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never gonna be the same

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Waverly wakes up in a hospital and, for a split second, she’s six again and blinking at the corkboard ceiling with the dirty brown stain in the corner and feeling the scratchy linens on her skin, the draftiness of the thin hospital gown.

Her fingers twitch and she remembers--she’s not six, not anymore. She blinks a few more times and rolls her head to the side. Wynonna is slumped into a chair by the wall, frowning at the floor. “Wyn,” Waverly rasps, surprised out of her silence. Her voice gives out before she can get to the second syllable, but it’s enough that Wynonna’s head jerks up.

“Waves,” she says, and her voice is almost as wrecked as Waverly’s. She stumbles to Waverly’s bedside and takes her hand, gripping too tight. “Waverly.”

“When did you get here?” Waverly struggles to sit up but Wynonna presses her down, firm. “What happened?”

Wynonna hits the button to page a doctor. “Listen, we’ll go over everything when we get back, okay? The doctor thinks you had a seizure and a bad fall at the Homestead.”

“The Homestead?”

“Yeah, the barn. Oh crap, I gotta call people, Nicole’s gonna be so mad…” Wynonna whips her phone out, muttering and tapping at the screen.

Waverly wonders if her obvious concussion can explain her utter confusion. “When did you come back? Did Uncle Curtis call you?”

Wynonna stops and looks at her. Her face drops, then attempts a reassuring smoothness that fails in its entirety. “Uh oh. I need to uh--I’ll be right back.” She ducks out of the door, catching it just as it opens. She hisses something Waverly can’t catch and shoves the person back into the hall, throwing Waverly a strained smile as she goes. Waverly catches a glimpse of khaki and bright red hair before the door clicks shut.

//

The doctor tells her the date and she laughs. Then she’s abruptly sick into a clean bedpan, Wynonna patting her shoulder and talking in low, heated murmurs. When the doctor leaves, Wynonna tries to smile and it doesn’t quite sit right on her face. She holds the ice cup to Waverly’s mouth and helps her sip juice with a bendy straw. “It’ll make sense when we get back to the station,” she says, not for the first time. “We’ll fix it.”

Waverly blinks. “Am I broken?”

“No,” Wynonna rushes to assure her, “no no, babygirl, you’re perfect. It’s just… a lot to explain.”

“I guess.” Waverly thinks she might be concussed with possible permanent brain damage, but the doctor was pretty clear about what happened. “I can’t believe Uncle Curtis is gone.” To her, just yesterday he’d patted her arm and told her she was the smartest girl in Purgatory. She blinks fast and wipes under her eyes with a finger, trying for a laugh that breaks in the middle. “Sorry, I know this is stupid, it’s been ages--”

“No,” Wynonna says, quiet. “It’s not stupid.” She comes closer and lets Waverly lean into her side and hide her face in Wynonna’s leather jacket and cry, wracking sobs that leave her feeling hollowed out and empty.

//

“Who is that?” Waverly asks, the day before they’re going to let her finally get out of here.

Wynonna becomes suddenly fascinated with the way the lid to her coffee is snapped on. “Who? What? Are you ready to see the Homestead again?”

“That girl,” Waverly says, pointing towards the door. “The one who sits out there, the cop.”

“Cop?” Wynonna laughs, nervously, all high and fluttery. “How would I know? Me and cops aren’t exactly best friends.” She winces then, for some reason Waverly can’t parse. “Oil and… uh. Water and firecrackers.”

Waverly frowns. She’s seen the woman sitting out there, every time the door opens. Yesterday, Wynonna’s friend with the mustache came to play cards with her and call her darlin’ and assure her that her memory will return soon, and she saw the woman walk by the window, eyes downcast and shoulders slumped. “I thought maybe there was police protection assigned to me or something.”

“That… would make more sense. Yes, that is what’s happening?”

Waverly rolls her eyes “I fell from a ladder, Wynonna, I wasn’t taken out by the mob. Why would the police be connected to me?”

Wynonna frowns, then brightens slightly. “It’s because…. I’m a cop now.”

Waverly laughs. “Wynonna, come on. Don’t tease the brain damaged.”

“No, I am.” Wynonna fumbles in her pocket. “Shit, where did I leave my badge? Dolls is gonna kill me…”

“Are you serious?” Waverly struggles into an upright position, waving away Wynonna’s floating, uncertainly helpful hands. “You’re a cop. You. You, Wynonna, are employed by law enforcement.”

“I know, it’s weird to me, too. And Randy.”

Randy,” Waverly repeats, utterly off-footed.

“So they’re um. Here to help me. That’s why--Officer, Officer Haught is keeping an eye on you for me.”

“Officer Haught,” Waverly repeats. She frowns at her hands in her lap. “Officer Haught,” she repeats. When she looks up Wynonna is staring at her, breath held. “What?”

Wynonna exhales. “Nothing,” she says, and sounds disappointed.

“No, tell me.” Wynonna looks shifty and Waverly fixes her with a look. “Wynonna. The doctor said it was okay.”

“She’s uh. She’s kind of your girlfriend?” Wynonna’s voice goes up at the end, and she winces as soon as she’s finished.

“My what?”

//

Champ visits and holds the door open wider before he comes in. He’s got yellow daisies in his hands and he shoots Officer Haught a smirk before he enters. In the seconds before the door shuts, Waverly raises a hand, the monitor tugging at her finger, and tries to smile at the officer.

The woman has dark circles under her eyes like bruises and her braid is messy and falling apart. She looks at Waverly like she’s breaking her heart and averts her eyes.

Champ is sweet and nice and fluffs her pillow, but when he leans in for a kiss, she turns her face away. She tells him maybe it’s best if he doesn’t come back.

“Thank god,” Wynonna mutters when Waverly tells her. “There’s enough to explain without having to deal with Champ Hardy, of all things.”

“Tell me about Nicole?”

“Um,” Wynonna says, backing up, “oh golly, I think Dolls is calling me--”

“Wynonna.”

“She’s…. Smart? A good cop. A good person.” Wynonna frowns at her hands. “I told her to come see you, but she doesn’t want to overwhelm you. She cares about you a lot. You told me you loved her.”

“I think of her,” Waverly says, slowly, “and I don’t feel anything at all.”

//

“Hey!” Waverly shouts. She throws the box of tissues at the door. “I know you can hear me!”

The door creaks open. Officer Haught looks everywhere but at her face. “Do you need a nurse?”

“Come in, please? And talk to me? Officer--” Nicole flinches, hard and sudden. “Nicole,” Waverly tries. “Please?”

Nicole sits next to her and holds her hat in her lap. “Wynonna says you’re doing better. That you’ll go home today.” Her fingernails are ragged and she picks at the stitching on the brim.

“She says we were dating.”

Nicole smiles, sudden and sharp, her eyes gone soft. “Three dinners and a lunch. Doesn’t seem like much I know, but you--” she looks at Waverly and stops, abrupt. “Yes, we--we were dating.”

Waverly fumbles in the beside table. Nicole half-rises and she flaps a hand at her. “No, hold on.” She comes up triumphant, lime jello in a plastic cup. “No spoon, sorry, you’ll have to slurp.”

Nicole takes it from her and almost drops it making sure their fingers don’t touch. “Thanks.” The foil rips when she opens it and she jiggles it in her hand, watching it wobble. “I haven’t been hungry, lately.” She looks exhausted and worn and there’s a sheen on her skin like she hasn’t yet showered.

“Do you even have a place to live? I don’t think I’ve ever not seen you outside my room.”

Nicole’s hand clenches on her pantleg. “I have an apartment.”

“So go there, take a nap.”

Nicole is staring at her feet. She puts the jello aside. “I wasn’t with you, when--when it happened.”

“My fall?”

Nicole hesitates. She nods. “Right, yeah. The fall. I should have--” She cuts herself off with a sigh and stands. “You should rest. Wynonna is coming in an hour to pick you up.”

“Wait--” Waverly doesn’t know why, but she calls out before Nicole can leave. “Just sit in here, okay? Keep me company?”

“Alright.”

Nicole falls asleep in the chair, slumped into the wall and her hat falling from her lax hands onto the floor. Waverly moves her lips in the shape of her name Nicole, Nicole. She strains until her eye sockets hurt but there’s nothing. Not the slightest flicker of recognition. She thinks Officer Haught might as well be a perfect stranger.

//

Wynonna brings pizza. She touches Nicole’s shoulder and hands her the box after ripping off a slice for her and one for Waverly and they both sort of stare while Nicole rips four slices. “It’s like the Discovery channel,” Wynonna whispers.

Nicole pauses and blinks at them. She flushes in the apple of her cheek, grease on her lips. “Sorry.”

She stands and looks lost, stooping to pick up her hat and set it on her head. Her shirt is wrinkled to ruin and her hair hangs limp and Waverly can almost feel something in her chest, hollow and aching. “Would you,” she finds herself saying, “would you get me a coffee from downstairs?”

Nicole both brightens and softens at the same time. “Of course,” she says, quiet and nearly reverent. “Yes, of course.”

“Gay,” Wynonna says, after she’s left.

//

Wynonna tells her about the Curse and Waverly wonders if she felt as exhilarated the first time she found out it was real, all of it. If she was as validated, vindicated. She exhales, and in the bathroom, over the sink, runs the faucet at full blast and whispers into the porcelain, I was right, I was right, I was right.

She tears through the folders on her shelves and the books organized to her own system and the notes in her handwriting and feels haunted by herself.

She sees Nicole sometimes. At the station and in the BBD headquarters, hears her on the radio. Nicole leaves the room often when she comes into it, and avoids her eyes. Once, Waverly walks into the breakroom at one in the morning, clutching her mug and thinking in two dead ancient languages at once, and Nicole takes her cup from her and sits her down on the couch. When Waverly wakes up from a catnap fifteen minutes later, her cup is still steaming gently on the counter. She sips it to find it’s just how she likes it.

//

“Hey,” Waverly says, when the door opens. “Good, I was worried this wasn’t the right address.”

Nicole blinks at her. “You…. know where I live.”

“I looked it up at the station. Wynonna is off on a stakeout, I thought maybe--” Waverly hefts a bottle of whiskey. “It’s the good stuff.”

 

“Have I been here before?” she asks, perched on the couch while Nicole clinks glasses on the coffee table.

“Yes. A few times.”

“Oh.”

“Has it been difficult, relearning about,” Nicole waves her hand, vague, “everything?”

“Not as much as I thought. I always believed, you know. It was everyone else who had to shift their view.”

Nicole sips her drink and sits in a chair opposite her. Waverly drinks to give herself something to do. “Waverly,” Nicole starts, then stops. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what you want from me.”

“I could--we were friends before, weren’t we?”

Nicole’s face goes tight. “No, Waverly. We never really were.”

//

Waverly shows up at Nicole’s desk with two breakfast burritos. “So we weren’t friends before. It’s never too late.”

Nicole takes one. She lets their fingers bump together. Waverly sits and reads the files so Nicole can transcribe them. She learns Nicole is a touch typist and has a framed picture of her sister on her desk. Nicole likes hot sauce on her eggs and keeps wet wipes in the second drawer of her desk. She likes jokes about Dolls’ grumpy face and her giggle is windchimes.

//

Waverly comes home from a three hour drive to a private book dealer four cities over, and Nicole is drinking beer on the couch with Wynonna. She looks deer struck to see her in the room, standing and spilling a few drops on her pants. “Waverly.”

“Hey!” Wynonna pops out of the kitchen, shoveling popcorn into her mouth and speaking around the kernels. “Movie night, you want in?”

Waverly is off-footed and she doesn’t know why. “No. Sorry, no, I’m tired.”

 

Nicole raps on her bedroom door with her knuckles. “Hey. I’m headed out, okay? Go hang out with your sister.”

Waverly sighs. “No, I’m sorry. I was rude. Stay, hang out. I’m glad Wynonna has friends.”

“Huh,” Nicole says. Her brow furrows slightly. “I’m friends with Wynonna Earp.”

“Too late now,” Waverly says, a hair darker than she means it too. “Earp friendships are ‘til death.”

Nicole’s hands land on hers and she realizes that she’s been folding and refolding her scarf, over and over. “Waverly,” Nicole says, impossibly gentle. “It’s okay.”

“Is it? Because apparently I had a demon in my head and shot at Wynonna, and when they ripped him out of my brain, he took chunks of it with him. And everyone says it’ll come back, but you know what? I miss Champ.” Nicole flinches. “And I don’t remember you.” Waverly takes a deep breath, her chest heaving. “I don’t remember you at all.”

//

Waverly has been crying into her pillow for twenty minutes when she feels the mattress dip and Wynonna’s fingers in her hair. “Sorry,” she sobs into the soaked fabric. “This is so pre-teen.”

Wynonna rubs her back the way she did when they were little, too much pressure and not as comforting as they both want it to be. “I didn’t really know about you guys,” she admits. “Not until that night.” She’s quiet for a minute, the only sounds Waverly’s tiny hiccups and the stuffiness of her snotty nose. Waverly squirms until she can lay her head in Wynonna's lap.“You asked me to save her life. You said you loved her, and you kissed her goodbye.”

//

Waverly calls Nicole. “I had a dream,” she says. “I was at Shorty’s, and you tried to order a coffee.”

Nicole is silent on the other end of the line.

“I don’t remember you,” Waverly insists. “I don’t remember loving you. I don’t.”

“Okay, Waverly,” Nicole agrees. “Whatever you say.”

//

Doc takes her shooting. “I know women are of the dramatic persuasion,” he says after, when she’s cleaning her shotgun, “but I admit your actions perplex me.”

Waverly sighs. “I know you’re like, this immortal historical figure who was trapped in well for a hundred years by a witch, but it’s complicated, okay?”

Doc lights a cigarette, a slim limp thing he fishes out of a pocket. “Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to say, but life is short. For you, anyway. And someone who adores you back? A rare find indeed.”

Waverly snatches the cigarette out of his fingers and crushes it under her heel and ignores his tiny indignant noise. “I’m hungry,” she tells him, “and I want a drink.”

//

“Thank you for meeting me,” Waverly tells her. She touches a post, the one that has all three of their names carved into it. Her fingers linger over Willa before sliding away. “I hope this hasn’t been too difficult.”

Nicole shrugs. “That’s the thing, Waverly. You think I’m upset because you can’t remember me.”

“You’re not?”

Nicole touches her arm, then her shoulder. Her eyes are very clear and their breaths huff out white, mixing before evaporating away. “I can’t stop thanking every deity there is that you’re alive.” She steps away and Waverly almost sways after her. They walk in silence for a while. It’s cold but not snowing, the frost dampening their boots.

“I want to remember you,” Waverly ventures, and Nicole just smiles.

“We can’t always get what we want,” she says. Waverly’s nose itches and she realizes that they’ve been holding hands for the past fifteen minutes.

They stop in front of an old white cross, faded from the weather. “Gus said this is where they found him. My Uncle Curtis.” Waverly wipes at her eyes with her free hand. “He took me in, you know that? He took care of me. He believed in me.”

Nicole grips her fingers tighter. “I like him already.”

Nicole is warm at her side, solid, her hand anchoring. She feels real and it’s the easiest thing in the world to turn and tuck herself into Nicole’s chest, Nicole’s arms encircling her. She feels lips press gently against her temple, above her hair, and the soft exhales against her cheek.

Waverly has the life she wished for every night from the ages of six to eighteen. Wynonna’s back and she lives in her old bedroom and has a job she loves that means something and she knows for certain that she was right, she was always right. And she’s not the heir, but she’s important and valued and Doc comes to her for advice and Dolls ripped into an officer two days earlier for not showing her respect and Nicole--

Nicole watches her when she thinks Waverly isn’t looking, with a longing that makes her ache. And Nicole is careful to never instigate touches, but tilts towards Waverly’s shoulder bumps like a flower to the sun. She tells Waverly she’s the smartest girl she’s ever met and she shot a man a week ago to keep Wynonna safe and she’s got fine scars on the back of her knuckles she doesn’t like to talk about. She told Waverly their first kiss was in a police station and so was their last kiss and she hums country songs under her breath while she does paperwork.

She tastes like peppermint, is Waverly’s first thought. Like she brushed her teeth before coming over. Her eyes are wide and shocked and her chest shudders when she whispers Waverly’s name. She murmurs please just before Waverly kisses her again, soft and closed mouthed. Cinnamon gum, Waverly thinks, when her tongue slips into Nicole’s mouth. The Big Red Nedley keeps on the station counter.

Waverly breaks the kiss. Her knees buckle and her vision whites out and she’s dimly aware of Nicole saying her name, over and over.

“Nicole,” she says, her focus sharpening. “Nicole.” She laughs, the joy bubbling up and overflowing. “Oh my god, Nicole.” She flings her arms around Nicole’s neck and Nicole lifts her, spinning them in the snow. She kisses the tip of Nicole’s nose and the curve of her ear and murmurs, right into the flutter of her pulse in her throat. “I remember you.”

“We should---doctor---it’s cold---” Waverly interrupts her with kisses until Nicole gives up, her smile too wide and pressed against Waverly’s. “Waverly,” she says, and they topple into a snowbank, shrieking at the cold.

Waverly rolls them into the frosted grass. “I remember you,” she says again, “I remember you, I remember you.”

“You forgot me,” Nicole gasps, Waverly’s teeth gentle just under her jaw. “Waverly--” She sits them up, Waverly sprawled in her lap. “We should go inside.”

Waverly picks a leaf out of her bright red hair and runs her fingers through the short locks. “You cut your hair.”

“I kept thinking about how you did my braid. That last day. I couldn’t…” Nicole trails off. “It doesn’t matter. You’re back.”

“I need you,” Waverly says, quiet. “I have a lot of groveling and apologizing to do, and I’ll get to it. But right now? Do you need me?”

Nicole rises up, lifting her up and shucking her jacket to lay it on the ground. “Always,” she promises, and they’re fully clothed and Nicole’s lips are cold, but her tongue is warm and they roll around a little, groping messy and almost teenaged in their clumsiness. After a few minutes, Nicole breaks away to nuzzle soft kisses against Waverly’s neck.

“Hey,” Waverly whispers, when she’s got her breath back.

“Hey,” Nicole echoes. “We should--”

“The barn,” Waverly says, and when Nicole hesitates she says it again, firmer. “The barn. Carry me?”

Nicole’s face goes soft, pale in the cold moonlight. “Anything.”

She almost trips three times stumbling over and it takes Waverly a long time to get the door open when Nicole is nipping at the side of her jaw with her hand up Waverly’s shirt. “Hold on,” she says, between giggles that bubble from her chest, her joy overflowing. “Hold on, jeez. Straw is a lot pokier than you think.”

It takes a minute for her to lay out their coats and their sweaters and when she turns around Nicole is in her bra and her socks and her underwear, blinking and shivering. She lays Nicole down onto the cushioned hay and nudges the cups of her bra up to look at the faint redness that still lingers in the center of Nicole’s chest, the bruises faded away but a shadow just barely visible. She kisses it carefully, one impact and then the other, and Nicole rests her fingertips above Waverly’s own heart, all the trauma Willa left behind.

“You’re beautiful,” Nicole tells her, when their clothes have been discarded. She pushes Waverly’s hair from her face and tucks it behind her ears. “Hair for days.”

“Yeah,” Waverly says, which doesn’t really even make sense, but Nicole’s fingertips are tracing up her ribcage and her hips twitch when Waverly presses her knee down and Waverly wants to taste the smattering of freckles across her sternum stretching up to her collarbones.

“Waverly,” Nicole says, quiet. There’s a hickey blooming on her throat in the shape of Waverly’s teeth. She holds Waverly’s wrist in the circle of her fingers and tilts it how she likes it and Waverly can hardly suck in enough air, almost overwhelmed by the flutter of the silk clenched around her and the way she can smell Nicole on the air and how her soft noise tastes on Waverly’s tongue when she comes. “Waverly,” Nicole says again, shuddering.

“I remember you,” Waverly whispers, as Nicole lifts her and flips them and she feels Nicole’s weight on her, reassuring and anchoring and warm. “I remember us.”

“You forgot,” Nicole responds, eyes fluttering against Waverly’s navel. She kisses the tip of Waverly’s bellybutton, then the points of her hips, one after the other.

“Shh,” Waverly murmurs, and slides her hands into Nicole’s hair, bright red fire on her skin and satin between her fingers. She can see the beam she fell from when she was four and she closes her eyes against it, so she can focus on the gentle prick of Nicole’s teeth and the flutter of her tongue and easy gentle movements of her fingers.

//

After, Nicole licks her index finger clean and crawls up her body. “Hi.” They kiss again, lazy and slow sated. When it breaks, Nicole leans her forehead against Waverly’s. “Tell me again,” she asks, “please?”

Waverly presses her hand against Nicole’s chest and feels her heart thump against her palm. “Nicole Haught,” she murmurs, “I remember you.”