked. I swear I didn't mean to do it, Waverly. I would never take your agency away from you on purpose like that.”
“What curse?” Waverly whispered, frown falling away along with much of her anger. It still simmered beneath the surface -- But the moon , invisible, was setting outside and the temperature of the room had begun to drop enough that goosebumps skittered up her skin.
“It couldn’t stop you from bringing me back,” Nicole explained with despair, “But it could make me come back different.” She pointed out at the city-lit sky. “Every moonless night, I change .”
Waverly stepped forward, cradling Nicole’s face in her hands, thumbs brushing tears from her cheeks.
“I’m so sorry Waver --”
The kiss was soft but true, life affirming and life altering at the same time, but the hug that brought them together afterward felt like being reunited after ages apart.
Nicole seemed to shut down, sobbing. Waverly held her close as Nicole slumped to her knees. “I forgive you, you big idiot.” Waverly turned her head, whispering into Nicole’s hair. “I love you.” She held tight, shutting her eyes. “We’ll get through this. Just like everything else.”
“I love you so much, Waverly Earp,” Nicole said against the skin of Waverly’s neck. She tensed. “Wave.” Nicole pulled back, eyes wide like she had realized something. “Listen to me. You can’t trust Black Badge.”
“They made--” Nicole’s words ended in a strangled noise of pain as her spine locked and she fell backward onto the floor, arching upward. She gulped air and made it onto her hands and knees before it struck again.
The perfectly tailored suit became the first victim. Nicole tore at it, shedding scraps of it, thankfully not taking any of her own skin with it. The candles extinguished in a hushed, chilled wind that whispered from nowhere.
Though Waverly could not know, Nicole’s brain had started hitting all sorts of emergency buttons to make it not as painful as it appeared. It felt like freedom from confinement, finally breathing in a full breath of air after being reduced to shallow gasps. The exhilarating rush galloped through Nicole’s body, demanding she run and sprint and jump with her newfound freedom. In short: it felt amazing .
For Waverly, it was as if her brain simply forgot to record things with any sort of accuracy. Vague memories of black fur, enraged growling, and clothing decorating the floor in pieces. The lights short-circuited and the room remained lit only by the city outside, casting shadows that danced as Nicole fell, heaving, to the carpet: completely inhuman.
The black shape shuddered with pained, rattling breaths.
“Nicole,” Waverly whispered, taking a step forward. She wasn’t afraid. Not for herself.
The shape seemed to retreat with a low noise of despair.
“Look at me, Nicole.”
The shape turned, the light casting across sharp angles across what the Beast would have wanted, Nicole’s worst fear: to be terrifying .
The indistinct mass before her rose at least six feet on all fours. The face that looked at her might possibly be the result of a werewolf’s nightmare: broader, more angular, something older and far more dangerous. Hideously large teeth caught the light of the city outside. And the most bizarre mark the Beast had seen fit to grant her: Long, elegantly curved horns that stretched back from her skull.
And Waverly saw at once the clever cruelty in the way it had made Nicole unique -- Not a werewolf, a minotaur, a leshy, a skinwalker, or a wendigo -- A class all her own: No one would understand and Nicole would always be alone.
Anger tightened Waverly’s fist and furious tears blurred her vision, but one hand stretched to close the distance.
“We saw a lot of monsters, Nicole,” Waverly said softly as she pressed her hand to the long, beastial forehead before her, fingers vanishing beneath the fur. “I know what they look like. And you are not a monster.”
Waverly tilted her head. “And… you know what? You’re really, really soft.”
Nicole opened her eyes.
And promptly flipped the fuck out.
It must have come as a shock to look down and see claws engineered for cleaving flesh instead of short, managed nails. Waverly forgave Nicole immediately for stumbling into the coffee table, causing the wine to spill everywhere and the fruit to fly in wild directions.
“Nicole!” Waverly shouted, stepping forward, but broken glass stopped her.
Nicole made a confused noise, as if trying to speak past the fangs in her mouth, the almost bleating, plaintive sounds continued as she crashed this way and that, trying to understand why her legs were suddenly three times as large.
“Watch out for the --!” Waverly winced as Nicole made a hole in the wall. Jesus. She hoped Black Badge could cover this in their insurance plan. Paintings worth thousands were torn to shreds, lamps sent scattering, the rustic wooden furniture simply shattering from the weight that toured the room like a tornado.
“Oh, my god.” Waverly said, hands dropping to her sides. There just wasn’t a pamphlet for this. “I… I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do.”
Nicole changed direction.
“Jesus --- Not the window!” Waverly cried before making a split second decision. Without even thinking about it, Waverly jumped in front of Nicole. Hundreds of pounds of flesh stumbled toward her, caught sight of her, recognized her -- and then moved in the other direction.
Knocking on the door. “Waverly! You in there, baby girl?”
Oh, no. Of all the times for Wynonna to -- “I’m fine!” Waverly shouted back as the sounds of destruction continued, the strange, inhuman noises of sad confusion definitely audible to the hallway.
“Uh. We’re coming in!”
“No!” Waverly called back in panic, “I’m naked!” She looked around in desperation before her eyes landed on a bed sheet that had been thrown, along with the mattress, at a wall. She pulled it off, gathering it in her hands quickly before it stuck. She tugged urgently. “We’re having sex!”
Nicole howled in confusion.
“Really kinky sex!” Waverly pulled the sheet all the way off and approached Nicole. “Oh, yeah!” Waverly said loudly and completely unconvincingly, “ Harder , Nicole!”
“Yeah, right, put some clothes on. We’re coming in!”
The door groaned with impact, weakening. Waverly leapt, throwing the sheet over Nicole and pulling her by the horns. “Shut it and let me hide you!” Waverly hissed. Nicole made a low noise of despair deep in her chest. “Please, Nicole. Just trust me!” She pushed Nicole to the ground as some sort of lumpy piece of furniture. It would have to do.
The door banged open and Wynonna charged the room with a gun drawn, Dolls behind her, Doc bringing up the rear. They stopped in surprise at no one there and destruction far beyond reasonable levels for a Valentine’s evening.
“Hi,” Waverly said, overly cheerful as the pair surveyed the ruins, “Good to see you, Wynonna! And Agent Dolls, Henry.” She waved awkwardly, leaning half her weight on Nicole’s head to keep her still.
“Where’s Nicole?” Wynonna asked, growing suspicion on her face.
“Uh…Bathroom?” Waverly winced. The bathroom door stood open and empty. Waverly’s skin felt hot with anxiety as she looked to Dolls, who swept the room with his gun drawn.
Wynonna holstered her gun. “Half the agents here have gone nuts, baby girl. They’re dead set on --”
“I know, don’t say it,” Waverly said through her teeth, smiling painfully. Dolls stared a bit too hard, his eyes seeming to penetrate straight through her flimsy lie. There was a giant, lumpy, sheet-covered mass behind Waverly and there was no hiding the fact it was breathing.
Dolls lifted his gun. “Move.”
“Please don’t!” Waverly begged openly, stepping in front of his gun sight with her hands raised in surrender.
“Hey! Whoa! I do not like you pointing that at my sister!” Wynonna said, hand on her own gun.
“What’s. Under. The Sheet ,” Dolls demanded as a rumbling growl started beneath it.
“Okay!” Waverly swallowed on the edge of tears. “It’s Nicole. It’s Nicole, please. Please don’t.”
Dolls’ eyes widened with fear but his gun held steady, he shook his head, his mouth open -- But Waverly’s admission stopped him: “I love her.”
Shock crossed their faces and Dolls slowly lowered his gun.
“Baby girl,” Wynonna said, distrust hinting her voice, “Are you sure? ”
“I-I remember,” Waverly said, growing confident without a gun in her face, “I remember, Wynonna. And we did this together. She’s…She’s not what you think. She’s my friend, my girlfriend -- I’m in love with her, Wy. Please.”
Wynonna crossed the room immediately, taking her sister in her arms. Waverly sobbed openly and a sad, deep sound crawled from under the blanket.
“I love her so much,” Waverly sobbed, feeling not like a hero at all.
But the sisterly moment broke as Nicole rose to all fours, a snarl rolling deep from her chest as the sheet fell away. Fear latched on and held tight to everyone save Waverly, causing them to shudder and move back involuntarily.
“Oh, shit!” Waverly immediately stood in front of Nicole, blocking her head and trying to shield her from view about as well as a picket sign in front of a pickup truck.
“Hooooly demon werewolf, Batman,” Wynonna said in awe, voice shaking with the urge to run. Dolls made a small sound in his throat and gripped his gun without raising it. Doc whistled, sweat breaking out on his brow.
“Not a demon and not a werewolf!” Waverly said hurriedly.
Bounding footsteps announced incoming unwelcome visitors.
The Director entered the room, his agents in tow, Dr. Navalar hurrying alongside. “Secure this room!” He ordered and his agents circled in seconds before settling their sights on the only threat in the room: Nicole.
“Don’t shoot!” Waverly cried. Nicole made more terrifying growling noises, taking a step forward, causing Waverly to slide on the carpet. The agents moved their fingers to the trigger, fear overriding rational thought. “Please!”
Wynonna returned to Waverly’s side, face hard as she blocked the gun sights of a dozen or more men. Dolls looked to Wynonna and had an internal crisis of about three seconds. Then, he lifted his gun from firing position and stood in front of the pair, facing down his boss and the other agents. Doc stepped beside him, casual and easy.
“Agents, stand down ,” The Director repeated, voice quiet with obvious grief, “We must take Ms. Haught into custody.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Dolls said, “It’s obvious she has some control or most of us would be dead right now.” Dolls straightened. “She’s an asset, not an enemy.”
Lucado charged in along with her half of the Agency, “You gave me the wrong room number!” she accused, facing down the diminutive Navalar. “You traitor .”
Dr. Navalar merely shrugged. “It is almost as if I was never on your side in the first place. How interesting.”
Lucado ignored Navalar and took in the situation before drawing her gun. “I knew it,” Lucado hissed. “She is a threat!”
“No!” Waverly cried as Nicole’s mouth opened, the growling doubling in volume. The effect rippled through the room, many faces covered with involuntary tears. Though the dreadful sound spoke directly to their instincts and whispered nightmarish consequences, none fled.
“Nicole, please,” Waverly begged quietly in Nicole’s ear, “Calm down .” Nicole’s growling eased and Waverly moved to the side of her head, whispering quiet reassurances.
Everyone else fell silent.
“I’ve got you,” Waverly breathed for only Nicole to hear, running fingers through the soft fur around her ears. Nicole gradually relaxed, the anger in her eyes replaced by the confused fear and pain that made Waverly’s heart ache. “It’s going to be okay. I promise .” Waverly pressed a small kiss to Nicole’s forehead. “I’m going to take care of this. I won’t let them take you.”
Waverly turned back to the quiet room, ignoring the mix of awe and fear.
“You voted me a hero,” Waverly said with her back straight, head raised, “Then you should know that I didn’t do it alone. I did it with her by my side and because of that, we won. We saved your agency. We cleaned up your mess.” Waverly settled her eyes on the Director, jaw set. “Either you help us, or we will never reveal that what we discovered.”
Even Lucado was speechless.
“My orders on the field are final.” The Director reminded all present, gazing around the room at the silent agents then looking to Waverly. “I have a duty to this entire Agency that I will uphold.”
Waverly curled her hands into fists and tightened her jaw. She would not be cowed.
“To pass up on what may be an incredible agent and an asset…” The Director looked to Nicole. “Would be a mistake .” Lucado tried to butt in, but his orders ran right over her. “Secure this hotel and think up some good lies for the civilians. Get a service elevator and a truck, we’re taking her to a secure location. And somebody, please , get our insurance guys on the line.”
Agents snapped into motion, filtering from the room, many openly relieved to be away from the source of their terror.
Waverly, exhausted, sank to her knees before Nicole and rested her head atop hers. “Hey,” she whispered, ignoring the heated discussions behind her. She shut her eyes. “It’s going to be okay, I promise.”
Wynonna walked over, presumably after shouting down a few dissidents. “Glad we dodged that bullet. Come on, let’s get Nightmare Clifford and go.”
“Wynonna!” Waverly rebuked half-heartedly, knowing deep down that Wynonna’s jokes were simply silent affirmations of support.
Dolls came over, sheet in hand. “We’ll probably have to use this again.” He looked to Nicole. “No offense.”
Curious visitors to the Jefferson that night weren’t allowed even close to where Nicole moved. No civilian caught sight of the ominous mass that moved on four legs hidden by a bedsheet, led by a woman in a beautiful dress.
They really did miss out.
Waverly ignored the armed escort, choosing to believe them there for protection rather than fear. She kept her head held high and her face steel even though inside, she was a riot of anxiety. The two people she had been were still trying desperately to merge into one. The fact that her girlfriend wasn’t there to talk about it? Definitely a downside. The fact that her girlfriend was now cursed? They could get through this.
They’d gotten through everything else.
Waverly would be there for her, just as Nicole had stood by her side with her loss of memory. Someday, hopefully soon, they would be able to do this whole dating-as-normal-people thing again.
Waverly smiled and Nicole bumped her head against her shoulder intentionally, seemingly wanting to know why.
“Just thinking about next time,” Waverly whispered in Nicole’s ear. “Maybe we should try the Ritz-Carlton.”
Nicole snorted happily, causing the agents around them shudder with fear. Waverly only smirked.
SOMEWHERE, VIRGINIA, 8:39 PM
The darkened interior of the industrial van rocked. Waverly almost dozed, exhausted by the day’s events and the fact Nicole was so. Damn. Comfy.
In the dark, the thin line of fear-born tears glistened on the face of their guardians. Their bodies tense, they glanced at Nicole every so often, but mostly sought to look everywhere else. They simply couldn’t understand how relaxed Waverly seemed in the presence of their worst nightmare.
Waverly whispered private things, happy nothings, and soothing sounds into Nicole’s ear. There was no telling what lay under the thick anxiety Waverly could feel, the hitch of the shuddering breaths that rose and fell, and the slight twitch of her body getting used to itself. Her words seemed to ease at least some of it.
Eventually, the van came to a stop and the door opened, slicing starlight across Waverly’s face.
“We’re here,” an agent said, standing aside.
“Where?” Waverly asked, gathering her dress and standing. The cold of the night seeped in and the Agent offered a bag of what would hopefully be clothing.
“A safe house.” The Agent tried hard not to look at the shape that lifted itself and moved behind Waverly. “The Director has returned to Nowhere to convince the Board to re-vote. We are under strict orders to protect you and your companion.”
“Girlfriend,” Waverly corrected. She patted the agent’s shivering shoulder and accepted the clothes. “Thank you.”
The fireplace roared to life, lighting the interior of the cabin with soft orange light. Waverly sat with Nicole on the floor as Wynonna lazed on the couch. Dolls paced. Doc smoked. The trio tried their hardest, for Waverly’s sake, to ignore the terror that seized them everytime Nicole made even the slightest of sounds.
“So can you talk?” Waverly asked, leaning against Nicole’s foreleg.
Nicole opened her mouth and let out a bone-chilling sound that made everyone in the room stop breathing.
“I will take that as a ‘ no ,’” Waverly said cheerfully, trying to stay positive for her girlfriend’s sake. Nicole only covered her face and groaned sadly. Waverly offered her some pats. “I’m going to change. Try not to break anything, okay?”
Nicole nodded but made no such promises aloud.
As Waverly slipped the loose sweatshirt over her head after a nice shower, she heard the distinct sound of something breaking.
“Hey!” Wynonna shouted. Waverly bolted back into the room, only to see a raw steak implanted in the wall. “That is a fine cut of beef you just ruined!” Wynonna admonished, stomping over. She peeled it off and inspected it. “Maybe.”
“Wynonna!” Waverly hissed, immediately going to Nicole’s side, who seemed rather amused with herself. “She’s a vegetarian.” She looked around, confused. “Where’s --”
“Off getting more steak, so now I have to tell them to get some fruit. Bleh.” Wynonna rolled her eyes, taking the steak to the counter. “Your loss.”
“Stop harassing my girlfriend!” Waverly gently tugged on Nicole. “We’re going to sleep. It’s been a long day.”
“She’s no fun anyway!” Wynonna shouted after the pair as they left down the hall, “She doesn’t even do fetch!”
The door slammed.
The bed ended up shattering to the floor under Nicole’s weight.
“Well, at least we know nothing is under it,” Waverly said before climbing onto the mattress and cuddling up to Nicole. Perfect fit, Waverly thought. Warm and soft, the perfect pillow, Nicole curled protectively around Waverly.
They didn’t sleep.
“Will you be back tomorrow?” Waverly lazily drew meaningless letters into Nicole’s side, trying to ease the shivers she still felt occasionally rippling across Nicole’s body.
Nicole pushed her head under Waverly’s hand in way that meant Yes.
An hour? Two? Time passed and the stars moved, but Waverly found no rest. The shadows in the room remained still. The silence, briefly broken by the return of Doc and Dolls, had settled in to stay. The steady rise and fall of Nicole’s chest, the comfort of her embrace, the safety it brought threatened to lull Waverly to sleep.
But there was still questions that hadn’t been answered.
Finally, Waverly snapped.
“Did you take the books away?” Waverly asked the dark.
Again, Nicole pressed her head forward, Yes.
“Why?” Waverly sat up, frustrated. “They had answers , Nicole! We could have solved this!”
Nicole looked up at her and moved her head back and forth against the mattress. No.
“What do you mean ‘No? ’” Waverly demanded, exhausted, furiously gesturing. “All we had was this Book of Symbols which told us nothing! It just gave us meaning for irrelevant --”
Nicole watched as Waverly stopped, arm dropping from the air.
Wyatt’s words returned.
Fire is the key.
“You said once you didn’t remember anything except being lost,” Waverly said, hand stilling. “No where...No when. No how, or why, or what. Lost.”
Waverly’s eyes went wide.
“It took you there to make you lose everything that made you human." Waverly met Nicole’s gaze, the soft gold lit with deep affection. “In a place where actions are symbols, where fire can represent clarity and sanity and awareness . Forests and Labyrinths to lose yourself.” Waverly’s eyes went wide, understanding breaking through. “But if getting lost has so much power…”
Waverly rested her hand atop Nicole’s head. A pleasing rumble started deep within Nicole’s chest as she shut her eyes.
“Then being found must have the same.”
That night, Waverly dreams of the forest.
But this time, it’s spring.